Posts Tagged 'metaphors'

This has been a week of experiences for me.  “Brand Experience” is going to be the marketing buzzword of the year.  And not without reason.  So, here’s been my week:

First, I received a copy of The Apple Experience by Carmine Gallo (McGraw-Hill)

It’s a good primer into how Apple found success in retail after other computer companies had failed.   If you’re an Apple fanatic, then most of the book will be warm comfortable ground that you’ve been through before.

And if you aren’t the kind of person [or company] who obsessively benchmarks Brand Experiences, this is a great shortcut.

But Apple isn’t the only experience there is.  In many ways I find the Apple experience to be more about the sheer visual beauty of the stores, products and space.   There’s less than meets the eye, in some sense.  Try TD Bank to see just how much the actual experience overshadows the design.  Start by walking your dog into the branch and see how you are treated.  Now, go ahead to a nearby Citi location and try the same thing.

One complaint I have about Apple and Apple Stores is the feeling of being in a walled-in garden.  It is hermetic.  There is a built-in subversion, a paradox at the heart of the Apple Store.  Explicitly Apple is all about unleashing the creativity of people like you and me.  Implicitly, encoded in the heart of Apple is a “look at me, admire me, love me” sensibility, an extreme narcissism.  At it’s core Apple believes more in its own creativity than in yours or mine.

Second, I found this on Engadget:

Samsung promised one more surprise — and what it gave us was a special retail strategy. The company will be opening Mobile Pin locations, or glass-housed pop-up stores, to help showcase its new flagship phone [Samsung Galaxy S III launched in London earlier today]

Samsung Mobile PIN exterior from Engadget

Samsung Mobile PIN interior from Engadget


Opening Doors for Homeless Youth

Not all taglines are created equal.  Some are great and some are lousy.  Some do a whole lot of good and some just distract.

This post is about a tagline that does a whole lot of good.  It is the Covenant House tagline, “Opening doors for homeless youth.”

I am proud that we created this tagline for Covenant House.  The metaphor of an open door is a powerful one.

But right now too many kids are having the doors of opportunity slammed closed in their faces.  The unemployment rate for young adults — 16 to 24 — is higher than any period in the past 3 decades.  For teenagers, it is hitting rates unheard of in a developed economy.

Tax cuts won’t do much for a kid who can’t find a job and ends up living on the streets.   Unemployment checks don’t go to a 19 year-old who never held a job.

Covenant House is one organization that is out there, keeping their doors open for young adults who need it.

You don’t have to love the tagline to click on it and contribute to Covenant House.    You can do a whole lot of good simply by making a donation.

Click to Open doors for homeless youth

NXP Semiconductors, live and in Times Square

Back in 2006 we created the new brand for the spin-off of Philips Semiconductors, a division of Philips Electronics.  That is the genesis of NXP Semiconductors as an independent, privately held company.

Today NXP began trading on the NASDAQ, the next page in the company’s on-going narrative.  I was in Times Square but too late for the photo op.  Therefore, much as I’d like to, I cannot take credit for this photo.  Credit belongs solely to NASDAQ.

NXP executives in front of NASDAQ sign

NXP executives in front of NASDAQ sign

I must admit, there is something extraordinarily satisfying about seeing my company’s work as tall as a building in Times Square.  And for those of you who live out of town, Times Square is now a very large pedestrian walkway, with chairs and tables out for you to sit and relax…assuming for the moment that sitting in Times Square can ever actually be relaxing…

A new Touchstone, at a bookstore near you!

I am very pleased, delighted and happy to share with you the new colophon we created for Touchstone books.

the new Touchstone colophon

The new Touchstone colophon

But first, a little story about how we worked with the Publisher, Stacy Creamer and the Associate Publisher David Falk.

Touchstone Fireside Publishing is an imprint of Simon & Schuster.  They publish people like Lance Armstrong, Rick Springfield, Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo and Philippa Gregory.    They came to us with a question — how to better manage their imprint branding since “Touchstone Fireside” is rather a mouthful.  Both Touchstone and Fireside had been the trade paperback imprints of Simon & Schuster. One focused on fiction and the other was non-fiction.  Eventually they expanded from paperbacks into hardcover — at the same time that other Simon & Schuster hardcover imprints were migrating into paperbacks.

While each name had its individual colophon, on corporate communications they were mashed together like this:

Touchstone/Fireside old logo

Touchstone/Fireside old logo

Stacy and David  wanted to consolidate into a single name and a single logo to make life less confusing authors, for booksellers, for agents, for consumers and even for themselves.  As you see above, they had 2 names, then “A Division of Simon & Schuster” and then a different font for the corporate endorsement, “A CBS Company.”

Here’s what the old Touchstone logo reminded me of:



We explored the two metaphors — touchstones and firesides (along with the fireplace implement) — to see how they would fit with Stacy Creamer’s vision and the types of books they would be publishing in the future.

A fireside is home, comfort, warmth, country-side, a bit of a sleepy afternoon curled up in a large chair with a book in your lap.  Rather Jane Austen-ish.

A touchstone is a benchmark of excellence by which all else is compared.  It is a place you return to again and again to align yourself.  It is rather like the north star, a way of finding what is true.

Those are two very different metaphorical ways of viewing books and the act of reading.  Stacy clearly saw the future of the imprint aligned with Touchstones of excellence rather than an afternoon nap in the living room before a crackling log.

Once it was decided to consolidate under the Touchstone name, we began the design process.  We looked a variety of approaches.  Some were more literal than others.  Some more suggestive.  Here is also a situation where you can reinforce the name through a literal touchstone or you can expand the associations by being more…metaphorical about the metaphor.  (Is that correct English?)

The final direction (under Michael Thibodeau’s direction, of course!) was the design you see at the top of this post.  The speed, the sense of direction and purpose, the reaching for a star, the guiding star, the soaring all contribute to the metaphor of excellence, of the standard by which all will be met.

Here is the new story of the renewed imprint:

The new Touchstone story, pg 1

The new Touchstone story pg 1

The new Touchstone story, pg 2

The new Touchstone story, pg 2

So now you have the whole story!


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?

More on the Brand Bubble

So here is the quote of the day, again from The Brand Bubble by Ed Lebar and John Gerzema

In wanting the brand to bring more benefits in the future, consumers will accept some degree of “brilliant failure” as a necessary by-product of the brand’s search for progress.  Remember, Apple had the Newton, the Lisa and Macintosh TV, but Apple’s inventiveness constantly supplies the evolutionary learning for the company’s new products, including today’s Nano video and iPhone.

All too often we benchmark the brilliant successes of others and ignore their  “brilliant failures” along the way.  We smooth out the bumps in history, erasing the part that either luck or failure play.  We look at happy accidents as if they were by deliberate design.   We can learn far more by studying both the success and the failures of others.

In fact there is an entire organization dedicated to learning from the failures of others and applying those lessons.  (I image that their annual meetings can be pretty depressing…)  It is the Association for the Study of Failure.


ASF logo



Apple tried and failed and tried and failed and tried again and finally achieved redemption.  If not redemption, then at least a lot of market success!

When we are benchmarking, we need to be careful.  Are we building a machine based on hindsight?  Are we being bold in our vision or following the path of another?  We cannot benchmark our way to the future.

To which I add another quote, this one from a favorite of mine, Samuel Beckett:

Ever tried? Ever failed?  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

I never thought that I’d ever have the opportunity to quote Beckett in a branding discussion!

Brand Avoidance – or – stop that brand!

Brand avoidance, motivations for anti-consumption, organizational disassociation, and freedom of anti-choice!

No, today is not opposite day.  Although I have to admit to a through-the-looking-glass-darkly sensation as I began to read about brand avoidance and anti-choice.

There is a small body of research that looks almost exclusively at the dark underside of branding — brands that people go out of their way to actively avoid.  Usually we think of a brand as an attention magnet. Strong brands have a strong attraction.  Weak brands have little or no attraction.  This looks at the other side of the magnet where the brand pushes people away, it repels them.

Professor Michael Lee has been one of the academics in this area.  He has been creating a framework for  categorizing and understanding the types and mindsets of brand avoidance.  He separates them into 3 categories based on the primary cause for avoiding a brand: bad experience, identity avoidance and moral avoidance.

Bad experience: Going out of your way to avoid consuming a brand because you had a bad experience with it

Identity avoidance: Going out of your way to avoid consuming a brand because it is disturbing to your self-image — symbolic incongruity (I love that phrase!).  The, “I would be caught dead in that” mentality is how I like to think of it.

Moral avoidance: A conscious choice to avoid a brand because of its actions or behavior.  Not shopping at Wal-Mart because they lock-in workers overnight or don’t offer health insurance to most employees.

The concept of anti-choice is antithetical to how we typically think about marketing.  No doubt there are some clever companies out there exploiting this mindset.  I can see the marketing campaign now:  It’s the anti-choice of a new generation!

What really jumped out at me was the recognition that people can and do change their minds, and behaviors.  They can look at a brand in a new way, their relationship with the brand can – and does – change over time.

This is particularly important to brands that are second or third tier brands and trying to break into the top rank of brands.  LG and Lenovo are two that come to mind immediately.

In the paper by Professors Lee, Motion and Conroy, one paragraph in particular jumped out at me.  While meant to propose a strategy for countering brand avoidance, it immediately struck a chord of recognition.  In fact, it was very similar to the bold strategy taken by Samsung starting in the mid-1990s to elevate the brand image and reputation.

“The first antidote [to brand avoidance] involves a genuine adaptation of the brand, one that is initiated from the highest point within the company and permeates throughout the entire brand/organization. Such a strategy may alleviate brand avoidance that is motivated by corporate irresponsibility or consumer resistance philosophies; however, in spite of these efforts many consumers may remain cynical. Thus, such a drastic strategy may not be feasible for the firm.”

That is indeed a drastic strategy.  And very, very powerful.  At Samsung the initiative came from the Chairman himself.  His call to action was, “Change everything except your spouse and children.”  They changed product quality, product design, marketing strategies, pricing strategies, distribution strategies…as well as the brand strategy.  And Samsung had the courage and patience to stay on the same course for a number of years instead of changing strategies every 12 or 18 months.

Here is a link to one of the recently published articles by Professors Lee, Motion and Conroy and  on research into BrandAvoidance.  Caution: this is wonkish.

Covenant House rebranding part 4: A new symbol of hope

With the new “opening doors” metaphor for Covenant House, we begin to assess the visual side of their branding.

The audits show that the logo and the color blue are the two elements really holding the existing system together.  So we begin with the heart of the visual branding, the logo itself.

The existing logo has some tremendous strengths.  The dove is a powerful symbol, with many layers of meaning.  On the surface level it represents freedom, taking flight, soaring above.  It is also a fragile creature, needing protection.  The white dove is a symbol of peace.  And deep within the dove is a symbol of God’s covenant with mankind.  In the biblical story of Noah and the great flood, the dove is the harbinger of the waters receding, of man being restored to the earth, of God’s renewal of his covenant.

A strong symbolism at the core

Surrounding the core symbology are other elements that actually detract from the brand.  In co-creation research with teens, we heard:

“It should feel more like home, more homey, not an outpatient place or a hospital.”

“It looks sad.”

“Won’t make me want to come to Covenant House because it’s the same as all the other shelters”

Weakness of the logo

The journey to a new Covenant House logo begins with renewing the dove symbol.  The dove is now in flight, it is taking wing, it is open and free. It has a warmth, a fresh spirit and liveliness.  The color is a brighter, more vibrant blue.

Refreshing the Dove

The hand is now friendlier, more approachable.  The dove is no longer a bird in the hand but it either taking off from the hand or making a gentle landing for nurturing and comfort.  The house is gone, replaced by a window in 4 parts.  Some people read this as a stained glass window with a cross.  A new symbol of hope is added to the identity, the sun on the right.  And another color is added to convey the diversity and warmth of Covenant House.

The tagline, “Opening Doors for Homeless Youth” adds another layer of meaning to the visual identity. It is clearly speaking to the main audience, kids on the streets.  And it is signaling to potential donors the mission of the organization.  Since recognition of Covenant House is low among potential donors, drawing a clear connection to homeless youth is essential.

The renewed Covenant House

The renewed Covenant House brand identity evokes a richness of positive associations and memories.  It tells about the next chapter of the organization, not lingering in the past.  In research the whole of the new branding — verbal, visual, metaphorical — is stronger in engaging potential donors.

Most important of all, it draws in the homeless kids, the street kids without any alternatives.  In their own words from co-creation research:

“An open door, a path to a new beginning.”

“Makes you feel welcome – a place to go where you won’t be in danger.”

“Someone who is going to listen – someone who is going to open their heart to me.”

Covenant House New Jersey

The rebranding program would never have happened without the vision, energy and enthusiasm of everyone at Covenant House, including Kathleen Fineout, Judith Nichols, Tom Manning, Jim White, Sister Patricia Cruise, Tom Kennedy and the rest of the wonderful people at Covenant House.

Consider sending a donation to Covenant House this holiday season at

Covenant House Rebranding: Part 2

Through interviews and workshops we recognize a gap between how at-risk teens view Covenant House from the outside and how they experience it once they are across the threshold and actually inside.  From the outside they view Covenant House as cold, institutional.  Inside they find themselves in a warm, open community that treats them with respect and gives them the tools to make the transition into productive and healthy adulthood.  The branding is part of the problem.

Consider the logo:

Old Covenant House logo

Old Covenant House logo

Research shows that homeless kids see a bird in a cage or trapped in house.  The bird is still, perched on the hand. The color is a cold institutional blue, and often only a black and white version is used making it seem even more institutional.  There is nothing about the branding that signifies this is for homeless youth.  They are reluctant to walk into a building with that logo. To confuse matters more, the logo is different in many cities, prominently displaying the city name or different messages locked up.  It is hard to recognize them all as part of a single organization with a uniting purpose and mission.

The re-branding needs to make it easier for teens to walk through that door.

