You Deserve Better

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

In the season of the summer read, perhaps the most important story you could consider is your own.  What is it, exactly?  And how well or poorly are you telling it?

If we are honest with ourselves, there is almost always a gap between what we want our brand story to be, and the way it’s actually being communicated.  The antidote to this brand gap, as straightforward as it is difficult, is superior talent and execution.

Just ask Ontario.  If you’ve seen the new video ads run by the province’s tourism commission, I don’t need to tell you how stunningly remarkable they are.

How so?


The product hasn’t changed:  Ontario is still Ontario.   But wait:  these ads actually have the audacity to not show the CN Tower.  To not show Parliament.  To not show Niagara Falls or the Blue Jays.  These ads show none of that – at least not in a way that is instantly identifiable.   And so the campaign’s tagline:  Where am I?

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These ads, executed with a goosebumpingly-high level of expertise, make Ontario look like a place you’ve never been before.  Ontario’s slogan, Yours to Discover, has adorned its license plates since 1982.  But this is the first time in those 34 years that the province’s promotions have really knocked that core promise out of the park.

This is the first time the brand story has been masterfully well told.

Don’t wait that long.

Posted in brand advertising, brand positioning, brand promise, brand stories, country branding, key messaging, positioning, remark-able, taglines | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brand Suicide of Black Lives Matter

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

The Canadian arm of Black Lives Matter has just declared Toronto mayor John Tory a non-person.  It is an absurdly ironic move for an organization that, in its American iteration at least, is doing the painstaking work of waking the white community up – from a slumber several hundred years long – to the fact that the lives of US blacks are indeed worth less than their Caucasian counterparts.

Tory’s crime was to write a letter supporting future participation by the Toronto Police in the Pride parade, against the backdrop of BLM’s demand that police floats be banned.  In response, BLM told Tory to “stay in his lane” and that “we are not interested in his sound bites…we are not interested in his vapid interests in the community.”

And also:  “We want to make it very clear to Mayor Tory … that this is an issue between the LGBT community, the black community, Pride and the community at large.”

There is an obvious logical contradiction in a statement that the mayor of Toronto is the only person in Toronto without a right to speak on an issue that affects Toronto.  But that wasn’t the meaning intended by BLM anyway.  The intended meaning was that any prominent person who disagrees with BLM is a non-person.  One who should shut his or her mouth.  And that should concern us all.

A brand is what people think of you, and last week the Canadian arm of BLM proved itself highly effective at creating brand awareness, despite what one may think of its tactics.  This week, however, they have quite likely committed brand suicide by ridiculously denigrating the integrity of the first non-black recipient of a Harry Jerome award, the premier recognition bestowed by the African-Canadian community.

John Tory also happens to be universally recognized as one of the most decent, thoughtful, honest and caring civic leaders anywhere.  That’s his brand, and it’s solid as rock.  And it is transcendent:  it matters not whether a given Torontonian voted for him, because people everywhere in this city will speak out to defend not just his right but his obligation to speak on behalf of everyone who lives here.

How can the Canadian division of Black Lives Matter save itself?  By cashing in its brand awareness.  It has obviously got our attention.  Just as obviously, it cannot continue to alienate the key players from whom it seeks action and change.  Cashing in its awareness means compromising on its positions, as in withdrawing its demand for no future police floats – something that costs BLM nothing because there is absolutely no way that Pride and the city are going to abide by that demand anyway.  And it means a real apology to John Tory, not one of those weasel-worded “if you were offended” numbers.

Why should we care if BLM saves itself?  Because, especially set against the horrifying events in the United States, we should be very carefully examining the scope of racism, in our police forces and in the broader public, here.  BLM may have valid points to make.  If only it could let us see them, by getting out of its own way.

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Brexit Bloody Well On-Brand

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

What the Brits have done is simply live up to their brand:  scrappy and strong, fiercely independent, confident beyond compare and utterly unique.

And let’s face it:  they didn’t leave Europe, they never joined it.  Their national mindset has always been one of apartness and singularity, their separation from the continent just as much a state of mind as the very real and cold physicality of the English Channel.

It is not trite but true:  they are an island unto themselves.  Perhaps they are naifs in our fundamentally evermore connected world – as rollercoastering financial markets, all around the globe, proved overnight and continue to demonstrate today.

But perhaps not.

Either way – because they’re perhaps the clearest, most consistent country brand in the world – we bloody well should have known.

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The Happiest Place on Earth

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Disney’s tagline, The Happiest Place on Earth, is the world’s biggest, boldest brand promise.  

People come from all around the planet to experience that promise.  Especially families.  And even more especially, children – for whom there cannot possibly be a parental announcement more exciting than of an upcoming Disney cruise or theme park visit. 

Three days ago, Disney failed on its promise in the most unimaginably horrible way.

Two-year old Lane Graves of Nebraska was with his family, on the beach of a man-made lagoon inside Disney World in Orlando, watching the outdoor screening of a movie.  Lane was playing at the water’s edge.  An alligator appeared and dragged him to his death.  His father fought the animal to no avail.

