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Rethinking Personal Branding

In 1997, Tom Peters coined the phrase “Me Inc.” This sparked the idea that we should strategically build our own personal brand and hone in on our unique selling proposition (USP). Peters recognized the competitiveness of the marketplace. Since then, online presence has quickly penetrated every person’s life. Social channels consume valuable time, always demanding more content to satisfy the millions of eyeballs. The personal branding concept has grown exponentially.

Almost 3,000 books have been published on the topic of personal branding. A Google search returns over 2.5 billion pages. There is no shortage of resources but, in the grand scheme of things, do you really need a personal brand in the first place?

Shelly Lazarus, former CEO of Ogilvy & Matherwould argue that a human isn’t a product, so they are therefore not a brand. She has emphatically stated that “I hate it when people talk about personal brand. Those words imply that people need to adopt identities that are artificial and plastic and packaged, when what actually works is authenticity.”

A Slave to Personal Branding

Once you have built your presence on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and your blog, you are obligated to feed the channels with consumable content. Good social presences also engage with other content and solicit likes and comments. We become slaves to the online—curating images, developing witty insights, capturing video expositions and quipping quotable proses. Twitter suggests you create three tweets a day, complete with eye-catching imagery, to engage your audience.

But most people have a real job, and it doesn’t include being a self-publisher. As a brand builder, I used to think building your personal brand was a must. Today, I am not so sure.  As the pendulum swings, I am beginning to question the idea of branding an individual. Neatly packaging each of us into a formulaic design, carefully crafting our look and tone of voice, and hunting for the right followers. It’s beginning to feel like a controlled environment, where we must conform to the needs of business, social channels and HR recruiters searching for new human capital. I understand the need for the perfect online resume that highlights our strengths and hides our weaknesses but, as Lazarus says, we aren’t a product.

Do we need to control how we present ourselves online? Absolutely! But do we need to spend important family time to build our personal brand? No.

Life is too short. Life is about living in the real world, not about gathering likes, comments, and shares. Anthropologist Ilana Gershon and author of Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (Or Don’t Find) Work Today, states that personal branding doesn’t actually increase a job seeker’s chances of landing a position.

Humans Aren’t Brands

We are trying to take a complex, multidimensional, living and breathing human (with emotional needs and wants, personality traits, and values to boot) and fit them into a simplified, rigid, one-dimensional product brand. Using regimented branding techniques to enact personal branding doesn’t do any person justice.

Gershon says that people trying to brand themselves “are using techniques designed to associate an object with a personality, techniques that had to be radically simplified to be effective precisely because objects don’t engage in the world in the complex ways that people do.”

And seriously, do we need 7 billion personal brands? We already have too many product brands!  Many personal brand experts have taken the traditional product branding discipline and parlayed it into a business of packaging people into brands. This has become one of the biggest self-help topics on the internet, thanks to LinkedIn and bloggers. No surprise, all the social media channels profit from this craze. Sounds more like a money-making scheme than sound advice.

Playing to Our Vanity

The personal brand success metrics are based on the number of followers and likes. The metrics, unsurprisingly, were set by brand marketing experts. Although being liked can contribute to your sense of self-worth, social media following has little impact on career success. “It’s a reward cycle, you get a squirt of dopamine every time you get a like or a positive response on social media,” explains psychologist Emma Kenny. According to the Omnicore Agency, the Facebook “like” button has been pressed over 1.13 trillion times.

Okay. So we are addicted to social media and the desire to be liked. In the real world, networking and human interactions are positive and healthy for our survival as a social animal. Trying to emulate this positive effect on social media isn’t as easy nor as healthy, says Holly Shakya and Nicholas Christakis, both professors in the science of social norms. In 2017, they studied the relationship between social media use (primarily Facebook) and well-being. They attribute the negative experience of social media to unrealistic curated content from others’ lives, leading to negative self-comparison. Add to this the addictiveness of always interacting; a constant need to be online. They conclude that “online social interactions are no substitute for the real thing.”

