Archive Page 2

Brands in my Life, Star Wars

Here is a look at how the Star Wars brand has impacted my life using an “associative neural network” as described by Batey.

Star Wars as a cluster of meanings

Star Wars as a cluster of meanings

It’s the brand that keeps on giving. Sometimes I wonder if Star Wars merchandise will ever stop being introduced. I know this brand is not loved by everyone (shocking), but it is very recognizable. I wonder how the Star Wars brand would stack up in value against other brands such as Coca Cola. It’s not likely worth $67billion, but I don’t the next few generations of Lucas have anything to worry about.


Brands in my Life, Netflix

After reading about “New Media” and how brands reach out to consumers Netflix came to mind. While many companies have been slow to catch on that digital distribution works, Netflix jumped in and became a leader.


A couple years ago while living in Boston I became a Netflix subscriber. I took my membership with me to New York City, but when I arrived in Austin I canceled it. Why did I cancel it, because I had a Blockbuster down the street. In both Boston and New York I did not have a large conveniently located video store near by. Netflix was handy, but often I would want a different movie from what was up next on my cue. It would be too late to switch the movie because of the mail distribution system.

Netflix solved my problem and got me back last fall by forming a brilliant partnership with Microsoft. Now I can update my cue and watch whatever I want, when I want it, and I don’t ever have to go outside. Through my Xbox 360 I am able to stream movies from Netflix right to my tv. HD content is available and the list of available content  is constantly growing. Some people say that there are better ways to stream to your tv, but I think they just like making things difficult for themselves.

The service is so successful that we have canceled our cable tv service and are now just paying for Internet. The Netflix / Microsoft partnership works so well that it is clearly disruptive to how companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast conduct their business. Recent news about tiered Internet pricing is a likely result of streaming services like Netflix. I say too bad Time Warner and Comcast, they should have thought to partner with Netflix sooner.

Brands in my Life, US brands go to Asia

Yesterday my wife returned from an almost 3 week trip to Asia. She spent about half her trip in Taipei and the other half in Shanghai. I love when she makes trips across the Pacific because I know she’ll be returning with some neat “Asian” stuff.

Today, the National Marketing Director for Whole Foods, Heather Kennedy was the guest lecturer in my branding class. Heather spent a good deal of time speaking about Whole Foods’ brand “authenticity” and how they become authentic. Primarily they maintain authenticity by letting the individual Whole Foods teams buy locally to relate to their  11 regions around the country. Thus in the eyes of the local consumer they have authentic local foods.

It made me think about the stuff that my wife just brought back from Asia, which was made by US multi-national brands. My two examples here are Kit Kat and Disney:

making US brands work in Asia

making US brands work in Asia

Both the Kit Kat bars and the Donald Duck keychain are instantly recognizable and clearly different from what we see here in the US.  Kit Kat introduced flavors that the Asian markets find tasty (I think the green tea was better). The Kit Kat packaging was also different. It had 2 individually wrapped sets of double sticks, placed in a box, rather than 4 sticks just a paper wrapper.

Disney changed the proportions of Donald’s eyes and head to be similar to what is common in Asian anime. Cute cartoon characters are everywhere in Asia. The US’s Disney version of Donald just wouldn’t be cute enough.

The brands changed some of what makes them appear authentic in the US to create authenticity for another culture.  Changes made to these products allowed the brands to penetrate into new markets and not seem foreign.  All of this made me think that authenticity is a relative and malleable concept. My big take away here is to first know your target market, and then present their ideal of authenticity to them.

Brands in my Life, Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic

Just to clarify for people Virgin Galactic is not a brand that is currently in my life or has ever been a part of my life in any truly (what I would like) experiential way.  My only real/partial encounter with this brand came in 2006 while I was living in New York City, during the Wired NextFest. I like space. I read Wired magazine. When I heard that Virgin Galactic was going to be a part of the Wired NextFest I bought tickets.

To explain, Virgin Galactic is a part of the Virgin Group empire owned by Sir Richard Branson. This division came about after Paul Allen’s team won the Ansari X Prize in 2004. The team’s winning vehicle, SpaceShipOne was designed by Burt Rutan, a former aircraft developer. I had the good fortune of seeing this vehicle at the NextFest.


Mr. Branson is now well under way developing SpaceShipTwo, which will be the first commercial craft designed to regularly carry people into space. For a mere $200,000, with 10% down you can get in line to blast off into space from Spaceport America.

The other day in class we discussed authenticity in brands and how you bring authenticity to new brands. While the Virgin Group is not new, Virgin Galactic is a first in human history company/brand. Virgin Galactic’s authenticity is being leveraged somewhat from Virgin’s successful airplane and train brands. Virgin Airways is highly regarded for their customer service and in-flight amenities. It is likely that some of the people who regularly fly Virgin Airways are also in line for Virgin Galactic.

The first entry on Virgin Galactic’s website under “overview” understandably deals with safety. If NASA, who has been around in the space arena for some time has had catastrophic problems, why should people feel safe with a wholly new venture? Virgin Galactic is trying to create a kind of risk-lowering authenticity by selling the pedigree of the engineers who are working on the project. They are also being very open that there will be a 3 day training session to make sure that applicants are fit to handle to experience.

In the end Virgin Galactic may just need to wait until the first successful take off and landing occurs. Once the passengers have been interviewed by the press about their experience there won’t be any doubt about an authentic space flight experience.

Brands in my Life, Apple

To kick off this “Brands in my Life” series I’m starting with Apple. I figure it’s a good way to ease myself into this as Apple and I have a relatively well established relationship.

My background is full of computers and gadgets. While I was growing up we always had tons of techie detritus lying around the house from my dad who is a software engineer. We had the earliest version of modems, laser disks and 5 1/4 floppy disks galore. When the new Byte magazine arrived I would check to see if they had included the sample game disk. If time permitted we would sit down together and enter in the code listed at the back of the magazine on our Commodore 64 to see what kind of program it would make. In grade school I used Apple II computers and at home I went from the Commodore 64 to a 386 PC.

After grade school I never really touched an Apple product again until college. When I did try them out I didn’t like it. The interface was foreign and the only thing I used it for was checking my email. Based on the drafting software I was using for school Apples were out of the question. Apple as a brand meant, “incompatible”.

Once I graduated and found a full time job with a Landscape Architecture firm I had to get back into Apple products. There wasn’t any choice, the office was equipped only with Macs. This meant learning new software which was annoying, but over time Macs grew on me. I even bought an old blue and white G3 tower from the office.

Then the iPod launched. I resisted the first couple generations. Who needed to carry that much music around all time? By the time the 4th generation came around I had caught the, “I have to have one” sentiment. To Apple’s credit they created an interface in iTunes and Mac OS X that worked seamlessly with the iPod hardware. Sure by then you could use iPods with PCs, but Apple had got back their mojo so why bother.

Now as I sit here typing on my Macbook and checking my iPhone for missed calls some might call me a fanboy. Am I? I even made a lamp out of an old Mac Classic I found in the trash out of nostalgia.

spot the Mac Classic lamp

spot the Mac Classic lamp

But I am far from an Apple fanboy, I think. Their products interface together with a great deal of ease. Apple computers are typically void of any viruses and seem to be far more stable than Microsoft Windows.

I will be the first to admit that what seems to be Apple’s brand philosophy can be annoying. Recently Steve Ballmer made a comment about Apple’s $500 logo. If you look at the technology inside of Apple products he might be right. If you need more proof look at the gaming world. Macs are supported by very few game developers partially due to lower hardware  specs and partially due to a smaller install base.

Another issue I have with Apple is their, “keep up with us or get out” cycle of product releases. Their product cycles occur over relatively short periods and the worst part is that old products become hard to service very quickly. I have come to terms with the fact that there will always be a sense of buyers remorse shortly after every purchase of an Apple product. Unless you are someone who reviews gadgets for a living or have money falling out of your pockets it is impossible to keep up with their constant iterations.

My final beef with Apple deals with the super tight control they keep over their products. I’m sure this has helped to keep their product’s quality high, but it is frustrating. iTunes is a case and point here. There are many Mp3 players in the world, but only one that will work with the iTunes store. I feel that this has held back the market growth of the company by trying to maintain a level of prestige.

In the end will my complaints keep me from buying Apple products? I doubt it. Apple seems to be changing some of its tight control by opening their App Store to third party developers. By freely giving out a Software Development Kit, SDK for the iPhone and iPod Touch Apple has created a booming new industry for developers and consumers. Now I can listen to NPR stations from around the country or fart sounds wherever I am. Thanks Apple.

Catching up after SXSW

SXSW was a blast, but it’s time to get back to the real world. I met some cool people, saw a bunch of movies, bands and panels, but it burnt me out. Time to focus in on what’s next for school and other parts of my life that require attention. This blog is part of that attention hungry school thing. Maybe if this turns out to be fun I’ll keep on with it.

what’s on my mind