Announcing: Ottawa Brand Strategy Boot Camp – August 27

Registration has just opened for the August edition of our successful Beg to DIFFER Brand Strategy Boot Camp – brought to you by the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) and Brandvelope Consulting.

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Dennis fields questions at the last OCRI Beg to DIFFER Brand Strategy Bootcamp in May 2009.

generic Helvetica, information pills sans-serif; FONT-SIZE: +3″>Register here at the OCRI Web site.

This  boot camp is for all managers and executives with marketing, PR, or communication responsibility–whether in technology, government, not-for-profit, or other industries.  Basically, if you manage a brand and want to learn how to manage it for maximum connection and value (for your customers and for yourself) this boot camp is for you.


Thursday August 27, 2009


Nepean Sailing Club 3259 Carling Avenue

Two Options:

OPTION 1: Half-Day Bootcamp – morning only

  • 8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. – Registration and Coffee
  • 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Seminar 

OPTION 2: Full-Day Bootcamp

  • Morning seminar (as above), plus:
  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch
  • 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. – Hands-on Workshop

Why you should attend:

Reason 1: morning session

Dennis at front -square
Morning Session provides theory, practical case studies, & tips

This seminar provides a great overview of three important topic areas for all Brand Managers:

  • What is a brand, and why is it important? You’re being branded one way or the other; we’ll help you take control.
  • The building blocks of brands. How to analyze, develop, and leverage the different facets of corporate strategy to ensure that your brands are making the right promises, and following through.
  • Brand management. How to use the brand elements and marketing tools at your disposal to manage your image in the minds of consumers. How to be a brand stickler without being seen as a “brand cop”. How to get your colleagues to live the brand.
  • Reason 2: afternoon workshop (only for full-day participants)

    Afternoon workshop (available only to full-day bootcampers) is more interactive, and involves hands-on critique of your brand.

    In this smaller-group setting, you’ll get a chance to apply the theory from the morning to your brand and get help from other participants and the workshop leaders.  The workshop will allow you to do a point-by-point inspection all the aspects of your brand. But note that the afternoon is for active participants only; be ready to give and take constructive feedback.

    Reason 3: Take-aways

    All participants will receive 1) Beg to DIFFER Brand Strategy Workbook  plus, full-day participants will also get 2) a personalized assesment of your brand strengths and challenges.

    Reason 4: Beautiful setting

    Nepean Sailing club is at 3259 Carling Avenue, just West of Andrew Haydon Park – only a short drive from downtown and Kanata. This venue offers stunning scenery and a relaxed atmosphere – we took the photo below from just outside the conference room. It’s the perfect place to spend a late August day gearing your brand up for the fall. Google Map here.

    Back deck
    Boot Camp will be held at the beautiful Nepean Sailing Club - 3259 Carling Avenue on Lac Deschênes near Andrew Haydon Park

    Reason 5: don’t take our word for it

    “I thoroughly enjoyed the day and want to thank you and your colleagues for your efforts. I believe this seminar is a definite requirement in the Ottawa area and you have already put in place many of the cornerstones to build on to make this a truly awesome and interactive event for new and seasoned brand management professionals.”

    Dan Chaput
    Director, Marketing Communications
    March Networks

    Register here at the OCRI Web site.

    Jumping the FailWhale: Twitter’s biggest problems

    This morning’s Twitter outage, symptoms is only one of the many problems facing brand Twittter. Back in June, order early in my Twitter career (yes, the Twitterverse is turning quickly my friends) I blogged about this – No Twitter Brand, what are YOU doing? But now that I’ve had time to think about this some more (thanks for the outage Twitter!), I’ve got some more thoughts – all of which require more than 140 characters.

    Aquatic superstar rising (falling?)... Just one of the great fanart images at
    Aquatic superstar rising (falling?)... Just one of the great fanart images at

    Over the next week or two, I’ll deal with 3 major brand credibility problems Twitter is facing, followed by a set of solutions I’ll modestly put forward. 

