Monday, December 26, 2011

Weight Watchers Follow Up

Eight months ago, I wrote that Weight Watchers was making a mistake in its marketing strategy by extending it's brand to include diet plans for men. I felt (and still do) that in order to be successful marketing to this new demographic, Weight Watchers needed a different product and most importantly a different brand name. Perhaps you remember that they chose the name, what else, Weight Watchers for Men.

Yesterday, I noticed that they made some changes to their male-targeted campaign. First, they simply dropped the "for men" from the title of the product. Secondly, went the way of Nutrisystem and added the celebrity endorsement element, selecting Charles Barkley. I guess he's no longer with Taco Bell?

It's a pretty drastic change from the original ad. These changes to the advertising represent a clear signal that the weight loss service is yo-yo'ing on how to reach their new male demographic. Although, the ads are very different, the new Weight Watchers strategy is basically the same - perhaps worse because they're using the same name. Therefore they will see the same results.

Un-like Facebook

Facebook, who is preparing up to auction itself off to the public, is making a significant change to how users view the advertisements on the social networking site. The little ads that are currently to the right of the newsfeed will be moved into the newsfeed and share the same space as your friend's updates.

For Facebook to make more money, and thus be worth more, the company has to sell more of its main product, advertising. However, if advertising rates online remain flat, the only way to make more money would be to sell more. But there is a shortcut. An advertiser can charge more for the ad if they give the purchaser more visibility. This visibility makes for a better ad but often at the expense of the content (the stuff people want). In the short-term this can work; however, long-term its a solution that only perpetuates the problem it tries to solve. More ads creates more noise and less visibility for other advertisers as well as hurt traffic because they detract from the stuff people really came to see. It's the fundamental problem with making money from advertising - what worked yesterday doesn't work today.

Facebook knows there will be backlash from users. So it will initiate the new advertising slowly - limiting the posts to once-a-day - and hope people don't notice it much. However, if Facebook will continue to grow, it will certainly increase the frequency and the number of ads as well as place them in the feeds of mobile users.

The ads on Facebook are unique because they're complimented by the "like" or approval of a friend. Facebook gives the brand the ability to pay to have this put into your newsfeed. So if you like the page for "Bud Light" for instance, they can pay Facebook to have your "like" into a
"sponsored story" in the newsfeeds of your network. Interestingly, the ads won't look like traditional online advertising because they know how important it is to disguise the ad as the a friend recommendation - even though that user won't know when their interaction will be converted into a sponsored story.

Unfortunately, users are not given the option to opt out of having these ads show up in their newsfeed. Thankfully, they do have a choice if they don't want to spam their network. "Unlike" stuff. If people do this, they won't treat their friends page as collateral damage from marketers.

I'm going to treat my connections in the most socially acceptable manner and not spam them. I encourage everyone to do the same. Simply go to your page. Click on the info tab and "unlike" all the junk no one really looks at anyway.

It's the campaign to Unlike Facebook.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fool Us Once

Tomorrow British Petroleum is launching a new wave of advertising that focuses on their clean up and restoration efforts following their disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in the Spring of 2010.

The advertisements feature Iris Cross, a familiar face who became the company spokesperson in the commercials following the disaster. In these ads, Iris updates the country on what BP has done and will further do to clean up the mess that it created. The ad itself is nice. It says lots of nice things about BP while rolling images of a beautiful, vibrant and clean Gulf Coast.

However, how effective this advertising? Does advertising a brand that has been disgraced and has deservedly lost public trust really improve its perceptions through advertising this message? Are consumers just supposed to trust BP because they're cleaning up their mess? Other than saying it's working with the government, this ad doesn't really explain why it deserves the public trust back.

Eventually, they will earn it back. People have short memories so which works in BP's favor. They'll forget how the incident was preventable, the company was warned but neglected maintenance on the well's blowout preventer , they'll forget how it took months to solve the problem as 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked into the gulf and they'll forget how the company's leader Tony Hayward downplayed the "relatively tiny" problem while spending quality time floating along on his yacht.

If people don't feel like they can trust you, it's best not to remind them why they feel this way. I don't understand what BP has to gain from a national advertising campaign.

I believe the company should go about it's business quietly and clean up the awful mess it made as best as they can. Time will eventually heal the wounds but advertising won't accelerate the process when it also reminds people why your not to be trusted.

Although it goes against human nature, sometimes the best action is to do nothing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reality Is Simply What You Want It To Be

For better or for worse, when it comes to the marketing of most things, the reality is simply what the buyer chooses to believe.

The truth is often seen very differently among different consumers. (Case in point: politics)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Broken Ad: Chex Mix

Yesterday I saw an advertisement for the deliciously addicting snack Chex Mix. The advertisement features a guying using an empty potato chip bag labeled "boring" to hide his Chex Mix from everyone else at the party. The commercial closes with the tagline "Open a bag of interesting."

The final word "interesting" is key to the entire ad and I believe it's completely misused. Is the reason that the other people at the party desire this man's Chex Mix because the snack is simply more interesting than potato chips? I don't think so. So while interesting is actually the opposite of boring, it's not the right adjective to use to position Chex Mix.

At first I was unsure Chex Mix should even be positioned against potato chips. Chex Mix is a one-of-a-kind snack that leads its own salty snack subcategory. However, in order to keep Chex Mix successfully differentiated from potato chips it must consistently hammer the comparison home.

But in order to really do so I think the marketers of Chex Mix needed to take their point one step beyond just "interesting" and explain why. Is the consumer supposed to just believe Chex Mix is more interesting than potato chips (an obvious opinion) because a marketer told them so. I don't think so.

They need to back up their claim. To do so, focus on the key attribute differences that make Chex Mix a more interesting choice. The biggest difference is even in the product name. Unlike the monolithic taste of chips, Chex Mix has a variety of different flavors. Secondly, Chex Mix is eaten by the handful. Whereas chips are consumed one at a time.

Therefore, Chex Mix is the more interesting choice because its "six unique flavors in every handful that make for one delicious snack."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Beginners Guide

If your job was to write a handbook or a beginner's guide to your brand, which would detail the most important information someone should be aware of, what would it actually say?

I ask you to close your eyes for thirty seconds and think about that.

Now go look at your newest advertisement.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meeting Expectations

If you're in the business of gaining attention (and all marketers are), it's difficult to stay relevant when you simply meet their expectations.

We expect average. We reward above-average with our attention.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Alex's Weekly Brand Briefing

Here's what I was looking at this week.

Not just $3.99 rugs. Don't like the talk I'm hearing from Ikea about "changing perceptions."

Arnold Palmer is looking to position his brand for the long term. Take the drink. Leave everything else. He owns the word for a lemonade-iced tea drink mixture and nothing else.

Al Ries shares with brands on how to position a brand at the top and bottom of the market. Sounds like Ikea could use his advice.

Tom Fishburne shows what PowerPoint presentations are really doing to an audience.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Broken Ad: eBay


Did you detect the major shift in strategy at eBay in their latest round of advertisements? The commercials depict people using eBay to buy all the run-of-the-mill items that they can find at the mall. Whether it's a tablet computer or a new pair of jeans, eBay is the last place anyone will go for these items because of their reputation as an auction site.

These new advertisements abandon the auction-style attribute of the brand and instead push a anti-auction position of "Buy It New. Buy It Now." Isn't that the position of most retailers?

eBay was positioned different. It's the first place to find the stuff you cannot find anywhere else.

Not anymore apparently.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Follow Up: Coke Sheds The Red

After a short run, Coca-Cola has decided to cease using the white can. The cans were originally slated to be on shelves until February; however, complaints over customer confusion has prompted Coke to preempt the original promotion schedule.

As suspected, a changing such an iconic and critical symbol of the brand was not shrewd choice. For more, check out Mike Esterl's story in the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coke Sheds The Red

I caught a glance at a can of Coca-Cola earlier and did a double take. The reason I couldn't immediately recognize this iconic packaging, mistaking it for a Diet Coke, is that for the first time in the history of the soft drink, the company decided to changed the color of the can - just temporarily of course. The new can is white and features polar bears, which have been an often-used symbol by Coca-Cola during the holiday season. But it also looks similar to the latest Diet Coke packaging.

