Posted by: kwbrand | January 5, 2010

The Old and the New

The dawn of a New Year always tempts me to sit down and take a look forward. There’s something so promising about the blank slate of a new calendar year. I always feel extra motivated, extra inspired. I’ll get back into shape; I’ll read intellectual books; I’ll have crazy good times with friends and family. Next year at this time—I promise myself—I’ll be smarter, leaner, and more charming (one can plan right?) This year, however, the New Year reminded me of the importance of looking back even as we look forward.

In one of my favorite leadership books The Leadership Challenge, authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner present the results of research in which they asked leaders to describe what they were doing when they were at their “best.” Five leadership practices emerged from the respondents’ answers; one was “envisioning the future.”  At first glance, “envisioning the future” seems entirely forward-looking, doesn’t it? However, in the description of how to envision the future, Kouzes and Posner reference the “Janus Precedence Effect.”

The University of Southern California’s Omar El Sawy discovered what he referred to as the “Janus Precedence Effect” after he conducted research in which he asked CEOs to look into the future at events that may happen to them as well as events that took place in the past. He conducted the research by dividing the CEOs into two groups: Group number one was asked to start the exercise by thinking of future events. Group number two was told to start by remembering past events.

Interestingly, those CEOs who described their past events before casting their eye into the future were able to look farther into the future than the CEOs who listed the future events first. El Sawy’s conclusion was that the practice of looking back into the past not only helps us learn from mistakes or consider milestones, but also helps us look further into the future. He characterized the phenomenon as the “Janus Precedence Effect” because in Roman mythology, the character of Janus had two heads facing in opposite directions to symbolize endings and beginnings.

When it comes to brand strategy, looking back is vital; customers need consistency and reinforcement. The temptation, of course, is to get caught up in the excitement of “new and different,” or the accessorizing trappings of a brand (Let’s get a new look! A new tagline! How ‘bout an avatar?!) As Stamats’ higher educational brand strategist Bob Sevier says, constituents can sometimes behave like golden retrievers: energetic, but easily distractible. Building brand equity therefore takes discipline, focus, and time—lots of time. When I help clients with existing businesses clarify their brand strategy, I recommend an 80/20 split—80 percent should be based on the unique strengths and legacy that have brought them thus far and 20 percent of the strategy should be based on where they want to go in the future.

If this time of year inspires you to plan, start by looking back. Ask yourself:

  • What are the unique commitments or passions that got us started down this path in the first place?
  • What was our original vision?
  • What were the unique strengths that we brought to the constituent experience?
  • In some of the original magical moments with our favorite constituents, what were the variables that made the partnership work so well?
  • What are the brand experience attributes we’ve reinforced over time? Are they still true to who we intended to be?
  • What were the unique values that set us apart from our competitors?
  • Are our business goals grounded in the things we do better than anyone else?
  • What new ways can we leverage our strengths?
  • How can we deepen and enrich the good parts of the reputation we’ve built?

Here’s to a New Year. As you stand on the threshold of last year and next, what do you plan to take with you?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

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Posted by: kwbrand | November 19, 2009

Lessons Learned About Social Media (So Far)

In May, I blogged about my opinions on the (high) emotional energy invested in social media like Facebook, Linked In and Twitter. At the time, I was skeptical of the real value of social media. It seemed to me that business leaders were acting less from a thoughtful conviction of strategy than because they felt the pressure to jump on the social media bandwagon lest they appear out of touch. I suggested that if marketing practitioners and business owners were going to insist on adding the social media options to their existing business activities, they should at least ensure that their efforts were an extension of their brand messaging strategy and adding real value to their audiences.

I’ll confess, I gave that advice with some skepticism because I had not seen solid evidence suggesting that the time and money (mostly time) people invest in social media is paying off.

Shortly after writing my little missive, however, I was invited by a local software company to a networking session during which we’d discuss the whys and wherefore’s of social media. I went, (mostly because my good friend and former client Meredith suggested it).  The host kicked off our session with the disclaimer that he and his team were in no way experts on the subject of social media, but that they would—as a means of getting the conversational ball rolling (and a genius soft sell of their services)—share their own social media strategy.

What really hooked me was when they shared that you could use services like Peoplebrowsr to monitor and sift through all Tweets looking for the search parameters of your choice. This appealed to me because I frankly don’t care what Paris Hilton is doing or that my cousin has a head cold (sorry, I’m insensitive like that). The only reason I’d consider investing my limited time in social media is because I want to connect with people who might be prospective clients, business partners or are thinking about things that will inform what I do. I selectively follow people like that and—given Twitter etiquette—they typically follow me back. So I’ve generated a small network of people who are in the business of marketing in Colorado or otherwise doing brand strategy and research. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The key word to the optimal use of social media is “interaction.” Yet, very few business people who are on Twitter or Facebook use their accounts to interact. Instead, they’re basically doing the same old, one-sided, push marketing using new channels (“Check me out!” Look at me! Look at me!). And I can’t really blame them. It takes effort to come up with evocative Tweets or status updates that are on-brand and under 140 characters. But when it’s done right, it generates interaction and engagement. A client of mine does a great job: Get Born Magazine is a women’s magazine that publishes “the uncensored, unvarnished and wildly hilarious voice of motherhood” and has used social media to generate fantastic and thought-provoking conversations on-line.
  • There are a lot of really smart people doing great work out there. Some of my new Tweeps are doing some great research and publishing great insights. I’m happy to share valuable content like this with my own followers. I have never re-tweeted or posted a status update of someone who’s just marketing themselves.
  • By always posting my website link onto the ends of my Tweets or Facebook updates, the social media work I have done has lured people onward toward my website and I have seen my website traffic go up 20 percent and the traffic sources diversify to include more referring sites.
  • This is social media so if, for whatever reason, you’re being anti-social, the party continues without you. During my maternity leave, my social networking activities took a dive and so did my website traffic and number of new Twitter followers.

The real measure to any new marketing endeavor, should of course be whether or not it’s generating new business and so far, no, it hasn’t. Given the nature of what I do, I have come to accept I have a very long, highly relational, sales cycle, so for now, I’m giving social media the benefit of the doubt and operating under the belief that my activities are generating brand awareness for KW Brand Translation. But I haven’t yet tested that theory so the experiment continues.

What have you tried and learned with social media? Let the conversation begin!

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | August 11, 2009

Brand Perception and Reality

There are several stages of pregnancy as it pertains to a woman’s image. There’s the first stage wherein the pregnant woman feels every bit as pregnant as she is, but looks pretty normal…if a bit tired and queasy. There’s the second stage where she typically feels more normal and is seen to be “adorable.” This stage can last from 4 to 7 months. And then there’s the final stage, which I like to call the “God bless you stage” wherein a woman feels slow and gigantic and is frequently met with annoying looks of compassion that either tacitly or overtly declare: “Oh God bless your heart! How much time do you have left?”

I’m in that final stage now.

As much as I’m grateful that my pregnancy has gone well, it has afforded me the opportunity to consider the difference in the way I see myself and the way I am perceived. Anyone who knows me well knows I would never, in a million years, aspire to be “adorable.” Nor am I likely to feel good about slack-jawed sympathy for the way I look. I like to think of myself as active, energetic and—when I make the extra effort—even a little hip. This is how I’ve come to see myself over the many more years that I’ve not been pregnant than over the past year that I have been pregnant. Imagine my surprise when my I catch a glimpse of my girth in a window reflection and am confronted with the reality that I look anything but lithe.

The disparity has reminded me of breakdowns in perception that I’ve seen in business contexts.

