Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Experiential marketing/branding and the newfound power of Gen X

In an article called “Enjoy the experience turn on, tune in--and pay attention,” (December 3, 2007), Brandweek talks about the trend toward experiential marketing—“essentially, a sophisticated term for getting into public spaces and letting the consumer interact with your product personally.” Apparently giving consumers a live experience with the brand is proving to be a successful way of reaching people. Here are some examples of companies and what they’re doing to give customers a branded experience:

* Panasonic is parking tractor trailers labeled “Panasonic. Living in high definition.” outside Best Buy and other retailers. The trailers have had a makeover designed to look like “a guy’s dream living room,” complete with all the Panasonic electronics it can hold. Sales of Panasonic HDTVs are up an average of 30% at every retailer that’s had the truck parked outside; Panasonic has set aside one-third of its 2008 marketing budget for experiential initiatives.

* The Wii videogame has been on tour to U.S. shopping malls, where consumers can experience what it’s like to use it.

* For Paramount Pictures’ The Spiderwick Chronicles Experience, the company sent “a customized vehicle loaded with digital equipment that stopped at schools, malls and museums, where kids who ventured inside could see how CGI animation works.”

* “DeWalt tools now spends 50% of its marketing budget on nontraditional advertising, including experiential efforts such as Rolling Thunder, a roving display that parks at Nascar events and allows the public to have fun playing with its newest power tools.”

* “Air New Zealand is hitting the streets of California in an ice-cream truck. Free treats are meant to remind customers that there's beautiful summer weather in Kiwi land. ‘It gives a face and personality to our airline,’ said marketing manager Jodi Williams. ‘This approach gives us more buzz for our buck.’”

Experiential marketing is working well right now because consumers are sick of being bombarded with in-your-face TV, radio, and web advertisements, and are shutting them out with TiVo, satellite radio, and simply clicking away from online ads. (Not to mention the do-not-call laws restricting telemarketing.) In contrast, experiential marketing is an interactive, personal, tactile experience that takes place at the discretion of the consumer.

Experiential marketing is not new, notes the article…as long ago as 1911 Heinz sent door-to-door representatives to do taste-tests with consumers. And the tactic worked.

The article also notes that experiential marketing comes with potential pitfalls, such as spoiled food, people who “simply don’t want a leaflet thrust at them,” and with legal issues that come up. But I think one of the biggest potential pitfalls is to create a marketing experience as opposed to a brand experience. People should not just experience the product, they should experience the brand. That is what builds loyalty over the long term, rather than just having the consumer encounter the product and walk away with a shrug and a “that was nice.”

Speaking of experiential marketing, Brandweek also (December 17, 2007) has a case study called “Schwab’s (Gen) X Files,” about an event targeting 25-to-34 year olds in New York in which “teams of financial consultants and brand ambassadors” took up posts at kiosks and “roaming the streets in a 37-foot ‘Talk to Chuck’ RV. They gave out calculators that compared the yield of Schwab’s own checking account vs. the national average, gave out fake ATM cards which people exchanged for $2 bills (and some $100 bills), and also gave out checking account applications. Schwab is pleased with the results thus far. Interestingly, targeting Gen Xers was cited as a priority by 86% of top marketing executives in a recent survey commissioned by the Marketing Executives Networking Group and conducted by Anderson Analytics. This is a very high percentage and only two percent shy of the percentage who said baby boomers are “still the most sought-after demographic.”

I say this is interesting because it seems to me that it is Gen Xers who are leading the charge when it comes to taking their thoughts about brands to the Internet (a la Citizen Marketers), and it is probably . Gen Xers who are the ones tuning out TV with TiVo and turning on satellite radio. The power of this group to completely shift the marketing and branding paradigms we know of today seems very much unrecognized by the marketing media, so it was nice to see the marketing survey come out which pointed to the influence this generation is having.

Now here’s a piece of can’t-turn-away-from-it marketing that clearly doesn’t work. In “Fast food gets its greasy hands on report cards,” the Chicago Tribune talks about a school in Florida that partnered with McDonald’s to feature a cartoon of Ronald McDonald along with an ad for a “food prize” for “elementary school students who had good grades, behavior or attendance.” The idea was for parents to reward their high performing children with a trip to McDonald’s. The promotion, in which the sponsor paid the cost of printing the report cards in exchange for an advertisement on them, totally offended parent Susan Pagan, who was “told that she was the only parent who thought it was inappropriate to put fast-food ads on the report card jackets.” But apparently it’s been going on for the last decade, and Pizza Hut used to be the sponsor. Here is a way, the article notes, that McDonald’s is “branding its product early and often in impressionable young minds to build loyalty and create lifelong customers.” This even though McDonald’s has recently stated that it will “stop marketing all food or beverage products in elementary schools” and will “advertise only its healthier options to children younger than 12.” Pagan is likely a Gen Xer herself; and I am not surprised that her story is all over the Internet.

The bottom line: Gen Xers are taking control of the marketing and branding marketplace, influencing everything about this field in a big way. Nobody is talking about it much, but they really should be. We are witnessing a key generational shift.

Monday, December 24, 2007

“Curator Culture” and Branding

In a recent article on his blog, Steven Addis, the CEO of the CEO of Addis Creson, a Berkeley, CA based branding firm, postulates that we have shifted into a “curator culture.” Like museum curators, the new consumer has “unlimited resources to research products, review them for others, and expose the disingenuous….the ability to transmit on a mass scale…. with credibility corporations have all but squandered.”

This idea is not new, although the terminology may be unique. It is similar to the premise of Brand Hijack and Creating Customer Evangelists and my own writing on the subject of customer co-creation and brands. And earlier than that, in 2001 and before, brand futurist Marian Salzman was talking about the “prosumer,” or “empowered consumer,” noting that customers had seized the reins from marketers and were increasingly demanding—and getting—their way.

What is unique about the curator culture concept? The role of brands, which has shifted. As consumers enjoy a higher-level status, companies’ status has been lowered to that of potential peer. And curator customers only trust peers that behave in a certain way. In effect, brands need to step off their high horses and get into the mud with the average consumer, becoming one of them—like them—no higher in level. Addis outlines several ways that companies like this “are earning our trust”:

1. Locate and serve a niche market: “Consumers reward the brands that speak directly to them. The more they feel understood, the more they bond. In spite of this, the natural tendency of companies is to extend their brands as wide as possible in the hopes that they might appeal to everyone. These mega-brands inevitably fall on their own weight as they lose the connection with their core audience.” Companies can serve the masses, but they have to do so by hosting “a portfolio of narrowly defined brands.” He gives the example of Toyota, which created the Lexus brand for luxury buyers, and the Scion brand for the polar opposite—urban youth without a lot of money. He notes that Scion billboards proudly state: “So wrong for so many.” Personally, I’m not sure this is an aspect of curator culture, but rather the continuing kingship of positioning, which has recently come under attack.

2. Act trustworthy: This is a no-brainer. Addis writes: “The Curator Culture cuts both ways—consumers reward the sincere and expose the disingenuous. As John Feldman, partner at the law firm Reed Smith said, ‘If you’re in the business of selling candy, sell candy; if you’re in the business of selling burgers, sell burgers.’” You can be a “bad” brand, as long as you’re honest about it, but if you act like a “good” brand and are not, you’ll get trounced. “An infamous example of corporate duplicity was the controversy surrounding the Working Families for Wal-Mart blog,” he states as an example. “At first glance, the site appeared to be a grassroots organization countering the public criticism of Wal-Mart by union-backed groups like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch. But it was later revealed that this site was actually created by Wal-Mart and their public relations company, Edelman. Wal-Mart was publicly flogged for creating the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behavior.”

3. Invite customers to co-create the brand: “In the current zeitgeist, the ‘tell-and-sell’ approach of traditional advertising is waning. Today’s consumers have become accustomed to having a growing impact on the success of a brand. So, when a company invites its customers to participate in their brand, it’s saying that it values them and their opinion.” Examples range from letting M&M consumers vote on a new candy color; letting LEGO customers “design and buy their own custom LEGO models, and share their designs with others”; a director meeting with “nontraditional media” (e.g., bloggers) to generate publicity for the movie Superman Returns; and even allowing customers to create the TV commercials for Doritos and Chevy.

4. Act as an advocate for other consumers. “Some companies actually rise to the level of peer by putting the consumer’s interests above its own.” This is notable, he says, in the Progressive Insurance business/brand strategy of showing customers quotes from itself as well as its competitors.

