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.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Brand Mojo quick update

To my faithful readership: Thank you for your patience. I've been busy preparing (and presenting) some of my research at conferences. I'm back from my hiatus with a lot of fresh content for this blog. But first, here's a quick Brand Mojo update. Let's look at the top 10 most loved corporate brands on the leaderboard:



Some quick observations:
1. The top ten continue to be very stable. Since the site began - Google has been dominant (although it is starting to slip from the overall 4.8 rating that it once had). The other brands in the top 20 have never been outside of the top 20.
2. The top 3 most loved brands are all free brands. Google, YouTube and Wikipedia give unbelievable value for money (free!)
3. One gender can drive up a brand. Check out the rating discrepancies between women and men on Tiffany. I ran a quick t-test and (surprise surprise) the rating gap is significant.
4. There seems to be a nostalgia impact on the most loved brands. Lego, Disney, and Warner Bros (via Looney Toons) are all endowed with rich, playful, emotional childhood associations.

What about the most hated corporate brands?


Tobacco, controversial and scandal-ridden brands (Halliburton, Bratz) continue to bottom feed on the leaderboard. Here's something new. MySpace became a new entrant into the most hated brands. With so many "haters" and "ambivalents" towards the brand, is it any wonder that MySpace recently sold for a dismal $35 million (representing a $500million loss for NewsCorp)?

This raises a question. If the lovers to haters ratio shifted so much so fast for MySpace, how is FaceBook doing? While still strong, the Facebook ratings are falling significantly, particularly around men. The summer 2011 ratings are below, down from an average of over 4.0 just 6 months ago.


This takes us to a quick recap of the most loved not for profit brand and celebrity brand. The Red Cross continues to be the most loved not-for-profit brand. On the celebrity front, Halle Berry has replaced George Clooney as the most loved celebrity. This switch may be more to do with Clooney's declining ratings which seem to correlate with his recent movie flop (the American). Clooney's ranking is still #2 but his ratio of lovers has fallen substantially.

That takes us to the most hated celebrities? Former American president George W. Bush and Hugo Chavez continue to battle for this position.

You can rate brands at www.BrandMojo.org and check out the leaderboard for more rankings.