Brands in Pink

It’s not just a colour. It’s a state of mind.

The colour pink is a unique and somewhat controversial colour that is loaded with meaning and emotions. Dr. Veronika Koller, a professor and researcher at Lancaster University who studied how people interpret the colour pink, says that pink contains more meanings than any other colour. This is a respectful summation of this revolutionary colour. If history has anything to tell us, the colour pink has a lot of opportunity left in it in the world of branding.


The Colour Pink

Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan, Museum of Art, says the colour pink isn’t part of the electromagnetic spectrum so we aren’t seeing actual wavelengths of pink light but “an extra –spectral color, which means other colors must be mixed to generate it.” The primary two colours to make pink is red and white but it is yellow and blue tones that form a wide spectrum of pink colours. Wikipedia has identified over 46 notable shades of the colour pink (where as blue has over 73). In the ranking of popular colours pink is listed as number four behind blue, black and grey.

Alice Bucknell in her article A Brief History of the Color Pink explains pink has been a spectacular contradiction for masculinity and femininity. In Japan, the colour pick is associated with masculinity honouring slain Samurais whereas western cultures popularized pink in the eighteen-century fashion scene within the pastel-loving bourgeoisie. The art world brought pink to the forefront starting with the French Impressionists and Neo-Impressionist movements (such as Claude Monet’s lilies and Edgar Degas’s dancers). In the 1960’s pop art took pink to the next level with artists like Andy Warhol (with his famous Marilyn Monroe). From there we saw pink move towards a vibrant neon-soaked 90s, to finally to a subdued Millennial pink that speaks to a more emotionally connected and tolerant society.


Tickled Pink

Pink is known as the happy colour. Think about cotton candy and bubble-gum— pure delights.

The psychology of the colour pink is firmly rooted in the perception that pink is a feminine colour that connotes nurture, care, calmness, romance and hope. Marketing has definitely played a role in portraying pink as a “girly” colour.

Intensify the colour to a hot vibrant pink and the psychological properties shift the tonality to youthful, energetic, sexy and fun. The range of moods and feeling pink can portray are vast and can quickly define gender and/or personality.

T-Mobile uses hot pink (magenta) to help differentiate their brand from the big competitors (AT&T and Verizon) and set an irreverent brand tone. In 2012, John Legere joined T-Mobile as CEO, who created a new brand around the colour of pink transforming the company to be more energetic, youthful and cooler. He must have done more than introduce hot pink to successful motivate his employees to proudly wear their shocking magenta uniforms every-day.  This brand transformation has been a large part of T-Mobile’s successful turnaround from a $29 billion in sales and negative $6 billion revenue loss to, today, a $51 billion in sales and positive revenue over $4 billion. In 2014 T-Mobile was successful in shutting out AT&T subsidiary from trying to use a similar magenta colour by trademarking theirs— feisty true colours.


Pretty in Pink

Associating baby boys with blue and baby girls with pink is a relatively new trend says Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She said the gender-code between pink and blue was firmly drawn in western societies in the early 1980s thanks to branding and marketers such as Care Bear, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and many Disney princesses. Pink became the leading colour to define pretty little girl’s materialistic world of glitter and fairy tales.

In 2011, Forbes reported that Disney Princess franchise made $1.6 billion (US) in North American retail sales and $3 billion globally. Making it the best-seller beating Star Wars, Sesame Street and superheroes. Pink power prevails.

The colour pink doesn’t stop with infants and young girls. Victoria Secret has successfully used the colour pink for over 40 years to build a lingerie empire of over $8 billion US (2015) in world-wide sales. In 2002, Victoria Secret introduced the PINK brand to attract high school and college-age girls to purchase causal loungewear a step down from the sexy lingerie.


Despite this pink persuasion, I have found no conclusive scientific evidence that gender-coded pink influences women more than men nor does it have any effect on human behavior. JR Thorpe stated in her article, Why Are We So Obsessed With Millennial Pink? There’s A Scientific Explanation For Everything, that there is sufficient “evidence that we do seem to view pinks in a positive light in some situations, likely as a result of cultural programming.”

