Blasphemy Alert: Uber Is Overrated

[Cache #227]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Please forgive me.  But I just don’t think Uber is that great.  This will shock my dad, to whom I have been defending Uber as a beacon of free enterprise and an often refreshing antidote to the cab companies’ filthy cars and gruff drivers with body odour and breath that could stop traffic.

The cabbies who typically have between little and no idea where a particular address is, even if it’s a 65-storey building with “Trump” plastered on top, and who cannot be troubled to lift a finger to their GPS and find out where the impossible-to-miss landmark just might be.

My Uber ambivalence may also shock a certain politically-seasoned cousin, who sees the service as a game-changing tool of public policy for the way it single-handedly boosts employment, kills gridlock and saves the environment (and I’m sure does much more), by matching the empty seats in anyone’s car to the people who want to sit in them.

And my Uber uncertainty makes me sound not just like a crank but also like a pitiable Luddite to a certain technology-minded old buddy, who whisks around his large family with UberXL, the sub-brand that provides SUVs for hire.

And it’s easy, so they say.  And cheaper.

Let’s focus on ease for a moment.  When I am in the downtown of my home city, which is where I usually am and which is where thousands of Uber cars are, I raise my hand in the air and a traditional cab almost always shows up in somewhere between 10 seconds and two minutes.  Uber takes longer in this circumstance, because I cannot raise my hand in the air and get an Uber car to pull over, because Uber cars are unmarked.  Instead, I have to use my phone’s Uber app to order the car with a few finger taps (I usually select UberX, Uber’s lowest-cost sub-brand).

Easy enough.  But the car will never show up in ten seconds from the moment I decide I need a ride, and the ETA provided by the Uber app is almost always pure fiction.  It will say “two minutes,” for example, for a lot longer than two minutes.  And the cute icon shown on my screen, which purportedly shows the precise location of the car that’s coming for me, is likewise a fantasy.  If the icon is to be believed, my driver is rarely more than a few blocks away, yet for whatever reason he chooses to drive forward for a little while, and then in reverse for a little while, and back and forth in this manner until he finally gets here at two to five times the promised length of time.

Or not at all.  Recently I waited at home for approximately 15 minutes for one of these two-minute show-ups.  I phoned the driver to see what was up (with Uber you can call or text the driver!).  He did not answer.  Finally, I received a message from Uber that told me my driver would not be showing up.  That my order had been cancelled.

Cancelled?  What is that?  I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

A variation of these events has happened a number of times.  Likewise there have been drivers who can’t find my place, despite my street number being posted on a huge sign for all to see.

Is Uber cheaper?  I actually haven’t noticed.  I tend to be less price sensitive because I am more concerned about being picked up when and where I ask to be.

Recently I suggested to an audience that there are no products, and there are no services.  There are only experiences.  Brand experiences.  Uber fits this paradigm perfectly.  With Uber, the experience is supposed to be everything.  But all too often, the experience is nothing less than a hassle, albeit a hassle wrapped up in a sexy, alluring package that creates the illusion we’re in control.

I know.  This all sounds blasphemous and cranky.  It even makes me feel old, and to even further date myself, I will confess that last night I used this thing called a “telephone” and called a cab company.  They answered after a few rings.  I spoke precisely these words (although I’m giving you a fake address): “123 Main Street, please.”  To which the voice on the other end replied, “Five to ten minutes.”  Then we each said ”Thank you” and hung up.  Then the car showed up on time, without calling me first (like Uber drivers often do) to ask for directions.

It just doesn’t get any easier than that.  Even though the service still can, too often, stink.

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Lift’s Bliss

[Cache #226]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Consistency is a killer.

What I mean is that being consistent – which means doing the same thing, in the same way, for a very long period of time, without significant breakdowns – is extremely difficult to do.  It can be a royal pain.  Anyone who’s ever owned a gym membership knows it.  Or who’s tried to stay on a diet, quit smoking, raise children, work hard on their career or deliver their blog on a Friday instead of a Saturday.

Problem is, inconsistency is an even bigger killer.  Well, maybe it won’t actually kill us or our ability to pursue our passions, but it will ensure we never get very good at them.  Ask Jim Collins, author of the classic Good to Great and the world’s most-read management guru with over 10 million books sold.  He wanted to know the secret to the success of a handful of public companies whose stock price outperformed the market not by 5% or 10%, but by 1000%.  Ten times.

As mentioned in Cache #113, from Collins’ massive research came this simple conclusion:  ”The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”  The very small group of companies that outperformed the market by 10 times – the “10x-ers,” he calls them – adopted a clear strategy and stuck with it for decades.  Everyone else kept changing their plan.  And their stock price, while it might even spike from time to time and give the illusion of success, ultimately performed to the average.  To the mediocre.

Lift Salon and Spa, on Toronto’s Queen Street, is not a public company as far as I know, but nevertheless it does not have this problem.  Co-owners Heidi and Stracey have made it a paragon of consistency.  The service I received when Heidi started cutting my hair, 10 years ago, is the same service I receive now.  Ten years ago, I was offered tea when I arrived.  Today I was offered tea when I arrived.  Ten years ago, Heidi had among the most beautifully warm auras you could ever imagine – as she did today.  And she happens to cut my hair perfectly the way I want it, every single time.

I have heard that she can, on rare occasions, get “hangry,” but this is only a rumour, and given my profession and my secure knowledge that Heidi is adored by everyone, I simply respect “hangry” as both a clever portmanteau of hungry and angry and a love tap from her staff.  Of course, I usually get my hair cut after lunch.

But what I really want to talk about is Lift’s bathroom.  Just like today, ten years ago there was a discreet but deliberately-placed sign in it, a proclamation that Lift believes in bathroom bliss.  And that if the bathroom is not in a blissful state, you are to please speak with one of the staff, and they will immediately make it so.  We have all seen this type of sign before, and almost without exception it is total BS, but not at Lift.  The bathroom was spotless and perfectly-appointed a decade ago, and so it was today.

Stracey and Heidi

Why?  Is the Lift staff constantly in the can, blissing it out, as opposed to cutting and styling hair and otherwise lavishing their customers with attention?  No.  I can’t say I have ever seen a member of the staff blissing out the bathroom.  I think the staff must prep it before and/or after the workday, but I think it’s the clients that keep it clean ongoing.  I know I do.

I haven’t spoken with many of those clients, but from the harmony you feel upon entering the place, it is obvious they have fully bought-in to what Heidi and Stracey are doing.  It is obvious – from the daily state of the shop and from the terrific success of their annual fundraisers and special events – that clients have long made a distinct point of helping Lift up.  As have the staff.  Heidi happened to say today that she and Stracey were lucky to have the staff they do.

I don’t think luck has much to do with any of it.  I think that only years of consistent leadership – especially when it’s done with such apparent grace – can be the cause of everyone in Lift’s universe doing everything they can to build brand bliss.


Posted in brand culture, brand experience, consistency, customer service | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coming This Year: A New Chapter

[Cache #225]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Hola from Havana, Cuba, where I am enduring a two-week sequester to write a new book.

Conditions have been challenging. Yesterday it was so cold I had to turn the fan off.  Today they were out of the veggie sandwich, which I probably wouldn’t have eaten anyway.

I have been writing in various locations, including in the bar of the hotel where Hemingway wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls.

I have no illusions about being a Hemingway, but surely the karma of this proximity to greatness cannot be a bad thing.  His aura permeates Habana Vieja (Old Havana).  At the melodiously-named Floridita, Hemingway was such a fixture, he is now permanently so – in the form of a bronze statue of him, leaning against the bar.

And I will not be writing about the Spanish Civil War, but about personal branding – a “how-to” on building your very own brand foundation.  From working with clients for 13 years and from my personal experiences, a set of beliefs has taken shape:

-That ultimately what we want as humans is to be valued by others.  It is this appreciation that gives meaning to our lives.
-That every person has a unique gift to offer the world, and has the right to experience the thrill of sharing it.
-That a personal brand foundation is a powerful tool for articulating and sharing this uniqueness.
-That people can, with the kind of instruction found in a book, write a powerful brand foundation for themselves.


For me, this last realization, arrived at in the last year, is the most exciting.  It means that I can help people build their brand without ever meeting them.  And larger than that, it means I can conduct workshops with sizeable groups of executives and other professionals – and have every attendee walk out, in a single day, with their very own personal brand foundation.

This second point has the potential to transform my business.  I conducted some of these workshops in 2015, and they were a great success.  I was completely blown away by the compelling position statements and other elements that these individuals wrote for themselves once given a template.

This does not mean I will be doing any less work in what have been my two interconnected niches:  brand foundations and name development, both at the corporate level.  It does mean that I will be expanding upon the approach I have brought to the approximately 100 personal branding clients I have served to date.

Just as this book is about helping others build their personal brands, it is also about me building mine and by extension, that of Coin.  I have been telling clients and readers for years about the importance of having, as we call them in branding, reasons to believe.  Just as we believe WestJet cares because they are owners, and that Volvo builds safe cars because they’ve been obsessed with it for 100 years, the book is an example of a powerful reason to believe that my team and I can deliver these workshops in the way promised.

I will be in touch in the coming months about publication timelines – and of course, the name.  For the moment, the piano player has started up with Strangers In The Night, and it is terribly distracting.  But I must soldier on.

IN THE MEDIA:  In the National Post re Amazon and Etsy; oCBC Radio One re Volkswagen; in the National Post re Mac’s convenience stores.
NEW VIDEO: Check out my presentation in Houston earlier this year (to client USG) on what a brand really is.  (For the abbreviated version, start at 3:45 and stop at about 6:00.  For the longer version, watch the whole thing.)

Coin Branding president Andris Pone is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1-bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo and appears as a branding expert on CBC’s The National, CBC Radio One, the Globe and Mail, National Post and other media outlets.

Posted in brand foundation, mission statements, mission/vision/values, personal branding, positioning, reason to believe, self-actualization | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Turn Over A New Leaf

[Cache #224]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

The New Year is here and opportunities abound.

Could this be the year to change your logo?  It could very well make a difference for your business, or for your hockey team (hello, Maple Leafs) – if, and only if, your brand (which is of course your culture) is capable of backing it up.

Or maybe this is the year to change your name.  Do it, Marine Le Pen, for it will be successful – only if you are committed to actually exorcising the demons from your party, as opposed to simply wanting to shed your ”demonized” image.

This could even be the year to change some or all elements of your brand foundation:  perhaps your core purpose statement, or your vision, or your tagline.  Go for it! – if you are fully willing to live it in everything you do, instead of paying it mere lip service.

For 2016 can be a year of great substance.

IN THE MEDIA:  In the National Post re Amazon and Etsy; oCBC Radio One re Volkswagen; in the National Post re Mac’s convenience stores.
NEW VIDEO: Check out my presentation in Houston earlier this year (to client USG) on what a brand really is.  (For the abbreviated version, start at 3:45 and stop at about 6:00.  For the longer version, watch the whole thing.)

Coin Branding president Andris Pone is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1-bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo and appears as a branding expert on CBC’s The National, CBC Radio One, the Globe and Mail, National Post and other media outlets.

Posted in brand culture, brand foundation, brand names, core purpose, key messaging, logos, mission statements, mission/vision/values, positioning, rebranding, taglines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fidelity, Sprott and The Brand Speedo

[Cache #223]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

What is a brand?  Usually when this question is asked, our answer is threefold:

-It’s what people (including you) think of you.
-It’s the culture of an organization.
-It’s not a logo or any other piece of marketing communication.

Yet some current brand campaigns are making clear, to our trio of definitions, some nuances:

-The brand of an organization is the sum total of its employees’ personal brands.
-The brand of just a single employee can comprise a highly disproportionate share of that total.

For is the organization the salient thing at all?  “Organization” is an important shorthand without which (I am discovering while trying to write this paragraph) it is difficult to communicate.  But organizations in and of themselves do not do anything.  It is the people within them that do something.

Two organizations in the investment advisory industry, by running well-executed brand campaigns that put the spotlight on star employees, seem to have seized upon this worldview at almost the same time.  This coincidence is remark-able, yet I submit the most remark-able thing is that these campaigns are well done – considering that individuals and organizations in the investment advisory industry generally have wonderful potential to improve their branding.

The two investment advisory firms currently doing it well are Fidelity and Sprott, both of which are trumpeting the personal brands of star employees.  Sprott’s star is Dennis Mitchell, described by Investment Executive as a “star investment fund portfolio manager.”

Fidelity’s star is Joel Tillinghast, described by SmartMoney Magazine as one of the “world’s greatest investors.” Joel is such a star that Fidelity’s campaign drives us to Joel’s very own website,

These campaigns are strategically bold because they invest so heavily in one employee, which is a highly differentiated approach from that traditionally followed, which is to focus on the sum total strength of the brand – the organizational brand, in other words.  The boldness of this strategy also derives from the fact that it is very risky:  if the star employee has a bad year, so does the brand of the entire firm.

Could this bold strategy be executed to an even higher level of excellence?  There is room for improvement in any campaign.  Consider this question and answer on Joel’s website:

“Why Joel?  Joel’s philosophy is based on instinct, hands-on management and quantitative research that identifies opportunities others often overlook….In simple terms, Joel looks for companies that have a stock price that reflect a lower value than the company is actually worth.”

This messaging does not convey something truly different about Joel’s investment approach.  I emphasize convey because we can not expect Joel to give away his secret sauce for free, and it is not unreasonable to believe that Joel is an investing genius with a one-of-a-kind approach that will make us all a ton of money.  I am just saying that the message being conveyed to the public is not differentiated, and Fidelity could rewrite the copy in a way that expresses Joel’s true difference.

Why are Fidelity and Sprott relying so heavily on one particular employee?  It could relate to the fact that it’s been so tough to make money in the stock market lately.  The Dow Jones, for example, increased by more than four times between 1990 and 2000, but by only 1.5 times since then.  The pressure is on advisory firms to convey how they’re different – different meaning better – than the next firm.  And while there are a large number of firms in the industry, there are a far larger number of people, meaning – given the infinite variety of human beings – a far larger array of ways in which to differentiate.

And so the key points:
-Your organization, being comprised of people, can differentiate by featuring the personal brands of those people, the key requirement of differentiation being being different.
-As said by legendary investor Warren Buffet, “You only find out who’s been swimming naked when the tide goes out.”  Any firm that makes a big bet on its stars, therefore, had best be suited up.

IN THE MEDIA THIS FALL:  In the National Post re Amazon and Etsy; oCBC Radio One re Volkswagen; in the National Post re Mac’s convenience stores.
NEW VIDEO: Check out my presentation in Houston earlier this year (to client USG) on what a brand really is.  (For the abbreviated version, start at 3:45 and stop at about 6:00.  For the longer version, watch the whole thing.)

Coin Branding president Andris Pone is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1-bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo and appears as a branding expert on CBC’s The National, CBC Radio One, the Globe and Mail, National Post and other media outlets.

Posted in brand advertising, brand copywriting, brand differentiation, brand messaging, insurance advisor series, key messaging, personal branding, positioning, remark-able | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Words Obama Needs To Say

[Cache #222]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Barack Obama, with the next presidential election less than a year away, is now what the Americans call a lame duck president.  Yet that positioning is very much inadequate to describe the distinct power held by a US president solely in the dying days of his office.

Lame duck refers to the notion that a president ineligible for re-election doesn’t have the power to get anything of substance done, either because he has indicated he will not run for a second term, or because he is completing his constitutionally-mandated two-term max.  Because no one will be beholden to him for another four or eight years, the theory goes, no one has to listen to him anymore (and in the American system and during the Obama presidency in particular, one must add:  if they ever did).

The president’s unique power at this time is the flip side of the lame duck proposition: because he will never again face voters in a general election, he can say pretty much whatever he wants.  Perhaps the classic example is the stark warning in 1961, given by President Eisenhower in his farewell address, to guard against the military-industrial complex, a term he is credited with coining.

That was 54 years ago.  To this day, the term is dominant in public thinking about the fearsome combined power of corporations and the US Defense Department.

