barry judge

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Many moons ago there was a fairly famous advertising campaign that asked the question “What in the world isn’t chemical?” The question sticks with me and as a marketing consultant, and I often ask myself “What in the business world isn’t marketing?” 

In many companies, marketing is a silo. “Marketing is sales support,” some say. Well it’s that. To others, marketing is “material.” Things to distribute to customers, e.g., collateral, samples. That too. And these days marketing is heavy online – the web, social media, search and data collection. Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Best Buy is tanking.  Until May of this year, its CMO Barry Judge, was famous for his oft-quoted stance “customers own the brand.”  A big early proponent of social media, he advocated ceding control of the brand to customers.   And he was not alone in this belief; in fact, he created a lot of pop marketing fantasies. Though while spreading this nonsense, the rest of his marketing kingdom seemed unattended. 

Marketing is everything. Distribution (Amazon), pricing (Amazon, Wal-Mart), promotion (Target), and product (retail CRM, store experience, data).  I would never suggest listening to customers is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s called research. But customers do not own the brand. Marketing does. Not sales, not finance, not the product managers and certainly not customers.

Mr. Judge has learned an amazing lesson. As the center of gravity for the social media in marketing movement, I suspect no one has learned more about its effects on all the Ps (of marketing).  Now he needs to take that learning and share it with the rest of us.  I smell a book.  This is America and we are all about turn around stories. I’ll buy one. On Amazon. Peace!     

PS. Mr Judge, if you’d like to disabuse me of these observations, please weigh in.

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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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I say Best Buy, you say what?  “Lot’s or products.” (Good) “Low prices” (A core value.) “Twelpforce and Twitter.” (Oooh, sorry.)  That’s right.  Best Buy and CMO Barry Judge have been in the spotlight and awards show klieg lights for months due to its so-called leadership in social media.   Best Buy used to was (Southernism) all about being the best buy.  Well they took their eye off the brand prize, found technology, and have now lost market share in laptops, TVs and videogame software in the quarter just reported.

I looove social media, but it’s not a brand strategy. It’s a media strategy and a marketing tactics. Had Mr. Judge focused more of his efforts on ways to provide a more competitively priced product than Walmart, Target and Amazon, the klieg lights would still be shining.

Alas.  Peace!

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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that every employee, especially those young and fairly wired, sends somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 plus messages a day to consumers, prospects and business partners on behalf of the company or brand; a message being a communication from a land line phone (inbound or out), email, letter, instant message, text, blog post, tweet, or face-to-face conversation. Fair? Do you know who is managing those messages? No one. 


The only place where a company’s messages to consumers, prospects and partners are managed effectively is the marketing and sales departments.  And that’s a bit of a leap of faith, based on what I’m seeing. Good brand and sales managers, good public relations people and good executive management know the value of a powerful, prepared corporate or brand messaging. They understand a well conceived brand strategy, conveyed and carried out by an entire company, provides a power of which General Patton would be proud.  The cacophony of employee messaging taking place today, thanks to the all the comms channels and lack of brand stewardship, is watering down the managed messages we send into the marketplace. Have you ever tried to talk in a normal voice while hundreds of hungry ducks are quacking around you?  


And what’s even most concerning is that many of today’s brand champions, people at the helms of big marketing budgets, are out on the talk circuit spreading the word that brands are owned by the consumer – the conversation, they say, is in the hands of the consumer. OMFG. This is insanity.  (This video of Best Buy CMO Barry Judge is one example.)








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