Happy Long Weekend: Your Brand’s Anthem


Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Canada Day!

It is a long weekend all across North America as two great nations celebrate their respective foundings. When “O Canada” or “The Star Spangled Banner” play this weekend, millions of people will fill with pride.

When hearing it can make you stop in your tracks, remove your hat, and stand at attention, you know music is a powerful thing. That’s the strength of a national anthem.

Anthems make you pay attention. You can’t ignore them.

Songs, on the other hand, are like candy and french fries and Adam Sandler movies; they are fun and they play an important role in our lives in the moment, but they don’t last. Anthems do.

“American Pie” by Don McLean.

“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen.

“Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.

“I Gotta Feeling” by Black-Eyed Peas.

In my mind, all of those songs are anthems. When you hear them, you really have no choice but to stop and pay attention. You will no doubt have your life’s own anthems, and they might differ greatly from mine.

What anthems will you create?

Will people sing your song for a few months this summer, or will they be standing to honor your anthem decades from now?

Have a great long weekend. Here’s to a wicked fun summer filled with inspiration, energy, and lasting memories.

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Michael Jackson, McRibs, and the Value of Discontinued Brands


Michael Jackson is worth more dead than he was alive. Nearly bankrupt in his final days, he (well, his estate) earned nearly a billion dollars in the year after his death.

Even the comeback tour that never happened managed to make $6.5 million US in ticket sales simply because many fans wanted to keep their tickets as souvenirs.

Why is a brand like Michael Jackson able to make more dead than alive?

1. When you’re dead, you can’t screw up your brand any more. Let’s face it… Michael Jackson had managed to mangle a once-brilliant brand. Through bizarre behavior, child abuse allegations, and endless plastic surgery, Michael Jackson’s brand had faded far from his Thriller days. Once he died, there was no way he could possibly do himself any more damage.

2. When you’re dead, we realize what we lost. Despite all the oddities, Michael Jackson was a once-in-a-generation musician. He created magic. Now it is gone, and it isn’t coming back. It took losing his genius for most of us to be able to recognize it.

3. When you’re dead, supply and demand work in your favor. With nothing more to offer, everything Michael Jackson did becomes more valuable. Merchadise and souvenirs become currency.  Unreleased music from before he died becomes infinitely more valuable than it otherwise would have been.

4. When you’re dead, we get to remember you the way we want to. Michael Jackson is remembered as a quirky musical genius, not a surgically-manipulated circus sideshow. Elvis Presley is remembered as young and energetic, not bloated and pathetic. Kurt Cobain is a troubled genius, not a drug-addled wife beater. We can write our own history, thank you very much.

Think about the various products that your company makes, especially the ones that have passionate customers but limited appeal. Would these fringe products be more valuable if they were completely discontinued or released in limited or time-sensitive quantities?

If this strategy sounds crazy to you, just ask McDonald’s how they are doing with their McRib sandwich. The product was a mediocre seller from 1981 to 1985. Since 1994 McDonald’s has periodically brought McRib back for limited periods. Last November, the McRib helped boost McDonald’s monthly sales by 4.8%.

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U2 and the Socially Responsible Brand


Protesters hammered U2 at the Glastonbury Festival on Friday night, inflating a giant balloon that read “U Pay Your Tax 2″. Security took down the protesters with force quickly, bringing about stories of excessive force.

The source of the protest is an accusation by the activist group Art Uncut that U2 is dodging taxes in Ireland, where the band is from.

The band members are among the world’s richest entertainers, raking in $130 million USD last year thanks to their massive world tour. A few years ago, U2 Ltd moved their operations from Ireland to The Netherlands, where music royalties incur virtually no tax.

Ireland’s economy was hit hard by the recent global reccession and has only recently started to rebound, so by moving their operations to avoid taxes U2 has struck a raw nerve with fans in their home country.

