• 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

Sea World vs. Blackfish. A battle of brands.

 The Battle of the brands. Can Sea World win?

Sea WorldBusiness at Sea World is off by about a million visitors per year. No one doubts that this dramatic drop in visitations to the theme parks has been due to the bad publicity generated by the documentary Black Fish.The documentary relied upon stories and testimony from former Sea World employees documenting the tragic deaths of a few Sea World employees by the parks Orcas (Killer Whales). But the damage to the theme park brand hinged on the poor treatment of the park’s sea mammals. It is alleged in the documentary that the whales are stressed beyond all reasonable boundaries, isolated, confined and drugged. All this in the name of entertainment.

Sea World vs BlackfishSea World has just struck back and has released a new Sea World advertising campaign designed to mitigate the damage done by PETA  and Black Fish by attacking their agenda and offering the positive testimony of staff veterinarians.

This is a battle Sea World can’t win. The reason is brand. You see brand is built upon beliefs (not truths) and without passing judgment on who is right here, it is just simple common sense that says the belief in ethical treatment for animals is a more strongly held belief than a belief that entertainment is ok. Human beings also hold as a brand precept that everything has a cause and effect and few are willing to believe that a confined giant animal lives a full and robust life when compared to their wild brothers and sisters. Just ask Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey who have announced that they are fazing out live elephants from their shows (despite their own denial of mistreatment) because of very similar accusations.  The problem that Sea World faces is more severe. The Circus is still a Circus without Animals (Check out the Big Apple Circus or Cirque Du Soleil)  but Sea World without Orcas and Dolphins is… well a wet desert.

Swim with the Dolphins

Sea world vs the CoveI have no doubt the next victim will be all of the Swim with the Dolphins parks. All you have to do is watch the amazing film The Cove  to feel that the cost of populating these parks is way too high. It is an unnatural stress placed once again on tranquilized and intelligent creatures who would prefer not to swim with us.

I think Shamu is history.

Fast food brands and their menu dilemmas

Taco Bell is expanding its breakfast offerings to include a Chicken Biscuit Taco. Consider this news in light of the fact that McDonald’s commands the breakfast meal and that it accounts for about 25% of McDonalds revenues compared to about 6% for Taco Bell.

As I have previously written, the sales at McDonald’s have been in steady decline for some time and I have made a number of comments that its brand is not really reflective of either McDonald’s or the customers it is trying to persuade. But as I think about it, McDonald’s is not the only fast food chain that is suffering from a marked lack of brand.

Oh, yummy.
Oh, yummy.

Fast food brands are confused about one thing – the difference between the business of their businesses and the business of their brands. They are in the business of selling relatively inexpensive food quickly, period. It is the definition of what it means to be a fast food restaurant.

What all of them have confused is that the business of their brands are something else. The business of your brand is not what you do, it’s who your customers are when they use your brand. Sorry to say it, fast food industry, all of you are trying to sell what you do – make fast food.

Therefore, fast food menu items are becoming increasingly ridiculous. Chicken biscuit tacos? A sausage breakfast crunch wrap that exceeds 700 calories? Chicken fingers, extra long BBQ cheeseburgers, monster double omelet biscuit, BBQ pulled pork from Wendy’s?

That list is only a smattering of what the fast food chains are trotting out these days. You even see this confusion with their names. Domino’s is running a campaign in support of changing its name from “Domino’s Pizza” to simply “Domino’s” to, according to the commercials, reflect the fact that it is no longer just pizza. It has pasta, sandwiches and those little fried pieces of chicken topped with pizza toppings.

Anyone with any marketing sense has to look at the mess fast food has created and chuckle. Fast food has made a mockery of itself. The industry, whose sales are down as a whole, is short circuiting itself by putting all of its development into new menu items without considering brand values.

The only brand that seems to get it right is Hardee’s, which went against the grain and actually tried to own the idea of fast food being about high calorie, high fat food – what else would “eat like you mean it” mean? Its brand is reflective of its target audience.

New menu items (or “food innovations” as they are called) do not build a brand. Rather, they dilute brands because they are only about what these companies do.

If you look around you, you see fast food chains trying to out-menu each other. Fast food brands are all about the same and the new fat in a wrapper breakfast item won’t change that.

Lowe’s Home Improvement has a bad ad

The new commercial for Lowe’s Home Improvement is a perfect example of an ad agency that not only does not understand brand but has a limited grasp on their own craft as well.

Harsh words? You bet? But this kind of brand mismanagement by an advertising agency is not unusual and I think it might be valuable to discuss it here.

The commercial running right now, which I will call “glow in the dark cat hat” is so off brand that it screams for commentary.

Take a look here.

So, based upon the content of the spot we will tease out the strategy—convince less than confident husbands that they can do home improvement confidently.

The Lowe’s Home Improvement brand message is lost

The idea is that we can identify with this guy who hesitates to take on home improvement projects because his skill set lies in other places — beyond installing bathroom vanities. It almost makes sense if the idea for Lowes Home Improvement is to expand the home improvement category and is designed to get people who have never done a home improvement project to consider taking one on. If the idea is to steal share from those that frequent Home Depot the strategy is completely wrong. I am hoping the former because if Lowes intended the latter this strategy is failed as well.

From a brand perspective, the ad failed because the hero husband, whom we are supposed to identify with (a hallmark of branding is to emotionally connect with the self-reflection of the brand itself), is misguided and foolish. The intended humor in the ad points this out with precision. Now that he is confident in his ability to feel confident in what he does, he takes the ridiculous idea to his boss (his big idea) of a glow in the dark cat hat. Not only does his boss dismiss the idea as stupid, the viewer is separated from the character because we all see how dumb it can be to feel confident. This is precisely the WRONG brand message.

lowes home improvment -glow-in-the-dark-cat-hat-large-7Now I recognize that you think I have no sense of humor because it is meant to be funny. I get that. The question raised is this: Is humor the best way to make he brand point that Lowes Home Improvement gives those who try home improvement projects successfully greater confidence? It is a difficult task.

All to often advertising agencies hoist humor on a client for self-serving purposes. The agency creatives LOVE funny commercials because they win awards and industry wide self-congratulations. It is a victory for the agency rather than a victory in market share growth.

Lowes Home Improvement LogoHumor in advertising has a cost

Worse still, no one told Lowe’s Home Improvement about the costs of humorous ads. They have a minuscule shelf life and require tons of executions. Look at the number of spots the Rob Lowe campaign has for DIRECTV. DIRECTV purposefully chose a format that allows for multiple shoots and endless executions because it recognized the drawback inherent in humorous ads. You need to keep them so fresh that they are raw. You can recycle a funny ad, but it needs to have some planned breaks in its rotation.

So the question I have for Lowe’s Home Improvement is quite simple. What are your strategic goals? Are you looking to speak to folks who have never done any home improvment or steal share from those that purchased the raw materials from a competitor? Did you invest enough money in the campaign to have a dozen executions or were you focusing on frequency?

But the biggest question is about the Lowe’s Home Improvement brand itself. Who are you (speaking about your customer) when you shop at Lowes? Are you confident in what you do? Are your confident actions rewarded with success or is that confidence ill placed?

In this commercial, your target audience does not covet such foolish confidence as to roll up your sleeves and then fail so miserably.

Let’s build something together has some responsibility. I think it is time to change agencies.

The quality filter on Twitter is just the first step

As a general user of Twitter, I’ve been astounded by the wellspring of negative comments and general harassment that can seemingly happen on a daily basis.

Ashely Judd, just a few days ago, tweeted during an NCAA game that the Arkansas men’s basketball team was playing dirty. Fair enough.

The responses she received to that tweet were appalling:

“What the hell do you even do you stuck up c—. What are you famous for again?”

Or, “Go suck on Cal’s two inch d— ye Bitch whore.”

Getting rid of the trolls
Getting rid of the trolls

Up until now, Twitter has maintained the right to delete accounts of users flagged for this type of inexcusable behavior. But what it cannot stop is these same users opening another page where they continue unwanted banter until they are once again removed. This cycle can be endless.

Most likely in response to Judd’s interactions on the site, Twitter has just released a “quality filter” that allows users to remove threats and abuse from personal timelines.

If you ask me, a quality filter feels like a band aid for a bigger problem.

Here’s the gist of what I mean:

I’m all for sharing an opinion on a topic (obviously), but ethical standards should be upheld and monitored by social networks. Threating comments should never see the light of day and feeling safe must be a table stake in these types of settings.

