Archive for December, 2009

Philip Kotler on reinventing marketing

Looking forward to 2010!

Some marketing thoughts about the year to come.  This is from the book CHAOTICS by Philip Kotler and John Caslione.

“Great marketers don’t just rebound from crises.  They build the internal capacity to expect the unexpected. They continuously reinvent business models and marketing strategies during chaotic times so that they can adapt quickly as circumstances in the marketplace change.

Today, the typical company operates a marketing system that has emerged from years of trial and error. It has developed policies, strategies, and tactics for using marketing research, pricing, the sales force, advertising, promotions, trade shows, and other marketing tools. These practices are likely to persist because they deliver a feeling of safety and predictability.  They worked in the past and are assumed to work in the future.

There is, however, one problem.  The world keeps changing.

“These developments put a company at a strategic inflection point: Either the company continues with the same strategy or recognizes the need for a new one.  Clearly,the company needs to revisit and revise its marketing policies and tools.  If it doesn’t, the new environment will punish the company — maybe to the point of failure.”

2010 will be the year for reinventing marketing.   It is an exciting time to be in marketing!

Happy New Year’s!

Story as execution vs. Story as strategy

The brilliance of BBDO over the years had been the power of their story telling in the advertising executions.  Phil Dusenberry was a natural born storyteller.  He was also a screenwriter, most famously for The Natural.  Ted Sann was the creative force behind the agency for many years.  Is it a coincidence that he earned a Master of  Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the fabulous Iowa Writer’s Workshop?  (Full disclosure, I worked at BBDO and also have an MFA in Creative Writing.)

BBDO were masters of storytelling as execution.

What is new is storytelling as strategy.

What is most powerful is when the storytelling combines the strategic with the executional.

That means elevating storytelling up to the highest level of defining the brand itself.  What is the story of the brand?  That is a bigger question than what is the story of the advertisement.

The story of a brand will include a number of elements:

1. The founding of the brand, which some people refer to as the “brand myth”.  That is a slightly misleading term since the creation of the brand is based in fact.

Brands have a past (except, of course, for a completely new brand) and people have a set of associations with the brand that have formed over time.  By recognizing this past and emphasizing the relevant threads of the past, it is possible to increase the relevance of the brand today and to set the trajectory for tomorrow.

2. The persona of the brand.  This is a fleshed out description of the brand, including the brand’s relationship to the various audience.  This relationship between the brand and the audience hinges on understanding the role of the brand in the life of the audience — professional life for b2b brands, personal or family life for consumer brands.

Often companies will overestimate the role of the brand in the life of their customer, which may create a sense of arrogance in the branding.

On the other side of the coin, underestimating the role of the brand can lead to missing opportunities for elevating the brand’s image.  It is easy to imaging the executives at Intel saying, “We are just a computer chip and consumers are buying the computer brand.”  In that situation there never would have been an “Intel inside.”

3. The verbal story of the brand.  Capturing the brand story in writing is important for an internal understanding of the brand and for having the right language to connect with customers.  The language of the brand must fit the persona.  It needs to be language that resonates with the audiences.  It is most powerful when it has strong, coherent, metaphors.

It is most unique when it has its own vocabulary, provided that the vocabulary is intuitive, not insular.  Intuitive language allows us to recall our own memories, combine them with the brand story and co-create a much richer set of associations.

Apple has built a unique vocabulary around animal metaphors — Safari, Leopard, Tiger.

Starbucks has its own language of Frappucino, Tazo, Vivanno.

A verbal story is far more than a name and a tagline, but those are included in the brand’s vocabulary.  Be careful about defining the brand in abstract language and then waiting for the advertising agency, the PR agency, the digital agency to all create the actual language used in the marketplace.  That demotes the brand story to the level of execution instead of integrating the brand story with the executional story.

4. The visual story of a brand.  Not all communication is verbal.  Psychologists have estimated that up to 80% of communication is non-verbal.  So the visual story, the visual metaphors, of a brand need to be carefully developed at a strategic level.  What are the strong visual metaphors of the brand?  When we see a rich and robust metaphor, we begin to co-create powerful associations in our minds and memories.  These strong metaphors shape our memories more profoundly than factual information.

For Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes it is Tony the Tiger (the voice of Tony the Tiger is another way of communicating through the senses).

