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 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.

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

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

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.  [Read more…]


Farewell to a fearless storyteller. Alex Colville

Please join me in sharing an Alex Colville Painting today on Facebook

I noticed an interesting and powerful trend among my Facebook friends today. In honour of Canadian artist Alex Colville – who passed away in Nova Scotia yesterday at 92 years old – they’ve been sharing his work through their cover photos, avatars, or Facebook posts.

And it has made his work come alive for me again.


So I joined them…

AC Dennis Van Staalduinen

My Facebook page with Alex Colville’s 1962 painting called “Ocean Limited”

I have been deeply inspired by Colville since I was introduced to his paintings in grade nine by Mr. Ross at Confederation High School. My teacher was a die-hard fan of strictly realist art and had little time for abstraction or “fakery”. But still, he loved Colville and praised his work loudly as an example of the triumph of realism.

I loved it too, but for the opposite reason. I loved how Colville could take “realistic” scenes and elements, strip out many key details like shadows and blemishes to focus on simple forms, and create this mythical, dramatic, and often creepily ominous moment. Every Colville painting made my head spin with stories and questions. [Read more…]


Social Media Case Studies: my students want to write yours!

Algonquin Social Media Students 2013 Accelerated ClassMy Algonquin College students need real world subjects for their social media case studies.

As many of you already know, when I’m not doing my regular brand naming, storytelling, and strategy gig with Brandvelope Consulting, I moonlight as an instructor in the Social Media Certificate program – teaching professionals how to use social more effectively – at Ottawa’s Algonquin College.

In the next two weeks I’ll be starting two new versions of the Applied Social Media in Business class – the one week Accelerated version starting on Monday, and the seven week evening program starting Tuesday, July 2.

The Applied Social class is all about studying and developing real world social media case studies. We try to help our students understand in practical terms how social fits into real world workplaces and business strategy situations. From customer service to research, content marketing to old-school promotional marketing, small business to agencies to big brands. We try to cover a mix.

But the case study needs to be REAL: And this is where we need your help. [Read more…]


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 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?


Social media infographics: fight data fudge!

Data fudge is everywhere. But it seems particularly rampant in infographics shared on social media.

Okay, I love really good charts and graphs – and nerd out about elegant infographics like ones I grew up with in National Geographic, or those shared regularly in FastCoDesign.  But no matter how pretty the picture, what about the data shared in the random infographics I regularly see in my social streams?

Case in point. This week, Jim Dougherty shared this  Infographic, questioning the infographic’s data and particularly this statistic: “90% of all organizations use content in their marketing”. Hmm. Really?

Fight the fudge!

So I decided to do some digging. And before I knew it, I’d created an infographic of my own…

How to spot data abuse in infographics -FUDGE

Here’s some advice based on only one data point: one awfully skewed statistic in a recent Demand Metric infographic.



Technology brands: hey “Cloud” product names: QUIT IT!

Dear brand managers: please get your heads out of the “cloud”.

Okay, I get it. The word “Cloud” is hot right now on planet Software Development. All the biggest online players in the world – from Google to Microsoft to Apple to Adobe – are launching “Cloud” versions of their software. But using the word “Cloud” in a product name for a software brand? I Beg to Differ.

View from 30,000 feet: Ice Cream Castles

So, my brand manager friend. Before we talk clouds, give this song a listen: Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell.

Hear that? Joni’s talking about clouds – your favourite topic! Now, she’s talking about old fashioned air-clouds not cool Internet clouds.  But listen when she describes them as “Bows and flows of angel hair/ And ice cream castles in the air”. See? She’s like you. She agrees that clouds are really, really cool.

And from way up there, those awesome, baroque cloud swirls look kind of like what the concept of “Cloud” software looks like to you technology brand managers, and especially the product developers you usually report to.

It’s a magical fairy tale kingdom of Internet-delivered goodness that just makes so gosh-darned much sense.

  • Why wouldn’t people want the latest version of their software delivered by magic from the heavens?
  • Why wouldn’t they want to switch from buying boxes of plastic disks to online subscriptions?
  • Why wouldn’t people want to store their personal files in the wondrous land of “feather canyons”?
  • Why wouldn’t people LOVE such a super-convenient, and low-cost method of delivery?

Why indeed?

Which explains why every Silicone Valley dog and his app-development team is moving towards the cloud. And they’re so excited, they’re adding the word “Cloud” to every product name in sight. Just a few examples: Adobe Creative CloudApple iCloudMicrosoft Cloud ServicesRackspace Open CloudGoogle Cloud Platform.

Salesforce logo clouds it up

One of the ugliest logo mashups in history. Or, the reason neither Sales-people nor techies should manage brands.

Or how about They love the word “Cloud” so much, they named all three of their most-promoted products “Sales Cloud,” “Service Cloud,” and “Marketing Cloud“. They even changed their logo (at right) so you couldn’t miss their cloudiness.

All for love of those amazing clouds…

View from the ground:  rain and snow on everyone

But as Joni said, clouds look very different when they are looming over your head: “But now they only block the sun./They rain and snow on everyone”. Funny, but that describes how I feel when I look at a name like “Adobe Creative Cloud” or “Sales Cloud”.

