When Branding Is Too Good: A Cautionary Tale from New York's Citi Bike


New Yorkers have racked up more than 7 million trips on Citi Bike, New York City’s bike-share system, since it launched late last May. More than 100,000 people hold annual memberships. Yet financially, Citi Bike needs help. According to the New York Times, Citi Bike is seeking somewhere in the range of $20 million to be able to maintain and expand the program. As the city’s transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, has admitted, Citi Bike has faced "significant financial and operational issues.”
The company's financial turmoil may be due, in part, to the structure of its main sponsorship with Citi Bank. The New York City Department of Transportation provides oversight for Citi Bike, but the program--which is the largest in the country--receives no public money, differentiating it from bike shares in other cities. The New York system is operated by NYC Bike Share, a subsidiary of the Portland-based Alta Bike Share, which also operates systems in Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C., among others. In a deal brokered by the Bloomberg administration, Citigroup is paying $41 million over the bike share’s first five years to be the title sponsor. MasterCard, the only other sponsor, paid $6.5 million.

The problem is that it can be hard to decipher where Citi Bike ends and Citibank begins, making it difficult to entice additional sponsors to join. When you allow one company to brand your service so completely, there’s little benefit left to offer other potential funding partners. According to the Wall:
Alta was always expected to seek sponsorship, in addition to Citigroup Inc., which paid for the naming rights. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. lent the money up front to pay for start-up costs. Finding additional sponsors has proved challenging because the program has become so closely associated with its eponymous supporter, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Citi made a smart investment by inextricably linking itself with the popular bike share for a mere $41 million. Thousands of New Yorkers are riding moving Citi billboards around the city each day. For the bike share, the benefits of the partnership are less clear. By not securing enough Citi money to keep itself afloat from the outset without other sponsors, Citi Bike may have hobbled itself.
Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, says that it’s not shocking that Citi Bike would have difficulties finding additional sponsorship. “When the first member on your team is A-Rod, it doesn’t leave a lot of opportunity or budget to other players,” he says. “When your first sponsor is Citi and its called Citi Bike, there’s not a lot of value for other advertisers. They should have known upfront they were selling one sponsorship, and should have planned accordingly.” (According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg administration officials initially asked Citigroup for more, but were negotiated down.)
Citi has branded the bike-sharing service in New York so fantastically that trying to separate the bikes from their sponsor can be confusing. “It’s the visual and the verbal,” explains Kevin Lane Keller, a marketing professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. First, Citi Bike and Citibank sound so similar that in announcing the partnership, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg got them mixed up.
Then there's the physical branding: In addition to the Citi logo, the bike-share network is plastered with the bank's distinct shade of cobalt blue (a hue screenwriter Delia Ephron decried as having “distorted every view” in the city). website looks just similar enough to Citi the bank’s actual site (again, that blue!), to make me briefly question whether I was looking at a Citi-owned product. I’m not the only one who gets confused. Vandals have smashed Citi Bike docking stations in protest of Citigroup. Some “people don’t realize that Citi is just a sponsor and it’s Alta that operates all of this,” Keller says. “They assume this is all Citi’s.”
That confusion is compounded here: When asked about Citi Bike’s difficulties finding other sponsors, a media representative from NYC Bike Share directed all queries to Citi’s director of public affairs (who as of publication time has not provided a response.)