Post World War II every home had some sort of pink household products based on targeting women who were entering into the work-force and started drawing a paycheque (thanks to the war). Remember grandma’s pink bathroom complete with pink doilies? As Jennifer Wright says in her article How Pink Became a Color for Girls, if a lady “tells you that her favorite color is “pink!” she might be telling you that she wants to be dainty and demure and stay at home. Or she might just be a badass who’s trying not to scare you too much.”  Does this mean that intrinsically women are influenced by pink to some degree, due to generational exposure or a desire to be part of something bigger?


The Politics of Pink

While the colour of pink has been associated with passive, innocent and girly. As an advocacy colour pink has been fierce and powerful, loaded with pride and strength.

The pink triangle was associated with the gay liberation movement but its original creation was far more evil as it was used by the Nazi’s to identity homosexual prisoners in concentration camps.

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York breast cancer survivor race. The following year, the pink ribbon became the official—now ubiquitous—symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both cases, the pink colour is used to communicate active defiance and empowerment. Many feminist groups have adopted the colour pink as a sign of strength and pride in the mission towards equality and opportunity.

The pink ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent example of using the gender-coded colour pink to their advantage to promote awareness and increase early detection of breast cancer. Some people would argue that the pinkification of breast cancer has turned a horrible disease into a brand that has been commodified by other brands for their own profits. That being said, the BreastCancer.org estimate that “about 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.” I wasn’t able to find any awareness statistics on the pink ribbon campaign but I would guess it would be highest among the many ribbon campaigns that exist today.


For Pink Sake

Then there are those brands that don’t care about the gender-coding or personality traits of the colour pink. They just want a colour that will clearly differentiate them from the competitive pack.

Owens-Corning is one of those companies who introduced their Pink Fiberglas insulation into the market over 50 years ago. In 1980 they introduced the Pink Panther as their mascot in all of their marketing to accentuate their pinkness and likable pink personality. Since introducing the Pink Panther customers prefer pink insulation by a ratio of seven to one over the closet competition, as revealed in a Owens-Corning study done in the late 1990s. They were also one of the first company to successful trademark their colour against competition. Mr. Smith, Head of Marketing says, “We are fortunate. We have a trademark color that is up there with Coke red.” In his dreams!

In 1893, the Financial Times went from a generic white paper newspaper to a shade of salmon-pink which immediately distinguish it from all the competition. Why pink? It was cheaper to dye it pink than dying it white. Today, the opposite is true but as readers’ transition to the online version the colour is more about tradition than attracting attention on a dying newsstand.


Millennial Pink

Millennial Pink, also known as the Tumblr Pink or Scandinavian Pink (check out Pinterest), is the politically correct colour that has appeared in shades of beige with a touch of blush to a pleasing peach-salmon. This gender-neutral, androgynous colour is growing in popularity since it first appeared in 2012. You can find it in restaurants interiors, furniture, household products, clothing for both men and women, hair tints, drinks, rose-gold iPhones, and Drake’s album cover Hotline Bling, to name a few.

“Millennials are increasingly redefining what it means to be a grown-up in a seriously troubled world,” explains JR Thorpe. “Sometimes, we all want to be soothed — and what better way to do that than looking at Instagrams of a mid-century modern pink velvet settee.” May I suggest that they use the pinky velvet Pepto-Bismol, a better solution to sooth their tummies.

I predict there will be a few digital gender-neutral brands that will be utilizing this colour soon. Two brands that have embraced this restrained colour so far are Acne Studios clothing retailer and Thinx, a period-proof underwear company.


Pinked Out

No question, pink is a strong colour to build a brand, but you must understand the connection you are trying to build with the colour. You can’t ignore the historical gender connection that pink has in defining or promoting femininity (both good and bad). Maybe Millennial Pink will making pink less about gender and more about how it makes you feel.  But until then, as hip-hop rapper Talib Kweli said “women are complex creatures.” I think the colour pink is just as complex.

However, many any brands have successfully broken away from the competitive crowd using the colour of pink and more new brands will do the same.


Check out “Does the Colour of a Brand Really Matter



Simple Brands Are Simply Better

As the world gets more complex and more difficult to navigate consumers are attracted to brands that portray and provide simple solutions. Brand simplification is easier said than done but the financial incentive is significant. Siegel+Gale, a global brand strategy consultants, does an annual survey to monitor global brands simplicity with states that 64% of consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences. Their study also concludes that simple brands enjoy increased revenue, stock valuation, brand advocacy and employee engagement. Companies must look at everything their brand projects within the lens of simplicity, from the purchase process to packaging to customer interactions to product usage to communications and marketing.


