Monday, August 23, 2010

KBR Technology Assumes a Brand of Distinction – and Distinctiveness.

The new brand [or sub-brand, to be precise] for KBR Technology was born when two concepts came together in my mind. First came how the client described her business unit:

KBR Technology is a distinctive global business whose core technologies have significant impact on the productive success of industries, people and countries.

The second was seeing a major work called “Needle Woman” by Korean artist Kimsooja at the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston. In this video installation, the videographer stands utterly still, her back always to the camera, while crowds of people flow by, around and past her.

Her crowds are different from segment to segment; they are ordinary people on the streets of Nepal and Cuba, Chad and the Yemen, Brazil.

KBR Technology’s current and potential customers are in markets in the Middle East, India, China and the rest of Asia – not in Western Europe or North America. The crowd idea allows for the clearest possible contrast for the business unit among companies with similar profiles and “products.”

[KBR Technology licenses technologies which are just as cutting-edge as laser guidance or optical interconnects; but they’re far more focused on the basics of process industries. You will not frequently notice the application of advanced techniques in the more efficient production of ammonia, for example; or in improved ethylene and propylene yields. But for the world’s developing and expanding economies, these produced materials are the building blocks of new and vital societies. These technologies measurably improve the lives of people everywhere and are real examples of a successful global knowledge economy.]

Beyond the rapid business booms and the towering new skylines in so many far reaches of the world, there are the people - always.

So Part 1 is our “world photography” that puts the new sub-brand into a distinctive context, increasing differentiation from the KBR corporate look itself. On the top level, this business unit’s communications feature vivid color, movement…and life, culture after culture.

Part 2 is the contrast (in the ads, at least) with the individuals who offer the technologies. It is not only the corporate entity or business unit which delivers the know-how – it comes via KBR’s own people. A brand has the opportunity to refer to the total experience of an organization. So each combined photo-set can help form the mental picture stakeholders will have of KBR Technology. (Brand voice here is quintessentially visual.)

The repeating headline, Part 3, begins to make the brand package more concrete. KBR Technology is the global company that literally helps put the “HOW in Your World” with specific technologies and processes. These capabilities help customers reach out beyond each plant perimeter to the peoples of their society at all levels.

Then the expanded tagline, KNOW-HOW DELIVERED, ties everything back to the KBR corporate slogan. That’s Part 4.

Well, you know it is never so simple except in hindsight. Even in a sub-branding program there are many moving parts and many people helping to make the concept come true. For the initial steps, getting the new brand up and running, let me first mention and thank my frequent collaborators at Prism DesignTerry Teutsch, Stacy Allen and Susan Reeves.

None of this would look and feel as good as it does without the Prismatics’ touches from the get-go – colorful, dramatic and specific.

And my maximum appreciation goes to the KBR Technology client who has been supportive of the creative and incredibly capable in rolling out the brand internally. She has never been shy about her feelings; at one point, she emailed:

Just a quick note to say thank you. The work is terrific.

Can’t beat that.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New United Airlines Brand Means Huff and Puffery.

The headline is PR puff: “...a more modern look, reflective of the world's leading airline.” Then yesterday's press release about United Airlines' new logo and brand look continues:

The new logo displays the combined company's brand name in capital letters (UNITED) in a custom sans-serif font, joined with the global mark which has represented Continental's brand image since 1991.

A corresponding update of the combined airline's aircraft livery will adopt Continental's livery, colors and design, including its blue-gold-white globe image on the tail, combined with the new-style UNITED name on the fuselage.

It's workman-like enough. Very clean. Very blue. Bo-ring. But you don't have to suffer my opinion, read what Armin has to say on the Brand New blog, paying particular attention to this lead thought: “So how can these two identities come together? Well, rather painfully.” (It goes on concisely from there.) Furthermore, that's designer Saul Bass stabbed in the back again: first the Girl Scouts, now the United “tulip.”

Maybe this is lack of courage, brand-wise. Maybe the merged airline is trying to distract us from the miserable experiences of commercial air travel in the early 21st Century. Or it's a bizarre corporate reference to JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater.

You mark my words – there're going to be case studies about this “merger of equals” and its revamped trade dress. For the life of me, though, I can't imagine why.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Mad Tex to Mad Gringo: Extra Thanks for the Nickname.

You may suppose that the Signalwrite brand is effortless to maintain. On the other hand, you might correctly suspect that my arresting tropical attire (so central to who I am as a marketing professional these days) is top secret.

There is no secret, except a highly valued network of shout-out-loud aloha shirt creators and suppliers that have lent their retail skills to my own business brand-building effort. One of those is Greg Chambers, the “Mad Gringo” of the headline. At least one blog post over the past few years has mentioned his company, Mad Gringo Go Slow Clothing. The Mad Gringo has a philosophy and it is written thusly:

We all have a Mad Gringo deep down inside. He’s pissed about the traffic. The stress. The ties you have to wear. He’s telling you to chuck it all and go sleep on a beach in Mexico. Or Brazil…Vow to watch more sunsets. And if you can’t go slow, at least go slower.

