T-Mobile Customer Service

More rantings about customer service, I know. But I recently had some interaction with customer service from T-Mobile, and was shocked by the quality (and pleasantness!) of service. These people are buttoned up. They are friendly, accommodating and generally interested in my case. Or at least they act like they are, which is good enough for me.

Not only do they attempt to act interested in your situation, they go out of their way to be friendly and to get to know you and your needs regarding the mobile phone. One rep talked to me about my business for a good 3-4 minutes and seemed genuinely engaged.

Moreover, on a couple occasions they reinforced the purchase I have made (“oh, that’s a great phone you chose”) regarding either the phone or the service plan, thus alleviating any cognitive dissonance I may have had about my purchase

All in all, kudos to T-Mobile. I’d reco them on this CS feat alone.

Creating Customer Service Heroes

As a customer service freak, I am always happy to read articles like Roll Out The Red Carpet: A Culture of Customer Service Excellence at Knowledge @ W.P. Carey. It very clearly sets out the rules for offering great customer service. Despite its simplicity, it never fails to baffle me how so many companies can become so fixated on their products and forget about the fact that people are actually using them.

The link above lists a few good rules and some interesting perspectives around them. In short, these rules are:

1. Create a culture of customer service. In other words, live it and love it throughout the company. Also, realize that there is no end state. No company can ever say, “Ok we’re here! We’ve reached the pinnacle of customer service”. There’s always work to do and improvement to be made. Customers are always changing.

2. Don’t lie to your customers. Pretty simple huh?

3. Share your company’s customer service vision. When leaders do this, employees will be more likely to pass it on to each other and to customers.

4. Build engaged employees. Hire right. Listen to them and take action. Praise them. Prepare them.

5. Understand the attitude is as important as action. How someone serves is often as, or more, important than the physical service itself. Gee, service with a smile, there’s a novel concept.

Stock Tip: Buy Companies With Great Customer Experience

A blog post over at Harley Manning’s Forrester Customer Experience blog recently compared the stock performances of companies that did well in their Customer Experience Index (CxPi) against companies that were laggards in the same study. You can clearly see that not only did the leaders beat the laggards, but they also beat the S&P 500 for the past three years. The result was not that shocking to a customer experience believer like me. But they did bring a smile to my face and they immediately made me jump over to my personal stock watch list to see where my portfolio stacks up.

Very telling stuff.

RB/LB Marketing -Top 100 Marketing Blogs


Ok, so Right Brain/Left Brain Marketing only came in at #73. But I have Seth’s Blog squarely in my sights. Watch out Seth! Take a look at the list at CoolMarketingStuff.com for some other great marketing reading.

And keep coming back. I’m randomly shooting for #48 next:)

John Gerzma on how consumers are changing their behaviors

This is a nearly 6-month old TED Talk – from Oct 2009 – but it is still very eye-opening and relevant. Mr. Gerzma talks a bit about what drove the recession and how consumers are changing as a result of it, and changing for the better.

Five Brand Naming Lessons

I’ve been involved in some naming projects recently and I thought I’d share some of the strategic learnings. There’s been plenty written about naming. Most of it turns the process into nothing short of brain surgery–which it isn’t! But many companies are also oversimplifying the process and attempting to “follow their gut” which isn’t the right way to tackle the job either.

Below, I have listed five simple rules for naming your brand or company that apply pretty well across the board of naming projects. This is a good middle-ground that will help you put the job of naming on the right track without suffering the 9 months and half million dollars that branding and naming agencies will try to convince you are necessary.

1. Decide On A Direction

This is the first step and unfortunately the one that most companies skip. What do you want the name to communicate? Without this strategic direction you and your team will be floundering in uncertainty. Take the time at the beginning of your naming project to write down the primary messaging goal for your new name. For instance, if you are naming a new whitening toothpaste your name should obviously communicate white, shiny, glistening, beauty etc. If you’re renaming an investment company your task is a little tougher. Do you want to communicate safety, know-how, international scope, or something niche, like environmental finance? Pick ONE direction, rather than three of these and your naming project will go much smoother.

2. Know Your Competition

Don’t come up with 100 names and then see if any of your competitors are using them. Instead, research your competition first. See what’s out there. Then attach a competitive landscape and name list to the strategic messaging your wrote. This will provide those brainstorming names with immediate parameters of where they can and can’t explore. I’ve seen companies skip this step, pick URLs and get all the way to the trademark office before realizing the name (or a close variant) was already being used.

3. Be Creative

Ok, so maybe this one is obvious. But creativity isn’t just a good idea — it’s absolutely necessary today. Unless you are a creative naming professional, there is a very good chance that your first 10-30 names are going to be taken or unavailable in URL form. Today, companies need to expand their name boundaries and the lexicon itself (create new words) to really succeed and stand out.

4. Don’t Ask Your Best Friend’s Sister’s Mother’s….

If you have a good direction and you have smart, knowledgeable and professional people developing names (whether internally or through an agency), you don’t need your sister’s, wife’s or secretary’s opinion. Focus on your direction, and goals, and leave this decision to the experts.

5. Realize That You Are As Important As Your Customers

If the Marketing Director, CEO or Sr. Sales Manager doesn’t like the name, they might not work as hard to back it up and support the brand around it. That may sound petty, but it’s reality. Make sure that all the key influencers and stakeholders (not everyone in the entire company) are onboard with the new name — especially if it is a new company name. Once everyone is singing the same tune, ask them to go out and sing it to the rest of the company, their subordinates, customers etc.

Finding the “right” name isn’t easy. It’s a very subjective thing. By following the five tips above, some of that subjectivity can be mitigated, making the process a whole lot smoother.

Good luck and good naming.

Cuban Calls Google a Vampire

If you haven’t already heard about Mark Cuban calling Google a “vampire” check out the story at Salon. I don’t think I have a ton to add here except.


Of course, that hurray might come at the cost of this site ever being found in a search on Google again. Nevertheless, hurray! Traditional media has been caving in for years now, when they should have been fighting back. As the Salon article states, this isn’t a new refrain, but it is a memorable one. And maybe it’s one the the industry can get behind in cooperation mode. Of course, it’s a crazy uphill battle, that many think won’t amount to a hill of beans. But I wonder why Cuban spent his breath on it if he wasn’t going to forward the cause

We’ll see.

