Branding

Lovin’ It

45% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs.

Which means if you are, the next person you encounter today probably isn’t. A sobering thought if you’re responsible for managing your company.

All of which entirely ignores whether satisfied is a measurement we should be striving for in the first place.

Passionate seems like a better threshold. The kind that comes when we believe what we’re doing is contributing to something significant.

Great companies are evangelical. They are clear about what they’re building, passionate and consistent in how they articulate that vision, and realistic about which people can help them get there. And which ones can’t.


A distinction that separates supporting employees from enabling.

Building an evangelical company requires finding the story that separates you from everyone else.

A skill missed by even the great brands.

Take McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is a remarkable business. They serve 58 million people a day. Which is tantamount to feeding all of Great Britain. Every 24 hours. It makes one wonder what they might be able to do managing health care.

I have spent a lot of time at McDonald’s - the corporation - at various stages in my career. It is a company that elicits pride and passion among its executives.

But it is a company that has also systematically focused on the wrong story.

The food. An area which they have done much to address over the last few years. But which still remains a bigger obstacle than it does a benefit.

People don’t go to McDonald’s for the food. They go because they know what they will get.

Value.

And a great experience for their kids. Which is why McDonald’s distributes more toys than anyone except Mattel.

Those two attributes are global truths. And helps to explain why, as Thomas Friedman points out in his excellent book The Lexus and the Olive Tree no two countries that have a McDonald’s have ever gone to war.

I don’t think either of us would theorize that the solution to world peace is simply to build McDonald’s.

But what is undeniable is that McDonald’s brings people together.

And that’s as evangelical as it gets.

Never Mind The Beef. Where’s The Plan?

Sad news in the advertising industry this week with the demise of Cliff Freeman & Partners, the legendary ad agency whose founder was responsible for, among other noteworthy entries, Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” campaign.

The Ad Age article that describes the company’s closure cites various causes, including lack of a succession plan, an inability to evolve with the changing media landscape, and failed merger attempts.

Creative service companies often end up like Mr Freeman’s. From king of the hill to an industry by-line in a decade.

These three reasons are present in virtually every case:



  1. The inability or unwillingness of the founder to make themselves irrelevant. By the time Mr Freeman tried to do so, the company was operating from a position of relative weakness, and the management evolution appeared borne of desperation.

  2. A relentless focus on the service that made them successful, without ever understanding the core strength that made those services valuable - as the creator of memorable brand personalities, in any medium.

  3. Failed restructuring attempts. 80% of all mergers fail. When the underlying motivation is a shotgun wedding to fix a fundamental weakness, that number goes up into the high nineties. Mergers and acquisitions work when the chemistry is instinctive, or there is a clearly defined and articulated vision that one person takes responsibility for.


Mr Freeman isn’t the first to make these mistakes. And he won’t be the last.


But every one of them is avoidable.

At a time when the marketing food chain is changing before our eyes, the advertisng and production industries are in desperate need of better business models.

Head meet sand, however, is not one of them.

Changing The World. $25 at a Time.

I had a fascinating breakfast yesterday with two entrepreneurs who exemplify all that is great about the capacity for small businesses to make a big difference.

Each in their own and very distinctive ways have built something extraordinary from nothing, developed careers, supported families and causes, changed the way we see the world, and have done so with decency, integrity and humanity.

And based on our conversation, they’re not done yet.


It was a very invigorating beginning to the day. And as I walked back to my office I thought, not for the first time, that entrepreneurs have recognizable DNA.

A truth which came thundering home when a friend sent me this link last night.

Kiva is an association that lets you lend money to a specific entrepreneur with one simple goal.

To lift them out of poverty.

The picture on the front page is of Nulu Nabunya, a 50 year old Ugandan widow with four children, who is looking for a $525 loan to help her build her knitting business. She has already borrowed and repaid twenty loans and her ambition is to own a sweater factory.

There are 870 entrepreneurs showcased, in countries from Cambodia to Togo, from Mongolia to Peru. Their funding requests range from $385 to $2500.

As I looked at some of the pictures, I was struck by three things.

1. All entrepreneurs are impacted by the same issues. Concept. Customers. Cash flow. And Credit.


Get any one of them wrong and we’re out of business.

2. The ability to see a better future does not require specific economic, geographic, cultural, educational or environmental conditions.

It requires a willingness to believe in the possible.

3. Entrepreneurs live in the real world. Where the ideal meets the practical.

And today, I for one have a different appreciation of what both words mean.

Earn It.

In the late 1980s, Smith Barney ran a series of commercials with the actor John Houseman, star of the television series about a law school - the Paper Chase.

He had a distinctive and very deliberate speaking style (the agency creative director calculated that any 30 second script for John could not exceed 45 words) and he finished each ad by drawing out, even more emphatically, “Smith Barney. We make money the old fashion way. We earn it.”

John Houseman died in 1992, right about the time the financial industry stopped trying to earn customers’ trust, and started buying it instead.

Today, Smith Barney is Citi Smith Barney, and in January they announced the formation of a joint venture with Morgan Stanley to create an industry leading wealth management business.

As an example of a business model in transition - and without purpose except survival - it’s hard to beat. It’s also hard to trust.

By contrast, Fred Wilson - a New York based venture capitalist who focuses on technology driven companies - blogged yesterday about the idea of 'earned media' - media that you don’t buy but earn through customer experience and word of mouth. The concept, initially crafted by Jerry Solomon, has recently become much more potent thanks to the advent of social networking and the evolution of the cell phone and sms which creates viral word of mouth in real time.

The issue is a fascinating one. But I think the foundation is slightly different than the one they postulate. From a business owner’s perspective, the focus is not on whether you earn the media. But on whether you earn the audience.

Do they believe you, trust you, value you? Are you empathetic? Are you understanding?

If the answer is yes - regardless of the medium you choose or can afford to use - you gain their attention. And their loyalty.


The old fashioned way.