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Sighting: The Ad-Free Brand in Panama


Last week, my friend Trey Morrison sent me this picture of The Ad-Free Brand sunning on a patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Panama.

Trey and his business partner Coley have recently launched a community-based brand of their own. They call it The Resilient Family, a community bringing together people and families looking to escape the rat race of consumption we got suckered into here in the United States and live a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle—whether in the US or elsewhere in the world.

Trey and Coley are both part or full-time expats, and are eager to share and discuss what they’ve learned in making the transition from a consumption-based lifestyle. Learn more about them and their work here.

Thanks for sending the picture, Trey!

I’m really digging getting these images of The Ad-Free Brand from cool and interesting places around the world.

So if you find yourself reading The Ad-Free Brand somewhere other than Raleigh, NC, send me a picture! For some more information on what I’m looking for, go here.

And with that, Dark Matter Matters is going take a vacation for the rest of the year. See you again in 2012!

HP: How to (accidentally?) launch a new brand identity the right way


UPDATE 12/15/2011: HP has asked Moving Brands to take down the case study and rework it. From their website: “We have removed the HP case study per the request of HP, in order to clarify the distinction between the aspects of the work that were setting a creative vision for the brand but were not implemented in the market, and the aspects which reflect the actual in-market applications of the Identity and Design System. The ‘Progress mark’ logo is not the go-forward direction for HP.” (Guess this answers a few of the questions I raised below:)

UPDATE 12/16/2011: Moving Brands has apparently been asked to take the videos down by HP as well, so the embedded videos below no longer work. Sorry, folks. What a shame to see such good work get wiped off the map.

There’s some craziness going on in the branding world today. As reported on UnderConsideration, TechCrunch, and Design Week, a new brand identity for HP, one of the largest and most powerful brands there is, has just been unveiled to the world.

But from what I can tell, HP didn’t do the unveiling.

Instead, the new brand identity was showcased as a case study on the website of Moving Brands, the lead agency hired by HP to work on the creative vision for the HP brand, a project that began in 2008. Not only is the final work product fantastic, but the process the team went through to design the identity was also incredibly smart and current.

Here’s a short video from the Moving Brands website that showcases the new identity:

To me, this is a really wonderful example of thoughtful identity work done right. The UnderConsideration article in particular does a nice job of breaking down the process they used. Or watch this video from the case study that shows how the process worked from the inside:

If you’ve been following tech news, you may have seen that HP, which has been a wee bit shaky in the leadership department over the past few years, in September hired former eBay CEO Meg Whitman to take over the top leadership spot after the very short tenure of Leo Apotheker.

One can only speculate if, with the changing of the guard, this project was cancelled or moved to the back burner (TechCrunch calls it “The Radical HP Rebranding That Never Was”), but an agency revealing a company’s new identity to the world on its behalf is something I’ve never witnessed before.

An agency gone rogue or a carefully scripted unofficial test of the new identity? Hmm…

One way or another, I must say that after suffering through the last couple of years of major brand identity launch flubs like The Gap and Tropicana, whether on purpose or not, this identity rollout (as weird as it may sound) feels perfect to me.

Why?

Because it is so different than the old skool agency “Big Reveal” of a new identity (“Look what’s behind this curtain! It’s a shiny new logo!”).

I hate the Big Reveal.

First off, the Big Reveal smacks of agency arrogance. Our agency geniuses have gone behind closed doors, deeply breathed in the raw sewage of your current brand… and what has emerged? Why these beautiful, fresh, sweet-smelling brand flowers (and we threw in a spiffy new font for you too… just because we could!).

Second, the Big Reveal always implies a product that is already finished when people first get to see it. Even the patron saint of brand identity Paul Rand was famous for presenting his designs as “take it or leave it.” IBM took it, as did UPS. Steve Jobs did too, after getting put in his place by Rand.

This way of revealing brand identity may have worked in the past, but it faces some very real challenges today in a world driven by social media. The new Gap logo was revealed to the Gap brand community the old way and then quickly rejected through the power of the combined community voice on blogs and social media networks. It never stood a chance.

