at&t

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I did some advertising for AT&T Network Systems a number of years ago, introducing Systemax CAT 5 computer cable into Asia.  We converted some U.S. ads for local use having IDG Computerworld in-country offices translate them into local languages.  Having worked in B2B advertising for many years, with little success other than an occasional readership award and bingo card report I was thoroughly surprised when people across Thailand picked up their phones and ordered beaucoup feet of cable.  

It was like Sears Roebuck catalog time. The markets were so young.  Local companies needed cable, didn’t know where to get it, and we provided a location and phone number.

In the United States, the advertising market is so mature, so filled with messaging, it’s hard to find the pent-up demand. X, the LA punk band, sings “Now there are seven kinds of Coke, 500 kinds of cigarettes. This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy.”

Competition in the modern world is rampant. Advertising isn’t just about access anymore, it’s about creating awareness, then interest, trial, and preference. And as technology and service become more in vogue it’s about education. No wonder it’s hard to do advertising well.

That’s why brand strategy is so critical. It feeds and focuses the advertising beast.

Peace|

 

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The Masters golf tournament began about 84 years ago. Before Tiger. Before titanium drivers. Before World War II. It has become the most famous golf tournament extant. The brand management of The Masters has been impeccable, with the exception of the diversity issues surrounding membership in the Augusta National Golf Club.  I’m told candy bars have to be packaged in green wrapper in case one accidently blows into the view of TV cameras. All wires are buried underground. Jim Nance. As much as the technology changes, as much as people change, The Masters remains the same: a venerable sports institution.

Consumer products Pilsner Urguell, Coca-Cola, and Tide Detergent have stood the test of time as brands – all through great brand management. It is yet to be seen, however, if tech companies will learn how to last. Bell Labs, perhaps the first (American) tech company, is still around but seems, to me at least, on its last legs. Bell Labs began as AT&T, then went to Lucent, which was bought by Alcatel and is now owned by Nokia. Not great brand management.

If Facebook wants to me more than Netscape and MySpace, it needs to put in play a long-term brand strategy.  People can’t live without Facebook. Now.  Brand strategy is important for service companies and tech companies. Facebook needs to step up.

 

Peace.

 

 

 

 

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The Chess Team

Back a couple of decades ago I wrote a memo to the president of FCB/Lever Katz, an ad agency in NYC, during a new business pitch for the consumer portion of the AT&T account, expected to be a $200 million dollar account.  There had been a reorganization of AT&T and the head of the business business unit was moved to oversee consumer, a promotion of sorts. He was a marketing rock star. AT&T at the time was the clear market leader in telecommunications, but MCI was a smart, pesky and growing adversary. He business unit head was MCI’s nightmare. He was also very cagey. He would invent market-changing business “plays” for his ad agency to execute as ads by MCI, and confront his product marketing team with them to keep them on their toes.

The memo I drafted while at FCB/Leber Katz, outlined this gentleman’s modus operandi, his paranoia and his gunslinger mentality.

After the new business pitch was won by FCB/Leber Katz, it was reported that all competing agencies has come up with great ideas, taglines, cinema and media plans. FCB/Leber Katz, however, won the business, it was reported, because of a spectacular piece of music scored by a creative director (eventually recorded by Whitney Huston) and a strategic group called the “Chess Team,” a planning group whose sole responsibility was to predict future MCI, Sprint and other competitors moves.

The power of the memo.

Peace.

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A lot of brand planners talk about “voice.”  The voice of the brand. It’s a metaphor, of course, and one marketers easily understand. If I close my eyes and listen to Eddie Vedder sing, I know it’s him. Voice is an identifier.

As someone who has run gazillions of dollars of radio and TV ads, I know the power of a distinct voice. It’s smart marketing, if sometimes a crutch.   

The voice metaphor falls apart when the delivery of the message outweighs what’s delivered. In branding what is delivered needs to be the brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks).  Brand strategy is content-related not piping or music. Building a brand by organizing a limited number of key values in consumers’ minds (and employees’ minds) is the fastest, most efficient way to marketing success.   

Years ago when a St. Louis focus group attendee looked at an AT&T videoconferencing ad and exclaimed “AT&T would never talk to me like that.” It was a comment about voice. When another said “If it’s from AT&T, I’m sure the videoconferencing quality will be excellent,” that’s brand strategy.

Peace.

 

 

 

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I often wonder if the targets for my business truly understand what I do. Those targets, CMOs, directors of marketing and small and mid-size business owners, read “brand consultancy” and get the consultant part, but may not truly understand the depth of the word brand. Brand today is both a noun and a verb.  

Many think brand is a mark or logo. Something that, through design, helps consumers with product identity. The whole branded cattle history thing. For people who view brands this way a brand consultancy is all logo, name, style guide and, perhaps, tagline. When AT&T spun off Lucent in the 90s, the whole process, exquisitely implemented by the way, cost millions. A year later, the company had a new name, logo, building signs, stock symbol and ad campaign. But not a brand strategy. (Peter Kim’s “$14B tech startup” aside.)

The reality is, especially in today service economy, a brand is a living breathing thing. My definition of brand strategy as “an organizing principle for Product, Experience and Messaging.” Most of my targets understand this definition better. In fact, they are more apt to acknowledge needing and organizing principle that they are a brand strategy.  

So moving forward my mission it to educate my targets as to this new definition. It will be a long road but one I expect will redistribute marketing wealth in my direction. Onward.

Peace.

 

 

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The other day I read AT&T was moving all of its advertising business to Omnicom. No doubt the reason undergirding the move was economies of scale. One of the public explanations for Omnicom winning the business was “integration” of programs and ideas. That is to say the new media agency “nuts and honey” or some such and super shop BBDO will work together closely, in an aligned fashion, to insure the ideas they presented as a team in the pitch are structurally recreated IRL (in real life).

This age old strategy sounds great on paper. And as we get more mature as an industry the strategy will actually work. But there are two conflicting forces against a move like this. Ferocious competition and complacence. When one entity is in charge, time and comfort engender complacence. BBDO will churn out nice work, great work even…Hearts and Science (the media company) will plan and digitize its ass off…to a point. The paranoia, however, that keeps shops on their toes dissipates.

The energy that has shops like Anomaly, Droga and Preacher slamming, is lost.  Not a fan of the big consolidation move. Competition is what marketers thrive on. So must its shops.

Peace.    

 

 

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Learn This.

Learning is a topic I’ve written about before but today it’s the subject of the entire post.

I’ve been in the ad and marketing business since 1978 when a mail-slinger at my dad’s shop Poppe Tyson. It took me until 2011, while director of marketing at Teq, an educational development company, to understand the importance of learning in marketing. (Yeah, yeah, rabbit and hare thing.)

I’ve had lots of mentors over the years: a kid who ran the AT&T ad business with an iron fist and mind, a be-sotted ex-marine who was the country’s first million dollar a year copywriter, and a copy-contact, agency chief who built a powerful global brand that lived well beyond his years. None taught me the practice of learning in marketing.

To understand the role of learning in branding and marketing you have to understand teaching. Teaching is process. Learning the result. There are poor teachers, there are no poor learners. My stint in the education field helped me understand this. Learning why one product is better than another. Learning why one service has more value. The best learning is not forced but self-actualized. When someone comes to a learned moment on their own, it sticks. It’s important.

So you marketers out there. Focus on the learning first and the proper teaching technique will come to you. Most marketers are 85% teach and 15% learn. Flip it and your depth of success will change.

Peace.

 

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When a latent adult working at McCann-Erickson NY, I was lieutenant in charge of all the AT&T data products. These were the data lines, the network software services and whatever other B2B things that were not particularly sexy — during a very competitive time when phone companies were spending like drunken sailors. My services eventually became the internet so I had a grand time. And managed a great team.

Anyway, I had this idea that if ever the agency president (John Dooner) was asked to go to a meeting in Bridgewater NJ on some of these non-big sexy products (sorry Bartolo) he would need a primer. So the Fact Book was born. The idea was to put all the relevant facts into a binder that could be read in 60 minutes (on the way to the client), giving the reader a foundation of knowledge, e.g., overall market universe, market share, competition, product explanations, YOY sales trends and futures. I stole the idea from Marian Harper, a McCann and IPG CEO, from back in the 60s.

At What’s The Idea?, my current business, a key deliverable is the marketing plan. The first step in its development is a document called the 24 Question. It is much like the Fact Book. Anyone, at any company, in the marketing department should know the answers to the 24 Questions. They are the financial and marketing fundamentals of business. If you don’t know the answers as a marketer, you are a danger to the company.

If you are interested in seeing these questions, email me Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com. And we’ll talk.

Peace.

PS. Go see Steve Jobs.

 

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Back to the future – here we go. Here’s a thought on the evolution of technol-oyee, as my old friend Tom Wan used to call it when he first came to the states: hardware begets software, begets devices, apps and now, drum roll, chips.

ontogeny recapituates phylogenyThere’s a scientific theory of evolution called ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. It means that the entire evolution of mankind can be seen in the development of a two cells coming together to eventually form a baby. One cell, two cell, reptile, bird, mammal, man. Pert cool. Anyway, if you follow the hardware, software, device, app and chip advances serially, it takes you to the Internet of Things (IoT). And the IoT is going to need lots of chips. Back in the 90s, chips were also the haps. They had names like The Hobbit and made by important companies like IBM, AT&T, Qualcomm and Intel. The latter kicked some earnings ass until it missed the boat on the ontogeny of tech. Yesterday Intel announced it is buying their way back back by agreeing to buy Altera. IBM is getting back in the chip biz as well having also made a recent purchase. Will Google, Apple and Verizon be far behind?

Chips fab plants are not inexpensive to develop. Start-ups beware.  They require lots of energy and water. Feel me? These plants, at some point, will need to be in the states (don’t ask) so for the IoT to happen, the last of big business moves in chips have not happened…by a long shot. Invest a shekel, make a few.

Peace!

 

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Last Christmas I went into a Radio Shack looking to buy a good FM radio. I was trying to get my mother to listen to NPR in her kitchen where she can only get A.M. radio and has had to listen to a station (WOR) targeting the older set with let’s just say less than stimulating programming.  I asked the salesperson where the radios were (at Radio Shack) and the she directs me to two possible areas, one of which was correct. As far from the front door as you could get.

The selection was horrendous. Two brands — none of which I was familiar with. No Sony. No GE.  Pathetic. I left and went to Best Buy and found one Sony model. Don’t buy radio station stock is the moral to this story.

As Radio Shack tries to organize its way out of insolvency, with a hedge fund at the helm, one of the questions posed is “Should we rebrand?” “Should we hold onto the old name?” AT&T used to be America Telephone and Telegraph…someone smart over there decided telegraph was not a technology forward name and opted for change. So the answer to the new guard at Radio Shack is a resounding “yes.”  A new name is in order. And let’s look beyond the dashboard for a name shall we?

I should add a very big good luck. From what I’m reading of some of the partner decisions so far, they’re going to need it. Peace.

 

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