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It’s Tiring to be a 24/7 Brand

Facebook’s recent announcement that it is hiring 3,000 people to review content for Fake News prompted us to think about what this mean for brands.   It’s hard being a brand today.  Brands have always faced publicity crises and other issues, but today the environment is different.  Ferocity of customer reaction, broad public discussions, the speed with which dissent spreads and the inability of brands to control the message can make a marketer’s head spin. Marketers face issues today that didn’t even exist 5-6 years ago:

  • Facebook/Google can place brands next to objectionable content.
  • Customers can film your failures (e.g., airlines and other rude customer service) and post them in real time.
  • Social media amplifies issues so many can pile on – even though the entire story may not be presented.
  • Customers are less polite – social media comments are becoming more negative, with no ability to filter.

Brands are getting sucked down a vortex, whether they want to or not, and no one is immune.  Most small and mid-sized brands and even larger brands don’t have the tools or frameworks to respond. Brands have demonstrated that they can’t respond quickly enough and, more importantly, they don’t properly consider how their response might impact the brand in the minds of their customers.

Recent Brand Melt Downs

Often brand crises are self-inflicted and sometimes brands stumble into them.  Here are some recent nightmares:

  • The recent United Airlines passenger video where a passenger was dragged off a plane lost the CEO his Chairmanship after he immediately supported employees before understanding the context. The result: decline in passengers and renewed focus after the “United Breaks Guitars” fiasco of 10 years ago.
  • Wells Fargo employees opened millions of fake accounts. The last two quarters were horrible for Wells Fargo: the CEO, other executives and many employees were fired, board members stepped down, huge fines were paid to the government and restitution to consumers.  The result: reduced brand credibility and believability, and slow account growth.
  • Uber’s CEO’s consistently poor behavior toward employees and drivers, and combative nature toward local governments has negatively impacted brand reputation, opened the door for other competitors and finally forced the company to begin searching for a COO.

These were three examples of self-inflicted wounds and bad public relations responses without thinking about the long term health of the brand.

Brands also must proactively respond to external circumstances that might negatively impact their customer’s perception of the brand.  For example:

  • Kellogg’s pulled their digital advertising from Breitbart News because it conflicted with brand values.
  • Verizon and AT&T threatening to pull their advertising off YouTube when their brands were placed near objectionable content through programmatic ad placements.
  • Initially, over 20 brands pulled their advertising from the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News when it became clear that the host had behaved improperly toward women.
  • NFL sponsors Pepsi and Budweiser demanded the NFL clearly articulate a position against violence toward women when video surfaced showing a player striking his fiancé.

These brands have tried to proactively minimize bad external associations from negatively impacting their brands.

Preparing Your Brand

  • In addition to the regular brand review we recommend, marketers can better prepare their brands to face a 24/7 world by doing the following:
    Understand and review your brand messaging frequently. Make sure that ALL employees understand and embrace the brand message. They need to know what behaviors are consistent with your brand and which are not. Reinforce that EVERYTHING they do or say can be recorded or videotaped so they must behave in a way that’s consistent with the brand; or they won’t be working for your company very long.
  • If you’re not conducting some kind of tracking research, start now! Brand tracking, Net Promoter or Social Media trending…..it’s critical to know your customer’s attitudes and behaviors so you can be ready to craft a smart, forward thinking response.
  • Continually review and monitor how consumers are talking about your brand in social media and which brands it may be associated with in the digital and traditional advertising world.
  • Have contingency plans ready to tackle these potential issues:
    • Reacting to a self-inflicted brand crisis (e.g., United, Fox’s O’Reilly situation)
    • Proactively managing your brand associations when reacting to an external crisis or issue (e.g., Verizon pulling advertising on YouTube)

Both circumstances have the opportunity to impact the value of your brand.

It was how Facebook finally decided to respond its Fake News issue that got us to think that no brand is immune. In today’s 24/7 brand cycle, strong brands might be able to survive a hit to their brand – once. It’s time we start thinking how we can protect our brands – real time.

Customer Insights – You CAN’T Win Without Them

Many claim that digital marketing has fundamentally changed branding and marketing strategy.  The premise is that messages can be delivered at lightning speed to more and more narrowly defined target segments at a given time and place; therefore, branding and marketing strategy must radically change to account for this.

We disagree.  What good is all of this speed and accuracy if you’re not delivering the right message, meaning one that will lead to the desired behavior change among your target audience?  This is where the digital world struggles to align with the fundamentals of marketing. Continue reading

Politics and the Super Bowl Finally Mix

We live in interesting times.  In the marketing world, the Super Bowl is equivalent to the Academy Awards.  Brand marketers showcase their commercials to an anticipating public. This year, the tone is a bit different. In the last couple of weeks, companies have been publicly called out by President Trump and new policies have put companies in an awkward position.  Predictably, much attention has turned to Budweiser’s seemingly pro-immigration ad about co-founder Adolphus Busch that was probably developed months ago.

This spot is a feel-good origin story that reinforces the “bonafides” of Budweiser’s taste and is not a political statement.  It is likely an evolution of Budweiser’s 2016 “America” campaign and a theme Anheuser- Busch used in 2016 for both Budweiser and Bud Light (The Bud Light Party).  However, in today’s political climate, it is likely to spark debate. Continue reading

Lots of Change but Marketing Fundamentals Stay the Same


Happy New Year!