5. Be original—independent of other brands. “The new consumer values originality and can easily perceive ‘me-too’ brands,” writes Addis. “The courage to differentiate from other brands is a weapon against mediocrity. Nobody rushes to share a mediocre experience with a friend. But, I underscore ‘courage,’ as most companies’ tendency to frame brands errs to the familiar, leaving the courageous few to be envied. Part of this differentiation is creating “a great story,” as the Verse Group has also emphasized. Of course, as noted above, other peers (consumers) to the brand will want to have a hand in generating those stories themselves, now that we are in the age of YouTube.

6. Provide an experience of elation—more than just satisfaction. “A common misconception is that the opposite of dissatisfaction is satisfaction. Satisfaction falls in the middle of the continuum. The opposite of dissatisfaction is something more like elation. Satisfaction should be the bare minimum companies expect from us,” writes Addis. An example Addis provides is JetBlue giving customers great snacks “like Terra Chips, pistachio biscotti, and jumbo cashews—and they certainly don’t charge for them. Every seat has DirectTV and XM Satellite Radio, and in select airports, free wireless hotspots are provided. Best of all, they keep their prices competitive, which has earned them a loyal, evangelistic customer base.” (He adds: “This, coupled with its CEO’s sincere apology posted as an online video, got them over a dramatic lapse in their service last winter.”)

Addis argues that consumers “do feel special bonds with the very few brands that rise to the level of peer….While you might not be able to put your finger on exactly why you love the brands you do, they stand out above the others by instinctively understanding the power of the Curator Culture.”

I think these points are well worth companies’ pondering. As much as other books and articles have provided a cultural context and some understanding of the elevation of today’s consumer, this article provides some concrete guidance for brands seeking to cope in this new environment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What to do? Seniors have brand hijacked the Wii

In a previous post, I talk about the issue of whether brand creators should "let go of the brand entirely and let consumers appropriate, define, and sell it in their own ways," as Wipperfurth argues in Brand Hijack.

I conclude that "marketers have a responsibility to establish a meaning for the brand in advance of presenting it to the consumer. The consumer may appropriate the brand in different ways, may reshape and refine and rework its ultimate meaning, but the essence of the brand is, or should always be, in the hands of the marketer."

Now we have a situation where older people are appropriating the Wii game console for their own use, as The Washington Post reports: "On the retirement community scene, bingo is looking a little like last year's thing, as video games have recently grabbed a spot as the hot new activity. More specifically, retirees are enthusiastically taking to games on the Wii, which has been under-supplied and over-demanded at retail stores all year, thanks largely to the system's appeal to a range of consumers."

What is Nintendo, the maker of Wii, supposed to do about this? Should the company allow senior citizens to hijack the brand, and even cater to them; should the company ignore them and hope they will go away so that they don't drive away the core youth demographic that the Wii is aimed at; or what?

My thought is that Nintendo should cave in, but in a very limited way: design a limited-edition Senior Wii subbrand, along with targeted games for seniors, to divert off that segment of the population. It would be a brilliant move. Not only would the company retain their business, but they would probably increase business, as seniors experience a brand made and customized just for them. At the same time, the core demographic will not be alienated...they will have the original authentic Wii experience.

Brand hijacking can be scary for a company when it occurs. But the best thing you can do is ride the wave on a golden surfboard: Make brands anew when a segment of customers calls for it, and preserve the original brand meaning you initiated for your target audience.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Brand positioning vs. brand stories: it’s really both, not one or the other

A new paper by the Verse Group claims that brand positioning is dead, and in its place comes brand storytelling. Brand positioning, as Verse notes in this release on the subject, is the “theory that a brand should own one idea in a person’s mind.” Brand storytelling, in contrast, relies on a “complex interplay of emotions, experience, and sensations” to get the message across.

What’s this all about to begin with? Verse is responding to an Advertising Research Foundation report, based on three years of research, which found that storytelling-type TV advertisements are more effective than positioning-based TV advertisements at engaging the viewer.

According to an article in Brandweek (October 29, 2007), the ARF findings were clear. A total of 33 ads in 12 categories were analyzed by 14 “leading emotion and physiological research firms.” The study found, for example, that “Bud's iconic ‘Whassup’ (campaign) registered more powerfully with consumers than Miller Lite low-carb ads that essentially just said, ‘We're better than the other guys.’ Why? Because Bud told a story about friends connected by a special greeting.”

The ARF report emphasizes, as I have stated repeatedly, that brands “co-create” meaning with their consumers, rather than straightforwardly imposing meaning on them. The co-creation process is enhanced when brands are presented as stories rather than as one-dimensional aspects of meaning.

At the same time, the Brandweek article notes, storytelling ads are only “truly effective” when “the plots tie in to a positive brand message.” “When the emotional peaks align with the presence of the brand, or the impact of the brand in the story, the emotional connection with the brand is greatest,” says ARF Senior Vice President, Research and Standards Bill Cook in the article.

The reality is, it is brand positioning + brand stories that makes the brand work, not brand stories alone, and Verse Group misunderstands this completely. In trying to make a name for itself—ironically, in trying to position itself when the company is anti-positioning—Verse misses the mark. The company states, in very strong terms, that “‘brand positioning’ is perhaps the most misguided marketing idea in the past 30 years.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It is when brands are positioned effectively, and storied effectively, that they resonate with the target audience.

Verse is trying to put a semblance of ROI on brand stories. It says in its response to the ARF report that “paid media spending (is) estimated by Nielsen to be over $150 billion in 2006,” so that “even a modest increase of 10% in effectiveness would be equivalent to $15 billion.” Verse wants to “own” brand stories—it wants to be positioned as the company you turn to when you need one. But in the Brandweek article, Mark Truss, director of brand intelligence at JWT, cautions that the industry still doesn’t see the ROI, and therefore “marketers and advertisers are not going to embrace (this approach).”

My advice is to incorporate brand stories where possible, but center them on a strong positioning. This is the best approach to take to increase brand value.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Global "tribes" and branding

The Wall Street Journal (December 10) has a story about marketers closing in on global "tribes" who are united more by demographics than by nationality. The article gives the example of baby boomers, a transnational "tribe" that may well need hearing devices as they get older. Phonak Group is targeting boomers, who dread aging, by calling the device a "personal communication assistant." Multilingual advertisements all feature the same type of image--"youthful-looking customers who lead interesting lives." The CEO of Phonak says that baby boomers "all have a similar psychology--if we take away the stigma and show them a product that is high-tech and hip and easily improves the quality of their lives" they will buy it.

Other examples are teenagers "who socialize on the Internet and like the same music and fashions" and "working women trying to juggle careers and families."

The idea from a brand perspective is to "focus on the similarities instead of the differences," says Melanie Healey, president, Global Health and Feminine Care at P&G.

In an increasingly international world, it pays to be mindful of "tribes," and to cater to them...it's an idea worth pursuing. In fact, I wonder whether consumers of global brands are not themselves kinds of tribes, whether the Prada buyer in the U.S. is similar to the Prada buyer in France or England or Spain. If so, we may be wasting our time trying to cater to people by their sociodemographics...we could just cluster them by the types of brands they buy. Certain brand tribes affiliate with certain other brand tribes, and you can just go from there.

People are increasingly tending to define themselves by multiple brands, not just one or two.

This brings to mind an interesting Harvard Business Review article from June 2001, "See Your Brands Through Your Customers' Eyes," that talks about "A new, three-dimensional approach to mapping brand portfolios" that "reveals the complex relationships between your brands and those of other companies." It notes that "Volkswagen and Trek team up to bundle bicycles with cars. American Airlines, Citibank, and Visa jointly offer a credit card. Subaru markets an L.L. Bean edition of its Outback station wagon. Dell stamps Microsoft and Intel logos on its computers. Toys R Us partners with
Amazon.com to launch an on-line toy store. The interweaving of brands, now commonplace in business, is changing the rules of brand management."

The article notes that a tool is needed to look at brands the way they "actually appear to customers. In this article, we’ll describe such a tool and show how it can be used to create multidimensional maps—we call them brand portfolio molecules—that reveal the relationships among diverse brands and provide a powerful new way to think about brand strategy."

The point for tribes and branding is, it pays to understand the unique power of a brand, and how it aligns with other brands, when one is trying to classify a global tribe.

Also, an interesting document at this UK tourism site talks about "brand clusters" in terms of the type of vacation people like to take.

"To capitalise on this, Towards 2015 will concentrate on the development and promotion of what are known as ‘Brand Clusters’. These clusters define the sort of holiday our customers want in terms of the experience they are looking for. For example, there is the ‘sheer indulgence’ cluster which is characterised by fine dining, pampering, treats, luxury and celebration. Then, there is the ‘close to nature’ cluster which trades on the ‘wow’ factor of the South West’s uniquely diverse landscape, the fresh air, the wildlife and the stunning views."

That is another way of separating people into tribes...according to the type of branded experience they want to have.

