How do you build a digital brand?

How do you build a digital brand — one that lives up to digital’s potential for immersion and personalization?   The following two recent Razorfish client launches highlight the roles of creativity and technology — and demonstrate some of the nuances of branding the digital way.


Billboard posed an interesting challenge to the New York office of my employer Razorfish: reposition a brand for a consumer audience.  Through its event business, digital presence, and print media, Billboard is known primarily as a business-to-business brand.  The company asked Razorfish to inject more of a consumer-oriented look and feel to the website.  Although is a consumer website, Billboard’s reputation as a B-to-B brand contributed to a general assumption that is not for consumers.  Billboard saw an opportunity to make “behave” like a consumer site with improved interactivity.  The Razorfish approach:

  • Retain the Billboard name.  The B-to-B reputation notwithstanding, the Billboard name is so well established (115 years old) that we saw little need to adapt the name for a consumer audience.
  • Completely revamp the website.  Throw out the model of providing just basic information about top-selling songs and artist background via the flat website that existed until now.  Instead, turn into a playful destination where consumers can listen to and purchase music, vote on their favorite songs, and learn a ton of information about different artists, including their chart history and biography.  A new “Visualizer” feature makes it possible for you to see a chart that shows album sales throughout an artist’s career.  Playing around with the Visualizer unveils layers of detail such as peak positions for particular songs.  Moreover, with an easy click you can share content to social destinations like Twitter.

Exclusive video content available on

Using the Visualizer to track the remarkable 251-week Billboard chart run for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon

For more about the redesign, go here.

Channel [V] Australia

The challenge for Channel [V] Australia was different: launch a new brand online.  Channel [V] Australia is a cable TV channel that broadcasts musical content for a Gen Y audience.  Channel [V] wanted an online presence.  The solution from Amnesia Razorfish in Sydney:

  • Create a brand name for digital, [V] Music. We felt a new name was necessary for a few reasons.  First, Amnesia Razorfish wanted to more strongly associate the company with music because the digital experience is supposed to be the “source of all things music.”  And the name [V] Music would work better from an organic search standpoint.
  • Create an immersive experience so that consumers have a destination to explore music, including a video library that houses 1.3 million artists.  Enable personalization (via a My Music feature).  Moreover, a video player created by Amnesia Razorfish called “the Slider” allows you to watch videos continuously while you browse the website.  (Unfortunately because of Channel [V]’s licensing agreements, the videos are viewable only in Australia.)  The site also posts concert listings and links to special [V] Music accounts on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.  Amnesia Razorfish built the interface in Ajax to allow the page to dynamically update content as you slide across the page in real time (an effect seen only in Flash).

Through the [V] Music rebranding, Channel [V] now has an opportunity to expand its presence into music and even open up content overseas should the company elect to adopt different licensing models.

A taste of [V] Music

For more information on Music [V], check out this post.

For more Razorfish insights into digital branding, please review Joe Crump’s point of view on Digital Darwinism.

What does a digital brand look like, and sound like, to you?

Amnesia Razorfish builds its brand by doing

In January, my Razorfish colleagues Garrick Schmitt and Malia Supe wrote an insightful blog post, “Brands Do.”  They asserted that in the era of consumer participation, brands must spend more time doing things than saying things.  Amnesia Razorfish (part of the Razorfish global network) just provided an example of the “Brands Do” ethos.

For three consecutive years, Amnesia Razorfish has won the Adnews interactive agency of the year award, and its embrace of Social Influence Marketing is one of the reasons.  Amnesia Razorfish doesn’t tell the world, “We understand social!”  The agency shows everyone through its actions.

For instance, on June 30, Iain McDonald, an Amnesia Razorfish founder, conducted an experiment to test the power of Twitter.  He publicly challenged Coke and Pepsi to say hello to each other on Twitter and then asked others to retweet his challenge — no small task given the rivalry between the two brands:

But within hours, Coke gave Pepsi a hello on Twitter and even started to follow Pepsi:

Not long thereafter, Pepsi responded in kind:

It’s not the first time rivals have said hello on Twitter.  Yahoo famously welcomed Google to Twitter.  What’s different about the Coke/Pepsi story is how Iain collaborated with the Twitter universe to inspire the two brands to play nice — a real application of one of today’s hottest buzzwords, crowd-sourcing.

