Unveiling a new logo is like telling a joke: if you have to explain it, you’ve lost your audience already. That’s why I like the approach that innovation consultancy BeyondCurious took recently in sharing its new logotype.
Instead of publishing a self-important press release explaining the technical specifications of its logo and waxing poetically about the logo’s deep meaning, BeyondCurious lets the new visual expression of its brand speak for itself. On its social space and website, BeyondCurious (a client of mine) has carefully coordinated a rollout of the new look without great fanfare. Appropriately, on its social spaces, BeyondCurious demonstrates excitement in sharing the logo — after all, a logo is one of the most powerful elements of a brand. But on Facebook, the agency has simply invited fans to check out the logo and let the company know their reactions.
The company made one concession to explaining the logo, in a blog post by CEO Nikki Barua on the company’s website. In the post, “What’s in a (New) Logo?”she provided some insight into the meaning of the logo, such as how “[t]he clean and minimalistic appearance of the mark is a representation of how we make the complex simple.” But for most of the post, Barua discusses other brands’ logos that inspired BeyondCurious, ranging from Red Bull to the MIT Media Lab. By casting the spotlight on sources of inspiration, she provides insight about BeyondCurious’s own culture of learning.
A massive business-to-consumer brand, especially in the field of media/entertainment, will take a completely different approach to unveiling a new logo. For instance, a sports team needs to make a huge splash with a new logo. In the sports world, new logos drive massive merchandise sales, and fans are going to discuss the new logo with or without the brand’s participation. And there are times when a business-to-business services brand such as BeyondCurious might want to adopt a higher-profile approach — for example, when the creation of a new logo occurs as part of a more comprehensive re-brand that includes a change in the corporate name and value proposition (which can from any number of circumstances, such as a merger with another business). And a huge business-to-business brand such as Accenture might choose a high-profile campaign because it is impossible for a brand of its size and name recognition to do anything quietly.
But in the services world, the ultimate measure of a brand is its performance. Fittingly, on its website, BeyondCurious spends far more time talking about work for clients such as GoPro and Toyota than it does extolling the virtues of its new logo. When it comes to delivering great results, it does pay to tell.
Bob Dylan has always defied expectations. He famously went electric when folk was acoustic and released the austere John Wesley Harding when electric psychedelia was in vogue (among many other career twists). With the release of his 36th album, Shadows in the Night, the 73-year-old music legend once again shows that he refuses to pander to anyone. The release of Shadows in the Night also raises an intriguing question: how important is cultural relevancy to artists such as Bob Dylan who challenge the cultural zeitgeist instead of reflecting it?
Dylan’s history of shaping popular tastes, particularly in the 1960s and ’70s, is well documented by writers far better than I am. The most recent phase of his career, in which he has entered the digital age, is also absorbing but for different reasons. Starting with the 1997 release of Time out of Mind, Dylan has enjoyed an artistic renaissance lasting longer than the entire careers of most fly-by-night pop acts. His songwriting during this period has explored themes ranging from vengeance to mortality, and he has melded musical idioms ranging from rockabilly to swing. Albums such as Love and Theft have earned him his strongest reviews since 1975’s Blood on the Tracks.
But 14 years into his final act, the world around him has changed. Albums, especially those released in compact-disc format, are archaic. Oh, hip musicians release them, but really only as a collection of random songs to support tours and merchandising — not as conceptual statements that succeed on their own merits. Instead, singles rule the day as they did, ironically, when Dylan arrived on the music scene decades ago. Being a successful artist means finding the “Gangnam Style” moment that will turn you into a fleeting Internet meme until a “Harlem Shake” comes along. Or becoming a celebrity by delivering over-the-top, fist-pumping moments on American Idol without really recording anything at all. Meantime, Dylan’s core audience, and the critics who anointed him into the halls of music royalty, are growing older. His fans and the music journalism elite, seeking a way to define him in a way that makes sense to their tastes, have cast him in the persona of the wise but frayed old minstrel, grinning while he spins truths and contemplates his own demise.
