Sunday, January 30, 2011

The 5 Most Difficult Branding Decisions #4 Branding the Boring

Branding can be a very glamorous field. A lot of my students tell me how much they would like to name a new fragrance for cK, develop an ad campaign for BMW, organize a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show, or select the newest celebrity endorsers for Adidas. What do these brands have in common? It turns out- a lot. First they are from categories that are naturally appealing to most consumers (cosmetics, performance sports cars, fashion, and sporting goods, respectively). Second, these brands are aspirational and target the mid-to-luxury ends of the market. Third, brands in these categories often make public statements about the individual consuming them. Because of this, it reasonably easy to capture the imagination of consumers and pull their heart strings when marketing these brands. There are a lot of intangible levers to pull.

However, not all brands have equal category opportunity. Some products are functional goods that are privately consumed. In these cases, the category is often boring and the brands so undifferentiated that finding out more about them is not worth a consumer’s while. Price becomes the single driver of purchase. These are areas where private labels thrive. Think of aluminum foil, paper, dishwashing detergents, cans of beans, and plastic food wraps. To the marketer, functional goods that are privately consumed translates into branding the boring.

Branding the boring also relates to B-to-B brands. I recall lengthy discussions with one of my former clients in the mining space. Their issue: Branding their offering of a commodity. It is pretty hard to get customers excited about one type of mud vs. another- or one type of paper over another. Here too functional needs of the client and price dictate the purchase orders. It is a tough gig to brand bauxite, for example.

There is also a double whammo for the branding of the boring too. Talent flocks to companies with the strongest brands. I often ask my students, “Let’s do a poll. Where would you rather work- L’oreal Cosmetics or Laporte Cosmetics? The response is usually about 9:1 for L’Oreal. The stronger brand carries weight for attracting talent, a problem that is all too well known for organizations competing in the boring.

The reality is that branding the boring doesn’t have to be that way. Take batteries, for example. Here is a category that is purely functional and is not only privately consumed- it is always hidden when it is consumed. Very recently, Duracell developed a campaign to excite its boring- and decided to endow Duracell with trust. It could have been marketed only along functional lines (ie how long it lasts.) So what does "trust mean"? When things really matter, when life and death is on the line, when you really care, Duracell is the brand you can rely on. It’s the brand that makes sure your smoke detector will go off to save your family in a fire. It is the brand that is committed to working for you when you need it. It is the brand that understands and cares. It's the loyal friend who won't let you down. This brand from one of the most boring categories of all (batteries) is all of a sudden a lot more exciting. These concepts apply equally well to commodities (think Juan Valdez and Columbian coffee or Chiquita Bananas) and some can be applied to business-to-business branding too. But developing the intangible link in categories that are functional/private – is tricky.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How well can you predict a You Tube hit?

Here are a few videos that have some legs for viral. Which one is going to have the biggest growth curve? Send me your predictions. Keep in mind, they all have different load-dates and the screen captures indicate how many downloads they have had so far.

Just for fun, let's track the number downloads to see what the growth will look like.

1. (the "no no baby")

2. (spanish live TV)

3. (abercrombie skit)

The next post will be "the 4th most difficult branding decision".

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The 5 Most Difficult Branding Decisions - #5 Branding a Late Entrant

Over my years as a marketing guy, I’ve come across a lot of branding problems for clients. I’ve looked at issues for Fortune 500s companies and start-ups, for-profits and charities, and Canadian firms and international organizations. I thought it would be both fun and insightful to share my experiences and teaching. Tonight will be part 1 of a 5 part series I will call "The 5 Most Difficult Branding Decisions".

#5 Branding a late entrant:
Marketing text books often play up the importance of being first. They call it the first mover advantage and list a bunch of reasons for it- (preferential shelf space, ability to generate more free publicity, first choice of selecting partners etc). While all of this can be true, a real battle, particularly for consumer branding relates to what’s going on in the consumer’s mind. When I talk to my class about this, I sometimes start off with a quiz. Let's do one here.

1. Who was the first president of the United States?
2. Who was the fourth?
3. Twentieth?

The correct answers are Washington, Madison, and Garfield. But if you are like most people, you got Washington, maybe got Madison, and think that Garfield is a cartoon.

In the off-chance that you are a history buff and got the correct answer for Garfield, let’s make the quiz a bit harder. Who was the first American woman in space? Answer Sally Ride. The second? Judith Reznik. But I’m betting you got Sally but not Judith- who also died on her second ride into space in the ‘86 Challenger explosion. By rights, Judith should have received more "mind space" (pardon the pun) - but nope, for most of us she didn't.

