12 best (and worst) viral brand videos

What makes something get shared or go viral? This seems to be the Holy Grail of brand bliss. Everyone wants their day in the Internet sun. Recently at a Content Marketing Conference at which I did a keynote presentation, another presenter talked about taking her non-profit’s blog from a ghost town to shared by thousands. One of her nuggets of wisdom? Make people laugh, cry or fume.

Here are 12 great examples of brand videos that went viral – and a few are big misses in my opinion. See if you can determine each one’s “secret sauce” and why you think it got shared. How can you apply some of that magic to your own content marketing efforts?

Dollar Shave Club, Our Blades are F**ing Great by Paulilu Productions
10+ million views

Combine a funny, charismatic and good-looking founder like Mike Dubin (he wrote the script) with snappy jokes and quirky scenes, and you get viral video gold. This video makes you laugh out loud while still doing its job of explaining what the heck Dollar Shave Club does for its members. There is no mistaking the brand voice and vibe this company is going after. They make this the cool tribe of which you want to be part. One of my all-time fave brand videos.

Dove, Real Beauty Sketches  by Ogilvy Mather   
54+ million views

Dove uses a forensic artist to compare people’s perceptions of themselves with how others perceive them. Powerful, moving and hopeful. You may choke back a sob. The music and lighting really adds to this piece.

Kmart, Ship My Pants by Draftfcb
17+ million views

You may have seen this ad on TV. Customers use lewd wordplay to talk up Kmart’s free shipping service. It’s clever, fun and a little shocking. Wonder how many outtakes they had on this one that they couldn’t use.

Audi, The Challenge by Paulilu   
5+ million views

Actors Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek (new and old Spocks) square off in a race to the golf club in competing luxury performance cars. While from a true effective marketing perspective, the video is not quite clear on the benefits that make the Audi S7 superior to the Mercedes (except the clear point on trunk space), the video positions Audi as the new kid, replacing the old guard.

Red Bull, Red Bull Stratos by In-house
Almost 3 million views

World record free fall sponsored by Red Bull. Exciting, tension-filled and it captures our imaginations about what is possible. Choice of music is perfect.

Pepsi, Test Drive by TBWA\Chiat\Day
36+ million views

Racer Jeff Gordon takes an unsuspecting car salesman out for a high-speed test drive. This one is a miss in my view, as it’s clearly staged and the man is clearly an actor. Not sure what the main message or takeaway on this should be, but wanted to include it to show you that sometimes shock value is just pure fluff.

Metro Trains, Dumb Ways to Die byMcCann Melbourne
46 million views +

A song listing stupid ways to die, promoting safety around trains. I love this one. It’s clever, quirky, quiet and effective. The use of animation is perfect (I love crazy little monster characters like these so I’m a little biased). And they clearly get their point across with humor rather than by preaching.

H&M, David Beckham Bodywear by Marc Atlan Design
Almost 10 million views

Filmmaker Guy Ritchie directs a short featuring David Beckham running around in his underwear. I’ll let you decide if you think this is an effective video or not. It’s definitely on brand for H&M, though.

Old Spice, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like by Wieden + Kennedy
45+ million views

An idealized man using Old Spice convince the “ladies” to get your man to smell like him, featuring absurd and well-choreographed situations. This entire campaign did wonders for turning around the idea we all had of Old Spice being associated with our dads back in the 70’s.  It’s funny, crazy, well-paced and worth sharing.

Microsoft, Child of the 90s by In-house
33+ million views

“You grew up. So did we. Reconnect with the new Internet Explorer.” Nostalgia targeted toward people who grew up in the 90s. Not sure about the point, except that they are trying to equate those warm nostalgic feelings of youth (within a targeted demographic) with the IE browser. Not sure this one works, as this seems like tugging at emotion for emotion’s sake, not because it advances the brand message.

Expedia, Find Your Understanding by 180 Los Angeles   
2.5+ million views

An elderly father narrates his experience accepting his lesbian daughter’s marriage. Part of Expedia’s “Find Yours” campaign. It’s incredibly moving and may bring you to tears – but as seen in the Comments, it also produced some rage, too, which led to more controversy, views and sharing.

