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Showing posts from November, 2007

The Army's misguided "influencer" campaign

Today's Wall Street Journal (November 29, 2007) has an article about how the Army is now promising new recruits up to $40,000 in seed money toward the purchase of a home or the starting of a business.

The goal, says the article, is not so much to reach recruits as their parents. It quotes the program's "architect," Lt. Col. Jeff Sterling: "If you want to get a soldier, you have to go through mom, and moms want to know what kind of future their children will have when they leave the Army. This is meant to answer that question in a tangible, concrete way."

As the Journal notes, the new program "is the latest sign of the military's growing use of marketing and other recruitment strategies from American corporations." In particular, the idea of targeting "influencers" rather than the audience themselves is a forward-thinking approach.

The problem, I think, with the Army's new campaign is that it misreads what influences the influencers.…

Should you really "lose control" of your brand to brand effectively?

Elsewhere, I have argued that brands are in effect co-created between producers and consumers. Now Brandweek (November 26, 2007) features an article called "Lose Control: It's Good for Your Brand," in which the author argues that brands are not at all created by producers but entirely owned by consumers.

"In my world...campaigns....exist at eye level with the consumer, seeing in real time how he interacts with products, services and the core brand itself....the days when you were able to exercise 360° control over your brand communications have ended....when the brand lets go a little, consumers start to open up a lot."

The author argues that the tools of the "average citizen"--"Digital cameras, cell phones, blogs, social networks, Web videos, urban interventions, word-of-mouth and more"--are becoming ever more important in communicating about brands.

The idea is to stop overtly marketing to your target audiences, and "allow consumers to b…

Small company rebranding - just a logo?

In an article titled "Extreme Makeover," the Wall Street Journal (November 26 2007) talks about the trend toward small companies pursuing rebranding. Increased competition and lower costs are the drivers of this trend.

The problem is that the Journal talks about rebranding exclusively in design terms. (Or the problem is, small companies think about branding exclusively in design terms.) For example, it cites the offerings of Powerful Impact in Great Neck, N.Y.--which are provided in tiers. The lowest tier is logo, business card, stationery; the highest tier includes a Web site and product packaging. Nowhere does it talk about brand assessment, strategy or internal branding, all key critical elements of any rebranding.

The danger of this kind of approach to branding--of looking at it purely as a design exercise--is that it minimizes the strategic and people elements of branding. Without thinking through what the positioning should be, who the audience is, what the distributio…

Strong brand, weak market: Rolodex

The Wall Street Journal has an article about executives clinging to their old fashioned Rolodexes. (Rolodex is the top brand in rotary card files and everybody refers to them by that name, demonstrating the brand's strength.) It's a way of showing social status apparently. Despite the loyalty of some users, sales of rotary card files appear to be trending down. The question is, can Rolodex continue to be a strong brand even when demand for the product is declining? I think so. The issue is what brand characteristics make Rolodex stand out and how Sanford (the company that owns Rolodex) can leverage those.I would suggest that those charcteristics are tangibility and visibility.Sanford could go back to manufacturing the monster size Rolodexes in strong materials like titanium steel. It could make accessories for the Rolodex. And it could even make a custom business card business to go along with the Rolodexes.Just because technology has advanced, doesn't mean there aren'…

Burger King's descent into commoditization

Burger King, in a desperate move to increase market share, is planning to test a $1 double cheeseburger to compete with McDonald's, reports the Wall Street Journal.

It is interesting because McDonald's has managed to maintain their brand even though they offer deeply discounted items. Yet Burger King is damaging its brand by going the commodity route.

I remember when BK used the "broiled, not fried" strategy to great success. Why do they not make a move to distinguish themselves as a brand? Why stoop to price wars?

As always, it has to do with the pressures of Wall Street, which leads firms to focus on short-term profits rather than long-term growth strategies.

If I were in charge at BK, I would go back to the drawing board...perhaps offer "gourmet" burgers at regular price. Value for the money, but without destroying the brand.

Branding as war

In the classic book Marketing Warfare (1986), Jack Trout and Al Ries make the point that marketing is no longer just about serving customer needs better, because everyone is already doing that. Rather, marketing is about fighting the competition.

Key point:"To be successful today, a company must become competitor-oriented. It must look for weak points in the positions of its competitors and then launch marketing attacks against those weak points."

Also: "The true nature of marketing today involves the conflict between corporations, not the satisfying of human needs and wants."

Key principles of marketing warfare:
The best defensive strategy is the courage to attack yourself, but only the market leader should consider playing defense.Always block strong competitive moves.Find a weakness in the leader's strength and attack at that point.Launch the attack on as narrow a front as possible.These principles apply equally to branding as marketing, although we may not norm…

Branding leaders

In "Building a Leadership Brand" (Harvard Business Review, July-August 2007), Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood say that companies should in effect brand their leadership styles. For example:
GE, which is known for “turning imaginative ideas into leading products and services,” is also known for having the type of manager who is “a strong conceptualist as well as a decisive thinker.”Johnson & Johnson, which states that “our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services,” has the type of manager who is “known for being socially responsible….committed to building consumer trust, to product quality, and to safety.”The authors state that “building a strong leadership brand requires that companies follow five principles.”Do the basics of leadership development well: “First, they have to do the basics of leadership—like setting strategy and grooming talent—well.” Be customer-focused: “Second, th…

Why do people love to hate the Department of Homeland Security? 7 reasons and 10 brand "cures"

The Department of Homeland Security does a critical job protecting the United States. Why then if you look it up on the Internet, do you find what can only be described as an outpouring of contempt? Some examples:Milcom Monitoring Post: "I said this when Congress shoved this insanity known as the Department of Homeland Security down the American taxpayers throats--"This will be one of the biggest waste of time, money, energy, manpower and skin in US Government history."Kerfuffles: "If Americans were truly serious, they would elect a 100% brand new United States Congress and a new President who would drive a bulldozer through...the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.). "Suzatlarge: "Our fine bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security [sic] would rather watch our country’s buildings burn down than let a single questionable person sneak across the border. On a firetruck. With flashing lights and sirens. Responding to a fire call. I wish I were ma…

The end of Starbucks, part II

In a previous post, I said that the Starbucks brand should be killed and resurrected because it is veering toward commoditization, as CEO Howard Schultz himself admitted in a widely leaked memo. Now the Wall Street Journal (weekend edition, Nov. 17-18) reports in "TV Campaign is Culture Shift for Starbucks" that the company is turning to national TV ads in the wake of slower sales. This goes against the brand wisdom espoused ten years ago by Schultz, as the Journal reports: Schultz wrote that "By its very nature, national advertising fuels fears about ubiquity."

The central problem facing the Starbucks brand is that it seeks to be everywhere and an out-of-the-way "third place" at the same time. This cannot be. Either the company embraces a niche strategy, or it tries to be everything to everyone, diluting its brand identity. Despite its protestations to the contrary, it is going the latter route. There should not be a Starbucks on every corner; they should…

Kellogg’s “silent” branding: smart or cynical?

The Economic Times (India), in “When not to use the parent brand,” (16 November 2007) discusses Kellogg’s decision to minimize its connection with a new U.K. brand called FruitaBu.
FruitaBu is a healthy snack brand “comprising apple crisps and dried fruit.” The product is aimed at people who want to comply with the Department of Health recommendation to eat more fruit, and to get that fruit in a quick, convenient way. (The Department of Health “five-a-day” logo is displayed on the product packaging.)

FruitaBu brand manager Paul Humphries says that Kellogg decided not to put its logo on the packaging (the Kellogg name is on the back of the box in small print) because the Kellogg brand is associated with “cereal and cereal-based snacks” and “we thought that if we put Kellogg on FruitaBu, people would assume it was a cereal product.”

Branding experts disagree on whether Kellogg’s move is smart or cynical. Interbrand chairman Rita Clifton says: “Kellogg has terrific brand equity, but what ma…

Branding the homeless—a pathetic display of the dark side of branding

The Wall Street Journal, in “In West L.A., A Homeless Man Inspires New Brand” talks about “the newest sensation at the center of Hollywood’s fashion scene”…56-year-old, homeless, John Wesley Jermyn.

The entrepreneurs who are milking Jermyn’s name for profit have already created a MySpace page for him, which “doubles as an ad for the clothing brand and their nightclub-promotion venture, which is also named ‘The Crazy Robertson.’” According to the Journal, these twentysomethings spent “months” getting close to Jermyn to get his approval; got his buy-in on design decisions; and also had a photographer take pictures of him for publicity purposes.

(Jermyn makes just 5% of “net profit” from clothing sales.)

The brand-builders are riding a trend of “increased fascination with homelessness,” says the Journal. The paper mentions the popularity of “Bumfights,” or videotaped street fights between homeless people; as well as “Filthy Rich and Homeless,” a British TV series showing real-life millionai…

Aligning your personal brand with an employer brand

In "Employers Study Applicants' Personalities," the Associated Press reports on a new trend in hiring: keeping jerks out.
“Despite a labor shortage in many sectors, some employers are pickier than ever about whom they hire. Businesses….are stepping up efforts to weed out people who might have the right credentials but the wrong personality.”Or to put it in brand terms, aligning job candidates’ personal brand with the employer brand.Says Tim Sanders, former leadership coach at Yahoo Inc. and author of The Likeability Factor: " If you have a bunch of jerks, your brand is going to be a jerk.”Job interviews at Rackspace, for example, are all-day events, so that interviewers can wear away “fake pleasantness” and get at the applicants’ real personality. CEO Lanham Napier says, "We'd rather miss a good one than hire a bad one."What can you do to make sure your personal brand is aligned with a potential employer?Study your own personal brand. Develop a short li…

Terrorism, anti-Semitism damage Israel’s brand: What can be done?

Carnegie Mellon’s student newspaper, The Tartan reports (November 12) on a brand talk given to students by Ido Aharoni, Israel’s assistant foreign minister and brand team manager. In his talk, Aharoni said that Israel’s brand could be improved. “Israel’s brand image does not serve its interests right now; I believe we can do much better.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been trying for several years to re-brand Israel in terms of more positive qualities than “solely in terms of war and religion,” and in particular is trying to move Israel’s brand out of its association with the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, until the Palestinians “curb terrorism,” said Aharoni, the process for Israel of growing beyond the association with the Israel-Palestine conflict cannot start.

A survey released last year, in November 2006, and reported on in Israel Today supports Aharoni’s contention that Israel’s brand is damaged. The National Brands Index, conducted together by nation-branding consultant Simo…

New Facebook strategy - an Orwellian brand nightmare

OK, so I think I get it - Facebook is
Launching company brand pages where people can sign up as fans and have that information fed out to their contacts
Launching a service where people who shop at certain third party vendors can have that shopping information fed back as advertising to their contactsLaunching a marketing research service that serves up all the collective information about brands and those who prefer/use them
Facebook CEO Zuckerberg thinks that this is the wave of the future...a form of trusted referrals from friends to friends. But let me tell you, this is the beginning of a nightmare for Facebook from which they will never wake up. Somebody once said that no money can be made on the Internet, and they were right from the standpoint of the Internet user -- people don't want to be spammed with ads online. Having ads shoved at you from your dozens of "contacts" is not going to do anything to make Facebook more valuable or the companies advertising more popul…

Should brand consultants serve as policy advisers?

In a November 6 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Simon Anholt, who coined the term “nation-branding,” says advertising is an “utterly futile” way to change perceptions of a country and instead argues that countries should change the way they operate first.

The traditional way of marketing a country is way off, says Anholt, with tourism boards, investment-promotion agencies, government public diplomacy agencies, etc. giving out different messages. “It’s not very surprising that most countries end up with very fragmented, out of date, confusing, unhelpful images,” he says. “So I suppose the primary principle I tried to introduce here with the original idea of nation branding is that if all of those stakeholders work together and try to agree on some kind of common long-term strategy for the country and its role in the world, they’re far more likely to be able to influence the way it’s perceived.”

Anholt does not do advertising. Rather he serves as a kind of policy adviser …

Brand Lessons from RAND’s “Enlisting Madison Avenue”

In a fascinating 2007 study, “Enlisting Madison Avenue,” RAND analyzed (pp. 57-129) how the United States military could better influence indigenous populations in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting to read some of the key ideas from that report and how they could be applied to any environment. (This is a sort of circling back from business, to government, to all settings.) Know your target audience through segmentation and targeting. This means using research to identify key stakeholders (by demographic [age/gender/income/occupation], psychographic [social class, lifestyle, personality], geographic location, behaviors) and crafting communication strategies that are relevant to each.Apply business positioning strategies. This means coming up with a core message—a message to emphasize—not emphasizing everything. Start with opinions or concepts held by the customer and work those into messages that come from you. Understand key branding conc…

Brand momentum strategies released, but methodology for brand value determination still unclear

Landor Associates and Stern Stewart's BrandEconomics unit released on November 1 the results of its third Breakaway Brands Study. The study analyzes brands that "exhibited sustained, quantifiable growth over a three-year period, delivering brand-driven value to the bottom line between 2003-2006." It includes about 2,500 brands from Young & Rubicam's BrandAsset® Valuator database. (Some brands, like Yahoo!, are excluded from this database, says Fortune (11/12/07), and they include "nonprofits and media firms with their own distribution channel -- whatever that means.)

Top Brands

Nevertheless, the top 10 momentum brands, ranked in descending order by value gained over the three year period, include:

1. General Electric
2. iPod
3. Microsoft
4. Blackberry
5. Samsung
6. Costco
7. T.J. Maxx
8. Barnes & Noble
9. Propel
10. Stonyfield Farm

Key Findings

Three key findings from the study, says Landor, include:

1. It is important to engage customers through branded experiences. &…

Branding and the pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceutical Executive (November 1) has an article called “Step it up: Branding Roundtable” that talks about branding in the pharmaceutical industry.
I'm not sure what benefit branding ultimately is to the pharmaceutical industry, since generics are required by the Food and Drug Administration to be every bit as good as brands and are widely available.
I guess the scam is for the pharmaceutical industry to convince people that branded drugs are somehow better than generics...which is absolutely not the case.
To that end, here are some quotable quotes: The fundamentals of branding: “If somebody is not willing to pay a little bit more for your brand, you did not have a brand in the first place.”--Jeff Conklin, VP, marketing practices and innovation, Wyeth Being customer-centric: “Branding is going to be driven by the complexity of consumers rather than the complexity of brands.”--ConklinBranding as an experience: “A brand has to create an experience, a situation where people see a re…

Brands are people too - 5 lessons

The October 2007 issue of Fast Company has an interview with Alex Bogusky, the chief creative officer of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an ad agency well known for its campaigns for Volkswagen and Burger King. Bogusky contributes an important element to the discussion about brands -- talking about personifying it and making it real. Asked how you make a brand famous, he responds: "You start to think about the brand as a person and do some things to personify it a little bit."

Bogusky notes that "personifying a brand" helps the creative process because "It allows you to think about the story of the brand and the narrative of the brand in more of a long-term way."

Bogusky also notes that it is important for brand narratives to evolve: "Madonna is a genius in branding....Madonna was always able to evolve to keep people interested. Brands need to be that way too. They can't lose the essence of what they represent but they've got to continue to surprise …