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What Brands Can Learn from Eric Cantor

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labyrinth copyright B.DeLouiseWe’ve had a seismic shock here in Washington, DC. What can be learned from Eric Cantor’s historic loss of his seat and his position as Majority Leader?

Inside the Beltway, everyone thinks this is the first upset of its kind. Maybe in the annals of politics. But this kind of stuff happens every day to consumer brands. It happened when Tropicana tried to roll out a new look, and outraged its base consumers.  It happened when New Coke forgot what Old Coke had done for the world.  On the successful side of brands expanding their base, Miley Cyrus has been doing a pretty good job of transitioning from Disney Good Girl into a grown-up singer, MTV Awards twerking and all.  Not that I would recommend this approach to Members of Congress.

So what lessons can a brand draw?

  1. Know who your “grassroots” supporters are. Even when you have dreams of national expansion, or a re-brand, be sure you are not straying too far from your core competencies.
  2. It’s OK to try to shift your niche or broaden your appeal, but then you have to be sure your core constituencies—whether they are voters or stockholders or parents of a school or donors and volunteers of a nonprofit—will come along for the ride. OR, that you can do without them.
  3. And don’t attend a big-ticket fundraiser while your volunteers and supporters are sweating in the trenches, as Eric Cantor did on election day.  Your rank and file supporters/volunteers/consumers are actually part of your brand, so don’t diss them.

Amy DeLouise is a digital media producer and brand strategist.

Spring Cleaning for Your Personal Brand

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Is it time for a change in your career path? Butterfly We all have those moments when we feel the seasonal shifts in our professional lives. Sometimes these are triggered by personal life events–children, aging parents, an illness. Often they are part of bigger trends in our industry (boy has my industry changed from the days of shooting on film to 4K cameras!).

The three keys to a successful personal re-brand are the same elements needed for any strong brand:  Storytelling,  Community,  and  Authenticity.

1. Storytelling. Everyone has a brand story–even individuals and small companies. So tell your story. And if your story now includes a new service, or a new focus, or a new location–tell THAT story.  How?

Curate & Share-Help people sort through the clutter in your new area of expertise by tweeting about a new study, or build and share a useful resource list. You could write a how-to blog post on the topic (and send an email to your clients to better share it). You could build an infographic on a new trend and pin it on Pinterest and share through other social platforms. And don’t forget to curate for yourself by following thought leaders in your new area of work.

Even better, let your Community tell your new brand story. See next paragraph!

2. Community. My friends Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter in their useful book Humanize say “Everyone has customers, stakeholders, suppliers, members, constituents…but not everyone can honestly say they have a community.”  I would turn that a bit and say you probably have a community you haven’t really thought about. It might be your religious community, it might be people in your neighborhood, it might be friends through a music group–you are connected to many different communities and can reach out to all of them to let them know what changes you’re making and enlist their help.

How? Your community can help promote your new website, or retweet your new posts. They can suggest new contacts for you, or post endorsements on Linked In.  And speaking of Linked In, try their nifty new “In Map” feature, that lets you visualize your personal networks (mine look like a squid–with the head being my digital media contacts, and the tentacles being all the different communities that I participate in through work and play).

3. Authenticity. One of the most important components of a successful brand today is that you are who you really are, across all platforms and networks. There once was a time when people had personal Facebook pages separate from their professional ones. Those days are gone. (That doesn’t mean you can’t segregate which posts go to all your “friends” and which ones stay amongst a select group–take the time to break out your friends groups in Settings, people!  Google+ lets you do this from the get-go–much simpler!)

So if you are making a career shift–be transparent about it. In fact, engage your Community with your evolving Story by crowd-sourcing ideas you can use in your new field, or location or area of expertise.  You can do this easily through social platforms. But you can also do it In Real Life! Talk to people and ask for advice and believe me, they will share.

And now your new personal brand will be connected to lots of other personal brands that are evolving, too.

Amy DeLouise is a digital content creator who consults on brands and is always evolving her personal brand. Follow her occasional tweets on the subject (and #nonprofits, #video, #food, #fastcars ) @brandbuzz.

 

Do Tag Lines Matter?

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Labyrinth_HigherEdAmyDeLouiseBlogIn a word, yes. Especially in a hashtag- and keyword-based world. Of course, not every organization needs a tag line. The American Red Cross does not use one. But then, you know what they do and how they do it. Sometimes, the very best tag lines tell you why an organization does what it does.  In consultant-speak, this is called the “Vision” of the organization (as opposed to the Mission, which is the what and the how). So, your mission might be to feed the homeless, but your vision is a world without homelessness.  And that premise–and your passion about it–should underly your tag line.

