• 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.

The Tom Dougherty Blog

Now, Dollar General wants in

Update: Turns out Family Dollar has rejected Dollar General’s takeover bid because of anti-trust issues. Still, the problem still stands. No one knows the difference between all the dollar stores, so who cares?

Now, this is hilarious. Earlier, I posted that Dollar Tree was planning to buy Family General – and I said that it didn’t matter because, in the eyes of consumers, they are one and the same anyway.

Now, Dollar General wants into the game. Reports say that Dollar General also wants to buy Family Dollar and its unsolicited offer is actually greater than that of Dollar Tree.

dollar_general__extThe reason I find this so funny is that there isn’t a whisker of difference between all three. The only reason for greater market share from one to the other is simply location, which is why Dollar Tree and Dollar General are so hot to buy Family General. They want to have the most real estate.

They know it makes no difference because none of the brands bring any value to the purchaser or the seller. It’s like Pluto and Goofy joining forces. Aren’t they the same dog? (Oh, that’s right. Goofy wears clothes.)

If one of the buyouts happen (and, in my mind, they should just all join forces into one company), there is opportunity. The dollar stores compete against other discount shops, even the giants of Walmart and Kmart.

The idea is that the competition isn’t the other dollar stores. Or, at least, it hasn’t been because none of them have developed a differentiating brand that would present an emotional choice.

The aim is to create preference so that customers would inconvenience themselves to come to their stores. That means understanding that your competitors are all the ones that fulfill the want or need that you fulfill. If you sell a cheap plastic cup, then your competition is anyone who sells a plastic cup – including online retailers.

However this shakes out, the future of the combined retailer will have to uncover what makes a customer go to a dollar store that goes beyond price. What are the emotional undercurrents driving that action?

Right now, the dollar stores seem to understand that they are all alike. Which is why they are all trying to out-bid each other for the table scraps.

Should you accept the ice bucket in the Ice Bucket Challenge?

If you’ve been on Facebook at all recently, there’s one ongoing thread you haven’t missed:

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

While I find it hard to deny the spectacular goodness of this movement, there are bits of the idea that seem backwards to me.

ice bucket challengeIn case you are not aware, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a fundraiser to fight ALS and raise awareness of the disease. Basically, this viral movement begins with a person accepting a challenge to dump a bucket of ice water over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. That person who accepts the challenge then chooses three more people to take on the task.

So far the campaign has raised an incredible sum of $1.35 million. Last year, the ALS Association raised just $22,000. That’s a hefty leap and a lot of money for a vital cause.

Yet, the brand guy in me sees a fundamental problem with this campaign. You see, the videos highlight the wrong people. Sure, it’s fun to see your friends’ reaction to being doused with a heaping container of ice water — but folks, the action suggests they are choosing NOT to donate. (To be fair, most say they are donating as well, especially those among the celebrity/sports set.)

But considering it from a pure marketing standing, the celebration should be for the people who gave the money, not those seemingly unwilling to.

Despite my two cents, the outcome from the ALS Fundraiser is a wonderful thing. I just wish the viral component had a little more clarity to it.

The Trivago guy is just plain weird

It seems I can’t turn on the TV without seeing the Trivago campaign. If you are not familiar with Trivago, it is a web site that searches other hotel booking Internet sites and lists all the pricings for the same hotels as listed on the bucket shops like Hotels.com and Expedia.

TrivagoOK, it seems like a reasonably useful site and one I would probably use – except for one thing. I just hate the character that Trivago has scripted as its spokesperson. Rolling Stone wrote that he was the “rare pitchman capable of haunting your dreams while simultaneously enflaming [sic] your loins.” Slate says he is ”a shallow avatar of middle-aged masculinity, a found object and a cult item, an accidental enigma.”

All indicators are that the campaign is working. But it can’t work in the long run. Sometimes when you are launching a brand, it helps to have a quirky, even annoying, personality presenting your goods. It makes it memorable, which is exactly what you want when a brand is launched.

But long-term growth is built upon affinity. How much the target audience identifies itself with the brand. Somehow, I can’t see how this pretentious coolness can be accepted as believable. I can’t help but think, every time I see the ads, that this overtly cool guy is not winking at me and trying to pick me up. This is not a guy you would want to have a beer with. It is a guy who drinks vodka martinis and flirts non-stop with your date.

