Is Earls’ brand burnt? On CBC Radio One this afternoon

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Last week, Earls Restaurants upset Alberta cattle farmers and others by announcing they would switch from Canadian to American beef, because they could not source sufficient quantities that met the Certified Humane standard.

And today, they flipped their position.

Is this good or bad for the Earls’ brand?  My short interview with Paul Haavardsrud will run at either 435 or 535pm today on CBC Radio One.

(See the headline on here)

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Brand Blindness and the Horrible Headshot

[Cache #237]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Your brand is not your logo.  Instead, it is what people think of your logo – and of every other piece of information about you they have ever processed.  In other words, you might think your logo looks, just for example, high-end.  That it’s attractive to the well-heeled clients you seek.

But here’s the thing:  your opinion doesn’t matter.

All that matters are the viewpoints of those well-heeled clients.  And if they think your logo does not in fact look sufficiently high-end – if they look at your marketing presence and do not see themselves in it – then you’ve created dissonance in their minds from the get-go.

Simply put, looks matter when it comes to your brand and its materials.  But all too many of us, to continue the metaphor, look in the mirror all too rarely.

Let’s be clear:  not all brands have to look high-end.  Mine isn’t meant to.  I would like to think it looks polished, clean and professional, and I think that all brands – no matter what they are trying to convey – should at least meet the standard of looking professional.  Many do not.

That’s why I made the change to the graphically-designed email many of you received today.  I listened to some constructive criticism (thank you Faith Seekings of Rapport), that the email version of my blog did not reflect appropriately on the Coin brand.  Specifically, that it didn’t look very good, and that it could be difficult to read.

I will engage in a bit of humblebrag to say this:  I wish more brand owners were open to this kind of feedback, annoying as it initially may be.  Problem is, a sizeable section of the population is what I call brand blind.  Even if they do look in the proverbial mirror, they do not see their brand’s flaws.

That’s why it’s so important to solicit and then listen to the opinions of others – after getting down on your knees and begging them to be honest with you.  It is highly, repeat, highly unlikely they will be honest if you don’t beg them to be.  They will, of course, insist they are being honest.  But in truth they will likely be lying, because they’re afraid of having to deal with disappointing you.

And so you are reduced to begging, or better yet, retaining a third party to ask for you (we call it a ThinkAudit™).  Respondents will be much more honest with anyone other than you.

Brand Blindness and The Horrible Headshot

How can you tell if you’re brand blind?  Self-diagnosis of blindness is, of course, inherently problematic.  To help us along, there exists a single, powerful predictor of brand blindness:  the Horrible Headshot.

horrible headshot 2

horrible headshot

If you have a Horrible Headshot, chances are you’re brand blind.  Let’s face it:  we’re talking about your face here.  And if you can’t look at your own face and tell it doesn’t look good, you’re as brand blind as a bat.

So watch for these primary variants of the Horrible Headshot:

1. The War Criminal.  Are there shadows on your face?  Are you backed up against the wall or into a corner, most likely by your receptionist or a well-meaning friend?  Then you look like you should be on trial in The Hague, not like someone anyone should entrust their business to.

2. The Party Animal.  Are you wearing a tux or evening gown?  Can we see a slice of someone else’s head, shoulder or arm?  Can we easily imagine there’s a wine glass just off camera?  Then your headshot is not a headshot at all, but a party pic, and we’re wondering just how serious you can possibly be.

3. The Friendless.  A selfie, in other words.  And in the headshot context, selfies make you look like you have no friends.  And no colleagues.  And most likely, no customers.

4. The Glamour Shot.  Often a variation of The Friendless.  Are you doing duck face?  Is your face tilted more than a few degrees?  Is it possible for us to infer that you’re lying down on a leopard-print sofa?  Do you expect to be taken seriously?

I happen to have a new headshot.  I am very grateful to our photography partner, Donna Santos, because I am a very difficult client, because I find it difficult to smile on cue.  But:  then I saw the stunning headshots on Donna’s website and was sold.  She has since photographed many Coin clients.  You can see below for examples.

I know that the elite quality of Donna’s photos helps differentiate our clients.  Plain and simple, her headshots are a powerful reason to believe that a brand is every bit as impressive as it looks.

