Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A hot brand from the North Pole

One of the oldest living brands on the planet still deeply touching to children and adults alike is Santa Claus—or Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, or just plain "Santa." Boss Claus has skillfully evolved his personal brand over nearly two millennia, perhaps even longer. He is currently our jolly ole Saint Nick—that plump toy broker with the white-beard and donning a red coat with white collar and cuffs. There's a myth around that this image was created by Coca Cola back in the early 1930s. False. It is a true statement that Coca Cola advertising of the era helped popularize this look and feel, but the cola company was not the creator. Nineteenth century cartoonist Thomas Nast gets the credit for Santa's modern conceptual appearance.

To the Scrooges out there about to pop off an email sharing their opinion on Santa ... don't. This is strictly about brand. And whatever one believes about Santa Claus, one has to admit to two undeniable value propositions ... good cheer and an inspiration to pull a little bit of magic out of ourselves.

Moving on.

What you may not know is that much of Santa's brand attributes are Gallic, Scandinavian and Byzantine. The earliest Clausian characteristics are traced back to the Norse and Germanic god, Odin. During the pagan Yule, or Yuletide, which was the Germanic winter holiday, Odin was believed to lead a hunting party through the skies. Very old Icelandic poems described him riding an eight-legged horse that leapt a very long way—not unlike our modern Santa's reindeer. Some traditions have children leaving their boots next to the fireplace and filled with carrots or straw for Odin's horse. Here's where the direct corollary comes in—albeit a bit quid pro quo. For their kindness to his horse, apparently Odin rewarded those children by replacing the food with gifts or treats.

This is possibly the proto-tradition of hanging of stockings at the chimney in homes. And would you believe this still survives in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands?

To zero more specifically back to the Gallic traditions, Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, originally did the gift drop around a celebration of his feast in early December. That was up until the 1500s or 1600s when it aligned more with Christmas Eve. Sinterklaas also marks the introduction of a book that contains notes on all children and whether they've been naughty or nice. And the nice ones received the yummy shtuff like chocolate or spice nuts. Along with this new brand experience we get Saint Nicholas riding a horse over rooftops at night, delivering gifts down the chimney to all those good children. This, too, is where the naughty are threatened, but instead of coal and ashes the misbehaved feared being tied up and whipped.

Part of the realignment for Sinterklaas was also due to Protestants believing the true gift giver should be the Christ Child, or Christkindl, and the date for giving gifts changed to the celebration of his coming birth on Christmas Eve.

Not to overlook the Byzantine division of the Claus brand, who some say hugely influenced attributes of Sinterklaas, was Saint Nicholas of Myra. He dates back to the 4th century. Saint Nick was a bishop in what is now Turkey, and widely known for his generosity to the poor. Even today he is revered and characterized by his canonical robes.

Enter the early 19th and 20th centuries where Santa's brand awareness really snowballs. Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem, Twas the night before Christmas, lit up Santa's brand like a Christmas tree, defining much of the modern attributes for Santa Claus. Not long after it is revealed he lives at the North Pole, helped by an army of magical elves and a herd of flying reindeer. By 1934 there is a pop culture blizzard, including the introduction of the well-known song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town". Santa is thus an icon. Everybody knows him and that he's makin' his list and checking it twice—all to find out who's naughty or nice.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Santa Claus works all year long without complaint to make sure that good boys and girls are given a gift. Santa looks out to see who is naughty and nice. Okay, so you might be a touch mischievous—he still leaves a gift. And on that special night, once a year, he makes good on his promise of spreading Christmas cheer.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position and develop a brand personality that customers can use to introduce the brand.
He is jolly ole Saint Nick—always cheerful, happy and generous, asking nothing in return (well, except for a nibble of some cookies and a sip of milk). 
 Jolly ole Saint Nick 
 His mantra: Ho Ho Ho ... Merry Christmas
 3. Establish graphic standards.
A red arctic suit, white beard, a smile on red cheeks with a twinkle in his eye ... what more does he need. 
4. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality
The naughty or nice list is the single greatest management tool ever devised.
"You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I'm tellin' you why ... Santa Claus is comin' to town..." 
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Throughout his brand building process, Santa has consistently been attentive to children, returning each year with the promise of a gift, be it a toy, a treat, or perhaps a wish come true. He is never less than expected, and sometimes more. He lives the ChristKindl spirit of giving of himself without reward or repayment.
NOTE: Click here to send letters to Santa via email.

(Originally posted 2011)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Wing and a Prayer.