Our Digital Footprint

The reality is that we all must present a digital self or resume if we want to work in this digitally transforming world. We can try to ignore the fact that recruiters and employers search online as part of the hiring process but, at the end of the day, if we don’t take control of our digital footprint, others are free to do so. Creating a digital existences of one’s self immediately shifts you from being free-wheeling and shooting from the hip to having to be more strategic, more thoughtful and more vulnerable. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a point of view or a strong conviction, but everything you do and say is on the record for everyone to see and analyse. All of your actions and inactions will define you. Your professional persona quickly becomes your authentic self and vice versa. We are expected to conform to our employers’ values and act as advocates to support our companies’ business goals. Our personal lives are no longer offline or off the record. Over time, it becomes impossible to shift from your professional persona to your personal self without jeopardizing your credibility or your true intent. You are better off to align the professional with the personal self from the start.

Standing Out Beyond a Commodity

Many years ago, most products were undistinguished commodities based on supply and demand, without any intrinsic value. Then came brilliant marketers who took a commodity like water, built a brand story, and got people to spend more money on a litre of water than a litre of gasoline. Will personal branding protect our intrinsic value as we compete for jobs against artificial intelligence? After all, the job market is changing faster than we can enhance our skills and build our resumes. Having a post-secondary degree used to translate into better job prospects, but degrees hold far less weight today.

By 2030, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 30 percent of the world’s human labour will be displaced by intelligent agents and robots. Similarly, Oxford University predicts that 47 percent of total US employment is at risk due to computerization. That could mean over 800 million people requiring rebranding as they attempt to switch job categories. The potential upheaval of the workforce creates a greater urgency to differentiate ourselves from technology (and each other) if we wish to survive. According to a Jobvite survey of recruiters, 95 percent of those polled think that the job market is going to get more competitive, and job seekers that stand out are likely to benefit. Does this mean personal branding may become paramount for our survival and keep us from becoming a human commodity without a job?


Branding Limitations

The perfect brand is everything a human being isn’t—consistent, predictable, rational, logical, and dependable. Some of the greatest attributes humans have are emotions, feelings, and thoughts. We get bored easily and our moods shift like the unpredictable weather. We grow and learn from our experiences and our values continue to evolve.

Being a brand limits us significantly. We can build different online personas, but these become a challenge to manage over time. The easiest way to build an online brand is to step away from our individual quirks and move towards a business entity, like a consultant with clear attributes and benefits. Your brand may be your name, but it becomes more of a business entity bigger than just you. Better yet, just focus on ensuring your LinkedIn profile is always up-to-date and portrays all of your redeeming qualities.

Life is Short

Indra Gardiner BowersCEO of i.d.e.a, says that “Life goes fast and the time you spend cultivating your so-called brand is not going to make you happier, more fulfilled, or more valuable. What will do that is focusing on being a good human being, doing your work well, acting with integrity and truly loving the people in your life who deserve to be loved.”

Be cognizant of the time and effort in continuously feeding the system with your thoughts, comments, sounds, and images. Don’t waste your life curating it. Eric Ruiz, writer and Partner Marketingat Netflix, reminds us that the sum of our tweets, images, and online thoughts are only a small part of our reputation. The most important aspect is the hardwork (actions and decisions) we perform five days (or more) a week. He says “A personal brand is worthless if it’s not backed up.”

To Tom Peter’s credit, the world was very different 20 years ago. Today, search engines like Google allow anyone to find out everything there is to know about you. Where you live, where you work, what you are interested in, what you post, and what you have shown interest in (likes and shares) becomes commonplace knowledge. The moral of this story? It’s important to take control of the image you portray in the digital world, especially in the workplace. Your personal image strategy is an essential career asset, as it functions as your online resume as a living digital record of who you are. Be cognizant of what you post online and think carefully about future audiences for your content, but don’t get so wrapped up in the online world that you forget to participate in the real one. Like most things, balance and common sense is key.

 

 

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What Brands Need to Know About Millennials

First, I must disclose that I am not a Millennial. I like to think I’ve helped shape them but they are neither me nor I them. If you are going to successfully build a brand relationship with the next biggest consumer group, you’d better start understanding their needs, wants and desires. I have five key traits that brands need to know about Millennials.

