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.