Posts Tagged 'brand guru'

C.K. Prahalad

It was sad to read that C.K. Prahalad passed away a little over a week ago.

C. K. Prahalad, Proponent of Poor as Consumers, Dies at 68 – Obituary (Obit) –

Many will remember C.K. Prahalad for his writings on people at the bottom of the pyramid.

What drew me to his work was the developments around the theory of “co-creation.”  He coined the term, which has been gaining influence in the marketing world.  And he made it a central part of his work over the years.  It may yet turn out to be his most lasting contribution to marketing.

His thinking on co-creation has certainly informed our approach and how we developed Narrative Branding.  And I know it has influenced many others, both individuals and organizations.

We have all lost a very talented and inventive thinker.

On the other hand, Wittgenstein was not a brand guru

Okay, so I took the Harvard Business Review seriously.  Back in 2004 they ran an issue about breakthrough ideas for 2004.  Number 9 on the list was “The M.F.A. is the new M.B.A.”   The piece was written by Daniel Pink.

Yes! I said at the time.  Yes!  Exactly!  

Here’s an example of how I see an MFA benefiting companies.  It can improve the ability of your branding to engage consumers. More engaging branding = more effective branding. It can be put into practice by having one key person on your team who really knows and understands the elements and structure of narrative.  That  is extremely valuable if your brand marketing is to be more than just a hit or miss process.  It is extremely valuable if your marketing department is to get the best work out of your outside creative agencies.


An MFA alone won’t succeed.  You need someone who is equally an MFA and an MBA.  You need someone with the skill and ability to synthesize both the creative and the business perspectives.  Those people are rare.  I suspect that is because our society tends to discourage people from crossing boundaries between the creative and business sides of life.  

It’s stereotyping, of course.  The recent stories about the photographer Annie Leibovitz being in financial difficulties is an example of the stereotypical view that great artists aren’t such great business minds.  Never mind about T.S. Eliot being an executive at Lloyds Bank.  Or that Franz Kafka was an insurance executive.  Henry Green was a business executive, too. Louis Begley (About Schmidt) was a highly successful lawyer.

Just adding an MFA to the marketing department will not work miracles.  It is also important to create an atmosphere where the MFA and the MBA can work as a team of equals, with mutual respect.  From my perspective that is not so easy to accomplish in the real world.  And in today’s economy having an MFA in the marketing department can seem like a frivolous extravagance.

A good place to start would be having some interaction between the business school and the school of the arts at places like NYU, Columbia or the University of Pennsylvania.  Just imagine how much richer (in content) the marketing programs would be!

Full disclosure: I have both a degree in Economics and an MFA in creative writing.  There is probably a good deal of bias in this post!  

Even without an MFA, everyone can gain a fundamental understanding of the structure behind great narratives.  All you have to do is spend an afternoon reading through Aristotle’s Poetics.  Aristotle was perhaps the first brand guru, laying out all of the elements of a great narrative in his Poetics.  He knew that a value proposition was limp and unconvincing without having metaphor, character, plot, visual elements and music to give it the breath of life.

However, I do draw the line at other philosophers.  Wittgenstein just got it wrong.  “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (translation by C.K. Ogden).  Clearly the man was word-mad.  Communications through images, visual metaphors, sound — all are powerful.  In fact, more powerful than words alone.  Frankly, it’s not worth the effort to read Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.  This afternoon would have been better spent if I had just left it unread on the shelf along with all of the unread marketing books I’ve collected.  

Oh, and one last question.  Why did HBR choose Number 9?  The Beatles’ White Album, anyone?

Framing the Narrative – or – What branding can learn from Karl Rove

There is an interesting phrase used in politics, “framing the narrative.”  Essentially it is about putting the framework for a coherent set of stories about a person or event, and then sticking to that framework.  Of course the opposing side will try to do the same thing.

Who wins?  Whoever has the strongest narrative framework and the greatest talent in expressing the stories within that framework.

Karl Rove is a master of the art in framing the narrative for his candidates.  This is a fact, not a judgement.  Rove knows about the power of symbols, of metaphors, to get beyond the rationalizations and right to the emotional heart of people.  By framing the 2004 presidential election about war, security, safety, 9/11 and “homeland” it was possible to crowd out the very real issues around healthcare, growing inequality of incomes and opportunities and other day-to-day problems.  It was the winning strategy.  

The most successful politicians have crafted a coherent narrative about their life and how that makes them uniquely qualified for the position they want to have.  I deliberately use the word “crafted” in the previous sentence.  To give sense to our lives we turn them into narratives.  The stories and pieces that don’t fit into the narrative are forgotten or downplayed.  The ones that shape the narrative shift to the foreground.  Politicians understand this and make deliberate choices in their public narratives.  The recent presidential contest was an example of two competing narratives.   Each one recounted the struggles and impossible obstacles they faced as young men and how that shaped their character and prepared them for the presidency.  

