Archive for February, 2009

Where is the urgency?

In Richard Clarke’s book about the months leading up to 9/11 he quotes the CIA director George Tenet being so emphatic about the risks that his “hair is on fire.”  The administration remained complacent until too late.

Is marketing is going through the same sit on the sidelines and wait approach to the current economic emergency?  Where is the urgency?  

This economy is unprecedented.  As Paul Krugman says, “It’s not your father’s recession.” 

My hair is on fire.  Metaphorically, since I don’t have enough hair to have a real good bonfire. 

Now is the time for companies to prioritize and fund the initiatives that will have the greatest benefit for the company.  It must be both strategic and tactical.  It has been my experience that in times like this marketers will reach for a list of tactics.  Some may be brilliant.  Some may be duds.  But without a strategic framework it’s hard to separate them out before hand.  And that just wastes money as the time companies can least afford it.

We have developed a streamlined process to help companies find cost efficiencies that will also increase the effectiveness and flexibility of their brand marketing.  

What do companies have to lose by examining new scenarios for marketing?  The playing field has shifted.  The risk of doing nothing out weight the risks of experimenting.

Is TV advertising more effective than before?

There is a curious article in the current issue of BrandWeek that says a new ARF study shows TV advertising is as effective as ever, “if not more so”

Curious because this flies in the face of other studies from the ARF.  And it flies in the face of what marketers believe.  The other data that we’ve seen shows that advertising effectiveness has been declining in the past few years.  

So is TV advertising as effective as it was?  

I have not been able to find the study, so I am relying on the reporting.  I am making the assumption that the article is reasonably accurate.  My assumption is reinforced by the fact that the ARF has posted the article online and Joel, the ARF’s chief strategy officer, didn’t made any clarifications on his blog.

The data for this study was gathered over a period of 18 years, from 1990 to 2008.  That was the first red flag for me.  For more than half of that time the internet was a very limited platform for advertising.  Broadband was very limited.   Without seeing the data broken down by years, it is difficult to assess the validity of the claim.

The measure for effectiveness that is mentioned in the article is awareness.  That was the second red flag.  Awareness used to be highly correlated with market share.  So the more you spent on tv advertising, the higher your awareness and the higher your market share.  But that relationship has fallen apart in the past few years.  

The importance of awareness has dropped dramatically.  Sure your audience needs to be aware of your brand.  But how they become aware can be done without TV advertising.  Google is perhaps exhibit one in a brand having nearly universal awareness without running tv advertising.  

So by the standards of the study (as reported) — data reaching back 18 years and awareness as the key measure of effectiveness — TV is indeed effective.  As we have seen, those assumptions are questionable.

On the other hand, TV advertising is still the best way to reach the biggest audience in this country.  There is no question about that.  And TV is not going away any time soon.  TV didn’t kill radio.  And the internet won’t kill TV.  There will be great TV ads and there will be lousy TV ads.  While predicting the future is always an uncertain act, there is good reason to believe that the dominance of TV advertising will continue to erode over time.

Demand creation

Back in the 1960s, as the anti-war protest movement gained momentum,  there was a saying, “What if they gave a war and nobody showed up?”

I think today’s version of that saying is, “What if they gave a sale and nobody showed up?”

That pretty much describes the shopping season lately.  I cannot walk down Broadway without coming across one store after another announcing sale upon sale.  

Consumer demand is falling for just about everything.  And where the demand isn’t falling, consumers are doing more trading down to lower cost options. 

At the same time, many corporations are cutting their marketing spend.  

There is nothing wrong with making some cuts in marketing.  Many companies can probably cut their marketing spend by 10 to 20 % and increase their overall effectiveness at the same time by making some very strategic moves (more about that in another post).

However, many companies seem to be engaged in a paradox of counter-productive cutting.  They are seeing falling revenues so they cut everything possible.  Marketing is an easy target because the savings go right to the bottom line.  It’s hard to justify running advertising or launching a new brand when people in other departments are losing their jobs.  

The paradox is that brand marketing is essential for a company to create demand.  At a minimum it will slow the decline of demand.

Some companies use these conditions as a catalyst for deeper changes in their marketing.  

For instance, all the research shows that there is a growing need for better cooperation and coordination between marketing, product development, customer service, CSR, online development and so on.  At the same time, our study with Forrester shows that 78% of marketers see internal silos as the biggest barrier to integrating marketing with other parts of the customer experience.  Isn’t this the perfect opportunity to remove those silos and make everyone more efficient and effective?

In some categories as single dominant company can raise demand for that category.  But that is an unusual situation.  

But imagine if every company did all they could to raise consumer demand.  Not by spending more but by spending more effectively.  Imagine how that would contribute the economic recovery.  Alone we can influence our own destiny.  Together we can shape society.

Where did Tropicana go wrong?

Tropicana has done an about face on their new packaging.  Just a month ago Tropicana introduced new packaging that removes their orange with a straw and replaces it with a glass of orange juice.  Now they are bringing back the orange and straw.

Is the glass half empty or half fully?

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Back to the Future?

