Sunday, February 24, 2008

Managing The Nuances Of The Brand!

Accountants need to be added to the brand teams…but not to manage the budgets.

Many of the accountants that I know are very detail-oriented. They know the numbers, the columns and the calculations inside and out. Details are something they manage well.

Here is what lead me to this conclusion over this past weekend…

Starbucks is a great brand. While Wall Street is challenging their stock value, many, many people still sip their $4 Venti Lattes every day while connecting with friends and family.

And spending $4 for a cup of coffee is now a standard norm.

Here in the ATL, I pay about the same price for an extra large Latte if I am at Caribou or a local coffee house like Java Jive.

But a good number of my friends and I are miffed that Starbucks charges a sales tax on the newspapers…the same newspapers we can buy elsewhere tax-free.

Yesterday morning, my 50-cents Atlanta Journal Constitution cost me 54-cents. They tell us its an operational issue. The cash registers are programmed to tax.

Isn’t it interesting how a few pennies can tarnish the millions of value built in a brand?

Then there is the Publix supermarket chain.

Publix does some really great ads. Thanksgiving ads with dancing Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers and Christmas ads with hometown kids baking cookies from scratch.

Don’t quote me, but from what I hear, Publix spends close to a $100 million annually on advertising.

Yesterday I did my grocery shopping at the Publix in my neighborhood. There was a shelf promotional display featuring three six-packs of one of the energy water brands for $10.

When I got to the register, the promotional offer didn’t ring up and when I noted it to the cashier, she told me that I would have to go and get proof that there was a promotion. She didn't believe me.

I asked the store manager to come over and handle it. He then told me that I was only partly right and that the promotion was only good for one of the flavors. Unless I got all of the one flavor, he wouldn't even think of giving me any discount.

Okay. Each of the four different shelf promos did note a flavor, but each one noted a different flavor.

Then yesterday afternoon I went to the Lowe’s store around the corner from where I live in intown Atlanta.

While there's also a Home Depot nearby, I like the Lowe’s better because they at least have real people at the registers versus just the automated self-checkout registers at the Home Depot.

I went to purchase a lamp for my screened-in porch.

At the check-out counter, I noticed that the box the lamp was packaged in was marked on and the top was taped shut. The cashier looked at it and told me that the product was okay and not to worry.

When I got home and took the lamp out of the box, it was broken and I had to take it back and get another one. The whole purchase process took up two hours of my valuable weekend time.

The cashier didn’t even see why this was a problem.

I think that Lowe’s is still going after Home Depot competitively and not Big Lots...but then you never know.

All three of these brands…Starbucks, Publix and Lowe’s…spend a lot of marketing and advertising dollars.

You know that "good ole-boy" marketing model…build it and yell loud enough and those customers will come.

Unfortunately, that model overlooks the fact that the real challenge today is all about managing the nuances of the brand…and even pennies count!

In the CNN Obama-Hillary debate, I was more fascinated by the non-verbals than the verbals.

Obama understands managing the nuances of his brand.

When Hillary spoke, Obama looked down at his notes. When Obama spoke, Hillary not only looked at Obama, but reacted with facial expressions.

After the debate, Obama’s scores went up in the polls; Hillary’s went down.

Non-verbals can actually reinforce and communicate thoughts and attitudes just as much as verbals!

At BrandVenture, we drive home the marketing of the brand experience and not simply the physical product or service. Each touch-point of the brand experience plays just as critical of a role in the customer sale as the headline of the ad.

I remember when Arm & Hammer re-purposed their brand and moved it from just a baking product to a home cleaning product too.

Maybe we need to re-purpose the bean-counters and move them into chief brand experience engineers!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Travel Is The Cool Thing To Do!

Over the past 25 years that I have been in the business, I have developed marketing and branding campaigns for theme parks, cruise lines, state tourism bureaus, hotels, motels, resorts, spas, travel agencies, golfing destinations, mountain retreats, beach get-aways, corporate conference centers and meditation renewal enclaves.

Sounds like a “been there, done it…move on to the next category” scenario.

