November 17th, 2014
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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.
August 22nd, 2014
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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.
June 25th, 2014
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This month’s blog was actually intended for May but as I was getting reading to upload and publish, I had a recurrence of the AFIB and pneumonia problems that hit me about 2 ½ years ago and I ended up spending a long week recovering in the hospital. So the May blog becomes the June blog but the message is just as valid even if the intro video is a bit out of sync! The ongoing discussion in branding these days is how to execute your brand strategy while using the new mobile and online media that has grown exponentially in importance and usage over the past couple years. I get asked that question consistently and my answer remains the same: The same principles of a solid branding strategy and communicating your brand value apply to the new media just as much—if not more—as with the traditional media that have been important in the past.
The most important thing to remember is that today’s new media can help keep the brand alive and build the emotional relationship faster and more effectively than ever before. Simply put, the interaction that customers can have with your brand is now easier and more spontaneous and as a result, it provides the opportunity to make the brand more relevant to your customers. Let’s take a look at how three companies are using the online capabilities to make the brand more relevant and to provide immediate value as well.
Williams is one of the top brands in household painting. They have built a loyal following over the years with a quality product sold in a service environment. The key to Sherwin Williams retail success—in the face of aggressive competition from the big box DIY stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s—is the reliance on the personalized service and expertise that their stores have provided almost since the beginning. Excellent selection in a convenient environment with experienced, friendly paint experts who can help you find exactly the right paint in the right color with right tools to make the job a success. However, Sherwin Williams has utilized the new media to add to the personalized value that they have always provided. Using its app, ColorSnap, makes finding the right color not only a snap but enables the customer to visualize how it will look in their home. The app enables the customer to take a photo or scan a color that he/she wants to match in their home project. You simply download to the app and SW analyzes it and provides you with the exact match to your color choice. Then they go a step further and enable you to take a photo of your house or room and then, using their app, you can insert the new color over the area you plan to paint. You can even mask it around windows or doors so you can really get an accurate picture of how the job will look before buying the paint or getting a sample and painting spots on the walls to see what looks best. Seeing the entire project in the right color makes it much more accurate and representative of what the finished job is going to look like. You can then save the various color applications on line/phone and bring into the store and discuss with the paint expert. The process adds technology to a great brand based on personalized service. And, speaking from personal experience, it really works.
Safelite AutoGlass has developed a national chain of auto window repair and replacement that makes this common problem easy and painless while saving you money and getting insurance coverage. The company advertises aggressively but as a national chain of over 5000 mobile repair centers, there is always the doubt about the expertise of the installer and the reliability. The company addresses the problem with its Technician Profile email system. Once you contact the company (either online or by 800 call), the company sends you an email with the name of the technician who will be servicing your need as well as his/her experience, photo, and credentials to build your trust before you make the deal and have them visit your home. Additionally, the site provides information that assures the customer that the job will be done correctly and professionally the first time so that you can back in your car and on the road immediately.
Quest Diagnostics has grown to be the largest provider of health diagnostic lab work in the US with over 2200 lab patient centers and over 41000 associates. As lab work has become an important part of almost any doctor’s appointment today, Quest has become the preferred choice due to its convenience and service. However, as a lab user for many years, it has not always been the most convenient or pleasant experience. In recent years, the company has really made the effort to make the experience easier, quicker and more professional and painless (in many ways). Now the company has added the My Quest app so that you can not only schedule an appointment online so there is literally no wait and you can also follow up on the results right from your smart phone. By simply registering online and installing the app, getting lab work done is easier and more convenient than ever and now works with your schedule rather than the lab’s availability. It also facilitates the communication between lab and physician so that your results are more timely and easily understood by the patient. In addition to building a preferred brand for a very important and frequently used service, Quest has used the new media to make the entire experience a brand building opportunity.
These are just three examples showing how building a brand can be enhance and accelerated by using the new media options to make the relationship a brand-building strategy as well.
