Monday, December 31, 2012

Give more than thanks

This is my two hundred and fourth post of the year.

The previous two hundred and three have been an attempt to help feed the mind, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so.

Today, I'm going to help feed the hungry by making a donation to Feeding America and encouraging everyone who reads this blog to do the same.

Please take a moment and give what you can. Local food banks assist over 37 million Americans a year and Feeding America does a great job of getting food to where it's needed most.

Most days I write this blog for me, accepting no advertising or any other compensation other than the occasional attaboy. Today, you can compensate me for the content I create by donating a few dollars to a cause and organization I believe in very strongly.

Thanks for your help.

Thanks for reading.

Here's to an incredible 2013.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Branding is not an objective

As someone who has been a "brand practitioner" for more than twenty five years, there's one thing I've learned.

Branding is bunk.


Because most people get it backwards. They think "if we build an amazing brand, people will love our product." In truth its the other way around.

Build an amazing product and people will fall in love with your brand.

When you think about branding this way, it changes things.

No longer will you build elaborate marketing campaigns designed to create a strong emotional bond between a prospect and your brand (something that's nearly impossible). Instead you'll build marketing campaigns designed to get prospects to try your product (something that's a lot easier).

If your product is good enough people will bond with your brand based on their experience.

No amount of marketing will make people fall in love with a mediocre product.

Does that mean you shouldn't know what your brand stands for? You shouldn't have a concise, consistent promise? You shouldn't tell your story in a unique and differentiating way? You shouldn't weave that into every aspect of your company from customer service to R&D to sales to marketing?

Of course not.

It's just that so many "marketing professionals" have substituted those activities for actual marketing objectives.

Branding is not an objective. It's a strategy.

Your advertising, social media, promotions, PR should be designed to do two things and two things only: encourage people to try your product and get people who have tried your product to buy more.

If anyone at your agency tells you something different, start looking for a new agency.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Toyota plays it perfectly

This, my friends, is what you call spin.

It is making a cloth of gold from strands of frayed wool.

It is what Toyota seemingly does better than any other automaker.

Toyota made two announcements recently. The first, to pay $1.1 billion to settle its unintended acceleration class-action lawsuit. The second, to let the world know that it will regain its crown as the #1 selling automaker in the world this year.

Why announce both at the same time?

I'll let CBS news demonstrate.

The story Toyota wants you to hear makes the headline. The one they don't is buried in paragraph four.

For PR pros, it doesn't get any better than that.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Stating a case for Kentucky

Visit the state of Kentucky's official tourism website and you get this...

A generic invitation to visit a state that has pretty much the same attractions as every other state.

Visit or their Facebook page and you get something a little more interesting, like this video...

So what is Kentucky for Kentucky? A self promotional campaign for the agency that created it (the address on the website is for Lexington ad agency, Bullhorn Creative)? An actual marketing effort by the state to attract younger people? Something else?

I have no idea. What I do know is that it kicks ass compared to most states' generic tourism efforts.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Is Chevrolet on the road again?

There's trouble in the Commonwealth today.

Though the folks at GM are denying it, moving the launch of the Chevy Silverado from Chevrolet's lead agency created by ex Director of Marketing Joel Ewanick, to Leo Burnett is a very big deal.

Commonwealth was created as a joint venture between Goodby Chevy's domestic ad agency, and McCann which had been doing a lot of international work for GM. The thought being that together they could handle the the heavy workload of all the new vehicle launches coming for Chevy effectively and efficiently.

Well, it would be hard to find a more important vehicle in a more competitive category launching in the next couple of years from GM. The Silverado is a huge money maker for GM, delivering about $12,000 per vehicle in profit.

What this says to me is that GM doesn't trust Commonwealth.

And when the client doesn't trust the agency. It's over.

I hope I'm wrong, because more uncertainty in the marketing is not what GM needs right now. Jeff Goodby and Nick Brien need to take this seriously and figure out what's wrong with the relationship or there won't be one much longer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gone in an Instagram

There's a new verb in my vocabulary today:


It's what happens to companies who cavalierly alter their terms of service without properly consulting and communicating with their user base.

When Instagram slipped the following clause into their Terms of Service the other day, the firestorm was as swift as it was inevitable.
A business or other entity may pay Instagram to display users' photos and other details in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.
Yeah, that was going to go over well. Allowing advertisers use photographs without the consent of or compensation for the owner of the image. It went over so well in fact that yesterday tens of thousands of Instagram users backed up their images on other services and closed their accounts.

I understand their desire to make money, and as revenue models go this isn't a bad one. But Instagram forgot one simple step: ask for permission.

Rather than just set up a blanket policy to profit from user photographs, they could have created and marketed a program that Instagram members could opt into. Then when advertisers found images they wanted to use, Instagram could share a percentage of the revenue with the user. This would have created both monetary and emotional benefits for the users who would take pride in seeing their images in an ad somewhere.

Would they have made as much money? No. But then again, they wouldn't have had to issue this apology.

What this demonstrates yet once more is how fragile a brand is and how those brands that take their customers for granted can be gone in an instant.

The next time you're thinking of making a change to your product or service, think about your customers, or yours might be the next great brand to get instagrammed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lincoln finds its way

Back in August 2010 when I was shopping for a new car, I wrote this about whether or not I would put the Lincoln brand on my shopping list.
Doesn't quite seem to have the same mojo as Ford. Now that the company has divested itself of Volvo, Jaguar and Aston Martin they can fix this brand. Until then, OUT
Well, Ford is attempting to fix the brand, starting with a new car, the MKZ, and this new ad campaign.

Despite the challenge of trying to introduce a revamped brand with just one product, I'm inclined to like this effort.

The overall brand positioning feels right. Despite the famous Commander Cody song, Lincolns have never been drivers' cars. They're for people who need to get somewhere but aren't particularly in love with the road. The Continentals and Town Cars of the past ferried the well-heeled in relative luxury and comfort. It's pretty clear from this "introduction" Lincoln doesn't plan on straying too far from that course, only hoping to move their owners from the back seat to the front.

