Inspirational quotes – truly personal

December 9, 2019
There was an interesting article recently in the Weekend Australian Magazine by Polly Vernon about inspirational quotes. While she provided great insight into the rampant growth in the use and visibility of such quotes, she also provided some brilliant insight into the minds of those who hold them in contempt. Certainly the language used by them as note worth as the inspirational quotes they reject. Expressions such as ‘word farts’ and ‘the stupid person’s idea of wisdom’ says something of their disdain. But in terms of why others are attracted to them, one very interesting observation is that they provide some form of diversion to the constantly running messages that we have on repeat playing in our minds. The suggestion being that the mantra like quotes nudge our narrative and allow us to refocus from time to time. From my own perspective, I have no universal position on inspirational quotes. However, the context in which they play out does shape my view somewhat. For example, to have such quotes playing out on home furnishings feels so underwhelming. In fact the Weekend Australian article referenced a Canadian research paper that found a link between lower IQ’s and a readiness to absorb, subscribe to, enjoy and share inspirational quotes – yes, perhaps having them on one’s cushions at home supports that. Inspirational quotes in non-fictional books as chapter breaks often speak to me strongly. Usually because of their relationship to the topic I am interested in – hence reading the book. However, typically I can never recall them post reading – but there is one that has remained with me and does drive action from time to time. It is a quote from a guy called Jocko Willink. He is an ex-Navy Seal, now running a leadership and management consulting company. I came across him in the Tim Ferris book, Tools of Titans. His quote is simply this: ‘If you want to be tougher, be tougher.’ This thought is one I periodically call upon when I am desiring a little more discipline or will power in my endeavours. Its power for me resides in the fact that it requires no elapsed time – just do it (sorry).

Brand Positioning – Different strokes for different folks

November 25, 2019
Clarity around your desired brand positioning is critical. But brands can play different roles for different companies, as well different consumers. The recent announcement of Japan’s  Asahi’s $16 billion purchase of beer maker Carlton & United Breweries is a reminder of the leverage an attractive portfolio of brands can offer companies from a strategic perspective. In fact the commentary around the acquisition has largely focused on the business benefits of economies of scale and distribution muscle versus the individual market positioning of the brands being acquired. Australian  Executive Chairman of Asahi Peter Margin simply referencing the great scale the ‘local goliath’ offers. “It gives us great scale. It certainly gives us scale around manufacturing, logistics and probably more importantly around marketing capability,” said Mr Margin. The  beer brands being acquired include Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, Melbourne Bitter, Cascade, Crown Lager and the relative newcomer Great Northern. They are rather iconic brands in their own right, but little has been spoken about their market propositions by Asahi, rather the business benefits of immediate market share ie moving from approx 2% to 50% as a result of the buy. But the acquisition is strategic far beyond what it means here in Australia. While the Australian beer market isn’t growing, it is mature, stable and high-margin. By buying into The Aussie beer market it dilutes the Japanese brewer’s exposure to a home market where an ageing and shrinking population creates an intensifying challenge. This all contrasts greatly with how the independent brewers have responded. Yep, different strokes for different folks. They have doubled down on reinforcing their ‘fresh, artisan and innovative’ market offerings. Co-owner of  Bodriggy Brewing Co, Peter Walsh, recently stating,  ‘the way that CUB and Asahi make a lot of their beers are pasteurised and mass produced and there is not much difference between a two-day old beer and five-year-old beer. Whereas the whole craft industry is people appreciating freshness and local and artisan.’ As a beer drinker Walsh is even challenging me on where I should in fact live. Fresh is best. He believes the main reason the whole brew pub thing is working and the craft industry is booming is people are starting to appreciate that if you are going to drink a good beer make sure it is fresh. He suggests a good way to do that is to live near a brewery. This is clearly where I have been misled. I have simply been making sure I was in striking distance of beverage big box distributor Dan Murphy’s. And to remind me further that the market does segment in very different ways – not only have I been a regular visitor to Dan’s for my packaged beer (and wine) I have been for a long time purchasing Victoria Bitter. It may not be fashionable but as their long standing tag line says…’for a hard earned thirst.’ Say no more.