One can keep going, but the point is to be imaginative about tribes, and not limited to the same old thinking (Internet teenagers, baby boomers, working mothers).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Army's misguided "influencer" campaign

Today's Wall Street Journal (November 29, 2007) has an article about how the Army is now promising new recruits up to $40,000 in seed money toward the purchase of a home or the starting of a business.

The goal, says the article, is not so much to reach recruits as their parents. It quotes the program's "architect," Lt. Col. Jeff Sterling: "If you want to get a soldier, you have to go through mom, and moms want to know what kind of future their children will have when they leave the Army. This is meant to answer that question in a tangible, concrete way."

As the Journal notes, the new program "is the latest sign of the military's growing use of marketing and other recruitment strategies from American corporations." In particular, the idea of targeting "influencers" rather than the audience themselves is a forward-thinking approach.

The problem, I think, with the Army's new campaign is that it misreads what influences the influencers. Parents are not wary of the Army because they are afraid their children will have no future when they get out. They are wary of the Army because they are afraid their children will die in battle in Iraq, or be seriously wounded.

The way to address this is not to up the financial ante, but to speak directly to the emotion--the fear that parents have. The Army needs to initiate some kind of campaign that talks about the likelihood that recruits will be hurt or killed in battle. If the likelihood is low, then they can say that. If it is high, then they need to say, this is the situation, but it's the price we pay for freedom--appealing to parents' patriotism and sense of duty and loyalty to the nation.

Money can't fix everything...and there is no way to buy patriotism. Either you believe in the Army's mission, or you don't. The rest is just Madison Avenue talk.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Should you really "lose control" of your brand to brand effectively?

Elsewhere, I have argued that brands are in effect co-created between producers and consumers. Now Brandweek (November 26, 2007) features an article called "Lose Control: It's Good for Your Brand," in which the author argues that brands are not at all created by producers but entirely owned by consumers.

"In my world...campaigns....exist at eye level with the consumer, seeing in real time how he interacts with products, services and the core brand itself....the days when you were able to exercise 360° control over your brand communications have ended....when the brand lets go a little, consumers start to open up a lot."

The author argues that the tools of the "average citizen"--"Digital cameras, cell phones, blogs, social networks, Web videos, urban interventions, word-of-mouth and more"--are becoming ever more important in communicating about brands.

The idea is to stop overtly marketing to your target audiences, and "allow consumers to become active participants in its evolution."

There are five principles to follow in this regard, says the article:
  1. Focus on the experience your customer wants to have with the brand, not the experience you want the customer to have.
  2. Find out what the "cultural phenomena are that get people excited," and whether your brand fits in with one that you can "customize and own."
  3. Figure out what the "ideal media" for your brand is...if it doesn't exist, "create it."
  4. Make sure that your campaign to promote the brand is "exciting."
  5. Make use of "the new 'clipping' nature of the social Web....furnish icons, visual experiences, sound bites and entertainment in a way that translates easily to sharing—photo, video, blog and mobile."
In essence, the article argues that you should set up the brand experience intelligently, then trust consumers to run with it. "Furnish the consuming public with brand experiences that are interesting to them—ones that permit them to get involved with the brand instead of just watching a pitch; ones that invite and trust them to deliver the branding message to others."

At first glance, all this sounds very shrewd and strategic to me. But then a question follows immediately--whether you really can predict what consumers will do with the brand once you hand them total control. The truth is that no, you can't. And then you really haven't created a brand at all...you've just plopped a product or service out there and let the market take over, for good or for bad.

The article alludes to this issue when it says that brand marketers should provide the brand experience that will be exciting to the public in the first place. But there again, I say, it is the job of the brand to set forth the vision--to create the compelling idea--not to follow trends. Following trends is marketing, not branding.

I say it is the brand marketers' job to instill a message, a core vision for the brand and then disseminate that experience to the public at large. This means holding on more tightly to the reins of the brand. Let the customer co-create it with you, but always maintain some measure of control. And lead the way, don't follow. True brands have an experiential essence that cannot be market researched, duplicated, or created by the customer--they retain that elusive yet very real promise that only a true brand master can instill.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Small company rebranding - just a logo?

In an article titled "Extreme Makeover," the Wall Street Journal (November 26 2007) talks about the trend toward small companies pursuing rebranding. Increased competition and lower costs are the drivers of this trend.

The problem is that the Journal talks about rebranding exclusively in design terms. (Or the problem is, small companies think about branding exclusively in design terms.) For example, it cites the offerings of Powerful Impact in Great Neck, N.Y.--which are provided in tiers. The lowest tier is logo, business card, stationery; the highest tier includes a Web site and product packaging. Nowhere does it talk about brand assessment, strategy or internal branding, all key critical elements of any rebranding.

The danger of this kind of approach to branding--of looking at it purely as a design exercise--is that it minimizes the strategic and people elements of branding. Without thinking through what the positioning should be, who the audience is, what the distribution channels are, what future opportunities exist, and how people deliver on the brand, the whole thing is wasted.

A more interesting article would be on whether small firms ever choose to do a comprehensive rebranding or whether they tend to stick with redesign as a substitute for something more strategic. Even more interesting would be an article on the state of branding today--how many companies understand what branding really is and pursue that, vs. how many are still stuck in the logo mindset.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Strong brand, weak market: Rolodex

The Wall Street Journal has an article about executives clinging to their old fashioned Rolodexes. (Rolodex is the top brand in rotary card files and everybody refers to them by that name, demonstrating the brand's strength.) It's a way of showing social status apparently.

Despite the loyalty of some users, sales of rotary card files appear to be trending down. The question is, can Rolodex continue to be a strong brand even when demand for the product is declining?

I think so.

The issue is what brand characteristics make Rolodex stand out and how Sanford (the company that owns Rolodex) can leverage those.

I would suggest that those charcteristics are tangibility and visibility.

Sanford could go back to manufacturing the monster size Rolodexes in strong materials like titanium steel. It could make accessories for the Rolodex. And it could even make a custom business card business to go along with the Rolodexes.

Just because technology has advanced, doesn't mean there aren't still customers for paper and pen.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Burger King's descent into commoditization

Burger King, in a desperate move to increase market share, is planning to test a $1 double cheeseburger to compete with McDonald's, reports the Wall Street Journal.

It is interesting because McDonald's has managed to maintain their brand even though they offer deeply discounted items. Yet Burger King is damaging its brand by going the commodity route.

I remember when BK used the "broiled, not fried" strategy to great success. Why do they not make a move to distinguish themselves as a brand? Why stoop to price wars?

As always, it has to do with the pressures of Wall Street, which leads firms to focus on short-term profits rather than long-term growth strategies.

If I were in charge at BK, I would go back to the drawing board...perhaps offer "gourmet" burgers at regular price. Value for the money, but without destroying the brand.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Branding as war

In the classic book Marketing Warfare (1986), Jack Trout and Al Ries make the point that marketing is no longer just about serving customer needs better, because everyone is already doing that. Rather, marketing is about fighting the competition.

Key point:"To be successful today, a company must become competitor-oriented. It must look for weak points in the positions of its competitors and then launch marketing attacks against those weak points."

Also: "The true nature of marketing today involves the conflict between corporations, not the satisfying of human needs and wants."

Key principles of marketing warfare:
  1. The best defensive strategy is the courage to attack yourself, but only the market leader should consider playing defense.
  2. Always block strong competitive moves.
  3. Find a weakness in the leader's strength and attack at that point.
  4. Launch the attack on as narrow a front as possible.
These principles apply equally to branding as marketing, although we may not normally think so, because branding is so carefully about getting close to the customer. But yes, in general, you want to knock out the competition to your brand more than you need additional customer insights.

The other important point here is that in branding, unlike marketing, smaller companies have an innate advantage in that customers today are turned off by big box brands. The question is how do you go from being a popular small brand to a mainstream leader without turning people off.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Branding leaders

In "Building a Leadership Brand" (Harvard Business Review, July-August 2007), Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood say that companies should in effect brand their leadership styles. For example:
  • GE, which is known for “turning imaginative ideas into leading products and services,” is also known for having the type of manager who is “a strong conceptualist as well as a decisive thinker.”
  • Johnson & Johnson, which states that “our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services,” has the type of manager who is “known for being socially responsible….committed to building consumer trust, to product quality, and to safety.”

The authors state that “building a strong leadership brand requires that companies follow five principles.”

  • Do the basics of leadership development well: “First, they have to do the basics of leadership—like setting strategy and grooming talent—well.”
  • Be customer-focused: “Second, they must ensure that managers internalize external constituents’ high expectations of the firm.”
  • Evaluate leaders according to customer perceptions: “Third, they need to evaluate their leaders according to those external perspectives.”
  • Invest in additional leadership development: “Fourth, they must invest in broad-based leadership development that helps managers hone the skills needed to meet customer and investor expectations.”
  • Measure success: “And finally, they should track their success at building a leadership brand over the long term.”

