Apology Needed

30 09 2008

The biggest story in the United States right now is missing it’s most crucial element – the surrender. 

News of our financial crisis and the proposed “bailout” is on everyone’s mind.  I put “bailout” in parentheses because that’s the way the story has been framed (not that I don’t agree):  Wall Street got out of hand and now they’re asking for a hand-out.  The defeat of the “bailout” plan yesterday by Congress was reported as a stinging rebuke to Wall Street, the White House and maestro Paulson (the antagonists in this story).  But nobody should be surprised by the plan’s demise because the proposed resolution was out of order in this story.  As presented, the bailout is a final heroic effort, which would occur on page 90 in a screenplay.  But we haven’t gotten past page 75 yet.

On page 75 of a screenplay, all seems lost (where we are now) and the hero (the American public) is just about to give up.  That’s when there is a shift – something that gives the hero a chance to achieve something they needed all along but couldn’t see because they were pursuing something else.  In this case, that shift is an apology.

Yes, an apology.  What the administration and Wall Street have failed to do is to take responsibility for their part in this mess and to apologize to the American public outright.  In so doing, they would be admitting the need for some useful regulation and approaching the public with a request for help, rather than a demand for help.  This would put us, the hero, in a different position.  If the administration and Wall Street, the antagonists, admitted their weaknesses to the American public, we the hero would be empowered to face our own and to solve this problem. The new opportunity that would present itself is for the American public to actively take part in solving this problem in a way that would leave us in better shape in the long-term.  

Sadly, apologies and responsibility are hard to come by these days.  Someone in a position of leadership is going to have to decide if they want this story to have a happy ending or a tragic ending.

Why it’s so important to choose your words wisely…

26 09 2008

Is it just me or is weird to put “kids” and “lurks” in the same message?

HP as a Jump-Start for Start-Ups

24 09 2008

For the last year, Hewlett-Packard has been fleshing out its brand with its “What do you have to say?” campaign.  So far it has positioned HP’s hardware as tools for self-expression.  Competitively, this encroaches on Apple’s position in the personal computer space and elicits comparisons.  Not a bad move to be the PC option in the same consideration set as Apple. But I’m not sold yet.  I’d like to see what the ROI was on those gorgeous Gwen Stefani ads.

However, MediaPost’s Marketing Daily ran an article about an HP promotional contest that could be the start of something really impactful.  The contest was intended to reinforce HP’s software and hardware as tools for branding.  I.e. as tools for small businesses to express themselves. The contest encouraged small business owners to submit “what their business has to say” for the opportunity to work with branding experts and win an HP Logoworks package and printer.

Targeting the small business owner is a nice bridge between the “personal” computer and the “business” computer segments.  Considering general market forces, economic contraction, and the challenges that are mounting for small businesses, I think this is a terrific move and I’d like to see more from this campaign.  

Executed well, HP could become the brand of the new entrepreneur. The tool set that helps people monetize their own skills, passions and dreams.  This is meaningful and relevant in an economic climate of growing uncertainty, doubt and instability.  The functionality of products like LogoWorks or HP printers can be extended beyond the obvious to become the very bootstraps by which people will be pulling themselves up to succeed professionally.  

HP, if you’re listening, there are some great things that you can do in the branded entertainment space to help people realize they are their own greatest asset.  Something along the lines of providing a jump-start for start-ups.

Clients beware

23 09 2008

Good branding marries three things:

1) what you, the client, already believe, feel and aspire for your brand

2) what it is about your product or service that resonates with your customer (the true value)

3) what differentiates you from the competition

It is not the imposition of a clever idea onto your brand.  (witness the demise of the short-lived Seinfeld/Microsoft ads)

Trust your gut, clients.  If it sounds hollow, it probably is.

High Concept Branding & Business Schools

23 09 2008

“High concept” is a Hollywood buzzword that Wikipedia defines as “a succinctly stated premise describing the overall idea of production in just a few sentences or less.”   Jurassic Park advanced the high concept of what would happen if we created an amusement park with cloned dinosaurs.  As applied to branding, high concept translates to the big idea that makes its audience think “Wow!” or “A-ha!”  The most obvious manifestation of this is a brand’s tagline.  For Apple, it was “Think different.”

For a brand’s high concept to succeed it must connect with its audience.  And for that to happen, the high concept must be authentic, meaningful and relevant.  That high concept must also be consistently communicated across all brand form factors -design, packaging, pricing, tagline, value proposition, website, etc.  All of the verbal and visual ways in which we communicate the brand’s value. 

The nascent brand of the business school I attended, the Rady School of Management at UCSD, is struggling with crystallizing and communicating their own high concept.  The brand’s cornerstone theme is “innovation.”  Translated, I imagine the high-concept to look something like this:  If you were to accept this as the high concept you would want to look at all of the ways the Rady School could differentiate itself from a traditional business school.  All of the ways that it could innovate the concept of what it means to study business.  Those form factors would include everything from the students and faculty you recruited to success metrics to course curricula.  You’d even want to get as granular as the names of the courses.  

To help deliver on the brand promise of the Rady School’s high concept, I am developing a workshop with Leadership professor Wendeline DeZan.  [aside:  I think “Leadership” should be renamed “How Not to Become a Commodity”]  Our workshop will help students better express their personal brand stories through non-conventional resume development.  

If you were helping deliver on the promise of an innovative business school, what would you do differently?


22 09 2008

I love a good tagline.  Something that sums up a big concept in a neat, compelling, little package.  In discussing the financial debacle that is currently overwhelming our country, my friend Ross put it like this:

Privatizing profits.  Subsidizing losses.

This speaks volumes about his perspective on the “bailout” – sentiment, logic, outcomes. 

All brands and businesses should have a tagline too.  Whether they use it in their marketing or not, a concise tagline is evidence of a strong, well-understood value proposition.  It can be used internally, externally, for specific market segments, not at all.  But it should exist.  Go to the trouble to figure this out and you’ll find out just how well you know yourself.  So…what’s your tagline?

Microsoft / Seinfeld Follow-Up

19 09 2008

Microsoft is already canning their Bill Gates-Jerry Seinfeld ad campaign, as reported by Valleywag. Not surprisingly, their attempt at strange, obtuse humor did not connect with ordinary consumers.  This despite the central theme of the campaign being about connecting.

“Shoe Circus,” the first ad, was disastrous.  It was just odd and its motives were completely obscured.  To be fair, the follow-up ad “New Family” was much better.  If Microsoft’s goal was to make their brand character, Bill Gates, more likable they succeeded.  Contrasting him with the kooky, dysfunctional, middle-American family made him seem, well, more approachable.  Hardly counter-programming to the PC characterization in the Mac vs. PC ads but a good start nonetheless.  If anything, Bill was much more likable than snarky Seinfeld.

All is not lost, though.  The antidote to Apple’s ad campaign is sitting smack in the middle of the Microsoft landing page.   “I’m a PC,” Microsoft’s homage to all of the cool people who use PCs, co-opts and defies Apple’s successful campaign.  Their brand ambassadors include everyone from Deepak Chopra to Eva Longoria to You, average Joe and Jane consumer.  Check it out.  Isn’t this the campaign which Microsoft should have invested those big ad buys?  It squarely repositions Microsoft as a service provider to innovative people and puts their message back on track – hardware and software are only as “cool” as the people who use them and how they use them.