Posts Tagged 'brand story'



Selling a million books! – or – creating the new Touchstone Books colophon

It’s been a lot of fun working with the folks at Touchstone/Fireside books on their rebranding, including the publisher Stacy Creamer and associate publisher David Falk.

During the process I learned a bit about printing and publishing that I had never heard before.  In publishing a logo is called a colophon.  It’s history traces back to the times of private printers in 15th century Europe.  Not surprisingly, it is also known as a printer’s mark.

There is something talismanic about a book colophon.  A symbol, a calling.  Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time looking at those talismans on the spines of books.  A by-product of a life surrounded by books — everything from working at a used book depot to working for J.D. Salinger’s literary agent, to my graduate degree in creative writing and my own fiction writing.  Right or wrong, I  judge a book not by its cover but by the colophon on the cover.  The 3 fish of FSG.  The borzoi dog of Alfred A. Knopf.  And the Penguin.

Farrar Straus & Giroux colophon

W.A. Dwiggins created many versions of the Knopf borzoi colophon.

Borzoi colophon by W.A. Dwiggins

Paul Rand did a borzoi colophon, too:

Borzoi colophon by Paul Rand

And a more recent one by Triboro Design.

Borzoi colophon by Triboro Design

It is wonderful to trace how the colophons of Knopf have gone in so many directions and yet maintained their integrity and coherence.

There’s something here at branding people can discover.  Many of us in corporate identity and brand are sticklers about consistency, consistency, consistency in applying logos and designs.  When a design like the London 2012 Olympics comes out, with multiple variations, it violates this sense of consistency.  But Knopf beat everyone to this game years ago!

You can read more about the history of the borzoi here.  Did you know that Khalil Gibran created one of the borzoi colophons?

In the early 1990s I was at a dinner in honor of Peter Smith.  During his thanking the University for the honor, he explain that as a child he wanted to be a Penguin when he grew up.  That desire to be a Penguin led him to became a writer and involved with the arts — he is Director Emeritus of Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center of the Arts and former Dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts.  Ah, what a wonderful statement!  When I grow up I want to be a Penguin!  (Actually I am partially a Penguin, since they’ve included my writing in The Bruce Springsteen Reader).

Penguin colophon by E. P. Young

Here’s the anthology of writings about Springsteen which included my short fiction piece, “Asbury Park”:

Penguin anthology including my short fiction

A couple of days ago Stacy Creamer, the publisher of Touchstone, unofficially introduced the new Touchstone colophon on Facebook.  I’ll post it here when there’s a more official launch, along with some comments from Michael Thibodeau about where he drew his inspiration for the colophon.  We’ll also put up something more official on our company website.

I am expecting that the new colophon will be on millions and millions of book spines come this fall!  No pressure, Stacy and David!

The new new Chevrolet — or — GM is just kidding us!

About a year ago I made several posts recommending that GM retire the GM brand and rename the whole group as The Chevrolet Group.

My reasoning was that Chevrolet was a very storied brand, started by the Chevrolet brothers who were well-known race car drivers.  Right there was the heritage of a high performance company, with the humanity of the Chevrolet brothers as part of the folklore!  And the diminutive of Chevrolet, the Chevy, has become part of American culture.  Just think of Bruce Springsteen’s Racing in the Street (“I’ve got a ’57 Chevy with a 396…”).  [Note to NY Times — how could you leave out Springsteen but include Motley Crue?]

Of course GM is still GM.

But Chevrolet is only Chevrolet — it has lost the Chevy!  Or maybe not.  If you saw the front page story in yesterday’s New York Times you know that the company wants to drop their nickname, Chevy.  G.M. Proposes Leaving a Car’s Popular Nickname in the Dust – NYTimes.com

Now today GM has come out to say, just kidding folks!  According to the Times:

In an interview by phone, Mr. Batey [VP of Sales] called the memo “a rough draft” and “a bit of fun.”

G.M. Backtracks on Chevy Memo – NYTimes.com

You can also check out the GM Facebook page to see how they are handling this bit of news.

So here’s my strategic recommendation.  Move forward with calling the entire company The Chevrolet Group.  Drop the GM name.  As the name for the overall company, Chevrolet is terrific.  And within the Chevrolet division, well…why mess with a good Chevy?

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

Google acting on principle

There has been much debate about Google pulling out of China.  Some people see it as vindication of Google’s values — the “do no evil”.  Others see it as a simple business matter, that Google wasn’t the leader in the China search market.  In this second version Google is acting cynically, cloaking their actions under the mantle of sticking to its values.

So I looked around for another instance where it appears that Google is, in fact, acting on principle.  I found that in South Korea.  A year ago, on April Fool’s Day, April 1st, the Korean government passed a law requiring that anyone uploading a video or a comment to provide their real name and national identity number.  That meant any and all uploads or comments on YouTube had to use your real name.

Imagine that you are now required to put your legal name, social security number and drivers license in order to upload a video to YouTube.

Rather than violate their values and hurt their reputation, Google disabled the ability to upload a video or comment to YouTube from South Korea.

That is strong evidence that Google takes its brand values so serious that they guide business decisions.

It’s not a widely know part of the brand story we tell ourselves about Google.  A footnote to most people outside of Korea.  An important point nonetheless.

Toyota: When, not if

How could this happen to Toyota?  How could a company with such a great reputation for quality have a quality problem leading to the recall of millions of cars?

Now that the shock has worn off, we can have some perspective.  Toyota has had a great run.  Far longer than most companies before they hit a rough spot.  But inevitably something will happen to, or at, any company.  Every company eventually faces something that creates a disruption.  What is striking in this case is that the problem goes right to the heart of what Toyota built their reputation on — quality.

The question is really one of “when” not “if”.

The disruption can come from any place — a scandal, a product defect, a shift in consumer’s preferences, a new technology, a natural disaster.

How the company responds to a crisis is far more telling of character than the fact that it got into a crisis in the first place.  This is the real moment of truth.

Keep in mind that speed of response if a relative measure.  If Toyota rushes too quickly and doesn’t get it right, that will cause collateral damage to their reputation.  If they respond far too slowly, it will also create damage.

Toyota is better served in the long run by discovering the full extent of problems — knowing that they are now under a microscope — and solve them in a timely way.  Congressional investigations, leaked powerpoint reports…there are many things that will suddenly be given closer scrutiny.  Rushing to a solution and declaring that all is well in this the best of all worlds…that’s just a gamble.

Don’t forget that Ford and VW had so major recalls.  And Audi faced their own sticking accelerator problem that was first reported on CBS’ 60 minutes during prime time.  BusinessWeek keeps a tally on these things.

BusinessWeek on Total Recall

Story as execution vs. Story as strategy

The brilliance of BBDO over the years had been the power of their story telling in the advertising executions.  Phil Dusenberry was a natural born storyteller.  He was also a screenwriter, most famously for The Natural.  Ted Sann was the creative force behind the agency for many years.  Is it a coincidence that he earned a Master of  Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the fabulous Iowa Writer’s Workshop?  (Full disclosure, I worked at BBDO and also have an MFA in Creative Writing.)

BBDO were masters of storytelling as execution.

What is new is storytelling as strategy.

What is most powerful is when the storytelling combines the strategic with the executional.

That means elevating storytelling up to the highest level of defining the brand itself.  What is the story of the brand?  That is a bigger question than what is the story of the advertisement.

The story of a brand will include a number of elements:

1. The founding of the brand, which some people refer to as the “brand myth”.  That is a slightly misleading term since the creation of the brand is based in fact.

Brands have a past (except, of course, for a completely new brand) and people have a set of associations with the brand that have formed over time.  By recognizing this past and emphasizing the relevant threads of the past, it is possible to increase the relevance of the brand today and to set the trajectory for tomorrow.

2. The persona of the brand.  This is a fleshed out description of the brand, including the brand’s relationship to the various audience.  This relationship between the brand and the audience hinges on understanding the role of the brand in the life of the audience — professional life for b2b brands, personal or family life for consumer brands.

Often companies will overestimate the role of the brand in the life of their customer, which may create a sense of arrogance in the branding.

