Starbucks is an obvious example of successful branding. It's easily identifiable at their drive-thrus, in shops with comfy chairs, on their take-out cups and recently their packets of instant brew. But since branding is about perception and experience even more than it is about looks, I interviewed a former Starbucks employee to find out how the brand works from inside the shop.
ER (Eleanor Rosenberg): How long did you work at Starbucks for?
AFSE/B (anonymous former Starbucks employee/barrista): Just short of a year.
ER: "Short" is a coffee term, right?
AFSE/B: Yeah, it's a size, from biggest to smallest it goes venti, grande, tall and short.
ER: Right, so if you could describe the Starbucks brand in three words, what would they be?
AFSE/B: hmmm, consistent, pseudo-exotic and warm.
ER: Why pseudo-exotic?
AFSE/B: By the time I finished working there I was tired of the jargon. Part of our role as barristas is to correct the customer if they use the wrong term. Like, if they asked for a “double” espresso we had to say “doppio” espresso—as if that made it more clear. There's also this contrived globalism that is portrayed through new coffees from different countries each month or so. They create a sense of mysticism that way.
I think most people appreciate that Starbucks coffee is consistent. As a barrista I saw it as a personal challenge to get it right each time, especially when it came to customers I like—which is probably exactly how they would want me to respond, but there was a certain craft to making an exacting drink exactly right. Sometimes they were spending more on a coffee than a meal at McDonald's might cost, so making it worthwhile was satisfying.
Warm is part of the Starbucks brand at every level, from the hot drinks to the caramel coloured packaging; from the soft dim lighting and comfy chairs that feel like a living room. In training we were told to remember customers names and their favourite drinks too.
ER: That really is warm on a number of levels. So, what's it take to become a barrista then? What happens when you're hired?
AFSE/B: You have to watch some videos and take an afternoon course. At the course you try all sorts of coffees, like Maxwell House, and learn why Starbucks is a better product. It's really obvious when you compare the coffees—but it’s not like they're comparing their stuff with artisan roasted coffee. It’s Starbucks versus freeze-dried stuff. We learned about the roasting process, choosing the beans and even the type of bag they use to preserve freshness. They talk about their partnerships with coffee farms in South America and Africa and a little bit of company history. They say their success is based on good customer service and a good product.
ER: Tell me about good customer service.
AFSE/B: All the training tries to make the employees believe in the product. That means they can back it up with their own words. Employees are also treated well. How many part-time jobs give you stock options? We also got a pound of coffee a month.
ER: Neat. Thanks for your time.
Hearing all that, I think it's safe to say that having employees know their company's brand—even beyond their immediate job—can be of great value, making them dedicated ambassadors for the values of the company.
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Macklemore hella loves Whitehorse.
In branding, the first step is recognizing that a brand is everything about how you are perceived–it's far beyond the logo and is everything from the clothes you wear in a meeting to the internal dialogue spoken by visitors to your website.
Even as an individual person you possess a brand. The second step is knowing that you can control your brand—something rap star Macklemore gets. You might be familiar with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis from their 2012 hit Thrift Shop. They're down with velcro and onesies but $50 tshirts are a downer. There's more to their brand than second hand clothes though.
In this short documentary (15 mins), Jabari captures some great making-of footage from Thrift Shop. He also interviews Macklemore about controlling his own brand and what it means to run his business without a label. His definition of success is not about signing with a record deal, it's about connecting with his audience.
What's your definition of success for yourself and your work?
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"The artist's duty is to balance mystical communication with the labour of creation".
It really spoke to me, especially when I think about brand work. At the end of weeks of analysis, exploring options and labouring over word choices, what comes out is a mystical result: simple communication that often seems remarkable in its clarity and resonance with the values of our clients. It's a proud moment.
Patti was talking about drawing, poetry and collage, and I like to think of our work as those things too!
Many of Patti's photos were a collaboration with artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
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… that's not our goal here at aasman, but we do like chewing the fat with you. So it seems fitting to ask you what kind of talk gets you jazzed. We're auditing our own blog as we work on a strategy for it and Dale Carnegie's advice to 'talk in terms of the other person's interest' holds true even though he surely never heard the word 'blog' in his lifetime.
