...goes a long way, especially when I'm thinking about brands, brand management and the power of brands to build successful organizations and careers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Stop advertising!?

Okay, I admit it. I got hooked by Mary Schmidt's latest post titled "Advertising does nothing for the brand". And while I'm not passionate about advertising, I will strongly defend advertising as brand building tool when used correctly. Fortunately for my blood pressure, Mary writes short and to the point, and the real gem was in her P.S., where she wrote:

"If you're a small company, you probably can't even afford effective advertising - so stop it. Spend the money on something that will get results, like better customer service, employee benefits or community support. "

I've been fortunate in some of my past jobs because I had generous budgets, and advertising was a key element of an integrated marketing campaign built on the brand. It was the linchpinpin in a system of events, event sponsorship, PR and other related brand building tools including face-to-face sales, promotion, facility tours, public affairs and customer support; but it wasn't the only thing we did.

If more organizations would take Mary's command to heart, I believe we'd have more successful brands and fewer commodities.

Better yet: Imagine the impact if just a few newspaper, magazine, radio and TV ad sales people would first ask about the client's other brand-building efforts before they started selling their own product....

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Website basics

Given the ubiquitous nature of the Internet these days, I've become a firm believer in investing in a website early on in the process of opening a business. I think it comes right after setting up the computer in the spare bedroom! (That's where most entrepreneurs set up shop on day one, isn't it?) and creating a brochure. It’s the first place people look for answers about your company and the first place you have an opportunity to tell your story.

I’m going to keep these comments short because there are plenty of great resources on building websites, and I’m assuming that you’ve defined your brand and defined your story. There’s no better place to define your story that with a brand-driven, dynamic website.

Find a web pro – Yes, you could get your nephew to build your website, but I’m concerned they will be at soccer practice the next time you need to troubleshoot why a PDF is not uploading. And I’m sure he won’t have the experience necessary to choose the best programming language for your content needs. Besides, you need to be intimately involved in the development of your site to ensure that it is driven by the brand, not by the latest fads.

Demand a content management tool – Keeping a site dynamic will require regular updates, so you need a tool that is easy to use. My firm builds a content management tool into every site to encourage clients to keep the content updated. There’s no quicker way to a stale website than relying on your web programmer to make a page edit or add new content. That costs money and time.

Consider a blog – Blogs are nothing more than websites with user-friendly interfaces that speed the updating and management of content. Mike Sansone is a strong advocate of blogs because they’re fresher than (cob)web sites.

Make time for content updates – The content won’t update itself, so schedule time weekly to review other related websites and to update the content on your website. As you expand your staff, recruit and hire someone with some writing ability and a desire to work on the web.
Again, blogmeister Mike suggests using using RSS feeds from other sites to populate news on a page via a RSS to HTML script (like this one) and incorporating RSS feeds themselves (here’s one service). Remember, you can also re-purpose content from other media, such as white papers or speeches or news releases (in PDF form), for use on the website. And include useful links to like-minded or related websites.

Use your website as a foundation – If you build an easy-to-use website and make managing it a priority, your website should always be the most up-to-date information source for your audiences. When you make a product change, add new distribution or introduce a new service, put the information on your website first. It takes days to print a new brochure or product sheet, design a new add or issue a news release, but only seconds to launch a new section of a website.

Finally, one word of advice: Like with good printing, good design and other marketing tasks, if you can’t afford the time to keep your site updated, you can’t afford to go into business.

Next up: brochure basics

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Friday, March 24, 2006

Watch out, I've got the blog flu?

Olivier Blanchard of the Brand Building Blog has sneezed on me as part of a experiment called the The Indie Virus. It's a test designed by another blogger to measure the effectiveness of a viral campaign among the non-top-100 bloggers. As a non-top-200,000 blogger, I'm honored to be among the subjects in this experiment.

