Interesting story in the WSJ this morning about Alec Duffy, the 33 year old theater director from Brooklyn.  Duffy found himself in an opportune position after he won the rights to singer/songwriter Sufjan Steven’s, newest single.  According to the WSJ:

Duffy won the rights to Mr. Stevens’s song in a 2007 contest called the “Great Sufjan Song Xmas Xchange.” Mr. Duffy submitted a song that he wrote — called “Every Day is Christmas” — that Mr. Stevens judged the best. In exchange, Mr. Duffy won the rights to Mr. Stevens’s “The Lonely Man of Winter”…In describing the prize, Mr. Stevens’s Web site said: “Sufjan’s new song becomes your song. You can hoard it for yourself, sell it to a major soft drink corporation, use it in your daughter’s first Christmas video, or share it for free on your Web site. No one except Sufjan and you will hear his song, unless you decide otherwise.”

The contest created by Sufjan is indeed deserving of major props.  It is, however, not a concept that should be seen as terribly mind-blowing, especially in today’s environment.  Artists, or I should say, the artists who intend on surviving in this climate will continue to be the trendsetters in the utilization of social-networking methods and tools that connect with and empower their fans–making them feel like an even larger part of the process.  It is the only way to break through the clutter and engage with the loyal and devoted fans you’ve already hooked in; the only way to maintain your brand’s/band’s reputation.  Releasing a decent recording simply won’t cut it anymore.

For me though, the coolest part of all this was Duffy’s response to his new position of musical-power.  Instead of selling the song for some sort of commercial use–which, I am sure, millions of people would have done if given the opportunity–he sent out an invite on his theater company’s website for fans to come to his home in Brooklyn to listen to the song (on headphones), together.  “The experiment lures strangers to Mr. Duffy’s living room about once a week, to [as he says,] “recapture an era when to get one’s hands on a particular album or song was a real experience.”

Duffy describes Sufjan as “the wizard behind the curtain,” and it’s very cool to me how, without being guided in any way by the artist, he has essentially gone out of his way to perpetuate this artistic perception.  He has taken full responsibility for maintaining the brand’s (Sufjan’s) reputation, almost making it a fulltime job.  It’s an amazing example of a brand’s message being embraced and consequently strengthened by the “consumer,” organically.  Authenticity at it’s best…

My favorite quote of Duffy’s is when he says about the gatherings, “This is the finest way we felt we could curate this song. It brings people together, rather than being lost among 14,000 iTunes.”

Branding Strategy Insider frequently writes truly great, insightful posts.  Two of the more recent posts are especially worth mentioning…

In Branding: The Next Generation, Martin Lindstrom explains the evolution of the “branding”industry–moving from an industry focused on the “Me Selling Proposition (MSP)” to, the more modern strategy of the “Holistic Selling Proposition (HSP).”

HSP brands are those that not only anchor themselves in tradition but also adopt religious characteristics at the same time they leverage the concept of sensory branding as a holistic way of spreading the news. Each holistic brand has its own identity, one that is expressed in its every message, shape, symbol, ritual, and tradition — just as sports teams and religion do today.

I’m not disagreeing with Lindstrom’s discription of HSP or even the need for his charge to the branding world, I would argue, however, that thinking “holisticly” about branding has always been the most effective strategy and is, therefore, not as revolutionary as he makes it sound.  Sure, the collective of different mediums making up “the whole” has grown and many of the same mediums have evolved into something new, but I don’t think it’s right to assume all marketers are only now realizing how valueable it is to be active and consistent in every (relevant) medium.

Speaking of which, the word “consistency” is not only one of my favorites–at least as it relates to good branding–but it is central to the above idea of holistic branding, because each part must be consistent with the others that make up the whole.

In The Power of Consistency (another Brand Strategy Insider post), Brad VanAuken asks, “what is it about marketers that cause them to want to create something new all of the time?”  He goes on to say:

When it comes to brand identity, I learned a long time ago that consistency is the secret to success.  With enough repetition, people encode the brands identity (usually not as read words but as the recognized look, shape and feel) in their brains, preferably linked to things that matter to them. If you mess with the overall look and feel of the brand, these linkages and associations are likely to break down…Redirect your more creative tendencies to new product development or out-of-the box marketing campaigns and tactics.

Well said, Brad.  Thank you for that.

For so many reasons, owning a Smart Car makes sense.  It is an unbelievably effective model for owning a car these days, especially if you live in the city.  On average, cars spend something like 8-16 hours parked per day!  Smart Cars simply make sense and so does the creation of So-Smart URL.

picture-11

I’m not usually one for marketing gimmicks, but this little service created by Smart Car is not only brilliantly on-brand, but practical, too.  Don’t be surprised if So-Smart becomes the tool of choice for millions of “tweeters” looking to include lengthy URLs while still staying within the 140 character limit–even Twitter’s “tiny urls” can be too big.

Trent Reznor Gets It!

April 8, 2009

Today, WIRED released a really nice piece on Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor, who has probably been one of the most forward-thinking “brand managers” of the last year or so–and I don’t mean music-specific branding either.  The report was sparked by news of Reznor’s upcoming release of a NIN iPhone App.

The free Nine Inch Nails app, scheduled for release as soon as it gets final approval from Apple, is a mobile window on all things NIN: music, photos, videos, message boards, even — thanks to a GPS-enabled feature called Nearby — the fans themselves.

Nearby is “kind of like Twitter within the Nine Inch Nails network,” says Rob Sheridan, Reznor’s long-time collaborator. “You can post a message or a photo by location, and if you’re at a show you can see conversations between other people who are right there.”

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the power of branded iPhone apps and asked why more brands (STILL!) have not created their own. So, it’s always nice to hear these kinds of announcements–industry leaders, like Reznor, truly grasping the opportunity and capitalizing on the value these “brand-extending tools” can add to the overall experience you create for your customers (fans).

As WIRED notes,

[This] is the culmination, at least for now, of a process that began a year-and-a-half ago, when Nine Inch Nails succeeded in extracting itself from its contract with Universal Music Group’s Interscope label…Since then, Reznor has pioneered a new, fan-centered business model that radically breaks with the practices of the struggling music industry. His embrace of “freemium” pricing, torrent distribution, fan remixes and social media seem to be paying off financially even as they have helped him forge deeper connections with the Nine Inch Nails faithful.

I will admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of NIN’s music, but their apititude for brand building–especially in today’s so called “unknown” environment–gives them huge props in my book.

The Verizon “Hub”

March 21, 2009

Originally posted on 12.26.09

Last night, I saw a pretty intriguing spot for the new Verizon Hub

Engadget describes:

The system boasts a 7-inch touchscreen display, and will work with Verizon wireless subscribers handset(s) to eliminate the need for a landline (people still have those!?) The idea here is that the hub can sync to your calendar, contacts, maps, traffic and weather reports via broadband. It can also send and receive text messages, and do all kinds of cute little tasks like send driving directions to your phone. Subscribers have to live in an E911-capable area, and will be able to bring any phone number with them if they want to sign up for new service. The hardware’s going to cost $200 (after a $50 mail-in rebate) with a subscription fee of $35 per month — which comes with unlimited minutes and texts to and from the device. It’ll be available starting February 1st. Get ready.

I think this is a perfect way for Verizon to extend the brand and solidify its own unique platform within the broadband/telecommunications world: I don’t know what Verizon is calling it, but I’m going to say “Life Operations Management.” The Verizon brand has become so strongly tied to the image of Blackberry that they needed to figure out a way of tethering the technology/ability to a more complete system for life management.

I’m assuming the Hub is primarily targeted towards the homemaker, or “manager” of a family’s overall needs and activities, and I think this could potentially become a very effective differentiator, influencing entire families to become more complete and loyal Verizon users. Essentially, everything the “Verizon family” does could be connected and accessible to the varioous members, and I think many families will find that concept to be an extremely appealing possibility.

The problem, or potential issue I continue to see with Verizon and RIM’s Blackberry, however, is the nascence of their marketplace-platform. With iTunes continuing to expand and become more comprehensive (with thousands of new apps created every day!), and Google, basically just being Google, with a massive amount of “liquidity” created through an ever growing line of products, it is hard to believe Verizon and Blackberry will be able to avoid having to partner with Google, who will end up being the only option they will have. Apple will undoubtedly come up with their own version of the Hub, which would scare the absolute hell out of me if I were Verizon.

It will be interesting to watch.

Originally posted on 2.10.2009

This is more of a general observation, but, at this point, why haven’t more brands created their own app for the iPhone?

This really seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s just the most game-changing, culturally significant, increasingly ubiquitous device/interface available today…what’s the hold up? The iPhone app basically serves up the most targeted, customizable vehicle for your brand to become further infused into the lives of your consumers. Why are you not there yet? Whether you are a service company or a consumer product, you should be fully embracing this technology. You’ve had almost a full year to figure it out…where are you?

Miller High Life…as much as I loved your 5, 1-second spot strategy for the Super Bowl, you have still failed to create your own app. You know that beer drinking app? That should have been yours! Regardless of how long your Super Bowl time slot(s) were, I will guarantee that a Miller High Life app would have gained a hell of lot more attention and brand-LOVE, while costing you a fraction of the price.

Hey, Charles Schwab…I have to say, I’ve been banking with you for only a year, but almost every interaction I’ve had has reinforced your brand message of making things easy and doing things that make sense. But, where is your banking app? That would certainly be something that made sense right now. Did you know Chase has one out already? We are all waiting….

UPDATE: Here is a nice slideshow from Viximo Studios on the branded iPhone app.