Has branding become a joke?

Jennifer Whitehead writes a fascinating piece in the MediaGuardian on whether branding has gone too far.

Whitehead brings up a great point, though, about companies going too far. Lacoste recently lost a legal battle with a dental practice for logo infringement - claiming consumers might get confused (see Paranoia Running Rampant at Lacoste & More on the Lacoste/Dental Practice Logo Battle). This is a narrow-minded, cowardly stance for a venerable brand like Lacoste. No one, especially people getting a root canal, will be getting the dentist mixed up with the classic polo shirt maker. Companies need to stop thinking brands are simply their logo.

On that note, I am a believer in the emotional tie consumers can have to a product, company or brand. And I am a believer that people need to brand themselves. But I believe what Tom Peters et al meant by the "Brand Called You" was that you, like all truly good brands, you must stand for something and deliver on that promise. It doesn't mean we have our own logos. That's thinking that a brand is a logo. Wrong. The swoosh is not Nike's brand. Nike's brand is what the swoosh represents - excellence, competition, performance, winning, etc. Personal branding is not "treating yourself like a bottle of ketchup" as Whitehead suggests.

Read the full article here.


Has the Tipping Point Jumped the Shark?

Full disclosure, I am not a fan of The Tipping Point and Malcolm Gladwell. Its not that I don't believe there are certain points in the life of a company/brand where they hit a vein and go very well (or very badly) - spreading like crazy. Its that a former employer of mine, Airwalk, is in the book, and Gladwell gets their story completely wrong. Let's just say the bias in his sources on the story call into question the overall veracity of his"influencer" model.

Which is why Is the Tipping Point Toast? in this month's Fast Company is so interesting. Duncan Watts, Columbia professor and now viral model builder for Yahoo!, believes that influentials have no such effect on trends whatsoever.

Take aways:
  1. Success in a networked society is quite random, and Influencials can't tip a trend into existence.
  2. The problem with the influentials model is that it is too vague. There is lots of talk about Influencers' power, but never specifics about how an Influencer actually influences. No one actually analyzes the influence in action.
  3. The success of a trend doesn't simply depend on the person who starts it, but on how susceptible the society is overall to accept it. The disease metaphor of viral marketing is misleading. They are more like a forest fires: thousands break out a year but only a few become monsters. They become monsters because the landscape was ripe (drought, dry woods, unequipped fire departments, etc.) - nobody talks about the spark that started the fire.
One has to ask, if it were as simple as reaching the influentials to trigger WOM and viral marketing, why haven't more companies been successful at it? Could it be that keeping a vague but popular notion keeps Gladwell and all the other intelligentsia in business?

So what are we to do? Have no fear, Watts is developing his own model at Yahoo! called Big Seed marketing. Another "silver bullet?" We'll have to see.

Read more


Brand Ambassadors to combat the possible recession

If a recession hits, the marketing budget is likely the first to be place in the cross-hairs. A recent post on the Brains on Fire blog, brand ambassadors can be a way to spread the word, build goodwill and your brand when marketing budgets are lean. The initial post is just so-so. But check out all the comments to get more out of it.

More from Brains on Fire


Email - the once and future social media king

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 91% of Internet users aged 18-64 send or read email. Ho-hum, you say...but the conventional wisdom would have said that email's in decline with that group versus text messaging and social networks. But it doesn't look like that's happening anytime soon.


The trials and tribulations of Word of Mouth...for the Consumer??

Always looking at things in a slightly different way, Godin talks in this post about how WOM is difficult for consumers too, not just businesses. Why? Because only a relatively small percentage of people like to spread the word, most like anonymity and keeping quiet.
"Sure, 1% of your customers blog or post or just plain talk. They're louder than ever before. But the other 99% represent a real opportunity for you."
Figure out how to get the 99% our of their shell to stump for your brand and you're on your way to cult like status. Godin mentions the Iowa Caucuses and uses the "get out the vote" analogy. Case in point, Obama has mobilized his supporters, specifically the historically apathetic youth vote. That is one of the main drivers of Obama's success, to Godin's point - Obama got to "the other 99%" vs. the Ron Pauls of the world who have great buzz, but terrible mobilization.

