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Business Week reported yesterday on Motel 6’s room (brand) redesign, which has become part of CEO, Oliver Poirot’s “Phoenix Project.”

Motel 6 hardly has a reputation for good design. At best, the 47 year old chain has been heralded for simple, no-frills efficiency. At its worst, it has been the punch line of jokes about dangerous roadside love-ins…Executives wanted to revamp the chain’s decade old look…so the company turned to Britain’s Priestman Goode, which had previously designed airplane cabins for Virgin Atlantic and cruise ship berths for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Their experience, executives felt, would surely come in handy when tackling the small spaces of the standard Motel 6 room. Designers were briefed to keep construction costs low and to create rooms that could appeal to the broad cross0section of society, from tourists to traveling executives…The results are starkly different from the previous incarnation. The carpet was ripped up, and wood-effect flooring lends a pared down, spacious look. Platform beds add modernity and character. Ambient lighting has replaced old-fashioned lamps, while accent walls painted with bright bold colors give the room a style just short of hip.

Motel 6 is specifically trying to attract more and more corporate customers and it looks like they are well on their way to do that. “Last year, the company pulled in $60 million from business customers, but it forecasts $100 million next year, despite the downturn.” And, Motel 6 execs claim customers are already thrilled by the new rooms.

What a brilliant move.

At a time when everyone, even those with jobs, are making sacrifices and biting the bullet in order to save a little extra coin, Motel 6 has decided to give us MORE.

Customers will be completely caught off gaurd. Those anticipating the usual economy-style room, will be blown away. Expectations will be exceeded. Smiles will be cracked. Everyone will be delighted by the upgrade and think, “Wow, what a great deal? What a great experience. I’ll definitely be back.”

Well played, Motel 6. I never would have expected an innovative branding move from you. But you have added enormous value to your product and have taken a huge step towards creating a totally revitalized, game-changing brand experience.

“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.”

I will admit, I’m a bit late in recognizing these ads, but, considering I’ve done a good deal of Starbucks-bashing in the past, I figured it was worth highlighting some of the more positive steps they’ve taken to rebuild their reputation–reinforcing/embracing their positioning and distancing themselves from McDonald’s and the other, more “recession-proof” brand’s which have successfully belittled Starbuck’s overall image and reputation.

Starbucks was never simply about a cup of coffee, it was about “the best” cup of coffee–a taste and experience you couldn’t get anywhere else.  Nobody went there to only get a cheap cup of coffee that would satisfy their fix.  We went there because the whole experience felt focused and authentic, and that comforted you as you dished out a couple extra bucks for your latte.

When the recession hit, things got bad–it could not have been more blatant how nervous Starbucks was about their “luxurious” brand and how it would be viewed by a suddenly more frugal consumer.  McDonald’s harassment didn’t help, and very quickly the Starbucks brand, which was already having trouble staying on-point, felt completely off-balance…

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This new series of print ads, however, are a nice step in the right direction.  Instead of fighting with McDonalds on price, these ads explain the central difference between a Starbuck’s cup and the “discount” alternatives.  As a coffee lover myself–someone who likes to think he can tell the difference between a good cup of coffee and a shitty one–the copy, paired with the look and feel they’ve created, really hits home.  Nicely done…

Business Week’s Rob Hof reported today on the possibility of Google acquiring Twitter. The speculation is “the two companies are considering working together on a real-time Google search engine.” Interesting, indeed, but what struck me here was when Rob mentions the public’s reaction to the deal:

A lot of bloggers seem relieved, their belief that Twitter would wither under Google surpassed only by their even firmer conviction that it would be even worse if Microsoft bought the company.

I am definitely a strong believer in Google’s products and their business. I am an even stronger believer in their potential down the road, so, while I do agree with the public response, the fact that a Microsoft acquisition is being used as the other, more extreme, alternative–one that would be even worse for Twitter–is a pretty strong signal of the current state of Mircosoft’s brand.  Especially for a company that was once THE tech company, THE “Google” of their time, I cannot think of many things worse than having my brand used in this way…”Well, at least it’s not Microsoft.” That’s not positive at all.  People use sentences like that when they say things like, “Well, at least it’s not Syphilis.”

I do think Microsoft is doing some good things to remedy the public’s perception of their brand, but this just proves how much work they have ahead of them.

Anyone seen this new Hyundai commercial for their new Gensis Coupe?

What struck me about the ad actually had little to do with the Hyundai brand strategy, because, for one, I don’t think Hyundai has anywhere to go but up in terms of image, and two, I think the spot actually does a pretty decent job of communicating the “fast and the furious” mentality that the sporty little race car is going for. What did bug me was the Smashing Pumpkins’ presence in it.

Is this really the association they want the public to have of their music and the people who listen to it? It’s hard for me to believe they really thought this one through, because, as a long time fan, this really turned me off.

I’ve listened to the Smashing Pumpkins, on and off, for well over ten years now, and I have never thought of them as a group that supported the reckless, street racing culture. In fact, I don’t know that I had ever put a specific label on their audience or the culture that I was a part of. And, I think that was the point…

Why, as a band (brand), would you broadcast to millions of people (by the way this was intended to be a Super Bowl spot), a VERY specific, cultural association? The strategy that I think many bands (brands) benefit from is being relatively undefined. They allow current and prospective fans and followers to cast their own feelings and experiences into the brand. Rob Walker illustrates this strategy really well in his book, Buying In. Think, Red Bull or Nike…Sure these brands have distinct personalities and associations–that is the essence of a brand, but they stay broad enough that they leave the door open for anyone to participate, or at least feel like they have the option.

Way to go, Billy Corgan, you’ve shut the door on me…your music has officially been associated with street racing punks. I never saw it coming.