The spot is very well crafted. The blend of past and present feels right. Creating links between classic cars and the new features helps build a credible story (though the idea of a design inspired by the manta ray comes a little out of nowhere for me). This spot exudes quality through its writing, art direction, cinematography and editing which sets the expectation for the car's quality without ever using that over-used and impossible to define word.

Will I consider a Lincoln when I look to replace the Audi? No. The spot makes it clear that if I'm interested in a car that's designed to be tossed into corners at 20 mph over the recommended speed limit I should look elsewhere. And that's okay.

In fact, it's more than okay. It's what great advertising does. It tells me exactly who the brand is for and who it's not for. So while Audi, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti and Cadillac battle for my heart by appealing to my right foot, Lincoln will satisfy a much larger segment of the market by being something different.

It'll be interesting to see if this position is carried out through all the new products they'll be introducing over the next few years and how successful it is in the long run.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Back to the grind

A few years ago at a conference my company created, I was lucky enough to hear award-winning choreographer Twyla Tharp speak about her book and how creativity is essentially a learned trait.

She argues that those who wait for inspiration to strike will only be creative if they're lucky. Creativity takes practice, study, intention and focus.

How do I know this is true? 

After taking a week off from this blog, writing this morning's post has been excruciatingly hard.

I may just have to reread her book to help me get back into the habit. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

All things in moderation, including social media

I'm starting to think that marketers by nature are not a very smart breed.

A few days ago Cheerios activated a new app on their Facebook page that they hoped would encourage fans of the brand create cute little paeans to their favorite breakfast cereal in the brand's typeface on its iconic yellow background using the actual product as the dot on the i or a period at the end of a phrase.

Instead messages like this began appearing on their wall.


After spending over a million dollars to help defeat the California food labeling initiative that would have mandated food processors disclose GMO ingredients in their products, the folks at General Mills and Cheerios should have seen this coming.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; it's okay to moderate and approve comments and posts on your Facebook page, You Tube channel or other social media property. After all, it's your space. Unfortunately the marketing team at Cheerios had to learn this lesson the hard way.

Instead of a wall full of cute little love notes, they're now dealing with a...

Thanks to Lin & Lori Wilson from the amazing information design firm Funnel Incorporated for the tip on this one.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why network viewership continues to fall

While the networks try to blame poor viewership on everything from DVRs to the weather, they're turning a blind eye to the real cause of the problem: increased competition from cable, Netflix and other non-traditional viewing sources.

Much like the American automotive industry that has seen its share fall from over 90% in the 1950s to under 50% now, the television networks are suffering from of a proliferation of competition and a product that's not demonstrably better.

Now that a whole generation has grown up with cable in the house, they don't see a difference between channels 2, 4 or 7 and channel 247. It doesn't matter where you are on the dial, just that you have something worth watching. And that's where the real problem comes in.

Quality programming is not something networks and producers define. Quality lives in the eyes of the the viewers. So while NBC may think it has a quality show in "Parenthood" with a good cast, proven writers and a lot of money tied up in production, it will never achieve the ratings success of a "Hill Street Blues." In addition to competing with ABC, NBC and Fox offerings, a few percentage points of NBC's viewership now goes to shows like Storage Wars, Chopped, Big Break, on the hundreds of other channels that come into our homes.

Add to that the fact that we have gone from having one television in every home to nearly one in every room and the problem gets worse as viewership within a household becomes more fragmented.

NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox will never be able to reach the ratings heights they once knew just because of math. The universe of viewers isn't expanding. The number of channels are.

There aren't any excuses that can cover up that fact.

Friday, November 30, 2012

General Mills is Charmed

For anyone who wants to tell me that Twinkies went bankrupt because people are eating healthier, I offer the following counter argument:

According to Ad Age, Lucky Charms is now one of the top 10 selling cold cereal brands with 45% of its consumption coming from adults. The brand is doing so well among grown ups they've even created this TV spot targeting them.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a sign of the apocalypse.

It does, however, make one thing perfectly clear: there's a big market out there for convenient, sugary, nostalgic foods with little or no nutritional value.

Anybody want to pass me a Ding Dong?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Making Gilda Matter

On the heels of yesterday's debacle that is the Gilda's Club name change announcement (how bad is it? Just look at the comments on their Facebook page) I offer the following unsolicited advice.

What is the real issue with furor over the name change?

By revoking the name of the inspiration behind Gilda's Club, the directors  broke their trust with their core constituents. After all, if they can turn their backs on Gilda, will they really honor all the other principles and promises of the organization?

When a brand's contract is broken, the brand itself is broken. It won't fix itself.

You could just say, "Never mind" and do nothing hoping that sooner or later everyone will just forget this whole unseemly mess. That strategy will leave the brand in a weaker position in the long run.

This is a bad public relations faux pas, but it provides a unique opportunity to harness the passion Gilda's Club advocates have shown. The club's directors can use it to benefit the club and strengthen Ms. Radner's legacy, but they must act quickly, honestly and sincerely.

So here's the plan.

Step 1: Hold a press conference with as many Gilda's Club members as possible in attendance. The board's director should step up to the microphone and say, in no uncertain terms "We made a mistake. We will never remove Gilda's name from our doors or any aspect of this organization." Don't blame anyone else. Don't cite any research that tries to explain why you had planned on making the switch.

The rest of the press conference should be a retelling of Gilda's story and some words from other members who were inspired by Gilda. Take a few questions, but again, own the decision.

Communicate the same on all social media platforms.

We are a very forgiving people. When people make mistakes and own them, we are quick to embrace them. When they make mistakes and hide or worse yet, cover them up, the results can be disastrous. See Nixon, Richard; Clemens, Roger; et al.

