Go brand your company now – Lessons from Apple, Google and the high tech super brands of our generation

Lorraine Twohill pulls out her Google Glasses, a product that embodies the Google brand.
Lorraine Twohill pulls out her Google Glasses, a product that embodies the Google brand.

On a sunny, early spring afternoon, panelists, Lorraine Twohill, VP of Global Marketing, Google; Allison Johnson, Founder and CEO, West and former VP of Marketing Communications, Apple; Keith Yamashita, chairman and founder, SYPartners; and moderator Margit Wennmachers, partner, Andreessen Horowitz and Founder, The Outcast Agency, took their seats in front of a packed audience of marketers from enterprise and consumer startups. What followed was a unique discussion on branding lessons from iconic companies that have experienced dramatic growth, re-invented themselves and survived transitions of leadership to become household names, Google, Apple and IBM to name just a few represented by the panelists.

Brand is more than just a foundational piece to a marketing communications strategy, it's a promise to your users. So, how do you build a strong brand and develop brand enthusiasts? How do you take your brand to the next level?

Those were the intriguing questions posed in an invitation sent to top Silicon Valley marketers by Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm founded in 2009 by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz.

“How do you define the Google brand?” kicked off Margit Wennmachers, host and marketing partner at Andreessen Horowitz.

“We don’t,” responded Lorraine Twohill, who started at Google in 2003, when the company had just 6 employees in its Dublin office.

“We haven’t defined the brand, we don't want anything to limit the thousands of flowering ideas out there.”

Yet the Google brand is represented by unique characteristics – trust, playfulness, but also as a serious resource that can be relied on, and of course innovation.

The same question, posed to Allison Johnson, who has headed up marketing at IBM, Netscape, HP, and most recently, Apple under Steve Jobs, elicited a similar response.

“Brand and marketing are forbidden words.” For Apple, brand is all about product experience.

“If it smells like marketing, that’s a bad thing.”

Keith Yamashita has worked alongside CEOs and their leadership teams to define,and then attain,greatness for their institutions. He has worked with leaders at Apple, Starbucks, IBM, Nike, Gap, The Coca-Cola Company, among others.

“The question to ask is ‘what is a company’s unique character’? And ‘what should the company be’?”

The discussion, starting off with a simple question, continued onto many aspects of marketing, but the central, aligning theme continued to be that brand stems from customer experience and, in particular, product experience.

This brings us to the notion of integrated marketing, that’s the way it’s done now – especially for the enterprise. Gone are the days where you could drip-feed prospects information; now they have a way to shout back at you and know more about your product or service before they even visit your website. This phenomena, that practitioners such as Christine Crandell, a Forbes contributor, describes as the “Customer-centric Buyer’s Journey” means that it is essential to create an ongoing and ever enriching customer experience across all the channels used to interact with the customer.

To illustrate this in the context of launching a new brand, the panelists described companies who have done superlative jobs, setting aside Apple for a moment whose hallmark of a launch is defined by secrecy and drama and the slow reveal.

Notable companies include Leap Motion, the innovator of a fundamentally new but natural way to interact with computers via gestures. Leap Motion previewed their technology over a year ago, then continued to show progress through the year, culminating in a keynote at SXSW in March 2013. By transparently uncovering their innovation they have built up tremendous industry following which will ultimately be reflected in a superior customer experience.

Lytro, another innovative company, that has created a revolutionary new type of camera, built a phenomenal relationship with photographers by focusing in on every detail of the customer experience. Their VP of Marketing, Kira Wampler,  has not only leveraged the technology innovation to create buzz, but when customers found that the lens cap was easily lost, a simple email or call got another one delivered free of charge. It’s details like these, that go well beyond product experience to reinforce the kind of relationships that customers crave and ascribe to a company’s brand.

(Disclosure: I have a Lytro camera, loaned to me by a friend of the company, and I too promptly lost my lens cap. I was very relieved to get a new one without any hassle or having to own up to losing it in the first place. Thank you Lytro.)

The danger inherent in a long launch cycle, however, is creating such high customer expectations that key customer segments may be hugely disappointed. Sony PS4, Apple Television, Google Glasses all come to mind. It will be interesting to see how they manage expectations in the run-up to consumer availability.

