Saturday, April 30, 2011

Idea Sale...100 % Off

Do you need help building a strong brand for you're small business? If so, I am going to start making myself available to help business owners on an individual basis.

Just email me the name of your business, a little bit of background and your contact info. I will reply with some pertinent questions and some ideas to try. It's that easy; and it's 100 percent free of charge for the first ten businesses to contact me.

As always, thank you for reading. I'm truly honored to be considered a worthwhile resource of marketing information.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Weight Watchers Discovers A New Demo?

With almost a third of our citizens considered to be obese and half considered overweight, America is heavier than its ever been. Such a disturbing trend will create some serious problems of course. But where some may see problems, enterprising individuals might see opportunity. America's rapidly expanding waistline translates into a increasing population in the target market for the weight loss products, which encompasses everything from gym memberships, to work out DVD's, to fad diets and reality television shows.

The commercial diet plan Weight Watchers is a fixture in this world of weight loss world. Weight Watchers, along with its smaller competitors Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig, generate the majority of the $3.3 billion commercial weight loss plan category that has been built by the wallets of women.

Naturally, they're trying to change that. Following in the footsteps of Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig's celebrity backed campaigns for male weight loss plans, Weight Watchers is putting $10 million of marketing muscle behind its campaign for men. The ads are promoting Weight Watchers' male-specific website, launched quietly in 2007, rather than its meeting-based service. According to Chief Marketing Officer Cheryl Callan, since launching the website, "we've seen a lot more male success stories come though and that inspired us to think we have an opportunity here."

They're plenty of fat men walking around so Ms. Callan assertion of opportunity in the male weight loss market seems logical. The opportunities are just not for Weight Watchers.

Weight Watchers was able to grow into a $1.46 billion company through a strong demographic focus on women. While it may be logical to say, "if it works for women then it will work for men," customers prove everyday that logic doesn't matter in a cluttered marketplace. Weight Watchers brand doesn't have the authenticity with guys that male targeted brands like P90X or Crossfit do (although different products).

In order to take advantage of opportunities in a different market, Weight Watchers needs a different product and a different brand. By extending their core brand they didn't do either. Compare the male targeted site with the traditional female site. If the website is any indication, it appears to be the same product. Meanwhile, adding "for men" to the name isn't a new brand.

In business, the fast and easy money might look good in the short term, but like a fad diet, the brand eventually pays in the end.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Google Going Bad?

It came out last week that Google missed Wall Street's forecast for it. When pleasing the Street becomes the goal, it's impossible to always win. As I have said before, I believe this to be a sign of things to come.

The Bogus Branding of ExxonMobil

It doesn't matter how many times I watch their phony math and science advocacy ads; I will never have an ounce of warm and fuzzy feelings toward ExxonMobil. It's more bogus corporate responsibility branding that amounts to nothing for ExxonMobil and does nothing for the self-righteous brand gurus pitching the concept. Frankly, the overt dishonesty is insulting.

The latest advertisements are promoting ExxonMobil's support of the National Math and Science Initiative, a worthwhile cause that the corporation committed $125 million to in 2007, earning it the title of "founding sponsor." Nevertheless, it's incredibly deceitful to run a campaign that aligns the values of a hardworking student or a generous teacher with that of an oil company whose principle interest is pleasing investors. Perhaps we should consider the ad to only be reflective of ExxonMobil in terms of the price they paid to be socially "responsible." If so, it cost them a promise of $125 million in 2007. That same year, they earned $40.6 billion, a record profit for any corporation in United States history and what amounts to $1,287 of profit for every second of the year. Do the math and ExxonMobil's hat-hanger of a contribution equates to one third of a percentage point (.003) of their profit on the year. Yet, the public is supposed to believe that educating future generations is something ingrained in the fabric of the company. Spare me the branding nonsense.

Oil is a very dirty, but a very necessary business. I get that. We all benefit every day from the usefulness of oil as an energy source and a raw material in our finished products. Oil is a vital part of the planet we live on and ExxonMobil is good at finding it and getting it for us. Please say that instead. Don't lie and feed the public the BS branding line that you're "taking on the world's toughest energy challenges" if all you're doing is preparing future generations to inherit them.

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

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cisco Sacrifices The Flip

On April 4th via a memo to employees, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers came clean and admitted that while under his direction, Cisco has lost accountability with customers and shareholders and that the company will need greater discipline and focus to earn it back. That "discipline" came last week in the form of Cisco shedding its Flip camcorder brand.

This sudden change of direction couldn't have been what Chambers had envisioned in 2009 after Cisco capped off a string of acquisitions in the consumer realm with the purchase of Pure Digital Technologies, the maker of the Flip, for $590 million. But even then, there were people questioning the internet networking giant's logic.

After the acquisition, the New York Times wrote "such a consumer play is still a curious one for Cisco. The company tends to operate in the background, providing products that companies use to link phones and computers to the Internet." According to one analyst quoted recently, "the Street never fell in love with Cisco's consumer strategy." So much so that Kim Caughey Forrest of Fort Pitt Capital hopes "that there are more changes pending" and is "really disappointed" if dropping the Flip is Cisco's only move to break its consumer ties.

Cisco's portfolio of consumer brands also includes Linksys networking equipment, Scientific Atlanta set-top boxes, Umi home videoconferencing and even extensions into digital stereos.

Despite his broad vision, Chambers, in typical C-level fashion, pinned Cisco's troubles on poor "execution" and not poor strategy. Naturally, marketers have been quick to doubt this overused line. Although, in Cisco's case, I actually believe the brand strategy is (was) sound.

Much like a P&G or a United Technologies, Cisco managed to keep the individual brands in tact. They didn't combine them under one name or create sub brands that eventually cannibalized one another. Yet, they kept a "portfolio" of different brands that each had a unique meaning to the consumer.

The Flip video camera was the category leader with 23 percent of all U.S. sales last year, ahead of competitors Sony (22 percent) and Kodak (12 percent). Linksys is a category leader in home networking and Scientific Atlanta is a strong name in the set-top box category.

But I wonder if Cisco isn't truly a case of poor execution by a company managing consumer brands for the very first time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Little Things Add Up

Did you know that UPS trucks don't make left turns? I didn't.

The reasons are efficiency and safety. Drivers who avoid left turns on busy roads sit in less traffic. And fleets of big trucks not crossing multiple lanes everyday is much safer for everyone on the road. Over the course of a year, a little thing like not making left turns pays off in a savings of over 20 million miles.

This discovery is a perfect example to show that it's the finest details that create the big picture of a brand.

This morning I had a very reliable source (friend who works at UPS) dispute the validity of this statement. He says UPS trucks turn left all the time. Well, it was a nice thought at least.

What's a 'Syracutie' to Do?

For small businesses still in their infancy, every decision can feel magnified and carry the feeling that the entire fate of the business is at stake. It's a familiar feeling for most entrepreneurs. Now Alyson Shontell, a young entrepreneur who created the tee shirt company Syracutie, can empathize. In a blog post last week, she chronicled the fascinating story of her start-up and the difficult choice she's facing with managing her trademarked name. Shontell's problem is that Syracutie was created to capitalize on the natural market of students at Syracuse University; however, the University became less than supportive (threatening with a possible lawsuit) of their alumna's company if she doesn't hand over the trademark. Feeling "defeated," Shontell is considering whether to "give the university my trademark and become the sole licensor or hold strong and keep trying to sell Syracutie myself?"

However, with two strategically strong options, defeat should be the last thing Shontell should be feeling. By giving the trademark to the University, the door to its target demographic swings wide open. The Syracutie name is sold on and around campus in traditional orange and blue and Shontell can sit back and collect a healthy share of the profits. With this option, the logic is that it's better to share your trademarked idea or brand with the masses rather than protect your small piece of the world. Isn't the fact that an idea spread to thousands of students who wear a label created by an entrepreneur worth something? I think so.

Her other option would be to challenge her alma mater. By pushing forward with ownership of the trademark, the Syracutie brand could develop a deeper identity than tee shirts and hoodies for co-eds; one that represents young, strong, and independent women who are unafraid to challenge the establishment. The clothing brand not endorsed by Syracuse University is powerful idea that appeals to a young psychographic. It's similar to the phenomenon of Four Loko flying off store shelves after it was banned by government regulators. A rebel brand done right is often one that sells.

I believe that Shontell's Syracutie can find great success with either route if she trusts her marketing instincts. As for a University that has the audacity to attempt to trademark the color orange, they should be extra embarrassed to claim that anyone, much less one of their own, might infringe on their marks.

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Advertising to Inmates is a Marketing Crime

The Eire County Holding Center in Buffalo is going to start capitalizing on the attention of its captive audience by turning it into bonus income from advertising revenue. Aided by a digital advertising services company, the jail is going to sell space on its high-definition information televisions to, who else, defense attorneys and bail bondsmen. The program is being dubbed — what else — “captive ads,” and will place one screen near the booking area and another in a lobby to be seen by friends and families waiting to visit inmates. The cost is $40 per week with a one-year commitment. The head of the ad services company told the media that "about half" of the available space has been sold and that the program will net the county between "$8,000-$15,000 a year."

In my opinion, "captive ads" are in poor taste and the branding strategy behind the program will reflect as much. The strategic pitfall to captive ads is summed up by the poplar aphorism coined by the late Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. That medium, designed to capitalize on the attention of people in a vulnerable state, clearly sends the message of being the criminal-defense equivalent to ambulance chasing. It's a medium that poorly reflects the truly valuable service an attorney is sworn to provide for their clients. Those that choose to market their expertise in this manner are committing a branding crime.

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

Friday, April 1, 2011

Great Marketers or Terrible Journalists?

I know I speak for many people when I say that I am very turned off by what I see on 24 hour cable news networks. It's understandable for anyone to be troubled by the specifics of war, the far reaching destruction of an oil spill, the human pain behind foreclosures and factory closings and the inexplicable tragedy nature sometimes deals us. However, people can accept the truth. The truly troubling part is how cable news chooses to report it.

Cable news is not designed to simply run down the day's top stories but rather design "programming" with a desired emotional response in mind. All the news is told from a specific point of view and packaged for people who share the same views. Therefore, the news is seen as being a single voice of a group wanting to be heard, instead of just being the "news." It seems so wrong for a business that was invented to report fact.

Or maybe cable news is really just well executed marketing in action? Cable News appears to share the same elements that marketers celebrate most; tell a story that appeals to and organizes a following and will trigger a response or action.

Perhaps the difference is in how each tells their story. Cable news channels work more like poorly executed marketing; to achieve results they must blur the lines between fact and fiction and confuse true perspective with a point of view.