Step 2: Create a PSA to run on local television that communicates the Gilda's Club mission and close with the original logo and a tag underneath that read "Cancer Support Community"

Step 3: Do as many local, regional and national media interviews as possible to raise awareness for Gilda's Club, explaining the organization's mission, vision, values making Gilda's story the centerpiece of your story.

Step 4: Host a grand rechristening party at Gilda's Club where you can show a long format video about Ms. Radner and her inspiration for the club. The party should be a celebration of her life, her legacy and the people you've helped. Bring in some star power: get Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd or Jane Curtain to talk about working with Gilda.

Step 5: Create a long-term plan and with a signature annual event designed to keep Gilda's name and legacy alive. The brand only matters if you make it matter. Her legacy has faded over the years because you've allowed it to do so.

You never have a better moment to create a brand fan for life then when you fix a problem for them. And you do have a problem. Fix this right and you can re-establish Gilda's legacy for generations to come. If you'd like some help, call me. I'll do it for free. This organization and Ms. Radner's inspiring story are too strong an asset to let fall by the wayside. If I can help in some small way, I would be honored.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's always something...

This is what happens when well intentioned people dip their toes into the marketing pond.

Gilda's Club in Madison, Wisconsin along with several other regional chapters are changing their name to Cancer Support Community because, according to their executive director,
One of the realizations we had this year is that our college students were born after Gilda Radner passed. As we are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, we want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there’s not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors.
This is a stupid reason to change your organization's name, especially to something generic and purely functional like Cancer Support Community.

There's nothing unique about the new name, nothing memorable, nothing ownable.

Not to mention they're tossing aside the reason they exist in the first place.

A few years after Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, her husband Gene Wilder and Joanna Bull, Ms. Radner's therapist, helped to found the first Gilda's Club in New York City, as a place where women, men and children living with cancer could build a social support network to supplement their medical care. It's a great and moving story.

Throwing out this story because it's been 25 years since Ms. Radner passed away is ridiculous.

Ford didn't change its name after its founder passed away and the brand is still relevant.

I'm fine if you want to add Cancer Support Community as a modifier to the name the name Gilda's Club. A lot of brands do that.

The directors of the club would do better to make sure people know Gilda's story and use it to attract people to their red door. It's a huge asset to the brand and one they're tossing aside because they don't care enough to make it meaningful.

And that is shameful.

Thanks to my friend Yi Shun Lai for the tip on this one. You can read her thoughts on life, writing and other subjects on her blog, The Good Dirt.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The best Black Friday sale ever

I'm thankful for many things in my life, but today one thing I'm most thankful for is that I didn't have to work on this assignment.

Click on the image to enjoy the site in it's full interactive glory.

Enjoy your turkey.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Name for tomorrow

The easy thing to do when naming a new product or service is to select a descriptive name based on a key functional feature or attribute. Generally, however, it's not the right thing to do.


Just ask the folks at the Big Ten Conference.

With yesterday's announcement they will soon have 14 teams. So now it appears that these fine institutions of higher learning – including my alma mater – don't understand basic arithmetic.

Naming your brand after a functional attribute can inhibit your growth by boxing you in when you change your products or attitudes change around them (Kentucky FRIED Chicken anyone?) At the very least it will cost you a lot of money when you have to change your name and all your identity elements down the road.

The best names are evergreen. They are built upon larger things like vision, values, or elements of the brand's heritage that will not change, like Ford, Visa and Nike. Or choose a name that has no inherent meaning or no relationship to the product, then make it meaningful over time through their association with the products and your marketing, like Lexus, Apple and Google.

Between trying to come up with a name that's both trademarkable and dotcommable, the process is harder than ever. Don't make it harder on yourself by having to do it again in a few years when your product inevitably changes.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The age of alignment

It's a busy day here at the OBX Thinking World Headquarters so I'm reposting this from 2010. Seeing as most businesses are putting the finishing touches on their plans for next year now, I thought this might be appropriate. Enjoy.

Planning is a monumental waste of time.

Every year thousands of executives and managers spend millions of hours developing plans that are scuttled the minute a competitor offers a rebate, a new technology emerges, or the CEO reads a best-selling management book.

Rather than developing detailed plans, spend time defining your company's vision, mission, values, goals and objectives – those things aren't (or at least shouldn't be) subject to the vagaries of the daily business page – then communicate them with every member of your team to ensure they're in alignment.

If your team truly understands your mission, values and goals, they can act within their areas of expertise to do the right thing when new challenges and opportunities present themselves.

By not boxing people in with a list of tasks and timelines, while still holding them accountable specific measurable goals, you're allowing employees to initiate action and take a deeper level of ownership in their jobs and the company. You'll create more commitment, more satisfaction and a nimbler workplace that can rise to meet challenges in a moment's notice.

It all starts with knowing what you stand for. And making sure everyone else knows it, too.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Innovation is risky enough

Here's a tip for food marketers and product developers.

If you have to issue the following statement when introducing a new product, you may want to rethink things.
We have carefully reviewed FDA requirements and believe our product is in compliance with current regulations for food ingredients.

With all the recent news surrounding high-caffeine energy drinks this may not be the best time for Frito-Lay to launch Cracker Jack'd, a line of "energy snacks" targeted at young adults.

Yes, the FDA may say they're safe. They may be exactly what consumer's are asking for. But if just one over-caffeinated kid collapses after eating a bag of Cocoa Java Power Bites, it could put the whole company in jeopardy.

Remember: just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guy's big branding lesson

Branding is about creating, managing and fulfilling (or hopefully exceeding) expectations through your product or service. You'd think a guy who travels the country sampling the best food at America's diners, drive-ins and dives would understand this.

Apparently not if the reviews in The New York Times, New York Post, and Serious Eats of Guy Fieri's new restaurant, Guy's American Kitchen & Bar, are to be believed.

Brands are fragile because they're built on nothing more than trust, and once that trust is broken, it's nearly impossible to repair the damage. In this age of 24/7/365 mass and peer to peer communication, the costs of not delivering are higher than ever before.

If you're a big famous brand that's introducing a new product to the world, you have to get it right, right out of the box or expect to be pilloried.

Great brands inspire both love and hate. Apple, BMW, Walmart, Google, are beloved brands by many and detested by others. Those who don't love your brand are just waiting for it to fail and let the world know when it does. Mr. Fieri just discovered this.

What it all boils down to is this: people love brands when they love the products. Stop delivering a great product and you'll see how quickly your brand equity disappears.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Delta screws "up"

Here's what Delta tells those they are trying to convince to fly with them.

A beautifully shot, wonderfully written message about how they're doing everything possible to earn your business.

And here's what they tell musicians who have to buy two seats for every flight.

Lynn Harrell is a concert cellist who has travelled the world for over 40 years plying his trade. In the last 45 days he's performed in Carmel, Singapore, Paris and Los Angeles. His traveling companion: a 1673 Stradivarius worth millions of dollars. Needless to say, he does not check it.

What he did do was get frequent flyer accounts for his instrument for every airline on which he flies to earn an occasional free ticket and help defray his expenses. Apparently Delta is one of the few airlines that does not allow you to accrue miles for seats purchased for musical instruments and has now kicked Mr. Harrell out of their program.

This is why I hate blanket policies.

They turn opportunities to help your best customers into PR disasters.

Here's a world-renowned musician who is willing to pay two times to ensure he and his irreplaceable instrument arrive safely so he can entertain classical music fans around the globe. Instead of encouraging this guy to choose another airline, Delta should sponsor him.

His audience, I imagine, is both wealthy and worldly. Just the kind of people you'd hope would fly Delta.

And now they've given them one more reason to look somewhere else.

Thanks to the tip from my friend, Drew for this image from one of Delta's other commercials showing a cellist with her instrument at the check-in counter. Nothing like a little irony to brighten one's afternoon.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The real secret to going viral

Have you ever wondered how the "Bronco Bamma" girl, Nickelback, and Keyboard Cat videos got all those views? Well wonder no more...

As with all good comedy, this is based on the truth. There are actual Click Farms out there that people use to inflate ad views, improve search rankings and fraudulently increase revenue.

One thing they won't do is increase sales. Only a relevant, differentiating and memorable message can do that, which is why you hire guys like me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sayonara Suzuki

Amidst all the noise in this election cycle, you may have missed this news:

First question, how many of you actually knew Suzuki sold cars, pickups and SUVs here?

Okay, so now on to the real meat of the matter.

In the New York Times, Suzuki blamed its failure on:
“The high costs associated with growing and maintaining an automotive distribution system in the continental United States,” as well as “the disproportionately high” costs associated with meeting increasingly stringent state and federal regulatory requirements.
Granted the federal, state and local laws surrounding the distribution and sales of automobiles are antiquated and make little sense given current technology. If this were the real problem, however, how were other low cost automobile companies like Hyundai and Kia able to succeed?

The reason Suzuki Automobiles failed in America is the company built cookie cutter products and failed to articulate a point of difference with its communications.

If you're going to crack into an established, competitive category, you have to be exceptional along at least one relevant dimension. You have to be famous for something.

Toyota succeeded in America because they focused on quality.

Honda gained a foothold in the U.S. because of their position of simplicity.

Hyundai has seen explosive growth thanks to the exceptional styling that adds value to their low price position.

Suzuki never stood for anything. Because of that the company is packing up and driving off into the sunset, and nobody will miss them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The king is confused

In an effort to end the slide of the Budweiser brand, Anheuser Busch will be introducing yet another new beer next year, probably on the Super Bowl as it did last year with Bud Light Platinum.

Budweiser Black Crown Golden Amber Lager appears to be yet another attempt by the brand to crack into the still growing and profitable craft beer segment defined by such brands as Samuel Adams, Bell's, Rogue and others.

That's not to say that Anheuser-Busch InBev doesn't already compete in the category with their full or partial ownership of, or distribution alliances with brands like Shock Top, Redhook, Goose Island, Widmer Brothers, Old Dominion and a few others. This has been a solid strategy since the master brand has no credibility in craft brewing – which is what makes this new line extension a little baffling.

The Budweiser brand has some outstanding assets: distribution muscle, nearly 100% awareness, the crown symbol, "The King of Beers," a heritage in American light lagers, and more. What the Bud brand doesn't have are craft beer credentials. 

What reason do people who drink craft beers have to switch to Black Crown? What reason do current Bud drinkers have to put this into their rotation? That this is the winner of a competition between its 12 brewmasters isn't going to do it.

If InBev really wants the Budweiser brand to play in this category, they should use their size and strength to enter the category with a complete line of beers that create a cohesive presence at retail and on premise. They should create a story behind the brand that gives the new line a purpose. And, they should show how this new line complements their current portfolio. Dipping their corporate toe in the water with one beer, no matter how good it is, won't grow the brand.

This beer will only create more complexity for a brand that's already too inconsistent and confusing.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Branding is all about one thing

Another post from the archives slightly updated. Enjoy

You see it everyday on store shelves, over the air waves and on the world wide interweb. Companies are struggling to differentiate; to offer products and communicate in a way that sets them apart from their competitors. There's a rash of mass commoditization going on in every industry. We've let our brands become homogeneous so all that customers have to go on is price. The fact that we're in a tough economy isn't making things any easier. If you listen to consumers all they'll tell you is they want more of the same for less money. If you look at competitors, you'll follow them over the cliff. So how do you break out of this rut? Ask yourself one simple question.

"What do you want to be famous for?"

Great brands are famous for something. Apple is famous for ease of use, while others like Dell, Vostro, and Toshiba battle over functional territory like speed, memory and price. Toyota is famous for quality, while others like Chevrolet, Nissan, and Dodge clash over style, features and price. Walmart is famous for low prices, while Sears, JC Penney and Kmart struggle to compete on service, style and selection.

