The massacre at the Pulse is too much to bear

I’ve been beating myself up all day for having not written about the tragedy at the Orlando nightclub Pulse until now.

But then, I haven’t really had the words needed to write about it until now either.

My heart is broken.

Pulse
The Pulse massacre makes me wonder if attacks like this will ever end.

In the wake of this act of hatred (because it is just that), it’s hard for me to muster up an idea for a blog when the massacre of 50 innocent people is at the forefront.

That’s because when the chickens come home to roost, what we buy and sell isn’t important.

But love is.

In times like these I remember the words of the magnificent Martin Luther King Jr. He once said that, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Now, more than ever, we must embrace this wisdom.

If ever there was a time, we need to wake up because we’ve been sleep walking for far too long.

Must we wait for another Pulse catastrophe to kick start our hearts?

We have a pattern — monumental events shake us out of our day-to-day routine.

I look back at the course of my life and the events that served as an alarm clock for my state of being. 9/11 was one such event. (Reaching further back, Vietnam and Watergate also come to mind.) I can still recall the way the clouds looked that September morning, what I was wearing and what I ate for breakfast. I can see in my mind’s eye the expressions on the faces of those in my immediate life who experienced fear and fright with me, and the grainy newscast we watched on edge at work. I bet you can recall the details of your day too. That’s because we were awake and united, if just for a minute.

The Pulse shooting brings me right back to that place of seeking cultural unity.

I plead: How many more Pulse shootings do we need to have? Or like the one in Paris? How many Newtowns, Columbines, Auroras and Charlestons (just a smattering of the American mass shootings)?

When will it end?

I am reminded again of the words of King, whose prophetic vision rules the day:

“And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

               Free at last! Free at last!

                 Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Affinity programs and why they fail.

Affinity Programs Rarely Create Affinity

Almost all businesses from retailers to transportation companies have affinity programs designed to foster brand loyalty. Most work very poorly and often are simply a table stake in the category. Retailers, manufacturers and airlines will often find that their customers belong to a host of affinity programs that most certainly includes their competitors. (Affinity programs are an extension of CRM. Read an article on CRM here)

Affinity programs are similar to coupons

In many ways, discount coupons can be part of the affinity programs because they are all aimed at fostering trial and gaining repeat business.

As retailers know all to well, this sort of affinity program has severe limitations because consumers all begin to regard the couponed price as the real price.

Affinity programsAs a result, a business built on couponing lowers the standard price point significantly and reduces margins. P&G (Proctor & Gamble) are victims of this game. As margins reduce so do advertising dollars. What these packaged goods giants are left with is poorly supported brands that rely on a discount price for business success. Not a very good model to say the least.

I have written extensively about the airline industry in the past. Nowhere are affinity programs more a part of day-to-day business and many are utter failures. Often times the programs seem more like a criminal sentence rather than a benefit. Let me give you a personal case in point.

Airlines use affinity programs as a cornerstone of customer relationships

I have frequent flyer accounts on a multitude of US airlines. These affinity program accounts promise advantages on international carriers as well because of the alliances (like the STAR Alliance, SKYTEAM or ONEWORLD Alliance). I am a perfect example of a prospect who belongs to a host of competing programs. How then do the airlines try to compete for my business? In a word—Status.

United Airlines affinity programsWhen you fly as much as I do, gaining status on one or more airline is not that difficult. The key number to remember is 100,000 miles. Generally, at that threshold your status is considered premier. Don’t confuse this with PREMIER STATUS, which is an industry designation. I am speaking of having gained a premier position in status over other flyers. And this is where the trouble begins. The promise of status is very different from the reality.

I have flown over 2.5 million miles on United Airlines. As a result, I earned their top tier status. I am officially known as a Star Alliance, 1K Gold Member. This means I have flown over 100,000 miles in the previous calendar year. Sounds impressive on the surface but the system really falls apart after that.

Global Services. The Pinacle of Affinity Programs

On United Airlines they have a special status known as Global Services. If you have ever waited in your designated line at a United gate you have probably heard this group called to board the aircraft after people with disabilities that need extra time to board and in conjunction with military service people in uniform. United does not disclose how they formulate the invitation to Global Services but there are plenty of blogs around that speculate in a revealing if not an accurate way on just how they do it.

