New Delta uniforms? How about updated planes?

I travel a lot for business and one thing never seems to change. I continue to hate the airlines.

Since I have a limited number of airlines to choose from where I live, the three I typically hate the most are United, American and Delta.

The things I hate about them seem fixable and would have a great impact on their brands and consumers’ preference for those brands. They are really easy things like a more comfortable seat, in-flight entertainment options, plane updates and on-time service. I would also like the gate agents to be a bit friendlier and helpful too, but I may be asking too much.

Delta uniforms
OK, so the new Delta uniforms are nice. Who cares?

So you can probably understand my confusion as to why American has made such a big deal about redesigning its frontline staff’s uniforms. There are new Delta uniforms too.

The new American and Delta uniforms don’t make flying any better.

There are a lot of things wrong with the airlines. If one were to list them, flight attendant uniforms would probably be about 400th on the list. It’s not like I ever really noticed anything wrong with the old uniforms.

To be fair, the new uniforms may provide a sense of pride to the front-line folks that might make them a bit happier. I’m sure that will last for about a month.

However, the airlines continue to do things that don’t actually improve things for the flying customer. The planes are old and look worn out. In commuter jets, seats are threadbare and have no cushion. Beverage service consists of a quarter can of soft drink poured into a plastic cup filled with ice. Seats don’t have power and, even on those very few flights that have internet or in-flight entertainment, the coverage is spotty at best.

I would have no problem with the new uniforms if they represented something larger, such as upgrading the planes the same way airlines have upgraded their uniforms. Honestly, that would have a significant effect on their brands.

Invest in that, American and Delta. I can certainly live with the older uniforms.

Even McDonalds burgers are in trouble

McDonalds Burgers. If you follow this blog at all, you know that I have written about the fast food category quite a bit (and that Stealing Share has experience in this market). Most of the major fast food chains are losing market share, seeing weak and negative same-store growth and are consistently trying to out maneuver each other with new menu items. (Cheetos Chicken Fries from Burger King anyone?)

McDonalds burgers
Fewer people are eating McDonalds burgers

Recently, I read an article from the Wall Street Journal about McDonalds recent sales declines. This article was different from the litany of business articles about McDonalds struggles because it specifically looked at the its staple product – the burger.

Fewer people prefer McDonalds burgers

For a while now, McDonalds burgers have suffered from a number of quality issues, like dealing with the whole pink slime thing from a few years ago and the fact that burger chains like Five Guys and Smashburger are doing pretty well with better and fresher ingredients.

McDonalds has decided that now would be a good time to take a look at the quality of McDonalds burgers again.

At this point, however, this seems futile. McDonalds has already lost and I think its leaders know it too. Proof of this is in its current expansion of its all-day breakfast options. As wildly successful as McDonalds burgers has been, they are dinosaurs. McDonalds recent inability to adapt to the changing wants and needs of the consumer is proof of that. If McDonalds really wanted to compete (past tense) then it should have made a better Big Mac a long time ago, before its customers left the brand.

Now, even if it does come up with a better burger, it will still need to convince people that it is truly better. That process takes a lot of money and a lot of time. Unless McDonalds can fundamentally take a look at itself more harshly, there is not enough of either to fix what’s wrong with McDonalds burgers.

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.

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.