Archive for the ‘The 3rd Button’ Category

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Differentiation: It’s that simple. It’s that difficult.

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Strong products and services are highly differentiated from all other products and services.

Never has a sentence about marketing received more head nods and less true understanding than the sentence above. It’s a statement that has always been an accepted part of marketing lore, and one that became fact when Young & Rubicam actually spent the money, build their “Brand Asset Valuator” and proved it.

Relevant differentiation was found to be a leading indictor. (Any idiot can be different. The tricky part is to be different in a way that is relevant to your audience.) Traditional measures such as knowledge and esteem were found to be lagging indicators. These lagging indicators (the ones we seem to spend so much time and money tracking) degrade slowly and can  be artificially maintained through marketing expenditure or price discounting. Thus, by the time they start to fall off, you might already be in a ton of trouble.

I’ve always found it fascinating that the consumer packaged goods industry is so full of B-word job titles: Brand Directors, Brand Managers, Brand Assistants, etc. At the end of each year a lot of very smart brand people get their report cards. Revenues, cases, market share, profitability, distribution- the list is long and comprehensive. But the most important measures are usually nowhere to be found: Is your product or service differentiated in a way that is meaningful to your audience? And did that difference increase or decrease?

In most companies, astonishingly, differentiation isn’t even tracked. Keep in mind, the people behind all this are brilliant people; some are the superstars of the marketing and management world. Certainly they are smart enough to know that important things get measured- and that those things that are measured tend to show up in their evaluations and determine their bonuses. So if difference isn’t measured and case volume is, guess which one gets priority whenever they come into conflict (such as the end of the accounting year)? “You’ll weaken your brand position” almost always loses out to “If I don’t provide a deep discount and launch that line extension I won’t make my volume forecast.”

Brands are built by intelligent and creative marketing. Marketing is all about positioning. Positioning is all about differentiation. Track that differentiation and you’re able to track the creation and evolution of your brand. But don’t stop there. You should also track specific outcomes. For example, track the premium that people are willing to pay for your product over a generic product, and use the resulting data as a proxy for brand strength and use it- along with all the other business measures. An accurate and trended measure of differentiation can be a great tool (see Y&R about their Brand Asset Valuator), but simple measurement and accountability count most in the end.

When I was at Kellogg’s (pre-Brand Asset Valuator, and so long ago it hurts), we simply measured the value of our brands by comparing them to house brand equivalents. The difference in perceived value was measured once a year and then tracked. We were less interested in the absolute difference than we were in the trend. An upward trend meant good brand stewardship, while a downward trend meant poor brand stewardship and the need for intervention.

It really is that simple.

Tune in next week for more on creating real difference from Austin McGhie.

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New Episodes UP! on Design Matters

Monday, April 14th, 2014

triplethreat

Fresh new episodes of Design Matters with Debbie Millman are now up on Design Observer! Check out the latest conversations with Jonathan Harris, Joe Marianek, and Debra Bishop by clicking here<<


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The Fabergé Big Egg Hunt is ON!

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

fabergehunt

We are thrilled to let you know that Debbie Millman has an egg in the FabergĂ© Big Egg Hunt in NYC– on NOW!

There are about 300 artists and designers featured in the Hunt including Zaha Hadid, Julian Schnabel, Tracey Emin, Donald Baechelor, William Wegman, David Salle, Cost and many others.

The eggs will be up through the month of April, and Debbie’s egg is located in the Financial District.

Who’s ready to go hunting?

Click here to read more and view all the eggs

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Sterling Buzz…

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Last night, Debbie was joined together on stage with design and creative influencers from Instagram, Apple and The New York Times at the In-The-House 4 event. The evening discussion gave an inside look on how the digital format has changed the course of design in the scope of culture, connectivity and content, from an in-house design team perspective. These lead creatives also gave valuable insight on the culture ‘in-house’ and getting your foot in the door at your favorite brand-homes.

panel

Derek Scott of Instagram led off with a passionate talk on how pivotal the brand mission is in creating meaningful and follow-able content on a visually-driven platform. He presented an impressive list of membership and viewer stats that should make everyone stand at attention.

Instagram challenges brands to show us how they see the world, and as Derek said, it’s not always easy for brands to take this view of themselves. A few of the success stories he cited were Nike, Patagonia and Michael Kors.

korsFashion brands like Michael Kors jumped on the Instagram platform early, honing years of visual and artistic industry expertise.