The key is to be famous for one thing. Find something that's important to your customers, makes you different from your competitors and then own it completely. Your fame factor should drive everything about your business, not just your marketing. Everything about Apple from its product design, operating systems, ecosystems, retail stores and communication is about being easy to use. Does that mean their computers aren't fast? That iTunes doesn't have an extensive catalog of songs? No. It just means that "easy to use" is the filter through which every other feature is viewed.

Once you figure out what you want to be famous for, you have to be true to it every step along the way. Volvo stumbled in the 80s when they produced a commercial that faked a demonstration of safety and has yet to recover. Tiger Woods decimated his brand because his actions are so at odds with the in-control, family man image he projected. Ben & Jerry's struggles to maintain its quirky, hippy, counter-culture image now that it's owned by the corporate giant, Unilever.

Successful strategy is knowing what to excel at, what to be just good at, and what to ignore. Defining what you want to be famous for is the first step in this process.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Do good, get credit

While The Gap, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters and Jonathan Adler, each found ways to inappropriately tie their brands to Superstorm Sandy, others did it right.

A great example is Duracell.

They parked a truck filled with batteries and equipped with charging stations in one of the hardest hit areas of lower Manhattan and helped people.

They weren't selling batteries. They didn't charge a fee when you charged your phone. They donated these things knowing that they were creating a brand impression more powerful than any :30 second television commercial or promoted tweet could ever achieve.

It's the same reason people feel good about Chevrolet for donating 50 trucks to the American Red Cross in the wake of the storm or Tide when they bring their laundry truck to town after a natural disaster: they're actually helping, doing good, solving a real problem, providing something that people actually need. And yes, they're also making sure those who have used and appreciated these services know who provided them.

None of the retailers did that. They just tried to take advantage of the storm in a brazen attempt to sell stuff.

So if you feel compelled to make news by attaching your brand to a disaster like Sandy, find a genuine way to use your products and brand to help first. 

There will be plenty of time to sell later.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#STFU please

Two more big brands stepped in it again using social media yesterday – The Gap and American Apparel both used Hurricane Sandy as an excuse to encourage people to shop online.


As you can imagine, reaction has been anything but positive.

You'd think not linking your brand to the death and destruction of the largest storm ever to hit the Eastern seaboard would be common sense. Common sense, however, is the one thing that seems to be sorely lacking in a lot of social media departments and social media agencies these days.

So as a public service, I'm here to offer a few guidelines for companies that have Twitter accounts, send email blasts and post on Facebook before another such tragedy occurs.

The OBX Thinking 10 Rules for Social Media Messaging
  1. Don't ever post anything you wouldn't say in public or want reprinted in the press.
  2. Unless you're tweeting about where to send donations to help the victims of a natural disaster, don't. And do not tie this effort to likes, retweets, purchases or anything else that's even remotely promotional.
  3. Don't post anything about politics. Ever.
  4. If your tweet is supposed to be sarcastic or ironic, run it by a few people before hitting send. Communications that usually require body language or vocal inflection to be understood rarely work online.
  5. Issue anyone who manages your social media accounts a dedicated mobile device. No one should be allowed to post to a corporate account from a personal phone, computer or tablet.
  6. Don't get into arguments online. Acknowledge customer criticism and use it as an opportunity to improve your product or service. If possible, deal with individual complaints via email, over the phone or in person, not in public.
  7. Don't ask or incent people to retweet/repost your content. Make your content interesting and valuable so people will feel compelled to share it.
  8. Remember, just because you created a hashtag subject doesn't mean you control it. Anticipate the worst place the conversation could go and if you don't like that possibility, don't do it.
  9. Read the posts from your customers and fans before you post. You might just learn what they want from you.
  10. It is perfectly acceptable to use social media as a place where interested consumers can learn more about your values, practices, people and company, but don't expect everyone to be interested. Most who follow you just want a deal.
One final piece of advice. If you or your team has a disagreement over whether to post something or not, don't. The cost of the lost opportunity will be a lot less than the cost of an epic social media fail that gets picked up by Gawker, AdAge, USA Today and every other media outlet that love these kinds of stories.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Good advertising

You may be wondering where this blog has been the last two days.

Let's just call it recovery mode.

Last Thursday and Friday, I had the enormous pleasure to participate in one of the best experiences of my 30 years in advertising.

Better than leading motorsports advertising for Chevrolet and getting behind the scenes access at Daytona and Indy.

Better than lunch with Dabney Coleman after a shoot for 7-Eleven.

Better than the agency-sponsored motorcycle trip that had me riding through the Colorado rockies with Wally Dallenbach, Kurt Russell, Malcolm Smith and 200 other motorcycle and automotive enthusiasts.

I had the opportunity to work 24-hours straight to help non-profit agencies in Dane County, Wisconsin with their marketing and advertising needs thanks to Goodstock 2012 – A marketing marathon developed by a colleague and great friend of mine, Andy Wallman and his agency KW2.

The idea is simple. Take two days of the agency's time (every employee participates) and use it to help area non-profits with their marketing needs. Everything is done in two days from writing the brief to final production.

This year, the team wrote, designed and produced TV spots, long form videos, full websites, posters, print ads, marketing plans, media plans, pr plans and events, logos, banner ads, billboards brochures and more.

The total in donated time and services was over $300,000. In addition, media partners donated television and radio air time, outdoor locations, web ads and printing.

Because of Goodstock, more abused and neglected children will get the support they need, more women will receive housing support and job training, more disabled people will be able to stay in their homes, Latino couples will know who to turn to for support when life gets tough, more dyslexic children and adults will learn to overcome their challenges, more school kids will learn the benefits of athletic participation as a means to reduce obesity, more people will understand the wants and needs of kids with autism.

That's good advertising.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Minimizing Apple

Here's your first clue that this Apple is different from the company that was run by Steve Jobs.

