Consequences of Culture: How the blinkered focus on numbers is destroying financial services brands

“You should resign. You should give back the money you took while this scam was going on and you should be criminally investigated.” Ouch. Imagine if that was a public official leveling such a charge at you, the CEO of a heretofore well-respected financial services institution. Think of the damage done, not only to your personal reputation, but to the brand value of your company and the morale of your people. Yet this is exactly what John Stumpf, CEO of venerable Wells Fargo Bank, had to endure at the hands of Senator Elizabeth Warren this week. This Senate hearing came on the heels of a scandal in which bank employees, under reportedly intense pressure to cross-sell products to make their numbers, fraudulently opened new accounts for customers without their permission. To make matters worse, Stumpf appeared to blame the proverbial “few bad apples” for the trouble, although it appears as though the number of apples fired as a result was somewhere north of 5,000 and none of them, oddly…

Chromium Core Values


Josef Müller-Brockmann, Swiss Modernist Branding Master

I am continuously impressed, to this day, by the clarity and ingenuity of visual expression by Swiss designers. A quick visit to provides a dose of inspiration for any identity designer who is stuck in a rut. And a review of the work of 60s Modernist Josef Muller-Brockmann not only inspires, but provides a whiff of nostalgia at the same time. It's an intoxicating combo. Muller-Brockmann did a lot of commercial work for clients such as IBM, but it's his public service announcement work that really sings the siren song for me. I imagine he did it for either nothing or next-to-nothing monetarily, but clearly his vision for the better world he was helping to create shines through, something all companies should strive to accomplish through the creative expressions of their brand.

Building a More Engaged Brand Culture: The Solution is Literally at Hand

At Chromium, one of our most deeply held philosophies is that brand = culture and culture = brand. You can't have a great brand without building the culture to support it – to live it.

Any cursory reading of the business media makes it clear that remendous resources are being expended by companies to build strong, vibrant corporate cultures that attract and retain valuable talent. But the instruments currently
used (annual surveys, email questionnaires, quarterly reviews, and external rating systems such as glassdoor) to measure the effectiveness of internal communications, engagement processes, and team-building initiatives are not up to the task. 

And while this is troublesome, the answer is truly at hand: Employees themselves are bringing the solution to this challenge with them to work everyday, in the form of their smartphones.

Smartphones are not only ubiquitous, they are practically extensions of our very physical being. We take them to bed. They are our traveling companions.…

Armstrong Debacle: Are Celebrities too Risky for Brands?

Once again, brands that thought they could borrow some magic from a celebrity find themselves swimming in confusion and controversy, like poor Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. From AdAge:

Within hours, Mr. Armstrong's endorsement empire fell apart as Anheuser-Busch, Trek, Easton-Bell Sports, 24-Hour Fitness, Honey Stinger, Oakley and other firms dumped the cancer survivor, even as some pledged to continue support of his Livestrong Foundation.

Nike's livid. The US Postal Service is dismayed. I'm not at all surprised.

Celebrity endorsements are a double-edged sword for brands. When the celebrity is hot and you're slicing the competition into prosciutto, life is good. When the celebrity trips and the brand falls on that sword, well, not so good.

The foibles of even the most upright-seeming celebrities are eventually exposed and magnified by social media and the Internet, association with stars is a minefield for brands. Eventually someone's going to step in …

Innovator Brands Disrupt Malt Whiskey Category

From a recent article in the New York Times Food & Wine section:

“It’s part of the pioneer spirit to try to do something by putting your own signature on it,” he said. “I’m not trying to make someone else’s product.” Those words, which perfectly capture the ethos of what I call "Innovator Brands," were spoken by an American craft distiller, Richard Stabile, one of a new generation of whiskey makers who are disrupting the "Quo Brands," staid, old-guard companies that have been doing the same thing for so long, they've forgotten what the word "innovation" means. Chip Tate, another of these rogue master distillers, puts it this way:

 “A lot of what we do is riffing on old traditions in new ways,” Mr. Tate said. “It’s like fusion cooking.”

It's actually much more like category disruption in the new tradition of Silicon Valley. 

Pretty much forever in the world of brands, malt whiskeys have been the exclusive province of Scotland. Names like Macallan, …

Upstart Brands Nip at Well-heeled Banks


“Banks aren’t doing a good job at innovating for consumers,” said Robert Dighero, a partner in the London-based venture capital firm Passion Capital. “Start-ups are nibbling away at some of their most profitable businesses.”

From FastCompany, Robert Anderson, Creative Director of the payment processing startup Square, notes:

"Well frankly, this industry has been neglected for so long that even putting in a modest amount of thinking in terms of modern user experience makes this stuff way better,"

In the wake of some of the most inexcusable scandals, after significant fee increases during the worst recession since the great depression, after generous taxpayer bailouts were gobbled up by financial services companies without so much as a thank you, (except for AIG, whose thank you almost became a f*** you) is it any wonder entrepreneurial Innovator Brands see the big brands as vulnerable?

London’s fast-growing start-up scene is trying to disrupt the financial statu…