Leadership Master Class–Thank you Jacinda Ardhern

November 25, 2019
Out of the most devasting act of terror we were gifted such profound lessons in what leadership is about. Confronted with the tragic loss of 51 lives the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardhern demonstrated an extraordinary fusion of toughness and empathy. Her highly instinctive leadership disarmingly empowering. She immediately declared gun laws needed to be toughened up (and they have been!). She also demonstrated the most simple act of compassion and empathy. The day after the massacre she met with members of the Muslim community, wearing a hijab, embracing the community symbolically and literally. Each word, each hug declaring to the world that in an increasingly fragmented and self-interested world we need to care for each other more than ever. When the global media began praising her style of leadership, she responded: ‘I don’t think I’m displaying leadership. I just think that I’m displaying humanity.” Interesting thought, displaying humanity. Seems so obvious, but sadly self-interest regularly gets in the way. But is is worth pondering the question in whatever leadership role we have – how am I doing on the humanity scale? What level of empathy and understanding do I afford others? List 5 ways my humanity has shined through in the past week. What is interesting with Jacinda Ardhern is that humanity seems to her default position. What a great platform to operate from! Interesting thought, displaying humanity. Seems so obvious, but sadly self-interest regularly gets in the way. But is is worth pondering the question in whatever leadership role we have – how am I doing on the humanity scale? What level of empathy and understanding do I afford others? List 5 ways your humanity has shined through in the past week.

Nissan fuses tribes and technology for college sports sponsorship

November 9, 2015
Nissan ain’t being shy with its strategy of hitching brand expansion efforts to sport sponsorship deals. Alongside sponsorship of ICC and UEFA tournaments, Nissan recently announced a massive deal to back 100 American colleges across 22 sports. We’re talking college juggernauts such as Ohio State, University of Texas and Oklahoma. We’re also talking about a new ability to leverage its association with America’s second most popular spectator sport: college football. To give its new deal some initial traction, Nissan has gone innovative. It’s launched a free Diehard Fan app, which allows fans to use a photo or video of themselves to virtually paint their face with any of the 100 colleges’ colours. Before you dismiss the app’s capabilities, you really should take a look below. The finished product is remarkably life-like. This is a pretty shrewd move. It allows Nissan to edge its brand into fans’ consciousness by tapping into the tribal, fervent nature of US college sports. Nissan is injecting itself into the heart of a college sports ecosystem typified by old rivalries, the thrill of wearing the same school colours as parents or grandparents and raw, passionate support of a current school or alma mater. Further, the app serves as a credential to show Nissan understands the college sports landscape. On its technological merits alone, the app is a fun, novel and conversation-generating way of establishing a connection with the market. With some colleges home to 100,000 plus capacity football stadiums, college sports running 11 months of the year and extensive cable TV coverage, Nissan decision to go big could well end up with a touchdown.   Image: scmikeburton via Compfight cc

Toyota, ISIS and an awkward brand endorsement

October 8, 2015
It’s definitely the sort of global, consumer-driven endorsement that companies would rather do without. Toyota HiLux trucks have emerged as a near constant fixture in ISIS videos, from convoys of HiLuxes kitted out with heavy weapons or terrorists jumping from the trucks to commence brutal executions. To compound the company’s embarrassment, the US government recently asked Toyota to explain how ISIS acquired the vehicles. This sort of adverse association isn’t new for Toyota. An interesting 2010 Newsweek article points out that HiLuxes have been favoured for decades by militants from the Middle East, Africa and Central America. The article, via counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, summarises the vehicle’s appeal: longevity, high ground clearance, an ability to cover ground well and people mover capacity. You can’t help but feel a little sorry for Toyota. In this instance its brand has suffered solely for living up to one of Toyota’s enduring and defining brand promises: quality. Toyota is drawing negative publicity precisely because the HiLux is functioning the way it was intended. The HiLux’s reliability in arduous conditions and its ability to handle heavy haulage has simply appealed to ISIS just as much as it appeals to tradies around Australia. In response to the US government’s inquiry, a Toyota representative said all that could be really said – including it has a strict policy not to sell to people who may use them for terrorist activities. Essentially, Toyota will just have to ride this one out. It would hope consumers are intelligent enough to recognise the situation is beyond its control. It will also need to continue to be seen doing what it can to protect the integrity of its sales deals and supply chain, despite the reality that it’s impossible to stop HiLuxes ultimately reaching people who want them. This “endorsement” does get you thinking, however, how the owners of Harley Davidson felt when bikie gangs started embracing their brand!   Image: alex1derr via Compfight cc

The Amazon story of employer brand self-sabotage

August 21, 2015
A fascinating piece about Amazon’s workplace culture surfaced a couple of days ago in The New York Times. Based on interviews with current and former Amazon employees, the article illuminated the company’s combative and uncompromising work practices. Here are just a few of the descriptions of the Amazon work experience that appear in the article: At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. [Bo Olson] lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” David Loftesness, a senior developer, said he admired the customer focus but could not tolerate the hostile language used in many meetings, a comment echoed by many others. A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan” — Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired” — because “difficulties” in her “personal life” had interfered with fulfilling her work goals. Their accounts echoed others from workers who had suffered health crises and felt they had also been judged harshly instead of being given time to recover. At present, this workplace culture does not seem to have adversely affected Amazon’s business success. It recently superseded Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the US. Additionally, maybe the strength of its consumer brand can offset the employer brand deficiencies laid bare in the article. Ongoing success will continue to act as a magnet for prospective employees who want to work for the best regardless of what they may have to contribute or sacrifice. But it is hard to accept that the very public exposure of Amazon’s inner machinations in The New York Times would not have a negative impact on its employer brand. A percentage of high potential, well-qualified people would surely reconsider whether it is worth working for Amazon, especially when other successful companies are perceived to have more employee friendly environments. It is also worth considering whether the toxic elements of Amazon’s employer brand will be in time taken on by its consumer brand. The article also draws attention to an intriguing dichotomy about how other employers viewed Amazon’s employer brand. Companies such as Facebook have opened offices in Seattle and benefit from former Amazon employees who are valued for their work ethic. However, the article points out some companies are cautious about hiring Amazon workers because they have been trained to be combative: “The derisive local

Domino’s Pizza uses tasty technology to make its brand number one

August 19, 2015
Last weekend, on a whim, I jumped on Domino’s Pizza’s website to order a pizza. I was after convenience and I got it: it was easy to order and pay. But more interestingly, I wasn’t cast aside immediately after my money had digitally changed hands. There was a time-elapse wheel that kept me updated on what stage my pizza was at: order submission, preparation, cooking and delivery. I then sat fascinated as I watched, via GPS tracking, my delivery driver make his way to my house. I was given his name and photo, and when his progress stalled (presumably at a red light) a little poll appeared asking me to speculate why he had stopped – had he seen Hugh Jackman? Was he pondering a new combination of pizza toppings? I’m not sure if I would follow my pizza’s progress as closely next time, but that’s beside the point. I was impressed. I valued the transparency and the involvement. Domino’s seems seriously committed to leveraging technology to advance its business. It went live with online ordering way back in 2005. Last year it introduced Pizza Mogul, which allows people to customise pizzas, market their creations via social media and take a cut of the profit when the creations sell (some bloke made $50 000 in fourth months using this process!). Earlier this year it shaved the online ordering process down to four clicks with a ‘Quick Ordering’ option and at the start of July it launched the GPS tracking. When listing the business’ four big pillars in an interview with Business News Australia, CEO Don Meij mentioned technology first. Product, store and image followed. That’s big. How many food industry CEOs would cite technology ahead of product? This focus on innovation has allowed the business to flourish despite having a product that most would not consider a market leader in taste. Domino’s can afford for its product to sit at an average, “good enough” standard because it’s secondary. When I ordered Domino’s on the weekend, I, like many others, prioritised ease and a customer-friendly experience ahead of a pizza that would uphold the finest gourmet traditions. We don’t want to go anywhere or pick up the phone and speak to someone; we want to click a few buttons and be done. Domino’s is constantly improving on that offer in ways that far outstrip its competitors. It’s also inventing ways for customers to digitally engage with its brand, like the Pizza Mogul program. This strategy is succeeding. Domino’s accounts for 43 per cent of the pizza market, ahead of Pizza Hut (23 per cent), Crust Pizza (21 per cent) and Eagle Boys Pizza (12 per cent). Maybe Pizza Hut can stop piss farting around introducing excessive, niche products like the Four n’ Twenty meat pie stuffed crust pizza and get tech-savvy.   Image: Kake . via Compfight cc

Can a new brand help Malaysia Airlines soar again?