McCain with his powerful narrative of being a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam was, and is, a tremendously compelling human story.  It is a gripping narrative. Visceral. What he wasn’t able to do is tie that together with why that will make him a better president.  

Obama’s narrative was less about the physical and mental ordeal and more about the obstacles he faced growing up with little money, racism and social pressures.  He was able to connect his personal history to his goal of improving healthcare with the stories of his mother’s struggles to get the healthcare insurers to cover the medical bills as she was dying of cancer.  This is an ordeal in which many people can easily imagine themselves.  We’ve all had experience with health insurance companies denying payment for one bill or another.  It is less dramatically gripping than McCain’s strong.  At the same time it is more accessible to most people and ties directly into a major issue of the day.

So what does this have to do with branding?  


Successful branding is about framing the narrative.  It is about telling a coherent set of stories within that framework.  And it is about understanding the power of symbols and metaphors in attracting the right kind of attention.

In short, brand marketing has much in common with political consulting.  And with theater.  Political theater. Branded entertainment.  Framing the narrative.  

Why narrative and not positioning?  

Ah, let’s frame that argument!  

Positioning is about defending one’s position.  It is static.  I stand for this and this only, unchanging in the face of time or circumstances.  

Narrative is about time.  There is the next scene, the following act, the next chapter.  Built into narrative is this recognition that time matters, that situations change.

Aristotle Brand Guru, Part III

In an earlier post I nominated Aristotle as the first Brand Guru because of his ground-breaking analysis of what goes into making a superior drama.  All of his observations have analogies in creating a compelling and engaging narrative for your brand.  The following are three observations on how to apply Aristotle’s framework to the business of branding (and marketing, really)

So, a quick summary of the 6 elements identified by Aristotle:

Plot: what happens during the play

Characters: who are the characters in the play, their roles and relationships

Thought or Message: what is the underlying moral or political message of the drama

Spectacle or staging: the scenery, sets, props and stagecraft 

Diction or poetic language:  the verbal style, the spoken words of the characters.  Aristotle addresses the importance of metaphor and metaphorical language in particular.

Song or music:  how the harmonies, rhythm, instruments and voice all appeal to our emotions through our ears

Observation #1:

Appeal to all senses.  Aristotle recognized the power of engaging all of our senses, not just the words or images.  In the very definition of a brand that means building in the sensory or experiential elements.  The typical Brand Positioning approach does not even touch on the sensory elements.  All too often they are left to be defined by the online group, the customer service group, the advertising agency and others.  Aristotle grasped the importance of the completeness of the experience, the spectacle.  In Narrative Branding we have sought to do the same.

Here is an example.  Try to imagine the Star Wars movies without the musical score.  George Lucas credits the music as among the most important emotionally resonant factors that contributed to the movies’ success.

Observation #2

Characters have roles and relationships.  They are not simply a list of adjectives.  Defining these roles and relationships is often overlooked in branding.  Or it is defined internally by the company and not by their customers.  We worked with one well-known brand that defined themselves as “an indispensable partner” to customers.  The only problem is that customers completely rejected the idea of partnership because it implied a deeper financial relationship than actually existed.  To compound it, the internal legal group decreed that the word “partner” could never appear in marketing materials for similar reasons that customers rejected it.  Through co-creation research we were able to bring the customer’s desired relationship to light. As a result the brand gained both credibility and relevance — along with a jump in sales and margins.

Observation #3

Aristotle understood the importance of time.  Plot is all about how events unfold over time.  It means that there is a past, a present and a future — although not always presented in a chronological order.  Just think of movies that are told through flash-backs.  In Narrative Branding we have baked in the unfolding of the narrative arc over time.  There is a dynamism in this movement through time that matches the dynamism of changes in the marketplace.  

This is the very opposite of  brand positioning, which is a static approach to marketing. In the positioning model a company holds and defends a single position.  It is meant to last for years and years and years.  “Immutable” is how Trout and Ries phrase it.  consider the practicality of that for a moment.  Is your business immutable?  Or is your business dynamic, changing and adapting to a dynamic marketplace?

Those are just 3 observations of how Aristotle has much to teach us.  Wouldn’t it be swell if everyone rushed over to their bookcase to pull down the copy of Aristotle’s Poetics?  Okay, perhaps not.  Much of this is really based on common sense and taking a really observant, non-judgmental look at human behavior.  It’s enough to think of your brand as a hit Broadway musical or the most incredible attraction at Disneyworld.

