• 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

Rebranding constantly. On the to-do list.

We live in a world where we see compressed time. In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, postulated in Moore’s Law that the speed of processors and the number of transistors on a computer chip will double every two years. He has been right ever since. To bad the idea of rebranding constantly has not been understood as a law in ensuring success.

rebranding constantly is a smart thing to doMarketers all know that the way in which we reach the target audience is changing and evolving even as I write this essay. Competition seems to come out of the woodwork and the markets in which we compete are in turmoil. The status quo means falling behind.

Keeping up with changes in the market and the seemingly insatiable demand for new and fresh communications in advertising causes brands to adjust and change their advertising at a much greater rate than just a few years ago. Even when companies like DirecTV, who seem to have an endless portfolio of advertising executions (like the Don’t be like this me Rob Lowe campaign), shelve the successful campaign before it is long in the tooth with a new campaign like Hannah and Her Horse.

The reason for this rapid change in executions and campaigns is because marketers realize that target audiences have the attention spans of a gnat and that brands have to constantly pump out new angles to keep their interest. Your prospects are simply overloaded with marketing messages and communication channels. But do they realize that constantly rebranding is a crucial element to ensure success?

So why is rebranding constantly not on everyone’s to-do list?

Mainly because of a blatant failure of my own branding industry to speak to what brand actually is. The branding goliaths of the world have always confused corporate identity (or identity in general) with brand equity.

Identity is who you are.

Brand is who the customer believe they are when they use or buy the brand. If I believed that brand was the same thing as your identity, I would not have a process to rebrand constantly either.

you should always be rebranding constantly
Rebranding constantly is the last piece of the puzzle

Brand must be a real and powerful emotional connection that causes the prospect and customer to notice, prefer and covet the brand. The target audience develops these attachments because the brand helps them reinforce their own self-identity. They only covet it because it is all about them.

We are in the persuasion business and we are in the business of rebranding constantly. We create equities that help the customer and prospect see themselves or a clear reflection of themselves in the brand itself. And, as we all know, those emotional underpinnings are changing quickly.

You might find it interesting to know that the world’s leading brand agency in persuasion (Stealing Share) only makes adjustments to logos and color palettes about 20% of the time. Most of our work is in adjusting the brand persona to more highly represent the values and beliefs of the target market so that the marketing messages and advertising has permission to say what they say.

If your goal is to increase your business and steal market share, constantly rebranding needs to be on your to-do list every two years. That is unless your idea of a branding expert is the traditional and misguided brand giants. They simply throw the baby out with the bathwater.


Tidal failure, brand positioning

The Tidal failure has become a case study in thinking inside out, failing to understand your customer and even failing to target the right customer.

Tidal, the brainchild of Jay Z, tried to separate itself from the other offerings by offering a streaming solution that allows for streaming of CD quality FLAC music. But its main goal has been to change how artists get paid for their songs. So for the better sound quality, music videos and editorial, the monthly fee is $20. That’s $10 more per month than any other streaming service.

The difference in sound quality compared to a service like Spotify is quite amazing. But you can only appreciated it if you are listening with good headphones or speakers. For most, the price will be prohibitive even with the amazing sound quality.

Coupled with its misguided brand launch, it has predictably failed.

Today, it fell out of the top 700 on the iTunes apps chart.

This is who Tidal was for.
This is who Tidal was for.

Let’s face it; the reality is that people can now get most of the music they want for free. YouTube, Spotify Free, Pandora and others offer free solutions with an ad thrown in every once in a while. Amazon Prime music is free for those of us who are Prime members.

The biggest problem? Who Tidal was for – the musicians.

The brand Jay Z and Co. created is a larger hurdle to prospective customers than the cost. The Tidal failure happened because it positioned itself as the music streaming service for the artists. It didn’t even consider customers. Its launch event was a stage of artists smiling in their $1,000 shoes and $25,000 watches. Tidal’s brand became about the people who are getting paid, not the listener.

Imagine a commercial for Nike that featured Mark Parker in his beautiful home, checking his stock portfolio, then playing golf at his country club, followed by the Nike logo.

Or a Walmart commercial with C. Douglas McMillon wearing his custom-made suit and sipping a martini on his patio then the Walmart: Save money. Live better logo. As I think about it, that’s my main beef with the Papa John’s ads with John Schnatter. Your brand is not about you. It’s about those you want to influence.

If we take that last statement and apply it to Tidal, Jay Z is brilliant – if he only wants to influence the musicians. Sure, he may have a larger stable of artists with more songs and more exclusive content but the artists are not paying the bills. You, me and the rest of the music listening consumers are. The positioning is just wrong. Tidal is simply not a brand for me because it is not about me.


TV revivals, X-Files and Full House

There are and have been a handful of television shows that I have absolutely adored and wasn’t quite ready to see go.

I look back on my viewing experience of HBO’s The Sopranos, for example, and how I relished every Sunday evening it was on. From the alluring opening credits to the close, watching the show was a ritual for my family as we would head up to the family room each week to watch Tony and his loveable group of thugs. When the series concluded and cut to black, I ached for just another minute. I would do anything to find out if Tony really died.

But that never happened and I was forced to make my speculation – he did die, I believe. That said. I still consider the ending today. This is a testament to the power of story told by the masterful actors and David Chase.

The X-Files is just one of many shows priming for a comeback.
The X-Files is just one of many shows priming for a comeback.

My appreciation of the television series does not end with The Sopranos. In fact, it pained me to have to wait for season three of Rectify or to sit through the untimely and rushed ending of Carnivale.

TV shows should end. We don’t need unnecessary story arcs.

The end of a monumental show (or film or book for that matter) is like the parting of a best friend. But it’s a separation that should happen as it allows for appreciation and closure.

I’ve been reading a lot of hubbub about TV revivals, shows from the past coming back. Coach, Twin Peaks and The X-Files, for instance, are rumored to return or are on the verge of being remade. Not to mention Full House (which we could all have done without to begin with). Some of these shows were brilliant, others just okay. Either way, they should be left alone.

This trend of TV revivals makes me dubious for a few reasons. The obvious being that we should leave a good thing alone.

Even Netflix is in the TV revival game.

Beyond this, seeing all these revivals just sends the feeling that the networks are out of ideas and are grasping at straws.

Last week I wrote about the power of Netflix and HBO but even Netflix is in this revival game, having already brought back Arrested Development and the streaming service is the one bringing back Full House.

My suggestion to the networks considering bringing back a show from the old days: Let’s avoid trying to fix what isn’t broken.


Taco Bell, breakfast defectors

Taco Bell, which has a disadvantage in entering the breakfast daypart, is taking that disadvantage head-on with its new campaign asking consumers to be breakfast defectors and eat something different at Taco Bell.

The disadvantage is that Taco Bell does not have brand permission to enter the breakfast segment because of its name and brand equity. It is about cheap Tex-Mex food, usually eaten by night owls on their late-night visits.

That has been enough to make the fast food chain a success. But, as I’ve explained before, the only daypart with opportunity in the slipping fast food industry is breakfast. That’s why you’ve seen more of the chains target their marketing dollars to getting more customers for breakfast.

Taco Bell has struggled in this area because of its lack of brand permission, but the new campaign is interesting because it is positioned against the rest of the market while leveraging its own equities.

That’s one of the tenants of any brand marketing. (Or any kind of marketing, for that matter.) To be a true choice, you must be positioned against the other options in the market.

The Taco Bell Breakfast Defector campaign relies on a belief

What Taco Bell is doing here is aligning itself with a belief, that all fast food breakfast is basically the same, and using its own brand equity to say what it has is different. Defect from breakfast and choose differently.

It must be working because, even though Taco Bell has been serving breakfast for more than a year now, market-leading McDonald’s has recently taken to social media by offering consumers (at least in some selected markets) a free Egg McMuffin if they bring in their Taco Bell breakfast receipt.

McDonald’s has been having its own problems, which are reflective of the industry itself. Sales all across the board are down and McDonald’s is responding by paring down its menu to offset what had previously been an industry trend: Adding more and more menu items in an attempt to stave off lost market share. But in doing that, chains have lost whatever equity they’ve had.

The major problem most of the fast food brands have is that they don’t know who they are for or what their brand means. The brands basically stand for cheap, quick food today because the expanded menus told consumers that.

At least Taco Bell has an understanding of its brand, even though I suspect its lack of brand permission will prevent it from being a market leader. The chain also understands the customer base (tired of the same old thing for breakfast) and that what it offers that is different.

Fast food brands should take notice because breakfast consumers are defecting.


