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.

Wide angle - brighter
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.

    RadioShack tries some funky brand-altering substances

    Here we go again. In June, side effects we blogged about Pizza Hut experimenting with becoming “The Hut” (Pizza Hut drops the Pizza.. again – spoiler alert, Jabba was not pleased). Now Radio Shack, fresh off its announcement that Lance Armstrong will represent it (blog entry here), has announced that on August 6, it will be rebranding as – wait for it: The Shack

    My take: resist the Temptation(s)… 

    Psychedelic Shack
    Cover of the Temptations' 1970 album where they experimented with brand-altering substances - apologies to the band for the rip-off, but buy the album. It's great.

    Come in and take a look at your mind

    This past weekend, on the way to the cottage, I reintroduced myself (and my very patient wife and kids) to one of my favourite campy-classic albums The Temptations 1970 Psychedelic Shack – hear it here / buy it here. Very funky, very funny, and obviously written under the influence of the hippy era (and probably a lot of other stuff too).

    People let me tell you about a place I know
    To get in it don’t take much dough
    Where you can really do your thing, oh yeah
    It’s got a neon sign outside that says
    Come in and take a look at your mind
    You’d be surprised what you might find, yeah

    The Temptations

    Take a look at your mind indeed – and be surprised. Because, while this is very entertaining, catchy music, the first reaction of anyone I’ve played this for is: “What were they smoking? That’s not the Temptations!”

    The Temptations of the mind.
    The Temptations of the mind.

    That’s because the Temptations are imprinted in the public’s mind as a sweet-singing, sharp-dressing, doo-wop group with such amazing mid-60’s hits as “My Girl” and “Get Ready“. The funkadelic hippy incarnation of the Temptations seems like a totally different band / brand – and an aberration in their development.

    “But hey, that’s not fair!” you say. Shouldn’t an artist have the freedom to break out of the genre box and try something new? Why shouldn’t Billy Bob try to rebrand himself as a rockabilly musician as if his movie career never existed? Why shouldn’t a classic electronics retail brand try to reinvent itself in a cooler, funkier package?

    Because life, and more to the point the life of a brand, isn’t fair. 

    The RadioShack of the mind

    And speaking of funky little retro-branded shacks with neon signs outside, that brings us to “The Shack”. As a child of the 1970’s, here’s how RadioShack appears in my mind.

    In my brain, RadioShack isn’t all positive: this brand could be a crass, hard-selling little shyster. But it was where the first computer I ever used came from (one of these – a TRS-80 as seen in this Smithsonian archive), where I bought my first AM radio and my first video game (this Pong / Skeet shooting hybrid) and it’s where I always went for batteries and obscure electronic components and cables throughout the 80’s and 90’s.

    So while I’ll admit it’s a flawed and faded brand in my brain, RadioShack still there, and I still smile when I see that ad above.  So why shouldn’t they do what the Temptations did and re-package themselves to keep up with the times?

    6 Reasons Radio Shack shouldn’t become “The Shack”

    The RadioShack of the mind.
    1) 88 Years of brand equity. Just as the Temptations couldn’t turn their brand on a dime, the Radio Shack brand comes with a lot of baggage – and value – in the form of customer expectations. Pop quiz: can you name another consumer electronics retailer that has a longer history? Trick question. There isn’t one. Founded in 1921, Radio Shack is pretty firmly established in the public’s mind by now. Yes “radio” is a quaint and old fashioned word, but in the hands of the right brand manager, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And if you must change, handle the public’s expectations (and hang-ups) with care.

    2) Radio Shack, the company, is in decline. As lampooned in this Onion article from 2007, it’s hard to imagine how RadioShack stays in business, and indeed, despite some recent cost-cutting that temporarily buoyed the numbers, analysts feel the same way. Rebranding is most successful when it is seen as part of a positive change in the history of the organization. Otherwise it just looks like “rearranging the deck chairs” at best, as a hoplessly desparate act at worst.

    3) There are no shortcuts. As discussed last week (see the NOMO series), an abbreviation is seldom a strong brand. “FedEx” was able to pull it off when it shortened from “Federal Express” because the resulting word was an even stronger, more distinctive name. But just like “The Hut”, “The Shack” doesn’t contain enough a) information, or b) character to serve as a strong platform for a new brand. It seems like a step backwards.

    4) It’s tough to use grammatically.  think about the difference between “Team Radio Shack” and “Team The Shack”. If it’s difficult to use, people won’t use it. Don’t believe me? Look North. In Canada, where the Radio Shack chain was purchased by Circuit City, they rebranded as “The Source – by Circuit City”. The name doesn’t have the distinctiveness, penetration, or staying power of “Circuit City” so many people used that instead; I’ve heard it called “Circuit City Source”. Now they’ve dropped the “by Circuit City”, but it’s still awkward. 

    5) It’s not a Shack! Okay, this may strike readers as incredibly petty-minded, but it always bugs me when a retail company chooses a metaphor like “__Shack” “__Hut” “__House” or “___Chalet” and then doesn’/t reinforce the metaphor through the design of its outlets. Not cheesy or over the top of course, but just a distinctive roofline, a few subtle hints to give the store “placeness”.

    6) It cheapens the brand. but the biggest problem in my opinion is that by using a name that is slang shorthand (and trendy), Radio Shack is cheapening its image and thus  playing into the hands of one of its most damaging negative sterotypes: that it is a purveyor of cheap, outdated, breakable products.  This is what is killing RadioShack, not the name. “The Shack” sounds even cheaper, and what’s worse, it makes an 88 year old company sound like a fly-by-night! Which may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    How to do it right

    If Radio Shack really wanted to refresh its image, my recommendation would have been in two steps: 

    a) Work to find your DIFFERs: a set of key differentiators, based on “real brand” attributes in the public mind – which you would then use as “themes” to guide an upgrade program for the whole organization: prove to people that you offer better products, better service, better experience. Then, only once this is well underway, and you can show tangible results, should you…

    b) Re-launch your brand: using the themes established in #1 as pillars of your new positioning, name, design system, and promise to customers.

    I’m so mad at Switzerland!

    A Rant about Canadian Brands for Canada Day 2009

    So you ask: “Mad at Switzerland? What could anyone possibly have against the Swiss” – those lovely Alp-ine purveyors of Rolex watches, visit this Nestle chocolate, and fastidiously discreet banking services? Sorry Switzerland. It’s not about you. It’s about you beating the pants off Canada in the global branding arena.

    And to be fair, in the rant video attached you’ll note that I have equal opportunity anger issues against Sweden, Finland, and even my own ancestral homeland the Netherlands. And as you’ll see, it’s all because of their brands. Each of these countries punches far above their weight in the contest for the global brand belt. As you’ll see in the stats below, these countries even beat the heavyweight in the ring – the USA – when you take their population into account.

    Global 100 chart

    So why the anger?

    Okay, I’m a Canadian. I’m not actually angry per se: just hurt, frustrated, envious, mildly apologetic, etc.

    Actually, I want Canadian brand managers to stand up and take notice. We need to get more internationally respected / recognized brands. In this deck on SlideShare, you’ll find some supporting data (from Interbrand / Business Week) and my challenge to Canadian Brand Managers.

    Go Canada!

    What Canadian brands are Global candidates?

    Fortunately, the good folks at Interbrand also published a helpful guide in 2008 for that as well.

    Interbrand report on Canadian Brands.

    The top ten

    1. Blackberry
    2. RBC
    3. TD Canada Trust
    4. Shopper’s Drug Mart
    5. Petro Canada
    6. Manulife
    7. Bell
    8. Scotiabank
    9. Canadian Tire
    10. Tim Horton’s