Prince – The Brand

Posted on April 25th, 2016

Prince passed away last week and the whole world mourned. Even my mom called to ask what I thought of Prince and his music.

PrinceOf course everyone was surprised by Prince’s untimely death. He didn’t appear to be a troubled soul like Kurt Cobain. He hadn’t been battling cancer like David Bowie. He wasn’t diabetic like BB King. He wasn’t 94-years old like Pete Seeger.

Still, regardless of the cause of his death, one has to wonder why so many people were aware of Prince’s passing. Of course it’s easy to write it off to his talent and his fame but I think it’s something else. I think we all care because we all understand Prince’s brand.

Prince Rogers Nelson’s second album, his eponymous release, went platinum in 1979 and established Prince’s superstar status. Over his nearly 40-year career he sold more than 100 million records. Plus, he won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2004 Prince appeared on stage with Tom Petty, Stevie Winwood, Dhani Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and others to honor the late George Harrison’s induction into that same hall of fame. When he was later asked how it felt to be the best guitar player in the world, legend has it Eric Clapton apocryphally replied, “I don’t know, ask Prince.”

Besides his jaw-dropping guitar chops, Prince played piano and 25 other instruments. He wrote, arranged, and produced all his music. He sang, danced, acted in movies and on TV, and even wrote hits for other performers. Those songs include Jungle Love for The Time, The Glamorous Life for Sheila E, I Feel for You for Chaka Khan, Manic Monday for The Bangles, Nothing Compares 2 U for Sinead O’Connor, Sugar Walls for Sheena Easton, and Kiss for both The Art of Noise and Tom Jones.

Yet despite all this, Prince had a singular brand that can be summed up in one word:


Or, as he sang on his Love Symbol Album in 1992, “My name is Prince and I am funky.”

If you think about Prince, and what you love about him, I’m pretty sure the word “funk” or “funky” would come up for you, too.

What’s amazing is that this single word is all it takes to describe a guy who plays 27 instruments, has written hits (funky and not) for more successful artists than you can name, has won virtually every major award for performance (there is no Tony… yet), and was ranked number 27 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

All this, and yet Prince’s brand tells you exactly what’s in it for you with one word – funk.

Volvo stands for safety. Apple stands for cool. UNICEF stands for kids. Nordstrom stands for service. Wal-Mart stands for low prices. Google stands for innovation. Amazon stands for convenience. Now think about your brand.

If all of these companies can pare their extremely complicated businesses down to such simple and emotional descriptors, what is your word?

His name is Prince and he is funky.

What are you?

Brand Building – Communicate as profitably as possible.

Posted on April 18th, 2016

Brand Building

The keynote speech to the realtors’ association went very well. We reviewed brand building from the 50,000-foot view and covered the seven critical points to building a compelling brand. Near the end of my talk I invited the audience to continue with me at a workshop session where we’d get more practical. If the keynote explained the Why’s and the How’s of brand building, the workshop would cover the What’s.

The session started with a quick brand building pyramid exercise during which I asked the audience to think about their brands’ Points of Difference and their Points of Distinction. I even asked for a few volunteers to share their insight with the audience.

Brand BuildingOne beautiful woman on the far side of the room — let’s call her Diane (because, that’s her name) — seemed to be having a little trouble figuring out what was special about her company. But after a little thought her face lit up.

“I know!” she said excitedly “We’re special because we…” she paused, not entirely sure if her answer was going to be correct. “We’re special because we communicate.”

I encouraged her to continue. “Please explain what you mean.”

“Well we don’t just list properties or find properties for our clients. Instead we really talk about the deal and the opportunities. We make sure the client gets to really explore their feelings, look at the transaction from every possible angle, and spend lots of time expressing their hopes and dreams, their expectations and aspirations, even their successes and disappointments with properties they may have bought or sold before.”

“All your clients are women, aren’t they?” I asked.

Diane thought for a moment. “Yes, I suppose they are,” she finally responded. “How did you know?”

