Monday, September 14, 2009

CHECK OUT MY NEW BLOG


Hi. I've moved over to word press and a new blog design to add more interactive functionality and fun. Check out www.BrandTwist.com and let me know what you think.

I'm still working out the kinks so I'd love your comments.

Thanks!

Julie

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stop Recording...Start Living!


Often the wisest words come from the mouths of babes.

Or in my case, the mouth of a very bright 8 year old boy...my son Sacha.

On our recent holiday in France, I was so busy trying to record every moment to share (via Facebook, and email etc) with friends and family back home...that I wasn't fully experiencing the moments as they were happening.

In this particular instance I was trying to capture an adorable picture of Sacha during his circus lessons.

Obsessed with gettting the perfect shot, I wasn't really watching the trick he was trying to show me.

"Stop taking picutres, and look!" he cried.

Instantly I knew he was right. The real value of the moment was in the moment.

Not in the picture or pithy update quote to be posted or tweeted later.

So I put down the camera and I really watched. And it was pretty cool.

And then I took a few quick shots.

And maybe I didn't capture exactly the perfect smile or get the ideal shot.

But when I close my eyes I can see it vividly and I can hear the excitement in his voice when he realized I was really present and paying attention.

Experiences are great to share, but first they should be...well...experienced.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
Has recording gotten in the way of experiencing for you?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School Blues


Today is the first day of school for my kids and I've got the blues.

It's not because the summer is over (although it did whiz by).

It' not even because the passage of time is so clearly marked as my kids march through the grades (it really does seem like yesterday my 7th grader was starting Kindergarten).

No, I'm blue for one simple fact- that they are the ones going back to school and not I.

I feel this way every fall.

In the real (working world) those of us who are lucky, and who make an effort to seek it out, do continue to learn.

But it's just not the same as the larger "unknown" that students face this time of year.

I miss the anticipation of learning new things, delving into unfamiliar territory, discovering new teachers and even making new friends that comes with official "Back to School".

So this year I've decided to do something about it. I've decided, in my own way, to go back to school.

I'm not talking about a graduate school kind of commitment.

I'm talking about taking stock this September of what I'd like to learn and setting out a plan (class schedule of sorts) to get there.

Right now I am still in the audit phase. High on my list are yoga, Hip Hop, Conversational Hebrew, and finally mastering the art of advanced Twitter.

OK it's more of a varied Freshman liberal arts curriculum - but it works for me.

The important thing is I am committing to learning something new.

And the prospect of this is exciting...hey maybe I'll even get a new backpack...or at the very least some new back to school clothes.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
What are your back to school plans

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kennedy- The Brand


I'm too young to have experienced the assassination of JFK.

But I did grow up in Boston and the Kennedy clan has always held a certain mystique.

I remember being glued to the TV the weekend that JFK Junior's plane went down at sea -and feeling like I'd lost someone I actually knew.

I also remember marvelling as a one-legged Ted Junior swooshed by as I was skiing with my family at Waterville Valley in the 70's.

I, like many others, have always been fascinated by the Kennedys.

Not necessarily as a family, or even as individual people, but by what they stand for.

In layman's terms... I guess by their Brand Essence.

A carefree "Martha's Vineyard" sense of style
Youthful optimism
Perseverance in overcoming adversity
A clannish family unit

And most recently with the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy - who served 47 years in the senate- a synonym for public service.

And in some way perhaps similar to another public figure so recently lost, Michael Jackson, a brand full of contradictions.

Ted Kennedy overcame great moral failings publicly displayed in Chappaquiddick to be regarded as a moral compass on issues like health care reform.

JFK a great leader is well recognized for his own personal infidelities.

Even JFK junior, the golden boy who still rode the NYC subways to work, failed several times (very publicly) to pass his bar exam.

Maybe it's this display of both good and bad and the acute attempts at redemption that make them seem so human and relatable and that draws us in.

Or maybe it's the opposite. Maybe it's their "otherworldness". The golden family. Like a J Crew ad- but even more stylized - that's part of the allure.

President Obama said they have been synonymous with the Democratic party and ideals.

However, I think there was and is something more universal about their appeal.

I believe people all over the political spectrum are feeling a loss this week. A loss of someone we feel we knew.

A man admired both for his approachability and for the aspirational ideal which he embodied.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
What does the Kennedy brand represent for you?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gone Fishing


Well not literally.

But I have gone away to unwind and recharge.

I will be back in a few weeks.

Full of new insights and fresh perspectives around branding and innovation.

And hopefully a killer tan!

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Julie

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You Tube & Customer Service

There's been lots of talk about social media and the power of a disgruntled few who can get their message out to to the masses through You Tube and other social media.

Check out this video from a Halifax group singing about a bad experience they had on United Airlines.



It received 500,000 views in it's first 3 days, almost 5 million views to date and over 20,000 comments.

Worth paying attention to.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
Is viral complaining an anomaly or the shape of things to come?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Joy of Less


Lately I've been paring down my shopping and loving it

I think it started in the Fall with the onset of the Recession. I suddenly felt a need to save more and to be more careful with my spending.

Thankfully this wasn't in reaction to a significant change in my own financial situation.

It was more an underlying sense of unease about the economy, and possibly I also got caught up in the national wave of belt-tightening.

But what started as an act of deprivation has turned in to a source of joy.

Instead of shopping for clothes this summer. I've been shopping my own closet.

And as part of this, I've done a serious purge of all the frivolous "well, it's only $20 dollars, how can I resist?" items that crammed the shelfs and racks.

These superfluous little splurges weren't adding up to too much monetarily. But they were choking my closet and keeping me from seeing the clothes I have and want to wear.

It's like I had so much stuff... that in the morning when I went to get dressed for work... I felt I had nothing.

Which would prompt a need to go shopping again, and the vicious cycle continued.

The joy of passing these clothes on to friends of mine and to charity made this purge even more satisfying.

As part of my new pared down approach, I've also decided I am going to adopt a sort of uniform in the Fall. Black, white (and occasional grey) separates and only accents in color (e.g. belts,scarfs, jewelery).

I only made this decision a few weeks ago, but already it's proved to be very liberating. I can walk right past the stores in Soho crying to me with their many colored dresses, tunics, shoes etc.

Since these items don't fit my simple dress plan I keep on walking.

I have a few friends that have also taken this approach in terms of their homes.

Because of job transfers, break-ups etc. they are renting furnished apartments. The majority of their stuff has been disposed of or put in storage. They took with them only what would fit in one or two suitcases.

To a person, they have told me that being unburdened from all their stuff is an incredibly positive and freeing experience.

Now as a brand person, I feel a bit guilty about this new philosophy.

Isn't conspicuous consumption, the oil that greases the wheels of the economy?

I don't claim that my actions alone are bringing the economy to a grinding halt.

(Although I do bet the DSW Shoe warehouse in Westchester is feeling the pinch of my abstinence).

But as a human being I feel lighter, healthier almost. And when I do occasionally buy something now, I cherish it's significance more. I value it more.

I wonder what will happen when the money and optimism starts flowing again. Will consumer go back to their free-spending ways?

There are different points of view on this. But I have a hunch that the "joy of less" will remain with some of us even when the world goes back to "more".

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
Have you experienced the joy of less?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Thrill of Flying (and Trying)



Yesterday we went on a company outing to a Trapeze School.

Wow!

What an experience.

A while ago I wrote a post about getting out of your comfort zone and feeling butterflies.

Well, this was easily a 100 + on the "Monarch scale".

Those butterflies were fluttering like crazy as I climbed the extremely steep ladder to the top of the platform.

The whole while I was wondering how I could gracefully turn around and go back down the ladder and not make too much of a fool of myself in front of my friends and colleagues.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) backing down the ladder wasn't an option. It was already being climbed up by the next victim (I mean participant).

So I listened to the instructor, took a deep breath, and took the plunge.

And it was hard. And I didn't quite do it right. And I was horribly ungraceful.