TNT, A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square by Duval Guillaume Modem
45+ million views

A dramatic scene is staged in a public square after unsuspecting people press a red button. Classic staged event technique and it’s pretty clever in touting TNT’s expertise in drama. Not sure what the people who were there, however, made of all of this!

Which one is your favorite? Did I miss a juicy one that you adore? Please share in the Comments!


3 ways to “social proof” your business

What is “social proof” really, and why does it matter to your business? If you’ve ever used Urban Spoon ratings to decide where to eat, Angi to decide which contractor to hire or followed a recommendation given to you by a trusted friend, you have already seen the power of social proofing your business.

Today’s guest post comes from Ali Rittenhouse: Digital Diva + Tech Cheerleader.  She recently entered my orbit through – wait for it – a friend’s recommendation (see, this stuff works!) and shares 3 tips on how to social proof your own business. Read her wise words below:

Have you social proofed your business lately?

Social Proof is more important than having a fancy-schmancy website with all the bells and whistles or catchy copy lingo that you paid someone a whole lot of moola to write for you.

Consumers look to other consumer’s opinions to make their purchases.  We use Social Proof to make our decisions.   We want to know that someone has gone first and had success before we try our hand at it. (Tweet this!)

As a business owner, Social Proof is just what your customer is looking for before they hand over the credit card info.  It’s kinda like virtually wrapping your potential customer up in a soft, warm snuggie!  When someone is considering investing money or making a big purchase you want them to feel confident, warm and snugglie about purchasing from you!  Rather than uncomfortable, unsure, and uneasy because this leads to shopper’s remorse and refunds.

You can create social proof in many different ways. Below are 3 tips and examples to Social Proof Your Business:

1.  Testimonials of Success.

Do the testimonials you have from clients reflect the success you brought to them through your coaching, writing or product?  A testimonial should provide social proof to the reader.  Having a testimonial that simply states “Alicia Rocks” is NOT Social Proof.  Be sure to always include a headshot along with links to their website when you display their testimonial.   If you can get them to do a video – even better!!  People will connect with them

You can display testimonials in many different ways on your website and social networking sites.   Ask for them from those that have downloaded your freebie or enjoyed your free tips from your blog.  Let them know that it will be a great opportunity for exposure for their business as well.

2.  Social Media

Hook your website up to provide your social media social proof (say that 5x’s fast!).  Install a Facebook Like Widget on your sidebar that displays info from your Facebook Page.  You can set it to show the purdy faces of your Likers – it will by default show their friends faces first!  Twitter also has plenty of widgets that you can add to your blog or website that will pull in your feed.  Use Tweet-stimonials to display your favorite tweet-stimonials of success to your website.  LinkedIn offers a feature for people to recommend you that does mimic testimonials.  Ask your clients to make recommendations of your services or products on LinkedIn.

Don’t forget you must also establish yourself as The Expert or The Go-To person for your fans and followers.  You can do this by participating on their pages more than your own.

3.  Be Creative!

There are several different items that I gave consideration to for this last tip but I am going with BE CREATIVE!  Come up with creative ways to incorporate Social Proof into your online presence.  Be a guest blogger for a well-known website, ask to interview a well-known guru that your viewers can benefit from, or display pictures taken with high-level professionals in your industry.

About Ali: Ali Rittenhouse is a Digital Diva + Tech Cheerleader.  She has a talent for unpacking digital mysteries into simple steps even non-geeks can master. Ali is on a mission: to activate a new generation of tech-powered trailblazers–women who bust stereotypes, break glass ceilings, build six-figure empires from their living room sofas, and show the world who’s boss.  She offers training and coaching for women entrepreneurs and their tech-savvy assistants. Check her out at – http://aliciarittenhouse.com/.

Now it’s your turn: What have you done to use Social Proof to your advantage? Please share your testimonial of success in the Comments below.

Why small businesses need to pay attention to engagement

Today, here’s a juicy guest post by small business writer Erica Bell about why engagement matters.

