Dear CMO:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Branding is something that goes beyond ad copy – you must be your brand, live your brand, deliver on your brand, and not forget any of the previous three things at the peril of your professional life. Look at our friends at Sony – flogging their PSP with Zipatoni. Shame on both of them for just being stupid. STUPID. We all knew that Sony stood for, “Soon, Only Not Yet.”

So what does your brand stand for? Better yet, what do you NOT stand for? What are you willing to walk away from? Good positioning and branding is firmly grounded in reality. You need to talk the talk and walk the walk. So what is your brand about and what is it not about? Better yet, what are YOU about and what are you NOT about?

(Editor’s note: OK, I’ve been “virtually” tagged. CK is now going to know more about me than most of my Five Loyal Readers).

Want to know five things about me that you didn’t know – and that probably tell you a lot about how I got here and why I do what I do? No? Too bad. Here goes.

Fact Number One: I am a hero of the People’s Republic of China. And I have the pictures to prove it.

It all started with the little “personal favor” I did for Deng Xiao Ping, oh, back twenty years ago or so when he was “out of favor” with the Chairman. Nothing really. Actually, since you’ve stopped reading carefully at this point, it isn’t quite that interesting – if you walk the Great Wall past where the tourists normally give out, there’s this plaque with Mao’s inscription saying, “all those who make it this far are to be considered Heroes of the People’s Republic of China”. In Chinese. I don’t think he had me in mind when he wrote it.

Fact Number Two: Halle Berry has been naked in my presence. And I didn’t even notice.

Ah, Halle. just isn’t going to work. Really.” She shed her dress rather spectacularly – and completely by accident – at the “Die Another Day” premiere party, a few yards from where I was standing. But you know, I was with the beautiful and alluring Christine – my wife, who is a foot taller and rather spectacular herself. I missed the whole thing. I would have offered her my jacket had I known, gallant guy that I am.

Fact Number Three: I have been 7,000 feet deep in the Cayman Trench. OK, one thousand feet deep. Who’s counting? I am, in short, a complete National Geographic Stud.

It’s true. There I was, searching for the lost continent of Atlantis. Taking my shore excursion on the Disney Cruise Line. In the mini-sub. Deep, baby. I’ve been deep. I’ve seen things that few people who haven’t taken that Disney Cruise Line shore excursion have seen.

Fact Number Four: I was the first foreigner to play intercollegiate tennis in Japan. Anyone want to debate this one? Didn’t think so.

Again, completely true. I arrived in Japan back in 1981, when there was nothing there but palm frond huts and natives running around thinking I was some kind of deity. Perhaps my memory is a bit hazy, but I remember things that way. This was pre-Japan Inc. and before all the expats who didn’t care about Japan showed up. Every expat had a story. And that was what made those years so great. I had an offer to tend bar in New Caledonia with a German friend of mine (who had been there for sixteen years after evading the draft back home because on his way emigrating to Australia, he stopped over in Japan – just long enough for Australia to change its emigration laws, precluding his ability to complete his trip; he just overstayed his visa, got married, and bought a bar in Shinjuku. Yep, those where the days).

I arrived at Rikkyo University with enough money to live on 800 yen a day – about $3.50. Lots of ramen and curried rice. Not many of us walking around campus — or around town, for that matter — in those days. As you see, comedy troups spontaneously sought me out for photo opps.

I played tennis for the team because I was a tennis player – and because the alumni pitched in with some extra yen to keep me from starving. If the NCAA knew, they would have shot me on the tarmac at Narita.

Fact Number Five: I saved the Sony “S” Mark. You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?

Look at the nearest Sony product you have in the room – I’m still mad about the fake blog, Zipatoni, too, so this story should tell you why I’m as mad as I am – in the lower right hand corner, you’ll see this block of dots: the right side has a wavy pattern and the left is justified. If you squint, you’ll see that the right side is in the shape of the letter “S”. That’s the Sony “S” mark, a logo with enormous brand equity and that was completely ignored by those who should have protected it with their lives.

In 1993 or so, I was the Director of Marketing for Sony Recording Media in Oradell, New Jersey (“What ramp?” Joe Piscapo is saying somewhere). Waiting for my meeting to start in the Sony Design Center, I saw one of the designer’s screen savers showing a rotating, 3D Sony “S” mark logo. And I loved it. And I wanted it on my packaging, really, really badly.

So I found out after preliminary explorations that the Powers That Be had decided that the “S” Mark was destined for the scrap heap – they said it was “too old looking” and that they wanted something fresh, like a globe wearing headphones. Ugh. Fortunately, I was heading into package testing, and I showed several hundred people the logo head to head against Gatorade’s lightning bolt, Nike’s swoosh, Apple’s apple, and a few others. We proved the “S” mark was a winner, with over 60% of consumers – unaided, and ignorant of who was sponsoring the research – knowing immediately what the logo was.

I presented the facts, and management was shamed into keeping a brand icon. Which also explains why I’m not there anymore.

And now you know Five Things that many didn’t know. All true.

Now you know why I am passionate about branding, why I’m mad at Sony, why I’m a fervent fan of the Bond franchise, why business in places other than ‘here’ is important, why I’m as competitive as I am, why I’m a stickler for ‘facts not feelings’, and why I
care so much about so many fairly insignificant things.

So what do you stand for? And what are the Five Things that define you? Or at least, what are Five Things that are unique about you?


Copyright © 2006 Stephen Denny