Click on PLAY>>>above to view Ken’s welcome video to this month’s blog.
I returned recently from a trip to California and on the drive home, I was surprised to see that our local mall had been reduced to a pile of rubble while we were out of town. There still remained some signs and the main entrance portal but most of it and the adjoining theater had met their match with bulldozers and wrecking balls. Of course, this really didn’t happen in the week that we were away. The mall’s closing started several years ago as store after store began closing and the crowds that used to populate the court and restaurants got smaller and smaller. In the meantime, downtown shopping areas in cities big and small are beginning to thrive thanks to a change in customer attitudes toward shopping in a town center atmosphere where you can park in front of the store and so in or wander up and down the streets as was the custom many years ago.
Eaton Town Center, Columbus
I realized recently that in just a five-mile radius of my home three major shopping malls had closed and been torn down in the past 3-4 years. Replaced by power centers where customers can park in front of their destination and get in/out quickly or visit one of the several restaurants (from fine dining to casual) that also drive traffic to the area. The same holds true around the country, where new shopping “centers” like Eaton Town Center in Columbus or Mooresville, NC, attract new stores, restaurants and people every day. The customers have changed the way they shop. Some might say they have just gotten back to way our parents shopped. Major cities are discovering that rebuilding and refurbishing downtown areas has great appeal to younger shoppers and these have become hubs of activity around the country. Developers and retailers realized this and have profited well in the new (old?) environments. Department stores on the other hand still are tied like “anchors” to the traditional mall locations. No wonder they continue to be challenged.
It all starts with continuing to monitor the customer attitudes and behaviors and adjusting the plans accordingly. These new town centers are a brand within themselves and the customers love the results. The same holds true in other industries and product categories. Take photo taking for example. The arrival of digital was not unpredicted. Once this category was one of the most profitable in consumer products and services and retailers took advantage of the higher margins and multiple shopping trips to build traffic to their stores. Kodak recognized this early on and was one of the first to introduce affordable digital cameras and an online service to save and edit your new digital photos. However, with such a history and profit model tied in to film and developing, the company struggled to keep up with the fast changing world of photography. This opened the door for new brands like Shutterfly and Snapfish to provide exciting photo services and products online that not only encouraged more photo taking by customers but also gave them new ideas on how to enjoy the pictures long after the event. Most retailers now offer these services online and it’s not surprising that the online photo sites look amazingly like Shutterfly’s site. (In fact, they provide the service tot the stores in a turnkey fashion, while still providing the traffic building option of in-store pickup.
Just as Facebook and Instagram have made photos a part of our communications, Shutterfly provides new ways to keep your photos alive and visible in everything from photo books to tee shirts to blankets. Meanwhile, Kodak digital cameras are almost non-existent on the shelves of most retailers, their Easy Share program has disappeared, and the company continues to fade.
It all starts with the customer and keeping in touch with them. Then refining and building a brand strategy that takes advantage of the changes in attitudes and behaviors. The regional malls aren’t as easy to move away from and many have added “restaurant rows” to generate more of a town center feeling. But aside from a place for teens to hang out at, or an air-conditioned walking track for many seniors for their morning exercise, their reason for being has faded. When the first malls appeared in my hometown of Detroit, the primary benefit was a warm place to shop in the winter. Here in Florida, it was a cool place to shop to get away from the hot sun and humidity. Customers don’t seem to value these benefits as much any more. They want an interesting, convenient place to shop and a brand that meets their needs of today.
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When Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir stood at the same spot as I did for this month’s video, I’m sure they were not thinking about branding as they had their vision for the National Park System in the US. However, I’m sure their thinking was consistent with the first step in creating an effective brand strategy. As I’ve pointed out in all of my branding presentations, the first step is to have a clear vision for your brand and why it will have value to your potential customers. Looking out from Glacier Point that day a century ago, I’m sure that Roosevelt and Muir understood that the beauty and splendor of what they saw (now Yosemite National Park) would add enjoyment and appreciation to generations of Americans and that if this was going to preserve that value, there needed to be a plan (as in brand strategy) to ensure that we maintain these landmark locations for generations to come.
