A logo is not a brand

A brand is more than a logo.

You know what the Hyatt logo looks like but do you know what the Hyatt brand stands for? Does Hyatt know what the Hyatt brand stands for?

In a recent interview, Seth pointed out that if Nike opened a hotel, you’d be able to guess pretty accurately what it would be like. But if Hyatt came out with a sneaker, you wouldn’t have a clue.

But isn’t Hyatt a brand?

Hyatt doesn’t have a brand, they have a logo. Swap the logos on hotels at that price point and you couldn’t tell them apart. Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, whatever. There’s no difference, there’s no brand. A logo is not a brand.

What is a brand?

A brand is a distinct promise and set of cultural expectations. It’s shorthand for what to expect. And if that’s distinct, you’ve earned something. If it’s not distinct, let’s admit you make a commodity and you’re trying to charge just a little bit extra for peace of mind.

The problem that Hyatt and Hilton and Marriott and the rest have is sort by price. Because if I go online now to find a hotel, it’s really simple to sort by price. What other choice do I have?

So what’s the value of a brand?

The value of a brand is how much extra am I paying. If I’m not paying extra, you don’t have a brand. It’s not about social media or advertising. It’s not about growth, rating points or even conversions. It’s a lot deeper than that. A lot more human.

Where do you start?

You have to begin by undoing your preconceptions of marketing. The idea that marketing is selfish, that marketing is a scam, that marketing is this short-term interruption thing. Being a marketer is not an insult. It’s a compliment because what marketers do is make change happen.

Change for who?

We have to decide who we are seeking to change, who’s it for. I’m amazed at how often people don’t even consider this. They think they’re making average stuff for average people. And if they just yell about it enough then their Kickstarter will hit $19 million dollars. Which of course none of them do. The truly successful Kickstarter campaigns are a local bakery or a person trying to raise money for their charity. They’re very specific. They’re not general. They’re cultural.

Culture is important?

Culture defeats everything. If you’ve got culture at your back, what you’re doing is easy. If you’re trying to change culture, it’s difficult.

And what is culture?

Culture is people like us do things like this. How do we break that into pieces? Who are the people like us? What are the things like this? Human beings make decisions based on status. Not the status of I have a fancier car than you, although that’s part of it. But it’s really the status of who eats lunch first and the status of who’s moving up and who’s not moving up. Once you’ve decided who you are seeking to change, you can start to look at tactics.


Photograph of Seth Godin from an interview where he explains that if you want to build an important new brand, if you want to grow the brand, you cannot use old technique because we know they do not work anymore

‘If you want to build an important new brand, if you want to grow the brand, you can’t use old technique because we know they don’t work anymore.’ Seth Godin


Different marketing tactics?

Are you a brand marketer or a direct marketer? Because they’re fundamentally different things. Most people were brand marketers before the internet, but the internet rings a bell and says, if you’re a direct marketer, this is here for you. Marketing is more powerful than the assembly line was in 1925. Partly because we all have it. If you have a keyboard, you can touch the culture. What will you do with that keyboard? What will you do with that camera?

Isn’t it more brand marketing versus advertising?

There are direct marketing ads and there are brand ads. So it’s not the advertising that differentiates them. But you can’t measure brand marketing. That’s part of the way you tell the story of who you are. It’s this magic alchemy. You can measure direct marketing, you must measure direct marketing.

Direct marketing now is essentially Google and Facebook?

Google gets its revenue from people who are buying clicks that they measure. The reason Google make so much money is they sell the clicks for a nickle and if it works, they tell your competitors that they could buy it for six cents and so an auction takes place. So you’re making a little bit of money and Google’s making a lot. But you’re still okay with it because it’s better than making zero. The problem is that as we switch to this online world of direct marketing we have to realise the metrics of brand marketing aren’t appropriate and vice versa.

What does that mean?

It means if you’re an individual and you’re counting your Facebook likes or your YouTube views, you’re making a big mistake. Because if you treat it like direct marketing, you’re measuring the wrong thing. Those metrics are going to undermine your brand because we all know the best way to get a lot of clicks is to act like a porn site. Direct marketing on the internet is a race to the bottom because you’re just trying to get a few clicks from a few people dumb enough to pay you something.

