Sunday, August 30, 2009

Warmer, fuzzier, friendlier logos a sign of the times?

The image below is the new Walmart logo, in use for the better part of 2009. It's a shift from the previous version in a few dramatic ways. The old one was darker blue, the letters were in all caps (shouting) and there was a star icon separating the Wal from the Mart, like the asterisk does here: Wal*Mart. So what right?

The new logo is softer, lighter, fuzzier and friendlier. Some would say a needed change and a sign of the times. The addition of the tagline, "Save money. Live better" certainly is a sign of the times, just like the PC commercials running, in an attempt (as yet unsuccessful) to steal market share from Apple by showing how a PC can be cool AND cost under $1,000. Bill Marsh wrote a bit about this in his Ideas & Trends column earlier this summer in the New York Times.

Another example he gave is the change in the Kraft Foods logo. I grew up with the Kraft logo of old, dark blue all cap letters, in that thick red outline box with beveled edges around it. It graced the boxes of KD I ate in first year university when food budgets were tight. What a change Kraft has gone to in their new logo, below. Light, airy, open, colorful, friendly. Even the tagline is an opportunity to make the most of the day - "make today delicious".

These astute marketers and the creatives behind the changes are in touch with the times, and in touch with what I believe to be a lasting change in our culture today. One more humanistic, more open, more accessible. We've all heard the adage, "customers are more in control than ever before" and it is true. What these changes in corporate identity tell me is these companies are realizing that control isn't just about media usage and having the ability to Tivo out commercials, or select news feeds to be sent directly to in boxes.

Perhaps this added customer control is also about wanting to not accept all the negative, and to just find a few little ways to feel better. No emblems of distant, cold, standoff-ish behemoths. Give me non-threatening, reassuring, even playful logos. Faces of friends. Those of you on the more traditional side of the spectrum here, please don't misread this. I am not saying we are becoming a bunch of soft, unaccountable, come-as-you-like-do-as-you-pleasers.

I am saying that life can be a whole lot more fun, and I believe ultimately more productive and sustainable long-term if you come at it in a more open, inclusive, inviting way. That's what I read in these logos and the thinking behind the change.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Speak true. Live free.

I have violated the cardinal rule of blogging - by not posting anything for more than a month. Forgive me, anyone out there who is waiting to see what comes next (all 10 of you and anyone you pass this to). The truth is I have scrawled notes on all shapes and forms of bits of paper, backs of boarding passes, in the margins of my journal and from news bites I read or watch. I have just not had the brain time to pull anything coherent or interesting enough to use this space.

It has been a busy 6 weeks or so, summer friends and family visiting Southern Cal, and a higher vibration at work as we prepare for 2010 business planning, all the while still hoping to live that long.

One thing I learned years ago, first by seeing what NOT to do in my first real big business job, and then by seeing what TO do by learning from an amazing mentor, is that as a leader in any environment your behavior and your energy can really set the stage for how everyone on a team relates, performs and feels.

If you are hierarchical, closed and threatened by another's opinion you will close down, or shut them out. Not only does this wreak havoc on morale, it also eclipses any opportunity for cross-discipline sharing, building and learning - if everything is kept in linear order, in check and in silos. I had a superior (not a direct boss) who led like that and people feared her, disliked her and operated on the premise of only doing the bare essentials. She was miserable, it showed on her face and in her walk. It showed in the way she chain smoked (remember it was 15+ years ago now, so that was a more common event). But she went through her day thinking she was the boss and she had the power, and somehow she thought that meant she could control people and tell them what to do or not. She was the kind of leader who would ask you your opinion, then if you disagreed with her, you were punished or excluded from further discussion. I can write this story now, all these years later as the statute of limitations must for sure be in effect.

Then in another large corporation I experienced the opposite. I worked with an inspiring, inspired leader. He was confident enough in himself that he wanted new ideas to come from anywhere, and it really didn't matter. He worked hard, laughed a lot, always said thank you for a job well done, had a great sense of humor, walked super fast, was always the first one in the office at 7am each day and clearly loved his work and his life. It showed in the respect he gave everyone around him. He loved nothing more than when the team was successful, and that success was defined by innovating a new product or strategy to steal market share from our biggest competitor across the valley, or being first to market with a new idea. More times than not, he stood back and basked in the success and gave the credit to the person who came up with an idea, or built on one to get to the next level. The team succeeded, he succeeded, and none of us ever really cared who got credit. There was no "inner circle" or excluded ones - there was just the work and that's what we focused on. He pushed me to the edge a time or two with his high expectations. When I thought my marketing plan was the most complete ever written, he challenged me to go deeper - not by telling me or inferring I was stupid or doing it wrong, but by telling me I could dig deeper still and learn a lot more. He gave me the personal challenge, and put his faith and confidence in what I could do. And he wasn't threatened or insecure about whatever the results might be. He was right, and I worked the many extra hours and made tons of phone calls to decipher our competitors' strategies.

So why the blather? Because we are in the midst of a tough time right now economically and it is these times that test us all. What kind of leader will you be? I work hard to be the second, and to give to the team members I work with the same gifts David Barry gave to me. I know I am not nearly as focused, grounded or intelligent as he. But when I am pushed off my center these days I just remember the things he taught me. Focus on the work. Support each other. Stay open. Share the credit. Be nice, it's a lot more fun. Have a sense of humor. Appreciate people's gifts and their faults and work with them both. And to paraphrase one of my favorite performers - Speak true. Live free.