The Tom Dougherty Blog


Posts tagged “Brand”

The unkind brand of the unemployed

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Every facet of our lives touches our personal brand. Think about your personal brand as if it were a reputation known to those that do not know you all that well. I am not talking about your close friends and relatives, those whose opinion of your character is based upon personal experience. I am talking about that personal brand in broader, more public terms.

All of us have these brands. Many have emotional peaks that allow others to relate to it. Categories like parent, pastor or pedophile all elicit an emotional response that permits others to place you into a set of expectations within their lives.

jobIn those terms, let’s think about the words we attached to personal brands. Words matter. Unemployed (or, “redundant,” in the vernacular of Europe) has its own brand association and it’s a negative one. Even though, because of our recent recession, we have all potentially softened the negative association, it’s still there.

In that case, brand repair is needed, which is a difficult endeavor. When a brand has an issue and the company wishes to repair it, it has a double problem. Before the brand can assign a positive and desired value to the brand, it needs to reduce the current association.

This is much more difficult than creating a new brand. This is because brand, just like stereotyping, serves a practical purpose. It simplifies our lives by allowing us to place the brand in an ordered way so that we can make sense out of our lives and not have to revisit the personal importance the brand has for us.

When Apple comes up with a new phone for example, its highly cultivated brand value of high design, product simplicity and innovation makes it important to even those who use Android. Everyone notices to see what’s up and knows where to place Apple.

Sometimes, the vernacular we use in association with a brand helps define it. This seems to be true when I think about the brand of the unemployed. Even the European term — redundant — says that you are no longer needed and without value. Think about a term the unemployed might use themselves when they find that they are out of money. Broke. Did you ever think about what that small word means out of context? It means not in workable order, requiring repair or worse.

Like it or not, these associations are real. In a society where many of the unemployed are highly skilled and/or motivated workers, it is high time we consider brand repair. After all, it could easily be you we speak of.


The sixth reason to bring brand into the boardroom

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Ever wonder why brand is important to corporate growth? Check out Jennifer Barron’s “5 Reasons To Bring Brand Into the Boardroom,” in Marketing Daily.

Barron contends that brand is a company’s most valuable asset and a driver of customer purchase. She says brand requires investment and must be aligned with everything the company does.

Most importantly, Barron says brand should not be confused with marketing.

Insightful reasons.

I’d like to add one more: Brand is the best way to steal market share.

Some foolishly believe that discount prices or superior products steal share. Yet prices and products often yield short-term gains and may not be important to consumers.

For example, the iPhone may not be the best mobile phone on the market, but it leads the market because of the Apple brand.

The best way to offer true choice to consumers is to offer a different brand. When everything is equal, as it is in most industries, consumers stay with familiar products.

They will switch only when they see something that is different, a true choice. That’s where brand comes in. If your brand is different and better than the competition’s, you will steal share.

Macy’s has the perfect, ridiculous gift for those who get brand wrong

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Just in time for Christmas Macy’s has unveiled a new fashion item that marries apparel with technology. In select stores now are men’s fleece sweaters from Sean Jean that feature a video screen – an iPod of sorts – embedded in the left sleeve.

Macys brandThis melding of fashion and technology, as Macy’s calls it, enables the wearer to watch a video as he’s walking with friends or out on the town.

This might seem to be the epitome of brand. But it’s not. Brand is how the customer sees himself, not how others see him.

Middle-aged men, for example, don’t buy sports cars so the neighbors will think they are cool. In fact, the neighbors may regard an old guy and a hot car as ridiculous. Instead, sports cars make men feel young, especially when they’re in the midst of a mid-life crisis. That’s the definition of brand.

Consider this: We all buy brands that no one sees. We prefer a brand of underwear that no one sees. Or a type of laundry detergent no one sees.

Macy’s odd marriage of fashion and technology is a fad, at best. Video sweaters don’t tell consumers who they are when they sport one of these hybrids.

If anything, these hi-tech items simply scream “show off.”

Ironically, the Super Bowl heralds traditional media’s demise

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In this day and age of hyper-segmentation, with broadcasters and media providers developing programming for a specific audience (i.e., those they deem they can market to), there is still a single bastion of commonality that brings consumer segments spanning the gambit together for no less that 4 hours – the Super Bowl.

Some companies spend nearly their entire annual advertising budget on a 30-second ad, hoping it will be the subject of “Super Bowl top 10 commercial” lists or get the all important social media title of “viral.” For advertisers, the Super Bowl has become more than a football championship. It’s become the championship of advertisers and their agencies.

Analysts, bloggers, newscasters, and everyone in between will spend the weeks and months before and after the Super Bowl dissecting the ads, saying which one they believe were the most entertaining, provocative, and funny. There is often a hush at Super Bowl parties at the first commercial break with viewers expecting to see a commercial that will blow their minds. For many, the ads have become as important as the game itself.

This year’s Super Bowl will change everything. For the first time, the Super Bowl will be streamed on the Internet. Viewers will have unprecedented control over camera angles and replays.  Computers, hand-held devices, and Internet-capable TVs will be tuned in to the game like never before, giving users of these devices a novel way to see an event they have come to love.

This is exactly why streaming the Super Bowl heralds in a new era of media.

First, viewers who are seeing the game streamed on the Internet now have the ability to easily navigate away from the torrent of advertising that accompanies the game. Not to say that those who have no interest in the ads previously did not get up to go to the bathroom, get another beer, or refill their plate of food. But watching it on a phone or computer, it is much easier to open a new tab or check email during the ad breaks.

Secondly, and more importantly, streaming the game is a signal that the NFL understands that the world is changing and that perhaps it will eventually not need traditional over-the-wire or cable broadcast to get their product out to the masses. Though the game will still, and probably always, be on a major over-the-air network, the shift in strategy by the NFL is a signal to viewers and advertisers alike that the world of programming transmission is changing, forever.

For advertisers, bringing the Super Bowl online means viewers will have the immediate ability to interact with a message, including choosing what messages to view, interact with or avoid.  For the viewer, it means more control over the content and, equally important, a reminder that they do not need a cable subscription to get content. Although the Super Bowl will continue to be broadcast, cable companies should be very concerned about a program with this much impact being broadcast over a different venue than their own.

For local cable providers as well as local major network affiliates, the time allotted to local advertising ceases to exist when the Super Bowl is streamed. Though they are not getting the obscene money the national broadcasters are getting, they were getting a sizable amount of revenue for their local ads. It does not seem so far fetched to think that one day the NFL may just decide to stream the Super Bowl ONLY and profit from the entire program, including the ad revenue that is now being collected by the network. Clearly, it sees the possibility.

The writing on the wall has been there for a couple of years. The Internet allows viewers to control the content when and where to see it, and eliminate the carrier. Rather, they are going directly to the content producer and will be doing so more and more as all forms of media displays, TVs, phones, and computers are designed to do one thing: deliver content regardless of its source.  The old saying “content is king” is absolutely true in this age of the Internet and it is the content creators who stand the most to benefit from the demise of traditional media.

If we ignore them, the Kardashians will go away

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One of the most rudimentary lessons that we at Stealing Share can give is that, “We are all what we do.” When thinking of this lesson in terms of brand, “who we are” has a direct correlation to how we spend our dollars, which in turn, becomes a direct extension of who we believe we are and who we wish to become.

That said, today, as I scoured my favorite online news sources in search of important national and business features, I became saddened that two of the more reported segments were that of Kris Humphries’ annulment to Kim Kardashian, and that Kourtney Kardashian is pregnant.

“Who cares?” I wondered. “Don’t we have more important things to think about?”

And then regretfully, I realized, maybe not. Maybe this is important news to most. Because if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be “news.”

And so I will say this: When any news story features anything about any Kardashian, America’s brand is in trouble.

Think on this. What does Keeping up with the Kardashians say about our nation and the brand that we the people of that nation are cultivating? When what the Kardashians do becomes headline news, we must reconsider what we value and deem important in our lives. Where is the reset button here? Where is our depth of human emotion? Where is the integrity of personal brand?

In a world where the likes of the Dalai Lama still grace this Earth, or one where a basketball sage like John Wooden recently passed, why is it that we do not follow the every move of these legendary personas with the same gusto and fervor? These are people who have magnificent brands, who can mold mankind into something wonderful.

All of this reminds me of the that brilliant and timeless themeline from Apple: “Think Different.”

America, it is time we did just that. Think Different. Please do. Think differently with your time and money (myself included). Because if we do, this charade of mediocrity may soon go away.

Is Facebook a case of lost focus?

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There are several news reports recently that said Facebook has lost six million US users over the last year. While its user base continues to grow in developing countries, it seems that Facebook has plateaued in the US.

Facebook is an interesting case in terms of marketing and human behavior. Though there were other “social networks” that preceded it, Facebook has enjoyed the success or the influence more than all of them. But is Facebook a victim of its own success?

It is a funny thing with social media. There can only be one winner. Why would anyone join a network that no one was part of? You only want the one, like Facebook, that has (nearly) everybody.

However, can it be too big? We often tell clients that, in crowded market spaces with many competitors (and yes Facebook is seeing more and more competition), you have to tell the market who you are for, and equally important, who you are not for to be meaningful and impactful in that market. Facebook has forgotten this marketing dynamic. In fact, it seems Facebook would like everyone to think they have something for everyone.

The generic is never attractive. Everyone wants to feel special and reaffirmed, which is why brands must put a stake in the ground. The moment a consumers choice of a brand is rewarded by being like everyone else, they will start looking elsewhere for that affirmation.

You can say what you want about social media and its worth in the market place, but this is a highly debated topic and, if Facebook continues to lose membership, this argument will continue get louder. Perhaps Facebook has gotten to the point where it actually believes it is too big to fail and that its members should feel privileged to be part of Facebook. But this is exactly backwards and indicative of an organization primed to stumble.

Do I think Facebook will go away any time soon? Hardly. But unless it works harder to make its brand a reflection of its customers then Facebook will have a hard row to hoe in Farmville.

Fast food must beef up their brands and not their burgers

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At Stealing Share, we talk a lot about the importance of creating brand messaging that goes beyond the category tables stakes, or the bare minimum to compete in the category. In most markets, these table stakes are values like price, efficacy, proximity, etc., and they do little to build true brand preference.

I was browsing a few news sites today when I noticed something rather surprising. It was a new category table stake I had not yet considered within the fast-food industry… Size!

The article was for the new 1160-calorie “Meat Monster” burger from Burger King (currently only available in Japan). The burger consists of two hamburgers, a chicken breast fillet, bacon, two slices of cheese, and the standard trimmings nestled between two buns. It got me thinking how flawed a brand strategy is that’s based on sheer size.

Looking deeper into the category, there are competing sandwiches like KFC’s “Double Down” (a sandwich with impromptu buns made of fried chicken), Hardee’s “Monster Thickburger,” (a heart-stopping 1420-calorie burger) or Wendy’s “Baconator” (its name is self explanatory).

When we talk about table stakes, the point we always stress is that, while table stakes might provide some immediate benefits, their lasting effect on the target consumer is short-lived. At the end of the day, “more for less” is the reason why the meat Taco Bell uses is made using very little meat.

Back in 1993, the “Whopper” was all about size and how it was the biggest in the industry. By today’s standards, it is one of the more conservatively sized burgers. Just imagine. If the brand was for people who sacrificed “time” but not “taste”, the opportunity for preference grows substantially. Being a customer with “discerning taste” seems a much more appealing idea than simply being consumers who must consume as much as they possibly can.

Fast-food chains need to take a hard as their brands, understand who their consumer is and what dictates choice, and then take new brand positioning to reflect that. Otherwise, before long an episode of “Man vs. Food” will be any of us at Burger King – and that is without even upgrading to King size.

Spending too much for the status quo

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It never ceases to amaze me that so many companies spend so much time, money and resources to change – only to remain in the status quo. This happens so frequently that most of us hardly seem to notice the “change” at all. Ironically, what drives the desire for change within most companies is the need to get noticed in the first place. But since the vast majority of this change is meaningless to the target audience, it is simply ignored or, worse, backfires.

Take the case of Tropicana Orange Juice. In 2009, Tropicana “rebranded” itself with a new carton that was intended to freshen up the Tropicana image. However, the rebranding effort failed miserably as Tropicana saw its sales plummet by 20% in a single month while its competitors reaped the benefits.

This was not the first misstep for PepsiCo. Pepsi’s last “rebranding” of its flagship Pepsi Cola cost more than $1 Million and the compnay did little more than rotate the logo.

This kind of rebranding is not limited to package redesigns. Companies change their names all the time for the sake of “rebranding.” Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC (though it could be argued it changed the name simply because the company did not want to pay for the rights to the word “Kentucky” after the state trademarked the name), Radio Shack is trying to market itself as “The Shack,” and the SciFi channel is now SyFy. The list goes on.

Though companies spend millions of dollars on these kind of changes, nothing, in fact, ever changes. Organizational change is not precipitated by a change in a name or logo. In reality, it should be the exact reverse. Organizational change should occur first. Then the visual identity should be changed, but only when the need outweighs the costs.

This misconception is what has given the concept of “rebranding” a very bad name. For most advertising agencies, “rebranding” simply means increased revenue for themselves and has nothing to do with actual organizational change (or, just as importantly, change in brand promise that is meaningful to target audiences).

What happens instead is that the company sees sales flatten out or a competitor begins to steal market share. The knee-jerk reaction is to try to do something that gets noticed. The advertising agency, seeing dollar signs, suggests the company “rebrand.”

Though the right idea, the execution is often so completely wrong it doesn’t fix the problem and can be harmful to the brand in the long term.

We tell organizations all the time that they should not engage with us unless they are willing to get their noses bloody. We tell them that, unless you are willing to change your organizational culture, you cannot be successful in any rebranding effort and the return on investment will be negligible at best. Anyone can draw a pretty picture for a new logo. But enacting real change requires both discipline and expertise and a company willing to take a hard look at themselves.

Unless you are undertaking real organizational change, do not let an ad agency tell you the solution to your problem is that you should rebrand. If that is the answer to your problems, then perhaps your real problem is your agency.

Santa Claus – Branded perfection?

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Ho Ho Ho. Christmas is a sleigh two or ride away as kids of both big and small prepare for the arrival of Santa.

I had never really considered this before, but Santa Claus may be the perfect brand. If you have read this blog you know that I am bit of a fan of Apple’s brand – its simplicity, its single mindedness, its pursuit of being a reflection of its target audience. For a consumer brand, I believe there is no equal to Apple. As an emotional, social brand, Santa may have Mr. Jobs beat.

I do not care if you are a Grinch, a Scrooge, a child, an adult, a shop owner or an Apple owner. Santa means something to just about everyone in nearly every country in the world.

The key for the most powerful brands is ability to see yourself in it. Brand is like a highly polished mirror reflecting back to you what you are, believe you are, or aspire to be. Santa is the every-person’s brand. Kids see themselves as the recipient of Santa’s goodwill and generosity (as long as you are not on the naughty list). Parents see themselves as the catalyst or surrogate for Santa’s “visit.”

Those who do not believe in Santa also see the man in the suit as an icon for who they are not.  Which, by the way is another key to having a successful brand – being crystal clear as to who the brand is for and who the brand is not for.

While the true meaning of Christmas has really nothing to do with Santa, for those who celebrate this special time and those who do not, Santa crosses and overcomes racial, religious, and cultural barriers  in ways that few other icons can. What is most interesting to someone who studies human behavior is that the ability to overcome these things is not related to Santa at all, just the belief in what he represents to them.

