Sunday, June 30, 2013

Total Recall

It's never good publicity for a company when a high profile employee (and football players definitely qualify as high profile) is charged with murder.  But that's the crisis that the New England Patriots and the National Football League currently find themselves fighting.  

The Patriots deservedly earned some praise for announcing that this weekend, July 6-7, they will accept all no. 81 Aaron Hernandez jerseys in exchange for a new jersey of a different Patriots player. 

This is a great first step toward repairing the damage done.  But I wonder if a two day exchange period is long enough.  A longer exchange window will do two things; it will lengthen the period of goodwill and it will get more negative advertising off the streets.  In the long run, it will be less expensive and will also make for a less taxing weekend. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Impersonating Apple

In Microsoft's latest advertisement, which compares the Windows Tablet to the iPad, the software giant attempts to give us its best Apple impersonation.  Using the voice of Siri and signature Apple's clean white backdrop, Microsoft picks apart the iPad's features.   

However, as the ad closes with several suspicious still frames, astute consumers might notice a few things about this ad that are very un-Jobs like.

A limited time offer

Limited Time Offer
Apple, which traditionally prices products at the top of the market in order to convey a higher value, uses a consistent price.  In every instance, the price advertised is the price paid.  It's clear, simple and clean.  Notice that Microsoft takes a different approach.  The ad's claim of a better product isn't reinforced by the price tag, which is also subject to change.

Layers of branding 

Through the first 28 seconds of the ad, I thought I knew who was advertising.  Then came this frame.

It's only available at
So it's the Microsoft tablet, but consumers have to go to to buy one?  It's both confusing branding and misguided distribution, as consumers cannot try it in the store beforehand.   

Synonym for Microsoft
The second layer of branding piled onto this product is Windows.  Microsoft first introduced the Windows operating system almost thirty years ago, in 1985.  They've put it in everything from smartphones used today to the clunky desktop computers that were relics even a decade ago.  Windows has taken so many forms, it's really just a meaningless name now.  New categories require products with new brand names.  Piling on a name just because it's familiar sounding does nothing for it.

Microsoft's impersonation of Apple is meant to degrade its competitor; however, it's strategy like this that make themselves look silly and contribute to the market share results like these 

Friday, June 21, 2013

When The Going Gets Tough

Lance Armstrong always felt too good to be true. Our once unstoppable hero, seemingly strong enough to persevere through the gravest of circumstances and still come out on top, is no longer our hero, but merely a fraud instead.  That awesome real-life fable we would to tell our kids one day suddenly morphed into one more cautionary tale.   

Nike is a loyal bunch.  In the past, they've held court with Kobe Bryant through allegations of rape made against him, stood by Tiger Woods in spite of scandalous infidelity to his wife and reunited with Michael Vick after he served a prison sentence for dog fighting. Thus, troubling times are nothing new for the living symbols of Nike.       

Yet our hero Lance was not shown the same mercy.  Nike, who previously cut ties with Lance Armstrong, recently severed its connection to Livestrong, the cancer organization that Armstrong started.  Nike, who raised over $100 million for organization, will not renew its partnership with Livestrong, which runs through 2014.

Nike has more than proven that endorsement deals can be a roll of the dice.  But the company, who in the 1980's bet its entire future on Michael Jordan, continually demonstrates that they have the stomach for the gamble.  However, in this instance, I wonder if they're folding a little too soon.      

Livestrong stands for something far more important than sneakers that make us feel good about ourselves; it's a symbol for the monumental fight, down to one's very last breath, to beat cancer.  It transcends the realm of sport.  Therefore, it shouldn't be left for dead because it turns out that its founder was actually human - both in his extraordinary perseverance and his incredible hubris.      

A long time ago I wrote that celebrity endorsements are fragile marketing strategies.  If a pitchman can be replaced so easily, doesn't that provoke the idea that the story being told is at best an understatement and at worst a complete fabrication?        

Nike, through Lance Armstrong, sold us spirit and a will to keep fighting.  But, by walking away from Livestrong at this moment, when things look the bleakest, makes the past feel like Nike brand window dressing.  It feels like another case of fraud.

Nike is missing a fantastic opportunity to prove that they actually possess the true character of a hero.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Things I Hate About A Brand I Love

Everyone loves Chipotle.

While that statement may be a bit of an exaggeration, it gets to the heart of the love/hate relationship that I maintain with the brand.  I love their burritos. I just hate the wait that's required to eat one.  

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.  During my most recent visit to Chipotle, I noticed two customers step out of line and leave the restaurant in frustration after experiencing another agonizing delay.  I feel like recently I've seen this happen much more frequently; would-be customers are saying that a half-hour wait for a burrito just isn't worth it.

Even though I decided to stay for my chicken bowl, my dinner didn't come without making some accommodations.  I've learned that trying to go there during normal dinner hours (between 7pm-8pm) is hopeless; so in a feeble attempt to avoid a long wait, I delayed my food run until 9 pm, only to wind up suffering through a 28 minute wait in line. I understand that it's highly possible that "my Chipotle" may be more heavily trafficked than the average location, but I think it might be wise for  Chipotle to examine its ordering process.

Online ordering:  As a customer, it's incredibly frustrating to watch meals being made for people who aren't standing in line.  They can get away with this when the restaurant isn't busy, but, when there is a line, the burden falls on customers waiting in it.  I draw the comparison to motorists who wait until the last inch of road to merge before a lane ends.  In each situation, the heavier the traffic is, the more it makes sense for people to take advantage of the situation, even if it's at the expense of others.     

Options:  Choice is the enemy of speed.  Naturally, the more decisions a customer is asked to make, the more stops there will be along the way.  While Chipotle's menu hasn't changed much through the years, the proliferation of menu items like kids meals, brown rice, handmade margaritas and tofu (coming soon) adds complexity for the employees behind the counter as well as the customers stepping up to it.  Although the proliferation of menu items are viewed by many as valuable new revenue streams for a company that is quickly maxing out on new store growth, the trade off of providing slower service to its customers is a major sacrifice to make.  This is an interesting dynamic to watch: Chipotle, a company that has valued sustainable sourcing of its ingredients from day one, appears to be caught up in Wall Street's unsustainable, scale-faster growth model.

Out of orders: The giant, red, emergency stop button of the Chipotle assembly line is pushed whe they run out of an item. It brings the operation to a screeching halt.  During a recent visit with a friend, I ate alone while he waited almost 15 minutes for the chicken to be replenished.  In the past, I’ve waited while the rice was being prepared.  It's obvious that the employees are spread thin and cannot keep up during the rush; one needs to look no further than the drink stations, garbage cans, table tops and bathrooms to see this happening firsthand.

Ironically, McDonald's, who once owned a majority stake in Chipotle, recently announced that it's adopting a dual point ordering system to relieve the its own kitchen chaos.  Perhaps the efficiency experts at McDonald's will pass along something for Chipotle to emulate with its own dual point system. 

Until then, it might be fun to put on our industrial design hats and brainstorm some solutions.  Keep in mind that a key ingredient to the Chipotle brand is preparing all orders under the supervision of the customer (with the exception of online orders).

Obviously, Chipotle cannot serve food that isn't prepared; therefore, expanding or finding efficiencies in the grill and prep area would be a priority.  Nothing will improve speed if they keep running out of food.      

Moreover, the final stop on the assembly line, the cash register, is the second place I would look to find efficiencies.  This final step has the potential to be the most time consuming, as the cashier is responsible for accepting payments, grabbing drink cups, chips and possibly making change.  For this reason, breaking this step down and adding a second register makes a lot sense.  Orders would be assembled with extras like chips, dips and drinks, and then handed to customers, who would bring them to a separate bay of registers to quickly check out.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing.  Feel free to make contribute your own Chipotle related bugaboos (early nominees include an inconsistent product experiences and a recent shift to cheaper utensils) as well as proposing your own suggestions on how to improve the speed and overall experience.  P.S.  I would love to hear insights from any current or former Chipotle employees and actual industrial designers.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rewrite The Ending

Why not send a follow up thank you to all candidates who apply for the job?  If you're in sales, why not send them to all the prospects you pitch, even the ones that don't buy from you?

What this does is end the interaction on a positive note. It dramatically changes how the story is remembered and will be told in the future.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Skeptical About DiGiorno's Strategy

It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno's.

That simple but effective tagline has been hammered into our brains for almost 20 years.  The message is that DiGiorno frozen pizza is the premium pizza in the frozen food aisle.  It's so good that one might mistake it for a pizza from an actual pizzeria.

But despite DiGionro's insistence on selling frozen pizza with a strong resemblance to the pies cooked up at pizzerias, this new DiGiorno advertisement is for a supposedly even more premium line of frozen pizza, aiming to convince "skeptics" of that resemblance with a "crispier and preservative-free crust" as well as a new sauce.

