Friday, February 17, 2012

The internet never sleeps

Welcome to the new world of communications where fans and detractors, reporters and opinion leaders are out there talking about your brand on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news sites and other platforms 24/7/365.

That means you have to be there as well.

You can't sleep on questions a potential customer has about your product. If you do, they'll move on to your competition.

You can't let misinformation go uncorrected and spread like wildfire throughout the blogosphere.

You can't ignore reviewers that others look to for product recommendations.

If you're not prepared to deal with the conversation when it's happening, you're not prepared to do business in the internet age.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wearing the brand

Logos are powerful. They are a symbol for everything your company stands for. They are a vessel for your company's mission, vision, values and attributes. 

Maybe that's why creating a new logo is so damn hard.

The process is fraught with pitfalls and roadblocks as everyone from the summer intern to the chairman's wife has an opinion on what it should look like.

While there's no fool-proof method for creating a great logo, I can offer these three pieces of advice before you get started.
  1. Know what your company stands for
  2. Hire a great designer
  3. Keep the approval team small
While you don't want a thousand voices guiding the process, when it comes to selecting the winning design from two or three finalists, it's important to have a logo your employees and partners are proud of.

How do you tease that out?

Rather than just asking them which they like, spend a few bucks and put the logos on a t-shirt or hat. Then tell them they have to pick one to wear over the weekend. This takes it from being a rational exercise to an emotional one. If they know their friends are going to see them wearing the logo, they'll start to think about how it makes them feel.

If they're forced to wear it out in public, there's a pretty good chance the one they pick will be the one that makes them feel the proudest. And, if your logo can do that, you have a good one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sony hits a sour note

Here's a tip: Profiting from someone else's misfortune or death always reflects badly on your brand.

Sony found out the hard way this weekend after they hiked the wholesale price of Whitney Houston's "Ultimate Collection" by 60% on iTunes in Great Britain just hours after her death. After much hue and cry from her fans, Sony lowered the price and attributed the mysterious increase to a "error" by an individual employee.

Even if I believed that excuse, then it only demonstrates how weak and ill-defined Sony's brand is.

A strong brand not only provides a recognizable image and position of your company and products for consumers, it also helps guide decision making for your employees. If your brand values are to treat customers fairly and with respect and they are clearly communicated to your employees, this "error" doesn't happen.

If, on the other hand, your values are to maximize profits and shareholder return on investment, this is exactly the kind of decision you make. It's why people are skeptical of the motives of companies like Sony, Bank of America, Walmart, BP and Ticketmaster. And why their brands have taken a beating over the past few years.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The upper limits

Yesterday after a very nice three year run, Apple's stock price hit $500 a share.

If you own it, you might want to think about selling.

Not that Apple doesn't make great products. Not that Apple won't continue to make great products. Not that Apple won't continue to be successful. But Apple's upside does have it's limits.

As the premium provider in all the categories it competes, Apple can only expand so far and maintain the price premiums they charge for their MacBooks, iPhones, iPads and iPods.

Apple is like BMW, Bang and Olufson, and Ritz Carleton. There's a limit to the market share premium brands can command. All these brands must innovate to maintain margin rather than grow share.

The share leaders always exist in the low to mid range of the market – Toyota, Chevrolet, Sony, Holiday Inn, HP, HTC, etc. – brands that compete on price and struggle with margin. Apple can't and shouldn't play that game.

Right now Apple owns about 10% of the PC market, 27% of the smartphone market and 58% of the tablet market. In all except the PC category, their share is declining due to the growth of lower priced competitors. I fully expect that when the latter two categories reach maturity, Apple will own a profitable 10% of each.

That means their only real opportunity for growth is to create new categories like they did with iPod/iTunes and iPad/App Store. My fear is, without Steve Jobs at the helm, their chances of doing that are greatly diminished.

So had I been smart enough to buy Apple stock instead of all those MacBooks, iPods and an iPad, I'd be hedging my bet right about now.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Story time

Recently a friend of mine on Facebook posted a recommendation for Benson Backpacks and a link to their site.

I didn't need a new backpack, but something about the post intrigued me, so I took a look. What I found was a great product with a great story, the two key ingredients to any business.

Now don't get me wrong, you need a lot of things to create a successful business – dedication, hard work, good timing, and a great accountant – but in my mind your product and your story are the foundation and everything is built from there.

In the case of Benson Backpacks, the product is nice, but without the story of this Tanzanian porter and his struggle to educate his children, I have no real reason to buy their backpack over the thousands of other options I have from companies like The North Face, Timbuk2, Easton and others. Conversely, while the story is inspiring, if the product were junk, I wouldn't pay a dime.

Great companies have a mythology around them, an oral history that gets told over and over, passed on from consumer to consumer building the legend and the brand. Nike does it. Apple does it. Google does it. And so does Benson Backpacks.

So today, I offer this simple lesson: You may have a great product. But if you don't have a great story, you'll never have a great brand.