Simple Brands means a Convenient Brand

Ideally you want your product precisely where and when the customer most wants it. This is the point where they are willing to pay the most and will be the most loyal. Imagine you are in the hot dessert with the temperature hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Stinking hot! The sun baking your face and your mouth feels like sandpaper. You are dying for an ice-cold drink. You see a Coke vending machine ahead of you. You can tell it’s working hard to keep its contents cold as water is collecting on the outside of the machine. How much would you pay for that bottle of Coke to quench your thirst? A lot! In 2010, Coca-Cola Company estimated there were more than 6.9 million vending machines in the United States.  Why so many? Convenience means more impulse sales and a higher value for the product. That’s why Best Buy, with an online and brick-and-mortar strategy also provides smaller mobile stores and vending machine, to deliver the right products in the right place. There are times I would have paid dearly for a phone charger.


Simple Brands means a Faster Brand

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, always talks of keeping his company in a continuous Day 1 state, both physically and mentally. He says, “To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions. Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organizations.” Bezos says to survive in today’s world brands must “embrace powerful trends quickly.” To make this happen organization must be able to make decisions quickly without all the answers. Customers also want brands to react and fulfill promises with speed, like Amazon Prime and 1-Click.

Netflix is also recognised as one of the top simple brands by the Global Brand Simplicity Index, as they provide customers with entertainment anytime, anywhere, instantly. This brand went quickly from DVD movie distribution to streaming.

Simple Brands means a Brand for Dummies

Statista, the statistics portal, states Netflix had 109.25 million streaming subscribers worldwide in the third quarter of 2017. Of these subscribers, 52.77 million were from the United States. In less than a few clicks you can escape from reality to any genre, a task which even a three year old can accomplish. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says the battle-tested KISS principle holds a ton of power at the Netflix headquarters. He says over the years they have figured out “that people really love simplicity.”  The end game is successful brands don’t make customers think they just make them happy.


Simple Brands means a Focused Brand

Apple is passionate about creating a simple, focused brand. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said, “This is the most focused company I know of… We say no to good ideas every day so that the company can keep its focus on a small number of areas.” Jeremy Miller, author of Sticky Branding says successful simple brands can be described in 10 words or less. Can you describe what makes your brand unique in 10 or less words?

No surprise, Google has been in the top 10 ranking for the last eight years Siegel+Gale began publishing its Global Brand Simplicity Index. That means Google needs to satisfactorily answer over 63,000 search queries every second (or 5.5 billion searches per day or 2 trillion searches per year) world-wide. No pressure.

“A simple design is like telling a compelling story with as few words as possible” explains Art Director Bianca Magna at Banfield advertising agency. This is true for packaging, website and online applications and advertising.

The eco-friendly Ikea has been recognised for its “minimalist” designs in its variety of products and memorable brand advertising. True to its brand Ikea has “simplicity” as one of its key values stating “It is about being ourselves and staying close to reality…and see bureaucracy as our biggest enemy.” However, assembling some of the Ikea furniture might require an engineering degree if you can’t understand the pictorial instructions.


Simple Brands means a Successful Brand

Successful and sustainable brands have one common promise – they make life simple. Simple brands are the furthest away from being a simple businesses. In the eyes of the consumer these are beautifully designed, understated brands that come with powerful benefits. These brands take complex, complicated technology, processes and algorithms and turn them into simple customer interfaces that look effortless and simple. Their business operations are state-of-the-art, their employees are focused on what matters and their understanding of their customers is paramount.

Achieving simplicity is not simple. But the brands that harness its power stand to reap a multitude of both reputational and financial rewards.



From B to B or Not to B? That is the Question.

Does a human being benefit from your Business-to-Business (B2B) product or brand? To survive the future you need to be a Business-to-People (B2P) brand. While your brand might be only an ingredient or strategic component supporting another brand, eventually it will reach a human being.  But more importantly, every brand affects the world we live in so at the end of the day, you are dealing with humanity. The most dramatic change to cause this shift is the free flow of digital information (and digital misinformation). The number of stakeholders you had to worry about in building and maintaining your brand was easily managed years ago but today this isn’t no longer true.  If you start now you can build goodwill along the value chain and maybe you can be immunized against negative attacks in the future. But the biggest reward is more profits.



