Branding lessons from Santa Claus

santaI had the most extraordinary experience the other day. I accompanied Santa Claus on a visit through Toronto’s hip West Queen West neighbourhood, singing and playing Christmas songs on the guitar behind him as he handed out candy canes and had his photo taken with shoppers and passersby.

Witnessing the instant effect Santa has on people is incredible. They break into smiles. They nudge their friends with their elbows to see him also. They sing along. They laugh. Their eyes literally light up. They even look up from their cellphones! Of course sometimes that’s just to get a selfie. But I digress.

It got me to thinking about how good Santa’s branding is and what could be learned from it. 

1. The look is totally consistent, never changes. Red suit. White hair and beard.  Other people have branded themselves with similar recognition factor: Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Fran Lebowitz. Johnny Cash may have done it best, simply being known as The Man In Black. 

2. There are sounds equally strongly associated with the Santa look. HO! HO! HO! Bells. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. 

3. These triggers tell you exactly what to expect, and Santa always delivers (pun intended). My ex-client David Kincaid defines a brand as “a promise consistently kept” which is probably the best definition I’ve ever heard. (You can buy his book »» here.  You’re welcome, David.) Santa is the walking embodiment of a promise consistently kept.

What I found most extraordinary about walking with Santa is that everybody  knew who it was immediately and everybody loved him. Young, old. Parents, singles, male, female. Every colour of person. People with Canadian accents, people with foreign accents. Everybody. Even people doing their best to be Scrooge let little smiles slip onto their faces as we passed and they realized Santa wasn’t asking for anything, just giving.

He seems (at least in this brief and short research project) to have transcended Christmas and simply seems to stand for kindliness and giving.

Of course, he has spent who knows how many years delivering the message, but my point is he always delivers it in the same way, which has become immediately recognizable and immediately communicates the whole experience. 

Simple. Memorable. Consistent. Branding at its best. 

Photo: Stefan Lialias, Imagine The Reality

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Branding Lessons from Santa

santaI had the most extraordinary experience the other day. I accompanied Santa Claus on a visit through Toronto’s hip West Queen West neighbourhood, singing and playing Christmas songs on the guitar behind him as he handed out candy canes and had his photo taken with shoppers and passersby.

Witnessing the instant effect Santa has on people is incredible. They break into smiles. They nudge their friends with their elbows to see him also. They sing along. They laugh. Their eyes literally light up. They even look up from their cellphones! Of course sometimes that’s just to get a selfie. But I digress.

It got me to thinking about how good Santa’s branding is and what could be learned from it. 

1. The look is totally consistent, never changes. Red suit. White hair and beard.  Other people have branded themselves with similar recognition factor: Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Fran Lebowitz. Johnny Cash may have done it best, simply being known as The Man In Black. 

2. There are sounds equally strongly associated with the Santa look. HO! HO! HO! Bells. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. 

3. These triggers tell you exactly what to expect, and Santa always delivers (pun intended). My ex-client David Kincaid defines a brand as “a promise consistently kept” which is probably the best definition I’ve ever heard. (You can buy his book »» here.  You’re welcome, David.) Santa is the walking embodiment of a promise consistently kept.

What I found most extraordinary about walking with Santa is that everybody  knew who it was immediately and everybody loved him. Young, old. Parents, singles, male, female. Every colour of person. People with Canadian accents, people with foreign accents. Everybody. Even people doing their best to be Scrooge let little smiles slip onto their faces as we passed and they realized Santa wasn’t asking for anything, just giving.

He seems (at least in this brief and short research project) to have transcended Christmas and simply seems to stand for kindliness and giving.

Of course, he has spent who knows how many years delivering the message, but my point is he always delivers it in the same way, which has become immediately recognizable and immediately communicates the whole experience. 

Simple. Memorable. Consistent. Branding at its best. 

Photo: Stefan Lialias, Imagine The Reality

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The softening of a cheese brand

I first ran into Balderson’s cheese in the early 1990s. J.M. Schneider was one of our clients, and I was in a specialty foodie store with someone who had worked selling their cheeses to stores. He said to me “if you like cheese, this is the best brand to get”. I figured he knew what he was talking about, picked up a package, decided it was good cheese and have been buying it ever since.

I never questioned my decision or the cheese until last week.

I saw ‘Balderson’s Spreadable Cheddar’.

I’ve known for some time that the friendly old Balderson family didn’t make the cheese anymore, evidenced by the fact that it started to appear at many supermarkets instead of only the (high-priced) foodie places that stocked it back then, and I’d noticed that the packaging was getting a little slicker. Still, I had faith in Balderson’s.

Sorry, Balderson’s, but when I see spreadable cheddar I fear the next thing is Balderson’s Spray-On Cheese Product.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Balderson’s Spreadable Cheddar meets its numbers and projections. I can see the bright marketing whiz who came up with it as the great combination of quality and convenience standing in front of a PowerPoint and proudly proclaiming its success.

