July 2012

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The Catskills, a mountain range in NY State, has a promotional group seeking to improve its image among a new generation of tourists.  To that end they are holding a contest to find a new slogan. A really accomplished NYC branding expert was quoted today in the NYT as saying the leading vote getters are not really differentiated.  They are “so generic, that they could be applied about almost anywhere.” And he’s right. But two of the most famous of tourism slogans extant are “I love NY” and Virginia is for Lovers.”   Not a lot of endemic value there.

The brand expert correctly said “To change the perception of a region today requires more than a slogan; they don’t really change perception the way they used to.”  That point is way accurate.  The reason being slogans don’t last very long these days.  I’m making this up but I’d say slogan lifetimes average 26 months. And whose fault is that?  Ad agencies. 

I won a big piece of advertising business while with an agency once by telling the review committee why their line was so great.

Done well, great slogans are guiding principles.  And strategies. They are not just limericks. Peace. 

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One current marketing trend in America, partially caused by the recession, is the craft economy.  People learning to cook at home, fix their broken stuff, use better quality, better value products – a la craft beer. But beyond the recession, as America’s leisure time has become a bit more focused on technology (TV, video games, social networking) I see some blow back from those who want more…and they are turning to the craft economy. Both as buyers and sellers. 

This morning I drove past a McDonagh’s Milk delivery truck and realized this small local dairy is schlepping milk around in glass quart bottles.  It made me want to drink fresh milk. There were no ads on the very spare truck, yet I felt something and did something (like write about it.)  If the craft economy can by its very nature drive demand, it needn’t rely on advertising – and that is why I know the craft economy is for real. Our town just started a local farmer’s market, and it’s filled with craft economy buyers and sellers. Communing about craft.

So where do people go on the web to find craft people and products? And who will curate that web content?  Who will determine what is craft and what is mass-produced, junk economy material?  I suspect some entrepreneur will latch on and use Yelp-like rating to do it.  But that’s not particularly crafty.  Let’s see who wins. Because it’s coming. Peace!

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In AOL Chairman Tim Armstrong’s earnings call yesterday, he spoke of “One insertion order, all screens” which is an awfully bold idea.  Continuity focused media planners aside, creating an ad and promotion that is arrayed across a number of media screen and types (not all media is screen-based) offers a media lab that will be tres helpful to marketers.

When advertising doesn’t work, who do we blame?  “When the phone don’t ring,” the country song goes, “it’ll be me.”  But with a number of ads in different media situations performing and measured by big data analytics, marketers have something tangible to work with. They won’t just be looking at the voids.

Let me vamp here. Say you go to AOL and buy 2 million impressions – all at a blended CPM rate.  Some or on Huff Post, others on local editions of Patch, more on a video channel or mobile site.  Perhaps a TV component or podcast.  Measuring and managing that activity, by media, offer, and message will be cool dashboard stuff.  Then overlay some demographic data on the performance and you have veritable marketing fun house. Of course there will be some mess, but big gains usually start messy. Como se the Affordable Healthcare Act? Peace.

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Here’s my take on these three important engines of commerce. 

Sales is responsible for making money hit the bank account. When sales are good everyone in C-suite is happy. Sales people like patterns; if something works they will use it. Sales people like air cover so that prospects know who they are and what they do, even before they arrive. Sales people like leads, but they have to be great leads. And they like good support in the areas of communications, delivery and aftercare.

Operations is responsible for logistics. When products and services are procured, delivered and serviced in a frictionless environment, the C-suite is happy.  Operations is not just loading dock stuff, it’s about interdepartmental efficiency.  When operations are fluid and systematized, problems are dealt with quickly, minimizing hiccups and reducing negative impact on profits.

Strategy done well, is the traffic cop that makes sales and operation more fruitful.  Strategy is not mission, however. Every major league baseball team has a mission. Win games. Score more runs than the other team.  Every company has a mission. Make more money than you spend.  Make more money than the competition.  In Army parlance, the mission might be “take Hamburger Hill.”  The strategy on the other hand is how to take that hill.  

All strategy and no sales makes Jack a poor boy. All three areas need to perform together in order to create sustainable success. Now you don’t have to go out and buy Jack Welch’s books.  Go forth, Peace!

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MOOCs are the haps these days.  The acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses.  Coursera, started by two Stanford University scientists, is one such MOOC and it’s a for profit enterprise.  MITx began this whole movement by offering a couple of free online courses then deciding to brand itself MITx —  a good idea. But this past it partnered with Harvard and rebranded the venture edX.  Today Cal Berkley joined edX which is a not for profit.

This is an nascent and exciting category but one has to wonder if these aggregated Xs will soon become exes. The university brands by themselves are so powerful that an online holding company with a master brand atop seems a short term solution. Let’s wait and see. Peace.

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There’s an interesting article in the Times today regarding the branding of Venture Capital firms.  The word “brand” is mentioned 4 times (Tools, File, Find on page) but nowhere is there any sense of what these VC firms actually stand for – what their point of difference is. The article really means “awareness” and “PR” not branding.  Marc Andreesen and PR hawk Margit Wennmachers all know the value of awareness, stories and creating positive prevailing wind in the blogosphere, but no one (reporter Nicole Perlroth included) understands how to build a brand…how to organize the selling story that is branding. They misuse the word.

And that might be a good thing, because though it’s important to have a well-known and respected VC behind you. Entrepreneurs – and this, the article does say – want to make sure their company and brand are visible during start-up. Start-ups are the ones that need the brand building, the organizing principle. More so than VC firms. Everybody needs strong brand, a strong Is-Does and a meaningful organizing principle, but VC firms that hire PR people and think that’s branding need to dig a bit deeper. Peace.

 

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Microsoft just announces its first ever quarterly loss; the function of an accounting move to write down the purchase of aQuantive, an ad serving company for which it overpaid and, perhaps, mismanaged.  But the story of the quarterly report points out a larger financial issue which one might debate is of questionable strategy.  In order to keep current PC sales moving, Microsoft has agreed to allow every new purchaser of a PC with Windows 7 a $14.99 upgrade to the soon-to-be released Windows 8 – an exciting new operating systems that will change the way PC users navigate their machines. Windows 8 is much more touchscreen-like and tile operated.

I understand that their relations with PC manufacturers is important, but I’ve never approved of this sort of pricing approach.  Before new model years, car sales do slow. You have to plan for that. As I’ve written before, Windows 8 should have been renamed Tiles and this mad break with the past celebrated. Like when Windows 3 was launched. Microsoft’s brand diaspora and product diaspora, has slowed growth.  This is one time, however, when the company should make a sharp cut and move on. Windows 8 is a very cool product.  Even the techie “grouchos” aren’t killing it. It’s time to take back the news cycle and move on from Windows.  Peace!  

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I half disagree with Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!’s new CEO,  about Yahoo’s challenge.  When asked the question “Does Yahoo needs to define whether it is a technology company or a media company?” she responded “It’s not the right questions.  The most important thing is to give end users something valuable, inspiring and delightful that makes them want to come to Yahoo! every day.”  With that part of her answer I completely agree. But the way to get there — is to become content-focused.  In the NYT article Ms. Mayer’s quote came from, an eMarketer analyst suggested that Yahoo doesn’t own the operating system or the device and that there may not be enough room in the market for a 4th mobile platform. (I hate the “P” word, you can drive a truck through it.) Whatever he meant by platform, my take is there will certainly be enough room in the mobile world for a great content provider.

Ms. Mayer accurately feels that mobile is a growth zone for Yahoo!. If she provides content that is mobile ready, not technology ready – she will grow. Technology-enabled (other people’s technology) content is her north star. Any apps or start-ups that result are gravy.

This gem just needs a little cleaning off. 700 million people can’t be wrong. Peace!

 

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“Make it matter” is the new tagline for HP.  I posted about it in June when the line broke.  Creating value in a commodity market is tricky. It can’t be done haphazardly.  Finding hard and fast value planks are the key – then they must be banged home.  Not with just one ad, with many.  Over long periods of time and for the foreseeable future.  It’s easy to go off piste with a value program, however.

HP’s Make it Matter campaign appears to be a create value campaign, yet today I read a promotional ad “Buy 2 ink cartridges get one free” and that is not a great expression of making it matter.  Not that saving money isn’t important.  The ad does not include the new tagline.  It does have a highlighted call to action with the URL hp.com/getmore.

Retail and image together are hard to do well. Retail is about how many sales hit the ledge on a given day. It’s shark time.  Image on the other hand is about changing attitudes that predispose people to buy. Done well, and image ad can create action, though it tends to be long haul stuff.

HP has enough money to have two campaigns. But I’m just not feeling it. I’m feeling uncertainty here. Once the snow globe gets a good shake – there are lots of things new at HP and its agency – all will settle down. Knock-knock. Peace!  

 

 

 

 

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Whoever coined the term “on-size-fits-all” got a lot of mileage out of that phrase.  Must have been an ad guy.  In this age of specialization, one size does not fit all, has actually gotten a lot more traction.  And as I read about Apple’s decision to come out with a smaller version of the iPad – a 7 inch version – it makes me wonder when the form factor of the tablet is going to settle down.  What will be the most useful and used size?  The Samsung Galaxy family is certainly larger than most mobile phones, but not a business-ready typing device.  Even the iPad, who just about every tech-forward person owns, is not the right size for vigorous typing.  Many iPad users tote along spiral notebooks to meetings.

The Microsoft Surface when released will goes bigger (but not too big), yet its felt-like typing surface seems to be an interesting breakthrough and may be a market changer. Especially for those who want to retire the pen and pencil.  

The ergonomics of the tablets, pads and large format phones have not yet found their level. Must they fit in a woman’s bag? A man’s back or front product?  It’s not the wild west, it’s just the wide open west. And most companies in the space are trying to find the right place to settle.  Apple, it seems, is continuing to experiment. Should be interesting to watch. Peace.

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