Now I'll pass it on to a couple of blogs that have emerged recently, but are a blast to read:

The first is the evangelicalchurchblues blog by a friend and client of mine. As far as I'm concerned, this is the "I wish I would have said that" blog! If call yourself a Christian, be ready to be held accountable.

The next is the brand evangelist blog that I posted about a few weeks ago. I don't know where Aaron Dignan's blog rests on the pecking order, but I do know that he writes with skill and attitude that is honorable and admirable. And he's on fire about the value of brand.

Now, would someone pass me a tissue? (And thanks to mattie_shoes for the flickr photo.)

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Letterhead basics

Letterhead is one of those basic tools that I outlined in a post several days ago grouped closely with business cards. I didn't include letterhead in the business card post because the post was already too long, so here is a short bit about this often overlooked brand management tool.

Many organizations settle for plain white paper (usually 2olb. bond) with their logo slapped dead center at the top. Others may actually move it to one side and put their contact info along the top or along the bottom. Then they set the margins wide right and wide left so they don't have to use a second sheet of paper for an average letter.

That's so shortsighted, in my humble opinion.

There are a number of strategies to help your letterhead - like your business card - tell your story when you're not around, including the following:

Use interesting paper - If you want to stand out, make people notice you're there, don't use standard 20- or 24-pound bond white paper: save that paper for the copiers. Make it heavier, add some fiber content or choose a light colored stock. And who says it has to be 8 1/2 x 11; try cutting the sheet just a little smaller (this lets you get a bleed using a standard letter-sized sheet). The designers at my firm have been creating interesting business papers using rounded corners (we've even used a paper that comes pre-cut with rounded corners right from the mill) for an interesting, friendly, casual look.

Make the logo large or small - A tiny logo centered at the top of the page can give the piece a classy, contemporary look. Some logos, when printed large and screened back make a great looking watermark. We've even been experimenting with printing the logo on the back of the page so that it shows through like a watermark on the front, creating a little more WOW along the way.A large flood of color on the back adds visual weight.

Related items - Don't forget to order a supply of blank stock of the same kind for second sheets. Don't forget to order matching or coordinating envelopes to make the package more purposeful. And for a low-cost, high-impact alternative to printed envelopes, create a classy self-adhesive seal and use it to close the envelope like an old fashioned wax seal (just use the "labels and envelopes" feature in Word to create a simple but classic return address on the front of the envelope). While you're at it, why not create a related note card or undersized sheet to complement your communication with a short handwritten note?

Set it up right - Don't forget the stuff that's going to go on the letterhead: the type. Think about the fonts that should be used and leave generous margins so the letter can breathe. If used judiciously, you might want to place other interesting things - such as quotes, facts, even random product shots - in the margins to help tell your story.

And once you've created a fantastic piece of letterhead, don't forget to create a style guide that shows others how to use the letterhead, including approved fonts, margins and signature styles. There's nothing worse than an elegant piece of letterhead featuring comic sans type and half-inch margins.

Next up: website basics

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Business card basics

One of the first decisions a new business makes is what to put on its business cards. I suggest that a clear understanding of your brand - or the brand you expect to create - helps you decide the stock color and weight, the ink colors, the shape, the feel of the card and, ultimately, the content on the card. Too many organizations slap together a business card, relying on conventional type, printed on one side of a standard-sized horizontal white card. There are so many possibilities for that little space, so many opportunities to begin to tell your story, and the first chance to make a great impression. Here are just a few things to think about when making decisions about your business cards:

Pay attention to design. If great design is part of the brand experience, you're card should be amazing too. Use a legible typeface and print the basic information in black or a dark ink. Please don't use six point, san serif type in a nice shade of gray. It's just not readable.

Think about the paper. Use a paper stock that attracts attention, that says your serious about everything in your business, right down to the business card. You don't even have to use paper: if you're a plastics manufacturer, why wouldn't you have plastic business cards? Steel fabricators: how about steel business cards? Wood business cards? A little extra thought can turn a business card into a product sample.