But for me, it has made me doubt the entire Balderson story. I’ve started tasting other cheeses and, you know what? Balderson’s is pretty good – but not better enough than the main stream brands to command such a premium, and not as good as the cheeses that are still made by the Balderson-type families of the world and are available at the foodie places.

I don’t know if there are other people like me, and of course I don’t know how it will all play out, but I think Balderson’s Spreadable Cheddar is the kind of thing that begins the process of eroding the profitability of the brand.

I still ‘know’ (which is probably as much perception as fact) that Balderson’s is good cheese. I just don’t think I want to pay more for it now.

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Another important element of the Tim Horton’s/Enbridge debate

Amidst all the hubbub and furor over Tim Hortons being threatened with a boycott if they didn’t stop airing an Enbridge ad in their stores and then being boycotted because they stopped airing the Enbridge ad in their stores there seems to be an important bit not reported.

While it is reported simply as being an Enbridge ad running in-store, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. It isn’t like somebody from Timmie’s just sold some ads and put them in the video loop and one of them was Enbridge.

The ad in question is actually a sort of endorsement or at least a quasi partnership between the restaurant and the the energy company.

It is an ad in the ‘Life Takes Energy’ series in which Enbridge demonstrates that while they are not physically there for the big and small moments in your life, they are behind the scenes providing the energy.

Here’s the whole campaign »» http://www.enbridge.com/AboutEnbridge/Life-Takes-Energy.aspx and some typical announcer copy from it:

We didn’t buy the pancake mix. Or make sure there was enough maple syrup in the house. But we did deliver the natural gas to make dinner the way only Dad can do it. When the energy you invest in life meets the energy we fuel it with, breakfast for dinner happens.

The specific copy for the commercial in question is/was:

We didn’t roast the coffee beans. We didn’t stir the soup. We didn’t box up a baker’s dozen. But we did help produce that perfect Tim’s percolation. When your energy meets ours, java joy happens.

So without me getting into the debate about whether or not Enbridge is a nice company or they should run pipelines across this country or others, this was a definite case of Tims sticking its neck out to be associated with another company – as I said, far beyond just a random Enbridge commercial running in their stores.

This was at least a quasi endorsement of the energy company, so whatever the backlash is, I’d have to say Tim Horton’s, if not completely deserving it, should have at least recognized that there might be some controversy.

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Yes, BellMedia, I think scolding people will work

Last week the new President of BellMedia, Mary Ann Turcke, decided to launch her public awareness in spectacular fashion in her first speech – to the Canadian Telecom Summit – by suggesting that what would stop Canadians from using false addresses etc. to access and enjoy the much bigger selection of content on Netflix USA versus Netflix Canada was to essentially give those Canadians a good scolding. »» Here’s the Globe and Mail article about it.

After all, it worked on her 15 year old daughter. Apparently she explained to her daughter that by doing this her daughter was ‘stealing’.

Well, aside from that not exactly being true – the content creators and distributors were being paid, just not the Canadian division of the content distributors – what made me laugh was that Ms. Turcke could be so obviously out of touch with what Canadians think about her company and the other companies that provide us with internet and phone capabilities.

If you will allow me to digress for a moment, I was watching the movie Annie Hall the other night (legally, through Rogers cable) and in one part, where Woody Allen is doing a scene as a standup comedian, he gets big laughs from a bunch of Democrats at a fundraiser by saying:

I…interestingly, had dated a woman in the Eisenhower Administration briefly and it was ironic to me ’cause…I was trying to do to her what Eisenhower has been doing to the country for the last eight years.

I’m hoping you can see the connection to how many consumers perceive what Bell (et al) has been doing to them for some years.

But what is different here is that these people are not intentionally trying to ‘steal’. They are intentionally trying to enjoy their free time by watching what they want to watch in the easiest way possible.

Yes, I know that the reason the Canadian Netflix is different from the American Netflix is because of contracts that are different in one country from another. But most Canadians don’t know, and don’t care. They can go see the same movie as Americans at the cinema (they quite properly reason) why can’t they do it in their own home?

I’m not sure what Canadians can do about the anger they feel about the way they are treated by the big Broadcast Distribution Units, after all it doesn’t appear anyone new is going to come in and save the day.

But I was intrigued by what VentureBeat is claiming AT&T is going to try in the US. It is essentially a shop-for-data deal.(One AT&T spokesperson denies it but another is quoted as having presented the idea at an industry conference.) From VentureBeat:

AT&T will announce a new program next Tuesday that awards subscribers free broadband when they view ads, discover apps, or buy things from participating advertisers.

The carrier will offer the program, called Data Perks, to its post-­paid customers who are signed up with a Mobile Share Value plan. There are about 50 million of them

Now that is the kind of thing I think many Canadians would like to see offered by our carriers and distributors.

Carrot or Stick. Carrot or Stick. Hmmmmm.

 

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Apple, Spotify (and Pandora and Rdio) and CDs

I spent 5 years (froScreen Shot 2015-06-10 at 11.55.53 AMm 2007 – 2012) trying to cobble together financing to launch a national TV channel in Canada of independent/emerging music and met a lot of smart people with a lot of smart, well informed thoughts about the future of music distribution and sales.