Here's an easy one. Who won the most Olympic gold medals in the last summer Olympics? I bet you answered Micheal Phelps (which is correct). But who won the 2nd most? Who cares? (Except for the guy's parents). Ries and Trout have given similar examples in their book “The Battle for Your Mind”. But let’s get some 2011 perspective on why this is. In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an article saying that the average consumer may be targeted with up to 3000 advertising communications a day. Over the last 5 years this number has gone up as marketers have new ways to reach consumers (e.g. smart phones, ads on applications, more sophisticated internet advertising, fragmentation of media etc). Furthermore, the average consumer also is exposed to tens of thousands of brands as soon as he/she enters a mall or supermarket (A typical supermarket has around 45,000 SKUs). The point is this. It is a brand jungle out there. Accessing the increasingly jaded consumer by breaking through advertising/brand clutter is tougher than ever before. We just saw how much easier it is to “own” some mind space if you are the first. Of course being first is not a prerequisite for success (Google followed Yahoo, Northern Lights, Excite, Infoseek, Webcrawler, Altavista, Lycos and others- and still prevailed) but if you are not first, you have to be significantly faster, stronger, bigger, craftier - or have to spend a lot more money to buy your way into the consumer’s mind.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The best of the best: CES 2011

Over the last 3 days, one of my clients asked me attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This annual show, which is not open to the public, features more than 2700 companies showcasing their newest technologies and product lines. All of your favorite brands that develop or use technology were there- from automakers to kitchen appliance manufacturers, major television network to designer brands, software companies to university research teams, fitness equipment makers to sound system manufacturers … well you get the idea. The show is a nerd’s playground and a marketer’s dream.

Keep Walking: How big is this show?
I’ve been to a lot of trade shows and conventions before, but nothing comes close to the size of this one. The exhibitor space sprawls over 1.7 million square feet. That’s about the equivalent of 30 football fields (A typical football field including the two end zones is about 57,600 square feet) or 17 square city blocks (Engineers use a typical city block as 100,000 sq. ft. for calculation estimates, which is about 17 blocks per mile).

In Montreal terms, that takes you just about from about Guy street to St. Urbain - and Notre Dame to Dr. Penfield Avenue. In that space there are parks, apartment complexes, hotels, office buildings, and almost 2 complete university campuses. It's a big convention.

The Crowds came: Attendance
This year close to 200,000 people attended the show. Teams of journalists and buyers crawled all over perusing the exhibits and new products. There is no shortage of show coverage on technologies – or the company announcements that major media cover from the show. For example, this year Ford unveiled its first electric car, Motorola introduced it Xoom tablet running Android 3.0. But, my perspective is always on the branding, promotion and products. I visited the lion's share of displays over 3 days to bring you the best of marketing of the show. And, while this was an extraordinarily fun task, it was by no means an easy one. Consider some of these options: I visited the Blackberry booth to play with the Playbook tablet and hung out with Adrian Grenier from Entourage. I blasted amplified guitars with no strings, took pictures with state of the art high-definiton 3D cameras (e.g. Kodak), heard the crispest audio sounds on million dollar theatre speakers, received private tours of wide screen 3D TVs (Panasonic, Sharp), got my picture drawn by one of the world’s most renowned cartoonists (Intel), played with new packaging, steered the car from the Green Hornet motion picture (Sony), demo'd the world’s largest 3D stadium screen (Samsung) and saw presentations from some of the best advertising creatives and special effects guys in the business (Polaroid, Canon). Indeed, it’s been an amazing time. So today, I’ll share my perspective on the best of the show.


Of course sales are the true test of the impact of “best marketing”. But since that information is impossible to have, the criteria that I am using here is a mix of the following: 1. WOW factor; 2. How well the booth communicates the values of the brand; 3. Likability with the audience.

#1. The Canon Circus. (Japan)There are so many “WOW” exhibition booths, but Canon was a cut above. The centerpiece of their presentation was an elaborate (and complete) jungle stage with a full 15 minute Cirque-de-Soleil style theatrical show. Acrobats dressed in wild animal prints bungeed up and down, flew above the crowd in butterfly costumes and dazzled in elaborate costuming. Midway through the show, a discreet photographer appeared (as part of the show) to capture the acrobat’s images on film which were then displayed in high definition on the large screens above. Check out the video here for a 45 second video clip. The communication of the brand’s values and features were even clearer than the high resolution images taken by the photographer: Artistic creativity, stability of the camera, and vibrant color capture. Interestingly enough, Canon’s booth was located directly beside Polaroid’s booth, which also tries to own the “creativity” and “self expression” brand values (hence the Lady Gaga endorsement). At their booth Polaroid had famous ad execs present their works using Polaroid’s cameras, which is cool in its own right. But what would you rather see? Put it this way, I hung out at Polaroid for 10 minutes and Canon for 90.

#2. The future is Audi (Germany).
Even before stepping into the booth you get the brand’s messaging. Audi is the future. You enter into a sleek, spacious booth with an illuminating bright white display. The environment is exactly how movies depict the future. But here you feel the future. In the future things are just working out right. There’s harmony. There’s tranquility. There’s a carbon-fiber Audi R8. In the back, a dazzling (but somewhat discreet) presentation by a guy with a German accent (everyone wants a German engineer) who thoughtfully explains how the future of driving works. You’ll see how Audi has networked sensors to help the driver avoid red lights (saving you up to 15% in fuel costs) and traffic. You’ll hear how your wipers beam with other drivers for immediate weather reports from other drivers. The future looks illuminating. The future looks German. The future is Audi (I should really sell them that copy). I’ve never been a fan of Audi. Today I am a disciple.

#3 Visit Avatar with Nvidia.(USA)

This show had so many much emphasis on 3D technologies: Cameras, printers, video cameras, projectors and stadium screens. Each brand making seemed to blur into another one in this category. I’m definitely no guru on this and quite frankly near the end of the show I was getting nauseous watching 3D (which I understand is a common complaint for viewers of 3D TV), but one brand didn’t stand out here- it leap out. Nvidia makes video cards for graphics. They were showcasing their involvement with 3D and had characters from Avatar present. You could engage with the Avatarians in fake combat and have your photos taken with them. Of course, your photos (both 3D and 2D) are retrievable on the web. At this booth, the actors and actresses were tons of fun. But this brand linked to the masterpiece of 3D theatre- Avatar, giving the brand a lot of credibility in this space. For nerds, a functional thing that differentiated Nvidia was that their technology can take legacy computer games and present them in 3D. To the gamer that is really cool stuff.

#4. Check your heart iDesia (Isreal). It’s not fair to lump the small guys in with the firms that can spend millions of dollars on their convention presences. So, here I am going to recognize the best "small" booth. It's an Isreali brand that makes small sensor plates to extract and interpret heartbeats. It turns out that this information is unique to each individual and can be used for 2 broad purposes. First, it can help individuals have a baseline of heart measures to monitor heart-related issues. Second, it can be very useful for secure bio log-ons. Read that sentence again. If you lost interest then you know how difficult it will be to attract attention of a targeted technology – in a small booth- in a sea of multi-million dollar booths. iDesia’s solution? They hired two pretty actresses to play iDesia nurses and take baseline heartbeats of volunteering (and adoring) males. You could then get a quick heartbeat evaluation which assessed your mood. (My readout said I was “happy”) Some might argue that the use of models in booths cliche, but when they are knowledgeable about the brand – and purposeful for communicating the brand’s values, sometimes it just works. The company's execution of its simple booth got it a nice color spread in the LA Times. At any rate, the iDesia brand was well linked to unique heartbeat and health in an appealing way to the overwhelmingly male audience.

#5 Ear, Eye, Skullcandy. (USA) That takes us to my final "best of exhibit" marketing for the show. The headphone space is saturated but Skullcandy developed a high-octane energy, irrelevant, fun and youthful brand. Their technology may (or may not be) up to snuff but there booth emphasized the intangibles that makes the brand stand out. Centerpieces of this booth were Mike Bless, a live DJ spinning upbeat tracks (ear candy) and fun loving models energizing participants with fun interactive Plinko-type games (of course everyone won something). Once lured in by the energy, you could check out Skullcandy's portfolio. But, what made this exhibit so great is not the technology- but the intangible, hard-to-replicate energy and intangible associations that it linked to the brand. It was the rawest form of image marketing that you could find. You couldn't leave this exhibit without really liking the music of Mike Bless and the brand.


#1. Flush it by Yootechpro. At a minimum, firms spend tens of thousands of dollars for their presence at this convention. These costs relate to space rental, staffing, flights, accommodations, design of the booth, printing of the booth, collateral, shipping of equipment etc. The purpose of course is to make sales, brand the build, get publicity, find potential business partners and (sometimes) find investors. There were a few exhibitors that really seemed to miss the point. Check out Yootechpros, maker of tablet accessories. Could someone please explain this to me? Someone at the company had the idea to stick a toilet in the center of the booth and display the Yootchpros product line on it. The message here : “Our product is crap and good enough to flush.” I’m sure this made a favorable impression on sales, partners and investors.


Anyone taken a marketing course will likely have gone though the 4Ps of marketing. The first “P” is “product” and so here I’ll give my version of “coolest of” what’s coming. And, once again there is a deep well to draw from. Hyundai’s (Korea)hybrid concept car (currently branded as Nuvis) certainly deserves consideration for it style and spaciousness. Blackberry (Canada) unveiled its long awaited Playbook tablet with great fanfare and expense. Cobra (USA) showed its radar detector application for the iPhone. A credit card with a combination lock to prevent fraud was also attracting a lot of attention. All very cool new products...