Use a great title. My card says "brand warrior" and 99.9 percent of the time, people look at it and comment on it, often asking "what's a brand warrior do?" giving me an instant opportunity to explain my personal brand and how it will help them define their organizational brand. Do you have the guts to be something other than a "manager," "director," "specialist" or some other title plucked from the organizational chart? I keep trying to get my boss and chief sales guy to add the title "chief disruption officer" to his title because that's what he gets to do when he engages prospective clients as he gets to know them better.

Don't forget the contact information. Communicating your name, title, address, phone numbers, email addresses and web addresses are the first and most important role for a business card. Carefully think about how to arrange that information and don't forget a toll-free number if you work with people outside of your area.

Please use the name you want to be called. This is no place to put your full given name if that's not what you want people to call you. If you want to be called "Chuck" use "Chuck" on the card, not "Charles." If you use your middle name, please just put that on the card: it's "Brian Whatever," not J. Brian Whatever." (Okay, I admit this is just a pet peeve of mine, but why confuse the reader when you don't have to?)

Don't be afraid of color. Color has an emotional effect on people and begins to tell the viewer something about you. Carefully choose a color palette that reflects who you are, and make sure that it relates to the rest of your brand identity. Visual integration is the first level of integration: if you don't at least make your materials relate to each other, how to you ever expect the marketing and the sales people to tell the same story? Shouldn't a John Deere business card have a huge splash of John Deere green somewhere on it?

Use both sides. Few organizations ever think about the back of a business card: there's valuable real estate that can be used to make a bold statement with color, or extend your message beyond the business basics of name address and phone. Sometimes, organizations say they need to keep the back of the business card white so they can write notes on it. I don't believe that one: they're usually afraid to pay a little more to print on that side. It's the designer or brand warrior's job to use that real estate strategically. One commodity organization I know features recipes on the back of its business cards. If you have a hard-to-find location, why not put a small map on the back. If you're in retail, use the card back side as a coupon or as a frequent-buyer card or to give directions to your location. Mission statements are fine when printed on the back, but why not ask an intriguing question in that space, list three key product features or repeat an image from a corporate branding ad?

Size matters. The business card has to fit into Rolodexes (yes, some people still use them) or in a card binder, but it doesn't have to be the exact shape and size as everyone else's cards. My firm recently created business cards with rounded corners and they really stood out from the crowd: better yet, they repeated a visual pattern in all of the other printed materials and helped communicate the friendliness and unstuffy attitude the company delivered. When I worked in the vitamin business, one business had cards shaped like a two-part capsule, which was unique (believe it or not) and relevant. Folded cards work when they're important information to be communicated.

Who says it has to be a business card? Think outside the rectangle and create a tool that tells a great story.

Smile for the picture. Why not put a picture on the card? Many people are scared of looking like a real estate agent if they put a picture on their card, but if done right - and for the right reasons - a photo business card will help tell your story. For example, if individual service is a hallmark of your brand, put the person's picture on the card to help connect the customer with the employees. If you're an actor or model, you're going to have to provide photos sooner or later; why not make it sooner. And make it special. Make it big, get it outside a small box, bleed it off an edge, cut out the background or turn up the image.

A word about cost: if you can't afford to print your card without the printer's ad on the back, then you can't afford to be in business. Pay a local printer or pay an online printer (I like vistaprint.com, but there are others that do an adequate job for simple projects like business cards) but don't use the freebies. They make you look less than professional.

Ultimately, your card is the first opportunity to tell your story, and make it different, inviting, relevant and truthful. You can't be gimmicky, but if you're not taking advantage of this opportunity - and using your brand as a decision making tool - you're starting out with one strike. And that's not a good place to be when you're starting a business.

So tell me, what are some of the coolest, most innovative, most interesting, most strategic things you've ever seen in a business card?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Small business owners have small ideas about marketing

Most entrepreneurs - deserving of the title - have great ideas. Many of these small business owners have unending passion for those ideas. They see how a product or service concept works and how it can make life better for people. They understand everything about the product or service they want to offer. And some even know how to organize a business to make money with that idea.