24 Brands Mantras, 18 Brand Astras and 9 Brand Shaastras

Ever since my cousin Dr. Joseph Parent wrote the best selling book Zen Golf, I have been fascinated by people who combine the most Western of subjects with the most Eastern of concepts. 

I am always on the lookout for Brand Gurus — the people who are visibly proselytizing on behalf of brands.  The more original, the more thought provoking, the better.

So imagine my delight when I happened to have come across a Brand Guru from India by the name of  Jagdeep Kapoor.  He heads up Samsika, a brand consulting company located in India.

Guru Kapoor is fond of alphanumerics, those combinations of mystical numbers and words that conjure up a world-view unlike any other.  The title of this post, 24 Brand Mantras, 18 Brand Astras and 9 Brand Shaastras is the name of his trilogy of books on branding.  

He has published more than 9 books to date.

Some other key numbers from his website:

Jagdeep Kapoor has conducted over 505 training programs…

…has written over 1143 articles on Brand Marketing and Sales.

…trained over 7,447 MBA students…

and 13,383 Indian managers.

… a Rotarian, Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee, Bombay Chamber of Commerce & Industry and student selection panel member of Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Bombay, as well as Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. 

Now that is what I call a Brand Guru!  Those of us in the West who are self-styled brand experts have much to learn from Jagdeep Kapoor.


Day Two at the Columbia Business School’s BRITE conference was much shorter and more interactive than day one.  The following are highlights of the day — or at least my experience of it.

The brand guru Seth Godin started off the morning with the keynote address.  He was wonderfully entertaining, a terrific presenter.  At one point he showed a “typical Seth Godin chart made up of no data at all.”

For 25 or 30 minutes he stood in front of the auditorium shouting to us that the world will no longer tolerate advertisers who stand in front of their audience shouting to the people in the last row.  I’m sure he appreciates the irony of the situation. 

So when I returned to my office I picked up Godin’s book.  It’s not very heavy.  Immediately I turned to the back cover and the name Mark Rovner caught my eye.  I know a Mark Rovner who lives in the DC area and works with many non-profits.  Could this be the same Mark Rovner?  I quickly read the book (not difficult, it’s 151 small pages, including acknowledgements, which comes out to a little more than 13 cents a page if you paid full retail) and found the comments about Mark on page 114.  You can learn more about Mark and his organization, Seachange.

Back to Godin’s presentation.  His thesis is that people inherently form themselves into “tribes.”  Tribes are essentially affiliations, sometimes weak and sometimes strong, that have been made easier to form and grow because of the internet and other new technology. Tribes are fundamentally different from segmentation because tribes are self-selecting whereas segments are defined by the marketer based on the marketer’s criteria and not your own.  Which is a rather distressing thought for everyone who follows the traditional marketing strategies of segmentation.

His quotable comment of the day:  “People love lies.  People love stories.”

Following that the audience split up into 4 different groups to hear or participate in 4 different topics.  I went to hear several more presentations, these by Ross Buchanan of Molson, Alyson Meranze of American Express, Freddy Mini of Netvibes and Professor Eli Noam.  Professor Don Sexton was the moderator.  

Alyson Meranze spoke of the “co-creation of value with partners” as their way of going beyond shooting tv and print ads.  Co-creating value means developing a deeper, mutually beneficial partnership with people such as Diane Von Furstenberg.  She then gave an example of how that turned into blogs, a sponsorship of Project Runway on Bravo which DVF was judging and finally DVF creating a line of clothes that is only available to card members.

Ross Buchanan was candid about the way in which Molson “never really listened to our consumers.  We did surveys every so often but not really listen.”  That was behind the initiative he has led to provide a platform where Molson drinkers could engage with each other as well as the brands.  

He also raised the issue that was plaguing many companies — who owns the social networking initiatives?  PR?  Brand?  Marketing?  In Molson’s case they created a cross-functional team to run the initiatives.

Both Amex and Molson talked about their shift in media spending away from traditional media and into new media.  Molson gave a rough breakdown of 85% traditional and 15% new media today with the % of new media going even higher in the future, particularly with budgets shrinking.   Amex declined to provide any breakdown of the spending split between traditional and new media.  

The quote of the session goes to a saying from Amex that Alyson shared with us: “When you are through changing you are through.”

The last session I attended was led by Bernd Schmitt.  He made the point that advertising in the past was about functions, features and benefits.  “It was what we all learned for a long, long time.”  Now advertising is more emotional, lifestyle, non-comparative.  In an experiential economy the advertising is:

Sense, Feel, Think, Act and Relate.  

