Tag Archives: brand development

What the VA could learn from P&G

Delivery issues
Delivery issues

We were first told this in Marketing 101 eons ago, but the message continues to be reinforced by experience after experience:  “If you are a marketer, you can market anything”.  This means you can typically apply the “Four Ps” (positioning, product, price, promotion) to just about any industry without really knowing much about it.

But things can and do get lost in translation, or what we term “cross-overs”.   We have seen the industry crossover work well at Apple and disastrously at  J.C. Penny’s (JCP), and a few others.

It really depends on the industry and the immediate challenge being faced…which brings to mind another axiom, this one by sociologist Abraham Maslow:  “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail.”

We wonder if this will be the case with the most recent and arguably most interesting crossovers in quite a while: consumer packaged goods expert, Bob McDonald, former CEO of Procter & Gamble named head of the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs (known affectionately as “the VA”.)

While the VA appears to have both serious operational and marketing challenges, it will be interesting to see how a veteran of brand wars attacks them.  Since he is a “carpenter”, will he rely solely on his hammer?

In the interest of service to our nation, we have some lessons from our CPG colleagues that may cross over nicely to the VA:

  • DISTRACT FROM DELAYS.  What manufacturer has not experienced delays in getting product to a customer?  Savvy sales execs always have alternatives to soothe the savage beast.  Many times, atop that list is substitution.  In this case, offer something else that pleases or at least distracts while you work on your logistics issues.
  • SUBCONTRACT.  If you don’t have what it takes, let someone else provide the item or service while your company covers the cost.  If you do it in a seamless manner your customer may not even notice…but if they do chances are they will be impressed by your pluck.
  • FOSTER COMPETITION.  Healthy competition between brands has always been a cornerstone of P&G’s success.  The “umbrella” of products need to be complementary, with each brand manager working toward a common corporate vision and purpose, all infused with a healthy dose of friendly competition (and reward$, of course).
  • NIX WEAK EXTENSIONS.  This is one P&G knows well:  kill that dying SKU.  You don’t want too many flavors:  products, services and procedures that don’t add value but instead create customer confusion and erode core competency.
  • BUILD BRAND AMBASSADORS.  Perhaps the key issue for the VA in this case is that only the bad news got out.  What about the millions of satisfied customers?  Develop dozens — no, hundreds — of compelling stories from this group that will galvanize the nation.  In short, what the VA brand seems to be missing is a Marine-like formation that will cultivate media, blog, Tweet, Facebook and Pin, yelling from the mountaintops to the sea til death about how great the place is.

Best of luck, Bob!

Mislabeling and other misdemeanors

Not enough Wonderfulness in the product
Not enough Wonderfulness?

This week “Big Red” (Coca-Cola) took a beating in the Supreme Court from no other than “little red” or  (P♥M Wonderful) about juice that contained a lot less pomegranate than was claimed.  (You can read more about this case in the link below )

We admit we side with “David” here:  the husband-and-wife agribusiness team who took a strange fruit that was a real mess to eat and transformed it into a convenient juice favorite (becoming billionaires in the process, of course.)  “Goliath” then comes along and taps into the wonderfulness.products_pom_blueberry_product_detail

This case takes us back to that powerful feeling as young AEs on “Big Blue” (Pepsi) business whenever we got a chance to bash “Big Red.”   We even helped our clients host an annual event for this very purpose, bringing in the beefiest DSRs for a boozy (Cuba Libres, anyone?) contest with a prize for whoever could smash a Coke vending machine with a sledgehammer the fastest.  (Note this was post-Mad Men era…but obviously not too far ahead of Cro-Magnon Man.)

While the verdict is still out on how the potentially-landmark P♥M vs. Coke case will ultimately affect labeling, we marketers always look at these with great interest and no small amount of fear.

We’ve posted previously about how we can squeeze through the legal gates with what we say to help our client’s product stand apart.  On the flip side, we also mentioned how the once-magical term “natural” is now rendered limp from overuse.

