Archive for August, 2010

If the economy has a double-dip recession, what happens to marketing?

The economic forecasts for the remainder of 2010 and into 2011 are not very promising for many parts of the world.  They range from modest expectations of a recovery in 2011(Ben Bernanke) to deflation/stagnation (Paul Krugman).  Today’s New York Times week in review has a couple of articles that cover the range of options, including an op-ed by Laura Tyson.

In fact, some economists say we’ve never had a real recovery, that we’ve never woken up from The Great Recession.

So what does this mean for marketing?

I am predicting that marketing will not see the same kind budget slash and burn as we saw in 2008 and 2009.  Cutting marketing goes right to the bottom line.  Nearly impossible to resist that kind of pressure in a tumbling economy.  In 2009 it was irresistible.  But this time around it will be different.

This time around a lot of companies have learned the hard lesson that even in a declining economy there are winners and losers.  It was a prediction that I made in 2008 and 2009. The evidence is in:  Look what happened in the restaurant industry where McDonald’s surged ahead.  Look at the electronics industry where Samsung surged ahead.  Look at the automotive industry where Hyundai, Subaru and Kia all surged ahead.  Ed Lebar at Brand Asset Valuator has confirmed this on a global basis, and reported it in a March presentation to the NYAMA.

This time around there are companies who will take advantage of a downturn by holding steady their marketing or even increasing it.

These are strong reasons to believe that the free-fall in marketing will not repeat itself.

In the plunge or free fall that started in 2008, marketing for virtually all companies was slashed.  Budgets were drastically cut or, in the worse cases, simply frozen and spending eliminated for all but the most critical projects and programs.  At the time we conducted a survey with Forrester on the state of marketing among CMOs and Marketing Directors.  The results were dramatic.

The findings of our study were published  in the magazine of the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), AdWeek, BrandWeek, Marketing News and other industry magazines and online.


Ringer BrandWeek_Dec2008

Ringer in Adweek

In our follow-up, which we conducted this year, we are clearly seeing winners and losers have emerged.  At the same time, the pressure on marketing has hardly eased.  In 2008, 89% of CMOs said marketing was under greater executive scrutiny that ever.  That number only dropped to 80% in 2010!

My next post will examine the effects of The Great Recession on consumer attitudes.  When the economy returns, will consumers resume old habits?  Or is this a fundamental turning point, a sea-change in attitudes that will last a decade or longer?

NY Times Bestseller exclusive NYC keynote speaker on Sept 10

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh has reinvented marketing.  Now he’s written the book on how he did that.  The book is both touchingly personal and highly insightful into running a successful business.

Tony Hsieh has agreed to give a NYC exclusive keynote talk on September 10th for the NYAMA.  It will be held at Fordham University, 8:00 AM. Yes, I know, that’s early in the morning.  Think of it this way, there’ll be coffee and good conversation.  There will also be time to meet Tony and have your copy of Delivering Happiness signed by him.

His book, Delivering Happiness, is now the #1 New York Times Bestseller of hardcover business books.

You’ll need to sign up in advance for this.  So you can click here, at the

I highly recommend signing up for this now rather than waiting for the usual last minute.  I know, I know, that’s advice I give so often and follow so infrequently.  But I’m working on it!

Parrot Fish and Psycho Bunny

One of the brands I’ve just completely fallen in love with is Psycho Bunny. Definitely clothing with an attitude.  The brand was created by Robert Godley and Robert Goldman in 2006 selling only handmade neckties out of the finest silk.  That’s pretty rare in and of itself.  In the post-industrial post-modern post-post world of today when everything is over manufactured, it is the oldest of arts, handmade clothing, that has enduring values.

Oh, and they have a wonderful sensibility…well, you can see from the designs…my eloquence is mere mumbling when it comes to describing their branding.  It is a metaphor that speaks volumes!

Psycho Bunny

Psycho Bunny

The real draw is the absolutely wonderful quality of the workmanship and the designs.  Here’s what they have to say about themselves on their website:

Since beginning as a small neckwear line, Psycho Bunny has maintained its reputation as a brand committed to meticulous quality, traditional craftsmanship and the finest materials in the manufacture of its goods.

The collection has grown since the inaugural season and now includes a range of cashmere scarves in classic tartans, pima cotton polo shirts (now for women as well), fine cotton oxfords with mother of pearl buttons, colorful pima cotton socks, luxurious merino sweaters, supergeelong ski hats, hand-enameled sterling silver cufflinks and a range of small leather goods produced in partnership with Ettinger of London.