Collectively, they spend about $800 billion annually on consumer goods in United States. And in five years, they will make up 50% of the workforce. In 15 years, they take over at 75%. Pew Research Center defines Generation Y–a.k.a. Millennials – as those born between 1981 and 1996, so today they’re 22-37 years old. By 2020, they are projected to spend over $1.4 trillion annually in United States.

Millennials are a technologically connected, diverse and tolerant generation. They have witnessed and experienced countless world-changing events that have shaped their lives, from acts of terrorism, catastrophic weather and environmental disasters, financial crashes, to international political upheavals – all brought to them in a media-saturated environment.

This group has been researched to death. Everyone is trying to figure them out from every possible business and marketing angle.

After muddling through all the information and misinformation, and Wikipedia was no help, I came up with five traits or trends that brands need to be aware of:

1. Like Me

Millennials have lived most (or at least half) of their life with a cell/smartphone around them, staying connected 24/7 with friends and family. Their ability to consume digital content (emails, texts, tweets, video chats, websites, apps, videos and images) while at the same time producing their own digital content is admirable; but what is truly amazing is they do this sitting in meetings, visiting with friends, eating, running, walking and driving a car. They sleep with their cell phone. Three-quarters of Millennials are signed up to a social network site like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube or Instagram, compared to only half of Generation Xers and less than a third of Boomers (Pew Research Center). They also account for about four in 10 digital video viewers. The Wall Street Journal reported that this is the first generation to also have tech savvy parents, who were always in contact with them via texting and online chat throughout the day.

As they consume services, products, food, beverages and entertainment, they are sharing their experiences, good and bad, via social media as photojournalists, comedians, critics, advocates and just plain participants. Boston Consulting Group reports, “The vast majority of millennials report taking action on behalf of brands and sharing brand preferences in their social groups.”

The top three brands that have millions of Facebook fans are Coca-Cola (107 million), McDonalds (78 million), and Red Bull (48 million).

Social and online reviews have supercharged traditional word-of-mouth and some brands live and die from these reviews. Not only do Millennials like to share but they like to feel informed, involved and in control, not just marketed to.

A great example is the fatal Kryptonite bike lock that was shown on YouTube being opened with a simple Bic pen. According to hotel booking Getaroom.com and ReviewPro, Millennials rely on user-generated peer reviews to help make their travel bookings. A survey by the market research firm Dimensional Research showed 90% of respondents said that positive online reviews influenced their buying decision. On the other hand, 86% said that negative reviews have a direct impact on shifting their purchase choices. One of Amazon’s cornerstones to its brand identity is its customer’s reviews. They even have a collection of the Funniest Reviews.

Alex Castellarnau at Dropbox, the popular file transfer service says “Millennials are a generation that wants to co-create the product, the brand, with you. Companies that understand this and figure out ways to engage in this co-creation relationship with millennials will have an edge.” Some brands that have figured this out is Uber, Airbnb, VICE, Red Bull Entertainment.

2. Me to We

Brother’s Craig and Marc Kielburger, both Millennials, made the “Me to We” famous with their international charity and youth movement called Free the Children. Their website describe their goal “to empower a generation to shift the world from me to we – through how we act, how we give, the choices we make on what to buy and what to wear, the media we consume and the experiences with which we choose to engage.”

In a survey done by the Intelligence Group, 44% of Millennials try to practice being green in their daily lives. “Millennials view social activism much more as it relates to their overall persona than the generations before them,” says Joe Kessler. “Our research indicates they are significantly engaged, but are less active in [individual] actions. [Their social activism] is insinuated in every aspect of their lives.”

Millennials have high expectations for brands to make the world a better place, like Toms shoes and Soapbox Soaps who have one-to-one giving models, or Starbucks with their C.A.F.E. sustainable coffee production practices, and even Ben & Jerry’s fair trade ingredients and farm sustainability program.

To read more about Millennials and social responsibility check out my article Six Reasons Why Brands Should Care.

3. Love Me

This is the generation that didn’t (or isn’t!) leaving home soon. According to Pew Research (2014), hours spent parenting have increased for both fathers and mothers, tripling for fathers by 180% since 1985 and increasing by 60% for mothers. What this means is parents are spending more time with their kids because they want to and their kids reciprocate that feeling. But there is also an economic reality that they can’t afford to live on their own because of the high cost of living and the lack of affordable jobs. For some, it could be that leaving home means leaving the comforts they can’t afford today. There is also the benefits of home cooked meals, laundry service and maid (mom) service.

