I’m passionate about helping organizations develop more authentic, meaningful, and productive relationships with the communities around them. Last week, I suggested a few ideas for how to begin thinking about a less self-centered approach to community strategy that might help.
The evening after I wrote the post, I was taking a run around the neighborhood, listening to some tunes, when a song from the recent Avett Brothers live album came on. At the end of the song, someone in the audience must have screamed out “we love you” or something along those lines. The recording captures one of the two brothers (Seth, I think?) responding. Here’s what he said:
“We love you too. Sincerely. We’ve said it before. It’s real difficult to sound sincere on a microphone, but we love y’all too in a very big way.”
It’s real difficult to sound sincere on a microphone.
Man, isn’t that the truth.
In a few years, the Avett Brothers have gone from having a small fan base following them around here in my home state of North Carolina to selling out arenas around the world. In those words, you could almost sense the struggle. How do you broadcast a personal message to thousands of people while still remaining (and sounding) sincere.
I’m always looking for interesting new communities to highlight on opensource.com. Over the past year, I’ve covered everything from Wikipedia to OpenIDEO to The White House and am, frankly, overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of new community-building efforts going on out there.
Seems like every day I get an email or see something on Twitter or Facebook about a new community that sounds interesting and innovative. I’ve found some amazing people and visionary ideas. I hope to continue to highlight the best of these new communities here on the business channel.
But at the risk of sounding like a hater, I must admit I’m getting a touch of new-community fatigue.
I think I went over the edge a few weeks back when ex-advertising industry celebrity Alex Bogusky (yes, the same guy who did all of those weird chicken ads for Burger King and famously tried to make Microsoft cool) announced his new “Collaborative Community/Brand For Social Entrepreneurs.” He calls it Common. No offense to Alex, but when the advertising agency folks are hopping on the community brand bus, you have to wonder whether the seats are starting to get a tad bit full…
I also wonder if there is a bit too much Tom Sawyer-fence-painting going on in some of these new communities. In case it’s been a while since you read Tom Sawyer, here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the story of Tom Sawyer and the fence:
For my first post of 2011, I thought I’d share some interesting news: I’m writing a book.
The title is The Ad-free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World. It is intended to be a hands-on guide to help organizations of any size in any industry effectively position their brands in a what I’d call a post-advertising world.
I’m writing it not just for marketing/communications types, but for anyone who is interested in learning more about how to effectively position their brand using 21st century tools and strategies, whether the brand is a product, a website, a small business, a non-profit, a person, or a Fortune 500 company.
As those who’ve read my brand positioning tips know, I’m a bit of a positioning junkie. But my frustration has been that I haven’t found a really good resource that helps people manage and grow brands that can’t afford (or choose not to do) big fancy advertising campaigns. If you read through the classic texts like Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries, they are filled with examples of executing positioning through advertisements, taglines, and marketing campaigns.
But as good as the positioning concepts themselves are, I’m not sure the advertising-driven execution of these concepts is as relevant in 2011 as it was in the 20th century. My goal with The Ad-free Brand is to teach people the timeless principles of good brand positioning, then show them how to apply them a new kind of way using the lessons I’ve learned from the open source world and elsewhere.
As some of you know, I spent the first part of my career in book publishing, first as a literary agent then as an editor. Writing a book is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m kind of excited, but also pretty nervous. Yikes!
The Ad-free Brand will be published by Pearson/Que sometime in Fall, 2011. I’ll keep you up to date on my progress along the way. Finally, I just want to say thanks for coming by and reading some of my posts this past year. If you notice me writing a few less original posts during the next few months, now you know why:)
Happy new year!
Over the last week, a handful of folks have reached out and asked me what I think about the events surrounding the launch, then crowdsourcing, then full repeal of the new Gap logo (if you haven’t already heard the story, catch up here).
Honestly, I’d been hesitant to comment at length, partially because so many articles were hitting the best angles already (take your pick of this one, this one, this one, this one, or this one for starters), and partly because somewhere inside I secretly wondered whether the geniuses behind the Gap brand are simply playing us as pawns in a New Coke-esque scheme of diabolical marketing genius (on that point, I still don’t think I know the answer).
While most articles have focused on the aesthetics of the logo itself or on issues surrounding crowdsourcing a logo effort (note to self: must… avoid… commenting… on… crowdsourcing… so… tempting), I’ve been wondering more about the strong reaction of the Gap community.
Specifically, why did the community of customers surrounding the Gap brand have such a visceral negative reaction to the logo change? Is it really that bad? The firm in charge of the redesign has a great reputation and deep understanding of the Gap brand. How did a project run by experienced brand professionals working with one of the largest consumer brands in the world go so wrong so quickly?
For me, the answer can be found in a quote I really love from outgoing Mozilla CEO John Lilly:
“Surprise is the opposite of engagement.”
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jim Gilmore, co-author (with Joseph Pine) of the book Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. I first read the book a few years ago, and it really struck a nerve for me—these guys were on to something.
So I convinced Jim to subject himself to a Five Questions interview about the place where authenticity and the open source way intersect.
CHRIS: After joining the open source world ten years ago, it didn’t take me long to figure out that most open source folks despise marketing as it is traditionally practiced. Is there something inherently inauthentic about the language of marketing? Perhaps open source folks have a low tolerance for inauthenticity?
JIM: I often quote from a letter-to-the-editor that appeared in the Harvard Business Review following the publication of our article, “Welcome to the Experience Economy.” In this letter, Robert Jones of Wolf-Olins shared his definition of a brand as “the promise of an experience.”
