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.