We will see this kind of community-driven brand influence more and more over the coming years as the communities that surround brands gain more and more power over their direction, and the companies that own them can control less and less.

Which is why I like how this new HP logo came out, whether the company meant for it to happen this way or not. Rather than inflicting a new logo on us that we’ve never seen before as a done deal, we were presented—informally—not just a logo, but the entire story of how the identity got to this point, transparently, openly, and, most importantly, before the decision had been made.

I love when brands are built collaboratively with the people who care most about the brand, both inside and outside the company. By being revealed informally while still a work in progress, this new HP identity feels to me like the beginning of an open conversation with the HP brand community.

Who knows whether HP will stifle that conversation, ignore it, or become an active participant. Only time will tell.

But I have to hand it to the folks at Moving Brands who led the process. This is either a clever way to get some feedback for their client and start a dialog before a bigger commitment is made or it is a ballsy attempt to win over the HP brand community with high-quality work and then enlist the community’s help to force HP not to abandon the project.

Either way, I love it. It’s great design work and a pitch-perfect roll out strategy for the times.

Let’s see what happens next.

HP? Your move.

How to connect to key communities with the help of brand ambassadors


Once you’ve identified the key communities you think it is important to engage with, the next step is to identify the people you’d like to represent your brand within these communities. For simplicity, I like to refer to these folks as brand ambassadors.

How to find brand ambassadors

Start by identifying the people inside your organization who have the best relationships with each community. These people are the best candidates to become your brand ambassadors. The ideal brand ambassador is already an actual community member, actively participating in conversations and projects with other community members.

While an employee of your organization, this person shares common values, interests, and experiences with other community members. It is less important what position they hold within your organization and more important how they are viewed by the community itself.

After you’ve identified possible brand ambassadors, reach out to them to see if they are willing and interested in expanding their personal roles in the community to include being representatives of your brand as well. Some might already be playing this role, others might be playing this role and not realizing it.

Don’t force or pressure people. The ideal candidate will be excited to be considered and will be passionate about the opportunity, so if your best candidate doesn’t seem interested, try to find someone else who is.

Creating brand ambassadors from scratch

If you don’t have anyone in your organization who is already a member of the community, you’ll need to have someone join. Choose someone who understands your organization’s story and positioning well but also already shares interests, values, and experiences with the community in question.

Have this person attend meetings, join mailing lists, participate on forums, and otherwise begin to contribute to the community first as an individual. It will take a little longer to get started, but it will be worth it if your brand ambassador has a deep contextual understanding of the community before they dive right in officially representing your organization.

Brand ambassadors as faces of the brand

You should ensure that your brand ambassadors deeply understand your brand positioning so they can live it (not just speak to it) in their activities within these external communities. If you are developing many brand ambassadors at once, consider hosting a brand ambassador bootcamp where new ambassadors can practice telling the brand story and get aligned on the overall positioning of the organization. Also use this as an opportunity to emphasize the key role of these ambassadors in developing the brand experience and keeping relationships with the community healthy and productive.

You may have some communities where there is a whole team of ambassadors, not just one. For example, at Red Hat, a large team of developers represented Red Hat (and themselves) in the Fedora community. Invest as many ambassadors as you need in order to provide the best possible support for and adequately communicate with the community.

As you recruit brand ambassadors, you extend the internal core of the brand. Although it is wonderful to see your core group getting bigger, extending your reach is also an important time to ensure consistency. Be very careful to take the time to educate all brand ambassadors well so the entire brand orchestra stays in key.

Brand ambassador philosophy

Wikipedia defines an ambassador as “the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization.” Usually an ambassador lives and operates within the country or organization where he is assigned.

Your brand ambassadors should channel the same philosophy. While they are members of your organization, they should “live” within the communities they are assigned to as much as possible while representing your organization within that community.

Great brand ambassadors are loyal to the organization and to the community at the same time. They develop relationships of respect, honesty, and trust within the community, which allows them to clearly and openly communicate the priorities, desires, and needs of both sides.