All photos Donna Santos Studio

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.18.17 PM Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.17.24 PM Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.17.02 PM Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.16.16 PM Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.16.00 PM


Posted in brand differentiation, brand identity, logos, personal branding, positioning, reason to believe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Astonishing Tessa Smith, and How To Live Your Brand

[Cache #236]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Is your brand dead or alive?

By alive, I mean this:  are you living it in ways that clearly and powerfully support your brand foundation (your core purpose, your vision, your position, your mission, etc).  Or is your foundation just a bunch of dead words, whether on a page or locked away somewhere in your mind?

If you’re willing to take a hard look at yourself, you just might conclude that your brand is on life support.  You may have an inspirational vision statement.  You may have a deeply compelling tagline.  But you are doing nothing of substance with it.

La Closette, a fashion and personal styling consultancy in Toronto and Montreal that Coin is proud to call a strategic partner, does not have this problem.  They are one of the most vital brands I have encountered, because they have profoundly invested themselves in their very bold tagline, which is this:

Look great.  Feel great.  Do great.

I didn’t write that line.  But I wish I did.  Firstly, because I love the cause-and-effect progression from looking great, to then feeling great, to then being able to do great things for yourself – and as the line strongly implies, for others.  Secondly and more importantly, because La Closette actually delivers strongly on all three elements, and especially on the last one.  The doing.

Fashion Heals - Holt Renfrew – 50 Bloor Street West, Toronto
All photos by Best of Toronto

Third and most impressively brand-building of all, note, in the commentary below, the ways in which La Closette is not just randomly doing great, but getting a multiplier effect out of their tagline by doing great in alignment with the Look great and Feel great components.

So:  how is La Closette doing great?  Consider the immense effort they put forward in helping organize Fashion Heals, a benefit for SickKids Hospital that helps save the lives of kids with cancer.  Held with 300 people in attendance this past Wednesday at the ultra-upscale Holt Renfrew store on Bloor Street West in Toronto, Fashion Heals’ second annual edition was targeted to raise $60,000 for an Innovation Grant for Paediatric Cancer Care and Research at SickKids.

Of the 1,400 children diagnosed with cancer in Canada every year, 82% survive.  To paraphrase remarks made at Fashion Heals by oncologist Dr. Sumit Gupta, parents think it’s great that he and his team can save 82% of the kids.  But it doesn’t do them any good if he can’t save their kid.

So 100% is the only acceptable figure, and SickKids can only get there through the same dogged and brilliant innovation that got them to 82%.  That’s why the innovation grants are so important.

The centrepiece of the evening was a fashion show, run by La Closette, in which all of the models were either SickKids staff, patients, or parents of patients – cancer survivors and their parents, in other words.

Fashion Heals – Dr. Barbara Cifra with Irene Kim and MT Meikle of La Closette
All photos by Best of Toronto

In the preceding days, each model had a fitting session in which La Closette principals MT Meikle and Irene Kim, along with Holt’s staff, helped them choose clothing from the store.  And let’s keep in mind:  Holt Renfrew isn’t just any store, and their clothes aren’t just any clothes.  This is the place you go to buy, for example, your $995 Givenchy t-shirt.

Just before the show, each model had a professional makeup session.  At showtime, each in turn took their spot onstage.  MT and Irene relayed some personal facts about them, and then described their outfit as they strutted their stuff down the catwalk.

Fashion Heals – Tessa Smith, 2016 SickKids Patient Ambassador
All photos by Best of Toronto

Each and every model is a very special person.  The brightest spotlight of the evening shone on aspiring photographer, musician, writer and model Tessa Smith.  Tessa, 17, also happens to be a two-time cancer survivor and the SickKids’ 2016 Patient Ambassador.  She has had cancer in the retinas of both eyes, and lost one of her legs to the disease.  In addition to doing the catwalk, Tessa gave a blunt, inspiring, moving and funny keynote.

How do you think Tessa and the other models looked?  How do you think they felt?  And what about everyone else in attendance?

And what are you doing to make your brand even remotely as alive in comparison?



P.S. I was privileged to MC this event, and to introduce Tessa’s keynote speech.  I am sorry to say I disappointed her.  She asked me to make an amputee joke in my introduction.  I thought about it for one-billionth of a second and declined.  Proving the obvious – that she has a lot more courage than me – she went out and told a few herself.

