Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Moment of Truth

"The moment everything changed was...__________"

These "I finally hit rock bottom" or "it was then I realized I had arrived" moments are great for newspapers, magazine articles, soundbites and autobiographies. However, that's where their usefulness usually ends.

In reality, great change doesn't often turn on a dime. We oversimplify major events, ideas, practices and long processes into tiny finite moments of truth to achieve two things; make them easier to consume and create a greater impact on the listener. It's an effective marketing tool, albeit a dishonest one.

A more honest story is one with continuous trial and error, working through problems everyday and refusing to let failure be where the story ends.

Don't search for and wait on big moments of truth. Instead, work toward a real solution.

Don't forget this when making your New Year's resolutions or forecasting the future.

Be Authentic in Branding

Just months after October's logo-gate, the Gap brand has been exposed again. However, this isn't exactly the swift justice of transparency served up by WikiLeaks. It was just a guy with a camera who caught the retailer acting dishonestly.

The goal of feeding hungry children in America is a noble one to support; however, this obvious oversight is a strong indictment that Gap was acting disingenuously. If the work of ending hunger in America is something that the company truly cares about, do you think this would have happened? I don't. So it ends up looking like what it probably was: a marketer contrived shortcut designed to generate publicity, goodwill, and store traffic during the holiday season.

The entire campaign is sadly reminiscent of a tactic KFC used last spring, which involved pink buckets filled with fried chicken in exchange for a donation to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Contrast this kind of strategy with a brand like Tom's Shoes. For every pair of shoes sold, they donate a pair of shoes to a child who doesn't have them. One for one—no exceptions. Tom's is clearly passionate about its cause and lives out that mission every day. The program is not a marketing gimmick with a core purpose of generating sales.

Of course, there are few for-profit brands that operate like Tom's. Nevertheless, the lesson to take from both examples is simple: be who you say you are. Consumers don't need Julian Assange to reveal that a brand is faking a commitment and not living out their own marketing message. Dishonesty exposed in public can be especially embarrassing if charity is an element of the marketing strategy, and far more mortifying than getting confused over a logo.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Herd Behavior

It's essential for marketers to understand how and why an idea or belief spreads. It's not enough to simply match up the sales figures with correlating marketing expenditures in order to judge the effectiveness of a campaign.

Particularly important to understanding the spread of ideas is the concept herd behavior and the influence peer groups can have in forming brand perceptions. Not surprisingly, consumers often make brand perceptions without any direct interaction with a brand. They judge the actions of others.

Picture going to try a new restaurant and it's completely empty. Would you stay or find another place to eat? Human nature says most consumers would bail because we seek the approval of others in making such a decision. And a restaurant with no diners doesn't say "we approve."

Understanding this is a issue that many live event marketers tend to struggle with. In their case, communal consumption is a major part of the product itself. So obviously, its critical for these marketers to an understand the effect this will have on the brand. In fact, I wrote a little about this over a year ago when I posted ideas to fix our local hockey team, the Rochester Americans. For a team struggling with attendance, a prolonged perception that no attends their games may be worse than the fact that no one is going.

On the other hand, this can work to the advantage of successful marketers. For decades, consumers were greeted with four powerful words under the signature golden arches of sign outside McDonald's: billions and billions served.

By keeping a running tally of the customers they have served, McDonald's is reinforcing the trust and confidence the public has in the brand. It doesn't tell the customer what they should think, rather it reinforces what they learned on their own.

Furthermore, premium brands work by going the other direction. They're scarce and expensive on purpose; to create a barrier of ownership. Therefore, the people who can afford the item or service will relate to and identify with the others who also can afford it.

However, manipulating herd behavior is a tricky practice. I'm guessing most have experienced going to a bar or nightclub that kept people waiting outside even though the inside looked very different. How did you react? Not pleased I bet.

Remember, gimmicks and playing games like at the nightclub won't work in the long run. What will is building a brand your customer is proud to identify themselves with.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Political News Marketers and Prickly Politicans

When I want political news and opinion on television, I always watch the "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart and "The Colbert Report" first. However, on "The Daily Show" Tuesday, Stewart delivered an interesting real-life marketing story. Like campaigning politicians throwing quick jabs at their opponents across the aisle, the three major 24-hour news networks, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, are all taking shots at each other with their new marketing campaigns.

It all started in October when MSNBC news network unveiled a two-year multimillion dollar campaign to increase brand awareness and raise ratings to the level of competitor Fox News. Network President Phil Griffin said, "We've taken on CNN and beat them...now it's time to take on Fox." To do so, MSNBC developed dramatic ads that call the viewer to "Lean Forward." The tagline is a play off the common political-pundit expression of "leaning to the left." By saying, "lean forward," the network says "we're not left-leaning liberals, we're progressive."

Fox News was quick to respond with their own creativity to pooh-pooh MSNBC's progressive movement. Fox says it doesn't lean anywhere; they "Move Forward." While it may not be an official retort from Fox, its pundits have no issues with making their feelings known; for instance, Glenn Beck has suggested on Fox airwaves that MSNBC's slogan should be "Bend Over."

CNN wisely differentiates itself by taking shots at both networks. Their latest spot denounces both networks' partisan agendas and says that it, in fact, reports the most accurate version of the truth.

I love it when marketers directly respond or make overt statements about the competition in their ads. First of all, I believe the practice can be very effective in differentiating brands. Secondly, it's entertaining to watch the battle play out. Burger King versus McDonald's, Verizon versus AT&T—I'm all for it. In this case, however, I immediately questioned the effect this straightforward approach will have. If my logic is correct, the only people to switch brands will be the rare few who switch their political ideologies. If you're conservative, you'll keep watching Fox. If you're progressive, you'll keep watching MSNBC. And if you cannot stand either, I guess you'll watch CNN. There isn't a lot of wiggle room, and that's the whole point. The ads, primarily directed at those already watching the network, only serve to harden the viewer's political stances. Do you lean left? Lean further. Have conservative values? Be more conservative. By reaffirming the beliefs of current viewers, the ratings payday will come in the form of longer viewing times.

Oddly enough, politicians use a similar strategy to achieve the opposite result. During election season, politicians turn up the intensity and increase the scale of their sometimes crude direct-attack ads with the intent to induce the "they're all jerks" reflex of the general population. The end result can be low voter turnouts at the polls in critical elections and primaries, which naturally translates to an easier and safer road to public office.

The similarities don't end there. We all know the reporting and punditry of the news networks can be just as questionable as the words of a politician. It's no wonder that Jon Stewart and Stephan Colbert are so popular for revealing the truth.

This post also appeared on Beneath the Brand.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do Your Customers Know Why You Exist?

My Sunday ritual is very similar to the rituals of many Americans. I always block out a few hours of the day to watch football and cheer on my favorite team. After a long week, we football fans cherish the opportunity to relax and be entertained by the game we love.

But it seems the game isn't the only thing trying to entertain us. The advertisers, who are obviously desperate to prevent viewers from picking up their remote controls, are on the same mission: captivate us at all costs. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd guess that the purpose of advertising was to entertain and be a sideshow to our weekly sideshow. Naturally, this leads one to start asking some the serious questions. For instance, can an ad that buries its most compelling selling point under 26 seconds of fluff and punch lines really be effective?

But the questions don't end at the tactical level. At its very core, what reason does your brand have to exist? And more importantly, do consumers know the answer to that question? If not, can they find it in your marketing?

I consciously realized on Sunday that a lot of major marketers cannot answer with a definitive yes. They seem to have enough trouble just getting noticed. If these marketers struggle with declaring a purpose for being here, perhaps they should start by focusing on what consumers will miss most when they're gone.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo's Beneath The Brand.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Better Than Social Media?

