The Silo Chasm

    Brand Management

    Showing Up Isn’t Enough!

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    Bob Gilbreath, chief strategy officer at Possible Worldwide, wrote a book a year ago called Marketing With Meaning. It’s a counterpoint to Woody Allen’s quote about “90% of life is just showing up.”  Bob suggests embedding your message (and offer) with something of value.  Not mere boast and claim — something meaningful and fulfilling. The book is a must read.

    I created a brand plan for a health system a number of years ago designed to move the dial on about 9 attributes that make for a successful hospital experience; things like: “best doctors,” “leading edge treatments,” “improved patient outcomes.”  If you can answer yes to these hospital qualities, it is likely you will want your procedure done there.

    When I see work in this category today, sometimes I wonder if marketers are trying to be meaningful at all.  One NYC hospital spending a lot of money is doing it the Woody Allen way, just showing up. Doing “we’re here” ads. One word headlines and pretty pictures.  And the system that once had the nine meaningful measures?  It must have listened to its ad agency and now only measures “first mentions.”  That’s a research term for a telephone poll indicating what consumers answer when asked, “Name a hospital or hospital system in your region.” That’s measuring the media plan and the budget, not the communication of the work.

    The best politicians are those who have a vision, are true to it, and allow the populace to experience that vision.  Process that vision. The worst are those who read opinion polls and change direction at will.  Similarly, the best brands have a plan that creates meaningful differentiation and organized claim and proof to consumers.  And they stick to it. Peace!

    The best worst job in America.

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    One of the most exciting yet scariest jobs in the world is probably CMO of the Magazine Publishers of America.  The MPA is an association funded by competing print and online properties that fight one another harder than the GOP and Dems at holiday time.  To say the magazine business is changing would be an understatement.  But to a great extent, it is also staying the same.  All that’s changing is what’s delivered and how.  Brilliant photo journalism is still required but now must include video.  Great writing, analysis and thought leadership still win that day – but there is a lot more competition (bloggers) and algorithmic noise.

    Readers twitch more today than ever before, requiring magazine publishers to anchor them to their sites.  And advertises, the lifeblood of the magazine business, are becoming enamored of publishing and content creation. And don’t forget magazines are made from trees, not a particularly forward thinking resource. (Though probably more renewable than circuit boards.)

    Herding the powerful magazine cats out of the marble hallway is a challenge. It requires someone who has more power than the cats themselves. Someone who commands respect. Probably not an ink-stained patriarch, but someone with mad vision. Someone who can see beyond the dashboard. Who the Lewis and Clark is?   If you thought being CEO of Yahoo was tough, keep your eyes on this search. Peace.

    Got Brand Continuity?

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    All the world’s a brand. Recruiters and HR people will tell you you are a brand. The town you live in is a brand, the car you drive is two: master and model. A company is a brand and its products are too.

    Probably the most capable brand ministers are B school grads very young in their tenure at packaged goods companies. But then they go to war, fighting market share battles and become soiled by their many agents and agencies.  They move off the brand plan and pursue tactic with the highest return.  If the tactics do well by them, they may specialize; often at the expense of the brand.

    Technology advances have done more to simultaneously help and hurt marketing than at any other time in history. The web has collapsed the 4Ps (product, price, promotion and place.) Technology has taken our focus off the brand and put it squarely on a shiny new toolkit. But even as geolocation marries search which will marry worldwide pricing and real-time auctions – brand remain a vital part of the marketing picture. So I ask you, do you know your brand?  Can you articulate your brand in a few seconds? Is it a person place or thing?  Or a service company or solution provider? And what does the brand do for customers?  Can you articulate what it does in a quick, meaningful and distinguishing way? If you can’t do you think your customers can? Your agents?

    In the movie and TV production business there is a person responsible for something called continuity. That person makes it so that an actor doesn’t go into the kitchen in a red shirt and come out in an orange shirt. Continuity is what many brands lack today.  A brand plan, a boiled down artictulation of what a brand is and what a brand does, secures continuity. Peace.

    Ceding Control of Brand Strategy.

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    Advertising used to make us get off our asses and go buy something. Or, call someone to talk about buying something. That was its job.  Retail advertisers understood this better than most, watching the cash register ring when ads activated customers.   

