May
20

Ottawa Citizen “reinvents” logo, Website, the wheel.

My take on the new Ottawa Citizen design – and my hope for better in the future.

So here’s the big story in my local paper: “Postmedia and the Ottawa Citizen today unveil a reinvention of the local news business.” But after looking it over, it’s not the local news business they are re-inventing. It’s something far older. Something that already works

Here's my take on the ad campaign that accompanies the launch.

Here’s my take on the ad campaign that accompanies the launch.

The Ottawa Citizen is Ottawa’s oldest newspaper, tracing its roots back to 1845, when it was called The Bytown Packet then renamed The Citizenin 1851 – right around the time we were undergoing our own rebranding from Bytown to Ottawa. Over the years, [Read more…]

Jun
18

Sports branding: Senator’s arena becomes Canadian Tire Centre. Sigh.

Another stadium re-branding: we’re more than just tired.

So you’ve heard about the Ottawa Palladium? How about the Corel Centre? Scotiabank Place? Well forget about them all. As announced this morning, Ottawa’s professional hockey stadium is about to change its name for the fourth time since 1996.  

Your name here

The good part…

Stadium Brand names - sponsorship

Percentage of 111 stadiums for the “big four” professional sports leagues: NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL

Okay, I’m a branding guy. So I get the naming rights game. I’ve been part of board room decisions around JetForm park, and I worked at Corel during 1996. Big brands will pay a LOT of money to get their moniker on the side of a stadium, and into the mouths of fans and broadcasters. And that’s all good.

And we could choose a much more embarrassing corporate partner than Canada’s iconic automotive / hardware / electronics / now grocery brand. We could have a “Sleep Train Arena” like the NBA team the Sacramento Kings, or “Dick’s Sporting Goods Park“, the home of the Colorado Rapids soccer team.

And it sounds like the Senators ownership team actually chose this partnership:

Senators owner Eugene Melynk said of the discussions leading up to Tuesday’s official agreement. “The possibilities kept growing and growing and growing. They made up their mind pretty quickly. After that, they moved so fast. In the end, it’s very extensive. You’re going to see a lot of big changes.”

The annoying stuff…

Here are a few reasons this name change is annoying to me – and if Twitter is any guide (and it is) – it’s annoying many other Ottawa fans as well. Yeah, we’ll get used to the new name. Again. But before the anger dies, some thoughts on stadium branding.

  1. Another name: it’s hard to really develop affection for a brand – any brand – if it keeps changing its name every few years. I had just gotten used to saying “Scotiabank Place”…
  2. Generic corporate blandness: 86 out of the 111 stadiums for the “big 4” professional sports leagues have generic brand names. That’s 78%. A massive majority of hard-to-differentiate place names. Try this test: tell me where the Pepsi Center is. Minute Maid Park. Gillette Stadium. See? They could be anywhere.
  3. Back to “Centre” again?  The word “Place” wasn’t exactly rocking anyone’s world, but I counted: 17 out of the 30 NHL teams play in a building called “The <Brand Name> Center” or “Centre”. That’s more than 56% of teams in the same league calling their building the same boring thing!
  4. Lack of emotion: Distinctive names aren’t just more interesting and unique, they are durable. San Francisco sports fans demanded the return of “Candlestick Park” after 3M, then Monster.com bought, then abandoned the naming rights.  That’s a strong brand!
  5. You can be creative: Scotiabank also sponsors the Saddledome in Calgary, or as they call it “Scotiabank Saddledome”.
  6. Palladium is a strong name: and this is the kicker. We once had a strong, completely unique name for the stadium, and it’s still used as the street name for the stadium itself. There is no other Palladium in North America. And “Canadian Tire Palladium” isn’t so bad is it?

But enough about me: what do you think?

Jan
15

Ottawa brands: Seven reasons “Red Blacks” will never be our CFL team name.

You only get three downs in the CFL. And Ottawa’s new team has used up two…

So there’s a lot of talk in Ottawa about a couple of potential names being tossed about for the new/old/here-we-go-again CFL football team.“Red Blacks” is the latest, and seems to be gaining a few admirers as well as a host of detractors – including CFL Hall of Famer Russ Jackson. But it may not matter. This name was fumbled. And it seems someone else may have picked it up…

RussJackson

First of all, let me just say that I don’t mind the suggested name. It’s not exciting, but then neither is “Cleveland Browns” or “New Zealand All Blacks”. It *could* have been built into a relatively strong brand, and I’m sure it *would* have grown on the Ottawa fans. Remember, “Rough Riders” was always an awkward name to start with – between Saskatchewan having the same name and being named after an American military unit.

