It is said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every solution looks like a nail. That suggests that as a branding guy I would look to answer questions and solve problems through a prism of branding and marketing know-how.
If we can take our partisan hats off for a brief moment allow me to explain billionaire developer and reality-TV show host Donald Trump’s head-scratching popularity. Quite simply: it’s not Trump, it’s us. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
During his travels through a nascent America at the beginning of the 19th century, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville was very clear on what made us different. “Americans,” he wrote “have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man… They all consider society as a body in a state of improvement.
“I never met a citizen too poor to cast a glance of hope and envy toward the pleasures of the rich. Poor citizens observed rich ones at close quarters and trusted that they too would one day follow in their footsteps.”
In 2001 Irish philosopher Charles Handy retraced de Tocqueville’s trek across the country and echoed the Frenchman’s sentiment. “Most Americans seem to believe that the future can be better and that they are responsible for doing their best to make it that way.”
So, what does this have to do with Trump’s brand and his inexplicable popularity?
Quite simply, Donald Trump – much like Kim Kardashian and the Duck Dynasty guys – embodies an oxymoronic yet realistic combination of both obvious financial success with the basest and most boorish behavior.
Nearly 200 years ago, de Tocqueville predicted how Trump would talk. “I doubt if one could extract from Americans the smallest truth unfavourable to their country. Most of them boast about it without discrimination, and with an impertinence disagreeable to strangers… there is a lot of small-town pettiness in their makeup…”
Tocqueville predicted how Trump would talk about minorities (in de Tocqueville’s case, Native Americans; in Trump’s case, Hispanics, women, Muslims, immigrants, and the disabled). “‘In the midst of this American society, so well policed, so sententious, so charitable, a cold selfishness and complete insensibility prevails when it is a question of the natives of the country.”
Tocqueville even predicted how Americans would respond favorably to Trump’s (and others’) attacks on traditional authority, saying that democracy emboldens “in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which always impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level.”
But most tellingly, Alexis de Tocqueville understood that the future Trump’s strength would be that his brand would validate the feelings and sentiments of an unfulfilled constituency. After all, if this rich, successful, and very famous guy was uttering the same politically incorrect opinions that portions of the populace were feeling then perhaps they were right all along. “In America,” wrote de Tocqueville, “a book that does not sell well cannot be good, because the test of all goodness is money.” A billionaire therefore, no matter how blustery and boisterous, was good. And if his opinions dovetail with a poorer person’s, then they must be right too – no matter how distasteful their opinions are to everyone else.
Or as David Brooks wrote in The New York Times on February 2, 2016: “… I do think this has been a period in which many silent segments of society have found their voices, often in shocking and impolite ways.”
Alexis de Tocqueville observed it almost 200 years ago. All we need to do is pay attention.
Building a better brand is like building a life. Both grow based on an ongoing series of conscious decisions, opportunistic occurrences, and reactions to unplanned events. Plus they both benefit (and potentially suffer) from a bit of luck and a lot of serendipity.
That being said, there is one thing that can make creating both a better brand and a better life a little bit easier and a little more successful. It’s as simple as having a plan. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?
You’d be surprised how many new business opportunities my branding firm gets where our potential clients know what tangible items they want us to create and produce but have no real idea what their company stands for or what their longer-range goals are. In other words, they understand they want a corporate ID program or a website or an online promotional plan or a brochure or an advertising campaign, but they don’t know what positioning the creative work should serve or what it should accomplish.
Sure they want more sales and they want more revenue and they want more profits but there are lots of different ways to skin those cats. The questions we ask are intended to get to a deeper understanding of who our new client is and what they want. We continue to peel back the onion with the simple question “Why?” until we get down to the real goals that our clients have for our work and their brands.
Building a better brand takes a lot of thinking and a lot of effort. But when your foundational work is properly done it’s that much easier. Your resulting messaging and positioning strategy will provide the clear direction to help blaze your path towards a better tomorrow.
Knowing exactly what your brand stands for and why it matters allows you to try new directions, embrace new technologies, and take calculated risks without losing the clear and consistent sense of who your company (or yourself) is. Having a clearly defined brand position continually reinforces the reasons why your authentic truth matters to your various audiences.