Global services is the ultimate affinity programTwo years ago, United awarded me with a Global Services member invitation. Benefits included first on the aircraft boarding, upgrades to first class 72 hours before your flight based upon availability. A separate phone line to call to speak with a Global Services representative. No fee charges to change a reservation. Hotel rooms paid when needed —regardless of the reason (including weather). And if possible, they will even pick you up at a connecting gate with a tight connection and whisk you off directly to the next gate in a company automobile. I have even had them bump a fellow traveler from a flight in order to guarantee me a seat in a last minute change.

Affinity programsSounds pretty good. And it can be. The problem is in how United manages the Global Services membership. It turns out that Global Services status is not based upon miles flown but rather the revenue you generate for the airline— in comparison to your peers.

This past year, for example, I flew my usual 100,000+ miles on United. I also have a United credit card upon.which all of my travel is booked. My Hilton Honors program is linked to the United account (Hilton touts it as double-dipping) and even my Hertz rentals get logged into my United Mileage Plus account.

This year, United took away my Global Services status. The reason? Because their revenue was down on my total spend. I’m now just a 1K flyer.

I know, who am I to complain. Well I’m going to complain and I’ll tell you why. I am a human being and we all feel about our privileges in the same way we feel about a coupon price being the REAL price. Once we have it we feel punished without it.

How should affinity programs measure affinity?

What United did not recognize was the value of my long term business with them. They have no metric for understanding it and as a result will be the ultimate loser in this game.

American Airlines affinity programsAs a 1K, I’m on upgrade lists but I rarely get them because they continue to discount the first class seats up until the time of departure and award the remaining seats to any and all Global Services members. I no longer have a designated customer service rep to help me sort through the myriad of travel issues that accompany this many flights per year. On top of this, no one cares if my connections are tight or that I miss flights because of delayed connections. Well, almost no one because my clients and I care. It’s just that United does not.

Affinity programs

What United does no know is that I also have a premier status on American Airlines. I am an Executive Platinum with American and United just said goodbye to  all of my business.

Here is a bit of history. My local airport is a small regional one in Greensboro NC. Aside from a few select destinations like New York, Chicago, DC, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Dallas all flights require a connection. Many years ago I started flying with US Airways because they had the most connections out of Greensboro. I could get almost anywhere in the nation via a short 20 minute connecting flight through Charlotte NC.

As my international business grew, I began to fly more and more on US Airway’s STAR Alliance partner United Airlines because they had great connections internationally through another partner airline Lufthansa. Over the years, I flew more and more connections through United as opposed to US Airways because the hubs of Dulles, O’Hare and Newark worked as well for me as connections from Charlotte.

This seems to happen to everyone. Affinity Programs lose relevance.

What happened to me, as often happens to frequent flyers, is that my status with United grew and I tried to consolidate more of my flights with the airline to gain greater status. In an odd twist, United began to cut service from Greensboro at about the same time they acquired Continental Airlines.

United eliminated direct flights to Houston (a Continental staple flight), took on the Newark connection route and eliminated all real United flights from my airport. In its place they flew only United Express flights from GSO (as Greensboro is known) which utilizes small regional jets and are owned by companies like GOJet and other regional carriers. These flights were smaller and more cramped but the longest leg of the connection was Newark and you can put up with anything for an hour and a half.

Affinity programsThe next shoe to drop occurred when US Air merged with American Airlines, thus eliminating the option of any connecting flights through Charlotte. American is part of the ONEWORLD Alliance and not the STAR Alliance. At the same time as this merger, United stopped flying jet aircraft between GSO and Dulles and replaced those flights with a turbo-jet WW2 throwback that added 20 additional minutes to the flight.

Then United cut back on the frequency of flights eliminating the possibility of caching an afternoon flight out of DC for any international flights. Reliability of the on-time arrival of the connections was so bad that I took to always taking the earliest flight. Regardless of the length a layover I flew early because I was consistently missing my connections on United Express from Greensboro. To be safe, the best bet was first flight out in the morning on flights that originated from GSO.

Affinity programsThrough all of this turmoil, I remained loyal to United because of my Global Services status. They bailed me out of many a tight squeeze by meeting me at the gate and shuttling me to my connection. They provided me with the flexibility of flights by booking me on competing airline flights when the connection failed to work as planned. They treated me as if I mattered. As a result, everyone in my company flew United because often my colleagues fly with me. United failed to measure this value.

Affinity programs and the nNFL Baltimore ColtsThis past January, when United dropped me back to 1K status I gave up my loyalty. The reduction in status did not make me want to try to book more flights with the airline in an attempt to regain status. It had the exact opposite effect. It made me angry with them. I felt like a Baltimore Colts fan who had an emotional connection to a team that left me stranded in the middle of the night.

Suddenly I realized that my belief that I mattered to them was a figment of my own imagination. The affinity program was completely one-sided. They had no affinity for me.

In measuring my value to the airline, they failed to take into account the sacrifices I made to remain loyal. They also failed to calculate the value my fellow employees brought to United by flying with me. They completely missed the point. Affinity must work both ways or it simply does not work.

The brand opportunity for affinity programs

Here then is the brand effect of affinity programs; the value of a member needs to be calculated as a lifetime benefit not a short term measure. Once a benefit is granted it should be considered long term because anything less than that is viewed as a punishment. So the threshold of premier benefits needs to be a bit higher and the forgiveness of not meeting that criteria once gained needs to be significantly lowered.

Cvs affinity cardIt is possible that all affinity programs are incomplete or failed attempts at fostering loyalty. Often they begin to feel more like handcuffs than they do a life-line. The very act of specialness always requires that many be left out.

Think about this for just a moment. How special would it feel to be a premier member only to find out that everyone had the same status and boarded at the same time? You see the conundrum. Signaling out specialness is a double edged sword. It must cut a bit but not so much that it hurts.

Affinity programsThe airlines are in deep trouble. Currently, their revenues are up but that is due only to the dropping cost of fuel. They have never understood the costs of doing business and they continue to miss the value of customer loyalty. For the airlines the battle is defensive not offensive. They struggle to maintain loyalty and have very little to offer in the battle to steal market share.

To make up for this they have created affinity programs that express no love for the customer or prospect and reward only short term investment. They have never developed a metric to understand real value and fail to measure and reflect the sacrifice the member has made to remain loyal.

We have many choices in today’s world and most of us chose based upon short term values. Businesses, or rather brands must have a longer horizon. If they do not they become prisons rather than coveted havens.

 

Airlines and thier markets

The retail category market study

The worst marketing. Airlines.

Pep Boys. The End of Manny, Moe and Jack

What happened to Pep Boys?

Pep Boys
Many, Moe and Jack. The Pep Boys

There was a time when The Pep Boys was on the minds of every 20-something that ever repaired his car or shopped for a new shift handle. Hard times has descended on auto parts stores in the past decade or so as the advanced automobile electronics has pushed most auto repair out of the hands of shade tree mechanics.

Clymer Manual at Pep BoysI remember when I decided to rebuild my first motorcycle. I bought a Clymer repair manual and then pulled the entire Honda engine apart in my parent’s basement.

Honda CL 450 and the Pep Boys
My ’72 Honda 450 CL

It was not long after that when I was rebuilding my VW Bus engine and making frequent trips to Pep Boys for parts. Those days of mechanical experimentation seemed to have evaporated. Pep Boys has become just another tire store and a place to get some minor repairs completed. Even in its hey day, Pep Boys was for the hobbyist. Once you considered yourself capable, most shade tree mechanics made the shift to the local parts supply store where you could get rebuilt and reconditioned parts too. It felt like a right of passage.

Pep Boys purchased by Bridgestone.

So today, when I read the Pep Boys was bought by Bridgestone, it made me a little sad. That quirky brand with the goofy mascots seems destined to the brand junk pile. What a waste of brand equity.

Every brand hopes to differentiate itself from the competition and the three Marx Brother look-a-likes whose cartoon images graced the Pep Boys logo did exactly that. They were uniquely odd. And, if you will remember, Manny was everyone’s favorite.

Pep Boys purchased by BridgestoneIt now moves into the reign of all nostalgia brands. Pep Boys has a place in the brand memories of time but were not able to redefine themselves in terms of meaning through the changes the venerable brand witnessed. Now Bridgestone will try to turn lead into gold and revitalize the brand locations with a connection to a tire brand. Good luck with that.

If anyone asked me, and no one has, I would change the entire chain to Pep Boys and redefine the meaning beyond just tires and parts. (Read how to steal market share here.) Today, everyone holds the car dealerships as the gold standard of car repair. We also see them as ridiculously expensive. There should be an alternative to the crazy overhead cost we support with dealership repairs and the tire warehouses that dominate the scene today. Pep Boys could be that. Bridgestone is just a tire store.

Top Branding Companies. Stealing Share is it.

A list of the world’s top branding companies must always include Stealing Share

top branding companiesIt might seem like hubris to tell you that Stealing Share is one of the world’s top branding companies but we believe candor saves everyone a lot of time. And we work with great urgency.

But we are not one of the top branding companies because of our size. We are a small company with only two offices. (But don’t think because we are small compared to some others that our clients are insignificant. Global Fortune 500 companies have known about us for years. Click here for a very short client list. Contact us for a more robust rendering)

We have no account executives or unnecessary support staff. We have no intervening personnel artificially placed between our clients and our strategists, researchers or creative director. We are talented and aggressive. We are lean and we are focused.

Being one of the world’s top branding companies comes with responsibility

Stealing Share has earned its place as one of the world’s top branding companies because our success rate is astounding. We succeed because we have no time for sacred cows and little patience for distractions.

top branding companiesTraditional branding companies (even traditional top branding companies) judge their success based on industry awards for graphic design. We don’t (even though we have won our fair share of them). We march to a different drum.

You see, Stealing Share has a singular purpose. We steal market share. We don’t think anyone should invest a dollar or a euro in rebranding or launching a new brand unless the goal is to increase your preference and therefore increase your market share. As a result, we have a tangible goal line to be measured against— one that rewards victory based upon accomplishment. We demand that the brands we build are persuasive and create preference.

As one of the world’s top branding companies, we have a responsibility to have all of the tools you need to succeed in-house. And we do.

top branding companiesOur brand strategists work directly with our clients— without an intermediary account executive. We have the world’s premier market research firm, Resultant Research, under our roof and our design and creative group take our strategies and make them shine uniquely in the market space.

Our work, as one of the top branding companies, has taken us all over the globe. We have branded products and companies on every continent but Antarctica. As a result, our brand strategists and market researchers are skilled at teasing out the cultural differences between your prospects and customers. We have created brands in Europe, the Sub-Continent, Asia, Oceana, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.

top branding companies
How the research is conducted matters

Everything you need (strategy, creative, design, and research) is    in-house

Resultant Research has commissioned research studies in Mandarin, Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, German, Dutch, Flemish, and almost every language you can think of (or in) including English.

But our real secret is our clients. We choose them well (and they choose us). They are also aggressive, care about tangible results, demand critical thinking, believe in projectable research and are willing to embrace change in order to secure results.

If you have something in common with them, then steal a few minutes of your time and we will show you how we do it.

We leave you with these words from Mike Reitz, Chief Operating Officer, Genesis Healthcare

Mike Reitz, Genesis Healthcare“We did not know Stealing Share prior to hiring them. They came up with a game changing new brand for us in the short stay rehabilitation industry (PowerBack Rehabilitation). Now? Well now they have unlimited credibility with us.”

See some of the work we did for PowerBack Rehabilitation here.

Contact us here.

Laying the foundation for brand awareness

Brand Awareness

By Tom Dougherty

Every company claims to want to grow their market share and I believe all of them want to. The question then arises, “Why do most fail?” I will address those issues here and focus on why the CEO needs to be not only involved in the process, but actually spearhead it.

brand awarenessThe simple answer as to why most brands fail miserably in moving the needle is that they failed to identify the real problem. That is, they were unable or unwilling to see the barriers to acceptance and adoption by their competitors’ customers.

The fallback defense is to compete with a strong competitor on price or to rely on a series of category best practices. So, when the product or service or brand is not winning, corporations adjust the selling proposition. This seems both smart and responsible because everyone does it. What no one asks is why it does not work.

Often, brands get caught in the quicksand trap of confusing awareness with meaning. If research shows that awareness is lacking, marketing departments and their advertising agency minions embark on advertising campaigns designed to increase awareness. But, regardless of the spend (and it can be very steep), the needle does not change. The rich get richer and the rest of the category scrambles for the crumbs. Yet, no one seems to ask why.

Why brand awareness is not the problem

Brand awareness is never the problem. Never. While it is certainly true that no one can choose a brand they have never heard of, the issue of awareness is tainted by the very question of why awareness is lacking. (Read a blog about awareness here)

brand awarenessIt also appears to some that, if your brand awareness is trailing the category leader, you need to speak louder. The advertising agency will tell you that you need a larger share of voice or a broader media mix. It is as if your solution can be found by yelling louder and with an intensity that demands to be noticed.

The media moguls can even show you charts that demonstrate a strong correlation between share of voice and market share. But they are wrong. They do not understand the science of persuasion and the art of anthropological branding.

The reason your brand awareness is limited is because your meaning is missing the mark. Gaining awareness requires you to fix the problem and improve your brand meaning. Your message is being judged as unimportant and, therefore, your brand is being ignored. Most marketing messages today fall into this category. They are viewed as “spam” (and I don’t mean the potted meat product).

The nature of the market

The reason for this phenomenon can be found in the nature of the market today. We are inundated and swamped with massages. In order to simply function, human beings have developed a skill of ignorance. That is, they ignore messages that they deem, on an almost subconscious level, as unimportant to them.

The din of the market has demanded this skill as a survival mechanism. And, as a result, your louder and more demanding message is backfiring. It sounds annoying and, while no longer ignored, it is now avoided. The importance and affinity you hoped to stir in the prospect has now become its ugly stepsister, a venomous and reactionary dislike of your brand. (Read more about marketing in a crowded space here)

It is very difficult to get around this problem because we too often see everything through the filter of our own brand’s self-importance. We think the values and features of our brand are what really matter to prospects. This self-absorption fatally wounds all efforts to steal market share because it clouds our vision.

The Rules

The first rule then of stealing share is to accept the facts that those who are ignoring your brand message will not be swayed by claims of efficacy and features. Apple’s iPhone did not gain awareness and acceptance because of its revolutionary features. It grabbed headlines because Apple created it. The brand affinity fosters notice. Not the other way around.

brand awarenessTo gain awareness you must reflect the visage of your target audience. You must be at least as much about them as human beings as you are about your product or benefits. Only when prospects sees your message as important will it leave their emotional spam filters and find its way into awareness.

The only sure way to make this happen is to understand your target audience through brand anthropology. You need to understand what they value, what they believe to be true about themselves and demonstrate that your brand helps them achieve that goal. Jif peanut butter did not become a market leader because “it tastes more like fresh peanuts.” It became the market leader when it told the prospect that she was “a choosey mother.”

Finding that absolutely correct “highest emotional intensity” is what drives Stealing Share and ignites a brand strategy that transforms a company — direct-to-consumer or B-to-B —from ignored to preferred status.

Spending time on everything else is just wasteful process. It is expensive litter for marketing departments and highly profitable for advertising agencies.

What the CEO must do

This brings me back to the CEO’s important place in this matter. Once a new focus and promise is identified as the highest emotional intensity and a new meaning is formed, your corporate culture needs to make it true.

brand awarenessThis cultural change is not a marketing problem and any CEO who believes it begins and ends with marketing is destined to repeat past failures. If the meaning is dead on the money, then no one in the category owns it and no one is delivering it. This great void in the landscape is what creates the vacuum that draws customers to your brand with less effort and smaller spends.

But it also means a transformation needs to be in place culturally so that the new meaning embeds every aspect of your business from R&D to sales. The Apple brand promise of “Think Different” is not just a tagline. It is a cultural mandate that is demanded by everyone in the organization down to the store employees.

It all started with Steve Jobs, who made it personal and empowered the organization to make any and all organic changes necessary to keep the revolution going.

If you are a marketing executive reading this, you know it to be true. So forward this article up to the CEO and let’s steal market share and make change really happen. If you are a CEO, invite me in for an hour of your time and we will change everything.