  • Sometimes there’s a disconnection between what an organization thinks it knows about its primary customers and what it actually knows. It might start with the phrase: Oh, we know what our customers______ (“want,” “think,” “care about.”) This sentiment typically comes from organizations that have been serving their industry for a long time and over that time have developed a sense of what works. What they may not realize is that what used to work is no longer working as well as it should or could. Or, they might blithely continue to use “what works,” unaware that their approach really only works for a small portion of the available market. They become frustrated when they (rightly) sense that growth opportunities exist, but they aren’t sure how to tap them.
  • Interestingly, I’ve also witnessed the downside of humility as it pertains to an organizational self-concept.  I have seen organizations down-play the very things that customers find compelling and distinctive. This tends to happen when an organization has a natural strength that comes to it easily such as its beautiful location or the relaxed and open give and take among employees and customers. But, because it’s just part of who they are and therefore “easy,” it tends to be internally discounted as lacking in value. They may work really hard to promote run of the mill attributes and offerings and ignore the very strengths that set them apart.
  • Sometimes too, there is a discrepancy in the way an organization sees itself in light of its competitive set.  The organization likes to believe it’s the “best kept secret” in the industry when in truth, it resides in the market dregs because it’s the secret no one just has to tell.

The painful solution to these disparities is to look in the mirror…or out the window and get the reality-check necessary to balance the one-sided perception of self. KW Brand has developed and uses a research-based, systems approach to provide organizations with this reality check.

I’d love to find out from you; what organizational self-image discrepancies have you encountered and what did it take to provide the company with a shot of reality?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | July 10, 2009

The Brand Management Balancing Act

My birthday is next week. I won’t tell you how old I’ll be but suffice it to say, I’m still young enough to fancy myself young and hip but old enough to have learned a few things. One of the things I’ve learned is that themes tend to emerge over the course of one’s life. One of my recently re-emerged themes is that of personality preferences and balance—specifically that as people, and people-led organizations, we have personality characteristics that manifest themselves in our motivations and behaviors and that there is an important complementarity to the differences we contribute.

I’ll give you an example from my past. Before I do what I do now, I was a management consultant who designed and facilitated workshops on the kinds of soft skills that help organizations succeed. One of those workshops was based on a popular personality assessment based on the (Carl) Jungian theory that we are all born with preferences that manifest themselves in our personalities. Two such sets of preferences pertain to innovation and change. According to the theory, there are those of us who are born looking for innovative ways to create new things. We thrive on creative new concepts and the interesting possibilities that might unfold. The opposite and balancing personality preference thrives on the measurably knowable information of the past and present. Then there’s another whole dyad of preferences that identifies people who prefer to respond to fun new opportunities as they present themselves, and those who prefer the routine of a steady schedule.

According to the theory, neither of the sets of opposing preferences is good or bad—they are simply useful ways of understanding two sides of the same coin and both are vitally necessary to bringing balance to a situation.

Here’s where the theme of personality balance has manifest itself recently. My unscientific observation is that Ad Agency folks and consultants like myself are probably a group driven by the interest in new and different ideas. We’re at our best when a client comes in and says: we need something new and creative! We need something fresh! On the other side of the table are the clients; the internal brand managers who find it’s their job to ensure that their organization has a well-positioned brand that builds equity in the hearts and minds of its market over the course of many years. Things go awry when brand management is too forcibly led by those with the undisciplined Agency/consulting mind-set of new/fun/fresh. Long-term brand management can also get stale if nothing new and different ever happens. Here’s an example:

The orange juice giant Tropicana recently decided to embark on a fun refresh project by changing up the OJ packaging for the low-low cost of $35 million. What happened? It tanked. People got so upset about the change, they called, they wrote, they blogged and Tropicana eventually went back to its traditional brand identity (it blows my mind to think of where consumers find this kind of time, if they’re that bored, they’re welcome to come to my house and do some laundry or pull some weeds…but, whatever.)

What’s the lesson of this recurring life-theme? Is it the old adage: “If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it.” Maybe. But that assumes “it” is a brand that has solid footing in the first place. Many of the clients I work with aren’t managing established, well-funded brands like Tropicana. They are somewhere in the process of building a brand. So the deeper lesson is this: Balance. It’s always about balance. Company brand managers need to remember that brand equity is about relationship deepening and as such requires constancy and commitment to the long-haul. But, it also requires the ongoing communication that deepens the relationship and keeps it current. Or, to go back to the personality balance idea, it requires the foundation-building stability of one preference with the creative fun of the other personality type just to keep the dynamics interesting.

So, happy birthday to me and here’s to another year of learning how to balance.

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | May 24, 2009

Connection and Choice

Last Friday I attended a local networking group for business-to-business consultants. In this case “networking” meant real people in a real room drinking real coffee. It’s important to clarify because as it happens, our live networking group was talking about the how’s and wherefore’s of technology-facilitated social networking. The specific discussion topic was this:  How do we understand all the many social media options and optimize them for our small businesses? The session opened with an overview of things like Search Engine Optimization and moved quickly to FaceBook, LinkedIn and, of course, Twitter.

Since it was my first time to the group, I was in a position to participate but remain somewhat detached. I observed as nervous laughter erupted over terms like “re-tweet” and “squeeze pages.” Participants talked about the number of texts the average teen sends a month (1,742 according to Neilson) or how super-texting young people go as far double-bag their phones so they can text their friends while in the shower.

Before long, the discussion took on something of a fevered pitch as the participants’ eyes got bigger and rounder—overwhelmed with all they weren’t doing; where they were falling behind and what they didn’t understand.

As I listened to the discussion, I was also monitoring whether or not future attendance of this type of (live) networking session would be of real use to me. The older I get the more miserly I get with my time. I am not interested in joining groups for purely social purposes.  I am not interested in groups where we spend our time trading soap-box sermons and leave convinced we get it and the non-attending and unenlightened don’t get it. I am not interested in ever more access to ever less useful information.

And this brings me to my biggest concern about social media. What’s the value? I dutifully joined FaceBook because that’s what one does these days, right? Since then, however, I’ve found myself dismayed at the time-killer it is to scroll through updates about what people have recently eaten, which movies they’ve recently seen, and how the latest round of antibiotics is working on their tough sinus infection (seriously). I wasn’t surprised to hear that 60% of new Twitter users are “Twitter-Quitters” within a month. Why? Well, as it turns out, they also don’t much care if their loved ones or celebrity idols are off to buy bananas at the grocery store.

My concern with all the pressure to hop on the social media bandwagon is not borne out of a cynicism for technology. My concern is the pressure to do it without first aligning it to a strategy. Here are my thoughts…

  • Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Technology-facilitated dialogue has opened up so many opportunities. But the old rule remains: with limited resources of time, money, energy and focus, choosing to do one thing typically requires a choice against another thing…at least if you hope to do anything well. The alternative is to add new things to existing activities and watch everything suffer. I don’t have to tell you how activities like driving suffer when text-messaging or cell-dialing are added to the task. So the first issue is an issue of choice: Where are your resources best spent?  If existing products and processes are broken, I’d recommend fixing them before launching into a new communication strategy that will fracture internal attention and resources and invite more people back to a sub-standard experience. Making careful choices enhances your focus.
  • Just because we can doesn’t mean it helps. We have all kinds of new ways for reaching out, but are they helping us connect? Herein is the question of value. I could Twitter you every hour on the hour and congratulate myself for “optimizing” my Twitter capacity. However, the real measures of a successful strategy should include these questions: What is our brand promise and how do the messages we send or invitations we issue reinforce and enhance of brand promise we strive to make (and keep?) What real value will our new (and different) technologies offer our target audiences? And, how do new technologies help us launch or add to the meaningful interaction we still need as live human beings? 

Toward the end of today’s networking session, our guest speaker shared a quote from Plato: “Wise men [and women] speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

I like it.

Focus, then connect.

 Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | April 14, 2009

Hunkered, but Hankering

My husband and I bought a 109 year-old house two years ago. Like any old house, it needs a little love to bring it back to its old glory. Sometimes a “little love” is as unromantic as a new water heater.  This was going to be the summer of lovin’ for the house. And, because we live in semi-arid Colorado and wanted an environmentally friendly option, we looked into the “tankless” type of water heaters which only heat water on demand rather than maintaining 50 gallons of water at the warm and ready. We saved up some money and then, come December, took our seats with the rest of the world and watched for signs of the sliding American economy.