What’s the alternative?

We need to race to the top. Use direct marketing when we should and brand marketing the rest of the time. When we think about the marketing that makes our culture better, it might have a little direct marketing piece to it. But mostly it’s a brand marketing exercise

What’s your thought on Nike and Colin Kaepernick?

Okay, there are a few things that need to be understood about Nike. The biggest one is that you’re not Nike, I’m not Nike. Number two, the vast majority of Nike’s present and future is overseas sales. So they’re showing up and they’re saying we’re not Puma, we’re not Adidas. We’re Nike. Well, you can’t say that by pointing to your sneakers because in a blind taste test the sneakers are all the same. It’s about something else. Colin Kaepernick is a signal. He’s a symbol, he stands for something and the other sneaker companies have been afraid to stand for what Colin Kaepernick stands for.

Isn’t that risky?

Of course it feels risky, but it was brilliant. Why? Because at the level Nike is playing now, the number of ways they can stand for something is very small and here - with just two words - they were able to stand with someone for something. It’s not easy for a brand to do something that singular. What if Seagram’s had done it, or a mattress firm or some other advertiser. It wouldn’t have worked because they don’t have the DNA. It would have been seen as a stunt.

But somehow natural for Nike?

Nike have been seeding the market from the beginning. If this is what the people at Nike truly believe, I have to applaud it because the kind of person that is decrying this isn’t their core audience. It’s not what they look like. It’s not their brand.

What should brands do to move forward?

The most important thing is to not worry about your logo, your slogan, your spokesperson. They’re wrapping.

What should brands worry about?

Worry about the substance. Worry about the work that matters for people who care. Find the people who care, find the smallest viable group you can live with. And figure out how to give them work that matters.

Can we talk about demographic versus psychographic?

They’re only used to be demographics. What kind of car do you drive? How old are you? What’s your income? You could buy all of those things from mailing list companies. But once the internet showed up, particularly Google but mostly Facebook, we could say, this is for people who like that. This is for people who dream of that. This is for people who believe this. Those are psychographics. It doesn’t matter what your skin colour is. It doesn’t matter what your income is. It’s what’s your narrative inside?

And old-school marketers talking about demographics?

They’re wasting their time. We need to understand that in every postcode there are people of almost every psychographic perception. And what we have to do as brand marketers is say it’s for you and it’s not for you. I didn’t separate you because of who your parents were. I separated you because of what you believe and what you dream of. If you want to switch what you believe and what you dream of, it might be for you.

How do I find out who my audience is online?

Okay, so let’s start with the data collection thing. Every time I go to Amazon, they rearrange the whole store for me. Every time I go to a regular bookstore, I’m frustrated because they don’t. What’s with all the cat books? I don’t like cats. Every time I’m coming in, just take all the cat books out of the store. They don’t do that for me. Amazon does. When this is done properly, people are happy. It’s being done for them, not to them.

And when it’s done improperly?

It’s when you get a phone call from your credit card company and they say, we noticed you’ve been going to a lot of singles bars and strip clubs. Here’s a coupon for free venereal disease testing. You don’t want that phone call because you didn’t ask for that engagement with them. It’s not about privacy. It’s about serving the company rather than the customer.

Serve the people, right?

I don’t think you have any business being a marketer unless you have empathy for the people you are seeking to serve.

What do you mean by empathy?

You know what I know. You want what I want. You believe what I believe. Here I made this, it might be for you. The best way to begin is to start with people who believe what you believe and want what you want. Do you know who those people are? Can you imagine them? Start there. You will find some people in that segment because you made it for you, right? If you love to surf and to be on social media then inventing the Hero camera is probably a good idea because you know what it’s like to be one of those people. Sony should have invented the Hero camera but they didn’t because they didn’t even know they were people like that.

How do you find people like that?

