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9 Creative Ideas for Great Branding

Creativity is at the core of every successful brand. It is continuous reinvention driven by new ideas and new ways of doing business. Apple, Netflix and Amazon are great examples of iconic brands that continue to evolve. Creativity is the catalyst for innovation. How do you build a creative culture to ensure your brand is always on the top? It starts with an understanding of creativity. Then, talented people must know how to be creative and have the freedom to do so.

Pixar is a wonderful example of a company with a creative culture; the innovative animation giant has created 14 blockbuster movies in a row. Pixar President Ed Catmull, coauthor of the book Creativity, Inc., points out some basic observations:

  • Talent is rare;
  • Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur;
  • The working environment must be safe to tell the truth. Everyone must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture;
  • Always remember that the ultimate goal is ‘making the product great’.

Creativity isn’t elusive or exclusive. According to a joint study by Harvard and Insead, 85 percent of creativity is a learned skill. All we need to do it learn it! But that is easier said, than done for most of us.

To get started, here are nine creative ideas to help build an environment to sustain a great brand:

 

1. Connect the Dots

Maria Popova, the creative genius behind BrainPickings.org, says that creativity is the ability to connect the unconnected – it is the melding of existing knowledge into new insight about the world around us. It’s the ability to connecting the dots between unrelated ideas. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group incorporated this concept into the company’s philosophy of growth. They call it the ABCD process: Always Be Connecting Dots.

Steve Jobs said “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

 

2. Curiosity

Psychologist Todd Kashdan said that curiosity “appears to be a fundamental motive in facilitating industry and creativity.” Curiosity goes hand-in-hand with creativity. B. F. Skinner, psychologist and author, said “When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.” Visit a bookstore or library and wander the rows of books and maybe get inspired to read about something different. Buy a magazine from a section that you rarely view. Watch a movie or TED Talk on a topic you know nothing about. Take a course on a new skill set that you are interested in but know nothing about. Start asking the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of everything around you.

 

3. See Things Differently

In Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, she emphasizes the importance of observing your environment on a deeper level. Leonardo da Vinci observed that many people look, but few people see; mindful seeing is the foundation of direct experience and the foundation of direct knowledge. Writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind. Try to be in the moment.

 

4. Expand Your View

Involve individuals and ideas from all walks of life to help collaborate. Google provides lunch every day for all their employees but there is a catch – everyone from all departments and levels must participate. They share their current projects and discuss new ideas. According to Caitlin Adair, from Google’s head office, their café and micro-kitchens create collaborative space for employees to “discuss, brainstorm, meet and relax.”

Google goes to great lengths to provide employees with fun perks such as 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. Businesses need to do their best to foster a safe, creative space where unusual ideas are celebrated and where creativity is nurtured.

 

5. Experiment – Appreciate That It’s a Process

Creativity is a process that is developed over time. We have to embrace that and give it time.

All facets of life have sped up except the human brain. Technology has reduced production time down to seconds but thinking still takes same amount of time today as it did 300 years ago. Great ideas come from anywhere at any time. If you sit someone down and tell them that they need to produce a brilliant idea in ten minutes, your chance of success is extremely low. 

The first iPhone didn’t just happen. It took many hundreds of versions before it was finally released. Some of them were terrible versions that Apple never showed us like the rumored click wheel iPhone

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” says Kotler. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent – these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

Don’t be frustrated that you didn’t come up with a brilliant idea in five minutes. Creativity takes time – sleep on it, and get others to sleep on it. The more brain power, the better.

 

6. Shake Things Up

Sitting around a table brainstorming isn’t thinking out-side-the-box. Get up. Move around. Change your perspective, literally. Physical movement has been shown to have a positive effect on creative thinking. Add other stimuli like toys and music to help stimulate your brain. 

Facebook‘s Mark Zuckerberg conducts meetings on foot – walking around the Facebook campus. Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education. 

Experience new things. Take different routes to and from work. Use your left hand for the things you would normally do with the right hand. Avoid anything that makes life monotonous or mundane. Promise yourself you will do something different today.

 

7. Play

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO is believes that creative thinkers need time, space, and permission to play in order to do their jobs well because playfulness helps us get to more creative solutions. Check out his TED Talk as he talks about the powerful relationship between creative thinking and play – with many examples you can try at home (and one that maybe you shouldn’t).

