Monthly Archives: June 2015

Brand Your Business Model

Recently, while working closely with a startup help build their brand, a series of interesting revelations about the company and business model came to light. In one of the exercises, we sought to help define the brand purpose. The brand purpose; for those new to the concept, is an idea in branding which aims at helping brands define what they stand for and their place in the world. It has largely been inspired by this interesting talk by Simon Sinek:

But here’s what most I find most organisations, or branding exercises miss out on when trying to define their purpose: They build their ‘Why’ independently of their ‘How’ 

I find that the brand’s purpose or reason to be is not authentic, honest or real if it is not reflected in how you do things. If your brand’s place in the world is completely different from your competition, then certainly you would be doing something different from your competition too, wouldn’t you? So why then, would you stop your brand idea at the ‘Why’? A lot of new successful brands actually have an interesting business model at their heart, but fail to bring this to light.

AirBnB, I find, is a brand that’s doing this right. The AirBnB is brand created around the idea of belonging:

But without its business model, and the true nature of what the company delivers, this idea is nothing but an empty brand purpose without meaning of tangible delivery.

I find that startups would find success if they define their purpose: this helps align the team to a greater objective, instead of being lost with the many operational nightmares of the startup life. But at the same time, they must look at linking this closely with how they actually do things, and a unique and differentiated business model is a great way to make this authentic and tangible.


To Have Or To Be: Social

If we believe that brands can be human, then by extension the human sciences can teach us a lot about how brands behave. Or should behave. Philosophy; I find, has several answers to the problems that brands face. One idea that I think is particularly relevant was explored by Erich Fromm in his book “To Have Or To Be?” (Fromm also has a book “On Being Human” which also holds several introspections for the humanness of brands)

In “To Have Or To Be?” Fromm suggests a premise that humans have two states of life: the having mode, and the being mode. He explores in depth the two states and their effect on the quality of our lives and relationship with the world. Briefly, the two states are:

The having mode: “In the having mode of existence my relationship to the world is one of possessing and owning, one in which I want to make everybody and everything, including myself, my property.”

The being mode: “In the being mode of existence, we must identify two forms of being. One is in contrast to having … and means aliveness and authentic relatedness to the world. The other form of being is in contrast to appearing and refers to the true nature, the true reality, of a person or a thing in contrast to deceptive appearances as exemplified in the etymology of being”

I think there are several areas of branding where this idea of having or being can be applied, but I’d like to start with how this affects a brand’s view on and use of social media.

Social media, in my opinion, is a tool for something that people always needed: belonging. It simply gives a place for people to engage and interact with each other. An online bar of sorts. By extension, a friend of yours who is boring in a bar, is going to be boring on Facebook too. So why should we view social media as being different from just being social!? People who are inherently social, don’t have a “social media strategy”. They’re just themselves, but online.

If we were to extend Fromm’s two modes to brands on social media, we would have two types of brands: Brands that have social, and Brands that are social. 

Brands that have social are by nature hoarders. They talk about “What are we going to do online?”, or “How do we engage with our audience?”, and often the answers to these questions seem almost unnatural to these brands. These brands seek to measure the quantity and quality of their social presence: with a primary goal of increasing social media presence. While there is nothing wrong with measuring presence, it must not be the sole driver of what brands should do online. This brand personified, in a bar, would probably be clueless about what to say to people around but would focus on how many people he/she could impress. Nobody wants to “engage” with someone arrogant, defensive, unapologetic or even trying-to-please-everyone. (Of how many social media failures does this sound familiar?)

On the other hand, brands that are social, will extend themselves more naturally to social media. Without even trying. They’re the friends in the bar whose company you enjoy. Whether it was before social media or after social media, Coca-Cola has always been about bringing people together. Coca-Cola (among other brands) is in the state of being social. It finds it easy to integrate itself into conversations, situations that people are really involved with because being social is core to who the brand is. A “social media strategy” for such brands is easy to define, because these brands are inherently social. 

In this era of social media proliferation, brands must not define a social media strategy outside of their brand strategy. Rather, if social media is so important to the brand, they must define the brand in a way that it is social by nature, or that a part of the brand’s identity extends itself to being social. 

Demystifying Strategy

In all my interactions with mangers, consultants and a whole lot of other folk in the field of business, I find a common problem: We love using big words. It appears as though each specialisation has made a gentleman’s club of sorts, to which you can gain entry only by using the right language. The problem with this is that it alienates what we do from each other, and doesn’t really help direct business collectively: simply because we don’t speak the same language. As service providers, it often makes it hard for clients to understand the value of what we do, particularly startups and non-profits who aren’t accustomed to corporate language.

One of the most loaded words I have heard repeatedly; and often needlessly, used is: “strategy” or “strategic”If we really break down “strategy” it is simply the shortest line between where we are and where we want to go. “Tactics”as we like to differentiate in jargon is what we should do to get there. 

A mentor of mine taught me well when he said: “There are only two kinds of strategy in the world: audit and directional” I’m going to use this idea to bring to light what “strategy” really is, which I hope unburdens the word:

1. Audit: Facts. Analysis. Information. Data. “What’s the situation?”, “What’s good, and bad?”, “Who’s strong, who’s weak?” The stuff we learn in B-School: SWOT, PESTLE, Porter’s Five Forces and all the other models: these are simply audit. These only tell you where you are today, and give you an indication of where you should be going. This is not difficult to do, and don’t really help any organisation figure out how to get anywhere. This is never enough, and therefore it is not strategic. The key to doing this right is to be relevant to decision making.

2. Directional: Insights. Recommendations. Decisions. Plans. “We need to gain new competencies if we want to achieve this end. Do we develop them, or acquire them?”, “We need a new product in our portfolio, priced at a point that makes our star product more appealing”, “We need to do something interesting, or risk being forgotten”. These give an indication of where we should be headed, and by nature give clarity to steps on what we should do.

One last thing. My mentor always followed his line with: “Don’t give me an audit. I want direction”.

Your Customers Don’t Care

Another irrational behaviour of people is that we feel we are being noticed. In a sea of people, we feel conscious of our behaviours, because we have a feeling of “being watched”.  Truth is, nobody cares. Everyone is busy doing what they are doing, and unless you do something really interesting (or stupid), nobody takes notice.

The same is true for marketers, who believe that their customers are genuinely interested in their brands. The truth is, they’re really not. They’re thinking about their careers, families, pets, vacations and other more important things. Your brand, actually doesn’t feature in their lives.

Source: Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist

This really comes through a lot in how we approach brand management, as marketers who make this assumption always refer to “their consumers” as a group of people who are eagerly awaiting the brand’s next move. This is one; among other, sure shot ways to failure.

The key to truly understanding customers, and getting their attention must begin with the assumption that they are going to ignore you. Next up, ask yourself what is truly interesting and attention worthy: this is not just a matter of communication or brand messaging (Old Spice, for instance), but of remarkable product delivery too (Dyson, being a case in point)

Brands today, live in an economy of attention. We are each vying for a momentary attention of our consumers, divided between a plethora of brands and media. The only way to get their attention is to be truly note-worthy.

The Only Thing To Fear, Is Fear Itself

Picture Credity: Svetlana Belyaeva Photography

Picture Credity: Svetlana Belyaeva Photography

Yesterday, I was lucky to be part of something very interesting.

After moderating an exhaustive brand exploration exercise with the founders of a new startup, a moment of silence settled in the room. A good silence. “This is scary”, said one of the founders. “We’ve been so busy with getting things done, with facing so many little challenges, that we forgot about this.”

Starting any new activity: a company, a new habit, a book, a blog, a job search is a lot of work. And it is easy to get lost in the long list of tasks that need to be done in order to make it happen. When we start we always have a big idea, but it is easy to forget the great big idea when you have to handle daily tasks to make it happen. And that’s ok.

But it is good to be reminded of the great big idea too. Not only to remind others why you are here. But to remind yourself.

And if that great big idea doesn’t scare you, then it won’t inspire you. If you are comfortable with a small vision, then nobody will notice it. Don’t ever start small, because there’s no place for small dreams and vision in the world. Start big, and take little steps everyday to make it happen.


Questions Are Your Answers

Another irrational human behaviour that also plagues management: Jumping to solution, rather than perfecting the understanding of the problem.

From a human perspective, I think the problem here lies in the fact that people can be somewhat restless and want to quickly get down to doing something. Perhaps this is driven by a fear that if we don’t fix the problem right away, it will get worse. So, let’s do something about it right now!

But clearly, a weak understanding of the problem will only lead to compounding the problem further. Rather, understanding the true problem can give us clarity on what to do. So, how do we get to the heart of the problem:

1. Slow down: The first thing to do is calm down. The more you look at the problem, the more you are going to want to do something about fixing it. Though this is hard, at this point it is best to stop yourself from thinking about how to fix it. Or what to do.

2. Step away: Strategy requires an external perspective. And perspective doesn’t come from standing right next to the problem. If it did, the whole consulting industry would not exist. Stepping away from the problem can often give you an outsider’s view to help identify and rectify the problem. So get away from the data, the process, the manifestations. The laptop.

3. Look for clues: Very often, a complicated problem is actually a simple problem manifested differently. The very nature of scale in management (or any long term activity) results in a small problem being amplified differently in different areas of the activity (or organisation). Fixing each manifestation is not the way to go, and this is something we are guilty of too. Work inwards, by asking questions, finding where the problems are related, and looking for clues we can actually identify a common pattern through all the different manifestations. On most occasions, I have found that this common thread is the true problem.

4. Don’t fix it yet: Work outwards and understand how fixing this problem will address various manifestations in the process, activity or organisation. Get ready for change, warn those who are involved that somethings are gonna be different. Nobody likes change, so it’s better to warn them. Align the different activities so that the manifestations can be fixed as well.

Implement your solution, watch the ripple effects pan out and top it off with a presentation with some loaded words. You’re done.

On Brands Being Human

Very often in the business of branding we talk about several ideas and concepts that explore the idea that brands can be human.

We have projection techniques in consumer research that helps consumers understand our brands. We have brand archetypes that help us define them, and we use words like “identity”, “personality”, “tone of voice”, “philosophy” and “purpose” in helping define our brands. I do believe that this is one of the most versatile and powerful ideas in branding, as it allows us to make a lot of difficult concepts easy to understand and also gives us a clarity on what we set out to achieve.

But I also believe this is the most abused concept in brand building.

In sticking with the analogy of people, the reason is simple: The most interesting humans are not those who define who they are and then shove their values and personality down the throat of the people around them. They define who they are, and live by those values. And that’s certainly something that brands can learn from people.

So, the next time you are making your marketing plans or brand campaigns, don’t seek to remind people what your values are. Rather, seek to live by them in everything you do so that your audience can understand it for themselves.