Second up was Renda Morton.

Somewhat new to The New York Times, Renda gave up her studio overseas to become the product design lead there, and she strongly encourages you all to Subscribe. Additionally, Renda revealed some of the process behind the NYTimes website redesign in 2011, and then subsequent redesign after that one. The site is now device responsive, in that it adjusts to every format from laptop to tablet.  And just this week, in response to research about news content, the brand has rolled out a new app called NYTNow (read more about it here) that pushes early edition and late edition news briefs to extremely busy readers and also offers non-traditional news and entertainment stories written by a dedicated content staff.

One of the most interesting secrets revealed is that the NYTimes design team recently went through 116 design templates just for the top page of the web version of the paper. Clearly, more thought than ever is being put into presentation that pleases the new digital generation.

nytimes116 templates the New York Times’ digital product team explored for the top page, alone.

nytnowA peek at the new NYTNow app, which will be evolving with feedback from users.

And lastly, Joe Marianek spoke about his valuable experience becoming a ‘company man’ at Apple, and the enthusiasm every individual has for the brand inside the complex at Cupertino. Having worked agency side, in-house and now for himself at his newly established design firm in NYC, Joe gave students aspiring to take the leap into in-house some valuable interview advice.

Joe encouraged designers not to just walk into an interview with a portfolio filled with perfect works, but to also remember to include a design challenge, or even disaster, that struck in their former job or educational experience that they were able to solve. Design is all about problem solving.

joeJoe encouraged in-house designers not to get swept up in the occasional monotony of designing iterations of the same thing; rather to focus on the creativity and individual talents of the people you work with, and constantly find small innovations for more beautiful design solutions.

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A Brand is a Response, Not a Stimulus.

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Yes, I’ve made this point before, but as we marketers are great believers in repetition, I intend to keep at it.

A brand is a collective marketplace response, hopefully to the stimulus of a well orchestrated, focused and attention-getting marketing program. When you develop a compelling position and an associated strategy, you have gone a long way toward establishing the response that you’d like to elicit from your audience. But you still have to craft the stimulus.

And the stimulus doesn’t work in a vacuum, either. Rather, the stimulus operates in the medium of the customer’s mind, and that medium is in turn impacted by everything from the customer’s long and deeply held beliefs to what he or she had for breakfast an hour ago… So you’d better know them both intimately before you start constructing that stimulus. More on this later, but for now, to know your customers’ beliefs intimately means to know them personally. There’s nothing wrong with that big, quantitative U&A study or with customer segmentation research, but there’s no substitute for personally mixing it up with a few real live customers and prospects.

Once again: You don’t build a brand- your audience does. You don’t give a brand to the marketplace- you get a brand from the marketplace. Until the marketplace says you have a brand, you simply have a product. And there’s nothing wrong with having a great product or service. Just don’t mistake it for a great brand.

——-

Stay tuned next week as Austin delves deeper into the art of Positioning

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A New Design Matters is UP!

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Dana_Arnett

This past week, Debbie chatted with Dana Arnett, founding principal and CEO of the internationally recognized firm VSA Partners and a 30-year career steeped in design leadership, business and brand consulting, and policymaking. Arnett, along with his partners, lead a group of 300 associates in the creation of design programs and digital and interactive marketing initiatives for a diverse roster of clients, including Harley-Davidson, IBM, General Electric, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Thomson Reuters, Sappi and Anheuser-Busch.

>>Check out the podcast here


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Want a Great Brand? Build a Great Product.

Monday, March 17th, 2014

You can only sell sizzle for so long. Sooner or later a person’s got to sit down and eat.

Over the course of a year, strategists from Sterling Brands conduct face-to-face interviews with some ten thousand people about brands. In one study in 2005, Sterling talked to teens across the country about which brands they felt were the “coolest.” Actually, the team introduced them as brands, but the teens consistently responded by calling them products. Keep in mind, these teens are some of the smartest consumers to ever walk the planet. They totally understood the concept of brand, but they invariably started with the quality of the product or service.

For example, the Sterling team talked to these teens about Microsoft. Now, if you’re an adult, that particular brand carries baggage. Back in the 90s, Microsoft was perceived as a bully. It cast FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) over the competition, then showed up late with a product in need of improvement. But to teens, Microsoft was about success, ubiquity and utility. For them, Microsoft worked, and it worked well; after all, it made their lives easier. To them- at least early in the new millennium- Microsoft was almost as cool a brand as Apple, but for wildly different reasons.

