August 2011

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One of advertising’s roles is to change peoples’ attitudes.  Some might call this image or brand advertising, which is quite different from retail or transactional advertising.  General Motors is really bad at brand advertising.  They try hard and spend money but for some reason it rarely changes attitudes. 

Samsung, using the work of the Arnell Group,  was one of the first corporations to strike me as getting it.  It was back in the 90s when the word Samsung conveyed second tier products, cheap electronics and dollar-store imagery.  Using Peter Arnell’s mind and, I believe, his camera, Samsung displayed its products around NYC on big black, white and gray outdoor posters, alongside sexy human images.  A ripped torso carrying a microwave may sound silly but is was artful.  It burnished then polished the Samsung image.  

Bosch is doing the same today with a product-based image campaign showing off a number of its stylish household appliances. In my mind Bosch was famous for brake shoes and audio products, not refrigerators and dishwashers.  But the print ads I’ve been seeing over the last few months have made me notice how beautifully designed these appliance are.  The consistent advertising tells me they are here to stay and the engineering heritage borrowed from memory compliments the pictures and words.  I would definitely buy a Bosch appliance now. Image.

Without an image transactions are fleeting.  Understand your brand — its past and present. Decide where you want to go and make that part of your brand plan.  Toss out overused words like “innovation” and “remarkable” and “engagement.” Get in touch with your image goal and build a brand plan.  Sales will follow. Peace.

PS.  Image can be built using new digital media.  In fact, it can be build much faster. But it has to be “on plan” and focused.

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There was an article yesterday in The Wall Street Journal suggesting that until recently, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufiled & Byers took a siesta on investing in tech companies while placing bets on clean tech.  So post-nap, after having missed a number of cool tech start-ups, they hired Mary Meeker a great mind, data organizer and trend reported to help them earn some new stripes in the VC area which they kind of invented.  Kleiner is still interested in clean tech but The Journal reports they’re refocusing on the tech sector in a hearty way.

If clean tech was easy it wouldn’t be worth investing in.  Please, please John Doerr, give “clean” your best.  Find exciting new energy engineers. Find algae chemists. Optical engineers. And biologists with the vision to help us plot the way.  We’ve only got a million more years on this planet and your investments in clean energy will make a difference.  Making money is cyclical, history is not.  Stay the course my Kleiner brothers and sisters!  Clean us up. Peace!

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Humor.

I have a presentation on Fast Twitch Media and Twitch Point Planning that asks the question are our brains evolving bigger or smaller?  Larger, posited Timothy White back in the 80s when I asked a question about evolution during a John’s Hopkins symposium, but I’m not so sure.

As software takes over decision making for us, it seems we have to think less. That is, unless we’re deciding which GPS to use — the Garmin or the Android phone app. (They are not perfectly in synch! Oh my.)

One of the things coders and engineers cannot do very well is humor.  It’s not that they are genetically indisposed to humor, but humor can’t be programmed. There is no algorithm. And therein lies the value of the creative mind.  

Humor is a wonderful tool in society and well valued in content creation that surrounds marketing.  I still giggle each time the BBDO/ATT “flash mob gone wrong” ad appears, though it is wearing out. Humor gets noticed and it disarms.  It is an elixir that helps a sales message get consumed. Branded utility is the rage these days in mobile apps, but soon that utility will become commoditized and we will need to smile as we tweak our media and our apps.  Might as well begin now; add a spoonful of humor to your digital selling and see what happens. Peace!

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Watch to Learn.

There is something to be said for the ability to observe consumers.  Interviewing is a great and not over-rated technique but consumers don’t always tell the truth. Good interviewers get to the truth directly or indirectly but observation of  behavior doesn’t lie.

I was thinking about this and the bank category the other day.  How does one create a great brand plan, then marketing plan for a bank?  On Long Island, over the last couple of years a lot of car dealerships have been torn down.  Oddly, the lots upon which they sat now house banks. More banks?  How to differentiate?  I wondered if I were to sit in a bank and observe for a couple of days what I would learn. If a poker player can see tells, why can’t brand planner?  

I would watch the eyes of customers as they enter. Watch their hands. Note expressions. As they spoke to bank reps are they falsely smiling and nervous? Do they look at the clock a lot. Check their cell phones too much. Are they emotional? Proud? Deflated?  When they talk about certain subjects do they tick?  Rub their hands together? Look away? You get the picture. Pairing the behavior with the topic would be quite telling. And provide strong fodder for marketing design.

While with a web start-up that boasted no initial desire for formal usability testing (don’t get me started) I did it myself.  Fascinating. Just watching how Millennials navigated around the pages to learn the apps was invaluable. I was able to articulate three types of first user experience (FUE) behavior. Could the users have explained it to me? Doubt it.  My cultural anthropology teachers and Margaret Mead were right. Observation is a special, special information gathering tool. Peace!

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Greed in marketing is nothing new.  Being different. Acting different. Selling differently…all support creating a competitive advantage and making more money. But greed is not a good thing.  It has ruined the economy (mortgage-backed securities), kept the U.S. beholden to terrorist oil states, and no doubt played a role in many hatreds around the world.  Sometimes greed needs to reach a breaking point before it succumbs.

Yesterday’s announcement between Ford and Toyota, to work on a hybrid engine for pick-up trucks may be a good sign for the planet and for marketing. The U.S. gov’t smartly threw down the gauntlet in terms of miles per gallon goals for vehicles recently and this new rear wheel drive engine is a massive step toward meeting those goals. (Anyone home GM?) Normally, greed would have kept a deal like this from happening, but Ford and Toyota are showing good judgment and forward thinking and they woman-ed up.  Oh, and the only reason it is happening is because Alan R. Mulally and  Akio Toyoda (company CEOs) ran into each other in the airport and probably actually liked one another.

As we marketers put our plans together, fill in our charts and goals and KPIs, how about we ask ourselves a simple tough question “If I wasn’t going to be greedy, what new company strategy might I employ?” As my Norwegian aunt might have said “Tink about it.”  Peace!  

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The digital triangle, located in NYC, bears three distinct corners.  DUMBO in Brooklyn. SOHO in Manhattan. Union Square, also in Manhattan.

DUMBO is where the coders are.  A youthful tech workforce who live digitally-centric lives, they are smart and have engineer-friendly minds. (A lot of gamer consoles burn out in DUMBO.) It’s a little men and boy heavy.  Union Square is where the money is.  Where the incubators are.  It’s where the DUMBO denizens with entrepreneurial spirit visit with their hands out.  It’s close to NYU and also has a lovely, youthful energy. Parking is expensive in Union Square but the smart money walks the streets.  SOHO is what makes the digital triangle different.  It is where designers, the truly creative and exceptionally beautiful like to call home. They don’t live there really, just work, shop and hang. If you can’t get inspired in SOHO with all its art, nubes, soft tacos, fashion, and vibe, you can’t get inspired.  All these neighborhoods are a subway or bike ride apart and feed off of each other. It is a perfect storm for start-ups.  

Unlike Sand Hill Road (money), its surrounding neighborhoods of Menlo Park, Palo Alto, etc. (tech engineers) and San Francisco (ad people) the Digital Triangle is close but not really connected. The west coast likes campuses. It works but not like the digital triangle. As technology’s pull increases and more and more of the economy is tied to digital commerce, NYC will grow in importance globally and will become a tech capital with no peer. Just ask Fred Wilson. Peace.

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Leo Apotheker CEO of HP in a recent interview came off as a really smart, refreshingly calm captain of the tech industry.  You know the type, not smiling but almost, methodical and thoughtful in his delivery. Confident, not cocky. He knew his numbers, his trends, margins (everyone’s margins, in fact) and had a plan – a future-proof plan.  Use WebOs as the connective tissue for all computing and communication devices, bolstered by an enterprise cloud play.  Lovely.  Sprawling but lovely. Anyone smell an apple?

Those who read these musings know I am all about focus.  That’s the brand planner in me. HP has been anything but focused over the last 10 years. A printer company. The world’s leading PC company. Outsourcing. Big iron. Smart phones. Tabs. And operating systems. But let’s not forget in the post Carly Fiorina era, this company’s financials have been smoking. So the company’s scale has been a positive.

In a stunning announcement yesterday, Mr. Apotheker went on record as saying he wants to jettison tablets, smart phones and the WebOs as businesses, sell the PC business as a standalone unit and buy Autonomy Software for $10B. Normally, I would support this type of move, especially for a floundering company, but this almost feels other-worldly.

The reported for the New York Times Verne G. Kopytoff (also sounds fishy) used words to describe the PC move such as “dump” and “unload.” What PR person was handling this briefing?   

I understand the need for focus and I get the desire to increase margins through upping the software and cloud quotient, which by the way dials down the need for headcount, but this business move feels bi-polar. I wonder how the story is playing in the HP Personal Systems Group today?  Check the meds. Peace.

 

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If allowed only one question with a consumer during a brand planning interview I would use that question to delve into “pride.”  In my years doing strategic work I’ve found it to be the most personal of questions. And the answers are always pregnant…and telling.

Planners can dig into anger, happiness, product usage stories, displeasure with competitive offerings, and a cocktail of other consumer probes – all of which are valuable, but pride, be it individual, societal or cultural often cuts to the chase.

If doing strategic planning for a business, marketing probes typically end up in the land of margins and revenue and sales, but asked about pride and the color of the answers change. Pride is soul stuff.  Pride gets you into emotional territory.  Though it can be touchy,  a little personal and may require careful handling, it is very fertile ground and almost always provides powerful brand insights.

Now go forth lions and find your pride. Peace.

 

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One of the fun things about being a marketing consultant is helping companies come up with new products.  Today most call this practice innovation.  I have a new R&D idea for Sherwin-Williams or really any paint manufacturer.  Design a clear coat finish for external house paint that when spayed on in a light mist will add years to the life of the product, improve color retention and prevent mold.   I’m no scientist, but one would think a breathable (or not) resin applied over a new coat of paint that helped extend the life of the finish would be something most home owners would invest in. Especially if priced correctly. 

The product would add to the total ticket price of the average house paint sale. Sherwin-Williams could even sell or rent the spray machine for an added revenue opportunity.  And as a new product category, this sealer/finisher would grow the total market.  “Add 5 years to the life of your paint job for only $99.”

I love growing markets and categories.  Now, if I could only just get a hair color company to make it cool for men to color their hair…

Are there ways to repackage and add to your product offering?  Give it some thought. Peace.

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Google’s “culture of technological obesity” reared its really big head yesterday and the company in early 2012 will be getting into the hardware business — following its intention announced yesterday to buy Motorola Mobility.  We’re not talking a nail salon breaking out pumice stones and getting into the foot care business, were talking about a software company buying manufacturing plants, accountants to manage depreciation, thousands of other-continent employees, and then playing the materials engineering,  just-in-time game.  No Beta release here.  No limited invites here.  (I don’t know how Apple does it, frankly.)

This is one bold, bold move. And there’s no reason it shouldn’t work.  There are hundreds of reasons it shouldn’t work, but no one reason.  The justice department had better staff up me droogies.

Unless someone comes along and proves that mobile computing causes brain or pituitary cancer, mobile computing is here to stay and with one company owning the OS, device, search and funding (advertising), it feels like quite the monopoly.  And don’t think Larry Page doesn’t have his eye on Sprint or Metro PCS. Google can eat. And eat. And think. And plan. And spend. This is going to be one wild planet-changing ride! If there was a global, publically traded law firm, I’d say buy stock today. Peace!

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