authenticity

This tag is associated with 20 posts

I hate (most) taglines. There, I said it.


Nothing drives me nuts more than a bad tagline. And by bad tagline, I mean most of them.

Why such a tagline hater? Because to me, most taglines still speak the language of advertising. And, as my business partner David Burney is fond of saying, we no longer trust the language of advertising because our experience tells us it is usually disingenuous.

Is DeBeers right when it says a Diamond is Forever? Could we afford to live in a world where Every Kiss Begins with Kay? Are the champions really still eating Wheaties for breakfast? While these have all been successful taglines over the years that have probably sold a lot of jewelry and cereal, they lack something increasingly important to brands in the 21st century: honesty.

When confronted with a bad tagline, I’m sure you immediately think or say something like “Wow, I wonder how much someone got paid to come up with that?”

Which was exactly my reaction when I was flying on Delta last week and saw a sign with their “Keep Climbing” tagline on it. I couldn’t help but think about the big bucks they probably paid the legendary Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency to develop it. According to Weiden+Kennedy’s case study about the campaign on their website, the tagline “is a declaration of the company’s commitment to making flying better and a celebration of where the brand is and where it is heading.”

So at the same time Delta was telling us how amazing their people were in advertisements like this one:

Delta’s customers were telling us about experiences they were having like this one:

The most successful brands of the 21st century will be the most authentic brands. I’ve talked previously on this blog about my home state of North Carolina’s motto, Esse Quam Videri, which means “To be rather than to seem to be.”

When you watch the two videos above about Delta, do you wonder, as I do, if Delta might have been able to avoid the bad publicity of the soldiers’ story if they had taken the money they spent telling us how great Delta’s people are through advertising and used it instead to empower those employees with training, revised policies, or technology tools that would have actually helped ensure a better experience for customers?

In other words, don’t tell us you are climbing. Climb.

Do I ever like taglines? Absolutely—when they reinforce something I already know and appreciate about a brand. When I see the tagline and immediately recognize what I love about the brand in it, it’s a winner. For example, when Apple started using the tagline Think Different in the late 90s, I believed that the people at Apple actually did think different, and their products helped (and continue to help) me think different as well. The words felt true to the brand I already knew.

But when I see a tagline that is trying to sell me a vision of a brand that I don’t currently see, that is the language of advertising. Telling and selling versus being an authentic representation of the brand.

My own personal experience has been that the best, most authentic taglines are often not developed in marketing departments or by advertising agencies, but instead emerge from the organization’s stories and experiences over time. Sometimes we don’t even see them as taglines until later.

For example, the only thing even close to a tagline we ever used at Red Hat was “Truth Happens.” But it was not developed as a tagline, it was the title of a short film that we were only going to show once—to introduce a keynote by Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik (you can read the story of the Truth Happens film and watch it here). In fact, if the marketing guy had his way, it would have been called “Innovation Happens” (yes, the marketing guy was me).

In retrospect, as a film title or as a tagline, “Innovation Happens” sucks.

We made the right choice to go with Truth Happens as the name, which didn’t just tell the story of a company, it told the story of a movement (the open source movement) that many had predicted didn’t have a chance of succeeding. Lots of folks who saw the film at that original keynote asked about it, and, over the next few years, it became a rallying cry inside and outside the company.

It wasn’t until a few years later that we put it on a t-shirt.

So if your first question when building your brand is “What should our tagline be?” maybe consider taking a different approach. Perhaps instead start by attempting to uncover the deepest truths about your brand.

Begin a conversation with your members of your brand community and let them help you. Maybe eventually that conversation will lead you to a great tagline, maybe it won’t.

But you’ll likely discover things much more important and true to your brand than a tagline along the way, and you may find the conversation itself is its own reward.

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Google PR team: I salute you for defaulting to open


It’s been a week now since Steve Yegge of Google fired the shot heard ’round the tech industry. In case you missed it, Steve wrote a thoughtful, yet highly charged rant intended to begin an internal conversation about Google’s failures in learning how to build platforms (as opposed to products).

