The power of a name

By Sam Liebeskind

I just returned from a golf trip through Ireland where I had an interesting ‘brand strategy’ moment. (Apparently even on vacation I can’t help but think about this stuff!) Here’s the story and what I realized about the power of a name:

We were eager to get started. First on our itinerary was Doonbeg – a links-style course just outside the town for which it was named. I remember initially hearing the name, imagining the glowing green grass and rolling contours of the land. This would surely be Irish golf at its essence.

A Google Search of the word ‘Doonbeg’ shows the place just as I had pictured it

When we arrived, we weren’t disappointed; the place was magnificent – exactly as I thought it’d be. But one thing was different. The property had recently been bought by American real estate mogul Donald Trump and rebranded Trump International Golf Links & Hotel: Ireland.

Besides the name, I was told, Trump had yet to make any significant changes to the property. But with this new label in my head, my perception of the place had been instantly transformed. Maybe it’s because I’m a young New Yorker but all of a sudden, I couldn’t help but think of this:


A Google search for Trump shows the outspoken leader


A Google search for ‘Trump International’ shows futuristic skyscrapers in dense urban centers

When I thought the course was called Doonbeg it felt authentic, true to the place and the people who lived and worked nearby. It seemed timeless (even though the Greg Norman-designed course is only about 12 years old!). With this new Trump tag in my head though, the place felt less unique. Like it was now just a cog in a global commercial empire, in a class with Disneyland and Vegas: incredible, but somehow a touch contrived.

It was a weird feeling, especially since I understood the rationale behind the change. From a top-down point of view, the Trump Golf ‘system’ is quite tidy. The portfolio consists of 17 courses named (for the most part) either Trump National Golf Club, [American Location] or Trump International Golf Links, [Global Location].

This ‘power parent’ brand architecture approach ties together the portfolio, signaling continuity and encouraging crossover between the properties; a golfer can jump from Trump to Trump to Trump and never be disappointed. The brand team probably looked at the 400+ courses throughout Ireland and saw the need to differentiate the Doonbeg property; the Trump signature guarantee of luxury and extraordinary service was a shortcut to get on people’s radar.

For me though - and I suspect many other golfers and travelers as well – the individuality of an experience is part of what makes it enticing. I imagine I’d have felt much better about the place if they’d found a middle ground (more like the 2013 rebranding of the Doral Golf Resort & Spa to Trump National Doral). Maybe something like this:

DOONBEG - A Trump Golf Course


DOONBEG - By Trump Golf

This kind of system would signal to golfers, as well as the employees of the various courses tasked with creating the ‘experiences’, that each place is outstanding in its own right, celebrated for what it is.

With the Trump name in my mind, I ended up skipping the Pro (Gift) Shop entirely, thinking I’d rather buy a memento from somewhere ‘real’ like Royal County Down or Portmarnock. That way, I’d always be able to remember this beautiful course as nothing other than Doonbeg.

The end wasn’t inevitable

By Sam Liebeskind

DISH Network officially announced yesterday that Blockbuster will be closing its remaining U.S. retail stores and distribution centers — and it’s no surprise. Once a staple of video watching at home, Blockbuster had become very utilitarian – building and sustaining a brand that was tied too closely to the functional aspect of what it delivered. In people’s minds, Blockbuster = The Brick & Mortar Video Store.

Had they thought of themselves as being about ‘providing access to entertainment’ instead of as a ‘video rental store’ - and taken steps to deliver on that bigger promise - they might still be thriving in a world where devices, digital and on-demand media consumption reign supreme. 

Other brands can and should learn from this: create a range of offers and tell stories about the benefit you provide to people, not just the functionality of what you do and have done. It’s the difference between ‘why’ and ‘what.’ And it makes all the difference.

Sam Liebeskind is a strategist at Wolff Olins New York.

Your brand is out of control


By Sam Leibeskind

For brand ‘owners’ still holding onto the thought that they’re in control of what’s associated with their organization, here’s a hit of proof otherwise.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that today is ’Starbucks Gun Owners Appreciation Day’. But interestingly, Starbucks had no part in planning or organizing this event and in response, has issued this statement to the press: “These events are not endorsed by Starbucks. Our stores are gathering places for the communities we serve and we respect the diversity of our customers.” 