In-Flight Safety Videos: Brand Communication?

On a flight to Chicago recently I saw Delta/Northwest’s new in flight safety video. It looked great. Professionally shot. Attractive presenter. Even a little character. I actually found myself watching it instead of ignoring it. And lo and behold, like any good “brand communication” it made me feel better about the airline.

Once I got home, I was happy to find out the Delta/Northwest wasn’t the only carrier expressing their brand and improving their experience in this way. Take a look at a few of the better ones.


Air New Zealand

Virgin America

Social Media is part of your brand. Don’t let it stand alone.

A brand is built of many things; advertising, promotions, PR, partnerships, history, customer service and corporate culture to name a few. When these things come together in just right way they form a strong brand. A strong brand provides consistent messaging, and a look, feel and tone that generally espouse the same promises and priorities to the customer.

But what seems to be happening more and more today is the inadvertent weakening of corporate and product brands. And it’s being done in the name of social media.

When a TV, radio or print ad is created the utmost attention is paid to brand and brand messaging. When a direct marketing effort is made brand is equally important in determining what is said and how it will be delivered. And when a website is built, brand is also the foundation. Yet, when social media efforts are undertaken, companies often forgo this important step, allowing social media to stand alone, effectively putting tactics and media over strategy.

Why is that?

Well, the talk today is about conversations. Social media perpetuates conversations. Don’t talk at the consumer, talk with them, get them talking, be open, be honest, be transparent. To that I say yes, yes, yes and yes. I won’t argue with a lick of it. However, when a company has people (sometimes 22-year olds with little knowledge of the company’s brand or marketing in general) posting, tweeting and blogging in a different voice than the brand, a company’s brand is weakened

The fix to this is easy. Stop thinking about advertising, promotions, direct and social media differently. We all get it. Social media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc) is here to stay. So let’s stop treating it like the new kid on the team and let’s start using it as one of the tools in the brand toolkit.

Social Media As A Strategy Not A Tactic
Don’t automatically assume your brand needs every social media vehicle out there. Understand your customers. Gauge their needs. Develop a strategy. Employ the media and tactics necessary to meet those strategic goals. Don’t let the tail wag the dog.

Better Integration
Integrate social media initiatives with PR, advertising and promotions. Don’t let it stand on its own operating in a vacuum. Make sure this part of your marketing plan has goals, and meets them, just like the rest of your company’s programs.

Insist on Brand Integrity

Make sure the people planning AND implementing social media efforts in your company are adept brand marketers and knowledgeable of the brand. Make sure there are brand manuals and guidelines, and insist that your social media people are adhering to them (that means your 22-year old tweeter too).

Used correctly, social media are excellent for promotions and PR. They are also a channel that cannot be ignored for some companies and brands. But now we have to start thinking of it as a great way to solidify and support the company’s brand. Yes, the strategies and tactics are different with social media than they are with typical advertising or PR, but not so different that social media should stand alone. The goals are the same. Build a consistent brand, grow that brand and create loyalists.

If your brand is saying too many different things in too many different ways, to too many different people, your brand won’t stand for anything, and it probably won’t stand long.

Great Review of Marketing in 2009

Welcome back!

I hope everyone’s holidays were what you wanted them to be. But now, back to business.

My favorite way to welcome in the new year is to review what we just went through. From a marketing standpoint, there are few better ways to do that than to check out Contagious Magazine’s “Most Contagious 2009″. Click below to download it, or follow the link to download it from Contagious’ website.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Well, it’s that time again; time to gain weight and slack on the RBLB Marketing blog. Of course, as you can tell by my infrequent posts as of late, the holidays have already hit me square in the face with a dose of the old slacking bug.

Christmas in Kobe, Japan

But, I promise to be back at it, circumnavigating the marketing brain, right after the new year. I have design process frameworks I’ve been noodling and hope to post, as well as some new thoughts on brand strategy for the new year.  I will also find some year-end wrap up info that will be interesting to all.

In the meantime, please  take the holidays at a pace you are comfortable with. Enjoy family, friends, food and drink. And above all, stay positive!



UPC Bar Code Design: Great design, even if you hardly notice it.

Some excellent creative innovation from Japan’s Design Barcode Inc. I’m not sure how many people actually notice something like this on most packaging, but it sure makes for a great portfolio of work. And it shows that there’s always somewhere to innovate. Enjoy.

Evaluating Creative Professionals: Are You Only As Valuable As Your Creative Portfolio?

WRITER’S WARNING: This is a long post. If you’re not crazy about reading long online posts, download the post as a low file size PDF.


A black book (or web page) is opened.

Samples of creative work are viewed.

The book or page is closed.

Decisions are made.

Rinse. Repeat.


As a creative professional and educator, I have always pondered the meaning and role of the creative portfolio, what it means to those who are creative professionals, and also to those who are not—those who interact or recruit creatives. For art directors, copywriters, and designers in multiple disciplines, the creative portfolio is their lifeblood. It’s where they show their work. It’s their default resume and principle means by which to land jobs. And, in the end, it defines their careers. The reason it defines their careers is because creative directors, hiring managers and recruiters use the “book” or portfolio to judge a creative pro’s worth. But how much can we really tell about someone from their portfolio, and how defining is it? To me a creative portfolio is solely this:

An artifact that illustrates the degree to which a creative person has been “allowed” to be creative.

Since I put allowed in quotes, let me define it a bit. Unless you are a street-corner musician, a poet or a self-styled starving artist, creative professionals are almost always more obligated to be professional than creative. They work for design companies, ad agencies, or corporate in-house creative teams. This means that their creativity is constrained by their employer. Creative people are further constrained by the clients of their employers. For services companies, this means external clients. For internal groups, this means other functional units within the company. In effect, the sum of these constraints equals the degree to which a creative person is allowed to be creative.

Process and Environmentsilver portfolio

These constraints don’t simply lie in the necessity to conform to a creative brief, design specs or customer requirements. From a broader perspective, all individuals who judge the work of the creative person subjectively form constraints. These include creative directors, account executives, marketing clients, engineers, technologists and many more, including the end-customer if a company is creating correctly. In the end, the work of the creative is not solely a measure of their creativity, but also an artifact of their particular environment’s creative process. It’s important to note that when I say environment, I don’t mean the process itself, but the space within which the process acts itself out. Let me illustrate this with an example:


A copywriter and art director team, from a Chicago advertising agency, come up with an idea for a 30-second television commercial for a consumer package goods (CPG) client.