Moving Brands from B to C


In a B2B study done by Siegel+Gale, they state that “Most business-to-business companies still debate the ultimate business benefit of building a strong brand…” The first problem is many business-to-business (B2B) companies don’t think they need a brand as they don’t deal directly with everyday consumers. If this was true there wouldn’t be so many memorable and powerful B2B brands existing today such as Boeing, SAP, Intel, Cisco, IBM, Siemens and General Electric, to name a few.


The line between B2B and B2C has blurred and the boundaries are quickly disappearing. The internet has created a new consumer that wants and needs to be informed. Joel York marketing software expert describes the consumer as “more connected, more impatient, more elusive, more impulsive, and more informed than its pre-millennium ancestors.”


But what hasn’t changed is the risk level between a B2B and a B2C. Most business buyers follow a rigorous procurement process that is steeped in analytics, data and facts. The buying process is based on a rational decision making process based on quality, features, functionality and price. Buyers review all of the product specifications and technical details, past history and performance measurements, etc. The purchasing process is longer and may require contracts and large quantities based on a specific time period. Where does branding fit into this process?


In a study done by Zahra Seyed Ghorban and Dr Margaret Jekanyika Matanda at Monash University they found that most procurement managers go through a hierarchical ‘Think-feel-Do’ sequence where brand perception is the starting point. One manger explains it as “Knowing the brand and having good perceptions, good attitudes, and associating to that brand all are prior to establishing relationship. The relationship comes after.” They also discovered that emotions played an important role in the purchase decision even in highly formalized B2B procurement processes. This would explain why Boeing launched its new 787 the Dreamliner to the general public with a record order of 50 aircrafts from All Nippon Airways. Since then, 59 airlines have ordered over 1,000 Boeing 787s, making it the most successful aircraft in Boeing’s history.



Cisco System’s Advertising Director Julia Mee says “the lines have blurred so much between B2B and B2C.” To survive B2B marketers must “Think about who the customer is and what do they want to hear from us.” At the end of the day she says “Our customers are thinking about us as just a brand—they are not differentiating it as B2B or B2C.”


No surprise it’s all about connecting and engaging with people on many levels not just a highly emotional video with pretty pictures and a great sound track. There still needs to be substance to support the brand image. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is a great example. If you visit their website they have everything there to satisfy the left-brain and the right-brain, from the engineer, to the purchasers, to the pilot, to the passenger in business class, to the poor guy at the back of the plane.


It must have been very hard for all of the Boeing aviation engineers to sit back and abstain from adding all of the technical mumbo jumbo into the sound track.


Moving Brands from B to P


There are several marketers like Bryan Kramer, a social business strategist, and Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP who believe that B2B marketing is no longer relevant. Kramer says marketers need to move away from the complex business vernacular full of acronyms, scientific and technical terminologies too complicated for the average person. His solution is to speak Human-to-Human (H2H) where the communication is simplistic and more emotional. Becher was instrumental in shifting SAP’s brand positioning from talking to other companies to focusing on people. “It’s not just ‘business runs SAP’; it’s also ‘life runs SAP.’ You can sum up the change as moving from B2B to P2P—people to people,” Becher said.


The trick is engaging people to wanting to consume your boring B2B brand messages. Volvo Trucks wanted to communicate their transport truck’s Dynamic Steering system to demonstrate the precision and directional stability. A topic everyone needs to know about – right? Well, check out the B2B video with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Over 83 million people have watched it!



The Web Video Marketing Council, together with survey partners ReelSEO and Flimp Media conducted a B2B Video Content Marketing Survey in 2015 with over 350 B2B marketers who confirmed that 73% of them believe that video positively impacts results and ROI. No surprise 96% are engaged in video content marketing. But remember human attention span is only eight seconds. You have a better chance to attract a goldfish which has an attention span of nine seconds.




While many B2B companies realize they need to be customer-centric to compete in today’s market, few have figured out how to put this model into use. It’s important for B2B brands to understand it’s not just one video that will make the brand connection unless you’re Gangnam Style (2.5 billion views). You need many touch points to build a brand. The hardest part for most B2B brands is to focus on a promise that people care about. It isn’t easy for most large corporations, as they organically grow from one innovation to the next or acquire one business to another. How does a mega corporation align the many innovations, products and services to a common, meaningful message that people want to listen and relate to? One of the great values for B2B branding is to define the brands ultimate promise to everyone including your employees. The perfect test – if they don’t believe the promise who else will?