Still, I wonder how many people will have their perception of Starbucks jolted a little – for better or worse. How many people will just see a tweet or headline and conclude - as I did initially- that Starbucks is encouraging gun ownership instead of the reality—that a group of gun owners is publicly expressing their appreciation for Starbucks? 

Whether they choose to participate or not, brands are increasingly involved in debates around sensitive political and social issues that may not directly relate to their core business. Having a strong sense of purpose and a solid set of values is the only way for them to know when and how to participate in the discourse.  But even then, of course, sometimes associations are simply beyond their control entirely.

Do you think you have a good grasp of…

Sam Liebeskind is a strategist at Wolff Olins New York. 

Bonobos knows their customer


By Sam Liebeskind

“He thinks he’s tough (his favorite movie is The Godfather)…but really, he’s not (Shawshank Redemption is a close second)…and he definitely has a sense of humor (Caddyshack rounds out the list of favorites).”

That quip - along with a few other gems- came from a talk with Bonobos' VP of Marketing, Craig Elbert, during last week's OpenCo event in NYC. 

This retailer’s spot-on understanding and articulation of its audience is one reason Bonobos is a rising brand, one to watch and learn from over the next few years.  

Here are a few others:

They’re online first and foremost

This may seem obvious now, but it’s amazing how few retailers actually treat the web as #1.  For Bonobos, the original insight was realizing that many men don’t like the pressure-filled, often overwhelming experience of shopping in a brick and mortar store (it’s not laziness, it’s more like aversion).  So they started all-in online, making sure to go well beyond the costs of entry.  Things like Bonobos’ customer ‘Ninjas’ (all college graduates) and free shipping/returns help to alleviate the otherwise “high-friction” situation of ordering an expensive, fit-sensitive item online.

They’re experimental

Sensing that some men do, in fact, want to feel certain items before ordering them (“There are two things people like to touch before buying: suits, and Tupperware”), Bonobos made an early small bet, turning the lobby of their NY headquarters into what they call a Guideshop.  The thinking was: why not invite people in, let them have a beer, and give them a one-on-one consultant and a casual environment in which to try on clothes.  The approach proved successful – both in terms of purchase metrics (Guideshop visitors place double the average order value, and come back to Bonobos faster for a second purchase) and in helping the company better understand their customers. Craig Elbert told us at OpenCo “before the Guideshops, we just knew the majority of our customers were guys…now we can actually have conversations and learn.” They’ve since opened 5 more experiential spaces (in addition to a much publicized partnership with Nordstrom).


They’re smart about sub-brands

Bonobos has already shown an eye for spotting new opportunities.  After one employee realized there was nowhere for him to buy “Arnold Palmer inspired, bad-ass classics,” Maide was born.  While clothiers like Nike and Callaway are making performance-focused items, Bonobos is bringing fitted style back to the greens.

If you’re not following these guys on twitter yet, be sure to check them out: @bonobos (for announcements, general brand talk) and @bonobosninjas (to see how they’re using twitter as a two-way conversation tool)


Sam Liebeskind is a strategist at Wolff Olins New York. Follow him at @samliebeskind


By Sam Liebeskind

Last night, a few of us had the pleasure of attending NYC’s first #kittencamp, a rap-battle-inspired showcase of ‘viral awesomeness’ that pitted four ad-industry strategists and their favorite YouTube videos against one another.

While I had no clue what I was getting myself into at first, I’m now sort of wishing these things happened more often.

Here are some highlights from the evening, which featured clips within a number of categories:

I thought they nailed the ‘Epic’ category, with this clip in particular standing out.

The ‘Music Video’ category featured a remix of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop that was pretty neat. 

I’m not generally one for cat memes, but I must admit that this silly little tune was stuck in my head all night.

My favorite category was the “Branded” one.  The winner was this Air New Zealand Safety Video, a great twist on a traditional industry practice that really showed off the airline’s personality.

Kudos to @theQuiggler, @faris, @rosiesiman, and @mark_fallows for a job well done.  Here’s to more unexpectedness and creativity in the world.

