Last week we talked about what happens when critics judge new ideas too quickly and often risk sentencing great ideas to obscurity; in that case, Airbnb’s new logo that was compared to “certain female anatomy.” (Branding Gone Wrong) But what happens when the creative process is killed before great solutions can even be developed?
This is what apparently happened when North Star Destination Strategies, a Nashville-based tourism branding firm, was first hired by City of Clearwater, Florida staff and subsequently fired by Vice Mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito (Read more HERE) because they created a sexist logo.
Negotiations were almost complete and North Star was about to be retained to create a brand identity for the community, when Hock-DiPolito learned about a branding job the company had done for a Florida economic organization.
“It’s very male-oriented and does a disservice to women who own businesses,” Hock-DiPolito said of the logo On Ideas in Jacksonville designed for Enterprise Florida after North Star completed their research. Specifically, the logo presented the word “Florida” in green except for the letter “i” that was depicted as a man’s necktie. Hock-DiPolito said she was concerned about the “company’s apparent sexist attitude toward women.”
To be fair, I don’t think the logo is very good to begin with. But whether or not you agree that the mark was a sexist logo, the bigger question is whether or not one participant’s opinion — in this case Hock-DiPolito’s — is an appropriate reason for the firm to be passed over. While it’s possible that the iconography does suggest a male business slant, it could just as easily be argued that in today’s business casual environment, a necktie simply represents a traditional or serious business attitude. And further, nobody involved has any idea whether or not the decision makers at Enterprise Florida asked for a logo with a necktie in it in the first place.
Look at this logo designed by Herb Lubalin for Families magazine in 1980. At the time it was created it presented a perfect representation of a family inside the word family itself. Thanks to its elegance, simplicity, strong messaging, and impeccable graphics, this mark is one of my favorites and a piece I return to whenever I need inspiration. But by today’s standards it would be pretty easy to argue that Lubalin’s Families masthead is a sexist logo and inappropriate simply because it shows a taller person (insensitively representing a male father), a shorter person (a possibly sexist view of a shorter female mother) and a single child (don’t get me started!).
So what does this logo say about families with same-sex parents?
How about childless families?
How about blended families with many more children?
How about same-height parents? How would this logo make them feel?
Apple? Isn’t the once-bitten apple the symbol for original sin? Does that mean that religiously observant believers should buy their computers and smartphones elsewhere?
Chevy? Their bowtie logo is clearly a symbol of masculinity. Does Clearwater Vice Mayor Hock-DiPolito find Chevy’s mark unacceptable also?
Starbucks? The Lady Godiva mermaid woman is topless for Pete’s sake. Does that mean men aren’t welcome? How about mastectomy survivors?
Truly offensive logos such as The Washington Redskins’ have no place in today’s increasingly tolerant and democratic society. No matter how you try to defend it (and regardless of how long it’s been in use) the title “Redskin” is an offensive slur against Native Americans that must be changed.
But to neuter the power of symbolism, and the people who create those symbols, simply because someone doesn’t understand what the symbol represents is an egregious overreaction and sets a dangerous precedent for mediocrity.
After all, even Sigmund Freud agreed, “A cigar is sometimes just a cigar.”
Airbnb, the online vacation rental service that now controls more hotel rooms than all of the major hotel companies combined, introduced a new logo last week. The response from the blogosphere and myriad branding experts” was immediate and negative.
Apparently, the responses were so bad that Fortune magazine titled their article on the fiasco, “Branding gone wrong: When bad logos strike back.” Besides Airbnb, the article also highlighted the criticism around new branding initiatives from Tropicana, Gap, JC Penny, and Starbucks – amongst their gallery of “branding gone wrong.” Of course, the title, and specifically the reference to “bad logos” clearly established the author’s own opinion and instantly moved the story from observational reporting to editorial commentary. Because regardless of whether the logos turn out to be successful examples of branding or not, and regardless of how the companies and their publics responded, being lumped under the title “…bad logos…” pretty much stops any reasonable conversation before it even begins.
According to the article, “Vacation rental service Airbnb unveiled a new logo last week that generated a wave of criticism for its design. Some likened it to a triangular paperclip or, even more crudely, to certain female anatomy. But the company still stands by the logo… ‘It’s a symbol for people who want to welcome into their home new experiences, new cultures, and new conversations,’ Airbnb said on its blog. Well, maybe if you squint,” sniffed the author.
Unfortunately for both Airbnb and the readers of Fortune magazine, neither the reporter nor the public is actually qualified to decide whether the logo is good or not. Sure, immediate public outcry can put a lot of pressure on a company’s CEO and marketing department and can even cause its board to forgo the new branding initiatives and crawl back to the comfortable old, folding like a lawn chair under the onslaught of negativity. But just because the first responses are loud and critical doesn’t make them correct.
