You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘VCU Brandcenter’ tag.
Tomorrow is graduation day for students at the VCU Brandcenter. One hundred of them will stride down the aisle as their name is called. They’ll take their diplomas and walk past a gauntlet of faculty, stopping to shake hands, hug and sometimes cry.
Brandcenter students will be surrounded by the truly important people in their lives. Fathers and mothers, sisters, brothers, friends and lovers. People who care about them. People who know the greatness and goodness they are capable of.
The Brandcenter faculty in the front of the room can be counted among these well-wishers. They’ve spent years sharing everything they know and demanding everything our students can give.
Like the families and friends in the audience, our professors have become important people to the students. In my years at the Brandcenter I’ve watched our faculty give their best for each student. A part of every day is spent out of sight of the students, conferring about their strengths, weaknesses, triumphs and tragedies. Our faculty talk about how to renew the energy of those who’ve become weary, how to inspire the uninspired, how to deliver worthy challenges and worthwhile critiques.
For Brandcenter faculty, there are few things more rewarding than seeing our students walk across that stage, confident in their abilities and well on their way to successful careers. So if you’re attending the graduation ceremony, take a moment to greet the faculty and staff behind the Brandcenter’s important work.
VCU Brandcenter’s full time professors. (click to enlarge)
A fact of life in business is that most large companies acquire other companies. Sometimes these deals are aimed at taking out a competitor, like when Starbucks bought Seattle’s Best. Sometimes they add complimentary offerings, like when Sears bought Land’s End. And Sometimes they don’t really make sense, like when Daimler Benz bought Chryslers. Often these deals are looked at financially, but there isn’t always a thorough exploration of the impact on the brand.
Since Apple has a war chest of $60 billion, there’s been speculation over whether the company should make more acquisitions. The company does have a history of buying other businesses but they are usually smaller deals aimed at building technological capacity. In 2010, Apple bought Quattro Wireless, Intrinsity, Siri and Poly9. Don’t be embarrassed if you never heard of these, most people haven’t. The question I like to think about is who Apple might buy if they wanted to do a major deal, and how might it affect the brand?
If you’d like to play along, please add your suggestion in the “comments” section.
Here are two to get you started:
Apple + Nikon:
The famous photography company is valued at just under $8 billion, well within Apple’s price range. The brand is know for making superb products for professionals and consumers – just like Apple, and Nikon focuses on a target audience of creative people – just like Apple. There are also some notable synergies. Apple offers two software packages for editing photography: iPhoto and Aperture. Both are superior to Nikon’s own software. Apple also makes the leading video editing software: Final Cut. Nikon’s newest cameras also shoot video. Apple’s latest hardware, including the iPhone, iPod, iPad and Mac computers, all have built in cameras. Unfortunately these cameras aren’t very good. Imagine dropping Nikon cameras into these devices? Overall, I think an Apple/Nikon deal has a lot to offer.
Apple + Nintendo
This is a pricier deal – Nintedo has a market cap of about $30 billion – but this is still well within Apple’s grasp. Apple’s has $60 billion in cash and a market cap of over $300 billion, so if both companies wanted to do the deal it would be easy to pull off. The value? Well both companies are known for innovative, elegant products that challenge industry conventions. When gaming hardware companies were all focused on adolescent boys, Nintendo changed the industry by targeted everyone else with their incredibly popular Wii. And Apple has recently started to wake up to the potential of gaming. It’s AppStore has become one of the largest gaming outlets in the industry. Imagine AppStore for Wii and DS? Seems like an interesting fit.
With both Nikon and Nintendo, I think there’s an ideological harmony, but maybe you disagree. I’d like to hear your opinions and your suggestions for an ideal Apple mash-up. Just use the comment field to join in on the conversation. And if you’re a marketing professor, ask your students what they think and let me know.
This past year, VCU Brandcenter students and faculty got involved with an interesting project. We were asked to work with Venture Richmond and The Martin Agency to help drive and effort to bring attention to the creativity and innovation that fuels Richmond.
The effort started when Martin Agency Partner, Matt Williams, worked with leaders from the Richmond area to begin defining those things that set the city apart. The effort identified characteristics that were seen as essential to the city’s future. Participants saw an opportunity to define a reputation that is “forward-looking, eclectic, dynamic and timeless” fueled by “a history of non-conformity”.
The process identified a growing momentum in Downtown Richmond and beyond. Anyone who’s paying attention has observed the dramatic rise in downtown living spaces, arts venues, dining, entertainment and innovative businesses, schools and organizations. The data is impressive and led the group to define the potential for helping Richmond become recognized as a center of creativity. That’s where the Brandcenter came in.
The folks at Venture Richmond and Martin wanted to go beyond the business and civic leaders involved in the first phase, to take a broader sampling from the street level up. We recruited Brandcenter professors Caley Cantrell and Mark Avnet to help guide teams of over 40 graduate students, and we charged the team with conducting research and coming back with a fresh approach to a civic identity.
Guided by Cantrell and Avnet, the students explored Richmond from every angle. From first thing in the morning at a local coffee shop, to last call at the clubs, the students interviewed residents, business owners, civic leaders, architects, urban planners, musicians, magazine publishers, retailers, venture capitalists, philanthropists, tattoo artists, historians, museum directors and computer programmers. They collected stories that reflected both passion and pride.
It’s important to note that the students were not asked to invent a new identity for the city – they know better than to attempt to make up something that doesn’t fit the brand – instead they uncovered a movement that was already well established, one that many residents and leaders have been talking about for some time. The student’s mission was to synthesize the information from all sources and to develop an approach for telling the stories in a way that would accomplish two primary objectives:
1. To help Richmond take credit for the creativity that has been part of both the city’s past and present.
2. To inspire even more innovation in the future, by encouraging community members to practice more creativity in their work and lives.
When the student teams presented their work, we were all moved by their efforts. They saw an opportunity to avoid the overused slogans and jingles of typical municipal branding efforts and instead to leverage the existing shorthand for Richmond’s creative community: RVA.
The students felt that any top down slogan would be more likely to inhibit creativity, rather than promote it, so they suggested that “RVA” could be customized to say whatever the participant wanted it to say. They also designed the logo to allow the visuals to be ever changing. Again, based on the creativity of the user. This user-generated approach to branding allows the minimalist “RVA” to be endlessly reinterpreted.
Of course brands are much more complex than logos or even advertising, so the real power of the brand is driven by the action, not the words, of those involved. While the effort is still in its infancy, there are already promising signs on the horizon. Business leaders and university heads have committed their support, arts organizations and creative individuals are fueling new projects, training programs and events are being planned and the Mayor has supported the effort and announced a plan to establish Richmond’s first Arts District, with tangible incentives and promotion for participating organizations.
These tangible acts are being combined with increased marketing driven by a team of six organizations, including outstanding Richmond businesses, like Elevation, Hodges Partnership, JHI and West Cary Group. The team’s work already includes a website, online video, rolling billboards, printed materials and social networking. Soon these efforts will be joined by mobile applications and even a fleet of eco-friendly garbage trucks, carrying the RVA logo.
To paraphrase Mike Hughes, “Branding is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.” The success of this program will depend on continued efforts to engage the community. But, given the promising start, I look forward to the day when our Brandcenter alumni return to find a more dynamic city where originality is celebrated – or better yet, I hope they never leave.
This week, the business news was dominated by an announcement that Apple’s Steve Jobs has temporarily stepped down from the role of acting CEO to take a medical leave of absence. This is not his first medical sabbatical; Jobs has struggled with health issues for years, but the timing of the announcement came just one day before Apple, Inc. posted record-breaking revenues and profits, blowing past all analyst estimates by a wide margin.
The company now has revenues of more than $70 billion, tenfold its size when Jobs returned to the company in 1997. It has the most desirable products in most of its categories and a stock value of more than $300 billion.
Certainly Jobs has proven to be a brilliant leader with an uncanny ability to identify opportunities and respond with beautifully executed products. So the question is, can Apple continue on this path once Jobs is gone? Does Apple’s success surface solely from the perfect-pitch vision of its charismatic CEO or is there more at work here — a recipe that other leaders can follow?
To find our answers we can look at the performance of not one but two companies that Jobs has led in recent years, Apple and Pixar. Prior to Pixar’s 2006 sale to Disney, Steve Jobs was CEO of the motion picture studio while simultaneously running Apple, a remarkable feat, made even more remarkable by the fact that Pixar has the best track record of movie hits in Hollywood.
Over the years, I’ve followed both companies closely as a student of creativity and a teacher of successful brand practices. In my observations, I’ve seen more than individual mastery at work; I’ve noticed a simple, clear pattern of behavior that drives the success of both companies. I call it “The Jobs Doctrine.”
This doctrine can be used to understand how Apple became the most influential company in computers, phones, music and consumer electronics, and how Pixar simultaneously became one of the most influential company in movies. The Jobs Doctrine can also be put to work in any company, or used to make any career more successful.
So what is The Jobs Doctrine? It isn’t a lengthy set of rules or a mathematical formula. It is simply a disciplined approach to making things that delight us: Design fewer, simpler, greater things.
This recipe would seem so obvious that it’s barely worth mentioning; except that it is so little understood as the driving force of Jobs’s creativity and it is ignored by most corporations and individuals.
Let me demonstrate the doctrine in action. In 2010, a Businessweek survey named Apple the most innovative company in the world. While that may be no big surprise, most people associate innovation with constant change and multitudes of innovations. But Apple’s only major new product for the year was the iPad® and its last major new launch was the iPhone®, released in 2007, three years earlier. And to get to the launch of the iPod®, you have to go back to 2001. The point is that while Apple’s products are inarguably innovative, their releases are much less frequent than those of their competitors.
Take a quick look at the phone lines available from Samsung, Nokia or Motorola and you’ll see dozens of models with a wide variety of features. Even the more selective BlackBerry® brand has seven current models. Apple has only two: the new iPhone 4 and the earlier 3GS model. Both come only in black. They are currently only available from one carrier. The remarkable truth is that Apple gives consumers far fewer options than all of their major competitors, yet they sold an astonishing 16 million phones last quarter.
Think of the dilution of effort that a company experiences when it has dozens of phones to design, manufacture and support. Imagine the focus that would come if it decided to scrap their massive product lines to instead focus on designing a single, beautiful phone.
Jobs’s genius is that he fully understands the power of simplification. Go to the site of any competitor, from Microsoft, to Google, to HP, to Samsung, to Dell, and you’ll find they all have larger product lines and operate in more categories. Jobs presides over a company that prizes simplicity not only in its product line but in every feature that appears on every product. This allows the company time for meticulous development, which in turn leads to superior products. Jobs fundamentally believes that consumers are more interested in perfection than variety. And this is plainly evident at his other company, Pixar.
It seems unlikely that a technology mogul could succeed in the movie business but Jobs has been more than successful. He bought Pixar from Lucasfilm in 1986 for $10 million and sold the company to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion, 740 times what he paid for it. But what is more remarkable is that at the time Jobs sold Pixar to Disney, it had released only six movies.
As with Apple, Jobs revolutionized the animated film industry and made a killing doing it, following the identical recipe: design fewer, simpler, greater things. While the studio had made only six films at the time of its sale to Disney, each had been released to become number one at the box office. And the streak continues today, several years after Jobs stepped down as CEO. Its most recent film, Toy Story 3, was the highest-grossing animated film of all time.
The company continues to release fewer films than its competitors and it takes longer to perfect the films, but each of Pixar’s 11 movies is listed among the 50 highest-grossing animated films of all time and each has been acclaimed by critics.
So, the successes of Apple and Pixar are based more on a consistent formula than on individual genius. If this successful formula can continue in the absence of Steve Jobs, as it has with Pixar, than maybe we can all take lessons from it.
Let’s break down the formula a bit. I’ve used the term “design” because Jobs considers Apple to be in the design business. The evidence is printed on every package. The words “Designed by Apple in California” suggest a company that is concerned with design. But what if your business has nothing to do with design? Perhaps you should alter your perspective.
Webster’s has several definitions for design. They are:
• to create, fashion, execute or construct according to plan
• to conceive and plan out in the mind
• to have as a purpose
• to devise for a specific function or end
These definitions can apply to anything you do, whether it’s creating a research report that might change the direction of your company, perfecting a smoothie to make your restaurant famous, developing curriculum that will really get through to your students or building the finest website for adopting puppies that anyone’s ever seen. When you think of your role as that of a designer, rather than just someone who performs a routine job, it liberates you to build your project from scratch. You are not just executing or refining but are creating something new and better. But of course, you can only do this if you’re focused on a few things.
Designing fewer things may be hard to do if you’re an employee and someone else is setting your priorities, but it is still possible. Think of an advertising designer who must work on a dozen projects every week. If she looks at each project as equally promising, she will have her efforts divided with little hope of perfecting her work. But if she works to identify projects with the potential for greatness, she can focus most of her time on those and fight to get them approved. Many famous advertising creatives have built their reputations on a few, brilliant campaigns. So look for these opportunities, and concentrate your skills on making brilliant work.
One last piece of The Jobs Doctrine is the quest for simplicity. This is where Steve Jobs may be at his best. Almost everything he makes has fewer features than almost everything his competitors make. Fewer buttons. Fewer menus. Fewer cables and ports. Fewer options. Steve Jobs is absolutely fanatical about designing products with simplicity. There are trade-offs, of course. The MacBook Air® has no CD/DVD drive, but that allows it to be smaller, lighter and more elegant. The remote for Apple TV® has only a few buttons, but this eliminates confusion.
We live in a complex world, where simplicity is a rare commodity, and like all rare things, it is valued. Take a look at your work. Can you make it simpler? Can you eliminate confusion? Can you edit out the excess until only the essential ingredients are evident? If you’re like most people, the answer is “yes.” But it takes time. Mark Twain famously commented, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Most of us fall into this trap. We would make things simpler, but we just don’t have time for the needed refinement. And this comes back to doing fewer things.
One last point about the doctrine: Designing fewer, simpler, greater things doesn’t just make the products better, it makes them easier to sell. Jobs is considered a masterful showman, and he is. We can all learn from watching his keynote presentations, but what enables him to be so persuasive is two things: He has only a few things to talk about, and each has been refined to make them better than the competition. We all know the feeling of going into a meeting with great work in our hands. We almost can’t wait to show it off. Our excitement and confidence are palpable. Selling a few great ideas is considerably easier than selling a lot of mediocre ideas. We have the time to romance each idea and we gain power from knowing the work is good.
Steve Jobs will be remembered as a remarkable individual who reshaped every industry he entered. The fact that much of that genius has been concentrated on designing and perfecting a small number of things does not diminish his accomplishments; it is the source of them. Applying this formula to our own efforts may not make us a billionaire or a celebrity, but it will make our work stronger and our efforts more purposeful, and that’s a good idea.
Don Just is back on the cover of the Business Section. The VCU Brandcenter professor looks quite comfortable on the business pages in his in a crisp sport coat and starched white shirt. Don started his career in banking, back when bankers were conservative with their money and their politics. Mid-career, he unexpectedly left his post as a leader of one of the most respected banks in the region and passed on a job as president of Circuit City to join an emerging ad firm, The Martin Agency.
Don’s move must have seemed reckless at the time, but today we might think of him as prescient, since both the bank (which became Wachovia) and Circuit City are no more and The Martin Agency is thriving. Fortunately for students, Don Just left the agency after helping grow it to a nationally respected firm. He has become a fixture at the VCU Brandcenter, where he teaches students the business of advertising and creative brand management.
Here’s the article by Louis LLovio of the Richmond Times Dispatch: http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/business/local/metrobusiness/article/COVR21_20091220-180402/312661/
General Motors filed for bankruptcy. Too bad for my hometown of Detroit, but maybe it needed to happen. The GM name has come to represent an overgrown, overly complex conglomerate that expanded into everything from home mortgages to aerospace to computer programming. It’s hard to run a great company when you’re tangled up in too many businesses. But there is still great potential for the company’s strongest brands.
At the heart of this company you’ll find nameplates like Cadillac and Chevy. Chevrolet alone accounted for half of all GM sales last year. It sold 10 times as many cars as the company’s other brands. (100 times Hummer.) All by itself, Chevy would be among the world’s largest car companies and one of the best loved.
Here’s a thought for my friends working at GM and their ad agencies: Why not change the company name to Chevrolet? Most other car companies are named for their primary car line. This includes Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, VW and many others. Most of these brands have high-end lines, like Lincoln, Lexus, Infinity and Audi – Chevrolet can do the same with Cadillac. The change would signal that the company was serious about focusing on its core brands and products. And that’s the right move for the company and for its customers.
Note: For more about GM’s brand, check out my interview on Fox Business here: GM Brand
The folks at Walmart have been working hard to improve their image of late. They’ve pumped up their public relations, hooked up with environmental advocates and launched appealing new ads with the help of The Martin Agency. The work is beginning to take hold, but as the deepening economic crisis casts shadows on the U.S. economy, Walmart may have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward with their brand.
Imagine if Walmart announced a decision to work with its manufacturers to move 20% of their production back to the U.S. within five years. It would be a private economic stimulus that would have a huge impact on the economy and the brand.
Walmart would have no problem arranging a press conference with President Obama – the press would be filled with quotes from grateful consumers – and the actions might inspire companies like Target and Home Depot to follow suit. Goods sold under the program could be showcased under “Made in the USA” signs. And while consumers might pay slightly more for these products, they’d be contributing to bringing jobs back to their hometowns.
Walmart’s significant economic power could really make a difference in increasing employment and jump-starting a recovery, which would lead to stronger sales and a higher stock price. Think of it as a virtuous cycle that results in passionate admiration of the brand.
Am I dreaming the impossible dream? Maybe, but Walmart is working hard to reclaim the legacy created by Sam Walton, a man who titled his autobiography “Made in America.” In his time, Walton encouraged his company to buy domestically made goods and consumers rewarded the company for it. What a powerful statement it would make for the brand to signal its commitment to the consumers who buy its goods, by buying theirs.
In the early morning hours, workers started unloading trucks containing loads of interactive kiosks, touchscreen monitors and – just as essential for attracting the attention of graduate students – buckets of candy and snacks. By the time students started trickling in, they encountered about 30 Google employees, and the Brandcenter had been transformed into the Googleplex for a day.
The students and faculty were treated to in-depth discussions of a wide range of technology from Google Analytics and AdWords to new features in YouTube and GPS applications tied to Google Android and Google Maps. For the Brandcenter’s 200 students and faculty, it provided great exposure to new methods of engaging consumers in an increasingly digital world. And for Google, it was a smart investment aimed at influencing the influencers who will help to shape the future of brand building.
Richmond advertising firm The Martin Agency co-sponsored the event and many of their leaders attended – I ran into Mike Hughes, John Adams, Bruce Kelley, Matt Williams, Steve Bassett and others. Robert Wong, Creative Director at Google Creative Labs, gave a fascinating talk that covered a variety of creative topics and demonstrated some of the ways Google tries to live up to its “Don’t be Evil” motto.
In all, it was an outstanding event that provoked ongoing conversations about shaping brands in a connected culture.
My Advanced Brand Management students are preparing strategies for expanding the reach of the Jane Goodall Institute Brand, while my Cultural Exploration students are developing creative campaigns that connect people with the message of the Muhammad Ali Center. Executives from both organizations will be traveling to Richmond in the coming weeks to participate in the final presentations of the work.
Years ago, Jelly Helm positioned the VCU Brandcenter (formerly the Adcenter) with the phrase, “We’re not out to save the world. Just Advertising.” But in these turbulent times, teaching advertising students to use their gifts to help save the world may not be such a bad idea.
After all the heightened emotions experienced in the final days of the presidential election, it was wonderful to slow down and enjoy the great outdoors with an art exhibition along the river. Five artists were featured in the show hosted by Lazare Gallery. A handful of students and chatted with the artists as they worked, then ducked inside for wine and cheese and more art. It was an enriching way to spend the afternoon.
I wasn’t sure how thrilled my graduate advertising students would be to spend their Friday night at the Virginia Opera. It’s not as though Giuseppe Verdi is really on most of their iPod playlists. But as we got closer to last Friday’s opening, I started to get more and more emails asking for extra tickets to bring friends. I even heard from students in other classes asking if I could adopt them for a night. So on Friday, I walked into Richmond’s Landmark Theatre with 50 well-dressed VCU Brandcenter students to see Verdi’s Il Trovatore. I won’t attempt to run through the entire plot here, but the characters in the story had some big problems. “Oops! I threw the wrong baby into the fire” is not a line I’ve seen in a lot of movies.
Our crew emerged about 3 hours later. Other than an agonizingly long scene of death by suicide and some comical translations on the supertitles, it was a wonderful evening and quite a contrast from our trip to Southside Speedway.
Special thanks to opera-lover, Jeannie Baliles, for inspiring this trip and helping arrange the group tickets and, Raquel Gimenez, for the photographs above.
This week, our cultural exploration class had the rare pleasure of engaging in a conversation with acclaimed author, Alan Crawford, who discussed his most recent work, “Twilight at Monticello”. The book chronicles the Thomas Jefferson’s later years, casting the historical figure in flesh and blood, rather than the bronze and marble we’re accustomed to. Jefferson’s intelligence and wisdom are portrayed in equal parts with his frailty and indecision.
In light of his surroundings in the VCU Brandcenter’s lecture hall, Mr. Crawford chose to speak about the Jefferson brand, and how that brand has come to represent different things over time, depending on the mood of the populace. The lesson has broad implications for those of us who are charged with managing brands. At any moment, the public’s perception of a brand can change due to cultural events outside of our control. Imagine a small and ethical stock brokerage being looked upon with cynicism due to world events they play no role in.
This is even more reason for brands to act with conviction and long-term predictability, rather than cow to the changing whims of the public. Many brands rid the waves of short-term fandom, only to collapse when the tide goes out.
For our students, who all visited Monticello in preparation for this session, the story behind the tourist attraction was a revealing one. Thank you Mr. Crawford and Mr. Jefferson.
The first writing assignment in our Cultural Exploration class was to read David Renmick’s “King of the World” about the life and career of Muhammad Ali. The book takes us beyond his career as a boxer to portray his life within the context of the turbulent cultural tapestry of the 1960s.
We are confronted with Ali’s role as a civil rights advocate, a Muslim and a draft resister. A flawed husband to several wives, a conflicted friend of Malcolm X and a constant fascination of the press and public. Ali pursues peace, while thriving at violent sport. He speaks for the rights of blacks, while ignoring those of women.
He begins the book a near-perfect athlete – strong, fast, intelligent and intimidating. Yet as he deteriorates physically, his character grows. Ali’s story is really a dozen stories woven into the life of one man. A cultural potluck with a little something for everyone.
Most of all, Ali is a hero.
Like all heroes, from Hercules forward, he is not without his flaws, but the strength of his conviction and the triumphs of his life will long outlast the frailties of the man.
As we near the end of the school year at the VCU Brandcenter, I held my final Strategic Brand Concepts class in the school’s outdoor classroom, a large patio overlooking Downtown Richmond. Our special guest was Brandcenter professor, Charles Hall, a gifted creative director with experience at places like Wieden + Kennedy and Nike.
In the session, the students discussed their own assessments of their successes and failures with remarkable candor. The ability to follow any effort with an objective review of what went right and wrong is a talent that the best people in the business have cultivated. Let’s hope they take these lessons into their work going forward.
Special thanks to Scott Witthaus for the photographs!
Recently my Strategic Brand Concepts class at the VCU Brandcenter welcomed a fantastic guest speaker, Elizabeth Talerman, who was recently the VP, Senior Director of Marketing, Merchandising for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Elizabeth walk the students through the art and science of crafting a brand platform and bringing it to life, using her recent launch of a new Martha Stewart line at Macy’s as an example.
Elizabeth’s combination of words and images to build a compelling manifesto set the tone for creative executions to follow, which included both traditional media and unconventional acts like changing the awnings at Macy’s 34th street flagship, Martha Stewart blue.
I’ve collaborated with Elizabeth for many years on the VCU Brandcenter board and I’ve seldom met anyone who brings more creativity to the art of brand building. Her strategic work has helped shape powerful brands like IBM and Yahoo! But her real gift is to simplify complex subjects and demystify the sometimes-murky world of brands. This talent made it easy for students to grasp the steps involved in the process of building a great strategy. A special gift to our students, wrapped up in a tasteful blue ribbon.