The word “Brand” is both mis-used and mis-understood.                 And usually by “Brand Managers”.

They’ll engage “Branding companies”. Who will devise a color palette/ logos and “Brand guidelines”. And when they’ve done that, job done.

But to companies who understand their brands and what branding actually means (BMW, Volkswagen spring to mind) the act of “branding” is a constant, daily process.

In my view, some of the most cohesive “brands” are people. David Bowie. Victoria Beckham. Jon Stewart.

And Mohammed Ali. He, maybe, really was the greatest.

He was known as “The Louisville Lip” because of his arrogance.

He would predict, in rhyme, the round he’d knock his opponents out.

“I’m wise to his tricks, so he must fall in round six.
But if he talks in jive, I’ll put him down in five.”

At first everyone laughed at him.
But soon his opponents started to fall in the rounds he predicted.
And pretty soon everyone stopped laughing.

This was something no one had seen before.

A man who was so supremely self-confident it wasn’t even a question of whether he’d win, just what round. Other boxers were terrified.

The question came to be not, would they lose, but could they survive the round Ali (then Cassius Clay) had predicted.

They became so terrified of the accuracy of his predictions, defeat seemed almost inevitable. His opponents’ confidence evaporated. They were beaten and demoralized before they started.

He made outrageous claims, promises. Yet he kept them. He correctly predicted (as best my limited research could find) the outcome and knock-out round # of 12 fights.

I was struck, about 20 years ago in Japan, by the reputedly to-the-minute accuracy of “Bullet” Trains. The train stopped at the precise place on the platform it was meant to (the painted letter “C” on the platform would exactly line up with the door to carriage “C’ as the train came to a halt) and the train, scheduled to arrived at 9.00, would stop just as the second hand of large station clock marked the hour. Not just minute-perfect, but second-perfect.

The train took exactly 3 hours to get from Tokyo to Osaka. Every day. Every trip. No one could recall a time when the train wasn’t absolutely on time.

The “Brand” was the promise. “I will be there on time”. And if you are, guess what? Your brand is enhanced. You kept your promise. Belief is extended. Do it regularly and you become trusted. Blue chip. (Your trusty old VW fires up even on a snowy 20-below NY day and you feel warmer to Volkswagen.)

Now, the bullet train is actually capable of doing Osaka-Tokyo in about 2 hours 40 minutes. However. It can’t guarantee to do that every day. Some days it might be 2.45 or 2.43. Or 2.50. Depending on maintenance, weather etc. So the company that runs the train picks a time, it can 100% guarantee. 3 hours. (The train will slow down, noticeably, as it nears its destination, so it does not arrive early – but on time. If it encounters an unexpected delay, that’s OK, it has 20 minutes in hand.)

And Mohammed Ali started his career fighting opponents he could have probably dismissed in round 1 or 2.  But he wanted make himself stand out. To make himself seem different. Mystical even.

So he waited, and kept the fight going, until the round he predicted.
Because he knew it would have a greater effect on the better fighters who were watching. The ones he’d have to fight next.

I thus “knew” Ali would win. I “know” the Bullet train will be on time. I know my VW will start. Because I believe it. And I’ve had it “proven” to me.

Everything the “brand” does is consistent, constant.

The bit that most marketing mangers don’t seem to get is this:

Your brand is not what you say. It’s what you do.

Folks, “social media” is not the answer. A “great idea” is, and always has been, the answer.

The ambulance-chasers at “Business Insider” ran an article a few days a go with the headline “VW make another brilliant SEO-based ad.” (View above and read the hyperbole below).

Couple of things:

–       it’s a nice idea. Not new (unless you’ve been in the business 5 minutes) and not really “brilliant”. (But well done for resisting “awesome”, dorks.)

–       it’s has NOTHING to do with SEO. It is not an SEO-based idea, at all. SEO works on leveraging an idea, through its properties. It is not an idea in and of itself…

It really is a neat idea. But I wish “journalists”/ bloggers would do some homework on what similar idea preceded this.

This one – for example:

Every Want Ad you’ll see in the advertising journals is looking for “digital specialists”, or for “Social media Gurus.”