As we enter an era of accelerated technology and market disruption, we look back on the New Year’s advice we offered small to medium sized business back in 2014 to see how it stacks up. Not surprisingly the fundamental questions that drive more effective marketing strategies and tactics haven’t changed much, so we invite you to refresh your memory here:

The Bottom Line About Marketing – More Planning Discipline

While good marketing planning prior to execution (the “aim” in “ready, aim, fire”) remains a constant and remains critical, one thing that has changed substantially is the marketing technology landscape for tools and techniques that help marketers “aim” more precisely, and then better manage, implement and measure their marketing plans. The disruption caused by this technology has been both a challenge and an opportunity for small to mid-sized businesses. In 2011, there were about 150 such marketing technologies; In 2016, that number grew to close to 4,000 options to help marketers manage advertising & promotion, content & experience, social & relationship, commerce & sales, data and overall talent, product, project & vendor management.

With all of these recent changes, it is imperative you stay current in these new marketing techniques and technologies (e.g., commit to attending seminars, subscribe to relevant publications and websites and actually read articles/blogs) to understand how they might impact your customers. Is mobile marketing right for you? What new digital marketing techniques should you try? As a marketer, you should always be testing new and potentially relevant marketing tactics and be ready to scale them if they’re successful.

We’d love to hear about tools and technologies you’ve adopted over the past few years that have transformed how you approach your marketing planning and execution!

Election Branding and Marketing: What Happened?

The recent Presidential election will be analyzed on every dimension.  Regardless of which side of the political spectrum one falls, a cursory look at candidate/campaign branding and marketing suggests why Donald Trump’s message resonated with a core audience.  Focusing on core target audience is what all good brand marketers must do to be successful.  We’ve taken a look at each candidate’s branding and marketing strategy and here are some of our key takeaways. Continue reading

Demystifying Social Media Marketing

Are you confused by the ever changing world of social media? As a marketing professional or business owner, do you receive a constant stream of advice on how to “Facebook this” or “Instagram that” and you don’t know which way to turn?

Ever wish the social media world could just be demystified so you can develop a more effective, even simple game plan going forward? Continue reading

Pokémon Go: Summer Fling or Brand Bonanza?

July 6, 2016 will be remembered as a fateful day in the marketing world.  July 6 is when Nintendo, game maker Niantic Labs (a Google spin-off) and The Pokémon Company released a new augmented reality (AR) game called Pokémon Go which brings the game of Pokémon to life in the real world via a mobile app.  The engagement created by this game is phenomenal and, as marketers, our heads should be spinning with brand, promotional and monetization opportunities! Continue reading

Is Brand Storytelling New? We Think Not…

Every brand has a great story that’s just bursting to be told.  ”Storytelling” is the new buzzword in the content/social marketing world.  And there is no shortage of resources out there just waiting to help you tell that story – advertising agencies, public relations agencies, video agencies, social media agencies, even storytelling agencies.

Well, truth be told, the concept of storytelling has been with us from the very early days of advertising.  Legendary advertising guru Leo Burnett once said: Continue reading

Hey You! SMB CEOs and Marketers – Here’s Why Your Brands and Marketing Activities Fail!

From time to time, we need to be reminded of what our job is as marketers. We need to build and sustain successful brands.  And make no mistake about it, marketing is hard. It’s changing in real time and most marketers are barely keeping up. And in this crazy environment, we are losing sight of how we build strong brands that align with the value of our product or service. One of the biggest mistakes we find is that that most companies, but especially small to mid-sized businesses (SMB), quickly dilute their brand by trying to be all things to all people. Continue reading

$5M for a 30-second Super Bowl Spot?

As another Super Bowl fast approaches, the media pundits and others are once again somewhat incredulously pointing out how expensive it is to run an ad on the Super Bowl. BTW, it is a record $5M for a 30-second spot for Super Bowl 50! And the familiar follow-up questions are always “Is it worth it?” or “How could it be worth…?”

Well, we’re here to say that if done right, running a Super Bowl ad could be the best investment an organization can make in their brand. And for those of you who don’t have $5M laying around in your advertising budget, the tips below also apply to other types of communications and media channels you may be planning. Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions – Technology Can Help You Achieve Your Fitness and Weight Loss Goals

It’s that time of year again…when most Americans make their New Year’s Resolution.  In fact, over 75% of us will make some form of resolution ranging from the very specific and measurable (e.g. lose 30 lbs or save 5% of my income, etc.) to the more general and vague (e.g., be a better person).

Losing weight, staying healthy and saving more money are some of the more popular resolutions, but frankly none of them really seem like much fun.  Now help is on the way with new technologies that will make achieving exercise and weight loss resolutions easier.   Over the past few years, there’s been an explosion in the areas of wearables such as Fitbit and Jawbone and free mobile apps such as Myfitnesspal.com and Loseit.com.   The wearables allow you to track how many calories you’ve burned and, if you’re ambitious enough, enter what foods/calories you’ve consumed.  The free apps have a wide array of tools including calorie counters (enter the foods you’ve eaten) and calorie burners based on the activity/exercise you’ve participated in.  This allows you to see incremental progress and, hopefully, stick with your resolutions throughout the year. Continue reading

Black Friday is Dead….Long Live Black Friday!

It’s been a long time coming – the redefinition of Black Friday. Since retailers started opening on Thanksgiving, the air has gone out of Black Friday. Last year, the Black Friday weekend was a bust with flat sales and fewer consumers out shopping on Friday. Why? Retailer marketers have done it to themselves. They began opening on Thanksgiving Day, which reduced the reason to go out early Friday morning and they started to advertise “Black Friday” specials earlier and earlier…in some cases in July! No wonder consumers are confused. Can American retailers officially declare Black Friday dead? Continue reading

Brands Struggle at Thanksgiving

A few years ago, U.S. retailers opened Pandora’s box and opened on Thanksgiving Day. They expected to expand the “official” kick-off of the holiday shopping season. Many chose not to open on Thanksgiving and those that did opened in the evening (8 pm the first year), inching back to 5 and 6 PM last year. Some brave retailers (K-Mart, Old Navy and others) were open much of the day. Opening on Thanksgiving has not given retailers the results they were hoping for but has given them a brand and image headache. Do I open on Thanksgiving? The answer isn’t simple. Continue reading

Halloween is the Perfect Millennial Holiday


Spending on Halloween has more than doubled in the last ten years to nearly $7.0 billion. For decades, Halloween was geared towards kids and most spending was on candy, cheap costumes and some decorations. However, Halloween is now the 6th most important retail holiday and it’s thanks to Millennials.

According to the National Retail Federation, over 157 million are expected to celebrate Halloween – and over 8 in 10 Millennials. Considering kids under 18 (73 million) and Millennials (over 83 million), this represents almost all expected Halloween revelers. If you examine spending, all the spending increase in the last 10 years is on adult costumes (over $1.2 billion), costumes for pets ($400 million) and decorations (nearly $1.9 billion). Nearly 70 million adults will dress up in costumes (83% are Millennials) and consumers will dress up nearly 20 million pets. On the other hand, candy spending has stayed relatively flat at just over $2.2 billion. Continue reading

Defining and Staying True to Your Brand Promise

On a recent visit to Glacier National Park, my son and I hiked over 30 miles, saw two bears, three mountain goats and dozens of mostly small critters (chipmunks, squirrels, etc.). We were able to traverse the entire length of “Going To The Sun” Road, the path that takes you from the East Entrance of the park to the West, and is perhaps the coolest named road in the history of the world.

But we got lucky! A few weeks earlier, firefighters were fighting a couple of wildfires, smoke engulfed the park and “Going To The Sun Road” was closed – it opened three days prior to our arrival. However, even if our hiking and wildlife watching opportunities had been curtailed we still would have had a great time.

This got me thinking about Brand Promise. The National Parks’ Brand Promise is the adventure and the opportunity to bond with nature, no matter what it brings. The unpredictably of the weather, wildlife sightings and yes, even fires, are all part of the gestalt of the journey. The lack of consistency and predictability and the challenges it may bring is precisely what lures us to these treasures of natural beauty. Continue reading

Comic-Con and San Diego: A Match Made in Brand Equity

Imagine New Orleans without Mardi Gras, New York City without the U.S. (Tennis) Open, or Augusta National without the Masters.  Can’t do it!  That’s the kind of symbiotic brand equity relationship San Diego has built with Comic-Con, the pop-culture mega-event that enjoyed its debut here in 1970 and has been held in our fair city ever since.

Comic-Con ranks as the Convention Center’s largest annual event, and is conservatively estimated to generate $135.9M in regional economic impact. But the greater impact may come from the event’s brand connection with the city of San Diego. Continue reading

Comcast Misses the Boat: It’s All About the Brand Experience

 

When will Comcast learn? With its recent failed merger attempt with Time Warner Cable behind it, Comcast must search for what it is lacking. Time and time again, the answer is staring it in the face: a great brand experience.

Cable companies don’t get it. They behave like utilities in one of the most competitive markets in the world – entertainment content. It’s no longer about infrastructure and milking customers. For the last 15 years, cable companies went from nearly a 100% share of the multi-channel television market to under 60% and the trend is accelerating. Why is that? Universally bad customer service, poor program offerings, a consistently disappointing viewing experience and being tone deaf to customer needs. The big three cable companies –Comcast, Time Warner and Charter (who is now trying to acquire Time Warner) – consistently rank at the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys. Continue reading

Is Your Product Portfolio Ready for 2020?

Of the “Marketing 4 P’s” – product, pricing, promotion and place (distribution), can anyone argue that the first “P”, product, isn’t the most important? Great pricing, promotion or distribution strategy can’t save the wrong product, or product mix.

OK, so who out there is thinking about what their product mix should look like 5, 10, or even 20 years from now? It takes having a keen sense for long-term customer trends and the foresight to build the right product (or service) portfolio to match those trends. We know Wall Street doesn’t reward companies for this kind of long-term thinking, but five years from now will soon be your “next quarter”, so you better start your thinking…and think big! Continue reading

The Marketing Leader…More Important Than Ever

Marketing is the lifeblood of any business. Without loyal and engaged customers and new customers, a business will wither and die. All successful companies know this. What they may not know is that having a true marketing leader has never been more important.

Regardless of title – Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), VP of Marketing, Marketing Director (for smaller companies), or VP Sales & Marketing – companies need someone whose primary responsibility is to lead the marketing function. With the economy finally doing well again, businesses have come out of their foxholes and are focusing on growth and innovation. Hence, the role of the Marketing Leader takes on added importance. Continue reading

Marketer’s New Year’s Resolutions – What We Can Learn from The Weight Loss Industry Woes

We all make New Year’s Resolutions in our personal lives.  But what New Year’s Resolutions should marketers make in their professional lives?  Well, we think there are some great lessons to be learned from that most relevant of “resolutions categories”, weight loss.

As we look ahead to 2015, many Americans will make their annual ritualized resolution to lose weight.  And they will try any number of methods, in the $60B weight loss industry, to accomplish their goals.  From Do-It-Yourself (gyms, pills, books, calorie counting, etc.) to the traditional commercial programs (Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, etc.) to surgery (lap band, etc.), January is THE time to shed those lbs.

So, if every year there seems to be (unfortunately) a seemingly unlimited demand for weight loss products and services, then why have the biggest names in weight loss recently performed so poorly? Continue reading

A Crack in the NFL [Brand] Shield

The NFL is a $10 billion a year business and 2014 is shaping up to be the worst brand management year in its history. Few brands can survive the hits the NFL has taken.

Without rehashing details, the NFL has recently gone through several high-profile domestic and child abuse incidents, criminal behavior among its owners, bad locker room behavior, and a lawsuit filed by retired players claiming brain damage caused the hits they took while playing professional football. (And you may have noticed that yesterday DEA agents made surprise visits to at least three NFL team facilities while investigating the mishandling of prescription drugs!)

One of the results is that negative social media chatter has recently climbed to over 25% of all posts versus only 9% in 2013. For the first time, huge sponsors like Budweiser, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, P&G and Nike have expressed concerns. And in today’s 24/7 media cycle world, the risk is that more issues will surface and further tarnish the brand. Continue reading

P&G Leads The Way…Again!

In case you didn’t hear the keyboard clicking of P&G marketers around the world changing their job titles on LinkedIn, effective July 1st, P&G changed the titles and roles and responsibilities of key staff in their marketing department.  Marketing Directors are now Brand Directors and Associate Marketing Directors are now Associate Brand Directors.

This changes raises two questions:

  1. What does this job redefinition mean for their ability to profitably grow their brands?
  2. How quickly will the rest of the marketing world follow?

 
Continue reading

SeaWorld: New Brand Proposition?

If you’re a brand manager or CMO, how do you update a successful brand proposition that continues to deliver to millions of satisfied customers, but is starting to show some cracks? Some might argue why touch the golden goose? In a previous blog, we talked about “if it ain’t broke, break it”. What if these cracks are because of a fundamental weakness in your key differentiator? What do you do when alternative brand associations may not solve the problem or differentiate you enough?

SeaWorld faces this issue. SeaWorld has recently been in the news because of the attention the movie “Blackfish” has brought to the condition of orca’s (SeaWorld’s killer whales) in captivity. Relax, this is not a political blog but rather a brand blog. But, from a marketing perspective, what will happen to a SeaWorld brand since that has been tied to “Shamu” the Killer Whale for over 50 years? Continue reading

Creating Emotional Brand Connections Through Bold Innovation

By now you’ve probably read or heard about Apple’s reported, yet not confirmed, journey into the world of medical devices (and potentially even automobiles).  It has been suggested that Apple is working on a technology that can help predict heart attacks by studying the sound the blood makes at it flows through arteries.  And it may be integrated into the long rumored iWatch.

Here they go again!

You see, Apple has a long history of setting their eyes on industries they can fundamentally transform by simplifying the user experience, then creating compelling proprietary ecosystems in which they “own their customers” and ultimately create memorable brand experiences.  Consider the havoc Apple wreaked on the music industry, essentially changing the way consumers buy and listen to music while 1) putting brick and mortar music retailers out of business and 2) shaking the foundation of how the record labels make money.  For millions of Americans, Apple’s platform iTunes has become the retail destination of choice to buy (and store) music and video, one song or video at a time.  And Apple’s listening device, the iPod, created an unparalleled opportunity to listen to and enjoy your music.  (Do you remember Apple’s first iPod TV commercials?  No techno-babble, no “differentiated product features”…just the silhouette of a woman experiencing pure enjoyment of her music where and when she wants). Continue reading

Super Bowl Advertising: The Marketer’s People’s Choice Awards

Between bites of chip and dip, people will be glued to their sets for this weekend’s big game. Why is the Super Bowl so important to marketers that they’re willing to spend $4 million per :30 second ad?  Is it because there are 110 million viewers? Partially.  Is it because there are NO other alternatives all year to have this degree of media concentration?

The main reason marketers advertise on the Super Bowl is you reach 110 million engaged viewers. They’re not ignoring these brand messages. They are willingly looking at ads and evaluating them at parties, at sports bars or in social media polls—real time.  Many viewers, many of whom are women, ONLY watch the game for the ads.  Local news broadcasts air segments that discuss the best or most memorable ads.  In effect, it is the People’s Choice Awards for Marketers because the consumers vote!

Is this good? Continue reading

The Bottom Line About Marketing – More Planning Discipline in 2014

 

Happy New Year! 

As we enter what will surely be an exciting and eventful year, we at BottomLine Marketing wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on why marketing really is all about the Bottom Line; and what you as leaders of your organizations, should be considering to ensure your marketing investment brings you the greatest possible returns.

While most, if not all, large organizations create and implement approved marketing plans, we’ve found that many smaller to mid-sized companies are in perpetual “execution mode”, implementing random programs and campaigns outside the framework of an overall plan.   In this blog, we strive to guide these smaller to mid-sized organizations in how to think about building plans that ensure they’re investing behind the right marketing strategies and tactics, which will ultimately generate both significant short and long-term ROI.

Key Questions Drive Better Marketing Decisions

But, per some of our earlier blog posts, before you develop those strategies and tactics, it is critically important to first ask yourself the a few key questions:

 

 Do I have a deep understanding of my customers?

  • Their needs and wants
  • Their pain points
  • How they make decisions regarding products/services like mine
  • Where they seek/consume information for products/services like mine – both on-line and off-line and through social media channels

 

Do I have a deep understanding of my competition and the dynamics of my industry?

  • Their strengths and weaknesses
  • Management changes that might influence their business strategy
  • How they position their brand and communicate their value proposition
  • Threats from non-traditional competitors (e.g., think Blockbuster and Netflix)
  • The implications of industry growth trends, consolidation or behavioral/attitudinal shifts (e.g. Coke and Pepsi’s reaction to the rapid decline in diet soda consumption as consumers are concerned about artificial sweeteners)

 

Do I have a deep understanding of my product/services and why my customers should care?

  • What about my product/service is highly differentiated AND meaningful to my customers?
  • In what way(s) must we continue to reinvent ourselves, product or service-wise, in the coming year?

 

Marketing Planning = More Effective Execution

After you’ve sufficiently answered these questions, you will have the key underpinnings for a sound brand strategy (brand strategy development to be more fully addressed in a future blog) and you’re now in a position to develop your marketing plan.  When thinking about your plan it is important to include strategies and tactics that will impact both the short and the long-term.   And, it’s critical you have the right metrics in place to ensure you’re measuring both the short and long term impact of your activities:

 

SHORT-TERM PLANNING

Sample Activities:

  • Direct response advertising (digital and off-line)
  • Promotions
  • Trade shows
Sample Metrics:

  • New customer acquisition
  • Customer retention
  • Purchase frequency
  • Average order value
  • Lead generation

Each of the short-term metrics can be tracked from your sales transaction database, customer database or CRM system on a daily, weekly or as-needed basis

 

LONG-TERM PLANNING

Sample Activities:

  • Brand advertising (TV, print, radio, on-line display, etc.)
  • Content marketing (social media, blogging, etc.)
  • Public relations
Sample Metrics:

  • Brand awareness
  • Brand consideration
  • Brand preference
  • Customer attitudes toward your brand
  • Customer engagement

Most of the long-term metrics can be tracked by implementing a simple quarterly, semi-annual or annual on-line survey – you may need to purchase a customer panel to get qualified prospects.   Customer engagement can be measured by tracking your social media following (likes, followers, etc.) and blog and/or YouTube video views

Discipline and Planning Go a Long Way Toward Success

Now, all of this may seem intuitive and overly-simple, but it’s amazing how many organizations start spending marketing dollars without a plan and with no understanding of their customers, their competition or how their product/services are differentiated; AND they don’t have metrics in place to understand if they’re achieving what they want to achieve with their marketing activities.  Then, when the CEO or CFO doesn’t see an immediate return on their investment, he/she throws his/her arms up in the air and exclaims “marketing doesn’t work” and “it’s a waste of money”.

All it takes is just a little discipline and process to develop the right plan and to start to see stronger returns on your marketing investment, so let’s all commit to being a little more disciplined in 2014!

 

Retailers Undermine Black Friday—Killing the Golden Goose?

As more retailers open on Thanksgiving Day, they’re potentially killing a Golden Goose they’ve spent over two decades perfecting.  By opening on Thanksgiving, they’re diluting the value of Black Friday and possibly creating consumer confusion about when they can expect the best deals.  For the last three years, an increasing number of retailers are not only opening on Thanksgiving but they’re opening earlier each year, with Kmart opening this year for a marathon 41 hours beginning at 6 AM Thanksgiving morning until 11 PM on Black Friday.

For over two decades, consumers have been conditioned to really start their holiday shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Not only is this an event but it has become a tradition. For arriving as early as 4 AM on Friday, consumers expect exclusive specials and deep discounts not available at any other time. Retailers are now asking consumers to break this tradition and in any case change their behavior.

According the National Retail Federation, in 2012, nearly 250 million shoppers visited stores over the Black Friday weekend, including Thanksgiving Day, representing an increase of 3.5% over 2011. Of those shoppers, 35 million consumers went to the mall on Thanksgiving Day (almost 14% of all Black Friday weekend shoppers).  So opening on Thanksgiving Day essentially just shifted some foot traffic to Thursday.

What does This Mean for Retailers?

  • In the short term, individual retailers might achieve their forecasts at the expense of other similar retailers who stay closed. When Kmart decided to open on Thanksgiving a few years ago, the pressure on Target and Wal-Mart to open on Thanksgiving was intense.  Wal-Mart, which averages over $1.5 billion in sales per day, can’t afford to remain closed when direct competitors are open.
  • Retailers might disaffect employees who have historically spent Thanksgiving Day at home, while generating negative publicity about disrupting an important family holiday.
  • Retailers who refuse to open on Thanksgiving Day may benefit.  Angry consumers have taken to social media to urge boycotts of “naughty” stores who open on Thanksgiving, while stores like Costco and Nordstrom, that aren’t open, are considered “nice”. http://on.fb.me/1bJGH4a.

Desperation Not Innovation

In our last blog, “If it ain’t broke, break it” (http://bit.ly/1bKfH4z) , we wrote that companies need to continue to innovate in order to maintain strong, relevant brands.  By opening on Thanksgiving, retailers are not innovating.  One can argue that Cyber Monday and even Small Business Saturday were innovations that provided consumers distinct reasons to shop.

Opening on Thanksgiving is not innovation.  Sadly, retailers may have run out of good ideas. And this season, retailers have not just stopped at Thanksgiving. They’ve announced Black Friday deals earlier than ever. When will it end, Halloween? Labor Day?  By over using the Black Friday concept, they are actually diluting the value of the Black Friday brand.

So what should consumers believe? When is the best day to go shopping? Do consumers still need to get up at 4 AM on Friday to find THE BEST deals?  Black Friday may not mean what it used to. Retailers are inadvertently changing consumer behavior they spent decades developing.

The real reason for this race to open on Thanksgiving is to meet earnings targets.  But it’s a zero sum game.  With Black Friday, retailers had a good thing going.  It was the clear start to the holiday shopping season. Now, Black Friday doesn’t have the same impact and retailers have no one to blame but themselves.  And so far, retailers have not provided a clear reason to go shopping on Thanksgiving—other than convenience.

What Can Retailers Do?

I hate to say it but maybe retailers have opened up a Pandora’s Box they can’t close. Over the next five years, I predict that most retailers will be open most of Thanksgiving Day – except for a few die-hards.  While consumers may benefit by having an additional shopping day, can retailers do anything to make “Turkey Thursday” more meaningful? They have to figure out how to differentiate “Turkey Thursday” from “Black Friday”.  If they do, they might still have a chance to preserve Black Friday’s meaning and assign a new meaning to shopping on Thursday, whatever we decide to call it .

What do you think? Are you planning to shop on Thanksgiving?  How might that impact your plans to shop on Friday? If you used to shop on Friday, will you go shopping on Thursday and sleep in on Friday?  So are retailers expanding their footprint or killing the Golden Goose? Only time will tell.   Happy shopping!

 

If it Ain’t Broke, Break It!

  • “Business people will always want to have keyboard buttons on their cell/smart phone”
  •  “Consumers will always want to select their movie rentals in a real store”
  •  “Consumers will always want to have physical photographs to display, and touch and feel”

OK…in which corporate strategy sessions were these (or something like these) sentiments voiced?  Umm, perhaps Blackberry, Blockbuster and Kodak?  And where are these companies today. Two are gone and one is on life support.

Outside of an utter lack of strategic forethought, these examples underscore a trap that many organizations fall into.  That trap is believing the achievement of extraordinary success with an existing (or new) product, service and/or business model has any impact on future success.  Organizations get complacent taking the money to the bank and feel they’re invincible.

But while you’re patting yourselves on the back, what do you think your competitors, both identified and unidentified, are doing?  Do you think they’re sitting around trying to copy you?  NO…what they’re doing is aggressively analyzing the value you deliver to your customers, trying to develop better products, services and/or business models that will help them leapfrog your marketplace position.  They are targeting YOU.  This is exactly what Apple, Netflix and the entire digital camera industry did to the brands listed above.

The lesson learned is…if you’re competition is working 80 hour weeks trying to figure out how to “take you out”, why wouldn’t you be working 81 hour weeks trying to figure out how to “take yourself out”?  It means adopting an organizational mindset of “If it Ain’t Broke, Break it”.  Knowing that you MUST continually reinvent yourself to stay relevant in the marketplace…knowing that you must be willing to cannibalize yourself, before someone else does.

A good example of this is the refrigerated yogurt category and the relatively new Greek yogurt segment (created by Chobani).  This segment now makes up about 50% of the total refrigerated yogurt category.  The major players, Dannon and Yoplait didn’t stick their respective heads in the sand and say “oh, this is just going to be a passing fad”; they had a deep understanding of their consumer, and that this would, in fact, be a significant threat.  Each quickly responded with Greek yogurt brands of their own, Oikos (Dannon) and Yoplait Greek, which helped them defend and grow their respective franchises.

So, next time your team has a fabulous success, pat yourselves on the back for a job well done, and take the proverbial victory lap—you deserve it.  At the same time, however, get right back to work reinventing yourself, thinking about what’s next.  Do not get complacent.  So Netflix, what are you doing to reinvent yourself now that Amazon and Google are exploring ways to upend your model?  Because If It Ain’t Broke, you MUST Break It!

We encourage you to share your examples of 1) brands that continually reinvent themselves to stay ahead of competition and 2) brands that had their heads in the sand

The Risk of Cosmetic Branding – When Big Brands Fall Into the Trap

When Interbrand released their annual “Top 100 Global Brands” report a few weeks ago, it was no surprise that Apple dethroned Coca-Cola as the #1 global brand. The surprise was how far Sony had fallen (to #45) and how quickly Samsung had risen from nowhere to #8.

In order to succeed in today’s market, consumer electronics brands need to have a deep emotional connection to their customers.  Sony, Apple and Samsung are each brands with nearly universal awareness.  However, Apple and Samsung resonate. They not only offer excellent products but they connect with their consumers emotionally.  Each has done this through a clear brand positioning strategy that is effectively communicated across all of their communication channels. Sony, on the other hand, does not resonate. Since peaking at #19 in 2005, it has done a horrible job of branding and has masked it over cosmetically.

The results speak for themselves. Both Apple and Samsung’s revenue and profit results are strong. Apple was briefly the most valuable company in the world and Samsung is the most valuable company in Asia. Sony has seen several years of losses and restructuring.

Apple – Powerful Branding

What are Apple and Samsung doing right that Sony is not? Let’s start with Apple. Apple focuses on the individual’s experience with their devices…the simplicity, elegant design, ease of use and the ability to unleash the power of a device to get an unmatched experience. Who can forget the image of the silhouetted young lady dancing to a catchy song during the launch of the iPod? When all other music devices were talking about memory or song capacity, Apple was talking about how amazing your music would sound. Even the most recent iPad ads focus on personal discovery.  Apple has done more than anyone to make technology accessible and desirable by everyone.  This is focused and differentiated branding.

In consumer electronics, there’s Apple and everyone else and Apple commands a substantial price premium to prove it.

Samsung – Finding Relevant Differentiation

Under Apple’s shadow, Samsung has done an amazing job.  Samsung is a late comer, not even considered a premium brand until as recently as 2000. In just over a decade, Samsung has zoomed past arch rival Sony and now has Apple in its sights. Samsung was methodical in building its brand, through a brilliant business strategy of connecting all consumer electronic devices in the home, whether handheld or hard-goods such as TVs and kitchen appliances. Samsung has been truly the first consumer electronics company to embrace digital technology and to try to develop products that talk to one another, providing a superior consumer experience.

We believe Samsung propelled itself into the conversation by doing the following things very well:

  • It created a broad, digital, easy-to-use, state-of-the art product line
  • It invested nearly $600 million in effective brand advertising, matching Apple’s category share of voice
  • Its brand campaign “The Next Big Thing” is engaging and positions Samsung as the true innovator in the categories in which it competes. It begs anticipation.

Sony – A Declining “Cosmetic” Brand

Now we come to Sony. Sony was an iconic brand. It was the leader in TV’s (e.g., Trinitron), digital cameras and mobile music (e.g. Walkman, Discman, etc.).  It commanded a premium price in every category.  Somewhere along the way, Sony brand marketers confused brand awareness with brand loyalty. They thought the Sony name was enough to sell product. They were wrong.  We like to call companies who develop pretty, undifferentiated marketing communications “cosmetic branders”.  And Sony is the poster child for “cosmetic branding”.

Why?  The Sony brand doesn’t have a connection with its consumer. Consumers aren’t excited, there’s less pride in ownership. And Sony doesn’t seem like its paying attention.  It lost the lead in TV’s to Samsung, the digital camera category is going away, mobile music is a memory and Sony’s foray into mobile devices has been a disaster. Each is its own case study.  Even Sony’s vaunted PlayStation group lost the lead to Microsoft’s XBox for the last 32 months. We’ll see what happens at the launch of new PS4 later this month.

And with a brand slogan like “Make. Believe.”, it’s easy to see why.  It doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t promise anything and it makes you feel like they’re ready to throw the “Hail Mary”, hoping something will work.  In fact, despite receiving strong reviews and being launched at a much lower price, Sony’s digital smart watch received a fraction of the publicity received by Samsung’s product.  After many years as an innovator and fast follower, Sony has met and been surpassed by paradigm breaking firms like Apple and Samsung.

Sadly, there is no Sony experience.  There is an Apple and, to a lesser extent, a Samsung experience.  As a brand, Sony has a lot to think about and not a lot of time. Now they have to worry about Phillips (who was #41 in the Top 100 Global Brands)!

So what’s the lesson? Understand your customer, define your brand experience and don’t mistake awareness for loyalty.  And for goodness sake, a good coat of paint won’t disguise a crumbling foundation for long. Let’s hope Sony really understands this before it’s too late.

Developing a Brand and Marketing Strategy: 30 Days That Make a Difference

 

When we talk to clients, we stress the importance of “aiming” before “firing” (remember, “ready, aim, fire”?) when it comes to developing a brand or marketing strategy.  Clients might be ready to invest in marketing, but when they shortcut or worse, don’t even think about planning, they risk wasting resources (time and money) while failing to meet their objectives.

If companies were to include just a small amount time to think about clearly defining their target customer and what they should be telling them; thus “aiming” their marketing activities, they will have a much higher probability of success, and will more likely meet or exceed their objectives.

We’re not talking months of planning, but a 30-60 day commitment could be the difference between meeting and exceeding plan and head-scratching failure. Small and medium sized companies, in particular, believe that they have to act without really understanding who their real target customer is or how their competitors might react in response to their activities.

Now would be a great time to take stock where you stand. Since everyone is returning from their summer holiday, there’s still time to plan for 2014 before corporate financial plans are finalized in late November or early December.

Outlined below are two important planning frameworks. One is focused on developing a brand strategy and the other is focused on developing a marketing strategy.  Ideally, you might have time to finish both before your company’s financial plan is due.

Brand Strategy Framework

Developing a brand strategy is an important but rigorous process. It starts with defining six key elements:

  •  Target audience. Who is your core target market? For which customer segments do your unique product/service benefits have the most value?
  •  Competition. Who are your primary and secondary competitors? How does your product or service rate against each of them?
  •  Rational and emotional benefits. What functional benefits does your product or service provide your customers? How should your customers feel about using your product or service?
  •  Point of parity. What attributes must your product or service have just to participate in the category?
  •  Point of difference. Which of those product or service attributes truly differentiate you from the competition and are important to your customers?
  •  Brand personality.  What key personality characteristics do your customers associate with your brand? For example, serious, fun, sophisticated, rugged, etc.

Creating Your Brand Positioning Statement

Once you’ve answered these questions, use the following template to combine all of the elements into your brand positioning strategy statement:

For (Target Audience) _______________(Brand Name)____________ is the (Product/Service Description)______________ that delivers (Differentiated Benefit #1)__________ because (Reason-to-Believe #1)____________, and (Differentiated Benefit #2)______________ because __________(Reason-to-Believe #2)____________ so that______(Target Audience Payoff/Emotional Benefit).

This brand positioning statement defines how you want customers to think about your brand.

Marketing Plan Framework

The marketing plan becomes the roadmap to get you there. This includes activities to reach your customers or the development of new products. Your brand strategy will help you make critical marketing plan decisions, including:

  •  Who should you be talking to?
  •  Is your segmentation based on demographics? Customer behavior? Geography? Company size?
  •  What are your key product or service differentiators? Are they truly meaningful to your customers? How can you communicate these benefits in a compelling and interesting way?
  •  How are you going to communicate your message? Where will you reach your customers?
  •  Are you going to create a “look and feel” that customers will associate with your brand?
  •  How and where do your core customers consume their information? TV? Trade publications? Websites? Social media or mobile platforms?

Your brand positioning statement should also inform new product development efforts. Are new products or services consistent with your brand positioning?

Do they speak to the current customer target or to a new customer segment? Do they build your brand or muddy it? Your answers to these questions will determine how and when to launch new products or services, and whether to position them with your current brand or develop a new one.

Invest 30 Days

Just 30 days could be the difference between success in 2014 and another year of making the same marketing mistakes. Use your time wisely and focus on your brand and marketing strategy. When budgets will be discussed, you’ll have thoughtful rationale to support your initiatives. We are happy to help you sharpen your brand positioning or develop a breakthrough marketing strategy.

How to Build a Marketing Dashboard

 

Well-managed companies often use a business/financial “dashboard” to track their key performance indicators (KPIs). These dashboards typically measure revenue, gross profit margin, net margin, cost per unit, revenue per customer and other metrics.

But what about the marketing side of the business? Are you tracking the right indicators? And how are they performing year-to-date compared to your objectives?

If you’re about to embark on your annual marketing planning process, a marketing dashboard will make it easier to track your marketing and sales efforts. If this year’s plan is already well under way, now is the perfect time to take stock, adjust, course correct, and learn.

To develop a marketing dashboard:

  • Clearly define your marketing objectives. What are you trying to achieve with your marketing efforts? What are your short-term and long-term marketing goals? Do they align with your company’s overall business objectives?
  • Identify the dashboard metrics. These are the key performance areas you will use to measure progress against your marketing objectives. Determine how often you will measure them and at what level of detail. Also, get clear on how you will generate the data needed to populate the dashboard, as this may require incremental internal and/or financial resources.
  • Get everyone on board. All key senior executives, especially the CEO and CFO, need to agree with and support the KPIs chosen for the dashboard.
  • Keep it simple. Limit your dashboard to six or eight of your most important KPIs. The goal is to focus on the key drivers of your marketing efforts and ensure that you track the right metrics.

Marketing often involves reinforcing or changing how your customers think about and act toward your brand. So when creating your dashboard, be sure to include KPIs that cover both attitudinal and behavioral measures. For example:

Attitudinal KPIs:

  • Brand awareness
  • Brand preference (% of customers who would consider using your brand first)
  • Customer understanding of key product or service differentiators

Behavioral KPIs:

  • Number of new customers
  • Customer retention/renewal rates
  • Sales cycle
  • Retail distribution
  • Market share
  • Cost per new customer
  • Revenue per customer
  • Lifetime value
  • Upsell/cross-sell rates

No matter where you stand in the marketing planning process, it’s never too late to build a marketing dashboard. It will help you better manage your marketing programs, identify issues and opportunities so you can quickly adjust your activities as well as help drive the development of future marketing strategies. And it will more closely align the marketing department’s efforts with your overall business objectives.

Avoiding Common Social Media Mistakes

 

So you’re ready to launch your new social media strategy.

Your Facebook page is looking good. You’ve got your Twitter feed primed and ready to go. You’ve even written a few blogs. Now’s the time for a pre-launch safety check to make sure you don’t crash and burn due to one or more of these common social media mistakes.

  • Putting quantity over quality. Don’t “talk” in social media unless you have something helpful to say! If your content isn’t relevant and engaging, your fans, followers, and viewers won’t come back.
  • Coming on too strong. Nothing turns off social media users like a “buy, buy, buy” approach. Nix the hard sell, and think more about building engagement through awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty and advocacy.
  • Big launch, no follow-through. Of course you want to make a big splash with your launch. But without a long-term social media strategy – including what kind of content you will publish, where and when – you won’t get far.
  • Overlooking the importance of search. Social media networks typically land on the first page of brand searches, so make sure your search strategy and social media strategy work hand-in-hand.
  • Forgetting who you are. Remember to project your brand voice. Should IBM be “wacky”? Should Pavorotti sing like Ozzie Ozbourne? Should Red Bull not be bold?
  • Lack of focus. Don’t try to be great in all social media networks. Focus on the one or two that are most relevant to your target audience and your goals.
  • Expecting too much. Social media won’t replace your off-line marketing, so don’t even try. Make sure they integrate well with each other to send a consistent brand message.
  • Indifference. If you’re going to use social media, pay attention to it! Not responding to customer comments – the good, the bad and the ugly – is a major social media faux pax.
  • Thinking it’s all about you. Social media is an all-way communication tool. Don’t talk to your audience, start a conversation with them.

And make sure you have a social media policy in place before launching any social media efforts. Who will create the content? Who is authorized to post on your company’s “official” social media pages and feeds? Who will respond to customer comments? Having a policy will provide discipline and direction, and will help you build and execute a successful social media strategy that excites and engages your customers.

 

Is Your Brand Ready for Social Media?

These days, everybody wants their brand to have a social media presence. But few companies know how to do it well.

Most set up a Facebook page, Twitter account, and/or LinkedIn page. Others write blogs or post videos to YouTube. The more daring will venture into Pinterest, Instagram, and newer social media networks.

Social media may look easy. But if your brand isn’t ready from a strategic, organizational or content management perspective, the conversations can quickly spin out of control. Which means you end up reacting to social media rather than leveraging it to build customer engagement and loyalty.

Use this checklist to determine whether your brand is ready for social media:

Brand Strategy

  • Have you clearly defined your target market?
  • Do you have a focused, highly differentiated brand positioning strategy?
  • Do you have a clearly defined brand personality? (i.e. conservative, edgy, funny, serious, educational)
  • Do you understand your competition’s social footprint?
  • How will your social media campaign differentiate you from competitors?
  • Do you have a clear idea of your customers’ wants, needs, likes, dislikes and pain points?
  • How will your social media content be relevant to those needs?

Social Media

  • Which social media sites do your customers use?
  • How will you prioritize your activity level across those different networks?
  • Do you produce enough quality content to sustain social media conversations?
  • Do you have a social media policy that clearly identifies who can speak for your company and/or respond in the social media world?
  • Is your website prepared for social media attention?
  • Are you ready to incorporate social media strategies throughout the buying process?
  • Do you have the time and resources to commit to social media?

A misdirected or poorly managed social media plan is worse than having none at all. So think twice before starting a corporate blog or Twitter account just because everyone else in your space has one. Social media requires real-time response and regular updating of your content. If you don’t have the resources to develop and implement an effective social media plan, your brand will be better off waiting until you do.

Schedule a FREE Consultation call (619) 752-2510 / email us.

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