Dragons, edible play dough, and three-letter abbreviations – oh my!

Company makes dough on the Den while another eats it.

Beg to Differ is going to focus on a beauty and the beast story of two hometown brands that showed up on Dragon’s Den last night, order with very different results. One plucky little company made a pile of money from investors, cost while the other – a much larger organization – wasted a pile of dough. Want to find out more? Of course you do. Read on.

Den - front page with yummies

The Beauty: spreading the dough on the Dragon’s Den

Yummy Dough

Beg to Differ knows that our non-Canadian readers probably won’t be familiar with the Canadian version of this reality TV show where real life entrepreneurs compete to get funding from real-life millionaire business moguls. But it’s a great show, visit web the guest entrepreneurs range from brilliant to insane to just cheesy, and it really helps average viewers get into the entrepreneurial process.

Last night, one of the big winners was the product “Yummy Dough” pitched by Stefan Kaczmarek from Germany and Tim Kimber from Ottawa (who owes me a few pairs of new shoes because my three year old loves his other product PlasmaCar so much).

You can watch episode 5 here and the Yummy Dough product is first up.

If you’re like me, you probably hear “edible” and “modeling dough” and you first think of the PlayDoh most of us grew up with, then you think “YUCK!” Then if you have young kids like I do, you probably also think “I don’t want my kids to eat their PlayDoh!”  But this is pliable cookie dough that you can bake into cookies.

Check out the Yummy Dough site. It tells its story in a fun and compelling way (but make sure you quickly mute the annoying and slightly creepy background noises). One quick positioning note for the owners now that they have some marketing dollars: they need to steer away from the word “clay” and focus more on the “make your own cookies” aspect. It needs to seem like equal parts toy and food product – which will take some careful work.

The Beast: dumping dough on the Dragon’s Den

But another Ottawa-based “brand” is wasting money as fast as Yummy Dough is making it  – probably faster.

Take a look at the screen shot (above) from the Web site, and in particular the sponsor logos in the upper right. You’ll probably recognize the Cadillac insignia. You may be curious about the “Ivey” brand – which is the University of Western Ontario’s school of business (note to Ivey – great name, but negotiate a short tag under your logo with the words “School of Business”).

But unless you’ve directly done business with them or have a family member working for them, you probably won’t know what the letters “E.D.C.” stand for – even if you are Canadian. Yet, EDC has been pumping truckloads of money into season after season of the Dragon’s Den to build brand awareness!

So who the heck is EDC?

Some Hints:

  1. Don’t look for it to be spelled out for you anywhere on the Dragon’s Den page. It’s just EDC in the video ads, side banners, and sponsor logos.
  2. I’ll give you the “C” – it’s Canada, and yes, this organization is run by the Canadian Government.
  3. It is often confused with two other corporations that do similar things and also go by TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations): BDC and CCC.
  4. See if you can find them on this Wikipedia “EDC May Refer to… ” page. And I’ll give you a bigger hint, it’s the 20th EDC on a list of 25 things that call themselves EDC.

Still stumped?

Well, if you’re not baffled, call your brother who works at EDC and tell him what a bang-up branding job they’re doing. If you are, you’ve helped me make a point I’ve made many times here on Beg to Differ:

An abbreviation is not a brand!

Read my July Op Ed from the Citizen with the message "NOMO" useless acronyms!

(Oh, and if you’re still wondering, it’s actually “Export Development Canada” and they do important work – as do BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) and CCC (Canadian Commercial Corporation). Shame that none of them have real brands…)

Is “Personal Branding” an oxymoron?

Evidence for and against the term

“Personal branding” isn’t new, pills but it seems to be a term that’s spiking upwards right now, viagra buy pushed by an enthusiastic tribe of “personal brand experts” who are starting to throw their weight around – particularly in Social Media. They dominate every Twitter search on “branding” for example. But for me, malady as a brand guy, a #brandchat conversation last week and blog posts by Mitch Joel and Rob Frankel set me to wondering: Is a “personal brand” even possible?

Batboy 2
My son "branded" himself as Batman for a Halloween party over the weekend. But was it "personal"?

The case for “personal branding” (i.e. it’s not an oxymoron)

  • Brands are important: I’ve built my career around the idea that the concept of a “brand” is a powerful tool to build relationships between people,  products, companies, services, government programs, charities, and various combinations of all of the above. So when I hear someone – anyone – reinforcing the importance of brand-oriented thinking, part of me yells out an involuntary “Amen, preach it brother!”
  • Persons can have brands: individuals can and do become incredibly powerful brands – and many of them consciously cultivate these brands in much the same way a smart company manages their brand portfolio. No one can ignore the phenomenal impact of the Obama, Oprah, or even the Glenn Beck  brand – although impact may be the only thing those particular brands have in common.
  • Tom Peters: I was inspired by a ground-breaking article in Fast Company from 1997 called “The Brand Called You” in which Peters says:

It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else.