The experiment worked because the idea was irresistible and because Iain leveraged the many influential followers he has built on Twitter.  Those followers, in turn, influenced their followers.  The story has generated attention in publications like Advertising Age and Brand Republic — a boon for the Amnesia Razorfish brand attributable to Iain’s actions as opposed to anything he overtly said about Amnesia Razorfish.  For those of us trying to live the social values, Amnesia Razorfish offers a lesson in building a brand through action.

What’s the big idea? Razorfish hosts annual Client Summit

The 9th Annual Razorfish Client Summit, held April 21-23 in Las Vegas, asked a simple question: how do great ideas flourish?

In context of the summit’s theme — “Art of the Idea” — companies like Mattel discussed how they’re working with Razorfish to devise innovative marketing ideas and launch new products right in the middle of a recession.  Keynotes like Dave Stewart and Matthew Weiner gave us a peek inside the often chaotic (and very nonlinear) process of creating brilliant, commercially successful ideas.  And Razorfish thought leaders such as Strategy Executive Andrea Harrison and Royce Lee showed us “big ideas” for approaching digital marketing in a different way, whether you’re researching consumer behavior or preparing to launch a product in China.

So what did I get out of the experience?  Three themes stand out:

Innovation is a social act

Shiv Singh, Social Influence Marketing Lead at Razorfish, put it best: “innovate with others or die a slow death.”  Shiv was among the speakers who discussed the relationship between collaboration and innovation.  Shiv went so far as to suggest that employees need to collaborate more aggressively with thinkers outside their organizations (not just with each other) in developing new products and services.   Meantime Andrea Harrison provided a different take on the social nature of ideation when she unveiled a new Razorfish consumer research approach: Social Graph Analysis.  Andrea contended that to really understand one’s customers, you need to research their behaviors in social settings to see who informs their decision making and how.  And yet, many companies remain stuck in the mindset of creating user personas in isolation.  Andrea delivered a compelling case for reinventing consumer insight.

Shiv Singh looking dapper and sounding smart

All photos courtesy of Ray Velez, Razorfish

And then there was keynote Dave Stewart.

In an unbelievably mind-blowing presentation that had the audience gasping at times, Dave helped us understand where he finds ideas and how he develops them into profitable ventures.  And given that he’s a successful musician and counselor to Nokia, he knows what he’s talking about.  The highlight of his appearance occurred when, joined by a singer onstage, he collaborated with the Client Summit audience to write a song in real time.  He asked the audience to shout lyrics and phrases, which he either rejected outright or turned into melodies.  In other words, he didn’t tell us about collaboration — he got us involved.  And he pushed us beyond our comfort zones, just as creative collaboration can do in real life.  Some audience members volunteered ham-handed lyrics while others were too shy to try.  But eventually we got better at working with Dave.  After he left the Client Summit, he flew back to Los Angeles, mixed the song, “500 Minds,” and made it available on his website,

Collaboration: sometimes ugly, sometimes awkward, but ultimately fascinating and (I think with Dave Stewart’s song) successful.

I can truly say I’ve never done that before.

Dave Stewart rocks the house

Big ideas deliver value.  Now.

We’ve been hearing a lot about how innovating during a recession helps prepare you for an economic turnaround.  But the Client Summit client case studies showed that a big idea can deliver business value now, smack dab in the middle of a bruising recession.  For instance, Chuck Scothon and Betsy Burkett of Mattel, and Jill Druschke of Razorfish, discussed how Mattel has worked with Razorfish to celebrate Barbie’s 50th anniversary through a digital experience that encompasses a Twitter identity, Barbie blog, content posted on YouTube, a microsite, and a successful Facebook page.  The big idea: instead of doing a massive TV buy, create a digital lifestyle for Barbie to reposition her with grown-up women.  According to Mattel, the Barbie brand has enjoyed 18 percent domestic sales growth (reversing a decline in sales) since undertaking the effort.

Barbie: All Doll’d Up

Matthieu de Lesseux of Duke Razorfish shared a witty case study about how McDonald’s France wanted to make 66 million French food lovers also love fast food at McDonald’s.  The big idea: create a series of viral videos in which a self-appointed official hassles unsuspecting diners attempting to enter a McDonald’s restaurant (and rejecting them for a variety of ridiculous reasons). The “punk’d” style video series was not only hilarious but rewarding: McDonald’s France has realized a 7.7 percent increase in sales during the launch of the campaign.

Those are just two obvious examples.  There were many more.

