• 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.

The Tom Dougherty Blog

Apps like Oyster and Scribd are the future of digital reading

These apps are a book reader’s delight.

A funny thing happened today — I signed up for a monthly membership with Oyster.

If you’ve never heard of Oyster, it’s just like Netflix but for books. For $9.99 a month, you have unlimited access to over 500,000 book titles (descent ones too, unlike the Kindle Unlimited program). What’s more, you can access, download and read all the books you want on any device, just as long as you’ve downloaded the app. Scribd works the same way, but what hooked me with Oyster was the half price discount to join.

I gotta admit, it’s pretty sweet.

Reading apps work great on the iPhone 6.
Reading apps work great on the iPhone 6.

To be completely fair, what swayed me to join wasn’t just the convenience of the app (sure, it was mostly that). It was the experience I could have with the app on my new iPhone 6.

You see, as our mobile devices become more and more “phablet” like (yea, I hate that term just as much as you), the likelihood increases for consumers to give reading apps a shot. I couldn’t stand reading books on a small screen. A paragraph per page seems a little ludicrous to me. Yet, on a 5.5-inch screen, the similarity to a paperback isn’t all that far off.

While not everyone is as much a book worm as I am, I do think book lovers who also dig the newest mobile technology will help with the rise of such apps, and build a fervent niche following.

But enough of my ramblings. I’m off to get back to my book.

Walmart makes a big mistake

Another reason a competitor can beat Walmart

Don’t kid yourself. Words are important. In brand development, they are key because they provide the scaffolding upon which a brand can engage prospects and customers to remember and prefer them.

Walmart.com-Polaris-Search-Engine-Kosmix1The hardest part of brand strategy and positioning is to remain single-minded. The human tendency to complicate the simple and claim more than one position is a challenge under the best of conditions. When you play the game with scared money (a term gamblers use for playing with money you can’t afford to lose) the tendency to drift from a single-minded idea to multiple messages becomes more alluring.


After all, it seems to make sense when you are the market leader to claim as many emotional support points that you can. The problem is that it is the worst thing you can do. After all, if you can’t decide who you are how can you expect a prospect to figure it out? (I guess it must be in the water, I wrote about the same problem with MOEN last week) 

Look at Miller’s example

Probably the most famous example of this duality can be found in Lite Beer from Miller. Miller singlehandedly built the light beer segment and trademarked the best brand name in the category— Lite Beer. But it all went to hell when Miller tried to claim two values. Tastes Great. Less Filling. Enter the competitors. Today, both Bud Light and Coors Light outsell the original “Lite” beer.

It is not just naive marketing  that doomed Lite Beer. It was a much deeper problem, which is why Miller should pay attention to words. Words give us a glimpse at what the brand management believes to be true. For Miller, the problem turned out not just to be a common cold virus, it might just have well been Ebola.

It was a symptom of a bigger issue. A glimpse inside. Miller was a brand that could not decide between two category claims. It refused to make a strategic decision and forgot to salute Picasso when he said, “Omission is a creative art.” The decision to try to own two themes was just the tip of the iceberg that went on to sink the Titanic of Miller brands. Most likely, Miller left the branding to an ad agency. A big mistake when dealing with brand themes. (Read our detailed market study on the retail segment here).

So what is Walmart promising? Save Money. Live Better. Two ideas and two claims. Because Walmart already owns “Save Money,” it should have just been about “Live Better.” It is far more emotional and it extends the personal value of saving money to living better. (Read how to use emotional switching triggers here) 

The fact that Walmert blundered this badly is not in itself fatal. But the thinking that it is OK is. It is one of the first chinks in the armor of the world’s largest retailer. Something or someone is terribly confused. It won’t stop there. It is just the first visible signs of a cancer within the company’s marketing and branding. (Read how to analyze a market here).

(Here is an earlier blog on Walmart vs. Supermarkets)

Coke and other soda brands care about your health. Nope.

A new health initiative by soda brands is not what it seems.

So, what does it mean to consumers when Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Snapple (read about 7-Up here) signed an intent to reduce the caloric consumption of sweet carbonated beverages by 20%? Is it a form of altruism? Are these global soda brands concerned about the health of the general population and are willing to forgo sales in the desire for better, healthier lifestyles? Nah.

It has been all over the news as the PR spin is trying to position the brands as partners in our desire for healthier choices. Is this a subtle change or is it a major reshuffling of brand promises? Is it as important as CVS Pharmacy not selling tobacco products? After all, cigarette sales was a major profit center for the pharmacy. CVS made a lot of money on tobacco sales and it is taking a risky stand in defense of its brand. But this is not true with soft drink makers.

A business venture cloaked as altruism.
A business venture cloaked as altruism.

The real issue is that sales of carbonated beverages are declining a bit, year over year. The soft drinkers are just not spending as much at the vending machines that seem to populate our world like so many weeds.

So how does the business of soft drinks respond? Simple. They encourage consumers to drink more water. Not tap water, by the way, but bottled water. Brands owned by the same companies that sell us Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Coke. This is a PR move and not altruism in support of any brand promise.

What this means is that, in its monopolized brand vending machines, Coke wants you to buy Dasani water. Pepsi wants you to buy Aquafina.

What does this mean to the manufacturer? How about higher margins per purchase? Which do you think it costs more to make, soda water with flavorings, sugar (or corn syrup) and color or tap water filtered through osmosis?

No doubt we are on to them. Soda brands don’t care about our health. They care about taste and profits. No soft drink brand has the inherent brand position to be about our health.

Why is it news when Atlantic City announces the closing of the Showboat Casino?

Atlantic City needs to think of itself as a destination.

This is an example of a failure all around. Think about it. Atlantic City is trying to reinvent itself once again. Have you heard this story before? I know I have.

As the number of casinos in this world-famous resort is contracting once again, Atlantic City blames the decline in casino business on competitive pressures from legalized gaming (Atlantic City does not like to say gambling) in nearby states like Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Atlantic City missed its opportunity
Atlantic City missed its opportunity

This is Atlantic City. World-famous beaches seemingly a mile wide. A boardwalk that seems to go on forever with its wide wooden walkway frames. Cool breezes from the ocean all summer long, Salt Water Taffy (“the original Salt Water Taffy, either James’s or Fralinger’s depending on whose claim you care to embrace) and Taylors Pork Roll. The scent of popcorn, peanuts and peppers and onions on every breeze. The sound of the waves and famous old hotels and institutions like Dock’s Oyster House.

Yet the marketing folks at Atlantic City can’t compete with the likes of landlocked casinos in Pennsylvania and Maryland. New Jersey, in its arrogance, never invested in the town itself, leaving a decaying and dangerous neighborhood just a block away from the famous boardwalk and its glitzy casinos.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the Brigantine casinos on the other side of town, sandwiching an un-walkable and rundown series of abandoned buildings and poor residential neighborhoods. Atlantic City is no Vegas with its Strip and downtown and miles of desert wasteland. Atlantic City is a wasteland of man-made neglect bordered by the best nature can provide.

Atlantic City needs to reinvent itself for sure. It had everything one could ask for when the age of gaming opened with Resorts International decades ago. It had everything including a monopoly. Those in charge lived in the arrogance of a monopoly and never reinvested in the town itself and it acted like a monopoly when it pretended that gambling was an unmentionable.

If marketers can’t sell a casino environment in a real resort, they should find another line of work. Maybe the razing of the Traymore Hotel in the 70’s destroyed more than a memorable boardwalk view. Maybe it destroyed that city’s ability to understand what it really was. A destination.

The recent moves of Walmart are scary but on brand

Banks and financial institutions will be watching Walmart carefully.

Walmart recently announced two initiatives: in-store medical clinics and a low-cost checking account through a partnership with Green Dot.

The clinics would be staffed by nurse practitioners and have the ability to take care of basic medical needs with a low cost of about $40 for a visit. The checking accounts are a low monthly fee alternatives for people who are on a fixed income with no fees for bounced or returned checks.

Few understand their brand better than Walmart
Few understand their brand better than Walmart

These initiatives are interesting for a couple of reasons. One, they help to further cement Walmart’s brand with its traditionally lower-income customer and two, they are completely on brand.

Walmart has grown its brand on being the low cost provider, the place to go to get the most stuff as cheaply as possible. It is now adding two important and needed features to that brand that their target market, especially in rural areas, desperately need.

I doubt either represents a windfall in additional store revenue but each helps Walmart with customer loyalty, especially in those communities without access to primary medical serves or financial services options. They are part of reinforcing the Walmart brand.

Beyond that, however, each of these has the possibility to be a game changer. Banks will either say good riddance to their lower income customers or be forced to respond if they want to stay competitive. Medical services could eventually see a major competitor for primary care dollars, especially for patients who have a chronic disease and high copays.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But one thing I can say for sure is that Walmart takes its brand very seriously and these two initiatives are proof of that.

The iPhone 6 proves the Apple brand is stronger than ever

The demand for the iPhone 6 reverses the Apple brand trend.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Does any other line work better when you think on Apple?

Could it be any better for the Apple iPhone 6 brand now?
Could it be any better for the Apple brand now?

Unless you’re living on Mars, you’ve heard all about the new iPhones (the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus) and the upcoming iWatch. Turns out, Apple has struck pay dirt with the new phone models. As of now, 10 million have already been sold.

Just think about that one sec. Ten million. That’s about two million more phones then all of the population of New York City. All of which have been sold in the course of a week and a half.

That’s just incredible.

Hearkening back to Michael Corleone’s seminal line from The Godfather Part III, Apple, more than ever, understands what consumers want even if they don’t know it yet. Surely, the iPhone 5s was a cool, and was just different enough to make me want it. But this time, the 6 models are fresh and smooth, bigger and bolder and represent a step forward.

Here’s the rub: I don’t even own an iPhone 6 yet (mine is being shipped this week) nor have I even held one — it’s all what I perceive about the product (and the brand). That’s just the power of Apple’s brand (read about brand as a marketing tool here) that says you think different (even if Apple is mainstream now) and is a powerful reflection of consumers like you and me.

So to the skeptics out there who thought Apple was losing it’s hold. Think again. Or better yet, Think different.

The new Southwest brand: Not enough

The Southwest Airline brand has its positives, but is lacking in the most important element.

It’s easy to rag on airlines, so let me recognize something positive – to a point.

Southwest Airlines, as you may have seen, has rebranded with a new logo and a new look for its airplanes, and a “heart” position that says the airline cares more than the other airlines.

First, the positives. The look is different than the competition and, based on its promises of low fares and no baggage fees, Southwest may be the only airline capable of taking that “caring” position. (United’s “Friendly Skies” is no longer believable.)

The new Southwest Airlines look is nice, but will it work?
The Southwest Airlines look is nice, but will it work?

In addition, we live in a time when most of us believe airlines couldn’t care less about its passengers, finding every which way to charge us a new fee and slamming us into tight spaces on the airplane itself. You could argue that the new brand is aligned with that belief.

However. All that is terrific, but the new brand is all about the airline, not about the passengers themselves. It doesn’t say who the Southwest travelers are or why they are different from other travelers.

I suppose you could say that the Southwest traveler is the one that’s cared for, but, by emphasizing what Southwest does, that brand face becomes less emotional.

Also, I’m not so sure the “heart” position really captures what travelers are feeling. We’ve taken a look at the airline industry several times over the last few years and what travelers are feeling is not the desire for the warm and fuzzy. They are angry.

If an airline tapped into that emotion, making the choice of airlines a sign of passenger revolution, that airline would have achieved the right tone and would have superseded the new Southwest brand.

So, I guess, in the end, I’m not all that complimentary of something in the airline industry. Too soft, too banal, and not enough about the angry passenger.

Guess it’s not that different after all.

Not being single-minded: Moen

I have told clients that a single mediocre idea is better than a basketful of great ideas. My point is to stress how important it is for a brand to be single-minded. Find the single most important thing you can say about your brand that causes a change to take place in the target audience. The accent is on single.

I did not say this is easy. Making decisions is one of the hardest parts of my job. As Picasso famously said, “Omission is a creative art”.

Remember Lite Beer from Miller? It started the light beer category but decided it was going to stand for two things. Great taste and less filling. I am betting that the brand’s fall from grace can be directly traced to its desire to mean more than one thing instead of making a decision.

Last night, I saw a new victim fall to the desire to be everything to everyone. Moen, the faucet people. It was advertising the kitchen faucet that turns on and off based upon a motion sensor. You know, a wave of the hand starts and stops the water flow.

Which one is it: The motion or the look?
Which one is it: The motion or the look?

Well, Moen sold the hell out of those features and benefits. The spot was well produced (reminded me a bit of Kohler, which was a bit of a shame) but then it ended it with its tag lines. Notice the accent on the plural. “Buy it for looks. Buy it for life.”

Moen can’t decide on the highest emotional intensity. Therefore, neither can we. At the end of the day, the prospect is left feeling the brand lacks confidence in what it means and that means we prefer “The Bold Look of Kohler.” Kohler made a decision and so has the consumer.

Well, maybe Moen can compete on price?