Changing brands in today’s fast-moving environment

Embracing brand in an environment of change

The world is changing rapidly and with it so are the tastes and preferences of consumers. New products, brands and technologies are creating entirely new demands from consumers. New wants and needs emerge while others wane. Everything from Brexit to the eminent failure of the Airbus A380 to the global Pokemon Go craze demonstrates just how malleable the preferences of consumers of all stripes really are.

Taco Bell now serves breakfast and McDonalds serves breakfast all day. One can go into the store and buy hard cider, hard lemonade, hard root beer and hard cream soda. Some cars now drive for us, refrigerators take pictures of their contents and your bed tells you how well you slept the night before. Consumers today thrive on the newest and latest, and enjoy inundating themselves in noise under the guise of making things easier. The only constant is change.

Changing brands
Changing brands is a difficult proposition.

As the pace of change continues to hasten, what are companies to do? Should they be as malleable as the preferences of consumers? Should they be changing brands?

To properly answer that question, we have to once again remind ourselves of the difference between a company’s businesses and its brand. The business piece is easy. It’s what you do. In short, it’s the services you provide or the products you sell. Nike’s business is to sell athletic apparel and GEICO sells insurance.

Changing brands, the decision

Changing brands is a little more difficult. For some companies, brand is simply a logo. For the smarter company, it is the amalgamation of everything, including all operations. But that’s only part of the equation.

When brand is executed as it should it should be, the totality of everything an organization does comes in to play. This goes from R&D to customer service to sales and marketing to HR and everything in between. Understanding this is key to succeeding in an era of change, not just riding out the storm.

Brands too often today are responding to the nearly overwhelming changes in the market by drifting, often too far, from what has made them successful. We call this brand drift and, in a business environment where change is the rule of the day, it can be the wrong thing to do. Let the business adapt, innovate and change as market conditions demand organically.

This is not to say that good brands should avoid investing in monitoring their brand equities. Far from it. Brands should constantly be making sure, especially in times of great change, that their brands continue to be influential and resonate. Because in these times, consumers seek safe harbors. That is true of all human beings.

At Stealing Share, we create brands derived out of the beliefs and aspirations of your target customer, making it truly is a reflection of who your current and prospective customers are or aspire to be. If your brand does not truly do that, then changing brands is needed.

In this rapidly changing business environment, if you continue to do the good work of making sure your business has adapted to changing market forces, then we can help you create or modify your brand so that, no matter how much tastes change, your customers and prospects will remain true to your brand.

Is Catholicism a brand?

Is Catholicism a brand?

Don’t take me as heretical with this question. I ask it because the power of any brand is measured by the amount of personal identification an adherent has to that brand. With this definition, it is only fair to talk about religions in terms of branding.

People identify with religions and sects. “I am a Quaker, I am a Buddhist, I am a Muslim… Hindu, Sikh, Protestant, Catholic…” While all are religions, they are brands too. But, historically, the religious brands have sought to influence the adherents rather than adapt to changes in those adherents in an attempt to remain vital and important.

Catholicism
If religion can be a brand, where does Catholicism stand?

Are there exceptions to this? Absolutely. The rise of the protest movement centuries ago gave birth to Protestantism. Even Henry the VIII sought changes in doctrine that sent the Church of England (Anglicanism) scurrying away from Catholicism and separating itself from Martin Luther’s new doctrines. Buddhism has many sects that respond to local norms. Tibetan Buddhism is different from Zen for example.

But in so many ways, Catholicism has adapted to change more than other Christian sects. It might be difficult to see, considering the conservative doctrine often associated with this Church. But it’s true. In many ways, the Catholic Church has trod the fine line between traditional values and modern pressures. Think of Vatican ll. The very conservative church embraced an ecumenical tide and even halted Mass in Latin. Changes like that reflect a changing congregation.

Proof that Catholicism is adapting to change.

Just today, Pope Francis set up a special commission to study whether women should be allowed to become deacons in the Catholic Church. Deacons, for those who are not Catholic, are just a step away from priesthood. They are able to officiate at weddings, etc. The only real limit to their official Catholic status is that they cannot perform Mass.

Pope Francis is a modern Pope with strong adherence to Catholic values. He speaks out clearly on issues of compassion, poverty and service. Sometimes his bold reassurance of these values is interpreted as political. But if you take his role seriously as the Vicar of Christ (a Catholic title), then he can ignore political statements at his own peril.

So what about female priests? My guess is that we will see the ordination of females as priests within my lifetime. The general population of Catholics and new converts to the faith embrace an equality of the sexes. The Church is simply reflecting this change and is in the long process of recognizing that a male-only clergy is not crucial to its fundamental beliefs. As a matter of fact, it might be in opposition to it.

So is Catholicism a brand? We will wait and see.

Medical device marketing and branding

How to steal market share in medical devices

By Tom Dougherty

The medical device category is highly competitive and complicated for sure, but growing market share is a difficult task. It’s easier but by no means a given when you have a proprietary disruptive technology. I hate to use the terminology of disruptive technology because it is part of the ethos of a category that pretends even the most minute innovation is disruptive.

It is quite possible that the medical device category is the most self-deceived category of goods in the world. The medical device marketing of manufacturers pretend that those companies have product superiority and back up the claim by depositing a tome of obscure and dense clinical studies along with trial results on the desk of the prospect.

Clinical studies and their results are important support points for product usage. They are. But they have almost no effect on switching a loyal user of your competitor’s products unless the technology is a true groundbreaker. With the time lag between R&D and a completed clinical trial, are your shareholders willing to wait that long for a substantive movement in market share? There is a different and more effective path to stealing share.

What is going on in medical device marketing?

First, we must look at the current medical device marketing practices. For the most part, they are not marketing at all. They are simply sales support. There are almost no meaningful messages that are different and better from the competitors. Everyone looks and sounds the same, and uses the same sterile language that passes through the fine sieve of the legal department.

Often, the copy in medical device marketing ends up being written by the legal team and lacks any direct claims of efficacy and little comparative examples. It ends up sounding like an insurance contract. Couple all this with the mandatory page of footnotes, source material and legal disclaimer, and you can begin to see the problem: No one will read it.

Medical Device marketingInside of your own halls, executives whisper about the power of the sales representatives. In many ways, based upon current practices, sales reps are your most valuable resource. They are more important than your brand.

For this reason, it’s not unusual to see a rep change jobs and take many loyal customers with them. The brand serves the sales rep and not the other way around. This is a recipe for disaster. If, at the end of the day, loyalty is based upon the power of a personal relationship then your greatest asset is a mercurial value. One that has the tail wagging the dog. This is not how it should be nor is it how it has to be.

Think about this. You began as a manufacturing company. You make things. Your heritage goes back to engineers and many of your top executives are still cut from the same cloth as the founders. These founders were visionary people. They were the Steve Jobs of their category and an earlier generation. But they differed from Jobs because they were not natural marketers. They were inventors. Tinkerers. Creators. They believed that if you build a better mousetrap… well, you know the story. Steve on the other hand represented both camps. He had a visionary’s creative drive but he also understood the emotional connections needed to sell.

Your founders would have considered themselves successful simply because they invented the better mousetrap. Jobs considered it a failure until he had market dominance. Even your brand’s early successes are misleading. The category was less crowded and it was easier to differentiate products. Today? In most instances, you can hardly slide a piece of paper between competitive products. Differences are simply hard to see and much of today’s medical device marketing reflects that.

What’s wrong with engineering?

What happens in companies top-heavy with engineering types? They become companies like yours. They believe that purchase decisions (and the procurement of medical devices) are rational choices.

They believe that decisions are evidence based and that the hospital administrators and the clinicians are most swayed by clinical data and clinical studies. They don’t understand that ALL purchase decisions (and I mean all) have their roots in emotional cues. It gets complicated because, after an emotional decision is made, decision makers rationalize their choices. They backfill and support their emotional connection with rational data.

But that is not how they chose. That rationale happens only after the choice.

If you want proof, think about this. If purchase decisions were rational then the best product (based upon evidence) would always be the market leader. Look around your category. How true is rationality as a predictor of success? The real question to ask is why do human beings prefer the things they prefer? The answer is a simple yet subversive one.

How to be persuasive in medical devices

Human beings look for order and consistency in their lives. We all strive to eliminate conflicts that exist between what we believe to be true about ourselves and the actions we take.

balanceWe seek this equilibrium and avoid these internal emotional conflicts. Persuasion finds its roots in this belief about self. All things being equal, we prefer to buy and use products and brands that reinforce our own self-concept.

The emotional choice wins even in a B2B business such as medical devices. The few who do have give an emotional reason for choice are almost always the market leader. (That is, if the emotional choice is important.) It might be time to evaluate where you and your products stand in preference, and adjust your medical device marketing.

Even your founder would have taken all the necessary steps to steal market share.

Yiannopoulos and Twitter: Where do you stand?

Twitter is in a difficult spot. It has permanently removed Milo Yiannopoulos, the tech editor of Breitbart, after he sent numerous tweets were inflammatory and, frankly, racist, targeting SNL and Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones.

Yiannopoulos
Is the Twitter ouster of Yiannopoulos an affront to free speech?

Yiannopoulos had been temporarily removed from Twitter in the past for abusive tweets and the social media giant decided that calling Jones in the movie “a black character worthy of a minstrel show” was too much.

One of the issues here is free speech. Yiannopoulos, who is a self-proclaimed gay conservative, claims he is being made a scapegoat for the hundreds, maybe millions, of offensive tweets sent out each day.

He could be right and I admit it’s a difficult issue to parse. But I don’t think this is totally a free speech issue. It’s also a brand one. All companies must respond to change and what their target audience wants. That doesn’t mean you flip your brand over and over but that you have a brand that is sensitive to market forces that impact your target audience.

Twitter’s response to Yiannopoulos: Enough is enough.

Twitter is my go-to social media platform. (You can find me at @BrandGenius.) And I admit that most of my news is gathered there. (Well, that and NPR.) I follow reporters, other strategists like me, and many news outlets.

I have also been aware of the Wild West nature of tweeting. I see responses to tweets that are extremely offensive, rude and outright ignorant. To defend free speech means you have to take the good with the bad, right?

But I’ve also sensed a rising disgust among many users over those kinds of tweets. People are coming to the defense of the original tweet (the non-offensive one) and expressing their repugnance to the comments. In a way, by deleting Yiannopoulos, Twitter is responding to its audience. It may sound like censorship but I think it’s more of the equivalent of making sure the adult gift shops are not located in your neighborhood. Yiannopoulos can go to other social media platforms, but civility will remain here.

I thought about this more when considering the potential ouster of Roger Ailes at FOX News after reports of numerous incidents of sexual misconduct. No matter your politics, you have to admit FOX News has been a brilliant construction that still leads cable news ratings (especially during the current Republican convention). Ailes has been the architect of that.

But FOX News has chosen not to stand by him. Maybe there are other factors involved in his ouster, but my gut tells me that FOX News (and the Murdochs, who own it) are responding to a change in the market. More and more of us are opposing sexual misconduct. To maintain its relevancy, FOX News has made a business decision.

That’s what Twitter has done here. It has basically made Yiannopoulos an example that states that courtesy should be the rule of the platform. Twitter said it permanently deleted Yiannopouls because he violated “rules prohibiting participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals.”

To me, that’s the Twitter brand remaining relevant.

Pop Culture lives on coolness

Pop Culture relies on fashion sensabilitites

Volkswagen as pop culturePop culture is a risky brand business. I heard a report this morning on Marketplace about Volkswagen. Basically, the report focused on the effects of the VW settlement on the automaker’s product development pipeline. The reporter stated that the multi-billion dollar settlement would make the Volkswagen new model pipeline a bit bumpy. He said that it might put a crimp on the innovation that VW hopes to achieve to keep their product line COOL.

Cool is a scary word for me in the branding business because the idea of cool is all about making a connection to an aesthetic sensibility that is connected to personal taste in an odd way. In some ways, maybe many ways, cool can be defined as a fad.

Cool is hard to bank on in pop culture

What was cool yesterday in pop culture may not be cool today. What was once considered cool can digress into downright kitsch. If you want proof, take a trek to Graceland and – aside from the greatness of Elvis’s talent itself and the voyeuristic thrill of peering into the private life of a celebrity – you’ll find that there is NOTHING in that mansion that we covet today.

Graceland is Pop cultureWe don’t want the blue shag rugs or the clumsy devices that passed for high tech in the day. What was once cool (and even, in the case of Graceland, where no expense was spared) is just a pile of dated junk. Pop culture cool just does not have legs. Cool by definition is mercurial.

Apple used to be cool. Much of that coolness came from the charisma and genius of Steve Jobs. Since his death, Apple is just innovative and has yet to hit the mark with the same coolness that Steve naturally oozed and made Apple products de rigueur.

Cool can be a goal for some brands. But hitting that sweet spot is a difficult task in pop culture. Predicting success is even more difficult.

Recognizing what is cool and developing product to that standard is near impossible. The parent brand can deliver permission for its coolness but adoption of that next cool thing is more about happenstance.

But it is not just a problem with Pop Culture

Movies as pop cultureThink about this for a moment: The major movie studios try to produce blockbuster movies. While they may not use the word cool to describe their intent, you certainly would not be stretching the definition of coolness by thinking about it in terms of a movie’s appeal.

What interests me here is how often the movie industry misses the mark. The studios invest millions of dollars in a script, director, cinematographer and proven stars and still turn out a BUST. You would think, with all of their resources, they would have more hits than misses. But predicting popularity is that near impossible.

Brands that make their reputation and mark by being considered cool are only as valuable as their latest iteration. The rest is left up to chance.