Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Buzz-based brand building

In "Brands Infiltrate Social Circles to Create Buzz," Adweek talks about recent efforts being made by brands to facilitate buzz about themselves. The idea is to get people talking "without incurring backlash."

The attempt to generate buzz, says the article, is supported by research showing that consumers believe their friends rather than marketing messages.

A recent example of the new buzz-based brand building: At TV Guide's "suggestion," "agents" whose job it is to "give feedback and talk up products to others" hosted 10,000 TV Guide parties across America before it launched its $20 million (estimated) ad campaign to "reintroduce its 54-year-old brand as a multiplatform provider and celebrator of TV culture, rather than a weekly listing of shows." The agents were honest about their affiliation.

Marketers need to be careful about using social media, says the article. Burson-Marsteller, the PR firm, recently found in a study that influential consumers "have a heightened wariness of commercial interests weighing in on blogs, message boards and review sites."

NBC, says the article, initially tried to plant positive comments on its shows on message boards, triggering consumer skepticism. So in a change in tactics, it previewed most of its shows to bloggers, and let them write about it. Sci-Fi went a step further, inviting 35 bloggers to Canada to visit the set of Battlestar Galactica and meet the cast.

As the article notes, there are two key problems with buzz-based brand building:

1. Predictability. "The challenge is how do you turn the social media space into something that can scale, that you can manage and can deliver predictable results." (Bant Breen, president of Interpublic Group's Futures Marketing Group)

Even more important is

2. Authenticity. "It's a tough equation because the consumer is stubborn and has a voracious appetite for the truth." (Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Nielsen BuzzMetrics.)

It takes a lot of sophistication to build a buzz-based brand...marketers, tread carefully.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Searching for brand answers

The results of a new study, published in “Online Search Can Be Powerful for CPG Branding,” (MediaPost.com) show that online search can help build consumer packaged goods brands.

Here are the notable findings of the survey (a difference of ten percentage points is usually considered significant):
  1. Nearly half (47%) of the 93.7 million unique site visitors to food product sites were generated by search. Search was responsible for 60% of baby product sites' total unique visitors, 27% of personal care visitors, and 23% of household product visitors.
  2. Searchers were somewhat, but not terribly much, more motivated by wanting product information or help than non-searchers (73% vs. 58%). Searchers were also more motivated by wanting help with a purchase decision than non-searchers (64% vs. 44%). (It appears that there is some overlap between these two motivations in the "help" area, but this is not explained by the article.)
  3. Non-searchers were more likely than searchers to visit sites for the purpose of obtaining special offers/promotions (59% vs. 47%)
Al Ries, the brand expert, is quoted in the article saying that search “is not a strategy, it's a tactic….In general, a company needs to create awareness of a new category by other means--generally PR--before consumers are going to search for that particular category.”

I am not sure why Ries emphasizes PR to the exclusion of advertising and marketing tactics, but think he has a point when he says that marketers should not think “that the Internet is the answer to (all) their branding problems.” He reminds us that Anheuser-Busch spent millions of dollars to build Bud.TV when “the typical Bud drinker is down at the tavern watching the World Series.”

I also think Procter & Gamble Search Innovation Manager Randy Peterson, also quoted in the article, has a point when he says that the research shows search is more valuable than just to serve as a tool for direct response marketing. Searchers are motivated consumers, and it makes sense to cater to them with more targeted branding initiatives that inform, educate, and assist in their making wise product decisions.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Branding and the coming recession

As the housing market goes, so goes the economy...and things aren't looking good. As BloggingStocks.com notes,
A whopping 65% of Americans now believe that a recession is coming in the next year and 51% believe the economy is doing poorly, according to a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey. Wall Street executives predicted a 37% chance of a recession, according to a Financial Services Forum survey released last week by the Financial Services Forum.
Which kinds of brands will survive the down economy? Not clear, but The Charlotte Observer has some advice about building any brand to survive in a downturn--essentially "going beyond the basics" to "delight your customers," not "just meet their expectations." Even when people don't have money to spend, they have money to spend, and they will spend on brands that offer superior service and a delightful experience.

For brand managers, the question arises, Do you stop spending on the brand in a recession or go full steam ahead? Brandchannel.com, in a 2001 article that still resonates asks this question and has the following response:
Branding is not just a patina to be applied during times of growth. It's a constant maintenance job. Nurture it and you'll always be safe; dismiss it and you'll start to see the immediate effects of decay and neglect.
The article goes on to say that most brand consultants recommend that money be spent more wisely, not necessarily more freely. I agree but caution brands to look carefully at the industry and sector they live in; if people don't want to spend more for brands in that particular area, they should either create intelligent generics or fold up their tents and find a more brand-friendly business.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nike gets away from its brand with "influencers" campaign

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article, "Running Underground: To Sharpen Nike's Edge, CEO Taps 'Influencers,'" about Nike's new emphasis on popular culture to shape its brand.

As is usual when a brand gets ruined, the CEO, Mark Parker, is answering to Wall Street--he has promised a 50% increase in revenue by 2011--and therefore needs to turn to "fickle, style-conscious consumers" rather than the performance oriented athletes around which the company has built its brand.

The article says Nike "hasn't lost its traditional focus on pure sports"--it is acquiring British soccer brand Umbro PLC--but needs to "broaden and deepen its appeal--even among non-athletic types."

The CEO says things like "How do you keep an edge, a crispness, a relevance?"

As a result, Nike has worked with characters like Los Angeles tattoo artist "Mister Cartoon," who has designed six lines of limited edition shoes for the company. It has also collaborated with New York graffiti artist Lenny Futura, industrial designer Marc Newson, and Brazilian muralists Os Gemeos.

The idea is to create "an insider's buzz that widens out as it is discovered by consumers closer to the mainstream."

Will it work?

I don't think so. This seems to me like an approach that is close to the CEO's heart--says the Journal, "the CEO is drawn as naturally to art and culture as he is to sport"--but not close at all to the brand.

There are a few lessons here:

1. The CEO must be the brand champion, but the danger is that he or she will substitute personal preference or "gut instinct" for sound brand-based marketing research into how best to lead the brand forward. Nike's CEO likes popular culture, so he is leading the company in that direction. Big mistake.

2. When companies start answering to Wall Street, in the drive for profit, they can tend to lose the features that made their brand distinctive in the first place. I don't have an answer for this one but it is a real problem.

When you get away from the brand, you are in trouble.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Can McDonald's get its workers to rhapsodize about its quality?

According to a story in PRWeek, McDonald's is looking for internal brand ambassadors to spread the word about McDonalds' "quality message." The internal campaign complements an external one aimed at "real life moms" who "would push that quality message to their peers and others."

The McDonald's campaign is called the "McDonald's Brand Advocate (MBA) program." Its purpose, one assumes, is to get Mcdonald's employees and owner/operators to also push the quality message.

The manager of U.S. Communications at McDonald's "says the program will help its employees more effectively communicate specific messages about the McDonald’s story in their day-to-day work and personal lives."

Basically, the watchword is quality.

Heather Oldani, director US communications at McDonald’s, told PR Week that "the quality message is being taken so seriously" that McDonald's has formed a cross-functional team to address it -- people from all of the functional areas of the company are involved.

I say to you, McDonald's is dreaming if they think its employees are going to bring their work home and talk about McDonald's quality in their personal lives. Maybe they can be incentivized to do so at work. But even so, where in the customer service experience is there a place for a worker to go on and on about McDonald's quality? Their role is to say "May I take your order please?" and "Do you want fries with that?"

McDonald's is living in a brand fantasyland.

See also: branded training for front-line managers.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Flexible logos and the Face of the Brand

The New York Times reports on a trend: "adaptable logos." These are logos that are capable of holding or being meshed with other content. Examples are:
  • the logo of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, which is flexible enough to allow Olympic sponsors to put their own "brand symbols or colors" into it, "in effect creating logos within the logo of the Games."
  • The New Museum of Contemporary Art in Manhattan, which is using an adaptable logo to proclaim that it has a new address.

This adaptable logo thing is a big deal, says the Times, because "companies [normally] employ armies of people to make sure the color, shape and placement of a logo never vary."

Well, with too much control, people become distanced from the brand--it's cold.

The idea of an adaptable logo is not new. The Times points out that Google "has long been playing with its basic logo." So has Target.

What the Times does not mention is that for a number of years at The Brand Consultancy, Diane Beecher pioneered something called the "Face of the Brand" -- a methodology for brand design that allows for flexibility in its visual depiction. "It's a single graphic or series of graphics--of three or more primary brand attributes that work together." (me, Design Management Institute Journal)

Beecher says that "FOTB is the total visual representation that supports a brand and its attributes. It is unmistakably personal, representing the unique attributes of one particular brand, and takes every visual factor into account."

I've written that "the overall effect is one of a consistent corporate ID, but the sameness is like that of a family--individual members may look alike, but like snowflakes, no two are the same."

I think adaptable logos, like the Face of the Brand, are a good brand idea. As the Times reports: "In the era of blogging, social networking and mash-ups — through which consumers have the power to do what they want with a company’s logo and show it to the world — a bit of flexibility is essential, Mr. Heiselman said."

Adaptable logos/FOTB invite the viewer into the brand's world, to see the brand as a living, dynamic entity rather than a cold, unfeeling, unthinking, inflexible piece of deadness.

And deadness is not appealing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Branding Belfast - an interesting situation

The Belfast Telegraph reports on Belfast's new branding initiative. A couple of interesting things here:

1. The dilemma over how Belfast should be branded - as a generic tourist attraction (the fantasy) or as a more complex site of political conflict (the reality)? Which will make the most money? "Much as we would like to put the Troubles well behind us, it has to be accepted that they are Belfast's top selling point in any campaign. People have heard about us, all over the world, because of our historic quarrels - and the queues for open-top bus tours of the Falls and Shankill are proof of their curiosity value."

2. The problem over accommodating local feelings as a new image is crafted: "With so much about the past that is still in dispute, the marketing team will have to be sensitive to local feelings, as they portray Belfast to the world. To most people, the fact that it is both British and Irish is a plus point, but getting this across without treading on too many toes will be difficult - as will be the concept of a 24-7 city."

3. The development of a site where anyone can vote on how Belfast should be branded. "The views of anyone with access to a computer are being sought - on www.yourviewsonbelfast.com - to find out what people think of the capital city and how it can put on its best foot forward."

We can learn a few things from these elements.
  • The thing that you want to emphasize in the brand may not be what is marketable to your target audience. Are you mature enough to recognize that and overcome it?
  • On a related note, the things they want out of the brand might generate sensitivity--e.g., might even hurt your feelings. You have to be ready for that and determine how much of a factor your feelings will be in making brand decisions.
  • One way to approach this is to open your campaign up to voting on the Internet to provide objective research-based data for use in making decisions. This can mitigate potential hurt feelings as well as avert misdirection, as image decisions become a matter of responding to the public rather than determining a direction based on political or "gut" considerations.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter's "Jew perfected" comment -- branding or theology?

According to this CBS News report, Donny Deutsch told AdWeek: “Candidly, I had her on not to talk about politics but to talk about her brand strategy. Whether you like her or not, her strategy is to be extreme and that's a way to make money. But because it's her, it drifted into politics."

Coulter was a guest on Deutsch’s show The Big Idea, where he asked her to “give her version of a better America.” As CBS News reports, she said that “it would look like New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention.” (quoting CBS News here, not Coulter)

Deutsch asked Coulter to explain and she said “People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America ..."

Deutsch interrupted Coulter to say: "Christian ... so we should be Christian? It would be better if we were all Christian?"

Coulter replied “Yes” twice.

According to the news report, Coulter tried to “shift the conversation,” but Deutsch repeatedly brought it back to her comments about Jews.

And Coulter accepted Deutsch’s provocation, later stating: “We just want Jews to be perfected…That is what Christianity is.”

The reality is that Coulter’s comments fit right in with her brand strategy. That is, she stuck with her “promise” to be extreme in her point of view--to go so far out on the precipice that there is no coming back. The comments also seemed to fit in with a brand strategy on Deutsch’s part, as he kept purposely bringing her back to her comments about Jews and Judaism. Maybe being outrageous is part of having a big idea.

Coulter's dismissal of the validity of Judaism as a religion is anti-Semitic, of that there is no doubt. The real question that remains is, was Coulter only "doing branding" or sincerely expressing herself as a Christian believer?

The answer, probably, is both.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Talbots to review brand positioning--hopefully they will go MORE classic, not less


The Boston Globe has an article today about Talbots (the clothing brand, remember them?) hiring a consultant to "sharpen its brand" to appeal to women over 35. VP of investor relations at Talbots Julie Lorigan admits that "we haven't gotten it right yet...we're not offering the customer exactly what she needs -- and we need to do that."
The article quotes Todd D. Slater, managing director of retail and consumer equity research at Lazard Capital Markets, saying that "the baby boomer customer has been less interested in the traditional look for quite some time." Slater thinks Talbots should be "a little more forward. A little more in step with current fashion."
That comment is idiotic. Talbots is doing badly because its current "classic" designs stink, not because it should abandon classic design.

When I think of Talbot's great years, I think of preppy clothing for grown-ups. Rich color, rich texture, rich design. Now go take a look at the Talbots website. The pants (the ones on the upper right, on the model with the red jacket)? Too short - trying to copy that capri look? Ugh. The red jacket with the wrap belt--nice, but what is the model doing with a camisole underneath? That's not classic -- that's tacky! And those boots! What are we, back to the '80s? And what's with the cheap-looking leather and suede? Where are the classic, rich leather, stack heeled boots that will never go out of style? I'll admit, they have another outfit on there that's nice -- the white brocade jacket and long, wide-legged pants -- why don't they go with more clothes like that?
Also, while we're on the subject, that model is all wrong...she doesn't look like an over-35 young baby boomer. She looks like a gawky under-35. No, no, no.
If you have time, click on the entire collection to take a look. Most of their stuff is tacky -- yuk. They need to hire a name designer to put his or her stamp on the collection...really go out there...pearls and cashmere and leather and plaid, plaid, plaid.
Also, their price points are too low...the clothing should be more expensive than it is.
You go Talbots! I have faith in you!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Martha Stewart stock due for a rise

As MarketWatch noted Sept. 27, Martha Stewart is back, and she’s better than ever. “‘Brand Martha,’ says the site, is not only untarnished but on a major roll.” How do we know? As MarketWatch notes:
  • Her magazines are “bursting with ad pages”
  • Her “partnerships with major retailers are expanding”—like Macy’s, which is debuting 2,000 products in the first season that her collection is at the stores
  • Former President Bill Clinton appeared as a guest on her daily TV show
  • She signed a deal with 1-800-Flowers.com
  • She opened her first co-branded residential community with KB Home
  • She has agreements with Fine Living TV and the DIY cable network
  • She will soon be selling a line of food at Costco
  • Clarkson Potter/Publishers has announced a new 10 book, five year deal with the company
  • She has also signed a deal with E&J Gallo Winery to sell “Martha Stewart Vintage” wine (Wikipedia)

The financials are fantastic, notes MarketWatch:

  • Revenue at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia was up 7% in the last quarter
  • Ad revenue at Martha Stewart Living was up more than 20% to $89.8 million January through June
  • Revenue for the Martha Stewart wedding publication was up 16% vs. an industry average of 6%

Yet the stock price is flat – shares are currently at about $13.20 (October 8) vs. a 52-week high of $23.21 last December.

Bear Stearns, says the site, issued a fairly positive report on Martha Stewart, noting that “business trends are solid” and “the balance sheet is strong” and that the Macy’s launch could boost the brand even further.

On top of that, the Today show recently held “A Martha Stewart Wedding,” choosing a couple to bestow a Martha-Stewart style wedding ceremony upon. Great publicity.

The only thing that bothers me, to be honest, is the product: I don’t love it. But enough people love the image and the ideas that I think her brand is solid and here to stay.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Don’t write off Wal-Mart Yet

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Wal-Mart era wanes amid big shifts in retail,” (October 3) makes a grand statement that “The Wal-Mart era, the retailer’s time of overwhelming business and social influence in America, is drawing to a close.”

The author cites a number of reasons for Wal-Mart’s supposed decline:
  1. Rival retailers offer “greater convenience”
  2. Rival retailers offer “more selection”
  3. Rival retailers offer “higher quality”
  4. Rival retailers offer “better service”
  5. Wal-Mart’s image is “down-market”
  6. Wal-Mart’s image is “politically incorrect”
  7. The Internet “has changed shoppers’ preferences and eroded the commanding influence Wal-Mart had over its suppliers.”

Don’t you believe it. Wal-Mart’s brand is all about saving consumers money, and the company delivers on that promise: A study showed it saved shoppers $263 billion in 2004 and even though that study is disputed, there is no question that the bottom line savings are there.

As long as Wal-Mart stays true to its brand, it will continue to be a valuable company.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What is the Republican brand now about?

In an article titled: “GOP is losing grip on core business vote,” (10/2/07) The Wall Street Journal suggests that “Republican” is no longer equated with “business.” The paper writes: “New evidence suggests a potentially historic shift in the Republican Party's identity -- what strategists call its ‘brand.’”

A September Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken in September 2007 shows that 37% of professionals and managers call themselves Republican or Republican-leaning—versus 44% just three years ago.

The article states that key reasons for “drifting away from the party” include:
1. The war in Iraq
2. The increase in federal debt
3. Disaffiliation with the Republican conservative social agenda

Other reasons mentioned include:
4. A desire for help with healthcare costs
5. Desire for more activity on global warming

John Canning Jr., chairman and CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners (a private equity firm) is quoted as saying: “The Republican Party left me.”

What is the Republican party of today now about? I sure can’t tell. Can anyone?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Branding in China: Where Buick and Clarins have messed up and KFC and Omega stand out

BusinessWeek’s 9/25/07 edition has an article by Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, called “The Key to Successful Branding in China.” The article makes a set of important points about branding in the Chinese market:
  • If the Chinese are not brand-loyal, it is because they have many more choices than they did in the past. But perhaps more importantly, multinational companies have failed to target consumers effectively, leading to brand fickleness.
  • Brand-fickleness has nothing to do with culture. Chinese consumers have shown that they are faithful to brands “that suit their needs.”
  • Chinese consumers are loyal both to homegrown and international brands—like Yum Brands’ KFC and Omega, which “controls 70% of the luxury men’s watch market.”
  • Companies need to do more than “define their brand position” and “understand and relate to their consumer base.” They must also reach out to China’s younger generation, which has both money to spend and savvy about how to spend it.
  • In addition to targeting the younger generation, multinational companies should target Chinese baby boomers—meaning people from the generation born after 1978. This group grew up using a variety of brands and is now having children. They are “teaching their children what to buy.”
  • A case study of failing to keep a consistent brand position is Buick. GM reintroduced Buick to China a few years ago, positioning it as a brand for senior executives. Buicks shot up in popularity—selling more widely in China than in the U.S. Then, Buick tried to go “mass” and started selling lower-end models. At first, people snapped up the cars; then market share fell heavily. The reason is obvious: both business executives (who wanted exclusivity) and middle class drivers (who wanted higher than usual quality) were disappointed with a brand that promised to meet both of their needs but ended up meeting neither.
  • A case study of failing to understand and relate to the consumer base adequately is Clarins, which used models for their advertising that typical Chinese men could not relate to.

The Chinese are a sophisticated buying group and marketers would do well to heed the lessons of this article.

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