The authors state that many companies are off the mark in their leadership development practices because they tend to focus too much on individualistic approaches and not enough on grooming leaders to stand for something specific in the eyes of “customers and investors.” The result? “Leadership practices are piecemeal and are seldom integrated with the firm’s brand.”

Also, oddly enough, focusing on individualistic development leads companies in the direction of a “competency model that identifies a set of generic traits—vision, direction, energy, and so on.” This is the difference between “leaders and leadership”—leaders are individuals, but leadership involves “the methods that secure the ongoing good of the firm.”

I agree that companies should brand their leadership styles, but think that it is difficult to measure whether they have ultimately succeeded. Perhaps the best proof is in the (qualitative) pudding—in asking employees what leaders stand for—whether they embody the brand or not. I say ask employees and not customers because it is employees who are daily in touch with the behavior of their leaders. Unfortunately, in this article, the employee perspective is overlooked.

One last point: I liked the Leadership Brand Assessment the authors provided, but am not sure I should reprint the whole thing here. It is worth reading the full article, if you can get it from the library or pay for it at HBR.org.

Why do people love to hate the Department of Homeland Security? 7 reasons and 10 brand "cures"

The Department of Homeland Security does a critical job protecting the United States. Why then if you look it up on the Internet, do you find what can only be described as an outpouring of contempt? Some examples:

  • Milcom Monitoring Post: "I said this when Congress shoved this insanity known as the Department of Homeland Security down the American taxpayers throats--"This will be one of the biggest waste of time, money, energy, manpower and skin in US Government history."
  • Kerfuffles: "If Americans were truly serious, they would elect a 100% brand new United States Congress and a new President who would drive a bulldozer through...the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.). "
  • Suzatlarge: "Our fine bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security [sic] would rather watch our country’s buildings burn down than let a single questionable person sneak across the border. On a firetruck. With flashing lights and sirens. Responding to a fire call. I wish I were making this up. This federal agency has gone beyond incompetence - into insanity."

It is hard to understand how things have deteriorated to this point, especially since DHS (at least in its earliest stages) was strongly devoted to branding. In "The Image of Security;
Homeland Chief Tom Ridge, Keeping Up His Appearances," The Washington Post (May 22, 2003) talks about how former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and his aides were preoccupied with image issues:

"Tom Ridge, 57, is talking a lot about "branding" these days....Nearly all politicians care about branding....But Ridge is the rare public official who uses the term. He is attuned to small details of his department's "visual brand." These include the creation of DHS logos, patches and signs."

"Ridge is selling the brand hard....He wants Americans to know he's doing more than just waiting. He wants to make the "respected brands" of the Homeland Security agencies (FEMA, Customs, Coast Guard) as powerful as the brands of the U.S. military (Army, Navy, Air Force)."

"From the outset, Ridge's staff worked strenuously to market him as a reassuring presence. 'When people see him, we want them to think, "My babies are safe,"' a top aide said shortly after Ridge started at the White House."

From my perspective, there are a number of issues at work here:

  1. The lingering effects of the Katrina disaster
  2. Resentment of President Bush and his policies
  3. Longstanding paranoia about the federal government "taking over" at the state and local level
  4. Fear of another 9/11...and the wish to deny that the nation is confronting a long-term terrorist crisis
  5. Fear/perception of corruption/incompetence at the Department of Homeland Security (the TV series "Jericho"); publicity over reported corruption, however minor
  6. The immigration crisis/Lou Dobbs' continuing series on CNN, "Broken Borders"
  7. The reluctance of agencies to aggressively brand themselves for fear of being labeled propagandists

What can Homeland Security do about this? Essentially, the agency has to treat its beleaguered reputation like a full-fledged crisis, and do the following:

  1. Engage with its critics point-by-point, at every opportunity and in every public forum, especially on blogs, which are so virulently anti-DHS
  2. Demonstrate to the American public the dedication of its employees to public service
  3. Show integration and cooperation among its component agencies--that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
  4. Proclaim its accomplishments at every opportunity online and in person, via speaking opportunities at conferences and trade shows
  5. Make special efforts to publicize partnerships with state and local authorities
  6. Initiate a public education campaign about terrorism, its risk to our homeland, and how Homeland Security is planning to combat it
  7. Embed the media with its component agencies as they go about doing their jobs, and have the media report back on what they see--generally play up the successes of its component agencies
  8. Downplay the impact of politics on its operations and play up protective measures that have broad-based support
  9. Create a special publicity campaign for FEMA to demonstrate how it has grown since the Katrina debacle
  10. Initiate publicity around employee corruption--how it is identified and rooted out of the agency

The Department of Homeland Security is a vital government entity doing vital public service, but it needs the support of the public in order to really be effective. Following these brand measures would help.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The end of Starbucks, part II

In a previous post, I said that the Starbucks brand should be killed and resurrected because it is veering toward commoditization, as CEO Howard Schultz himself admitted in a widely leaked memo. Now the Wall Street Journal (weekend edition, Nov. 17-18) reports in "TV Campaign is Culture Shift for Starbucks" that the company is turning to national TV ads in the wake of slower sales. This goes against the brand wisdom espoused ten years ago by Schultz, as the Journal reports: Schultz wrote that "By its very nature, national advertising fuels fears about ubiquity."

The central problem facing the Starbucks brand is that it seeks to be everywhere and an out-of-the-way "third place" at the same time. This cannot be. Either the company embraces a niche strategy, or it tries to be everything to everyone, diluting its brand identity. Despite its protestations to the contrary, it is going the latter route. There should not be a Starbucks on every corner; they should not be selling breakfast sandwiches and music; and the staff should return to its former reputation for having coffee expertise, not just be anyone off the street that wants to get health benefits. And of course the company should not be on TV.

Little by little, the brand is dying...and all of us are watching.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Kellogg’s “silent” branding: smart or cynical?

The Economic Times (India), in “When not to use the parent brand,” (16 November 2007) discusses Kellogg’s decision to minimize its connection with a new U.K. brand called FruitaBu.
FruitaBu is a healthy snack brand “comprising apple crisps and dried fruit.” The product is aimed at people who want to comply with the Department of Health recommendation to eat more fruit, and to get that fruit in a quick, convenient way. (The Department of Health “five-a-day” logo is displayed on the product packaging.)

FruitaBu brand manager Paul Humphries says that Kellogg decided not to put its logo on the packaging (the Kellogg name is on the back of the box in small print) because the Kellogg brand is associated with “cereal and cereal-based snacks” and “we thought that if we put Kellogg on FruitaBu, people would assume it was a cereal product.”

Branding experts disagree on whether Kellogg’s move is smart or cynical. Interbrand chairman Rita Clifton says: “Kellogg has terrific brand equity, but what makes it strong can also be a weakness because it is associated with brightness, morning-time and sweet cereals.”

Landor Associates managing director Cheryl Giovannoni says the strategy is “cynical,” a way to sneak into the healthy snacking market. “It should try to be more honest with consumers — that would give it a lot more credit as a brand.”

For my part, I think Kellogg is wasting its time worrying about whether people associate FruitaBu with it or not. Dried fruit is related to cereal. In fact I might be more likely to buy FruitaBu if I knew that Kellogg was connected to it—I’d know the fruit would taste good and be of high quality.

In general, though, I think mainstream snack companies should stick to their knitting and not get into the healthy food market—people want authentic health food and not slickly packaged, fast moving consumer goods that parade themselves as authentic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Branding the homeless—a pathetic display of the dark side of branding

The Wall Street Journal, in “In West L.A., A Homeless Man Inspires New Brand” talks about “the newest sensation at the center of Hollywood’s fashion scene”…56-year-old, homeless, John Wesley Jermyn.

The entrepreneurs who are milking Jermyn’s name for profit have already created a MySpace page for him, which “doubles as an ad for the clothing brand and their nightclub-promotion venture, which is also named ‘The Crazy Robertson.’” According to the Journal, these twentysomethings spent “months” getting close to Jermyn to get his approval; got his buy-in on design decisions; and also had a photographer take pictures of him for publicity purposes.

(Jermyn makes just 5% of “net profit” from clothing sales.)

The brand-builders are riding a trend of “increased fascination with homelessness,” says the Journal. The paper mentions the popularity of “Bumfights,” or videotaped street fights between homeless people; as well as “Filthy Rich and Homeless,” a British TV series showing real-life millionaires acting like beggars in London. Also, the paper notes, over 17,500 videos on YouTube are tagged with the word “homeless.”

Jermyn’s sister says he is being exploited, and Joel John Roberts, chief executive of People Assisting the Homeless, has similar concerns. But the brand-builders say they look at Jermyn as a “business partner.” Said one, “He knows everything that’s going on.” Jermyn himself told the Journal that he is a “facilitator” for the brand.

