How does the story of a brand get told in a way that doesn't come across sounding like so much hype and hot air?
Marc Hershon
Senior Manager, Naming and Verbal Identity,
based in Landor San Francisco

Think. Creativity. Innovation. Storytelling.

What do these four words have in common? Lots of things, really, but the answer I’m looking for is that they all four are buzzwords. Big time buzzwords that appeared— more or less in succession—to take one industry after another by storm.

Buzzwords originate from concepts that have substance to them, and there are those who exercise the original concepts as intended.

IBM can be credited with making Think a mantra of sorts. It was introduced there by Thomas J. Watson at CTR (Computing Tabulating Recording Company) in 1914, which became IBM and adopted Think in a big way, even naming their line of laptop computers ThinkPad. 

Then, in 1997, Apple told people to Think different.

“Think” was done. Somewhere along the way, creativity had sprung up as being what people strived to achieve from all of their thinking. But it wasn’t quite enough—anybody, it seems, can create something—so innovation became where we all wanted to be: a sort of misty place between thinking and creating, where the magic is supposed to happen.

Elon Musk didn’t create the electric car. He didn’t even start Tesla Motors. But when he came onboard in 2004, a year after the company started, he led the charge to innovate how electric cars were styled, made, and thought of by the public at large.

That’s Musk. But being an innovator without knowing how to innovate is much like saying you’re a magician without knowing any tricks. Same with being a thinker or a creator.

Or a storyteller.

Storytelling is the latest creative industry hype bait. Branding is all about storytelling. Selling is all about storytelling. Even storytelling is all about storytelling these days.

Landor took on the challenge of telling the Federal Express story. That included officially adopting the central character’s nickname (FedEx) and identifying the story’s central theme of timely delivery with a new tagline: The world on time.

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It seems, however, that a lot of people don’t know very much about what telling a story is really all about. By looking carefully at the execution of their ideas, you’ll be able to discern who is telling a story and who is merely buzzing about it.

Back to basics

As I teach in my beginning improvisational comedy classes, to students that are trying to figure out how to make a scene work, a story is a lot about structure. Every story, if it’s going to work, needs a beginning, middle, and an end. And every scene in that story has those same three elements.

And if a story doesn’t assemble these elements effectively, it doesn’t work. Think of movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read where the middle of the story feels flabby or the ending incomplete. Or where characters or situations aren’t fleshed out well enough in the beginning for you to get a grasp of them.

Just as important as that simple structure are the characters. Without a well-defined protagonist (hero) or antagonist (villain), there is little to hold your interest in the story. We need someone to root for—or to rally against.

And there are often other important characters as well. There’s the sidekick—where would Don Quixote be without his Sancho Panza? Or Han Solo with no Chewbacca? And there’s often a mentor or guiding figure: Merlin to King Arthur, Gandalf to Frodo, or the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi as just a few examples.

Equally important is a story’s theme. Usually, at its base, a theme is rather simple: Might makes right. Crime does not pay. Love always wins. Even the most complex tale has such a nugget of human truth to it that serves to drive the story forward and, if properly told, pays off in the end.

Finally, but also as important as the three elements above, is the plot. This defines the journey the characters are on. The course by which the story unfolds. The challenges that the hero must face and, ultimately, overcome. The twists and turns that capture our imagination and offer us enough surprises and rewards to make this story—hopefully—different than any other story we’ve ever heard.

How a brand is a story

There’s the tricky part: How does the story of a brand get told in a way that doesn’t come across sounding like so much hype and hot air?

Every story starts with a title. In branding, the title is the brand name. The trademark. Which is a funny dichotomy, in that one cannot typically trademark a title. But for our purpose of brand storytelling, the title is the trademark.

As hard as it often is to come up with the name, the rest of the brand is the puzzle to be solved. Where are the beginning, middle, and end? The hero? The villain? Then there’s the theme and the plot.

Don’t panic.

All the pieces are there, just waiting to be written.

The story could start with the introduction of the branded product. Or maybe it’s when the company’s ex-president returned to relaunch the company. The middle part can be as easy as a tiny start-up’s rags-to-riches climb to success, or the product’s hard-fought victory to pass clinical testing.

The ending to almost any brand’s story is, hopefully, a happy one, with delighted consumers and a hefty infusion of profits into the company’s coffers. Although it could be a developing country’s victorious struggle against disease or a smartphone app so revolutionary it changes the way most of us use our mobile devices.

The hero could be the company with the brand. A plucky little startup going up against a megalithic company. Or the protagonist could be the product itself. Or the customer himself, who needs the product to slay the dragons keeping him from getting his work done: King Arthur’s Excalibur, if you will.

As for a theme, many a brand’s core essence can be put forth in a compelling tagline: FedEx’s The world on time, as mentioned before. Or Nike’s Just do it. Regarding these as themes is at once expansive as well as helping to underline the importance of the story the company is seeking to tell.

Finally, a good plot is what you should strive to create, as it makes the brand compelling. Just as with a good story, a riveting story makes people want to come back to again and again, not to mention tell their friends about.

Ultimately, whether your brand’s story is a Cinderella tale, a superhero’s origin, or a timeless epic that people will talk about for generations, as the storyteller, it’s imperative that you learn how to tell the story in a way that will capture the hearts and minds of anyone who gets the chance to experience it.

 

Post originally published by HuffPost Business

Category: Brand strategy & positioning

Nine trends in packaging

March 23, 2015
From high-tech innovations to low-tech authenticity
Amy Barhorst
Associate Client Director,
based in Landor Cincinnati

1.  Brands as your best friends: Good-bye slogans and catchphrases. Whether it’s websites, tweets, or texts, brands will use straightforward dialogue infused with honesty and emotion. 

2.  Packaging does the work for you: Active packaging lets you get your snack fix without lifting a finger. From self-heating cans to self-opening paper packs, packaging is becoming empowered. One of the most intriguing aspects of this technology is its ability to help those with limited mobility.  

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HotCan uses active packaging to provide a hot meal without a stove or microwave in only eight minutes. 

3.  Mail-friendly packaging: As e-commerce continues to grow, companies are experimenting with ways to use the shipping container to provide a secondary benefit. Whether it’s printing nutrition facts on the inside of the container, sharing information about other products, or making a book jacket out of the box itself, innovation will continue to flourish. 

4.  Snackscriptions: The snack category’s wave of custom-curated mail delivery subscriptions in which members receive a box of hand-packed snacks on a regular schedule is exciting to observe.

Graze

Graze sends handpicked healthy snacks directly to your home or office. 

5.  From mass-produced to personalized: The desire for craft offerings will become increasingly influential. Consumers want their products to be produced and manufactured on a smaller scale to ensure quality and to feel a closer connection to the brands. By emphasizing a product’s exclusivity and the care with which it is formulated, brands will appeal to a growing number of consumers who want to move away from mass-produced items.

6.  Packaging pushes the sensory experience: To avoid fading into the background on store shelves, haptics, including tactile packs and reactive surfaces that change color with temperature or touch, will help enhance the sensory experience.

Muse

Modo used liquid-crystal ink to make heat-senstive packaging for Muse's "The Second Law" box set. 

7. Smart packaging: Innovations that enable packaging to change color to show when perishable items are fresh or spoiled will begin to take hold. 

8. TMI is not too much: In the new world of branding, consumers want the full behind-the-scenes narrative to make informed decisions and buy value-resonating products. Brands will transform their packaging to make it quick, clear, and easy for consumers to learn all they can about the product.

9. The name game, short and simple: Brands will continue to streamline the path to sales, including a shift back to basic, clear, relevant naming solutions. More monikers will have universal, easy-to-grasp concepts (think Uber and Square) that also make good URLs. 

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Square exemplifies the simple naming trend. 

 

Post orginally published in Candy & Snack Today   (January/February 2015). 

Images are property of their respective authors. Permission for use being requested. 

Category: Packaging design
Middle Eastern brands must learn to make an emotional connection with international consumers.
Peter Knapp
Global Creative Officer,
based in Landor London

The economic picture in the Middle East is complicated; oil prices are falling and there is ongoing instability, and yet CEOs are among the most optimistic in the world, according to the Price Waterhouse Cooper’s 18th annual Global CEO Survey. So what’s going on? Well, this positive outlook is thanks to a widespread belief that the area will become an increasingly important hub for global trade. And this belief in the region’s potential bodes well for the success of Middle Eastern brands.

However, this optimism may relate to potential rather than reality. According to the Brand Finance Directory, there wasn’t a single Middle Eastern brand in the top 100 in 2014. If the Middle East is to become a global brand player, it must raise its game.

So how could a company like Saudi Arabia’s STC become the next Vodafone? Well, it should take some pointers from global brand leaders. Apple, on top of the Brand Finance Directory, has found a way to reach people emotionally. The result is long-term consumer loyalty. Apple rises above social and cultural affiliations and its consumers believe in and identify with its message. To top it off, the brand is underscored by the strength of its product. 

Aside from the Middle East’s obvious strength in oil, it has a burgeoning financial sector and is also seeing significant growth in technology and tourism. But, although these sectors are seeing domestic success, Middle Eastern brands have been weak in making that all important connection with the global consumer. The challenge for these brands is to connect the dots between developing a bond with consumers locally and one that is felt by people all around the world.

Making the step does not require Middle Eastern brands to drop their cultural heritage, however. The most successful would combine this with a modern and global theme. One brand that draws heavily on cultural origins but is modern and global in outlook is Etihad, one of the fastest growing airlines in the history of commercial aviation. It aims to reflect Arabian culture while grounding itself in the 21st century through modern design.

Etihad2

In fact, Etihad’s ability to be both global and local is the secret to its branding success and is reinforced by its recent rebranding program, which included a livery redesign produced with Landor. The language of the design is undoubtedly Middle Eastern in its provenance; it could not be mistaken as being from the United States, Europe, or Asia, and will help promote the region as a new commercial center.

Named “Facets of Abu Dhabi,” the design pattern uses a color palette inspired by the hues of the Emirati landscape. The darker shapes are like the sands of Liwa, while the lighter colors are representative of the Northern Emirates.

The sharp geometric patterns are inspired by Arabic Emirati design as well as Abu Dhabi’s modern architecture. When combined with the colour palette, the design creates the impression that although the airline is from a progressive and innovative cultural hub, it is firmly rooted in the region’s history. Over the next three years, the livery will be applied to the entire Etihad fleet of more than 100 aircraft and will also be used in interiors, lounges, and advertising.

Middle Eastern brands are growing and some have experienced expansion internationally with very little marketing, but what really sets a brand apart is the ability to stir up a long-term bond with consumers. Brands should look to examples outside of the region to enhance their inherent strengths. To sustain the current optimism in the region, the Middle East will need to develop its global brands. 

 

Originally published in Arab Ad

Category: Identity & design
Traditionally, brands have followed the path of consistency across product, communications, and experience. As times change, agility should be the watchword that drives brands and business.
Dominic Twyford
Country Director,
based in Landor Kuala Lumpur

For years, brands focused on standardization and replication. Ultimately, global brands wanted to ensure that no matter whether in Seattle, Shanghai, or Sydney, the consumer received a consistent experience— and for years this approach worked.

I myself remember exploring Guangzhou at the age of 20 and feeling huge relief when I saw McDonald’s golden arches. The iconic identity cut through the hustle and bustle of the streets, and literally created order where there was chaos. I knew that a familiar refuge was at hand with air conditioning, safe drinking water, a bathroom, and a Big Mac.

McDonald’s provides a fascinating example of a brand that has wrestled with the issues of consistency and agility.

Visionary brand DNA

As legend has it, coming out of the Great Depression and struggling to make a go of a movie theater, Dick and Mac McDonald noticed a hotdog stand with an endless supply of customers. Inspired by this, they opened their own stand before upgrading to a larger store. Eventually, they identified an opportunity to improve efficiency and profits by adopting cutting-edge practices from the mechanized automotive industry and applying them to flipping burgers.

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Image of the oldest operating McDonald’s courtesy of Bryan Hong.

Displaying creative thinking, Dick and Mac developed an assembly line that improved the speed of food preparation and standardized their products. The McDonald brothers then became pioneers of retail franchising to grow the brand and create scale. Despite their vision, the brothers didn’t have the foresight to take the brand to the next level. In the end, Ray Kroc, a salesman who sold multimixers to the brothers, bought the entire business for a paltry amount and went on to build the McDonald’s business as we know it today.

Consistency powered but then handicapped the brand

Driven by the mantra of “quality, service, cleanliness, and value,” Kroc set about expanding the brand throughout the world. He placed emphasis on duplicating his tried and tested formula, even creating a Hamburger University to train staff to deliver the same quality burger every time.

For years, international customers were happy to step into a McDonald’s and experience a piece of American life. From the outside, the brand seemed untouchable, but then life on the outside started to change.

Toward the end of the 20th century, shifting health and sustainability agendas and a new interest in the provenance of food meant that attitudes about food evolved. The media, films, and books began to target the brand, questioning its approach to business.

In addition, big American brands became political symbols for the antiglobalization movement, and McDonald’s became the epitome of corporate capitalism and greed.

Suddenly, the unquestionably American McDonald’s experience that had been replicated across the globe felt out of step and dated. From a position of dominance, the brand needed to reassess its relevance. In response, the brand started to tap into its original, agile spirit. Consistency was replaced by innovation and adaptation.

Supersized agility

Responding to new consumer trends, the brand is showing signs of setting a new course. For example, McDonald’s Australia has opened the Corner in Sydney. Set up as a lab to test new and more adventurous menus, the Corner completely does away with McDonald’s branding, instead using décor that is more aligned with an independent café. The new format starts a conversation with consumers who do not want to be defined by the places that they visit.

Trying to capture the trend for customized foods, McDonald’s turned a complete 180 degrees and started to roll out Create Your Taste burgers at selected outlets. While the old favorites remain on the menu, consumers now have the chance to build their own burgers using touchscreens to make their selections.

This really is old and new McDonald’s coming together—modern-day food automation for the Facebook generation, a perfect blend of pioneering technology aligned with market demand.

The brand has also set the standard for using social media as a corporate brand communications platform. A global, mass-market brand is bound to attract criticism; McDonald’s has turned to the Internet to manage its responses quickly and decisively so that it controls the agenda.

Agility is the ability to stay relevant

McDonald’s is fighting hard to maintain relevance; the brand has had to look backwards to look to the future. Reconnecting with the entrepreneurial and visionary ethos that infused its early years, it is managing to align itself with the current branding ecosystem.

Today’s marketplace is hypercompetitive; customers are becoming more demanding. Markets are opening, but competition is increasing. And digital is creating a continued state of disruption—for brands today uncertainty is the only certainty.

Given the context, Landor believes that success today requires being nimble to risk and responsive to opportunity. We believe that to thrive, brands must be designed for change. Future-focused. Forward-facing. Ever-evolving. Great brands stand for something, and, like McDonald’s, they never stand still.


First published in the BrandLaureate.  

Category: Brand strategy & positioning
Customization is king.
Marie Minyo
Executive Director, Client Services,
based in Landor New York

I recently had the privilege of attending the Economist Big Rethink conference in New York City, where there was a star cast of speakers and attendees. I heard from great leaders, including the CMOs of Kellogg’s, LinkedIn, Unilever, Amazon, Salesforce—and our very own chief strategy officer, Thomas Ordahl.

I identified three key takeaways:

1.   Marketing as we know it has changed

We heard it constantly—“Marketing is going through an identity crisis.” The customer experience has evolved. Now, real-time customizations are the new points of entry. For example, Tesla uses real-time analytics to determine the experience a customer will encounter.  

The days of looking at past transactions to understand consumer behavior are over. We now know what customers are doing and when. Awareness is not the issue anymore.

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Tesla image courtesy of Flickr user  Windell Oskay.

2.   Agility is sustainability  

Marketing strategies need to change constantly to keep brands current and relevant. Real-time differentiators are vital. We’ve learned that when big companies adapt too slowly, they won’t survive, because competitors are entering quickly and loudly. Think Uber and the taxi industry. 

3.   CMOs are being challenged in new and different ways

The rise of social networks, real-time bidding, and the merging of online and traditional entertainment platforms are expanding the role of CMO. With awareness no longer the key concern, today CMOs must focus on customizing consumer’s interactions. 

Category: Brand strategy & positioning
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