That speaks to the final key to having a successful brand – understanding the power of belief.  Beliefs are extraordinarily powerful emotional triggers that are far too often forgotten or overlooked in traditional marketing today. Nonetheless, they are a treasure trove of influencers of consumer behavior.

Think about this scenario for a moment. Have you ever had a discussion/argument with a friend or some other person in which each of you were diametrically opposed in your views?  I have no doubt that each of you spend countless moments arguing your points in the most rational “Churchill-esque” manner possible with counterpoints and hard data to support your positions.  But in the end, did one or both of you say, “Yes but I still think…” or “You make a good point, but I still believe…”

This is the ultimate power of brand, to infuse the power of belief into the fabric of the brand itself. As demonstrated in the above scenario, the belief does not even have to be factually true. It just has to be believed. As long as it is believed, we, as humans, will fill in all of the rational arguments necessary to make that belief tangible and not easily broken through the eloquence of another’s argument about their equally tangible and not easily broken belief.  When brands attach themselves to a belief, they win because choosing a different brand is akin to emotional suicide.

Marketers, as you rush around this holiday season, shopping or promoting your latest products and services, remember these things 1) Look for ways to position your brands as a reflection of those you wish to influence, tell consumers who you are for and not for, and utilize your market’s beliefs beyond simple needs and wants and 2) Remember, “He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sakes.”

Budweiser giving away beer and its brand

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So, it’s free beer now..

Budweiser has announced a plan to market its beer by giving away free samples at trendy bars and restaurants. It seems as though Budweiser’s sales have fallen off (down around 9%) and it is now looking for a way to gain back some of the losses. To entice a younger generation to the brand, Bud will evoke the college mantra of “Free Beer.”

From a brand perspective, this is pure foolishness. I can only assume that Bud is giving away free beer to show how good Bud tastes. Well, I have conducted enough research with beers to know that the brand of beer one drinks has very little to do with taste. In blind taste tests, beer drinkers who swear that Miller Lite is the only brand of beer they will drink cannot tell the difference between Miller Lite, Bud Lite and Coors Lite. They may be able to identify that there is a difference in taste. But, in most cases, they cannot even identify  their preferred brand.

The point here is that taste is not that important, in terms of switching triggers. People generally like the way their current beer of choice tastes. Have you ever heard of someone sitting at the local tavern, finish off a beer and say, “Bartender, that was the worst tasting beer I have ever had, may I please have another?”

Sorry, Bud, taste alone will not carry the day.

In the case of a microbrew drinker, Bud is even more at a disadvantage. For these drinkers, they believe there is status in drinking microbrews. It is difficult for me to imagine one of these beer drinkers switching loyalties because of a free taste of Budweiser.

Perhaps Budweiser believes it has an awareness problem. That, of course, is nonsense. My guess is that practically everyone who drinks beer knows Budweiser and its brands. Awareness is not the problem.

This is really about Budweiser losing its brand. This free beer gimmick is the result of marketing and advertising folks throwing up their hands saying, “I give up!” Ask yourself this question: “What is the strategy behind this  promotion?” Is there one or is Budweiser fooling itself into believing that if drinkers could just taste how good our beer is more people will drink it. (Boy, that sounds an awful lot like credit unions that say, “If people really saw how friendly we were they would join us.”)

As is usually the case, the problem is about meaning. To the younger generation, Budweiser has little meaning beyond heritage and even less relevance. The younger generation is having trouble relating to the brand because Budweiser has let the brand exist without working on its brand meaning, which is unusual for it. Budweiser has often been one of the strongest brands in the world, but it has gotten lazy in recent years with its leadership position.

Great brands are able to grow and reposition themselves based on the market pressures and changes. Budweiser is in terrific position to update its brand for the younger target audiences.

The free beer promotion just may give Budweiser a lift, but it is not a long-term value increasing proposition. In fact, a strong argument could be made that giving away free Budweiser beer actually weakens the Budweiser brand (free beer = cheap beer?). This gimmick by Budweiser will create some buzz, but unfortunately it will be as a result of an empty beer glass and not Budweiser’s marketing efforts.