“Schizophrenic behavior dilutes core brand equity. While it may help in the short term, knee-jerk reactions to the immediate environment can prove detrimental to the long-term value of the brand, especially if they don’t link up to what a brand represents or the bigger brand idea.”

Defying The Genericizing of Brands – BSI

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.

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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.

One of my roommates, mentioned last night that he “hates [these] commercials.”

Not being in the marketing/branding/communications/whatever the hell you want to call it-industry,  I know Tommy doesn’t scrutinize branding efforts like I do.  So, the fact that we disagreed wasn’t entirely surprising, but it did make me question the difference between people in the industry and those of the general public and what consider to be “good.”  Obviously, Tommy’s opinion is far more important than mine (for the same reason people in the marketing world are not supposed to participate in focus groups and/or interviews), but I wonder, who’s missing something here? Me or him?

For me, “Dead Zone” is good.  It’s effective, because it works as another great extender of Verizon’s primary brand-differentiator, “The Network.”  As much as the “You’re good!” guy annoys me, he is probably one of the most recognizable faces in advertising and he and his “posse” are part of Verizon’s essence.  They symbolize reliability, signal-strength and speed, and overall customer care.  Every time I see or hear him, I am reminded of “The Network” and those UNIQUE characteristics.

Even though the “Dead Zone” spots are a little corny, they reinforce the brand’s positioning and are undeniably distinct, memorable and consistent.  Consistency is huge.  You recognize the music and the mood it creates and, even with the ones you haven’t seen, you can anticipate exactly what the happy Verizon customer will say in the end…”I have the Verizon Network”…so HA!

I think my Tommy, like most people of the general public, tend to judge commercials on their entertainment value without taking into account the cores messages they are actually taking away from them.  Tommy was annoyed by the ridiculousness of the spots and the repetition of them–he had ceased to be entertained.  “Yeah, yeah , yeah, I get it, Verizon has a great network, but show me something new…I AM watching TV.  Entertain me!”  While I sympathizes with the desire for commercial breaks to be on par with the entertainment value of, say, The Office, I don’t think he could deny that Verizon’s positioning HAD been seared into his mind.

Entertainment value in commercials, is often given priority by people in the ad industry, but, in my opinion, this is only a “nice to have,” not a necessity.  Having a strong, relevant, recognizable, CONSISTENT brand message is what really sets your brand apart.  More brands need to work on this, and worry less about how funny or titillating their work is.  It would end up being far more effective.