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    Tom Dougherty CEO, Stealing Share

    Tom Dougherty is the President and CEO of Stealing Share, Inc., and has helped national and global brands such as Lexus, IKEA and Tide steal market share over his 25-year career.

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Brand Permissions: Thoughts on the HP Slate, Starbucks and the NFL

Thoughts on brand permissions

On this Friday, this is going to be a grab bag of topics because there are a few hot-button brand issues lurking out there today:

Hewlett-Packard unleashes its own version of iPad:

To many, the comparison of the HP Slate and Apple’s iPad comes down to which technology is best. Regular readers of this blog know that isn’t true. We, as consumers, make decisions for emotional reasons and backfill them with the rational ones.

The HP Slate is aiming at the business market by running Windows, having a front-facing camera (for videoconferencing) and costing $799. From a consumer brand standpoint, the Slate doesn’t have a chance against the iPad.

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But from a business brand standpoint, it has a better chance, but not a great one. Recently on a recent flight, the businessman next to me was working two cell phones: A Blackberry and an iPhone. The Blackberry was for business, he said, and the iPhone was for everything else. He told me that once the enterprise software became available on the iPhone, such as when iPhone comes to Verizon, his company would switch to the iPhone.

HP knows it can’t compete with the iPad as a consumer product – although it will try to steal some share in that market (good luck!) – but it does have some brand equity as a business tool. But don’t think Apple doesn’t have brand equity among business personnel itself because it does. This will become a brand permission story, which is something too many companies and brands often forget. Do you have permission, from a brand standpoint, to have X brand promise to Y target audience? You must ask yourself that question before embarking on a new brand venture.

HP does have permission to the business community. But that doesn’t mean it will win. Apple has permission too.

Brand Index Scale (1-10, with 10 being having the most permission): 7.

Which leads me to…

Starbucks will sell beer and wine:

Does Starbucks have permission to do that? The surprising answer is yes, if – and it’s a big, whopping, apocalyptic if – it can recapture what its brand promise once was: An experience.

In a way, Starbucks once replaced the idea of a neighborhood bar, where friends meet, talk and have a drink. A beer or wine fits that description.

However, Starbucks has lost that experience. When people go to a Starbucks, they want to leave. That’s why the introduction of a drive-thru window at some Starbucks locations was a brand mistake and an admission of failure of its “experience” brand. It may have increased profits for the short term, but it placed Starbucks in the low-end competitive arena of McDonalds and Burger King.

For the wine and beer experiment to work, Starbucks is introducing a new experience, complete with cheese served on fine china.

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Changing the experience is the right tactic. What that experience is brings up the permission question again. Does Starbucks have permission to have an upscale, wine bar-like feel fit into the Starbucks brand. If there hasn’t been too much damage to its brand, it might.

Starbucks is a lost, once great brand. This will only work if Starbucks has correctly understood what experience is coveted and if it fits into the Starbucks brand. Then, it’ll have permission.

Brand Index Scale (1-10, with 10 being having the most permission): 5.

The NFL will now suspend players for head-to-head hits:

The NFL’s recent announcement that it will suspend players over “kill shots” is a brand decision that is applauded here. The NFL is simply looking ahead and understands that, despite its current financial success, the popularity of sports is as cyclical as anything else. Baseball, horse racing and boxing were once the most popular sports in this country and all three, even baseball to an extent, are irrelevant now.

Football, and I’m a fan, has always been a violent, collision sport. But we’ve all noticed an increasing tendency of players to use their helmets as a weapon with more regularity and violence. The hit by New England’s Brandon Meriweather was particularly disturbing because he used his helmet like a hammer, smacking it right on top of Baltimore’s Todd Heap’s head and watching Heap fall to the ground while something – a mouthpiece, perhaps – flew in the air.

New-England-Patriots-safety-Brandon-Meriweather

Most of the players have reacted like the NFL is banning hard hitting, which is a complete misunderstanding of what the league is doing. It is simply issuing stronger punishments for rules that already exist.

From a brand perspective, it’s a smart move. The NBA current has a brand of thugs – whether the players are or not is not the issue; the issue is that they are believed to be – and the NFL could find itself with a similar perception if it didn’t take steps to prevent it.

The safety issue is, of course, paramount. But, as a brand guy, I’m all for it. The NFL, with the emergence of analysts like Ron Jaworski and Football Outsiders, fantasy football and high def has become the brand of spectacle and strategy. Who would have thought years ago that most NFL fans would now have an understanding of the cover 2 defense and the zone blitz?

The NFL’s brand has moved beyond the kill shot. (I won’t even get into the lack of fundamental tackling in the NFL.) It is a violent sport. But it’s not a blood sport.

Does the league have permission to issue such harsher penalties. It would not if the landscape of the typical NFL fan hadn’t changed. I don’t think the typical fan is looking for the kill shot. I think they are looking to see if their fantasy players score, if their team wins, if the fan itself can second-guess or approve strategic decisions and if the game becomes a thriller.

Brand Index Scale (1-10, with 10 being having the most permission): 9.

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