Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Rise of the Underdog

by Anushka Pinto

Underdog/challenger brands are some of the most interesting brands out there. These brands, more often than not, are brands which are a lot smaller than their competitor counterparts. As a result, they have fewer resources for their brand building. However, there is something very likable about these brands because of their authenticity and feisty “can do”attitudes. In fact, the mood is right for a lot of growth for these underdog brands.

This underdog idea is not limited to the business world and can be seen everywhere from animated movies to sports figures. People like to support the ‘little guy’ who defies obstacles and has far-reaching goals. This seems to be a universal theme that people all over the world can relate to. Here is one point of view about underdog branding and Occupy Wall Street.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is the result of some deep-seeded anti-corporate sentiment that many consumer have. For the Occupy Wall Street protesters and sympathizers (which number in the millions of consumers in the USA, by the way), there is a perception of the unfairness of wealth and a lack of transparency of the wealth creation. As a result, their grass-roots movement has caught on. The movement, which takes a vocal stance against commercial giants and financial behemoths in favour of firms that advocate transparency, values and support a sustainable business purpose. Those involved with the movement (and sympathizers with the movement) are increasingly value-aligned with brands that emphasize honesty, integrity, and authenticity. These brands are more often than not, the smaller, underdog brands- they are the local coffee shops versus the coffee conglomerates; the credit unions versus the multinational banks. Especially in tough economic times, brands with these values will gain favor with consumers who are seeking an alternative to “profit at all expense, business as usual”. Millions of consumers with these values potentially mean millions in business to underdog brands.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Brands as a Facade

by Pearce Tibbles

Brands are often a symbolic badge and provide confidence for consumers when they make their purchase decision. But sometimes a brand can be a facade; the brand reality of the product is can be very different than what the consumer expects- or is led to believe! The following narrative illustrates this point.

Historically, the aerospace division of Rolls-Royce (which manufactures jet engines) was part of the same company as the auto brand by the same name. These two divisions split up and the car company that spiraled out was purchased by the British conglomerate Vickers. In 1998, Vickers put the Rolls-Royce automotive company up for sale and it attracted a bidding war between two German firms, Volkswagen and BMW, who were trying to expand their brand portfolios into the ultra-luxury market. Although BMW was the likely buyer (it had a longstanding supplier relationship with the company), Volkswagen ended up bidding close to £100 million more and won the auction. With the purchase of Rolls-Royce, Volkswagen received a well-past-its-prime aged factory where most of the assembly was done by hand. Rolls-Royce cars were still using a licensed 1938 Buick engine which was extremely inefficient as the company had not been able to afford an upgrade. After the deal had gone through, BMW came upon an interesting discovery. Rolls-Royce PLC, the aerospace division and an independently listed company, was the owner of the Rolls-Royce brand name and logo. BMW jumped on this opportunity and purchased the naming rights for cars at a bargain price of £40 million (much less than Volkswagen originally paid for the car company). BMW started fresh and built a brand new factory with state-of-the-art equipment, hired a designer to recreate the vintage look of Rolls-Royce cars, and gave the new vehicles an efficient BMW-made engine. BMW is now the sole legal manufacturer of Rolls-Royce cars and Volkswagen is stuck with an old factory capable of producing old, "unbranded" cars.

What this story highlights is the fact that from a consumer’s vantage point it is not always easy to see what stands behind a brand name. Most consumers likely have associations to Rolls-Royce that include legacy, timelessness, and elegance. Many may be startled and even upset to learn that Rolls-Royce, by most measures, is a new car company created by BMW. The only thing linking the Rolls-Royce cars of today and those of the early 20th Century is a trademark to the naming rights. With this example in mind, it is perhaps necessary for consumers to view brands in a different, albeit more jaded, light. Although brands can be useful as a symbol of brand values and legacy, they can also act as a facade intentionally set up by a parent company in order to exploit and leverage brand equity.

Going Guerrilla at the Street

by Abigail Berkley

Across the world there has been a proliferation of street guerrilla marketing. In Santiago Chile wall after wall is covered in colourful graffiti. Unitas advertising agency used this in their new promotion of Faber-Castell pencil crayons. Walls covered in graffiti appear to be peeled back to uncover a line of colourful pencils laying in a row.


In Copenhagen, Denmark the Bates Y&R agency performed a stint for the 4x4 Jeep. They traced out parking spots in unconventional parts of the city to display that Jeeps really are off-road vehicles.


This trend goes further than companies; even government entities have employed this marketing tactic. In Auckland, New Zealand street chalk was placed specifically to encourage pedestrians to make safe choices on main roads, while promoting the number of road crashes that involve pedestrians. The picture of shark-infested waters was created on the ground with the captioning “Don’t Step Into Danger. In Auckland city over 70% of road crashes involving pedestrians occur on main roads.” with the Auckland City Council logo painted beside it.


These forms of marketing, although different, share similar characteristics and purpose. Part of their effectiveness stems from their unexpected presentation. Each ad appears in targeted areas of the city, but on "media" where you do not expect to see advertisements: the ground, city walls, and places used by street artists. Some street art has gotten very popular too. For example, the popularity of some street art has attracted international attention (e.g. Bansky's work). His work and the work of other street artists have yet to be completely commercialized by the re-selling of prints. Street Art is innately cool. It is exciting, it breaks conventions and it breaks the rules. By appearing as street art, Guerrilla street marketing automatically becomes attention grabbing and absorbs all the excitement and edginess that its non-commercialized counter-part is endowed with.

It is easy to understand why marketing and advertising firms would then want to take advantage of this new method of contact with their consumers. Textbook after journal after newspaper has repeated how congested the marketing world has become, and how consumers are subjected to thousands of advertisements on a daily basis. The problem has always been “how do we grab their attention now,” and street guerrilla marketing has started to become the answer. Not only is it attention grabbing, it stimulates discussion, people talk about “that cool thing they saw on their walk to work.” They share it with their friends, they take pictures of it, thus creating this exponential force that reaches a greater amount of eyes and ears than just the people that walk by it. Marketing firms have a great advantage as it can be difficult at times to decipher whether a piece is authentic street art or a marketing ploy. Guerrilla street marketing has yet to hit its peak, it has not yet been overused and abused. In the next couple of years this method of marketing will become more prevalent as it is a short-term solution for stealthily grabbing consumers’ attention.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Balance of New Balance


Friday afternoon I had one of those "ohhh that is cool" marketing moments.