But a powerful sense of purpose also builds an unassailable buffer to protect you from the countless wrong turns that can pop up on the path to success. And so a clear brand is also a powerful defensive technique. Or, as the Scottish-American clergyman Peter Marshall said, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”
Think about a simple marketing piece such as your corporate ID manual. This document clearly spells out what your brand’s visual language is: what typefaces, colors, margins, formats, etc. you can use to further your image and present yourself to the world.
Carefully following an intelligently crafted ID manual means no matter who codes your website or designs your store’s banners they will always support and reinforce your brand positioning. And while a properly created ID manual can encourage creative teams to be innovative and forward-thinking, it can also keep them from making the personal decisions that might delight the individual but damage the brand.
“No you can’t use that new font that makes the letters look like little logs. We’re an aerospace company, not a campground.”
“I don’t care if yellow is your favorite color, our corporate color is PMS 185.” (That’s fire engine red, BTW.)
What’s needed then — whether you want to build a better brand, lose weight, or decide what to do with the rest of your life — is the foresight to plan and the discipline to carry out that plan. As my running buddies like to say, “Plan your run and run your plan.” Or, to quote Marshall again, “Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it.”
There are people who make a practice of not positioning themselves across from me at board meetings. That’s because I spend my time in those meetings drawing caricatures of everyone sitting around the conference table. Actually, I draw pictures of everyone except the people seated directly alongside me. That’s because I can’t really draw them without constantly turning my head and not paying attention to what’s going on in the meeting itself.
Believe it or not, there are a number of people who don’t like having me draw them. I think it’s the fact that I don’t draw portraits but that I draw caricatures instead. As I understand it, good portraits are artistically realistic interpretations of the people showcased in the art whereas good caricatures are constructed by exaggerating and lampooning a subject’s most prominent features. That’s why people who actually look at the drawings I’ve done of them tend to say, “That’s funny. But my nose isn’t that big, is it?” Or “Cute. But I’m not that fat.” Or “Oh c’mon. I really have more hair than that, don’t I?”
Those are the comments of the people I’ve drawn. But the people who sit next to me and see what I’m doing during the meeting usually say something like, “I wish I could draw. But I’m not talented like that. You’re a natural.”
My answer is always the same: “Of course you can draw. All you have to do is draw… a lot.”
“Oh, you mean like practice?” they ask. “How much do you practice?”
“I don’t practice,” I answer. “But I do draw all the time. Come to think of it, I’ve been doing it every single day of my life since kindergarten.
In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell suggested that it requires roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. A great example Gladwell used to make his point was the rise of The Beatles. From 1960 to 1962 the nascent ‘Fab Four’ played their hearts out in the basements of the Kaiserkeller and Indra clubs and other small venues throughout Hamburg, Germany. The band was so driven that they had played nearly 1,200 public performances before returning to England and becoming the most influential rock band in history. Those 1,200 gigs provided The Beatles with the 10,000 hours of practice Gladwell said mastery requires. In other words, The Beatles were an overnight success after years of hard work.
But it’s more than just the hours invested. What also matters is the way the practice is performed. As I see it, the key to developing and utilizing talent is not to just put the hours in but to make the participation a natural part of your life.
Sure, a musician has to practice the rudiments and learn their scales in every conceivable mode and key. Of course an artist needs to understand the opportunities and limits of various media and techniques they use. And yes, an athlete and a dancer must both practice their fundamentals time and time again until muscle memory takes over and their technique sets them free to accomplish great things. But there’s more to it than that.
Taken further, the key to mastery is to develop the various talents that are an intrinsic component of who you are so that not only isn’t practice something you HAVE to do or even something that you WANT to do, but something that you do without planning to do it or even think about doing it. You do it because it’s a part of who you are. The saying in Spanish is “eso le nace,” meaning it comes from within you or literally, “it’s born in you.”
Knowing this — and knowing how to present it to your customers and potential customers — is the way to not only incorporate your intrinsic talents into your personal and professional lives but to get better and better at what you do and to enjoy it even more than you do already.
David Bowie passed away on Sunday at the age of 69. And even if you didn’t really know him, you just lost a vital role model.
Bowie was a lot of things: Musician. Rock star. Fashion plate. Gender identity activist. Businessman. Songwriter. Record producer. Multi-instrumentalist. Painter. Actor. Arranger. Dramatist. And the ultimate zeitgeist cypher of our age.
Bowie wrote songs you still hear and probably still hum including Space Oddity (“Ground Control to Major Tom.”), Let’s Dance (“Under the moonlight. The serious moonlight”), Young Americans (“All night, she was a young American”) and more.
