As business people and marketers, all our endeavors present an opportunity to communicate in a purposeful way. Regardless of media or physical manifestation, all our work provides a chance to reinforce our brands and solidify the relationships we maintain with our audiences. The products we build, the hours we’re open, the questions our websites answer, the conveniences we offer. These are all brand touch points.
I was reminded of this recently as I watched the installation of street entry signage for our client Maplewood Nursing & Rehabilitation. As part of its brand, The Maplewood takes very seriously its commitment to the Village of Webster, the home of the Rochester-area skilled nursing facility for more than 30 years. This commitment led The Maplewood to build a more direct connection between it and the Village. This connection is in the form of an entrance and parking area off Main Street, which now augments The Maplewood’s existing Daniel Drive entrance.
Dubbed the “Webster Gateway”, this project communicates in a physical way the Maplewood’s commitment to Webster, thereby reinforcing the family- and community-related elements of its brand. With extra parking created by the new entrance, village patrons now have enhanced access to The Maplewood and neighboring businesses that share this improved convenience. With the entrance and parking area’s carefully designed walkways, landings and crossovers, Maplewood residents and family members now have easier access to the Village, which opens up new options for warm weather activities.
The Maplewood’s project exemplifies the commitment between an exceptional business neighbor and the village it calls home. Yes, The Maplewood can expect a boost in visibility through its new entrance and signage. But that boost will only come as a result of the careful planning, design and construction of this new gateway, which is as much a brand-building endeavor as anything it communicates via “typical” marketing media.
What are some of the ways you communicate your brand outside of typical media? What additional opportunities exist to be leveraged?
We do a lot of branding work for clients. It's not uncommon to be in the midst of market research, branding workshops and corporate identity work at any given time.
But, like anything one does regularly, it's easy to get so familiar with it that you take some aspect or another for granted.
I was reminded just last week that I've fallen prey to this by taking a product's form for granted. We don't get involved in package engineering for products, but I was so moved by this recent experience that I thought I should share it with you.
I'm currently on an extended holiday in the Western Cape region of South Africa with my family. We're busy visiting old friends, reuniting with my wife's family and spending time together with our kids and catching our breath in the southern hemisphere's sun. My wife and I popped into a local grocer to get supplies for our temporary home and I was struck with a feeling of wholesomeness and comfort.
What evoked this feeling? The milk containers in the cooler. We grabbed a couple and I snapped a picture of them when we got home.
Why did simple milk jugs evoke a feeling of happiness and comfort for me?
A few reasons stand out.
1. The form is both intuitive and unexpected at the same time. The milk jugs are reminiscent of glass jugs left at the door in the early morning by the village milkman. And yet, one never sees this form anymore, due to the more functional shapes that inhabit our shelves.
2. The form draws on cultural history. As I've stated above the form reminds of of our past. Even though I'm in a foreign country, its history is based on European agriculture, as is the Untied States. So, the idea of fresh cold milk in a glass container, similar to those pictured above, is powerful.
3. The form is simple. There is something quite elegant about the simplicity and lines of these containers and that's pleasing.
4. The form is human. It's not high tech, and it does not look like it came from a factory, even though these containers most surely do.
Of course, there are whole books written about the power of form in branding. I just wanted to share my experience and challenge you. Take a purposeful look at the products you interact with this week and think about how their form impacts their brand. You may be surprised by what you see.
Graham Beck has a wonderful article on the color palate of the US government. It's called Americhrome and it's published over at The Morning News. It's the most interesting thing I read all weekend.
Here's a snippet:
Born from the seeds of America’s second labor movement and reared in the midst of the Nader revolution, safety orange (F.S. No. 12300) and the rest of its OSHA-approved color family signal a shift away from the marking and branding of an institution and toward colors’ expanding role in the everyday lives of Americans. The orange cones lining a construction zone might not appear that dissimilar to the directional signs nearby, but behind them lies a different logic. That orange—maybe because it’s bright, and maybe because we’re hardwired to watch for it, and maybe because we’ve learned to do so—carries a lesson with it. That color warns. It says that people are working; shouts that equipment is ahead. At the end of a cap gun, it pledges that nothing more than noise will come out. These aren’t mere reminders of an orderly, rule-following American way of life; they are a shorthand for specific human concerns, and they’re applied with the wellbeing and needs of individual citizens in mind.
Gap's actions over the last week expose some deep problems—problems that even great design can't fix.
The new Gap logo is old news. If you've been following their marketing train wreck you know that after getting tarred and feathered by the online community they backtracked by announcing they would crowdsource their brand in hopes of finding an identity that really gets the job done.