At the same time, we learned that tankless water heaters cost almost three times as much as regular tank water heaters. Given the economic backdrop, we wondered: Is this really the year to be dropping three times the cash on a water heater? What if the economy struggles for a really long time and it turns out we’ll need our home-lovin’ money for something else?

Our need wasn’t immediate and we were only somewhat committed to the tankless concept, so we were paralyzed by the choice. So, what did we do? Nothing. We continue to use our old water heater and hope that the hot water doesn’t run out before our showers are over.

Here’s my personal and non-scientific theory about the state of consumer spending right now: times are bad, sure. But even with unemployment rates going up, statistically, the majority of us have our job which means our personal cash flow situations haven’t changed. It’s our emotional landscapes that have changed. There are lots of people like me out there; people who have some money to spend but are scared by what they don’t know and can’t control and so we sit in a stupefied funk waiting for something to reassure us. We’ve hunkered and not for logical reasons, but for emotional ones.

I asked my psychology friends about this phenomenon and it turns out there’s research on it: It’s called Tversky and Kahneman’s Prospect Theory. Their research found that subjects offered a choice formulated in one way might display risk-seeking behaviors but when offered essentially the same choice formulated in a different way display risk-aversion behaviors.

Researcher Richard Thaler tested the Prospect Theory on students (poor sods). In Thaler’s study, one group of students was told to assume they had just won $30 and were offered a coin-flip upon after which they would win or lose $9. The result? 70% of the students opted for the coin-flip. When another group of students were offered the choice of $30 for certain or a coin-flip in which they got either $21 or $39, only 43%, opted for the coin-flip.  The amounts of cash were the same, but the differences were in the perception of security and risk. Apparently, there’s something about the chance that we could lose that makes most of us want to cling to what we’ve got like grim death. We hunker.

So what does this mean for business leaders, brand strategists, and marketers in this economy? After all, it’s our job to get people to part with their hard earned (or even surreptitiously won) money and feel good about it. Is it best to offer everyone $30 and a coin toss? Sprinkle a million novelty pennies on the ground like Cici’s Pizza? Probably not. But I think there are a few lessons here:

  1. If you’ve got a solid product, now would be the wrong time to dilute its value with a give-away because remember, the barrier isn’t only the money; it might be the reassurance they lack. Now is the time to go back to basics of marketing: value = quality + cost.
  2. The way you frame the conversation about the sale will matter. Or as the Prospect Theory blurb on the ChangingMinds.org website suggests: to get people to adopt something, focus on the gain. To get them to reject something, focus on the risk of what they might lose.
  3. We have to understand and speak to their emotions and there’s no better way to do so than in relationship. Now is the time to look for ways to deepen and strengthen the customer relationship. Remember that they are not just wallets, they are scared people in need of reassurance.

 Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | February 10, 2009

Choose me. Love me. Stay Forever.

I spend a lot of time trying to explain what brand strategy is. Most people know what brands are. Most can identify a few brands to which they are loyal. However, very few people can point out how or why this loyalty developed. They don’t think about it and may just go with what “feels” right to them.

But brand strategists think about it…all the time. It’s our job to practice the art and discipline of controlling and steering the “how’s and why’s” of loyalty to a product, organization or person (thank you, team-Obama).

Recently, I was given a good metaphor for brand strategy and, since we’re only four shopping days away from Valentine’s Day, now seemed the appropriate time to share it. My husband’s good friend Dave gave it to me. Dave and I were catching up on each other’s careers when he asked the inevitable question of what I really do for clients. I explained that I help leaders clarify and focus on the strengths that resonate with their target markets and differentiate them from their competitors.

Dave started laughing.

He asked me if I’d ever come in contact with a woman here in Colorado Springs who founded and successfully runs her own dating service. Apparently, what I was saying sounds exactly like the advice she gives her clients about how to find success in the dating sphere. Apparently, she and I talk a lot about identifying one’s strengths and values as a means of both standing out in a competitive crowd and enhancing the likelihood of building a long-term relationship.

Dave was right. And he got me thinking. Brand strategy is like dating, but on a bigger, much more complicated scale. It’s like this…

If you are one of two people on a deserted island, you probably don’t need much of a dating strategy. If your product or service is the only one in the market (i.e. no competitors offering or doing something similar) and people are aware of its values, you may not need much of a brand strategy. If, however, you are one of many, you’ll probably need to do more than stand around and smile to get the attention of your intended…especially in a tough economy when customers are even more judicious about their selections.

If, like most organizations, you are one of a crowd trying to get someone’s attention, sitting on the curb and cat-calling every cute passerby on a busy street is unlikely to be successful (can we say “junk mail?”) You’ll need to know who you are and who you’re looking for to enhance the possibility of a) finding that market niche and b) once found, connecting with the people in it.

Relational success is enhanced when you know how to start the conversation once you’ve made the introduction. Do your homework and go much deeper than simple demographics like gender, age, or voting preference (e.g. “she’s a woman and therefore MUST love the color pink and kittens.”). Good listening works for daters. In brand strategy, qualitative research is good for identifying the emotional triggers that tend to motivate customer behavior.

Loyalty and love are built on authenticity. The romantic comedy film genre has proven over and again that faking one’s way into a relationship is always a disaster; except that in real life it’s not hilarious and the love interest doesn’t always come back. The same is true of branding strategy. The strategy absolutely must be based on who you really are—your organization’s legacy, values, strengths, goals, etc. Marketing a false image of your organization only increases the number of people who will be disappointed when they realize the truth. So, identify your strengths and relax into them.  Or in other words, it’s time to validate and use that mojo of yours.

When I was a child, my mom ended her reading of fairy tales with a different twist. Instead of ending the story with a “happily ever after,” we were told that the prince and princess “worked hard and made their marriage work.” (My mom’s a smarty.) Marriages whose visions don’t extend past the wedding day don’t tend to last. Similarly, brand strategies that don’t extend past the first sale fail to cultivate loyalty. Good brand strategy must guide customers to and through the relationship. Keep it fresh, deepen and enrich the relationship, and keep it going.

The truth is that I’ve never liked Valentine’s Day; the pressure, the hype, the color pink, who needs it? However, the study of relational complexity and the pursuit of connecting and deepening the bonds between people, now that I can get into. Happy strategizing.

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | January 8, 2009

Brands and Sales

Welcome to 2009. We brought in the New Year watching the explosion of the fireworks reflect off the snow of Pike’s Peak. They were beautiful but didn’t last that long; maybe the people who had to summit the 14,000 foot peak in December were just super cold. Someone told me they had cut back due to the economy.

The “economy” (i.e. “the ‘bad’ economy”) is a useful reason for just about anything these days. And, who knows exactly how it will affect us this year. Will it be the downer everyone says it is? When times are tight or even predicted to be tight, it’s tempting to entrench and cut back on new projects and activities that don’t yield an obvious and immediate return. Brand research and marketing is a great example. Recently, however, I’ve had several conversations with business professionals that clarified the relationship between sales and brand marketing.

The conversations started when I was approached by professionals whose job it was to sell something. They were accountable to someone else for their results and had made great efforts but were finding that the efforts weren’t paying off as they’d hoped. We had our conversation before they had to go back to their higher-ups and explain why hard work wasn’t working.

Was the problem the sales approach? The marketing materials? Maybe they weren’t “flashy” or “fresh” or colorful enough? Was the product sub-standard? Nope, not at all; as it turned out, they’d accepted the challenge of trying to sell something from a company no one had heard of. As a result, they were finding it hard to get in the door. I saw the same thing emerge in higher educational marketing research. When asked which of the 40-50 informative and colorful college brochures, college freshman open and read, they said they only opened the ones from schools they’d already heard of. “Fresh” falls flat if it’s thrown away before it’s opened.

Just think of how you react when you’re approached by a vendor from a company you’ve never heard of? Are you delighted to receive their call? Do you make the time? Sit down and read their brochures cover to cover? I don’t. If I respond at all, it’s with a cagey wariness that’s difficult to penetrate. That new company might be the greatest and “best kept secret” in the world, but they and their fabulous solutions to my problems aren’t getting through simply because I’ve never heard of them. On the other hand, I routinely buy (or take) crap from organizations I’ve heard of because they’re familiar. It’s the old case of the “known evil over the unknown good.”

This is where the relationship between brand marketing and sales comes in. Well, actually brand marketing should come in long before sales. The progression should look like this:

 Your first task is brand awareness. The primary goals for the brand awareness stage are these: Do they know your name? Do they readily associate your name with attributes they value? At the brand awareness stage, you’re not asking potential customers for the sale, you’re just laying the “have I heard of you” groundwork.

The second stage of brand credibility is when you begin layering the brand attributes they value with what we in the biz would call “proof points.” Prove to them that you are worth listening to by giving them evidence of your claims. And, remember, showing them is better than telling them.

Finally, after the groundwork has been laid (and the ground-prep stages can take WAY longer than you think it should), you’ll have a good shot of getting a reaction when you approach your different customer segments and ask them for a decision.

That’s a very simplified version of the process. It’s not magic, but it does take a good knowledge of your target customer bases, time, focus, and a plan.   

Happy New Year. Just because we might be in an economically fallow season doesn’t mean solid, substantive work can’t happen underground.  If this year is to be a bit of an economic downer, it’s the right time to backtrack if you need to and start building the brand so that when the economy picks up, you’re known and trusted.

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | November 5, 2008

Coffee and Furniture (?)

Last month, my Grandmother died suddenly. She was in her 80s and had lived a full life, but we were all shocked nonetheless. We’d only ever known her as vital; how could someone so full of life suddenly be lifeless?

In the midst of my shock, her passing provided me another opportunity to consider what she had meant to me and our family. One of my memories was a moment when she delivered some grandmotherly advice to the then sixteen-year-old Kyndra. She told me that I should always have a place for people to sit in the kitchen because that’s where they end up anyway. At the time of her advice, I remember feeling a little short-changed. This was the matriarch in the family and that was the big piece of advice? It didn’t seem deep enough to qualify as the “meaning of life” advice I thought a grandmother should pass down to her eldest granddaughter. I expected something far less practical and much more inspirational—ideally pertaining to God or the essential unity of humankind or something. She had raised six kids and traveled the world for God’s sake.

Over time, however, I came to understand her advice and her role in our family differently. She was the core of our family. She didn’t demand her central role, she didn’t bluster and bully until the title was given her. We have big personalities and blusterers in the family, and Gram humored and teased them when their opinions hit a fevered pitch, but she was not one of them. Instead, she quietly facilitated the family system by welcoming us…all sixty of us. She routinely hosted the marathon family holidays and parties when we all got together. In between holidays, we knew that we could drop by Gram’s kitchen at any time and find a warm welcome, an attentive ear and a non-judgmental heart. On different occasions, each of us was invited to accompany her abroad. And even away from her country, kitchen and home, she was a steadying spirit that was up for whatever our adventure brought our way. If I had to spin my Gram’s personal brand into a tagline, it would be this: “Open hearth, welcome hearts.”

Now I see that her advice wasn’t about kitchen furniture and where to arrange it. Now, I can see that what she was telling me. She lived the knowledge that people’s souls are seldom force-fed giant life-changing inspirational nuggets that nearly chokes and undoes them. People’s souls are more commonly fed by simple, special touches that say, “You matter, I see you. You matter. Come and be with me, share my space; you are no imposition, you are welcome.” Her advice about seating in the kitchen was only the manifestation of the values she held and through them, we were fed in more ways than one.

Starbucks, the celebrity brand of the last decade has shown us that what they sell is way more than coffee; it’s a four-dollar, handmade way to treat ourselves to the casual, sophisticated life of a French café…whether we’re networking with a prospective client, walking through Chicago O’Hare or shopping for groceries. Some of you might have seen the pre-election ads Starbucks took out online to offer voters a free coffee in thanks of their caring enough to vote. The ad endorses people to care as much about effecting positive change after the election as they do before the election and ends with the assertion: “It’s bigger than coffee.” 

The lesson is this. In spite of, or perhaps because of the many technologies that facilitate and plague our lives, we are still fundamentally organic beings who instinctively respond to emotional and existential cues. What’s the bigger meaning behind what you do and what it means for people? Is your staff plugged into this simple but important sense of a larger meaning or are they merely arranging furniture and making coffee? 

 Thanks Gram.

Family Reunion Slideshow 010

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | August 18, 2008

Give the Gift of Attention

There is an amusing story that has made its way into our Wilson family lore. It goes like this: In the early 1980s, my dad used my mom’s upcoming birthday as an opportunity to make a very special purchase. He bought a cordless phone the size of a sleek shoebox and, when he presented it to her, was dismayed and a little offended when she laughed and told him she would buy him a sewing machine for his next birthday. Although it was the latest, greatest technology at the time, she was happy with her current phone. She wasn’t at all impressed with the “flexibility” of the early model cordless phone whose weak signal and poor reception required, as she described it,  its user to stand in a specific spot in the house, on one leg with the head leaning to the side like some sort of human television aerial. My dad—a man known to exalt in the fun of new technology—was happy to accommodate its fussy demands and soon became its one and only user.

The story has become a parable laughingly told to remind family gift givers to put the gift receiver’s interests over their own and is a lesson that has direct application to the process of brand promise development and delivery. 

In the story, the gift went wrong before it was even purchased. Cordless phones weren’t sold in stores my mom liked to frequent; they were sold in stores where my dad liked to shop (e.g. Radio Shack). He was looking for “the right thing” in the wrong place. How many times do organizations come up with the next best thing entirely within the confines of their company walls? Rather than watching customers to see what they might need or want, how many times are businesses led by their own intuition or navel-gazing research that collects data about what they do, what they like, what works for them as a company? How often do they communicate in the words and ways they understand? I do a lot of brand strategy work with colleges and universities and I’ve seen many a tagline or marketing approach that wins high marks from the faculty and sails right over the heads of the average prospective student.

Herein is the lesson of good customer research. Go to where they go; find out what they need; find out what they like; find out how they think and speak; find out what influences them and who and why.

Then, of course, the gift itself was wrong. The cordless phone did, as my dad proudly pointed out, represent the best of cutting edge communications technology at the time, and being different or unique is a valuable goal. In gift giving or in business, one should never aspire to be just like all the others. The problem with the gift—unique as it was—was that it was not something that mattered to my mom. So, although it was different (she was the only cordless phone owner in the neighborhood), it wasn’t important. And herein is the rich complexity of brand promises: the brand experience an organization promises to deliver must not only differentiate its offerings from those of competitors, it must be something that simultaneously matters to its primary constituents.

The U.S. Post Office gave us a great example of this mistake in a customer experience context. For a while there were little signs at every postal service person’s post that promised that “Every customer gets a receipt every time.” Well that’s great. But were receipts really the driving concern? How many postal clients would’ve preferred that lines were shorter or that there were policies to deal with the people who, once their number is called and they get to the postal clerk, hold up the line by addressing and taping their packages while the postal clerk and the rest of the free world waits for them? Providing customers with receipts every time might have been a promise the U.S. Postal office could make and keep, and one that UPS and FedEx Kinkos were not making to their customers, but did it matter to the customers? Not to me. Herein is the lesson of good qualitative customer research. Approach market and customer service research with more than just a multiple choice survey such as: “Do you want the receipt a) sometimes or, b) every time?” Ask customers what they really want and listen to what they say, how they say it and what they leave unarticulated but present on the margins of their thought.

When you make a promise to your market, make sure you’re not just talking to yourself and when you give, make sure you’re not just giving to yourself.

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