Take It, Tommy

A recent interview with Tommy Hilfiger in Time magazine, included this question and answer: “Can the Tommy Hilfiger brand out last you?” Take it*, Tommy, “I hope. That’s what we do every day-we evolve the brand, we push it forward, we fine tune it, we expand it. We baby sit it. We nurture it…” OK, Tommy, we get it!

But do you really get what he is saying? Do you know what activities or actions he is talking about? And if I then asked you what specifically this means for your business or what specific activities you could do to carry this out,  would you really get it? Go ahead, take a moment…

As a brand strategist and as a small business adviser, I  both get this and I get this a lot, respectively. From the first perspective, he is using the word brand as synonymous with brand identity, which is how he wishes his company to be perceived. He wishes, like every other business owner in the world, to be perceived positively. And everything he does, every day, is intended to enrich his brand. From the other perceptive, the adviser, I am constantly trying to explain to prospects, who are largely small business owners, that their brand is their story and their responsibility to evolve, push, fine tune, expand and nurture.

X     X     X

*This is the fourth installment in the “Take It” series. See also, Take It, Mr. G (Godin), Take It, Trent (Reznor) and Take It, Bob (Johnson) below.

**Time, Vol. 183, No. 6/2014 (2/17) Quantum Leap, by Lev Grossman

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Play That Trombone

This post is a continuation of the beginning of  the previous post (below).

A few weeks back I learned of the musician Trombone Shorty in a short interview with a celebrity of some sort (actress, maybe). She described him as playing trombone like Hendrix played guitar. Intrigued I when to Spotify and found his songs. The first one featured Warren Haines on guitar, I hit play and went back to my paper. While the third song was playing, this monster guitar solo cranked up and I ran to see who it was. It was Jeff Beck!

Now I’ll describe the above through a brand perspective.

I immediately was struck by the brand name, ie, I thought it was cool. This not only speaks to the naming, but it also is a way for him to announce himself to his target market. Since I found his name cool, I made the assumption I would like his music. He made the same assumption. His name alone was powerful enough to be ‘a call to action’, as I immediately cued him up.

My inability to retrieve the woman’s name now or even maybe 5 minutes after I turned the page, means that to me, her Brand does not exist.

Her description of his style of playing is a great example of Brand Image and shows her to be a Brand ambassador which for me was also an important part of the call to action.

Before I heard the first note I was exposed to a Brand association because Mr. Haines’ name (Brand) was easy for me to retrieve from my long-term memory.  He being of The Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule and more side projects than you shake a guitar pick at. Ditto the Jeff Beck association, albeit, a much stronger one for me.

All of this transpired in mere moments.


I am not suggesting this how everyone should understand and process a new exposure to a Brand. But if you are a business owners it would be wise to think along these lines.



Published in: on December 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Intoducing Your Brand

In my last post I stated that a company’s story needs to be well crafted in order to make a strong Brand impression. So then how does a company go about doing that?

Let’s start with Aaker’s brand model. Your story should begin with core and extended values which speak to your primary target market.  Over this framework goes the flesh, so to speak, which are the four ways to enhance a Brand. They are: Brand as product/service , Brand as personality, Brand as organization, and Brand associations. It is likely that everyone of my previous posts(113 and counting) address this model in one way or another. Dr. Aaker rocks!

Now let’s slam the textbook shut and look at how we all do this every time we encounter a new person. Before the first word is spoken, we  determine if this is someone we might like to know better (targeting). If so, we share only that information(story) we feel will show us in a positive light (brand identity). We may be charming or serious or humorous (brand personality). We may share that we are married or single (brand as organization). And to further enhance our story we may mention that we are in the Rotary or Toastmasters International (brand association). And we will certainly be trying to gauge our impact throughout the interaction and afterwards too (brand image).

We do this all day long in our personal lives. I am just trying to help people do it in their businesses.

And in a quick wink and a nod over my shoulder to my last post, perhaps none of what I just described is as important as listening attentively, with interest, to the story of a stranger (prospect:-).


Note to reader:

This is a continuation of drafts to be complied in what I now perceive as a white paper I hope to submit to brandchannel.com.

At this point, using this platform is adequate. When I begin to use graphics, I’ll most likely quit burdening my subscribers with these ramblings and move to Google Docs. But one advantage of this current format is it allows me the possibility of receiving feedback. If there is anything my readers agree or disagree with, or any aspect that is unclear, please let me hear from you.

Thank you.


Does a Brand exist if it cannot be retrieved from long-term memory?

No- As I’ll attempt to demonstrate more fully in subsequent posts.