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that mandated the agency “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Development of the National Park System was the brand strategy to insure that this bill was successful. The same is true in developing a brand strategy for your product or service. First, you need to recognize that there is a need for the product that can’t be found elsewhere. Dr. Len Berry at Texas A&M noted that a successful brand has “a reason for being” and as you look at many of those brands that have come and gone, you have to ask what was the reason for being in the first place?
Recent successes of brands like Google, Apple, Prius, CarMax and more, all began with a vision of a product or service that provided a new value that customers would recognize and want not only today but also for years (and generations of customers) to come. Certainly, the key to longevity is to constantly review and revise the marketing plans and strategies, but to maintain a long-term brand a marketer has to consistently reflect on the original vision and criteria for the brand and maintain its integrity. The National Park System has grown and adjusted its operations to meet the changing needs and wants of its visitors, yet it stands steadfastly by its original vision of conservation and preservation of their product—the beautiful national parks that people come to see every year.
I was involved with the original opening and marketing of CarMax in Richmond in 1994. The company was created by Circuit City to capitalize on some of its operational and financial strengths in the electronics business that would translate well to the used car business. It also had a vision to provide a completely new experience in shopping and buying a previously- owned vehicle. Recognizing the many experiences that car buyers had with traditional car dealers, CarMax researched those experiences and then built a totally new concept from the bottom up to provide a value to car buyers. Its vision was to answer the complaints of the car buyer and market it in a creative, intelligent way. The plan has worked as CarMax has thrived (while Circuit City faded away). I believe that CarMax’s new campaign (20 years later) is one of the best in the automotive industry. Click on this link to view one of the new spots (https://youtu.be/1Qkd9AGWU48). Yet it still stands out by addressing the same problems that other dealers still present to their prospective and existing customers. They have a reason for being and a vision to provide a pleasant experience.
Too often, companies develop new communications strategies as nothing more than ad campaigns that lose sight of their original vision and as a result they lose their reason for being in trade for a new slogan or logo. Standing up for the value that the brand provides while remaining fresh and current with your brand messages is critical for long-term success. Just as El Capitan and Half Dome are symbols of the Yosemite National Park, the value and unique selling proposition for your brand must be maintained as the symbols for why your brand was created in the first place.
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We’ve been talking about the Customer Journey and I was pleased to discuss the topic with Terry Brock in an interview for The Business Journals Online recently. Terry is the technology guru for the National Speakers Organization and also writes monthly blogs on customer relationships which are always dead-on when it comes to understanding what motivates the customer in today’s high tech world. I think you’ll enjoy the video below as Terry and I discuss what it takes to build a successful brand by providing a journey that’s a meaningful experience to your customers. And… also click on Terry’s website for more insights that you can really use to build a successful brand.
TIP OF THE MONTH
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I recently was interviewed by Terry Brock for his monthly marketing blog and TheBusiness Journals online to discuss the hot topic of the Customer Journey . If you search it on Google, you’ll find several resources for the Customer Journey and how to map it. In fact you can view at least 10 graphic images of these maps on how the customer goes through the purchase process. Depending on which source, you’ll find up to 10 steps in the map which the customer and the marketer must take to determine the purchase and then what it takes to become a loyal customer.
(CLICK HERE to view a typical “Customer Journey Map. )
There are several articles and links that walk you through the process which most of the trade articles say is the new way of looking at the customer purchase dynamics. However, after reviewing many of them, I believe that these “maps” are nothing more than the same steps and principles that I have learned over the years for developing a successful brand. Simplified, they follow the branding process that Robyn Winters and I outlined in detail in our book: BrainBranding. Activate the Brain. Stimulate your Brand. (available on Amazon and Kindle.) In the book we outline a five step process which guides a marketer in effectively escorting their customers through the Journey to a successful brand and increased market share. Briefly, these five steps are:
1. Create Your Vision: The first step in the customer journey is becoming aware of your product or service. This really starts with you and your company. You need to figure out why the customer would be interested in your product or service in the first place. What makes it different? Why should I be interested in learning more about it? As you develop your brand strategy and options, remember to ask what is going to keep the customer coming back.
2.Conduct research: You really need to know what’s happening in the marketplace with the customer. Who is the competition? What makes the customer chose one brand over the others in your category? What is it that your brand does that differentiates you from the competitors? What is your value proposition and is it enough to get the customer interested to try you out? Understand the data and statistics to find support for your brand position. What’s the history of the brand and what is its sustainability? These are the facts that the customer will look for to determine if their journey is worth the effort.