On the other side of the coin, underestimating the role of the brand can lead to missing opportunities for elevating the brand’s image.  It is easy to imaging the executives at Intel saying, “We are just a computer chip and consumers are buying the computer brand.”  In that situation there never would have been an “Intel inside.”

3. The verbal story of the brand.  Capturing the brand story in writing is important for an internal understanding of the brand and for having the right language to connect with customers.  The language of the brand must fit the persona.  It needs to be language that resonates with the audiences.  It is most powerful when it has strong, coherent, metaphors.

It is most unique when it has its own vocabulary, provided that the vocabulary is intuitive, not insular.  Intuitive language allows us to recall our own memories, combine them with the brand story and co-create a much richer set of associations.

Apple has built a unique vocabulary around animal metaphors — Safari, Leopard, Tiger.

Starbucks has its own language of Frappucino, Tazo, Vivanno.

A verbal story is far more than a name and a tagline, but those are included in the brand’s vocabulary.  Be careful about defining the brand in abstract language and then waiting for the advertising agency, the PR agency, the digital agency to all create the actual language used in the marketplace.  That demotes the brand story to the level of execution instead of integrating the brand story with the executional story.

4. The visual story of a brand.  Not all communication is verbal.  Psychologists have estimated that up to 80% of communication is non-verbal.  So the visual story, the visual metaphors, of a brand need to be carefully developed at a strategic level.  What are the strong visual metaphors of the brand?  When we see a rich and robust metaphor, we begin to co-create powerful associations in our minds and memories.  These strong metaphors shape our memories more profoundly than factual information.

For Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes it is Tony the Tiger (the voice of Tony the Tiger is another way of communicating through the senses).

Burton has a very high energy visual style, extreme and frenetic.  Apple has a very high energy visual style but it is smoother, rounder, more sophisticated.  Both appeal to young adults.  Both are unique visual vocabularies for their brands.  This visual language needs to be robust, influencing every aspect of the brand from product design to online design to advertising to retail design to business forms, invoices and so forth.

Burton snowboards: high energy

High energy design

High energy design

5. The experience people have with the brand.  The brand story is told through other sensory methods in addition to the verbal and visual.  Using storytelling at the strategic level means defining those experiences at the very beginning and not leaving it until the website is being developed.

The brand strategy should provide a strong guiding hand to the actual execution.  The more places that a customer can experience a brand, the stronger that strategic guidance needs to be in order to present a coherent face to the world. In a digital world the user experience has the potential be among the strong branding elements.  There is a fine balance between creating an easily accessible, functional online experience and one that is strongly branded.  We have seen examples where the branding is only considered as a skin or paint on top of a functionally defined user experience.  The brand experience should define the functionality and not the other way around.

It is not limited to digital experiences or retail experiences.  Consider for a moment how the Ritz-Carlton brand is defined by the service experience.  That experience has been codified and turned into a rigorous training program.  The same for Disneyland.  There is no reason that it cannot be done for any brand which has a strong service element.

By defining the brand story at a strategic level, the executional storytelling will add more dimensions and create a coherent whole.  The days when a few television commercials and lots of media spending could create a brand are quickly coming to an end.  The ways people come into contact with brands, both B2B and consumer, are proliferating.  In this world, the need for strong, robust strategic storytelling is growing.

The power of story

Avatar is a terrific movie.  Absolutely wonderful.

What drew me in and kept me engaged was the narrative, the stories of each character and the way they wove together into a larger tapestry.

Yes, the special effects were special.  That would have kept me watching for 30 minutes until the 3D glasses become physically unbearable.  Wearing glasses on top of glasses is not my idea of a comfortable viewing experience.

It was the magic of the story that kept me in my seat for nearly 3 hours.   It completely absorbed me, to the point that I forgot about the glasses upon glasses discomfort.

So what does this have to do with branding?  It shows the power of story to engage our minds and emotions through a variety of senses.

No sense in giving away the story here.  Go see the movie, then we can get a cup of coffee and caffeine free diet coke for me and talk about the powerful story.

