All posts in Brand Experience

The Most Gorgeous Website You Will See Today: Fuel America

Coffee bags that resemble old motor oil cans, Americana flavoring, and as the designer quips “Coffee for yer Pops.” Fuel America is the brainchild of Commoner, Inc., a Boston-based identity studio that makes logos and trademarks fun again. You could get lost for a while in their Dribbble account, but I recommend it highly. But let’s focus on this one brand identity for a moment, because it’s loaded with great inspiration and solid branding lessons.

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Does Your Brand Need a Makeover?

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Yesterday and this morning I spent some time giving the online presence for our social media product, Intefy, a summer makeover on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve also recently redesigned the Fresh ID branding (you may have seen our Facebook presence with our new Freshopolis branding, or new business cards & brochures (we are working on finishing the site redesign and other things also) and I wanted to take a moment and talk about why this is so important, especially for smaller brands.

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5 Lessons for Optimizing Your Facebook Timeline Page

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The change to a forced Timeline display for all Facebook pages at the end of this week (March 30th!) has many of us scrambling to make sure our Pages look good in this new view. Here are some things I’m learning that might help you make your Page as appealing as possible given the constraints and limitations of forcing your content into a “timeline”.

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Should You Try Using Different Words to Tell Your Story?

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This simple, but poignant video might help you think of new things to try and do for your business if you’ll sit back and think about where you could say things another way, or give your customers the unexpected.

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Fresh ID’s Very Special Snow Day, with Soccer Players, Snowballs, Sports Fanatics & Social Media

If you follow any of the Fresh ID team on Twitter, you probably couldn’t have missed the snowbrawl mayhem we dove headfirst into yesterday. It actually began the night before, when I noticed Sporting KC, Kansas City’s pro MLS soccer team, who we follow and have met with before, posting about one of the players needing a hashtag for a snowball fight. Kei Kamara who hails from Kenema and is the forward for the team, had been tweeting about never having been in a snowball fight, and some fans from The Cauldron (Sporting KC’s most active fan group) were talking about rectifying that, and a plan was hatched. There are more details and a great post about it at the Sporting KC site.

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Successful and FREE Press Release Sites

We’ve been taking the time to create press releases meant for online publications about the recent live events we’ve done using our Twitterface tool, with some good results. 

Lisa began this practice while at LightThread using a variety of paid and free online PR channels and trackingresults. She experienced the best results from prlog.org, obtaining front page search results within 24 hours of release and months later continuing to get front page search results. Prlog also makes it easy to link on your Facebook profile in addition to bookmarking through Delicious.

The benefits of doing this are:

  • Backlinks to your site helps SEO with search engines. You will get linked to from the press release sites and anyone who picks up the story and posts about it from their site.
  • People find you and your offer that might not have, otherwise… we’ve seen pretty significant results with this about the Chip Foose-John Deere event we did (they are a big brand after all so that helped) but with every release we’ve sent out, we’ve been surprised at the number of blogs and sites that have found it and posted the information or linked to the release or our site from theirs.
  • It formalizes your operations. Last week Lisa zipped off a list to our team of all we have accomplished in the last 8 weeks. It is surprising how far we have come in only the past 2 months since she came on board. These press releases help us see our progress over time and give us a list of “News” items we can refer back to each year to see some of the highlights of what we’ve done.
  • It’s free, save a little bit of time writing the release and posting it to the press release sites. Though we will do more formal and traditional paid announcements at various times, using this approach we’re only spending the time it takes to write and polish the release, and it’s well worth it.
  • It adds credibility to your small business. Let’s face it… times are tough. Capturing quotes from happy customers and tooting your own horn in a non-pushy way can only help your efforts to sell products or services in a buyer’s market. Every little bit of promotion helps add to the overall number of people who hear about what you’re doing!

In fairness, we have not tried prweb or prleap so do not have comparative results to share. Additional sites that produced front page results upon release were pressreleasepoint.com and prurgent.com.

Keep in mind the free sites take a bit of time to set up your profile but once you use them the first time they are much easier to use again in the future. Please feel free to leave your favorite press release site in the comments section!

The Ultimate Experience

Two different friends of ours on Twitter, @simonkuo and @britt_w, shared a link that I had not had time to look at until today. Once I did, I was amazed. Experience Paris… the whole city, like never before.

