Brand Strategy

    Officious and Dysfunctional Strategies.

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    Officious is a wonderful word and one too infrequently used in strategic planning.  An adjective, it is defined as: objectionably aggressive in offering one’s unrequested and unwanted services, help, or advice; meddlesome: an officious person.  Strategies that lead to this type of brand claim are a blight.  Conversely, strategies so soft and huggable consumers cozy up to a tangent in order to get the brand claim, are also a blight. Some might call that borrowed interest.

    What does Coke do better than any other soft drink?  Refresh. People want to be refreshed, so offering up examples of how and when Coke refreshes in not officious. Telling them Coke is more refreshing (world’s most, more people refresh, more refreshing than…) is.  As Coke and Wieden and Kennedy would have you believe today, Coke makes you Happy. That’s borrowed or tangential. It makes for nice advertising and playful Coke machines, but is an indirect sell. When Coke gets back to its core refreshment value and shows us how it refreshes, proves how it refreshes, the advertising will sell more.

    The line between officiousness and borrowed, tangential value in not a fine line, ii’s a chasm.  So what do so many brand strategies jump to one or the other? It’s dysfunction, is what it is. Peace!

     

    Brand Promises and Stereotypes.

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    Stereotypes are important in marketing because they are patterns.  Many feel that if you play to the patterns, you will win.  Creative directors, on the other hand, have made a living going the other way — staying away from patterns, which is a pattern in itself.

    Stereotyping Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, might suggest she was more likely to assist in the EU bailout because she’s a woman – a mom.  Stereotyping a Long Island Rail Road worker who took retirement with disability at age 50, might portray him as a golf-playing aerobicist, while the reality is he is an arthritic thanks to 30 years keeping the trains moving during winter snowstorms.

    Is someone in Aspen, CO who opens a retailer door and shouts in “Which way to Little Nells?” a New Yorker?   Okay, that one might be accurate – but the reality is stereotypes are nothing more than learning for a brand planner. And as planners if we know “no one wants to be a stereotype.”  It doesn’t mean the consumer wants to be the pioneer who takes the arrows  or the Beta User whose machine gets crapped – it just means when being sold, we want to feel individualized.  The promise has to have promise…not an explicit benefit.  Let consumers’ minds work and process things in their own way. Europeans are better at this type of selling than Americans.  In the U.S. we are very explicit with our ads and social media.

    Sometimes being broad with a promise works harder.  Peace.  

    Advertising and the commodity slurry.

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    Advertising agencies have allowed themselves to become commoditized.  In product marketing there are luxury goods, mid-priced challengers and bargain goods, but in the agency business everyone is more or less priced the same. 

    Sure, if you hire BBDO or Ogilvy your top line creative people will be more expensive than someone from the no-name middle tier but you get what you pay for and after a year or so the profitability equation seeps in and both type of shops meet in the middle. The commoditized middle.

    This is because ad agencies sell labor and stuff (pictures, video, writing, music and coding).  The valuable part – strategy – more often than not is given away.  Strategy and creative win new business but brand strategy often disappears after the contract is signed leaving creative to carry the day.  At that point middle-managers-on-the-rise start to take control.  And tactics take over. That’s when air starts seeping out of the balloon.  Tactics are commodities in the ad business. Apple wouldn’t put up with this. 

    What’s the way out?

    Ad agencies need to strengthen their commitment to strategy over tactics. They need to build incentives into their contracts tied to the strategic product.  If a client approves work that is off strategy, the client should have to fund a kicker to the fee. A – because it will cause more work.  And B – because the work will be off-piste.  Campaigns come and go…and that’s okay.  But brand strategy should not. Agencies known for their strategic work will emerge from the commodity slurry. Peace!   

    Can save lives but not an idea.

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    UnitedHealthcare (one word) is an insurance company with 78 thousand employees serving 70 million Americans. Those are some big numbers. And big numbers are what drive the company’s current advertising campaign. “Health in numbers” is the idea. With lots of data in hand and lots of analysts managing its output, the promise to consumers is an improved healthcare experience. That’s the micro promise; the macro promise is “we’re huge and can offer better insurance pricing.”

    I’m pretty sure Ogilvy is the ad agency for UnitedHealtcare and, sadly, the ads are forgettable. Today there’s one in The New York Times showing a 60-something man riding a motorcycle with a flurry of animated numbers flying in his wake. That’s the visual idea. I know this advertising is targeting number crunchers in corporate America more than patients, but this is high school stuff. The copy in the ad is focused on “knowledge in numbers” and how data records can prevent contra-indicated medicines from being administered to patients, so as a brand student I can see there’s a plan here. The other brand planks are: strength in numbers, humanity in numbers and comfort in numbers. (Okay, I didn’t say a good plan.)

    Here’s my diagnosis: Good strategy, not so good creative, poor client brand management. I’m betting the work was the product of a team of clients that couldn’t agree and therefore went with a hodgepodge, duct taped effort. The revenue was there for Ogilvy, the B team delivered a product, and the agency will live to see another campaign year. Maybe.

    Ogilvy is better than this. And a company that can analyze data in a way that can save lives, is better than this. Peace!

    Yahoo. A Portal and Pages Strategy.

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    Carol Bartz was let go yesterday and not a moment too soon.  A smart lady out of her element – she, a good enterprise tech blocker and tackler – Ms. Bartz in the near term will be replaced by an army of herself.  An army of bankers and financial advisors that will chase the numbers — chase and plot the lines of business.  An army that will evaluate global growth, sales, competitors whiles using Wall Street formulas to predict market capitalization.  Not one Carol, 20 Carols.  And while this is happening the call will go out to high level search firms and tech recruiters.  The board of directors, headed by adman Roy Bostock, will do some trail covering and soul searching and become a story in and of itself. This is how we do-oo it.

    But what needs to be done here, as well, is a brand audit and a brand plan. A brand plan is an operating principle guided by consumer needs…delivered in the form of the product experience, marketing and messaging. People think a brand plan is about messaging alone and they are wrong.   

    All the financial work the numbers consultants will do is important. The CEO hire is important, but what Yahoo IS and what Yahoo DOES (for consumers) is more important. This is called the Is-Does.  Right now Yahoo IS a Portal. And what it DOES is serve web pages.  Yahoo wants to be an innovative content company, but hasn’t delivered.  If consumers can’t pass the Is-Does test, it’s a fail.  Right now Yahoo’s Is is weak. And the Does doesn’t.

    My prediction:  in 12 months there will be a new CEO, a new logo, a new campaign (Yahoo would be smart to keep ad shop Goodby), and no brand plan.  Brand diaspora, brand diffusion is what kills great companies.  Stop the madness. Peace!

    Bi-Polar Disorder at HP?

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    Leo Apotheker CEO of HP in a recent interview came off as a really smart, refreshingly calm captain of the tech industry.  You know the type, not smiling but almost, methodical and thoughtful in his delivery. Confident, not cocky. He knew his numbers, his trends, margins (everyone’s margins, in fact) and had a plan – a future-proof plan.  Use WebOs as the connective tissue for all computing and communication devices, bolstered by an enterprise cloud play.  Lovely.  Sprawling but lovely. Anyone smell an apple?

    Those who read these musings know I am all about focus.  That’s the brand planner in me. HP has been anything but focused over the last 10 years. A printer company. The world’s leading PC company. Outsourcing. Big iron. Smart phones. Tabs. And operating systems. But let’s not forget in the post Carly Fiorina era, this company’s financials have been smoking. So the company’s scale has been a positive.

    In a stunning announcement yesterday, Mr. Apotheker went on record as saying he wants to jettison tablets, smart phones and the WebOs as businesses, sell the PC business as a standalone unit and buy Autonomy Software for $10B. Normally, I would support this type of move, especially for a floundering company, but this almost feels other-worldly.

    The reported for the New York Times Verne G. Kopytoff (also sounds fishy) used words to describe the PC move such as “dump” and “unload.” What PR person was handling this briefing?   

    I understand the need for focus and I get the desire to increase margins through upping the software and cloud quotient, which by the way dials down the need for headcount, but this business move feels bi-polar. I wonder how the story is playing in the HP Personal Systems Group today?  Check the meds. Peace.

     

    Red Lobster’s New Brand Strategy.

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    I was just reading in The New York Times about Red Lobster’s new ad campaign.  The campaign idea “Sea food differently,” is a little off-piste and perhaps a bit too creative.  The ads introduces a new logo with some locked-up words “Fresh Fish, Live Lobster” which is nice.  But the good news is, the traditional Red Lobster advertising that everyone can play back in their sleep — the big lemon squirt over a lobster tail and some superimposed pricing — will be replaced by ads with real people (people test well) talking about Alaska’s cold waters or oak used for grilling.

    This is a no brainer improvement for the work out of Grey, NY.  Advertising is all about claim and proof. The lemon squirt work was “we’re here” retail advertising at its best, which isn’t saying too much. The new work has a strategy.  If advertising is about claim and proof, branding is about claim and delimited, organized proof.  My take on the new brand plan for Red Lobster is that the proof planks are roughly: fresh fish, grilling, and lobster.

    Stuart Elliot’s article spends a lot of time talking about the people in the ads, but the reason the ads will work is not because of the fisherman with the beard from Ahh-rass-kahhhh (Alaska), but the storied proof and pictures that demonstrate the strategy.  People deliver the strategy, they aren’t the strategy.    

    Campaigns come and go but a powerful brand strategy is indelible. Sounds like Red Lobster has a tight brand strategy.  I smell some sales! Good job Darden and Grey. Peace!

    HP TouchPad Ads Off…and Running.

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    Hewlett-Packard is launching a new ad campaign today for the TouchPad tablet and it sounds rather messy.  I read about it in The New York Times ad column and hope it’s just poor reporting. The story was written by Elizabeth Olson.

    Here’s my strategic take. 

    • HP is late to market with the tablet and needs to get noticed.
    • HP has a new operating system (OS), which will drive all its hardware devices. Called webOS, it will integrate their smartphones, PCs, printers, tablets and soon other devices and appliances.  It’s a cool promise, but s complicated story.
    • Printers are a big franchise and potential differentiator, so HP wants to make them more relevant.
    • The purchase of Palm and the growth of the smartphone market has made the mobile business a critical growth component.
    • HP is not a big brand with Millennials and teens.

    That is a lot of stuff to convey.  If you have to say 5 things, you’ve said nothing.

    The NY Times story starts out talking about a new commercial with Russell Brand. I’m feeling it.  A little old school, but I’m feeling it. Then it says there are executions with stars from iCarly and Glee. The future holds spots/vids from Lebron James and Jay-Z and Lady Gaga did some work in May but has not re-upped.  Add to that, all the social media contests (100 free TouchPads) and Twitter tchotch and you begin to see how it’s going to be hard to find the idea. Goodby Silverstein is a great  ad shop, but it doesn’t sound as if it hasn’t corralled this herd of goats. 

    My head is spinning.  I hope it is just a lot of info, not well organized, by a reporter from another newspaper beat. And I’m no Leo Apotheker. Peace!

     

    Nike Water Down.

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    I don’t see action sports being a good fit for Nike, even though its a nice revenue stream today. According to a New York Times article today, the segment is underserved and Nike wants a piece.  When Nike bought Hurley, I thought it a great idea, but one to roll as a separate brand. Using Nike to go head-to-head with O’Neill, Billabong and Quicksilver, not so much.

    They are spending big — hiring 72 and Sunny, big name athletes on the action sports circuit, hot videographers and commercial directors, but it all feels a little “all hat no cattle.”  The tactics are right, but the business idea wrong.  I may have said the same back when Nike moved into golf, but then they tied their swoosh to Tiger and it worked.  Now they want to extend to skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. Sure, it will spike, but long-term it will diminish the brand. Nike should have put wood behind Hurley.  Water culture people (frozen or warm) are fickle. They create style, they don’t get it out of a box or pad/pod.

    Google’s culture of technological obesity (gobbling in every direction) is not dissimilar to this overstep by Nike. Chill with the kicks, the golf, and the apparel. Enjoy global growth. And back away from the table. Water sports will water down the brand. Peace.