• 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

Sears REIT does nothing to build true value

Sears has announced that it is forming a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in a move that will generate about $2.5 billion for Sears.

Sears will then lease its once-owned properties. This comes after Sears divested its Hometown & Outlet stores as well as its Lands End brand. Sears has even leased parts of buildings in which it currently resides. (We have a Whole Foods, an entire grocery store, here locally that has leased part of a Sears location.)

Much like the 2004 $11 billion deal for Kmart and the nearly $2 billion deal for Lands End, the Sears REIT once again does nothing to build long term value for Sears. Sears will fail because its horizon is not long enough. It has not invested in its brand for long term.

This is about how busy a Sears store looks today.
This is about how busy a Sears store looks today.

To see proof of this, I ask you this question: “What is Sears?” At best, your answer will be as ambiguous as “I don’t know.” When asking yourself the same question about Kmart, the answer is likely a bit more damaging. Your likely response is simply “cheap,” which is a failure on Kmart’s part because it will never outdo Walmart in “cheap.” Walmart stores are also everywhere so Kmart will also lose the convenience battle as well.

For Sears, it’s easy to blame the end of the golden age of the department store and mall, thinking the changing landscape and customer preferences is beyond its control. The enviable demise of Sears will come as a result of its victim mentality if history is any indication. Sears’ seeming unwillingness to change at its core to be something better and different is what spells its doom.

The Sears REIT will keep it afloat in the hopes that customer expectations will change, but will do little to align the once great brand into something meaningful in the long term.


Amazon Music, less is more

Today’s blog begins with a music search.

A few nights ago, I couldn’t fall asleep. As is usual on nights like these, I took refuge in my iPhone, hoping that looking over apps and reading a bit would make me drift off into sleep.

Sleep came, but not before I looked over two music apps on my phone: Spotify and Amazon Music. (I don’t think I need a third, which is why I’m not not going to spend the $20 a month for the new Tidal service.) Aside from the collection of music I had already imported into iTunes, Spotify has been my go to. The app literally has every album I could want, aside from The Beatles, which I have on iTunes anyhow.

Spotify and Amazon music

I’ve written quite a bit on my liking of Spotify over the years, but something in me changed on this sleepless night.

After looking over the new releases on Spotify, I became bored and, by chance, selected the Amazon Music app next.

Give Amazon Music a shot.
Give Amazon Music a shot.

The Amazon app really is nothing special, but in it holds a monumental truth. See, you can’t find everything you could possibly want, unlike Spotify, on the Amazon Music app. In fact, it offers you an interface for your uploaded music and a smattering of well-selected albums for free, offered through the Prime program.

Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the search for an album in an app that did not have unlimited resources. It reminded me of years ago when I would search for an album in the record store, hoping to find that gem amongst the stacks.

The more I looked at the offerings, the more I realized that Amazon’s selection wasn’t random, but well thought out. Enough to keep me satiated as a listener.

The process reminded me of my shopping experiences at Costco. There, you won’t find everything, but what you will find are carefully selected products you would most likely want.

There’s a lot to be said for a tailored selections. I appreciated my experience on Amazon Music so much that soon after I canceled my monthly membership to Spotify.

Less is more, and my experience with Spotify and Amazon Music reminded me of just that.


Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Indiana’s promise?

Remember your father (or someone) telling you, “Actions speak louder than words”? Well, I have an addendum to that. Actions speak louder than your brand promise (look no further than the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).

I bring this up in light of Indiana Governor Mike Pence signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which permits business owners who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons the right to turn away gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Pence said over the weekend there is still some interpretation left to be done in enacting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act law but the damage as been done. Indiana is now known as a state that is not open to everybody. That directly contradicts the brand promise of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that says: “Leading business. Advancing Indiana.”

Religious Freedom Restoration Act
What has Pence done to the brand of Indiana?

I suppose as a brand guy I could say that Indiana has put a stake in the ground, saying who it is for and who it is not for with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But that’s not the point here. Indiana becomes now known as a state that could refuse you service.

What century are we in?

Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Thinking outside of politics

Politics aside, this is a slippery slope as it’s not that far from a business owned by a Muslim saying it will not serve Christians in a country that was founded on the ideology of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Turning this subject to a business perspective, this is the reason we tell brands that they should never veer away from their brand promise or it becomes less believable. Any communication that steps away from that promise lessens the impact of what you are trying to say.

For example, if Apple starts looking and sounding like everybody else, its promise of “Think Different” becomes less believable. How many times have you seen a brand promise in an ad or any other form of communication only to find that that brand’s website is completely different? Consistency is key.

So when Pence said on Saturday that he supported introduction of new legal language to clarify that the new law does not promote discrimination, it’s hard to believe him.

His brand promise (and, by proxy, that of Indiana) has already been established when he signed the law in the first place. Angie’s List has announced it is re-thinking its plans for a campus expansion in the state while the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has called the law “unnecessary.”

What kind of impact those will have is up to debate. (After all, money trumps all.) But there’s an important lesson to be learned here for brands. Understand what you represent, and don’t do something that contradicts that message.


Retail study shows industry is in the dark ages

Well, well. So consumers aren’t happy with the way retailers are integrating (or not integrating) in-store, mobile and online. What a surprise.

I say this to point out a retail study we did some months ago that demonstrated just how poorly retailers have approached the digital age – and what is at risk.

This week, Accenture, a consulting company, announced a survey with consumers that should make retailers quiver in their pants.

Retailers are terrible at making this easier.
Retailers are terrible at making this easier.

Less than half of the respondents (42%) find it easy to use their mobile device to shop with the retailers while 82% say store prices should be the same as online. Yet, only 34% of retailers actually do that.

It gets worse. Only 53% of retailers optimize sites for tablets, which is a shockingly low number. To be honest, I would have thought every retailer would have done that by now.

What’s the problem?

My guess is that retailers know they are under siege. Sales are down and it’s created a kind of inertia among them. So they fall back on weekly sales, hyping the brands of items in their stores and shudder to think of the effect of e-tail, especially with Amazon looming out there like a coming zombie apocalypse.

This kind of thing does happen in many industries as brands are reluctant to do anything new so they simply re-hash what has worked in the past. (Or, more honestly, kinda, really didn’t work.)

This is a common rant of mine but part of the problem for industries like retail is that they think they have to use the same consultants and ad agencies that someone else in their category has used before. Like knowledge of the industry really makes that much of a difference. It only means you churn out the same drivel year after year.

A plea to retailers. Get it together, think forward and call me.


Sea World vs. Blackfish. A battle of brands.

 The Battle of the brands. Can Sea World win?

Sea WorldBusiness at Sea World is off by about a million visitors per year. No one doubts that this dramatic drop in visitations to the theme parks has been due to the bad publicity generated by the documentary Black Fish.The documentary relied upon stories and testimony from former Sea World employees documenting the tragic deaths of a few Sea World employees by the parks Orcas (Killer Whales). But the damage to the theme park brand hinged on the poor treatment of the park’s sea mammals. It is alleged in the documentary that the whales are stressed beyond all reasonable boundaries, isolated, confined and drugged. All this in the name of entertainment.

Sea World vs BlackfishSea World has just struck back and has released a new Sea World advertising campaign designed to mitigate the damage done by PETA  and Black Fish by attacking their agenda and offering the positive testimony of staff veterinarians.

This is a battle Sea World can’t win. The reason is brand. You see brand is built upon beliefs (not truths) and without passing judgment on who is right here, it is just simple common sense that says the belief in ethical treatment for animals is a more strongly held belief than a belief that entertainment is ok. Human beings also hold as a brand precept that everything has a cause and effect and few are willing to believe that a confined giant animal lives a full and robust life when compared to their wild brothers and sisters. Just ask Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey who have announced that they are fazing out live elephants from their shows (despite their own denial of mistreatment) because of very similar accusations.  The problem that Sea World faces is more severe. The Circus is still a Circus without Animals (Check out the Big Apple Circus or Cirque Du Soleil)  but Sea World without Orcas and Dolphins is… well a wet desert.

Swim with the Dolphins

Sea world vs the CoveI have no doubt the next victim will be all of the Swim with the Dolphins parks. All you have to do is watch the amazing film The Cove  to feel that the cost of populating these parks is way too high. It is an unnatural stress placed once again on tranquilized and intelligent creatures who would prefer not to swim with us.

I think Shamu is history.


Fast food brands and their menu dilemmas

Taco Bell is expanding its breakfast offerings to include a Chicken Biscuit Taco. Consider this news in light of the fact that McDonald’s commands the breakfast meal and that it accounts for about 25% of McDonalds revenues compared to about 6% for Taco Bell.

As I have previously written, the sales at McDonald’s have been in steady decline for some time and I have made a number of comments that its brand is not really reflective of either McDonald’s or the customers it is trying to persuade. But as I think about it, McDonald’s is not the only fast food chain that is suffering from a marked lack of brand.

Oh, yummy.
Oh, yummy.

Fast food brands are confused about one thing – the difference between the business of their businesses and the business of their brands. They are in the business of selling relatively inexpensive food quickly, period. It is the definition of what it means to be a fast food restaurant.

What all of them have confused is that the business of their brands are something else. The business of your brand is not what you do, it’s who your customers are when they use your brand. Sorry to say it, fast food industry, all of you are trying to sell what you do – make fast food.

Therefore, fast food menu items are becoming increasingly ridiculous. Chicken biscuit tacos? A sausage breakfast crunch wrap that exceeds 700 calories? Chicken fingers, extra long BBQ cheeseburgers, monster double omelet biscuit, BBQ pulled pork from Wendy’s?

That list is only a smattering of what the fast food chains are trotting out these days. You even see this confusion with their names. Domino’s is running a campaign in support of changing its name from “Domino’s Pizza” to simply “Domino’s” to, according to the commercials, reflect the fact that it is no longer just pizza. It has pasta, sandwiches and those little fried pieces of chicken topped with pizza toppings.

Anyone with any marketing sense has to look at the mess fast food has created and chuckle. Fast food has made a mockery of itself. The industry, whose sales are down as a whole, is short circuiting itself by putting all of its development into new menu items without considering brand values.

