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?

Corporate Communications Done Right

17 09 2008

Right on the heels of yesterday’s post came an e-mail from ING Direct.  Addressed to me and the millions of other ING customers, this email contained a battlecry from CEO of Savings Arkadi Kuhlmann.  His message was simple:  ING Direct is well-positioned to whether this financial crisis because of its conservative lending and savings practices.  And so, too, are its customers — well-positioned to ride out this storm.  Contrary to the messages we’ve been receiving from Washington, here was someone reminding us of the virtues of savings vs. spend, spend, spend. 

The motives of this corporate communications are clear.  This was a timely display of strong positioning. But it was also the silver-lining marketing message I’ve been looking for as a consumer.  Here was a company that was not just boasting about their own service and corporate ethos, they were encouraging and congratulating me on the behavior that was positioning me for a more secure future.  

Kudos, Arkadi and ING, for getting your messaging right.

I’ve attached a copy of the letter below.


(from ING Direct)

As we enter the final few months of 2008, I want to thank you for your continued confidence in ING DIRECT. Over 700,000 new Savers have joined us so far this year strengthening the bank and their own financial footing through our savings, home mortgage and ShareBuilder investment accounts. Despite a challenging economic climate, our Customer base is 7 million strong and growing.

The consequences of the mortgage meltdown on financial institutions and individuals continue to erode many Americans’ dreams. We will continue to stress the right way to achieve home ownership – buying only as much house as you can afford and paying off your mortgage as fast as possible. In return for good credit and prioritizing home investment, ING DIRECT mortgage Customers are rewarded with exceptional rates and a transparent, direct administration process. Rather than selling your mortgage to another bank or investor the minute you get it, we keep your mortgage and service it here. Doing so gives us flexibility to find innovative solutions to help Customers keep their homes during unexpected financial downturns.

While we don’t have an Orange crystal ball, we do expect the economy to remain fragile through 2009. The best course of action for our Customers is to be disciplined: avoid splurging; identify and cut out unnecessary expenses and save for what’s essential; and hedge against those tough times. We can all benefit by developing good spending habits: confront – and cut up – credit cards; use your home as a savings vehicle – not as an ATM; and establish and contribute regularly to an IRA or 401(k).

In this difficult financial environment, we work tirelessly to safeguard your deposits, mortgages and investments. Importantly, your deposits are FDIC-insured according to its limits and your investments are SIPC-protected. Our security processes are the best in the business and are in place to protect your savings from those with bad intentions. While we are constantly vigilant, we need your help. Keep passwords to yourself. Never give personal information through an email. And always install both the latest antivirus and anti-malware software on your home computer.

ING Ball 

Thank you for your continued trust in 
ING DIRECT. We will not waver in our promise to provide you with great value, service, security and convenience.

Arkadi Kuhlmann
CEO of Savings

Silver-Lining Marketing

16 09 2008

Due to my impending high school reunion, I recently reconnected with an old friend.  We’ve known each other since elementary school.    Buried in a box under the stairs are the pen pal letters to prove it.   In catching up, I learned that he had heart surgery at a very young age (12) which somehow none of us seemed to know.  This experience apparently inspired his current career in cardiac research.

There is something very appealing about this simple cause and effect story.  There is also something very moving about a challenge that is morphed into a triumph.  

In light of the turbulence in our economy, in the financial sector and in our politics I would like to see advertising and marketing with that same appeal.  Rather than frighten me with tales of what’s wrong (and how I, the consumer, need your product or service or else…) why don’t you inspire me with what can be made right. When I refer to the fear-based advertising and marketing, I am thinking of recent ads I’ve seen for insurance, healthcare, financial services and our presidential candidates.  When I refer to inspiring, I am thinking of Target and Wal-Mart, who are working very hard to remind us that beauty, fun and everyday small luxuries don’t have to be mutually exclusive of value and savings.

So, to all of you advertisers and marketers out there:  Show me a realistic silver-lining.  Because, quite simply, if you can provide me with reasoned hope, I will gravitate toward you.

TechCrunch50 – Differentiation in the DemoPit

12 09 2008


Natalie Terashima o.b.o. FiveSprockets)

TC50 DemoPit (photo credit: Natalie Terashima o.b.o. FiveSprockets)

They billed it as the Sundance of tech conferences and they didn’t disappoint.  At least twice during TechCrunch50, I thought to myself, “Wow.  I just witnessed history being made.” (That distinction goes to Swype and tonchidot which, I swear, was straight out of Minority Report.)