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I have long had a fascination with what lies across the sea. Though I’ve not been to Europe yet, I have often imagined myself there for reasons unknown even to me. The idea of many places there just call to me, but this panoramic view of Paris offers lessons beyond appeasing a girl’s fancies.

20100321-tefc39e7gewdfhiiigrir6q4tuImmersion into an environment like this IS the ultimate experience, and it’s far better than Second Life or a virtual reality. Zoom in closely, and you can see people eating on a terrace, or the Saints on the top of the Sainte Chappelle, something you could not see as closely if you were there in person.

This wonderful site is not the only place you can feel as if you’re standing in front of a place you’ve never been. Google Maps latest “street view” feature for many places is totally amazing. To revisit a place you lived as a child, explore the home of a friend you’ve met online, study a city you’re moving to before you arrive… it’s all possible now for a lot of major places by just putting in the address and zooming around the nearby streets.

So how does this translate to your business? Are you giving people something tangible to see so they almost feel they are experiencing it firsthand? When we redesigned the APS website we went in and took photos of the location, staff and even some faux surgery photos to give people an up-close look at what working with these plastic surgeons, nurses and supporting staff would be like. @zachishere and @simonkuo from Westside Studio did a great job capturing different aspects of a “day in the life” of these busy doctors and staff and we used them throughout the site, telling a graphic story in pictures that are more compelling than stock photography ever could be (we have a few of those mixed in as well, but not many.)

Don’t just paint a picture in words of what you can do for people… find a way to have them experience it. Our friend Kamran @swagclub sends unforgettable goodie boxes to people sometimes (we loved our gifts!!), knowing that’s the best way for people to get what receiving customized promotional merchandise can feel like when it’s a good fit for the audience.

I’d love to hear how you make things tangible for people in the comments. I will be thinking about this for our products and services too, as digital goods are often just experienced via samples online. An interesting challenge, to be sure!

Live Nude Events… Behind the Scenes of Like Minds 2010's Online Event

We had an interesting Thursday/Friday last week. For those who don’t know, our product Twitterface has come out of beta and is now a paid product. Pricing is still being finalized. We have a new feature that allows video on the page, as you can see by clicking the image, and the Like Minds conference held Friday in Exeter, UK was kind enough to partner with us on our first ever debut of this offering, to show their event live online while it happened in Exeter.

Twitterface-likemindsWhat we learned, was more than we bargained for. Things blew up. We had to make adjustments, there were issues and confusion. And of course, all of it happened in front of everyone watching… talk about exposing yourself! It’s a bit nerve-wracking to do these experiments in the social space where things could go horribly wrong and people may jump all over you about it. But it gave us so much real experience, and mostly worked well, so I am thankful we are offering this now. I wanted to recap what was going on behind the scenes of this fantastic conference and tell you what we’re doing to make these events better in the future.

The Twitterface page for Like Minds had the aim of using an assortment of services, and whenever you combine technologies, mayhem often ensues before you get it totally right. Our goals were:

  • Live Streaming of the Conference
  • Watching Real-Time Conference Conversations
  • Tweeting from the Page
  • Links to Conference Information
  • Delivering Live Blog Feeds
  • Providing an Online Experience that Extended the Live Experience

Live Streaming

Our partner and developer Joe Taylor did an amazing job of coding the video feature for Twitterface pages so that it’s easy for someone to embed a video on the page. It is super-easy to use the embed code from Ustream, YouTube or anywhere you have embed code offered and put it on the video page. It’s not as flexible as it hopefully will be in the future though – the pane that shows up beneath the video, does not automatically adjust to fit the video width, so we need to work on that. However, we can adjust that pane width after the chosen video (or service you will use) is added, to make the page look more polished. So that’s a minor inconvenience for now. Overall, I was thrilled with how adding a video and changing video codes work.

Watching Real-Time Conversations

A lot of people like to read and watch conversations without joining in, or they like to hop in and participate. We wanted this to be easy and so we added an auto-refreshing of the panes feature to Twitterface a few weeks ago. In reality, something we did not anticipate was our product producing api overage errors. We are going to have to work with Twitter to see what we can do about that. When an unknown number of people are hitting the page, and panes are refreshing every 20 seconds (or longer) it caused our limits to be hit quickly. I didn’t really know we had limits, as Twitterface is a whitelisted product, so to see this happen as the conference opened, at 4 am our time (Joe and I were up to make sure all went smoothly) nearly caused us a heart attack. What was frustrating is that we had tested this on Twitter the night before and this never happened – of course, there weren’t as many people hitting the page. Doh! We figured out that having a profile name up, instead of searches, would give tweets and not api errors so everytime we saw the api errors happening, we switched to a profile name. We’d like to thank @thebrandbuilder and @adders for being such great live tweeters as they saved our necks because we put their profiles on and still had some coverage.