You can learn a lot by noticing. Why is there a line at the Supreme store? Why are people buying poke bowls right now? Why are people doing this? Why are people doing that? And those people? They’re also doing this which has nothing to do with that? They’re all doing it because there’s something those things have in common, a feeling, a sense. Our job as marketers is to suss out that feeling, make an assertion and then present it to those people.

Not spend a lot of time in focus groups?

Forget focus groups because people don’t know what they want. They just know what they dream of. Figure out how to be wrong on the way to being right. Make a series of assertions about where to go. Building a product to solve a personal need is great as far as it goes, but if you want to be a professional marketer, you’ve got to do it for somebody else’s need. And the way you do that is by gaining the empathy to imagine what it is to be in their shoes. You don’t have to be a woman to make pantyhose. You just have to be empathetic.

What about mission driven companies?

Blake at Toms shoes wanted to have a business that made money but also cared very much about the footprint he was leaving behind. So then yes, they can make coffee and they can make sunglasses and they can make the other things that they’ve tried to make because it’s not about shoes. It’s how do I get an early adopter of fashion who wants a story she can tell her friends to be able to buy a product, a story that’s going to have a more positive impact on the world than the one she’s currently buying.

Warby Parker?

Warby Parker don’t make a big deal of the fact that every time you buy a pair of glasses, they give one away. That’s not why they want you to buy a pair of glasses. What they’ve said is for the kind of person who has better taste than they have a bank account, how do we use the difference between what Luxottica would charge for these glasses and what we would charge for these glasses? There’s only 20 or 30 looks to choose from. That’s exactly how many the slightly insecure fashion-forward glasses shopper wants to look at. Warby Parker’s bet is that they can sell that person a new pair of glasses every three to six month. The psychographic is what’s baked in. They’re not running ads of people who live in foreign lands who don’t have glasses. That’s not their story. That’s not the story that resonates with the people they seek to serve.

The story is everything?

Advertising used to be easy and cheap, attention was cheap. Think about the phrase CPM - Cost Per thousand. You used to able to buy people’s lives a thousand at a time for pocket change on three major television networks. Since it was so cheap, what the hell, put a talking bear up to interrupt everyone and grab their attention. Crazy Eddy, surfing horses, whatever, it’s cheap. We’ll just try something else tomorrow. Now it’s not cheap anymore. It’s really expensive.

What the alternative to advertising?

Get 1,000 true fans, then 10,000 true fans. That’s enough to build a whole company to 100,000 true fans. That’s a home run. You’ve made it. Not millions and millions. 100,000. That’s it. Don’t goose them, don’t squeeze them, don’t hack them. Don’t level up on staff, don’t level up on spend. Put all of it into making what you offer better. Just make it better.

How do you decide on the guiding principles?

What you need to do is get clear about who’s it for and what’s it for. You have to be clear. Howard Schultz was clear. He said I need America to drink better coffee. And if that’s your mission, then yes, you need 19,000 Starbucks. Yes, you need to serve things throughout the day and night. Yes, you have to be okay with stale croissants because you can’t figure out how you get the supply chain. That all comes with I want all of America to drink better coffee.

On the other hand?

On the other hand, there’s a guy who’s got four coffee shops in New York City. He says I want to make better coffee period for people who want it. He works with people he cares about, his cashflow is positive, he does the craft he wants to do and it’s not someone else’s agenda because he’s not a public company and doesn’t want to be. Both are available.

Choose who you want to serve?

Be consistent. The mistake that happens is someone has four little coffee shops and say that’s what they want to do but then they keep compromising so they can have 18 coffee shops that are now pretty sucky. You have to be clear about what you really want.

And make it really personal?

If you want to build an important new brand, if you want to grow the brand, you can’t use old technique because we know they don’t work anymore. So what can you do to make a bigger impact? You can be obsessed with some people and make them so happy to hear from you they open your email, they call you on the phone, they wait in line for you to open, they tell their friends who tell their friends who tell their friends.

How do you start?

That begins with someone caring enough to have the grit to say we’re going to make good stuff not lousy stuff. We’re going to make it better.

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