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Meaning based brand development

For quite a while, I’ve been using Ford as an example of a brand that’s redefined itself (or rather refocused) from car manufacturer to what they refer to as a mobility brand. I think it makes all the difference.

What they did early on was team up with ZipCar on US campuses, getting young drivers (note; drivers, not car owners) to get into Ford cars. Stats on that car selling challenge here. Now, of course the meaning with owning a car is transportation and mobility (not taking into account the, to be honest, not so small addition of signalling something about you as a person, which I think sits equally much in what you choose to drive and not just what you own). Hence a new business model. You may come from manufacturing and selling Ford cars, but that’s not necessarily the business for ever after. If Ford viewed their meaning market like Avis do (Avis bought ZipCar), they’d step past the competition by way of a business focused on getting people transportation – whether that’s a BMW, Volvo, Ford or whatever car brand. Potentially pretty drastic from a scaled up business model perspective .

Envisioning freely what Ford could be doing and what the larger meaning market could be, and what offers and services fit in, you touch on selecting models and vehicles. So I’m always thinking why not be able to buy the sporty one – but get 5 free rentals a year for when the family needs a larger vehicle for soccer games or something like that. You know, bake that in as the augmented product. Relieving difficult choices, in a way. Because it’s not about buying a car, it’s about transportation, mobility – even family logistics, when you think about it.

So now I found this similar offer/service/nudge from BMW to make the decision of buying the i3 easier. Good one.

The exercise of thinking Product (category) vs. Meaning (value of the (bigger/multiple) market(s)) is one that I stress every brand and organisation to do in a recurring manner. It sits in the project/process/challenge of figuring out the digital strategy, mind you. It’s because technology and digital, if we allow ourselves to refer to it as loosely as that, is driving societal changes. That means what you do, who you are and how you do things – can, and will, drastically change. Meaning your basic existence is the topic. That’s a cultural question, not a technical one. And that, dear reader, is the most importan distinction to be made when getting an organisation of not-so-tech-interested people to start pulling in the same direction. To feel ownership in a question that they, hence, understand and grasp (culture and meaning as opposed to that “digital stuff”).

I use meaning* and not purpose. I might seem like semantics but I think the two are distinctively different. With brands defining their purpose, I think often we see an inside/out perspective still lurking there. It’s our purpose (for us) vs. the meaning (for users). Meaning is about the new markets (and business ideas, models and revenue models) that can be identified and that may not resemble anything your used to from before (scary). The value they provide and generate. Purpose is centered too much around a statement about the brand and doesn’t get “verbified” as well.

Have you phrased, framed and begun the cultural transformation that is the result of technological change yet?

* I am aware that if you are looking at the word meaning in the context of brands and consumption, we also have another definition in the consumer culture research discipline. I use meaning markets more in a business development sense, where function/utility takes precedence over the development of signaling powers of brands, although the two are intertwined.

A Ted Talk where Bill Ford Jr shares some thinking on the future of transportation and mobility (2011).




Business transformation report, by Tieto

My work is never dull. I frequently get involved in workshops and discussions with stakeholders from different industries, all battling the same core challenge. That of change and transformation. Recently I got a taste of private banking. I’m not going to share any of that, but it struck me how true much of this Business Transformation Report, from Tieto (a leading Nordic IT Service Company) and Kairos Future (Strategic Futures Consultants) is spot on and true based on the conversations. Some excerpts:

“Hand on heart: Is your prime goal with adopting new technology incremental change or radical innovation?”

”The reason we do not invest more in transformation is not lack of resources. It’s because we simply don’t know what to invest in”.

– Major Bank executive (Tieto report)

“Even though they might have a rough idea of where the market and technology is heading, they are uncertain of how the business models will play out and what the consequences will be. The questions those executives need to ask is: Will you be more certain if you sit waiting, or if you invest small in exploration and low-cost experimentation?”

Easier said than done, transforming and changing. But waiting to be sure isn’t the route you want to bet on.

Don’t just stand there (chapter):

  1. Do you have a clear view of where the future of your industry is heading over the next 3-7 years?
  2. Would you describe your company as an active future-oriented reallocator?
  3. Do you have a process for scouting and acquiring promising companies or technologies?
  4. Do you actively engage your partners and customers in co-creation activities to find the future for you?

“Consequently, having a culture where people are embracing or at least not rejecting changing behaviours (my marking), practices and attitudes is necessary if a fundamental transformation will ever take place.”

That’s an interesting distinction when working with change. You don’t have to focus on loving change, start by not disliking it so much, and from that position you can do things slightly different. Doesn’t sound as a big difference, but it is. Don’t go for daring to do things differently. Go for not being afraid of trying some things differently.