“Just a hunch.” I said meekly.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and NO, I was not trying to be funny. It’s just that when Diane went into such profound depth about the amount of communication she has with her clients about their feelings I knew that she had to spend most of her time talking to women.

WIFE: “I think it’s time we had a talk.”

HUSBAND: “Why? We had a talk last year.”

So what’s the important takeaway for you and your brand building here? Quite simply that whether she thought about it or not, Diane knows who her customer is and what they want. She has created an All About Them business (and brand) that carefully and specifically meets her customers’ deepest desires. Diane communicates with her clients precisely because Diane’s clients want to communicate and be communicated with.

Now before you point out that by doing this Diane does not cater to a vast swath of the consuming public, please understand that no successful business can be all things to all people. Instead, the best businesses figure out whom they’re doing business with and how to best please those very people.

Porsche doesn’t try to sell cars to drivers whose number one concern is fuel efficiency any more than Bacardi tries to sell rum to teetotalers. Bob Burg, author of the best-seller The Go Giver, doesn’t try to sell books to people who are not interested in evolving any more than David Altshuler, author of Raising Healthy Kids in an Unhealthy World, tries to sell books to people who are not interested in being better parents.

Of course you could simply do your brand building based on what you like and see if anyone responds. But that’s like throwing a dart and then painting the target around it. Occasionally you may hit the mark but most often you’ll be wildly unsuccessful.

The key to brand building, then — which Diane intuitively understood — is to make sure your brand is All About Them. That is, make sure your brand communicates most directly and empathetically with the people you want to do business with.

Brand Building Methods.

Posted on April 11th, 2016

Brand Building Methods.

I Got Fooled is a great blues song by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee about a man who offers to clean a beautiful neighbor’s house in return for intimate favors.

You know that she promised me

When the work was through,

That I could have my way

And do anything I wanted to.

Unfortunately for our hopeful protagonist, things don’t work out quite the way he expects. As he reveals in the chorus:

But I got fooled buddy,

Yeah, I got fooled.

Don’t you know I got fooled?

She was jivin’ me all the time.

The song sets a good tone for this post because I got fooled too.

More times that I can remember, I’ve posted this quote – a philosophy of business, really – as an example of how to build a brand.

People Don’t Buy What You Do.

They Buy Who You Are.

Not only have I written about this idea extensively, I’ve also talked about it to my audiences and even built a TEDx presentation around it.

But having spent time working with our clients and incorporating this idea I realize I got fooled as well. I realize there’s a subtle shift that today’s brand building methods demand.

Brand Building MethodsIf the only tool you have is a hammer, then every solution looks like a nail. And if your area of practice is branding and advertising then every goal used to look like a sale. But as I’ve learned, the rigid concept of selling leading to buying belongs to an earlier era, replete with controlled distribution, limited inventory, and centrally protected information.

Today, the Internet (and the access we all have to it) distributes information that is both free and accessible. Today we can buy things based on price, accessibility, specifications or virtually any other metric that we control. And we can do this with little or no cooperation from yesterday’s retailers. Because Google knows everything and it puts all that information right in our pockets.

This insight explains why I got fooled. Based on what I’ve learned about brand building methods I realize that consumers no longer buy who you are. Today they choose who you are. This simple but profound distinction has altered the whole relationship between the provider of goods and services and their consumers as well as the brand building methods we need to use in order to bridge this gap.

The old school way to build a brand was to work on sales pitches. The better you pitch, the more you sell. But today it’s essential to uncover the essential truths that will help you construct an offer that consumers will be compelled to choose. Because as I’ve talked about so many times before, the key to building a powerful brand is to discover your authentic truth and express it to your audiences by showing them how your brand resonates in their lives.

Miss this simple shift in thinking and you risk getting fooled with your brand building methods, just like I did. If you want to hear how Michael Pickett got fooled, click HERE.

Brand Strategies for Fun and Profit.

Posted on April 4th, 2016

Brand strategies for fun and profit.

