Tag Archives: branding

Explore the Humanizing of Brands – Why Now?

Gather and Talk
Recently (Dec. 2nd) I had the opportunity to participate in a terrific event all about the humanizing of brands called BrandsConf. Jeff Pulver brought a couple of hundred people together to gather and talk about this topic that has been brewing for a long time, but has just recently come to a boil. That got me thinking: Why now? What has accelerated these ideas that have been developing around brands for several years?

I think a big part of the “why now?” is this very human idea of gathering and talking and how technology keeps making it easier for us to do just that – easier, faster, and at a larger scale. We used to gather and talk around the campfire, the dinner table, the watercooler, and now we’ve added al kinds of new places to gather and talk: chat rooms, comment threads, profile pages, Facebook walls and Twitter streams. We’ll virtually convene and debate over fanboy flamewars, activist causes, and even which thermos is really worth 24.99.

Not Gathered, but Talking
There used to be a little more clarity about when you were having a tête-à-tête, versus making a speech, or gathering a consensus. Now a conversation might be all of those things at once: one to one, one to many, and many to one all at once – and throw in many to many just for good measure. You also used to know when a conversation started and ended, but when the gathering is virtual it can also be asynchronous, or semi-synchronous, dialog and document all at once.

This isn’t just semantics (although I really like semantics), a lot of the reflexes we have formed based on the way we gather and talk in the physical world are being stress-tested by these new modes. Capacity, memory, history, context used to be things we could reliably judge in a more visceral way. There is a kinship in the gut between our skills as pattern recognizers and our effectiveness as B.S. detectors.

Gathered, but Not Talking
But I don’t think our reflexes are quite a sharp as they used to be, not as a whole. You see we spent a lot of years gathering, but not talking, first due to the radio, and later the TV. Add cable and cheaper electronics and we even began to lose the gathering – we were separating and not talking. IMHO our dialog skills got a little bit atrophied, especially when it comes to brands. We got comfortable with brands being spoon fed to us like cereal and Saturday morning cartoons. Our brand conversations were at best about brands, not with brands.

Search Me
Sorry about hopping around, but that’s just how my mind works sometimes. I’m not as random as Clifford Stoll yet, but give me time… So what was I saying? Search me…

Well that’s how we used to use that phrase: “Search me” was a handy expression to say I don’t know, or I don’t have the answer. Now “search me” is a directive, a request, a precipitate of this idea that we have a personal brand. Search me means that I have an answer and I want you to check me out so you know what you’re getting. This is where I think we as individuals can learn much from what the big brands have refined over the years, ideas like focus, consistency, aspiration and segmentation. And why is this important? Many of us come to a world with muscle-memory that was built when conversations were things that happened with a tiny scope, that faded away quickly, if not instantaneously, and we’re bringing those reflexes to a world where nothing is erased, everything is searchable, and the only way to hide a blemish is to crowd it out – make it harder to find by drowning it in a sea of positives.

I think this is why authenticity is so important to building a personal brand – every day we are offered the opportunity and consequence of operating like one-person media empires. Yet without the resources of a major brand or a billionaire media-magnate behind us it is essential that we steer our ships carefully, thoughtfully and with purpose. Our authenticity is our compass. It’s how we find our way, how we get back on track when we get buffeted around by life’s hard knocks and gleaming opportunities. It’s also the one resource that we know we won’t tap out while we’re hustling to keep up with the big shots and the big brands with their deep benches and deep pockets.

The good news is, it’s a lot easier to get big virtually than physically. The micro-brand can go global. The personal brand that embraces clarity and focus, that can bring an authentic remarkableness to market, can indeed go global. Your flavor of weird, if it’s real, might just be your win.

Talk to Me
So certainly there are heaps of brand wisdom that the little upstart can learn from big dogs like Nike, Apple, McDonald’s, Coke, Harley Davidson, etc. But can the scrappy, squishy, touchy-feely, human being at the center of a personal brand offer anything for the big brands to learn. Can you teach a big dog new tricks?

Well I think just as we as individuals have some communication reflexes that aren’t quite caught up with the new modes of semi-synchronous, always searchable, un-erasable, gathering and talking, so too are the big brands faced with outdated approaches and behavioral biases built on assumptions from other modes of communication. The command and control, TV, print, radio, megaplex paradigm depends on cascading layers of one-way filters that allowed information to flow down and out, but prevented the vast majority of the upstream communication from getting back to the top. All of that today can be subverted with a single tweet. It’s not a wolf at the door, but a human, just a few keystrokes away, and she wants to talk – not be lectured, or given the latest spin.