And so the moment is at hand for Obama to say something truly bold in service of repositioning two phenomena that have in considerable measure defined his presidency – and impotence – on the home front.  The first is mass shootings, and the second is the excessive violence and killing inflicted on black Americans by their police forces.

As of two months ago, in 2015 there had been more mass shootings than there had been days (a mass shooting is defined as more than four people being shot in short succession).  CNN reported this week that there has been at least one mass shooting every week of Obama’s seven years and counting in office.

And as the Washington Post reports, black Americans – note, unarmed black Americans – are seven times more likely to be shot dead by police than unarmed white Americans.  Specifically, the Post says, fifteen of these unarmed black Americans were shot dead by police in the year following Michael Brown’s August, 2014 death in Ferguson.

There is fundamentally no sign whatsoever that either bloodbath is going to stop. There are plenty of signs, on the other hand, that a very bad situation is going to get much worse.

Words will definitely not be enough, but they can absolutely be a good start.  Obama’s opportunity is to explode a particular three sacred cows of the American mindset:

-The Civil War is over, and the North won.
-The only people degenerate enough to inflict war on Americans are non-Americans.
-An American president is never, ever to admit that America has any weakness.

And so the president should say:  ”America is at war with itself.”  Or even better:  ”This is America’s new Civil War.”

IN THE MEDIA THIS FALL:  In the National Post re Amazon and Etsy; oCBC Radio One re Volkswagen; in the National Post re Mac’s convenience stores.
NEW VIDEO: Check out my presentation in Houston earlier this year (to client USG) on what a brand really is.  (For the abbreviated version, start at 3:45 and stop at about 6:00.  For the longer version, watch the whole thing.)

Posted in brand names, key messaging, positioning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Fumble That Wasn’t

[Cache #221]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

“A colossal mistake, an enormous opportunity squandered.”

That’s what I wrote two-and-a-half years ago in this space in the process of lambasting the ownership of Ottawa’s new CFL football team for naming them the RedBlacks.  Just in case readers weren’t sure how I really felt, I helpfully entitled that blogpost ”The Ottawa RedBlacks:  Dead Team Walking.”  The full diatribe is here, and in essence I said that because the RedBlacks – an expansion team whose roster would be comprised of players the other teams didn’t want – would be worse than awful on the field, they needed every marketing advantage they could get.

They needed a name that fulfilled two especially crucial jobs done by all great names:  they are meaningful, and they create a system of language and experiences that can be leveraged to build more and more brand value over time.  Like the way in which the name Winnipeg Jets created the opportunity to hold an After Burner Social, or how fans of the Arizona Coyotes howl during games.  It all builds a network effect in which every component of the brand serves to build value in every other component.

And RedBlacks, I decreed, meant nothing to Ottawans and offered no platform upon which to build such a narrative.  Among other things, I suggested that the team’s new name could have drawn from Ottawa’s colourful origins as a logging town.

This seems like a good time to mention how right I was about Volkswagen’s “noxious admissions” scandal.  Over the past 30 months, I have not endured any worry about my RedBlacks prediction, but I almost immediately doubted the accuracy of my Volkswagen statement to CBC Radio made in September just past.

Essentially I said that the scandal wasn’t that big of a deal – that if VW fired the right people and did the right investigations and were transparent and open and fast, consumer confidence would come back quickly (although the stock price would take some serious time to do so).  But in the days after that statement, it became clear that geez, some customers were really upset about putting themselves out there as environmental champions and then being exposed as the worst polluters of any drivers on the (increasingly decrepit, thanks to them) planet.  So I started to doubt myself.

But then the news three weeks ago:  October sales went up compared to that month in 2014.  As a Verge columnist put it:

“There is a world in which consumers swiftly punish Volkswagen where it counts – the coffers – for its massive, systematic deception of the Environmental Protection Agency, in which it cheated its way around diesel emissions tests for half a decade.”

“This isn’t that world.”

Back to Ottawa, there’s a chance you’ve heard the RedBlacks are playing this Sunday in the CFL championship game, the Grey Cup.  This was not supposed to happen.  Expansion teams stink, and in their first season last year, the RedBlacks won a predictable two games and lost 16.  This year, however, they won 12 and lost six, and then won their conference final with a miraculous 93-yard touchdown with one minute left in the game.