All photos from Best of Toronto:

Posted in brand experience, brand foundation, mission statements, mission/vision/values, non-profit branding, taglines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s the best new name for Club Intrawest? I haven’t a clue, and you shouldn’t either.

[Cache #235]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

As part of naming or renaming your brand, should you ever have a survey or contest in which the public can suggest names and vote on them?

Some might expect me to answer my own question with a categorical “no,” because members of the public are not naming experts, and things can go horribly wrong.  After all, one of the problems with asking people for their opinion is that they’ll give it to you.  As evidence of this phenomenon in action, look no further than Boaty McBoatface, described by the New York Times as having far and away the most votes in an online solicitation by a British government agency to name a $287-million polar research ship.

Diamond Resorts International is another organization to recently solicit online suggestions as they rename a recent acquisition, Club Intrawest.  Diamond manages more than 350 vacation ownership resorts around the world; Club Intrawest is a timeshare vacation club with nine locations across North America.  Judging from a webpage that was active until approximately 1pm today (the survey ended at 1159am), Diamond emailed its customers last month to ask for suggestions on a new name for Club Intrawest, and received more than 1,500 submissions.

Here is the shortlist of five names that Diamond derived from those suggestions, and presented for vote:

The Alcove

Which one is the best?  I have no clue.  You shouldn’t either.  Not nearly enough information was provided to make such a decision.  Hopefully, Diamond did some considerably deeper thinking than evidenced in the brief written explanations to each name that were provided on the webpage.

But I still voted.  Twice, in fact.  For two different names.  And I did not even receive the original email, because I am not a Diamond or Club Intrawest customer.  And so it seems that anyone in the world was able to access the voting page.  I have no horse in this race, but you might surmise that Diamond’s competitors do.  How many, if any, votes did they cast?  Which should call to the attention of Diamond, which wisely is reserving the sole right to make the final decision, that their data may be suspect to say the least.

So here are some thoughts on why, and how, to run a survey in a way more likely to yield meaningful results.

Because you want to generate awareness and excitement around your new name and brand.  Not because you expect to get a great name out of it.

I use the word “great” with caution because the true objective of any naming process should not be to produce a great name per se, but rather, to arrive at a name that does the crucial jobs that all great names do.  It is against these jobs that you should frame up your naming contest/survey:  if you are going to run one, make sure you give your audience some tools to make helpful suggestions.  Here are the top five most important jobs:

1.Be remark-able.
Great names are worthy of word-of-mouth.  People like to say them and talk about them.  Think Google and Kijiji.

2.Communicate the brand foundation.
What is the brand foundation – the core purpose, vision, mission, position, etc – of the former Club Intrawest?  From what I saw before the survey webpage was taken down, none of this was articulated.  The first rule of naming is that to name something, you have to know what it is.  And in this case, we do not know what “it” is.

3.Be distinct. 
Of the names on the Diamond shortlist, only Embarc, because it is a coined name in which the “k” has been changed to a “c,” might be considered distinct. Any time your name is a real word (think of Xerox as a totally made-up one) distinctiveness is going to be more of a challenge.

4.Be memorable.
Memorability is driven by factors including being short, easy to spell and say, and being meaningful.  Again, think about Google.  We are all biased because of our prodigious levels of exposure to this name, but how difficult was it to recall after hearing it for the first time?  It veritably glued itself in the grey matter.

5.Leverage an existing naming system, or create a new one
What other names does Diamond have in its portfolio?  Based on their survey webpage, we do not know.  Yet we want to know, because we want to add value to Diamond’s entire portfolio of names, and create a network effect in which every name makes every other name more valuable.  Think of the clever and funny names Ben & Jerry’s dreams up for its ice creams.  Monikers like Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey and the Jimmy Fallon-themed The Tonight Dough perpetuate interest in their other flavours.  Just imagine if they named their next ice cream Chocolate.  Considered on its own, would that name inspire you to seek out the names of other flavours?

