Viewing entries in

Your Brand is the Stories People Tell About You

This weekend I saw a comment a friend had posted on Facebook: “[Husband] and I went to the Edina Art Fair today, in hopes the photographer who inspired our Italy trip would be there again this year. When we first started dating, we went to the EAF and stopped in our tracks in front of a huge panoramic of Positano, Italy. We each said, “I want to go there,” and then joked {because we’d only been dating a couple of months} that if we got married, we’d go there for our honeymoon. 2.5 years later, we stood in the spot we remember seeing in Darren Olson’s photo, and had another couple take a photo of us. A little surreal to think that joke turned into reality. Today, we saw his booth and I immediately started crying. What an amazing, adventure-filled three years it has been. I could hardly hold it together when I told Darren the story! I can’t WAIT to have one of his canvases hanging on our wall.” 

In marketing, we often talk about the power of story. While many brands have refined their brand story, it’s rare to find a brand that is truly listening and looking for their story through the lives and mouths of those who love them. Every time someone talks about your company, they’re writing a paragraph in the story of who you are. To think your story starts and stops with you (or ends at the point of transaction), is like only reading the prologue.

Your brand is the stories people tell about you. If you want to know who you really are…just listen. They’ll tell you.

Breaking Brand: 5 Brand Lessons from AMC's Breaking Bad

One of the greatest series in television history came to an end last night. It’s no secret that I have been a fanatic Breaking Bad fan since season 1, and while I certainly don’t have any interest in getting creative with chemistry, I do think Walter and friends have left behind a legacy of wisdom nuggets. From the White family breakfast table to the final moments of last night’s forever farewell, let’s take a look at five brand-relevant tidbits we picked up during five seasons of Breaking Bad… KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. One of the major contributors to Walt and Jesse’s long-running success was a result of identifying a need, understanding their market and creating a superior product based on that knowledge.

TAKEAWAY There’s a conventional tidbit of wisdom that basically says, “You’ll never learn anything while you’re talking.” So many brands are focused on talking at consumers, rather than listening to them, that they miss valuable opportunities to identify the needs and wants of the people they’re trying to reach. Entering into a brand-consumer relationship without doing the legwork to explore what consumers are saying about you, your competitors and your product just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you can invest time and money in focus groups or you can meet people where they are and simply hush up and listen. Word of mouth is a powerful mechanism for feedback, insight and input. Whether or not you’re part of the conversation, people are out there talking about you. If you want to give them what they want, you first have to understand what they want.

BRANDING MATTERS. The infamous blue color of Walt and Jesse’s product was noted time and time again throughout the series. It quickly became synonymous with a high quality, which in turn, created high demand.

TAKEAWAY Whether you’re manufacturing cars in the Midwest, developing apps in Kansas City or bottling wine in Argentina, you’re probably not the only one doing that thing you do. What you can be, is the only one doing it the way you do it.

TOMS isn’t the only company making shoes. Warby Parker isn’t the only shop that will sell you a new pair of frames. Chipotle isn’t the only place you can buy a burrito the size of your head. What makes each of these brands special is that they have not only found – but taken ownership – of their special. I know that when I buy a pair of TOMS shoes or Warby Parkers, I’m cast in the role of shopping superhero, as my investment gives these brands a way to give back, too. When I order a burrito bowl at Chipotle, I know what I’m getting, because Chipotle leads with their special. Ultimately, I know what to expect, because these brands know what they expect from themselves.

I read in a tidbit of Pinterest wisdom this weekend, “Your culture is your brand.” Branding transcends a pretty logo or packaging (though these things are vitally important, too). Branding is the consistent experience you provide, the remarkable people you hire, the permission you give your people to do the right thing. From the way you greet customers at the door to the amenities in your restrooms, the tone of voice in your email blasts to the easter egg hidden on your website – everything you do and say is an extension of your brand and branding. Make it blue.