Few, in my experience, understand the basic concept of marketing.

I believe the majority of entrepreneurs are blinded by the light of a great idea. They believe that if they make it, the world will beat a path to their door. This usually is evidenced by the following statement:

"I can't do any marketing until I sell some product!"

That's the statement of someone who believes marketing is an expense rather than a tool. It's also a sign that the small business owner's vision doesn't reach past his or her own nose.

Now, I'm not an advocate of pouring loads of cash into a marketing campaign. There are plenty of large, pretentious advertising agencies in the world that will gladly be the recipient of that kind of marketing. Instead, I'm all for setting the stage with marketing basics and then building upon those to be different, inviting, relevant and truthful.

I think the small business needs the following just to be credible:
  1. Business cards and letterhead
  2. Basic introductory brochure
  3. Basic introductory website

In the next few posts, I want to elaborate on each of these items. Until then, what do YOU think are the basics? What should you have with you on your first day in business? On your first sales call?

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I've been tagged

Earlier today, Mike Wagner walked into my office and touched me on the shoulder, saying only, "Tag, your it." Deep into my work for the first time on a completely unproductive day, I said "huh?" and we started talking about blogs. It doesn't take much for Mike and I to talk about blogs...or brands or creativity or leadership; we've been learning about blogs side by side for the last couple of months from Mike Sansone and we like to share little victories and frustrations with the technology and wrestle with those other subjects.

That's how the "Four Things Meme" made its way to me.

So here goes my attempt at carrying on the conversation...

Four jobs I've had:
1. clown mascot for a minor league baseball team
2. very inept (still a clown, some would say) forklift driver
3. pizza driver (thank goodness we didn't offer a 30-minute guarantee)
4. editor for an upholstered furniture trade magazine

Four movies I could watch over and over:
1. The Shawshank Redemption
2. Hoosiers
3. Remember the Titans
4. The Firm(it was shot in Memphis, so it reminds me of home)

Four places I have lived:
1. Memphis, Tennessee
2. Davenport, Iowa
3. Des Moines, Iowa
4. Carlisle, Iowa

Four TV shows I love to watch:
1. The West Wing (I was a late adopter, and will really miss this one)
2. Love Monkey
3. Survivor
4. College Basketball (I have to agree with Mike on this one!)

Four places I have been on holiday:
1. Myrtle Beach, S. C.
2. Hackensack, Minn.
3. Wisconsin Dells
4. Platte River State Park, Nebraska

Four websites I visit daily:
1. The ICE Technorati Tag Generator
2. Google (can we say 'hourly')
3. Bloglines
4. OwnYourBrand.com

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Pizza
2. Cornbread
3. Barbecue anything
4. Pizza

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. geocaching in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park
2. Saguaro National Park, AZ (one of my two most creative places on the planet)
3. Sundance Ski Resort (the other most creative place on the planet, preferable right next to the wood oven grill in the restaurant in the main lodge)
4. In a cabin on any lake north of Brainard, Minnesota (well, maybe not right NOW, but in a few months)

And four bloggers I am tagging:
1. Jennifer Rice of What's Your Brand Mantra, because she was the first to warmly welcome me to the blogosphere.
2. Olivier Blanchard of the Brand Builder Blog, because his was the first blog to put a link to mine, so he must have thought I had something worth reading.
3. John Wagner of On Message from Wagner Communications, because he's a soccer fan and a PR guy and knows that soccer could use some more positive PR.
4. The Sporting Rogue, if he'll accept, because he's a soccer nut who listed me under "eclectic blogs" on his soccer-full website and seems to live and breathe the beautiful game.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, March 13, 2006

Be subversive: be courageous

Now that you've figured the lay of the land, you've learned the issues and opportunities within your organization, you've crafted a brand promise and tried it out on your colleagues and managers, and you've started wearing the brand proudly, what happens? Do others rally around you? Do they insist that the organization be different, inviting, relevant and truthful?

