But there’s one universally known brand (after Coke) that everyone has an opinion about: The POTUS—in this case President Barack Obama. And as if his (and by extension, OUR) problems aren’t enough, he has to worry about a meta-problem: his brand.
How is his handling of the oil spill hurting his brand? Will his decisive action to boot General McChrystal toughen his famously cool and professorial image?
Few brands are as complex as that of the President of the United States, and that’s not because the President is the most complex person or institution in the world (though I’d bet it’s pretty close, if you could measure such a thing). It’s because everybody has an opinion about him / his brand, and many people express those opinions without being asked.
And to top it off, the president and his handlers have remarkably little influence over their brand in proportion to the control most marketers have, even in this age of instantly tweeted outrage. (This is Mosaic Branding in full effect.)
As a brand strategist, I’m naturally inclined to give some credence to the aphorism “perception is reality.” How President Obama and his team manage his image is obviously critical. But as Geoffrey James argues in a series of them’s-fightin’-words stories on BNET, you can manage your brand to your heart’s content… and it won’t matter a bit if you don’t deliver the goods.
James says product strength is where it’s at. I think a strong brand can carry crappy products (to an extent, and not for long, and at great expense—but basically, he’s right.)
The bad news for the current president’s brand is that it can’t possibly meet expectations. The national, global, political, and psychological problems attached to the Obama brand are impossible to overcome.
But his brand is not doomed; we are living now with the legacies of previous presidents, and their stories are still changing and evolving from year to year. I doubt Obama’s brand will be as forgettable as those of some of his predecessors, so it will ultimately face an eternity of revision.
Storytelling has been with us since our earliest days. And while methods have changed over time, the power of a good story endures.
As a means of engendering common beliefs; exploring our fears; gathering context from history; celebrating prosperity, beauty and love… well, storytelling just works.
Stories move us, shape our beliefs, and carry our history forward ––and most importantly, they’re easy to share, and they stick.
Storytelling is natural and easy and entertaining and energizing. Stories help us to understand complexity. Stories can enhance or change perceptions. Stories are easy to remember…and engage our feelings…Storytelling enables individuals to see themselves in a different light, and accordingly take decisions, and change their behavior in accordance with these new perceptions, insights, and identities.
This is why storytelling is so critical to brand building. After all, thoughtfully planned, well executed, brand-focused communications should ultimately work to influence thinking and behavior––in your favor.
With the proliferation of social media platforms, and the emerging practice of intentional content strategy, it’s apparent the power of a good story is more relevant than ever. The “hows” of delivering stories through myriad communication channels is a post for another day, though.
For now, let’s concentrate on how to collect and refine your brand stories.
Brand-building is the responsibility of your entire organization. The marketing group might set the strategy (in concert with overarching business goals, of course), but branding is everyone’s job––from volunteers and customer service reps all the way up to the board of directors. And those two polar extremes are often where the best stories can be found.
Engage your board members and volunteers by asking them to tell a story about your organization that exemplifies their reason for being involved.
Engage costumer service representatives and ask them what they’re hearing on the front lines. Chances are they know things you don’t!
Collect story ideas, gather the contact information of everyone involved, follow up, and fill in the details using the template below.
To make a story “sticky”, you need a structure and a hook. And if it’s going to help build your brand, your organization’s role in the story must be explicit.
Here’s a basic template I’ve used with a number of clients to help organizations develop a library of effective, brand-building stories.
Enter [your organization]
Progress and benefits
For written stories, work in quotes wherever possible. Or adapt this outline into a script, and document your stories via short conversational videos. Do whatever works best, given your established communications strategy.
Most organizations have an untapped wealth of brand stories at their fingertips. A little digging, follow-up, and editing / shaping can go a long way.
Do you know your brand stories? And could you be telling them more effectively?
1. Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations (Boston: Butterworth-Heinmemann, 2001), p. xv.
Whether it be a radio, computer, iPod, or even leaving your chances up to a Pandora station, there’s a good chance that something is keeping your ears occupied while you work.
I always believed there was a special genre of music people listened to while they got things done: something I call “work to” music.
But apparently my take on what falls into this genre is vastly different from the people around me. I discovered last night from a very talented designer that he can only work to very fast music. In fact, “the faster, the better!”
This just doesn’t seem right. Fast, loud, and “in my face” is not going to keep my mind focused on the work at hand.
But that’s what keeps the world spinning, I guess: we all possess unique loves and preferences. That’s why I started looking around our office… and it wasn’t long before I realized that no one lined up with my views of good “work to” music.
While I like all of these selections, they’re not quite what I’d put in this category.
You’re probably expecting an explanation or example of just exactly what I would include in this made-up genre at this point.
Well, sorry to disappoint.
I’m actually just curious to hear what everyone else listens to when they’re hard at work.
What’s coming out of your headphones or speakers?
Categories: Outside the Square
Once a week, the Sametz Blackstone design community gathers to chat about our current projects, and to share inspiration and ideas we’ve found ’round the Square and beyond.
This session we flipped through the Phaidon Press publication on Otl Aicher’s graphic design.
Mostly known for his work on the 1972 Munich Olympics iconography, Aicher is also often lauded among designers for his work on the Lufthansa brand system, and the typeface “Rotis”, which appears in contemporary applications like the album cover for Björk’s Homogenic, and the Bilbao metro system.
It’s always inspiring for us to get our eyeballs on amazing work… and this celebration of Mr. Aicher’s career and portfolio definitely got our creative juices flowing.
What kind of graphic design inspires you? Which designers consistently catch your eye?
Brand is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.
We just completed a major project at Sametz Blackstone, launching a new brand strategy and identity for a multinational company. It took a lot of hard work by many, and was a year and a half in the making. The roll-out event to staff went well, and now customers around the world are getting the full court press.
We’re excited and exhausted, both here and on our clients’ side. Too bad the work’s just getting started.
That’s because for our strategy and creativity to mean something—to truly support the company’s marketing and make a difference in their bottom line—the new elements have to be delivered, demonstrated, and reinforced over and over and over again.
Sure, we designed some great stuff, and had some really good ideas. But now it’s in the wild, and it’s up to that company to faithfully and relentlessly execute.
Without that, any idea, however brilliant it may be, will be quickly extinguished, its potential value unmet… and its costs wasted.
Great brands don’t start great, and they don’t become great by delivering a different message or experience at each customer interaction. Even ho-hum brands can become powerful brands by sticking to their principles.
Last week’s branding sideshow performed by GM and their Chevy / Chevrolet / Chevy again brand showed that it’s imperative… but not easy to do. If they stick with their plan for more than a week they might start a new chapter in the Chevrolet brand story.
Remember how everyone saw the writing on the wall for Toyota in the early spring? It’s stock price is almost back to where it was a year ago, and I see a lot of new Priuses on the road. Toyota is still Toyota, though their brand story’s a little more detailed than it used to be.
If you think the end of BP is nigh, you might be right… but it won’t be because of the negative brand association. Remember our last “worst environmental disaster ever” caused by an oil company? Exxon is #2 on this year’s Fortune 500.
On the other hand, remember Napster? The brand that symbolized a new era in our relationships to copyright law? After changing its brand story half a dozen times… POOF! It’s still around (barely), but only as a sidelined BestBuy subbrand. Its moment as a meaningful, industry-changing brand is long over.
A compelling story, a snappy tagline, and a beautiful identity are great for your brand.
But the best thing you can have is a whole lot of tenacity and patience.