Besides the fact that their agency who created the new logo, Laird+Partners, must feel pretty unhappy and that Gap's management must be under intense shareholder scrutiny, the idea that a crowd is the solution is just wrong.
For the uninitiated, crowdsourcing is a problem-solving and production model that broadcasts a challenge to the public, asking it to put the power of a distributed network to work. It's been a hot topic ever since Wired's Jeff Howe coined the term in 2006.
I'm all about the idea of distributed networks and leveraging the power of thousands to get a job done. In fact, I love open source software, like Drupal's awesome CMS. It's a great example of a type of crowdsourcing as people all over the world work to make Drupal better, fixing problems, collaborating and generally delivering an awesome solution.
But, the people working on Drupal are all programming experts; they’re specialists. There are no good natured retired factory workers with a little spare time hacking code—unless of course they know code! If you're working on Drupal you're a programmer.
Gap's proposed solution is to throw the doors open to anyone with MS Paint. Forget any qualifications, experience or skills. Gap says they think you can fix their brand, and that's troubling on two levels.
First, does Gap disrespect their brand so much that they are willing to let just anyone work on it? Can a company that does hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, all based on its brand, actually just throw that brand out to the crowd and think that's responsible brand management? Forget the fact that a huge corporation that makes millions of dollars is asking hundreds of thousands of people to work for free. What makes Gap think the masses can fix their failure? Why don’t they understand that they need the help of experts?
Second, is Gap is really being sincere in asking the crowd for help? If they respect their brand and they know they need the help of experts, then they don't really think the crowd will have the right answer. Crowdsourching is just a PR ploy; manipulation to put a good face on a really stupid move and to get everyone to just shut up. If they don't expect the crowd, their customers, to have the right answer, then why insult them by asking for help? And let’s face it, if they really believed in crowdsourcning they'd put all their clothing designs up for grabs.
Gap does not respect its brand or its customers. They have a problem that runs much deeper than a design or marketing issue. They've got a leadership problem. I don't care how good a design solution is, paid or crowdsourced, great design can't fix a lack of integrity or broken leadership.
What's going on with Gap? Their seemingly new identity looks like it belongs to Initech. New logo or a late April Fool's joke?
It looks like Gap has redesigned its identity, as it showed up on the Gap website without as much as a press release.
What do you think?
Honestly, I don't get it. It's cold and corporate. It reminds me of lifeless putty desk accessories and lunch out of the vending machine under florescent lights. This is supposed to be a consumer fashion brand! Where's the energy and life?
Here's the old logo, which at least had some personality.
It's still not clear who did this work, if it's the new company brand or what's really going on. I'll do some sleuthing and update this post as I learn more. Leave a comment and let us know what you think of the identity.
Update 11:20 PM 10/06/10: There's speculation that this new logo could be a PR stunt to help boost Gap's lagging sales. Gap has not been responding to any media inquiries at this stage. Read this Ad Age article for more info.
Update 8:00 AM 10/07/10: And the people pile on. A new account has opened on Twitter purporting to be the new Gap logo. Follow @gaplogo for a humorous string of comments and arguments in defense of the logo. Its bio reads, "I have feelings too, jerks"!
Still no word if the new logo is a PR stunt or a misguided rebrand.
Update 7 PM 10/07/10: Mashable reports Gap is asking its Facebook fans to design the new logo. Wow. A multimillion dollar brand and you're going to hand it off to the crowd after your effort is greeted with widespread criticism. Who's in charge over there?
Update: 10:00 PM 10/07/10: Gap President North America, Marka Hansen talks! Link to her statement on HuffPo here. Read it and decide for yourself. Sounds like a lil bit 'o BS to me. I think Gap was completely surprised by the hostile response to their new brand and they're scrambling to fix the problem. I predict Marka will be looking for a new job in six months or less.
We often think of branding as a complex exercise, requiring lots of time and money to do right. But, you can make your brand powerful and effective for a few bucks. You can also destroy it for just as cheap.
A Simple Definition
Branding has meant many things through the years, starting with the mark that was put on cattle to identify who owned it. But, today, at its most basic level, a company’s brand has come to mean it’s personality. Your brand is who you are; fun, capable, smart, quick, intimate, global, inexpensive, rude, difficult. These are the kinds of traits that make up a brand; traits that ultimately create a personality that the marketplace associates with your company.
In a minute I’m going to share five things you can do for next to nothing that will build your brand. But, first I’ll share two recent experiences with you; one bad and one good.
