The US Brand. What is the United States of America?

The US Brand is under siege. Is anyone else worried about the future of the US?

The US BrandI don’t mean in terms of which candidate you support in the upcoming election. There are sane people on both sides of that debate. I’m talking about the very fabric of what it means to be a citizen of the US brand. An American.

At our root, we claim to be a nation bound by a Constitution that dictates our civil behavior. Since the election of Washington until Lincoln, every election has been followed by a peaceful transition of power. It is what it means to be an American.

The one time that process failed was in 1860 and it resulted in a bloody war that ended in the complete defeat of those that apposed union. The debate for peaceful transition had been decided once and for all with an anything but peaceful five years of blood soaked division. I believe, despite all of the posturing today that this election will also be a peaceful transition of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leadership.

The US Brand has been under siege in the past

I don’t think I am alone in looking back upon the last decade with a bit of distain. Our national genius for compromise has been replaced by vitriol and obstruction. When FDR was first elected humorist Will Rogers said “well if he gets to the White House and it catches fire and burns to the ground we will say at least he got something started.” Just like Will, I have become weary of partisan posturing and I want to get SOMETHING done.

The US BrandMy worry is not over the election itself, although the personal attacks are hard to hear. After all, one of these two candidates will be our next President. In many ways, I would love to hear what each candidate will do to help our country if they lose. My sincere hope is that either candidate will try their best when elected. That is the minimum I think we can expect. The rest is just politics.

What REALLY worries me about the US brand? A fear that as a Nation we might be ungovernable in the future. When a large percentage of those that are voting say they do not trust the information published from our government. They do not trust what they read in the news and they do not trust our elective process I wonder how they plan on making America Great Again or becoming Stronger Together?The US brand

If you don’t read the news where are you getting your information? If you don’t believe anything the government says or publishes and don’t believe in the right of the majority to rule— well you don’t believe in our Constitution.

I can’t wait to read comments on this post. In the past, my worst fears have been realized in those comments. Aggressive and hateful bloggers post comments that prove my point. They did not read what I had to say.

Until we address the basic problem which is IGNORANCE, we have a broken system with broken constituents. Just remember that the root of the word ignorant means to IGNORE.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard disaster

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardThe Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall because of the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has me thinking. What if any long term effect could this Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard have on the BRAND of Samsung?

Sure an exploding or smoldering smart phone is not a product feature in even the most optimistic consumer’s mind. But could this product recall seriously and permanently damage this mega-brand consumer products company?

In a word. Maybe.

Brands have meaning to consumers and great brands have great emotional meaning to customers. They associate with that brand meaning and, because that association should be about the customer and not the product, it becomes personal.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardNike has a premier consumer product position, not because it makes the best athletic shoes, but because Nike means the wearer feels like a winner. It’s the Nike promise that you should just do it. Forget the distractions. Keep focused because YOU are a winner for choosing Nike (read about the NIKE brand here). That is the power of BRAND.

I am trying to think about Samsung. What does the brand MEAN? Does the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard in any way damage that association? I think it does and here is why.

Samsung is the largest electronics company in South Korea. It makes quality products and has infiltrated almost every category of consumer electronics. But it has a very poorly defined brand promise.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardLacking that emotional connection, it has allowed the consumer to position it as a value brand. That means Samsung is lower priced than the competition but are generally well made and dependable.

It might not be fair to dis Samsung as lacking in innovation but I think the market does not view it as being an innovator in any way. It is a fast follower, often copying the market leader’s products with a slightly cheaper (value) positioning.

This model has allowed them to steal the thunder from many storied brands. Take Son (Read about the Sony brands here) for instance. Its Trinitron TV brand reinvented the category.

Sony even led the way in flat screen innovation. But Samsung copied those products and dared to make side by side comparisons of product features — all with a value twist. The result? Growth in market share.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has reshaped the smart phone pecking order

Same is true with the smart phone. Everyone knows the category was invented by Apple. Even the courts backed up that statement. Samsung entered the category with a cheaper reproduction and an nearly all-open sourced operating system. Side-by-side comparisons with the iPhone showed similar capabilities at about 50% of the cost.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardBut the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has undone much of that value cache. The great enemy of value brands is an underlying and almost universal human belief that, at the end of the day, you ALWAYS get what you pay for.

Customers who invest their emotional soul to value brands sit around waiting for the shoe to drop and hoping it does not. Want proof? Ask Value Jet.(Read about the fire that burned up an airline here: ValueJet). A failure by a low cost provider can be fatal to the brand.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardI worry that all the problems and bad press over the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard feels like the shoe has dropped. (You are reminded of it every time you fly on a US passenger airline because they warn you before boarding that, having a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 turned on or charging, is forbidden because of the recall.)

To survive, Samsung might have to double down on its value proposition and make the risk worth the reward by gutting its profit margins.

Or it could call us and we could help them create a REAL brand that incorporates brand repair with a new juggernaut of meaning. Samsung won’t call however. It thinks brand is a logo and name. But there is no need to change either. There is a need to change the meaning.

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.

Macy’s national holiday hiring day is disingenuous

Troubled retailer Macy’s is creating yet another made up holiday – national holiday hiring day. The holiday will be on September 30th when Macy’s plans on hiring 83,000 seasonal workers to fill holiday positions in their call centers, distribution centers and fulfillment centers.

The move reeks of terrible PR and feels incredibly disingenuous.

national holiday hiring day
Macy’s national holiday hiring day is a joke.

Earlier this year, Macy’s announced that it was closing about 15% of its stores. This came amid six straight quarters of sales declines that were blamed on an increasing number of consumers moving to online purchasing – because as we all know, no one saw Amazon coming.

We have written a lot about the soft brick and mortar retail environment as well as the problems with Macy’s. Too many stores were built too fast with no vision of the future. Isn’t that the real reason?

National holiday hiring day should be laughable.

Now Macy’s is touting national holiday hiring day. I get the need to hire temporary people during this time of year. However, Macy’s bragging about creating the first national hiring day is simply a bad idea. It’s a naked attempt to get people to forget it is shuttering 15% of its stores and firing the countless people affected by those closings.

Have you ever watched a bad movie for a little longer than you should have just to see how bad it was going to get? Macy’s is much like that bad movie, getting a little worse with each passing minute. This blatant PR move once again demonstrates just how far Macy’s has fallen. Its brand is in decline, stores are closing, sales are declining and yet it is touting a national holiday hiring day. It’s a major disconnect and a failure of the Macy’s brand.

Will the holiday work? Of course it will, but not because of Macy’s. People need jobs and others need a second job to make their children’s Christmas special. Most people won’t be bothered by it, save the ones who are getting laid off in the store closings.

But Macy’s has lost its way and this is yet another example.