Wednesday, July 30, 2008

August 08 - Brand promises

Once upon a time, the term brand was something that existed primarily within the confines of advertising agencies and marketing departments. These days it has become part of everyday language.

Sadly this broadening of usage has resulted, I feel, in a dilution of what brands are really about. This was brought home to me quite spectacularly, by a recent speech on brands given by the American designer Brian Collins, which was archived on the Brand Experience blog.

Speaking at the One Show festival, Collins demonstrated the power of brands by launching into a history lesson about pirates. Yes pirates, or to be more specific, their instantly recognisable skull and crossbones flag.

“Back in 1748,” said Collins, “if you had the misfortune of being a single bobbing ship at sea when a tattered vessel with a skull and crossbones crossed your path, you knew instantly what to expect.

You're fu%&@d!!

As you sail closer," he continued, "the brand promise is reinforced by everything you see. A cannon fires, shots go off: the brand promise becomes brand immersion.

In three hours, maybe less, the brand delivers everything it promised: death, pillage, and maybe a not-so-promising hostage situation.

The fulfillment of the skull-and-crossbones brand promise remained so consistent over fifty-plus years that, by the 1800s, pirates didn't even need to waste gunpowder. They had only to raise the black flag to yield the desired results: surrender, animal fear, free doubloons and maybe some teabags.

Pirates (TM!) succeeded because they connected brand promise to performance.”

In the opinion of Brian Collins, a brand is a promise made consistently over time. Using that logic, it follows that if the promise perceived in the advertising is honored by the product or service, the brand flies.

It’s a simplistic viewpoint, no doubt about that, but you have to admit he makes a pretty strong point.

Commenting on Collin’s pirates speech, Erik Roscam Ebbing makes some great points on how the pirates would have faired at the dawning of the 21st century:

“That's a very accurate demonstrator of what happened with branding in the late 90s: like pirates becoming lazy and just raising their flag to achieve the desired result, brands started confusing promise with delivery.

The result was empty promises without the tangible benefits to fulfill them. Rather than the brand being a platform for the delivery of meaningful experiences and innovations, they became a facade behind which marketers could hide from the scrutiny of the consumer.

Until the consumer started finding out of course.

And started demanding authenticity, transparency, fulfillment of promises and true meaning. To me that's where brands rediscovered their true value and meaning.

I wonder how the pirates would have managed in say 2001? Maybe someone would have posted a blog entry on the absence of any real cannons and gun powder on their ships.

Soon enough the skull and crossbones would have faded to an empty promise of a forlorn era. And even pirates would have had to fulfill their brand promise to make a living!”

There are way to many examples of brands failing to deliver on their promises to list them here, but I’d like to wrap up this month’s column with you a classic example of over promise and under delivery that I found recently on Charles Frith’s blog Punk Planning.

Frith had been on a business trip to Dubai and his blog post was accompanied by half a dozen photos of people sleeping on chairs and or floors at the Dubai airport.

The sight of people snoozing in an international airport is, let’s be honest, not that uncommon. Flights are delayed or cancelled all the time. What made Frith’s photos so interesting was that many of the people were sleeping beneath widescreen plasma televisions carrying chest beating brand messages from the airport authority.

“It struck me while departing through the airport,” wrote Frith, “that while it's all fine and good to have a decent monologue with customers beating our brand chests, the whole point about the 21st century marketing and Web 2.0/Digital dialogue is that if brands aren't able to shift into that dialogue mode when circumstances demand, then they end up losing so much of their effort.

If any brand or agency isn't talking about ways to open up a meaningful dialogue with their customers during the inevitable part of life when things don't go according to plan, then they are very simply wasting money and inevitably pissing off people.

I've got 20 ideas in my head for how the Dubai airport authority could win over everyone of the carpet sleepers I saw that night, but you can rest assured that filling those plasma screens with more chest beating 'hub of the world' content is way more important.

Making profits isn't as hard as it made out to be,” says Frith. “Losing customer loyalty and the money that goes with it is even easier.”


Brand Experience

Punk Planning

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July 08 - Generation V

An entirely new generation of people has been born. This generation is not defined by age, gender or social standing, but by their use of digital media channels. Adam Sarner, principal analyst at Gartner, has dubbed this disparate group of individuals Generation V.

In a recent interview with Sarner described Generation V as a segment of the population “empowered by the democratisation of technology and new means of communication.”

According to Sarner, “Gen V have an increasing preference toward the use of digital media channels to discover information, build knowledge and share insights." Which sounds good, but what does he mean exactly?

In essence, Sarner is talking about people who maintain an online profile of some sort “To communicate across the boundaries of time and geography, create and distribute original content, and/or collaborate with one another.”

As a fortysomething blogger, and regular contributor to a variety of online discussions and conversations, I guess that makes me a member of Gen V.

Strangely, at least in my eyes, many of the young people looking to break into the advertising and marketing industries are not part of this generation. Sure they’re regular users of the likes of Facebook and MySpace, but how many uni students are dabbling in Social Media?

Greg Verdino, from US based new marketing company Crayon, had this to say about students he’d met whilst giving talks on Social Media at several American universities:

“Many weren't even aware of blogging and podcasting; even fewer were actually doing one or the other themselves. I was teaching them about what they are, how and why people use them, and where they may be going over the coming decade or two.

Were these students typical of their (age-based) generation? I have no idea. But given that we're talking about several different groups of students at several different well known universities, I suspect they are not exceptions to the rule.”

Of course there are plenty of kids out there with the smarts to not only get involved with social media, but also the ability to use it to help them in their career. In fact, the idea for the column came from a couple of blog posts and emails that I exchanged with young Aussie marketer and Monash Uni student, Julian Cole.

Julian is one of a handful of students at Monash who actively write about and critique marketing and advertising. One of his fellow students, 18 year old Zac Martin, is a regular commenter on my blog. I’m sure there are many others. If you’re a student blogger, why not send me an email?

During my brief tenure on the teaching staff at RMIT University, I introduced advertising students to the idea of using a blog to help you get your first job. Only a handful of them maintained their blogs for more than a few months, but I’m pleased to say that those that did have all since gained employment.

Over in the UK, there are quite a few wannabe advertising creatives who blog. These blogs make for an interesting read, as the kids document the trials and tribulations of trying to secure a job in the toughest ad market in the world.

My personal favourite is Gwen Yip, a Hong Kong native who documents each and every day of her London job search with cute little drawings of the people she meets and the situations she finds her self in. It’s always worth a visit.

The most brazen use of digital media to get noticed in the advertising industry belongs to Sam Ismail, who has set a new standard for creativity and initiative in getting noticed to get a job.

Sam, like many young hopefuls, had his interest tweaked by an ad for an internship at Saatchi & Saatchi in London. The headline on the ad read; Turn this poster into a job.

Unlike all the other kids who saw the ad, Sam didn’t start dreaming up advertising concepts. Instead he came up with a big idea. A really big idea. He listed the internship on eBay.

He then seeded his idea, by leaving comments on advertising and blogs about Saatchi offering a job to the highest bidder in an eBay auction.

As you can imagine, this stunt got people talking. So much so, that if you do a search for it on Google, you’ll find over 8,000 page references.

Campaign magazine contacted Saatchis about the auction, so Ismail got in touch with the editor and told them what he had done. Next thing he knew, he got a phone call from a Saatchi legal eagle threatening to sue him!

Suffice to say the story has a happy ending. Sam met dozens of influential people in the industry. He got noticed and talked about. And most importantly he landed himself a job. Proof, if it was needed, that Generation V are the future of our industry.


Greg Verdino

Gwen Yip

Julian Cole

Sam Ismail