Doug Webster VP of Service Provider Marketing at Cisco explains “We can’t just say it provides 322 terabits per second of processing. What we need to say is that 322 terabits per second is enough for every man, woman and child in China to be on a video call at the same time.” I’m not sure I want to be on that call.



A Brands Social License to Operate


The need to expand beyond the traditional stakeholders (like customers, employees and shareholders) isn’t about growing the business, it’s more about ensuring the brand doesn’t face any roadblocks along the brand journey. The sphere of a business is getting more complex. Today, you need to concern yourself with a multitude of target groups.


As San Jin Park VP of Global Marketing Operations at Samsung Electronics said “the most prominent brands in the future will be those which build networks.” The problem today is the network is everyone. The social license isn’t controlled by the company, it’s the community-at-large that can determines a brand’s fate. A lack of trust in any brand, including a B2B brand, can result in regulatory delays, market access issues and unfavorable legislation, all of which affects the bottom-line. John Morrison author of the book The Social License: How to keep your organization legitimate says a number of factors damaging trust is transparency, accountability, clarity about benefits, and adequate due diligence. He cautions that “Consent is also an essential component. It is a mistake for any company to proceed on any activity without securing adequate social permissions.”


It will be the end-user and the general public who will determine your brand’s destiny based on your social license to operate. NGOs understand this. It’s no longer about science and legal requirements but about perceptions and how your brand is perceived.


Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seed is a great example of not gaining the general public’s social permission before launching a revolutionary technology on an ill-informed public. Had they talked more about the millions of people whose lives could be saved from starvation the brand outcome could have been significantly different. Intel made the brilliant move to tell the general public that you can’t buy a computer without the horsepower of a Pentium processor. Consumer’s bought their story and in turn only bought computers with an Intel Inside. On the other hand, Monsanto, one of the most hated companies, kept the end-user in the dark and subsequently NGOs defined what GMO was. Unfortunately, a great technology that can help feed the world is struggling because the public support just isn’t there.


At the End of the Day


If your B2B is ultimately focused on the betterment of mankind you should use every opportunity to get your brand message out and tell the world your story. Everyone wants to back a winner. Duracell understood this and tied their brand to life-saving tools that required a battery. Their very successful campaign “Trusted Everywhere” was based on the premise that devices that are important to consumers can be trusted to work when powered by Duracell batteries.


Every ingredient in the value chain has a brand story of why it’s important. If you can ensure your employees live the brand and you have a dialogue with the communities you live in, you have a great foundation. Getting your story out to a broader audience takes time, conviction and commitment. And in some cases its a snowball’s chance in hell!




The Touch of a Brand

In past articles, we’ve covered the sense of smell and sound and how they enhance the brand relationship. Here our goal is to explore the sensation of touch and its impact on branding. The sense of touch isn’t often considered in building a brand. For some brands this is a huge missed opportunity.


One of the obvious ways we use touch is shopping for clothes. Our first instinct is to touch the fabric to feel it against our fingers. The quick touch tells many things about the garment – its softness, wear ability, durability and quality. Think of the last time you visited a car dealership showroom when you inspected a vehicle. The first impression is how the door handle felt in your hand, how it opened and closed. If the interior was leather you assessed the quality by touching the seat or better yet felt the experience by sitting in the driver’s seat. Then grab the steering wheel. With every touch point our brains are processing the information and analysing the vehicle’s durability, craftsmanship and overall quality.




Touch is the first sensory system we develop in the womb and is the most developed by birth. If you ever raised a child you know that holding, rocking and rhythmic stroking are all ways to calm and connect with babies. Trust me, I had many sleepless nights using all of these techniques to make my loved ones fall peacefully asleep hopefully as humanly possible.


The somatosensory cortex of your brain, which processes touch information, dedicates a large numbers of neurons to your fingers, lips and tongue. What this means is these areas are more perceptive and finely attuned, maximizing the sensory richness and brain intimacy.


touch sense


Greek philosopher Aristotle concluded that man was more intelligent than other animals because of the accuracy of his sense of touch. The sensation of touch influences what we buy, who we love and how we heal. We use touch to gather information, establish trust and social bonds.


Dr. David Linden said in his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind that the “genes, cells and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience.”