Back to the Future?











Where did Tropicana go wrong?

According to Stuart Elliott in the Times

In an interview last month to discuss the new packaging, he [Mr. Campbell, president of Tropicana] said, “The straw and orange have been there for a long time, but people have not necessarily had a huge connection to them.”

Now it seems that people do have a huge connection to them.  As the president said, “That wasn’t something that came out in the research.”

So the glass is out and the orange and straw are back.  And the question comes up, what went wrong with the research?  Also, where did Peter Arnell, the designer, go wrong?

Many people have noted that the new packaging is “generic”.  But that doesn’t go to the heart of the problem.  It is an observation not an insight.  The problem goes much deeper.

First, the research.  I don’t know what research method that Tropicana (part of PepsiCo) used, so I will not speculate on that.  If they had used a method such as ZMET they would have learned about the power of their existing metaphor of the orange and straw.  In this case, I would have suggested a series of one-on-one interviews to uncover the metaphors, stories and associations people have with orange juice in general and Tropicana in particular.  Through constructions — using images, textures, materials — it would have been possible to see the depth and richness of the current metaphor.  It is this depth and robustness of response that is more important than someone saying, “Oh, I like the look of this one better than that one.”  

What kind of meaning would you co-create with a glass of orange juice?  How does that differ in quality from the meaning you co-create with a straw sticking out of an orange?

Second, the design.  Peter Arnell is a brilliant designer.  In this situation he did not recognize that he was substituting an inferior metaphor for a very rich and compelling one.  He said, “I’m incredibly surprised by the reaction.”  He should not have been surprised at all.  He should have recognized the possibility of this happening.  He should have replaced the orange and straw with a visual metaphor that was stronger, not weaker.

In essence he was solving a problem that did not exist.  There are endless ways to update the orange and straw.  Removing it removes almost everything from the visual side of Tropicana’s narrative.  Now the only visual element carrying the narrative is a small leaf on the “i” in the name.

Arnell has recently lost a lot of face.  The new Pepsi logo has come in for a lot of criticism for being a rip-off of Obama’s campaign logo.  I personally don’t think that was intended but the advertising and the PR surrounding the new Pepsi logo were not effective at addressing that question.  

Now comes the Tropicana debacle.  And this is truly a mistake by Peter Arnell. 

So where did Tropicana really go wrong?  I would say by not having the right research in place.  And by allowing the brand guru Peter Arnell to remove their strong metaphor.

The Facebook witness protection program

I will admit that after years of linked-in, friendster, myspace, second life…well…I’ve been wary of Facebook.  

Oh, I’ve been following it and playing with other people’s pages and so on.  But I’ve deeply resisted joining myself.  After a while the invitations were beginning to pile up.  When 4 out of the other 5 members of my immediate household invited me (we won’t allow the 5th to have a page because she’s too young)…well…it became a little uncomfortable around the dinner table.

So I put my face up there.

Soon more people began to invite me to be their friends.  I resisted accepting.  My sister got angry at me, my brother-in-law got angry at me, my cousin got angry at me.

You can get the picture.

Under pressure I accepted those. And then more came in.  Friends from high school, college, running.  Friends of cousins.  Cousins of friends.  It became overwhelming to keep up with everyone’s posts.

Then business associates began to send me invitations.

Do I accept?  Or do I ignore?  If I accept, then the wall between personal and business dissolves.  For the rest of my family and other friends, that can create problems.  And if I ignore, do I risk insulting people who I like tremendously and do business with?

After wrestling with this for over a month, I decided that it is okay to have some walls in life.  In fact, it is necessary.  The privacy of others can easily be compromised by my desire to be an open book.

I have now joined the Facebook Witness Protection Program.  

I will accept all invitations to Linked-in.  I will respond to all emails (  I will return your phone calls.  It’s just Facebook that is my walled garden.

While wrestling with these weighty questions, I came up with an idea for a new social networking brand.  Actually, it’s an anti-social networking brand.  You cannot invite anyone to be a friend.  And they wouldn’t accept even if you could invite them.  I’m naming it UnFriendster.

Not necessarily the author’s opinion

There is a frequent disclaimer on websites, blogs and in magazines that the opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the publisher, the advertiser or others. 

An extreme example of this phenomena is the former NBA star, Charles Barkley.  When told about the contents of his just published autobiography, “Outrageous” he threatened to sue himself for libel.  

For the record, all of the opinions about branding stated within this blog are the official opinions of the author.  

And this author will stand by these opinions, steadfast under any and all circumstances.  

Unless, of course, there is good reason to reconsider.

Retire the GM brand, Part II

The stories released today show that GM is going to be phasing out or selling the Saturn, Saab and Hummer brands.

There is no word on the GM brand itself.   I would still recommend that the company give serious consideration to retiring the GM brand.  After all, there are several storied brands that could replace it.  The increase in marketing efficiencies are a compelling reason for such a change.

The phase out of the Saturn brand will create an interesting coda to the many  business school case studies on Saturn.  Will the schools still teach the Saturn story?  Will David Aaker print an updated version of the Saturn case study from “Building Strong Brands”?   Will they have to do a “case study recall” the way the car companies are always doing recalls?

While it’s fun to imagine such a recall, the reality is that case studies are always a snapshot, a single point in time.  Much can be learned from them.  Knowing how the brand eventually turned out can also be instructive.  We can learn as much from the failures of others as from the successes.  Not the usual way of thinking about benchmarking, I know.  But these aren’t times for business as usual.

Is it time to retire the GM brand?

As GM undergoes a renovation to get it back on the road to healthy, there will be a lot of discussion of which brands to keep and which to jettison.  In that spirit, I would like to nominate the GM brand itself as the first to be retired.

The GM brand is getting rusty with age. 

The rebuilt company should adopt one of the market brands for the corporate name.  This would have several advantages for the new company.  

1) It will signal a shift from the past practices which contributed to the company being in a ditch.  

2) It will have cost efficiencies since the company will save the costs of supporting a corporate brand that doesn’t have a direct benefit to the market brands.  For instance, Chevrolet benefits little if at all from the GM corporate advertising campaign. 

3) It can provide a new direction for the company’s narrative.  The Chevrolet brothers have an engaging story about how they came to America and founded their automotive company — as well as their shared passion for racing.  Knowing that the co-founder was a winner of the Indianapolis 500 gives the company more than just a human face.

Now the problems of GM are not solely of their own making.  And branding alone cannot solve the economic pileup on the financial highway.  It would be unrealistic to believe that changing the shape of the company’s narrative will substitute for the hard work of rebuilding the organization.  On the other hand, it will be much more difficult to rebuild the company without reshaping the company’s narrative.

Using the Narrative Branding (R) method will help the new GM to know that their branding is always in service of the business strategy.  Their branding is not disconnect from the business.  And branding is not the driver of business strategy.

It would be a brilliant move to announce the retirement of the GM brand on the day that Bob Lutz official retires.  It will be this coming April 1st.  April Fools Day.  An end of one chapter in the company’s history and the start of a new chapter.

Aristotle, Brand Guru: Part 2

In my last post on Aristotle, I touched on his role as an analytical thinker.  So let’s go deeper into that area.  

One of Aristotle’s great discoveries is what we now call deductive reasoning. It is Aristotelean logic that provided the first formal model for deductive reasoning.  A not too technical discussion of the model is available from Stanford University.  It is important for our conversation because deductive analysis is the approach taken in brand positioning.

For our purposes we’ll use the following definition for deductive analytics or deductive reasoning:  It is about looking at the entire data set and then drawing conclusions about a particular point in that data.

Here’s a more concrete example:  A leading company in laptop computers decides they need some market research to better differentiate their brand.  So they conduct a quantitative study of laptop computers that rates the importance of a long list of attributes and the performance of the top 6 brands on those same attributes.  In theory, this would represent all of the attributes that are important to laptop computer buyers.  From that you can see how the existing brands map on this universe of attributes.  Where there are no laptop brands on the map, you identified “white space” — a small number of attributes that are important to buyers but not strongly associated with any particular brand.

This “white space” is the focal point of your efforts to create differentiation for you laptop brand.  In “re-positioning” your brand these are the attributes that you want to associate with your brand.

When I was learning market research techniques, this was the approach that I was taught.  We did these large scale category studies and then sophisticated statistical tools to pinpoint precisely how strongly an attribute correlated with a specific brand.  We then used correspondence mapping to visually display the data so that we could make sense of it.  No doubt you’ve come across these studies over the years.

They are very powerful studies for understanding the world as it is in the minds of your audience today.  

They can tell you the existing strengths and weaknesses of your brand relative to the competition and relative to what is important to your customers.  

So far, so good for Aristotle!

Continuing with our example, it is reasonable to assume that all or most of the the other major companies are doing the same kinds of studies to assess their laptop brands.  This will help them find new ways of differentiating from the other laptop brands.

Soon we have a situation where many companies are now trying to re-positioning their laptop brands at the same time.  The universe is in motion.  Everyone is trying to differentiate their brands by moving to a new spot on the map.

Now a clever company comes up with an entirely new way of thinking about laptop computers.   The founders believe there is another way entirely of making and selling laptops.  They disregard the framework of the existing brands.  If their new laptop brand catches on in the marketplace, they have disrupted the universe of the existing brands.  (And if it fails, that will reconfirm the beliefs of the existing laptop companies).

This happens more often than you might expect.  Which calls into question the usefulness of deductive analytics.   Or limits deductive analysis to very slow moving, static, categories.  

Therein lies a problem with brand positioning.  It is based on a deductive analysis of the marketplace to identify the differentiating attributes.  It assumes an inflexibility in a world that is highly dynamic.  

So we need to revise our view of Aristotle as Brand Guru.  His “guru-ness” comes primarily from this work in Poetics.  His analytics, while important, are secondary in his claim to being the world’s first Brand Guru.

Still, not bad for a guy who has been dead for more than 2,000 years before the internet was developed.

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