In the post, he eviscerates his former employer, Amazon, and in particular CEO Jeff Bezos (who he refers to as the Dread Pirate Bezos), but doesn’t pull any punches with his current employer either. It is an extremely passionate, well-written piece which, my guess is, will change the conversation internally at Google in a positive way.

But there was one problem:

When posting it to Google+ (which he was admittedly new to), Steve accidentally made his rant public, where the whole world could see it.

And over the past week, pretty much everyone has.

This prominent re-post (Steve took his original piece down, which I’ll get to in a second) has generated, as of this writing, 487 comments and over 11,000 +1s on Google+.

The comments are spectacular and largely supportive. Some have referred to this as Steve Yegge’s Jerry McGuire moment.

But my post isn’t about Steve. He’s received plenty of attention in the past week, poor guy.

It’s about the Google PR team that, in a time of crisis, made the tough decision to stay true to the spirit of openness that Google Senior VP of People Operations Laszlo Bock described in his recent piece in Think Quarterly. From Laszlo’s piece:

“And if you think about it, if you’re an organization that says ‘our people are our greatest asset,’ you must default to open. It’s the only way to demonstrate to your employees that you believe they are trustworthy adults and have good judgment. And giving them more context about what is happening (and how, and why) will enable them to do their jobs more effectively and contribute in ways a top-down manager couldn’t anticipate.”

So if “default to open” is the overall philosophy at Google, how does it play out in practice? As it turns out, Steve Yegge’s rant provides a pretty good data point.

In a Google+ message explaining his decision to take down the original post, Steve described the reaction of the Google PR team this way:

“I’ve taken the post down at my own discretion. It was kind of a tough call, since obviously there will be copies. And everyone who commented was nice and supportive.

I contacted our internal PR folks and asked what to do, and they were also nice and supportive. But they didn’t want me to think that they were even hinting at censoring me — they went out of their way to help me understand that we’re an opinionated company, and not one of the kinds of companies that censors their employees.”

This is not, in my experience, the kind of support that most PR folks would have given Steve in this situation:) And because of it, this episode, however traumatic, serves as one piece of proof showing that Google’s “default to open” approach is not just aspirational bullshit.

I’m sure there are plenty of places where people could argue that Google is not being open enough, or could stand to be more open than they are today.

But in this particular case, in a moment of crisis—where many weaker leaders would have given in to the frightened urge to attempt a cover up—Google stood by its core beliefs and defaulted to open.

While openness is sometimes ugly and painful (as it certainly is in this case), it often allows great opportunities to emerge that would otherwise never see the light of day.

I suspect that when the waters recede, this authentic, beautiful, and raw piece of communication might be the starting point toward something better, not just within Google, but in the tech industry as a whole.

And for supporting openness, even in its most painful form, Google PR team, I salute you.

Some authenticity advice from the Avett Brothers


I’m passionate about helping organizations develop more authentic, meaningful, and productive relationships with the communities around them. Last week, I suggested a few ideas for how to begin thinking about a less self-centered approach to community strategy that might help.

The evening after I wrote the post, I was taking a run around the neighborhood, listening to some tunes, when a song from the recent Avett Brothers live album came on. At the end of the song, someone in the audience must have screamed out “we love you” or something along those lines. The recording captures one of the two brothers (Seth, I think?) responding. Here’s what he said:

“We love you too. Sincerely. We’ve said it before. It’s real difficult to sound sincere on a microphone, but we love y’all too in a very big way.”

It’s real difficult to sound sincere on a microphone.

Man, isn’t that the truth.

In a few years, the Avett Brothers have gone from having a small fan base following them around here in my home state of North Carolina to selling out arenas around the world. In those words, you could almost sense the struggle. How do you broadcast a personal message to thousands of people while still remaining (and sounding) sincere.

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Five questions about authenticity and the open source way with Jim Gilmore


A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jim Gilmore, co-author (with Joseph Pine) of the book Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. I first read the book a few years ago, and it really struck a nerve for me—these guys were on to something.

So I convinced Jim to subject himself to a Five Questions interview about the place where authenticity and the open source way intersect.

CHRIS: After joining the open source world ten years ago, it didn’t take me long to figure out that most open source folks despise marketing as it is traditionally practiced. Is there something inherently inauthentic about the language of marketing? Perhaps open source folks have a low tolerance for inauthenticity?