His demeanor is unbelievable and, as a result, condescending and irritating. In a blog I read in the Wall Street Journal, one reader commented this: “You ever get that vague sense that something is not right, that the universe is somehow off? Then you realize you just saw the Trivago guy?” I could not have said it any better myself.

The Amazon Local Register is truly an extension of Amazon’s brand

Amazon has unveiled a mobile payment app complete with a card reader that can be used on any smart phone or tablet. While this is in no way a novel technology (Square and PayPal have had them for some time), it nonetheless is a big deal for both retailers and Amazon.


The Amazon Local Register further cements Amazon as the retail leader from both a business and brand perspective. Square and PayPal, though earlier in the process, are nothing more than transfer agents. Amazon is retail – all things retail, including managing the monetary transaction.

Amazon Local RegisterPlus, as it stand now, Amazon is going to process transactions for less than Square and PayPal, a big deal for the small businesses who use mobile payment. A half a percent can add up pretty fast.

Even to one of my colleagues who had used Square to take payments for Cub Scout popcorn, a half percent is a lot (it’s a full percent cheaper until January 1, 2016). Unlike the Amazon Fire phone, which was a departure from the core Amazon brand, the Local Register demonstrates a clear understanding by Amazon of the business of its brand. It is a clearinghouse of all things retail – even if Amazon is not actually selling the product. In true Amazon form, you can even spend the money you are taking in directly for Amazon products.

This is a good move by Amazon, one that will force Square and PayPal to respond – if they can overcome the power of when Amazon stays on brand.

Why Robin Williams will not be forgotten

Robin Williams’ passing is hitting me hard.

There are moments in life when a shake up can make you see clearly again. Most times, sadly, this happens in the face of tragedy.

I can, for example, remember everything that happened around me the morning the Twin Towers were hit. I can still see in my mind’s eye the way the sky looked on the way into work. I can remember what I was wearing, people’s expressions and what I ate.

robin-williamsAnd so yesterday evening, when I read the news on William’s death, I gasped. Time stood still for a little bit. And my heart broke.

It’s hard not to think of Robin Williams and smile. It was his brand. He exemplified boundless and childlike energy. I can recall almost every time I saw him on a late night talk show, too. Each time I wondered, “How does this guy do it? How can someone be that quick-witted and energetic?” He was inspiring.

Robin Williams was fearless and complete. He was a Picasso. He was an Elvis, and a Michael Jordan.

Yet, it isn’t that unprecedented talent that breaks my heart. No. It’s the sadness behind the comedy. I think of Tony Soprano calling himself the “sad clown,” and see that in Williams. And it breaks your heart.

I think it’s easy to forget, when we are caught up in the comings and goings of the day-to-day, how our true brands affect others. We forget how each of us is a unique piece of thread that, when woven together, makes a beautiful tapestry. With Robin Williams, his thread was a shining and recognizable one. One that all the other threads in the tapestry loved dearly.

In reading the reports, Williams’ agent said how sad Robin was of late, and how he felt alone and depressed.

My friend, if you can hear these words somewhere, remember this: you were always with us. You had the ability to make us present with laughter. You helped us lose time, if for just a short while, and connect with something more pure and divine.

Robin Williams, I can never thank you enough for that.

National Car Rental shows how to do it right

If you caught any of the PGA championship yesterday, you saw Rory McIlroy come back to win the tournament in impressive fashion, golf played in near darkness and one of the more effective ads I’ve seen in quite some time.

National Car Rental unveiled one that showed a golf pro teaching the hackers like me to play, all the while the narrator tells him (us) that he’s a pro. A businessman. A professional.

National Car RentalOnce he shows up at National, he can pick out the car he wants because he’s a preferred member with the ad ending with “Go like a Pro.”

There are missteps. I could’ve done without the golf pro, seeing the car he likes, saying, “Nice drive.” A little too clever and the tone is a tad off at the end, but the ad follows the basic tenet of all marketing: Be an emotional reflection of your target audience. A tenet many marketers simply miss.

Being a golf pro, of course, fits into the time slot in which it aired. But it’s more than that. A large percentage, maybe even most, of car rentals go to the business traveler, “the pro” of the ad. It isn’t just enough to have a businessperson in the ad, so the “go like a pro” suggests that you know exactly how to do it.

The ad was designed to promote National’s app that allows you, as the pro, to bypass the counter and go directly to a car of your choice. Of course, all rental car outlets let their members bypass the counter (unless there’s a problem) but the feature of picking your own car is new.

The first question you might ask is, “How can National do that?” It’s simple. Because it knows you are a pro. You know what you’re doing, the emotional element for most business travelers.

For those of us who travel for business, we lament the people in front of us at airport security who seem clueless at how to get their belongings and themselves through. We feel expert when we arrive at the car rental with our membership, and even when we collect points at the hotel.

National’s ad builds on that self-perception. It’s not often that I applaud a new ad. But that’s because few ever really get it, even when it is so simple.

Marketing products does not work. Today, we must market ideas.

Think about this for just a moment. The way in which products are marketed, even just a decade ago, has changed. Yet, marketing still has adherents to the old model and that model is broken.

If you believe you can sell a product by highlighting its advantages, ingredients or abilities, you will find yourself up to your hind quarters in the quagmire of competitive claims.

It does not matter what you are selling. Today, if you want to be successful, you must sell an idea, not a product.

Lucky-StrikeThere are many smartphones for sale, but the iPhone is an idea. It is not a product. Point for point and feature by feature, what differentiated the iPhone from its competitors has nothing to do which what it does (anymore). It gains its preference, which is evident in its price point, from the idea of Apple. Love them or hate them, Apple is an idea.

Breakfast cereals used to differentiate themselves by ingredients. Corn Flakes, Rice Krispy’s and Shredded Wheat are examples. Today, they need to sell an idea — a place of importance in the brand’s eye of the consumer. Without looking, can you tell me what Special K is made from? Its is no longer about what goes into a product that gives its marketing a boost. It is the idea of it that creates preference.

Marketing an idea is harder than marketing benefits, ingredients or processes. It is less tangible and, as a result, demands greater focus, discipline and an understanding of the target audience that is bigger than demographics and needs. Today, to be a successful marketer, you must identify a seminal belief that is held dear by the people you need to influence. It must be something that they cling to as a self-description of whom they believe they are or is aspirational to what they hope to become (as opposed to what they think they can achieve).

It really is a brave new world when it comes to marketing. I don’t care if you make birdseed or run an airline, if your marketing is talking about benefits and features, someone is going to eat your lunch.

Amazon Drones. It’s in the DNA.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the Amazon drones being used for personalized delivery. It’s too bad that, when we think of drones today, the first thing that comes to mind is the deadly drones that deliver lethal payloads on the battlefield.

From what I have read, Amazon is working on miniature 8 propeller-driven drones that look very much like the tiny remote-controlled helicopters we see at hobby stores and specialty retailers. According to Amazon, the only bug still to be worked out is with FAA regulations. When that happens, our local skies will begin to resemble the world of the Jetson’s from Hanna-Barbera.

Amazon dronesI can see these dedicated birds making deliveries on the front porches in suburbs and rural communities. All they need, apparently, is a GPS coordinate and off they go. But how on Earth would this work in NYC? Can you imagine looking down from the Empire State Building, where the roads are a sea of yellow cabs and, at the same time, looking at drones buzzing up and down the streets like so many mosquitoes?

My prediction is that we are only a few years away from Amazon Prime guaranteeing half-hour delivery to your front door by an unmanned drone. Amazon promises convenience and has never worried about the things that the rest of us concern ourselves with. Amazon is concerned with profits.

Amazon is in the business of stealing share. The payoff has a longer horizon than most businesses. In many ways, it would be amazing what we could accomplish if we had longer vision and were not always so fixated on the next quarter’s financials. For some reason that I don’t fully understand, Amazon is immune to the Wall Street quarterly system. As a result, watch what innovation means at Amazon. Right now it means drones because the brand promises immediacy. And remember, Amazon delivers!