Obviously reserve the right to make the final decision and even ignore all suggestions, which naturally will be at your peril – but you’re the one who decided to ask for input.  (So you might, just maybe, want to kill the contest idea and retain a professional)

And finally:  know thy respondents.  Tightly control the voting process.  For example, you’ve got to be sure you know who’s casting votes, and how many times they are voting.  If it’s your competitors, or people who don’t really feel a stake in your brand, you’re really messing with your objective of flattering and bonding with your actual and potential audience – an objective that, in the context of a naming contest, should be your greatest hope.

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By and Large, Addition Elle Got It Right

[Cache #234]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

“One of the fundamental lessons of social media is that someone, somewhere, will always be offended.”  Kelly McParland, National Post


The subject of a woman’s weight is one of the riskiest issues known to, well, man.  To the point that by some osmosis during the maturation process, every male alive learns the one, correct answer to one of life’s most important questions:  ”Does my bum look big in these?”

Kelly McParland is the National Post columnist whose maxim began this week’s missive.  He went on to say that he would probably get email from people offended at his suggestion that people are easily offended.  And so it is categorically not my intention to offend anyone, but to simply stick with the core branding question at play in L’Affaire Addition Elle, which is this:  is the word “fat” consistent with the Addition Elle brand?

Some people may disagree with me already, believing me to have the core issue incorrect.  But please read on.

In case you have missed the news story, Addition Elle is a retailer that sells only stylish, plus-sized clothing for women.  The company fired an employee after she posted this statement on her Facebook page:  ”Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time.”

The former employee, Connie Levitsky, is a plus-sized lady herself, and says the statement was intended to be a cheeky communication of pride in her job.  More to the point, it was her way of taking power away from people who use the word “fat” as a derogatory term.  As an insult.  A 24-year-old university student, she has finally come to like the way her body looks, despite what our society has been telling her about it her entire life.  So she uses the word “fat” to describe herself – believing terms like ”curvy” and “shapely” to be inadequate euphemisms.

Whichever side of the issue you’re on, it seems safe (?) to suggest that Addition Elle over reacted by firing her.  They themselves appear to have had this realization, for they offered her her job back. She refused, saying it would amount to betrayal of her supporters in what she describes as the “fat-positivity community.”

Addition Elle’s olive branch to Levitsky was their statement that “we stand for body positivity in all its forms.”  That may be a bit of a stretch, because they clearly do not approve of the word “fat”.

Nor should they.

Addition Elle has operated in Canada since 1967.  I first noticed them when working in a mall in 1990.  Their brand strategy since that time appears to be a rock of consistency:  they want to help women who need larger sizes feel good about themselves.  My understanding is that it’s difficult for women to find stylish, trendy, well-fitted clothing in larger sizes.  Not at Addition Elle.

From their webpage:
“Addition Elle is the style destination for fashion forward and fun-loving plus-size women. We offer the latest trends in women’s clothing, lingerie and denim with a high quality design and a superior fit. At Addition Elle we believe in ‘Fashion Democracy’ and clothes that are designed to make our customers feel confident and beautiful inside and out.”

Take this statement and combine it with the photographs, from their website, that adorn this blogpost.  Does this look like an organization that has staked its brand on the word “fat”?  A store where, I think it is safe (?) to say, at least 90% of customers do not want to be referred to as “fat”?

Of course not.  The word “fat” is totally inconsistent with their brand, and it is well within their rights to protect that brand by discouraging use of that word.

At the same time, Connie Levitsky is very highly deserving of respect for her embrace of the f-word.  There is great bravery and power in appropriating the slurs used against you, a highly effective form of brand jiu jitsu (see Cache #217).  The gay community took back “queer,” for example, by using it more loud and proud than the haters ever did, a tactic employed to brilliant effect more recently by Slutwalk (Cache #16).  And it is beautiful to see how many young people today call themselves, with great pride, a “nerd” or “geek,” stealing from the bullies what was once one of the most hurtful insults imaginable.

If she is so inclined, Connie should start a women’s clothing business that does indeed position its brand around “fat.”  Not many women will identify with it in the short term. But there is a clear trend in at least North America for people to embrace their true self and be proud of it, no matter what “it” is.  So Connie’s business, over the long term, could really get big.  Maybe even huge.

