• 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

The US Brand. What is the United States of America?

The US Brand is under siege. Is anyone else worried about the future of the US?

The US BrandI don’t mean in terms of which candidate you support in the upcoming election. There are sane people on both sides of that debate. I’m talking about the very fabric of what it means to be a citizen of the US brand. An American.

At our root, we claim to be a nation bound by a Constitution that dictates our civil behavior. Since the election of Washington until Lincoln, every election has been followed by a peaceful transition of power. It is what it means to be an American.

The one time that process failed was in 1860 and it resulted in a bloody war that ended in the complete defeat of those that apposed union. The debate for peaceful transition had been decided once and for all with an anything but peaceful five years of blood soaked division. I believe, despite all of the posturing today that this election will also be a peaceful transition of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leadership.

The US Brand has been under siege in the past

I don’t think I am alone in looking back upon the last decade with a bit of distain. Our national genius for compromise has been replaced by vitriol and obstruction. When FDR was first elected humorist Will Rogers said “well if he gets to the White House and it catches fire and burns to the ground we will say at least he got something started.” Just like Will, I have become weary of partisan posturing and I want to get SOMETHING done.

The US BrandMy worry is not over the election itself, although the personal attacks are hard to hear. After all, one of these two candidates will be our next President. In many ways, I would love to hear what each candidate will do to help our country if they lose. My sincere hope is that either candidate will try their best when elected. That is the minimum I think we can expect. The rest is just politics.

What REALLY worries me about the US brand? A fear that as a Nation we might be ungovernable in the future. When a large percentage of those that are voting say they do not trust the information published from our government. They do not trust what they read in the news and they do not trust our elective process I wonder how they plan on making America Great Again or becoming Stronger Together?The US brand

If you don’t read the news where are you getting your information? If you don’t believe anything the government says or publishes and don’t believe in the right of the majority to rule— well you don’t believe in our Constitution.

I can’t wait to read comments on this post. In the past, my worst fears have been realized in those comments. Aggressive and hateful bloggers post comments that prove my point. They did not read what I had to say.

Until we address the basic problem which is IGNORANCE, we have a broken system with broken constituents. Just remember that the root of the word ignorant means to IGNORE.

Sponsoring the Today Show and others

Advertisers have been scrambling for the last few years to find new channels to reach target audiences. People are cutting the cord, watching TV on streaming services and recording shows on their DVRs so they can fast forward through the commercials.

Therefore, advertisers have looked for other avenues, primarily social media and ads on YouTube and the like. TV still represents the best way to reach a broad audience, but the playing field has become more complex.

Today Show
Is sponsoring a show like The Today Show the new (old) thing?

So what are advertisers to do? Well, they can go back to the future, which is just what American Express has done. It will now sponsor entire segments of the Today Show that will reduce the number of commercials, increase the amount of show content and give American Express a channel to raise its profile.

Sponsoring The Today Show is old hat, but also the new wave.

This tactic, of course, is nothing new. In fact, it’s as old as television itself. The early 50s saw the Texaco Star Theater, a vaudeville show hosted by Milton Berle. It was common for shows throughout that decade and the 60s to have a title sponsor that simply owned that time on the air.

American Express is spending $28.1 million of its $141.7 million advertising budget on NBC alone, with a good chunk of it going to the Today Show. Is this the wave of the future (the past)?

Absolutely. And it won’t just be broadcast TV. Networks and streaming services are playing in a field advertising dollars spread thin. It’s not a big stretch to imagine advertisers owning a show, either on broadcast, cable or even (gulp) streaming.

Does this approach have the potential to turn off viewers? Yes and no. It would actually be welcomed, if the programming already includes advertising. As a viewer, I’ve always appreciated the European model in which the programs are sponsored and ads are shown at the beginning of the program, thus not interrupting during the show itself.

I don’t expect an immediate push to adopt the American Express Today Show model. But don’t be surprised if, in the desperation to open up new channels, that advertisers and TV networks don’t consider it more often.

New Delta uniforms? How about updated planes?

