Between grayscale and bleached

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“… Leaden, dense and static clouds covered the sky producing a time confusion and diverted us from the moment to make us feel like in a limbo where time stands still. For Jose, his soul was like the day and the pressure in his chest did nothing but confirm that he should speak with Ramirez. Yes, he called her using her last name when it came to something important, and she knew it.

– Ramirez, you look so cute and, at the same time, so like the others. At certain point it makes me think that you have lost your charm. Your fanciful hair which has taken that colour from “blondes” in the magazines… Your nose, lips… your face that also as a matter of fashion shows the signature of a well known surgeon, your body cared obsessively… what can I say! You are beautiful, much like the others… and that, in an attempt to give more color has ended up discoloring you… Any way, there is something that still keeps me at your side… I don’t know!

– Jose, you are like this day, like today … gray scales on your face transmit the fatigue of your age, the tranquility of your life experience which has certainly been intense … However, I know why I stay … It is the sparkle in your eyes that still continue showing how your soul speaks… even, sometimes, rebel and different, distinct and nuanced, close and deep… what can I say! Your fierceness still charm…”

grey color 2

We live in a world that gradually gained grayscale and is ignoring the “black and white” situations. Actually, there are few things that we have no doubt that are in one way or another, without any scale.

The issue is that we often confuse gray scales with bleached. And we experience that daily.

We could talk about politics, business and individuals, companies, brands … discolored … Everything seems the same, laxity of action, lack of real leadership … even politically correct (something I think is a great source of discoloration)…

In the bleaching era, no one speaks bad of anyone, neither  speak well. The nuances are lost … and it ends up being more boring than sucking on a nail.

In a grayscale world, it looks like the winners will be those, who with emotion and intelligence, know how to nuance… Those which do not confuse assertiveness and monotonous education with correction…

In this new world it seems that the winners will be those able to create, maintain and enjoy the differences… and not those which, also being shining star (though fleeting), begin a bleaching process to look like the others… For businesses, in a world of managers, the winners are going to be the ones with soul of entrepreneurs!

If you ask me what this has to do with marketing, innovation and branding, I would answer a lot! … Pay attention to the nuances and find the message there!

Eco-Branding… More than chic!…

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eco iconic

As we can read in TrendWatching, over the past few years, we have moved from eco-ugly (ugly, over-priced, low performance alternatives to shiny ‘traditional sphere’ products and services) to eco-chic (eco-friendly stuff that actually looks as nice and cool as the less responsible version).
eco iconic 3
Now it looks like we are moving to a new stage… to eco-iconic: “Goods and services sporting bold, iconic design and markers, that help their eco-conscious owners to visibly tout their eco-credentials to peers”
eco iconic 4
So, it looks like it’s time for branding… It’s not only a question of chic, iconic and/or whatever… The eco-tribe, in certain way post-modern, is looking not only for fashionable goods. No brand experience left out there that has not seen its carefully scripted messages torn apart, if not exposed for inconsistencies or broken promises…
The experience is build on honest behaviours… Companies have to think, say and act in a consistent way!…
Beware of the clients…We are looking, we are saying, we are their best critics!

The jam session II

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Here we are again!… Julio and myself…

[C] Generally, for what it’s important to us, we opted for products and services with brands that tell us something. A story that, I insist (sorry), is relavant for us.

[J] Every story needs a starting point, let’s say an excuse to open up the dialogue. Every brand needs a footprint to deliver tiny but strong clues and flexible enough to let the story grow during its life (and yours). Do you remember crests and flags history?. They were created to represent not a thing, but beliefs.

[C] What it’s being observed as a trend is that, rather than finding the best brand, we begin to see two or more brands together (those that are best for us), bringing a unique competence to the table, re-inventing a product and/or service. A new and unique experience that is blending the best of several worlds.

[J] You mean alliances. This is what we can see (visually) in co-branding: two brands that we already know (what they represent) with relevant experiencies gathered to deliver a bigger an differential one. 1+1=11 as Marty Neumeier uses to say.

[C] Let’s see some examples as the ones I saw in Trendwatching:

Starbucks Bosh Philips NiveaThis is more than the traditional co-branding (the one we see in our Visa-Bank-University or whatever). And again, it is important, unique, inspirational,… for the tribe that is passionated with those brands.
  • The Bosch/Starbucks experience is interesting because, behind the scene is Kraft with its Kraft’s Tassimo system. “Coffeehouse quality with our home comfort”
  • The Philips/Nivea experience transform the shaver in a massage system that soothe the face and… shave
[J] It’s not a question of attached logos. They point to make these couple arise as a third experience. It’s the result of what we understand they have in common based in their identities from the touchpoints they’ve built. So we can figure what’s going on.

