This happens to me a few times every week: I’m standing at a store or restaurant, this web getting customer service by phone, information pills or buying something online, and suddenly I’m faced with a dazzling, badly organized array of choices like this menu board at an Ottawa area Dairy Queen Brazier (no comment on that name for today). And how does it feel? Well, imagine shoving a whole Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard down your throat all at once…
Basically, I had walked through the door having already made a number of choices: first I’d chosen between a dozen different food establishments in that neighbourhood; then I’d to choose to ignore my guilt about going with fast food at all; then I chose between ice cream – the product I normally associate with Dairy Queen – and hot food; and finally I had to choose whether to wait when I saw a significant lunch-rush line at the counter.
So by the time I got to the counter, after passing up several opportunities to walk away, you’d think DQ would try to make my life easier. But no, once I got inside the store, I faced a wall of giant posters with exclamation marks and starbursts all over them, and the menu board above that utterly failed to line up my choices in a clear way, filled with cleverly-named products that were all yelling, dancing, and fighting for my attention like a room-full of sugar-buzzed preschoolers whose Ritalin had run out.
Choice: the hidden “THARN”
Richard Adams, in his classic novel Watership Down, coined a great rabbit-language word that I like to use to describe the consumer’s mind-state when faced with too much choice:
THARN: (adj) the helpless, catatonic state a rabbit enters when it is caught in the headlights of a car.
Humans react the same way when you throw too many choices at them: they go “tharn”. Sounds a lot like the headache most people get when they swallow too much ice cream doesn’t it? Like ice cream, small, measured bites are a heavenly experience; too much too fast is physically painful.
But bright headlights & ice cream sundaes are good aren’t they?
Now, you may say, “but that’s just effective consumer marketing”, and perhaps the marketing sages at DQ know something I don’t about what sells sandwiches. Plus, as a 40-year old male, I suspect I’m not at the heart of their target demographic.
I also don’t want to imply that choice is bad, nor is it a bad thing to get your customers to slow down a bit and pay more attention to you while you have their attention.
But remember all the other choices they had to make to get to your “counter”: it’s a delicate balance between deepening their understanding by showing them more and overwhelming them with too much choice.
So ask yourself:
1) Are you helping customers quickly scan their options by organizing clear “decision trees” of plainly labelled and named options?
2) Are you making them feel confident about your brand – that is, their their end-to-end experience of it , and not just the individual sandwich they buy?
3) Are your marketing tactics really deepening their understanding, or just adding to the wall of noise they already face and defeating the point of marketing (to help people decide to buy your products)?
4) Are you managing your whole brand including your product portfolio, your decision-making interfaces, and your customer service to remove THARN moments or are you just turning on the high beams and shoving the ice cream down their throats?
The choice is yours. Well, actually, it’s theirs. And that’s the real point isn’t it?
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.
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)
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.
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
The problem with acronyms / abbreviations / initialisms / alphabet soup
So there it was: “Governments MIA when it comes to good acronyms” – one of my biggest PPPs (Personal Pet Peeves) being addressed right on the front page of yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen. The article is a useful introduction to the importance of, doctor and hair-pulling frustration involved with, sick unhelpful abbreviations and insider short-hand in government.
As a taxpayer, I’ve had enough trouble navigating my way through the small range of government services I actually use. But as a consultant whose job it is to help fix brand communication problems, I’ve been right in the middle of the tangled thicket of jargon and shorthand.
Client: Your CV is impressive: PMRA, TBS, PWGSC… Me: Great! so we can work together? Client: Maybe, but the DG and the ADM might RFP, so PMO, PCO, and TBS are Cc-ed. CRA, DND, and PHAC as well… Me: Uh, right. Client: So as an SME SP without SC… Me: I’m SOL?
At other times, I’ve actually had the joyous opportunity to name, or better yet un-name or re-name, a government entity. For example, a few years ago, I helped Industry Canada launch a new coast-to-coast service for business, which we called simply “Canada Business”. A boring name perhaps, but the intent couldn’t be plainer, and even better, doesn’t need to be abbreviated (“CanBiz” and “CB” were rejected early in the process).
Why the terms don’t help
But in trying to talk about this problem, the word “acronym” itself is one of the problems. So is“initialism”. So is “abbreviation”. I’ve tried sorting through this with a glossary at wordie.com. But I apologize if it’s still confusing.
And to technically-minded bureaucrats, these words have such specific definitions, and are so widely abused, that the debate always gets gleefully sidetracked into the debate over which term applies to which unhelpful short-form. Is FINTRAC an initialism? Is PHAC an acronym? Should we name our new program CANPAPHTHPT?