A couple of days ago when asked if he was concerned the iPad Mini was too expensive for cost conscious consumers who were attracted to the Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7, Apple's marketing chief Phil Schiller said this...
The iPad is far and away the most successful product in its category. The most affordable product we've made so far was $399 and people were choosing that over those devices, and now you can get a device that's even more affordable at $329 in this great new form, and I think a lot of customers are going to be very excited about that.
What he should have said was this...
It's not that Apple hasn't taken on the competition before – the Mac vs. PC spots come to mind – it's just that Apple has never made price a part of that comparison. It's always been about product superiority.

A weak reference to a "great new form" doesn't cut it.

People pay more for Apple products because they're easy to use, incredibly integrated, and bullet-proof. Yes the form plays a part of it, but without those substantive benefits the brand has no meaning.

Schiller needs to work on his schtick if he's going to keep Apple on top.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Time is money

Back in 1986, when the watchmaking industry was undergoing a revolution thanks to the explosion of cheap timepieces featuring quartz movement, Franck Muller and Vartan Sirmakes got together and began making incredibly expensive watches famous for their "complications."

Today, they make forty thousand watches a year with prices ranging from a few thousand dollars to $2,400,000 for the Aeternitas Mega 4.

I'm not sure how many of these they sell each year, but it really doesn't matter – it's a brand statement. An engineering and design masterpiece with 1483 components and 36 functions, it is the ultimate demonstration of what makes Franck Muller "The Master of Complications."

So while Rolex positions itself on performance and Patek Philippe on tradition – two very important benefits in luxury watchmaking – by owning a secondary benefit and crafting a very good story, Franck Muller found another way to differentiate his brand and create a lot of value in an already extremely crowded category.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Creativity is alive

The art of creative strategy is taking a client's message and transforming it into something that people other than the client will watch, internalize and talk about.

This spot from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada is a great example of that.

By combining the pop culture meme du jour – zombies – with a quick lesson in how to make people undead, more people will remember the basics of CPR and lives will be saved.

Brave client + smart agency = great advertising.

Well done.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Stunt your growth

The rise of the internet along with the perceived reduced effectiveness of television and other mass media advertising has spurred the growth of stunt marketing: using your product or brand to ambush unsuspecting consumers and making them a participant in your demonstration or event.

The best examples of this are well planned, produced and promoted. It's not enough to create the event. You must capture the event then spread the video obtained from the stunt on Youtube and Vimeo for all to see, because unlike a television spot, you can't run event after event until millions of people participate.

Like all marketing, when you decide to produce a brand stunt the key questions to ask are: Is it relevant to our target? Does it fit our brand? How will it help us sell more product?

Don't let views, shares, tweets and likes be the only metrics by which you judge your event. If you can't link it to actually moving the needle in things like awareness, preference, trial or sales, there are probably better places to invest your marketing dollar, no matter how much fun your event is to stage.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Logos are meaningless

I'm tapping into the archives this Friday. I figure a posting a rerun every once in while can't hurt, based on how many people still watch Seinfeld and M*A*S*H.

Your logo doesn't mean anything until you make it mean something.

Nike's logo didn't mean athletic performance before Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan and others put the shoes on their feet and started appearing in their commercials.

Apple's logo didn't stand for intuitive computing until the products they put it on delivered on that promise.

BMW's badge didn't stand for the ultimate driving machine until the products underneath them proved themselves on the track and on the street.

Your logo only becomes meaningful through your products, your actions and your communications.

Don't worry too much about what your new logo means. Worry more about how you're going to make it meaningful.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is there life after Lance?

Say you're an incredibly popular non-profit that does incredibly important work. You've been highly rated by every oversight group. You have one of the most visible symbols in fundraising since the pink ribbon.

And then this happens.

What do you do?

Tell the truth even if your former leader won't.

Don't apologize for Mr. Armstrong. Don't make excuses for him. Thank him for starting the group, providing inspiration and then move on.

For LIVESTRONG to survive, the charity must focus not on Mr. Armstrong but on the donations they've been able to raise, the work they've done and the positive results from their efforts.

LIVESTRONG should shift the focus to the individuals who participate in the events and benefit from the research. Tell those stories in unique and compelling ways.

Right now they may be tempted to want to change everything, but they should stick with the color yellow and keep using the bracelets. Even though they're being bastardized now, they are powerful symbols should be retained. American consumers are quick to forget and forgive. They won't blame LIVESTRONG for Mr. Armstrong's indiscretion and mendacity.

Great brands find ways to outlive their founders. Unfortunately LIVESTRONG is being forced to do it long before they had ever planned.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Own home

I am constantly struck by how companies that are in search of broader markets and greater riches, not only forget their roots, but also neglect their base.

It happened to my favorite hometown beer, Stroh's.

It's been happening at Chevrolet for the past 15 years.

Remember Chevrolet?

See the USA in your Chevrolet
Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet
The Heartbeat of America

They were the quintessential American brand.

But that title and equity has been slowly, methodically and brilliantly bled from it by Toyota.

Please tell me why Chevrolet is spending $500,000,000 sponsoring Manchester United and launched the Spark in South Korea, India and other countries back in 2009 before making it available in America a few months ago...

While a Toyota Tundra hauls the space shuttle through the streets of LA and secures a feature sponsorship on a new television show from Martha Stewart featuring American-made products.

I know that GM is a global auto maker and must market in other countries. But the core of the Chevrolet brand is its American-ness. That's a big part of what should make it special here and abroad.

If they cede this completely to Toyota, what does the brand stand for? What's at its archetypical core?

A strong brand can't save a bad product. But it can help an ever more competitive product gain traction and differentiate itself in the marketplace.

If Chevrolet doesn't fight for its brand in its home market, it will be a lot harder to sell cars in China and everywhere else.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Changing the Chanel

Apparently if you want to generate millions of views on youtube all you have to do is pay Brad Pitt seven million dollars, put him in front of a mottled background, shoot him in black and white with a light source that changes for no apparent reason and have him recite some middle-school quality free verse.

