Have You Been Branded?

Branding: Perception is Reality in the Mind of the Consumer

What exactly is a brand? That’s a question that’s likely to receive as many answers as there are marketers in the world.

Wikipedia defines a brand as follows:

The identity of a specific product, service or business. A brand can take many forms, including a name, sign, symbol, color combination or slogan. A brand is the personality that identifies a product, service or company and how it relates to key constituencies: customers, staff, partners, investors, etc.

Ask a rancher and you’ll likely hear a brand described as the unique marking livestock is given that enables each rancher to identify his/her animals.

I contend that a brand is every touch point your business has with every person inside and outside of your company, and the perceptions and expectations each of these people maintains about your business, products and/or services, and people. If your company consists of only you and your personal output, then your brand is YOU.

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Wreaking Havoc On Your Own Brand

It’s 8:30 a.m. and I am in rush-hour traffic heading into downtown. As the traffic slows ahead of me I notice a magnetic sign on the tailgate of a truck in front of me. I can barely make out the image: it’s a drawing of a woman in shorts and a sexy top and whose knees are adorned with knee pads. Getting an image?

As the truck slows and I get a better look, I realize it’s a sign advertising a business called Grout Girl Designs. OK, change of perception. Cool, I think to myself. Perhaps it’s a woman-owned business? I like supporting other females in their entrepreneurial ventures. I need to learn more. I get a bit closer and discover that they specialize in small tile projects, repairs and glass tile. Again, cool. Then, just as I have taken a photo of the sign (yes, I am prone to doing that as long as it can be done safely and not at high speed!), I realize there is a smaller sign in the rear windshield (actually, it’s a bumper sticker). It says, “Did you eat a bowl of stupid for breakfast?” OK, initial perception likely correct. Or, at the very least, this is not someone I care to do business with?

How do your employees and other aspects of your business operations represent your brand?


Social Ineptitude in Real Life?

With all the hype around social marketing, one would think success is all but guaranteed once a business creates a Facebook fan page, launches a Twitter account and/or posts amazing videos on YouTube, right? But, what if you are “socially inept” in real life? What do I mean by socially inept? I mean that when customers engage with you in real-life, they find you inept.

How many companies out there do the whole social marketing thing really well, but then fail miserably with the real-world customer experience?

Here’s an example: I recently signed up for the mailing list of a well-known retail chain. By signing up I was enabling them to market to me. My reward for providing my contact information was that I would receive coupons which could be used on merchandise in their stores. Since I have always liked their stores, I felt this was a fair trade – my information in exchange for discounts. Now, it’s important to note that a retailer’s hope is that I will spend enough to cover not only the cost of the discount they offer by providing me with a coupon, but encourage me to spend more and on items I might otherwise try. Smart, right?

Well, a few days ago I visited one of their locations, coupon in hand. I was all set to buy something I had had my eye on for some time, but could not justify buying at full price. And, I intended to look for accompanying accessories even though the discount would not be applied to those. So far their strategy was working. Now, imagine my disappointment when I found the item I coveted was not where I had seen it last, and no one in the store seemed to know where it had been moved. Even worse was the made-up response I received from an employee who was too busy chatting with several other employees to ask someone in the know about this mysterious disappearance. She confidently announced, “Those items were sent back. We no longer carry them.” Really? A brand new and very popular item was sent back? Sent to where? Now, since I know a thing or two about this chain, and how their merchandise comes and goes, I knew she made up her response!

What do you think happened? That’s right, I left…empty handed. And, it’s not likely that I’ll return anytime soon just because I have a coupon, something I might have been likely to do in the past.

In the end, it does not matter how amazingly well you manage your social marketing strategy if the basics of customer service at the store level are completely lacking. Yes, social marketing can be an important part of an overall branding strategy. But, it cannot replace great customer service. Your brand depends on customers feeling valued. My example did not leave me feeling valued. And, it certainly did nothing for my impression of this well-known brand.