So, we're a brand communications agency, and some (i stress 'some') of the things that we like to chat about are:
- debating new theories of communication
- local initiatives
- amazing innovative internation ads and brands
- explaining RGB and CMYK, anytime
- sharing our process and how we find inspiration
- what the heck branding can mean for me
- what I did on the weekend and how communications weasled it's way into my hiking trip
- new technology
Now it's your turn. What turns your crank? If you could ask us creators of brand and ad experience anything, what would it be? Feel free to share this one around. It feels important.
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Well it would seem that whilst Australia may be behind the curve on some issues, cigarette advertising is not one of them.
The high-court back home has upheld a ruling that is going to make all cigarette packaging blank… that’s right, no logos, no enticing colours, just images of the harmful effects and an olive green coloured background. So absolutely no branding at all. I’d hate to be working at a supermarket and have to find the correct brand and type for a customer.
I guess Australians will be the guinea pigs for the world, to see if this extreme action actually makes any difference in reducing the amount of smokers. As a non-smoker I have no idea, would you stop smoking if the packaging isn’t attractive? It makes sense in theory, I mean a lot of the time the nicer that packaging the more you want to buy it, so I guess the less attractive the package the less you will want what’s inside?
Check out this article, gives you a little more information on the development.
What do all of you think… will this make a difference?
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Back in April, Eleanor posted an article in response to the City of Whitehorse's rebranding initiative -- a hot topic at the time. But we haven't heard much about it since. . .
Well, in case you were wondering about the final outcome, the above is the retooled old/new official City of Whitehorse logo and tagline.
After the controversy a few months ago, the dust has obviously settled and the final product has slipped rather quietly into our midst. I think that in itself is worth noting, but I'm wondering if there's any more to say about it.
What do you think?
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Four times in the past two weeks my wife has received the wrong coffee as per her order. Since she’s been expecting our first child, the word “de-caf” now preludes her coffee order. This one small change has created havoc with this daily affair.
I am setting the stage for the inspiration of this post. Incorrect coffee orders are just one small example of a bigger problem the North faces - sub-par customer service. I am not sure why this problem exists in the North. We make decisions everyday, where to shop, buy gas, eat out and while some of these decisions are made out of necessity, a lot of them come from some sort or pre-determined brand loyalty. More and more I find myself in the Yukon basing these decisions not on the brand that delivers and excels on their experience but more of which is the safest decision. The devil I know is better than the devil I don’t know.
I find myself yearning for a brand to step up and deliver on the experience they are promising in the Yukon and I have yet to have that experience. Some are starting to realize this and answer the call. At a regular lunch spot I attend, I had to remind the staff that I was still waiting on my sandwich, its ok they are the “devil I know” so I wasn’t upset, I just accept this as part of my experience now. What I didn’t expect was to receive a free complimentary coffee card for my patience. One small act reassured my lunchtime decision while acknowledging sub par service also shone some glimmer of hope into a customer service barren territory.
As the Yukon grows in population, the hunger for reliable brands that not only deliver a great product but also deliver on the entire experience will successfully get our attention and our money.
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I came across this post a while back titled “3 Instant Ways to Make Your Social Media Better.” The post gives three basic pieces of advice on how to make your social media suck less: be a human, be yourself and treat people the way you want to be treated.
This really annoyed me at first. Why do we need to be reminded of the basic rules we learned in Sunday school as children? However, as I began to think about it and to discuss it with colleagues, I realized that we do need these reminders. Social media is ultimately about personal interaction with each other and so often when we have an avenue to funnel ourselves through we tend to skew the truth a little.
This now brings us to a really interesting topic: personal branding and how we are perceived in social media. If you think of who you are, your many profiles and how you interact with others collectively as a brand (i.e. your personal brand), these three basic rules tend to be relevant once again. In today’s business world your personal brand can get you a job, land you a client and make or break important relationships. Jennifer Morozowhich wrote a great article for the Canadian Marketing Blog on this topic.
Did you even know you have a personal brand? And are you trying to remember those Sunday school lessons now?
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Sometimes Mondays are tough, and a little inspiration is needed to get the week rolling. My current muse is the blog BRAND NEW. It's a site that chronicles recent corporate brand identity work. Each day a new identity (suggested by a reader) is critiqued under discerning eyes. I like it because it consistently presents iconic identities that make big news. The idea behind BRAND NEW is kind of like headline articles for identity designers: each story explains the highlights of the concept behind the work and the pros and cons of the new identity. Check out BRAND NEW and see for yourself.