Just in case you missed it while lost in Mr. Pitt's oh so dreamy eyes, here's the copy:

It's not a journey. Every journey ends but we go on.
The world turns and we turn with it.
Plans disappear.
Dreams take over.
But wherever I go, there you are;
My luck, my fate, my fortune.
Chanel Number 5

Yes, I guess it is inevitable.

Why go to all the effort of creating interesting films that leave a lasting impression on your brand when you can hire a famous mimbo, shoot him on video in a couple of hours, go have lunch at Musso and Frank and still generate well over two million views and a tidal wave of PR in just a few days?

I get it. We're talking about scented liquid here, a product with no news. They had to manufacture it. Mission accomplished.

As a marketer, I stand and applaud. They've gotten the world to lift their heads up long enough to acknowledge that Chanel still exists for this holiday season.

As someone who has enjoyed the brand's willingness to hire artists like Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Baz Luhrmann, Ridley Scott and others to create interesting, beautiful, obtuse and memorable films, I'm a little sad.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Emotion by design

If you ignore the power of design in the development of your products and services, be prepared for people to ignore your products and services.

Design elevates what you are selling from a functional need to an emotional desire.

When something connects emotionally, it's hard to quit.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The ethics of marketing

Marketing has ethics? Who knew?

This video sparked an internal conversation here by the shore.

As a marketer I have a responsibility to sell my clients' products. I also have a responsibility as a member of a society to do that within all the laws and accepted mores of that society.

I have worked for Pepsi, developing and positioning new products that meet consumer desires and help the company increase their sales. Some of the products have been sugary. Others have been healthy.

Enjoying the occasional soft drink won't kill you. Drinking three or four a day is probably not a good idea.

But as a marketer, how much of the responsibility do I bear for those who choose to use a product in an unhealthy, unsafe or irresponsible manner?

My personal opinion. Very little.

As a marketer it's my job to develop and sell a safe, enjoyable, reliable product: be it cars, soda, beer, gaming, cheese, health care, sporting goods, whatever.

As a consumer it's your job to educate yourself about the proper use of the product.

I'm not going to hide anything from you. I'm not going to use unethical tactics to encourage the improper or over use of any of my clients' products.

Groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest have the right to provide people with all the information they feel is necessary to make smart choices about the products they consume.

That's the way the system works.

So good for CSPI for developing a campaign that they think will help people live healthier lives.

As for me, I'll keep working to sell whatever my clients need me to.

Except tobacco.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The right way to innovate

Because I've been lucky enough to work with a lot of companies in developing new products, I'm often asked, "what's the best way to innovate?"

My answer, though seemingly flippant, is always "the way works best for you."

There's no secret formula for coming up with new ideas and getting them into the market. There's no one process that will guarantee success. If there were, do you think large companies with very smart people and lots of resources would have created these products: Microsoft Zune, Crystal Pepsi, Quikster, Disney's John Carter?

Developing new products requires an understanding of consumer needs, an idea that provides a better way to fulfill those needs than anything that's available now, and flawless execution of the idea in the end product or service. In this day and age, you also have to do it quickly while simultaneously developing a breakthrough communications plan, so you can launch your idea and own the space in the consumer mind before your competition quickly follows your lead.

It's not easy.

So the best way to develop a new product is the way that's most natural for your company and your culture.

For Apple that was a very top down approach driven by a relentless visionary leader. It's something they seem to be struggling with now that Steve Jobs is gone. Many have said they never would have released the flawed maps app in the iPhone 5 under his watch.

Google uses a collaborative approach where scientists, engineers, designers and researchers work together to solve problems and create new products.

Open innovation is all the rage now, where companies like Frito Lay are asking their customers and other experts to help them with the development of new products.

So how should you innovate?

Know your culture and design an approach that fits based on the scale and scope of the project.

Asking Microsoft to innovate like Apple would be like asking Rob Schneider to play Hamlet. Sure he can read the lines, but you're not going to like the result.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Question before you measure

It has been said that we manage what we measure.

That was pretty simple when marketing measurements were limited to ratings, readership, reach and frequency.

The world is a little more complex now.

We can measure just about everything: Likes, Fans, Tweets, Mentions, Opens, Check-ins, Visits, Brainwaves, and more. The list is almost endless.

The question isn't "Should we measure?" but rather "What should we measure?"

The answer, of course, is "That depends."

Most businesses don't have the resources to measure everything, therefore need the discipline to measure what's most important. So before you add new measurements to your metrics, ask yourself a few questions:
  • Who is our target? 
  • How does this help us learn more about them?
  • What are our objectives?
  • How will we use the information to improve our marketing?
It's easy to get excited about the latest measurement tool. But if it doesn't measure something that's important, you're better off without it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The problem with advertising

Advertising can create awareness.

Advertising can stimulate curiosity.

Advertising can set expectations.

Advertising can open new markets.

Advertising can generate trial.

Advertising can accelerate the acceptance of new and better products.

What advertising can't do is make a bad product good. It can't make an old product new. It can't make ordinary service special. It can't make an ugly car beautiful. It can't improve the quality of something that's shoddily built. It can't transform a me-too product into something innovative. 

If you're trying to solve a product problem with advertising, you might as well be using a hammer to drive a screw.

In this era of abundance, when you can choose from over 30 mid-size sedans, nearly 100 smartphone models, thousands of flatscreen televisions, millions of mobile apps, good enough just isn't.

Do the research. Brainstorm solutions. Design better products and experiences. Engineer more elegant interfaces. Build things with impeccable quality.

You'll be surprised how much more effective your advertising is when it's promoting an exceptional product.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Be great then communicate

Here's a great article about a small business – the Squeeze In Restaurant – that's using social media to drive its business.