DON’T FORGET THAT OUR BOOK, BRAINBRANDING. ACTIVATE THE BRAIN. STIMULATE YOUR BRAND IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON AND KINDLE.
April 29th, 2014
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It’s been reassuring over the past couple years to observe the rebound made by the American car companies. It just seems like a few weeks ago that we were wondering if GM or Chrysler would survive without government help or whether Ford could set new standards for cars that people really wanted to buy and drive. Fast forward and it’s been exciting to see the strides made by the big three both in quality and in brand reputation after so many years of neglect.
That’s why it’s disheartening to see the problems that GM has brought upon itself with the recall scandal and lack of strong leadership in dealing with a PR nightmare.
It’s interesting to note that when the news broke on this situation that most of the brands that were mentioned in the recall problem were no longer in business. It makes you wonder what really happened with Pontiac, Saturn, and Oldsmobile. And where is Mercury and Continental or Plymouth and Thunderbird. All of these brands had great recognition, significant top-of-mind awareness, and (even as sales slumped) a loyal customer and dealer base. Why did they have to die? Brands consistently need to be reviewed, re-formulated, and re-marketed in order to keep up with the changes in customers and competition. However, it seems like the auto companies would rather just call it a day, pack up their design tools, close up the plants and move on.
I was thinking about some the brands that my first employer, Procter & Gamble has developed successfully and then sold off to other companies to continue their market share growth. I worked on Folgers coffee and it continued to be a market share leader in the category for years until P&G decided to focus on other categories of business. They didn’t just close down the brand, however. Instead they sold it to Smuckers who has continued to grow the brand and it’s share with essentially the same successful brand strategy that has been in place for years. Why couldn’t the car companies do the same..
Think about some of these brands and what could possibly have happened to keep them alive and successful.
I think BMW could have taken over Pontiac and made it an American Driving Machine. For years Pontiac was branded as a performance car and by narrowing its brand focus would still have appeal to a younger, American driver.
Mercury had a major share of the mature drivers (it was #1 overall in Florida for many years). If Volvo had taken over the brand and refocused it as something more than a Ford with a different emblem and model name, it could capitalize on the quality and dependability that Volvo is known for with the comfort that older Americans want.
Saturn was one of the best branding stories in any category when it was introduced. Nissan or Toyota could certainly have applied some of their innovations to keep the loyal Saturn customers and again focus the brand on sedans that put it on the map originally (rather than SUV’s and sports cars).
Thunderbird was a legendary sports car like Corvette and the brand was one of the most successful re-introductions a few years ago. Think what someone like Suburu or Kia could have done to bring Asian quality and design to a sporty new T-bird brand.
Oldsmobile could have also capitalized on the Baby Boomer market who still wanted some of the quality that their “fathers” wanted in their cars. With a reputation from Hyundai or Land Rover and some re-styling that doesn’t look like another Buick, the brand could prosper in today’s market.
Look how Fiat/Chrysler has re-introduced the Fiat 500 which had a terrible brand reputation in the ’60’s and ’70’s in the U.S. However, now it’s cute, trendy, and appeals to a whole new market that didn’t even know the care ever existed before.
If Plymouth had stuck with cars like it’s Land Cruiser and Duster and had the creativity of a Mazda re-branding it , the brand could still be around and have a younger, loyal customer base.
Of course there are many other considerations before a company can sell one of its brands to another company, like manufacturing, dealer organizations, etc. However, there are brands that could still prosper by focusing on their historic strengths and what today’s consumer wants in a vehicle. Bring in some new perspective and creativity and these brands can survive and gain market share. For a brand to be reborn requires the same ingenuity and strategy that is required by new products and innovations. If some of the brands mentioned above had an infusion of branding instead just a new ad campaign with tired model names, the auto industry would still be competitive and a showcase of effective marketing.