Tweeting from the Page

Our product has its own login (it does not use oauth) and is meant for one person to use, like your Twitter account on the web works. But we wanted people to be able to send tweets from this page without having to leave it, and we wanted it to be secure as possible and use Twitter’s oauth mechanism. So hooking that up, in conjunction with our tool being architected like it is, was a hurdle we had to get over. With the help of our developer Tom Jenkins, who now has a dayjob but graciously did work for us in his spare time on this, we managed to get a working oauth widget on the page, and though it had a few display bugs (the page had to be refreshed if the widget box didn’t work right) it worked and you could tweet from the page.

Links to Conference Information

One of the initial features of Twitterface was links to real sites in the footer, to make navigating to other places easy. The conference organizers added their schedule, a link to ways to participate, a link to add photos to a Flickr pool and links to their sites at the bottom of the page, and we used that Schedule link constantly to adjust the page settings… we put the speaker’s name beneath the video as they were about to speak and changed that pane when they went to lunch to keep people in the loop about what was going on in Exeter.

Delivering Live Blog Feeds

Like Minds had two official live bloggers using a service called CoveritLive to do real-time coverage of the day. Our dream was to drive these feeds, since they had an RSS feed, into the page but we needed a way to do it. The awesome @dlvrit service saw my pleas for help on Twitter and gave us the PERFECT solution. I was so happy. Unfortunately, you can’t test CoveritLive without them going live, so what we did not know was that our solution was not going to work. Until we were Live and in front of thousands of people, of course. The RSS feed produced only some sort of timestamp, not actual coverage, so later in the day we discovered @adders was blogging live, and tweeting also about his live posts, and so we switched to his tweets and it helped so much. We love http://dlvr.it and will work with them in the future on live event feeds though – they supported us above and beyond what we anticipated and their tool is excellent.

Providing an Online Experience

Despite all the technical problems and glitches, one thing we seemed to actually deliver on was providing a great online experience for virtual attendees. This is important, because Like Minds and we at Fresh ID want to come up with ways to do paid attendance to certain events in the future. So a good experience is very key to this working at all. Throughout the day, attendees watching the Twitterface page seemed to have good things to say about it – like they felt like they were in Exeter, that they loved watching it online, that it was so good to be able to watch it live they felt they could cry. In reality, you can go to Ustream and watch a live event. And of course you can set up hashtags and things in your own Twitter client and keep an eye on things that way. But what we wanted to create was an extension of the Live Event, and that means branding. That means attention to detail, and focused conversations, and cutting out the noise. So I think what worked for people, and the reason we’ve created the product, is that they were attending a branded experience online, because they couldn’t be at the real event in person, and they felt the connection because it was planned, branded and constantly monitored to ensure a smooth experience and really, the best one we could give them despite technical issues that gave the Fresh ID team headaches all day long.

So, the net result of the day was pretty positive, both at the event, and on Twitter from what we could tell. Here are some things we’ve learned, that will affect our product offering and future events:

  • Events must be monitored every single minute, by someone. I got up at 4 am because in the UK they were going to start around 10 am. Joe had stayed up – it was 2 am his time in California, and thank goodness we did get up/stay up because the api limit issue would have made this page unusable had we not started making changes to refresh times and adjusting pane settings to not display the error when it happened. The opening of Like Minds was smooth and fun there it seemed, but it was a nightmare for us and drove home the continual monitoring issue, which we had not planned for. I’d had two hours sleep because of getting the page finished Thursday night, so though I didn’t plan to stay up, it wasn’t optional. My team was also not around – Joe eventually went to bed and Lisa and Matt were en route to meetings and the office. So during their lunch, I got ready very quickly and drove to my office to continue monitoring until Matt got there, and then he took over the rest of the day. We will be offering this as a service to companies who need it, but people who do not hire us to do this DEFINITELY need to plan to have a person attending the page and making constant adjustments to keep things flowing.
  • One of the things Like Minds did to us was use video from two different ustream channels, which I sort of figured out on my own. LOL! We did not have a member of their web team on a phone speed dial or even Twitter.  I mostly worked with Scott Gould to set this up, one of the founders and event organizers, and I didn’t want to bother him because I knew he was busy at the event. Fortunately, I happened to notice he had streamed from both a LikeMinds and a ScottGould ustream channel, so if one went off-air we checked the other to make sure we weren’t missing something. But we needed communication with a member of the tech team there – it would have helped us know what was going on and when they were going to stream or not stream.
  • We have to talk to Twitter directly about these api issues, and we’ve never worked with them directly. Fortunately for me, I am making that Lisa’s job. Haha! I hope we can get that improved, but if not, we know how to get around it during an event.
  • The official hashtag for Like Minds is @wearelikeminds, but no one tweeted from it all day and we needed it when we had to switch from a search to profile views only because of api issues. I really recommend that you assign someone to tweet from the official account – even if you have to ask a participant to do it and hand over the login temporarily. For people wondering what is going on, that would make a big difference and it would have solved some of our problems doing this live offering also.
  • The presentations could not be viewed behind the presenter, but with some adjustments they could have been. We are going to design a combo video/slideshare page I think, but it would have been very nice if the presentation had been dropped down behind the presenter (almost even with his feet) so online viewers could see the slides and hear the person talk at the same time – in fact, that would totally rock!
  • Organizing the remote event team, with the team on the ground, for fast communication via skype or twitter makes sense. We will make sure to do this in the future. I actually think it helps for the remote monitoring team NOT to be at the event, to minimize distractions. It is too easy to have to put out fires at the event and lose track of monitoring this page – for us, our sole job was to watch the page, fix issues and keep things flowing online, and we were not hit up with other issues that took focus off of that task by being in the building where it was happening.
  • When Like Minds broke for lunch, there was no Ustream feed for at least an hour and a half. I think we lost some online viewers then. I know that in the future Scott wants to enable video at the lunchtime talk sessions – that would have helped, or even having an event take place on stage (maybe one of the lunches is done there) would have helped not break the momentum of online viewing. I loved the lunch idea though – they had numerous mini-sessions over lunch at different restaurants around the city! Such a cool idea. Attendees got to choose the type of food, speaker and type of conversation they wanted to have.
  • One of the things I noticed, was that this conference WAS very pleasant to attend online. When I got up at 4 am I was still in bed. So here I was in my jammies, comfortably propped up on pillows in the dark, while everyone in England was looking dapper and had makeup on and their hair done. Yet I was learning the same cool information they were – it was REALLY pleasant! And watching the tweets from people actually there, plus being able to tweet without leaving the page was very nice. This is an experience I would want to repeat at tons of other events… not just conferences, but musical events or education of some type – it really did work like I envisioned it, aside from our little issues (which we will find a way to make better!)

We were very pleased with the analytics behind spreading the word about the event Twitterface page. One thing we did at the 11th hour was a press release, informing folks that this would be a live event online. We definitely want to do that earlier than midnight before the event, next time. LOL! Because that press release was picked up by numerous sources – Lisa has the exact count. We’ve had over half a million potential tweet impressions of the twitterface.com/likeminds2010 link, and 75o of the aggregated bit.ly link for that url, and it was mentioned online in blogs, on Twitter and on Facebook in more conversations that I don’t have a number count for. We had over 660 people watching the page it seems, from Google Analytics. That number is important, because only 300 people or so could attend the actual event in Exeter before it was sold out (and it was sold out.) So they increased attendance twice over in online attendees – pretty cool!!

I want to thank all of the people on Twitter who helped us test this page with a live ustream video of race cars in the wee hours Thursday night. I wish I could give you all a present – you helped us so much and we’re very grateful you took the time to test the tweeting and video watching for us.

We have had many inquiries about doing this for other events, including SXSW which is coming up soon. Contact us and let’s talk about hooking this up for your event! We’d love to keep experimenting with what we’re doing and perfect the kinks in the process.

In the coming days we’ll be hearing from someone who attended the event virtually (@brandguardian is writing a blog post) and I am eager to hear what others thought, so if you watched our Twitterface page during the event Friday and want to share your experience, please let us know in the comments!