And it’s not nearly as embarassing as the former team name “Renegades”. Or the Rapidz baseball team – who played three seasons under three different names (thanks to Rock Norris for the reminder – shiver).

But it will never happen. And here’s why.

Seven good reasons Red Blacks can’t be the name

1) The first down: Ottawa Rush Smacked down

The first down was a Hail Mary pass from OSEG quarterback Jeff Hunt. But  the really awful name “Ottawa Rush” was prematurely “discovered” after the Ottawa Citizen found a trademark application, and then apparently abandoned when the public reaction smacked the ball out of the air.

2) Second down: Ottawa Red Blacks fumbled

But then they made the same basic mistakes with their second attempt. Again, the Ottawa Citizen found an application online “to trademark several variations of the name Ottawa Red Blacks, for use with a proposed football team.” And the name was then confirmed as an option in an e-mail from Jeff Hunt.

Hunt explained OSEG hasn’t made a final call just yet, because the group is planning to do some focus testing on potential names first (and) release the team name… in late January or early February.

3) Naming contests kill good names

You held a naming contest, and that was a giant mistake. Take my word for this. As nice and democratic as it sounds, this never works. I could go on for hours about this, but in your case, the biggest reason is that it made the people who care most take sides too early. You basically set the stage for a large crowd of vocal people to be disappointed whatever the outcome.

4) Negative public reaction

But of course, it’s too late for focus groups when nine out of ten people in an online survey have already decided they don’t like it. Of course, OSEG could ignore this feedback and push on (at their peril). But there are several bigger issues that will kill this name before it flies.

5) Trademark threat 1: Semi-professional team in Watertown, New York

Watertown Red and Black: Okay, it’s not a Canadian brand, but Watertown is just across the border – well within the reach of TV and radio broadcasts. And this team could make the case for trademark confusion.

6) Trademark threat 2: powerful US College football team

redandblkforever_largeUniversity of Georgia Bulldogs Ever hear of American College football? Yeah, well they know the value of branding, and this team brand, fondly called the “Red and Black” by its fans (see t-shirt at right) is about as big as they come – having just won their 2013 conference bowl game. And the UGA student newspaper (Red & Black) also owns redandblack.com. So let the confusion – and litigation – begin!

7) Web Address: gone

It seems that for all of their work on the trademark front, it seems the team did not secure any of the key Web addresses it would need to really build a solid brand online.  As a matter of fact, “RedBlack.ca” and “RedBlacks.ca” were just scooped up yesterday AFTER  the media storm began. And I’m willing to bet it wasn’t OSEG that registered them with GoDaddy.com.

So now it’s third down…

So Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. You’ve had two chances to launch your brand right, and both times you lost yardage. So your choices seem to be: punt or push on. But I’d like to suggest a third option:

Bring in a special team.

Branding – and particularly NAMING a new brand – is a tricky business, and it’s obviously not OSEG’s specialty. Call in the people who do this all the time. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least one local guy who could help.

But before I get too smarmy, any readers want to weigh in? What do you think?

Nov
16

Social brands: I love you RebelMouse. But the name?

Clever, catchy, and utterly unhelpful.

In case you missed it, there’s a new buzzy social media tool in town called RebelMouse. And even in its early release phase, it’s not perfect, but it looks awesome and works (almost) flawlessly. So why is that grumpy branding guy DenVan going to complain about the name? Didn’t the almighty Seth Godin and his equally legendary counterpart Shakespeare say that names don’t matter? I Beg to Differ… and so does the world!

But first. What I like about RebelMouse

Here’s the DenVan “dashboard” page with all the bells and whistles.

Okay, before I get all Scrooge-y hater on the Mausketeers, let me just say, this is the slickest, most impressive looking new social media product I’ve seen in, well, ever. The team at RebelMouse knows exactly what they’re doing, and they’ve earned the incredibly effusive praise they’ve gotten from across the social echo chamber – from this rave in Mashable to this one in PandoDaily.