However, this is not a case of change strictly for its own sake. The white can is being used to generate awareness for the Arctic Home project, which Coca-Cola is supporting along with its partner, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The goal of the partnership is to protect the habitat of Arctic polar bears and in particular, a 500,000 square mile territory in the far north where polar ice can survive the longest. In this effort, Coke will donate $2 million to Arctic Home and match customer donations up to $1 million.

While the Arctic Home project is certainly a worthwhile cause, I don't know if I would be brave enough to change the color of the can. Afterall, I didn't immediately know I was looking at a Coke. I'll ask all the marketers and design experts, would you generate awareness for this worthy cause by altering the iconic red can?

So is this a good or bad idea? Give your take in the comments section below, via email (alex@alexander-branding.com) or on Twitter @AlexVilleneuve. As always, thanks for reading.

Simplify

People are complicated beings. And it's for that very reason that brands must simplify things.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Alex's Weekly Brand Briefing

Here's what caught my eye this week. And thankfully, it wasn't pepper spray in a line at Wal-Mart.

Patagonia's cyber-Monday/Common Threads Initiative advertisement tells consumer's not to buy. Well, just not to buy a lot. It's an interesting move that will probably get discussed in more detail soon.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
gives some advice to a PR professionals who are looking write a new definition for trade as it struggles to find itself in the digital age. It's insightful and an excellent read as always.

American Airlines pending bankruptcy is going to disrupt their "rebranding" effort. However, rebranding has to happen at the airport, not at an agency. Tough luck for the agency that won't collect on another new silly slogan.

Christoper Skinner
calls for more story and brand building in holiday advertising in a piece for AdAge. While I agree with the message, I think more should have been said on how brands should do this.

Microsoft is rebranding its daily deals line-extension of Bing to MSN. Go figure.

Broken Ad: Acura

The calender year is coming to a close and thus holiday shopping is in full swing. Although most don't don't immediately think of car shopping this time of year, car manufacturers are battling hard for your holiday dollar.

The car brand Acura has dubbed this the "Season of Reason" and their advertisements caution against "over-indulging" this season and call for customers to "over-save" this holiday season with a new Acura. Turns out that they left actual "reason" out of their advertisement because nothing says over-consumption like gifting a new car at Christmas time. Even if the car dealers are feeling extra jolly this season and one can save on a new Acura, they're more obvious and reasonable ways to over-save one's money.

I understand Acura is using satire, the ads represent poor execution of an even poorer strategy. For a brand with little relevance and differentiation, the ads do nothing but brand the cars with a pricetag.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Alex's Weekly Brand Briefing

David Aakar talks about the real key to growth - creating new subcategories to make the competition irrelevant. He also recognizes the work of the late John Smale - a P&G executive with many influential contributions to their brand.

Jonathan Salem Baskin discusses what slashing prices on Black Friday does to a brand in his latest AdAge installment. I also recommend his opinion on marketing as "content curators."

I disagree with Brian Steinberg's take on Amazon. He argues that Amazon's focus on the new helps to sell the old. I really cannot see a focus at all and he even points out that most of their moves were made defensively, in response to competitors.

I recently received my answer to the question of how long before Domino's loses focus again. It was less than a month. They're introducing new a "Gourmet" cheesy bread.

Finally, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous Holiday Season, but try to go easy on the gourmet cheesy bread.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Broken Ad: KFC

If you have sold more chicken than anyone else on earth, it's just mindless marketing to tell your customers that "everything is better with bacon." Period. If that's the case, why not make the original recipe bacon flavored?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Social Media Strategy

Actions speak louder than tweets. If this isn't your next social media strategy, I think your brand is missing the point.

Baseball Is Caught In A Pickle

A couple of weeks ago, I asked What Should Baseball Do about its problem of eroding interest in America's great pastime. The title of America's favorite game to watch was intercepted by football a long time ago.

Refusing to accept this, baseball points out that it's attendance is on an upward trend. While attendance and butts in the seats is still critical and the best indication of a sports franchise's success, it's actually television that keeps the league in business. Sports leagues desperately need their deep-pocketed friends at the television networks to commit large sums of cash in exchange for attentive pairs of eyes.

The National Football League and collegiate football are far and away the best at bringing these eyeballs to the television screen. Year after year networks rest assured that even at skyrocketing rights fees they will get a good return on their investment. Yet, that's not the case for America's pastime. Even for the biggest games like its World Series finale, a large television audience is not a guarantee.

I think television is partly to blame. There are some obvious challenges that make television and baseball not a great match for one another.

The biggest and most obvious challenge is when games are played. Its games are played mostly in the summer when the weather is nice, the nights are long and people spend more time outside away from the television. Although this presents a tremendous advantage over the other big three sports at the gate, it's an obvious drawback to consuming baseball through television.

Secondly, the geometry of baseball games presents another challenge to watching the game on television. The shape of all television sets is a rectangle, which is the perfect shape for football fields, basketball courts and ice hockey rinks. All the action is captured as the game naturally flows back and forth across the screen. But a baseball diamond is different. The wide field and diamond shape don't fit well on a television screen and while most of the action is caught on camera, there are a lot of little things in a baseball game that don't make it.

On the other hand, baseball might be the only sport that lends itself to radio. The legendary voices of baseball were able to set the scene and convey every play in a way listeners could easily digest and visualize. For the other sports, this would be impossible. It's not a coincidence that baseball's rise and decline has been mirrored by that of the radio.

However, football has earned it's dominance. Whether it's intentional or not, the football schedule is nearly marketing perfection. The games are concentrated on Saturday's and Sunday's at regular times so people always know when their own. The frequency of football is also benefit. Fewer games adds to the anticipation by fans. They wait for a game all week and know if they miss one they will have to wait another six days to see the next. This urgency means greater demand. In marketing, focus and consistency are always a good thing because it trains the mind of the consumer. Few products in the world train its consumers like football does.

So how should baseball get more people interested in watching it on television?

The answer it recently came up with was one a lot marketers mistakenly come up with - more baseball. Last week, the baseball owners agreed to expand their playoffs by two teams, moving from eight to ten. But for a sport fighting for attention, less is actually more.

How so? More teams don't necessarily mean that fans will pay more attention. In fact, it will likely divide the fans attention more. They will give less to each series compared to before. Similarly, more teams in a league mean fans become less engaged and familiar with each one. In addition, this also puts fewer star players on each team. In a sport where stars don't always touch the ball, baseball desperately needs more star players on the field. The best way to do this is put more stars on the field. Of course, that means fewer teams. Thus, fewer teams mean more stars on the field and more exciting games and teams to watch.

Although baseball never experienced a steep drop off in its ratings, a slow decline is really worse because the problem isn't readily apparent. However, when the World Series or playoff games (the best teams) are no longer desirable for fans and thus the television networks that bring them the games, it's the sign of a real big problem.

As we all know, more is never better in marketing.

Alex's Weekly Brand Briefing

Here's what caught my eye this week.

Bud Light is preparing to launch it's latest line-extension. Bud Light Platinum. Bad branding at it's finest.

In his usual entertaining style, Bob Garfield dissects the art of making a terrible PR pitch.

Laura Ries points out that the marketing genius of Steve Jobs was his consistency and brand focus.

Tom Fishburne's cartoons on marketing are always filled with clever insight. This one pokes fun at the value of decisions made by committee. As David Ogilvy would remind us, you'll find no statues of committees."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Broken Ads: Burger King

On Sunday evening I saw a commercial for new Burger King commercial for (I think) its new Chef's Choice Hamburger. The commercial was very similar to the other Burger King spots recently created by McGarryBowen.

While the latest round of advertising is very nice, there is one major problem with them - the Burger King experience is a far cry from its advertising. The part that really jumped out at me was the facsimile signature from their executive chef. The idea of Burger King is already embedded in our brains and few think of it in such a manner.

The advertising is only as good as the product itself. Or as William Bernbach famously said, "a great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Alex's Weekly Brand Briefing

This is just a new thing I'm going to try to do every week or so. It's just sharing a recap of a few of the things I read this week and found most interesting.

