Archive for the ‘branding’ Category

ELO Elicits A Nostalgic Universe

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

jeff-lynnes-elo-alone-in-the-universeNostalgia.  When it comes to “blast from the past” nothing does it quite like music.  Of course, music has a few things going for it.  Like scent, auditory stimuli can trigger vivid memories of persons and places from days gone by. As notably, as WDET’s Ann Delis put forth in my book, “No Static at All,” the repetitive nature of how we consume music can leave indelible marks in our psyche. We may read a book once or twice, yet, we listen to our favorite songs hundreds if not thousands of times.

As a former longtime air personality in music radio, I played a lot of songs a lot of times. Some I liked and some I loathed.  With a potential burnout factor a fact of life at that time, I was forever grateful for new music to be released and added to my stations’ playlists.  To this day, I still gravitate toward new music and away from old. That said, like many who look back fondly on music from the fun and emotional times of their high school and college days, I still have a soft spot for some of the bands and tunes from my youth.

One of those is a group that I feel is among the most underrated ever: The Electric Light Orchestra.  Between 1972 and 1986, the band sold more than 50 million records worldwide while boasting twenty-seven Top 40 singles and fifteen Top 20 hits. Until ELO, no band had ever so successfully melded classical music with rock and roll.  That said, you may well remember Walter Murphy Band’s disco-era “A Fifth of Beethoven” to a greater degree.  For me, however, with the release of 1976′s “A New World Record,” featuring the monster hit “Living Thing,” I was smitten.

Looking back, it was almost as much the branding of the band as the actual music. And while co-founder Jeff Lynne’s haunting vocals and driving orchestration were unforgettable, so too was the band’s iconic kaleidoscope logo which would soon become the very heart of a massive spaceship depicted prominently on all later album cover art – a akin to the guitar from a group of the same era, Boston.  I would argue that only Chicago’s Coca-Cola-esque moniker is more recognized and enduring.

It is with this foundation, then, that I was so excited to recently learn of the band’s first album in 14 years: “Alone in the Universe.”  Now branded as Jeff Lynne’s ELO (a story in and of itself thanks to past turmoil not uncommon between co-founders [ever hear of ELO II]?), the look, feel and sound of the new work harkens back to a time special for me and, no doubt, others.  Lynne, appears, has not missed a beat.

Ultimately, I think, that is why I love music so much – it means different things to different people based on individual tastes, emotions and personal experiences.  For this one, I might even trek out to purchase a now-hip-again full-sized LP version; easier to savor the album art as well as the new tunes fresh from the record store, just like back in the good old days. It’s back to the future through a veritable jukebox time machine.

Red’s ‘Rage’ True to Roots

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

ofbeautyandrageOne of the best-known quotes of the late 19th century comes from Spanish philosopher George Santayana who famously wrote: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  In the world of music, I would suggest that artists who do not remember the past are condemned if they don’t repeat it -at least to some degree. Thankfully, for fans of the Christian rock band Red, recent lessons learned have resulted in a brand new masterpiece.

From the opening opus of “Of Beauty and Rage” with its mood-intensified strings, it is more than obvious that Red is back; not repeating themselves yet offering the unique mix of rock, angst and orchestral maneuvers that harken back to their groundbreaking early work of “End of Silence,” “Innocence & Instinct,” and “Until We Have Faces,” the latter going back nearly a decade.  And while ‘Beauty’ is far from formulaic, it does possess Red’s ‘secret sauce’ formula that makes for awe-inspiring music.

The band learned its lesson well with their last LP, 2013′s “Release the Panic.” Inexplicably gone were the accent strings and piano chords, replaced instead by a techno approach. Fans didn’t get it and didn’t buy it – literally.  Red’s response? Apathy? Indifference? Hardly. Instead, they put out “Release the Panic: Re-Calibrated” with cuts remixed to give the people what they wanted – a move virtually unprecedented.  This time around, “Of Beauty & Rage” offers a moody theme album to accompany a graphic novel.