Here’s what they do right:

  • Frictionless sign-up: I’ve never found it so easy to set up a service. Never. Try it yourself to see how quickly you can go from tire-kicking to driving off the lot wondering how you’re going to explain this to your wife. It took me no time to set this DenVan page up.
  • Effortless blending of social channels: my page displays my Tweets, my blog posts, my Instagrams, and custom links – all in a format that’s as easy to scan as Pinterest. Many services do that in many different ways – as TechCrunch tries to explain in this taxonomy: 1) Social graphs; 2) Vertical content channels; 3) Aggregators. But it’s bloody hard to do elegantly.
  • Beautiful design: did I mention how clean and elegant it is? Well the mobile site is just as good – something most established social media stalwarts like Facebook and Twitter haven’t managed yet.
  • The team: and though the product has a way to go in terms of living up to its promise as a real Social Media network and/or tool set – and becoming more useful than a glorified “About.Me”. I’m impressed by the great pedigree and corporate story this startup has built for themselves. So I have confidence they can nail the product end of things.
  • The name: Huh? Wasn’t I supposed to be slamming the name?!? Wait for it. What I like about the RebelMouse name is that it’s not Squidoo. Or Jugnoo (sorry Danny). Or ShooBooBeeLooBeeDoo… okay I made the last one up. But I had you going didn’t I? RebelMouse is at least a clever and memorable memory hook.  But…

The name isn’t helpful

Sorry Mouse. The name RebelMouse just doesn’t help people understand your product at all – not even as a metaphor. In my product naming work, I try to help clients understand the tricky balance between the descriptive qualities of a name and the metaphorical / iconic qualities of a name. Strong names need a bit of both. Not everybody has to be a “Facebook” or heaven forbid “Friend Feed”. There is room in our brains for strong metaphors like “Google” or “Apple”. And that’s not to say RebelMouse can’t become a household name. As I say, they’ve nailed the product so far. It’s just that it will have to work a lot harder than a Facebook or a Google to equate that name with their service.

What do you think?

Are you impressed with RebelMouse? Confused? Does the name work for you? Comment away!

Oct
17

Airport branding: Heathrow kills the TLA BAA. Hooray!

London’s  airport manager “BAA” rebrands to… wait for it… “Heathrow”!

Beg to Differ celebrates the departure of a bad airport brand, the arrival of an old friend, and after the gates, wishes the grand old dame of British airport brands a successful baggage retrieval. (Oh, but mate: don’t bother hailing a cab. Take the tube instead.)

BAA humbug

If you’ve ever flown through London’s Heathrow Airport, or Glasgow, or Stansted you’d be forgiven for not knowing that you were actually in the hands of an entity called BAA – which once stood for British Airports Authority, but more recently became “BAA”, which stands for, well, not much at all. Because it was just another TLA (see previous rant here).

And now, in a stroke of brilliance (and possibly desperation), they decided to drop the three letter moniker. Here’s the story in brief:

It is the end of an era for BAA with the company announcing that the name is to be dropped in favour of stand-alone brands for its airports. Its airports – Heathrow, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Southampton and Stansted – will cease to be called BAA gateways from today.

So the company running Heathrow Airport will now call itself “Heathrow”? And didn’t spend a billion dollars doing it?  Wow. Unlike a lot of nonsense in the branding world, that actually makes sense!

I completely agree with the “Thumbs Up” verdict from Mark Ritson in the UK version of Marketing Week:

The simple rebranding of BAA as Heathrow might look pretty bleeding obvious to the untrained eye, but it’s a job very well done. Brand managers around the world should note how the strategy has been executed.

Indeed. And hopefully they also think twice before choosing a meaningless abbreviation, acronym, or impossible to spell “domain grabber” name as well.

I wish “umbrella brands” like “The Ottawa Hospital” (better known as the Civic Hospital, Riverside Hospital, and General Hospital) would take note of the other lesson here: Branding is the art of making sense. And stretching the idea of a Hospital – or an airport – to cover whatever you want it to? That just doesn’t make sense.

More reading:

 

Jul
09

How to speak Bizbabble in one easy step: DON’T!

Try your customer’s language instead: it’s called “Human”

Last week, I was excited to hear that Mitel, founded by Ottawa high tech stalwart Sir Terry Matthews, had released a revolutionary new product. So as a loyal Ottawa geek eager to talk up the new device to my network, I hastened over to Mitel.com to find out more. I found this instead. And I Beg to Differ.

