It all started here, nearly ten years ago now, with our inaugural DuetsBlog post called Dr. No and the Parade of Horribles. We used a Seth Godin post called Looking for Yes as our launchpad.

The rest is history. Seth revealed himself a fan of the blog on our 4th birthday, what a surprise. He generously has engaged with us since then, weighing in on topics ranging from branding to trademark bullying to Velcro’s fear of trademark genericide, with so much more in between.

Recently, Seth generously agreed to answer the 12 questions below. What should we ask next?

Continue Reading Seth Godin Answers 12 DuetsBlog Questions

Size and prominence of wording on business signs, product labels and hangtags will often emphasize brand signals. Yet, sometimes decisions are made to scream generic names instead.

Never having seen the above shown wacky fresh fruit until recently, my assumption was that Buddha’s Hand represented a clever brand name for a certain type of citron fruit. Nope, generic.

The source-indicating information on the above shown Buddha’s Hand hangtag — the trademark — is barely legible, so I’ll help readers out: Ripe to You represents the above shown brand name.

So, what are the best practices when it comes to marketing commodities over brands and vice versa? The Branding Strategy Insider had an informative take on this topic just yesterday, here.

From my perspective, since brands manifest reputation, relationships and experiences, there must be accountability, and sometimes apologies are needed. Commodities, nope, not so much.

I’m thinking that while Ripe to You apparently is working to create market demand and interest in the unusual Buddha’s Hand fruit, more emphasis on the fruit’s generic name may take priority.

It also stands to reason that as Buddha’s Hand citron fruit becomes as understood as cherry tomatoes, tangelos, and bananas, the thing will speak for itself, and the brand will be paramount.

It’s also important to remember that when work is needed to create demand for a new category of products, attention on a memorable generic name can be as important as the brand name.

Otherwise, a brand owner launching a new category might find itself forever working to avoid the slippery slope of genericide, can you say, Rollerblade, Velcro, Band-Aid, and Peppadew?

Thankfully for Ripe to You, the clever and memorable Budda’s Hand generic name was handed to it on a silver platter, leaving the field wide open to focus on and emphasize its brand name.

I’d love to hear more insights from our extraordinary marketers and designers about when and how to balance the marketing of commodities/brands — when do you lead with Buddha’s Hand?

On this welcome Labor Day, a few different thoughts converged for me, so please allow me to answer my own question in the title of this post, starting by explaining the below photo:

EscalatorNorthstarMpls

After repeated diversions from a particular moving stairway a/k/a escalator to the far less convenient elevators in an unnamed downtown Minneapolis office building, I finally decided to capture the above photo of signage most recently affixed to the frequent escalator blockade.

This escalator blockade suddenly appears fairly frequently, on a highly traveled portion of the Minneapolis skyway system, at least for me, and at least frequently enough for me to wonder over and over if there are lemon laws not just for cars, but for escalators too.

To soften my repeated frustration shoulder to shoulder with other skyway travelers also waiting for and packing into an elevator to travel one floor from the skyway level to the street level, I often joke out loud about how this building’s escalator must be the most frequently serviced escalator in the entire Minneapolis skyway system:

skyway-minneapolis

Most openly agree. No one has ever disagreed or openly challenged my assessment. And, since the signage provides no explanation, and the ratio of human laboring time at the escalator site compared to total blockade time yields an exceedingly small fraction, to date I’ve been unsuccessful in learning from the experts why this particular escalator is so challenged.

With a view toward the need for branding, let’s turn for a moment back to the above signage attached to the escalator blockade (reproduced below), did you happen to notice anything interesting about the unbranded messages being communicated there?

nonapologysign

Three messages appear in apparent order of importance, at least according to the order of appearance and the size of and particular type styles used.

Apparently most important is the obvious verbal message that probably needs no words given the escalator’s static state and the physical blockade: “ESCALATORS OUT OF ORDER.”

Next is the kind request: “Please use elevators.” With some helpful arrows for directing where to find them. The request part is appreciated, but not always honored. But for the movable blockade, the non-moving escalator, can appear deceptively similar to a static stairway that is capable of being climbed on and even walked upon if someone were so inclined to use their legs.

Last, but not least, especially from a branding perspective, is the exceedingly small and barely legible print at the bottom of the sign: “We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Really, any? As in, we don’t think there is even one notable inconvenience, but if you’re so high-maintenance to think otherwise, accept this token and simply move on. Brands aren’t so invisible and have the potential for being punished when they don’t own their failings.

More than a couple of branding questions come to mind from the last message in the signage. Who is we? Who is the wizard behind the sign? Who is responsible for the frequently failing escalator? And, is this really a genuine apology? In other words, why reference “any” inconvenience when the repetitive inconvenience is obvious and known to anyone close enough to read it? Seems like a classic non-apology to me, made more possible because of the anonymity of the faceless escalator service commodity.