Neil Young is well known for admitting he plays concerts for himself and not the fans. Eric Clapton also regularly performs shows without ‘playing the hits.’ Is it ego? Avoiding the ‘sell out’ tag? Or, is it merely a desire to do something different? All are legitimate in the short-term but, ultimately, shortsighted from the long-view (remember Young’s “Trans” album?). Growth and evolution are essential but, I would argue, so is embracing what made you popular in vinyl in the first place – in short, your unique brand and value proposition. Aims to Bring “Wow” Factor Back to Radio

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.01.13 PMFormer Cleveland radio super-programmer John Gorman bemoans the state of traditional radio today where, he recently described to “Studios are all empty. They don’t have an air staff. Most of them are disembodied voices coming from another city.” Gorman aims to change that with an exciting new internet station:

Tom Taylor’s daily Now online newsletter, which reports on the radio industry, also covered the new property prominently this week including the station’s key differentiators: Local ownership; live, local, experienced air personalities well-known to the Cleveland marketplace; and a wide variety of music (programmed locally) featuring as the station describes on its website: “A diverse blend of rock and roll featuring both new and timeless music, most of which gets little to no media exposure in the Greater Northeast Ohio region…an eclectic playlist of rock, progressive pop, singer songwriters, reggae, and more.”

Importantly, the site goes on to say: “oWOW’s airstaff serve as musical gatekeepers, presenting and providing the best in new music combined with timeless album tracks from the past.  oWOW’s playlist is the result of a collaborative process in which all staff members have a voice.  We’re real live people. We’re based in Cleveland. We can do all the things that radio can no longer do.”

It is an approach harkening back to the hey-day of commercial music radio where stations reflected the local landscape of the cities they served – including its jocks and music – free of interference from outside consultants and voicetracking. And, Gorman has the chops to make it work – having programmed Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame rock station WMMS “The Buzzard.”  Even the oWOW logo possesses a touch of nostalgia – with original Buzzard logo designer David Helton doing the honors in creating the look of the new upstart media outlet.  And, as for the all-important question of funding, early ‘buzz’ is bringing significant returns including support from a local bank, a grant from the city of Cleveland and private investors.

Only time will tell whether oWow can sustain long-term listener and sponsor interest.  I for one am rooting for them as a potential model to be returned to elsewhere – whether on-air or online.  In Detroit, imagine a property that returned personalities such as Dick Purtan, Ken Calvert, Arthur Penhallow, Lynn Woodison and others to the airwaves with musical variety that featured a plethora of Detroit-grown artists.  It’s enough to make both mouths drool and ears perk up in eager anticipation.

Entrepreneurs: Success Starts With A Solid Foundation

Monday, February 16th, 2015

blue_panel_report_fThis past week was Detroit Entrepreneur Week and, as reported by Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Amy Haimerl, it was seven days filled with resources for recent and aspiring entrepreneurs, most notably through the Michigan Center for Empowerment and Economic Development.  The week’s activities, in fact, included what was termed a “Small Business Legal Academy,” hosted Saturday at Wayne State University Law School, where a track advised attendees on marketing, branding and legal considerations. Amy moderated the panel and I participated.

The room was filled with talented and engaged individuals either on the verge of launching an endeavor or looking to take their enterprise to the next step and questions ran the gamut: How can I determine the best avenue to take – whether PR, advertising or marketing? How do I target my customers more effectively? I have had early media stories on my product, but what should I do next?

With panelists Dan Dalton of the law firm of Dalton Tomich and Trevor Pawl of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the importance of laying the initial groundwork – no matter the initiative or undertaking – was stressed as the best starting point.  Has a business plan been developed? A handbook with legally-binding verbiage protecting the business owner from operational and intellectual concerns? From a branding standpoint, the discussion progressed, attendees were challenged to introspection: Do you know who you are? Who your audience is? What sets you apart from the competition? What is your value proposition?

