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Is authenticity real?

18 Jul 2019 by Steven Giannoulis

I recently attended the Digital Day Out (DDO) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. Speakers included a Google exec, a panel of social influencers, an AR/VR specialist and an...

Brand
is authenticity real? steven giannoulis

i recently attended the digital day out (ddo) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. speakers included a google exec, a panel of social influencers, an ar/vr specialist and an online e-sports gaming marketer. i couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of a whole bunch of people making money by distorting reality espousing the virtues of authenticity. it made me question my own interpretation of what authenticity is. 

i’d forgotten all about it until a couple of days ago when i saw ecostore was awarded nz’s most authentic brand. they are a company i admire – and genuinely think are authentic. and that’s not just because we were part of the team that launched the brand from niche category to mass marketing.

 

for me, being authentic is about being clear about what you stand for (beyond making money) and consistently speaking and acting in a way that reinforces this position. i find brands like whitaker’s, kathmandu and air new zealand highly authentic because every experience i have with them reinforces what i know they believe in. it’s not just about supporting good causes but delivering consistent brand experiences.

when dove began its campaign for real beauty in 2004 it transformed from a commercial soap-seller to a company with a strong social vision - “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” by consistently aligning its marketing efforts with this vision, dove has truly championed women’s empowerment. the sustained effort and resources dove have consistently put into changing the advertising industry’s view of beauty has made them genuine and credible. as a result, people listen, believe and buy from them with confidence.

 

 

one of the ddo speakers referenced patagonia, a company i’d heard of but wasn’t fully up to speed with. patagonia is committed to building the best products, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. this informs everything they do. it comes through in their product design, manufacturing practices, culture, company fleet, energy choices, labour policies and their communications. so when we see it in their ad campaigns we know they really mean it. they’ve become my new favourite company to follow.

i’ve worked with the mercury team for about seven years now and they are another company who said the right things but didn’t always act in a consistent way. the rebrand three years ago created a new mission and a shared vision. we see it in everything they do now. from the focus on renewable generation, to the promotion of electric vehicles, to customer offers, to staff engagement programmes, right through to their new office environment and creating wonderful experiences for their customers. they’re a company who are quickly moving up my list of authentic brands and will, without a doubt, be up with ecostore in the awards in the next year or two.

on the other side, while everyone is pointing to nike’s applauded colin kaepernick ad as an example of authentic, i find it somewhat disingenuous (though i support colin’s stand). firstly, because they are using the cause so blatantly for commercial gain and secondly because it still doesn’t align with my perception of their global practices. i know the underage child sweatshops are gone but i still need to see a string of ‘good behaviour’ stories before i start believing in a genuine social purpose behind their messages.

'authentic' is fundamentally walking the talk. so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia. who cares how manufactured what they stand for is, as long as they do it consistently! i get that but i also suspect that it’s more than just my interpretation of authenticity that is a little bit fake here.

 

so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia.

 

is authenticity just about being true to yourself, consistently? or is it about genuinely thinking good thoughts and being true to that in your behaviour and communication? 

can you manufacture authenticity and call that authenticity?

is authenticity an admirable quality when you really think about it?

authenticity, authentic brands

Principled brand decisions

19 Feb 2019 by Steven Giannoulis

Developing a brand strategy means making a number of significant decisions that drive multiple aspects of an organisation. Working with clients, my aim is to agree brand principles upfront that help leadership teams...

Brand
principled brand decisions steven giannoulis

developing a brand strategy means making a number of significant decisions that drive multiple aspects of an organisation. working with clients, my aim is to agree brand principles upfront that help leadership teams and boards make sound, and consistent, business decisions.

developing a brand strategy is often seen as developing the brand model – sometimes called the brand pyramid or brand onion. the model defines what you want to stand for and it includes things like brand essence, proposition, personality and the customer value proposition. being clear on what you stand for informs your visual identity, marketing and communication strategies, product and service, culture programme and customer experience design.

but the brand model isn’t all of brand strategy. it’s just one of a number of significant decisions that will define the success of your branding programme. and that’s a good starting point for decision making. what will brand success look like and how will it be measured? being clear on this will inform many of your later decisions.  

a key starting decision is whether to take a single brand or multiple brand approach. both have pros and cons and work better in different markets and circumstances. because an approach can’t be perfect for all situations, many companies start with one approach and then adapt it over time, sometimes resulting in a confused hybrid. 