Burton has a very high energy visual style, extreme and frenetic.  Apple has a very high energy visual style but it is smoother, rounder, more sophisticated.  Both appeal to young adults.  Both are unique visual vocabularies for their brands.  This visual language needs to be robust, influencing every aspect of the brand from product design to online design to advertising to retail design to business forms, invoices and so forth.

Burton snowboards: high energy

High energy design

High energy design

5. The experience people have with the brand.  The brand story is told through other sensory methods in addition to the verbal and visual.  Using storytelling at the strategic level means defining those experiences at the very beginning and not leaving it until the website is being developed.

The brand strategy should provide a strong guiding hand to the actual execution.  The more places that a customer can experience a brand, the stronger that strategic guidance needs to be in order to present a coherent face to the world. In a digital world the user experience has the potential be among the strong branding elements.  There is a fine balance between creating an easily accessible, functional online experience and one that is strongly branded.  We have seen examples where the branding is only considered as a skin or paint on top of a functionally defined user experience.  The brand experience should define the functionality and not the other way around.

It is not limited to digital experiences or retail experiences.  Consider for a moment how the Ritz-Carlton brand is defined by the service experience.  That experience has been codified and turned into a rigorous training program.  The same for Disneyland.  There is no reason that it cannot be done for any brand which has a strong service element.

By defining the brand story at a strategic level, the executional storytelling will add more dimensions and create a coherent whole.  The days when a few television commercials and lots of media spending could create a brand are quickly coming to an end.  The ways people come into contact with brands, both B2B and consumer, are proliferating.  In this world, the need for strong, robust strategic storytelling is growing.

The power of story

Avatar is a terrific movie.  Absolutely wonderful.

What drew me in and kept me engaged was the narrative, the stories of each character and the way they wove together into a larger tapestry.

Yes, the special effects were special.  That would have kept me watching for 30 minutes until the 3D glasses become physically unbearable.  Wearing glasses on top of glasses is not my idea of a comfortable viewing experience.

It was the magic of the story that kept me in my seat for nearly 3 hours.   It completely absorbed me, to the point that I forgot about the glasses upon glasses discomfort.

So what does this have to do with branding?  It shows the power of story to engage our minds and emotions through a variety of senses.

No sense in giving away the story here.  Go see the movie, then we can get a cup of coffee and caffeine free diet coke for me and talk about the powerful story.

Times Square, 11:30 pm, in the Blizzard

Here it is, Saturday night at 11: 30 pm at the crossroad of the world — Times Square — in the middle of the snowstorm.   The digital billboards are stunning in the swirl of snow.

Broadway is also known as “The Great White Way”.  Now I know why!

One young lady was making a snow angel.  No sign of a snowman…yet…

Randall Ringer in Times Square

Randall Ringer in Times Square

Times Square from 42nd & Broadway

Times Square from 42nd & Broadway

SnowAngel in Times Square

SnowAngel in Times Square

Other brand experts weight in on the Tiger Crisis

Brand expert Schmitt has just launch “The Daily Tiger” in which he provides an expert opinion on all things Tiger!

Schmitt, as he calls himself, is, of course, Professor Bernd Schmitt of Columbia Business School.  He’s a wonderfully bright and entertaining and always worth watching!

Brand strategies for redeeming the Tiger Woods brand

What should the Tiger Woods brand manager do in this situation?  Each day brings new leaks about trade secrets of the man best known for bearing the Tiger Woods brand name and likeness.

The natural impulse is to find another person to adopt the Tiger Woods brand name, likeness and visual identity.  For instance, if Vijay Singh changed his name to Tiger Woods, he might be a viable option on the golf course.   Unfortunately that strategy will not work with so much media attention concentrated on the Tiger Woods brand.

In the last post I listed the first steps for immediate responses.  This post contains a strategic framework for redemption of the Tiger Woods brand.

1. Be visible through Corporate Social Responsibility:  Elevate visibility of the Tiger Woods Foundation through events, press releases, a news conference with the Executive Director.  Brands are multi-facted complex concepts.  The more positive facets you can add, the stronger will be your brand.  That is why having a strong Corporate Social Responsibility program can mitigate the impact of a crisis on brand reputation.

In branding terms, this creates moral goodness which counter-acts moral brand avoidance.

