Aug
08

Telco Brands: the Fair for Canada FAIL in one picture

Rogers, Bell, and Telus blow their big chance. By being themselves…

My friend Ottawa blogger and media commentator Mark Blevis has put out a couple of smart and incisive critiques of the “Fair for Canada” campaign by Canadian telco mega brands TELUS, Rogers, and Bell. Please do go ahead and read the MarkBlevis.com and Full Duplex posts.

But I think the many, many problems with this PR blitz can be summed up in one picture – brought to you by your three friendly Canadian mega corporations.

Actual screen capture from the Fair for Canada mini-site:

Sorry big Telcos, the combined boards of Telus, Bell, and Rogers don't qualify as ordinary Canadians to, you know, ordinary Canadians.

Sorry big Telcos, but the combined  ”Bell, Rogers, and TELUS Boards of Directors” writing a letter to Stephen Harper doesn’t qualify as “What Canadians are Saying” to the rest of us, you know, Canadians. Neither do the rest of the links below it – all from media outlets and corporate lobby groups. There is not one individual Canadian quoted.

And I *may* be wrong about this, but that pretty lady in the picture looks more like a member of a Stock Photo Catalogue than like one of the only seven women out of the 39 Directors who signed the letter (three of whom also have the last name “Rogers”).

(A quick aside for TELUS: in this context, it’s probably better not to highlight the fact that two of your Board members have the nicknames “Rusty” and “Dick”. You’re welcome – DenVan.)

Still not convinced? Okay, how about a picture AND a video?

So how about the video they posted showing a few “ordinary Canadians” – who also happen to work for the big three. Again, if you want to tear apart the content, there’s plenty there to dissect – as Techvibes editor Knowlton Thomas did with this quote:

“That’s not real competition,” says Amanda, a call centre trainer for Rogers in Moncton, in the video. She’s speaking of the government allowing a fourth legitimate carrier into the market – you know, to create real competition. Like the other telco employees in the cringe-worthy video, you can practically see the puppet strings tied to her jaw.

And yes, it’s obviously heavily scripted, and these employees are hardly neutral observers.

But here’s what really baffles me: they didn’t post that video to YouTube! That embedded video above is a pirated version of the “official” one on the Fair for Canada site. Why? Because the original is posted in a non-social video player called Wistia (American by the way). No comments. No share button. No easy embeds. No messing around with openness, fair access, or ordinary plebeian social tools.

And of course, no Facebook “Like” button either. Or a Twitter icon – or any social icons at all. And certainly no mention of the issues that really matter to Canadians: prices, decent (non-arrogant) service, and fair competition.

So what do you think? How about rebranding this campaign?

Canadian Telcos tell you what “fair” means

Shut up and let us control all the channels.
Because we still think we can.

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!

Nov
15

Client snapshot: the rapid evolution of Versature business phone services

Sometimes, I’m just too good at my job…

A couple months ago, I got a call from one of Ottawa’s smartest tech  leaders, Paul Emond, CEO of Versature. And like a fool, I ended up pitching him on the idea of a quickie “elevator pitch tuning session” for his executive team. I’m not a fool because my company couldn’t help him. I’m a fool, because the session went so well, and I got so excited about Versature’s brand, that I broke every rule of consulting and solved all his problems at once…

Versature’s new identity – with a little help from the DenVan and Brandvelope Consulting.

Okay, I’m joking… mostly

It was actually an amazing little project, and I was really happy we nailed it – and gained a happy customer – so quickly.

NOV 16: UPDATE. And this isn’t just any customer. Congratulations Versature on being named Small Business of the Year by the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce last night!

Paul goes into much greater depth about what we did together in this glowing post on the Versature blog, so if you’re interested, do give that a read. But here’s the high view.

First a brief description of the process:

A month or so ago some of the staff and I had a mini-retreat to discuss Versature’s elevator pitch, or more generally, Versature’s story. We were led in our workshop by Dennis Van Staalduinen, whom I would highly recommend for work of this type.

We ended up getting a lot out of the experience, but for me the most exciting piece was that we were finally able to tie a lot of marketing pieces together that had been a little bit disjointed. Dennis did that with 4 little powerful words that will become part of our marketing materials going forward. “Business Phone Service. Evolved”.

Versature Telco Dinosaur ads - evolved by DenVan and Brandvelope

See what a difference a bit of evolution can make?

Later Paul talks about why he likes those little words so much, and why, for him, they form such a clean and efficient brand positioning line for Versature:

The words “Business Phone Service” succinctly tell the casual prospect what exactly Versature does… The last word, “Evolved” speaks volumes.

First of all, it’s a tie in to the dolphin and the main reason why we chose this particular animal – because the dolphin is the most highly evolved communicator in the animal kingdom next to humans. It’s also “evolved” because this definitely isn’t your parents phone system solution…. Versature offers a radically improved experience over what people have been used to. Finally, we like the fact that these words tie in nicely with our dinosaur campaign, which pokes fun at the traditional telco’s for being stuck in the dark ages.

Paul raves about the identity and marketing work that Hintonburg-based Ottawa design shop Northern Army put together for them – and he’s right. There’s some brilliant stuff there from Ryan Anderson and company. I love the Northern Army ads comparing telcos to dinosaurs - which I also humbly took a stab at re-positioning (example at right).

So there you have it, my business triumph and failure in one package

Again, mostly joking about the failure part. Much better to have a clear win on a project than drag it out for months and months. Even if that would also stretch out the billable time for my business. Ah well, I’ve always said I’m much better at my clients’ businesses than my own.

If you’re interested in replacing your old dinosaur phone system, check out the smart mammals at Versature (new logo coming soon to the home page).

 If you’re looking for an easier way to tell your story? Call me maybe.