Hospitals can learn a lot from restaurants. Even though it’s a silly stretch to point out that the words hospital and hospitality share the same linguistic root, the parallels remain strong. In any service business, especially ones where clients and customers enjoy personal or intimate experiences, managing expectations is a crucial way to build brand value and improve consumer perceptions.

For example, the restaurant business is the only business I know of that can be utterly devastated by a single hair.

Aligning Brand Strategies

You have your favorite restaurant. A place you eat at regularly, the spot you celebrate your family’s milestones. The owner and servers know you, you can always get a table, and your favorite dish is always available, even when it’s not on the menu. In short, your life is more enjoyable because of this place.

Then one night you bite into your favorite dish and wind up having to pull an unexpected hair out of your mouth. I don’t care how much you love this restaurant; chances are you’re not going back.

If you’re completely honest with yourself you’ll admit that you could find at least one errant hair in your own nice clean home (you could certainly find one in mine). But somehow we don’t extend the same luxurious tolerance to the places we go to eat, favorite or otherwise.

It was lessons like these, learned when I worked in my family’s restaurants as a kid, that helped me build brands for hospitals and health care companies years later. When I worked in my folks’ restaurants, one of the terms we tried to strike from our server’s pitch was “How’s everything?” Besides being a meaningless throw away phrase, “How’s everything?” precluded the server from doing any kind of upselling or establishing and reinforcing the quality of the consumer experience we worked so hard to provide.

Instead of that useless phrase, we tried to get our servers to engage their customers with a bit of information about their meal. So when they served fish, for example, they would mention that the restaurant had a contract with the local fishing fleets and that the filet had been cut fresh this very morning. When the server would clear the dish away, they’d ask how the patron enjoyed the fish, reminding them that it was probably the freshest fish they’d ever eaten that they hadn’t caught themselves.

You can imagine the difference. The first question, “How’s everything?” would usually result in an offhanded, “Fine.” The question about the fresh fish would create conversation and compel the customer to actually think about their meal and comment favorably. Plus, it would give the now satisfied customer a little bragging point that they could use later when they were telling their friends about the fresh fish they just enjoyed.

I saw this same technique of aligning brand strategies used in the health care business when Michael Earley, CEO of Metropolitan Health Networks, set out to cut the wait time in his company’s clinics. The first thing Mike did was insist that his patients be called “customers.” After all he reasoned, why wouldn’t we expect people to wait if the word we use to describe them — patients — is a homonym for patience?

The next thing Mike did was change the way his receptionists answered the phones. To speed up service, they said, “Welcome to MetCare. Do you need to see a physician immediately?” Doing this accomplished two things, it let customers know that if they had an emergency they would be taken care of right away. And it telegraphed the company policy clearly — constantly reminding the traffic and logistics departments to make sure they could live up to the promise.

Managing expectations is a great way to build and reinforce brand strategies but it does require a committed effort to make sure that operations live up to promises. In fact, if the products or services do not reinforce the message then setting a high bar will simply highlight flaws. Because pointing out how quickly a patient will be attended to — or how fresh the fish is — only works when you’re aligning brand strategies and the guarantee is actually met, or exceeded, by the reality.

How to Create a Brand

Posted on March 29th, 2016

How to create a brand.

My buddy’s daughter is a talented graphic designer. To fulfill her life’s dream she took a job with a very famous movie studio with the promise that she’d get to design posters and campaigns. The people who hired her insisted they brought her on because of her great portfolio and her desire to shine.

How To Create A BrandNow nearly five years later she’s come to the sad conclusion that she’s never going to do the kind of creative work she signed on for. She’s disappointed and discouraged by how her company’s bureaucracy controls all of her time and talent while squashing every good idea.

But not to worry, she’s a tenacious survivor and her dream will not be denied. And so she proudly announced that she’s accepted a job in the graphic design department of a big insurance company nearby. They were wowed by her portfolio (it still contained the work she had done more than five years before) and want her to improve their creative output. Not only that, but they’ll pay her 50% more than she’s currently earning.

