• 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 Internet of Things is everywhere

In just the last few years, my life has been reimagined. Mind you, it hasn’t been my doing, but rather, the Internet of Things that has done so.

We are all now connected.
We are all now connected.

If the Internet of Things is a phrase you are novice to, Wikipedia coins it as the “Network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data.”

I look to my life and the world my children and their children now live in, and it expands by the day. My son’s home, for instance, is entrenched with the Internet of Things. He controls his music by calling out to the Amazon Echo to play him whatever stylings he desires. He and his wife control all the lights in their home by way of the Phillips Hue. They watch all of their TV through their Apple TVs, control the temperature of their home with a Nest, and they even have a smart lock for their front door in which they just tap on it to unlock.

Granted, he is an extreme example. What is not extreme to suggest that nearly all of us has taken a step towards constant connectivity through the devices in our home.

Should we fear the Internet of Things? 

Techradar doesn’t think so and looks forward to the future of the IoT: “The real power of the IoT may come from how easily we are able to integrate all of those different data sources – perhaps for the first time, we could see the hidden connections between people in one part of the world and producers in another or how our actions in one part of our lives influences our health, or the state of our cities.”

Yet, the flip side of this argument hinges on how we can maintain our privacy in a constantly connected world. Already, I can be contacted wherever I go. Do I need my refrigerator to be able to contact me now too?

How does branding play into the Internet of Things?

As brand experts, part of our job is to stay current. If we do not appreciate the world around us, and act as brand anthropologists, we will never truly know the customer and context of the world in which they live in.

Ultimately, by embracing the Internet of Things, our strategies, tactics and executions will remain current. And fortunately, as a techie, embracing the IoT isn’t hard for me at all.

Southwest Transfarency too clever

The image of the national airlines is so bad that when travelers were enduring long lines and delayed flights because of a Southwest Airlines computer glitch yesterday, we barely batted an eye. We expect the worst from our airlines – even from one of the most likable of all the airlines.

We at Stealing Share have long lamented the inability of airlines to create preference beyond ticket prices, loyalty programs and gate availability. The only brand that has come close is Southwest because it has basically positioned itself against all other airlines. Its advertising, as I’ve said before, comes this-close to saying that the other airlines are crooks.

It is, for that reason, that I’m not into their new campaign called Transfarency, a name the airline has admitted it made up and is supposed to state that Southwest is transparent with “nothing to hide.”

The idea of Southwest Transfarency is right because, like a lot of Southwest’s messages, it suggests that other airlines are not transparent. Anyone who has flown on any kind of regular basis would certainly agree with that. How airlines come up with ticket prices is more bewildering than how costs are created at the gas pump.

For example, if I fly from Greensboro to Charlotte to Orlando, say, it is less expensive than simply taking the direct flight from Charlotte to Orlando. How does that happen?

Cleverness is the enemy of all marketing.

Therefore, the idea of Southwest Transfarency is spot on. But the name itself is far too clever, and cleverness is always your enemy in marketing and branding messages. Clever sounds like it was written by Madison Avenue and, therefore, not believable. When you become clever, it just sounds like marketing and not of this world.

The idea of Transfarency is right, but the word is too clever to be believable.
The idea of Transfarency is right, but the word is too clever to be believable.

The best themelines are ones that are in spoken language, like Apple’s “Think Different” and Nike’s “Just Do It.” Those are believable because they state exactly and clearly what the brand and those who use that brand stand for.

Transfarency sounds like something an ad agency sold to the airline without thinking whether it would resonate or not. (I can see the boardroom response now: “Wow. That’s clever!”) Even if Southwest says, “We’re all about being open and honest with customers and making sure pesky fees stay away from our low fares,” that’s not really being transparent.

Now there’s an idea. Why not show how those fares are created and simply use the spoken word “Transparent”? That would resonate in the market and would help Southwest Airlines say once again that the other airlines are thieves.

FanDuel v DraftKings and who really loses

Fantasy sports have become a multi-billion dollar business with FanDuel and DraftKings leading the way. It is estimated that Americans will spend about $5 billion on fantasy sports this year alone. FanDuel and DraftKings are taking in and paying out millions of dollars each.