A buddy of mine wanted to pick up some new running shoes. He liked New Balance so we went to the New Balance store. And right at the entrance, I saw a machine that tested your weight distribution. Naturally, I had to try it. I found (like pretty much everyone) that my weight balance was not 100% even. I put more weight on my left foot than my right one.

The idea behind the machine is that it drives sales and brand. The machine diagnoses different types of foot needs. Some feet are normal, some need arch support, and some need more stability. Based on the diagnostic, the machine (and sales person) then customize the shoe and sole. The benefits: proper foot stability, more stepping comfort, and athletic performance. I'm not really sure if the foot can notice a difference, but psychologically, I think most consumers get an extra boost knowing they bought the "right shoe" for themselves.

The thing that I really liked about this marketing effort is how this information (or what some might call "gimmick") is true to the brand New Balance. The name says it all. The machine reinforces the balance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Loco with Logo changes- or is about being fresh?

by Karl Biunno

A couple of years ago, I graduated from Bob's Brand Management boot-camp. Since that time, my love for the topic has continued to grow, so when Bob asked me to contribute to his blog about a year ago, I decided to describe my shock at how a well established brand like Pepsi could so "cavalierly" change their logo - and consequently their identity. My first reaction, was to write how short-sighted the brand managers of these companies must have been when conceiving their first logo. Logo changes can be expensive in terms of time and money- and jeopardizing the brand awareness that the logos create for the brand (especially a packaged good brand) may come with a risk to sales. In my initial writing, I found myself criticizing their lack of forecasting abilities, as in my view; they failed to create a logo that would be able to timelessly represent the values of their customers. But the deeper I thought about that, my views got refined and a new perspective emerged. Today I will share my insight and will try to explain some of
the underlining principles behind logo change. This is a short post which is really about this: “Which brands are most frequently updating their logos- and why?”

Perspective 1: Which brands are updating their logos most frequently
When looking at brands that are frequent logo updaters, there is a clear trend. It's the non-leader in the market who tend to tinker with their brand logo most. Here's example number one coming from the top 2 brands in the athletic footwear industry, namely Nike and Adidas. According to Sporting Good Intelligence, in 2008, Nike’s worldwide market share is 36 percent compared to Adidas 21.8 percent share. In other words, Nike is the leader/dominant brand (by market share) and Adidas is the non-leader/non-dominant brand. Since its existence, the core of Nike’s logo has always been the same – the famous “swoosh”.



As you can see below, the same cannot be said about the Adidas logo.

(Interesting enough, as a side note, although Adidas’ website clearly showcases their latest logo on their front page, each previous logo is still used on products within their various divisions in the business.)

Let's go to the credit/debit card industry.

In both credit and debit cards, Visa overtakes MasterCard in terms of circulation.

Guess which one has changed their logo more frequently with more changes? You guessed it – MasterCard. The visuals speak for themselves.


Trying doing some searches on this yourself. The results are pretty consistent. The dominant brand is less prone to changing what works. The evidence is there from Toyota to Chrysler, and McDonald's to Burger King. (Google is the exception to this rule.)

Perspective 2: The Fresh Brand Value

Now move on to the more interesting question of “why?” I'll look at one specific example here.

To help us answer this question, let’s focus on Pepsi and their various changes in their logo over the years compared to Coca-Cola.


If we travel back in time at the height of the cola wars in the mid 1980’s, Pepsi poured in substantial amounts of money in order to steal market share from Coca-Cola by building
a brand that could relate to the youth of the time. With prominent product placements in hit movies such as Back to the Future or the unforgettable Pepsi celebrity endorsement by Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, Bad and Black and White, “the choice of a new generation” campaign was at the upper end of what the Pepsi could have hoped for. The positioning, reinforced by the slogan was so significant that it ultimately set the tone for Pepsi’s image and consequently values up until this day – a brand that is synonymous with fresh, lively and young at heart. Youth is cool. Pepsi is cool. Cool is ever changing. Pepsi is ever-changing.

Ultimately, if you are a brand that proclaims to be the choice of a new generation, it is important for all aspects of your marketing campaign to be consistent and suit every new generation. So, for Pepsi, I'm making the case that the logo update keeps the brand fresh and appealing to youth. In other words, the strategic reason why some companies decide to change their logo, is that it enables them to attack or defend their desired or current position within the market place by depicting the companies rejuvenation of their core values.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In the Minds of Consumers...at any cost!

Tonight we have a real treat- a special guest blog entry from one of my current students! It's a first, so share your comments below!


Special -guest blog entry by Josi Brown

U.S. based Apparel Company, Abercrombie and Fitch is no stranger to controversy. In fact, management seems intentionally create moments to stir social media firestorms. These controversies stem from the people who wear their products - to the store employees- to the actual products. It seems that the company has embraced the position that no publicity is bad publicity.

Back in August the retailer released a statement asking MTV’s Jersey Shore cast mate, Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino to stop wearing their clothes after he sported their lime green sweatpants in an episode the night before. They even stated that they would pay him a substantial amount of money to stop wearing the brand. Following the statement, Abercrombie and Fitch mentioned that ‘The Situation’ does not represent the ideals and values of the company and that they do not want to be associated with the character.

The MTV show follows a bunch of twenty-something Italian Americans as they party and engage in various made for TV moments, such as girl fights and incessant drinking. Search Jersey Shore on Google and you will get videos with the cast mates going to jail rather than information about the seaside town. Abercrombie and Fitch, who uses genetically gifted young men and women in their advertisements, is no first timer at creating controversy. By firing out at a show, which reaches the same demographic, Abercrombie and Fitch assured itself that the right people would be targeted. Its demographic, late teens to early twenty-somethings, is a tech savvy bunch. They have instant information at their fingertips and tend to be very brand loyal. Abercrombie has, by constantly creating buzz, at no cost, ensured that that are always talked about among their consumers.