The Salvation Army has a tagline:

Doing the Most Good®

It’s a little generic. But my guess is they decided to have this because the words “salvation” and “army” both carry heavy negative connotations. The word “good” by contrast, has a very warm and fuzzy feel to it. “Doing” demonstrates an active stance. “Doing good” could describe pretty much any nonprofit. By adding in “most” they are communicating effectiveness and efficiency–the best use of your money.

Many nonprofits less well known than The Salvation Army use a tag line to enhance identity and market positioning in a crowded space. Particularly if the name does not provide full clarity about their Mission or Vision.  One of my favorites is the tag for Common Cause: Holding Power Accountable.

When developing a tag line, there are three steps you can take to help you:

1. Define Your Brand Personality (smart, young, respected, edgy, etc.)

2. Define Your Vision (the way the world would be if you succeeded 100% in your mission) and what makes you so passionate about it.

3. Determine Your “Gap”–that is, the gap that might exist between what your name says and who you are, which is often the gap between what people know about you and what you WANT them to know about you.

Defining your message in just a few words can be a challenge, but a tag line can go a long way towards helping you define your identity in an ever-crowded marketplace.

Amy DeLouise consults on nonprofit branding, and produces digital content to promote those brands.

How Not to Rebrand: Avoiding the Silverdocs Saga

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Sky at Sunset When SilverDocs became AFI Docs, the once highly successful documentary festival did more than change its name. It changed its brand. And not in a good way.

For over a decade, SilverDocs was a roaring success. The public-private partnership between AFI and Discovery Channel brought groundbreaking–and often future Oscar-winning–nonfiction films to the silver screen in a well-regarded documentary festival that supported the active local DC area film community, while drawing thousands to a newly renovated Silver Spring, Maryland cultural district.  As a member of that local DC production community, I have been proud to see colleagues’ films screened, and see them debate with nationally known mediamakers on panels and in hallways. Our local chapter of Women in Film and Video, with 900 members, played an integral role in many of the events surrounding SilverDocs. Sky Sitney, the passionate and gifted director of the festival, took it to new heights of nonfiction program content and relationship-building.

Flash forward to the creation of “AFI Docs presented by Audi”—which already sounds like so many other corporate sponsorships such as FedEx Field and PNC Bank Arts Center.  The festival turned away from its warm hug of the film community and became a more “industry-driven” project, according to a Washington Post interview of Nina Gilden-Seavey, Silverdocs founding director. The result was not just a damaged brand in the eyes of the local community. It was a bad employment brand, because the new mission was one its visionary leader couldn’t support. So Sitney has quit to pursue other ventures.

Rebranding can be a tricky endeavor. It’s a balancing act between where you’ve been and where you want to go. The trick of any rebrand is to avoid New Coke syndrome. You want to be sure that your community, and especially your leadership, can come along for the ride.  (Hint: If you’re still being called “Formerly known as…” a year after your rebrand, it’s time to rethink the plan.) That’s not to say that change and progress aren’t a good idea for institutions.  But an organization without its people won’t succeed in today’s interconnected brand landscape.  And it takes more than sponsors to make a good nonprofit run well. Let’s hope AFI Docs will find its way to rebranding its rebrand, before it isn’t any brand at all.

Amy DeLouise is a multimedia producer who consults on branding and marketing for businesses and nonprofits. You can reach her at amy [at] amydelouise [dot] com.

Eiji Toyoda and Brand Leadership

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With the recent passing of Eiji Toyoda, it’s a good moment to look at a man who re-invented the Toyota brand. While he didn’t found the company (a cousin did), Eiji Toyoda took the Toyota brand from a low-budget also-ran to a global powerhouse. How? By focusing on systems and how to make them better. And by letting the people inside the company help him do it.

Toyoda created a process of labeling assembly line parts–a precursor to the bar code–that made Toyota plants  the model of efficiency. He also promoted “Kaizen”– a process of continuous improvement that, at least in his version of it, relied on the company’s own workers as the source of the best ideas to constantly improve quality and efficiency.  Toyoda understood that what would distinguish his family’s cars from other cars was to deliver quality for a price-point that worked for American customers –the ultimate Toyota target market. Today, it’s hard to imagine someone not knowing the name of the company that has brought us the Lexus, the Prius and the Camry.  

But when organizations talk about re-inventing their brand, they often think first about logos, websites, social media campaigns and marketing slogans. These are essential tools, don’t get me wrong. What’s often missing from the recipe for a better brand is, well, a better brand.  Toyoda’s secret ingredient was to focus on how people and processes delivered cheaper, better cars.  Translated for nonprofits, that means delivering on the mission in a way that is more consistent, with more impact.   Communicating about that terrific quality and impact is actually the last step in the process.