So how does Dylan respond? He digs back into his past (and I mean, way back) and releases a set of 10 songs that were written decades ago by writers whose names, for the most part, are (unfortunately) lost in the white noise of the digital age, unless you’re a Baby Boomer, a music historian, or a seasoned critic. He rejects modern recording techniques and relies on a live band that features instruments such as a pedal steel guitar and an upright bass, adding to the feel of an album recorded many years in the past. The most famous American songwriter in the history of rock doesn’t even pen a single tune on Shadows in the Night, and a man famous for his gravelly voice selects songs suited to the more polished crooners of yesteryear. (In fact, Shadows of the Night is an homage to Frank Sinatra.)
To promote the album, Dylan gave his first interview in three years — not to Pitchfork, Stereogum, or any other hip music publication with its finger on the pulse of modern rock culture for the digital generation. He didn’t even interview a music publication at all. Instead he chose AARP The Magazine, the official publication of the American Association of Retired Persons. In addition, 50,000 AARP The Magazine subscribers received a free copy of the album via compact disc. Talking with AARP was his idea, which elicited more than one head-scratching response. As NPR asked, “To Promote A New Album, Bob Dylan Gave His Only Interview To … The AARP?” Ann Brenoff of The Huffington Post wondered, “But AARP The Magazine? Really?”
Really. The AARP interview and promotion seemed to signal that Dylan is not so much ignoring the digital generation as honoring the fans who are growing older with him and are old enough to recognize the Great American Songbook he sings about on his new album. (AARP delivered more than 35 million potential listeners to Dylan, too.) He certainly is not pandering to digital culture. He does none of the things that aging rockers are supposed to do in order to ensure cultural relevance in the digital age. There are no collaborations with a hot contemporary producer to translate his sound to younger listeners, no duets with Jimmy Fallon, no Reddit Ask Many Anythings, and no Twitter hashtags.
“These songs have been written by people who went out of fashion years ago,” he told AARP The Magazine. “Certainly, the people who first heard these songs, like my parents and people like that, they’re not with us anymore.” He made a similar point February 6 during his acceptance speech for the MusicCares Man of the Year award.
On his website, he also gave some insight into the recording of Shadows in the Night. He observed that he rejected contemporary recording styles and tools. In fact, the album was recorded live:
It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.
Days after its February 3 release, Shadows in the Night has garnered several positive reviews, adding up to a score of 82 (“universal acclaim”) on critic aggregator site Metacritic. The strongest reviews have come from the established rock press: publications as Rolling Stone, which caters to a more seasoned, older audience. Meanwhile, Pitchfork, one of the Bibles of the hip and young music scene, delivered an amusingly confused review full of passive aggression. After asking “Is Bob Dylan trolling us?” writer Stephen M. Deusner notes, “And what do you know, Dylan can actually sing. Without sounding overly reverent, he croons persuasively, especially on ‘Why Try to Change Me Now'” . . . only to conclude that “for the more casual, less obsessive listener, [the album] can be a bit of a snooze.”
But Bob Dylan is not writing for Pitchfork. He is doing something far more risky and yet rewarding: writing his own legacy. When you write your own legacy, sometimes you find yourself out of step with popular culture, as Dylan has found himself at times in his career. It might sound odd to say this about someone whose art has been dissected as Dylan’s has, but I don’t believe anyone will fully appreciate Dylan’s power to shape cultural tastes for many decades yet. As Dylan says, his music is like a mystery, and the impact of a great artist cannot be properly assessed in a real-time Twitter stream. Bob Dylan does not create to be culturally relevant. He creates for himself.
For decades, the Grammy Awards have been knocked for being out of step with the times. (After all, the Grammys once awarded “Winchester Cathedral” Best Contemporary [R&R] Recording instead of “Eleanor Rigby.”) But in its 57th year, the Grammy Awards are more culturally relevant than ever.