Both the FDA and  USDA are touchy regarding nutritious claims, so food marketers have always avoided even nebulous statements like “…with plenty of Vitamin C!”  “Plenty” needs to correlate to a specific gram or percentage.

The P♥M folks did their homework, though, spending millions on scientific and consumer research to prove that pomegranates were really a nutritional powerhouse.  Absent this kind of support, copywriters have been forced to resort to colorful but unmeasurable terms such as “Chock-full!”.

In summary, the key marketing lesson here is that while smaller brands may fear mislabeling mistakes the most, typically it’s #1 who gets smashed with the sledgehammer.

(Read more re P♥M vs. Coke here)

 

 

 

Slaughtering sacred cows

Is it time for the slaughterhouse?
Is it time for the slaughterhouse?

We marketers are often faced with a quandary.  The client hires us to overhaul the company’s brand, then warn us, “But you can’t touch that!”

“That” can mean anything.  In some cases it’s the logo colors (unchanged since 1945), or where, exactly, the photo of the mascot dog goes on the label, or what we can say about Grandpa, the company’s founder.  In short, we call these “sacred cows”.   Like those fabled beasts of India, they walk along with impunity, daring anyone to run over them.

Yet as marketing consultants, our job should involve doing just that.   In fact, marketing firms should be veritable slaughterhouses.

We don’t do it to exert power over frightened clients:  to show them who’s the real boss.  It’s not about gratuitous change.  Change for change’s sake is rarely a good strategy.

We do it because sacred cows come with a lot of baggage:  stuff  that can weigh down a brand in today’s fickle market, rendering  it unmovable, a victim of irrelevance.   The key is leaning the difference between luggage and wings.  One holds you hostage while the other lets you fly.

In fact, Trendwatching tells us in a recent report how established brands are coming back from irrelevance with…irreverence.   That’s the  ability to laugh at oneself and to let others in on the “joke”;  to place that sacred brand somewhere no one expected; in short:  to do the unthinkable.

There’s an acid test for identifying sacred cows.  Complete the following sentences, and then think about what might happen if you did exactly the opposite of each statement.

“Our brand must ALWAYS ____________________”

“Our brand must NEVER _____________________”

In fact, consider what’s the worse that can happen… That may just be the best thing for your brand!

One example of aggressive slaughtering is the venerable French Champagne brand Moët.  Previously, it was only available at tony bars and high-end liquor stores.  Recently, though, they introduced it in tiny bottles in (gasp!) self-serving coolers…at department stores.

This is an example of “massification”, or making an elite brand mainstream.  They didn’t just change the product format, they changed the entire distribution channel.  Quelle courage!

Another example came from FlyDubai, an all-economy-class carrier representing a country where the roads are paved with gold, or at least good imitations thereof.   Problem was,  the brand didn’t quite appeal to the Arab princes.  It lacked the cachet to match their exploding, luxury-image country.

So they did the opposite of Moët: they upgraded the brand by creating a business class with attendant top-tier services, positioning the airlines as classy and elite.  Sales took off.

Another example involved a gentle repositioning with powerful ramifications involved giant sacred cow Marriott (at least we all know that one!)  The recession and downtrend in sales prompted them to take a new, hard look at the business they were in.

They saw the writing in the wall about cut corporate travel budgets and mobile workforces.  They saw the competition was a “sea of sameness”.

The company was then motivated to root down to the basics, and realized they were really in the business of…(drumroll)…selling space.  So they started doing just that:  selling desk spaces by the day for business people to work from, whether or not they were actually sleeping there, repositioning this “brand extension” as Great Workplaces at Marriott.

We have three good examples of companies who dared to rebrand using mainstreaming, upgrading and differentiation strategies, all slaughtering their sacred cows .

In closing, a caveat:  not all brands should be sent to the slaughterhouse.  There are indeed those with a heritage that has stood the test of time.  You can tell if the brand should be left alone (for now) if sales are steady or rising.

But then again, consider physics:  what goes up, must come down.