And the parrot fish?  Oh, that’s just to remind myself that I’m on vacation and shouldn’t be blogging right now or checking my work emails…

Gone fishin’

Heading out of town for a little snorkling and relaxation in the Bermuda Triangle.  So the posts will be rather sporadic and may include some fish tales and shaggy dog stories.

And while I’m swimming around, I’m going to be wondering what really happened at HP.  There is a lot of Hurd said/Board said in the NY Times and the WSJ.  Interesting to note that Hurd is on the board of directors of WSJ’s parent company.  Can’t help but feel like there is something else going on that we haven’t heard about…yet…

The plunge in HP’s stock price also raises some very interesting questions about the brand valuation models currently used by companies such as Interbrand and Brand Finance.  If the CEO’s “resignation” can trigger a $12 billion drop in value, then is he part of the brand valuation?  What is the common percentage of a brand’s value can be apportioned to the senior executives?

Just something to consider while lying on the beach not reading the book that I’ve been carrying around with me  since Father’s Day.  It’s a series of non-fiction essays about a New Jersey woman of Turkish descent who loves Russian literature.  A most peculiar mixture!

Zappos’ CEO is delivering happiness in NYC

Now that the news embargo has been lifted, I can tell you that Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, will be making one keynote speaking appearance in New York City in early September.  September 10th, to be more accurate.

So join us on Friday, September 10th, as the NYAMA hosts Tony Hsieh to celebrate the publication of his new book, “Delivering Happiness”.  It’s early in the morning (starts at 8am) which is always a challenge for some of us.   It will be held at Fordham University, just behind Lincoln Center.

You can download the information here.  Or you can go to the NYAMA website and learn more about the program as well as about the NYAMA.

Zappos CEO Keynote Speech

Zappos CEO Keynote Speech

Personally I think that “Delivering Happiness” is understated compared to the sheer excitement and ecstasy that a Zappos box brings to my household.  I can see how my alternative title for his book, “Delivering Ecstasy”, might attract the wrong audience.

The curious case of H-P: what they taught us in English class but never in B-School

Stop the Press!  Theodore Dreiser novel makes headlines in 2010!

That’s what went through my mind as I heard and read about the tragic story of Mark Hurd, now former CEO of H-P.

Okay, so here we have the story of an aspiring actress who is attracted to the fame and wealth of a powerful corporate executive.  She accompanies him to social events, dinner, theater.  The executive, who is married and has children, becomes careless in his matters dealing with the actress.  Soon their relationship is revealed, along with certain financial improprieties of the executive.  In the next act the executive falls from grace, resigning his position and facing estrangement from his family.  The actress is catapulted into the spotlight and fame.

Mark Hurd and Jodie Fisher?  No, Sister Carrie.  The novel written over 100 years ago by Dreiser.    It’s a wonderful, torrid, steamy, censored affair (the original version was not published until the 1990s).  You can download it from Project Gutenberg or just read the summary in Wikipedia.

Jodie Fisher

Jodie Fisher

The more I read about Jodie Fisher, more striking become the parallels between her and the narrative arc of Sister Carrie.  It’s updated, with a Hollywood twist instead of Broadway.  The movie credits of Ms. Fisher  (Sheer Passion, Body of Influence 2) probably  contributed greatly to the troubles that Mr. Hurd faced from the HP board of directors.  We can also vividly imagine what he must have faced going home and telling his wife about the situation.

Her star is rising.  Up 6% on IMDb’s STARmeter

And the total irony of the situation is that this is HP, the same company that was investigating and wiretapping its own board members a few years ago.  In the first day of trading since the news came out, the company’s valuation dropped $9 billion.  Yes, that’s right, $9 BILLION in value.

In the investigation done by the board, they found no evidence of the sexual harassment accusations.  They did uncover a reported $20,000 in wrong expense reports to pay for dinners with Ms. Fisher.  Hurd has been a solid performer for HP, stabilizing the company after the disruptions earlier in the decade.  He’s led the company to record revenues and earnings.  He’s moved in all the right directions.

So did HP do the right thing by asking Hurd to resign?

Some people say no, that Hurd was cleared of the accusations and his leadership is invaluable to the company at this time.

From my perspective, the simple answer is yes.  And the more complex answer is still yes.  There are several compelling reasons that weigh heavily in favor of the resignation.

The first and foremost is that the behavior of a CEO should follow the same standards as any employee.  (In one very remarkable company I know, there isn’t even a reserved parking lot for the CEO).  If I were found with $20,000 in wrong expense reports, you can be pretty darn certain that I’d be out on the street.

The second is that the board needs to be transparent.  The moment this became public, it was easy to predict how distracting it would be to the performance of HP and the company’s reputation.  And you can be certain that in today’s world a secret like this wouldn’t stay a secret very long.  Not with movies like “Sheer Passion” lurking in the background.

This was reported to be the advice of their PR firm, APCO.  It sounds like excellent advice.  Imagine for a moment that you are on the HP board, know this explosive secret and exercise stock options before it is revealed.  That would put you in a pretty tight spot, too.  From the moment they heard about it, they must have been under great pressure.

So my strategic solutions to prevent this problem from arising again in 21st Century corporations:

1.  Have all MBAs take at least one course in literature.  Fiction is the stuff of life.

2. Give a copy of Sister Carrie to all board members of public corporations.

3. Give all executives a copy of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  We can all learn a little from his famous observation on business: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”

4. Hire lots of people with Master of Fine Arts degrees to stimulate the corporate imagination.   In the interests of transparency and full disclosure — I have my MFA degree in creative writing.

Anything I left off the list?

NXP Semiconductors, live and in Times Square

Back in 2006 we created the new brand for the spin-off of Philips Semiconductors, a division of Philips Electronics.  That is the genesis of NXP Semiconductors as an independent, privately held company.

Today NXP began trading on the NASDAQ, the next page in the company’s on-going narrative.  I was in Times Square but too late for the photo op.  Therefore, much as I’d like to, I cannot take credit for this photo.  Credit belongs solely to NASDAQ.

NXP executives in front of NASDAQ sign

NXP executives in front of NASDAQ sign

I must admit, there is something extraordinarily satisfying about seeing my company’s work as tall as a building in Times Square.  And for those of you who live out of town, Times Square is now a very large pedestrian walkway, with chairs and tables out for you to sit and relax…assuming for the moment that sitting in Times Square can ever actually be relaxing…

A new Touchstone, at a bookstore near you!

I am very pleased, delighted and happy to share with you the new colophon we created for Touchstone books.

the new Touchstone colophon

The new Touchstone colophon

But first, a little story about how we worked with the Publisher, Stacy Creamer and the Associate Publisher David Falk.

Touchstone Fireside Publishing is an imprint of Simon & Schuster.  They publish people like Lance Armstrong, Rick Springfield, Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo and Philippa Gregory.    They came to us with a question — how to better manage their imprint branding since “Touchstone Fireside” is rather a mouthful.  Both Touchstone and Fireside had been the trade paperback imprints of Simon & Schuster. One focused on fiction and the other was non-fiction.  Eventually they expanded from paperbacks into hardcover — at the same time that other Simon & Schuster hardcover imprints were migrating into paperbacks.

While each name had its individual colophon, on corporate communications they were mashed together like this:

Touchstone/Fireside old logo

Touchstone/Fireside old logo

Stacy and David  wanted to consolidate into a single name and a single logo to make life less confusing authors, for booksellers, for agents, for consumers and even for themselves.  As you see above, they had 2 names, then “A Division of Simon & Schuster” and then a different font for the corporate endorsement, “A CBS Company.”

Here’s what the old Touchstone logo reminded me of:



We explored the two metaphors — touchstones and firesides (along with the fireplace implement) — to see how they would fit with Stacy Creamer’s vision and the types of books they would be publishing in the future.

A fireside is home, comfort, warmth, country-side, a bit of a sleepy afternoon curled up in a large chair with a book in your lap.  Rather Jane Austen-ish.

A touchstone is a benchmark of excellence by which all else is compared.  It is a place you return to again and again to align yourself.  It is rather like the north star, a way of finding what is true.

Those are two very different metaphorical ways of viewing books and the act of reading.  Stacy clearly saw the future of the imprint aligned with Touchstones of excellence rather than an afternoon nap in the living room before a crackling log.

Once it was decided to consolidate under the Touchstone name, we began the design process.  We looked a variety of approaches.  Some were more literal than others.  Some more suggestive.  Here is also a situation where you can reinforce the name through a literal touchstone or you can expand the associations by being more…metaphorical about the metaphor.  (Is that correct English?)

The final direction (under Michael Thibodeau’s direction, of course!) was the design you see at the top of this post.  The speed, the sense of direction and purpose, the reaching for a star, the guiding star, the soaring all contribute to the metaphor of excellence, of the standard by which all will be met.

Here is the new story of the renewed imprint:

The new Touchstone story, pg 1

The new Touchstone story pg 1

The new Touchstone story, pg 2

The new Touchstone story, pg 2

So now you have the whole story!

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