Your brand has a big problem? Hey, get a Facebook page. Do some “social media.” Or, better still, do a “viral” campaign.

What ARE you nincompoops smoking? Seriously.

Continue reading Folks, “social media” is not the answer. A “great idea” is, and always has been, the answer.

What will it say on your Gravestone?

Have you ever stopped to consider why you’re on the earth?

What your function is? What you’re ‘meant’ to achieve.

What thing inside you, what burning ambition, what gift to the rest of us, what piece of learning, what advancement in a particular field you have to impart?

Whether you destined to be an utter failure (like a moronic Microsoft employee who after 20 years STILL hasn’t mastered any successful form of smell check) or a Zuckerberg, I find it hard to believe that we don’t all, somewhere in us, have an innate sense of what we can achieve.

Now, for sure, it may have been squashed, by parents or teachers or bosses, but if it doesn’t still live in you, at some point in time but most surely did. Whether plausible in conception or not, we humans dream.

And having a dream and being able to keep it alive and making it real, I believe, is the difference between success and failure – and, if you will, between emptiness and fulfilment.

Continue reading What will it say on your Gravestone?

Why failing is good

If you’re not attempting to be extraordinary, you’re an oxygen thief.

If you have the privilege of being paid by a company to create ideas (i.e. sit with your feet up on the desk, staring out the window, musing) then I believe you have an obligation to think big. To dream big.

To “take risks” with your thinking (at least at the early, conceptual stage) and to come up with ideas. Ideas that, maybe, no one has thought of before. Ideas that, again maybe, sound dumb.

Continue reading Why failing is good

The Gun Debate: Legislation vs Education

The wonderful thing about technology, like water, is that it will always find a way around obstacles.

A few weeks ago, we saw the world’s first gun, made almost entirely from pieces manufactured with a 3D printer, successfully fire a bullet. In technological terms, amazing.

But to the fearful left wing, yet more reason to hide under the bedclothes or whine incessantly. Or, worse, for the Whine House itself to introduce costly and totally ineffective legislation.

Do I believe gun owners and their guns should be registered? Absolutely.

Just like cars.

Continue reading The Gun Debate: Legislation vs Education

Planned obsolescence

I have a good deal of respect for Mr Alfred P Sloan.

He rescued GM in the depression of the 1920’s.

He built the company into the largest corporation on the planet.

And he poured many millions of his own money into a philanthropic organization that still bears his name.

He did, however, a couple of less good things:

  1. He (allegedly) was pretty friendly with a small German guy with an attitude problem and a small mustache
  2. He invented “planned obsolescence”

Now, this concept (planned obsolescence) was pretty crucial to GM’s success and – from a business point of view – was a very smart thing to do.

In essence, prior to the mid 1930’s (and following Henry Ford’s edict – and made real by Karl Daimler and Gottlieb Benz) a car was to built to last.

And in the case of Daimler and Benz, last a very long time.

Ford’s motives were: “Replace everyone’s horse with a car.”

The Germans’: “Build the best engineered car.”

But GM’s was: “Don’t have last year’s model, have THIS year’s model.”

Epitomized by this great Doyle Dane VW ad “Auto Show” from 1970:

Continue reading Planned obsolescence

British Airways

The anthemic television campaign for British Airways which became a touchstone for the brand and its values. Watch here or go to Creative Work & Case Studies for the full story.

Land Rover

The ad that started the resurgence of Land Rover, enforcing it, globally, as “The best 4x4xfar.” See Creative Work & Case Studies for the background to the campaign.

You are not who you think you are

How many times have you heard someone say “I am who I am”? Defiantly.

Well, I don’t buy it. Neither from a person nor a Brand.

Nor indeed are you necessarily “who you want to be”. (You may be kidding yourself.)

You are what you DO. You are what you did today. (I could even suggest “you are who you are” when no one’s watching.)

Continue reading You are not who you think you are

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

This is about 5 years old. But it’s a seriously inspirational TED Talk, given by a teacher, talking about how our education system ‘kills’ creativity. Some of our companies, even some of our marketing departments do it, too.

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