“Not your father’s” marketing trends

Could it be 25 years already that the TV ad spot  “This is Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” (see video below, starring the still-slender William Shatner) became an instant classic?!  The catchy phrase was quickly adopted in any context (“This is not your father’s whatever”) reflecting the gestalt of the era.  In other words:  things had changed…

Yet perhaps the change mantra has never been so applicable as in marketing today.  The game has changed, and for many reasons.  To commemorate the New year, below are some of the key ones we see:  the trends we see coming at us less like an Olds and more like a Corvette:

  1. CONSUMER AS CREATOR.  God forbid you asked the customer to help develop your product!  You only dared came out with it after exhaustive research, branding and budgeting.  In today’s era of crowd funding and social signals  (“Like”, “Follow”, etc),  consumers want to share in the creative process.
  2. CALLS TO ACTION VS. CAMPAIGNS.  Used to be you planned a nice and orderly campaign months in advance and ran it on the media schedule you chose.  Today, you need to communicate with your customer all the time:  they pick the time they want to receive your (timely and relevant) message.
  3. MOBILE MATTERS.  It’s all about the smartphone now.  If you don’t have a mobile app you lose cred with consumers, period.
  4. SOCIAL STRATEGY SMARTS.  Before, getting your company name or product up on Google was enough.  Now, with tighter content controls, search engine optimization (SEO) has become quite a science.  With SE recognition of complete questions instead of just keywords,  this provides more opportunity for capturing them (the good news), but you have to keep working at it.
  5. INBOUND ABOUNDS.  It’s not about pushing your product out the door any more.  Attracting customers by the online content you create and the value your company provides is the all-important pull strategy that builds long-term loyalty.
  6. OMNICHANNEL SURFING.  Back in the day, it was solely the bricks & mortar  that counted.  Today, you may still want to get them in the store but the outreach now involves additional platforms, all working together to achieve “omnichannel”, or seamless shopping experience for the customer. (We’ve posted about this trend a few times, so please check out the topics on right)
  7. B2B SPECIALTY.  More than at any other time, business-to-business marketing is becoming a recognized and respected specialization.  Helping businesses do business better is critical in these times of reduced resources, higher costs, aggressive competitors and demanding consumers.

Rewriting retail rules

Apple Computer
Temptation greater than Adam & Eve's fruit

Lately, we’ve been focusing on some of the new things that are making us look at marketing in a different way.  We’ve discussed social media, shopping apps, on-line gaming and auctions, plus the myriad ways marketers make money by using badly-disguised “tricks”.

Yet one thing missing here lately has been report of innovative bricks-and-mortar retailing.  Not surprising, as we read about the consistent quarterly downturn of majors such as Walmart, The Gap and so many others.

While savvy chains like Target, Tiffany, Costco, Publix — plus our frivolous favorite, Gumps — are doing well or just holding their own,  let’s admit it, many chains haven’t added any real “Oomph!” to their operations in a while.

But there is one company you really never thought of as a retailer which  is now making the corporate suits at the chains tremble, and that’s Apple.  From all trade reports, not since Adam and Eve has there been such excitement over an opening.

Ten years after its first Apple Store opened its door, the company has grown “faster than any retailer in history”, fawns a recent feature on USA Today, heralding the opening of their latest New York emporium.  With sales last quarter topping $ 3.2B — an increase of over 90% YTD — Apple is said to be rewriting the rules of retail. (Darn, and we were just learning them!)

What’s amazing is that this growth comes when the entire category (computer retailing) appears to be dying.  Witness the list of chains that have already shuttered all or some stores, or plan to:  Gateway, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Best Buy.  In contrast, Apple plans to add 40 new stores to their current total of 330, all expected to create the camp-outside-night-before-opening fervor they inspire in their fans.

To us, the Apple Store mystique is not entirely new.  We were already onto them way back on 8/24 when we posted about how fun they were.  After parting with beaucoup bucks for an iPad at one last year, well, we simply became groupies like the others…  

Not that we actually hang for hours at these stores, sitting at different terminals, writing a book (as apparently one customer did) or flirting with the quirky Genius Baristas (their “geek” sales team).  After all, we do have a business to run!

