The greatest TED Talk ever sold (Morgan Spurlock)

I really, really enjoyed this video when I watched it. TED, of course, always has very thought-provoking talks to begin with – but this really hit home with me. I was especially cringing to see the reactions from the agencies/consultants interviewed… gosh, what a skewering of branding, marketing and communications practitioners everywhere! (Yet, it does get really hopeful and positive at the end of the video – there are some great people/practitioners/agencies out there still).

Some key takeaways for me:

  • Many people who say they are into transparency are liars and BS-ers. True transparency is very frightening… most of all, because you have to eventually relinquish control.
  • Ask yourself: What is your brand? (It’s not so easy to answer, unless you’ve really thought about it… and continue to think about it as you evolve and grow)
  • If your people can’t answer quickly and with certainty what your brand is… you really need to look into that. Otherwise, you don’t have a brand.
  • Take some risks!

Hope you enjoy this video as much as I did!

Brands Will Last Forever… Right?

I was reading this article, 5 Industries On Life Support via Yahoo! that really got me thinking about whether brands can last forever? You see, one of the core tenets of branding – in my humble opinion – is that it needs to stand for or mean something. Beyond the fact that the logo looks attractive and memorable, there must be some rational and emotional meaning attached for a brand to truly resonate with the customer. The trick, of course, is finding that delicate balance between having a brand mean something that is neither too generic (happiness, success, etc.) nor too niche (“the friendliest turtle shell scrubbing brush in this city”, etc.).

This, in turn, led me to think further about whether brands can last forever – since a brand is supposed to stand for something, what if the times change? How can you successfully transform or reinvigorate the brand accordingly? (Well, I suppose I just gave you all the answer as to why branding and rebranding experts will continue to be around for a long, long time! Read here on how to choose a brand consultant).

This line of thought then reminded me of the following clip from the movie, Other People’s Money, starring Danny Devito. I especially liked how Devito’s character, named “Larry the Liquidator”, talked about obsolescence with the example of “the last company around […] that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw”. Enjoy the clip:

What do you think? Will brands last forever? What must they do to keep relevant and be built to last?

Is Branding The Same Across Industries?

I thought this was interesting. In the blog post by Branding Strategy Insider, which I mentioned in my previous post, I read this:

We often are asked if we have extensive experience in category XYZ. Sometimes the same people also want us not to have worked with one of their competitors recently. Other than the pharmaceutical industry, I have found that brand work does not vary much across branded entities, from consumer packaged goods, B2B, healthcare and professional services companies to universities, museums, municipalities and start-ups. While there are some differences, deep knowledge of a specific industry or product category is generally far less important than specific brand consulting knowledge and experience.

What do you think? Do you agree?

How To Choose A Brand Consultant

I was reading “Choosing A Brand Consultant” over at Branding Strategy Insider and thought it was a very helpful primer on how to begin looking for a brand consultant. The post outlines a few important steps – and having been both a consultant as well as a client hiring consultants, I couldn’t agree more:

1) Be specific and clear about what you are seeking in a brand consultant

The post lists a few great reasons why would want to bring in a brand consultant:

Do you want to know how your brand stacks up against competitive alternatives? Are you concerned about an emergent competitor? Has your brand lost its competitive edge? Do you need to reposition your brand? Has your brand’s architecture gotten too complicated? Are you seeking an updated identity? Does your brand need a new tagline? Do you want to create a new marketing campaign? Are you trying to rally employees in support of the brand? Are you trying to create an improved brand building culture within your organization? Do you need to understand your brand’s customers better? Are you looking for ongoing education for your marketers?

Clearly defining the “question” you want “answered” is key to a successful consulting engagement. Not clearing up expectations and result objectives will certainly lead to disappointment much later on in the engagement.

2) Find out what the consultant’s skill sets are.

It is important to find out what the consultant’s (or the consultancy’s) skill sets are: Marketing research? Brand equity measurement? Brand valuation? Marketing strategy formulation? Brand (re)positioning? Brand identity development? Brand plan development? Advertising campaign development? Brand extension?

Another helpful tip is to ask what type of person is the organization mostly comprised of? Brand strategists? Marketing researchers? Graphic artists? Copywriters? Account executives? This will give some sort of indication as to what kind of “solutions” the consultant may offer.

A good point to note: be wary of consultants who may be “hammers looking for nails”. I.e. if the consultant’s tool is primarily a hammer (say, copywriting or marketing research) every one of your problems will seem like a nail (say, a copy writing exercise or a research exercise) to him or her. People and organizations mostly use the tools with which they are most familiar.

3) What experience does the consultant have?

You should not only ask not only for a client list, but also for case studies on the services in which you are most interested. In fact, I remember seeing brochures with a bunch of big-name logos with little explanation on what was actually done for these clients – thus, while a list of big name clients can be impressive, ask what project or projects the consultant did for specific clients.

You should be aware that many of the biggest brands have used multiple consultants over time and even in a given year depending on the division or specific need. Sometimes a consultant’s best work may be for a smaller, lesser known client for which there is a greater chance for enterprise-wide impact. I would add that you should not be hesitant to use a “smaller” consultancy if they have demonstrated great results for such “smaller, lesser known clients”. Sometimes, big isn’t so beautiful.

Also, client references and testimonials are also very helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask the references detailed questions about their branding projects and the value that the brand consultant added to those projects.

4) Does the consultant demonstrate good listening?

There is nothing more frustrating than a consultant who comes with “all the answers” yet fails to address the main problem you hired them for. Verily so: A good consultant is good at listening.

A great set of tips from the post:

Have the consultants you are considering feed your situation and issues back to you. The one who has the deepest understanding and insight is the one most likely to do the best job for you. That is probably also the one who asked the most probing questions before crafting a proposal. Watch out for the consultants whose approach is “cookie cutter” – replace the last client’s name with your brand’s name and the proposal is “good to go.”

5) Determine the consultant/team who will be actually working on your job

I’ve seen this happen before – which is part of the reason why in most pitches I now ask specifically who the team servicing us will eventually be. As the post relates:

Be wary of large consulting companies that send in their business development “A” team to make the pitch. They will knock your socks off (because that is what they are supposed to do), but you will likely never see those people again. Someone else will be assigned to your project. Make sure you have met the people who will be assigned to your project and especially the day-to-day team leader. That is the person on whose shoulders your project’s success will rest.

As a small aside, I would also add:

6) Ensure that the consultant/team has great chemistry with you/your team/the final decision maker

More and more, it is undeniable that having good working chemistry is a very important contributing factor to a successful engagement – especially in the area of branding. For me, branding lies somewhere in the middle of “magic” – a fine balance between the strategic, tactical, cerebral and emotional. Crafting a solution and reaping the results of a branding engagement will emerge out of a great working environment between the client and the consultant. Hence, having good chemistry can lead to that.

What other steps would you consider in hiring a brand consultant? Let me know in the comments. Good luck with finding a great brand consultant for your brand!