They cover all the bases – website, mobile app, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, blog, etc. – so you can connect and interact with them whenever and however you want. Clearly, they're working it and that's great. But an active social media presence is not what made Squeeze In successful.

Squeeze In has the three ingredients for any successful business: Focus, Personality and Passion.

Go to their website – it isn't pretty by graphic design standards, but it works just fine – there's no missing what they're famous for, omelettes, 66 varieties of them.

Read their house rules, and you'll get a sense of the brand's personality and know what to expect from the service.

Read the reviews and you understand the care and passion with which they prepare their food and serve their guests.

Social media is the amplifier that they've used to help grow their business from one diner in Truckee to four locations in California and Nevada. It helped them get featured on Throwdown with Bobby Flay

But none of this would have happened if they didn't have a point of view, great food and great service.

Don't expect social media to fix your problems. Fix your problems and then use social media to help you grow. As the owner, Misty Young, is quoted as saying:
“All our communications tactics are lame and ineffective if we can’t back it up at the table.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

Momentum versus inertia

If your company has been around for a while, you feel it. The tug of history. It shows up in meetings with phrases like,

"We've always done it this way."

"Yeah, we tried that. It didn't work."

"Hang around long enough and you'll get it."

Every company has its "way" which served a purpose on the rise to success. The problem is markets change, consumer attitudes change, new competitors enter, technology improves and the "way" that once led you to market leadership is now pulling you forward while the road turns to the left.

Success creates momentum. But when momentum becomes inertia, failure is soon to follow.

Just ask General Motors, Dell, and NBC. 

The trick is not to forget your company's history, but understand when it's no longer relevant, otherwise your brand will become just that, history.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The power of pressure

I read this quotation by Kia's marketing director, Michael Sprague in today's New York Times and was not in the least bit surprised.
“Our agency does best when they’re put under an incredible deadline pressure,” he said. “Great ideas bubble up under stress.”
I could go into all kinds of stale metaphors here, but what it really boils down to is something I've known my whole career:

Without a deadline there is no creativity.

I'm not arguing that clients should set artificially tight deadlines just to watch the writers and art directors squirm. But if you're going to start planning your next Super Bowl campaign in March, you should set a number of checkpoints along the way that force your agency to bring you concrete ideas early and often.

Unlike we're lead to believe in the movies, generating ideas is not all freewheeling and game playing waiting for the "aha" moment. It takes focus and discipline to generate the hundreds of ideas necessary to get to the one that will work best.

That doesn't mean the process can't be fun. But it is rarely easy.

Deadlines are what push us past the expected solutions, past the half-baked ideas to something different, unique and relevant.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What's your promise?

Businesses that last are businesses that stand for something.

Something that connects with their customers.

Something that directs their employees.

Something that separates them from the competition.

Some people call this branding. Others call it strategy. Either way, it's simply a promise you make to everyone who comes into contact with your company and sets an expectation of delivery.

Nike's promise is, "Authentic athletic performance."
Ritz Carlton's is, "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."
Hallmark's is "Caring shared."

What promise is your business making to your customers and employees that makes it different from anyone else in your category?

Answer that question correctly and you're on the road for the long haul.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The perils of borrowing on brand equity

This story about the trials and tribulations of Fender in the New York Times illustrates the delicate balance between brand equity and real equity.

Hot brands create a feeding frenzy. Facebook, Groupon, and many others have suffered from a business that's worth less than the money its brand is capable of attracting.

Fender has hit upon hard times. Not because the brand isn't respected. Not because their products are inferior. Not because the competition is eating its proverbial lunch.

Fender is in trouble because in a tough economy they can't grow fast enough to satisfy the needs of those who have invested in it.

Growing margin is a challenge given the economy, competition and volatility of the high-end guitar market. 

Growing share is tough since about 65% of all guitars sold around the world are priced at $350 or less and Fender already competes in this space with guitars produced in Asia and Mexico. 

Growing the category is difficult because a new generation of musicians seem to prefer programming music instead of playing it.

Fender has worked hard to maintain an almost mystical brand image by promoting their relationships with rock's pioneers, legends and current stars. Go into any club on a Friday or Saturday night that features live music and the odds are better than 50/50 the guitar player will be wielding a Fender. From a brand standpoint they've done just about everything right since freeing themselves from CBS.

But now with the musical instrument market down 13% from its 2005 high, the venture capital company that bought nearly 50% of the company in 2001 and accrued additional debt to acquire other brands in an attempt to stimulate top-line growth, wants out and nobody thinks the company is worth the $396 million asking price.

Fender is in a box.

Worst case scenario: the company gets broken up and its pieces are sold to maximize their value. The other option is to develop growth platforms that take the company's focus off its core business in guitars, amps and other musical accessories.

Either way Fender will become something significantly different from what it has always been.

As a Fender player, owner and fan, it's frustrating to see a brand I love destroyed by its debt.

Friday, September 28, 2012

MySpace? Not yet.

After being bought by Rupert Murdoch for $580 million who watched it wither under his ownership and then sold to an investment group that includes Justin Timberlake for $35 million, there is soon to be a new MySpace.

I'm not sure how worried the folks at Facebook are or should be.

Built around the social aspects of music, art and entertainment, the new MySpace feels much more visual than Facebook and has a hook that could attract those who are looking for their social media to do more than just serve as a connection point for friends.

It's well designed, filled with content and, based on this intro video, provides an interesting user experience.

But is all this energy enough to overcome inertia?

Is there enough in the content and experience on MySpace to make it worth creating (or in my case reactivating) another social profile and spending time and energy there?

The best parties are not about the decor, the food, the entertainment or the location. They're about the people. So unless my friends migrate over to MySpace, I'll stay with Facebook's ugly and awkward interface and hope they improve other aspects of the experience over time.

MySpace might build a nice business by attracting people who are just coming into the social space, but if they've built their business plan on a mass migration of Facebook users, they might be looking for another buyer a few years from now.