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Tom Voelk, who writes the “Driven” column for The New York Times, reviewed the new Hyundai Genesis G80 today. The G80 is Hyundai’s latest venture into the luxury automobile market. (Branded Genesis, not Hyundai, it can only be purchased at Hyundai dealerships. So much for the veil.)  According to Mr.Voelk, it is designed with materials and performance that competitively positions it with BMW’s 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class. The only thing things it does not offer is brand appeal.  And for that, it is pricing the G80 about $15,000 less than the aforementioned.

I write about brand all the time but rarely about price. Here’s a question for you marketers: Should Hyundai have used a discount for the G80 or not?  It’s a traditional marketing ploy — incentivize purchase to start to grow share.

I don’t recall if the first iteration of the Genesis (launched with much fanfare during the Super Bowl by Lebron a couple of years ago) was comparably priced with BMW and Mercedes, but this deep discount is at odds with the class of car. At least in my book.

So my answer to the question about discount is “no.” Even if it means a few years of slow growth.  A better idea would have been to offer a 1 year trade-in near list value to all buyers. That would have been bold. Price cannot be divorced from brand.  

You cannot discount luxury.






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“Democracy Dies in Darkness” is the new tagline of The Washington Post, now found under the masthead. It’s being lauded as a wonderful brand idea. I must agree. It’s poetic, memorable and few papers can wear it as can The Washington Post. Bravo.

Critics might say it’s a little generic. Not exclusive. But this isn’t the Amityville Record we’re talking about it’s one of the top two or so newspaper brands in the U.S.  One famous for breaking stories from the darkness.

When I think about the word democracy these days, the tweak toward president Trump that is this new tagline makes me wonder about the roots of the words democrat and republican. Is a republic different from a democracy?

The dictionary suggests a republic is “a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.” The latter part of the definition “chosen indirectly” by them, may set a republic apart from a democracy.

This tagline positions democracy a left leaning concept, then, which most people will agree is a foundational paper POV. As smart as the tagline is, I’d hope we don’t begin to politicize the word democracy as a blue concept.  Nice tagline. I hope it doesn’t create a hint of darkness on its own.




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Cadillack of Sales.

The kiss of death for any advertising campaign is when the power brokers at the ad agency and client say “selling product isn’t the goal of the advertising, elevating the brand is.” Ouch. Double ouch. This type of defeatist attitude is so transparent. Something’s wrong — either with the product or the advertising.

These were the paraphrased words of Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun in today’s NYT, when discussing the new Cadillac campaign.

Cadillac advertising has actually been pretty good the last few years, even with the churn in ad agencies. But it has been product design – the boring and sometimes ugly cars – that has kept sales down. I love new campaigns. And the one launching on the Academy Awards Sunday is likely to be topical, political and powerful. But if some metal doesn’t start leaving he showrooms the brand won’t elevate. People need to buy, drive and talk about the cars. Not the advertising.



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I have borrowed heavily from the political ranks for my brand strategy framework – referring to brand support as “planks.”  Planks are the keys to the organizing principle that is What’s The Idea’s secret sauce.

Smart politicians understand that their day job is to be all things to all people, but brilliant politicians know they must be a few big things to all people.  “It’s the economy stupid,” was one such plank of Bill Clinton’s 1992 election, coined by James Carville.

Ask most politicians or political runners today for their key messages, I’m sure you will get back at least one generic statement like “serving our constituents to make their lives better.”  As well-intended as this may be, it’s not a discrete plank.

Politicians and brand runners need to focus. Find a claim, find your three proof planks, then live your life in their duty.



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Long Live Twitter

Yesterday I posted on the subject “Twitter Blather Be Gone.” I suggested not using Twitter solely as a business tool to promote oneself…ad nauseam. Yet I post Twitter promoting my blog. Am I breaking my own rule? Nah. If all I did on Twitter was promote myself with 20 tweets a day, that would be different.

I look at all social media channels differently. Facebook is for friends. LinkedIn for work. Instagram for the art director/photographer in you. A blog for your keen interest. And Twitter – as the representation of your total personality. A little bit of everything. I say stuff to on Twitter I’d never share on Facebook.

Twitter can be the best representation of the whole person. As an outbound vehicle, Twitter is the most freeing. The most important. It reflects the daily earthly cosmos, if that’s not a contradiction. Blather be gone. Long live Twitter.



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You’ve seen Twitter personalities with an inordinate number of follower. Or those with 100,000 tweets. Are these serious and effective business people or subject matter experts?  Often, no. They are all about creating churn on Twitter. And if they do it on Twitter they’re apt to do so on Facebook as well.

When I see these people, unless they are Kardashian, I know they’re in the business of social media; trying to make a living selling their social media expertise. Twitter is best when it’s not overtly commercial. When the important stuff floats to the top. Not when the important stuff is buried under a bunch of promotional blather. Once something good is under the fold, it’s pretty much gone.

We need to do a better job of filtering out the Twitter blather from our feeds. I plan on removing some Tweeps beginning today. I love Twitter. I follow smart business people, strategists and thinkers. When I hide them among the weeds, it’s a problem.





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A growing industry is taking hold in the marketing world fueled by one-off new media helpers.  Packaged as consultants, they offer social media, website, email marketing and online advertising tactics to those interested in spicing up marketing returns.  Check your Twitter feed for 140 character posts that contain primary numbers such as “7 steps to, 5 surefire rules, 3 critical digital mistakes…” to easily identify these tactical helpers.  People crave this stuff and it sells.

But I giggle at these tactically focused sales pitches. Tactics-palooza only works if the basic groundwork of brand strategy is set. Brand strategy must be in place for any tactic to be maximized. It’s my experience, especially with mid-size companies, that this is just not happening.  Mid-size and small businesses are studying content marketing, mobile ad buys, Google AdWords, responsive design and the like, without understanding how best to position their companies for maximum result.

It’s a tactical shit show. A shiny, not-so-new thing that has captured marketing dollars with little, if any, effectiveness. It’s ingredient buying without the recipe.



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It’s debatable how many companies actually have brand strategies.  They have brands, products, services, mission statements, taglines, marketing plans and ads. But brand strategies? Organizing principles for product, experience and messaging?  No so much. Many marketers have de facto brand strategies, not codified as “one claim and three proof planks.” They may take the form of a big “idea” with some provable supports. Or a de facto brand strategy may come from an ad, or highly effective promotion. Perhaps a marketing document drawn up during a peak sales period. But often, as can be the case with real brand strategies, de facto versions drift away.

I do a lot of training and it’s my belief that the root cause of powerful brands is training. Everyone at the company needs to know the brand strategy. Not just the brand managers. Geo-technical engineers need to know their brand strategies.  Kitchen remodelers need to know it. Truck drivers who deliver the goods, cardiothoracic surgeons who work for the system. Everybody.

When everyone is trained on brand strategy, when management spends time and money reinforcing it, a brand takes on a life of its own.



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Coca-Cola’s key good-at is “refreshment.” There are few, few things better than a cold Coke on a warm day after a workout.  And when the consumer care-about is refreshment, a great product choice is Coke. Remember, brand strategy is about good-ats and care-abouts. 

Refreshment, rather than, longtime advertising attribute “happiness,” is an experiential, product-based proof. It’s a product reality. Coke’s current advertising tagline (brand line) is “Taste The Feeling.” An amalgam of cheerleading and emotion.   It is not a product based care-about or good-at. It’s advertising based.

Don’t get me wrong, I love advertising. Dave Trott teaches me the way to do it well it to connect. But connecting with the art is not the same as connecting with the product. Of course it’s harder to create compelling stories and poetry around products – but that’s the job.    

Brand planners need to focus the work on product-based care-abouts and good-ats. Coke should know better.



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