(By the way, this is not just me being modest. Later, over drinks I actually won a trophy for the "worst grabbing of the bar" from my crew at Virgin).

But I did it. And much to my surprise I actually put my name on the list to go up again.

And the second time was slightly better than the first, but still not great.

But I am glad I did it.

All the trite sayings about taking risks, feeling alive, etc. are true.

And although I wasn't perfect, I still felt good about challenging myself.

But do you know what was actually the coolest?

Watching other people conquer their fears and triumphing.

During the day, on the ride over to the location, and certainly during my long climb up the ladder it was all about me, me, me.

But once I completed my two turns and felt I had done enough, I got changed back into my street clothes, sat down and watched everyone else.

That's where I got the biggest thrill.

All around me, people were taking risks, climbing ladders, swinging on bars, and crossing a very high and scary metal tight-rope.

And although they were sweating, and shaking, and sometimes missing and falling...they were trying and succeeding...definitely succeeding in pushing themselves to try something new.

Hours later I can still vividly recall the look on my friend Paul's face as he nailed a challenging swing and catch into the arms of a waiting staff member.

A beautiful, pefect, s*** eating grin.

Watching him was definitely the best moment of the afternoon.

Reflecting on the highlights of the outing, it hit me that sometimes the reward doesn't have to be in the risks you take.

It can also be in sharing and celebrating the triumphs of others.

Maybe that's obvious, and probably it's a bit corny. But it's still true and worth remembering.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
Whens the last time you celebrated someone else's victory?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dance to a Different Drum




I love this video. It takes something traditional and turns it on it's head.

What fun and joy (and creativity).

From what I've read, this innovative entrance was the bride's idea.

The group only had one quick practice before the big event.

What a daring risk to take on the "biggest day of your life."

Sometimes it pays off to just go for it.

I have a hunch these two are going to have a happy life.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
What do you think of this reinvented tradition?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Taking it to the Streets


I love New York.


A few days ago I was walking in Soho down Broadway during lunch. The streets were packed with shoppers, and tourists and the atmosphere was almost carnival like.

In the space of one single block there were:

Two Hollister lifeguards" (shirtless, buff young men in orange shorts) standing in front of the store

One drag queen on a treadmill in the window of Ricky's beauty supply shop

One person with a tray standing out sampling chicken sandwiches in front of Miro sandwich shop.

All of this activity causing consumers to pause, smile, and more than likely enter a few stores they might not have been planning on.

It made me wonder why in these somewhat dire times more brands aren't going the extra mile to turn the retail shopping experience into well…an experience - and not just a transaction.

The trend towards retail as experience is nothing new. In fact it’s been in full force for a few years. Just duck into the M&M’s store in Times Square and you will see it in all its power and glory.

But lately it feels like a lot of retailers are pulling back from this. No doubt because the economy. But does it really cost that much more to deploy a few people street side (instead of having them hang around in an empty store)?

Maybe.

But I got to believe its worth it.

With the economy in a slump, online retailing so easy, and today’s stores full of “noise” around sales and “drastic reductions” - maybe it’s time to invest in some light-hearted, old-fashioned street entertainment.

Step right in folks and see the bearded lady….or the buff surfer…or the even buffer drag queen.

What have retailers really got to lose by spicing things up?

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
Are your favorite brands taking it to the streets?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

(The Too Easy) Brand Break-up


A few months back I wrote a post about ending relationships with brands.

I suggested that brands showed their true mettle not just in the acquisition phase. But also when customers wanted to terminate the relationship.

Being able to say "goodbye" with grace and no hard feelings is a sign of a healthy relationship - both in the romantic and real world.

Well last week I got the chance to put this theory to test.

I "broke up" with my Health Club (Equinox in Soho).

Well, I was already for a fight...I had heard from a friend that they would give me a hard time.

Well much to my surprise, they didn't.

In fact they made it almost too easy.

The friendly girl at the desk upon hearing my request asked me to fill out a simple form.

She politely told me about the 45 day cancellation period, pro-rated my remaining week in September, and took quick payment for it on my credit card.

And that was that.

In less then 2 minutes, our 3+ year relationship was over.

Almost as an afterthought she asked me "why" I was terminating.

When I told her it was too expensive, she filled this in out on the form and actually agreed with me by saying... "tell me about it."

I don't know if I stumbled about the one Equinox employee who was not trained to fight to the death to keep a member.

Or if this is really there brand policy.

Or if I don't fit the profile of the typical Soho member (e.g 25 year old super model) so they were glad to be rid of me.

But it left me a bit perplexed. And strangely let down.

I was happy to not have to fight. But at the same time I figured my membership was worth a bit more to them. No?

Some attempt at price negotiation? A thank you for my years of patronage? A free water bottle?

Nope, nothing. It was like we hadn't been involved those past three years.

I think there is probably a happy medium between making it overly difficult for consumers to dis-engage and making it too easy.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
Have you had a similar "brand break-up" experience?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Favorite Summer Brands


It finally feels like summer. Sunny skies (mostly) and warm nights with gentle breezes.

It’s time to celebrate the brands that make summer...well feel like summer.

Here are a few of my favorites:


1. Beer. I’m not a big beer drinker most of the year. But there is something about hot summer nights and some of my favorite summer foods (e.g. lobster, cheeseburgers, fried Ipswich clams) which down right begs to be accompanied by a cold one.

My favorite is Sam Adam’s Summer Ale. Here’s a list of some other recommended summer beers that I came across.

This list could use a bit of updating...so feel free to recommend.

If you are looking for a non-alcoholic summer beverage- nothing beats an Arnold Palmer (1/2 lemonade, ½ ice tea).

2. Mr. Softee Trucks ice cream. There’s something downright Pavlovian about hearing that distinctive music. It makes all kids ages 2- 82 come running. Since 1956 Mr. Softee has been serving up summer one scoop at a time .

3. Bug Spray. If there are mosquitoes lurking about, they will find me. Often I am that one person in a crowd besieged by bites, while everyone else enjoys their time out doors oblivious to the min-menaces. Growing up I hated bug spray particularly the smell of it. But I find the folks at Off Family Care have made some advances. I particularly like the smell and feel of Tropical Fresh Off and my brother swears by the Off Towelettes.

4. Water Parks. When it’s hot, there’s nothing better than a water park to combine some thrills with cooling spray. Two I really like are Six Flags Great Adventure New England in Agawam Mass (actually pretty clean and manageable for a big park) and Splash Down Beach in Fishkill NY (small and particularly good for young kids). My only warning about Six Flags, you will not be able to get that Venga Boys song out of your mind (“We like to party…).

5. A Great Summer Read. What’s summer without a great book to read on the beach or curl up with at night in the hammock under a summer sky? Here’s a few of my recent faves:

An American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Mary (Mrs. A Lincoln) by Janis Cooke Newman

Olive Kitteridgeby Elizabeth Strout

One summer experience I miss is the Drive In Movie.

I used to love to pile in the station wagon with my family and go to the movies. The sound was usually horrible, and we almost always fell asleep before the end.

But it felt so exotic to be doing something so familiar as watching a movie somewhere unexpected, like the great outdoors.

I’m lucky in that my town in Westchester shows movies outdoors a few times in the summer. Last week, I got to watch Madagascar 2 with my 8 year old on a beautiful summer night.

A friend of mine in Louisville has created her own neighborhood outdoor movie tradition with a laptop, a projector and lots of happy kids.

Summer is a unique time to slow down and take advantage of these seasonal treats. Don’t let it pass you by. It will be back to school and September before we know it.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What brands and experiences define summer for you?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Zappos and Amazon Sitting in a Tree


Congratulations to the folks at Zappos who have just been acquired by Amazon.

This is a great validation on Zappos' unwavering focus on customer care - which they passionately describe as "spreading happiness."

Here is a letter from Zappo's CEO Tony Hsieh to his employees.