More from More from Seth Godin's Blog

Books by Seth Godin:


Social Media - your first line of defense for customer service

In a recent BRANDWEEK article, blogger Shel Holtz makes an argument for customer service to be used as an organization's front line of public relations. Bad service experiences spread like wildfire through the blogosphere. Using the same channel as a way to get the word out about your company's good work should be a top communications priority.
"a blogger who has attained expert status among his readers is more influential than anything you do on your own site. That expert blogger has no problem ripping your company when his own experience is less than satisfactory...And nothing ticks off that expert blogger more than a frustrating encounter with customer service or tech support."
Holtz's recommendations are solid, although sad that these no-brainers need to be continually restated for those companies who still don't get it. The idea that every employee should be a customer service rep, that those reps should be seen as communicators, and that those people should go to the problem instead of waiting until the problem comes to them are not new ideas. But Holtz correctly explains that the voice of those who have bad (or good) experiences is more pervasive and more amplified than ever before, so you better take it seriously.

How to keep up with the massive amount of buzz online, and eventually use it to your advantage? We've reported before that there are ways to do this, most notably Crawdad Technologies. See our previous posts: Call it WOM, call it buzz, I call it the marketplace and Why companies better be paying attention to "Web 2.0".


70% of Consumers Research Packaged Goods Before Buying

Seventy percent of consumers do research before making purchases, even on products such as packaged goods. And 86% say they're not relying on brand websites for the information they seek.

This means they're getting it from other sources - are you properly communicating to your consumers?

More from Marketing Daily

from Marketing Daily via WOMMA blog

Johnny-on-the-Spot Xerox changes its logo

Touted as "the biggest brand change in the company's history," it looks like this old-school technology company has gotten a fresh face. But wait...this is not just a logo change for the company who missed the OS market to Apple all those years ago, this is an "ethos" change "to make the brand more amenable to an increasingly digital landscape."

The company says the logo is "a bit less formal [and] a lot more lively," and incorporated the company's new proprietary font called Xerox Sans, which "visually communicates the openness and approachable nature of the company."

There is nothing aesthetically wrong with the logo, but its a big jump from their existing brand. Bottom line, I think they're trying too hard. You can't be more open and more lively from a font. You also can't tell people you're lively when you're not, just because those are the buzzwords of today. Classic Xerox being late to the party again.

The logo took plenty of fire, rightfully so, on Adrants.

from MarketingVOX

The Lame Name Game

Has anyone besides me noticed a trend toward changing cable networks changing their name? Three immediately come to mind, one which did it for the better and two which are idiotic in my opinion. Rebranding a company is an expensive and sometimes risky proposition, which has me scratching my head on two of these.

The Good:
TNN (The National Network) changed its name a couple years ago to Spike TV, as it changed its direction to be the Maxim Magazine of TV. This is a good change, the name it more memorable and more in line with the new direction.

The Bad:
CourtTV is changing their name to TrueTV. Now, they seem to be changing to be more about reality TV. That too is a bad idea, but that's for another post. Unless they are dropping the court coverage entirely, its a dumb move. Not to mention, their tagline says, "Not Reality. Actuality." What the hell does that mean? Now I'm confused about whether they do reality TV! There are very few cable networks with as clear a brand. A&E, Discovery, even SciFi have convoluted their brand by adding in either irrelevant or tangential programs. Why would CourtTV want to do this, much less change its name? They obviously think the reality thing will get more viewers, but it seems its at the expense of a strong brand.

The Indescribable:
The WB and UPN combined to form The CW. Same general youth-oriented programming. Different name that means nothing, its an "empty vessel" brand name right now. Which means they have to spend the time and money to fill the vessel. It would've been better to roll one into the other, or at least pick a new name that was indicative of something.

I don't get it. What do you think?


Almost Half of U.S. Consumers Post Content Online

So...I don't think user-generated content is a fad...

According to a recent survey from Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, nearly half of all U.S. consumers frequently create and post content online. This figure rose 12 points from Deloitte's spring survey.