We all know that our Facebook messages, tweets and blog posts will last forever. However, for most of us, they wind up living in perpetual hiding. But, rest assured, they will survive somewhere.

Yet with word of mouth (the medium its so often confused with), the story or message is almost certain to die one day. But, for as long as it survives, it's guaranteed suvival in the mind.

As a marketer, where would you rather have your story live?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Replace Vague Terminology In Advertising

To explain why some advertising campaigns were successful and others were not, legendary ad man, Rosser Reeves theorized that the difference was successful ads had a Unique Selling Proposition. The theory was composed of three elements. First, the advertisement must be honest, without empty words, and the ad must clearly state what single benefit the customer will enjoy for the product or service. Secondly, the proposition must be unique; no other brands can already be making the same claim. Lastly, the proposition must be powerful enough to motivate the masses.

Regardless of its age, the merits of Reeves' unique selling proposition haven't eroded over time. In fact, I'd argue that the theory is even more important today, as marketing noise grows. In order to be heard and still be effective, marketers must convey the specific benefits that are unique to their brands. Yet, many marketers are using very vague and tired terminology to sell to consumers.

Quality is one of the worst, most overused marketing terms. Perhaps the biggest offender is the automobile industry. Auto executives want consumers to believe that their brand is quality. But how they go about saying so is very important. Often, they simply emphasize the quality. Sometimes, they work around the word by highlighting the latest resale valuations or Consumer Reports rankings. However, in a recent round of ads, Toyota specifically related quality to the car's longevity; 80 percent of Toyota's purchased 20 years ago are still on the road today. That's a fantastic line that gets reinforced every time an old, beat up Toyota is seen on the road.

Another empty adjective marketers use often is fresh. Sandwich chain Subway has built its brand around fresh-baked dough and ingredients. Its latest attempt at nailing down fresh is, of course, "Eat Fresh." However, its refrain of fresh remains unsubstantiated. How are the fixings at Subway more fresh than the deli down the street? Who knows. On the other hand, Canadian doughnut shop Tim Horton's found a way to define fresh during its battle with Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and McDonald's for the king of coffee. They specifically advertise that their coffee is brewed every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day. In the coffee ad war, this should be their only rallying cry.

Of course, this can and should be extended to product packaging, as well. For example, instead of simply saying healthy or all natural, Naked Juice smoothies specifically but simply tells customers what's in the bottle. For instance, a 15-ounce "Red Machine" contains 13 raspberries, 11 strawberries, seven grapes, three cranberries, one and a half apples, a quarter of a pomegranate, a third of an orange, and half a banana. Now, we know it's healthy.

Reeves' Wikipedia page
says that his techniques began to fail after the Creative Revolution began. However, I would argue the finest creative work is specific and definite. And is also telling the truth.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beyond Madison Avenue.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Fragile State of Celebrity Endorsements

Marketing professionals should be taking note of just how fragile the celebrity endorsement strategy can be. Sure, defenders of celebrity endorsement will always be quick to remind the world what Michael Jordan did for Nike, but more and more, Nike is looking like the exception and not the rule and marketers should be skeptical of the practice.

Lebron James provides all the evidence one would need. Last night, James made his return to Cleveland to play the team he so publicly abandoned over the summer. Instantly, his public persona changed; transforming from a fun-loving, freakishly talented basketball player to egomaniac villain with a propensity for quitting. People questioned his integrity, wondering how long he knew about the move and why didn't he tell his former teammates. Consequently, as Mr. James' public persona was altered, so were the attitudes towards the brands he represents. Suddenly, the greatness he once personified could no longer be magically reflected upon vitamin-laced waters or auto insurers. What about that deep connection between the celebrity and the brand represented? If it can be replaced that easily, shouldn't one question its real value in the first place?

Furthermore, the Kardashian sisters recently demonstrated how little of a connection can exist between celebrities and the brands they represent. With negativity swirling about the "predatory" fees tied to the Kardashian-branded prepaid MasterCard debit card, the sisters swiftly dumped their partner, the University National Bank of Minnesota. While the Kardashians mostly walk away unscathed and their teen-friendly image intact, a reasonable adult should be able to draw the line at  shameless self-promotion. A bit like Donald Trump, is there anything they won't put their name on?  If so, what value does it really have?

Clearly, a celebrity-based marketing strategy is fragile at best. If the human qualities of an endorser can be positively transferred to a brand, the fact that a pitchman can be replaced at a moment's notice when things go haywire, is a sign of the real connection between them.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Is GM Completely Repaired?

After General Motors raised $20.1 billion in last month's initial public offering, setting a record as the largest in United States history in the process, GM seems to be is signaling that its tough times are officially behind them.

Not surprisingly, its new corporate marketing campaign is reinforcing the idea that it's back from the brink. The powerful new television spot mixes a variety of visuals to demonstrate strength, perseverance and pride, with an obvious flair for of all-things-American. It's a strong deviation from the cliches of winding roads, lab coat wearing engineers in testing facilities and base-level pricing in front of fully loaded cars. The message is simple and seemingly forthright; adversity has made us better.

Shouldn't this have been their refrain all along? Our struggles will make us stronger. This approach that could resonate with all consumers who share in very similar struggles. It would have been advertising that inspired a great mass of people who were in desperate need of some inspiration. And it could have made a huge difference in actually being perceived to be a real life Rocky who picked himself up off the mat.

Instead, GM chose to be the recessionary punching bag. They looked and behaved just like car company we all knew, but now the sign on the front said Government Motors. They chanted "May The Best Car Win" while Ed Whitacre, its sleepy government appointed Chairman and Chief, walked consumers through the cliche factory and repeated the same empty jargon the world was too preoccupied to care about.

"We know you're hurting. So are we. How 'bout bigger rebates and we will all hurt a little less?"

Worst yet, they behaved like the bad boy marketers consumers have trained themselves to be suspicious of. As Mr. Whitacre boldly claimed that the company has repaid the taxpayers in full, consumers default intuition was we don't believe you. It was just another case of GM acting like GM; leaving the consumers to sort through its claims and determine exactly what's honest, what's half truth and what's a complete fabrication.

Is the buying public just supposed to completely buy in now? Better yet will they?

Of course not. They know what the advertisements don't say. That despite its record public offering, the sign out front will still say Government Motors; the American taxpayer still owns 43 percent of the company. Many today's top officials are were appointed during the Troubled Asset Relief Program days. The United Auto Workers, the union widely blamed for broken behaviors of the company, may have more leverage than ever with its seat at the owners meeting.

Most importantly, they know that buying a GM car today is no different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Sure, the products have drastically changed. They wouldn't declare "May The Best Car Win" if they didn't think it was good. The problem is its perception has not. The disconnect may lie in the fact that for consumers, the only truth that really matters is how they want to see it. Unfortunately, that's been the problem at GM.

The motto all this time should have been "May The Best Marketing Win." And the best marketing is always honest.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cigarettes Are Bad

Growing up, I was always taught that cigarettes are bad. In fact, the perception of cigarettes is so bad that guns have less of a stigma.

Despite the stigma, the terrible health risks, the fact they make ones clothes stink and teeth yellow and are incredibly expensive, people still smoke. No doubt, addictions are hard to overcome. So until the last person quits, governments continue to battle tobacco use (while using the revenue to keep themselves employed).

Interestingly, the United States and United Kingdom are going about their cigarette packaging legislation in very different ways.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed stronger warning labels on cigarette packaging- complete with descriptions and disgusting pictures to scare consumers from buying.

Conversely, the UK is proposing that cigarettes be debranded. The packages will be white with black lettering, including the brand name and a health warning.