3. Communicate the emotional value to the customer: Too often marketers go to this step first and (usually at the urging of their new agency) create an advertising campaign before they really know what they should say or what the customer wants to hear. You need to create feelings for who you are and why you should be part of their journey. They want to know “what’s in it for them”. This is the “heart of the brand” where you can create positive feelings toward your product or service. This is where you build immediate interest and long-term loyalty. This is where you establish “who” you are not just “what” you are and build a relationship that can endure. And you must continue to do this consistently and respect their intelligence. There is no place for “dumb” commercials and ads anymore.
4. Construct a plan: Take all three of the first steps and you have the foundation for a plan that will insure brand success. It’s your blueprint for organizing a brand strategy and all the elements necessary to compete. It provides the structure to develop a viable marketing plan and a business plan that can make it profitable. It also will enable you to sustain the brand for the long run, so that you can endure increased competition, changing market conditions, and more diverse customer segmentation. This is where you determine your position in the marke
5. And finally (but really what you must do before you ever go to the customer in the first place) Live up to the brand everyday: Too often marketers rush to brand themselves to the customer before they make sure that their own organization (often the people who represent the brand) really understand what they are all about and how this is different than it was yesterday. In my retail days, I hate to admit that many times our video or promotional newsletter arrived just a day or two before the new branding campaign launched in the media. We know that it takes weeks or months to build a brand position with the customers and yet we give our own staff 24 hours to thoroughly understand why those customers’ expectations may be changing.
These are condensed steps to what we sometimes take several months to put into place, but I believe they cover the “Customer Journey” completely so that their purchase behavior becomes a round trip to your brand on an ongoing basis.
To read the article by Terry Brock in the Business Journal CLICK THE LOGO>
If you ‘d like to view Terry’s interview with me about the Customer Journey,
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Why is McDonald’s suffering a slump in sales? Here’s my take on it. Several years ago, during one of my ad agency experiences, I had the opportunity to work on some of the local McDonald’s coop business. The brand had its national agencies to develop the overall brand strategy and refresh the messages that were being supported by over a million media dollars a day. Then, there were a number of regional agencies that worked directly with the coops to develop localized promotions to drive more traffic on a timely basis. Heck, we even technically had Ronald McDonald on our agency payroll. This works very well to enable the local franchisees to tie in with community events and seasonality as well as test promotions that might go national if successful. I recall one all-day meeting where there was considerable debate over the next price promotion to replace the current price promotion, which would combat the price promotions of the other fast food franchises in the market. Dollar menus, two-for-one offers, free theme park tickets. You name it everything was being considered.
At one point in the meeting, we also broke off to discuss the recent consumer market research and I was surprised that with the exception of their fries, McD’s came in third or fourth on taste and quality of their primary entrées. It occurred to me that when it comes to fast food, it’s a pretty spontaneous decision that’s triggered more by the stomach than the wallet. A review of ongoing campaigns showed very little romancing of the food and a lot of shouting about the price and deals. While Burger King was featuring its luscious Whopper, Wendy’s got my taste buds with its Chicken sandwich, Checkers made a $1 fish filet look really tasty, Red Lobster and Olive Garden always makes their food look so good you want to go there. McDonald’s has a great quarter pounder, a luscious Big Mac, really good Chicken Tenders (not the Nuggets), and a tasty egg mcmuffin. I really think at $1.29, the McDouble is as good a burger as any. Yet, McD’s last few campaigns rarely show the food in a tasty way. The coffee looks as good as Starbucks, but the burgers are barely visible.
The company’s new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, has said that it’s time for McD’s to go a
new direction. If that means getting back to the items that customers think about first when their taste buds start acting up, then fine. But trying to emulate some of the newer fast food and casual dining establishments is not likely the answer. I just heard that now the company is testing an all-day breakfast menu. An egg mcmuffin at 8am sounds pretty appetizing. At 1pm, not so much. Mini bundt cakes may be intriguing but don’t forget it’s the burgers and fries that bring the people in not a little cake that no one can spell correctly. I agree with a columnist who says that “McDonald’s should get back to being, well, McDonald’s. That doesn’t mean to stop innovation, but it does mean that if all these new tricks and promotions don’t bring in the hungry customers, show me “two all beef patties, special sauce. (etc).
