Archive for May, 2010

Holes in a branding theory – or – block that positioning, metaphorically speaking

I have a problem with certain marketing metaphors that have been thrown around recently. For one, I don’t have a hole in my head…My mind isn’t like a filing cabinet…My memory is not analogous to a book stuffed into one of the many bookcases in my home (which need dusting every now and then)…

My closets are for hangers and skeletons…

And when it comes to my mind, metaphors about refrigerators and car garages conjure up the wrong mental pictures.  I need those analogies like a I need a hole in my head….

Here’s what I mean — an article by Al Reis in the April 1st edition of Ad Age.

To file something in the mind is conceptually no different than filing something in your home or apartment.

Clothes in the closet. Books in the bookcase. Food in the refrigerator. The car in the garage.

“A place for everything and everything in its place,” goes the old saying.

Today, we have many well-known brands with no places in the mind to put them.

Holes in Brand Positioning

I sometimes think of this as the “call and response” theory of branding. The advertiser says one word, “Direct” and you play back the name of the brand “Dell”.  “Printer” and “HP”.  Like Cab Calloway singing Minnie the Moocher.

How about this —  instead of a file cabinet, the mind is like a pinball machine.  The more things that the silver ball hits, the more lights that blink, the more noise that it makes, the higher the score, the more likely we are to remember.  A strong brand triggers associations across the brain, lighting up the neural networks the way the Pinball Wizard keeps those lights a-flashing with his crazy flipper fingers.

Strong metaphors, many associations, stories and anecdotes and mental images, narratives — those are what effective branding is based on.  Instead of standing for one word, brands should be understood as wonderfully woven tapestries of memories, images that we can wrap ourselves in.


Is the success of BP’s “beyond petroleum” branding is now turning into a liability for the company?  It certainly was a bold move when BP underwent their rebranding.  Now, with the Gulf spill the most recent and most visible environmental problem for the company, the BP logo is beginning to look like a green target to some people.

Just see at what fun Greenpeace are having at BP’s expense:

Greenpeace's BP Logo Contest

Greenpeace's BP Logo Contest

In fact, they are even inviting design professionals to re-design the BP logo.

I’m not so sure that there is a brand moral here.  The BP branding was brilliantly conceived, designed and executed.  It is the reality of the world that is messy.  Did the branding make BP a bigger target than they otherwise would be?  I doubt it.  Look at how the Valdez incident shaped Exxon’s image for more than a decade.  The magnitude of the spill overwhelms all else, sweeping away all of the good work, goodwill and honest efforts at improvement.

The wrong lesson would be to say that companies should not use their branding to help improve their reputation around environmental, sustainability and ecology issues.  Over the next 12 months we’ll learn if the charges of “Greenwashing” will discourage other companies from moving ahead with their own efforts to improve their environmental standing.

What is our opinion?

Branding tools people use vs. branding tools that are useful

I thought this was rather fascinating.  We did a simple cross-tab of marketers who use a variety of branding tools on one axis and how useful they thought the tool was on the other.

Rather revealing.

Seems that many marketers are using tools that they don’t find to be particularly useful.  At least that is the read from Frank and from my team members.  It aligns with all of the other signals that we are getting from marketers — they want breakthrough branding methods that are designed for today’s world.

I just keep going back to the book Chaotics by Kotler and Caslione — where they make a very clear point that we can’t go back to marketing-as-usual because that world doesn’t exist anymore.  I’d actually quote the book but I’m in Frankfurt at the moment with a very limited library of  Wallace Shawn essays.  He’s a marvelous playwright and a very funny actor.  His more serious work is the play “Aunt Dan and Lemon” and his acting has included everything from Woody Allen movies to being Jon Stewart’s therapist on The Daily show.

But I digress.  Back to the business of branding.

The chart below is from our study of 130 CMOs and marketing decision makers that was fielded in January.  You can get a more detailed copy of the study in earlier posts.  And we are putting this together with the 2009 data for a more in-depth look at the state of marketing as we move into this brave new decade.

So how do you think branding should be reinvented?

CMOs on branding tools: Use vs. Useful

Creating the Qwest brand – or – riding that light

The acquisition of Qwest by CenturyTel (aka CenturyLink) brought back some more memories of creating the Qwest brand back in 1997.

In a stack of old files under my desk — files that I’ve been meaning to throw out for years and years —  I still have some of our old Bright Sun presentations from April and May 1997.  After hearing of the acquisition I looked through and found them.  Not the finished, final, polished versions but my original handwritten drafts. Kind of neat to dig them up and see what parts worked and what fell by the wayside.  “Absolute Data Integrity” was a great idea that was eventually dropped when the USPTO refused it trademark protection.  MCFN (Macro Capacity Fiber network) was a bit clunky.

The Qwest branding was inspired by Albert Einstein, of all people.  It’s what happens when your branding agency is full of overeducated, overly curious and overly creative people.  During a brainstorming session someone bedazzled us with a retelling of Einstein’s Gedankenexperiment.  You know, that whole thing about moving at the speed of light, relativity, Lorentz transformations, etc.  Here’s the back cover of the first annual report, which credits Albert Einstein with the brand inspiration.  On the second and third pages of the pdf are some of the original print ads using some rather famous Edgerton stop action photography.

Launching Qwest brand in 1997

Somewhere I even have an original Qwest cap and hand towel.  Below, for extra trivia points, is the placeholder logo for Qwest.  Once we “saw the light” then it was an easy path to the actual Qwest logo.  Without a strong metaphor the visual identity might have ended up looking like an over-inflated “Q”

The placeholder

The placeholder

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