Posted in brand differentiation, consistency, positioning | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

April Fool’s Day Discriminates Against the Humourless, Supreme Court Declares

OTTAWA – April 1st, 2016
By Andris Pone
Coin News Services

Claiming it as a victory for the humourless, constitutional lawyer Brian Greenspan praised, at exactly 12:01 Eastern Time today, the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to extend April Fool’s Day to 5pm wherever you live.

“Look.  Because of the requirement that you execute your silly little joke before noon, ’April Fool’s Day’ as a name never made the slightest bit of sense.  Not a scrap.  Not a single, blessed iota.  Even so, this obvious logical deficiency was, in fact, not our primary motivation for launching this challenge.”

“Instead,” Greenspan continued, “there is a crucial constitutional issue at play here, namely that the noon requirement discriminates against the humourless by not giving them sufficient time to think up a cute gag.  And so I thank the Court for granting these marginalized members of our society the time they need to come up with something at least halfway decent.”

Court observers and time management experts were quick to point out that the five-hour reprieve will benefit a myriad of disadvantaged groups beyond the humourless.  These include people who hit snooze a few too many times, who are taking a sick day whether real or bogus, the hung over and those who decided to just bloody well sleep in.

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Thanks to Romney, The Donald Officially Has No Clothes

 [Cache #232]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

If only we could all communicate as clearly and powerfully as Mitt Romney.  Well, as clearly and powerfully as he did last week, anyway, in an anti-Trump speech the New York Times called “open warfare.”

The communications track record of the 2012 Republican presidential candidate has not been perfect.  Exhibit “A” would be his “47 percent” comment, in which he wrote off half the electorate by referencing the proportion of Americans who did not pay federal income tax (for various reasons), and were therefore supposedly Obama supporters about whom Romney said it was not “my job” to win over.  The gaffe was pivotal in costing him the White House, because it was unbecoming of a US president, elected as they are to represent all the people.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

This just might, maybe, possibly be coloured by my personal views on Trump, but in my estimation, Romney’s anti-Trump speech was one seriously exquisite piece of communication.  Arrestingly clear, shocking and mocking, Romney stripped Trump bare and then shredded him to tiny pieces.  It was a point-by-point evisceration every bit as breathtaking as the Bautista bat-flip.

-Read the full transcript here-

If you are someone who opposes Trump, read the transcript and you will ooh and aah like a kid watching fireworks.  If you are someone who supports Trump, read the transcript and you will groan like a kid watching your big brother get beaten up at recess.  (Or, taking a cue from your big brother, you will deny that a beating has even taken place.)

At any rate, supporters and opponents alike – whether they agree with the substance of Romney’s message or not – should agree that his speech is a master class in communication and argumentation.  What can we learn from it – and then put to use in our own messaging?

1. I’ve Told You a Million Times: Don’t Exaggerate
The single most important reason Romney’s speech is so breathtaking is that we never expected this kind of bluntness from him.  This man’s brand is all about being reserved.  Measured.  Dignified.  So when he says “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.  His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University” (considered by many a scam), we are jolted to attention.

The takeaway is akin to the fable of the boy who cried wolf.  Keep your messages measured, so when you really, truly need to grab the attention of your audience, you can dial it up – and get people sitting up straight.

2. The Messenger Matters
Along with the 47% remark, the key reason Romney lost the 2012 election?  He’s wealthy.  Very wealthy.  His opponents skewered him as a heartless corporate raider with an elevator for his car.  So even his detractors cannot possibly deny he’s got the authority to say things like this:

“But you say, wait, wait, wait, isn’t he a huge business success? Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about? No, he isn’t and no he doesn’t.  His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them. He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.”

Romney is regarded as a business genius, and that places him among all Republican leaders as uniquely qualified to attack Trump’s self-trumpeted business credentials.  Our takeaway is that to be taken seriously, there must be strong reasons to believe in our brand.

3. Humility Helps
Romney is loaded, but he still had the humility and good sense to invoke, in his remarks, a Republican legend infinitely bigger than his own: Ronald Reagan.  He recalled Reagan’s exhortation, on the eve of the 1964 election, that it was “time for choosing” between a dark path or a bright one.  Critically, Romney made clear that he wasn’t comparing himself to Reagan, which would have reeked of hubris and exposed him like Dan Quayle comparing himself to JFK.  On the contrary – and this is great advice for anyone about to adopt what is ultimately a superior posture to a rival  – Romney bowed down at the beginning of his remarks and said simply:  ”I’m no Ronald Reagan.”