Now, the company announces a line of Big Mac clothing. Give me a break…or at least some of the special sauce on a sesame seed bun. It’s all about food and drink (I admit I’ve become addicted to the Mocha Frappe’) and unless McD’s doesn’t put its focus back on the hunger games, it will continue to fight a slippery slope that a McRib can’t stop.
McDonald’s has one of the strongest brands in the world. To keep its customers loyal, the company needs to get back to market those features that got them saying “I’m loving it” in the first place.
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It finally happened this month. After many years of disappointing performance, changes in senior management, even more changes in CMO’s, and as many changes in advertising campaigns, Radio Shack announced that it was closing up shop after 94 years and thousands of store openings. Some of the stores will remain open with Sprint wireless being the primary offering, but it’s doubtful that the Radio Shack that built a strong awareness through aggressive advertising and convenient locations will ever come back as a retail marketer.
Which brings about the question of brand equity. Many believe that if you build top of mind awareness, you have a successful brand. All you have to do is look at Kmart and Sears or Oldsmobile and Plymouth to mention just of few well-known names that just simply weren’t or aren’t relevant any more. As Radio Shack itself admitted in its 2013 Annual Report, the company “struggled to find its place in the market, and more important, with the consumer.” You have to give Radio Shack credit, it was able to spot new technology and become a pioneer in the electronic calculator, then home computers, and later with wireless. Yet, it never became the destination brand for any of them despite aggressive advertising.
The company hung on to its roots as the tech do-it-yourselfer’s place for those little things that helped one build or repair their electronic devices. However, as these devices became obsolete so fast that replacement was smarter than repair, and as the technology itself evolved to inexpensive chips and discs the need for all those little (high gross) “things” just was substantial enough to survive.
Radio Shack was not always lost in the woods, however. About 10 years ago, the company sold its Canadian operations to Circuit City (another high awareness/poor branding casualty). I was involved with CC as a client while at Doner and we were tasked with the challenge to rename the north of the border stores since Radio Shack would not allow its name on one of their competitors’ (CC) stores. It was an interesting challenge, but what was more interesting was to see how different the Canadian stores were from the American ones. With a separate management and merchandising team, the Canadian stores still had strength’s in wireless and personal computing, but it had really developed a niche for “gadgets” that people just like because they are unique and on the cutting edge. These are the items that have made Brookstone, Spencer Gifts, and SkyMall successful. It should be noted that Brookstone filed for and emerged from Chapter 11 last year which verifies the challenges of this category today. They are interesting items, in significant assortments, that make shopping the store and its ads more interesting…and fun. The stores were contemporary and in high traffic locations. Frankly, I thought that CC had hit on an idea that could have moved their entire American operations out of the severe doldrums they were facing. Winning the battle of big screens and laptops was not likely and a look at Brookstone’s success at that time made sense to me. Of course, that never happened as CC’s new management continued on a course of self-destruction and is now just a memory—despite its former high top-of-mind awareness.
Radio Shack (US) was in the same boat trying to do business the same way it did when the first pocket calculator sold for $375, when the first desktop sold for $2500 and the first flat-screen had an $1900 price tag. And only your stores had them. As competition increased, the small, neighborhood stores simply could not live up to a promise of assortment and innovation. Many have said that Radio Shack’s name was its problem and it certainly didn’t do anything to verify a contemporary tech store. However, had the company positioned itself with a brand strategy that built its awareness on the important values that the customers are looking for, the name would have been just fine. A few years ago, Radio Shack’s “You have questions, we have answers” campaign was the closest thing to building a brand promise that had merit given the lack of knowledgeable salespeople in the warehouse stores and other specialty stores. Given the success of Apple (both as a manufacturer and a retailer), Radio Shack could have built a brand based on cutting edge tech with knowledgeable people. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. And the awareness, like the stores will disappear.
