July 14, 2012#

The Principles of Offensive Branding

Political advertising succeeds largely by attacking opponents’ weaknesses, rather than promoting candidates’ own strengths.   For a hundred years and more, political operatives have been writing the book on the power of defining yourself by defining your competition.  Think of Johnson’s “The Girl with the Daisy/Atomic Bomb” commercial, or the John Kerry “Swift Boat” ads, or more recently how President Obama is framing Mitt Romney as rich and insensitive to the needs of middle class Americans.
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April 26, 2012#

How to Become a Brand Monopolist

In this hyper competitive world being bigger, faster, stronger, or smarter is deemed imperative to triumph over others. But what if being different, not just better, is the real key to winning?
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November 8, 2011#

How a Dominant Selling Idea Can Save You Money

Clients and prospective clients often ask:  How do I win in the marketplace without a lot of money to spend on advertising?  They cite well-known examples of companies that have succeeded with little to no traditional marketing support.
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October 12, 2011#

Steve Jobs: Master Brander

It’s axiomatic that the best brand positioning is one in which you can create a new category or sub-category.  As The Grateful Dead singer/songwriter, Jerry Garcia, put it so well:  “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best.  Your want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”
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July 16, 2011#

The Importance of Social Responsibility in Branding

Incorporating social responsibility into your brand efforts is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have.

According to the 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Survey conducted by Penn, Shoen & Berland:

  • More than 75% of consumers say that corporate responsibility is important in selecting a brand.
  • 55% of consumers are likely to select a product that supports a certain cause when choosing between otherwise similar products.  In other words, all things being equal, a commitment to social responsibility can tip half of consumers in your favor.

Despite the importance of demonstrating to consumers that your brand is socially responsible–it’s almost become the price of entry into their consideration set — it’s going to be harder and harder to differentiate your brand on this basis as “giving back” becomes the norm among increasing numbers of competitors.  On this future leveled playing field,  where most companies understand the importance of building their Social Brand Capital, those companies that authentically and deeply tie their social causes to the essence of their brand will be the winners.

May 29, 2011#

The Word According to Groupon

A few months ago, I postulated that Groupon, while good for consumers, may not be good for brands.

Whether that turns out to be so,  Groupon certainly appears to know how to build its own brand.

With a business model that’s relatively easy to replicate—literally hundreds of competitors have jumped into the space in the past year, including non other than Glen Beck,  Groupon is determined not to be a mere coupon distributer or promoter of  “cheap pizza or sushi for everyone who wants to hire it.”

As reported in the New York Times, Groupon’s aim is more lofty than that:  to be “perceived as in impartial guide to a city or a neighborhood, somewhat in the manner of the local paper’s weekend section.”  To achieve this worthy goal, Groupon has hired over 400 writers, and editors, who bring stories, texture and humor to their clients offers.

This is an important and smart positioning, and one that I suspect will serve Groupon well, as it faces the swarm of competitors looking to steal a piece of its enormous honey comb.

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.”

November 19, 2009#

Holiday Inn Make-Over

Holiday Inn is making some big changes.  It’s redesigning its lobbies, adding new bedding, pillows and towels, improving outside lighting, and installing signage with its new logo, among other things.

 This significant investment is an attempt to contemporize the 57 year-old hotel chain. 

 And, of course, few would argue that it needs it.

 According to Y&R’s Brand Asset Valuator, a measure of brand strength and energy, Holiday Inn has good levels of awareness, likability and relevance.  Where it scores poorly is on being unique or differentiated.  Unfortunately, this is a key measure for how a brand is likely to perform in the future. 

 The capital improvements, even the new logo, will help Holiday Inn get back in the game, updating its image, and giving travelers a more comfortable and esthetically pleasing stay.  I recently stayed at a newly renovated Holiday Inn, and the changes certainly made a positive impression.  But mostly in relation to the more dated idea of Holiday Inn that I had in mind.

 While Holiday Inn is doing a good job of modernizing its image, it’s unclear whether they’re doing it in a way that’s unique and differentiating versus their competitors.

 To take their transformation efforts to the next level, we’d suggest centering their efforts on contemporizing their brand positioning, so that they’re not just perceived to be better than they were before, but better and different from the myriad of competitors they face right down the street.  

