Branding The Cayman Islands, Rock Star Style

This week we’ve looked at techniques for branding real estate agents, restaurants, and personalities. Today, we examine the branding of an entire country.

The winter of 2006-2007 was my favorite winter of all time. That was the winter I spent living in the Cayman Islands, and took all of the photos in this post. But the Cayman Islands has faced some interesting branding challenges lately, and they aren’t easy to solve. Along with financial services, tourism is their main industry, and attracting those tourists is tough these days. Most come for the day on cruise ships, but far fewer stay for days at a time. Tourists that stay only a few hours don’t spend nearly as much money as those who stay a week.

Despite rampant gang violence, tourism in much of Mexico is healthy, fueled by massive all-inclusive hotels, spring breakers, and endless white sand beaches. Jamaica, despite plenty of negative press because of drug violence, continues to promote it’s beaches, culture, and people to tourists. With Bob Marley’s music and “no problem, mon” on their side, building their brand is easier.

The Cayman Islands doesn’t have Bob Marley. It doesn’t have many all-inclusive hotels. There are only a few beaches on the island, albeit spectacular ones. Spring breakers can’t afford to vacation there, and bars close relatively early. There are no mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, or similar natural wonders unless you scuba dive. Only one public golf course exists. There is no nationally-known drink like tequila or Appleton rum to brand the country with. What’s a tiny island to do?

Well, I like what they came up with. Instead of attempting to compete against the point of strength of Jamaica or Mexico or other vacation spots, they are positioning against their point of weakness. With their “Cayman-kind” branding, the Cayman Islands is all about comfort and luxury. There isn’t much on the site about beaches and resorts. The underlying message of Caymankind is “if you come to the Cayman Islands, you won’t see all of the poverty you see elsewhere”. And that claim is largely true.

There’s just one problem: it doesn’t go far enough.

To be truely effective, it needs to go one step further, and promote the islands as the kind of place where you can walk down the street after dark and feel totally safe. They need to promote that there are no all-inclusives because leaving the resort is so safe, and there are too many world-class restaurants to sample to force you to eat at one hotel. Their marketing should encourage people to walk around, take a bus, rent a car, explore on their own, and never feel lost or worried about their well-being. You can’t do that in Mexico, Jamaica, or most Caribbean destinations.

Take it one step further. Become ”The Cayman Islands… The Kinder Islands”.

If they went that extra step, every advertisement would not just promote their island, but it would subtly reposition nearly every Caribbean island as crime-ridden, poverty-stricken, and confining.

That is how smart branding works. You position yourself relative to your competitors, and by promoting your position you inherently flaunt your competitor’s weaknesses. With every ad, you drive home the competition’s negative perceptions that ultimately benefit your brand.

It would alienate some tourists. They would think the Cayman Islands are snobby and stuck-up and overpriced. Fine. They don’t need to win the hearts and minds of every vacationer, they only need to win the hearts and minds of those wealthy enough to vacation in a paradise they can feel safe in.

What do you think of the Cayman Islands branding job? The only issue I have with it is that while it sells me on visiting Cayman, it stops short of convincing me that it is dangerous and unwise to go anywhere else.

(All photographs taken by Steve Jones)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Bob Marley, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Mexico 1,531 Comments

The Myth of Personal Branding

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I think the concept of “personal branding” is a scam to extract money from the insecure.

Am I alone in not getting the buzz around the concept of personal branding?

On Twitter, I closely monitor conversations about branding and I am constantly sifting through article after article about “personal” branding.  From what I can gather, personal branding is like any other kind of branding, applied to your public perception as an individual.

While I agree that you should go on Facebook and remove pictures of you barfing in the garbage can at a college frat party, and you should put forward the best possible image to match your aspirations, I don’t believe that you can create a personal brand that isn’t real. You either are remarkable, or you aren’t. You are either compelling and engaging, or you’re not.

You can paint a picture of yourself on-line to portray yourself as something you aren’t, but it won’t take long for the real world to figure you out.

The best brands - personal or otherwise - are authentic. They reflect that authenticity in everything they do. They are unique and proud of it. They take part in sincere conversations and exchanges with their customers. They accept that they won’t be embraced by everyone, but work hard to foster a relationship with those who do love them.

