What is the Los Angeles Brand?

By Charlie Stephens

Just after starting my role at Innovation Protocol, I was eager to dive into my new work and learn my way around Los Angeles. Having just moved from Orange County, California, and with a background in urban research, I figured there’d be no better way to learn the ropes than to immerse myself in the city and take on Los Angeles as if it were my own brand client.

So I set out on a 6 week journey to research, analyze, and attempt to define the Los Angeles brand. This was by no means an exhaustive process, and would take much more work to develop a fully fleshed-out brand strategy. Nevertheless, the insights gained were quite interesting and I think shed a nice light on some story-telling opportunities for the city.


Discovery Phase: What’s in a City Brand?

City brands are notoriously complex. There are many different economic, cultural, and governmental factors that work together to create the identity of a place. There are also different ways and reasons to package that identity and share it with people. In some of the biggest cities around the world it’s been proven that strong brands can increase both tourism and investment, and drive collaboration across the public and private sectors.

Los Angeles is well-known around the world, but there is a huge opportunity for developing a brand strategy to boost its overall performance. An understanding of the city’s core identity and brand essence would be a great starting point for achieving this.

Los Angeles is a behemoth of a city. So in order to really get a grasp of the brand I needed to hear people’s stories and research the things that make the city truly unique. With just a few weeks to interview over 20 people and sift through dozens of websites, reports, and articles, I set out to identify what Los Angeles really means to people.


Discovery Phase: Understanding the Findings

Cities today have an opportunity to shape their perception both in-person and online. However Los Angeles’ websites, press releases, city documents, and social media promote a fragmented image. With many different verbal and visual styles and no core message tying them together, the idea of Los Angeles isn’t being expressed in a consistent way to its people.

I interviewed a number residents, tourists, business owners, and past city employees to get a better idea of how people think about Los Angeles, and I identified a few key themes.

People around the world have preconceived notions about Los Angeles. There’s the good – amazing weather, Hollywood, and ‘individuality’. There’s also the bad – materialism, traffic, homelessness, among many others. There’s an almost infinite amount of ways to imagine and experience the city, all of which affect its ability to attract and retain people and organizations.

A big idea that stood out is that Los Angeles is seen as expansive, with its vast network of highways and neighborhoods. It’s also known as a place where people can express themselves and unleash their creativity. No matter what industry you work in – entertainment, professional services, media, aerospace, manufacturing – Los Angeles is where you go if you’re really shooting for the stars.

Los Angeles is also one of the most diverse cities in the world, with hundreds of nationalities, languages, and almost every religion co-existing peacefully. On top of this it’s a creative capital across many industries, leading the nation with its number of creative workers.

All in all, its diversity, creativity, and opportunities were reoccurring themes in my exploration – each an essential component to what Los Angeles has been, is today, and can be in the future.


Brand Position: The Opportunity for Los Angeles

Everyone has a dream waiting to come to life. In Los Angeles, diversity flourishes, creativity takes place, and opportunities to realize one’s grandest visions are available. It’s true that Los Angeles is a city with great amenities and things to do, but more than this, it’s a gateway to a universe of infinite possibilities; a frontier of dreams for all who dare to visit, live, or set up shop there.

Los Angeles is unique in that it has an expansive cross-section of cultures, industries and individuals that enable creative opportunities for all types of people. Whether it’s building community, sparking innovation, or fueling economic growth, the city plays a crucial role in connecting people with the passions, platforms, and people to create the world they want to see.

Of course politics, operations, and basic human nature get in the way of making Los Angeles a complete heaven-on-earth. Inequalities persist, housing struggles, and crime continues, and Los Angeles isn’t perfect. However what a city brand can do is help communicate the city’s values and qualities in a way that encourages community engagement and inspires progress across different issues and areas along the way.

The idea of Los Angeles as a city of dreams has already been floated in Garcetti’s State of the City Address and the latest Olympic bid video. But with fresh clarity, cross-sector buy-in, and belief in its own potential, the city can intentionally start crafting its own narrative in a way that builds upon its strengths and creates a more connected and thriving community for years to come.

The Importance of Internal and External Branding

By Sasha Strauss

Managing Director, Sasha Strauss, explains why ignoring your internal audience when branding is a recipe for disaster. When you focus on both sides of the brand, internal and external, you get a more holistic view of what your value proposition truly can be.