This phenomenon brings up a whole host of questions and issues, as follows:

1. Is it exploitive for someone to build a brand around a homeless person, or is it insulting to the homeless person to suggest that they cannot be the subject of a brand? I say it’s exploitive, especially when the person has schizophrenia, as Jermyn does, and cannot see all sides of the issue.

2. Is it ethical for consumers to purchase brands that are created in exploitive ways? Obviously not…and yet here we are in the richest part of Hollywood exploiting the homeless. This trend toward exploitation runs absolutely counter to the modern emphasis on corporate social responsibility and “fair trade” and must be seen as a thoughtless, childlike rebellion against it.

3. What does it say about modern consumers that they find a valuable brand in utter poverty and mental illness as represented by homelessness? I suggest it’s a few things:
  • A deep impulse to find and brand whatever authentic phenomena in society are available…unfortunately, looked at from this angle, branding is some kind of sickness or disease that seems to have no cure and no end and no purpose but to swallow up all the non-brands that are out there.
  • A sick need to feel superior to other, desperate human beings.
  • A distorted view of the world, seeing it as a place where brands “normalize” people who are not in their right mind.
4. What can concerned consumers do about brands like this? Don’t buy them; speak out against them; encourage others not to buy them.

This is truly a post about the dark side of humanity. There is a limit to "cool."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Aligning your personal brand with an employer brand

In "Employers Study Applicants' Personalities," the Associated Press reports on a new trend in hiring: keeping jerks out.

“Despite a labor shortage in many sectors, some employers are pickier than ever about whom they hire. Businesses….are stepping up efforts to weed out people who might have the right credentials but the wrong personality.”

Or to put it in brand terms, aligning job candidates’ personal brand with the employer brand.

Says Tim Sanders, former leadership coach at Yahoo Inc. and author of The Likeability Factor: " If you have a bunch of jerks, your brand is going to be a jerk.”

Job interviews at Rackspace, for example, are all-day events, so that interviewers can wear away “fake pleasantness” and get at the applicants’ real personality. CEO Lanham Napier says, "We'd rather miss a good one than hire a bad one."

What can you do to make sure your personal brand is aligned with a potential employer?

  1. Study your own personal brand. Develop a short list of 3-6 key characteristics that genuinely describe your personality.
  2. Put it on your resume. Put your brand characteristics on the profile section of your resume. This will allow potential employers to either choose you if you are a good fit or not waste your time by calling you in for an interview.
  3. Research potential employers. Find out as much as you can about the company that might be hiring you. Study its website; often you can learn a lot about the company’s personality from the way it presents itself online. Review its press releases; find out what kind of achievements it thinks are noteworthy. Finally, look up news about the company; what is its brand in the media? If possible, look also on sites like Vault.com to get insider information about how it treats its employees.
  4. Describe yourself according to your characteristics in person. Be ready to elucidate your personal brand to a potential employer, giving examples of how, very generally, you “live” the characteristics that you say you have.
  5. Start a professional blog if you haven’t already. Writing a blog is a good way to demonstrate to others what your personality is like. It is like an extended job interview, and you can save yourself a lot of time explaining yourself if you simply direct people to your blog as part of your resume.

Although there are arguments to be made pro and con branding yourself, if you take the time to at least understand your personality, you may save yourself a lot of time choosing the wrong employer or even the wrong profession.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Terrorism, anti-Semitism damage Israel’s brand: What can be done?

Carnegie Mellon’s student newspaper, The Tartan reports (November 12) on a brand talk given to students by Ido Aharoni, Israel’s assistant foreign minister and brand team manager. In his talk, Aharoni said that Israel’s brand could be improved. “Israel’s brand image does not serve its interests right now; I believe we can do much better.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been trying for several years to re-brand Israel in terms of more positive qualities than “solely in terms of war and religion,” and in particular is trying to move Israel’s brand out of its association with the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, until the Palestinians “curb terrorism,” said Aharoni, the process for Israel of growing beyond the association with the Israel-Palestine conflict cannot start.

A survey released last year, in November 2006, and reported on in Israel Today supports Aharoni’s contention that Israel’s brand is damaged. The National Brands Index, conducted together by nation-branding consultant Simon Anholt and Global Market Insite surveyed about 26,000 online consumers in 35 countries about their perceptions of those countries in six areas: Investment and Immigration, Exports, Culture and Heritage, People, Governance, and Tourism. Israel came out on the bottom on every measure, and Israel’s citizens were called “the most unwelcoming in the world.”

(American’s weren’t very friendly to Israel either. In the survey, Americans “ranked Israel just slightly above China in terms of its conduct in the areas of international peace and security.”)

In reporting on the survey, Anholt blamed Israel—without mentioning the possibility of anti-Semitism—for the survey’s negative findings, commenting that “to succeed in permanently changing the country's image, the country has to be prepared to change its behavior.” He stated that people’s negative opinion of Israel was influenced by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, implying that it is Israel’s response to that conflict that is causing negative perceptions of the country.

Anholt also stated, accurately, that “most people did not bother to form a balanced opinion about other countries, preferring to find a simple shorthand for every country…(and) the most persuasive and memorable facts (about Israel) were about the conflict, so the image of Israel as a bully as more likely to stick in people’s minds.”

(In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Anholt minimized the negative impact of the fact that the study was conducted during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon during the summer, but said he planned to include Israel in the survey again during a “quiet period.”)

Anholt also told the Jerusalem Post that it could take decades for Israel to rebuild its brand image.

Thus far, Israel’s strategy has apparently been to try to divert international public attention away from the Israel-Palestinian conflict and toward “more positive images such as the country's technical innovations as well as musical, cultural and historical attractions.”

However, Israel’s approach, to me, is wrongheaded. The nation is in the midst of a longstanding public relations crisis caused by terrorists and exacerbated by anti-Semitism. It therefore needs to respond proactively and aggressively—head-on—to the negative elements that are staining its brand image. That means launching a proactive, aggressive foreign diplomatic campaign to educate the public about its stance with respect to the Palestinians, including its history and future strategies for creating peace in the region. While Aharoni states that Israel can re-brand itself by “revising its policies,” “initiating greater tourism efforts,” and “increasing exports and foreign investment,” Israel has to do its basic PR homework of explaining its existing policies to the public in a way that will satisfy its critics once and for all. Israel should take every opportunity to emphasize that it is a peace-loving nation and that it is the victim of terrorism, not a bullying cause of it.

An effective public relations push is especially important in light of the upcoming Annapolis meeting (November 25-27) between Israel and the Palestinians to discuss prospects for peace. Already, Israeli President Shimon Peres has let it be known that “Israel has decided to make Annapolis a success, to bring an end to the conflict, to finally make peace between the Palestinians and ourselves….All parties concerned are decided... not to let this chance pass away.” And Israel is warning that Hamas may carry out terror attacks to stop the peace process from going through. Continually educating the world about the fact that Israel wants peace while the terrorists want to stop peace from going forward is a good step. Israel may think that it has been shouting that message from the rooftops, but unfortunately it is drowned out by an equally loud Arab PR machine that states Palestinians are innocent victims of the Israelis. The way forward here is for Israel to flood the airwaves, the Internet, and public speaking opportunities in America, Europe, and elsewhere with an elucidation of the situation from Israel’s perspective. Further, Israel should embed the media, as America has, with its soldiers on a day to day basis so that they can report on the challenges that Israel faces in trying to keep peace. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism will always complicate these efforts, but Israel can do a better job of them nevertheless.

This discussion points up the difference between a public relations campaign and a branding campaign. As I have stated elsewhere, “the role of PR was never really to build a brand…rather, it is to do no harm to it. PR is inherently a tool for building a great reputation.” Israel’s PR is sorely lacking—it has failed to build its credibility and reputation in the world through effective communication via the media—and as a result it is hampered in its ability to build a brand image that reflects the peaceful, high-tech image it seeks. I say, forget about changing policies now. The policies are not the problem. The distorted perceptions of Israel are the problem. Work with PR first, then brand. Despite the efforts of terrorists to destroy the nation, Israel has a good story to tell…it needs to tell it. Otherwise the terrorists have accomplished their goal of destroying the nation—impairing its ability to function economically and politically.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

New Facebook strategy - an Orwellian brand nightmare

OK, so I think I get it - Facebook is
  • Launching company brand pages where people can sign up as fans and have that information fed out to their contacts
  • Launching a service where people who shop at certain third party vendors can have that shopping information fed back as advertising to their contacts
  • Launching a marketing research service that serves up all the collective information about brands and those who prefer/use them
Facebook CEO Zuckerberg thinks that this is the wave of the future...a form of trusted referrals from friends to friends. But let me tell you, this is the beginning of a nightmare for Facebook from which they will never wake up. Somebody once said that no money can be made on the Internet, and they were right from the standpoint of the Internet user -- people don't want to be spammed with ads online. Having ads shoved at you from your dozens of "contacts" is not going to do anything to make Facebook more valuable or the companies advertising more popular. Instead it will just increase resentment and people will run away from Facebook.

The thing about trusted referrals from friends is, it's a noncommercializable phenomenon...and people these days are ever more suspicious of commercialized recommendations.

Plus, it's very Big Brother to be tracking what people do online and then broadcasting it to the world. I know kids these days don't want their privacy, but still. There's a limit.

The bottom line is: people get the information they need by Googling it and maybe clicking on Google's sponsored ads. They ignore the information you shove in their faces.

Bad move, FB.

Should brand consultants serve as policy advisers?

In a November 6 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Simon Anholt, who coined the term “nation-branding,” says advertising is an “utterly futile” way to change perceptions of a country and instead argues that countries should change the way they operate first.

The traditional way of marketing a country is way off, says Anholt, with tourism boards, investment-promotion agencies, government public diplomacy agencies, etc. giving out different messages. “It’s not very surprising that most countries end up with very fragmented, out of date, confusing, unhelpful images,” he says. “So I suppose the primary principle I tried to introduce here with the original idea of nation branding is that if all of those stakeholders work together and try to agree on some kind of common long-term strategy for the country and its role in the world, they’re far more likely to be able to influence the way it’s perceived.”

Anholt does not do advertising. Rather he serves as a kind of policy adviser “to the governments of, at any given moment, seven or eight different countries. I work with a small team consisting of, usually, the head of state, two or three ministers—foreign affairs, economic affairs, culture, and so forth—the head of the tourism board, a couple of chief executives of major corporations, particularly if they export, and one or two figures from civil society….We try to work out a plan for how the country can position itself in the world, and what are the policies and innovations and investments the country needs to undertake to earn the image it feels it wants and desires.”

About advertising, Anholt says: “People believe what they believe about countries because they’ve believed it all their lives and they’re not going to change their minds because a twenty-second ad on CNN tells them to. People immediately recognize that kind of communication for what it is—propaganda—and they will instinctively reject it or ignore it.”

While in theory Anholt’s approach makes sense, I find the idea of a communications person serving as a policy adviser frightening at the very least. It is like building policy based on what will make a country popular rather than based on what will make it effective in the world. I also think his approach undervalues the traditional tools of marketing communications significantly. Brand experts are primarily marketing communications advisors, not policy makers, and they should restrict themselves to the communications arena. That said, if a country is embarking on a policy that seriously damages its image in the world, it is not out of line for a brand consultant to mention it.

One also wonders what countries Anholt is consulting to…I assume they’re not rivals are they? In general, what about the issue of conflict of interest?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Brand Lessons from RAND’s “Enlisting Madison Avenue”

In a fascinating 2007 study, “Enlisting Madison Avenue,” RAND analyzed (pp. 57-129) how the United States military could better influence indigenous populations in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting to read some of the key ideas from that report and how they could be applied to any environment. (This is a sort of circling back from business, to government, to all settings.)

  1. Know your target audience through segmentation and targeting. This means using research to identify key stakeholders (by demographic [age/gender/income/occupation], psychographic [social class, lifestyle, personality], geographic location, behaviors) and crafting communication strategies that are relevant to each.
  2. Apply business positioning strategies. This means coming up with a core message—a message to emphasize—not emphasizing everything. Start with opinions or concepts held by the customer and work those into messages that come from you.
  3. Understand key branding concepts. This means understanding and leveraging the reality that people have certain associations with our organization and creating a unique and clear identity for them to catch on to. “Align every brand-consumer touchpoint to convey a single, clear, and uniform message.” You also need to continually update your brand to keep up with the times.
  4. Synchronize the brand. This means focusing your “brand architecture” so that you either apply the corporate name to all of your divisions, programs, and products, or reserve the name for distinctive use and promote various subbrands without the corporate brand name.
  5. Synchronize the workforce. This means making sure that employees properly convey the image you want to represent to the public. This also means answering complaints quickly, inventorying all brand-customer touchpoints and determining how people should conduct themselves in all interactions with the public, and educating the organization about your brand and how to manage and maintain it.
  6. Promote customer satisfaction. Make promises that you can keep. “When promises go unfulfilled, customers become disappointed and their likelihood of doing business with that company decreases.” Along these lines you should empower customer service representatives to solve problems and should make it possible for people to route their calls to the same representative who first took their call.
  7. Listen to the customer. “The most successful business endeavors are those that are premised on meeting customer needs.” You also need to monitor outcomes – stay in touch with customers “so that problems can be fixed before they alienate the customer base.” You should survey the public regularly, monitor complaint lines, etc.
  8. Harness the power of influencers. Reach out to “those in society whose position affords them a megaphone and the respect and admiration of key population segments.” These include the media, writers, bloggers, academics, celebrities, etc. This also means reaching out to customers who are very positive about their experiences with the organization and inviting them to share their experiences with others – perhaps via a blog. In any case you need to establish outreach to the community through regular interactions with people who are “customers” and make them feel like they are part of the organization’s “family.” You could also allow employees to blog online, within limits, about their insights and experiences.
  9. Use the principles of social marketing to achieve success. Social marketing “applies well-grounded commercial marketing techniques to influence noncommercial behavioral change in a target audience.” These techniques include knowing your desired behavior change; focusing on population segments most likely to respond to a behavioral campaign; determining concrete goals and objectives; knowing your market and the competition, if any; designing a product “just for them” (the audience); making prices “as low as they go”; placing the product effectively (location, location, location); creating motivating messages that stand out; getting the message out; and monitoring and evaluating campaign success.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Brand momentum strategies released, but methodology for brand value determination still unclear

Landor Associates and Stern Stewart's BrandEconomics unit released on November 1 the results of its third Breakaway Brands Study. The study analyzes brands that "exhibited sustained, quantifiable growth over a three-year period, delivering brand-driven value to the bottom line between 2003-2006." It includes about 2,500 brands from Young & Rubicam's BrandAsset® Valuator database. (Some brands, like Yahoo!, are excluded from this database, says Fortune (11/12/07), and they include "nonprofits and media firms with their own distribution channel -- whatever that means.)

Top Brands

Nevertheless, the top 10 momentum brands, ranked in descending order by value gained over the three year period, include:

1. General Electric
2. iPod
3. Microsoft
4. Blackberry
5. Samsung
6. Costco
7. T.J. Maxx
8. Barnes & Noble
9. Propel
10. Stonyfield Farm

Key Findings

Three key findings from the study, says Landor, include:

1. It is important to engage customers through branded experiences. "Samsung, Barnes & Noble and TJ Maxx have each leveraged deep customer insight to deliver uniquely relevant and engaging in-store and online experiences to consumers old and new."

2. Partnerships can help to build the brand. "BlackBerry built strong relationships with virtually all of the national telephone companies to attract independent subscribers, while Gatorade’s Propel and Apple’s iPod also saw growth through partnering strategies."

3. Businesses that are brand-centric have greater brand success. "Even mighty industrial and technology giants like GE and Microsoft have demonstrated they can accomplish significant cultural change through brand-driven initiatives, while yogurt maker Stonyfield Farms has retained and even enhanced its core brand persona despite coming under the wing of a global food giant."

Fortune notes the importance of corporate social responsibility to the top-ranked brands. For example, Microsoft's brand has been bolstered by its "kinder, gentler" image..."the company's image as a fierce, rapacious monopolist has faded" while General Electric's brand growth "is attributable almost entirely to its environmental efforts."

Brand valuation still unclear

Personally, one thing that still confuses me is how the value of a brand is determined. I went to the Landor web site and learned that BrandEconomics uses an "economic value added" framework to determine brand value. The site says that "EVA involves deducting a charge from post-tax operating profits that represents the opportunity cost of all the capital employed by the business. The capital charge represents the minimum return required by the providers of capital to the business; whatever a company produces over and above this represents an excess return on the investment." The company also uses "Young & Rubicam Inc.’s Brand Asset Valuator (BAV®)...the world’s largest database of consumer attitudes towards individual brands."

I would like to know how EVA and BAV work together to yield a number. Fortune says that Landor starts with BAV then turns to the financial calculations, but this is not specific enough. This is the crux of everything related to brand--and it's still murky.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Branding and the pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceutical Executive (November 1) has an article called “Step it up: Branding Roundtable” that talks about branding in the pharmaceutical industry.

I'm not sure what benefit branding ultimately is to the pharmaceutical industry, since generics are required by the Food and Drug Administration to be every bit as good as brands and are widely available.

I guess the scam is for the pharmaceutical industry to convince people that branded drugs are somehow better than generics...which is absolutely not the case.

To that end, here are some quotable quotes:

  • The fundamentals of branding: “If somebody is not willing to pay a little bit more for your brand, you did not have a brand in the first place.”--Jeff Conklin, VP, marketing practices and innovation, Wyeth
  • Being customer-centric: “Branding is going to be driven by the complexity of consumers rather than the complexity of brands.”--Conklin
  • Branding as an experience: “A brand has to create an experience, a situation where people see a reflection of themselves and their values. So the whole act of putting a nurse educator into a physician’s office is imparting a value to that brand. The brand becomes helpful, nurturing.”--Vince Parry, president, Y Brand
  • The importance of salespeople: “Probably the main brand experience for doctors is still the sales forces. Yet there is no training whatsoever on how sales reps should represent the brand they sell. They are not representing a nurturing, helpful, caring brand if they are coming into the office and saying, “Doc, I need your next 10 patients.” “--Vince Parry, president, Y Brand
  • Content as brand strategy: “As we become more commoditized, every market becomes more crowded. You’ll to need more depth to differentiate yourself....That may mean mobile media reaching out to patients at mealtime and saying, for example, ‘Crestor is reminding you to take your medication,’ and then recommending a heart-healthy diner nearby.”--Mark Nolan, senior VP, group creative director, Digitas Health
  • The importance of the corporate brand: “The role of the corporate brand is going to—has to—change drastically over the next 10 years. Patients are going to know who makes their drugs, and it will drive preference because these big issues, like trust, can be handled only at the corporate level. It’s the most underleveraged business asset of pharma companies.”--Wes Wilkes, managing director, Interbrand Wood Healthcare

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Brands are people too - 5 lessons

The October 2007 issue of Fast Company has an interview with Alex Bogusky, the chief creative officer of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an ad agency well known for its campaigns for Volkswagen and Burger King. Bogusky contributes an important element to the discussion about brands -- talking about personifying it and making it real. Asked how you make a brand famous, he responds: "You start to think about the brand as a person and do some things to personify it a little bit."

Bogusky notes that "personifying a brand" helps the creative process because "It allows you to think about the story of the brand and the narrative of the brand in more of a long-term way."

Bogusky also notes that it is important for brand narratives to evolve: "Madonna is a genius in branding....Madonna was always able to evolve to keep people interested. Brands need to be that way too. They can't lose the essence of what they represent but they've got to continue to surprise and delight you."

Here are five key takeaways for branders:

1. Go beyond a simple message -- be multifaceted with the brand personality. People are complex and so are genuine brands. Microsoft has a great potential to do this if only they would try.

2. Instill feelings, values, beliefs, and long-term goals in your brand as if it were a person. Think: If my brand were human, what would it say/do/think/believe? Then communicate based on that.

3. Give your brand an interesting story. Dull people have no friends. Neither do dull brands.

4. Make your brand story evolve over time. This is difficult to do well, but IBM has achieved it.

5. Make sure the brand story evolves consistently. Jeep is an example of a company whose brand story has evolved, but not consistently--it has gone from "survival" to "fun"--and therefore the brand has lost credibility.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Buzz-based brand building

In "Brands Infiltrate Social Circles to Create Buzz," Adweek talks about recent efforts being made by brands to facilitate buzz about themselves. The idea is to get people talking "without incurring backlash."

The attempt to generate buzz, says the article, is supported by research showing that consumers believe their friends rather than marketing messages.

A recent example of the new buzz-based brand building: At TV Guide's "suggestion," "agents" whose job it is to "give feedback and talk up products to others" hosted 10,000 TV Guide parties across America before it launched its $20 million (estimated) ad campaign to "reintroduce its 54-year-old brand as a multiplatform provider and celebrator of TV culture, rather than a weekly listing of shows." The agents were honest about their affiliation.

Marketers need to be careful about using social media, says the article. Burson-Marsteller, the PR firm, recently found in a study that influential consumers "have a heightened wariness of commercial interests weighing in on blogs, message boards and review sites."

NBC, says the article, initially tried to plant positive comments on its shows on message boards, triggering consumer skepticism. So in a change in tactics, it previewed most of its shows to bloggers, and let them write about it. Sci-Fi went a step further, inviting 35 bloggers to Canada to visit the set of Battlestar Galactica and meet the cast.

As the article notes, there are two key problems with buzz-based brand building:

1. Predictability. "The challenge is how do you turn the social media space into something that can scale, that you can manage and can deliver predictable results." (Bant Breen, president of Interpublic Group's Futures Marketing Group)

Even more important is

2. Authenticity. "It's a tough equation because the consumer is stubborn and has a voracious appetite for the truth." (Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Nielsen BuzzMetrics.)

It takes a lot of sophistication to build a buzz-based brand...marketers, tread carefully.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Searching for brand answers

The results of a new study, published in “Online Search Can Be Powerful for CPG Branding,” (MediaPost.com) show that online search can help build consumer packaged goods brands.

Here are the notable findings of the survey (a difference of ten percentage points is usually considered significant):
  1. Nearly half (47%) of the 93.7 million unique site visitors to food product sites were generated by search. Search was responsible for 60% of baby product sites' total unique visitors, 27% of personal care visitors, and 23% of household product visitors.
  2. Searchers were somewhat, but not terribly much, more motivated by wanting product information or help than non-searchers (73% vs. 58%). Searchers were also more motivated by wanting help with a purchase decision than non-searchers (64% vs. 44%). (It appears that there is some overlap between these two motivations in the "help" area, but this is not explained by the article.)
  3. Non-searchers were more likely than searchers to visit sites for the purpose of obtaining special offers/promotions (59% vs. 47%)
Al Ries, the brand expert, is quoted in the article saying that search “is not a strategy, it's a tactic….In general, a company needs to create awareness of a new category by other means--generally PR--before consumers are going to search for that particular category.”

I am not sure why Ries emphasizes PR to the exclusion of advertising and marketing tactics, but think he has a point when he says that marketers should not think “that the Internet is the answer to (all) their branding problems.” He reminds us that Anheuser-Busch spent millions of dollars to build Bud.TV when “the typical Bud drinker is down at the tavern watching the World Series.”

I also think Procter & Gamble Search Innovation Manager Randy Peterson, also quoted in the article, has a point when he says that the research shows search is more valuable than just to serve as a tool for direct response marketing. Searchers are motivated consumers, and it makes sense to cater to them with more targeted branding initiatives that inform, educate, and assist in their making wise product decisions.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Branding and the coming recession

As the housing market goes, so goes the economy...and things aren't looking good. As BloggingStocks.com notes,
A whopping 65% of Americans now believe that a recession is coming in the next year and 51% believe the economy is doing poorly, according to a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey. Wall Street executives predicted a 37% chance of a recession, according to a Financial Services Forum survey released last week by the Financial Services Forum.
Which kinds of brands will survive the down economy? Not clear, but The Charlotte Observer has some advice about building any brand to survive in a downturn--essentially "going beyond the basics" to "delight your customers," not "just meet their expectations." Even when people don't have money to spend, they have money to spend, and they will spend on brands that offer superior service and a delightful experience.

For brand managers, the question arises, Do you stop spending on the brand in a recession or go full steam ahead? Brandchannel.com, in a 2001 article that still resonates asks this question and has the following response:
Branding is not just a patina to be applied during times of growth. It's a constant maintenance job. Nurture it and you'll always be safe; dismiss it and you'll start to see the immediate effects of decay and neglect.
The article goes on to say that most brand consultants recommend that money be spent more wisely, not necessarily more freely. I agree but caution brands to look carefully at the industry and sector they live in; if people don't want to spend more for brands in that particular area, they should either create intelligent generics or fold up their tents and find a more brand-friendly business.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nike gets away from its brand with "influencers" campaign

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article, "Running Underground: To Sharpen Nike's Edge, CEO Taps 'Influencers,'" about Nike's new emphasis on popular culture to shape its brand.

As is usual when a brand gets ruined, the CEO, Mark Parker, is answering to Wall Street--he has promised a 50% increase in revenue by 2011--and therefore needs to turn to "fickle, style-conscious consumers" rather than the performance oriented athletes around which the company has built its brand.

The article says Nike "hasn't lost its traditional focus on pure sports"--it is acquiring British soccer brand Umbro PLC--but needs to "broaden and deepen its appeal--even among non-athletic types."

The CEO says things like "How do you keep an edge, a crispness, a relevance?"

As a result, Nike has worked with characters like Los Angeles tattoo artist "Mister Cartoon," who has designed six lines of limited edition shoes for the company. It has also collaborated with New York graffiti artist Lenny Futura, industrial designer Marc Newson, and Brazilian muralists Os Gemeos.

The idea is to create "an insider's buzz that widens out as it is discovered by consumers closer to the mainstream."

Will it work?

I don't think so. This seems to me like an approach that is close to the CEO's heart--says the Journal, "the CEO is drawn as naturally to art and culture as he is to sport"--but not close at all to the brand.

There are a few lessons here:

1. The CEO must be the brand champion, but the danger is that he or she will substitute personal preference or "gut instinct" for sound brand-based marketing research into how best to lead the brand forward. Nike's CEO likes popular culture, so he is leading the company in that direction. Big mistake.

2. When companies start answering to Wall Street, in the drive for profit, they can tend to lose the features that made their brand distinctive in the first place. I don't have an answer for this one but it is a real problem.

When you get away from the brand, you are in trouble.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Can McDonald's get its workers to rhapsodize about its quality?

According to a story in PRWeek, McDonald's is looking for internal brand ambassadors to spread the word about McDonalds' "quality message." The internal campaign complements an external one aimed at "real life moms" who "would push that quality message to their peers and others."

The McDonald's campaign is called the "McDonald's Brand Advocate (MBA) program." Its purpose, one assumes, is to get Mcdonald's employees and owner/operators to also push the quality message.

The manager of U.S. Communications at McDonald's "says the program will help its employees more effectively communicate specific messages about the McDonald’s story in their day-to-day work and personal lives."

Basically, the watchword is quality.

Heather Oldani, director US communications at McDonald’s, told PR Week that "the quality message is being taken so seriously" that McDonald's has formed a cross-functional team to address it -- people from all of the functional areas of the company are involved.

I say to you, McDonald's is dreaming if they think its employees are going to bring their work home and talk about McDonald's quality in their personal lives. Maybe they can be incentivized to do so at work. But even so, where in the customer service experience is there a place for a worker to go on and on about McDonald's quality? Their role is to say "May I take your order please?" and "Do you want fries with that?"

McDonald's is living in a brand fantasyland.

See also: branded training for front-line managers.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Flexible logos and the Face of the Brand

The New York Times reports on a trend: "adaptable logos." These are logos that are capable of holding or being meshed with other content. Examples are:
  • the logo of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, which is flexible enough to allow Olympic sponsors to put their own "brand symbols or colors" into it, "in effect creating logos within the logo of the Games."
  • The New Museum of Contemporary Art in Manhattan, which is using an adaptable logo to proclaim that it has a new address.

This adaptable logo thing is a big deal, says the Times, because "companies [normally] employ armies of people to make sure the color, shape and placement of a logo never vary."

Well, with too much control, people become distanced from the brand--it's cold.

The idea of an adaptable logo is not new. The Times points out that Google "has long been playing with its basic logo." So has Target.

What the Times does not mention is that for a number of years at The Brand Consultancy, Diane Beecher pioneered something called the "Face of the Brand" -- a methodology for brand design that allows for flexibility in its visual depiction. "It's a single graphic or series of graphics--of three or more primary brand attributes that work together." (me, Design Management Institute Journal)

Beecher says that "FOTB is the total visual representation that supports a brand and its attributes. It is unmistakably personal, representing the unique attributes of one particular brand, and takes every visual factor into account."

I've written that "the overall effect is one of a consistent corporate ID, but the sameness is like that of a family--individual members may look alike, but like snowflakes, no two are the same."

I think adaptable logos, like the Face of the Brand, are a good brand idea. As the Times reports: "In the era of blogging, social networking and mash-ups — through which consumers have the power to do what they want with a company’s logo and show it to the world — a bit of flexibility is essential, Mr. Heiselman said."

Adaptable logos/FOTB invite the viewer into the brand's world, to see the brand as a living, dynamic entity rather than a cold, unfeeling, unthinking, inflexible piece of deadness.

And deadness is not appealing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Branding Belfast - an interesting situation

The Belfast Telegraph reports on Belfast's new branding initiative. A couple of interesting things here:

1. The dilemma over how Belfast should be branded - as a generic tourist attraction (the fantasy) or as a more complex site of political conflict (the reality)? Which will make the most money? "Much as we would like to put the Troubles well behind us, it has to be accepted that they are Belfast's top selling point in any campaign. People have heard about us, all over the world, because of our historic quarrels - and the queues for open-top bus tours of the Falls and Shankill are proof of their curiosity value."

2. The problem over accommodating local feelings as a new image is crafted: "With so much about the past that is still in dispute, the marketing team will have to be sensitive to local feelings, as they portray Belfast to the world. To most people, the fact that it is both British and Irish is a plus point, but getting this across without treading on too many toes will be difficult - as will be the concept of a 24-7 city."

3. The development of a site where anyone can vote on how Belfast should be branded. "The views of anyone with access to a computer are being sought - on www.yourviewsonbelfast.com - to find out what people think of the capital city and how it can put on its best foot forward."

We can learn a few things from these elements.
  • The thing that you want to emphasize in the brand may not be what is marketable to your target audience. Are you mature enough to recognize that and overcome it?
  • On a related note, the things they want out of the brand might generate sensitivity--e.g., might even hurt your feelings. You have to be ready for that and determine how much of a factor your feelings will be in making brand decisions.
  • One way to approach this is to open your campaign up to voting on the Internet to provide objective research-based data for use in making decisions. This can mitigate potential hurt feelings as well as avert misdirection, as image decisions become a matter of responding to the public rather than determining a direction based on political or "gut" considerations.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter's "Jew perfected" comment -- branding or theology?

According to this CBS News report, Donny Deutsch told AdWeek: “Candidly, I had her on not to talk about politics but to talk about her brand strategy. Whether you like her or not, her strategy is to be extreme and that's a way to make money. But because it's her, it drifted into politics."

Coulter was a guest on Deutsch’s show The Big Idea, where he asked her to “give her version of a better America.” As CBS News reports, she said that “it would look like New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention.” (quoting CBS News here, not Coulter)

Deutsch asked Coulter to explain and she said “People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America ..."

Deutsch interrupted Coulter to say: "Christian ... so we should be Christian? It would be better if we were all Christian?"

Coulter replied “Yes” twice.

According to the news report, Coulter tried to “shift the conversation,” but Deutsch repeatedly brought it back to her comments about Jews.

And Coulter accepted Deutsch’s provocation, later stating: “We just want Jews to be perfected…That is what Christianity is.”

The reality is that Coulter’s comments fit right in with her brand strategy. That is, she stuck with her “promise” to be extreme in her point of view--to go so far out on the precipice that there is no coming back. The comments also seemed to fit in with a brand strategy on Deutsch’s part, as he kept purposely bringing her back to her comments about Jews and Judaism. Maybe being outrageous is part of having a big idea.

Coulter's dismissal of the validity of Judaism as a religion is anti-Semitic, of that there is no doubt. The real question that remains is, was Coulter only "doing branding" or sincerely expressing herself as a Christian believer?

The answer, probably, is both.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Talbots to review brand positioning--hopefully they will go MORE classic, not less

The Boston Globe has an article today about Talbots (the clothing brand, remember them?) hiring a consultant to "sharpen its brand" to appeal to women over 35. VP of investor relations at Talbots Julie Lorigan admits that "we haven't gotten it right yet...we're not offering the customer exactly what she needs -- and we need to do that."
The article quotes Todd D. Slater, managing director of retail and consumer equity research at Lazard Capital Markets, saying that "the baby boomer customer has been less interested in the traditional look for quite some time." Slater thinks Talbots should be "a little more forward. A little more in step with current fashion."
That comment is idiotic. Talbots is doing badly because its current "classic" designs stink, not because it should abandon classic design.

When I think of Talbot's great years, I think of preppy clothing for grown-ups. Rich color, rich texture, rich design. Now go take a look at the Talbots website. The pants (the ones on the upper right, on the model with the red jacket)? Too short - trying to copy that capri look? Ugh. The red jacket with the wrap belt--nice, but what is the model doing with a camisole underneath? That's not classic -- that's tacky! And those boots! What are we, back to the '80s? And what's with the cheap-looking leather and suede? Where are the classic, rich leather, stack heeled boots that will never go out of style? I'll admit, they have another outfit on there that's nice -- the white brocade jacket and long, wide-legged pants -- why don't they go with more clothes like that?
Also, while we're on the subject, that model is all wrong...she doesn't look like an over-35 young baby boomer. She looks like a gawky under-35. No, no, no.
If you have time, click on the entire collection to take a look. Most of their stuff is tacky -- yuk. They need to hire a name designer to put his or her stamp on the collection...really go out there...pearls and cashmere and leather and plaid, plaid, plaid.
Also, their price points are too low...the clothing should be more expensive than it is.
You go Talbots! I have faith in you!