This was in a world caught between CDs and iTunes with Pandora just starting up and Spotify barely a European rumour.

They all had varying opinions about what the world would look like in coming years, so I watched with some interest the reaction to the announcement on Monday of Apple Music.

First, a couple of facts, from the IFPI annual music report

Worldwide sales of music (all channels, including streaming) in 2014 was $15B

Streaming accounted for $1B of that.

Here is the surprising part: Physical sales are down for the umpteenth straight year, yes – BUT THEY STILL ACCOUNT FOR MORE THAN HALF OF ALL SALES: 51.5% to be exact. (Maybe that’s why IFPI continues to stand for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.)

At $10 per month per subscription, Apple Music would need 125 million subscribers to account for $15B all by itself. Which may seem like a lot, but iTunes has about 1 billion users, so it would be only 12.5% of their userbase. (I don’t know if the 1B figure is totally accurate, but they had 547M users in June of 2013 and 800M in June of 2014, so I’m pretty confident in the billion figure.)

So one can see why the music industry would want to make some deals with Apple. On the other hand, the music industry does not want Apple to hand them their lunch once again like they did on the launching of iTunes.

To give you some perspective on how big that lunch is, or was, before iTunes launched physical sales were almost $12B annually (2003) IN THE UNITED STATES ALONE. (Sorry about all the CAPS, but the two points I have made in caps are pretty significant.)

On the non-Apple front, Spotify has just claimed 70M users – 20M of whom pay a monthly subscription and Pandora claims 81.5M users. Rdio is pretty quiet about its user base, so it may only be in the million or million and a half neighbourhood.

Some bloggers have suggested Spotify could be in trouble, but I don’t think so, and obviously neither do the investors that just put an additional $150M into it. From these user figures you can see that the music industry isn’t forced to play totally nice with any one particular service like Apple and in fact it would probably be in their best interests to continue to play off service against service country by country. Rdio could disappear be virtue of its small user base. But you never know – the music industry may cuddle up to it with some kind of deal more beneficial to the labels to look like they are helping the little guy while setting precedents for the big guys.

I also have to agree with the pundits who are disappointed in what Apple Music has announced it is going to be.

Yes, I am sure there are at least 50 million people who will, for whatever reason, add $10 per month to their iTunes/Apple account to be able to stream Taylor Swift, but I don’t think there are 50 million Spotify or Pandora users on their free plan that are going to pay to switch over.

Quite simply, for them Apple Music doesn’t offer enough advantages in terms of convenience, selection or useability to warrant a $120 per year price for something marginally better than what they currently get for free.

 

 

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Thinking outside the box…and inside the kettle

How-to-use-MIITO‘Let’s think outside the box here’ is one of the trite cliches trotted out every now and then to encourage the incubation of fresh ideas, products, services and ways of approaching challenges.

A laudable sentiment, for sure, but unfortunately a lot of the ‘out of the box’ thinking that is supposed to arise from these ‘brainstorming sessions’ turns out to be woefully inside the box, though sometimes located in a different corner.

I am always delighted when I see the product of thinking that truly is outside the box. Like this inside out kettle conceived by Miito.

One of the problems with thinking outside the box is that the very words concede that there is a box to begin with. And many times the box that we should be thinking outside of (and which ends up constraining us and leading to conventional ideas) is not the solution box, but the problem box.

Mito did it differently. Rather than trying to design a different kettle (there’s the box!), they decided to design a new way of heating water.

That, in turn, led to dissecting the real problem – which is that a tremendous amount of energy is wasted by everyone when heating more water than they are actually going to use to make tea or coffee (or whatever). Their research showed people used twice as much water as they needed.

This in turn led to Mito putting the heating element inside the water rather than putting the water inside a heating container.

You can read more about it here »» Mitto.de

For me, therein lies the lesson. When asked to think outside the box to find a solution, flip it around and try to think outside the box to find the real problem.

 

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Without a clock, how will kids know where to put their hands when they drive?

Years ago (and the subject will give you some indication of just how many years ago), I read a very well thought out theory hypothesizing that digital clocks with their disconnected numbers replacing of analogue clocks with their little hands and big hands would give people growing up with them a new and different concept of time.

Whereas people growing up with analogue clocks could see visual representations of how ‘a quarter to’ or ‘half past’ was actually related to fractions of an hour, digital clocks had no such indication. There is no immediately evident way of knowing that the day (or half day) is divided into 12 hours and each hour is divided into 60 minutes. A digital clock is literally just numbers.

The supposition was that children of  the digital clock era (Generation ‘D’?) would grow up with a previously unknown concept of time that would have all kinds of repercussions affecting every facet of life.

Far too heavy for me to think about now, but it did occur to me when someone gave me instructions today about where my arms should be when doing something and said “Just like driving: 10 and 2.”

I can only imagine that if a driving instructor said to a 16 year old today “keep your ams at 10 and 2” the kid would have no idea whatsoever what the instructor was talking about. Without having grown up with an analogue clock it must be about as meaningful telling them to dial a phone.

