• 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

Watch the Independent Party take charge of America

This is about what happened to the Whigs and why the Democrats and Republicans need to worry.

I did not watch the President’s address last night on immigration change. I don’t need to. I already know the political debate and recognize that neither party is willing to credit the other with a SINGLE good idea. The President’s address and the Republican response are both predictable and not worthy of our attention.

Pay attention to what is happening. A new political party is being birthed.

All right, it has been many years since a third political party won a national election. Sure there have been third party movements, Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party, Ross Perot, George Wallace, Ralph Nader and John Anderson come to mind. These party movements were all based upon a single personality.

You have to go all the way back to the election that ushered Abraham Lincoln into office to witness a real change in American politics. The Whig party disappeared and the Republican Party was born. Slavery was the catalyst that created the change because there were deeply rooted beliefs on both sides of the issue and neither existing party seemed capable of solving it. The Democratic Party survived this change but the Whigs went away and the Republican Party grew out of that mass desertion. I think we are at that precipice again.

Republicans may be happy now, but what about later?
Republicans may be happy now, but what about later?

History looks to be repeating itself today. Neither political party has a brand that says it will (as opposed to can) fix things.

The Democratic Party, as a bundle of dispirit coalitions, can’t seem to run anything— even when it is in power.

The Republicans seem great at mucking up the ability of government to work and simply govern, but there is something arrogant about their belief that all they need to do is try to stop everything from happening as a glimpse into what Americans want.

We actually want a government that works. At this point, I quote Will Rogers who said after FDR got elected “Well, if the White House suddenly catches fire and burns to the ground, we’ll say at least he got something started.”

A political party is just a name unless it has a brand. The brand of both parties is so broken I don’t know where to start. And I am a brand man.

Who has the ability to govern anymore?
Who has the ability to govern anymore?

There are two other groups at play today. The Libertarians and the Independents. The Libertarians are already a party, per se, but all the Independents need to be a viable and separate party is just a glimpse of organization and (voila!)… a new and majority political party will be born. An Independent Party that runs its own slate of candidates and holds a national convention.

I never thought I would live to see this. All of my long ago political science classes taught me of the futility of third party movements. But the Republicans seem to know how to gum up any progress, embracing fringe groups like the Tea Party, and the Democrats seem to be terribly good at posturing with splintered agendas and a national view that is as watered down as being nice to others.

Don’t think either party could go away? History teaches otherwise. Slavery is no longer a political issue but the ability to govern, what I always thought was a table stake to political power, seems to be a rarity.


Online advertisers have stepped on a landmine

Remember when advertisers influenced TV content?

Probably not. We have been in a free for all for years when TV advertising began being bought by mindless media agencies who match up demographics with target audience needs. Years ago, when a laundry soap sponsored a daytime serial drama (that’s where we got the term soap opera), it had some editorial influence on the show. It considered context as part of its brand strategy.

I think we need to revisit that old idea of news context, considering digital media and our online searches. Here is an example of how context should matter and did not.

Last week, the news of Peter Kassig’s beheading really upset me. So I pointed my browser to ABC News to find out more. When I clicked on the video news story, I had to sit through a commercial for orange juice.

This is what came up when I clicked on the Peter Kessig story.
This is what came up when I clicked on the Peter Kassig story on the ABC News website.

Think about this in context. It trivialized what I was watching and I resented the brand. Now that’s brand equity.

When, out of disgust, I decided to see if Fox News did the same thing and, voila!, to hear about the tragic murder of another American, I had to sit through a commercial for Luminosity.

Attention all online advertisers: Stop this stupidity and recognize that your brand’s message needs to reflect the context and content of your sponsorship. Demand brand understanding in your media buys and insist that there be a way to control content and context with your brand values.

I went home and threw out all of my orange juice and am happy to let my brain take a vacation from Luminosity’s promise that, only through exercise, will my brain work at its peak. I promise you, my brain is working better than the stupid media buyers who think that context is unimportant.


Charge! The new airline slogan – and I don’t mean charging ahead.

Here is more great news for airline passengers. JetBlue has announced that it will end its practice of not charging for checked bags. This leaves only Southwest (in the US, anyway) as the sole airline that still allows you to check a bag for free.

I am hereby positing a new theme-line for America’s legacy Airlines. Fees. Fees. Fees. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

I had hoped JetBlue wouldn't join the greedy crowd.
I had hoped JetBlue wouldn’t join the greedy crowd.

So, United will no longer be identified with Fly the Friendly Skies and Rhapsody in Blue. Instead, United can simply intone the ring and bells of a cash register and remind flyers to Fly the Greedy Skies.

American/US Air can intone, rather than the NEW American, the Shareholders American.