This one is a bit out of the mold because Reuters is a commercial brand rather than a specific historical figure. Well, that's not true, there is a founder and he is covered here. Nevertheless, Reuters is now strictly a brand. The last surviving member of the Reuter bloodline died in 2009. But catching my fancy is the way Reuter began his news agency. That's it. I just like the story. 

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

If you're not familiar with Reuters, or to be accurate, now Thompson Reuters, you should know it's an information agency--financial, legal, and more--but the Reuters brand still lives as the world's largest news service. I naturally mention Thompson Reuters because in 2008, Reuters ceased as an independent agency and was merged with The Thompson Corporation, thus Thompson Reuters.

Speed and accuracy have been and are hallmarks of Reuters, and its how that rep was earned that makes reviewing Reuters so cool. The whole gig started in 1851when Paul Julius Reuter moved to Paris. Reuter was about 32 when he left his home in Berlin, Germany. This was about the time of the Revolutions of 1848--a series of public upheavals across Europe. Remember that European nations in the mid nineteenth century were monarchies, whose societies were an extension of feudalism.
The masses were over it and wanted true nations with democratic structures. Reuter was one of them. He was partner in a publishing firm that distributed "radical" pamphlets. No doubt he came under scrutiny from the president of the German Confederation, which was almost always a monarch.

Reuter worked for a news service while in Paris, though it wasn't long before he ventured back out on his own. Within a year he was in a small town on the edge of the French and German border, Aachen, where he launched a fully independent news agency. This is the cool part, he used carrier pigeons between Aachen and Brussels. There were very few telegraphs in Europe, so news traveled by train. Reuter's pigeons were a crucial link for getting news quickly between Berlin and Paris. They gave Reuter fast access to stock news from the Paris stock exchange.

Ultimately a telegraph link was strung between Britain and the European continent in 1851, along with other lines connecting cities or regions. That same year, Reuter moved his operation to London, where he and the headquarters would stay. He continued using pigeons where necessary, but the the telegraph was growing more significant as his news and stock price information service grew. Still, he had active squadrons of carrier pigeons totaling 200 birds. So when telegraph service went down, for whatever reason, Reuter could still wing it and get the news out when his competition faltered.

Reuters developed a reputation for dependability, speed, accuracy, integrity and impartiality. The first newspaper client to subscribe was the London Morning Advertiser in 1858. It is worth mentioning that newspaper's subscriptions significantly expanded as a result. Another tidbit is that Reuters was the first news service to report Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

The Reuters brand continues operating in over 200 cities around the globe. And it all started with on wing and prayer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Your John Hancock ain't enough

Thebian brand
Logos make not the brand. Marketers know this. Decision makers know this, or should. Yet a persistent misconception is that logo and brand are synonymous. They are not and for explanation sake, let's start with origins of the expression "branding". The term is taken from "firebrand"—using a red-hot stick or metal to burn a mark in something, including livestock. Most of us associate the latter
with the American west. Nah. Egyptians were doing it way back in the day. But regardless of whether you’re talking stockyards in Tanis or Tombstone, the idea is the same and based on a unique or distinctive symbol burned into the flesh of horses, cattle, sheep or whatever. That symbol differentiates one person's livestock from another's. But that symbol, which could be interpreted as a logo, has absolutely zero value if you know nothing about it. The cow, and the resulting meat or breading stock, could be quality or questionable. The symbol is meaningless without something of perceived value or experience associated with it.

The original John Hancock
Look at it another way. John Hancock's signature may be one of history’s more famous personal logos. It is the largest, most legible on the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In fact, it has evolved into a slang term for one’s signature, “put your John Hancock there…” But if asked, most are incapable of recalling anything more than he was a signatory to the Declaration. Indeed, historians argue over whom the man really was and the substance of his contribution to the birth of our nation. While an easily recognizable logo, John Hancock is a hollow personal brand—neither resulting in a coagulated idea nor resonant with the collective consciousness.
In contrast, consider a far smaller signature such as Benjamin Franklin’s. Franklin boasts a deep personal brand in the American psyche. Even now readers are picturing either or both a bespectacled caricature and a kite in a lightning storm. Say his name and expectations come to mind, which include at least a few of his contributions to the American national culture and scientific or industrial innovations. That is a strong brand—an immediate response to the mention of his name, built on decades of his prolific participation in society, politics, and science.
A logo is simply a way to identify a brand. Without reference or understanding of its value, like Hancock, a logo is just a curious, sometimes attractive graphic.