In discussing brand, we’ve really stayed away from individual product features and really focused on the alignment of customer experience and company culture. In fact, brand and culture must be one. Yamashita referred back to the Watson family who shepherded IBM through its infancy in a very deliberate manner to ensure the company would survive the eventual transition of leadership. They understood that products come and go, but the company must stand for something that endures.

“Start now. Don’t wait to define company culture until you have a couple of hundred people, there will be too much debris. Get it right the first time….this often means separating the quirky nature of a founder from the essential traits of the company,” commented Yamashita.

In Silicon Valley we tend to talk about technology, features and, more recently, design but, ultimately customer acquisition and revenue are driven by customer engagement and branding becomes increasingly the thing that differentiates one company from another, even for cost conscious startups.

Branding should begin even before the first line of code is written. At Google this is the blog post written by the development team, a replacement of an earlier generations’ press release process. Writing that blog post makes you think about who you are, what problem you are trying to solve and what life will be like when you have solved it.

“Think of branding as if you’re planning a huge event—you wouldn’t want to begin tackling the small details first; rather than taking a step-by-step inside out approach, you should work backward from the experience in,” said Paula Dunne, President of CONTOS DUNNE COMMUNICATIONS, a strategic Marketing and PR firm based in Silicon Valley, and creator and chair of the annual MEDIA PREDICTS event for non-profit PRSA Silicon Valley. Dunne continued: “To create something truly memorable and unique with ‘sticking power,’ first create and strategize—then, not only will all the details begin to fall into place, but it’ll feel easy.”

In parodies of Apple, people have suggested that the advertising comes first, then the product. I’d love to hear if that is true, but what Allison Johnson shared with us was that Marketing has a say in the design and production process. It is the connecting tissue between customer needs and the engineering department. All branding at Apple is coordinated by the marketing group across all disciplines. So that if the product name has to change the day before the launch there’s one group that can work to make that change happen.

How can you decode your customer engagement and grow your brand to support it? Traditional techniques focus on understanding customer behavior, for example tapping into Google Analytics data on the website or watching your customers use the product like Intuit’s famous “Follow Me Home” program. But today there are more innovative techniques to understand your customers, their behavior and more importantly their commercial intent and what affinities exist amongst all the people interacting with your brand - collectively known as Consumer Inteligence. nPario is an innovative big data company, spun out from Yahoo! with investors from WPP, that segments your customers in real-time based on their interactions across the Internet using third party data and on your own digital properties. Used today by advertisers and publishers to facilitate highly targeted advertising, the same segmentation results can be used to hone your marketing message, establish customer loyalty programs, identify customer base growth programs, even optimize your product. Try it out – it’s free at audiencediscovery.npario.com

Any conversation about brand building soon turns to the key question of how to measure brand performance? The answer is that in order to measure, you have to measure. Both the panelists as well as the audience agreed on a number of good approaches:

  • Net Promoter Score, a management tool used to gauge the strength of a firm’s relationships and the sentiment of its customers, and is used by Google on an ongoing basis.
  • Brand Health Audit also known as Brand Perception or Perceptual Audit, these are essential in depth soundings that seek to identify “what people will say around the water cooler” about your company. Understanding what the perception of your brand is right now is critical as you attempt to shift into a new area
  • Retention and engagement, ultimately the true measure of a brands success, is how many customers are being acquired, the retention and growth of revenue from your existing base and the customer engagement rate - which of your customers are driving the next wave of new customers?

Afterwards I spoke with Julie McHenry, president of Communication Insight, who works with emerging tech companies at the intersection of customer experience, marketing and communications strategy and is the co-founder of Waggener-Edstrom, Microsoft’s PR agency. She told me that since a market is still a conversation, understanding what customers think about your company or products is fundamental at arriving at the correct branding approach. A regular Perceptual Audit enables you to take stock of how your company is perceived by the team, the board, advisors, analysts and customers. The insights that come from this type of analysis can be hugely impactful, most commonly issues which the team think are important are not at all important to customers and vice versa.

With experts from the top brands in the world present, the next question was – “How do you do this on a shoestring budget and what factors should you look to, to help you determine when to turn up the volume on activities?”

I expected the answer to be spend, spend, spend, but that’s not what I heard:

  • Do an inventory of what’s available for free.
  • Are you taking advantage of industry bloggers and increasingly v-loggers? They all need fresh content every day. Don’t underestimate the power of video.
  • Build a database and segment and categorize all the people that can help you.
  • Reach out to partners who may be more established in the marketplace.

Dialing up spending is all about user acquisition – for software, spend behind success, for hardware it's a more complicated cycle as there is inventory involved.

The final question was prescient, we’ve all run around looking for the next new marketing technique to try - “What new marketing techniques have you seen?”

Complete silence from the panel.

Someone proffered “Pinterest” and people nodded, and then a unanimous chorus from the panelists

“Tell an amazing story.”

It’s as simple and as difficult as that, if you have a great story then we live in a world of ever increasing mechanisms to tell it, no story and you’ll be thrashing.

I came across Nancy Duarte shortly after watching the incredible visuals in Al Gore‘s “An Inconvenient Truth“, visuals that are seared on my mind years after seeing the movie. Nancys company, Duarte Design helps companies communicate big ideas – they create the presentations and they train the people who create presentations (unfortunately as of yet they do not train the executives who often give those presentations). But the biggest impact that Nancy Duarte has had is that through thorough research she has come up with a new framework to communicate ideas. This framework described in her book, Resonate (get the interactive iPad version), uncovers a pattern that is part of every great speech given – Nehru, Martin Luther King and the great Steve Jobs. This video describes the overall model, that draws from story telling, cinema, Greek theatre and Joseph Campbell.

Next Steps: Go Brand

  1. Don’t wait. Start the process before you code. Get the development lead to write that blog post. That human exercise is the very start of branding
  2. Understand your customers, their affinities and segmentation – use all the tools at your disposal, not just the easy web analytics ones, explore new tools such as  audiencediscovery.npario.com.
  3. Leverage all the free channels of communication with your customer, make a list of bloggers and vloggers and reach out.
  4. On a regular basis, check how you are doing – take a deep breathe and do a Perceptual Audit.
  5. Keep deeply aligned with your core traits – be the brand you want to be.

Thank you to Margit Wennmachers and the Andreessen Horowitz team for bringing together such a deep bench of experienced marketers to discuss brand building – for additional comments look for #a16zchat.

Money Wheel Analysis Drives Lead Generation and Revenue Strategy

Financial Literacy: Money Wheel Analysis

View more presentations from Development Corporate

Although we live in world where many product managers are heads down working with customers and engineering, it is important not to forget some of the foundational analysis that help turn a good sales organization into a selling machine through the application of carefully targeted marketing programs. Money Wheel Analysis is one such tool, and is thoroughly described in this short presentation put together by my colleague John C. Mecke at Development Corporate.

To summarize, Money Wheels are great tools to help management see where their most profitable transactions are, identify where the best repeatable sales cycles are for specific products/services and provides a framework for assessing where to invest marketing lead generation dollars and resource. If you are looking for funding, providing elements of a money wheel analysis can help shine light on the most lucrative opportunities.

Money Wheel Analysis is also very useful for Chief Revenue Officers - helps focus the sales force on the highest yielding opportunities, identifies opportunities in one region which can be replicated across others. Where it excels, however, is in identifying the lead generation requirements for a specific product or service. To see how it is worth explaining two elements of the money wheel - the spokes and the spoke lets.

  • Spokes - These are the categories of repeatable transactions that occur, including sales to existing customers, net new customers, add-on deals, migration deals etc...
  • Spokelets - Specific events that cause a customer to purchase your product or service - within a specific repeatable transaction e.g. purchase of your solution because the company just bought a new financial accounting package

Once you have constructed a money wheel, then you can identify how many sales transactions are needed for each spoke/spokelet, then by applying historical conversion ratios it is possible to model how many opportunities are needed at each sales stage to hit your target revenue goals.