Test Your Touch


Let’s try a touch test. Imagine that you are in a pitch-dark room with no light and you’re handed a bottle. Through the power of touch you determine what I have given you.


You feel the cold glass bottle in the palm of your hand. You sense a distinct curvature of the glass in an elongated shape. Moving your fingers along the side you notice subtle smooth groves like ribs that flow up & down the bottle. Through the glass you can sense the content. It feels cold and wet as the glass sweats droplets of water on your hand. You remove the cap with a pop then move the bottleneck towards your lips. You feel the coldness against your bottom lip and tongue. The effervescence of tiny little bubbles dance and tingling against your lip and mouth. You smile with excitement and embrace the bottle’s opening with your lips like a wet kiss. It’s the real thing!


If we really conducted this experiment you would have quickly determined that the glass bottle was indeed the most famous shaped soft drink bottle in the world – the iconic contour fluted lines of the Coca-Cola bottle. In 1915 Coca-Cola challenged several glass companies to design a bottle that could be recognized by feel in the dark. 101 years later this unique design still succeeds with its objective.


Two Types of Touch


We’re not going to talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching if that’s where your mind went. If you want to explore the topic of sex and branding check out my article on Using Sex to Build a Brand.


The first type of touching is the sensory pathway that provides us with facts about touch such as pressure, location, texture, vibration and temperature. The coke bottle test is exactly this type of touching. Linden explains it as “figuring out the facts…uses sequential stages of processing to gradually build up tactile images and perform the recognition of objects.”


The second pathway processes social and emotional information, with human touch, for instance; a simple handshake, a hug, a caress of the arm, or a pat on the back. Friendly touching communicates trust and cooperation. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study stating that people are making judgments and base their initial opinions of you based on a simple handshake. Linden explains “In both kids and adults, touch is the glue that makes social bonds.” Further echoing this idea is Dacher Keltner, Ph. D. and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who explains “that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.”


What does this have to do with building brands? Both types of touch are very important in helping build brand perceptions and trust.


Tactile Branding


This is all about what the brand or components of the brand feel like. Jeremy Hsu in his article Just a Touch Can Influence Thoughts and Decisions on Livescience.com says “hardness may evoke concepts of stability, rigidity and strictness. Roughness can lead to thoughts of difficulty and harshness, while heaviness conjures up impressions of importance and seriousness.”


In a study conducted by Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT in Boston, Mass., he had participants sit in a hard and soft chair as they negotiated the price of a new car. Guess who was less willing to move on their position? If you guessed the poor people in the hard chairs where the hardest negotiators, you’d be right.


Apple is a great example of a brand that has embraced the importance of touch. Their smooth, rounded edged, metal and glass iPads, iPod and iPhones convey a sense of ease and simplicity. They also make sure their customers have ample opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise in their interactive Apple stores.


If your brand isn’t an actual product but more based on services, understand that anything you physical give a customer, like a brochure, contract or correspondence, is tactile and communicates your brand by touch. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon says “The physical world is the best medium ever invented and betting against it has always proved wrong.” No surprise that Amazon takes pride in their shipping experience with custom printed boxes and custom packing tape with a program called “Frustration-Free Packaging.”


Packaging can be paramount to a brand experience. Again, Apple shines with its packaging. Their new Apple watch packaging is a masterpiece, making the watch seem bigger and weighty to help deliver the “a-ha” moment of expectation.




Ever wonder why a diamond ring box is as important as the ring itself? The jewelry box must communicate the feel of love and commitment while showcasing the ring in all its glittery splendor. The most popular materials are velvet (commonly used on valentine day), silk and leather. All soft and sensual to the educated and expensive touch.




Bed Bath & Beyond organizes their customer experience around touch as their store layout is designed to allow consumers to feel their way through the various sections of towels, curtains, linens and rugs, etc.


In the book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind The Stuff We Buy, the author Martin Lindstrom shares an example of ASDA supermarket chain in UK where they displayed their store brand toilet paper so shoppers could actually touch the tissue and compare textures with other brands. The sales for the store brand T.P. “soared.”



Human Touch Branding


The power of interpersonal touch can be euphoric or at least communicate the feeling of warmth, safety and reassurance. The outcome of this feeling motivates consumers to spend and consume more. No brand has been immune to the changes digital technology has given to the consumer relationship, but technology will never replace the human touch. Brands live in a highly competitive and fast moving environment where creating meaningful connections with customer is almost impossible. More and more brands forgo the bricks and mortar for a digital brand connection. If your brand has any chance to reach out and touch a customer in a truly meaningful way – the human touch is a true differentiator.