People are Powering Brand Identity Changes

I’m excited to see some brand redesigns that have recently occurred, to two long-standing brands we are all so used to we probably don’t even think about them much, for bananas and ketchup.

web2Heinz_Ketchu_469643gm-aHeinz has updated, with brilliant results, the lowly ketchup packet and if you think about it, you’ll see how people and their needs factored into this design. The old ketchup packets can be messy, inconvenient (if eating while driving, and unfortunately, we have to do that sometimes) and they don’t even hold much. The new condiment packaging is more like a small tub, so you can peel back the cover to dip your fries or whatever in it, OR you can rip off the top and squeeze out the contents. The beautiful part of the design is that it resembles a tiny bottle of ketchup… this was inspired creative thinking, to solve real complaints by customers for over 30 years, and I really love it! Yahoo has an excellent piece on this from the company’s perspective about how and why they made this change and what took them so long… they’ve apparently been working on a new design for years.

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Chiquita Bananas have also been modernized, with a playful, icon set of stickers that will introduce a whole new cast of characters to banana lovers. Stickers, games and a Facebook community give people something to play with and talk about… there are even skateboard graphics! Everyone knows bananas are healthy to eat, but with all of these little images and fun ways to participate with the brand itself socially, now I believe they’ll be more fun. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this positively impact Chiquita’s bottom line. The graphics are kid-friendly, but not kid-like, if that makes sense… they will appeal to adults too, especially those who Tweet and hang out at Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and the like, where we talk in OMG’s and LOL’s. The images are quirky, fun and cool. There’s a wonderful article with a lot of details about the design here… check it out! Their website also rocks – very interactive and playful… corporate businesses could stand to take some lessons from it about how to present information in small chunks and make exploring a site fun and compelling.

The thing that cannot be denied is that people are increasingly affecting what brands do, where they participate online, and what they offer. And that’s a great thing! We’ve had focus groups and marketing analysis for years, but those efforts to get into customer’s heads by nature, can only represent a small sampling. With the advent of social conversations, sentiment analysis, and being able to directly ask anyone listening online what they think about your brand, or what they need, the opportunities for hitting the target when changing a product or service are better than ever. I have noticed, in the last six months, nearly every single proposal we do has SOME element of social marketing or social presence in it, because it’s needed (we think) or wanted (by the prospect.) Despite the economic troubles nearly everyone has faced, it’s a really fun time to be in the business of branding, marketing and selling!

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Excited by Domino's Pizza… huh, what??!

I can’t believe I’m writing about Domino’s #newpizza, because I haven’t even thought about Domino’s Pizza in years, but last night I caught a commercial on television that piqued my interest.

In the commercial, Domino’s executives and employees talk about how they have listened to complaints from customers for years, and they took them to heart and have made changes. Not just lip-service changes, but actual changes to the recipe of their core offering, their pizza. On one hand, that’s great! What a tribute to customer service and interest in staying in business for the long-haul. On the other hand, it’s a little risky – what if existing customers don’t like the changes? What if they result in a price increase? What if people don’t believe it and still don’t give Domino’s a fresh try?

Here’s the documentary that tells the marketing tale of this new chapter for Domino’s. So many lessons to be gleaned from just this video approach… you can visit the mini-site and see their social media tools and approach also, at http://www.pizzaturnaround.com.

Social Media B2B has a post on this campaign, and asked a great question:

Does your company care enough about its customers to rebuild a bad product from scratch?

For small businesses, I know how tough this is – these projects, ventures and products are our BABIES, often the result of the hard work of one or only a few people. For large companies, such as Domino’s, the attachment might not be as great (maybe the original creators of a product are no longer even there) but the processes and support systems and inventory and suppliers that all go into making something as simple as a pizza can be tremendous. Changing things at this level is not something to be done lightly, and typically involves a significant cash investment. I applaud Domino’s for spending the time to research, listen, and take steps to doing something they’ve done for years, a different way.

I have to admit, I want to try their new pizza. I hope it’s as good as the promo for it sounds like it could be. What do you think of this new campaign, and if not a Domino’s customer, would this entice you to try it?

We Sell What We See: Make Your Own Brand Top of Mind!