More from Online Media Daily

Monologues vs. Dialogues and Online Brand Building

Advertising Age examines how some brands are using online communities to bolster enthusiasm for their products and services and how the dialog created by speaking to consumers via these formats is more dynamic than the one-way messaging used in traditional advertising.

McDonald's Uses 'Friendly People' to Challenge Starbucks

From the WOMMA Blog:
Anyone can brew a cup of coffee, so when McDonald's decided to step into the coffee category, it opted to use "friendly people" to give Starbucks a run for its money. The idea, according to the Brand Autopsy blog, is that while a product can be replicated, a customer experience is harder to imitate.

Rumors of Holiday e-commerce's demise were premature

Holiday e-commerce results are in and they hit a record $29B in Sales, up 19% from the same period last year, according to comScore.

The highlights:

The biggest shopping day? Green Monday" (Monday, Dec. 10) was the heaviest individual spending day of the season with $881 million in sales, followed by Tuesday, Dec. 11 ($819 million), and Thursday, Dec. 6 ($803 million).

Fastest-Growing Product Categories? Videogames, consoles & accessories, up 129% from 2006. Thank you Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation and Halo 3.

The heaviest spending week? The week ended Dec. 16 - $4.7 billion in online sales, edging out the week ended Dec. 9's $4.6 billion.

Read the whole article on MarketingVOX

MapQuest In-Map Ads Help Locate Cheap Gas

MapQuest is introducing in-map advertising on its site. The first batch aimed at helping people find cheap gas, reports ClickZ.

The ad system uses the Lat49 API to overlay ads on MapQuest's online maps. Ads are delivered via geo-targeting in text format.

The Gas Prices site serves as a test bed to gauge interest and usability. If successful, MapQuest will avail in-map advertising for other services, particularly local businesses.

Information on gas prices is pulled throughout the day from the Oil Pricing Information Service. Over 100,000 stations are listed from across the country.

Call it WOM, call it buzz, I call it the marketplace

If Iowa and New Hampshire have taught us anything, its that the power truly is with the people. Not the media, not the polls, not the pundits, but the voters (i.e consumers!). WOMMA reported yesterday that "In the political arena, big ad budgets aren't enough to beat out the power of people talking. According to The New York Times, "two weeks before the caucuses, 94% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans reported taking part in recent discussions concerning at least one candidate," and candidates with the biggest ad budgets didn't come out ahead."

Its about time the candidates, campaigns and traditional media outlets start realizing the power has shifted, rightfully, to the marketplace. This goes for companies and brands as well. We hear advertisers and agencies whining because traditional advertising isn't working...emotional branding isn't working...all the attention's on the analytics side of things...blah blah blah. They're all missing the point. We now have the opportunity to connect at the consumer/voter level, fairly efficiently. The emotional branding hasn't gone away, what is going away is depending on the big TV ad to communicate that emotion. Tell Huckabee, Paul and Obama that there is no emotion out there on the individual level.

And companies and campaigns better make damn sure they're listening to their buzz effectively. For politics, there is no better way to do this than Wonkosphere. And for brands, check out Wonkosphere's parent, Crawdad Technologies.

Check out WOMMA


Principles for Finding the Right Message on a Rugged Landscape

Steven R. Corman & Kevin J. Dooley of ASU, Crawdad Technologies and Wonkosphere, have just published a fascinating white paper for the Consortium for Strategic Communication titled: Strategic Communication on a Rugged Landscape: Principles for Finding the Right Message.

While the paper centers around effective messaging in the political and governmental arenas, its very relevant to marketers of all sorts - what are we if not people who craft and communicate messages?

Here is the executive summary:

For approximately the last decade, the United States has been moving to centralize and more tightly control its messages. Accelerating this trend, U.S. strategic communication efforts under the current administration follow the dictum that effectiveness equals control of a singular message. The problems with this approach were described in a previous CSC white paper. But there is also a more basic issue: How do we know when we have the best message? Is there only one best message? A control-oriented approach to these questions means that the optimal message or combination of messages will probably never be found in the “war of ideas” with terrorist groups and hostile governments.