Covenant House can only fulfill their mission of helping homeless young adults by raising the funds to support the organization.  It is not supported by the government and it is not supported by any organized church or religious group, even though it was founded by a priest.  It is supported almost entirely by donations from individuals across the US and Canada.

As you will recall from the last post, Covenant House has avoided much publicity after the founder, Father Ritter, resigned in the early 1990s.  By 2006 this has an unintended longer term effect — a whole new generation of potential donors has grown up unaware of Covenant House.  And those who are aware of Covenant House tend to know very little about it.

The confusion of different logos and different messages for different cities is not making it any easier for potential donors to know about Covenant House.  There is little about the name to connect it to the core mission.  And there is little about the logo that is immediately symbolic of homeless youth.

Now, in 2006, the rebranding program has two major challenges.  1. Building stronger connections with homeless youth.  2. Building new connections with a new generation of donors.

The core metaphor:

In all of the investigation, the interviews, the research, a strong central metaphor keeps being raised.  Whether it is about having an open door policy, or getting teens to cross through the doorway or opening doors of opportunity.  The “open door” metaphor has a profound connection with the mission of the organization.  So we use that as the central metaphor in creating a new brand story for Covenant House.

Opening Doors For Homeless Youth

This tagline that we create summarizes the metaphor and explicitly brings in the missing message that this is for homeless youth.  It is more than a tagline, however.  It is the beginning of a new vocabulary at Covenant House that talks in a more relevant and meaningful way with teens. An open door is welcoming.  It replaces the “24/7 open intake” language of a social worker.

From this core metaphor we write the next chapter in the Covenant House story.

In the next post I will go into the structure of the story and the challenge of changing the narrative arc so that the best part of the past contributes to a stronger future.  In the meantime, consider making a contribution to Covenant House today.

Covenant House Rebranding: Part 1

This is the time of  year when many people are making additional donations to good causes.  I’d like to suggest one to you: Covenant House.

Each year they are opening doors of hope and opportunity to homeless teenagers and young adults.  It’s for kids who need to get off the streets and into a safe environment where they can heal and gain strength for the future.  Covenant House is always open for them.


New logo we created with Covenant House

New logo we created with Covenant House



My involvement with Covenant House began in the fall of 2006, when we were invited to speak to them about their branding needs.  I had an immediate connection with them.  Perhaps it was because I come from New York City where Covenant House began and has a long history.   It may also be because I personally knew a family in trouble.  Either way, their story struck me viscerally.

In this post and the next few I will go into the rebranding case of Covenant House because it is a good example of how to use Narrative Branding in practice.  This is the story of how the metaphor of an open door has opened a path of hope for the homeless teens.

The Setting:  It is 2006 and Covenant House has come to recognize that their branding has begun to lose relevance among teenagers and among potential new donors.  We are invited in by Kathleen Fineout, head of communications, to speak about how branding, story telling, can help Covenant House create a stronger connection with homeless teens.  We start the process by asking them to share their stories, their personal stories about Covenant House and their involvement with the organization.

We collect dozens of stories from individuals and small groups.  These are deeply moving stories, recounting how someone at Covenant House had personally touched them in the past and what it means to them today

An interesting pattern about the history of Covenant House is revealed to us.  The organization was founded by Father Bruce Ritter in the 1960s.  He was living in New York City’s lower east side at the time, a marginal neighborhood, when a tremendous snowstorm struck the city.  Outside of his window he could see a couple of teenagers huddled together in the doorway across the street.  He went out in the storm, reached out to these homeless kids and brought them into the warmth and shelter of his apartment.  From that came the inspiration for Covenant House.

In our interviews some speak of being drawn in by the charisma and vision of Father Ritter.  Others caution against the past.  Father Ritter, and Covenant House by association, was caught up in tabloid accusations in the early 1990s.  While the accusations were investigated and generally dismissed, Father Ritter resigned and the damage to the organization’s reputation had been done. It is this past that many want to keep in the past.

As a result, Covenant House has generally stayed out of the public eye.  During this time the organization has quietly rebuilt and strengthen, now reaching 20 cities in 6 countries.  Larger and helping more homeless youth than ever before but mostly out of site of the general public.  Which brings us to today.  By keeping a low profile, Covenant House is known by fewer and fewer prospective donors each year.  At the same time, those who remember the scandal have not heard a new story that will change the thread of the narrative and make them feel more positively about the organization.  The secret of the past is getting in way of the good work of the present.

It is 2006.  The organization is led by Sister Patricia Cruise who knows it is time to face the challenges.  Time to reconnect with homeless youth.  Time to reach a new generation of donors. Time to renew the Covenant.

Tomorrow’s post on how we developed the next chapter in the Covenant House narrative and insights into branding challenges of renewing a reputation.



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