She was so bright-eyed and bushy tailed when she told me about her new opportunity that it was all I could do to congratulate her and bite my tongue. After all, who am I to spit on her parade? She clearly saw the smile on my face but she didn’t see the tears of the clown.

It would have been disingenuous to leave it like that so I pulled my friend aside and told him my opinion of the situation his daughter was getting herself into. Namely that her new job wouldn’t allow her to do work any better than she’d done in her old job. But at a 50% higher salary it would be that much harder for her to leave when her lack of opportunity became clear. After all, townhouses and BMWs are nice to have but hard to pay for and even harder to surrender.

It’s ironic that people who work so hard on their portfolios (or reels, or resumes) and use them so assiduously in their interviews never bother to ask their potential employer to show them their portfolio. Because the simple truth is that an organization that hasn’t had good creative output before you joined won’t create any better work once you’re there – regardless of your brilliance, desire or drive.

It took me a long time to understand – and even longer to accept – the counter-intuitive notion that great commercial creative work is not implemented by artists (that would be me) but by their patrons (that would be my clients).

  • Michelangelo would have been just as talented without the Medicis. But his work wouldn’t have ever graced the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without their backing.
  • Jay Chiat, founder of legendary ad agency Chiat and Day, and creative director Lee Clow would have been just as talented without Steve Jobs, you just wouldn’t have ever seen their work if Jobs hadn’t believed in them.
  • The Beatles would have been no less talented without George Martin either. But it is possible that without him they’d still be playing back-to-back gigs in the Cavern Club.

Great clients create great art. And even though it’s the talent, technique, and imagination of the artist that creates the vision, it’s the resources of the client that realizes the artistic product.

Knowing how to create a brand also requires both components – the talent of the creator and the resources of the patron. Talent without resource results in silent masterpieces – great works that no one will ever enjoy. And resources without talent (or the willingness to support talent) results in the kind of work that my friend’s daughter is going to be stuck doing at her new job – mindless, soulless constructs built only to appease a bureaucracy and a deadline, not make their customers’ hearts beat faster.

When a writer friend of mine got lucky enough to show his screenplay to Martin Scorsese, he was thrilled when the director told him that “he couldn’t wait to see it in the movie theatre.”

“You really like it?” my friend asked excitedly.

The director nodded.

“So you’re going to make my movie then?”

Scorsese shook his head slowly. “But if you do make it,” he offered, “I’ll go see it.”

“I don’t understand,” my friend asked. “If you like my movie so much why won’t you make it?”

“Because,” Scorsese answered, “the industry I work in is called show business, not show art.”

What is a Brand?

Posted on March 22nd, 2016

What is a brand?

My pal (and incredible drummer and very funny guy) Allen Lynch bought me a wonderful present for my birthday. Allen actually found a company out west to handcraft a genuine branding iron with my company’s logo on it. It’s a… “Turkel Brand.”

Since I have no intention of heating the brand up and permanently marking any of my livestock, my branding iron has instead taken up a prominent position on my desk as a fun paperweight and sometime distraction when I’m on the phone.

Thanks to a lot of swinging it around and mock-plunging it into the computer screens on my desk, the branding iron got me to thinking about this simple question: What is a brand?

What Is A Brand?

Of course I’ve read all sorts of definitions of what a brand is and what it’s not. Some people say that a brand is a company name or logo or tagline. Some people think a brand is a company’s advertising. Some think it’s a company’s vision strategy or mission.

I’ve heard brands described as your reputation or the source of your credibility. I’ve heard it said that a brand is what people think of you or what they say about you when you’re not in the room.

I think it’s something else.

A brand preinforces and reinforces who you are and what you offer. That is, it prepares your audiences for what you are going to do for them and it reminds them of what you’ve provided.

Much like preheating the oven before baking a cake, or oiling the pan before you pour in the batter, your brand helps your customers prepare for the work you’re going to do or the products you’re going to provide.

But that’s not the end of your brand’s advantages. Because after you’re done doing the work your brand remains behind, reassuring and reminding your customer of the benefits of what you provided for them.

