Posts Tagged 'brand'

The ARF calls for “re-orientation in the creative briefing process”

The ARF, also known as The Advertising Research Foundation, has identified the creative brief as an area for improving the advertising process.

The following excerpt is from the conclusions and implications section of the report “On The Road To A New Effectiveness Model”.  You can get the full report from the ARF.

…rethinking the model for advertising might mean a re-orientation in the

creative briefing process.  That might include the following:

A more visual approach to briefing.  Adding key symbols, images, textures, colors that

would help the creative team in understanding and developing the non-verbal aspects of

the brand.

Providing more emotional insights into target audience descriptions by including two or

three example “life stories” of the customer.  These could be brief – 2 or 3 lines – that

give more specificity to the target audience.

Greater emphasis on brand personality.  Going far beyond the typical list of personality

characteristics and really creating more of a persona, using both images and words to

describe who the brand is and is not.  More of a brand biography, with creation story,

likes and dislikes, tastes and style.

A different emphasis on the proof points and rational benefits.  We would no longer

consider them as primary drivers of preference.  Proof points have a new role, which is to

give the consumer a plausible post-rationalization that supports their emotional choices.

Development of new tools that would help with developing “narrative lines” for the

brand. What happens when the consumer interacts with the brand?  What are some strong

storylines?  How do we articulate them in a brief that will be useful to the creative teams?

How does the brand story interact with the consumer’s life story or stories about the


To make a brand brief even more effective, it should be co-created by the client brand director or research director, a creative director and an account planner.

Consilience in branding

I had never heard of the word “consilience” until a couple of years ago.  It was introduced to me by a friend who saw tremendous opportunities for using the theory of consilience in marketing communications.

Consilience means taking ideas from one area of study and applying them to another.  For instance, if a person made a theory about an apple falling from a tree (Newton) and then applied it to the planets and stars (Galileo) they would be using “consilience”.

Another way of thinking about this is to consider universities.  Within a university are many departments and within each department are specialists and sub-specialists and sub-sub-specialists.  The discoveries made by these specialists tends to be incremental.  The big discoveries are made by people who look across specialities or who take ideas from one specialty (psychology) and apply it to another (economics).  The combination of psychology and economics has led to a growth in “behavioral economists” and the book “Freakonomics”.  It is a way of creating new ideas through cross-fertilization of disciplines. Interdisciplinary is a clunky word for this elegant idea.

The word  consilience was dusted off and put to good use by the Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson in a book titled “Consilience”.

It has also been used to describe the Narrative Branding approach.  For instance, neuropsychology has been unlocking more secrets into how we think, how we understand and how we communicate.  We have drawn on these insights into the human mind to come up with a breakthrough approach that will be more effective.  If we understand the mind better and use that understanding to come up with a better approach for branding, then the likelihood of success will be much higher.

As the Advertising Research Foundation has reported in the 2007 study “On the Road to More Effective Advertising”:

“Even though the new insights into the human mind are available, there are few techniques widely used today to take advantage of the knowledge to the benefit of advertisers.”

Attached is an article we wrote on this topic a year and a half ago for the Korean marketing journal, “Brand Forum”.  VerseGroup_brandforum_consilience bilingual

Shameless book plug

Bellevue is a mythic place in the collective memory of New York City.  The narratives about Bellevue have seeped into our culture.  It was the inspiration for the film, “The Lost Weekend.” It is mentioned in Alan Ginsburg’s poem “Howl”. At various times people such as Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsburg and Charles Mingus were committed there.  It is a brand, unique in America.  And as a brand owned and operated by NYU Medical School, NYU has been working hard to upgrade Bellevue’s reputation.

It is our version of Bedlam, London’s infamous hospital for the insane. (By the way, the location of the original Bedlam is now a hotel.  I stayed there one night a few years ago.  All night long I was haunted by strange dreams).

Now the head of the psychiatric Emergency Room has written a book about her experiences at Bellevue. I highly recommend it for anyone who lives or has ever lived in New York.

From a branding perspective, Bellevue is a perfect example of how the reputation is influenced by other people and not by the hospital itself.  Movies, stories, newspaper articles, tv reports have all shaped the reputation of Bellevue.  There is only a limited amount that the hospital itself, or NYU, can do.  That doesn’t mean that they should do nothing.  It is a conversation, a dialog, and NYU needs to actively participate in it — including social media — to help people co-create a more positive image.

Weekends at Bellevue

Weekends at Bellevue

One last fun fact, Bellevue has it’s own literary magazine!  It is fitting with so many famous writers having spent time there.  It brings to mind the title of a poem “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” by Delmore Schwartz, a former psychiatric patient.

So this my plug for the book.  You can also get it on a Kindle.  But the downside is that you can’t ask the author to autograph the Kindle.  Full disclose, I received no promotional considerations, nor payments, for this blog post.

Can one agency do it all?

The mantra of the past decade has been totally integrated marketing.  It’s a very smart move.  Corporations have recognized the advantages of having all their marketing efforts synchronized and harmonized.

Agencies have recognized this, too.  Because it represents an opportunity for them to get a large slice of the client’s marketing budget.  In theory, an agency that provides integrated marketing communications can benefit by capturing spending that would go to digital agencies, brand consulting firms, PR firms, packaging firms and so on.

The theory is one thing.  The practice is another.

Our research shows that only 16% of marketing decision makers want to have a single agency partner to handle all of their marketing challenges.  Instead of working with fewer agencies, corporations are working with more agencies.  The integration of marketing has to happen internally at the client side.  The client must own and control their branding.

Senior BBDO executive joins Verse Group

It’s not been officially announced but Barry Schweig is joing Verse Group as Executive Director.  We are pleased as could be to have Barry’s wise counsel, experience and great storytelling.

For those who don’t know Barry, he was the BBDO EVP responsible for the global Gillette and Oral B accounts.  That extended far beyond advertising, all the way into new product development.  Little known but true fact, Barry developed the Mach 3 name for the Gillette 3 blade razor.  He also led the branding and advertising efforts for Fusion, Venus and other major offerings.  A lot of people may call themselves brand experts.  Barry truly is one.

There are two real passions in Barry’s life.  One is nurturing and growing global brands.  The other is tending to his home garden.  Both take patience, faith and careful attention.  

Full disclosure here:  I worked with Barry at BBDO on the Gillette business for a couple of years.  I was the international account planner on the business.  So my bias and enthusiasm are no longer hidden.

Before joining BBDO, Barry was an SVP Management Rep at McCann Erickson.  He began his career in creative services at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample.

E-inking the Kindle

Now that Oprah has a Kindle, it’s the biggest thing to happen to publishing since…well, a long time.

The secret behind Kindle is a technology developed at MIT.  It’s from a company named E-Ink.

It was about 1999 or 2000 when I first heard of E-ink.  We were invited to pitch a project for them around this marvelous new technology.  And it was marvelous.  The idea that you could have something as thin as paper and infinitely reusable…well, that’s pretty incredible.  Some of the early applications were around in-store signage, point-of-purchasing.  The idea was to immediately change pricing or specials or send a message to shoppers at stores around the country simultaneously.  No more tearing down the old materials and setting up new ones.

The ideas that the client and our team came up with where a lot of fun.  What if they ran a full page ad in the New Yorker during the holiday season?  What if a dress was made out of E-ink?  How about greeting cards?  Also the ideas were impractical given the state of the technology and the costs.  The branding ideas were just too early.  The timing wasn’t right.

Here we are, a decade later and the technology is ready for prime time.  Certainly it is ready for Oprah!  Now when I play with my Kindle I keep thinking of all the great and clever things that E-ink can do with the technology.  Perhaps they are ready for that branding project after all.

Rebrand that Flu!

Yesterday the local schools in NYC sent home instructions to families about precautions to take around the Swine Flu.

My daughter wanted to know why they call it Swine Flu.  

She said, “You know, if they called it Pizza Flu or Oreo Cookie Flu, then people wouldn’t be so worried.”

Come to think of it, the Swine metaphor has some pretty negative associations.  Swine is a metaphor for dishonorable and untrustworthy people.  It is associated with pollution from industrial pork farms.  Pork itself is another word for unnecessary spending, fat, larded.  Pearls before swine is both a biblical quotation and the subtitle of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater” — not that I’m equating the two in terms of cultural significance.

Pizza Flu. My daughter’s logic is inescapable.

Is benchmarking other brands useful?

A standard part of the branding process is to look at “best-in-class” case studies and benchmarks.  This is a combination of a competitive audit along with an audit of the brands that are most admired or selected by some other objective criteria.

Some people believe this is provides a yardstick for clients to measure their own branding against.  And for many years I was of that opinion, too.  

