Monday, December 31, 2012

Best & Worst of 2012

How about a little shameless brand punditry (but with depth, duh!) to close out 2012?  In true pundit style, below are my comments about other people's comments about ads from this past year.  

AdAge recently published their favorite advertising campaigns from 2012.  My favorite among them is Nike's "Find Your Greatness" campaign.  The campaign launched with a jogging themed ad that  features a chubby boy running down the road toward the camera.  The advertisement perfectly personifies Nike's "everyone is an athlete" brand philosophy.  Furthermore, the simplicity, memorability and a motivating element bolster its greatness. 

Additionally, I enjoy the McDonald's Canada "Your Questions" campaign, particularly the ad that delves into the sourcing of its french fries.  But it's a lot of information to digest.  McDonald's could build an offline campaign around these videos that highlights its attributes like "we only cook with vegetable oil."  There could be ten more great ads in that one.  Still, McDonald's should be cautious about running on healthy foods platform because that's a battle they will rarely win.
The rest of them, for one reason or other, I'm less of an admirer.  While the popular DirecTV "don't end up" campaign is entertaining, its message is lost in repetitive story, not enhanced by it.  The frustrations of dealing with cable companies is only briefly mentioned in the beginning and soon becomes an afterthought to a slapstick story.   

Speaking of wild, the Old Spice "Muscle Music" campaign remains wildly creative but completely fails to even hint at points of attribute differentiation.  Unfortunately, they've been beating that drum for way too long and keep receiving industry acclaim for it.

Contrary to AdAge, Adweek published their top twenty brand fails this week.  It surprisingly included category-leading blue-chip brands Amazon, Wal-Mart, Ikea, KitchenAid and Stubhub, as well as strong niche leaders Popchips, the Gap, Burger King, Bic and Huggies.

What really stood in Adweek's analysis is how major brands messed up.  Perhaps this fact is due in part to major brands, for better or for worse, receiving more scrutiny from publications like Adweek.  However, its soft evidence to the extreme importance of a good strategy.  Despite their well-publicized tactical goofs, consumers will soon forget because staying in the mind requires consistent and repeated contact of a unique proposition.  Therefore, no one will easily forget who the world's largest bookstore is unless Amazon lets them.      

Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's A Slippery Slope to The Fiscal Cliff

A couple of words about the fiscal cliff.  The fiscal cliff its actually a symptom of larger problem in this country.  With intense political marketers being amplified by 24-hour cable news, the population that consumes it is trained to focus on the triumph of an ideology rather than the prosperity of a nation. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If Starbucks Can Do It...

Howard Schultz took people by surprise today when he directed Starbucks' employees in all 120 District of Columbia area shops to write "come together" on the customers' coffee cups.  The message is a statement directed at the politicians in Washington, urging them to fix the pending series of tax increases commonly being referred to as the "fiscal cliff."

Although most people are focusing on Starbucks rightfully poking our political leaders who seemingly cannot bring themselves to work together anymore, I see a great marketing opportunity being missed.  

For the next two days, Starbucks is mandating employees to write a hand-written message to customers, most of whom are not Congressmen.  Still, there is great power in the hand-written message.  I think more brands should empower their employees to hand write messages to the customers they serve.  It does have an effect; I will never forget when a Chiptole worker drawing a :) on the container.  

If the product inside the package is personalized, then why not allow the person responsible for making it so to add their own special touch to the package?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Soft Ads

Earlier this month, I shared an Ad Age column that questioned the usage of marketers selling emotion though in their advertising.  I think this is a good rule of thumb for brands.  

A brand's advertising should sell the facts.  They should explicitly say why your brand is better.  It's during the buying and using of a product or service that brands can implicitly connect with customers.  That's the time to sell the intangibles your brand can deliver. 

Thank you for reading and I wish everyone a wonderful holiday.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Crosstown Rebrand

The goal of rebranding a product or service is to change the way people think about it.  To do so, marketers can change product fundamentally or they can give the appearance of a change.  A fundamental change is a lot of work but certainly necessary in some cases.  A lot of marketers simply settle for presenting consumers with the of appearance of change.  However, the danger of doing so it their effectiveness of changing perception in the long-term is usually null.  Soon enough, consumers will eventually discover that the product is no different.

I'd like to present a recent rebrand that is admittedly close to my heart.  In the city of Cincinnati, the is one basketball game that is hyped up more than any other game each and every season. Known as the Crosstown Shootout, it's the annual basketball game played between Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati. 

I'll try to explain why any of this would matter. The game was first played in 1927 and became in annual tradition in 1946.  So, the game has been played longer than most Cincinnatians can remember.  The game is between the two biggest universities in the city.  Also, the universities are only separated by a couple miles.  Therefore, extra attention paid to the result of the game because the opponent is such a familiar one.

Suffice to say, there is a lot of natural hype surrounding the game.  The Crosstown Shootout doesn't need any hyping up from marketers.  It's always a very intense and highly-competitive game.  

That intensity will often bring out the very best in two competitors who dig deep to give everything they have toward a goal.  It's what makes rivalry games like the Crosstown Shootout so great.

But the opposite can also happen.  And it did happen in 2011.  The pressure and intensity brought out the worst in otherwise good people and the game ended with an ugly brawl.  Sadly, the on-court fight earned the Crosstown Shootout more attention than its ever received before, embarrassing two great institutions like never before.

The result was, in my opinion, a superficial rebranding of the Crosstown Shootout.  The name was changed to the Crosstown Classic.  A branding firm designed a flashy new logo.  The game was moved to a neutral off campus site.  A charitable beneficiary was added.  The 2012 Crosstown Classic was all about creating the appearance of change.          

Although, it's worth noting charity was already part of the Crosstown Shootout.  This fact was just never publicized as it should have been during the national broadcast of the basketball game.

Unfortunately, I'm a little lost as to how a museum visit and monetary donation "embodies values both universities share and helps create a new culture around the game," as the former President of the University of Cincinnati Dr. Gregory Williams put it.      

Real change looks more like the student governments of both schools collaborating with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cincinnati.  Or an annual Crosstown Shootout alumni game with the teams playing for charity.  Or current participants collaborating on youth basketball camp to take place the week of the game.  Personally, I think these changes are a truer embodiment of the values of sportsmanship, respect and community.  

Lastly, in order for perceptions to change, it's necessary for the values of each University to actually receive as much as airtime as the guy dumping a mound of cheese on a plate of chili.      

Friday, December 14, 2012

The First 11 Months Wasn't Long Enough

Did you hear the news? In the days leading up to Christmas, Macy's will stay open 24 hours.  Of course I was surprised to read this but it turns out I really shouldn't have been; Toys R Us has been making a habit of staying open around-the-clock at Christmas, having done so the past two years. 

Naturally, I think that's insanity. The argument that Christmas is a scared season but its true meaning is completely lost in our over-commercialized culture is certainly a valid one.  However, my argument is that this move demonstrates just how sad retail has become.

For retailers, this season is just as sacred as for Christians, albeit for a completely different reason.  Sadly, these thirty or so days are the tipping point to their income statements.  When you focus on that fact, it's actually really pathetic.

I cannot think of a more fitting symbol of desperation than Macy's and Toys R Us pulling the literal equivalent of an all-nighter before a final exam.  Just like the scrambling student cramming for the test at the end of the year, the outlook is rarely a favorable one.

What could retailers do to make the Christmas shopping season the icing on the cake as opposed to the flour and the yeast?  I think the answer could be on the sales floor.

I walked into a variety of retail stores this week and came away with one major observation - most salespeople have almost zero training in sales.  Every salesperson I encountered this week uttered the same opening line; "can I help you find anything?"  It's the go-to line idle salespeople beg to ask even though, a quick "no thanks, I'm just looking" instantly kills any further interaction.

So what could shopping be like if retailers taught salespeople something more than proper folding techniques?

Perhaps a salesperson might introduce him or her self by name and shake your hand.  They might look them in the eye or offer a sincere compliment.  Then they might ask if you're looking for anything in particular or who you are shopping for.  If the answer is anything other than no, that salesperson is already halfway to sale.  But if the get a standard no thanks, they might offer to show them the latest products in the store.  They might show them a favorite designer.  They might offer a tour of the store. They might offer them a bottle or water while they look around.  Finally, they might offer them a business card as the interaction comes to an end.
Although that may sound over-the-top considering how retail sales are thought of today, I actually experienced the owner of a store bow out after offering a nonchalant "can I help you?"  Only after prying, I discovered he owned the place.   

I know I probably sound crazy talking about enthusiastic, well-trained people in the retail sector.  But to me, it’s certainly not crazier than staying open round-the-clock and officially killing off what's left of employee moral.

Try something different and they might actually sell something during the first 11 months of the year.  That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Free Stuff

I just want to share a couple loyalty marketing tactics that I've run into this week.  The first one is from the beloved Cincinnati staple food, Skyline Chili.  Upon purchasing a gift card for a someone, a friend of mine told me that the restaurant gifted him with certificates for two free chili 3-ways.  What better way to get that customer back into the store or help them give an even better gift. 

The second is at my local Kroger deli.  Even though I always order the same exact turkey, in the same exact amount and cut exactly the same way,  they still offer me a free sample every time.  That free sample is just one of those little things that doesn't go unnoticed by its customers. 

Little gestures like these matter a lot to a brand that's also selling something intangible.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why The Focus On Soft Attributes?

Brand expert and co-originator of the concept of positioning, Al Ries, recently wrote a column explaining why marketers would be better served to promote the hard attributes of a brand, as opposed to soft attributes such as their feelings of emotions.  Or actually telling them how they should feel.

In support of his argument, I'll add that his point that a hard attribute is reinforced every time the product or service is consumed, whereas a soft attribute is not.  How the consumer feels really depends more on the mood of the consumer than anything else. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Where Tesco Went Wrong?

 News broke this week that the British grocery giant Tesco is halting its original plan for expansion into the United States.  According to officials at Tesco, the expansion plans would go through a "review of options" because it's "delivering acceptable shareholder returns on an appropriate timeframe in its current form."

That current form is the Fresh & Easy brand.  Fresh & Easy is described as a small neighborhood market that sells fresh foods at affordable prices.  Tesco moved into the United States in 2007, opening its first Fresh & Easy store in Northern California and then expanded down the state and into Nevada and Arizona over the past five years.  The chain operates 199 stores.

I must disclose that I've never shopped at a Fresh & Easy store.  In fact, I've never even been within a thousand miles of a Fresh & Easy store.  Yet, a couple of things jump out to me where Tesco might have gone wrong with its United States expansion.

The first is the name.  Fresh & Easy is simply a terrible name.  While it may describe the brands' two principle attributes, it does so using two very forgettable and undefined cliches.  At least to the American consumer,  Fresh & Easy sounds like a brand name for kitty litter.  Tesco should have picked a more unique brand name not already in the American lexicon.

Secondly, Fresh & Easy's "neighborhood market" concept places it dangerously in the middle of the market.  Thus, Fresh & Easy is neither a full supermarket with a complete offering for your household and or a get-in-and-get-out convenience store.  Similarly, in the grocery category, there is competition at both ends of the market - from the higher end with Whole Foods and The Fresh Market and from the lower end with Wal-Mart, Safeway and Kroger.

Tesco was close in the United States but ultimately failed because they went where the competition already was.  With a little tighter focus, Tesco is close to developing a new category that they can dominate.  Instead of selling fresh foods traditionally, Tesco could be the first to exclusively sell fresh and already prepared food.  That's a niche that every supermarket currently dabbles in, but no one owns- at least not yet. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Couple Bites From The Apple Brand

There have been a couple of new ads from Apple that I have really liked a lot recently.  The first is in the latest editions of Time Magazine and The New Yorker and is promoting the new iPad mini.  Obviously, the ad's message is about the convenience that a miniature iPad can offer.

Until I saw this ad, I had questions about the strategy behind Apple introducing a smaller iPad that would certainly cannibalize sales of the original.  After seeing it, I realized that the original might just be too big, especially if the consumer is primarily using it as a way to view content.  Unlike its predecessor, the iPad Mini is much easier to carry, will fit better into crowded purses and is easier to hold and use in crowded places like subways.

The second spot I enjoyed was Apple's "Orchestra," which is promoting the background noise canceling feature on the iPhone 5.  I remember hearing a lot of negative buzz about the newest features when the iPhone 5 was first introduced.  One that particularly stands out is the relocation of the headphone jack from the top of the phone to the bottom.  With all the criticism the latest iPhone model received, I was surprised that Apple didn't run this type of ad earlier.  Even though the phone function seems secondary to many iPhone users, in my opinion, this feature seems to live up to the innovation standards that Apple has set for itself.  Naturally, I won't be surprised when it appears on all the latest smartphones next year.