Yet the real miracle is not that Ottawa made it to the end zone with time running out, but that the RedBlacks are in the Grey Cup at all. That’s not what the story is supposed to be for expansion teams with only one full season of existence under their belt.

So the RedBlacks are hardly a dead team walking.  And their name has ended up serving them very well, because ownership has injected it with meaning that was not obvious at first, which in turn created the platform for a system of language and experiences that fans have bought-in to big time.

The RedBlack concept, as it turns out, indeed derives from Ottawa’s lumber town past.  Red and black refer to the plaid colours of the classic lumberjack shirt.  So you have the team mascot, Big Joe, a tribute to Big Joe Montferrand, the French-Canadian lumberjack of 1800s lore and of a song by Stompin’ Tom Connors.  And you have fans dressing up like lumberjacks at the games (and even at their weddings).  And you have a team of forestry students from a nearby college on the sidelines who, when the RedBlacks score a touchdown, fire up their chainsaws and saw a logoed “wood cookie” from a giant log.

All of this is a good reminder that the quality of a brand name can not be judged in isolation.  That it can only be judged by how shrewdly – or as the RedBlacks would have it, how sharply – it is used.

IN THE MEDIA THIS FALL:  In the National Post re Amazon and Etsy; oCBC Radio One re Volkswagen; in the National Post re Mac’s convenience stores.
NEW VIDEO: Check out my presentation in Houston earlier this year (to client USG) on what a brand really is.  (For the abbreviated version, start at 3:45 and stop at about 6:00.  For the longer version, watch the whole thing.)

Coin Branding president Andris Pone is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1-bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo and appears as a branding expert on CBC’s The National, CBC Radio One, the Globe and Mail, National Post and other media outlets.

Posted in brand experience, brand names | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When People Laugh At Your Brand

[Cache #220]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

This seems a safe guess:  that most of us would rather not toil for years on defining a consistent brand in the marketplace, only to have it publicly mocked.

But sometimes – very rarely – the mockery is not mockery just for the sake of mockery.  It is in fact the highest form of respect that any individual or organizational brand can ever be paid.

We are not talking about, say, This Hour Has 22 Minutes making fun of Air Canada throwing their passengers’ luggage.  Because Air Canada has indeed been caught on video throwing their passengers’ luggage – and throwing luggage is a bad thing – that would be mockery for mockery, intended as an insult.  Rather, we are talking about someone making fun of your finest accomplishments, as The Onion, a satirical news outlet, has just done to Southwest Airlines.

Southwest is the airline that has received the fewest customer complaints of any US carrier since 1987.  In 2014, Fortune magazine named them one of America’s Most Admired Companies for the 20th consecutive year.  Also in 2014, Southwest enjoyed their 42nd straight year of profitability.  All the while, they have been recognized by top publications including Forbes and Glassdoor as one of America’s best companies to work for.

How, exactly, do you make fun of a brand with that kind of, well, brand?  You run a story entitled “Southwest Airlines Rolls Out New ‘Loyalty Goes Both Ways’ Campaign.”  As the video report explains, ”The friendly airline says that while they’re proud to have the most loyal customers in the business, it’s time to find out what their customers are willing to do for them.”

As a Southwest mechanic puts it, ”Over the years, we’ve asked for so little.”  A poised flight attendant continues:  ”Now I expect everyone who’s flown Southwest in the past five years to come to my house, and help me move this weekend.”

The most pressing appeal comes in a radio ad from the organization’s top dog.  ”Hi.  This is Southwest CEO Gary Kelly.  If my wife calls asking about me, I need you to lie and say I was with you.  Remember all those low fares I gave you.”

It’s been said that making the cover of Time or Rolling Stone is the ultimate sign that you’re a player – that your brand matters.  But maybe the ultimate recognition occurs when a publication like The Onion, which treats its targets entirely viciously with regularity – can only make fun of your strengths.

It’s not the moment to stop working, but it’s the moment you’ve truly arrived.

- See the Onion’s story here (warning: some foul language) - 

I was honoured to guest lecture at my alma mater, the Schulich School of Business, this week.  Thank you to the accomplished and inquisitive students in the fourth-year social media class of Aleem Visram.  My topic:  What A Brand Really Is, and How to Express Yours On LinkedIn.

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

Bleeding Black

[Cache #219]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

The Montreal Canadiens are off to an eye-popping start – one of the best in NHL history.  Having won 13 of their first 17 games, they are on pace to win 62 matches, which would tie them with the 1996 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins ever in a single season.

It’s an almost unheard-of winning percentage of 76%.

But for one sports team in the world, these results are nothing but mediocre.  That team is the deeply legendary national rugby team of New Zealand, the All Blacks, who’ve won 75% of their games.

That’s not just for this year, or last year.  It’s for the past 100 years.

How do they do it?  James Kerr is the author of Legacy:  What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life.  Kerr spent 10 weeks inside the All Blacks organization in 2010, and his short answer is straightforward: culture.  What we call brand.

Kerr argues that the essence of the All Blacks’ culture comes down to just five elements.  What we call a brand foundation:

1. Sweep the Sheds
In the literal sense, this expression refers to the fact that the most celebrated rugby players in the world actually spend time tidying up their locker room after a match.  But the point of the exercise is not for these elite athletes to have a shiny dressing room.  Rather, it is for them to practice humility in all they do.  The All Blacks believe that to maintain their phenomenal dominance, they must remain humble.

Even more remark-ably, the All Blacks invite the opposition into their dressing room for beers and conversation after every match – win (usually), lose or draw.  This uncommon camaraderie is one way the All Blacks recognize they share a special bond with their opponents – whom, in striving for greatness, are making sacrifices similar to their own.

Exactly how deep is the humility on your team?

2. Follow the Spearhead
In Maori, the spearhead symbolizes whanau, or extended family.  In order for a spearhead to be effective, its three tips must all be going in the same direction.  So those with poor attitudes need not apply.  Either you are with program, or you are not on the team.  Kerr says that some of New Zealand’s most promising players have never had the privilege of wearing the black jersey – purely because they would be detrimental to the whanau.

How often, and for how long, have you tolerated players who aren’t the right fit?

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The All Blacks perform the Maori Haka before each match

3. Champions Do Extra
This element is all about continuous improvement.  It is not about making quantum leaps, but about very long-term focus on making incremental improvements in all areas of life.  And in a game like rubgy, as Kerr points out, in all likelihood it will involve literally spilling blood for your team.

How many of your players always go the extra mile?

4. Keep a Blue Head
After a sub-optimal showing at the 2003 World Cup, the All Blacks confronted the possibility they were choking under pressure.  Through consultations with a forensic psychiatrist, they articulated a Red Head as a panicked and therefore ineffective mindset.  A Blue Head, on the other hand, is a highly focused, grounded state in which optimal effectiveness is achieved.

All Blacks players use triggers to recognize when they are in a Red state and to then switch over to Blue – something as simple as stomping one’s feet on the sidelines or staring off into the far distance.  In winning their most recent World Cup just two weeks ago, seasoned observers witnessed, in the face of an Australian comeback and with the All Blacks down a player, the remaining New Zealand players all switching their approach to Blue at the same time.

How much of your time is spent running around Red?

5. Leave the Jersey In A Better Place
The All Blacks don’t just play for themselves.  Their purpose is much larger than that.  They play for every player that’s ever worn the jersey – and for every player that will wear it in the future.  And they fully recognize and embrace their pivotal place in the national culture and in particular, their crucial position as role models for New Zealand’s children.

From the book:
“A values-based, purpose-driven culture is a foundation of the All Blacks’ approach and sustained success…In fact, in answer to the question, ‘What is the All Blacks’ competitive advantage?’, key is their ability to manage their culture and central narrative by attaching the players’ personal meanings to a higher purpose.  It is the identity of the team that matters – not so much what the All Blacks do, but who they are, what they stand for, and why they exist.”

So:  what’s your foundation?  And how well is it setting you up for victory?

***Update November 18, 2015:  RIP Jonah Lomu.

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Posted in brand character, brand culture, brand foundation, brand values, consistency, core purpose, mission/vision/values, remark-able | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments