Is Your Brand Worthless? Then Your Name Shouldn’t Be Either.

[Cache #194]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding

“What’s a Zoosk?”

This query formed the first sentence of our chapter on naming in Brand: It Ain’t the Logo.  Three years later, it is still a bloody good question.  Zoosk is a name that tells us nothing, not a thing, about what industry it’s in, what value it might offer you, and ultimately why you should care in the least. It is a name that robs its employees and everyone else in the world from an opportunity to easily spread the brand story, because we have been given no clue as to what the brand story is.

Compare Zoosk as a name with these three, all from Zoosk’s industry:  eHarmonyMatch and Plenty of Fish.

Now do you know what industry Zoosk is in?  eHarmony and Match advertise like mad, but even if they didn’t, their names are so meaningful and memorable that you still get a very good idea of what they do and thus can easily spread the word to others – the phenomenon we call remark-ability Plenty of Fish is an even finer example of remark-ability, because they have what I would argue is the most meaningful and memorable name of all in this cohort – and they barely seem to advertise at all.

I blame my commute this morning for this flashback, for I spied an ad in my subway car for this brand:  Zazeen.

Maybe it was the Z that set me off.  But really, it is the name as a whole – which, like Zoosk and another name I just noticed from the world of dating websites, Badoo – that is wasting a maddening amount of human potential.

Zazeen is actually not in the dating site industry, so would you like to guess from which industry they actually come?  Just as it is impossible to situate the Zoosk name without mentioning competitors such as eHarmony and Plenty of Fish, Zazeen is unplaceable short of mentioning a brand like Fibe TV.  Fibe gives us a pretty good sense that it’s delivering television programming over the Internet.  Zazeen?  Zip.

The loss of human potential created by a name not just void of meaning, but actually confusing, is very real and operates on many levels.  The employees of this company will spend an inordinate amount of their productive time repeating and explaining this name, because a high percentage of potential customers, investors and other stakeholders, upon hearing it, will very naturally respond “What?”, followed by “What’s a Zazeen?”, followed by ”Why did you call it that?” followed by ”How do you spell that?” and finally “What is the name again?”

This same tiresome merry-go-round will ensue when customers try to tell their friends about what could be an amazing service cloaked in a name that does everything to hide that fact.

Others will see the name somewhere and, receiving in their brains not the slightest clue what it means, not bother to think any further about it.  Some potential employees will see nothing in the name that inspires them to consider working there.  Some potential investors will see the name and assume the brand owners don’t know much about branding and marketing, and therefore that the company is not a good bet.

Shomi You Care
The bottom line is that the company and its people will struggle unnecessarily to get their message across and be profitable in a business that is already extremely tough.  Contrast that self-inflicted challenge with the relative ease created by two other names just on the Canadian telecommunications scene:  Crave and Shomi.  I have seen a few ads for both of these services, and I seem to recall that they are not creating much if any new programming, but rather are showing previously-released TV series and movies.  Beyond that, I have no in-depth awareness of what they offer.

  

What can we assume of their offers, based just on that info and their names?

– Crave sounds like a service that gives us the favourites from the past that we really, really love.  Crave as a name also implies rapid satisfaction of that craving – that it will be easy for us to watch the shows that we want, when we want to watch them.

– Shomi conveys a similar positioning, except that, because it is being presented as a verb – as an actual demand – it places more emphasis on the on-demand dimension.  On the less positive side – and this is really not a big deal – Shomi has a slight pronunciation challenge to overcome, as the proper way to say it is not self-evident.  The name must be seen or heard in context to be understood.

What’s a Zazeen?  A company that deliberately chose a name that means zero.  Which makes sense only if you think you have nothing to offer.