The social innovations of today’s Internet have brought back the talk to the gather and talk and large companies will be wise to recognize that we are not just demographics, not just a count of households in a statistical strata, but humans at every turn and in every nook and cranny – we’re squishy and we want to talk.

Hear Me
With all this talking and gathering another very human need is revealed – the need to be heard. The personal brand bold enough to build a narrative on a foundation of authenticity wants desperately to be accepted and acknowledge for that very thing. The person who tweets a complaint about a bad bit of customer service, or a disappointing product experience also wants to be acknowledged, engaged and will react to the brand that does so in much the same way as they would react to a human acknowledgement.

So, Now…
The social technology has positioned us as individuals to realize the potential and responsibility of being a great brand, while also reminding big brands that they are surrounded by and suffused with humans. Their potential and responsibility will be revealed in how they choose to engage in a world of trackable, semi-synchronous, and squishy human-to-human communication.

That’s why now.

If you want to get a little more of the flavor of BrandsConf search for the hashtag #brandsconf on Twitter and check out my doodle-notes made during the event.

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Welcome! So glad you’re here!

C'mon in!

Welcome! Or maybe I should say Welcome Back! As some of you know I used to write my blog over at davidscohen.wordpress.com. Well, no longer. This is the first blog post that I’m composing here on my brand-spanking new site. Hosting the blog with WordPress.com was great for a while – in fact it is wonderfully easy to do – if you’re new to blogging I highly recommend it. I just needed to add some fancy plugins and things that they don’t let you do over there, plus I wanted a tighter integration with the rest of my stuff.

So what’s the stuff?

Well if you’re here you’ve certainly noticed that this is a major rebranding/rebuild of my website. It was a butt-kicker getting here, but I’m very excited about it and I’ve got lots of plans for more content, business tools, doodles and fun down the road. Yes, it’s ok to say “business tools” and “fun” in the same sentence, in fact that’s part of the point of the redesign.

If you were a fan of the old blog don’t worry, all the old posts and drawings have been moved here along with a whole lot more. I’ve put up more galleries for doodles of Space Bunnies and such, a better page for keeping track of my podcast, The Be a Beacon Show – Personal Branding with David Cohen, and something new, an ecard service, which I’m calling doodlegrams.

I hope you’ll continue to visit the blog and explore this website, it’s new home, and if you do please drop me a note to let me know what you think.

Thank you so much!

David

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Endearing imperfections

Endearing Imperfections

The world is not a perfect place – a quick glance at any newspaper, newsfeed, news site, or newscast will provide ample confirmation for that idea, but so what? Where else are you going to live?

The world is not perfect, and neither is your spouse, sibling, parent, friend, child, or pet, but we love them, warts and all, right? I mean my dad sneezes so loud it shakes the windows, my cat refuses to use a scratching post in any room that has a sofa, and I’ve learned the hard way that when my girlfriend asks for a tiny bite of my sandwich she really means something in the range of tiny-for-a-shark-sized bite to just-go-ahead-and-make-a-new-sandwich-sized bite – but do I love them any less? Of course not, in fact sometimes it’s the foibles, the goofiness, the vulnerabilities, the endearing little imperfections that are well, endearing (except the sandwich thing that’s just annoying).

So why are we trying so hard to be perfect online? Why do we have this impulse to sanitize our communication and project some glistening fantasy of personal brand image for the world to embrace? Vanity? Insecurity? Fear of rejection? Well I say vanity-shmanity just be yourself.

In a photoshopped world filled with spin doctors and corporate speak more and more people are seeking authentic, plain as folk, communications. Letting down your hair, lowering your guard and risking letting a little bit of the real you out into the light of day can be a healthy thing for you and your personal brand. It’s a lot more sustainable and reliable for you to just be you than to always try to live up to the glistening fantasy you. Instead of doing cartwheels to try to project a flawless facade, focus on what you got that rocks – that stuff you do with world-beating zeal and samurai skill. Put the attention on those things and the warts become a whole lot less important. I mean if you think about it, someone with zealously applied samurai skill can be intimidating, but if they’ve got a well placed wart too that might be just enough to make them seem approachable.

