the new york times

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There’s an interesting article in the Times today regarding the branding of Venture Capital firms.  The word “brand” is mentioned 4 times (Tools, File, Find on page) but nowhere is there any sense of what these VC firms actually stand for – what their point of difference is. The article really means “awareness” and “PR” not branding.  Marc Andreesen and PR hawk Margit Wennmachers all know the value of awareness, stories and creating positive prevailing wind in the blogosphere, but no one (reporter Nicole Perlroth included) understands how to build a brand…how to organize the selling story that is branding. They misuse the word.

And that might be a good thing, because though it’s important to have a well-known and respected VC behind you. Entrepreneurs – and this, the article does say – want to make sure their company and brand are visible during start-up. Start-ups are the ones that need the brand building, the organizing principle. More so than VC firms. Everybody needs strong brand, a strong Is-Does and a meaningful organizing principle, but VC firms that hire PR people and think that’s branding need to dig a bit deeper. Peace.

 

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Fresh.

“The hardest thing to realize in fashion is that the future lies in the past.  The second hardest thing is to forget the past.”    Cathy Horyn, NYT 7/5/12

These words are true for branding and advertising as well. Creative ideas that break through must be new and unique. Retreads are boring.  Yet, it’s important for ideas to offer some attendant context. It’s easier to remember numbers in patterns; the same is true for ideas.  That’s why alliterations are common idea conventions. ZDNet’s original strategy “content, commerce and community,” for instance.

How does one explain the Higgs boson (creating matter out of nothing) without some context?  Not very easily. Same thing with string theory.  These are some of the world’s most heady concepts. They need context.  Conversely, how do you give life to a new lemonade that is less sweet, or a cookie dough that is more natural?  As Cathy Horyn suggests “forget the past.”  Find context for selling premise (create bias toward purchase) then be fresh. Really fresh. Uncomfortably fresh.

Either Walter Weir or John Caples (godfathers of copywriting) once said “good copy sounds like copy.”  That was then.  Seventeen billion words of copy ago. Today fresh wins the day.  Peace.  

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The secret sauce of the What’s the idea? brand planning rigor (WTI is my blog, but also a brand consultancy I had for 3 years prior to coming on board at Teq) is the battery of questions I use when interviewing company stakeholders. Finding out what a company does best and matching it with what the market wants most is the goal.  I may have just found a new question.  The inspiration was an amazing story today in The New York Times of Lonnie G. Thompson, a man in search of proof that global temperatures are rising.

The secret sauce question is most powerful when asked of an individual, yet it can be altered to apply to a company. Let’s stay with the individual, for simplicity’s sake:  

What is your life’s work?

Not an easy question to answer.  Or is it? Most will probably say something like “Be a good parent.”  Or “Be a good spouse.”  Maybe “Leave the world a little better place.” Perhaps “Be a better person.”  Following up these answers with probes will get you to the meat of the discussion. Using the question with a company, however, may get bogged down in “mission statement miasma,” but don’t let it.  A “life’s work” has to have import. If a company has a hard time answering, it likely will have a have a hard time branding it.

As my Norwegian aunt Inga might have said “Tink about it.” Peace.       

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Blackburied.

I have a Blackberry Bold – not sure which model number.  I bought it two days before my need for reading glasses began.  Double u tee ef. Today without reading glasses I came across an ad in The New York Times in which Blackberry exclaims “Our browser should have a racing stripe.”  Is someone kidding me? I had to read it because it felt joke-ish.

I’ve yet to have a good web experience on my BB since purchasing it.  Were the ad to have said “New Browser” I wouldn’t feel so mislead but it just said browser. I know some of it is Verizon. Some has to do with WIFI Web access vs. digital phone service access, but this claim is absurd.  And maddening.

Blackberry users, dwindling though they may be, tend to be older. A 2” X 1.5” screen for that audience is como se silly.

Domino’s Pizza realized their Pizza needed fixing and did so.  I’m not sure what RIM is doing about its technology and customers, but teasing us with untruths, or perceived untruths is not marketing.  It’s pizzling all over us. Peace.

PS.  Can’t wait for the Lumia 900 to come to Verizon with Microsoft Tiles for Mobile.

 

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Just reading in The New York Times today that Charles de Gaulle Airport, Europe’s second most traveled, is number 34 out of 83 in flyer satisfaction. The culprit: “sprawling buildings with bewildering layouts, interminable waits, forgettable shops and restaurants, and often indifferent personnel.” 

Sounds like something that would take hundreds of millions of Euros to fix. But maybe not.  All big airports are sprawling — they have to be.  Think about it.  Planes can’t take off and land at a good pace without sprawl.  So what needs to change is the organization of that sprawl.  Bewildering is fixable.  Good communication, good signage, ergonomic re-laying out of buildings, better transportation design and a little compromise among the airlines are fixable. Some airlines may have to consolidate space or even switch buildings. The parties need to come together. The interminable waits may require some technology upgrades, even more compromise (unions/competitors/gov’t) and once again better communication.

And, as for forgettable shops and restaurants and indifferent personnel?  If the other fixes are made, these will fall into place.  Remember we are talking about one of the busiest locations in the world…with lots of wallets and lots of income in those wallets. And oh, it’s France. Paris, France.

Before I picked up a shovel or an architect’s rendering, I’d create a brand strategy for Charles de Gaulle: an idea and some organizing principles. Sell that to all parties, then start to think about how to spend the money. Not easy…hard.  But very doable. Peace!      

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Goldman Sachs took a big punch yesterday in the form of an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times by resigning middle manager Greg Smith. Mr. Smith aired quite a bit of dirty laundry. As I was reading the piece I wondered how a PR person would handle the poop storm.

After a night to sleep on it, here’s what I’d suggest. Do not deny the allegation. Take it very seriously.  (No apparent laws were broken, mind you, but the piece implied traders cared more about making themselves and the firm money than putting custies first.) Do not deny — the piece is very believable.  Step two Isolate. Suggest this behavior is isolated and was blown way out of proportion. Celebrate the other 95% of Goldman Sachs traders who go to work each day with no money lust in their hearts. Be indignant on their behalf.

Put into place the ability to report the type of Goldman people (the 5%) whom Mr. Smith spotlighted so they can correct their behavior. Suggest they go to “money lust anonymous.”  It’s not a personality flaw it’s a disease. And I’m not being flip.

Acknowledge. Isolate. And Explain the behavior as maladaptive…a negative byproduct of the culture.  Then turn the page. Peace.

 

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Google is advertising now.  On TV, in The New York Times.  Using BBH. On the Super Bowl.  Hmm….this advertising stuff must work.  Oh yeah, that’s where most of their money comes from.  Money they will soon be throwing into a dark hole known as the hardware business (Motorola purchase).  Hopefully, the hole won’t be too deep so it can learn, correct and prosper.

I often write “Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible,” which makes people think I don’t like campaigns. I do.  Campaigns are organizing principles.  Google, a company that has made bazillions on a search algorithm that is an organizing principle, has finally come off its slightly elevated soap box and decided to advertise.  But it’s relatively new to the practice. Luckily, it has the aforementioned ad agency BBH to guide it.

The TV is emotional and beautiful.  The print is whimsical, fun and smart.  I’m not feeling a campaign idea as yet and, frankly, that’s quite fine.  This is new territory for Google. And for BBH and its labs. There will be some reinvention going on here no doubt. And one day (before trivestiture) Google will become a top 10 advertising spender.  Zero to 60 in…  Peace!

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Over the last two weeks I’ve read some great stories on Apple and its production situation in China.  The writers of the stories, both appearing in the New York Times, are certainly not Apple haters, but their point of view appears set.  The loss of American jobs is not a good thing but is justified by the low cost of production in China.  Factory workers there make about $17 a day. 

Anyone who reads the story, including references to 4 deaths and 77 injuries, might come away pondering avarice, patriotism, the quality of the American education system, population growth.  This is wonderful reporting and might, were Charles Dickens alive, make for a fascinating novel.  Do I smell a Pulitzer?  Mabes.

But here’s the real deal.  People want iPhones and iPazzles. The way to make them available is to offer them at a low price.  Apple wouldn’t have sold 200 million iPhones if they had cost $1,000 a piece. So this was just good business. It is a flat world.  Chinese production is our new reality.  African production will be our next reality. Then Antarctica.

We have pocketbooks and brains.   We can boycott Apple or buy Apple.  Americans love an underdog and we tire easily of the Overdog.  Apple, for decades, was the underdog – not anymore. Tom Cook’s job is going to be a hell of a lot harder than Steve Jobs.  Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t what? Peace!

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Google published a nice usable ad in the New York Times today, the visual for which is the oft used name tag with the line “Hello My Name is Dave.”  The copy started off with a little explanation of how cumbersome it would be if every time you met someone you had to tell them your name, age and where you are from.   So with heads nodding the copy goes on to suggest this would also be cumbersome every time you visited a website.  The solution, says Google, are cookies:  “tiny little crumbs of stored information to remember your previous visits.”  Doesn’t sound so bad.  And for those who don’t know what a cookie is, it’s a nice little explanation.  My mom would understand this (if she could find the URL bar.)

In a time when privacy (which rhymes with piracy) is extremely topical, this simplified, non-judgmental explanation of cookies is, as the Brits say, quite lovely. The copy explains cookies can be shut off and provides a link to other information about privacy.  (Google Chrome has some elegant solutions, btw.)

Google knows so much and now they seem to have conquered the science of advertising. Simple is better. One idea at a time.  Engage.  Leaders educate and this ad demonstrates both qualities.  Another Google +. Peace.

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