Think about the product name “Sales Cloud” by Salesforce for a moment. virtually invented the market for Internet-subscription software for business – or “software-as-a-service” as we used to call it in high tech board rooms. Customer Relationship Management was the first “killer app” and it made Salesforce into a household name.

But never needed to say “Cloud” before because they were all-cloud, all the time: cloud storage, cloud subscription, browser-based cloud usage.

So check out this copy from the “Sales Cloud” section of their site.

Get started with the world’s #1 CRM sales app: Improve sales productivity, boost win rates, grow revenue. With Salesforce Sales Cloud you get all the CRM capabilities you need to connect with customers…

Funny, in the olden days, they would have just said “Subscribe to”. Because that’s their real product name. It’s not a cloud. It’s a subscription.

The problem with clouds? They’re bloody CLOUDY.

So let me say this once and for all: the cloud is not a software product. It’s not a place. And it’s certainly not a thing I can buy. It’s that murky Internet space between me as customer and you the vendor. And so it’s not something I want to focus on, it’s something I want to see through to the real value for me on the other side. And if you’re doing your job as a brand manager, you’ll use product names that help me understand – and buy – your stuff.

Thanks Joni.


Tweets in space: Col. Chris Hadfield takes Social Media into orbit

Suddenly, the cold wastes of space seem a bit more human again.

If you aren’t following Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield on Twitter, Facebook, or through the Canadian Space Agency YouTube channel, go, now, and follow this man. Share his stuff. He’s doing more to inspire a generation of star-struck kids than anyone since Neil Armstrong or that Russian dog.

The quote and the photo are from Canadian Astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield's magnificent Facebook stream.

The quote and the photo are from Canadian Astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield’s magnificent Facebook stream.

When I shared the Facebook update above, my old college buddy Lloyd responded with this:

Commander Hadfield is the best thing to happen to the Canadian space program since they put a bottle opener on the end of the Canadarm.
And it’s true… except for the bottle opener part (note to Space Agency – get on that!). But in thinking about it a bit more, I responded with this.
Actually the best thing to happen to space exploration period Lloyd. He’s the most articulate, personable, plugged-in astronaut ever. And he’s just so golly-gee-whiz THRILLED to be doing what he’s doing. It’s a nice change from the boring old business-as-usual.

And more importantly, he’s a storyteller. He’s a creative guy who shares his photos, his songs, and the wonders of weightless living with this incredibly, engagingly geeky, enthusiasm. It’s clear that he loves his job – and okay, that part is easy; he’s an astronaut after all. The thing he does better than anyone is bringing us along for the ride –  and making us fall in love with space all over again.

But as great as all of that is, I wonder: How far beyond Canada’s borders is Col. Hadfield’s social media brilliance reaching? I’ll put the word out to some social media analytics gurus for their thoughts – updates to follow.

In the meantime, below are two of my favourite Candiana moments from the growing space canon of Chris Hadfield -with William “rocket Man” Shatner and a space jam with the Barenaked  Ladies.

What are your favourite Hadfield moments? Please share links in the comments!

UPDATE Feb 13:  So it seems pretty clear that Hadfield hasn’t broken out as an international phenomenon yet. I received this update from my friend, the digital monitoring ninja Mark Blevis. Of 120,934 tweets mentioning @cmdr_hadfield (Feb 1-today).

Update Feb 14: Well, after some back and forth with Mark, and Twitter input from Commander Hadfield’s son Evan, Mark’s blog post provides some more numbers  that  confirm Hadfield hasn’t reached the “Justin-Bieber-sphere” yet.


Social content: what format for business videos works best for you?

Crowdsourcing: helping new business in Canada get their start

Hey entrepreneurs, small business folks, and advisers. Today’s Beg to Differ post is one big question: as a business, what kind of video format is most helpful, informative, and shareable? See the examples below.

The reason we ask

I’m working with uber social content maven Susan Murphy to develop a series of new business videos for a client: the Canada Business Network. But more important, we’re building a strategy to develop *shareable* content – that is, video that actually helps business owners so much, they’re eager to share it with their peers.

There are three parts to the question of course:

  1. Relevance of content / insights: Does the content teach a viewer something useful and new?
  2. Tone and purpose of the content: Is it helpful and engaging, or just spouting off and / or selling itself?
  3. Video format and packaging: Is the video well produced and is the production appropriate to the content?

The last point is what we’re focusing on today.

So what format for business videos works best for you?

Please let us know in the comments what type of format you are most likely to watch, share, and learn from. What do you hate?  Have other examples of great and / or awful videos? Let us know!

Business video type: animated infographic

Animated words and images are interspersed with “factoids” and charts, and often a voice-over like the one below with extracts from an upcoming book by Dan Pink.

Example: TO SELL IS HUMAN by Daniel H. Pink

Business video type: white board / stop motion animation

Stop motion animation is used to create a more breezy / fun approach to the content. Less “serious”, but many videos like this have gotten serious sharing recently.