Paul Adams, a Facebook executive talked about the idea of businesses sending ads to the mobile phones of people approaching their locations at a marketing conference recently. He's absolutely right on in saying that marketers who are falling in love with this idea aren't "thinking from a people perspective" and I agree with his assessment that it's "a really stupid idea." However, I disagree with the implied notion that traditional marketing is dying because "people don't listen to businesses."

I found Fast Company's story about the Zac Brown Band's "Eat & Greet" Tour very interesting and think it's a awesome idea for connecting with fans. Amazingly, he prepares dinner for fans before he preforms for them. I think the Zac Brown Band knows that truly memorable experiences may take more work but are often we'll worth the price.

Al Ries discusses why "marketers" have become limited to just making "branding" decisions in his latest AdAge installment.

As always, thanks for reading. Connect with me on Twitter @Alexvilleneuve or email alex@alexander-branding.com

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Should Baseball Do?

The first thing every father tells their son about playing baseball is keep your eye on the ball. Until the age of 16 or so, I lived that rule. I was extremely captivated by the game of baseball and just like the big leagues, baseball was an everyday activity of mine. I knew all the players, managers, stadiums and statistics of the game. But as I grew older, I slowly took my eye off the ball.

Sadly, I've almost become indifferent to baseball. I don't watch nearly as many games as I once did and feel almost zero investment in them. When I do watch baseball I often fall asleep with the remote in my hand. I've shrugged off several years of big playoff contests and World Series games. Now, I can only name about half the players on my childhood "favorite" team and far fewer on all the rest.

More troubling for baseball is that I have plenty of company joining me in the baseball indifferent crowd. Sure I did change. I live at a far different pace than I did ten years ago; however, I haven't dramatically changed my consumption of other sports.

This postseason I made "an effort" to watch more baseball. I forced myself to watch and was pleasantly entertained by a great postseason which was capped off by a spectacular World Series. This resulted in the most watched baseball game since 2004 - when the Boston Red Sox were chasing down their first World Series Championship in 86 years.

Despite strong numbers for the finale, baseball has been quietly losing it's place in America's sporting heart over the past thirty years or so. Today, people often site football as the reason baseball is losing prominence in America. However, I think it would be shortsighted to forget the nearly two decades Michael Jordan played basketball and what he did for growing his game. He too is to blame I would say.

I'd want to know what you think. First, diagnose baseball biggest problem with losing share to other sports. Secondly, offer your solutions. How would help baseball regain prominence in America?

I will share my thoughts along with all of the reader feedback in the forthcoming post, Baseball Should Do This. Please respond via email (alex@alexander-branding.com), in the comments section or via Twitter @AlexVilleneuve.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The MKTG Rulebook

This is so important it deserved way more than a retweet. Know and follow these ten rules and you will become a great marketer. Bravo to Steve McKee from McKee Wallwork Cleveland for the insight via Businessweek.

Don't forget them.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

More Schizophrenic Marketing From Domino's

Domino's has been touting it's marketing rebirth since two former employees created a gross-out video on the job that went viral on YouTube in 2009. Yet from a strategy standpoint it's still more of the same marketer schizophrenia - an approach adverse to building any brand equity for the national pizza chain.

The rebirth started with their pizza turnaround that pitched people on fresher ingredients for a fresher tasting Domino's pizza; a product attribute that has been owned by Papa John's for many years running. They also tried to carve out a market into Little Caesar's carry-out pizza business for themselves. Domino's also wandered into convincing customers how great its chicken was. They tried to sell oven-baked sub sandwiches and I bet most customers cannot even remember the days that Domino's was pushing their pasta dishes.

Now they've moved on to selling an "artisan" pizza. I'll disregard the use of an empty marketing cliche for now, yet its price tag of only eight dollars creates an even harder sell to a consumer population that still believes price and quality are directly corresponding. And from a branding perspective, it's impossible when the word "Domino's" is associated with "artisan."

This is the third time (read one and two here) since their marketing rebirth that I've discussed Domino's schizophrenic marketing approach. This approach will lead to the same death it already suffered.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why Soda Marketing Is Going Flat

By now, it's likely that you've seen the advertising for Dr. Pepper 10, which was recently launched as a diet alternative to its own diet alternative, Diet Dr. Pepper. However, this alternative is envisioned to be the alternative that male soda drinkers choose, who have not been quick to reach for a Diet Dr. Pepper.

Commentaries will make a big deal about the off-beat "it's just for men" tactic Dr. Pepper has employed in getting the message of this new variety out to consumers; however, that will not be the reason Dr. Pepper 10 is going to fail.

Along with its alternative cola counterparts Coke Zero and Pepsi Max, Dr. Pepper 10 was launched with calories on the mind - the principle culprit in why more consumers are passing on their pop.

As the American body continues to tip the scale further than ever before, much of the blame gets directed at the empty calories consumed from via colas. Consequently, sales have been trending down for almost a decade.

But regardless of whether soda is being unfairly scapegoated as the principle cause for the poor health of Americans, the parties responsible for selling it haven't done themselves any favors with their poor strategies. Diet Pepper 10 is just the latest example of soda marketers fighting the completely wrong battle.

Even diet or low calorie sodas lack the nourishment that alternatives like water or juice can provide. Therefore, soda marketers are doing nothing but cannibalizing their own sales because every new calorie-focused cola repositions the original product as lacking in some department. Thus consumers are left with an unenviable choice between "health" and "taste;" therefore they're forced to compromise something they desire. The trade-off leaves the feeling of disappointment every time they use the product.

What's a soda marketer do? When the conversation is about how unhealthy drinking soda regularly is, soda marketers should be working to change the conversation, not amplify it. The calorie-conscious line extension only furthers it.

Despite all of the research and trend reporting that are behind the health oriented strategy of soda marketers, they're a lot of unhealthy categories that are growing.

Five Guys hasn't been hurt by the fact that one of its cheeseburgers has 840 calories (500 from fat). They don't talk about it and the fast-casual burger category grew by 16.4 % last year.

The explosion of gourmet cupcake shops are no exception. While most likely less than an entire cake, a cupcake is still full of calories.

Perceived as a healthier alternative, the ready to drink iced-tea category has benefited from the misfortunes of soda marketers. However, 8 ounces of Arnold Palmer Half & Half has 50 calories. Eight ounces of Snapple Raspberry tea has 100 calories; the same amount as 8 ounces of Coke Classic. These marketers don't talk diet. Not yet anyway.

The marketers at Dr. Pepper should study their history. Mid-calorie colas Pepsi Edge and C2 were tried and failed. This will fail too. However, I just hope that soda marketers eventually learn why their products inevitably fail. Many will eventually pin the blame on their head-scratching tactics. Few will know it's because their line-extension strategy downgrades the original product and forces consumers to sacrifice something want.

If I was a marketer at Dr. Pepper, I'd think about the days when I didn't care about calories. As a kid, drinking soda was treat because it was sweet and taste good. Like most kids and teens, I didn't care about the calories because I didn't need to. If there is any saving soda, Dr. Pepper included, they need to focus on why the product makes people happy. I think it's clearly the sweet 23 flavor formula that simply cannot be improved.

This post also appeared at on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog. As always, thank you for reading and sharing.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Panic

In hard times it's important to remember that panicking never seems to work. Stay calm and you'll thank yourself for it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How Profit Is Tackling Amateurism

My first job after college was working at another college. Four weeks after I walked the stage and was handed my diploma at Xavier University, I began working in the athletic ticket office at the University of Notre Dame. While I learned fairly quickly that a career in ticketing wasn't the path for me, I look back and know that it was the best first job I could have asked for. The University of Notre Dame was where I first learned and became excited about branding.

However, working on the business side of college athletics, it's easy to forget that the most critical component to the system is that its athletes are amateurs. The reason amateur status is so important is that it's meant to ensure student-athletes participate for non-monetary benefits - or those inherently received from competition on the field. The qualities that most associated with being derived from competition are respect, teamwork, sportsmanship, preparation, camaraderie and go as far as placing a high value on exercise. Practiced on the fields of play, the goal is that these values become learned human characteristics. It's the entire justification for athletics on the campuses of higher educators. They're not supposed to be in the entertainment business.

