Are you in a relationship with
your brand?

Man Woman BrandsIn an interesting post at the Harvard Business Review, Andrew O-Connell writes about recent research that indicates consumers think brands have a gender. And if you think about it, you’re probably not all that surprised.

In fact, you almost certainly have at least one brand preference that correlates strongly with your gender. In the cola category, both Coke and Pepsi have created entire brands aimed at either men or women, promoted with imagery that plays off gender stereotypes. Think: Diet Coke’s Construction Worker ad or the packaging and imagery around Coke Zero. Pepsi does the same thing with Diet Pepsi and Pepsi Max.

The article includes this graphic that shows several brands on the gender spectrum:


Brand Gender


The article mentions that this ought to be a surprise to us, since brands are nothing more than images, colors, typefaces, sounds, etc.

But, if you’ve been paying attention, this probably isn’t a surprise.

Neuroscience has shown our brains react to brands almost exactly the same way they react to people we feel close to (even love). And since gender is a significant part of how we perceive and feel about others, our perceptions of brands are likely to include those same personality traits.

Ask yourself: What attributes are you building into your brand to help consumers relate to it on their terms? If your product is generally designed for working moms, are there subtle things you are doing to signal that your brand is a lot like her? And that she might like it? If your buyer is a man, what attributes does your brand have to let him know that?

When it comes down to it, the brands we love may not care all that much about us, but we definitely care about them—and how they make use feel. A smart brand owner will keep that in mind as they build their brand story.

A Great Talk on Storytelling

One of the best talks I’ve ever heard on how to tell a great story, by screenwriter Andrew Stanton. Have a look:

Friday Inspiration: Roy Williams on Words and People

Jeff Sexton wrote a long blog post earlier this week on his dislike of the term, “personal branding”. He doesn’t disagree with branding on a personal level, mostly he dislikes the term. As part of that post (read it here), Jeff scanned and posted a short essay by The Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams. I think it makes a great point about telling your brand story in a way that makes people care about what you do. So, I lifted it, and reposted it here as this week’s Friday Inspiration:

Friday Inspiration: Dick Foster

Last week, Forbes printed a short interview with Dick Foster, Senior Partner and Director at McKinsey & Company. Foster is most famous for his book, Creative Destruction. From the interview, it would appear that Foster is more than a little skeptical of business gurus who advise doing the same things you see high-performing companies doing: “There was no such company, and there never had been such a company!”

The Dick Foster interview is today’s Friday Inspiration. Here’s a short excerpt:

“Let me tell you how I got to the term “creative destruction.” In the 80’s, I was in a search for “the excellent company” – the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wise company that made all the right moves in advance, and that made more money for its shareholders than any of its competitors. This was the permanent outperformer stock – the really good deal. I looked at 4,000 companies over 40 years, and what I found stunned me. There was no such company, and there never had been such a company!

“I thought something had to be wrong. Was I looking at the problem in the right way? No company had been able to outperform the market for any substantial length of time. (GE came as close as any, but didn’t do any better than the overall index). Somehow the market – managed by nobody – was performing better than all the brains on the planet. But why? Then I realized that the reason markets outperform companies was closely tied to what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” This was actually a phrase that came from the Hindu religion, dealing with the transformation of an individual throughout their life, from creation, onto death, and ultimately rebirth.

“That whole notion of creation, life, and destruction seemed a like a good model for what was going on in markets. When the time comes for a company to face its maker and file for bankruptcy, it does it – the markets don’t care. And when there is opportunity out there to create something new, hundreds will go after it. Most will fail, but one or two will succeed (and we’ll assign Apollo-like status to the latter, while quickly forgetting about the 500 others who failed). Markets are better at creation than any individual company, and they are much better at destruction. A company cannot perform better than the markets that are adapting more rapidly – it’s just a fact of life.”

Check out the rest of the interview at


How to Compete with Google

When it comes to search, Google dominates its competitors. In fact, its name is synonymous with search.
Nobody “searches” online. We “google”.

Last month, Americans conducted 18 billion online searches, and Google handled more than 65% of them. Yahoo’s search engine clocks in at 15.9% of all searches, while 14.1% were handled by Microsoft’s Bing.

Do the math. These three giants handle 95% of all U.S. search requests.

Now imagine you want to start a search engine. How would you do it?

Focus on the hole in the market. And make that your story.

Google does a lot of things right. But they don’t do everything right, for everybody. So if you want to compete with Google, you find something they don’t do well and figure out a way to do it better.

That’s what DuckDuckGo does.

Never heard of DDG?

DDG founder, Gabriel Weinberg, created a search engine that blocks content mills and sites jammed with advertising (improving the quality of results). DuckDuckGo doesn’t track search results and share them with advertisers. It doesn’t store search history or IP addresses.

This past January, DuckDuckGo got a lot of attention for a billboard in San Francisco that read: Google tracks you. We don’t.



Hit them where they are weak. Find the hole.

It’s a great brand story.

Easy to tell. Easy to understand.

But that’s not all.

DuckDuckGo does other things that customers like. All search results are displayed on a single page… just keep on scrolling. The name, logo, and site design are playful and clean. You can customize the color, fonts, alignment and other elements of DDG. And the search results are pretty darn good.

The DDG experience feels a lot like what Google was ten years ago.

DDG also does a nice job with disambiguation (they have something called semantic topic detection that helps narrow your search). Try searching for “Lincoln” and you get a box at the top of the page with several choices. Are you looking for Abraham Lincoln? Lincoln Automobiles? Lincoln, Nebraska? Novels, bands, films, or albums called Lincoln? It’s a nice feature that makes results more accurate.

Compared to Google, DuckDuckGo is tiny. Barely worth noticing.

And they’ve got a good  brand story.

Small companies disintermediate bigger competitors all the time. Google did it to Altavista, Excite, and Lycos (remember them?).

And somebody will do it to Google.


Will it be DuckDuckGo?


A Compelling Story… Told by Google

This brand story from Google is so good, it doesn’t need an introduction…



Not only is it a fun story to watch, it’s a pitch perfect demonstration of how Google products can make life better.

Very few brand stories are told as well as this one.

H/T: American Copywriter.

How I Use Twitter

I’ll admit it.

Three years ago I thought Twitter was a complete waste of time. I hated it and couldn’t figure out why people were wasting so much time there.

But that’s changed.

Today I think Twitter is mostly a waste of time. Despite what all the Social Media gurus are saying about it.

Don’t believe me? Check out the trending topics. As I write this, they include: #verysexy, #notsexy, and #thatssexy. As you can imagine the thousands of tweets with those hash tags range from offensive to silly. No value, in my opinion.

Also trending are #uncleleo and #lenlesser. Mr Lesser, who played Uncle Leo on Seinfeld, just passed away. Sad. Unfortunate. But not exactly useful or actionable information.

#BluCantrell is also trending, which means that tens of thousands of people are tweeting, “Why is Blu Cantrell trending?”

So like I said, Twitter is mostly a waste of time.

But I’m on Twitter. And I check it just about every day.

Here’s how I get value from Twitter:

First, as a broadcast channel. When I post to my blog, I usually add a link in my Twitter feed. Other than Google and direct type-ins, Twitter drives more traffic to this site than any other source. Occasionally someone will retweet my links, driving even more traffic (thank you!). And, from time to time, I’ll link to other stuff I find interesting, usually things to do with branding, story, and business strategy. I don’t tweet every day, and you won’t ever read about my lunch in my timeline.

If you’re interested, you can follow my Twitter feed here.

Second, I use Twitter to find interesting and useful information. I don’t follow very many feeds. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I can’t possibly keep up with the stream of information produced by so many people. Nothing personal, I just don’t have the time.

So in addition to a few friends and local news feeds, I follow authors that I admire, business thinkers who impress me, and occasionally a comedian or personality I find interesting.

When someone follows me, I’ll immediately open their twitter feed and read what they’ve posted recently. If there are lots of foursquare check-ins, tweets about their Starbucks orders, or news about the latest badge they’ve earned, I don’t follow. If their tweets are protected so I can’t see them, I don’t follow. If they don’t tweet in English, I don’t follow (I wish I read Portuguese, Italian, German, and Chinese, but I don’t—and there’s not much point in reading tweets I can’t understand).

Again, it’s nothing personal. That stuff just crowds out what I’m looking for.

But if they post interesting ideas, links to articles and information that I can learn from, I’ll follow them back because it looks like they won’t waste my time.

I don’t expect anyone to follow me (even if I follow them). But if you do, I hope my tweets are useful and not just more spam filling up your timeline.

I know that many social media experts would argue that I’m using Twitter wrong. It’s a communication medium, a way to reach out and connect. And that may be true. But the 140 character limit makes real conversation nearly impossible. Others make it work. But it doesn’t work for me.

How do you use Twitter?

Tell to Win—The Brandstory Review

From time to time, I receive books from authors who are hoping I’ll like the book enough to write about it. This is one of those times.

I write (and read) a lot about brands, story, marketing, and strategy, so when I get a book on one of those topics, I’m generally inclined to read it.

Such is the case with Peter Guber’s upcoming book, Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.

Mr. Guber has worked as a high-powered movie executive, political fundraiser, and a university professor, and he shares personal experiences from his life to show how stories sell ideas and move people to action.

The book isn’t about marketing (at least not outwardly). Or how companies can use stories to move the customers to action. But after reading it, the reader will have plenty of ideas that apply directly to telling any narrative, including brand stories.

Why do stories convey information more effectively than a recitation of facts, numbers, or other figures? Guber quotes Robert Rosen, the former dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television:

“Stories put all the key facts into an emotional context. The information in a story doesn’t just sit there as it would in a logical proposition. Instead, it’s built to create suspense.”

Among the many stories Guber shares is one about how Lynda and Stewart Resnick (owners of Teleflora, FIJA Water, and POMWonderful) spent more than $200,000 for a string of imitation pearls worn by Jackie Kennedy. So why did they do it?

“…owning them gave Lynda the right and ability to analyze and copy them, right down to ‘the sterling silver clasp and the three little cubic zirconiums and the silk cord and the seventeen coats of lacquer.’ More than 130,000 of these exact replicas sold at $200 apiece, for a net profit of more than $26 million—all of it told and sold through story… ‘The promise of the story has got to deliver. If it doesn’t deliver, who would care?'”

Lynda tells Guber: “I don’t do companies that don’t have a story, because if they don’t have a story, they don’t have a business.”

Tell to Win is jammed with stories from and about Bill Clinton, Deepak Chopra, Steven Speilberg, Pat Riley and many others—all to illustrate how stories work to motivate, inspire, and sell. In fact, there are so many interesting stories in the book that sometimes it feels a little disjointed as you jump from one to the next. But all in all, it still makes a pretty good read.

One more quote from the book (from Steve Denning) that relates to telling stories in a marketing environment:

“The goal of story telling is to get the listener to take over your story. You want your story to become their story. Then they’re going to create a new story from your story. It’s going to to be adapted, changed, adjusted.”

Order Tell to Win at Amazon.
Click here for the Tell to Win website where you can find a free chapter of the book.

A Few Thoughts About The Superbowl 45 Ads

Now that the Superbowl is over, there will be hundreds of reviews of the ads. Millions if you count the tweets and FB updates.

Here’s mine…

First, the music was atrocious. The National Anthem was butchered by Christina Aguilera. My kids asked, “why is she singing like that?” And the halftime show by the Black Eyed Peas. What was that? Tron the Musical? Lea Michelle’s singing of America the Beautiful was much better than both… by two orders of magnitude.

Second, let me just say that no matter how bad a Superbowl ad may be, they are all significantly better than the ads that typically run on local television and everyday prime time. There is so much bad advertising on television which is why the Superbowl stands out. Congratulations to all of the creative teams who worked on this year’s spots.

Oh, and the game was darn good even for fans like me with little attachment to either team.

Now, on the the commercials…

Best Spots Overall:

Coke: Border Crossing.

It’s not “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”, but it plays nicely off the same idea. Even bitter adversaries can find a way to share a Coke. Great use of a story to share a unique brand idea. Very different from the childish humor of Pepsi this year.



VW: The Force

The :60 version of this spot got more than 12 million views online in the week before the Superbowl. That version is better than the :30 we saw during the game. This seems to be the crowd favorite. Another good story used to demonstrate a product benefit: the car can be turned on from far, far away (so to speak). Here’s the long version:



Honorable Mentions:

Audi: Old Luxury

This spot made me smile. Clever way to stick a finger in Mercedes’ eye. And make Audi the brand of “hip” luxury, all in a some-what silly story…



Dorito’s: Best Part

Another funny spot, though a little creepy. Finger sucking is one thing when they’re your own fingers, but someone elses? Still, I like it.



Chrysler: Detroit is Back

It’s not easy to make a big American car look cool, but this one did it. A decent sound track, good copy, and cool visuals back up the come-back story Detroit has been telling for a while now. Much better than the Brisk ad featuring Eminem. Side note: two ads featuring Eminem? Didn’t see that coming.



Bridgestone: Karma

Another decent use of story to demonstrate a product benefit—in this case your tires will save rodents on the road and maybe even your life.



Stella Artois: Lounge Singer
Okay, this one is a little over the top. But I liked it. And given the lack of views online, I may be the only one that felt this way. So sue me.



And while I really didn’t care for the Snicker’s ad, any ad that knocks Roseanne Barr on her backside with a battering ram deserves some credit.

Now the bad…

Worst Spots Overall:

Mini: Cram it in the Boot.

Yeah, it is humorous. And it does a good job of demonstrating a product benefit. But the double entendre was just too much. The Superbowl is supposed to be family entertainment right?



Groupon: Tibet

This one starts out like a public service ad, with a few facts about the political situation in Tibet. Then turns it into a joke with a Groupon for Tibetian cuisine. Lame. Making a joke out of Tibet doesn’t do it for me. Even if it means I save $10 on Pad Thai.



Pepsi Max: Torpedo Cooler

Hey I’ve got a an idea that will make them laugh. Let’s hit a guy in the nuts. That’s been comedy gold since before Weekend At Bernie’s. Boorish behavior. No real story or product benefits (with the exception of the diet ad). Pepsi ads in the past have been so much better.



So what did I miss? Agree? Disagree?