What is a brand?

Simply put, a brand provides a shortcut to understanding. When properly constructed and managed, your brand offers a shorthand explanation and validation of what your product or service means for your customer.

This unique ability to ‘preinforce’ and reinforce the high quality of what you deliver is the true value of a brand and helps explain both why you need a great brand and what it will do for you.

Today all of us live in a world where most products are very good at their intended utility and where they’re all almost instantly available. What sets companies apart and makes them more or less valuable is no longer the function of the product or service itself but how well the brand resonates with its consumer and the potential consumer before, during, and after the purchase experience.

What is a brand? It’s the key to your success.

How To Build A Brand

Posted on March 15th, 2016

How To Build A Brand

How To Build A BrandI’m sitting in a very comfortable reclining chair somewhere between Beaumont and Houston Texas, somewhere around 35,000 feet. I’m in a brand new American Airlines 777-300 in business class seat 13D. I’ve got in-air Internet access, a bottomless glass of good red zin, and I’m about three hours away from LA.

Boz Scaggs’ Memphis is coming through the Bose noise-cancelling headphones and a selection of almost as many movies as I can find on Netflix are just a finger’s reach away. Since we left Miami I’ve already sent emails, chatted with my wife and kids on iMessage (apparently we might get a new dog named Cheyenne – that’s her on the left), charged my phone, downloaded Kendrick Lamar’s new release Untitled Unmastered (Don’t worry, I’m not that hip. My son Danny recommended I listen to it). I paid my Citicard bill, uploaded some images to my office, and went on Twitter to turn people on to Chris Boeskool’s brilliant article on the Huffington Post, When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression. (kudos to my friend Rick Lawrence who turned me on to it).

I had salmon carpaccio and a delicious vegetable paneer curry for dinner (in case it hasn’t yet dawned on you yet, good vegetable paneer beats the living crap out of the old granola bar and bag of stale nuts I usually eat on airplanes). I even had my choice of an ice cream sundae or cheese plate for dessert. Which, I gotta add, is not actually a choice. I mean, ice cream with hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts, and strawberries or cheese? Clearly I’m not French and I’m must not have a very sophisticated palette but ice cream or cheese? Really? I think that choice is kinda like deciding between a good back scratch or an anesthesia-free colonoscopy, but that’s just me.

I fly a lot and I get upgrades a lot but this is the first time that I’m sitting on a plane for more that two and a half hours and not constantly looking at my watch and not eager for the flight to end. For once I’m actually enjoying the journey itself, grasshopper.

Of course, as you’re already probably asking yourself, what’s not to like? Or, as Louis CK says, “did it ever dawn on you that you’re sitting in an easy chair IN THE SKY??!!”

Funny thing is I’m enjoying all these sybaritic pleasures that I’m not actually paying for. I mean I did charge them on my credit card but they’re not what I meant to buy. Because what I bought from American Airlines is transportation from Miami to Los Angeles.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that the cost of these wonderful services are in the ticket price I paid and I’m enjoying every bit of them. It’s only that all this good stuff is not what I bought when I went online and purchased my ticket. I didn’t ask what wine they were pouring, I didn’t ask what the dinner selection was, I didn’t ask what movies were available in the in-seat entertainment system. In other words, as much as I like the food and the surroundings, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been invited to speak at a conference in LA and didn’t need to get there.

Quite simply, that’s the difference between what I bought and what American Airlines trades for money. Which is a really good concept to understand if you want to know how to build your brand.

• Starbucks trades coffee for money but what we buy is a meeting place, a gathering place, a sense of neighborhood.
• Porsche trades getting from point A to point B for money but what we buy is performance, aesthetics, history, and attention to detail.
• The Miami Dolphins (or the Miami Heat, or the University of Florida Gators or whichever team you follow) trades entertainment for money but what we buy is a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a sense of self.
• Progressive or Geico or Allstate trades insurance coverage for money but what we buy is peace of mind, the knowledge that we’re protecting our families or even compliance with governmental regulations.

