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'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

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 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.