Steve Jobs said that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” However, even Jobs left out the critical notion that some new things simply require time before people can see and accept their true value. The practice of disparaging the new until it becomes accepted as breakthrough—and inevitably a beloved part of the status quo—is a common trope in the history of art and innovation. In 1889, the intelligentsia of France, including Guy de Maupassant, Alexander Dumas, Emile Zola, Charles Gounod, and Paul Verlaine signed a letter of protest that read in part, “We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigor and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.”
A few years before that John Ruskin wrote of Beethoven’s music: “Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsettings of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.”
And even Paul Cézanne, the post-impressionist master Picasso and Matisse both said was “the father of us all,” was disparaged in his day. In 1877, the artist showcased a collection of his paintings to so much criticism that he vowed to never exhibit his work again. Many people are afraid of things they can’t yet understand but quick as a mob of angry villagers to light their torches and storm their metaphorical Frankenstein’s castle. Unfortunately, by the time cooler heads prevail it’s often too late to save the delicate and beautiful new idea trampled under the rioters’ hobnail boots.
I’m not predicting that Airbnb’s new logo, or any new branding idea that faces initial scorn, will ever prove to have the staying power of an Eiffel, a Beethoven, or a Cézanne. What I am suggesting is that if we judge too quickly we not only run the risk of killing ahead-of-their-time concepts that might otherwise prove to be masterpieces, but we also rob ourselves—and the world—of the potential power of a great new idea.
Sitting in the downstairs conference room of the gorgeous Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, I would ordinarily be staring out the window at the crashing surf except that Martin Stoll, the brilliant and understated founder of social media consultancy Sparkloft Media, is talking about SM trends we can use.
Instead of daydreaming, I’m typing notes into Evernote as quickly as I can. I’m trying to understand and capture the three social media trends Martin is discussing. Specifically, 1. Social Narcissism, 2. Digital Snacking, and 3. Complaintvertising.
1. Social Narcissism. Did you know that the vacation you take is only as good as what you can show others? Showing off the incredibly romantic sunset you’re visiting proves that you have a better life than the people who aren’t there. As we said just a couple of weeks ago, social media is the 21st century version of the old riddle about a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it: If something great happens to you and you can’t post it on Facebook, did it really happen?
So how do you take advantage of this social media trend? Simply by making it as easy as possible for your readers, followers, and customers to share your visible assets. By giving them ample opportunities to upload and repost their thoughts and images. And by taking what they post and turning it into highly attractive content snippets for Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and other social media outlets.
At a recent presentation, Beth Zeisnes showed us a few simple online tools such as Tagxedo, Mozaikr, ReciteThis, and Quozio that make this as easy as possible. Simply enter your morsel, and these apps will create beautiful little pieces of art you can upload to your favorite social media sites that generate much more interest and reposting than simple text files.
2. Digital Snacking. The New York Times (NYT) has had 60 people working for over a year to figure out the future of the newspaper. One of their observations was that even though the NYT is incredibly skilled at uncovering and creating information, social media intense sites such as The Huffington Post attracts more readership for an article that the NYT created and posted in the first place. Because of this, the Times has determined that its competition is not papers such as The Wall Street Journal, but information aggregation sites such as The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.
The NYT study illustrates Stoll’s trend of Digital Snacking, where people are looking for quick, funny, interesting, pretty, shocking, engaging snippets of data that they can digest quickly and easily. Martin calls it, “The One Thumb Rule.” That is, information you can find on social media with one click of your thumb on your mobile device. If you can’t get to the interesting piece with one click while you’re waiting for elevator or sitting at a red light, you’ll go somewhere else for your ‘fix.’
3. Complaintvertising. Finally, Martin told us about Complaintvertising. His example was the traveler who felt so mistreated by British Airways that he spent $1,000 on Twitter to send a negative tweet to people who follow the airline that told readers not to fly BA because “their customer service is horrendous.” BA’s response? They wrote back to say that their Twitter feed is managed from 9 AM to 5 PM, Greenwich Mean Time.
Complaintvertising means that the days of worrying about what people say about you on Trip Advisor or Yelp is over. With those sites, at least your potential customers have to go look up what people have said about you. But with complaintvertising, negative messages will be sent to the interested parties without them even asking for it. Imagine how this will change your digital social media strategy.
All three of these new social media trends are just little speed bumps in the advertising world’s mad dash into the brave new world of online marketing. But they’re indicative of what you should be paying attention to as you build your business online and off.
