Is Your Brand Vivid Enough For The 21st Century?


With so many messages, channels, and technologies competing for our beleagured mental attention, I often wonder if the only brands getting attention these days are brands that are vivid?

What do I mean by vivid? Well it’s partially self explanatory, but if a brand is every good and bad product, banner ad, website, TV ad, point-of-sale piece, twitter feed, facebook page, or after-sales service call, then by vivid I mean a brand platform that has the depth to produce consistent content across everyone of those channels.

My premise is if you don’t have a vivid brand platform, one that is rich, deep, and well articulated, then you won’t have accurate criteria to help you navigate through the many internal ideas, and agency tactics that are needed to play in the new high bar of the 21st century. The second problem resulting from this lack of vivid brand platforms, is very likely your consumers, your prospects or your customers, are going to steer away from your brand because they are information-overloaded and therefore don’t have the mental bandwidth to piece together your brand for you – too many other great options out there.

I think there are some great examples of vivid brands and some god-awful examples.

Some of the great vivid brands are all the ones we gravitate to. They provide value to our lives by providing some utility, they solve something, the iconic brands share with us their beliefs, they give us something we needed, something to look forward to, something extra, or something we didn’t even know we wanted. And they are consistent through their value chain of activity: their products, in-store experiences, ads, their follow-up, etc. And all these tactics are mutually supportive of a larger brand platform. Obvious examples are Apple, Nike, West 49, Google, Lululemon, Starbucks, etc.

West 49

West 49 is a vivid brand in the area of “youth action sports lifestyle”. From the in-store “dudes” and “dudettes” they hire, to the miscellaneous items around the core clothing model, like skateboards, longboards, sunglasses, to the online offerings including West 49 TV – clear, lots of depth, cool content and all “totally chill”. And the brand company they keep like Element, Sector 9, and Plan B all bring the brand platform to life.

Starwood Hotels

Recently, for the top tier of its loyalty program, Starwood Hotels & Resorts added a service called Your24 which allows members to choose when they can check-in and check-out of the hotel. What a great feature. I remember travelling from Tokyo to New York for meetings there with McCann and your body clock was exactly the opposite of the time zone in Manhattan. A great service idea – built around me, not the hotel cleaning service. That gesture has huge communication value. Very consistent with the Starwood brand platform and approach.

Car Industry

Recently there’s been a particular car ad running on TV which I believe is trying to highlight a 10 year warranty only to jettison the viewer into a picture of these same two guys 10 years in future. The future beholds both men now balding, one with a baby and both remorsing over their future selves. So what attributes of this brand (no brand platform present obviously!) were they “driving” to increase, other than horror, panic, and fear. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get that one – so much more they could do with that brand, even for dealer communications and certainly for a Japanese company of that stature.


If you’re not sure about specific strategies or tactics, then likely your brand platform is not vivid enough. You don’t have the criteria or roadmap you need to leverage your brand in the 21st century. With new messages, apps, posts, technology, and information flying at us faster than ever, there’s only one constant – your customer. Focus there and determine what jobs, outcomes and utility they need and then, in the context of your idea, use that as the road map to develop strategies to make your brand platform vivid. If you don’t, you’re brand will be lost in the crowd of new, shinier offerings.

Once there, you can then move to channel planning. But you have to be precise in terms of ownership of this stage of strategy development and also ensure there is quality control. Most agencies still rely on their creative teams to do this, based on an ad idea, which is not wrong. But you do have to make sure this is cross-checked across the specific channel form and capabilities as well as communication tasks or barriers you are trying to address. Don’t accept a check mark in each box. Ask for specifics. The tactic needs to address both parts of the matrix: 1) the capability of the channel and; 2) the task or barrier you are trying to address.