Seth Godin’s post from this morning spoke wisdom about commodities. He contends that a commodity is a product or service no one cared enough about to market.

Building on that idea and tying in my escalator woes, it seems to me that another explanation for commodity status is not caring enough to: (a) engage in the hard work of building a brand; (b) nurture a relationship with customers, and (c) be visible, responsible and accountable to those customers.

So with that, what do you think, does a commodity ever need to apologize?

Picking up where we left off yesterday discussing brand valuation, I’ve recently taken great interest in the branding of fresh fruits and vegetables — they seem to be the ultimate commodity, a perfectly ripe environment for branding, don’t you think?

When I grew up, the only branding I recall of fresh fruits was for Chiquita and perhaps Dole and/or Del Monte bananas, now almost every fresh fruit is branded and many vegetables too, but how many of the brands are memorable while not being too corporate or boring?

Maybe it’s just me, but there is something very special about the Cherubs, Cuties, and Halos brand names — owned by three different and apparently unrelated companies, but each one, at least to me, has created some branding magic by inviting a whimsical personality, allowing for valuable emotional consumer engagement and loyalty:

cherubscutieshalos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the point of the value of a brand, I regularly place each of these little gems in the grocery cart, at least when I’m part of the shopping experience, and full disclosure, I’ve never bothered to compare price, I simply know from experience they are winners.

Having said that, just to complete the experiment to help make the business case for branding, I’ll probably compare prices between these little gems and the unbranded varieties, on my next visit, and I’ll get back to you on the premium price each probably enjoys.

What kinds of commodities do you experience and/or enjoy seeing as branded?

What best describes your work? Inexpensive? Cost effective? Robotic? Low budget? High volume?

Or, do you deliver excellence — unique, distinctive, valuable, sculpted, tailored, and handmade  solutions with your wealth of professional skill and expertise?

If your main focus is on delivering the lowest possible cost, you best be selling a commodity.

Creating and protecting valuable intellectual property is not commodity work for assembly lines.

So, what level of craft would you say was involved in creating this chocolate-flavored tagline?

Might the answer be different depending on whether you’re a marketing or trademark type?

At least from the perspective of a trademark type, “Handcrafted in Small Batches” is hopelessly and most certainly merely descriptive of chocolates (assuming it is not deceptive or misdescriptive), which explains why the registration symbol, in this case, signifies registration on the Supplemental Register as opposed to the Principal Register.

When it comes to protecting intellectual property, creative counsel with a handcrafted approach is required, especially when corners are cut during the creation of a merely decriptive tagline.

Any predictions on how easy it will be to move the “Handcrafted in Small Batches” tagline from the Supplemental Register to the Principal Register with this kind of reinforcing merely descriptive use?

Here’s to celebrating and rewarding the handcrafted creation and protection of valuable intellectual property assets, especially those made and protected in small batches, in 2014!

 —Aaron Keller, Managing Principal at Capsule

The pattern of our society evolving from agrarian to manufacturing to service economy has been identified by many authors (Joseph Pine and Joe Gilmore being my favorites). Now, the next economy has been predicted to be everything from the information economy, the digital economy, the experience economy and many others. No one will know until we can look back after a few decades, so until that time we should all enjoy ourselves and make some predictions. Here is my view and prediction on the basis for our next economy. 
 
Design has become the word people use to describe something that is better. Sounds simple, but better is not a commodity. Better means something deserves to earn more margin. So, those of us in the design community have started to connect the subject of design with higher margins for anything. Connecting the idea of design thinking with a better product, name, logo, package, web site, or customer experience. Anything can be designed and my view is the defining element is whether someone put deliberate and thoughtful time into considering the audience, use and context.
 
The audience gets a fair amount of attention from segmentation of mass audiences to ethnographic studies of social groups. Use also gets a fair amount of attention, but likely isn’t as understood. How something will be used is hard to predict, consider all the uses of duct tape today, the original designer certainly didn’t consider their tape would be used to make fedora hats and wallets. Of these three, context is the least understood and leveraged. But, with all that is happening in mobile marketing the attention is coming soon to a location near you. The right consideration of these three results in something "designed." Why is this the case?
 
Design originates with architecture and the design of buildings. This kind of heritage means the discipline of design considers the long view. This kind of thinking has to consider use, context and audience. This kind of thinking doesn’t work as well with disposable, temporary or short term. This kind of thinking makes things better. And, as we know, just a bit better can be a really good thing in an economy where everything is being forced into a commodity position. 
 
Design thinking is better. The more things designed the better we will be. Consider the design of everything.
 
Design a better economy.