Posted in best brand names, brand differentiation, brand names, key messaging, positioning, remark-able, worst brand names | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Belieb It: Ghomeshi Could Bounce Back

[Cache #193]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding


Last week, I was asked by CBC reporter Ioanna Roumeliotis if Jian Ghomeshi could ever rehabilitate his brand.  My answer was that it’s difficult to see a path to recovery for him.  If there is to be any hope at all, there are many things that would have to happen, especially these two:

1.  In the criminal proceedings against him and in the CBC investigation, nothing substantially worse than what’s already known about his conduct can come out.
2.  He has to make a real apology to his victims and fans, not a weasel-worded “If you were hurt, then I am sorry” excuse.

Cue, of all people, Justin Bieber.

The now 21-year-old pop singer is famous around the world for earning hundreds of millions of dollars and turning into an insufferable and reckless pain before our very eyes.  From racing his Ferrari through his residential neighbourhood, to spitting on a neighbour, to drunk driving and resisting arrest to having his bodyguards carry him up the Great Wall of China, Bieber’s fall from grace has been epic.

He has a lot in common with Rob Ford, with whom he shares the title of world’s most famous Canadian, except that Rob Ford is twice his age and weight and still doesn’t realize he’s done anything wrong.  That’s right: Justin Bieber made a real apology last week:

“I turned a lot of people off over the past few years, but I know I can still turn out good music and turn everything all around.  I’ve lost some of my best qualities.  For that, I am sorry.  I’m looking forward to being someone who you guys can all look at and be proud of.”

Even more remarkable, he made his apology at the podium, after subjecting himself to the ritual humiliation of a Comedy Central Roast.  If you’ve ever watched one of these events, you’ve been shocked by how incredibly profane and mean the celebrity roasters are, in this case including Martha Stewart, Snoop Dogg and Shaquille O’Neal.  US Weekly called the putdowns “staggeringly harsh.”

Comedian Chris D’Elia summed up the feeling in the room:  ”You have it all.  Except for respect, love, friends, good parents and a Grammy.”

On the cruelty scale, roasters are second only to the people who leave comments after stories in the Toronto Star.  And even they feel bad for the beating Justin took:

“I mean I guess he deserves it in some way, but still.  I kinda feel bad for him.”  Or:  ”What a strong young man.  Took a roast in his twenties.  Kudos Justin.”

In other words, Bieber’s strategy is working.

The stuff that Bieber did is bad.  The stuff that Ghomeshi is accused of doing is considerably worse.  So if conditions #1 and #2 above were to be met, and Ghomeshi was to subject himself to a televised verbal beating – and otherwise put himself at the mercy of the public – it would simply not be enough for some people.  Then again, this is Canada, and we respect apologies and niceness.  As roast host Kevin Hart put it:  ”Justin’s Canadian.  He’s actually considered American, because no Canadian has ever been this much of an a–hole.”

But there is another possibility:  that Ghomeshi’s actions will not actually damage his brand that badly in the first place.  Consider this quartet:

Bill Cosby has been accused by at least 34 women of drugging or raping them, and he continues to tour and receive standing ovations, including in Kitchener, Ontario.

Rush Limbaugh railed against illegal drug users for years, then became addicted to prescription painkillers and vigorously fought prosecution and prevailed.  His radio show still draws 15 million listeners every week.

Mike Tyson was convicted of rape and spent three years in prison, but is a favourite among movie- and theatre-goers for his frequent cameos, including onstage with Neil Patrick Harris at the 2013 Tony awards – and even had his own Broadway show, directed by Spike Lee.

Bill Clinton had an extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, lied to Congress about it, became only the second president in US history to be impeached, and, as far as I am aware, never lifted a finger to defend Lewinsky’s reputation.  Lewinsky has endured public harassment and humiliation from every corner of the world for almost 20 years.  Clinton commands enormous respect from every corner of that same planet, and in his first eleven years as a private citizen, delivered 471 speeches at an average fee of $189,000.

In the context of branding, what do these cases demonstrate?  That it’s never the point to get everyone supporting you.  In contrast, the point has always been to get enough of the right people supporting you.  It’s called brand positioning:  resonating so deeply with just a segment of the population that they’ll follow you to hell and back.

Especially if the criminal case proceeds, Ghomeshi’s fans – many of whom are still out there, waiting – may very well get that opportunity.