DirecTV Hannah and Her Horse

You’re hearing it here. I was wrong. For the last month, I’ve been extolling the virtues of the DirecTV Rob Lowe spots and thought its advertising agency, Grey Advertising, finally became an advertising agency that understood strategy.

Well, maybe Grey isn’t so great, after all. DirecTV pulled the Rob Lowe spots when cable companies, specifically Comcast, complained that the spots were making unfounded claims. Of course, Comcast made the stink because the ads worked. If they didn’t, Comcast would’ve have cared because those claims have been made in previous DirecTV campaigns. It only cared because the campaign threatened its market share.

So what did DirecTV and Grey Advertising do to replace Rob Lowe? They replaced him with a talking horse.

This Hannah and Her Horse campaign is so awful I don’t even know where to begin. For one, there’s no counterpart to Hannah like there was in the Rob Lowe spots where the two identities gave viewers a (albeit, humorous) choice. There’s no sense whatsoever of viewer identification.

In fact, what happens here is that the talking horse is the story. Not the prospective DirecTV customer. The campaign is similar, in a way, to the non-stop series of GEICO ads in which supposedly funny off-the-wall characters chime in on the insurance company’s virtues with little effect. (GEICO has to keep spending all that money on advertising to protect its market share because it hasn’t gained much in some years.)

But at least GEICO has a strategy (price), as ineffective as it is. The DirecTV Hannah and Her Horse campaign has none. It’s just stupid.

The really disturbing part of Hannah and Her Horse

There is also another aspect to this that deeply disturbs me. I always wondered why DirecTV acted so quickly to Comcast’s complaints by dropping the Rob Lowe spots when it wasn’t required to. Comcast only complained to an industry body, not a regulatory one.

Well, now we know why. DirecTV already had the Hannah and Her Horse campaign ready to replace it. It was in the can, all set to go. This isn’t just one ad. This is a whole campaign with a handful of ads. That means DirecTV (and Grey) were already planning on replacing Rob Lowe.

This is the GEICO strategy where ad campaigns are just funny skits without a strategy or a pay-off of the brand promise. It’s just money and time wasted.

Hannah and Her Horse just makes me think that neither DirecTV nor Grey Advertising even knew what they had with the Rob Lowe spots or even why they worked.

They had it. And now they’ve lost it.


Bad Focus Groups. Never do them.

Bad focus groups are the norm. Our research arm, Resultant Research, won’t let us conduct focus groups. When you tell the world about the virtues of frankness, the self-imposed prohibition seems entirely right to me. I think, when you consider what Resultant tells us, you will agree.

bad focus groups

Our global research experts at Resultant stress to us that focus groups are NEVER projectable to the population you are studying. I know all of us with experience in research know this. The problem is, according to Resultant, that we all seem to forget that fact when evaluating the focus group’s results. As a result, bad focus groups dominate the field.

“If you have a problem resisting the lure of chocolate, don’t eat that first piece”, says JoAnne Cross, President of Resultant. She adds, “In all of my years of experience, I have not met anyone who does not try to make projections based upon a focus group. There are better ways to gather that information.”

Bad Focus Groups Outnumber Good Focus Groups

Resultant has always told us that another problem with focus groups is the clouded vision you get is based upon group mentalities. There is just no way around this. Moderators claim to be able to navigate this deep problem but knowing human behavior as we do we know that no one can.

bad focus groups
Don’t insert a square peg in a round hole

Just this morning, NPR did a spot on peer pressure in high schools. The findings are quite interesting when thinking about focus groups because it highlights the power of peer pressure.

The study showed that high school students were much less likely to take a pre-SAT course when the enrollment was done in standard high school classes. When the same opportunity was given in honors classes, the same student segments were signing on to the class by over 10%.

Better students were less likely to sign up for the class in a standard class and poorer students were much more likely to sign up in honors classes. The reason? Peer pressure. So just to fit in, both groups of students changed important behaviors based upon the context of the offering.

In my many years of research experience, I have seen this phenomenon first hand. No moderator can get someone to reveal a contrarian insight that the attendee holds closely if the focus group holds a different and more vocal opinion.

I remember conducting one-on-one interviews for Blue Rhino a few years back. An interviewee confided in us that he refilled his tank rather than exchanging it. What was interesting was his reasoning. “I know it may seem stupid,” he said, “but I feel like I own the tank.”

His self-effacing comment that he knew it sounded stupid (which it did not) told me in no uncertain terms that he would never have shared that in a group. It turned out to be the number one barrier to adoption of the Blue Rhino model when tested in projectable. quantitative studies that followed.

bad focus groups
What does the target believe?

Remember the movie 12 Angry Men?  Henry Fonda’s character holds out a minority opinion in the face of overwhelming pressure by the other jurors. In the end, they all agree with Fonda and the defendant is acquitted. It is great drama because it hardly ever happens.

The importance of qualitative research cannot be overestimated. We always conduct one-on-one interviews so that peer pressure does not enter into the findings.

Remember the adage that you always get what you pay for? Well bad focus groups are cheap and the findings are questionable at best.


Fight For 15, minimum wage increase

April 15th, tax day, is here. It happens at the exact same time each and every year but for many it always seems to come as a surprise. Today, however, for millions of Americans who struggle to make ends meet today marks a different kind of day. It is a day of raising awareness for a living wage and brands, if they know what’s good for them, should take note.

Let’s forget for a moment that today’s minimum wage does little more to raise people out of poverty than EBT or housing subsidies do. The reality is that, for most of the people who are making only minimum wage, they are still relying on federal and state assistance programs. Let’s do the right thing and help people out of poverty rather than keep them in it.

How Fight For 15 becomes a brand opportunity

But this blog is not about a social commentary. This is a business and branding blog. Fight for 15 represents a unique opportunity for brands with the fortitude to make a stand and think long term.

Let's pay fast food workers what they deserve.
Let’s pay fast food workers what they deserve.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if McDonald’s announced that it was raising its minimum pay to $15 per hour. It would have lines out the door of people wanting to come work for the fast food chain and the PR spin wouldn’t be bad either. They could even wrap it up in their “new” re’launch of ‘Lovin It.’’ McDonald’s could say:

“Because McDonald’s wants to put more Lovin’ into everything we do, we are taking the lead in raising the minimum we pay to our workers to $15 per hour because it’s the right thing to do.”

Forget revamping the menu or introducing artisan chicken, the goodwill alone would be offset by a reduction in advertising expense, not to mention the increased productivity by workers.

Eventually, other brands would have to follow suit – a good thing for everyone. But the one who takes the lead will have an advantage, whether it is McDonalds or another company.

I really don’t think it is a question of if it will happen but when will it happen. A brand can use this as a sound strategic business decision by taking a cause and turning it into sound business. This kind of thing is what they write business cases about and there is always a winner and many losers. Which side of the Fight For 15 do you want your company to be on?


HBO NOW. Netflix. Streaming TV.

Reed Hastings must be bubbling below the surface.

I would be.

The Netflix CEO has a reason to celebrate. His long touted rival, HBO, has steered course, becoming an emulator of Netflix rather than the trendsetter it had once been with its new app, HBO NOW.

You don't need a subscription to watch GoT. But is that enough?
You don’t need a subscription to watch GoT. But is that enough?

If you haven’t heard about it, HBO NOW is a platform that allows users to subscribe to HBO for a monthly charge of $15. If you have an Apple TV, tablet, PC or smart phone, you can access the app at any time – without having to include it as part of your television package.

All things aside, it’s a nice deal for anyone seeking to cut the television cord and go all in with Internet TV.

Yet, it’s this same reason why Hastings should be feeling great: Netflix is top dog.

Is HBO NOW worth the cost?

Part of the reason why viewers are leaving cable companies is because of cost and lack of control. HBO NOW is another cost, one that’s $5 more than Netflix. The app lacks the plethora of films that Netflix has, leaving viewers with a little less choice than they probably would want.

HBO has a litany of incredible, binge-worthy series. Some of the best, in fact. But I wonder, after initial signees have completed their 30-day trial of HBO NOW, after they plowed through every series they had been wanting to for years, if they will find it necessary to keep up with the subscription. I’m not too certain they will even as new episodes of “Game of Thrones” arrives.

“Many people will subscribe to both Netflix and HBO,” said Hastings. “Since we have different shows, we think it is likely we both prosper as consumers move to Internet TV.”

I think Hastings is playing coy. He’s in good shape because if it comes down between choosing between HBO NOW and Netflix (for those really wanting to lighten the load of their TV bill), my money would be on Netflix.