Twitter’s quality filter is an improvement, but it’s a filter for tweets that have already been posted. In my estimation, the filter that should be implemented is one that catches the imposing threat before it has even posted. It’s the ethical duty of Twitter.

MSNBC and its lack of brand personality

Love it or hate it, Fox News has a brand and that’s the single reason why it leads in the cable news ratings by a large margin. With news that MSNBC will shake up its primetime lineup to jump start its lagging ratings, it would behoove the network to think less about what personalities it puts on the air and more about what personality the network itself presents.

To be fair, MSNBC is second, while CNN is third. CNN has its own problems of which I’ve laid out before, but the point is that both of them are too concerned with the personalities they put on the air and not enough on what the whole network means.

The constant handwringing at MSNBC comes as viewership dropped 27% from February of last year and a whopping 48% among viewers age 25-54.

Basically, MSNBC is in a free fall.

So here’s MSNBC’s plan, according to Politico. All in With Chris Hayes will be moved, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton will now air on the weekends and the network is going to trot out new faces.

MSNBC once thought this guy would save the network.
MSNBC once thought this guy would save the network.

This is the hamster wheel MSNBC is running on and it won’t work. Changing out this show for that one, introducing a new host and coming up with a new catchy phrase to describe said show is more turns on the wheel.

Fox News, while sporting well-known hosts like Bill O’Reilly, could change out shows and see very little change in its viewership. That’s because its loyal audience knows what the network stands for and, therefore, they become loyal to the network, not the personalities, because of it.

What MSNBC must stand for does not have to be a spot on the political spectrum. In fact, I have long urged CNN that it must stand for the voice of reason but it keeps falling into the same trap with The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett OutFront and Anderson Cooper 360. Shows focused on personalities.

Those may be fine shows, but few tune in because CNN as a brand doesn’t mean anything.

What networks like MSNBC are doing is akin to BlackBerry trotting out new product features and wondering why it can’t make any inroads into Apple’s market share.

Start with the brand first, then it doesn’t matter who you put on the air.

The good and the bad of the Starbucks brand

For those of us, like me, who can’t start the day without a strong cup of coffee, Starbucks remains an interesting company that is always trying to find ways to be one of the most powerful consumer brands around.

At Wednesday’s shareholder meeting, the company announced several initiatives that hold promise. And a few others that are an overreach.

On the positive, Starbucks will begin testing delivery in Seattle and New York City, which I’ve always thought was an idea whose time has come. The name of the game for consumers in this technological age is simplicity. The easier you can make it for consumers to buy your product, the better off you are.

Starbucks brand
One of its better endeavors.

That may seem like an obvious statement. But look around you and you’ll see how companies think so inside out that their processes become more complex than they should be. (Think banks.)

The Starbucks Brand

The Starbucks brand is looking to simplicity in a few endeavors. The delivery system would only work in dense urban areas, but I can imagine it being a boon to the brand and shut out competitors. Starbucks is also instituting a mobile ordering and payment app, which it should have done long ago.

I guess you could also say that its plan to expand with more locations, adding more than 3,500 units in the next five years in the US, is also about simplicity, but I worry about that one. Starbucks is entering McDonald’s territory where there’s one on every corner and you begin to lose emotional preference. You become only about location. (Think pharmacies.)

But the one that really concerns me is its plan to add more food. Starbucks will add more lunch options and afternoon snacks, but the brand doesn’t have permission to grow later in the day with food. Its brand owns coffee, with a large, emotional footprint in breakfast. Increasing your presence into other dayparts is always a risky proposition for brands that have been linked with a certain daypart. (Think Taco Bell and its weak attempt to enter the breakfast market.)

The overall concern would be that Starbucks believes it can dominate more than it can. You don’t want to hold a brand back, but as Clint Eastwood said in the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”


Supermarkets and consistency in brand communication.

Brands need constant attention

If you have a brand of any value at all, you need to care for it and that starts with consistency in brand communication. My business is all about identifying the highest emotional intensity available for a brand to own. Then we set up scaffolding for that ownership consistency in brand communication Harris teeter and pay off that brand promise in ways in which the customer and prospect can SEE them and understand them as important. We try our best to create an emotional image that feels as if the prospect is seeing themselves in the brand. We want every brand to grow and become emotionally important to those we wish to influence. Its how a brand protects itself from always having to represent the newest and best.

Paying off that carefully crafted work is always a challenge. At Stealing Share, we write a Brand Charter that identifies the brand’s human attributes and includes a series of the brand’s sacred promises that the brand solemnly vows never to forget. It hard to make this real. In many ways, consistency of promise is the only thing that stands in the way of brand failure.

So today, let me tell you about how Harris Teeter, (a Grocery brand here in North Carolina recently bought by Kroger) failed me. And, most importantly, the consequences of that failure.

Supermarkets are not emotionally intensive and need consistency in brand communication

Wegmans has consistency in brand communicationNow aside from Wegmans, few grocery store chains command much brand loyalty beyond convenience, location, familiarity, and selection (which all should be givens in this category). So, the level of brand attraction is small to begin with.

consistency in brand communication may not be found in self-checkoutBut this morning, I stopped into the Harris Teeter store that I pass on my way to work. I wanted to buy a few frozen lunch entrees for me personally, and while I was there, some specialty coffee and LED light bulbs for the office.

It was early (6:45 AM) and I quickly grabbed what I needed, divided it into two orders (one personal one business) and proceeded to the self-checkout lane to save me time (no one was operating a full service register at the time.

I started to scan my frozen entrees and the scanner messed up my first scan. It did not record a price but instead asked me to weigh it. I pushed the help button on my check out register. It took 10 minutes for someone to come help me, and when she arrived and tried to scan it herself she realized the code was not in the computer. “Do you remember how much it was,” she asked politely. I did not. So she took my package and headed down the frozen food isle to investigate the price. She came back and said, “It was $3.95” and charged that to my kiosk. Then she took off towards the back of the store as I finished my scanning. Now I just turned 60 a couple of weeks ago and was quite delighted when the screen asked me (in a computer generated female voice) if I qualified for a senior citizen discount, to which I pressed YES. Then the femme fatale uttered words that would come to spoil my day, “Please show your ID to the cashier.” There was no cashier. I pushed the notify the cashier button once again and waited. 15 minutes later, no one had showed up.

Saying Goodbye to Harris Teeter

So I went to another kiosk, scanned the business portion of my shopping, DID NOT SAY I QUALIFIED FOR A SENIOR CITIZEN DISCOUNT, swiped my credit card and left. Leaving my personal purchases in a bag next to my old and failed kiosk to defrost and ruin.

I wanted speed. The self-checkout promised speed. I got SLOW. Very slow. Spending in total, 20 minutes in a failed effort to buy my goods and never saw a Harris Teeter worker again.Where is the consistency in brand communication?

It’s OK, however. As I will never go back. My time is my most valuable resource and the processes in their store do not promise that to me anymore.

The fragility of a brand and the importance of a promise are evident in my visit this morning. Obviously Harris Teeter sees self-checkout not as a means of saving customers time, but as a means to run four checkout lanes without having to pay a worker.

So, be careful with your brand equity and mind the small details. At times, those little promises are all that separate you from everyone else.

 Read a bit more about Wegmans here


DirecTV, Now I don’t know which Rob Lowe I am

DirecTV gives you a choice of who you want to be.
DirecTV gives you a choice of who you want to be – or do they?

Below is the full transcript of a conversation one of my associates had with DirectTV. To get you up to speed read an earlier blog here I wrote about it.

xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:Hi, my name isxxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx). How are you today?
xxxxxx xxxxx:Fine, you?
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx)DIRECTV:I’m in most content and I’m glad that you are too xxxxxx! Thank you so much!
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:I hope your 2015 is dong great so far. How can I help you on your account?
xxxxxx xxxxx:So a couple of things. My bill went up in September and again in January. Why?
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:I take care of my bills too and I understand how you feel about seeing a higher bill than expected. We can take a look into that for you right now to  see what’s going on xxxxxx. Rest assured that you got my full assistance today.
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx)DIRECTV:I have the account now xxxxxx. Can you spare me time to check your account if you wouldn’t mind?
xxxxxx xxxxx:sure
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:Thank you so much!
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:I do appreciate you working with me on this. Thanks for the wait xxxxxx.
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:As I checked the bill from September you are paying around $180, the difference came from the price change  we have effective this month. That would be $5  for your base package and $.50 for your equipment fees. Aside from that nothing has been changed on your account. We have disseminate notifications with the bill starting December.
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:We have done this the last few years, since our programming costs keeps changing. But we’re proud to keep our increases to a minimum and still offer competitive prices at a great value.
xxxxxx xxxxx:Well, you removed the autobill discount, the discount for premium channels, and the advanced receiver credit as well.
xxxxxx xxxxx:I get the feeling that DirectTV does not care about their customers after two years
xxxxxx xxxxx:and since I am no longer “under contract” with you, I would be free to go find another provider that can provide me the same if not better service at a much discounted rate
xxxxxx xxxxx:It feels as though that once the two years are up you revert back to “normal” pricing, whatever that may be in hopes that the customer does not notice
xxxxxx xxxxx:I get your “explanation” about why there was a difference between the base package and fees. But that does not explain why you penalize customers that stay with you longer  than two years
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:Thank you so much for sharing your honest perception on this matter xxxxxx. But be assured that this is not the feeling we would want you to have.
xxxxxx xxxxx:I bet not, but it is, in fact the feeling I do have
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:We know you have a choice when it comes to programming providers, and we must work hard to earn your loyalty xxxxxx.
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:As I have checked here on the account those discounts are indeed good for 24 months thus if you look for options and ask assistance from us to lower the bill we could have done something to help you.
xxxxxx xxxxx:I love canned responses…that too makes me feel so important
xxxxxx xxxxx:Why should I have to “ask” for assistance? I dont get that. You should be rewarding me for loyalty
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:Im sorry if you felt that way xxxxxx, we cant track all accounts from here and we are always here to assist you when you need to as well and US customers should also track our bills. But I do get your point and we do appreciate your stay with us. be assured that we also offer existing customers different types of promotions to show our appreciation.  
xxxxxx xxxxx:okay…..
xxxxxx xxxxx:and that would be…..
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:There’s only one thing I have in mind now xxxxxx. I plan to let you speak to our Account Specialist that handles competitive offers so you would not go through any hassle of switching. By that you can smartly weigh your options,
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:While the are reachable over the phone, I want it to be convenient for you reaching them. I will give you a pin and a direct phone line so you will get an immediate assistance, if that helps?
xxxxxx xxxxx:Sure…I cant wait to post this transcript to my blog…
xxxxxxxx x. (ID xxxxxxxxxx) DIRECTV:As your time permits xxxxxx, you may call us at xxx-xxx-xxxx between 8:00 AM and 1:00 AM daily. When the system asks for a PIN, enter xxxx (this PIN is good for five days). Rest assured that my partners will take care of your bill and look for options that suits your needs.

So I said in my previous post that DirecTV was onto something with its attempt to position the brand as a reflection of its customers. The ads are a little aspirational, a little tongue and cheek and challenging. They challenge the consumer not to be like the “other” Rob Lowe, but to be like him – the cool, casual, everyman Rob Lowe.

The only problem is that I don’t think their position is at all reflective of their opinion of the customer. Read the transcript and tell me if this is a conversation designed for the everyman Rob Lowe or the “Meathead” or “Overly Paranoid” or “Creepy ” Rob Lowe.

I know this is not the fault of the person in the chat. They are following a script that is set by someone a quite a few pay grades above them. This script is supposed to calm the customer down and get them to some sort of resolution. She followed the script well and admirably did her job. The problem is that her script and DirecTV’s view of the customer is wrong.

The reality is the brand they are trying to project is much different than the brand they are really practicing. The Rob Lowe they portray is appreciated and rewarded for choosing DirecTV. The Rob Lowe They portray, has too much to do than shop around for the best deal every two years. The realtiy is more like paranoid Rob Lowe, always looking over your shoulder at your bill to see when and how DirecTV was going to increase your bill and give you noting new. I have to tell you, my associate loved DirecTV, and had nothing but good things to say about it. His first remark was, well they really are no different than Time Warner Cable. Shame on you DirecTV, you almost had it right.

I’ll make sure my associate calls the number and see what happens and let you know. My guess is they will come up with any number of reasons DirecTV is the best value or something, but its clear they really think of their customers like “Meathead” Rob Lowe..Yo!