Tag Archives: branding

A Re-Branding of Sorts Success Story

Now that Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) has been out of the news for several months since the airing of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s snippets of sermons, the church has undergone a successful public affairs rebranding – or udpated brand – under enormously complicated conditions.  This updated brand, not the controversy created by national politics, is the real story of TUCC.

The attention, criticism, exxageration and sometimes lies directed against the church came at a very delicate time for TUCC.  Rev. Otis Moss III, a passionate and smart young pastor with a growing national following was selected to succeed Rev. Wright after 30+ years leading TUCC.  During Wright’s tenure, he oversaw the church expand to a huge facility and grew its membership to over 5,000 members.  More than that, Wright and TUCC established its reputation, theological positions, focused its issues and honed its style as a leading church on Chicago’s South Side.

Rev. Otis Moss III

Rev. Otis Moss III

The transition from Wright to Moss would be difficult and complicated but it also came exactly when the attacks against Wright and TUCC were at its highest.  The Chicago Tribune reported on the trying times Trinity experienced in a recent article.

Through all the adversity and uncertainty (see the Trib. article), Moss was also given the opportunity to take what Wright had built and continue and expand its ministry.  This is an enormous task considering the gap between Wright’s fingerprint on TUCC and the fresher, younger vision Rev. Moss brought to the church.

And while the Obama relationship with Wright and TUCC made life at the church difficult, it made Moss’ job of implementing some changes and taking the church in new directions even harder.  Moss was too busy tending to the immedate scrutiny brought upon the church from the election.

Now, at the start of 2009, about two months after the election ended, TUCC is well on the way to a successful brand update.  Just check out TUCC’s new website, it’s softer, more inviting color scheme and it’s use of audio and online video to reach people.  From a communications standpoint, Moss and his transition team have sent the message that the church is not going to be dominated by one man’s legacy (Wright) and it will be first and foremost a welcoming house of worship with a distinct faith mission.

Moreover, Trinity has gotten its blog started and is on the way to building compelling and regular content.

Moss was also able to use the election crisis to his advantage, to help instill the core values he saw that will guide the church.  I know Moss wanted to bring the church back to concentrate on very localized issues.  He capitalized on the crisis through a “circle the wagons” strategy by keeping members of the press out of the church and asking congregants to refrain from talking to the press.

What has Moss and his staff have accomplished in a very short time is quite remarkable.  Brands often take a long time to define and existing brands are usually hard to alter.  I think Moss has hit the right balance of good listening (to his church members and others), building on existing TUCC strenghts, responding well to crises and knowing his own strengths, style and leadership capabilities.

Moss was able to succeed in altering TUCC’s brand because he recognized TUCC would have to “walk the walk” before he could declare Trinity had a different image.  The changes Moss made and stuck to were not cosmetic.  They were changes in how TUCC carried out ministry as well as adjusting its focus.

Full disclosure: I met and know Pastor Moss when I worked in community relations and maintain relations with members of the church who helped put the church’s new communications program into practice.

Russ Feingold Defining Progressive

I’ve admired Russ Feingold ever since I was an undergrad at UW-Madison (though I interned for Sen. Herb Kohl).  He’s one of the few political figures that carries ethics to the highest standard and who is not afraid to say and do what he believes is right, many times crossing party lines.  Sure, lots of political leaders say that but many don’t act on it.

Sen. Feingold is the leader of the U.S. progressive movement, particularly appropriate since he comes from the state that prodced the founder of the Progessive Party led by Bob La Follete.

Bill Moyers interviewed the Wisconsin senator this week..  Though I am not a huge Moyers fan, I think Russ Feingold was vintage Russ Feingold.  After a period of remaining out of the spotlight due to the election, Feingold reminded me of the integrity and vision political leaders ought to have guiding them through service.

In particular, I admire Russ for “walking his talk.”  He has been a consistent advocate on important issues, such as election reform, protecting the Constitution and foreign affairs.  I don’t agree with all of the senator’s positions.  But, in a political climate that often demands horse-trading and reshuffling positions, Sen. Feingold has been remarkably true to his brand.

He was the lone vote against the Patriot Act, opposed the Iraq War, sponsored the McCain-Feingold election reform legislation and sponsored a motion to censure President Bush for illegal wiretapping.  His instincts to act swiftly and for what is right is almost unparalleled in Washington.

In the Moyers’ interview, Sen. Feingold is asked about the progressive movement.  He states:

But we also have a commitment to clean government, to open government. That’s what “Fighting Bob” La Follette was all about. And some of the major reforms in the history of the country in terms of ethics, in terms of unemployment compensation, in terms of child safety laws, were all part of that great progressive movement that was started in the late 19th century and early 20th century in Wisconsin. And by the way, progressivism in Wisconsin also means fiscal responsibility. So it’s an interesting twist. But that is sort of some of the things that have gone into this belief, that we don’t like government to be involved unless it has to be. We believe in people’s liberties and their freedom. But sometimes, government has to step in, in order to make sure the community is working together.

This reminds me a lot of the modern libertarian movement and moderate Republican and moderate Democratic positions.  It’s interesting that this platform is referred to as progressive.  I think the attractiveness of progressivism, as Feingold defines it, is ironically the reasoned and moderate positions that govern its ideology.  More so, because Feingold identifies with this “progressive camp,” he is less burdened with political games that so often influence political decisions at the highest levels of government.

As an aside, I’ve observed many political candidates espousing far left political positions that call themselves progressives.  Knowing Russ Feingold’s positions, it is unfortunate that the word progressive has been hijacked so many times to mean something other than its original intent.  But, more on this topic for a future post.

Now in terms of social media, I think Sen. Feingold is quite good but has some room for improvement.

He maintains a blog, which is great, but those posts are all recycled articles that he’s published elsewhere and is reposting on his blog.  It’s ok to recycle material, but sometimes he simply must use his blog to comment on important political issues and speak directly to the public.  He can’t just use media releases to do that.

Next, Sen. Feingold must get on Twitter.  This social network is becoming such an important place for conversation and information exchange, that for him to be left out of this space, he is missing a huge opportunity.

Surprise? Tribune in Ch. 11

News of the Tribune Co.’s bankruptcy this morning was hardly surprising.  In fact, I was most surprised to see the Tribune simply mentioned when I went to the NYTimes website this morning just because  I can’t recall the Times ever referring to the Tribune for anything.

The Tribune joins the Chicago Sun Times in financial trouble, calling into question whether America’s third largest city will cease to have any, let alone two, major daily papers.

This got me thinking, how has the Tribune gotten into this financial mess?

Horizontal Growth

Over the course of many years, the Tribune has acquired other media entities, including newspapers (L.A. Times), T.V. (WGN) and radio (AM 720 in Chicago).  For decades this seemed like a good move because TV, print and radio were simply the sources of information distribution.

I have a feeling that over time, the Tribune just got too big.  Plus, all forms of traditional media advertising, the way these outlets make money, have been hit hard simultaneously as ad budgets get allocated further away from print, TV and radio.  Enduring all these blows at once must have been crippling.

I think the reality that TV, radio and print really were not the same business, became very evident as the Tribune began falling.  On the surface, yes, they are all media and they all survive on advertising.  But beyond that, they are different businesses and it’s simply hard to be great at the newspaper business, and the TV business, and the radio business.  Scalability could probably be reached through owning many outlets within the same the medium – all print or all TV, for example.

Applying the Wrong Prescription

Then along came the Internet, and these weird things called blogs and social media began to undermine traditional media and steal audiences.  Instead of trying to adapt in this new online world though, the Tribune began making changes within its own pre-internet world.  For example, its answer to declining readership was to put a heavier emphasis on entertainment news.  It seemed as if some genius at the Trib read a marketing report saying that entertainment news is a hot seller, and so the Trib better start focusing on entertainment to gain back audience.  This only compounded the Tribune’s downward spiral into not just being in a business where the means of production and consumption were changing, but the paper also no longer did what it was originally good at – reporting the news.  More on that later.

By making all these costly changes – heavier focus on entertainment, layout changes, cutting out news sections, etc. – the Tribune was not addressing how people wanted to get their news and how the Tribune could continue being relevant to a changing readership.

They could have stopped and said, “hey look at the Huffington Post” (who just got $25 million in funding), “what makes the windycitizen blog a hit?”  They didn’t ask those questions obviously because their delivery style has not changed and there has been no attempt at changing it.  These new forms of journalism that feature more interactivity were key to these sites’ successes.

Moving Away from Tribune’s Core Business

In the last few years, I find it extremely hard to tell anyone what area of the news the Tribune really owns anymore.  Local politics?  I’d choose a host of blogs that provide stories that I follow via Twitter.  Business?  Crain‘s has the Tribune beat.  Sports?  Maybe.  But, I’d still take ESPN.com to get a fuller picture of what’s happening.

My point is, areas that the Tribune used to be great at, they no longer are.  When I get up each morning and look at the local news section of the Trib online, I see anywhere between 10 and 20 stories, of which about 3 are interesting.  International news?  The Tribune is a joke.  Regional news?  I don’t see them taking leadership on this either.  City politics?  There’s some decent coverage, but again, there’s more depth from someone like a Ben Joravsky at the Reader or the blogs that cover this.

What about the Tribune’s columnists?  That’s probably the biggest turnoff about the Tribune.

Think about the New York Times again.  People read the Times because of minds like Tom Friedman and David Brooks.  The only one at the Tribune worth their salt is John Kass.  Kass has proven he has the chutzpah to report on tough issues, call out people when he believes they’re wrong and he’ll stick with a story.

The others? Eric Zorn is soft and Mary Schmich is uninteresting.  And what’s with Dawn Trice?  Do we really need a columnist devoting their three to four days per week column to race relations?  If the Tribune should know anything about the next generation of readers, it’s that the Millennial generation is a post-racial generation in so many ways.

Prescriptions for Success

Here’s my recommendations to getting the Tribune back on track:

  1. Develop a real online strategy.  Give readers the news and give them control over how they get their news.  Let them rate articles to determine what goes on the front page, put up new pictures from the day’s news instead of the same photos week in and week out.  Also, the Tribune should show respect to bloggers and other smaller news outlets.   A little humility and cooperation might go a long way to engender some good cooperation between news sources.
  2. Invest in good minds, make things interesting.  Right now, I don’t see any debates happening from the Tribune between its columnists.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Trib featured two smart people with differing political views to take on issues in order to make its readers think and question their own assumptions?
  3. Be really good at something.  If the Tribune is cutting its DC staff or its international staff, ok…then cover local politics better than anyone.  Give us good reporting and full coverage, with pictures, videos, etc.  Then, cut out the stuff that you’re not good at.  If I wanted to read about entertainment news, I’d go to People or US Weekly.
  4. Downsize the scope of media ownership.  I think being as big as the Tribune is, has hurt the company.  Again, it can’t do everything great.  It should pick a core business and be the best at it.  Get out of the businesses that it doesn’t understand or is not good at.

The Wild Card

Sam Zell is no ordinary owner.  He’s one of the keenest business people in the world and he knows what he’s doing by bringing the Tribune into bankruptcy.  I think the paper will emerge one day in much better shape than it is today – I wouldn’t dare say profitable but I’d say not hemorrhaging money.  Zell has the business understandings to fix this complex problem.

Just a Good Move for a Chicago Newspaper

No, I’m bot talking about the Tribune.  I’m certainly not talking about the Sun-Times.

I’m talking about the Chicago Reader.  I’ve been a fan for many years.  They’re such a good place to let me know what’s happening in this city from a multitude of perspectives.  Plus, it says it in an intelligent way…which I interpret as a way of telling readers it respects their intelligence.  (BTW, Ben Joravsky is an awesome reporter).

Until tonight though I never really looked to connect to them online outside of their website.  But I’m so glad that the Reader asked people on their front page to check out their Flickr group.  I found a mecca of artistic and professional-level pictures of Chicago, covering all sorts of subject matter.

Image from lauren*o on Readers Flickr Group

Image from lauren*o on Reader's Flickr Group

It certainly made me feel like I was sharing an experience with the people who posted those photos and wiyh others that are viewing them.  Plus, I felt like the quality and range of pictures – from postcard shots to the nitty gritty of Chicago neighborhood life – really fits perfectly with the style of writing and coverage of Chicago by the Reader itself.

The two big papers in Chicago have been on their way down for years.  Both seem to be victim of the changing media industry.  Why have they been so vulnerable?  Well, maybe because the foundation of their papers weren’t that solid to begin with.  But more importantly, the value they bring current readers is little to none.

The Reader is interesting though.  They’ve held this unique position as a city-wide paper that has a great understanding of local life, that is of course reflected in their coverage.  And Flickr is such a perfect social media tool to enable the Reader to “walk” their brand’s “walk.”

The results, unscientifically of course, is a readership that is loyal and happy.  You can count on the weekly Reader to deliver on their promise to tell me what’s happening, give the Chicagoans’ local angle, and bring me stories that I effects my life.

Viral Success

Someone recently forwarded me the very well-executed viral video campaign by AARP.

What separates this from viral success from other viral attempts that fell flat? Andy Sernovitz, word-of-mouth guru, outlines some features that lead to successful viral campaigns:

1. It’s personal

2. It’s genuinely surprising

3. It’s easy to forward

4. It’s easy to forward to lots of people

5. It has a call to action

A call to action is the point of the viral campaign, such as selling product or, in this case, getting people to sign a petition. The difference between a viral stunt and a measurable word of mouth marketing campaign is a clear marketing objective that can be tracked.

I would also add two more features needed for vial success achieved here. First, for anything to be viral, it has to be entertaining. Just like OfficeMax’s Elf Yourself campaign last holiday season, in addition to it being very personal, it was also entertaining. AARP‘s video does the same here.

Second, AARP answers the crucial, “what’s in it for me?” question. The ability to personalize the video, as Andy points out, definitely reaches the “me” component. Everybody likes to see themselves – picture or name – made public for something positive. AARP allows the user to do this very easily.

What about AARP’s strategic public affairs purpose to this video? While I think the video is a good tool to encourage people to vote, it hardly presents AARP’s positions on important issues. But, the video does get a lot of people engaged with the brand and while leaving their emails behind.

From this election and described in my previous post, we know the value of a network or community. AARP, through this video, is able to increase the all-important email list, so when a crucial moment comes where they need you to contact your member of congress, they have massive outreach potential. By the way, the fun and easy use of this viral video definitely builds brand equity with AARP, making the next time they ask the public for their support, more likely to acquiesce.

Non-Profits Using Social Media

There’s a lot of blogs discussing the best practices of non-profits using social media.  I’ll try to use this post to offer something different.

First, I want to share a really good social primer written by Jocelyn Harmon, a non-profit marketer, that I recently used to guide me with a client.

What I can offer is possibly the way to think about non-profits’ use of social media.  Many organizations will see social media success stories and want to jump on the bandwagon.  That’s all good but I caution against using social media without an integrated approach.  Social media marketing is a great tool but it must be executed like any other media strategy.

That means there is no such thing as a social media campaign.  Social media is an ongoing activity for the long term.  Community building takes time and for your audience to be active and respond positively to your social media outreach, organizations have to build trust and must demonstrate they are serious about using social media.  An organization cannot just open a Facebook page and say, “We’re here.”

Organizations have to ask:

-how can social media help us reach our marketing objectives

-how does using social media relate to our brand?

-how can we use social media to deepen engagement levels in areas that we are strong in and build our capacity in areas that we need work on?

Asking these big questions can help a non-profit use social media strategically.  Organizations who carefully plan and build their social media marketing will be the most successful.

Branding, Positioning and Targeting Political Campaigns

John McCain’s surprising pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate is an excellent example of his campaign’s branding adjustment. Critics might be picking apart Palin’s credentials and commenting on McCain’s choice, but McCain’s choice for running mate is a huge opportunity to shore up his brand.

Before the Palin selection McCain was floundering between his once clear brand image as a maverick willing to be independent and buck his own party and the brand image that he is closely aligned with President Bush. The Palin selection though sends a clear message that the McCain brand is more about being a maverick and independent above all else. Palin herself is known to have taken on the Alaska Republican party establishment and attempted to clean out corruption. Her own political choices have been unconventional and bold.

As a branding case study, I love McCain’s pick. The act of choosing Palin hearkens back to the McCain brand foundation as independent and following his convictions to do what is best – not always what is popular. Furthermore, Palin’s own political history reinforces the McCain brand image. Clearly it has thrown the Obama camp for a big loop. They’ll have to be readjusting their attack messages based on this pick.

The big question remaining though is how well McCain’s campaign can execute its positioning and targeting. Right now McCain’s positioning has shifted to go after women, independents and social conservatives. Going into the Republican National Convention, they’ll have to refine that positioning and start to target those audiences with the right messages. It’s too early to tell whether the McCain campaign is adept at doing this yet.

Speaking of executing the right positioning and targeting the right audiences with the right messages, I came across a really insightful blog post by Dane Morgan. Dane rightly points out that when blogs address issues that are out of the scope of the blog’s focus, we distort our positioning and risk alienating our readers. Our attention is getting pulled in so many directions that we have such a small window to deliver the right message – especially when readers are reading your blog for information on a particular subject. Staying on message, reinforcing brand attributes and targeting the right audiences is vital for communications success.

I’ll be sure that this blog lives that creed. Let’s see how it shapes up in presidential politics.

Presidential Politics and Online Branding

I recently received an email from Sen. John McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis asking me check out the new McCain campaign video, “Fan Club.” This 30-second spot mocks Sen. Barack Obama’s status as celebrity while sarcastically asking you to support Obama’s positions that would increase taxes and placing your faith in an inexperienced leader.

There are several problems with this approach. First, McCain has defined some of his opponents flaw but offers little (or nothing) in the way of his own ideas or policies. So, we walk away from this video knowing what McCain isn’t about…but not what he is about. In other words viewers are left asking, what are McCain’s brand attributes?

Second, pushing out the campaign’s newest 30-second spot reminds me a lot of the failed Giuliani primary campaign that used social media to broadcast, rather than engage his target audiences. The video’s landing page has no room for commenting, nor does it offer users to forward the video to a friend. All it does offer is for the user to sign-up. And even the most basic online user knows this simply leads to more one-way emails.

It appears McCain’s campaign team is ready to employ their own marketing tactics without first recognizing their brand. McCain has created the persona of independent-minded politics, doing what’s right – even it’s not popular – and having a clean image (campaign finance). Where are the tactics using these brand attributes?

The McCain team had better take a lesson from CPGs. Once they start competing on price, products become a commodity. Consumers will move on to the next product.

The good news for McCain is that there’s still enough time coming out of the conventions to get back in touch with the brand McCain has built over his Senatorial tenure.