4. Have Your Heart In The Right Place
It is impossible to predict the future, unless you are Mitt Romney predicting how Donald Trump will react to his speech:

“Let me say that again. There’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake….We will only really know if he’s a real deal or a phony if he releases his tax returns…I predict that there are more bombshells in his tax returns. I predict that he doesn’t give much, if anything, to the disabled and to our veterans…And I predict that despite his promise to do so, first made over a year ago, that he will never ever release his tax returns. Never…He has too much to hide.”

“Attacking me, as he surely will, won’t prove him any less of a phony.  It’s entirely in his hands to prove me wrong.”

For my money, this was the most breathtaking moment of the many in Romney’s tour-de-force.  It’s what cements his speech as an honourable attempt to get to the truth.  He has given Trump explicit details on how to disprove himself a fraud/fake/phony/con man.  Brilliantly, Romney’s conditions are not his own – he is merely asking Trump to follow through on his very own promise to release his tax returns.

So far, Romney’s prediction has proven true:  Trump has done nothing about releasing his tax returns, which tells us ever more about his relationship with the truth.  For he is using flimsy excuses to defy a convention in place since Gerald Ford released his tax return in 1976, to help restore faith in government damaged by the tax evasion of none other than…Richard Nixon.

Posted in brand messaging, key messaging, personal branding, reason to believe | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Henein’s Heels: What’s Your Verdict?

 [Cache #231]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

“Best. Cache. Ever.”

I will gloat for a moment about this three-word email, sent to me by a longtime (female) reader, about my blog on the powerful personal brand of Ghomeshi lawyer Marie Henein (The Stiletto-Sharp Brand of Marie Henein – Cache #229).  But only for a moment, because other women really didn’t like the post at all, and two of them in particular let me know it.  And they used considerably more than three words to let me know it.

This stark dichotomy of opinion is very unusual.  Readers either by and large like a post (in which case a percentage will tell me), or they don’t like a post (in which case they say nothing, except for my mother).  This time, two women (not including my mother) – whom I know quite well and highly respect – made a special point of taking me to task for focusing, in their view, too much on Marie Henein’s attire and sexuality.

So I’m getting the feeling that this is a contentious issue.  And frankly, I wish more people would take the time to disagree with what they read here, because it enriches the inquiry and helps everyone, myself included, arrive at a deeper level of understanding about branding.

These two readers asked me some quite similar rhetorical questions.  For example:

“Do you think you would have placed as much emphasis on the cut of Eddie Greenspan’s or Clayton Ruby’s suits?  Do you think their ‘presence’ (or style) contribute/d as much to their reputation or to their success? …I wonder if we need to offer as much weight to the aesthetic aspect.”

“…It’s all about her competence and ruthlessness, not her femininity.  Think about whether you would use the same language to describe a male lawyer.  If you wouldn’t use that kind of language, why use it here?”

“She’s a brilliant shark, an amazing lawyer that I would absolutely want on my side if I go to court – whether her genitals are inside or outside of her body!”

You can read the full blog on Henein here.  In short, my view is that Marie Henein has been very deliberate and successful at making her appearance and attire a powerful part of her personal brand – all in addition to the most important parts of her brand, which are her renowned brilliance, high-profile mentors and clients, and legal victories.  And if a male lawyer dressed and styled himself in a way that powerfully differentiated him, that would be worthy of note as well.

To address one of the comments above, Eddie Greenspan was not known for dashing attire, but clothing was still part of his brand:  he was sometimes referred to as “rumpled,” which contributed to the man’s professorial, learned, tough, extremely hard-working aura.

On the other hand, the flamboyant suits and ties of Johnnie Cochran, one of O.J. Simpson’s lawyers, were often mentioned in the press.  In this piece from 1995, the outfits of both Cochran and prosecutor Marcia Clark were parsed in detail – it being the explicit opinion of the writer and experts that these lawyers were making very specific sartorial choices in order to convey a very specific tone.

