Is being a decent person optional in your company?

Then why do you have a set of values that addresses how people feel? Or their moral behavior?

If I have to remind someone not to steal when they show up for work, they shouldn’t be working for me.

I met with a talented executive recently who is in the midst of engineering an energetic transformation at his business. The changes that he is advancing are long overdue.

“I’m not wasting any time trying to do all the culture stuff,” he said. “We’re not debating values. We’re just doing what’s important.”


Another time I’ll talk about what made his answers so brilliant.

Now, I want you to ponder whether you’ve been as demanding of your business values as you are of your Company results.

Values are expressed and shared with the organization so that there is no confusion about what the right choice to make is when you face more than one. Values let everyone know what matters, and they should inform decisions that are made every day.

wich vibes

A good list of values will be short, emphatic, assume that we are all decent people and give everyone confidence in making decisions independently.

Take the rapidly growing sandwich brand Which Wich.

At the core of the brand is its Vibe — five simple directives that capture everything the brand wants to bring to life in its experience. If each Which Wich employee is successful at keeping the vibe fresh, then their experience, the customer’s experience and the overall brand experience is going to make people want to come back again and again.

And it has the benefit of being incredibly easy to understand.

Your values should articulate how you treat your customers, what you are striving to achieve with your experience, what actions contribute to the company’s business goals.

Values should be the tools that translates strategy into meaning for every individual in the organization.

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refresh button

Brand identity is an amorphous thing.

I’ve always applied a simple question to Brand: Does it capture what makes it different?

Different is the starting point for every brand conversation. It leads to a lot of great questions that everyone that interacts with the brand can get excited about.

Talented brand stewards know how to translate that difference into a powerful and compelling set of benefits, into engaging visual identity, into compelling stories and into a set of values that define every interaction the people around the Brand have with their stakeholders and each other.

Look under the hood at every successful company and you’ll find leaders who can articulate exactly what makes their Brand different and why it matters.

What you won’t find is are a lot of companies that have given their Brand a digital refresh.

You’ll find a lot of digital strategists. You’ll find data jocks and marketing pros who have aggregated conversion information and compiled marketing lists and designed successful campaigns.

You’ll find brand briefs that leverage digital platforms to extend brand engagement.

You’ll find teams working to develop content solutions to populate the different channels.

And you’ll be exposed to an inspiring amount of energy.

Too rarely will you find a cohesive Brand Strategy that is built from a digital-first perspective and that is purposed to influence every aspect of a company’s business strategy, its internal communications, its marketing, its communications plan and, most importantly, its Customer Experience.

A digital-first Brand identity starts with the premise that every question deserves an answer, every piece of useful information should be available.  It assumes that anyone in the organization will tell the brand story, that every one should be armed with the tools to advance and advocate the brand.  It assumes that every interaction is an opportunity to improve the brand.  it assumes that the Brand’s digital identity is the foundation of the overall Brand experience.

You still start with the same question:  What makes me different?  But, for each element of the answer, you ask, How can I make it as easy as possible for someone to find this out?  How can I make it as easy as possible for someone to share this?  How can I make it as easy as possible for someone to tell me if I’m not delivering?

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Justin Bieber at 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.

When teen superstar Justin Bieber posted his 300-word rant on Instagram objecting to how the media covers his life, his health and everything else, the media did a figurative head nod.

Here’s another celebrity with thin skin in the midst of a digital and life meltdown.

But, I don’t see it that way.

Justin Bieber was using his direct access to more than 36 million fans to vent about the things that were frustrating him.  That’s the essence of the Justin Bieber brand: simultaneous experience of life and music with an intensely loyal tribe of Beliebers.

Justin’s message lines up with his passion.  That is at the core of creating powerful Brand Stories.

Here at BuzzCloud, we’ve been talking about the importance of telling your story from the Top Down.  And Justin is a good example of that.  But you need to have the infrastructure to keep the story alive and on-target — a dedicated team who can carry out the story across a variety of channels that make sense for your brand and your audience. You’d have to be living under a rock to think Justin doesn’t have a solid team around him. So what’s the deal?

Where I think the train got away from Justin is the absence of strategy and teamwork to help take his story to the next level, or evolve it to what Justin the 19-year-old should be saying or doing, versus the messaging that was created for the blossoming 13-year-old Justin.  In other words, the best stories evolve. The media took the authentic transparency that they are always demanding and went negative — is Justin about to fall over the edge, he can’t be controlled, and on and on.

The Bieber brand team deftly created a juggernaut.  With this media flameout, there’s a question about whether this team can adopt the new ways of thinking and sharing to keep Justin Bieber’s story on track.

Note that I don’t say in control.  That’s the old model.  The new model is about  sharing stories — negative, positive, funny, sad, mean, true, untrue — so they become an infectious part of the online conversation. And for a star like Justin, the explosion of the wrong story (which lingers and lives on the Interwebs forever) could have a negative impact on his brand, long-term. The bottom line for any brand is do what it takes to OWN YOUR STORY.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)

Just ask Taylor Swift.

A recent New York Times article pointed out that there is danger ahead for Swift.  Her image is eroding and she hasn’t done anything specific.  She just feels creepy, all of a sudden.  People point to this month’s Vanity Fair article, and her seemingly loveless love life.

Now people are asking whether Taylor Swift, the pop queen who has dressed nicely and behaved well in public, is bad for women, if she has what it takes to be a cross-over pop artist.  Alarmingly, Swift’s “Q Score” has dipped far from its peak in 2010:

According to the marketing evaluations company Q Scores, Ms. Swift’s popularity rating, which takes into account familiarity (about 8 out of 10 people surveyed knows who she is) and appeal, peaked in 2010 at 30 out of 100. Presumably, Ms. Swift was reaping the benefits of the Kanye West debacle, when he interrupted her acceptance speech for Best Female Video by barging onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards in September 2009.

But her popularity score has since dropped by a third, to 20 this year, the lowest it’s ever been, though still 4 points higher than the average score (16) in the performer category.

“She’s not doing the kind of numbers that an advertiser would really love to see,” said Steven Levitt, president of the marketing company, noting her trajectory.

Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift may appear to occupy a solar system light years away, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the same thing can’t  happen to your brand.

A good story, and mastery of the toolkit that allows you to share it in meaningful, authentic ways, is an essential part of how to stay relevant today.  The cautionary tales of Justin and Taylor should serve as incentive to ask yourself what steps you are taking to ensure that your story is compelling enough to keep the attention of  the right people? There will always be noise in your space — how well does your brand play in that environment? Does it get drowned out, or are you amplifying your voice in ways that matter and resonate with your audience?

Ask yourself, What is making my story interesting?  No one cares about your new widget. No one cares about hearing your message delivered the same way, over and over.  The media in every market is in the business of creating attention, and if you are saying the same thing the same way, over and over, they will stop listening.

(Even with Swift and Bieber — the media could care less about what they had to say, and went with what their own version of the events taking place.)

The challenge for every brand is how to keep the story fresh and to grab attention without losing the message.


Without a good plan, you end up not owning your story.

It sure looks like Justin is working hard to keep ownership of his.  And he will have to, but it shouldn’t be THIS hard.

Maybe it is it true that he’s entering the familiar tailspin of so many teen pop stars before him.

Personally, I think he is different, and I hope I am right.

Maybe I’ll direct message Justin on Twitter. He follows me. Smart kid.

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Share your story image

When you have a good story, stick to it.

When you don’t have a good story, don’t hide.

I was reminded of the power of these maxims during two meetings in Washington, DC this week.

In the first, the head of a mid-sized ad agency told me about his first big political campaign. He was a young man, his candidate was 30 points behind in the polls and everyone on the campaign quit.

“We ended up winning by 30 points,” he said.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We had good research. I’m a big believer that you need to do the research. We found a good story and we didn’t let go.”

The win made his career and he never forgot the lessons.

Later that day, I met my friend Frank to catch up. The Vatican chimney  had just coughed up  white smoke, and we began reminiscing about our Catholic childhoods. As it too often does in discussions about Catholicism these days, the conversation turned to pedophilia and priests.

“I can’t believe that was going on around me,” Frank said. “I never got a smell of any of it.”

“I guess we were lucky,” I said. “The stories are horrible.”

“The Church didn’t help itself.”

“It couldn’t help itself…they were answering to a higher order and they didn’t feel compelled to explain.”

Frank has encountered his share of pain and sorrow in his life. He shook his head.

“You can’t hide from the bad stuff,” he said. “You’ve got to get out and stand up to it.”

As we watched the new Pope step out onto the balcony, I reflected on how it’s up to the head of any group — a family, a tribe, a company, a country — to set the tone for accountability and openness. Last December, on my blog The Media Transformation, I shared some thoughts about the importance of CEOs owning the storytelling agenda in their organization. The commentary was sparked by a passionate argument by Paul Holmes of The Holmes Report for organizations to let the storytellers contribute to the storytelling agenda.

That reminded me of a vivid experience from early in my career:

[We were] sitting in a boardroom talking with a group of senior executives about an important decision that was being made that would affect not only all the employees, but the customers of the company as well. We had gotten off track and were trying to figure out how to right the ship while telling everyone as little as possible about what went wrong.

Finally, the head of public relations spoke up. He was a seasoned veteran who had worked at much bigger companies handling much thornier problems before he’d joined our business. We tolerated him; we were younger and had big futures ahead of us. ”Listen,” he said. ”Why don’t you tell them the truth and let them figure out whether you’re smart enough to sort it out. If you’re not, they’re going to find out eventually.”


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dbc hashtag

A big blogger party wound down in Los Angeles last week that is a great example of how to leverage social media to enhance your brand.

The concept is simple: our client, Digital Sherpa, brought together a couple of hundred bloggers in the design space to talk about blogging, to meet manufacturers, to interact with traditional media outlets and to just have fun.

This is the third Design Bloggers Conference.  I had the privilege of speaking at the first two.  The get-together is a blast.

What’s in it for Digital Sherpa?

Well, the company provides social media and content marketing services to more than 2000 clients around the country. At the core is content, and the primary content platform is the blog.

Designers are a big segment of DigitalSherpa’s business.

By bringing together the biggest social media influencers in the design world, DigitalSherpa puts itself in the middle of a vital conversation.

The event gives the brand Authority, Intelligence and Energy.

How much energy? The #dbdc2013 hashtag was a trending topic on Twitter for two straight days.

By aligning itself with some of the biggest influencers in the design space, DigitalSherpa increases confidence among its customers, its prospects, its sales channels and its employees.

The content from the event is shared all of the web, spreading digital breadcrumbs across every social platform.

That drives new prospects, new sales, renewals and new opportunities.

When you are thinking about how to make your brand stand out, don’t just focus on your message. Look for ways to bring together the community of influencers that surround you. They will make more noise, in more ways, than you ever could, and that will do you a lot of good.

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