and of course, if you make the decision to go single brand – which brand will it be? which of the current ones or something new? if you are going multi-brand, what are the brand lines?

and then there’s brand architecture. these are decisions about how your brands are organised under an overarching approach. getting this right impacts brand equity, brand confusion and the cost effectiveness of your marketing activities. there are a number of organising approaches to consider from pure single masterbrand, to brand extensions, sub-branding, co-branding and brand endorser requirements. at this level we are also making decisions about language and naming conventions.

as one decision often informs the next, where possible i look to develop a decision tree to help drive the process. brand decisions often involve many decision-makers with their own business needs to fulfil. to help make consistent decisions, i always look to establish and agree a series of principles that can become the foundations for decision-making. these principles say something like “our brand must…” and generally come about by examining six key areas:

  • business strategy– where will future growth come from? what’s the strategy for realising  growth? the vision and purpose of the organisation and market forces.
  • audiences– who are the audiences and what are their physical and emotional needs the brand must appeal to?
  • competitive differentiation– how differentiated is the market and what are the opportunities to create a unique proposition?
  • strategic strengths– what competitive advantage does the organisation have that can be leveraged?
  • customer experience– what’s the experience customers expect and you want to create for them?
  • culture– what does the organisation value and what behaviours does it encourage?

often we end up with 10 – 12 principles. the trick is getting decision-makers to buy into these, and then stick to them. when we achieve this, everyone is aligned in their thinking and complex brand decisions can become pretty straight forward.

branding, business strategy, brand strategy, brand architecture, clear brand thinking

SIT & Innovate

04 Apr 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we innovate and how we help our clients do the same. In an industry where much of what we do has been commoditised, our most valuable skill is our ability to think creatively in...

Brand
sit & innovate steven giannoulis

i’ve been thinking a lot about how we innovate and how we help our clients do the same. in an industry where much of what we do has been commoditised, our most valuable skill is our ability to think creatively in helping our clients solve the problems that matter most to them. i’d heard of strategic inventive thinking (sit) but had never taken the time to really understand it. thanks to a course on lynda.com, now i’m a big fan.

sit uses a number of tricks and techniques that require you to look ‘inside the box’ to unlock ‘outside the box’ thinking. it starts with the existing solution rather than the problem itself. (now that’s innovative in its own right.) and it’s a technique many successful firms, like apple and 3m,­­ have been using for ages.

"sit uses a number of tricks and techniques that require you to look ‘inside the box’ to unlock ‘outside the box’ thinking."

for each existing solution to a particular problem, you identify its key components and attributes and then use the following techniques to think differently about them:

  1. subtraction – what if we take away certain features and functions? apparently, the idea for the ipad came by applying this technique to the laptop.
  2. task unification – what if we associated relationships in different ways. rather than having its own cooling motor, what if your fridge was kept cool by your home’s air conditioning system? no motor and suddenly the fridge has more capacity for food, is cheaper and quicker to manufacture. and you have more possibilities for shape and size!
  3. multiplication – what if there were more that one of these components? what if your laptop had more than one screen? what if your phone had a screen on the front and the back?
  4. division – what if rather than having one big feature we have lots of small ones? the development of the dish draw dishwasher is a good example of this thinking.
  5. attribute dependency – rethinking what a thing is designed to do. what if it did something else instead? what if your light-bulb also heated your room for example? the best example is the mobile phone. someone said what if it wasn’t just for calls but a mini-computer, a camera, a dictaphone, a mini-tv, an audio device, a games console, etc. and now it is.

 

once you’ve generated lots of ideas using these techniques, they are evaluated against both customer needs and the feasibility to produce.

the two things that i like most about the sit approach are:

(1) it’s driven by customer-led design thinking – it’s not about brainstorming wild ideas but really thinking about the customer experience and how to better meet their underlying needs and wants; and

(2) it targets ‘fixedness’ thinking which stops innovation. fixedness is the pre-set ideas we have that things need to be in a certain place, look or work in a certain way or work in tandem with something else. change your mind-set on these and you open your mind to a whole lot of possibilities.

innovation leads to new, useful and surprising outcomes that allow our customers, and their customers, to better have their needs met. i’m a firm believer that innovation comes from within – changing your perspective – and that’s why strategic inventive thinking really appeals. the next step is for us to give sit a go. what if…..?

sit, strategic inventive thinking, innovation, creative thinking

That Like feeling

23 Mar 2017 by Steven Giannoulis

  Lately I’ve been recruiting for a New Business person and I had an experience with one candidate that made me think about the importance of brand feelings. Yes, feelings. Brace yourself, I am going to talk...