Example: How to Give an Awesome PowerPoint Presentation

Business video type: blended live action / animated graphic / voiceover

This format uses live actors along with animated illustrations, charts, and bulleted lists. But in this case, with a voiceover rather than audio from actors.

Example:  How to Perfect your Elevator Pitch

Business video type: produced story / with voiceover

Similar to the blended approach above with voiceover and real actors.  But the emphasis here is on the actors and the story being told. And this one from a government agency in Australia is very clever. Too clever?

Example: Business plan: The story of Albert McFlaherty, lemonade magnate.

Business video type: case study with live interviews

This example is from the Small Business Administration in the United States. It is a live interview with a real business owner. Does this work better for you?

Example: SBA Delivering Success: Entrepreneurial Spirit

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!


Brand Launch: HUB Ottawa Grand Opening

Welcome to town HUB Ottawa. Again.

It struck me as odd at first when I got my invitation to a special breakfast event to celebrate the launch of the HUB Ottawa co-working space. Not because they aren’t worth celebrating. They are. It’s just that I’ve been an active and enthusiastic member since March, so why “open” now?

Because they’re smart. That’s why.

As uber-social-entrepreneur, Bridgehead founder, and HUB Ottawa Board chair Tracey Clark put it:

“Smart entrepreneurs know enough to launch when they have enough critical mass to fill the room.” (Paraphrased)

Launching your brand, any brand, is not a technical event. It doesn’t have to happen on the actual day you open. It’s a celebration. So do it when you’ve got something to celebrate.

And they do. Actually WE do, as I’m a member and participant in this very cool project.

So here’s to you HUB Ottawa! Welcome to Ottawa. Again.

Some photos I took at HUB Ottawa launch:

The whole set on Flickr:

Interested in HUB Ottawa or the HUB movement?


Brand strategy advice: Stonz Footwear

Meeting the challenge of expanding Stonz into new markets

If you follow me as @DenVan on Twitter, you might have seen that I contributed to a Dan Misener piece in today’s Globe and Mail. It was a brand strategy critique of the Canadian kids footwear and winter-wear brand Stonz. But as with many such things, the advice I provided was about twice as long as the space they had for me. So for Stonz, and all brand managers (and geeks), I’ve included my full thoughts below.

First of all, here’s the Globe and Mail Article (click to visit)

Kids' outdoor gear maker needs to find memorable 'hook' for its brand

 (Article here) (PDF file here)

The Stonz brand strategy challenge

Official logo for Stonz Wear - found on every boot

Here’s their logo. The visual connection to footwear is pretty strong. As is the line above the “O”.

As the article says, Stonz is a Vancouver-based company that manufactures a growing portfolio of clothing and footwear for children. But their signature product, and the one most deeply associated with the Stonz brand, is the type of booty you see above for infants and toddlers. It’s big selling point: two rip cords help to keep it on your toddler’s feet – which is a real plus for us parents.

Their big problem: knock-offs. And this is particularly a problem as the company tried to expand into new markets overseas. Or as the article describes it:

(Founder and CEO Lisa Will) has seen several competing products that bear a strong resemblance to the all-weather outdoor baby boots sold by her company. She has even seen ads for “fake stonz”  pop up online.

Ms. Will believes her booties were the “originals,” but while the company has secured worldwide trademarks for the Stonz brand, it does not hold any patents on its bootie design or other products, she says.

What the brand strategy experts (and I) say

Dan Misener pulled together three experts to address this problem.

Karinna and Joyce focused on building a brand story around the moms that founded the company, and to highlight the “original” and Canadian nature of the brand. And I fully agree. But I think Stonz has a bigger problem. I think the name is a serious liability. Here was my full comment:

My brand strategy advice for Stonz (full text)

When I asked my wife – the chief buyer of clothing for our three kids – to name some children’s boot brands off the top of her head, she rattled off Cougars, Sorels, Uggs, Bogs, and “Kamiviks” (sic.).

Ever heard of Stonz? “Nope,” she said.

“How about these?” I asked her, showing her the company Web site. “Oh, those!” She said. “We had a pair of those booties for a while.”

She remembered the “booties” but not the Stonz brand.

That’s a problem

Product innovation and pure marketing chutzpah have gotten this company very far indeed, and congratulations to them for that. But apparel products, promotions, supply chains, and social media campaigns are far too easy (and legal) to copy. What can’t be copied is a strong, memorable brand “hook” that makes one product the brand all similar products are compared to.

Think of the Canadian-invented footwear product “Foam Creations,” which only became a global phenomenon and a billion dollar public company when an American team bought it, and re-launched it under the much stronger brand name, Crocs.

How do I know it’s a more effective name? Because all last week I was telling my kids “Put your Crocs on. We’re going to the beach!” But I can’t even imagine saying to my toddler on a cold winter day: “Let’s put your Stonz (Stones? Stons?) on and go outside.” I would just say “booties”.

I don’t think it’s too late for these smart, driven entrepreneurs to thoughtfully and strategically re-launch their core brand. But I do think it needs to happen. And soon.

But what do you think?

Am I being to hard on that name? Is it really necessary to change it? Weigh in in the comments below!