Joeri Van den Bergh and Mattias Behrer authors of the book How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding to Generation Y, says that 85% of teens name one of their parents as their best friend, rather than naming a peer. And more than a third of millennials of all ages say they influence what products their parents buy, what shops and restaurants they visit, and what trips they take.

While they love to share they also trust the social online environment to show the world (quite literal) who they are – the good, the bad and the drunken. They share intimate details and show off where they are and where they are going. Millennials see themselves as friends and pride themselves when they have thousands of Facebook friends or Twitter followers – or better yet, when they get hundreds of “likes” on one of their posts. They want to surround themselves with brands they believe are friends, like Nike, Apple, Samsung, Sony and Walmart (based of the 2015 study conducted by Moosylvania agency).

“This is a group that will adopt brands,” says Norty Cohen, founder and CEO of Moosylvania. “If you can create a friendship with these consumers, you really take it to the next level. They will go to great lengths to support you.”

It is not surprising that Nike is a top brand for Millennials. This is a brand that has embraced technology and done a great job utilizing social across all touch points and engagements with its Nike+ digital ecosystem. Even more important, it prioritized selling directly to customers through its own channels, which include physical shops and, increasingly, digital storefronts such as Nike.com, the Nike app, and Snkrs. CEO Mark Parker dubbed the effort Nike Direct.

Millennials want to be loved and appreciated as an individual customer and if they have a problem they want the brand to fix it. In a study conducted by Edelman over 70% of Millennials said they would come back to brands they love.

4. Discount Me

This is a generation that entered the workforce during the most pronounced downturn since the Great Recession. At the darkest period unemployment rate for youth in USA was 13%. Other regions are still battling unseen rates of over 65% in Greece, 57% in Spain and 44% in Italy and 14.5% in Canada (with Ontario reaching 17%). Generally, they are more educated with over 60% of Millennials attending college compared to 46% of Boomers (1946 – 1964).

Millennials have been labeled “the cheapest generation” for their propensity to avoid large-scale purchases such as cars and houses. While this generation might be a price-conscious shopper, technology has allowed them to research every purchase, and has more options and pricing-models than ever before. Before they book a hotel online they generally check out at least 10 sites before booking, reading reviews, gauging price predictions, then cross-referencing hotels between myriad online travel aggregators.

In a survey conducted by Harris Interactive (2011) of Millennials over 77% participated in loyalty reward programs and 44% were willing to promote products or services through social media in exchange for rewards. Ipsos reported in a survey that 92% of Millennials said they use coupons either digital or paper ones. One of the favorite coupon websites for the latest deals is Groupon.

They can also see value in non-traditional business models such as Uber connecting riders to drivers replacing taxicab or Airbnb providing travelers with unique accommodations around the world replacing hotel chains. Other examples of disruptive marketing is the very popular Dollar Shave Club, a monthly subscription service for razors that rocketed to success with its “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” viral ad campaign starring 33-year-old founder Michael Dubin. Netflix has also changed the way movies and TV series are consumed.

I read an interesting posting on LinkedIn recently that stated: “In 2015 Uber, the world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles, Facebook the world’s most popular media owner creates no content, Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory, and Airbnb the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate.” Scary times for many traditional boomer brands.

5. Humour Me

Millennials grew up on entertainment starting from the early days of VCRs watching the full library of Walt Disney movies over and over, and sneaking in the odd National Lampoons reel. Then there were the endless Jim Carrey movies and video games. They had instant access to be amazed and distracted. World-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal estimates that a 21-year-old has spent 10,000 hours gaming — about the same amount of time they spent in school from 5th to 12th grade.

Tanya Giles, the executive vice president of Strategic Insights and Research at Viacom Media Networks says comedy is intrinsically intertwined with Millennials identities. A study of 4,000 Millennials by Edelman research confirms that 80 percent of Millennials like to be entertained by advertising – that is, as long as the brand is current and the offering is appealing or relevant.


Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice has been around for 70 years. I remember buying the stuff for my dad for Christmas. I have always thought of the brand as an old man’s product. But that all changed when they launched one of the most successful rebrands to young men in 2010 with the “Old Spice Guy”. Their video “Mom Song” has had over 3 million views on YouTube.

Millennials Are The Future

Boomers have changed the world. The jury is still deliberating on determining their positive and negative contribution. Their children, Millennials have the opportunity to move the world to a better place. Brands must listen carefully to adapt to this new world.

No generation is a homogeneous group and like any customer we are all different in some way. Technology allows brands to provide unique experiences one customer at a time. Millennials want to be treated like “me” – not a group we call “Millennials”!

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A brand, by any other name…

Guess the brands - answer at the bottom of the article.

Companies invest millions of dollars building and protecting brand names. A brand, by any other name, would lose all the credibility and loyalty it worked so hard for. Who knew Shakespeare could stay so relevant?

To put this into perspective, Fortune’s Top 500 global companies spend, on average, $1.9 trillion on brand marketing each year. Why do they care so much? Well, creating a dynamic and memorable brand can contribute significantly to the bottom line. Take a company like Wholesale Landscape Supply. Not much to remember there, right? They changed their brand name to Big Earth, and the next year they increased sales by 200%.

No different than partners struggling to find the perfect name for their newborn, companies spend a lot of time and money finding their perfect brand. Company owners build a potential list of names and, if they have the resources, they include customer research testing to find out how each name lands. Yet often research and science factor very little in the brand decision-making process, with companies spending most of their energy and resources on their product or service instead. In some cases the brand name becomes an afterthought. “If that’s true, those businesses are run by idiots,” says Mike Mann, author of the book and blog MakeMillions.com. He goes on to say that the brand name is foundational for everything else. Therefore, taking shortcuts and relying on your emotional instincts could sabotage your brand’s long-term success.

To facilitate success, spend the time upfront to choose your perfect name. Come up with some naming strategies and use data-driven research to help you get to the one unique and memorable brand name. But before you can even do that, you must have a clear brand strategy that identifies your brand position, promise, and reason for being. Your final brand name should encompass and embody your brand strategy.

Here are five possible approaches to finding your perfect brand name.

 

1. Use people names as the brand

Consulting firms like lawyers, accountants, trainers, and agencies tend to use founder, owner and inventor names as their brand, since their consumers are buying expertise directly from their people. It’s logical that their brand names are the actual people behind the brand.

Additionally, many companies have successfully built empire on a family name—think Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Johnnie Walker, Maytag, McDonald’s, Hugo Boss, Porsche, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart and Toyota, to name a few. If you want to see a complete list, check out Wikipedia’s Companies Named After People. They have almost 1,000 family brand names.

2. Use descriptive words to explain what the brand is

This is where the left-brain entrepreneurs live. The descriptive brand name clearly communicates, in a straightforward manner, what service or product they are selling. Whether its tires, donuts, airlines, hotels, banks, restaurants, or pizzas, there are no surprises of what to expect from these brands.

The problem lies when they want to expand beyond their core product. Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, opened a store this year with only the brand name “Dunkin’” so they could expand beyond the donut and compete directly against Starbucks. Tim Hortons had the same problem when they first started as Tim Donut Limited. Today, they are known as Tim Hortons and offer much more than just the sugar-glazed donut. Midas Mufflers started as a specialty shop servicing vehicle mufflers but, as time evolved, they added brakes, shocks, tires and more. Simple solution—they dropped “Mufflers” from their name.

As long as a company sticks to their description they are golden, but once they want to branch out their name becomes a detriment. If you’re thinking of getting that granular with your own brand name, make sure to consider the future and stick to a name that is broad enough to encompass future plans.

3. Develop an image or experience that the brand projects

We shift now to the right-brain thinking. This is where we can use analogical reasoning with metaphors and tap into mythology and foreign words. These types become visionary brands with multidimensional imagery that can evolve and create a strong brand story. In some cases, the brand is much bigger than the product or service and actually becomes the underlying theme or promise. Nike, Patagonia, Verizon, Amazon, Expedia and Virgin are all great examples of creating a brand story that is bigger than any one product.