  • The rise of Social Media: this development more than any other is what is driving the growth of the “personal branding” industry. Just look at the Personal Branding Rock Star Apparent Dan Schwabel’s Web site, blog, or Twitter stream: your Social Media “footprint” is mostly what he’s talking about. And indeed, now that our thoughts, deeds, and misdeeds can be broadcast to the world with the click of a button, we all need to be aware of how our online actions affect our perception by employers, business colleagues, and potential customers.
  • My own work: I myself have done almost a dozen seminars on branding for individuals at universities, professional organizations, and networking groups.  My first such presentation was at a “Company of Friends” meeting in  2001 (selected slides below), in which I encouraged attendees to look at their careers, areas of expertise, and public communications through the lens of branding. I even wore a T-Shirt with “I AM BRAND” on it and encouraged them to repeat that phrase in their heads.

So let me be clear: I’m not against “Persons” “Branding”

To sum up, before I get to the negative stuff: the intersection of “Branding” + “Individuals” is a powerful connection that I strongly believe in and promote.

Clear? Got that? Cool. Let’s move on.

The case against “personal branding” (i.e. it is an oxymoron)

  • Personal branding often confuses “identity” with “brand”. These are different things. Identity is the part of your brand that you control – that is, your name, what you say about yourself, how you look, etc.; but your brand is much bigger, and includes a lot of stuff that you don’t control – most importantly what other people say about you.
  • Branding is not about you. It doesn’t matter what you are trying to promote, your brand is only as good as what it does for human beings – that is, how useful your brand is to human beings as a way of finding, understanding, and referring others to something they value.
  • No one can “own” their own brand. Here’s my definition of brand for the record – one which I’ve honed and refined over 15 years of building practical brand strategy for companies big and small. Note as you read that “brand” can not be created ex nihilo (from nothing), nor can it be owned by the same people who own the “product”:
  • A brand is the whole set of ideas, words, images, and expectations that humans* associate with a product**.
    (* “humans” means multiple customers / influencers / observers.)
    (**”product” can mean a corporation, commodity, service, concept, or individual)
  • Or, a shorter definition: “a brand is a promise.” And a really strong brand is a promise kept consistently, and reinforced publicly, over time. This is where the “personal” part starts to break down: it implies private, non-public, just between me, myself, and I. Say “personal promise” to yourself. Sounds wrong doesn’t it? That’s because a promise is only meaningful if it is made to someone.
  • At its worst, the personal branding movement misses the point. Far too often, even most of the time from what I’ve seen,  “personal branding” is a fancy word for “narcissism”. It’s a cover for the selfishness, greediness, and egomania that are temptations for all of us – and should never, never be celebrated or recommended.  That is, bad personal branding is about introspection or “self-help” – or making your life better, not about making the lives of your fellow humans better.

So can “personal branding” be redeemed?

Personally, I’m going to avoid the term as much as I can. It’s just too distracting for my corporate clients if I get too deeply tangled up in the narcissistic side of the field.

But there are people out there on the Light Side of the Force. And on that note, I’m going to leave the last word to Mitch Joel from Six Pixels of Separation:

The Key To Your Personal Brand

“If there’s one lesson/opportunity when it comes to developing your personal brand, it is to make everything  about the people you are connecting to and not about yourself.” (underline added by me)

– Mitch Joel

So what do you think?

  • Am I being fair to “personal branding”?
  • Should we use the term “personal branding”at all?
  • Is there a better term for the branding of individuals?
  • Am I using too many “quotation marks”?
  • Hey geeks! Think everyone knows what you’re talking about? Think again.

    This is a message from one geek to another. I was raised on computers as a teenager in the mid 80’s, capsule and have been on the Internet since before browser technology made it easy for everyone in the 90’s, website like this the question seems pretty straightforward: “what is a browser?” But in April, when Google staffers from the Chrome browser team asked that question of people in New York’s Times Square, they were shocked with what they found out.

    Less than 8% of people interviewed knew what a browser was

    It isn’t scientific at all, but it makes the point very strongly. You can hear people struggling to distinguish between a search engine, an operating system, office software, and a browser.

    And the results are repeatable as you can see in this video from Rotterdam (Dutch with English commentary) – which means we also can’t dismiss the people in the Google video as just dumb Americans /  New Yorkers / etc. Dutch people are pretty smart – and Dutch Canadians even more so (editor’s note: may be some bias here).