Then along came the iPod and the iPhone. We’ve literally stopped asking young people questions about which brands are most cool or “get you the most.” The answer is almost always the same: Apple. It gets boring after a while.

Sterling strategists also talked to teens about buying games. In one instance, they asked a boy what might influence him to buy a specific game once he was in the store. The response was, essentially: “You’d have to be an idiot, or an adult, to make your mind up in the store.” Pressed for more detail, the teen explained: “You go online and read reviews, look at a demo, email or IM your friends and then borrow the game if you can. If you can’t, you rent it. Then (and only then) do you put $50 in your pocket and go to the store.”

This chapter could also be called “U is for Utility.” Today’s customer, particularly the younger one, is all about utility. What can it do for me and at what price? Value has always been an implied and personal equation of utility over price. The difference is that today’s information technology makes the equation so much more transparent. Indeed, mobile apps are rapidly transforming information into a new form of entertainment.

With information ubiquitous and accessible from a variety of personal devices, your utility coefficient had better be higher than than of your competitors. Either that or you’d better have the infrastructure essential to support a lower price. You need to pick one road or the other, because information acts to take the middle road away.

To place this in perspective, one study found that just 4 percent of people said they would “stick with a brand if its competitors offered better value at the same price.” Maybe this percentage has always been really low (though I’ll bet it has dropped dramatically in recent years). But the scary fact is that now, whether using their computer at home or their cell phone while standing in the store aisle, customers know the exact price (and utility) difference.

This is critically important, as I still hear people wanting to talk about brand equity or brand essence as if it’s this free-floating construct. Any conversation that isolates the brand, separating it from product or service utility, ignores the realities of the marketplace- and thus risks a tragic outcome.

Stay tuned for more from Austin McGhie next week…

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Great Brands Are Built from the Inside

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

If you can’t get it right on the inside, you’ll never get it right on the outside.

The strongest brands are built from the inside out. The brand simply reflects the culture of the organization in a focused way.

Once, when I presented a positioning strategy to a senior manager of a client company, he clearly felt let down. “Where’s the magic?” he asked. “This simply describes the way we are on our best day.” That’s when I told him that I thought his words were the best description of brand positioning and strategy I’d heard in a long time. Suddenly, we both had a better understanding of brand strategy.

So let me state the point more formally:

Your brand position distills, focuses and bottles the essence of who and what you can be on your very best day.

Some brands begin with a clear view of their positioning from within their organization and build their brand strategy on that foundation – but what do you do when it comes time to introduce a new brand strategy into an existing organization? It’s not so easy, especially if you want to do it right. How do you avoid the skeptical (and typical) organizational response that the strategy you’ve spent so much time developing is merely the latest in a long line of marketing initiatives?

Obviously, the best starting point is to have the right strategy. One that seems real. Not only must the strategy be more than right analytically, it also must feel right to people who know. It must be emotionally compelling. And it must seem to have arisen from the culture itself- even as it focuses and drives that culture.

The right brand strategy screams competitive advantage. There may be many places where a company’s internal culture meets the needs of the external customer, but there are few that actually yield competitive advantage. Unfortunately, the customer can’t tell you which ones they are. It’s your job to find the best of those few.

Let’s assume you’ve found the right strategy, that optimal brand position. What’s next?

1.)

First, you need to recruit your senior management team. This team must become serious brand advocates or failure is all but assured. Most of all, your CEO must become the brand champion. If he or she cannot channel the brand in a natural way, someone has a lot of work to do.

Don’t worry: most serious marketing organizations do this part of the process pretty well.

2.)

The second step is to “operationalize” your strategy. That is, you need to bring the strategy to life in activities that your employees actually do every day. Ask yourself the following questions:

-How does the strategy drive product development and design?

-What about engineering?

-How does the strategy impact the office environment?

-How is the strategy “sold” by the sales force?

-How can HR use the strategy to help hire the right people?

Unlike the first step, not as many organizations handle this second course of action well.

3.)

