Adventures in Branding

Mike in shades, 2016

Our small city of 135,000 has over 7,000 businesses, 5200 of which have between 10 and 100 employees. I can vouch for the friendliness of the people: hardworking, affable and unpretentious.

Is it a paradise for a business-friendly branding company like Graphic Design in Barrie?

I started this blog a few years back, mainly to comment on design issues and little else. Once my lovely wife and I began thinking about our move from Aurora – further north to Barrie – with the attendant risks and opportunities, more just came tumbling out.

As my Twitter profile says: One brand conscious gentleman takes on weighty issues like modern design, local / social marketing and boomers on the brink. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Click to Enlarge Your Social (Media) Circle

Here’s Brian Solis’ Conversation Prism a wheel of social media sites and opportunities, as Brian says, ‘the art of listening, learning and sharing’. Give it a click and a much larger and more legible image comes up that shows the real innovation behind this plus a surprising amount of information. I find it fun to look at the ones I know and use then see others that may be closely related that I have yet to try. A simply beautiful idea. And, of course, Brian’s a guru.

How to Think You Think Like Steve Jobs

John Lennon just took a nap:

“I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good. I was just sitting, trying to think, and I thought of myself sitting there doing nothing and going nowhere. Once I’d thought of that, it was easy; it all came out. No, I remember now, I’d actually stopped trying to think of something. Nothing would come. I was cheesed off and went for a lie down, having given up. Then I thought of myself as nowhere man, sitting in this nowhere land. ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing. The same with ‘In My Life.’ I’d struggled for days and hours, trying to write clever lyrics. Then I gave up, and ‘In My Life’ came to me. Letting it go is the whole game.”
As reviewed in FORTUNE — What separates the Steve Jobses and Walt Disneys of the world from the rest of us? And can you become one? Erik Calonius poses these questions in his forthcoming book, Ten Steps Ahead, in which Calonius describes how visionary ideas come to life.
Being a Mac guy I owe a lot to Steve Jobs and to John Lennon too, who put the beat to my generation (or did The Who do that?) as well as to a host of other creative thinkers. I love the idea the ‘letting go’ is part of it (whatever ‘it’ might be). But a step by step into becoming a creative genius… colour me sceptica.
With thanks to Nicholas Jones on Linkedin for alerting me to this article.

Ernst & Young Sees Big Pharma Embrace Healthcare Innovation, Playing Catch-up to Patients Driving Social Media

Paris, 15 February 2011 – Pharmaceutical companies are dramatically increasing their investments in new and innovative offerings to meet the demands of a patient-empowered, data-driven, outcomes-focused future in health care. In the last year alone, pharmaceutical company investment in smart phone apps, educational websites, social media platforms, wireless devices and other programs increased 78%, as companies embrace a role that goes far beyond developing and manufacturing products.

Taking action to build trust: The industry has seen its reputation decline in recent years.  But much of the activity in Pharma 3.0 will occur in communities such as social media, online networks, and patient and disease groups. These communities have their own rules of engagement – requiring openness, unbiased information, and a foundation of trust. Engaging with stakeholders in these Pharma 3.0 communities in ways that are transparent, unbiased and demonstrative of their intent to improve outcomes will go a long way toward helping rebuild trust. More from E&Y.
Follow Daniel Ghinn on Twitter.

1 in 5 find Social Media ‘healthful’

LINCOLN, Neb. – February 28, 2011 – One in five Americans use social media websites as a source of health care information, according to National Research Corp.’s Ticker survey, the largest, most up-to-date poll on consumer health care opinions and behaviors. Facebook topped the list, of course, but Twitter, which the organization calls ‘an emerging micro-blog site for business-to-consumer information’, came in 3rd, just behind YouTube. Amazing.

When asked about social media’s influence, 1 in 4 respondents said it was “very likely” or “likely” to impact their future health care decisions.

When asked about their level of trust in social media, 32 percent said “very high” or “high”, only 7.5 percent said “very low”.

Of all this I find the Twitter reference to be the most interesting. It’s not immediately apparent how a tweet limited to 140 characters can influence one’s health decision, but as a ‘point-to-article’ and ‘follow-the-guru’ informer, its influence in healthcare is now undeniable.

In true ‘follow-the-guru’ fashion, I submit and thank my two Twitter informers for pointing me to the National Research findings, Daniel Ghinn @engagementstrat (Healthcare Engagement Strategy Awards) and Jackie Cohen @Jackie_Cohen (All Facebook All The Time). Thanks go as well to blogger, Natalie Bourre, of Marketing4Health fame for getting me onto the Healthcare Engagement Strategy Award site in the first place!

Best Engagement Through Video goes to Johnson & Johnson Health Channel on YouTube

Healthcare Engagement Strategy Awards 2010 – Award: Best Engagement Through Video –
Winner: Johnson & Johnson Health Channel on Youtube

This is simply one of the latest videos from this elegant source. Health Channel has everything: brand expansion; integrity; engagement; commitment not only to health and care overall but to building a substantial library on YouTube… all leading back to the brand.


Pfizer Canada is sharing its ‘Social Media Response Chart’ for those in doubt about how to respond to those questionable posts, emails and tweets. Originally designed by the US Army, the original flow chart sorts those identified as ‘trolls’, ‘ragers’ or simply ‘misguided’ from others who are simply ‘unhappy customer’s. From there the decision is made whether to respond and just what that appropriate response might be.

This is a worthwhile learning tool for newly formed corporate departments who must unify response patterns and coalesce around a single brand story in the face of a virtual onslaught presented by facebook, blogs, tweets – with more innovation and yes more opinions coming at them every day. Worth a peek at both the original and Pfizer Canada’s version at Natalie Bourre’s blog, Marketing4Health, if only as a starting point for your own charted corporate response recommendations.

‘AGING in PLACE’ options: threats to seniors residence marketers??

As more and more boomers face the prospect of their parents winding up in long term care, of course they are considering a fresh variety of products and technologies designed to allow seniors what can be frequently their most pressing desire: to stay out of long term care facilities.
This was certainly the case when my mother, already in stage two Alzheimer’s, revolted against her grown children at the prospect. We hid her keys and eventually the car battery. She literally had to have her fingers pried from the lampposts outside the residence, much to the chagrin of her eldest daughter. After she tried repeatedly to leave, she was placed in lockdown, where she has been ever since.
Seems everyone I run into that is even close to my age has these stories, some more remarkable than others. Few are pretty.
Given their undeniable ‘last stop’ reputation, many elderly parents dread the day they leave their home. They instantly become ‘patients’ not ‘parents’. If their sons and daughters can give them a graceful exit or no exit at all this goes a long way toward preserving dignity in one’s senior years.
Some of the options include seated stairclimbers, walk-in tub configurations, automatic help alerts, wide, accessible hallways & lower counters, a host of alternatives present themselves everyday on TV. It’s little wonder then, that marketers for long term care homes and retirement facilities view these options as not only alternatives to their sales solutions, but outright threats as identified in their SWOT marketing plans.
Read more at Art Carr’s blog
I quite like Mr. Carr’s take on this phenomenon, which is to view it as an advantage, surely to be addressed with care and respect.  “NO ONE likes to be reminded of their weaknesses – why should we expect a senior to be any different?” But facilities must install these features, because nowadays these questions pop up sooner rather than later in the sales conversation.

I help my clients compete by communicating their value to customers

…I communicate customer value in terms that are quite simply compelling. I encourage customer acquisition, belief and loyalty by developing convincing messaging, by expressing company ideals in an understandable way and ultimately by delivering turn-on-a-dime collaterals. I can initiate internal conversations that will emplower each employee, at every level, to become an Ambassador of the Brand.

Don’t let my barking dog fool you. If you’re considering reevaluating your professional story, I am your best friend. I am pretty well interested in everything, and you’ll find examples of every kind of company and message displayed within. In the past five or six years I have been primarily concerned with the delivery of healthcare, so you will find examples of that both in the messaging sections and in my recent projects.

If you are feeling a need to define your company messaging, call me at 416.435.4753 or drop me an email to You’ll find me on linkedin, twitter and facebook too.


March 2011

Meanwhile, a short drive north from Toronto

Had a conversation this week with new Aurora councillor Chris Ballard. The range of topics was wide as Chris is open, friendly, worth listening to – and has his ‘finger on the pulse’ to wax metaphoric. The discussion arose out of my confusion about what is really happening at town council, which may become a topic for future postings. I come to my interest in community happenings somewhat reluctantly, as someone who, in ten years, has had 7 new stoplights thrown up as barriers to hinder any easy exit to Highway 404 south to Toronto.

We covered what to do with my little corner, the northeast quadrant of town, ie the last few open and forested spaces in our rapidly expanding burb. Whether it’s wise to punch through pristine ponds & yes, over the river(!) for an unnecessary we both thought, quarter-mile mile road.

The conversation kept coming back to a certain billboard, at 60 feet across a blot in the open fields, featuring the prominent face of what looked to be a noble stallion staring straight out at the viewers, drivers really, at a busy intersection that was – up until a few years ago – wide open land. ‘Live here where horses roam’ or rather we mused, ‘where horses used to roam’ before we strip cleared everything for these lots. Gallop & frolic where horses once ran. What a headline. These last few lines mine, not from Mr. Ballard.

I have done a lot of real estate in my long past advertising agency life, but never have I put forward the proposition with quite so bold a face, nor stated the obvious quite so cynically, in such a ‘way beyond sad’ ironic fashion. Fast forward to the present and yes, access to this freshly sold out community may demand the previously referenced, quarter-mile road.

I once met with a previous publisher of our local paper, who commented that York Region had nothing really remarkable to boast about, nothing to draw tourists, not like, say Niagara or Wasaga. ‘Miniput?’, I said. But surely the treasure, in the absence of grand natural attractions, is the presence of being ‘still what we used to be’. Shouldn’t this be a consideration in our rather grand regional planning discussion, not brutal, raw growth. Could we please leave just a few horses around for the kids? Maybe an open field every few miles? No not just for the kids, for me, for my peace of mind. I could so go on…

What? Super Bowl Ad Mocks Seniors? You decide.


Here’s a pet peeve: advertising that mistakes ‘dissing’ for ‘funny’. I have to admit my bias here, usually it’s the senior white male: old, hairy, stupid and fat, that is just so, so humorous. Somewhat aging men are (for sure!) the cause of every woe today and serve on TV as the butt of every joke. Think of these hilarious ads as loving tributes sent to us from our kids, the art directors. Here the message is only too obvious. ‘Let’s make our car look really young and fresh by ridiculing the very old and infirm.’

Okay, so it’s funny. And if you click the link below and read some of Michelle’s comments, you’ll see even some elderly patients thought it was a hoot. But do we have to sink to ridicule to sell a damn car? So sad for Chevy, for their Cruse and of course for GM – who should know better. Somewhere, I’m sure it’s being defended as ‘edgy’…

Thanks to Michelle Seitzer and her blog, Seniors for Living for zeroing inside this one.

Marketing slogan comes true for Ford

THE MAGIC AT FORD: Wonder why Ford, alone among North American auto giants, was able to fend off government takeover? See their winning recipe at ‘How a good story changed a corporation’ in the National Post where they review Martin Goldfarb and Howard Aster’s new book, Affinity: Beyond Branding. When the entire enterprise believes, as do customers and critics, the magic conjured in the branding offices can live, breathe and emerge into the real world garnering enormous power. The book tells how,when Ford’s ‘Quality is Job #1’ mantra became believable, management went on to other things. This brought about a loss of measurable quality. the perception was forgotten… only to be brought back refreshed when the slogan reemerged again with enormous acceptance and believability.
Here’s proof that when every level of the organization believes in shared core values, as detailed here, literally up and down the Ford line, that markekting’s communication and talking points can literally become reality.
BTW… that little Fiesta, which wins the BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK (ok  ok, shared with the Civic), arrives with heated leather seats… now I’m a believer! This speaks volumes about Ford’s evolving attitudes toward customer experience.  Just because consumers want to save money and drive a smaller car, doesn’t mean they can’t settle in and enjoy the ride.


A common thread coming out of last week’s announcement from US Highway and Transportation officials was ‘much ado about nothing’. That is, most if not all of the reported incidents involving Toyota’s now infamous random accelleration problems were caused by ‘driver error’, not Toyota’s ‘electronic braking system’. That’s not what I have been hearing from the U S media for over a year now.

As GM and Chrysler struggle out of bankruptcy by jumping on the public’s back, and with Obama driving the whole rickety takeover… call it strange that the US media blames the world’s biggest carmaker for, what? It turns out now to be nothing more than ‘driver error’. Much the same happened to Lexus, Toyota’s upscale brand, a few years back.

NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT: over 1,000,000 people had fun with Kleenex on facebook

WELL, WHEN I FIRST READ ABOUT KLEENEX AND ITS FUN FACTOR ON FACEBOOK, I had to wonder how successful this branding exercise could possibly be. Does every brand have to be on facebook? Why? But I did have fun, surprising myself, sending a ‘mock tissue’ as one might do to someone who really needs to chill and stop shedding those crocodile tears. So, sarcastic fun. With a real friend. So shut up, Mikey… over a million people sent their friends a tissue from Kleenex at ‘Softness Worth Sharing’. just one of many promos for the venerable brand on facebook. Just to show the online world it’s still the default name for tissue.

This was not before however, the internet enlightened me on other ways to have fun with Kleenex. Hint: don’t ever google ‘kleenex’ and ‘fun’… you might realize what an uphill battle Kleenex really has with this promotion.

Send a tissue to someone you love

Long Term Care Association reaches out

An increasingly common discussion amongst ‘people my age’ (to put it politely) is the ongoing concern and sometimes embattled conversations about what’s going to happen or is already happening with Mom and Dad.
As the Boomer generations retires, our parents increasingly need our attention, understanding and care. The post-war generation has long been a driving force for social change, that has been one of our defining characteristics since ladies burned their bras way back when. Marketers frequently followed this wave and sometimes, with luck and persistence, surfed it to success. But now as our parents, deservedly called ‘the greatest generation’ face their final years, how we care for them will bring further definition to our commonly held beliefs, shared since the sixties, that we, ‘the pepsi generation’ broke through the status quo and forced real change.
So when I was asked to come up with ‘something new’ for the Ontario Long Term Care Association, I wanted to bring a revitalized sense of design, break free of boring, ‘senior care’ images and present a fresh take on the issues that are rushing at us, the growing business of Mom and Dad’s ongoing care. Marketers take note.
I prefer dealing straight on with the issue, so the ‘we are long term care in Ontario’ came naturally to the province’s largest group. The goal here is plant a stake in the ground that will attract new members. A secondary theme is that we, and by that I mean ‘everyone’, is responsible and must play a role in the fair treatment of those who may be further along the path.
Just a personal note on the vibrant colours. When I saw my father wearing a soft peach golfing outfit… well I freaked. It’s not exactly ‘boldly go’ now is it?? So out with the creams and beiges, please.

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