4th Floor Walkup

Yesterday, an entrepreneur told me of his father, who died at 81. The father lived in a 4th floor walkup until he was 79, when a fire in the building forced a move to a new building. The new building came with a wonderful view of the East River and an elevator. The view was nice, but the elevator eliminated those eight flights of stairs up to the 4th floor. To this day, the entrepreneur is convinced losing that daily climb up the staircase was the death knell for his father.

It’s often quoted folk-wisdom that climbing stairs adds years to your life. That’s interesting, since the goal of human civilization, once past the creation of the civilization itself and aside from war, has largely been the elimination of all possible effort associated with life.

From elevators to Google search, anything that eliminates effort is rewarded; from rotary dial phones to manual crank car windows, anything that adds effort is penalized. Day by day, year by year, more and more effort is removed from life, leaving more and more effortless life, more and more elevator rides through existence.

Is there a price to pay for that?

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The Nature of Change

More than 9 out of 10 patients do not change their lifestyles in response to their doctor’s recommendations.

More than 70 percent of corporate change efforts fail.

Humans hate change.

It’s a simple fact of life. There isn’t any easy way around it. In general, humans hate change.

That rule extends beyond individuals into groups of humans: families, tribes, organizations, companies, communities and nations. Humans hate change.

As individuals and groups, we tend to get locked into a way of doing things, a set of perceptions and a set of expectations. Anything that forces us to change anything about what we consider normal is usually resisted.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence for the need for change, we will resist change. For example, the majority of people who suffer heart attacks do not make long term changes in their lifestyles to eliminate or limit factors that contribute to heart disease. In other words, even when it’s a matter of life and death, humans hate change so much they won’t change even to save their own lives.

There are university degree programs in change management; multiple national and global professional associations of practicing change management consultants; countless thousands of trained, certified and degreed change management practitioners and a cornucopia of books, videos, workshops and tutorials on implementing change. In spite of all this learning and all these resources, there has been relatively little improvement in change rates in humans or groups of humans.

Why is this so?

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Fear, thy name is Ron Wayne

One of the little known facts of Apple’s history is that Apple wasn’t the creation of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. Apple was actually founded by three guys: Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and Ron Wayne.

The equity split was Wozniak 45%, Jobs 45% and Wayne 10%.

Wozniak recalls, “Steve had 45 percent of this partnership, I had 45 percent, and Ron had 10 percent, because both of us agreed that we could trust him to resolve any dispute, and we would trust his judgment.”

So what ever happened to Ron Wayne, a guy who had 10% founding equity in Apple?

Wozniak relates, “I had no money and Steve had no money. We didn’t own cars, we didn’t have savings accounts, we didn’t have houses. So Ron Wayne figured they’d come after him for his golden nuggets that he kept under his mattress. (He actually tells me it was in a safe-but he was afraid they’d come and get his gold.) So he sold out. It was too risky for him, so he sold out his 10 percent of Apple to [us] for a few hundred bucks. Maybe $600, maybe $800, maybe $300-but a few hundred bucks. And this was even when we had an Apple II designed and were heading toward future business. He was just scared that something was going to catch him.”

Apple’s market capitalization this morning is $181.7 billion, with a B. If Ron Wayne had stayed around (and assuming no dilution), his 10 percent of Apple would be worth $18 billion. With a B.

Fear, thy name is Ron Wayne.



  • Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston
  • Yahoo! Finance

IBM and Creative Destruction

One of the fundamental aspects of successful capitalism is the principal of creative destruction. In a capitalist system, businesses that are hampered with flawed business models, substandard management, unproductive labor or changing markets, among other things, pass away in a sometimes agonizing fit of destruction. New businesses, with a better take on what the market is willing to buy on an ongoing basis and how to produce that profitably, spring up and thrive. It’s the business version of earth to earth, dust to dust and the circle of life.

Even though we all know this story and can intellectually recognize that it is a required component to make a capitalistic economic system work, when push comes to shove, or more realistically, padlocks come to factory gates, things get a lot tougher. When long-standing, treasured companies die, such as Maytag, it is traumatic, especially for the local communities.

If they are big enough or politically well connected, governments sometimes step in and prop up dying businesses. In the last year we’ve seen multiple examples of this in vehicle manufacturing, insurance, financial services and banking. But even while entire economies are distorted by artificial means, the market keeps changing and creative destruction keeps happening.

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Doing It For Free

“If they didn’t pay me, I’d do this for free.” – Harry Cabluck

Have you ever had a job in your life where you felt like that? Have you ever invested your time and energy into a career where you literally couldn’t wait to get up in the morning?

Few people have that opportunity. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had more than one.

Many people get exposed to a job early in life and do some variation of that same job the rest of their lives, especially in the trades. Others pick a college major at age 18 or 19 for reasons that often have little to do with their interests, skills or abilities and more to do with factors related to friends or romantic pursuits. They end up with a degree unrelated to their interests or stuck in that career track for the rest of their lives. Others, especially in times like these, take any job that’s available, and as long as the paychecks clear the bank, they stick to it. Others get on a job or career track they don’t intend to pursue for a lifetime but are subsequently locked in by responsibilities such as loans, marriage, mortgages, and children.

In all these cases, it is not unusual for people to wake up one day and realize they are unhappy in their jobs and careers, but feel trapped there due to age, education or skills, unable to seek any alternatives because the barriers to change are too high.

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Propensity to Buy

In marketing, the goal is to create the perception of need.

In advertising, marketing’s shock troops, the goal is to create the propensity to buy.

I just received this advertisement from via email.


Read that ad copy carefully.


Does that ad create the propensity to buy something–anything–from

In marketing, perfection is the baseline. First you deliver perfection, on time. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake.

But first, you deliver perfection.

If you don’t, instead of creating the propensity to buy, you create the propensity to consider the brand incapable, if not incompetent.

Which pretty much sums up my thoughts about right about now.


Pick A Horse

Here’s a quick test for anyone who has sat in their cubicle and dreamed about starting their own business.

Read this short web page about a new technology:

What would you build with that technology? What are your product ideas?

My friend Scot Mortier, an assistant District Attorney suggested, “Interesting…so, applications from making cars safer to bomb-proofing buildings? Then, if one can find a way to allow the slow release of the energy absorbed, a battery-like energy source? Better running shoes if you can coordinate both absorption and release (to match your stride, let’s say)? And what about the applications for roadways? Both longer lasting (because the particles could eliminate freeze thaw expense) and the possibility that it could wind up being an energy source once the trigger to release it is found? Wow! Great possibilities! Medical applications for aging joints?”

And therein lies the challenge for the budding entrepreneur. There is no shortage of ideas out there, especially for game-changing technologies.

But even if your invention or idea is more pedestrian than something that could be as fundamentally revolutionary as AgileNano’s, you still face the same type of challenge: picking one market and pursuing it.

Almost every first time entrepreneur, and even many experienced entrepreneurs, attempts to develop multiple markets and multiple product and service offerings with their new business. Being entrepreneurs, they see nothing but possibilities, and with every possibility a “natural” market for their new idea, their new product or service.

Along the way they will chase dollars, meaning wherever a potential customer indicates they might be interested if only this or that change was made, then the entrepreneur will invest precious resources making this or that change in their product or service for the faint prospect of a sale. The end result of chasing dollars is inevitably failure. A young business has very few resources, and if you expend those resources chasing every possible sales opportunity, regardless of how tangential they are to your business plan and core strategy, you will never generate enough revenue to replenish your resources, much less make a profit.

The analogy is riding horses. If you’ve got a dozen horses that you need to move from your ranch across the prairie to town, you do not jump from one horse to another along the way. Trying to be all things to all people, all things to all potential markets, all things to all potential customers, is the same as trying to jump from one horse to another to another all the way to your goal. That will never work. You’ll inevitably fall off, and that will not be a good day.

Just as in moving horses, when you are starting a business you need to pick a horse and ride it. Pick a single opportunity space, a single market, a single set of characteristics that comprise an ideal customer. Pick that one, single, individual goal and pursue it relentlessly.

Pick a horse and ride it.