You then should have tactics and can now move into determining which of these your budget can afford. If you are still uncertain, test them in some inexpensive, online setting, off the radar. The new tools of the digital space afford you the luxury now to test and learn almost immediately. You can remove things off a site or you can modify on the fly fast and inexpensively. You can then refine your brand platform, add depth, map a publishing strategy, find the themes that resonate, test stories, fine tune content and other tactics you can mine successfully and also determine what’s outside your brand jurisdiction. There’s no longer any reason to have off-strategy ads or tactics or less than vivid brands. Leave that for the 20th century. And if you don’t have this level of brand platform, you’re likely not going to survive past your next performance review because likely your competitor or a new adjacency is scoping out your weaknesses, as you are with them.

If your interested in a free assessment of your brand or want to just discuss the difference between a brand and a brand platform, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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New Ways Marketers Can Think About Digital

Most marketers these days are being presented with communication tactics from their agencies that are then placed in digital channels. This is a akin to the early days of radio where announcers read the newspaper. And while this is “ok” given these early days, we believe the new digital landscape provides marketers with so much more opportunity.

Though we are about fifteen years into this new digital world, it has only been because of recent phenomena that marketers can now get even closer to consumers through the advent of social, apps, enterprise resource planning tools, e-commerce, m-commerce, etc. We can now listen to consumer groups, interest groups, we can dialogue with them, we can gleen product ideas from listening, and we can get our service department to follow-up on complaints – all at relatively low incremental costs, if any. The real opportunity is to view digital as a means to amplify already sound business, brand and marketing communications strategies that provide utility to consumers and customers.

But though this new way of thinking seems to be starting to take hold, mostly in the U.S., it still is in the early days in Canada. So we thought we’d highlight some of the benefits of this new approach to digital, share a couple of examples of companies practicing it and suggest a few ways companies could implement it.

Research, Brand Health & Relationships

In terms of benefits to this new way of thinking about business, there are many. Firstly, businesses and marketers can get even closer to their consumers, customers and prospects than ever before. There are a myriad of ways to do this, from free social listening tools to subscription services. And we’d argue these can provide more insightful information than the staged conventional research methodologies, especially focus groups.

Secondly, by viewing digital as an overarching tool to a business or brand, marketers can create communities of customers; these can be demographic groups, pychographic groups, or interest groups. These communities allow marketers to reconnect their brands to the true interests and utility that consumers are looking for. As we all know, consumers don’t want a drill, they want a hole.

Thirdly, these tighter relationships can produce a pile of new product and service ideas – just by listening!! Perhaps there’s a need for an app that tells luxury hotel guests about the real authentic tourist sites close by. Or perhaps a second-place coffee shop sees a new service idea that Starbucks doesn’t provide. And all companies these days need to continue innovating to grow as the long tail of new competitors and adjacencies encroaches on their territories.

Two great examples come to mind of companies operating and thinking in new ways about digital:


The first is Nike and specifically Nike Digital Sport, an incubator of teams that develops products and services for consumers to track and measure their own statistics across a myriad of sports. Very different than placing Tiger Woods in an expensive TV ad, shortly after his P.R. fiasco. As a recent article in Fortune mentioned:

But Digital Sport is not just about creating must-have sports gadgets. Getting so close to its consumers’ data holds exceptional promise for one of the world’s greatest marketers: It means it can follow them, build an online community for them, and forge a tighter relationship with them than ever before. It’s part of a bigger, broader effort to shift the bulk of Nike’s marketing efforts into the digital realm — and it marks the biggest change in Beaverton since the creation of just do it, or even since a graphic design student at Portland State University put pen to paper and created the Swoosh.

And with results:

So is it working? Is Nike’s massive digital push a true replacement for its marketing past? Its unconventional approaches have won accolades from insiders. “They have their finger on the pulse of what their customer is looking for,” says David Carter, executive director of USC’s Sports Business Institute. Institutional investors who pay close heed to Nike’s subtlest moves have voted in favor of the changes: The company’s stock has returned 120% over the past five years as the S&P 500 index (SPX) has returned just 2.5%.


