Brand Management

    Showing Up Isn’t Enough!

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    Bob Gilbreath, chief strategy officer at Possible Worldwide, wrote a book a year ago called Marketing With Meaning. It’s a counterpoint to Woody Allen’s quote about “90% of life is just showing up.”  Bob suggests embedding your message (and offer) with something of value.  Not mere boast and claim — something meaningful and fulfilling. The book is a must read.

    I created a brand plan for a health system a number of years ago designed to move the dial on about 9 attributes that make for a successful hospital experience; things like: “best doctors,” “leading edge treatments,” “improved patient outcomes.”  If you can answer yes to these hospital qualities, it is likely you will want your procedure done there.

    When I see work in this category today, sometimes I wonder if marketers are trying to be meaningful at all.  One NYC hospital spending a lot of money is doing it the Woody Allen way, just showing up. Doing “we’re here” ads. One word headlines and pretty pictures.  And the system that once had the nine meaningful measures?  It must have listened to its ad agency and now only measures “first mentions.”  That’s a research term for a telephone poll indicating what consumers answer when asked, “Name a hospital or hospital system in your region.” That’s measuring the media plan and the budget, not the communication of the work.

    The best politicians are those who have a vision, are true to it, and allow the populace to experience that vision.  Process that vision. The worst are those who read opinion polls and change direction at will.  Similarly, the best brands have a plan that creates meaningful differentiation and organized claim and proof to consumers.  And they stick to it. Peace!

    Branding: Scorch, drone or look ‘em in the eye.

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    It was not long ago that advertising was governed by a scorched earth approach. Fire up a message and spray it in every direction.  If you bought the top TV show, the best read magazine, the leading radio station and newspaper in the 10 largest cities, you reached everyone.

    Extending the metaphor, following the scorched earth approach, thanks to the web, we are now more in drone attack mode. We don’t target those not interested in our products and messaging, that would be wasteful, we conduct due diligence then hover over our targets and bomb the shit out of them. Behavioral targeting, search engines, opt-in vehicles all enable drone attack kills.  The problem with drone attacks is that there are often lots of accidental casualties. Drone attacks are not only singularly expensive, they can give a brand a bad name. Drone attacks are preferred to scorched earth because corporate executives feel more in control and can see immediate results.  

    The reality is, drone attacks do have kills (sales) though as a marketing tools they dilute our brands. Brands today are defined by campaigns, not brand values.  Ask a consumer about Old Spice and the first thing they’ll say is “that football player” or the “guy who rides the horse” or “guy with the great pecs.”  They rarely play back the human connection to the value of body spray.  

    What I love about new media – social media – is that corporate executive can tune in to consumers from street level. That’s where it counts. Scott Monty of Ford is tuned-in where it counts. Sure he’s Mr. Twitter and Mr. Fotchbook, but he hears his audience every day. And Alan Mulally, his boss, and the shareholders benefits. Mr. Monty is on the ground listening, not operating a drone remotely. That’s the way to build a brand. That’s how you build a marketing program. With a brand, a plan, and a policy. Not a campaign dashboard.  Peace!

    Fighting Overdog Syndrome.

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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.

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    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.

    The Marketing Morass that is Google+.

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    “It will change the way people work, share and communicate” is a sentence we’ve heard hundreds of times. And a sentence we’ve read in ads, thousands of times.  This sentence was used in an article today to describe how businesses will use Goggle+ Circles.  According to the same article Google+ is a social network, like Facebook. It kind of looks like a clean version of Facebook but acts more like Twitter, organized to feed information of those one follows.  Then again, it displays pictures and videos in the feed as does Facebook. The buttons and apps in the side margins of Google+ are cool, offering the ability to gerrymander friends and acquaintances into groups and also to do video chats through an exciting feature called hangouts (which I have yet to try), so that feels new — but kind of hidden.

    The product managers at Google say Circle and/or Hangouts will change the way people work, share and communicate, and they could be right – but not based on the current mish-mash of free hand messaging in the market today.  Google+ released to techies in Beta because techies thrive on confusion.  They eat it for breakfast. But for the rest of the web Google+ still doesn’t have an Is-Does and so is compared to Twitter and Facebook.  The killer application (video circles) is underutilized and under understood.  I do believe video hangouts or cirlces (or whatever they are) will be a game changer – especially in training and education and problem solving.  But right now the whole Google+ thing is a morass of huh.  Were I Google, Google Labs or BBH, I’d be working on a Super Bowl ad (I know, it’s against their better judgment) that distills the Google+ value and showcases the ease of multiparty video chat to the world.  Google+ was a horrible name. A lazy name for what may be a huge product in 3 years. If properly brand managed. It is still a product in need of an Is-Does.  Peace!

    Some “Is he tripping?” business theory.

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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.

    Loss On Investment. (Pt. 2)

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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.

     

    Brand Dignity.

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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.

    Back end developers.

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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!

    Fortune Brands. Breaking Up Is Easy To Do.

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    What do Jim Beam, Moen Faucets, Master Locks and Titleist golf balls have in common?  The letter “e?”  No.  They are all owned by Fortune Brands, a public company with $6.5 billion in annual sales.  It was announced yesterday that Fortune Brands will be split into 3 companies: House and Hardware will be one public (stock) entity, Spirits will be a new company (private), with Maker’s Mark, Canadian Club, Courvoisier and Laphroaig in its liquor cabinet, and Titleist the smallest revenue producer, which will likely be sold.

    These are all very nice brands. Consumers know these products and have seen all supported by strong brand management over the years.

    Pershing Square Capital Management recent took ownership of 10.9% of Fortune stock and, in the driver’s seat, has decided to enforce the trivestiture. Normally this type of thing is seen as raiding and is all about making a quick buck, but the value of these brands makes me think this is not going to be such a bad thing.  Each of the three entities will have greater product and consumer segment focus.  Management will be able to tighten up its obs and strats, with consumers not feeling a thing.  A history of strong brand management is the legacy of the current Fortune board and its forbearers. All brands should do well and be revived.  Peace!

    Best Buy Default.

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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.