The different world of John Hancock

Readers of this blog, visitors to our site and all our clients know that Stealing Share develops brands that are a reflection of the audience. That’s how you build preference.

The shocking thing to us is how few brands actually practice that. Most brand messaging – or just messaging in general – is either identical to the competition or about the brand itself, or both. That’s the single biggest reason why there is stagnation in most markets.

Therefore, there’s always a bit of elation when a brand actually practices the art of having a brand face, who customers believes they are when they use the brand.

Even though it doesn’t go far enough (more on that later), the new ad campaign for John Hancock does it right. The campaign, with the heading of “Different World, Different Approach,” actually considers who the target audience has become.

One of the spots features a variety of couples getting married, including interracial and same-sex couples. That ad is nice, but the one tilted “CEO” is the winner.

It works because the hallway of past CEOs represents the old way of doing business. In an indirect way, it positions John Hancock against the competition. When the young Hispanic woman walks past the row of profiles, we know it is a different world – a direct reflection of the world we live in today.

The brand of John Hancock needs to make the next step.

Kudos to John Hancock and its ad agency, Hill Holiday, for this campaign. The campaign is terrific, but here’s the problem. The brand is still the same. This is just an advertising campaign. It does not signify a radical shift with the brand. It may be a different world, but it’s the same old John Hancock.

So, this campaign will air over the next few months, then John Hancock will switch to another ad campaign and what the brand of John Hancock means will remain unchanged.

To prompt a true change in the market, one that creates preference, John Hancock needs its brand to reflect the target audience. It’s all well and good that it has a campaign that does, but long-term preference comes from the brand.

Losing strategies from AT&T, Target

You know a brand is failing when it gets desperate to find new customers and keep its current ones, often by reducing prices. It’s the last gasp of brands in markets where brand meaning is ineffective and often similar across the board.

That’s what has happened for both cell phone carriers and retailers. Two cases in point: AT&T and Target.

AT&T
AT&T is in defense mode…

AT&T is doing away with overage fees for data plans, instead reducing the speed of data customers receive if they go over their limit. AT&T is hoping customers will opt to buy bigger data plans or simply be satisfied that they are not getting unexpected fees.

AT&T is following in the footsteps of both Verizon and Sprint, who have similar processes. (Although Verizon actually charges for what it calls its Safety Mode.) This is a defense tactic. And once you are in defense mode, your brand message isn’t working.

Target isn’t doing any better, and maybe worse.

Then there is Target. CEO Brian Cornell told investors that it will double down on the second half of its brand promise: The Pay Less section of “Expect More, Pay Less.”

Target
…and so is Target.

Great. That means Target, which saw a dip in sales of 1.1% last quarter, will reduce prices (and, therefore, margins) to compete with Walmart, which already owns the “Save Money, Live Better” space in retail.

One thing retailers like Target have not learned is that, if you copy the market leader, customers will default to that market leader because market leadership becomes the only reason to choose.

You see that strategy all the time in many markets. Someone takes market leadership with a unique claim and everyone in the industry follows suit, thinking it’s a winning strategy for them as well.

But that’s not how it works. To steal market share, especially if you are not the market leader, you need to be different and better than the market leader. You have to present yourself as a true choice.

AT&T could hold onto its customers with a better brand message than “Mobilizing Your World” because that’s just a definition of its category. If it had something more meaningful, then reducing data speeds to eliminate overage fees wouldn’t need to happen. It would already have true preference.

Same with Target. Give customers a reason to prefer you, not just put your thumb in the hole of a collapsing dam.

Chevrolet must not back off its Silverado video

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how the only way advertising works in this age of TVs, iPads, iPhones and all the information we get over the Internet is if that advertising is bold.

There’s just too much out there and so much advertising gets lost in the noise. The messages are the same tired ones, the overall feeling from them are bland and advertisers soon move onto a new campaign that is just more of the same.

I’ve ruminated on this subject quite a bit recently, noting that Bodyform out of the UK is making a bold stab and the bold move of Sprint using Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” guy is one to notice.

But the lack of boldness still dominates advertising, which is why a simple video by Chevrolet has gone viral. The video shows the bed of a Ford F-150 truck being pummeled by falling bricks while the Chevrolet Silverado suffers minimal damage. In just 48 hours, the video has 3.3 million views.