I was sitting in the audience at the The National Speakers Association annual meeting listening to Jay Baer, the author of the social media how-to guide, Youtility, talk about how to promote blogs. After hearing Jay list many of the things I’ve been doing with this blog for years, I elbowed my seat neighbor Scott Halford in the ribs and rolled my eyes.
“Now I’m really bummed about my blog,” I whispered.
“What are you bummed about?” Scott asked. “Your blog’s great.”
“That’s the problem,” I answered. “I’m not unhappy because my blog is bad. I’m unhappy because it’s good.”
Scott made a face that said I was crazy and turned back to listen to the speaker.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’”
“If you want to be a thought leader, market leader, or change the world – you have to give up the need to be liked. Telling people what they want to hear makes you popular. Telling people what they need to hear makes you relevant, empowering, and significant.”
Relevant, empowering, and significant. THAT’S what I want my blog to be. Come to think of it, that’s what I want my professional advice to be. That’s what I want my parental advice to be. Hell, that’s what I want to be. Relevant, empowering, significant.
Looking at it through that lens it should be pretty easy to figure out what to write next, what to design next, what to do next. Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that the ideas that are shooting around through my head need to be creative and focused and delivered in such a way that they matter to others simply because they matter.
Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that social expediency has to take a back seat to real-world usefulness. It means we need to speak our truth even when covering it up might be the easier thing to do. It means we have to be willing to suffer the slings and arrows – literal AND figurative – that the others who don’t want to hear our message might fling our way.
Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that we have to strangle our circumspect misgivings, the ones that ask Williamson’s question, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” and answer it with her second question, “Who (am I) NOT to be?”
Being relevant, empowering, and significant means we have to stand up and deliver what we know to be right – even when we’re not so sure that anyone wants to hear it. Because the alternative is unacceptable. Because the alternative trades momentary comfort for eternal uselessness. Because the alternative opens the door to the darkness.
Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that we have to accept the importance of what we do, think, and feel and move forward with the true conviction of belief even when we’re not entirely sure we are actually strong enough to believe in the first place.
Morita, Baer, Williamson, Gage, and so many others are trying to show us the path to being relevant, empowering, and significant. All we have to do is take it.
Eggs used to be good for you. Along with some crispy bacon and toast with butter, they were part of a healthy breakfast – or so they said. Then all of a sudden eggs were bad for you. Too much cholesterol. Then the yellows were bad for you but the whites were good. Now our perception is that eggs are good for you again.
For hundreds of thousands of years, before systemized agriculture, early humans lived on animal fats and proteins. Granted, we didn’t live much past 45 years old because the world was an inhospitable place back then. But sometime around the middle to end of the last century, meats – and specifically animal fats – were deemed bad for us. Nutritionists and physicians alike recommended a diet high in whole grains and low in fat. Unfortunately, after almost 40 years of this diet, obesity rates are higher than ever and we’re starting to hear that the culprit is carbohydrate – white sugar and white flour mostly, but also the formerly deified whole grains.
All of a sudden animal protein and fats are back. And nutritionists and food writers from Nina Teicholz to Gary Taubes are falling all over themselves to recommend a return to the high fat, low-fiber diets our grandparents ate. Marbled meats, butter and cream, offal, and even bacon, are making their dramatic return on trendy menus and people’s plates.
It’s good for you. It’s bad for you. It’s good for you. It’s bad for you. Wait, now it’s good for you again. How can anyone be expected to know what they should be eating, especially when the perception is that the experts don’t know either?
The pendulum of political viewpoints and solutions, too, swings from apex to apex – collecting acolytes and fanatics along the way. These folks build their worldview on the hearsay and unproven theories that appeal to them the most. They often spout personal opinions disguised as empirical evidence and use the unsubstantiated historical references they believe confirm their beliefs. If you’ve tried to have a conversation with someone who’s firmly set in their ways and lives in the reassuring echo chamber of media sources that support their dogmatic perceptions, you know it’s an exercise in futility. After all, you can’t logically talk someone out of something they didn’t logically talk themselves into.
As Patrick Daniel Moynihan famously said, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” But as we’ve seen, the problems start when viewpoints are presented as facts and perception becomes confused with truth.
This comingling of fact and fiction gets even worse in the arena of public opinion where perception serves as reality. The history of marketing is littered with examples of better products that didn’t succeed because of the perceived value of their competitors. Betamax lost to VHS even thought the former was technologically superior. Post (and pre) Jobs Apple almost lost to IBM even though the product was more advanced. GM’s Saturn — “A different kind of car company, a different kind of car” — went the way of the dodo bird as did Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Saab because the perception of their brand value couldn’t compete in the marketplace.
What’s both beneficial and dangerous about perception is how powerfully it drives our actions. Physicians and pharmacists have long accepted the placebo and nocebo effect, where patients respond positively to the medicines they believe will help them regardless of the content of the actual drugs they’re taking.
Consumers buy based on perception. Voters vote based on perception, too. Public opinion shifts based on numerous factors, many of which have no actual basis in function or reality but still affect business and political outcomes in very real and consequential ways.
As our worlds become more and more digital and increasingly separated from physical realities, what is evident is that perception, and the ability to harness and control perception, is becoming more important than ever. And in a world of constantly changing recommendations and advice, consumers are looking for things they can believe in and thought leaders they can trust. They’re looking for the sense of Tribal Equity™ that reassures them that their perceptions are right, the world is secure and their direction is correct.
Even if they’re not so sure about eating eggs.
We jogged past the Matheson Hammock tidal basin and reached the bay just as half of the giant sun poked above the horizon and Biscayne Bay reflected a brilliant orange carpet straight to the shore. Neither Bob, Tim nor I had our phones with us so the scene will have to live in our memories exactly the way it seared across our optic nerves.
Of course we’re all old enough to be okay with that. But if we were millennials the experience might not have had much value if we couldn’t upload it to our favorite social media sites. It’s sort of the 21st century version of the old riddle about a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it: If something great happens to you and you can’t post it on Facebook did it really happen?
Millennials are searching for authenticity and reality and some of that need is satisfied when they share their lives online. But I think this also heralds a larger phenomenon that we are all feeling – regardless of age.
A host of realities have combined (conspired?) to change the world we live in so quickly, so profoundly, and so comprehensively that many of us are still wandering around wondering why our old habits no longer succeed. Quite simply, a lot of the old techniques that once assured personal and professional success simply don’t pay off anymore.
If you’ve experienced any of these situations, you’re probably wondering what to do to build — or rebuild — the business you want. What is becoming clearer is that today’s consumer is looking for ways to find authenticity and real passion in a world full of digitally homogenized pabulum. The answer is what we’ve discussed so many times before in this blog — that is that while a good brand makes people feel good, a great brand makes people feel good about themselves. Consumers want brands that deliver what they promise while also delivering a good dose of positive experiences. This is the concept of Tribal Equity™, the value of a person or organization’s identity to the tribe(s) that matter most to them.
In the case of brand phenom Harley-Davidson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer Mark-Hans Richer told The New York Times this about the iconic motorcycle’s fist electric vehicle: “To be a true Harley… it has to be cool. It has to make you feel something important about yourself.” When asked about the technical descriptions Richer added, “We’re not getting into spec wars at this time. The point is how you feel riding it.”
The way to create this feeling is to deliver the true essence of what it is you or your company provides. Harley’s Tribal Signature™ is not a trumped up, over-hyped, generic facsimile manufactured to be all things to all people, but their simple truth. What people want is what they get from the artisans at their farmers’ market, the engineers at Tesla, the musicians in The E-Street Band, the chefs in that exciting new food truck, the software engineers at Adobe, the athletes on the US soccer team, the pilots in the Blue Angels, and yes, the gear heads at Harley-Davidson. The truth.
If it’s just another product, consumers may or may not work harder to get it, may or may not spend more to buy it, and probably won’t pursue it if it’s not readily available online. These products or services may in fact cost more and you may have to work harder to get them (walk down the alley, wait in line, get on a waiting list…whatever). But consumers will pay more and work harder to get it because that’s what the magnet of truth does.
Lucky for you, it’s already there. Like the rising sun we enjoyed this morning, your truth already exists, hidden in plain sight. All you have to do is figure out how to identify it and develop it. The rest is easy. If you’re interested in learning how to do it, stick around. I’ll address that soon.
Did you see what China just did? Amidst cries of outrage and scads of adverse attention, they managed to shift the negative news they’ve been receiving away from their cultural and politically significant aggression and toward fuzzy pandas.
After all, everyone loves pandas.
According to a spokesperson for China Conservation and Research Center, authorities worry that the swarm of people and cameras watching the animals prognosticate could endanger them.
It was reported that the pandas were expected to call matches by “either picking food from bowls marked with the national colors of competing teams, or by scaling trees flying certain flags.” What’s more, the South China Morning Post suggested that the pandas “would take part in races wearing the vests of different nations to predict winning teams.”
Remember all the press China was receiving for completely obliterating coverage of June 4th’s 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest? The New York Times wrote that “even by the standards of the clampdowns that routinely mark politically sensitive dates in China… the anniversary of the day in 1989 when soldiers brutally ended student-led protests in Tiananmen Square has been particularly severe.”
How about China’s amusing shenanigans in the South China Sea? According to Reuters, Vietnam is protesting Chinese oilrigs and drilling in waters traditionally claimed by the smaller country. The conflict began when a Chinese rig was installed 150 miles off the coast of Vietnam. Hanoi says that the platform is within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf. China has said the rig is operating completely within its waters. But then China claims dominance over the entire South China Sea, including areas that the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan all claim are within their territorial waters as well.
So which do you think creates more newsworthy photo-ops?
Taciturn Chinese soldiers or fuzzy pandas? How about energy workers in oil-stained slickers or giant puffball bears? Clearly the old magician’s sleight of hand works exceedingly well in public relations (PR).
And it’s not just China. Which do you prefer?
Brazil’s teeming favela slums and Amazon deforestation or exciting World Cup soccer action?
Cable companies push for monopolistic net neutrality or new seasons of Game of Thrones and House of Cards?
Misdirection is a classic PR strategy – used whenever seasoned practitioners need to distract their audiences’ attention away from what matters to what titillates.
Just like a catastrophic weather event can push a political scandal off the front page, manufactured events—planned or not—can do the same thing.
Remember rancher Cliven Bundy’s anti-government rebellion and racist screeds? They were mercifully supplanted by Donald Sterling’s not so sterling tongue, which was in turn pushed off of the front pages by the Washington Redskins’ baseless defense of their unfortunate name that all but disappeared in the wake the basketball championships.
Pay attention the next time the media starts foaming at the mouth over a “storm of the century” flood, earthquake or hurricane. If you carefully peruse the financial news, you’ll see announcements of reduced earnings, massive layoffs or automotive recalls. Companies actually wait for these unfortunate events to slip their bad news out to an otherwise distracted audience.
And when there’s no storm, celebrity divorce or other scandal to provide an appropriate smokescreen, the creative PR practitioner can always count on pandas.
How difficult is it for you to keep up-to-date with your to-do list? In 2010 I wrote a blog on my to-do list problems and it’s turned out to be one of my most popular posts to date, so I’ve assumed that to-do list problems are pretty universal. Funny thing is the article really wasn’t about my to-do list or to-do list management at all, but rather about what to do when in those rare moments when you finally get all the issues screaming for attention done.
Since then, I’ve tried lots of different solutions to try to keep organized and lessen the stress of keeping track of everything that needs to be accomplished. The first thing I did was to read David Allen’s genre-defining book, Getting Things Done (GTD). Allen’s system is comprehensive and complete but turned out to be way too complicated for me – I believe it would actually take more time to manage his system than to simply do what needs to be done. Funny, too, because Allen’s system promises that Getting Things Done is “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” but I found it to be even more stressful than just doing nothing.
After that I tried lots of different programs for my computer and apps for my phone. I created lists and codes, scribbled on Post-it notes, dabbled with Evernote, and even wrote Excel spreadsheets. But nothing I tried was clear or simple enough to work for very long.
Somewhere in my quest for the Holy Grail of personal organization, I stumbled across a series of online videos titled The Secret Weapon (TSW). Even though I hate watching online videos – and dislike instructional videos most of all – I sat through all 11 chapters and immediately set up the system they recommend. Ironically, TSW is a combination of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Evernote software, both of which I had previously rejected as far too complicated and difficult to incorporate into my life. But TSW’s online videos make the system so easy and so sensible that I figured it was worth a try.
After a year with TSW and GTD, here’s where I stand:
The SecretWeapon.org system combined with Evernote is a lifehack that I can’t recommend highly enough (for the record, I have no connection with either TSW or Evernote other than being a satisfied user of both). Yes, the ramp-up is a little confusing and uncomfortable, mostly because you have to accept new ways of doing things you’ve probably done a different way for your entire life. And backsliding is to be expected although it’s no different with this system than it is with any other meaningful life change you’ve attempted (dieting, exercising, quitting a bad habit, etc.). The good news it that the payoff is spectacular and liberating.
What’s not spectacular is the price. TSW is free and so is Evernote. After you use Evernote for a while you’ll probably pay the $45 upgrade fee to their premium subscription, but you don’t have to commit to that until you’re a hardcore power user and ready for the extra features. And because Evernote is completely cross-platform, it works with the various digital devices you already own. There’s nothing else to buy.
So what have you got to lose? A few hours watching the videos and a few more setting the system up. After that, the only things you might miss are the scraps of paper you scribble notes on, the various datebooks and legal pad lists you might still be using, and the stress of keeping track of whatever it is you need to do next.