Monday, April 26, 2010

The Power Of Cult Branding

I came across this book back during my internship at Alliance Credit Union. My manager had it on her desk and was in the middle of reading it. She said it was good and so it found it's way onto my reading list. Eventually, I got the book as a present and it stayed on my shelf for a couple years. I'm sure this sounds all too familiar. And, just like all those other books, now that I've read it, I can't believe it took me this long to get to it. You'd think I'd learn...

The Power Of Cult Branding was written by Matthew Ragas and Bolivar Bueno. They set out to find out why some brands had a cult-like following while other brands struggled to be recognized. Similar to Built To Last and Good to Great by Jim Collins, they pick 9 companies to study. As you read each of these names, you'll probably have a similar experience I did: you'll recognize all of them, and for at least a couple, feel good towards the brand. The companies are:

Oprah Winfrey, The Volkswagen Beetle, Star Trek, World Wrestling Entertainment, Jimmy Buffett, Vans Inc., Apple Inc., Linux, and Harley-Davidson

The book starts off with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They found that each company focuses on the high-level needs of the pyramid while at the same time fulfilling lower-level needs. How do they do it? The book identifies 7 properties each company shares. The following (which can be found in the last chapter of the book) are those properties, and questions you can ask yourself to help your brand become more cult-like (in a good way, of course).

7 Cult Brand Properties
  1. Consumers want to be part of a group that's different
    • How is your company's product or service already different from the competition?
    • What are some ways you can make your product or service stand out even more from the rest of the marketplace?
    • List your craziest ideas for product differentiation.
  2. Cult brand inventors show daring and determination
    • What is the biggest branding-related risk your company has taken in history? In the past year?
    • What's a marketing idea that your company has decided was too risky to pursue? Does it challenge conventional wisdom?
    • Write down your brand's marketing failures. Be honest. Learn from them.
  3. Cult brands sell lifestyles
    • Is your brand fun? Does it make your customers happy and make them feel good about themselves? List everything fun about your brand.
    • What are the passions and dreams of your customers? How can your brand help fulfill these wants?
    • What is the lifestyle your customers are really seeking?
  4. Listen to the choir and create cult brand evangelists!
    • Does your company really listen to the feedback and suggestions of it most loyal followers? What are they saying? List them.
    • Customers want to be appreciated. How do you reward your best customers?
    • What are new ways you can show your customers that you "listen"?
  5. Cult brands always create customer communities
    • How do you communicate and stay in touch with your customers? Newsletter? Mailing list? Fan festival?
    • What are new ways you can create a "sense of community" around your brand?
    • Cult brands always give back. What are some organizations and causes that your customers would love to see your brand support?
  6. Cult brands are inclusive
    • Is your own brand already open and inclusive - or have you focused only on targeting ideal customers segments? Why?
    • Cult brands help fulfill deep human needs that customers of all backgrounds share. What human needs can/does your brand fulfill?
    • How can you take the human needs you just identified and make them even more intertwined and visible within your brand?
  7. Cult brands promote personal freedom and draw power from their enemies
    • Does your company's brand provide your customers with feelings of freedom and liberation from "the system"? How? List them.
    • Is your brand experience consistent? Do you take advantage of your brand's nostalgia? How can you improve in both of these areas?
    • Who is your brand's enemy? What is your brand fighting against for?

If you find these qualities interesting, and if you find your brand lacking these, I recommend reading this book. It gives great examples from each company on how they execute each one. The questions asked are geared more towards companies who already have a brand, but that doesn't mean you can't set your brand up this way from the beginning. I found it was a pretty quick read, and easy to follow. The last chapter's summary was really helpful too. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Do You Care What Other Peope Think?

Here is a book I've had sitting in my library for a couple of years: What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard Feynman and Ralph Leighton. I read Feynman's first book, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and loved it. He is so smart, yet had a great sense of humor which leads to some pretty entertaining stories. My friend, Brian, who gave both books to me thought I would enjoy them, and I definitely did. We've had our share of crazy adventures, and so we both identified with some of the craziness (imagine two boys in middle school walking around, in the city's underground storm drain pipes, just looking for interesting items. Or attemping to roller blade, for the first time, on a hilly road while sharing one pair of protective gear. Or trying to hide a massive hole in a garden with plywood. Or later using the same plywood to build a fort which we spent a grand total of ONE night in because it was too large to keep.) We're definitely not on the same level as Feynman, but we probably had as much fun.

Anyways, the first book focused on Feynman's more crazy stories. He shares lots of his pranks and adventures as a kid, as well as some of his goofy stories while at Los Alamos. The second book is broken into two parts: Stories and letters from when he was older and his experience with the challenger shuttle. For example, one of his interesting stories happened while traveling in Geneva, Switzerland. He was looking for a hotel to stay at for a Physical Society meeting he was attending. Unfortunately all the hotels in the area were booked. So, Feynman decided to stay at a place called Hotel City. It's the type of place that only as a door way on the street and a cloth divider for you personal room. They don't even take reservations! He said he had a blast staying there. They were blown away that a professor would be with them. And every time he got a message, they would race to his room to let him know. As far as he was concerned it was great. Even though the bedspread had a few holes, the place was clean and the people were friendly.