See Monica Lewinsky’s acclaimed TED Talk, “The Price of Shame,” delivered just this week.

Posted in brand differentiation, personal branding, positioning, rebranding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beer Store’s Brand Goggles

[Cache #192]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding

Yes, a brand is what people think of you.  And in a recent moment of inspiration, I suggested that even more important is what we think of ourselves.  But: too high a level of self-regard can kill your brand, as we have seen so dramatically in the cases of TargetJian Ghomeshi and coming soon, The Beer Store.

The Toronto Star is reporting today that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will be introducing legislation in the spring budget that will bring beer (as well as wine) to large-format grocery stores in Ontario.  Skepticism is the most appropriate response to this kind of news, given that in Ontario we have been talking about taking away The Beer Store’s monopoly at least since I was sufficiently underage to care about alcohol.

And yet, for anyone who cares about drinking beer or cares about someone who does, there is fresh reason for optimism, because the government seems to have defined the problem in a slightly different way than in the past.  Given that there are less than 500 Beer Stores in a province with almost 14 million people, the pro-liberalization argument has historically revolved around giving consumers easier access to their favourite wobbly-pop.  The chief supporting argument has been that The Beer Store’s monopoly (the chain is owned by Molson-Coors, Labatt and Sleeman, all of whom happen to be foreign-owned and controlled) is inappropriate in a democratic, capitalist-oriented society.

The problem with these arguments, and the reason they have ultimately failed, is that in Canada in general and perhaps more so in Ontario, large swaths of the population are awash with guilt about booze and capitalism both.

The new, optimism-inducing argument discerned from this morning’s Star coverage is that people are demanding a different kind of convenience.  Convenience in the past was framed by restrictionists as meaning the ability to get drunk more conveniently.  But then this from the Star:

“The government’s thinking has shifted. …it is taking account of recurring complaints about poor service and limited choices at The Beer Store.  Under increasing pressure from local craft brewers, and media reports that reflected public discontent, the Liberals are now stressing consumer convenience and support for domestic producers.”

This new kind of convenience is that of being able to enjoy a high-quality product and support Canadian (read: craft) brewers without having to jump through hoops.  It is not about getting blotto – although beer has been known to have that effect from time to time, and we can expect examples of that trend to continue – but rather, it is about appreciation.

Anyone who has in fact tippled a pint or two will be familiar with the concept of beer goggles.  For the Beer Store, it is a severe case of brand goggles that has allowed this existential threat to brew:  they have provided a truly crummy experience for decades and deemed it wonderful.  Only recently in their history did they actually take the step of allowing customers to look at and touch the product before paying for it.  They have been very slow to innovate and improve their brand experience because they didn’t think they had to.

And then they made it difficult for the burgeoning number of independent craft brewers in Ontario, the upstarts who’ve ushered in a new era of brand appreciation, to get their products on the shelf.  That, ultimately, was the tippling point.

Dear Reader:
I greatly appreciate the emails I get each week from people who’ve enjoyed the blog. I’d like to encourage you to use the comment field instead of sending me an email, because:
-It is fun and enlightening to get a conversation going with other commenters, as Cache readers are an extremely smart and good-looking bunch.
-I respond to every comment you leave.
-If you have a website, your comment helps your website rank higher on Google (because there is a space for you to leave your web address).
-Even if you do not have a website, your comments definitely help build the Coin brand as a provider of thought leadership related to branding.

OR, you can just continue to send me your emails, which I love to receive and respond to.

With thanks -
Andris.

Posted in brand experience, customer service | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On CBC’s The National Tonight re Jian Ghomeshi Replacement

Dear Reader,

I had the pleasure of a conversation today with reporter Ioanna Roumeliotis of CBC TV’s The National, who had some questions about the impending rebrand of Q, the show vacated by Jian Ghomeshi.

