Open Source Branding

By Mary Ellen Muckerman

The night before Mobile World Congress 2013 kicked off, Mozilla invited 17 of its partners onto the stage with them to announce more details about Firefox OS, Mozilla’s open mobile operating system. The crowded podium certainly represented a global vote of support in making their new web platform a success. And these are just a handful of many great collaborations that underpin the open source, open web philosophy that has driven Mozilla for the past 15 years.


Mozilla and Firefox are open in the truest sense of the word. They have a vast global community with thousands of volunteer contributors whose opinions and perspectives are truly a part of their important business decisions and success. While the leadership team is tuned into feedback from their larger community, this is by no means a case of “management by committee.” Their mission to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web is their ultimate decision-making filter. We’ve never seen an organization that makes collaboration work in the way that Mozilla does – and this sense of shared purpose and impact drives absolutely everything they do.  

This sense of openness also determined how we built the Firefox OS brand with them. Their community of contributors was invited to share input throughout the strategic and creative development, and the Mozilla leadership team relied on their feedback to ensure global appeal of the messaging and design.  

The Firefox OS identity that exploded onto the scene at Mobile World Congress is the external, consumer-focused manifestation of the brand strategy – declaring the mobile operating system’s dedication to being a catalyst for individual and collective progress.  


Equally important is the contributor identity, developed internally by the Mozilla team, created with the makers in mind, and shared freely and openly with everyone that helps make Firefox OS more relevant, more local and more useful to people all over the world. The “blueprint” nature of this identity reflects the ability for developers to create content on the Firefox OS platform – in their native language, without creative limitations or corporate gatekeepers. 


Mozilla and Firefox are uniquely poised to take the open source experience beyond a technology application and into every day life.  From Burma to Berlin, their communities of ‘Mozillians’ (that’s what Mozilla’s contributors call themselves) are learning new skills and solving new problems, many of which get redeposited back into the open source “bank” of solutions for others to benefit from. And by enabling millions of people in emerging markets to own their first smartphone, Firefox OS will be opening up possibilities for more people in more places to experience the full power of the Web.  

This type of openness takes conviction and confidence. Conviction to your higher purpose in the world and confidence that you’re making a positive impact. There are certainly Firefox OS naysayers – those who say that HTML5 isn’t robust enough to support an operating system, that it’s not yet ‘ready for primetime’. But the Mozillian community stands proudly behind the platform and is ready to face those challenges head on.

“With the support of our vibrant community and dedicated partners, our goal is to level the playing field and usher in an explosion of content and services that will meet the diverse needs of the next two billion people online.” - Gary Kovacs, Mozilla CEO

Beyond conviction and confidence, another key to successful open source branding is trust. Trust in your community to be stewards of your brand – to share it, improve it, love it like their own. And trust from your community that you’re on their side, understand their world, and value their time and commitment. With deep relationships like this, all of the sudden advertising campaigns and loyalty programs become less important, and more resources can be invested in what really counts – creating fun, useful, compelling experiences that lead to positive impact, both commercially and socially.

Mozilla is certainly not the only ‘open source’ brand out there. Other companies, organizations and movements from Wikipedia, Google and TED to Kickstarter, Airbnb and even #Occupy are dedicated to and succeed through public collaboration and innovation. And they’re able to do so because they are driven by a purpose that’s bigger than just product or profit.    

Is your brand ready for the open source world?


Mary Ellen Muckerman is Head of Strategy, based in San Francisco. 

WO on brand loyalty

The classic question: Pepsi or Coke? There is likely a lot more to your reasoning than “one tastes better than the other.” 

Why do we make the brand choices we make, and continue to remain loyal to those brands? Succinctly, we make choices like this everyday based on our previous experiences with a brand, emotions towards a brand (or towards a competing brand), and ultimately because of the brands’ usefulness in our lives.  (A little bit of really awesome advertising probably plays a role, too)

Our very own Mary Ellen Muckerman, head of strategy at Wolff Olins NY answered some questions on brand loyalty and the implications of technology in brand communication for The Makegood. Check out the full interview here!

(Spencer Phillips)

In NYT infographics, a lesson for brands

By Mary Ellen Muckerman

We know that the New York Times are infographics geniuses. They visualize data to track sentiment on a topic, while inviting you to participate in the conversation or even start a new one. Sorting features allow you to find “your people” and compare ideas.

The one above was an instant response to an extremely timely topic—that’s NYT’s bread and butter—but it’s a lesson for other brands who trade in social currency.

