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BP: the worst brand positioning mistake since the Holy Roman Empire?


For 60+ days, I’ve avoided writing a post about BP. I’ve been devastated, as I’m sure many of you have, by what has been happening in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve all been inundated with news and stories, most of them depressing, about real lives—people, animal, plant—altered forever by the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Holy Roman Empire = neither holy, nor Roman, nor empire. BP = not beyond petroleum.

Why think about brand damage when there is so much catastrophic real damage still happening as I write this post? But after having several people ask me about it over the last few weeks, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts as well as some of the articles I’ve been reading about BP’s brand positioning debacle. It may prove to be one of the most important, albeit sad, brand positioning lessons ever.

My view? Not since the Holy Roman Empire has there been a greater misalignment between brand promise and brand experience than we see today with BP.

Dig deep into your European history memory. Not the Roman Empire with all the togas, nice buildings, gods, and gladiators. I’m talking about the really crappy one that emerged in the Middle Ages and which Voltaire famously described as “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.”

If the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, BP has certainly proven itself to not be Beyond Petroleum.

So how did this happen?

In 2000, British Petroleum hired one of the top advertising & PR agencies in the world, Ogilvy & Mather, to help them attempt a global brand transformation following the acquisition of Amoco and a few other small organizations. Their goal was to reposition BP “as transcending the oil sector, delivering top-line growth while remaining innovative, progressive, environmentally responsible and performance-driven.”

Why did I put this goal in quotes?

Because I took it directly from the BP “success story” which is still up on Ogilvy & Mather’s website (someone might want to get that down…update: 9-27-10: it looks like now they have!). The story goes on to say that the launch of the new brand position “far exceeded expectations” and resulted in high brand credibility and favorability scores and two (!) PR Week Campaign of the Year awards.

A job well done.

Except BP’s new brand promise wasn’t even in the same ballpark as its brand experience. Rather than dive into a full analysis here, I’ll point you to some great posts I found already highlighting the brand promise/brand experience gaps:

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Two tips for meeting survival in an entrenched bureaucracy


It might be a better world if we all worked in open, collaborative organizations where the best ideas win. But unfortunately, the reality is that bureaucracy still rules in all but the most progressive companies. We have a long way to go. The reality doesn’t always match the dream.

In the real world, we generate great ideas, propose elegant solutions, and then force them to run the bureaucratic gauntlet. “the best ideas win” becomes “the safest ideas win” (and then lose eventually) as they travel through the bureaucracy and its meetings.

These meetings are the favorite hiding place of two species of people I dread encountering. Learn to identify, manage, or avoid these bureaucrats, as they are the enemies of meritocracy.

Devil’s Advocates

The devil’s advocate was wonderfully defined by Tom Kelley in his book The Ten Faces of Innovation. Devil’s advocates make a habit of shooting down the ideas of others or offering critiques by starting with the phrase “Let me play devil’s advocate” (or something similar).

This phrase allows the bureaucrat to avoid taking personal accountability for the comments they are about to make. Because they are speaking for the devil rather than themselves, they can crush someone else’s idea without feeling guilty about it.

Professional Meeting Attendees

It is easy to spot the professional meeting attendee because they usually look or sound hurried and exhausted, complaining about how many meetings they have that day and how much they have to get done. Woe is them, for sure.

The reality is they often don’t actually do the hard work of creating and building, but instead sit in meetings all day long. They are happy to offer sage advice and wisdom, but usually avoid taking on work.

In small organizations and startups, the professional meeting attendee species is rare. But it breeds rapidly in large organizations where meetings are plentiful and there is always someone else to do the work.

So what should good open source-minded workers do to improve things when they can’t escape these meeting bureaucrats? A few tips from me:

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

How to find a community’s cheeseheads when they aren’t wearing foam hats


The other day I was chatting with friend and digital strategy/social media expert Ken Burbary on the phone. He was advising a colleague on some good community-building techniques to consider when all of the sudden the following words came out:

“You have to find your cheeseheads.”