This is one of the best pieces of internal communication I have seen:

- It maintains the unique Zappos' tone of voice, even when discussing "corporate stuff" like deal terms
- It addresses employees top questions/concerns head on
- It presents the new "Uber boss" (Jeff Bezos) in a friendly, informative, and visual way

Zappos is a great example of a company that really "walks the talk", staying true to their brand promise and personality in all aspects of everything they do.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
What do you think of this deal?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Six Pixels of Separation

A few weeks ago I attended a presentation by Mitch Joel @mitchjoel in advance of his book launch for "Six Pixels of Separation".

A few people have asked me about it, so I decided to summarize my key take-aways.

The sub-title of the book is "Everyone is Connected. Connect your Business to Everyone."

This is not really a new message. But it's still a relevant one.

I found Mitch to be a good presenter, engaging with a lot of interesting factoids, and a fair degree of (Canadian, I believe) humility.

Some of the things I found most interesting:

- There are now more grandparents on Facebook then high school students (according to Mitch and PC Magazine 7.6.09)

- 40% of the moms in the US are on MySpace. This is because My Space has been around long enough that these College students now have their own kids (Note: I find this one a little hard to believe that they would not have migrated off to Facebook...).

- A negative review on the web will actually convert better than a positive review because it lends an air of authenticity to the review. Mitch gave an example of looking for a basic camera to take pictures of his child. One review said something to the effect of "this is not going to help you take award winning photos, but it's great for capturing the kids" and this sealed the deal for him.

- "Your brand isn't what you say it is. It's what Google says it is". This quote was attributed to Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired Magazine.

In addition to these interesting facts, the core message that I took away is that the days of throwing out a message in mass media are over. Hoping to catch .2% of the population that are actually in the market and/or interested in your product at that time just doesn't make sense.

It's better to harness the power of digital media and get smaller audiences that are 100% open and interested in what you have to say.

Here are the messages that he used as the summary of his presentation.

#1 Think in terms of audiences, not psychographics or demographics
#2 Everything is "with" and not "instead of" (e.g. there is still a place for traditional tactics, just augment it)
#3 Don't be fleeting. Build share and grow it. Stay the course.
#4 Earn the right to get your users out of "lurker mode" (e.g. to become active, not passive)
#5 It's attitudinal, not generational. People can share similar passions across age groups.
#6 Upload a video to You Tube. Join the conversation. Do something now!

If you want to learn more about Mitch or the book Check out Mitch's blog

The book comes out in September.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
How are you connecting your business to everyone?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Personal/Professional Brand Gap



What happens when there is a gap between your personal and professional brands?

Lately there's been a lot of buzz (and no doubt a fair amount of confusion)about the concept of personal brand.

The best definition I have found so far is from BNET Business Dictionary that defines "Personal Brand" as "the public expression and projection of an individuals identity, personality, values, skills and abilities".

And while there is a recognition that the personal and professional brands are separate entities, I think they should at least work in sync.

Here are a few examples of personal and professional brand gaps:

I have a friend who has her own life coach consultancy. She is a fabulous, dynamic, insightful woman. And a day or two with her will quite possibly change your life. It did for me.

A lot of her referrals come from word of mouth.

But in order to grow her business she needs to make sure that all points of contact with her brand are working as hard as they possibly can.

Unfortunately the key public elements of her brand (e.g logo, website, marketing materials) don't convey much of this warmth and insight. They come off as a bit corporate and generic- which is the exact opposite of her personal brand and the experience you get when you actually work with her.

This is a missed opportunity to have the personal and professional brands reinforce one another. It's one that she recognizes and is working on.

I have another friend with the opposite problem. She has a fantastic brand promise in the emerging field of green real estate. Her brand presentation (logo and value proposition) are pretty interesting and differentiated.

And while she is a lovely person and connects very well with everyone she meets, her personal brand doesn't reinforce what she is doing in the area of green.

Now I am not saying she should show up in all out "tree hugger" garb for meetings with local corporate real estate clients. This wouldn't click with her personal style which is more modern day Grace Kelly. It wouldn't feel authentic.

But she could send more subtle clues.

For example, she could bring her personal brand more in line with her professional one by thinking more carefully about some of the things in her personal life that define who she is. For example, what causes she is associated with in the town in which she lives (and in which she does business), what kind of car she drives, etc.

Instead of sending holiday cards with a pictures of her children to clients and friends, she may want to consider a card that is printed on recycled paper, is embedded with seeds and once planted grows flowers, or even features a donation on to a cause that is in sync with her brand.

Her business really centers on her and her expertise. As of now she has no partners. So how she presents herself can make a big impact. Even something as seemingly superficial as toting her client files in a bright green computer bag (that matches her logo) or always sporting a green scarf could send a subtle reinforcing signal of her business differentiators.

With so much competition in every sector and so much pressure for resources on all fronts, it seems we can't afford to have all our brand touch points (both personal and professional) not working as hard as they can. Pointing them all in the same direction and closing any gaps is essential to this.

If you are interested in personal branding I have found Dan Schawbel's blog to be a good resource. You can follow him on Twitter at @Danschawbel.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
How have you seen personal and professional brands work together or apart?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Social Networking Etiquette


Twitter, blogs, Facebook have made it easier than ever before to network with people who could help you gain valuable advice, insight and connections.

But just because it's easy to access people, doesn't mean you should.

Or at least it doesn't mean you should just reach out without at least a nod to some good old fashioned etiquette rules of the pre 2.0 era.

I am fortunate to meet a lot of interesting people and to be part of a lot of industry events, panels etc. I also genuinely like to connect with people.

But lately I feel like the boundaries of "professional" contact are getting a bit blurry.

I'm not suggesting we go back to an era of formal notes asking for appointments delivered by butlers on silver platters. but I do think a little more etiquette would go a long way.

Mostly, I think good (vs. bad) networking etiquette is a question of respect.

I don't mean genuflecting or addressing someone formally (although "oh Holy Brand Queen" or "Empress of Blogging" would definitely get my attention). I mean respecting someone's time.

For example:

At a networking event or conference don't monopolize someone. Introduce yourself, state your comment/question or desire for a follow up, get your response and then respectfully move on. If there is a line of people behind you waiting to talk to the speaker, acknowledge this and wrap up.

When requesting an exploratory meeting, make it clear in your email exactly what you are looking for. I get a fair amount of vague requests asking for "guidance on my career" or "input on my brand". You will get a higher likelihood of response if you are specific. e.g. "I was wondering if you could give me some advice on switching from an agency position in packaged goods to client side in the service industry".

Also do your homework before the meeting and have some ideas on the subject you are looking to get reactions to.

And when you say you only need 30 minutes of someone's time, then mean it. Whether in person or on the phone, you should be organized enough to get what you need in 30 minutes.

I think a mark of respect is also showing that you value someone's time by making sure they get something out of it.

Follow up a conversation with a link to an article or a video on a subject that you discussed. Offer to make introductions to people they may find interesting/useful. Leave comments on their blog or share it with others. Twitter about your encounter and help them build their personal brand (something event the most well-known people still constantly work at).

Don't assume because your need is pressing that they should drop everything to answer it. Don't send an email asking for a response tomorrow. Do make it easy to respond by clearly stating what you are looking for and giving them the option to first respond by email.

Also if you are looking for a face to face meeting a good strategy is to say that you are going to be in thier neighborhood at a certain time and date and give a few options.

Don't "friend" a business connection on Facebook unless they suggest it or you clearly have made a personal connection during your meeting.

Try Linked In. It's more appropriate and allows you to easily keep in touch.

Everyone may seem one click a way. But remember we all have busy lives (personal and other wise) and chances are you are not the only person reaching out to someone.

Reach out with respect, and your response rate will be higher.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
What rules of social etiquette do you follow?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

5 Favorite French Brands


In honor of Bastille Day and the French, here's my take on some favorite French brands.