Don’t Call Me Boss

By Anna Drabik

I was sitting at my desk the other day when my company’s controller, Meital, introduced her friend to our VP of General Operations, saying “Meet Jon, my boss.”

Jon turned to Meital and said, “I really hate it when people call me the boss. It just sounds wrong.”

I found this to be a particularly interesting statement, since Jon, by formal standards, is a boss. Jon’s humility really struck me, but his statement also got me thinking about our organizational structure.

Awareness, not title, is what we should strive for.

As described in Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, my company might qualify as a Green organization in its empowerment, family, and values-driven culture. However, when looking deeper, I found that it also embodies a Teal organization in its promotion of self-management, evolutionary structure, and focus on individuals realizing their true potential.

Reinventing Organizations suggests that leaders “put in place organizational structures, practices, and cultures that make sense to them,” if not, an organization cannot evolve beyond its current leadership stage of development. Because the leaders at my company are self-aware, empathetic, and curious about the world around them, they’ve built a workplace ecosystem that urges employees to do the same.

This comes in many forms, but one example is that someone who is interning can speak to or email the VP or Managing Director directly, and they’ll receive a response back that same day. There are many companies that have an automated social hierarchy detection, as Daniel Golemen points out in his Harvard Business Review article “The Focused Leader.” This is represented by how quickly it takes a person of a “higher rank” to respond to someone of a “lower rank.” In our organization, everyone is expected to respond to one another within three hours when they are in the office, and if they’re out for the day, within 24 hours. This simple practice reinforces the fact that employees are not treated differently based on tenure or title — and it pushes individuals to recognize their self-management.

We each have leadership power within us.

From that perspective, I’ve been blessed with leaders who aren’t stuck with a hierarchical view of organizations, but rather, as Management 3.0 Workout author Jurgen Apello points out, have created a culture of creative networkers who “choose to boss themselves.” We’ve been taught to create and grow unique value within our teams. That means an analyst we’ve just hired can bring as much (if not more!) insight to the brainstorm as a consultant who’s been working at the company for ten years.

What this freedom has ultimately allowed me to do is learn about myself quite deeply. I’ve never looked at individuals within my organization as people I should strive to become or even compete with. Instead, I’ve always been able to focus on my personal potential — my strengths — and further evolve towards what I know is already living inside of me.

As I develop into my own version of a leader, and as I move from organization to organization (and maybe even start my own!) I will strive to have the self-awareness, empathy and understanding that Jon has. I never want to be a leader who is stuck with an outdated view of organizations, but instead I aspire to one who stays grounded, focused, open — and ultimately — aware of myself and others. After all, I believe that this is the only way we’ll raise our leadership consciousness.

Are you willing to do the same?

How Brands Come to Life on Social Media

By Stacey Derkatch

Which are the right social media platforms for your brand? Stacey Derkatch, Associate Director Brand Development at Innovation Protocol, gives advice on how to optimize social media for branding efforts, and what to focus on when posting on behalf of your brand.

Millennials and Food

By Jamie Sperling

If we want to understand the Millennial generation – the largest generation, the ones whose attention we’re all vying for and whose psyche we’re desperately trying to understand – one way is to look at their relationship with food. We can use food as a proof point for explaining how they think and what’s important to them, and make sense of the environmental trends that are driving their other purchasing decisions.

Millennials who came of age between 2000 and 2010, were impacted by two economic recessions. But unlike the depression-era generation, when money for the most basic things, like food, was scarce, this economic downturn allowed Millennials to prioritize their spending for experiences rather than “stuff.” While both groups lived through similar hardship, technology, social factors, and wealthier parents and grandparents have been key contributors to Millennial’s differed response. This group continuously seeks to supersede function (and is financially able to) with something that is actually meaningful.

As a result, they believe that food is experience, food is community, food is a shareable moment and food is identity-defining. They care about where their food comes from, who is behind it and how it is presented. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 food truck or a Michelin rated restaurant, the experience of it all is the driver for this group.

We’ve seen this trend grow in real-time with the considerable amount of social media accounts dedicated to food, the millions who view Buzzfeed Food cooking videos, in addition to the number of food-based television programs. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a way of life. And associating yourself with this food-value lifestyle, says something about who you, the Millennial, are personally.

If Millennials are this particular about how they choose to express themselves through food, their demand for meaning has profound implications for all brands targeting this demographic. With that in mind, here are a few considerations and examples for how brands can live, to better engage the Millennial audience:

  1. Technology: While Millennials are reliant on technology for work, school and social engagement, it’s not just a functional tool – it’s a social bullhorn. Through technology, Millennials gain access to social networks, thoughts and ideas. As a result, social channels are the main source of how they learn about and influence others. Many brands that want to attract Millennials think the first step is to have a presence on social channels to push their message to this targeted group. But more often than not, Millennials reject this approach because they don’t want to be sold to; they want to be understood. Brands like Apple and Nike do just that – they relate to Millennials on a personal, psychographic-level, promoting the idea that these brands are an extension of who they are, not just a targeted sales pitch.
  2. Experience: It’s not enough to just go somewhere, you need to immerse yourself and experience it. When did doing something need to become an experience? It’s now and it’s here to stay. Millennials crave meaning, they crave purpose, authenticity and real action. Whether that experience is in-person or online, it needs to be memorable. As seen with the community-focused brand, SoulCycle, they’re not just looking to check boxes, they’re looking for something that will enhance them.
  3. Shareability: If you don’t share it on social media, does that mean it even happened? This may be the question of this generation. Creating experiences and crafting ways to share them is as important as the experience itself. Sharing ideas, images, and videos is how this group connects with others in the social space. It means that whatever your brand creates for Millennials needs to have the ability and accessibility to share and align with their need to share something that furthers their point of view. This group is not shy, they want people to know where they’ve been, what they’re doing and who they were with. Brands that practice this approach are Red Bull, Oreo and Taco Bell.

Brands Beware: More is Not More

By Emmanuel Probst and Jeremy A. Tucker

Triple, venti, soy, non-foam latte anyone? Or perhaps any of the hundreds of drink combinations available at your local Starbucks? On-menu or off-menu, the pursuit of customer satisfaction means if you want it, they’ll usually find a way to make it. If you find this overwhelming, your local market has surely figured out the trouble with choice in their finely curated aisles, right? Nope. The average supermarket has 35,372 different products. Of which the average consumer purchases a whopping 260. The entire year. (1) And if like most evolving consumers that find the real world just too overwhelming, think twice about seeking refuge in the freedoms of simplicity in online shopping: a search for ‘Popcorn’ on walmart.com returns over 800 results.

In 2004, psychologist Barry Schwartz described this phenomenon as the paradox of choice, arguing that having too many options is detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being (2). We just don’t know what to do with all that input and freedom. Schwartz’s theory is even more relevant now than it was 13 years ago as options to buy, and where and how to buy them, have skyrocketed. Overwhelmed with choice, shoppers buy only 260 different items per year on average, out of 35,372 available; that’s less than 1%. On a quarterly basis, they purchase just 0.23% of those available (3). And when they can’t decide on what to buy, some people end up walking away empty-handed, a trend online retailers (with guidance from their therapists we presume) call ‘cart abandonment’.

But fear not modern brands, data, and a profound paradigm shift, can help.

The modern consumers’ life has been improving drastically, thanks to the expansion of advanced marketing analytics such as big data, predictive modeling and programmatic advertising. These approaches allow marketers to target their audiences based on life stages, needs states and interests. People will increasingly be exposed to products that are relevant to them at a particularly relevant point in time.

For example, if Tom bought moving supplies last month, it is fair to assume he will need furniture for his new home next month. Based on his life stage, he will more likely buy a convertible sofa bed if he is starting college, a sectional couch if he has a family or a recliner if he suffers from back pain. Tom doesn’t care about all furniture options at the supermarket, he cares expressly about what he cares about, when he cares about it. At max, he cares about 3 to 5 furniture options, not 300 to 500.

Which means marketers in the next era of seeking eyeballs and billfolds don’t need to harass their respective targets with so many different options like we had to do before data helped us focus the pitch. We may still have a vast variety of product on the warehouse shelves, but consumers don’t need to see them all to find what they want anymore. Or rather, what we the modern brand wants them to find.

“As apps like Snapchat, WeChat and WhatsApp show, we are quickly moving toward a reality in which everything happens in real time. From communication to coordination to purchase, marketers will need to react with the pace of consumers (think “right time, right message, right place” on steroids).” (4)

Big consumer-savvy brands figured this out at the very first glimpse of advanced analytics. Ever wonder why you may see a specific ad in your Facebook feed for a specific chair on a specific day? Hint: It’s not random. It’s not something everyone sees. It’s an ad served just for you, because guess what, Ikea knows what you want when you want it, and is just trying to throw you a bone.

Chipotle, In-N-Out, even the more modern McDonalds experiment ‘boutiques’ are now flagship brands for taking smart marketing a step further into the very core of their brand strategy by understanding that less is more with menus designed to make things easier through limitations, not freedoms. Where Cheesecake Factory and your local Diner menus reeked of (delicious) desperation, these simpler menu ‘experiences’ somehow smell like refined sophistication in their elegant simplicity. A confidently constrained expression of purity. Animal style.

And where there’s even the slightest whiff of elegance there’s the opportunity to charge more for the selective items that are highlighted, making up for the pickled tuna lasagna option rarely glimpsed on page 17 of the menu.

So to the bloated brand seeking modernity, we urge simplicity. To the modern brand struggling for engagement, we ironically recommend cutting the options to engage. Find the top sellers, get smart on how to read the analytics, take a shot of aged bourbon if needed (Innovation Protocol does not promote bourbon-informed decision making unless it’s really good bourbon, then, I mean, hello), and boldly trim where others have added. Don’t follow the brand masses to the supermarket excess of more upon more upon more because what you have already isn’t selling. Follow the frontrunners of fewer choice, and simply offer your focused strengths in simple, personalized ways. It’s what Tom really wants, after all.

Emmanuel Probst is a brand growth and advertising effectiveness strategist. He counsels advertisers on measuring and optimizing the effectiveness of their campaigns and teaches Consumer Market Research at UCLA. Emmanuel holds a Doctorate of Business Administration in Consumer Psychology from the University of Nottingham Trent.

Jeremy Tucker is Director of Brand Development at the Innovation Protocol New York office, and regularly teaches, speaks, and writes on brand strategy for dynamic modern brands.



The Best Things in Branding Aren’t Things

By McNeal Maddox

Many brands struggle to capture the market share they think they should, especially in markets where price is perceived as the primary factor driving purchase decisions. Astute marketers recognize that brands are built in the minds of consumers. They also realize that rational, logical appeals can only take you so far in convincing consumers to trade their hard-earned money for whatever they’re selling. Any brand can list its components or its product bundles or its service levels or any of the other hundreds of attributes that make a product what it is. But people don’t want products. People want a helping hand. People want a willing ear. People want a meaningful connection to an organization that has their best interest at heart.

There’s an old saying in sales that “People don’t buy matches. They buy flames.” That fundamental truth is at the heart of any commercial exchange–the ends are always more valuable than the means. It’s a simple truth, but one that surprisingly still isn’t reflected in many sales and marketing teams’ approach to making meaningful connections with the audiences they value the most. Even with decades of marketing research indicating that consumers’ likelihood of purchase increases significantly when they can see the personal value in an exchange (rather than just monetary value), it hasn’t fundamentally changed the way many companies try to attract and retain customers. Consider the chart below from a survey of 3000 buyers of B2B services conducted by CEB. Not only were buyers nearly 48% more willing to purchase brands if they felt they provided personal value to them (personal value meaning a combination of professional, social, emotional, and self-image benefits), they were 60% more likely to pay a higher price for those same brands. Although branding is often (incorrectly) thought of as only relevant for B2C markets, these results show branding can have just as much if not more of a positive influence on B2B audiences.

I’d bet you my next paycheck that on millions of sales calls made today alone, millions of prospects on the other end of the phone will be sold the merits of a bunch of undifferentiated features instead of a reason to believe in the company selling them. It’s likely you don’t sell matches, so substitute any widget or tool or product or service and the same holds true. Creating differentiation means understanding what kind of helping hand you’re uniquely capable of offering people. And that means ensuring people always think of your brand as the solution to a specific need. That’s where branding comes in.

Instead of a laundry list of features and capabilities, a story built on a clear understanding of people’s needs can bundle multiple benefits into an idea with which people can identify. In effect, your brand represents a bundle of “goods”–both tangible and intangible–that people can personally relate to. Branding taps into people’s past experience and shared understanding to add a richer, more meaningful context to purely logical, rational appeals. One of my favorite examples of this is the case of the iPod versus the Zune. If you don’t remember the Zune, it’s not surprising. The Zune had all the features of an iPod and even some that the iPod didn’t: a bigger screen, a built-in FM tuner, and even the ability to share music and photos. But, unlike the iPod, the Zune didn’t tell a simple story about what it could offer that music lovers wanted most: “A thousand songs in your pocket.”

Think about your own marketing for a minute. Have you crafted a brand that can represent a clear, uniquely relevant, and differentiated idea in the minds of the people you’re trying to reach? Are you still selling matches or are you consistently, deliberately and strategically selling flames? If not, it might be time to replace a strategy based on selling more stuff with one based on getting people fired up about the personal value your brand represents in their lives.

Become Your Customer’s Friend

By Jon Cohen

Your customers are not your enemies.

This goes without saying, and yet companies often maintain an adversarial relationship with the people they serve, where the objective is to “win” by getting a customer to buy more, pay more, or accept less. Anybody who’s ever bought a car on a dealer lot has felt the pains of a competitive business transaction that didn’t need to be. But what about the restaurant that designs its menu to steer you towards the most profitable, but not necessarily best, menu options? Or the airline that takes away a small perk – a snack or a pillow – and then wants to sell it back to you? Or the online merchant that pre-selects upsell options that you have to manually unclick, if you even notice them before you click the “pay now” button?

Businesses are the beneficiaries of asymmetric information – only they know the true cost to offer a product or service, and they can create offerings or set prices from that privileged position.

Consumers might open their wallets in that moment, but not without a grumble. The marketers at headquarters will give high-fives as the sales charts tick upward that quarter, no doubt evidence of the efficacy of the scheme. But consumers have long memories, and other options.

Your brand is at stake. Your consumers should feel like your success depends on serving their best interests. The moment consumers get the sense that you’re trying to outwit them, they will treat you like an adversary – because that’s what you’ve shown them you are.

Your customers deserve to be treated like friends, like people whose happiness you care deeply about. And that feeling should be true.

Branding in the New Normal

By David Radcliff

Not too long ago, the ability to send someone “electronic mail” through the computer was a mind-boggling novelty. Instantaneous mail? Without stamps or paper?

(Some of us can still hear the whir of our dial-up modems.)

Communication has changed dramatically since that experiment in message swapping.
Today, most of us know exactly what it means to “Facebook” or to “Google” someone.
Many of us have smartphones and GPS devices and personal websites.

Online services such as Amazon and EHarmony have quietly revolutionized the way we find entertainment or love or anything in between. In one way or another, we are each constantly “connected” to the world around us.

But amidst all these connections, how many of us are truly ready to be heard?

As you read this, in “the new normal” of the Information Age, an endless parade of anonymous, college-age coding wizards is busy building a new wave of billion-dollar businesses that will soon be household names.

Meanwhile, seasoned corporate juggernauts are doubling down on their brick-and-mortar endeavors, circulating their brochures at trade shows, refining the figures on their PowerPoint presentations, changing their logos, competing on prices, and wondering why the kids out there still aren’t biting.

The brick-and-mortar crowd is gradually realizing what the coding crew already knows:

The language of business has changed.

In an age of constant connectivity, the new normal demands speaking with an audience, not to it. And only the most accessible, targeted, and honest language can win.

In short, the gap between business executives in tailored suits and wunderkinds in hooded sweatshirts can be bridged only with the help of savvy brand strategy.

Today’s world of social media tools demands each of our efforts (whether professional or personal) be more honest, more transparent, and more targeted than ever before. The winds of social media are not only changing the way we do business, they’re changing the way we think and speak about business and ourselves.

These winds of change are blowing open the kimono on every government, every industry, every campaign, and every rebranding effort under the sun.

These winds are causing everyday consumers to question, research, and interrogate the brands and businesses that shape our world.

If you’re at the helm of a brand or business, don’t run from this interrogation. Engage.
Inform. Teach.

And whatever you do, resist the urge to dig in your heels while waiting for the new normal to slide back to business as usual. Instead, look to master these winds of change.

Who knows where they might take you?