Third, you need to “launch” your strategy to your organization, typically through some combination of a company-wide meeting, departmental presentations, and internal marketing vehicles such as the company’s Intranet, brand books, screen savers, etc. But thinking beyond the launch event, consider an ongoing media plan that targets internally, just as your external media targets your customers.

It’s a psychologically healthy cult, minus the isolation and chanting, but plus the consistency and repetition. Watch out for inconsistencies and stick to your mission.

Finally…

Take your time. Sell the strategy internally. Build organizational understanding and support. Make the strategy and the brand position a cultural focus inside the organization before using them in the outside world.

Put simply: make it real inside if you want any shot at making it real outside.

Check back next week for Austin’s latest installment on how to build great brands.

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Celebrate.

Friday, March 7th, 2014

IWD

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’ll be posting some of Debbie’s favorite interviews with leading women designers, authors, thought-leaders and educators as part of her ongoing award-winning podcast series, Design Matters.

Join us throughout the day, today, as we honor fifteen remarkable women including author Sheila Bridges, magazine editor and activist Dominique Browning, brand consultant and best selling author Alina Wheeler, digital strategist Amy Webb, illustrator Jessica Hische, and many more.

We’ll be reposting episodes throughout today and you can quick search #omnicomwomen on Twitter to catch them all!

Please join Debbie, Sterling and Omnicom in honoring women around the globe by visiting http://womensday2014.omnicomgroup.com/ and enjoying these great conversations from Debbie’s Design Matters podcast over the years:

Jessica Hische

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/jessica-hische

Jessica Hische (jessicahische.is/awesome) is a letterer, illustrator and self-described “avid internetter,” best known for her personal projects Daily Drop Cap (www.dailydropcap.com) and the Should I Work for Free flowchart (shouldiworkforfree.com). Just five years out of college, she currently serves on the TDC board of Directors and is one of the more accomplished young “designistrators” working today. Her work has been featured in most major American design and illustration publications as well as a few overseas and she’s been named one of Print Magazine’s New Visual Artist (20 under 30) an ADC Young Guns and a GDUSA Person to Watch.

Maria Popova

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/maria-popova

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings a destination for indiscriminate curiosity. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine, Design Observer and Big Think, and spends entirely too much time curating interestingness on Twitter as @brainpicker.

Louise Fili

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-130

Louise Fili designs specialty food packaging and restaurant identities, and is pazza for tins that speak Italian. A graduate of Skidmore College, Louise designed books at Alfred A. Knopf in the mid 70’s, worked for Herb Lubalin from 1976-78 and then joined Random House as Pantheon’s art director in 1978. In her eleven-year tenure as art director of Pantheon Books she reinvented book jacket design. Louise’s passion for 1930s Italian and French poster design migrated from her book covers to her restaurant design. You can read more about Louise in the  introduction to her most recent book, Elegantissima.

Tina Roth Eisenberg

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/tina-roth-eisenberg

Tina Roth Eisenberg is a “swiss designer gone NYC.” She started and runs Swissmiss, a design blog and studio located in Brooklyn, NY. She teachs at Parsons The New School for Design, organizes a monthly lecture/breakfast series called CreativeMornings, and runs a simple browser-based to-do app called TeuxDeux.

In this audio interview with Debbie Millman, Tina Roth Eisenberg discusses her blog, sharing her life with her readers, things that make her smile, four-letter names, crowd sourcing, living and working in Brooklyn, Creative Mornings and the beauty found in ordinary things.

Jessica Walsh

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/jessica-walsh

Jessica Walsh is a designer, art director, and illustrator working in New York City. She is a partner at the New York based design studio, Sagmeister & Walsh and teaches at the School of Visual Arts. Her work has won numerous design awards from the Type Director’s Club, Art Director’s Club, SPD, Print, and Graphis. She has received various celebrated distinctions includingComputer Art’s “Top Rising Star in Design”, an Art Director’s Club “Young Guns” award, and Print Magazine’s“New Visual Artist”.

Amy Webb

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-134

Amy Webb is the head of of Webbmedia Group, a digital strategy agency that solves complex strategic and operational problems related to disruptive technologies and emerging digital trends that are catalyzing great change across many industries. Recently, she worked with the City of Chicago to redesign, in every aspect, a modern library system for the 21st century. She co-founded Spark Camp, a 501(c)(3) invite-only working group that brings together the brightest minds in media and technology once each quarter. Prior to starting Webbmedia Group, Amy was a reporter/ writer with Newsweek (Tokyo) and the Wall Street Journal (Hong Kong) where she covered emerging technology, media and cultural trends. She has contributed to theNew York Times, NPR, Economist and many publications and appears regularly as a commentator on numerous broadcast shows.