I am not an alligator expert.  I look to reports from CNN and the Washington Post, which articulate that:

-Florida has more alligators, more than one million, than any other US state.

-Floridians know that gators are a constant threat, and that extreme caution must be exercised when near almost any body of water.  “The danger is so ingrained in the general public that many small bodies of water lack posted warnings.”

-There were signs on the beach that said “No Swimming,” but there were no signs warning about alligators.

-There has not been a fatal alligator attack at Disney World in the park’s 50 years of existence.

For me, the bottom line is this:  with the world’s biggest brand promise comes the world’s biggest responsibility to deliver on it.  Disney does not have an average, typical or normal level of responsibility to ensure the safety of its customers.  Instead, a higher standard applies, because it is a superlative proposition – happiest on earth – upon which the organization trades, to the point of building a behemoth valued at $160 billion and in the world’s top three media companies.

This higher standard would apply even if every one of their customers were from the state of Florida.  Which they are not.  Between 18% and 22% of the 52 million people who visit Disney World each year are from outside the United States.  That’s in the area of 10 million people – setting aside the surely even larger cohort that comes from other US states.  Put simply, Disney was built and thrives upon people who come from away.

These tourists, like Tyler and his family from the Midwest, cannot be expected to possess – to repeat, like every Floridian does – a hard-wired awareness that one must always beware of gators, especially near the water.  Their ignorance is even more understandable in the absence of explicit warning signs or messages on a man-made beach, on a man-made lagoon, on the grounds of the very organization – Disney – ­that has the world’s strongest reputation for delivering an unparalleled experience, one based on crossing every imaginable t and dotting every imaginable i.

Of doing everything imaginable to deliver happiness.

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

For my money, it was one of the best newspaper headlines ever written.  Anyone passingly familiar with the songs of the Tragically Hip will instantly recognize it as one of the band’s biggest hits, and anyone who has ever heard of Gord Downie – which is pretty much every Canadian, now – will instantly feel its bittersweet and profound depth of meaning.

Why is this headline so great?  Because it is so true.  And because it sums up an entire life, and the music of that life, and the joy that that music has brought into millions of other lives, in one word.

Continue reading

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Sophie Scares Us

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Sophie’s crime?  Being popular.  And beautiful.  And articulate, stylish, pleasant, warm and giving.  

In sum, she has a strong personal brand, one that rubs some people the wrong way.  

Because she is Canadian, after all, in a country deeply conflicted about success.  

And she is merely a wife.

So here must be our new mission statement:  Keep Sophie down.  

How many administrative staff does she have?  Imagine, for a moment, nothing.  Nothing.

Now, add one to it.

There.  Now you have the total number of admin staff that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has working for her.  Well, you may be saying, the increase from zero to one is in fact an infinite increase in staff, because zero is nothing.  And nobody, certainly not the unelected spouse of an elected, big-elbowed leader, deserves an infinite increase in staff (especially if I didn’t vote for him).  Do you think I can’t add or something?

Ditto for a 100% increase, from one body to two, which is what Sophie had the ridiculous temerity to ask for.

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These are the kinds of attitudes that keep a country small.  That keep its brand, being what people think of it, small.  And let’s not kid ourselves:  we don’t matter for nearly as much as we think we do.  Jeffrey Simpson has been the Globe and Mail’s top national affairs columnist since at least I was a teenager, and last week he wrote about an international “Best Countries” survey that placed Canada’s brand as #2 in the world.  As very strong on many dimensions including human rights, and as best in the world on quality of life.

But as Simpson reports, the survey also finds us to be “nowhere in having an international cultural impact [and] a terrible 3.1 out of 10 for being a world ‘leader.’”

And then Simpson says this:  ”These and many other surveys of Canada’s small impact in the world, alas, will not change the citizens’ sense of Canada as a moral superpower.”

So true.  Canada’s high sense of self-regard is, on some dimensions, vastly disconnected from its brand as perceived by the rest of the world.  Could this be because we are not willing to do things that greatness requires?  Like nudging up spending on defence (in which we earned 0.5 points out of 10), an area in which Simpson points out we’re a well-known “free rider”?

Fine.  That is never going to happen. But how about spending somewhere, I would imagine, between fifteen and fifty thousand dollars a year on a second admin assistant for someone whose help the people of Canada are clamouring to acquire?  So she can say “yes” to as many as possible of the speaking requests that are pouring in, from charitable organizations hoping she will help raise money, so they can do their important work?

Or is she just too good for us?

PS See this excerpt from “The Hacking of Tall Poppy Sophie Grégoire Trudeau,” by the CBC’s Neil Macdonald:

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Joy at Indigo: Reisman’s Brand Reciprocity

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

All too often, customer service sucks.  Especially in Canada.  Recently I was reacquainted with this conviction after a particular restaurant experience – but instead of deciding to write on this topic again (see If You Don’t Like Customers…), I became determined to think of an organization that delivers a stellar customer experience, and write about them.