Unfortunately, that fact is often lost on people - even those charged with doing the educating. As critical as amateurism in athletics is to higher learning from athletics, it's becoming evident that profit is just as critical to a lot of University administrators. It's so important to them that it often clouds their judgment to the point that the mission of athletics on campuses is minimized down to an afterthought. If it's at the forefront of their attention, would such a high number of University administrators consistently act in a manner that's completely contradictory to the values that amateur athletics is designed to foster.

Camaraderie and loyalty are fundamental lessons learned during team competition. Yet, the more obvious lesson that's taught by many is to value self before team. That's what Syracuse University, the University of Pittsburgh, Texas Christian University and Texas A&M are currently teaching students. They're not the only ones guilty of this; just the ones currently guilty of it. It's also the same lesson that a college coach passes on when they break their spineless commitments to their teams in order to switch to a more personally profitable allegiance. Less obvious are lessons in solving problems versus solving symptoms of problems.

The current system is broken. I believe the first step toward fixing it is a decision on the purpose of college football. It must decide in what realm should it exist - a pure profit enterprise designed to generate cash for the University or an amateur competition designed to supplement higher educations. But I think it's clear that they don't coexist very well and should be changed, regardless of how dependent the current system is on an "amateur" labor force.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Un-Friendly Fortunes

The ice cream and restaurant chain Friendly's has been exploring Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection according to the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday, the company confirmed this report and said it would be closing 63 locations.

Sadly, the company is refusing to accept blame for going bust; instead their spokeswoman offered this - "like many restaurant chains, we are feeling the impact of the economic downturn and rising commodity prices and a challenging marketplace." This coming from a company that began serving two-scoops of ice cream for 5 cents in 1935. That was the Great Depression.

Since its beginnings as an ice cream parlor, Friendly's has transformed itself through a perpetual line extension strategy. It now serves everything from burgers, chicken fingers, salads and sandwiches to eggs benedict, waffles, pancakes. Oh and ice cream too.

They've lost attribute focus as well. It's brand extension Friendly's Express was launched to lure consumers with a "same food, only faster" proposition. Unfortunately, that also would imply that their regular restaurants are too slow. There current campaign is an obscure pitch for a new value menu called the "High-Five menu," which has select meals for $5. By comparison, the rest of the menu now feels overpriced. Each of these extension winds up implying the opposite of what Friendly's is hoping to convey about its brand. It's mired in an all things to all people strategy.

But don't tell that to their Chief Marketing Officer Andrea McKenna, who says "people love our brand, but we've kind of lost relevance." She continued "people's lifestyles have changed, and they've gotten busy." Too busy to eat ice cream? I don't think so.

I'd ask Friendly's if ice cream is just as relevant today as it was when they started? What about burgers? And sandwiches? The answer to all of these is yes. But Friendly's isn't relevant to these categories because their strategy is to be in all of them.

Awareness is often mistakenly substituted for relevance, even by CMO's. But Friendly's doesn't need more blind awareness. People know the chain. They just don't have a reason to go there. If Friendly's wants to matter again then they must consistently give consumers a single most compelling reason to.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How Long Can A Kodak Moment Last?

I grew up in a town on the northern edge of Rochester, New York and lived about 15 minutes from the headquarters of Eastman Kodak, an anchor to downtown Rochester. Even closer to my home was Kodak Park, a major bustling cluster of factories and office buildings located just west of the Genesee River and a short ride from the end of my driveway. Kodak employed 60,000 Rochesterians at it's peak in the early 198o's and was the largest employer in town for many years. It was impossible not to know someone who worked for Kodak.

My father told me once that Kodak used to be so busy that they had a staggered schedule to ease rush hour congestion. Sadly, jaywalking outside their State Street headquarters at 5:30 in the afternoon is no longer a challenging endeavor since Kodak has cut about 2,000 jobs out of the Flower City's picture every year for nearly thirty years. Today, about 7,000 jobs remain whispers of impending bankruptcy by have grown louder over the past week.

It's the sad reality faced by the city I will always call home and the many hundreds of cities just like mine. Dozens of major metropolises and hundreds of smaller towns have struggled to replace the jobs that vanished with anything close to what once was. The vacant factories that remain are decaying monuments to prosperity once enjoyed. Drive through one of these towns and it's truly heartbreaking.

For me, it's particularly painful to drive through Kodak park and take in the vast emptiness its become.

As the rumors of bankruptcy crescendo, I've been doing a lot of reading about the company that put my hometown on the map and which it happily banked on for over a century. Every article is quick to point out the iconic film company's slow or ineffective transition into digital technology that is used today.

One commentator said "it just doesn't have a contemporary product to match the name recognition."

I think a lot of people might agree with this perspective. I don't completely though. Despite it's slow introduction, Kodak still introduced digital products. They still do. Their new products are just as new as HP's, Canon's, Nikon's and all the rest. The high value and interest in the patents they currently hold say a lot about its capabilities. They can make a good product. And Kodak has that name recognition. They have the history of innovation and all the "Kodak Moments" and the signature yellow and red packaging. If name recognition means anything, shouldn't Kodak have the upper hand or at least be able to stay in the game?

Common sense would suggest yes and yet that hasn't been the case. Marketing is not common sense. It knows that a contemporary product (a new product or idea) needs its own contemporary brand - not a historical one regardless of how iconic and everlasting it may be. Digital was clearly a different category and strategists should know that old brands never lead new categories.

When a brand uses this strategy, the association can become so powerful that it resonates with consumers long after the category becomes dormant or dead. Just ask the leading brand in the film category - Kodak.

If Kodak ever has comeback, which I hope they do, it cannot be done carrying the family name. Thirty years of evidence would suggest that that strategy has failed.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog. As always, thanks for reading and sharing.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

B of A's Brand Deduction

When I heard that Bank of America was going to start charging customers a $5 monthly fee to use their debit cards for purchases, I wasn't at all shocked because banks raising fees is about as common as customers stealing their pens. Sadly, it's just the way most banks treat their customers.

My worry is that customers will just pay the fees because they've been conditioned to use their debit cards instead of cash for so long. Soon, the rest of banks will follow suit and it won't effect anyone's brand because the customer will be stuck. They'll just become resigned to the fact that they hate their bank.

However, I realized that I was thinking like Bank of America - without a long term perspective. While the current population may be conditioned to use their debit cards in stores, additional fees mean that the next generation will be conditioned not to. Eventually, any benefit to their bottom line will be lost.

Furthermore, this isn't a situation like rising oil prices where customers are stranded without any alternatives to debit cards. Credit cards and cash remain popular options.

Shortly after reading that Bank of America was initiating a fee on in-store debit card transactions, I came across an advertisement on television for Bank of America's debit cards. Ironically, it was offering cash back on purchases - one percent back on this and two percent on that - just so you can give it right back.

The Bank of America debit card fee serves as another reminder why customers should break this cycle and only deposit their money with someone who will respect it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Great Divide

A person's email inbox represents a great divide. It becomes very easy to judge how important a message is when it's sent via email.

If your message truly requires the attention of someone then perhaps email not be the best way to get it. That's not to say that email isn't at all useful. The fact that get's lost on the spammer is that the attention must be shared - the message must be as useful to the reader as it is necessary that it's read. Simply put, both parties must value one another.

Ironically, that must start way before you reach one's inbox.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Decision Engine Dying

Bing may be axing its position of the "Decision Engine." No surprise there. Don't know how "Decision Engine" differentiates it from other search engines.

What ways can runner up brands position themselves to challenge the leader? Maybe Bing tries harder?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Netflix Follow Up

Netflix is splitting up into two brands. One for DVD by mail. One for streaming. A great idea.

Wait for it... BUT. They mess things up worse. The bad idea is what they're doing with the brand names. They are moving the Netflix name to the new streaming service and adding a new one for an old concept. So Netflix, as in red envelopes in your mailbox, is going to become the name for the company that streams movies online. And the new brand, Quikster, is going to take its place with the old concept. Got all that?