Alice Cooper is a rock star who has spent 40 years shocking us with his stage antics, gothic costumes, and hard rockin’ music. He also helps rock stars who are recovering from alcohol and drug abuse. He’s a born-again Christian. And he collects expensive Breitling watches.

What would a personal branding expert tell Alice Cooper?  Don’t talk about the Christianity because it might scare off the hard rock fans. Don’t mention the Breitling watches because it might turn off the working-class fans. Avoid getting into the rehab work, since rock stars are supposed to love booze and drugs. Fortunately, Alice Cooper knows better, and doesn’t hide any of his quirky un-rock star qualities.

I don’t know. Somehow it feels to me that people who put a lot of effort into ”personal” branding are attempting to polish a turd.

Am I crazy?

Alice Cooper, personal branding 1,943 Comments

Restaurant Rock Stars

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Earlier this week, we looked at the real estate field and how the principles in Brand Like A Rock Star can be put to real-world use. Toady, we’ll check out how to make them work in restaurant branding. Later in the week we’ll look at branding a country and examine the re-branding efforts of a Caribbean island in need of more tourists.

So my wife and I have been sucked into the NBC reality show America’s Next Great Restaurant. I think I’m a sucker for business/branding reality shows like this and Shark Tank, although in general I don’t watch reality TV.

Here are three of the Brand Like A Rock Star principles put into action in the food industry:

1. Great brands often introduce new concepts by taking things we understand, and packaging them together to create something new.  Many look at Nirvana‘s Nevermind album as a landmark record, and indeed it was. It signalled the arrival of grunge and made life difficult for traditional hard rock hair bands. It truely changed music. But Nirvana wasn’t nearly as alternative as most people believe. Even singer Kurt Cobain openly talked about how they simply took catchy pop music hooks and surrounded them with deeply personal and emotional lyrics. The result was an entirely new genre of music.

Chipotle is an example of a restaurant that took two things we already understood, and combined them to create something new. We all understood the idea of locally-sourced foods, organic and sustainable farming, and health-conscious cooking. We all also understood the concept of burritos and tacos. Chipotle created an entirely new kind of restaurant by bringing together two things we already understood, and gave us “Food with Integrity”.

2. Great brands, and great bands, focus on being amazing at one thing.  AC/DC is, and always has been, a fun, hard-rockin’ band that sings straight ahead songs about drinkin’, drivin’, partyin’, and gettin’ it on. They have never sang about the angst of a relationship falling apart or the perils of those in the third world trapped by political dictatorships. They are simple and focused, and we all understand exactly what we are getting when we buy a ticket to an AC/DC concert.

Canadian restaurant Cora’s is open for breakfast and lunch, and then they close. They aren’t a 24-hour breakfast place like Denny’s. They lock the doors and turn out the lights after lunch. Would they make more money if they had a dinner menu and kept the doors open for a few more hours? Maybe, but then they wouldn’t be unique. They wouldn’t have their distinct platform to stand on. Cora’s is quickly becoming top-of-mind for breakfast and brunch in Canada, and if they were open the same hours as every other restaurant they would lose that position and be just another restaurant.

3. It isn’t just about the food, it is about the experience you offer.  I could have seen Paul McCartney play any number of concerts last summer, but I chose to see him play in Hyde Park in London because it felt special to see a former Beatle play an outdoor concert in this legendary location. While the music was important, it quickly became secondary to the overall sensory experience. In fact, the high point for me was joining 50,000 others in singing the “Na Na Na” chorus of  ”Hey Jude” as we made our way past Speaker’s Corner and across crowded Oxford Street to the tube station.

The experience of eating at Regina Pizzeria in Boston’s north end is what draws people there, despite their numerous satellite locations scattered all over metro Boston into New Hampshire. The original Thacker Street restaurant is still the best place to get an amazing pizza and pitcher of beer, served by a server who is reasonably happy to serve you  as long as you know exactly what you want, don’t ask any questions, and don’t make her wait. With shades of Seinfeld’s infamous “Soup Nazi”, the line-up and the questionable service at Regina’s are part of the experience. In fact, customer reviews frequently mention the lack of good service as being part of the charm!

So many of the Rock Star principles can be easily applied to branding restaurants. It is such a competitive and cut-throat industry that building a strong brand is a matter of life or death to a new restaurant.

On Friday we’ll look at the re-branding efforts of the Cayman Islands, a tiny Caribbean outpost in need of more tourists, and see if the Brand Like A Rock Star concepts stand up when branding entire countries.

AC/DC, Chipotle, Cora, Nirvana, Paul McCartney, Regina Pizzeria, Seinfeld 999 Comments

Real Estate Rock Stars

One of the questions I most often get is “how do I apply the rock star principles to my business?”. So today lets looks at putting three of the Rock Star Principles into action in a field that I frequently speak to, real estate.

Real estate is a funny business because so few agents effectively brand themselves, yet a brand is incredibly vital to success. It is a business where those who can successfully build a brand can make a lot of money!

Rock Star Principle #1 – Be unique! KISS went from obscurity to stardom in one year by being unlike anything we had ever see before. Real estate agents, however, are notorious for all doing the same things. They all advertise in the same places and their ads all look the same. The Property Guys decided to finally shake things up. As subtle as this sounds, it gets them noticed in a major way… they simply have round signs instead of the usual real estate signs. Property Guys signs look like lollipops! Because of that, they get noticed.

Rock Star Principle #2 – Sell the experience, not the product! Jimmy Buffett sells middle aged dreamers like me the chance to be a carefree beach bum for a day. It isn’t just music that draws people to his concerts, it is the experience… the temporary escape from reality. In real estate nearly every single ad reads the same. There is an endless supply of “3 bedroom, 2 bathroom bungalows” on every street. Instead of selling houses, start selling the experience of a family playing in the yard, climbing the tree in the front yard, and decorating the living room for the holidays. Sell the experience, not just another house.

Rock Star Principle #3 – Build a loyal following. The Grateful Dead famously built up a massive network of “Dead Head” fans without ever having hits on the radio. They did it in a number of ways, one of which was by giving something back to their fans. They encouraged them to tape their concerts, they created special sections at their shows for people who wanted to dance instead of sit down, and they rewarded their fans with free gifts like new songs and behind-the-scenes news about the band. Real estate agents could be doing the same thing. They could create a list of trusted trades people so that new people to the neighborhood would know a good plumber or electrician. They could help set up neighborhood watch programs. They could host free seminars on home improvements or increasing your home’s value. All of these initiatives would have no immediate return, but would build up a loyal network of fans who will eventually need a new home.

Those are just three of the many Rock Star Principles put into real-world action in the real estate business. Later this week we will put three more principles into play in the very competitive and brand-centric restaurant field.

If you have any questions about these principles or would like to have me speak to your group or business, email  If you just want to comment, please leave your thoughts and insights below for the world to see.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Grateful Dead, Jimmy Buffett, KISS 1,252 Comments

The Weekend Branding Brief – March 26, 2011: Volume and Loud Noises

So many commercials scream at me. Loud voices, bright colours, big letters, limited time offers. What gets lost in all of this hype is that the volume of your voice doesn’t matter… the volume of your message is what matters. If you have something powerful to say, and you say it in a compelling way, I’ll hear it. I’ll act on it. The moment you start yelling, you lose me. My BS detector tells me that you have nothing to say, so you are compensating by yelling.  Instead, be real and human. Tell a great story from the heart. Instead of being the loud mouth at the party we all avoid, be the story teller at the party that we all gather around to talk to. Inspire me, and lose the loud noises.

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Anchorman, Storytelling 1,928 Comments

Green Day Meets Sun Tzu: Knowing Your Brand’s Enemy

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To Green Day, ”Know Your Enemy” may have been just a song. To legendary Chinese military strategist and philospher Sun Tzu, lives depended on “know your enemy”. It was a key aspect of any battle.

In chapter three of The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote:

“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

When you attempt to introduce a new brand into the market, you are going into battle.  Knowing your enemy is absolutely critical because it helps you define your position.

Here are some simple questions to ask when getting to know your enemy:

1. What is your competitor’s key image? What single word or image to they own in the mind of the customer?
2. What makes that word or image so great?
3. What is the inherent weakness in that word or image? Every image has a built-in weakness.
4. How can you position that weakness as your strength?

Here’s a real-world example:

Home Depot built an empire by being the place you went when you wanted to do-it-yourself. There are plenty of handy people and contractors milling about and often there is sawdust on the floor, proof of hard work. Home Depot is a very masculine place. Home Depot is “Do it yourself”.

When Lowe’s built their image, the fantastic “do it yourself” image was already taken. The built-in weakness to “do it yourself” is that many of us can’t do it ourselves. We lack the skills. It is intimidating to build things. We want to do it, but Home Depot scares the crap out of us.

Lowe’s created their image out of the inherent weakness in Home Depot’s strength. Lowe’s is cleaner and less intimidating. There isn’t a sense of being overwhelmed. It is the place you go when you want some help doing-it-yourself.  Lowe’s is almost feminine in it’s approach to home improvement, when compared to masculine Home Depot.

Lowe’s isn’t “do it yourself”. Lowe’s positioning statement is “Let’s build something together.

Meanwhile, Home Depot’s positioning statement is “More saving, more doing.”

Before you attempt to take on the established leader in your market, stop and look carefully at what they stand for. At first it may appear that they own the “good” territory, but chances are very strong that there is an opposite set of values that you can take that will make you stand out. You will have, in effect, repositioned them and simultaneously created your own product category that you can be king of. All because you know your enemy!

Green Day, Home Depot, Lowe's, Sun Tzu 1,290 Comments

The Human Connection: Why Music Is A Perfect Template For Branding

It was spring on a Friday afternoon, a few hours before the high school dance. I had just had my 15 year-old heart spit out and stomped on by some evil girl. She found another boy – some preppy kid who looked James Spader in Pretty In Pink - that she liked better than me.

I was devasted. A broken man. My life was over and I didn’t even have a driver’s license yet.

And then I was saved by REO Speedwagon.

When Kevin Cronin came on the radio and belted out “if that’s the way you want it baby, then I don’t want you around” I was suddenly empowered! I wasn’t going to let this tramp ruin me. It was game on.

We all have those songs that speak to us on a deeply personal level, when it sounds like the singer is singing just to you.

That’s what makes rock ‘n roll such a great template for sharing branding and business lessons… the human connection.

Great brands today are becoming increasingly human. Smart marketers are realizing that people don’t form lasting bonds with faceless corporations. We bond with humans. We bond with those who show us respect, love, care, and interest. We bond with other imperfect beings who aren’t afraid to bare their souls and expose their flaws now and then.

For a long time, marketers have pushed messages at people.

Today’s smart marketers are giving back, talking, sharing, offering support, showing some love, and engaging in meaningful dialogue. They are singing to you and with you, not talking at you.

Marketing that pushes is the annoying guy at the party who won’t stop talking about himself. You can’t wait to get rid of him.

Marketing that engages is the person at the party who everybody wants to be around, because the conversation is so rewarding. When you get to the party, you look for that person.

Which person do you want your company to be?

Being original, creative, honest, and generous are themes well explored by Gary Vaynerchuk in his new book The Thank You Economy. I’m reading it now, and it is speaking directly to me the same way Kevin Cronin once did. Thank you, Gary.

If you enjoyed this post and are passionate about music and business, please consider subscribing to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. I will never share your contact info. You can also subscribe by RSS feed using the button on the upper right portion of the page.

Gary Vaynerchuk, REO Speedwagon 1,240 Comments

Sammy Hagar: Abducted By PR Aliens?


Sammy Hagar, former lead singer of Van Halen and current singer for Chickenfoot, has confessed in his new book Red that he was abducted by aliens. According to Hagar, they either uploaded or downloaded things into his brain during an encounter years ago.

Would that account for his bragging that his new band, Chickenfoot, would be “ten times better than Van Halen”?
Maybe it would legitimize the boasting he did when he claimed Chickenfoot would be “better than Led Zeppelin”.