This paper addresses this issue by applying the concept of rugged landscapes to the problem of finding the right message(s) in strategic communication. The current U.S. approach assumes that the landscape is simple, consisting of a single, modular solution that can be optimized by a controlled, systematic search. However, the situation is more accurately described as a complex, rugged landscape, with multiple integral solutions. This means the optimal solution can only be found by an evolutionary approach using multiple, diverse search methods.

Treating a rugged landscape as simple leads to inappropriate search strategies that virtually guarantee suboptimal performance. To improve its chances of success in the search for the right message(s), we recommend that the United States reform its current control oriented strategies by applying four principles:

  1. Leap before You Look: Abandon systematic search methods in favor of techniques based on random jumps and multi-variable optimization.
  2. Use the Force: Accept, expect, and seek to exploit interdependencies in the communication system.
  3. Simplify Structure: Take steps to reduce legal and organizational interdependencies that make the landscape more complex.
  4. Accept Downside Risk: Promote changes in an organizational culture that is reluctant to tolerate the temporary performance decreases that are inherent in complex landscape searches.
Read the full paper.

Think this is pretty cool stuff and want to know more about what Kevin and Steve are up to? Check out Wonkosphere and Crawdad Technologies.

Xerox Unveils Beach Ball As New Logo


Perhaps they haven't seen ATT's logo. Perhaps they don't care their new logo conjures a lazy Saturday afternoon at the beach. No, Xerox and Omnicom' Interbrand, which just unveiled its new logo today, thinks a red beach ball will do just fine conveying its desire to be known as a company that is "engaging and approachable." Yes, "engaging and approachable" just like small child at the beach who wants you to play beach ball with them.

After 20 years of that big red X, 18 months of research and development has yielded...a beach ball. Yup. When we think of a serious document management company, we think of...a beach ball. Don't you?

Anyway, life goes on and after a month or two, no one will even care about this let alone remember the original red X logo.

From MarketingVOX


When brand policing runs amock - Lacoste loses court case against dental practice

Lacoste, makers of the famed polo shirts, just lost a trademark court case with a UK-based dental practice. Apparently its been going on for four years, with Lacoste saying people could get confused and think the dental practice is Lacoste-endorsed. Get real. In the correct decision, the court ordered that Lacoste pay the dentists owes the dental practice £1450 pounds for legal costs.

Last year in Beijing Lacoste won a trademark battle against three Chinese companies, getting $98,700 in damages.

AdRants poses a good question about this, "...If the French firm ain't shy of the global court system, why hasn't it gone after Crocs yet?"

from AdRants


What's in store for online marketers in 2008?

eMarketer has issued predictions for 2008 in key online areas, including those related advertising, videos, social networks, e-commerce and entertainment, saying online advertising will ride out potential economic storms in the US - and YouTube will decide political elections.

from MarketingCharts

Brand Bigotry

"Marketers pay a lot of attention to brand loyalty and cultdom and devotion. But what about its opposite number -- the brands you simply refuse to consider consuming?"

Rob Walker's piece in December's Fast Company, Just Say No, is a fascinating perspective on the brand loyalty idea. Basically, we all hear about "Lovemarks," those brands with abnormal consumer affinity, but what about the opposite side of that coin? What about the brands that are vehemently disliked?

I Googled "brand bigot" and found a plethora of conversations in which the term was used. One fascinating observation is that brand bigotry is not confined to the usual suspects (Apple/MS, Nike/adidas, Coke/Pepsi, Ford/Chevy, Harley/Honda, etc.). One's affinity for a brand, and subsequent aversion to another, can be applied to any product, even something as mudane as UV Bulbs.
Which leads me to agree with Marketing Fishbowl, who attributes brand bigotry to direct experience (i.e., conditioning) with specific brands. Some products simply leave a bad taste in your mouth as a consumer - poor fit, questionable quality, etc. This theory can be applied to any product.

I find it fascinating that in some of these posts, people want to make sure they aren't labeled as a brand bigot, as if the term "bigot" applied to anything is inherently shameful. If you truly hate a brand for legitimate reasons, that's not your fault, its the company's fault (versus say, racial bigotry). Their job is to get you to like their products. I think being a brand bigot means you're a discriminating consumer, which will drive companies to improve themselves to win you over. That's a good thing, not a bad thing.

Brand bigotry in my life?
  • My wife is a brand bigot against Starbucks coffee that you buy in a Starbucks store (Starsucks is the term I believe she uses). She prefers independent coffee roasters or Peet's.
  • I'm a brand bigot with Pepsi, I love Coke
  • Although I'm typing on one now, I'm a Dell bigot - this will be my last purchase.
  • I used to be a bigot against any tennis racquet that wasn't a Head. But I've been using a Wilson racquet and like it, so my horizons have officially broadened.
Tell us about your brand bigotry.


Don't get a drink thrown in your brand's face with pick-up lines

"Customers reject pick-up lines from companies, just like women will reject pick-up lines from guys. Pick-up lines don’t work. They might get a customer’s attention for a nano-second, which is just long enough for a customer to see through the ploy in order to reject a brand’s unwanted advances." - from John Moore's (author of Tribal Knowledge) essay in BRANDWEEK.

Building on the pick-up line analogy, Moore explains why it’s critically important for marketers to go beyond shallow attempts to get attention. The answer is to build connections with customers through an ongoing playful conversation. Some of his suggestions on how to do this:
  • Be a Playful Brand: Customers do not want their brands to take themselves too seriously. Examples: Trader Joe’s, Voodoo Doughnut.com
  • Be a Challenging Brand: Customers want to tango, they want you to be interesting in order to get them interested. Examples: Threadless.com, Sendaball.com
  • Be a Predictably Unpredictable Brand: Customers are turned off by complacent brands. They value brands that are willing to take calculated risks. Example: Google
Read Tribal Knowledge: Business Wisdom Brewed from the Grounds of Starbucks Corporate Culture

Image courtesy of Neville's Financial Blog


Higher Budgets and Online Spending in store for B2B Marketers in 2008

B2B Branding. Not nearly as easy to get your head around as consumer branding, but absolutely just as important. BtoB Magazine's 2008 Marketing Priorities and Plans study says that most B2B marketers (60 percent) plan to increase their 2008 marketing budgets, but fully 79 percent plan to increase their online marketing budgets. Their 2006 survey had found that nearly 76 percent of marketers planned to increase their online budgets in 2007.

Nearly 30 percent of marketers said their budgets would remain unchanged in 2008, and 10 percent said they plan to decrease budgets, according to the survey of 213 B2B marketers conducted online in the last week of November and the first week of December.

Other key findings here.

Read The Case for B2B Branding: Pulling Away from the Business-to-Business Pack

via MarketingVOX

CPG companies finally get in the digital game

Ted Mininni wrote an interesting post on the Marketing Profs blog today regarding the latest comScore data in an Advertising Age article. The article, and his subsequent post, revolves around the increase (but still lagging) involvement by Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies' in digital marketing. Here are the major points he notes:
  • First, even the most staid companies with product offerings in the most basic categories are learning that they need to have more of an online presence.
  • Secondly, these companies understand that they have to do more digital advertising to drive traffic to their sites.
  • Thirdly, if they build more of an online presence, they (the consumers) will come.
  • Lastly, the Internet is increasingly becoming the place consumers turn to for information, and to shop. It’s easy, convenient, fast.

As a former digital marketing person for a consumer goods company (Airwalk) in an "old-school" industry (footwear & apparel), I know first hand the difficulties of getting such an organization thinking and acting the way they need to in order to get effectively involved in the Internet game, especially in these user-driven days.


Apparently Diageo has never watched YouTube

Take note, this is how to use social media to accomplish exactly the opposite of what you want to accomplish. User-generated video, selling liquor, promoting responsible drinking...yeah right, good luck.

Drink company Diagio is using OpenAds.net to
solicit creative materials from creative types — both professional and amateur — for use in a responsible drinking campaign.

From MarketingVOX

Political Giving Shifts To Democrats - Pixelection Uses Marketing & Advertising to Shift Power to the Pixels/People!

The Iowa Caucus is today, so we figured we'd talk politics.

Nielsen analysis has reported that 8/10 of the demographics that most likely to contribute to a US presidential campaign — including the most affluent, influential and well-educated voters — made most of their contributions to Democrat candidates in the first half of '07. That's up from four of the top 10 segments during the same period in 2003; moreover, of the two segments that donated a majority of their money to Republican candidates — Country Squires and Second City Elite — are now trending Democrat. Blah, blah, blah...Read the rest of the article in MarketingVOX.

Do you find political polling boring, or just plain irritating because each one says something different? As marketers, we believe in the market, naturally. So wouldn't it be interesting to see how the political landscape looked if people could "vote with their dollar?" There is a new site that just launched called Pixelection. It takes the Million Dollar Homepage idea, but for politics. And instead of being a pure gimmick, its donating a % of the ad revenue to the political parties and to three charities: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, The National Center for Policy Analysis, and the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation.

Why is Pixelection an interesting idea? One, the aforementioned "voting with the dollar" idea. Two, it utilizes an advertising platform that has shown promise, but has only been used for gimmicks. Three, it provides an affordable advertising medium for the normal people who want to promote their candidate - you don't have to be a big company or a PAC to place an ad for your candidate. Four, advertisers get to advertise for their cause/candidate AND donate money - instead of donating $100 and not knowing where it goes.

Check out Pixelection to check out the new way for voters to promote their candidates.

Data via MarketingCharts


Web Advertising Trends For '08

With an economic downturn or worse, a recession looming, marketers will "likely drive more money to the Internet," which is more cost effective than other media. Some of the biggest spenders may be large multinational advertisers, few of whom have spent more than 5% to 10% of their budgets online. Merrill Lynch believes Web spending will grow 18% in 2008, while Publicis Groupe's ZenithOptimedia expects it to surpass radio this year and magazines two years later.

In '08, look for the long-awaited integration of media departments within the ad industry's largest holding companies. The lack of collaboration among agencies and marketing services firms operating under one roof is astounding, and marketers demand better. Some, like P&G, have founded their own ad groups in response to the agency holding companies' slowness. Another trend to watch for is large companies being criticized for their "green" efforts. You can be sure that those who don't live up to rising environmental friendliness standards will be singled out on blogs and in chat rooms.

Elsewhere, expect the social-networking craze to taper off a bit, as consumers realize that they don't have 5,000 real friends. As Tim Hanlon, senior vice president of Publicis' Denuo Group says, "At the end of the day, it just becomes one big cauldron of noise." He says marketers will find social networks are more valuable as a research tool than an advertising platform.

On that note...check out our post about using social media to monitor the buzz about your brand.

Read the whole story from the Wall Street Journal

Netscape gets the gold watch from AOL

The Netscape browser, nearly 14 years old, is being retired by owner AOL who is focusing more on Mozilla's Firefox browser.

The question in my mind...when is Time Warner going to retire AOL? Talk about marketing myopia (and terrible mergers of course). They're struggling to make themselves relevant in this ad-driven, social web world - something that seems to be like quicksand. The harder you try, the more you sink.

Do You Have Marketing Myopia?

From Online Media Daily


Why companies better be paying attention to "Web 2.0"

For all you companies and brands out there thinking that your "Web 2.0" strategy is to have a blog, a MySpace page and a Second Life presence...you're thinking too narrowly. Consumers are now in complete control and have incredible power to spread the word nearly instantly. This can be amazing if the word of mouth is positive. But what about if its negative? What if it shows a product flaw, or worse a product defect?

Just look at this video on how to open a Master Lock. Master Lock, of course, being the premier lock brand in the country, maybe the world. And its opened by a soda can. Kryptonite bike locks ran into the same thing when someone showed how to open their new lock with a Bic pen.

Master Locks Are NOT Safe!

Although this video I'm sure sends chills up the spine of Master Lock, its not all bad news. You can use these viral conversations to glean product enhancements, consumer benefits and positive testimonials as well.

So you have to ask yourself...are you listening to your consumers out in this crazy new world? And if so, what are you doing about it? There are companies who can help with this, by the way. Crawdad Technologies uses patented technology to monitor and analyze online buzz, for example, for brands like Cold Stone Creamery. You can also see their technology monitoring and analyzing the 2008 Presidential election at Wonkosphere.com.