Having had to build money wheels myself I know how difficult they are to complete without the right stats from sales, however once you have them they are easier to keep current and are a great input into the marketing budgeting and lead generation planning process - get your product managers to maintain these, sales will love you.

To learn how to create one, take a look at the presentation from Development Corporate and reimagine how to help your revenue warriors win big.

View more presentations from Development Corporate now.

The renaissance of selling your ideas

New Presentation Form - Duarte Design
New Presentation Form - Duarte Design

Do all your presentations have a dull, predictable pattern: Title Slide, Agenda Slide, About XYZ Company, Our Customers, Our Platform, The Problem, The Alternatives, the solution, Summary, Call me?

There is another fresh way to sell your ideas. Some of the earlier blog posts point to a new way to conduct a presentation, new ideas for how to express important aspects of your idea - like the contrast between how things are and how they could be and the automatic elements of resistance that pop into peoples minds as you tell them your way of doing things. In the previous post we talked about presentation structure, beginning, middle and end, we also discussed how the customer is the hero and the hero needs to agree to go on a journey with you to overcome the challenges and return home to the new dawn.

Now we need to discuss how to help the hero on their way, this involves a more intricate presentation form - visually it looks like the picture above - a constant movement between two contorting scenarios. In a movie once the hero accepts the challenge and embarks on the journey (think Luke going off to rescue the Princess) the story unfolds chronologically - however in your presentation we are unconstrained by the boundaries of space and time and as long as we stick to the presentation form - what is and what could be - we will do just fine.

It is into this form that you place your ideas that ultimately will convey the status quo - a day in the life of a customer without your product, the complexity of today's solutions, the overhead, the cost, the gaps etc...this is interspersed with ideas that convey how life will be like once the hero is using the product, how simple, how much cheaper, how much faster, how much more comprehensive. The presentation form ends with a declaration of how life will be in the new era underwritten by your product. This is your Big Idea and we'll discuss this in the next post.

In Apple's WWDC, Tim Cook ends with a statement about how the world is with Apple in it:

Only Apple could make such amazing hardware, software and services. We are so proud of these products, as they are perfect examples of what Apple does best. And ultimately, it’s why people choose to come to work at Apple, and with Apple. To do the very best work of their lives, to create products that empower people to do great things, to make a difference in the lives of so many people around the world. The products we make, combined with the apps that you create can fundamentally change the world. And really, I can’t think of a better reason of getting up in the morning.

Powerful stuff from Tim Cook, CEO of Apple at WWDC 12 in San Francisco.

Can you reimagine your default presentation presented in this new form?

With an ending like that you too can expect new converts to your ideas.

Adding drama to your presentation helps you sell faster

A Hero - Daenerys Targaryen on a journey
A Hero - Daenerys Targaryen on a journey

How many of your presentations have a slide all about you - a "me" slide - generally at the beginning of your deck? How many of you believe that your product or solutions solves customer problems in a kick-ass way? In fact that your product is so kick-ass that it is the hero and will lead your customers out of the wilderness? Well it is true that some people are attracted to that guy that comes up to you at a cocktail party and talks all about himself...but let's take a look at another approach, one that will give you significantly different results: You are not the hero, your customer is the hero. You are taking the customer on a journey and they are going to need your help in overcoming a series of obstacles, but once resolved they will enter into a new state of being.

Books, screenplays, mythology, cinema all provide a structure for a story to be told; one of the reasons some presentations are so boring is that they lack a story. In stories we have heroes that we relate to, we root for them as they face challenges until they reemerge transformed and the final story is revealed. There are other key attributes of story telling, the notion of stakes - something must be at stake if the hero doesn't reach his goal. This tension creates drama and without it you have a boring story.

All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, screenwriters employ more complex forms and Joseph Campbell who deconstructed stories and myths from around the world  created a circular diagram to show the different stages of the journey a hero takes.

Christopher Vogler’s version of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, as visualized in Stuart Voytilla’s Myth and the Movies
Christopher Vogler’s version of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, as visualized in Stuart Voytilla’s Myth and the Movies

With presentations it is the customer and/or your audience that is the hero - you take them on a journey from their world to your special world and they learn new ways of dong things. Along the way they will resist your ideas citing roadblocks. Before they can get past this point they have to change their perceptions internally of the problem before they change the actions they take. Getting the audience to step into something new is the goal of your presentation, you need to acknowledge that change comes with a struggle, and once audiences are willing to make that change then you as their mentor help them with the rest of their journey to make them successful.