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While hiking last weekend I was marvelling at the changing colours of autumn on the Yukon landscape. After pointing out dozens of red plants along our two- turned six-hour trek, I was asked of a particular red bush "what colour is that?" It took me a while before I answered, "fire engine red."
I wasn't totally satisfied with that answer; it captured the vivid intensity of the plant but it brought to mind how challenging red can be to describe. Red can be urgent and hard to ignore, especially when it's a warm red leaning toward the yellow end of the colour wheel, like a fire exit, the header of a news magazine or a For Sale sign.
But red can also be comforting and calming on the cooler end of the colour wheel, like an accent wall in a cozy living room—the opposite effect of the fire exit—a valentine's card, or a royal red carpet.
I asked one of the aasman partners to describe the colour red that aasman uses in our branding. Margriet replied: "We were searching for the truest and most intense red, that wasn't too warm, cold, blue or yellow. It is as energetic, bright and focussed as we are."
If you're interested in the history, cultural context, emotional response and fun facts all about red, check out this site.
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3 kids under 5 years old
1 Grandpa, armed with Visa card
1 Grandma and 1 mother, there to keep it all together!
My family recently went to Vancouver to take in a day of the “Olympic experience”. Our fabulous local airline offered a day trip that was too good to not take advantage of, so off we flew...
Want to see branding in action? Here’s a sampling of what the right branding can do:
The Bay building, downtown Vancouver. Those massive banners were to advertise the Bay’s exclusive Olympic products. People waited in line for hours to buy a branded hoodie or sweater!
The Bay building again, different side. WOW.
Even Visa was in on the Olympic branding action…
Those red jerseys were everywhere! You couldn’t help but feel the pride that was in the air.
My little boy, Kai, branded from head to toe!
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A few months ago, a client thanked me for facilitating a brand visioning exercise, saying, “I always thought that branding an organization was just a matter of choosing and then putting on a new coat.” I was pleased he had grasped the fundamentals of what we were trying to do, that branding is a matter of reflecting what’s at the heart of an organization, not simply selecting something from a rack of stylish options. After all, your brand is about authenticity. Branding requires you to discern what is true about your organization, why that matters to your audience, and how to communicate those truths in the things you say and do. And yet, it is about the coat, too…
Most of us pay at least some attention to the clothes we wear. In general we want them to reflect something about the kinds of people we are, our character, values and personality. Sometimes we want them to say specific things about ourselves: Look at me and know that I am a professional, a cowboy, a vampire…. Stacy and Clinton from TLC’s What Not to Wear tell us that many people get it wrong. So wrong. Instead of creative and trendy, they appear flaky and dated; instead of vibrant and youthful we get tarty and will you pu-lease grow up. The truth is, some people do not care what they wear or how they dress, some dress to project qualities they admire but do not possess, and yet others reflect characteristics quite different from what they intend.
It’s not a lot different from the way many organizations treat their brands:
• some don’t think about their brand or place any value in branding
• some have chosen brand values they admire but cannot emulate – ever
• some know what their brand values are, but communicate them with little insight
The problem these organizations face is bigger than simply being raided by the fashion police. Rather than Stacy and Clinton, they have to stand up to the scrutiny of their (gasp) audience!
If you don’t take care of branding your organization, your audience will brand it for you. And your brand may be “the dis-organization that doesn’t care.”
If you simply choose a set of admirable brand values, your audience will spot the fake. Your brand may become “the organization that can’t really be trusted.”
If you know your brand values, but mis-communicate them, your audience will be confused. Your brand will be “the organization that…I’m sorry, which one are you again?”
Brand articulation is hard work. It requires structure, honesty, deep insight, passion and creativity. And that’s just the start. But the rewards can be immediate and, over time, powerful. I hope to share some of those with you, as well as how we get there and what branding processes and models look like, over the course of the next few months. Or years; it’s a big subject.
Speaking of coats, as we subtly segue to us, have a listen to what that old bluegrass master Ralph Stanley had to say about them:
Two coats were before me, an old and a new…
I’ll tell you the best thing I ever did do,
I put off the old coat and put on the new.
If you’re unsure about the coat you’re wearing, you know who to call…
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