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Brand Identity

Facing Resistance To Brand Identity Management

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Brand Identity Management

Pitch a new brand identity system to almost any large company with multiple divisions and inevitably someone will plead to be an exception to the new rules. This is particularly true where brands or divisions have had their own identity in the past. Attempts to consolidate a myriad of “brands” into a consistent brand identity system or to replace a whole portfolio of marques with a single power brand will be met with varying volumes of indignation.

Let’s assume there’s a strong business case for doing this. Because that should be a given. And let’s assume that the business case is driven by by a powerful pain point or a significant prompt – because otherwise why would you be motivated to look at change in the first place. Finally, let’s assume that the design team have done a great job and the new identity is powerful, distinctive and well crafted.

Having got all this right, why the resistance?

In my experience, it’s often because when you introduce a new brand identity system you  take away something that people have real ownership of. Once people have an identity that feels like theirs and they have formed an association with it that binds them together as a group, that identity in essence becomes their flag. It is in effect a symbol of their working life. Changing that is tantamount to burning the flag. People respond viscerally to such a shift but they look to articulate their concerns logically – and in a business context, that inevitably means they frame their arguments against what is being proposed commercially.

Here are some of the more predictable lines of argument:

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Brand Language

Brand Cultures Are Built On Language

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Brand Strategy and Language

Language is one of the most important definers of any organizational culture. The language you choose, the language you don’t choose and the language you choose to replace are a reflection, and in some senses, a definition of your priorities. As the American writer Rita Mae Brown once observed, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

Your words are a statement to others, and more importantly, they are a statement to the internal culture – because deliberate choice of language underpins perspective. Your language choice not only reveals how your organization feels about a matter, it also signals how you might be expected to approach and resolve that matter in the future.

A clear example can be found in released documents from GM. They provide disturbing insights into how those within the motoring behemoth seemed to be feeling about the work they were doing in 2008. This article in Time provides the full list of 69 words and phrases employees were asked to avoid:

“always, annihilate, apocalyptic, asphyxiating, bad, Band-Aid, big time, brakes like an “X” car, cataclysmic, catastrophic, Challenger, chaotic, Cobain, condemns, Corvair-like, crippling, critical, dangerous, deathtrap, debilitating, decapitating, defect, defective, detonate, isembowelling, enfeebling, evil, eviscerated, explode, failed, flawed, genocide, ghastly, grenadelike, grisly, gruesome, Hindenburg, Hobbling, Horrific, impaling, inferno, Kevorkianesque, lacerating, life-threatening, maiming, malicious, mangling, maniacal, mutilating, never, potentially-disfiguring, powder keg, problem, rolling sarcophagus (tomb or coffin), safety, safety related, serious, spontaneous combustion, startling, suffocating, suicidal, terrifying, Titanic, unstable, widow-maker, words or phrases with a biblical connotation, you’re toast”

The temptation might be to read the memo as a legal reminder or even as spin-doctoring. But when employees are openly referring to a brand’s products in these ways, the actual words are of course the thing that management should be least concerned about.

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Brand Storytelling

8 Keys To Telling A Competitive Brand Story

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Competitive Brand Storytelling

Everyone has a story now. Or at least most brands claim to have one. But having a story in many ways is like having a product. Really it means nothing if it is not competitive as a narrative and personally relevant to each recipient. So your story must be distinctive from the other stories that are in play in a market and it must continue to be so. That’s challenging in fast moving sectors where there is always something new to look at, another brand tale to try.

That’s why you can’t set and forget a story. Anymore than you can set and forget your business strategy. As your business adapts and responds to changes in the market and the initiatives of your rivals, your story must change too if it is to remain competitive. What that means in effect is that your story is subject to eight ongoing forces, all of which influence what you tell in different ways:

1. Your story must be long (in terms of scope) – you need a story that is capable of being told over an extended period of time, meaning it must have enough aspects (threads) for you to push your storytelling forward, developing, introducing and twisting as the story goes to keep people involved and wanting to know more.

2. Your story must be deep – you need a story that allows you to delve into the detail of different aspects to intrigue, to prove expertise, to demonstrate detail, to highlight a facet, to deliver a backstory

3. Your story must be competitive – there is no point in telling a story that is similar to that of your biggest rival, or in telling the same story as the rest of the industry. You need an angle – a perspective that is refreshing and different, that sets what you have to say apart from what others are talking about. It must be more relevant to the people to whom it is addressed than the story your competitors want to share with them.

4. Your story must be social – it must be more shareable across a full range of social media. So it must invite contribution and input. It must share ownership with the community that forms around it. And it must take its cues, through data analysis and analytics as you collect information on customer shopping habits, customer interests and customer concerns in terms of areas of accent, aspects to explore further, ideas that need to be brought forward. As you gather insights, you need to find ways to inject those ideas into the conversation in order to immerse people further in the storyline.

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Customer Experience

Designing Brands For Ideal Customer Experiences

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Customer Experience Workshop

I was at a speakers’ function once when the conversation turned to those who make the big dollars on the podium. Referring to one particular keynoter who charges around $100K for an address, one of the people in the group observed, “That’s $1700 every minute they’re onstage.”

Are they worth it?

It would be an interesting exercise wouldn’t it to pause a video of such a presentation every 60 seconds and ask ‘was that worth $1700?’ because I suspect that not every minute is worth the same amount. I suspect there’s some variation of a flight of stairs of value, with relatively little ‘value’ at the beginning while everyone settles in and the speaker introduces themselves, a building and paced period of value-delivery in the middle as they extrapolate a story, and then a sustained and high value end-game where they leave the audience inspired before exiting.

Skilled speakers are experts at pacing their presentations to deliver that shape of experience. With so much at stake over such a condensed period of time, they have to. It’s a lesson more brands could learn from – pacing the delivery of their experience to offer critical value at critical moments.

So many brands don’t of course. They flat-line. Or they climb and dive. Or they fish-line (quick spike up, followed by long slow decline over an extended period. Draw it, you’ll see what I mean.) And the reason is that they don’t put conscious thought into their brand experiences. They don’t design them to deliver emotive out-takes. If they design them at all, they do so logistically to deliver a product or service which they hope will produce an emotive out-take.

Try this simple exercise:

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Airline Brand Strategy Brand Value & Pricing

Transaction Mode: Danger For Brands

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Airline Brand Strategy

The response by airlines to customers’ demands for lower and lower fares has been to do exactly that, lower seat costs, but at the same time to strip more and more of what is included in the fare out of the price.

This process – referred to by Time as “the unbundled skies” – points to a business model that I see becoming more prevalent, and not just in the heavens, as price-sensitive brands lower entry points in order to get customers to commit, and then use “upgrades” to restore margin and, according to the article, add another 50% or so to the real price. Pay less, get less. Want more? Pay more. Ryanair have even suggested, somewhat controversially, that “more” could include access to the toilet. In fact, according to one consultant quoted, there are up to 35 add-ons available when you fly, ranging from baggage and food fees to flight-delay insurance and keeping the middle seat empty. You literally get what you pay for.

This seems like an expedient answer to customers’ demands for cheaper goods. Lure them in – then trick them into paying more. It’s not exactly customer-friendly but at least, some would argue, it’s a way to compete.

True, but changing the competitive model this way is not without its consequences. One is that as the product itself becomes less valuable and valued, service now comes not just at, but with, a price. That in turn shifts the emphasis from what customers get to what do they not get, and what shortfalls they are prepared to do without.

For the moment what’s happening in the aviation sector amounts potentially to a complete economic rebalance of the product at that end of the market. As the article points out, “In the unbundled world, airfare is merely the price of admission to get on a jet. If you crave comfort, convenience, less stress, decent food — what was once called good service — expect to pay up.”

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