The idea is shown to their creative director, the creative director’s boss, three account executives, and two clients who are marketing managers/directors. The client then takes the idea and shows it to four more people including their boss. The idea gets altered in numerous ways to meet the ideals and requirements of all who have touched it. Next it goes into production. A director, actors, producers, editors and numerous others touch it and alter it before it is a final product that goes into the copywriter’s and art director’s creative portfolio.Chicago_adagency

In the example above, the first part contains the environment in which the creative process is acted out

1. Chicago

2. Ad agency

3. CPG client

The second part is the process. Most creative professionals understand this process, or one similar to it. Most consider this a system that is acceptable and known. And though creatives, being creative, might occasionally moan about it, they mostly resign themselves to its machinations. However, what very few people consider is how drastically this scenario changes when you change the first part, the environment. So let’s take the exact same process and make the following environment replacements:

Chicago to Portland, Oregon
CPG Client to Athletic Shoe Client

Now, even though the process is probably very similar, the environment has drastically changed. For instance, Chicago has traditionally been a conservative advertising city. Portland has not. CPG clients are often conservative marketers. Athletic shoe makers typically are not. CPG companies often flock to Chicago agencies due to their CPG expertise and conservatism. Athletic shoe companies do not. CPG companies typically employ the kind of person who can understand and conform to the sort of strategic branding these companies do. Chicago ad agencies typically hire creative professionals with portfolios that fit their current client’s style.

Change the Environment, Change the Creative Product

creativityNow imagine the process above taking place in the new environment. If the exact same copywriter and art director were involved, with the exact same process, would the outcome (creative portfolio artifact) be different?

Faster than you can say swoosh. You can bet your recession-proof savings on it.

Country, city, type of office, type of client; these are the environmental elements that designers, art directors and copywriters work within, and that contribute to the formation of their creative product, and thus their creative portfolio. And this is why a creative portfolio only tells part of the story regarding an individual’s creativity and creative potential.

Throughout my 20-year creative career I have known and worked with numerous wildly creative individuals who do NOT have wildly creative portfolios. I’ve also known many creatives who blossomed and evolved once their environment changed. For some it was simply a change of workplace. For others, a whole new city or country or client industry precipitated the evolution.

Ive League

There’s a rather famous example of this not many people know about. The lead Industrial Designer at Apple, Johnathon Ive, has become a legend for his design and design stewardship of Apple’s groundbreaking iMac, iPod and iPhone designs. But Ive wasn’t always the hero at Apple. In fact, during the years when Steve Jobs was away from company, Apple took a nosedive, and the company was at its all-time lows in stock price. Despite the fairly wide acceptance of Mac by creative professionals, Apple looked as if it was going the way of the Dodo. At that time, Ive was there (he started in 1992), designing, and building a (mostly unimpressive) creative portfolio.

Then his environment changed.

Steve Jobs returned in 1997 and put the focus of the company on industrial design. He opened the floodgates for folks like Ive, a brilliant designer, to show just how creative he can be. This one change in environment changed a middling creative talent (if you only looked at his creative portfolio) and allowed him to achieve a level of creativity closer to his potential.



A creative portfolio is an artifact that illustrates the degree to which a creative person has been “allowed” to be creative.

To this!


Seeing Behind the Portfolio

The implications for this sort of perspective about creative portfolios stretch from creator to creative co-worker to recruiter. I think that most creatives would agree with much of what I’ve outlined, perhaps even with an apathetic shrug. But to those who float the periphery of the creative world, these notions are perhaps far more important.

Outside of creative professions, job hunters are judged on their resume, their experience, their education and how they come across in an interview. This is the normal world. But not for creatives. Creative professionals are mostly, and often solely, judged on the content of their portfolios. Given this inevitability, I would plead with those who critique portfolios and make hiring decisions (yes, you too, creative directors) to open their minds to a creative’s potential as much as their portfolio. I humbly request you start with these three simple guidelines that help you see behind the creative portfolio to the real creative professional.

1. Read between the lines.
Look at creative executions with an open mind. Try to see through the end result and consider the process and especially the environment.

2. Listen, don’t look.
Listen to the creative talk about their work and probe deeper into how it got there. Don’t just scan it and take it at face value. Typically, there is far more value hiding behind the face.

3. Remember that creativity is born before it is recruited
Creative professionals are creative by nature first, not profession. What you see isn’t all there is. In fact, the typical creative portfolio is usually just the tip of the creative iceberg.

With these guidelines, I guarantee you will better understand both the work and the mind of the creative professionals you come in contact with, and be able to better gauge creative potential. In today’s creative world there are a handful of wunderkinds out there who are tearing up the awards books, and making names for themselves internationally. But these handful are not the only ones capable of creating extraordinary work, they merely represent the ones who have been allowed to.

Read this post as a PDF

As always, your comments are welcome–BV

TED Talks: Rory Sutherland on value and perception

Check out this short but illuminating TED Talk by advertising executive Rory Sutherland. In it, he portrays consumer perception as an often manipulated and rarely common sense commodity. It gets to the heart of how the economy is dependent on where we place our values. Both funny and insightful.

Brand in Japan: Why is brand strategy different here? Part 3

Brand on the Inside

External focus on the corporate brand image is also mirrored inside the Japanese corporation.

According to Tokyo marketing veteran, Mineo Kamiyama, most companies think “product brands should only be managed by people who know the product”. This is somewhat different from Western practices where Brand and Marketing managers are often marketing professionals first, and product experts second (with the exception of many B2B marketing and sales organizations, which would espouse the Japanese way). For better or worse, this means that the average Japanese Brand Manager, despite their usual lack of marketing savvy, is often left to his own devices when it comes to marketing strategy and tactics. Furthermore, the energy behind those strategies are often directed at new product development, line extensions and packages redesigns, things that Japanese managers see as getting quick, quantifiable results. In other words, new, different, whiz, boom, bam! Unfortunately, brand strategy and brand building tactics don’t have the same immediate effect, and are therefore ignored.