Consider this: a new report from Taykeyanalyzed the top cultural trends affecting the performance of advertising campaigns in the fourth quarter of 2014. Taykey wanted to assess the performance of advertising that capitalizes on real-time news events and trends such as the release of the new Star Wars trailer. Well, the top-performing trend for the fourth quarter was the Grammys — months before the actual event was to take place. According to Taykey, the December 5 announcement about the 2015 Grammy nominations was the top trend from an advertising perspective — creating better-performing real-time buzz for advertisers than the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies or Ed Sheeran performing on The Voice Season 7 finale.
In fact, brands that created real-time advertising capitalizing on the Grammy nominations generated click-through rates that were 1,145 percent higher than industry benchmarks — easily higher than any other trend by a wide margin.
The obvious question: why? According to the TaykeyReal-Time Trend Report, “The music industry may be fragmented and suffering from a revenue perspective, but it’s clear that audiences still care very much about these nominations and their favorite artists.”
Moreover, the Grammys remain the leading destination where music fans can immerse themselves in the fragmented music industry, all in one place, at one time. For instance, at the 2015 Grammys, Paul McCartney, Kanye West, and Rihanna will perform the live debut of their new single, “FourFiveSeconds” — which perfectly demonstrates the way the Grammys, with one masterstroke, can appeal to multiple generations and musical interests. In 2014, the Grammys tapped into the cultural zeitgeist by featuring performers ranging from Lorde to Daft Punk. The 2014 telecast secured 28 million viewers. By contrast, the MTV Video Music Awards, considered the younger, hipper alternative to the Grammys, has never attracted more than 12.4 million viewers.
In effect, the Grammy nominations turn the faucet to a trickle by presenting us with a curated short list of performers to program into our music streams, ranging from Sam Smith to Hozier. Even the controversies generated by inevitable Grammy omissions make the Grammys useful by shining light on the also rans.
Taykey updates the Real-Time Trend Report on a quarterly basis (the next one should be published in April). The fourth-quarter 2014 edition contains far more insight into cultural trends across industries and demographics than I’ve discussed in this post. Read it and form your own conclusions. After reading the report, my single-biggest takeaway is this: for advertisers, the Grammys have already won.
NFL CMO Dawn Hudson should be pinching herself right now because the “deflategate” controversy is a godsend for the league. Allegations that the New England Patriots knowingly provided underinflated footballs for the AFC championship game have created more conversation about the upcoming Super Bowl XLIX than the NFL could have ever dared to manufacture with its own marketing and PR. Deflategate has also elevated Super Bowl XLIX to a battle between good and evil, injecting an element of much-needed drama on the field at a time when the league has reeled from off-the-field controversy. Casual fans who have zero loyalty to New England or Seattle may now be motivated to watch the game in order to see whether the Guardians of the Galaxy from Seattle have what it takes to defeat Darth Vader and his New England minions.
The 2014 Super Bowl was the most-watched television event in history. But between then and now, a number of ugly incidents involving NFL players have damaged the league’s image. (According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, consumer perception of the NFL has dropped by half in one year’s time.) Obviously, fans of the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are going to watch Super Bowl XLIX February 1, anyway, as will die-hard NFL fans. But the game needs to attract casual fans to match or exceed the 2014 TV-viewing numbers, and the shaky public perception is a cause for worry — which is where deflategate could play an important role.