PARTNERSHIPS ARE POWERFUL. From the early days of Walt and Jesse to Saul to Hector and Gustvo Fring, Todd and Jack to the lovely-yet-lethal Lydia (stevia, anyone?), Breaking Bad is a pendular lesson on the power of partnerships.

TAKEAWAY As consumers our dollar is our voice and our vote. When you place your card on the counter, you’re not just making a purchase, you’re entering into a partnership. With each dollar you spend, you declare, “I believe in this brand and what they stand for. We are in this together. I’m not just investing with them, I’m invested in them.” We want to invest in brands that makes us feel like we’re part of their story, not just a transaction.

As a brand, we must remember that marketing is about people. It’s important to step back and evaluate how you’re treating your people. Are you talking at them or engaging with them? Are you giving them an opportunity and invitation to become part of your story or are you just expecting them to go out into the world and repeat it?

YOUR PEOPLE WILL MAKE OR BREAK YOUR BRAND If the final season of Breaking Bad has taught us anything, it’s that you live and die by the people on your team. (In the instance of Breaking Bad, this truth is quite literal…)

TAKEAWAY Take a closer look at exceptional brands and you’ll discover they have certain threads in common. At the top of the list: a team that believes in what they’re doing and has a clear vision of where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

Great teams do not just happen, they are made. Building a great team begins with a strong leader who identifies individual strengths, gives people a chance to shine and pulls people up with them along the way. When leaders are transparent and honest, visionary and communicative, others will follow and drive the brand forward. When a leader loses sight of the goal – or worse, loses their passion and appreciation for their team – the whole ship will go down in flames.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT BREAKFAST. Breaking Bad gave new life to the age-old expression, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” From episode one, breakfast became a silent cast member in the series, giving the White family a regular reason to regroup. Though the circumstances and relationships evolved and dissolved from season to season, this ritual forced them to come together and take a time out to reconnect.

TAKEAWAY Many of the most important, meaningful and insightful conversations happen when we come together and take a timeout. This is true in business and in life. It seems many brands are on a never-ending quest to leverage the latest technology and embrace the “next big thing” in order to reach new people and audiences. In doing so, they often they forget the fans who have been along for the ride, down in the trenches and have loved them all along.

Numbers are numbers. They measure how many people you’ve convinced to click a like button on a page. What’s the value of 10,000 fans if none of them really knows your brand? What’s the value of 10,000 people with their hands out waiting for a coupon, but aloof to your story or success? Don’t lose sight of the people who really get you. Invite them to the table, ask them to share, find a way to connect. Take them to breakfast together. These are the relationships that matter – and their value is immeasurable.

So…to all of you Breaking Bad fans out there (inevitably nursing a bout of series finale blues this morning), chime in! What was your key takeaway from Breaking Bad?


This post first appeared on

How a woman named Thelma changed my views on marketing...and helped me clean up my act.

mrs. meyers soap radish When I was little and we would leave a restaurant, two things would inevitably happen. My dad would pop a red-and-white peppermint in his mouth before we had hit the door, and as soon as we climbed in the car my mom would roll down the window, gasping for fresh air. I always liked the smell of mint so I never understood her aversion, but the day I walked face-first into a friend's vanilla candle-laden home, it all started to make sense. I felt like someone had smeared my nose in a cupcake. And while I love a cupcake just as much as the next girl, I'd rank artificial cupcake scent somewhere between "wet dog" and "dorito feet" on the olfactory offensiveness scale.

Among all the wonderful things I inherited from my mother, it seems  I also inherited her acute sense of smell.

Which is precisely what inspired my first purchase of Mrs. Meyers hand soap. Actually, that's not true. The design drew me in, the scent sold me. I'd like to say "the rest is history" (because that would make for an epically succinct blog post), but it wasn't so. That afternoon, standing in the soap aisle at Target, was just the beginning of a true love story about to unfold.

There aren't a lot of brands I'd profess to love. Even fewer I would say make me feel giddy with joy. Mrs. Meyers is both of those and more. And as someone who so feels enraged over paying $12 for a pack of toilet paper that she has to text her sister to express said anger from the store, pledging allegiance to a $4 bottle of hand soap is kind of a big deal.

Months after becoming a Mrs. Meyers fan, I finally moseyed over to to check out Thelma's website...only to discover a mecca of marketing excellence. (I'm only sort of joking when I say I tiny digital branding and identity angels descended on my screen...)

Beautiful, clean, on-brand site design! Amazing execution of brand storytelling! A tagline that integrates the phrase "like the dickens!"

And that's when the music began. 

Had I found the Holy Grail of  marketing done right?

So here we are. You be the reader, I'll be the writer. And we'll spend the next couple weeks worth of blog posts taking a look at a company that is more than just another pretty smell.

Cupcake huffers need not apply.

You're Not Special

Over the weekend, a teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts gave a rather controversial commencement speech to the graduating class of 2012. Slammed for repeatedly reminding the students “you are not special,” it’s fair to say McCullough’s speech was a bit of an audience-shocker and media stir stick. At the very least, it certainly was not the warm, fuzzy, possibility-filled, metaphor-laden tune we’ve become accustomed to enduring at such events. And while I’m not sure I would have been prepared to digest his message at the tender, wide-eyed age of 17, at 30, I am able distance myself from the shock factor to find some sage insight within. “You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another, we have of late, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards or ignore reality if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it. Now it’s “So what does this get me?

I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about. The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap. The point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands.

The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

Because everyone is.”

This is a message for every business and brand. I speak on behalf of every marketer who has ever wanted to tell you this. Your brand isn’t special just because it is exists. You are not remarkable just because you ran an online promotion and garnered 10,000 new Facebook likes or gained a couple thousand twitter fans. You are not exceptional because of your clever advertisements, memorable commercials or the awards lining your lobby shelves and walls. These things are simply the qualifiers of a “what does this get me?” mentality. And “what does this get me?” is the question a client asks right before they doom themselves to fail.

Good, honest, real marketing shouldn’t be centered around what you gain as a brand, it should celebrate how you play the game, and how you learn and grow (or help other people learn and grow). It should be about how much you enjoy doing what you do. These things are real and genuine and true. The alternative is choosing to keep your eyes fixed on the scoreboard while the game is happening on the field.

Herein lies the truth: Your brand is special because of your passion. You are special because of the mission and cause you believe in. You are special because of the conviction that energizes you and gets you out of bed each day. You special because of the mark you want to make. The people you want to help. That thing you want to do. Your best imaginable day. You are special because of the thing (and people) you love, and your belief in their importance.

Success, much like the fulfilling life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap. As McCullough says, the point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands. Focus on genuine achievement, realizing that accolades will follow. Trophies tend to get packed away over the years, but a love letter never tarnishes. The scenic route is rarely the quickest route, but is often the road we remember.

Good, honest, real marketing won’t ever tell you what you want to hear. It won’t tell you that you’re special just to make you smile. Good, honest, real marketing helps you recognize and accept that everyone is special…and then gives you the tools, reveals the path and opens the door to becoming something truly exceptional.

When I say “Starbucks,” you say...???

What words or phrases come to mind when you see a Starbucks logo? What feelings do you associate with the Porsche seal? What do you think about when you pass a truck with the FedEx mark painted on its side? Here’s a fun little midweek find that will give you some insight on how other people are answering similar questions.

Brandtags is a crowdsourced collection of consumer brand sentiment. The premise is that a brand exists entirely in people’s heads, therefore a brand is whatever they (people/customers) say it is. Brandtags is a place where people can share their opinions about brands freely, and brand owners can learn how their brands are viewed.

Check out Brandtags to try out logo free association, or to explore how others define the brands that play a part in our daily lives.

Growing Pains (and Pins): Should Brands Be On Pinterest?

“Pinterest really seems like the next big thing.”“I’m not sure how we can use [Pinterest], but I’m on it because it seems like we should be.” “I don’t know how it will add value to our marketing, but we’re getting on Pinterest because everyone else is.”