    In the NY market AT&T and Verizon used to be able to tell how many new cellular customers they were going to add based upon how far forward their ads were in The New York Times

    The Web has changed all that.  Social media pundits and digital strategists tell us we turn to one another to learn which products to buy. Consumers believe consumers, they say, not ads.  The web facilitates this consumer-leading-consumer behavior.  Through community and ratings machines, consumers can certainly gather information to help them with purchase decisions. No argument from me. But these online tools that gather and parse consumer attitudes, with no organizing principle behind them, are eroding brand strategy.  And brand managers are allowing it. 

    Good advertising and market professionals find “reasons to buy” that are way more powerful than those offered by John and Mary Q public. Professionals are trained to prioritize and organize reasons to buy.  If we let consumers decide, and then employ the algorithm to drive our decisions, there is no art or science. We cede control of the brand strategy. It may even alter product design, so everything moves toward the middle.

    Marketers who let consumer do their job for them are lazy. Great brand strategy comes from consumer insight, no doubt. But a consumer collective as brand manager? Nuh uh.  Peace.

    Loss On Investment. (Pt. 2)

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    I wrote a piece last week about LOI or loss on investment. There used to be only a couple of ways for brands to let consumer’s down: A bad product experience — we all know how that can get tongues wagging — and poor or offensive marketing communication, e.g., an ad. The latter rarely happens because professionals are developing those and approving those. Also, ads are often researched.

    Two ways to lose brand investment used to be the case, not today. Brands use way move channels to reach consumers. A poorly laid out website can tork off consumers. A slow or unfulfilling ecommerce experience. Some poorly thought out photos on Facebook accompanied by irate online comments. Digital and social have given consumers and poorly trained employees new hand in communications and it can dilute brand value. Undoing the good work.

    Last week a friend emailed me having received a disingenuous email from Amazon. A huge fan who has fed lots of money into the Kindle engine she was pissed because Amazon asked her to take a survey about Kindle usage. She happily agreed but then learned they were just trying to upsell her a Kindle Fire. To add insult, they asked lots of inane questions they should have known having so much data on her. Her rant to me was paragraphs. She’ll get over it, but a petal has fallen off that rose.

    The problem in brand management today is twofold. First, you actually have to have a brand strategy to manage. (One idea and three proof planks.) And second, you have to manage vigorously…with all partners, vendors, employees and publics. Find your brand strategy and feed it.

    Peace.

     

    Branding: Scorch, drone or look ‘em in the eye.

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    It was not long ago that advertising was governed by a scorched earth approach. Fire up a message and spray it in every direction.  If you bought the top TV show, the best read magazine, the leading radio station and newspaper in the 10 largest cities, you reached everyone.

    Extending the metaphor, following the scorched earth approach, thanks to the web, we are now more in drone attack mode. We don’t target those not interested in our products and messaging, that would be wasteful, we conduct due diligence then hover over our targets and bomb the shit out of them. Behavioral targeting, search engines, opt-in vehicles all enable drone attack kills.  The problem with drone attacks is that there are often lots of accidental casualties. Drone attacks are not only singularly expensive, they can give a brand a bad name. Drone attacks are preferred to scorched earth because corporate executives feel more in control and can see immediate results.  

    The reality is, drone attacks do have kills (sales) though as a marketing tools they dilute our brands. Brands today are defined by campaigns, not brand values.  Ask a consumer about Old Spice and the first thing they’ll say is “that football player” or the “guy who rides the horse” or “guy with the great pecs.”  They rarely play back the human connection to the value of body spray.  

    What I love about new media – social media – is that corporate executive can tune in to consumers from street level. That’s where it counts. Scott Monty of Ford is tuned-in where it counts. Sure he’s Mr. Twitter and Mr. Fotchbook, but he hears his audience every day. And Alan Mulally, his boss, and the shareholders benefits. Mr. Monty is on the ground listening, not operating a drone remotely. That’s the way to build a brand. That’s how you build a marketing program. With a brand, a plan, and a policy. Not a campaign dashboard.  Peace!

    Freehand Messaging.

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    Freehand is defined thusly:

    adjective

    1. drawn or executed by hand without guiding instruments, measurements, or other aids: a freehand map.

    adverb

    2. in a freehand manner: to draw freehand.

    When CMOs, senior marketers and their agencies say “consumers own brands,” it makes for good copy but bad management. Consumers buy products, weighing in with their pocketbooks as to taste, preference and price requirements, but they do not own the brands.  Ad, direct and digital agencies have known this for years.  It is what creates the conflict between client and agency.  Clients want the work they want and agencies want the work they want.  Clients own the brands.

    Freehand messaging is what happens when you turn your brand over to consumers to manage.  The conversation, then, can take any course it wants. Good, bad, indifferent. If I am working my ass off managing a craft cookie brand, around attributes of “naturally moist,” “healthier ingredients” and “complex flavors” — on a shoestring budget — I want to make sure people are talking about those things…the things that sell my cookies. Not cookie ephemera. When the consumer discussion is not guided by brand managers and agencies, the discussion is freehand. And marketers are not doing their job. Every dollar spent by a marketer needs to result in a deposit in the brand bank. Withdrawals are the Antichrist. Stop the freehand by managing it! Peace.

    Best Buy Default.

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    I love making predictions.  When I started disagreeing with Barry Judge, CMO of Best Buy, a few years ago about marketing and brand management, implicit in that disagreement was that Best Buy would have earnings troubles. You see, Mr. Judge jumped on the pop marketing band wagon proclaiming “companies don’t own brands, consumers do.”  My response was this view was lazy and opened the door for disorganized brand management. Even a number of P&G digitists were agreeing with this fallacious notion.

    Best Buy’s net income is down 30% this quarter, all due to price cutting.  If your name is Best Buy and you ask customers what they want they’ll say “coupons and low prices.” If you don’t create another value for your customers they default to price.  And when customers default to price you’re not marketing, you’re simply selling.

    Mr. Judge and his army of Twelpforcers and sales assistants needed a plan. They were in the right neighborhood (providing assistance), but bounding about without a motivation.  Had they a plan, had someone at the top managed the brand rather than turned it over to the masses, Best Buy would be killing it now as we slide step out of recession. 

    The good news for Mr. Judge is it’s not too late to fix this thing. He has more data, more inputs and more mindshare than he knows what to do with.  If he organizes his house with some serious brand management chops, next year Best Buy won’t be covering up price tags to fend off the smartphone price scanner apps, they’ll be smiling with gold teeth. Peace.

    The Marketing Morass that is Google+.

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    “It will change the way people work, share and communicate” is a sentence we’ve heard hundreds of times. And a sentence we’ve read in ads, thousands of times.  This sentence was used in an article today to describe how businesses will use Goggle+ Circles.  According to the same article Google+ is a social network, like Facebook. It kind of looks like a clean version of Facebook but acts more like Twitter, organized to feed information of those one follows.  Then again, it displays pictures and videos in the feed as does Facebook. The buttons and apps in the side margins of Google+ are cool, offering the ability to gerrymander friends and acquaintances into groups and also to do video chats through an exciting feature called hangouts (which I have yet to try), so that feels new — but kind of hidden.

    The product managers at Google say Circle and/or Hangouts will change the way people work, share and communicate, and they could be right – but not based on the current mish-mash of free hand messaging in the market today.  Google+ released to techies in Beta because techies thrive on confusion.  They eat it for breakfast. But for the rest of the web Google+ still doesn’t have an Is-Does and so is compared to Twitter and Facebook.  The killer application (video circles) is underutilized and under understood.  I do believe video hangouts or cirlces (or whatever they are) will be a game changer – especially in training and education and problem solving.  But right now the whole Google+ thing is a morass of huh.  Were I Google, Google Labs or BBH, I’d be working on a Super Bowl ad (I know, it’s against their better judgment) that distills the Google+ value and showcases the ease of multiparty video chat to the world.  Google+ was a horrible name. A lazy name for what may be a huge product in 3 years. If properly brand managed. It is still a product in need of an Is-Does.  Peace!

    Planned Act Of Kindness.

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    Just finished reading a story in The New York Times about the Robin Hood restaurant chain in Spain run by Father Angel Garcia Rodriquez, who operates a pay-for establishment during breakfast and dinner only to serve the homeless for dinner. The dinner crowd is served by waiters and waitresses, on real plates, using nice cutlery, not plastic. For free. In addition to the charity, his wish is that the experience will engender hope in his nightly diners. This planned act of kindness is popular and successful and may be on its way to Miami, Florida.

    Acts of kindness and selflessness create powerful feelings for all involved. Selling is not a human trait. Charity is. Every brand should ask itself “What is the nicest thing we have done for customers this year?” If the answer is a one-day-sale or a pre-printed holiday card the brand needs to reexamine its approach.

    Planned acts of kindness should be requisite for all brands. The financial officers may not always see the value, but they’re not building brands. They are building bank accounts.

    Peace.