In the next post I will describe a presentation form that is part of great speeches given by luminaries such as Martin Luther King, Richard Feynman and Steve Jobs, a way of introducing ideas that resonate and that cal people to action.

Meanwhile take a look at your decks, are they all about you? Can you describe the day in the life of a customer without your product and with your product? Do you have a story to tell?

Related articles

Contrast creates connections and helps you sell faster

Those of you who have sold to enterprises may be very familiar with a selling approach popularized in a book by Michael Bosworth called "Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets" which discusses how important it is to establish the pain that a prospect may be feeling and to make sure that prospects are made to 'wallow' in that pain. This approach means that you establish empathy with your target buyer and then create a contrast when your solution is revealed and addresses all of the pain points the prospect has indicated are particularly onerous.

The implementation of this approach in presentations is often done by having a slide which lists all the problems, followed by a slide which lists all the benefits of the solution and possibly in between there are some mapping slides, maybe even some animation and arrows. This is all very useful in the overall sales process but there is a more nuanced way to show contrast and in future posts I will discuss presentation structures that help with this (for instance Duarte Design's approach overviewed in this earlier post), but today I just want to focus on types of contrast and how you can incorporate those into your existing presentations today.

So we're on the same page, why is contrast important? In today's world people are faced with multiple choices - in fact we are bombarded all the time, the only way the human brain can comprehend all of these inputs and messages is by looking for the differences between things - this is the basis of differentiation. So when you are presenting about a topic or a product it is important to help people join the dots, differentiated facts are important but so is the way in which you contrast the status quo with the future way of doing things, the greater the contrast the more connections are made and the process of selling your idea becomes easier. The more times you contrast and the more ways in which you establish contrast the greater the engagement with your audience.

Consider this research published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1986 by John Heritage and David Greatbatch: Generating Applause: A Study of Rhetoric and Response in Party Political Conferences, which studied why some speeches resulted in total silence and others received applause, their conclusion, which is also described in Resonate, based on analysis of nineteen thousand sentences is that contrast plays a critical role. In half the instances where the audience applauded the speaker was communicating a contrast.

Directly from Resonate:

To refine your presentation with contrast shut off powerpoint and do some brainstorming. Write down ideas which express the status quo and next to them what could be:

  • Staus Quo - What could be
  • Past/Present - Future
  • Pain - Gain
  • Problem - Solution
  • Roadblocks - Clear sailing
  • Resistance - Action
  • Impossible - Possible
  • Need - Fulfillment
  • Disadvantage - Advantage or Opportunity
  • Information - Insight
  • Ordinary - Special
  • Question - Answer

These ideas should help you trigger changes to you presentation. In addition to these elements its also important in the delivery to access emotional contrast. Analytical slides - lots of charts and gaps, diagrams, facts often have little or no emotional content. By alternating with more emotional ways to tell your story you can engage the audience and make many more connections.

Intersperse the following types of emotional content, in fact convert some of your existing analytical slides to slides that convey:

  • Biographical or fictions stories
  • Analogies, metaphors, anecdotes, parables
  • Use props or demonstrations
  • Shocking or scary statements
  • Evocative images
  • Surprises
  • Suspenseful reveals and sometimes humour

Then make sure in the flow of your presentation you are balancing out your analytical slides with your emotional contrasting slides. By reimagining your current presentation by incorporating contrasting ideas and contrasting emotional content you can make better connections with your prospects and speed up the selling of your ideas.

Related articles

Reality from perception

The Brain
The Brain

A fantastic technique I like to use with startups or companies that have existing customers and are trying to figure out how to re-brand or re-launch themselves into the market is a Perceptual Audit or Analysis. Since a market is still a conversation, understanding what customers think about your company or products is fundamental at arriving at the correct branding approach. A Perceptual Audit enables you to take stock of how your company is perceived by the team, the board, advisors, analysts and customers. The insights that come from this type of analysis can be hugely impactful, most commonly issues which the team think are important are not at all important to customers and vice versa.