Casual sports fans might not appreciate the finer points of an NFL game, but they do appreciate drama and spectacle, especially battles between good and evil. Hence, movies as strikingly different as Saving Private Ryan and Raiders of the Lost Ark do great box office by catering to our desire to see the good guys defeat the bad guys (especially World War II era villains who are so cleanly drawn). Sports are no different. For instance: Read more »
Even the most successful NFL teams cannot control the quality of their product on the field. And in an era of free agency, it’s harder for teams to develop fan loyalty toward their best players. So more teams, even successful ones, have turned their stadiums into memorable experiences, where a team has more control over its own brand. In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys wowed fans with a new stadium that features the world’s largest column-free interior and (at the time) the biggest high-definition video screen in the world. In 2014, the San Francisco 49ers opened Levi’s Stadium, which features high-tech amenities such an app that allows you to order food from your seat. But the Atlanta Falcons are preparing to open one stadium to rule them all in 2017: a state-of-the-art extravaganza that may change the way we experience live sports.
In the 49-year existence of the Atlanta Falcons, the team has compiled a decidedly subpar record of 316 wins, 414 losses, and six ties. The team has won no Super Bowls and has fielded zero Most Valuable Players. The Falcons have been wildly inconsistent, capable of an impressive 13-win/3-loss season followed by a horrid 4-win/12-loss season, as was the case in 2012-13. But there is more to football than winning (and I don’t care how many ex-jocks in the broadcast booth say otherwise). Football teams want fans to have fun, and the New Atlanta Stadium (whose title will certainly change when a corporate sponsor is found) is designed to provide fun in spades.
For starters, the new building is going to be an architectural marvel that Atlanta visitors and residents will visit and tour in the off-season. Most football stadiums, however well designed, look like, well, football stadiums. You always know one when you see one. But New Atlanta Stadium isn’t any ordinary football stadium. New Atlanta Stadium is designed to be a visually stunning building where football games happen to be played.
The dramatic glass-and-steel exterior, which as been described as a gigantic metal origami, evokes the creations of Frank Gehry and Jørn Utzon (who designed the Sydney Opera House). Lead designer is Bill Johnson, a principal at Kansas City-based 360 Architecture (recently acquired by HOK), designed eight ocular shaped panels on the roof as an homage to the Roman Pantheon. According to 360 Architecture, the roof will “open and close like a camera aperture.” Moreover, the shape of the roof panels are will emulate the wing-like Atlanta Falcons team logo.
The retractable roof and overall stadium design have already caught the eye of publications such as Architecture News Daily and DesignBoom, which raved about the “striking structure.” Now, let me ask you: when is the last time a retractable roof generated this kind of reaction? I predict that the look of the stadium alone will inspire other architects to rethink the design of football stadiums, just as Oriole Park at Camden Yards reimagined the look of Major League Baseball Parks in the 1990s. Read more »
An intruder, an assassin, and an amnesiac: they are among the fractured souls who inhabit the ghostly landscape of Peter Gabriel’s third album, Peter Gabriel. Released in 1980, Peter Gabriel was the sound of a daring artist finding inspiration from some dark place on the fringes of society. And the album cover art complemented the music with a grotesque image of Gabriel’s melting face, suggesting the decay of Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s painting The Picture of Dorian Gray.
We remember Peter Gabriel for its penetrating lyrics and propulsive sound, brimming with inventive drums, distorted guitar, and Gabriel’s emotional, sometimes off-kilter vocals. The cover art visualized the music like few other album covers have.
When Gabriel recorded the album in 1979-80, his success as a solo artist was anything but certain. His first two albums, released in 1977 and 1978 (and also entitled Peter Gabriel), had been well received critically, but they achieved unremarkable commercial success. His choice of adventurous material, with sometimes quirky instrumental arrangements, suggested that Gabriel, following his departure from progressive rock band Genesis, was destined to become a critics’ favorite with a cult following.
Nothing prepared his fans or critics for what followed on his third album, released in May 1980. Peter Gabriel distilled all the experimentation of his first two albums into a still adventurous but more cohesive work musically and thematically — and a very disturbing one at that. The opening track, “Intruder,” set the tone for the entire album. Describing a home invasion from the point of view of the intruder, the song featured chants, distorted scratching sounds, and a tribal beat lacking any cymbals (in fact, Gabriel had prohibited the use of cymbals on the entire album).
