September 29, 2014#

Starbucks Wants Human Connections

Starbucks new global ad campaign (just one example of a fully integrated media campaign shown here) is designed to remind consumers how it’s the place—and always has been—to make human connections.

The company’s stated goal for this campaign is to increase “dwell time” at its stores, but one suspects that there may also be another, equally important motivation.

Starbucks was created not simply as a place to get a great cup of coffee, but as a place, beyond home and work, to connect with others: what the company terms the “third place”.

This notion of a third place is as important to their values as anything.

But it appears this core value is being redefined by its very own customers, and not in a good way. Recently, Starbucks has morphed into the “screening” place. Anyone who has visited a Starbucks recently, particularly in urban locations, will have noticed that customers seem to be happy being alone together, each staring into their personal digital devise, be it an phone, tablet, or computer. With the exception of the sound of the coffee machine grinding away, it’s become a remarkably quiet setting, devoid of much real-world human connection.

Perhaps I overstate the reality of the situation, but I suspect that Starbucks is seeing a trend—which is also pervasive throughout our society—and would like it to be otherwise.

But can they truly affect a change in customers’ behavior? Maybe. But they’ll need to do more than just advertise it off and on-line.

According to BJ Fogg at the Stanford Persuasion Tech Lab, three core elements of persuasion have to exist to effect behavior change.  You have to be motivated, the change has to be made simple, and there has to be triggers to nudge you/remind you to effect the behavior change.

Right now, Starbucks is focused on influencing customers’ motivation via their “Connections” campaign. And doing a nice job of it. To effect behavior change, though, they’ll not only need to commit to this campaign for a long-time, but they’ll also need to provide real-world rewarding triggers that make it easy and enjoyable to experience Starbucks with their electronic devises turned off.

September 14, 2014#

Is the NFL Brand Damaged?

There’s been much talk recently about how the Ray Rice mess is damaging the NFL brand. But is it really?

Certainly, perceptions of the NFL are more negative today than they’ve been for some years. A recent study by YouGov BrandIndex shows that consumer perception of the NFL has dropped to the lowest point since June 2012. They asked respondents “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?’

But does this really tell us anything about the enduring strength of the NFL brand? Not really.

On the basis of the key measures of brand strength–relevance, perceived product quality and loyalty–there’s a good chance that the NFL brand remains largely unscathed.

Will the behavior Ray Rice, Richie Incognito, Michael Vick or the other bad boys of football, compel fans to turn-off their TVs on Sunday afternoon, stop attending games, stop placing bets on fantasy football, substitute Madden NFL with Minecraft, take long walks instead of watching the Super Bowl? What’s more, are sponsors going to stop advertising on the most popular product on TV? (Despite the recent Rice controversy, 20 million Americans tuned into the Ravens’ game last Thursday night).

As long as people love the NFL product—the game itself, and they do—the brand will be just fine. Players come and go. The game endures. The bigger issues are more likely to be too many commercials, too many replay reviews, too many time-outs, and too many brain damage causing injuries which may turn-off protective parents from allowing their children to enter the sport.

More than anything, the Ray Rice mess, and other negative incidences involving NFL players, spotlight national attention on the pervasive real-life societal issues of domestic violence, child discipline, drug use, drunk driving, and racism that face all Americans.   Because the NFL is such a deep part of the American experience—an imbedded part of our cultural DNA—it’s really a refection of ourselves.

No question, the NFL needs to get its house in order; not simply to protect its brand, which would be cynical, but because it’s the right thing to do—and because as a beloved national institution it has an obligation to set a higher standard of human behavior for all of us to admire and aspire to.





September 13, 2014#

Apple Launches New Naming Convention

With the launch of its Pay mobile payments platform and Watch smartwatch , Apple has also introduced a new naming convention. Rather than continuing with the “i” prefix for each product descriptor, they have opted to brand these new products with the Apple name.

From a branding standpoint, this makes good sense.

First, the use of “i” is starting to seem a bit dated. It was initially intended to stand for “internet”, and to suggest that it was easy to connect to the Internet with Apple’s internet-ready products. Perhaps, too, it stood for “me”, as in Apple’s products are designed to work for each of us as individuals.   But these notions are now the ubiquitous reality of “the internet of all things”. Everything is internet, everything is me.

Second, Apple’s goal with each new product introduction is to sell the Apple family that together form one big happy, interconnected platform. Against this objective, it’s more compelling to brand the family “Apple” than “i”.

And last, with the launch of a mobile payment platform and smartwatch, Apple is entering into product areas of great interest to their main competitor, Google. Tapping into the strong equities inherent in Apple’s brand name will be of significant value as they battle head-to-head.

September 12, 2014#

9/11 Brand Bellyflops

Andy Rooney, the late, great commentator on 60 Minutes once said, “what we need today is less marketing and more quality.”

There was simple wisdom in those words spoken many years ago. Apparently it’s lost today on the many brands that choose to hijack the nation’s solemn annual commemoration of 9/11 with their own vacuous sales pitches.


June 5, 2014#

Why Hasn’t GM’s Recall Eroded Sales?

Remarkably, GM’s sales rose 13% in May. Granted, total U.S. car sales were up 11%, with all major automotive companies enjoying significant growth. Still, given the massive on-going negative news concerning the death of 13 people driving GM cars, one has to wonder why is it that car buyers don’t appear to be factoring this into their purchase decision and bypassing GM cars altogether?   Does GM have a magical fortress around its brand?

According to industry analysts the major reason GM’s sales aren’t suffering is that consumers don’t associate the recall of GMs largely discontinued brands (Saturn) and models (Chevy) with the company’s new vehicles. In other words, Buick, GMC and Cadillac appear to be disassociated with the recall; so as separate brands they remain largely intact. The same goes for Chevy trucks, which appear to be viewed as a distant relative of the core Chevrolet brand, far enough removed to avoid be associated with the recall problem.

In addition to the protective benefits that come from cultivating separate and distinct brands underneath a parent umbrella, there’s another mitigating dynamic which has kept GM’s sales from being adversely affected despite the company’s lack of transparency and its failure to respond with corrective actions: namely, while they don’t like them, consumers have come to expect and accept recalls within the auto industry.   In 2010 when Toyota was dealing with it’s exploding cars many experts wondered if they’d survive the negative press fall-out. Not only did they survive, they thrived as a business and a brand.   GM will too.

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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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.

June 14, 2012#

10 Essential Elements of a Successful Brand Transformation

There are few more difficult branding challenges than successfully orchestrating a brand transformation.   IBM did it when they moved from selling technology to selling solutions and services.  Xerox did it when they moved from selling printers and copiers to selling software and services.  And Dell is trying to do it by moving from selling low-cost computers to selling technology solutions to businesses, thus far with mixed results.
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May 29, 2012#

Warning to Facebook: Tread Slowly with Advertisers

Much has been made of General Motor’s decision to discontinue advertising on Facebook (just days before it went public), citing poor ROI.  It also didn’t get what it wanted:  GM’s request to run bigger, higher impact ad units, including taking over an entire page, was politely, though firmly, rejected by Facebook.
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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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