I believe that blacklisting ‘The Situation’ was a brilliant move. Overnight publications nation-wide, from Perez Hilton to Forbes and the U.K. Telegraph, picked up the story and ran articles potent with controversy. Social media sites were immediately abuzz with the Jersey Shore cast tweeting about the current ‘situation.’ With Mike himself tweeting "Looks like Abercrombie got themself into a Situation!" The story reached thousands of the retailer’s target market, who are also conveniently fans of the MTV reality show.

Abercrombie and Fitch has a history of pursuing ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ campaign strategies. Back in March, CNN ran an article about the triangle push up (swim suit top) Abercrombie and Fitch was marketing to young girls. Socially conscious groups immediately jumped on this wondering why a company would sell this product for little girls who have nothing to ‘push up’ yet; social media again was talking about the retailer. Prior to that, Abercrombie and Fitch had another controversy. They were in the news for allegedly only hiring ‘attractive’ looking sales associates from their target market. We'll see what controversy A&F conjures up next.




Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 5 Most Difficult Branding Decisions #3 Measuring the Brand

Let's recap our countdown of the Top 5 Most Difficult Branding Decisions.

#5 Branding a Late Entrant
#4 Branding the Boring
#3 Measuring the Brand

Whenever I teach a brand course, I like to ask the question: How valuable are brands? Pretty much every undergrad, MBA, manager or exec jumps on the “brands are valuable” bandwagon. Some will cite some famous quotes from business titans like Warren Buffett: “brands are economic castles protected by unbreachable ‘moats’ (Kuper, 2008) . Others will comment how 2/3rds of Coca-Cola’s value is brand-based. Still others will make the case that brands create the bulk of worth for business to business brands like GE.

So then I follow up “If a brand is so valuable, what is a brand anyway?”

A lot of product managers (or those schooled in product management) discuss brands in the context of “a differentiated product”. Academically trained brand managers tend to provide an answer like “a brand a network of meaningful associations linked to the brand name in the customer’s mind”. I’ve heard accountants say that “a brand is a pretty good proxy for ‘goodwill’ on a balance sheet. Finance folks view the brand as an asset to leverage financially. Many senior executives talk about a brand to be acquired or sold. Directors of charities view brands as drivers of accountability. Ask 10 managers from different departments that question and you’ll likely get 10 different responses.

So who’s right?

Here’s the thing. All those responses are correct. A brand is all of the above and more. Brands function at different levels (consumer, product, and firm levels), have several different dimensions (awareness and loyalty, for example),and have dollar value impact on the organization. Where this gets especially tricky then, is measuring the brand.

In one of my papers, I developed a thorough taxonomy of brand measures. I scoured pretty much every academic journal, book, and professional magazine to find any way that brands can- and are being measured. But, I also went beyond that. In one of my studies, I approached brand guardians (VP marketing, brand manager, global brand managers etc) directly to see how they measured the brand. I found lots and lots of measurements – some that measure the brand, some that measure part of the brand, and some that don’t really measure the brand at all! The thing that was so surprising was just how imperfect even the best measures are. This is hardly surprising because what is a brand is is so hard to pin down.

Let’s look at a couple of the highest profile brand measures that approach brands from opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one extreme there is the Interbrand approach, made famous from its annual Business Week “The Top 100 Global Brands”. This approach is great for dollar valuing the firm level of a brand- and this makes it attractive to CFOs or CEOs who are viewing the brand as a balance sheet asset. Think of the measure this way. A brand’s value is estimated on the basis of projected profits discounted to a present value. The discount rate is a subjective rate determined by Interbrand and Wall Street equity specialists and is a function of the brand’s risk profile, market leadership, stability and global reach of the brand (Chu and Keh, 2006). Intangible assets like patents are subtracted to assess what portion of the earning are due to the brand alone. Qualifying brands must be publicly traded, have at least 1/3rd of revenues outside the home country, and not be a purely business-to-business brand (Interbrand 2011).

There are lots of reasons why this is a cool measure (you can benchmark your brand against the best-in-class brands, for example) and lots reasons why this measure is so tough to use. I’ll just comment on a couple points. First, most brands aren’t publically traded so for a non-public company, a forced hypothetical “market cap” would be required to execute this measure and figuring this data point out is not simple to do. Second, the folks in organizations are more interested in finding out the value of product level brands (e.g. Tide and Crest ) than the firm brand valuation (e.g. P&G.) It is incredibly complicated to get to the dollar level product level using this type of measure.

On the other extreme is what I call the Keller model. In the Keller metrics, measures are taken at the consumer level. The idea behind it is that brands with high levels of awareness (ie familiarity) and a strong, favourable, and unique brand image (as defined by strong, favourable, unique associations)have high brand equity. So to uncover the associations in the consumers’ minds, a bunch of tests like free associations, in-depth interviews, and projective tools are administered, and then scaled to validate. It’s time consuming, costly, and requires lots of brand-specific expertise to do this.

The Keller approach is a preferred choice for hard-core marketers because it helps the managers compare the brand directly to competiors. Uncovering associations is also a great diagnostic tool too. If you track the brand over time and you see association favorability slipping, then you can take action to reconstruct the associations. That being said, there are lots of problems with this type of brand measure as well. I’ll highlight a major one here. Consider the CMO of Coke using this approach to measure the brand. The outcome of his study would provide a series of word associations. So, the CMO from Coke, comparing his customers’ associations of Coke to customers’ brand associations for Pepsi, would see near-identical consumer associations (Silverman, Spott, and Pascal, 1999) leading to the conclusion that Coke and Pepsi have similar levels of brand equity. Yet, an Interbrand measure will evaluate Coke’s brand at around $55 billion more than Pepsi’s. Which takes us to the obvious point- are they really measuring the same thing?