  • Adidas /Goodyear trainers. Even if you’ve not seen the sneakers, you can understand they are talking about performance. And you can prefigure they are talking about races too. This let you imagine the rest of the world around these concepts: custom cars, sex, youth, adrenaline.
  • Reebok /KoolAid trainers. You tell me!! OK, may be the idea behind is to offer “flavors”, but that was the Apple iMac first gen story. What’s the experience this product is signaling?
Adidas Reebok

[C] The challenge is to understand the tribe, values and behaviours, that are associated to a brand, to thereafter find the right partner to reinvent the offer through the brand blending. For mass-market products/services which could go to different tribes. The key point is to discover the “intersection tribe”… people that believe in both brands.

[J] Tribes use brands as trading cards like in a show and share game. Each tribe member needs some badges to make her/him recognizable to their peers and brands are obliged to be interesting if they want to be part of the ritual. So brands have to build bigger and more relevant concepts. Logos are not enough.

[C] A particular case is the one that blends a product brand with a human being brand… Eg.: H&M and Madonna

[J] Mmm… Let me disagree a little with you. This is the classic “be like a star” ad trick . Consumers are not so easily deceived anymore. But there’s an example of a campaign using past and present icons (or human being brands) that Converse is launching mixing local with int’l stars like Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong or Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O. Additional regional icons include Ian Curtis (UK), Carlos Diez Diez (Spain), Jane Birkin (France), Nina Hagen (Germany), Kim, Jung Man (Korea), Cui Jian (China), Darren Cordeux (Australia), Jose Fernando Emilio (Mexico) and Sandro (Argentina).

converse leads

[C] Good point! Under the branding point of view, I do agree with you. However (Mmmmm, the God dammit “however” again is here!), as a social trend, those kind of “short time” messages are talking to a specific tribes… Back with H&M…

  • Karl Lagerfeld -2004
  • Stella McCartney -2005
  • Madonna -2007
  • Kylie Minogue -2007
  • Roberto Cavalli -2007

[C] Almost the same, however to a different tribe is MissX from Agent Provocateur with Kate Moss.

[J] OK, now I understand. The power of a signature or an ambassador who embodies not the brand but the tribe.

[C] Is this too much?… Or would you like to hear also the story of Japan Airlines and Toto’s washlets?… Again, it’s not money, is status, self-expression… sense & sensibility… Isn’t it?

Identity and image are not enough

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Considering brands as an experience and a concept that transmit identity, reputation and relationship between the company and its audiences, we face a reality where those elements will be more or less relevant according to the interests and needs of each public in particular:

  • If the audience consists of clients and customers, identity will be more relevant through image communication.
  • For shareholders, reputation will be more relevant when presenting the business value proposition as well as metrics of its performance.
  • When it comes to the company’s managers and employees the relationship between both audiences will prevail over identity and reputation.

In all cases, the brand is present. The change is the communicative relevance of the elements the company wants to convey.

During the last years, brands were created responding to an “industrial” reality which today seems to be far away, linear and, in some cases, limited.

Until not long ago, the company itself represented a system that kept a sometimes precautious relationship with its environment and which also admitted the existence of something farther and without a direct relationship with it: The Universe.

Today, company and system are two different things: Ikea is the company; the system involves vendors and customers.

The environment is an attractive part for the system, and therefore, it tries to attract it. Again, referring to Ikea, the environment is formed by potential customers, new designers or other companies whose offer is a complement to its own offer. The universe is represented by everything beyond the environment and which has no influence on the system and the company. However, due to the information available, both companies and universe are not unknown to each other.

Within the universe, attractive segments for the company also exist. They comply with the target of sharing values, possessing shared knowledge and going through similar experiences. They still need to be “properly introduced”, i.e. that communication is established.

Identity is shared by the system. The company’s brand begins to be associated to other brands in the system. As usual, all this involves many risks, but several opportunities as well.

The alumni of a Business School are a good example of this. People’s names and last names are a good representation of their identity. Adding a business school brand to yours conveys something else about that person. “John Smith” means something specific for those who know who he is.  “John Smith, MBA from INSEAD” means something else for those knowing who he is and for those who do not as well. Neither better nor worse: just different.