I think the proposed measures in England has great potential cutting usage. Debranding will be difficult to work around.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What Drives Us to the Drive-Thru?

For obvious reasons, food has been on my mind this week. It's hard not to be excited because, like a lot of Americans, Thanksgiving is one of the rare times when I enjoy a meal in the most traditional sense of the word. These days it seems that the main ingredient come meal time is a paper bag.

Not surprisingly, fast-food marketers are considered by many to be the ringleaders causing this phenomenon and consequently responsible for fattening the American belly. One has to look no further than California to see that. San Francisco recently took a cue from the neighboring Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and banned the practice of including free toys from with food deemed not nutritious, such as certain types of Happy Meals. Certainly, it would be disingenuous to insist that the growing obesity rate, which now rests at 34 percent for adults and 17 percent for kids, and the steady rise in the marketing bill of fast-food restaurants during that time is purely accidental.

However, it's unlikely that additional government regulation and attempts to make marketing more difficult will tackle this juggernaut . Even under intense scrutiny from many government officials and industry watchdogs, a recent study by the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity determined that fast-food marketers actually are increasing their marketing effort to more children.

Analyzing the 12 biggest fast food marketers, the researchers determined that the marketing efforts are paying off, too, as 40 percent of parents participating said their children asked to get fast food once a week, and 15 percent of parents with preschoolers were asked daily. However, they ultimately don't make the purchase decisions, so it's telling that 84 percent of parents said they had visited a fast-food restaurant in the past week with their children (between ages 2 and 11).

The reason parents eventually break down is understandable. As an industry, fast food is positioned as convenient, accessible, and low cost, which are pillars to the American way of life. It also holds true for parents, who also grown up on golden arches.

In my opinion, that's much too powerful a force for government to take down. I believe the only hope for change is through competition. The category will continue to diverge and the brands that will be successful are ones that position themselves differently within the category. Over time, consumer behavior will change. This is already happening in the drink category, with soft drinks lose share to different waters, tea's and juices.

All we need now is the marketers to go and do it.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo's Beneath the Brand.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Cable Customer

Hopefully, everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Oddly, at my house, Thanksgiving dinner morphed into a focus group about television. However, not about the shows we watch; the tastes were too diverse. Rather, the table discovered it was united in its disdain for the cable company.

"I would be paying $1600 a year if I didn't switch to satellite... Oh, those people are crooks... I thought about switching, how do you like it?... You know, I know a guy who switches companies every year just so he can get the introductory deals."

Three different households and all have a negative view of their cable company; two of whom trudge along regretfully every month.

How did their customers who at one time happily chose them become so unhappy? Its comes back to their strategy.

They set a low low introductory price to get new customers signed up. Then the price is gradually increased and services like DVR are added. Finally, they sit back and hope the customer gets attached to the service and cannot quit.

With little competition, this can work. It was effective at keeping two of the three households...so far anyway. However, in the long run, this strategy leads to greater price sensitivity. I believe it's far more effective for marketers to learn who their best customers are give them the service and incentive to stay loyal.

Maybe then consumers won't have to switch cable providers every year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bad Branding Killed Jeeves

Last week, Ask.com officially conceded that it could not beat Internet search behemoth Google, which currently controls about 65 percent of the market. Ask.com accounts for about 2 percent of the market. Barry Diller, the media mogul who purchased the search engine in 2005 for $1.85 billion said, “We’ve realized in the last few years that you cannot compete with Google.”

Unfortunately, that’s one very expensive branding lesson Diller received.

Originally known as Ask Jeeves, the Web engine operated under the catchy premise of having a personal butler fetch answers to all your questions. After the purchase, the new owners fired Jeeves and shifted their focus to algorithmic-powered Internet searches to complete with Google -- and did so at a time when it was achieving pop status as a verb for looking something up online.

Their announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise to well-schooled marketers because they know that when a single brand can get that kind of choke hold on a category, it’s no longer a fair fight. This is especially true if there is little differentiation, as most searches often return the exact same results as their competitors.

Now, the Ask.com brand is asking to be known as it once was, returning to its question-and-answer roots. This time, the human-assistance model is designed to simplify the steps needed to get the right result.

While this sounds great in theory, reality is a bit different. Scattered among the “relevant answers and links” were an equal number of irrelevant sponsored links, making the search more difficult.

Obviously, making search easier and getting paid would seem to be at odds.

Additionally, Ask.com’s rebound attempt will be more difficult than its 1990s ascent due to new and better-focused competition like ChaCha. By focusing on the text message function of mobile devices, ChaCha has created a real home for question and answer.

If Diller has any hope of doing the same, he may have to rehire his old friend Jeeves full-time.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo's Beneath the Brand.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deals or No Deals?

The ritualized retail insanity of Black Friday is almost upon us.

It's time to talk deals deals deals, right?. Naturally, big box stores with the means to do so are positioning on price to move product, offering their usual round of super-duper cheap.

You know the drill. Arrive early, fight (maybe literally!) the crowd and you could score a $100 flat screen television, $10 smartphone or new release dvd's for a buck. While supplies last.

Although these eye popping deals are very good at grabbing the holiday headlines, the effectiveness of such a strategy is questionable. Deep discounting can fill a mall parking lot like nothing else; however, the consequence this strategy carries is reinforcing the idea that consumers may be better off waiting. They know there will always be another sale. Additionally, these marketers will find themselves racing to the lowest price. And the grand prize is the the smallest margins.

Avoiding the race requires retailers to be steadfast in keeping their long term vision in sight. Instead of price, they appeal to a different sense of consumer reasoning this season.

Our store has helpful experts serving you. They are passionate and weren't hired two weeks ago. And they will still be here two weeks after Christmas too.

A stress-free shopping experience. We have a perfect tract record of no grandmothers being trampled and can boast zero customer knockouts.

The quality of the gift. Christmas at our store is not about unloading junk. A gift from here is one that lasts. It makes a statement and will be remembered forever. Our stuff is not hitting the clearance rack next week.

Most retailers are not Wal-Mart and Best Buy. They cannot afford sell flat screens for $100. But that doesn't mean they have to be left in the cold this December. Position the brand to be different.

I invite your comments below. Please share any examples of brands not positioning on price this holiday season. As always, thank you for reading and practice safe shopping please.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Statistical Intoxication

I have a small confession to make. Recently, I have found myself acting in a manner that runs contrary to my previous thoughts about not caring about this blog's statistics. It all started with an innocent little glance after a particularly well received post.

Suddenly, I found myself treating stats like email; peeking in my moments of thoughtless wandering.

How could this have happened? Actually, the answer is rather easily.

The reason is stats can make us feel good. They give our ego's a nice massage and provide a feeling of security about what were doing or saying. Further, statistics can give us something to cheer for. Can I beat last week's number of page views? Let's find out.

However, don't be mislead. Does an increase in the number of page views actually translate to better work? More influential work? Is my work really more credible if my blog is the first result on Google? Does an increase in time spent on your site prove that the new ad campaign is working?

Not really, but our brains make that jump for us. As marketers, we must fight this urge to read too much from the unknown.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Should U.S. News & World Report Go Digital?

U.S. News & World Report recently announced it will be ditching its one million-plus paid subscriptions next year in order to move "very aggressively into digital," according to Brian Kelly, the magazine's editor.

This definitely constitutes a bold move for the magazine, considering that their paid subscriptions account for all but six percent of the print circulation. Going forward, the monthly print editions and special editions will be available only at newsstands.

While this may sound crazy, there might just be a method to their madness. Despite reaching more than one million readers every month, its circulation is on the decline, and the ad dollars necessary to be profitable are far less dependable than they used to be. Furthermore, digital ad spending appears to be on the rise.