If the answer is yes, then you've won the war. You've created something wonderful and you and your organization with survive and thrive.

What happens when your pleas for brand warfare and doing what is right fall on deaf ears? What happens when the team falls back in lock-step with the way things have always been done. What happens when your organization settles for mediocrity, uninviting, irrelevant and deceitful practices?

You run! And you fast. You run away with courage.

I believe the saddest thing that can happen to a brand warrior - or any employee, for that matter - is to go to work in the morning without passion, without a sense of accomplishment and without something to look forward to. All too many workers these days are stumbling through the day delivering average service, making average products and producing average results. These are the zombies that Mike Wagner writes about. Many times they are the result of managers who don’t empower them to be brand warriors. Other times, they are victims of the brand war; walking wounded emerging from repeated battles to do the right thing in a world of the wrong thing.

So I say to you brand warriors, don’t become brand martyrs. Run. Now.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Word of mouth made simple

If you've not figured out by now, I like things simple. That's why I like Olivier Blanchard's recent post on the brand builder blog. He's just one of many marketers in the blogosphere who make Trout look really out of touch in his Forbes.com article. They address this foot meal point by point, but Olivier's effort below is the big take-away:

Tip to Jack's clients: Keep giving mouths great stuff to talk about, and they will keep talking about you. It's that simple. Make better products. Make better packaging. Give your customers better support and service. That's your jobs - Not Jack's.

This is what brand warriors should be drumming into their clients' ears 24/7. We can only help them if they have a good story to tell. Mike Wagner calls it being gasp worthy. I call it taking care of business.

Thanks Olivier.

Be subversive: be vocal

Okay, you’re almost there. You’ve scoped out situation and discovered the organization’s brand promise. You’ve identified the key decision makers and the people who play key roles within the organization. Now, it’s time to speak up.

Start living the brand so that others take notice, and watch for reactions.

Talk with other strategic thinkers – They are more likely to understand you best, and pick up on your actions to spread the story. If they don’t take notice, turn up the volume a little at a time until they do notice. Ask them what they think about your ideas. See if they are comfortable wearing the brand promise. Ask them if they can use it to make every decision. Then challenge them to start doing it!

Talk with the naysayers – These are the ones that can kill a great idea with a little whining so, when you’re talking to them, don’t push it too hard lest they start waving the warning flags. Carefully try out your ideas on them to identify hot buttons.

Talk with management – Carefully, slowly and deftly begin to use them what you learned in the last step (be observant) and the language learned in the second step (be connected) to expose them to brand warfare. Surround yourselves with other brand warriors in meetings and other opportunities to demonstrate brand ownership to your management team.

Talk about it with anybody who will listen. You don’t have to recommend an organizational name change or a completely new ad campaign; instead, discuss small operational changes on the front line can begin to make a difference. And begin living the brand yourself, and establish your personal brand at the same time. If you’re a newsletter writer, highlight positive brand management techniques. If you’re a speech writer, start introducing brand ownership language into your drafts. If you’re a sales person, practice using versions of the brand promise in your presentation. If you’re the marketing coordinator, ask how the tasks you’ve been assigned reflect the brand.

These are the baby steps, and if you do them right, you may not even get noticed right away, but you’ll begin to build a grassroots effort that makes brand the foundation of your organization.

Next up: be courageous!

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Be subversive: be connected.

The brand warrior in training can start building a personal brand by getting connected to the people in an organization who make things happen as well as those who stop projects dead in their tracks. It's fact-finding that goes far beyond the facts, and begins to help the brand warrior understand the dynamics of the organization so you can better leverage the strong connections and get around the barriers. And it takes the following steps:

Find the other brand warriors - When you talk to others about your findings in step 1 (be observant) you'll soon pick up positive and negative feedback. Take note of both and get closer to those who smell what you're cooking. By connecting with others, you begin to build critical mass for the brand battle to come.

