Brand, Know Thyself!

28 05 2008

After the fourth circuit, like sitting in a chair, I pulled up in front of Phineas.

    “You’re not even winded,” he said.

    “I know.”  

    “You found your rhythm, didn’t you, that third time around.  Just as you came into that straight part there.”

    “Yes, right there.”

    “You’ve been pretty lazy all along, haven’t you?”

    “Yes, I guess I have been.” 

    “You didn’t even know anything about yourself.”

    “I don’t guess I did, in a way.

That’s a quote from my favorite book, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace.

There are plenty of brands that don’t know much about themselves.  Like most people, many brands try to be who they think they should be or who their customers want them to be.  But is that really who they are?  They struggle with their messaging and change their ads, their logos, their taglines ad nauseam, all in an effort to find just the right words and pictures that will connect with consumers.  But the answer to that question lies right before them.

Consumers are smart and they will ultimately sniff out the authentic from the inauthentic.  There’s a disconnect when one matches up an oil company’s gorgeous “we’re so green” TV spots, with their energy portfolio.  And though they may be winning over minds in the short-term, they put themselves at terrible risk if news leaks out contrary to this overly rosy image because their words won’t match their actions.  If one of the big oil companies wants to be the leader in the renewable energy sector, they should do just that.  Lead with aggressive programs that put their $ where their mouth is.  Then they don’t have to manufacture the image or the press.  They don’t have to try so hard.

If your company wants to present a positive image, be prepared to do the work to back up that claim.  But before you can even start to paint the picture of who you want your brand to be, it’s important to do an audit.  Who is your brand now?  Is it likable?  Is it relevant?  Is it interesting?  If not, is your company willing to make the real changes that will help the marketing department develop an authentic portrayal and brand story?


The Next Chapter for Apple?

21 05 2008

The Apple brand is going to have to start telling a new story soon. 

In the 1980s, Apple launched their “1984” ad. They were not just introducing the new Mac brand with this campaign, but also a new product category — the personal computer.  Apple portrayed their product launch as something groundbreaking, revolutionary and – at least metaphorically – heroic.  The words:  “…why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”  The pictures:  a female athlete hurls a sledgehammer and destroys the image of Big Brother.  In filmmaking, this storyline falls under the superhero genre.  Someone or something comes along to overcome incredible odds and save us.  That’s what Apple promised and that’s what Apple did.

In the 1990s, Apple evolved their messaging to the “Think Different” ad campaign. This time their messaging portrayed Apple as a tool that could help you achieve your wildest dreams no matter who you were, no matter what the dream.   The words:  “Here’s to the crazy ones.  The misfits.  The rebels.  The troublemakers….The ones who see things differently…While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.  Because the people that are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”    The pictures:  stirring footage of the 20th century’s most iconic athletes, artists, adventurers, businessmen and leaders like Albert Einstein and Muhammed Ali.   Here, Apple was infusing their brand with a feeling; tying the Apple logo to our heartstrings to differentiate it from the likes of bigger brands like IBM, Dell and Gateway.  They’d switched from the “superhero” genre to the “fool triumphant” genre.

Now Apple has squarely positioned themselves against Microsoft with the “Mac vs. PC” ads disguised as amusing skits.  The images:  PC personified as a boring, uptight, and supremely incompetent older man and Mac personified as a cool, fun, smart and obviously superior younger man.  This is Mac’s play to steal market share from PC manufacturers by drawing comparisons between themselves and the Microsoft operating systems.  This clever campaign employs a “buddy love” genre to educate on brand differences and build a favorable brand association while eliciting laughs at the expense of “PC.”  It’s a great device and resonates with younger views.].  The words:  features-based product compariso

Apple’s recent success, however, creates a new challenge for them.  They are the reigning kings of digital entertainment and are now stealing significant market share away from PC manufacturers, especially among younger demographics.  Attempts to portray themselves as lone superheroes, one-in-a-million geniuses, or the cool David to Microsoft’s stodgy Goliath will start to ring hollow as their market dominance grows.  Now a mainstream brand, Mac’s challenge is in repositioning themselves before someone else casts their role just as they have with Microsoft.

It will be interesting to see what genre their newest storytelling will take on and how that will resonate with their target audiences.  What do you think that story should be?