Here’s a good comment on the subject from an article about the changing concept of where your hands should be on a steering wheel (some say 9 and 3, some say 8 and 4):

Traffic cops say in recent years, another new position has gained considerable popularity. “Mostly, I see the left hand up on the wheel,” said San Jose officer Sepulveda, “and the other hand on a cell phone.”

Which also leads me to another random thought. The other day I heard a radio commercial with the sound effect of a record scratch to indicate something gone awry. What on earth would THAT mean to a 10 year old today?

 

 

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The problem with internet advertising: 2

I’ve written about this before, and it still confuses me. I know for sure that Google and lots of other companies that want to decide which advertising I am shown when I go to a website know all kinds of information about my browsing habits.

But when I look at the ads presented to me, it seems sometimes that they can’t see the forest for the trees and that maybe better advertising decisions were made in the days before algorithms were involved.

Case in point. I needed a new element for the oven. SO I googled stove elements, found what I wanted and bought it. Of course, the companies that monitor my search don’t know (yet) that I made the purchase, so I still keep getting ads for new appliances when I go on YouTube and other sites.

I get that. What I DON’T get is this:

I also went on YouTube to find out something about boats. And GoogleTube showed me an ad for appliances.

Back in the days when mere humans made decisions, when you picked up a boating magazine you the advertisers assumed – and I think quite wisely – that you were interested in boats, so they served you up ads about boats and related things. Nary an appliance ad in sight!

Maybe for all their big data and algorithms and behavioural research these companies might want to do the simple and put a boat ad on a boat video or waterskiing video and put an appliance ad on a house decorating video or recipe video.

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Target’s fail and the Canadian psyche

Canada Target FailPlowing through all of the analyses of why Target didn’t succeed in Canada (as well as a couple of opinions that said they would have succeeded if they’d only been able to hang in there and keep losing money for another 5 years or so) I was struck by two themes:

1: That they just didn’t do a good job. It seems there was a lack of diversity of products, even a significant amount of empty shelves and the prices weren’t all that enticing.

2: They ‘underestimated’ or ‘misjudged’ the Canadian market or thought it would be just like the U.S. only colder.

And these observations aren’t from Canadian news outlets, these are from Adweek, the Wall Street JournalReuters and Fortune

I am not a retail expert, but I can’t imagine it’s uncommon for large stores to stumble over a few things when they begin operating in a new country. Since I see lots of the same stores operating when I go to different countries, I can only assume that most of them somehow figure out how to make it work.

But this is a colossal fail, and I think that Target’s failure to understand the psyche of Canadians, and the impact those two observations above would have on that psyche,  is what doomed Target here and was something they were never going to never recover from.

You won’t find this part of the Canadian psyche when you’re an American retailer conducting focus groups about coming here, because as an outsider you probably wouldn’t even know how to ask about it…but I think that deep within (a significant number) of Canadians there is still a combination inferiority complex/resentment when it comes to the United States of America.

I also think it’s natural for Americans to assume that the population of Canada is distributed probably pretty similarly to the America (if they think about it at all.) I’m not picking on Americans, I mean, why would you assume it was different? And probably most Canadians don’t fully comprehend that 90% of us live within 100 miles (160 km) of the US border. And 24.2 million Canadians  – 78% – make a one day trip by automobile to the US each year (well, the actual statistic is from 2007, but I have no reason to believe it is not still essentially true.)

So it’s not like we’re in the UK and we’ve heard about this NFL thing and have seen it on television but haven’t been there in real life in the States and are delighted to have you come and put on a display at Wembley each year…we have SEEN WITH OUR OWN EYES what you sell and have available to the people in your country.

So when you come to OUR country and open your store and we know your stores down there have huge selection and great prices and we love you for it and you give us Canadians empty shelves and ho-hum prices…alot of people are going to think “Oh, I get it, we’re the place they send the stuff they can’t sell down there – kind of  like the seconds discount outlet for a discount store. You keep all the good stuff for yourselves and think you can dump the rest of it on us dumb great white northerners.”

For me, this statement from a consumer quoted in Yahoo Finance sums it up:

“Shame on them for opening here with exorbitant prices compared to the U.S.,” said Lauren Tinto, 35, of Toronto. “They think we’re idiots or something.”

And once Canadians think that an American company thinks we’re idiots….well, now Target knows the answer. At a cost of $5.7 billion. American. Ouch.

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Traversing media. Will people go from one screen to another?

canada-celebratesLike many Canadians – 19 million of us to be exact – I watched some or all of the World Junior Hockey Championships on television.

As with all televised sporting events, the World Juniors had its sponsors and those sponsors put together advertising to capitalize on the occasion and the audience.

What intrigued me about the advertising for this event were a couple of commercials, one for Molson Canadian and one for WestJet. These were both exceptionally well produced ads. Great visuals, great audio, great direction, editing, pacing, etc. Congrats all around.

