A name you can rely on…

Trust, reliability, dependability. These are descriptions long considered to be “table-stakes” in the branding business. They seem almost quaint and old-fashioned. Like advertising from the 1930s. With exception of bleeding edge start-ups or high-risk industries (say oxygen masks) most businesses and consumers weren’t all that worried about dependability. That is until now. Most of us watched with a mixture of shock and awe as seemingly invincible giants like Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, AIG and Wachovia either collapsed or were rescued from the brink. It is still hard to understand how hard and fast these companies failed. Inevitably this leads us to wonder: who’s next? There is a lot of speculation about how branding specifically and marketing in general will be impacted by the current economic situation but one thing we can predict with certainty. Old quaint descriptions like trust, reliability and dependability will move from being table-stakes to words to survive by.

Posted by Thomas Ordahl | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)


Battelle on Product Development and Marketing

John Battelle's posted on the American Express Open Forum about the convergence of product development and marketing. This is a topic that drives our approach and it's great to see it being discussed.

Unfortunately most big companies are still stuck in a manufacturing-era paradigm: engineers build products and marketers advertise them. Breaking down the organizational boundaries and inertia that support this reality is a critical step for senior managers looking to take advantage for innovation opportunities in the market today. 

Posted by Michael Megalli in Discipline of marketing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


Unrequited Brand Love

Today's WSJ has a great article on the complications that arise when a "rogue brand advocate" publicly supports a brand that doesn't want their support. In this case, Playboy playmate and Hefner gal pal, Kendra Wilkinson, just can't get enough Olive Garden. (The article is worth reading just for Wilkinson's over-the-top praise for the chain...). It does highlight one of the key realities that today's brand managers need to face: they can no longer control every aspect of their brand.

Posted by Michael Megalli in Branding | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Everyone’s a Tiger

Who would be your personal sponsors? For me it might be Filson luggage, Mt. Gay Rum and Finn Crisp crackers (Yeah, okay, weird I know). The point is, we suspect that many of us, in the relatively near future, will be answering that question. A few trends are starting to emerge that look destined to bring individual sponsorship down from the celestial level to the everyday. First, social networking meets shopping; e.g. Stylehive. On these networks, friends can share information about what they’re buying and where they see the latest styles.  Second: “branding by association”. We’ve talked before about how brands increasingly are coupling with other brands to “reposition” or enhance their perception. (McDonalds selling Newman’s Own). What better than to have a brand placed in the context of an individual we trust. Third , and perhaps most importantly, is how all media is turning personal. Whether it is DVRs making channel “me”, Netflix lists, Pandora personalizing radio or the customization of everything from cars to sneakers the center of gravity is shifting radically to the consumer. Taken together, we think this adds up to an opportunity for the everyman to become a sponsor… and a paid one at that. Everyone from the family geek who tells us what technology to buy to the foodie friend who is always up on the latest restaurants to the Mom who really does know which detergent is best—could be sponsored and even rewarded for showcasing the brands they use most. And why not, historically most advertising mimicked the word of mouth endorsement. Today, technology is actually making it possible.

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Banking's Long Tail

Chris Skinner has a great post on the long tail of banking.

There is no question that as the barriers to distribution disappear (the penetration of mobile devices/infrastructure in emerging markets a key driver here) money will begin to operate a lot more like software. The destabilizing effects of this on "business as usual" banking will be profound (just ask people in the music business).

Banks are fortunate that they can reference the lessons learned by other industries as they formulate their strategy for dealing with this seismic change. In order to capitalize on the opportunity presented by the "long tail" in banking, banks will need to think differently about the markets that they serve and the companies with which they compete.

The pressure being placed on interchange fees today will be compounded as technology companies look to disintermediate the banks. Had Google bought PayPal rather than eBay, the payments market would look quite different today. As it stands, Google is making inroads with Google Checkout, Amazon is looking to expand its patented 1-Click technology and Microsoft has made no secret of its intention to get involved with payments. Apple's development push will no doubt result in a bevvy of smartphone-based payments applications...and the list goes on.

These technology-driven solutions will have certain advantages, and yet, the banks themselves have a major head start. The key will be to build systems flexible enough to meet the demands of a fragmented market. What has passed for product innovation in the payments space will simply not be enough.


Posted by Michael Megalli in Financial services, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Pin Down the Customer!