I call it “Bizbabble”:

“Bizbabble”: (n) a set of words arranged by well-meaning business communicators in such a way that they look like they should mean something to a human of average intelligence, while utterly failing to actually help anyone understand the thing being babbled about.

Now I mean no disrespect to the good marketing folks at Mitel. I’ve been in their shoes, and I’ve written my share of Bizbabble myself. It’s really hard to communicate well while also navigating the minefields of engineering jargon, business politics, investors, analysts, and more.

But the experience reminded me of this story. And I’m speaking here as someone on the outside who wants to help them get the message out. And to do that, I first need to understand.

10 little words

Let’s go back a bit and read the words above again: “Next-Generation Multimedia Collaboration in the Personal Office Meeting Space”. Now tell me, dear human of above average intelligence. What is this thing? What does it do? Who is it for? Is it something you want to know more about?

The best I could do was “some kind of high tech thingy that helps people collaborate” but I had no idea whether it was a conference phone, a projector, a wireless hotspot, or a mini computer, and I had no clue what a “personal office meeting space” was. A home office maybe?

The words don’t help. And neither did the press release, the product name (“UC” stands for “Unified Communications” not “ulcerative colitis” which came up first on Google) or the the (almost impossible to find listing on) the corporate site.

Nor, unfortunately, did the slickly produced little product site , which spends most of its space talking about why the product is important, but very little about what the heck it IS! And that’s the key thing anyone looking at a new product wants to know!

So here you go Mitel. I solved your problem.

If I were advising Mitel on how to position and describe this product, I’d start with a simple formula:

  • 1) Tell us what is in terms most ordinary humans are already familiar with.
  • 2) Tell us what makes it special or different from the things we’re already familiar with.
  • 3) Do it in a way that people will remember – in this case by surprising them.

So, for example, here’s what I would say their product is after reading a bunch of materials (that said a whole lot less):

“The <insert better name here>
is a conference phone on steroids.”

(Pause. Sound of crickets…)

I could go on of course, but now it’s your turn:

What do you think? Does that help? Or am I hopelessly out of touch? Any examples of simple, helpful corporate communications – especially in very technical or jargon-laden fields? Weigh in below!

Jun
21

Surface impressions: Microsoft just nibbles the Apple.

Microsoft tries to challenge the iPad.  But scratching the Surface, Microsoft wants you to compare them apple-to-Apple. We Beg to Differ.

I finally had a chance to see the video of the much-hyped “secret” launch event for Microsoft and look into the branding and positioning of even more hyped new tablet.  Now, I’ve never touched the actual product, but just skating on the surface here, a  few impressions.

Reinventing the reinvention

The format of Microsoft’s presentation seemed oddly familiar to me, like deja vu, or a vaguely remembered movie. And here’s why. Read Write Web did a beat-by-beat comparison (embedded below) of the Surface launch with the epic launch of the iPad by Steve Jobs.

And you’ll never guess who comes off looking like an innovator and who comes off like a copycat:

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

Tough day on the Jobs: Steve Sinofsky’s “somebody’s gonna get fired” face.

In the clip above, you see a brief moment where Microsoft  Executive Steven Sinofsky goes pale, tightens his lips, and sprints for the podium to grab a back-up tablet after the machine he’s holding completely freezes. Here’s a blow-by-blow of that excruciating moment from UK’s Daily Mail.

Now, as someone who’s done presentations for major consumer product launches (remember CorelDRAW 8?), and had to skate through crashes in the middle of your prepared schpiel, I have great  sympathy for what this guy is going through. Particularly since my screw-ups weren’t documented on YouTube for later dissection.

But this ain’t Palookaville. This is Microsoft (remember Windows 98?). So when the stakes are this high, you have to wonder how unstable the machine is to crash at that moment.

The name and brand strategy

I’m having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the name. Maybe because it’s a two-dimensional metaphor – and most of the product shots are three-dimensional, and because Microsoft can’t seem to make up its mind whether this is a tablet (just a “surface”) or a new kind of lightweight quasi-laptop.

This confusion seems to be baffling even the most enthusiastic reviewers:

Microsoft is clearly straddling the uncomfortable divide between the old world of mice and keyboards, where it dominates, and a future ruled by touch screens, where Apple and Android devices prevail….

