The Tom Dougherty Blog
I don’t mean for this to sound like an advertisement. But I’ll tell ya, this might sound pretty close. I suppose when you are in love with something, you want to let it be known. It’s a pleasure to share it with everyone else.
My latest pleasure is Audible.
You see, I live a really busy life. In that hubbub, I’ve lost time indulging in my favorite pastime of all — reading books. As a young guy, you would never find me without a copy of something by my side. But as life progressed and my table has become more and more full, the chance for those relaxing moments happens less often.
But since I’ve been using Audible, I’ve listened to six books in two months. I just re-read Dune, listened to John Krakauer’s Missoula and I have intentions on finally listening to The Alchemist.
Audible (now owned by Amazon) is a brand that fulfills a unique need that few others have. Without much competition, save for OverDrive (a public library-based audiobook and eBook site), Audible has a need-based position locked up. (In addition, most of the audiobooks on iTunes are from Audible.)
Audible is unique, need-fulfilling brand.
The great French general Napoleon based many of his strategies on the beliefs of human tendencies. To paraphrase within the context of branding, with careful planning and insight, you may in fact find an ally and advantage in the market leader. Brand messaging is often overlooked. Napoleon taught us that our advantage often lies in an understanding of human nature.
Audible understands human beings like me by aligning itself with a belief that learning is still important – even if we don’t have time for it. May I add, it helps that most of the books are read by actors too. (Others are sometimes read by the authors themselves.) That takes the already high level of enjoyment up a few more notches.
But enough of my yapping. I need to get back to listening.
Not to take it too lightly or too seriously, but the Ryan Lochte incident in Rio is interesting to me because it’s a war of two, highly different brands.
On one hand, you have Lochte, an Olympic swimming champion most known for partying with Prince Harry in Las Vegas and general knucklehead behavior.
On the other, you have Rio, known for its spectacular sights on the beach and street crime in the streets.
When Lochte claimed he was mugged, there were two reactions, both coming from a different brand perspective. With Lochte, knowing his general doofiness, there was some initial suspicion that maybe he’s not telling the whole truth or incapable of lying. As Greg A. Bedard of Sports Illustrated tweeted at the time, “It’s Lochte. We’re amazed he can dress himself. Everything else is gravy.”
The other reaction was an outrage from Brazilians; angry that frat boy behavior – demolishing parts of a gas station bathroom instead of being mugged – would besmirch the efforts of Brazil to make the Summer Olympics a safe place.
Both reactions were born from emotion.
What the Lochte and Rio brands mean.
Emotion is where brand lives. Companies often believe that rational arguments are the way to steal market share, but they are only supporting points for the emotional reason for choice. We don’t like to think that we choose based on emotion, but we do. We just don’t always realize it. It takes hard brand work to dig deep enough to find those emotional triggers that make brands preferred.
Think of it this way. The rational approach to the Ryan Lochte incident was to say, “He was mugged.” Then when new information came out, “Video shows he didn’t. He lied. End of story.”
Instead, emotions are swirling. Some may forgive Lochte because we know, as Bedard said, he can barely dress himself and he apologized (sorta). Others are angry that a lie hid a sinking suspicion that Lochte thought his tale would be believed because of the City of God brand of Rio.
Either way – and you can believe both – the reactions prove that emotion always wins the day.
You know a brand is failing when it gets desperate to find new customers and keep its current ones, often by reducing prices. It’s the last gasp of brands in markets where brand meaning is ineffective and often similar across the board.
That’s what has happened for both cell phone carriers and retailers. Two cases in point: AT&T and Target.
AT&T is doing away with overage fees for data plans, instead reducing the speed of data customers receive if they go over their limit. AT&T is hoping customers will opt to buy bigger data plans or simply be satisfied that they are not getting unexpected fees.
AT&T is following in the footsteps of both Verizon and Sprint, who have similar processes. (Although Verizon actually charges for what it calls its Safety Mode.) This is a defense tactic. And once you are in defense mode, your brand message isn’t working.
Target isn’t doing any better, and maybe worse.
Then there is Target. CEO Brian Cornell told investors that it will double down on the second half of its brand promise: The Pay Less section of “Expect More, Pay Less.”
Great. That means Target, which saw a dip in sales of 1.1% last quarter, will reduce prices (and, therefore, margins) to compete with Walmart, which already owns the “Save Money, Live Better” space in retail.
One thing retailers like Target have not learned is that, if you copy the market leader, customers will default to that market leader because market leadership becomes the only reason to choose.
You see that strategy all the time in many markets. Someone takes market leadership with a unique claim and everyone in the industry follows suit, thinking it’s a winning strategy for them as well.
But that’s not how it works. To steal market share, especially if you are not the market leader, you need to be different and better than the market leader. You have to present yourself as a true choice.
AT&T could hold onto its customers with a better brand message than “Mobilizing Your World” because that’s just a definition of its category. If it had something more meaningful, then reducing data speeds to eliminate overage fees wouldn’t need to happen. It would already have true preference.
Same with Target. Give customers a reason to prefer you, not just put your thumb in the hole of a collapsing dam.
Whenever we have written about Macy’s, the theme has always been the same. It needs to change. Macy’s problems are not unique. The retailers is just one of the most glaring examples of how badly retail in general fails to predict and adapt to the changing needs and expectations of their customers.
Now, Macy’s is closing 100 of its namesake stores sometime in early 2017. This roughly accounts for 15% of its total remaining stores. If you recall, there once was a retailer called Circuit City that employed the same strategy, figuring it was better to just close stores rather than change. We all know how that turned out.
While Macy’s has brand equity and heritage that Circuit City lacked, this is still a major problem for Macy’s, the malls its stores anchor and the retail industry in general.
Macy’s and other retailers have failed to act.
Macy’s claims that closing stores will allow it to improve overall business and help it to better perform in an omni-channel environment – specifically online. Macy’s isn’t the first one to make this claim, but online isn’t the problem. Whatever its brand means is the problem.
The blame retailers place on companies like Amazon is simply an excuse for poor management and a failure to act. Amazon has been in existence for 22 years and retailers couldn’t see what was on the horizon?
Amazon has given consumers a reason to care about Amazon. As difficult as it for retailers to grasp, it’s not all about price. Amazon has consistently tweaked its services to better meet the needs of the changing customer. Retailers, on the other hand, have historically failed in even giving consumers a reason to care about their brands, instead believing their troubles are all about bargain shopping online.
As I think about retailers like Macy’s, JC Penney’s and Sears (just to name a few), I struggle to understand who they believe their target audiences are. Not knowing who the brand is for is quite troubling.
But at least I know who it’s not for.
I don’t believe all is lost for brick and mortar retailers. They still have an opportunity to make their brands important to the consumer again. But I do believe they need to stop blaming their legacy of inaction and poor vision on something that has been brewing for nearly a quarter of a century. Online isn’t going away and we all knew that the moment when we first saw it.
Everyone but the retailers themselves, apparently.
A funny thing has happened to my family members of late – they won’t go anywhere without their Apple Watches.
Me, I still don’t have one. (I am a fervent collector of antique pocket watches, and won’t leave home without one.) But that doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed the behaviors of my most beloved.
Right now, my wife, daughter, daughter-in-law and son all own Apple’s wrist technology. In fact, three of these folks camped with me in Shenandoah National Park, where each was dutifully monitoring the steps and calories burned on hikes.
I have to admit; I felt a twinge of jealousy over the cool gadgetry. This was quite a change from earlier feelings I had about the device. I’ll never leave my pocket watches. But, after totally dismissing the Apple Watch when it first came out, I re-considered.
The Apple Watch is only being considered
Not enough to buy, however. Like a lot of people, it has taken some time to consider it. My son admitted that he stopped wearing his watch for a long while. He even tried selling it on Craigslist (but to no avail) until he came around again to liking it again and using it daily. My wife and daughter just bought their watches last week (a long time after the watches first arrived on the scene). Same, too, with my daughter-in-law. For many, it appears that the jury is still out as to whether or not it’s a necessary buy.
Gone are the days where people couldn’t live without an Apple product. Now, it just peaks our curiosities. Sure, everything looks cool and all, but it’s just not all that different anymore. That’s a different feeling than I’ve previously had about Apple, often waiting in lines on release days in the past.
Not so much these days.
Could that level of vigor come back? You bet. But Apple’s recent track record says otherwise. As for now, people, like my family members, will eventually come around to try a new Apple product. How long will it take them? And what does that say about the current state of the Apple brand?
The holy grail of brands and advertisers is reaching millennials, that misunderstood demographic that represents the future of every brand. This is the group everyone from retailers to TV networks is trying to reach in order to gain lifetime brand loyalty.
With college students returning to school this month, retailers are trotting out specials to attract that young generation. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Best Buy allow students to sign up for a kind of wedding registry so family can contribute. Amazon is offering college students six-month free trials of its Prime membership and DirecTV allows students to access its NFL Sunday Ticket coverage without a satellite subscription.
I give those brands credit for at least thinking tactically. Industry experts estimate that the average family spends about $900 getting a child back to college, so the pot is big once you consider how many college students there are.
In addition, I’ve always maintained that brands should find opportunity at the point of a life event. So few do, thinking that cost and convenience will do the trick without considering when consumers are most likely to buy.
Sure, brands promote products seasonally. However, when retailers talk to consumers in a language that speaks to the current situation of the consumer, they have placed themselves within the consumer’s decision tree.
Millennials respond to brand meaning
But if those brands believe they are making life-long consumers this way, they are delusional. That is, they are delusional if they don’t have a brand that speaks directly to millennials at an emotional level. Life-long preference is not built on promotions. It’s built on the consumer’s self-identification within that brand.
Of the retailers mentioned above, I’d say only Amazon has a brand with appeal. The three retailers mentioned – Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Best Buy – are struggling to hold onto market share so any promotional fix will only be temporary. (DirecTV and NFL Sunday Ticket is a different animal. The brand carrying the meaning is the NFL.)
So, I give a nice pat on the back to those retailers for thinking about a life moment for potential consumers. To reach them earlier in the decision tree, where true preference lies, you need a brand millennials want to spend their lives with.
I just read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about P&G (the largest advertiser on the globe) and its experience placing Facebook advertising in front of a highly targeted audience.
It seems that Proctor and Gamble had very limited success with the venture so far. It seems counterintuitive that it would not work as expected. Consider this:
The P&G brand Pampers is able to target new moms and pregnant women on Facebook. The very audience it NEEDS to excite to purchase. Feels like a no brainer. But P&G found the resulting sales less than exciting. As a result, while not giving up on Facebook, P&G is going to increase its TV advertising next year.
What is missing in Facebook advertising?
In other words, Proctor discovered that broad based rather than strictly targeted ads work better. What it is not grasping fully is WHY.
For most of the marketing world, P&G wrote the book on branding. In fact, it doesn’t really understand brand very well. What it invented and took to the level of a science is brand management. The entire marketing focus is on brand teams and the tight relationship between the brand managers and the product.
The reason the Facebook initiative is not working all that well is because the types of advertising that marketers create on Facebook turn out to be product ads and not brand advertising. The snippets are akin to billboards. They focus on efficacy and pricing, not on branding.
I say this because contrary to what P&G has made into its culture, branding is not about the product or HOW it works. Branding is about WHY it matters to the target audience.
The greatest brands in the world are, at their core, a reflection of the customer they need to influence. The greatest promise that Pampers can make is not how dry the baby is when you use Pampers (after all, every disposable diaper keeps the baby dry). It is about WHO the mom IS when she uses Pampers. How a Pampers mom is different and better than those that use a different brand.
Think of Jif peanut butter. Sure it promises that it tastes more like fresh peanuts but the brand promise that choosey mothers choose Jif is the driver of preference. That’s the sort of brand message I am speaking of.
To make Facebook advertising work for marketers, they need to have a MORE emotional message than they do in virtually every other medium. Facebook users have the attention span of a gnat and you must grab them in the gut to get them to invest in a message more intrusive than a billboard or coupon.
If the medium is the message, then P&G must be better at selling the brand and not the product. It’s a brave new world of marketing and traditional advertising is becoming less effective. Advertisers struggle to become more effective and targeting sounds like the answer. It is.
But it requires a rethinking of what branding IS. The halls of P&G must stop harping on the agencies in the Proctor tent with the uniform call of “where is the demo” to an up-to-date demand of “where is the prospect’s emotional needs?”
Subway recently unveiled a new logo and symbol in the evolution of the Subway brand. Along with this announcement, Subway has also released two new ads:
Ladies and gentlemen, the new Subway logo:
It’s a mash-up of its most recent logo of 2015:
With its logo from 2002 – 2015:
And its first logo way back in the late ‘60s:
To top it all off, Subway has also added a new graphical element it is calling a symbol:
I am a bit puzzled by all of this. Subway is a pretty iconic brand throughout the world with more locations than even McDonalds. While the whole Jared Fogle situation turned into a complete disaster that may have necessitated a brand refresh, that refresh should have been in terms of a brand face – defining who customers are when they eat at Subway.
I am not sure what the new Subway logo does, if anything.
A logo, by its very nature, should be nothing more than an extension of a brand. A logo or symbol is never the brand. It’s simply a representation of it.
Considering the expense of changing more than 44,000 stores globally, it becomes pretty obvious that the cost will likely outweigh the benefit in transforming the Subway logo.
The new Subway logo is not a rebrand
The new Subway logo is an attempt to rebrand light. Along with the ads and equity marks, Subway has launched #SearchforBetter, which it is using in the TV advertisements. This is a soft pivot from the ideas of the “Eat Fresh” and “Fresh is what we do” themes it has used previously. But now, it’s presented in a much softer, subdued fashion and far less memorable than the felon Jared and comic Jon Lovitz. I hardly even notice the ads.
Even more, Subway continues the attempt to convince people that its food is really fresh. While it is surely freshly made, it still uses prepackaged chicken to be microwaved, meatballs that come a big plastic bag and are heated in a warming tray, triangle-shaped cheese, pre-sliced deli meats, and breads that come in long frozen cylinders baked in store. Sure, it is probably one of the healthiest fast food chains. But, at the end of the day, it is still fast food. Its brand is smoke and mirrors.
I can see the news of the Subway logo gaining some traction as it relates to a new digital division that will be focusing on utilizing technology to enhance customer engagement and brand loyalty. But looking at the new Subway logo, I find it to be much ado about nothing. Subway had an opportunity to do so much more with its brand and it should have gone all the way.