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…
I took some flak last week online from a long-time online friend for sending her a LinkedIn invitation-to-connect, but without (gasp) adding a personal message….
Can we learn social etiquette from 1908? Tricky. Read on…
I took some flak last week online from a long-time online friend for sending her a LinkedIn invitation-to-connect, unhealthy but without (gasp) adding a personal message. Now, buy information pills I was catching up on a bunch of LinkedIn stuff and realized there were dozens of friends and colleagues I wanted to invite. Also, I’ve been using the standard “Dennis Van Staalduinen would like to connect with you” template for years without thinking about it, and never stopped to think how impersonal that might be.
But her reaction got me thinking of Social Etiquette in general and how the online world and the “norms” of the offline and online worlds get a bit muddled up. And how, without a manual, it’s easy to cross lines and offend people without realizing it.
Which brings me to the manual – and yes there really is one. Or should I say “was”? Below, I stitched together a few iPhone / Instagram shots I took from a delightful old book I have in my office from 1908 called the New American Encyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information.
As you can see, things change a lot. But do they really change that much?
The book – which is awesome – was an ambitious project purporting to teach upstart Americans all kinds of “useful” European skills like how to play the violin, dance, speak German and French, and play polo, among other self-improvement pursuits. How about a magic trick where you pull a cannon ball from a hat? It’s in there!
The section on Letters of Introduction is to the right. What do you think? Could that serve as an etiquette manual for introductions on LinkedIn? I’m not sure, it’s pretty heavy. But it certainly sounds like what my friend was trying to tell me about my lapse in social judgement.
But a few things have changed: 1) the tone of snooty confidence, 2) the idea that all things on earth can be contained in one volume (who needs Google?), and 3) the classic old illustrations – including one of an early form of “planking” (see above).
If you’re interested, I can post some more nuggets. Or if you’re really eager, you can find the whole book in PDF form here. (Warning: it’s HUGE.) Particularly interesting are sections on “Health for women” (spoiler: not very progressive), “The automobile” (debates whether steam, electric or gasoline will prevail), and the dancing section (check out the Polka instructions which are just hilarious).
Basically, it’s a way of allowing IE users to access some Google technologies that Explorer doesn’t support. TechCrunch says:
Yes, it’s both hilarious and awesome (or hilariously awesome, if you will) that Google seems to dislike IE so much that it has spent its own time improving it. Google claims its goals are noble. Talking to Group Product Manager Mike Smith and Software Engineer Alex Russell, they tell us that they simply want to make a more seamless web experience for both web users and developers.
Is that the sound of (somewhat) evil genius laughter I hear in the distance?
But I’ll warn you, it’s a lot of information, and you’ll have to wade through some sections knee-deep in self-congratulatory hype. So as a public service, I’ve distilled 10 aspects of the list that jump out for me (below).
(But first, a slightly bitchy side note to Interbrand: guys, if you’re going to release these three days early, please 1) skip the giant countdown clock , and 2) actually send notices to people that signed up. Okay, my chest is clear, on to…)
10 Highlights of the 2009 Best Global Brands
1) Coke is still it: Top five brands are unchanged
The top five brands on the list are exactly the same brands in the same order as last year, and although Microsoft and GE lost more value than most brands ever have, with the spread in value between the top four, those mega-brands don’t look likely to change anytime soon.
Nokia’s brand is losing steam however, while gaining ground behind it is Google (in a big way) and McDonald’s (growing, but more modestly).
2) Google is the big disruptor
The Google brand shouldered ahead of Toyota, Intel, and Disney, and now is very close to overtaking McDonalds. As a matter of fact, its brand value has almost doubled since 2007, when it was 20th in the rankings.
Think about that for a moment: “Google” has grown from geek-niche-buzzword to #7 brand in the world in just 10 years – growth rates we haven’t seen since, well, Microsoft pulled the same trick for the ten-odd years before that.
But now that Google is starting to look more and more like a big, aggressive company (because they are), can their brand sustain its quirky garage-band appeal? Already their “don’t be evil” internal mantra is attracting more cynicism than praise. And while Googlers are still innovating, and making a lot of feel-good noise with their open source projects, one wonders when critical mass and inertia kick in (see Microsoft?).
3) Other big winners this year
By dollar value gained, H&M, Ikea, and Amazon gained a solid amount of value this year.
But apart from the indominatable Google, Apple grew the most, adding an incredible $1.7 Billion in brand value. Apple is the darling of the branding industry of course and a favourite of mine (see my Steve Jobs tribute), with its creative energy and focus on human-friendly products and messaging, so it’s heartening to see that doing it right by your customers still pays off during a recession.
