Archive for April, 2009

Re-rebranding the company formerly known as AIG

It’s just been announced that AIU, formerly AIG, is undergoing it’s second re-branding effort in two months.  

As you’ll remember, the name change from AIG to AIU was announced by the CEO during a Congressional hearing in mid-March. 

According to the story in the NY Times:

The renamed A.I.U. quickly began issuing new business cards to employees and printing promotional materials, particularly in Asia. But A.I.G. has now decided that the A.I.U. name does not represent enough of a change, and is in the final stages of choosing a new one, said Leslie J. Mouat, A.I.U.’s regional president for Southeast Asia.

“The advice we’ve received is A.I.U. may be a bit close to A.I.G. — we don’t want to appear as the same leopard with different spots,” Mr. Mouat said in an interview, adding that he was told only Saturday of the decision to change the name again, which has not been publicly announced.

Conventional wisdom would say that moving as far away from AIG as possible is the best strategy.

But what if conventional wisdom is wrong, again?

In this situation I would argue that conventional wisdom is off the mark.  

Changing the name and logo will cost of lot of money but will have little effect on the company’s reputation this year or next or longer.  In fact, because of sponsorships and other marketing programs the current branding will continue to be actively promoted for a year or more.

A classic example of conventional wisdom is the change of The Philip Morris Companies to Altria.  Not only was the re-branding widely mocked, it did not achieve the goal of distancing the company from Philip Morris.  

This method of rebranding might have worked in the 1970s or 1980s but not in today’s world.  Why?  Because the internet has a long memory. Removing the old brand is virtually impossible.  Or impossible in the virtual world.

My counsel to Mr. Liddy and his executive team is to not make another name change.  

Re-channel the budget into actions and activities which will change the corporate reputation instead.  You can change people’s minds about your brand and company.  It happens all the time.  It does take a coordinated and persistent effort to do so.  But the results can be tremendously rewarding.

Here’s an example.  GE.  Today GE is seen as an innovator and leader in the area of ecologically sound business.  Wind power, clean water, etc.  Not so long ago GE had the reputation of being a major industrial polluter.  For years the company spent millions on legal efforts to avoid taking responsibility for pollution done in the past.  While they may be sound legal arguments, they only perpetuated the negative image.  GE changed the narrative in both their actions and in their communications.  And in the process they changed people’s minds about the company.

Rebranding Pork?

Ad Age reports that the Pork industry is trying to rebrand swine flu.  They want the government to call it H1N1.  

But it could prove a pretty tricky rebrand. The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are still referring to the virus as swine influenza. “You can point to the sun and call it the moon, but it’s still the sun,” said Robbie Vorhaus, a crisis-communications expert. “Renaming it isn’t the issue; it’s helping people understand where it’s coming from. They’re reacting out of fear, and that’s not a good basis for communications.”

Maybe it would just be easier to rebrand pork.  The “other white meat” campaign is long gone.  How about “free range bacon”?  Or “Organic-raised Boar”?

Rightly or wrongly the pork industry is going to be collateral damage in this pandemic.  It’s a case where branding won’t help.  The swine metaphor is too strong to be replaced by “H1N1”  Call me an old sentimentalist but I vote for renaming the flu “R2D2”.

Rebrand that Flu!

Yesterday the local schools in NYC sent home instructions to families about precautions to take around the Swine Flu.

My daughter wanted to know why they call it Swine Flu.  

She said, “You know, if they called it Pizza Flu or Oreo Cookie Flu, then people wouldn’t be so worried.”

Come to think of it, the Swine metaphor has some pretty negative associations.  Swine is a metaphor for dishonorable and untrustworthy people.  It is associated with pollution from industrial pork farms.  Pork itself is another word for unnecessary spending, fat, larded.  Pearls before swine is both a biblical quotation and the subtitle of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater” — not that I’m equating the two in terms of cultural significance.

Pizza Flu. My daughter’s logic is inescapable.

Is Twitter a strategy, a tactic or the next Second Life?

I was witness to a phenomenal Hoola-hoop performance at a middle school talent show.  The incredible sixth grader did a routine including putting on a soccer uniform, complete with shin guards, doing some fancy footwork with the soccer ball and balancing more than a dozen hoola-hoops to the tune of “You’ve got to move it, move it” from the Madagascar sound-track.

Remember the hoola-hoop?  I do and it was a global fad before I was even born.  Like all fads it was eventually replaced by a new one.  But unlike some fads it had a second life. More than 50 years later its still around.

Second Life?  Remember than phenom?  Cover of Business Week!  This was going to change everything.  Virtual meetings, virtual collaboration, virtual storefronts, virtual banking. There was a land rush from Adidas, Wells Fargo, Wired Magazine, Reuters, H&R Block, Reebok, Dell, IBM, Sony/BMG and on and on and on.

 

The story that launched Second Life

The story that launched Second Life

Forrester recently declared Second Life as virtually abandoned by major corporations with the possible exception of IBM.  Oh, its still around.  Just not quite the way anyone expected.

Which brings us to Twitter.  Is twitter the next Hoola Hoop?  A big fad that will fade away?  A big difference is that the Hoola Hoop was profitable right from the start.  And the company created the Frisbee as a follow-up.  Wham-o!

As for Twitter, the business plan is still a work in progress.

So next on the list?  iPhone Apps anyone?

The lesson for marketers is that these are tactics, not strategies.  Maybe good for some short-term PR.  You need a strategic framework to evaluate the new tactics, to see which make sense and which don’t.  

And the lesson for start-ups is that you need a business plan.

Verizon Wireless vs. AT&T

Here’s a bit of interesting news — the iPhone has helped AT&T sign up more than 1 million new customers in the past quarter.  Reports in the NY Times have AT&T thanking the iPhone for keeping their profits from falling further.

Not bad for a company that is often credited with having the worst data network in the country!

On the other hand, it’s getting rather difficult to avoid the one note “Reliable” advertising of Verizon Wireless. America’s most reliable advertising campaign?  The attribute focused advertising is not having the same draw as the beauty and status of a phone with great apps.

This is a case of “Positioning” vs. “Product” — and a product that has a wonderful image from a brand with a wonderful image.  Beats positioning every time.  It’s time for Verizon Wireless to re-invent their marketing campaign based on stronger insights into their audiences.  That will mean going beyond the typical market research and typical new ad campaign. In the long run it will be more effective and save money.

Will tweet for food…

In case you missed it, Pizza Hut has announced a nationwide search for a Twitter summer intern.

Wonderful move to get PR for a summer internship. And it sounds like a very cool job.

On the other hand, it worries me a bit that Pizza Hut is relying on an intern — with all due respect to the intern — for something as important as being a public spokesperson for the brand. Twitter is still a nascent medium, perhaps nothing more than a short term fad.  But for the short term it is having an influence over other conversations.

This might also be the beginning of a new trend.  Out of work actors might begin tweeting for their favorite restaurants instead of waiting on tables.  A whole barter system of tweets for sweets could grow up.  I am thinking of getting my cat to do some tweets for me but she’s rather curl up on my freshly laundered clothes and fall asleep.

Beneath all of this is the larger question of how do companies adapt to and adopt changes in media without wasting money and without losing opportunities.   Trial and error may have a lot to teach us as we grope our way forward into the brand new world of multiplatform media with odd-ball names.

Is benchmarking other brands useful?

A standard part of the branding process is to look at “best-in-class” case studies and benchmarks.  This is a combination of a competitive audit along with an audit of the brands that are most admired or selected by some other objective criteria.

Some people believe this is provides a yardstick for clients to measure their own branding against.  And for many years I was of that opinion, too.  

But then I began to observe a curious set of circumstances which make me skeptical about the usefulness.  The names of companies and brands will be left out, to protect the usual suspects.  

Let’s start with Company A.  Company A asked us to do a best-in-class benchmark study on the brand management organization and practices of 10 other companies.  My team set about that project and developed a set of benchmarks which the client could use as they were revamping their own branding organization.

About a year later one of the companies on the 10 best list requested we do a project for them.  I will call them Company B.  They asked for a similar “best-in-class” benchmarking study as was done for Company A. The only difference is that for Company B, they wanted us to study Company A as one of the 10 best list.

Not long after we were approached by Company D.  They too wanted a brand management benchmarking program that included Company A and Company B in their list of 10 best.

I am sure that you would have seen this pattern coming long before I did.  What to do when all of these world-class companies are so busy benchmarking each other?  Doesn’t it become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

These world-class companies don’t just benchmark on branding.  They hire world-famous management consulting firms to benchmark other world class firms on a variety of areas.

By this time I was feeling that the practice was like a dog chasing its own tail.  At least for the companies that have reached the top of their industry.  For new companies or smaller challenger companies the benchmarking was relatively more useful.  Those challengers still had a lot to learn from others.

More difficult was the fact that many best-in-class companies had different brand management  systems.  There was far more variability across companies than I had expected.  It turns out that what works in Company A may not work as well in Company B for any number of reasons.  Each company had enough uniqueness in their situation that the broad generalizations of benchmarking often became difficult to apply.  It became a lowest common denominator situation (admittedly of some very fine companies).

Which leads me to my own generalization:

You cannot benchmark your way into the future.

Recognize that the other best-in-class companies know as much as you know. At some point world-class companies need to wean themselves from much of this benchmarking. You need to take bold moves based on your vision of the future, not based on what your competitors may be doing.  

It is an important enough point that I will repeat it:  You cannot benchmark your way to the future.

What, exactly, is co-creation?

The first time I had hear the term co-creation was when I read How Customers Think by Professor Gerald Zaltman.  The idea seemed to me so simple, so intuitively obvious.  But I was wrong.

I discovered this as I tried to tell others about co-creation.  

I tried to explain that a brand is not simply the words and actions of a company.  And it does not exist solely and completely in the minds of customers.  Co-creation describes the process where the two intersect. That came across as clear as fog.

Soon my attempts to describe co-creation began to sound like a forum for people from a company to sit together with consumers in the same room and together draw up new product designs or  have a joint brainstorm on new names.   

I had lost my ability to see and say things clearly.

I am glad to say that another writer found the words for me.  It was Jorge Luis Borges.  Not only a great writer but also gracious, funny and charming in person.  I had the great honor and pleasure of being one of the MFA graduate students invited to his week long lecture series at the graduate School of the Arts at Columbia. 

The taste of the apple is neither in the apple itself — the apple cannot taste itself — nor in the mouth of the eater.  It requires a contact between them.”

Yes, exactly.  

Co-creation is such a clumsy word, a much less poetic way of describing that contact.  

So I’ll leave you with a final thought.  In 2004 the Harvard Business Review ran an article predicting that the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree will become the new MBA.  It has not yet come to pass.Perhaps we can try to convince the MBA programs and the MFA programs to swap students for one semester.  We’ll have the fiction writers studying marketing and the marketing majors studying poetry.  And all of us would be richer for the experience.


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