The second half of the book focuses on the Challenger explosion. After the Challenger exploded, Feynman was asked to be part of a commission to find out why the accident happened and make recommendations on how to fix it. Feynman was the one who broke the story about the O-rings not expanding properly because of the cold weather (the picture is of his experiment at a press conference). He also found many other organizational issues that could potentially lead to all sorts of problems. Throughout the whole story, he talks about how he wandered around just talking to people about what they did. The amazing part to me is how he retained information and was able to put the pieces together.

If you're looking for an entertaining biography, this series is a fun read. You'll want to start out with the first book, and it's well worth your time.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Touchdown Alexander

I recently read a surprisingly good book: Touchdown Alexander, an autobiography by Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks. I won the book in a drawing at our church. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of physical books that I didn't explicitly pick, but I thought I'd give this one a go during our 30 hour bus drive down to San Felipe, Mexico.

It started out kind of slow, beginning with Alexander's childhood, but then picks up when he starts college. Half the book follows his football career and the other half follows in walk with God. My expectation when I started reading it was that it would be a ho-hum story about a guy who became a celebrity and managed to NOT lose his faith. Instead, I discovered a man who has the type of deep relationship with God I desire. Throughout his life, God is always talking to him. I'm sure God is always talking to each of us, but Alexander is really paying attention. Let me give a couple examples.

Alexander tells the story of one of his best college football games. To him, the game itself is a blur. The touchdowns and success came easily to him. Instead, he remembers coming up with his life verse right before the game: "Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of our heart" (Psalm 37:4). Alexander realized that his success had nothing to do with him and that it was all enabled by God.

Another story was with his girlfriend, Valerie, who later became his wife. When they started dating, he had a dream warning him of being too physical. It turned out that Valerie had a similar dream. So, both of them decided to not even kiss before they got married. I mean, I'm impressed about the no kissing part, but I'm blown away by how he was able to pick up God's message.

Finally, one summer Alexander wanted to sit around and just hang out with his family since he hadn't seen them in a while. However, God had other plans in store for him. Alexander was constantly asked to got to an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) leadership camp. Even though he didn't want to go, he finally realized that God wanted him to be there and went. That trip turned into a lifetime of service for Alexander. Today, he has his own foundation, The Shawn Alexander Foundation, with a mission to "empower young men through education, athletics, character programs, and leadership training; inspiring them to reach their full potential as the mentors and role models of the next generation." It would appear that Alexander is managing his finances pretty well.

There are stories like that all throughout the book. If you're looking for inspiration on how to live a Christian life while succeeding in your field of work, this is a great read. You won't find a broken person who fought his way back to being a moral man. Instead, he demonstrates how to consistently live for God from a little boy to adulthood. For someone, like myself, who has thankfully avoided a huge breakdown in life, this is an encouraging story.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Enjoy What God Has Given You

This is the final post of our finance series. Here are the others:

I started this post a while ago, but didn't finish it before we left for Mexico. Better late than never I supose...

We are God's managers. Recognizing this is very powerful. It frees us to take our eyes off "our" earthly possessions and live life with eternity in mind. The good news is that God wants us to enjoy the resources he has given us. There are four ways we can enjoy these resources.

First, you can take care of your family. You can rejoice in the goodness he has shown you and your family.

Second, you can rest and relax. Think about it, when you're able to relax, you're able to show that you trust that God is taking care of you.

Third, when you enjoy God's blessings, you bring Him glory. I think Ecclesiastes sums it up excellently: "Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him - for this is his lot. Moreover; when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart." (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NIV)

Fourth, we are to enjoy blessing people God puts into our lives to serve. Ultimately, we are to use what we have to benefit others. I'm not saying you need to give everything away, but God does want us to realize it's His stuff. Therefore, we need to be willing to let them go in order to help others.

On the flip side, there are 4 four thieves of joy. By over coming these, we will be able to better enjoy what God has given us.

When you worry about something, you're inherently not trusting in God. You are trying to think of ways to solve your own problems. Instead, when you do worry, think of that as a sign to trust God and pray. When you ask Him for help, you will get it and it will lead to peace and joy.

Comparing ourselves to others leads to one of two outcomes. We either think we're better (pride), or that we're worse (self-pitty). Neither one of these are good, or appropriate. Instead, simply be content with what God has given you. Remember: it's about you & God, not about you vs. everyone else.

You know how Scrooge became bitter because of his selfishness? That's because he was always on the defense to protect himself. Instead, be willing to sacrifice and share what you have. You will feel a joy that is uplifting and gratifying.

False Guilt
Sometimes we feel guilty for the things we have. As long as you earned them honorably and are managing your finances well, there's no reason to feel guilty. Instead, be thankful and give credit to God for your things. It will free you to fully enjoy the things you currently have.

Obviously, replacing these thieves it not a one-time, over night, transition. It's a moment-by-moment choice that takes time to develop.

So, this is the end of our finance series. If you're interested in learning more, I recommend checking out the series and going through it with some friends. Jessi and I found ways to improve how we manage our finances and feel more on purpose with our decisions.