From media to retail to cultural institutions to healthcare, creating timely, engaging experiences like this can keep your finger on the pulse of what your consumers are thinking, helping you stay relevant and useful.

See the infographic: Your Reactions to Obama’s Same-Sex Marriage Stand

Occupy the Pop-Up

By Mary Ellen Muckerman

Popuphood, launched last year in Oakland by Sarah Filley and Alfonso Dominguez, is an urban planning project with an unusual strategy for revitalizing depressed urban centers: the pop-up store.

The WSJ explains:

"Ms. Filley and Mr. Dominguez persuaded a landlord to offer pop-up stores free six-month leases in locations that, in some cases, have been vacant for years. The merchants have a goal of turning a profit during the six months and then signing a longer-term lease, at a price to be negotiated. The landlord, Peter Sullivan Associates, is hoping that the free short-term leases will turn into longer-term revenue."

Compared to the proliferation of pop-up retail by any big player from Target to Gucci, Popuphood’s approach harnesses the David and Goliath effect of rooting for the underdog - and the sense of possibility that comes with it.

Drawing on what seems like a tired marketing strategy for a solution that’s experimental, transient, urgent, novel and efficient, Popuphood’s strategy is a great example of boundaryless and constant beta behaviors we described in our recent Gamechangers report.

The Popuphood project made us wonder:

+ What can city planners learn from retailers?

+ What are other examples of success being redefined as fluid versus fixed experiences?

+ As more categories look to transform themselves from B2B to B2C – like healthcare and financial services – what can they learn from a pop up mentality? 


+ Artist Julia Christensen’s Big Box Reuse project: how communities are repurpose abandoned retail spaces

+ Generation Sell: “Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business” (New York Times)

+ London’s Boxpark, a pop-up mall made of old shipping containers

+ “Urban culture is retail culture” (Trendwatching, Retail Renaissance)

Image via Popuphood

User Experience Is The Heart Of Any Company

"If you start with ‘useful’ as a first principle, then you automatically place customer need and experience first," writes Wolff Olins head of strategy Mary Ellen Muckerman in an article in Fast Company this morning. 

Muckerman continues:

"The principles and theories of UX have created a new normal in terms of brand delivery and interaction. They state that how people actually use your product is much more important than how it was intended to be used. So engaging your consumer in ongoing, iterative product development is more valuable than holding out for a “perfect” product launch." 

She looks at Apple’s ascendence over the past decade, M-Pesa’s branchless banking system, and Zopa, the world’s first peer-to-peer money lending service as 3 case studies on being useful. Continue reading on Fast Company here.

This story is also part of our Game Changers report, which you can read here.  

America’s Favorite Store?

By Mary Ellen Muckerman

JC Penney announced it’s new strategy on Wednesday.  At a highly anticipated, star-studded presentation, new CEO Ron Johnson promised to reinvent the “6 Ps” of retail (product, place, presentation, price, promotion and personality).  Will it work?

In a world of seamlessly integrated, omnichannel, open commerce platforms, critics may fault this predominately bricks & mortar approach for being old-fashioned and stuck in the past. 

However, this refreshingly honest, back-to-basics approach may be just what retail needs right now – a reliable, relevant, and easy experience.

From their spirited manifesto to their tongue-in-cheek TV ads, the JCP crew seems to be very in touch with who their customer is and what they need: 

·      In response to a growing distrust of institutions, JC Penney’s voice is human, honest and direct

·      In a world where consumers demand more transparency and authenticity, their pricing strategy is simplified and predictable

·      And during a time when our nation’s role in the world is at question, their Main Street and Town Square in-store strategy conveys a distinctive American pride and point of view

If nothing else, this strategy speaks to the promise of a visionary leadership.  In stark contrast to last year’s logo “bake-off” which resulted in an identity redesign from a 3rd year graphic design student, JC Penney’s new strategy is decisive and bold – not to just be America’s favorite department store, but to be America’s favorite store. 

The track records of the brand architects are hard to dispute.  CEO Ron Johnson, former head of retail at Apple, did the unthinkable by translating the magic of Macs and iPods into over 300 worldwide stores and transforming our expectations of a good retail experience.  And President Michael Francis, former CMO of Target, built a brand that turned a Midwestern mass merchandiser into a seductive, exciting cultural tastemaker. 

Beyond their credentials, the speed at which they brought the strategy to life is also a tribute to their vision and focus.  Johnson’s arrival was announced in June 2011 and madeofficial in November 2011. Francis came on board in October 2011.  In less than three months, they were able to crystallize their thought, mobilize a huge internal and external team of partners, and captivate the retail industry with their announcement.

Initial reactions are mixed.  Stock prices fell slightly after the announcement. But if anyone can do this, Ron Johnson is a good bet.  Especially since he has financial skin in the game - $50 million to lose but hundreds of millions to win. 

However, success depends on a lot of “ifs.”

IF the merchandising and in-store experience can deliver on the promise of the advertising.

IF the vendor community will play by their new pricing rules.

IF the customer understands and embraces the new promotional calendar.

This will be fun to watch – if they can really pull it off, the streets will be singing their praises as prescient retail gurus. If not, sadly there will be one more once-great retail giant put out to pasture.

Which outcome are you betting on?

Game changing

Last Thursday night, I was invited by Tim Murray,  Target’s Creative Director, to join him at an AIGA event.  The theme was “Collaboration:  Target’s New Target” and I had the privilege of sharing the stage with Michael Ian Kaye from Mother, and Joe Stewart from Huge.

Tim reviewed work from all three agencies. Mother’s never-been-done-before marketing extravaganzas.  Huge’s guest-centric e-commerce experience that deftly balances the love of shopping and satisfaction of buying.  Wolff Olins’ creation of up&up, a blockbuster owned brand that boldly delivers Target-ness without saying Target.

In addition to the fact these were all collaborations with Target, what else did each of these projects have in common?  They are each game changing.

What are the conditions for game changing work?  It starts with an ambitious leader who has a clear vision and a desire to make a difference – both for the business and in people’s lives. 

From there, game changing work requires a keen understanding of the cultural zeitgeist – tapping into what matters most to people and making a credible connection between that spirit and the business.  

And lastly, game changing work must make a positive impact – change for good.  Each of the examples that Tim shared certainly had a positive financial impact for Target, ranging from the most successful store opening ever to double-digit growth for one of their biggest owned brands.  And as importantly, each example also made a positive impact in people’s lives.  A celebration of community and creativity for Target’s  Harlem store opening.  The ability to get basic products, from diapers to shampoo to garbage bags, that provide both amazing value and awesome design.  An online shopping experience that re-writes the e-commerce rules and reflects everything you love about wandering the aisles at Target.

What sets Target apart from the crowd is their ability to consistently expect, recognize and enable game changing work from and with their creative agencies.  And that commitment benefits us all.

(Mary Ellen Muckerman)


Last week in Chicago, over 1,500 bloggers attended the BlogHer ’09 conference.  A bunch of marketers also attended, and when brands and people who write about those brands are in the same room, swag bags inevitably appear.  (For the uninitiated, a swag bag is  - not surprisingly -  a bag filled with free goodies and handed out at events.  Kinda like Halloween without having to go door to door.)  There were reports of swag bags mysteriously disappearing, some saying they were stolen from a luggage cart and others claiming people were taking more than one.

The backdrop to this event is two different attempts to monitor blogger integrity. At one end of the spectrum, the Federal Trade Commission is considering an update to testimonial guidelines that would require bloggers to disclose any connections they have to marketers – including products they receive for free.    This stipulation is more than a bit controversial, as it would put different requirements on bloggers than it does on newspaper journalists, who are not expected to claim relationships they have to products or brands.

The grassroots counterpart to the FTC standards is an online movement initiated by four bloggers, called  Claiming to have received 200 signatures in the first 24 hours, this voluntary community involves signing a pledge consisting of promises like:

“I disclose my material relationships, policies and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked.”

“When collaborating with marketers and PR professionals, I handle myself professionally and abide by basic journalistic standards.”

“I always present my honest opinions to the best of my ability.”

Those who sign the pledge can also download a “badge” that they can proudly display on their blogs, and the founders hope that this badge will eventually represent the equivalent of the blogosphere’s Good Housekeeping “Stamp of Approval.”  In an interview with Ad Age, one of the founders shared that she was tired of mom blogs being portrayed as “shills” and “whores” taking “blogola” and created this pledge to combat that perception.

A fundamental question lies at the heart of this activity:  Are bloggers, once thought to represent the purest form of brand advocacy, merely just another sales channel for marketers?  Is the promise of free product and paid advertising luring bloggers to the dark side?  If you can’t trust and to offer an unbiased opinion, who can you trust?

The Internet theoretically represents the marketplace at its best – unfiltered, democratic and self-regulated.  However, the need for standards like the FTC guidelines and the pledge suggest that the enticement of endorsements may be more powerful than the constitutional right of an impartial opinion.

What do you think?  Honestly?

(Mary Ellen Muckerman)