In light of the recent scandal involving the two daily fantasy sports machines, the ad spend is shockingly high.

Will this all come crashing down?
Will this all come crashing down?

iSpot.tv, a media tracking site, says that in the first week of the NFL season, DraftKings spent more that $24 million on advertising, outpacing all other TV advertisers including AT&T, GEICO, Ford and Warner Brothers. In fact, DraftKings had nearly 7,000 national airings during that week. In the last seven days, FanDuel has spent more than $14.5 million on advertising, outspending all other advertisers other than GEICO during the same period of time. Basically, the FanDuel v DraftKings battle is resulting in an absurd amount of money spent on advertising – and both are making a huge mistake.

Who wins in FanDuel v DraftKings?

With all of the money these two companies are throwing at television, The FanDuel v DraftKings battle means they are only building the category, not preference. Think about it. They are advertising so much that I doubt most people could tell you which is which. I’m certain that most anyone who watches TV would be able to name both FanDuel and DraftKings, but they would be unable to differentiate the two.

Even with the scandal, few can say off the top of their head which side did the equivalent of insider trading.

The number of entries for each prove this to a certain extent with DraftKings having 3.75 million entries and FanDuel 3.18 million. While there is a small difference, I don’t think the numbers show preference as much as they show the results of DraftKings spending more money earlier in the NFL season. The reality is that you can’t put a sheet of paper between the differences of the two companies.

FanDuel and DraftKings have failed to give people a reason to choose one over other than “We have fantasy sports betting.” I don’t believe the ad spend at this level is sustainable and, when they pull it back, then what? If they were really smart, they would spend a fraction of their ad spend and hire a company like ours to position them in an undifferentiated market. Unless they do, once the fad dies down and/or fantasy sports betting becomes regulated and the advertising dollars dry up, all those loyal customers will simply move on with no reason to stay, because neither FanDuel nor DraftKings have given them any reason to.

The SEC Brand is more important than team excellence

No one manages its brand better than the SEC. How great is that SEC brand? Better than the real greatness of any of its member football teams.

SEC Brand logoAs brand guy, I give keynote speeches on what corporations can learn from the SEC brand in terms of brand management. The SEC brand manages media reports, sport commentary, game day analysts and the supposed independent polls that make up the college football rankings. They manage the message and the message is BIGGER than the talent in the league.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the teams are bad. Far from it. They are a good football conference made up of very good football teams who manage the SEC brand’s polish by trying very hard not to give the outside world any means to judge the actual talent level of the individual teams. They have succeeded in this. They do this by playing virtually no one of substance from outside of their own co-conspirators.

Before I get into the examples of the conference’s brand management for this year, I want to point out that last year the vast superiority of all the SEC teams found a rough landing in the post-season bowl games. The ongoing claim of the inherent mediocrity of everyone (except SEC teams) really showed its ugly side in post season.

SEC brand-Logos
The 14 SEC brand members are a tight club

In a recap of last year’s SEC performance, Alabama lost to Ohio State in the first round of the National Championship series. Ole Miss was spanked by TCU in the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl. Mississippi State (Number 1 in the polls for a bit) was handily beaten by Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Notre Dame beat LSU 31-28 and Auburn lost to Wisconsin. South Carolina was one of the few bright spots in the postseason by beating Miami (whose current coach is on the hot seat) 24-21. Arkansas beat a 6-6 Texas team 31-7. Missouri beat Minnesota, Georgia beat Louisville, Tennessee beat Iowa and Florida beat ECU. So in the final tally last year the SEC brand was 6-5. Not a bad record but by no means a dominating performance by a conference with that much hype. Why such a letdown? Does such a poor finish matter?

SEC brand Bama LogoThe SEC brand and Alabama

Nope. Not a jot. Let’s look at Alabama this year and see exactly what is going on. Alabama was ranked third in preseason polls. It moved up to second with a 35-17 win over Wisconsin (3-2 at this writing with no wins over any major program). The Crimson Tide remained in that spot until it was defeated and nearly spanked at home by Ole Miss 37-43 (Ole Miss another SEC brand school and my sister’s passion). So what happened to Alabama with that loss? Alabama dropped to 12th and Ole Miss rolled up to 3rd. After all, one team beat another SEC team and the other team lost to an SEC team. Neither scenario should matter in the eye of an SEC fan.Ole Mis Script SEC brand

This past weekend, Alabama (an underdog for the first time in years) beat an undefeated SEC Georgia team. It had major repercussions in the national rankings because it was an SEC game. I am not even going to get into the shenanigans in the polls after The Gators beat the Rebels last week. Good grief.

This is where the SEC brand power diverges from the reality of the actual team performance. Georgia was favored and ranked SEC BRAND and brand awareness8thnationaly. Yet, when you look at the Georgia schedule, the Bulldogs have no major wins under their belt—unless you consider any win against any SEC team a signature win (I guess many do). Georgia beat lowly South Carolina and a 2-3 Vanderbilt team. The rest of its wins came against schools that were scheduled as gimmees. Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Monroe (who also played Alabama). Louisiana Monroe, by the way, is like the SEC version of the Harlem Globetrotters’ arch rivals, the Washington Generals. You play them to ensure a win. They play you for the money. After this Alabama win, the ‘Bama schedule toughens up until the matchup with their arch rivals Charleston Southern on November 21.

SEC brand value
Brand value does not have to be true to be powerful

Why the SEC Brand and not SEC football?

So why is this about brand and not about reality? I am sure this blog will excite all sorts of emotional reactions from SEC fans. It’s hard to dispassionately argue with the patsy scheduling and the lack of a desire to measure the conference mettle against quality non-conference foes. But considering the brand blindness exhibited by the fans, I don’t blame them (the SEC brand managers). Why risk upsetting the brand battlewagon by stretching into no-win scenarios like playing a Pac 12, ACC or, dare I say, the AAC powerhouses? Ole Miss might have made a major mistake in scheduling Memphis, habitually a gimmee, but an undefeated squad this year. I’m sure Memphis is not up to SEC standards because it is not in the SEC.

By playing only each other, the mystique of the SEC conference remains intact and no one will ever fault them for losing to other SEC conference teams. All true SEC fans know that every slot of the top 14 rankings rightly belongs to the SEC conference teams.

brand context and the SEC Brand
Emotional connections define brand power

The power of a brand is always seen in emotional attachments that have very little, if anything, to do with product performance or side-by-side comparisons. Adherents will defend a brand choice with virulent emotional defense because, when the brand is attacked, they feel as if they have been personally affronted. I always count on this power of retention in creating brands and the SEC is chock full of such devotees. At the end of the day, the brand is not about the schools or the conference. Like all successful brands, it has transcended all that and the brand is about them, the fan. This is not an accident.

If you are an SEC fan and you see this blog as an attack on you… You prove my point. This is not an attack on the SEC teams. They play VERY good football. It’s just a brand reality that can be said of many other schools and conferences. What other football teams and conferences envy is not the caliber of the athletes or the fame of the coaches. They envy the SEC brand and the emotional connection that the SEC brand has created with fans who see no correlation between the reality of a 6-5 finish last year and their own personal recollection of the season. (Read our market study on University Brands and college branding here)

The wonderful smell of Play-Doh

When it comes to Play-Doh, my two and a half year-old granddaughter is a raging lunatic.


She asks my son and daughter-in-law to “Play Play-Doh with me!” all the time – even when she wakes up in the middle of the night. Play-Doh is always top of mind, even when my son would rather it not be.

Kids love it and they will remember the smell - forever.
Kids love it and they will remember the smell – forever.

Needless to say, these innocent demands don’t let up when she has a sleepover at her Mimi and Pop-Pop’s house. Which, when she asks to play Play-Doh, we give into her. She even asks to watch Play-Doh tutorials on YouTube. Yes, such things exist.

My little goofball granddaughter is the apple of my eye, but Play-Doh reminds me that smell – yes, even the smell of Play-Doh – can be a brand equity.

Smell can be an important part of a brand. 

That’s right. Smell.

Do you remember the smell of Play Doh?

If you’re anything like me, the odor of it is impregnated in your mind. It was still nestled there right before I first agreed to play Play-Doh with my granddaughter.

What does that smell remind you of?

I am brought back to the enthusiastic feeling of opening a new can where I can see the slight ridges of fresh Doh. I am filled with the urge to press it between my hands and to smell it.

The smell of is one of innocence, creativity, excitement and joy.

Play-Doh’s brand owns this smell.

It’s a strange thing to consider, but it’s true.

We’ve written a lot about brand positioning. Brand positioning is about reflecting who your customers are when they use your brand. Smell, just like the other senses, can help to define this experience for customers.

The smell of Play-Doh did for me, just as it will forever with my granddaughter.

American Apparel bankruptcy predictable

I suppose you could say that just about any industry is brutal for the players involved. The restaurant business, for example, is extremely tough to break into, as the rate of success for a new restaurant is extremely low.

Another industry that comes to mind is the retail industry, especially in apparel. Much of the blame falls on the retailers themselves as many of them have failed to adapt to changing consumer patterns, stubbornly holding on to old business models and brand meaning.

The customers are walking away.
The customers are walking away.

With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that American Apparel will file for bankruptcy today, coming off declining sales numbers that have put the retailer’s existence in jeopardy. It lost $134 million in just the last three months, a fourth straight quarterly drop.

The American Apparel bankruptcy is not a surprise because, even though American Apparel has suffered some bad PR recently with its now-fired founder being shown the door after allegations of inappropriate behavior, American Apparel just doesn’t mean anything within the retail space.

Bankruptcy will be coming to other retailers.

This is a common problem with retailers as their meanings simply blend from one into another. Instinctively, few of us understand the difference between, for example, American Apparel and H&M. You could go down the list of retailers and come up with the same equation: As brands, the meaning just comes down to hip clothes for hip youth. Where’s the differentiation in that?

Recently, Stealing Share did a study of the retail apparel market and much of what I’ve written here is further explained in it. We concluded that retailers must own something that its competition does not. And few do.

The American Apparel bankruptcy is just the start. More and more retailers, especially those in retail who depend on shoppers coming to the mall, will find themselves facing bankruptcy and wondering why their sales are dropping.

Retailers need to own something that actually gets shoppers to choose them, rather than just clicking on Amazon. Which is what they are doing right now.

Airlines need culture change

I have not blogged on airlines in quite a while and I thought it was appropriate to look at the category again in light of the new CEO for United Airlines (Read a market study on the entire category here) and my thinking that airlines need culture change.

Airlines need culture change
United’s former Sleezball

Funny thing, United is getting criticism for not looking within the industry when it appointed Oscar Munoz as its new CEO. It seems that United has trailed all of the major carriers in terms of customer satisfaction in the past few years and this is being blamed on the fact that former CEO, Jeff Smisek, who resigned last month because he was a sleezball, was not from inside the industry either. Come on. Give me a break.

Airlines need culture change
New United CEO Oscar Munoz

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am what United has designated as being Global Services. This is their highest status in their frequent flyer pantheon. For those that do not know all the benefits I am privy to because of this status, it means that I get to board the aircraft right after the lame and the infirmed and then have the privilege of being crammed into a tiny seat for longer than almost all other flyers. In the common event that the flight is delayed, I get to sit in my confined space a few minutes longer than others. Sounds good doesn’t it?

Airlines need culture change. Especially UnitedUnited has continued to disappoint me. It doesn’t even recognize that, in an industry of mediocrity, that all airlines needs culture change. The flights are so delayed that I have taken to flying out of my local airport first thing in the morning even if my connecting flight leaves late in the afternoon. All too often, subsequent flights out of Greensboro are later and later as the delay in takeoff is compounded by all the other late flights that my aircraft suffers before arriving to GSO (Triad International Airport, named so despite the fact that no international flights begin or end there). These delays are getting all the more common as airlines (not just United) push these planes to the breaking point by flying tight schedules designed to eek out every penny of profit from the over-worked commuter flights that feed their infamous hubs.

Airlines need culture change not more of the same

I recognize that all I do is complain about airlines. Some of you may say that I need to move to a city that has direct flights and does not rely on connecting flights as a requisite to get anywhere. I have to admit. I have entertained this idea at times. But such a change in domicile is not without costs. By COSTS I mean the flights that fly direct are WAY MORE EXPENSIVE. It is actually cheaper, much cheaper, for me to fly from Greensboro to Washington Dulles and then connect to a flight to Geneva then it is for me to fly direct from DC to Geneva without the connection. Crazy.

The problem with airlines is the airline insider.  Think about the way those in the industry measure customer satisfaction. The percentage of on-time flights, comfort in the seats and whether the airline gives you a 5-cent bag of pretzels and 4oz of a soft drink or water. They also offer coffee but I don’t seem to be able to recognize the taste as any version of coffee. Think about it. They measure customer satisfaction by standards that should denote the lowest common denominator of any airline.

Its could give a lesson or two on culture change and Airlines need culture change.I think the industry only has hope by looking to an outsider to change direction and recognize that, while they may be in the transportation business, the airlines are equally in the hospitality business. Is Oscar Munoz the answer? I don’t know. If he fails to change the entire paradigm, I would suggest that they appoint a new COO who understands the logistics of the industry and then hire a senior leader from Ritz Carleton as its next CEO.

How might culture change when leadership decided that customer satisfaction was more than being on-time? Ritz is not just a hotel brand. It has actively positioned itself as different and better from its competition. It has made service personalized and actually makes you feel as though you are fortunate to have chosen that brand.

What ALL the airlines need is culture change and a recognition that we would like more than what we are getting. They could start to measure their preference not in terms of oversold flights because they have cut back on the schedule but rather how many more flights they would need to account for the increase in traffic. Even Southwest would begin to worry. Maybe standing in line for a seat is not that much fun. Is everything in the airline industry based upon discount fares and fewer fees? There may be a different path. Hopefully someone sees that. Airlines need culture change.

Sting’s TED Talk is a necessary listen

Yesterday, by happenstance, I opened my podcast app and decided to update my five podcast subscriptions.

I’m glad I did.

One of the podcasts I like to come back to from time to time is the Ted Talk Radio Hour, which is hosted by NPR (can you ever really go wrong with, NPR?).

This week’s podcast was a rebroadcast of a show that aired last October entitled, “The Source of Creativity.”

As is per usual, the show is broken into a handful of segments and rehashes key components of the TED Talk series. It’s definitely worth your time and attention.

His thoughts on creativity are profound.
His thoughts on creativity are profound.

The first segment was on the musician, Sting. I’ve always been a middle of the road fan of his solo work and a much greater fan of The Police. While that’s besides the point, it was that reason alone that I was curious enough to hear what he had to say about inception of creativity and how to overcome writer’s block.

We all struggle to come up with good ideas.

Sting gave powerful insight into an eight-year period of writer’s block. Prior, he was a hit machine, writing songs, which he admits, were solely about him and his experiences. It came to a point where he tapped out of things to say about his life experience from his vantage point.

He searched that entire time. Asking questions of his faith and of himself, “Have I said all that I am supposed to say?” This tormenting thought weighs heavy on any person of creativity.

Soon, he realized his vantage point needed to change. It was time for him to write about the people he knew, who he grew up with in Wallsend, from their perspective. Soon enough he was writing songs that took on dialects and were used as fodder for a Broadway play, The Last Ship.

Sting reminded me of what it means to be creative. 

When we create, we are taking a chance. We are placing our faith in an idea that doesn’t come from the mind, but from the gut. It takes practice to embrace those creative ideas and not overthink them and a willingness to ask hard questions of yourself, like Sting did. It’s that journey and self-reflection which, if we are willing to accept, can bring us to the ideas we are looking for.

It’s also a process from which you develop powerful brands. Stepping outside yourself and looking at things from an outsider’s perspective. That’s when you truly become creative and persuasive.