How’s this for underlining your credentials?

Videogames are a massive industry, and as a flagship title for the Playstation brand, Gran Turismo games take years to develop, millions of dollars of funding, and huge marketing campaigns for when they launch.

But there are two key activities which really underline the amazing credentials of the brand.

The GT Academy is amazing:

The GT Academy recently won a Cannes Lion for the best use of branded content. It’s an online racing competition which whittles down Gran Turismo players around the world to a small group who compete in real motorsport training and competition with the eventual winner getting the chance to race professionally.

Which is quite nice, but the real value? Previous winner Lucas Ordonez and his team finished in second place in the LMP2 class at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Let me run that by you again.

A 23-year-old who had never raced cars spent a lot of time playing Gran Turismo, and by being one of the fastest at a videogame, he was given the chance to race professionally and has now finished on the podium at the most prestigious 24-hour race on the planet.

That’s pretty compelling considering how many car fans have at least a passing interest in motorsport, or even the slightest dream that they could have been a racer if only they’d had the time and money.

Living the product:

If that isn’t enough, the original creator and father of Gran Turismo, Kazunori Yamauchi, who continues his obsessive quest to make it the best racing game available, is also a talented racing driver.

As a case in point, he’s just  finished first-in-class at the Nurburgring 24 Hour race.

How much does it reinforce the Gran Turismo brand when you know the man with an obsession for authentic racing simulation is also quick enough to be a professional racing driver?

The closest non-videogame comparisons are probably films icons like Steve McQueen. His films may have been of varying quality, but there were few stars able to maintain the money he was able to charge. And so much of that was down to the ‘personal brand’ he’d built, including being a talented racer of cars and motorcycles.

 

I guess that’s why I’m so keen to build up my own websites alongside my client projects. I don’t want to just be able to refer to successful campaigns I’ve run or been involved with which benefitted from existing brand strength, or huge marketing budgets. I also want to be able to show I can do it from scratch with no investment, no hidden funds, and just time and skill.

Great news for Facebook page security

There’s good news for every company and employee currently involved in running a Facebook page on the social network – you can finally remove the creator of a brand page.

image

Until now, the original creator of a Facebook page couldn’t remove themselves or be removed, without personal intervention by someone in the Facebook team. Which meant you were completely screwed if your marketing agency started the page but you’d parted company, if you’ve sold your page, or particularly if you’d created a page as an employee and since left that company.

That was exactly what happened to me in the past – having left a company, I couldn’t remove my access as an administrator to any of their pages. Luckily I was never overcome by the urge to do something mischievous, and the biggest worry was that someone, or something, else would befall their page and they might mistakenly think it was me.

So it’s great news that you can finally be removed by other admins – of course, now any other admin could mount a coup d’etat by removing you at any point, as the option is always there, rather than something you can select to appear when you might choose to leave. But it’s nice to see a change by a social network to aid users and brands alike.

To remove someone, just go to ‘Edit Page’ and scroll down to their entry under admins in the right-hand page column.

Why I hate the use of ‘personal brands’

I’ve recently experienced the benefits of banning myself from using the word ‘brand’ in a business context after joining an experiment by Mark Earls.

As a result, I’ve been a lot more specific about what I really mean – awareness, reputation, tradition, logos, content, tone of voice etc. But at least in a business context, I can see it’s excusable to use the term sometimes, rather than listing out everything it could mean.

But ‘personal brand’ – that’s just silly.

Branded by powerbooktrance (CC Licence)

Branded by powerbooktrance (CC Licence)

Because at the end of the day, a ‘personal brand’ surely means just three things? (Although I’m open to disagreements/suggestions for additions).

Awareness: Have people heard of you?

Reputation: Do people think you deliver?

Revenue: Are you able to make money from your awareness and reputation?

And I’d suspect much of the rise in ‘personal brands’ comes from people really wanting to build ‘personal revenues’ as a main source of income, or as security in case of redundancy.

But does an individual person really come up with explicit rules for their tone of voice in all communications? And is that ever sustainable? Do you really aspire to becoming Me Inc, rather than real person?

Personally, I don’t see Scobleizer or Louis Gray as brands. I see them as people who simply have particular personalities that might mean they absorb and share information at a high rate, or that might lend them to networking more, etc. They’ve built awareness and their reputations, but unless they’ve been branded like cattle, I struggle to see why we need to label them with a term that should really be retired with traditional media.

And the new breed of people chasing a personal brand appear to be missing part of the point.

Geoff Livingston has a great post which sums up a lot of the pitfalls of concentrating totally on building a personal brand.

But at the same time, I totally agree with much of what Chris Brogan recommends in Personal Branding.

Paradoxical?

