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.
Pin Down the Customer!
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!
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.
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".
Who Keeps the Motorola Brand?
Big news day for Motorola with the announcement by CEO Greg Brown that they would be splitting off the company's mobile handset business. As we have covered before, this news the latest in a series of shake-ups, mix-ups and screw-ups that have dropped the tech giant to a shaky 3rd in the market for cellular handsets.
Brand issues often arise in M&A situations where the merged entity has to weigh the market equities and decide whether to keep one of the pre-existing brands or create a new one. This process is often fraught with emotion as loyalists on both sides make claims as to their brand's predominance.
Motorola's breakup brings the company face-to-face with a corollary challenge: which of the two emerging companies gets the Motorola brand and how is the other company branded? In the early part of the decade, Accenture and BearingPoint brands were born out of similar splits. Freescale Semiconductor was created in 2004 after the spin off of Motorola's semiconductor business.
It seems fairly clear that the handset business needs the brand more than does the set-top box/modems side of the house. At the same time, neither side can afford to lose any advantages.
As it splits, Motorola will need to think creatively about how it maximizes the brand assets it has. One possibility would be to use the "Moto" brand -- a cornerstone of the handset advertising campaign and a recognizable brand in its own right -- as the new handset brand. This raises questions about global applicability of the Moto brand, and yet desperate times call for desperate measures.
Of course these are also emotional times at Motorola. Senior management is going to have to keep a cool head and get some good counsel.
Tracking Brand HTC
As close-readers of this blog will remember, at the end of last year we picked HTC to be Brand of the Year 2008.
In the spirit following up that bet, a couple of interesting developments this week:
New website: HTC has revamped its website which was definitely overdue for a change. The new site does a much better showing off the company's fantastic product line (although it could use some more QA). I have been a member of the "eClub" for a while but its not particularly active. Perhaps this web relaunch will re-engerize their efforts to engage customers directly.
New press coverage: Laptop Magazine has a new interview with CEO Peter Chou which is not quite as detailed as the one he did with Engadget in December, but does have some new info. Particularly interesting is HTC's focus on interface innovations and (selective) commitment to its original ODM business as with the highly-anticipated Sony Ericsson’s XPERIA line.
Product branding: This week, HTC (or, more accurately, "someone close to the situation") announced that the Android "Google phone" that HTC is working on will be called "Dream". Interesting to see that the company is putting much more effort into its product naming strategy, at least for high profile products. Traditionally HTC's product naming has been more about non-committal non sequiturs which its channel partners were left to rename (Kaiser becomes Tilt, Excalibur becomes Dash, etc). Seems like HTC stepping to the challenge of getting its product marketing in order.
Intel is the kind of client that branding consultants dream of. In addition to being the world's largest manufacturer of semiconductors, Intel has also run one of the most successful ingredient branding campaigns in history. Beginning in 1991, Intel successfully stemmed the tides of commoditization with a simple sticker that assured consumers that the computer they were buying was powered by the latest and greatest technology. Over the years, the campaign has changed to reflect Intel's enormously complex product portfolio, but the basic parameters of the campaign (backed up with some serious co-op marketing dollars) have kept would-be competitors like AMD at bay.
Today's announcement that Intel would be introducing Atom, a new brand for its line of low-power processors is the next evolution in this ingredient brand strategy.
This new generation of extremely small, energy efficient processors are the core of Intel's bid to power smaller devices such as mobile phones, ultra mobile PCs and low cost laptops (Intel calls them Mobile Internet Devices). Intel has struggled to find its place in the market for mobile phones, the hope now is that Atom will allow them to do so.
As a name Atom is so good that it's a miracle it made it through Intel's trademark attorneys. It elegantly conveys the key benefits of the product line in a simple and appealing word (and only 4 letters!).
And yet while the technology is revolutionary, the marketing strategy looks like more of the same. Great brands are defined by the flexibility with which they evolve to meet the challenges of new market realities. Intel on the other hand seems stymied by the success of a strategy that it has employed for 17 years.
The market for mobile phones and ultra portables is much different than the market for PCs in which Intel's brand strategy worked so well. Is there room for another ingredient brand in this muddled, fast-changing and poorly understood marketplace? Is there room for an ingredient brand on the slim and forever slimming form-factors of cellular phones? Will the Intel brand hold the same degree of influence with consumers in emerging markets; for whom mobile devices will be their first and primary computing experience? Finally how should the Intel brand--and its ingredient brands--adapt to the realities of a world where computing power is less relevant than connectivity?
No one can know the answers to all of these questions, but slapping another "inside" brand on this new generation of devices will almost certainly fall short of the mark.
Brands: A Shrinking Advantage or Shifting Advantage?
Umair Haque writes today about the Shrinking Advantage of Brands. Cheap interaction, he says, is "driving the strategy of branding into decay".
Huzzah! Haque echoes a number of the things that form the basis of our mission to remake the way marketers think about marketing. In doing so, however, he seems to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If the mechanisms for building a brand are changing, does the value and advantage of a strong brand necessarily implode as well? If consumers have more of a role in determining the relevance and meaning of the brands that they love (or hate), does the fundamental importance of these brands as repositories of perceived value go away?
With cheap interaction now available to all, isn't the need for a brand stronger than ever? With all of the market noise that accompanies cheap interaction, how else can a provider of goods and services identify the specific ways that they differentiate their value? How else can customers, partners, employees and other stakeholders identify and respond to the firms that they interact with? Brands today are more relevant than ever because they are more volatile. For the Googles out there that have built multi-billion dollar brands in breathtakingly short time periods, there are many others that have lost value due to a failure to live up to the promises made to their markets (think Kodak, GM, AOL, Motorola, Sears). This is less a failure of the brands than it is a failure to deliver on those brands.
Haque makes a fundamental error that most people (including many seasoned marketers) make; he conflates "branding" with "advertising". Yes, in the industrial era interaction was expensive, communications channels were limited and awareness of a product or company was the critical challenge facing marketers. However, in today's world of cheap interaction, mass media advertising is still the primary mode of brand-building. This has a lot to do with market inertia, the influence of major advertising conglomerates and fears about messing with the orthodoxy of the 30 second spot. No CMO wants to have to justify a reallocation of massive advertising budgets, even thought far more cost-effective brand-building channels now exist.
Marketers need to redefine their roles and the process of how they build brands. This will require moving away from the advertising-dominated paradigm that proven so difficult to shake. It will also mean breaking down the wall that currently exists between marketers and product developers, so that together they can hear the marketplace and respond to its calls for new kinds of value. The most innovative leaders out their will be able to pull it off, the others can look forward to clever advertising campaigns which do nothing to bolster their weakening brands.
Let's Get Social
BusinessWeek recently ran an interesting article by authors Spender E. Ante and Catherine Holahan called "Generation MySpace is Getting Fed Up," which deals with the tenuous relationship between social networks and advertising. It focuses primarily on the uncertain nature of advertising in this environment and how advertising might affect (read: annoy) users. It's useful reading generally, but one thing in particular caught my attention. "The Myspace Generation," it reads, "may be getting annoyed with the ads and bored with profile pages."
This brings together two things I think are important to understand regarding social media. 1) Serving traditional online ads won't ever be very effective, and 2) the social network that brings utility to the social media sphere will win out.
Let's start with point 2 just to be contrarian. There's no question that social networks like MySpace and Facebook are initially a kick and kind of addicting. But the novelty wears thin quickly. How many vampire attacks can you send before you begin to question the nature of the vampire attack? The poking and gifting fast becomes a nuisance and masks the real value a social network can provide.
A social network like Facebook can serve as the ideal hub for communications and content - more fun than a Yahoo! homepage and more personally relevant than a Google search. The combination of having, in one place, all of your preferred content and quick access to what you're friends are reading and watching, where their eating and what products they're into, is a truly killer app.
But for the benefit to be realized, the network needs to actually offer the capability to draw the necessary content and applications to create this personal hub. Currently, the social networks have little utilitarian content of this kind and what little there is tends to be incredibly hard to find. There need to be more applications like the ones created by NetFlix and GoodReads and the incredible new city guide UpNext (currently in beta). Have a friend whose tastes you share in movies, take a look at their queue. A friend who is particularly well-read, have a look at reviews of the books they've read. How about your friend who is really in the know. Check out what they think about a recent visit they had at one of Manhattan's hot spots. One can imagine a social network ultimately being a true content hub where friends can share immediately a television program they saw that might appeal to a friend of theirs, a news item directly related to their line of work, or their wedding gift registry. These are the kinds of useful tools that need to become more prevalent on social networks to combat the boredom that eventually comes from one to many "superpokes." And right now they're precious few.
Which brings us to point 1. Companies have to stop focusing on figuring out how to deliver ads to consumers on social networks and begin to actually use the medium to their advantage. An ad will always be passive and, as BusinessWeek notes, sometimes intrusive. Instead "advertisers" should be developing actual applications, as well, ones that are useful to consumers and can take advantage of the inherent viral nature of social networks.
Companies can learn from the likes of NetFlix. The app is, in effect, an ad as well as an extension of their service. But a straight promotion can be transformed in the social sphere, as well.
Why wouldn't a credit card company like MasterCard investigate creating promotional applications in Facebook? Something that extends their SoundStage promotion into the social media habitat, for example. Or take it a step further and allow social networkers to create and share their own "Priceless" campaigns.
Dominos is asking customers to create their own pizza recipes. Why not make this an OpenSocial application that can be used on any of a number of social networks? And why not let them order it right from their profile page?
These are just a couple of examples. Are these ads? Yes, in a sense. But they are neither passive or intrusive. They're instead interactive and self-selective. The promotion is essentially endorsed by whomever passes it along. A music lover might be drawn to the SoundStage promotion app and compelled to share it with a fellow music lover. You can imagine millions of people sharing the Dominos app and concocting the most preposterous (delicious?) recipes. But every person that downloads the app at the encouragement of a friend is a person exposed to the brand.
These sorts of promotions are everywhere but in the past getting them in front of people took major capital investment in advertising or hope that people would stumble upon them. Now the mechanism is there and companies are remiss if they don't take advantage of it.
New realities of branding
We attended Columbia University's BRITE Conference on branding, innovation and technology last week. Much of the discussion centered on the tech-inspired convergence of product development, brand and customer experience.
Speakers and attendees alike noted how the practice of branding is changing. It's moving from an approach focused on communications channels to one built around things customers are trying to accomplish. One example: getting more out of running with Nike Plus, the convergence of Nike shoes with Apple iPod that allows runners to share favorite jogging routes, measure their performance, and trash talk with their friends.
One of the open questions: How do you define a brand in a way that gets product developers, marketers and those in the field responsible for delivering on the brand promise to create an experience with which customers want to involve themselves?
We were struck by the extent to which the cases covered were examples of adding value through the addition of services to products and vice versa. This is one of the greatest opportunities for differentiation for both manufacturers and services companies. You can see some of our thinking on the topic here, here and here.