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!

    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.

    Freehand Messaging.

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    Freehand is defined thusly:

    adjective

    1. drawn or executed by hand without guiding instruments, measurements, or other aids: a freehand map.

    adverb

    2. in a freehand manner: to draw freehand.

    When CMOs, senior marketers and their agencies say “consumers own brands,” it makes for good copy but bad management. Consumers buy products, weighing in with their pocketbooks as to taste, preference and price requirements, but they do not own the brands.  Ad, direct and digital agencies have known this for years.  It is what creates the conflict between client and agency.  Clients want the work they want and agencies want the work they want.  Clients own the brands.

    Freehand messaging is what happens when you turn your brand over to consumers to manage.  The conversation, then, can take any course it wants. Good, bad, indifferent. If I am working my ass off managing a craft cookie brand, around attributes of “naturally moist,” “healthier ingredients” and “complex flavors” — on a shoestring budget — I want to make sure people are talking about those things…the things that sell my cookies. Not cookie ephemera. When the consumer discussion is not guided by brand managers and agencies, the discussion is freehand. And marketers are not doing their job. Every dollar spent by a marketer needs to result in a deposit in the brand bank. Withdrawals are the Antichrist. Stop the freehand by managing it! Peace.

    Remote control marketing.

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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.

    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.

    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.

    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!

    The best worst job in America.

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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.

    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.