HRTo make the corporate situation even worse, most Product/Brand Managers don’t remain as such throughout their careers. In Japanese companies it is common to implement internal company-wide staff rotations so as to develop generalists. Senior Account Directors become Research Professionals, Creative Resource Managers become Media Planners and a Regional Sales Director replaces a 3 or 5-year veteran to becomes your brand’s next Brand Manager. Lucky you.

To complete the picture, on-the-job training and personal, spoken-only role handoffs are very common. And written brand guidelines or manuals typically don’t exist or are summarily dismissed. According to Kamiyama, that means that a product’s “brand strategy essentially changes at the same time the product (or brand) manager changes.”

In the end, this all happens because top management sees their product brands as a pale shadow compared to their corporate brand. Time is certainly spent on brand image, but the majority of it is for the corporate brand only. That’s where top management sees value, so that’s where they put their energies and their best marketing people.uniqlo

Change is coming…sort of.

Some would say there is no need for change; that this is the Japanese way. It’s different yes, but why mess with it. For the most part, at least in terms of how brands are managed, I agree. (However, I would disagree with HR practices, i.e. building the generalist and sacrificing the expert, on-the-job training and the misc. politics that circumvent better marketing practices. But that’s another blog, for another day.)

I don’t think the whole system should change, but I do think that Japanese companies can easily inject more product focus, better brand continuity and more brand consistency into their product marketing efforts. This may also help Japanese companies to be bigger players internationally. For the last several years the top 100 worldwide brands have only contained 6-8 Japanese companies—surprisingly low for the world’s second largest economy.

healthyaA Western-style brand strategy has worked on a few occasions in Japan for both companies and product brands. For instance, both Softbank, the telecommunications giant, and Uniqlo, Japan’s version of The Gap, started, gained notoriety and became successful without a large corporate parent company. Pocari Sweat, a sports drink and Healthya, a wildly popular green tea drink in Japan also succeed by branding their names over their respective parents Otsuka and Kao Corp. These last two companies went out on a limb, but unfortunately, are of the minority who are trying product marketing and/or the House of Brands model over the traditional model. You can barely find the Otsuka or Kao names on the Pocari Sweat and Healthya bottle and many Japanese people don’t know who makes these drinks. Yet, both brands were product marketed to wild success. And there are several more examples like this (though, not a great deal more).Pocari

When in Rome…

In the end, one must work within the confines of their discipline’s environment, be it geographic or otherwise. And though I have long since realized this, I also know that organic change happens very slowly—and in Japan, even slower still. So if you work with brands in Japan, it is good to understand what makes them tick here. And though it is also important to practice the when-in-Rome mentality, one must never forget that Rome fell, or maybe only its brand did.

Merging Physical and Digital: Livescribe’s Pulse Smartpen and Sketch + Save

I love these two ideas for combining standard communication tools (pens and markers) with digital applications. Look for this sort of thing to pop up more and more. By using tools that people are already familiar with, both physically and cognitively, these sorts of digital apps increase their chances at adoption as well as loyalty.

The Pulse SmartPen, by LiveScribe, uses a pen with a built in mic, speaker and memory. By using special paper, you can record and replay whatever you hear when you are writing. An interesting solution at lectures, meetings or brainstorming sessions.


The Sketch & Save, designed by Pavel Balykin, provides a 2-cap tool with Flash USB on one side and a pen or marker on the other–a multipurpose, multimedia notation and memory tool.


The Convergence of Business and Design: Are you a Straddler?

Idris Mootee recently commented on the topic of business strategy and design convergence, what he called “Integrative Creativity”, over at his Innovation Playground blog. Tempted to comment on his post, I opted to weigh in here instead, given the natural soapbox (right brain/left brain) this blog affords.

ID Like two slow trains on two very long tracks, design and business strategy have been heading towards each other on intersecting paths for some time now. In the last 5-10 years they seem to be picking up speed and they are finally starting to get close. Some design schools are teaching how design can better integrate into business. Some B-Schools are teaching design and innovation. Few schools are thoroughly integrating the two, but it seems only a matter of (a little more) time.

But more importantly, individuals from one side of the fence (or brain) are clearly attempting to straddle it fairly often these days. Business executives are seeing design as more than lengthy processes and “shiny” deliverables. And designers, from all disciplines (graphic design, advertising, ID, interaction design etc) are realizing the need to integrate their thinking and environment with corporate and business strategy.

This group of “straddlers” is the most important in the short term. Show me an MBA or seasoned business executive who is newly interested in brand identity, sketching or experience design and I’ll show you a business organization that is going to soon change their perspective on any number of topics. Find creative and design professionals who go back to school to get an MBA, and you’ll have found individuals more suited to understand that which they create, and who can work better across functional units, bringing more iterative processes and methodologies to bear.

processIn the long term, schools will bring these disciplines together more and more. But school, especially undergraduate studies, is a place to discover who you are and where your passions and talents lie. As a college instructor for more than 10 years, what I clearly saw in my classrooms was a funneling of energies to an individual’s area of interest or skill. This funneling would eventually lead a student to declare a major. Although exposure to both right and left-brain subject matter is essential, it won’t significantly change an individual’s desire to do what they do best. However, it will provide them with the foundation to switch gears and straddle brain hemispheres more easily. In the future, these individuals won’t struggle nearly as much as those of us trying to do the same today.

Brand in Japan: Why is brand strategy different here? Part 2

The Power of a Parent

Another big difference between brand strategy in Japan lies in the typical brand portfolio structure. Western companies embrace the House of Brands model more, where many unique brands fall under one large corporate brand. In Japan, a Branded House, where the corporate brand and the product brand are often one and the same is far more prevalent. This structure was initiated post-WWII by keiretsu. A history lesson I won’t go into here. (But please feel free to read about it in the link) This structure, and the history that formed it, was one of the catalysts for placing far more importance on what the corporate entity is doing, and far less on what the product brand is doing.