The only brand that seems to get it right is Hardee’s, which went against the grain and actually tried to own the idea of fast food being about high calorie, high fat food – what else would “eat like you mean it” mean? Its brand is reflective of its target audience.

New menu items (or “food innovations” as they are called) do not build a brand. Rather, they dilute brands because they are only about what these companies do.

If you look around you, you see fast food chains trying to out-menu each other. Fast food brands are all about the same and the new fat in a wrapper breakfast item won’t change that.


Lowe’s Home Improvement has a bad ad

The new commercial for Lowe’s Home Improvement is a perfect example of an ad agency that not only does not understand brand but has a limited grasp on their own craft as well.

Harsh words? You bet? But this kind of brand mismanagement by an advertising agency is not unusual and I think it might be valuable to discuss it here.

The commercial running right now, which I will call “glow in the dark cat hat” is so off brand that it screams for commentary.

Take a look here.

So, based upon the content of the spot we will tease out the strategy—convince less than confident husbands that they can do home improvement confidently.

The Lowe’s Home Improvement brand message is lost

The idea is that we can identify with this guy who hesitates to take on home improvement projects because his skill set lies in other places — beyond installing bathroom vanities. It almost makes sense if the idea for Lowes Home Improvement is to expand the home improvement category and is designed to get people who have never done a home improvement project to consider taking one on. If the idea is to steal share from those that frequent Home Depot the strategy is completely wrong. I am hoping the former because if Lowes intended the latter this strategy is failed as well.

From a brand perspective, the ad failed because the hero husband, whom we are supposed to identify with (a hallmark of branding is to emotionally connect with the self-reflection of the brand itself), is misguided and foolish. The intended humor in the ad points this out with precision. Now that he is confident in his ability to feel confident in what he does, he takes the ridiculous idea to his boss (his big idea) of a glow in the dark cat hat. Not only does his boss dismiss the idea as stupid, the viewer is separated from the character because we all see how dumb it can be to feel confident. This is precisely the WRONG brand message.

lowes home improvment -glow-in-the-dark-cat-hat-large-7Now I recognize that you think I have no sense of humor because it is meant to be funny. I get that. The question raised is this: Is humor the best way to make he brand point that Lowes Home Improvement gives those who try home improvement projects successfully greater confidence? It is a difficult task.

All to often advertising agencies hoist humor on a client for self-serving purposes. The agency creatives LOVE funny commercials because they win awards and industry wide self-congratulations. It is a victory for the agency rather than a victory in market share growth.

Lowes Home Improvement LogoHumor in advertising has a cost

Worse still, no one told Lowe’s Home Improvement about the costs of humorous ads. They have a minuscule shelf life and require tons of executions. Look at the number of spots the Rob Lowe campaign has for DIRECTV. DIRECTV purposefully chose a format that allows for multiple shoots and endless executions because it recognized the drawback inherent in humorous ads. You need to keep them so fresh that they are raw. You can recycle a funny ad, but it needs to have some planned breaks in its rotation.

So the question I have for Lowe’s Home Improvement is quite simple. What are your strategic goals? Are you looking to speak to folks who have never done any home improvment or steal share from those that purchased the raw materials from a competitor? Did you invest enough money in the campaign to have a dozen executions or were you focusing on frequency?

But the biggest question is about the Lowe’s Home Improvement brand itself. Who are you (speaking about your customer) when you shop at Lowes? Are you confident in what you do? Are your confident actions rewarded with success or is that confidence ill placed?

In this commercial, your target audience does not covet such foolish confidence as to roll up your sleeves and then fail so miserably.

Let’s build something together has some responsibility. I think it is time to change agencies.


The quality filter on Twitter is just the first step

As a general user of Twitter, I’ve been astounded by the wellspring of negative comments and general harassment that can seemingly happen on a daily basis.

Ashely Judd, just a few days ago, tweeted during an NCAA game that the Arkansas men’s basketball team was playing dirty. Fair enough.

The responses she received to that tweet were appalling:

“What the hell do you even do you stuck up c—. What are you famous for again?”

Or, “Go suck on Cal’s two inch d— ye Bitch whore.”

Getting rid of the trolls
Getting rid of the trolls

Up until now, Twitter has maintained the right to delete accounts of users flagged for this type of inexcusable behavior. But what it cannot stop is these same users opening another page where they continue unwanted banter until they are once again removed. This cycle can be endless.

Most likely in response to Judd’s interactions on the site, Twitter has just released a “quality filter” that allows users to remove threats and abuse from personal timelines.

If you ask me, a quality filter feels like a band aid for a bigger problem.

Here’s the gist of what I mean:

I’m all for sharing an opinion on a topic (obviously), but ethical standards should be upheld and monitored by social networks. Threating comments should never see the light of day and feeling safe must be a table stake in these types of settings.

Twitter’s quality filter is an improvement, but it’s a filter for tweets that have already been posted. In my estimation, the filter that should be implemented is one that catches the imposing threat before it has even posted. It’s the ethical duty of Twitter.