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.
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.
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.
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:).
There is no more important tool for rolling out brand positioning than a great brand story. The best brand stories can create gravity around a brand and also help build a strong brand community. They show the concepts behind the brand positioning in action, making it more than words on a page.
Does your organization have legends or stories that have been told and retold over the years? How the brand got its name? How the founders of your organization first met? The original problem they were trying to solve by developing your product? Perhaps your particular worldview or internal values became very clear at one moment in the organization’s history. Most organizations have internal legends, stories, and fables that are already being told. Your existing stories and legends are powerful because they are illustrations of who you are and why you do what you do. Often, these stories serve as building blocks for a larger brand story.
A brand story is an attempt to articulate the brand positioning by answering the deepest truths about the brand, things such as:
– Who are we?
– Why are we here?
– What do we care about?
– What do we do?
– Why does it matter?
In all likelihood, your brand story is already partway being told in the form of these stories and legends that follow the brand around everywhere it goes. Consider collecting as many of these stories as you can as background research and inspiration. An authentic brand story won’t just be made up on the spot. Great brand stories have a lineage and a heritage that are built over time and with the hard work and perseverance of many people.
In attempting to articulate the brand story, your job will be part historian, part archeologist, and part sculptor, taking the existing building blocks that have been provided to you by those who built the brand and merging them with the new brand positioning you’ve developed. You’ll need to mold these two views together into an overarching brand story that is both authentic to the brand’s past and relevant to the brand’s future at the same time.
It is hard work creating a great story that will get passed on from person to person. You’ll need to recruit the best storytellers you can find to the cause, including your organization’s top writers, designers, and poets (or if you work with an outside firm, bring their best folks in, too).
But based on my experience helping develop brand stories for organizations over the past decade, I can tell you that the effort is worth it. A great brand story will not only help you attract new people to your brand community, it will become a powerful guiding force within your organization as well.
If you’d like to learn more about the brand stories we created during my time at Red Hat, take a look at the following posts:
And here is an example of one of the original Red Hat “legends” that we collected during our time building the brand.
Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!
The best 21st century brands won’t be built on advertising alone. Here’s why:
Ask Delta Airlines.
Or ask BP.
The problem isn’t your marketing. The problem is that, when it comes to your brand, your customers aren’t just listening to you anymore; they are listening to everyone who is talking about your brand.
You know this.
But if so many people are aware that the world has changed, why has the way most organizations allocate their marketing and communications time and money not changed?
My advice? Instead of focusing only on customers and prospects, take a more holistic approach where you engage all of the people who care about your brand: what I refer to as the brand community. (I spend a lot more time sharing ways to do this effectively in The Ad-Free Brand.)
In a world where every person on the planet has the power to change the fate of your brand (whether they spend money with you or not), the brand community has to be seen as more than just customers.
For some more from me on this subject, check this out:
Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!
By now I’m sure you’ve seen that, in a tersely-worded blog post, Reed Hastings of Netflix today rolled back the controversial decision to split the company into two separate services: a DVD-by-mail service that would have been named Qwikster and the on-demand streaming service that would have retained the Netflix name.
You may have also seen the announcement that Apple pre-sold 1 million units of its new iPhone 4S on the first day it was available, blowing away previous records. This positive news comes after many people (especially those in the media), expecting a completely new iPhone 5, greeted last week’s iPhone 4S announcement with disappointment.
Meanwhile, over at Facebook, privacy concerns continue to mount as the latest site enhancements caused some to question the addition of cookies that would supposedly allow Facebook to track users’ movements even once they log off the service.
I put these three events together because they showcase how three of the most successful and powerful brands of our time interact with their brand communities as they innovate quickly and aggressively.
What do all three companies share? First, confidence. They can see their destiny, they have a plan in place to control it, and no one—not even their customers—is allowed to slow their innovation engines down. What else do all three share? They all also have passionate communities of people who care deeply about them and watch every move they make closely.