  • There’s nothing wrong with building awareness and reputation by marketing yourself. But trying to build a ‘personal brand’ isn’t necessarily the right thing to do if you want to be successful in a large company. It’s better to be part of success, and then reference it.
  • Claiming a ‘personal brand’ could make you believe that you don’t need to work as hard on your latest project, because your ‘personal brand’ will save you – when you’re only as good as your latest project.
  • Personal branding actually contradicts Chris when he talks about being more than just one thing – after all successful branding normally relies on a core message.

And most importantly, the second you start thinking about yourself as a ‘personal brand’, you run a huge risk of sounding like a tool:

Cartoon by Hugh McLeod (gapingvoid.com)

Cartoon by Hugh McLeod (gapingvoid.com)

Promote yourself. Use the same avatar everywhere. Build a strong reputation based on great work. Interact everywhere you can. Choose Life. Just don’t call it a ‘personal brand’ unless you’ve tattooed your personal logo on your personal forehead!

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript

So far we’ve lost Woolworths, MFI and  Zavvi, while Whittards has been bought by a private equity firm after going into administration.

At least MFI and Zavvi still have websites notifying people of their current status – Woolworths has: ‘Our site is currently undergoing essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.  Please check back later.’

What’s interesting is that there are various reasons for the first three disappearing – the problems with the music industry, the downturn in the housing market, a drop in consumer spending etc.  And despite the possibility of a buyer for Woolworths, there’s nothing happening fast. Meanwhile Whittards was snapped up quickly.

Which makes me think this could be the start of something I’m going to call:

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript:

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

Put simply, Woolies, Zavvi and MFI all had a problem, in that they didn’t have a clear belief and description. Woolies started as an American ‘five and dime‘ store – but mutated over the years, leaving Poundland as the modern equivalent. (I’m not linking to the Poundland site due to the annoying auto-playing explosion that just burst my eardrums!). In the end, Woolies was a strange amalgamation of Pic’n’mix sweets, entertainment, soft furnishings etc.

Zavvi came out of a management buy-out of former Virgin Megastores, and at the time left a lot of people asking friends what had happened. Apparently the aim was to be different from competitors by having ‘exclusive and limited edition products in the future’. An aim buried in a wikipedia entry, and an interview in industry publication MCV.

MFI had all sorts of problems, but most importantly, look at who it’s up against – Ikea. I’d guess most people already know what the Swedish success story stands for, but if not, try here, and here. Functional, well -designed furniture that everyone can afford, with Swedish names, Swedish food stores, and bargain hotdogs at the end of the trip.  My girlfriend has been known to forcibly demand Ikea trips to placate her homesickness for Sweden!

I may have had similar excitement at the sight of a Marks and Spencers are months without a sausage roll or pork pie in the U.S, but can you imagine curing your homesickness with a trip to Zavvi or MFI? Even Woolworths?

This isn’t about having a national identity – it’s about having a distinct belief and identity that everyone can clearly understand, and that people can align themselves with.

This isn’t an absolute rule:

I’m not going to say that having a belief will ensure success, or that you won’t make it through 2009 without one – there are far too many other factors involved, from changes in consumer spending to Government bailouts.

But I do think that within each industry and category, we’ll see a greater survival rate for the companies we can believe in.

So I’m going to start tracking what happens, and I’d appreciate your help. It may become a wiki page, but for the moment I’d just ask you to let me know in the comments if you see companies going under, and whether they had a clear belief or not.

Two adverts that irritate the s*** out of me

It’s the perfect time for ranting as I’m still feeling a bit poorly, so I thought I’d highlight two television adverts currently irritating the hell out of me.

First up, is the PG Tips homage to a Morecombe and Wise sketch, mainly because it’s so completely irrelevant to me, but seems to be on constant repeat at the moment on the channels I tend to watch. Especially Film 4, completely distracting me from whichever movie I’m watching.

  • I’m in my (very early) 30s, and Morecombe and Wise had pretty much peaked before my time
  • Even then, the PG Tips ad isn’t as good as I remember the original sketch being.
  • But most of all, I don’t drink tea, and neither does my partner.

I realise the last point marks me as being outside of the target demographic of the tea industry, and so they won’t count me as being a huge loss or influential. There are currently two packets of tea in the house, both of which have probably been here since we moved in – one posh packet which my parents probably brought with them out of desperation, and one cheap packet for any guests who didn’t fancy the posh stuff.

But the fact I’m not a tea-makers target is exactly my point. I’ll never buy it. I’ll never talk to anyone about buying it. And I don’t have the necessary technology to avoid it. So why inflict it on me?

But that’s just a case of traditional irrelevance – there’s a far worse offender out there:

Oh Sweet Lord.

It comes from Norwich Union, soon to be renamed as Aviva, as it’s part of the Aviva group and known under that name internationally. So changing the name might make sense from an efficiency point of view, particularly when job cuts are being repeatedly announced.