And Delta can tell us not to worry about Keep Climbing and instead can say Keep Charging.

Why is it that Southwest keeps making money, flies cheaper fares and lets travelers check bags for free? Why do passengers consistently view it in a positive light? How can this be?

Well the answer is to be found in us. Yup, we are to blame. Including myself.

We ask for little and demand even less. Passengers will pass up an airline ticket if they can find another carrier that flies the same route for a savings of $5. We are so price conscious that the airlines are afraid to remove a few seats (for more leg room) or let you check a bag for free.

A month or so ago, I grabbed a cheap flight on Frontier from Raleigh to Trenton. Frontier wanted to charge me to check my bag (which I did) because it was going to charge me even more if I took my bag on board. In other words, it always charges for bags. For the pleasure of saving a few bucks, I got charged additional fees that in no way paid for my savings on the base fare.

I had an hour drive to Raleigh and an hour back. I dind’t figure my time as a real cost (which it is) and the cost of gas. But if I did look at my final costs, it would have been the same cost to fly my regular carriers to Philadelphia or Newark.

But wait, it gets worse. At the West Trenton Airport, I had to stand in a snaking line for over an hour just to get through security. Then I got to stand in the bus terminal-like waiting area until my flight boarded.

Southwest is not a viable choice for me because it does not have Greensboro as a hub. But I have to tell you… airlines are wearing on me. What about you?


Samsung’s Milk Video won’t beat YouTube

There are a whole host of articles this morning claiming that Samsung’s launch of Milk Video is going to take down YouTube. Seriously?

Milk Video is an ad-free app on Galaxy mobile phones that promises to bring users the best of viral and exclusive videos, using sources like Vice, Funny or Die, College Humor, and yes, YouTube.

So I ask you this question: Why is the media reporting that Milk Video is going to take on YouTube when it is clearly going to YouTube for content?

Does anyone really think Milk Video will topple YouTube?
Does anyone really think Milk Video will topple YouTube?

What Samsung and the media clearly do not understand is that aggregating videos in this way does not usurp what makes YouTube so fantastically popular. In today’s Internet, most users are savvy enough to be able to find the content they are most interested in. They don’t need a third party to tell them what is funny, interesting or important. They want to discover it themselves.

The Internet is not about “you” (companies); it’s about “me” (the viewer). That’s why we have kitten videos, Minecraft Quick Build Challenges and babies playing drums to Pantera. These vids did not become popular because they were forced out on people. They became popular because people discovered them, liked them and shared them with others.

At face value, this is more about what Samsung wants to push out than what their customers want. Ultimately, it is a sign of fundamental brand problem. Your brand is never about you. It’s about your customers. It is a reflection of who they are and aspire to be. Samsung is simply trying to solve a problem that does not exist.


Black Friday isn’t a holiday

Thanksgiving is next week and I can’t wait. Call me an oddball, but it’s my favorite holiday of the year. I can’t wait to get my entire family back together under one roof. This year is going to be a particularly sweet one as we’ll be up to 20 visitors, coming from Alaska, New Jersey and Florida. It’ll be a year to remember.

Yet, as is what comes with the ever-present balance of life, what’s very good is followed by the bad. And so, I’d like to rant a little about that.

Let it be known, then, that I detest Black Friday.

Who wants to join this horde?
Who wants to join this horde?

Hear this: The wretched day after Thanksgiving is not a holiday – and neither is Thanksgiving night. I can’t stand the talk amongst folks considering it to be one, either. Call me a cynic, but the day (and night before) represents what’s worst about America – from stores opening at midnight to customers trampling upon each other (sometimes to death) to reach the cheapest 50-inch HDTV first – I frankly, can do without all of it.

As we approach my favorite time of the year, a twinge of resentment resides in my heart over the day that is to follow. I wish that Thanksgiving could come and that families would sit together at the table after their meals, instead of rushing off to wait in lines to buy stuff.

Maybe this blog can help to change a few minds about doing that, too. I do hope so.


The in-store experience of Barnes & Noble

One of the more interesting survivors of the technology age is Barnes & Noble, which still sells books – you know, the actual physical thing. The appearance of e-books along with the tablets that we read them on has destroyed many retailers, such as Borders.

Barnes & Noble continues to report losses, but hangs on with those losses being drips instead of floods. So it clings to life even thought the eventuality of it all means doom for the retailer down the road.

It needs to be more than a bookseller.
It needs to be more than a bookseller.

With Black Friday week coming up (yes, it’s now a week), B&N is holding what it calls Discovery Weekend Nov. 21-23 in which many activities (such as games, crafts, book readings and author appearances) are held to get consumers inside the stores. In addition, the retailer is initiating a Tweeter feed in which B&N offers gift advice.

It’s a neat tactic, but it’s not what is going to launch B&N past its troubles. The Nook, the natural reaction to the e-book revolution, hasn’t taken off and B&N simply hopes to play as a destination experience.

That’s why the Discovery Weekend makes sense, but the Barnes & Noble brand does not reflect that. The name itself comes from the last names of its founders as a printing press in 1873 and the retailer still holds onto the idea of a place to find books.

The experience of going to B&N is probably the last place it can play, adopting a Starbucks approach only with shelves of books lining the store. Its brand, therefore, needs to better reflect an experience that is different and, while I don’t usually suggest a name change, one may be in order here.

Somehow, Barnes & Noble (which I used to frequent, but don’t anymore) has to emotionally reflect those who seek an experience. In fact, the experience at B&N needs to change as well. Right now, it feels like a library with coffee and  a place for teenagers to hang out while at the mall. Its audience has left (the building, of sorts) because the B&N brand lacks meaning and the experience itself is archaic.

It’s not too late as its marketers have come up with clever tactics to keep it afloat, but Barnes & Noble has initiated these without telling its target audiences why it does it. Once it does that and focuses on changing the experience, the rising tide threatening to overwhelm it will be held off more permanently.


Pizza Hut is moving past the $10 pizza

I have blogged on the pizza QSR segment so many times that a listing of all the posts would fill more than a few pages. The reason I have had so much to say about the category is because it has been such a mess for so long. Despite all the chatter, little has changed. Domino’s is still trying to convince us that the pizza tastes good, Papa John’s still wants us to believe that its ingredients are better and Pizza Hut…well, I’m not really sure what it wants us to believe anymore.

It seems that Pizza Hut felt very much the same as I did and have commissioned a plan to rewrite its menu, freshen the decor, logo and packaging. To many, and I’m sure Pizza Hut would agree, this is a rebrand of sorts. I can’t comment on the new look and feel because they have not been released, but rebranding is a lot more than that. If Pizza Hut wants to grow market share, it will need to do a much better job of understanding the prospect.

Is Pizza Hut just about the pizza? It shouldn't be.
Is Pizza Hut just about the pizza? It shouldn’t be.

The creative logo, menu and pizza boxes must fulfill that understanding. In the past, Pizza Hut has not seemed to grasp that importance. As a result, it has been stuck in the trenches of fighting for the loyalty of the $10 pizza hunter. Like everyone else in the category, it lives and dies by coupons, specials and sales offers.

Think about this category. It is so bad that one of the principle players has been able to separate itself from the crowd by claiming better ingredients. That’s akin to a bottled water company gaining preference by claiming its water is wet. This is actually embarrassing.

A few years back, I met with a few Pizza Hut executives who had interest in Stealing Share. We talked about brand anthropology and how to go about changing behavior and how that starts with a brand overhaul. I warned them that the kind of change needed to move a market was more than an ad campaign. However, they had, just prior to our meeting, hired the Martin Agency and they had misplaced confidence in the new agency. They believed that advertising would fix their problem. I asked them why agency tenure is 2.5 years, on average? Possibly the problem is not agency creative, but an attachment to internal culture.

I hope they succeed this time. My guess, however, is that, aside from new menu items, little will have changed and Pizza Hut NEEDS change. We challenged Pizza Hut and I think it wants agreement and not challenge. Maybe that has changed? Maybe Pizza Hut is ready for the kind of brand shift that changes everything. Or is this just about pizza?


Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew — Really?

There’s an age old adage I am fond of: “Because you can, should you?”

The phrase itself implies that you shouldn’t automatically do everything you might be thinking of doing. The result is not always beneficial nor additive.

And so, when I read that PepsiCo is trying out Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew on college students as a possible future blend, one of my favorite lines quickly came back to mind.

Aw, hell. Let's just combine the two and get it over with.
Aw, hell. Let’s just combine the two and get it over with.

It’s not that I don’t like Doritos while watching the game, or a Mountain Dew here or there (okay… I’m not a big fan of the soda). But really, mixing the two sounds revolting.

Said the folks over at PepsiCo: “We are always testing out new flavors of Mountain Dew, and giving our fans a voice in helping decide on the next new product has always been important to us.”

Okay, but is a concoction like this — one that is a worthy rival to say, “Freckle Juice” – worthy of any time or money at all? I mean seriously. I like beef jerky and root beer but I know better than to mix the two. I’d hope PepsiCo may have had the brains to realize that as well.

Added PepsiCo: “We opened up the Dew flavor vault and gave students a chance to try this Doritos-inspired flavor as part of a small program at colleges and universities.”

Thank God I am long out of college. I’d want no part of this taste test.