• 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

Barnes & Noble is trying to sell too much stuff

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the closing of America’s bookstores has saddened me. Just like streaming music has killed the music store, e-books have sucked the life out of book stores.

Save for a few indie shops, Barnes and Noble is still putting up the good fight. Yet, I can’t deny that its tactics seem a little too desperate for my taste.

Here's what a Barnes and Noble store looks like anymore.
Here’s what a Barnes and Noble store looks like anymore.

The thing is, the store appears to be more and more like Toys R Us. Anymore, half of the store is filled with kid’s toys: Legos, games, stuffed animals, figurines — you name it. It just feels so strange to me.

Is this what B&N has stooped to, to stay alive?

Even the chain kicking off Black Friday by offering 500,000 books signed by more 100 top authors reeks of a last-ditch push to get people in the doors. My hunch is that, unless customers can meet the author in person, a signed book just isn’t all that meaningful. The experience is what should be sold, not the signature.

Equally as prominent in its Black Friday ads, though, is this: “Educational Toys & Games — Buy 1, Get 1 50% off Offer on Barnes & Noble’s Leading Selection of Educational Toys & Games.”

it makes me wonder just what the Barnes and Noble’s brand is anymore?

Right now, the store is attempting to be the jack of all trades. The problem is that it is no longer a master of one.

Black Friday is now Black Week

Now that I’ve touted the idea of Black Friday ruining Thanksgiving, let’s look at the concept from a strategic point of view.

From a strictly business perspective, the move by many retailers to start Black Friday earlier in the week is a land grab for more sales. Walmart, for example, is already in Black Friday sales mode and many other retailers are copying the retail giant.

To me, this is clearly a mistake. The appeal of Black Friday isn’t really the sales or bargains. It is the event. It is (or was) an event that told shoppers that they are savvy and fun, even if the whole idea seems crazy to me.

Now, if you go on Black Friday (especially if you go when the doors first open), you feel stupid. The special appeal of the shopping day is now irrelevant, and I think retailers (over time) are going to regret it.

Here’s my thinking: The shopper will now have more options, meaning online enters into the equation more than ever and shoppers have more time to pick out who they want to shop at because they have a week to do so.

Will we see this anymore?
Will we see this anymore?

For the retail industry as a whole, I guess it makes sense. (Watch for reports that spending was up, which has more to do with the low price of gas – extra money in the pocket – than this strategy.) But not for the individual competitors who decided to play defense once Walmart moved into the longer time frame. Those retailers just don’t want to be shut out.

But the overload of purchases on Black Friday will diminish. There’s simply no reason to wake up at 4 am, stand in line, storm the store and spend all your shopping money at one (or two) spots.

The retail industry is extremely competitive, which is why, when one retailer makes a move, everyone follows. But now there is an opportunity for a large retailer (it has to be one that has some preference) to own Black Friday again.

I don’t know if eventually someone will grab that opportunity because it’s an industry that has a hard time with differentiation. But the opportunity will be there for the taking. The urgency is now gone and the spending dollars will even out among the retailers. However, some will lament that Black Friday has now become Black Week.

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.