“I know something about opening windows and doors,” sneered Gabriel on the opening track. “I know how to move quietly to creep across creaky wooden floors . . . I like you lying awake, your bated breath charging the air/I like the touch and the smell of all the pretty dresses you wear.”
The rest of the album did not let up. “I Don’t Remember,” “No Self Control,” and “Lead a Normal Life” were among the bleakest explorations of inner turmoil and mental surrender anyone had dared to record since Pink Floyd’s ascendance.
The album was so disturbing that Gabriel’s label, Atlantic, refused to release it. Fortunately, Mercury Records agreed to distribute the album in the United States.
To depict his distorted world on the album cover, Gabriel turned to Hipgnosis, whose founders, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, had become legends for the album covers Hipgnosis had created with super groups such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Allegedly, the idea of depicting Gabriel with a melted face arose from a dream that Thorgerson had about a dripping face. Mick Jagger or Bryan Ferry would have scoffed at the idea. But Gabriel was inspired; after all, Gabriel had willingly manipulated his own appearance on the covers of his first two albums.
To create the album cover, Hipgnosis took a color Polaroid of Gabriel, re-photographed the photo Read more »
Pity the CMO. She is responsible for growing a business and ensuring that her company’s brand remains relevant even as constantly changing market forces and technologies make her life one steep learning curve. And it seems everyone wants to tell her how to do her job. She’s supposed to get closer to the customer. She has to forge a deeper relationship with the CIO and carve out time to learn the nuances of big data. Oh, and don’t forget: become a digital ninja or die. Well, now I have piled on with some advice of my own: lead your company’s charge into content marketing.
My recently published CMO.com column, “10 Content Marketing Tips for the CMO,” addresses content marketing’s increasingly prominent role on the CMO’s agenda brand-building agenda. As a consultant who specializes in helping companies support their business goals with content marketing, I am encouraged CMOs are investing into branded content. To help CMOs be more effective with content marketing, my post offers advice such as the importance of developing a documented content-marketing strategy. But the most important tip in my column is this: set the example. Content marketing isn’t someone else’s job. It’s yours.
Content marketing is a reflection of your company’s ideas, personalities, and culture — starting at the top. Go ahead and dip your toes into the content marketing waters. Doing so might seem awkward at first. But I assure you, if you take the time to write emails at work or occasionally snap a photo with your smart phone, you’re already employing some of the mechanical tools of content marketing: writing and visual storytelling. All you need is a strategy, commitment, and guidance to hone your content-marketing skills.
Being a content marketer will help you become more empathetic to the needs of your employees and more sensitive to how your brand can and should reflect your culture. And as my post points out, being a content marketer doesn’t have to mean committing yourself to writing a litany of blog posts and white papers. More importantly, setting the example is the first step to creating a culture of content.
As a wise character from a certain classic blockbuster movie once said: Do. Or do not. There is no try.
In 2014, musicians once again demonstrated that album cover art still matters — even as album sales continue to drop. The album cover remains a powerful way for artists to visualize their music and their personalities. According to analyst Mary Meeker, we upload and share 1.8 billion images a day. To get our attention in a world cluttered with pictures, artists need to stand out with strong, compelling visual stories that grab our attention and don’t let go. And album cover art needs to represent the artist across a variety of online and offline touch points, ranging from concert merchandise to Twitter wallpaper. So it’s no wonder that in 2014, we witnessed a plethora of artists using album covers to literally sell themselves to potential music buyers. Pharrell’s face on the cover of Girl is more than an album cover: it’s a billboard that sells the artist behind the music, repeated on his website, Facebook page, and everywhere else you find Pharrell. Even someone as popular as Pharrell has only a split second to convince you to pay attention to him. So he make the most of his moment to keep the focus of your attention on him. But as my new SlideShare, Memorable Album Covers of 2014: The Self-Portraits, shows, artist portraits can be evocative, alluring, and anything but bland.