JIM: I often quote from a letter-to-the-editor that appeared in the Harvard Business Review following the publication of our article, “Welcome to the Experience Economy.” In this letter, Robert Jones of Wolf-Olins shared his definition of a brand as “the promise of an experience.”

Joe Pine and I responded by saying Amen to that, but added that so often the actual experience fails to fulfill against the promise.  Indeed, marketing in general, and advertising in particular, has become a giant phoniness-generating machine.  And not just the language of marketing, but the very practice of marketing so often serves to erode the perception of authenticity among consumers—by making promises that bear little resemblance to the actual experience encountered.

So much creative talent today is engaged in making promises as marketing instead of being employed to create compelling experiences as actual output.  The experience itself should be the marketing.

My friend Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad, is fond of saying, “Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.”  I feel that way about most marketing.  I’d like to see creative talent diverted from making messages about goods and services and used instead to help create truly remarkable experiences, ones so compelling that they command a fee as product.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Brand positioning tip #9: A brand mantra is not a tagline


In Brand Positioning Tip #3, I introduced the concept of the brand mantra. The term was originally coined by Scott Bedbury during his time at Nike, and it refers to a short 3-5 word phrase created to capture the very essence of the brand’s meaning.

Was I supposed to Just Do It or embody Authentic Athletic Performance? I'm not sure. I'll just cross the finish line instead.

Usually a brand mantra includes or hints at some of the points of difference discovered during the brand positioning exercise (learn more about points of difference here). The most famous example of a brand mantra is from Bedbury’s Nike project, where the team coined the brand mantra Authentic Athletic Performance.

The most important thing to understand about brand mantras is that they are not designed to be externally facing slogans or taglines. Case in point— unless you’ve heard the Nike brand mantra story before, you’ve probably never seen the phrase Authentic Athletic Performance associated with Nike in advertising. Usually you will see an external manifestation of it, Just Do It being the prime example.

This is where most well-meaning brand mantra projects go bad. When brainstorming possible brand mantras, it is important for your team to be very clear that they are not writing advertising copy or taglines for external use. There is no quicker path to an inauthentic brand mantra than heading too quickly toward the language of advertising or marketing.

A brand mantra should resonate internally first. The mantra you chose should reflect the core values, mission, and culture of the company while also staying true to the brand positioning (if this is difficult, you’ve got bigger problems, because it may mean your culture and your brand are out of alignment).

The most powerful brand mantras become part of the DNA of the organization, and are used to guide everyday decisions about strategy, user experience, voice, and a host of other things. The mantra becomes a touchstone that is returned to over and over again— especially when decisions start getting tough.

Once you’ve settled on your brand mantra and tested it internally to ensure it resonates, you can finally start working on taglines. Again, think of a tagline as an external manifestation of the brand mantra— written in a language that will resonate with your target customer instead of your co-workers.

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Three signs your corporate culture isn’t ready for the open source way


It’s a good bet that the next generation of defining companies will have corporate cultures built the open source way– around openness and collaboration, while fostering community and culture that extend outside the company walls.

In fact many of the defining companies of the first decade of this century show these characteristics (with one very notable exception we discussed earlier).

It kind of makes you want to rush in and see if you can change your old style corporate culture and get in on the action. But try to change too fast and your efforts may backfire.

So here are three signs that your corporate culture may not quite be ready for the open source way– and some tips to help you move closer.

[Read the rest of this post over at opensource.com]

The lo-fi communications revolution is not being televised


I have a decent (and still growing) LP collection, and my turntable gets almost daily use. In fact, I often buy music on vinyl rather than downloading it or buying CDs.

One of my recent vinyl purchases was Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Probably one of the greatest albums of all time, but it wasn’t until I heard it on LP that I really felt like I started to get it. There was something about listening to it in the way it would have been listened to when it came out in 1966. Pops, crackles, and Brian Wilson just felt right together.

But as I’ve made my way around music stores, I’ve noticed the number of brand new releases coming out on vinyl seems to be increasing. And I’ve also seen many bands going (on purpose) for a lower fidelity sound.