However, the abandonment of print could be costly. Advertising dollars often shrink to advertising pennies when moved to the Web; therefore, achieving scale of Googlesque proportions is required to get rich using the digital ad formula. According to comScore, the average CPM (what one can charge for 1,000 ad impressions) is only $2.43.

Furthermore, I question whether their digital shift will prove to be as beneficial in the long run as they hope. The reason is U.S. News & World Report is a print brand and has been for a long time. Regardless of how aggressively they move into digital, many consumers will continue to perceive it as a print brand.

Consider what the following brands conjure up in your own mind: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, GQ, Sports Illustrated, and Vanity Fair. Conversely, names like The Huffington Post, TMZ, Gawker, The Daily Beast, TechCrunch, Yahoo, and Twitter own a different image, as these brands were created as digital entities, and thus, exist in one's mind as such.

That explains how the Huffington Post outpaces online versions of established news brands like The Washington Post and USA Today and how a Web brand like TMZ can nearly triple the unique visits to the online edition of a TV brand like E!. New brands always lead a new medium.

I do give the folks at U.S. News & World Report a lot of credit for trying to focus their brand; however, I think if they move to digital they need to go one step further. Put that name rest and begin anew as a digital brand.

The Web is more challenging, but it doesn't have to be a death sentence. In fact, the need may be greater than ever. Available information multiplies more rapidly than ever, so shouldn't someone organize and make sense of it for us?

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo's Beneath the Brand.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Blog Is Not Looking For A Sponsor

Forbes magazine recently debuted AdVoice, its new sponsored blog platform designed to "allow marketers to connect directly with the Forbes audience by enabling them to create content." Immediately, the blog came under fire for bearing too striking of a resemblance to the site's editorial blogs.

The American Society of Magazine editors weighed in saying that if the page was in fact paid for then it violates the basic principle of clear separation between advertiser content and editorial content. In addition, the Public Relations Society of America said to be wary of this practice.

Obviously, this is a problem for Forbes. A lack of transparency and separation between paid ads and news content will over time negatively affect the its credibility, trust and overall brand.

However, I'm positive Forbes will make the necessary fix; they will tweak the page and make it even more obvious who's words are being read.

But the root of problem goes deeper. The challenge to monetize internet properties is constantly getting more difficult, resulting in entities like Forbes to experiment with giving advertisers more. Consequently, some entities will walk an ethical tightrope trying to survive online.

AdVoice's first sponsor (SAP), defended the tactic from critics saying its an opportunity for "practitioners to share real life experiences and insights" and that it's about "conversation, not conversion."

Under normal circumstances I would agree with their take on blogging; however, the sponsored blog is a bit different. SAP pays Forbes to share its target demographic and let SAP speak to them; a transaction that makes it no longer just about conversation. Payment is not needed for conversation.

Perhaps most interesting is each has something that the other wants. Forbes has credibility and trust of an important audience. SAP has a need to advertise. Forbes wants those ad dollars. SAP wants that audience. So they share.

The problem is the more they share, the more they contribute to each others' problem. As Forbes sells more to SAP, consumers will find them more annoying and be less trusting. Conversely, the more SAP buys from Forbes the worse their advertising model becomes. The clutter builds, the ads become less effective, driving down price and creating the need for more ads.

And the cycle will continue.

As always, thank you for reading. Comments are welcome by clicking below.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Marketer's Quest To Engage

When marketers discuss social media, one word always makes it into the conversation. That word, of course, is engage.

We hear it all the time: "In order to be successful in this new medium, marketers cannot sit back and advertise to fans and followers. They must engage in relevant dialogue with consumers."

Unfortunately, it's no longer that easy. Social media's commercial noise rapidly increases, while our already nano online attention spans decrease, creating an always-accelerating drive-by culture.

How does one actually engage a consumer?

I believe this starts with a shift in mindset. Rather than going for the viral knockout blow and the giant leap, marketers should focus on the slow climb. Be dedicated to the medium and provide consumers with regular access to the inner workings of the "brand." Let me clarify: This not the yawn-inducing boilerplate from your website or your brochure. It's the real stuff.

Show off your passion. Tell why you're passionate. How you make difference? (Hint: this may take more than 140 characters.)

Unfortunately, I think lots of brands have gone backward in regard to social media. Social media strategy has become seek followers and lead the conversation rather than encourage and reward brand advocates who willingly and passionately lead. The obvious culprit is fear. Marketers fear an open dialogue about their brand (which exists regardless). Consequently, all that's left is an environment of commercial clutter and too many marketers on a hopeless quest to engage.

Can you think of any exceptions to this trend? There is one very notable one.

Thanks for reading, and as always, I look forward to your responses
. This post also appeared on Beneath the Brand.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gettin'em Back

Is it me or are car dealerships are always good for a nice teaching point?

Some people already hate to go there to buy a new car. Then bringing the car back for service is worse. I'm feel the same.

I recently stopped taking my car back to the dealer because I was unhappy. Not with the work, the labor was fine. The customer service is what drove me away.

Thus, as a result of not dealing with customers well, they lost one. However, a good marketer knows that fixing mistakes is incredibly powerful and has tremendous value. If done correctly, it positively shifts a negative brand perception. Its a surprise and the customer also leaves with a nice story to tell.

So, when the dealership called on Friday, I was eager to listen.

Unfortunately, the damage was only compounded. They left an automated and poorly worded voicemail message. The representative quickly read through his lines: "we noticed that you missed many of your recommended scheduled maintenance appointments. Our experience has shown that..."

That what? A car needs regular maintenance: thanks.

Perhaps what their experience should show is that this dealership has such large masses of unhappy former customers that reaching all of them requires an automated message.

Most can see the folly in this thinking. In order to reach a large group efficiently, they must select a weak and inefficient tactic. In the long run, personally calling the smaller x number of customers per day would prove to be more efficient in winning back business.

Then the representative could find out what was wrong with the service, if anything. They could apologize, ask for forgiveness and start the process to improving the relationship with that customer. Not even the best script could do that.

There's a direct relationship in correcting mistakes. While the opportunity to send a positive message is elevated, so is the work necessary to do so.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is this Denny's?

For the first time in several years, I dined at The Cheesecake Factory last night. And my trip went well. The restaurant was nice, food was good and our server did a great job.

But one thing irked me.

I noticed their menu had changed; not the stuff I could order, but the physical menu. The laminated pages were smaller and bound with a plastic spirally thing. That's okay, but open it up and there is an obnoxious surprise waiting for you. Advertisements! Full Page Ads! In the menu!

HEY YOU, BUY THIS COKE ZERO!!!!! Doesn't it look delicious in 2-D?

Obviously, the decision to treat its menu like a magazine wasn't made with the restaurant's overall brand in mind. "We have a captive audience, we should put an ad there. That's worth something."

It looked very cheap and that's what I will remember most.

Editors Note: I apologize for throwing Denny's under like that. But you understand.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What They're Really Saying

There are two words that I seem to notice everywhere and I can't take it anymore.

"We cater."

The message may seem innocent enough, but it's actually quite horrifying. The reason is the real message that a "we cater" sign sends.

The meaning behind the messages says we're completely average. It says little thought was put into the ad. Perhaps it says, our competitor across the street started doing it so we had to.

The average thinker thinks that if they just make their customers aware, then they might want them for their next event. What is more likely is the undifferentiated message will be complete forgotten.

In today's competitive markets, the only effective strategy is to take a position. For instance, time could be a position. We can prepare a sandwich tray in under two hours.

A wider variety could be your position; we cater our full menu.

Or maybe its about personal service; with our catering service, your only work is the invitations.

Another effective selling position is image. Our standards reflect your fine taste.

