Telco Brands: the Fair for Canada FAIL in one picture

Rogers, Bell, and Telus blow their big chance. By being their same old big-Telco selves…

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.  Continue reading “Telco Brands: the Fair for Canada FAIL in one picture”

Client snapshot: the rapid evolution of Versature business phone services

Sometimes, order 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.

My double life: getting over “personal branding”

“I’m a slightly mad aristocrat and I’m okay with that”

In this Beg to Differ: a shocking personal revelation from the Big Differ, view who wonders if “Personal Branding” is too narrow to capture the range of authentic, and but playful, roles we play in our professional lives.

Yes, that's the Big Differ, DenVan, as the Captain of the Pinafore in 2006
Yes, that's DenVan as the Captain of the Pinafore with Meredith Matthews as Buttercup in Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore at Centrepointe Theatre (Savoy Society of Ottawa).

Confession: I’m leading a double life

Yes it’s true. By day, I am indeed the mild mannered head of my brand strategy consulting company and the less-than-faithful blogger whose words you are reading right now (among other things).

By night, I am a slightly mad member of the British aristocracy – and I’m okay with that. I’m a Lord, a commander of troops, master of the Tower of London.  I oversee torture, beheadings, and a castle-full of sopranos. I find wives for dying men, support jesters on unicycles, drag rivers, and make sure Beefeaters stay off the bottle.

And that’s just this month. In the past decade, I’ve been a Japanese Lord High Executioner, the Prince of Darkness, the Captain of a warship,and a young Pirate apprentice.

Tough jobs all – and difficult to sum up on a resume.

Multiple personalities? Nope. Just one big ham.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m either a) delusional, b) addicted to role-playing video games, or c) an amateur actor and singer. Although my wife might wish for an “all of the above” option, the answer is c).

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to land some fun roles with a couple of great local musical theatre and operetta companies. And on April 21, I’ll be hitting the stage again with a small lead in Yeomen of the Guard (see the promo video below for details).

It’s fun; it challenges me; I get to make an audience laugh (hopefully).

And in this role, I will try to be true to the character I am playing – to the playwright and director’s vision, to my fellow actors, to the audience.

But is “actor” my “personal brand”?

Um, kind of? It’s a role I sometimes play that lets me play other roles.

Yesterday, in a Twitter chat, the topic of “personal branding” came up again. And as always, somebody threw out the line that “personal brands need to be authentic!”

But if you accept that there can be such a thing as a “personal brand” (which I don’t) this idea of “authenticity” comes to mean the same thing as “personal integrity” which implies “you must always play the same role, because your brand is who you are”.

A brand is not a person, and it’s not personal

This is true for corporate brands, professional reputations, and it’s true for the roles we play in everyday life. Being an “authentic” dad is very different from being an “authentic” consultant, or being honest as an actor.

In Social Media we play many roles depending on the app we’re in or the nature of the conversation. Even within this blog, I’ve played different roles: advisorcritic,  jilted lover, and poet. And I’d like to think I was authentic in every case.

In the corporate and product realm, one company can support many brands with different “authentic” personalities. Procter & Gamble can “be” Mr. Clean, Dolce & Gabbana, and Pampers to different customers – as long as each brand is “authentic” within its own brand role and, most importantly, within the expectations they build for each customer.

The play’s the thing

  • A brand is a role you play for a group of customers.
  • “Play” is an important word here – branding is a game with rules, boundaries, and expected codes of behaviour, so yes, play with integrity and consistency.
  • But once you’ve established those boundaries, there’s incredible latitude for growth and creative movement.
  • When you’re on the field, be true to the game. But learn to keep the game on the field.
  • In your professional life, keep your “brand(s)” at arm’s-length from your “self”. Your customers will be happier, and you’ll be more helpful.

So what do you think?

Elephants in the room: where Vision statements go wrong

Ancient wisdom on Vision – from blind men

Part 2 on Vision Statements. In examining the many ways that our clients’ Vision statements have gone wrong in the past (and some spectacularly wrong), buy Beg to Differ can almost always sum up the biggest problem in one word: proximity. But don’t take our word for it; take it from an ancient tale of six men who tried to establish a common vision. And failed….


Six blind men write a Vision statement

The story I’m referring to is the Blind Men and the Elephant. Variations are found in cultures across Asia, but poet John Godfrey Saxe introduced it to Europe:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind…
Six blind monks – from a Japanese watercolor illustrating the same story

It’s a long poem (whole text here), but to sum up the action: six blind men approach an elephant and come away with six different impressions. One thinks an elephant is like a tree, one like a rope, one like a snake, etc. And while each of their descriptions is sincerely argued, and accurately reflects their observations, the poet laments that “each was partly in the right / And all were in the wrong.”

Now imagine pulling those six blind men into a room and trying to write a Vision statement.

Describing the elephant: where vision statements go wrong

In the story, here are the mistakes the blind men made – and I’m going to suggest that we make the same ones ourselves.

1) They are all blind (and so are we): When it comes to our own businesses and products, each of us is blind to the big picture – the whole animal. This is equally true of me and my company (note to self: update corporate Web site soon), you and yours, and blind elephant-feelers everywhere: we are all victims of habit, corporate silos, and unconscious vested interests.

There’s nothing wrong with blindness of course. But bringing in a “sighted” outsider can certainly speed things up.

2) They didn’t share their “visions” to create “Vision”: Notice that each blind man worked in isolation before comparing notes with colleagues. Imagine if they all had been talking to each other during the research phase. “What do you mean rope? This seems more wall-ish. Seriously, come over here and check this out… etc.” Wouldn’t they be more successful – and fight less?

435px-Blind_men_and_elephant43) Lack of common reference points: Saxe says that the men “Rail on in utter ignorance / Of what each other mean.” Because of the blinkers mentioned above, we need to check, double check, then write down our common understandings of corporate jargon, nomonyms, and other key language.

4) They ignored the elephant. These blind men SAID they wanted to learn about the elephant, for each to “satisfy his mind”, but they seem more interested in having talking points for the argument to come. Shame none of them examined the elephant’s navel. But then they’d have to take their heads out of their own.

5) Who was the exercise for? Perhaps they would have had more luck if they had a clearer goal in mind of who the customer for this information would be. Then they could test their theories against the only metric that matters: how much does their work help someone else understand the elephant?

6) Description is not Vision: even if all the blind men had been able to articulate a more accurate idea of the elephant, they still couldn’t get the elephant to do anything. For that, they’d need to study behaviour, capabilities, knowledge of how other elephants are being used and trained. And finally they’d need to correct one last mistake…

7) Vision needs direction: The blind men lacked clear goals and an audience. But they also lacked a destination or at least a clear sense of the direction they should be heading  – which is the “north star” that should guide any effective Vision exercise.

But then doesn’t that make this a Mission rather than a Vision? The next post in this series will take on that thorny issue. But in the meantime, we’re still looking for your help: vision stories; examples; thoughts?