Archive for March, 2010

Know the code and get a discount to Ed Lebar’s talk at the NYAMA tomorrow

Here’s an offer for only the readers of this blog.  You can get $20 off the non-member rate for tomorrow’s event, 3/24, featuring Ed Lebar (author of Brand Bubble).

Here’s the details:

The code is: VERSE   You will have to go to the  Once there,  go to the order form page and select their participation amount ($35 member, $55 non-member) they choose non member.  Then when on the paymentpage they will see a Promo code box that they should enter the code VERSE into and click update to show the discount.  There is a line on the order form page instructing that.

See you then!

Did brand positioning contribute to the decline of Bud Light?

There’s a fascinating article in last week’s Ad Age about the decline of Bud Light and Bud.

In a nutshell, the article says that A-B brought in Cambridge Group to help shape the marketing and advertising for Bud Light.  As a result, they adopted an attribute driven model which is directly connected to declining sales for the brand.  The article then goes on to point the finger at Cambridge Group — which I believe is unfair as I will discuss in a moment.  But first some quotes from the article.

But Cambridge’s exhaustive findings led directly to dramatic shifts in how Budweiser and Bud Light were marketed. Each brand largely abandoned the emotional appeals that had helped them become the two largest beer brands in the U.S. for straightforward pitches about process and product attributes that coincided with worsening sales for both labels.

Emphasis added.

“Drinkability” had been in fine print on Budweiser’s label since the 1960s and often raised in creative briefings to communicate Bud Light’s appeal: You could drink a lot of it, and it was less watery than Coors Light and less bitter than Miller Lite. Cambridge’s process strongly endorsed it as the ideal rational benefit.

So what went wrong and why do I believe that the Cambridge Group is not the fundamental problem?

My analysis — both Cambridge and A-B were using an out-dated model for marketing.  They were using the traditional brand positioning model.  It is a “Think-Feel-Do” model that says you need to have a point of differentiation — drinkability in this case — and that is the one thing you stand for.

What Cambridge Group did, brand positioning, is still the dominant practice in marketing.  So they are not to be faulted for doing what everyone else does.

The problem is really that the methodology has lost effectiveness in today’s world.  It was built for a world of 30 second tv spots and 3 networks.

The irony is that all of this could have been easily avoided.   The ARF published a study called “On the Road to Advertising Effectiveness” in 2007 that specifically examined beer advertising.  The study and 3 year taskforce demonstrated that attribute-driven advertising is less effective than story-driven advertising.  They advocate a new model of engagement, recognizing the importance of co-creation, metaphor and narrative.

Full disclosure, I worked on the taskforce and contributed to the report’s implications.

The impact of the economic crisis on brands: talk on 3/24

Next Wednesday, 3/24, Ed Lebar is going to share new research from the BAV.  This will give us insight into how the economic “dip” has effected the images of brands — and how some brands managed to stay ahead despite the economy.
The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Brands: Some Winning Strategies”

As part of its “New Thinker” series of events, the NYAMA will present a  program focused on the application of innovative brand research strategies to create winning marketing programs during recessionary times. The date of the event is March 24th at 6:00 p.m. And will take place at The Tai Group, 150 West 30th Street, 14th Floor, in New York.

Ed Lebar, CEO and Anne Rivers, SVP Director of Brand Strategy at BrandAsset Consulting will be presenting and taking questions. Ed Lebar is co-author of the best-selling business book, The Brand Bubble.

Mr. Lebar will present new research from the BrandAsset® Valuator study (BAV), a proprietary model of measuring brands based on brand strength and brand stature.

The student discount price is $25.

Register for this event at <> .

Whom to benchmark?

About a year ago Bain & Co. published a study on the management tools used by some 1400 senior executives at corporations around the world.  Benchmarking had jumped into the number one management tool.  In their report, they pointed out that benchmarking becomes more important during economic downturns.

And it got me to thinking about some of the challenges we face when benchmarking.  To me it seems that selecting the right companies to benchmark is one of the greatest challenges in for success of the tool. (Another day we will discuss the puzzle of how to benchmark the role of luck or good fortune in the success of a company or brand).

A good way to illustrate this is perhaps a real world example of the challenge in picking the right companies to benchmark.  Please note, all of the telling details have been removed except for the reference to Google.  Here is the situation:

You are a senior marketer at a large software company that provides specialized online services to business customers.  Think of your company like a Bloomberg.  Almost all B2B, only a small amount of consumer facing.  You have a large group of subscribers which has been growing steadily over the years as the category grows.  They sign up, you give them classes on how to use the services and provide regular phone and online support when they have difficulty with the system.

Overtime you see that your brand reputation is beginning to erode, there are clear signs in your measures that the category is being disrupted.  You look through the research to see which competitor is creating the disruption.  You look at the benchmark scores and discover that there is nothing to discover.  Nothing has changed in your benchmark scores vs. the competition.  Yet scores on “easy to do business with” have dropped and everyone is now being perceived as out-of-date, cold and aloof.

What has happened?

You speak to frontline people.  You speak to customers.  And you hear over and over again that Google is transforming your industry.

Google?  They aren’t our competitor!  We aren’t selling advertising online or search services.  How is Google transforming our industry?

By listening to sales people and customers you learn that Google has transformed expectations of the online and software user experience.  They have raised the bar.  All of your customers are balking at your training sessions.  “It should be as easy as using Google,” they say.  When evaluating your brand they are now comparing you to Google.

As the example above shows, it’s not always so easy to know the right companies to benchmark.

It certainly has its uses  Benchmarking is a great way to keep an eye on the competition.  It gives us a way to measure how well we are performing on key metrics.  If we are a relatively new company or looking to leapfrog the competition, benchmarking shows us how others have done it.  We can learn by analogy.

Of course that assumes that we are benchmarking the right companies.  In fast changing markets, knowing who to benchmark becomes a little like betting on the oscars the night before the Academy Awards.

And if we are the category leader, it is even harder since we are setting the standard which others are benchmarking.

And when we reach the status of one of the world’s best companies it becomes even more of a challenge to pick the right companies to benchmark.  At that point, when we are planning our future moves, benchmarking is even less useful.  It is a marker for where we have been but not the path to where we are going.

After all, we can’t benchmark our way to the future.

Private conversations in public places

Social media is certainly the end of personal privacy, right?  Well, maybe not.

My friend Laurie shared an interesting discovery she made.  On her son’s Facebook page were messages from his friends that seemed incomprehensible.  Then Laurie recognized a pattern, making it easy to decode the messages.  Her son and his friends have developed their own private language to communicate in public spaces.

They are creating communities of language that are deliberately exclusive.  All in the public forums of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace.  But the languages cannot be too exclusive or else they will not lead to a strong community.

It’s fascinating.  To preserve personal privacy in the online world, people are inventing or borrowing their own encrypted language.   We may see a resurgence of pig-latin, Esperanto, Ladino, Yiddish or even ancient Latin as specialized languages for online communities.

It reminds me a bit of how my grandparents would speak in Yiddish when they didn’t want us children to understand what they were saying.

People are endlessly inventive.  We see this in the open field of social media, where the human desire for secrets is playing out in unexpected ways.

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