For instance, Flying Lotus’s You’re Dead!, designed by Japanese artist Shintaro Kago, is a mystical piece that is practically a graphic novel on an album cover. And Lykkie Li’s cover of I Never Learn is a dark, textured portrait that conveys a mysterious sensuality. Especially as artists continue to struggle to monetize their music, you can expect album cover art to continue to evolve and excite. Popular music has, and always will be, a visual medium as well as aural one. Even as the music industry continues to change, you can take that assumption to the bank.
First, big brands with multiple locations have made local a priority as mobile adoption increases. According to eMarketer,the global base of mobile phone users was expected to reach 4.55 billion in 2014, and by 2017, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will own a mobile phone. And mobile phones facilitate commerce: 80 percent of local searches conducted on mobile phones lead to purchase, according to a study conducted by comScore. But local businesses (such as your local pizza parlor) and outlets of national franchises (e.g., Sonic Drive-in; Holiday Inn) aren’t going to get any of that commerce unless users can find them. Hence, search marketing retains the largest share of digital spend according to the Forrester Research US Digital Marketing Forecast, 2014 to 2019(released in November 2014), with mobile accounting for 66 percent of the growth in interactive spend over the next five years. I don’t think the strength of spending on both areas is a coincidence, and neither does Forrester — the company identifies the mobile savviness of a brand’s customers as a key determinant of how urgent a brand should embrace local.
But something else is going on, too: the rise of contextual marketing. With contextual marketing, brands create more personal experiences based on the context of your behavior, such as where you are located. According to Forrester, contextual marketing is the new marketing remit. Customers, empowered with location- and context-aware devices, expect marketers to customize content accordingly instead of relying on generic messaging that is the same regardless of whether you are in New York or Seattle.
But the new Forrester Consulting report, Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing, also notes that many brands have not yet fully embraced local search. Limited resources and lack of expertise are hampering marketers’ efforts with local search. To me, the answer is to develop a strategy that links local to context, especially since Forrester Consulting agrees that brands with local strategies are realizing strong benefits. Local search may very well become a battleground, all right — with strategy separating the winners from the losers.
Pink Floyd’s new (and final) album, The Endless River, had every reason to fail on its release November 10. At a time when album sales are in a free fall, the Floyd released an unabashed 53-minute artifact of the era of album-oriented rock. The Endless River consists mostly of ambient instrumentals (culled from the group’s 1994 album The Division Bell) and no Spotify-friendly singles. Lead guitarist David Gilmour cautioned that The Endless River as “not for the iTunes, downloading-individual-tracks generation” (a comment that most certainly horrified the Floyd’s Columbia Record Label). And yet, The Endless River is succeeding, at least by today’s standards: the album was the most pre-ordered ever on Amazon U.K., is Number 1 in the United Kingdom, and is already the top-selling album of 2014. I believe The Endless River‘s success is a testament to the power of branding and staying true to yourself.
The Power of Branding
Pink Floyd had not released an album in 20 years and only four since 1983. Of its founding members — Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright — only Mason remained with the Floyd in 2014, along with virtuoso guitarist David Gilmour, who joined the band in late 1967. Barrett had been kicked out of the band decades ago, Waters had left amid great acrimony, and Wright had succumbed to cancer in 2008. But the Floyd has always been both a band and a successful brand — one that that encompasses a memorable name, successful music, multi-media, merchandise, and striking visual iconography.
Going back to 1967, Pink Floyd created enduring albums that transcended the progressive rock genre and resonated with generations of listeners (including me). And its partnership with art design group Hipgnosis resulted in the creation of album cover designs and artwork that fascinated fans in the 1970s (during the band’s glory years) and remain relevant in today’s era of visual storytelling. Even when the band was not producing music after The Division Bell, Pink Floyd remained in the Read more »