Thursday, January 25, 2007

Importance of Branding for Small Business

Nick Rice, over at Small Business Branding Blog has written a nice article on some of the things a small business could do to brand themselves. Most of the ideas are great, and most are easy to implement. The unfortunate fact is, many small business people are too busy to worry about branding. They are still chasing the next customer so that they can pay the bills.

What do you think? Is branding critical success factor? or is it a nice-to-have attribute?

Rockstar Marketers

Matthew Creamer has a nice piece in Ad Age about Rock Star Marketers. Truth be told, marketing is a difficult profession where successes are hard to come by. There are so many unknowns, not the least of which is your product and the competitive situation you are in. Many a careers are made by products that are so superior that they would sell by themselves. And eventhough product development needs hundreds of people in the organization, the credit often goes to one or two marketers at the top, who go on to gain rock start status to the chagrin of the rest of the organization that wonders, what about my contribution?

But more times than not its the other way around. Products that have good attributes languish because the results don't follow the marketing hype and the organization looses interest in it. I have known many a great communicators who tell a great story and persuade the organization into investing heavily in their hyped-up ideas. However the realities of life soon catch up with most of them and the product falters. What could have been a good medium sized product appears to be a failing product in the eyes of the organization. Unfortunately its the product lifecycle investment that pays the price because who wants to invest in a product that is failing to meet the expectations?

So why do marketers try to oversell the brand? Because thats what is expected of them. And because, what ever happens to the product, generally it doesn't work out so bad for marketers. The sad fact is, in large organizations most marketers don't stick around long enough to take the accountability for their actions. In fact the organization gets so wrapped up in the hype that just getting to the point of execution is considered to be success in itself, and the marketer gets rewarded for "moving" the organization. Their so called "leadership skills" are celebrated and skillful marketers leverage that into a bigger marketing opportunity.

But if you have been hired from outside to "move the needle", then its a different story. Witness the fall of Keri Martin and Julie Roehm. A rock star marketer who cannot deliver on promised sales is tough to sell within the organization. Add to that the "envy" factor, then the only way the organization can defend itselves is by getting rid of the liability. At that point it doesn't matter that the organization followed the rockstar blindly and that the organization is complicit in the marketers failure. What matters is that the rockstar marketer failed to deliver.

The recent publc failures of Julie and Kerri and the rest should teach the organizations the value in going after substance than the hype. But I won't hold my breath on it happening. Afterall, we are a product of the communication age, where hype is part of our every day life.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Analysis of Deadenbacher

Here's a surprise...Deadenbacher is driving traffic to Orville Redenbacher's website. Well, duh!

I wrote earlier about why Ad Age's Ken Wheaton was wrong in his article about "Selling Popcorn 101". That it would surprise to an Ad Age write is whats a mystery to me.

The ConAgra campaign follows the theme that has become so widely popular these days in marketing, "Create controversy to stay top of mind". In todays fragmented media world where to keep your message top of mind is a herculean task, trying to differentiate oneself is no longer enough. Marketers have to constantly strive for ways in which the brand can stay top of mind. And we have found a nice tool in "controversies" to meet that goal.

Marketers of consumer goods are not the early adopters to utilize this approach...the pioneers in this business are our entertainers. Whether it is Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" or Brittney Spears "show it all - getting off from the cab" episode, entertainers have realized that stirring up a controversy carefully can help shine the limelight on to their brand (and they don't really have to loose that much).

Janet and Brittney are hardly the first ones. I can remember the controversy stirred by Cher through her outfits in the eightees, and who can forget the Madonna in the ninetees! Both entertainers benefited a lot from the notoriety of their actions, and both went on to bigger fame, bigger fan bases and even bigger revenues.

But why do controversies work? Mainly because controversies help in aiding two things
1) Quickly allowing the brand to gain name recognition
2) Generate a discussion around the brand which helps in long term recall

Redenbacher popcorn has benefited from both and will continue to benefit from it until the hubbub dies down.

Brands have to be careful though. Not all controversy is good. For instance, controversy that is not in our control can hurt the brand significantly as can a a carefully launched controversy that goes out of control. An example of this was the controversy surrounding the finding of pesticides in cola drinks in India. Both Coca Cola and Pepsi are still reeling from that sales hit taken after the controversy, which started when an independent lab reported that they found small quantities of pesticides in reputed branded colas. Unfortunately for the big cola brands, this controversy was not something they could control and so they all lost.

Because Crispin Poter + Bogusky were involved in development of the Orville Redenbacher ad I have always believed that this was a planned publicity event, not just a fortuitous stroke of good luck. And today's Ad Age article by Stephanie Thompson confirms this. Sure there is some negative fall out - may be the uptight bloggers who brought this to our attention in the first place - won't eat this particular brand of popcorn. But others, oh, if there is one brand we will remember, it is Redenbacher. I believe this controversy will drive more sales, just the way it has driven impressions on the web. Then it will get diluted as some other insignificant controversy is brought to the fore by some bloggers, and Redenbacher will dissolve into the background.