Brand ambassadors are not just mouthpieces for the organization, but should also maintain their own personality, interests, and opinions in the community—often distinct from those of the organization. In places where they are representing their own opinions and ideas, they should provide the proper disclaimers. With a little practice, this is not nearly as difficult as it might sound. The key is maintaining an authentic personal voice while being open, transparent, and human in their communications.

Don’t think someone in your organization has the right makeup to be a good ambassador based on what you see here, even if he or she has good relationships within the community? Don’t make him or her an ambassador. The brand ambassador is a representative of your brand to the outside world, and the job carries a lot of responsibility and requires a high emotional intelligence and diplomatic sensibility to do well.

So take the time to find, train, and support brand ambassadors within your organization. With some attention and focus, you may soon find that your network of ambassadors becomes one of your organization’s most valuable assets.

Was this post helpful?

If so, you can find more tips about how to extend your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
Book
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

Strengthening America as a brand


A few weeks ago, I was approached by Edward Burghard, who runs a project called Strengthening Brand America. According to his website, the purpose of the project is as follows:

“…to dramatically improve the level of place brand mastery in the U.S. by catalyzing a discussion between private sector experts and economic development professionals on the reapplication of proven product and corporate branding principles.”

Edward had read The Ad-Free Brand and was interested in having a discussion about how some of the principles from the book might apply to place branding (meaning branding a city, state, country or other community as opposed to a product or organization) at a country level.

While we’ve done some economic development work here at New Kind, this was one of the rare times I’d actually spent time thinking about how the principles of branding might apply to building the brand of the United States.

It was a fun conversation, and one I’d like to continue. If you find the subject interesting, please go check out the interview on the Strengthening Brand America website.

Greg DeKoenigsberg’s Law of Institutional Idiocy


Every organization has people who act or work in ways that are detrimental to the brand. Often, if these people get results (meaning they make financial targets or otherwise achieve the goals that have been set for them), they are praised and rewarded.

These off-brand people are a deadly disease. Anyone who is rewarded for working in ways that are harmful to the brand experience will damage your ability to deliver on your brand positioning.

For The Ad-Free Brand, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg let me do a sidebar about what he calls the Law of Institutional Idiocy. It does a great job showing how the disease of off-brand behavior spreads, but it also applies at a broader organizational level beyond the brand as well. Here it is:

In the beginning, your organization has a tree full of healthy employees.

And then, an idiot sneaks into the company.

That idiot chases away people who don’t like to deal with idiots and uses his or her influence to bring aboard more idiots.

If you’re not very wise and very careful, that idiot gets promoted because people tire of fighting with idiots, who also tend to be loud, ambitious, and politically savvy. And then he or she builds a whole team of idiots. Other idiots start popping up elsewhere in the organization.

That is how you end up with an organization full of idiots.

Letting off-brand people continue to operate unchecked is a quick path to a brand with a multiple personality disorder. It is not only confusing to your brand community, but also can cause lots of internal disagreement and conflict and generally just isn’t they way ad-free brands like to operate.

How do you deal with those who don’t live the brand? Some organizations have a no-tolerance rule and seek to quickly eliminate those who do not live the brand. Some instead just focus on the positive, rewarding those who live the brand while passing over those who do not, even if they are getting results.

No matter which way you go, do not leave anti-brand behavior unchecked. It could make all of your other efforts a waste of time.

 

Sprint #1 of the Management 2.0 Hackathon starts today


A few weeks ago at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara my friends at the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX) announced the Management 2.0 Hackathon.

The hackathon is a large-scale collaborative effort where folks from all around the world are joining together to develop a set of innovative management hacks that might help fix what is broken about the way our organizations operate today.

I’ll be joined as the guide/facilitator for this hackathon by my MIX colleague Michele Zanini and New Kind’s own Jonathan Opp.

Over the past few weeks, almost 450 people have signed up. So it looks like it is going to be a lot of fun.

Today it is finally time to get started. If you haven’t signed up yet and are interested, it is very easy—just go here to create your account, then review the orientation materials and head straight to the Sprint #1 instructions.

If you want to get a taste of what we are covering in Sprint #1, here’s a video introduction to the sprint from Gary Hamel.

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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