Yes- When a brand name is given as a prompt and it is ‘recognized’ it can be said to exist. Also, a Brand perception not held by an individual, does exist in the minds of others.

I have written recently about the different usages, and over usage, of the word brand. For now, the “No” answer is strictly referring to capital B, Brand (the perception). The “Yes” answer is the word brand being used as synonymous with company. So, for example, Ford’s Brand is the perception of Ford. The brand Ford is the company.

Whether someone has heard a company name or not, the brand (company) certainly exists in all their tangible manifestations; their products, property, employees, etc. But there is retrieval by placing a prompt in short-term memory (recognition) and there’s retrieval by recall, a much higher level. For example, when contemplating a new car purchase, does Ford come to mind? It certainly does (the Brand) to most Americans, as it is a very strong brand (company). How you actually feel about Ford products, is the perception (Brand). {I intend to expand on this later. Another part of my thesis is that the over usages, or ubiquity, of the word brand has led to a lack of understanding of capital B, Brand.} More on this to follow.


A brief aside… It is every company’s desire to be perceived positively by everyone who has contact with their message. So strength of brand is not solely based on how many people can recognize or recall the brand name but how they feel about the company (brand). Therefore, how the Brand is perceived (positively or negatively) is more important to a company’s success than the reach of the Brand.


Now back to my “intersection”. Again, the vertical axis is Identity, the horizontal, Image.

I have reached the point where the intersection represented by a plus sign (+) represents a rather weak Brand. And a strong brand can be represented by the intersection conjured up by the logo of the International Red Cross. The width of the Identity axis is determined by the amount and effectiveness of the company’s message (values, promise, products, etc). And the width of the Image axis is determined by the reception (positive or negative) of the company’s message.  A small company’s intersection=+ ; Apple’s Brand= think Red Cross.

The intersections will also vary because one axis will often be a different size than the other. A negative image of a global brand will have a fat vertical axis (they’re global) and a narrow horizontal axis(they’re not well liked). I also will use graphics to illustrate when no intersection exists.

Within each axis a list of those aspects belonging to them. Identity- Brand Mission, Promise, Personality, Position, etc.. Image- Brand Awareness, Reputation, Loyalty.

Published in: on December 9, 2013 at 10:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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It’s Not About You

In my last post I stated that I can gauge a company’s marketing sophistication from a quick look at their website. The thing is, so can everybody else. If there is any difference, it is only in the terms I use for that analysis and my ability to see the opportunity cost associated with a less than compelling story.


In the previous two posts, I have opened with a discussion about the importance of story telling. So what I am about to say might put ‘a little hitch in your get-a-long’: Prospective customers, by and large, do not care about your story. Let me explain…

People primarily care about one thing: themselves. It is their story they are concern about and if they cannot see a solution to their problem in your marketing mix, the likelihood that your message will later be retrieved are slim. So now let me restate: Your story will only resonate if it helps the prospective customer tell their story. Which leads us to: Your story needs to be well crafted in order for a strong Brand impression to be formed.

This link takes you the website of a small, but high-end, painting contractor. HERE. Notice the company description on the homepage. I believe this copy is a great example of how not to tell a story.* A simple re-crafting, putting the emphasis on the visitor’s story, would be much more powerful. It is only natural that a company would tell their story from the company’s perspective. There are a number of strong brand signals here, however, every time the word ‘we’  is used a barrier is put up between your company and the prospect’s story. Starting sentences with “Your home…”, “Your painting contractor…”, or “Your decision…”, all make the reader see themselves in your story, and that is what is important.

Because it’s not about you.


*One of my first post, The Write Stuff, (way below) and a more recent post, Take It, Mr. G, (one page below) address copy writing and telling your customer’s story.


Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

About Your Story

I can look at a company’s website and tell them within minutes how well their story is being told. The problem is that this service ‘brands’ me as a web guy. I’m not. I’m a story guy. And if I had a dollar for every time a small business owner told me, “My website does nothing for me”, implying there is something inherently wrong with the world wide web, I would be… well you get the idea.

I want to just throw out that I believe a bad website is far worse than no website.

Websites afford a company a global platform that is ridiculously inexpensive. Putting aside that most small businesses sell to people within a 50 mile radius, a well crafted, compelling story will keep your visitors on your site longer. The longer a person stays on your site, the more likely your offering will find its way into that prospect’s long-term memory.

A company’s website is also a window into their marketing prowess across other channels. The simple truth, if your story is not being told well on a company website, odds are, it is not being told terribly well anywhere else.


A continuation of the post below…

I have decided to amend my definition to say; A Brand is a perception that can be retrieved from long-term memory. For the longest time I used “resides” in long-term memory. I am not sure why I used “held” in the post below.

Now the intersection I referred to can be illustrated by a plus sign (+). The vertical axis represents the brand identity, or those messages generated by the company. The horizontal axis represents the brand image, which is generated by the audience or consumer. When I say these must intersect for a brand to exist, I am speaking of each individual’s perception.

So does a Brand exist if an individual can not retrieve it? Yes and no.

Stay tuned…


Published in: on December 5, 2013 at 11:06 am  Leave a Comment  

A Brand Is a Perception

When I tell a small business owner I can help them with their brand, I am specifically telling them I can help them with how they are perceived. Improvement in the way they tell their story directly improves that perception. Creating that story is relatively easy. And at the core, the reason businesses or individuals do this is because it affords them the opportunity to charge a premium for their products or services.

That’s half the story. The other half is having some idea of how your story is actually being perceived. In the golden olde days it was fairly easy to track this by sales or just asking for customer feedback. Now we send messaging out on online and largely do not know, or track, if the story’s reception is how we wish it to be.


I  have been in the process of writing a (white paper, article, book?..pick one) that redefines, or puts a finer point, on this standard model.

It my thesis that only where an image and identity intersect, does a brand exist. Only when there is an awareness (a huge part of image) can a that brand  exist. It should be clear that I am referring to the individual, here, not the collective. And I begin this journey from…

A Brand is a perception held in long-term memory.

Wish me luck.






Published in: on December 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Do You Need A Website?

First, let me quickly conclude my recent discussions about leadership. I virtually never see an article or interview with a leader that doesn’t include mention of a strong company culture.  But like great leaders, strong cultures are relatively rare in my experience, regardless of company size. A strong culture results in employees being active brand ambassadors. And a less than optimal website, one an employee can’t proudly, or without hesitation, send prospects to, has negative consequences not often realized or quantified. Obviously this matters more if you have a thousand employees than two employees. I’ll return to a more in depth discussion about culture in future posts.

Now on to the question of the day.

I think the most important thing for a business or individual contemplating building a website is to understand that a website is only one part of their marketing strategy. It is therefore impossible to have a complete ‘marketing mix’ without one. This doesn’t answer our question though. To know if you need a website, beyond just because you’d like to appear that you’ve joined the 21st century, I need to what you expect from the site, what kind of business you’re in, who is your target market, where do they live and how do you plan to get your site in front of them?

For example, a luxury hotel wants people from around the world to visit their site. A small family owned retail business wants an entirely different visitor; one who lives reasonably close by. The hotel in most cases has one chance to impress their out of area visitor. The retail store will be targeting people they already know or those who live in the vicinity who can be introduced to the store by other means as well, i.e. by other parts of their marketing mix.

It is impossible to catalog all the different reasons different businesses might want to have a digital presence. And conversely, there are many similar reasons for different types of businesses to have websites.

From my perspective as a brand strategist, a company’s website, regardless of their offering, is the most effective and efficient way to tell their story. And my job is to help a business craft a story that is compelling and one that resonates with people on an emotional level. In brandspeak, this story IS the brand; or more accurately, the company’s brand identity.

Until you have your story down pat, I do not recommend building a site and sending people to it. And , of course if you have a site that doesn’t tell your story well, it needs to be fixed, now! Don’t let a visitor get a bad first impression. They will likely not return.

Published in: on October 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lingering Doubts

The day after my last post concerning the power of doubt this quote* found me;  “… we want to constantly reinvent the company- we want to rethink what we’re doing”. Which reminded me of this quote** which reached me the same day I read the Gladwell*** article this summer; ” Anyone who says failure is not an option has also ruled out innovation”. Both of these quotes illustrate nicely what I had hoped to get across about a certain leadership quality. Moving on…

I have written extensively about websites. Many companies, both large and small, put up their site and walk away with a, ‘I’m glad that’s over with’ attitude. For websites that are static very little updating is required.  I think a nice touch for these sites is to have the correct date appear, which is easy to do. But for a large company to put up a site and walk away shows an incredible weakness in that company’s leadership. And it doesn’t take a very sophisticated consumer to pick up on this.

How often should your website be “refreshed”? That depends. I would first want to know how much traffic it gets. But I don’t want to know this from a search optimization standpoint. What I want to know is, does the company care about the negative impressions it is giving its visitors. Then I would want to know where on the site the visitor leaves. Then I would want to know what a company’s competitors’ sites look like.