A new concept (streaming) needs a new brand which includes a new name - not a well known old one. But then they toss in a terrible new name for that product and you have a strategy disaster at Netflix.

Incredible.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Marry Name and Price

A great brand name is an essential quality if that brand is going to work its way into the minds of consumers. A few helpers in the process are names that are unique, memorable and easy to pronounce. It should fit the characteristics the marketer desires to declare.

However, it's a good idea that the brand name doesn't include the price. While price is an important and says a lot about it, no successful brand is defined by a number.

I recently read that the popular Northeastern grocery-chain Wegman's will reprice a few of their popular $6 takeout meals to $8. While these meals are a personal favorite of yours truly, they've unwisely been marketed under the name "Wegman's $6 meals." However, with the rising prices for food and their ingredients, Wegman's cannot downsize the meals any more just to keep their signature price. The prices have changed.

That happens - just ask your parents or grandparents. Prices are going fluctuate. But the unique attributes of a brand should not. Wegman's chose to differentiate the brand through a low price; however, that results in much higher price sensitivity by consumers.

Wegman's should identify for what other reasons people will, should, or already do care about these meals. Give people another reason to enjoy them other than the price. Step one is taking it out of the name.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Be In Search of Dissatisfaction

Sifting through my newsfeed this week, an article about yoga apparel brand Luluemon Athletica caught my attention. Luluemon was born in 1998 after entrepreneur Chip Wilson became dissatisfied how athletic apparel fit when practicing Yoga. Thirteen years later, it's the leader of the category it invented, coming off a 2010 with $712 million in sales and expectations of growing that by 33 percent in 2011. Naturally, the giant brands of athletic and women's apparel like Nike and the Gap missed this opportunity to outfit yoga practitioners and are now scrabbling to catch up. The Gap recently launched a new line of athletic clothes for women called Athleta. While the name sounds strikingly similar to the originator's surname, the Gap denies any copying of Luluemon Athletica.

One of the topics I'm most fascinated by is the reasons that established brands with a larger world of resources at their disposal constantly fail to innovate to the degree of resourceful entrepreneurs like Mr. Wilson did. Is it that brands reach a point in their life when they lose their edge and become averse to taking risks? Perhaps. For companies flush with cash it's makes better sense to buy these brands once they've proven themselves worthy - think Coca-Cola or Procter & Gamble. However, these cases are the exception.

In most cases, I believe a company's desire to innovate is only derived from looking at the income statement. Therefore, the easiest thing to do is copying the competition and be an also-ran brand. On the other hand, an entrepreneur is often better equip to recognize their own dissatisfaction within an area of the marketplace. Consider Mr. Wilson's yoga clothes, James Dyson's dissatisfaction with his Hoover vacuum cleaner or Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry's dissatisfaction with the toxic chemical ingredients in their cleaning supplies as examples of ignored desires that were the launching pad for great brands.

What products or experiences in the marketplace are leaving you wanting more? Most importantly, what will you do about it?

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand. As always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sponsoring A Rememberance

Its now been more than 10 years since the unspeakable tragedy and devastation witnessed on September 11th, 2001. Every American will remember that day a little differently. The places we were, the people we were with and the stunning imagery of that day will last in our minds forever. I also remember it as one of the best examples of human strength and sacrifice to stand for good against the power of hate.

However, the 10th anniversary will be a different memory for me. I'm disappointed that a part of this memory is marked by the advertisements I witnessed on television. Despite being nice displays of advertising, I'm unsettled by capitalizing on the memories of those who have perished. I recognize how many may disagree on the meaning that is behind each tribute advertisement; however, I believe that if honor and remembrance was truly the motivation of these organizations then paid advertisements may not have been the best way to show it. Even if their intentions were truly genuine, they seemed overpowered. The old marketing adage "the medium is the message" applied in this case. It was still advertising and felt as such. Perhaps there best intentions are conveyed in a different manner.

Every marketer who worked on these 9/11 themed advertisements understands how strong American's Patriotic instincts are. But I don't think that this was their best effort at tapping into them. I trust that most consumers are advanced enough to separate drinking Bud and being on the Verizon network from truer expressions of patriotism. I find any suggestion of a possible correlation by these marketers to be distasteful.

What do you think about the 9/11 tribute advertisements? Fair or over the line? Let me know in the comments section below and as always, thank you for reading.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Awareness Alone Is Not an Advantage

This week, the Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo! was fired. Which got me thinking about what a great brand name Yahoo! is. Furthermore, the brand was an early mover in the internet search business. Yet, despite its quick jump on the category and a name that translated into incredibly strong brand awareness, the company is the search engine equivalent to dial up internet. To be honest, I don't know too much about Yahoo! currently. I haven't been to the portal site in years and I'm guessing I'm not alone in my confession.

Obviously, there is a massive disconnect between awareness and conversion. The reason is that awareness, while an important step in the process of brand building is not the process by itself. In fact, awareness alone does nothing. They're countless brands struggling for consumer cash despite high "awareness." It would be challenging to find people who can recall nothing about brands like Kodak, Chevrolet, Burger King or Yahoo!. The problem is that they cannot recall how each of these brands are superior to their respective competition. Consumers are not aware of their brand advantages. That's a big problem.

Developing the advantages of your brand is the first and most essential step to building a brand. They should be ingrained in your marketing and never be forgotten. In fact, they (not your logo or pretty typeface) are your brand. The next step is to make sure they're conveyed; whether a completely unspoken or proclaimed loudly in advertising everywhere, people must be able to identify them and know the ways your brand is better. It's misguided marketing to believe brand building is just a game of being seen or heard from more often.

While this sounds extremely basic, I see a lot of marketers forget this branding principle regularly.

Post-riff extra-credit note: The best brands in the world are not the ones with the most brand advantages but the most desirable and best conveyed.


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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Have Your Coke And Drink It Too

Get ready to see more advertising for Diet Coke

According to AdAge, the calorie conscience cola is reorganizing its marketing to span the entire calender year rather than focusing their campaigning to the first quarter. The impetus for this decision stems from beating out Pepsi for the number two spot in the cola category - guzzling 9.9 percent of the market in 2010. It seems as if this decision is to recognize and give Diet Coke the backing that a number two brand deserves.

However, don't credit savvy marketing for Diet Coke's ascension to the category's second spot. Its "Stay Extraordinary" position is complete marketer inspired nonsense and really means nothing to consumers.

The real driving force behind the rise of The (somewhat) Real Thing is an ever-expanding consumer waistline that now counts cans of soda as a serious calorie contributor. Diet Coke is a just beneficiary of a health conscience (or at least calorie guilty) culture that still wants to have its Coke and drink it too. Evidenced by a steady decline in per capita consumption in carbonated soft drinks since 1998 coupled with the rise in alternatives like diet colas, teas and bottled water.

Unfortunately, Diet Coke's position as the anti-cola is the reason for its success and unquestionably is to the detriment of the original formula. Despite holding on to the top spot in the category with 42 percent, Coke has competition and cannibalization sipping away at its share more than ever before.

Obviously, I view the Coke bottle as half empty. I'll even take it a step further. While it may be a bold prediction, I believe its day to suffer a similar fate as competitor Pepsi will come.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Build a Friendlier Website


A good website should serve as a window into your business. People can go to them and learn some basic information and get your attention if they need to. They're pretty basic, yet very useful and powerful. However, a lot of websites are seemingly not built for human interaction. I'd like to start a list of some simple fixes (sans the expensive graphics and fonts) to make your website more human-friendly.

The first is to ditch the stock photos. If you have real people that work for you, then you should take pictures of them. When I see a website that uses stock photos, I immediately ask myself two questions. First, are they trying to hide something? Secondly, if they're using stock photos just because it's easier, what does that say about the quality of their work?

The second is to avoid meaningless jargon. To say that "company X provides marketing solutions for businesses who are looking to grow their customer bases and increase returns on their growth investments" doesn't exactly tell the reader who you are and why they should be looking at your site. When building your site, it's important to remember that just because you have unlimited words doesn't mean you should use them — "Goodbye," is always just one click away.

Lastly, don't make it difficult to be contacted. Names, email addresses, phone numbers, and a physical address should be easy to find. Larger business should keep it simple, too. Making people choose from 18 different phone numbers is a pain and likely creates as much work as it saves when people still choose the wrong one. And of course, without a timely and appropriate response, this entire point is rendered useless.

If your website is designed to do all the work, I'm positive that it cannot. But strategically, you may be missing the larger picture. Websites are meant for human consumption and need humans working behind them. For a brand, the goal should be directing them from the window to the door.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing. Please keep the list growing with your own tips for a better website in the comments section below.

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gatorade's Three for One Strategy Failing

Advertising Age recently published an interesting piece about Gatorade's struggle to reposition its brand into three unique drinks- prime, perform and recover.

According to the article, a big reason that the repositioning hasn't fully taken hold with consumers is because Gatorade's retail partners haven't exactly cooperated with their effort. Gatorade's gripe is that their full line of products have been are scattered throughout the store and not displayed in one place. In the article, Andrea Fairchild, Gatorade's VP of brand marketing laments the fact that "We can't change the entire retail landscape overnight."

Sounds like their trying anyhow. The key they believe is to educate retailers on the products and why they should be sold together.

However, I think consumers still might need educating on the new Gatorade. As a consumer, it difficult to understand why what one Gatorade used to be able to accomplish now requires three different ones.

The line extension strategy cannot work unless the previous branding is undone.

Monday, August 22, 2011

When Business Gets Personal

The expression is said often- it's not personal but it's just business. The chances are that the people who use this expression are not liars. It's really because most people trudge through their daily grind and to them, it really is just another resume, RFP or business plan to examine. Or perhaps it's another customer with a problem that needs a solution or the a supplier/buyer to negotiate with.

Of course, the expression can certainly be useful in that it can help ease the pain of failure or disappointment. All those needing employment now certainly know this.

But what if the expression was flipped and suddenly it's not just business, it's personal. Obviously, something that is personal requires a higher level of emotion labor. Although, it's that higher level of emotion labor that is necessary for doing work that's better than average- whether it be completing a project, meeting a deadline, pleasing an angry customer, meeting with a supplier or hiring people who are just as invested as you are.

Consider the work of a successful entrepreneur. Most new businesses are born out of a specific problem that an entrepreneur is able to recognize. But it's their impulse to internalize these problems which drive them to find and build a solution for the rest of the world.

Great things can happen when people take things personally. Even greater things can when they align themselves with people who take things as personal as they do.

What are you doing to nurture the emotion labor your employees invest in your company?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Groupon's Fatal Flaw

It was reported earlier this week that the beloved social-discounter Groupon is losing money. A lot of it actually. Even a little creative accounting couldn't transform a $113 million loss with an $80 million profit.

Speaking from a financial perspective, the author makes several excellent points- mainly, be profitable small before becoming big. A common sign that the owners are angling to cash out with an over inflated initial public offering. That's the game. Flip it to someone else willing to pay for the name. However, as a marketer, I think it's most interesting to understand why Groupon is not profitable, despite achieving scale and recognition as the leading brand.


However, the graph above is a great indication of why. It tells the story of Groupon's Sales per Merchant in the Boston area. Despite gaining more subscribers, more revenue and more merchants in the area, it's revenue per merchant is dropping. Thus, merchants are trying Groupon, likely seeking the misguided metric of an increase in traffic or attention. Groupon delivers but then the merchants discover the real effect it has on a brand.

That should be an obvious problem to any marketer. Groupon's position in the market is to sell businesses on a discounting strategy, which may bring about short-term benefits of increases in traffic; however, in the end prove the problem of a discounting strategy. Brands cannot make a living off of customers who only pay 50 percent; meanwhile, customers who only pay 50 percent will almost never pay 100 percent.

That's going to be impossible to overcome for Groupon. While it's built to help customers cash in on huge savings, their customers are businesses.

As always, thanks for reading, sharing and contributing your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Starbucks Cuts Off Its Customers

It's well known that coffee shops today have moved well beyond just places to order coffee and run. Cafe's have transformed into a "third place" between home and work; a place for meetings, working, relaxing, dates and generally spending a lot more time.

Of course, this didn't just happen by accident. This phenomenon is was created as the invention of marketers. The thought behind this innovation is simply if customers spend more time in the store then they'll spend more money at the store. Therefore, cafe's and bakeries are now designed to look and feel less like restaurants and more like living rooms and backyard patios- complete with big comfy couches, area rugs covering the floors, fireplaces warming the air and coffee filling real mugs and not paper cups.

Most of the credit for sparking this revolution in coffee consumption in America belongs to Starbucks. Without question, these innovations in where and how people enjoy their joe greatly contributed to differentiating the Starbucks brand from the coffee once consumed. Naturally, consumers were more than willing to swallow the higher prices because the experience was better or at least made them feel it.

It was a brilliant strategy that not only built the Starbucks brand but also an immeasurable number of followers. Which is why the story about Starbucks customers in New York City complaining about fellow customers "squatting" in the seats for too long is so interesting. It's a problem created by the fact millions of people live and work on an 18 mile stretch of land and there is likely not enough Starbucks to go around.

Yet, New Yorkers are certainly not people that take kindly to inconvenience. One customer commented in New Yorker-like fashion, "if there’s no more space to sit, they should get up and leave.” A contrarian might offer the tried and true adage of first come, first served. If you want a seat then get there earlier.

Oddly, the decision on a solution to this problem is being left to the individual store owners, leaving the door open for the troublesome potential of differentiation within its own brand. Further, the solution that some store owners have settled on is covering up the outlets used to keep customers wired to their computers. Although, I'm not sure this a good idea for a few reasons.

First, this could initiate the problem of creating cracks in Starbucks' brand consistency. Second, squatting is ingrained in the fabric of the brand and a custom largely their own creation. If they end that, what other reason will they give customers to pay $5 per cup?

Finally, I'm inclined to trust the original equation of more time spent in the Starbucks results in more money spent at Starbucks. Perhaps viewed over the course of one day this may not be true; however, viewed over the course of a month or a year, I believe the customer who treats Starbucks as that "third place" between home and work will spend more than the average customer. These so-called "squatters" are the ones that Starbucks is more than coffee to; it's a lifestyle and are likely their most valuable customers.

What do you think Starbucks should do about the problem of too many customers? As always, thank you for reading and contributing with comments on, suggestions for and sharing this site.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A "P'Zone" For Your Trouble


I was watching television yesterday and saw a very interesting advertisement for Pizza Hut. The ad said that if I was willing to "Like" Pizza Hut on Facebook or sign up to receive spam mail from the chain pizzeria that I would be entitled to a free 'P'Zone,' which is the calzone looking thing in the picture.

Slumped over in my chair, I shook my head and asked aloud what the hell these marketers are thinking about when they analyze the power of social media. How is executing a promotion that's the equivalent of begging for friends (or buying them) going to help the brand distinguish its position in a category that's nearly reduced to pure commodity? Is having a presence in my newsfeed enough to do so?

Perhaps it would help. However, a quick scan of Pizza Hut's Facebook posts will reveal otherwise; it's basically used as an avenue to distribute worthless content and pizza-related entertainment with the hope of getting anonymous friends (as opposed to real customers) to send them a virtual pat on the back- which has become habit and social custom among many in the crowd. There is very little real utility to the social tool and it's difficult to come up with a single reason why a virtual friendship with Pizza Hut might be necessary.

I'm sure the bargain hunting crowd and the marketers who hope to justify their commercially-flawed social experiments will be quick to rumble something about the delivery of coupons or Groupon-like deals on pizza.

However, this only serves to prove my argument and the flawed logic used too justify many social campaigns such as this one. If the social tool cannot work without using other tools like price discounting then perhaps it doesn't really work as well as advertised; just as if it requires a free 'P'Zone' to be called friends then maybe we aren't really friends.

Yet this is the game a lot of marketers are playing these days. These broken campaigns are justified not because of their impact on sales or market share but with completely new metrics created by the inventors of social tools and the people that push them in sales meetings. The new currency created for marketers to blindly chase are clicks, comments, likes, follows and something called impressions. Which might just be the real genius behind the invention called the social media campaign- it's fooling a lot of the marketers in the same way they used to fool consumers.

Only if there were less 'followers' among them.

As always, thank you for reading and commenting. I look forward to reading them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

But Why?

Who, What, Where, When, Why. Although, for marketers, the fifth "W" should be first because building your marketing strategy is entirely about answering the why.

A brand position must answer for the customer the question of why do you exist. Your advertising should convey this reason. To develop this, it's critical to understand the specific reasons why customers buy what they do.

Successful new brands possess this key insight. Therefore, they don't generate demand but simply reveal it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Most Interesting Guy in the Room

One sure fire way to become interesting to other people is to take a serious interest in them. Remember, the guy at the party or the bad date who only wants to discuss himself gets boring/annoying and easy forgetful very fast. Being "social" is a two way connection.

Let that be something to remember next time you or your brand hits the tweet button.

I sincerely thank you for reading and taking an interest in this blog.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

BlackBerry's Get Less Different

The Ontario-based smartphone maker appears to be losing it's heated battle for U.S. market share to competition from Apple's iPhone and Google's Android.

So I think it's interesting to note that BlackBerry is introducing new phones that more closely resemble the competition, as opposed to differentiating them from the competition. BlackBerry is introducing new touch screen only models to attempt to improve it's position with consumers who desire improved internet browsing on their phones.

However, in doing so, BlackBerry is sacrificing a position they dominated. Their keyboard is highly regarded for it's ease of typing, which is something that's commonly said to be sacrificed with the touchscreen typing.

What does everyone think? Do you believe sacrificing their keyboard in order to catch up in internet browsing is a smart branding move in the long run? What other battlefield can BlackBerry own? Also, feel free to share you smartphone experiences for both brands. As always, thank you for reading and sharing your insights.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Backwards Bud

According to AdAge, the design of the new Budweiser can is more youthful and contemporary than the last one, which will help the brewer attract younger drinkers.

Don't believe this because Bud has it backwards. The design of the can doesn't give "the brand" meaning. It's the brand that gives the design it's meaning. So the new can still says "your dad's beer."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Spark

When was the last time the spark needed to innovate came from looking at an income statement?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hype

Big ideas don't require big talk. Hype is both tiresome and setting the table for someone to wind up disappointed.

Be modest. And over-delivering on your promise will work to your benefit.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Transactionists

They're a lot of people who say their in sales or marketing when they're really not. It's not that they're liars; they're just a bit mistaken. What they really are are transactionists. They mistake sales for transactions. Transactions are quick and are made with a minimum effort or care by both parties.

On the other hand, true "sales" are more convincing. They require more effort, time, thought and care to make. Obviously, transactionists will tell you that this costs more too.

Technically, they're right. There is a higher cost involved. But their is also a higher return, resulting from that cost. Therefore, the extra work is really an investment.

Invest in something that will be remembered and it will no doubt be worthwhile.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is the NFL Brand Indestructible?

With the National Football League appearing to be on the cusp of a new collective bargaining agreement between its ownership and its principle labor force (football players), the football fans who pay the bills are preparing to take a deep a breathe any day now. Wait a minute, isn't that backwards? Shouldn't the NFL be begging the fans to come back after the implied threat to cancel the season? Despite taking them for an unwanted ride, I don't think the football fans ever left.

The National Football League risked losing the most by not not playing football in 2011. If that happened, millions of Americans would have to find another use for their 9 billion discretionary dollars- certainly a lot of money to lose. Meanwhile, the fans would trade potential boredom on Sunday's for more time and money. On the surface, it's an easy decision. However, humans are complex beings, especially when it comes to how they spend their dollar. For the most part, the fans have stuck to the league that chose to jeopardize a near certain 9 billion dollar gift for the hope of getting a little more out of the pot. That's one hell of a branding problem to have; customers so entrenched in the brand that if they willingly close their doors their customers will keep knocking anyway.

There should be a better way of doing business without dragging the customers and employees through the trenches- and some interesting theories have been proposed to that belief. But perhaps the NFL is willing to risk potential destruction to the brand because they too realize that it's nearly indestructible. The Shield is barely touched by multiple player arrests and conduct issues every year. It largely escapes the public scrutiny that athletes cheat the game by taking preforming enhancing drugs- despite playing a game where bodily harm is the norm and short recovery times are necessary for these athletes to stay on the field in order to make a living. Fans will even overlook self-made billionaires asking for and taking unreasonable amounts of public money from overburdened tax bases (or threatening to move the team) for their own private gain. And the Shield barely gets nicked when its labor force and retirees continually suffer from highly debilitating and paralyzing injuries sustained at work and consequently have a typical life span far shorter than what's considered normal among the general population today. That's because unlike the Shield they serve and protect, the bodies of its labor force, while built to be indestructible, always prove otherwise. It seems silly to think that we not only tolerate this, we justify it; simply for a game that serves to entertainment us.

The reason it's justified is beyond great branding. The NFL (and other sports) have learned to transform a game played into a culture. Instead of entertainment a professional team is as much a civil institution as it's a business. Through traditions and shared experiences customers develop deep and lastly emotional connections to the brand. Which is why us fans are happy to put up with all the crap that we do.

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

Good Enough

When is producing something that is just "good enough" every really going to be "good enough?"

People often settle for "good enough" on projects that are considered lower in priority. Although, if it's not a priority to you, why are you even doing in the first place?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Netflix Introduces a Plot Twist

Last week Netflix introduced a major plot twist to the movie watching habits of its customers. The movie subscription service announced that they would be raising the price of its unlimited subscription by sixty percent- up to $16 from the previous ten. Since news of the price hike broke, the company has been paying the steep prices itself, thanks to a vocal group of angry customers.

Rightfully so I believe. What customer wants to pay more than they have to for something? This is the risk a brand takes when it chooses to raise its prices by making a giant leap as opposed to taking incremental steps toward the new prices. The new price will naturally jump out and raise eyebrows- leading to brand's getting attention for all the unwanted reasons. So unless the brand can fully explain and justify the price shocks to its customers, then raising their prices in this manner is a considerable misplay of marketing strategy. That's a tough task for any product but especially so for a discretionary entertainment product such as movie rentals. Up to this point, I don't believe Netflix has explained this to their customers well enough. Citing their own costs is simply not enough either.

While it's an everyday occurrence that businesses justify raising (or setting) prices by analyzing their costs, I think its wrong to do so. Perhaps this is a secret among marketers, but customers simply don't care about your costs and have no interests in preserving your margins. Why should they? Their bottom line approach says that if you're business cannot produce a good or service at certain price, then that's you're problem to deal with. Instead of your costs, what actually drives a customer is value. At a certain price, can your brand deliver value that exceeds the cost. In the case of Netflix, when the price becomes a lot higher than it was overnight, the value delivered by the brand will suddenly feel greatly diminished.

Despite the brand's insistence, speculation is that Netflix is attempting to move from a DVD-based rental service to one that delivers streaming content, providing obvious benefits of lower costs and faster delivery times. Although this strategy would present some major hurdles for the brand. I'd caution that Netflix should really consider the consequences of giving up its leadership position so easily. The second part would be, are they sure that they will be the leader in the new streaming video category? Personally, I believe there is enough evidence that new mediums create new category's, which also require new brands.

Secondly, if this is a strategy that Netflix is considering, I would really question the execution of it. Is the best execution for converting DVD subscribers into streaming video subscribers really by raising prices and hoping they consider Netflix's other options, despite their immediate anger? Are there ways to incentivize customers to adopt streaming video without disincentivizing them to their current products?

It's going to be very interesting what happens. Movie watching is activity in which consumers have plenty of options. Do competitors like Red Box step up? Perhaps subscription movie channels (which can be DVR'd) step up and put pressure on Neflix. Or maybe the competition will come from somewhere else- by a brand not yet to be born.

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is Facebook Becoming Distracted?

On the surface, the recent agreement between Facebook and Skype seems to make sense if one is judging it with broad perspective that both sites are online tools that bring people together and help them communicate. However, the deal becomes a bit of a head-scratcher you analyze how each site is used very differently.

