Further thoughts on branding as a mental model

Since I had my eureka moment a few days ago, I’ve had a few days to let the impact of it set in. I keep coming back to feeling that I’ve stumbled onto something big. Let me bring you back up to speed.

A few days ago Tom Asacker at “A Clear Eye”:http://www.acleareye.com/ defined _brand_ as

bq. …the expectation of someone or something delivering a certain feeling by way of an experience.

The key word here is *expectation*. An expectation is the projection of emotion and thought into the future. This emotion and thought comes from our experiences in the past. I can’t have an expectation of something if I have no knowledge of it, right? Where is this knowledge stored? In my memory. This is important.

According to Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee in their book “On Intelligence”:http://www.onintelligence.org/, we are smart because we build models of events and experiences in our memory. These models contain everything we know about the event/experience, including the steps we took to get there, the feeling we had once there, and the actions that came after it. We compare incoming stimuli from all our senses against the models, and when we get a match, we follow or mold the model’s instructions to suit the present situation. There’s a lot of science behind this that I may get into later.

The *A Ha!* came when I realized that a brand is a memory model for a _thing_.

This has a huge impact, at least for me. It allows me to easily grasp what can be a very slippery topic. It gives me something physical that I can picture and describe. It gives me a specific target to aim for in the work I do for my client. It gives me a tool to visually communicate a fuzzy concept to a team and to my clients. What’s more, it shows my client how I can be of greater service to him by helping to design the entire memory model.

This takes me out of my traditional narrow designer’s role and puts me in a place where I can have a wider impact on his business practice. This is a very good thing. The skills I’ve learned as a designer apply to designing the whole memory model. I’ll get into that in more detail in upcoming articles.

I’m going to be exploring this in a fair bit of detail in the next couple of days. I’m going to work through the process of building and visualizing a brand’s mental model. The goal here is to come up with something useful that we can all use in our day to day working lives. If you have something to contribute, please use the comments, or send me an email to peter at flashlightdesign dot com

I have one apple sticker left

With apologies to the folks I owe stickers too, I’ve been holding off to see if there is a final taker for the last white apple sticker. First to leave a comment gets it. Email me you address to peter at flashlightdesign dot com.

Resize-o-rama

I’ve just added a handly little javascript, courtesy of “The Man in Blue”:http://www.themaninblue.com/experiment/ResolutionLayout/ that changes the stylesheet on the fly based on your browser width. Try resizing the page, and see what happens. The transition point is at 900px.

What is a brand?

_Edited and updated April 21 2005. Originally posted yesterday._

I’ve just read the most concise definition of *brand* over at “A Clear Eye”:http://www.acleareye.com/sandbox_wisdom/2005/04/okay_here_it_is.html. To quote:

bq. A brand is the expectation of someone or something delivering a certain feeling by way of an experience.

– end of original post.

Well, 24 hours have passed, and I’ve had a chance to digest this. I had one of those *a ha!* moments in the shower, and nearly cut myself shaving. Two separate ideas suddenly clicked, and my understanding of each deepened as a result.

I’m in the process of reading a book called On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins (the fellow who invented the Palm Pilot, amongst many other things). In it, he proposes a new model for understanding _how_ we are smart. In essence, he states that we hold models of experiences in our memory, and that we compare incoming stimuli against those models to determine, well, everything. In turn, each incoming stimulus affects the shape and content of the memory model – it’s a dynamic relationship.

His proposal is fascinating, and based on years of research. It’s not without controversy, as it flies in the face of conventional neuroscience. I certainly _seems_ to make sense. We’ll have to wait a few years for confirmation to be certain. Never the less, his model and the definition of brand above mesh together perfectly, and are applicable today.


Think of a brand as the collection of all experiences one associates with a given thing. As a business owner or marketer, one would want to ensure that *all* the experiences delivered were appropriate to one’s goals. In this way, the model built in the customer’s memory would match your intentions, and a positive brand model would be built. Ongoing interactions should reinforce that model, ensuring a positive brand experience.

*This is really fascinating.* It turns the branding model on its head. Instead of looking at a product or service (for simplicity, I’ll refer only to product, but I mean “product or service”) and determining its branding characteristics, we look at the end user (or customer) and ask ourselves what is the model we’d like this person to hold in their memory. We then go about identifying the interactions the customer will have with our product (i.e. advertising, packaging, store environment, web site, sales reps, etc). With these distinct interactions, or experiences, in mind, we can make decisions that will help shape the *entire* model in our customers brains.

This is incredibly good news for designers, because it reinforces the need to present *consistent* experiences. It also clearly shows that a brand extends *way* beyond a mark or logo to touch every aspect of a customer’s interaction with our product. This reinforces the need for good design decisions to be made at every stage of the experience.

*What is an experience?*

As it relates to branding, an experience is any action that brings a customer into contact with the *concept* of our product. This includes the examples above (ads, product design, etc), but extends well beyond that. As designers, I think we would do very well to learn to think beyond the screen, and to think about how we can help design the entire branding experience.

As designers, our jobs are to shape reality. We are used to designing experiences, although we may not think of them that way. By slightly shifting the paradigm of our jobs, we open a world of new opportunities.

As a graphic designer, I no longer think of myself as a layout artist or web guy. Instead, effective immediately, I’m thinking of myself as a designer of experiences.

*How does this affect our jobs?*

What strikes me most about this is how simple it is to explain:

# we think by forming models of experiences in our memories, then comparing incoming stimuli to those models.
# every incoming stimulus in turn updates a model.
# a brand is the model one holds for a specific product or service.
# by determining the interactions a customer has with our product, we can take steps to shape that model.

If I can explain the above to my clients, and I can demonstrate that I have the ability to help them through this re-thinking, I’ve just opened up a whole new category of work.

I could, and undoubtedly will, go on and on. I’d like to take a bit of time to think of some specific examples to show how this thinking can benefit us. I would very much love to hear what you think. Am I on to something, or full of crap?

Perfect geek syncronicity

I can think of nothing more perfect than these moleskine icons, available free from “Moleskine Art”:http://www.moleskineart.com/index.html (beware -very slow site). Enjoy.

It's all about the beards

Apparently its all about the beards. And OmniOutliner. Oh, and Vitruvian Tattoos too. It’s so interesting to look at my site stats, and see how people got here. By far the majority of you come from clicking my name on a comment somewhere. A bunch come from some posting or another on a forum, some of which are quite old. A frightening number get here by googling my name. I hope you got what you came here for. Its kind of spooky, having ones’ name googled…

If you don’t have a site of your own, or if you do and you’re some sort of freak who doesn’t check his stats, then you may not know that google et al pass the search string you used along to the site you visit. That way, I can see what keywords are being used to find me. There are a surprising number of people who get here by searching about beards. You poor souls, you must be so disappointed. It’s enough to make me want to add a beard blog to The Blog Studio. Actually, that’s not a bad idea!

Ok, I’m back, after a short break to google ‘beard blog’. What do you know? There’s not much out there… One thing I did find though was this: “beard.org”:http://www.beards.org/ Not only is it about beards, it’s xhtml 1.0 strict! *How cool is that?*

In order to satisfy the curiosity of those who came here looking for a little skin and ink, I hereby shamelessly post a picture of me with my shirt off. You have no idea how long I’ve been sitting here debating whether or not to post this picture. I’ve decided to go ahead and do it, but I may will chicken out tomorrow and pull it down. But I was flexing *really* hard – do you have any idea how hard it is to hold a camera still while you’re flexing? – and I couldn’t let the moment go to waste. *Update: the picture is down, not due to embarrasement of my physique, but due to how crappy the pic looks on a pc. I’ll get my wife to take a better picture.*

Actually, this is a perfect segue to introduce the latest site to The Blog Studio network: bicilog. This site is about my attempt to fall back in love with my bicycle. It’s a bit of a long story, and one that I hope to draw out over time. I hope it will be the most literary of my sites, allowing me to spelunk to the depths of metaphor without fear of reprisal. I’m also hoping it will help motivate me to find the time to get on the bike.

I bet at least one person will think I’m spreading myself too thin. In fact, I may well be, but at this point, having more to write is actually giving me more to say, and I’m loving it. I’m not making any promises I can’t keep though, so we’ll see how it goes.

Bicilog will be up within a couple of days. The design is pretty well done, at least for its initial launch. I’m never satisfied, but I do want to get started. Knowing the state of design on the blogosphere though, I know what I’ve got so far won’t put too many people off.

So that’s the latest and greatest. It’s been 24 hours, and I haven’t changed my master plan. That’s almost a record!

What's up with my feedburner chiclet?

Well, I know for a fact that there are people subscribed to my feedburner feed. When I view the stats on the “feedburner”:http://www.feedburner.com site, I see that there are in fact a number of people reading that feed, but the chiclet currently shows *0*. Hmmm…

The Master Plan (of the moment)

Thought I’d give you an update, for those of you following the bouncing ball. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve gotten all hot and bothered about the whole “making money from a blog” thing. Well, I’m jumping in with both feet. This just seems like such an incredible skill to have in my toolbox. A client pitch for a blog sure sounds more impressive if instead of talking about how much the site will cost the client, you can talk about how much the site will *make* for the client.

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking just a tad as to how to make this whole thing happen. There is a *ton* of info out here in blogland, and I’ve been gobbling it up. I’ve identified a couple of niches where I have some interest, and have registered a couple of new domains. My biggest challenge has been to try to figure out what to do with this site. I had planned on turning almost cool into a blog about blogs, but recently that plan has changed.

I’ve been working on a site called The Blog Studio for a bit. The initial idea was to make this a consultancy for small and micro companies wanting to get into blogging. My training in marketing and design, my years spent selling products and services, my experience as a business owner (I used to own a couple of high end bike stores), and my general passion for this make me as good a candidate as any to get business owners on board. I’ve decided to expand on this, and turn The Blog Studio into the umbrella network for my other sites. The Blog Studio site itself will be the place for us to share our bloggy thoughts. My hope is that the discussion that will take place there will push the boundaries of blog design forward, and help other designers learn how to make money. I truly believe in keeping this new business of mine open source. A wise man once said *help others make money, and you will be rich yourself*. I believe this with all my heart.

Anyhoo, this little post is getting away on me. The Blog Studio will be launching in ultra-beta in the next couple of days. The first site in the new network is almost ready for prime time. It’s called “dadlog”:http://www.dadlog.com, and I am incredibly excited about it. The site is about being a modern dad. *There isn’t any place that celebrates fatherhood in a non-sappy way*. There are a billion and one mom sites, and no dad sites to speak of. I think there is a massive opportunity here, one I’m only just beginning to grasp.

I really have no idea what dadlog will become. Right now its a blog and a “forum”:http://www.dadlog.com/phpBB2/ . I have visions of the site becoming a quasi magazine, with regular contributors, reviews of toys for (big) boys, an “ask the doctor” or “ask the expert” section, possibly fashion spreads, a clothing line, etc. In the few days the site has been up, I’ve had a couple of people ask if they could write for it. There’s obviously some pent up demand. We’ll see where it goes. I’m *trying* not to run before I walk, *but it’s really hard*.

Other sites in the near future will include a sailing site, a quilting site (long story), a real estate investment site, an IT site, and a fiction site. I have a couple of people lined up to write a couple of these for me. I’ll handle the design and site management, and we’ll split whatever revenue we may eventually get.

Speaking of revenue, I’ll share those goals too. Some of you may have heard of the “make $100 a day in 12 weeks”:http://www.websitenights.com/archives/2005/03/17/how-to-join-the-challenge-challenge-guidelines/ challenge. Frankly, I’m hoping to hit those numbers in 24 weeks. As I’ve stated before, revenue is only part of my goal, so I’m not totally fixated on it (yeah right! I’ve checked my adsense stats about a hundred times this week!). I expect to put in 3 or 4 months of solid work before any money starts to come in. Obviously I’d be pleasantly surprised if it happened sooner, but I’m not expecting it.

So what’s going to happen with almost cool? I know you’re just _dying_ to find out, so I won’t keep you in suspense any more. Almost Cool will be my personal site, just like it was always meant to be. That means I’ll write about whatever strikes my fancy, from design to _deep thoughts_ (said in my best James Earl Jones voice), to my wry and witty observations on what it means to be the 97th monkey.

Well, this was meant to be a short little post, and now look what I’ve done! I’m looking for collaborators, so if you want to chat, let’s chat!

I caved


We’re strange beings. We make these ridiculous investments in _things_, and we imbue them with emotional and psychological weight. I have a treo, and I’ve been trying deperately to make it work for me. Before that, I had a ipaq. Before that, a palm V. Before that, a palm 3. Before that, well, you get the picture.

Why did I keep buying new machines? Other than lust? Simple: *they didn’t do what I needed them to*.

I’ve written about OmniOutliner a bunch of times here. The reason I love the software so much is its flexibility. It is just *so* easy to make a list, move things around, add a column, edit your thoughts, etc etc etc. I work in a fairly disjointed way. Even while focussed on a particular project, I’ll have a zillion ideas floating around. By having OO open, I can always add jot down my idea, drag in a link, or even make an audio note.

I’d basically given up having a pda that would allow me such an intuitive way of brainstorming. I carry around a moleskine to jot client notes, brain farts, etc. Its not suited to my daily needs though. A book is linear. I am not.

I’ve been reading Merlin Mann’s “43 folders”:http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/introducing_the.html since practically day one, so I’ve know about the hipster pda for a while. It never fired me up though – it is, after all, just a bunch of index cards. I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

Then, in a truly “97th monkey”:http://www.peterflaschner.com/index.php?id=73 moment, my local rag, the Globe and Mail did a piece on Mann’s “invention” this past weekend. “Ok, ok, I’ll try it” So, I made the massive investment of $1 for a pack of a hundred 3 by 5 index cards, took them home, and started writing. And kept writing. And writing. Next, I started *moving the cards around*, showing the relationships between projects and subprojects. Arranging priorities was as simple as shuffling my deck. *Holy crap*.

This really is earth shattering stuff. No, I’m not being ironic. It really is! Try it. Go buy some index cards. Use one for each project. A project is ANYTHING YOU ARE WORKING ON: a client project (Lab Inc website), a personal project (launch The Blog Studio – more soon), a chore (mow lawn), etc. I won’t go into how to use your new hipster pda – there are a gazillion tips over at “43 folders”:http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/introducing_the.html Trust me on this one – you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Monday brain dump

Proof that I’m not the only nut who thinks blogging will change business, “Gates Says Most Businesses will Blog”:http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2005/04/gates_says_most.html

“Eyetools”:http://blog.eyetools.net/eyetools_research/ offers a very interesting take on the power of proper design. Learning something about eye tracking seems like a very, very handy use of one’s time.

After reading the article about it in the Globe and Mail this weekend, I finally caved and bought a bunch of index cards to use as a “hipster pda”:http://www.43folders.com/2005/04/the_globe_and_m.html This is a true case of monkey sense. Just watch, before you know it, *everyone* is going to be throwing away their palms in favor of good old pen and paper.