In addition to that connection, in each of these ads the commercial was less a commercial for a product, than it was a trailer for the extended videos from the advertiser available on YouTube with the ‘full story. The commercials gave the beginning outline of the stories but were sparse on the details.

The main call to action of the commercials was ‘hie thee to YouTube’

The Molson commercial was about a hockey player taking his dad by helicopter to a mountain top shinny rink (courtesy of Molson) to thank him for moving the entire family to Canada so the young man could pursue his hockey ambitions.

The WestJet commercials was about a young man named Josh who inspired high school students.

In the Molson commercial, you didn’t know if this hockey player was somebody in the World Juniors, or somebody now in the NHL, or somebody who never made it to anything beyond beer league.

In the WestJet commercial, you weren’t told how or why or what Josh did to inspire high school students.

As I said, the idea of each commercial was that you were encouraged to go to YouTube’ to get the whole story.

Will people go from a television ad to YouTube to ‘Find Out More’?

I never went to YouTube to find out more. I was busy watching the hockey games that the commercials were showing on. But I wondered how many people did go. I started by asking people I know of all ages and both sexes who watched the tournament and were aware of the ad.

None of them went to find out more either.

So I went to the web to do a little digging.

The simple answer on how many people did go to find out more is this (from the YouTube data for each video): About 1 million people went to watch the Molson story. About half that number went to watch the WestJet story.

TSN reports that the World Juniors had 19.4M viewers, meaning the Molson ad got about 5% crossover to YouTube and WestJet about 2.5%

I actually have no idea whether these numbers should be considered successes or not.

So as a couple of comparisons (none of which can be considered 100% fair or exact corrollaries), this is what I found out:

The largest thing on YouTube Canada right now is from the Jimmy Fallon show with Nicole Kidman talking about how they almost dated years ago. It has 17 million views (obviously, worldwide). To give you an idea of how that compares to the actual show’s viewership, Fallon’s Tonight Show has somewhere around 4 million viewers in the US each night (according to Variety in March 2014). So the YouTube audience is larger than the actual show’s audience by a significant amount. Four times as big, but again these are global YouTube figures on one hand and U.S. TV numbers on the other. So, maybe three times as big? Maybe twice as big?

Yes, of course Nicole Kidman and Jimmy Fallon are going to garner a larger audience and higher shares and chat than a Molson ad. Still, to have more people watch the YouTube video than to watch the actual show seems to me to be pretty significant.

How big is the audience for watching ads on YouTube?

Susan Krashinsky, Marketing Reporter at The Globe and Mail, recently did an article about the most watched ads on YouTube (Canada) in 2014. As she says “Canadians often weren’t interested in Canadian-made ads. Only two on the list were homegrown: the TD Bank spot at #1, and the video for Always, which was produced by Leo Burnett’s Toronto, Chicago and London offices.

That number one ad, for TD Bank, had 18 million views. Although all of the numbers displayed on YouTube are global views, I am assuming most of the traffic for this is from Canada.  It’s difficult to parse the Canadian viewing of most of the other commercials on the G&M list (including the Always vids) because they are US or internationally distributed and promoted. (For instance, the Always ad in second place has 53M views.)

Moving on from there, and using the links on the Globe article, I took a look at the success of WestJet’s Christmas videos for 2013 and 2014. The 2013 version accumulated 36 million — 36 million — views. The December 2014 version has already had 3 million views. For me, those would qualify as huge successes.

What’s interesting to me is that neither the TD or WestJet huge successes had significant awareness built by advertising on broadcast television. As far as I can tell they were built on the internet, through actual viral spread.

Anything that can be learned here?

I don’t profess to know the know the keys to viral success and how to get it to work with broadcast TV as the seminal ground to spread the word, but I will make a couple of observations:

The WestJet and TD YouTube sensations were both videos about generous acts delivered by the company in a genuine altruistic way. (Yes, I know they did it for marketing reasons, but you don’t get that feeling watching them.)

I am not implying that the Molson and WestJet Josh commercials did not depict generous acts, what I am looking at is the ability of a commercial viewed on broadcast TV to get people to go to a different device to find out more.

I personally would not consider either of the World Junior commercials to be runaway successes. If looked at in the harsh light of basic statistic analysis, it seems to me they got a few percentage of people to go to YouTube. Arguably it is a self defining audience, i.e. only people who are actually in the Molson Canadian beer drinking target audience care enough to go see more, so it increases engagement with their most important potential customers. But that seems a bit of a stretch.

I can’t extrapolate from my own experience and conversations with people I know, but I think maybe if the commercials had given me a bit more of an inkling of what the story was, I may have gone to YouTube.

Something like “the winner of our promotion took the opportunity to take his Dad on this once in a lifetime hockey trip…find out the whole story on YouTube” or “Josh is an incredibly courageous/generous/insert adjective here young man who inspired high school students to be courageous etc. themselves. Find out more at YouTube.”

It might have worked better. Or worse. I don’t know. These are largely uncharted waters and the cartographers are out exploring them and will come back with some good learning.