February 24th, 2014
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A visit to the DaVinci Machines exhibit last month made a real impression on me about the genius of this 15th Century artist and designer. While there were only a limited number of his designs on display (his notes reflected several thousand ideas that were developed), I was convinced that every one was developed for a particular reason—usually military weapons—that provided a solution to a particular problem or opportunity. Whether it was the ball bearing or a device that helped build a pyramid before hydraulics, the value of these concepts increased as the need for their benefits became more obvious in providing a competitive advantage over the users adversary.
The same holds true as marketers develop new or improved products to gain market share versus their competition. So many new products or stores are introduced on to the scene for no other reason than to compete with a brand that’s already there. If they are successful, let’s get a piece of the action. Unfortunately, with so many choices vying for the same dollar from the customer, we end up with just another brand. If you walk through a shopping center (an activity that fewer and fewer of us get involved with these days), you can’t help wonder why this or that store with a name on the sign that you’ve never heard of ever managed to get into the marketplace. How many more fast food burger places do we really need offering basically the same ground beef on a bun? As I watched the $4 million Super Bowl spots, I kept asking what is the reason that I should buy this product. Now, I know that established brands like Budweiser and Coke don’t have to continually explain what they are. However, they do have to reinforce the brand as part of everyone’s lifestyle and create a brand preference. I took note of the Chobani Greek Yogurt spots on the Olympics recently and I kept asking what does “How Matters.” mean and why should I opt for their brand or for Greek Yogurt in the first place? Nice spots for the Olympics spirit, but why Greek Yogurt. I like Activia anyway.
The point is that the first essential characteristic of a successful brand is to have a reason for being. The initial work is to determine why someone would try your product—or keep using it—and then reinforce this reason with an effective, creative message that cuts through the clutter and truly differentiates your brand from the others.
It occurs to me the high-priced spots on the major media events that the primary reason for being is to run creative commercials with very little emphasis on providing a reason why or a really competitive message that differentiates. It’s not unlike most shopping malls these days which don’t provide much reason to shop there other than “under one roof”. Thus, so many are being torn down or sit half empty these days. Yet, the town centers and shopping villages are thriving because they provide a more convenient, pleasant shopping experience—and a return to the past when downtown shopping was neighborhood gathering spot with personality and with ambience that beats most big mega malls or big box retailers.
So, if your brand is beginning to lose share of mind and share of wallet, it’s time to go back and revisit what prompted your product or service in the first place. Are the reasons still relevant? Do they still differentiate you from the competition? Do they provide value beyond a sale price? Do they provide a reason for a personal relationship with the customer that really is the essence of a brand? If not, it’s time to revisit and find a reason for being.
IN MEMORIAM: I lost a good friend this week. Phil Kabachnick was professional retailer who brought innovation and moxy to his store in Middletown, Connecticut, for years. He understood customers and how to market to them by understanding the trends and what would keep them from going to the Big Apple to do their fashion shopping. After he closed the business and and was the behind-the-scenes operator of his wife, Terri’s, consulting business, we shared some office space here in Tampa Bay. We also shared many discussions on retail, sports, and business building ideas over many Chinese lunches. He fought a good battle against cancer and kept his sense of humor till the end. I’ll miss him.
December 22nd, 2013
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Merry Christmas! It’s a special time of year and a time to do something special with your family, friends, associates…and your brand.Marketers have always used this time of year to break the mold of their ongoing ad campaigns to be more creative, more promotional, and (unfortunately, not often enough) do something special for their customers and employees.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is a special tradition that helps kick of the holiday season for retailers all over the world. Yet, it is also a wonderful sales promotion event to generate sales, awareness, and strengthen the store’s brand as a special place for holiday gift purchases.
Bass Pro Shops has created Santa’s Wonderland at its mega-stores for several years now, but before you say that “Well, what’s new about that? Stores and malls have had Santa for years.) take a trip to your nearest Bass Pro and experience the transformation of the stores and their customers into a Christmas right out of the Hallmark Channel.