Relate is the phenomena of the conference, the crowdsourcing or mash-ups or Tribes or community (insert your favorite word here).  The area that has been least touched on is Sense because much of the internet is still text based.  For instance, I am typing this and you are reading it instead of watching me on video.

This last session was also much more collaborative.  We broke into groups of two or three to discuss the topics and share the ideas around the room.  For a conference about crowdsourcing, this was the first usage we had of it in two days.

Although not formal presentations, the breaks and lunch were enjoyable opportunities to share stories with so many new people and reconnect with some familiar faces.  

Here is my highly unscientific analysis of the words of the week:

Brands, Longtail, Facebook, Hulu, Engaging, Kindle, Experience, Community, twitter, Crowdsourcing, Monetization, Google, Tribes, Platform, Content, iPhone, Tribes, Linked In, Social Media/Social Networking

Where did Tropicana go wrong?

Tropicana has done an about face on their new packaging.  Just a month ago Tropicana introduced new packaging that removes their orange with a straw and replaces it with a glass of orange juice.  Now they are bringing back the orange and straw.

Is the glass half empty or half fully?

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Back to the Future?

Back to the Future?











Where did Tropicana go wrong?

According to Stuart Elliott in the Times

In an interview last month to discuss the new packaging, he [Mr. Campbell, president of Tropicana] said, “The straw and orange have been there for a long time, but people have not necessarily had a huge connection to them.”

Now it seems that people do have a huge connection to them.  As the president said, “That wasn’t something that came out in the research.”

So the glass is out and the orange and straw are back.  And the question comes up, what went wrong with the research?  Also, where did Peter Arnell, the designer, go wrong?

Many people have noted that the new packaging is “generic”.  But that doesn’t go to the heart of the problem.  It is an observation not an insight.  The problem goes much deeper.

First, the research.  I don’t know what research method that Tropicana (part of PepsiCo) used, so I will not speculate on that.  If they had used a method such as ZMET they would have learned about the power of their existing metaphor of the orange and straw.  In this case, I would have suggested a series of one-on-one interviews to uncover the metaphors, stories and associations people have with orange juice in general and Tropicana in particular.  Through constructions — using images, textures, materials — it would have been possible to see the depth and richness of the current metaphor.  It is this depth and robustness of response that is more important than someone saying, “Oh, I like the look of this one better than that one.”  

What kind of meaning would you co-create with a glass of orange juice?  How does that differ in quality from the meaning you co-create with a straw sticking out of an orange?

Second, the design.  Peter Arnell is a brilliant designer.  In this situation he did not recognize that he was substituting an inferior metaphor for a very rich and compelling one.  He said, “I’m incredibly surprised by the reaction.”  He should not have been surprised at all.  He should have recognized the possibility of this happening.  He should have replaced the orange and straw with a visual metaphor that was stronger, not weaker.

In essence he was solving a problem that did not exist.  There are endless ways to update the orange and straw.  Removing it removes almost everything from the visual side of Tropicana’s narrative.  Now the only visual element carrying the narrative is a small leaf on the “i” in the name.

Arnell has recently lost a lot of face.  The new Pepsi logo has come in for a lot of criticism for being a rip-off of Obama’s campaign logo.  I personally don’t think that was intended but the advertising and the PR surrounding the new Pepsi logo were not effective at addressing that question.  

Now comes the Tropicana debacle.  And this is truly a mistake by Peter Arnell. 

So where did Tropicana really go wrong?  I would say by not having the right research in place.  And by allowing the brand guru Peter Arnell to remove their strong metaphor.

Aristotle, Brand Guru: Part 2

In my last post on Aristotle, I touched on his role as an analytical thinker.  So let’s go deeper into that area.  

One of Aristotle’s great discoveries is what we now call deductive reasoning. It is Aristotelean logic that provided the first formal model for deductive reasoning.  A not too technical discussion of the model is available from Stanford University.  It is important for our conversation because deductive analysis is the approach taken in brand positioning.

For our purposes we’ll use the following definition for deductive analytics or deductive reasoning:  It is about looking at the entire data set and then drawing conclusions about a particular point in that data.

Here’s a more concrete example:  A leading company in laptop computers decides they need some market research to better differentiate their brand.  So they conduct a quantitative study of laptop computers that rates the importance of a long list of attributes and the performance of the top 6 brands on those same attributes.  In theory, this would represent all of the attributes that are important to laptop computer buyers.  From that you can see how the existing brands map on this universe of attributes.  Where there are no laptop brands on the map, you identified “white space” — a small number of attributes that are important to buyers but not strongly associated with any particular brand.