Capitalone_logo_2 The hawkeyes over at PSFK spotted this hilarious window-dressing at the new CapitalOne Bank flagship on Union Square...."Let’s pin them down and close the sale".

No one said getting into retail banking was going to be easy!

Posted by Michael Megalli in Branding, Financial services | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)


Consumer Tech in Egypt | Branding and Marketing

Like politics, all marketing is local. However, it seems that this is becoming less true all the time, as global brands find their place in local markets and some local brands expand globally.

Technology brands are finding their way around the world with increasing velocity. As networks get built out, consumers seek out the most innovative appliances and applications with which they can access and take advantage of these networks.  It's one of the reasons that consumer technology markets are so complex...each market develops in its own way but draws on a global pool of products, applications and brands.

In trying to understand the development of these varied local markets, one needs to be able to understand a variety of different, and sometimes oppositional, market forces. 

The three mobile players in Egypt have different brand positions which are instructive in this regard.

  • MobiNil, the only Egyptian brand of the three ("nil" = "Nile"), is a joint venture between the Egyptian multinational Orascom Telecom and France Telecom's Orange. The branding is local but with a strong evocation of the Orange brand with its global connotations.
  • Vodaphone on the other hand (which is also a JV with Telecom Egypt), retains the branding of its UK-based parent.
  • Finally Etisalat, the newest entrant in the market, retains the branding of its Emirates-based parent with a regional flavor that may appeal to the Egyptian market (the name itself means "communications" in Arabic). The company has been competing on a both price as well as emphasizing the strength of its technology (with ads that make somewhat spurious claims of "3.75G").

We could look at the brands of various applications, mobile handsets, computer OEMs and retailers through the same lens. Each has a mix of local and global equity which in aggregate translate to their strength and relevance in the local market. The challenge facing global marketers is how to create local expressions that are are highly relevant to local consumers, while retaining enough of their core attributes that they are "true" and don't dilute the brand.

Posted by Michael Megalli in Branding | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Consumer Tech in Egypt | Retail

Most of the discussion that I read here in the US about technology developments in emerging markets focus on product and price. OLPC is the classic example in this regard...a product that designed to be inexpensive and simple enough that every child in the world ultimately has access to one. Microsoft's Windows Starter Edition fits the mold, as do Nokia's efforts to create products targeted to these markets.

However, before one can talk about product or price, the question of distribution needs to be addressed ("placement" if we are sticking with the Ps, although that word has always felt inadequate).

In markets like Egypt, the lack of quality retailers has long been a barrier to the growth of consumer technology spend. While the well-traveled buyer could pickup their gadgets on a trip overseas, everyone else was stuck paying too high a price for outmoded and poorly supported products. This is changing, and the emerging retail landscape is a great predictor of the ways in which consumer tech is moving.

The leaders in Egypt are the mobile carriers themselves. Companies like Mobinil have made serious investments in the customer experience of their retail locations. The staff is extremely well-informed, the stores are beautiful and the service level is best-in-class. When you walk in the store a host helps to direct you to the right area or person. The products are clearly displayed and the signage around their features is clear and extremely helpful. I would put the retail experience of the Mobinil and Vodaphone stores up there with a AT&T or Verizon store here in New York. The pictures I've posted will help to visualize some of this.

New-comer Etisalat has looked to jumpstart its market entry through a deal with Egypt Post.

However while those in the market for a mobile phone have a number of good options, anyone looking for computer hardware, software or accessories, including digital cameras, will need to work a bit harder.

The main retailers are small "mom & pops" with very little selection. These can be found throughout Cairo, and particularly in a couple of large flea-market-like malls with aggregations of small stores and stalls.

The major retail trend, which mirrors the rise of suburban developments outside of Cairo, are the huge malls on the outskirts of the city. These massive retail centers, offer everything imaginable, including large selections of consumer technology and electronics. Interestingly the largest of these is the local branch of the Virgin Megastore.

(NB: I have focused on what I was able to observe with physical retailers. I am less sure about direct retailers such as Dell and Apple. Dell does have a Middle East ecommerce site, but I cant say much about it.)

In order for people to spend money, they need access to reputable merchants whom they trust to provide quality, up-to-date products at reasonable prices. From what I saw during this last trip, the mobile carriers are the ones to beat in Egypt.

