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My Favorites of February: Unicorn Branding, Bible Redesign & Creative Xenophobia

28 February 2016

Image by Adam Lewis Greene (via 99u.com)

Image by Adam Lewis Greene (via 99u.com)

This short month of February is over, and it’s time to look at some of the most interesting – from my perspective – articles to read and look at.

There is some unicorn in it (Uber’s logo(s) change, WeWork’s stories to investors etc.), but also some interesting strategy cases (like Facebook’s effort to connect the developping world to its services) or  creative projects (like Greene’s crowdfunded Bible redesign, see left). I hope you had an interesting set of February reads too, and wish you a great start in the next week.

Startups don’t turn into unicorns […] without a good story attached,writes Nitasha Tiku for BuzzFeed. This article writes about WeWork — which leases office space, divvies it up into desk-sized chunks, and rents it out month to month in fashionable cities — the whose investment narrative revolves around catering to a new generation of young workers. It’s a really interesting, well-researched, obviously well-documented, and insightful article about start-up funding and today’s insame valuation levels (WeWork’s valuation of to $10 billion is higher on paper than Slack, Draft Kings, Lyft, 23andMe, and Warby Parker combined).

Uber rebranded earlier this month, as many of this blog’s reader have probably noticed. This Wired article tells some of the context of that rebranding: the original brief, the ups & downs, the trademark issues, the vision behind the new brand identity… It seems that a lot revolved around the desire of the co-founder to change something, at leas that’s one of the learnings I kept from reading it. On a personal level, I think it’s really weird to have 2 identities for the same brand – even it it’s a 2-sided platform – so I don’t like the new identity that much. Mark Ritson goes as far as saying that “Uber’s logo change is brand masturbation, not brand management,” calling it “good news [for] the world’s taxi drivers [because it makes Uber look] vulnerable.” Beyond that, the Wired article is a great behind-the-scenes story, entertaining to read.

Switch in focus. From unicorns to cycling as a way to build a global brand. This interview of Alpecin’s CEO provides a lot of insights about investing in sponsorship to extand brand awareness globally. The men’s hair product brand, family-run for over 100 years and headed by CEO Eduard Doerrenberg, has a very specific set of rationales for sponsoring professional cycling. “We were quite convinced that cycling [is] the new golf and so cycling is a global sport,” he says, “the Tour de France is the biggest yearly global sports event, so of course riding was the terrific chance to bring the brand into 130 countries with just one activity.” Read on if you’re interested.

Why would you want to redesign the Bible? Well, why not? I’ve just read parts of it, but it’s true that the sacred old texts are not easy to read. The 29-year-old Bay Area book designer Adam Lewis Greene believed the Bible needed a design makeover… and his crowdfunding effort to do so raised $1.4 million on Kickstarter. “His intent is to make the Bible more reader friendly and fluid by breaking the brick-sized book up into four volumes,” 99u’s Matt McCue writes about the project, “forgoing annotations and verse numbers, and replacing the thin, wispy sheets with thick paper from a 437-year-old Austrian mill.” Beside the design and the craft, it’s also a great article about the challenges of crowdfunding & deliveringsuccessful creative projects.

Have you heard about Facebook’s “Free Basics” program,  which plans to give access to a limited number of websites — including, of course, Facebook — free of charge in dozens of developing countries? This article is about the challenges that Facebook faced in India, where its partner Reliance Communications allowed mobile subscribers to surf pre-approved sites without needing a data plan. This Backchannel article is a long but very rich and thorough piece about local resistance to global initiatives. Facebook’s program has basically been rejected by India’s population, connected elite and even regulators. Why? Read the article.

A major brand, a vintage object, digital innovation, a focus on automotive design (when I was a kid I wanted to become car designer)… a lot of this article’s content is interesting. Jason Torchinsky looks at Apple’s purchase of a 1957 Fiat Multipla and wonders how that could be related to its plans to develop a car: “[Apple] is known to have bought just one car, and that car could be full of clues about what Apple is thinking,” he writes. “Apple [could] have bought absolutely any car they wanted to for this new venture. That’s why I think it’s very significant and telling that the one car they are known to have bought is this: a 1957 Fiat Multipla.

Back to unicorns. After Uber, it’s the other globally know one: Airbnb, which has made it a $25 billion company in the last 8 years. This post, adapted from the blog of the real estate crowdfunding platform RealtyShares, looks at the economics of short term rental sites, and wonder to what extent the original narrative is perverted professionnal real estate investors. “The financial benefit of an Airbnb property is clear to investors,” they write. “They can make more money […] So how many professional real estate investors list apartments on Airbnb? And how large are their businesses?” The answer is rather nuanced.

The French design agency PULP offers an interesting analysis of “new economy” branding, mostly of French companies – but not only – clustering brand names into 9 categories: Frenglish, Neo latina, Basic Poetic, Fun, Easy, Promess, MyYouWeMeGo, Nowhere and Laggards. The post is in French, but visuals allow you to get most of it even if you don’t read the texts. And you will discover some great French new economy players.

How open is Wall Street to innovation? Because there’s this thing called Blockchain – the technology on which Bitcoin is based – that could have a significant impact on the way the finance industry works. It’s not just an empty claim à la “The Rise of … That Will Disrupt …” but there seems to be some questioning within the industry – not just by the outliers and status-quo-challenging outsiders. The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) indeed called on the entire financial industry to collaborate on blockchain-like technology, as Wired notes in this article. It’s also well-critten because it looks at barriers that could hinder adoption, including the human one, which is fundamental to all technology adoption.

Shameless self-promotion. Self-bromotion actually. In a blog post – in German – that my brother and I wrote, we look at crowdsourcing (my area of expertise) and its usefulness for content marketing (his area of expertise). I invite you to read if you are interested of if you’d like to know more about content marketing, as Maël Roth is becoming a reference-person in Germany’s content marketing industry. Who knows, maybe one day we will start Roth & Roth, a cutting-edge European marketing agency 🙂

Last, here’s a short blog post about our ASQ paper about culture’s impact on creativity. LSE Business Review invited us to sum up the results of our paper on cultural tightness & creativity in a short post, which we were happy to do. “Taken together, [our] results suggest that cultural tightness seems to be an obstacle to international creativity… in both ways,” we explain. “In provocative terms: our findings imply that cultural tightness leads to a form of creativity xenophobia.” Read LSE’s blog for more information, or this and this post on my blog.

That’s it for February!

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