Archive for May, 2009

Global Branding panel in NYC

I am delighted to announce that the NY chapter of the American Marketing Association will be holding a panel discussion on global branding on Tuesday, June 16th, between 6 pm and 8 pm.

The panel will feature three very wonderful and knowledgeable people:

Dr. Joseph Plummer of Columbia University, who was the former Chief Strategy Officer of the ARF (that’s Advertising Research Foundation, which took me a while to figure out).  Dr. Plummer is also a consultant at Olson Zaltman Associates

Nigel Hollis, author of the new book, Global Brands.  He’s also the EVP and Chief Global Analyst of the global market research firm, Millward-Brown.  His blog, Straight Talk is always a smart place to go for insights into global brands, 

And Trena Blair, VP of the Business Travel Division of American Express. She’s responsible for the marketing strategies across the Americas and Canada.  Her experience extends to the other side of the world.  Before joining American Express she was the SVP of marketing and sales at Westpac Banking Corporation.  Westpac is Australia’s largest retail bank.

You can sign up for the conference at the NYAMA’s website, or by clicking this link.

The original title of this panel was “Global Brands: Over-rated or Under-appreciated?”  However, it was eventually titled, “Building a Multinational Brand: Global, Regional or National Strategy?”  

I’ve been invited to moderate this event.  Please bring your excellent questions for our panelists. The question I will ask is, “Are global brands a myth?”

See you there!

Organizing marketing departments

It is generally agreed and supported by research that the practice of marketing is undergoing many changes to meet the needs of today’s world.  However changing the practice of marketing cannot happen without organizational changes.  

Simply stated, if the marketing department continues to be organized the way it was 5 or 10 years ago, it will have great difficulty putting into place new methods of marketing.

One of the areas of greatest change is the area of customer experience.  In today’s world there is an qualitative and quantitative expansion in the way that a company interacts with a customer — or prospective customer.  For instance, customer support has gone from calling an 800# to online.  And it is online on the same website that is marketing other offerings.  Ordering a product happens on that same site, too.  Suddenly you have a need for integrating customer service, sales, order processing and marketing into a single customer experience.

But companies are not organized that way.  The customer service, sales, order processing and marketing are separate departments.  They do not have the internal organizational structure or processes for integrating their efforts.

There is a great gap between what needs to be done and what is being done.  

Our research shows that 82% of CMOs/Marketing VPs say that their marketing departments are working more closely with other departments that touch the customer.  

At the same time, 78% say that internal silos are the single biggest barrier to integrating marketing with the customer experience.

This is a classic example of how companies are working at cross-purposes.  The internal structure is getting in the way of meeting customer needs. They become self-defeating organizations.  That leaves an opening for a new competitors who have developed either organizational structures or processes that allow for substantially better integration.

So why don’t companies simply reorganize their marketing functions?  

We have  identified 3 reasons:

1. In today’s economy the role of marketing appears to be dropping in company priorities.  Shortsighted or not, it is a reality driven by the economic turmoil and uncertainty.  

2. There are few role models to follow.  Organizational consultants — the McKinsey’s of the world — look at best practices.  They benchmark other companies to identify models that have been successful.  This is great in a stable environment or where innovators have risen to highly visible success.  But during times of rapid change the benchmarking process points to the past, not the future.  

3. Internal resistance to change.  Integrating marketing into other areas is often seen as taking away the initiative and independence of those other departments.  There is internal resentment that becomes the underlying emotional driver.  Of course it is not stated that way.  There is always a rational and logical reason that each department has for the status quo.

There are companies and executives who will recognize the situation either through a moment of great insight or through a dramatic need to change in response to competitive pressures.  The change will come.  Marketing departments need to be reorganized and their relationship with the rest of the company needs to be redefined.

What do tracking studies really track?

There is a pandemic of brand tracking studies sweeping across the nation.  These studies are often giving companies misleading information about the state of their brands.  Which leads to making wrong choices about marketing.

What, if anything, can be done to stop it?  

The typical way of assessing the success or failure of marketing communications is through tracking studies.  How many people are aware of my brand? Did my top-of-mind awareness go up or down?  How do we compare to the competition? How are my attributes tracking?  Are there any signals of problems in the marketplace?  How do people rate us on a battery of personality characteristics?  Are we more approachable than before?  Less fun to be with?

The theoretical underpinnings of tracking studies can be traced to the brand positioning theory.  Now that brand positioning has lost its effectiveness, now that we have a better understanding of how our minds work, it raises fundamental questions about what a tracking study is really measuring.

Here are some of the problems with tracking studies:

1. Time lags:  Often tracking studies are a “lagging indicator” — they aren’t sensitive enough to anticipate trouble ahead.  They simply report what is already known. A friend of mine recently compared them to autopsies.  Yes, now we know what the patient died of.  Mystery solved.  But, alas, the patient is still dead.  

