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Posts Tagged ‘California’

“Old” becomes “New” in Pasadena tech venture

In brand-building, innovation, startup, Technology on March 30, 2014 at 9:53 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

85-87 NR and 56 HollyPasadena has always been a technology center in an “old sort of way.”  Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology are two venerable brands – institutions that continue to lead space research and produce Nobel Prize winners and provide the nation’s top-ranked scientists.  Pasadena is also home to the Art Center College of Design, which continues to be a world leader in graphic, industrial and automotive design, and creative arts.  And there has been a surge in Pasadena in recent years of startup high-tech firms such as EarthLink, eHarmony, Idea Lab, and more than 300 other notable high-tech companies in the past several years.

Pasadena’s ‘brand’ has always resonated well throughout the world because of its beautiful neighborhoods and civic assets, including the world-famous Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, nearby Huntington Library and the restored “Old Pasadena” – a booming retail, dining, and entertainment center now ripe for its next phase – infusion of trendy high-tech entrepreneurs who want these amenities close by.  In short, Pasadena is a great place to live and work.

Pasadena hasn’t always been “top of mind,” however, for high-tech startups compared to other California tech havens such as Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach, which is a relatively new concentration of high-tech firms in the coastal corridor stretching from Santa Monica through Venice to Playa Vista.  Silicon Beach is a brand that has ‘stuck’, and it attracts techies who love to be near the beach, palm trees, the strand, and soak in the California sunshine.  The area epitomizes the best of California for many.  And with nearby Hollywood, entertainment-oriented tech firms thrive in this focused community.  It would seem that Silicon Beach has a hefty advantage.

But this is going to change.  Enter David Sacks and Rising Realty Partners who have joined together to create an “answer” to Silicon Beach.  Starting with a quiver full of technology and environmental assets, Pasadena is perfectly positioned to exploit new opportunities being created by these two visionaries.  They are confident they can make an appealing case to entrepreneurs who want what Pasadena has to offer – an intellectual, high-tech, high-energy culture along with its traditional community values that attract a young, upward mobile entrepreneurial elite.

Partners with pedigree brands

David Sacks brings a pedigree high-tech startup background to this venture.  Sacks was the first chief operating officer for PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion, and the founding CEO for Yammer, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion.  He has an eye for successful startups as an early investor in Facebook, Inc., Twitter, Uber, Space Exploration Technologies, Palantir, Houzz and Airbnb.  He knows how young entrepreneurs think and what they want.

Rising also has a gold-edge brand as well – headed by CEO Nelson Rising, former CEO of MPG Office Trust, and a senior partner for Maguire Thomas Partners.  And he served as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.  His son, Chris Rising, serves as chief operating officer and has a strong background in investment management and hands-on project management.  He is supervising the Pasadena project.  RRP also has a reputation for preserving and restoring older, historical

Los Angeles-based buildings and turning them into profitable commercial investments that feature the best high-tech amenities that are requisite to today’s technology firms.

“First of all, while we’re starting off with three century-old buildings as the cornerstone of this new technology center, we’re insuring that these buildings will have the most advanced fiber network available.  We’re also making Wi-Fi available to the nearby public park so that our tenants can work in a variety of nearby locales and still conduct business,” stated Chris Rising, president of Rising Realty Partners.  “We know that tech companies prefer access to the highest speed Internet services, and we’re providing 10GB fiber for every office.

“But we also know that young entrepreneurs are attracted to older, restored office environments that have been popular in San Francisco, Austin and Seattle.  We’re preserving the original facade and brick-wall interiors,” he said.  Office sizes will range from 5,000 sf to 15,000 sf.  But it will be the intangibles that make this venture a success:  “We’re looking to group together spirited, ambitious high-tech entrepreneurs who share the passion for a new vision in a complex that breeds successful ventures.  We’re here to support their quest to achieve their startup goals.  And we’re willing to provide below-market rates to these startups,” Rising said along with other superior support services.

This landmark buildings – known historically as the Pasadena Plaza – were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the heart of Old Pasadena, which until the late 1970s, was the rundown section of the city.  But like many cities across the United States, commercial and retail visionaries came into Pasadena in the early 1980s and restored many buildings – whole square-block sections – which attracted national retailers, specialty shops, fine restaurants and theaters.  The area is one of the hot spots in Southern California today.

So why is this an intriguing brand and technology story?

This is a classic brand case of “old” versus “new.”  Pasadena was and is considered “old money” – the original founders of the city came from Indiana in the 1800s with their strong, conservative work ethic and Midwest values.  They created a master plan based on classic European cities – large civic plazas, wide thoroughfares, and provided for a variety of large estate and smaller residential parcels.  Ask anyone what they think of Pasadena, and for those who have been here, they ‘love that city.’