A new host, rapper Shad, was named today.

meet-shad-on-thursday

You can watch the story (which includes my very short interview) here (the location of this link may change over time)  The story starts at the 40:30 mark of The National as broadcast on March 11.

andris pone ioanna roumeliotis cbc the national

**What do you think??  How will the show fare with the new host?  Was it a good move to keep the name Q, or should they have changed it?**

Ioanna Roumeliotis on Twitter

Ioanna Roumeliotis CBC bio

Ioanna Roumeliotis

 

cbc the national logo

Posted in andris pone media comment, brand names, personal branding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

WestJet and the High Cost of Ownership

[Cache #191]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

It is the Holy Grail of brand positioning:  for your target audience to instantly, unanimously associate you with one or perhaps two positive words.

Exceedingly few brands – whether organization, product, service or personal – will ever drink from the cup.  Subway is one, for owning fresh or healthy.  Head and Shoulders is another, for owning dandruff.  Volvo is slipping, for while many people still say safety, a growing number say boxy, or simply point out that the brand has been struggling financially and in terms of market share.  Similarly Maytag, for owning reliable or dependable, a position so strong as to endure product quality that has been diminishing for a decade, and that consumers are highly aware of.

Time is running out for these latter two brands to correct their course.  Another – WestJet – has such commanding ownership of caring or owners that it has plenty of time, probably, to nip in the bud the kind of complacency witnessed this week on one of their flights.

Over the long haul, it is normal and expected that some employees, no matter whom they work for and even if they own a piece of the company, will lose sight of their brand and do something that clearly conflicts with it.  The WestJet brand is based on the idea that employees care because they are owners.  Surely there is no more crucial function of caring than ensuring passengers are safe.  The airlines have told us forever that the safety instructions delivered prior to taking flight are essential listening and even reading, although it has to be admitted that hardly anyone pays attention.

But what if you are a nervous flyer, or a senior citizen, or actually want to be reminded to look behind you for an exit?  Or one of the many people with hearing issues, who would find reassurance in the fact that WestJet cared enough to actually articulate the verbal safety instructions in a manner you could actually hear and understand?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

This week, on at least one flight, you would have been out of luck, because the flight attendant had obviously recited the safety instructions a thousand times, and could therefore do them in her sleep, and did in fact blur through them in a slur that made a presentation of two minutes sound like a single, continuous, only partially comprehensible word.

I can’t recall if Air Canada or Porter do the same on their flights, but they definitely do so in the terminal.  Safety is not implicated in those situations, but it still speaks clearly to a lack of caring, which not many people expect from Air Canada and a shrinking cohort expects from Porter, but which absolutely everyone expects from WestJet.

They are just words, one or two of them.  But for those fortunate enough to have earned them, they are a priceless asset, requiring constant care and ownership.

Posted in brand differentiation, brand experience, customer service, positioning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Tim’s Can Be More Than a Global Bit Player

[Cache #190]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding


“There is no reason that the rest of the world shouldn’t be able to experience what Canadians get to experience at Tim Hortons every day.”
Daniel Schwartz
CEO
Restaurant Brands International
Tim Hortons’ Brazilian owner

Tim Hortons wants to be a household name not just from BC to Bonavista, but now, from Buenos Aires to Beijing.  But does the rest of the world really want watery coffee, so-so sandwiches and diabetes-inducing doughnuts?

This is a different question than asking whether what we recognize as the Tim Hortons brand can thrive abroad, because the emotional elements of the Tim’s brand as we know it – steeped in the Canadian experience and slathered with hockey – are too alien to resonate on foreign shores.  They have shown limited evidence of resonating even with our American cousins, many of whom share our passion for hockey and the winter experience, but in whose country Tim’s is running just 800 stores, concentrated relatively close to the Canadian border.

Absent the emotional elements of the brand, Tim’s is left with these brand elements:  products, customer experience and pricing.  How does each fare?

At risk of my passport being revoked, I offer that the products are just not that good.  The coffee has little in the way of taste, although it is very hot, an accomplishment that reminds of the line from the comedic mock-umentary Spinal Tap, in which the legendary heavy metal band of that name is revered as “one of England’s loudest bands.”