#kittencamp will be taking their talents to San Francisco in April so be sure to check it out if you’re in the area. More on tumblr and twitter, of course.

Sam Liebeskind is a strategist at Wolff Olins.


By Sam Liebeskind

Anticipation is a powerful emotion and competition is a powerful motivator.  I’m struck by how effectively two different brand/product launches happening this week are leveraging both feelings, using slow-release tactics that build a sense of excitement in quite a purposeful way. Capitalizing on the fact that they have impressive products, both brands are:

1) Initially being selective with access to their product

2) Launching in beta, and making it clear they’re still in beta

3) Building a system where people make ‘reservations’ in order to buy (sort of like the Kickstarter model)

Maybe we can all learn a few things by continuing to follow these launches over the next few months…

1. Google Glass- The brand has engineered a situation where people must apply through social media to buy their product.  I think it’s brilliant how Google is creating a competition to get Glass in the right hands first, and of course as a purposeful side effect, building serious social media buzz by making applications public (check out #ifihadglass).  

The concept of ‘Explorers’ ensures that their early customers are on-brand.  Few others are really thinking like this, since most brands push for maximum sales right off the bat. Allowing only the coolest, most creative people to use their product first makes brand sense (in addition, of course, to the logistics of working out kinks and the current minimal supply of the product). A launch like this builds real stories around your product.  I’d bet that Google will turn this whole experiment into a commercial/campaign (‘here are all the cool ways our real life Explorers used Glass…’).  I think more companies should innovate in public in this way, allowing users to compete for access to beta versions, then ultimately sharing their stories. 


2. Mailbox - To build on the early media buzz that this app has been getting without overwhelming their capabilities, Mailbox has created a system where ‘everyone can watch the line move in real-time from inside the app.’ You download the app (placing a ‘reservation’) but don’t get access to it right away. It’s turned into a competition in some circles. Over the weekend, I heard two friends talking about where they were in line, playfully competing to see who was closer to the top of the list.  Two other people overheard and jumped in line because, why not reserve their spot before everyone else? I particularly love that as part of this interface, they’re showing people with reservations the number of ‘people behind you’ in line.  While at first glance this seems like a meaningless statistic (logically, you should only care when you get the product), it does a great job of a) making people feel special for being early adoptors and b) showing the intense demand for the product, assuring people that they made a savvy move by signing up.


Are you following either of these launches?  What else are they doing right?  What could they do better?  Let me know @samliebeskind @wolffolins

Sam Liebeskind is a strategist at Wolff Olins.

What brands can learn from the big leagues


By Sam Liebeskind

With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, it’s the right time for people like us to write pieces about a) brands advertising during the Super Bowl and b) the analogy of business being a sport. (You know, the type of piece where CEOs are compared to coaches, employees are spun as the players on the field, etc.) We’re trying to avoid that here.

Instead, I’m thinking about the evolving business of sports, about how the four major American sports leagues are working hard to keep up with the new, 21st century challenges that all consumer brands are facing (for example, the home/digital experience overtaking the real, brick-and-mortar experience).  Here are 6 things that more consumer brands should have in common with the most progressive, brand-focused, experience-obsessed sports brands.



Celebration of history is vitally important for sports brands (think classic brands like the Yankees, Celtics, and 49ers), but these teams have fresh new players and story lines each year.  The key is linking past to present in a compelling manner; viewing new infusions as a part of (not a replacement of) a long lineage.  Because in reality, a brand is built over time, it’s the culmination of its own history.  The 49ers rallying cry (and hashtag) leading up to the Super Bowl—#QuestforSix (a reference to their pursuit of a 6th Super Bowl victory)— is a linkage of today’s Kaepernick-led squad to the Joe Montana and Steve Young teams of the past.

The lesson for consumer brands? Have a style, create patterns and build expectations, but always consider the new, the next.  Find your rookie and place it in context of a longer narrative. Could be a person (Marissa Mayer at Yahoo producing solid results already) or a product (Facebook’s social graph), but as long as it’s new and has the potential to be game changing, it’ll get people interested or re-interested.