"We cater" is just one very obvious example of thoughtless marketing that doesn't consider the real message being delivered. We're average so we kinda care.

Can you think of any thoughtless, cliche marketing messages out there? As always, I look forward to reading them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When A Billion Dollars Is Not Enough

On Monday, Microsoft bet big on a brand extension strategy. Real big- $1 billion big.

That money is what Microsoft will spend to advertise the launch the Windows Phone 7 and the Kinect hardware extension for Xbox 360.

Despite such impressive resources, I will confidently wager that their massive investment won't pay off. The reason is that Microsoft has a branding problem; one that even $1 billion in advertising cannot fix.

The problem is its poor marketing strategy. Both the Windows Phone 7 and the Kinect hardware extension are undifferentiated late arrivals to their respective established categories; therefore consumers will always perceive them as less than the leading brand.

In the smartphone category, BlackBerry and iPhone dominate with 68% market share. The other 32% is shared by the "me too" brands of Google, Nokia, Motorola, and htc. Soon, their share will be cut again when joined by Microsoft.

Furthermore, Microsoft is held back by two terrible names.

Introducing the Windows Phone 7. How come I cannot remember the first six? And why keep extending a brand that has been dogged by negative perception?

The Windows Phone: it's all the headaches of a personal computer on your phone! It's ugly too.

The Kinect for Xbox 360 is no better. I always ask, if a product is so wonderful, shouldn't it have its own name? Why does it share a name with Xbox, especially when people don't associate Xbox with motion gaming?

Microsoft should know better; they've made this mistake before. They wandered into gaming with Xbox, copied the iPod with its Zune and Bing is not scaring anyone at Google.

It's a crazy strategy. As Einstein said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Category Is That?

In marketing, it's absolutely critical to own an idea or thought in the consumer's mind. The label for that word or phrase that is owned is called the category. The category is extremely important because consumers think in terms of categories, not brands.

For example, cola is a category and Coca-Cola is the brand that dominates it. However, diet cola, spiced cola, root beer and ginger ale are all separate categories with separate brands. That is why the category name is so crucial.

If a friend says, I'd like a root beer: you won't hand them a Coke.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketers get ahead of themselves and forget this simple but critical marketing rule.

For instance, Richard Gerstein, Hewlett-Packard's SVP of Worldwide Strategy and Marketing recently told Brandweek that what consumer's really want is a "seamless, multi-device, software-enabled ecosystem."

Next time I go to the store, I'll ask for the seamless software-enabled ecosystem section and wait for the reaction. Obviously, because that's not a category the words have no meaning to the busy consumer.

But say smartphone, mp3, or laptop I'm sure your shopping will be far more successful.

Always remember, the category comes first. Then a brand to own it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gap's Logo Fiasco

The Gap found itself in a bad publicity storm last week after it quietly replaced its iconic blue box logo, only displaying the new one on its website, leading some to question its authenticity.

However, most of the internet chatter focused on the merits of the new logo, with most critics sounding off on its bland simplicity, lack of uniqueness and the font similarity to retailer American Apparel. Many even called the logo and tactic an embarrassment.

But the Gap was not done embarrassing itself. Despite insistence of excitement over the "passionate debates," the Gap announced a mysterious new crowdsourcing project to acquire fresh input and causing further outcry of a internet publicity stunt. Later, a Gap spokeswoman defended the change, calling it "more contemporary" and reflective on the Gap's "evolving brand identity."

Still, many questions linger. Did the overwhelming criticism force the Gap to ditch its plans and start a crowdsourcing project or was it the plan all along? If the latter is true, it all but confirms the tactic as a internet stunt.

And its a safe assumption that the Gap's refusal to comment on its plans for a further rollout of the new emblem is a sure sign that its destined for a short life.

However, maybe the most significant consequence from last week was the bleak reminder just how far the Gap brand has fallen. It again reminds us of the fact that "how do you fix the Gap brand" is becoming an age old question for marketers.

The fundamental answer to any such brand question is to a need shift how consumers perceive the brand and only then will they have the "evolving brand image" that they speak of. Certainly a tall order, made more difficult because there is no guarantee of success; brand perceptions don't always adjust to actual physical changes to a product, a store or the market. And while new CEO's, new logos, and catchy ad campaigns may help in turn a quarterly profit, it won't fix the fact that the Gap is fundamentally broken.

How did it break? By lacking a strong focus. The Gap has a long strayed from its origin of designing and selling a youthful look anchored by the dress down staples of tee shirts and jeans. It's became a baby brand, a kids brand, a lingerie (body) brand. Consequently, the Gap has been repositioned our the minds. It lost the youthful appeal that it once had when the Gap truly stood for the generation gap.

Competition like American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch have certainly played a role. Myself, at only 25 years old, already feels uncomfortable stepping foot in those stores. Which is exactly how they want it.

Further contributing to its repositioning has been its own creation of new brands in our minds. It's not the older sophisticated style one finds at Banana Republic nor is it the youthful basic style of Old Navy. It's the average of the two. For marketers, there is nothing worse.

Of course, the only cure for average, is to have a focus.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Case Against Advertising on Jerseys

Mark Cuban, the highly respected entrepreneur and owner of National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, recently made news with his comments to AdAge about the possibility of corporate logos on team uniforms, similar to the custom in soccer.

Not so shockingly, Cuban is in favor of it; proclaiming that "it's definitely on the horizon. I think it's more of an issue of 'how much' rather than 'if.' Find me a multi-year deal at $10 million or more per year and I will make it happen."

Obviously, American sports owners would be eager to make this customary in their respective organizations; especially the ones who need it for more than extra padding on their bottom line. It's tough to resist a fresh $10 mill at a time when the big new free agent is asking for $15 mill.

The root of the problem is managing cost, which doesn't always increase at a higher rate than revenues. So far, the only solution to such a problem is more. But unfortunately, this eventually becomes self defeating.

The reason for that is that more advertising creates more clutter and thus less value or return for the marketer. It's simple; a scarce resource is a valuable one. Yet, in American pro sports, ad space is no longer a resource that warrants a premium price. All are welcome and its corporate communications overload in our ballparks.

This is not the case for leagues like the English Premier League. Corporate messaging is scarce on the pitch; its almost completely limited to field level signage and ads on the uniform. The television ad inventory for soccer is next to nothing. So large uniform deals make sense for both parties.

Rather than getting creative with finding more ad space, American pro sports teams should really focus on more creative ways to serve their clients: the fan and the sponsor.

As always, post your comments below and I look forward to reading them.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Salespeople vs. Marketing people

The difference between marketing and selling is more than semantic. Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with the seller's need to convert the product into cash, marketing with satisfying the needs of the customer by means of the product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering, and finally consuming it.

Theodore Levitt, 1975

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ben & Jerry Follow Up

A quick follow up to a post I did a little while ago. After pressure from the Center for the Science in the Public Interest, Ben & Jerry's will remove the term "All Natural" from its packaging.

So that settles that.

Run and Hide

I'm just passing along this interesting tidbit from The Consumerist, about the Worst Ad in America contest.

It's definitely hard to argue with the decision to crown the Staples "That's a Low Price" as the lowest of the low. Personally, I completely loath the McDonald's "Don't talk to me/coffee" guy that I would have selected that as the most irritating. Although I am satisfied that he was able to take home Most Grating Performance By a Human.

If your in the mood to gouge your eyes out, Beneath the Brand has footage of all the big winners.

Feel like doing a little venting? Then tell us what ads irritate the hell out of you enough that you wish you lived in the stone age. As always, post in the comments section and I look forward to reading them.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Flew Delta And All I Got Was A Lousy Magazine

When I was in college, I signed up for Delta Airlines frequent flyer loyalty program because of the all the flying I was doing to and from school. However, as the price of oil continued its climb, this college student was priced out of the market and forced to find a new method of transportation. Needless to say, I never amassed a staggering number of miles.