2. Awareness is less useful: Asking verbal questions about awareness is limited because it assumes that our brains process information that way and that way only.  Of course practical experience and neurology tell us otherwise.  With the growth of the web, awareness can rocket up from next to nothing with little spending.  So what are you really measuring?  

3. Attributes are not how people understand and connect with brands: Measuring brands on a list of attributes is forcing people into the box of verbal thinking when much thinking is visual.  Also, the attributes are often too abstract, not giving real insight into the minds of consumers.  What does someone mean when the rate a brand as “innovative”?  Does “innovative” mean the same thing to you as it does to me?  Hard to answer that.  I think Marcel Duchamp is innovative.

4. It is nearly impossible to know what activities contributed to the changes: Back in the 1980s I saw an interesting piece of research.  A company did a tracking study in which they asked people where they saw the brand’s advertising.  A great many people said it was from the television campaign.  The only problem is that the company never ran TV ads.  The campaign was primarily on radio.  

5. They do not track stories and metaphors:  If people primarily communicate through metaphors, anecdotes and stories, why aren’t those part of the tracking study?  How do I know my the narrative people are telling themselves about my brand?

Some companies don’t even bother with tracking studies.  At one point in time Kellogg didn’t use tracking studies.  They believed that the sales numbers were a faster and more accurate indicator of a problem in the marketplace.  They were very big believers in market research.  Just not that kind of research.  

So why do companies continue to do tracking studies?  

Well, often it is inertia.  We do it because we’ve always done it.  Sometimes it is necessary to demonstrate to senior management some form of quantitative evidence that marketing is working…another number for the spreadsheet. Ad agencies like it because they can “prove” the effectiveness of a campaign by pointing to a jump in top-of-mind awareness.

And sometimes it is genuinely useful in helping a company know how real and deep are the problems.  A scandal might get a lot of press but not catch the imagination of your customers.  In that case a tracking study can prevent you from over-reacting. Or the numbers are necessary to galvanize the executive team into action.

The traditional tracking study needs to be overhauled.  It needs to be visual, not just verbal.  It needs to be analyzed with a grain of salt.  And it must be just one piece in a more robust set of tools to make your branding accountable.

Can you tell quality by the price?

While I was in Spain not long ago, I had some extra time on my hands so I went for a random walk.  Along the way I decided to go into a large department store, Cortes Ingles, just to see what people were buying.

As I wandered by way through the store, I saw a lot of designer labels that were familiar and many that weren’t.  In the men’s department I saw Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfinger (the denim collection).  But what about the brands that I didn’t recognize?  How would I know if they were good, if they were fashionable?  Would I have to rely on my own sense of style, the feel of the cloth, the quality of the stitching?  I don’t have confidence in my ability to judge those cues.  I looked for other cues, the designer brands on either side, the type of people who were looking through the clothes.  

Then I looked at the price tags.

It was a revelation.  

I felt more confident that I could spot the best clothes once I got a feeling for their pricing.  Consciously or not, I was taking price as my cue for quality and not the other way around.  Even if the quality was no better, the higher price made me feel more comfortable in judging the brands.  Like the old joke goes, “It better be good because it’s so goddam expensive.”

Introducing the New Chevrolet Corporation on June 1st!

It takes more than one Indianapolis 500 car driver and builder to create a great automobile company.  In fact it takes three.  Arthur, Louis and Gaston Chevrolet where all experienced Indy 500 car builders and drivers.  And they built the Chevrolet Company.

These three brothers had a motto “Never Give Up”  And they didn’t.  

That is why on June 1st GM is making an official announcement that the company is being renamed The Chevrolet Corporation.  The unofficial motto of the company is “Never Give Up”.  And the winning tradition of the Chevrolet brothers is spreading across the company.  Several sources have said that market research showed the faceless GM brand never had strong emotional connections with any of its audiences — not even internally.  Despite several efforts to re-brand GM, the new management has recognized the importance of the Chevrolet brand and heritage.  One executive who asked to remain anonymous said, “The American people feel much better about bailing out The Chevrolet Corporation than they do about bailing out GM”

Okay, so maybe this is just my imagination running away with me.  One can imagine a brighter future, can’t they?  

After all, it makes sense on so many levels to make this change.  The Chevrolet Corporate has all of the elements of a great narrative.  

And if GM is reading this, I would be happy to come out to the Renaissance Center and go through the reasoning and implications.  I’ll even pay for my own ticket.

Is it a good idea if it cannot fit on a powerpoint?

Sometimes I feel that powerpoint has become a canvas. Paint inside the canvas and you are fine.  But if you want to paint something larger than the canvas you are out of luck.

I wanted to unfold a large narrative about a particular brand.  I wanted people to stand back and take in the entirety of the narrative, to see the whole picture.  I wanted them to absorb the metaphor.  The metaphor was in words, yes.  And it was in imagery and in the graphic motifs we created.  