Research conducted by Ackerman found that waitresses who touch restaurant patrons (mainly men) earn more in tips, and customers (mainly men) innocently touched by female bartenders drink more alcohol. The key point here is woman touching men. Are we so gullible? You don’t have to answer. The research is clear.


Have you ever checked into a Starwood Westin Hotel? Once you have completed the check-in transaction they make sure they move away from the counter that divides you from them and stand face to face in front of you. There is a moment of peace and warmth when they welcome you and hand you the passkey. The touch is minimal but the effect is powerful. But the best part is tucking into the Heavenly Bed with its luxurious 100% Egyptian cotton sateen sheets. Now I am in heaven and been touched by a angel.




The Last Touch


The simple use of touch can be profound when used properly and authentically. The sense of vision might dominate many aspects of branding, but the subtleties of touch can increases the brand perception immensely. In the book In Touch with the Future, authors Alberto Gallance and Charles Spence state that more companies have started utilizing the growing field of cognitive neuroscience to help guide product development and marketing decisions.


Look at everything your brand is doing to build relationships – where do tactile touch points fit to heighten your brand relationship? Are you maximizing the human touch points? You must clearly understand how your customers interact with your brand to ensure the right touch points are consistently in place to strengthen the brand experience.


Think about the key moment when the customer interacts with your brand for the first time. Are they excited to open the box or remove the wrapping? Do they need to read a 10 page instruction manual before they start engagement with your brand? Have you made it idiot-proof for them to turn it on? Is the packaging inviting? Does it feel expensive or simple and clean? Does it reinforce their purchase decision?


IKEA has an obsession with efficient packaging to lower transport costs and ensure their products are affordable. CEO Peter Agnefjäll explains “We hate air at IKEA.” But it is a balancing act in efficiency and customer satisfaction. Allan Dickner, packaging manager at IKEA admits that they have destroyed products because they were driven by efficiencies and not customer needs.


One word of caution as people get older their sense of touch decline so does a lot of other senses (like hearing, seeing, and smelling). Today, there is a large portion of the population that is aging. If older people are your target audience you might need to reengineer or increase the intensity of your brand’s sensory touch points to make the emotional connection remain with your brand.


Whether or not a customer physically interacts with your brand today, consider the influential power it plays to reinforce your brand relationship. It might be time to reach out and touch someone.




Making Employees Brand Crusaders: 5 Examples Of A Strong Brand [Cult]ure

Your greatest brand asset is starring right at you – your employees. So what are they saying about your brand? Are they selling your brand virtues to friends and family? Do they share great stories or bitch while they BBQ? Turning employees into brand advocates or ambassadors should be a major priority for any brand.



One big problem – most employees aren’t engaged in their jobs and workplace. Gallup has been tracking employee engagement for over 15 years and worldwide only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged. The number improves to 32% in U.S. but that still means 68% of Americans are unhappy at work. Unhappy or disengaged employees spell trouble for branding.


If an employee isn’t engaged in your brand why should a customer be any different? This has to be the biggest missed opportunity for brands around the world. The Weber Shandwick Employees Rising report found that only 42% of employees can describe to others what their employer does. Only 42%! That’s better than my kids. Meanwhile 70% of adults online in the USA trust brand or product recommendations from friends and family says a study done by Forrester in 2013. Imagine if every employee recommended your brand to all of their friends and family. Sounds so simple? It isn’t.


With the advent of social media every employee can be a brand advocate or brand destroyer. But as Jay Baer, author and President of Convince & Convert, says “If your employees aren’t your biggest fans, you’ve got problems WAY bigger than social media.”

Brand Culture

The first step is creating engaged employees by building an enthusiastic culture and collaborative environment. Engaged employees feel empowered, trusted and valued and those who lead them show confidence, provide feedback and demonstrate appreciation. The workplace must be truthful, open, transparent and fun. Stever Robbins, a personal coach and podcaster, says “Transparency and authenticity build a trusting relationship in which people are more likely to bring their full creativity, commitment, and motivation to work. The way you treat your employees will be mirrored in the way your employees treat your customers. Treat your employees poorly and they’ll pass that treatment along to your customers.”