Now, several years later, I'm receiving letters from Delta Airlines warning me that my frequent flyer miles will expire at the end of the year. The letters read.


A records review of expiring mileage balances indicates that you currently have miles which are expiring soon.

As a New York resident, your last chance to redeem your miles for these magazine Awards is September 28, 2010. Remember failure to complete a qualifying activity in your account by December 31, 2010 will result in the expiration of your miles. For more information about qualifying mileage expiration extending activities visit delta.com/skymiles.

Be sure to redeem any of the miles you've earned by recording your selections on the back of your Awards Claim Certificate...

I think a letter like this one is a strong indication of just how broken airlines like Delta are.

First, the tone of the letter is completely wrong. This is a correspondence for its loyalty program reads more like an eviction notice or a subpoena. "Remember, failure to complete a qualifying activity in your account...will result in expiration of your miles."

That's certainly not the right tone if they want to win back customers that used to fly Delta with enough regularity to belong to their loyalty program.

Secondly, there is something quite ironic about Delta using the word "VALUED." I don't feel valued. All that flying and I only get a couple of magazine subscriptions. Also, I don't understand what being a resident of New York state has to do with it any of it.

Remember, I could certainly prevent expiration with a "qualifying activity," as the letter threatened. Such a qualifying activity is? Buy more miles and not fly anywhere or transfer miles to a friend, lose some of them, but stay active. Thanks. Obviously both solutions are quite counter productive for the consumer.

In the end, all this letter did was reminded me why so many airlines are bankrupt. And how I don't really care at all if my miles do expire.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bud Made Its Own Bed

Good news, Budweiser is going to buy your next beer.

In an effort to jump start lagging sales and lure new loyalists, Budweiser is giving away free beer (21 and over of course) during its National Happy Hour next week.

While free beer is quite a gesture, I have my doubts about the effectiveness of the move. The recent sales slide (18 percent in two years) is more a result of an unfocused long term marketing strategy at Anheuser-Busch.

In 1981, Anheuser-Busch started extending the Budweiser brand with its launch of Bud Light, to compete already established light beers by Miller, Coors and Schlitz.

But Bud Light didn't just compete, they took over the light beer category. Now it's the number one selling beer and has the highest market share with 28 percent.

However, Bud Light didn't become the success that it was by only stealing business from Miller Light and Coors Light. Of course, the core brand Budweiser would also be affected.

Sure enough, in 1989, Budweiser saw the first sign of decline; a trend that has continued for 20 years. In 1988 Budweiser sold over 50 million barrels. By 2008, they only sold 23 million barrels.

The problem with brand extensions is that their success isn't just at the expense of the competition, but the core brand as well. Yet, many marketers cannot see this fact; even though they often justify extension by reasoning that they're capitalizing on the brand's equity and awareness.

If that's the case, it's logical that the extension will disproportionally affect the core brand compared to competing brands because of the high equity in the name.

Unfortunately, that has not stopped brands like Budweiser. In the past decade, Budweiser has introduced even more new extensions, Bud Select, Bud Light Lime and Bud Light Golden Wheat.

Suddenly, it's very understandable how Budweiser is a shell of its former self and has to give away the brew for free.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Self Motivation

Beware of those seeking self motivation.

If someone asks if you are self motivated, that's a clue that they want you to work for less than your worth.

If your motivated, you'll know it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

You Can't Take It With You When It Dies

Ann Burr, a Frontier Communications executive, recently discussed the decline in landline phone use in an interview. Obviously, this is a very critical issue for the company and the local economy, where Frontier employs 1,300 people.

The catalyst for the interview was a recent government report that stated one in four households in the United States don't own a landline telephone anymore. And that number is rising. The same study done in May 2009 found that about 20 percent were landline free.

But Burr is taking the glass half full approach. She says that in Rochester more than 75 percent of homes still have a landline telephone. Just how much more is the question.

But her words hardly evoke optimism. "I don't see that for a long time," referring to the extinction of home phones. But the company's actions are the real tell. To keep their phone business alive, it has extended its brand, bundling phone service with television and high speed internet. And they are even testing a wireless service.

But an brand extension strategy won't translate into a leadership position with the updated technology.

Clear evidence of this can be found just a few of city blocks from the Frontier office. Kodak tried the same strategy to resurrect its brand name for the new digital age. However, when people hear the Kodak, they think of film.

Its a textbook example of what happens when a product category dies. You simply cannot the brand name with you.

A side note from the editor:

The answer to Frontier's problem may be in the first paragraph of the news report.

Double check what government agency issued the report. It wasn't the FCC. It wasn't even the FTC. It was the CDC; The Center for Disease Control. Why would they be interested in this information?

Perhaps because some scientists have linked major health risks such as brain tumors to heavy cell phone usage. Which keep on growing. Additionally, the amount of information wireless signals must carry keeps growing as well. So naturally, the signals that we expose ourselves to keep getting stronger.

Which may be the marketing fuel that Frontier needs. A great consumer influencer like fear. I would recommend putting resources into commissioning studies on cell phone health risks.

Similar to tobacco, make cell phones public enemy number one.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Just a thought:

With widespread use (and from anywhere with lots of phones) of Google and other online search tools, is there really any reason for an established brand to add a phone number/address or some formally critical info to a billboard?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not Just Talk

It's no secret that media is changing. One consequence from the change is television audiences are becoming more fragmented. Even if the overall pie keeps growing, the slices keep getting smaller and smaller.

As purely anecdotal evidence, here are the television ratings for the series finales of 'Lost' and 'Seinfeld', both mega hits that were the most popular show in their day.

In 2010 'Lost' reached an average of 13.5 million viewers. 'Seinfeld' totaled approximately 76 million viewers.

How will marketers adjust?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Too Much of A Good Thing

A couple months back I applauded Reebok (and Skechers) for their creation of a new category: toning shoes.

Now, I'm certain I gave them too much credit. Alas, both have introduced toning shoes for men.

Too much a good thing can be a brand killer.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Be Cautious When Positioning Your Brand

If you have ever read or listened to financial news then there I'm sure you have heard the following words roll off the pundits' tongue: retailers were down as cautious consumers are worried about the future.

We all know that these last few years, a statement like that has been total understatement. The recession ultimately resulted in massive sums of wealth to simply dissolve. Meanwhile, consumers are and will remain extra cautious with their discretionary income until their personal fortunes are rebuilt. So, it's easy to see that retailers are hurting because, as a whole, "the consumer" is.

So, given that grave reminder of financial hardship, don't you feel like going shopping?

I'm guessing not.

But that's not what Kohl's may be banking on. According to Ad Age, they're pumping $20 million to their advertising spend to position itself as "the smartest choice for the cautious consumer."

First of all, that's a slogan and not a unique marketing position. Its true position is Kohl's has low prices. Which happens to be the same position that most retailers try to stake claim to but is dominated by Wal-Mart.

Fortunately, Kohl's has always taken a price position. They're not trying to make a fundamental change to respond to the change in the economic climate.

But a slogan's purpose is to reinforce its position in the mind of consumers. If "the smartest choice for the cautious consumer" turns up in its next round of advertising (like it has it news articles) then their plan will backfire.

The reason is the word cautious. It's a strong word with a lot of power. Obviously spun from the word "caution," so it makes people stop. The word completely overshadows and overpowers "the smartest choice" from the slogan. "Caution" is what we will remember. Further, as the slogan's most emotional word, it demonstrates how the consumer should feel.

Do they want their customers feeling cautious? Of course not.