What? I did a double-take (or at least the conference call equivalent) and asked him to repeat himself.

I had heard him correctly.

Ken lives in Michigan. Michigan is not far from Wisconsin. Wisconsin is where a lot of cheese is made. Wisconsin also has an (American) football team called the Green Bay Packers.

The biggest fans of the Green Bay Packers wear wedges of cheese made out of foam on their heads to show their support for the team. When someone will wear a big wedge of cheese on their head to show support for their team, that means they are a pretty big fan.

So Ken was saying that good community catalysts seek out and empower the biggest community supporters and advocates—the cheeseheads.

I found a fantastic blog post, written last fall by a colleague of Ken’s named Rachel Happe, entitled Cheeseheads. The post, which appears on The Community Roundtable website, explains in more detail the concept of how to engage your community’s cheeseheads. I won’t repeat Rachel’s advice here, but instead want to ask a follow-on question:

Sitting at a football game at Lambeau Field, it’s pretty easy to spot most of the biggest fans. They have foam cheese on their heads.

But what you do when a community isn’t the foam-hat-wearing kind? How do you find and empower the people who are the community’s energy source? Here are a few thoughts from me on how to find the biggest community advocates when they aren’t in plain view.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Trust: the catalyst of the open source way


Let’s face it. There are tons of projects out there in the world being run the open source way today. While the great ones can accomplish unbelievable things, the bad ones, even the average ones, often fail to achieve their goals.

In many cases, the failed projects still used many of the tenets of the open source way, transparency, collaboration, meritocracy, etc. So why did they fail?

Some projects fail because the contributors just aren’t skilled enough at what they are trying to do. Projects also fail because people don’t have the dedication to see them through—folks give up when the going gets tough.

But in many cases, the contributors have the skills and the dedication, yet the projects still don’t work out. My view? Many of these projects fail because they are missing one simple thing.

Trust.

Collaboration works better when you trust the people with whom you are collaborating. Transparency is more believable when you trust those who are opening up to you. And it is much easier for the best ideas to win when there is a base level of trust in the community that everyone is competent and has the best interests of the project at heart.

A successful open source project needs a culture of trust much more than a project not being run the open source way. Why?

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Brand positioning tip #11: the 1-2 punch


In the classic book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Jack Trout and Al Ries, there is an ongoing thematic—the overwhelming value of being #1 in a market. The reasoning? It is extremely hard to dislodge the company that captures a position in the minds of target customers first.

Grow the market like a butterfly, lead the market like a bee... or something like that.

Think about how long Coca-Cola has been the #1 cola (since the 19th century) or Hertz has been the #1 car rental company (since 1918) and you’ll get a sense for how difficult it is to displace the top brand in a market.

As we’ve learned in previous brand positioning tips, a key part of the brand positioning process involves deciding on the competitive frame of reference or references in which you’d like to position your company or brand. I emphasize references because one thing to consider is whether, in addition to positioning your brand in an existing market (where you may not be #1), you should be creating a new market in which you can be #1, because there is no one else in it yet.

Some leading business strategy thinkers refer to this as a “blue ocean strategy” where you choose to create or grow a new market rather than fighting in a competitive one that already exists (a “red ocean”).

From a brand positioning perspective, I often return to a similar principle I call the 1-2 punch.

The 1-2 punch is simple:

Punch 1: Grow the market

Punch 2: Lead the market you grow

Punch 1: You may compete in a frame of reference where you are not #1, but throwing punch 1 means putting your energy into creating or growing a different competitive frame of reference that didn’t exist in the minds of your audience before.

Punch 2: This is where you must really capitalize on the benefits of being an early mover in a market. If you throw punch one (grow the market), but do not effectively land punch 2 (lead the market you grow), you may find yourself in a world of hurt. Let’s look at a few examples:

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