Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Celebrating Brand Melbourne

I've never been to Vancouver and the great news is that now I don't have to because I'm already living in the "World's Most Liveable City". Yep, we finally knocked the Canadians off their pedestal.

The problem is that the title is bestowed by the Economist Intelligence Unit which, to me contains an oxymoron given the performance of economists in getting things right lately. One thing's for sure though, economists have clearly emerged as a collective of sports lovers and culture vultures, because these are two of the criteria that helped get Melbourne over the line in the comparison of about 140 cities.

I put Melbourne's success down to that funky logo we developed for ourselves a few years back - the cubist one influenced by our architecturally renowned Federation Square. Another contributor was our former 'can do' State Premier, Jeff Kennett's decision to rename Flinders Park, which became Melbourne Park to highlight to international audiences where the Australian Open Tennis Championship is played. The EIU may never have known this otherwise.

And then,of course, there's the controversial Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, which is drifting from a daytime event to being held under lights to align it with European TV viewing time and increase Bernie Eccleston's ability to increase broadcast revenues accordingly.

By international standards, Melbourne is not a cheap place to live, thanks to a booming Australian Dollar and zany real estate prices that are putting the dream of home ownership out of reach of many Gen Ys. Just ask them who they blame for this and they'll quickly point to the Boomers who, thanks to the tax benefits of negative gearing have bought property like there's no tomorrow. Bottom line is that many Gen Ys will enter the real estate market through inheritance rather than saving.

When I moved from Brisbane to Melbourne in 1981, the city was still to identify the advantages of Port Phillip Bay. Suburbs like St Kilda and Williamstown were down at heel places, full of 'character' and all that goes with that. Now they're highly sought after, trendy locales, with house prices to match.

The city's infrastructure has improved to transport people more effectively around it's horseshoe plan, wrapped around the top of the bay. Much to the chagrin of public transport advocates, we have dramatically improved freeway links, opening up the Mornington Peninsula as a commutable proposition.

I think this is one of those rare occasions when the economists have got it absolutely right. But then, I'm biased. I live here, am employed, own my home and like sport. I even use the toll roads to get around more quickly. Like anywhere, life's good when you able to take advantage of the things your city offers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to brand basics in the backyard

As previously noted, I've been doing a bit of landscaping recently, which involves the task of selecting providers of various products and services, such as excavating, shade sails, equipment hire and various types of dirt, like road base and sand.

Not knowing anyone in the area is a good way of evaluating the marketing-sales funnel at work. The usual starting point is aggregators - whether on or off-line. In my case, the search was principally online. Here, Google leads you to more aggregators like TrueLocal and other lists of owner-operated businesses, many of which still don't have websites.

So it becomes a call and hope process - phone call and hope they turn up on the day to quote. In most instances they did arrive - it being winter in Melbourne and most in the outdoor reshaping business being a bit hungrier than in the warmer months.

Presentation quality varied significantly among potential providers - some bringing their dogs to help quote, others arriving after being held up due to an 'emergency' callout. Some gave the impression that the emergency call out was the alarm clock's fifth attempt to get them out of bed after a hard night.

Quotes, if written at all, are provided on letterhead and the backs of business cards with graphic design that would struggle to get in a school child's portfolio. In other words, the sales and marketing collateral usually left much to be desired and in no way helped the purchase decision.

One guy I did hire was the excavator, largely because by accident or design, he had managed to secure the internet domain, which I didn't think was a bad effort for a one-man operation supported by a choice of a 5-tonne or 1.5-tonne bobcat. He didn't strike me as a social media guru of any sort, but perhaps I misjudged him.

Apart from that, what did drive me through the marketing-sales funnel to purchase the other stuff.  As I look back, it came down to my assessment of the authenticity of the guys (there were no gals) that I met. Personality, service approach, likely capacity to work with me to resolve my planning and resourcing issues.

It made me think that while we run all kinds of research, analysis and creative workshops to develop corporate brands, perhaps we overlook the bleedin' obvious.

I chose these guys based on criteria that were simply about their capacity to support me as I strived to achieve my goals. They were walking-talking brands, winning business and referral on the basis of delivering what was expected and, in one case, a lot more. Perhaps that's really all there is to successful branding.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Is 'Made in China' the world's biggest brand?

Been doing a bit a landscaping lately, so buying odd bits of equipment here and there has become part of every weekend. Last weekend it was a screeding bar with handle fitted. If you don't know what that is, then just ignore the technicality and read on.