The answer to these questions give me a good idea about a leaders grasp of opportunity costs. Another way to look at this is that a company who is constantly improving is always going to find a way to announce the improvements on their website. Or to state that negatively, a company who doesn’t update their site must not have anything new to say.

*Jack Dorsey, CEO Square and co-founder and Chairman of Twitter, referring to Twitter in Fortune, Oct. 7, 2013

**Seth Godin, blog post 6/22/13

***the proper credit for my last post- The Gift of Doubt, Albert O. Hirshman and the power of failure, by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, 6/24/13

Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Doubt It

Is ignorance an impediment to progress or a precondition for it?*

But  first  a few words about leadership. The strategies of great leaders get a lot of ink, and in my opinion, make for very interesting reading. I have linked a very comprehensive Rule of Five- Leadership below**. However, if leadership could be taught, great leaders would be everywhere. They’re not. Trust me.

I look for two things, first and foremost, in people in leadership roles- most commonly the small business owner: Do they have a clear vision and are they able to communicate that vision? The answer in most cases is “No and No”. Don’t get me wrong. These attributes are not a prerequisite to success. If they were, success stories would be as rare as great leaders are.

Now to rephrase the opening question: “Is doubt more valuable than certainty?”

Well when it comes to innovation the answer is an resounding yes. And this I believe is in part why being a great leader is out of reach for most folks.

You see we are programmed at an early age to set specific goals and to follow the map we create in our heads. In order to create internal “buy-in” we must convince ourselves with a level, a high level in fact, of certainty. “Believe in yourself” we’re told. And then there is the road less taken.

I believe doubt is essential to growth. Of course, I am not referring to the crippling doubt that prevents action, a la Hamlet. I am talking about the openness to new ideas and a mindset that cannot coexist with a mindset of certainty. This doubt is expressed as, “Is there a better way?” The answer is always yes (but it’s not always attainable).

This ‘looking for a better way’ is  the heart of the hacker code of iteration which has fueled Facebook’s meteoric growth. And, of course, constant or continual improvement (Kaizen) is at the heart of all things Jakzen. Giving examples of a ‘better way’ helps the business owner see the opportunity costs of the status quo. It’s not like I just make stuff up to try. I do ascertain what I feel is the issue. But then I rely on existing best practice to illuminate the way for the business owner.

Most businesses fail. The average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is less than 5 yrs ( maybe even less). I’m reminded of a leadership lesson my father taught me, which to update it would go something like, ‘If the New York Giants don’t win a game soon, they won’t fire the players, they’ll fire the coach!’ That’s the certainty here.


*See The New Yorker, 6/24/13, Malcolm Gladwell. From a story about this summer’s release of the biography of Albert O. Hirshman, a renown economist who among other things tried to prove Hamlet wrong.

CLICK HERE This is a brief excerpt of an interview with the authors of the Leadership Code

Two firsthand examples of the certainty syndrome can be found in one of my first posts, Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Published in: on September 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

There’s A Lesson Here Somewhere

Let me first welcome and thanks the folks at the NSA for reading my posts. What exciting times we live in, huh?

X        X        X

In my last post I mentioned two previous posts. One, dealt with the usage of the word “Brand” (Carnival- Too Big To Bail). And the other had to do with the word “Brand” used, incorrectly in my view, as synonymous with ‘reputation'(Two Words Collide). I also recently posted about Apple’s brand valuation and the troubles that Carnival has been having with their brand, as in, their company.

It is inconceivable to me that Apple’s, or any company’s, brand could be valued at $183 billion. But especially confusing is how Apple’s value could increase from last year (YOY) while at the same time it’s stock over the last year lost over half it’s value before recovering to about 60% of its 52 week high.

Meanwhile Carnival, misses one earnings report, and many think the brand(again, the company) is going to crater.

Some of this, I suppose, can be explained in the difference between the perceptions of stockholders and the perceptions of consumers. Maybe Apple will announce something today that will drive their stock price back up. And maybe Carnival’s stock price will fall to a point that will send value investors into a buying frenzy.

Either way, I believe my earlier assertions about the difference between a Brand and a brand, and a Brand and a reputation is illustrated by these incongruities.

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Here is a link that explains how Young & Rubicam arrive at their valuations. It offers insight into what every company, no matter how small, should be striving for. I also like the simply diagram included breaking down Brand Value. The methodology is similar to the one used by Millward Brown’s BrandZ valuations previously linked. You will notice that in the Y&R method stock price is not a variable.

Published in: on June 10, 2013 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment