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.