“This will never fit in powerpoint” I was told.

And they were right.  It could not fit on powerpoint.  We ended up staging the narrative on a very large board.  

And it is breathtaking.

It was a much better medium for the narrative than the powerpoint.  And so, inspired, we pushed ahead and made a movie.  We could literally unfold the narrative across time.  Adding music to the narrative added a new layer of depth.  Music is a language of emotion.

If I had been developing a traditional “brand positioning” statement, the powerpoint slide would be more than enough.  And that is the problem with brand positioning.  

This is not about the limitations of powerpoint.  It is about the limitations that we sometimes impose on ourselves.  If we are limiting the creation of a brand to the size of a powerpoint slide we will be losing something valuable.

E-inking the Kindle

Now that Oprah has a Kindle, it’s the biggest thing to happen to publishing since…well, a long time.

The secret behind Kindle is a technology developed at MIT.  It’s from a company named E-Ink.

It was about 1999 or 2000 when I first heard of E-ink.  We were invited to pitch a project for them around this marvelous new technology.  And it was marvelous.  The idea that you could have something as thin as paper and infinitely reusable…well, that’s pretty incredible.  Some of the early applications were around in-store signage, point-of-purchasing.  The idea was to immediately change pricing or specials or send a message to shoppers at stores around the country simultaneously.  No more tearing down the old materials and setting up new ones.

The ideas that the client and our team came up with where a lot of fun.  What if they ran a full page ad in the New Yorker during the holiday season?  What if a dress was made out of E-ink?  How about greeting cards?  Also the ideas were impractical given the state of the technology and the costs.  The branding ideas were just too early.  The timing wasn’t right.

Here we are, a decade later and the technology is ready for prime time.  Certainly it is ready for Oprah!  Now when I play with my Kindle I keep thinking of all the great and clever things that E-ink can do with the technology.  Perhaps they are ready for that branding project after all.

What are advertisers reading?

We hope that they are reading the views and opinions of other advertisers which are included in our article just published by the ANA.  You can find it at the ANA’s online publication,

Increasing numbers of marketers are ready to move beyond the traditional brand positioning model.  They recognize that it doesn’t work for them any longer.  They are gravitating toward compelling narratives with strong metaphors as a better method for branding.  

This sea-change in branding is being led by CMOs.  Agencies, in general, are lagging behind clients in this instance.  You need only look at the websites of the major agencies to see the prevalence of “brand positioning” — in its many flavors — to recognize gap between what clients actually desire and what agencies think clients desire.

By the way, in this context ANA refers to the Association of National Advertisers.  

The confusions caused by abbreviations of associations are quite common.  Imagine you are working in pharmaceutical marketing. The AMA could refer to: The American Medical Association or The American Marketing Association or even The American Management Association.  One could write an entire doctoral thesis around the need for humans to turn everything into an acronym or acrostic.

What role do luck, pluck and magic have in brand case studies?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading through a number of brand case studies.  Some were in books, some in journals, some in presentations.  They were developed by agencies, academics and corporate brand managers.  Many of the case studies were of the same brand — Apple and Harley-Davidson being among the most popular.

In every case study the set-up predetermined the outcome.  It seemed inevitable that the case would prove this point or that point.  

Comparing these case studies to the reality of my own experience, I was struck by the 20/20 hindsight clarity of the case studies.  As we all know, in real life these programs are not to neatly wrapped up with a ribbon.  They take unexpected turns.  Decisions are made for reasons of personal taste and nothing else.  Or else they are compromises.  Or the timing of a decision turned out to be better than anyone expected.

So I propose that all case studies should have a special section for what I call luck, pluck and magic.

Luck is just that.  Often luck is about the timing.  A great idea can fail if the market isn’t ready for it.  The happy accident of timing, the alignment of the stars.

Pluck is the willingness to take risks.  The executives at MSN showed extraordinary pluck when they selected the butterfly design.  Even with the market research validation, it was still a bold move for them.  Can you imagine the meeting in which they presented to Bill Gates and explained his internet offering was going to be a butterfly!  Pluck!

And magic. That is the inspiration that seems to come from nowhere.  It is not derivative.  It is not imitative.  If anything, it is inductive not deductive.   Let me try to say this another way.  Magic does not come from a process.  And it is not a matter of lucky timing.  It is the creative process at work.  Where did that MSN butterfly come from?  It fit perfectly with the strategy of Microsoft providing everyday amazement on the web.  But the metaphor came from a wellspring in the imagination of Michael Thibodeau.  

Can you imagine being shown a case study and the key decision turns out to have been made by the wife of the CEO?  It happens.  but it never shows up in the case studies.

So my modest proposal is for case studies to include luck, pluck and magic in their analysis.  The world is a messy place. Case studies that ignore the complexity leave important lessons untaught.

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