Joe Pine and I responded by saying Amen to that, but added that so often the actual experience fails to fulfill against the promise. Indeed, marketing in general, and advertising in particular, has become a giant phoniness-generating machine. And not just the language of marketing, but the very practice of marketing so often serves to erode the perception of authenticity among consumers—by making promises that bear little resemblance to the actual experience encountered.
So much creative talent today is engaged in making promises as marketing instead of being employed to create compelling experiences as actual output. The experience itself should be the marketing.
My friend Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad, is fond of saying, “Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.” I feel that way about most marketing. I’d like to see creative talent diverted from making messages about goods and services and used instead to help create truly remarkable experiences, ones so compelling that they command a fee as product.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
In Brand Positioning Tip #3, I introduced the concept of the brand mantra. The term was originally coined by Scott Bedbury during his time at Nike, and it refers to a short 3-5 word phrase created to capture the very essence of the brand’s meaning.
Usually a brand mantra includes or hints at some of the points of difference discovered during the brand positioning exercise (learn more about points of difference here). The most famous example of a brand mantra is from Bedbury’s Nike project, where the team coined the brand mantra Authentic Athletic Performance.
The most important thing to understand about brand mantras is that they are not designed to be externally facing slogans or taglines. Case in point— unless you’ve heard the Nike brand mantra story before, you’ve probably never seen the phrase Authentic Athletic Performance associated with Nike in advertising. Usually you will see an external manifestation of it, Just Do It being the prime example.
This is where most well-meaning brand mantra projects go bad. When brainstorming possible brand mantras, it is important for your team to be very clear that they are not writing advertising copy or taglines for external use. There is no quicker path to an inauthentic brand mantra than heading too quickly toward the language of advertising or marketing.
A brand mantra should resonate internally first. The mantra you chose should reflect the core values, mission, and culture of the company while also staying true to the brand positioning (if this is difficult, you’ve got bigger problems, because it may mean your culture and your brand are out of alignment).
The most powerful brand mantras become part of the DNA of the organization, and are used to guide everyday decisions about strategy, user experience, voice, and a host of other things. The mantra becomes a touchstone that is returned to over and over again— especially when decisions start getting tough.
Once you’ve settled on your brand mantra and tested it internally to ensure it resonates, you can finally start working on taglines. Again, think of a tagline as an external manifestation of the brand mantra— written in a language that will resonate with your target customer instead of your co-workers.
A key theme we’ve returned to over and over in this blog is the idea that the corporate model for communications is rapidly changing from one where communications leaders keep tight control of the message their company is putting out to a model where these same folks are instead the catalyst for the ensuring the brand message is delivered well– whether by them, by other employees, or by brand evangelists.
Control to catalyst.
It’s happening whether we like it or not. So it is a good time to heed my friend Tom Rabon‘s advice: “the train can’t run you over if you’re on it.”
How do you get on board? I keep coming back to the fabulous report by the Arthur W. Page Society, The Authentic Enterprise, which lays out this change in great detail. If you are in the communications field and haven’t read it, please do. It’ll help.
As formal communications channels like advertising and press releases become less relevant and things like social media and reputational capital become more relevant, marketing folks are simply going to have to make changes to where they put their money and effort if they want to continue to be successful.
A new study out today from The CMO Club and Hill & Knowlton (and reported on CMO.com) suggests Chief Marketing Officers are still running behind in moving their marketing dollars from the old model to the new one. According to the study, 84% of these folks spend less than 10% of their budgets on social media and non-traditional communications channels, and over 1/2 of them spend 5% or less.
That means they are still spending a lot of money on the old tools of the trade.
A quote from the CMO.com story:
On Twitter yesterday, my friend Chris Blizzard mentioned to someone that I often say “brands are like sponges.” When I saw this, I realized that a) I haven’t said this in a while and b) I should say it more often because it is a freakin’ awesome way to think about brands. So I’m saying it again right now. Right here.
It’s actually not my line. I got it from the Scott Bedbury book A New Brand World (one of the top ten books behind Dark Matter Matters). Near the beginning of the book, Scott, who is one of the masterminds behind the good ol’ days of the Nike brand in the 80s and the Starbucks brand in the 90s, provides one of my favorite definitions of what a brand is:
A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product. It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee– the shining star in the company who can do no wrong– as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when they are placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet. Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such, you can’t entirely control a brand. At best you can only guide and influence it.
Those last two lines have stuck in my mind since I first read them. First, the idea that a brand is a sponge, soaking up everything, both good and bad. And second, that you cannot control a brand, you can only guide and influence it.
A long time ago, a smart North Carolina native mentioned to me that the official NC state motto was the Latin phrase “esse quam videri,” which translates as “to be rather than to seem to be.” Yeah, I didn’t know states had mottoes either. Turns out a lot of them do.
I was struck by this phrase. As Red Hat has grown from North Carolina roots into an international company with offices around the world, we’ve adopted this one little piece of North Carolina-ness as an unofficial litmus test for the Red Hat brand voice as well.
Esse quam videri first appeared in the Cicero essay On Friendship, but a similar concept can actually be traced back to the Greek playwright Aeschylus. His line, which later appeared in Plato’s The Republic, was “His resolve is not to seem the best but in fact to be the best.” You can find more on the history of the phrase here.
Esse quam videri inspires authenticity. When Red Hat is communicating at our best, we use esse quam videri as the muse of simple, honest talk; conversation that doesn’t hide behind the foreign languages of marketing, law, or business.
Sometimes it inspires us to not communicate at all, to simply do instead. When we are not communicating well, we are not listening to our muse.