The marketing model in the travel business is simple and easy right?

Develop a nice brochure. Put together that second honeymoon and golf outing retreat promo packages. Run a couple of ads in the Sunday travel section. Send some direct mailers. Secure some chamber of commerce lists. Hit up on the meeting planners. Offer some of those corporate rates.

But wait; can the model be changing even beyond the fact that the travel agencies have all but faded into history?

Did you know that…

* A motel that hasn’t been renovated since the 1960s is likely more hip and cool than one built in the 1990s?

* The word “Escape” is actually a bad-term?

* The middle-aged 40-something guy is more into spending time with the whole family than golfing with his buddies?

* Many folks now travel to work on outreach projects to make life better for others than kick back and do nothing?

* It’s more cool to not wash linens every day and conserve water?

* State parks may be much more in vogue than the resorts with the tennis courts and golf courses that altered the environment?

* The Millenniums are spending more per trip than the Boomer retirees?

* “Family-travel” plans need to include the empty-nesters and their pooch?

* For the cost of printing up some direct mail brochures, you can actually produce Podcasts and run them on YouTube and the Travel Channel in selected cable zones?


More people travel today more often than ever before in history. Whether by plane or by car, Americans are venturing out with everything from their iPods to their Fidos.

Families, newly-marrieds, golf enthusiasts and seniors have been replaced by hot – High ROI – target groups like “Weekend Warriors,” “Scout About Cocooners,” “Travel Channel Sophisticates” and “Eco-Culturalists.”

This week BrandVenture is sponsoring part of the Georgia Governor’s Conference on Tourism. I will be participating in the event and we will have a booth showcasing some of the cool stuff that the attendees can do to boost their brands and drive more dollars to the bottom-line.

I already know what we're going to hear…

“Wow, you all do some nice stuff. We're a small business. We don’t have those big budgets to do those kind of things.”

We’ll even hear that from some of the top resorts!

The conventional ad agencies would shake their heads in agreement. I mean really, when was the last time that you heard an ad agency talk about filming a television commercial for less than $10,000 and buying spots on the Travel Channel for less than $50 per spot or running the ads FREE on YouTube?

Spring is in the air down here in Georgia.

The daffodils are starting to bloom and some of the trees are breaking out in pink blossoms.

Let’s get some lemons and make some fresh lemonade!

Monday, February 11, 2008

The 365-Day Countdown Begins!

What’s been dear to many of our hearts is soon to fade into history…the TV set!

For a boomer like me, it was where the family gathered round on many a night.

I remember watching Lawrence Welk with my Grandmother. I remember the bubbles when the band would play.

I watched the news that Kennedy was shot and then sat in silence in front of the TV as the horse pulled his coffin down Pennsylvania Avenue.

I learned a lot from my morning entertainment guy named Mr. Kangaroo.

And I watched in awe as Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon.

When I reached my teenage years, I would gather with friends and watch Dallas.

I remember the day when my college classes were suspended as we watched Iran seize the US Embassy in Tehran and take the diplomats hostage on the campus TVs.

When I got out of college and started working in the ad agency biz, I remember flying down to Atlanta to meet with this new station called TBS and this guy Ted Turner.

I remember the launch of CNN, MTV, ESPN, Discovery and HBO.

TV is one of the core icons of the Boomer generation.

The first day that I started working on the marketing strategy think-tank team at Time-Warner I was handed an assignment about this new thing called HDTV. Congress had just passed a bill and President Clinton signed it.

The bill set the timeline for the conversion from analog to digital broadcasting.

I spent the next month or so learning about the federal bill and this new way of receiving broadcast programming.

I came to understand the difference between analog and digital broadcast signals and got familiar with which cities, which broadcasters and which networks had to begin broadcasting digital when and how.

I was struck by one fundamental truth. The analog band is finite. The digital band is infinite.

When I presented my findings to the Time-Warner VPs, many of the guys and gals reacted by doubting that the conversion would ever take place.

I laughed and told them don’t be surprised if some day an internet company takes over a broadcast company.

About a year later, I was on a Delta flight to LA with the VP of Marketing from MindSpring (now Earthlink) sitting next to me. She and I got into a discussion about changes taking place in our respective industries.

She then turned to me and asked where did I plan to work after the Internet took over broadcast television. I sipped on my martini and turned to her and ask what she was planning to do when the Television set replaced the PC.

Starting this upcoming Sunday February 17th the 365-day countdown begins.

As reported on MSNBC 12/31/07… “On February 17, 2009, television stations across the country will hit the OFF button on this time-tested technology…and without converter boxes, the conventional set screens will go to snow.”

Since I did the report for Time-Warner, new worlds have emerged with names like My Space, YouTube, Google and FaceBook. Since then, “television” can be viewed on big sets, small sets, flat screens, car screens, personal airline screens, iPods, computer screens and mobile phones.

With my iPhone I can watch all the videos I want on YouTube. I have a choice of grass-root productions, network sit-coms and cable network news.

How many marketers, ad agencies, media buying companies, rating measurement firms and advertising academia do you think continue to hold on to the past?

How many do you think are beginning to hear the clock tick?

The TV set is history…and I am not only referring to that broadcast box where I watched Lawrence Welk with my Grandmother!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl or Yawn Bowl 2008

How many bloggers do you think are posting similar text about the ads that ran during the Super Bowl last night?

I must admit, I was surprised this morning that the Ad Age Daily Email news didn’t mention anything about the Super Bowl ads.

Maybe they had the same reaction to them as I did.

Unlike the independent bloggers, if Ad Age made any mention it would almost be like an Aunt saying bad things about her sister’s children.

Kind of like Wall Street. Last year the ads were fair. This year, I think they were worse.

The one Coke ad, the Planters Peanuts ad and the Tide ad were maybe the best.

The Coke ad featured balloon characters you see in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Charlie Brown rises up from behind one of the Manhattan hi-rises and ends up with the bottle of Coke.

It was fun to see Charlie Brown finally win.

The Planters Peanuts ad linked the peanuts with the male drive for a woman. The positive thinking part of me says that the creative writing the ad was inspired by her cat craving the catnip. Another part of me is thinking it might be the same copywriter that just completed the last Viagra ad.

I would even bet a buck or two that a combination of the MBA brand managers and their therapists scripted the Tide ad. The ad tapped right into the consumer experience versus the product story and its attributes.

Now post its re-birth experience, P&G gets it.

The Bridgestone ads were pretty good too. At least Bridgestone was creative enough to divert from the safety claim and bouncing babies of the competition.

What was bad about the rest is that both Client and Agency management were way too involved.

Creativity was expressed through either slapstick-backroom humor or “let’s see how much techno-movie graphics we can use” formatting.

The Budweiser ads were great examples of the slap-stick humor. All the ads were “been-there-done-that” extensions of past ads. Even the ad featuring their Clydesdale horses fits in that mold.

Most of the clients that I work with are ready to shoot a new ad before the current ones even hit the air.

Those Bud Boys cling to their ads like Linus clinging to the blanket.

I think that the Career-Builder execs and agency teams must hang out at the same beer pub with the Budweiser guys.

The GMC Yukon Hybrid Brand Manager and the agency creative team must write their ads in more than just the “standard pub room” smoke.

The Dell folks might want to consider joint therapy sessions with Wal*Mart. Seems both have no problems just ripping off the same ads that their smarter competitors created (i.e. Apple and Target).

Then you wonder if Geico and SoBe Life Water teams are merging together. Maybe Geico is leasing out the lizards and trying to recoup some of the investment in the Cavemen since their show got canceled.

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

The real Super Bowl game really took place in the last 3 minutes on the clock. The other 95% of the game was actually kind of boring.

The same is actually true about the television commercials.

Some say that more people watch the SuperBowl to watch the commercials versus the football game itself.

Maybe the programming group at Fox should take the client and agency management teams on an African safari in 2009 while some of the same folks that are doing cool stuff on YouTube take over as the creative teams to film next year’s Super Bowl spots.