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The Branding Debate

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Over the past two days, I enjoyed reading pieces that covered both sides of the branding* debate (See definition of the term, “branding”, below). This is because they represent  facets of the conversations I hear within organizations of all stripes that are reflecting on their marketing needs. These points of view can be used as data points to consider when determining how much time and money to put into the branding effort of any operation.

The main question:

  • Is branding worth the investment?

Related questions:

  • Should we invest in a professional branding agency or build on our own brand?

  • How much time, energy, and effort  is this exercise worth?

  • How about a brand “refresh” instead of “re-branding”?

  • How can we measure the results of this investment?

Read on and enjoy, along with more and more of us, following the branding debate as it unfolds over time.

1. Apparently Apple is focusing less on its brand and more on the quality of its product (this is typical of high tech products in America, but also applies to consumer products in other countries, like Japan where new product development receives a greater proportion of investment dollars than traditional branding efforts). Read this recent piece in the Harvard Business Review

2. This piece covers the example of a global company that did not test its logo, only to realize that the imagery it used reminded British consumers of a popular underwear brand. (A quick $15 survey could have prevented this.) New York Times recommending brand research to avoid unintentional (if not funny) consequences.

* (Simple definition of the term “Branding”)

Since “branding,” like many marketing teams, is one that can be  used in many ways, here I am defining it as that element of the overall marketing approach that addresses the identity of the organization, in terms of words and images (literal and figurative) associated with that organization, and how these are communicated to others.  It is typically tied to the overall marketing plan because it is the result of a deep understanding of the company itself, its target customers, and how it distinguishes itself from other players in the marketplace. As is true of every element of the marketing plan, it is reflective of the entire marketing strategy. For those who are in interested in how branding extends throughout the entire marketing plan, read this piece in the Harvard Business Review.


Integrating Business and Education in Silicon Valley

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Eric Swalwell Promotes Access to Companies for Local Students

Recently, President Obama announced grants to help integrate work experience into educational programs in the US with the intention that the grants will help finance partnerships between local education agencies and employers.  Participants in this program will have the opportunity for job-shadowing and mentoring which will give students a chance to experience, first hand, high-demand industries such as information technology, health-care and other science and technology sectors. This grant program is an important development for our educational system as it introduces a reshaping of what current high schools offer and will ensure that students are properly prepared for the rigors of college and a rapidly evolving job market.

Rep. Swalwell at the App workshop he hosted in April 5, 2014 in Hayward

Rep. Swalwell at the App workshop he hosted in April 5, 2014 in Hayward

This vision is already becoming a reality to East Bay students.  Congressman Eric Swalwell, who serves as the U.S. Representative from California’s 15th congressional district, which covers most of eastern Alameda County in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, has created a program that is providing East Bay students with access to companies that can inspire them and help prepare them for a successful career in industry. He says, “We need schools to put themselves into the community that surrounds them. For example, here in the East Bay and Silicon Valley, we have biotech and tech firms that can help students understand the relevance of math and science in the world around them. It is my hope that students and their teachers dedicate themselves to reaching out to those in industry to establish mutually beneficial relationships, and vice-versa.”

Rep. Swalwell is a part of the House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology committee and has been active in promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education that prepares students for the 21st century economy and workforce. As an example of his commitment, he has been coordinating an inaugural STEM App Challenge in the region. The Challenge is taking place across the country in participating Congressional districts, with winners being selected from each. Students submit the prototype of an app (for a phone or tablet) and a short video explaining the process and thinking behind it. Rep. Swalwell has held three workshops at which students were provided with assistance from both professional app developers and computer science instructors.

A Bay Area Council Economic Institute Report – Exciting news about prosperity but what about our K-12 education?

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The article explores the strengths and weaknesses of our skyrocketing economy (with eye-opening stats and charts!). This fact-based presentation can be a springboard to new approaches regarding issues like our K-12 education, income disparity and the environment.


This Bay Area Council Economic Institute Report (2012) assesses factors driving the economic success of The Bay Area, and allows room for us to consider what could make that growth even stronger going forward.  It shows, for example, that The Bay Area economy is one of the most productive and prosperous in the country (see relative GDP per capita relative to other cities in the US). It also spotlights innovation and technology and says that we are “unrivaled in producing world-class companies and jobs in the region, nationally and around the world.” On the other hand, there are issues about our K-12 education, expressed in the statement that “many companies were concerned with the quality of the K-12 public education system.” It also noted the large income disparity across the region, as well as the negative impact of economic growth/prosperity on our environment.

It begs the question: what can each of us (and the organizations we serve) do to re-double our efforts to address the less successful elements of our Bay Area ecosystem?

“50 million children starving in the US.” Did I hear that right?