Another great example is Kawasaki and the interesting work they’ve been doing to use social as a research tool, a demo tool and a sales tool in a very crowded category, while keeping costs down. You can check out a cool interview here on Mashable at

How To Implement
So how do marketers begin to think differently about digital? Some thought starters:

  1. Firstly, you need to audit your planning process. Are you asking the right questions throughout your process? Most companies have this in place but it is good to review.
  2. Within each stage of planning, ask if you are getting the most relevant, progressive, and insightful information from the right channels and suppliers. Can you get some of this information from new means and at a lesser cost?
  3. Third, make sure you are interpreting the findings correctly. Consumers want jobs done, they want specific outcomes and often there are barriers in the way. Drill down to the most basic level to uncover the opportunities. Is this job or outcome best done in communication or do you need to provide a new product, service, promotion, app or some other utility-offering tactic?
  4. Fourthly, ask if these findings are being shared with cross-functional teams. And whose job is it to share the findings, gather additional information then inevitably comes up at these meetings.
  5. Also, try stuff! Test stuff. Do it in a way that is small, has little risk, and learn from it. Nike tried things in the early days and not all of them were successful. Google tested four Super Bowl ads online before it decided what to put on the broadcast.
  6. Lastly, re-look at how frequently this analyis is done. Most companies do this annually. We would argue this should be done more frequently. We prescribe to a practice we call Horizontal Thinking ™, which means we want to listen, think and engage almost everyday with our customers. Think being in perpetual beta mode, not the old approach of one time per year we all take a look around, build a plan that will be executed months from now.

These are relatively early days in the digital world, but great days for marketers because they now have access to more information and tools then ever. This new way of looking at digital will help not only fuel great creative, but also fuel the total marketing mix, company value chain and provide real utility to consumers and customers.

If you have any other thoughts as to barriers companies face or ways to implement this new thinking, we’d love to hear them.

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My interview on Soshalize

Dave Hale interviewed me recently on the Soshalize podcast…

Welcome to the fourth episode of the Soshalize Podcast; a weekly discussion between digital marketers, tecnologists, and media personalities about the industries’ hottest topics. This week, Dave soshalizes with Jeff Plowman about the “Fab Four” (Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon) need to approach their strategy. They talk about the evolution of the consumer and how agencies are falling behind, how competition between the Fab Four seem to be closing the digital space by creating their own “all-inclusive resorts”, cross-platform strategies and the importance of building core-applications, and more. Source: Soshalize — Soshalize Podcast – Episode 04

Go to the source if you’d like to listen in…

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Unilever Gets It – Digital Assets And Digital Media

I read a great article today in Ad Age. It was from two days ago (I guess I’m behind in my Google Reader reading). Anyway the article highlighted two important points I share vehemently:

1. We have to move from just applying communication tactics in the digital space and move to offering larger, more value generating platforms in the digital space

2. How to fund digital media.

To this first point, Babs Rangaiah makes the point below via the old paradigm shift from print to radio:

“To this day, most of what you see is banners and buttons and pre-rolls — translations from old media to new,” Mr. Rangaiah said. He likens it to the early days of radio, when broadcasters read newspaper stories until an RCA middle manager, David Sarnoff, persuaded superiors to air a heavyweight boxing match.

“Just like David Sarnoff, there are going to be some people at some companies, hopefully ours, that are going to reframe the space,” Mr. Rangaiah said. “Media companies will be part of that, too.”

That’s why Unilever has made it a point to forge relationships with Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter, Mr. Rangaiah said.

To the second point around how to fund digital media, as we at The Super Market Inc. also believe, you fund digital slowly over time as it proves itself. And you take those funds from paid media as the digital eyeballs begin to grow.

“To get earned media, you need to create great assets in the digital space,” Mr. Rangaiah said. “The idea is that by creating great earned impressions, you can take from the paid impressions. And if that’s your strategy, you need to shift your budget. That’s not an easy thing to do. … It takes a lot of proposals and perseverance. But it goes a long way toward backing up your strategy.”

There are a number of other great points here, worth reading. Do you agree with these philosophies? Feel free to comment below.

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The New Digital Age

The consumer has overthrown the system. Technology has changed business forever. And like an Economics 101 course would say, only those businesses that provide meaningful and relevant value will grow and thrive. It is truly a Super Market.

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