Last week it was our creative director's birthday, so a few of us went out to get lunch together. We walked over to a local gourmet pizza place, sat down and put our orders in. Everyone, except for me, ordered a pizza. I got a salad.
Eventually the pizzas came out, but no salad. Before I had a chance to ask about it the waitress darted away. I figured the salad would be out any minute. Boy, was I wrong.
Over the next 30 minutes I asked a few times if my food was coming out soon. Each time I was assured it was almost ready. In fact, one time our waitress said it was up she just needed to go get it from the chef. Then she disappeared for ten minutes and, alas, my salad did not emerge from the kitchen.
It eventually came, way late. No explanation, no apology, no discount. Nothing. I was not happy. I was ignored, embarrassed and lied to over a $12 salad. I will never go back to that place and spending money. Never take my family there, never take a client there and never meet a friend there. They lost their good will and reputation, not to mention hundreds of dollars in future sales for 12 bucks!
This weekend I was working on my personal web site when I noticed the server was incredibly slow. I host all our domains, personal and business, with Media Temple. I quickly checked their status page to see if there was an issue, but that would not load either. Uh oh!
I shot off a quick note on Twitter asking if any other Media Temple sites were having trouble. Within minutes the issue seemed to resolve itself. A Media Temple person responded to my Tweet apologizing for any inconveniences and let me know they had the issue sorted. Nice. Then, I got a private message from the same person thanking me for my business and asking me if I’d like any Media Temple ‘swag’.
After giving him my shirt size and mailing address he let me know that a package with free gifts was on its way. Now that’s cool!
I’ve been with Media Temple for years and spend about $100 a month with them. I expect an issue once in a while, because that’s the nature of the technology behind the internet. Even though I’ve always liked their service, the free swag, which I bet costs about the same $12 as the aforementioned salad, further cements my loyalty to Media Temple.
Five Easy Things You Can Do
So now that I’ve shared two examples of how real companies have either broken or built their brand for $12 let’s look at five simple things you can do for your business.
1. Keep sight of the big picture
It’s easy to loose sight of the big picture. Reduced staff, tighter budgets, demanding customers and market pressures all conspire to make us forget about the big picture and to focus on whatever tactical issue is in front of us at the moment.
Why do you do what you do? Why is your company in business? What problems do you solve and what value do you provide? Why do people do business with you? What needs are they trying to meet and what expectations do they have? Make every decision with the big picture in mind. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
2. Empower your people
Your frontline staff need to be empowered to fix problems. They are the ones who see the problems first hand. They deal with your customers, serve them, engage them. They need both the authority and encouragement to fix problems.
In my recent restaurant experience how would I have felt if the waitress came out quickly and said, “Sir, the kitchen is having some trouble getting your salad ready on time. I’m going to make sure you are not charged for it and I’d like to offer you a complimentary drink or something else on the menu.”? I may not have become a raving fan, but I would have been pretty impressed and surely would have given them a second chance.
3. Listen and respond
Your customers are talking. It used to be pretty hard to listen. You had to hire a market research firm to conduct focus groups and expensive customer surveys. Those days are gone. Social media has made these conversations public. Monitoring Twitter, engaging customers on Facebook and keeping an ear to the ground on the internet via Google Alerts has made it quite easy to listen. People are talking about you, you just have to take the time to hear what they’re saying.
Of course, listening is only half the game. You need to respond. That’s the beauty of social media: it allows a two way interchange, a relationship. See this recent interaction I had with Wegmans for a great example of a company who is listening and responding.
4. Make it personal
When you engage a customer, make it personal. Don’t just send out a form letter with a coupon. Engage them on an intimate level. Even huge companies can do this now via social media. Direct message, refer to people by their name, talk about the problem together and how you’re going to fix it. Companies used to want to put forward a big corporate image. These days we all want to deal with people. So, wether you’re Wal-Mart, GE or Joe’s Shoe Shine, we want to deal with individuals, just like us.
Connect with your customer, its not that hard to do. A little personal attention goes a long way. A phone call or a Twitter conversation only needs to take a few minutes and the impact is far deeper than a form letter from your marketing department with some coupons stuffed in for good measure.
5. Get your team aligned
All of the above points don’t work unless you’ve got your team aligned on the important characteristics of your brand. What are your core values? What is your brand promise? Your team should know these by heart. That way, when they are empowered and they are listening and responding on a personal level, they are doing it in a way that fits your company and its brand.
That's it. Five easy things that are virtually free, but will powerfully impact your brand. They may seem simple but many companies ignore them. As my salad story illustrates, they do so at their own cost. Start improving your brand today!