“As neurologists and neuroscientists say, we become what we constantly do. This is true not only metaphorically. Even our brains are being transformed and rewired as we start to use them in different ways. So fundamental transformation in terms of new practices and behaviours is – literally – fundamental.”

End of block quotes…

Full report accessible here.

Patagonia, are you asking us not to buy?

I recently bought a Patagonia jacket. Which made me think of this. Worn Wear. Not just the fact that they do in fact become stories and memories, but the reaction from a lot of people when Patagonia explicitly encourages people not to buy their clothes.

I can hear proponents of the concept of brand loyalists scream. Of sales people squirming in their chairs. But it all aligns beautifully with how brands grow, and how brands can resonate, if we think about it.

Aware Patagonia loyalists, because it’s quite likely one of the fairly few brands who actually have real loyalists. Those who go quite far to stick to Patagonia. But those people are few, and they’re most likely very environmentally conscious already.

Another thing is about the message here. It’s not so much about the message, even though it’s very clear, true, and firmly positions the brand as a true “do good brand” with a purpose beyond making quick bucks. But it’s also about how they make this public. It’s so real. There’s not an ounce of fake in here even coming from a brand. I wrote/commented a few lines on how brands publicise themselves creatively here.

And with this in mind, lets just remind ourselves that there’s always people out there, however environmentally conscious or unconscious they might be, in the market for a new jacket and pants. And those people can buy from a number of brands (except for the exceptionally small group of die hard loyalists), all of which would suit their needs. The question is about who do they come to think of first? Who resonates more?

A few of those people might take you up, reconsider, and get used clothes or maybe even repair what they have. That’s a win for Patagonia. But enough people will get something new.

So, as Byron Sharp and other myth-busting researchers have pointed out to us – go for penetration, because the potential buyers are everywhere. They’re not loyal, they’re just likely buyers, to a varying degree.

What Patagonia does isn’t risky, it’s doubly good (and they’re f***ing awesome).

Vänsterpartiet – nej, nej, nej oavsett vad

DNs ledare ringar in precis det jag upplever med Vänsterpartiet, de är ett hopplöst nejsägande parti. Dom spelar evigt “defence” och maler uteslutande på med sina nej, nej, nej. Man kan – och utifrån ett varumärkesperspekiv bör – utan att blanda in faktiska politiska budskap och visioner diskutera energin, framåtandan och “momentum” bakom partier. Vänstern är toktröga.

Vänsterpartiet vill förändra sin image som dogmatisk nejsägare. ”Vi måste lära oss att uttrycka oss på rätt sätt. V har tidigare varit mer nej än ja”…

– DN (Linda Snecker)

Erik Modig skriver på sin kommunikationsblogg på Dagens Media om, hur man vinner ett val. Jag tycker två kommentarer till artikeln sätter fingret på vad Vänstern än så länge missar.

Du har så fel….Sverige vilar på en socialdemokratisk grund, den som lyckas vinna essensen ur den vinner. M lyckades ett tag men nu tar S åter rodret. Ideologi är starkare än reklam, den har nämligen arbetats in under generation efter generation. På så sätt är vi olikt många andra länder.

Kommenterar Jonny

Jonny, du har förmodligen rätt. Jag tror dock inte jag har fel för det. För det första så handlar det om HUR man vinner ”essensen” och då tror jag ovanstående principer kan hjälpa. För det andra finns osäkra röstare som inte baserar sitt val på ideologi. Det är dessa kommunikationen kämpar om.

Replikerar Erik Modig

Precis, kampen om yngre väljare, till exempel, måste ta i beräkningen att ideologi – extremt starkt begrepp inom Vänsterpartiet – är ett fenomen som för en yngre väljargrupp kanske inte riktigt är vad det varit (förutom för de inbitna, och de är ju frälsta). Vi ser ju substitut till kyrka (varumärken till viss del), politiska ideologier (subkulturer, nära grupper), stark geografisk tillhörighet (webbens geografi) etc.

Vi ser starka trender inom individualisering, uppluckrade arbetsformer (friare, inte bara osäkra och nedriga som Vänstern påpekar), socialt engagemang, intresse för rättvisefrågor mm. Småföretagandet är starkt, intressebaserade konstellationer formas utan geografiska begränsningar, man har större möjlighet att påverka än någonsin tidigare. Allt detta gör mängder med unga individer för att det är meningsfullt och ger dem värde. Frågan är hur Vänstern appellerar till denna yngre, medvetna och företagssamma generation/grupp? Vänstern framstår mest som solidaritetspolis (inte fel i sig), och inte inspiratör (avgörande metod för positivt momentum). Det ena borde inte utesluta det andra. Vi får väl se om de tätare inpå valet faktiskt presenterar några konkreta, inspirerande och offensiva förslag för att uppnå vad de vill (målet bakom ideologin) eller om det är idel förbud, nej och begränsningar.

connected intentions

“When you use Buycott to scan a product, it will look up the product, determine what brand it belongs to, and figure out what company owns that brand (and who owns that company, ad infinitum). It will then cross-check the product owners against the companies and brands included in the campaigns you’ve joined, in order to tell you if the scanned product conflicts with one of your campaign commitments.”