But what I don’t get, and I’m trying not to use the word ‘brand’ to join Mark Earls, is the way it has been done. For starters, they’ve had to pay Bruce Willis, Elle MacPherson, Alice Cooper and Ringo Star to talk about how they wouldn’t have had fame and fortune without changing their name.

That’s right. Forget starring in Die Hard, or being part of the Beatles. Or any inference their stardom is down to talent, luck and making the right career choices. After all, if only Molly Ringwald had changed her name, rather than turning down the lead roles in Pretty Woman and Ghost, for example. I won’t even mention Engelbert Humperdinck.

Or the fact that most actors in the UK change their names due to Equity rules stating there can’t be two performers with the same name.

We get a voiceover telling us how changing our name can allow us to become who we want to be, and that Norwich Union is becoming Aviva after over 200 years of the same name. (My first thought was the confusion with the bus company, Arriva, that served my hometown)

But what it doesn’t tell us is what NU/Aviva wants to be.

There’s no reasoning, no belief, and nothing to make anyone think this is more than an attempt to save money on headed stationary.

Why couldn’t they use the name change to publish a clear belief which might benefit consumers, and could be easily said and repeated? ‘We’re changing the name, and making sure you never wait longer than 30 seconds in a phone queue’ for example, or ‘We’re changing the name be more efficient, so we can lower our prices by 5% when you renew’. Or even just some honesty ‘We’re changing the name to save some money and stay in business in tough times – so you don’t lose your insurance cover when you might need it’.

Has no-one else ever watched Crazy People?

Watching Swisscom/LeWeb unfold in slow motion online

There have been lots of examples of online backlashes recently. For instance Motrin.

Neville Hobson has a really comprehensive round-up of why it’s not good to agree to supply a major online conference with internet access which then results in an epic fail.

The only thing I’d change is that the warning came at the very first moment they had a problem supplying LeWeb08, and they should have been publicly reacting from the moment it happened. It’s already four days after the event, and attempting to defend yourself by saying a major convention for online professionals and geeks is demanding on internet resources is a bit like saying that you were surprised when you put your hand in a fire and it was really hot.

If you’ve got 1600 influential online professionals in one place it’s A: the time to really shine no matter what the budget, and B: the time to have a backup policy in place, and some emergnecy planning.

Because no matter who is actually correct, or what the actual amount of service was, the chance to impress that many people in the current economic climate is pretty rare.

Contract it with the recent shining social media reputation management example from Ford.

Funnily enough, Neville has an interview with Scott Monty, who stopped the PR disaster.

Ford’s quick response to online communities which acted in haste

Earlier today, a lot of blogs and forums were buzzing with the news that Ford had contacted a fan forum site, TheRangerStation, demanding they relinquish the use of all Ford logos and trademarks and pay restitution fees of $5000. The coverage ranged from hugely popular car blogs like Jalopnik, to forums like Mustang Evolution.

It seemed particularly weird, considering the company had set up TheFordStory to reach out to customers on a more personal basis, they were featuring blogs and communities as part of Ford Digital Snippets, and one of my Twitter contacts is @ScottMonty, who is head of Social Media at Ford.

So I messaged him to ask what was going on, along with a few other people, and Scott immediately started responding on forums and blogs even while he was finding out the details.

It turns out that actually TheRangerStation was selling vehicle decals using the Ford oval – perhaps without any ill-intent – but a very clear case of trademark infringement. Particularly as something very similar happened back in January regarding a Mustang Calendar made by a forum, which was soon clarified.

What has been really interesting is that an official statement is on the way, and in the meantime there have also been emails from the law firm in question. And all the while Scott appears to have been actively searching out as many communities as possible, ranging from Digg to individual forums for specific car models, to clarify what is happening and update people as much as possible.

It’s to be applauded that they haven’t waited for an official statement before reacting – Motrin, for example, still have a post from November 20th on their homepage after the Motrin Moms backlash. (Edit – official response now posted)

If you insist on an official statement, and you only post it on your own site, you rely on hordes of angry people taking the time and effort to visit you instead of rushing to post an angry response on whichever site they discover the story. By actively going out into the community, a lot of sites have already changed their original posts, comments have been calmed, and many of the negative commentary that would have been indexed for all eternity by Google will now reflect the situation more accurately.

It does also raise the perennial question regarding accuracy – a traditional mainstream media source would be expected to contact Ford to get their response pre-publication, even if the response didn’t arrive in reasonable time, or it was a ‘no comment’. And while I wouldn’t expect that of forum posters, it should be something that blogs and people serving news to their communities should consider implementing, in order to provide the best possible information, and to resist the urge to copy and paste to follow the herd based on the assumption that everyone is telling the unbiased truth.

Even as I write this, there’s still a trickle of Tweets promoting the original story, with no fact checking whatsoever – at a time when traditional news companies are falling, and we’re all in a position to play a part in a huge change in new reporting and distribution, we should be making every effort to raise out game.