Slow Brand

taking a slow approach to brands

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Month: January, 2011

Brand conversations on Social Networks – a response to Douglas Rushkoff

31 January, 2011 (16:56) | branding | By: Shannon Clark

Earlier today Read Write Web posted a discussion of a talk Douglas Rushkoff gave at the Pivot conference. In this discussion of Rushkoff’s talk the following claims were made:

Rushkoff thinks branding is irrelevant in the age of the social network. He compares social networks to the original bazaars and marketplaces of the past. The bazaar was the center of commerce, gossip, political debate and more. He says that people weren’t interested in “branding” then – they were interested in exchanging factual (or supposedly factual) information.

I wrote a lengthy comment in reply to the post:

I will write a longer reply on my blog (which is in part all about Branding – see http://slowbrand.com) but I think Rushkoff is completely wrong.

Brands matter now more than ever before – in no small part because more companies and products are competing for attention & sales than at any time ever before in history. No longer are (most) consumers in the global marketplace limited to just a small handful of choices and options – across almost all categories (other than some which are geographic services and in most cases protected by some form of legalized monopoly or oligarchy – i.e. Internet access in the US, phone service, power etc)

It is also well worth remembering that most “brands” compete with each other even across what is often thought about as “different” categories – i.e. the movies you choose to spend money seeing compete with the games you choose to play, the types of food you buy especially meals out and all the other discretionary ways you have to spend your money and your time.

In this environment strong brands have a great deal of value – they cut through a lot of clutter, they offer clean and simple and (hopefully) authoritative ways for a discussion about a product or service to occur.

Rushkoff is also wrong in that the “Keebler Elves” are NOT the brand. They are an advertising campaign – the BRAND is Keebler (or even more specifically Keebler’s products). Pepperidge Farms has a great ad that illustrates this which is currently running on many food related cable channels – in the ad they highlight the ingredients that go into a number of their different products and then promote each of those product brands (Milano cookies for example) all under the larger rubric of the brand of Pepperidge Farms.

Without brands (and Rushkoff is his own brand) it is very hard to have a conversation about a product.

Consider the dilemma most current laptop makers and most car companies face at the moment – they have “brands” which are so cluttered and overburdened it is nearly impossible for one ThinkPad user to talk about their laptop in a way that would allow another person to buy the same product. Can you explain to me the differences between the Letter & Number combo brands for most european car companies? (BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi in particular are egregious here). Even if you want to if can be hard to recall which letter & number combo describes the car(s) which are appropriate for a particular person in a particular stage of life & family.

In contrast strong modern brands carve out a very clearly defined message and identity. .Apple is a master of this (though they failed slightly with the iPhone 3 vs iPhone 3g) but generally Apple restricts their product lineup and defines each product (including their OS versions) with a clear brand identity and name. Mini Cooper in the car world is also quite focused even as they have been expanding their car lineup. Ford has been doing a better job than many in defining and creating new brands for their modernized lineup of cars (though they do face an uphill battle with some of their brands that have legacy implications such as Focus)

In short (okay in some length) I think that Brands are more valuable now than almost ever before – a clear, well defined brand is in many ways the price of entry to being able to be the topic of conversation between people – if you do not have a brand people can refer to when talking about your product or service then mostly those conversations won’t happen – and if they do happen you (as in the company) will almost never be able to listen or react or contribute.

Smart companies whether large or brand new know this and use clear and unique brands to form a starting point around which social engagement can occur and along with that actual sales.

This is in large part what I started this blog years ago to discuss and highlight – that Brands are if anything more important in the 21st century than at any time in the past. In a global, hyper competitive marketplace where almost every company competes with nearly every other company, Brands are a key element to business (and personal) success. A slow, smart Brand is one that builds value over time, one that allows for conversations around the product(s) or services and which offers a clear and compelling vision and identity.

Whether that brand is a personal brand or the brand of one of the largest companies in the world it is vital and valuable.

Personally I face this every day as I try to offer a clear vision and identity around what I do and what I offer to clients, partners and in the case of startups I found investors (and of course to customers). But this is not easy and it is very challenging – without a clear identity, without a strong brand, it is very difficult for others to refer to me, to talk about me, to think of me when they have a business need or meet someone who might use my services.

So I would argue that Rushkoff has it completely wrong – Brands and branding is more vital now in the era of social networks than every before – without a brand conversations about your goods and services cannot happen.

