Making Meaning

This book was a little more focused on large corporations than I was expecting (eg: they discuss hiring ethnographers to roll out new services to foreign markets), but it had some ideas that really resonated with me. This passage describes my philosophy about brand development nicely:

Experience branding is a company’s effort to be consistent in its value proposition and its expression in every connection to the consumer.

I also marked the comprehensive – but not exhaustive – list of universally valued experiences. Of the 15 presented, I really think wonder, accomplishment, and community have the best potential for my future work.

Buy this book.

Don’t Waste Your Customer’s Time

Marketers require empathy for their customers. Having some compassion and respect for your customer’s time is a necessary part of building a brand that is taken seriously by its audience.

Here are two easy ways to undo that work:

Website Surveys


Here’s a great explanation of the problem with these site surveys, from Neven Mrgn:

As you’re about to take that first bite of your food, the server puts a comment card between you and the plate: PLEASE RATE OUR RESTAURANT

Pointless Emails

From Zach Holman:


Kill me if I ever work for a company that carpet bombs their customers with shit like this.

Apple’s Advertising Folly

While it’s easy to pick on a company that gets so much right, Fast Company did a great job pointing out the problem with Apple’s ad shown above. The ad opens with the words:

“This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product.”

The problem is that the ad should open with:

“This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a person.”

Apple should be showing how their products enrich the lives of their users by complimenting their lives. Instead the products are shown as the end, instead of the means.

The Lamborghini Experience

Naturally, I can’t comment on the whole of the Lamborghini experience, but I really loved this collection of images I found entitled “This is how you will get your Lamborghini.” Ritual and ceremony play a huge part in creating a meaningful brand experience, and there’s something to be said about needing a crane on-hand for you to receive your motorcar.

Branding Lessons from Idiots

From a proposal I recently received from a freelance writer:

Full qualified and certified injury therapist practioner, have experience in report/document writing.

Was honoured when training for my top marks in knowlegde and presentation.

My layout are easy on the eye fro the read so as not scare them away sell what you reading to them.

All content will be original and fully checked for gramma and spelling errors.

if you have anymore question please contact me further

Kind Regards

Or this, from the same job (different writer):

I have been a writer for over 3 years. My topics and style varies. depending on the subject which are Copyscape-proofed.

These are pretty stark examples of incongruous messaging. The point of this post isn’t to point and laugh at poor writing (I’ll save that for you’re your Facebook). Rather, it’s to point out an overt example of off-brand messaging: the talk and the walk don’t match up. I think marketers fail in this way all the time.

Even me. I used to have an office in an industrial park. It was clean, simple, and (most importantly) cheap. Most of the business we were doing was with out-of-town clients, so it didn’t matter much. Until we started getting attention from bigger local clients. We’d go through the whole proposal process, up to the point the clients would come to our office. Every time, we’d loose the job after they visited our office. It wasn’t nice enough. Which seems silly, because the “niceness” of our office has no bearing on the quality of our work.

Except that my office was as off-brand as the proposals above. I was running a design studio. Our website was gorgeous. Our collateral was perfect. Our proposals were meticulously crafted. But our office? It screamed “whatever.” The office showed that we didn’t care about that aspect of our presentation. It was off-brand. And when you’re selling branding and aesthetics, those “superficial” things aren’t superficial anymore.

Is it Time for Fedex to Overhaul their Brand?

When one of your senior executives has to quickly produce an apology video, your brand is in real danger.

Along with many of you, we’ve seen the video showing one of our couriers carelessly and improperly delivering a package the other day. As the leader of our pickup and delivery operations across America, I want you to know that I was upset, embarrassed, and very sorry for our customer’s poor experience. This goes directly against everything we have always taught our people and expect of them. It was just very disappointing.

As an aside, if your name includes “III” or “the third”, you may come across a little pretentious when you speak to the masses.

This video, which appeared shortly before Christmas, is Fedex’s response to this video, which shows a Fedex driver throwing a box over a short fence, apparently while the recipient was home.