You’ll find a perfect examples of this in the typical 30-second TV commercial. Most companies feel that the corporate logo at the beginning and end of the commercial is just as important as the product messaging in the bulk of the commercial. In fact, by putting the logo at the both the beginning and end, advertisers are invoking the primacy and recency effects, thus insuring those logos are the most memorable pieces of their communication, rather than the information about the product. But this idea is not relegated to the Branded House model, nor is it solely symptomatic of it. Some House of Brand companies in Japan also hold the corporate name in much higher esteem than any of their product brands.

In early 2009, I gave a seminar about brand portfolio development to an MBA alumni group from Kobe University. The discussion became rather heated when I challenged this focus on corporate branding over product branding. A couple attendees related to this corporate focus as a cultural artifact as much a marketing principle. They explained that in Japan it was traditionally the family name that was important, and the your given name was no more than an identifier within the larger scope of your family. This is still true today, and it is a big reason why most Japanese company’s product brands are treated with disregard or apathy.

This notion has been tested. There have been new product launches by big companies that attempt to “go it alone”. In other words, they try to launch new products or services without their big corporate logo attached. The vast majority of these products simply never take off, or are mired regardless of design, price or differentiation advantages. The companies then re-market the product, tacking on the corporate logo and corporate endorsement, and the situation is vastly different. This is Japanese society telling companies that they will trust them if they’re big and successful, and if they know their name. Otherwise, forget about it. The repercussions of this are clearly evident for product brand strategy, not to mention entrepreneurial efforts.

In the next, and last part, I will show how internal operations drive a different viewpoint on brand, and wrap up with a look at where things are heading.

Brand in Japan: Why is brand strategy different here? Part 1

This is Part 1 of a three-part post. Come back in a few days to read Part 2.

When in Rome… I don’t even have to finish that phrase. One automatically knows what it means. It stands for something through its meaning, concept and constant repetition. It has become a universal brand statement for living, traveling and working abroad. But when it comes to living with brand strategy in Japan, I have a difficult time obeying the old maxim.

Brand in Japan newIn Japanese companies, “brand” is often looked upon with disinterest, disbelief or, at times, derision. Once, while giving a presentation to a group of my clients on the subject of brand continuity and the importance of focusing on a single message, an attendee fell asleep. This could have been due to him staying up late the night before to catch up on Lost episodes. But more likely, it was because he, and most Japanese marketing folk don’t understand, appreciate or believe in the idea of traditional Western product brand strategy.

I’ve struggled with this throughout the last four years of my tenure here in Japan. It has confounded me and frustrated me while searching for an answer to this riddle. Frustration is generally derived from the general disinterest (falling asleep) but also at the complete and total disregard for what I consider basic brand principles.

To provide a frightening client example, about three years ago my company developed a new marketing communications campaign and tagline for one of our Japanese multinational clients. The campaign was doing well and the tagline was not only getting brand recognition, several countries, other than those it was intended for were also organically utilizing it. Who knows, it might have been the next ‘When in Rome”. But then, all of a sudden and without warning, our client came up with a new tagline (with another agency). When asked why they did it, they simply told us that they wanted to do something “new”. The campaign and tagline were unceremoniously trashed. And this is not at all uncommon in Japan.

So why would a company with successful messaging throw it out the window for no good reason? There are a few key perceptual differences in Japan that drive this behavior and prevent most Japanese companies from embracing the Western idea of brand.

New is Good, Good is New

Japan is a country that, despite its rich cultural heritage, treasures newness and is fed on fad. When a new restaurant opens people invariably flock to it in droves (often, it is left barren the next week or month). If someone receives a new toaster as a gift, they immediately throw out the old one. And most Japanese people would never buy things like appliances, furniture or clothes used. This focus on newness is one of the key societal reasons Japanese advertisers insist on “mixing things up” and throwing brand to the wind (or in the trash as it were).

Traditional brand strategy tells us to create something memorable and of quality and then stick with it over and over again until it garners recognition, sales and loyalty. In the West, a good brand and messaging can, and often does last 3 to 10 years, or more. But in Japan, it’s rare that a product marketing campaign is repeated for more than 1 or 2 years. If a new manager comes in, so too does a new message. If a senior executive has a fresh idea, it becomes a new message. If awareness or sales go down, they immediately think that the problem is that their message is old. And a new message very often means a whole new messaging strategy—in essence a new brand.

But of course, this is just one reason brand is the way it is in Japan.

In the next post I’ll talk briefly about how brand portfolio structure, and the importance of a name , affect brand strategy.

BusinessWeek 100 Best Global Brands: Do you trust the companies you buy products from?

Trust seems to be the newest and most relevant marketing buzzword these days. Consumers have gone beyond simply perceiving branded messages or being part of a brand and the experiences it affords. They want a deeper relationship with companies. Consumers more often want cognitive consonance with the brands they interact with.


Check out this article from BusinessWeek on the topic of trust for more info. Also, view the slide show of this year’s Top 100 Global Brands for a look at which brands are keeping their heads above water in this recession, and which are losing their way.

Budweiser in China: Smart Advice on Brand

331335489_6bf34a7261I apologize for not writing lately.

Unfortuantely, I’m still not.

Instead, I’m recommending some great thoughts on brand leadership over at Denise Lee Yohn’s brand as business blog. Her post offers a quick lesson (read: slap in the face) to Anheuser-Busch InBev about the value of brand consistency and leadership as well as the importance of the strategic and creative process.

Don’t miss it.

Time and Marketing: TED Talk and the “Time Variable”

Ok, to be fair and upfront right off the bat, the following TED Talk does NOT discuss marketing. But as a marketing professional, I challenge you ignore the relevance. In this short talk, Philip Zimbardo discusses how different people perceive time. He breaks them down into three main categories, “past-oriented”, “present-oriented” and “future-oriented” and breifly outlines each one, offering a couple subsets for each along the way.

As people’s perception of time is so very clearly tied to how they make decisions, these divisions appear to be an overlooked criteria for market segmentation. I’d propose a “time perception” variable in any psychographic or behavioral segmentation of a target market. Knowing this variable would help direct or retail sales immeasurably. It would also be very useful to service companies at the brand strategy level as well as point of sale.

Take a look for yourself. Anyone else have any thinking on this?

Better customer service begins with letting people do their job.

customer-service-lg1Last year I wrote about bad customer service , shocked to find how companies and businesses can so easily dismiss customer relationships due to apathy, or more often, to lack of autonomy on the part of the customer servants. Besides individual work ethic, much of the problem stems from centralization; a company’s unwillingness to put control in the hands of the purveyors of customer service.

I was recently reminded of this topic when reading one of Gary Hamel’s latest posts “Unshackling Employees”. In this post Hamel compares corporations to democracy and free markets, positing the difference between to two as degrees of autonomy. Democracy and free markets let people do things pretty much as they see fit, working only within agreed upon guidelines. Whereas, corporations try to manage everything and create rule structures that limit action.

As an example of a changing corporate system he offers up the 150-year old Bank of New Zealand. An old stodgy behemoth like this is certainly a perfect candidate for being centralized and standardized to the gills, controlling every move every employee makes.

Well, for the most part, that appeared to be true for BNZ, but its potential held so much more. Hamel talks about how a couple free thinkers in the organization tried to change things. More importantly, he points out that it wasn’t the free thinkers, but the bank management itself that allowed the change to happen, simply by loosing the reigns and furnishing freedom where it was desired and where it made the most sense.

The Power of the Web or United Breaks Guitars


I know this story is old (three weeks on the web is like a year in the real world:), but I would be remiss not to comment on it here. If you haven’t already heard, a few months ago a Canadian musician, Dave Carroll, had his guitar blatantly mishandled by United Airlines, and then denied any compensation for it. In return, Carroll produced a song and video called “United Breaks Guitars” which he posted to YouTube early in July. The video went bonkers, being viewed by more than a million people in the first couple days. It now has over 4.5 million views and has caused irreparable grief for United. According to Fast Company, it may have even had a part in a $180 million swing in United’s stock price.

This is not only an incredible example of consumer empowerment, but also a potential panacea for the lack of transparency in corporate policy. Many companies still think they can get away with this sort of behavior unscathed and without fault. But that is becoming less and less true with communication vehicles like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc.People are taking charge and speaking out, often in voices louder than the large corporations themselves (Dave Carroll supposedly spent $150 on his video).

If you haven’t been privy to this story, get it from the horse’s mouth over at www.davecarrollmusic.com.

Here’s the You Tube link.

Losing Brand Loyalty: CPG Brand Defection in America

An illuminating study was done by the Pointer Media Network and the CMO Council regarding the defection of CPG consumers in the American (U.S.) market. Frankly this report is scary. Based on results from 2007 and 2008, it outlines the extent of defection and the apparent ease at which brand loyal consumers are leaving CPG brands during the recession. It also shows the lost revenue those defections are causing.

Among other interesting figures, the report notes, that for the 685 brands studied, on average 52% of highly loyal consumers in 2007 either reduced loyalty or flat out defected in 2008. Many brands are listed in the report, along with their loyalty numbers and defection percentages. The paper concludes with a few ideas on how to protect your loyal base using predictive modeling and more targeted communications.

Well worth the read…maybe with a stiff drink.

Click the image below to go to the CMO Council website. A quick, free registration gets you the study in PDF format.


New Newsweek Site Design

Back on June 19th, Rhona Murphy, Publisher and Managing Director of Newsweek Inc., spoke to a small audience here at my company and introduced us to the new Newsweek print and website design. The print version was cleaner, had info-rich graphics and sat on the line somewhere between The Economist and USA Today. Overall a nice change that will definitely make the pub more accessible.


The website redesign had something more interesting to offer. Overall the redesign was unimpressive. And frankly, as a Mac user, it is a cumbersome and sloth-like site that I would never take the time to navigate on a daily basis. However, it did have one content section that impressed me greatly. It was on the home page and called, In The Know. In this section, Newsweek aggregates content from other sites like The Washington Post, CNN, People and 538. When you click on these links Newsweek still retains a top banner, but otherwise sends you to the content provider’s site.


I find this an incredibly smart, albeit uncharacteristic, move for a news magazine website. It’s smart because online news users tend to find the news where they can, and aren’t as loyal as they might be sitting on their couch in front of their TV. With online, you also don’t have to make the conscious decision to subscribe, like you do with a magazine. Newsweek seems to have “got” this. Don’t get me wrong, they are still far from what I would call a hub or news aggregator (it’s only one small section of the home page). But they are certainly moving in a good direction. I hope to see more aggregated content there soon.

Now, if they can only optimize the site so that people with Macs can actually use it.

What is a Brand? More answers than you can shake a stick at.

what_is-brandA couple weeks back someone posted a question on the Brand 3.0 board over on LinkedIn. The question was simply, ‘What is a Brand? They were heading upwards of 60 answers last I checked. Some answers were astute and experienced, some naive, some purposefully comical, some knowingly confrontational. But taken together, they paint a big broad canvas that is useful and confusing at once.

Personally, I still prefer to relate to brand in terms of the “Expectation” it forms in consumers’ minds. To see what others have to say, download the What is Brand? PDF here.

Twitter Experiment Complete

5a28e0e9485a8124I’m ending it.

I don’t think I conducted this experiment in the true spirit of an experiment (there wasn’t a hint of scientific rigor involved). But it seems that Twitter has brought some readers to my blog and reconnected me with a few folks. Though it hasn’t paid off in spades, it does seem like a viable digital channel for the dissemination of information.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of nonsense over there; people shamelessly hawking their wares, porn being masked as “followers” and a bunch of other folks, who I named Twitter Twits in an earlier post, following people for no good reason at all. But don’t take it from me. If you haven’t seen HubSpot’s “State of the Twittersphere” report that came out last week, you should check it out. Basically it said that more than 55% of Twitter users are not following anyone and have never posted a single Tweet. More than 50% have no followers. 75% have never written a bio for themselves.

But…nevertheless, I came into this experiment seeing if I could last a month before giving up on it. If you remember, there was another scary statistic (for Twitter anyway) that said 60% of people who sign up for the service drop it within a month. Well, I survived that test, and think that I will keep it going a bit longer.

Look for me. @rightbrainleft

Newsweek’s Rick Smith: “Don’t Waste A Crisis”


Rick Smith, ex-CEO and 26-year veteran of Newsweek, came to speak at my company (Dentsu KANSAI) yesterday (6/18/09). He spoke for about 45 minutes on the topic of the economy, and what advertising agencies should be telling their clients. His key message is in the title of this post.

In talking about the economy at large, Mr. Smith spoke comfortably and confidently about how “trends and patterns are becoming clear” and how he believes that the major world economies have finally moved beyond the “panic phase”. Of course, he did provide the caveat that neither he, nor in his opinion anyone else, is completely in the know on this economy given its unprecedented scope and scale. However, he did go out on a limb and say that he believed “real signs of growth” would be apparent around Q1 or Q2 of 2010–exciting news for some, a long wait for others.

Mr. Smith then segued into marketing and advertising. He stressed long-term corporate thinking, saying that companies need to prepare now to position their brands for the recovery. In the face of downward spiraling revenues, Smith said that companies should be focusing on market share growth as much or more than revenue growth. How? Keep marketing to your customers. Don’t let them forget who you are. Let them know your brand is here for the long haul, and that it will be here post-recovery. Not only did Mr. Smith see advertising as an imperative in this economy, he viewed it as an exceptional opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted; one of the ways to make the most of the downturn.

Related RBLB Marketing posts:

Marketing in the Down Economy, Big Opportunity for Smaller Companies

Google Keyword Tool: Finding the right keywords

This video shows how to utilize the Google Keyword Tool. It comes from a web design shop/blog in Florida, USA called Naples Web Design. It’s short and sweet, but let’s you know how to get some real value from the tool, so as to be better informed before launching a marketing effort online. Watch it full screen so you can see the details.

Incidentally, two other good tools for researching keywords are Wordtracker.com and Nichebot.com.

Rethinking the mundane–Kleenex

kleenex_fruitEvery now and then I come across design that just boggles my mind (in a good way). These new, limited release tissue boxes (“Perfect Slice of Summer”) from Kimberly Clark’s Kleenex brand are extraordinary. Yes, they are visually stunning and clever. But more importantly, they are a wonderful example of breakthrough design. Let’s face it, tissue boxes have been around forever, and with the exception of resizing and exterior printing, they haven’t really changed much. But the in-house design group at Kimbery Clark, and food illustrator Hiroko Sanders, went out on a limb with these by rethinking and re-imagining the mundane and ubiquitous.

Mostly Tweetless

Still experimenting with Twitter as part of my ongoing experiment to discover whether its worth its weight in hype. I’ve posted some of my blog posts on Twitter and have generated a little traffic from it (not much). But again, though I am trying to try, I feel mostly apathetic about the thing.

In terms of following others, I’m still following very few people or organizations. The organizations or groups seem the most annoying to me, as they tend to fill up my screen every day–mostly with info I don’t need. I’ve tried doing searches for the things I need or am interested in, and that has been useful. Although, I am often shocked how many people or topics aren’t being talked about! But I guess this is to be expected. As with any conversation, I suppose Twitter focuses primarily on who and what is hot–and the news.

A few strangers have followed me. But it seems that a lot of people follow only so that you will then , in turn, follow them. When I don’t follow them, they quickly drop me. Have these people been named yet? If not, I’d like to suggest Twit Collectors (as anyone who would follow someone just because they followed you is clearly a twit).

So…still tweeting. Still twying it out.


Is now the time to innovate?


Bet you thought I was going to give you a resounding all-capital-letters, Clayton Christensen inspired yes. Well, in normal times, I would say that well managed innovation is always a good thing. Whether it’s new products, new designs, new service delivery or new technologies, innovation is what drives businesses—more or less so depending on your industry.

But today, for many companies and brands there’s a good case to be made for not innovating. If your brand has been weakened by the economy, use your resources to reinforce it with marketing communications, not innovation. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

There are two key terms to understand when it comes to your brand. The first is intent. At what level is your customer “intending” to buy your product? If today’s economy is diminishing that intent, your brand is being weakened and/or forgotten.

Two types of intent are driving customers today: Price Competitive Intent and Postponed Intent. Price Competitive Intent just means that people are shopping around more than they ever have before. They are using price as a purchase driver, when they may not have in the past. Where there was once some brand loyalty, price now reigns. These customers need to be reminded of your brand’s key equities. They need to remember your brand is an option worth shopping. Marketing communications does that more efficiently and cheaper than innovation.

The other type of recession-altered intent is Postponed Intent. This is where people intended to buy your product, but have put the decision to do so on hold. New cars, expensive vacations, capital expenditures are all examples of this. In this scenario, people have essentially put their intent on hold. This mindset heavily puts your brand in the backseat and heavily diminishes expectation.

Expectation is simply what people expect of your brand—in essence, this IS the brand. Expectation is formed through customers’ interaction with brand history (what they already know about your brand) brand promise (what the brand claims to be) competition (how the brand interacts with its competition) and marketing communications (advertising, promotions PR etc).

Unfortunately, in a down economy, companies typically cut back on marketing communications, the most important and effective way to build expectation in a customer’s mind. Combined with lessened intent, diminished expectation can be a death knell for many brands.

This brings us back to innovation. On-brand innovation, that is innovation that doesn’t stray too far from the existing brand equity, is usually a good thing no matter how you look at it. But in this economy, it is essential that expectation be kept frequent, recent and consistent with the established—and most memorable—brand equities. The most effective and efficient way to do this is through marketing communication.

Let’s say your brand is a sinking Titanic. You can keep creating wonderful food in the kitchen, keep putting mints on the pillows, and continue planning extravagant events—all things that will make the Titanic better in the future (innovation). Or, you can start bailing water. Right now, many brands need bailing before they sink. Bailing, in this case, means keeping brand expectation high while customer intent is low. This requires marketing communications.

Of course, if the intent of your customer is greatly unchanged, what i call Status Quo Intent, or if your brand’s marketing communications budget has mostly been retained, then the “maybe” at the top of this post turns into a resounding “yes”. Innovation is your company’s future, if your brands, or your industry as whole, is not sinking then now is the time to innovate.

Fallowing Twitter

Nope, it’s not a typo. Fallow is a farming term. It’s when you plow the ground, but you don’t plant seeds. Apparently, it helps restore fertility.

It seems that this is what I am doing with my Twitter experiment. I’ve plowed the ground by creating an account, by following a couple people, and adding a Twitter widget to the bottom of this page. A few people are now even following me. But I haven’t really planted the seeds yet. I think my next step is to add TwitterFeed or some such other app that will help these blog posts go straight to Twitter. I think I also need to “follow” more or perhaps follow better. I am still having a hard time finding content that I consider useful and/or interesting.

If anyone out there has any tips please tweet me @rightbrainleft


Social Media: Marketing or Communication?

In recent polling by Knowledge Networks, it appears that today’s social networks are primarily seen as less of a marketing channel and more of a way to network…well…um socially. That is , “less than 5% of social media users regularly turn to these sites for guidance on purchase decisions in any of nine product/service categories. In addition, only 16% of social media users say they are more likely to buy from companies that advertise on social sites.” The largest percentage, 54%, said that “staying connected” is what they like most about social networking sites.

This is obviously contrary to what many marketers hope low-cost social media will do for them and their brands. On the other hand, many in-the-know SoMed practitioners understand Social Media’s value as a PR vehicle, rather than as a replacement for advertising and promotions.

Personally, I think SoMed is still in its infancy. Whether it will “grow up” to be a big, strong, marketing channel is yet to be seen.

FYI: The following sites were referenced when questioning the 502 Knowledge Panel respondents.


Twitter Update

I have still found little use for my new Twitter account, but truth be told, I haven’t given it a fair shake yet. I’ve made all of two measly posts. However, today i did add a couple friends and am following them–you two know who you are:) I’m also following a couple local groups.

Overall, I’m still feeling really old–probably like my parents felt when they first had to program a VCR (that’s a video cassette recorder in case anyone under 20 is reading).

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted.

Branding Bookshelf

Matthew Fenton over at That Branding Thing asked the question “What ONE book would you recommend…” to a colleague who had only a limited knowledge of branding. He received some great responses. Check it out.

For my money, Kellogg on Branding, is the best of the bunch. It’s a collection of essays written by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management marketing faculty. This book runs the gamut from brand portfolio management and positioning, to advertising and name creation–and a whole lot in between.

Good reading.

13th Annual Webbys Winners

Check it out.

The best websites, interactive, film & video and mobile–announced a couple weeks ago.

Great work here across the board.

My only beef with the Webbys site is that they make me download something called MS Silverlight to view the award-winning videos. Otherwise, a nice awards presentation site.

Vollmers Digital Darwinism

Chris Vollmer, Booz & Co. Partner and author of Always On, recently wrote an excellent paper over at Strategy & Business called Digital Darwinism. The paper can be seen as a short (and somewhat updated version) of Always On. But it concisely posits his argument about how digital is evolving the broader marketing environment and how customer relationships are changing because of it.

A particularly useful section discusses the five behaviors necessary in the game of survival of the fittest. They are: 1. Turning consumers in to ‘prosumers” 2. Building bilateral brand experiences 3. Placing context on par with content 4.Mastering the new calculus of communication and 5. Establishing collaboration as King.

I’ve linked the PDF here.

To get it from the Strategy & Business website you have to register (free), which is well worth doing as they have a wealth of insightful reading there.

Barely Twittering

Ok, so a word of warning to those who read this blog for interesting marketing news or insights: my Twitter experiment (see post below) may be neither. If that’s the case, I apologize.
Nevertheless, I signed up, but am still a bit clueless about how to get started. I see the Lavar Burton, John McCain, the CBOE and 50 Cent have Twitter accounts and that I can “follow” them. But as you might expect, I have absolutely no desire to do that. In fact, I went through the entire list of Twitter’s “suggest users” and I couldn’t find a single one I give a damn about. Celebrities, musicians, Kim Kardashian (not sure what she is) companies or organizations promoting themselves…it all just leaves me very nonplussed. However, I can guarantee you that if I were 16 and I had Twitter (though CDs weren’t even around when I was 16) I would have loved the site’s suggested users.

So I guess my next task is to try to find some friends who are already on Twitter.

If anyone has any other suggestions about how to get more from the service, please comment below.

Twitter. Tweet. Twy it out? Maybe tomowwow.

5a28e0e9485a8124Why do so many people think that someone wants to read about what TV shows they watched last night or that their dog had diarrhea, or that they just got back from a trip to Kalamazoo? Nobody cared about this sort of inane minutia before. Why does a platform for dissemination of that material change anything?

I can’t deny the importance of Twitter as a potential corporate marketing tool for select clients or especially for media outlets. But really, aren’t the vast majority of Twitter posts meaningless dribble? Just another soapbox for mediocrity, self-absorption, and frankly, a bunch of twits? It makes me sick. Tweet this!

I was, pretty much, firmly in this camp until very recently when I started seeing some of the value of the Twitter. I also, just read this post on Yahoo Tech that helped confirm some of finer points about the tool and dissuade me from some of the nastier points above. I also learned in the article that Twitter has terrible retention, with 60% quitting the service within a month.

So, as one of the last of the Twitter holdouts (or so it sometimes seems) I’m going to give it a try tomorrow. I’m going to become a twit for at least one month. And see what use it might be to me as a marketing pro, as a blogger, as a networker, as a person that one day might visit Kalamazoo. Along the way, I’ll share my thoughts on the service. And, when the month is up I will decide whether to pool myself into the 60% or the 40%.

Wish me luck. And tweet me when you get a chance (I can’t believe i just wrote that.)

Brand is Expectation–PDF

A few weeks ago I spoke at the Osaka Hilton to FEW (Foreign Executive Women) about corporate and personal branding. The engagement turned out to be as much a discussion as a presentation. And the idea of brand seemed to spark the imaginations of the non-marketing based attendees as much as the marketing-savvy ones. I introduced the idea of brand as “expectation”, and tried to clear up how brand was formed by the expectations of customers. At the end, I handed out the PDF linked here.


It combines several of my earlier blog posts under the heading “Brand is Expectation”.

Enjoy. And feel free to comment.

Right Brain/Left Brain Marketing on Alltop

f_alltop_250x250I try not to be too overly self-promoting on this page. But Right Brain/Left Brain Marketing was recently added to the Branding page (http://branding.alltop.com/) of Guy Kawasaki’s blog aggregation site Alltop. One of the prouder moments in this humble blog’s existence.

So let’s stop to take moment of pause. Ah. There we go.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled marketing.

Cheers, Barry


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