An assessment of two identities

I loved the Avengers. Joss Whedon was able to capture the spirit of everything I remembered and made it great today. It’s like, well…it’s rough, isn’t it? He just got it. And it’s in this family of films Marvel Studios has brought out of the last few years that are just consistently very good to downright great. They’re on a roll.

So I was watching the movie again the other day, and what struck me most happened before the movie even started really rolling. The Marvel Studios intro identity starts playing.

Marvel Studios Identity
Marvel Studios Identity

It’s the flip roll we’ve all come to expect. It’s their legacy, their history. It’s the visual summation of the moments that make up the pattern of their brand. The energy builds, and the wordmark comes to life. Marvel, quite simply, is the sum of their experiences.

They get the idea of the pattern of the brand and they’re capitalizing on it. They’re changing and evolving from a world of paper and moire patterns into a world of 2.4/1 aspect ratios and motion-first thinking, but not giving up what makes them special or unique. As I’ve said here a number of times, your brand is the sum of all of the experiences you’ve created…whether you’ve intended to create them or not. Customer service, product experiences, targeted marketing — all of these add to the signal received by your customers on what you really stand for. Marvel took the approach with their identity of simply being. It feels like Stan Lee opening his arms wide saying “we’re everything you’ve always known and more.” So smart. And it just adds to my belief that they really just know who they are right now. The executives driving the creative know the pattern of the brand and intentionally know how to push it further. Identity, as you would expect, is the signal of something more than just the visual tag.

Now, let’s compare this against it’s major publishing competitor…whose new identity just sucks.

DC. Yeah, me too.
DC. Yeah, me too.

I’ve been looking for a reason to speak publicly about my disdain for the new DC identity for a while, and this is just a great springboard. You see, DC threw away everything they’ve been for fifty years to create an identity that’s aloof, overdesigned and out of place with the content. But my point isn’t aesthetic. Landor just created an identity that’s not borne of the pattern of their brand.

Let me explain.

The problem with the DC logo is that it doesn’t actually convey anything. The page curl is inherently skeuomorphic (meh), and the letters D and C are the least meaningful symbolic artifacts of what they are or do. The aspect ratio is built to do very little with other than tuck it up in the upper left hand corner where logos traditionally go to die.

But then, they have this idea of adaptation. You can can read more about it over at DesignWeek. Now, being a part of the story that’s being told? Very modern. Absolutely with you. But you have to be something to be a part of the story that’s being told as well. The DC identity is reductionist to the point of being a blank slate (as Chris Claremont like to say, a tabula rasa).  And, as such, dressing up to match a bit of everything DC does actually just reinforces that DC doesn’t stand for anything. There’s nothing additive about it. In fact, there’s nothing there of any character at all. It rips the soul out of DC.

Does this all mean that I don’t want to see Man of Steel, or don’t have an interest in whether or not the Batman movies will continue on? No, not really. But it does certainly mean that I don’t trust DC to know how to bring a coherently exceptional experience to the screen. And that we’re likely rushing headfirst into a range of movies they’re in production with that will likely either be soup de jour or of rambling quality. Green Lantern was crap. The last couple of Superman movies have done their very best to define mediocrity. The brand isn’t able to establish the foundation and springboard of a coherently excellent experience. You might argue — rightly — that the outcomes represent leadership qualities rather than those of the brand,but maybe my real point in this is that leadership creates the identity, and that identity is merely symbolized through the visualization process.

DC appears to be only in it for the buck. Marvel feels like they’ve got a series of stories to tell the world.
And that’s something you just get from how they express themselves.

Google+, and why you can’t count it out yet

The recent news of Google+ falling from grace isn’t surprising. There’s a novelty play that was involved and nothing creates demand like limiting supply. Once anyone could get in, the novelty wore off and demand and engagement fell to normal levels.

End of the world? Not so fast.

My friend Tony used to always tell clients thinking they’d build a wildly successful community, “there are seven destination web sites on the internet…and you don’t have one of them.” It’s a way of resetting expectations. Stop thinking about the “build-it-and-they-will-come” strategy…that died in the 90s (but, for some reason, people’s goals haven’t — that’s a post for another time), and start thinking about fishing where the fish are.