These are true words. Marketing words. Massively sensitive for a guy who’s had to establish his business in the oddly non-tropical paradise of Omahahu.

Now Mad Gringo has given me two gifts (for filling out a survey whose results you can view here, though honestly the results look a bit wonky to me).

The first is a wonderful new high-quality T that arrived today in its own MG-branded burlap bag. It’s Mad Gringo’s commemorative Lava Lava volcano T in a soothing color that’s simply perfect for sitting out in those balmy Gulf of Mexico breezes we get down Galveston way…around about November. (Super customer relations, too.)

The second gift is a nickname. The casual exuberance with which this nickname appeared, written simply above the street address on the post office mailing label, has touched me heart.

I’m having an extra pinot grigio cooler this evening to celebrate these presents. Thank you, Mad Gringo, from the bottom of Mad Tex’s heart.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Buy Alabama’s Best but Not If It’s Beer. Is That Official?

This stuck-off-in-a-corner poster still caught my eye when I stopped in the Alabama State Welcome Center on I-20, on the way back to Houston. (See, dear colleagues – marketing can attack no matter how unexpected the venue.)

Why, I turned to the otherwise lovely woman in charge of the making visitors feel welcome, was there no beer in that poster? Alabama-brewed beer?

The look on her face when she repeated the word “Beer?” didn’t need much interpretation. I feel as though I barely escaped from that center unburnt-at-the-stake. It is possible I misunderstood her reaction. But you know, last time I looked beer is not only a “product,” it’s even the direct result of agricultural produce…along with talent, perseverance and creativity.

I am sure that Commissioner Ron Sparks and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, along with Alabama Grocers Association President Ellie Taylor, are doing their dead-level best to promote George’s Old-Time Barbecue Products and Golden Flake Snack Foods. You can see the whole list of Buy Alabama’s Best (BAB) members right here and I’ll bet they are good people, every one of them.

The brewers are not on this list.

An actual Alabama brewpub such as Montgomery Brewing Company, which I blogged about here, may not qualify; as far as I know the brewpub makes its beers for on-premise consumption only.

But please let me just mention [1] Huntsville’s Old Towne Brewing Company, whose beers I have not yet sampled, and [2] Back Forty Beer Company in Gadsden (ditto). Also [3] Birmingham’s Good People Brewing, the under-2,000-barrel/year brewery whose products are pretty darn tasty. All the products seem to be available at various restaurants and pubs throughout the state.

Shoppers can actually buy these (though the purchases might have to be consumed on site, tsk tsk).

Without meaning to provoke, let me put the marketing questions to Sparks and Taylor: Why no Alabama beer in your promotion materials – or in fact in your entire BAB program?

One random fact: the Brewers Association notes that sales volume at craft brewers climbed 9% in the first half of this year, during which the US beer industry’s total sales volume fell 2.7%. That, ladies and gents of the BAB, is “craft brewers” like product-makers 1, 2 and 3 named above. They are making fine beers. Riding a wave of popularity. And having to do most of the work using their own funds and their own fans.

Alright. There are difficult demands placed on state ag departments at the best of times. Plus, marketing locally made products against the tide of national consumer brands and heavy advertising budgets is no picnic. But don’t miss the opportunity to tap into a great fan base. Include brewers in the Buy Alabama’s Best marketing campaign.

Please direct just a little state-supported love to advertising and selling Alabama beers.

PS: Signalwriter is in Texas and can’t be fully tuned-in on Alabama’s beer market. One of you “experts” is welcome to guest-post here about the status of craft-beer marketing in the Heart of Dixie. Please ignore, for the moment, the 10+ Alabama wineries whose bottled products also don’t appear in the photo above.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Don’t You Get No Ugly Tractor. Buy a Purdy Kubota.

That’s the headline on a billboard south of I-20 as we drove through Tuscaloosa. It was charming. Imagine the dealer offering that part of Alabama a play on words. “Purdy” had to be the name of the dealership! And at 70 mph, the headline was all we had time to see, along with the photo of a fine-looking orange tractor.

Sadly there’s no Purdy in Tuscaloosa. Not selling Kubota tractors. I fooled myself looking it up: there is a Purdy Tractor and it’s in Hillsdale, MI. Silly Richard. I thought (briefly) MI = Mississippi. Well NOT. This Purdy is in Michigan and offers New Holland Equipment.

I think the briefly seen “Purdy” outdoor must be from Tuscaloosa Tractor, a completely different dealer selling Kubota and Bush Hog products in that neck of the woods for more than 20 years. Too bad. I’d like to have [a] the pun be true and [b] gotten a photo of the billboard to show you. Not to be, though, not at that 70 mph driving speed.

There’s room for beauty and humor in equipment advertising…and therefore no ugly tractors. Anyone in that part of Alabama in a position to send me a picture of this ’board?

Message from Alabama: August 17, 2010

“Yes, it is our billboard sign,” sent Tuscaloosa Tractor Office Manager Robin Jarvis. “Purdy is how one of our salesmen says pretty. We thought it to be comical.”

Not too bad: I only got [a] the headline and [b] the photo slightly wrong. Thank you, Ms Jarvis.