Posts Tagged ‘Branding’

Bitcoin, Brands and Brand Positioning

Bitcoin started out as a fringe movement among crypto-anarchists in the open-source community, but has rapidly gained acceptance as a legitimate alternative to fiat money as it pertains to digital transactions. Accordingly, the volume and value of mined Bitcoin has seen exponential growth since this crypto-currency was first launched in 2009. As per available data, nearly 13.28 million Bitcoins have been mined so far [1]. Meanwhile, the value of a single Bitcoin has increased from £4.25 in July 2012 to a high of £753 in November 2013 – an increase of roughly 17600% [2].

Bitcoin was originally developed as a fast, safe and cost-effective currency for digital transactions. Consequently, its earlier adopters were tech-forward users in the open-source community. Despite its growing clout in the mainstream, Bitcoin’s most aggressive proponents remain largely entrenched in this community.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that brand Bitcoin, as it exists today, has come to be associated with words like “underground”, “alternative”, and even “anarchic”. This lends it considerable weight as a branding tool for certain businesses. For others, the negative connotations of Bitcoin, along with its proliferation through underground marketplaces, can be largely detrimental to the business’ brand image. Adopting and accepting Bitcoin through online channels, therefore, is something a brand must consider carefully before making a decision.

Bitcoin as the “maverick”

virgin-bitcoin

There are some obvious business arguments in favour of using Bitcoin, namely, the low transaction costs associated with the currency, emphasis on privacy, storage of coins in digital wallets, and speed of transactions. This has made the currency especially useful for digital-only transactions (i.e. purchasing digital products) where user privacy is important. For example, the popular website Reddit, which emphasises anonymity, accepts Bitcoin as a transactional medium largely because of its privacy features (Reddit’s community is also tech-oriented, which helps in higher adoption). Since Bitcoin is also decentralised and unregulated, it has earned the image of being a “pro-internet freedom” currency.

Integrating Bitcoin gives a brand the added advantage of aligning itself with Bitcoin’s brand associations. As noted earlier, Bitcoin has come to be associated with the “alternative”. In some ways, this is not dissimilar to the debate between open-source and closed-source software in the 1990’s, when some brands adopted open-source solutions such as Linux to position themselves as the “mavericks” who care about “community” and “digital freedom”.

Consider the example of the popular domain registrar, Namecheap. Namecheap has consistently positioned itself as the alternative to the more mainstream registrars (chiefly, Enom.com and GoDaddy.com). To this effect, it has aligned itself with pro-internet movements such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal fight against the SOPA (“Stop Online Piracy Act”) in the United States in 2011 [3]. Namecheap later started accepting Bitcoin in 2013, noting in its release statement that the company considers itself the “pioneers in the space of innovation and online freedom” [4].

Bitcoin-Brands

In fact, the top websites that accept Bitcoins is almost entirely composed of brands that identify themselves as the “alternative” [5]. This includes Virgin Galaxy (space flights), OkCupid (the free alternative to Match.com), PirateBay.org (free, pirate alternative to file sharing), WordPress.com (free alternative to paid Content Management Systems), Reddit.com (alternative to Digg), Mega.com (alternative, restriction-free file sharing), and Overstock.com (online-only alternative retailer).

When a business adopts Bitcoin, it is signalling to its users that it is a “maverick” that cares about issues such as internet-freedom, user privacy and being tech-forward. Brands that self-identify with these qualities would benefit the most from adopting Bitcoin – at least in the form that it exists today.

… Bitcoin as the “criminal”

website-seized

However, the privacy and anonymity of Bitcoin has also made it the favoured transaction medium in underground marketplaces known for trading illegal drugs and contraband. The volume of this trade is immense, although given the secretive nature of these marketplaces, the exact figure is hard to ascertain. By one estimate, roughly half of all Bitcoin transactions are to buy drugs online [6].

The large volume of these transactions, coupled with the recent closure of Silk Road [7] (the largest underground marketplace) and massive security breaches at popular exchanges like Mt. Gox [8] have affected Bitcoin’s image in the mainstream. Besides “alternative”, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that some have also started associating words like “illegal”, “scam” and “unsafe” with the currency (howsoever factually untrue it may be) [9]. Naturally, this association rubs off on brands who choose to adopt the currency. For mainstream brands that don’t have tech-forward audiences that understand Bitcoin, this may even backfire.

The keyword, thus, is “alternative”.

Given the current state of Bitcoin, every brand should make careful considerations before aligning itself with the currency. While on the one hand, it can amplify the “maverick” image of a brand that identifies itself as tech-forward, pro-internet freedom and “alternative”, it can also harm the image of a brand with customers who don’t fully understand Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.

Further Reading

[1] https://blockchain.info/charts/total-bitcoins?timespan=1year&showDataPoints=false&daysAverageString=1&show_header=true&scale=0&address=

[2] http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2013/11/29/bitcoin-hits-record-1242-as-it-nears-value-of-ounce-of-gold/

[3] http://venturebeat.com/2011/12/27/namecheap-offers-discount-for-domain-transfers/

[4] https://www.namecheap.com/support/payment/bitcoin.aspx

[5] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonmatonis/2013/05/24/top-10-bitcoin-merchant-sites/

[6] http://lsvp.com/2013/08/15/about-half-a-percent-of-bitcoin-transactions-are-to-buy-drugs/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/silk-road-closed/

[8] http://www.wired.com/2014/03/bitcoin-exchange/

[9] http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-bitcoin-a-scam

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Research Excellence Framework: The Role of Higher Education Employment Branding

Anyone who has ever had a discussion with someone who has bought products from either Apple or John Lewis will recognise the signs. The slightly fanatical stare and almost religious language, the identification with the product or service not just in terms of its efficiency or quality, but also in terms of the values it promotes. Both organisations are prime examples of successful brands, and of the ways in which organisations can become anthropomorphised in the imaginations of consumers and other stakeholders.There is no doubt that companies, driven by the incentives of the marketplace, have been in the forefront of such branding exercises. Nonetheless, organisations in other fields have also been branding themselves for years, often in unconscious but extremely powerful ways.

“Think Different”.

“Never Knowingly Undersold”.

The higher education sector is no different to other areas of the economy in this regard. The University of Oxford, for example, can boast a complex and highly effective brand, which operates around its traditions, history, reputation for academic excellence and place in the wider cultural context of the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the University of Sussex continues to benefit (and, in some ways, suffer) from its reputation as a left-wing and progressive institution.

REF-2014-image

With the advent of the Research Excellence Framework, many universities have been engaged in a near frenzy of offers and counter-offers to so-called ‘research stars’. The quality and quantity of research produced by higher education institutions will now dictate, in large part, the funding provided to them. As a result, salaries for the top end of the academic scale are increasing, whilst those academics who are committed to teaching or whose publication history is less than stellar find themselves near the scrapheap. Clearly, such a bidding war disadvantages smaller and poorer institutions. It is here that branding within higher education can come into its own.

The business sector has long recognised that salary is only one indicator of job satisfaction and that, indeed, it is often not the most important factor when considering both recruitment and retention of top quality employees. After a certain point, salary functions largely as an indicator of status, as well as a sign that the company values the work done by an employee. Many innovative businesses have found that a supportive working environment, non-financial ‘perks’, and an institutional value system which aligns with those of the employee, are actually significantly more important when considering retention than salary alone.

Clearly, as well as being potentially able to offer larger salaries to academic ‘stars’, the top universities in the country are also able to call upon established branding in order to persuade the best of the best to become their employees. Smaller institutions can also develop effective brands, however, which will allow them to compete in the new, research-led climate. For example, whilst the University of Oxford may well be attractive to a top academic due to both the financial security of an offered post and the intellectual excitement of becoming part of a tradition of academic excellence, such a job also has its downsides. A savvy, smaller institution may not be able to offer the tradition of Oxford, but it can provide a top academic with the opportunity to take a leading role in helping to catalyse a rise up the institutional rankings. It can, also, offer the kind of status and importance within the organisation which even the most prominent academic in Oxford is unlikely to possess.

In other words, universities need to play to their strengths when branding, and need to recognise that their brand is vital when potential academic employees make job related decisions. If an institution does not already have an established brand, no time should be lost in planning a branding strategy, and then executing it. Due to the relative cheapness of online communication channels, this does not have to be an expensive exercise. When done properly, it can form part of a positive feedback loop which rapidly alters and enhances the recruitment and retention of employee talent.

david-and-goliath

When facing the institutional Goliaths of the academic world, small higher education institutions can feel like David, overwhelmed and overmatched by organisations with more resources and more established reputations. If Apple had reacted to such a situation by simply maintaining their existing brand, it is likely that they would have gone out of business many years ago. Instead, they proactively chose to fashion their weakness into a strength, and to set themselves up as a brand which appealed to a certain type of person. Similarly, if a university does not have centuries of tradition or hordes of Nobel Prize winning alumni, it is still possible to establish a reputation for academic innovation, a friendly atmosphere, beautiful surroundings, or even excellent perks such as fantastic food and drink!

In essence, then, it can be seen that financial resources are not the be-all and end-all of recruitment and retention, either in the corporate or higher education sectors. As the REF era begins, and ever increasing salaries are mooted for academic stars, universities would do well to consider their branding before simply adding another few thousand pounds to their financial offers. Not only will it pay off in terms of recruitment, but it can help to forge an identity for the institution which will drive positive change for years to come.

Further Reading

Academic recruitment: beware, predators at large
How can universities keep their star academics happy to stop them succumbing to a rival’s advances?

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University Branding Within The Higher Education Sector

Over the last few decades, the formerly cloistered environment of the university has been forced to adapt to a more commercialised world. With an increasing number of institutions competing for student and faculty talent, every potential advantage counts. This is particularly true as the effects of globalisation are felt in the academic sector, with UK universities no longer competing simply with one another, but with higher education institutions from across the world.

Given this context, it might appear obvious that effective, clear and coherent branding is vital for any university wishing to prosper in the modern world. The only way in which an academic institution can attract sufficient research funding to succeed in comparison to its competition, as well as persuading the best students and academics in the field to take advantage of that funding, is to build a reputation which differentiates it from other universities. Rather than relying on chance, those universities with an effective brand can be confident of continued recruitment and funding success.

Despite this, many academics are extremely resistant to the concept of branding. It is often viewed as seeking to reduce a complex institution, built on the interplay of many differing ideologies and viewpoints, into a few trite words. The ‘smoke and mirrors’ of branding, it is argued, cannot possibly encapsulate the multi-layered reality of any academic institution. For many academics, who are understandably not familiar with the theory of branding or its complexities, the concept is only applicable to soft drinks or trainers. An intellectual ‘product’, in their view, cannot be appropriately branded without reducing academic freedom and closing off avenues of thought.

Rejecting branding as a viable approach for the university sector, however, is actually to ignore the history of academic institutions in the Western world, and particularly within the United Kingdom. It is simply not correct to assert that, until recently, universities did not have to worry about branding themselves or appealing to prospective students and faculty members. It is true, of course, that historically there have been less players within the academic marketplace, but this certainly does not mean that competition was not fierce in previous decades. Differentiation of academic institutions has a long and proud history, and is precisely the method by which the primacy of today’s premier universities was established.

Perhaps the best example of branding within the university sector has been the University of Oxford. The name of the institution conjures up images of the dreaming spires, the Bodleian Library, and rowing on the Isis. The association of particular images and values with an institution is precisely what is meant by branding, and the achievement of Oxford over the centuries has been to integrate its name with ideals of academic excellence, independence of thought, and top quality research. Of course, this has not been done simply by adopting a ‘brand’ in the simplest sense of the term. Until recently, there has been no concerted effort to encapsulate the values which Oxford represents into a comprehensive strategy. Nonetheless, the university has long recognised that the best way in which it can promote itself and maintain primacy in the sector is to offer a particular experience, and to associate itself with particular ideals held by its students and academics.

Across the Atlantic, Harvard University has achieved a similar primacy through branding, although its strategy has been more conscious and more overt than Oxford’s. As with many American universities, the design of specific merchandise, the integration of logos into products and the promotion of particular values within all aspects of the university experience has transformed Harvard into a globally recognised brand. As with Oxford and other world renowned university brands, this has had the effect of forming a virtuous circle. The success of Harvard’s brand has allowed it to attract the best academics, students and research funding, which in turn has allowed it to reinforce its reputation for excellence and further promote its brand.