Find the other strategic thinkers - Who are the big picture people? The ones who think long-term and understand the methods that make businesses great. Start hanging around this crowd. Their thinking skills will come in handy when the time to launch the offensive arrives.

Find the naysayers - Who are the ones that hold the company back with short-sighted thinking and negative thoughts? They can often be found by honing in an irritating cackle that sounds like this: "we'vealwaysdoneitthis way" or "wecan'tdothat". They are usually at the center of a group of young strategic thinkers or other would-be brand warriors who have all quit talking at once and sat down dejected in their seats at a big meeting.

Find the ones who can say "no" or "no go" - Who can shut down a project or fully fund it with a "yes" or "no"? These folks usually hang out in the executive wing. Understand their motivation. Understand their hot buttons. And understand how to formulate your ideas into their language.

By circulating in these crowds, and observing how they speak, how they process information and how they make decisions, you can begin to form a game plan for creating positive change.

Next up: be vocal!

Technorati Tags: , ,

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Be subversive: be observant

In a post last week, I encouraged would-be brand warriors to be subversive as they build their brand warrior resume, and I suggested five steps to get there. Today, step 1, be observant.

I've seen many a newbie marketer jump into her first job feet first, eager to serve. She quickly engages the writing or designing or organizing skills she's developed in college and plows ahead, following her supervisor's orders without regard to what's going on around her. Her only motive is pleasing her supervisor, whether it's the right thing to do or not. Likewise, veteran brand builders have rolled into a new job head first, snorting like a bull, goring everything in sight. He knows what's worked in his past he's eager to make his mark on the new organization, if it fits or not.

I know this because I've done it both ways.

I believe a more prudent path would include the following steps:
  • Listen to the conversation - Get yourself invited to meetings and go in with a closed mouth and open ears. Listen to not only what's being said, but also how it's being said, and by whom. Take good notes and compare the content to what you read in company newsletters, advertising, annual reports, project proposals and sales presentations.
  • Watch the executives - Observe their public action and speech. Check what they say against the advertisements and the annual report and the website. If you're in a meeting with them, listen carefully and observe other's reactions.
  • Engage the sales staff - They are, most likely, taking your organization's story to the streets more often than anybody else, and they often get ignored by the people responsible for developing the story. Don't forget the inside sales people: ask to monitor some of the conversations with customers so you can listen to the real language of the transaction.
  • Get out in the plant - If your organization has a product, learn how it was designed, how it's made, how it's packaged and how it's shipped. If you deliver a service, get on the front lines, examine how the service is delivered and watch for non-verbal communication from your team and the customers. Critical brand disconnects are often born here.
  • Talk to the outsiders - Ask your vendors what they think of your company. Talk to colleagues in related organizations. Don't forget your friends working for the competitors: you don't have to drop any trade secrets to find out "what do people say about us?" These are often overlooked audiences that can have devastating - or positive - effects on your brand.
  • Document what you've learned - If you already have a well known brand promise, match it up against reality and see if it fits. If it does, learn it and be able to say it in your sleep. If it doesn't fit, start crafting an alternative, but keep it quiet for now.
If you take these first subversive steps - newbie or seasoned pro - I believe you'll be on your way to being a brand warrior because you'll know the organization, warts and all.

Anybody out there have some other subversive observing tactics that help you understand the organization better?

Next up: Be connected.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Monday, March 06, 2006

Dynamo dynamics intrigue me

The team formerly known as Houston 1836 has folded under pressure from the Mexican-American community, and changed its name to the Houston Dynamo. It's a pretty good name, but I'll leave it to others like John Wagner to comment further. And please don't count me in with this guy.