Brand
that like feeling steven giannoulis

 

lately i’ve been recruiting for a new business person and i had an experience with one candidate that made me think about the importance of brand feelings. yes, feelings. brace yourself, i am going to talk about them.

for the first time i didn’t use a recruiting agency but posted my role on social media. i had 33 applicants, and once i got through the obligatory bunch of those kidding themselves about their suitability, i had a dozen or so really good applicants.

one particular applicant had a strong cv and i checked him out on linkedin, found he had some good endorsements and a number of connections i knew. all looked promising so i arranged an initial chat to get a feel for him and whether he’d be good for the role and our company.

after 20 minutes or so we hung up and i reflected on the discussion. he gave the absolute perfect textbook answers to every question – i couldn’t have scripted them better myself. but i walked away feeling something was off about this guy. he shared nothing personal, no stories, experiences or views that would have allowed me to like him. he was siri responding to my questions with programmatic accuracy and robotic warmth.

as you do in this ‘everything’s public’ age, i looked him up on facebook and instagram. he was into sports, did lots of community stuff, looked like a great dad and had a wide circle of friends. and we appeared to share some common musical interests. was i wrong about him? i invited him to meet to find out.

within 10 minutes of more of the same, i stopped listening. i have no doubt his remaining answers were great but i just didn’t care. he may have promised to do the job 24/7 and for free but i still wouldn’t hire him. i ended the meeting and promised to let him know as soon as i’d made up my mind. i lied, i had already made up my mind.

like people, brands have to appeal at an emotive level as well as a logical one. we have to trust a brand, and like (or at least not hugely dislike) it, before we’ll even consider getting into bed with it. this liking-heuristic is well proven in brand psychology. connect emotionally and it’s glass half full. don’t and it can never be anything more than near empty.

the guy i hired maybe on paper wasn’t the natural choice, but within 10 minutes we were talking like old-mates. within 30, i felt i knew him and within an hour i was ready to pick him. and that’s exactly what i think potential clients will feel when he’s talking to them.

feelings, brand, likeability

Identity in White

20 Feb 2017 by Steven Giannoulis

Immigration and the so-called identity dilution that diversity apparently brings is a hot topic on local and global political agendas. As a brand strategist and a descendent of immigrants I naturally have a strong...

Brand
identity in white steven giannoulis

immigration and the so-called identity dilution that diversity apparently brings is a hot topic on local and global political agendas. as a brand strategist and a descendent of immigrants i naturally have a strong view on the subject of identity. 

being from immigrant stock is actually what makes us kiwis. the nz story doesn’t just take in english and maori heritage but also incorporates pacific, indian, italian, dalmation, chinese and many more cultures. this eclectic tapestry of ethnic backgrounds has today fused together forming the unique kiwi identity we have today.

people came here in search of a better life for themselves and their families. this spirit of improving our lot is still alive and well in our culture today. most endured long journeys and tough beginnings to establish a life here and this sense of working hard for self-made success is something we still celebrate. and because of, and not despite of, our distance, we’ve learnt to improvise, think differently and find new ways to create the lifestyle we all enjoy.

immigrant culture is also the lifeblood of what our identity is evolving into. most of us live a life which embraces the best of our parents' heritage and our kiwi upbringing, creating the new cultural norm. let’s encourage and welcome all those who add to our kiwi culture, finding ways to celebrate the richness diversity brings. without it, we’d be a very dull place indeed.

all this diversity talk extends into the workforce and i’m all for it. diversity offers broader experiences and perspectives and therefore leads to better thinking and decision-making, greater creativity and innovation. at insight we have a great mix of nationalities, ages, interests, beliefs and personalities but we still need to do more. so we promote an active policy to encourage diversity in recruitment while not tolerating reverse discrimination.

i grew up in a cultural minority so i get frustrated at being lumped into a generic european majority or being told i don’t understand bi-culturalism or what it’s like to be different. we ‘white folks’ are not homogenous and interchangeable, all expressing one view and a single perspective. my background, growing up greek in new zealand, is very different from my colleagues who are dutch, german, scottish, south african or russian. we may all be white but we all have unique identities and cultures and each one of us brings a distinctive perspective.

so let's encourage, foster and celebrate the diversity we also bring to society and the workplace, remembering that everyone contributes to greater diversity.

diversity, kiwiness
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