What was unique about this piece of equipment was that it was 'Made in Australia'. I mean, whoa! is that a point of difference or what? It was pretty basic. No moving parts, but it was powder-coated, something we still seem to be quite proficient at here. The rarity of the piece put me in two minds about whether I should use it on the landscaping, or display it in the house as a rare sculpture.

This was the first thing I'd bought in weeks that didn't bear the 'Made in China' tag. It makes me wonder whether 'Made in China' is in fact the world's biggest and best-known brand. Even if you made a product in Australia, you might still label it 'Made in China' to leverage off the awareness!

Even something as basic as a long-handled spade is "Made in China'. I compared several of these, picking the one I thought was the best quality, only to read 'Made in China' on the sticker. So quality is not a reliable indicator of sourcing. 'Made in China' is no longer a poor relation to other superior monikers. Or is it?

What about those 'Great Wall of China' utes promoted by that irritating: It's not good. It's great! catchline?
Surely much better to buy a German-made car or, dare I suggest it, a home-grown product, than one of those. But, oh dear, look under the bonnet of your 'German-made' car and there's a decent chance these days that you may see the ubiquitous 'Made in China' sticker. The Germans have been very good at gaining a foothold in China in many sectors.

The bottom line is that 'Made in China' has become one of the most widely distributed labels in the world and, driven by a growing domestic consumer base, that's not likely to change any time soon. Whether you're shovelling dirt or hauling it, you're most likely going to be using 'Made in China' equipment.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Digital making corporate brands equal the sum of personal brands

I've been observing the activities of some individuals employed by quite large and well-known organisations who, through their own significant digital footprint, are building a personal brand that arguably outshines that of the organisation that employs them in the niches within which they specialise.

To me, this creates an almost symbiotic relationship between the employees' personal brand the the brand of the employer. It suggests that if certain individuals resign, there is a much greater risk for the employer that client and even wider relationships will follow them out the door. It also places additional demand on internal brand management.

It's an issue that many of our more open-minded, early adopter organisations in the digital space have not entirely thought through. At the outset, positioning these digitally fluent individuals as the faces of the organisation in online networks was a simple proposition. The individuals were credentialed and validated by the corporate brand that sat behind them.

But as the phenomenon of personal brand has rapidly evolved through digital media, organisational brands have become less relevant to the acceptance and credibility of the individuals that represent them.

It's an issue that's not going to disappear. In fact, it will accelerate as a greater number of employees are granted access to social media and other networks to converse on behalf of the company - whether as part of a deliberate strategy to build online brands, or simply using new forms of media to deal with day-to-day customer queries.

This trend will crystallise what many brand experts have argued for years - that brand starts internally, with total alignment of employee behaviour with brand values and promise. Organisational brands will increasingly become the sum of the collective personal brands they employ.

The implications offer enormous potential for the organisations who get recruitment, induction and behavioural modelling absolutely right. It presents enormous risk for those that get it wrong.

Humphrey Bear - A brand in need of a cuddle

I recall the days when the politically correct were calling for Aussie children's icon, Humphrey Bear, to be banned because he wore no pants. The other day I noted that, like the Emperor, Humphrey now has no clothes.

You see, the production company that owned the Humphrey Bear character went into administration a couple of years ago. The upshot of that is that Humphrey's most recent public appearance, after a two-year absence, was in 'For Sale' advertisement placed in The Financial Review by the company's receivers.

Question is - what is Humphrey worth? This is a crumpled brand that will need to emerge from hibernation and tackle a whole array of far more contemporary characters and distractions. And let's face it, the tail end of Gen Z and the emerging Gen Alpha are a pretty savvy and hard bunch to please as they practice their keyboard strokes from birth to engage with modern-day entertainment.

I challenge brand gurus to throw up some ideas about how they would tackle the rejuvenation of the Humphrey Bear brand. Does he need to rap with Eminem? Perhaps throw away the green waistcoat and climb into an Industrie ensemble? Perhaps enter the bear pit of The X Factor or Australia's Got Talent to re-establish his credentials? 

The sad thing is that any brand equity remaining with Humphrey is among the generations who were brought up with him - boomers and Gen X - neither of which is going to be of any value now. I even heard Kochie on Seven's Sunrise commenting this morning that he might be worth buying.

Now that would hasta la vista for Humphrey B - Kochie buying the rights and donning the bear suit for the Sunrise audience!