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Twilight of the Brands?

Due to the forces of the internet, consumers have better information, and therefore brands are "fragile." That's the assertion in "Twilight of the Brands" by James Surowiecki, the latest article in the Financial Page of the The New Yorker Magazine.

He writes, "consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos."

This argument implies two things that aren't reality: 1) a brand can be reduced to its logo which can itself carry the weight of communicating a product's value, and 2) people used to rely on logos more than their own informed opinion to determine the value of a product.

Let's start with clarifying what brand means. The semantic issues with the word brand are understandable. Iron rod brands burned identifying marks into livestock. In fact, the word brand comes from Old English and means "fire."

So in business it makes sense that people think of brand as logo, as a visual mark of identity. But it is more helpful to think of brand as promise. A brand is a promise of an experience. Here's why this is a better understanding of brand.

A logo is a symbol. Like all symbols it carries no meaning except that which we give it. Logos gain meaning over time as people associate expectations of experience with that mark. So the effect of a logo is to serve a cue, a reminder, a prompt of an expectation of experience. A logo points to a brand experience.

The distinction between brand and logo matters when Surowiecki's continues in this direction. "[W]hat’s really weakened the power of brands is the Internet, which has given ordinary consumers easy access to expert reviews, user reviews, and detailed product data."

The Internet may have weakened the power of logos, but it hasn't weakened the power of brands. To the contrary, the forces of the Internet strengthen the brands that are doing remarkable work. There is a "winner" at the end of every online review. Those winning brands benefit from the very reviews Surowiecki says compromise the power of brand.

But what is the "power of a brand," anyway? A brand (read "promise") has power as it serves as an antecedent to choice. A brand orients people to certain desires and to particular decisions. The power of a brand is emotional. A brand doesn't guarantee an outcome. It elicits a feeling.

So it's not surprising that Surowiecki notes, "Only twenty-five per cent of American respondents in a recent Ernst & Young study said that brand loyalty affected how they shopped…the percentage of brand-loyal car buyers has plummeted in the past twenty years."

There is rarely something to be loyal to! Cars, like many other products we buy, are generally a commodity. Can we say that any major manufacturer has invested in doing anything great in cars in the last 20 years? A brand isn't owed loyalty. Especially if they aren't doing the work to earn it.

However, there are places where each of us care deeply about a thing…the sound of a guitar, the calibration of an espresso shot, the character of a combination of hops and yeast, the interface of an operating system. In those places that deeply matter to each of us, there may be companies that rise to care about their product as much as we do. And in so doing they care for us. And in so doing they make a promise of an experience. And in so doing their brand doesn't enter the twilight. It enters my heart.

And where my heart is, there is where I spend my money.

posted by:
Brody Bond
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Analysis, Featured Post

When you laugh this hard when you're shooting a video…

... you know it's going to be funny.

Every year we make a "thanks for a great year" holiday video greeting for the members, sponsors, partners, and friends of the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA).

This year we decided to step it up and do a full-on parody of The Office.

It's a brilliant genre. Here's why: each of the MACPA staff people in this video was just being themselves. There was no "acting." Everyone was saying something very close what they might actually say on any given day. All we did was add one ounce of absurdity to the script. The scenarios just played themselves out from there.

So much of what makes The Office tv show hilarious is the characters. Admittedly, this piece we made for the MACPA is much funnier when you know the people involved. Fortunately, most of the folks this was sent to do know Tom, his real-life obsession with sticky notes, and his supporting team that sustains his vision.

Learn more about how we made this video (including a stupid mishap):

Here's the final MACPA holiday greeting film:

posted by:
Blue Ocean Ideas
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Behind The Scenes

Love Quietly Assassinates Fear

I was in a meeting this week with an IT consulting prospect when one of their C suite laid this on me:

“So how does what you do apply to our business?”

This client actively manages projects for 100 of the Fortune 1000.

Instantly I felt anxiety in my body. Heart racing. Fingers tapping each other. My mind paging through catalogs of knowledge I've shoved away about how to build a brand.

And then there is the voice. Shame whispering: “Who-am-I-to-be-talking-to-this-guy? Did-I-do-enough-research-on-this-company? Do-I-really-think-we-can-help? This-is-going-to-be-a-short-meeting.”

Silence.

I looked at the four other people in the room, and then back at the the executive who asked the question.

"People," I said.

“We believe that business is about people. Every single one of your customers is a person. And each of them buys your service from a person. Blue Ocean Ideas helps you figure out what that means for your business and how to build a brand that relates to people.”

It's true in every industry. It doesn't matter how big or small the organization is. Fortune 500 or mom-and-pop around the corner.

My reply re-framed our conversation and allowed us to look at their business in a new light. It wasn’t a “right answer.” It wasn’t magical. It also wasn’t generic. It focused the conversation that followed on the purpose, humanity, and strategy of this business.

In the anxious moment, the best courage I could muster was to remember that I didn’t ask to be at this meeting. I was asked to be there. I could be myself, be honest, and offer what I thought would be most helpful.

My desire to love the people in the room trumped my fear that I don't belong there.

Love wins.

posted by:
Brody Bond
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A quieter week ahead

It will be a slightly quieter week at Blue Ocean Ideas.

Anna Grace is with Kevin in Jamaica. Maggie is with Patrick on a cruise. And Brian and Alissa just got back from their honeymoon in Punta Cana a couple weeks ago.

It's been wedding season here. Three back-to-back. And it's been great.

Each wedding had its own flair. Each had special attention to different special details. Each was beautiful.

And the Blue Ocean Ideas family grows. We are so fortunate to have Kevin, Patrick, and Alissa as family now.

As Creative Director, I'm confident that marriage will inherently help each of these three rock stars be even better in their roles here. My own marriage continues to change and challenge me in so many ways, and the residual benefits I can bring to my work–for my team and our clients–are also growing (slowly).

Maybe this proves that the benefits aren't so "residual." Maybe it shows that each of us lives only one life (not a "work life" and a "family life"). I'm not a different person at home than I am at work. As such, I don't pursue much work-life balance either. That would be to draw a distinction that isn't real.

The way things are between my wife Lisa and me affects my work. The way things are at work affects my time with Lisa. And that is not a call to separate the two. It's a call to make sure that what happens in each venue–in every venue of my life–can help sustain and improve all the others. To sail a ship, it's changing the tension in the lines of the sails that get you to go certain directions and certain times. Tension, not balance.

I hope that working at Blue Ocean Ideas helps improve and sustain all of the marriages of our staff. And I'm very sure that being married is going to help improve and sustain our team and our work.

posted by:
Brody Bond
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Company News

"What is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes

[Photos are at the bottom of this post]

This past summer we set out to make a short film to help our clients understand more about our approach to branding.

The quick version: We are what we love. So, if we can show people what we love, we can reveal who we are. [TWEET THIS] Branding is not convincing people how great you are. It's standing beside the things we find to be great.

This is exactly why we chose to film this at Woodberry Kitchen, by the way. Their attention to detail in their dining experience is something we hope to emulate in the "branding experience" we serve to clients. Everything matters. Everything is intentional. And that is no more true than at Woodberry Kitchen.

Here's a look at one of our production days:

And here's the final piece, "What is Branding?" that we hope will challenge the way some people approach their marketing efforts.

Production photos:

"What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 20 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 19 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 18 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 17 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 16 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 15 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 14 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 13 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 12 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 11 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 10 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 9 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 8 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 7 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 6 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 5 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 4 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 3 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 2 "What Is Branding?" – Behind the Scenes 1

posted by:
Brody Bond
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