But for those tech companies that weren’t showcased on stage like the chosen 50 and instead had to pay to exhibit, it was a much bigger challenge getting their voices heard.  Companies that paid to exhibit were given small round tables and lined up in four columns down a long, narrow concourse dubbed the DemoPit. On any given day, they vied with dozens of other start-ups, as well as established TC50 sponsors, for the attention of the angels, VCs, media and tech mavens that wandered the hall.  

With about 4 square feet of surface, these start-ups had to be strategic in attracting attention and piquing interest.  Some resorted to the standard tactic of placing people around the convention to hand out flyers.  Some even used models in tight, branded dresses to walk around and flirt.  (I’m not sure how this tactic panned out at a conference designed around serious investment in technology)  Yet others thought vertically and literally stacked their demo upright like a skyscraper.  But in the end, everyone’s success really seemed to hinge on 3 things:  an attention-grabbing name and brand, an intriguing tagline and a concise, effective pitch.  Nothing surprising, right? 

What was surprising at TC50 is how many companies struggled on all accounts.  A few observations to consider before naming, tagging and pitching your tech start-up:

  • Pikachu-inspired company names are over.  There was such a glut of cute-sounding, Japani-names with bright, bubbly logos that it became difficult to differentiate them.  Ubuket, Veeple, Toobla…way too many companies vying to be the next Google by using too many vowels.  Not that these aren’t good companies, it’s just that after a while I had trouble associating the content with the name.  The worst offenders put the letter “i” before their name. (Apple’s got that covered)  A great name is able to evoke both content and target audience.  BlueHaze, an online community for live music devotees, did just that for me.  
  • Taglines matter.  If you are fighting for attention in the marketplace, you have got to tell a prospective client what you are all about as quickly as possible.  A great tagline sparks an “A-ha!” moment that captures attention.  I saw dozens of strong companies with mediocre taglines that were either too vague or downright confusing.  One company that totally got it right was Splaht!  Their motto:  “Instantly tell friends ‘This sucks…that doesn’t.'”  Whether you think their tagging platform is a good idea or not, everything you need to know is summed up in those seven words.
  • Keep your pitch short.  In a setting like TechCrunch50, human bandwidth is a premium.  The best companies I spoke with could tell me exactly what their company did in a matter of sentences.  And then after that, they would ask “Are you interested in learning more?”  Not only is this considerate of the time and interest of the listener, it provides them with a powerful filtering tool for their energy and resources.  Rady alum Craig Braun proved a master of this while repping SmartTouch. And, no Craig, I’m not interested in learning more because I am going to get an iPhone, but thanks for asking.

What’s in a Name?

21 08 2008

Recently, I was helping a friend try to figure out a name for a mobile software start-up.  The field’s so crowded with ventures now that it’s not easy to pick a name that hasn’t already been taken.  And it’s even harder to avoid names that are too techy, too cutesy, too clunky or just too, well, plain.  The only thing we were certain of was not taking a regular word and starting it with the letter “i.”

After umpteen passes with random imagination we decided to take a different approach.  Rather than just brainstorm names, we would first identify the qualities we thought would constitute a good name so we had something against which to judge our ideas.  Here’s what we came up with:

FLEXIBLE –  A word with multiple meanings and interpretations.  Better yet – a word that can be used as a verb or a noun.  Not only does this open up more possibilities for your marketing communications, it gives your design team a lot more options.  At one point we had gone down the road of fly-fishing imagery (tangential, yes, but we still think it’s cool) and words like “fly,” “lure,” and “catch” all fit this bill.  

EVOCATIVE – You want a name that conjures up interesting imagery.  Imagery that will be powerful in telling your story and conveying your brand image.  Words attached to common metaphors (like “window,” “door,” “sky”) are also more apt to translate internationally.  But beware:  you also want to conjure up the right imagery.  One name that we came up with was quickly squashed by the graphic designer because the first thing it made her think of was the creature in Alien.  Not so friendly.   Google got this one right with the name of their new mobile platform, Android, even if it is a bit scary.  Flickr got it right too.  And Richard Branson really got it right with Virgin. 

WE LIKE TO SAY IT – Maybe it’s hard to quantify this, but we all know it when we hear it.  There are onomatopoeic words like “sizzle.” Words with hard sounds like “hatch” and “jot.”  And just plain goofy words that are fun to say like “Google,” “Zoho” and “Twitter.”

AVAILABLE DOMAIN & DEFENSIBLE – a minor detail (heh)

We never did come up with a name.  I think the lawyers are duking it out over a bunch of second string ideas.  Turned out the one we liked most were too polarizing.  But, we still think these are useful guidelines for those of you undertaking the Sisyphean task of naming your start-up.  Good luck.