Bring Your Brand into The New Year

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[Cross-posted from Beneath the Brand.]

Every holiday season, many companies choose to liven up their image with a mixture of timeless cheer and traditional advertising appeal: Whether it’s the instantly-recognizable red-suited Santa laughing as he partakes of some cookies and milk, or the image of a family together in their living room, seated next to the hearth and a Christmas tree, consumers recognize immediately what the message is. And the truth is, studies show that people still look forward to the comfortable, predictable advertising messages that we see in end-of-the-year holiday campaigns. We feel a rekindling of our youth, and in the joy of giving and receiving gifts. Brands entice us to purchase products so that we can participate in the tradition of exchanging holiday gifts, and they tell us that we’ll feel glad that we did so — lest we be Scrooges.

But the holidays do come on strong, even if we know what to expect, and they can be exhausting, both financially and emotionally. So what about when it’s all over? What does the New Year mean for consumers?

Well, to state the obvious, the New Year brings us new beginnings: A fresh start, promises to change for the better, and a virtual clean slate where we can visualize our goals and plan our route for achieving them. It represents a renewed outlook on life. Or at least, we feel like it does. In reality, we changed the way we wrote a series of four symbols, from 2-0-1-2 to 2-0-1-3. The sun came up in the morning, and then it set again as it always does (well, to be fair, I’m writing this before 12/21 — maybe the sun didn’t come up again!), and January 1 is a new day, just the same as any other day is. It’s just another day in your life.

But the idea of a new year and what it represents is appealing to many people, even if it’s only symbolic. And it’s something that brands should focus on to hit the ground running after consumers begin to suffer from holiday exhaustion. So how do brands usually appeal to consumers in the New Year?

An easy and obvious way is by catering to New Year’s resolutions, such as campaigns for healthy eating to reach your weight goals, or purchasing a financial planner to help with the goal of saving up for a vacation. When consumers feel like a product really will help them with their new goals, they’ll buy it.

Another way of doing this is a little bit bolder, but it definitely works: patting consumers on the back for making it through another holiday season. You’ve made it through another year. Why not take some time out for yourself, and recharge at a spa or ski resort? Consumers can relate to the stresses that come with the season and many will feel like indulging in some relaxing activities.

Or, tell them to get the most use out of the gifts they’ve been given. You just got a new flat-screen HDTV for Christmas. So why not buy yourself a new speaker system to create a home theater experience that the whole family will enjoy for years to come?

By utilizing the powerful idea of new beginnings in the New Year, companies convince us that their products are the key to realizing our New Year’s goals, as well as a way of experiencing happiness even after the novelty of our holiday gifts has long worn off. When brands keep their image fresh and relevant year-round, they enjoy more success!

Why Kay Jewelers Warms Our Hearts Every Christmas Season

[Cross-posted from Beyond Madison Ave.]

Every Christmas season, Kay Jewelers releases a commercial that is supposed to represent a moment of pure, unaltered bliss for women: After a year of hard work and playing the diligent wife, the go-getter at work, the dinner maker, the errand runner, and the all-around problem solver, she is rewarded with a beautiful piece of jewelry — what a prize! The woman smiles, thanks her loving family, and everyone is happy. Most importantly, she knows she is loved. In the next clip, she is wearing the jewelry, gives her husband or boyfriend a kiss, and the musical jingle plays as their lips touch: Every kiss begins with Kay.

Kay Jewelers has been making commercials for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Christmas for years — and every one follows a variation of this formula. Each commercial ends with the beaming, grateful woman wearing the jewelry, and leaning in for the big kiss with her husband or boyfriend while the jingle begins to play. This is one of the most important parts of their brand’s image. The tune is simple, memorable, and short. While very few commercials use musical jingles anymore, Kay’s still works — which is precisely why they haven’t changed it for so many years. It has become such an integral part of the brand that people recognize the company from the moment they hear the first few notes.

Aside from the effective jingle, Kay Jewelers uses another method of appealing to their customers. By showing a husband or boyfriend engaging in a simple, loving gesture like giving his partner a heartfelt gift on Christmas, a tradition is born. Kay Jewelers takes care to show that beautiful gifts like gem-encrusted necklaces, diamond rings, and gold bracelets are affordable, even for families. It also shows that a woman will appreciate something selected from Kay. So of course, with everyone so pleased, it makes sense that it could also be a wonderful tradition for years to come.