From Space Oddity to Ziggy Stardust to The Thin White Duke to his Berlin phase to New Wave to the Tin Machine to electronica to jazz, Bowie changed his appearance and his musical styles as often as you change underwear. Maybe more often even. And right up until the time of his death he was changing again – this time reinventing himself as a jazz musician.
Bowie was also an influential businessman who changed the way artists are paid for their work. Simply put, The Thin White Duke bundled some 200 plus pieces of intellectual property he owned (songs, lyrics, arrangements, etc.) and sold their future royalties to Prudential Insurance Company’s investment fund. The deal netted the investors in his Bowie Bonds a 7.9% return for ten years and put $55 million dollars in Bowie’s pocket.
Bowie used Prudential’s stake to buy more of his own catalog back from a former manager and to invest in emerging Internet companies. Ironically enough it was the rise of the Internet and downloadable music that ultimately devalued Bowie Bonds to near-junk status because once his music was available at the click of a mouse the royalties declined greatly.
Throughout it all, Bowie was always exploring limits, pushing boundaries, shape shifting, and looking for the next thing. A cultural chameleon who never accepted the status quo he instead looked for new and exciting ways to change his career, his industries, and himself to always stay current and relevant. And in an industry that constantly consumes concepts and eats its young about as quickly as it emulates them, Bowie had a powerfully influential career that spanned decades, lasting from 1962 all the way to 2016. The man was such an important role model that David Buckley said Bowie, “…permeated and altered more lives than any comparable figure.”
Ziggy Stardust showed us the way. All we need to do is apply the lessons he left us.
R.I.P. David Bowie. And thank you.
Walk around Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and one thing starts to stand out — electronics manufacturers and distributors have fully embraced tablet computing.
Just a few years after Apple introduced its first iPad, it seems as if every single company has created a tablet. You can order them in any size you want, with any processing and memory capabilities and in a rainbow of colors, styles, and designs. If you stand quietly and listen carefully, you can feel Adam Smith’s concept of supply and demand at work while you hear the sound of prices dropping.
Why is it then that Apple’s iPad is still the top seller in the category at prices significantly higher than the competition? Certainly not because they were first in the category. Microsoft gets that honor, having released their first tablet computer way back at the turn of the century, at least ten years before Apple’s iPad.
My partner Roberto Schaps went to the restaurant show in Chicago. His quick report? Every manufacturer is selling the same thing. Rows and rows of vendors selling knives. Rows and rows of vendors showing cookware. And company after company – from originator Keurig to Kitchenaid, Nespresso, Hamilton Beach, Mr. Coffee, Cuisinart, and more — selling the same coffee machines that work with those little prepackaged coffee capsules.
Please don’t tell me that the best product gets the nod. If that were true we’d have all embraced Betamax video over VHS, Apple’s original personal computers over PCs, and not a single boy band since the Jackson 5 would have ever sold a single song.
No, consumers are much more complicated and nuanced than that. Or as Dale Carnegie put it: “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion.” And creatures of emotion make decisions based on the warm and fuzzy way they feel about things, and justify those decisions with cold, hard facts.
Even customers who make their purchase decisions on the bloodless choice of lowest price are still often making an emotional decision. While low price purchases might be dictated by the reality of their budgets, they still use their purchase practice to tell the world who they are and pride themselves on having the acumen to find the best price and get the best deal. Think about how often you’ve complimented a friend on something they were wearing and they responded by telling you how cheaply they found it at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx.
What’s becoming truer and truer is that companies can no longer depend on the same old innovation and speed-to-market alone to stand out and reach their sales goals. Instead they must develop and cultivate a powerful brand that entices and nurtures the kinds of loyal consumers that will return time and time again to buy their products. And while company after company comes out with tablets of every shape and size, Apple’s rabid fan boys will still line up for each new release because they have to have not just the functionality of the new Apple release itself but the brand halo it bestows on them.
Of course functionality is critical. After all, the days of people lining up to buy beautiful but fragile Ferraris and Maseratis are long gone – today the cars work just as good as they look. But in a world of bumper-to-bumper traffic, radar controlled speed limits, and intersections governed by red light cameras, it should be clear that those cars continue to sell out for reasons that have little to do with their ability to get their affluent owners from point A to point B. It’s the autos’ brand, and how it makes the driver stand out, not its function, that continues to fuel record sales. And while manufacturers must never stop innovating lest they lose their competitive advantage, they must never stop developing their brand and cultivating their audience lest their buyers go somewhere else.