As 2011 begins some great meals in NYC

26 January, 2011 (16:33) | food | By: Shannon Clark

I spent the past weekend in NYC, flew there on Thursday and enjoyed the long Martin Luther King weekend as a chance to visit friends and family and to have a mini-vacation with my girlfriend. We both worked on Friday while in NYC but still manage to have a large number of great meals while we were in NYC.

If you are my friend on Foursquare you may have seen my checkins from this past weekend, unfortunately it doesn’t look like I can easily share my checkins history publicly but this post is an attempt to summarize some of the best places we found over our long weekend. NYC is always changing but all of these spots are great options, some are old favorites others are new (at least to me) discoveries from this past weekend.

Thursday – fine, vegan dining at Kajitsu

After we flew in and checked into our hotel, we went to Kajitsu in the East Village where we had made a dinner reservation at the Chef’s counter (only available by making an over the phone reservation but they take OpenTable for regular reservations). Kajitsu has two Michelin stars and serves Japanese zen temple food. Everything on their menu is vegan and they offer two tasting menus (a $50 4 course and $70 8 course option) along with a few ala carte dishes and sake pairings. The space is space and minimalist but the food is amazing in the details and complexity. Living in San Francisco we were familiar with Japanese temple cuisine from local standouts such as Cha-Ya and the now closed Medicine Eatstation though Kajitsu offers a far more refined and fine dining version of the cuisine. A fantastic meal whether you are a vegetarian or not and one of the cheaper 2 Michelin star dining options available anywhere in the world, though both my girlfriend and I far preferred our meal at the only 1 Michelin starred Ubuntu in Napa.

Friday

Sweet Revenge – amazing cupcakes in the West Village

Friday morning before going off to work my girlfriend and I walked up to the West Village from our SOHO hotel. We were looking for coffee and a quick breakfast, didn’t have any particular spot in mind or very high expectations but we stumbled into a fantastic place which we returned to later on Friday. Sweet Revenge is a small bakery in the West Village. In the mornings they offer coffee, cupcakes, savory breakfast cakes and a few other options (yogurt etc). We both enjoyed our savory breakfast cakes which were light and very flavorful with fantastic sauces on the side. In the evening after work we returned to Sweet Revenge to pick up a hostess gift of one of each of the six cupcake flavors they had made that day to bring to a friend’s house where we were having dinner. Each of the cupcakes were unique with fantastic cakes, fillings and frostings. Not too sweet but just right well balanced and light with a lot of flavor. Some of the best cupcakes we’ve had and in a city (and nation) where the cupcake craze has no sign of stopping Sweet Revenge is a great place. If we had dined in, they offer wine and beer pairings with their cupcakes and they serve until midnight or later most nights.

Saturdays Surf Shop – fantastic coffee in a great shop in SOHO

I, along with many others, read about Saturdays in Monocle (see http://www.monocle.com/sections/edits/Web-Articles/Style-directory-Shopkeepers/) where in their Oct 2010 issue they featured Saturdays Surf Shop in an article. This is a small great store selling their own label of clothing, surfboards and related books and other objects along with offering fantastic serious coffee and in nicer weather a beautiful hidden back patio seating area. On Friday I bought a great cappuccino and after a brief time spent browsing the offerings walked to my next stop and meeting.

Saturday

Torrisi Italian Specialities – amazing sandwiches and a great prix fix dinner in SOHO

My sister suggested Torrisi as an option for picking up lunch nearby before we visited. We ordered nearly one of everything on the lunch menu – bringing a spread of sandwiches and vegetable sides along with fresh mozzarella made earlier that morning. Everything was amazing, flavorful, local ingredients and fantastic flavors. This is Italian food done by serious chefs with the best local ingredients and great attention to detail. Every evening they offer one of the best deals in NYC with a $50 prix fix dinner which I hope to return and experience.

Before we picked up lunch we stopped by my favorite bookstore in NYC, McNally Jackson. This amazing independent bookstore, with attached cafe, offers one of the best book shopping experiences in NYC and indeed anywhere in the US. Fantastic selections with a friendly knowledgable staff and a store that innovates. Later in the weekend we returned to test out their new print-on-demand service using a printer from Unbound Books which offers you the ability to get any public domain book and many other books with publisher permission, or your own book, printed in a few minutes while you shop or enjoy a coffee in their cafe.