The above are REAL statements I have come across online or have heard in conversation relating to brands on Pinterest.

Let me be the first to say: Ick. Ick. And ick.

We’ve recently had a bit of casual BOF banter about whether Pinterest is a good forum for brand participation. The reviews have been mixed to say the least. Upon floating the question to the Twittersphere, feedback (mostly from kindred spirits in the marketing world) has been surprisingly split. Some feel it’s a great space for self-promotion, while others expressed that they feel it is a sacred space and marketers shouldn’t muddy the water.

As an early adopter of Pinterest, I appreciated that, until recently, it was a relatively marketing-free space. It felt pure and untainted. For me there was a rare sense of communal credibility in knowing the things people pinned were shared because they truly enjoyed and believed in them. NOT because they were trying to convince me to buy a $500 pair of leggings or a $70,000 car.

With the influx of brands racing to get on board now that Pinterest has gone mainstream, it has changed the Pinterest game a bit. I have seen fashion brands regurgitate and pin images from every page of their catalogs. I have seen advertisements pinned as though Pinterest is nothing more than a free marketing forum. And as a result, I have started to see the spirit of Pinterest shift from “Look at how great THIS is” to “Look at how great WE are.“

While I recognize it is within a brand’s right to play in the space, it leaves me with the same “ugh” feeling I experienced the first time I came across a T.G.I. Fridays in Europe. Sure, you can be there, but should you be?

THE GOOD It’s not all doom and gloom for brands on Pinterest. I recently spoke with our friend Ryan Morgan, Director of Marketing at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, and he redeemed my faith in brands on Pinterest a bit. Jeni’s is using Pinterest to give their fans and advocates VIP access to the brand.. Pinterest feels like a natural space for Jeni’s in my opinion. They’re not forcing their way into their fans’ lives, they’re inviting them behind the scenes and into their test kitchen. And that, if you’ll pardon the pun, is pretty cool.

So. What say you? Do brands belong on Pinterest? Is it an appropriate space to self-promote or should brands trust their fans to advocate for them in an organic, authentic way? Does it bother you to see brands working their way onto the pinboards you follow? And do you know of any brands that are doing Pinterest really well? Or no so well?

Step up and share your thoughts. We’ll be on pins and needles waiting to hear your thoughts…

Popsicles, Sparklers and Creative Inspiration

Last weekend the weather was delightfully warm here in Greenville. The sun was shining, the birds were singing - it felt like spring. On one of several strolls with my dog, I came across three little boys playing with a box in their front yard. As I watched them play, it was obvious the box was not just a box. It was a fort, a playhouse, a tank, an infinite number of possibilities limited only by their imaginations. My Saturday stroll was a good reminder of how differently we think as children. When kids look at a box, they don't just see a box - they see possibilities. They see a box not as it is - but for everything it could be. Childhood is an infinite summer (even when it's just a winter reprieve in late January.) As time marches on, we begin thinking more concretely. We see a box where we see a box. Our days cease to be defined by quickly melting popsicles and tire swings, bellyflops and neighborhood games of "Kick-the-Can." We begin to mark our days and months with rituals of responsibility - bills paid, inboxes cleaned out, items marked off our TO DO list. Slowly, in a little boat for one, we allow the splishing and splashing of the tide to draw us out into the sea of adulthood, drifting further and further away from fun, imagination and possibility.

For the creative adult, we spend most of our lives trying to find a way to return to the eternal summer of childhood. A place where the mind and imagination work in harmony - one challenging the other to be better, do more and dream bigger. A time when mistakes were nothing to be feared, just a spark for improvisation. A moment when night writing with wildly twinkling sparklers made all of us feel like the poet laureate of our front yard.

Hemingway once said, "The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing." I am inclined to agree.

Today I'm encouraging all of us to think differently. Tap into our imaginations. Change up the drive home. Stand on our heads. Challenge yourself to see something you've seen a thousand times before in a new light. Try to describe the taste of  a strawberry. Pick up a piece of sidewalk chalk and write a love letter to someone in your life. Practice seeing possibility instead of accepting reality. Find your inner child and give him/her a spin on the tire swing.

It's Wednesday, after all.

ps: I stumbled across this video over the weekend. A look at well-known logos through the eyes of a 5-year-old. If you haven't seen it - take a peek. And enjoy.

Emotional Marketing: Speak to the Heart

There I was, standing in Target on an average Saturday afternoon - when I saw him. From down the aisle I could see his big, brown eyes staring at me, the corners of his mouth turned up with a hint of hopefulness from under his soft whiskers. The instant I saw him, I knew what I had to do. I had to put back the "on sale" dishwashing soap and buy Dawn instead.

baby seal


As I stood in Target toiling over the purchase of a dish soap refill last weekend, it occurred to me that I have become unusually loyal to my liquid dish soap. In reality, this loyalty has very little to do with dishes, and much to do with Dawn's turn-my-heart-to-mush marketing. Marketing that has been so effective, in fact, that every time I purchase a dish soap refill, I view myself as singlehandedly responsible for the well-being and survival of the baby seal (or baby penguin or baby duck...) featured on their packaging. In my mind, purchase of a competitor's brand = "I hate baby seals," while purchase of Dawn = "I have just made an investment in this little creature which will ensure he continues to live out his days happily sliding down snowbanks, getting into shenanigans with his baby seal friends."


A quick glimpse at how Dawn is leveraging emotion to turn average dishwashers into animal-saving superheroes...(and consequently, inspiring people to get passionate about their dish soap.)

  • As featured in their commercials, Dawn is a preferred partner in helping clean cute little critters after an oil spill. While the spirit of the commercial is undeniably philanthropic, it also subtly reiterates the message that their product works. If Dawn is tough enough to clean up a wriggly, oily otter and gentle enough for a baby duck, just imagine what it will do for your dishes and your hands. Instead of jamming an obvious "WE ARE SO GREAT!" message down our throats, Dawn appeals to consumer emotion, letting the message speak for itself - through their actions.
  • As noted on the bottle, Dawn consumers can visit a website to enter the code found on the label. For each code entered, Dawn will donate $1 toward wildlife rescue. (And in fact they have - donating $500,000 in the past year.) By offering a way to actively participate in their philanthropic giving, Dawn positions consumers to become a hero before they've even opened the bottle. All they have to do is go home, log online and enter their code. Good karma at the click of a button, warm fuzzies between consumer and brand.
  • As an animal lover, this philanthropic partnership between the brand and consumer sends a message to my mind and heart: my passion is their passion. And that makes it our passion. Instead of a "them" and a "me," we become a WE - working in harmony for a cause near and dear to my heart. I feel good about myself, my purchase and the brand. The brand gains a loyal fan in spirit. What does that mean? It means I talk about their brand and their mission with the people I know. I feel compelled to Tweet about, and hold htem up as an exemplary case study in emotional marketing. It means I find myself standing in Target unable to bring myself to purchase another brand of dish soap. And I think we can all agree that's all worth so much more than a Facebook "like."


At the end of the day we're talking about a product intended to wash dishes - not save the world, right? So what is it about Dawn's marketing that compels me choose their product (and pay more for it) over another (equally effective) competitor?

In his article, "People Buy Based on Emotion and Justify with Logic," Brian Ahern explores the influence of emotion on action.

Feelings are incredibly powerful. No matter how much we’d like to believe we’re rational creatures who occasionally act emotionally, the truth is, we’re actually emotional beings who occasionally act rationally.

Why is this so often the case? Because of how we’re wired; how our brains work. When I say the word “elephant," you have a picture of an elephant in your mind. You may picture an African elephant with tusks, a smaller Asian elephant without dusks, the lovable Dumbo or perhaps an elephant toy you played with as a child. Whatever the case, you have a picture in your mind. That’s because we translate words into pictures.

