“I am the global brand manager on Coca-Cola.”  Yeah right.

A brand is nothing more than the set of impressions that live in my head and your head and everybody else’s head. And these impressions are formed by everything the brand has said and done and not said and not done and by every experience we’ve had with that brand. Like, for me Coca-Cola brings back happy childhood memories of my grandfather because my grandfather would let me have Coca-Cola when my mother would not.

And there is a global brand manager in Atlanta managing this brand?

I am a brand strategist. I am not however a creator of brands. My job is to find out what has been, what is, and what can be. And to make sense of this within a powerful brand strategy. I am a mirror. I am a detective. I am a social psychologist. But I do not create brands. I reflect them. And I need to know how they fit into the collective consciousness.

Social media. I dislike that term. These are social gathering places facilitated through technology. In the old days people would gather in the town square, in the coffee shops, in the pubs, wherever … and they now gather online. Get togethers on steroids to paraphrase Vaynerchuk. And it’s at these get togethers that community is built. Community that implies shared values and shared culture and shared aspiration.

Back to branding.

Branding is precisely this. A sense of community centered on an interest that matters. For example, photographers will agree that Leica (or Nikon or Canon) best represents the values and culture and aspirations of the community gathered around the common interest called photography. They may disagree about Coca-Cola and BMW. But probably not about Leica or Nikon or Canon.

Social media (oh how I dislike that term) facilitates these large communities. Where people who do not really know each other at all connect through a common interest. And they become friends. And they follow each other. And they like the same things. Or disagree about what they like but come to some kind of conclusion about what they agree about.

What fertile ground for a brand strategist!

As strategists we would research, then analyze, then build brand architecture, then design messaging streams, then communicate to stakeholders in a way that would motivate and align them.

And now this can all be done through these get togethers on steroids.


Where communities express themselves and dream and create and imagine and get involved and disagree and agree and build common culture and values. Where they find the building blocks that create brands.

Sounds too good to be true? It’s not.
Sounds insane? It’s not.

It’s happening.

The Limassol Branding Project has just been launched. It’s the world’s first interactive destination branding project involving anyone who has enough interest in this city to “JOIN THE CONVERSATION” and “share today” and “shape tomorrow.” On Facebook. On Twitter. On blogs. And in live meetings. The project is just two days old and the flood of interest exceeds all my expectations. The launch presentation was the ninth most popular presentation on SlideShare on Saturday 9 July … for a little city of 200,000 inhabitants.  This is what I call engagement.

Limassolians are expressing their DNA, their aspirations, their thoughts about their city, and offering some brilliant marketing ideas along the way.  Like how about downloadable email signatures for use on their personal emails. Or daily submissions of photographs in and around the city with the best of the week voted by the community. WOW. WOW. WOW.

Think about it. The brand we are developing is the city. But the city is the people. And the people are expressing themselves in this “get together on steroids” facilitated by Facebook and Twitter and Slideshare and Youtube.

Still want to do focus groups so you can manage your brand?

It is not your brand.

It belongs to everyone who feels it is theirs.

Power to the people. 


See the Limassol Branding Project at 







“I saw a photograph of Limassol and it had its back to the sea,” says Peter Economides, the global brand consultant leading the Limassol Branding Project, “and then I realized what is so special about this city.”


Ask residents to tell you what they think of when they think of Limassol and you’ll probably hear the same answer.  Sea.  And the second word you’ll hear is probably this.  Smile.


There are many cities on the sea.  After all the earth is 70% water.  

What makes Limassol so special is the relationship between the people, the city and the sea.  Limassol embraces the sea.  Wherever you are you feel the presence of the sea.  And people who live in Limassol use the sea daily.  To swim.  To walk or cycle along the beachfront.  Or simply as inspiration.


“When Limassol turned to face the sea, the city smiled.  And the sea smiled back. This incredible phrase was said to me by Mimis Sophocleous and it has provided inspiration for the Limassol Branding Project,” says Mr. Economides.


It is the direct inspiration for the logo of the Limassol Branding Project.


The blue represents the sea. The green represents the land and the city. The white represents the beach. But it is also a smiling face. And the name is at an angle, just like a winking eye.


This is the spirit of Limassol.

The sea, the relationship between the people and the city and the sea.  And a smile 🙂


This may be why Limassol has attracted so many foreign residents.  It’s friendly. It’s welcoming.  It’s open and accepting.  And it has one of the best beachfronts in the world.


The Limassol Branding Project is unique.  It’s the first time that an entire city is invited to participate – on Facebook and Twitter and on a unique interactive forum.

Everyone can share their point of view, provide their input and shape the future of Limassol.


Join the conversation.

Share today.

Shape tomorrow.



The Limassol Branding Project was initiated by Spyros Spyrou, joined by six other Limassol business leaders  –  Peter G. Economides, Costas Galatariotis, Michael Loizides, Christos Mouskis, Philippos Philis and Michael Virarti  –  under the umbrella of the Limassol Chamber of Commerce.  It has the full support of the various municipalities and communities that make up the Greater Limassol area, as well as the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, the Cyprus Shipping Chamber, and the Limassol Tourism Development Company.


The project is led by Peter Economides of Felix BNI,, a global strategic brand consultancy based in Athens.  Mr. Economides has long experience in branding which includes Coca-Cola, Apple Computer, Heineken, Audi, Mattel, Seychelles Tourism, Greek Tourism and the Bank of Cyprus.


To download images please visit:






I first visited Cyprus whilst I was living in New York, when I happened to visit on a business trip.  Years later I found myself working on a number of projects in Cyprus, most of which took me to Nicosia. On the rare occasions when I needed to go to Limassol, the invariable question from my Nicosia friends was “why?”


I was in Limassol a few weeks back. I called a friend in Nicosia.  “Where are you?”, she asked.  “Limassol”, I said. “I am jealous”, she replied.


What has changed?


Limassol has changed.


This brash Cypriot backwater town has become a shining star. Because it feels good about itself. And because it feels good, it does great things. Like build one of the best beachfronts anywhere in the world. Like develop one of the best marinas in the Mediterranean. Like renovate the dilapidated old town to turn it into a hip, cool urban oasis. Like establish itself as a shipping hub. Like smile …


I saw a photograph of Limassol in the sixties. I was amazed.  The town had its back to the sea.  Literally,  The waves washed against the back walls of the seafront buildings which faced inland, towards Nicosia. Someone told me the sea smiled back at Limassol when Limassol turned to face the sea.


It may sound strange … but just like a person, every country, every city, every corporation and every brand has its own DNA. Genetic building blocks which distinguish it from every other. Limassol’s DNA is built on a smile.


The civic and business leaders of Limassol have worked with this DNA, creating a city which lovingly embraces the sea.  But it has all been built with a smile.


I studied classical economics.  But I have learnt the power of social psychology.  When a person feels good, they do great things.  When a football team feels good, they score goals.  And when a city smiles, it does great things too.


Limassol is already taking its place as the major hub attracting foreign investment to Cyprus. Exaptriate companies are attracting by the ease doing business here. And expatriate workers enjoy a welcome and a lifestyle second to none. I predict that it will soon take its place as one of the premier tourism and business centres in the region.


Keep smiling Limassol.  And the sea will keep smiling back.




I am an adman.

Well, I am not.

I am a brand strategist.  But I spent years in the ad business.

First with McCann Erickson in South Africa, then Hong Kong, Greece, Mexico and then New York as EVP/WW Director of Client Services where I managed the Coca-Cola business globally. In 1996 I joined TBWAWorldwide in New York as Head of Global Clients.


I have been a lucky guy.  I have worked and learned from some of the best.  John Dooner, Michael Sennott and Marcio Moreira at McCann.  Jeff Weiss and Lee Daley at Amster Yard.  Sergio Zyman and David Wheldon at Coca-Cola. Bill Tragos, Uli Wiesendanger, Adam Morgan John Hunt and Lee Clow at TBWA. Steve Jobs at Apple. And my late ex father in law was Horst Sambo, the man who created and executed the incredible Red Bull campaign.


I love the ad business.  And as a brand strategist, I am still a part of it.

But the ad business is not ready for the conversation economy … and it will take a lot of getting ready to get there.


The social media experts?

The good ones know how to get the bread out of the refrigerator.

But can they make a sandwich? Someone else said that … and I can’t remember who.



Well, creative people make ads.

And great creative people make amazing ads. 

The skills and characteristics required to make amazing ads are many and diverse.

Strategy. Insight. Psychology. Imagination. Restlessness. Perfectionism. Craft. Design. Good taste. Courage. Intelligence. Curiosity. Arrogance. Humility. Sanity. Insanity. Recklessness. Responsibility.

Believe me the list goes on and on and on.

How many people combine just a few of these?

Not many … that’s for sure.

That’s why there are not that many amazing ads.



Ad agencies were born with mass media.

They grew up with mass media.

The word “agency” hints at their origins.

Agencies originally represented media. They were the middlemen through whom advertisers bought media space.

In order to attract business, some agencies offered to work on the content. And that is how the modern agency arose. In the good old days (I am talking pre-nineties) agencies worked on a standard commission of 15% on the gross media buy. This was an industry wide standard. Nobody competed on price. The point of differentiation was the creative work. The content. Agency management was focused entirely on the professional product. The advertising was what mattered.



Everything changed with the emergence of the media shops. Services were unbundled. The 15% commission system collapsed. And price became an additional point of differentiation. Agency managers became money managers. The focus moved away from creative.



And threatens the revenue base. What’s the reach of a viral ad on Youtube? What’s the potential reach? What’s the cost? What’s the revenue stream? What happens to the agency business model? …… Have you seen “Charlie bit my finger?”



Everything has changed. But nothing has changed. It’s back to the days when word of mouth was, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, “the most important currency”.  But this time round it’s “word of mouth on steroids”, according to Vaynerchuk.




Back to the days before agencies were born.

Back to the days before mass media.

Back to the days of micro conversations between living breathing humans.

But this time the village street is called the internet.



It’s a social gathering place.

Where equals (or close to equals) get together to interact.

On Facebook it ‘s like a school reunion or a family picnic or an office party. A loose social gathering with no specific interest focus.

On Twitter it looks more like a cocktail party. Lots of subgroups with specific interests. But however it looks, it is not a medium. It’s a social gathering. To twist McLuhan, “The message is the medium.” This is not a broadcast environment. People are not on Twitter for the content. It’s all about the context. And the quality of the conversation is what reigns supreme.  And here’s the problem ….



I swear. If I spoke to my friends the way that most ads speak to me I’d lose my friends.



Their skill set is not right.

Their experience is not right.

Their branding model is not right.

Their process is not right.

And their management are focused on the kinds of revenue streams which simply do not exist online.

I mean, Twitter is free!



Advertising on mass media shouts. It’s intrusive.

Conversation at social gatherings is inclusive. And it’s rude to shout.

Can these masters of the 30 second spot sustain a lengthy conversation?

Do they have what it takes?



A great branding strategy is the key to great creative.

It defines what the brand needs to say. And a good one does so beautifully well. You can almost see the creative in the document …

But the conversation needs something different. It’s interactive. It’s give and take. It requires flexibility and agility. It requires that the brand strategy is deeply understood … inhaled  and then exhaled with every breath. Harley Davidson does not sell to riders.  Harley davidson IS a rider. Big difference.



A great piece of advertising takes months to develop and produce. Months don’t exist at social gatherings. “Excuse me, I need to research what I am about to say next …” Forget about it.



I don’t need to go there. The Blendtec videos cost $5000 each.  Media was free. Agencies cannot survive with those revenues. No way.

What was the budget on “Charlie bit my finger?”



Clients need to take charge.

I can hear my agency friends go ….. urggh!

Think about it.

The conversation is not a campaign. It’s conversation. It’s ongoing. It never stops. It’s not an assignment. It’s a way of life.



Yes.  But it’s not the right title.

You don’t manage the community.

You participate in it.

And there is no “you”.

There are many “yous”.

Everyone in the organization is a “you”.



The entire organization must live and breathe the brand.  With every breath it takes. Branding is the key to organizational alignment.

But it’s not the organization that “gets” the brand. It’s the people within the organization.




To design the channels.

To reach the right people in the various interest groups.

To coach the participants.



Facebook may come and go. Twitter too. (Though I doubt it will happen anytime soon).

But their impact on your consumer is long lasting.

People behave differently to what they did a few years ago. Online and offline.

And this affects every aspect of the marketing mix.

Everything you say.

Everything you do.

Everything you don’t say.

Everything you don’t do.




Coca-Cola. Disney. Nike. Apple. Avis. Starbucks. Absolut. Heineken.

And Harley Davidson who don’t sell the ride.

They ride the ride. 



Absolutely nothing.







It was with utmost confidence that I presented my branding proposal.  After all, I had spent many a late, balmy night studying the situation, examining the issues, looking for a solution. I knew my solution was right.


And so, it seems, did my audience.


This was one of the most successful luxury fashion goods retailers in Hong Kong.  A family run business, owned and managed by an American who had settled in Okinawa after the war and moved to Hong Kong where he met his Chinese wife.  They had two children, both involved in the business, each with one foot in the rational West and the other in the mystical East.


“Brilliant.  Let’s move ahead.”


The next day I was in my office, pleased at my success in cracking this difficult puzzle. And that is exactly what strategy is.  A puzzle.  You deconstruct and re-construct, piece by piece.  And you know you’ve solved it when the pieces fit together well.


The phone rang.

David, the son, was on the phone.


I was not prepared for what I heard next.

“Don’t go ahead yet.  My mother wants to consult with a Feng Shui specialist.”

Feng Shui. You know, the guys who measure Ying and Yang.


My protestations fell on sympathetic but ultimately deaf ears.


A week later I got the good news …. and the bad news.  The Feng Shui man loved my ideas.  But, he hadinsisted, it was for the year of the Ox.  And this was 1984, a Rat year.


The project did not move ahead.


I have relayed this story many times.  But over the years the story has evolved.  From disbelief at how Feng Shui could determine marketing.  To how vital internal alignment is.


Successful branding starts from the inside out.  And if you can not align your organization, there is no way that any branding effort, no matter how brilliant it is, will succeed.


Because everything communicates.

Everything an organization says and does.

Everything it does not say and does not do.

EVERYTHING communicates.


Think of a bank.

Banks spend millions on advertising.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, that the bank does influences your perception of that bank as much as the attitude and behaviour of the bank teller who served you last.  If the bank teller is not aligned, then all is wasted.



Every social organization relies on alignment.

A good marriage is a well aligned marriage.

A soccer team scores goals when its players are aligned.

A bank does well when its employees are aligned.

A restaurant when the kitchen is aligned with the waiters.

And a country does well when its population is aligned behind a clearly communicated vision.


The American knew better than I did.

He knew better than to resist his wife’s request that my proposal should be scrutinized by a Feng Shui specialist.  Because he knew that if his wife was not aligned, my branding efforts would come to nothing.


We learn our lessons.  Sometimes from Marketing Professors.  Sometimes from Feng Shui specialists.




The internet has been around, in some form, since the late sixties.

But it only started to have its impact on our lives since the mid-nineties.

And most of us, as marketers, are only learning how to deal with it today.


There is something much, much older than the internet.

The art of conversation.

An art centered entirely around the individual.

Thesis. Antithesis. And through dialogue, synthesis.


The world that most of us grew up in was a world centered squarely on the mass.

Mass communication.

Mass retailing.

Mass consumption.


In this world, the individual was reduced to a number.

A part of a consumer demographic.  A target group.  Conversation was replaced by broadcast. The thesis was the marketing message, measured by CPM.  The antithesis, a simple “buy/don’t buy” decision, with the only synthesis coming through post advertising research and brand health monitors.


The world is changing.


Mass broadcast is being replaced by individual conversation.

Mass retailing by highly personalized shopping experiences.

Mass research by real time thesis, antithesis and synthesis.


Welcome to the conversation economy.

Welcome back to the future.


The rebirth of the conversation economy has been stimulated by technology.

But it’s not about technology. The art of conversation that we practice on the internet is carrying over into the way we live our real lives. And this has implications for every aspect of the way that businesses are run today.


It’s s confusing world. Only because it’s not the world we grew up in.  We need to explore it well.  And the way to do it is through the art of conversation. Through thesis, antithesis and synthesis.





I am tired of all this philosophizing about Social Media.
Like it’s the second coming of Christ.
I mean come on now!

What’s the big deal?
The web has grown up.

We’re no longer surfing the web.
We’re shaping it.

I know the world has changed forever.
It’s not the first time.
And it’s not the last.

But consumption has always been social.
And successful brands have always had friends, fans and followers.

So, it all gets down to what has always been true.


And that gets right back to consumer insight.

That which has always separated the okay from the bad.
The good from the simply okay.
And the insanely great from everything else. 

Great consumer insight has always been behind great communication and great communication campaigns.

Our biggest challenge as marketers?
It’s not how to get into Social Media.
That’s easy. 

It’s how to get social media into us. 



Every brand has a unique DNA  The primary job of the strategist is to uncover that DNA and express it in a way that is powerful, relevant and motivating. Brands that find their DNA and express it well are extremely powerful brands. Think of Apple, Nike, BMW, Avis.

Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department  Great brands are driven by great vision. And that vision can only come from the CEO. CEO=Chief Vision Officer, amongst other things. No. CEO=Chief Everything Officer.

Everything communicates  What you do. What you don’t do. What you say. What you don’t say.

Consistency is the holy grail  It’s difficult. And it’s vital. And brand guidelines are not enough. The best rallying point for consistency is a powerful idea.

Brand strategy is best expressed as an idea  Nobody reads strategy documents. Everybody responds to a big idea.

Marketing needs an ROI  No project is worth undertaking if it does not generate a positive return on investment. But watch how you define investment. Some are money investments. Others are human. Remember the human side of the balance sheet.



I remember the day I found him.
Or did he find me?

Let’s see …
Max had died in April.
Heart attack at midnight on Easter Sunday.
Went out in style and with effect … just as he had lived.

Kolonaki. Tecamachalco. San Angel.
The Upper East Side. Soho. Plaka.
And finally at rest in Ekali.
Not a bad routine for a fox terrier.

My friends had asked me then … “will you get another dog?”
“No … but one might get me …”

It must have been like the middle of September 2002.
9:15am. I left my house that morning as I did on any other.

Agape, smiling a huge smile, opening the garage door.
Me reversing the car out into the narrow alleys of Plaka.
Windows closed.
Music playing.
Cellphone ringing.
Same as any other day.

Then it happened.
Never happened before.
Never happened again.

I glanced in the rearview mirror (lucky Agape) and saw her squashed under the collapsed garage door.
Stopped the car.
Ran back.
Saved her.
Dusted her off.
Smile returned …

And then I heard him….
A cry.
I thought it was a little kitten.

I looked around the car, under the car, everywhere.

I walked back to the car.

Looked again.

I stayed out of the car.
Listening to the silence.
Focussing so that I might understand where the next cry might come from.

Looked around.
Saw a huge stray tabby.
Just as focused as I was.
Close to the storm water drain opposite my house.

The cry.
The drain.
Lifted the cover and saw a three inch fluff of life.
Deformed left paw.
Eyes closed.
Hanging on.

Me. The cat. And this fluff of life.

I lifted him out of the drain and put him in the palm of my hand.
He fitted comfortably.
Walked back to a traumatised but recovering Agape
…. “Agape, this is our new dog.”

I got back into the car.
Left the windows open and drove to the office, a huge smile on my face.

Plook was in my life.
Eyes closed. Five days old. Breathing.
I don’t know what the cat had for breakfast.
But it rained a little later that day and the storm water drain was flooded.


Welcome to the conversation economy



Four years ago I went on a sailing trip around the Greek islands with my brother, a few friends, and my 15 year old nephew. Sheer bliss. The only pressure we felt came from my nephew anxious to reach shore and the next internet café. Facebook. Facebook? We were dumbfounded.


Four years later and facebook has more than 500 million users worldwide including my 82 year old mother. If you think that social media is a fad then think again.


Marketers brought up on a diet of mass media and mass retailing are grappling with the new media. Budgets are being diverted and everyone’s looking for the new holy grail – how to go “viral.”  Yes it is true. Social media provide new opportunities to reach consumers, often with far greater efficiency than traditional media.  But I think we’re all missing the point.


Social media is not about “media.” It’s about a fundamental seismic disruption in culture. And if business does not change when culture changes it is dead. The cultural change brought about by social media is far reaching and affects every aspect of how we do business. Today’s consumers think and act differently and not just when they are logged on to a computer.


Welcome to the conversation economy.

Welcome back to the future.


Ironically, today’s world resembles the world of the past.  A world where relationships matter.  A world where community opinion and word of mouth are the most trusted sources of information.  A world based on conversation.


Your brand, or your corporate image, is nothing more than the set of impressions that exists in the minds of your customers.  All things being equal, people like to do business with people they know and like. That’s called added value.


Now, we get to know someone through conversation. By exchanging points of view. By understanding and evaluating the personality and values of the other whilst they talk. Through conversation we establish relationships. It’s only human. And its always been like that. It’s how community is established. It’s the glue that holds communities together. The only difference is that today’s communities are huge, interlocked networks of people spread right across the globe.


Think about it. The average facebook user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events. If you “like” something your friends “like” then it spreads way beyond your initial network. Fast. Same if you don’t “like” something …


Mass media is not dead. But mass media companies which do not understand the conversational economy will fade to oblivion. Because the age of mass broadcast, as we have known it, is challenged by cultural change.  By the same token, mass advertising is not dead. But brands must understand the need to engage in conversation. Because it is through conversation that relationships are established. And relationships are everything in the conversation economy.