Archive for February, 2010

More on the Brand Bubble

So here is the quote of the day, again from The Brand Bubble by Ed Lebar and John Gerzema

In wanting the brand to bring more benefits in the future, consumers will accept some degree of “brilliant failure” as a necessary by-product of the brand’s search for progress.  Remember, Apple had the Newton, the Lisa and Macintosh TV, but Apple’s inventiveness constantly supplies the evolutionary learning for the company’s new products, including today’s Nano video and iPhone.

All too often we benchmark the brilliant successes of others and ignore their  “brilliant failures” along the way.  We smooth out the bumps in history, erasing the part that either luck or failure play.  We look at happy accidents as if they were by deliberate design.   We can learn far more by studying both the success and the failures of others.

In fact there is an entire organization dedicated to learning from the failures of others and applying those lessons.  (I image that their annual meetings can be pretty depressing…)  It is the Association for the Study of Failure.


ASF logo



Apple tried and failed and tried and failed and tried again and finally achieved redemption.  If not redemption, then at least a lot of market success!

When we are benchmarking, we need to be careful.  Are we building a machine based on hindsight?  Are we being bold in our vision or following the path of another?  We cannot benchmark our way to the future.

To which I add another quote, this one from a favorite of mine, Samuel Beckett:

Ever tried? Ever failed?  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

I never thought that I’d ever have the opportunity to quote Beckett in a branding discussion!

Toyota: When, not if

How could this happen to Toyota?  How could a company with such a great reputation for quality have a quality problem leading to the recall of millions of cars?

Now that the shock has worn off, we can have some perspective.  Toyota has had a great run.  Far longer than most companies before they hit a rough spot.  But inevitably something will happen to, or at, any company.  Every company eventually faces something that creates a disruption.  What is striking in this case is that the problem goes right to the heart of what Toyota built their reputation on — quality.

The question is really one of “when” not “if”.

The disruption can come from any place — a scandal, a product defect, a shift in consumer’s preferences, a new technology, a natural disaster.

How the company responds to a crisis is far more telling of character than the fact that it got into a crisis in the first place.  This is the real moment of truth.

Keep in mind that speed of response if a relative measure.  If Toyota rushes too quickly and doesn’t get it right, that will cause collateral damage to their reputation.  If they respond far too slowly, it will also create damage.

Toyota is better served in the long run by discovering the full extent of problems — knowing that they are now under a microscope — and solve them in a timely way.  Congressional investigations, leaked powerpoint reports…there are many things that will suddenly be given closer scrutiny.  Rushing to a solution and declaring that all is well in this the best of all worlds…that’s just a gamble.

Don’t forget that Ford and VW had so major recalls.  And Audi faced their own sticking accelerator problem that was first reported on CBS’ 60 minutes during prime time.  BusinessWeek keeps a tally on these things.

BusinessWeek on Total Recall

Is Marketing being marginalized in B-school?

The world has changed dramatically in the past 30 years.  Consumers and customers have changed dramatically in the past 30 years.  Media has changed dramatically in less than 10 years.  The actual practice of marketing, by corporate marketers, is changing as people adapt to the new realities — some more successfully than others.

But what hasn’t changed is the most popular theory of marketing — brand positioning — and the way that it is taught in B-School.

Several professors, including Wharton’s Gerry Wind, have now said that the teaching and study of marketing is so narrow that it is in danger of being marginalized at business schools.  The title of their article gives it all away: “Is Marketing Academia Losing It’s Way?”   While they don’t single out brand positioning in particular, they make the very clear point that just at the time when new theories are marketing are most needed, they are least likely to be found in the great universities.

There is an alarming and growing gap between the interests, standards, and priorities of academic mar- keters and the needs of marketing executives operat- ing in an ambiguous, uncertain, fast-changing, and complex marketspace.

There are now several alternative theoretical models to replace the traditional brand positioning approach.  Only one of them was developed by an academics.  The four I am most familiar with — and which are true frameworks — are 1) Professor Doug Holt’s Iconic Branding; 2) Marc Gobe’s Emotional Branding; 3) Larry Light and Joan Kiddon’s Brand Journalism which they created for McDonald’s.  The fourth is our own Narrative Branding approach.

The article was published in The Journal of Marketing last summer.  A copy of it is here.


Brand that Bubble – or – Another voice on reinventing marketing

I’m delighted to say that Ed Lebar, co-author of The Brand Bubble, and CEO of BrandAsset Consulting, will be giving a talk at the New York American Marketing Association on March 24th!

Ed will be presenting  strategies for companies to win in times of economic turmoil based on new data from the Brand Asset Valuator. So block off that evening, from 6 to 8 pm!

In the meantime, I leave you with a quote from The Brand Bubble:

We are all grappling with a world where the rules have changed — the rules about when, where, and how people consume content and advertising messages, and how they discover, engage with, and either endorse or reject brands (and then amplify that decision to their peers).  It’s changing the business models for companies, the skill sets needed for marketers, the roles for creating and distributing content for media companies, and the rules for how agencies think about creativity for brands.

The problem is, many marketers are applying much of the same old thinking to today’s new challenges.  They try to adapt their formulas to the increasingly fractal landscape, rather than rethink them altogether.” [emphasis in original]”

Brand Bubble by Ed Lebar

Brand Bubble by Ed Lebar

Search on…Google?

Google advertising?  Heresy!

Didn’t they build their brand and business without any advertising?

Not really.

Actually Google has been advertising for years.  Mostly online and in the trade press.  And in sponsorships.  More and more in consumer media, including TV, as they’ve pushed further into such as mobile phones.

The Superbowl buy was really quite brilliant in many ways.  First of all, it got people like me blogging about it, so it grabs far, far more attention than if they ran this on Chuck or The Daily Show. In that sense it will be like the Apple 1984 spot which people still talk about.

With so many other advertisers opting out of the game this year (where was Pepsi?), Google probably got a great price for the media.  Well, relatively speaking since even a cheap Superbowl spot is a hell of a lot of media dollars.

The ad itself shows that you don’t need to spend a kazillion dollars on production to create a tv spot.  And the ad itself tells a story — no points of differentiation, no claims of superiority.

I expect to see more of this from Google.  And I expect that their CSR efforts will be elevated, too.  It must be a shock for them to be under the scrutiny of EU regulators.  They are now a grown up company.

The sociology of Facebook

There’s been a complaint lately in my household.  Facebook has gone ahead with yet another ‘improvement’.   It is now “simplified” which seems to be an acknowledgement that the last “improvement” was not such a great improvement.  At the same time, it is just as rigid and impossible to individualize as the previous versions.

There is an interesting article about Facebook in the current issue of the NYRB.  You can link to it here.  The writer, Charles Johnson, discusses many aspects of Facebook and its success — including the elitist beginnings at Harvard that still give the site a certain cache.

In Facebook he sees a company that can begin to take on Google in the online advertising world, assuming that the Facebook Connect feature is widely adopted.

Facebook Connect, if it becomes widely used across the Internet, would enable Facebook to sell ads not just on its own pages but elsewhere as well. Google makes its largest profits through “search advertising,” where a query for “insurance” will result in ads for companies such as Geico or Allstate. But Google has never been as successful at “display advertising,” the name for the ads that show up beside everything online—from party photos to news stories—where it’s not clear what, if anything, users want to buy. Facebook, with much more precise information about its members, will likely be able to sell far more effective display advertising than Google. Whether members will be disturbed by this expansion of targeted ads—a person who lists her religion as “Jewish” may see Jewish-themed advertising not just in Commentary magazine but on every Web site she visits—and whether ever more targeted advertising will turn members off the site—does listing a love for the Marquis de Sade mean you want ads for leather?—remains to be seen.

Is this the advertisers dream, the civil libertarian’s nightmare or both — or neither?  The more fundamental question is what happens when the economics fail?  Facebook is marginally profitable.  Twitter is not profitable at all.

In the World of Facebook – The New York Review of Books

Mobilicity brand launched

I am delighted to share that the new Mobilicity brand was introduced in Toronto yesterday.

You can learn a lot more about it at

CMO study update

Another finding from our new CMO study.

The economic turmoil and cut-backs in marketing last year are showing up as a significant decrease in the strength of marketing communications and brand.  There has been a jump in the number of marketers who are making rebuilding their brand image a priority for 2010.

There has been no change in number of marketers who are looking for breakthrough methods to replace the traditional brand positioning.  That is because the majority of marketers surveyed view the traditional brand positioning approach as losing effectiveness.

Next week we expect to release a trend report comparing 2010 to 2009 data, showing how marketers are changing and adapting to evolving market needs.

Wm Shakespeare on branding

The roots of Narrative Branding go back to the rich theatrical tradition of Elizabethan England.  I quote one example from Shakespeare’s famous play, “Branding, As You Like It”

All the market’s a stage,
And all the brands and sub-brands merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one brand in its time plays many parts…

Not sound familiar?  There was a conspiracy a few hundred years ago when several English professors “edited” the play and eliminated all references to branding.

By the way, the cosmetics company Avon had a long term sponsorship deal with Shakespeare.  That is why he was known as “The Bard of Avon”…

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