June 27, 2012#

Dollar Shave Club–Authentic Without Trying

Nothing inspires people more than the truth.  Most companies think that telling people the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth makes them vulnerable, but they’re wrong.   Being nakedly honest about who and what you are actually binds your brand to people in ways nothing else can, because only when you trust people with the truth, do they whole-heartedly trust you back.   I’m not talking about “authenticity” — that over-used marketing term that usually means the brand being presented is fake– but the real thing; the kind of natural honesty that flows effortlessly from every pore of a brand without even trying.  For a great example of this, look no further than the Dollar Shave Club, a true David in the land of shaving industry Goliath’s.

May 17, 2012#

“Truthiness” in Advertising

Advertising and truth are rarely two words you find in the same sentence.   That’s because advertisers, much like politicians, are better known for ignoring or, at best, stretching the truth, rather than for telling the truth.   It’s no surprise then that consumers are running away from ads, now more than ever, and turning to their friends for brand advise, with more ease than ever thanks to social media.
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January 11, 2012#

BMW Finds its Way Back Home

The road to long-term business success takes us down many roads, and sometimes it’s inevitable that we’ll make a wrong turn.

That’s what happened to BMW when it abandoned its powerful and iconic brand positioning, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” in favor a much softer and generic promise of bringing “Joy” to drivers lives.
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July 24, 2011#

AT&T’s Don’t Drive and Text Campaign

In business and marketing, sometimes the right thing to do is simply the right thing to do.

Witness AT&T’s Driver Awareness Campaign which attempts to raise awareness of the dangers of driving and texting.
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June 12, 2011#

Dell: Re-Positioning a Brand from the Inside Out

Dell became a $60 Billion company built on a business model of mass customization (built to order).

By 2006 this approach had run out of steam.

Consumers viewed Dell as cheap hardware for consumers.  In fact, 98% of Dell’s profits came from B-to-B.   In fact, 98% of Fortune 500 companies chose Dell.

More concerning perhaps, most Dell employees felt that the company’s best days were behind it.

Clearly, the company had a perception problem, inside and out.  The challenge:  redefine what the company stood for.

Taking a page from IBM’s own successful business transformation, Dell decided to move from built-to-order hardware to a solutions and services company.

In looking to reposition the company, Dell first re-introduced itself of its forgotten brand heritage:  “Technology should not be a privilege:  it is essential to human success.”

Building upon its rediscovered heritage, it defined its new brand purpose:  “Delivering technology solutions that enable people everywhere to grow and thrive

Ultimately, this led to a new brand platform:  “At Dell, we believe that technology exists for one reason . . . to help people and organizations do and achieve more.”

Following an internal brand campaign, 75% of employees now understand what Dell stands for, and most believe its best days are still ahead.

Basic Branding Lesson #1:  you can’t effectively re-position a brand in customers’ minds until you first secure buy-in, support and enthusiasm from your own employees.

Basic Branding Lesson #2:  Sometimes you need to revisit your heritage to rediscover and reignite your brand focus, passion and authenticity.

January 18, 2011#

Can the Apple Brand Survive Without Steven Jobs?

As technology visionary and marketing impresario Steve Jobs  steps aside to deal with his on-going health challenges, the question once again arises:  can the Apple brand be as strong without him?

The answer is an unequivocal yes.  Steve Jobs defines Apple’s brand.  But Steve Jobs in not the Apple brand.

The company is now bigger than the man.  As long it remains true to its founder’s vision of world changing transformational innovation and delivers on it, always staying one step ahead of the competition, it will continue to inspire extraordinary trust and loyalty among its customers.

Ultimately, as long as the company remains committed to living  its founder’s defining core value, whether he remains at the helm or not, Apple will continue to thrive.  What is this core value?  Ten years ago, Mr. Jobs beautifully defined it in front of an audience as follows :

“We’re not about making boxes so people can get their jobs done . . . We believe people with passion can change the world for the better.”

January 17, 2011#

J&J Product Recalls Damage Corporate Brand

How damaged is J&J’s reputation as a result of the recent multi-product recalls?

The company is limping, but we see no reason why it can’t turn things around.

Of course, J&J wrote the book on product crisis management. Yet the company seems to have forgotten everything it learned when it earned high praise from consumers and industry pundits alike following the original Tylenol recall in 1982.

Recently, J&J has recalled “288 million items, including about 136 million bottles of liguid Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec and Benadryl for infants and children,” according to a recent report in the New York Times.   The causes:  quality control problems.

Up to this point, J&J has been able to lay low, and hide in the shadow of other, bigger corporate crises, namely, BP and Toyota.

But with a growing number of negative news reports and surging consumer disenfranchisement expressed on-line, it’s time for J&J to step forward and take center stage.

As a first step, J&J needs to dust off its brand credo which has successful guided the company to being one of the most trusted in the world.

Next it needs to fix the product problems–fast–and to physically communicate its safeguards in the form of tangible proof (once again taking a page from the original Tylenol recall when they invented the safety cap).

Simultaneously, it needs to start talking publicly, broadly and repeatedly, to reestablish its historically well-earned reputation for transparency, by honestly explaining what went wrong, what the company is doing to fix the problems, how and when.   They could actually learn a thing or two from BP and Toyota on this.

J&J can fix this.  It’s time to step forward into the spot light.

September 17, 2010#

The Truth Never Changes

One of my business partners recently visited a Harley-Davidson dealership.  While looking around at the myriad of motorcycles on display, he noticed that they all have the same distinctive “tear-drop” shaped gas tank, regardless of the model.   Curious, as always, he asked the salesman why?  The answer was quick and simple:  “Because the truth never changes.”  Much could also be said of Harley’s signature V-Twin engine roar.

Fads and trends and crazes come and go, but not the true, authentic qualities that define your brand.  Know what they are, and guard them carefully.  Know where the inherent, non-negotiable “truths” of your brand reside and fight the natural urge to change for the sake of something new.

August 9, 2010#

Too Much Marketing

Ad Age this morning posed the question whether company brands might be better served by investing more in product quality and less in marketing communication. 

The article poses this question in light of the recent troubles at BP, Toyota and J&J.  

Here’s the short answer.  Yes. 

Andy Rooney said this once on 60 minutes:  “What we need today is less marketing and more quality.”

We couldn’t agree more.  All professional marketers should heed the pity wisdom of those simple words.  As we said in our book Why Johnny Can’t Brand:

“Make genuine performance, service, trustworthiness, fair dealings, helpful innovation, and improving the live of every customer the soul of your brand.  Make your vision nothing more than to be the very best you can be at what you do.  Make your mission to do it the right way always.

BP, Toyota and J&J all built their reputations on superior product and service performance.  In other words, their brand images have less to do with advertising and more to do with customer experience of their products.  Toyota built its brand image of reliability by building reliable cars.  J&J built its brand image of uncompromised trust by bending over backwards to be trustworthy, even if that meant losing money as with the Tylenol recall years ago.  

In the world of branding, action is character.  What a brand does is much more important than what it says.  Just like people, we judge people by what they do, not what they say they’re going to do.

May 31, 2010#

Zappos Founder Speaks About the Importance of Brand Focus

Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ founder and CEO, truly understands and values the power of focus.  He also knows that a business needs to stand for something important in the minds of customers and employees alike if it’s to flourish,  and that this sometimes requires giving things up – especially those things that are not consistent and supportive of the company vision, purpose and positioning.    

Here are Mr. Hsieh’s own inspiring words on the subject from an interview in the May 31- June 6 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.

“We asked ourselves what we wanted the company to stand for.  We didn’t want to sell just shoes.  I wasn’t even into shoes—I used to wear a pair with holes in them—but I was passionate about customer service.  I wanted us to have a whole company built around it, and we couldn’t control the customer experience when a quarter of the inventory was out of control.

“We knew we had to stop doing drop shipping.  It was as if it were a drug.  Over the long term, it was critical that we were handling the merchandise ourselves.  This was the toughest decision I’ve had to make.  We couldn’t build a brand around customer service if we couldn’t deliver it.  When we had the goods in our control, we were able to do so much more.

“Once we made that decision, all the other decisions became easy.  We had already given up a lot, but we knew what we stood for at that point, and our employees could see that we were serious about this.  That made all the difference.”