But we can’t promise to take eons to help you out.

Aug
03

Exposing the naughty bits: 10 new Facebook features nobody was asking for

So yesterday, I accidentally exposed my naughty bits on Facebook. It was okay though, because it was a Private Group. You know. Members only. But to my shock and dismay, a new Facebook notice appeared out of nowhere that told me 55 people had seen my naughty bits. But only four had Liked them. You might think I’d want to know that. I Beg to Differ.

Exposing the naughty bits

Like me, Facebook has been exposing its naughty bits lately. And yes Facebook, they were Seen By many. And not all of us Liked them.

You see, Facebook has this odd way of suddenly adding “features” to its site and mobile apps with little or no warning or explanation. They just appear. And some just make you scratch your head. Now, let it be said: I’m not the type to just complain about change, because some Facebook updates are brilliant, and actually useful things – like Tagging, which appeared in late 2009 to much joy and thumb-upping. Or user friendly names for users and pages. Or Pages themselves. Or Groups. All good.

And some are structural revisions like Timeline - which was disorienting and caused some ripples when it appeared. But largely this kind of change make sense as a step in the evolution of the platform, so the furor died down. And I for one, became a fan. Because Timeline was helpful.

But then there are the others, the “features” that appear suddenly and randomly, but don’t seem to serve any real purpose, and actually hurt Facebook’s usability and simplicity. Or even worse, increase the sense that Facebook is being sneaky or Big Brotherish. So without further ado:

Ten Facebook features we didn’t need

1) ”Seen by” in groups

This is the one I mentioned above. Where Facebook tells you how many people have supposedly “seen” your post in a group. And then, if you hover over the “Seen By” message, it tells you who saw it, and what time / date.  I say supposedly, because it’s unclear either a) how Facebook defines “seeing” – i.e. is scrolling past something “seeing” it? or b) why that is even important or relevant information – i.e. to anyone but the most anally retentive admin?

Weird. Creepy. And makes users feel like they are losing a little bit more control over how they interact within a group. Just a bad, anti-social idea.

2) Find Friends Nearby

If you hadn’t heard of this one, it was a mobile feature Facebook tried to introduce quietly that was designed to instantly find friends in the vicinity based on mobile GPS location data. But then, when it rapidly caused a privacy stink, Facebook killed it the same day because it was too obviously creepy-stalkerish, even for Facebook.

3) Your picture in other people’s ads (a.ka. “Sponsored Stories”)

Thanks to Maddie Grant from Social Fish for this one.

This one has been making the news lately because of a just-settled, then un-settled, lawsuit.  Here’s what Facebook officially says about this “feature”. Basically, because you “Liked” something – say OB Tampons – your photo can appear in an OB Tampon ad in my stream. Again. Creepy. And in this case, feels unethical too because Facebook is using people’s faces without permission to endorse products and make money.

4) Facebook e-mail switch

From Shinyshiny.tv

Do you remember back when Facebook wanted to revolutionise the way we message one another by giving us all @facebook.com email addresses? Yeah it was pretty “meh” and no one really cared. Well now in an attempt to make our Facebook inboxes more relevant Zuck and the gang have got rid of your regular email addresses and replaced them with a Facebook one.

Again, silly, creepy, and bad strategy.

5) Editing comments

The problem here is not that you can edit your typos and screw-ups. You could do that (kind of) for a while – but it was time limited, so you could make small changes if you were quick, but after a while, they became permanent. Which worked.  My problems are 1) the bizarre “edit” history thread  that tracks your edits forever, and 2) that they didn’t aply this behaviour consistently – as  Techdrink points out.

But here’s what you can’t do. You can’t edit your comments on the Comments Box plug in used by many websites like TechCrunch (and even TechDrink at one stage). You can’t edit your comments on mobile where it would arguably have been infinitely more useful (isn’t that right, auto correct!). And you still can’t edit original posts!

Also, there is the potential for abuse. Say I post a comment that says “I like kittens!” and 520 people “Like” it. I could then go back and write “Kill all the kittens”, and it would look like all 520 people were secret kitten murderers as well.

The “Ticker”: oooh look! Another place to see Farmville requests!

6) Sidebar “Tickers” – all those bloody right hand sidebars.

Back when I first saw them last August, I thought the new sidebars were kind of cool and an interesting addition to Facebook. That is, until they actually appeared on my Facebook screen, constantly moving as they scroll by, and created an exponential increase in the clutter and “Wall of Noise” effect you get from Facebook.

Gah!!! Again, it made me feel less in control of Facebook. Not good for Facebook!

7) Facebook messages popping up like chat requests

(Thanks to Dave Harrison for this one.)

Yeah. That. We didn’t ask for that one either. It sucks because we could ALWAYS tell when we had a message through that little red icon at the top. But you could ignore it until you actually had time to look. Now it’s in your face and you feel rude if you don’t answer immediately.

8) An iPhone mobile app (and other mobile apps) that really suck

(Thanks to Jon Aston for this one)

Okay, this wasn’t a feature they chose (I hope), but it’s one of my biggest sources of Facebook frustration. I’d love it if they pulled every engineer from the useless projects above and assigned them to fixing their wonky, slow mobile apps. And maybe letting us tag people and do other basic stuff? Huh? Please?!?!

9) People who complain about every new feature on Facebook.

(Thanks to Shelly Kramer for this one)

I agree, in that this annoys me too. But I’d also argue this is actually a “feature” of how Facebook rolls stuff out. By changing so frequently, radically, and in many cases with a tin ear for how the changes may be received, they are constantly shaking the platform. Which makes people feel unsteady.

1o) <Add your own Facebook feature here.>

What do you think? Are we being fair to Facebook? Do they deserve the constant criticism? Please share your pet peeves, your faves, your tirades or praises in the comments.