And it’s not just retailers who capitalize on the season to do something special. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at this five-minute video on what Canadian airline WestJet did this winter. This is truly an amazing event:
The idea of making the Christmas wishes of all the passengers on two of their flights sounds simple enough, but it took the efforts of everyone from airport agents to the baggage handlers to make it happen seamlessly. Corporate support from other companies like Best Buy helped them share in the positive media coverage that this event achieved. And it was a lot of coverage: 27 Million views on YouTube in less than a week; major news coverage in nearly all national network and cable news programming; buzz on social networks. All giving testimony to the kind of service (It took 175 employees to pull off this event.) and commitment that WestJet must provide its passengers on an ongoing basis. The interactive kiosks at the gate were state of the art, the delivery of the gifts on the baggage carousel was an event in itself, and the wonder and surprise of the lucky Calgary-bound passengers reinforced WestJet’s brand as an airline whose employees genuinely care about making every flight special. If you want to read more about what it took, click on:
for just one of the news coverage articles that have appeared
A sales promotion event? Sure. But it goes beyond that and it’s disappointing that more advertisers don’t do something special for the holidays that helps reinforce their brands the rest of the year. Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!
November 27th, 2013
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Happy Thanksgiving! Here come the ads. Once again it’s time to be deluged by holiday advertising in every medium possible. Frankly, am I the only one bored to indifference by all the Black Friday ads. I liked it a lot more when it was the day after Thanksgiving. Having worked in department stores for several years, I remember the excitement of that day and the long hours because it really was something special. Sure, it’s a time to promote and generate as much traffic as you can get to stampede into your store at 5am, but it’s also a time to strengthen your brand.
Unfortunately, over the past several years, this time of year has degenerated from the time when retailers spent the most on creativity, in-store excitement, and marketing to one big SALE event. However, there are still some advertisers who take advantage of the seasonal opportunity for revenues and traffic by going after the heart (and brain) as well as the wallet. Let’s take a look at a couple retailers going after the same customers: Publix and Kmart.
There’s been a lot a buzz in the media and online about the Kmart holiday commercial for Joe Boxer. Take a look. Click on the link:
I have to admit that I kinda like the spot for its entertainment value. However, if I had the difficulties that Kmart has had over the past few years, I don’t think I would put all my creativity in trying to create a hip brand image of a line of underwear. I really don’t think this spot does anything for Kmart. Walk into a Kmart (if you can still find one that hasn’t closed in the past couple years) and you might see one cashier line open and a couple of customers usually waiting to get helped by an indifferent clerk. Meanwhile, Walmart, Target , Costco continue to add registers and sales. (Walmart’s latest spot talking about employee benefits really is super…but more on that in another blog.). Kmart needs to convince customers that there is a reason to shop there. That they can compete. That they are fun. Instead, they have a bunch of guys ringing their “brief bells” for Joe Boxer. No wonder they continue to shed stores and lose the customer’s interest.
Publix, the southeast grocery giant, has always done a marvelous job with its holiday and other seasonal advertising. They don’t just stop with TV spots however.
Their print, direct mail, and online messages are just as personal, just as creative, and just as successful in convincing their customer that “shopping is a pleasure” at their stores. Publix has gotten aggressive with promotions (watch out for the BOGO’s everywhere you look.) to keep their customers from migrating to Walmart.
Their stores continue to be some of the best run operations in retail, and their employees really do enjoy helping you get just what you wanted. People is my part of the world don’t just shop at Publix, they make “My Publix” part of their daily life.
Publix continues to endear itself and its brand to the hearts of people who value family events and all the food that goes with it. Eating a Publix meal is not just dinner, it’s a memory being made for the entire family. With advertising like this one below, Publix continues to grow its brand and beat the competition every day.
It all seems so obvious about what really works at this time of year when it comes to advertising that sells. The brands that do well the rest of the year really do deck the halls when it comes to the holidays.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday
October 29th, 2013
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I was driving back from the gym the other day when I pulled up behind a truck that was about to deliver fresh produce to a local convenience food store and deli. I couldn’t help notice the slogan on the back of the truck: R&G Produce “Lettuce Serve You”.