The $100 billion Nike brand actually started as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, but they had to come up with a new brand name once they started producing their own runners (see what happens when you get too descriptive?). They came up with two options, Falcon or Dimension Six, but no one liked either one! Jeff Johnson, Blue Ribbon’s first employee, came up with the name Nike— and it was just a name that came to him in a dream. Nike is the Greek Goddess of Victory. In 1971, graphic design student Carolyn Davidson designed the Nike logo swoosh for $35. The swoosh was designed to represent the wings of the goddess Nike. There was no research or focus group testing—they just did it!

4. Develop a new word as a brand name

Still in right-brain territory, this is the last chance if you have been unsuccessful in finding the perfect word to describe your brand. Start mashing up existing words by deleting or changing letters, creating new words, compounding words, or abbreviating words. The world’s most famous mashup brand name is IKEA. The first two letters in IKEA’s name are the initials of its Swedish founder Ingvar Kanprad. The last two are the first letters of the name of the property and village where he grew up: Elmtaryd Agunnaryd. Remember, you need at least one vowel to make it roll off the tongue. Some other successful mashup brands include Instagram, Tumblr, Fcuk, Pinterest, Facebook, FedEx, Acura, and Flickr.

5. Take a known word and reposition it as a brand name

I would have loved to be in the room when the agency pitched the brand name “Gap.” I can see the account manager reading the Oxford Dictionary definition: “Gap – a break or hole in an object or between two objects.” In the end, though, it was brilliant. Take an obscure word and load it with a new meaning. If you can tie the word to the brand story or promise, you’ll create a stronger connection to the brand name. Fruit seems to be a popular repurpose muse—we all know Apple, Blackberry, Tangerine, Orange, and Peach. I believe Lemon and Gooseberry are still available!

You’re Halfway There

Once you have the perfect brand name you need to protect it. The trademark process is a complete article in itself, and one I will never write. Securing viable trademarks is becoming increasingly difficult, but definitely not impossible. As a general guideline, descriptive words are generally too common to protect. For example, Hotel.com can’t be protected so, if you own the web domain name, that is as good as you will get.

Which leads me into the digital properties. If you can’t secure the domain name or social handles for your brand name, don’t sweat it. Joel Gascoigne, co-founder of Buffer says “the name itself matters much more than having the same domain name. Pick a great name, go with a tweaked domain name.” You might want to also buy misspelled variations of your name before others do. Google owns gooogle.com, gogle.com, gogole.com, goolge.com and googel.com. Trust me I have typed all of these variations, at some point.

Also remember that people must be able to easily pronounce your brand name and have it recognized by audio assistants like Siri, Google, and Alexa. If your brand will go beyond the world of English, make sure you understand any linguistic challenges with translations, idioms, slang, cultural associations, and connotations.

You will notice there was no mention of acronyms or initialism as a brand names. You have to start with the long, boring, and descriptive brand name first, make it known, and then shorten it down to its initials. KFC, RBC, IBM, AFLAC and BMW all started with their full names to gain recognition before they could shorten them. Check out my previous article WABBA – Will All Brands Become Acronyms.

acronyms brand names

 

A Brand Name is Only the Beginning

The brand is more than just a name. It’s a good start but it’s only part of your brand identity.

Beyond the name, a brand must define its voice, messaging, and content strategy—and make sure those representing the brand embody all of those things. The brand personality will influence all decisions like advertising campaigns, job postings, packaging and store design, sponsorships, customer service, and digital experiences.

 

brand name evolution

 

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Many famous brands didn’t get their brand name right the first time, and many continue to tweak their names to broaden their markets beyond borders and product lines today. If you start with a name that doesn’t fit, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board.

Lexicon Branding, one of the leading brand name agencies in the world, says a great name can make a big financial difference. And they should know—they have created $15 billion in brand names, including Blackberry, Danani, Febreze, OnStar and Pentium. The most iconic brands today aren’t mind-blowing works of art, either. They are simple words that have evolved into powerful brands: Nike, Google, Facebook, Walmart, Apple and Amazon. A simple name with a powerful strategy can (and will) make all the difference.

 

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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 make 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 brands have successfully broken away from the competitive crowd using the colour pink and more new brands will do the same.

 

Check out “Does the Colour of a Brand Really Matter

 

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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.