In addition, the band – particularly frontman Bono – has been active in raising awareness for issues like Third World poverty and hunger. It could be tough for some fans to reconcile the idea of a socially outspoken star taking such steps to prevent paying taxes, a large portion of which would support the social programs in his own country.

U2 needs to be very careful with this one. They have built a tremendous brand around music with social responsibility.

Tom’s Shoes has created a culture of social responsibility around their brand. The company sells shoes made by factories held to high standards in Argentina, Ethiopia, and China. For each pair of shoes they sell, they donate a pair to a child in need. It is simple formula that has turned this for-profit company into a success. People not only love their shoes, but they love that they are contributing to a child in need.

Danone Yogurt and Grameen Bank partnered in Bangladesh to create a cycle of social responsibility. They have built a local factory, sourced local products, and established a product that satisfies a social need (nutrition for malnourished children). As a result, they are financially successful in a place where 40% of the population lives in poverty.

Why should your brand take a more socially-responsible approach?

First, we are in a civic-minded societal cycle. People are looking for ways to contribute to the greater good. My friend and best-selling author Roy Williams is working on a book with co-writer Michael Drew about this very phenomenon. It will be in stores next year and will be well worth reading.  Here, Michael Drew presents The 40 Year Pendulum on YouTube.

Second, customers are far more likely to buy from a brand that they see as socially responsible. According to BrandWeek, 55% of consumers would choose a product that supports a certain cause against similar products that don’t.

The danger, should you pursue a path of increased social responsibility (and you probably should), you need to tread carefully. Once you establish what you stand for, you need to live up to that reputation at every turn. No exceptions. You can’t support the down trodden on one hand, and appear to be escaping your tax responsibility on the other.

U2 made some other brilliant branding moves in their career, including one that may have saved the band. You can learn from it in Chapter Two of Brand Like a Rock Star by ordering the book here.

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Adding Rock Star Authenticity to Your Brand


It has inspired social change.

It has helped end wars, bring down political leaders, and raise millions of dollars for worthy causes.

It has been the soundtrack of falling in love and breaking up.

It is part of every life, everywhere, all the time.

Music serves as a wonderful template for brands because it is so meaningful. Who isn’t seeking more meaning in their life?

How can businesses and brands be more meaningful?  It starts with authenticity. 

The old days of smoke-and-mirrors advertising are long behind us.  Social media and lightening-quick digital communication have forever shifted the balance of power in favor of the consumer, making it impossible for brands who lie to us to continue to do business.

Authenticity isn’t easy because it inherently involves admitting imperfection, a horribly uncomfortable proposition for brands who have long marketed themselves as perfect in every way.

By no means an exhaustive list, here are 5 ways you can begin to bring more authenticity to your brand:

1. Honesty - Be scrupulous in all you do. Treat customers with fairness and transparency. Don’t hide behind policies or voice-mail hell. This one shouldn’t be hard, but it seems time and again that it is the toughest step for brands to take.

2. Personality – Steve Jobs of Apple, Herb Kelleher at Southwest, Steve Ells of Chipotle, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, and Howard Schultz at Starbucks are all leaders who personify their respective brands. Who is the face behind your faceless business? Let’s meet her and make her a star we can fall in love with.

3. Tell stories – Since we first painted on the walls of our caves, we have been telling stories. Today’s great brands are stories themselves. The rebirth of Starbucks, the fall of RIM, and the rise of Facebook are all great stories. Business today is full of movie-worthy stories. Share them. James Dyson made his David verus Goliath business story into the cornerstone of a huge brand.

4. Engage us – Meaningful two-way dialogue is so easy today, yet so many brands fail to engage their customers and potential customers. The tools exist to have powerful conversations, solve problems before they happen, and create an incredible customer experience. Use them. And when you do, see point #1 above.

5. Show some humility – Wasn’t it fun, back when we could over-hype everything in our advertising?  Not anymore. Stop bragging about how great you are, and start demonstrating the experience your brand facilitates. What great things happen when I use your brand? How do I feel when I use your product? What benefit does your product provide that I can’t get anywhere else.

Five hallmarks of authentic brands: Honesty | Personality | Storytelling | Engaging | Gracious

The book Brand Like a Rock Star includes several chapters about honesty and authenticity in branding. You can pre-order the book from the on-line retailer of your choice here. It would also be very cool to have you join the discussion on Facebook at the Brand Like a Rock Star page.

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Keeping a Brand Alive


A few months ago her song “Friday” was unescapable, being hailed as the worst song of all-time. Rebecca Black’s debut racked up 133 million views on YouTube and became a pop culture moment-in-time.

But everybody knew then, likely including Miss Black herself, that this was a star that would burn out quickly. Keeping her flickering fame alive was not going to be easy. However, you need to give her full credit for trying.

This week many of us were talking about Rebecca Black once again, for two reasons. And there is no coincidence that they happened nearly simultaneously.

First, Rebecca appeared in a cameo role in the new Katy Perry video for the song “Last Friday Night”.

Lesson #1 for business: Partner with bigger brands to give your brand more profile. You may have to mock yourself in order to do so. When you do it, make sure you tell the world about it.

Second, the video for Rebecca’s disasterous hit “Friday” was taken off of YouTube because of a copyright dispute between Black and Ark Music, the company who received $4,000 from Black’s parents to create the song.

Lesson #2 for business: In order to give your brand more value, make it more scarce. We covet what we cannot have. When you make yourself more scarce, make sure you tell the world about it.

 Lesson #3 for business: Use controversy in your favor. A public dispute can bring attention to your brand and even sympathy to your cause.

Rebecca Black’s handlers have been wise in making both of these moves, but it is still a long-shot that they’ll be able to stretch Black’s stardom much more than they already have.


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The Dangerous Path of Line Extension


In 1978, KISS was at their commercial peak. Double Platinum had just come out, and the KISS name was on everything including comic books, lunch boxes, Halloween costumes, board games, and pinball machines. They would bank over $100 million in merchandising alone between ’77 and ’79.

And then they decided to release solo albums by all four members of the band, all on one day. On September 18, 1978, the four solo records hit stores accompanied by a massive marketing campaign.

Within a few weeks, it was evident that the experiment was a failure. Quickly the KISS solo albums started appearing in record store bargain bins. The only lasting song from the era is Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove“.

Although they would go on to record one more tremendously successful album in Destroyer in 1979, the decline had begun. It would take nearly 20 years and numerous line-up changes before the original band would reunite and recapture their early magic.

In hindsight, four solo albums probably spread the KISS brand too far.

When you look around, you’ll see brands doing the same thing all the time.

This spring my favorite beer, Canadian beer Alexander Keith’s, released a limited time Ambrosia Blonde brew. It joins their five other offerings: India Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Light Ale, Dark Ale, and Premium White.  When I first started enjoying Keith’s beer two decades ago, there was only one type of Keith’s. Now there are six.

One has to wonder… do all of these new twists on the Keith’s name attract new Keith’s drinkers or do they simply split the existing fan base six different ways?

Does Keith’s Premium White do battle with other white beer or does it steal market share from other Keith’s products?

Bud Light is the #1 selling beer in America. So when Bud Light with Lime came along, did it take market share from competitors like Miller Chill or directly from Bud Light?

When Coors introduced Coors Light in 1978, did they steal market share from other light beers… or did they make the original Coors irrelevant? Coors Light is the 4th best-selling beer in America. Finding a bottle of the original Coors is rare anywhere.

I don’t know the answers, but I do believe that at some point this type of line extension spreads the brand too far.

Does Starbucks’ Via brand instant coffee extend the Starbucks line too far?

The danger is that Starbucks has built a brand based on on warm cafe environments, rich escapes from the hustle of the world, where soothing music plays while you relax. The Via instant coffee doesn’t offer any of the elements built into the Starbucks brand. You could very well drink it from a paper cup while listening to heavy metal music in a cold car while idiots cut you off in traffic. That’s not a Starbucks experience at all.

For a beer company, they risk creating fad brews that don’t match up with the image of the brand. Keith’s is built on heritage, having been brewed the same way since 1820. Their marketing is all built around the heritage of founder Alexander Keith. Would Alexander Keith have created limited-time summer blends that are best served with a slice of orange?

Here are 3 keys to successful line extension:

1. The new product must thrive in the same world as the original brand. Diet Coke can be just as refreshing on a warm day as regular Coke. They are served the same way and consumed the same way.

2. The new product cannot violate the marketing premise of the original brand. Volvo is built on safety, and any new Volvo – SUV or sports car – cannot violate that safety premise. Jeep has taken a dangerous route creating non-trail rated Jeep station wagons like the Compass.

3. The new product must have a direct relationship with the original brand, or else both will suffer. Is Bic a lighter, a pen, or a razor? Are they the current leader in any product category? New products that do not have a direct relationship with the original brand are not line extensions, but rather much riskier brand extensions.

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The Challenge of Changing Minds: Can Blackberry Be Cool Again?


In the days pre-iPhone and pre-Android, it was cool to have a Blackberry.

Now, all that has changed.

I had a great back-and-forth with Dean Heuman on Twitter (@dheuman). Dean is a marketing and communications pro with and he is a die-hard Blackberry fan. But even Dean admits that “even if Blackberry comes out with something awesome, they are tainted with being uncool. It seems once you are tainted, you can’t be cool again.”

Can cool be recaptured?

There are some examples that suggest it is possible.

Only a decade ago, Old Spice was a washed-up brand that only your Dad would wear. Today it is the top selling men’s bath brand.

For a long time Johnny Cash was uncool, even in country music. He very quickly recovered that cool, and died a rock ‘n roll and country music icon.

Nintendo definitely looked pretty uncool compared to Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s Playstation. And then they created the Wii and changed all that instantly.

The Lacoste crocodile is suddenly cool to wear again, despite being a powerful symbol of 80s preppiness.

What can Blackberry take away from the lessons learned by these comeback brands?

1. Find new friends. Johnny Cash found uber-hip producer Rick Rubin. Old Spice found creative energy in Wieden+Kennedy and spokesperson Isaiah Mustafa. When you associate with cool, you too can become cool.

2. Take serious risks. Nintendo went after an entirely new audience for video games with Wii. Johnny Cash recorded sparse acoustic versions of alternative rock songs. If you want to move the needle, you need to do remarkable things that are inherently risky.

3. Touch pop culture. Isaiah Mustafa, as the Old Spice guy, has become a pop culture celebrity. The Wii became a pop culture phenomenon. When the world is talking about you, good things usually happen. Unless you’re BP, Anthony Weiner, or Tiger Woods.

4. Be patient. Lacoste waited nearly 20 years through the age of grunge, until the prep look came back in style. Johnny Cash waded through two decades of musical fads before his raw sound found an audience again.

5. Create scarcity. A shortage of something creates value. The lack of available Wii consoles when they were first released created a massive push for them. The death of Johnny Cash, at the peak of his comeback, left us wanting more of the Man in Black. Demand + Scarcity = Value.

I don’t know for sure if any – or all – of those lessons will apply to the fortunes of Blackberry, but I hope the brand recovers and emerges strong. It is good for competition and for the people of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, whose economic base has grown along with Blackberry’s parent company Research in Motion.

There is an entire chapter in the book Brand Like a Rock Star that examines how brands can recover their “cool”. You can pre-order the book right now.

If you don’t already follow Brand Like a Rock Star on Twitter, please do! You can also take part in the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Living Up To Brand Expectations


Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress this week, two weeks after his sexting scandal broke.