Next in the process come feelings. The mental image of an elephant generates a certain set of feelings in you. Perhaps you have memories of an elephant you saw in a movie, maybe you thought of a trip to the zoo or you had feelings attached to memories of the toy you played with as a child. It’s those feelings that ultimately lead to action. It's a process; words create pictures, pictures lead to feelings and feelings culminate in actions. [1]

So let's take it back to the dish soap example. Logically, I realize that a competitor's brand will probably clean just as well as Dawn. At the end of the day, I will have sparkling, clean dishes whether I use Dawn or another brand. And the other brand will likely cost less. Logic says buy the soap on sale, save a dollar, clean the dishes and be merry. On the other hand, Dawn's marketing message has been deeply rooted in my soft, mushy, animal-loving heart. Emotion says: buy Dawn, support something you believe in, help them make the world a better place. Be part of something bigger than dishwashing.

And am I going to say no to THAT?


YOUR TURN TO CHIME IN: When was the last time emotional marketing won over your heart (and/or dollars)? Was it the delight of receiving free samples with a Sephora purchase? Or the emotional reward of knowing your Chipotle burrito helped support local, family farms?

Is Your Human Showing?

"I was dumbstruck. There, in a few pages, I read a startlingly concise summary of everything I’d seen in twenty-one years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, and columnist for my newspaper. The idea that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human. That natural, human conversation is the true language of commerce. That corporations work best when the people on the inside have the fullest contact possible with the people on the outside." | The Cluetrain Manifesto

Like most of us, I have friends who simply don’t understand social media. When the topic comes up, their default response is typically something along the lines of: “I love you, Amy, but I don’t need to know if you’re standing in line at Starbucks. And frankly, I don’t care what you had for breakfast.”

A recent study conducted at Elizabethtown College, however, suggests that may not be entirely true.

In order to examine the role of self-disclosure in perceived credibility, 120 students between the ages of 18 and 23 were split into three groups. Each group followed the tweeting of a supposed professor. One group saw only scholarly tweets, one group saw only social tweets and the last group saw a mix of the two. Each "professor" included the same number of tweets and hyperlinks. Students were asked to rate the credibility of the professor they followed based on the tweets they observed.

The highest ratings were given by students who saw only personal tweets. Mixing in scholarly tweets had no effect on the score.

So what does that mean for marketers? Is it time to start urging our clients to abandon all industry talk in order to start spilling the beans about the aftermath of one too many tequila shots last weekend? Not so much. But it is time to start encouraging them to be real.

Scary? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.

Welcome to a brave new world. The days of talking at people are over. It’s time to start talking with people. In order to do that, we have to take down our walls, step out from behind the desk and podium and (in the wise words of an MTV series) “start getting real.”

It’s time to show our humanness.

Originally posted on the Brains on Fire Blog

Just a Love Machine

Today I’d like to talk about Todd.

A TODD Talk, if you will.

Meet Todd. We know his name because it isembroidered on a patch sewn to the unassuming beige jumpsuit he wears Monday through Friday. Todd drives a truck full of soda. Day in and day out he stops at various locations around the city, quietly letting himself in and out ofoffice buildings, schools, churches, malls and lobbies. After refilling theemptied racks inside glowing red machines, Todd returns to his truck and heads down the road to the next destination on his list.

Sounds kind of unremarkable, doesn’t it?

Here is what you may not know: Todd is a silent super hero. A secret agent of surprise and smiles. A wielder of happiness. Todd comes and goes - usually without being noticed - but what he leaves behind is felt and shared by many.


When I first saw the video, a quote from the Brains on Fire Book immediately came to mind: Be famous for the people who love you and for the way you love them.

With just a few modifications (and a little help from Todd), Coca Cola turned a soda machine into a happiness machine. Not only did they transform the unremarkable act of buying a beverage into a love-love experience between the brand and their fans, they created an infectious love-love-share experience their fans wanted to celebrate together.


Take a little time to reflect today. When was the last time your brand really loved the people who love you? And more importantly, what kind of love will you be famous for?


Originally posted on the Brains on Fire Blog