Focus on your strengths and don’t get bent out of shape about your flaws – they might just be the endearing qualities that help you build an authentic personal brand.

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Love, brands and forgiveness

love and forgive

Doubtless there are tons of marketers spending heaps of time, money and resources toward trying to make their brands lovable. Sadly, many of these efforts fall far short of that lofty goal and at best achieve a temporary state of likability.

Cool features, great packaging, witty ads, attractive pricing are all dutifully studied, discussed, reviewed and presented and are all too often cast aside when a new ad, a better price, a shinier package, one extra feature or yikes! – one misstep comes along. Loyalty, or rather its lapse, tells us if we are liked, but not loved.

Perhaps the thing to put the attention on and the energy behind is not to strive so systematically to be lovable, but instead to figure out if your brand might be forgivable.

What does it mean to be forgivable? When we forgive we are letting go of resentment that we feel when someone has offended or hurt us. We look past the infraction, the shortcoming, the fumble and refocus on something else, something that forms the basis of the relationship, something that we deem worthy of forgiveness, something that merits a second chance. Is it love? Maybe not always, but it is certainly a step in that direction. When a company can give us something to believe in and then consistently acts in accordance with that belief – demonstrates the belief not just in words, but in choices and actions, then it is developing for those aligned with that belief something that for want of a better word I would call forgivability.

If I can forgive a brand for a mistake, even an offense, then it is likely that I am drawn to some ideal, a value, belief or empathy with that brand. Certainly some offenses are too severe to be forgiven, but I think that more often forgiveness is simply a moot point, because despite the efforts towards being lovable there is no relationship established, no buy-in to anything meaningful beyond the veneer of product, package and price.

If your company should stumble, release a clinker of a product, have a little scandal, make a PR gaff, who would forgive your brand? Who amongst your customers would give you a second chance? Learn who they are and why they would deem you worthy of a second shot and you may find yourself staring at a mirror’s reflection of your core brand values – or perhaps a compass for finding a true and sustainable path to your customer’s hearts.

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Safety Last: Mission Statements that Motivate


It’s a business cliche – the benign, committee-composed, sanitized, safe, yawn-fest of a mission statement that seems to propagate across so many organizations. It usually goes something like this: “Our mission is to be the respected leader in our industry by serving our customers with integrity and best-in-class service.” Huh? Okay, it is safe, but If your mission statement sounds like it could have popped out of a random mission statement generator then you’ve missed the point, and an important opportunity.

If there is no actual mission in the mission statement then it isn’t really important, is it? It isn’t going to magically motivate anyone or clarify any employee’s judgment when faced with a decision. How does “dedication to serving excellence” help any CEO map out strategy? What kind of compass is “aspiring to world-class performance” when you’re trying to set direction for a company culture and brand?

Hit the dictionary and you’ll come up with mission = “a specific task with which a person or a group is charged”. Now that sounds simple enough. It doesn’t mention safety. It doesn’t mention committee-think or not offending anybody. It does say specific – I like that.

So rather than harp on about how to write a mission statement I’m just going to offer up a few I’d love to encounter in the wild:

1) Our mission is to take our clients’ businesses from $1 million in revenue to $10 million in revenue – then introduce them to people who can take them further.

2) We are dedicated to cleaning up other people’s ecological messes in a profitable way without dumping our garbage in anyone else’s lawn.

3) Our company’s purpose is to build lawnmowers that make you want to mow the neighbor’s lawn too.

4) Our mission is to get customers from point A to point B, efficiently and safely, without ever forgetting they are people, not freight.

5) We are here to lovingly build furniture that your great-grandchildren will fight over.

6) Our mission is to brighten the world with lights that use less energy.

7) Our mission used to be to make household products that make life better for homemakers, now that we’re big we’ve amended that to also make life better for our employees, our communities and our planet.

8) We were put on this earth to design shoes that make you feel sexy.

9) Writing elegant software that makes your job more fun is our mission.

10) Our mission is to make beautiful kites so that more people look up at the sky and smile.

Got a mission statement that doesn’t play it safe?
What’s the most specific, riskiest, or useful mission statement you’ve encountered?

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    Caitlín Mowbray"I adore your doodles... I swear looking at those bunnies lowers my blood pressure, calms my mind and makes me smarter. Who needs meditation when there are bunnies?"
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