Fernando Madeira of Terra Latin America: “the reinvention of our web presences is synonymous with reinventing our company”

The experience is the big idea

Porter Gale, vice president of marketing for Virgin America, shared how Virgin has completely reinvented the meaning of an airline as an experience, not just a company that transports you from one place to another.  From providing one-of-a-kind mood lighting to on-demand movies, Virgin has done the inconceivable: made flying fun again.  Even the in-flight safety film is amusing.  She also shared the astounding details of how Virgin monitors Twitter traffic from its customers (she calls them guests).  If a guest tweets negatively about a Virgin experience while in-flight, he or she might find a company greeter waiting at the arrival gate prepared to respond.

Client Summit attendees also demonstrated the importance of the experience as and end unto itself — in their case, by inserting themselves more actively into the Client Summit through their use of Twitter.  Attendees used Twitter to share ideas, critique the presentations, and basically provide a real-time attendee feedback mechanism for the Client Summit team.  They became active content creators and in doing so became unofficial speakers on the agenda through their customer experience.  Throughout the event, the 475 attendees posted nearly 2,300 tweets and retweets using the event hashtag (#rzcs).  At one point, the Client Summit was trending as high as Number 5 in the Twitter universe.

Event emcee Iain McDonald of Amnesia Razorfish engaged the audience in a series of exercises to generate enthusiasm for Twitter, including promising to drop his pants if he could get MC Hammer to return a tweet.  Hammer did reply, and Iain fulfilled his promise — sort of.

In one fascinating exercise, event attendees were challenged to use Twitter to raise awareness for a nonsensical word created on the spot, “Razorfunfish.”  By tweeting the term “Razorfunfish,” attendees managed to generate about 18 pages of “Razorfunfish” results on Google.  We even saw paid search ads on Google.  As one client wrote, “This conference was the tweetiest.”

Razorfish CEO Bob Lord closes the 2009 Client Summit

Statements that resonated

Here are some especially pithy remarks from Client Summit speakers (you can find many more by searching for #rzcs on Twitter):

  • “My life is made out of cocktail napkins.  Got an idea?  Write it down before you forget it.” — Matthew Weiner, the genius behind Mad Men
  • “Don’t waste a good crisis.  Embrace a crisis — it can make you stronger.” — Fernando Madeira, CEO, Terra Latin America
  • “Who owns the Virgin Brand?  Richard Branson, our employees, and our guests.” — Porter Gale, marketing vice president, Virgin America
  • “The future is less about saying things to people and more about building experiences that are relevant.” — Clark Kokich, Razorfish chairman
  • “To succeed in China, build your brand quickly before a local company duplicates your product and extinguishes you brand’ — Royce Lee, Razorfish Greater China
  • “Focus groups are the enemy of innovation.  They help you do something better, not differently.” — Joe Crump, Razorfish Strategy executive
  • “Rebuilding our web presence is like rebuilding our company.”  — Fernando Madeira
  • “Don’t question where ideas come from.  People are saying inspiring things eery day right in front of you.” — Matthew Weiner
  • “User personas too often view people in isolation.  We need to understand people in context of their social behaviors.” — Andrea Harrison, Razorfish Strategy executive
  • “As children, we draw pictures of airplanes.  Then as grown-ups we dread dealing with airline service.” — Porter Gale
  • “The greatest enemy of innovation is associating innovation with creativity.” — Joe Crump
  • “Asking customers to do your marketing doesn’t excuse you from marketing, too.  Your customers will actually make you work harder.” — Shiv Singh
  • “I have 500,000 policeman following me on Twitter.” — Dave Stewart

Reactions from the blogosphere

I’m sure more blog coverage will unfold.  Please share yours with me.

Thank you to Razorfish clients who braved the recession and traveled to Las Vegas. I hope you found the experience worth your time.