My friend, Julie McHenry of Communications Insight, does a lot of Perceptual Audits and I vividly recall when she first broached the idea of doing one for the company I was working at. There was a sharp intake of breath and then I didn't breathe for at least 10 minutes.

"You want to talk to my customers? And my board? And the Management Team? And people who didn't buy from us?"

I listed out all the reasons why this was completely untenable and a ridiculous proposition. Then we decided to just do it, the timing was perfect and I realized I had nothing left to lose but some false perceptions and much to gain from the process.

I think Julie gets this from CMOs all the time - the very idea that an external consultant would call up a customer and prospects and ask questions. And for some companies who are not ready to face up to the perception that exists around their brands that is fine, but everyone else sooner or later realizes what a great exercise this is.

The results were quite spectacular and helped us re-brand in a way that aligned with our customers. The whole team was on board as they participated in the process and learned from the insights. Every year since then the team has called for another audit.


Just so we are clear, we are not talking about a survey - a Perceptual Audit is a human process whereby all of the key constituents around a company - the executive management team, the board, industry analysts, customers, prospects and prospects who didn't buy - are asked a serious of high level open ended questions and allowed to express in their own words how they feel - in fact in many cases they will give you an accurate pictue of how they describe your company or product to others. This is the first phase, the output from this phase is then used in a workshop within the company to drive forward messaging, positioning and branding. It takes a consummate professional to guide a management team through the results and into a collaboration that can result in strong branding based on the reality of how customers and prospect experience your brand.

Some of the outcomes from this type of audit include the realization that the management team is not on the same page - better to know this and work towards alignment. The other thing I have noticed, the Investors may often have a crystal clear idea of what they invested in, the management team may have a different idea and the customers a third and different approach. Aligning with customers brings everyone together - that's where the money is.

If you are at a fork in the road and you need to re-brand or re-launch your company or products do a Perceptual Audit and use that as part of creating your new messaging platform.

Resistance helps you sell faster

Resistance helps you sell faster. How many presentations have you seen where they only describe the upside of the product or solution? No mention of complex implementation, high costs, scarce resources, tricky integration? Yet in every room, every person listening to your pitch or watching your video is thinking about all the reasons (that matter to them individually) why they cannot do what you are proposing. Some of them have hidden political agendas, some of them just don't want to be there. By ignoring these sentiments you are slowing down the adoption of your ideas.

So you can let the audience have their dissenting thoughts and not address them - or you can take the opportunity to to handle their objections upfront, get a discussion going which helps them feel that you understand what it is to walk in their shoes. By aligning and dispelling their resistance you make a better connection - in fact just like in sailing - you can leverage that resistance to go faster.

So stop working on that powerpoint for a moment and take a piece of paper and write down all of the reasons why someone may be resistant to your presentation - everything from 'I'm hungry', to 'this is too complex'. Now create a slide that addresses these objections. If you think the audience will all be hungry, bring some food.

Related articles

You have the power to change the world

You have the power to change the world


I came across Nancy Duarte shortly after watching the incredible visuals in Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", visuals that are seared on my mind years after seeing that movie. Nancy's company, Duarte Design helps companies communicate big ideas - they create the presentations and they train the people who create presentations (unfortunately as of yet they do not train the executives who often give those presentations). But the biggest impact that nancy Duarte has had is that through thorough research she has come up with a new framework to communicate ideas. This framework described in her book, Resonate (get the interactive iPad version), uncovers a pattern that is part of every great speech given - Nehru, Martin Luther King and even the great Steve Jobs. This video describes the overall model, that draws from story telling, cinema and Greek theatre.

In implementing this approach for several clients I have found that despite the goal being a presentation deliverable, in fact the process of constructing presentations this way leads you to ask all of the key questions that must be answered to well position and differentiate a company or product. In fact, many of the brainstorming techniques can be extended to help derive corporate strategy, product positioning, competitive positioning etc... This makes the process of creating a killer presentation on that can help you re-imagine your overall strategy, re-imagine your customers and re-imagine your world.