To create an online financial advice brand, become a follower of fashion

Having worked — off and on — with a number of UK financial brands in my time, something’s alway perplexed me: the default setting for the design of financial services is based on what other financial brands already do.

Brands rarely seem to roam beyond the confines of the financial services archipelago for inspiration in service design.

It means that the development of new services is a painfully iterative process; a fact compounded, perhaps understandably, by a stifling regulatory environment.

Most innovation appears evolutionary: Incremental changes in product design, systems and technology that create efficiencies in transactional processes but not necessarily in the way people interact with services.

Continue reading “To create an online financial advice brand, become a follower of fashion”

The kind of unspun Papal spin that couldn’t be spun by PR spinners

A piece from The Guardian today that caught my eye: journalist Jonathan Jones claims Pope Francis ‘has renovated a damaged brand not in years, but months’.

And how is this miracle being accomplished? Probably by not attempting to ‘renovate a damaged brand’.

In fact, the universal truth lying at the heart of this epiphanic repositioning of Catholicism appears to rest in the final sentence of the article: ‘Do and say what you believe.’

The idea that Pope Francis has ‘renovated the brand’ is a bit of a stretch.

Continue reading “The kind of unspun Papal spin that couldn’t be spun by PR spinners”

Apple’s Tim Cook and the distinction between brand and branding

Away from the furore among analysts about Apple’s – apparently – disappointing results yesterday, the brand’s chief executive, Tim Cook, uttered a phrase which precisely states the distinction between brand and branding.

He said: “We could put the Apple brand on a lot of things and sell a lot more stuff. The most important thing to us is that our customers love our products, not just buy them but love them.”

Branding = ’We could put the Apple brand on a lot of things and sell a lot more stuff.’

Brand =  ’The most important thing to us is that our customers love our products, not just buy them but love them.’

And that’s why Apple is the biggest brand in the world.

 

Britain’s brand: ‘this frail travelling coincidence’

It may sound like a glass-half-full definition but Frank Cotterell Boyce’s reference to this line from Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Wedding, perfectly pinpoints the poignant curiosities of the British character that his script for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony so brilliantly conveyed.

The Larkin reference is included – about 12 minutes in – in this fascinating interview for Radio 4’s ‘Broadcasting House’ in which Mr Cotterell Boyce describes the behind-the-scenes experience of what, for me at least, was the defining cultural moment of 2012 in the United Kingdom.

The Great British brand identity crisis

Symbols are significant. And few symbols carry more significance for those who encounter it than a nation’s flag. So the unveiling of the dove-inspired design by British Airways earlier this week – less than a fortnight after the launch of the Team GB athletes kit pictured above – only serves to reinforce an idea that’s been irking me about the Olympics’ effect on the UK’s brand identity: is our nation in danger of conveying the idea that we are colourless, drained of energy and drab?
Continue reading “The Great British brand identity crisis”

Facebook’s ventures into brand diplomacy

Former Guardian technology writer, Jack Schofield, shared an intriguing link to a news item in the Silicon Valley Mercury Newsearlier this week.

It intrigued me for two reasons: first, that Facebook had decided to establish a network of 70 international representatives to establish a quasi-diplomatic service in key regions of the world and, second, that Google had already establish as similar operation in 2006.

The Google information was news to me. It’s not unusual for brands to employ corporate communications teams whose role is to maintain positive relations with both state and non-state actors both nationally and globally. It remains to be seen if the nature of the team that Facebook intends to establish veers away from this traditional role.

However, reading between the lines, the focus of the announcement suggests that Facebook is acknowledging a need to insulate its operation from unwanted legal and regulatory intrusion in the future – or an outright ban of its technology altogether – in nations where the nature of its operating model runs counter to prevailing political philosophy.

The story in the Silicon Valley Mercury News ran:

Facebook’s new global policy team will monitor the local political landscape and act as multilingual, TV-friendly communicators in countries and for cultures that, in many cases, have very different values and laws about privacy and personal communications than the U.S. Facebook is confronting its emergence as a global organization whose membership is much larger than the population of most countries, and whose technology can antagonize both Middle Eastern dictators and European democracies fretful about privacy. The international directors of policy, as Facebook calls them, will grapple with those challenges.

Are brands assuming the mantle of quasi nation states?

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve become fascinated by the apparent parallels between the dynamics of nation state building and statecraft, and the transnational behaviour and attributes of global and networked brands; in particular, the Google v China skirmish and the more recent tensions between the US State Department and Attorney General and WikiLeaks piqued my interest.

Even though Marx warned of the globalising effects of capitalism, something else appears to be going on here because it’s not just economic capital that is transcending geographic borders; it’s ideas and movements too.

Somehow, populations of people – and not just business brands – are emerging as brands too; often their apparent power is unrelated to their scale.

This necessarily means that the nature and governance of brands as global actors, and their relationship and alliances both within and beyond the boundaries of nation states, are of real significance to future global political, social and economic stability.

You’ll have seen from those blog posts at NewTradition’s site that these episodes revived distant memories of my university days; specifically, of the ideas that were dealt with in Benedict Anderson’s ‘Imagined Communities’.

So I re-read Anderson’s book and, once I’d done that, I dug into Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Nations and Nationalism’ and collection of essays on ‘Globalisation, democracy and terrorism’. (To be frank, I’ve read more academic texts in the past year or so than I did throughout my University career.)

And I’m left with the nagging concern that the revolution in communications technology – and it’s worth bearing in mind that Anderson considers the ownership and mechanics of media to have been vital to successful nation building – is creating the conditions in which a new kind of nation state can be conceived: ‘brand nation states’.

Whether there is such a thing as a brandnationstate, I’m not sure.

I’m not sure if brands can genuinely transcend geographic borders and deploy the kind of diplomatic muscle that nation states are able – and, just as often, are unable – to.

I’m not sure if dispersed populations of people, who congregate under the auspices of a brand, really do wield the kind of power and authority that nation states – with their military, legal and governmental instruments of enforcement – do.

I’m just interested to test the ideas. So I’l be digging a bit deeper into the topic.