May 2009

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Microsoft Bing, a new search engine going live next Wednesday, has set its sights on Google.  Word on the Avenue is that Bing will be supported by over $100 million in advertising and with preloaded Bing search bars on new HP and Dell computers the communications spend will go way beyond.  I like the product name and from what I’ve read I suspect Bing will have some good traction, but two things I anticipate will get in its way: over-engineering and a feisty ad campaign. 

 

Google started out simple and people loved it. Bing will start out rich in features, with more feature creep on the way, and the masses may balk.  Can you say Mahalo?  

The advertising, which I’m assuming will come from Crispin Porter, should be good. But it will be a bit competitive towards Google and will be the wrong approach. I would go just the opposite and use my Microsoft Bing dollars to tell everyone how great Google is. Be nice doggies. Unexpected with praise. At the end of the spots, don’t zing Google, tell people the message was brought to you by Bing and ask people to give it a try. That, in and of itself, will signal it’s different. The end. Peace!

 

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Being a brand and marketing planner is exciting because in order to be good you need to be a futurist.  I often rail against rearview mirror planners who only look to the past to develop product and brand strategies.  Certainly you need to understand the past to formulate hypotheses about the future, but watching film of swimming and understanding its mechanics is not like jumping into the water for the first time. You may feel better prepared but it is still scary.  

 

So why is brand planning fun? Because predicting the future, though hairy, can be  lucrative and change the marketing world. Steve Jobs comes to mind.  

 

Here’s an exercise in predicting the future: Car dealerships across the U.S. are closing.  Many Ford dealers have shuttered their doors and the wave of Chrysler and GM closings is almost upon us.  In 12 months time drive down the highway in your town, where all the fast food restaurants are, and you’ll see abandoned care dealerships aplenty.  The economy is awful, but should be showing signs of life by then. What business or business category will move into those fallow real estate sites?  If you had Zuckerberg money, what would you build? Peace!

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I’m riding the train to the city (sorry, New York) and a gent next to me is reading the new Amazon Kindle 2. I interrupted him to ask about its performance and he was not even miffed. He loves it. When I ask how many books he’d read he told me with the Journal (sorry, Wall Street) on screen that he is reading more than ever before. “I always have something with me.” The wireless works fine, he added.  

 

The idea that people will read more than ever because they always have material close by is intriguing and, if correct, suggest better grades for kids, better erudition for adults and, dare I say, a more informed populace. Ahh, the future.  

 

This dude was so Zen-ed out, in fact, that after I returned it to him and apologized for the newsprint smudge on its pretty thin frame he smiled and gave me a knowing nod. Enough said. This thing is going to take off like dried kindling on an arroyo. Peace.

 

 

 

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Brand Planks

I wrote about brand architecture last week and mentioned that a good one includes a powerful branding idea supported by three brand planks. The planks — discrete reasons to believe — when combined, tell a story only your band can tell.

 

Interestingly, some planks may be at odds with one another and need to be carefully managed. Let’s say cost-competitiveness and product innovation are key planks.  The more messages you pump into the market about your leading edge products the more likely the market will be to think you are high-priced.  Conversely, the more low price advertising you do, the less you will be seen as an innovator.  A number of years ago AT&T used these two planks as part of the architecture for its B2B services. Though the planks were at odds, the research nerds figured out how to modulate them to the point where they could almost predict market share gains based upon the spending allocation. Who says you shouldn’t take statistics at college? Peace!

 

 

 

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Gawker Media sales are up 27% compared to the same quarter last year.  Those are some pretty serious numbers in a normal economy, but today? Nick Denton, CEO, has been dinged by bloggers who used to write for him for tying pay to traffic. If a Gawker writer posts a story that gets lots of readership, s/he get lots of money. Turns out this American way fee enterprise stuff works. This dude is make some “right” calls.

 

I’ve always loved Gawker and the way it has helped transform media – just read a mainstream newspaper columnist five years ago and compare the story to that columnist’s style today – but today Mr. Denton’s approach is hitting pay dirt. Advertisers are following. This blogger-portal journalism space is not only viable, there are signs it’s thriving.

 

Denton is hiring big time writers, ad agency media chiefs are making qualitative recommendations (without reams of syndicated research) and the stuff is pulling. There area couple of reasons why, but the most obvious is that Gawker readers are Posters. 33% of its readers have their own blogs and media that indexes high for Posters is valuable media. A couple of days ago I wrote about the “influence factor,” a concept of Charles Buchwalter, svp at Nielsen. This is a perfect example of influence factor at work and why good Posters should command higher CPMs and rates. Nick Denton is a seer. (Are you listening Newsday?)  Peace!

 

 

 

 

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Many people in the business talk about brand architecture but I wonder how many actually think of it in finite terms. Could they put their brand architecture into a wireframe for instance?   Or a 140 word Tweet?

 

The brand architecture process starts with information gathering and the interview of company executives and employees, category pundits, and customers. Lately, I’ve found it effective to troll the blogosphere for insights from customers and competitors’ customers. A review of the business fundamentals, i.e., “Where’s the money?” and an assessment of primary market research is also important. When all the info is gathered and “boiled down,” what remains is fit into 4 nice boxes which constitute the branding architecture: One branding idea atop three support planks.

 

The branding idea is really a promise to the consumer that fulfills a need. The need can’t be something goofy and ephemeral, though, like “happiness” (listening Coke?) and must be product-rooted. The support planks have to be logically tied to the branding idea; they have to be reasons to believe. Also, brand planks are best when they flow organically from the product – when they are truths. They then become easier to sell.


One promise, three planks. Sound easy? Have at it. Peace!

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If anyone knows how to make a good print ad, you’d think it would be someone in the newspaper business. Newspapers are the media of choice for retailers…and no one knows selling like retailers.  I remember working on a piece of retail wireless business and the company could map daily sales based on how far forward they were in the paper

 

So it is with great surprise that I read a print ad by the Newspaper Project which was a complete waste of money. If you have a pulse, you know newspapers are hemorrhaging ad dollars, cutting staff, and closing down at alarming rates. So much so, that it is the news. When I read the ad headline “America’s Favorite Pastime” showing a baseball superimposed with newsprint, I started to twitch. Especially with copy that reads “That’s why more than 100 million Americas rely on their local newspapers and newspaper websites to stay on top of their game.” When the Titanic was going down, do you reckon the captain was announcing how much the ship cost to build or how elegant it was?

 

The way to get more people reading newspapers is not to crow about the past or volume of readers, it is about giving people more of what they want. More real news stories, better news stories, more timely news stories. Delivered how they want them, when they want them.  That’s how to sell papers and newspaper websites. OMG. Peace!

 

 

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Toyota got caught up in the American car debacle at the same time as it was doing some amazing things with the Prius. I was down in TX last year and promotion for the Toyota Tundra was everywhere. The gas-guzzling truck, positioned for the good ol’ boys, sucked lots of money out of the Toyota coffers and contributed to a worldwide loss of $4.4B (sounds very GM-like). Since its inception, the Prius, now in its third generation, has sold only 1.2 million vehicles. That number could have been multiplied by 10 had Toyota not gone all pick-up truck on us.

 

That said, the latest Prius has one thing that sets it apart form the new Honda Insight, a competing hybrid priced to move: solar cells on the roof.  This cool differentiating technology will help power an advanced new ventilation system that is pure marketing genius. Marketing and branding are all about “claim” and “proof.” And whether the solar thingies works or not – and I’m sure they will – it is yet more proof that Prius is a technological leader in fuel efficient cars.  Toyota needs to follow the example of Ichiro and keep its eye on the ball. Peace!

 

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Charles Buchwalter, svp at Nielsen, believes that over the next 12 months a social media advertising model will emerge acknowledging and presumably charging for reaching online influencers. Social media that reaches influencers, so the logic goes, should beable to charge higher rates.  The “influence factor” he calls it.  Readers of this blog know that “Posters” tend to be the thought leaders and taste makers, while Pasters, though important, are less so. Reach one queen bee in the fashion world and you may convert thousands.

 

In traditional media, Posters and Pasters co-mingle, but only in online can the algorithm truly identify a sale and track it back to a Poster’s site.  Using the print model, think of this as paying a premium for positioning.  I’m not sure this is a good thing because Posters who earn more will get tainted and start to post differently — like the angry punk rock band that makes it big and moves to the suburbs. Anyway, that said, I believe Mr. Buckwalter is correct. Peace!

 

 

 

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College and university advertising is generally pretty bad. The budgets are small so they don’t use good agencies and when they do use good agencies the academicians often get in the way which tends to watered down the work. Quick – think of a good college ad campaign.

 

UCLA ran a print campaign this week that I actually took the time to read. The tagline was “UCLA, unabashed.” Ads were in the form of first person storytelling by various alumni, appearing two per day on consecutive right hand pages.  The campaign objectives were hard to figure at first but by the end of the week I got it: UCLA is a great place for “achievers” to start their lives and UCLA needs private funding.

 

Good college advertising makes the consumer think. If it can’t, then why would we assume the college can make the student think?  Selling doesn’t work in this type of advertising; making the synapses fire does. 

 

I’ve heard college kids say “as soon as I drove through the front gate I knew it was the school for me.”  Is that packaging (nice gate) or branding (predisposition to a sale)?

 

Creating a great brief for a college or university is very heavy lifting. I’ve done it before and it’s a real test. But when you nail it, you know. I’d like to see the UCLA brief, because they nailed it. (If you like to see a good college brief, write me and I’ll forward one.)

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