But we sure like to visit them.  The stores exude excitement and coolness, like a hot, stylin’ nightclub where you’re a VIP and from where you’ll never be bounced, and finally emerge, hours later, drunk on new tech.

Then, one day, not long ago, the iPad developed a serious problem:  the on/off switch stuck.  So we bundled the baby up and rushed it to the nearest Apple Store.  Like an efficient paramedic, a Genius Barista immediately came by, looked at it grimly and rushed it back-stage.  We feared the worst…

But it was just minutes later that the young Genius emerged with a brand, new iPad.  No muss, no fuss, no questions, and certainly no request for more money.  Could retail be any sweeter?!  

(Did we even bother to ask why the thing stuck in the first place?  The answer is an equivocal “No”.  We simply took the new unit and ran…)

The person responsible for this retailing nirvana is none other than former Target merchandiser-in-chief,  Ron Johnson.  Focusing on the the customer experience and sound assortment strategies that made Target a great place to shop, Johnson did what many said was impossible:  he turned a great computer-maker into a great retailer.

Marketers like to say:  “Well, we focus on our core competency, nothing else. ”  Heck, we’re guilty of that same sentiment.   But we admit we may be wrong here, as many apparently were about Apple. 

It’s not that they even had to go into retail.  Or, as though they weren’t already on top of their game with their numerous “iProducts” and now, the brand new, barrier-breaking iCloud.   And it’s not like Steve Jobs isn’t already a guru, if not a god, becoming more so with each re-appearance of his ravaged body at new product launches.  

It’s just that this is a company that decided to take total control of their brand.

That’s why Advertising Age just named Apple “Marketer of the Year”.   If they’re also named “Retailer of the Year”, well, then the rules really have to be rewritten.

SPECIAL SERIES-Post #2: Aceing ACV

This is the second of a “back to basics” review series  of the marketing process.  For series introduction, see 4/5 post

Now that your multi-element marketing plan is in place, you need to take it on the road.  The question is: where to?  

Allocating marketing dollars is one equation everyone struggles with at some point.  As one famous ad man quipped:  “Half of all advertising spending is wasted.  The key is knowing which half.”

We were gratified for the recent opinion of a blogmaster (those who write these for a living:  the easy life!) that echoed what we wrote about on 11/11 and then again on 3/10 about…fishing.  Daniel Scocco (daniel@dailyblogtips.com) guest-posted on Copyblogger, and we paraphrase that here because it is worth repeating…ad nauseum:

Go where the fish are!

What is the most important factor you need to have if you want to go fishing?
Most people will say the fishing rod. Others will say the bait, or a boat. Interestingly enough, they are all wrong.  The most important element of the equation is the presence of lots of fish.  If you have a lake full of fish but don’t have a fishing rod or bait, you can probably still improvise something that would let you enjoy a fish dinner tonight.  But no matter how great your bait or how cutting-edge your equipment, if there aren’t any fish, there’s no fish dinner…That means…[you need to] target known customers willing to spend money.

 

Remember that we wrote about on 3/10 how ACV — all-commodity volume — is the retail segment keystone because it measures actual sales activity, not just population.  When you target a market with high ACV, you simply have a larger number to bite your bait.  After all, 1% of  millions is something.
 
 Yet there are times when marketers want to go to smaller ponds.  Fact is, high-ACV (“A” markets) such as Los Angeles, Chicago etc, are expensive.  Media costs and, in fact, costs to implement promotional programs there are typically much higher than in B or C markets.
If your budget does not allow this, or if you have a very specific product niche, then focusing on a smaller market makes sense.  But here the key is to know the specific demographic of your target to ensure no wasted dollars.
We urge you to invest in market research (primary and secondary), scanner data and psychographic studies that tell you all about your target.
Segmenting the market is the key to success today, and one that giants like Unilever have down pat with their excellent studies on ethnic and generational groups.  Then, you can tailor your message accordingly.
In short,  if you want to be a successful fisherman today, you’ve got to ace ACV.
NEXT WEEK:   The retailer’s angle…