Now, I appreciate a good pun as much as anyone, but when used as a brand’s slogan, I usually find that it to be a weak effort at trying to create something memorable about the product or service. I suppose you could say that this implies better service in getting your lettuce fresh and on time, but it really needs more dressing (Ok, enough puns for now.) to make a differentiating statement. The truck sign did, however, remind me of how many companies try to create a brand by simply coming up with a new slogan or jingle. Most of the ad agencies that I worked with over the years claimed to be branding experts, but so often as soon as they got the assignment, the work started on a new ad campaign, slogan, logo, spokesperson, or package/store design.
Yes, these are all important elements in communicating the brand strategy, but unless a marketer does all the important work first these tools can do nothing more than create awareness. It takes intense and comprehensive research to determine the market potential, the extent of the competition and their strengths and weaknesses, what differentiates your product from the others, and what motivations the customers have to even consider what you offer in the first place.
A comprehensive marketing plan is absolutely critical in the development of a successful brand. Far too often, however, this plan is confused with the media or communications plan and the most of the time, effort, creativity and budget are dedicated to the execution. It’s no surprise that many brands fail even though they were supported by outstanding creative executions in support of a flawed premise for why the customer should try the product in the first place. Burger King has consistently produced some of the best, most creative marketing efforts in the fast food business. Yet, they consistently fail to meet the standards set by their equally aggressive competitors when it comes to operations and service. Having it your way means more than having the right toppings on your burger, it means having an experience that is consistent, friendly and efficient. BK never seems to quite get there. The same can be said for brands like Infiniti, Sears, Discover and many others who fail to clearly define what makes their brand better and why the customer should have a positive preference for them over the competition.
And another thing…Capital One has certainly created a unique brand in the highly competitive credit card business. I sometimes wonder where all that budget comes from to be able to ask the question: “What’s in your wallet?” in every imaginable way. I like Alec Baldwin, but I still am trying to figure out what the Vikings or Brave Heart look-alikes have to do with credit card points, but it certainly has worked. However, the new commercials with Samuel L. Jackson’s hardball pitch for their new Quicksilver card hits me the wrong way. Not that I don’t appreciate a straightforward approach, but does he really have to say “every damn day” to make the point? Cursing and innuendo have long become commonplace in today network programming on television, but it seems a large financial institution like Capital One could use some restraint and make their point without resorting to cursing and spending millions to send a message to our youth that it’s ok to be irreverent no matter who you are talking to. Moreover, what does this have to do with good branding?
September 25th, 2013
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While in Michigan a couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present to a graduate class in Strategic Brand Communication at Michigan State University.I was impressed by the enthusiasm and interest in branding at the graduate level, but as I was sharing some case studies of brands that continue to succeed and some that have faded out of the marketplace, I realized that many of the students never heard of these brands. Given the fact that nearly half were international students from Asia and Eastern Europe and most of the rest were probably born after 1990, it was not surprising that I had to go a little deeper into the backgrounds of the companies I was using as examples. Yet, there were some that immediately struck a familiar note with the students. Brands like McDonalds, Lexus, WalMart, and Apple were already successful when these students were born and they continue to maintain a strong position that goes beyond top-of-mind awareness because of the relationships that they maintain with their customers.