Amy originally attended the Jacobs School of Music to study classical clarinet, and she later graduated with a B.A. in political science. She also has an M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Amy has served on the adjunct faculty at University of Maryland, Temple University, Tokyo University and University of the Arts.

Her new book, DATA: A LOVE STORY: How I Gamed Online Dating To Meet My Match was published in January 2013 and has been featured in People, Good Morning America, The View, Marketplace, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Guardian, Wired, Elle Magazine, theNew York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine and elsewhere. DATA chronicles how Amy used data analytics and smart digital marketing strategies to land her online dating profile at the top, and then built a framework to exploit the algorithms to her own benefit (finding a husband).

Marian Bantjes

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/marian-bantjes

Marian Bantjes is a typographer, designer, artist and writer. Working from a small island off the west coast of Canada, her personal and obsessive work has brought her international recognition. Her work has been published in books and magazines around the world and is included in the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. In 2010, she spoke at the reknowned TED Conference and in 2008, she was accepted as a member of the prestigious international design organization, Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI).

In this audio interview with Debbie Millman, Marian Bantjes discusses her new book, I Wonder (Monicelli and Thames & Hudson), hanging out and blogging on Speak Up, her shift from typesetter to famous designer, ornament, secrets, cipher, coded text, causing pain to type purists and the importance of putting good work into the public sphere. More about her book here.

Sheila Bridges

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-138

Named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by CNN andTime Magazine, Sheila Bridges founded her own interior design firm in 1994. Sheila has designed residences and offices for many prominent entertainers, entrepreneurs and business professionals including the 8,300 square foot Harlem offices for former President Bill Clinton and his staff. Along with running a successful interior design business, Sheila hosted four seasons of Sheila Bridges Designer Living for the FINE LIVING Network. Sheila has been a regular contributor on NBC’s Today Show, has appeared on Oprah and has been profiled in numerous national and international publications including The New York Times,The Wall Street Journal, O The Oprah Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Ebony, Essence,House & Garden, Traditional Home and Black Enterprise.

In 2007, Sheila’s passion for interiors inspired her to design furniture and home furnishings under the name Sheila Bridges Home, Inc. Sheila’s Harlem Toile De Jouy wallpaper is represented in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s permanent wallpaper collection. Her work has been showcased in many exhibits and museum including The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Museum of Art and Design, both in New York City.

She is the author of Furnishing Forward: A Practical Guide to Furnishing for a Lifetime(hardcover in 2002 and paperback in 2005) and The Bald Mermaid: A Memoir, released on August 1st, 2013.

Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/carolinepaulandwendymacnaughton

Wendy MacNaughton and Caroline Paul are the illustrator and author, respectively, of the new book Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology (Bloomsbury, 2013).

Wendy MacNaughton is an illustrator and a graphic journalist based in San Francisco. Her documentary series Meanwhile tells the stories of communities through drawings and the subject’s own words, and is being published as an anthology by Chronicle Books in 2014. She’s also illustrated the forthcoming book The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Wine, by Richard Betts (Houghton Mifflin, 2013). She has degrees in fine art/advertising and social work from Art Center College of Design and Columbia University. When they let her, she likes to talk with students at Art Center College of Design, and she is an artist in residence at Intersection for the Arts.

Caroline Paul is an author based in San Francisco. Paul grew up in New England, with an identical twin, a younger brother, and a menagerie of animals. She graduated from Stanford University, where she studied Communications. In 1989, she became a San Francisco firefighter. She is the author of Fighting Fire (Skywriter Books, 2011), about her thirteen years as a firefighter, and East Wind, Rain (2006) which has been optioned for a movie.

Margaret Roach

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-114

Margaret Roach is a writer and gardener. Before creating a cluster of blogs that reflects her passions — from traveling to gardens and writing garden stories to sisters and sisterhood of all kinds — she worked long stints at three places: The New York Times, Newsday, and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. She is a self-described “word person” and specifically knows how effectively reach women online and offline. She is also the author of the book And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road.

