Brand Management

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Just finished reading a story in The New York Times about the Robin Hood restaurant chain in Spain run by Father Angel Garcia Rodriquez, who operates a pay-for establishment during breakfast and dinner only to serve the homeless for dinner. The dinner crowd is served by waiters and waitresses, on real plates, using nice cutlery, not plastic. For free. In addition to the charity, his wish is that the experience will engender hope in his nightly diners. This planned act of kindness is popular and successful and may be on its way to Miami, Florida.

Acts of kindness and selflessness create powerful feelings for all involved. Selling is not a human trait. Charity is. Every brand should ask itself “What is the nicest thing we have done for customers this year?” If the answer is a one-day-sale or a pre-printed holiday card the brand needs to reexamine its approach.

Planned acts of kindness should be requisite for all brands. The financial officers may not always see the value, but they’re not building brands. They are building bank accounts.

Peace.

 

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I wrote a piece last week about LOI or loss on investment. There used to be only a couple of ways for brands to let consumer’s down: A bad product experience — we all know how that can get tongues wagging — and poor or offensive marketing communication, e.g., an ad. The latter rarely happens because professionals are developing those and approving those. Also, ads are often researched.

Two ways to lose brand investment used to be the case, not today. Brands use way move channels to reach consumers. A poorly laid out website can tork off consumers. A slow or unfulfilling ecommerce experience. Some poorly thought out photos on Facebook accompanied by irate online comments. Digital and social have given consumers and poorly trained employees new hand in communications and it can dilute brand value. Undoing the good work.

Last week a friend emailed me having received a disingenuous email from Amazon. A huge fan who has fed lots of money into the Kindle engine she was pissed because Amazon asked her to take a survey about Kindle usage. She happily agreed but then learned they were just trying to upsell her a Kindle Fire. To add insult, they asked lots of inane questions they should have known having so much data on her. Her rant to me was paragraphs. She’ll get over it, but a petal has fallen off that rose.

The problem in brand management today is twofold. First, you actually have to have a brand strategy to manage. (One idea and three proof planks.) And second, you have to manage vigorously…with all partners, vendors, employees and publics. Find your brand strategy and feed it.

Peace.

 

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Apple has been on the front page of many metropolitan newspapers over the last couple of years.  The FoxConn story on manufacturing in China under un-American circumstances, the hard looks at Steve Jobs during publication of his biography and passing and now its tax avoidance.  It’s almost as if some in the media have an axe to grind with this darling of American commerce and technology.  Overdogs often are targeted. Yet with all this bad press, most consumers still love Apple.

apple

Microsoft used to be the overdog and all consumers used their products — but most skewered them. Many techies loved to kill them on message boards, in offices and around the digital coolers.  The only Microsoft advocates worked at Microsoft.

So how why does Apple get stink on itself and still maintain the love? Products. And proper brand management. Much of the latter is due to Lee Clow, TBWA/Chiat Day, Steve Jobs himself and the marketing Kool-Aid drinkers.  The Apple ads are fun, funny, sometimes biting, colorful and artful.  And clean like the products.

I’m hard-pressed to see how the latest tax image problem will be resolved by Apple, but I’m sure it will be. Samsung, Microsoft, HTC and Google Glass will fight Apple for share of wallet. But when it comes to the “love,” they will need to create and manage their brands with grace, insight and focus if they are to beat the overdog syndrome. (Google and it’s agency BBH have a clue. Eye on them.) Peace.

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I was reading B-school management stuff this morning and came across some smart thinking from a few years ago.  Treacy and Wiersema suggested success was earned through “operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy.”  Who could argue?  Crawford and Mathews started by expanding or segmenting the 4Ps to include “product, price, access, service and experience,” but their unique thesis, explained in their book The Myth of Excellence, is that they want companies to pick one of those areas in which to excel, one to be strong in and simply maintain parity in the others.  This, they posit, will create focus, consumer meaning and differentiation. Who could not listen to this argument?

These two school of business thought differ from mine, though, in that they are organized around corporate structure not brand structure. Huh?  Well, with the b-school approach, you could walk into the building and visit these departments using the office directory. In my brand planner view of the world, the company is organized not by department but by brand plank – or value proposition. Every company has a marketing dept., a finance dept., and product management, but few companies are organized to deliver value based upon the things that consumers care about – what moves them to preference and purchase.

Companies chatter about differentiation all the time yet organize themselves the same as every other company.  Companies that want to be different, that want to create greater value for their customers, are companies that focus their energies on the planks. In the healthcare system space, the plank covering “information and resource sharing” is not the IT dept. or the quality control dept. For a commercial maintenance company, the “preemptive” plank that prevents mishaps before they occur, is not the customer care dept.

Now before you get crazy. or think me crazy, I’m not advocating reinventing corporate structure – well maybe just a little.  I’m suggesting creating value at companies by better mirroring what customers care about. Companies with employees that understand customer needs, rather than operational excellence, etc., will be the market leaders of the future. How’s that for social business design, Peter Kim and Jeff Dachis? Peace.

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Don’t do it.

I once worked with an in-house marketing group, the manager of which thought his/her craft was separate from that of the parent company.  As much as I suggested the manager and team needed to get “out of the building” and participate in the buying/selling/product experience, the manager, trained as a designer, thought spacing and type and color were his/her primary concerns. A remote control manager.

A good deal of modern warfare is also remote control. Drone pilots thousands of miles away are conducting military assaults without having to looking into the eyes of their target. It protects pilots but is a desensitized form of warfare and sometimes errant.

Rock musicians who don’t tour do not get to see if their art causes the audience to jump (on beat), smile, sing or become transfixed.

Remote control marketers and their agents are not paying attention. They allow their own passion to drive the process making it more important than the passions of buyers. That is not to say a marketer has to please everyone; some audiences are just not prospects. But by keeping marketing off of remote control you have a chance to get even non-targets swept up. Strawberry Frog talks about creating movements. Creating selling and brand movements happens to marketers who are always on, always paying attention, and rarely in remote control mode.

A good brand plan allows marketing guidance, yet the senses must always be on.  Peace.

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An important target for What’s the Idea? is the technology company. I’ve worked with AT&T on the digital applications side, helped launch Lucent (now Alcatel-Lucent), wrote a lauded brand strategy for ZDNet and have helped scads of mid-size tech companies and start-ups.  Beyond experience, why tech companies are so important is the fact that they don’t get branding. The best of the lot are engineer-driven and see brand and marketing nerds are empty jeans.

So for you tech engineers and entrepreneurs, here’s a simple metaphor: Brand planners are like back end developers. If the back end is the hardware and engine and the front end the software and user interface (UI), then we brand planners work the former. The back end creates the organizing principle that determines which 1s and 0s to turn on and off.  The brand plan creates and governs the same and the pathways.  It’s simple really.  Perhaps marketers have tried to make it sound so complicated with all our markobabble and talk about silly things like transparency, activation and, and, and.  But a brand plan is one meaningful strategy and 3 governing principles. On or off.  

The front end in the metaphor  — what users see — is advertising, newsletters, digital content, acquisition programs.  Without good governance, these things show up on a corporate homepage as 38 buttons.  What I love about people like Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Steve Rubel, Peter Kim, Bob Gilbreath and Jeff Dachis to a degree, is they get the brand “back end” and, so, their front ends are meaningful. People understand them.

Engineers need to hear and live this lesson. If they do, they’ll see the market through infrared goggles. Peace!

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I love the brands I work on. It’s a requirement. I’ve often said “your baby might be ugly but s/he’s your baby” and that’s what happens if you are a good brand planner. Brands become yours, like children.  It’s not likely you are doing a good job of planning until you do have the love.  Being smitten isn’t enough.

So what’s this dignity thing? Well, if you get to know your brand well enough to love it, then you see there are probably many ways to present it in undignified ways.  Ad agents, tyro in-house designers, social media interns may tart it up like a trailer park hussy. Or give it a smart-ass, know-it-all voice. The music arranger might change the vibe, like the DNG’s dancing hamsters for Kia, who are now grooving to techno rather than hip-hop. Undignified.

Once, in a focus group in Kansas City for AT&T, while exposing advertising to consumers I was smacked in the face by the comment “AT&T wouldn’t talk to me that way.  That’s not an AT&T ad.”  That consumer had a dignity-ometer working.

The point:  If you don’t know your brand, starting with the idea and planks, you are not able to understand how to present it with dignity. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, be irreverent and even a little pushy – it means dressing the baby up for success. Know it, love it, share it with everyone on the team, then present it. Peace.

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Scheiße

This is my last post of 2011.  Are you ready?  It’s a short one.

No one loves consumers more than I. I study them, they are my living. But consumers don’t know scheiße (German, pronounced shy-zah) about managing brands; let’s stop pretending they do. May peace be upon you.

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One of the most exciting yet scariest jobs in the world is probably CMO of the Magazine Publishers of America.  The MPA is an association funded by competing print and online properties that fight one another harder than the GOP and Dems at holiday time.  To say the magazine business is changing would be an understatement.  But to a great extent, it is also staying the same.  All that’s changing is what’s delivered and how.  Brilliant photo journalism is still required but now must include video.  Great writing, analysis and thought leadership still win that day – but there is a lot more competition (bloggers) and algorithmic noise.

Readers twitch more today than ever before, requiring magazine publishers to anchor them to their sites.  And advertises, the lifeblood of the magazine business, are becoming enamored of publishing and content creation. And don’t forget magazines are made from trees, not a particularly forward thinking resource. (Though probably more renewable than circuit boards.)

Herding the powerful magazine cats out of the marble hallway is a challenge. It requires someone who has more power than the cats themselves. Someone who commands respect. Probably not an ink-stained patriarch, but someone with mad vision. Someone who can see beyond the dashboard. Who the Lewis and Clark is?   If you thought being CEO of Yahoo was tough, keep your eyes on this search. Peace.

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I love making predictions.  When I started disagreeing with Barry Judge, CMO of Best Buy, a few years ago about marketing and brand management, implicit in that disagreement was that Best Buy would have earnings troubles. You see, Mr. Judge jumped on the pop marketing band wagon proclaiming “companies don’t own brands, consumers do.”  My response was this view was lazy and opened the door for disorganized brand management. Even a number of P&G digitists were agreeing with this fallacious notion.

Best Buy’s net income is down 30% this quarter, all due to price cutting.  If your name is Best Buy and you ask customers what they want they’ll say “coupons and low prices.” If you don’t create another value for your customers they default to price.  And when customers default to price you’re not marketing, you’re simply selling.

Mr. Judge and his army of Twelpforcers and sales assistants needed a plan. They were in the right neighborhood (providing assistance), but bounding about without a motivation.  Had they a plan, had someone at the top managed the brand rather than turned it over to the masses, Best Buy would be killing it now as we slide step out of recession. 

The good news for Mr. Judge is it’s not too late to fix this thing. He has more data, more inputs and more mindshare than he knows what to do with.  If he organizes his house with some serious brand management chops, next year Best Buy won’t be covering up price tags to fend off the smartphone price scanner apps, they’ll be smiling with gold teeth. Peace.

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