I travel a lot for business and one thing never seems to change. I continue to hate the airlines.

Since I have a limited number of airlines to choose from where I live, the three I typically hate the most are United, American and Delta.

The things I hate about them seem fixable and would have a great impact on their brands and consumers’ preference for those brands. They are really easy things like a more comfortable seat, in-flight entertainment options, plane updates and on-time service. I would also like the gate agents to be a bit friendlier and helpful too, but I may be asking too much.

Delta uniforms
OK, so the new Delta uniforms are nice. Who cares?

So you can probably understand my confusion as to why American has made such a big deal about redesigning its frontline staff’s uniforms. There are new Delta uniforms too.

The new American and Delta uniforms don’t make flying any better.

There are a lot of things wrong with the airlines. If one were to list them, flight attendant uniforms would probably be about 400th on the list. It’s not like I ever really noticed anything wrong with the old uniforms.

To be fair, the new uniforms may provide a sense of pride to the front-line folks that might make them a bit happier. I’m sure that will last for about a month.

However, the airlines continue to do things that don’t actually improve things for the flying customer. The planes are old and look worn out. In commuter jets, seats are threadbare and have no cushion. Beverage service consists of a quarter can of soft drink poured into a plastic cup filled with ice. Seats don’t have power and, even on those very few flights that have internet or in-flight entertainment, the coverage is spotty at best.

I would have no problem with the new uniforms if they represented something larger, such as upgrading the planes the same way airlines have upgraded their uniforms. Honestly, that would have a significant effect on their brands.

Invest in that, American and Delta. I can certainly live with the older uniforms.

Amazon Unlimited Music strikes the right chord

I like my music.

In fact, I am about as much of a music nut as I am about the latest tech fads. Maybe even more — as crazy as that is to believe.

On a typical summer night, you might find me outback on my deck. There, I’ll have a fresh Maduro cigar in one hand and two fingers worth of Laphroaig in the other, all while listening to some of my favorites: Diana Krall, Van Morrison or Dougie McLean. That’s the good life.

This is why the release of Apple Music was perfect for a guy like me. I had every song imaginable right in the palm of my hand (if I happened to be using my iPhone) or computer.

Amazon Unlimited Music
Amazon Unlimited Music gives more power to Echo.

This all proved to be handy as my Apple Music account was connected via bluetooth — not my favorite method of listening to music, mind you — to my Amazon Echo. Sure, this was the ultimate clash of my favorite brands, but it worked well enough. I could ask Alexa, the Amazon Echo personal assistant, to turn down the volume if need be, but less easily had to change the songs from the connected Apple device. I’ll add too that, for the longest time, I wished Amazon had a catalog of music as in depth as Apple’s, not just the decent yet limited Prime selection. That way I could simply ask Alexa to play music with out the middle man (sorry, Apple).

Last week, my wish was finally granted.

Amazon Unlimited Music makes things easier.

With Amazon Music Unlimited, I can immediately snag a song and Amazon can take a piece of market share.

Here’s how.

The Echo is one of Amazon’s biggest successes. Just like me, all three million Echo owners and users had found a makeshift way to stream music. Yet, with Amazon Music Unlimited, there is an easier way. For a really cheap price, you can tell Alexa to begin your subscription and follow that command up by asking the speaker to play any song you could ever imagine. No phone or computer necessary.

Needless to say, I have already subscribed, and bought an Echo Dot for our bedroom now too. And soon enough, I’ll buy another for my deck.

Could life get sweeter than that?

FS1 is making its pitch even if it’s hard to find

You’re not alone if you’ve been searching your TV guide looking for the baseball playoffs and becoming confused. The championship series for both the American League and National League are being played out far down your channel list on FS1.

FS1, short for Fox Sports 1, is Fox’s answer to ESPN and airing the championship series on it is Fox’s attempt to get more eyeballs on a channel that so far has been largely ignored by viewers.

You can find Cubs-Dodgers on FS1.

I have news for you frustrated sports fans. You’re going to see more of this and Fox is right to do it.

FS1 taking advantage of ESPN’s weakening brand.

FS1, launched about three years ago, has mostly been known for lower-level college sports and some mixed martial arts. But recent moves, including signing some ex-ESPN staffers such as Skip Bayless, demonstrate that Fox is serious about making FS1 a true contender to ESPN. Right now, ESPN still dominates in the ratings but Fox is betting that viewers catching playoff baseball on its sports channel will funnel their viewing habits to the Fox channel. Promos for FS1 programming litter the baseball broadcasts to combat its single biggest problem: Lack of awareness.

We’re at this point because networks saw an opening with the slow defraying of the ESPN brand. The sports network, which began with humble beginnings in the late 70s, dominated the sports conversation so much over the last 20 years that many sports, especially college football and basketball, adjust their schedules to ESPN’s whim.

What ESPN should be doing.

But ESPN, while still leading in the ratings, has seen viewership drop for its flagship show, SportsCenter, and a weaker loyalty to its brand. It has suffered a talent drain (Bayless to FS1, Dan Patrick to NBC, Bill Simmons to HBO and his own media site, The Ringer) and fewer contracts with sports leagues. (Fox, for example, will air the college football playoffs in January.)

Few of us understand what ESPN stands for anymore. It once stood for being immersed in the world of sports. Without the monopoly on league contracts, however, it can’t hold that spot. Even the sports leagues themselves now have their own networks. (The MLB Network aired some of the earlier baseball playoff rounds.)

FS1 isn’t the only network punching a hole into ESPN’s balloon. NBCSports and CBS Sports Network are also on air. ABC, the owner of ESPN, has responded by cutting costs at ESPN.

Downsizing is almost always the signifier that a brand is losing ground. Instead, ESPN should be searching for what brand meaning would regain its preference.

The damage is done. So when you lament the baseball playoffs being on channel 400 (FS1 here in Greensboro), you’d better wise up and greet in the new era. It’s here to stay.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard disaster

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardThe Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall because of the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has me thinking. What if any long term effect could this Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard have on the BRAND of Samsung?

Sure an exploding or smoldering smart phone is not a product feature in even the most optimistic consumer’s mind. But could this product recall seriously and permanently damage this mega-brand consumer products company?

In a word. Maybe.

Brands have meaning to consumers and great brands have great emotional meaning to customers. They associate with that brand meaning and, because that association should be about the customer and not the product, it becomes personal.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardNike has a premier consumer product position, not because it makes the best athletic shoes, but because Nike means the wearer feels like a winner. It’s the Nike promise that you should just do it. Forget the distractions. Keep focused because YOU are a winner for choosing Nike (read about the NIKE brand here). That is the power of BRAND.

I am trying to think about Samsung. What does the brand MEAN? Does the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard in any way damage that association? I think it does and here is why.

Samsung is the largest electronics company in South Korea. It makes quality products and has infiltrated almost every category of consumer electronics. But it has a very poorly defined brand promise.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardLacking that emotional connection, it has allowed the consumer to position it as a value brand. That means Samsung is lower priced than the competition but are generally well made and dependable.

It might not be fair to dis Samsung as lacking in innovation but I think the market does not view it as being an innovator in any way. It is a fast follower, often copying the market leader’s products with a slightly cheaper (value) positioning.

This model has allowed them to steal the thunder from many storied brands. Take Son (Read about the Sony brands here) for instance. Its Trinitron TV brand reinvented the category.

Sony even led the way in flat screen innovation. But Samsung copied those products and dared to make side by side comparisons of product features — all with a value twist. The result? Growth in market share.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has reshaped the smart phone pecking order

Same is true with the smart phone. Everyone knows the category was invented by Apple. Even the courts backed up that statement. Samsung entered the category with a cheaper reproduction and an nearly all-open sourced operating system. Side-by-side comparisons with the iPhone showed similar capabilities at about 50% of the cost.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardBut the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has undone much of that value cache. The great enemy of value brands is an underlying and almost universal human belief that, at the end of the day, you ALWAYS get what you pay for.

Customers who invest their emotional soul to value brands sit around waiting for the shoe to drop and hoping it does not. Want proof? Ask Value Jet.(Read about the fire that burned up an airline here: ValueJet). A failure by a low cost provider can be fatal to the brand.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardI worry that all the problems and bad press over the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard feels like the shoe has dropped. (You are reminded of it every time you fly on a US passenger airline because they warn you before boarding that, having a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 turned on or charging, is forbidden because of the recall.)

To survive, Samsung might have to double down on its value proposition and make the risk worth the reward by gutting its profit margins.

Or it could call us and we could help them create a REAL brand that incorporates brand repair with a new juggernaut of meaning. Samsung won’t call however. It thinks brand is a logo and name. But there is no need to change either. There is a need to change the meaning.

Even McDonalds burgers are in trouble

McDonalds Burgers. If you follow this blog at all, you know that I have written about the fast food category quite a bit (and that Stealing Share has experience in this market). Most of the major fast food chains are losing market share, seeing weak and negative same-store growth and are consistently trying to out maneuver each other with new menu items. (Cheetos Chicken Fries from Burger King anyone?)

McDonalds burgers
Fewer people are eating McDonalds burgers

Recently, I read an article from the Wall Street Journal about McDonalds recent sales declines. This article was different from the litany of business articles about McDonalds struggles because it specifically looked at the its staple product – the burger.

Fewer people prefer McDonalds burgers

For a while now, McDonalds burgers have suffered from a number of quality issues, like dealing with the whole pink slime thing from a few years ago and the fact that burger chains like Five Guys and Smashburger are doing pretty well with better and fresher ingredients.

McDonalds has decided that now would be a good time to take a look at the quality of McDonalds burgers again.

At this point, however, this seems futile. McDonalds has already lost and I think its leaders know it too. Proof of this is in its current expansion of its all-day breakfast options. As wildly successful as McDonalds burgers has been, they are dinosaurs. McDonalds recent inability to adapt to the changing wants and needs of the consumer is proof of that. If McDonalds really wanted to compete (past tense) then it should have made a better Big Mac a long time ago, before its customers left the brand.

Now, even if it does come up with a better burger, it will still need to convince people that it is truly better. That process takes a lot of money and a lot of time. Unless McDonalds can fundamentally take a look at itself more harshly, there is not enough of either to fix what’s wrong with McDonalds burgers.

Stop the pumpkin spice madness

Tis’ the season. Unfortunately.

I’d like to put that “unfortunately” in giant bold letters with three or four exclamation points and a few underlines to boot, but I have my standards.

pumpkin spice
This little critter started the pumpkin spice movement.

Don’t worry, I am not being a scrounge. So just relax. I am not taking a shot at Christmastime, not in any shape or form whatsoever. Christmas happens to be my favorite time of year, more now as it is also the birthday of my granddaughter. Just saying.

Nope, I am alluding to what has become the pinnacle of annoying times as a shopper. The grand ole’ time when everything under the sun has become infused with pumpkin spice. Gag me now.

This whole trend had a modicum of pleasantness at first. Sure, I liked a latte from Starbucks, especially when the ingredients in it were entirely real (so they said) and not artificial.

But the dyke spewed forth. A deluge of products — ludicrous ones at that — hit shelves everywhere. Consider the repulsiveness of the following:

  • Boulder Canyon Pumpkin Pie Kettle Cooked Potato Chips
  • Kellogg’s Pumpkin Spice Frosted Mini Wheats
  • Pumpkin Spice Oreos
  • Bert’s Bees Pumpkin Spice Lip Balm
  • Extra Pumpkin Spice Gum

It’s like a car wreck. You don’t want to look, but oh man it’s so bad. You just can’t peel your eyes away.

Is this the zenith of the Pumpkin Spice Apocalypse? 

I would give anything to make it go away. As Forbes indicated, however, the movement has become a $500 million niche craze, thanks to Starbucks.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I beg of you, I plead. I’ll give you your latte if you promise me no more scented lightbulbs or dog cologne or Pringles. I just can’t take it any longer.