In each case, these two forces—the company’s own self confidence and the pressure and expectations that a deeply engaged and passionate brand community brings—can lead to highly-charged, high-risk announcements, communications, and interactions.
So why is Apple so successful at keeping the relationship with its brand community healthy? Why is Netflix stumbling so badly? And why is Facebook in a dangerous spot?
In my view it comes down to a difference in the way each company approaches the give and take transactions with their brand community, the way they manage their community karma.
Creating a healthy brand community is a lot like managing a bank account. In order to remain in good standing, you must make more deposits in the karma bank than withdrawals. And this is where Apple, Facebook, and Netflix begin to differ.
On one end of the spectrum is Apple. The company showers us with delightful new products and innovations. Apple surprises us. Apple entertains us. But most of all, we’ve come to expect that almost every product Apple makes is going to fundamentally change the way we work and play. By creating great, impactful stuff that really does improve our lives in meaningful ways (I haven’t used a computer that runs Microsoft Windows in more than a decade… but I still remember EXACTLY how it felt), Apple is constantly making deposits in the community karma bank.
And while many folks were upset that Apple didn’t launch an iPhone 5 last week, I’ll point out that it was a stronger karma decision to launch an upgraded version of the iPhone 4 and call it a 4S than to launch an upgraded iPhone 4 and call it an iPhone 5 (as many other companies would have done). When an iPhone 5 is ready, we will know it, I’m sure.
That’s not to say that Apple doesn’t make karma withdrawals too. It does. Apple, you annoy me with your crappy restrictions on what I can do with music I download from you. I dislike your anti-competitive app store practices, and you scare me every time I have to click through a new version of your license agreement.
But when it comes right down to it, you give me more than you take, Apple, so I must admit I still love you.
On the other end of the spectrum we have our friends at Netflix. For years, Netflix was a dutiful investor in the karma bank. The company made their site elegant and easy to use, the social functionality and ratings were helpful, and, when streaming came along, it was like Christmas.
Personally, I loved Netflix. I loved it so much that I even bought a new TV last year on the strength of one feature—I could seamlessly stream Netflix movies directly to it.
But something changed. Over the last six months, I’ve noticed that Netflix has started making more karma withdrawals than deposits.
First, the Netflix site quit getting better. I don’t know about you, but I found it harder and harder to search for new movies. Netflix has always tried to push you toward the backlist titles and older movies, and I get why that made sense with the DVD-by-mail system. But why not make it easy for me to find your newest on-demand titles? I got frustrated and quit using it as much because it seemed like the site was actually losing searching/browsing functionality rather than getting better (was that my imagination?).
Then Netflix hit me with the price increase. Now I don’t mind paying more when I’m getting more, but at the time the price increase was announced it had become clear that Netflix’s agreements with distributors were souring and that they might even lose access to many on-demand films. This on top of my frustrations with the site, created my first negative Netflix experiences.
Still, Netflix had enough positive karma with me, built up over years, that we remained buddies.
Then, on September 19th, Reed Hastings sent me an email (under cover of night, at 3:31 AM, mind you) that started as an apology and quickly turned from mea culpa into double down. If you got the email, you were likely either A) angry or B) wondering if Reed might soon have an opening to hire you to help with his communications strategy.
Not only was Netflix going to keep the price increase, they were going to significantly degrade the customer experience by splitting the business in two and forcing their customers to log in to two completely different sites if they wanted to stay a customer of both the streaming and DVD-by-mail businesses. I understood the business strategy and why it made sense… but the communications strategy and the way the whole thing was positioned was just plain terrible. As someone in the communications business myself, I felt the need to look away.
And that was the moment Netflix made one more karma withdrawal than I could take. In the weeks since I received that email I have 1) bought a Roku box so I can stream on my TV from someone other than Netflix if I want to 2) started using the free streaming I get as a member of Amazon Prime and 3) made the decision to go on a break from Netflix until it gets its karma account back in order.
Apparently, I’m not alone. Since the announcement, the Netflix stock has fallen off a cliff, down from just over $200 to around $110 a share (and it was at $300 a share this summer). The announcement today may not have come soon enough, only time will tell.
Netflix, I still think we might have a future together, but man do you have some work to do.
Which brings us to Facebook. Now Facebook is a very interesting case to look at because of one thing that makes it very different than the other two companies: it doesn’t charge me any real money.
Facebook is a free service, and typically our expectations of a free service are very low. Investments in the karma bank add up quickly when the service is free. For years, Facebook has earned our love by helping us reconnect with long lost friends and relatives, while allowing us to actively keep in touch with more people at once than we ever could with a pen, phone, or email.
The real price of using Facebook—our privacy and personal data—was one that was originally only too high for a fringe group of digital conspiracy theorists. But over the past year, Facebook has become more and more intrusive, less respectful of what little privacy it still allows us, and has at the same time claimed more ownership of our personal data, using it in ways that are less clearly in our own interests.
The double whammy is that at the same time, the service is becoming incrementally less valuable to many people. Now that you are connected to all of these folks that you haven’t seen in 20 years and know what their kids are having for breakfast… then what?
I’ve noticed more and more of my friends on Facebook are going largely silent. It is good to have the network there when you need it and want to reach out to someone. But my perception is that the regular updates are decreasing, the number of times I’m tempted to click the “like” buttons has gone way down as I wonder how Facebook intends to exploit my click, and I’m unlikely to upload any personal photos or videos until I am 100% positive they aren’t going to show up in some banner ad for deodorant.
I wonder if Facebook is nearing a critical juncture. Because the service is free, I think Facebook will likely be able to avoid the rapid depletion of the karma reserve that Netflix has seen over the past few months. But as more people become aware of the true costs of using Facebook—in terms of loss of control of our privacy and personal data—and the incremental value of Facebook begins to level off, could the karma bank for Facebook go negative, even as a free service?
I don’t know. But if I were at Facebook, I’d certainly be starting to worry about it. Especially if I had a competitor like Google (with its own karma stumbles, but an overall better track record of respecting personal data) lurking, waiting for Facebook to make one too many withdrawals.
I’m sure many of you have strong views about these three brands. If you do, and either agree or disagree with my analysis, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
It has become a truism in marketing that you should stay focused on your customers. In most of our organizations, we are attempting to sell something to make a profit. We need customers.
But I often use the word community in places where most people would use the word customer. Why? Am I just being naive about what pays the bills for our organizations to continue to thrive? Am I committing heresy by not staying focused on just customers?
I don’t think so.
I believe that the dogged focus on marketing to customers alone has created a myopic view that makes us ignore many of the important people who interact with our brands.
Customers are important; most organizations couldn’t exist without them. So what is the issue?
Customers are not just listening to us anymore.
When organizations focus on only interacting with customers rather than taking a holistic view of the entire brand community, they forget that in the twenty-first century, the version of the brand represented by the organization might only be a small percentage of the brand the customer sees. Where is the rest of the story coming from?
Everyone else who interacts with the brand: the brand community.
When rolling out brand positioning, ad-free brands understand that it matters what everyone thinks about the brand—not just the customers. By understanding and planning your interactions with all of the communities around your brand, you have a chance to impact the customers’ views of who you are in a much deeper way than if you were just speaking to customers directly through marketing and advertising.
And that’s just if you are only concerned with the success of your business itself. If you are a nonprofit or a member of the growing breed of socially responsible businesses interested in benefitting the communities they serve while remaining for-profit, you’ll see even greater benefits from this approach.
So should you be focused on customers? Absolutely. But just remember that you aren’t the only folks talking to your customers about your brand. When you build a brand strategy that ensures the positioning resonates with all the people around your brand and not just customers, you’ll be on the path to much deeper, more fulfilling relationships with the communities surrounding your brand–and you’ll probably be heard by potential customers who would have never given you the time of day otherwise.
This is the eighth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.
To create great brand positioning, you must do your homework. In a brand positioning project, this homework mostly consists of doing some research about the brand ahead of time. But how do you organize your research?
In this post, I’ll teach you a simple tip I learned from Dr. Kevin Keller that will help you frame your positioning research in a way that will ensure you find the answers you need.
When doing research to inform a brand positioning project, I am not satisfied until I can answer the following four questions:
1. What does the brand community currently believe about or value in the brand?
2. What might the brand community believe or value about the brand in the future?
3. What does the organization currently claim about the brand?
4. What would the organization like the brand to become down the road?
Great brand positioning has one foot in the present and one foot in the future. The research we’re doing to answer these questions helps us understand exactly where each foot should be planted.
The Foot in the Present
By studying what your brand community members currently believe the brand stands for and what they value about it today, you’ll begin to understand their current experience of the brand. Yet your community’s experience of the brand can be very different than how you see or talk about the brand inside the organization. So the brand research should study the brand from both an internal and external perspective.
Often organizations will notice gaps or inconsistencies between the brand they claim to be and the brand their community sees or experiences—the brand promise-brand experience gap.
Once you deeply understand what your community currently believes or values about the brand and compare this to what you currently claim about the brand, you’ll have a complete picture of where your “foot in the present” is planted. You’ll see clearly how big the gap is between your brand promise and brand experience. Only then can you begin the work of building brand positioning that closely aligns the brand promise claimed with the brand experience delivered.
The Foot in the Future
But a brand that is only concerned with the present state of affairs is a brand in stagnation. You’ll want your brand to grow, prosper, and remain relevant down the road. So you should also try to understand what the brand community might believe or value about the brand in the future.
What directions might people give you permission to take the brand? Where do they not want you to take it? What would they value in the brand that you don’t provide today? What does the organization do today that people would rather not see you continue to do down the road?
Equally important is that you strongly consider where you want to take the brand. Remember the apocryphal Henry Ford quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Sure, to remain relevant you should deeply understand what the community members want the brand to become, but do not become a slave to their vision. You might have entirely different and amazing places you’d like to take the brand that your customers or other community members can’t yet see.
So, in order to understand where your foot in the future is planted, you should seek to understand both what your community would believe or value in the brand and what you want the brand to become down the road.
Where Great Positioning Lives
Great positioning lives where all four answers intersect. It is a bridge between your current brand experience and the brand you’d like to become in the future. It deeply reflects the brand you currently see while lighting the path to what it could become.
Great positioning lives in all four of these quadrants at once. It can be like the North Star, guiding the organization toward the future, while paying homage to the past and making clear connections between things that resonate about the brand with both your organization and your brand community.
So where should you look for data that will help you answer these four questions and start on the road to great brand positioning?
I’ll share some of the mostly likely sources of data in a followup post.
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.
In reality, your organization probably doesn’t just interact with one community, but a whole host of very different communities and sub-communities. The only thing these communities may share is that they are made up of individual human beings.
When asked to list the groups of people making up an organization’s community, most would probably end up with a list that looked something like this:
In my day job at New Kind, I spend quite a bit of my time working on brand-related assignments, particularly for organizations interested in community-based approaches to building their brands.
When marrying the art of community building to the art of brand building, it’s hard not to talk about building “brand communities.” It’s a convenient term, and brand experts love to trot out examples like Harley Davidson and Apple as examples of thriving communities built around brands.
The term “brand community” even has its own Wikipedia page (definition: “a community formed on the basis of attachment to a product or marque”). Harvard Business Review writes about brand communities. Guy Kawasaki writes about brand communities.
Yet almost every article I’ve read about building “brand communities” shares a common trait:
They are all written by brand people for brand people.
The result? Articles focusing on what’s in it for the brands (and the companies behind them), not what’s in it for the communities. Learn how to build a brand community so your company will succeed, not so a community will succeed.
Typical corporate thinking.
What if we turned things on their heads for a second and changed the words around? What if, instead of “brand community,” the phrase du jour was “community brand?”
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]