From hidden fees and cramped conditions to inconsiderate staff and bad food, the experience of air travel, for lack of a better word, sucks. In this week’s episode, Bill uses the airline industry as an example to evaluate the value of seeking, and the risks of neglecting, a great customer experience as well as its impact on brand loyalty. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. This is One Big Idea and we’re calling this the Not So Friendly Skies for a couple of reasons. I hope and pledge that this will actually be an idea, and not just a rant about how much air travel sucks. That is very present in my thinking, given a trip to and from LA last week.

There’s also an article, that recently came out from the American Customer Satisfaction Index that ranks these things annually. The article had newly updated rankings for a variety of brands across travel, dining, hospitality, and other consumer products. It found, not surprisingly, that the airline industry continues to be a laggard when it comes to overall customer satisfaction. Southwest and JetBlue are the highest, but they are well below the level of other leadership brands. Then you find the rest of the marketplace being far lower and also the overall airline category being really low. In fact, one of the lowest categories that is studied in this overall index.

The slight increase that they saw from year to year, in terms of customer satisfaction with the airline industry and with several specific large scale airline brands, they attribute to a couple of things. One, the fact of lower fuel costs has led to low fares remaining low. In some cases, getting lower. Some airlines, I think American, brought back free snacks in the form of a little bag of 6 mini pretzels or whatever the case may be. Not to mention that American and US Airways have gotten some of the craziness out of the way in terms of the merger immigration, systems, and affinity programs, etc. that are working a little better. There is a variety of reasons why there may have been a slight uptick in the satisfaction scores year over year, but the bottom line is that the airline industry still, at least on customer satisfaction measures, is a horrific performer.

As someone who’s a moderate to frequent traveler, I know exactly why that is. It’s very unpleasant, at every touch point. Really, the exciting thing of course is getting off the plane, looking at your watch, and realizing that you’re going to get off in 15, 20 minutes, whatever the case may be.

In satisfaction, or when it comes to net promoter scores or other measures of satisfaction, you can get to a decent level – let’s say it’s a 1 to 10 scale. You can probably get to 5, 6, 7, even 8 by just delivering crisply, by being polite, by communicating well, by being transparent, by doing more or less what you said you’re going to do, from a brand perspective. As we know getting the 9 or 10 and real advocacy reaching that kind of level, the pantheon of well-regarded and well-loved brands is not just about the product. It’s about the experience as a whole.

I’ve talked on this podcast, but certainly to colleagues and clients as well about an experience we had in our family. When my wife gave birth to our first child who’s now five years old. When you go into that experience at the hospital, what you’re really looking for is obviously, everything to go well. Everyone to be safe and healthy and happy. That happened. The care that she received was fabulous. Coming out of that experience we ranked that very positively, but then when it came time to sleep there for the day or 2 on the back end of the delivery, she was in a room with a roommate, the room wasn’t very nice, the roommate was noisy. The overall experience, I mean listen, we weren’t going in expecting the Ritz, goodness knows. Coming in we’re just like, ‘10 fingers, 10 toes everyone’s happy, smiling, healthy.’ That’s what we need. That’s the dream here. Coming out we’re like, ‘Well that happened and it’s great, but you know what this was really unpleasant in a lot of ways.’

All this is to say that to really get to 9’s and 10’s in customer satisfaction you have to deliver not only product but experience. Now the airlines don’t get anywhere close to that as the data indicates at this point. Airlines deal with the literal customer journey. They are taking people to different places. The interaction with an airline brand and with the travel experience begins long before flight attendants or listening to pilots over the loud speaker. Along the way, airlines have made both individually, and en masse, seemingly an endless drumbeat of anti-consumer decisions, in terms of fees, in terms of smaller travel berth in cubic inches, things like that. Again, it isn’t a surprise that you’re seeing these scores.

I understand in many ways why this is on the financial side of it. Consumers want lower fares. This is how they get them, or how they keep them low. Spirit Airlines was the lowest performing customer satisfaction brand, at least in the airline category. Their Spokesperson, CEO, and marketing folks have long said, ‘You know what, it isn’t going to be great but the reason it isn’t great is because unlike other airlines that make you pay for things that you don’t want or need, we’re going to keep the fares as low as we can. Make the overall thing no frills, because we think that’s ultimately what you want and charge you a la carte for different things.’ Either way, customer satisfaction for Spirit and for others was very low. They made this bargain and they perform lowest on satisfaction and overall low performing category.

Again, I get it. There is a challenging cost structure in the airline industry. There are plenty of examples of airlines performing, at least in terms of passenger travel, at decent capacity levels yet not performing financially. There’s labor cost issues, there’s uncontrollable elements, to a degree, like fuel costs. There’s a lot of issues related to just the financial structure of running an airline, I get it.


‘The question, ultimately, is the degree to which airlines care about customer satisfaction and brand goodwill.’
I understand bag fees, I understand crowding as many people as you can on there, but there is a consequence to that. The question, ultimately, is the degree to which airlines care about customer satisfaction and brand goodwill. Is it worth it to them to coordinate systems on the technology side, to emphasize culture, or to deliver cross functionally?

I don’t mean this as a joke question. In the airline industry when it comes to an individual flight that one person may take on one day, competition is minimal. There aren’t multiple carriers often or if there are, the price difference is significant, the timing difference is significant. This isn’t about walking down the aisle of grocery store and choosing which detergent you want. The choice factor here remains minimal for a lot of structural reasons. Industry-wide costs are high and they’re borne by everyone. It’s very difficult to make a profit within this financial structure.

This isn’t a joke question. Ultimately, what financial value would an executive place on customer satisfaction being high, brand goodwill being high, brand loyalty being high? They use affinity programs to create brand loyalty and lock in brand loyalty beyond smiles and happiness.

On the other hand, there is some choice here. We do see brands like Southwest and Virgin and JetBlue, to a degree, being liked and that translating into financial performance. Southwest is legendary, in a lot of ways, for breaking the mold of the industry cost structure. Being able to operate in a leaner way to get more versatility from their work force and have a happier workforce. That certainly shows, you certainly feel it, the strength of that culture. Again, is that worth it financially for others to make significant investments and improving the customer experience?

Another thing that should not be forgotten is that, in the airline industry often, while specific brand’s goodwill may not be strongly in evidence with a couple of exceptions, the airline industry as a whole has relied on the goodwill on the American people from time to time when it comes to things like bailouts, when it comes to things like regulation of the sort that congress may be seeking to to put onto the backs of airlines as they operate. They have relied on and they often rely on the American citizenry as being supportive of the industry. We shouldn’t forget the fact that overall goodwill as a category does matter. It certainly matters at critical moments when it comes to inflection points for the industry.

I was thinking about this more deeply when I was flying to and from LA, and there has been many years of doing this. You’re sitting there and reeling from all the calamities that may have happened on the way to the plane – in terms of being late and nobody knowing what’s happening and nobody wanting to tell you. Then you stand in this long, sweaty line and everyone is pushing. The overall thing is just very unpleasant and then you get on and you’re like, ‘Oh great, I’ve got 6 hours.’ You want to try to sleep or you want to be productive but WiFi is super expensive. Talk about a brand with Gogo, good grief.

Anyway, everybody knows that. I don’t have to go through the litany of this. There you are and you’re settled in and maybe you’re in a bit of a relaxed state. Then all of a sudden, a flight attendant comes on the loud speaker trying to sell you a credit card. I mean, good heavens. The way that they’re trying to sell it to you, they’re obviously not engaged in the pitch. They’re told to do this. It’s part of their ritual, it’s part of their checklist. They’re not reading this offer with any feeling and the way the offer is written is about, ‘Hey, just for you. Today it’s a special.’ We know that’s not true. You hear it every time. Every single time you fly, you hear it. Maybe they change up cadence but it’s written in a very schlocky direct marketing way.

I happen to actually have the card. It’s not a bad deal, the American Airlines version of it. Not a bad deal at all, if you fly a lot. If you’re a consumer and you’re not suspicious of this, by the way that they’re reading it and the way that they’re treating you and how they walk down the aisle, slowly looking over their glasses, holding out. Trying to catch your gaze and watching you avert it as they have these applications in their hands. I mean good heavens.

Not a bad deal, again, but horribly presented and someone somewhere within the airline structure decided that any additional revenue that they can bleed out of consumers through this opportunity should override the impact of customer goodwill, and the impact on brand dilution, and brand strength. If you fundamentally create brand loyalty by an unspoken compact that a brand has ‘got your back,’ this is the opposite of that. My rule has always been, and you look at freecreditreport.com and others, if in order to sell something to you, the seller must conceal what it does or how much it costs, you’re probably not being consumer friendly, ultimately.

That’s how it feels in every touch, in a lot of ways with airlines, but certainly when it comes things like this. They’ve finally given you 6 measly pretzels and the cost of that is you’ve got sit here and listen to this pitch and have it inflicted on you. Basically be, lied to is too strong a word, but, ‘This special deal just for fliers on Flight 804,” or whatever the hell it is.


‘What’s the balance between maximizing financial opportunity and insuring the maximum level of consumer goodwill, brand strength, loyalty, and brand equity?’
Anyway, the bottom line is, ultimately, is where does it leave us? How is this a One Big Idea rather than one big rant? Where is the balance ultimately? Key questions here, not just for airlines, but for brands in general. What’s the balance between maximizing financial opportunity and insuring the maximum level of consumer goodwill and brand strength and loyalty and brand equity?

Certainly in the UK and Western Europe it has been evoked to value brand equity on a balance sheet. We don’t really do that much here in the US, financially. We study it but it’s treated in some ways as a soft brand asset – of course, we at Finch believe, it’s anything but.

What’s the right balance here? How can you, if you’re looking at an airline which is a very unwieldy and complex organization, certainly, how do you sync up and manage it in a true, meaningful, progressive way that customer journey when you have so many people involved, so many dispersed functions? Often in many cases, there is a union situation so that the corporate ability to say, ‘Here are the rules. Follow them. You’ll be managed against those metrics and against the dashboard of how well you delivered this.’ It is not as linear as it might be in an environment where you’re not dealing with personnel. Then you certainly have TSA as a part of this. You certainly have local airport folks who are part of this, so there is a maximum ability to control the brand perspective of an airline. But how do you sync up these touch points in a way, if you really do want to progress the journey and you really associate value well with this brand loyalty and goodwill, how do you fundamentally do it?

I’ll stop there. I’m babbling about this but it was fresh in my mind reading this article. As well as just experiencing yet again, horror may be too strong a word, but certainly the unpleasantness interpersonally, physically, emotionally of flying back and forth coast to coast last week.

As always, 3 ways to do so, if you’d like to help us here at Real-World Branding. Let’s have a dialogue on Twitter. Please if you feel we’ve earned it, rate us in the App Store of your choice. Then subscribe so you do not miss a week of what we do here. We do one week on, in terms of interviews with brand and business builders that go deep, and then one week where I just ramble. Hopefully, not as much as I’m rambling today, but I appreciate your indulgence. We will sign off with all the best to you for a wonderful week from the Cradle of Liberty.

The post One Big Idea: Not So Friendly Skies appeared first on Finch Brands.

The use of branded destinations and experiential marketing is becoming a core strategy as brands look to make lasting connections with consumers. In this episode, we host John Kasman, VP of PGAV Destinations, a leading destination design firm working with some of the world’s biggest brands to bring life changing experiences to their customers. We discuss the elements of successful brand destinations, how brands begin to think about experiential marketing, and how to weave the brand into every aspect of a destination. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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John Kasman: A lot of where we start is trying to understand what the core attributes of the brand are, and so a lot of things really. Quite often you can look at blue sky, but it really is about trying to understand the brand and trying to understand the mission and the message that they want to give the guests, and so it’s making sure that the connection is there.

Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. We’re grateful to have you with us this week. This week’s guest is John Kasman. John is Vice President at PGAV Destinations, which is a super cool St. Louis based firm that builds destinations and experiences – that designs things like zoos and aquariums, and themed entertainment parks, museums and culture, hospitality, resorts. The area of the business that we’re going to focus in on is brand destinations. They’ve done a fair amount with Anheuser-Busch and others, National Geographic, etc. It’s a really interesting set of topics that John takes us through. His career is fascinating, their work is fascinating.

When we think about what brand managers and operators of branded content have at their disposal in terms of how you grow and how you extend the power of what you’ve built into other ways of connection with consumers, other ways of generating revenue, and awareness, and loyalty, the destination and experiential space is exploding in terms of growth and prominence. On one hand that’s pop-up experiences that may be temporary and promotional. On the other hand it may be longer term, more durable, permanent restaurant concepts, or retail concepts or whatever it is. John’s going to take us through a lot of this, so enjoy John Kasman, PGAV Destinations.

Bill:Joining us on Real-World Branding from right, I believe, under the Arch in St. Louis, the gateway to the west, is John Kasman, Vice President at PGAV Destinations. John, thank you so much for joining us.

John: Yeah, you bet. I love talking about my work, so thank you for the opportunity.

Bill: Good, and I know our listeners will enjoy hearing about your work. PGAV Destinations does an incredible amount. It’s a fascinating industry and fascinating company across all different types of destinations, your zoos and aquariums. We’re going to focus, I think a lot on the branded destination piece of this, but before we dive in, could you give us a quick hopscotch through your own personal journey and career history?

John: Yeah, sure. My background, my professional background is in architecture, so I’m an architect. Even early on, my upbringing I think led me to that, I always wanted to be an architect. My mother, she had great artistic ability and my father was an engineer, so he loved research. I still remember, he would always tell me to look up stuff in the Encyclopedia Britannica back when we had those, and surprisingly enough, I never stopped asking questions. So I just read everything growing up. I think architecture came naturally to me. It’s kind of that combination of art and engineering, and left brain and right brain. I think I was born to do what I’m doing now, so I’m just fortunate I get to do it here at PGAV. It’s working on destinations every day. I mean, how fun is that? You know?

Bill: Yeah, it’s awesome.

John: Yeah, every day is guest experiences, and tourism, and leisure time, and that’s all we do here, so it’s great.

Bill: On the road a lot? On location with different projects?

John: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. With destinations you’ve got to go where the destinations are. It’s not necessarily a local kind of deal, so we are nationally and globally, it’s great work.

Bill: Right, and I know, I think you’re from Chicago originally, but have certainly been in St. Louis for large parts of your career. You went to architecture school? Did you know from very early on this was the thing?

John: I did. I did. I went to architecture school at the University of Notre Dame and I’m a Midwesterner through and through. Like you said, I started in Chicago and came to St. Louis. I knew architecture was always going to be for me, I just didn’t realize it was going to be such a great opportunity to work in such a great niche of destinations.

Bill: Right. Notre Dame. Do they have a football team? I think I heard …

John: Yeah. You may have heard of them, right?

Bill: I guess it depends, although we have a big fan in the office here, who always wears a Domer hat. So you were interested in architecture. It blends the left and right brain, the engineering, the design, all of these different pieces. Specifically in terms of what PGAV does as opposed to other more conventional forms of architecture, how did you get to this and fall in love with this slice of the field?

John: When you think about how we have folks here that work on destinations, I think everybody’s got a different path, right? Mine was through architecture. Other people in the office may go through graphic design or landscape, or media. The path is all different depending on whose journey it is, but falling in love I think was kind of another story. I think my fall was probably a pivotal moment or emotional impact, just seeing a lot of our work with my own two eyes, and a lot of my large influence on my career was a lot of on-site art direction, so it’s a great opportunity. It’s intense and demanding, but once you see the fruit of your labors at completion, wow. It’s just overpowering to be able to see it, you know?

Yeah, there was a pivotal moment, even. I remember falling in love with the work that I do. I tell this story all the time to people that I can still remember one project I was working on had a lot of on-site art direction and the project included an animal experience, and so the underwater viewing was a great place to observe guests and so I’d sit and I’d watch guests. It was almost my little bit of my own research.

I’d sit there and watch guests and I still remember that there was a family that came up with a little girl, who was kind of relying on her walking crutches to get around. They came up and they spent some time there, and this little girl was playing and laughing, and using her crutches to play through the acrylic with the animal on the other side and it went on for a good long while. Finally, I continued to watch people and I watched her mom. She was just behind her with her hand over her mouth and tears starting to come.

To me it was a pivotal moment, because it hit me, just thinking of the fact that it’s serving your clients well, and you’re always focusing on the project and the client, but by serving the clients well, we’re really serving the guests and the visitors and people like you and me. It’s powerful when those moments kind of hit you, and you think about it. The power when those moments are really associated to a brand on top of that, that’s the good stuff right there.

I was fortunate that I got to discover that in the field on my own. Somebody in the office didn’t have to teach it to me, or look at the fact that every project we do, there’s potential for life changing moments. Once you get hit by something that moves you, I’ve been hooked for a long time, so it’s a great piece.

Bill: Yeah. It’s powerful and you’re right. When we look across the portfolio of what PGAV does, your zoos and aquariums, your general themed entertainment, the work that you do on the museum and cultural experience side, obviously hospitality resorts, places that people go. You make those places wonderful. I think we’re going to focus, given our subject matter at Real-World Branding on the branded destinations piece, in terms of the story of the firm and of the industry, was that always there or did it come into favor later on, or can you trace us a little bit through the history of that part of the offering?

John: I think the brand destinations piece has always been there. When you think about the work that we do, we focus on guest experiences, and we don’t necessarily focus on the product at the end, but it’s really about what the visitor’s getting out of it, and so when you think about the journey of our company, it’s applying that to all kinds of different destinations, the brand destinations is a perfect fit, whether it’s a corporation or a consumer good, or an institution that has a mission that they want to be able to share with the guests, all of those are just a perfect fit, just as much as it is for any other destination that people go to for their leisure time.

Brand Destinations

Brand Destinations: National Geographic Visitor’s Center
Courtesy of PGAV Destinations

Bill: Right, right. Within the portfolio of the types of branded destinations that you all have worked on, you have National Geographic on the publisher side of this, there’s obviously the consumer product world with Budweiser and Goose Island and other branded destinations associated with that. When a brand is thinking about expressing itself experientially, and in this way, to what degree is there a balance for you between some of the things that you may do in a white space, experience development process versus a brand that may have a pretty strong sense of self, that may have an existing category of focus, that may have a personality that’s already well developed? Any difference in projects like that, where you’re really executing a brand strategy experientially, versus something that may be a little bit more blue sky?

John: Well, I think a lot of where we start is trying to understand what the core attributes of the brand are. A lot of things, really, quite often you can look at blue sky, but it really is about trying to understand the brand and trying to understand the mission and the message that they want to give the guests. It’s making sure that the connection is there, but that ease of connection is changing every day. There’s huge opportunities for destinations to take their surrounding environments and treating the consumer as a guest, but using that environment as a content generator, really.

Bill: We’ll look at something for example like Goose Island Tap Room. It is very easy, maybe not easy, but it is simple if one desired, if a brand owner desired, to open a conventional tap room and slap their logo on the door, or whatever. That’s linear. Hire an operator, or license it out or whatever. What is the difference between a limp, one-dimensional approach like that versus true immersive brand experience? When you go into a project like that, how do you go about teasing out those uniqueness to make sure that this is a tap room that’s not just a different name on the door but it really is unmistakably representative of a brand?

John: Sure, and the Goose Island example is a great one because their team was passionate to make sure that the way that they would present it is to give every opportunity to be able to share their love for their beer with whoever came through the door. A lot of that is multi-sensory. It’s being able to plan and use every tool at your disposal as great ways to start conversations and share more things. It comes from not just what you do, but how you do it and the stories you get to tell.

So it got all the way down into the details of the live edge of the wood on the countertop that’s at the bar, and being able to have stories where you can plant little pieces of their brand and the passion that they have and to be able to create those conversations for whether it’s a bartender or server, or just a team member, to be able to continue those conversations with the guest. Really a lot of it is multi-sensory. A lot of it is thinking about the stories that you can share.

Bill: Absolutely. Then you get into something like National Geographic Visitors’ Center for example, the Grand Canyon and perhaps elsewhere. Your Goose Island consumer product brand has certain principles and extends obviously in a fairly direct way into the tap room experience. A brand like National Geographic that may be tight in its own way, but a little bit more diffused maybe than something that is as obviously consumer product driven, any differences in how you might undertake a project like that?

John: A lot of that example is finding the perfect fit. When you think about a visitors’ center and making sure that you can take full advantage of who’s the perfect fit. National Geographic is the perfect fit to be your guide to the national parks, and taking the passion of their media, but also the aspiration of a guest to be just as good at my own photography as I see in National Geographic. A lot of this is tapping into the aspirations and making sure that the content of what that destination is can be able to play back and forth with that.

Bill: Right, right. When you look at what a brand manager thinks about and what an owner of a brand thinks about, obviously they’re trying to maximize the financial opportunity they’re trying to expand and connect their brand more deeply into the lives of those that they seek to serve. There’s a lot of options at their disposal. Many brands obviously become very elastic in terms of product concepts. They license the brand out across adjacent product categories, etc. But when a brand owner or brand manager is thinking about how best to express its equity and potentially to move in the direction of more experiential marketing and brand expression, what are some of the good things for them to think about from the jump?

John: Sure. A lot of brands, they are experts at their product, and really a lot of folks are just very passionate about understanding the demographics of their consumers, and a lot of what we get into and suggest is that it’s not just about understanding your product. You need to understand your guests at a deeper level, not just the general demographics. I mean, doing the research to ask the questions, to go a little bit deeper to understand what is driving the guests. We bump into that a lot, and just recently we even partnered with, we did our own internal research. We partnered with H2R Market Research and published a study that was very specific to guests, to visitors that go to destinations, and to be able to fill the gaps for the data that’s not out there.

What are the core reasons for visiting and what matters most once you get there? Most importantly, what’s keeping them from returning? I think a good thing for brands to think about, and going back to your question, is driving hard on understanding the guests just as much as you understand the general demographics.

Even then, even with the study, I remember we went into the different brand destination types. When you think about, there’s a bunch of folks out there doing event-based opportunities and permanent destinations, but there’s also embedded, like experiences that are within stadiums and airports, and even the retail experiences that they all have different drivers. You have to understand the drivers and what’s relative to understanding that guest for each one of those different experiences as well.

Bill: Right. Who are your typical, I’m sure it varies every single time, but if you could try to generalize a little bit, who are the typical functional interfaces for you when it comes to brand projects like this? Are you dealing with the brand management organization? Does there tend to be a licensing intermediary? How does it typically work?

John: You’re right. They totally vary, even when you think about the different types that we were just talking about. For permanent destination, a lot of times projects are driven by marketing, but also it’s a great dance and a great puzzle to be able to figure out when you think about, they have some operational folks that are very in tune and very important in the process to make sure the guest is treated the right way, to take all the operational issues away so they can really enjoy the day.

Between the marketing agendas and the operational things to work out, overlay the top of food and retail opportunities that they want to be part of the core day, part of the experience, not just add-ons. Those people come into great play, whether it be temporary event based or be a permanent fixture. You can imagine all those different players. It is a dance to be able to make sure you can optimize the end result to get it the perfect fit.

Bill: Yeah, and at the juncture at which you all enter, does the client or brand partner tend to have a fairly mature experiential strategy, at least in terms of this type, this location, these locations, or are you often helping them think through all that?

John: Every brand, every company, and every institution is so different. Some are very mature and they know exactly what their goals are and you take those goals and you get to help them to come up with the right strategies to achieve it. But when you think about it, the brand destination is still a little bit new, and a little bit unique to some other folks that are just getting into whether it be experiential marketing or a destination type product. Those companies, you’re right, need some support, whether it’s with our experience and our knowledge or otherwise. But they really cover the gambit depending on where we are.

Bill: Yeah, that makes sense. I know, and I think our collective industry media has been very well adept at covering some of the major things. We’ve seen a lot of pop up stuff happening. We see a lot of activations that are more experiential, but are there a couple things that you may have noticed when you look at how this branded destination, experiential marketing space, where are we going? What are you seeing, trends that are driving these things forward?

John: Especially recently the market’s changed, right? The ease of connection that we all have. Whether you look at social or other things, the world’s getting smaller and the ease of connection is really changing everything. You look at what has happened with in-store retail, and they’re deeply looking at the joy of the guest experience, or storytelling has been a buzzword for a while now.

We’re all looking to share connections, and so first and foremost, when you look at what’s going on now and how things are changing, and I think there’s a great advantage of using the surrounding environment. It’s a huge opportunity, not just for permanent destinations but a lot of these destinations are becoming memory makers and content generators. It’s not just relying on a digital component, but it really is a physical one.

You think about it, you brought up the work that we’ve been doing with Anheuser-Busch and the way that they’ve repositioned the Budweiser beer experience is, at all their different breweries across the country, St. Louis is the best known because it’s the birthplace of Budweiser, but a lot of that work wasn’t necessarily focused on the brand. It was focused on making friends and celebrating the enjoyment of beer.

Brand Destinations

Brand Destinations – Budweiser Beer Experience
Courtesy of PGAV Destinations

When you think about their products that they’ve added over the past couple of years, like a beer garden, that’s one example that was very much a content generator from an environmental standpoint. Visitation to the St. Louis brewery has now doubled. You get new brand advocates and you get repeat visitation, so it’s a great example of making sure that the environment has a key role in content generation.

Bill: Right. You certainly see more contemporary brand experiences popping up around, South by Southwest for example. I was having coffee with someone the other day from Philadelphia who had, in a tentative way, gone to just see what the opportunities were around such a high gloss type of experience for brand expression, with thinking of how to go big and bigger in the future. You see Comic-Con. You see many different things that seem to be happening in the marketplace that are bringing people together and brands want a way into this. What’s been your take on just the notion, and you talk about storytelling, what can brands do, small, medium, and large, to bring a little bit more experience into that portfolio of things that they’re doing?

John: That’s where the subject comes up, technology is a big driver and it seems to be one of the top things that people automatically jump to, but it’s not always the answer. When you think about it, you also asked where this space is going. Relative to that, I think new technologies will always continue to drive the way that we look at the world and the way that guests can interact with the environments.

You asked a small, medium, and large kind of way, I think that is a player, that you can go big. You can go small, but I see, in the future, I think technology is going to be used in ways to customize and personalize experiences, and you can balance that. I think a lot of folks focus on the new technologies coming out, but keeping in mind that you balance it with a non-digital way to engage the senses, and focus on the visitor experience from a personal standpoint. The balance of that really provides you with a little bit of flexibility of small or large.

Bill: Right. Absolutely. We talked earlier, and you’ve mentioned some of the projects, and all one has to do is take a look at the company’s website or other materials to see the range and extent of the types of projects that you work on. Any standout stories from the road that either bring a smile or an aha or whatever when you think about these last 25 years, or whatever it’s been?

John: Yeah, it’s funny. You were talking about our website and when destination is in the firm name, you know that you’re on the road a lot, right? It’s just the case, but our products have always provided a great variety for our travel. We have natural wonders and national parks, and space shuttles to animal interactions. There’s so much. There’s so many opportunities there, it’s just great. I often, when this subject comes up, I always stop and think about I wish my language skills would keep up with my international travel.

My language skills are not the best and it’s pretty surprising really, but I remember once, we did an extended trip for art direction during construction, and it wasn’t weeks, it was months. I mean, I got the opportunity to spend 6 to 9 months in Spain. It was just absolutely wonderful, but I didn’t know a lick of Spanish when we started out. My crash course, I remember I was to take a crash course to be able to make sure I could get started with all the needs. I still recall my first crash course in a foreign language were things like ‘concrete’ and ‘brick,’ and colors and textures. It really does put a filter on the way that our business works. It’s interesting. I knew all those words before I even knew how to say hello. Stories from the road, it’s a wonderful opportunity. I’ll just keep learning my language skills, right?

Bill: Yeah. Fair enough. Actually, since you bring up the international piece, one of the topics we’ve been dealing with a little bit recently on this podcast, a couple of weeks ago we spoke with a high ranking Jack Daniel’s brand management person, who was talking a little bit about her experience in global marketing at Brown-Forman, and then we meditated a bit on that last week. When you go to global markets, and you’re representing US-based brands. Any tricks of the trade, or things to remember to make sure to bridge the gap between local custom, lifestyle, and rhythm, and how you balance that with hard and fast brand equities in terms of the way they might be practiced in the US? Any differences in how the business works in global markets?

John: I’m not sure it’s how the business works, but it does come down to that there is always a lot of cultural research that we do when we start, whether or not it’s brand focused. When you think about a brand who may be established in an international market, a lot of it is brand and product based, but when you think about the work that we do and the interesting filter and the challenge that we have is translating that brand into a destination that people experience on a day to day basis and during their leisure time. There’s a lot of cultural understanding and a little bit of not only the demographics of the people, but also the culture, and so yeah, it’s a challenge.

It takes an additional layer of some deep thinking. It could be quite different when you think about the way the product or the brand is perceived. There might be some hidden opportunities because of some cultural things that you learned to be able to really leverage in a different way, an unexpected and unique, and emotional connection. It’s great.

Bill: I know that you mentioned the recent research study on brand destinations, and a lot of these things are accessible on the website . Another study that you did that was kind of interesting I think was Generation Z and how the young today are thinking about zoos, aquariums and other things. You told that very moving story from the front, about the impact watching that had. As the parent of a 3 and 5-year-old, and seeing how technology has changed their world and everything else, how distinctive is today’s kid, today’s family, versus what those attractions may have been like all the while that we were growing up? Is it just more and better, and using tech, or are there fundamental differences in how attractions like that are planned today versus yesteryear?

John: You mentioned your ‘more and better’ because of technology, I think it really does come down to when you think about content and appealing to multiple generations, I think when you’re focusing on the piece that we did for Generation Z, a lot of it is interesting from a learning style standpoint as well. It’s not necessarily always technology based because it’s the new thing that’s the buzzword of how the new generations are totally developing differently. But a lot of it, still, is going back to learning styles.

People interact with the world in a different way. At that age, at that young age, it’s great to think about sculpting your content but also your delivery methods relative to that. Every destination we do, it’s not only for certain type demographics, a lot of time they’re broad, so being able to balance it with that particular generation, think about the delivery styles but also make sure that you’re covering other generations as well is a great challenge.

Bill: Right. One I feel every Saturday morning when we try to go somewhere and hope that the kids love it. When you look at your own career path and I’m sure that there are folks listening who, those who are in brand management positions I think hopefully this discussion will give them a little bit of fodder in terms of thinking about how to extend brands into the experience realm. I think we also, a strong percentage of our listenership comes from those who are interested in this field and they may be either involved early in their career or still in school or whatever it is. What would you tell somebody who’s been inspired by your career path, and can hear the passion coming out of everything that you say? Words of wisdom, be they either functional or about life skills as you reflect back on where you’ve come?

John: Sure. It’s a great question, really. PGAV is continuing to grow, so I’ve had the pleasure of doing quite a few interviews recently, and I loved it, really. I love sitting down and talking with young designers, whatever their background might be. At the core, a few words keep on coming back whenever I talk with those folks and you just mentioned the word passionate – that’s one of them. Making sure you have passion for whatever you’re doing. It’s really apparent, you can almost tell in the eyes of somebody when they have passion for something versus when they’re just going through the motions.

Ownership is another word that comes around often, making sure, no matter what we work on, we’re owning the problem, we’re owning the challenge and the joy of executing it. Curiosity is probably another word that comes up a lot. It even came up as I was telling my initial story about how I grew up, having that passion to keep on questioning why and digging a little bit deeper in the research is a huge driver. The last one is empathy. We use that term quite often. It might be the most important one. To really deliver you have to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. That’s a great piece.

Bill: No doubt, and it certainly speaks, as you’ve said, to the role of research in processes like this and as a similar or related question, but when you look across your peers and the folks who become really valuable and successful at PGAV and in your field, understanding that they may come at it from different places. As noted there’s designers, there’s architects, there’s presumably project managers. There’s all sorts of different folks functionally, but what are some common denominators, or have you listed them do you think, of what makes someone great at this?

John: Besides the few things that we listed already, I think we’re very fortunate here at PGAV to have broad talent. It’s not just we look at somebody’s background and they might come from an architectural background or a graphic design background and it’s great that they are passionate in many different ways, and so they can constantly learn from each other, and grow in very amorphous ways, rather than a strict view of the world. That’s something I always admired with the people that I work with, and I’m surrounded with. I always look around and look at the great talent that we have here and the drive to actually be as good as they are in all kinds of different ways. It’s not just one directional. It’s the broad talent that makes it impressive.

Bill: We mentioned a few of the research studies and I know that PGAV is a frequent publisher from Destinology, which I think comes out quarterly, to some of the other research that you do on an annual basis. There may be some exciting projects or destinations that are about to open. Some exciting things that may be coming down the path for all of you that we all should look out for?

John: Yeah, we’ve got lots of great projects in the works. We’re excited here in 2016. It’s great. We mentioned a little bit about Anheuser-Busch earlier, there’s the latest renovation that’s opening up in the summer here in St. Louis for the next round of the renovation, retail and entry experiences for them, and we’re very excited about that.

You mentioned our research and you’re right. We’re just as passionate about our industry research as we are our destination design, so we are very excited about our latest research. It’s an annual research publication for the attractions industry. It’s called Voice of the Visitor. We did that in working with our industry partners at H2R and Blue Loop, and it’s a great piece. It covers insights and really forecasting across multiple attraction types and it’s all based on input directly from the visitor, so it’s a great piece that we’re excited about.

Bill: Terrific. We will check it out. John Kasman, Vice President at PGAV Destinations, architect by trade, son of the Midwest, thank you for your perspective. I think for those who are thinking about resources and opportunities at their disposal, not only in their own careers, but brands they may manage, how to bring these brands to life ever more, ever closer, ever deeper, in seeking consumer ambassadorship and seeking revenue and financial opportunities, and seeking just monuments to the power of brand stories and authentic brands that could grow and brands that can influence. Really appreciate your insight.

John: Thank you. It’s been great talking with you.

Bill: Many thanks to John Kasman, Vice President at PGAV Destinations, for joining us. Definitely a guy who loves his work and his career, and his industry or company are all fascinating and they do have a rich perspective and they back that up with data. They are really strong contributors to the knowledge base of the industry as a whole. When we look at many, many more brands seeking the opportunity to express themselves beyond product, beyond merchandising and into experience, these guys are pretty good at what they do. John’s stories and his insight makes that very clear.

Speaking of hopefully being good at what they do, help us out here at Real-World Branding. There’s three ways. Let’s keep a dialog going on Twitter, @BillGullan or @FinchBrands. We would love it to see ratings come up evermore in the App Store that indicate that hopefully we’re doing a pretty good job and that that helps make sure that our content is able to be accessed by others.

We just passed the one year mark. Steve and I here were talking about how maybe we should have done an anniversary or something. Maybe we’ll do that later, but having done this for a year, we are really grateful for your dialog, we’re grateful for your ratings, and certainly grateful for those who subscribe and make sure that they don’t miss an episode of this. We do our interviews every other week, although last week we had a bit of a food poisoning issue going on, and thus we did another One Big Idea, because we wanted to keep the content new but at the same time, we just weren’t physically up to getting it done in terms of the interview. But I think we’re back on a normal schedule. We’re grateful for your ear balls and all the feedback that you give us, and I’ll sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.

The post Experience the Brand: John Kasman, VP of PGAV Destinations appeared first on Finch Brands.

In this week’s episode, Bill takes an introspective look at some global brand strategies that have worked and others that have missed the mark to emphasize what one must consider as brands expand into global markets. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands. This is One Big Idea, we’ve entitled this Global Concerns this week. One of the topics that I found most interesting in the interview with Ana Kornegay from Brown-Forman was the discussion around her experience in the global marketing realm for Jack Daniel’s and other brands. Especially, some of the sensitivities that are part of bringing brands, whether one is as well-known as Jack, or those lesser known, into new markets around the globe.

It was fascinating how she spoke about differences in regions when it comes to the things that they’re seeking in terms of import brands. Whether it’s Russia being really focused on badging and prestige. Or other countries looking more at authentic brand expressions as being the gateway to influence. We certainly know that the world is a heterogeneous place, even within regions that we may look at on a map and identify through some common characteristics – Europe, Africa, things like that.

We also know that the world has a variety of perspectives on US commerce. Whether it is markets, South Korea’s is one example, where the quest for authentic US goods is a really high urgency quest. We certainly saw that in the past in Eastern Europe, although that’s eased now. Then there’s other markets that are likely a bit less compelled by the Americanism of a brand, that may be coming in and might be seeking values beyond that.

We’re calling this Global Concerns because there’s a couple of ‘watch outs’ when it comes to international marketing and bringing brands around the globe that have been successful or were launched in the US. Some things to think about.

We know there’s a lot of stories, and these are currency in the marketing realm of brands, either through naming or campaigns that haven’t linguistically succeeded. Some of these are hilarious, all you have to do is search Google and learn about Chevy Nova, which was a car brand in the US, it meant ‘no go,’ in Spanish, which is obviously not what you want your car to mean.

Coming in the other direction, Electrolux, the vacuum cleaner folks originally entered the US with the tagline, ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.’ What they were going for certainly doesn’t work in English slang or American slang. When Pepsi went, I think it was to China, the slogan was, ‘Pepsi brings you back to life.’ A reference to caffeine and everything else and that was translated in China as, ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead,’ which doesn’t work on any level.

Obviously watch outs when it comes to translation and linguistics, but the international marketing conversation is a lot deeper than that. I remember when we were engaged to really rebirth the Everlast brand a few years back. The first thing we did was global market research to understand how the brand was being marketed and perceived in different countries. Everlast has done a lot of licensing deals around the globe and I remember, never forget in fact, the data across Germany, South Korea, Chile, and other markets where the brand had a foothold, wasn’t being very closely managed from New York at that time.

We had found in Chile, the local licensee had really positioned the brand as a women’s tennis brand. There was a lot of strength in Chile at that time around women’s tennis and around the sport and so Everlast, this proud boxing, tough, authentic heritage in the US was being translated, purely for financial opportunity, in Chile as being focused on women’s tennis.

We found in South Korea, even though Everlast hadn’t done a whole lot with footwear in the US, there was a ton of demand among teens walking around Seoul for authentic US footwear. The brand and the local licensee had seized that opportunity, but what it detracted from, obviously, was overall brand cohesion. So we went on to rebuild that program.

It really brought home the point about the differences internationally. It demonstrated that, if not well managed, but locally aware and locally sensitive, how things can go off the rails, even as brands expand and seeking financial and perceptual opportunities.

If you think about taking a US brand – be it one that’s deeply established or one that has had some degree of success but obviously sees market opportunity across the globe and the billions of consumers who exist around the globe – there are a couple things to remember.

One, as noted, the world is a heterogeneous place and regions that we may learn about academically or read about in the news have really significant country to country differences. You look for example at Africa. You look at Western Europe. You look at Scandinavia. There are differences in terms of local competitors. There are differences in terms of certain values that individual societies place on certain things.

If we think about the US for example and you just look at the differences between states in the US, I mean it’s a common language and in some cases sharing interstates and sharing the same entertainment, sharing a lot of different things but looking at the rhythms locally that separate just the individual cultures of different states.

It’s fairly obvious in the US, that you may market brands differently, based upon who the local competitors are. You may market brands differently based upon the prevailing communication sensibility or cultural aesthetic of different states. A brand that succeeds in Manhattan versus one that succeeds in South Dakota, yes, there are national brands obviously that succeed everywhere, but often the currency and the nature of communications and look and feel is a different thing.

That same logic obviously extends to international markets, country by country and even within larger countries that have multiple, well defined regions. Understanding as a first principle that regions are heterogeneous and you really need to do the leg work to understand those differences.

Secondly and one thing that’s related to that is that channels are different. When you look at markets where, for example, the dominate strength of traditional retailers is a different proposition. In Asia, for example, and I am generalizing as I said not to, but there’s a very strong role, continues to be a strong role for relationships from a distribution perspective and not just to the end consumer. Thus, whereas one might go direct, for example in the US, or one might just have a selling relationship with the retailer, there are certain markets where the way you do it, just simply the way you do it, is through local distribution, because those relationships are highly prized. So if you take your business model in the US, sort of blindly into markets where the channels are managed differently, you’re going to run into some brick walls there.

Then the third thing is really just about product. We’re not even going into advertising and naming and other things. Those are obvious, there’s differences that need to be understood. When it comes to product, I remember working very closely with an executive here at Finch who had brought IKEA to the US. He had been with the brand twenty something years, had launched it across five or six different countries around the world and I remember growing up in Philadelphia when the first IKEA store opened in the US in 1986 I think it was, in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, in the mall there. I remember how big a deal it was.

Some of the stories he told about IKEA’s entry into other countries were fascinating and fun, but I think one of the things that they needed to understand, certainly to have a successful US launch, was that product dimensions are different here when it comes to beds, when it comes to the way that people organize their homes. When it comes to what their expectations are about living space.

I think he was relating to me that it took a while for IKEA to really get that. Some of their early product assortment focused around that launch in the US was obviously a lot of brand success, a lot of consumer anticipation, but the adoption was challenging and slow, simply because they hadn’t oriented the product assortment to the way that American consumers expect to live – the types and sizes of beds that they want to have, the way that their rooms are designed and homes are designed.

That’s one example of again, coming to the US, but product assortment very similarly coming from the US elsewhere, needs to be very largely informed by the reality of how folks in those regions are living, choosing, and what they do because these customs are different. The traditions are different, the lifestyles and rhythms that shape all that can be different as well.

The common denominator of being successful in exporting a US brand that has mastered at least a slice of the market here into global markets is there’s a very important role for research. Research, in this case, certainly includes consumer perspectives, it includes active listening, it includes what we would call something that’s a bit more ethnographic or anthropological in terms of really understanding the rhythms that drive individual decision making and lifestyles within the market that you seek to enter.

Doing this by country and in some cases by region, if the business opportunity is big enough, will uncover some of these differences and really help build that play book for how to market, how to build product, how to distribute, how to sell, and how to service. All these different elements that might ultimately be different in a global business model versus a domestic one.

Beyond the role of research and the importance of running out all those ground balls, there really is a strong role for local expertise. The empowerment of local teams, not only to manage the execution of the strategy but to be inputs into its creation, cannot be understated in terms of its importance, organizationally. When one is thinking about market entry, bringing together as early as possible in that development process, the team that’s going to execute this so that they can speak out and contribute. When it comes certainly to the creation of marketing and advertising, but even when it comes to thoughts about product and structure of an overall launch, timing all of these elements, you’re flying a bit blind if you’re not leveraging the expertise in local markets, even on a consulting basis, whatever the case may be.

I think we’ll stop there, but suffice it to say that global opportunity is huge for US based firms, just in terms of gross financial opportunity. The number of people and the amount of dollars or whatever currency are spent on goods and services emanating in the US is a driver of growth and of the acceleration of profitable growth for many, many, US brands.

There are pitfalls that one needs to consider. There are topics that one needs to fully and deeply address and a general understanding of the fact that the world is not one size fits all when it comes to product use and marketing and everything else, is perhaps rules number one as one considers a global launch.

That’s it for me, as always we appreciate the dialogue on Twitter, we appreciate your rating us in the app store, we appreciate those who are enjoying this week in and week out, subscribing to what we’re doing here so that it flows in there automatically. Our goal, typically, is to do these on Wednesday. Sometimes schedules push it back, sometimes up a day or two, depending on what’s happening. We all have day jobs, so to speak. Though we do find great joy in this and we appreciate your time and attention. Have a wonderful, wonderful day, signing off from the Cradle of Liberty.

The post One Big Idea: Global Concerns appeared first on Finch Brands.

Rhode Island’s recent branding campaign has caused an uproar on social media and beyond. In this episode, Bill discusses brand strategy’s role in informing creative expression — and the perils of separating the two. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premiere boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining this week’s One Big Idea. We’ve entitled it Cooler and Warmer this week because our One Big Idea topic is a controversy that has erupted around a new branding campaign for the state of Rhode Island, focused on attracting tourists and businesses to this state that uses the tagline ‘Cooler and Warmer,’ and it has a logo to match and everything else, as well as some pretty significant budgets for expressing it and amplifying it across the world.

This happened and there has been a great deal of discussion on social media and in the media punctuated by a story in today’s New York Times about the entire situation and some of the implications of it. First thing I want to say is that it is not our habit or practice here to critique the work of others in our industry. We have tremendous respect for our peers and colleagues in this world and we don’t exist in any of our touch points to just tear people down. Our focus here will not be critiquing the specific elements of the campaign. You can find a lot of that on social media, on blogs, and in association with the Times piece, but let’s talk a little bit about a point that this leans into in a very larger and more prolonged way and it has been a frequent topic for us here.

First of all, the situation. The idea was a simple one. Rhode Island was seeking a fresh new logo and slogan for tourism and business attraction. They went through the process, hired a partner. The designer of this is the same gentleman who designed the iconic ‘I love New York,’ but is an outsider, an out of towner I think, which has fueled the criticism to some degree. There were other missteps related to the launch of this, one of the overview video pieces (seen below) used stock footage of a skateboarder from Iceland rather than anywhere in Rhode Island, and then the designer has pushed the frustration back a little bit on the way that it was released as opposed to the work itself.

It’s gotten a little bit nasty. But the overall idea was a new brand presentation or expression for the state of Rhode Island. Where they settled is ‘Cooler and Warmer,’ which immediately set off this firestorm on social media and beyond, of people who didn’t get it, of people who mocked it. There’s a little bit of that all the time, but there’ve been other dominos to fall here. The CMO of the state resigned . The governor, apparently who’s in her first term, has had to answer for this and hasn’t been all that adept at doing so. Then some of the local agencies in Rhode Island on the PR and on the production side were called on the carpet publicly, and I think they’re going to have to refund some of the fees associated with this.

A lot of missteps here, a lot of unforced errors, certainly using stock video from Iceland, someone in Reykjavík probably, rather than something that was shot [in Rhode Island]. This was probably to save cost on the ground and in the marketplace in Rhode Island. Hiring an outsider for something that is focused on civic pride and tourism is always a little bit dangerous, particularly if it doesn’t go well and the net effect is casting about for reasons why or people to blame.

The bottom line and I think the biggest lesson of this in terms of topics that we’re generally dealing with here is the absolute criticality of strategy and creative expression meshing and working effectively together. It has been a frequent and recurring theme on this podcast that the word ‘strategy’ has been used so errantly and so irresponsibly as to lose its actual meaning. Many people use the word strategy to indicate, ‘Well, I thought about it before I did it.’ Strategy does not imply, and being a strategic thinker does not just mean, that you’re bright or that you’re introspective.

Strategy, particularly in this realm, brand strategy, is a disciplined process that is designed to, through research as well as intuition, identify the key elements of a brand proposition that can connect with the audience. In this case one of the concerns looking at the process again from the outside is that this seems to have been a creatively driven exercise.

Yes, there was market research, but you can read the quotes from the designer and others who just came up with a bunch of different ideas. They probably spent some time in Rhode Island, it’s a wonderful state, very diverse seaside, city, and small towns, a lot of things going on. There’s video content to surround the campaign that I think effectively underlines a lot of this. Then they tested the different ideas and everyone says, ‘Well, it tested well,’ etc., but there does not appear in evidence to have been a bona fide strategic process that was designed to really understand and underline the ways in which Rhode Island is distinctive and the ways in which these disparate assets roll up into a core concentrated brand idea.

In the absence of strategy creative expression is unmoored. Creative expression begins and is akin to fumbling for your keys in the dark. Throw some more clichés on here: if you don’t know where you’re going any road will lead you there. This is true when you get into the creative process.

Apparently the designer in this case developed 10 different kinds of slogan and logo combinations, then they tested them and they picked the one that was highest or nearly the highest. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but the challenge ultimately is that without the benefit of strategy for real and having this well-defined core idea to communicate creatively, how do you know when you’ve done it, and more importantly, how do you know when you have it.

One key lesson here is that creative expression, particularly of such a complicated, aggregated series of ideas as to represent an entire state, cannot be disintermediated from a true, honest, authentic expression and process of brand strategy. Often times people say, ‘Well, we’re strategic, you know, we thought about it.’ Well, they thought about it here, and I’m sure they’re smart accomplished people, but it does seem to be that the process that ought to precede and inform a creative process was missing or at the very least was light in this case.

Related to that, you need to value the input and the outputs in a campaign like this. The output obviously is this tagline and logo and it exists for all to critique. Listen, we’ve been on the other end of this where we’ve done some highly visible work. Folks feel a sense of ownership with that and want to critique it, and that’s their right. We really kind of enjoy that dialogue. But in this case the output is only as good as the quality of what the team was working with to develop it.

What the team ought to be working with is not just intermittent thunderbolts of inspiration and trying to find something that has a good acoustic. They ought to be communicating, from an input perspective, the core brand idea of the state of Rhode Island.

Yes, the designer makes an interesting point about the dichotomy of cool and warm, and there’s a lot of cool things going on, and folks in Rhode Island are warm people compared to that frosty perception of New England. I get it, I get where it’s going and actually personally like it, but the inputs into a process like that have to drive the outputs or else you’re going to wind up with something like this, or if you don’t it’s going to be a result of luck rather than the process the way that it ought to be managed.

Then lastly, and I think the designer has a point, again, I’m not sitting there in Providence or anywhere else in Rhode Island, I’m just following this through the media and through social, but the nature of a release of something like this and telling the story of why it ended up where it ended up is always better than expecting it to land with a bang and instead it lands with a thud.

We have learned, the easy way and the hard way, over the years that, particularly in a case like this, where you’re likely to engender strong opinions, whatever you sacrifice in terms of the wow factor of just releasing this, you sacrifice a little bit of that if you bring the public along, but I’m willing to make that small sacrifice in exchange for something that is thoroughly validated through various stakeholder groups. Including the folks who are going to be responsible for really getting behind this and helping. The marketing whiz kids are only part of how a brand is expressed.

Key business and academic and civic leaders in Rhode Island are going to need to put their arms around this and say, ‘Yeah, this represents us and I feel good shouting this from the rooftops.’ That obviously didn’t happen here. Thus when something comes out and the public unleashes slings and arrows at it, you don’t have that goodwill or that process with great integrity to fall back on justifying and explaining why you ended up where you did. You may sacrifice a little bit by being inclusive along the way, but it is far better than winding up in the situation where they are in.

I will leave it to others to debate the actual merit and approach. I’m a sucker for big brand ideas. I personally like the cadence here. I understand why some people in social media are comparing it to Dumb and Dumber. I understand why some people don’t get it. I personally like it, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what those in the design community think or feel about this. What matters is their ability to bring others along.

What seems to have occurred in Rhode Island is a prime example of a process breakdown and it is a prime example of creative being left out there to its own devices Yeah, a little bit of testing on the backend, but to its own devices and not using authentic brand strategy processes to validate the work every step of the way.

That is a battle we’ve been waging here at Finch, a banner I’ve been waving over and over on this podcast. So forgive the repeat, but I think this is something that bears underlining, and when a perfect example of it comes up as it did in the Times today it is far better than me blathering on about the philosophy of this. It’s great example of why it all matters and why any process of the sort that this one was designed to support and the artifacts that were designed to come from it, any process really needs to be enlightened particularly in terms of the role of strategy and the role of message development beyond simply the highly subjective hit or miss standalone creative process.

As we’ve built our business at Finch and built our engagements this is yet another cautionary tale of why it’s important to think through process in an inclusive way, to hold up strategy as in many ways the process of creating a map to the final destination, and then to hold everyone accountable with data as well as with irrepressible creativity in marching towards a result that effectively represents the state and galvanizes all the constituencies that are going to have to buy into this, love it, live it for this brand to take home.

That’s One Big Idea. Unseasonably cool today but we’re hardy folks so we’ll push through it. Have a wonderful, wonderful day, signing off from the Cradle of Liberty.

The post One Big Idea: Cooler and Warmer appeared first on Finch Brands.

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