Starting a business isn’t easy, I know. Small business owners wear many hats, from CEO to Marketing and HR Manager, and are constantly under a time crunch. While managing the business from sunrise to sunset may already be a challenge, small business owners can’t forget to pay attention to customer engagement. Because smaller businesses often have smaller marketing budgets, they need to pay attention to engagement, something that doesn’t require a large financial investment. Customer engagement is how small businesses can drive loyalty, create return customers and boost starting off sales.

Build Loyalty

Small businesses need to spend some time engaging with customers and building customer loyalty. A customer who supports your business from the beginning and has a great experience will return for more! When small businesses get started, it’s the return customers who build the business. Make sure you are engaging with these early on customers to build their loyalty. How? Be personal and responsive to customers and see those same customers return and spread the word.

  • When a customer is engaged with a company, they develop deeper emotional commitment to the companies, granting them an average 33 points higher Net Promoter® score (NPS®), a common measure of customer loyalty (Bain & Company).

Increase Sales

Engagement with customers can lead to an increase in sales. Customers are likely to share their fantastic experiences and interactions with your brand with their friends, family and in some cases the general public. You can keep engaged and satisfied customers coming back while attracting new ones. Remember, it costs more for your business to acquire a new customer than it does to keep current customers. Engaged customers tend to stick with your business longer, buy more often and refer your brand to their friends. (Tweet this!)

  • Customers who engage with a brand online report spending 20 percent to 40 percent more on that brand, or on that company’s products (Bain & Company).

Provide Better Service

Customer engagement and the customer experience often go hand in hand. When you know where your business is falling short in terms of customer service and the customer experience by engaging with customers, either through social media, your business phone or review sites, you can alter your current strategies for better performances in the future. Engage with your customers to find what they do and don’t like and what they would like to see from your business in the future.

  • Poor customer experiences result in an estimated $83 Billion loss by US enterprises each year because of defections and abandoned purchases (Parature Customer Service Blog).

When engaging with customers, make sure your employees are friendly, personal and knowledgeable. Great personal experiences and great customer engagement leads to great customers who talk about your business and brand in a positive light. Help your business stand apart from the major corporations by providing better, more engaged responses to customers, no matter how they choose to contact you. Engaging with customers can make your job as a small business owner easier. You can cover your marketing, customer service and sales bases all at once!

About Erica: Erica Bell is a small business writer who focuses on topics such as small business call center software and making the most of a business phone system. She is a web content writer for Business.com, Media Inc.

“We’re not selling/writing for strangers anymore”

If you are a writer, marketer, content provider, or entrepreneur, please spend 26 minutes listening to this insightful interview with Seth Godin on the Zen Habits website. In it, he talks about not only the state of publishing today, but how to build an audience, what it means to fail and how to finally let go of trying to please everyone.

From the publishing front, which is of particular interest to me as I get ready to self-publish my next book in early 2012, is that we are no longer trying to convince strangers to buy our books. The old model is dead, and self-publishing has turned everything topsy-turvy. Now it’s about collecting friends and creating tribes that you specifically write for and who can’t wait to gobble up your next work. In his view, this makes opportunity more abundant, not scarcer.

Seth ntoes that his experiments with The Domino Project have proven that shorter and cheaper books spread more virally, that cover art with more visuals and less words works well, and that authors don’t need to rely on advances to succeed anymore (especially when that gives the false impression that someone else will be doing the work for you. They won’t.)

Later in the interview, Seth tackes why he does not accept comments on his blog. He states that he used to, but then he started writing with comments in mind and it paralyzed his work. “I don’t write for strangers anymore,” he said.  He decided a blog with posts was better than a blog with comments but no posts. Now he writes to spread his ideas to his tribe, not try to persuade strangers. In his view, the discussion doesn’t stop because he has no comments. There are plenty of places people can debate, get nasty and disagree with me on the Internet if people want, he says.

While a company might need to be a little more open to direct dialogue and interaction, this attitude should hold true with our brands as well. While increasing market share is always a good thing, you need to speak to your “people.” I’ve been doing a lot of work lately with solopreneurs who don’t realize the power they already yield with folks who are on their side or audiences who are primed for their message already. Great brands don’t try to please everyone, so why should your business? It’s just waste of energy and resources.