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At the end of each year I look forward to several of the reviews done by many news programs of “Hail and Farewell to Those Who Passed Away this Year”. Unfortunately, it seems to me that more and more of the familiar names and faces depart every year, but it’s always good to look back and remember those who have been a part of our lives in so many ways. For the Banks family this year, we were saddened by an important member of our family for the past 15 years when Winter, our loving Bichon Frise’, left us in the fall. She was a part of our family and our grandkids’ lives growing up. We think about her whenever we walk in the door. When I do, I also think about my days at PetSmart and how Winter came into our life. It’s all about branding…
When I got to PetSmart in 1998, the company’s brand was essentially that of a big box, warehouse-type store for pet supplies. It had dog and cat food stacked to the ceilings, and low prices. But it was much, much more. I joined the company because Sam Parker (founder) and Phil Francis (then CEO) told me during our interview dinner that they wanted to have their customers love their stores as much as they loved their pets. You see, for most PetSmart customers their pets were members of their families—not just animals that lived at their houses. This became the foundation of a brand strategy that we developed and essentially still drives the store’s success today. Part of the strategy was to show that PetSmart associates (from the CEO on down to the selling floor) were pet lovers as well. A look at the annual reports revealed not only the officers but also their pets (who shared the official head shots. My family filled the bill. We had a yellow lab that we adopted some 14 years before I joined the company and several other pets along the way. Unfortunately, Cuddles (our lab and family member) passed away a couple months after I moved to Phoenix and joined the company. One of my first orders of business was to let our PetSmart Charities staff know that we wanted to adopt another pup—preferably a smaller breed and a few months later, Winter chose to live with us for the next 14 years.
Everything we did from a marketing standpoint from that point on sought to share this same kind of love for our pets and let our customers that we love them as much as they did. Improving our service, expanding our Veterinary service (now Banfield), expanding our training and grooming services, making more of commitment to pet adoption rather than selling them, helped form the foundation of a brand that really cared for its customers and their families. The stores were remodeled with graphics and a lower profile to make it more of a special pet place and less of a warehouse. Focus on the services complemented the wide assortment of food and treats. The strategy worked and the company has grown into one of the top specialty operations in the country.
You see, it was all about building a relationship with our customers…and their pets. Once that became a priority, market share and brand preference grew at a consistent and profitable pace.
That’s what more retailers need to remember. In between all the sales and promotions, there must be relationship building that starts at the top and works right to the floor (on online). Without the relationship, there is no brand. Without a brand, it’s just another store.
CONGRATS TO THUNDERBIRD.
Yesterday, my alma mater, Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management, officially became part of the graduate school of business at Arizona State University in Tempe. This is a great move for both schools that will enable Thunderbird to continue to educate marketers in global markets all over the world while expanding the expertise and outreach of ASU’s increasingly respected graduate program.
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“Here we go again!” That was my first reaction when I opened the paper on Thanksgiving morning and over 30 sale circulars fell out all over the family room floor. As I’ve said in almost every holiday blog for the past 5-6 years, what used to be the best time of the year for creativity in retail advertising has become nothing more than redundancy and boring sale ads that do nothing to differentiate one store from another nor does it create a positive brand promise at the biggest sales season.
But enough of the negativity. It’s Christmas and I’m committed to looking at the positive and how some marketers continue to create loyalty for their brands at this time of the year. As the carol on the iTunes just reminded me, “It’s not the things you do at Christmas time, but the Christmas things you do all year long.” This month, let’s take a look at four companies who have built strong brands all year through creative marketing and through consistent operations that keep the customers coming back despite all of the other choices.
Publix continues to get national attention for its marketing even though its regional player in the grocery store business. There’s a good reason that it may be in just a few southern states but it’s revenues and customer satisfaction is right near the top nationally year after year and growing. Again, this year, Publix captures the spirit of the holidays with a couple of spots that bring out the family values and the sentiment of the season. They carry this through in-store and in their multi-faceted (read as “not just another sale”) print and online messages. Take a look at these spots that not only tug at your heart but also strengthen the promise that ‘shopping is a pleasure” at Publix.
John Lewis is a chain of stores in the UK that has taken a creative approach to building associate loyalty by making them all partners in the business. The stores have set the standard for the past several years for breakthrough marketing and they live up to it in-store with great merchandising and outstanding customer service. At Christmas, John Lewis also gets the public talking about its commercials by producing stories that are not just creative but they also tell a story that could easily be made into a holiday classic. This year the company (www.johnlewis.com) capitalized on our love for penguins with a story of a boy and his imagination during the holidays.
