August 2017

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I was reading an LG ad this morning, the headline for which was the “Customer Satisfaction: The Only Thing That Matters.” It struck me as a typical marketing pander. LG is a South Korean electronics company aggressively pushing into the U.S. market.  My gut tells says the products are competitively priced, elegantly designed, but of just average quality. Again, my brand gut talking.  Not too much different from the position Samsung was in 20 years ago, before Peter Arnell did his brand refresh magic.

Customer satisfaction is never the only thing that matters in manufacturing today. Price matters. Quality matters. (One could rightly argue quality is directly tied to satisfaction.) But materials and planet matter too. Materials that are hard to recycle or that dissipate into the atmosphere as carbons, matter. Even if they make consumers “satisfied.”

So the good people at LG are right to care about customer sat. but they should pay heed to the very American care-abouts that the planet is warming, the climate is growing more squirrely, and electronics manufacturers need to do better. That is something that will make us all satisfied.

Peace.

 

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For the last three days Red Hat software has run fill page ads in The New York Times paper paper. Today I broke down and read one.  I’m not sure if they were three different ads or the same one. Lost opportunity.  Advertising is a funny business; even bad ads work. Sometimes just being there is enough. But I’m not of that school. I dislike “We’re Here” advertising. Ads that do little more than arrive, list services and give contact info.  

What’s the idea Red Hat? It appears, from the headline, that the idea is “Tame Today. Frame Tomorrow.”  If the idea wasn’t so hackneyed I’d mention it’s actually two ideas. Both well-done. (Like a 2 hour Bubba Burger.)

I’ve liked Red Hat, as a brand, from its beginnings many, many moons ago. Famous for open source, famous for dashing tech branding. But come on people! Could you make an ad with some vital organs? With some proof of claim? With a semblance of a brand strategy? You can’t just toss a logo on a page, add a second color, play copywriting scrabble and call it advertising.  

Red Hat needs a brand strategy. Look to your advertising ancestors. Read a book on advertising. Find an idea based on care-abouts and good-ats.

Peace.

 

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Brand Leadership.

I’ve written a lot about leaders and their role in brand building. When in the presence of a great leader you can feel it. In the presence of a faux leader, the same. I’ve been a good leader and a poor leader and all the time it’s just me. Why the difference? Why the variability?

There are times to use the pimp hand and times for succor. Knowing which to use and when are key.  I just write off the variability to being human. To being fallible. Learn. Learn constantly and keep leading.

Brand don’t have brains. So brand leadership isn’t as hard. With a good brand strategy in place – brand strategy defined as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging – brand leadership becomes easy. A brand is either on or it’s off. No emotions, no jealousy, no envy. Just one claim and three proof planks.

With a good brand strategy in place, even (human) corporate leadership is easier. As I said earlier this week, brand strategy is like penicillin.

Peace.

 

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There are a couple of start-up companies founded by advertising ex-pats focusing on organizational design and strategy.  These companies are convinced the digital economy and digital tools are being overlooked when it comes to evolving organizational efficiency. They are not wrong.

NOBL and The Ready are two such companies whose missions are to assist legacy orgs transition to newer models, the goals being improved agility, aggressiveness, accountability and profit. (The Dachis Group operated in this space 10 years ago, but became a software company.)

I need to study some of these methodologies more before fully commenting, but here’s a quick observation. The going in premise is “the organization is the enemy.” The framework, as I understand it, begins with executive and stakeholder interviews, team workshops, feedback studies and lots of charts. No doubt, if you rub some stem cells on it, I mean add some digital productivity tools, you can move any organization forward. It’s no hocus pocus, it’s a real business and the advice is good.

But, I am a brand planner and for me brand strategy is like penicillin. A cure all. I am of the mind a well-constructed brand strategy can solve organizational problems; perhaps even better than rote org design.

An organizational design framework, can be generic. A templated approach to solving inefficiency. A brand strategy approach, though, does not view organizational structure as the problem. Rather, it studies the disconnects between customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. Organizations can and must change to remove these impediments but those changes are less about pathways and communications occlusions and more about strategy tied to brand value.

No one is arguing organizational delivery can be improved. I am just suggesting it’s better to make a cookie more moist and healthy, than making the formulary more efficient. One can do both…starting from the brand POV is all I am advocating.

Peace.

 

 

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Jeff Bezos is one daring dude. (Wanted to use the F-bomb, but mom might be reading.) By purchasing Whole Foods he sent a shiver through the stock market, knocking some competitive grocers down significantly. He announced yesterday that Whole Foods will cut prices beginning this Monday. Some analysts predict as much as 15-25%. Oohfah. Mr. Bezos doesn’t give a rat’s ass about profitability.  He has enough money in the bank to lose near-term so he can win long-term.  A player.

Were I Mr. Bezos, here’s what I would do. Take it a step further. Reduce prices even more for one whole month. Bring prices down to Aldi range. Costco range. But only for a month. Use it as a “trial balloon.” Trial is a promotional tool known for breaking behaviors. Once people are actually in Whole Foods and shop there a cycle or two, they will be fans.

Many people who volume shop at Costco and Sam’s Club throw away perishable food. “I can buy 20 tomatoes for the price of 6. Even if I toss out 10, I come out ahead.”  Whole Foods can and will educate shoppers about better-for-you-food, healthier shopping and less waste, something that’s not happening in a Costco or BJs.  

The promotional month will be crazy — with high traffic and supply hiccups, but it will be worth it.  “Prime” the Amazon pump, Mr. Bezos. Prime the pump.

Peace.    

 

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In my pre-career as a brand planner I met with then head of NY planning at BBH, Paul Matheson. BBH was on a side street in Chelsea, in a little commercial walk up, trying to find its footing in NY. As someone with little formal brand strategy training, apparently I did a rather good job of talking trade craft.  I recall Mr. Matheson saying of the 7 or so critical factors in a BBH brand strategy I mentioned 6.  Most people got 3, he offered.  Culture everyone missed, but not I — with an Anthroplogy background.

Today I’m thinking of revisiting my critical factors and adding a new one: Provenance.

A neat word provenance. It means where something comes from. Coors beer comes from the Rockies, brewed with Rocky Mountain water. Farm to table restaurant brands rely on provenance. Maine lobsters. Muscle Shoals musicians. That kind of thing. Understanding where brands physically come from is important. The people that make the brands. The materials. The design intent — Greene and Greene furniture, for instance. Endemic brand qualities are embedded in where and why products and services are made. Is an Austin app different from a Stanford app?

As my Norwegian aunt would say “Tink about it.” Think about provenance.

Peace.

 

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I am relaunching What’s The Idea? in Asheville, NC following 9 years in the NY metropolitan area. An exciting challenge.

Here, a sushi roll costs about the same. A pint of craft beer, the same-ish. The real estate market is hot and entrepreneurism high. For a brand consultant the winds are blowing in the right direction. But time will tell.  I’ll need to understand the “care-abouts” so I can sell the “good-ats.” Then price effectively.

My tongue-in-check claim “I’ve been known to work for beer,” rings even truer here, as there are a number of craft beer start-ups.  The reality of so many breweries down here can create a challenge. Can craft beer actually be considered a commodity? How does one differentiate one mountain brewery from another? Hmm.

The big guys Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have an almost theme park approach to building fealty. Challengers like Pisgah Brewery and Highland Brewery are doing smart grass roots efforts promoting on-prem and outdoor music – sometimes with big name acts like The John Butler Trio. Less loquacious brewers are using local food and pickers-on-stools.

And, of course, it’s all about the hero beer. The one unique brew that gains national attention. Google Peter Cotter and Mark Burford. I never made a penny off them, but did learn a shit ton from their journey.

Stay tuned.  Going to be fun.

Peace.

 

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What’s The Idea? is the name of this branding consultancy. The idea referred to in the inquiry is the idea that drives positive commerce and profitability. “What’s the idea that drives revenue?” One might ask how an idea can translate into measurable revenue.  A fine question. Few brand strategists will go on record with an answer. Every brand idea served up by WTI can pass the revenue test.

The long standing brand idea for Coke, and management might argue this with me today, is “refreshment.” Were someone to field a quantitative research study measuring the degree to which soda drinkers agree Coke is the most refreshing choice — and track that number over time to revenue, you would have a proper test. Coke wouldn’t do it, I suspect.

I wrote a brand strategy for elder care and acute rehab facility not long ago, the idea for which was “average is the enemy.” Were a research study to be fielded among patients gauging their agreement as to how the healthcare company measured everything and outperformed others, that too, could be tied to revenue growth. 

Every brand idea should be able to pass the revenue test. That’s why it’s called strategy. Return On Strategy (ROS).

If you have a brand idea see if you have a mechanism in pace to measure it.

Peace.

 

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A number of years ago, while with McCann-Erickson, I was on the new business team that pitched and won the worldwide Motorola account – at the time one of the world’s premier technology corporations. Someone smart upstairs decided it would be a good idea to put a global research project in play to tout the scale and utility of McCann’s global network. I wasn’t the developer of the research questionnaire, fielded by 10 plus offices around the globe, but the data was given to me to interpret. A tactic in search of an insight.

My insight, which we embedded into the presentation in an uneven way, was that the world was made up of 3 different segments of wireless adoption. All based on teledensity – the quantification of communications devices per person.
The creative was great, (we used a Rolling Stones song as an idea bed), there was no time left for the media portion of the presentation (common in new business at the time) and the chemistry was lovely. No one ever came out and said the segmentation insight was the deal-breaker, but all creative being equal-ish (and it never is), I’m pretty sure the Moto team from Atlanta felt a marketing depth to our pitch others lacked.

A tactic in search of an insight can work. Can be worth millions.

Peace.

 

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I love Christopher Walken. I’m beginning to appreciate Justin Timberlake. And I’m a huge fan of healthier-for-you foods. Brands are my thing and as an ad rat, my senses are heightened during the Super Bowl. All of these things converged during the Super Bowl of 2017 with the fruit drink spot featuring Messrs. Walken and Timberlake. Granted, at the Super Bowl party it’s not always easy to hear, but I did get the Bai-Bai-Bai joke. “Oh, that’s the Justin Timberlake song.” Nice ad craft, if you are trying to seed a name.

In an article in the NYT two days ago, Bai brand stewards were crowing about an increase in TV ad awareness of 50% since the spot first aired. Not a metric that launched a thousand marketing directorships. Ad awareness doesn’t always equal sales — though it’s a good first step. It wasn’t until I finished the article that I realized Bai, Bai, Bai was a phonetic representation of bye, bye, bye to sugar. That was lost on me.
So this was a case where the main brand idea (no sugar) was lost in the creative translation. And that’s poor ad craft.
When you build a brand, your claim or idea must blast through. That’s brand stewardship. Sometimes ad craft gets in the way. Ad awareness should never trump message.

Peace.

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