"The Spin" has intentionally stood by the side of the road and avoided commenting on the Occupy movement sweeping across America -- until now.
Not a day goes by without someone talking about it. Not a day goes by without someone making news with it. Not a day goes by without the American public reacting to it. And yes, not a day goes by without my friends in the news media perpetuating the conversation.
- I haven't seen the number 99 used this much since Wayne Gretzky retired from hockey.
- Who knew it would be cool to say not just "We're Number 1!" but also "We're part of the 1%"? I haven't used 1% in sentences except for what milk I'm buying.
But Occupy Wall Street/Main Street/Your Street/Your City is doing something far more important and meaningful. What I am seeing here is a tell-tale lesson for corporate America. Occupy has become a consumable brand, as if it were our favorite clothes, cup of coffee, or other product. The movement has become as mainstream a brand as any other, and it's time for CEOs and marketers alike to take notice of what is truly going on here.
How to build brands... without the protests
Think about how the movement got started. It began with a belief that something was missing in our society. A group of young people saw the injustices taking place in countries around the world and how a small fraction of people were making rules for everyone else. Those ideas began conversations here in the United States, and those discussions prompted a series of assemblies on Wall Street and at other prominent government and financial institutions.
There have been several stories or social media posts about who actually came up with the Occupy name, but a nameplate isn't as important as the people or the feeling that comprise the group. That's the takeaway today. A good brand has soul. When you see those protesters in the streets or at the docks, they are nourishing your brain with components that build a brand. You don't have to like or agree with them, but you are at least processing them. That's branding power, folks. What's more, this brand is helping the world enact change.
For the record, I am not a branding expert. I know the world of public relations and corporate communications. But these universes are parallel in that we both try to accomplish some core components that help companies stand apart from peers. And as we look to build and diversify portfolios, there are some common threads that each of our holdings has:
- Distinction is everything. There are several thousand jewelry and gift stores out there. But Tiffany & Co. (NYSE: TIF) perfected its brand by making its little blue box mean something more than the gift itself. You could buy a rock from Tiffany, but if it's in that box or bag, your significant other will love that rock more than any other rock available (especially if that rock is "all sparkly").
- Repetition builds reputation. I introduced a word on UrbanDictionary.com, techverbing, whereby a technological platform is transformed into a verb as much as it is a proper noun. We no longer search for something. We Google something. We don't look a place up online. We Foursquare it. Techverbing reinforces the brand by using its name in a way beyond its initial intent. The repetitive nature of the brand's name enforces its reputation in the marketplace, because we are making the platform part of our everyday vernacular.
Admittedly, I am guilty of adding fuel to the Occupy fire. If you have ever been in a Chicago cab, you know the typical driver's skills leave a lot to be desired. I put a note on Facebook calling out the cab number and created a hashtag, #occupydrivingschool. It's easy to add to add #occupy to something you don't like in jest, but doing so adds value to the brand that others have brought to the table.
- A brand can evolve, but its roots must stay consistent. The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) has wanted to teach the world to sing. It has wanted to be real. It has wanted people to enjoy life (insert your own tagline if you have one). It has created diet versions, flavored versions, and (in a failed branding lesson) a new version of itself. Despite its iterations, the core deliverable of the brand has remained tried and true -- liquid refreshment, with a taste that is unmistakable even when challenging its top competition. When you pick up a can, bottle, or cup of Coke, you know what you are going to get. Occupy has certainly evolved to different places, but its core principle of change has remained steadfast.
Occupy has certainly met these criteria. How many brands -- or companies within your portfolio -- can really say they have met these standards? Whether you're a CEO or an investor, look at your company's brand through the lens of Occupy. If your brand doesn't meet these criteria, it might be worthwhile to take a seat with some of the people occupying your neighborhood.