1. Lacoste

Last week's Wimbledon men's final really brought this home to me. There's Federer all superhuman in his gold Nike gear looking every inch the Tennis God/Machine and there was Andy Roddick in his subdued Lacoste wear embodying the grace and sportsmanship of tennis. He seemed more human, more likable and more about the actual game. Lacoste has had it's moments of popularity and then some less, but it seems to endure and continue to represent the quiet confidence and love of the game of it's original namesake, Rene Lacoste.

2. Veuve Clicquot

I have to admit I am partial to champagne in general. But Veuve Clicquot in particular I admire both for it's delicious bubbly, but also for the way it manages to continue to surprise and delight with it's iconic orange and beautiful (and often useful) packaging.

3. Pylones

This might seem like a strange choice. A lot of people don't know that this brand of whimsical household items and kitchen gadgets is actually French. But it is. Pylones (pronounced pee-lone) was founded in France in 1985 by Alan Ceppos and Frédéric Rambaud. What I love about this brand is that it is so whimsical, colorful, and light-hearted (not qualities always associated with the French- with apologies to my French husband and friends). But it literally draws you in the store, and even just passing by the windows in Grand Central every morning makes me smile.

4. YSL

This brand was founded in 1961 but still manages to feel fresh, contemporary and crave worthy. In recent years it's begun to take itself slightly less seriously with the introduction of more color and whimsy in some of it's famous patterns. I love what it represents. Timeless, but always contemporary and crave-worthy style.

5. Victor Hugo

A controversial figure but undoubtedly a literary master and a self-described "Free Thinker". He actually spend much of his life in exile from Paris but was a quintessential French intellectual and writer. Les Miserables (albeit in it's more digestible Broadway incarnation) remains one of the stories that has touched me the most deeply with it's themes of love and sacrifice.

Vive La France (and the French brands).

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
What French brands are you celebrating this Bastille Day?

Monday, July 13, 2009

This Memory Sponsored by...


I took my 8 year old son to a Mets game at Citi Field Friday night.

And while the 3-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, was disappointing, what really got me was the overabundance of "sponsored" moments at the game.

I know this is not a new phenomenon, and I know that the Mets are not alone in this.

But what really got to me was the disappointment in my 8 year old's voice when he remarked, "there sure are a lot of ads here, Mom."

There's a lot that's right with Citi Field and the experience. The facade is beautiful, the people that work there (from the food servers, the security staff, to the man who runs the elevator) were all so warm and friendly.

The food options are great. And the Jackie Robinson Rotunda allows for an important teaching moment.

But the view is crammed with so many billboards and every single break in play is sponsored by yet another company with a branded "moment" or an inane "contest" (e.g. best stadium kiss, best show of soft hands, best pass the pizza boxes down the aisle etc, ect).

Each of these ends with some group of "lucky fans" winning a gift certificate to a restaurant, sporting store, even a gift basket of hand creams.

In my opinion, it takes away from the overall brand connection with the Mets and the stadium.

It was a beautiful summer night, our first time at the new field, a special mother-son outing, and a memory in the making.

I was treasuring every minute of my "Hallmark Moment" I guess I just didn't need to be so blatantly reminded who it was sponsored by.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
Do you think sports event branding has gone too far or is this just the new norm?

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Need for Human Contact


In this digitally connected world, we can sometimes forget the importance of real human contact.

Two things brought this home to me this week.

The first was the memorial service for Michael Jackson on Tuesday.

I was amazed at the masses gathered around the world to watch this event together. It seemed like there was some collective comfort, or at least importance, in being with other people to experience this moment.

From Times Square to Trafalgar Square thousands of people chose to move away from the comfort of their own living room TV screens to view this event in the company of others...who for the most part were total strangers.

Even at my office, a few of us sat in the kitchen to watch this during lunch. It did somehow feel more significant to experience this with other people.

The last time we assembled like this was to watch the Obama inauguration. I am sure we could have a healthy discussion about the parallels between those events and the relative significance.

But my point here is not whether this moment was truly worthy of historic meaning. It's that people seemed to judge it so and felt the need to mark the moment with other people.

The second thing that brought this notion of human contact front and center for me was this Free Hugs video by Juan Mann.

Maybe you've already seen it. I discovered it this week in a talk by Mitch Joel for his new book "Six Pixels of Separation" (more on that in a future post).

It's a few years, old but it's still powerful. As I understand it, Juan created a movement for Free Hugs in Australia that got global attention (he was even on Oprah).

The purpose of the movement is to perpetuate "acts of human kindness" designed for the sole purpose of making people feel better...and presumably less alone. Anyway it's definitely worth watching.

Another relevant analogy is something many of us did last weekend... watching fireworks.

Sure you can watch them on TV, but I think there is something so fundamental to the enjoyment of the experience of seeing them live and sharing the moment with others (and of course hearing the crowd ooh and aah).

Incidentally, National Free Hugs Day every year is the first Saturday of July. In 2009, this happened to fall on July 4th. An interesting coincidence.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
What experiences do you think are enhanced by the human collective?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Art of Listening


Want to know the secret to a great interview (or any great meeting for that matter)?

It's not the ability to dazzle with charm, intelligence and witty insights.

It's not talking at all. It's listening.

A friend of mine told me that not too long ago.

It was a bit hard for me to take this in at first because I actually pride myself on being pretty handy with a quick response. And like many of us, I am probably a bit too enamored with the sound of my own voice.

But in the spirit of the subject, and helped by a glass (or two) of extraordinary Chardonnay- I decided to put my skepticism aside and try to really hear what she was saying.

And as she talked more about it, I decided I believe her.

Partly because she is one of the best people I know at building client relationships and winning new business- so she has lots of credibility on the subject.

But also because the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense.

Listening, really listening to what someone else has to say, and not just biding your time til it's your turn to speak...shows a lot of good qualities.

It shows respect, interest, restraint, thoughtfulness.

It makes the other person feel flattered and heard (two powerful emotional drivers).

But here's the thing, listening is hard.

You have to work at it to be really good at it.

It seems there is so much focus these days on sharing, talking, blogging (mea culpa), communicating, networking etc. That we often overlook the important art of listening.

It's something I'm trying to get better at, but it's taking a fair amount of conscious effort.

So I've asked a few people for advice on being a better listener, and here are a few tips I've picked up:

- Force yourself to focus, put away the Blackberry
- Don't take notes, it actually takes the focus away from the conversation
- Concentrate instead on being present, repeat out loud what you've just heard
- Pause after someone is finished speaking
- Resist the urge to rush in with a comment
- Thank the other person for sharing their view before you respond
- Don't' say "yeah, but", instead may it a habit to respond with "yes,and..."

Active listening, if done right, encourages you to build on the idea that you just heard instead of tearing it down.

This will lead to better meetings, more successful interview, and stronger relationships.

Hard to debate the value of all that. Isn't it?

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
How do you hone your listening skills?

Monday, July 6, 2009

5 Common Blunders in Brand Naming


What’s in a name? Well with all due deference to Mr. Shakespeare….a lot.

Naming is one of the hardest things about creating a brand.

It may appear deceptively easy. After all most of us have successfully named pets, children, favorite body parts, etc.

But finding an appropriate and legally available trademark is actually very difficult.

It’s been a while since naming was my full time job. I had the privilege and the pleasure of leading the crack Verbal Identity group at Interbrand for many years.

Last week I was asked by 3 separate friends for naming counsel for their start-ups. This got me thinking about the old days and the triumphs and tribulations of naming. So I decided to dust off my verbal identity cap and share my advice here.

Most Common Naming Mistakes
1. Not agreeing to the strategic role of the name upfront
2. Evaluating names without the proper context
3. Expecting lightning bolts and the perfect name to appear
4. Treating final name selection as a democratic decision
5. Not leaving enough time for the naming process

Here’s some more perspective on each of these “naming blunders”:

1.Not agreeing to the strategic role of the name upfront
We tend to expect a lot of brand names. Be catchy, stand out from the competition, not too long (ex. 6 letters, 2 syllables), legally available, available as a URL, and my favorite recent criteria…become part of the current vernacular like Twitter or Google (e.g. “I Googled him last night”).