    The Jumping the Failwhale series: Twitter’s biggest problems

    • Problem 1: Brand Promise: (in this post – see below) the free ride will have to end, and the real owners of the Twitter brand will not be pleased.
    • Problem 2: Brand Character: (coming soon) Twitter feels more “Social” and less like serious “Media”. Basically, the boss ain’t buying it, and unless something changes, he may be right.
    • Problem 3: Brand Personality: (coming soon)Despite the fresh, breezy cartoon-graphics, the kids aren’t twittering. Twitter is fast becoming an old people’s brand and the problem is hard-wired into the product.
    • Solutions:  (coming soon) My 10 Recommendations to save Twitter.

    Problem 1: Brand Promise. The free ride will end.

    A Brand Promise is the implicit set of expectations a brand builds up in the mind of its customers over time. And just like a real-world promise, the owner of the promise (and indeed the brand itself) is the person to whom the promise is made: the customer. Twitter carried by whales

    The promise of Twitter 

    Twitter users have come to value, and expect, a free, open online community accessible to all with 1) an Internet connection and 2) enough time to cultivate a Twitter brand of your own.

    The problem with this is that of course, the party can’t go on like this forever. There are real world implications to the scale of Twitter’s success. Yup, I mean big crashes like this morning. But more to the point: money / revenue / filthy lucre / a basic business model. This is of course a no-brainer, because it’s a problem with all Social Media. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and a thousand other online communities and services have built their huge audiences fast on the same implicit promise.

    Try it, use it forever, and pay nothing – with no ads – all of these are very attractive hooks to get people in. But having set those expectations in customers’ minds, no one should be surprised if they feel betrayed if you suddenly try to “monetize” their “eyeballs”. Oh, they’ll understand. But this isn’t about rational thought; it’s about a broken promise.

    I can hear the objection: “but we never said it would be free forever”. Doesn’t matter. Your actions led them to expect it would be free forever, which in their mind is the same thing.

    A summer-friendly analogy

    Imagine that one day I mow my neighbour’s lawn, then laugh off any payment he might offer by saying “that’s what neighbours do”. Don’t you think it would make him happy and strengthen our neighbourly bond? Probably. As long as he didn’t suspect my motives.

    Which leads me to the following week, when I tell him “I’ve decided that the price of gas being what it is, you either have to pay me a dollar to do it again, or listen to a 5 minute pitch for my business.” 

    He’ll understand. He might even recognize that it’s a really good deal I’m offering. But do you think he’d be happy about it?

    An example from my practice

    We dealt with this issue last year while I was acting Vice President of Marketing at – an online learning management network. We played around with a number of options, from totally free access (like Facebook or Twitter), to pay-per-use, or just a low-cost subscription. Our solution in the end: give users a free-forever option, but a) be very clear what the limits were, b) set clear prices on the commercial e-learning content we sold through our library, c) give them an expanded range of capabilities for free in exchange for sharing their content with the rest of CoursePark, and d) make it easy and transparent to allow them to upgrade to the “enterprise” version for larger programs / more support / more member controls.

    The bottom line

    Be careful what you promise (even implicitly); your customers will hold you too it.
    If you’re building a business, people are cool with that – if they know your motives in advance.
    If you have built expectations that you can’t sustain, don’t assume that you can change the rules at will. You will pay for it.

    NOMO lie number 2: all acronyms are bad

    (Part 3 of a 4-part NOMO series about abbreviated brand names) Right, more about so this week we’ve dealt with nomonyms, order our term for any unhelpful abbreviated names, tadalafil initialisms like IBM, and whether they can be a brand at all. And later we’ll deal with the 25 worst acronyms of all time. But first: acronyms. And here’s my lie about them: all acronyms are bad.

    The happy couple in the merger of Russia's Gazprom and Nigeria's NNPC: the awkward new name "NIGAZ" (pronounced "NIGH-gaz" - no really)

    So yeah. It was a lie: not all acronyms are bad.M

    But just as initialisms are not a good choice for the vast majority of products and companies, acronyms are very difficult to do well, and are fraught with hidden perils – as the well-meaning folks in the picture above thought when they chose their acronym – based name, or the example we commented on last month: the SciFi channel, who thought Syfy would make a spiffy (not “siffy”) name for their channel rebrand.

    What is a (real) acronym?

    But lets be clear what an acronym actually is. The word is used as a blanket term for all abbreviations – as in this Wikipedia post, which starts off making the distinction between acronym and initialism, but then ends up lumping them together. A true acronym has to meet three tests :

    • a. It must be the abbreviation of a series of words, which
    • b. creates an actual word that people can realistically use in everyday conversation, and
    • c. the new word must stick — that is it must actually be used by people as a proxy for the longer phrase.

    Meeting criteria a. is really, really easy. Anyone can take a bunch of letters and throw them together into a sequence. But if the combination is “YTJNE” it’s not an acronym, it’s an initialism.

    Which brings us to criteria b. This one seems easy, but is actually devilishly difficult in practice. And criteria c. is the hardest of all, since this involves actually convincing people to use the name you create – and preferably without rolling their eyes or laughing aloud.

    Why it’s so hard

    It’s like trying to give yourself a nickname. In my early brand-geek days (when I was 8), I tried to get my friends to call me “Tater” (don’t ask). But of course it didn’t work. Why? because it was my idea of what would be cool, not other people’s idea of what FIT me.

    Because essentially that’s what an acronym is – a nickname.  Think about how we call Coca-Cola “Coke”. We know the “official” version, but saying “Coke” feels more familar, more friendly. A good nickname is a proxy; a good acronym is a short, catchy version of a longer name that people are aware of, but if the right handle comes along, they’ll use it.

    The secret to good acronyms

    So here’s the key: a successful acronym has to be so simple, so elegant, so natural, that it feels like it was you customer’s idea all along. Essentially, it has to be a useful tool to help people notice, remember, and refer to you. Oh, wait, that’s our definition for a brand!

    • Successful acronyms like “laser”,”NASA”, “Benelux”, and “UNICEF” are easy to say, easy to remember, and natural to use. When this is the case, the acronym actually supercedes the full name in the customer’s mind. I was an adult before I learned that UNICEF was anything but a strong stand-alone brand name. Quick: what does “scuba” stand for? Most people don’t even realize that it’s an acronym for “self contained underwater breathing apparatus”. That’s how natural a good acronym should be.
    • Unsuccessful acronyms are either unwieldy (UNRWA – pronounced “un-rah”), unpleasant to say (GATT), or just too long (PUMCODOXPURSACOMLOPOLAR – Pulse Modulated Coherent Doppler-Effect X-Band Pulse-Repetition Synthetic-Array Pulse Compression Side Lobe Planar Array).
    • Really awful acronyms: At their worst, acronyms are so laughably bad they make news on their own – ususally because the combination of letters forms a word that is just too much of a stretch. But we’re reserving those for another post.

    The whole NOMO series:

    Brand Brief: gets legs – and feet CEO Jeff Bezos has just released a long video in which he rhapsodizes about the history of – including early troubles with technology… and even elecricity. At 8 minutes plus, sale this DOESN’T qualify as an elevator pitch. Then he eventually gets around to announcing his company’s all-stock aquisition of online shoe retailer The full TechCrunch Newsflash is here.

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    From the other side of the acquisition, CEO Tony Heish has posted this letter to employees explaining the aquisition. It’s a serious letter, but also manages to be light, breezy-but-informative piece that speaks to the corporate brand culture Hseih has built at Zappos. Just what you’d expect from a guy with a Zappos logo tatooed to his head.

    But one thing that caught my attention was this:

    We learned that they truly wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand and continue to build the Zappos culture in our own unique way. I think “unique” was their way of saying “fun and a little weird.” 🙂

    The Zappos brand will continue to be separate from the Amazon brand. Although we’ll have access to many of Amazon’s resources, we need to continue to build our brand and our culture just as we always have. Our mission remains the same: delivering happiness to all of our stakeholders, including our employees, our customers, and our vendors.

    So what do you think?