We want to do good, make the right decisions. Eat green, wear helmet, give to the needy. What we say and want to do doesn’t always (almost never?) equal what we actually do. Attitudes and intentions might be there (I said I’d start wearing a helmet, and really meant to, for about a year) but behaviour is held back by barriers often ridiculous in nature.

The Buycott app, covered here in Springwise, is an example of a phenomena where those barriers, standing between intentions and behaviour, are lowered. When intentions are enforced and supported effortlessly, things can get interesting. Users/consumers tend to forget, but if forgetting gets harder, there’s even more pressure on brands.

Brands need to think harder (and try harder) to operate in a world where active and intentional (strategic) brand building more frequently is done through operational actions, decisions, etc, and less so through intentional brand communication.

Doing bad stuff has always risked ending up in the news or search results, but it (generally) demands momentum, a high “shittiness level” and a collective outrage. We’re alerted (and reinforce) though common sentiment and mass behaviour in a connected society. Connected information like this, which helps our intentions by becoming connected intentions, doesn’t. It becomes as individual as the wine suggestion app in a bottle store.

That doesn’t mean groups and social pressure doesn’t exert power on brand choice/decisions, but an added – again comparably effortless – nudge and reminder is potentially big. In a way it’s what connected and quantified self is/will be for daily health decisions in general.

modern day brand building – advertising as a byproduct?

Welcome to Detroit from Shinola on Vimeo.

This is a nice post by Edward Boches covering Shinola, a brand I myself just recently came across flipping through Men’s Style on Flipboard (ehrm), and how well they build their brand (so far).

What’s noteworthy is that this is not about building a brand in a new way, often including opinions around the death of TV, the insanity of bought media and extinction of print. And it’s not a case of proving how traditional advertising still works. It’s about how modern brands understand it’s not either/or, it all compliments each other, and that the most powerful thing is to have a purpose, and hence story, beyond – but not irrelevant to – the commercial interest.

This isn’t about going viral or driving millions of views, rather it’s more about telling the brand story, providing easily embeddable elements, and building a library of content that doesn’t feel as disposable as most advertising.

Boches

The thing with advertising being disposable and, in general, increasingly being disliked, distrusted and enjoying less acceptance is an interesting one. It’s not just that there’s more and more bad, lazy, poorly crafted advertising speaking in a voice that’s disconnected from reality, it’s that there’s often not much of a counter weight.

Advertising, at least as we tend to narrowly define it today, should be no more than a byproduct (and certainly not the sole product) of a commercially curious creative company.

Gareth Kay

People are ad literate enough to understand how advertising works – polished by agencies, constructed and often exaggerated – but if that’s all a brand is going to serve, then screw you. If a brand opens up and shows a greater depth, signs of being in sync with society, people, vision, reality, you are much more likely to enjoy a greater acceptance to your advertising.

Think about a great brand experience you’ve had, and how that affects your perception/acceptance of their advertising. That’s brand experiences in a broader sense.

Increasingly, to get meaningfully noticed is through delivering on the unexpected and over-delivering on the expected. Not very advertising centred, but very much commercial creativity.

the value, or not, of online advertising

From a brand communications perspective, some of the most interesting things happening are around new ways of connecting to people that, at least, buy or use your product. I say at least because today there’s nothing holding people back from promoting and selling your brand, if they dig it. And there’s nothing holding brands back from not making that more likely. I like what Rick Liebling touches on in this post about the future of retail, and how brand advocates can/should/will be viewed differently from an organisation-boundary-perspective. More thoughts on that in a later post.

At the other end, brands need to continue to “just lightly nudge” people into buying their services and products and display advertising is, from a user behaviour and media usage pattern perspective important. A few bits that are connected happened to pop up about the same time.

Google says that its technology could be a game-changer, in that it will create an advertising product that can command a premium.

“Display inventory to date has been limitless,” said Faville. “It could be that prices for viewable inventory become higher as advertisers’ confidence increases in the system. There is a high likelihood of these ads being seen as valuable to marketers.”

From The Guardian/technology

“The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen. The average American family hasn’t time for it, it will never be a serious competitor to radio broadcasting.”
– The New York Times in 1939, by way of Dave Trott.

