Thursday, June 30, 2011

do you want a google+ invite? try ebay.

As soon as Google announced the launch of their "Facebook Killer" social network platform, I saw my friends throwing up requests on Twitter and Facebook asking for invites. After all, getting in on the beta stage of Google launches is like winning a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

I jokingly thought, "They should probably try eBay." Turns out, that wasn't a half-bad idea. Take a look. The search term "Google+ Invite" yielded 145 returns.

So, if you're desperate enough not to wait around for a friend to score some extra Google+ invites, seriously check out eBay.

search results

can you build a branding empire without advertising?

To the average Joe, advertising is synonymous with building a strong brand. If you don’t advertise, then obviously you can’t build your business because nobody will know who you are, or what you do. Therefore, the thinking goes, that the more you advertise, the better your brand.

Many small businesses fall into this trap. If sales are dropping, they throw more money into advertising in hopes that it will turn things around. It’s partially what fuels the buzz around Groupon and other discounted deals sites. Need exposure? Boom, run a deal on Groupon, and you’ll have a flood of new customers (at least in the short-term).

Yes, advertising is important; however, it isn’t necessary. Google,, Starbucks, Facebook; they are some of the world’s most powerful brands. They also happen to advertise only rarely. It’s not that these brands know something that others don’t. No, the “secret” to their success is strong branding; branding that doesn’t need advertising. By following the basic steps to establishing a lasting brand, they have created empires without advertising.

“While ad agencies and media companies tend to focus on producing spots for short-lived campaigns, great brands are more enduring because the compelling story they represent has to transcend any and all platforms or potential campaigns,” writes Gair Maxwell at The Seamless Brand. Maxwell says that if these types brands advertise, it’s usually late in the process, and only if it’s needed.

So, how does a small business go about building a brand like Google, or Starbucks?

1. Differentiate

The product or service that is offered is the foundation of any brand. Without a product that consumers want, no amount of effort you put into building a brand will save it from failure. And, in order for consumers to want your product, it must bedifferent from competitors in a way that they find valuable. You can’t break into a market with another product or service that’s not differentiated from the competition. Likewise, even established products need to stay updated to keep up with the competition. Create a product/service that consumers can’t live without. Do this, and your brand’s foundation will be rock-solid.

2. Position

The art of positioning is about owning a category, or idea, in the mind of the consumer. It’s staking a claim in the marketplace; a claim that nobody else can hold except your brand. Google owns “search.” Starbucks owns “coffee.” Facebook owns “social networking.” Sure, there were search engines before Google, just as there was coffee before Starbucks, and social networks before Facebook. However, each of these brands had a differentiated product that consumers wanted, so they knocked off the competition and were able to position their brands at the top of the category. Google and Facebook have done this so well that their names have become widely accepted verbs in our language. ‘Why don’t you just Google that?’ ‘Facebook me.’

3. Align

Once you have your product and an idea for your brand, you must ensure that your company is completely focused on this central idea. Your entire company must be aligned with the brand. From the manufacturing process to customer support, every facet of the company should not only understand the brand and what sets it apart from the rest, but they should also consider themselves a vital part reinforcing that idea. Google is Google because everything about the company is aligned behind the idea of technological innovation. Even the office structure is set up for maximum creativity and thinking. “At lunchtime, almost everyone eats in the office cafĂ©, sitting at whatever table has an opening and enjoying conversations with Googlers from different teams,” says Google’scompany culture webpage. “Our commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions.”

4. Deliver

Delivery of the value proposition inherent in your differentiated product is what ties everything together. And, before you launch a product, you should know that you can deliver on what you promise. It’s why you align your company around that central brand idea. became the top shoe seller on the Internet because it delivered on its promise of exceptional customer service. If Zappos tried to differentiate itself by promising customer service beyond that of its competitors, but failed to deliver, you would have never heard of them. Likewise, Facebook delivered on being a better social network than MySpace, and Google delivered on being a more innovative search engine than Yahoo. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and if you can’t deliver anything new, then don’t bring your product or service to the market.

The local Mom & Pop store around the corner will most likely never find itself on BrandZ’s Top 100 global brands list. Then again, Apple was started in a garage (and, here are 10 Fortune 500 companies with humble beginnings). However, by following some basic steps to building a lasting brand, that Mom & Pop store can dominate the local market without ever needing to spend a penny on advertising.

Monday, June 13, 2011

lessons from ogilvy

"I don't believe in tricky advertising. I don't believe in cute advertising. I don't believe in comic advertising. The people who perpetrate that type of advertising have never had to sell anything in their lives." - David Ogilvy

fix brands at the foundation

Selling a house a house in a down market can be a very frustrating, time consuming and tedious process. This is especially true if you’re trying to sell an older house with the problems that come from age. One major problem with some of these homes is the foundation, which can eventually lead to issues throughout the entire house. It’s a major problem because even if homeowners paint over cracks in the walls, or replace cracked bricks on the exterior, the problems with the foundation will still create expensive headaches down the road — not to mention never pass inspection when it comes time to sell the home.

Problems with brands are much like problems with houses. They can’t always be solved with new paint or fancy shutters. One must go straight to the source, or else risk spending resources on a quick fix rather than a long-term solution.

“Many potential clients call and ask for a new logo, a new package design, or typeface treatment,” says Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor Associates, in his book BrandSimple. “I tell them no.” Adamson says that before agreeing to any major change to the cosmetic elements of the brand, they must first define the problems they’re trying to solve. Only then will they be able to accomplish anything worthwhile. “It must be done from the inside out, not superficially,” says Adamson.

It’s easy to slap a new logo to your brand hope your sales go up. Companies try it all the time. For example, look at department stores, where Belk and JCPenney recently redesigned their logos. Sure, the new logos are nice, but new brand identities fail to address the real problems the two stores face. In a market plagued by a lack of differentiation, where discounts — not the strength of brands — drive sales, a new logo and a little more passion isn’t going to save them.

However, that’s exactly where superficial fixes leave brands. If quarterly numbers are dropping, it’s time to address branding problems at the foundation. If consumers no longer find that a brand is delivering a product or service that’s different from a competitor in a valuable way, then it’s a foundational branding problem that won’t be solved with a superficial solution. But, inspecting brands down to the core requires everyone from the copywriters to C-suite execs to get out of their comfort zone and start asking hard questions. It's not easy to do, but this type of probing analysis of a brand is necessary to avoid costly mistakes that only delay the inevitable decay of brand value.

It's more than passion. It's more than a logo. If something is fundamentally wrong with the foundation of the brand, its effects will be seen everywhere else until it is fixed.