The Silverado video is exactly what Chevrolet should be doing.

I get the entertainment factor but I also think its viewers are responding to a brand directly taking on another, something brands are too often afraid to do.

It seems even Chevrolet is hesitant. Sandor Piszar, director of truck marketing for Chevrolet, told Marketing Daily that the video “isn’t an attack on Ford.”

What? That’s exactly what it is and Chevrolet should do more of it. Why is Piszar backing off? If he wants to the video to get more notice and, more importantly, more truck customers to prefer the Silverado, then he should say: “Yes, we are directly taking on the Ford F-150. The Chevrolet Silverado is clearly superior.”

It’s systematic of advertising today that even when a brand (Chevy) has taken the bold move to face a competitor one-on-one that it backs off.

Isn’t the point of stealing market share that you’re stealing it from a competitor?

Carolina Panthers, GS Warriors have “it”

I love college sports but I’m liking the Carolina Panthers and Golden State Warriors.

Now, I say that I prefer college sports not because of my allegiance to a particular team or sport, but as a preface to my next statement:

I dislike professional sports.

That is, every year until now.

Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have the winning attitude.

There have been two professional teams that have boasted perfect records. In the NFL, the Carolina Panthers are now sitting on an awesome 13-0 record, while the NBA’s Golden State Warriors had won 24 in a row. (Although they lost this past weekend to the Milwaukee Bucks.) It even turns out that the two stars of the teams, Cam Newton and Steph Curry, are friends.

As a brand guy, I am intrigued by teams like the Carolina Panthers and Golden State Warriors that show resilience and perseverance, dedication and commitment. I believe these two teams have that kind of gusto.

Carolina Panthers and Golden State Warriors have the right attitude.

My favorite coach, John Chaney, said that “winning is an attitude” and it’s also the title of his biography.

Chaney is right. There is a collective energy and consciousness that a winning team has, like the Carolina Panthers do. With unity, a formidable foe can be beaten. On winning teams, players accept their roles and play within themselves. They even have fun doing it.

Carolina Panthers
Like the Carolina Panthers, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors have the winning attitude.

Success is the only option for Duke when Coach K is at the helm. His players believe it is their destiny to win, which shows whenever they hit the hardwood. People hate them for it, but Duke normally has the last laugh.

The Carolina Panthers and Golden State Warriors are magnetic.

When I think about the brands that steal market share or those on our roster seeking to steal share, they have changed the lens from which they see. That’s because it is not until they believe that they should be wearing a winning lens, that winning can become a reality.

That’s why I encourage you to watch a few games of the Carolina Panthers and Golden State Warriors. They are fun to watch. Notice the tangible appearance of their beliefs, and how different it is than the teams they are beating.

American Apparel bankruptcy predictable

I suppose you could say that just about any industry is brutal for the players involved. The restaurant business, for example, is extremely tough to break into, as the rate of success for a new restaurant is extremely low.

Another industry that comes to mind is the retail industry, especially in apparel. Much of the blame falls on the retailers themselves as many of them have failed to adapt to changing consumer patterns, stubbornly holding on to old business models and brand meaning.

The customers are walking away.
The customers are walking away.

With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that American Apparel will file for bankruptcy today, coming off declining sales numbers that have put the retailer’s existence in jeopardy. It lost $134 million in just the last three months, a fourth straight quarterly drop.

The American Apparel bankruptcy is not a surprise because, even though American Apparel has suffered some bad PR recently with its now-fired founder being shown the door after allegations of inappropriate behavior, American Apparel just doesn’t mean anything within the retail space.

Bankruptcy will be coming to other retailers.

This is a common problem with retailers as their meanings simply blend from one into another. Instinctively, few of us understand the difference between, for example, American Apparel and H&M. You could go down the list of retailers and come up with the same equation: As brands, the meaning just comes down to hip clothes for hip youth. Where’s the differentiation in that?

Recently, Stealing Share did a study of the retail apparel market and much of what I’ve written here is further explained in it. We concluded that retailers must own something that its competition does not. And few do.

The American Apparel bankruptcy is just the start. More and more retailers, especially those in retail who depend on shoppers coming to the mall, will find themselves facing bankruptcy and wondering why their sales are dropping.

Retailers need to own something that actually gets shoppers to choose them, rather than just clicking on Amazon. Which is what they are doing right now.