Something has been on my mind for a while, and I’ve waited to write it because I have no data for this theory that’s been formulating in my mind, and haven’t had time to research to see if there is corroborating data somewhere out there that I can give you.

competing-for-attnHere’s my theory: we sell what we see. First, a little background so you know where all this is coming from. During 2009 I became involved in various business ventures… I launched Twitterface, my web-based Twitter client. I went away from a company name I had used for some years (this one, Fresh ID) and set up We Heart Studios with a lot of cute, focused names associated with it like We Heart Tumblr and We Heart WordPress. I created a long-needed “personal brand” for my pithy musings that have nothing to do with business. That brand got a lot of attention online for some reason, but it doesn’t really communicate what I do. I helped LightThread (who we partner with on lots of projects) as we tried to get more work here in the Kansas City area – in fact, we almost launched yet another new brand to focus on integrated marketing, then pulled back from that. All of these things have been competing for my attention.

So coming into December, I had a lot on my mind… and I felt disconnected from my own company branding. I am a little mystified regarding the way people view me and how few people know what I actually do – I am mostly on “marketing” or “social media” lists on Twitter, which is so vague. That’s unsettling as someone who needs to make money from creative services, and mostly enables social media from a technology perspective, rather than being a speaker on it or author or something. In short, I felt I needed a brand overhaul and continuity, something I both relate to because it typifies me, and can use in a corporate setting to do what I do to earn a living. This can be hard for a creative type – we like so many things. But what I resonated with most is my old company name, Fresh ID… I have had a company with the name “Fresh” in the title since about 1997. After some thought I realized I needed to commit to it fully, with my whole being, and so I have finally made Fresh ID an LLC and am in the process of rebranding everything to fall in line with my core offering.

What has this to do with you? Well, I want you to think about something. In the day-to-day, sort of always online life that many of us now lead – a true mix of business and pleasure at all times, what is it you’re looking at, physically? Are you looking at other people’s brands more than your own? This may seem unimportant, but consider for a minute: do you see branding for Twitter, Tweetdeck, Facebook, YouTube, Google, etc. more than yours? And if so, what are you focused on? Do you have a brand that represents you both online and in printed materials to give people? Whether you’re self-employed or work for a company, is that brand and all it stands for top-of-mind and in your face, every day? And if so, do you love it? Do you get the value behind the words and colors and images? Does it stand up well next to competitors? Is it vibrant and exciting to you, or stale and outdated, or non-existent? Are you proud of the brand you represent, so much so that it’s part of your life pretty much 24/7/365 days a year and you want to share it with people?

Because my theory is, we sell people on what is most present in our lives. This is where I wish I had some numbers or studies to give you, but I don’t. All I have is my own semi-psychological nature and human factors observations to offer… really, just an intuition about this. I think that with my personal branding being most present for me, and my various other ventures being dabbled in and scattered around all over the internet, I was unfocused when it came to a unified message. So I have taken steps to bring my own brand into alignment with what I can do for people (intelligent design with a universal view), what I can offer (lots of creative/tech/socialization services) and what lights me up (making products.) And I’m really, really excited about it. I have some visuals of my new branding to show you, and will do a dissection in another post of how I created the Fresh ID brand and the various elements I used, for those who are interested and want to do something similar for themselves, or at least want to understand the visual dynamics of a strong brand.

Below are Fresh ID-branded Twitterface & Twitter pages & a Ning Workspace design (we’re going to try using it in private mode to manage projects) plus a prototyped business card, which you’ll see all complement this site and blog design:

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This site you’re in right now is the umbrella for all I will focus on in 2010. It’s not quite finished, so bear with me, but this is where my blog is now, and it has its own little name, The Arboretum. I like to think of The Arboretum as being where we can all hang out, discuss, think and learn from each other. I have moved my Design for Users blog into this site so that I can share all the thoughts I have on user experience and customer care, as well as point to the products we offershow portfolio pieces, list services and explain our differentiator, since we are primarily a B2B services company.

Twitterface is going through some changes and we will be changing its name eventually (partly due to Twitter’s request that product names not contain the word Twitter in them.) And of course I will continue to work on projects with my friends at LightThread. But this is going to help me focus on what’s truly important and enable me to keep my own brand top-of-mind in the coming year.

This was my best decision so far, because bringing everything into this one business site is going to ensure I am in and out of my own company site much more than I was before. (I will keep my personal tumblr for playing, talking about cooking, music and other personal passions, etc.) We will be going further with this idea, as we develop ID Clouds (more on what that is later) that makes working online more pleasant and keeps us in our branded environment, because I truly believe we are selling what we see.

What do you think? What are you looking at everyday? Is your focus as sharp and your mission on target? If not, let’s talk about it and get you on the right path. If you have a brand you love and are proud of, share it with us so we can learn from what you’re doing!

How to Wreck Your Brand in a Single Weekend

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I witnessed a train wreck this weekend. Not a physical one, but an online version involving a social media company, a respected business consultant, an advice video, blog comments and a Twitter battle that led to harassment via direct messages and support tickets being filed.

I don’t want to call out the particular players in this incident and add fuel to the fire, but I do want to talk about this because the whole thing was completely avoidable.

A video and graphic formula was posted on a niche site that focuses on selling social media and online packages to a particular audience, on the subject of social media ROI. It was the opinion of some folks I know, that it was not accurate or sound in its theories. (I agreed with their opinions.) Blog comments were posted Saturday night, opposing the theories and asking hard questions about the formula and claims being made.

MISTAKE 1: The site owner removed the harshest comments, which I noticed and mentioned on Twitter. This got our group’s attention as we all tested various browsers to see if the comments were really removed or not. They were.

We can debate whether or not someone should step into another person’s environment and “spoil their soup” so to speak, but I personally think the nature of a blog and commenting system is that it invites conversation… and that conversation may not always want to be what you want to hear. You should let it happen anyway, and respond the best you can, with graciousness. (Excepting obvious troll or spam comments, which are deliberately thoughtless and should be deleted rather than posted to keep the experience of your site positive for readers.) The spotlight is on YOU when someone is calling you (or your company) out, and you are being watched to see how you will respond.

THE OTHER OPTION: The site owner should have responded to the questions and comments on the blog, in an open exchange of ideas. If he did not have enough data points to defend the formula & video (he did not produce them) he should have stated that and deferred to the person who came up with the theory, and let her respond when she was next online. (And not remove the comments.)

MISTAKE 2: The site owner got VERY testy on Twitter with the people who posted negative comments on his blog. When I say testy, I mean loose threats were issued. Dozens of defensive tweets were posted. Some were ultimately deleted. This is NEVER acceptable and can hurt your brand for far longer than you think statements will be remembered. To react in this way leaves an indelible impression.

One reason for the anger was that the site owner felt people were “picking on” his author. I saw the comments and understood where he was coming from, but rather than take it personally and threaten everyone not to mess with his “family” he should have corrected people that were making personal slams (pointed it out to them) and kept feelings about that separate from the questions the business consultant raised about the data presented.

THE OTHER OPTION: The site owner could have responded on Twitter about receiving the comments and stated that he would have the author of the theory respond when she was online, and thanked folks for leaving a comment. This is definitely taking the high-road, especially when you feel attacked, but when you’re focused on protecting the livelihood and reputation of your brand, the high-road is something you should be considering.

MISTAKE 3: Due to peer pressure on Twitter, the site owner displayed the missing comments again, but failed to address them on his blog (and they contained direct questions.)

THE OTHER OPTION: This was a good rectifying step, but the failure to acknowledge that there were questions on hold, waiting for an answer, made folks jump to conclusions. Among them, that they had no good answer to defend their theories, that perhaps the site owner didn’t know how to defend the data, or that perhaps he was just rudely ignoring what he felt were non-important questions. Answering the person who posted them, on the blog, would have led to a conclusion for the time being, at least, until the author showed up to defend her work.

MISTAKE 4: The site owner sent threatening DM’s to the respected business consultant Sunday afternoon, who promptly posted them public on Twitter and asked what the recourse was regarding physical threats and Twitter’s abuse policies.

This is completely and totally unacceptable for any company who wants to do business online. This is not a teen forum of high-school people who are hanging out after school. I guarantee anyone who witnessed this after-effect of the incident from Saturday night, on Sunday, will go out of their way to make sure people don’t do business with this social media company if they can help it. This was extraordinarily damaging.

THE OTHER OPTION: Obviously, (to me) the site owner should have dropped the issue, or followed up with his author to address the questions asked by the business consultant. Sending a direct message to the consultant regarding blog comments being answered would have been a nice touch, to show follow-through and acknowledgment that the questions raised were heard and addressed.

This entire incident bothered me a lot. Not just because some of my friends were involved, though obviously I defend their actions and statements because I feel they were accurate. But this social media company, in an industry that suffers from vagueness to begin with, undefined roles, and more questions than precedence has delivered answers for, completely FAILS to understand the most elemental aspects of how to do business using social media channels. And the people they service, their niche audience, are busy people who are like not overly technical and don’t have a ton of time to set up their personal brand elements and social presence, so they rely on this company to be honest, deliver value, and know what in the world they’re talking about.

If you are in the social media space, espousing theories, sharing ideas, making bold predictions, stating claims… expect debate and non-agreement. If you don’t want it, write a more traditional article and not a blog post with comments. This space is NEW. In some ways, it doesn’t feel like it, because those of us involved with discussion boards and various web applications for years don’t feel social networks are that different than what we’ve dealt with forever. But mass adoption, careers in this space, consulting, advertising and helping clients market themselves on social platforms is fairly new territory. So if you are going to claim you have the answers, prepare to defend them, explain them and talk about them.

From the Motrin Moms outrage to the Pepsi Can Suicide scandal, these trainwrecks keep happening online, often on the weekend when people are “off-duty”, and usually fueled by the source not knowing how to handle and respond to criticism and backlash. Even if you’re a small business, if you have a blog, if you do things “in public” such as post comments on social sites, create videos and invite comments, etc. you are going to need a plan in case things go pear-shaped.

I recommend reading the following two articles by Olivier Blanchard, aka The BrandBuilder, and then coming up with your own customized plan so that when times are tough, and you feel your blood boiling, you can follow the plan and not end up careening your brand over a cliff unnecessarily. It’s easier to prevent problems than fix them… your brand is the “baby on board” that you need to take care of like it’s a precious thing, or risk it being damaged beyond repair faster than you can save it.

» Digital Crisis Management (Part 1)
» Digital Crisis Management: Putting Things in Context (Part 2)

Study how to deal with blog or brand criticism:

» Dealing with Detractors
» Handling Blog Criticism (For Brands)
» Dealing with Negativity: Handling Criticism Effectively Online

Are You Getting To the Heart of Your Brand?

Two well-known brand strategists engaged in a conversation on Twitter yesterday that caught my attention. Olivier Blanchard, The BrandBuilder and Gabriel Rossi were discussing some of the problems companies have, in their opinion, with marketing and branding.

Gabriel said “People who criticize Marketing & Branding need to learn to see the value of brands as a powerful socio-economic force“, and Olivier’s response was like a glass of cold water in the face: “… as opposed to looking at Marketing and Branding as the discipline of putting together ads, brochures and mailers.

I’ve worked with so many companies on branding and marketing and that is what I do for them. In fact they often hire me because I am a “big picture” person who can help define and create the vision for the tangible brand, and then backtrack and execute the myriad of details to make it a reality. That has been my role, but I know that while appearance and physical materials are critical components of a successful branding effort, they are only the uppermost layer.

So often, my personal experience with companies is that we are focused on the appearance and business strategy and deals, but we don’t have time to go deep into the heart and soul of the brand and find ways to expose and communicate that. This problem reminds me of an artichoke, and I have slapped together a graphic here to try to demonstrate what I’m talking about…

brand-artichoke

The heart of a brand, like that of an individual, is vulnerable. It must be both soft enough to prove genuine caring, and strong enough to withstand scrutiny and adversity. But it is your core offering – not your products and services – and if you aren’t in touch with and know what’s in the heart, establishing lasting relationships with customers will be difficult or hit and miss. Do you want a shallow relationship with the people that interact with your brand, or a sympathetic bond that can withstand conflicts?

There are not enough hours in the day – I am all too aware of this, as I often find the bulk of my day being spent on putting out fires, or trying to take advantage of a new opportunity. It’s no wonder, between meetings, presentations, adminstration, lead generation, chasing down dollars owed and creating new content that digging very deep beneath the surface just does not seem to happen. In fact, I had to write this blog post over lunch and was not really present at the table with people, or it wouldn’t have happened. This happens to a lot of us, every day. Too many great ideas, lots of drive, but just not the time or resources to make it all happen now.

But we all need to try to carve out the time to make sure we are in touch with what matters most. Engaging people from the heart of your brand, being vulnerable and forging true and lasting customer relationships, is what will keep companies alive and thriving, through good times and bad times.

I want to thank my personal brand experts on Twitter for giving me great food for thought – not just yesterday, but quite often. The realization is one thing… figuring out what to about it, is a task for another day!