I’m very interested in hearing your views on this issue.  Is appearance and attire part of one’s personal brand, or not?  Should it be?  Is there a double standard for women vs. men?  Leave a comment just below – or if you don’t see a comment field, go to the top of this post and click “Leave a comment.”

With thanks -

Posted in brand character, brand differentiation, personal branding, remark-able | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The One Question SickKids Must Ask

[Cache #230]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

I sat down at my computer ready to tell you that SickKids, otherwise known as The Hospital for Sick Children, should not change its name, period.  That it should completely ignore the online petition started by a Toronto life coach.

But the issue is more complicated than that.

The argument in favour of a name change is that children are very susceptible to suggestion, and therefore internalize the idea that because they are at SickKids, they are sick – which impedes their recovery, as opposed to a name that focuses on healing or is neutral.  This does seem to make some sense.

The main counterargument is that SickKids would be turning its back on decades of brand awareness – brand equity – built around the globe.  That a name change would substantially diminish the awareness of people – among them the donors, parents, and highly-talented medical professionals SickKids would like to attract – who know the SickKids name and respect the institution highly.  And that this would cost the hospital, and by extension the kids, dearly.

Think of the fundraising implications.  Ted Garrard, President & CEO of SickKids Foundation, told me in a 2012 interview (see it here on page 6) that since 2009, the Foundation had raised $300-million.  This is a truly mind-boggling amount of money.  It is attributable in large part to the Foundation’s board – one of the most talented and esteemed boards you will ever see – the members themselves attracted to SickKids because it is one of Canada’s strongest brands, a bona fide brand juggernaut, which goes hand-in-glove with having one of the country’s most recognizable names.

If you change the name, you will create confusion in the minds of the top-flight medical talent and donors – along with potential board members – the hospital needs to take care of the children.  Because $300-million is a lot of money, but it’s still not nearly enough to save all the kids.

There is also the argument, expressed by opponents of the online petition, that the very considerable amount of money required to change the name, and then promulgate it, would be far better spent on helping kids get better.

Here’s the brand maxim most pertinent in this case:  The only thing harder than building a brand in the first place is trying to change one.

Just ask The Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, which launched in 1947 and changed its name to the Canadian Centre for Diversity (CCD) in 2007.  By 2013, having lost many Jewish donors, they shuttered their educational programs – admitting that “the change wasn’t handled well.”  Although the charity was revived the following year, their new leader acknowledged that “there are definitely some people we won’t get back.  It’s not that they stopped giving, it’s just that they stopped giving to us.”

It is important to note that the CCD changed not only its name, but also its mandate, creating a double-whammy of brand inconsistency.  SickKids would not be changing its mandate…but would it?  People will wonder.  They will wonder if the renamed organization still aligns with their values, and thus if it deserves their money and time.

There is another key angle to consider:  what level of awareness could be created by a name change itself?  For many years, the NFL’s Washington Redskins have been under intense pressure, from First Nations groups, to change their name. Were the Redskins to finally relent, it would yield a priceless amount of positive media coverage.  However, SickKids as a name is not even remotely as hot-button an issue as Redskins, and thus a new name for the hospital would not earn the same league of attention.

This is a highly nuanced issue.  And yet it is not.  Because any decision, although it should take into account all of the above and more, must answer just a single question:  what’s best for the kids?

PS: Any organizer of such a petition would give their cause more credibility if they knew the correct name of Ontario’s premier (it’s Kathleen, not Katherine) and how to spell words such as neuroscientist (not nuero-scientist) and molecules (not molecues), etc.

PPS: And here is a petition to not change the name.

Posted in brand names, consistency, non-profit branding, rebranding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Stiletto-Sharp Brand of Marie Henein

[Cache #229]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

“…Ghomeshi’s lawyer strides up the centre aisle to the defence table, sweeping past in a stunning black dress and designer jacket like some exotic import from Suits.  A slash of scarlet lipstick hints at her sense of showmanship, and the brisk clip of her black patent stilettos leaves no doubt about her flinty reputation.  Without uttering a word, Marie Henein commands the room.”  

As epitomized by this thoroughly delicious writing of Toronto Life’s Marci McDonald, the media, legal community and wider public has an almost fetishistic fascination with Henein, lead defence counsel in what has become the highly sensational sexual assault trial in Toronto of former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi.