Tiger Woods Foundation2. Elevate the brand image through Product Innovation and Performance:  Introducing a truly superior product will give people reason to rethink the Tiger Woods brand.  Redemption can be won on the fairway and green!  The brand’s reputation was earned on the golf course and that is a major source for strength of the brand in the future.  Breaking golf records will place the Tiger Woods brand into an untouchable pantheon.

To achieve this breakthrough, I recommend that the Tiger Woods brand use the advisor and Golf Expert, Dr. Joseph Parent, author of Zen Golf.  Dr. Parent has advised many pro golfers including Vijay Singh and David Toms.

Steal the spotlight!  Performance on the fairway will become another strand in the Tiger Woods brand story.  By putting this facet of the brand center stage, it will take some of the spotlight away from the other pieces of the current story.

3. Recast the narrative of brand activities and actions.  A formal presentation and plausible explanation of the Tiger Woods brand activities over the past year will act as a counter-narrative to the one being spun by media pundits, late night comedians and guys hanging around in bars. Avoid the “Sanford Strategy” developed by Governor Stanford (“I was hiking the Appalachian Trail”) — market testing has shown this strategy to be devoid of any redeeming value.

By recasting the explanation of  Tiger Woods brand activities to larger societal issues, the Tiger Woods brand can achieve greater personal relevance.  I recommend exploring ways to cast the narrative through the lens of the economic pressures sweeping through this country .  This economic crisis has wrecked havoc in many families, ruining the lives of many decent people.  If possible, show how investments into the great fraud of Bernie Madoff pushed the Tiger Woods brand to the brink of financial disaster. The Tiger Woods brand is just another casualty of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

A few last notes on this topic before moving on to other marketing matters:

Last night at dinner with 3 friends — all incredible branding experts — there was much professional discussion on how to redeem the Tiger Woods brand.  Here is a sample of ideas generated:  Have the brand live for six months in a rural Ugandan village teaching AIDS orphans how to read.  Arrange a quick second “marriage” of the Tiger Woods brand to the Oprah brand.  Demonstrations of public remorse on 60 Minutes and the Daily Show.  The point being that there are many tactics and executional programs that the Tiger Woods brand can adopt in face of this crisis.

A final note: Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes has publicly denied rumors that the image of Tony the Tiger has been affected by the Tiger Woods brand crisis.  Tony the Tiger will remain the a visible, strong and vibrant element of their communications.

Tiger Woods: A brand in crisis!

Tiger Woods is a brand in crisis.

This is clearly a case where a brand’s image has been dragged through the mud.  This is a direct result of non-marketing related activities by it’s spokesperson, a 33-year-old man who has licensed the Tiger Woods name and likeness.

As consumers and business partners learn more about the activities of the Tiger Woods spokesperson, they are backing way from a close association or desire to personally identify with the Tiger Woods brand.  Gillette and AT&T are limiting their use of Tiger Woods, which may be a polite way of saying that they will be canceling their contracts.  (Note, at the NY Daily News link you can see a full photo essay).  This directly threatens the $110 million annual revenue  of the Tiger Woods brand.

It was recently announced that the Tiger Woods brand would be taking an “indefinite break” from professional golf, which is the main image building activity of the brand.  As Jon Stewart observed, the problem that Tiger Woods is facing isn’t about golf.

This appears to be a clear case of what Professor Michael Wells has called “moral avoidance” in his recent work on Brand Avoidance.  (see my previous post).

I have been trying to get through to the Tiger Woods brand manager to suggest a brand strategy.  However, there have been reports that the current brand manager, Elin Woods, has resigned the position and will leave after the crucial holiday shopping season.  This will only add to the Tiger Woods brand crisis.  In the meantime, I will outline an appropriate branding strategy in this and the next post.

The first four steps:

1. Assess the situation.  Many brand managers might make the simple, and understandable, error of thinking that Tiger Woods is an actual person.   That error might lead them to say that Tiger Woods is entitled to his personal privacy while he deals with the issues that have damaged the brand reputation.  The brand manager needs to recognize that this is wrong. The spokesman who has licensed the brand’s  trademarked name and likeness (aka visual identity) should not be confused with the Tiger Woods brand.  They are separate and need to be dealt with separately.

The brand manager must do a SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  Clearly the Threats are extremely important to a brand in crisis.  This means undertaking a full assessment  of the situation by having the spokesperson being candid with the brand manager of all activities not previously made public that may also influence the Tiger Woods brand image. For the moment these should be considered “trade secrets.”  However, without a legally binding non-disclosure agreement, these trade secrets will soon be publicized.