Employee expectations are also changing. Gone are the days of just using the carrot and the stick to motivate employees. Today employees are looking for companies that will pay them well, but just as important, they are looking for a job with a purpose. Daniel Pink author of the book DRIVE The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us says employees are seeking more autonomy with a clear sight of purpose that matters in the big picture of life. Millennials aren’t asking for much are they?




Brand Purpose

Brand purpose should be the beacon that every employee understands and wants to follow within an organization. The recent pioneers of branding understand this and have levered their employees to the good of the brand. How do you instill employees with the feeling that it’s “their” business to the point where they take ownership through good and bad times? They must have a strong sense of what the brand stands for, understand where it is going and its ultimate mission, and know where they fit within the purpose. Here are a few brand examples of highly engaged cult-like brand evangelists:


Zappos (now owned by Amazon), located in Las Vegas with roughly 1,500 employees, is an online retailer selling shoes and clothes. Their campus-style-meets-frat-house environment gives everyone the ability to make their space their own which doesn’t match any other office space I have ever seen. If you want privacy this wouldn’t be the place for you. Every new employee goes through five weeks of extensive training including call centre support and shipping. After the five weeks, they are offered $3,000 to quit. The purpose is to ensure the new employee is dedicated and motivated to support the Zappos customer value culture.

CEO Tony Hsieh says “We believe that your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up. Your culture is your brand.” Zappos number one core value is “Deliver WOW Through Service” through its employees who are ambassadors of delivering a customer-centric experience.



Google goes to great lengths to create an environment for employees with perks such as free gourmet food, beach volleyball courts, mini golf courses, and adult playgrounds. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. But more importantly Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, says the people who work at Google “believe in what they’re doing.” He also explains that “We have somewhat of a social mission, and most other companies do not. I think that’s why people like working for us…”


epa04318933 Employees celebrate during opening of the first Starbucks coffe store in Colombia, in Bogota, Colombia, 16 July 2014. EPA/Mauricio Duenas Castaneda

The global coffee chain Starbucks is another company dedicated to building a culture where their employees matter and they invest in them. The retail industry isn’t known for employee engagement or retention but Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz claims that their relationship “with our people and the culture of our company is our most sustainable competitive advantage.” Starbucks doesn’t leave their employees to magically become brand ambassador. They have invested over $35 million into a ‘Leadership Lab’ designed help store managers better understand the Starbucks brand and culture. In Schultz’s book Onward he explains that “[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers.”



The German software company SAP has quantified what employee engagement means to their bottom-line. In their 2014 Integrated Report they estimate that for every percentage point on their employee engagement index the impact on their operating profits go up between € 35 million and € 45 million. Their secret ingredient? Their employees understand the “why” behind their jobs and how their personal inspiration ties to a bigger vision. The reason why they come to work each day.


Southwest Airlines


Southwest Airlines has been around for over 40 years as a very successful airline in an industry that sees many businesses fail. As Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest, explains any airline can buy all the physical things and copy our business model but “The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.” In 2013, Southwest updated their vision and purpose, and according to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, “Southwest is a great place to work and brings the greatest joy because we have such meaningful purpose.” The purpose to “connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Making Crusaders

No surprise the strong and admired brands we know and love are also strong brands within their company’s walls. Employee brand advocacy is a competitive advantage. The power of employees who are truly engaged as brand advocates is difficult for competitors to replicate and for customers to ignore. The key elements required to make the right environment for employees to succeed as ambassadors are:

  • Strong understanding of the brand’s big picture and purpose
  • Clearly linking their aspiration with those of the brand
  • Freedom to speak and share via social channels about their brand experiences
  • Autonomy to enhance a customer relationship or fix a problem
  • Tools to help employees share the brand
  • Trust that the brand and culture has their well-being covered
  • Feeling appreciated and having an impact on the purpose


Brand crusaders don’t originate overnight nor does a strong brand culture just happen. It starts at the top and is clearly supported by all levels of the organization. Building a robust employee culture will help build a durable brand cult. Keep a pulse on your brand culture and employee engagement. Chances are if you have a strong customer brand you already have a very dedicated employee culture. Just make sure you give them the tools and support to help them amplify your brand. If you don’t start building a culture that will support your brand vision, you are only renting your employees, and in turn, your customers. As Hsieh said “The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up.”


May the employee brand force be with you!