Hitting the Trail
Kelty is a company we like for its products that feel and work great and a portfolio that is, for the most part, fairly easy to understand. Unlike many companies we see, product naming makes some sense. For example, the 2000 in "Blanca 2000" refers to the pack's volume of 2000 cubic inches. Still, customers find a bit of a name soup: Blanca, Redwing, Haiku, Trident, Creel, Eagle, Firefly, Gigabyte.
And so we wonder whether there isn't an opportunity for Kelty to live up to its promise to "make it easier for friends to enjoy the wilderness" by making it easier for its friends to navigate the portfolio. Kelty says it now has a lot more friends (we agree!). It also has a lot more products.
Pimp My Brand
What does MTV's "Pimp My Ride" (http://www.mtv.com/onair/pimp_my_ride/) know that many companies seem to have forgotten when they go about rejuventing themselves?
For one thing, tired brands, like tired cars, need make-overs that radiate excitement, engagement, surprise. Instead, we see an increasing number of brand stories that lack horsepower: "innovative solutions", "answers that matter", "smart solutions". These are not the products of insightful customizing.
Especially when they are used merely as glorified ad slogans, appearing on all corporate communications, they are little more than a new coat of paint on the old '89 Acura Integra. If you're starting a brand revitalization project, take the time to work with Operations and Sales to explore how your existing offering could be stripped down and re-built to drive a focused, energized brand and branding effort.
Shop the Vote
Well, it is an election year after all. The election is big news and on everyone's mind. Natural then that marketers are capitalizing on the event and tying their products to – obviously non-partisan – political activity (kinda like political activism but without a point of view).
Voting is like vegetables. Everyone accepts that both are good for you. There is a particular obsession with “getting out the vote” to the nation’s youth, who are notoriously apathetic when it comes to exercising their electoral rights. Now we have the WWF of all folks, coming at us with the “Smackdown Your Vote!” campaign. This is kind of the flip side to the brouhaha last month around Urban Outfitters’ “Voting is for old people” t-shirt.
I’m a little confused by these efforts. Is this a sign that the country is becoming more poltical or less political? Why do we need Unilever (a Dutch company) to gently prod us to the voting booth? More importantly, why does Unilever care? What are they hoping to accomplish? What does this communicate about their brand? Would they consider registering all citizens or just Hispanics in certain important markets?
A New Low for Letters
In what is certainly a new low for the world of writing, Ford has signed up "chick-lit" novelist Carole Matthews to plug Ford Fiesta's into several volumes of her work, according to the New York Times. Product placement on TV has become effectively invisible to the viewer: the question now is whether product placement in fiction writing will become the norm as well. We have to believe that it won't. On television and in movies you can have a real (if semi-unconscious) experience of the product being shown. The same cannot, fortunately, be said of a product stuck into the middle of a novel.
Employees and the Brand
Flying back home from Chicago last week on American Airlines, I had a really vivid experience of how employees' attitudes about the company they work for are one of the most direct impacts on the way that customers experience the brand.
American, like the rest of the airline industry, has had a rough couple of years. American seems even harder hit though, and you can feel it when you fly them. The mismanagement problems which have plagued the company have created a pretty tangible disgruntlement among the staff. As you sit at the gate, you hear the grumblings and see the eye-rolling. This is a company that has had its culture poisoned and the toxicity is being felt, strongly felt, by the customers.
How do you revitalize a workforce of 96,000 employees who themselves no longer believe in the brand?
John Battelle Calls it Pride/Retribution
John Battelle blogs AOL today as well. I have a lot of respect for John, but I really do believe that this is about more than just the cultural incompatibility between TW and AOL. I think that the need some re-invention and a spin-off won't be enough. Customers aren't leaving in droves because of TW's mismanagement.
America Off Line
AOL has struggled for years with its strategy on dealing with how it would provide highspeed DSL and Cable connections to its users. The company has now abandoned the partnership model that it had put in place in favor of a “BYOA” or bring your own access model where users with highspeed accounts can keep AOL access and their email addresses for $14.95/month.
That might be an appealing offer for a neophyte user (do these creatures still exist?), a concerned parent, or a person who really doesn’t want to change email addresses, but I can’t imagine that this customer pool is sustainable in the long run, no matter how profitable the accounts are once you get them signed up.
AOL’s problem is a serious one, and frankly I don’t know what they can do to fix it. The product itself has been totally obviated by user sophistication, better search engine technology, the demand for higher access speeds and better user experience throughout the web. The “walled garden” might have been appealing in the wild early days, but today it is irrelevant. Actually, more than just irrelevant, confining. The centrally controlled user experience used to serve as a well-filtered sub-segment of the intimidating online totality. Today its an expensive imprisonment.
Getting into Mind of the Customer
Onfolio is a new .NET applications that works with Internet Explorer to help you save and organize information that you find online. One user called it "bookmarks on steroids". It's certainly a great application and one which will most likely do well.
More important from our standpoint, however, its a great marketing challenge. How do you convince people that they should spend $29.95 for a product that they have never heard of or experienced? A product that is fairly straightforward, but which the average Web surfer might have trouble understanding?
The marketing people at Ofolio obviously have a great sense of this potential customer base, their concerns and how to address them. Aside from the de rigueur Flash demo, they have created a set of clear and interesting "usage scenarios" which do a fantastic job of both explaining what the product can do and at the same time, getting users excited about the possibilities.
This is a truly great example of a company getting into the mind of the customer. The company obviously knows that they have a great product (and that everybody should run out and buy it immediately) the challenge is how to get beyond this mindset and make others see it. Ofolio has done a terrific job at this.
Economist on Business Blogging
Hey Boeing, You're Goofy, and I Love It!
Sometimes a really goofy marketing idea really appeals to me. Reading this week's Economist, I saw a 2-page spread advertising a new Boeing airplane. the "7E7 Dream Liner". A new airplane! Wow! The ad directed me to www.newairplane.com and I went first thing.
Well, the bad news is that there really isn’t any new airplane. Not yet at least.
The good news--if you care at all about these things--is that Boeing is inviting you to join their "World Design Team" in order to help them figure out how best to create this new aircraft. As I said, the idea is kinda goofy, but I love it!
As with any idea of this kind, execution will be where the fight is won or lost. Obviously I have joined the Design Team, so we'll see what they do. I would imagine that once the advertising budget runs out, they will be a lot less energetic about supporting "the Team" and getting our feedback. But who knows?
Can you imagine if Boeing invited people to show up at planning meetings? I would be there in a second. I certainly have ideas about what plane design changes would make my flying experience better, and I certainly have a vested interest in Boeing getting it right.
This should be extremely interesting. Stay tuned.