Kay Jewelers also uses mini-stories to evoke our tender emotions. They carefully align the customers that use their products as protagonists. When a boyfriend or husband presents his personal gift from Kay, he believes he has given a priceless, timeless gift to the woman. And when she inevitably accepts it, she accepts not only the gorgeous jewelry, but also the gesture that comes with it. She accepts his love, and both parties feel good about the transaction. This makes us, as consumers, want to recreate that feeling for ourselves.

So by combining mini-narratives, holiday traditions, good feelings, and jingles, Kay Jewelers has created an unmistakable image for themselves that has transcended other competitors’ marketing techniques. Everyone knows what a Kay commercial is like, and hundreds of thousands of women receive gifts from their stores every Christmas. All of the time-tested advertising techniques I touched upon have made Kay the number one retailer of jewelry worldwide. The simplicity of their brand resonates with millions of normal folks who are looking to give or receive something special. Of course, there’s a whole other camp of people who avoid Kay Jewelers precisely because of these advertising elements, too — but that certainly won’t stop Kay Jewelers from releasing another commercial, or from changing their formula. Just wait until Valentine’s Day.

5 Personal Branding Cues to Consider for Your Business in 2013

Cross-posted from [Beneath the Brand].

Let’s take a brief look at a successful personal brand that started off as something virtually unknown. Take Ray William Johnson, for example. He started out making videos for fun, but gradually amassed followers to become one of the most popular channels on YouTube. Now he is taking his brand to a whole new level — he announced recently that he’s starting his own production company! While there is no set formula for success like Ray William Johnson’s, there are a few tips and tricks we can follow to improve our representation of our brand and our visibility online.

1) Hone in on your skills. When you are trying to reach a wider audience, it’s important to recognize your strengths. For example, are you a talented speaker? Why not volunteer to be a guest speaker for your local community college? If you’re more of a writer, submit something to your local paper and send out samples of your work to your favorite blogs. Maybe you can guest post, edit, or even be a regular contributor! Are you good at teaching? Find out if you can instruct for a local adult education program — get to know people and network!

2) Use proper etiquette in everything you do. When you answer the phone or send an email, you’re still branding yourself. Do it positively. If you relay messages in an abrupt, rude manner, people will not perceive you as an open communicator or an approachable business contact. Do your very best to be courteous and considerate to others, and they’ll remember you and the brand you represent as a positive, rewarding experience!

3) Utilize word-of-mouth marketing. Tried and true, friends. Talk to your colleagues, coworkers, clients, customers. Nurture your crowd. When they ask questions or provide feedback — positive or negative — engage them. If someone is trying to cause problems or attack another one of your customers (happens a lot on Internet forums), moderate it. Make your space a positive one, and reserve room for constructive criticism. When you handle yourself in a professional and structured manner, people respect you as a manager and as a person. They want to participate in your brand, and they’ll spread the word for you!

4) Use social media. Be online. In 2013 there will be no excuse to not have a way for your customers to connect with you via social media. Promote yourself by using sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. You don’t need to do all of the above, obviously, but choose a few of them and use them. Update them regularly, and connect with people who are similar to you. Consistency creates loyalty. I’ve heard people say that brand loyalty is no longer a thing, but I maintain that it still is. It’s just that the definition has changed a bit — it’s no longer blind loyalty to one of two major competing companies like so many businesses in the ’80s and ’90s. (For example: Coke vs Pepsi, Nintendo vs Sega, Ford vs Chevrolet, the list goes on and on.) Nowadays, loyalty isn’t defined as exclusivity to your business — but rather, by your company providing loyal services to your customers and employees, and of course to yourself. When you create a positive work atmosphere, your employees want to work for you, and do a better job at engaging your customers. The customers recognize and appreciate this. And by using social media, everyone can share their positive experiences in real time, which gives you more free, positive publicity!