So what does all this mean to a brander? Brands are multi-dimensional, hard to define, and can be costly/time consuming to measure. Then there is the added complexity of measures not jiving with one another. Having said that, there are a few ways to remedy the measurement challenges. Using multiple measures is one- which increases cost and complexity. I designed Brand Mojo as a key piece to remedy these (and other) brand measurement issues. But for the manager who realizes that the brand is the most valuable asset that she has, the brand ought to be measured so it can be managed. This is not an easy thing to do and for this reason it is #3 on our list of the Top 5 most difficult branding decisions.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Brand Prime Cuts. Best Brand Books

There are a lot of good branding books out there. And, there are some GREAT brand books out there. These are the Brand Prime Cuts: the books that give perspectives on brand building, brand loyalty, brand value, and brand importance.


BEST NEW BRAND BOOK: Brand Like a Rock Star


What do Bob Dylan and Whole Foods have in common? How come so many down-n-out artists were able to mount comebacks? Would KISS have sold as many albums had they kept their name Wicked Lester? Read on.

Hands down, this is the best fun-read brand book in a long while. Author Steve Jones loads up this 240 can't-put-it-down pocket book with examples on how some of the world's strongest "rock star" brands (e.g. AC/DC, Aerosmith, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, U2, the Beatles) built their brands. He relates their "lessons" to issues facing more traditional businesses. The book also deserves an award for "best book title."


BEST CLASSIC BOOK: Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind


A few years ago, one of my branding mentors, DemetriosVakratsas, lent me his copy of Ries and Trout's book: The Battle for Your Mind. It's a fantastic and insightful read. Although the original issue is approaching 25 years old, the book got a 20th anniversary update a few years ago. If you want an evening read that is a perfect blend of anecdotal stories and theory, this book is for you. It's the book that I recommend most (and have handed out most) for folks who need a really quick study on branding.



BEST TEXT BOOK: Strategic Brand Management

In my opinion, every brander ought to have a definitive "go-to" brand resource. There hasn't been a better one published than Kevin Lane Keller's Strategic Brand Management. Now in its 3rd edition (pictured left, 2008), this book is based on Keller's 1993 Journal of Marketing Article: Conceptualizing, Measuring and Managing Customer Based Brand Equity. The text (and research) focuses on the brand as an information node that exists in the consumer's mind. Therefore, to build a strong brand, that brand information node can be enhanced by improving awareness of the information node and associations linked to it. The text gives a pretty good summary of many of the ways to measure the brand (particularly in the consumer's mind) and an outstanding text book summary on approaches to build the brand. The author of the book, Kevin Keller, is also the defacto Godfather of modern branding. Brilliant works.


BEST 30,000 FOOT OVERVIEW: Brands and Branding

The Economist publishes a lot of good stuff and this book is no exception. Editor Rita Clifton grabs a subset of the "who's who" of brand experts and compiles her book with a lot of insights on brands at the 30,000 foot level. Chapter 1, written by Clifton herself, is maybe the best chapter that I have ever read on the importance and value of brands to businesses, non-profit organizations, and society. It builds a compelling case for why brands are a wonderful part of our society. The book also covers other less-written about topics like brand protection and ends with perspectives on the future of brands.

MOST CONTROVERSIAL: Buyology


One consumer-insights manager from Loblaws who has a deep interest in how the mind works put me on to Buyology a few years ago. In this book, Martin Lindstrom shares his perspectives and research on the subconscious reasons people buy. Some of his methods and perspectives are controversial too. For example- according to his research, the hideous pictures on tobacco packages actually excite a lot of smokers- the exact opposite of the pictures' desired effects. Lindstrom has a new book out (Brandwash) and we'll see how he follows up on his Buyology bestseller.

Monday, September 5, 2011

L’Oreal Lights it Up


It's always fun to get my readers contributing to mackalskionmarketing. The write up below gives some insights by Bianca Labelle on cosmetics branding. Let's take a look.

I’m a big fan of cosmetics. When applied and worn properly, cosmetics can beautify and glamorize its wearer- and transform her looks and her attitude.

I am not alone of my interest in cosmetics. Cosmetics are loved from Japan to Argentina. One British study (Britain is not usually a country associated with heavy cosmetics usage) found out some interesting things about women and cosmetics:

  • The typical woman spends an average of $150,000 in her lifetime on cosmetics (source).
  • From the age of 16, a woman will shop for mascara, foundation and lipstick at least five times a year, spending at least $50 each time. (source)
  • The average woman spends nearly 20 minutes a day perfecting her look. That is almost a complete year of her life getting ready to look great!(source)
  • 70 per cent of women never leave the house without applying some form of cosmetics, and that a fifth of the nation's boyfriends have never seen their partners without make-up.(source)
  • Two thirds of women surveyed said they would rather buy make up than go on a dinner date. (source)

Such a large demand for cosmetics naturally attracts competition. Not surprisingly, the cosmetics industry has a lot of competitors. Walk down any cosmetics aisle in a drug store and you’ll see product after product and brand after brand selling beauty. eBeauty.com lists over 300 different cosmetics brands- and that number explodes when you consider all of the sub brands. My point is this. If you manage a cosmetic brand, it is really tough to get attention in when there are so many competitors. That’s why L’Oreal impressed me a lot with something they have done.

I was checking out the new eye shadow and I noticed L’Oreal’s new in-store brand presentations. You can see a picture below.

I find this display to be very effective for many reasons.

  1. It is the brightest display in the store, helping to attract attention to the L’Oreal brand and its products.
  2. The orderly alignment of the hangers/shelves means that there are no obstructions to the L’Oreal brand and product presentation. The brand name and logo are easy to see because the design of the display forces the retailer to present the brand name/logo/packaging facing the consumer.
  3. The presentation aligns the brand to what the brand is about. L’Oreal is selling beauty and glitz. The vibrant lighting reflects off of L’Oreal products’ shiny packaging- giving a jewel-like sparkle to the packaging (and by transitivity, to the L’Oreal brand).
  4. The brighter light makes the “small print” of the packaging easier to read. This is a very important point. Watch women make cosmetic purchases. They spend a lot of time in the store examining brands and products. Why? Most women purchase cosmetics because they want to feel that they are looking great. Therefore, reading packaging for instructions, product benefits (e.g. transform your lashes from dull to full), and ingredient information is a pivotal part of the purchase process.
  5. Finally, by contrast, other brand displays look dark (almost unclean) compared to the bright, glamorous, perfectly presented L’Oreal. It is almost as if L’Oreal is saying, “if we can present our packaging this perfectly and cleanly, think of how good we can make you look!"

Monday, August 8, 2011

Brand Lovers and Haters part 2: The Wrath of the Hater

While in San Francisco to attend the American Marketing Association conference, I stopped in to a souvenir shop on the wharf to inquire about directions to a nearby supermarket. The employ said, "There are two supermarkets around here. Both are about 4 blocks away. Safeway and Trader Joe's." Another shopper who had overheard our conversation blurted, "Don't go to Trader Joe's. They suck. Bad selection. They support fringe political agendas. I hate them." I had come across a self-professed brand hater.

Brand haters are the exact opposite of brand lovers. The won't buy the brand (or will do so very unwillingly) and go out of their way to disrupt brand building activities. They talk against the brand to family, friends, strangers, or anyone who will listen. Sometimes their efforts are organized and can lay a powerful punch to an organization; sometimes they are not. Some efforts are legit (think PETA on KFC cruelty to chickens); some are not (think rumors on the P&G being satanic propagated by Amway representatives). But haters have to be handled carefully especially given new technologies and social networks that make hater-activities easier, more sophisticated, faster, and effective. Since hater activities (negative blogging, writing scolding brand reviews, organizing boycotts etc.) are increasingly easier to do, there are more and more of these activities. With every "hating activity" the hater becomes more committed to the hate position- and the more hate positions that are out there can also translate into the position being further legitimized. The result: a group of entrenched, motivated haters.

Let's look at some hater stories and their weapons of choice:

Thomas Hawk the blogger (excerpted from futurelab):

Briefly, Thomas Hawk was shopping for a camera, found what seemed like a great deal, and tried to place an order. The company pulled some nasty stuff on him. Rather than just take it, Hawk wrote a detailed post to his blog. The post got picked up by a few other blogs and community and Internet news sites, and the whole thing absolutely erupted. There were reports people were constantly calling PriceRitePhoto to tie up their phones in support of Hawk. Hackers attacked the site. Consumers rallied and went on a rampage. They ultimately got PriceRitePhoto removed from PriceGrabber, CNET, and Yahoo! Shopping.

Then, PriceRitePhoto changed their name. Hawk busted them again by posting the new name to his blog. The story was picked up by "New York Post," Forbes.com, and "The New York Times." Hawk had e-mail exchanges with the Better Business Bureau and the New York Attorney General's office.

The result? PriceRitePhotophoto.com doesn't seem to be live any more. It seems that Hawk chased the company into oblivion.

Angry Marine Viral Video

How full of rage do you have to be to steal bullets from your government, fire an automatic weapon on a printer, film it, put it on YouTube, and risk upsetting your Sargent?

That's what happened in the video above, which made the viral rounds. It features a disgruntled U.S. Marine based in Iraq who is infuriated by HP's demands to be paid for consultation on how to fix his inoperable HP printer. So, he opens fire with his Uncle Sam issued weapon and blasts the printer to bits. HP spent lots of time and effort diffusing the viral video - including posting up this marketing department scripted response video. (Just think of the effort HP went through to get to this point). But no matter how marketing likes to spin it ("we are that much better now...", the trouble with haters, is that there is no upside. It's never pleasant to be forced to pay to neutralize bad things.

Brand Hate Sites

A lot of haters are willing to go beyond what is rational to get some brand retribution. Some haters develop brand hate sites - and the best ones can get ranked by international press. Think of it, some haters are disgruntled enough to buy a domain name like McSucks.com, Screw-Paypay.com or Verizonpathetic.com, pay money for hosting, and invest time and effort in generating ongoing content. Some sites have gotten pretty sophisticated over the years. This means that the brand hate site gets high search engine rankings and visibility. If you are a brand manager of Bell Canada for example and search a Bell related term, there is a non-trivial chance that one of these sites pop up. Try Google searching "Bell Canada sucks." You'll get close to 11,000,000 returns for the regional Canadian brand. That's more than the 9.2 million returns that the international brand McDonald's gets. There are clearly a lot haters out there. (click to enlarge Google image below)

Do you really control your logo?

If you are a brand manager, here is some food for thought: In the USA, the 1st Amendment shields the operators of brand hate sites from liability, unless they are selling products, deriving advertising revenue and/or in some other way engaged in "commercial" speech. If the brand hate site is strictly non-commercial in nature, the operator's freedom of speech will generally override the trademark owner's interest in controlling the use of its company name or trademark. So images like the one you see on the left are, broadly speaking, protected as free speech. Of course, well financed corporations can initiate legal threats to have their brand elements (logo, characters etc) removed. But sometimes haters take on the challenge in court, and unless they are benefiting financially from the corporate hate site, they generally win. (click here for some more thorough explanations and court case precedents)

Old School Tactics

But some of the most interesting hater stories are old school tactics. The Net is loaded with stories like this next one.

One woman hated her bank after it wrongfully bounced a bunch of her cheques. The bank reps were highly uncooperative and refused to take off $200 in fees. In typical hater fashion, she was going to abandon the bank but hesitated because she wanted revenge. She publicized her saga, and got vengeful. Since she had free check cashing, she started writing cheques out for "CASH" for one penny. She wrote 500 cheques and sent her obliging friends to cash them at the various branches. Eventually the bank called her to stop, paid her $200 in fees back- but only after the bank spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars processing cheques. In a follow-up to the story, she withdrew all of her money from the bank except $100 so she could continue to be a thorn in the side of the bank. She's learned to love hating her bank brand.

In some of my research on haters, I spoke with a man was dissatisfied with the way his telecom brand was sending him unexpected charges. Antagonized by this, he paid off all of his account except for $50, signed up with another carrier, and began his retribution campaign. When the call center began calling for late payment on the $50, he asked to organize an installment plan to pay off the bill. Of course, the call center employees did not understand how to deal with this- and his installment request made its way to middle management. Through a negotiation with the manager, $3.50 was the monthly amount agreed upon. But then he started sending cheques for $3.505 (that's right, half cent amounts on the cheques). None of his cheques have been cashed because the half cent messes up the accounting balance. But think of how this hater has cost the brand money. It straddles many departments- call center, accounts payable, management, accounting- and there is zero upside with this customer. From a hater perspective, this is "checque-mate".

I started this blog by saying how the web and social media have made it easier for brand haters to engage in the their brand hater activities. It took me about 5 minutes to find the above examples. There are just so many of them. Many of them are effective. This brand hater world is the new reality of branding and few managers know how to deal with them. This is why I've dedicated a good chunk of my research in this area.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Brand Lovers and Haters part 1: My love Replay'd

A good chunk of my research involves work on Brand Lovers and Brand Haters. The concept is a simple one. If you manage a brand, you want consumers (or customers in a BtoB sense) to love it. What you don't want is consumers to hate your brand. The power behind the lovers versus haters theory is rooted in this: Lovers are extremely loyal to the brand, buy more of the brand more often, are willing to pay more for it, talk-up the brand to family and friends (becoming a free marketing department for the brand), are the first to try new extensions of it, and are more inclined to overlook minor brand transgressions. Haters are the exact opposite.They will be the least inclined to try or purchase the brand and will even try to disrupt or sabotage the brand's brand-building efforts.

In this first of a two part blog entry, I'm going to share a personal anecdotal story on my "love" for the Italian brand Replay. In the second entry (which will likely be posted after the American Marketing Association conference), I will share some intense anecdotal "brand hater" stories that I've come across through my research. Think of part 1 as "how far a consumer will go purchase a brand he/she loves". Think of part 2 as "how far a consumer will go to retaliate to a brand that he/she hates".

Last week I just returned from Miami. Although I am not a big shopper, one of the highlights of my trip was buying Replay jeans. I’ve truly loved the brand ever since Lisa and Laura (two spectacular sales girls from a now-closed Montreal boutique store Venus) got me to try them on by asking, "Why don't you try these new Replays?" The jeans just fit. The material was soft. The pockets were in the right places. The hang-tags looked cool. They were made in Italy. I thought that the in-store displays for Replay were cool and not trashy like so many other designer brands that try too hard. While the Replay brand was quite a bit more than I wanted to spend, I was happy to pay the premium because “they spoke to me”. It was love at first sight.

Since that time, Replay brand became a lot more difficult to purchase in Canada. Its high price point and weak distributor promotional support led to sluggish sales. (The brand continued to sell pretty well in Europe.) And a couple of years ago, Replay distribution ceased in Quebec and Ontario. I was confronted with an uncomfortable reality: I would have to look for a new brand of jeans. But for me, trying, buying, and wearing other brands just didn’t feel right. I had become a lover of the Replay brand. To use brand researcher Susan Fournier's lingo, I was married to Replay jeans.

But, marriages are meant to last and I decided to fight for mine. Two things needed to be done. First, since I was reticent about buying other jean brands, my old Replays would have to last longer. One pair has been patched up by the seamstress on 3 separate occasions. Second, I would have to look for a new Replay outlet. Since I never a fan of purchasing jeans online, I researched Replay outlets via search engines and blogs with very limited success. (Replay really needs to improve its online representation.) I decided to contact Replay corporate office in Italy. They advised me that there was only one retailer carrying their products in Canada- and that retailer was in Winnipeg. (I'm pretty sure the Replay rep didn't know Winnipeg is almost a 3 hour flight from Montreal. This Winnipeg retailer was also pathetic about responding to purchase inquiries). Beyond those effots, in every city that I visited for work or for fun, I also sought out retailers carrying Replay. Last week, I discovered a Replay flagship store in Miami South Beach. I called my friend who was visiting Miami with me and said, "Come with me to the Replay store."

When we walked into the store, I was greeted by two charming sales people-Alexandra and Jennifer. I told them I had been all over looking for Replay. They laughed, showed me the new jean lines and asked, "Why don't you try these new Replays on?" The jeans just fit. The material was soft. The pockets were in the right places. The hang-tags looked cool. They were made in Italy. I bought more than I originally thought I would buy, and spent more than I thought I would spend. But, I was happy to do this because it was for my marriage. It's love Replay'd all over again.

__________

For other Replay lovers out there: I've come across two Replay flagships in North America. SoBe and NYC. Below is an excerpt from NYMag on Replay.

http://nymag.com/listings/stores/replay/

Italian label Replay is all about aggressive mixing and matching. Plaid is paired with floral designs, grungy, masculine pieces are combined with feminine beading, and even the store itself—a large, immaculately clean space—is littered with tattered garage-like artifacts. And in keeping with the dinge-chic esthetic, Replay focuses strictly on not-for-the-office attire. Even the higher-end We Are Replay line—which boasts handmade items often emblazoned with the word “replay”—primarily consists of jeans, patched sweaters, shirts, and boots, most of which soar well into the three figures. The results are predictably eclectic, with some items that look like an arts and crafts teacher took a glue gun to them, and others that appear one step ahead of tomorrow’s fashionista.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Guest blog: Ewwwww. How is that man dressed?

Tonight we have a real treat- a MackalskionMarketing guest entry. I invited one of Montreal's fashion consultants (Avia) to serve up a few heuristic do's and don'ts of men's fashion. Take it away Avia.

"Eww how is that man dressed???"

Let me tell you about the 10 rules men should know about fashion.More specifically, I'll share some insights on the most violated fashion "rules". But before we get in to that, let's start with the basics of looking sharp. First you should determine your style, what kind of man you are, and how you would like to present yourself. Your style tells a lot about your personality and who you are. How you present yourself is especially important for your first impression. Psychology Today journal reminds of this important fact: "Even if we are presented with lots of evidence to the contrary, we're attached to our initial impressions of people." Men need to be especially ready when creating that first impression. In the business world, this is part of your personal branding- marketing yourself. Regardless of your personal style and personality, there are some fashion rules that hold:

1) Match your shoes and belt. Wear a belt that is the same color of the shoes you are wearing.

2) Never wear socks with sandals.

3) Never wear a work suit with white socks.

4) Running shoes should be only worn during sporty activities.

5) Forget about the black dress shirt and white tie combinations. It is tough to pull this combination off.

6) Invest in a good watch. Watches quickly add sophistication.

7)Do not wear too much of the same pattern.

8) Do not dress from head toe in the same color. Match colors that blend in nicely together.

9) If you wear glasses, keep your glasses up-to-date.

10) Do not wear over sized clothes thinking you will look thinner when, in reality it give the opposite effect.



Ready for a good Google cry? Google's brand building ads.

A couple of years ago, my BrandMojo website picked up on how very loved the Google brand is. Last year, Interbrand’s annual global brand valuation showed how Google’s financial brand valuation was surging. (A key point of Brand Mojo is showing that the more loved a brand is, the bigger the brand growth. ) A lot of online brands are strong brands (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) but Google is in a league of its own. Google just “gets” branding better. I’ll give an example below.

Unlike other online powerhouse brands, Google does quite of bit of traditional media buys (e.g. Superbowl 2010 advertisement). Many folks will argue that Google doesn’t need to do this. Why bother? Google can advertise for “free” through its own properties. According to the bean-counters that keep track of this sort of thing, while Facebook is the site with the most online traffic, Google properties (by traffic) are ranked second (Google), third (Gmail), fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. Those are world-wide stats and you can check it out here. (Click the image below to see the top 5 traffic sites.)

What this means is that Google has unprecedented contact points with consumers. These contact points are themselves opportunities for Google “self-advertisements” and brand building experiences. Think just how good the Google experience is. When was the last time that Google’s main search site had crashed on you? I’ll bet never. How blown away were you when you saw Google Earth for the first time? A lot. Google Translate? Amazing. Direct experience with Google builds its brand in a most powerful way.

So why would Google even bother to reach out to mass audiences when it can reach them directly online and super effectively already? And, what would a company with such a boring utilitarian search function even bother to communicate? The answer to the 2nd question is contained in the two links below. Oh yeah, they are YouTube links.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnsSUqgkDwU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4vkVHijdQk


So now we have our answer to question 2. (By the way, how are the heart-strings? Don't be ashamed to say that you cried. I did too - along with most of my branding students. Hey, who needs to watch "the Notebook" for a good cry?)

These advertisements demonstrate that the folks at Google “get branding.” The Google marketing folks took the most utilitarian online product ("search" in and of itself is pretty boring) and emotionalized the Google brand. The campaign message: Google is part of your life. Google is your trusted friend to help you through your personal journey.

So what's the impact Google? The ads aren’t going to drive anymore traffic to the site or have site visitors stay longer at the site. It is even hard to expand the percentage of “lovers” of Google. The ad campaign doesn't have short term goals. The ads are designed to shape Google’s brand image for the long term. The campaign is building the brand- fortifying the Google lovers (maybe making a few more) and immunizing the brand against bad things that might happen in the future. For example, how could I bet upset at Google, my trusted BFF for some minor privacy violations? Google anti-trust, nah leave Google alone. (see http://www.vancouversun.com/Ganging+Google/5116751/story.html) A few mistakes by our best friends are easy to overlook.

One mistake Google is not making is traditional brand building.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Game: Where winning is losing.

My best friend cancelled lunch with me one day. Instead, he was going to meet up with Sarah, a former undergraduate classmate of his. Sarah wanted to catch-up after more than 9 months of radio silence. She said it was "urgent" and needed advice on a situation with a boss.

Immediately following his lunch, my buddy called:

"Bobby, you won't believe what just happened?"

"What?"

"I just had lunch with Sarah. I went 45 minutes without her asking me a single meaningful question."

"What did you talk about?"

"Her. You should try it sometime."

And thus began the game: How long can you have a conversation with someone without him/her asking a you single, meaningful question about you. We call it The Game. It's measured in minutes and Sarah was the big winner.



Everyone's got an interesting story

I've met a lot of interesting people while flying. For example, I've sat by the former drummer of Ozzy Osbourne (he was running a .com at the time); Don Cherry and Ron Maclean (Don was not happy about our delayed flight); and Rob Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice (a very bright, heavily tattooed guy!). But it's not just celebs who are interesting. The most interesting stories often come from the unsuspecting individuals. Just a few weeks ago I sat by a runner who runs up to 189km in a single day. I felt the deep remorse of a UN worker heading home on sick leave because she had just witnessed a pile of hundreds of beheaded people in a Darfur. From students to celebrities- grandmothers to priests and rabbis- there is a wonderland of interesting stuff. I've kept in touch with some of the folks I've met along the way. Some I've helped- some have helped me. A few have even become guest speakers in my classes. Some would call this networking but I do it because I like meeting people and learning about their experiences.

The Game on Flight Me Me Me

A few weeks ago, I flew into Winnipeg for a surprise birthday party. After a 30 minute nap in my airline seat, I woke up to find myself sitting beside Tara, a 24 year old woman with an undergraduate business degree and a penchant for fashion. She saw me pull out my iPhone and play Angry Birds. Within seconds, she did the same thing, then glanced over to me and said, "I love Angry Birds. But yours looks different than mine."

"I'm playing a different version. I'm playing Angry Birds Rio."

Tara didn't have Angry Birds Rio version but proceeded to tell me how it was her dream to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and South America. I asked her why. She loved the vibrancy and extravagance of Carnival fashions and sought a career in fashion marketing. In fact, she aspired to work in South America for a designer- to better understand the Brazilian "feel". Tara and I shared a similar perspective- that the "Brazil country-of-origin" label is on the rise, because of the rapid pace of development of the country- and its international likeability.

Tara felt that her background in costume making, part time modeling, and her undergraduate degree in business had prepared her well for such a career. We chatted about some of her courses and profs (a couple of which I knew), and of her desire to do an MBA at McGill University. She had a lot of concerns about getting accepted at McGill (she had been rejected for undergraduate studies) and admitted that she was having trouble writing an MBA application.

Since we were both heading to Winnipeg, she transitioned her thoughts to the Winnipeg Jets- what they should be called and why... what their logo should be...how the sweaters should look... and the team's overall impact on the city. Sadly our 85 minute chat came to an end as our flight landed. But, at the baggage pick up, she saw me waiting for my bag, walked up to me and said, "Thank you for interesting conversation... I really enjoyed it. I'm sorry but I forgot your name..."

"Bob", I replied.

She didn't forget my name because she never knew it. In fact, this was the first question (which it technically is not even a question) that she asked me over our 85 minute conversation. Equally as interesting, she pretty much volunteered a huge chunk of her life history.

As she strutted away, I waved goodbye in my green Brazilian flag shirt. I couldn't help but thinking, had she asked a few professional questions in the right way, I most likely would have happily advised her on her McGill MBA application, introduced her to some influential people at the university, advised her about the MBA level Global Branding on my Study Abroad Brazil program that I have taught for 9 years, shared my experiences on working with some Brazilian fashion companies, and made recommendations for her future South American travels.

Sadly, Tara became the newest, biggest winner in The Game. The 85 minute champion.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Flow of Funds: Expense Reimbursement

If you are a manager, odds are you are going to be spending a lot of money out of your own pocket for work-related purposes. After you incur your expenses, your firm reimburses you. That's the standard way most firms work.

I remember talking to one of my former MBA students about his new job. Right after his MBA he was loaded with student debts. The pressure was on to find a job. He was an outstanding candidate and within a few weeks he found a marketing and strategy job that he loved- at a firm that loved (Bombardier). In month two, he was sent on exciting assignments to the UK, Germany, and Mexico. He told me how he incurred large work-related expenses and when he had to extend a stay in London in his 2nd month at the firm, he couldn't pay his hotel bill. He complained that his firm still hadn't paid off his first month's of expenses. I told him, "I've been there". Quite frankly, a lot of people I talk to have been there.

This blog today relates to something that many managers have faced and wondered about. What happens to my expenses? Of course, every firm is different, has different needs, different cultures, different checks and balances, and different processes. I'll compare two "opposite ends of the spectrum" that I've had in my life. The first experience is my entrepreneurial experience. The second involves my work at a university.

As many of my readers know, immediately following my MBA, I started up a company with my best friend. Within days we added a 3rd partner. Via a merger/acquisition a 4th. Decisions were made fast. Decisions with money were made equally as fast. Most of the time we didn't have money to spend which made the decisions that much easier (*entrepreneurs will appreciate that sentence.) But here is a typical way that we operated with expenses:

If I visited clients in Washington, Pittsburgh and Houston one week, the day I'd come back, I'd see my business partner Neil, with expenses prepared. Neil always had a pulse on the company receivables and payables. Assuming our cash flow was ok, Neil would issue me a reimbursement check that he would sign . Then we'd get a 2nd partner signature (any expense over $100 needed two partner signatures- any expense under $100 was petty cash honor system). Reimbursement was on the spot. Sometimes, Neil would say, "Cash flow is tight right now. We're waiting for company X to pay us ... as soon as they pay us, we're good for payroll and your expense will be right after." Sometimes I would have to wait 2 months, which was an eternity especially when you are not taking a salary. All partners understood sacrifice and appreciated the the prioritization of personal expense reimbursements.

Entrepreneurial Example of Expense Reimbursement (click image to enlarge image)


My entrepreneurial experience anchored me on how processes and reimbursements worked and should work. Reimbursements were informal and mostly instantaneous (although sometimes delays were painfully unpredictable). At my firm, each partner had bought into the concept of integrity and frugality in such a way that frivolous spending was not part of the culture. Checks-and-balances beyond that of 2 partner signatures on a check were not necessary. Quite frankly, one signature would have been more than enough. We would all sacrifice personal pleasures if it would help the firm.

When our company grew, we brought in professional talent. We hired the best- from a record breaking salesman from Kellogg's to a superstar EM from McKinsey. Travel rose significantly with our new high-priced talent, and expense reimbursement would occur formally twice a month. Thus began our introduction to formal expense reimbursement processes. As you can imagine, this entrepreneurial experience is opposite to most large organization's formalities.

The Large Organization

When an organization has hundreds of employees who incur work-related expenses, formalities have to be introduced. It is pretty obvious why that is. First, not everyone is honest. The large organization is a lot more impersonal and so personal relationships within the organization matter less. It seems like a lot less of a crime if you cheat a bureaucracy than if you cheat someone you know. Second, some honest folks just might not know the boundaries of work-related spending. Third, the sheer volume of expenses that need to be processed requires order. So, the need for bureaucracy and checks and balances rise.

Here's an example of the "formal end" of the spectrum. To the best of my knowledge this is how the process works for my expense reimbursement for the Study Abroad program that I run at a university. Different color boxes represent different individuals involved in the expense reimbursement process. The grey arrows represent the step-by-step flow of the process. The smaller black arrows represent "send backs" if there are issues with the expense file. (click image to enlarge image)



In the above process, eight different individuals (including the expense bearer) are involved with the 12-step process. Given the amount of individuals reviewing the file, this process can be a very slow (just think if someone is away how reimbursement can be delayed) and costly too. It will never win an award for efficiency. At the same time, its rigor and robustness will catch dishonest expense reporting and will ensure a tightly run balance sheet.

Of course, there are many different processes for firms to do their expense reimbursements. Most organizations want a balance between efficiency and rigor. I submit that laying out a flow chart like I have done above is a good starting point. It can help firms introduce checks and balances to guard against fraud and bad expenses - but also find ways to streamline inefficient, expensive processes.