The official news release includes this quote from the Houston Dynamo general manager Oliver Luck:

"The scientific genius behind the dynamo's invention is the rotation of a single magnet, whose North and South poles create electricity in a nearby coiled wire...We believe a parallel can be drawn to the two major communities in Houston: English speakers and Spanish speakers, who together will create electricity at games unlike any other in MLS."

That seems like a stretch to me, especially given the PR dynamics before, during and after the team's original "1836" announcement. And John can probably add some on-the-ground comments here (he's a PR pro and a soccer fan in Houston) too, but I'm still concerned, from a PR perspective.

Judging from the media I've read on the subject, the team seemed to do all the correct work before making the decision, received the blessing of the Mexican-American political and business leaders, involved prominent Mexican-Americans in the public introduction of the name yet were blindsided by a small group of Mexican-Americans. From that, I can draw from several possible conclusions:

1. The research effort was not all that exhaustive and the ownership of the team either was asleep at the wheel or lied to the community about the results. This is not a good sign for the future of the team or of its ability to forge long-term relationships.

2. The so-called Mexican-American business and political leaders are NOT, in fact, leaders and do NOT represent the Mexican-American community. This is not a good sign for the Mexican-American political and business leaders who hope to be a voice for their constituency and improve their representation in the greater Houston community or the community that has high expectations for its leaders.

3. A small but vocal ethnic community can effect change within the greater Houston community. This is not good for the businesses that now must invest even more resources to ensure that they are being sensitive to the community lest they become the target of the next effort.

4. The "small" community described in the media was, in fact, quite large, has a legitimate influence and, thus, can really mean trouble for organizations, business and political leaders and businesses who don't pay enough attention to them before acting.

To those who care about the soccer team, about Houston and about its Mexican-American community: which of these conclusions - if any - are correct? We can learn from your answer.

UPDATE: I'm not from Texas so I didn't realize this, but the team announced the new name today, the anniversary of the battle at the Alamo. Sheez...who's pulling the PR levers for these guys? Don Rickles?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Be subversive!

Most professional development evaporates soon after the recipient leaves the room because they don’t know how to apply what they learned in their own situations. I realized that again last week after hearing Mike Wagner’s "Own Your Brand presentation" at an IABC/Iowa chapter meeting.

One veteran communicator told me after the meeting that his company “was all about brand.” He worked for one of the large insurance companies in Des Moines so I asked him if he felt his company’s brand was different, inviting, relevant, and truthful, and if he and his co-workers knew how to live the brand daily. His eyes dimmed slightly when he realized the answer, and told me, “your right. We aren’t about brand”. His chinned dropped and the smile left his face when, after discussing it a bit more, he discovered his insurance company employer was about brand identity, not brand management.

As he walked away, I wondered what I could have told him to help him and his co-workers. I wanted to give him the steps to being a brand warrior. After further thought, I suggest communicators become subversive, and take these steps to make their organizations truly brand-driven:

  1. Be observant – Make sure you’re doing a lot of walking around your organization, talking to co-workers including the executives and the front-line staff. Talk to sales and production people. Review the mission/vision/values statements and annual reports. Begin to define your organization’s brand. If they already have one articulated, learn it.
  2. Be connected – Start conversations with the executives and the front-line staff; with the sales team and the production crew. Talk with the guy in the mailroom and the gal at the front desk. Begin to refine your organization’s brand message and build relationship with those who are in a position to easily communicate it.
  3. Be vocal – Try the brand promise out on co-workers, on managers, on customers. See if it is comfortable with everybody, if they can live it. If you get push back, probe a little deeper. See if it’s because that employee can’t live up to the brand or if the company can’t live up to the brand. Only by trying out will you determine if the brand fits, if it's authentic and believable in the marketplace.
  4. Be courageous – Once you’ve defined the brand that fits, start using it to drive your communications and to drive your action. Hold others accountable when their actions conflict with the brand – even those above you on the organizational chart. This is how to build your personal brand. Let people know that you're a brand warrior!

And be ready to bold if the brand is not embraced by others. If your organization doesn’t want you, others do.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'll choose "humility" for $100, Ben

I made a comment about humility on a post on the Church of the Customer blog, and Ben McConnell asked if I believed in Jim Collins' theory that great companies are lead by humble, quiet people. Here's my answer:

Ben (even though I called him Ed because I misread the post...do'h) :

I try not to buy into absolutes, because as soon as you make an absolute statement, you'll get bitten in the backside.

With that caveat, however, I'd say that humility is an admirable characteristic as long as it doesn't come off as weak, indifferent or scared. Jim Autry seems to be a
humble man, and he successfully lead Meredith Corporation. Jesus Christ certainly wasn't indifferent or weak or scared. Colin Powell had a very successful military career and his head still fit comfortably inside a helmet.

I've worked for egocentric losers and watched them succeed despite creating chaos around them: they succeed because their employees are too scared to fail. I think these leaders can build good companies. I don't believe, however, that they can build great companies. They don't have the empathy for others' needs. They don't have the patience it takes for some ideas to take hold. They don't have the common sense to listen to someone else's idea and work together to make it better.

On the other hand, I've worked with quiet, sensible, humble people and I've seen them fall short of greatness because they don't have the stones to make something happen. They often keep the wrong people on the bus - to use one of Collins' metaphors - because they don't want to hurt them. I've seen otherwise sensible people make dumb decisions because they give in to big egos on the team.

So, in answer to your question, I'd rather support a humble leader than an ego-filled leader because I think the odds for success are in our favor.

An additonal thought...even the humble people have to let people off the bus, but instead of kicking them down the steps and out the door, they'll carry their bag, help them down and give them a hug as they walk way, knowing that it's the best thing for everybody involved. It's a task that really got to Jim Autry.

One more thing...Ben and I left three related characteristics out of our dialogue: modest and willful; humble and fearless. Collins says great leaders are a duality of those characteristics.

As for me, I'll choose "modest and willful" over "pretentious and willful" any day.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Cooler heads prevail in "brand" battle

Last week I blogged on the Laura Ries-initiated debate over brands. Drew Hendicks came alongside Jennifer Rice to add another level of common sense to the debate, suggesting that the problem grows out of a confusion over the definition of "brand."

As soon as we quit calling logos and advertising "branding" we'll all be better off, and our clients will make more money.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Brand and you keep your job!

For about an hour today, about 50 communicators attending an IABC/Iowa meeting learned about brand ownership and the role they play in helping organizations use their brand to move forward.

Mike Wagner, of the White Rabbit Group, gave his Own Your Brand presentation, saying several times, "We need communicators like you" to carry the message of brand ownership throughout organizations.

I had the privileged of introducing Mike, and challenging those in attendance to listen closely because it's what we, as communicators need to know. Mike got their attention by reminding them that building a brand will help them keep their jobs! (read his Whirlpool post to see what happens when brands die). Judging by the scribbling of notes at every table, Mike's message resonated. That's a good thing because, I believe, corporate communicators have spent way too much time whining about not being invited to the table of decision making, too much time perfecting their writing skills, too much time begging to be in the marketing meetings and not enough time being relevant.

Brand management is the best tool in their own relevence battles. And they don't need anyone's permission to start being relevent. By simply listening, asking the important questions of people in the know, networking with the real power brokers, discovering their organization's brand and then using their tools and talents to start telling their organization's story, communicators will get noticed. As they get noticed - begin to build their personal brand - they'll be taken seriously.

And then they'll be invited to the big table.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

1836 update: holding the line

We're less than a month away from the home opener for Houston 1836, the MLS soccer team I blogged about a few weeks ago. They've not yet caved to the small Mexican-American minority that raised a stink about the name despite the Mexican-American community's political and business leaders giving their thumbs up.

Way to go Houston! Hold the line. If you give in on this, the next thing you'll know is people will be complaining that the shorts are too long/short, the uniform colors too bright/dark, the seats too wide/narrow, etc.