John Lewis Penguin spots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iccscUFY860 Hallmark makes every holiday and personal event of the year a special event but at Christmas, the company has always “cared enough to give its very best” with commercials that hit the heart and solidify its number one share in the greeting card business. It’s ongoing Christmas movies series on its own Hallmark Channel are typical of the great marketing that the company does. It’s Hallmark Hall of Fame movies are award winning and feature award winning commercials like the one below which keeps customers loyal whether online or in the store.
Sainsbury is one of the UK’s top retailers and certainly its strongest food store chain. It has consistently grown market share with state of the art stores and outstanding marketing whether its their CRM program or outstanding marketing. It this year’s television commercial, the company goes back to WWI to relate a true story about how the British troops and German army met on the same battlefield and decided to put down their weapons and celebrate Christmas for just one day before getting back to the war. It’s a story that deserves a full-length movie but does a great job for Sainsbury with a commercial that sets the holiday standard.
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It’s great to be back 100% after a couple months away from blog writing. After a couple of major hospitalizations over the past couple years for AFIB and pneumonia, my cardiologist and I decided that it was time to take aggressive action and zap out the electric impulses that caused my heart to get out of rhythm and often accelerate like a Maserati with a stuck accelerator. So I had a cardiac ablation procedure last month and I’m glad to report that all went well and I’m back in rhythm like Smokey Robinson and feeling great. So what does this have to do with BRANDING you ask?
One of the principles that we stress in our book, BrainBranding. Activate the Brain. Stimulate Your Brand, is that your marketing communications have to always be in sync with your brand strategy. Whether it’s your advertising, your PR, your signage, or your designs, what you communicate should reinforce what you want to be famous for with your customers and prospects. I remember a few years ago when I was directing the major annual sales meeting for our operations and merchandising staffs at Eckerd, we contracted with a well-known and respected speaker on customer service and employee relations to give a keynote presentation to the over 1000 associates and suppliers in attendance. I had seen this expert at another conference and thought his message was right on for our strategy to better serve our customers and build employee morale. When he arrived at the meeting hall, he immediately went into a rage that the video setup was not as requested, using four-letter expletives and basically talking to us (who were paying him a premium fee) like we were imbeciles. If it hadn’t been 2 hours before his presentation, I would have cancelled on the spot and I assure you that no one who was present at the rehearsal believed a word of his presentation. His actions were not in rhythm with his message nor his promotional materials. I can assure you that later as I became a professional speaker, I never recommended this individual when asked for a recommendation.
With Joan Rivers’ passing recently, I was reminded of how out of rhythm Dodge auto advertising was when they ran a campaign using her to promote their award event earlier this year. Chrysler has been trying to reposition the Dodge brand as a serious performance line but the Joan Rivers spots were silly and had no rhythm with the spots that ran earlier nor the current “heritage” spots running now.
JCPenney’s rebranding efforts a couple years ago were well documented and pushed the company’s stock to all-time lows and comp sales to embarrassingly negative figures. It cost the CEO his job, the CMO left shortly after joining the company, and the customers stayed away as the company (which had positioned itself successfully versus traditional department stores and discount chains) abandoned providing consistent promotion mixed with strong positioning. The pendulum has swung back to aggressive promoting (like Kohl’s) but without the positioning that differentiated JCP from other retailers. Again it’s branding has been lost in a barrage of sales with no rhythm with the brand that was so strong in the past and stores that really are appealing to today’s customers.
Subway sandwich shops have grown successfully with a brand that positioned them as a healthier alternative to traditional fast food chains. However, now it seems that they are piling on more junk food between the bread and more cholesterol and fat along with it. The messages are out of rhythm with the healthier approach without promising too much benefit. We all love bacon on our sandwiches but really enough is enough.
Holiday advertising used to be the time when retailers especially invested in great creative to make them the store of choice for the holidays. Now the obsession with Black Friday (whenever it now takes place) does nothing but abandon the strong positioning that some pursue throughout the year in order to compete with a premise that fills the stores in the wee hours after Thanksgiving and leaves them empty in the remaining 4-5 weeks leading up to Christmas. The messages and the experience at the store is totally out of sync (rhythm) with what holiday shopping used to be all about and does nothing more than lower margins.
It’s time to get back to the heart (no pun intended) of what makes brands great. A brand position that resonates with the target customer that is consistently communicated to the customer. If it’s not working, then maybe there should be a
“brand ablation” to stop the out of rhythm messages and focus on the right ones.
In Memoriam. Last week I lost one of the best colleagues and friends that I had at Eckerd and afterward when Mark Warren lost his battle with leukemia. Mark was as aggressive in fighting to survive these diseases as he was in learning the cutting edge trends in retail database marketing with Eckerd and later with ADVO Systems. His passion for the business was only surpassed by his desire to be a good friend and associate in everything he did. I will miss him.
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I’m always amazed at how branding discussions seem to immediately require a new name, slogan, design, or packaging. All at a competitive price, of course. It was interesting then when I made the trek up to Chicago a week ago to see my Tampa Bay Rays play the Cubs. Frankly, the games were secondary. I really wanted to go to see Wrigley Field, which just happens to be celebrating it’s 100th Anniversary this year. After taking the Red Line train to the ballpark and entering into the bowels of this historic ballpark, I was taken back to a time when baseball was king and everyone knew the lineups of every team and the stadiums in which they played. The weather was great. The games were competitive (they split the two we attended), and Wrigley was everything I expected from the ivy-covered outfield walls to the manually operated scoreboards they you could barely read from home plate. Coming from a market where everyone is clamoring for a new ballpark (to replace our 20 year-old dome which works perfect in the Florida heat and rain, but that’s another subject). In all, it was a great experience from the smell of the Italian sausages to the singing of “Take me out to the Ballgame”.
Rays manager, Joe Maddon summed it up best when he reflected on the first 3 games that he ever attended at Wrigley when he said: The games are great, but the key to this ballpark is the experience of playing here. It’s historic and a pleasure. That’s when I understood why Chicago fans continue to fill the stands year after year, while the Cubs continue to lose year after year. It’s the experience of just going to the game that is special. To me, Wrigley Field is not just a stadium; it’s a brand that promises a baseball experience unmatched (Red Sox fans may dispute this) by any other venue in the major leagues of any sport. A brand must create a pleasurable experience for its customers to survive and succeed through all of the changes in market trends and consumer interests. Wrigley has done that and so have the brands that consistently maintain loyalty (or a cult following, as BJ Bueno has written). To build an enduring relationship, the experience has to be special and exceed your expectations. Disney has done this since its inception. Nordstrom’s has succeeded while most department stores have faded away by providing a special experience with each shopping trip. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse provides a special experience that goes beyond the best filet mignon in the country. It is all about a special, satisfying experience that builds a loyalty to the brand.
Speaking of the experience, we visited the American Girl store in Water Tower Place in Chicago (our granddaughter’s favorite place in the world) and talk about an experience! We were there on a Monday and the place was packed with 5-8 year-old girls accompanying their dolls (or girls as they call them) on a special shopping trip. Parents and grandparents were there too to pay for everything, but it was fascinating to see how AG has built an outstanding brand by building an experience for dolls that is so realistic and special that price is no object. Weather it’s getting an outfit for gymnastics or camping, they have it all and the girls love it. Need a new hairstyle; they’ve got a salon with specialists who can make that synthetic hair glow. Lunch? There’s a restaurant just for you and your dolls with special seating for the little ones. Even the rest rooms have special amenities for the American Girls while their live friends take care of business. The division of Mattel (what a sequel to Barbie!) now has 19 stores which offer what it calls “experiential retail” and if you look at their website for each store your daughter can choose from all kinds of experiences from birthday parties to a night out with your “girl” (for $195-240 per person). Starting out as a catalogue retailer, the company has created a cult brand that “inspires” their customers not just sell them a doll and its accessories. Their online business flourishes with an easy way for grandma to get just the right birthday or Christmas present without having to find a store. American Girl has learned that the brand is an experience and the more exciting they make it; the more loyal is their customer (and her parents).
Whether it’s baseball or dolls, creating a memorable experience is the best way to build a relationship that makes a brand really special—and successful.