And so do you.
The world is undergoing change at an almost unimaginably rapid speed. Technology has forever changed the way we do things. Some companies are figuring out their new place in the world and lots aren’t. Disintermediation is eliminating markets, making certain skill sets irrelevant, bringing new players into the field, increasing competition, consolidating success, and bringing change to every facet of business at an increasingly unforgiving pace.
Facebook replaced MySpace. MySpace replaced Friendster. And Friendster replaced people actually talking to one each other.
By 2019 there will be over 21 billion connected devices around the world. Everyone is connected to everyone else 24/7/365. Average smartphones users stare at their devices more than 1,500 times a week. More people own smartphones than toothbrushes. Almost ten percent of all retail sales are currently made online. One quarter of those sales are made on mobile devices and the trend is increasing at over 27% per year.
Tesla has only been around since 2003 but their new totally electric twin-engine car is the fastest sedan ever built, faster than any BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Ferrari, and all the rest. Apple is the most valuable company in the world and they’re not even 40 years old yet.
David Letterman and Jay Leno are no longer the kings of late night. Jon Stewart is no longer the king of fake news. Brian Williams is no longer a newsman. Bruce Jenner is no longer a man.
In 2012 Business Insider estimated there were 644 million active websites. That number should exceed one billion this year. In 2013 there were an estimated 152 million blogs on the Internet. And today it is estimated that 86% of American adults have access to the web and all those blogs. That percentage grows to 95% for Internet users under 33.
TV went from three channels to four to hundreds and hundreds. Movies went from theaters to TVs to laptops to tablets to smartphones. Movies were first distributed on film, then VHS, then DVDs, then thumb drives. Now they stream directly into our handheld devices.
Blockbuster competed with cable channels HBO and Showtime and Starz and all the rest who then competed with Netflix and Redbox who now compete with bit torrents and Amazon Prime. Music, too, made the journey from 78s to LPs to 8 tracks to cassettes to CDs to MP3s to streaming on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Radio and whatever’s coming next.
Hundred year-old Swiss handmade watches companies like Rolex, IWC, and Patek Philippe battled Japanese quartz releases from Seiko, Casio, and Citizen only to now have to compete against digital entries from Microsoft, Google, FitBit, Jawbone, and Apple.
Were you a fan of the TV show Mad Men? Do you know where they found the time to drink so much? It’s because planning advertising was easy back then. All you had to do was choose between TV, radio, newspapers and magazines and billboards. And if your budget was big enough, you could afford to buy them all. But change has hit the media business hard. Besides traditional media you now have to divide your resources amongst social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest; online tools such as SEO and SEM; blogs and YouTube videos; e-books and movie placements; Google searches, contextual advertising, and more. What’s next? Geo-located advertising on smartphone apps like Waze. What’s after that? Beats me. I only know that it will change again.
We used to believe that the more complicated your profession, the less chance you could be ousted by automation or online workers from Asia. Uber could replace taxis, do-it-yourself cash registers could replace manual checkouts, and self-serve pumps could take the place of gas station attendants but doctors and lawyers would be safe. But that was only until radiologists in India started reviewing American x-rays online and sites like Legal Zoom provided forms for estates, contracts, and divorces.
The New York Times’ National Assessment of Adult Literacy reports that 14% of U.S. adults (32 million) can’t read and 21% more (48 million) read below a 5th grade level. Worse, 63% of prison inmates can’t read. But before you pat yourself on the back for your ability to understand what I’m writing about here remember that the future of literacy is all about computer coding and I’d venture that nearly 100% of us don’t know how to do that.
Comedian Steven Wright might have been kidding when he said, “I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time” but today he’d be telling the truth.
Happy New Year!!
Sir Charlie Chaplin wrote the melody for the tune Smile in 1936 for his film Modern Times. The lyrics were added in 1954. Since then Smile has become a popular standard of the classic song book and has been recorded by everyone from Nat King Cole to Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick Jr., Josh Groban, Barbara Streisand, Martina McBride, Michael Bolton, Michael Bublé, Elvis Costello, and many more.