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Impactful piece on the fact that 50 million US kids are “starving”. No, they don’t appear as we might imagine: emaciated. The lack of proper nutrition causes they to look overfed. Yet they are under-nourished, and diabetes, asthma and other lifestyle disease are increasing at alarming rates. Time and money invested up front would make a world of difference to our kids and to our health care dollars. Kudos to organizations like The Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, who are reaching into the community to initiate change.

Non-profit branding – new approaches relevant to all organizations

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SUMMARY:  This seminal piece reveals how non-profits can use branding techniques in unique ways. Also how these can be used by for-profits. What are these so-called non-profit branding techniques? They revolve around creating a clearly stated values/mission statement and using great marketing techniques to communicate those both internally and externally to increase impact/change.



This compelling article, published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is relevant to non-profits and for-profits alike. It reveals a role of branding which falls outside traditional parameters of  “spreading the word externally” to “inspiring change/cohesion internally”. The authors, Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone, who conducted an extensive research study on the success/challenges of branding in non-profits with Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations, and The Rockefeller Institute, come up with important views of branding which will inspire each of us to re-think the power of branding in the organizations we serve.


The essential difference in branding in for-profits vs non-profits is that, in for-profits, the end-game is new customers/revenues, whereas in non-profits, the goal is social impact/change. I would say that what unites the two is a goal to increase influence to allow change of any kind to occur (be it to get someone to buy a widget or get them to save water. (If we are working with organizations that “do good” in the world, non-profit or not, I would argue that all types of organizations are about positive social impact.)


The message from the article that rung true to me was linking the organization’s values with its branding so that they are communicated clearly. This will enable them to find collaborators/customers/converts. Organizations that aspire to create change need to focus on their values. Specifically, they need to both define their values with the help of their internal and external collaborators, and then communicate them both internally and externally via clear messaging.

Clean, clear messages inspire employees at Linked In

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Today I visited Linked In in San Francisco. Like my visit to the Silicon Valley campus, this one was inspiring. In addition to great food, massive bean bag chairs, inspired employees, I also noticed that the mission and vision were posted everywhere, along with reminders about shared values like: “Connect talent and opportunity at a massive scale”, “Relationships matter” & “Be honest, open and constructive.” This article speaks to Jeff Weiner’s commitment to inspiring leadership:


Affordable Care Act affect on health care marketing

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The count down to 1/1/14 and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ie Obamacare) is starting, and the debate rages on: private vs collective responses to resolving health care in the US. The market will certainly be reacting to one key element of the plan: the stipulation that will require all U.S. residents to have a minimum level of Health Insurance. It will be interesting to watch industry shifts over the coming months.



“Influencer marketing” on the rise

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“Influencer” marketing* is trend worth following.

Social tools on the Internet are only making it easier for individuals to share  with others and influence their habits (what they buy, do, believe in). This expands our concept of a marketing term called “influencer marketing,” where those we know have an impact on our lives.

Pinterest is an obvious example. Another is a new player, Luvocracy, which launched recently. It was founded by two executives with deep ties to Direct Sales: Roger Barnett (Chairman & CEO of the Direct Sales leader, Shaklee Corporation) and his business partner from Google. Read more about their concept in this TechCrunch article:


In marketing, we use “influencer marketing” as one of the tools in our marketing mix. But one wonders, could the concept grow to supersede other tools in the marketing mix? For example, will press become less important if the influencers in our own lives are easier for us to access and/or more credible for us? I’ll be eager to continue the dialogue with the “influencers” in my own life – my FB/LI connections, and beyond.

* How is it defined?

This w/e, I wanted to learn more about the concept, so enjoyed dipping into Wikipedia and otherwise refreshed my memory about the types of Word of Mouth marketing that have evolved over time, and what people are saying about them.

I also appreciated a piece written in 2009 called “Word of Mouth and Influencer Marketing Literature Review Summary” by David Roberts. He traces the concept back to the 1950’s and defines this concept as “influencing the mass[es] through the influence of a few….”




5th anniversary of apps – impact on marketing tool kit

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success diagramIt is the 5-year birthday of the Apple iTunes Store, and, at the same, the rise of the world of apps. iTunes has become a powerful market space, and yet one that is still very tightly controlled by Apple.

Recently, I met with a friend to discuss his highly ranked app business (10,000 new users a day). I mentioned his rather poor ranking in Google search results. He seemed unconcerned: “Customers do not find me with Google. My world revolves around my ranking on iTunes.”

What he IS concerned about, however, is the tight control exerted by Apple over the marketing of his business within iTunes. There are very few tools that he has to affect Apple Store searches. His objective is to develop a means of mastering the Apple Store Optimization (ASO) tools he does have (though very few), and strategize about creating marketing to affect his iTunes ranking to win loyal customers.

Obviously, the “history” of technology and how it impacts our businesses is being written day-by-day, but it seems clear that learning to negotiate the world of app marketing/ranking will be crucial.

I suggest taking a glance at this great guide  to app SEO.