After lunch we walked over to the across from NYU location of Think Coffee which is a local to NYC small coffee chain with four locations. Each with very serious fair trade sourced coffee, fantastic barristas and great food and drink. I really enjoyed my coffee from a small roaster in Ethiopian while my girlfriend enjoyed her cappuccino. The space across from NYU is huge with plenty of tables and wifi and a space even on a holiday weekend filled of students and others working.

Refreshed we walked up to Chelsea where we enjoyed a cool winter walk along the High Line. We then descended and explored Chelsea Market. Inside of Chelsea Market are many fantastic NYC restaurants and food purveyors, we only sampled a few and need to return many more times to try everything. Perhaps the highlight of this visit to Chelsea Market was our dinner at The Green Table in Chelsea Market. We were a group of six and managed to snag a reservation when another large party canceled. We shared some fantastic mac and cheese and a Brussels sprouts hash as started and then each ordered dinner. My burger was among the best I’ve had anywhere. Highly recommended for seasonal, local cuisine with a menu that changes with the seasons and fair prices.

For dessert my girlfriend and I joined a friend of ours who was also visiting NYC from SF in going to one of her favorite places in NYC, Veniero’s Pasticceria  & Cafe. A historic cafe and bakery in the East Village with a line that seemingly never ends on a weekend evening, the desserts were well worth the wait and as we looked at the rows upon rows of cookies, pastries and cakes it made us wish for a moment that we lived in NYC and could cater a party with desserts from Veniero’s.

Sunday

Sunday we had amazing Mexican food for breakfast and award winning BBQ for dinner. Yes, we were still in NYC.

For breakfast we again walked up to the West Village to return to a Mexican restaurant my girlfriend remembered from a past visit to NYC, La Palapa. There we found some of the best Mexican food I have had in a restaurant – not just the best I’ve had in NYC by far but among the best I’ve had in any city anywhere. Fresh, authentic and very flavorful. They have two locations one in the East Village and one in the West Village and the owner has a recently published cookbook.

After our very filling late breakfast we spend the afternoon shopping in SOHO. Then I took my girlfriend to one of my favorite places in the Lower East Side, Teany. Teany is a vegan tea shop owned by Moby. I am a meat eater but this is one of my must visit places whenever I’m in the Lower East Side. We shared some fantastic vegan coconut cake and enjoyed very tasty beverages. I had a great pot of tea and my girlfriend had a cappuccino made with tea which she greatly enjoyed. A friendly, small place always worth a visit.

We then walked from the Lower East Side up to the amazing new Eataly which is 50,000 sq ft of Italian food and drink across from Madison Square Park. While new to the US this is a chain with multiple locations in Italy and Japan. If we lived in NYC we would shop (and eat) at Eataly regularly. In fact the produce and fruit prices were reasonable and the selection quite great – I bought some kumquats as a snack for less than I pay at farmers markets here in SF.

For dinner we walked two blocks down 24th st to R.U.B (Righteous Urban Barbeque) which is a competition worthy barbecue restaurant in NYC. They were out of their famous burnt ends so I ordered a half slab of ribs while my girlfriend (who is vegetarian) ordered one of their drinks and their vegetarian pulled portobella sandwich. We started with their fried green tomatoes. An excellent meal and amusingly my vegetarian girlfriend’s half of the meal was more expensive (though to be fair that was because I didn’t order a drink).

Overall a fantastic day of eating where we managed to do to things that in the past weren’t supposed to be possible in NYC – have great Mexican and have great BBQ.

Monday

Our flight was in the mid-afternoon so we wanted to have a hearty brunch before we checked out and left for the airport. We were going to meet my cousin for breakfast but her work schedule prevented that so instead we decided to walk around SOHO near our hotel and find someplace to eat.

We lucked out and found The Cupping Room Cafe which has been in SOHO for over 30 years in an amazing space which was a former coffee wholesaler. While when we entered it appeared to be a smallish place, we quickly realized that the restaurant is L shaped with a lot of seating, a large bar off the other entrance and a beautiful main space with fireplace and lots of character. The food was tasty and fresh and the service was friendly. Definitely a great space which we may return to on future visits. In the evenings they frequently have live music and local seasonal menu. All for very reasonable prices. Definitely a great find.