This episode just goes to show that controversy can indeed be planned and planned in such a way that it can raise the brand awareness without causing much negative side effects. Get ready to see more of these kinds of stunts soon.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Controversy Aids Orville and Crispin

Nothing warms the coccles of a marketer than a controversy that will shine the spotlight on your product. As a marketer I have often struggled with this need to heighten the level of public awareness without going too much outside the boundary. So when some one comes along and criticizes yur work in a public forum, the marketer should thank his lucky stars that it was they who were picked for this public drumming, for the one big benefit of the public drumming is "raised awareness".

A recent case in point is the controversy stoked by Copyranter on Gawker. Copyranter decided that (s)he did not like the Cirspin Porter + Bogusky execution of the new Orville Redenbacher ad which ressurected the dead Mr. Redenbacher. That was enough to make Ken Wheaton of the venerable Ad Age to pickup on the story and put it its website. Sure enough, the ad is drawing attention from others such as Patrick, USA Today and James Lilek(including me).

Ken's article is sub titled, "How not to sell popcorn 101".

Really?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Kerri Martin Fired At VW

Speaking of Marketing Gurus, Kerri Martin, the marketing guru whose claim to fame was launch of Bently's "Mini" and repositioning the BMW Motorcycles, was given the axe. Martin efforts to raise the sales of Volksvagen failed amid controversy around the ads developed by Crispin Bogus.

This was bound to happen; its tough to repeat the success of the past especially if the product sucks. Mini was just such a radical departure from the contemporary automobile designs that even a moron could have led the brand to success. Not so with Volkswagen; VW has some challenges infront of it. The brand designs sorely needs to be refreshed, and no matter of marketing pizzaz could have helped.

Nevermind this slide into failure territory - Kerri will surely land a even more plum assignment.

More Companies Change Names!

In case you have been living under the rock, Apple Computers has changed its name to just "Apple". Makes sense since Apple is no more a computer company than IBM is a computer company. Oops, wrong example!! IBM still keeps its name "International Business Machines" despite the fact that much of the business comes not from selling business machines, but from providing consulting services.

And in their esteemed wisdom, the marketing gurus at CitiGroup have decided to drop the umbrella logo. Not only that, they have changed their name from CitiGroup to, you guessed it, Citi!

Stop this silliness, already!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Power of Branding

For those who doubt the power of branding, here is a story that shows how a brand name built over years can be a powerful tool in marketing.

All of us know about how Bell Labs was disbanded into ATT the long distance company, and smaller regional Bells doing local business. ATT did very well in the age when hard hard-wired long distance service was the king. However, newer internet technologies which make IP telephony possible resulted in ATT losing market share and eventually deciding that it couldn't survive on its own.

In 2004 ATT sells its wireless business to Cingular, a wireless entity formed by a partnership between SBC Commnications and BellSouth. Cingular decides to keep its name and converts customers over to Cingular brand name.

Fast forward, ATT continues to go down and decides that short of a merger survival would be difficult. So, ATT decides to merge with Bell South, one of the original Baby Bells (in a reverse merger), and new entity decides to take on the ATT brand name which still held a lot of value and name recognition.

So, in the end, the merged entity ATT becomes the owner of Cingular and today, the new ATT announced that they will rebrand Cingular into ATT wireless.

Here is what Whitacre, the CEO of ATT said in the press release...
“Around the world, our customers recognize the AT&T brand for meaningful innovation, a commitment to customer service, high quality and exceptional reliability. AT&T, BellSouth and Cingular are now one company, and going to market with our services under one brand is the right thing to do.”


I guess its a testament to ATT's global visibility that such an event should occur. For those who had any doubts about why companies should invest into building brands, and the power of a well recognized brand, this is a case study to pay close attention to.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Starbucks Response To Oxfam's Challenge

Illig writes about Starbucks response to the U-tube posting of Oxfam Charities video about how Starbucks is mistreating the Ethiopian farmers. The response from Starbucks has been equally "grass-rootsy", and bold. Starbucks is now a large corporation, and large corporations tend to be hidebound to change. Internal policies and procedures tend to so skew the response to conservatism and procedure driven that its almost impossible to quickly mount a response to a challenge, lets it be seen as being too aggressive.

However in this instance, Starbucks seems to have done exactly opposite demonstrating that Starbucks hasn't forgotten where it got its start - as a scrappy young brand that did not hesitate to put its position in the market place.

Newer technologies like blogs and U-tube are marketing opportunities, and the companies that rapidly adopt these technologies are going to create a significant marketing opportunity for themselves.

Problem of Font Rendering in Web Browsers

This comes courtsey Clagnut, and Jeffrey Zeldman. Zeldman describes the problem, and clagnut has analyzed it further to show the differences, with some screen shots.

While this situation with font rendering in web-browsers is truly annoying, even more annoying is the fact that fonts you want to use in your website may not be available on the computer. Both the rendering problem, and lack of fonts makes it impossible to create a website that looks the same in all browsers. There will always be different font formats, different browsers, and different operating systems. Whats more, there is no way to control which fonts the reader/viewer will have installed on their computer.

What is needed is a simple way to code information so that the browser renders the font in the exact same way whether the viewer has that particular font or not. Until a simple answer can be found, we will always be scrounging for ways to make the common fonts, verdana, helvetica, arial, times new roman etc. look the best on all systems.

But really, I want to use some of those artistic fonts I have in my font library!!! Can some one find a way for me to use them?

Don't tell me I have to save the header as a .jpg. I already know that.