So what do you or what does your company sell? Yes it’s your product or service that you trade for money but what do your customers or clients or patients actually buy? You might think it’s the function of what you provide but let’s face it, unless you have a patented process or a trademarked recipe, what you trade for money is relatively generic. Sure no one does it as well as you do but do your clients actually know – and appreciate – that? I’d be willing to bet they don’t. After all, a clapped out Ford Maverick can get you to your office about as well as the legendary Porsche 911 can.

Instead it’s not what you trade for money, but what they buy, that is the real secret to your success. And if you want more of that success, all you need to do is figure out what your customers are buying and give them some more of it.

And guess what? Here comes the flight attendant with some more zin. While I enjoy the refill you should go figure out how to build a brand. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Turning Liabilities into Assets.

Posted on March 7th, 2016

Turning liabilities into assets.

Turning liabilities into assetsI’ve talked about it many times right here. Every four years we get the opportunity to watch the most important branding contest anywhere. And if we can just pry off our partisan hats for a little while we can really learn from the best of the best.

Of course I’m talking about the presidential elections of the United States.

In 2012 Nate Silver and Mitt Romney tutored us on the importance of precise research – both accurate and inaccurate. Four years before that Barack Obama, Chuck Grassley, and Sarah Palin gave us a masters’ class on messaging with “Yes we can,” “Pulling the plug on Grandma,” and “Death panels.” And as far back as 1960 Kennedy and Nixon’s debate was a great lesson in how media can change public opinion and create or damage a brand.

Needless to say, the 2016 race is no different. This year the candidates on both sides of the aisle are also living laboratories for how to build a brand and relate to your audience.

Or how not to.

Clinton and Bush showed us what branding looks like for an established, mature product. Trump and Sanders were examples of how challenger brands can generate passionate customers. Rubio demonstrated how dangerous it is to allow your competition to create your persona and then reinforce that brand image with your own actions. And Ted Cruz was a shining example of what happens when you don’t change your liabilities into assets.

Ronald Reagan did it when the then 72-year old president was running for reelection against a 56-year old Walter Mondale. Reagan ended speculation that he was too old to be president with the words, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

  • 3M did it when they turned a glue with weak adhesive properties into Post-It Notes.
  • Avis did it when they applauded their also-ran status with the line, “We’re number two. We try harder.
  • Harley Davidson did it when they bragged about their waiting list, suggesting it demonstrated commitment to uncompromising quality and the undying loyalty of their customers.
  • Paul Masson used the same strategy with their tagline, “We will sell no wines before their time.
  • Harland Sanders did it when he promoted extra greasy fried chicken with the line: “Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s finger lickin’ good!”

So how could Ted Cruz have used this strategy? Quite simply by accepting his obvious liability – that he’s not likeable – and turning it to his advantage. While Trump and Sanders were busy exploiting voter anger and criticizing their competitors for their establishment stands, Cruz could have risen above it all. He could have used the disdain his fellow senators have for him to his advantage. He could have confirmed his anti-establishment position by celebrating his lack of popularity. He could have positioned his unlikability as the result of doing the right thing, not the popular thing. He could have demonstrated his undying commitment to his constituency by turning his liability into an asset.

Unfortunately for Cruz, this alchemistic exercise of turning lead into gold is very hard to do. It not only requires the profound self-awareness of knowing what your actual weaknesses are, and the willingness to face them, but also the courage of being able to expose your vulnerabilities. And it demands the creative foresight to pursue a less than popular strategy.

The ancient Greek aphorism – “Know Thyself” – is commonly attributed to Socrates but stems from a more ancient source and lies at the root of all philosophy. It also is the basis for  turning liabilities into assets where an authentic truth becomes the foundation for a compelling and sustainable brand position.

Sometimes that positioning comes from promoting your strengths. And sometimes it is built by paradoxically turning liabilities into assets. Difficult? Perhaps. But the results, as Reagan and Colonel Sanders have shown us, can be very impressive.

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