August 5, 2015
It is hard to conceive of a bigger branding challenge than what lies before Malaysia Airlines. The airline has become synonymous with the MH370 and MH17 disasters. New CEO Christopher Mueller articulated as much when he pointed out Malaysia Airlines’ demand now correlates to social media mentions of MH370 rather than price in a recent interview with Fairfax. A new company will replace Malaysia Airlines on September 1. Mueller has provided some signposts as to what direction the airline’s new brand will take: “Brand is not just the name and the logo but is more what your airline stands for. We will embark on the idea that we provide value for money for our travellers”. This rebirth strategy is likely to be accepted by the infrequent traveller market segment, which prioritises price over airline allegiance. The association of the Malaysia Airlines brand with the risk of mortal danger – an overriding consideration that beats even price – will no longer stand as a barrier to the airline being considered by this segment in its purchasing decision process. Most infrequent travellers have trouble differentiating between the numerous Chinese or Middle Eastern airlines and the new brand would blend into the pack with little market awareness. There are reasons why the new brand should also have traction with frequent travellers and loyal customers. Given the amount they travel, there is a good chance frequent travellers would have reconciled the Malaysia Airlines tragedies in a more positive light – viewing them as freak occurrences in the context of millions of flights safely taken around the world each year – and see the new brand as a necessary business evolution. You would also hope that the airline built enough equity in its old brand for its loyal customers to naturally follow it across to the new one. Finally, you cannot discount a nationalistic desire for the airline to succeed feeding loyalty in Malaysia. One thing is certain: the new brand needs to ideally represent an energised proposition. What is it going to stand for? What value for money is the airline going to provide? It would be great to see the brand own something; whether it is the youngest fleet in the world, the most skilful pilots (unprecedented training?) or amazing service despite the price point. However, just when you thought all of this was hard enough, the airline is technically bankrupt and suffering low staff morale. In light of what it’s been through, I hope the airline can use the new brand to refresh itself in the market place. The real test is whether a name change will influence a purchase decision either way.   Image: Neuwieser via Compfight cc

Top of the Twitter personal branding charts

July 24, 2015
If you had to guess who occupied the top 10 most followed list on Twitter, who would you pick? Would it be a few musicians, a couple of politicians, a news service and some big brands like Apple and Nike? Well firstly, Apple and Nike don’t even make the top 100. No news service appears until number 21 (CNN). And there’s only one politician in the top 10…or top 70 for that matter – President Barry O. Twitter, it seems, is the preserve of pop musicians. The top 10 is as follows:                                 In fact, 46 out of the top 100 are musicians; nearly all American and respresenting the pop genre. The popularity of these particular artists on Twitter led me to wonder what comprised the demographic makeup of Twitter users. Were there more females than males? No, actually. In 2014 24 per cent of American male online adults used Twitter compared to 21 per cent of equivalent females, according to the Pew Research Centre. However, in 2013 18 per cent of females used Twitter compared to 17 per cent of males. This is a statistically significant increase in male usership and it will be interesting to see if it has any bearing on who occupies the most followed list in the future. Twitter provides a potent platform for these celebrities to continually build on their personal brand. It allows them to communicate directly with their fans, as well as provide the public with a snapshot of their lives, thoughts and interactions with other celebrities. Twitter’s ability to amplify the individual is borne out by its most followed list being predominantly filled with people rather than companies. Conversely, a celebrity’s personal brand can command a hefty following on Twitter with very little exertion. Beyonce has 14,085,904 followers and has only tweeted 8 times. 8! If anyone else is dismayed at the state of the world after seeing all of the Kardashian sisters present in the top 100 most followed list, we can take heart from the Dalai Lama sneaking in at number 99. And true to the Buddhist ideal of not holding on to things, the Dalai Lama may have 11,560,104 followers but his following count stands at zero. What a man.   Image: Thaís Santos / @thaistitina via Compfight cc

Clever brands get rid of the shit

July 14, 2015
People who roll with Firefox may have noticed the appearance of a Reader View icon in the address bar. Click on the icon and the website you are viewing is instantly stripped of all its clutter, leaving just you and the main text laid out against a crisp white background. No ads, no sidebars, no nothing. How glorious to be free of the extraneous and left to focus on what is important. Instagram has also been feeding from the same reductionist trough. This month the company launched a new website characterised by Spartan design. Photos are now bigger and displayed 3 abreast rather than 5. The banner of assorted images has been removed from the top of the page. Also gone are a host of lines and borders. Tellingly, Instagram has opted to let all the space freed up by these changes to remain…free. The new website is awash with clean, light space. Youngme Moon speaks to this phenomenon in her book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd. Floating the term ‘reverse-positioned brand’, Moon says some brands deliberately decide to buck the augmentation trend in their category – for an example of the augmentation trend in social media think Facebook and its never ending march of new features. According to Moon, these reverse-positioned brands then imbue their scaled back value proposition with “some form unexpected form of extravagance”. In the case of Instagram the photos are the centrepiece. They have increased in size, sit in ample space and almost anything that detracts from their pictorial splendour has been removed. In a world usually characterised by sensory overload, the user is afforded the absolute luxury of enjoying the photos in a visually quiet place. The larger photos also improve browsing useability by allowing the user to evaluate their content without having to click and enlarge each photo like they did before. Resisting the pull to constantly offer consumers “more” can be a powerful way to create differentiation. By removing the superfluous, Moon points out, you “shed new light on the fundamental”. It may be my minimalist leanings talking here, but Instagram has refined its offering brilliantly.  