As can be seen, the process of designing and promoting a university’s brand is significantly more complex than that involved with a simple product. It cannot, and should not, simply involve a few focus group meetings which attempt to encapsulate the essence of the university in a pithy phrase. Instead, it needs to be a long-term project, which orientates itself to the wider strategy of the academic institution which it seeks to serve. An excellent recent example is that of Loughborough University. Its brand in the popular consciousness is now firmly established, with the institution being viewed as one of the best sports science universities in the world. The establishment of this brand, given a foundation by strategic decisions over a number of years, has allowed Loughborough to attract substantial funding for its work in this area. In a similar experience to that of Oxford and Harvard, it has created a virtuous circle, in which an established brand helps to increase the institution’s real excellence in an area of research.

It is that virtuous circle which explains the very real importance of an effective branding strategy for any higher education institution which intends to preserve academic freedom and independence of thought in the 21st century. Far from being a threat to high quality research and the traditions of university life, the construction of an effective brand can become a vital part of preserving those things. Universities which make no effort to market themselves will soon find the best students and staff going elsewhere, and will begin to see their funding being reduced as a result. A failure to adequately explain the work going on within an academic institution is not simply a betrayal of the purpose of the work, but also puts at risk its continued existence. Branding does not have to be a simplistic or reductive exercise, but it is absolutely necessary to any university that wishes to remain relevant in the globalised economy. Far from consisting of ‘smoke and mirrors’, effective branding seeks to present a coherent picture of academic research to the wider world.

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Social Media Management – A Task for One Person?

Social media management is a hot topic amongst marketing managers and in general organisations typically have specialised departments dealing with specific tasks and concerns.

Human Resources handle people issues, the IT department handles system concerns, and Legal handles matters of the law. Social media concerns and tools usually fall under the jurisdiction of the Marketing department because they involve promotions and press releases.

Announcements and responses that come from a single source tend to be more streamlined and consistent to the core vision of the company.  But are companies that rely on a single person or department missing out on the full potential of social media?

Having a single person or department dedicated solely to social media functions may have its advantages, but a bigger group of people can certainly produce a more impressive output. You can either have a single person or group do 100% of the social media tasks, or have the majority of your employees spend 5% of their time attending to these tasks. In theory, having dozens or even hundreds of employees representing the company in social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook will result to a wider audience reach.

Here are some of the advantages of having multiple social media outlets:

1. More people create more noise.

Having multiple employees sending out positive Tweets or writing blogs about the company says a lot about employee satisfaction and improves the branding of the company. The message also reaches a wider audience.

2. Employees will keep up with technology and will be adept on using social media tools.

It is essential to train the employees on the proper usage of social media tools for this system to work. They need to know how to properly represent the company, and how to increase the number of followers or subscribers. This training will not only be beneficial for work but is also applicable to personal endeavors.

3. Different employees have different strengths and interests.

They will produce blogs, Tweets, or Facebook updates that relate to them personally but are relevant to the nature of your business. Your company will benefit from this because of the diversity of content that will be available online. You will reach a wider and more diverse market. Interest in your products or services will also increase. Employees can also experiment with these tools and can potentially come up with an innovative approach to promotions.

4. The feedback system will also improve when you have a large number of people checking the web vigilantly.

It is possible to report important updates and news flashes that can affect operations in the soonest possible time. You can also detect customer complaints easily and address them immediately. Generally, about 60 to 80 percent of customer complaints made via social media channels are ignored because of lack of manpower.

This results to customer dissatisfaction and a missed opportunity for improvement.

5. Employees will be empowered. Social media exposure is a huge responsibility. Your employees will feel valued and trusted.

In order for a business model like this to work, it is essential to invest in social media training and corporate awareness. The employees need to be adept with how to utilise the tools to further the interest of the business.

They need to understand that social media will be an essential part of their daily tasks. They also need to realise that they will become the front liners of the business. They will be representing the company and any post that they make will be a reflection of the company’s mission and vision.

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Brand Naming – In Search of the Perfect Name with 7 Golden Rules

September 12, 2012 |  by  |  Strategic Brand Management  |  4 Comments

All brand namers and copywriters have their own set of beliefs when creating a brand name. I give you my 7, as Al Ries would say – “violate them at your own risk”.

1. The Perfect Name Is Easy To Read And Spell

“FLICKR is the worst name ever.”

In the era of war between millions of brands trying to grab your attention, mouth to mouth advertising has become effective like never before. When your loyal client’s mouth speaks to your potential client’s ears, make sure your brand name will be spelled right by the latter. Don’t complicate things. If you have a Marketing degree, odds are you already know that branding is all about making it easier for consumers. Just like complicated advertising messages never work, the same is true with complicated names. This rule probably doesn’t apply to companies owned by Yahoo, like Flickr.

2. The Perfect Name Is Readable In One Way Only

[ESPRI:] or [ESPRIT]?

Again, to make it easier, all your consumers should read and say your brand name the same way. There are many company names spelled differently around the globe. Even great brands like Porsche, Nordsee and Esprit can be stated as examples. This usually happens when a language different from English is used. Have in mind that English is the planet Earth’s official language today. This year, Esprit Holdings are closing all their stores in North America, because they have been losing money. I hope this doesn’t happen to Nordsee, being a fan of their fish.

3. The Perfect Name Is Available For Trademark Registration

(SIGH) Those legal details …

This is the final detail of the naming process, yet it can bring you where you started. Today, there are more than 300,000 trademarks, just in the United States. If you are creating a name yourself, make sure you check your favourite names with a lawyer who has experience in intellectual property. If you are outsourcing the naming process, make sure you choose a naming company that does at least a preliminary trademark screening. Anyway, if you have plans to build a business operating in an area larger than your neighbourhood, your name should be trade-markable.

4. The Perfect Name Evokes A Relevant Positive Emotion

“Honey, you’ve bought me a Grundig epilator? Really?”

Some companies forget that a brand name is not just something you can put on every product out there. A brand name carries a certain emotion, an idea. So, it has to be the right idea. Remember that once your brand is built, that idea will become the brand itself. During the naming process, you can ask people from your target group to tell you what your favourite names make them think of. Focus groups would be even better. It’s always fun seeing what associations a name can evoke. These associations should be positive and relevant.

5. The Perfect Name Is Either Suggestive Or Enigmatic

“No, Grandma, I am not a sailor – Shell is an oil company!”

No other option. Suggestive or enigmatic. The suggestive name speaks for its industry, while the enigmatic name needs a speaker. The perfect name is either obvious or mysterious. If you choose to be mysterious, you will have to create a mysterious story behind your brand. There are theories of different types of brand names, for instance, the “trademark distinctiveness” divides names into 5 types: fanciful (coined names with the classic example of Kodak), arbitrary (meaningless context names, two of the greatest being Shell and Apple), suggestive (names like the catchy Dropbox), descriptive (names like the beloved Milka) and generic (common names that cannot be trademarked). If you ask me, I would drop names like Dropbox and Milka in the suggestive box and all the rest – in the enigmatic box. As simple as that.

6. The Perfect Name Stands Out From The Competitors’ Brands

“I want my name to be unique but not weird!”

Competition also plays an important role in brand naming. It is easy to come up with a name that sounds different from the competitors’ brands. The hard job is to develop a brand name that sounds different and better at the same time. This is where naming starts to look like art, as namers have to find the golden balance between the totally obvious and the totally new. Business owners are always after a name that is catchy and unique at the same time. However, just a small part of them have the courage to deviate from the mainstream. Be bold on this one.

7. The Perfect Name Jumps Out

“A name for a business jump!”

Now, this is where naming goes from art to magic. Even if you follow all the directions above, there is still a risk you may end up with a name that nobody would love. “Somehow, it just didn’t strike me as a great name”, they would say. The truth is names are subjective. This is what makes naming so exciting. You have to feel that THIS is the right name for you. People get personal with names. The process of naming your business is pretty much the same as the process of naming your child. You just know if it is the right one when you say it. Hence, don’t forget to say the names out loud when you make that choice.

Conclusion

Brand naming can be fun and it can also be exhausting. For naming companies, it is an exhausting fun. The good news is that naming is crucial for your business success yet it is not that expensive to outsource. And maybe you are a born namer – make a try with these 7 rules in mind. It is fun the first few days, I promise.

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