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.

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.

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.

Originally posted on 3.04.2009

The iPhone’s impact–the way it has completely revolutionized how the world thinks about mobile–can no longer be challenged. If you are still trying to debate this, you’re an idiot. Period. So, with that in mind, this story in the WSJ struck me as a bit nutty…

Basically, a few small interest groups and mobile providers are bummed they weren’t invited to the “Mobile 2.0-Party” and feel like they might never be able to hang out with the cool kids and the movement they’ve created as a result. In order to “promote competition” these smaller companies and interest groups want Apple to lift its exclusive agreement with AT&T so they can have the option of offering the device too. Although the primary target is Apple, the case for banning exclusivity would extend to other major providers who have done the same, such as: Verizon with Blackberry’s “Storm,” T-Mobile with Google’sG1,” and Sprint with Palm’s upcoming “Pre.” Business Week says,

“The Consumers Union, the New America Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as software provider Mozilla and small wireless carriers MetroPCS (PCS) and Leap Wireless International (LEAP), are lining up in opposition not only to the Apple-AT&T partnership, but to all manner of arrangements whereby mobile phones are tethered exclusively to a single wireless service provider.”

Now, I completely understand how not being one of the “pioneers” shaping Mobile 2.0 would leave you feeling pretty helpless, but, to me, fighting technological exclusivity is contradictory to the shift that the mobile market (phone manufacturers, service providers and consumers) is currently undergoing. The way I see it, AT&T’s brand and the iPhone are synonymous. If you bought-in to the iPhone and Apple’s AppStore platform, you’ve bought-in to the AT&T brand, too. If you’re a Blackberry guy or girl, and have started to sync up to their marketplace, you’ve bought-in to Verizon. G1 users? You’ve bought-in to the Google brand, but you’ve become a T-Mobile follower as well. These unique phones and their corresponding web-based platforms have become an essential element of the service provider’s brand.

More and more, individuals are choosing their mobile device based on the phone’s interface and the “marketplace” or platform it is tethered to. Every “platform” has its own unique features and functions (the technical pluses and minus), but they also have their own unique personality that the consumer associates with. This is a good thing and will eventually be the basis for competition.

If you are one of the smaller service providers that “wants in,” why don’t you start by creating your own? Don’t fight it, embrace it. Carve out your own niche in the already established, increasingly solidified, Mobile 2.0 market. Tech companies all over the world are developing their own “iPhone” or “G1” and are finding ways of tethering them to proprietary, web-based platforms. Find one of ’em! Choose a device and platform you want to represent your brand and start competing.

AT&T, who is obviously in the most fortunate position of the bunch, says…

“Exclusive arrangements are an important form of competition…The popularity of the iPhone and its innovative features and applications have provoked a strong competitive response, accelerating not only handset innovation but also the pace of wireless broadband investment and applications development.”

I couldn’t agree more. Get on board. Stop whining about not being invited to their party, create your own and invite your own friends.

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.