• 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

Airlines need culture change

I have not blogged on airlines in quite a while and I thought it was appropriate to look at the category again in light of the new CEO for United Airlines (Read a market study on the entire category here) and my thinking that airlines need culture change.

Airlines need culture change
United’s former Sleezball

Funny thing, United is getting criticism for not looking within the industry when it appointed Oscar Munoz as its new CEO. It seems that United has trailed all of the major carriers in terms of customer satisfaction in the past few years and this is being blamed on the fact that former CEO, Jeff Smisek, who resigned last month because he was a sleezball, was not from inside the industry either. Come on. Give me a break.

Airlines need culture change
New United CEO Oscar Munoz

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am what United has designated as being Global Services. This is their highest status in their frequent flyer pantheon. For those that do not know all the benefits I am privy to because of this status, it means that I get to board the aircraft right after the lame and the infirmed and then have the privilege of being crammed into a tiny seat for longer than almost all other flyers. In the common event that the flight is delayed, I get to sit in my confined space a few minutes longer than others. Sounds good doesn’t it?

Airlines need culture change. Especially UnitedUnited has continued to disappoint me. It doesn’t even recognize that, in an industry of mediocrity, that all airlines needs culture change. The flights are so delayed that I have taken to flying out of my local airport first thing in the morning even if my connecting flight leaves late in the afternoon. All too often, subsequent flights out of Greensboro are later and later as the delay in takeoff is compounded by all the other late flights that my aircraft suffers before arriving to GSO (Triad International Airport, named so despite the fact that no international flights begin or end there). These delays are getting all the more common as airlines (not just United) push these planes to the breaking point by flying tight schedules designed to eek out every penny of profit from the over-worked commuter flights that feed their infamous hubs.

Airlines need culture change not more of the same

I recognize that all I do is complain about airlines. Some of you may say that I need to move to a city that has direct flights and does not rely on connecting flights as a requisite to get anywhere. I have to admit. I have entertained this idea at times. But such a change in domicile is not without costs. By COSTS I mean the flights that fly direct are WAY MORE EXPENSIVE. It is actually cheaper, much cheaper, for me to fly from Greensboro to Washington Dulles and then connect to a flight to Geneva then it is for me to fly direct from DC to Geneva without the connection. Crazy.

The problem with airlines is the airline insider.  Think about the way those in the industry measure customer satisfaction. The percentage of on-time flights, comfort in the seats and whether the airline gives you a 5-cent bag of pretzels and 4oz of a soft drink or water. They also offer coffee but I don’t seem to be able to recognize the taste as any version of coffee. Think about it. They measure customer satisfaction by standards that should denote the lowest common denominator of any airline.

Its could give a lesson or two on culture change and Airlines need culture change.I think the industry only has hope by looking to an outsider to change direction and recognize that, while they may be in the transportation business, the airlines are equally in the hospitality business. Is Oscar Munoz the answer? I don’t know. If he fails to change the entire paradigm, I would suggest that they appoint a new COO who understands the logistics of the industry and then hire a senior leader from Ritz Carleton as its next CEO.

How might culture change when leadership decided that customer satisfaction was more than being on-time? Ritz is not just a hotel brand. It has actively positioned itself as different and better from its competition. It has made service personalized and actually makes you feel as though you are fortunate to have chosen that brand.

What ALL the airlines need is culture change and a recognition that we would like more than what we are getting. They could start to measure their preference not in terms of oversold flights because they have cut back on the schedule but rather how many more flights they would need to account for the increase in traffic. Even Southwest would begin to worry. Maybe standing in line for a seat is not that much fun. Is everything in the airline industry based upon discount fares and fewer fees? There may be a different path. Hopefully someone sees that. Airlines need culture change.

Sting’s TED Talk is a necessary listen

Yesterday, by happenstance, I opened my podcast app and decided to update my five podcast subscriptions.

I’m glad I did.

One of the podcasts I like to come back to from time to time is the Ted Talk Radio Hour, which is hosted by NPR (can you ever really go wrong with, NPR?).

This week’s podcast was a rebroadcast of a show that aired last October entitled, “The Source of Creativity.”

As is per usual, the show is broken into a handful of segments and rehashes key components of the TED Talk series. It’s definitely worth your time and attention.

His thoughts on creativity are profound.
His thoughts on creativity are profound.

The first segment was on the musician, Sting. I’ve always been a middle of the road fan of his solo work and a much greater fan of The Police. While that’s besides the point, it was that reason alone that I was curious enough to hear what he had to say about inception of creativity and how to overcome writer’s block.

We all struggle to come up with good ideas.

Sting gave powerful insight into an eight-year period of writer’s block. Prior, he was a hit machine, writing songs, which he admits, were solely about him and his experiences. It came to a point where he tapped out of things to say about his life experience from his vantage point.

He searched that entire time. Asking questions of his faith and of himself, “Have I said all that I am supposed to say?” This tormenting thought weighs heavy on any person of creativity.

Soon, he realized his vantage point needed to change. It was time for him to write about the people he knew, who he grew up with in Wallsend, from their perspective. Soon enough he was writing songs that took on dialects and were used as fodder for a Broadway play, The Last Ship.

Sting reminded me of what it means to be creative. 

When we create, we are taking a chance. We are placing our faith in an idea that doesn’t come from the mind, but from the gut. It takes practice to embrace those creative ideas and not overthink them and a willingness to ask hard questions of yourself, like Sting did. It’s that journey and self-reflection which, if we are willing to accept, can bring us to the ideas we are looking for.

It’s also a process from which you develop powerful brands. Stepping outside yourself and looking at things from an outsider’s perspective. That’s when you truly become creative and persuasive.

The pet industry and talking to our pets

For those of you who don’t believe that, as humans, we are always looking for meaning, I ask you this: Why do we talk to our pets? Do we expect them to answer? In a way, we do, even though such notion is ridiculous.

The primary reason that branding is so important in stealing market share is because, even when there is no meaning at all, we will instill meaning into that void.

Buying the premium food says more about us than our pets.
Buying the premium food says more about us than our pets.

It’s in that context that I bring up the pet industry, which is a $60 billion market – a shocking figure, especially when you consider that most of the things we buy for our pets (like, you know, clothes) are not needed by our pets.

In fact, just in the pet food arena, the growth market is among the premium foods, with 65% of dog owners and 55% of cat owners opting for the costlier food.

We are really buying ourselves.

Yes, we love our pets but there is something even more personal going on here, and has been for years. We’re not buying all those products – or shelling out hundreds of dollars for vet services – for the pets themselves. We’re doing it for ourselves. Little Fido could care less if he’s wearing a sweater when he goes outside. He wants to sniff and mark his territory.

Instead, we are inferring whatever meaning we can into our pets’ actions. When my dog, Teddy, is looking at me, I feel like he’s communicating something important and deep. What I glean from it comes from me, though, not Ted.

I bring this up because all brands must have meaning or your customers will infuse meaning into your brand. The danger with that is that the meaning could be negative or, more likely, have little impact because each consumer will inject a different meaning. When you mean so many different things to so many different people, you have little impact in the market and have no avenue to steal market share from your competition.

The pet industry has figured this out. That’s why they are increasing margins with high-priced, premium food even though I know Ted would just like a big steak, just like his dad. (Ahem. I mean, just like me.)

Taco Bell beer coming to Chicago

Taco Bell just opened its first Cantina concept in Chicago this week in which beer, wine, sangria and shots to go with its Twisted Freezes are served in addition to the traditional Taco Bell fare.

This looks right.
This looks right.

For a brand that gave the world the 4th Meal (that meal at 1 am after a night of drinking), this seems like a pretty solid fit for its brand. Much more than say, the biscuit taco.

From a business perspective, it is easy to see why Taco Bell beer has arrived, as alcohol is extremely profitable. From a brand perspective, Taco Bell beer works because, unlike some of its competitors that market the notion of family, Taco Bell has never done that. Rather it presents itself as edgy and young adult. (Hence the previously mentioned 4th Meal.)

Its brand gives Taco Bell permission to sell alcohol. The McDonald’s brand, for example, does not have permission to sell it. Subway doesn’t either.

How Taco Bell beer fits.

While I know that Taco Bell has seen success with its foray into the breakfast meal part, it always seemed a little off brand. Taco Bell is about the late night meal part, right? Adding alcohol seems to me to be right on the Taco Bell’s brand and actually fits better with its existing menu than most of its competitors. For a company that serves Doritos Locos Tacos and Nachos, beer seems to fit in quite nicely.

I doubt that this will be a widespread thing and certainly not available through the famous 1 am drive-thru line, but I think that this move further cements the young adult fast food brand that Taco Bell is trying to own and being fiercely single-minded is good for any brand.

Why is the VW recall a staggering crime?

When you buy a new car, logic and rational decision making are suspended.  Automobile manufacturers have understood for years that car buying is an emotional decision. Oh, I know we would all like to think that we use our noggins when we purchase a car but let’s face facts. Brand influences our choice.

All cars have tires, engines, roofs, boots (trunks in the US), steering wheels, seats doors and paint. They all are capable of taking us places and, unlike just about anything else we can think of, have actually become better than they were 25 years ago. They are built better and last longer.

We are invested in our cars. Even folks like myself , who claim not care to about the car they drive, have brand identification. Why do I drive a BMW when I claim I am unimpressed with automobiles? I don’t care if you drive a Chevrolet, BMW or a Toyota, we all like our new cars. When they get their first dent or scratch, it feels like it has happened to ourselves personally. In brand parlance, that is exactly what has happened.

The impact of the VW recall.

Recalls? They happen all the time. We expect the occasional mistake in design and forgive the Toyotas of the world for a few mishaps. None of us feel the personal pain beyond inconvenience of a product recall. Even unfixable design flaws can be forgiven. But what happens when a brand manipulates us through deliberate deceit? Well, the damage may well be permanent.

What impact will the VW recall have on its brand?
What impact will the VW recall have on its brand?

Volkswagen’s stock has taken a huge hit in the past week with the VW recall over faking emissions tests and a cynic might translate that into a buying opportunity. I don’t believe it is. I think we may be looking at free fall of a once great brand that has thrown itself on the rocks. The sin is personal and this is the most interesting part. Faking emissions does not damage us personally. It’s not as if you bought the car because of its track record in emissions. It does not threaten your immediate health that way defective breaks or uncontrolled acceleration does.

The VW recall tells us that folks who buy the brand are liars. I say this because car brands are an extension of our personal brands. The VW recall has given even the most died-in-the-wool VW aficionado reason to pause and contemplate the emotional cost of deliberate deceit.

Goodbye, Beetle. So long VW Bus. Nice knowing you Rabbit. See ya Jetta.

Apple botch with watch OS 2 looks bad

As I have made blatantly aware for years, I’m a freak for Apple. Part of my freakiness is that I wait the release of a new system update as eagerly as a child waiting for presents on Christmas morning.

OS9, which came out while I was away on a family trip to Ireland, did not elude my iPhone and iPad. I managed to stay up and install the program, even though it came late in the evening, with a few pints of Guinness in my system.

Like I said, I am a bit of a freak when it comes to this stuff and I hold no shame in admitting it.

The OS 2 update may be damaging.
The OS 2 update may be damaging.

That said, I am dissatisfied with Apple’s latest presentation of software. While I have yet to buy an Apple Watch, the delay in releasing the coveted Watch OS 2 interface due to a found bug in the system quite simply looks bad.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin said that, and he is right.

Thoughts like: “Didn’t Apple already have enough time to find a bug in the watch OS 2 software?” and “Maybe the interface is just being rushed out to the masses” linger prominently in the back of my mind.

When you are at the top, you don’t have the room to fail and look less than great in public. Your brand will quickly take a shellacking. Ask Tiger Woods about that, Paula Deen or Mel Gibson. The pundits are always ready to cast a cold eye.

OS 2 Delay speaks loudly

And so, while the Watch OS 2 interface delay was nominal error, it does present a sense of ill-preparedness by Apple. And those precepts can quickly tarnish a brand’s reputation if mistakes like this continue. And while the release finally came yesterday to the public, that was several days too long.

Facebook dislike button, yea or nay?

Way back when I first signed up with Facebook, so long ago in digital years I can’t remember the exact year, I proposed the idea of a dislike button. In truth, the idea was just me trying to understand the rules of social media as, it seemed back then, all forms of it were coming at us at once and the rules were confusing.

YouTube had a dislike button. So, in the spirit of free intercourse, wouldn’t a dislike button on Facebook make sense?

Thumbs down on a Facebook dislike button.
Thumbs down on a Facebook dislike button.

But now that Facebook will be rolling out a dislike button, just like I proposed years ago, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. Now that I’m well versed in social media (as most of us now are), a Facebook dislike button risks making Facebook something it is not: Mean.

I am reasonably active on social media and those who are friends on Facebook know it is my social media outlet of choice. At first, Facebook was a way to re-connect with long-lost friends, then it hit a bit of a lag. But lately, it’s served as a friendly way to keep those friends in my circle and, for the most part, the interactions have been pleasant. I enjoy checking in on people and sharing my experiences with others.

The Facebook dislike button and its relationship to the Facebook brand.

To me, the brand of Facebook is just that. It’s pleasant, friendly and rarely creates the Internet firestorm that some other social media outlets have allowed.

As we’ve all gotten more educated on the use (and drawbacks) of social media, it’s clear that there are a whole lot of trolls out there that can be hurtful and outright offensive in their anonymous responses.

Anyone who is on Twitter has seen that. Even if you haven’t, it’s easy enough to see that kind of discourse in the comments section of just about any article on the Internet. The respondents can be brutal.

Facebook has one advantage that the other outlets don’t: It has no anonymity. That is, these are people you know (unless you make boost a post to make it public) so the comments may not be so nasty. You’ll know who said what.

Now, I’m all for confrontation discourse. I believe candor saves everyone a lot of time and produces the best result.

Candor can still exist on Facebook, and does. But my first thought on hearing of a Facebook dislike button was, “Oh, that’s what the Internet needs. More avenues for people to bitch because there’s isn’t enough of that right now on the Internet.”

Facebook is the refuge from that. We’ll see if the Facebook dislike button changes Facebook.

The battling brands of the GOP debate

In normal circumstances, you’d say that Donald Trump was a loser at last night’s GOP debate. But these aren’t normal circumstances. His supposed missteps haven’t hurt him in the polls and some polls suggest they may have actually helped.

In the debate, Trump was once again blustery (starting the debate by asking why Rand Paul was even on stage and later taking on Jeb Bush’s brother, George W) and many of the other candidates were more aggressive in taking him on. Trump was still Trump. Highly entertaining, but short on specifics.

The GOP brands facing off.
The GOP brands facing off.

Before we go any further, let’s remember that it is so, so early in the nomination process. Remember Michelle Bachmann? The former Representative from Minnesota won one of the early primaries in the 2012 election, only to drop out eight months later.

Last night’s GOP debate was a survival contest for a few of the candidates as donors decide to monetarily support one candidate over another, leaving some (like Texas Governor Rick Perry) without funding.

In a vacuum, I’d say Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (once among the frontrunners) is in trouble and, despite a strong showing last night, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may be too far behind to garner much more financial support.

The dividing line at the GOP debate.

The establishment candidate remains Bush, who was far stronger in this debate than the previous one, meaning he may have shored up his base and regained the confidence of his supporters.

However, in this point of the election cycle, there is a strong current of anti-establishment running strong, even in The Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton, besieged by the email scandal and generally negative media coverage, is seeing her poll numbers drop while the numbers for Bernie Sanders rise. Sanders may be a US Senator but he positions himself as an outsider.

In the Republican Party, we are seeing three candidates – Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina – in the lead. They are the outside-the-Beltway candidates that speak to many who feel Washington DC is corrupt and ineffectual, and that electing a professional politician just means more of the same.

This question is whether that feeling is long lasting and will have an effect with voters whey they actually cast a ballot. What you saw last night was most of the candidates doing a form of brand positioning. To be a coveted brand, you must be three things: You must represent a high emotional intensity (for the moment, anti-DC sentiment), be able to fulfill your brand promise and be positioned against your competition (to, therefore, offer a true choice).

The outsiders (Trump, Carson, Fiorina) are positioning themselves against the insiders (Bush, Paul, Rubio, Cruz and even Kasich). Fiorina, who is getting good reviews from the morning press, did take on Trump, but her messages are more similar to that of Trump’s than you might think. (They are just more detailed.)

The insiders are positioning themselves against the outsiders, which is why Trump became their primary target.

How emotionally intensive the anti-Washington belief is will determine whether the outsiders have the right message for this marathon. When voters get to the ballot box, they may actually want somebody who knows how to get things done inside our nation’s capital.