Brands in 3 Dimensions

Why is your company in business? Let’s consider three drivers that shape any business, and see what they say about your brand.

Every company or individual goes into business with the goal of Doing Well. This is the baseline level of commerce. At the very least, you want your revenue to exceed your expenses, and to make some profit (but hopefully, you can add a ton of value and make a ton of money!). This allows your brand to be available.

Some actually have the additional goal of Doing Good. This implies an additional motivator called caring. Factoring into your decision-making and direction is not only what will create maximum profit, but also, what will help other people. Your brand, with this in place, will be attractive.

At the highest level, you not only seek to do good, and to do well, but you’re committed to Doing Right. That is, you have a conscience. Sometimes, doing right means doing less well, because you value long-term reputation over short-term gain. These rare companies and individuals are actually admired.

All the brand-building strategies and tactics in the world cannot infuse heart and soul into your brand. It’s a no-brainer to seek to do well. But are you doing good? And, when no-one else is even looking – are you doing right? You know the answer, and eventually, your customers will too.

A Trip-up at Vanity Fair

I have no girls, and so the whole Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus phenomenon has, up to now, passed me by. However, just last week, I read through a magazine article expressing appreciation for how this young lady has managed to keep a relatively pure image, and avoid the scandals of other tween/teen starlets.

Unfortunately, with fame and attention come a thousand opportunities to stumble.

One ill-advised photo session for Vanity Fair has managed to taint the wholesome image of this budding star and tweener role model. Of course, Vanity Fair and the photographer got what they wanted by smoothing the way for her to push the limits – knowing that in a time when few images or words remain private, she’d pay the price while they sell the scandal.

Frankly, I’m glad I don’t have the pressures that come from the thousand-watt spotlights of stardom. I don’t know how some of these young folks make it unscathed – and, it seems, relatively few do make it with their reputations intact. There is very often the smell of scandal, moral collapse, or bad judgment trailing in their wakes. It’s tough enough just being a teenager, let alone being in the public eye 24/7.

This morning, I picked up one of our cats, who was sprayed MONTHS ago by a friendly neighborhood skunk. Amazingly, I can still catch the faint whiff of the scent, which has never quite left his fur. One moment of bad judgment (getting too close to a purveyor of stench) left him – and us – with many months of repercussions.

A solid brand can recover from a stumble. I hope, in the case of Miley Cyrus, that it is indeed an isolated incident, and that she does not pursue the self-destructive path of some that have come before her. Unfortunately, the odor of even one episode of bad judgment will follow her for a while. For the sake of our own brands, we can all take warning to keep our eyes wide open, and avoid entanglements with any cute-looking creatures with the telltale white stripe…

A Whine about Twine (and other platforms)

I was intrigued by the description of a new social web platform called Twine, so I accepted an invite to the Beta, and started exploring a bit this morning.

Twine is digging into some concepts of the semantic web, and its purported approach mirrors some ruminations I’ve had about Web 3.0/4.0/5.0 whatever-you-want-to-call-it (long post brewing for sometime downstream).

In this particular post, however, I’m going to focus on one thing. Intuitiveness.

I’ve come to increasingly value software apps that are designed with a rapid-uptake user experience in mind. This is one of the hardest tricks of the craft, and having worked in prior years with a software company, and wrestled long and hard with interface issues (from both the development and user point of view), I know it’s not easy. But we’re in an age of information and application overload, and quite frankly, if I’m not seeing the value and the usage flow within a few minutes, I’m going to lose interest.

So, back to Twine. I came, I saw, I felt lost.

I’m a reasonably smart guy, and though I’m not one of the new-generation digital natives, I can figure out my way around software pretty well. When I have to, I can learn new programs in-depth. But the thing is, increasingly, I don’t have to. Or shouldn’t have to.

When I began blogging, I played around with Blogger, settled on WordPress…but in both cases, had no trouble figuring out what was going on. iTunes – same experience. Twitter – even easier. LinkedIn, Flickr, Constant Contact, Pandora, Picnik, etc. – if you make the experience intuitive, I’m a regular user. But if I’m not immediately seeing “the point” of the system, and quickly gaining the WIIFM, then you’re going to lose me.

I sat down with a client of mine recently who had just put his toe in the LinkedIn waters. By showing a few simple functions, and displaying the WIIFM results, in 20 minutes, he was off-and-running.

Google has forever shown how you can marry immensely powerful algorithms to simple and intuitive interfaces. The challenge for architects of the new web will be to create engines that do more than one thing (more than search, more than Twitter), but still maintain the simple, immediate-gratification user experience. On a first-blush level, Twine didn’t pass that test for me.

Is “I get it!” is the ultimate metric of success? What do you think?

Municipal Marketing

Who wouldn’t want to live in a town that had a sense of humor?

Cheerful Brand Ambassadors

While traveling on business, a stream of unknown and soon-forgotten people flows past. In airports, on the plane, in buses or trains, on the street – nameless individuals pass at arm’s length, or engage in perfunctory  social or commercial exchanges.

Once again experiencing a flight delay this week, I shuffled forward in my normal travel shell, not expecting any rays of sunshine from the strangers around me.

Then, at an airport Starbucks kiosk, I was shaken out of my funk by an engaging smile and a warm voice. This particular barista was serving everyone that morning with 100-watt cheer that was infectious. The coffee was welcome, but I found myself more interested in watching this human sparkplug make a not-so-great morning just a little bit brighter.

Finally airborne after 2 unplanned hours of delay, a smiling flight attendant with a ready wit and just a touch of sass works her magic. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of competent flight attendants. But this one didn’t just dispense peanuts. She spread cheer.

There are others, too. The Hertz bus drivers who put some heart into their announcements on the shuttle. The employees at the hotel and restaurants who have begun to recognize me after multiple visits, and greet me warmly. And it’s made me think…I really need to be more expressively cheerful.

After all, what good is your brand if its ambassadors are not spreading happiness?

Image: the cheerful Director Tom, taken by Shashi Bellamkonda

Contact Manglement

OK, I’m finally doing it this week.

Recently, I bought an iPhone in order to try to consolidate cell phone, calendar, contacts, music, and whatever into one device. It’s a very cool machine…but I’ve been putting off one very painful task.

I have contacts scattered through at least 3 main applications – my Yahoo mail program, a Palm pilot (and its contact program), and LinkedIn. Add a couple of years and a lot of changes/duplications/incomplete data, and you can imagine what I’ve got. It’s not contact management. It’s contact manglement!

So…I’ve exported all of them, consolidated all the files into one common Excel format, and now am going through the mind-numbing task of sorting through nearly 3,000 entries (my pharma biz contacts; blogging/marketing/networking contacts; personal contacts). As of this writing, I’m just about to start the “E”s.

Then, when finished, I have to wipe out my Yahoo contact file, and import this new master in, hoping to heck that it all works. Finally, it will sync up with the iPhone, and voila! Nirvana achieved!

Maybe. Fingers crossed….

(Update: it worked!)

Putting the “We” in Social Media

We have a branding challenge.

Those of us involved in social media are breaking new ground, and with that, there’s a certain degree of messiness. As in, a proliferation of terms used to express this new world where there is no barrier to entry for any and all of us to publish and participate.

Social Media. Web 2.0. New marketing. User-generated media. Conversational media. Or, if David Armano had his way, Socialstainable.

And one difficulty that we all face is: how do we explain this…stuff…to people who don’t “get it” yet?

I’m not sure the current set of terms is getting the job done. There are too many of them, and often they sound “techie” instead of providing an easy and intuitive handle for the newbie to grasp.

Whenever I look at a branding challenge like this, I like to stand back and ask, “What’s the point?” What is the core, central message that undergirds this new approach (and its tools)?

One random thought while weed-whacking today (first time this spring!) – it’s all about the We. The old web was THEM talking to ME, or maybe ME to THEM or another ME. But this emerging web is about Us – We are building it, We are participants and contributors and publishers, We are self-organizing at the grassroots.

It’s not the Web. It’s the Web (or WEb if you don’t have access to bolding) [note: the point gets made by the formatting, not by pronouncing it “weeb”!]

We have Web tools. We create Web media. And when we try to explain to newbies, we simply say – the new web, the new marketing, is the Web – We are feeding it and evolving it and tapping into the collective wisdom as we go along. A little formatting trick like Web implies both 2.0 and social media, without introducing yet another neologism.

So, there’s my off-the-cuff idea. What are your thoughts? Can we tap into the collective wisdom and come up – together – with an effective way to brand this thing we’re all using?? Add a comment!