    • Cynical DIFFERs, how long do you think this will last before is absorbed into Amazon?
    • Hopeful DIFFERs: is this the greatest thing you’ve ever heard?
    • And how about that backyard Billionaire video?

    A new brand for word geeks – it’s

    It’s very seldom I come across a new tool on the Web that jumps straight to the top of my bookmark lists, discount but it happened this morning. I got a tip from Charles Hodgson’s latest post on on a funky new site called that had my fast-twitch bookmarking reflexes firing almost instantly. wordnik

    How does it DIFFER?

    What’s so impressive, drug and how is it better than – or at least different from – any of the excellent reference tools out there? for example has become an indispensible reference for new slang and jargon. Don’t know what a “beauty booger” is? You’re in luck!

    But in particular, how does wordnik compare to the granddaddy of them all: I have to admit that as a long-time word nerd (Scrabble, reading the OED for fun, the whole works) and professional brand namer, I’m a big fan of It has evolved over the past few years from providing a single set of standard dictionary definitions to providing a huge laundry list of definitions from a cross section different dictionaries, including specialized financial and medical searches, as well as etymology, suggested related searches, and cross references to encyclopedia and thesauri.

    Oh and advertising. Loads and loads of advertising. Just scroll down through this definition of the word “brand” to see how exhaustive and exhausting this approach can become. So what could be missing? Well, the simplicity and focus of the early days for one. But more importantly, with this “stream of noise” approach, what gets lost is context – a sense of how the word works in the real world.

    That’s where Wordnik comes in.

    Screenshot of the wordnik results I got for the word "brand"
    Screenshot of the wordnik results I got for the word "brand"

    Check out this search on the word “brand” and compare it to the approach. The first thing you’ll notice is the clean layout, with everything in clearly marked containers. You’ll also see that the first item is not the definition, but examples of the word in the context of an actual sentence. And quite often from unconventional sources like Twitter.

    Wordnik claims to have a growing database of more than 130 million examples to go with its 1.7 million words. This actually gets closer to one intent of the first, and still one of the easiest to read dictionaries, Samuel Johnson’s 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language which promises: “a faithful record of the language people used”.

    Check out the Wordnik approach to the phrase “beauty booger” – which doesn’t have a formal definition, and which sends into a fishtail. But which Wordnik allows you to piece together from Twitter usage.

    Or try Wordnik for the word fishtail. You’ll see that they also search Flickr tags, and a quick scan shows me that the term “fishtail” can refer to a kind of braided ponytail, something motorcycle-related, and the name of a peak in Nepal – none of which appear at

    Where Wordnik needs work.

    Okay, it ain’t perfect. That’s why they’ve stamped “Beta” all over it – or as they put it in their welcome e-mail “Because we are still in beta, there are almost certainly hiccups and other infelicities.”  In particular, the dictionary definitions themselve quite often fall flat in capturing the whole range of senses for a word.

    For example, when you search “branding” the only definition that comes up is “the act of stigmatizing” – which totally misses the sense of the term that I’ve built my business on. On the plus side, there is a bit of Wiki-ness to the Wordnik site, so even if I wasn’t able to add a definition myself, I was able to submit the following comment:

    What’s missing here is the modern business sense of branding, which I define as “the process of organizing a company’s products, messages, and corporate identity to help consumers understand who they are and what they do.”

    Will this help? Hard to say. It will depend on whether a real human on the other side sees it and does soemthing about it (which is going to be a lot harder when more than 23 people have looked up the word). I’d love to see an open wiki environment moderated by fellow wordgeeks, but that requires a critical mass of users to filter out the type of self-serving editing that I’d love to do on the “branding” entry.

    A quick word on the name and logo

    Very quick actually: great. Nicely understated on both. It will be interesting to see if the noun-weighted name ever becomes a verb like “Google” – as in ” Wait a moment while I Wordnik that”. Or to use the Twitter / Tweet model: “let me Wordneek that.” Or perhaps I overstretch my point (for the first time ever).

    So to sum up: Wordnik is cool for word nerds, and very useful for us in our branding work. With some more tuning and opening the door to deeper user contributions, it could become a killer app for everyone else too.