Chipotle stays true to its brand values

April 30, 2015
I need to start with a disclaimer. I think Chipotle Mexican Grill burritos are bloody delicious. A one-visit minimum is non-negotiable every time I visit the U.S. A couple of years ago, after a late Sunday evening arrival in Boston, I set out like a madman to score that sweet foil-wrapped parcel from the nearest restaurant. It involved urgent and confusing train rides across the city and culminated with me arriving just minutes after the restaurant had closed for the night. All I was left to hold was my unfulfilled desire. It hurt. So I can empathise with carnitas fans enduring Chipotle’s pork shortage. The shortage, however, represents an interesting brand lesson. Chipotle has been conspicuous in positioning itself as a purveyor of “food with integrity” (their words). Its website outlines a commitment to local produce, ethically raised and additive free meat and non-GM ingredients. In January Chipotle chose not to purchase pork from one of its suppliers after it discovered the pigs were not being raised in line with its animal welfare standards. This decision led to Chipotle being unable to serve pork in a third of its 1,700 outlets. On top of that, Chipotle is taking the time it needs to ensure any new supplier meets its requirements despite the shortage impacting on its sales growth. While Chipotle’s conscience-driven approach to the food it serves is no secret, the publicity resulting from this recent decision has given it another reason to reiterate what it stands for as a company. It has allowed Chipotle to offer up a very real and tangible expression of its brand values and make them come alive off its website. Such a decision underlines that when Chipotle says “integrity”, it actually means it. At the frontline, Chipotle’s staff are able to re-energise the brand’s storytelling of its ethical and sustainable food message on a daily basis by explaining to customers why pork isn’t available. This further serves to ensure Chipotle’s brand values, which comprise a compelling point of difference against other fast-casual restaurants, do not just get lost in all the white noise. Chipotle is, of course, keenly aware that the corollary of making this disruptive business decision is the boost that comes to its brand. In a recent earnings conference call, Chipotle Chairman and Co-CEO Steve Ells stated: “Since we made this decision the majority of sentiment from our customers has been very supportive in the email and web comments along with social media posts, customers are applauding our commitment to our vision, thanking us for standing on principal, commending us for taking action against the inhumane treatment of animals and congratulating us for standing by our business values.” Image: Jason Lander via Compfight cc

Dr Karl and the importance of brand authenticity

April 17, 2015
Given everything that’s going on, it is bewildering to see the Dr Karl Kruszelnicki ads spruiking the federal government’s latest intergenerational report continuing to run. Intergenerational reports are produced every five years and focus on the implications of demographic changes on economic growth and the long-term sustainability of current government policies. The government enlisted Dr Karl, a well-known Australian science commentator, to front its “The Challenge of Change” campaign to promote its 2015 report. The report has been widely criticised for being a political document that minimises the issue of climate change and aims to score points by including forecasts as to what would occur if the Labor Party’s policy settings remained in place. Incredibly, Dr Karl – the very man fronting the government’s promotional campaign – has been vocal in his criticism of the report since its release. Dr Karl has labelled it “flawed”, in particular for its approach to climate change. To distance himself from the report, Dr Karl announced he would donate the money he was paid for appearing in the campaign to needy public schools (despite initially stating he would keep his fee, mind you). In 2014 communications agency Cohn & Wolfe released an Authentic Brands report, whereby it polled 12,000 consumers in 12 countries to examine their perceptions on the authenticity of brands. The report defined seven anchors of authenticity, as valued by consumers: Communicating honestly about products and services Communicating honestly about environmental impact and sustainability measures Acting with integrity at all times Being clear about and true to beliefs Being open and honest about partners and suppliers Standing for more than just making money Having a relevant and engaging story It’s easy to see what authenticity anchors have been left at sea in this intergenerational report debacle. To press on with a campaign that has been repudiated by its own mouthpiece demonstrates not only a lack of integrity but also a wilful attitude towards the public by expecting they will continue to swallow the now irrelevant marketing story being told. Authenticity is key to having what you say believed and respected and nothing damages a brand’s equity more than engaging with customers in a contrived way. The government’s brand is already coming off an exceptionally low base when it comes to authenticity – no political side is blameless in this – and the government seems incapable of progressing beyond a partisan mindset to even contemplate what it may mean to be authentic. In the case of the intergenerational report, the campaign only serves to further erode whatever trust in the government’s brand is left and reinforce the notion in a growing number of Australians’ minds that the government is not worth listening to. If the government were to take steps to reclaim authenticity in its messaging by shelving the campaign, it would far outweigh the hit to the taxpayers for the cost of the promotion.   Image: mal of skeptic via Compfight cc
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