Tims did introduce a Bold blend of coffee to great fanfare last year, which may have been not just a reaction to the stronger coffee on offer at Starbucks and a variety of independent coffee houses, but also a trial balloon toward making the Bold blend its pillar abroad.  Self-respecting Europeans and Latin Americans, for example, would be unlikely to embrace Tim’s traditional coffee, which they would regard as an amusing attempt at lightly flavoured water.

The sandwiches and other non-doughnut food offerings are functional.  They get the job done.  They fill a hole.  (Insert Timbit pun here)

The doughnuts, on the other hand, are great.  They are in essence a dessert offering, and I have no clue whether Berliners or Bengalis have any affinity with them.

The customer experience is also best classified as functional.  There are always smiling staff in the TV ads, but sightings are rare at the actual stores.  The job could be equally well-performed by robots, but then again I live in Toronto, and that level of warmth is pretty much the GTA standard; it could well be that Tim Hortons’ staff in Halifax or Calgary are able to force a grin.

And after all, doesn’t it all come down to price?

The one truly amazing thing about Tim Hortons is that you go to the counter, you order some stuff, and they charge you almost nothing for it.  That is the real remark-ability piece.

Strip away the Canadiana, therefore, and what you are left with are the matters of product and price – value, in other words.  As much as the media and people like me carry on about the distinctly Canadian elements of the Tim Hortons brand, not nearly enough credit is given to the fact that they’ve nailed just the right value proposition of food, drink and price.

Assuming that people love a good deal no matter where they live, Tim’s best shot at global relevance is to stick with this very sweet spot.


Read Hollie Shaw’s story on Tim’s global plans here, in the National Post.

Dear Reader:
Why leave a comment on the blog?  I greatly appreciate the emails I get each week from people who’ve enjoyed the blog.  Yet most people do not actually leave a comment on the website, at the end of each blog.  I’d like to encourage you to use the comment field instead of sending me an email, because:
-It is fun and enlightening to get a conversation going with other commenters, as Cache readers are an extremely smart and good-looking bunch.
-I respond to every comment you leave.
-If you have a website, your comment helps your website rank higher on Google (because there is a space for you to leave your web address).
-Even if you do not have a website, your comments definitely help build the Coin brand as a provider of thought leadership related to branding.

OR, you can just continue to send me your emails, which I love to receive and respond to.

With thanks -
Andris.

Posted in brand differentiation, brand experience, customer service, positioning, rebranding, remark-able | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Target Comment in the National Post

I had a very nice conversation with Hollie Shaw, business reporter at the National Post, yesterday.  The article is here or by clicking on the image below.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 11.12.25 AM

Posted in andris pone media comment, positioning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Price You Don’t Have to Pay

[Cache #189]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding


“Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product.”
Jeff Bezos
CEO
Amazon

Clients and others often tell me, with a measure of pride in their voices, that most of their business comes from word-of-mouth.  In other words, they don’t spend much if any money on advertising.

On the surface, in today’s world this is an impressive accomplishment.  Each and every day, our company and personal brands are competing with the biggest ad spenders in the world for the most precious asset in the branding universe, brainspace.  Regardless of whether you run a billion-dollar-organization, an entrepreneurial startup or just yourself, you are locked in competition with titans like Apple and Google, who, together with their cohorts on Fortune’s list of the world’s most valuable brands in 2014, spent a combined $24-billion on advertising.

Hopelessly outspent, the most promising strategy for the 99-plus-percent of us is to be remark-able – worthy of word-of-mouth.  Among its virtues, word-of-mouth is close to free, and compared to advertising, people more readily believe it.

But in this regard there are two key caveats.  First:  just because you get most or all of your business from word-of-mouth, or just because you don’t spend money on advertising, decidedly does not mean you are remark-able.  In fact your brand could be quite unremark-able and still survive for some time, as demonstrated so impressively by companies like Canadian Tire and Hudson’s Bay, which are understood to be lacking on multiple levels – yet somehow still draw us in.