Of course, becoming the primary sponsor for an unproven bike-sharing system was a risk on Citigroup’s part. Had the bike share been wildly loathed, the company would have been entwined with the controversy. “The meanings of Citi the brand are now forever connected to this bike thing, for five years,” says Susan, a professor of marketing at the Boston University School of Management. “In the evolutionary plane of this [Citi Bike] brand, five years is going to be a long time.” These first few years are when people’s perceptions of the bike share are being formed.
Some branding opportunities are, by nature, parties of one, like naming rights to a stadium. You can’t call a baseball stadium US Cellular/Staples Field. By not branding the system with a lead sponsor's name, other bike-share programs, like D.C.’s Capitol Bike Share, have left themselves open to dozens of sponsors, like their sponsorship program, for example, that nets $18,000 per 19-dock station. In Citi Bike's case, “there’ll be other ancillary opportunities, but everything is going to play second fiddle to Citi,” Galloway says.
So far, connection with the popular service has been good for Citi.Celebrities Citi Bike. Brides Citi Bike. In a recent interview with Advertising Age magazine, Citibank marketing executive Elyssa Gray said the bike-share sponsorship has netted $4.4 million dollars in earned media (free advertising, largely from social media).
Meanwhile, Citi Bike's own earned revenue isn't what the bike-share organizers had hoped. Part of the blame for Citi Bike’s financial woes has been placed on its lack of popularity with casual riders. The bike share has so far attracted far more annual riders, who pay only $95 a year for unlimited rides up to 45 minutes, compared to daily passers, who pay $9.95 for 24-hours of unlimited 30 minute trips. The bike share has also faced other unforeseen challenges: damage to bikes by Hurricane Sandy, an especially rough, and the bankruptcy of Bixi, the company providing the bike share's technology.
If Citi Bike hopes to bring in new sponsors to make up for its budget gaps, it’ll have to figure out a way to provide some sort of value for them, whether that’s giving them a portion of signage on the bikes or stations or something else entirely. It’ll certainly be a tough sell. Citi Bike frames may be clunky, but they’re not quite big enough to support more than the five Citi logos already embedded in the Citi Bike frame.


New Logo and Identity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

New Logo and Identity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 180LA

Established in 1927 by 36 industry members, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences(AMPAS) is an honorary membership organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures that now includes over 6,000 members. Mostly known as this ephemeral entity in celebrity acceptance speeches during the Oscars — “I want to thank the Academy, God, my dog, mom and dad, etc.…” — AMPAS engages in numerous education, outreach, preservation and research activities while also managing a library, archive, council, and, set to open in 2017, a museum. Yesterday, the Academy introduced a new identity to unify all of its endeavors, designed by Los Angeles, CA-based 180LA.

New Logo and Identity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 180LA

The new logo spotlights the Oscar from above — creating a triangular shape and uniting the “A” of the Academy with our iconic statuette. This design gives the Academy a presence in its own logo for the first time and underscores our efforts to support creative arts and sciences year-round.

the academy logo launch mini site

Shifting the light source on the old and new logos.

Since the Oscars introduce a new variation of its logo with every annual event and the Academy doesn't have a significant visual presence in terms of organizational identity, there isn't a logo you can pinpoint as being the official-not-be-messed-with one. Even the official logo that this one replaces looks like it’s cobbled together from pieces of other events, ready to change at any moment.
Establishing a clear logo, one that doesn't just try to ride the coattails of the Oscars but one that integrates the renown event with the Academy, is a much welcome step. In essence, the new logo is the same as before: the Oscar statue in a holding shape. Now, of course, it’s inside a triangle, which looks like an “A” for “Academy”. Simple and smart. The concept that it was a change of the light source makes it quite clever too. The typography, set in a lot of Futura, with an exaggerated “M” is nice enough.

New Logo and Identity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 180LA
Logo as “A”. This might get out of hand.
New Logo and Identity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 180LA
Logo for The Oscars.
New Logo and Identity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 180LA
Envelope and note card.
New Logo and Identity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 180LA
Prototype covers for the Academy’s magazine.
New Logo and Identity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 180LA
Cover for what appears to be a presentation book — on the launch website you can click through some of the clippings to see some spreads.
In application, there isn't a lot to see but there is potential in the patterning seen on the envelopes and the “A”-interpretation device seen in the magazine prototypes looks like it could be plenty of fun for all kinds of communications. It reminds me of the Art Paul-era Playboy covers where the bunny was interpreted freely. Overall, a solid redesign with smart thinking behind it.



Brand Copywriting: What is Your Brand’s Voice?

Copywriting is your brand’s way of speaking to your customer. Think of your organization’s copy as a verbal version of a logo or color palette. Just like these visual elements, the text you use in your touchpoints needs to have a consistent feel, underpinned by a clear strategy. It doesn't make sense to print all of your key collateral with different logos, or in completely different colors, if you’re trying to focus consumer attention on one consistent brand image. For the same reason, your copy needs to consistently embody your brand strategy across all of your touchpoints.
This post outlines some ways you can keep an eye out for brand copywriting pitfalls; so that your copy can be a voice heard loud and clear, and not just words on a page.
Common Brand Copywriting Pitfalls
§  Copy has no discernible tone of voice
§  Copy is purely about features with nothing emotional that hooks into the audience’s need
§  Copy is laid out in a way that is visually dense
§  Copy uses needlessly complex language
§  Copy lacks key messaging
Good copy verbalizes your ability to resolve your audience’s need in a way they can’t get anywhere else. Think about the following things before launching into a copywriting project, or while evaluating your current brand copywriting.
Does Your Brand Copywriting Adhere to a Clear Brand Strategy?
Your copywriting should be the best friend of your logo, color palette and graphic design. And just like these visual devices, your text should communicate your brand promise and position in the style of your brand personality. Without a clear brand promise or position, your copy may lack strategic talking points. And without an authentic and compelling brand personality, your copy could be perceived as lacking a voice — its tone might even conflict with what your design elements are communicating.
Do You Know What Messaging You’re Leading With?
Is your copy driven by your brand promise, or your position against the competition? What is the most important thing to lead with given your audience need? Your verbal messaging will risk being passed over if you are not telling a story that hits close to home with your audience.
Do You Have a Basic Editorial Style Guide?
It’s critical to define — even in basic terms — how your brand copywriting will consistently embody your brand personality. Think about it: is your personality regal and sophisticated, kitschy and ironic, ingenious and savvy? Depending on what it is, you will have to define how your brand copywriting will use things like headings, italics, lists, and bullets so there is a consistent format to the text. As well, consider if your brand needs separate style guides for different contexts; will your white papers have the same style-musts as blog posts, or brochures? If not, why?
Does Your Brand Copywriting Work if Scaled to Different Media?
If you had to describe your company in a one-sentence tweet, could you do it as well as you could in 200 words? Your copy should always feel like the same person is speaking it, with key messaging that can be summed up in one sentence, or unpacked with quantifiable “reasons to believe” for more text-heavy touchpoints.
Remember: Your Copy Should Always Be On-Brand
Compelling brand copywriting is a crucial component of any organization’s brand marketing. It lets you speak directly to your customer’s need, in their language, through marketing collateral or digital media. If your copy isn't underpinned by a clear, audience-centric strategy, it runs the risk of being passed over, and this leaves the door wide open for the competition to speak more directly to your customer’s need.



15 Mind-Blowing Stats About B2C Brands

Consumer-goods purchases are often based on the emotional connection a person has with a brand. That's why it's no surprise that content marketing and social media are top-of-mind for B2C marketers, as they fight through the online clutter to get attention and build relationships. 
Overall, the forecast is sunny for B2C digital marketing. Digital spend is on the rise, and companies say they feel optimistic about their digital fitness. Here are 15 stats that offer the lay of the land for B2C marketing in the year to come.
1. Ninety percent of B2C marketers are using content marketing, compared with 86 percent last year. Thirty-four percent of B2C marketers consider themselves effective at content marketing—up from 32 percent last year.
2. B2C marketers have rated many tactics higher in effectiveness this year; in-person events and e-newsletters top the list. B2C marketers are using all social platforms more often, with LinkedIn use registering the biggest jump (from 51 percent to 71 percent).
3. Eighty percent of B2C marketers used Twitter in 2013, up from 69 percent last year, finishing second behind Facebook (89 percent) and ahead of YouTube (72 percent), LinkedIn (71 percent), and Google+ (55 percent).
4. Sixty percent of B2C marketers said they have generated leads from social media.
5. B2C companies actually convert customers using social media, with 54 percent of those generating leads reporting revenue generated from social. 
6. B2C company Procter & Gamble is consistently one of the world’s top advertisers, investing $9.7 billion into marketing in 2013
7. B2C brands are more ahead of the curve than B2B brands when it comes to mobile marketing. B2B brands tend to be more conservative in their approach across most parameters, viewing mobile marketing as “experimental.” About 70 percent of B2C brands report that they are satisfied with their mobile efforts.
8. Twenty-six percent of B2C brands rate multi-screen advertising as very important. Eight percent of B2B brands say that multi-screen is important. 
9. B2C marketers retain more focus on feature phones relative to B2B: While 45 percent of B2B marketers say those devices are not a mobile marketing priority, only 19 percent of B2C marketers say that.
10. Traditional media will continue to lose dollars across nearly all sectors. Only the B2C product category will up investment, though by a minimal 0.8 percent.
11. B2C service companies (think Geico or Great Clips) will increase digital ad spend 10.4 percent this year.
12. Safeway's Diane Dietz is the highest paid B2C CMO
13. In terms of a percentage of overall firm budgets, B2C product companies devote the largest share to marketing (16.3 percent). 
14. Coca-Cola is the biggest B2C brand in social media by both reach and engagement. 
15. Marketers from B2C product companies expected digital ad spending to rise 11.1 percent this year, compared to 14.6 percent last year.


7 steps to create a killer brand

1. Focus on a single brand

A startup, no matter how well-funded, will always feel short of resources. So the business should focus all its branding energy and resources on building up a single brand – the name of the company – and not try to create separate brand identities for the company and for each of its products. Multiple brands will diffuse your energy and resources, and confuse customers.
Single-brand focus is highly effective whether you’re a consumer or B2B business.
In the consumer space, think Polo shirts, shoes, home d├ęcor, dresses, bed and bath, etc. – it’s all Polo, with little energy wasted on sub-branding. In another realm, folks just say they got an iPad, not that they bought an iPad 2, Wi-Fi + 3G, 16GB.
For examples of good B2B brands, think how IT products are marketed. If a CIO is asked which database his company uses, she’s likely to reply simply “SQL Server” rather than “Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition”…. or simply “Oracle,” rather than “Oracle Database 11g Release 2”… Similarly, the same CIO asked what types of servers her shop uses might respond simply “HP” (rather than “HP ProLiant DL320e Gen8 v2 Servers”), or just “Dell” (rather than “Dell PowerEdge M520 Blade Servers”).

2. Snag the URL

As you’re considering alternative names, make sure you can snag the URL (domain name). So as you’re brainstorming names, bring up a registration engine such as GoDaddy.com orRegister.com and, as you think of names, check to see if the URL is available.
Generally the shorter the URL the better. .com top level domains are preferable for most businesses.

3. Keep it simple

Ideally, the name should be short and memorable. So if I’m launching a gaming company, BongoBaby would probably be preferable to Jim’s International Game Enterprises, Inc. Make the name hard to misspell and hard to mispronounce. I know those are double negatives, but the point is that you want people to be able to find you in a search engine, and to easily refer you to their friends.

4. Choose one: descriptive, evocative, or whimsical

Next, you have a fundamental choice with three basic paths. The first path is to select a name that’s descriptive of what you do – think WebMD, The Home Depot, 1-800-flowers, or Urban Outfitters. The second path is to choose a name that says nothing about what you do, but is evocative. Oracle is a great abstract-but-evocative brand name, evoking wisdom and an ability to predict the future. Another is Warby Parker, the online purveyor of eye glasses that intentionally chose a name evocative of old-line, preppy Eastern retailers (rather than a descriptive tag akin to LensCrafters). The third path is to select a memorable, unique nonsense word. Nice examples of such whimsical brand names include Hulu, Zynga and Tapjoy.

5. Avoid branding by committee or focus group

It’s good to be inclusive and seek opinions and ideas. But if you form a committee and put everything to a vote, you’re likely to end up with a least-common-denominator brand that’s bland, uninspired, and may look more like a hybrid camel-elephant than the thoroughbred you’d hoped for.

6. Apply your brand consistently

You can do everything else right, and screw it up here. Consistency of usage and application of the brand is paramount. A company should have a consistent look-and-feel and consistent language and stick to them. For example, do you want to be referred to as Urban Outfitters or as UO? Do you wish to be known as “a pioneer in cleantech,” or “an innovator in green energy”?

7. Protect your brand

Trademark the company name, logo, and tagline. File with the US PTO for registered trademark status. In your online (and any printed) materials, be sure to display clear copyright notices.

By Jim Price 
Jim Price is a serial entrepreneur and Adjunct Lecturer of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Zell Lurie Institute at The University of Michigan Ross School of Business explains how to build a killer brand in 7 steps.