#1. Bright Packaging. Packaging and distribution are among the lest sexy topics in marketing. But check this out. Fulton Technologies (USA) gives us a glimpse of the future of a grocery store. Consider walking down the aisle to buy cereal and a box of Cheerios lights up. That’s right, through energy conducting shelving- and intelligent packaging, a regular box of Cheerios can light up to attract the attention of the shopper. (It will turn off as soon as you pick up the box) and you wouldn’t even notice any difference in the packaging. Click here for the video. The applications of this go far beyond the example that Fulton demonstrated: dynamic pricing directly on the package, customized information for each shopper (SUGAR FREE could be advertised to a diabetic), customized couponing. Of course the tech could also be helpful on the reordering end. There are clearly a lot of promotional opportunities with this packaging but a lot of water has to go under the bridge before this becomes widespread in retailers. Retailers will have to reshelve their grocery aisles with expensive shelving, manufacturers will have to change their packaging operations which have been honed for decades for efficiency, consumers may resist may resist higher costs/electronic gadgetry/additional waste with this new option.

#2. Snake Camera. Courtesy of some clever graduate students at Carnegie Melon University, here is a remote-controlled snake camera that can climb trees and get into all sorts of tricky places. Check out the video here. An obvious application for this item relates to search and rescue.

#3. Angry Mattel. (USA) What do you get when you have an iPhone game that flutters around 10,000,000 downloads? You get the attention of a major toy company. Coming May 2011, Mattel (USA) Angry Birds (Finland). If you are familiar with the application, the game is self explanatory. Check out the demonstration here. In fact, this game is antithesis of high-tech, but its so cool that it needs to receive a reward!

Once in a while you get a product that defies conventional wisdom and sells well. Think of the Snuggie or the SlapChop and you'll know what I mean. Here's a hat branded TV Hat that is designed for viewing NetFlix/media on an iPhone/Droid. Underneath the peek of the hat you'll can secure your iPhone (or other device) for nice distance viewing. Plus, the peek and sides of the hat keep it dark so you can watch your iPhone media in the brightest sunlight. I'll bet we will see this on an infomercial pretty soon.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hockey cards, Hair, and Happy New Year

Happy New Year.

This morning was doing a bit of a walk-down memory lane at my parents’ place and came across an old treasure - my hockey card collection. When I was about 3 or 4, I would lay on the floor, line up 5 players on either side, grab two pencils for nets and a marble for a puck, and have a hockey game with the cards. I battered up a lot of cards – some of which are being sold for $500 on eBay (when they are in mint condition). Personally, I’d rather have my “worthless” battered cards with my memories.

Looking at the cards today, there are a few fun anecdotal observations about players that I am going to share today. Be prepared, today’s entry is content lite with a whole lotta of sugar.

1. Players today are a lot younger. Players back then were a lot older. We can all think of reasons why this is (faster game, more games wear out the old guys faster, more injuries etc.) but check out how old some of these guys look. I intentionally took cards from the same season to emphasize the point.

2. Back then, a lot of players had more colourful names. Buzz Bol, Turk Broda, Butch Goring, Chico Maki, Bobby Schmautz, and Dino Ciccarelli. I think the modern NHL and NHLPA marketing has lost something here. Unusual names like these can help with memorability of the individual player, the relevance of the player to the fan (e.g. the “renegade” Butch Goring) and the likeability of the player (e.g. Dino Cicarelli’s name sounds so cute, doesn’t it?) For the last 15 years the NHL has had a lot more players with European names that are tough (if not impossible) to pronounce. But even so, a little marketing acumen could go a long way. Just think of Myroslav Satan who has the phonetical pronunciation “Shat- tan”. I mean really, the guy’s career has been with the New Jersey Devils. Tons of marketing opportunities around this guy that have been left in the dust (or ashes).

3. The hair, moustaches, and sideburns were a lot better back then. This is only partially a joke. Ever since the NHL introduced the helmet requirement (and players starting using visors) each individual player has become a lot less identifiable. Compare this to football where players wear helmets but take them off on the sidelines- or basketball where the full head and face is always exposed. Cameras get a lot better shots of these players. As a result, there is more exposure to each individual- and better quality footage. I’ll argue that bushy-haired Troy Polamalu would not have gotten the Head and Shoulders endorsement had he been wearing his helmet all the time. The NHL players’ association would be well advised to find more opportunities for their players to have more visible hair, moustache, and sideburn time. Check out some classic looks of the past- from Bobby Clarke's toothless smile to Lafleurs flowing and balding locks- from Ramsey's lambchop side burns to Rick Hampten's unibrow.