A former client compared her to Hannibal Lecter.
The Toronto Star has her striding ”across the courtroom in heels that thump ominously, like a hungry T-Rex.”
The Globe and Mail has her ”smacking her lips” with anticipation.
She “demolishes” witnesses.

Whatever you may think of her intense questioning of Ghomeshi’s accusers on the witness stand, who among you – if you are trying to get ahead in your career – would not want such a powerful presence in your realm of endeavour?  In other words, who wouldn’t want such a potent personal brand?

How Did She Do It?
Here’s what we can learn from Henein’s triumph as one of the most distinct and powerful personal brands to emerge in many years (it doesn’t even matter if Ghomeshi is convicted, by the way: she has established her brand so clearly and distinctly, not even losing this case can significantly damage it).  It all comes down to Henein’s complete mastery of these five personal branding principles:

1. Talent
Henein was a star from square one.  She graduated from Toronto’s prestigious Osgoode Hall Law School and was chosen immediately in 1989 by one of Canada’s most prominent lawyers, Alan Young, on what has been described as the most important case of his career to that point.  Shortly thereafter she went to work with Canada’s most respected, highest-profile criminal defence lawyer, period:  the legendary Eddie Greenspan.

To the National Post, she is ”ferociously capable.”  To the Toronto Star, she is a ”freakishly gifted trial lawyer.”  To the Globe and Mail, she has “prodigious legal talents.”  Another prominent defence lawyer, Jonathan Rosenthal, said before start of trial that Ghomeshi “will be very, very well represented.”

This lady is good.  As anyone – if they want a killer personal brand – must be.

2. The Halo Effect
A huge part of Henein’s brand strength comes from her affiliation with the tremendously strong brands of others.  The legal luminaries she’s worked with are a crucial component of her brand narrative.  Then come the prominent brands of her high-profile clients, including Ghomeshi of course, along with former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan, former Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant, rapper Ja Rule and even the lady who threw a drink at ex-Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

The big takeaway is this:  like brands attract.  If you hope to do any sort of work with people of accomplishment, you yourself must exude big-time brand strength.

3. Distinctiveness
Henein’s personal style – from her nonplussed facial expression, to her chic clothing, to her hair and makeup – is a constant theme in media coverage of her.  And of course, there are the heels – always the heels.

Does any of this focus on Henein’s looks mean we don’t take her seriously?  Of course not.  This is a woman who is taken extremely seriously on every level.  Her big brain will always be her most important brand attribute, but her style brings her trademark incisiveness visually to life.  What would happen to your opinion of the Starbucks brand if the coffee and service were kept exactly the same, but the stores were made to look like Dunkin’ Donuts?  Exactly:  their entire promise would be much less believable.

A distinctive look matters.  A lot.  This is wonderful news for anyone looking to build their personal brand, because virtually everyone looks the same, regardless of industry.  In the notoriously conservative legal community, Henein has decided to smash the “rule” against distinctiveness with highly differentiated marketing materials, most notably the photography she’s had done for her firm – referred to in the Huffington Post as “straight out of an HBO miniseries.”

4. Consistency
Despite the importance of visuals to your personal brand, a brand is not – as very commonly believed – a logo or a website or a business card or any other marketing piece.  Instead, it is what people think of you.  That’s why the number one rule of branding is this:  be consistent.  Because if you’re not consistent, people won’t know what to think.

Over the course of a more-than 25-year career, Henein has demonstrated awe-inspiring consistency in terms of taking and winning high-profile cases and rubbing shoulders with prominent lawyers and clients.  Her distinctive personal style has been a more recent endeavour, something she has clearly mastered by gracing the courtroom steps each morning of the Ghomeshi trial with what appears to be the exact same polished, precise look.

But let’s be clear:  Henein’s high heels wouldn’t mean a thing if she didn’t win, and win a lot.

5. Time
Henein did exactly none of this overnight.  Her career began in the 1980s.  She did not truly break through in the public consciousness for 20 years, with her defence of Michael Bryant in the death of bike courier Darcy Sheppard, in 2009.

Which confirms that branding is a process, not an event.  So:  start now.

Posted in brand character, brand differentiation, consistency, personal branding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments