Brand Strategy

    Nike Water Down.


    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.

    Prefer this!


    Here’s the thing about “consideration.” It’s a great marketing metric if your audience is not shopping.  If they are shopping, it’s not nearly as important as “preference.” The gap between consideration and preference can be a broad one indeed.  Brand building that accelerates the move from one to the other is what earns marketers and their agents the big bucks.  But not every seller of goods moves the dial up the ladder; some actually move it backwards.  If a consumer once preferred brand X, but now prefers brand Y, that’s a customer relationship management (CRM) problem.

    Kia Motors, #8 in car sales in the US, has been brand building with vigor for about 4 or 5 years now.  Though far behind in overall sales, they led the pack with +54% sales jump in April. Kia has done this by building preference. Market factors have contributed certainly: price and car size have earned them a seat at the table. But David & Goliath, a very smart Los Angeles ad shop is building something for Kia.  Kia’s reputation in the market, not dissimilar from that of Hyundai a couple of years ago and Samsung a couple of decades ago, was that or a Korean company with questionable quality. Close to Japan, but not close. Considered but not preferred.

    D&G has used advertising to target the younger side of the car buying market – an impressionable target – in a fun tongue-in-cheek, unexpected way. And it’s clearly working.  Their use of music, entertainment and parody allows them to stand out and showcase the nicely designed cars. David & Goliath is making the brand hip. And when a car brand is seen as relevant and hip, it accelerates towards preference.  The Kia story and D&G’s role will be a fun one to watch. Peaceful.

    Brand Strategy Trumps Formula.


    When is faster not faster?  And when does modular, formulaic construction create an inferior product?   The answer is in marketing communications. Here’s how this shizz should work.  After all the money discussions are complete, after the bosses shake hands, and proprietary company information is exchanged, someone with strategic  bone at an agency should write a brief.   Brand brief, creative brief, project brief, call it what you will. If there is not a strategic idea within the brief that feels right (and I do mean feel), that inspires pictures and music in the heads of the creators and developers, then the brief is poor and should be rewritten.

    Time to market.

    Once a brief is right and approved (and be prepared for some fighting, fear and diplomacy), only then should creative work begin. A tight brief is the fastest way to good work. For those who like metrics, a tight brief gets to approved work faster.  Approved work gets produced faster. Produced work gets seen faster. And organized, singular work – be it banner, website, promotion, direct, promotion or advertising – gets acted upon by consumers faster.

    Where the system breaks down is when the strategic idea is unclear. As creators of marketing deliverables become more process focused and less idea focused, as they become more formula driven, the work suffers. Formula replaces the cerebral cortex when creators are uninspired.  I wrote a brief for a friend’s commercial maintenance company that took some real digging.  The brief likened his operation to that of a team of Navy Seals.  That’s who they were.  That’s who they will be. The company is  “fast, preemptive and fastidious.” That’s a plan creators can get behind – without formula or module. That’s brand design. Peace.

    Dodge Challenger Video


    I’m not a car guy.  My sister knows more about engines than I do, not that there’s anything sexist in that statement (maybe there is.)  I asked my son recently “What’s a Hemi?”  That’s the context.  But I do know advertising and marketing and have an ear for what consumers will like. And the president and CEO of Dodge, Ralph Gilles, talking about his brand and the tres cool Dodge Challenger (in this video) is a winning piece of marketing.  Shot and (perhaps?) concepted by Cobrandit’s Owen Mack, this piece made me want to go trade in my Prius for a Dodge anything. Great advertising makes you feel something, then do something.  In my case the “do” was post to the blog.

    Mr Gilles is the absolute perfect salesman for this car and this brand. Just listen to him.  Not a suit, he.  Just a lover of cars and engines and Dodge and, I can tell, people who love cars.  So they will trust him. He’s black, presumably from the motor city, rocking the bald head thing, styling the clothes.  He is very videogenic. And the cars he’s showing are pulsing with power.  As is he — in a very friendly way.

    I worked at McCann for a number of years when they would trot out CEOs to walk through the corporate headquarters and tell America that “the road to the future was paved with GM” or some such.  It was suits selling suity cars. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Mr. Gilles can bring back Dodge as long as the cars are good and he keeps talking to the people like this.  Get him on TV and radio.  Show these car designs, spin some Detroit magic, mint some money.  His next Job? The new US Fiats. Peace. 


    Brand Identity…or Ornamentation?


    Wikipedia defines a brand as an identity.  Many years ago, while excavating a late woodland Indian shell midden on Moshier Island for the University of Southern Maine, I came across a piece of deer rib bone I assumed was some type of weaving shuttle. (It wasn’t my day job.)  It had some notches on the bone which gave it a unique appearance and I wondered if they were ornamental or a personal identifier. 

    Outside branding nerds, many in marketing today don’t quite know the difference between identifier brands and ornamental brands.   What’s the Idea? builds and rebuilds identifier brands.  Only then do we allow them to be ornamented.  And that dress up, as beautiful as it may be, must add to the identification story.  Go into a room, turn off the lights and listen to the voices of your friends and family. You can identify them.  But if you feel their clothes, not so much.

    The big girls and boys know this.  Whenever an Interbrand, Landor or Wolff Olin starts a new  logo project they create a brief; one that sets the identity direction.  Recently for a commercial maintenance company I developed a strategy suggesting they were the  “Navy seals” of maintenance.  Preemptive, fast and fastidious.  When the art director went off to do logo designs, he had a directive. When the client reviewed designs, he knew “how to buy” and “what to approve.”  Of course some ornamentation got in the way and he wanted to be a “green” company and, and, and.  But the CEO ran his group with navy seal precision – it was the company. It was his identifier.   The mark and brand organizing principles where hard to debate.  This is how we do-oo it!.  Peace.

    Brand Planning Patterns and Breakage.


    In brand planning there are two schools of thought: Find the strength and highlight it, or find the weakness and negate it.  At the root of this approach is optimism vs. pessimism.  This is where quantitative research can play a role – testing which approach will have the biggest business impact.  But few mid and small-sized companies are willing to spend that money.  Large companies will, but tend not to want to do major brand planning overhauls unless under attack. Pessimism, then, often wins out.

    Consumer Marketing

    Consumer marketers by nature are all about the positive. All about the user benefit and that’s a good thing. But if everyone, in every consumer category, is being positive: “be more productive,” “more individualized service,” “lower cost” then it’s hard to make an impression. 


    In B2B selling for the last 10 years, sales people trek annually to Arizona to chant “Find the pain point.” Understanding a company’s pain seems the pop marketing way for a B2B salesperson to connect in a meaningful way.  And therein lies a marketing conundrum: consumer marketing labors around the positive while B2B favors the negative. Overstatements perhaps, but patterns. And brand planning is about patterns and breaking or disrupting them; in ways that serve all consumers — with actionable, scalable and repeatable ideas that sell.  Watch the patterns. Peace.

      Brand planning, patternsm pan points, b2b marketing, consumer marketing, whatstheidea, whats the idea,

    Best Buy Oops.


    I say Best Buy, you say what?  “Lot’s or products.” (Good) “Low prices” (A core value.) “Twelpforce and Twitter.” (Oooh, sorry.)  That’s right.  Best Buy and CMO Barry Judge have been in the spotlight and awards show klieg lights for months due to its so-called leadership in social media.   Best Buy used to was (Southernism) all about being the best buy.  Well they took their eye off the brand prize, found technology, and have now lost market share in laptops, TVs and videogame software in the quarter just reported.

    I looove social media, but it’s not a brand strategy. It’s a media strategy and a marketing tactics. Had Mr. Judge focused more of his efforts on ways to provide a more competitively priced product than Walmart, Target and Amazon, the klieg lights would still be shining.

    Alas.  Peace!

    The Web’s Specialty.


    There’s a cool story in today’s New York Times about single-food restaurants. It stands to reason that enterprises of this type can only thrive if the food is excellent and the stores located in highly populated areas.  In NYC you can take out and, in some cases, eat in at a Mac and Cheese store or a meatball store. There are places that sell only mussels, only rice pudding, and only fried chicken. It’s a growing phenomenon. Specialization suggests focus; a focus on quality, ingredients, product and knowledge.

    In mid-town Manhattan, where there are probably a half million lunches served within walking distance of any high-rise, there are lots of options. So why not go to the best option; the place that specializes? The place that eats, breathe and sleeps its specialty. Forget me not that this type of store can scale well and have a supply chain with amazingly fat margin opportunities. That’s gravy at the gravy store.

    This is a key chapter in the story of the Web — and where the web is going.

    I’ve written before about “worldwide pricing” and the ability to search the world for the best prices.  Well, how about searching the world for the best quality? The ability to do so is a web app. And specialization and focus are the tools of that trade.

    We are bound by product and service mediocrity because of geographic and time limitations. And because of supply and demand.  Well, say buh-bye to these barriers.  Ima stop there and let you entrepreneurs ponder that for a while. Ponder, Ponder.  Peace!

    Wendy’s. Kaplan Thaler. Unreal.


    Branding is about owning a discrete idea in the minds of consumers.  Find the right idea — something you are good at and upon which you can deliver – then spend your money proving it.  

    A couple of years ago, Wendy’s, a top 3 fast food burger chain, gave its account to Kaplan Thaler Group. Kaplan Thaler does good ads, great music and creates muscle memory for its clients.  It won the Wendy’s business with a neat jingle and neat idea “You know when it’s real.”   The idea revolves around a commitment to use more natural ingredients.  No one doesn’t want more natural ingredients.  So it is a great idea in a category with pent up “bad nutrition” ideals.

    We can debate whether the last two year of advertising have delivered on the natural ingredients promise, but there is a $25 million campaign launching for Wendy’s new French fries that has gone off trail. The product uses natural-cut unpeeled Russet Burbank potatoes and sea salt. Presumably they are using a healthier quality of fry oil.  The advertising idea – and here is where the disconnect comes in — is about “taste and sharing.”  People like the taste so much they don’t want to share.  You know when it’s real?  When this work is copy-tested people will play back “the fries are so good you won’t want to share.”  FAIL.  (I’m sure the copy talks about real ingredients, but the idea is about taste and sharing.) This doesn’t put a deposit in the brand idea bank, it makes a withdrawal.  

    Money into the market will make sale blip up. It will be viewed as modest near-term success.  But by now, Kaplan should know how brand strategy works: Get them to sing the strategy, then burrow it into their heads.  Props to Wendy’s product people for the product idea. As for the marketing people shame, shame.  Peace!

    Aol. Off to the Races.


    Aol’s purchase of TechCrunch, the world’s most authoritative tech blog, is mad proof of its brand strategy to be the web’s content leader. Tim Armstrong, Aol’s chief, gets strategy. Claim: Be the content leader.  Proof: Ellen DeGeneres, TechCruch, local news with Patch. Using a TV metaphor, Mr. Armstrong is trying to create a lineup of talent not dissimilar to NBC’s “must see TV” on Thursday night in the 90s (or whenever that was). Buy and built the best visited sites on the web. 

    The Web is nothing if it is not content.  TechCruch rocks its category not because Michael Arrington is a star, but because he is focused, a great journalist, and attracts stories like white on rice…before brown rice became popular. Aol and its similarly strategied competitor Yahoo realize the ad-supported model is viable, so it is looking to cherry pick the best talent on the web in every category and corral it. Hopefully, it will keep its hands off, as if has suggested, and let TechCrunch be TechCrunch. – Aol’s localization play – is a neat idea but I’m not sure it fits this model.  A local reporter from Bumpus Mills, TN may not raise the editorial or content bar but we’ll see. Aol is off to the races – and finally it has a race track.  Yahoo? Not so much. Peace!