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:
Archive for the ‘Stuff I Wish I Wrote’ Category
I have long been a fan of Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, having read several of his books: The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, and Seeing What’s Next as well as many of his personal essays on his website. A few days ago, Dan Pink tweeted a link to this an article from the Harvard Business Review by Dr. Christensen called, How Will You Measure Your Life?. It’s a reworking of a speech that Dr. Christensen has given in a religious setting. This particular version is directed at recent graduates from Harvard Business School. It’s excellent advice and worth reading. Here’s a sample from the article:
Allocate Your Resources
Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.
I have a bunch of “businesses” that compete for these resources: I’m trying to have a rewarding relationship with my wife, raise great kids, contribute to my community, succeed in my career, contribute to my church, and so on. And I have exactly the same problem that a corporation does. I have a limited amount of time and energy and talent. How much do I devote to each of these pursuits?
Allocation choices can make your life turn out to be very different from what you intended. Sometimes that’s good: Opportunities that you never planned for emerge. But if you misinvest your resources, the outcome can be bad. As I think about my former classmates who inadvertently invested for lives of hollow unhappiness, I can’t help believing that their troubles relate right back to a short-term perspective.
When people who have a high need for achievement—and that includes all Harvard Business School graduates—have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “I raised a good son or a good daughter.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.
If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.
The rest of the article is today’s Friday Inspiration. You can find it here.
It was always Steve Jobs’ mantra: “Let’s make a dent in the universe”.
I liked that phrase so much, I incorporated it into theHughtrain Manifesto:
Whatever you manufacture, somebody can make it better, faster and cheaper than you.
You do not own the molecules. They are stardust. They belong to God. What you do own is your soul. Nobody can take that away from you. And it is your soul that informs the brand.
It is your soul, and the purpose and beliefs that embodies, that people will buy into.
Ergo, great branding is a spiritual exercise.
Why is your brand great? Why does your brand matter? Seriously. If you don’t know, then nobody else can- no advertiser, no buyer, and certainly no customer.
It’s not about merit. It’s about faith. Belief. Conviction. Courage.
It’s about why you’re on this planet. To make a dent in the universe.
I don’t want to know why your brand is good, or very good, or even great. I want to know why your brand is totally frickin’ amazing.
Once you tell me, I can tell the world.
Really, is there any better way to spend one’s working hours? I don’t think so…
In 1998, I stumbled across Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth for the first time. I remember downloading it to my Palm Pilot so I could refer to it whenever I wanted to. I shared it with many of the creative people I have worked with over the years. In the time since I first discovered the manifesto, it has been posted to hundreds of websites, sometimes in very unique ways (like this and this). It has been plagiarized and satirized. But what Bruce wrote 12 years ago, is still applicable today. If you are interested in personal growth, this is a good place to start. And it’s this week’s friday inspiration:
1. Allow events to change you.
You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
2. Forget about good.
Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.
3. Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
5. Go deep.
The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
6. Capture accidents.
The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.
A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
9. Begin anywhere.
John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
10. Everyone is a leader.
Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
11. Harvest ideas.
Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
12. Keep moving.
The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
13. Slow down.
Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
14. Don’t be cool.
Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
15. Ask stupid questions.
Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.
Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.
18. Stay up late.
Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.
19. Work the metaphor.
Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.
20. Be careful to take risks.
Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
21. Repeat yourself.
If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.
22. Make your own tools.
Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.
You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
24. Avoid software.
The problem with software is that everyone has it.
25. Don’t clean your desk.
You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.
26. Don’t enter awards competitions.
Just don’t. It’s not good for you.
27. Read only left-hand pages.
Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our “noodle.”
28. Make new words.
Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.
29. Think with your mind.
Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.
30. Organization = Liberty.
Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’
31. Don’t borrow money.
Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
32. Listen carefully.
Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
33. Take field trips.
The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.
34. Make mistakes faster.
This isn’t my idea – I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.
When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else … but not words.
37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.
38. Explore the other edge.
Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.
39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms.
Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces – what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.” Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference – the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals – but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.
40. Avoid fields.
Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.
People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.
Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.
43. Power to the people.
Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.
Earlier this week, I finished reading Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson. It’s a good read, full of small bits of wisdom—the kind of book you can read in an hour or two, or come back to from time to time for another hit of inspiration. Today’s friday inspiration comes from the section called Pick a Fight:
If you think a competitor sucks, say so. When you do that, you’ll find that others who agree with you will rally to your side. Being the anti-_____ is a great way to differentiate yourself and attract followers.
For example, Dunkin’ Donuts likes to position itself as the anti-Starbucks. Its ads mock Starbucks for using “Fritalian” terms instead of small, medium, and large. Another Dunkin’ campaign is centered on a taste test in which it beat Starbucks. There’s even a site called DunkinBeatStarbucks.com where visitors can send e-cards with statements like “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.”
Audi is another example. It’s been taking on the old guard of car manufacturers. It puts “old luxury” brands like Rolls-Royce and Mercedes “on notice” in ads touting Audi as the fresh luxury alternative. Audi takes on Lexus’s automatic parking systems with ads that say Audi drivers know ow to part their own cars. Another ad gives a side-by-side comparison of BMW and Audi owners: The BMW owner uses the rearview mirror to adjust his hair while the Audi driver uses the mirror to see what’s behind him.
Apple jabs at Microsoft with ads that compare Mac and PC owners, and 7UP bills iteslf as the Uncola. Under Armour positions itself as Nike for a new generation.
All these examples show the power and direction you can gain by having a target in your sights. Who do you want to take a shot at?
You can even pit yourself as the opponent of an entire industry. Dyson’s Airblade starts with the premise that the hand-dryer industry is a failure and then sells itself as faster and more hygienic than the others. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter puts its enemy right there in its product name.
Having an enemy gives you a great story to tell customers, too. (Emphasis mine.) Taking a stand always stands out. People get stoked by conflict. They take sides. Passions are ignited. And that’s a good way to get people to take notice.
This entry was originally posted on September 5, 2008 on the old Brandstory blog.
Today at the Brains of Fire blog, Robbin posted a short movie well worth six minutes of your day. It perfectly illustrates that how you tell your story is just as important as having a story to tell. Watch for yourself:
A version of this entry was originally posted on December 26, 2006 at the old Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).
Last week, Martin Conroy, the man famous for writing the “two young men” letter for The Wall Street Journal, passed away (New York Times article). The letter was used by The Journal continuously for twenty-eight years and is revered by writers in direct response advertising for its creativity and success. It is the longest running direct response letter ever used, and has been called the most successful advertisement ever run. I still have a copy of the letter in my swipe file.
Why was this letter so successful? Because it tells a compelling, relevant story. And it sold subscriptions. Millions of them. One source says it was directly responsible for bringing in more than a billion dollars.
The letter reads:
On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.
Recently, these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion.
They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.
But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.
What Made The Difference?
Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.
The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.
And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: to give its readers knowledge—knowledge that they can use in business.
The Times quotes Direct Response Guru, Alan Rosenspan, who uses the letter in his seminars, saying: “I ask people to read out loud the first paragraph of the letter. And what’s astonishing to me is that they never stop at the first paragraph. They keep on reading. And I tell them: ‘You have just proven why this letter’s so powerful. It’s a story.’ ”
Sifting through the stack of junk mail (credit card solicitations, non-profit fund raisers, cable subscription offers) on my desk this morning, I wish there were more writers like Martin Conroy who believed in telling a relevant story. Sadly, they are, very literally, a dying breed.
This entry was originally posted on December 23, 2005 at the old Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).
Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand Sense, has a nice website with lots of his thinking on branding. You can sign up for a free monthly newsletter and read dozens of articles here. It’s enough to keep you busy through the holidays.
The following is one of the articles (I’ve reprinted the whole thing). This is not my writing, but I agree with a lot of Lindstrom’s thinking. Enjoy…
Once Upon a Time, There Was a Wonderful Brand
The year was 1895. King Camp (his real name) stood before his shaving mirror, as he’d done many times before. A new thought occurred to him. His cut-throat razor was performing its job as well as usual, but so little of the blade was actually used in the shaving process. King Camp wondered about a new type of blade, one practically all edge. He thought about housing it in a device that would make shaving cuts and accidents nearly impossible. Then, he thought about making it disposable. If he could make a blade that was thin, flat, efficient, cheap, and disposable… did I neglect to mention King Camp’s surname was Gillette?
We all love a good story. More important, we remember good stories. Good stories make things personal. We identify with characters and recall details associated with them. The effect is the same when characters are brands. Introduce a brand in the context of a good story, and the corporate entity gains personality. It becomes warm and friendly.
Many brands forget interesting bits and pieces of their pasts, the details that make them unique and differentiate them from other brands. Why all this talk about branded story telling? The Web is probably the best place for sharing a story.
A Web audience can explore fascinating stories, like why a Coke bottle looks like it does or how Band-Aid and Mars Bar got their names. A good story around a brand, one intrinsic to its identity, is an effective way to generate consumer understanding and loyalty. Why are stories untold by Fortune 500 companies? You hardly ever find a good story on a brand’s Web site, despite the fact most companies would have a story to tell that makes them unique.
Stories don’t need to be spectacular or reside at the core of a brand’s existence, like Mr. Gillette’s. Tell the story of why your design approach looks the way it does, how your name came about, what’s behind your logo, interesting ways your product has been used by customers, feedback from unexpected people. Small stories can differentiate your brand from others.
Branding occurs in the minds of consumers. Humans naturally create associations. We surround ourselves with associations — the physical, intellectual, and emotional familiarities of our lives. When the Internet appeared, instead of URLs there were numbers. Soon, these were converted into text because no one could remember a 20-digit number. Even fewer could relate to one. Numbers may be more rational and systematic, but that’s irrelevant in the face of our human instincts.
Ask your founder about your company’s past. Ask your customer service department about funny or memorable customer experiences. Ask your product development department why your product looks like it does. Then, turn corporate memories into a branded story you can include on your site. Not only will customers love it, employees will feel proud of their heritage and brand’s history.
And don’t miss this story-related article on creating user testimonials in a B2B environment.
This entry was originally posted on December 5, 2005 at the old Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).
Every once in a while I read a post that makes me think, I wish I had written that. This post by John Winsor is one. Adding to thoughts posted by John Moore at Brand Autopsy (follow the link for a free PDF), John Winsor writes about the elements of a good story. Great ideas to keep in mind when developing or telling your story.
It’s one thing to talk about what your story should include. But what if you haven’t thought out your story? What if you don’t have a story? Where should you look to find it? Here are a few ideas:
1. Many great stories emerge from a company’s history. Southwest’s story is that of an upstart airline challenging an established and possibly corrupt industry. It unfolds over several years. By offering lower prices, better service, point-to-point flights, they changed air travel for good. Or so the story goes.
2. Customer experience. When it comes to service, Nordstrom is the gold standard. One story is told of the customer who long after purchasing a toaster, returned it without a receipt to Nordstrom for a full refund. The punchline of the story is that Nordstrom doesn’t sell toasters. (Another version of the story can be found here.) Whether the story is true or not, it accurately represents the brand for its customers.
3. Technology. Companies like Google take their narrative from the technology they own. From their search algorythm and Blogger to Google earth and Google maps, Google’s story is based on making cool things easily available and easy to use for its customers. Ebay, Sony, and Apple have stories at least partially based on technology.
4. Advertising. Nike’s story used to be about the founders making shoes with a waffle iron and selling them out of the back of Phil Knight’s station wagon. Today the story is about empowering customers to accomplish the things they want to do. Each ad tells a micro-story that reinforces the macro-story that Nike give you the power to “Just Do It.” Importantly, employees have embraced the story as a mission.
5. Product. Companies like Clif Bar get much of their story from their products or product philosophy. The Clif Bar was created after founder Gary Anderson couldn’t eat another processed energy bar despite his hunger on a long bike ride. His bar is made from organic ingredients and, the story goes, tastes better and is better for you.
6. Positioning. For decades, WalMart has told a story about giving customers what they want—primarily low prices. Everything from the logo and advertising to the “messiness” of their stores reinforces this story.
7. Leadership. Though it is seldom a good long-term strategy, many companies are so closely associated with the CEO that his or her story is the company story. This may work in the short term, but eventually the company will need another story to live by when the CEO moves on.
This entry was originally posted on November 15, 2005 at the original Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).
At the risk of appearing as if I’m stalking Sally Hogshead at the HogBlog…
Sally has posted her advice to anyone starting out in a career in advertising. Her 83 things I wish someone had told me while I was learning how to be creative is great (we expect nothing less from her). My favorites include:
9. Smart beats clever.
14. Spend more time thinking, less time executing.
44. You can’t out think everyone, but you can out-work them.
74. Don’t work for someone whose taste you don’t respect.
79. Being creative is only a small part of being a good creative.
However she missed two:
84. You don’t have to wear black.
85. Share the credit. Even when you don’t have to.
All of it is good advice and worth the read.