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Beyond the Ordinary: Brand Lessons from ColdPlay

Every now and then, we come across a brand experience that jolts us in all the right ways… leaving a lasting and loyal impression. When that happens (typically a rare occurrence) from that moment on we become faithful followers and number one advocates.

Looking back at brand experiences that have made lasting, indelible impressions… Coldplay in concert at the Oak Mountain Amphitheater jumps to the top of the list. I’d been a fan of Coldplay’s music through the years and was “somewhat” excited about attending the show. I scored some tickets the day of the show… turned out to be one of the best show’s I’ve seen.

Three things a Coldplay concert can teach us about creating extraordinary brand experiences.

UNBRIDLED EXUBERANCE . The energy and passion that Coldplay poured into every song was astounding. You can go to alot of shows and not experience that kind of emotion and investment. After all, this was probably number 25 of 150+ concert stops across the world. The crowd was feeding on the genuine passion and energy Coldplay poured into each song and every audience member.

ELEMENT OF SURPRISE. The amphitheatre seats over 20,000 people. So, how can you make the environment seem intimate enough so that everyone feels engaged to every note, every lyric? Coldplay accomplished what very few bands could. About 7-8 songs into the show, the band came running up the aisles to a portable stage about ten rows in front of us. The place was crazy with excitement being that close to Martin and the guys. What major label group does that? We were basically front row ticket holders for a three-song set. My cheap, nose bleed seats became some of the best seats in the house… sweet surprise Coldplay.

GOING THE EXTRA MILE WHEN OTHERS DON’T. The show was incredible… one of those you hate to see come to an end. I would say most everyone experienced something far greater than they anticipated. Upon leaving the amphitheater every concert attendee was given a special souvenir CD of Coldplay with various live tracks and even some new releases. It was simply awesome and I would have never expected something of such value… for FREE! Of all the concerts I’ve been to in my years, I’ve never experienced a gift of appreciation from a band quite like that. Very impressed with their gesture and willingness to go the extra mile to insure I had a memorable evening with the boys from across the pond.

I cannot tell you how many people I’ve told my Coldplay experience to in the months that followed… and I’ll continue to tell the story. Without question, I’ll be seeing Coldplay the next time they tour the States.


1.Make a brand statement by allowing your followers to experience significantly more passion and exuberance behind what you do.
2.Focus on creating elements of surprise and less predictability to add value and lasting impressions of your brand.
3.Go the extra mile by doing “little BIG things” that others simply fail to consider and do.


Facebook: Behind the Numbers

Insightful and eye-opening info graphic from mashable.com on the social shift that has redefined web expectations for generations young and old.

How has your organization’s web foot print expanded to account for the Facebook obsessed?

Are You In the Shift?

We are living in one of the most significant shifts in modern day history.

It’s created new behaviors, experiences, and expectations for generations young and old.  A combination of platforms and devices (social networking, blogging, video, smartphones, and tablets) have lead substantial advancement in how people digitally connect and relate to just about anything or anyone.

We all know the shift is on.  We have to ask ourselves the questions.  Are we in the shift? Outside of the shift?  Overwhelmed by the shift?

Your response directly impacts your visibility, relevance, and ability to impact and live out your mission and fulfill vision.

Being in the Shift means you and your web presence are competent in these two critical areas:

+ MORE CONVERSATION. There’s a new tone for web experiences and it’s driven by the market’s appetite for more conversation.  Your audience expects you to let go of the “corporate posture” and open your hearts.  People want real and authentic, in addition to (or even more than) details and data.  The shift is being fueled by genuine, natural conversation that has become an end-user expectation.
It’s time to take your digital brand and content to a higher level of openness.  Platforms such as Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are conversational essentials.

+ FEEDING CONTENT. There is a shift from end users searching for content to now having preferred content delivered to them.  New platforms and devices make it easy for users to subscribe and have specific content automatically delivered.  Facebook, blogs, video, podcasts, calendar events… all of these content elements have the ability to be fed to end users in real time, directed to their preferred platforms and devices.  In addition, smartphone apps offer a different type of feed, in that end users are one app click away from the specific content they crave.  Static and parked content will be overlooked as content feeds and apps become the expected norm.
How much content are you feeding to your audience and wider networks?  Are your content assets resting at your web site or are they being dynamically delivered to your audience as you read this?

Being in the shift should create a renewed excitement and passion for everyone.  It’s a new day for communicating and relationship building.  Right now, your message has more reach and more impact potential as our world continues to shift digitally.  Consider the possibilities of being in the shift versus the liabilities of watching it go by.

In the Name of Love

I heard a story yesterday that my pastor used to close out his sermon that I’m not soon to forget.

Being that music in general and U2 in particular serves as such a source of inspiration, I wanted to pass this on.

If you have even a remote interest in U2, you probably know that their song Pride: In the Name of Love released in 1984 was written about two men who changed history; Jesus Christ and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

What you may not know is that Bono lobbied Washington heavily advocating that Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday be celebrated as a national holiday. As a result, Bono received death threats. One of these death threats targeted a specific concert venue, a specific date, and even a specific song. Bono was told that if they played that date and if he sang Pride: In the Name of Love, an attempt would be made on his life… on stage… in front of thousands. In 2011, we have better ways to deal with threats like this. In the late 1980’s pre 9/11, we weren’t so sophisticated.

As the time in the set list came for the song to be played, Bono remembers a feeling of panic coming over him. He begins to lose focus, not knowing what will happen. All he can think to do to get through the song, the moment is to close his eyes and sing. He sings the entirety of the song this way. When he opens his eyes again, not knowing what to expect, he sees silhouetted against the stage lights the back of his bass player (Adam Clayton’s) head and body standing in front of him. In effect Adam Clayton said, “If a bullet is coming your way, it’ll have to go through me.”


What a picture of what Christ has done for us. The difference is that in our case, the shot was fired, the bullet taken, but the result was life abundant. Think about what Christ did for you and for me as you remember the sacrifice of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today.

Pastor Bob Flayhart is the Senior Pastor of Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. You can follow his blog at http://www.bobflayhart.com

Corporate America and the Promises of A Better Life

I think we’re on the same page when we say the church has the one message that is above all messages: the message of Hope… the message that is Christ.

I’ve been amazed, astounded, and frankly, a bit bewildered by Corporate America’s infringement on the message. It’s amazing the promises they are making, and it’s even more amazing to acknowledge the impact their messaging has in the world. We can easily say it’s corporate spin but the sad reality is that people are falling for the spin. Our team is quick to remind our partner churches that we are not in competition with other churches, we are in competition with Corporate America’s big claims and ridiculous promises. They are vying for our passion, time, investment, and families.

Here’s a sampling of the secular competition and the brand promises they make:

VISA: Life takes Visa
BMW: The Story of Joy
STARBUCKS: The Third Place (first place family, second place work, third place Starbucks)
CADILLAC: The New Standard of the World
COCA-COLA: It’s the Real Thing
VOLVO: For Life
GILLETTE: The Best a Man Can Get
SKOAL: Always there In a Pinch
PRUDENTIAL: Get a Piece of the Rock
PEPSI: Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation
LEXUS: The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
DISNEYLAND: The Happiest Place on Earth

The list could go on and on.

It’s easy to conclude… “they’re stealing our thunder.” They quite simply are taking our message and making it their own. Their grand promises are watering down the messages of the local church. We know their promises are empty ones, but most of America doesn’t see it that way. Starbucks sees itself as the Third Place without a mention of faith or the local church in their mantra. Volvo for Life… are you kidding?! Pepsi Come Alive… really?

Is this a wake up call for the church? It should be.

What is your church communicating? Are you leveraging communication methods in the most impacting ways? Are you telling the old, old story in new ways that causes more people to take note and act? Could you be doing more?

Here’s a promise for you… count on Corporate America stepping up their game and doing more.

As leaders and communicators of the message we must do more.

Is Your Brand Set Apart or Lost In the Crowd?

Brands fall into one of two buckets: the bigger bucket being the soupy, mass of sameness where every brand is trying to be champion of the status quo.  The other bucket, a much smaller one, contains the brands of excellence. “The few, the proud.” These are the brands that are set apart from the crowd.

If we were to step back and do a self-evaluation of our brands, it suffices to say that many of us would fall into the soupy, mass of sameness. We would then quickly convince ourselves that “we’re still a solid organization… we have our challenges just like everyone else.” Catch yourself… you’re only perpetuating your position in the bucket of ordinary.

Seth Godin sums up the price of unremarkable brands, “If I encounter a brand and I don’t know what it means or does, it has zero power. If I have an expectation of what an organization will do for me, but I don’t care about that, no power.”

What are the costs of your brand residing in the soupy, mass of sameness?

+ Your team and as a result, your brand, has to work substantially harder to achieve modest visibility and awareness in the marketplace. Remember, your brand is competing against the noise and crowdedness of mediocrity.

+ Your brand has to face the reality that brand savvy people tune out and quickly dismiss the status quo brands. People are conditioned to seek excellence… audience expectations have never been higher and never been so unrelenting.

Need proof? See how customers and the online community have rebuked the Gap’s new logo. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1662470/gap-pulls-a-tropicana-nixes-new-logo )

+ Being one among the masses means the marketplace has placed labels on your brand that are often untrue and simply unfair. The result is your brand having to deal with the market place associating you with lesser, relevant brands.

+ Being one among the masses means you have to work harder to compete with the mass of status quo. While you’re fighting harder than you should, the brands of excellence are applying the same energy and resources to reinforce and multiply excellence. Advancement, growth, prosperity, and impact always comes easier for the brands that are already set apart.

+ Being one among the masses means you are likely struggling with an identity crisis, specifically identity clarity. Internal and external perceptions of the “your brand story” are likely less defined than you care to acknowledge.  Or you may have a few people that have a clear understanding, but there are plenty more left wondering and waiting for that moment of clarification about your relevance and impact.

Around the DC confines, we reference a quote that dates back a few years… Sergio Zyman, former Coca-Cola marketing czar: says “there is no value in sameness.” Ouch. It’s painful, but so true.

Zyman’s challenge should be a wake up call and challenge to us all. Brand mediocrity is not an option. Pursuit of excellence and differentiation should be an unwavering goal for your brand.

Four End-User Demands for Your Web Site

What matters most to web users today? That question should be driving everything related to your web offering. It’s interesting that most churches are not sensitized or responsive to what people expect in a web experience today. It’s not because churches are complacent or disengaged. We are finding that most church staffs are simply stretched too thin and focused on the day-to-day mission of the church.

We’ve identified four end-user demands for having a relevant web site. These are non-negotiables because they arise from end-user preferences and expectations.

People are very comfortable and conditioned to sharing their feelings, thoughts, and experiences in the digital world.
+ The biggest benefit of social media is these platforms allow free, open, and honest conversation to occur to vast social networks.
+ The promotional impact that Facebook and Twitter affords the local church is significant and must be leveraged. These tools allow you to connect networks, groups, or communities to key events, blogs, video assets, registration, and so much more.
+ Social media is hard to control, but that’s the risk versus reward you take in that space. Online conversation should happen naturally, without barriers and fears of not being in control of content.
+ If you are not in the social networking world, you are being left out of everyday conversation and everyday life experiences of people you want to connect with. If you are passively in the social media world, end users will recognize that and quickly dismiss you as disengaged.
+ Surprisingly, there are very few churches that are using blogs to open their hearts, thoughts, experiences, and wisdom to the digital world. More churches need to embrace blogs as an opportunity for people to connect in real, emotional ways. Many bloggers are surprised by the growth, loyalty, and impact of their blog readers. You have interesting perspective and life experiences that matter to a lot of people… so blog it.

Reality: Apple and Google are leading the charge with handhelds that are every bit as powerful as your Mac or PC.
+ Smartphone users have very rich web experiences, which fuels their significant growth and popularity.
+ Your web site has to respect the specialized platform of smartphones. There are programming or coding considerations that must be implemented so that smartphone users have the experience they expect. Ignoring or being blind to the “rules and expectations” in the smartphone world can quickly render your web site irrelevant and annoying to end users.
+ Expect more churches to offer app solutions for leading smartphone providers. The apps model is a proven and often preferred method for connecting people to your digital assets.

Reality: Video is becoming more and more the expected norm for end users.
+ The video revolution is here. Movies, TV programming, news, and personal videos are now an everyday necessity with our notebooks and smartphones.
+ YouTube and Vimeo are constantly refining their platform to allow for easy video integration, subscription, and promotion.
+ RSS feeds of sermons, key events, vlogs (video blogs) from the church are relevant video resources that people can view easier than ever.
+ When we think church videos, we typically think of video sermons. Beyond sermons, churches need to begin capturing personalities and experiences of other experiences and ministries that are critical to the church’s mission. It should not be a foreign concept to have video assets of the children, college, youth and other ministry groups represented on your web site.

Reality: The simple movement is relevant to so many demographics… we expect things to be engineered with smart, simple solutions… your web site included.
+ Your web site, from A-Z, must prioritize the less is more principle. Gone are the days of overloading people with mountains of content. People are drawn to simple, light, and comfortable web experiences. Overwhelm them with complexities and you have another disenchanted web user.
+ Less is more also means an interface design that makes sense and uses the programming, engineering, and design standards that are proven, comfortable, and efficient. People have their favorite web sites… those sites begin to set the expectation for all of their other web experiences.

The vast majority of today’s web sites are grossly deficient in the above-mentioned essentials. Any end-user perceived weaknesses in your web offering creates greater divide for the people you are trying to connect with. Today’s audiences are savvy and quick to judge. Listen to their expectations and provide a parallel experience and you have won their trust and respect. Failure to address their needs leads to a missed and closed connection opportunity.

Allow conversation, prioritize smartphone users, watch instead of read, and less is more. The four critical success factors for your web site… as defined, not by DC, but by millions of web users in the digital world.