I do know that these are also exciting waters and those companies that understand the transversing of media is an increasingly important key to marketing efficiency and success will reap huge rewards by experimenting now, experimenting often and putting their learning into effect.

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The difference between Brand and Branding

The Smithsonian: Brands

This came from the Smithsonian, which has a cool article about the secret language of cattle brands.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been helping out a couple of friends and relatives launching businesses and in chatting with them, the subject of ‘branding’ came up.

Everyone told them they needed ‘branding’

‘What’s your branding?’ ‘Have you done your branding?’ ‘Who’s doing your branding?’ ‘You have to have good branding.’

Of all the half-baked or outright mis-conceptions people have about communications and marketing, it is this thing called ‘brand’ and ‘branding’.

There is a BRAND, and there is BRANDING.

People confuse the two. To their detriment.

So I explained it to them. And I am happy to share my explanation with whoever happens to be reading this right now.

Not to get too esoteric off the bat, but the difference between the brand and the branding is the difference between a number and a numeral.

The number is three (for instance). Three is the idea. It transcends physicality, space and time – it could be three apples or oranges or atoms or quarks or three feet or metres or quarts or planets or three seconds or dog years or light years.

Three the number can do all the magical things numbers do by being added and multiplied and divided and squared and put into formalae both simple and complex. It can help tell you what your grocery bill is and also be part of the necessary calculation to send a rocket to Mars.

Three the number also works whether you are in Canada or China or in Alpha Centauri.

But, since it would be complicated and time consuming to write the word three every time we wanted to talk about the number, and even more complicated and disruptive to trade and commerce because different languages have different words for the number and different letters to represent those word, in the interests of simplicity and time we now generally use this symbol   ~   3   ~   torepresent the number.

3 is a numeral.

It wasn’t always thus – in Europe a couple of millenia ago the number used to be represented by this: III. In other places it was represneted by other squiggles. But the Hindu-Arabic numerals won out because, well, look at the date used at the end of movies in the twentieth century and you’ll see why. Try to write out the equation for sending Voyager III to Mars using THAT!

To recap: three is the number. 3 is the numeral.

And to make it relevant to my point today, the number is the BRAND and the numeral is the BRANDING.

The properties of the number are unchanged by the representation of it.

Okay, the lady in the back row is saying, thanks for the math lesson. But how does this relate to the real world of communications and marketing?

Well, the best definition I have ever heard of a brand is this:

A BRAND IS A PROMISE CONSISTENTLY KEPT.

I wish I could say I made that up, but as far as I know, it was invented by David Kincaid who I used to do work with at Labatt and the clever people he now works with at Level5 Strategy Group: http://www.level5strategy.com  (I may not have quoted them exactly correctly, but the essence is right.)

I’m going to assume that you buy into that, and will now ask the question OK, so then what is BRANDING?

Well, branding is the numeral – IT IS THE REPRESENTATION OF THE DELIVERY OF THE PROMISE.

Which takes us back to the origina of the word ‘branding’, which was the branding of cattle.

Why were cattle branded? Because the cattle buyers were smart fellows (yes, there were only fellows in the business back then) and knew that certain ranches bred and fed better cattle than the other ranches. But aside from obvious defects like swayback and whatever diseases cows get in their mouths, it was pretty hard in the midst of an auction to quickly be able to tell the cattle from one ranch from the cattle from another ranch.

The promise being delivered was top rate cattle.

And to represent that promise – the ranchers started to burn an indelible mark into the hide of the cattle so everyone would know at a glance what promise to expect. And yes, they were also used to mark the cattle so they couldn’t be claimed by unscrupulous rustlers.

Now we come to the second part of the equation as set forth by Level5 (and I know I am quoting this correctly, because I took it out of one their presentaitons). They have a formula to explain the value of a brand:

PROMISE x CONSISTENCY OF DELIVERY = BRAND VALUE

So what happended was the people who bought the cattle that had the mark of the Ponderosa Ranch, let’s say ‘three bar x’: represented thus: IIIX thought they were pretty good cattle and they knew if they went to auction and bought some of them IIIX cows things would turn out allright.

Because the Ponderosa with the IIIX symbol DELIVERED ON THEIR PROMISE.

And that’s how the Cartwrights got the biggest ranch in Texas. (OK, I completely made that part up. But you get my point).

Even more relevant to tdoay’s discussion point is that it didn’t matter what symbol the Ponderosa put on their cattle. Nor is it relevant that they might have put it on the cattle to prevent poaching. If they put IVX then the mark IVX would have come to mean top rate cattle because they consistently delivered on their promise and the BRANDING came to represent the BRAND PROMISE.

Which, incidentally is how a meaningless made up word – KODAK – came to be one of the best known brands in the world, then slowly crumbled into bankruptcy because they stopped delivering on their promise (or forgot what their promise was.) So the red and yellow K stopped meaning the best and most reliable image capturing company in the world and started to mean the image company that couldn’t keep up with a changing world.

And that seems a good place to end today’s lesson.

The moral of the story for my friends and relatives who are starting their businesses?

YOUR BRAND IS YOUR PROMISE. Figure out your promise, give it some kind of representation (facebook seems to have done allright without a fancy logo) and then DELIVER on your promise. CONSISTENTLY.

That’s how you build a brand and build brand value. Whatever symbol you care to attach to it will come to represent to the buyer your ability to consistently deliver the promise.

And just to return to our Wild West scenario for one last bit – I don’t think anyone starting a cattle ranch back then decided the first order of business was to hire some guys who would tell them why something called the Double H or the FourF Connected with the letters arranged just so would lead to greater sales than the calling it the RArrow or the 7Up with other letters arranged just so.

They concentrated on the feed and the water and all the other things that went into making great cattle. And the branding took care of itself.

Exxon

Apple Google

Wal-Mart

General Electric

Johnson & Johnson

IBM

Chevron

pfizer

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The new mantra: IWWIWWIWI

I’m not really one for acronyms. One of the best lines I ever heard about them was years ago when I asked a tech guy what FTP or something stood for and he replied: ‘It’s just another TLA’.

It had already taken up most of the gumption I had to look like a fool and ask the first question in front of everyone in the meeting so after this reply I was kind of torn. Do I nod sagely like I ‘Ahh, of course, silly me, part of the TLA family’, or do I plunge in deeper and ask what THAT means or…fortunately he saved me with excellent mercy and comedic timing.

“It’s another Three Letter Anagram. We just use them to confuse people.’

To digress for just one more paragrpah – I remember listening to a radio show about marketing buzzwords and the subject of WOM came up for Word Of Mouth. And, as the interviewer deftly pointed out to the interviewee, only people using marketing jargon could justify an abbreviation that actually has more syllables than the original phrase.

Anyway — what is IWWIWWIWI?

For me, this is the thing that every communicator, marketer and business has to remember and is at the core of the technological revolution we find ourselves in the midst of:

I Want What I Want When I Want It.

Whether it’s a TV show, dinner, my bus or a website.

I Want What I Want When I Want It.

It is also implicit that  ‘When I Want It’ transcends physical space. In the case of media, I want it on my phone or my computer or my tablet or my television or whatever is either in front of me now – or gives me the most convenient or most satisfying way of consuming it in the future. (i.e. – sending a link from your mobile phone to your PC to watch something on a bigger screen with better sound.)

I know it’s not a TLA, but it’s still easier to remember than File Transfer Protocol.

I Want What I Want When I Want It.

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Reflections on how small the world is becoming.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.03.44 PM

This is how far media and technology have come…

To try to get the latest updates on  the terrible goings on in Ottawa today, I had the television on at the same time as I was skimming through the hashtag #OttawaShooting on twitter on my smartphone. I don’t think I was unique in having two platforms going.

One of the ‘newspapers’ I follow on twitter is the Guardian in the UK.

And they tweeted out (or in retrospect I guess it was a retweet) a link to a video of the gunfire encounter inside the Parliament Buildings.

I clicked on the link – to YouTube –  and was a bit surprised to see the watermark of The Globe and Mail in the corner. And then, as the video played, and I was looking at my phone, I heard similar sounds coming from the TV… and looked up to see the same video playing on CTV, almost in sync.

So, just to recap: through twitter, a British newspaper told me about a smartphone video shot by a Canadian reporter(@josh_wingrove) for the Globe and Mail which I viewed simultaneously on YouTube and national television.

Brave new world of technology indeed.

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Mobile software start-up I co-founded raises $2M in Series A financing

For the past four years I have been part of retailcommon.com, a software company that has gone through a variety of evolutions – or ‘pivots‘ as they’re called in the software start-up business.

I was integral to developing the software concept, designing the User Interface and analyzing and helping to guide the unique selling position. While my role wasn’t exactly writing and directing, many of the disciplines needed to put together cogent and engaging ads and films are exactly the disciplines needed to put together cogent and engaging software.

I can also say that condensing a software startup’s concept and potential into a 10 page slide presentation for potential investors requires exactly the same discipline as condensing months of research, discussions and strategy review into a :30 tv spot.

It was a fascinating journey, especially being in the front row of the development of a mobile first technology. When we first started on the path to mobile, smartphone penetration was about 30-35% in Canada – and about 70% of those phones were Blackberry. Time have changed indeed from those days when many potential clients asked in all seriousness whether we thought this smartphone thing would catch on in a big way.

I am delighted to say that the company recently closed a Series A financing of two million dollars and is launching in the U.S. November 1.

More details here at »» Yahoo Finance (opens in new window)

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Isn’t it not ironic

I was moved to write this post about irony because an announcer in one of the ALCS baseball games I have been watching lately noted that some Famous Baseball Player A played in a game and lost to another Famous Baseball Player B in a championship game and then they had kids and then those kids grew up and went to college and played against each other in a championship game and then ON THE VERY SAME DAY OF THE YEAR (or something like that), son of Famous Player A’ team beat son of Famous Player B’s team (or something like that) and the announcer (I know baseball announcers don’t have to be rocket surgeons, but the game does have a tradition of literate and literary commentators) said it was ironic. (italics mine, obviously, as this was the spoken word. Although some people do seem to be able to speak in italics. But I digress.)

THAT IS NOT IRONY! IT IS A COINCIDENCE!

So in doing a little research to write this post I googled ‘irony and coincidence’ and lo and behold came across this web page – which is particularly wonderful because it is a one-page website – lamenting exactly the same misuse of irony, oddly enough citing a baseball example, (maybe the tradition of literacy in the grand old game isn’t quite as prevalent as I thought or hoped) and then giving George Carlin’s very witty-and-memorable-as-always definition of irony.

“If a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.”

The website/page has more good stuff on irony, including other Carlin examples.

It can all be found at:
»»  http://thatsnotironic.com/   (opens in a new tab)

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The two basic questions to ask before developing an ad

I had a nice chat the other day with a friend who started out as an Ad Exec in England, moved to client side for Colgate, then came to Canada as a client, then ran the Canadian branch offices of what was then a VERY big Canadian agency, then went back to client side…he has lots of experience.

He told the story of a crusty Creative Director he worked with who had junior  Account Executives quaking in their boots at the thought of having to go see him. He would glare at them, let them tremble as they worked their way through whatever piece of business speak they were supposed to run by him, and then he would say:

I only want the answer to two questions:

WHO do we want to talk to?

HOW will this make her/his life better. (or put a different way WHAT’s in it for them.)

And when you think of it, the rest – media strategy, tone and personality, even the overall strategy, always boil down to those two things:

WHO do we want to talk to?

HOW will this make her/his life better.

 

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The Cellphone, the Landline and the Skype

Today I was in a conference call – three people – and what happened made me realize how far the world of communications has changed in just a few years.

Two of us were on Skype.

We had arranged to add the third person by calling their office. Person three doesn’t work at a huge corporation, but large enough to have one of those digital switchboard systems with 10 or 12 extensions.

There were communication problems.

The two of us on Skype were fine, but the not person on the landline.

“I can’t hear you very well, you’re breaking up a bit. Can you call me on my mobile” he asked.

Hung up. Called his mobile number through Skype.

“Hello?”

“Oh….that’s much better.”

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The problem with internet advertising

I heard a very smart person on the CBC today chatting about big data and what advertisers know about us, and how they use it.

I am not about to jump into the fray about the ethics or morality of how social networks and websites and advertisers gather and use information about current and potential customers – no, what I find interesting about big data is actually how badly it tracks me.

As an example, a couple of years ago I went to Peru and wrote a blog about it on one of those free travel blogging sites.  A little while ago the company was purchased by MapQuest. So what do you think showed up on every site I went to for the next three weeks? Ads for airline tickets to Peru. Didn’t they know I’d already been there?

I quite often search of restaurants in Toronto. But if I go to Google and search Toronto restaurants, the ‘personalized’ ad I get is for Zagat. I know, Google, you own Zagat, but it seems to me this personalized ad isn’t THAT personalized. I’m going to bet it pops up at the top of most Toronto Restaurant searches.

I’m not sure if the targeting is lame is because the companies are not allowed to track me too closely (I doubt it, the privacy debates seem to be ongoing) or they don’t want to make it too obvious they’re tracking me (yeah, right) or they’re not looking at the right data or not analyzing it properly, but my observation is that the marketing nirvana of tightly targeted advertising is some ways off, even with the mind boggling amounts of data now available.

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A very cool advertising format

I saw a very cool advertising format on television yesterday, on yesTV of all channels.

I hadn’t heard of yestv and after a little Googling I was surprised to find out that it is the  former Crossroads  Television – let’s just call it the Christian Channel – that is owned by Crossroads Christian Communications, and shows predominantly faith-based programming, such as televangelists and 100 Huntley Street.

Allow me to digress for a minute before I get to the ad format. Here’s how yestv came to be:

From Wikipedia:

On August 12, 2014, Crossroads announced that it would relaunch CTS as Yes TV on September 1, 2014. Describing the new brand as “embracing positivity and approaching the world with an affirmative position”, the re-launch coincided with the announcement that it had picked up several new secular reality and game shows for the 2014-15 season, including America’s Funniest Home Videos, American Idol, Judge Judy, Jeopardy!The Biggest Loser and The X-Factor (UK).Wow, talk about shows that EMBRACE POSITIVITY and APPROACH THE WORLD WITH AFFIRMATIVE POSITIONS.

Anyway…as I was absorbing the positivity and life affirming attributes of Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy! (I think maybe it’s the ! that gives it that positivity) a banner the width of the TV screen and about one fifth the height – essentially the same dimensions as an internet banner ad – rose into the frame for about five seconds (I can’t remember what it was advertising) and then sunk back down.

I had not seen this before, but I bet we are going to see more of it. And when it has a call to action like ‘go to this website now’ it is going to be an extremely effective and measurable bit of advertising.

Look out for it.

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