This “white space” is the focal point of your efforts to create differentiation for you laptop brand.  In “re-positioning” your brand these are the attributes that you want to associate with your brand.

When I was learning market research techniques, this was the approach that I was taught.  We did these large scale category studies and then sophisticated statistical tools to pinpoint precisely how strongly an attribute correlated with a specific brand.  We then used correspondence mapping to visually display the data so that we could make sense of it.  No doubt you’ve come across these studies over the years.

They are very powerful studies for understanding the world as it is in the minds of your audience today.  

They can tell you the existing strengths and weaknesses of your brand relative to the competition and relative to what is important to your customers.  

So far, so good for Aristotle!

Continuing with our example, it is reasonable to assume that all or most of the the other major companies are doing the same kinds of studies to assess their laptop brands.  This will help them find new ways of differentiating from the other laptop brands.

Soon we have a situation where many companies are now trying to re-positioning their laptop brands at the same time.  The universe is in motion.  Everyone is trying to differentiate their brands by moving to a new spot on the map.

Now a clever company comes up with an entirely new way of thinking about laptop computers.   The founders believe there is another way entirely of making and selling laptops.  They disregard the framework of the existing brands.  If their new laptop brand catches on in the marketplace, they have disrupted the universe of the existing brands.  (And if it fails, that will reconfirm the beliefs of the existing laptop companies).

This happens more often than you might expect.  Which calls into question the usefulness of deductive analytics.   Or limits deductive analysis to very slow moving, static, categories.  

Therein lies a problem with brand positioning.  It is based on a deductive analysis of the marketplace to identify the differentiating attributes.  It assumes an inflexibility in a world that is highly dynamic.  

So we need to revise our view of Aristotle as Brand Guru.  His “guru-ness” comes primarily from this work in Poetics.  His analytics, while important, are secondary in his claim to being the world’s first Brand Guru.

Still, not bad for a guy who has been dead for more than 2,000 years before the internet was developed.

Aristotle: The original brand guru

A couple of thousand years before the first television commercial, the first brand guru held sway.  His name was Aristotle.  

Like Madonna, Cher and Homer (the poet, not Homer Simpson), Aristotle is another of those one name celebrities.  

Aristotle developed a form of logic that is the foundation of analytical thinking.  This deductive method has been widely used in many different fields.  It is certainly the dominant form of analysis in branding.  While it may not be the only or best form of analysis in branding, we’ll leave that question aside for this post and return to it at a future date.

Using his analytical technique, Aristotle set about to understand why plays and other spectacles were such superior forms of education and entertainment than poetry or music alone.  With a ready supply of Greek tragedies and comedies as his database, Aristotle was able to identify six elements that are necessary for all drama.  He collected these elements in “Poetics” a treatise that is used to this very day.  

It is amusing to consider that his treatise was named Poetics but the subject was about the superiority of drama over poetry (epic poetry in particular).  But I digress.

So why do I nominate Aristotle as the original brand guru?

Because Aristotle was the first person to identify the principles that are necessary to define and create a brand today.  Everything that he had to say about drama can be applied to the most successful brands.  Everything.

The first step is to understand what are those principles or elements.  In a later post I will give specific examples of how they apply to branding.  No doubt many will occur to you as you read through this.

The six elements are translated in slightly different ways in my three different translations of Poetics.  I will phrase or paraphrase in a way that makes sense and is true to the meaning — at least as best I can.  To all scholars of ancient Greek, please forgive my trespass and liberties.  And by all means contribute to the dialog!

Plot: what happens during the play

Characters: who are the characters in the play, their roles and relationships

Thought or Message: what is the underlying moral or political message of the drama

Spectacle or staging: the scenery, sets, props and stagecraft 

Diction or poetic language:  the verbal style, the spoken words of the characters.  Aristotle addresses the importance of metaphor and metaphorical language in particular.

Song or music:  how the harmonies, rhythm, instruments and voice all appeal to our emotions through our ears

Aristotle went on to explain and explore each of these six areas, although not in equal depth.  Much he had to say about plot and relatively little does he spend on spectacle since much of that is the ingenuity and artistry of the stage manager and designers who are of secondary importance to him.

These same six elements have stood the test of time fairly well.  While others have added on and deepened the theories of Aristotle, none have surpassed its fundamental soundness and usefulness.  

As we were developing our own Narrative Branding (R) method, we immediately recognized how our framework and understanding of how to define and create a brilliant brand has much in common with Aristotle’s.  Finally, my MFA in creative writing has been put to good use!  

So, to answer the question above more directly, Aristotle is the original brand guru because he invented analytics and because he was the first to define the elements necessary for a brand to be great.  

Not bad for a man who never saw a TV ad.

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