Until the scandal emerged, Weiner had a reputation as a passionate and hard-driving member of Congress. He was known for his powerful stance on health care and other social issues, as well as anti-terrorism steps. After voting to support the war in Iraq, Weiner gained a reputation for honesty when he later admitted that it was a mistake.

A few years earlier, President Bill Clinton was treated to oral sex in the Oval Office nine times from a 22 year-old intern and held on to the highest approval ratings of any president since World War II.

How can one person be brought down by sending inappropriate photos of himself, and another survive a sex scandal unlike any the political world had ever seen?

I think it has a lot to do with expectations.

Maybe we sort of expected that kind of behavior from notorious womanizer Bill Clinton. As wild as the allegations against him were, we weren’t all that surprised.  Weiner, on the other hand, was a newlywed with friends like Jon Stewart and a reputation for taking a strong stand on what is right and wrong. Maybe we expected more?

For example, Willie Nelson has been repeatedly arrested for marijuana possession. Nobody notices. If that happened to Taylor Swift, it could be a serious problem for her career.

Ozzy Osbourne bites the head off a bat, and it only enhances his reptuation. If Justin Beiber does it, the effect won’t be quite the same.

KFC can introduce the Double Down sandwich, and business goes up. If Chipotle creates a sandwich like that, they lose customers instantly.

When people expect something from your brand, you’d better live up to it.

Because when expectations aren’t met, bad things happen. Customers leave. Congressmen resign.

Do you really know what your customers expect from you?

Do you have the balls to live up to those expectations?

And the tougher question…

Do you have the balls to say no to opportunities that are temptingly profitable in the short term but damaging to your brand in the long-term?

Please join in the discussion on the Brand Like a Rock Star page on Facebook.

And the book Brand Like a Rock Star is waiting for your pre-order now.

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Brand Specialists: A Business Lesson From Clarence Clemons


The “big man” is fighting for his life this week. Clarence Clemons, the revered saxaphone player from Springsteen’s E Street Band, is battling back from a stroke, and the entire rock & roll world wishes Clarence the best.

Clarence Clemons isn’t a household name.  He’s a saxaphone player… a role player… a niche player… an expert.  Clarence Clemons is a specialist in a small niche.

Great brands are almost always specialists.

Rock star brands establish an area of expertise and become absolute experts in that niche, to the point that nobody can even compete with them.

Rolex specializes in luxury watches. They don’t make $100 watches.

Quagmire Golf specializes in edgy golf clothing.  They don’t make business clothes.

Even big department stores like Walmart and Target specialize. Walmart specializes in the lowest prices. Target specializes in affordable style.

Clarence Clemons is one of rock & roll’s great specialists. When Lady Gaga wanted someone to play sax on her new album Born This Way, she called Clarence.  Nobody wails on a saxaphone like Clarence Clemons. Get well soon Big Man.

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Little Parts of Big Brands



Today I drove an iconic stretch of highway in eastern Canada, taking the Trans-Canada highway to historic Cape Breton Island. As you enter Cape Breton, something interesting happens. The road signs, previously only in English, appear in both English and traditional Gaelic.

Do a lot of people in Cape Breton speak Gaelic? Not any more. But Gaelic is part of the rich Scottish heritage of Cape Breton Island. That cultural heritage helped to build one of the biggest industries in this part of Canada… tourism.

There is a famous ATM in East London that offers you the choice of English or Cockney.

The Cayman Islands has only a very small part of its history linked to pirates, but manages to make the Pirate Festival a major annual attraction. Those are my boys posing with “Big Black Dick” in downtown George Town during the pirate takeover.

These little things are a big part of creating a brand identity.

What elements of your brand can you exploit to help create a brand identity?

What special part of your brand is unique to you? What cool story do you tell? There is something in there… you just need to find it. Even if it is a small part of your brand, it could play a big role in helping to create a stronger identity.

The book comes out October 1, but if you would like to be among the first to have it you can pre-order Brand Like a Rock Star by simply clicking here. I appreciate your advance support!

(Photograph by Steve Jones)

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