A woman looking to start a non-profit. A successful snackmaker looking to create a like-minded entrepreneurial community. A bed and breakfast owner aspiring to open another. A tech provider seeking to gain greater awareness for his product.  No matter the project, it was discussed, the key tips and takeaways of the nearly      2-hour session were the same: The exact road to success varies and potential tactics are many, including the ability, beyond stories in the newspaper or on TV, to tell your own stories via social media, video, e-communications and strategic networking; in short, a multi-platform approach based on the best means by which to reach your customers with as many touch points as possible.

Finally, while many in the room acknowledged they needed additional guidance from professionals they were far less sure of how best to go about it from a due diligence and cost-effectiveness standpoint. Our best advice: shop around. Seek recommendations from friends, fellow business owners and the media. That’s right, call a reporter or newsroom and see whom they most respect. From there, narrow the field and conduct one-on-one face-to-face interviews to talk-out not only how they work but also to ensure similar values and ethics and, as importantly, flexibility in billing to meet budgets and expectations.


U2, Apple Mark a New (Year’s) Day for Music

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 4.31.01 PMIn 2004, U2 became one of the first rock bands ever to launch a new record via TV commercial as their then-new single “Vertigo” also introduced the iPod “U2 Special Edition.”  In recent days, the band and Apple have taken their relationship to another level, joining forces to provide free, automatic downloads of U2′s long-time-coming Songs of Innocence LP to iTunes subscribers.  And, reporter Catherine Mayer/Cupertino writes in the September 29th issue of Time, there is a method to this seeming madness.

Of course, U2 is far from original in giving their music away.  Prince, Radiohead and others have already tread that once hallowed ground.  Yet, no one has ever taken this approach so grandly and boldly with more money paid in advance and more potential future rewards hanging in the balance.  Consider the following: In 2013, music industry revenue continued its 13-year slide to its lowest levels since 1985, a time where newly minted CDs began nudging vinyl records for supremacy.  And, in an era and to a generation where “free” music is the expectation (via pirating, YouTube, etc.) thia alarming sales trend is only expected to continue. Simultaneously, concert revenue is rising; and the numbers are staggering.  In fact, U2 stands at the top of the list of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time: $772 million over 110 shows for 2009-11, with an elbow-to-elbow 66,110 attending each concert.

No one is confirming how much Apple is paying U2 for this and future collaborations but it is rumored that the digital giant pledged more than $100 million to market Songs alone.  Why does it make sense? For U2 (or any band today) music drives concert ticket sales. For U2 and Apple, the promotion of the first single “Miracle” has caused a major spike in the band’s 30-year catalogue, with music from days past leading download sales charts across the world.  An acoustic version of Songs of Innocence is also coming soon while a companion album, Songs of Experience, is also in the works.

But, perhaps most interesting are reported plans for U2 and Apple to create, as Bono describes it in the Time piece, “an audiovisual interactive format for music that can’t be pirated and will bring back album artwork in the most powerful way, where you can play with the lyrics and get behind the songs when you’re sitting on the subway with your iPad or on these big flat screens. You can see photography like you’ve never see it before.” Perhaps it will mark a turning point for positioning music once again as a valuable experience rather than entitled commodity. It appears Bono and U2 are headed that way with Apple - hopefully with rather than without you.


Where Everybody Knows Your Name…And Your Reputation

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 9.41.03 AMThis Tanner Friedman Blog entry is authored by our Account Manager Maggie Sisco. We’ll continue to share perspectives from our colleagues, whenever we have an opportunity.

Every company is known for something and not always for what they want it to be. What a company “stands” for and what a company is known for are often times two very different things.

When thinking about how a company is known, remember that the office walls are thinner than ever. People talk, they text, they email, tweet, update statuses, share, like. We live in a time when the global population is more communicative than ever. That means news travels fast. Good news AND bad news.

Why does it matter? Because if you’re looking to start a career, build your own personal brand, or even start client relationships, you should first know what’s already been said about the company you are about to associate yourself with.

I once did a job shadow with a company early in my college career at the encouragement of a very well-meaning mentor. The experience turned out to be a total disaster. Sitting in an office for 8 hours listening to the latest office gossip and learning about the newest version of whatever online game was popular at the time felt like a waste of time, and money (since I had taken the day off from my paying job).