Photo Credit: Squidoo

A brand wolf in sheep’s clothing

Amen, sister! I  am loving this controversial open letter that Sharp Skirts recently posted about ForbesWoman.  SharpSkirts courageously indicts this media outlet, even after ForbesWoman named them one of the top ten entrepreneurial sites for women.

Putting aside the important point Sharp Skirts makes about this purported “business publication” talking down to business women and assuming all they care about is beauty, fashion and gossip…..which is a very important one….I just love the brand lesson this teaches:

You will piss off your target customers if you promise one thing and deliver another.

You can’t go out into the world with a brand promise of ““a magazine and Web site for career-minded women who mean business” if you are going to bait and switch and provide sensational content just to garner eyeballs. Some of the headlines cited in the Sharp Skirts post:

Beauty and the Brood‘ – Oct. 30th piece on how women with more attractive facial features want to bear more children

Halloween Costume Dilemma‘ – Oct. 27th piece advising us not to dress slutty on Halloween

Not Everyone’s Cheering J.Crew Boss Jenna Lyons Lesbian Rumor‘ – Oct. 27th piece on how Lyons’ husband is feeling about her sexuality

7 Signs Your Shopping May Be Problematic‘ – Oct. 27th piece on how to tell if you’re handling your money irresponsibly

Are Women Turned On By Financial Risk?Oct. 26th piece on how money plays into women’s selection of a mate

And two more: “Should Kim Kardashian Return Her Engagement Ring?’ and ‘Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO.” 

I can’t say this anymore eloquently than what the Sharp Skirts blog post stated, so here you go:

“The ForbesWoman Twitter profile descriptor is, “a magazine and Web site for career-minded women who mean business.” So why are they writing about naughty Halloween costumes? Or our breeding and shopping habits? I increasingly feel like I’m reading a copy of Look magazine, circa 1957.

A chorus of boos from our Facebook group has greeted these articles, but Sharp Skirt Dana Van Nest said it best: “I thought Forbes was a trusted business magazine. Seems my opinion is out of date. That article is pure tabloid.” The article to which she was referring – well, pick your poison.”

Feel free to weigh in below about both this brand deception or the quality of content available to smart career women.



Which problem is killing your business?

As a new book author, I have learned a ton about the publishing industry over the last year or so. I’ve pretty much been riding by the seat of my pants and unspoken rules are revealed to me each day, much like an onion shedding its layers. I used to think publishing a book was fairly straightforward – and it can be if you self-publish and have millions of devoted fans ready to devour your product. But you have to work to get to that point, as Seth Godin just announced: after millions of best-selling books  he’s able to bypass the traditional publishing establishment and self-publish direct to his legions of fans.

Sure, anyone can do this. But do they have the base that Seth has to make that a successful proposition? Well, guess it depends on what your goals are and the size of your tribe.

Putting all that aside, I’ve heard a lot of hoopla casting eBooks, Kindles and iPad’s as the assassins to the traditional brick and mortar stores and your lovely independent bookseller around the corner; That publishing as we know it is a dying due to the new vehicles and opportunities that people with good ideas have for spreading their words.

Well, I have a different theory: it’s not these new technologies or shrinking margins that are going to kill the traditional publishing-bookseller industry: it’s going to be their willingness to adapt and get the heck out of their own way. I present my exhibits to the court below.

Is your business suffering from any of these ailments? If so, better change course before it’s too late:

Exhibit A: Refusal to Acknowledge: At the recent 600 person Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, the elephant in the room was self-publishing and alternate options. While the conference focused heavily on how to sell your book, build your marketing platform, etc, two funny things happened: A breakout on alternate publishing forms erupted in a minor mutiny when attendees demanded to know why the conference was focused on the “song and dance of pitching to big agents and editors” but no one was talking about eBooks and self-publishing as credible options. In this session, a so-called book marketing expert even said: “I don’t believe in social media or authors needing websites. It’s a waste of time.”