But that last video has nothing on this video of another misbehaving Fedex driver:

It’s probably time for Fedex to give some serious thought about how they can start delivering a better customer experience. A brand that doesn’t really understand how important it is to deliver that experience is a doomed one, especially with the voice that today’s consumers have.

Illusions Served on the Buffet

I just got back from a stay at a Caribbean all-inclusive resort. As is typical for these resorts, people complained about the food quality at the buffets, preferring instead the resorts’ a la carte style restaurants. This widely held belief is not the result of any actual disparity in the food, but of several tricks played on our minds by the experience.

I’ve stayed at many of these resorts, and heard the same thing at all of them: the buffet food is mostly inedible, and the restaurant food is the only decent thing to eat. In fact, this belief is so universal that visitor reviews of the resorts carry this refrain consistently. The resorts even reinforce this illusion by touting a high number of restaurants (vs buffets) as a feature.

But the food served at each is really the same. At most resorts the food is prepared in the same kitchen, by the same cooks, with the same ingredients. Many of the restaurants are adjoined onto the buffets, though the architectural details may obscure this fact somewhat. Other restaurants serve as buffets during the day, often for breakfast or lunch.

There are three things at work that all contribute to the perceived disparity of quality:

Paradox of choice
The paradox of choice suggests that the more options presented to us, the less satisfied we’ll be with our choice.

So the buffet – with all of the single items on it that can then be combined in thousands (or millions) of ways – offers so much choice that we can’t be happy with our decision. No matter what we choose, we are always wondering if there wasn’t a better decision, a more satisfying combination.

Restaurants have a narrow range of options available to its patrons, as they operate with a price-fix five course format (soup, salad, appetizers, entree, dessert). At each stage of the meal there might be only one or two options, with the entree stage offering as many as eight options. But because the meal is broken up into stages with a comparatively small number of options at each sage, it’s easier to discriminate between each option. By forcing us focus our attention on mall decisions, we end up more confident in our choices.

Where the buffet challenges us with “what am I going to have for dinner” the restaurant makes it easier, “would I prefer tomato bisque or seafood chowder.”

While the buffets have a come as you please, no reservations required policy, the restaurants offer more of a challenge. Reservations are required, and are often made days in advance. Resorts may also limit the number of times you can visit the restaurants per week. The dress code at the restaurants is usually stricter than the buffet as well. All of this means that it’s more challenging to eat at the restaurants, it takes more work, more planning; and this builds in additional value to the experience. We feel it must be better, because it was harder to obtain.

Once you’re in, scarcity also plays a role with how we’re shown the food. At the buffet the food is piled high in long rows. Anything you could want to eat is there, enough to feed an army. But at the restaurant you only see the food you’re actually going to eat, and the portions are controlled for you. You see less, and so the food seems to be more scarce than at the buffet. That scarcity builds in even more value for the restaurants.

“That looks gooood.” The way our food looks can greatly affect our receptions of it. If you look at any modern cookbook you will see gorgeous photos of elaborately presented food. This elaborate presentation doesn’t change how it tastes, but it makes the food look more appetizing.

Watch people at a buffet and you’ll see them take a plate and pile food onto it wherever it will fit, sometimes stacking additional food on top. It’s about as far from elegant as you can get. At the restaurant your food is plated. Your food s considered, it’s arrangement is designed to look appetizing. The food simply looks better.

There is one other reason that people hate the buffets: they get bored. Buffet patrons take more types of food than they normally would. The thinking as they move through the buffet is along the lines of “Does this look good? Yes, take some; no, move on.” So people end up with ten things on their plate instead of three. At the onset this isn’t a problem, but as this repeats itself over the week we end up eating the same meal multiple times. This isn’t the result of a mind-trick as it is poor planning on our part.

There’s not a lot that the resort can do to change this phenomenon, not without some pretty serious changes to how it operates. But I don’t think they want to change anything either – it would cost too much and be too risky for them.

I suppose a resort could try positioning itself as a culinary experience which – if executed properly – could offer a strong point of differentiation for the brand. I find the brand differentiation in this sector to be especially weak, so anything would help.