The average citizen says: “WTHC” (Who The Heck Cares)?
My modest proposal:
So I say we short-circuit the debate with one new word that describes the whole range of unwieldy shortenings:
NOMONYM: (NOUN) any unhelpful short-form, nickname, abbreviation, acronym, initialism, jargon, or insider buzz-term.
I created the word by (helpfully) abbreviating the phrase “NO More Obscure Nomenclature!” Although “NO-MOre-NYMs” works just as well.
In common usage, I recommend that this term be further shortened to “NOMO” and shouted loudly at government seminars, workshops, and brainstorming sessions.
Usage examples for “NOMO”:
Scenario 1: CRA needs a TTB from the WTH before you get an XYZ.
Response: all the people shout “NOMO!”
Scenario 2: government announces BPH moves RPHCAN to TLA.
Response: all the people shout “NOMO!”
Scenario 3: the DND/CF CEFCOM JTF-Afg and TFK BGen of ISAF, launches Operation ROOB, UNYIP, JANOOBI (I’m not making that up)
Response: all the people shout “NOMO!”
Use NOMO as a noun, a verb, an adjective, whatever you like. But shout it loudly, so it is heard throughout government boardrooms, corridors, brainstorming sessions – anywhere a NOMO might rear its ugly head.
And as the movement spreads, we go through the whole portfolio of government agencies, services, and terminology, weeding out NOMOs wherever we find them.
Perhaps then government can do the one thing that citizens need most:
Coffee giant tries to get their mojo vibrating again
Once, Starbucks was just a local coffeeshop in Seattle. Then it became a mega-brand, standard-bearer for the premium coffee category worldwide. But lately, the “star” has been fading, and even the “bucks” are drying up. So now the chain will be re-launching a few of its many under-performing stores under a new name – and it ain’t “Starbucks”. Brand seppuku, brilliant extension strategy, or just a curious experiment?
Many little rocks; one Goliath target
I won’t spend a lot of time documenting all the many woes of Starbucks – from closing 1000 stores worldwide over the last few years, to endless streams of controversy , to an actual bombing this year at a Manhattan Store. The bigger story is actually thousands of small stories: how Starbucks is being beaten in the ground wars by smaller, more flexible, more community-minded local shops – like Ottawa’s fair trade coffee champs Bridgehead (of whom I’ve written at length in another post).
Starbucks’ erstwhile strength – ubiquitous presence in major markets worldwide – has almost become an Achilles Heel. Comedian Lewis Black thinks it is surely a sign of the end of the world (WARNING: contains hilarity – may not want to play this in a cubicle):
They’ve been fighting back of course, with their new “Starbucks™ Shared Planet™” brand and a pledge to apply renewed attention to three big perceived areas of weakness:
Ethical sourcing – to answer the Fair Trade movement, which, because of their size and massive bean-supply-chains, they have been slow to embrace. Notice they still don’t call it “Fair”;
Environmental Stewardship – to try to get back some of their tree-hugging mojo; and
Community Involvement – to fight the idea that they are the rapacious corporate villains strip-mining local economies and ruthlessly targeting competitors without giving much back – largely fair complaints.
In which the corporation offers to share… the planet
These three principles are embodied (and proclaimed loudly) in three new Starbuck’s branded “Green Stores” , the first of which opened July 1st at Paris Disneyland (of all places Press Release / Pictures)
At Brandvelope, of course we think all this is great. We’re sure Starbucks is sincere in their commitment to these ideals, and we applaud the incremental steps they are taking in this direction. The problem is their ability to move their Titanic-sized infrastructure to match their ocean-sized ambitions, and navigate around the great big pointy icebergs they face.
For example, Starbucks™ Shared Planet™ says “by 2015, we want to: Purchase 100% of coffee through ethical sourcing practices.” Great. But in the intervening 6 years, a goodly chunk of their coffee will come from, um, less-than-ethical sourcing practices, while local chains (like the Bridgehead where I’m sitting right now) are already at 100% and have been for years. And they’re already intensely environmental, and already deeply committed to their communities. So Starbucks: welcome to the club (let us know when you get here).
The problem with local
Which brings us to Starbucks’ latest uphill battel – its attempt to make itself more local, and more responsive to the communities in which it operates. Because, even on on its home turf in Seattle, where Starbucks still has some claim to being “local” – small coffeeshops are thriving and forcing Starbucks store closures.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise when a small army of field-tripping keeners were spotted at several Seattle area coffeeshops over the last few months, making loud observations about store design and product lines, and filing their notes in folders marked “Observations” in large letters. The results? Wait for it…
The new brand: “15th Avenue Coffee & Tea”
Branded by location: “15th Avenue”. That’s the name of the new game-changing Starbucks location on (surprise!) 15th Avenue in Seattle.
So does this mean a “15th Avenue” will be coming to a neighbourhood near you. Nope. Yours would be “Main Street Coffee & Tea” or “Broadway” or “Grosse Pointe Strip Mall” or “All-Knowing Supreme Leader Boulevard” or whatever. The idea would be to have each location branded with its location to make it seem like it grew organically in that space.
Two other stores in Starbucks’ native Seattle will follow suit, each getting its own name to make it sound more like a neighborhood hangout, less like Big Coffee, a Starbucks official told The Seattle Times on Thursday. Chicago Tribune.
Booze & guitars: The field-trippers focused on coffeeshops that serve alcohol alongside their hot drinks, as well as those that feature live events like poetry readings and guitar-jams. So nosurprise that these will be part of the cocktail mix at the new shops. The idea is 1) to prop up sales in the traditionally flat evening hours, 2) tap into lucrative alcohol profit margins, and 3) to make Perez Hilton very very happy.
No logo: all the media I’ve read are saying that no Starbucks logos will appear on the signage, the products, or anywhere else in the store. I can’t confirm this, so if any Seattle-based readers can visit and confirm, please do!).
But if this is a purely “white label” approach to branding these new locations, I’m interested to see how Starbucks is going to evolve this concept as they go forward. For now, the perceived independence of the locations is a useful way to allow the clipboard-toters at Starbucks to experiment and study the new format without dilluting the corporate brand.
Coffee industry analyst Andrew Hetzel: “It looks to me that they are testing a specialty sub-brand to see if they can capture some other segment of the market that would otherwise be disillusioned by a large corporate chain,” Hetzel said, adding that opening only one at first “gives them a live shop to test changes in menu offerings, store design and, perhaps, procedures quickly” without disrupting operating stores branded with the Starbucks name. Whole
Where to from here?
But this can’t last forever. Assuming the format works and Starbucks wants to roll it out to different markets, eventually, they’ll see the need to create visible connections (and brand equity) between locations. Because creating a series of purely local brands with no overall brand marketing synnergies across the chain would be counter-productive for a company of Starbucks size and clout. And I find it hard to believe they’d be that stupid.
AdAge article: Technomic President Ron Paul… predicts the concept will look much different if rolled out on a national stage. “I still think it’s more a of test lab than something they’re more serious about rolling out,” he said. “That’s not a national strategy.” Full article here.
So three basic brand strategy options:
1) New “family” brand:
Starbucks name would not appear in branding. Instead, the new shops would be given their own umbrella brand which would operate as a stand-alone “entity” within the broader corporate portfolio. So for example, the new branches could use a high-character name like “Mermaid Cafe” or a more neutral name like the “Your Independent Grocer” chain in Canada.
Advantage: diversifies the Starbucks portfolio without risk of brand dillution or confusion around over-extension.
Disadvantage: little transfer of brand equity – must essentially start from scratch building a new brand.
2) Premium brand extension:
This new format becomes a flavour of the existing Starbucks brand, but is given a descriptor or “soft brand” name of its own – like Starbucks Plus or Starbucks Cofeehouse.
Advantage: Leverages 30+ years of brand equity, but Disadvantage: seriously undermines the consumer’s current idea of what a Starbucks is and what they can expect when they walk through the door.
3) Endorsed brand:
The new brand has its own brand identity and branches would clearly not be “Starbucks” but everywhere the name appeared in graphics or formal text (like a Press Release), it would be “endorsed” by the Starbucks brand – as in “Courtyard by Marriot” or “Clever Cutter from K-Tel“.
Advantage: blends clear connection with separate identity. Disadvantage: requires careful management to balance the two aspects of the brand.
So which way do you think Starbucks should go? Your thoughts are welcome as always.
So with all the kerfuffle around the GM bankruptcy (and the gajillions of dollars we’ll all be shelling out to save its butt from the fire), troche the one thing that gets forgotten as always is the brand strategy angle: 60-90 days from now, GM will be re-emerging from bankruptcy under a new coporate banner. Now, that could be a simple mechanical switch, but we at Brandvelope started thinking: what if the new boss has something to say about that?