From a professional point of view, a brand becomes a guarantee in its environment. Within alumni’s community it works as a reference of values and features of shared identity.

Besides, some business schools are asking their alumni to get involved in the admission process of new students. Are they employees of the institution? No, but they certainly they are part of the system.

The company, as far as the construction of its identity is concerned, is a multidimensional system. It appears as a business and as representative of its products and services, it is managed according to the desired behaviour of strategic variables, both internal and external to the company, under the latter’s control though, and comes into existence from functional and emotional elements which build its value proposition.

Within the company, a shared identity is practical and emotionally valued, differentiates the organisation and creates a sense of belonging. To external audiences it means credibility and becomes its emotional difference.

Companies, being more than their business model, seek not only for results but also for a deep share of feelings. More than making profits, their aim is generating emotions, being ethical and conveying a personality of their own. This is called attitude.

This model of company requires a strong identity to create a credible and relevant image to their different audiences. Its attitude transcends the people who create and manage the business.

A shared identity is practical, it makes the Organisation a different one, it helps to create a sense of belonging, it conveys credibility and it makes the emotional difference


Jam session I

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Let’s see the results of co-writing in Webjam. The first instrumentalist is Cristian Saracco, editor of The Semantic Branding, where he shares his thoughts and trends about branding and business strategies. Cristian is also Director of Allegro 234 based in Madrid, Spain. The second instrumentalist is Julio Ferro, editor of Hey! It’s About Design and owner of Hey! Brand Design in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They’ve worked together and allowed them to ignite the spark between their two worlds in order to deliver differential solutions to both local and international renowned brands.

[C] I would like to humbly begin with a trend which in certain way has some kind of relation with Julios’s previous post: We are facing new ways of recognition and satisfaction, away from well-known trditional status symbols like luxury cars and expensive watches. The issue is to see who spend the most, who lives an unique experience, who has more presence online… And this excitement is not necessarily about traditional consumption patterns, but about status, about impression peers.

[J] The funny thing is that the word Design is closely associated to luxury goods as well. I mean, they sound like synonyms in the big cities around the world where you can see an incredible show off. A good example is Design Miami/Baselâ„¢. Design for zillionaires.

[C] There will be people who will pay € 10 to€ 350 for a bottle of water… They will show status to their peers because of the experience that they are living with a bottle spotted at the Emmys and MTV Awards. Bling H2O, a fashion accesory.


[J] Bling-Bling! And if you don’t have enough glitter, the alternative is to pimp your gadgets. You can give real gold to your iPhone or laptop that coast a fortune. Glitter is part of the environment of (posing) millonaires. Glam is back, but this time is real and worths too much money.


[C] It’s water!… It’s a 750 ml bottle embelished with Swaroski crystals… Functionally, we know what it is , emotionally, “a bottle that tells a lot about the person who is drinking from it”…. And behind the scene, another two big factor: It’s telling us a reality, it’s transparent, it’s telling us a story, “it’s not waht you have, it’s the experience you live”.

bling detalle

[J] Crystal clear. There’s a new sense and It’s a review over a traditional atribute of waters. I see coincidences between waters and parfumes. And several coincidences between the experience looking at their bottle designs. May I either drink Carolina Herrera or spray my face with Ty Nant? There’s also Kenzo water. Any ressemblance with Voss is “pure” coincidence.


[J] Going back to your comment about new ways of recognition I see really interesting the new design directions for such a basic product. Y Water has an amazing bottle designed by Yves Behar (One Laptop Per Child designer). It’s a “smart water” where form and content work really well IMHO.


This post is also published in Hey! It’s about design

Stay tuned…

Branding… Did you say branding?

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Today, in Javier Velilla’s blog, he posted this video from Hundred Monkeys which is trying to explain what Branding is… It’s quite good.

Also, as Nicholas Ind said, there are plenty of definitions of brands and branding. Some people think a brand is a logo. Or advertising. Or packaging. Or another word for the name of the product and service they buy. In fact it’s all of these things and a lot more.

To get a sense of what a brand is, just stop and think like a customer. I buy Nike sports shoes and Apple computers, fly with Virgin, shop with Amazon, dream of owning a Ferrari and donate money to Unicef because I like what these “˜brands’ stand for. I fly with Virgin because of the quality of the experience, the look and feel of the planes and the way I am treated by the check-in and on-board people. Similarly I buy Apple computers because of the quality of the hardware and software, the position of the brand as an outsider and the in-store experience. I have never bought and never will buy any other computer. Owning an Apple is an emotional thing.

Identity before image

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Identity comes before image, and is an intrinsic part of the institution. It is built on the grounds of history, traditions, and the present and desired future. Internal and external people are part of it. Identity is present in the corporation, in its products and in its services.

Image stands for and communicates such identity. Its major challenge is to maintain the coherence between the conveyed concepts, and the business model and the “idea into action” of the institution.

It is must to have consistency between identity and image in the long term to achieve better incomes and results, and build sustainable value.

Brand goes beyond an aesthetic matter, or a sum of specific events. Its origin is in the people who created the institution and is among those who share values and the idea. It is translated into a strategy, feeds the business value proposition, and generates a unique experience, emotionally relevant and functionally desirable.

Brands are for those people who interact with the company, since they are part of their business processes, belong to the organisation and manage its resources. Summing up, brands are relevant for the environment, unique for the system and admired by key audiences.

Identity and image require strategic thinking

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The first formal models used for building brands strategies were created during the industrial era and were related to productive processes. These are the most popular ones, and although they have evolved along the years, they still maintain their original characteristics.

Iconic model

Most of these models were developed in the United States and the fact of America being a young continent has implied, in brand terms, a scheme of thought with iconoclastic features, based on the present and with a projection into the future.  This model considers current goals and future aspirations. Aspects such as history, traditions and culture have a very weak influence on it.

These are linear models with steps to be followed, one after the other. It is a huge machinery where the emphasis is set on the process. It is brand centred, and is viewed as a product, as an organisation, as a person and like a symbol.
For certain types of businesses these models are appropriate for the construction of their marketing strategy. McDonald’s or Virgin prioritize image, and therefore they become an example of this model.

Personal Model

The personal model is an old one and has its roots in Europe, possibly with the first sketches of marketing as we know them today. These models are based on values. Therefore they take history, traditions, and culture into account, and putting their emphasis on people, they evolve with them.
They take into account multi-dimensional characteristics of the company and its environment. Their standardization (each brand strategy is unique) is hard; in fact, they refer more to conceptual frames than standard methodologies.
They stress results and are people centred. They seek to convey values, take the organisation as a cultural feature, develop a sense of belonging and the “clever idea” is the one that generates admiration. Vodafone or Mercedes-Benz are a good example of this, since they prioritize identity.

Between the iconic and personal models

Both models are valid and each one has its own use and caters for certain kind of concrete needs in specific businesses. Probably the major challenge for this issue is centred in avoiding the election of the wrong model when deciding to work on the company’s brand strategy.

Identity vis-a-vis image

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At the time of studying the situation of each company regarding identity and image they can present one of five possible situations.


  • If the apparent identity and image are high (1), we face an institution which, after generating a consistent identity, has achieved an image aligned with its idea in action. It is an entity which shares values with its audiences and communicates them correctly. This includes cases that go from consumer goods, like Zara, to institutions like Karolinska Institutet.
  • If the company presents a strong identity which does not finally reflect a strong image (2), the latter possesses a great opportunity that so far has not been exploited. It is known, respected and understood, it generates likeness “¦.but it is not capable of creating a close relationship with its audiences. This might be the case of some Eastern Europe brands.
  • If both identity and image are low (3), we are in front of a commodity, and this could be a strategic option taken by the company
  • If image is high and identity isn’t (4), we are in front of Nabuco Donosor’s statue: a giant with mud feet. In the past we saw this type of giants and effects were devastating. We refer to cases like Enron and WorldCom, where an image was rapidly built without making sure whether a true identity was supporting it.
  • Finally, if both image and identity are average (5), we are in the “limbo”. The truth is that to overcome this situation two movements are required: first to finish building a strong identity and then do something about the image. Many companies are in this situation, mainly due to the following two reasons:
    • It is a comfort area, since not much may happen in the short run, but if certain factors are taken into account, such as change speed, broke inertia, perfect competition and higher demands of audiences (which eventually will all become clients) a problem is beginning to appear.
    • Resignation. We have lived and grown with the paradigm of being the best. Being the runner-up is no good. This statement is tricky, since you can accomplish being the best in the world in something, the best of the region in something else and customers may finally purchase products and services from the best in the neighbourhood, because it is precisely the latter the one they share their values with.

Identity and image are different concepts; however at the time of building a brand, in many cases image has received more attention than identity. Success lies on the fact of image and identity walking hand in hand, in that what one stands for, is what the other one really conveys.