Tag Archives: strategy

The Ten Brands I Give Thanks For

It’s Thanksgiving day, and although it sounds frivolous, I have spent the last few days thinking about what brands I really care about, that make a positive difference in my life, and that perform against higher standards than most. This is highly unscientific, personal, and random. But these companies make products that drive preference–mine at least–and stay the course in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

You will notice that the cool advertising is not  the reason these brands have been chosen. Cool advertising–or any advertising–is not the same as a brand. The same goes for the logo.

The list is in alphabetical order:

American Express For not recklessly pursuing the sub-prime market. For the wonderful Platinum card, which has earned every penny of the annual fee by giving me access to airline clubs on bad travel days. For retaining the original card member year on the face of the card.

Apple For gorgeous design, intuitive controls, and perfection in packaging. For not selling out to Intel’s co-branding dollars and keeping its advertising clean and distinctive.

Bergdorf Goodman For not contributing to the homogenization of the world and maintaining its one, spectacular and historic location. For merchandise that you can’t get elsewhere.

Felco For the best pruners in the world, in all sizes. 15 years and counting.

Google Voted in by my daughter, “because it answers all her questions,” and it’s hard to argue that. Besides, it isn’t afraid to take the logo out for a walk now and then. All I ask is that they stick with their mantra, “Don’t be evil”.

Hershey* For giving new meaning (or the original meaning) to “corporate social responsibility”. For employee retention and loyalty that few can claim. For staying true to its roots, even in extensions like the amusement park and hotel. *If they buy Cadbury and mess with the Trust, they are off the list.

Martha Stewart The brand, not the person. For inspiring me to get back in touch with my inner crafter, and make my home a better place. For an unerring eye for color, composition and quality. For products that are manufactured to high standards.

NPR For miraculous programing that brings a fresh face and point of view to whatever it covers. For Car Talk, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Jonathan Schwartz, An American Life, all of which have kept me in my car long past the time for me to get out.

Olay For reinventing itself from an obscure, old lady brand, to a well-priced, well-researched, line of skin care products just before the recession hit. Well done!

OXO For changing forever the experience of peeling a potato–in other words, ergonomic innovation. For standing out among all the endless kitchen tools.

The minute I finish this post, I will undoubtedly come up with other winning brands. I’ll just keep them until next year.

How about you?

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Filed under Brand strategy, corporate identity, General Marketing, package design

The Dowser

The act of dowsing is a useful metaphor for the work of a brand strategist. 

A quick aside, in case you aren’t familiar with this term: Dowsing is a practice related to the location of underground water sources, and, less frequently, metals, ores, gemstones, or radiation fields. Dowsing is generally done with a simple tool–an L- or Y-shaped tree branch, or a similarly shaped metal rod. A Dowser

Skeptics of this practice abound, of course. I would be skeptical too, except that when I was a small child, my father successfully dowsed a new well when our old one began to deliver more sand than water. I still remember his amazement when he told us that he felt a strong and unmistakeable force, pulling the rod to the ground. He drilled at that point, and water has flowed from it ever since.

So it is when a brand strategist seeks the essential truth of a corporate brand. It is our task to wander across a wide territory of information, data, opinion, emotion, and identify the force that reflects the brand.

Clients can be skeptical of us, too. At this point in my career, I have written hundreds of proposals, and always when I reach the point of explaining how we come to the positioning, I lack the words, the “steps”, the “processes” that so easily describe the rest of our work. It is impossible to estimate in advance. The proper brand idea can bubble up in the first few days of our work, or it can only be wrestled to the ground after months of agony. There is no telling in advance.

But when it is right, there is no mistaking the power that draws us to the ultimate brand idea.

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The Mouse that Roared: Kodak’s Printer Campaign

A little over a year ago, I heard the CMO of Kodak, Jeffrey Hayzlett, speak at a conference. He is a great speaker, with an even greater story to tell. I went back to work and called one of my tech clients and said, “watch out–Kodak is going to come after you in a big way!”

