10 October 2010
One of the problems of rebranding led by high profile logo redesign is that it can expose the lack of thorough consideration of what the process itself is designed to achieve.
It now seems Gap and now MySpace have fallen victim to the inevitable focus on the pretty picture, rather than the big picture.
While no one would necessarily argue that either companies are suffering. Gap has annual sales of US$9.12b and MySpace is still the world's second largest social network with more than 50m users. However, both have significant brand problems which no logo redesign is going to solve, even if the claim is that this is only one part of a more r/evolutionary path.
In Gap's case, the brand has been struggling with frumpy perception issues for years as its core product has come under threat from more highly attuned brands like HandM, Uniqlo and Zara. It hasn't been helped by falling sales. Same-store revenue at Gap stores fell 1% in September but it wasn't as bad as the 8% drop in 2009.
MySpace has also been similarly blighted. Global revenues are expected to fall by 21% this year, under News ownership its suffered from constant management flux, a falling headcount and Qantcast estimates US visitors are leaving in droves with numbers down by 10m between April and September.
And obviously Gap didn't see anything worth learning from Kraft Australia's painful debacle last year when it crowdsourced its new iSnack 2.0 as the new name for an extension of its popular Vegemite brand. Despite the use of a highly anonymous panel of "brand experts" to vet the process (I suspect they were all internal), the result was a resounding public relations thud and a frank mea culpa from Kraft that 48000 submissions later, the name was axed. Gap pretty much followed the same sad route.
The lesson: unrestrained crowd sourcing of an extremely popular and well known brand is inevitable folly. More so, don't focus on the tactical.
Perhaps Gap recognised this when it posted on its Facebook page what could only be regarded as the beginning of a reversal: “Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to… see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.”
Gap North America president Marka Hansen later engaged in further dissembling on Huffington Post claiming that the rebrand came from a desire "to see how our logo - one that we've had for more than 20 years - should evolve. Our brand and our clothes are changing and rethinking our logo is part of aligning with that.
"We want our customers to take notice of Gap and see what it stands for today. We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward, " she said.
While Hansen said Gap was "listening" and would continue to take customers on the "journey" and consider their design submissions, the damage to the brand and reputation is already irreversible. Even more laughable now that the new logo has been dumped.
Put simply, Gap recognised there was a problem with the old logo and claims it's doing something about product and stores, but a brand is the sum of all parts. Hansen as a senior executive should know better, Gap needs radical brand reinvention not revitalisation. If Gap has been in a three year turnaround, as Hansen claims, where's the resulting sales? The brand tracker? And more importantly, what's the strategy? It really needs to start with some clarity of brand vision bought out of deeper customer insight as well as a braver sense of brand stewardship. All of which might have gone AWOL at Gap, a fact clearly exposed last week and confirmed when it announced plans to dump the new logo as quickly as it showed it to Facebook.
One would hope MySpace management has been watching Gap's PR tsunami and sees something to learn. It's new logo is not even launched yet. But the conversation has started, MySpace might want to rethink its already creaking credibility.
27 August 2010
There is a significant opportunity now for a paradigm shift in the development of transmedia strategy for brands.
While there was a mild peak in interest in transmedia and the discussion around transmedia strategy in 2006/7 with the publication of Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide , the buzz died soon died down to be replaced with discussions around narrative exposition and the centrality of the brand story.
One of the problems of Jenkins' critique is that the role of brand has largely been underplayed in subsequent discussions of transmedia. The assumption that brand assets like fictional content, media property and entertainment franchises are so evolutionary that they appear largely ownerless and un-branded, perhaps even disenfranchised by transmedia as well, seems naive. Now with the confluence of technology and brand creating ever more powerful social media platforms, brand owners have begun to realise that significant revenue streams have gone largely unexplored and undervalued, the argument for transmedia strategy now seems unequivocal.
Still brand development and planning continue to remain resolutely in brand strategy and advertising planning silos, rather than in the more convergent disciplines such as PR and social media which now cover "influence" rather than platform-based awareness. All the while the simplification of technology production and wider device access is radically increasing the ability, scale and scope of individual and audience collaboration and co-creation in brand development, it is still rare for brands and the campaigns that follow to embrace more than one or two transmedia approaches, even better still a full and lengthy transmedia strategy.
I believe much of the problem lies in three parts. Firstly, both a disavowal and a general ignorance of the role brand and brand creation has in the development of the transmedia assets. Secondly, the tactical short-term focus most brands have on brand deployment and engagement and subsequently followed by the action of their agencies. Thirdly, this concentration on short term campaign development (linked to agency renumeration and commission structures), replaces the more favourable strategic objective of long term brand equity building.
The above video is a broadcast of slides for my lecture to a Masters class at the University of Technology, Sydney. It is simply an introduction, designed to inform a larger discussion on the emerging role of transmedia strategy in brand and marketing planning.
17 June 2010
How can brands plan and deliver unified long term strategy, build value and engagement in the message fog created by continually splintering and fractured media and audiences? The answer might be in the new field of transmedia strategy.
A transmedia strategy is designed to create an evolving and "self saucing" brand story through interaction between brand owners and their audiences. A transmedia strategy is contextual and continues the life of brand by permitting constant brand renewal through a process of reinvention and re-engagement. In a transmedia strategy, a brand's core ideology and brand platform has to have been developed sufficiently for brand messages to be coherently delivered to different audiences via a variety of media forms over a long period of time, rather than in the current highly geared campaign format and timeframe. Derived from transmedia story telling with its high profile examples like the multi-storied/multifabled Matrix and Star Wars saga brands, in a transmedia strategy messages have much less need to be integrated as they are independently delivered by a wide variety of media over time but can still contribute to the evolving brand.
Behind transmedia strategy is the idea that a campaign should be seen as less a campaign but more an episode or chapter, executed by discreet media opportunities for the evolution of a brand. Each of these media opportunities - whether they be for brand building or for deliberate interaction - can sit independently but is designed to contribute, over time, to the development of the brand.
Consider it this way: transmedia enables brands to more effectively deliver messages and communicate ideas to its targets and is better able to meet the overall brand aims. Take, for example, a traditional government-funded social marketing-based brand campaign. Most of these campaigns, for all their apparent success, are built around traditional bursts of media and rarely funded more than annually and are often highly television media dependent and here lies the opportunity for long term brand building.
Almost any government funded and long term social-based education program is ripe for a transmedia strategy. That these campaigns prominently emphasise display media such as television, internet advertising, cinema and print is often because of their inherent visibility (politicians like this as well) and well, because the agencies involved are not only better rewarded for this media but still regard it as the most able to deliver core messages to the widest possible audiences, regardless of its effectiveness and ability to create change.
In the case of a social marketing anti-smoking brand campaign such as Australia's long running Quitnow, traditional display media is exclusively used to deliver core messages to primary targets. But sometimes radio, PR, advocacy and now social media can also be more actively being leveraged to deliver actual engagement and achieve behavioral change.
However, with a transmedia strategy communication tasks and some of the targets can be more precisely and discretely divided between media, rather than looking to, as is often the case, to heavy spend across all media just to ensure TARPs, message spread and often annual budget exhaustion.
Take for example, the Australian Government's long running National Tobacco Strategy. With a transmedia strategy, the strategy aim could now be to create a fully integrated long-term brand play by starting to treat the Quitnow centred campaign as a more fully developed and evolving brand, rather than achieving implementation objectives via tactical and limited campaigns, which is now the case. Though the National Tobacco Campaign’s discreet approach has been highly successful for some of its target audiences, the continuing fragmentation of audience and media no longer guarantees success will be as likely or as easy. These days communication objectives can no longer be met by bursts of high cost but pocketed media activity.
A highly geared campaign emphasis on television spots in these types of campaigns does elicit specific audience actions that may fulfill some campaign objectives, but will it achieve “effective contribution” for the campaign? What is the state of audience fatigue with these messages? TARPs, in my opinion, is a singularly disingenuous measure these days, created when television was media dominant. Television is evolving and is now more suited to developing a character-based narrative for campaigns and not just for awareness raising. For example, the campaign's TV advertising should move away from the wave of “shock-and-awe” led campaigns to develop ad series built on connected family scenarios on smoking and its consequences. Each scenario emphasing life stages or turning/stress points.
With cigarette smoking the most social of habits, what's suprising in this Australian example, is this has not played a more significant part in campaign planning. The role of digital in delivering often low cost measurable target audience awareness, engagement and access to support should be framed within a component social media strategy, that both contributes to the anti-smoking brand like Quitnow but also works independently and alongside complimentary campaigns run by various state organisations and cancer groups. As it is the campaign's leading online property, the Quitnow website is severely underdone and it desperately needs expansion. My to-do list might include a Quitter’s page with first hand stories and opportunities to input approaches and solutions; a Quitnow YouTube Channel featuring the television spots or extended to become episodes; links to a Facebook page and other social media comment badging; deeper and more comprehensive SEO given Google’s new search algorithm ( with the possibility of guerilla tactics like link baiting); Wikipedia links to the archives and all existing Quitnow campaigns; Twitter brand conversations from anti-smoking brand ambassadors as well as a focus on separate non-English Speaking Background and indigenous channel development. In a transmedia strategy all of this is designed to develop the brand's narrative and contribute to more active engagement - something that just won't come anymore from simply calling a telephone number.
Australia's anti-smoking strategy was developed when media consumption patterns and accompanying planning were largely dominated by television and other increasingly redundant display media. Sure it worked then but effectiveness is now acknowledged as diminishing for a variety of reason but with no recent measures available to track audience fatigue and a flagging strategy, I'm left feeling that the "tried and true" approach doesn't cut it anymore. A transmedia strategy can deliver long term brand development and engagement, allows agencies to develop more active and discreet campaign media expansion over time, prioritises audience media use and allocates discriminant awareness and engagement tasks to each media against core brand messages. Media buying can still continue to be driven by TARP, GRP, CPA or any other measure a brand owner might use. Transmedia strategies requires insight, daring and vision and an acknowledgement that social marketing campaigns need no longer be driven by visibility imperatives but by more effective and newer patterns of brand involvement.
01 June 2010
There's nothing like international television advertising for a country to create seismic ructions around questions of national identity, but that's just the effect the newest There's Nothing Like Australia campaign from Tourism Australia is having.
With a collapse in April inbound tourism numbers to Australia from the key markets of the US, UK (both down 6%) and Japan (also down 20%) unlikely to abate, the ink has hardly dried on the launch of this three year $150m campaign before questions are arising not just about it's ability to rescue an already Australia's ailing tourism sector but more importantly it's also raising the question - who or what is Australia? And how should Australia be seen overseas. And who should be in charge of its image?
Only last month Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean announced the launch of the new $20m Brand Australia logo and tagline to promote Australia's image overseas.
“Australia Unlimited has the breadth to market all of Australia’s strengths - grounded in our commitment to innovation and quality,” Mr Crean said.
“Australia Unlimited is aimed at taking us beyond tourism messages. It will deliver a national brand for Australia through a consistent image and a consistent message.”
With AusTrade and M&C Saatchi handling the tricky business of Australia's image among business and Australian Tourism and ad agency DDB managing the consumer image both domestically and overseas, the main issue again seems to be what are the core and central messages and images that should be used to promote Australia as both a brand and a destination. Right now (see above) they appear discordant.
At the launch today Tourism Australia chief Andrew McEvoy claimed its research found "80% of Australians wanted to promote their country as a travel destination so we invited them to share their pictures and stories at the campaign website.
“Australians have identified our people, wildlife, beaches, the reef, the outback, vibrant cities and laid-back lifestyle as the things that make Australia a unique and special place to visit. These suggestions are highlighted in all the elements of the new campaign." Unreservedly so it seems.
Regardless of the perceptible quality problems with both campaigns, it seems that while the core of both and the unifying concept is claimed to be Australia's people, there is still little agreement in both as to what Australia represents as a brand and how it should be portrayed, except for readiness to slide back to traditional imagery.
Brand Australia says it wants to take Australia "beyond tourism messages. It will deliver a national brand for Australia through a consistent image and a consistent message."Yet while the sample images it uses seem modern, they are cold and generic and could be interchanged with almost any wealthy western country's brand.
But the new There's Nothing Like Australia with it's singalong and imagery rendolent of "wildlife, beaches, the reef, the outback, vibrant cities and laid-back lifestyle" seems in stark contrast to Brand Australia's desire for "a more contemporary and multi-dimensional light than has previously been delivered". Right now neither serves to build on the other and both seem so fractious as they may even cancel each other out.
Late in the eighteenth century Australia was referred to as Terra Nullius, it's a narrative strain that remains at the heart of the Australian psyche and neither of these programs resolve.
28 May 2010
DIFFUSION and Lucas Melbourne's work has featured in the opening of the new Lowy Cancer Research Centre in Sydney on May 28 2010.
The new centre features a bold strikeout sans serif word mark incorporating colours from the building’s architects Lahz Nimmo.
The new centre was opened by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and its main benefactor, chairman of Westfield Corporation Frank Lowy.
DIFFUSION principals Stephen Byrne and Monique Defina-Nancarrow and Lucas were responsible for the development of the new centre’s brand strategy, positioning and creative brand development. It was a year long project working with a joint working party between the two institutions as well as key sector influencers and stakeholders.
DIFFUSION strategy director Stephen Byrne and Lucas director Chris Lucas said they were proud to have been invited to develop the “make your mark” on cancer graphic idea - part of the main platform for the centre’s brand.
The $127 million research facility is at the University of New South Wales’ Kensington campus and houses 400 cancer researchers from both UNSW and the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia for Medical Research (CCIA) is the largest in the southern hemisphere.
18 May 2010
Recently launched brands for the Australian government's Australia Unlimited and the NSW government's new Sydney.com are sorry reminders of what happens to nation and city branding that have been defined by unremarkable strategy.
Australia's newest branding exercise was decided on last year after the Australian Government handed over $20 million to global ad agency M&C Saatchi promote the new brand over the next four years.
The Brand Australia website says the aim of the new brand was to "better position Australia as a global citizen, global business partner and world class destination."
According to the Brand Australia FAQ, the Brand Australia program "is about providing an overarching, strategic approach to positioning Australia in the global marketplace."
However, launching a visual identity first seems less a strategic response and more a creative and tactical one and smacks of a committee based approach.
Austrade, the organisation tasked with managing Saatchi's and this new branding, added that now "the hard work begins to develop the brand architecture" along with any co-branding. This only begins to confirm my belief in the seeming lack of strategy in this whole exercise. Even the most rudimentary of brand strategy texts would tell you that brand architecture would be developed prior to any rollout and this would include all aspects of the identity and associated sub-brands including any other brand extensions.
To say that strategy is a secondary to strapline and logo development, suggests this project is subject to political expediency in an election year driven by an "advisory board", said to be made up of prominent business people and marketers from Austrade.
Worse still Saatchi’s slogan was taken to international research panels with the full knowledge that the it was already trademarked by News Ltd, who in their munificence, have now “lent” it to Austrade and the Australian government. In my experience I would usually be reluctant to present an already trademarked name, unless the client clearly briefed this in and understood the risks.
And the Australia Unlimited logo is itself is in an unremarkable and unownable sans serif typeface in Australia’s official colours and framed by stylised boomerang parenthesis. It’s like a gaudy airport tourist trap store identity, exactly the sort of thing you would expect an ad agency with an advisory board as clients to come up with. But don’t forget there has been no formalised strategic development from this. It’s all still to come.
But let's head back to the idea of nation branding and there's no better place to start than the Brand Australia FAQ.
Successful nation branding identifies any gap between a country’s reputation and its actual capabilities and contributions, then addresses this gap with a program that better communicates the country’s offering.
The irony is that it is wider than what Austrade thinks it is, yet it has been tasked with managing this rollout.
A nation brand represents a country as a whole. It is broader than a tourism or ‘destination’ brand and promotes a wider range of capabilities across business, culture and community.
Where's the gap between the perception of Australia and it might be positioned? What is it? How is it captured by the Australia Unlimited visual identity, strapline campaign? Is it the success stories of ordinary and some exemplary Australians? How will this position Australia? What is the brand idea, the core proposition that has been is communicated by the tagline "Australia Unlimited"? Australian’s unlimited? None of this is either sufficiently differentiated nor strongly put yet.
Already announced is the publication of a magazine for launch at Shanghai World Expo. A magazine? It’s all tactical and so old media, reflecting similar tactical campaign profiles for the previous Australia campaign..something that Austrade might say has nothing to do with it but was yet positioned as another national branding exercise.
Australia might currently be positioned ninth in 2010 on the Anholt-GFK Roper Nation Brands Index but its the same spot it occupied the previous year. Conversely, it's ranked number three on Futurebrand's 2009 Country Brand index - so you can draw your own conclusions as to the validity or worth of any of these rankings survey over the next. The point is that promoting a survey as some kind of evidence of possible success or otherwise in these stakes seems to me to be oversimplifying the benefits of nation branding.
If place branding is about the development and presentation of a core set of brand attributes to represent and promote a place, then the latest Sydney branding exercise is, like the Australian Unlimited identity, a failure before it begins.
Subject to even less fanfare is the launch of this new logo/wordmark for Sydney (you'll see my fuzzy version had to be lifted from the Sydney.com page where it competed with other versions of the Sydney logo). Again, the product of an Events NSW Government committee, the launch has been both low key and perhaps embarrassingly touted as part of the new Sydnicity campaign from NSW Tourism. No media storm and apart from seeing it framing the arrival of Jessica Watson's landing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, almost invisible.
The logo is itself an undefined tech looking curlique set against another sans serif Sydney word mark. Again, like Australia Unlimited, the same questions arise around the strategic requirements for this rework.
If Sydney needs to be rebranded to compete against a more complex and multi-facetted Melbourne, then where is the evidence that supports this approach? Where is the proof that this approach is evidence of best in class for the country’s only global city, a crown Melbourne might soon wrench away? Melbourne’s rebrand is part of a well documented complex and successful branding and marketing strategy for the whole of Victoria, so why hasn’t Sydney followed suit?
Perhaps both cases illustrate that nation and city branding,should always be built on uniquely defining long-term brand strategies rather than tactical and often reactionary approaches, driven by the current political exigency. Otherwise, like the next election campaign or the last minister responsible, their impact will be limited, their influence questionable and they might not get another term.
26 August 2009
Let’s be straight. Brand engagement does have quantifiable financial benefits. Increasingly this type of engagement via social media also has quantifiable benefits, it’s just no one knows what exactly they are, yet. So while the latest and only social media study reluctantly admits this, real financial bottom line value is still only partially proven.
By any standard definition brand engagement is an emotional connection or attachment developed during repeated and continuing interactions with a brand. Over time this should accumulate through satisfaction, loyalty, influence and excitement and other factors. Organizations who engage customers to the point where they are moved to a behavioral change do so by creating opportunities for emotional connections through consistent and positive experiences. Social media seems an opportunity for some brands to develop such opportunities, albeit at least turn any negative ones into positive.
However, alongside other media and non-media forms, social media is and should be regarded as just one part of a suite of engagement channels for brands. So, for example, a brand’s appearance or lack of presence on Twitter or Facebook, might harm its perception or level of engagement, it’s just that it won’t hurt if the current levels of engagement are low. And regardless, for some industry sectors it purely demonstrates a rational and logical extension of their core business activity.
In July the WetPaint/Altimeter Group released its ENGAGEMENTdbReport aimed at measuring how deeply engaged the top 100 2008/9 global brands were in a variety of social media channels and, more importantly, understand if a higher engagement correlated with financial success. Unremarkably, the study understated one of the key defining aspects of these rankings – that the level of financial success generated by the brands had already put them a top 100 brand. A position not defined by some other event or cause like social media.
WetPaint/Altimeter claimed their study not only measured the level of engagement but also the depth. They evaluated and scored each brand’s engagement in various channels and found the more a brand leverages multiple channels, the higher the level of engagement is (seems to make sense!) Ranking Starbucks as the most engaged brand, with a presence across 11 social media-based channels, they also linked exponential growth in the depth of engagement with continued growth in the channel.
Not surprisingly, it also found engagement differs by industry and with media usage. So the most engaged industries are naturally Media and Technology and the least, Financial, Apparel and Food & Beverage. In addition, the study found distinct target audiences can influence the level of engagement eg. Toyota’s media channels used to promote Prius are different to those used by either Mercedes or Porsche, again this would simply represent segmented buyer behaviours.
But what interested me the most, despite all claims to the contrary, was that the study admitted NO ONE has the data to determine whether there is a direct cause and effect between financial performance and social media engagement. While it claims companies “deeply and widely engaged in social media surpass their peers in terms of both revenue and profit performance by a significant difference”, it also points out these findings don’t necessarily imply a causal relationship between these two but POWERFUL implications, whatever that might mean.
So while it comes as no surprise that one of the least connected brands at 98 was AIG, the world’s most successful brand Coca Cola is tagged as a wallflower and is down at no 51. Go figure the financial relationship there between brand and performance.
There’s nothing particularly revelatory in statements like “a customer oriented mindstep stemming from deep social interaction” generates superior profits thus enabling further engagement investment and a virtuous circle of increasing profits. But social media is, within the primacy of media, a marketing and communications tool for brand engagement in the same way point of sale, packaging, store design, direct mail are.
So how does the Wetpaint/ Altimeter study contribute to the dearth of research on the effectiveness of social media?
1. Social media engagement effectively enables direct and two way communication for the brand. This is new
2. Brand engagement can be better managed and measured via social media
3. The cost and revenues that accrue from this engagement can be directly measured and accounted for
4. Social media is purely digitally driven. Though the by products from which it is derived are not
5. Social media brand engagement is governed by levels of participation in the same way any other engagement is. Active, latent, pro-active etc
6. Social media enables deep and broad brand engagement
6. Digital brands aren’t necessarily social media brands but it doesn’t hurt they are
What the study also reveals is that social media enables brands via this form of agency to quantify the value of the brand engagement and subsequently contribute to brand valuation. The contribution of brand engagement to financial value is already factored in many valuation models but this partition of the contribution is something that can effectively stand alone. We are yet to see how that might happen and who might use this.
So while the WetPaint/Altimeter study contributes to our understanding regarding the level and extent of brand engagement via social media, there’s really not enough evidence here of a direct financial return is not surprising. Indeed page six of the Altimeter report confirms the link between social media engagement and financial performance is not proven. Unlike one of the often quoted quantitative models, the Harvard Business School’s Sears Model, which proves a direct correlation between internal employee brand engagement and financial return in the vicinity of around 20%. .
And another study conducted in June last year for Adobe (not ranked by Wetpaint/Altimeter) by Forrester Consulting developed another model and demonstrated a 66% return. This study examined the total economic impact and potential return on investment companies might realise by increasing investment in engagement initiatives, with an emphasis on using both existing and emerging technology touch points such as social media.
It wasn’t extensive research (200 companies surveyed and six in-depth interviews) but Forrester did use what it calls a Total Economic Impact (TEI) methodology to measure impact. TEI not only measures costs and cost reduction (areas that are typically accounted for within IT) but also weighs the enabling value of a technology in increasing the effectiveness of overall business processes such as customer communication.
Forrester found three main results – firstly, increasing investment in online customer engagement through Internet-based channels improved the efficiency and effectiveness of customer interactions and the customer experience. Secondly, improved efficiency translates to reduced overall cost of sale as well improved internal staff productivity (much like the Sears Model) and thirdly, like the Wetpaint/Altimeter study, improved effectiveness translates to improved top line revenues resulting from higher purchasing frequency and improved customer value. Overall, the value of the ROI around 66%.
However, while the study focused on Adobe products and their introduction as part of a wider technology strategy, it still confirmed one of the main but unproven conclusions from Wetpaint/Altimeter. Those organisations with higher financial returns were those that developed a deep connection with their customers using online channels such as social media, ultimately raising customer awareness and purchase intent. Just ask Dell about its oft cited Twitter experiment.