Dominique Browning

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-105

Dominique Browning is a writer, editor and consultant in the newspaper and magazine fields. She has worked with and written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, O, the Oprah magazine, among others. She writes a monthly column about environmental issues for the Environmental Defense Fund website and blogs at SlowLoveLife.com.

Until November 2007, Browning was the editor-in-chief ofHouse & Garden. Browning is the author of three books: Around the House and In the Garden: a Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement; Paths of Desire: the Passion of a Suburban Gardener; and Slow Love: How I Lost my Job, Put on My Pajamas, & Found Happiness.

In this audio interview with Debbie Millman, Dominique Browning discusses her tenure as Editor in Chief at House & Garden, her recent book, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness, and the effects of love on a stuffed animal.

Dori Tunstall

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-112

Dori Tunstall is a Design Anthropologist, meaning she tries to understand how the processes and artifacts of design help define what it mean to be human. Design Anthropology argues that by taking into account how others see and experience the world differently, products and services can be designed that work with people and nature rather than disrupt them. Dori is an Associate Professor of Design Anthropology at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia as well as Associate Dean of Learning and Teaching in the Faculty of Design.

Alina Wheeler

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-102

Alina Wheeler works with leaders to accelerate brand clarity, awareness and loyalty. Her disciplined process has been used successfully by large organizations like Vanguard, and non-profit organizations like Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. She is the author of Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, which deconstructs the branding process into a disciplined five-phase methodology. The third edition is published in seven languages, and is used as a resource by universities, design and branding firms, entrepreneurs and corporate marketing departments.

In this audio interview with Debbie Millman, Alina Wheeler discusses branding, her father (who was a sea captain), strategic imagination, color coding souls, the Gap logo fiasco, how hard it is to be a client — and her new book, co-authored with Joel Katz, Brand Atlas.

Grace Bonney

https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-107

Grace Bonney is the creator of the popular blog Design*Sponge, which she started in 2004. The site features store and product reviews, city, product, and gift guides, diy projects, before & after furniture and home makeovers, home tours, recipes, videos and podcasts, and trend forecasting. She been called the “Martha Stewart Living for the Millennials” by The New York Times. She is also the author of the forthcoming book Design*Sponge at Home (Artisan).

In this audio interview with Debbie Millman, Grace Bonney discusses being a Phish follower, the future of print, the name “Design*Sponge,” investing in and growing her site, shaking off the cute, being a hoarder, and the Design*Sponge scholarship program.

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What the Hell is a Brand Anyway?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

“A brand is something that won’t come off in the wash.” - Cowboy’s adage

Now that we’ve driven the B word into a box, let’s look inside that box.

Charles Revson, who founded and built Revlon, is often quoted as saying: “In the factory we make cosmetics, but in the drugstore we sell hope.” In other words, companies and products build intellectual relationships while brands build emotional relationships. Consumers buy products but become emotionally invested in brands. Put yet another way, once consumers are emotionally vested, you have a brand.

Let’s remind ourselves once again: A brand is a marketplace response, not a marketer’s stimulus. You can’t brand something. You can only position it:

-If you manage to create a position that is compelling, different and competitively advantageous, you’re off to a good start

-If your organization has the ability to consistently execute that position, you have a shot at becoming a successful brand

-If that position can stand the test of time, you have a shot at becoming a strong brand

-If that execution stays on strategy, is simple yet powerful, and is somehow kept fresh and surprising over time, you have a shot at becoming a great brand

-If you can do all of this better than your competition, your brand will win

Those are a lot of “ifs,” but no one said this marketing thing is easy- and at the very start of that chain of “ifs”  is the notion of the right positioning. So how do you know if you’ve found the right position?

You know you’ve found the right position when your position is built around a single idea that:

-Is highly differentiated

-Creates competitive advantage

-Guides and inspires your organization and your audience

-Is sustainable over time

-Is provocative, even disruptive to the marketplace status quo

-Can be consistently executed over time, but in ways that evolve and stay fresh

That’s a daunting list and few companies pull it off, which is why we all tend to use the same limited set of case studies (e.g. Apple, Nike, ESPN, Google, Starbucks). Marketing is positioning. Great marketing is positioning that fits all these criteria (and probably a few others I haven’t articulated). Great marketing is the exception rather than the rule.

And you will need to work your but off to become that exception.

Stay tuned next week when Austin explains how Great Brands are Built from the Inside, out.