The LA business elite settled here, too – such as the Chandlers, who published the Los Angeles Times, and most of LA’s prominent lawyers and bankers made their homes in the idyllic neighborhoods of Pasadena and nearby San Marino.  The Wrigley’s and Gambles built their winter homes in Pasadena.  And, of course, there was always the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game … still iconic brands after more than 100+ years.

Old Pasadena is not unlike other re-inventions going on in other American cities but the partners know that the city holds some outstanding trump cards – CalTech, JPL and Art Center, plus a growing tech sector. To Silicon Beach, Rising and Sacks are saying – Hold on!  We have something to offer high-tech startups that is as good – if not better – than what you’re going to get in Silicon Beach.  What Rising brings to the table is development and management expertise that is critical to building a critical mass of the ‘new’ tech that is driving the rapid expansion of startups.  Sacks brings the necessary mindset of what is “new tech” and the challenges of starting a high-tech business.  Together, they intend to be very competitive and give these fledgling companies the added expertise of their experience.

“Our strategy is to not try and steal firms from Silicon Beach.  We’re after the many young companies who are looking for help.  Innovate Pasadena is one of the strongest community-centric organizations that is providing a broad range of startup services and support to these entrepreneurs.  We’re an integral part of that initiative,” Rising said, who is a member of the Innovate board.  Innovate conducts a broad spectrum of education and networking programs every month in Pasadena.

One last thought … transportation hub advantage

Rising had one last observation that bears watching.  He aptly noted that California is the automobile manufacturer’s best friend.  Nobody takes public transit.  “But not anymore,” he stated. Ridership on the expanding network of Metro Rail is growing steadily every year … the Gold Line stops just steps away from the new Rising/Sacks project, and is being extended eastward.  Santa Monica will soon have an extension of the Expo Line, and this is where young, hungry entrepreneurs are using these days – it’s cheap, and it beats crawling on the freeways.  Rising fervently believes that the high-tech firms of the future will want to be next to public transportation hubs.  “And we’re practically sitting on one in Old Pasadena,” he said with a smile.  “Pretty soon, one can take public rail transit from Pasadena to Silicon Beach.  Who would’ve thought?” – RJL


Branding gets real personal – ask Carole Schiffer

In brand-building, social media on December 6, 2013 at 1:48 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

Some of you reading this article are probably contemplating that when you “retire,” the idea of earning some extra bucks selling real estate might be just the right ticket to keep your mind sharp and your wallet full. After all, how hard is it? 

Carole Schiffer

Well, ask realtor Carole Schiffer – it’s pretty hard, and it’s extremely competitive. Carole is one of 1.2 million members of the National Association of Realtors in the US, but that’s where the similarity stops. Using the most advanced real estate tracking software … staying connected with social media … and having an advanced, user-friendly website that contains a broad array of up-to-date real estate news – have all enabled Carole to become one of Coldwell Banker‘s top real estate agents, ranking in the top 500 out of 140,000 CB agents nationwide. And she does it in one of the country’s most competitive markets – Brentwood, Bel-Air and Beverly Hills. Her average sale is more than $2 million, and despite the economic downturn in the real estate market in past years, this has been one of her best years.

BTN:  What keeps you at the top? 

Carole:  There’s really no secret. The fact is that “location” remains an imperative in staying at the top in CB’s national network. I am blessed to work in one of the most attractive areas in the world. But honestly, it’s just hard work and staying positive in a very competitive market that is populated by some of the world’s most successful agents.

And to stay competitive, I take advantage of the online programs that Coldwell Banker provides, but I also deploy my own online initiatives to differentiate myself from others.  You cannot afford to be a “me-too”, even with a quality firm such as Coldwell Banker.

Besides keeping up, I take advantage of my communications skills and constantly build relationships with my client base. This remains a relationship business and will always be that way.

BTN: Who is your market?

Carole:   My ‘market’ stretches from Malibu to Beverly Hills to Bel Air to Marina del Rey, and I am blessed with the privilege of selling some of the world’s finest residential real estate. Westside Los Angeles is also rich in community assets, including some of the world’s most beautiful seashores, education (UCLA), culture (The Getty and many outstanding museums), shopping and dining. And of course, there’s the weather. From Day One in my real estate career, I have continued to invest in my community through a variety of non-profit organizations and civic activities. Real estate is all about building your personal brand.

BTN:  How has the business changed? 

Carole:  I started my business when we didn’t have the Internet, email, social media, and digital real estate services that have now flooded the Internet. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a lot of hand-holding and we spent a lot more time scrambling around West LA in our cars (and in traffic) showing homes and shepherding transactions through escrow.

This frantic pace continues, even with the best technology. If fact, there is more hand-holding going on today because the transactions have become more complicated. And there are more forms, not less. The environment is much more litigious, and the liability for agents has greatly increased.

For every real estate transaction in California – a tree loses its life! Regulations and laws are much more complex and wide ranging, and it’s a challenge to stay up with it all.

What has also changed is that my neighborhoods and communities have become “hot” properties on the global market. Los Angeles’s Westside is one of the hottest destinations for foreign/US buyers – they want to be here because it consistently has retained higher property values.

Given these assets and opportunity, I joined the best broker in the area (Fred Sands) who then sold to Coldwell Banker in 2000. Coldwell Banker dominates the greater Los Angeles area – as well as the entire US market in terms of total sales and listings. It has consistently attracted the best agents – so “CB’s brand strength” extends to my brand.

BTN:  How does technology play a role in your success?

Carole:  I’m sure your readers are all computer literate – so are all of my clients these days. Most explore the many real estate websites that can drill down to specific listings and areas – long before they start their actual, on-the-ground search – and the latest statistics prove that out.  So the Internet plays a critical role in how we deal with our clients – who come to me much better informed and prepared than before.

One of my key marketing communication strategies is the use of emails. For the past six years, I have produced a unique online newsletter (The SchifferLine) which is sent on the first and the 15th of each month. One goes out to nearly half of my neighborhoods via email (I use Constant Contact); and the other goes out via regular mail to everyone in my prospecting area (which are called “farms”). Each issue of the bi-monthly newsletters is posted on my web site ( on the home page.

This form of online and offline newsletter is, without question, my most important marketing tool because I deliver up-to-the-minute real estate news about their community twice a month. No other public medium does this. The advantage of Constant Contact is that I know exactly who opens my newsletter. And I have recently hired a Social Media Coordinator to address all of my social network demands.

One of the interesting technology advancements that has really saved agents enormous time and frustration is electronic signatures. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but trust me, when you’re in Bel Air and have to travel to Malibu 20 miles away to get a document signed, you’ll appreciate just how valuable that technology is!  And as we become more international today, having the electronic signature is a big factor in closing a transaction, because time is always of the essence.

BTN – Tell us about your branding efforts

Carole:  On the advice of my marketing consultant, I invested heavily in building a brand identity more than 15 years ago, which I still have. I branded everything with my unique color scheme and logo … and it went on all of my stationery, business cards, lawn signs, advertising, website, and a vast array of marketing materials from post cards and brochures to e-marketing tactics on a broad scale. I did not use the Coldwell Banker-branded materials unless I had to. I wanted to differentiate myself from all of the other CB agents in my office and in West Los Angeles. The wonderful news about my identity is that it is still current, still attractive, and I get compliments all the time on how beautiful my communications are.

How do I differentiate myself from 1.2 million Realtors? I position myself as the community expert on the Westside, providing prospects with a plethora of detailed information about each of the major communities I serve.  The knowledge I have of the communities I service is what sets me apart.  But more importantly, I know my neighborhoods inside and out.  I know property values, real estate trends, I keep up to speed on financing and mortgage rates, and I have a vast and valuable network of clients and agents with whom I work.

But perhaps one of the strongest branding efforts over the past 30 years has been my community involvement – having founded and produced the Great Tastes of Brentwood for 20 years … member of area Chambers of Commerce boards … active in some of Los Angeles’ many cultural organizations. These all play a key role in building my brand.

BTN:  How would you sum up your branding and technology connection?

Carole:  Even with all the new, great technology, this is still a person-to-person business. You have to be an expert on so many levels – and it doesn’t hurt to be a damn good psychologist, either. But that’s another story. I have built my business on being the most efficient, most effective Realtor I can be – but you still have to build relationships with your clients and fellow agents. It’s a relationship business more than ever. Clients have to trust you … they have to respect your advice and your skills. Agents, too, have to trust you and respect your relationship, not only with them but with your clients as well.

I have had some terrific mentors, such as Tom Ferry (currently) and Fred Sands, and I have a great support team of marketing and administrative staff. We’re moving to improve our social media experience and we are always looking for ways to better connect with our clients and prospects.

One of the privileges I have had with Coldwell Banker is that I am the company mentor in our Brentwood office. I work with all the new agents who enter the business, which is a responsibility and an honor. It’s very stimulating and gratifying to help younger agents enter our profession.

In the end, it’s been a tremendously rewarding and profitable career, and I still enjoy it even after 30 years! – RJL

Walmart flexes muscle by moving into the neighborhood

In brand-building, Shopper Marketing on March 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

In the supermarket business, there is no bigger, badder brand than Walmart.  By a long way, Walmart is the world’s largest retailer in terms of total revenues ($446 billion), employees (2.1 million worldwide), and $206 billion market cap in the supermarket segment.  Not satisfied with its global power, Walmart is heading to a neighborhood near you with its new, smaller Neighborhood Market format, which will be about a third of the size of its regular Super Center stores – from 33,000 to 45,000 sq. ft., which is about the size of Best Buy.

English: A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Win...

Image via Wikipedia

Why is this brand event significant? The down-sizing of Walmart’s traditional do-it-all format to fit into local neighborhoods spells trouble for the well-established supermarkets brands in Southern California where the company has targeted approximately 13 stores in the near future.  These stores will compete head-to-head with Ralph’s, Vons and Albertson (California’s ‘big three’) which are unionized – and Walmart isn’t.  And the company has picked a very smart strategy of avoiding ugly public fights with opposition of unions and local communities.


Most of us have always had the brand perception of Walmart as the ultimate downtown-killer, forcing thousands of local merchants throughout its dominant South and Midwest markets out of business, leaving many downtowns to antique stores and a few insurance companies.  That is the fear that many cities have, especially in Southern California which already has 28 Walmart stores in Los Angeles County.  According to their new strategy, this move into smaller markets will probably work because they have learned that the Walmart brand doesn’t always mean cities are hanging out their ‘Welcome To Our Town’ signs anymore.  Every city wants more business, more employment opportunities, but not at the expense of closing their downtowns.

If you haven’t been into the newer, refurbished Walmart Super Centers – you ought to visit, shop.  These stores are extremely well designed – still have wide aisles and great in-store fixturing and signage.  The signage is particularly helpful and dramatic, especially in the meat section.  I was impressed.  One thing you can count on: Walmart will not make the same mistakes that Tesco did with Fresh & Easy, a concept that has not caught on, especially in the Trader Joe’s sector.

Walmart appears to have a handle on its brand values – good and bad – and is making adjustments to expand and enhance their revenues, even at the expense of its competitors.  — RJL

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What is the easiest way to build a brand?

In Apple, brand-building, Disney on August 23, 2011 at 11:46 am

By Robert Liljenwall
Outdoor bulletins (nee Billboards) are one of the surest and fastest ways to build brand awareness in any market – especially in Southern California where it’s the Billboard Capital of the World – with millions of cars (and consumers) on the road practically every minute of every day who pass by these Advertising Wonders.  You can build brand awareness quickly and cheaply in Southern California – with its 28 million residents – by purchasing strategically positioned large, outdoor bulletins on key freeways like the 405, 110, 5, 210 and 60 in the Los Angeles region.

They aren’t cheap per board – some running over $45,000 per site, per month – but the CPM is relatively cheap – in the pennies/M – compared to television.  And you can get complete coverage within a short time frame (like 30 days) of practically 100% of the market.

Everyone knows that you never walk in California – you drive, whether it’s for lunch 60 miles away or to go to the corner super market just steps from your home.  Californians are so lazy and auto-dependent; they love to soak up the latest billboards just to keep their minds awake while in hour-long traffic jams on the not-so-efficient freeways.  Of course, you know that you cannot put more than seven words on a billboard and have it understood, right?  But there are more agencies than not  and dim-witted clients who just love to jam just about everything including the kitchen sink into the 18×48 billboards – Look at all that empty space? Of course, at 80 miles an hour, you can probably just read three or four words.

Notable brand marketers who know their outdoor stuff – Apple (who else?), Anheuser Busch,  Toyota, Audi, Coca Cola, Heineken, Hollywood studios….they are pros at putting up eye-catching ads with not a lot of copy – they just want to sell the brand.  Outdoor advertising is a brand-building medium that remains hugely popular with advertisers.  It’s cheap, efficient, and proven to be remembered with consumers.

The latest technology, of course, is four-color process, large vinyl printed sheets that stretch across the outdoor boards.  Long gone are the famous billboard artists who use to hand paint all the artwork – including the photo-like artwork that was an “art” by itself.  I remember when we did the Disney characters on our billboards in the 1960s and 1970s….it was all original art from our style-guides given to these very talented artists.  They loved working on the Disney characters because they admired the art and creativity.

Today, this art has all been replaced by Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.  It’s mechanical but efficient and spot-on accurate.  I love the simplicity of the Apple billboards – no copy, just the outline of a dancer with the iPod in their ears.  Clean and simple.

This brings me up to the attached artwork (below) – I was speaking in Mexico City this week (August 15) for Diffusion Paramerica – who is one of Mexico’s largest billboard companies – and they surprised me with place five billboards around Mexico City with my photo and subject matter on it – and also had five taxi cabs with my mug on it, too.  Surprised?  I think so.  It’s a first for me.  –  RJL

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