I remember the lead singer of a local group here in NC, The Love Language, was quoted on why he liked low fidelity in Spin Magazine a while back:

I’m a real lo-fi junkie,” [Stuart McLamb] says. “I like the [Band's] Big Pink philosophy — you should have a dog on the floor of a basement while you’re recording. That’s where the best stuff happens.”

A dog on the floor, man! Not some fancy studio in New York City run by rich guys in suits named Hunter and Cody. The places where the dog is invited is where the best stuff happens.

Where am I going with this? I believe that there is a lo-fi movement not only in music but in communications more broadly that continues to gain momentum. Communications that are too high fidelity may not be viewed as trustworthy anymore. Take this quote from the Wikipedia page for “Low fidelity”:

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Red Hat brand tip: esse quam videri


A long time ago, a smart North Carolina native mentioned to me that the official NC state motto was the Latin phrase “esse quam videri,” which translates as “to be rather than to seem to be.” Yeah, I didn’t know states had mottoes either. Turns out a lot of them do.

Cicero sez take my advice and be rather than seem. It's in Latin, it must be good.

Cicero sez take my advice and be rather than seem. It's Latin, which makes it right, people.

I was struck by this phrase. As Red Hat has grown from North Carolina roots into an international company with offices around the world, we’ve adopted this one little piece of North Carolina-ness as an unofficial litmus test for the Red Hat brand voice as well.

Esse quam videri first appeared in the Cicero essay On Friendship, but a similar concept can actually be traced back to the Greek playwright Aeschylus. His line, which later appeared in Plato’s The Republic, was “His resolve is not to seem the best but in fact to be the best.” You can find more on the history of the phrase here.

Esse quam videri inspires authenticity. When Red Hat is communicating at our best, we use esse quam videri as the muse of simple, honest talk; conversation that doesn’t hide behind the foreign languages of marketing, law, or business.

Sometimes it inspires us to not communicate at all, to simply do instead. When we are not communicating well, we are not listening to our muse.

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Summer reading list for Dark Matter Matters


Ah, vacation… the time when the work shuts down for a few days and the Dark Matter Matters blog comes out of hibernation… 3 posts in 3 days!

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A few months ago I wrote a post where I highlighted the top ten books behind Dark Matter Matters. In that post I promised to create a list of the books that didn’t make the top 10 cut, but are still pretty awesome.

So here, to celebrate the long holiday weekend, are some more books that have inspired Dark Matter Matters.

Books about how large-scale collaboration is pretty much the deal:

Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Braffman and Rod Beckstrom

In the open source world, there’s a legendary quote attributed to Linus Torvalds (yes, he is the guy that Linux is named after) “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” The first two of these books are the extended dance remix of this quote. Each has a unique take, but both show how mass collaboration is changing everything about our society and the way we solve problems. The Starfish and the Spider is a interesting look at leaderless organizations and is a nice book for anyone trying to understand how the open source movement (and other leaderless organizations) work, and why open source is so hard to compete against. It is also a nice complement to the Mintzberg article I wrote about in my previous post.

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Just in! A compelling vision for corporate America


In previous posts, I’ve talked about the need for setting a compelling vision for the corporation beyond just making money. Jim Collins writes about this concept extensively in Good to Great and Built to Last.

On June 26, we saw a wonderful example of one of the most respected CEOs in America, Jeffrey Immelt of GE, doing exactly that.

Steve Prokesch at Harvard Business Review gives some of the background in his blog:

A couple of weeks ago I met with GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt and we were talking about the financial meltdown, the deep recession, and what it would take to fix America. He was outspoken about how business and government had let down the American people and the need for radical change.

That’s fine, I said, but if he felt that way, why hadn’t he spoken up publicly? Immelt ran from the room and quickly returned with a speech he was working on–one he delivered last week at the Detroit Economic Club. This was his speech and not something he had fobbed off to a speechwriter, he told me.

After reading this post, I went and watched the speech, which will take you about 25 minutes of your life.

I was blown away. In this very traditional corporate luncheon setting, glasses and sliverware clinking, video cutaways to bored-looking attendees trying to remember where their 1 o’clock meeting is supposed to be, Immelt presented a deeply personal vision for recreating America, and his company in the process.

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