Like personal relationships, branding must continue to evolve as the situations (markets) change and as the customers change along with them. I showed the students how brands like Circuit City, Oldsmobile, Gateway, and Kmart have disappeared or are fading fast while the others mentioned above and long-time companies like AT&T, GE, Nordstrom’s, Coke, and Hallmark continue to grow in sales and in loyalty with their customers. So, what is it that these brands have in common that we can learn from as we continue to strive to make our brands endure and prosper. I think Dr. Len Berry at Texas A&M hit on the keys when he wrote several years ago about what successful stores had in common. He studied the retailers that not only had long-term positive sales trends but also were excellent stocks, great places to work and expanding their geographic and customer bases. Let’s look at how these relate to enduring brands in all categories:
1) They have a reason for being. It’s not enough just to be around for a long time and have good awareness. A brand must continue to be relevant and adjust with the times and the customers. McDonald’s continues to change its menus, its formats, and its marketing while still maintaining the great taste of its fries and Big Macs that customers keep coming back for. Their move to improve drive-thru’s, menu boards, breakfasts and desserts is an ongoing strategic activity and it has paid off as the company continues to grow here and abroad while faced with increased, tastier competition. Just being a new brand in a growing category is not enough, you must be differentiated by providing a value that creates an emotional bond with the customer.
2) They compete on value not just price. Price certainly continues to be important, but it only gets or keeps your brand on the playing field. Publix has built its brand on making shopping a pleasure, but other grocers (especially WalMart) continue to hammer away at EDLP as a competitive edge. Publix has responded with aggressive promotional offers (BOGO’s) but still maintains services and store improvements that the customers love and it communicates its marketing messages in a way that hits the heart as well as the wallet.
3) Make it convenient. This isn’t just having a store on every corner like Starbucks and Walgreen’s. It’s much more. Today’s customers want the entire experience to be hassle free and reliable. Being consistent in price, in-stock, service and layout, and quality are all expectations that today’s customer wants. Simply being online or having a new app isn’t enough to satisfy today’s customers. Pizza Hut continues to improve its menu while sticking to its pepperoni and mozzarella with new products, services, ease of ordering and ongoing promotions that keep it on top in the pizza wars.
4) Make it enjoyable. The experience must be one that makes the customer feel good about buying your brand. Not only should it be fun to shop but it must be rewarding experience that makes the customer feel good about sticking with your brand. Walgreen’s latest endeavors in showing how your purchase will help people less fortunate around the world complements their convenience and in-store consistency. Target’s support of education does the same while making it a fun place to spend your dollars. Revlon’s long-term support of breast cancer research helps their customers feel good while looking good as well.
Brand’s will endure by sticking to what got them there while constantly seeking ways to remain fresh and exciting.
July 27th, 2013
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The news last month that George Zimmer had been pushed out of the Men’s Wearhouse, the company he founded and built into the most successful men’s clothing specialty chain in the country, caught a lot of retail watchers by surprise.
Not only was Zimmer the founder of the chain, but he was also the face and the spokesperson for the company which he grew from one store to over 1100 with nearly $2 billion in sales in 40 years at the helm.
George Zimmer founder Men’s Wearhouse
Many trade writers are skeptical that the company will continue to grow without Zimmer’s familiar face and closing line (“You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.) in every commercial. It brings up the question of how important a CEO spokesperson like Zimmer (or Lee Iacocca for Chrysler and Dave Thomas for Wendy’s before him) is to the success of the brand.
I believe that Zimmer was critical to Men’s Wearhouse, but not because of his consistent presence in their commercials over the years. I, too, had the impression that he wasn’t much more than Fast Eddy in New York or Ollie Fretter in Detroit were as familiar faces on TV. However, over 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Zimmer at Texas A&M’s Center for Retail Studies Symposium and it changed my impression completely. It also helped me understand why the Men’s Wearhouse brand was so successful. The familiar CEO spent a little time talking about the chain’s history and their marketing efforts which featured him. Then, he went into detail about how critical complementary sales and training were to building profitable and loyal sales. The key, he said, was the ongoing training that every store associate went through repeatedly to insure they were giving the best service and were committed to selling wardrobes rather than items.
That’s the key to successful retail brands—making sure that your associates live up to the brand everyday, with every customer. We don’t know whether the board at Men’s Wearhouse accelerated Zimmer’s exit because he no longer believed in the importance of the service and training. One thing for sure is that if the board and Zimmer’s replacement at CEO, Douglas Ewert, want to move away from these important components of the brand. The company will, indeed, miss their longtime spokesperson. I guarantee it.