Cool branding at Greenbuild 2010

Greenbuild 2010I kept an eye out for branding innovation at Greenbuild 2010 as I maneuvered my way along (what felt like) miles of floor featuring over 1,000 exhibitors and 25,000 attendees.

Branding highlights:  

  • Social responsibility alignment – besides the typical association with energy saving and planet-survival, some Greenbuild companies extended their brands beyond the oh-so-obvious. Accoya, for example, had a “Sign our wall” fundraising effort with every signature translating into $10 for Haiti rebuilding. Other companies displayed Susan G. Komen for the Cure pink ribbons. Shaw asked people to respond to Twitter queries so it could donate $1 to the Make It Right Foundation, helping rebuild the Hurricane Katrina-devastated Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. Good for them, good for the world.
  • Transparency – Interface Floor won my prize for branding transparency. A massive graphic displayed above their booth featured a black and white illustration of a brain beside a barrel of oil. Their messaging platform: “Be smarter than oil.” Gradually leaving its oil industry connections behind, the company’s mantra is zero environmental impact by 2020. Clear messaging permeated the booth on laminated cards: “16 years and counting to becoming a sustainable company…” Other companies shy away, evade or obfuscate; this brand appears to be living its stated mission. 
  • Personal reinvention – David Gottfried wore shoes as he autographed free copies of his book “Greening my life.” The founder of USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) and LEED standard creator personalized his brand, sharing insight into his personal transformation from hard-charging empty life exec to green-inducing happiness. Kudos for having the guts to share lessons learned with others.
  • Promotions – not surprisingly, the top tease prize at Greenbuild 2010 was the iPad. Several companies featured iPad promotions including Dupont and NCI Group. My favorite giveaway? The cool hybrid Sanyo Eneloop bike
  • Living its mission – While 80% of Greenbuild 2010 exhibitors are indistinguishable (packing too many products, imagery and pleas into every corner of space), Dyson stood out with its "less is more" approach. Only two products were featured: hand dryers and bladeless fans. The booth was white, spacious and all messaging was tightly displayed on five panels. Copy was simple and memorable, contrasting the way it used to be with the way it is now (thanks to Dyson).   
  • Let’s have fun – Next time a company or client says “our stuff is in the weeds; we can’t do much creatively” remember Bluebeam. This company essentially has a better Adobe: a PDF based real time project collaboration file management tool. Yawn. But Bluebeam made the mundane come alive with its “Mighty Bluebeam” cartoon character, case studies galore, comic books, exhibit booth worker matching t-shirts and fun messaging like “It’s PDFin’ time!”
  • Interactive messaging – Most companies struggle with messaging. Not only trying to explain what they do, but also finding clever ways for people to “get it” and relate. Kudos to SYNLawn and SAGE for doing both. The former divided its narrow booth into three sections, allowing visitors to putt on a golf course, feel astro turf in a stadium and stand on a front lawn at home. Dynamic window maker SAGE (disclosure: client) made its “Power to change” tagline come alive several ways, including windows showing multiple exterior views and an interactive exhibit where visitors pressed a button and the glass transformed. Whenever messaging can be experienced like this, it’s a very powerful thing.
  • Green nation building standing out from a sea of corporate sameness were… countries. Scandinavia, Canada and France all sent delegations to Greenbuild 2010, positioning themselves – via products, technologies and companies - as green-inspired economies.

What makes you tick is tasty bait

People are naturally nosy. We want to know everything about each other, especially if it’s none of our business. Why else would magazines like People, Entertainment Weekly and US Magazine flourish, even though most of us claim not to read them?
This ingrained snoopiness isn’t just directed at Demi & Ashton & Britney & Miley et al. It applies to technology companies too. When someone gets seriously curious about a company, they want to know the back story. Yeah, if you’re an investor or journalist you need to read about the hot new product or service. But knowing about the people behind them makes the company’s story more textured. Where did they come from? How did they get where they are? What makes them successful? What do they do?
What makes them tick? If you’re skeptical, consider how much money the movie “The Social Network” about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg,” earned. You can mine that curiosity to build your company’s brand.
The CEO who beat cancer. The VP of engineering who dives with sharks in the Galapagos. The single mother who put herself through school and launched a successful company. Readers never get tired of personal color and anecdotes. Sick of reading about Steve Jobs’ black turtlenecks or Larry Ellison’s jet planes and Japanese mansion? Too bad. Details like that helped establish Jobs and Ellison as two of the most recognizable personalities in high tech. Their faces are on the company, love them or hate them, and are valuable tools for advancing their companies’ positions.
You don’t have to be Jobs or Ellison to use personal background to your company’s advantage. But the world wants to know who you are, where you came from, what you’ve done and what you think. Using social media channels to offer your key audiences personal nuggets helps convince them you’re more than the standard issue tech drone who was apparently born at MIT and spent every waking moment since then at Digital, HP, an Internet startup in the late nineties (yawn) … they’ve heard it all before.   

Pick up a copy of any business publication. It’s not all business. It’s shot through with tidbits about the people behind the companies. In a 2010
Guardian interview, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt wasn’t just CEO, he was “the 6’4 former college footballer.” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz once hosted Mick Jagger for dinner at his house and takes a daily 6 a.m. bike ride with his wife. Time and again, we’ve seen clients with interesting backgrounds and hobbies (ultra marathon running, shark diving, extreme skiing), birthplaces (everywhere from Lowell, Mass. to Transylvania), fashion statements (a penchant for orange pants) and family life (father of triplets) win interviews or appear in print.

Putting a personal face on your company is as easy as talking about yourself beyond your professional pedigree. If you’re worried about coming off as an egomaniac, put your mind to rest. Talking about yourself does not, in itself, make you a braggart. Try these simple guidelines for putting a public face on your company:

  1. Open up - When you’re in an interview and a reporter asks you to tell him/her about yourself, open up a little. Go into the interview having thought about what you are going to say. Who were your earliest influences? What were some formative experiences? What do you do in your free time? How did your history influence your professional life? What was your worst job and why? How did you choose your career? What lessons did you learn along the way?
  2. Open door - If a blogger or journalist or investor or analyst comes to your company to talk to you, take them into your office. What you keep around your office – books, photos, mementoes – invite ice-breaking questions and help tell your story. (As a side note, if there’s anything you DON’T want them to see, get it in the bottom drawer before the interview.)
  3. Speak real - Don’t use colorless quotes in press releases. If your quote begins with the phrase “We are delighted …” then you’re dishing out pap. Your quotes influence the image of you that people form. Say something you’d actually want to come out of your mouth in a conversation.
  4. Share details - Spice up your biography with a few personal details – one or two sentences will do the trick. Also, be specific about your accomplishments. If you’re a technologist, don’t just say “developed Gigabit Ethernet switching solutions at HairNet Communications.” Tell the world that you designed the switching fabric, wrote the embedded code, managed the team, achieved this breakthrough … whatever.
  5. Speak simply - Don’t allow your company to sound like its competitors. This is a common trap: companies in the same space using the same buzzword-laden terminology to explain what they do without really saying what they do. Try some plain, blunt English on your website and in your marketing materials. It will set you apart from the competition.

If you’re terminally shy, or it just cuts against your grain to talk about yourself, this exercise isn’t for you. If, however, you’re comfortable talking openly about your background, then you are positioned to create value for your company by using your personal history to attract favorable coverage.


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