• 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

Goodbye, SkyMall. You were loved.

Oh, SkyMall, how will I miss you? I’ve passed many hours with you on an airplane, especially during those times when the airline lets us sit on the tarmac for hours. (How kind of them.)

How I’ve longed for the Garden Yeti and the various electronic gizmos that could populate my home.

You know, I almost bought this once.
You know, I almost bought this once.

Your declaration of bankruptcy means I’m going to have to live without you. I’ll have to quit you.

The news about SkyMall’s bankruptcy doesn’t come as that much of a surprise. The only surprise was that it lasted as long as it did.

As much as I coveted many of the items in it, I never bought one single thing from it. The magazine was purely entertainment for me as I flipped through the pages to see what new, crazy thing SkyMall has come up with.

The entertainment allure started waning once we could play/read/watch on our phones and tablets on the plane. There especially became no reason to look at it when we no longer had to shut down our electronic devices. SkyMall just sat there.

Of course, SkyMall couldn’t make any money by just being about entertainment. It had to prompt people to actually buy something from its collection. On that note, it always had a problem. The products in the magazine are basically impulse buys, and it is hard to buy when you’re in an airplane.

SkyMall knew this, which is why it recently tried to tell readers that they could take the magazine with them and the airline would replace it. But it probably had a better chance of prompting sales by being on QVC or something than having passengers actually take it home and buy something. Even that became harder with the influx of the Internet.

Despite all that, I lament the loss of SkyMall. I have fond memories of chuckling over the products with colleagues who were traveling with me.

Goodbye, SkyMall. You may not have been a financial success but you were truly loved by this frequent traveler.

The State of CNN

I tuned into Tuesday’s President’s State of the Union Address and found myself totally disappointed. Not in the speech itself, that value judgment depends completely on your political bent, but on the coverage.

For whatever reason, I tuned to CNN. I just wanted to witness the speech and then flip the TV off. This speech is as close the US gets to royal pageantry. And I enjoy seeing the Supreme Court Justices, Joint Chiefs and legislators in one room. I love it when the Sargent of Arms announces the President’s arrival. I don’t care if his name is Bush, Clinton, Reagan or Obama, it gives me a bit of a thrill.

I'm done listening to these blowhards.
I’m done listening to these blowhards.

However, I had to sit through a rehash of the exact words the President was going to speak…over and over again. And this rehash was before the speech. Good God, someone should do their homework and not take the easy way out. I guess I expected more from Wolf Blitzer.

The President had barely started his proclamations when CNN had a screen violator asking us all to vote— in real time on the President’s speech. That was it. I had to find a channel that was not part of the political spin that had sickened me in the past decade or so. I am not even sure where I re-tuned but it might have been C-Span or PBS. All I knew was that I wanted no commentary and no asinine opinions. I just wanted to hear it and see it for myself.

CNN had already ruined a good deal of the speech because it pre-told me several times that President Obama was going to pronounce that the worst of times was officially behind us and that “the State of the Union was strong.”

Why am I so offended by these live polls? Because I am a researcher as well as a brand strategist and I have a deep background in research. This is NOT research (read about real research here). This is a self-selecting sample that is in no way representative of the actual responses. What you end up with looks a lot like what spin doctors would produce. It is an inverse bell curve, overly sampled by people at the extremes. Only those who love it or hate it responds. This is why we never build brand messages on self-selecting methodologies or focus groups. It is just process gone wild.

So, CNN, MSNBC, FOX and the other entertainment channels that pretend to be news outlets— I’m done with you. The state of affairs that our nation finds itself in, one of severe disagreement and the inability to govern, might be in many ways a result of the so-called dialog incited by these media giants. Funny how much we mimic those news broadcasts.

I’ve got an idea, why don’t we make the next State of the Union address a reality show? We could comment on the suit selection and have it hosted by Ryan Seacrest.

The NFL brand damage continues: Deflategate

Boy, what a year for the NFL.

In case you have not heard, in the AFC Championship Game, the New England Patriots used 11 under-inflated balls throughout the course of their 45-7 blow out win over the Indianapolis Colts. An under-inflated ball allows the players to grip it easier, making it easier to throw and catch. In a sloppy, rainy game (which this was), this could be a huge advantage.

That grip seems pretty good.
That grip seems pretty good.

It can be debated how much of an advantage Deflategate may give a team, but the damage is nonetheless done. When you consider how many other issues the NFL has had this year, this is just another example of a league losing control of its brand.

Let’s be clear, the Patriots certainly cheated. But the worst part is that they got away with it. If the NFL really cared about its beloved shield, it would make sure there would be no possible way this could happen. For example, rather than have the teams each provide 12 balls, have the NFL provide all of the balls and not let either team see them or touch them until kickoff. Why would the NFL give a team an opportunity for an unfair advantage if it really cared?