4) Surprise! Financial institutions are the biggest losers
Have you heard about this recession thing? Well, if you have, then it should come as no surprise that the industry hardest hit in the brand value bottom line was the same industry that imploded and begged for (and received) massive government bailouts.
American Express, Morgan Stanley, and HSBC all lost billions of dollars of brand value, while Citi and embattled Swiss giant UBS both lost half of their brand value in one year. Several others dropped right off the list, including Merryl Lynch, AIG, and ING. Could it be a coincidence that many of these losers also have meaningless nomonyms for names (see my definition here)? Probably just a coincidence, but their names certainly didn’t help them.
5) Automobile brands: losing value
Also not surprising, every automotive or motorized equipment manufacturer on the list except Ferrari lost a significant amount of brand value this year. Harley Davidson and Lexus lost the largest percentages.
But despite losses, a few brands managed to hold their own or gain ground. Apart from Ferrari, Audi managed to gain, while Ford kept its ranking – the only one of the “Big Three” American manufacturers to have a substantial corporate brand seems to have benefited from its perceived stability as well. Another star: Hyundai:
Hyundai boosted ad spending and aggressively promoted its Assurance program, which allows buyers who lose their jobs to return cars. Hyundai’s brand value slipped 5%, but it moved up three places to No. 69. – Business Week.
6) Food and clothing: the basics still sell when times are bad
The same pattern held true for clothing brands – although it must be said that the list is incredibly top-heavy with luxury brands – so Gucci, not GAP; Rolex over Timex. I suspect that this is because of a) the weighting given to “brand premium”, that is, the amount consumers are willing to spend over and above competitors, and b) the fact that lower-priced clothing brands for us mere mortals tend to be less global.
7) Adobe: New kids on the branding block
Abode finally made the list after it “recorded record revenue and double-digit growth for the sixth consecutive year. They weren’t immune to the downturn (they lost money overall), but importantly from a brand perspective, they grew strongly in the consumer preference category. And their brand awareness continues to grow through the ubiquity of their consumer-facing products Flash, and the Acrobat / PDF line.
8 ) Brand USA – still the biggest brand builder
We were watching to see if the recession would dent the US dominance in global brands. With 52 brands on the 2o08 global 100, the Yanks are the uncontested branding champs, but those of us who were hoping for a moment of guilty schadenfreude were mostly disappointed that the US claims 51 – still a majority – of the 100.
Note to the rest of the planet: keep working.
9) No new countries
The names of countries in the Global branding club stayed exactly the same this year with only 9 brands coming from outside Europe and North America (Japan 7, Korea 2). Russia, China, India, Brazil, and the rest of the world have yet to break in. But of course, it’s only a matter of time.
10) Brand Canada: maintaining numbers, but losing ground
Both of our two Canadian contender brands Thomson Reuters and Blackberry grew this year, and both made gains in the rankings with Blackberry jumping 10 spots to number 63. But they weren’t joined by any other brands, and what’s worse, we slipped a rank in number of brands-per-capita when the UK added a brand and vaulted ahead of us. On that list, we were 10th; now we’re llth.
When I was in Korea a few years back, adiposity I was struck that even in cities where very few people spoke English, find “upscale” stores always had an English tagline under an English name. But the words didn’t seem to matter: most were incomprehensible, cialis 40mg vague, or with uninteded double entendres (as below). Weirdly, these businesses seemed to have taglines simply for the sake of filling space under their name with letters, not because anyone would get information from them. You know what’s even weirder? It happens here too.
A global plague:
Lest we seem to be picking on obscure stores in non-English speaking countries, a couple of weeks ago, we pointed out this tagline from a local real estate agent – and we could have chosen many more from that industry alone.
And size of company doesn’t seem to matter. Check out this bit of tagline vapidity from a major international brand – spotted in July 2009. “Sychronizing the world of commerce” is actually less meaningful than “Fitting & Feeling” – and I imagine UPS has a few more people working on their materials than Teman.
Say something nice… or say nothing at all
Or rather, just say something useful.
Like every other aspect of your brand, a tag line is supposed to be a tool to help people understand something about your brand – some aspect of your service that will help them make a purchase decision in your favour.
A good tag line needs to inform me or help me differentiate you from your competitors; maybe it will make a leadership claim or offer me a guarantee; at the very least it should give me a clever “hook” to remenber you by; otherwise it’s just filling a space.
Here’s a secret that should never have to be spoken: a tag line isn’t a design element. It’s actually a set of words that happen to be occupying prime real estate on your sign, page, or Web site. So make sure they “pay their rent” by actually doing useful things.
At Brandvelope, we have a whole set of tools to help clients develop really useful tag lines. But without getting too deeply into that topic in this post, just remember that at the very least, make sure it’s helping somebody.
Tomorrow: 25 useless taglines from brands that should know better.