Is there a market change or customer need that you are ignoring or refusing to see to protect the status quo?

Exhibit B: Refusal to Adapt: In the large editor panel, I asked what they thought about the long time to market when going the traditional route when I was able to publish with an independent press from contract to book in four months? The response: “Given that reviewers want galleys 3-6 months in advance of the publishing date means you’ll always need a long lead time. Plus it helps with quality control and editing.” Really? The reason we are not going to adapt the model is because the REVIEWERS (Publishers Weekly, et al) won’t adapt their models to current market dynamics? By the time my book’s “galleys” were ready, so was the final book!

Are you allowing the tail to wag the dog when it comes to adapting your manufacturing, marketing or distribution model – instead of adapting to what your customers want and need?

Exhibit C: Refusal to Trust: I had to convince my publisher to post an excerpt on Scribd. She said she’d heard bad things about it and forwarded me an article about an author suing them for copyright infringement. I explained that Scribd itself did not pirate the work; someone else must have posted it and that Scribd is just the channel (like YouTube). I also explained why we should get in front of it and post our excerpt ourselves to control the marketing and message. After all, Chapter 1 is already available on the publisher’s website: What’s to stop someone from stealing it from there? At least on Scribd, people will actually see it who would purchase the book. This fear of piracy and infringement is real, but the upside of promoting the full book is so well worth it.

Are there marketing channels (like social media) or new technologies you are ignoring out of fear, when they could be prime ways to reach your customers?

Exhibit D: Refusal to Coordinate: Because my book is a short run printing (my publisher is not Random House and doesn’t print 50,000 at once) it is listed in a separate “small press” database (DB) on Ingram, one of the distributors in the business. This same DB houses self-published and Print on Demand (POD)  books, and the retail bookstore chains refuse to carry those, mostly because of the lack of return policies and quality concerns. We had to make it very clear to local booksellers that my book is NOT a POD or self-pub and that it’s 100% returnable to convince them to carry a local author. Borders in downtown Seattle agreed and I just did a signing there; Barnes & Noble, however, marked it as POD in their system and the stores are saying they physically can’t order such books through the system and we have to talk to NY. NY has said they will fix the issue, but that the stores are wrong and can order anything they want. I’ve since learned that basically forward-thinking managers can “go rogue” and order the local authors their customers want but it’s not “policy.” We’re stuck in the middle  – trying to give local booksellers great content and signing events to help them boost sales. So now Borders gets me for a signing, while B&N competing down the street can’t get out of their own way. Borders even told me, “People are craving local authors right now – similar to the local food movement!”

Are you not communicating effectively with multiple locations, partners or employees to the point that the only people who lose are your customers? Are your policies getting in the way of you staying competitive or giving your customers what they want?

Battle of the Eco-Markets: Whole Foods vs. Metropolitan Market

Guest post from Red Slice intern Suzi An

I am a Whole Foods fiend. I shop there every week, I read their blog on a daily basis, and I tweet about them constantly. In fact, Whole Foods is the reason I am going to a University; I wrote my college essay on Whole Foods. Now, I live in Queen Anne where two Metropolitan Markets exist. I tried to do the whole Met Market thing but I could not break away from my Whole Foods. Aesthetically, the Met Market’s exterior is pleasing. I am greeted by bundles of different colored flowers and stacks of in-season melons. But once I walk inside, I see minimal selections of everything from dairy to bread and I’m greeted with the smell of grease from the deli. I walk over to the produce section and I see small apples for over $2 a pound and vegetables that do not look so bright. I peruse the aisles and find that I could find the majority of their products at QFC (which is closer to where I live than Met Market). Where is the exciting marketplace that their mission promises? Everything looks generic and bland to me. The florescent lights blare down on my face and I know I do not look good in this light! I was led to believe that Met Market is a supporter of our local farmers but instead they focus on world-class products, which explains the higher prices. My experience at Met Market has been a bit depressing and underwhelming. Then I start checking out and I regret everything I just purchased. With maybe about eight or nine items, my total cost is around $80. I feel like for the amount of money I paid, I should have received much more.

Contrast this with my experiences at Whole Foods which make me feel like a better person. The minute I walk into any Whole Foods, I’m met with the smell of fantastic foods that are being prepared for customers. I walk through the pastry aisles and see a wide array of choices that I usually skip over it because it does get overwhelming from time to time. I then walk through the produce and fruit section where there are great looking colorful carrots on display among asparagus, kale, and swiss chard. The arugula looks amazingly fresh and crisp and I can smell the bananas and pineapple drifting toward me. I then walk to the bulk aisle but get distracted by the seafood section. The fillets of fish are glimmering and look so moist. The fishmongers are attractive and give you a smile as they shout out if you need any help. I weave in and out of the middle aisles until I finally backtrack and head towards the meat department. My mouth begins to water. All the different meats are carefully displayed and my attention goes to the rack of lamb. It sits there so deliciously that my mind wanders into the land of cooking possibilities. After I am done with my shopping escapade, I wobble towards the check out lines with my heavy groceries. My total comes out to be around $70.

Let’s reflect back on this for a moment: I bought fair trade bananas, organic, local, and GMO-free produce and fruits, preservative free products, and hormone-free, antibiotic-free, meats, along with many other snacks. Not to mention there was a fantastic sale on their pretzels and yogurt. I basically bought a good week and a half worth of groceries for less than what I had spent at Met Market, where I experienced lame service (except for the fishmonger, he was very nice) and a generic shopping experience. If I’m going to spend that much money at Met Market, I expect something more than just an average grocery market.

I appreciate the effort Whole Foods puts in to connecting with their customers and making them feel like how they shop makes a difference . I love the fact that every time I tweet about them, I receive a response. I love how the staff actually gives you recommendations and thanks you for bringing in your own bags while you are bagging your own groceries. You may say I’m obsessed, but the experience I receive at Whole Foods will make me a lifetime consumer  – and loyal raving fan.

Now that’s what I mean by delight!

I had the best car rental experience of my life last week. And that is a bold statement from someone who worked as a management consultant and in affiliate sales during her career and used to travel up the yin-yang.

I rented through Alamo at the Philadelphia Airport because they were the most cost-effective option on Expedia.  What I got was an amazingly friendly, professional and warm experience that far exceeded my expectations. I had doors held open for me at every turn. Everyone I passed greeted me with a smile and a “How are you today?” I’ll admit to being a little creeped out by this at first, as my expectations of a car rental brand are so low that they all look and sound the same. And this is coming from someone who is a Hertz Gold Club member.

Once inside, the gentleman who held the door open for me also ran around the desk to check me in. He bantered with his fellow staffmates as they ran around to get me the GPS I’d requested and then he showed me step-by-step how to set it up. I could tell everyone there genuinely enjoyed their work and each other – and it made me feel like I was in good hands.

Once outside, my car was blocked in by a rental bus. Immediately , two other staff members saw my dilemma and cleared a path for me without me even asking. It was like as soon as my problem materialized, there they were, solving it proactively.

That’s what I’m talking about, people. Delight. Happy, empowered employees who have a clear service mission leads to a happy brand experience for customers, which leads to me talking about this company on social media. Maybe they are helped along by my previous lackluster experiences or the low service bar in the industry -  who knows? Who cares? Bottom line is that I’m still talking about them. See how it works? Easy peasy.

Apple under fire: When designers get big egos

Oh dear. Branding great Apple majorly screwed up. If you’ve been under a rock, here’s the deal: they are under fire for releasing the brand new iPhone (which has sold really, really well) with reception issues. It seems to drop calls when the phone is touched by a person’s hand in a certain spot. The problem is they tried to blame the carrier at first; then they said it was a software glitch; and now it comes to light that the issue is that the antenna is on the outside of the phone (rather than encased as it is on other phones) so when people hold it in the wrong spot, it drops the calls.

I read that they were initially asking customers to shell out another $29 bucks for a rubber casing that seemed to fix the issue. What?!  You screw up and you make customers pay for the fix? Bad branding, bad!  The big bomb came this past week when Consumer Reports refused to recommend the iPhone as they had in the past. That seemed to be the straw that broke the brand back.

The WSJ today talked about some rumors they heard that engineers actually brought the issue to light, but that Steve Jobs wanted the design he wanted and went ahead with it anyway. And in Apple’s (seemingly more and more smug) approach to product rollouts and secrecy, they don’t give carriers the normal “testing” window that is standard in the industry because they were paranoid about keeping the design under wraps. How full of hubris is that?!

I admire Apple so much for their brand efforts and amazing designs and technology over the years. But as I mentioned in a previous post, these behaviors are tarnishing their brand because they are now acting like “the man” who can do whatever they want and doesn’t care about customer ease or usefulness.

If you watch the video here, I love the comment that the woman makes about people forgetting that the iPhone is less a phone and more of a computer. Phones are not necessarily Apple’s core competency and so they very well should have given carriers time to test the phone as they normally do and not worried so much about launch secrecy – it would be better for their brand if they put customer satisfaction ahead of their marketing blitz.

PS: Friday’s Press release notes can be found here. Highlights include not reimbursing customers for having to buy the case, and “When someone or some organization gets really successful, people want to tear it down” which I find particularly amusing since Apple did a lot of that “tearing down” when they were the little guy!

Brand is in the eye of the beholder

Check out this fun little experiment in brand perception at www.brandtags.net. They flash a logo up and you type the first thing that comes to mind when you see it. From the site: "The basic idea of this site is that a brand exists entirely in people’s heads. Therefore, a brand is whatever they say it is."  Then you get to see the tags that people typed in and where yours falls in the mix.

Just goes to show that while logos are just visual elements, it’s the promise, and experience of every interaction with the company that goes into its brand. However, if you have had no interaction with a new brand, you will rely on the visual cues (colors, shapes, typefaces) to get a feel for what they are all about. This is why its so important to build a strong brand strategy first, decide what you want to communicate and THEN design a logo. Not the other way around.

Recently, I got a phone call from someone asking about my services for her fledgling business. She asked me my initial impressions of her current logo, which she had paid a marketing agency a lot of money to design for her. Now I normally don’t like to just give spur-of-the-moment audits until I understand the brand strategy and what the company is trying to communicate and to whom. But she had described a bit about her business before I even saw the logo, so I understood some of what her main communication points were.

The first red flag I got for her was that this agency had never once asked her who her ideal customer was before designing her logo. How can agencies get away with such negligent behavior? How can you design something when you don’t know who is consuming it and how they need to feel about it? It kills me that agencies pull the wool over people’s eyes like that.

I gave her my honest impressions of what the color, graphics and font communicated to me. And she was not happy with my answers. She told me how much she liked her logo, and how maybe that was just one person’s opinion. To which I agreed with everything she said. I actually liked her logo, too, and yes, my opinion is just one. One honed by over 15 years experience in marketing communications and branding and understanding how to separate my personal preferences from the needs of the target audience, but yes, one person’s opinion.

My response to her was that my opinion didn’t matter and neither did hers in the end. I liked her logo, too, but it completely contradicted what she had told me she wanted her business to stand for – and quite frankly contradicted the more sophisticated and polished brand image of he website overall, which seemed much more aligned with what she had stated.

And that is what really matters in the end. I have no idea if maybe this logo does strike a chord and attract her target audience effectively – perhaps it does (this would take more work to figure out than just a phone call). But given what she said she wanted her brand to communicate and what her logo was communicating instead, these were my initial first reactions to the logo. And they were not what she wanted to hear. Especially after spending what I assume to be a lot of money.

Brand is in the eye of the beholder. And it’s true: if your target audience loves your look and feel and if it communicates to them exactly what you want it to, then you are right on target. However, everything – color, typeface, graphic style, size, etc – in the logo communicates something consciously and subconsciously. When you (or your designers) don’t do this due diligence in ensuring your visual elements communicate the exact message you want to the exact people you want, leaving room for misinterpretation, then the fault lies with you – not with the people perceiving your brand.