Amnesia Razorfish: sexy, social and successful

Recently Australia-based Amnesia Razorfish (part of the Razorfish global network) won the Adnews interactive agency of the year for the third consecutive year. As a Razorfish employee, I’m happy for my colleagues at Amnesia Razorfish (and of course for our clients, as the award is a reflection on them, too).  But I’m equally interested in knowing what the award says about successful marketing in the digital age.  What does it take for marketers and agencies working together to succeed year after year?  After getting some input from Michael Buckley, Terry Carney, and Iain McDonald of Amnesia Razorfish, I see these ingredients for success emerging:

  • Make Social Influence Marketing part of your marketing game plan.  Social Influence Marketing is a third dimension of marketing alongside direct response and branding.  It is here to stay.  You don’t need to make an about-face to succeed through social — but you do need employ it intelligently.  Example: the Cancer Council Australia is working with Amnesia Razorfish to raise money for the treatment of male cancer.  Amnesia Razorfish conceived of Daredallion, a week where people perform dares to raise donations.  The effort includes various forms of Social Influence Marketing, including Twitter and a site where you can dare your friends to to perform stunts.  Another example: Amnesia Razorfish helped Smirnoff employ Social Influence Marketing to build buzz for the Smirnoff Experience Party. The only way to get tickets to Australia’s biggest free party of 2008 was to go digital.  Smirnoff conducted a treasure hunt to give away tickets.  To find free tickets distributed across Australia, you had to find clues released through a blog and a Facebook group.  The campaign attracted global attention and helped Smirnoff pull off a huge promotional coup.  Amnesia Razorfish now employs a full-time Social Influence Marketing staff to help its clients figure out how to embed social into their digital experiences.


  • Get your hands dirty.  An agency must be an active participant in the social world in order to help its clients succeed with Social Influence Marketing.  Amnesia Razorfish certainly lives the social values.  Its blog is a top-ranked agency blog in Australia, attracting hundreds of thousands of unique views in 2008.  Amnesia staff have participated in the Daredallion project cited here and created experimental Twitter applications.  Everyone on the senior staff can be found on Twitter.  But Amnesia Razorfish is getting its hands dirty in other ways.  Amnesia Razorfish wrote Australia’s first Surface application, which recognizes individual business cards when placed on a table and then streams personal social media information from Twitter, Flickr, and other digital properties directly on to the table to be exchanged with someone else (sounds like a new way to exchange phone numbers in a bar).  Amnesia Razorfish also built its own in-house video wall purely for the fun of experimentation.  Dual projectors stream social content on to the wall, which tracks one’s physical movements.

  • Be accountable.  Amnesia Razorfish measures every single click that end users make.  The company uses analytics to be fully accountable for every interaction a person has with a client online.  Sometimes improving the consumer experience means more effectively optimizing the performance of a website, not designing a new one.  Using optimization tools, Amnesia Razorfish has increased sales by as much as 300 percent for ecommerce clients and increased time spent on clients’ sites by as much as 450 percent.  Amnesia Razorfish is also playing with a new tool developed by Razorfish U.S., the Generational Tag, to measure social influence.

  • Design experiences, not advertisements.  What’s the difference?  Ads are one-way messages — often great for the analog world, but not sufficient for digital.  Experiences engage audiences through interaction. Example: Lynx, produced by Unilever, is a line of male personal care products such as body wash.  (In the United States, Lynx is known as Axe.)  Amnesia Razorfish won a Webby for helping Unilever build awareness for Lynx through The Lynx Effect.  The target audience consists of young men, and the Axe/Lynx brand employs an in-your-face risque approach to connect with them.  The Lynx Effect is no exception.  Basically the message is this: guys, Lynx will make you more attractive to women.  But in the digital world, we convey that message through the experience.  To even navigate the site to learn about Lynx products, you select from a choice of provocative looking women.  Once inside, you can play amusing games, participate in polls, and download content on to your desktop.  (Now we know what “engagement” means Down Under.)

The Lynx Effect

  • Challenge your clients with ideas that build their businesses.  Lipton wanted to build awareness for an amino acid ingredient in Lipton tea — theanine — that stimulates alpha brain waves.  The proposition sounded like an educational campaign.  But Amnesia Razorfish came up with the idea of imagining Lipton’s product and benefits as a game.  Hence, the launch of Brain Train, a series of online games that test one’s mental alertness with subtle brand messaging from Lipton about the power of theanine.  Amnesia Razorfish also conceived of an integrated roll-out with radio, print, and outdoor.

Innovation rooted in the big idea is what will spur an economic recovery from the global recession, not better analytics or user experiences (although those things are important, too).  In April, leaders of Amnesia Razorfish will join executives from the Razorfish global network to discuss how we can more effectively take big ideas to our clients.  We’ve been conducting these summits, which we dub “A Seat at the Table,” since 2007, and each meeting gets better as more participants from outside the United States attend.  I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn from each other — better yet, I cannot wait to learn how our clients are benefiting.

Congratulations to Amnesia Razorfish for setting the gold standard.