Although Chaplin didn’t write the lyrics to Smile, they were influenced by both his movie Modern Times and Chaplin’s life. Lived mostly under the bright light of super stardom, Chaplin swung from debilitating tragedy and scandal to overwhelming successes. The contrasts of Chaplin’s life can be seen most readily in his rise from a dismal childhood spent in a London orphanage to eventually winning not only the World Peace Prize and the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement but by being knighted in England and awarded France’s Legion of Honor.
Not only was Chaplin a comedian and moviemaker, he also authored two autobiographies, and composed the musical scores for the movies he wrote, directed, and stared in. Thanks to his immense popularity, Chaplin was believed to be one of the highest-paid people in show business. What’s more, Chaplin was universally acknowledged as the biggest brand in the world and perhaps the most famous person ever — at the apex of his fame, Chaplin’s character the Tramp, with his iconic bowler hat, was the most recognized image on the planet. It’s said that only Elvis and The Beatles even came close to Chaplin’s domination of media around the world although even they never surpassed his popularity. And if all that wasn’t enough, Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas Day.
Chaplin’s best known song, Smile, distills his positive outlook on life into a simple but profound masterpiece. And even though Smile was written almost 80 years ago, its message seems truer — and more necessary — today than ever before.
If you click on the artists’ names throughout this article, they will take you to different YouTube versions of Chaplin’s wonderful song — sung by some of the most important artists and performers of our time. As much as I love almost anything Eric Clapton does, I’m particularly partial to the Nat King Cole’s version of Smile which, coincidentally, was the first version released. I’m eager to hear whose version you prefer — please reply to this email with your favorite. And if you know of another great version of Smile I’d love to hear about that too.
These songs, combined with my warmest wishes for health and happiness, are my holiday gift to you. Thank you for being part of my community and thank you for reading my blog. And always remember to smile.
“Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying.
You’ll see that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile.”
The Australian company SAMS has been working to create a new wetsuit design to lessen the fear of shark attacks.
SAMS (the company name is an acronym that stands for Shark Attack Mitigation Systems) says their designs have been optimized to effectively hide surfers from a shark’s vision. The company hired scientists who explained that sharks are monochromats and therefore colorblind. Because of that the researchers chose patterns that they believed would both camouflage the wearer and also repel the sharks.
If that didn’t provide enough protection, the designers also worked with the theory that sharks don’t like to eat sea snakes and so designs were also created to look like the snakes. This is a questionable strategy, however, because the scientists admit that they only have anecdotal evidence of this.
All this work makes me wonder why protecting divers from sharks is such an important issue in the first place. After all, while the fear of being attacked by a shark is certainly terrifying, fatal shark attacks account for only four or five deaths a year – worldwide.
Four or five deaths across the entire planet. That’s fewer people than die from almost any other cause you can imagine.
In 2012 alone, 7.4 million people around the world died from heart disease, 6.7 million died from strokes, and 1.5 million died from diabetes. Based on these numbers, one has to wonder why so much interest and investment in a cause of death that kills only four to five people a year.
Okay, so maybe you don’t dive. Maybe the closest you’ve come to a shark is looking at one through aquarium glass or in Finding Nemo. Then why should you keep reading? Because marketers and politicians are using statistically unwarranted fear to sell their goods and services to you, too.
As horrible and frightening as terrorism and assaults are, for example, they kill a relatively limited number of people in this country; at least compared to the amount of press they receive and the amount of fear they generate.
Worse, those potential scenarios have become the go-to issues for politicians hoping to capture hearts and minds — and contributions and votes — of a populace consumed by fear.
Certain diseases and medical conditions, too, have become issues that pharmaceutical companies use to sell their wares, regardless of the truth that the conditions they protect against can be better dealt with by meaningful lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.
But it’s not just the fear of death that marketers exploit. A tagline as seemingly innocuous as FedEx’s “Absolutely, Positively Overnight” exacerbated the fear of missing a deadline.
Miss Clairol’s “Does She or Doesn’t She?” played up the fear of being caught coloring your hair.
Even Viagra’s mandatory disclaimer, “…If you have an erection that lasts longer than four hours…” can be seen as marketing fear. In this case it’s fear of the painful condition known as priapism (although I think it’s actually a not so subtle brag for the product’s desired effects).
As we’ve discussed time and again in this blog, products are sold NOT for what they can do but for HOW they make consumers feel. And while it’s easy to believe that good feelings would sell more products, the amount of marketing based on fear suggests that just the opposite is true.