However, I wonder if this extension is essentially an admission that the original DiGiorno product is antiquated.  Why keep it around when it's not the closest thing to delivery that a consumer will find in the frozen food aisle?

It's a classic example of a brand trying to offer something to satisfy everyone.  Nevertheless, the more they employ this strategy, the more the brand's meaning will evolve from premium frozen pizza to just plain frozen.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Little Promises

About a month ago, I was browsing for a dress shirt online.  I decided to check out the website Bonobos after noticing a lot of chatter among Facebook friends about the company. 

Upon visiting the site, I was immediately asked for my email address, just to be granted to right to look through inventory on the site.  Even though I find this practice annoying, I entered it and began looking around.

As I expected from a company that asked for my email up front, I began receiving at least one email per day.  After a couple days of junking them, I unsubscribed from a daily email and requested to only be pinged monthly instead.  But the emails kept coming everyday.  This cycle continued once more until finally I unsubscribed permanently in frustration.

First of all, having potential customers trade their email address just for the opportunity to become an actual customer (this isn't Facebook or SaaS) isn't permission marketing as much as it is twisting arms.  In my case, Bonobos got my email, but begrudgingly so.  I knew what was likely going to happen.   

Secondly, brands that are good at keeping little promises build big trust.  They get noticed for sweating the details.  It's no coincidence that the brands that demonstrate respect for the attention of customers and potential ones are the best at getting it in return.

As always, thanks for reading and sharing. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

If You Build It, Will They Come?

It's June 3rd and the baseball season is in full swing; but the question of who's in first place and who has hit the most home runs so far is definitely one for another blog.  Still, last week, America's pastime had an interesting development from a marketing perspective.

It came in the form of their baseball caps.  Beginning on May 23, many teams begin taking the field wearing their designated batting practice caps, which were introduced this off season, as opposed to their regular lids. That fact, by itself, is hardly interesting.

However, it was widely reported that Major League Baseball directed its teams to wear the alternate caps during games to spark sales of the frivolous product in stores and stadiums, evidence that Major League Baseball is getting it wrong with its gimmick marketing tactics. Whereas most marketers develop products catering to the desires of customers, in this case, baseball is searching for customers to unload a product no one demanded - another hat variation.

Sport marketers are constantly playing a game of gimmicks.  They tweak and update uniforms and add new alternate looks to boost merchandise sales. Nevertheless, the Yankee and Dodger uniforms have gone unchanged and, not surprisingly, are among the most iconic in all of sports.  There is real power and equity in a team that's united by one look throughout its history.  But the same cannot be said for tiresome tactics of third variations of alternate jerseys and batting practice caps that will be redesigned after a couple seasons.         

Build it and they will come is a myth, both in marketing and in baseball. 

As always, thanks for reading and for sharing.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Guinness Guesses That You'll Like Black Lager

I've always get annoyed when marketers use line extensions as a strategy to grow a brand.

The logic for doing so might seem straightforward; if customers enjoy our brand for product A, then they'll definitely enjoy our brand for product B.  However, what often happens is that product B will cannibalize sales of product A.  Furthermore, it will often repositioning product A in the mind of the consumer in terms a weakness.

For instance: Coca-Cola was always a great tasting drink.  But after introducing Diet Coke, over time Coca-Cola is repositioned as a drink with too many calories.    

The beer industry employs this strategy a lot; there is always a new flavor or variety being advertised. One of the latest is from Guinness; the popular Irish brand is calling their latest creation Guinness Black Lager.

How is this brew different from the original?  According to the ads, Black Lager is made with a roasted dark barley.  But according to Wikipedia, so is the original.  The pitchman, Jack Huston of Boardwalk Empire fame, also claims that it's easy to drink.  That's the clue that product B repositioning product A.  Guinness has never known as a beer that's easy to drink.  I used to joke with friends that it was like drinking a loaf of bread.  Its strength was its unique flavor, not its drinkability.

In this second spot for Guinness Black Lager, they keep their focus on the beer's color as its signature attribute.  But after making useless comparisons to iced coffee and Coca-Cola, which is like comparing apples to oranges to bananas, they lazily ask, why not beer?

Don't ask why not; tell consumers why. Hoping consumers invent reasons to drink the stuff on their own isn't a viable long-term strategy.