 

8. Problem Solve

Creativity ultimately helps a successful brand solve a problem. Nick Woodman couldn’t get any great action photographs of himself surfing in Australia. This problem inspired him to develop the GoPro camera. Doctor Joan Fallon noticed that many autistic children had a deficiency in a certain kind of enzyme for processing protein. She started Curemark and raised $50 million to develop a treatment to solve the problem. Today, she is taking her unique technology and tackling problems like schizophrenia and other neurological conditions. Maybe Ingvar Kamprad couldn’t get a table into his trunk of his small Swedish car, so he took the legs off and then started IKEA.

As Steve Jobs said “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”

 

9. What ‘If’ Questions

To help change your perspective, use a simple question to reframe the opportunity. Its like the “what else can you do with a brick” question.

Think outside the box by taking an existing object and asking clever questions to twist the very concept of it and make it new and different. Steve Jobs started off by making the iPhone a super “slick” phone. With a few “what ifs” added into the equation, Apple transformed the cell phone into the smartphone that dominates the world today. Here is some potential “what if” questions:

  • What would happen if you take away or eliminate one element or ingredient of the brand?
  • How could you change or improve the brand to use it in a different way?
  • If you could turn the brand services into a physical product what would it look like? Or if you could turn a brand product into a service what would it look like?
  • If you could get your brand quicker or more conveniently to your customer how could you do this (in X months)?
  • If you wanted to offer your customer something free that no one else offers what could it be?
  • If you could change one thing in your company (process, systems, structure, etc.) what would it be? How quickly could you do this?
  • What do you wish your brand could do better if you had the resources to change it?

This isn’t the definitive list of questions but using these and others is a powerful tool that can help you to think differently.

 

Without Creativity There is No Innovation

You need a safe and collaborative environment to implement any of these ideas effectively. If your brand is about sticking to the rules and follow ridged processes with a mentality of “it won’t work here”, the brand’s life will be shorter. Today’s world demands new innovations. To get to an innovation, you need a great idea. Great ideas come from being creative.

Understand there is no universal recipes for creativity. You need to try these ideas and others to develop your own approach and figure out what works for you and your team. If it was easy you wouldn’t be reading this article. But remember everyone can be creative if they are in the right frame of mind. As American author Elizabeth Gilbert said “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”

Being creative in and of itself isn’t terrible productive or profitable. The unique idea must create value. In essence, creativity helps stimulate new and unique ideas. If they are good, they can be turned into an innovation that people will line-up to buy.

Creativity is subjective and impossible to measure. Innovation is measurable. When a unique idea is put into action, you can always determine its success or failure. Sometimes you have to go through a number of ideas before you get to a successful innovation. A true brand innovation is one that meets or surpasses your customers’ needs.

A creative culture is also a culture that sees the glass as half-full. Instead of just complaining, employees must feel empowered to actively look for better solutions. Having the permission to be creative and innovative is very powerful.

Successful brands have passionate people who willingly unleash their creativity everyday and understand how it keeps a brand relevant and loved by its customers. Creativity is a beautiful thing.

 

This is a remake of a previous article A Brand’s Ultimate Weapon – Creativity published April 12, 2015.

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Brands Make the World Go ‘Round

Brands have played an intrinsic role in our lives. Some brands have mimicked culture, while others have created and driven it. Brands have lifted the world from poverty with economic growth and human development. In 2017, the world’s 500 largest companies employed over 67 million people, while producing $30 trillion in revenues and $1.9 trillion in profits.

Brands have brought the world to our doorsteps. Brands have taught us about global values and uplifted our spirits. Brands make the world go ‘round. They have poured billions of dollars into our communities. And, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

 

Brands: Force of Good

Can you image a world without brands?  It would be a world made of lifeless commodities and generic products, void of any personality, aesthetic, emotion, or aspiration. Brands have brought us together in joy, happiness, and pleasure (and yes, also in anger, hatred and desperation). Brands have been the catalyst for change and new innovations. They have inspired arts, technology, government and social causes. Brands are the true global consciousness of governance and consistence of quality, regardless of race, geography, politics and religion. They are a true friend that remains loyal, delivering on their promises around the world. Brands have also made a lot of money, having a positive impact on society as the wealth of nations increase around the world. The assumption is that brands understand and respond to the needs of their consumer, and that will in variably deliver value to them and shareholders. Everyone wins.

 

Brands: Force of Evil

Critics argue that greedy global brands, with their huge appetite for natural resources, are destroying forests, ruining oceans, and polluting our environment. Human resources are also being taken advantage of, with low pay and poor working conditions. Brands are seen as the source behind the plastics pollution pandemic and linked to rainforest destruction and the extinction of wildlife. Brands are the motivation behind the endless consumption of society. Brands have created a disposable society of the one use, throw it away mentality.

There is no question that some brands’ ethics and motives aren’t acceptable.  Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster or WikiLeaks to inform the public of any atrocities. Today, unacceptable conduct is quickly responded to with financial pain in the form of boycotts and brand-damaging messaging.

The billion dollar tech brands like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have captured unprecedented market share in the new digital world. These brands and others like them all collect large amounts of personal data and, in some cases, misuse this data. Apple’s iPhone, for example, tracks users about 129,000 times each year.  These brands have the ability to map your entire behavior, becoming so accurate and so detailed that they know your next move before you do. Share this information with a third party, and you have a political mess.  Misuse of information will continue to be a threat by unethical brands.  

Good brands will be seen as those that nurture the planet and promote human wellbeing, while bad brands will be seen as those that exploit the planet and its people. At the end of the day, the consumers will decide which brands win.

 

Brands: Drive Prosperity

In 1949, Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery.” It was around that time that Minute Maid Orange Juice, Sony, H&M, 20th Century Fox Television, Burger King, Adidas, McDonald’s, and Visa made their brand debut. Shortly after, Wal-Mart, Nike, Mastercard, Intel and the Gap made their presence felt around the world. World War II was finally over and the Bretton Woods Agreement had been signed, opening the world to a new global system of free trade.

Poverty rates started to collapse as the world shifted to free markets in the 1950s. The world’s population was around 2.52 billion and more than 70 percent (1.81 billion) lived in extreme poverty (making less than $1.90 per day). Experts attribute two-thirds of poverty reduction to economic growth and the other third to greater equality. By 2015, the world’s population had tripled (thanks in part to the Boomers) to 7.35 billion. During the same period, extreme poverty dropped by 60 percent to less than 10 percent of the total population. Over this 60 years of incredible economic growth, we saw the globalization of brands cover the world.  Even with the explosive population growth we saw illiteracy rates drop and life expectancy increase. This progress wasn’t caused by time but by brands investing in countries, communities, and people. Everyone profited.

 

Brands: Empower Women

World War II was also a turning point for women, especially in North America, where they played a significant role in the workforce and paved the way in breaking down psychological barriers. Julia Kirk Blackwelder, author on the topic of feminization of the workplace, said “the war so profoundly altered labor demands and women’s expectations that women entered the workforce in even greater numbers after the war.” In 1950, 34 percent of women were part of the labour force and by 2016 there were almost 57 percent.

Brands clearly understood the major shift in the consumer landscape. In the 1960s, brands were under scrutiny from feminist groups for how women were being portrayed in brand advertising. Over time, a greater emphasis was placed on the independence of women in owning a car, having a career, and participating in major purchase decisions.  These images of doing “men’s work” helped instill and grow confidence within women who became the target audience of many new brands. However, there is still room for improvement in the area of pay equity, discrimination, and sexual harassment.

 

Brands: Generic Alternative

Generics are copycat brands that are generally cheaper and come with no-frills packaging. In some cases, generic brands offer products of similar quality while in others the difference is much more noticeable. Generic ketchup isn’t Heinz, cola doesn’t taste the same as “real thing” and the Goophone smartphone isn’t iPhone. The generics are all about price with no branding or promotional support.

As with most things, you get what you pay for. The branded version is all about loyalty and building a relationship based on quality, craftsmanship, and supported services. Brands are always anticipating future customer’s needs. They are more expensive, but the added profits goes towards further research and development. Brands care about innovations and continuous improvements to keep them relevant. Generics only care about selling you as much of their product as possible, with no attention to your future needs. Generics don’t invest in communities nor new technology; their goal is to make as much money as possible without spending anything more than the absolute minimum.  

Brands continue to evolve. Generics come and go while brands create new technologies, industries, business models, goods, and services. A new version of the iPhone is anticipated and expected as an annual event. New technologies can make older ones obsolete, shutting down old production systems while displacing workers. These rapid changes can also destroy traditional work and social relationships that once played an essential cultural and economic role in the lives of a community or country. The Apple iPod and Amazon Kindle Reader had a profound effect on the music industry and the book industry, respectively. Currently, Airbnb and Uber are creating havoc in the traditional hotel industry and taxi industry. All of these changes come with serious trade-offs that aren’t necessarily clear if the future is a better place.

 

Brands: Control Commerce

Karl Marx predicted in The Communist Manifesto that local business would be wiped out by large multinational brands and the local culture would be lost forever. Karl Marx’s prediction has come true. Go anywhere in the world and you are guaranteed to find a Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC or Pizza Hut. And thanks to ecommerce you can access almost any brand, with delivery right to your door

The reason multinational brands became mega brands and wiped all the local presence is because consumers supported them.  Customers will line up for days to get the newest model of the latest product, and spend their entire paycheck to proudly display the brand logo. But do brands really want to make the world a better place, or do they just keep us working so we can continue to buy their products and keep them profitable? Through their mammoth marketing machine, mega brands create consumer aspirations and desires that lead people continuously into debt. No local grocer is a match for a large multinational brand like Wal-Mart, with its global resources of outsourcing, data & digital management, and low-margin high-volume sales model. It doesn’t matter how many years the local grocer built their business, one customer at a time, with personalized service.

We have, however, seen a resurgence in local premium products like craft beers, spirits, soda, natural energy drinks, ice cream and coffee. So maybe we are finding the balance getting the best quality at the best price while wanting elevated quality, and supporting local.

 

Brands: Define Culture

People build culture and also brands. More than ever, brands are shaping our lives. We are addicted to our smartphones and the social networks we live on. Thom Braun, author of The Philosophy of Branding, says “…brands and branding are fundamental to the way we experience modern life—and the way we give ‘meaning’ to it.” It’s no surprise our top brands are the ones we interact with on demand.

We can’t live without brands. In some cases, they define who we are. Brands are no longer just objects in our disposable lives—they are giving us meaning, as brands weave their stories with ours. Author Paul Auster said “If we didn’t have stories to tell each other, I don’t think we’d be able to understand the world at all.” In the book Storytelling, Branding in Practice, authors K. Fog, C. Budtz, P. Munch and S. Blanchette state “It is, therefore, no coincidence that an ancient tradition like storytelling should appear in a new form-as a tool for brand building…”

Brands are starting to shape culture to remain relevant and break through the clutter. Brands are trying to champion a societal need and change a social attitude or behaviour, with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place (and selling more product). Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick’s racial injustice cause is a case in point. As the ad said “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

 

Brands: Bigger Responsibility

Thanks to digitization and globalization, popular brands are getting bigger by the second.

While Amazon is on track to collect half of US online sales by 2021, according to an analyst. But the bigger play is still in the brick and mortar, where Wal-Mart dominates the retail landscape with 11,700 locations in over 28 countries, over 2.3 million employees, and annual sales of over $500 billion. With this clout, they can dictate their terms and define the products with a network of 3000 diverse suppliers to keep their 270 million weekly customers happy. If you visit their global website they say “We want to use our size for good.” Let’s hope so, because they are very big!

Coca-Cola consumes about 289 billion of water (a fact on their website) to produce their 40 different products. To put this in perspective, that is about 115,600 Olympic-sized pools, almost one week of the entire water flowing over the Niagara Falls, or almost one year of water consumption by Torontonians. They claim that it takes about 2 litres to produce 1 litre of product. While agriculture accounts for 70% of all water consumption in the world, Coca-Cola recognizes that a sustainable approach to water is essential to its business. Coca-Cola committed to fully replace the water it uses in its finished products across the globe, a goal it set for 2020 and met in 2015. Now they need to tackle climate change!

McDonald’s has more than 36,000 restaurants around the world and serve 69 million people every day. According to Bloomberg, McDonald’s sells four million kilograms (nine million pounds) of fries every day. To feed this appetite, the entire Madison Square Gardens would need to be filled with potatoes to the ceiling just to supply a year’s worth of fries. McDonald’s employs about 1.8 million people in 119 countries and has become so central to global trade that The Economist values foreign currencies against the dollar using the price of a Big Mac. One in eight US workers has been employed by McDonald’s at some point in their career. McDonald’s has helped put a lot of people through college.

 

Brands: The Future

The world’s challenges like climate change, obesity, population growth, and dwindling natural resources are so complex that they require collaborative solutions that go well beyond any one brand or government. The world’s mega brands have a responsibility to address social concerns beyond their own backyards something no government is able or prepared to do. Global brands have the resources and ability to make lasting change with oppression, religions, politics, and social injustices. They can define and uphold universal values that all humans can embrace. Every day they must answer to their customers (and shareholders), because it is the customers who choose to buy their brand and keep them relevant. Every day they must not only keep their brand promises but also nurture the planet and promote human wellbeing. The world would be a very different place without brands who truly are making the world go ‘round.

 

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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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Are Brands Ready for the Political Arena?

Since the Trump administration came into power, there have been more brands taking a position on political issues (willingly and unwillingly), and with a greater sense of divisiveness. As social values and politics become intertwined, consumers are expecting more from brands and their ability to deliver solutions. In essence, they want them to become more political.

Is it safer for a brand to hide in the shadows or take the political bull by the horns? Like any successful matador, your brand needs to be an aficionado in the political arena. It takes over seven years of intensive training to be a bullfighter, and still they can get gored by a smarter bull. If consumers are blurring the lines between lifestyle and politics, and as politics become all consuming, do brands need to answer where they stand on the political spectrum?

It seems the more disruptive politics become, the greater the chance of a CEO jumping into the political arena. There has been no shortage of political upheaval and emotional drama surrounding immigration, nationalism, trade, Islamic extremist threats, diversity, gender rights and political theatre.

I was always told to avoid talking about sex, politics, and religion at the dinner table if you wanted to make it to dessert. This same guidance benefited me in the work environment. But today we are forced into more uncomfortable discussions related to mental health, gender equality, religious freedom, and diversity—both as individuals and as corporations. The foundation of economics is for corporate brands to provide shareholder value, but does the need to be politically sensitive trump this value?

 

Political Brands

Brands have always been political—influencing government through campaign funding and lobbying politicians, policy makers, and regulatory agencies. Not unlike unions, NGO, and interest groups, brands look to provide a corporate perceptive to help governments set direction. They hope to define the infrastructure of business governance, provide an educated and healthy workforce, and ensure a safe banking system to protect wealth and capital. The Center for Responsive Politics did an analysis in 2017 that found industries from around the world spent almost $1 billion to lobby the Republican federal government.

 

Politically Relevant

There have been a number of recent research studies that came to very different conclusions on whether brands should take a public stand on political issues. Like a pollster trying to determine who is going to win an election, there isn’t any consistency or conclusive direction.

The Sprout Social 2018 study found that over 60 percent of those surveyed agree that brands should take a stand on social and political issues. The MNI Targeted Media 2018 survey with Generation Z echoes those findings, with over 50 percent agreeing with this statement.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer survey also revealed a staggering collapse of trust in government, especially in the US, while two-thirds of respondents said they wanted CEOs to take a lead on policy change instead of waiting for government. In another Edelman study, Beyond No Brand’s Land 2017, 51 percent of respondents believed that brands have more power to solve social issues than the government. Similar results were found by public relations agency Weber Shandwick, with respondents indicating they would be more likely to buy from companies with activist CEOs.

In another study done by Cone and Porter Novelli, 2018 Purpose Study says Americans expect companies to lead with purpose which means supporting issues they care about.

Yet, another study, Brands, Agencies, and Political Values, by the American Association of Advertising Agencies found that 58 percent of consumers dislike when brands talk politics. And the older the consumer, the more they dislike brands mixing their messaging with politics. In fact, over 76 percent of those surveyed that were aged 65 and older reported they disagreed with brands taking a political approach.

So, while some people seem to want brands to take control and fix social issues, I’m not convinced (based on the research) that there is sufficient benefit for a brand to stick its neck out in a win or lose situation. Branding consultant Dean Crutchfield states that “There’s no study in the world that says that brands benefit from politics. It’s usually not something that is a good strategy for brands in a typical way.”

However, as governments become more polarized and unpredictable, are global brands the only hope to counterbalance this instability? Petah Marian, senior editor at business trend forecaster WGSN says that “People are looking to companies to fill the role of government around social ills as public trust in institutions falls to new lows.”

 

Building Consensus

To build strong global presence, brands must create appeal and desire cross many different consumer demographics and psychographics. Their goal is to be liked by as many customers as possible, regardless of political, religious, or ethical background. J. Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer at Kantar Consulting says that “Brands win only through unification. Big brands are big because they unite a diverse group of consumers with divergent values and preferences.” Politics, of course, has the opposite effect by creating division of two opposing views. Politics can’t be all things to all people, but a brand can be inclusive and unify the world…one coke at a time.

Politically Naïve

The Trump administration has whipped the public into a frenzy, one tweet at a time—so much so that the typical CEO is being forced (willing and unwilling) into the debate. Representing thousands of employees and protecting their company’s values, CEOs are jumping into the fray. Backed by their beliefs, they speak out about racism, immigration restriction, trade barriers, and injustice. Scott Maxwell, founder of OpenView Venture Partners, says the last thing a business leader wants to do is to alienate a potential customer. Arguably, taking a strong political stance does exactly that.

Christian Scarborough, president of Inventive Public Relations, advises CEOs to “stay out of politically sensitive issues. CEOs’ ultimate responsibility is a fiduciary responsibility to generate as much money as possible. It’s the first rule of business and hugely important especially for investors or shareholders. That being said, why would anyone want to alienate 50 percent of their potential revenue stream?”

Understanding the risk, there has been a number of CEOs who have foregone their fiduciary responsibility to take on the President of the United States of America. Major brands like Starbucks, Nike, Google, Twitter, Coke, Airbnb, and Ford have all voiced their disapproval of the immigration ban that President Trump tried to impose. These companies said the policy went against their corporate values.

On August 16th, 2018 over 350 newspapers across the United States rallied together to tell President Trump that journalists are not the enemy. They couldn’t take the anti-press rhetoric anymore, so together they joined forces to protect free press and try to mobilize Americans. “Journalists, don’t let Trump’s attacks on media keep us from doing our job,” read an editorial headline from The Arizona Republic. It’s unfortunate that the US total daily newspaper circulation (print & digital) has fallen over 42% percent since 2005, with continued decline expected.

 

Political Differentiation

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear retailer, has built their brand on political differences. They took a stance on environmental issues and filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, because of the administration’s actions to reduce the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. Niche brands can afford to be more cavalier with their political views, as long as their customer base agrees.

Ultra-conservative fast food brand Chick-Fil-A is known for its religious values and anti-same-sex marriage stance is one of the fastest growing chains, with several stores opening in Canada recently. If you know your customers, taking a political position isn’t always bad for business.

Chris Pearce, CEO at TMW Unlimited, warns brands to think twice before using a moral stance as a marketing tactic, however well-intentioned. Political emotions are running hot and social channels are becoming flooded with hatred. Pearce says the current climate is a “more disturbing prospect of the ‘bandwagon effect’ with perhaps less principled brands confusing clear purpose with ‘faux empathy.’” Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner protest commercial was a great example of exploiting the #BlackLivesMatter political movement, an effort that went horribly wrong as social channels blew up with condemnation and ridicule. Somehow, the public couldn’t buy the concept that Jenner could save the day from hatred and tension with a can of carbonated sugar. They felt it was over-simplifying and mocking an important and complex issue.

 

Politically Correct

With the ability to amplify any social injustice or political view in seconds, brands have become ultra-politically correct. Many brands’ reputations have been called into question, with serious allegations against senior employees as a result of #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #NativeLivesMatter, and #Racism, to name a few. Brands have gone into damage control, quickly removing the accused to appease the social media jury.

Vox Media has been keeping a count of the number of powerful people (celebrities, politicians, CEOs) who have been accused of sexual misconduct. In the last year, that number is 219. There is also a long list of past employees who saw their career abruptly end due to insensitive and stupid tweets. Do I need to mention Roseanne Barr and ABC pulling her show? Brands must be prepared to take a stand at a moment’s notice with limited facts. Gone are the days of a sober second thought.

 

Politically Savvy

David Parry, Head of Interactive, UK&I at Cognizant, says the trend of brands getting involved in politics isn’t going to disappear soon. “As a brand you have to ask yourself: ‘Is this a fight you really want to take part in? Are you simply adding noise to an already saturated crowd or are you truly adding value?'”

Patrick Quinlan, CEO at Convercent, a proactive ethics and compliance management company, says the conversation needs to shift from the risks to the rewards. He says, “Beyond the most important reward—positively impacting society—taking an ethical stance can positively impact recruitment, consumer perception, and brand legacy.”

When and if you enter the political arena, you have one chance to get it right. Make sure you clearly understand why your brand is in the ring in the first place. More importantly, understand what your customers think you should do.

Nike’s recent controversial Colin Kaepernick’s campaign is a case in point. They took a calculated risk knowing their core consumer-base would support the brand. “Nike took a strategic risk to alienate some customers in order to appeal to their core base of 18 to 29-year old males,” said John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll. “It was a calculated move to become a more polarizing brand and it seems to have worked.” If anything Nike has been getting more press, PR and social media pickup than they could ever imagined.

Finally, make sure you are entering the political arena for the right reasons. Make sure the reasons are authentic and not about exploiting a political issue for pure profit. Ensure you understand how the outcome is going to add value to your brand, to your customers and ultimately to your shareholders. Buena Suerte !