brand strategy

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How do you collaborate without leaving introverts behind?


Last week, I watched The Power of Introverts, an excellent TED Talk by Susan Cain (she also has a book out on the same subject called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking).

In her talk, which has been viewed almost two million times since it was posted last month, Susan makes a compelling case that the open, collaborative world we embrace today is not always set up to harness the best work from introverts.

As we’ve moved toward more open office plans, collaborative processes like design thinking, and into a digital world now dominated by the word “social,” Susan wonders who is looking out for the introverts? Should introverts feel guilty about wanting to do their thinking and working alone? And can introverts do great work in group settings?

I spent more than a decade working in the inherently collaborative world of open source software. I regularly lead brand positioning and strategy projects as open, collaborative, social exercises involving entire communities of people in the process. So Susan’s talk made me ask myself a tough question:

By emphasizing a collaborative, social process am I risking leaving introverts—and their best ideas—behind?

It’s no secret that I am a life-long introvert myself. I am much more comfortable writing or reading a blog post in my living room and discussing it via comments or Twitter than I am sitting and talking about it with someone over coffee or, worse, at a social gathering like a party or a conference.

So I get where Susan is coming from. Deeply.

In her TED Talk, she at one point pleads, “Stop the madness for constant group work.” When she said this, it hit me pretty hard. The first thing that came to my mind was the one gazillion design thinking ideation sessions I’ve either run or participated in over the last 7 or 8 years.

I’ve personally never had much trouble speaking up during ideation/brainstorming sessions. But I also suspect I am a relatively mild introvert compared to others I know. I started to wonder what the hard-core introverts were thinking during these sessions (and if you were one of them, feel free to tell me below in the comments).

Did they feel like they were being talked over by extroverts? Did they feel like they were out of their element, or needed more time to process their thoughts before blurting them out and having them recorded on the wall? Would they have preferred to contemplate on their own instead of thinking socially as part of a group?

Then another thought stuck me: I’ve met a lot of software engineers over the years, and while not all of them are introverts, many of them are. Frankly, I don’t think too many extreme extroverts could stand to sit in their office and stare at a computer screen all day. But for some introverted software developers, this is bliss.

Yet open source software is developed in a collaborative, social process… run in many cases by introverts.

Why does that work?

For me at least, the answer comes down to the difference between virtual and in-person collaboration. Open source software developers do much of their collaborating online. Often this is because they are geographically dispersed around the world. But I’ve also seen developers sitting two feet away from each other communicating via instant messages or email.

Online collaboration has two key advantages over in-person collaboration for introverts:

1) It allows them to avoid stressful in-person social interactions.

2) It allows them to take their time, contemplate, and think deeply before responding.

Over the past two years at New Kind, I’ve personally been doing less and less in-person design thinking ideation sessions, instead hosting more open, collaborative sessions online. Sometimes they are efforts like the hackathons I’ve run for the Management Innovation Exchange that involve hundreds of people collaborating from all around the world. Other times they are client projects where the collaborating happens via Basecamp or another online tool.

I’ve found I enjoy facilitating sessions online much more than in-person sessions, and I think it suits my personality better. Because the collaboration happens asynchronously, I can take my time crafting thoughtful responses and generating ideas. I can wait until I’m in the right frame of mind to participate, and most importantly, I can work with others, yet be alone at the same time.

I suspect some of these same advantages also translate to participants in online group sessions as well. And for this reason, perhaps many introverts are more comfortable in collaborative projects online than in person. Some of the best ideas I’ve seen emerge from online collaborative exercises come from people who usually remain completely silent in meetings.

In many cases, online collaborative projects provide the best of both worlds—you can collaborate and build off the ideas of others, but still take the time to process your thoughts before you add them (and as a special bonus, you don’t have the stress of in-person social interaction).

If you consider yourself an introvert, I’d love to hear about your experiences participating in collaborative projects online vs. in person. Do you agree with Susan Cain’s assessment that collaborative group projects are not designed to get the best out of introverts? Do you find yourself making better contributions and contributing more in online projects? Or are online collaborative groups just as bad for you as in-person sessions, and you’d rather just work completely on your own?

I’d love to hear what you think.

How do you sell a community-based brand strategy to your executive team?


One of my favorite regular blog subjects is how to use community-based strategies to build brands. In fact, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new book entitled The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World which will be out this August and covers exactly that topic.

How does a community-based brand strategy work? Simple.

Rather than staying behind the curtain and developing a brand strategy inside your organization for your brand community, you step out from behind the curtain and develop the strategy with your brand community.

Many traditional executives will have a hard time with this approach. First, it means the organization will need to publicly admit it does not have all the answers already. Some folks (especially executives, in my experience) just have a hard time admitting they don’t know everything.

Second, it means ceding some control over the direction of your brand to people in the communities that care about it. The truth is that you probably already have lost absolute control of your brand because of the impact of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other user-controlled media. Some folks just aren’t ready to accept that fact yet.

If you are considering opening up your brand strategy to help from people outside the organization, how do you sell the approach to hesitant executives? Why is this new model not just good philosophy, but also good business?

Here are the five key benefits of a community-based brand strategy:

Continue reading

Five questions about open source and branding with Alina Wheeler


A few years back, a good friend recommended I pick up a copy of Designing Brand Identity: an essential guide for the whole branding team by Alina Wheeler. Now in its 3rd edition, it’s a beautiful book, well designed and easy to read or to use as a reference. I recently caught up with Alina, who is finishing up work on a new book entitled Brand Atlas: Branding Intelligence Made Visible with designer Joel Katz. I asked her some questions about where branding and the open source way might be beginning to intersect.

CHRIS: I have heard that you often begin the continuum of branding with the 17,000 year old cave paintings in Lascaux, France. Now that’s historic branding! What are one or two key concepts in designing branding identity that have stayed constant and endured from a world of cave paintings to a world of Twitter, Facebook, and open source?

ALINA: Since the beginning of time, the need to communicate emerges from a universal set of questions: Who am I? Who needs to know? How will they find out? Why should they care? Whether you are on Facebook or in Shanghai or Charlotte, these questions are the same.

Mankind has always used symbols and stories to express individuality, pride, loyalty, and ownership. Individuals, communities and organizations express their uniqueness through their identity. Brand is identity. Competition for recognition is as ancient as the heraldic banners on a medieval battlefield. The battle for physical territory has evolved into competition for share of mind. The competition is fierce.

The power of symbols remains elusive and mysterious–a simple form can trigger recall and arouse emotion–whether it is emblazoned on a flag or embedded in an email. There is significant research about the purpose of the images in the caves of Lascaux. For me they are a reflection of what we are all thinking about now: communication, community, culture, meaning, survival, and navigation.

CHRIS: Now the opposite question: as we begin 2011, are there core branding principles you think have shifted significantly since you wrote the first edition of the book in 2003?

ALINA: The tools have changed. The fundamentals have not. Whether you are the CEO of a global consumer brand or a social entrepreneur, I believe that there is a universal set of principles that are fundamental to increasing awareness, attracting prospects/opportunities, transcending the clutter, and building customer loyalty.

The brand conversation has changed. We all know that now. The challenges have increased exponentially. The tools have become so provocative that they reduce our attention to the fundamentals: being customer centric, staying aligned with your vision and values, and staying differentiated in a world that is overwhelming in sameness and clutter.

The pressure to constantly update and innovate has polarized the world of brand builders. For some, it is an exhilarating time and for others a treadmill where you are running faster to stay in place. There are those who embrace marketplace dynamics and ignore brand fundamentals, and those who are stuck in their legacy infrastructures and business models refusing to embrace change and speed. Success requires embracing both.

CHRIS: Here on the opensource.com business channel, we often talk about how core open source principles like community, collaboration, meritocracy, and rapid prototyping can help businesses of any type–not just those building software. I love the detailed case studies you did in Designing Brand Identity. In your studies of leading brands, have you seen examples of these principles being applied in the branding world?

ALINA: I am eager to learn about new brands that are co-created with the customer or end-user. I believe that open source is the most meaningful and relevant methodology that will help us prepare for a new world: i.e. build communities that matter, collaborate more effectively toward outcomes that matter, and innovate because for survival, that matters.

Although open source is a fairly new idea to most brand managers that I know, it embodies the branding process ideal from an organizational development perspective. The biggest challenge on revitalizing an existing brand is frequently busting through the silos. How do we get IT to work with customer support and marketing to work together on behalf of the customer? How do we get different departments with radically different agendas to be part of the campfire around the brand? It is so powerful when there is a cross-departmental, cross-disciplinary collaboration to build the brand, and to deliver on the brand promise.

B Corporations are a new class of certification and classification for companies that want to collectively redefine success and to leverage the influence of their businesses to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps connect their executive teams with peers from mission-aligned companies.

The Charleston Parks Conservancy has a unique network of community volunteers called the Park Angels, who literally help care for Charleston’s 120 + parks. They have become the public face of the organization. The long-term benefits are for the entire city: building community and improving the quality of life, health and economic strength. Park Angel’s brand is visible on numerous platforms that connect people to people, people to the parks and to the bigger ideal of making a difference. This movement has instilled a sense of ownership and pride.

I believe that IDEO uses open source methodology in their product development work, although I don’t think they call it open source. They are renowned for letting customers/users be part of the product development process and routinely use rapid prototyping. Certainly their culture of creativity and innovation is a meritocracy. The Ripple Effect is a project done in partnership with the Acumen Fund and the Gates Foundation. IDEO collaborated with 22 organizations in India to develop new methods for safe transportation and storage of drinking water in India’s villages.

CHRIS: I can tell design means more to you than just a pretty logo. What is the strategic role of design in building brands today?

ALINA: Lou Danziger said it best, “Design is intelligence made visible.”  The best design is a result of strategic imagination, an ability to understand and align business goals with creative strategy and expression. While brands are about emotional connection, brand identity is any tangible expression of the brand. We can see it, hear it, watch it move. Designers play an essential role in building brands and creating unique and memorable experiences. Designers work to fuel recognition across platforms, amplify differentiation, and make big ideas accessible and understandable.

The best designers have an ability to imagine what others can’t see and to show what it looks like and what it feels like. Design is often overlooked in brand strategy meetings where rapid prototyping could benefit and accelerate the decision making process. Having designers shoulder to shoulder with researchers examining user experiences could jumpstart new solutions.

CHRIS: One trend we discuss regularly here on opensource.com is the trend toward organizations giving up some control over the direction of their brands to the communities around them. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is this a positive thing? Dangerous? Maybe both?

ALINA: Brands exist because there are customers. Although that might sound like a blinding flash of the obvious, it’s important to remember that ultimately the customer always decides whether a brand will flourish or die.

Just like in any conversation worth having, there is a time to talk and a time to listen. Listening to the aspirations, desires, needs, and challenges of your core stakeholders is the most critical brand building competency.

I do believe that control is critical to brand success whether you are a start-up venture, a non-profit or a consumer brand.  Having values that don’t waiver. Being certain about why your organization exists. Being consistent about who you are and what you stand for. Taking the time to engage your entire organization in the vision and values. Creating places where conversations can happen. Building trust. Anticipating and fulfilling needs. Being transparent. Making certain that the brand experience is coherent and relevant.  These maxims are intentional. As more brands in the future are co-created with end-users, perhaps this notion of control will evolve to a more collaborative model.

The third edition of Designing Brand Identity is available on Amazon now. Alina Wheeler’s new book Brand Atlas: Branding Intelligence Made Visible will be available in April, 2011 and is available for pre-sale now on Amazon.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]

Evaluating TEDx as a brand strategy


A big part of my day job is to help organizations with their brand positioning and strategy.

So when I read the article in the New York Times this past Sunday about TEDx, the relatively new (and incredibly popular) offshoot of the legendary TED conference, I thought it might be a good opportunity to take a closer look. The issue?

Clearly TEDx has been a smart community-building strategy, but will it ultimately prove to be a smart brand strategy as well?

Let me take a few steps back. If you are not familiar with TED (seriously? have you been camping in Siberia?) you can learn more here.

The main TED conference is a place where smart people (with big $$ and a personal invite) go once a year to hear other smart people give short talks showcasing how smart they are. The rest of us poor, unconnected folks wait patiently for the nice TED people to release the TED talks one by one, teasing us like a painfully-slowly dripping faucet teases a man dying of thirst.

And that’s the way it worked. Until last year when, in June, TED announced a new program called TEDx that would allow anyone to organize their own TED conference anywhere in the world.

The New York Times article tells the story of what has happened with the TEDx program in a little over a year:

…there were 278 events last year in places as near as New Jersey and Florida, and as far as Estonia and China. There was TEDxKibera, held in one of Africa’s largest shantytowns in Nairobi, Kenya. And there was TEDxNASA, which had space-themed lectures.

Already this year there have been 531 TEDx events. Another nearly 750 are to take place this year and beyond.

Wow. Now that is community-driven innovation on a grand scale. From one event per year with a small number of people attending at a very high cost to almost two TED events per day, held around the world, and almost every event is free. All that in a little over a year.

I’d call that a smashing strategic success. A soon-to-be-classic community engagement story.

But if we look at the decision to create TEDx from a traditional brand or intellectual property point of view, would it also be viewed as a good strategy?

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

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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