News flash, everyone: GOOGLE IS ONE OF THEM.

Fishing where the fish are is a lovely, colloquial way of saying that you should leverage the social infrastructure. Find people where they’re acting, doing, interacting and serve up value to them at that time without trying to disrupt and redirect. Smart marketers jumped on this, and brought their brand to the point of need. Which, by the way, is precisely why Google+ is going to be a permanent part of their ecosystem: to drive interconnected value and make more of the whole than the sum of its parts. It is its own social infrastructure, and with Google+ now it acts that way. Continue reading Google+, and why you can’t count it out yet

Welcome to the ecosystem economy

Wow. Just, wow. Extremely succinct and extraordinarily well written. Vincent Wong just posted this on Google+ about, well, Google+.

Read this. Now.
What Google+ is really about

There are a few truths in this that you should pay attention to:

First, there are a series of services that you don’t want to compete with as these represent the Social Infrastructure. So don’t build another Twitter, or another Facebook. Trying to replicate an already large and thriving population is like suggesting your new logistics company should make its own roadways in order to be as efficient for their trucks’ tires. Not sensible. Not at all. Continue reading Welcome to the ecosystem economy

Coherence over consistency

Excellent conversation tonight with the Method guys at the 10×10 discussion on “Brands As Patterns.” Marc and crew hosted a small roundtable to talk about the implications of the digital age on brands, identity and what it means to define something that’s really hard to wrap your head around: we’ve moved from a world where brands exist as singular expressions that are replicated over and over and over again. Brands that don’t meet you halfway aren’t trying hard enough, and can’t be relevant because they don’t (or won’t, or CAN’T) adapt.

But the implication of this is HUGE. We have entire industries built around following guidelines, reading rule books, implementing standards. Which is odd, of course, because we hire creative agencies but then ask them to restrict their creativity. So that’s not the path to success. But what’s the alternative? Freedom? ANARCHY? No, that’s clearly not going to work for any brand of substance because nothing will add up to an image, an idea or the brand’s truth. Read on, and let’s make something that matters.


A brand is the sum of every impression left in the minds of people, and every action works to be more lasting or less relevant. Success requires both excellence and alignment, and sets the stage for an “open source revolution” in experience design.

Rethinking what defines a brand

I titled this blog Branding By Being back in the day as I was thinking through the possibilities for active branding at Digitas, and how brands in the digital age needed to do more and say less. But on the other side of the brand transformation for HP, an additive view has popped up: the premise that brands aren’t about what they say, or about what they do today…in truth, it’s all these plus the honest truth of everything a brand is. In a somewhat Kantian way, brands are, simply, being. You might intentionally be about the sports athlete, or you might inadvertently be about run-down strip malls. But you are what you are. And certainly not always what you intend to be. No one at BP wanted to be where they are today. And LeBron’s handlerswould have loved for the fourth quarter(s) to play out differently. But these brands are what, where and who they are.

Brands are the sum of everything they say and do. A proper brand strategy should act as a filter and driver of all that a brand says and does. But this misses something. Actually, brands are the sum of everything they say and do. And are. They are the summation of the entire existence of a company. Because everything matters. By implication, of course, this also means you really can’t “reinvent” a brand unless you intend to make radical changes to every facet of the organization; you can’t change the past, and you can’t reinvent the sum of all of the activities that ever have been. But you can define a new brand intention, and change the behaviors of the entire organization to revolve around that intent. That’s both hard and non-optional. A brand strategy is necessary but insufficient. It must be coupled with an intentional organizational change. The summation of all of the activities of the organization either represent the company you intend to be or they don’t. But the being of your organization — the sum average of every interaction — is what you stand for.

You might leave a mark on this world, but is it lasting?

Not your past, but your path

I quite love Marc Shillum’s piece at Method on Brands as Patterns. The story about coherence across touchpoints is one we’ve talked about at length. Brands aren’t singular or timeless, they’re temporal and in context of a given engagement. The best brands adapt to context to drive relevance, and those that do leave a greater impression that lasts over time. Your brand is leaving an impression, but is it the one you wanted and will it last? Continue reading Being