3 Ways Your Board Can Help Your Brand

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Blue Glass c B. DeLouise1.      Build in Time for Your Brand Story

Board members are obviously committed volunteers, but sometimes they are connected to your organization through only one pathway (i.e. a child with a disease that you are trying to cure, a son at your school, they are a member of your association, etc.)   So board members need to be briefed on your big picture “brand promise” to your customers and constituents. They also need to fully understand the experience you promote for your donors, your staff and your other volunteers.  A retreat is a great opportunity to build in time for board members to share their own experience of your brand, and to practice their “elevator pitch” – connecting your key brand talking points to their own personal experience with your organization.   Let them practice presenting, both one-on-one and to the full group.  This way, your board members can be better—and more comfortable—brand cheerleaders.

2.      Teach Board Members how to Share Their Passion Through Social Media

Many board members are not digital natives. They may need some help both understanding social media platforms and learning about the tools that make them effective. A retreat offers a unique time away from the bustle of everyday life to demonstrate how you are using social media to promote your organization, and how board members can help. For example, provide them with the hashtags of your upcoming fundraising events or keywords you want associated with your brand. Show them sample tweets, Facebook posts and Linked In updates. You can even break into smaller groups for working sessions with different social platforms. Finally, offer a link where board members can download approved photos or logos to use for such posts. And encourage them to share their personal stories about your organization. Your board members are ambassadors in the community both in person, and online—use them!

3.      Collect Stories of Your Brand in Action

People give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors as well as grassroots supporters. The best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube and other Web 3.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  Use your board retreat as an opportunity for sharing personal stories, and collecting those details that you can use in your next e-newsletter, Facebook posting or future web video.

Making an Old Brand New(ton)

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I’m a fan of the Fig Newton. Sorry, I mean the Newton–its new moniker in a  rebrand campaign rolled out by Nabisco this week. Other old brands needing renewal could take note of their strategy.

Born in 1891, the Fig Newton was billed as a “cake” rather than a cookie. These tasty morsels featured heavily in my after-school snack repertoire as a kid.  Something to do with the texture–soft on the outside, chewy on the inside, with a touch of crunch from the fig seeds. But now Nabisco has decided figs aren’t sexy. They’re too much like prunes. But the Newton still has healthy ingredients that can be touted. So Nabsico took away the modifier, added new flavors like raspberry and blueberry, threw in some whole grains, and rolled out a new ad campaign. Plus they launched Newtons Fruit Thins, which target boomers like me, rather than our kids. (And hey I have to admit, they’re pretty tasty. Though my advice to Nabisco would be to go easy on the Rock-Hard Pieces of dried lemon in that variety—we oldsters have fragile teeth!)

Declines in sales were reversed, largely thanks to the Fruit Thins. Other aging brands could take a page from this campaign by McGarryBowen, part of Dentsu—launched this week.

  1.  Understand Your Unique Brand Promise.  Newtons were always about containing real fruit. That hasn’t changed. The packaging of the message has.
  2. Be Relevant.  Don’t stick with a name that doesn’t help you sell who you are. Consider your core values and those of your customers/donors/prospects.
  3. Be Different. If you want to stand out from the other “cookies”—don’t try to blend in. Dare to be different and flaunt it. The Newtons campaign avoids animation and other kid-targeted elements common in cookie ads.
  4. Your Market May Be Aging. Change with them. Give them new offerings that meet their needs, while still putting out a core product that can attract new, younger fans.
  5. Invest in Your Change. If you’re going to roll out a rebrand, you can’t just change your name and logo and hope the customers will follow. Of course you don’t have as much money as Nabisco, but every department involved in communicating to customers or donors or volunteers (which is pretty much everyone) needs to be briefed, vested, and ready to engage as a new brand.

 

Is (Re-)Branding a Waste of Resources?

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Lately I’ve worked with several law firms who are upping the ante in terms of their brand presence.  But with the recent demise of Howrey (who changed to the fashionable one-name brand as part of its re-branding campaign a few years back, not so many months before going belly-up), many may wonder if re-branding is not only a waste of money but also a portent of impending corporate doom.

I’d like to make the case that it’s not re-branding that’s the problem, but what goes on behind it.

The motivation for re-branding is the key to its success. If the goal is to put new packaging on an old product (The Gap), then it probably won’t work. If the goal is to re-present an old brand to new audiences (“it’s not your father’s Oldsmobile”) it can work, but needs to be thoughtfully designed. And if the goal is rolling out a new brand, then the success lies in whether that product or service really has an audience in the first place.

In the case of Howrey, the re-brand was preceded by a decision to streamline the firm’s business lines into several key areas: anti-trust, litigation, and intellectual property. The problem with that strategy–it became clear in hindsight–was that Howrey could no longer be an all-purpose corporate law firm.  When times were flush, that worked. But as the firm expanded and swallowed up competitors, it became more and more likely to have conflicts of interest and have to turn down work. Enter the recession, and the whole thing was over.  So it wasn’t the re-brand that killed Howrey, it was the strategy behind it.