Phew! That’s a lot. Well the truth is it’s a rare name that can accomplish all that. So it’s best to hone in on the specific role of the name. One way to do this is a proper naming brief. List the 3 (no more) key benefits the name should convey. Agree to the priority and make them as well-defined as possible (e.g. “delicious” or "confidence" are too vague, be more specific). Remember, you have other tools in your branding tool box (e.g. logo, tagline, advertising)to convey elements of the message. Don’t put the burden 100% on the name to communicate every nuance of your strategy and positioning.

2.Evaluating names without the proper context
To my point above, the quickest way to kill a name is to evaluate at it as a simple word without any context. This is a lazy approach, and quite frankly it doesn’t really reflect the way the name would be seen in real life. Can you imagine choosing any of the following names today just by seeing them in black and white on a piece of paper: Apple, Virgin, Nike, Starbucks, Kodak, Haagen Dazs, IKEA?

Each of these names has come to mean something because of the powerful branding that surrounds them. If you are creating new names for a company, then imagine answering the phone at reception with that name, pretend you are at a sales meeting and someone asks you what your company name means…prepare a brand story for the name and see if it serves as a platform to give an interesting answer. One that helps you to tell a compelling story and quickly get to the point about what’s special about your company.

Consider creating some rough logo designs for the names you are evaluating. A good name, should be easy for a designer to spin in a lot of different directions. And remember that the colors, font, and shape of the logo can help you speak to a lot of the attributes and benefits that might not be conveyed in the name. For example if one of your product or company’s benefits is security, you don’t need to put “sure or secure” in the name. The concept of stability can be communicated through color, font, or simply by the people that are behind the company or product.

3.Expecting lightning bolts and the perfect name to appear
I can only remember one time in all my years naming at Interbrand, when we all knew immediately that we had come upon the “perfect” name. This was when we created the name Orbitz for what was then a fledgling web travel service. Usually names need a maturation process. Either they grow on you naturally, or they grow as you continue to poke and prod and explore them with some of the methods I mentioned above. This especially true if you are changing a company name (e.g. a merger, acquisition or need to start clean). The old name, though it may be flawed, is comfortable. It’s like when you get married and you may change your name. It’s going to feel awkward at first, which is normal because it’s what you are used to, but eventually the “new” name will also feel right. Give names a chance to marinate, and don’t set up as an unrealistic expectation the “we’ll know it when we see it” or “lightning bolt effect”. To this end, it’s a good idea to keep a healthy handful of names on your “Short list” (preferably 5-10) because they will inevitably get knocked about in the trademark process (more on that later).

4.Treating final name selection as a democratic decision
Names are subjective. One man’s weed may be another man’s rose. This is why most of us decline to share a future baby’s name with even close friends and family until the baby has been born and the birth announcements printed. Because we don’t want the “harmless” opinions that come with sharing this decision. Example: “Oh really, the bully who used to torture me in 3rd grade was named X”. Not really relevant or helpful. That’s why it’s really important when you are going through a naming process to be clear up front who has the final say. It shouldn’t be a democratic vote . Pros and cons for each name should be gathered and considered, opinions can be heard. But you are certainly not going to get everyone to agree.

At some point, someone has to make a decision. And then begin the very important process of getting internal audiences to understand, and eventually, embrace the new name. Ideally this should be done as a series of powerful communications (visuals, videos, and brand stories) before the name is launched externally. An ideal goal is to have anyone from the receptionist to the CFO be able to articulate with certainty, passion, and consistency the message behind the new name.

5.Not leaving enough time for the naming processWell, you’re probably already exhausted by the process if you are still reading this post. But as you can see there is a lot that goes into finding a powerful and available name. I haven’t even touched on the rigors and the nuances of trademark and URL search (and the important investigations and negotiations that usually follow). Very few names appear available at first blush and the difference between a good and bad IP attorney is the former will counsel you on how to get one of the names you want, the latter will just say no. What always amazes me is that people spend months even years bringing a product or company to the point that it is ready for launch, but only leave a few months (and sometimes only weeks!) for the naming process.

That’s just bad planning. Start early. It’s one of the most important decisions you can make in developing your brand. It’s the first and one of the most powerful signals to the world on what you are about. Give it the time it deserves. And believe me you want time on your side, and not working against you, if you do find yourself negotiating for a trademark or URL.

My last piece of advice, is to remember any name can work (ex. Chase Bank, The Pep Boys, Woolworth’s etc).

A good name is one that is legally available.

A great name is one that is available and gives you a starting point on which to build a strong brand.

Treat naming as an art and a science, invest the time and money in the proper resources to help you, and you will significantly increase your likelihood of creating a great brand name.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What good and bad naming practices have you seen?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Re-branding of Michael Jackson


Michael Jackson's musical legacy is hard to argue with.

But it's his personal brand that fascinates me.

What's going on here?

The events of this past week have been bizarre to say the least.

Michael Jackson seems to have been re-branded overnight.

Gone is the controversial 50 year old that in recent years has had his share of troubles (financial, legal, medical).

In it's place is a undisputed "King of Pop" who is being embraced and flaunted as a symbol of triumph (not tragedy).

From a branding point of view, it's a situation we'd all like have. To be able to erase any negative perceptions overnight and replace them with an outpouring of public acceptance, tributes, and even financial success (his albums are selling better than ever).

Granted, the catalyst for all of this is a tragic event and something that none of us would wish for in the world of brand, or the real world.

Nevertheless, I am amazed at the 360 degree re brand and I can't help wondering why this is happening.

Is it that he's hit a nerve at a particular time in the Nation's psyche when we are so desperate for redemption that we are willing to overlook a lot to get there?

Is there a racial pride element here that is perhaps linked to the historic election of the Nation's first African American president? A need to continue to search out and elevate heroes? Or even a desire to protect ground that has been so painfully gained?

Or is it simply that in the case of Michael Jackson, that the good parts of his brand are so powerful that they outweigh the bad?

But if this is the case, then why wasn't he accepted back into the mainstream before his tragic death?

I can't think of another celebrity brand that has had this quick and successful of a re-branding.

Madonna has reinvented herself several times, but she doesn't seem to have ever had to come back from so far.

Britney has made toe dips into the waters of re-invention (with some fan support) but again I can't imagine this level of global tribute if something horrible were to happen to her.

Woody Allen has somewhat recovered from his fall from grace and the scandal with his ex- step-daughter, now wife. But one could argue his brand has lost some of it's luster.

Martha is back, but seems to have been humbled and not quite returned to her former glory.

What exactly is going on here that is allowing Michael Jackson to be re-branded overnight from a clearly troubled-soul who seemed to be struggling with his identity, to a symbol of pride and a beloved national (even global) figure.

Maybe in a year of horrible financial news, unparalleled betrayals (e.g. Madoff), and personal crisis where millions of us are forced to redefine our own personal brands and struggle with what our own legacies might be... that perhaps the world needs to believe in something simple, and pure?

Maybe that's why so many are so willing to wipe the slate clean and embrace a rose-colored glasses version of a well-known brand.

But I'm not sure, I still don't quite get it.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
What do you think is driving the re-branding of Michael Jackson?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Thumb Hurts


I stabbed it on something sharp in my purse this morning as I was rushing to get out of the house and make my train.

My purse is a bit of a minefield, so I’m not even sure exactly what the offending object was.

My thumb bled a little bit and now it has a dull ache under the nail which is making it quite hard to type, particularly on my blackberry.

So it hurts….literally.

But it also hurts… figuratively.

The constant state at which I (like I am sure many of you) are texting, typing, twittering etc. Is giving me a thumb ache.

It used to be at the end of the day I’d feel my weariness behind my eyes.

Now it’s my aching thumb.

It makes me wonder about these prehensile digits. Will they really begin to grow to enormous sizes like in that book “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” by Tom Robbins .(Loved the book, never saw the movie).

Will we start do thumb exercises on newborns and toddlers to give them a leg up in the 21st century?

Maybe it’s a sign that I need to ease up on my steady digital diet.

Or maybe it just means I should just be more diligent about cleaning the sharp objects out of my purse.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
Do your thumbs ever hurt?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Find Your Inspirational "Happy Place"


We all have a "Happy Place".

I'm not talking about a location we just enjoy.

But a place where we really feel at home, and connected to our "true" selves.

A place where we are able to think clearly, remember what's important to us, and get back in touch with what we really want and believe.

Mine is a house on a lake in Western Massachusetts that belongs to very close family friends.

Many of my happiest childhood memories involve family outings to this place.

I was lucky enough to spend some time there this past weekend.

Up early before anyone else on Saturday morning I sat looking over the still lake, and I felt rested in a way that I haven't in a long time.

I didn't realize how much I had been missing and needing this place, until I was back there.

While I am lucky enough to get back to this lake once a summer... I was thinking how can I harness the energy of this place when I need it on a more regular basis?

I started to think about other places where I felt this kind of peace that, for me, often leads to a renewal of creative energy.

I realized there were a few other more local places that gave me a similar feeling:

- the second floor of my local library overlooking the Hudson river
- the quiet car of the Amtrak Acela train along the coast to Boston
- the sanctuary of my synagogue

These places seem to be quite different from one another on the surface.

But when I thought about it they have a lot in common.

Many involve a view of water, all are relatively quiet, all involve reflection and an ability to be with other people but also be alone with my own thoughts at the same time.

By identifying these similarities and realizing I had more options than a scenic (but somewhat impractical) 3 and a half hour trip to Western Massachusetts, I immediately felt better.

The renewal I need to keep the creative juices flowing is here and accessible.

It's just up to me to make the time and conscious effort to visit my local "Happy Places" more often.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
Where's your "Happy Place"?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Keep Your Ideas in a Drawer


Not forever, but at least for a day or two.

Sometimes we get so caught up in a new idea that we want to shout it from the rooftops or share it with the world...right away.

But my experience is that most ideas actually benefit from a little marination.

I always try to adhere to the 24 hour rule.

I'll work feverishly on something, then put it away in a drawer for a day. Then when I take it out, if I am still as passionate about it as I was 24 hours before I will share it as is.

But most often what happens, is when I read it a day later, there are a lot of things I'd like to keep the same. But also a few tweaks I'd like to make.

This doesn't mean watering it down.

It just means taking a second look to see if it makes as much sense as I thought it did during my burst of creative energy.

And often it means showing it to someone else for a second opinion.

However, I've found if I do show it to someone else, it's really important to be clear what kind of input I'm looking for.

The smart folks at ?WhatIf! call this "signalling". In other words, inviting commentary in a positive way.

For example, "I'm excited about this idea, I am still working on it and was wondering if you could help me build it?" or "I am looking for input in this specific area..."

This will avoid some of the well-intentioned but often soul-crushing input we often get when opening our ideas up to others.

In either case, letting a idea breathe for a day or so often helps it to become stronger.

And by the way, this 24 hour rule applies nicely to those impassioned late night emails we all write, usually when we're fed up about something. Put the email in your drafts folder and see if you feel the same way in the morning.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
Do you give your ideas some breathing room?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

5 Ways to Be a Better Client


I got good response (many via Facebook) on Monday's post on "5 Key Agency Mistakes".

A few people suggested I turn the tables and outline some criteria for being a good Client.

The following is based on reader suggestions (thank you, you know who you are) as well as my experience (again) having been on both sides of the table.

So here goes:

5 Ways to Be a Better Client:

1.You hired the Agency for their expertise- now listen
Clients spend a lot of time seeking out just the right partner to help them attack a particular problem or maximize and opportunity. And then many end up questioning and pushing back on every suggestion. Some challenging is definitely healthy, but pushing back on everything signals either a bad fit, a lack of trust, or the inability to cede control. Let the experts do the job you chose them for.

2.Ask for ideas outside of your Agency's core competency
At the same time, it's great to bring your agency into decisions that are outside of their immediate zone of expertise. It shows that you really value them as a strategic/creative partner and it may also lead to a fresh point of view. I've gotten fabulous naming suggestions from a graphic designer, and terrific partnership ideas from my research company.

3 All great work begins with a great brief. Or at least a well thought out one. Take the time to write down and think through, what you really want. What does success look like and how will the idea/output need to be socialized before it is implemented? This can be a collaborative process with the Agency, but take the time up front to do it and really listen to the Agency's suggestions and concerns. They've seen lots of briefs (both good and bad) and can recognize pitfalls early on (see point 1).

In case you haven't seen it hilarious video about the process of creating a "better stop sign". Notice how the brief keeps evolving.

4. Be demanding, but not completely unreasonable. It's fine to push and we are all under a lot of pressure for deadlines and fire drills from management. But too many "I need this by tomorrow at 8 am" (when you are calling at 6pm) will just burn out the Agency and over time the work will suffer. It's a bit like the boy crying wolf. Step back and think is it really an emergency, or just poor planning. If its the latter, think what changes you can make to minimize this.

5. Say thank you, often and loudly. Nothing motivates like genuine praise. It will keep your partners going the extra mile, forgiving some minor transgressions on points 1-4 and keep the best people wanting to work on your account. Consider going beyond the one on one thank you to a more public acknowledgement. Allow them to present your work at conferences, thank them publicly when presenting the ideas internally, even share some credit in the press. Acknowledgement for work well done, helps keep Agencies strong by attracting high caliber talent and clients. This will benefit you in the long run.

Plus it's just good manners to acknowledge other people's hard work and positive contributions and ...god knows we could all use more of that.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
How do Clients shine or stumble?

Monday, June 22, 2009

5 Key Agency Mistakes


I spent the first 20 years of my career on the agency side (Grey, Interbrand) and then I became a client (Virgin).

Boy, do I have a whole new perspective now.

It’s like that movie “Switch” by Blake Edwards

Don’t know if you seen it, but this man womanizes one too many women and is shot by his angry jilted lover. Instead of dying, God sends him back to earth in the body of a woman to see what it really feels like to be on the receiving end of all his wrong doing.

The body he inhabits, by the way is Ellen Barkin’s body ( not too shabby).

Anyway, it’s full of lots of funny sight gags and some touching insight into how the “other half” lives.

I feel lucky to have this unique, albeit somewhat different, perspective now too.
After almost 3 years as a client, I’ve sat through a fair number of pitches and worked with all sorts of agencies (e.g. advertising, branding, web, and research) and I think I’ve gained some valuable insight.

Most of this is actually blindingly obvious and probably things that you already know. But the question is, are you following these principles? Or do you get lazy, or tired, or scared and revert back to bad behaviors?

Here’s my advice for Agencies (from someone who’s been on both sides. Note: these are my personal opinions- they don't represent a formal Virgin point of view:

Top 5 Agency Mistakes

1. Stop showing your “proprietary” model. You may think your pyramid,triangle, hexagon, trapezoid is unique. Trust me, it's not. Everyone's got a shape. The more important thing is how do you think? And the best way to demonstrate this is to actually come in with a point of view about my brand. It can be way off base. It doesn't really matter. As long as you've done your homework, maybe some man in the street research, and made some logical assumptions. The important thing is to show (not tell) how you get from point A to point B.

2. Choose the right team to bring to the meeting. Don't bring people who genuinely don't like each other. You may think it doesn't show but it does. After meeting one agency, we weren't ready to hire them...but we did seriously discuss pitching in for their group therapy. The dysfunctional nature of the team was that obvious. Also don't bring too many people, and people who don't have a role in the meeting. It's a foreshadowing of large, ineffective and expensive project teams to come.

3. Once you win the business start right away. It's like having a great date and then having to wait days and months to see each other again. It takes the buzz off the romance. The contracts and terms need to be worked out, but don't let that get in the way of harnessing the positive chemistry and beginning to work together. The day after you get the good news, take the client to breakfast or drinks, and just start talking and maybe even a bit of back of napkin sketching.

4. Once you pass the honeymoon period don't disappear. I understand the economics of many of the Agency pricing models. It certainly doesn't make financial sense to maintain 100% of the Creative Director's time as the project moves from the idea to implementation phase. However, that doesn't mean they should become a ghost. There are low cost ways to keep in touch. Give a call from time to time, drop in for lunch etc. It's by staying in touch when you are not really needed that you prove loyalty and stay top of mind for the next project.

5. Ignoring your own internal culture. Many brands like Virgin have strong internal cultures. We gravitate to Agency's that also do. They have a good time, don't take themselves too seriously, and celebrate their people and their culture. This could mean sending out fun and inexpensive tchotchkes, sharing interesting facts about their own people on the walls or website (even in the bathroom stalls) and generally putting some action behind the overused assertion that "our people are our greatest asset/differentiators". Often I'm invited to Agency celebrations, and most of the time I can't or don't go. But it's important to know that they are happening. Because usually that means they are attracting and keeping talented people. And that's good for everyone.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?
How do Agencies succeed or fail on your eyes?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Becoming Digitally Fluent


I’m on a journey…to digital fluency.

It’s a long and bumpy road, but I’m glad I’m on it.

Everyday I encounter new obstacles and things I don't know. But I am committed to staying on course.

I've been thinking alot about the lessons I've learned in the relatively short time that I've been climbing this mountain.

I thought it might be interesting, helpful, dare I dream...inspiring ...to share what I've learned so far.

To make it seem a bit less overwhelming I’ve come up with this acronym, which incorporates 5 key steps to digital fluency. I call it SMART.

S- is for Start. Take the first step. Every journey begins with one. Depending on your current level of fluency that could mean joining Facebook, signing up for Twitter, or in my case… starting this blog.

M- is for making connections. The real point of social networking is to connect with people. So it’s not enough just to join a network and ignore it. You’ve got to reach out to other people. Leave comments on their posts or updates, retweet interesting content. Get involved in the conversation.

A- is for Ask. Ask questions when you don’t understand something. I spent most of the day at the Wired conference on Monday wondering if "the cloud" everyone was talking about was the real one looming omninously outside. I finally asked my seatmate and realized it was the computing one.

R- reach out to people that have a higher level of fluency than you do and ask them to teach you. Twitter is actually an amazing way to engage with experts. I reached out to Steve Farnsworth on Twitter and he was incredibly generous with his advice.

T- is for making time to actively explore this new world. It doesn’t mean you have to drop everything to Tweet all day. But it does mean recognizing that technology, like all skills and hobbies, can't be mastered in a day. Set aside 15 minutes every morning to surf interesting blogs or read a magazine on technology (like Wired), or even just the wikipedia definitions of terms you keep hearing but don't understand.

SMART. Maybe a oversimplification, dare I say a dumb, way to look at it.

But as I said, hey at least I'm trying.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

What are you doing to improve your digital fluency?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Disruptive by Design



Monday I went to a Wired Magazine conference called “Disruptive by Design”. (Twitter#WiredLive).

It had great speakers like Jeff Immelt (GE), Elon Musk (Telsa Motors/SpaceX), Shai Agassi (Better Place)and Vivek Kundra (the Information Technology czar for the Obama administration) just to name a few.

All of these guys were mesmerizing with their passion and conviction around technologies and business ideas that are disruptive and game changing.

But far and away my favorite of the day was Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder).

He made the pursuit of innovation personal and accessible. He talked about his conviction even in the early difficult days that Amazon would make it and his passion for his latest invention, the Kindle.

Here are a few choice tidbits from his speech (quoted semi-accurately, but you'll get the meaning):

"If you are going to be disruptive, you have to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time."

"Companies over dramatize failure. Failures of commission (taking action) are rarely that expensive. The real danger is in failures of omission (not seizing an opportunity)."

"Amazon makes decisions on business extensions by working backwards from consumer needs or working forwards from our skill sets."

"I always told my staff not to take fluctuations in stock prices too seriously. If you feel 30% smarter the day our stock goes up by that amount, are you going to feel 30% dumber the day it drops down?"

He says he knew that Amazon was going to make it even when the stock was tanking partly because it's harshest critics were among their best customers.

He talked about the power of the Kindle being that it is a singular focused device. He thought multi-taking devices were often over-rated.

"I love my smart phone, I love my Swiss army knife, but sometimes when I'm sitting down for a great meal, I love my steak knife."

I think it's fascinating that he's taking on books, which for many are sacred objects, and declaring "they've had a good 500 year run" but it's time for something new.

His problem with books? Too heavy, hard to turn the page with one hand, hard to find your place again, always closing at the wrong moment.

His problem with reading on another "multi tasking device" like a laptop? Too hot, too cumbersome, and not that easy to curl up in bed with.

I haven't tried a Kindle yet. But I'm curious. The people I know who have them seem to be passionate advocates. (Always a good sign).

I think time will tell if the Kindle really is a better mousetrap. But I know for sure that whether it fails or succeeds, Jeff Bezos is someone who is not going to stop disrupting.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

Is the Kindle a disruptive innovation or a fad destined for failure?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Name that Tune


Music is such an incredible way to make connections and evoke emotions.

Why is it so under-leveraged in branding?

I can't remember a lot of things I did last month, or even last week...but hum a few bars of my favorite childhood jingles and I can instantly recall all the words.

"My Baloney has a first name. It's O-S-C-A-R.

"Honeycomb's big, yeah, yeah, yeah."

or even more recent ones...

"Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline."

Aural or sonic branding isn't just about jingles.

It can also be about associating songs with commercials (Apple's "New Soul" for the Airbook is a great example of this).

Or a unique sound that is tied with use of that brand (e.g The T-Mobile sound when you turn your phone on or the Intel Inside notes that accompany that brand signature).

It can be a particular voice that's connected with a brand (e.g. James Earl Jones intoning "This is CNN").

Brands seems to spend so much time on the look of the product and the campaigns.

Who is thinking about the sound?

In my current job I've met a few agencies that focus on Sonic branding. But it still seems to be a relatively niche discipline, although one I believe is worthy of more attention.

Next time you are brainstorming ways to make your advertising and branding work harder, shut your eyes, open your ears and think about sound and how it could work to your advantage.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

How are brands effectively leveraging sound? Should they be doing more?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Go Out and Explore!


Too often we substitute the ease of exploration on the internet for actual experience. But it’s really not the same.

Maybe we’re too busy, maybe we’re lazy…but I think if you are really serious about innovation you’ve got to get out and experience the world.

A few years back I was working as part of a team of consultants on a re-positioning for a pet food brand.

We met with the clients, read the research decks, did our competitive scavenger hunt online.

But it was months into the project when I realized we had yet to come face to face with an actual dog or cat, or their human companions for that matter.

So we quickly turned that around. We went into pet stores and talked to people who worked there and people who shopped there.

We went to the famous “dog run” in Central Park and observed and interacted with pet owners and their offspring and got to see first hand the behaviors and rules of social interaction on “doggie play dates”.

We did an in-home interview with a puppy owner who calmly told us how she didn’t treat her dog like a human baby, but her body language revealed something all together different as she lovingly stroked her Cockapoo.

The reserach decks and internet gave us valuable information for the project. But the real world and person to person efforts gave us something that was much more valuable...insight.

A great team exploration activity that I’ve used successfully for both clients and internal audiences is a Brand Safari.

Here's how it works: split the group into smaller teams, pick neighborhoods or landmarks, equip each with a map, a camera and a list of tasks or questions and then send them off into the real world.

Set a time limit so there’s a sense of urgency and healthy competition. Encourage interaction with real consumers at their destinations. Re-group when everyone comes back to the office and share what you’ve learned.

The best way to get insight into consumers and brands is to go out and experience the world - not the computer generated world- the real one.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What inspirational places would be on your Brand Safari list?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Feeling Butterflies?


When is the last time you felt butterflies in your stomach?

If you can't remember, maybe it's been too long since you ventured out of your comfort zone.

We all need to take risks in order to learn and achieve something new.

Sometimes this can be a big butterfly moment like taking on a new job, moving to a different country, or getting up and speaking in front of hundreds of people.

Sometimes it can be a little butterfly moment, like speaking up in a meeting with a controversial or unusual idea. Or introducing yourself to strangers at a networking event.

I had a butterfly "moment" that lasted about 3 years when I moved to France with my job back in the early 90's.

I didn't know anyone, I didn't speak the language, and I was walking into a new role with a challenging client.

It was the hardest and best thing I've ever done.

The first 6 months were excruciatingly difficult and exhausting. But eventually I found my way. I learned the language. I made friends both in and outside of my job. I got to visit some amazing places in France and all of Europe.

And I met the man who would eventually become my husband and the father of my kids.

It started with an enormous flutter, but at the end of 3 years I count my time in France as one of my life's formative experiences.

I've had many butterfly moments since then (although probably none as intense).

But I've actually learned to be comfortable and even seek out that feeling.

Sometimes when it seems like things are getting too comfortable and complacent (particularly in my professional life) I find myself gravitating towards new challenges and I start to feel the rumbling of tiny wings.

It's definitely not always easy or convenient. But I've learned to recognize that flutter as a positive signal.

Even if we have a bad experience or a difficult time doing whatever it is that's making us stretch, in general it's still growth and learning... and as human beings and as innovators isn't that what life is really all about?.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

When's the last time you felt butterflies?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Start Making Scents


Fragrance is one of the most powerful triggers of memory and emotion, yet it is largely under-leveraged as part of the creative process.

Whenever I smell vanilla or Cinnamon I think of Thanksgiving and watching my mom prepare her famous apple pies. Automatically I feel warm and secure.

When I smell fresh cut grass, I think of lazy summer days of my childhood and I feel like anything is possible.

Polo by Ralph Lauren reminds me of my student days and early crushes.

My list could go on and on, and I'm sure you would have lots of examples of your own to add.

So why is scent such a infrequent part of our efforts to create brands that connect on an emotional level?

Here's an idea, next time you are planning a brainstorming don't just include visual stimulus. Introduce some scents that are related to the benefits and emotions you are exploring.

Bring in scented candles, spices, food, iconic perfumes. Close your eyes, inhale and let the scents and emotions transport you to vivid associations...and perhaps new ideas.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

What scents transport you?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Three's a Crowd?


We all know three's a crowd, but can crowds be the new answer to innovation?

Yesterday I published a post on the right timing for creating, evaluating, and killing (if need be) new ideas.

Thanks to one reader, Sara, I learned about Quirky a community from the creator of Mophie and Kluster set up as a way for people to expose their ideas to a larger groups and get feedback (all for $99 bucks).

I think it's worth checking out.

My own experience with Crowd sourcing has been pretty positive to date. I used the website 99 Designs to create my Brand Twist Logo.

99 Designs let's you launch contests to create branding elements (websites, logos, etc). You write a brief, pick a prize amount, and for 7 days designers from around the world bid on your contest by submitting designs.

You have to keep giving feedback in order for your contest to stay healthy and attract the best talent. At the end of 7 days (some extensions allowed) you pick a winning design, release the money, and go through a file transfer to get the artwork.

While I know this site is not without some controversy in the design community...particularly because the prices are very low (the average for a logo is $300) my experience was very positive. I felt it to be in many ways very similar to the traditional agency design process.

Many of the submissions weren't very good, but a lot were. And the journey of seeing what I liked and what I rejected helped me hone in on what Brand Twist means to me as a brand. The tag line I use "a fresh approach to new ideas" was also an added bonus, it was suggested by a designer- unsolicited.

As in any design process, your output is only as good as your input so it was critical that I had a well thought out and well-written brief and that I gave continual, specific and constructive feedback to my designers.

I ended up choosing a design and a designer that I created a bond with (albeit virtually). Like most great designers he brought me ideas that went beyond the original brief and that I really liked. He also made some strategic suggestions that helped me in deciding which way I wanted to go.

The main difference, I guess, is that he was an anonymous face in the crowd and our whole relationship was virtual.

Only after I awarded the job did I learn his name and that he live in Greece.

Love it or hate it, I think crowd-sourcing for both evaluation (like Quirky) and creation (like 99 Designs) is here to stay.

The question for me is not whether it's good or evil, but how do we get the most value from it. Not in a monetary sense, but how can it best be leveraged to fruitfully further ideas.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

How are you using crowd-sourcing?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ready, Set, No!


What's the right timing for innovation?

I'm not talking about developing ideas and getting to market.

I'm talking about thinking something through, making a decision, and if it's not meant to be moving on to the next thing.

Lots of energy is spent about getting ideas to market faster. But I think we should pay more attention to the time lines for killing ideas that just aren't going to make it.

Too often we let ideas linger. Either through indecision, inertia, or sometimes just the lack of courage to take action.

What's the harm? Well, the problem is that most of us has limited creative and literal resources. So if we spend time on dead-ends, it may be keeping us from applying energy to other ideas.

Recently I met with the guys from Ozo Labs and they were very upfront about some mistakes and lessons they've learned in this area. They've spent too much time lingering in the zone of "going nowhere".

So now they either do one of two things: 1) set a finite limit on the exploration of any one idea (ex. 3 months) or 2) give the idea to someone out side of the core group to explore. That way they have a fresh set of ideas looking at the opportunity, and the core group is freed up to move onto something else.

Last month I was on a panel with a terrific woman from Hasbro who is in charge of consumer insights. Given the nature of the toy business, they are coming out with 1,000's of new SKU's every year. They can't afford to waste any time. So they've gotten really good at saying no ...definitively - and early on.

Rather than quash innovation, this actually helps encourage it. It keeps the passion and energy level high instead of letting it get wasted on ideas that don't have a real chance.

Are you spending too much time kicking the same tired ideas around? It may be keeping you from uncovering some better ideas. Next time, try setting a time limit on idea exploration. It might actually help you speed things up.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

Do you have the discipline to move on quickly from dead-end ideas?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Flat is the New Growth


"Flat is the new growth". I heard this expression the other day, and I thought it was witty.

And then I started to really think about it and I thought is was kind of depressing...and dangerous.

I'm a realist (mostly). Well at least I read the paper (when I've finished the crossword) and I know what's going on. Times are tough. But I don't think we can let that be an excuse for complacency.

Flat may be what the markets are aspiring to, but "Flat" should never become the accepted standard for innovation.

We need to keep pressing on and moving upward, even when it feels like an uphill battle. Actually, especially when it feels like an uphill battle.

These are time of great unrest, but from this turbulence can come some fantastic ideas. The trick is to embrace the uncertainty and use it as a force of liberation and not of stagnation.

After all, it won't always be like this. But if for now expectations are low, think how incredibly easy it is to exceed them. It may just be the perfect time to take a risk.

Many categories have quieted down in terms of spending and activity. You can make a big bang for a little buck right now.

Not that long ago I was at the launch of Virgin America's new service to Boston. Amid all the speeches from the celebrities and politicians that were at the launch, one statement really struck a chord.

The head of Massport thanked Virgin for opening a route to Boston in these rocky times. Not just because of the business and jobs it would bring to the city ...but also for the signal it sent to the consumers that life and business were moving on.

He stressed how important it was for consumer confidence for companies to keep investing and innovating and that actions like the Boston launch send a powerful, tangible message.

Consider an action you've been hesitating about in your business. Why not go ahead and start the ball rolling? What have you got to lose?

I believe that negative thinking breeds negative actions and that positive momentum can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

How are you taking advantage of the current lull to shake things up?

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