Via Gustav von Sydow

“Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires, as may be done with dots and dashes of Morse code, and that were it possible the thing would be of no practical value.”
– 1865 Boston Newspaper, by way of Dave Trott

Via Gustav von Sydow

Premiumization is likely to happen. Exclusivity formats too. And likely to work, because it actually should work. We will break free from terminology like display vs ondemand TV vs online TV vs Broadcast TV etc and see more clearly. Nobody ever clicked on a TV ad, yet we know it works. Mere exposure effect is real, etc. Just a reflection.

business transformation before digital transformation

MITSloan presented some results from a survey about the need for digital transformation (companies face an imperative: adopt new technologies effectively or face competitive obsolescence as the study states). Results include an interesting, but not so strange, paradox:

  • 78% say achieving digital transformation will become critical to their organisations within the next two years
  • Only 38% of respondents said that digital transformation was a permanent fixture on their CEO’s agenda

I think this circles the most pressing issue and bottleneck; the interchangable use of digital transformation and business transformation.

Looking at digital technology (in whatever shape or form) from the level you stand, will not help you transform the business. Albert Einstein said that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. If you are expecting business transformation, you need to work on where that transformation might be going before you look at digital technology. Multiple answers will do too, scenario planning and future creation are exercises in plurality, but you simply cannot view things like you used to.

Despite growing acknowledgment of the need for digital transformation, most companies struggle to get clear business benefits from new digital technologies. They lack both the management temperament and relevant experience to know how to effectively drive transformation through technology.

Brand therapy in order to aim business transformation

So It’s backwards. Technology won’t give you the new future and reveal possible business benefits, it helps reach it and to an extent anticipate it. Companies need to revisit their entire reason for being, the meaning of them in peoples’ lives. Turn it inside out, because whatever you are now was created in a reality which is no longer. You need to go to brand therapy. Looking at yourself through the same old eyes simply cannot reflect a transformed image. You need a new level of self consciousness which means you have to have the guts (and realise the scope of a transformational process like this) to question old truths. You have to be prepared to redefine what you do (the business) as opposed to how you do things (the tools).

MITSloan survey, barriers to digital transformation

What I say is missing from this is the lack of a clear purpose and new self consciousness. The pieces that help give change a clear direction, reason and fundamental meaning.

language hinders you from creating for your meaning market

There are product categories and then there are meaning markets. Well, to me there is. I keep coming back to the importance of brands thinking about themselves as having meaning in a greater context. What is the meaning with us? Of course viewed from the other side it’s about what value do I (user) get out of them (brand). And when corporations can ask themselves that question from the perspective of a consumer (customer centricity) is when you start seeing opportunities within a/your meaning market.

Product categories are limiting. Ford as a car brand? Then go ahead and invent better cars (and product innovation is of course needed). Ford as mobility brand? Then it makes perfect sense to team up with (hell they could have started it) Zip Car and help sell transportation by the hour to consumers used to buying music by the song, as Gretchen Effgen, of Zipcar, put it a while back. Joint miles program with air line? Why not.

In digital transformation (i.e. business transformation, mind you) – definitions, perspectives and self perceptions makes all the difference. This, by super smart Deborah Mills-Scofield, I liked:

“There is a balance between using the past to understand the present and guide the future, on the one hand, and on the other, creating something fresh that leaves the old behind. We need analogies to understand the new (eg, horseless carriage) yet they also hold us back by it constraining our thinking (eg, horseless carriage).”

– Deborah Mills-Scofield, In HBR

And if you think that’s only about semantics and words, here’s the knock-you-straight business version from Peter Drucker.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Almost all clients I’ve come in contact with and in any way consulted in digital transformation, whether tactical or strategic, the issue has sat there. Definitions. Definitions reinforced by legacy. This keeps you distanced from the future. Regardless of how evenly or unevenly distributed it might be…

brands as a part of our environment and more

Camper is a quirky shoe brand from Mallorca, Spain. You react when you see them, from the characteristic “one-way-show-string” models, to the “rounded soldier boot meet clown shoe” inspired style but perhaps primarily their stores, in which their shoes are presented in a very artful way. It’s somewhat of an experience to browse the models which is nice.

I like the reflection below, about how Camper and its stores is part of the cities they’re in. And when you design a store, you can take cultural (and perhaps even political!) differences into account, hence looking at it from the perspective of adding, changing or commenting something that exists, in the greater context of things. In the case of Camper, using different designers to design stores around globe, resulting in drastically different experiences, it’s
“more a cultural thing”, rather than commercial, says Miguel Fluxá.

When we started to open stores outside Spain we thought it was interesting not to repeat them. The world today is becoming a little bit boring, everything is becoming the same. So we thought it was interesting for the brand, and for the cities, to do different designs from one place to the other. We started to do this many years ago and it’s something that has given us a lot of identity and has worked quite well over the years.

– Miguel Fluxá of Camper, via Dezeen

Camper in-store design
In-store design, from Dezeen.com