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?

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