• About Tom Dougherty

    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.

    An often-quoted source on business and brands, he has been featured recently by the New York Times and CNN, discussing topics ranging from television to Apple to airlines.

    Tom also regularly speaks at conferences as a keynote and break-out speaker. To find out more on inviting him to your speaking engagement and view a video of him speaking, click here.

    You can also reach him via email attomd@stealingshare.com.

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The Tom Dougherty Blog

PonoPlayer review Part II

A while back, I wrote a blog about the Neil Young brainchild, PonoPlayer. At the time, the music playing device, which is being sold for $400, was raking in the dough on Kickstarter. In fact, the campaign raised over $6 million dollars. Well over the initial goal of $800,000.

As it turns out, they are a waste of money.
As it turns out, they are a waste of money.

The marketing for the device was poignant. Somewhere between Young’s mantra of damning present-day MP3s and touting the sonic effectiveness of the PonoPlayer (hi-definition music you can hear and feel), I was sold. Not sold enough to buy a device, but sold to the point that I bought Neil’s pitch. Plus, Stephen Stills endorsed the product and I am prone to believe anything he has to say.

Shows you what little I know.

A few months ago, just prior to seeing Crosby, Stills and Nash in concert, I heard Stills in an interview state how he is basically stone deaf. All I could think of at the time was the PonoPlayer Kickstarter video where Stills was sitting beside Neil in a car and going in a tizzy over the great sound PonoPlayer was delivering on the car’s stereo system. Music he couldn’t even hear.

Man, was I ever duped.

Your phone might sound better than PonoPlayer.

That’s exactly what the research has shown. Yahoo! Tech wrote a PonoPlayer review that blasted the PonoPlayer at the start of the year. In it, the writer gave a test where he connected a PonoPlayer and iPhone to an A/B switch. Remarkably, and unknowingly, the participants generally felt that the iPhone (whether with headphones or earbuds) sounded better than the PonoPlayer did.

What’s more, the author of the selection wrote Neil, who responded that “Of approximately 100 top-seed artists who compared Pono to low resolution MP3s, all of them heard and felt the Pono difference, rewarding to the human senses, and is what Pono thinks you deserve to hear.”

Such clever wording. Of course a hi-definition PonoPlayer FLAC file would sound better than a “low resolution MP3.”

PonoPlayer isn’t necessary.

I’m not suggesting that Young’s heart isn’t in the right place, but what I am suggesting is that nobody needs the PonoPlayer. It’s a statement piece, which complicates your music library (you need to repurchase everything you may have already bought from the Pono Music store). Plus, If Yahoo!’s sampling is a correct snapshot, the files we have on our phones are just enough and may even sound better.

With the PonoPlayer, Neil Young masterfully sold us on a perceptive fantasy, a potentiality (music would sound and feel different) that I wanted to believe. Thing is, fantasies run thin after a while, as did my belief in the magic of PonoPlayer. The PonoPlayer review is in.

KFC Colonel Sanders is creepy

Brand equity is often a misunderstood marketing term. For many, it means whatever the brand has in its history, and you leverage it. How the company was founded. What ads it once used to run, whether it’s Mikey eating Life cereal or Coke teaching the “whole world to sing” (whether it was devised by Don Draper or not.)

That is, many marketers simply go back to the vault for their upcoming marketing endeavors and call it using brand equity. What most miss is that brand equity is something about your brand that means something to audiences. Just because you have it doesn’t mean that it’s meaningful in any way.

In fact, sometimes it can appear to be desperate.

This is where KFC finds itself by rolling out new ads featuring an actor resurrecting the body of Colonel Sanders – like that’s not creepy or anything.

The creepy factor can’t be overlooked here because, well, Colonel Sanders was a real person, not a made-up character like Ronald McDonald. He founded Kentucky Fried Chicken back in the 50s and became the face of the chain much like John Schnatter is for Papa John’s now. (Although in a much less impactful manner.)

The brand equity of Colonel Sanders.

The brand equity of Colonel Sanders resides back in the 70s and, for those audiences fast food chains are trying to reach (think: young), any equity of Colonel Sanders just feels like a grab from the dark ages and is, therefore, relatively unknown.

KFC, now owned by Yum! Brands, has struggled in recent years because its fried chicken has been deemed unhealthy by many target audiences (which is why it re-branded Kentucky Fried Chicken to simply KFC). It has been striving for relevancy ever since.

And let’s be frank. Not only did KFC bring back Colonel Sanders in an attempt to lay claim to a brand equity, it did it after seeing the success of Wendy’s which has an appealing actress play Wendy, the namesake daughter for which founder Dave Thomas named his chain.

But there’s a striking difference between KFC and Wendy’s. Wendy always seemed like a made-up character to us all. It was Dave Thomas who was the real person – and think how creepy and misguided it would have been for Wendy’s to trot out an actor playing him in new advertising.

The brand equity the KFC Colonel Sanders ads are striving for simply doesn’t exist in this form. It has little meaning to current audiences and, even if it did, it hasn’t been re-thought for today. (Wendy’s, for example, completely re-thought the Wendy character.)

Quick word of advice: Before you start using something as a brand equity, find out first if it had any true meaning to current audiences.

And, please, don’t make it creepy.

FIFA arrests, sports brands

I know very little about international soccer. But I do know this: FIFA is corrupt and has been for decades so the FIFA arrests were no surprise to me.

That belief, based on little evidence, was confirmed last night when many top officials at the global soccer organization were arrested by US officials on charges of corruption. Following that, Swiss officials are looking into charges that bribes were taken in exchanges for the right to host the World Cup.

Where does the brand of FIFA stand now?
Where does the brand of FIFA stand now?

As Captain Renault would say, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”

The interesting part for me is that I knew FIFA was corrupt without being an avid fan. Yes, I usually do watch some of the matches during the World Cup. And I felt the naming of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup made no sense because it would be deathly hot during play and, as we know, Qatar is rich.

The state of the union for league brands.

Does FIFA have a serious brand problem? Probably not as soccer fans have been clamoring for the investigation of its lead officials for years and FIFA remains the arguably the most popular sports brand in the world.

In a way, fans are able to separate the corruption of the organization’s leaders from the sport itself. For example, the NFL has some troublesome aspects of its leadership and of the sport itself. Yet, it remains the most powerful sports brand in the US.

It takes quite a bit for a sports brand to fall in the eyes of its fans because the fans are in love with the sport itself. The Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series severely damaged Major League Baseball, but it came roaring back with Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees in the following decade.

The NBA had a serious brand problem in the late 70s when cocaine use was rampant and the league had weak leadership. (The NBA championship trophy is called the Larry O’Brien Trophy named after that former commissioner. But anyone following the NBA back then remembers that he was a weak leader.)

The NBA bounced back with the arrival of a strong commissioner (David Stern) and stars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson who played an unselfish game that made the sport exciting again in the 80s.

So where does FIFA stand now? Its leader, Sepp Blatter, was not arrested on charges. But, considering he has been the organization’s longtime leader and is expected to win re-election on Friday, he should step down in light of the FIFA arrests. The corruption happened on his watch and I have a difficult time thinking he had no knowledge of it (or didn’t take part in it).

Soccer fans will continue to watch the World Cup and follow international soccer because the FIFA brand, although damaged, has proved too strong to be toppled by this.

In fact, soccer fans are responding to the arrests with a heartfelt “Ole!”

No more superhero movies

I wonder if Hollywood will ever have a new idea. Probably not.

CBS, for example, is planning a Supergirl series, one in a seemingly litany of superhero TV shows and movies. And the pilot has been leaked on Mashable.

Well, whoop-de-do.

I'll give you 30 seconds to guess the first season's plot.
I’ll give you 30 seconds to guess the first season’s plot.

Let me give you a run-down of what’s going to happen in the series, so you can avoid wasting your time looking for torrents. Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler, just a superficial cliché: Girl is an outcast. Girl is given superpowers by some strange circumstance. Girl secretly saves the world and feels a little less of an outcast. Then, girl meets her nemesis, whom she nearly defeats at the end of season one. But, at the last second, the nemesis gets away.

That seems about right, don’t you agree?

Maybe I am alone with this thinking (or worse, I may be too much a curmudgeon), but I am sick and tired of superhero movies and TV series being considered high cinema.

Perhaps it’s because I have had my fill of hearing about what a cinematic triumph the Dark Knight trilogy was or what a letdown Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman is bound to be as he just doesn’t understand “story” the way Christopher Nolan does.

(And if it’s action you crave, I would suggest Mad Max: Fury Road with its exciting, CGI-less chases over any of the bland Avengers movies.)

Give me a break.

Superhero flicks are not fine cinema.

Let me reiterate: Superhero flicks are not fine cinema, at least the way they have been made in the past and today. Genre by itself doesn’t determine a film’s quality, but the superhero genre has run its course.

If you think superhero movies have been high cinema, I beg you to watch Lawrence of Arabia. Then I beg you to tell me Daredevil is better.

I bet you can’t.

If we keep watching superhero movies they will continue to be made.

We need to evaluate where we put our dollars.

Isaac Newton once prophesized: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

This holds true to all aspects of life and is a concise analogy for the topic of this blog.

Remember: if we continue to watch superhero movies, then we will get more of them. It’s Newton’s Third Law in action.

In the past, I reflected on my worry for this coming generation. But I believe the story here shouldn’t be directed only at our youth.

It’s about all of us.

Our choices are powerful. Maybe the most powerful gift we have. Knowing that should spurn us towards mindfulness, which might make Hollywood mindful too.

I can only hope.

Gay Boy Scouts, soon gay Scout leaders

Former Secretary of State Robert Gates and now the leader of the Boy Scouts of America announced that it is time that the organization drop its ban on prohibiting gays from serving as Scout leaders. He received a standing ovation.

Well, it’s about time.

The Boy Scouts of America need to take a leadership position on gay rights.
The Boy Scouts of America need to take a leadership position on gay rights.

In the U.S., the tide has changed as far as public opinion is concerned on the civil rights and acceptance of gay citizens. Most Americans favor gay marriage and most Americans believe that gay citizens need their rights protected and discrimination eliminated.

What took the Scouts so long? Even this change of heart (but not a change in policy yet) is a lost opportunity for the Boy Scouts brand. The organization has sat too long on the wrong side of history. It was just another way in which the organization can be looked at as just slightly queer.

Brands must take the lead to remain important.

Brands that are trying to be for general audiences need to find ways to be slightly ahead of the curve…not way behind it. The Boy Scouts of America had demonstrated its narrow view of our general population (estimates are that more than 10% of the US population is gay). It has demonstrated that is is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. It can now also be accepting and tolerant. It currently does not speak these final two values in its Scout Law because the organization (not the Scouts themselves) had a moral compass that is less rooted in belief than it is in the process of what is right.

Brands remain important and urgent when they become thought leaders, not thought followers. I hope the Scout movement remedies this shortfall and grasp on what is right and important in the society it mines for new members. It has made strides, allowing gay Boy Scouts.

It needs to have a belief in inclusion. A belief that always stands on the right side of history because it finds its beginnings in a core belief in tolerance. How can tolerance in any way be a bad thing?

Or, it could touch its finder to its tongue, raise it to the breeze and wait to discover the wind’s own direction. It may seem quaint, like making your own compass with a magnetized needle in a floating cork, but the direction the wind is now blowing will extinguish its candle in a quick puff if it does not move forward.

Can’t wait until gay Boy Scouts are grown and allowed to lead in the organization that they invested their time and trust in.

David Letterman last show

Long before today’s most outrageous acts garnered the most likes, tweets, views and laughs, there was the original outrageous act: David Letterman.

David Letterman was always the yin to the yang of Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. Where the Tonight Show tended to be tame and inoffensive, David Letterman tirelessly worked for the more brash and in your face (while still being inoffensive).

Thank you, Dave.
Thank you, Dave.

One may go so far as to just call it stupid.

But in that stupidity is where David Letterman’s genius works. Stupidity brought us Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks and even his iconic top 10 lists. As an example, Mr. Letterman’s first top 10 list was, “Words that almost rhyme with peas.”

  1. Heats
  2. Rice
  3. Moss
  4. Ties
  5. Needs
  6. Lens
  7. Ice
  8. Nurse
  9. Leaks

And, the number one word that almost rhymes with peas is (drumroll):

1. Meats


As we near the David Letterman last show.

As we head into the David Letterman last show, I believe he always stayed true to himself, even tweaking his bosses with jokes about GE when he was at NBC. He also made fun of himself, his guests and his band. But he was quick to address real events in a most sincere way (watch his first show back after 9/11).

Was he funny every night? No. But who could be for 30 years? What he did was keep his schmaltz-less persona intact, and had far more hits than misses.

Brands should take note. As with David Letterman’s brand, a company’s brand is not something that should be transient or the flavor of the day. Rather it should serve as beacon for what you are doing now and where you are heading. Brands sometimes fail in the short term, on a project or an initiative. But if a brand is true to what it is and stays the course, it ultimately will succeed. (As long as it’s meaningful.)

Could you imagine if David Letterman stopped doing his Top 10 list after “Words that almost rhyme with peas”?

So thank you David Letterman for reminding us of the importance of a brand staying true to itself, even when it gets a little rough. And thank you for sharing your brand with the world for the past 30 years.

Home Depot vs Lowes

A few days ago, my oldest son asked if I would like to join him on a venture to Lowe’s. I took him up on the offer, seeing that my wife was out of town and my only company was my dog.

As is typically the case with home improvement stores and me, there’s always something that I need to buy even if it’s something I don’t really need. This time, I needed dimmers for a few of the lights in my living room.

We choose our favorite primarily because of location.
We choose our favorite primarily because of location.

I followed my son around the store for a handful of minutes as he loaded his cart full with lawn care goods, bird feeders and other odds and ends (he is taking after me) before leaving him to find what I wanted to buy.

Here’s the rub: finding the light dimmer I wanted was like hunting for the Yeti. No thank you.

Location is paramount with home improvement stores.

I mentioned earlier that my son and I are a lot alike. So much so that we both have defined our home improvement shopping by the chain closest to where we live. For him, it’s Lowes. For me, it’s Home Depot.

Sadly, without either having a defining brand, the location of a home improvement stores has become the most important factor in deciding the winner in Home Depot vs Lowes.

The battle between Lowe’s and Home Depot was a subject of a recent article in Forbes, which stated that shoppers prefer the layout and design of Lowe’s over Home Depot.

I speculate that the real reason these shoppers prefer Lowe’s over Home Depot is because it’s the store closest to where they live. Consequently, they have backfilled that choice with things like design to affirm that they made the choice for a better reason than location.

What does this mean for the home improvement brand?

As I have previously written, the act of feeling like a “winner” is what drives us within the home improvement category (and most things in life). In the instance with my son, I “lost” at Lowe’s as I could not find the items I wanted readily nor did they seem better in quality. As such, there was no impetus for me to change my shopping pattern.

However, had my shopping experience been a breeze at Lowe’s, maybe this blog would have been written differently. As is, I’ll continue to be a Home Depot shopper.

Organic food scam

Organic foods have a problem, a perception problem. Many Americans believe organic labeling is a scam, a marketing scheme that gives brands permission to charge higher prices.

That’s the finding in a new research study by Mintel that demonstrates that the organic wave is slowing down as consumers are getting more cynical about what “organic” really means.

What does organic mean?
What does organic mean?

You can see it in the bottom line. Whole Foods, the organic grocery leader, has seen its growth drop from the heydays of 20.4% growth in 2000-2008 to 9.9% last year.

The study backs up those numbers. According to Mintel, more than half of US consumers believe that labeling something organic is “an excuse to charge more” and more than a third (38%) view “organic” as simply a marketing term. Similar numbers show that consumers believe that organic-labeled products are not actually organic.

What is happening here?

There are several facets to all this. For one, as Mintel notes, the organic brands, including Whole Foods, have done a poor job in defining what organic really means. For some of us, we believe organic food is healthier, but we don’t really know nor, it seems, really care.

As sad as it may sound, lower cost trumps the need for healthier food. We are still a country in which we often choose less healthy items over better choices, even knowing that there might be health risks.

Who is the organic food shopper?

There’s another part to this, which I think is the larger issue. Even if you have defined what “organic” means, the consumer reflection of those consumers is not emotional and even seems untrustworthy.

The image of an organic food shopper is something soft and ill defined. It’s food in a hemp tote bag. The brands are too focused on the food and not on the definition of who those shoppers are when they buy organic.

Instead, the marketing is all about the foods and process: What are the good foods to eat, how to prepare them and how to shop for them. There’s very little focused on defining the emotional life of that shopper that would be an attractive aspiration to the target audience.

Organic brands are like any other failing brand, depending on product features and process, which are never enough to overcome price or the emotional brand reflections of non-organic foods.

That leaves shoppers with the idea that, “Hey, it’s just a tomato!” and choosing what they believe is the best tomato. It’s only natural that they then tell themselves that there is an organic food scam because few see themselves in the brands.

If the organic food brands continue to ignore market trends and the ability to tap into the emotional undercurrents of target audiences, “organic” will eventually be seen as nothing more than snake oil.