So what kinds of strategies can support a re-brand? I believe in an integrated approach:

1. Use social media. Still frightening to many corporate and nonprofit leaders, social media allows organizations to engage clients and members with a personalized voice. It also gives them a way to receive feedback from clients, and tools for mining existing contacts for prospects. But social media requires having internal guidelines and teaching staff how to use it most effectively. It remains a task that is often foisted on the newest/youngest members of a team, rather than its most seasoned players, who are often your best brand ambassadors.

2. Advertising. Placing the right ad in the right venue can support other marketing initiatives and enhance name and brand recognition. One of my colleagues in the nonprofit space says her organization gets some of its top hits from a tiny, 1 inch sidebar ad in The New Yorker magazine. Knowing more about your target audience (which you can do through social media!) really helps in making an advertising strategy effective.

3. Logos, names and taglines. Re-brands tend to come with new identity packages and tag lines. Some are great (“Take your ideas to the world.”–Baker & Botts). Some are so generic you wouldn’t know what a company does  (“A tradition of innovation”–you know who you are, or do you?).  The key with logos, names and tag lines is not that you have them, but what you do with them. If your strategy is to put them on your new web page and sit back, waiting for clients to arrive, then they probably won’t make a difference. If you can position them in ways to grab attention and re-enforce market position, then they can help put you ahead of the competition.  Frankly, even The Gap gained loads of attention and a good read on customer loyalty to its original brand identity when it got negative reviews of its new logo.

4.  Web 2.0. Many organizations are still somewhere around 1.6, while some in the commercial world are fast approaching 3.0. Web 2.0 simply means the death of the web page as road-side billboard, with more interactivity,  more opportunities to refresh content, a recognition of the role of search engines, and the integration of tools like comments and video.  It is now what consumers expect of their vendors and non-profits.

5. PR Matters. This is where the softer touch of public relations comes into play. Buying sponsorships at your local AA ball park or supporting a local food drive could be just the right places to roll out your new brand, and provide better visibility and more targeted market segmenting than pure advertising.  Closing the gap between “hard” and “soft” marketing can also be accomplished with educational tools like a podcast series, that helps prospective clients see your expertise and talent in action, then link back to your products and services.  PR is also essential when something goes wrong with your brand–such as the recent debacle over the high-priced pre-term birth drug rolled out by KV Pharma.  Trying to drag out the PR hoses once the barn is already on fire is harder than having a strategy in place to begin with.

6. Use Real ROI. Counting the number of hits is out. Understanding who the hits come from  is in. Whether you use analytics tools from Google,  Lithium or Radian, you still have to decide what it is you are measuring and why. And since most service industry and non-profit marketing is cumulative, putting a value on the quality as well as quantity of your social media interactions is key.  (more on this in a future ROI post)

Takeaways: Re-branding isn’t perilous in of itself. It just must be accompanied by a strong strategy and an organization whose actions and words are consistent with its mission.

How to Succeed at Brand Changes

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©2010 Barbara DeLouise

One thing’s for sure about GAP’s recent logo debacle (if you missed it, here’s a quick summary by Huffington Post): they got a lot of visibility for their brand. Hmmm, maybe that was actually the point?  Hard to know, but when changing your corporate logo in this era of social media, it’s important to consider more than what your brand consultants tell you. You need to consult your users.  When considering changing any key aspect of your branding—colors, logo and/or tag line—consider these four points of input:

1.        Current customers/clients/donors.  Organizations that already have deep roots into social networks can use them for feedback. But it’s also good to use old-fashioned focus groups, with a trained professional to run them. However realize that all of these sources are subjective and subject to change from a variety of external pressures you can’t necessarily control.

2.       Prospective customers/clients/donors.  This one is always a bit harder to pinpoint, but a firm specializing in both quantitative and qualitative survey data can help you hone in on key submarkets and assess the resonance of your new branding with them.

3.       Vendors.  I know, on first blush this seems odd. But as one of the people who often has to deal with people’s new logos (for multimedia/video production), I’m often struck by how they don’t work across multiple mediums.  Check in with your favorite printer, video producer, webmaster and be sure the font and color can work in their medium.  See how the logo looks when it is faxed, projected, and seen on various screens (LCD’s being different than some TV screens, for example).  And especially, what happens when you view it on a Blackberry or iPhone?

4.       Your mother.  I know, it’s totally unscientific, but if your mother would hate this logo, you might want to reconsider it.  Call it the “gut check.”  If there’s something bothering you about it now, imagine when it is imprinted on everything around you!

While I don’t fully agree with GAP’s post-logo plan to use crowd-sourcing to design a new logo–and they ultimately pulled the plug on that unwieldy idea–I do agree with the concept that in today’s era of “dialogue,” you need to include the customer in your decision-making. That said, it’s pretty hard to create good design by committee. So ultimately you have to trust your own process. Just be sure to have one.