The second caveat:  remark-ability is not just for the 99-plus-percent of us.  In fact, it is for everyone.  Even among the world’s most valuable brands, there is a clear, if not straight-line, inverse relationship between brand value and advertising spend.  Apple, 2014′s most valuable brand at $124-billion, spent just 0.89% of that figure on advertising.  Louis Vuitton, which had the lowest brand value on the top 10 list, was the biggest ad spender, at $4.7-billion – almost 16% of its entire value.

Apple could therefore be considered – and this will probably surprise no one – as the world’s most remark-able brand.

How, then, to be remark-able?  Start by focusing on these three factors:

1.  Be different from everyone else.  But, because it is very likely that your business is actually not much different from others, the difference that does exist will be difficult to express.  Hire someone to help you do it.

2.  Find your “why,” because people don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it.  When you talk about what you do, or even how you do it, you are often just expressing table stakes.  Watch Simon Sinek’s 18-minute TED talk as a starting point.

3.  Deliver great experiences.  Even in industries that are not commoditized, there are far fewer than 50 shades of grey between one brand and another.  Delivering a great experience is your secret weapon, one that the other guys are probably too lazy to try.

Because ask yourself:  do you really want to be the Canadian Tire or Hudson’s Bay of your industry?

DEAR READER:
Why leave a comment on the blog?  I greatly appreciate the emails I get each week from people who’ve enjoyed the blog.  Yet most people do not actually leave a comment on the website, at the end of each blog.  I’d like to encourage you to use the comment field instead of sending me an email, because:
-It is fun and enlightening to get a conversation going with other commenters, as Cache readers are an extremely smart and good-looking bunch.
-I respond to every comment you leave.
-If you have a website, your comment helps your website rank higher on Google (because there is a space for you to leave your web address).
-Even if you do not have a website, your comments definitely help build the Coin brand as a provider of thought leadership related to branding.

OR, you can just continue to send me your emails, which I love to receive and respond to.

With thanks -
Andris.

Posted in brand advertising, brand differentiation, brand equity, brand experience, hypermessaging, key messaging, personal branding, positioning, remark-able | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Proof of Remark-ability, from Apple

apple remark-ability spends less on advertising

 

 

Posted in brand advertising, remark-able | Tagged | Leave a comment

Your Very Own Super Bowl

[Cache #188]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

Imagine that your career is on the one-yard line.  Not merely a touchdown, but your entire livelihood and legacy depends on what you say next. Your opponent’s strength is legendary and the clock is ticking.  Eighty thousand screaming fans are watching in person, hundreds of millions more are watching around the globe, and the media universe is waiting, fingers poised, to write the narrative that will follow you around for the rest of your life.

What, exactly, are you going to say?  Surely, surely, you are not going to throw…away this opportunity by blurting out something ill-advised or ill-prepared.

There is an easy play, if only you will call it.

But first you must understand, deeply, the unique value you offer.  And that’s not something you can figure out on the fly.  Then you must be able to express it forcefully but simply – for in the words of Einstein (who is clueless as anyone about Sunday), “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

So:  what is the unique value you offer?  And then:  how will you express it with power but simplicity?

Because remember:  the clock is ticking.

 

A NOTE TO READERS
Dear Reader,
Why leave a comment on the blog?  I greatly appreciate the emails I get each week from people who’ve enjoyed the blog.  Yet most people do not actually leave a comment on the website, at the end of each blog.  I’d like to encourage you to use the comment field instead of sending me an email, because:

-It is fun and enlightening to get a conversation going with other commenters, as Cache readers are an extremely smart and good-looking bunch.
-I respond to every comment you leave.
-If you have a website, your comment helps your website rank higher on Google (because there is a space for you to leave your web address).
-Even if you do not have a website, your comments definitely help build the Coin brand as a provider of thought leadership related to branding.

OR, you can just continue to send me your emails, which I love to receive and respond to.

With thanks -
Andris.

Posted in brand differentiation, confidence, key messaging, personal branding, positioning, remark-able, self-actualization | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments