Archive for the ‘branding’ Category

Meaningful Brands

Umair Haque on the evolution of branding:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

What’s a meaningful brand? According to @umairh, a meaningful brand signals that a company is at a minimum not actively doing harm, while having a tangible positive impact on people’s outcomes or quality of life – it makes them better off in very practical terms — for example, helping make people smarter or fitter or better connected or more productive, etc.

The big shift in branding that Haque is describing here seems to me to align really well with government. Us govvies never really could work on a status-based level anyway (somehow “pay your taxes – all the cool kids are!” just doesn’t cut it).

But the idea of a brand that not only does no harm, but contributes positively to my quality of life? Sign me up. If people’s expectations really are shifting to what Haque calls “allocentric demand” – from valuing individual status to valuing health, nature, future, society, community, then this really aligns well with what in my view the institution of government is supposed to be about.

Here’s a thought that occurred to me as I watched this video again:  is this just a case of the private sector just catching up to where gov has been all along?


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Ah, “personal branding.” Definitely a topic worthy of a straw poll.

I’ve been thinking about changing my Twitter name. Why would I do that?

The usual response I get when I meet Tweeting folk is one of surprise — “oh that’s you? I had no idea!” So that’s not good. Plus, I find that @spaghetti_p is pretty long. Including the @ symbol, it’s 11 characters, and I’d rather something less than 10. Finally, it’s kind of dumb and I’m pretty tired of it.

So why did I choose it in the first place? It was a halfhearted attempt at carrying something from the name of this blog over into my Twitter presence. (It’s hard to be original at 1 a.m. when you are signing up for the latest social site.) Also my real name is extremely generic, so @petersmith was long gone by the time I got to Twitter. As was @smith, @psmith, @smithp.

But it been a long time since I’ve been tweeting as @spaghetti_p. The majority of my followers know me under that username. More significantly, my Twitter presence has the most “reach” on a daily basis – it’s my main “social habit.” It’s the public place where I interact most with others online. So is there a risk in changing it?

At a technical level, I had first thought that the answer would be no. On Twitter.com, all I have to do is change my account settings and automagically, everyone who’s following @spaghetti_p will be following whatever new name I choose. But almost immediately I realized that it’s not that simple — I’ve set up a lot of profiles elsewhere (main public ones listed on this blog’s about page, and I can’t forget internal-to-GC ones also) that point to the URL http://twitter.com/spaghetti_p. It’d take some work to re-point all these — but it’s doable and obviously worth it.

I also came across multiple listings of my Twitter account throughout the ecosystem of apps and services that has grown up around Twitter — quick examples: Topsy, TwitIQ, FavStar, Sency… the list goes on and on. I’ve never heard of most of these & have no idea what they do. And what happens to them if I change my Twitter name – do they also update? Do they break? I suppose mostly it doesn’t matter, they’re just machines.

What’s more important to me is: will folks find this annoying? Will they unfollow? Will they even care? And do I even care what anyone thinks? Mainstream “personal branding” thinking says I should — online is my calling card, and Twitter is the primary channel for that and yadda yadda yadda. But I’m not a product to be managed, ya know? I’m a mere human. So the answer to all of these, even the last one, about which I feel really ambivalent, is: I don’t really know.

So I’ll give up and turn it over to you: should I change my Twitter name?

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In my post from earlier this week on branding and usability, I referred to Gerry McGovern’s quip about how “Organizations need to stop trying to use traditional advertising techniques to create false images” (source: Building a brand on the Web). I’d like to delve more into this argument.

The “false images” dig refers to an idea of branding that’s along these lines:

The idea behind a brand, as opposed to a product, is that it’s intangible. Advertisers try to create a series of social associations with a product: these nebulous associations, not any physical attributes of the product itself, constitute the brand. The idea is quite simply to fool people, to make them think of one thing when they are paying for another [via Russell Smith, in the Globe and Mail]

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Here’s what I mean: those all-important associations that marketers try to create when they are building a brand don’t need to be a smokescreen — people thinking about X while they are shelling out for Y. Why does the attribute  have to be dissociated from the product or service?

And when it comes to branding in a government setting, there simply cannot be any sleight of hand. None.

I’m sure you can imagine some possible outcomes for a government program or service that does not embody its brand promise. Take, for example, innovation, when in fact the systems and processes underlying the program or service are outdated and inadequate. Or service excellence, when frontline staff are inadequately trained or don’t receive the information they need to do their job. Or transparency when in fact opaqueness is the management team’s preferred operating style.

Leaving aside hypothetical examples, it’s basically this:  when undertaking branding in government, realism has to be the order of the day. This is because our operating context is fundamentally different from the private sector. We’re not trying to attract citizens away from competitors. It’s not like citizens can choose which government they want to pay taxes to, or which government office they’d like to receive their passport from. It’s not that citizens particularly like dealing with governments.

Under these circumstances, governments cannot afford brands that promise feel-good abstractions. These are in fact distractions of no service to our citizens. Reality is paramount. The attributes that we need to restrict ourselves to are really basic stuff: competence, accountability, impartiality, helpfulness, efficiency. And then we must deliver on these — I’m sure you know the drill. So that citizens can get what they need from government and then government can get out of their way.

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Some thoughts on branding in the online space, from a recent issue of Gerry McGovern’s New Thinking newsletter. The set-up: he’s just gone through a litany of UX problems with the websites of many major Irish banks. Here’s the kicker:

This isn’t usability. This isn’t interface design. This is branding. This is marketing. This is advertising. This is management. And you know what? I’ll bet senior management in all these banks could not care less about my online experience. In fact, I have rarely, if ever, met a senior manager with more than a passing interest in the Web. They think this stuff is technical – something you give to the IT department.

Where customers spend their time is where you build your brand. Organizations need to stop trying to use traditional advertising techniques to create false images. For an increasing number of customers, you are your website. It’s about time senior management woke up to that fact.

[via Building a brand on the Web.]

(I won’t get into McGovern’s apparent quarrel with branding as it’s commonly understood — the “false images” bit — that’s fodder for another post.)

What strikes me here is how well the goals of website usability dovetail with many of the attributes that we’d want in a government brand.

First the brand side of the equation. Off the top of my head, some typical brand attributes for government: reliability, consistency, helpfulness, fairness, accountability, efficiency (ok ok, but I can dream right?). It’s a far cry from the attributes of that hip consumer brands strive for, but hey we are talking government after all.

Now, think about what we want to achieve with government web presences: create reliably working sites that treat our users consistently and fairly, that allow citizens to efficiently do what they need to do when interacting with government while online. Information and transactions are handled in an accountable manner, and navigation and content is helpful to our citizens. Lookit the highlighted words — these are the same  as the attributes for a government brand.

And for an increasing number of customers, you are your website. (McGovern is mostly oriented towards private businesses, but this also rings true for those of us in the public sector.)

So for government, usability = brand.

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Social Networking at Work. Source: Unkown

I came across this infographic behind the GoC firewall. It’s timely given the recent discussions that have been occurring around the future of GCconnex, the GoC’s pilot social networking project.

So not sure of the graphic’s source, but it gives a pretty good breakdown of how social networking has value in the work environment (nitpickers: call it professional networking if you must).

So let’s walk through the chart, starting with the “seekers” side of the equation. With a socnet’s search capacity, I can solve the awareness problem much more quickly than by the usual freind of a friend approach of sending a “do you know of anyone…?” type email to friends and colleagues. And then, by checking out that person’s profile, I can get a sense of their competence before even contacting them. Similarly, by looking at their activity stream, I can see if they are the helpful, sharing type. And then I can contact them directly, or move on to the next prospect.

To me, the key difference here is one of degree — a social workplace lets me get to the answers I am seeking that much quicker and more easily. And the more open a social network is, the more broadly I can broadcast my need, again speeding up getting answers. Problem solved, on to the next one. Productivity win.

Looking at “contributors” column,  it goes both ways. By participating in a workplace socnet , I am opening up myself to the same kind of scrutiny as I apply to others when seeking. Which I think encourages professionalism and responsiveness — I know other socnet members will be evaluating my usefulness to them also, so there’s more impulse to reciprocate and participate.

Actually, I’d say this graphic looks too focused on the individual’s situation in the contributing column. It doesn’t get at the value to the organization very well. Social networking is not simply a means for civil servants to get ahead in their careers.  Rather, the wins on this side of the equation are more reputational — not merely personal rep either, but more significantly that of my team, my organization, and my community. All my actions reflect on the org I work for and the professional community I belong to, and that’s equally (especially)  true in the socnet context. So in terms of contributors, social networking is a great way to strengthen branding at multiple levels.

So two great selling points for GCconnex: making productivity gains and enhancing the public service brand.

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Oh No! Broken!

CMO Survey: Traditional Branding is ‘Broken’.

Survey from Verse Group and Jupiter Research. Key findings:

  • 62% of marketers say that traditional advertising efforts are no longer as effective as they once were in attracting new customers.
  • 62% are seeking breakthrough methods that are more effective than brand positioning.
  • 89% say that marketing is under greater scrutiny than ever before.
  • The top three trends marketers see are a shift to non-traditional media, the need to adopt brand stories and a growing use of design for competitive advantage.

This points back to those graphics I posted yesterday — where “non-traditional” media, i.e. the social web, revealing the disconnect between brand and consumer more starkly than ever before. And as this survey shows, the corporate landscape is well aware.

Opportunity here for governments? We never got branding 1.0 right, so we’re not burdened by these old models as much as the private sector. So can we jump in with a clean slate?

And in the GoC context specifically — advertising is a tightly controlled channel that most government services and programs don’t really have access to. So they could use the social web in an attempt to reach more directly the people who would use those programs and services.

Mucho risks: it’s a largely unknown, untested area, especially for us. So right now, few are willing to try stuff that’s off the usual path. Not to mention being hampered by an outdated web of rules. These challenges are significant, but they are implementation issues — they can (and will, I’m sure) be worked out.

So, potential for mucho rewards:

  • cheap reach — I fully understand that social media for communications takes time and energy, but on the other hand it does not require a lot of high cost or time-consuming “production” overhead (i.e. creative services suppliers, media placement agencies and whatnot). Easy enough to raise awareness of your program or service online via social channels.
  • more effective and responsive client service — this is obviously a more advanced use of social media, but the theory is that empowering civil servants to use social channels can give you highly responsive service to citizens, near real-time even.
  • instant feedback — given the two-way, always-on nature of social media, you can find out what works and what doesn’t really quickly. Ultimately, the social web could lead your stakeholders or customers to become co-designers of your service offerings.

These are just three aspects that I banged out quickly off the top of my head. What are others?

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For many marketers, regardless of whether they are on the private or public sectors, the following graphic illustrates how they were trained to think about their role:


Ok ok, so in the public sector, replace “buy our stuff” with “believe what we say” ;+)

It’s the broadcast model. Controlled  and consistent messages delivered over and over again via mass channels – the “axe in our heads” that the Cluetrain Manifesto railed against.

But the reality is this:


These are taken from this presentation from a major agency in the UK. They are set up as a “then vs. now” comparison, given the rise of social networks, the blogopshere, user generated content, and blah blah blah.

Sometimes I think that this 2.0 stuff is merely bringing out into the open the way that people reacted (or didn’t react) to the broadcast model all along. But anyhow.

OK so we know that broadcast thinking doesn’t work in a networked world — Well what are the strategies then? We’re all experimenting, but I don’t think we’ve really begun to figure it out yet.

(found via craphammer)

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