Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Change is good

Freshness is a hot topic in the branding world. Being fresh or stale can be the difference between a good and a great brand. Depending on how broad your definition of "brand" is, evaluating freshness can be done across all mediums, businesses, services, etc. Recently my hometown paper, the Lawrence Journal-World decided to freshen its sports department. Good move and one that has recaptured my interest in a section I previously wrote off.

Tom Keegan took the helm of the Journal-World's sports section, a role Chuck Woodling had filled since long before I was born. Keegan has added edge and an unobstructed opinion. He is an incredible writer with an intelligent irreverence that already has elevated the sports page.

Moreover, he's fresh. Woodling was good, but it was time for change, especially at a newspaper that has garnered national awards for innovation and creativity. Check out Keegan's columns. Here's a starter.

Freshness matters. From a newspaper to a hamburger, change must be a natural part of brand evolution.


Seattle emo rockers Death Cab for Cutie released their new album "Plans" today. I've been waiting for this release for a different reason than I await most releases. DCFC songs represent masterful songwriting - the true test in my book. Lyrics that I would devour as a reader. Songs that make me want to take over the mixing board and bring down everything but the vocals. From the opening line of the first track "If I could open my arms/and span the length of the isle of Manhattan/I'd bring it to where you are/and make a lake of the East River and Hudson" this album is a refreshing reminder that my generation has songwriters who will be remembered for decades to come.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The List - a return to blogging

I haven't posted in far too long. Not because I have no opinions on the latest news in the world of marketing communications, but because far too much has been going on in the world of Andy Woolard.

To get the blogging juices flowing again, I offer two lists for the end of the week: one professional and one personal.

A few months have passed since I finished reading Blink, but I was reminded of its main points this week. A list on the power of first impressions and human connections:
1) I've been in two presentations this week in which the ability to connect on a human, honest level determined the success of the presentation.
2) An audience can tell within seconds whether the person presenting work believes in that work.
3) A sincere smile can be your strongest asset.
4) Trust your gut reaction. I spent an entire week being silently uncomfortable with a solution that has finally been roundly rejected. Complete waste of time.
5) E-mail dilutes, not improves communication.

Three things that have moved me this week:
1) Citizen Cope, and his concert at the Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS.
2) Plowing through "A Long Way Down" by Nick Hornby. Another satisfying read by Horny.
3) Filling a rainy week with the tunes of the Katie Todd Band.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Feed Branding

Nick Wreden on "feed branding." Very interesting.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The dilution of Starbucks' brand

Adrants takes Starbucks to task for its "Double Shot" promotional Web site, charging the coffee giant with copying multiple cubicle campaigns. Newsworthy in my world? Normally not, except I was just in Seattle and visited the very-much-original first Starbucks in Pike Place Market and had a unique experience with the Starbucks brand.

I've been to Starbucks from Kansas City to Tokyo and part of its brand strength is that each store is consistent in product, environment and service. The Pike Place Market store deviates much more than a flagship store might in other instances. From the throwback signage and completely different floor plan to smaller differences such as the sea-woman logo showing some pre-censored nipple and a lack of usual mass-produced "designer" fixtures and accents, the original Starbucks provided an eye-opening interaction with one of the world's strongest brands.

Interestingly, my most memorable experience was watching the order-taker employees toss to-go cups to the baristas (physically separated by a bi-level floor plan). Most of us are used to a frenetic order-to-pick-up pace that Starbucks has perfected. At Pike Place, your cup is tossed and the pace is (maybe deliberately) slowed. I loved this little touch. Many smaller coffee shops capitalize on differentiating quirks, from a design in the froth to funky cups or loyalty programs, but having such an experience at Starbucks was downright strange and refreshing.

This really shouldn't be a huge, blog-worthy deal, but it highlights what I believe is an important part of a mass brand's strength and weakness: Starbucks has managed to create an extremely strong and successful brand, while at the same time diluting its brand experience to the point of embracing and growing a lack-of-surprise atmosphere. Strong, but diluted. Successful? Of course, but at what cost?

Starbucks' Web presence for its moderately amusing "Hank/Double Shot" ad campaign is unoriginal, yes. The site also illustrates a larger issue of overall brand originality and the question of how important originality is when a brand is rooted in consistency. All I know is if a little nipple and a thrown to-go cup are all it takes to jar me loose from a brand experience I've become accustomed to; Starbucks has the opportunity to recapture the essence of its brand, so pleasingly alive at its original store.