Sammy Hagar is, on one hand, a role model for rock star branding. He has turned his musical career into a famous restaurant and nightclub in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, another Cabo Cantina in California, a trio of “Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar and Grill” locations, and a popular line of Cabo Wabo tequila. He is like a hard rock version of Jimmy Buffett.

On the other hand, he has continually made bombastic statements about his band that do nothing but set the table for disappointment. Now, by coming forward with his claims of alien abduction, Hagar has again diluted what could be a very cool brand.

What do you think? Is Sammy Hagar a brilliant brand manager or nutty rock star who got lucky with the Cabo Wabo theme?

If you enjoyed this post and are passionate about music and business, please consider subscribing to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. I will never share your contact info. You can also subscribe by RSS feed using the button on the upper right portion of the page.

Cabo Wabo Cantina, Sammy Hagar, Van Halen 1,786 Comments

3 Things Your Business Can Learn From U2′s "The Joshua Tree"

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Twenty four years ago today, U2 released an album that remains one of the rock era’s all-time greatest. The Joshua Tree sold over 25 million copies and went to number one in 20 countries.  Songs like “With Or Without You”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Where The Streets Have No Name”, and “Bullet The Blue Sky” stand up as classics a quarter-century later.


1. Sometimes a whisper is louder than a scream. Guitar players in the mid-80s loved to play loud and fast. Most songs featured soaring guitar solos and Eddie Van Halen influenced speed playing. In contrast, Edge played a sparse style that maximized each note and created a mood in each song. Against a backdrop of heavy metal guitar gods, Edge stood out.

Does your business whisper when others scream? Do you stand out by being different than your competitors? Use white space and subtlty instead of screams and flashy colors, and you might be surprised with the results.

2. Find your passion. You’ll never be convincing if you don’t believe in what you are saying. Bono tapped into his love/hate relationship with America to create the songs on The Joshua Tree. He had visited Africa and seen people in immense poverty with tremendous spirit. He then toured America and saw great wealth, but felt there was a missing spirit.

Are you selling something you are passionate about? If you don’t believe your own story, nobody else is going to believe you. We only believe in people who believe in themselves and believe in us.

3. Honesty works. Unlike most albums, the majority of the music on The Joshua Tree was recorded “live” off the studio floor. Most albums are recorded by laying down each instrument seperately and putting the various pieces together to create a song. The result is sonic perfection, but what goes missing is raw honesty. U2 captured honesty on The Joshua Tree, and we all felt it with every listen.

Does your marketing convey honesty? Do you open up dialogue in social media with your customers? Do you give advice and share your knowledge? Or are you stuck in the old world, pushing your marketing message at people relentlessly?

U2 125 Comments

My Rock ‘n Roll Bucket List

A few weeks ago a regular reader asked me to put together a list of all the concerts I’ve seen.

I started out chronological, beginning with the bands from the 80s that toured around the small town in Canada where I grew up.  Most of them are mysteries to any readers outside of Canada, but some went on to bigger things, like Tom Cochrane (“Life Is A Highway”) and a few others.

Then there are the festivals. I was at Woodstock ’94, but does seeing a band from a mile away really count? If so, add The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Melissa Etheridge, Green Day, and a dozen or so others to the list.

There are big names, including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, AC/DC, The Police, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, The Eagles, John Fogerty, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Jimmy Buffett, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, Rush, Garth Brooks, Robbie Williams, Paul McCartney, Matchbox Twenty, Pearl Jam, Crosby Stills and Nash, and multiple Springsteen shows both with and without the E Street Band. I haven’t seen U2 oddly enough, but I plan to this summer.

While living in the Caribbean a few years ago we caught some cool reggae shows, like Maxi Priest, Morgan Heritage, and Shaggy.

But what stood out while making the list were the shows I didn’t see, and never will.

Bob Marley
The Grateful Dead

John Lennon


Marvin Gaye

Michael Jackson

Led Zeppelin

The Who (the real Who with Moon and Entwistle)

Who is on your wish list? Which bands influenced the way you see the world?

If you enjoyed this post and are passionate about music and business, please consider subscribing to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. I will never share your contact info. You can also subscribe by RSS feed using the button on the upper right portion of the page.

Uncategorized 141 Comments