Posted by Michael Megalli in Technology, Telecom | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)


Consumer Tech in Egypt

I just returned from a trip to Egypt and wanted to write down some observations about the ways in which consumer technology and telecom have been evolving there.

I lived in Cairo for two years in the mid-1990s. Part of that period I worked as an analyst for RITSEC, a joint venture between several NGOs and the Egyptian Government, whose mission is to promote the development of technology and the software industry throughout the Arab world. What struck me on this trip, was both how far things have come along in the intervening years and also the change in direction of this development.

Today technology is very much a mainstream product in the country. While the emergence of satellite television was the "killer app" of the 1990s, today broadband and wireless data technologies have moved well beyond mere luxury goods. Not surprisingly, the prime example is the prevalence of mobile phones. A country with per capita GDP of less than $5k, Egypt recently passed the 30 million subscriber mark, or about 35%. This is split between 3 carriers: Mobinil and Vodafone each have nearly half the market, and a considerably smaller stake is held by UAE's Etisalat, which has been in market for less than a year.

I've posted some pictures which give a good sampling of the main mobile operators' retail stores and advertising. Also thrown in are some shots of the Smart Village development on the Cairo-Alexandria road.  Smart Village is a private industrial park catering to foreign and domestic IT and telecom companies.  (Unfortunately the pictures don't do justice to the striking fact that those lush lawns and gleaming buildings are in the middle of the desert.)

The speed of change in "emerging markets" is accelerating as a result of technology and globalization. While these trend are well-documented elsewhere, I think that looking at it through the lens of marketing can be particularly informative. Over the next few days I plan to write about specific aspects of consumer tech marketing in Egypt.

Posted by Michael Megalli in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Nom de Guerre

A newly announced credit card has set a new a record for Longest Product Name.

"Asiana Airlines American Express Card from Bank of America".

Posted by Michael Megalli in Branding, New product launches | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)


Too Much Touch

Our favorite handset maker, HTC, may be painting itself into a brand corner, WM Experts calls out today. The company has a slew of new products coming to market, including a highly anticipated Android phone. And yet they may be relying a bit too heavily in the Touch ingredient brand.

Named for the gorgeous TouchFLO interface, the Touch brand is being slapped onto every new phone that the company has in its pipeline. Its all too common a marketing mistake--create a solid product or ingredient brand and then "love it to death". Moto's RAZR is the classic example of the risks inherent in this approach.

The situation is particularly problematic for HTC because they have built so little equity into their product brands that the ingredient becomes a key (and ultimately meaningless) product handle. Their announcement May 6 in London should shed more light on their plans.

Posted by Michael Megalli in Product portfolios | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Better to be true than right

At the risk of treading into the overheated realm of politics, we were intrigued by The Atlantic’s article on what could be described as the Clinton brand. Putting aside the political analysis, this article points to larger shifts in branding that business marketers should pay heed to. Reading the article through the lens of Clinton as a proxy for Fortune 500 brands and the Obama as a proxy for start-up/disrupters, we can take away two important and game changing insights. First, loss of control. The ability to establish messages from on high and manage them through communication channels is becoming very difficult. This, traditional, approach to branding depended on a highly centralized and structured information distribution system. The internet has completely changed that and turned communication channels on their head. Second, authenticity. It is better to be true then right. Disingenuousness is becoming the worst branding liability. And yet, conversely, the marketplace is becoming more tolerant of mistakes.  In fact, an honest mistake can even reinforce the credibility of your brand. (e.g. JetBlue’s admission of fault during the canceled flights fiasco). Politics isn’t known for being a source of marketing innovation but in this election, corporate marketers are getting a taste of what’s to come.

Posted by Thomas Ordahl | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


1066 one of BtoB Magazine's Top Agencies 2008

We were quite pleased to discover that we've been selected as one of BtoB Magazine's Top Agencies 2008... an illustrious group ranging from small (us) to huge.

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Magenta Day

In one of the more bone-headed things that a mobile carrier has done in some time, T-Mobile yesterday asked Engadget Mobile to stop using magenta in their logo. For those of you who don't read Engadget, it is one of the, if not the, most influential tech blogs out there.

Today Engadget (along with a half dozen other mobile blogs) have turned their site magenta in playful protest.

Posted by Michael Megalli in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Motorola Press Coverage

Have had some nice media coverage of the Motorola brand situation.

Brandweek, The Chicago Tribune, eBrandMarketing. It's nice to get a story picked up!

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