5) Keep a line-up of projects. This is important. Have deadlines. Focus on bite-sized achievements. This gives you a variety of things to pull from for discussions, and you will always have something new to tweet, write, and learn about. You can easily connect with others on multiple levels when you have a constant workflow. Of course, there are a few don’ts as well: don’t overwhelm yourself, and don’t post about mundane things (save your Instagrammed lunch photos for your personal accounts)! But by breaking your habit of only posting when you have a major deadline due, you keep fans consistently in the loop. They’ll like keeping tabs on your progress!

These are only a few tips, but they are important things to consider for your personal brand and business going into 2013. It’s no longer enough to just put up a website and hope that the customers will find you. Be proactive, and find new ways to engage your audience on a regular basis. The hard work will pay off! Happy branding!

‘Happily Ever After’?: Modernizing Fairy Tales for a New Generation

[Cross-posted from Beneath the Brand blog].

Recently, my boyfriend and I started watching Once Upon a Time. Other than the brief plot synopsis I’d read online, neither of us knew much about it. But we are both products of the ‘80s and ‘90s, so we were familiarized with storylines within the series, because hey — we’d seen Disney movies. This sort of sugar-coated narrative was how most kids of that generation generally became acquainted with the fairy tales, and in terms of popular media consumption, Disney had a monopoly on the production of fairy tales for many years.

So, with that in mind, we sat down to a surprisingly nuanced and dark story. In this tale, almost the entire cast of characters doesn’t realize that they hail from a fantasy realm, because a dark queen has cast a curse on them, banishing them to live in a prison (which is the small town of Storybrooke, Maine), all the while oblivious to their former lives.

One little boy is convinced that he knows their true identities, and embarks on a quest to get his birth mother to help him break the spell. The only catch? His adoptive mother is the evil queen (or, in her present incarnation, the mayor of Storybrooke), and she doesn’t take too kindly to anyone foiling her plans.

And I’m hooked — it’s modern, weaves together familiar tales in such a way to be comforting, and then retells them in a contemporary, action-packed manner that you won’t soon forget.

So watching Once Upon a Time brought up some memories for me, and it made me think about the history of fairy tales — and the joy we get from retelling them time and again, each generation putting its own twist on them.

Considered by many to be the godfathers of modern fairy tale lore, the Grimm brothers collected a wealth of German folklore and published the stories in an anthology. Many of the stories were exceedingly dark and violent, but kids read them anyway. The books retained their popularity surprisingly well, and in the 20th century, a large portion of the tales was thought to be too dark and violent for children. So, when Disney pulled inspiration and storylines from the Grimm’s tales, they deliberately chose to overlook the allusions to sexuality, as well as the descriptions overt violence and cruelty that were present in so many of the fables. This left us with the sanitized, moralistic good-triumphs-over-evil stories that we know so well today.

But the kids who once dreamt of the Disney versions of fairy tales have grown up now. Today, they are the story weavers, working on blockbuster movies and writing the hit television shows like Once Upon a Time. And so we are seeing the retelling of old German folktales in shows like Grimm, a story that features the Grimm brothers as cops, fighting modern, real-life versions of familiar fairytale creatures. Jack and the Beanstalk turned into Jack the Giant Killer, an updated story of the bravery and heroism of an unlikely “giant killer.” Snow White’s soft-spoken, naïve demeanor has vanished in favor of the valiant warrior we see Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel are now cunning Witch Hunters rather than helpless, abandoned children, and even the Rise of the Guardians chronicles popular contemporary fairy tale characters like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, who just so happen to possess some previously-unknown superhero powers — though it’s still child-friendly, of course.

So what is it that drives us to modernize these tales? Many times, we choose to reimagine characters like meek, fragile Snow White or little, gullible Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk as characters who are now powerfully in control of their destinies — presently, they are unlikely heroes at worst and completely bad-ass action heroes at best. In some of the new stories the women, who were formerly relegated to droll, feminine passivity, have advanced to meet their male counterparts as equals in battle: Snow White adorns herself in a warrior’s armor and fights alongside her male friends, and eventually squares off woman-to-woman to win back a kingdom. In Once Upon a Time, the female characters actually drive the story with their own set of decidedly un-princess-like desires.

Yes, it seems that modernizing these fairy-tale brands is a full-blown trend that has everyone’s attention. Today, people who grew up with the same old narrative of prince-meets-princess-and-they-live-happily-ever-after are creating worlds where our childhood heroes can be as powerful, flawed, and as nuanced as we always wanted them to be. And the whole point of fairy tales is to pass on these timeless stories to the next generation, even if it’s in an updated format, isn’t it?

So which tales would you like to see redone? I’ve personally always liked Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard — strangely enough though, both of those tales are from the French author Charles Perrault rather than the Brothers Grimm!

December Frenzy — Machinima, Blogging, and More

Nanowrimo and Aria’s Reprisal

So, November came and went.  I posted a few times about how I was falling behind on Nanowrimo.  Can you guess how the month ended?

If you guessed that I failed, you’re right. I only wrote about 12,000 words.  That’s more than I’ve written any other year for Nano (yay for mini-goals?), but I still failed pretty miserably.

I am still planning on working on this project, however.  It has been a ton of fun to plan, and if you’re interested in any plot points, quotes, notes on progress, world building, or soundtracks that I think would rock for a movie version of my writing (don’t hate; I make machinima for that reason…) then head over to http://hellystia.tumblr.com to see Aria’s Reprisal and take a look around.  You may find it interesting. Or, you might think, “What the hell is this? Now I definitely don’t want to read any of her writing.” Either way, if you are vaguely interested at all in sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, dystopian alternate worlds, and really intense descriptions of cold-weather landscapes, then you may find some of what I write on my tumblr interesting.

Machinima and Morningstar Episode 5

In the machinima realm, I’m slowly kicking off ep 5 of Morningstar.  I have a few things I’d like to address about this:

I am doing my best to keep multiple story lines going at once. It’s the way I prefer to tell tales. While I technically have a “main” character, I don’t see the point in focusing on narrating only her thoughts on the world. Azeroth is huge, diverse, and ancient. There’s too much opportunity to tell interesting as well as intersecting stories. That being said, I’ve heard some people say it’s a bit hard to follow. I will try to make sure that things are as clear as they can be at that point in the story, but the point of leaving the viewer hanging is… well, so that they want to watch more!

I have not made a final decision on whether or not I’ll use voice actors for this episode.  I understand that this was my #1 complaint about the series, and I also know that I’d reach a much wider audience if I did use voice actors. The funny thing is, I’ve known of quite a few people who’ve done their stories the way I do, and none of them get such terrible complaints about it.  I don’t know what it is about me that makes people want to point that out so much — I guess I’m just that socially-awkward nerdy kid that sits alone at lunch. 😦

I will attempt to keep the episodes around 10 minutes in length from now on.  I know the last one got ludicrously long.  I cringed when I saw the projected length, and for that I’m sorry.  I will keep it to 2 story lines per episode to remedy this, rather than three or more.  It’s simply too unwieldy at that point.

Yes, there will eventually be a ‘love’ story. I’ve also had a few people ask about this. I am aware that love is a common thread throughout the narratives of Azeroth; I, too, am interested in reading and writing about that. But love is not the primary focus of the story, because I want to tell a tale where my characters stand on their own as solid, well-developed individuals.  Too often, I feel love stories are used as crutches to avoid developing a character — who are they without their partner?  Characters, particularly females, can exist and be simultaneously intriguing, complex characters without a love interest. It can be done!

Beneath the Brand

I am a regular contributing blogger at Talent Zoo’s Beneath the Brand blog now.  I post under my real name there, so regular readers might see some discrepancy in the online personas I use.  I’m sorry if it’s confusing!

I will be linking my articles here every week (usually Fridays) so that you can read something fresh!

Other Projects

In addition to my day job of writing, and my night job of… well, playing World of Warcraft and doing more writing (as well as video effects), I am a — wait for it — freelance writer.  I take commissions  for a multitude of projects and genres of writing. If for some reason you’re interested in working with me on a writing project, get a hold of me on Twitter or shoot me an e-mail (ninja dot superwoman at gmail dot com). I’ve been busy of late, but I always love receiving new jobs.

I hope you guys have kept yourselves busy, happy, and creative!

❤ Helly