Remember Kodak? They used to be known for cameras and film, and were basically given up for dead not too long ago. Well, they have reinvented what a “picture” is all about.

Then I forgot about it until last night. I confess, I was watching Dancing with the Stars when I realized the the printer division of Kodak had broken a new campaign. And this morning, a Kodak printer ad was on the back page of The New York Times. Themed “Print and Prosper”, it goes after the printer industry’s jugular: the fact that although printer prices are low, the cost of ink cartridges can choke a horse.  


Print and Prosper Campaign

Print and Prosper Campaign

Pretty direct, isn’t it? (I believe the agency is Deutsch.)

What I like about this is that Kodak’s marketing team has adopted a totally classic challenger brand positioning. So many companies are too timid to really go for it in the way the Kodak has. Being a challenger brand requires that you take off the kid gloves. So what exactly is Kodak challenging here?

Just like a narcotics pusher, printer companies currently offer (nearly) free samples (i.e., printers) in order to hook you on their ink cartridges, which can be very very pricey. Kodak directly assaults this way of doing business by saying that Kodak charges a fair price for printers AND ink cartridges. Kodak is bucking the widely held belief among printer manufacturers that most printer profit margins are virtually non-existent, and the only way to make money is on the ink. They are actually charging more than average for their printers, while promising a much lower lifetime cost for ink.

In so doing, Kodak is tapping into the consumer demand for transparency. Consumers know that printers from HP, Canon, Lexmark, et.al, are sold at an artificially low price in order to hold them hostage for the ink. The list of offerings is also very simple. Kodak sells 7 printers, and 3 types of ink cartridges. HP has 7 sub-branded printer categories (DeskJet, PhotoSmart, etc.)  and 100!!!! separate models that are suitable for home or small business use. I tried to count how many kinds of ink cartridges they sold, but I gave up at 160. Does the world really need that many kinds of printers and accessories? To be fair, a great deal of the ink cartridges may be for specialty graphics arts related printers, but really!

So Bravo to Kodak for looking at the business in a different way. There is always a risk in trying to claim “low price”. They could set off a pricing war in the inks category. They could also provide permission for the larger competitors to raise the cost of printers. Either reaction might push Kodak back into an “also-ran” position. 

I’ll be interested to see what’s next.


Filed under Brand strategy, General Marketing

The Freedom of a Tight Brief

Less is more. Not to beat a dead horse, but writing about Arnell and the rationale for the new Pepsi logo got me going on what a brief is all about. It is not a multi-page bloviation on gravitational pull. I have seen many over the years, and most aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Disclaimer–I have never worked in an advertising agency. Maybe it’s different in the ad world.

For those of us in Brand-land, we are either provided with a brief from our client or the strategy team must compose one for the creatives based on an immersion in the corporate or product strategy. (And every firm I have worked for has a different way of writing a brief). Briefs are used for logo design, naming, visual systems and they are critical tools for any creative team. If we create one internally, we forward it to the client for approval. Sadly, many clients don’t know what to do with it. In the worst and most common case, the client approves it, without realizing the this becomes our the touchstone by which we judge our work. Chaos ensues when they don’t like said work, and we defend it fiercely as being “on brief.”

I’m not beating up on clients, because I was one too. I remember an endless battle with the head of my company, who didn’t like a proposed ad campaign. I went over the rationale and explained how the ads visually and verbally supported the position and personality we had adopted. He didn’t get it. Finally, I showed him the brief we had given to the agency, which he had contributed to and had approved. Oops. Well, he “had seen the document, but didn’t understand what it was for, and he still didn’t like the campaign…”

What makes a good brief? I don’t know if I buy the concept that it is a fill-in-the-blank form. It’s one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” things, because the type of information that is relevant and necessary for a consumer product is different for business to business or corporate.

What I really love is the story I read in Ad Age today about a new campaign by McCann for Nescafe. Maybe they started with a complicated, multi-layered, everything but the kitchen sink brief. But you know what it got boiled down to?


How cool is that? That’s what I mean by “the freedom of a tight brief”.

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