This is not time for the brand manager to penalize the spokesperson for violating the brand guidelines and license agreements.

It is a time for 2 to 3 brand training workshops to reinforce the 5 elements (as outlined in Narrative Branding(R)) of the Tiger Woods brand story: a) Relationship of the Tiger Woods brand with key audiences, b) Verbal brand story including the backstory of how the brand was born and came to world prominence, c) Visual story including the visual metaphors for the brand such as golf clubs, color palette of clothing, d) Branded behaviors, actions and activities that define the Tiger Woods brand, including performance on and off the putting green and e) the customer journey of when consumers come into contact with the Tiger Woods brand and how the brand story unfolds over time.

2. Monitor the impact on brand image.  Conduct a series of surveys over the next 6 weeks to understand the image shifts in the Tiger Woods brand.  It is particularly important that the study have an visual image  association similar to the ZMET methodology.  This will get at the deeper mental structures of how people are relating to the narrative of the Tiger Woods brand.

3. Put a new narrative into the marketplace. Avoid the popular “no comment” strategy.  Silence is never a good strategy when your brand is in crisis.  The newest chapter in the Tiger Woods brand story is being written by media commentators, such as Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live, as well as bloggers around the world.  A good brand will have an emergency plan in preparation for such a moment.  It is time to dust that plan off, adjust it to the current situation and get it out there through PR, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other media, both traditional and digital.  This is particularly important if the assessment from step 1 uncovers other unreported actions or behaviors by the spokesperson who has licensed the Tiger Woods brand name and likeness.  The best strategy is to act as if it is inevitable that the other trade secrets of the brand will be revealed to the public.

4. Benchmark best-practices of brand damage control: Distill the most effective strategic and tactical responses from other brands that have gone through a similar crisis.  Some of the cases to consider are Tylenol, Bill Clinton, Jack-in-the-Box and Nike.  All of these brands had their images impeached and were able to find redemption and restore brand value.

The next post will include an brand strategy for shifting the narrative trajectory of the Tiger Woods brand, as well as a roadmap for brand redemption.

Brand Avoidance – or – stop that brand!

Brand avoidance, motivations for anti-consumption, organizational disassociation, and freedom of anti-choice!

No, today is not opposite day.  Although I have to admit to a through-the-looking-glass-darkly sensation as I began to read about brand avoidance and anti-choice.

There is a small body of research that looks almost exclusively at the dark underside of branding — brands that people go out of their way to actively avoid.  Usually we think of a brand as an attention magnet. Strong brands have a strong attraction.  Weak brands have little or no attraction.  This looks at the other side of the magnet where the brand pushes people away, it repels them.

Professor Michael Lee has been one of the academics in this area.  He has been creating a framework for  categorizing and understanding the types and mindsets of brand avoidance.  He separates them into 3 categories based on the primary cause for avoiding a brand: bad experience, identity avoidance and moral avoidance.

Bad experience: Going out of your way to avoid consuming a brand because you had a bad experience with it

Identity avoidance: Going out of your way to avoid consuming a brand because it is disturbing to your self-image — symbolic incongruity (I love that phrase!).  The, “I would be caught dead in that” mentality is how I like to think of it.

Moral avoidance: A conscious choice to avoid a brand because of its actions or behavior.  Not shopping at Wal-Mart because they lock-in workers overnight or don’t offer health insurance to most employees.

The concept of anti-choice is antithetical to how we typically think about marketing.  No doubt there are some clever companies out there exploiting this mindset.  I can see the marketing campaign now:  It’s the anti-choice of a new generation!

What really jumped out at me was the recognition that people can and do change their minds, and behaviors.  They can look at a brand in a new way, their relationship with the brand can – and does – change over time.

This is particularly important to brands that are second or third tier brands and trying to break into the top rank of brands.  LG and Lenovo are two that come to mind immediately.

In the paper by Professors Lee, Motion and Conroy, one paragraph in particular jumped out at me.  While meant to propose a strategy for countering brand avoidance, it immediately struck a chord of recognition.  In fact, it was very similar to the bold strategy taken by Samsung starting in the mid-1990s to elevate the brand image and reputation.

“The first antidote [to brand avoidance] involves a genuine adaptation of the brand, one that is initiated from the highest point within the company and permeates throughout the entire brand/organization. Such a strategy may alleviate brand avoidance that is motivated by corporate irresponsibility or consumer resistance philosophies; however, in spite of these efforts many consumers may remain cynical. Thus, such a drastic strategy may not be feasible for the firm.”

That is indeed a drastic strategy.  And very, very powerful.  At Samsung the initiative came from the Chairman himself.  His call to action was, “Change everything except your spouse and children.”  They changed product quality, product design, marketing strategies, pricing strategies, distribution strategies…as well as the brand strategy.  And Samsung had the courage and patience to stay on the same course for a number of years instead of changing strategies every 12 or 18 months.

Here is a link to one of the recently published articles by Professors Lee, Motion and Conroy and  on research into BrandAvoidance.  Caution: this is wonkish.

Reinventing marketing: new survey underway

We are nearly finished fielding the second of our research studies on Reinventing Marketing.  The survey is among CMOs and other marketing decision makers.  The purpose is to understand their perspectives on the practice of marketing, what approaches are working best, what is no longer working and how the practice of marketing can be improved.

As part of the study we are looking at CMO priorities for 2010.

I invite all of you to share your ideas on how to reinvent marketing through the comments.

It will take another few weeks to do the full analysis and put out the report.  If you’d like to be put on the distribution list, just send me an email: rringer@versegroup.com.

Just click here if you want to see the first study released earlier this year.  VerseGroup_MarketerReport You can also download some of the articles about the study from the Verse Group website.

Covenant House rebranding part 4: A new symbol of hope

With the new “opening doors” metaphor for Covenant House, we begin to assess the visual side of their branding.

The audits show that the logo and the color blue are the two elements really holding the existing system together.  So we begin with the heart of the visual branding, the logo itself.

The existing logo has some tremendous strengths.  The dove is a powerful symbol, with many layers of meaning.  On the surface level it represents freedom, taking flight, soaring above.  It is also a fragile creature, needing protection.  The white dove is a symbol of peace.  And deep within the dove is a symbol of God’s covenant with mankind.  In the biblical story of Noah and the great flood, the dove is the harbinger of the waters receding, of man being restored to the earth, of God’s renewal of his covenant.

A strong symbolism at the core

Surrounding the core symbology are other elements that actually detract from the brand.  In co-creation research with teens, we heard:

“It should feel more like home, more homey, not an outpatient place or a hospital.”

“It looks sad.”

“Won’t make me want to come to Covenant House because it’s the same as all the other shelters”

Weakness of the logo

The journey to a new Covenant House logo begins with renewing the dove symbol.  The dove is now in flight, it is taking wing, it is open and free. It has a warmth, a fresh spirit and liveliness.  The color is a brighter, more vibrant blue.

Refreshing the Dove

The hand is now friendlier, more approachable.  The dove is no longer a bird in the hand but it either taking off from the hand or making a gentle landing for nurturing and comfort.  The house is gone, replaced by a window in 4 parts.  Some people read this as a stained glass window with a cross.  A new symbol of hope is added to the identity, the sun on the right.  And another color is added to convey the diversity and warmth of Covenant House.

The tagline, “Opening Doors for Homeless Youth” adds another layer of meaning to the visual identity. It is clearly speaking to the main audience, kids on the streets.  And it is signaling to potential donors the mission of the organization.  Since recognition of Covenant House is low among potential donors, drawing a clear connection to homeless youth is essential.

The renewed Covenant House

The renewed Covenant House brand identity evokes a richness of positive associations and memories.  It tells about the next chapter of the organization, not lingering in the past.  In research the whole of the new branding — verbal, visual, metaphorical — is stronger in engaging potential donors.

Most important of all, it draws in the homeless kids, the street kids without any alternatives.  In their own words from co-creation research:

“An open door, a path to a new beginning.”

“Makes you feel welcome – a place to go where you won’t be in danger.”

“Someone who is going to listen – someone who is going to open their heart to me.”

Covenant House New Jersey

The rebranding program would never have happened without the vision, energy and enthusiasm of everyone at Covenant House, including Kathleen Fineout, Judith Nichols, Tom Manning, Jim White, Sister Patricia Cruise, Tom Kennedy and the rest of the wonderful people at Covenant House.

Consider sending a donation to Covenant House this holiday season at https://www.covenanthouse.org/donate/online


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