(As an aside, as of 9:30am eastern, NFL.com has no mention of this situation anywhere on its site.)

As I have said before, the NFL seems to only care about something when it is forced to care about something. Good brands look for areas of weakness and fix them. Bad brands wait for areas of weakness to find them.

Pebble Steel made me a believer in wearable technology

What’s the deal with smart watches?

Up until now, I didn’t get it. I thought the brains behind the world’s biggest tech companies were out of ideas.

As I am curious to find answers to my questions, I wanted to find a reason to believe in smart watches.

Digging around and reading reviews and articles about different watches, I soon found myself enamored with one: Pebble Steel.

I appreciate the Pebble company. It began with a groundbreaking Kickstarter campaign (raking in over 10 million dollars). It’s not a powerhouse brand like Apple, Samsung or Motorola, which made it shine all the more for me.

The right message for the right market.
The right message for the right market.

In fact, Pebble feels magically homespun to me in the way Apple’s birth does. I like that it was rooted with a visionary who sampled a concept he believed in until it was perfected.  Before Pebble became too big, I wanted to be a part of its history.

I had to own one. And now I do.

Pebble Steel, the second incarnation of the company’s smart watch, is a true joy. Its elegant interface makes my connectivity to the world a breeze. It has pleasantly useful notification and fitness apps too. I couldn’t be happier. Its theme of “Pebble. Uncomplicated.” hits right tone and message. Most of us see technology as too complex, when we really yearn for simplicity. (Simplicity is part of what has made Apple such a brand giant.)

Did I find the response to my smart watch skepticism? I think so.

What did I learn? I want to be one of those people that is part of a revolution before it becomes a revolution.

I can do that with Pebble.

Destination marketing: Good isn’t enough

Last week I wrote about the potential brand benefits of Cuba as a travel destination, with its brand equity of the pre-Castro years making it forbidden fruit for new US travelers.

In that post, I mentioned that the destination and tourism category is overfilled with similar messaging, meaning there are few real destinations in the world that actually own something.

Some asked me for an example of a destination struggling with coming up with that differentiation. So I bring you, Jackson Hole.

You can see what the marketers of Jackson Hole are trying to do here. They are trying to own “big” in nature terms. That humans are in awe of the vastness surrounding Jackson Hole.

The problem is that the real takeaway (remember, viewers see ads in a snapshot, not as a deep examination) is that Jackson Hole is just like Vail, Aspen or any other ski resort. There is an attempt at an emotional cue, and it’s better than most, but I don’t think that’s what prospective visitors are going to take away from it.

Its theme of “There’s More to Winter” isn’t bad, but Jackson Hole has not linked it to the idea of vastness. It’s still about all the things you can do in winter. It’s still about product benefits, in the terms of the destination and tourism industry.

I point out Jackson Hole not to pick on it. I point it out because it’s systematic of the lack of courage from destination marketers. They don’t go far enough, dipping a toe into the lake of emotion without going all the way.

I’m not suggesting Jackson Hole (and others) go weepy. What I am saying is that the theme should match up with the message. I supposed you could make an intellectual argument that the vastness of Jackson Hole gives you something more to look forward to in winter, but instinctively, it’s still about skiing and other winter sports. That there’s more to do in Jackson Hole in the winter than anywhere else.

Nice try, Jackson Hole. But, like your competitors, you can do better. Because the problem with destination marketing isn’t bad marketing. It’s the only good.

The brand experiment of Cuba

Patria o Muerte, Venceremos! Now, I’m no Communist and I wouldn’t subscribe to Cuba’s national motto of “Homeland or death,” but the opening of the island nation to US travelers and business today is a reason to celebrate for those of us interested in destination brands.

If we think back to the pre-Castro days, Cuba was known for lavish hotels, sandy beaches, music, classic cars, food and, of course, cigars. It may still be like that, but we’ll get a better sense as more American tourists visit and US companies build business there.

Will it be like the old Cuba or some US version of it?

What will Cuba look like in the next decade?
What will Cuba look like in the next decade?

The political ramifications of it aside, the normalizing of relations with Cuba re-awakens the strong pull the nation used to have for many of us, especially with it only being 90 miles away.

It was a true destination, and the myth (or memory, for some) of it is something other destinations can learn from. Like many industries, the tourism and destination market is cluttered with similar messages: Fun, family, outdoors, sights, etc.

The struggles destinations have is in finding what makes them truly different, whether that’s important and how that defines visitors when they visit. Most try to be everything to everybody. As most of us know, that means you are for nobody.

I can only think of a few destinations that really own something. Las Vegas owns sin. Paris owns romance. Cuba once owned adult, although not in the sense of responsibility. Cuba was about tasting the fine things of life exotically, like a rich gangster.

I suspect there will be an initial rush to check out Cuba and the tourism industry there will prosper based on the myth and memory of what it used to be pre-Castro. The fascinating stage will come after the development. Will it seize the place it once had in our consciousness (as a tourist destination, not as a Castro-ruled Communist country)? Or will it become so homogenized that it fails to own anything and becomes another destination lost among all the rest?

Target stores badly need repositioning

We have written extensively on the retail market category and fully understand the importance of location, pricing and emotional placement. Customer preference is a funny thing because it is always a construct of the basic value proposition. The customer always decides if going to a retail venue is worth it.

I do not mean that value is about lowest pricing, although it can certainly mean that. Value is a milestone set by the customer that can mean anything from convenience, discovery, distance, low price, familiarity, variety to any other value you can think of. Customers weigh this value against the retail venue and any competitor that plays in the same space.

Today, Target is in some trouble. It has announced the closing of all of its Canadian stores because it believes retailing, as it performs it in Canada, will not be profitable. But the real problem is declining same-store sales and a disappointing holiday sales season this year. What can Target do to stem this tide and become the juggernaut it once was?

Target can recapture its prominence.
Target can recapture its prominence.

Remember when Target arrived in local markets? It felt like a fresh approach to lower prices and a civilized shopping experience. It had the added dimension of discovery. It was fun to stroll through the stores and to find merchandise and clothing that delighted you because you were discovering what Target meant. Sadly, that freshness is now gone.

What is Target? When, as a consumer, does Target enter your considered set? It feels today (meaning it is a feeling and not necessarily based upon truth) that someone always does a better job as a specific competitor. For example, if you are shopping only on price, Walmart wins. (Walmart has also made great strides in upgrading the shopper experience and it has added greater selection to that equation.). If you are looking for designer clothing, every department store does better. Target is a general merchandise store competing in a market that seems to favor one general merchandiser and scores of specialty stores.

Reflecting market research, Target has added grocery to its stores. But rather than making Target a preferred destination, the grocery has just served to further dilute its meaning among shoppers. Today, fewer and fewer shoppers have Target on their radar.

The store layout is not always intuitive and the store flow is difficult to navigate. Recently, I needed an inflatable bed and I headed for Target because it was the closest retailer to my home. I wanted a higher-end inflatable queen-sized bed so I headed to home furnishings and bedding.

No air mattresses anywhere. I found an employee (hard to find in Target, by the way) and he pointed me to the camping and outdoor department. Sure enough, I found a $200 self-inflating airbed right next to the cheap vinyl $20 Coleman Camp gear. It was just another example of no one at the marketing helm of this leaky ship.

Target needs to be willing to challenge every preconceived notion. The stores have too much promise and too little value (in the complicated value proposition discussed earlier) to be allowed to follow the sea that took down Kmart and is quickly sinking Sears. Increased brand focus and an emotional trigger that is about the customer and not the store can solve the problems. Here’s hoping.

Adidas and Reebok: Oh, where have you gone?

The sneaker/workout apparel market turned upside down when Nike became the first to stop talking about benefits of its shoe and sported, “Just Do It.”

Since then, competitors have tried and tried to bite into Nike’s market share with little success. Converse, once the market leader, fell out of existence until Nike, of all companies, bought it and sold it as a fashion item.

The two competitors trying to claim more prominence ever since have been Adidas and Reebok, joining forces in 2006 when Adidas bought Reebok to create something of a juggernaut.

Or so it hoped. Nike still holds the market lead and Under Armor has usurped Adidas in the workout apparel market.

It is in this situation that Adidas is attempting to change course in two ways: 1) Use more US athletes to market Adidas shoes and 2) feature a free-range chicken for Reebok.

I’m not joking.

Adidas announced a new shoe marketed by Portland Trailblazer Damian Lillard as its North American President said: “I know we’re a soccer brand globally, but in the US we have to be about US sport. We can still be No. 1 in soccer, but that can’t be what drives our business.”

So Adidas signed up 250 NFL players and 250 MLB players, increasing their number of sponsored players dramatically. By itself, it’s not a bad idea as having athletes as spokespeople is a table stake in this category. (Nike was out front first with this strategy.) I just wish Adidas looked for something different so it would represent an actual choice emotionally.

Under Armor has athletes too, but its brand is built on a specific male power, often over exaggerated but not that far (in emotional terms) as what Hardee’s does with hamburgers.

If what Adidas is doing is simply equaling the field, its sub-brand of Reebok is using the Just Do It approach within the comedy stylings of a chicken.

At least Reebok isn’t talking directly about its shoes, and I’m always up for something different. But Live Free Range is overly clever, which as I noted on Monday rarely works.

Is this what Reebok claims is the highest emotional intensity in the category? Or is it (or, most likely, its ad agency) just trying to create some advertising noise to be noticed?

Well, it’s not the former, and probably more of the latter.

It still seems only Under Armor has learned the lessons of Nike over these many years. Adidas and its sub-brand, Reebok, are still running loose like a chicken with its head cut off.