NFL ratings dip and concern increases

Pundits are coming up with all sorts of reasons for the dip in NFL ratings, even though the league remains our nation’s popular sports league.

Many are pointing to the current presidential election as the reason for the lower NFL ratings. This is the sort of campaign that we’ve never seen before and it has created record ratings for the cable news networks. Others are pointing to a lack of stars (Peyton Manning has retired, Tom Brady just returned to the field). Others say the National Anthem protests have turned some fans off, while others point to a handful of teams that haven’t been good for at least a decade. (Think Cleveland, Miami, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Chicago, etc.)

NFL ratings
NFL ratings are down and the reason is an oversaturated market.

The presidential election is an interesting answer because, as Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported this morning, NFL ratings tend to sag a bit during presidential election years.

However, the drop has been even greater this time. Ratings are down 13.4% from last season, nearly double the drop of the worst election year decrease of 2000 (the Bush-Gore race). Is it just because Donald Trump has turned this election into a carnival act that’s accomplished the decline?

Over saturation has created the NFL ratings drop.

I don’t think so. I think there is something else brewing here. Mark Cuban predicted this NFL ratings decrease a few years ago because the league has oversaturated the market.

I agree, and think the NFL needs to think about what it can do to make its games more important. Right now, you practically get the NFL 24/7. There’s the NFL Network, there is a game every Thursday night and, last Sunday, there were four back-to-back games with an early contest airing from London in the morning.

Scarcity is actually a value, and one that’s hard to come by in today’s world. The internet and social media gives us access to anything at any moment, so scarcity is hard to come by. To be scarce enough to create importance means you must take control of your brand.

Think about Krispy Kreme. It held a cherished spot because access to it was hard to find, becoming the darling of Wall Street and southerners. I had relatives visit me (here in North Carolina) who wanted to go to a Krispy Kreme first thing.

Then Krispy Kreme went on an expansion kick, and the value of the brand quickly became diluted. The NFL has been on a different kind of expansion kick, and its lower ratings are the result.

Now, maybe we see returned spike after the election (although don’t think the news cycle will completely go away) and as the playoff races heat up. But the larger problem still exists. For the NFL ratings to return to normal levels, the league needs to slow down its plans to expand into Europe, eliminate the Thursday night games (which are usually terrible anyway) and realize that scarcity is a value.

Fatigued football fans is the result.

Home2 Suites by Hilton is the worst

I am a Hilton Diamond member. This puts me into elite status as a customer of their brands. It also means I travel so much on business during the year that I spend my life in airports and sleep in unfamiliar beds, sheets and pillows. It entitles me to a free breakfast (believe me, you get what you pay for), complimentary Wi-Fi and a bottle of water when I check in.

I am in Seattle on business today and I am staying in another Hilton property (I hesitate to call it a brand) called Home2 Suites by Hilton.

Home2 Suites
Hilton can do better than its Home2 Suites.

It is quite seriously the dog ugliest hotel I have ever seen. It looks like it was built from corrugated metal and scrap. From the outside, you would expect to enter the lobby and find folding chairs.

When I checked in last night. I told the very nice desk attendant that the hotel was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. Her reply was interesting. “Yes,” she said. “We are an extended stay hotel.”

I guess in order to qualify as an extended stay hotel it has a prerequisite of being hard on the eyes.

The limited service at Home2 Suites.

As I write this blog from my hotel room, please excuse any ramblings or tirades. I am not quite myself. You see the rooms are not soundproof and the gentleman in the next room apparently can’t sleep with the TV on full blast with a never-ending parade of action movies. I have the opposite affliction and was not able to sleep with explosions and bad acting ricocheting around my room all night.

Despite telling the front desk about this, that TV is still in a continual loop here at breakfast time. I am assuming that limited services in extended stay also apply to front desk help.

Home2 Suites is poor excuse for a hotel and has no place in the Hilton brand. (And I know something about the Hilton brand, having done brand work for Hampton Inns, Doubletree and Homewood Suites.)

This is a terrible industry for branding because the chains slice and dice the category into such fine segments that you can see through them. They think we know the difference between their descriptors of those who stay at their brands. Here I am. Staying at Home2 Suites. Who am I?

Hilton has no brand permission to be in this low tier segment. It is a boil on the brand’s butt.

So who am I? Well, I am a chump, according to this past stay. Let’s see if they have that as a market segment.

Another retail casualty: the CEO of Stein Mart

The retail industry is under siege, if you haven’t already noticed. Stores are closing, CEOs are leaving (being either fired or retired) and few know what to do in the battle against Amazon.

I have written plenty about this issue, maybe even more than you know. I am a regular contributor to RetailWire, which you can read about here. The single biggest question asked is, “Where do retailers go from here?”

Stein Mart
The resignation of the Stein Mart CEO is another demonstration that retail is dying.

The latest shoe to drop is the resignation of Stein Mart CEO Dawn Robertson, who left after same-stores sales declined 4% this past quarter. You sense a trend here. Office Depot and Staples, once thought to be merger partners, are looking for new CEOs. Macy’s is closing stores even though it promoted a national holiday hiring day.

It’s a mess out there for retailers.

The problems facing Stein Mart and others

The problems are two-fold for retailers, such as Stein Mart. First, they have never gotten the basic strategies of creating preference right. Secondly, they are behind the curve when it comes to online retailing.

Retailers were once powerful, thriving during the days when malls took over the marketplace. Malls were a community of stores, aping a downtown marketplace. Shopping at a mall was efficient and easy for buyers. Retailers reaped the rewards of shoppers buying more than they intended. (Think the Sam’s Club model. You go for a great deal, but stroll up to the checkout counter with loads of merchandise.)

In good times, brands often get lazy. They live off their success, thinking that there’s nothing they need to do to prepare for change. So few, if any, actually built brand preference. Instead, retailers fought over price, some adopting the Walmart model of always having a low price with others holding sales every week (that’s what has gotten Stein Mart in trouble). When you do that, you teach audiences to shop on price because you haven’t given them any other reason to choose.

So shoppers choose Amazon.

That second issue, failing to be a strong presence online, caught retailers with their pants down. They were slow to prepare and any preference they did have disappeared. In essence, retailers have reaped what they sowed.

What do retailers do now? They have to go back to the basics. Build a brand that actually stands for something, one that is different and better. That better part is difficult, but the different part is what has befuddled them. The retail choices all look, sound and, frankly, are the same. There’s not a squat of difference between Stein Mart and Kohl’s from the point of view of the customer.

No wonder we all shop on Amazon. At least we know what’s different there.

What bank leaders can learn from Wells Fargo

The Wells Fargo cross-selling scandal will affect more than just it and its customers. The scandal will affect the entire banking industry, which means banking leaders must be beware of simmering anger with banks and know what to do going forward.

There are already reports that other banks are being investigated by regulators. Stories have also emerged of employees at those banks saying the sales culture is just as intense there. That is, a culture that could produce the same over-reaching employees that worked at Wells Fargo.

Wells FargoConsumers have always had love-hate relationships with banks. To them, a bank is both important and irrelevant. Few enjoy going into a branch anymore, making branches into very expensive billboards. In fact, most people don’t even want to hear from their bank because any notice just means bad news. That’s what makes banking both low intensive and low involvement – except at that point of failure.

We’ve conducted proprietary research for banking clients and there is one constant throughout: At any given time, a customer has considered leaving that bank. It doesn’t matter the demographic involved. In fact, about 7% of the market is seriously thinking about changing their primary financial institution at any given time.

Therefore, will that percentage increase for Wells Fargo and will more people leave?

Probably not. The thought of switching feels too complex for many bank customers and, with the lack of differentiation among all banks, there is very little reason to switch.

How Wells Fargo affects all banks.

But here’s the thing. Rising distrust of the banking industry will rise and cross selling will be less accepted. This is akin to the financial crisis in 2008 because the general public blamed banks for that – and this can feel more personal.

If you think it’s difficult to reach those goals now, just hold tight through the rest of the year (and beyond).

So what are bank presidents to do? How do they keep high margins when faced with higher regulatory costs and low interest rates?

Consider this. Most customers do not switch because they don’t see any other bank as being much different. They see the banking industry as a whole, not a collection of its parts. It’s one big glob to them without any differentiating brands. The question asked is, “Will it be any different over there?”

Wells FargoDuring the recession, credit unions blew a perfect opportunity to steal market share from banks because anger was so high. Credit unions had the high ground but it only exploited it by using the same messaging about how they are not beholden to stakeholders.

That is not an emotional thought, just a logical one. It is hard for potential customers to see how no stockholders give them a personal advantage. Humans, by our very nature, generally only act when events directly affect us. The ones most likely to leave Wells Fargo, for instance, are the ones who were financially hurt by the scandal. Credit unions were just lumped into the banking industry as its little sibling. In the end, customers believed credit unions were also banks but with sign-up restrictions. So few of them joined up.

A similar situation is threatening to brew here, although not as severe but more pointed. The anger will result in weariness of banks doing any cross selling or accepting any new offer from a bank. (“They’re just going to screw me over!”) Want more customers to sign up for a credit card? Good luck.

Where the opportunity lies

But there is opportunity for the right bank (or credit union) to take advantage. Like in 2008, customers will see all banks in the Wells Fargo glow and will only prefer a new one that’s truly different and better.

The knee jerk reaction by most banks is to reassure customers (and, hopefully, new ones) that they have integrity and would never do that. Banks will say that there are safeguards in place to prevent any wrongdoing and that, we the banks, are always focused on you, the customer.

It won’t be believed or move the needle. No, instead a bank that takes ahold of the current opportunity must drop all the trite messaging that exists in the banking industry.

Wells FargoNow is the time to be truly different. A brand message that taps into the distrust and is truly emotional will win the day. Tone is key because banks never adopt an edgy tone that gets noticed.

In fact, tone can prompt the switch because the right one would align with the attitudes of the target audience. Telling them to switch because it’s time to take action would be a stronger message than what banks are promoting now.

To convince audiences to switch their primary financial institution is extremely hard. To get people to switch doing what they are doing now in any thing is nearly impossible.

But the door is ajar for the moment. The bank that steps in will become the leader.

Population health is an opportunity

Population health is a top concern, but it represents an opportunity

The Affordable Care Act has affected everything for hospitals, including the struggle to be financially successful.

Notably, however, it prompted the switch from a fee-for-service reimbursement model to a pay-for-performance one that emphasizes the value of the healthcare service.

This in turn has prompted hospitals to take population health more seriously because their reimbursements are now dependent on the success of outcomes. For that reason, hospital CEOs have listed population health as one of their greatest concerns.

Population healthHospital CEOs now need their hospital systems to be further integrated into their communities, working with local organizations and instituting programs that help population health. By doing so, hospitals earn more money based on the pay-for-performance reimbursement. Better population health means a better bottom line.

While many administrators see this as a hindrance, it can actually be an advantage for hospitals looking to steal market share from its competitors. It represents an opportunity to create preference.

Hospitals struggle to create preference

Traditionally, hospitals have grown organically. A new facility creates a new audience, whether if it’s at a new location or represents a new specialty. A system starts with a name usually associated with a location, a founder or a prominent contributor from the community.

Hospitals rarely see themselves as marketers who are creating for preference as much as they are seeking awareness. They also often consider the internal audience (physicians, staff, contributors) more than they do prospective patients. They take the care of their patients seriously, as they should, so they focus on acquiring talent, technology and new training.

But the changing landscape of healthcare, especially when it comes to reimbursement, has made investing in the hospital brand more important. There is now more competition, with greater regulatory oversight and technologies creating savvier patients.

Hospitals now have to think of themselves as a true brand, analyzing the competition, conducting market research and putting more dollars into their marketing. The competition has simply gotten too fierce. The world has also gotten more complex.

Population health is an opportunity

The regulations surrounding the Affordable Care Act can be confusing for the hospital, the patient and even insurance companies. Those are the ones forcing the pay for performance model because they don’t want to pay out as much money. Insurance companies also want to see better population health because it results in fewer claims.

The knee-jerk reaction is to promote the hospital’s various partnerships and programs to raise the community profile of the hospital. That’s all fine, well and good. But those alone don’t raise preference. They are simply the proof points to your brand promise.

Population healthThe danger is that hospitals will sport brands that are all about better health and caring medical professionals. But those aren’t the reasons to prefer one hospital to another. They are just definitions of a hospital.

Instead, the process of increasing preference is to find the emotional triggers that make those things – including the overall healthiness of a community – important to the prospective patient. Why are those important? What are the drivers for those patients so that they choose your hospital?

Creating preference

The key to gaining preference is to be early in a prospect’s decision tree. The earlier you are positioned, the greater your preference. The struggle for hospitals is that no one wants to think about a hospital. It spells danger, risk and potential death. Instead, you must be important enough to prospective patients that, when they need a hospital, they have already chosen you. Even if it’s subconsciously.

To accomplish that, hospitals must avoid the clichés and trite messaging that comes with most hospital branding. A few tips:

Understand your competition. To be a true choice, you have to be truly different and better in your messaging. If your main competition has messaging focused on caring and expertise, you have an opportunity. Audiences filter out those messages because all hospitals claim to care and have expertise. Those messages mean little.

Go deeper. Most marketing stops at the wants and needs, but those can be fulfilled by any number of healthcare providers. True preference is created when you understand the reasons why those wants and needs are important. That means uncovering the precepts that drive behavior and the self-identification those audiences treasure. Aligning your brand with that belief creates audiences who are incapable of choosing anyone else because they would, in effect, be choosing against themselves.

The opportunity with population health exists because hospitals can be more important to communities. They can position themselves differently. Improving population health offers a gateway to a meaningful brand that goes beyond traditional hospital marketing. It means the promises of your hospital have changed and now you have the proof points to show for it.

Your hospital is now in the results business. Think about that as a hospital brand.