    The Googlers were trying to figure out how to get people to switch to the Google Chrome browser, but they couldn’t even start the conversation because most normal Internet-using humans don’t even know what a browser is.
    To their credit, Google has now gone back to basics with a simple site called www.whatbrowser.org that breaks it  down for the average human (if they care enough to visit).

    The results seem incredible to me (because I’m a geek)

    As a geek, I naturally assume that because I know what a browser is, so does everyone else, right? And if they don’t, they must be uneducated, luddites, or just totally out of touch. I’m like the mechanic who assumes that everyone knows what a catalytic converter is – because we all drive cars that have them.

    But it’s not true. Most people don’t know because they don’t care what the technology is called. They just want to perform their daily tasks and would prefer the technology to be as invisible as possible. 

    Three problems this example highlights for branders

    I coach executives and companies on sharpening their elevator pitches – 30-second verbal descriptions of their companies or products. And these are smart people too. But one of the first problems we almost always have to overcome is this:

    Problem 1: We assume that our listeners know more about our subject area than they actually do.

    They don’t. I think it’s because we don’t want to insult the intelligence of the listener by explaining things that seem obvious to us. So we jump straight in at the deep end, using all of the same catch phrases and jargon that we use with internal colleagues.

    I catch myself doing this all the time when talking about some obscure brand strategy model, and then have to consciously take a few steps back before I lose my audience.

    Problem 2: The audience doesn’t want to seem stupid, so they won’t interrupt and reveal their ignorance.

    Just because they’re nodding their head doesn’t mean they get it. Find ways to figure out where they are on the learning curve and help them along it – in terms that make sense to them.

    All of which leads to:

    Problem 3: If your audience never gets past basic understanding, you’ll never get to the next level.

    Forget about “positioning”, “marketing” and “brand awareness”. Especially forget about “sales”. If they don’t have a category for you in their brain, they’re not buying.

    They probably don’t even know you exist.

    Starbucks VIA: Coffee giant declares war on its own brand

    It’s been a tough week here at Beg to Differ. It started with good food, find which is good, but then we broke up with Intel, mourned the loss of the Saturn brand, and today, we have to talk about another tragedy: civil war. Yes, I’m talking full on, brother-against-brother warfare. And the war-dogs are already unleashed. Today our old friend Starbucks is starting taste tests of a brand new product against… wait for it… their own product.

    The “Big Bucks” thinks this is a good idea. We beg to differ…

    Let the divisive, internal warfare begin! Starbucks chooses an apt metaphor for its self-abusing taste test campaign.taste
    Let the divisive, internal warfare begin! Starbucks chooses an apt metaphor for its self-defeating taste test campaign. But they forget the old saying: "Nobody wins a civil war."

    The new Product: Starbucks VIA Ready Brew

    Apparently, this coffee master has already chosen sides for the battle to come...
    Apparently, this coffee master has already chosen sides for the battle to come...

    On Wednesday morning, I was at a business meeting in a Starbucks, when the store’s chipper “coffee master” came over to offer us a sample of some frothy sweet coffee stuff. “Great.” I thought, another example of  “Lethal Generosity. I must blog about this.”

    But then I noticed she was wearing an orange apron, not the traditional green, and a strange new logo was there in the middle with the name of a Canadian passenger rail service on it.

    That’s when she started her spiel: “Starbucks VIA is our new instant coffee. But it’s really good. come back on Friday for our taste test and you’ll see that it tastes just as good as our regular coffee…” She went on to explain that this was real Starbucks coffee processed using a super-secret process. Then she gave a very enthusiastic review of her own experience using wine-tasting language about “floral notes” “slight acidity” dark and full-bodied presentation”. But the whole time I was thinking:

    Starbucks is selling INSTANT coffee?!?!

    Now I admit, part of me was also thinking: “Hmm. Instant coffee, eh? Maybe this instant coffee does taste just as good. Maybe I should give this new instant coffee a try.” So congratulations Starbucks, you got me thinking about your new product, and I’ll even go try some. So as a product launch campaign, you win.

    And Starbucks desperately needs a win these days. Their brand value has been deflating under competition from McDonald’s, Duncan Donuts, Tim Hortons, and a host of very smart local shops – like Ottawa’s Bridgehead (where I’m writing this post)  leading to “daring” moves like the “15th Avenue” coffee-shop concept. But Instant Coffee takes the cake.

    Reasons this is a bad idea for Starbucks

    1) Instant coffee is the antithesis of real coffee

    As I’m thinking about this new product, the term “Instant Coffee” is going through my head and I’m picturing the stale, foul-smelling crystals that are usually your last resort when you need caffeine but ran out of the real stuff. It’s like drinking home-brew wine at a party because the good stuff is gone. Or using canned Spam because you ran out of real meat. It doesn’t matter how good it is: it’s still home brew / Spam / a non-real product / a pale shadow of the real thing.

    Starbucks built its brand by creating a new product category: premium coffee with an air of sophistication, taste, and care. That is, we pay extra for real coffee, really lovingly prepared by real people in a real place that is really dedicated to that product.  You’ll often hear people at an office say: “No, not coffee-maker coffee. Let’s go out for a real coffee.”

    2) Instant coffee devalues the Starbucks experience

    The Starbucks store is not a coffee-buying place, it’s a place where real humans commune around the centerpiece of coffee.  By saying “now you can make instant coffee at home and it actually is a Starbucks coffee,”  you are implicitly saying that the Starbucks in-store experience is less important, easier to replicate, and worth less.

    But don’t they already sell Starbucks-branded coffee-makers in store and can’t you get big bags of Starbucks-branded beans at your local Costco? Yes, and those also devalue the Starbucks brand in the same way. One or two is a stretch, too many and you break.

    Again, I don’t care how good any given product may be. Starbucks brand managers should never, ever allow anyone in their organization to say anything they offer is equal to a real Starbucks experience – which is the in-store experience.

    Name in full

    3) The name “VIA” is not terrible. But not strong enough to stand on its own.

    Good points: the name is short, punchy, easy to spell and pronounce, and it looks great in big capital letters on a poster or product logo.

    But two big problems: A) in English, “via” is not a noun, so it isn’t natural to say “drink a VIA”, and 2) because it appears after “Starbucks”, it will always be fighting for attention with the more familiar name – a battle VIA will inevitably lose.

    4) “Ready Brew” is a dud as a category descriptor.

    If you’re launching a product in a category like instant coffee that has a low perceived-value, but you’re trying to say “this is better / different / real”, do what Dove has always done. Don’t call yourself soap; call yourself  a “Beauty Bar”.

    It would have been smart for Starbucks to create a strong new category that has a name that implies higher value and sophistication. As in, “this isn’t Instant at all, this is (insert term here)”. Starbucks has already done this with their cup sizes. We may roll our eyes ordering a Tall, Grande, or Vente, but it works. It makes them seem like more than just a cup of Joe

    “Ready Brew” fails on all counts. It sounds even cheaper than “Instant Coffee”,  and doesn’t have enough character to replace that term.

    5) A taste test is a no win battle for Starbucks

    The call to arms. The internal battle begins today.
    The call to arms. The internal battle begins today.

    And finally, back to the wars. The problem with a civil war is this: it doesn’t matter who is right, and it doesn’t matter who wins, when two armies from the same place fight each other on their own territory, things get broken. Badly.

    I can see two possible outcomes for the Starbucks brand of the taste tests:

    • A) The new product loses: in this case, Starbucks ends up looking silly, and the new product either tanks or manages to hobble along. Worst case, it tanks like New Coke and becomes a buzz-word for corporate hubris. This may give the Starbucks brand a small lift as people rally around “classic”, but the damage will be greater than the gain.
    • B) The new product wins: In this case, Starbucks has a popular new product that ends up undercutting the value of the brand with every package sold.

    As I said: no win.

    Thoughts for brand managers:

    • Are you creating your own internal civil wars by pitting your brands against your own offerings?
    • Is that new product launch strategy going to benefit the product at the expense of the corporate brand?
    • Is there an opportunity for a house brand or an endorsed brand strategy to put some distance between you and your new product?
    • Is someone speaking up for your customers and for the brand in your organization? If not, maybe time to get some help.

    More reading:

    The Motley Fool describes the civil war effect brilliantly in This May Be Starbucks’ Dumbest Move Ever. They make the suggestion that Starbucks should run taste tests against competitors’ coffee. So if Starbucks Ready Brew wins, they can say “see, even our instant coffee is better than their real stuff.”

    Brandchannel provides a review of  several opinions, mostly negative:

    Street interviews in New York caused local blog Gothamist to declare, “Starbucks Instant Coffee Instantly Hated By New York.”

    BNET joins the pile-on, with some Brand Management 101 (“How to Blow a Turnaround”), asking: “[H]ow does Via stop the market share erosion to McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts? How does it bring customers back to Starbucks? Why didn’t the marketing geniuses at Starbucks compare Via to competitors’ fresh brewed coffee? At least that might have made some sense.”