But then I began to observe a curious set of circumstances which make me skeptical about the usefulness.  The names of companies and brands will be left out, to protect the usual suspects.  

Let’s start with Company A.  Company A asked us to do a best-in-class benchmark study on the brand management organization and practices of 10 other companies.  My team set about that project and developed a set of benchmarks which the client could use as they were revamping their own branding organization.

About a year later one of the companies on the 10 best list requested we do a project for them.  I will call them Company B.  They asked for a similar “best-in-class” benchmarking study as was done for Company A. The only difference is that for Company B, they wanted us to study Company A as one of the 10 best list.

Not long after we were approached by Company D.  They too wanted a brand management benchmarking program that included Company A and Company B in their list of 10 best.

I am sure that you would have seen this pattern coming long before I did.  What to do when all of these world-class companies are so busy benchmarking each other?  Doesn’t it become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

These world-class companies don’t just benchmark on branding.  They hire world-famous management consulting firms to benchmark other world class firms on a variety of areas.

By this time I was feeling that the practice was like a dog chasing its own tail.  At least for the companies that have reached the top of their industry.  For new companies or smaller challenger companies the benchmarking was relatively more useful.  Those challengers still had a lot to learn from others.

More difficult was the fact that many best-in-class companies had different brand management  systems.  There was far more variability across companies than I had expected.  It turns out that what works in Company A may not work as well in Company B for any number of reasons.  Each company had enough uniqueness in their situation that the broad generalizations of benchmarking often became difficult to apply.  It became a lowest common denominator situation (admittedly of some very fine companies).

Which leads me to my own generalization:

You cannot benchmark your way into the future.

Recognize that the other best-in-class companies know as much as you know. At some point world-class companies need to wean themselves from much of this benchmarking. You need to take bold moves based on your vision of the future, not based on what your competitors may be doing.  

It is an important enough point that I will repeat it:  You cannot benchmark your way to the future.

The Facebook witness protection program

I will admit that after years of linked-in, friendster, myspace, second life…well…I’ve been wary of Facebook.  

Oh, I’ve been following it and playing with other people’s pages and so on.  But I’ve deeply resisted joining myself.  After a while the invitations were beginning to pile up.  When 4 out of the other 5 members of my immediate household invited me (we won’t allow the 5th to have a page because she’s too young)…well…it became a little uncomfortable around the dinner table.

So I put my face up there.

Soon more people began to invite me to be their friends.  I resisted accepting.  My sister got angry at me, my brother-in-law got angry at me, my cousin got angry at me.

You can get the picture.

Under pressure I accepted those. And then more came in.  Friends from high school, college, running.  Friends of cousins.  Cousins of friends.  It became overwhelming to keep up with everyone’s posts.

Then business associates began to send me invitations.

Do I accept?  Or do I ignore?  If I accept, then the wall between personal and business dissolves.  For the rest of my family and other friends, that can create problems.  And if I ignore, do I risk insulting people who I like tremendously and do business with?

After wrestling with this for over a month, I decided that it is okay to have some walls in life.  In fact, it is necessary.  The privacy of others can easily be compromised by my desire to be an open book.

I have now joined the Facebook Witness Protection Program.  

I will accept all invitations to Linked-in.  I will respond to all emails (  I will return your phone calls.  It’s just Facebook that is my walled garden.

While wrestling with these weighty questions, I came up with an idea for a new social networking brand.  Actually, it’s an anti-social networking brand.  You cannot invite anyone to be a friend.  And they wouldn’t accept even if you could invite them.  I’m naming it UnFriendster.

Retire the GM brand, Part II

The stories released today show that GM is going to be phasing out or selling the Saturn, Saab and Hummer brands.

There is no word on the GM brand itself.   I would still recommend that the company give serious consideration to retiring the GM brand.  After all, there are several storied brands that could replace it.  The increase in marketing efficiencies are a compelling reason for such a change.

The phase out of the Saturn brand will create an interesting coda to the many  business school case studies on Saturn.  Will the schools still teach the Saturn story?  Will David Aaker print an updated version of the Saturn case study from “Building Strong Brands”?   Will they have to do a “case study recall” the way the car companies are always doing recalls?

While it’s fun to imagine such a recall, the reality is that case studies are always a snapshot, a single point in time.  Much can be learned from them.  Knowing how the brand eventually turned out can also be instructive.  We can learn as much from the failures of others as from the successes.  Not the usual way of thinking about benchmarking, I know.  But these aren’t times for business as usual.

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