November 12, 2009#

Smirnov–The First Great Modern Marketer

As a marketer, what interested me most about Linda Himelstein’s excellent new biography (The King of Vodka) about famed vodka distiller, bottler and seller, Pyotr Smirnov, was discovering the man as a truly visionary marketing pioneer.

Moscow, Russia and even Europe in the early 1870’s was awash in a sea of vodka distillers.   To succeed in this overcrowded, highly competitive market, Smirnov needed to figure out how to stand out.  His goal was to convince Russian peasants and nobility alike that his vodka had the smoothest taste and best quality.  Although his vodka wasn’t necessarily better than some of his main competitors, he understood that perception was as important, if not more so, than reality.  

Here’s what he did

He hired “peasant” men to visit taverns across Moscow, and eventually outside the city, to ask specifically for Smirnov.  If the tavern didn’t stock Smirnov, they were instructed to demand it the next time they visited.  They were also told to talk to other people in the bar about the high quality of Smirnov.  Smirnov knew that the best way to build awareness of his brand of vodka and generate demand was to have neighbors hear praise about Smirnov from other drinkers.  (Of course, we know this now well honed marketing technique today as “viral marketing).

He paid his employees well, far better than others in the industry, and treated them with respect, even paying for the education of the children of less fortunate workers.  As a consequence, his employees were proud of their Smirnov affiliation and boasted to friends and family about the company and its products.  (Today, we know that the first step to effective branding is to have employees be “brand ambassadors” themselves—that branding works best from the inside out).

He contributed generously to charities to endear his brand with the common people.
(Today, we know this as “social responsibility,” something all major corporations are engaged in to help advance their images beyond that of simply money making enterprises).

He recognized the value of  “objective,” independent associations as endorsers of the quality and value of his products.   He managed to become a merchant of the First Guild, the highest merchant ranking in Russia, associated with the upper echelons of society. He also managed, though it wasn’t easy, to secure the state emblem, the highest stamp of quality in the land, endorsed by the monarchy itself.    (Today we call these “third party endorsements,” like the Good House Keeping Seal of Approval).

He recognized the power of packaging to distinguish his brand, from legitimate competitors and counterfeiters (back then there were no laws protecting copyrights and trademarks).   His labels had two state coats of arms, received in 1877 and 1882 at the All-Russian Artistic-Industrial Exhibition in Moscow, and corks printed with the Smirnov logo and the State coast of arms.  

And he invested heavily in information rich advertising, running a series of infomercial-like ads, announcing store locations, different products, Smirnov’s industry track record, and the superior quality of his products.  He seemed to recognize that more information garnered more trust.  (If he were alive today, he would no  doubt be disseminating, and receiving from his customers, information about his brand interactively).




November 11, 2009#

How to Position Prevacid 24HR

It was reported in the Wall Street Journal  (11/11/09) that Novartis this week will launch  Prevacid 24HR into the already crowded OTC market for heartburn drugs. 

The launch will be supported by the largest ever OTC ad campaign reported to be $200 million.

The aim is to build OTC sales in the face of Prevacid’s impending loss of patent protection and the inevitable onslaught of cheap generics.

Despite the huge ad blitz, some analysts believe it will be tough going for Prevacid 24 given that:

1) Prevacid 24HR is essentially a parity product, that “works in a similar fashion” to P&G’s Prilosec OTC, which dominates the market.   There are also “numerous private label knockoffs of Prilosec OTC.

2)  Prevacid 24HR will be priced at least 10% higher than Prolosec OTC, and considerable more than generic copies.

We would add another watch-out to the analysts list.

Namely,  that Prevacid 24HR is not optimally positioned relative to competition.   The advertising tagline, usually a good indication of how a brand is positioned, is reported to be:  Prevacid 24HR:  When you’ve had it with heartburn.  Pretty generic .

Clearly, Prevacid 24HR is banking on its awareness and reputation as a pharmaceutical brand to carry over into the OTC market.  As a spokesperson for Novartis says: Consumers can now  “use a very effective and trusted compound that has been a prescription agent for the last 15 years.  And now it’s available in a much more convenient and accessible format.  This is a huge benefit for the consumer.  Physicians have learned to use and trust it, patients have learned to use and trust it.”

But is that positioning really enough to effectively challenge and displace already well-entrenched competition in the frequent heartburn sufferer segment of the category?   Especially, when the main competitor, Prilosec, “The Round the Clock Heartburn Blocker,” is the brand that wrote the book on ethical to OTC conversion.