That feeling only makes the consumer question if they truly need that new shirt or pair of pants, especially with less discretionary dollars to play with.

I would rewrite the slogan to get rid of the word "cautious." Possibly something like:

Kohl's is the best choice for the consumers' conscience.
Kohl's is the wisest choice the consumer conscience can make.

That said, any changes to their marketing is curious speculation at this point. According to a transcript of Kohl's 2010 second quarter financial report conference call, which took place on August 12, executives said "Our marketing efforts remain unchanged. We continue to utilize the highly effective 'The More You Know, The More You Kohl's' platform."
We will have to wait to find our final answer. But, as a marketer, I would be very cautious about making a change like that.

Feel free to comment and send in your Kohl's slogan ideas using the link below. As always, I look forward to reading them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Come In, We're Open

It's an all too familiar scene. You go shopping and the sign outside reads "come in, we're open" but the employees' expressions clearly say "go away, we're closed." Maybe they're tired, upset, having a bad day or simply don't like their job.

But technology is working to eliminate this problem.

Your website works 24 hours a day and never complains. Plus it's super efficient; everyday it multitasks and can handle multiple questions from multiple customers at the same time. Even better, it only tells your customers the stuff that you hope they hear. No it's doubt your shrewdest employee.

Or is it? Although technology has improved many functions of business, it doesn't have the ability to replace any of them. Including good service, despite claims of the wondrous powers of technology.

Consider these common web characteristics.

Does the page lack a tone of voice and read like boilerplate? What might this say about the company? Humans don't work here. Humans don't shop here.

Is the telephone number prominent or buried in a maze of links? Don't see it? Try looking at the tiny font on the bottom of the page. Or you could email them. Who are you sending the email? Is it Mrs. Jones the VP and COO or is it info@badcompany.com.

But none of that really matters if no one responds (which we all know is all too normal of a practice). Perhaps you're lucky and receive a response. Is it automated or personal? How fast does it arrive. Does it actually solve your issue? That would be quite a feat for an automated response email. I find with them that the message is always the same- we strive for the least service that's acceptable.

I'm sure these experiences sound familiar. In such cases, they're no better than a disgruntled employee; they too scream "go away, we're closed."

Good service takes sacrifice and is more about attitude than anything else. Just because the customer is not standing in the store or on the phone doesn't mean the practice is suddenly dead.

Treat your website like the front door of your business. It's an opportunity to create more work, not minimize it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ben & Jerry's

I really admire the Ben & Jerry's ice cream brand.

I love their use of bright colors. Their signature one quart packaging. I love the product itself. The brands strong connection to its home state of Vermont. Their dedication to promoting social and environmental responsibility.

The totality of it all equals an incredibly strong brand with a strong emotional appeal. Additionally, the brands' personality reflects that of its founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who founded the company in 1978.

However, not everyone is as impressed with their "all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions" as I am. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is contending that the ice cream maker engages in deceptive labeling by using the term "All Natural" on the packaging of 48 different ice creams.

Ben & Jerry's, now owned by Unilever, reiterated that while the definition of the term natural varies, their use of it is based on the Food and Drug Administrations' definitions and that they take these claims very seriously.

Whether the ingredients are all natural or not, Ben & Jerry's should be fine. Although it started as an ice cream with "all natural" ingredients, the term has been watered down and become a cliche. No one really knows what all natural is now. Through the years, the brand has become more known for its "euphoric concoctions" that people treat themselves with on special occasions.

A strong brand can survive.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Show It, Don't Say It

Although the campaign is not new, I still want to recognize it. At least part of it.

Toyota has built its car brand on reliability. But they didn't just say, "hey, our cars our very reliable." Instead, they prove it in their ad, saying "80 percent of Toyota's sold in the last 20 years are still on the road today."

That's an wonderful example of an ad that avoids cliches and generalizations. Not enough ads do that, great work by Saatchi & Saatchi LA.

What other marketing materials do this? Post them in the comments section below, I look forward to reading them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Creating a Sub-Brand

Using a sub-brand is a common practice among marketers.

However, there's no safety in numbers for these marketers. Sub-brands are quite dangerous because marketers run the risk of repositioning the original brand.

A perfect example of this is Friendly's Express. This extension of the Friendly's brand was first introduced last summer and promises the same Friendly's food, only faster. All meals are (expected to be) served in six to eight minutes.

Friendly's hopes to convey the idea of "same food, only faster." However, the extension will consequently convey the idea that service is too slow at Friendly's. They will wind up damaging the original brand in the long term.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to see the effect a brand extension can have while it's happening. Amidst new sales and greater fanfare, brand perception is transforming. Marketers be warned.

As always, comments can be posted by clicking on the comments link below. I look forward to reading them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Coors Light Home Draft

With beer sales struggling during the extra-long recession, brewers are putting major resources into product innovations to spark sales.

Now, after years of development and testing, the Coors Light Home Draft system is finally being rolled out nationwide. But I question the positioning of the product.

According to a The Wall Street Journal article published in summer of 2009, MillerCoors chief marketing office Andy England said "We're really trying to meet that occasion when you just going back from work and want to reward yourself," rather than "the party occasion."

Additionally, in a recent Beverage World cover story Tom Long, chief commercial officer of MillerCoors said "We’re trying not just to get occasions when beer drinkers get together to socialize, but to get permanent space in refrigerators in American households."

However, the ad doesn't seem to reflect the position they describe.

What do you think? Should the home draft system be positioned for social occasions or everyday life? Please share your thoughts below; I look forward to reading them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Gift of Service

Steve Slater, the suddenly infamous JetBlue flight attendant, is the newest face of thankless customer service work. Like a lot of folks, I can empathize with his story. However, when I heard his story, I was immediately taken back to the following passage from Seth Godin's newest book, Linchpin, page 168-9 (fyi- it's an excellent read).

"Think of the flight attendant standing at the exit of the plane, saying "B'bye, B'bye" over and over again, doing it because she must, not because she wants to.

The intent of the giver and the posture of the recipient are critical. I'm not arguing that you fake your attitude and cop a new behavior just to get ahead.

Working the first-class cabin at British Airways can be a nightmare job. Spoiled, tired executives are waited on by flight attendants for hours on end, rarely earning the service they demand. Sure, they paid for it, but all too often, they're not open or receptive to it.

The secret to working this flight, I've been told by the people who do the work, is to realize that the extraordinary service being delivered is not for the passenger, it's not for British Airways. It's for the flight attendant.

The most successful givers aren't doing it because they're being told to. They do it because doing it is fun. It gives them joy.

Sure, it would be better if they got paid a fair wage, and it would be a lot better if more passengers appreciated their work. But until those two things happen, the most successful and happiest flight attendants will be embracing their art, not looking for someone to applaud them. If their airline started using hidden cameras and customer report forms to push them to do it more, they'd actually do it less. Manipulated art (even the art of service) ceases to be art."

Don't ever forget: circumstance is often uncontrollable; however our attitude and reactions are entirely within our control. The happiest and most successful people never forget this.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Skype Brand Disconnect

I must confess, I've never used Skype and know very little about it. However, despite my lack of familiarity with the service, I know what it means to "Skype" with someone. Skype owns the idea of live video chats and that's the most significant victory in any branding challenge.

But Skype has a major problem. The concept they own- its brand essence- is totally free. The only revenue is generated from users who make traditional phone calls to landlines and mobile phones- something they could do with their phone.

That disconnect between its brand essence and its revenue should be a major problem for any potential investor as it set out to go public yesterday.

I believe, the IPO is a clear signal that the private equity investors recognize the problem and are looking to cash out while they still can.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kanye West Teaches Us About Social Media

After a long hiatus from the public eye, Kanye West is back and is taking a very personal approach with his fans.