People always seem to want an inside look, a behind the scenes view of an organization they’re interested in.  In the last few years, the leagues have all created documentary-shows that add a human element to their games (MLB’s The Franchise, NBA’s The Association, NFL’s SoundFx, the NHL’s 24/7).  Combined with other small touches like NFL players tweeting live from last week’s Pro Bowl- sports brands are, more than ever, the sum of a set of personalities and faces.

The lesson for consumer brands? Be transparent and promote your people, your strategies, and your culture.  Today’s best CEOs are now celebs.  Zuckerberg is a household name.  And Google has done it better than anyone, giving peaks into their culture to not only appeal to employees but attract customers as well. They fully understand the benefits of innovating in public, and the fact that their audiences are watching for the wins and the losses.  The next brand to watch: Warby Parker.  In my mind, this annual report is one of the coolest documents ever produced by a company.




Sports brands are largely built on traditions.  Some are serious, some are playful, but all are highly anticipated.  The Packers have the Lambeau leap, The Yankees and Cubs support rowdy bleacher culture, the NBA holds an annual slam-dunk contest.

The lesson for consumer brands?  Hold on to those unique moments that made you special when you were small.  Do some things for the fun-of-it, because they’re exciting, different and bring a smile to people’s faces.  Not everything needs to have a measurable ROI, productivity boost or revenue stream. Apparently Microsoft used to ceremonially throw Gates in a campus lake after each product launch.  Burton famously awards employees snow days after blizzards cover local mountains.  And Google’s doodle is nothing more than a delightful quirk.



Sports fans pour passion into their teams.  They spend countless hours of their lives promoting and defending their team. The most progressive teams are rewarding these people more than ever.  The New York Knicks have started rewarding “Season Subscribers” (season ticket holders) based on tenure, essentially rewarding loyalty over straight-up cash. The NBA’s Detroit Pistons and NFL’s Indianapolis Colts are partnering with SocialToaster to give superfans exclusive, behind-the-scenes content and creating contests that encourage sharing.

The lesson for consumer brands?  Do everything in your power to keep your users happy and help your fans look good themselves.  View everyone as a user, not a consumer.  Give them valuable content to share, ask what you can do for them, and help them help others.  It’s no longer enough to just ask people to ‘share’ your content on Facebook. 




Responding to loud calls from fans, the NFL has realized that just because someone shows up to an arena or stadium doesn’t mean that they want to place 100% of their attention on the field.  Fans care about the other games too, a huge reason why they were staying home and watching on TV (it’s REALLY easy to change the channel!).  So teams have pushed to get wi-fi in stadiums (so that fans can check their smartphones for scores around the league) and started posting out-of-town fantasy football stats on scoreboards.

The lesson for consumer brands? Understand that people don’t want to be tied down, that they don’t like commitment.  Be boundaryless and don’t hold users hostage.  Give them control and the tools to customize their experience.  Last year’s Twitter/Instagram tiff that resulted in the removal of Instagram pics from the stream was an unfortunate step in the wrong direction.



All of the above is important, but ultimately, it needs to work hand-in-hand with a product on the field, court, or ice that’s producing.  In sports, this is really cost-of-entry. But it’s not all about money (despite having by far the MLB’s largest payroll, the Yankees haven’t won a World Series in 4 years).  It’s about being smart, building a product that’s different, that plays to its strengths and exploits everyone else’s weaknesses. 

Lesson for consumer brands? Build a complete experience off of a solid foundation.  As much as Apple builds its brand, it ultimately saw mass-protest at the end of last year when its Maps app surprised users and went haywire.

When done well, these tactics go a long way towards building daily engagement and life-long loyalty: something most sports brands have and all consumer brands want. By building a multi-platform story, a community of ownership, the brand becomes part of our lives.  “New York Giants fan” or “Apple user” become a key point of identity. And for brands, that’s a win.


Q&A with Splash.FM founder Jason Fiedler


By Sam Liebeskind 

Since Splash.FM had its public launch a few weeks ago, co-founder Jason Fiedler has been busy watching the start-up grow and making constant changes.  A friend of Wolff Olins, he took a few minutes to chat with strategist Sam Liebeskind about the early-stage site and his plans to engage more listeners and brands.

If you haven’t yet read about Splash.FM in TechCrunchRolling Stone, and Gizmodo or stumbled onto it on your own, put it on your radar. This young social startup helps you find new music that you’ll love based on what your friends and go-to sources are loving. It joins a crowded space of sites claiming to do just this (Big hitters like Pandora,, iTunes Genius, to name a few), but unlike most others, Splash rejects algorithm-based suggestions in favor of human recommendation, pulling together the best features of sites like Twitter, Klout, and HypeMachine.

SAM: First, the basics. What is Splash and who would use it?

JASON: At its core, it’s a social network— ‘a Twitter for music discovery.’  You create an account, you splash (post) music you like, and you follow others whose taste you trust.  It’s an easy way to stay on top of the latest music. Most people don’t like the stress of deciding what to listen to, but they want music they like.

At the same time, it’s a place where artists and tastemakers can prove their influence.  We recognized that for everyone who has trouble finding music, there’s someone that thinks they have the best music.  So each user has a “Splash Score” that’s based on how successful they are as a recommender.  It’s really powerful, and really addicting.

I could imagine.  So is that why people should use splash instead of Spotify or Rhapsody?

They shouldn’t use Splash instead of those guys.  They should use it in addition to them.  We’re not really trying to play in mainstream music, to compete with Spotify or Rhapsody.  We don’t want to be an all access music provider for people who know exactly what they’re looking for. 

Paint me a picture of Splash.FM’s personality?  

The company is really just [co-founder Alex Gatof] and me so the brand doesn’t fake anything.  It’s just us, so that makes it easy.  You want to be fun and social. But you don’t want to make too much of a personality of your site because you don’t want to alienate any type of person.  Look at Twitter and Facebook- they’re innocent. You want to be subtle without being sterile. 

On the platform, to splash means to share a song (think ‘tweet’).  Ripple means to like/re-share a song (think ‘retweet’). I love the name and terminology.  How did that come about?

After trying to just come up with a name for the site for like, 3 days, I stopped thinking on that level.  I needed to think bigger- more about the concept- and put that into words.  I just talked out loud to myself and I was like, ‘Domino effect, one person affecting another…then all of a sudden I got onto waves and thought, its like someone just splashed [into water].’  Right when I heard that word, I just knew the whole analogy would work.

Right.  And the interface of the site carries the analogy through.  Can you talk a little about the site’s design?

We never sacrificed the interface and the look.  We invested heavily on that. And spent a lot of time on the logo too.  I came up with the idea for it after a lot of research. [Some startups] might want to try to skip it but you have to really put time in there early.  I audited the logos of all the other music sites out there before designing the concept of ours.

Tone of voice was also really important for us.  I took a course [at Penn] on writing copy…It really is an art.  You have to always remember that people are reading all this.  So I thought, what would I want to read?

I see Barstool U currently has the highest Splash Score.  What opportunities are there for other established ‘non-music’ brands to leverage your platform?

Splash gives lifestyle brands specifically an additional channel to express themselves and cultivate their image. If you go with the notion of brand as a personality, the type of music you listen to and like is pretty core to that. You can imagine Nike splashing a lot of workout music, Lululemon splashing tranquil yoga tunes… The goal is the same as Twitter- to amass and connect with a large userbase, build and maintain a loyal following. With Splash.FM, lifestyle brands can add depth to their brand perception that they previously couldn’t. 

BarstoolU specifically has influence in the college demographic, and as a result they’ve resonated really well with our current user base. We’ve featured them, and will continue to feature similar brands that make sense. 

You’ve read our Game Changers report.  Which of the 5 qualities do you think Splash really nails?

Definitely experimental.  To be a good product guy you just have to never be satisfied.  Actually, if we didn’t have a hard date that we set, we’d still be in private beta, and probably would be forever.  That’s how we still think today.

So what’s the future of Splash?

Eventually, we want it to be about more than just finding music. 

One way to potentially expand in the future is this “cannonball” idea that we’ve been playing with.  In theory, you’d get a cannonball if a song you uploaded or rippled early really went big.  They would accumulate and turn into a virtual currency that you could use to get concert tickets.  Or maybe it’s just about having a high Splash Score.  This might be used to get you into bars/clubs (we’ve already done a few things with clubs where if you have a splash store above 70, you get to cut the line).  Ultimately, your splash store is going to be a big deal. 

What does success look like for you guys?

The ultimate success is to have people using our words beyond the sitemake “splash” synonymous with liking a song.

If you sign up for Splash, be sure to follow Jason (@Jason) and me(@sam_liebeskind).  Give us some ripples!

Images via TechCrunch and James Kape

Sacred or profane? Technology in your museum

By Sam Liebeskind

Visual art museums–Should they be a peaceful sanctuary to escape from the always-on, back-lit, digital world in which we all now work and play?  Places to appreciate the spiritual energy of something raw and “real”?

Or, should directors and curators be looking to integrate cutting edge technology into museum spaces- to make the experience somehow more educational and accessible, interactive and fun? And if so, how?

It’s an interesting question, and one we’ve kicked around internally and with a number of clients over the years.  It’s also one that big tech guys like Google (Art Project and Google goggles-> maybe Google Glasses in the future?) are rapidly trying to digest and influence. 

This month the Louvre followed in the experimental footsteps of the Brooklyn Museum, the Met, and a host of other world class institutions with their own future-looking answer.  As part of an ongoing partnership with Nintendo, the museum created a handheld console aimed at evolving the age-old “audio guide” into something more fit for our hyperdigital expectations.  If you haven’t seen it, you can check out pics and video here.

I find this incredibly exciting for a number of reasons. On the most basic level, it’s useful. The console simplifies the logistic challenges of a visit to the Louvre, allowing its operator to focus less on navigating the famous labyrinth and more on the art itself.  It also offers flexibility in the level of info each user consumes- a nice middle ground between basic didactics and the commitment of signing up for a tour. 

But maybe more importantly, it communicates that the Louvre is serious about designing an experience that’s not so far removed from people’s everyday lives.  It’s an attempt to shift the institution from a sacred place you visit once a year (or once a lifetime?) to a space for continued learning and relevance.  Hervé Barbaret, Managing Director of the Louvre says “the new audio guide is a valuable tool that will help make visiting the Louvre a more dynamic and rewarding experience, particularly for those that are not so familiar with a museum environment.” It’s a conscious move to get fit for the future and it will resonate with new, younger audiences.

Regardless of this program’s success, the Louvre has taken their shot at answering that fundamental “role of technology” question.  Considering the way they’ve answered it though, maybe the issue isn’t as black & white as I originally posed.  The challenge for cultural institutions might instead be more subtle: How do you integrate technology into the experience in a way that’s useful to those who want to take advantage of it, without distracting those who don’t?

Have you recently visited the Louvre and had a chance to test this thing out?  We’d love to hear your thoughts here or on Twitter.  And if not, feel free to weigh in on how technology is enhancing/destroying the experience of visiting your favorite museum. @wolffolins

Do You Own Your Name, in Chinese?

By Sam Liebeskind

The Jordan brand is absolutely massive.  Led by a 71% share of the US basketball shoe market (according to SportsOneSource), the label brings in over $1 billion each year.  In fact, the brand built around 14x all-star Michael Jordan is so huge that other NBA players like Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony have actually signed deals to directly promote Jordan.

Think about how crazy that is: Nike has celebrity athletes boosting another celebrity athlete. Clearly, the Nike/Jordan relationship has grown way larger than the simple endorsement it began as (a 5 year, $2.5 million agreement, with royalties). 

That’s what makes the lawsuit filed late last week by Jordan (the man) against Chinese sportswear company Qiaodan Sports (Chinese for “Jordan Sports”) so interesting. The hoops star has been called Qiaodan in China since he burst into the NBA in 1984. Now, Jordan’s claiming that this company has unfairly built their entire brand around his identity. In a video statement on his website he says ”no one should lose control of their own name…It’s not about the money. It’s about principle. Protecting my identity and my name.” 

Though the name Qiaodan is a trademark registered by the company in accordance with Chinese laws, Jordan’s own personal brand has transcended nations and language. Jordan or Qiaodan, he seems to have a pretty strong case.