The first unified theory of branding

There’s a lot of talk in the business, marketing, and communications world about branding, strategy, and design but not always (well, most of time) in the same breath. There seems to be rift between the right and left side of the brain so it was a such a surprise to find a book that bridges this gap between strategy and design.

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The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier, from Liquid Agency, is not only a quick read, but a deeply insightful book presenting the first unified theory of branding – a set of five disciplines to help companies bridge the gap between brand strategy and execution. There are plenty of powerful statements Neumeier sets out from the start to the end of the book. It seems that he wanted to make it perfectly clear that you can’t have strategy without design, communication without dialogue, and brands without focus.

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The five disciplines of branding

  • Differentiate
  • Collaborate
  • Innovate
  • Validate
  • Cultivate

Think you know what your business is all about and think you have a great marketing strategy? Try to find unambiguous answers to these three little questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why does it matter?

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Working in visual communication, I found it also to be a great example of also linking business content (normally boring and stale) with visually stimulating typography, graphics, and layout. It actually makes you want to read this book, which is categorized as “marketing and management”.

Your time is valuable, so my first goal is to give you a book you can finish in a short plane ride. My second goal is to give you powerful principles that will last a career.

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If anyone works in communication, branding, or strategy, this book should be the first thing to be read. In addition to the book, you can download for free a PDF that summarizes the concepts and ideas from The Brand Gap in a nice visual storytelling presentation – the images from this post are from the presentation.

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Creating a photo book is easier than you think (kind of…)

In the last 10 years or so, digital photography has exploded in terms of the variety, options, and abilities to capture memories and moments. It has really made photography (and now video) accessible to just about anyone with a click of a button – first the DSLR, then point and shoots, and now mobile phones. At the same time, most photos are now sitting on a computer, in a phone, or on a camera somewhere. What do we do with them?

In the past, a roll of film would be developed and we would get prints. Nowadays, the way we share or view photos is all about putting them online and sharing them using some online platforms. Being able to touch, feel, and experience the photos without having to turn on a screen/LCD is still an enjoyable moment. It’s the same with picking up or flipping through a book versus reading (or is it scanning?) text on a screen.

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So with my 373 photos in hand from my 2013 photo experiment, I wanted to produce a book that I can always look through and share with people rather than just telling them to “It’s online – go to this link”. I heard about Blurb, an online photo book service and publisher, and decided to use them since they also had a plug-in for Adobe Lightroom, which I use to organize all my photos. The plug-in loads a Book menu in Lightroom where I was able to use a pre-defined list of layout templates. I then dragged and dropped my photos and captions to where I wanted them to go. Once that was done, I designed the front and back cover and uploaded the whole book to Blurb. This took a bit of time since all my photos were in RAW and the book eventually came out to be 128 pages!

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All in all, it took about 2 weeks from laying out my photos, and finishing the book, to getting it printed and shipped. It might have taken longer if I wasn’t keeping track of my photos and captioning them over the course of one year. Want your own copy? You can buy it directly from Blurb here.

One of the most natural thing we do when we enter into the world is to ‘see’

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The phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ started in the early 1900’s from people working in journalism and advertising. Nowadays, the startling amount of ‘words’ we’re producing with the plethora of ‘pictures’ can amount to information overload. Yet, every image, photo, picture or visualization has a story to tell and that story is a personal homage to both the scene in the picture and the person creating the image. While most people learn to read, write, and do arithmetic, one of the most natural and first thing we do when we enter into the world is to ‘see’.

Back in 2012, I entered the One Life photo competition/project setup by the See.Me creative community to highlight and provide exposure to lovers of photography. It was a great chance to contribute some of my photos to the project, gain a bit of exposure by joining the community and have a bit of fun. Added to this was that it was the first time I saw social media being used as a way to vote. At the end of it all, my photos would join a collection of great photos online that have a story to tell. I was so excited when I came back from Christmas holidays to find the long overdue book with select photographs from the competition waiting in the mailbox… and the best part was that one of my photos from a Greece trip in 2009 was featured! The photo along with my yearly highlight collections are available on Flickr – which reminds me I need to start working on a set for 2013.

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The Book: IIIDaward 2011

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In 2011, the International Institute for Information Design (IIID) was celebrating its 25th anniversary. As part of its celebration and in cooperation with Axis Magazine and the Taiwan Design Center, it launched its inaugural Award for recognizing the best in what information design has to offer. The organization’s aim is to promote and expand design knowledge and research on information design and is recognized as the world leader in information design development. So I was quite honored to have received an email back in 2011 about being selected by the Jury for Didactics category (projects that focus on educational or instructional information design) of the Award.

All the selected nominations were eventually put together in an Award book. Even though it took a year to receive the physical book, I’m glad to see I’m in good company – my project is on page 128. The next Award will be in 2014 and entries can be submitted starting in November.

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This is NOT a normal French book

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I feel so proud to be a part of this book project from French My Way which started about a year ago. Little did I realize that it wasn’t just ideas that were needed to help with getting this book ready, but also practical stuff like building a website, editing the content, developing a marketing and promotional plan, and even training Muriel on how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

This is NOT a normal French book” was the brain-child of Muriel from Day One. Being a French Teacher and Education specialist, she has worked around the world (in places like England, Ireland, Jamaica, Indonesia, Thailand and Fiji) and has come to a conclusion that learning should be fun, interactive, and taps into how we naturally understand and absorb information. While the book incorporates comic book characters and day-to-day dialogues, it also incorporates ideas and theories from the field of neuroscience. Muriel has melded the theoretical with very practical lessons that can help anyone learn French. By the way, she designed the curriculum, provided all the illustrations, and even recorded all the audio for the book!

One of the reviews the book received (so far) comes from John-Paul Flintoff, a journalist, coach, speaker and writer (for the Sunday Times (of London) and for six years, a feature writer and associate editor on the Financial Times magazine).

FYI, Michel Thomas was a gifted linguist who mastered more than ten languages in his life-time and became famous for teaching much of Hollywood’s “A” list how to speak a foreign language.

So check out the book and why not pick up a copy for yourself – what you’ll have in you hands is not only a great way to learn French, but from my perspective a great piece of art as well!

The secret to changing the world

This is for the garbage

If you didn’t know, there’s actually a school called the School of Life (reminds me a little of the movie School of Rock and Jack Black’s unique way to inspire kids). There’s plenty of nuggets of inspiration to be found in the School’s courses, musings, blog posts, and, more recently, a series of books on guiding people through life and everyday living. As a birthday gift, John Paul Flintoff’s “How to Change the World” was an unexpected surprise as I welcomed in my mid-30s. I’m not a fast reader, but with a title like this, I was happy to take the time to learn about Flintoff’s unique look and perspective on making a difference – he even signed my copy (photo below)!

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The brief intro I found on the School of Life website about the book is pretty much self explanatory:

We all want to live in a better world, but sometimes it feels like we lack the ability to make a difference. John-Paul Flintoff offers a powerful reminder that through the generations, society has been transformed by the actions of individuals who understood that if they didn’t like something, they could change it.

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Broken into 4 parts (Introduction, How to Start to Make a Change, What Needs Changing, and How, and Conclusion), Flintoff uses poignant and personal stories and accounts on how famous and not-so-famous people have changed things for the better – more importantly, the what, why, and how. It comes down to not just having lofty goals of world peace, but of knowing what you want, being connected to people, building on relationships, and doing what is possible, step-by-step, around you. And, one of the ways to go about it is to think about what you do and how it makes you feel. Here’s a collection of some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Changing the world, in other words, feels good – better than pursuing narrowly selfish interests, better even than having your feet massaged while you eat chocolate.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this point: if you don’t know what you want to fix, it can’t be done.

“Charismatic leadership has not freed us and it never will, because freedom is, by definition, people realising that they are their own leaders.” Diane Nash

We may think that solving world poverty is the more important pursuit, but changing the world is also about considering our own interests and skills – we will be most effective if we do what comes naturally to us.

A good world is not a world where everybody fixates on global problems to some externally imposed framework of importance’. A good world is one in which people find meaning in the particular things they do – and that means a world that has a place for beauty, creativity and play.

If we present only the negative aspects of what the future holds, people will switch off altogether.

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.” Wangari Maathai

And in case you wanted to know more about the book directly from the mouth of John-Paul Flintoff, here’s a TEDx Athens talk of him explaining the grand scheme of doing something small to change the world.

There’s also a parallel feeling in a recent WIRED article I read about what current and future “start-up” entrepreneurs and innovators want to achieve with their ideas. Those interviewed admired Bill Gates, not Steve Jobs…

This is not the Bill Gates of Windows; it’s Gates as philanthropist, eliminating polio, funding clean water and third world innovation. To the mostly younger staff, Gates outranks Steve Jobs. Twenty years ago I would not have guessed that fervent Apple users would anoint Gates as their role model and hero, but his work for the global good was mentioned too many times to ignore. Gates has become this generation’s Andrew Carnegie, a man whose reputation as a robber baron has been forgotten in the wake of his largesse.

Ready to change the world? Or are you doing it already?

What They Teach You at Harvard Business School.

Can you believe we’re already a quarter of the way through 2011? That means it’ll be six months since I first landed in a still balmy Geneva spring morning. Where does the time go? Speaking of time, how long does it take to make friends and build a social network? Of course there’s the online kind where a lot of time is spent on (re)connecting with family and friends. But what about the good-ol-fashion “hey, you wanna go for a movie or something?” type where you actually meet new and interesting people?

Check out this interesting TED talk about the hidden influence of social networks and how your location in the network might impact your life in ways you don’t even know. He throws a lot of numbers and technical details around, but the overall idea is fascinating.

In a place like Geneva, where it’s rumored that there’s more foreigners (i.e. non-Swiss and definitely non-Genevois) than locals, you’d think the international vibe would make it easy to find new people to hang out with. Surprisingly though, it’s a little bit more difficult than you think for both French and non-French speakers. There’s a couple of online social network places where people can find things to do with people that have similar interests (i.e. Glocals and InterNations), but building connections beyond one-off activities takes a surprisingly long time. Maybe because of the transient nature of the city, the fact that it’s a hub to many destinations in Europe where people jet-set on weekends, or just because it’s so damn expensive in the city that most people tend to avoid living in the city limits if they can afford to.

There’s definitely a draw to the city with many of the big international organizations headquartered here and lots and lots of banks. The city is oozing with money… and there’s no end to the high-fashion, fast cars, and opulent attitudes. Maybe that’s why I picked up this book to read to see if having an MBA would improve my quality of life. It’s an interesting read into one of the most prestigious universities in the world and one that churns out high-profile politicians, bankers, CEOs and the like. The author writes about his experiences with the program, the professors, and the student personalities at Harvard Business School, and the kind of stress, reflection, and tribulations of someone going through a mid-life crisis. It’s a fun and easy read that still makes you think about the underlying social and economic forces that shape the world we live in today. After reading this book, I’m convinced that it’s actions and attitudes that shape/make a person and not what they’ve studied, especially when it comes to business and corporate/financial responsibility.

The Mind of the Strategist

Strategy. The word is one that gets thrown around a lot especially with more and more opportunities to start a business, improve an organization, or just be plain, dare I say it, “strategic”. I’m guilty of using the word more often than I need to. But I decided while reading books on advertising that it would probably be a good investment to learn really what all this talk about “strategy” is about.

The one book that keeps coming up as a “classic” is The Mind of the Strategist by Kenichi Ohmae. Written in the early 80s by Dr. Ohmae, known as “Mr. Strategy” worldwide, the book looks at strategic planning for business and uses examples from his consultancy work with Japanese companies. I figured if the book is about strategic planning to improve the success of the private sector, then the theories and processes should also apply to the public sector (i.e. government, UN, NGOs, non-profits) – after all the essence of any business/company/organization is to be successful at what it does. Given the nature of organizations like the UN with diverse agendas and numerous staff spread over a number of offices around the world, a bit of insight from this book could be helpful.

I’ve just started reading the book. To spare the details, I’m going to ‘tweet’ key ideas that I come across while reading the book.

You can follow the ‘tweets’ at: http://twitter.com/vfung

Sex in the United Nations (…it happens…)

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Emergency Sex (and other desperate measures) gives a pretty good insight into the lives of three humanitarians / peacekeepers and the work they do towards the very holistic ideas of the United Nations. Its a book that highlights the struggles/conflicts we have in the 20th century with the real-life stories of these twenty-something peacekeepers. Full of witty comments and perspectives on the work of the United Nations, it was a book I desperately wanted to finish. As you move through the book, you begin with the very noble mentality that the writers go through until you realize at the end that many of the things that young people chase (i.e. idealism, work for a greater cause) is actually not in the physical support of countries in conflict, but the human touches that you go through in life that shape who you are and what you want for yourself.

Its an exciting read full of travels and life in Cambodia, Liberia, Haiti, Bosnia, among other countries where the writers experience love, sex, drugs, humanitarian work and the feelings and emotions that most people go through in various stages in their lives. While I haven’t been in many conflict zones, i do feel that I have shared similar paths with this group. The ideas of stability, friends, working towards a greater good, are all familiar.

If you have time and want to get the personal experiences in the humanitarian and peacekeeping world with a little culture and travels to distance and relatively untrodden paths thrown in, I would recommend this book.