Following that experience I asked around and heard similar stories about that company from three different colleagues. With the benefit of hindsight I realize that I should have done my homework. I should have asked questions. In an era where Google has made obtaining information exponentially easier, I should have spent some time online and saved myself a little time and trouble.

This can be a common mistake early on in any professional relationship, whether it be finding that right fit at a company or with a client.

There are always calculated risks when making any professional decision. Just be sure you’re taking the right ones, before you jump into the “mud.”

Linkin Park’s “Hunting Party” Hits the Brand Bullseye

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 10.42.38 PMBack to basics.  It’s a term with many meanings but in the context of initial successes vs. subsequent lackluster results it is a concept worthy of examination. Case in point: The band Linkin Park. In 1996, the group released their debut album, Hybrid Theory to rave reviews, Diamond sales and international fame. Their formula? A unique hybrid of hard melodic rock, metal and rap.  And, while their follow-ups, including Meteora (2003) and Minutes to Midnight (2007) were well-received, the music had lost its initial edge – a seeming compromise for greater accessibility and airplay.  After the concept LP, A Thousand Suns (2010 – which I loved but most panned), 2012′s Living Things was a disaster and barely listenable. Fans were left shaking their collective heads – again.

Thankfully, with the just-released The Hunting Party, it is, you guessed it: back to basic roots for the prolific band and an obvious attempt to win back a legion of fans once gained but since lost.  The “edge” has returned on what should have been Hybrid’s follow-up.  If you have followed the group through the years, it is evident that the new record is a re-embracing of an original brand and identity that had moved right of center.

Equally interesting to look at is the rock band Red.  End of Silence (2006), Innocence & Instinct (2009) and Until We Have Faces (2011) all masterfully crafted a sound similar to Linkin Park albeit with greater consistency.  With 2013′s Release the Panic, however, Red largely removed its trademark strings and orchestrations, much to the vocal dismay of their followers. And Red listened. Several months later, the group did the virtually unprecedented: they unveiled, Release the Panic: Re-Calibrated, with several cuts from its sister record remixed to include the heretofore non-existent orchestral elements.  Give the people what they want. Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it?

So, why does a band or a company or any entity lose its way and move away from the tried and true? In music, it is often either a lack of creativity (can you say one-hit wonder?), or a desire to be more creative (eschewing the formulaic).  For anyone, not being true to your brand is the result of losing sight of or ignoring who your audience is and what they love about you.  Evolving to remain relevant is one thing.  Being ‘too hip for the room’ is something else altogether. Remember, ultimately, it’s not about you.






Atlanta and Detroit: A Tale of Two City Brands

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

AtlantaIt’s tough to imagine two communities with more different reputations than Detroit and Atlanta. Having lived in both places, I have seen this first-hand.

Every time there’s something controversial in Detroit, it’s considered “a black eye for the city.” Every scandal, political dispute, every crime report, every odd news story has locals on edge about how the region’s national reputation will be impacted.

But, Atlanta has the most resilient brand a city could ever imagine. While Detroit has no margin for error in public perception, Atlanta’s reputation is Teflon-coated. The locals there, rather than living in fear of what the country will think, act with uncanny PR instinct. Urban-suburban squabbles, even those with racial overtones, are kept local. Sprawl is touted as attractive economic development. Problems like traffic (at Los Angeles levels, according to many reports) and smog are treated as “a price to pay” for living in a “hot city.”

This phenomenon even true in sports. The snowstorm at the Super Bowl in 1982 was a catastrophe. But the ice storm at the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2000 was an aberration. Now, the Atlanta Braves say they are leaving a Downtown stadium built for the 1996 Olympics for a new stadium in suburban Cobb County in 2017. The story, so far, has been mostly a local one, save sports media. Here’s a link to a commentary on some of the potentially-embarassing flaws in that plan, which is certainly controversial. It’s easy to imagine that if something like this happened in Detroit, it would be much more than a sports story.