I did not have to ponder very long.  For when I think about brilliant customer experience, there is a name that comes to mind instantly, and it is Indigo.

In truth, I have not marvelled very long at how remark-ably friendly and courteous and helpful the staff are at Indigo, which positions itself as Canada’s largest book, gift and specialty toy retailer.  Or at how incredibly consistently this is the case (I cannot think of a single instance over my many years of going to their stores in which I felt let down).  Only in the past few years has the full quality of the experience truly registered with me, because the experience has always been so good:  the experience of being a customer at Indigo is like being a fish in water.

How do they do it, when so many others – most others – fail?  It’s because of this reciprocal relationship:  ”Our commitment to adding joy to our customers’ lives makes Indigo a phenomenal place to work for our employees, as well.”  These are the words last week of Indigo Founder and CEO Heather Reisman, as she accepted recognition for her company from Randstad Canada as this year’s top employer brand in Canadian retail, and also as first in offering “a pleasant working atmosphere for employees.”

Note the phrase “adding joy to our customers’ lives” in Ms. Reisman’s remarks.  These words weren’t hastily cobbled together for the purposes of a press release.  They come directly from the Indigo Customer Promise, which you may recognize as being very much like a core purpose or why statement:  ”We exist to add a little joy to our customers’ lives, each time they interact with us or our products.”

The Customer Promise is one element among four main brand foundation components – the others being a mission, vision and beliefs – found on the Indigo website.  Anyone can slap together some convincing language and paste it online, but it’s an entirely different thing to, like Indigo, actually live your brand day after day, year after year, by embedding it into the way you do business.

Three months ago I had the pleasure of a chat with Colleen Logan, the manager of Indigo’s flagship store at Bay and Bloor in downtown Toronto.  Colleen confirmed that great customer experience is absolutely no accident.  In her hiring process, she looks strictly for people who fit the brand foundation.  And – in a strong sign that Ms. Reisman has self-appointed as CBO and perpetuated brand discipline throughout the organization – especially for people who can deliver on customer joy.  Colleen says she can tell in the first couple of minutes.

Potential hires are run through a group audition process that includes a roleplay.  What specifically is she watching for?  ”I look for people who are passionate and energetic.  And that truly want to be with people.  If you want to be in retail then you need to love the customer experience.  Without the customer, we wouldn’t have jobs.”

Obvious?  To most organizations, apparently not.  Making Reisman’s realization – that to receive, one must give – a great gift to branders everywhere.

Posted in brand culture, brand experience, brand foundation, consistency, internal branding, mission statements, mission/vision/values | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Earls: An Apology Well Done

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By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Here’s something you probably didn’t know two weeks ago:  that Earls has been trying hard to serve only Certified Humane beef in its restaurants.

But now, in all likelihood, you do.  And that’s all the evidence we need to declare Earls’ brand “blunder” to be, in fact, a major victory.

That’s the upshot of what I told Paul Haavardsrud of CBC Radio One in an interview yesterday, available here on Dropbox (my bit starts at 1:55). 

As you know, two weeks ago Earls announced they would no longer serve Canadian beef – because Canada (said Earls) couldn’t produce enough that met the standard of Certified Humane.  Instead, Earls would source its beef from the US, which could provide enough of the good stuff.

Alberta farmers became, to put it mildly, rather upset.  They rallied on social media and called for a boycott.  And then yesterday, Earls president Mo Jessa released a video in which he gave an obviously authentic, heartfelt and unequivocal apology for turning his back on Canadian beef.  He said Earls would do everything in its power to get Canadian product back in its restaurants as soon as possible.

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It was a brand masterstroke.  For Earls is now clearly positioned as the Canadian leader when it comes to ethically sourced beef, an issue of rapidly increasing importance to consumers.  Provided they work in good faith with the Canuck cattle farmers to up the supply of Certified Humane, Earls can own the position over the very long term.

So how did they manage to make filet out of chuck?  And how did they manage not to blow this golden opportunity, as so many organizations would have?

It all comes down to these key components of an apology well done:

1.They apologized quickly. 

The farmers had organized on social media, yes, but at least they hadn’t had the time to blockade Earls’ restaurants with their tractors.  Taking too long to admit an error – or even denying that an error has been made (hello Chris Colabello) is one of the biggest mistakes a brand can make.

2.It wasn’t that big of a deal anyway. 

Well…this one might be pure luck.  Or great brand management.  Either way, Earls’ error just wasn’t that egregious in the first place.  In fact, it could easily be argued that Earls was trying to do something noble by pursuing the Certified Humane standard.

 3.They meant it.

President Jessa didn’t do one of these weasel-worded “if you were offended” routines.  From his words, and from his body language, it was easily apparent that he really did feel bad about it.

It’s a flip flop with fascinating effect.  Because ethically sourced beef was not, two weeks ago, a component of the Earls’ brand proposition.  Now it is – and the Earls brand stands for much more in May than it did in April.

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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

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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.

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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

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