Although Kanye has utilized social media through his blogging, he has certainly ramped up his efforts in the past two weeks. He started with impromptu performances at Facebook and Twitter where Kanye rapped lyrics of his new songs. He followed up those stops with a visit to Rolling Stone magazine to answer some questions in a style fit for a college professor. Video from his stops hit YouTube and triggered immediate buzz from fans and media.

Shortly after stopping by Twitter headquarters, Kanye began using the social networking service. Within a day, he had 200,000 followers and was generating buzz with every new tweet. His followers soon joined in the fun, attempting to predict Kanye's future tweets and getting creative by immortalizing his tweets with cartoons from The New Yorker.

Fan created content is incredibly powerful signal; but don't be mistaken that the passion of fans is a result of social media. Social networking simply allows these gifts to be shared more efficiently than ever before.

Rather, the passion of fans is a direct result of the gifts they feel they receive. It doesn't matter if your are an artist, entertainer, musician, blogger or mega brand- the rule is the same.

The more you give of yourself, the more your fans will be reciprocate.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


The best brands know that they simply cannot be all things to all people. It must know itself and have a clear vision of what it wants to be. This of course requires sacrificing opportunities.

The leadership of Zappos and Apple fully understand this branding lesson. I recently read this passage from Zappos founder Tony Hsieh.

"It was hard for us to persuade anyone to fund this crazy concept of selling shoes online, and about 25 percent of our revenue at the time was coming from drop ship. But we decided to end it. Even though it was hard to walk away from sales at a time when nobody is offering you money, we couldn't distinguish ourselves in the eyes of our customers if we weren't going to control the entire experience. We had to give up the easy money, manage the inventory, and take the risk."

I read that immediately recalled this piece about Steve Jobs return to Apple in 1997. In it the author recalls when Jobs shut down her successful server management division because it didn't fit with his vision for Apple.

I was there when he made the decision to shut down big portions of revenue-generating businesses (including my division) because they didn't fit with his vision for the company. Some people thought he was crazy. But he was being extremely clear, and in doing so, he "MurderBoarded"—eliminated many options to get one cohesive strategy—his way to greatness.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Verizon Rumblings

I'm still a bit confused by this new Verizon commercial that has been airing a lot. I keep waiting for the explanation (like a special message or partnership).

Why would Verizon go there to sell phones and plans? Verizon should stay out of that conversation.

But the ambiguity of that commercial is a microcosm of their new tagline. "Rule the Air" is far weaker than "Can You Hear Me Now?" and "There's a Map for That" for reinforcing it as the largest and most reliable network.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Captive Audience

It may be time to rethink the term "captive audience." Most often, when a marketer believes they have a captive audience, it usually means the audience will be held captive.

A truly captive audience simply cannot be purchased. They are earned only when a brand continually keeps its promises.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Google Follow Up

In February, I questioned Google's brand strategy, contending that it's now lacking a focus on a category. I still believe that.

Reaffirming my argument, Google is pushing to get further into social networking to challenege Facebook for the ad dollars they generate from online games like Farmville. In the article, Google CEO Eric Schmidt explains that "the world doesn't need a copy of the same thing" when asked if the site will resemble Facebook.

But the market segment is the same; one that Facebook and Twitter already dominate.

What if Google put a link to all of its stuff on its main page? It might look something like the picture below.

Google won with focus.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Numbers Game

Lots of bloggers (and folks with a website) are playing a numbers game. With the capability to be utilized from anywhere in the world, by anyone and at anytime of day, it's impossible not to ponder the incredible reach gained simply from an internet connection.

Thankfully, numbers are not my focus. I don't play the numbers game.

I don't count hits. And while I love feedback, I never track if a post is shared, retweeted or count comments. If I did, I'm sure I would have stopped a long time ago, joining all the other abandoned internet endeavors (Twitter accounts included) in the digital landfill.

Over one hundred posts later, conversation is still the goal. And little by little, I can hear it getting louder. Thank you so much.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sharpie's Fading Strategy

When I was young, like lots of kids, I went to baseball games and tried to get autographs from my favorite ballplayers. Being in that line of work requires some tools of trade. I always carried a couple trinkets like baseball cards, balls or souvenir programs at all times. I also needed a team roster to identify the unexpected and unfamiliar signatures I received. Finally, for convenience and the sake of organization, I carried all my stuff in a backpack.

But the most essential tool was a Sharpie marker.

The Sharpie would work on every surface and was forever permanent. When I look at my collection today, it's obvious which signatures were signed with a Sharpie marker. They remain the boldest while the others continue to fade everyday.

That's exactly how Sharpie made its mark. It was the first marker to write like a pen yet still be bold and permanent. Eventually, they owned the permanent marker category (side note: don't underestimate the importance of scent marketing here).

As they have continued to expand, the lines of positioning are beginning to blur. This new advertisement even describes the product a pen and not a marketer. In addition, Sanford repositioned Accent highlighters under the Sharpie name five years ago.

While their previous tagline (Write Out Loud) still reflected the original strategy of being bold and permanent, the newest tagline reflects an unfocused, all encompassing strategy: Uncap what's inside.

Unfortunately, we used to know the answer before the question was ever asked.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Toning Shoe Follow Up

Adage is running an interesting piece about Reebok's marketing strategy. Reebok has done a great job positioning itself to dominate the female centered toning shoe market, yet the signing of John Wall is a clear sign that they still have their sights on Nike's basketball shoe dominance.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Complete Brand Lebacle

I'll spare you the comic sans, but Lebron James might want to get ready for some more harsh words.

Not just from me however; but from sponsors. Perhaps it will go something like this- since you took your talents to South Beach, we will take our sponsorship dollars elsewhere.

For a basketball player that spent the past seven years openly discussing and carefully crafting his "global brand," he threw it all away on Thursday night. In a single moment, it was destroyed. Maybe forever.

Lebron's dream of being "global" was obviously born out of watching and growing up in the Jordan brand.

As kids, we all wanted to be like Mike. Lebron was just the only one who could be.

The Jordan brand was and still is incredibly powerful. It's been more than seven years after Jordan's last professional run yet his basketball shoes are still number one. He's still a spokesman for the Hanes brand and remains one of the world's most recognizable faces. During his playing career, Micheal Jordan was the ultimate prize for any product that he endorsed.

Most attribute Jordan's sky-high marketing value to his greatness on the court. He was a six-time NBA champion, Olympic Gold Medalist along with piling up countless records and individual honors. But the dynamic that made MJ the world's best peddler of product was far deeper than just being the world's best ball player; which is an equation that Lebron's marketing team severely miscalculated.

For a player that made a living breaking the hearts of opposing fans, Jordan was an outstandingly non-polarizing figure. On Thursday night, Lebron James drew the line in the South Beach sand and became the most polarizing athlete walking the earth. His image instantly transformed; from local hero who rescues his community to front running supervillain.

Even if Miami can mimic Chicago's dynasty days, it will be difficult to sell Lebron James the champion without selling Lebron James the narcissistic super athlete.

How will anyone forget the "King" for his calculated hijacking of television's priciest hour to announce that he's leaving his loyal subjects? The people that raised him and anointed him "King." All in the spirit of charity and giving back.

Or was it the spirit of flavored waters, second rate search engines and flimsy internet educations, I just cannot remember?

Finally, make careful note that Nike (other than a donation to the Boys & Girls Club) didn't put its name on the production. Surprising considering he's their brightest star and all alone in the sky on his big night with the entire world looking up.

Maybe they too realize that his star is about to fade.

Editors Note: For more interesting insights, I recommend this Adage story of how this came together.