Cities have brands and live with stereotypes just like companies. Also like businesses, each city has its positive and negative attributes once you cut beneath the brand. But just like in business, culture helps shape brands, which help shape reputations. Detroit is in the midst of what could be a culture change. Now could be the beginning of the story beginning to change. But, it’s important to remember that Atlanta has been building its story consistently since Reconstruction – an effort that helps to contain controversies while others do not enjoy such a luxury.

When is a Mascot Offensive and Why?

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 4.09.25 PMIn Saturday’s Detroit News, reporter Josh Katzenstein wrote an extensive and informative frontpage story which chronicles and contemplates the current debate over the Washington Redskins name.  The discourse intensified last week, in fact, with a Washington Post editorial calling for a name change from the NFL team, deeming it “a racial slur of Native Americans so offensive that it should no longer be tolerated.”

The issue is a tough one with passion and emotion on both sides tempered with tradition and often confused intent.  My Alma Mater, the University of Illinois, saw its legendary Chief Illiniwek eliminated in a recent year due to pressure from special interest groups, some Native American, some not. This despite the fact that the Chief, who appeared briefly during halftime at U of I basketball and football games, was always portrayed tastefully and with great reverence and respect. Closer to home, of course, we are well aware of Eastern Michigan University’s switch to the Eagles from Hurons some 22 years ago.

Before their move to the nation’s capital, Washington was originally known as the Boston Braves in 1932, changing its name a year later. Some stories indicate that the team became the Redskins in honor of their then-head coach, who some say was Native American. Do those calling for the name change know this? Do they care? And what about a baseball team such as the Cleveland Indians, whose Chief Wahoo’s wide-grinning caricature is, I feel, as offensive as anything in sports?

The key, I think, is education, dialogue and sensitivity. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder remains defiant, telling the USA Today: “We will never change the name – It’s that simple. NEVER. You can use caps.” In Champaign, the debate over the Chief was less a discussion by all parties than a pressuring of politicians that led to his ousting before most supporters knew what was happening.  In Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, Central Michigan University works closely with and receives incredible support from the Chippewa tribe; consulting regularly on the proper use of the tribal name.

In D.C., Snyder would do well to welcome and encourage discourse and thoughtful debate from all parties – pro and con. Sit down with all constituents. Listen. Consider. If not, the loud protests are sure to continue; perhaps to the point that the NFL will be eventually forced to force Washington to take name-changing action.

Say Nice Things About… Utah?

Friday, July 5th, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen telling friends and contacts that we were headed to Utah for a summer vacation, I heard it all. The most common question was “why?” followed closely by cracks about polygamy. Looks of surprise, at best, followed my explanation of the interest in rest and relaxation in and around a mountain resort town.

Utah has an image problem, as do most places in the U.S. We revert to stereotypes when thinking about cities and states where we have never been. Exhibit A is, of course, Detroit. We even heard that in Utah.

One evening in Park City, we got the “where are you from?” question from a couple of locals. When we responded, “near Detroit” to “what part of Michigan?” we got a look from one half of the couple that resembled what we might expected if she had taken a bite of something sour. She said “that city has gone to pot.”

We wondered how she knows what she thinks she knows about Detroit. She admitted it was because of a documentary she watched at Park City’s Sundance Flim Festival. She said she couldn’t get over “that train station.” When we explained that the crumbling, vacant old Michigan Central Depot was privately owned, she was surprised, then listened to our stories on what’s really going on in Detroit, besides whatever she saw in the film.

Now, with the tools available to us online, particularly with forums like this and social media, we have the opportunity to incrementally shape perception of places within our country. But it takes a proactive approach. So, I’ll take the lead and tell you a little about what I experienced in Utah:

Beautiful scenery, with mountains in every direction (as seen in this blog post’s accompanying photo courtesy of MCP Actions). The best Mexican food I’ve ever had (seriously). Some of the best whiskey I’ve ever tasted (in moderation). First-class resorts. Locally-caught trout cooked to perfection. In-N-Out Burger. A cool college campus built into a hill, overlooking a large city. A light rail system that easily moves tourists around a downtown.

Yes, I’m saying nice things about Utah. Just like wherever you live, it’s misunderstood by those who have never been.