Covenant House rebranding Part 3: the next chapter

A brand exists in time because we exist in time.  It has a past, a present and a future.

Okay, a completely new brand has no past. But all other brands have a past, a history.  They have a backstory.

As consumers we don’t forget out past experiences with a brand.  Or what we heard about the brand from friends, movies and, yes, advertising.  For example, I never owned a VW bug.  Even so, I have many strong memories and associations with the brand.  My impressions range from the hazy recollections of seeing cars on the street to a vivid memory of going with my daughter to see the Lindsey Lohan movie “Herbie Fully Loaded”.

Therefore the brand story needs to have a past, a present and a future:  yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The art of creating a compelling brand story is to talk about about today, but weave in the strongest elements of the past.  Then it needs to have a forward leaning element so that we want to know what tomorrow will bring, we want to turn the next page.  There is always another chapter to be written in the story of a brand.

We use this framework of a past, present and future to update the Covenant House brand story.   We use language that is vivid, alive, evocative.  The story matters because the stakes are so high.  This story has the power to save the life of a teenager.

The new Covenant House brand story

The new Covenant House brand story

The brand story does not stop here.  It goes layers deeper.  Within the Covenant House brand story are all of the life stories of all the individuals who have ever been touched by the organization.  Each story will break your heart.

The next post is on renewing the covenant through renewing the visual identity.

In the meantime, consider making a donation to Covenant House this year.  It can save a life.

Story at the executional level vs. strategic level

Storytelling in marketing is not new.  There has always been the knowledge that an advertisement that tells a story is much more compelling than one that just gives a bunch of facts.  “What’s the story of this ad?” Is a common research question.  Using stories in sales presentations and executive speeches have been getting more and more attention.  Marketers are making deliberate choices to use story as a rhetorical device.

That is what I call storytelling at an executional level.

What is new is look at a brand itself as a story.  That is the strategic level.

This is not just a wordplay.  The brand has a story.  A brand like Kellogg’s has a rich past, a strong present and a bright future.  To manage this story, to use it most effectively, requires a framework.  Otherwise it is all intuition or all in the mind of a brand gatekeeper.

There are many ways of looking at story for an execution.  But there are few frameworks for the strategic level of a brand’s story.  What more and more marketers are recognizing is that the existing brand positioning tools are inadequate as a framework for managing the story of a brand.

That is where reinventing marketing is heading.  It is about developing more robust models of branding, taking a more well-rounded view of a brand.  In literature this is the difference between a two-dimensional character and a rounded character.  Dickens was the master of deftly creating rounded characters.  His characters live on today, in many cases known better than the books from which they spring.  Oliver Twist.  Mrs. Malaprop.  Fagin.  David Copperfield, Edwin Drood. Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and, of course, Tiny Tim.

It requires knowing your brand as intimately as an author knows his characters.  Just as Harry Potter has a life outside of the books, a brand needs to have a life outside of it’s advertising.

Colbert Coldwell and Benjamin Banker are brilliant

It’s wonderful to know that there really was a Coldwell and a Banker at Coldwell Banker.  The brand isn’t just a lawn sign or a golden retriever (although I do love goldens).  The brand is about people, starting with Coldwell and Banker themselves.  

And kudos to the marketing team and agencies who have brought back Colbert Coldwell and Benjamin Banker as spokespeople.  For the past year or so, they have been the stars of the real estate broker’s campaigns.  And it is brilliant!  And this is a perfect example of how the founding story is a powerful element in the overall narrative.

Keeping Coldwell and Banker in their framed pictures is a powerful metaphorical device.  The pictures give a sense of time, of authenticity and also authority to the brand.  The voices and stories make them accessible. It reminds me of someone holding a photograph in front of their face and pretending to be that person.  And, of course, framed picture is perfectly at home in a home.  

While reaching back to their founding, the brand is also reaching ahead into new media.  They are one of the most tech savvy brands in the market.  Tech savvy is not something you’d normally associate with real estate brands.  Coldwell Banker is way out ahead of most marketers.

Here is Michael Fisher, the CMO of Coldwell Banker, explaining the back story.  


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