Skype is essentially a face-to-face conversation in real time- but with the added advantage of not having to be in the same room. Communicating via Facebook is actually very different. As opposed to real time communications, all messages on Facebook get replied to when the user gets around it. Furthermore, they're not tied to a webcam in order to do so.

Perhaps a good predictor of the results of this agreement is the chat function on Facebook. While it's much closer to the original Facebook mold, Facebook chat is in real time. Personally, I rarely use the function on Facebook and my threshold for tolerating video chats on Facebook would be much greater.

Furthermore, I believe strictly from a brand perspective that this new idea will have trouble taking off because different ideas need different brands. The convergence of unique ideas with unique brands is rarely successful. For Skype it's an attempt to extend it's reach to an enormous new population of users. Yet, for Facebook it feels like another line extension that is leading the brand further off course. Isn't it fitting that they could get so distracted.


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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Judged In The Court Of Public Opinion

I was completely ignorant of any facts of Casey Anthony criminal trial. I still am. However, after yesterday's public outcry following the verdict, I began unknowingly formulating perceptions and opinions about the case- despite not knowing any facts of the case.

After a couple minutes of processing the public outcry that followed the case, I was reminded of the fact that people don't need to know any facts (especially gained from firsthand experience) to have an opinion. This applies in all walks of life- from courtroom verdicts to meeting new people to making judgments about a brand.

A brand is nothing more than an opinion or thought of a person. Therefore, a marketer cannot tell people what to think or how to feel. They can only try to influence through a variety of tactics. Yet, even when the facts of their case stack up in their corner, not everyone will see it the same way. That is true every time.

Disclaimer: This post is simply making a statement about human psychology as it pertains to branding. In no way is it making a statement to indict or in defense of Casey Anthony. Apologies in advance to anyone who finds the comparison to be slightly insensitive.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hearing vs. Listening

Do people want to listen to you or maybe they just happen to hear you when your talking? Their is an obvious difference between the two and the answer often lies in what is being said and how it's being said. The trick to make people listen is to respect their time and attention by making personal, relevant and important to there lives.

Persuasive communications is often mistaken as a one way ticket but it's really not that different from everyday communication. If you expect to be listened to (and not just heard), you better have a reputation for delivering information that's deemed worth listening to.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Alternatives For Monetizing Linkedin


Inspired by the news that Twitter would be selling ads in your newsfeed, I suggested last week that it might be more beneficial for social sites and online-based content generators to charge their customers rather than relying on revenue from advertising. While that may sound like blasphemy to today's online user, I think in the long term it may be more efficient than pushing more ads on more people. Anyhow, I received some great feedback that sparked a couple of new ideas.

The success of LinkedIn's business model was repeatedly mentioned as something that should be emulated by other sites. However, the model is actually not new at all. In fact, it's very close to how traditional newspapers have made money for over a century. LinkedIn does charge some percentage of its users who desire the full-use of the site. The non-paying users are only allowed limited-use of the site. Additionally, LinkedIn has an advertising component to its business model. Despite its limited short-term success (a high initial public offering), I believe they're different opportunities to capitalize its position as the online home for professional networking, to make money and to make the site more social.

The basic outline starts with LinkedIn partnering up with other businesses who sell relevant products to its users. It could be anything from office supplies, flowers, lunches, thank you cards etc.

Lets say for instance that through LinkedIn you learn a colleague or friend received a promotion. You could go to a partnered retailer and get them a gift (or buy from a suggested). Maybe you had meeting or an interview and want to want thank that person while leaving a good impression going away. LinkedIn may help you find the right gift. Obviously, sales would be split up between the retailer and LinkedIn. Or why not offer lunch instead of simply asking to be introduced on the network.

I'm sure they're are plenty of other ways to monetize the site using the "gift plan." Maybe LinkedIn could "gift" free advice to young professionals which could be sponsored by a relevant company in the industry.

Social activity existed long before the internet. This engages the professional networks on LinkedIn in activities that are (actually) social and already doing offline. And it just seems like a more logical and seamless way to monetize a social activity than buying laundry detergent on Facebook.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Not Charge The Customer?

It was recently reported that Twitter is progressing on its plans to launch advertisements in users' feeds. According to Twitter executive Sean Garret, Twitter has "been talking about Promoted Tweets in the timeline since we launched Promoted Tweets.” And who can really blame them? Something has to keep the lights on at the social network that's home to more than 300 million users. But maybe there is another way to go about making money.

Advertising appears to be the automatic default for monetizing social sites and content-related businesses on the internet; however, I believe that in most cases executing such programs dramatically lowers the users' experience. Perhaps they should approach the problem in a different way, such as charging people who truly value the service for the right to use it.

When a customer is willing to pay for a product or service, they have decided that it has real value to them. It's worth both their time and money, which is always more difficult to part ways with. Oddly enough, a lot of startups have the opposite mindset. They make the service free and completely devalue its worth in order to grow it fast (and flip the company). But this short-term thinking creates a long-term problem. Therefore, paying for Facebook, Twitter, or even the news feels absurd because these organizations have been telling us all along that they provide nothing of value. In the end, the startups bank billions of dollars and then the real problem kicks in when someone is actually charged with making real money.

Instead of trying to reinvent a broken wheel, perhaps marketers should try to improve the user experience even more, giving the services a greater value that they can sell to consumers. Consider the examples of HBO, Sirius, and Pandora Radio as companies who have taken this different approach to their brand's value. Would you consider it worth paying a premium for online news if it respected your time and attention by getting rid of annoying advertisements, stupid keyword links, filtering out irrelevant junk stories, and exceeding today's current standard of news distributors?

Lastly, it may just be me, but I believe this is a much easier and realistic task for marketers to accomplish. It's obvious marketers have become very good at selling premium values for products and services to consumers despite the existence of cheaper alternatives. However, it's becoming just as obvious that marketers are not good at hiding the fact that a product or service has little to no value at all.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Customers Have Credibility. Crowds Don't.

Perhaps you heard, but McDonald's does not charge African-American customers more for their hamburgers. The fast food giant got stuck in the crosshairs of the latest internet firestorm and was forced to repeatedly remind people of this fact through its social media outlets and official press releases that silly sign was a fake. A fake, got it?

I wonder how many "you cannot be seriously asking this" tweets the flacks and social media types at McDonald's had to send out before they reached the most extreme heights of annoyance. Although McDonald's garnered a lot of media praise from the geeks who follow that stuff, siting this as a classic case of how social tools are effective at responding to crisis swiftly and directly. Although, I would offer this counterpoint. I believe that the McDonald's situation is a textbook example for exactly the opposite argument - social media contributes to creating such silliness as much as it's a useful communications tool.

If McDonald's spent even a single minute of their time dealing with upset internet crowds, then it was at least a minute too long. However, not only did McDonald's turn to social media in the wake of it's internet buzz, they turn to it everyday. Companies listen. They monitor sites daily to see what people are saying about them. I believe this is just as wasteful.

I wonder how often they learn something new monitoring Twitter and Facebook. Does monitoring the activity on the internet (and the opinions surrounding their brand) really tell them something they couldn't deduce themselves? Probably not. I'd argue that it's highly likely that the thoughts of consumers will reflect that of its employees. Walk into any workplace meeting. If the employees are visually excited to be at work then it's likely customers will feel the same about spending money there.

Secondly, how does listening to disenchanted customers and responding in an underwhelming manner actually solve the issue at hand? Sure, social media can help in the discovery phase; however, the real work should be directed at resolving the issue that caused the complaint and not just acknowledging it.

Finally, I seriously wonder if a brand can be severely damaged by someone or something which has zero credibility itself. Sure, despite its silliness, there were pockets of people took the altered photo for it's face value. Yet, if the technology is as powerful as it's claimed to be, viral topics become become discussed away from the web. Therefore, shouldn't word spread about how the picture was doctored just as fast?

The notion that brands should constantly listen to and respond to the snap judgments of anonymous crowds is partially responsible for creating these ridiculous weekly internet dust ups. Meanwhile, marketers place little emphasis on preventing even the smallest varieties from occurring in the first place.

This blog post first appeared in a slightly different form on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog.