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.

Durant moves on but something is lost

I’ve never been much a fan of the NBA. For me, college basketball has always seemed the truer sport. Teams feel different. With college ball, you can recognize a club by the defenses or offenses they play. Not true with the NBA. Most teams look and play the same to me. Some just have better superstars than others.

I’m sharing my feelings about the NBA because this season’s playoffs were an anomaly to me. I actually enjoyed them. Teams played their hearts out. Players like LeBron, Steph and Durant (to name a few) were more intense than ever. There were heartbreaks, wonderful storylines and curses were broken. This non-NBA guy was jumping out of his seat when LeBron blocked Andre Iguodala and Kyrie Irving drilled a three with seconds to go in the championship.

NBA playoff team ball was epic this year. Many teams were on the brink of winning big. Which is why the off-season movement made by superstar Kevin Durant has me befuddled.

Durant
Durant earned the right to move on, but the spirit of competition is lost.

To quote ESPN analyst, Stephen A. Smith (not someone I usually quote as I think he’s a borderline idiot), Oklahoma City was “48 minutes from going to the championship three times.” The team was on the cusp of beating the Warriors as it had a 3-1 advantage in the best of seven series. OKC looked stronger than ever, but it could not get over the hump. I truly thought it was a given that OKC was moving on.

Nonetheless, battles like this one is the stuff that makes lasting rivalries.

KD, instead of embracing his team (one that houses an equally talented player in Russell Westbrook and a coach I liked in college, Billy Donavon), flew the coup — and to the very team that beat him in the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors. Crazy.

Durant moves on and competition is lost.

The move is all about KD winning a championship. He joined an already historic team where the odds of snagging the Larry O’Brien trophy next year are very likely.

But Golden State isn’t the house that KD built. Oklahoma City was. Joining the Warriors is a quick fix for Durant. Sure, he will probably get his trophy, but folks will look on it the same they did when LeBron went to South Beach for his first and second. Only now that LeBron won with his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, does he receive the adulation he rightfully deserves.

I understand there is a difference between LeBron and Durant. LeBron grew up just outside of Cleveland, while Durant was originally drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved to Oklahoma City. In fact, Durant hails from Washington D.C. And I understand a person must make their decisions based on what’s best for themselves. Durant was a true leader for the Thunder for nine glorious years. He earned the right to move on.

However, from a brand perspective alone, this situation is intriguing to me. Here we have one of the top three basketball players in the world in Kevin Durant. Yet he does not trust the Oklahoma City brand of basketball (and he may have reason not to) or himself for that matter to be willing to cement his legacy there. Rather, he views the Golden State Warriors brand as one being more trustworthy and having a greater potential for championship success.

Ultimately, it’s all bummer as it feels like the exhilarating moments from this year’s playoffs will be lost next year. I don’t know who will beat the Golden State Warriors, who will start four All-Stars and league’s last two MVPs. It’ll only happen if a similar set-up happens in the East. But for now, the spirit of first-rate competition has been lost.

The Pat Summitt Brand

The Brand of Pat Summitt

Pat SummittPat Summitt knew, but you might not know, that many many years ago I owned a scouting service for Division 1 NCAA basketball programs. Women’s Division 1 NCAA basketball programs.

I was privileged to meet and get to know many of the basketball coaches of the day in a sport just beginning to feel its oats with Title 9 funding.

This was so many years ago that Pat Summitt had yet to win her first NCAA title. In my second year in business, that all changed and Pat’s Lady Vols cut down the nets. I was there for that game.

I will leave the tributes to others and there will be many well deserved accolades. She was as gracious in private as she was tenacious in coaching (and as a player years before). I don’t claim to have known her well but just meeting with Coach and spending a short time with her was an unforgettable moment.

She was legendary before she was at the pinnacle of her sport and EVERYONE knew it was just a matter of time before Pat’s teams dominated her sport. I know now why that was. It was the Pat Summitt brand.

Joining the Vols

To become part of that brand, to have the Tennessee Lady Vols logo on your jersey MEANT you were a relenteless and hard as nails competitor who worked tirelessly to be the best you could be.

Pat Summitt Tennessee LogoPlayers improved and grew under Coach Summitt’s tutelage. But she also recruited and won better athletes. The good ones wanted to be part of that brand. No matter how great they were in high school, they believed they were going to a special place and were going to be coached by greatness. The brand was a reflection of Pat Summitt.

What did that mean to the athletes? Everything.

Why the Pat Summitt brand was so powerful

Pat SummittThe basketball court was a microcosm of the world of Pat Summitt. She believed in the transformative power of PRESSURE. There was the pressure to become better. There was the pressure to eliminate mistakes. There was the pressure to be a complete human being and there was the legendary pressure of her man-to-man defense.

Everyone was subjected to her pressure. Especially the poor NCAA victims of her teams rise to greatness.

Pat Summitt was indeed a brand with a capital B. It meant identifying yourself as a player with that brand. It was your identity and it was lived with great dignity and charm by the woman who created it. She did not invent it.. Its just who she was.

Rest in peace Pat Summitt. You are missed.

John Wooden’s Wisdom

John Wooden was a marketing genius

Beer Marketing and Differentiation

Beer Marketing — Growing Beer Market Share

Introduction

Beer marketingThe following glance at beer marketing will give you a quick peak into how Stealing Share operates and finds solutions. Of course, no branding project would be complete without market research and all too often beer marketing lacks valuable research. This is just a cursory analysis. But it suggests a brand position that beer brands could use to steal share based on our own experience and expertise in branding beers. If your brand needs to steal share, feel free to email us or call us.

Commercials

Keeping the advertising in mind for all of beer marketing is important because to be successful in stealing market share your brand needs to be both different and better. So try to keep in mind all the beer ads you’ve ever seen (COORS, Budweiser, Michelob, Miller, MGD, Corona, Beck’s, Heineken, Red Stripe, Bud Light, Sam Adams, Amstel Light and Coors Light — for example). (You can view many of the category commercials here in our beer market study). Take a look before going on with this article.

It’s important to start by briefly describing the personality, position and promise of each of the brands. Here is a short example of just a few US domestic brands.

Brand Personality Position Promise
Budweiser Confident. Hip. King of beers “I get it.”
Miller Lite Hip. Youthful. Beer for friends It’s the experience.
Coors Lite Hip (a bit sophomoric) Cold. From the Rockies. Everyman Beer.
MGD Cool. Aloof. Genuine Seize the day.
Miller High Life Knowable The High Life Everything in perspective.
Coors Real Legendary Be an original.
Michelob Cool. Knowing. Tastes Imported Taste

 

Possible Meanings

Beer Marketing Positions
There are many possible positions. The goal is to find the one with the highest emotional intensity.

We considered the positions that a beer brand could take based on the advertising when mapping out the beer landscape with the goal to create meaningful beer marketing messages. Of course that assumes that the advertisers know what they are trying to convey – and THAT is a frightening assumption. Remember, for a brand position to have any meaning there must be an opposite position that a brand could chose for any of the positions to have true meaning to the customer. For example, “Best” is not a brand position because no one would claim “worst.” “Best” simply isn’t believable to the customer. But someone may claim the “intimate” position because a competitor could claim “casual.” That would be believable because it’s positioned against another’s positioning. Below are some possible positions a beer could choose:

Rules of Positioning

The following rules are helpful when selecting a beer marketing position to steal share in your market.

  1. Thrust:
    The positioning must demonstrate an active competitive advantage. This advantage answers the question of “why should I care” from the perspective of the consumer.
  2. Beer Marketing
    Strategy has rules

    Gravity:
    The positioning must have a powerful relevance to the target audience and their interest and receptiveness must be peaked.

  3. Definition:
    The positioning must be distinctive. It must set the brand apart from the competition.
  4. Density:
    The positioning must be single minded. It must have clarity and simplicity and must illuminate the target’s main precept.
  5. Synthesis:
    The positioning must be fused together in an emotional bond with the target audience. It must grab them in the gut.
  6. Integrity:
    The positioning must be believable. If the message raises suspicion – even if it is true – barriers are raised.
  7. Precision:
    The positioning must speak to the target that is best positioned to influence consumption or to consume that product or service.
  8. Convergence:
    The positioning must convey the same positioning message in all of the ways in which the consumer has of touching the brand.
  9. Momentum:
    The present positioning must build upon (but never mimic) the equity (if any) of past communications to leverage any residual positioning equity.
  10. Acceleration:
    The positioning must keep pace with the changing markets to evolve constantly making itself increasingly effective each day.

Beer Marketing and the Current Market

Next, we map out graphically how the major beer brands see themselves to check if there’s a position ready for the taking. This is an important exercise in developing beer marketing messages and beer brand positions.

Beer Marketing
Today the market is divided mostly by origin and price point.

Beer Marketing
Most microbrews define themselves by their origins or styles

Beer Marketing
To be fair, all the beers brands could be positioned one on top of the other as there is little differentiation

Beer Marketing Summary

All the major domestic beers are, by and large, competing for the same audience with vastly similar messaging. The market skews towards masculine-bawdy. Where are the beer marketing differences? How are they being delivered?

Quality, distinctive taste and better beer belongs to the imports and the micro-brews with some spillover into the specialty mass brews of Killians, Red Dog Blue Moon and the like.

Therefore, to claim a position as the superior tasting beer is in violation of rule 7 (integrity). It simply is not believable.

Like most mature markets, the beer marketing messages need to trade off personality and brand image rather than product benefit. After all, no one prefers a beer that they do not like. Taste or even a promise of better taste is not an effective lever to take market share.

Inside-out and Outside-in

Let’s dig deeper to accurately find positions that have the most meaning to customers and provide a market opportunity. Think about beer marketing from an inside-out perspective (how the beer brand presents itself) and an outside-in prospect perspective (how the customer feels about the brand).

Beer Marketing Implications

The most successful and powerful beer advertising of the past 10 years has toyed with this position. Bud’s anthemic “This Bud’s for you” and the original “Miller Time” campaign from years back found home in this quadrant. In today’s market, the closest player to this position is Corona, which has been one of the strongest and fastest growing beers in the import market.

Behavior Modeling Analysis

beerpres_b42_355To ensure that this beer marketing position has true and important meaning to the audience, we thought through the process (what it is customers think beer does), purpose (what the result of that process is) and the precept (what are the fundamental beliefs of the audiences that leads them to think that is the process). That brings us to the ruling precepts that are the most basic and critical precepts that motivate this audience. As you can see, a brand that fits into the sophisticated/intimate/confident position will appeal to this market ? and steal market share.

From our Behavior Modeling (Read more about it here) analysis we came up with the following precepts that support our market audit.

The Beer Marketing Prime Position

X beer is an authentic great tasting American beer for those of us that don’t need to follow the crowd.

Beer Opportunity.001

“This is the confident beer for those of us who know exactly where we stand. Some things in the world simply need no explanations. Good judgment has great rewards. Discriminating and smart enough to avoid trends and ads. Nourishes the spirit without pretense.”

Preference. It’s amazingly flawed.

Why your preference is misguided

Preference in blindfolded tests
Blindfolds often reveal truths

A Bud Lite drinker once told me that Miller or Coors “would not cross these lips unless they were cold, blue and dead.” He had unshakable preference. I asked him why he hated the other lagers so much and he said “they taste like raccoon urine.”

I asked a large assembly of bankers once if they felt like they were much affected by brand in their preferences. About two-third raised their hands to let me know that brand had no influence on their purchase decisions. Budweiser preferenceI then asked a few of the brand deniers what brand of mayonnaise they had in the refrigerator. To a person, they all responded, “Well, Hellman’s of course.” By a show of hands, almost three-quarters of the group who said they were not influenced by brands admitted that they too had Hellman’s mayonnaise in their fridge. So much for brand having no influence on decisions.

For those of you who are thinking that Hellman’s just tastes better, I have a few facts to share with you that might just surprise you.

Remember the Bud Lite drinker I mentioned earlier. In blind taste tests with hundreds of subjects, beyond the normal distribution of randomness, no one, NO ONE could tell the difference between Bud Lite and its light beer competitors. But it gets worse.

Preference is not a reliable barometer of goodness.Preferences

If you are over the age of 71, in blind taste tests (blindfolded), you can’t tell the difference in taste between Coca-cola and…  7-Up. (Read my article on what happened to 7 Up here) That’s right. They taste the same to you. This is not because human taste buds die at age 71, the age is simply a dividing line between those that grew up on soft drinks and those that did not.

Preference in sodaAs most of you reading this are under the age of 71, I challenge you to do this. Buy either Coke or Pepsi (I don’t care which one but they must not be a diet version) and a non-diet can or bottle of 7-Up.  Have your significant other blindfold you and pour some of each into identical glasses. Then take the blind taste test. Will you be able to tell the difference? Probably. But, you will be shocked at how similar they taste. If it weren’t for a hint of lemon/lime scent from the 7-Up, you would find them identical. The reason is that the predominant flavor exciter is sugar.

I share all this with you because none of us do blind taste tests to choose the things we prefer. Have you ever made two batches of potato salad, one with Hellman’s mayo and another with the store brand? Have you ever compared the side-by-side results of two batches of laundry cleaned with your preferred laundry soap and that of a competitor? I think you get my point. If things that seem so different as Coke and 7-up can be confused, imaging how much of our lives are directed from perceived differences that have nothing to do with rational reasons.

Preference is confusing
Brand prejudice is a reasonable thing

Purchase decisions, ALL PURCHASE decisions are emotional decisions. We perceive the differences that we anticipate and we reinforce our past decisions with over stated differences and inflated preference memories.

This is not a damnation of human behavior. Brand loyalty is a needed and necessary means of simplifying our lives. We place trust in our preferences because it allows us to live in the crowded and loud world we find ourselves in today. Having to make a continual series of rational choices would be exhausting to us. Prejudice, in terms of making sense of our consumer world, is not only a good thing but it is a necessary thing.

So I leave you with one more example. Can you imagine your misfortune to be a child of a brand strategist like myself? When my kids were young, I blindfolded the lot of them and gave them a choice of Nestle’s Quick in whole milk and the same whole milk with confectioner’s sugar. Sure enough, my hapless guinea pigs could not tell the difference.

(Read an article on motivations and brand preference here)