Surface splits the difference between a standard tablet and super-light laptops such as Apple’s MacBook Air or ultrabooks that run Windows.

So what is this thing? I’m sure a new category descriptor like “power tabs” or “laptabs” will emerge. But Microsoft could have helped us – and themselves – by figuring that out ahead of time.

Microsoft’s brand mangers also can’t seem to make up their mind whether it is a “Microsoft Surface” – like “Microsoft Word” or “Microsoft Comfort Mouse” – or whether “Surface” is a standalone brand with “Microsoft” as a lower visibility endorsement- like X Box. If it’s the latter, the Surface name is too weak to be memorable, and not distinctive enough to create a solid new product category to stand against iPad.

The wordmark is pure Apple minimalism as well, and the design of the Surface’s paper-thin launch site could easily be straight off Apple.com. Except that Apple actually tells you something substantial about their product.

And that’s the real problem with the Surface (and the substance of this product). Microsoft should have spent less time playing the Apple game (which they will never win), and more time playing the Differ game.

But, my fellow brand-watchers, what do you think? Am I being too hard on this little West-coast start-up?
Jun
14

Bad brand names: don’t “Hav-a-Nap” at the switch

Would you want this place on your Visa bill?

Over the next weeks, Beg to Differ will be presenting some examples of brand names that are just bad – for a number of reasons. Today’s example is something we spotted over the weekend…

The Hav-A-Nap Motel

This bad brand – which, yes, also has a web site – is one that a friend pointed out to me in the Eastern part of metro Toronto, and it’s a classic. It’s one of those unintentional landmarks that everyone seems to know about (but no one will admit being a customer of).

And actually, while I usually criticize brand names that are un-helpful, this bad name is actually a customer service because it’s so bad. That is, because the name is so tone-deaf and slimy sounding, most respectable consumers will know better than to stay there.

This review from an Italian visitor on Trip Advisor pretty well  sums up the experience I’d expect to have from any motel called the “Hav A Nap”:

Sorry for my english… It was a very terrible experience… the room was very dirty, the bedsheets were full of spots (I think there were spots of previous sexual performances…), the bedcover had holes by cigarette… I left my cup of coffee in the room and when I came back I have found also mouse’s excrements… It was very very cheap, but I slept all dressed because of the disgust…

Funny, but when you don’t have enough energy to spell “HAVE” correctly, it’s not surprising that you don’t sweat little details like laundry, customer satisfaction, or human health for that matter.

Enough said.

I’d love to get more of your favourite bad brand names, so please leave them in the comments!

Jun
02

Steve Jobs announces “the greenest Apple product ever”

Another revolution from Apple? This one’s alive.

Just when you think the god-like product development powers of Steve Jobs couldn’t go any further, he launches a product that creates life itself. Let the hyperbole begin!

Behold: the ChiaPad.

“I really cannot say enough about this latest miraculous, life-affirming, intuitive, and super, super green device, so I will continue to say it for the next 3 .5 hours.”
Steve Jobs at the ChiaPad unveiling

The new device is a joint project between Apple and Joseph products – makers of the classic Clapper and Chia technologies.

The shell of the device looks like an  iPad made of fired clay. But that’s where the similarity ends, because inside, the operating system is pure Chia.

Says Jobs: “You just add water and watch your content grow! It’s that easy.”

Apple officials were quick to dismiss as “fuzzy headed” the critics who have called the device a “closed ecosystem” that can only grow plants approved and sold by Apple.

And they also insist that while the ChiaPad might seem similar to several other devices on the market, the red clay is actually terracotta, and definitely not adobe.

“This changes everything you thought you knew about touch-sensitive herbal neo novelty technology,” says Jobs in the Webcast of the launch.

His demo was of course greeted with rapturous self-flagellation by Apple fans worldwide and long lineups at Apple stores, even though the product does not actually ship for several months.

Other features:

  • Herbal, organic and fully biodegradable.
  • Rain tolerant for true cloud computing.
  • Familiar interface for millions of iSod users.
  • Clap on. Clap off.
  • Thousands of apps available like Herb 2007 office suite, iMow, and Farmville – Monoculture Edition.
  • Battery cannot be removed, and don’t even mention Flash.
  • If you order NOW, we’ll throw in a second ChiaPad at no extra charge along with Ginsu Knives, a new ChiaPhone (data plan not included), and a Chia Head Steve Jobs (right).