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Friday, May 22, 2015

Where "Mad Men" Leaves Us!

“(Hershey’s) relationship with America is so overwhelmingly positive, that everyone in this room has their own story to tell….Most of them are from childhood. Mine was my father taking me to the drug store after I mowed the lawn. He told me I could have anything I wanted – anything at all. And there was a lot. But I picked a Hershey Bar. The wrapper looked like what was inside. As I worked it open, my father tussled my hair and forever his love and the chocolate were tied together. That is the story we’re going to tell. Hershey’s is the currency of affection. It’s the childhood symbol of love.”
 - Don Draper
 These were the initial words of a pitch that Don Draper delivered to Hershey at the end of season 6 of Mad Men, right before Draper’s colossal downfall, which resulted in him hitting rock bottom in the recently concluded 7th and final season of Mad Men. His begins in literally his next breath, where he admits that the story above is a complete fabrication. In fact, Draper admits that he had no father and was an orphan who lived in a brothel He announces matter-of-factly that eating a Hershey bar was the one time he was able to feel like a kid proclaiming, “It was the only sweet thing in my life.”
While Mad Men fans debate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the series finale, I wanted to take a minute to discuss how Mad Men addresses the role of brands in our lives. As the series has ended, I’ve found myself wrestling with what the Mad Men story implies for marketers. Are we all just cheap con men and women, snake oil salesmen desperate to invent stories that attempt to create some fictitious bond between our brands and consumers? Or is there some truth in Draper’s initial Hershey story? Can brands that are part of the most meaningful stories of our lives become “currencies of affection” or “symbols of love?”
Call me na├»ve, but I believe it is the latter. While we will never “love” brands the way we love another human being, there are brands in my life and in yours that we associate with a fond memory, an event that we look back upon nostalgically. I’ve seen consumers talk about it all the time. The Rawlings glove that, through a miraculous right field catch, transforms a timid 8 year old baseball beginner into a confident young ballplayer, and sparks a confidence that ultimately will stay with him as an executive many years later. The forty something year old lady who recalls her long deceased Grandmother giving her a glass of Lipton iced tea on her porch on a hot summer day. The construction worker’s distinct memory of the first time his dad let him taste his beer, a Budweiser. Is Don Draper’s fictitious story all that far fetched?
Strong brands may serve as a catalyst for a memorable event or merely stay in the background. But nonetheless, they are a part of it. It is these shared experiences that deepen our own affections for the brands we ultimately love. The brand becomes part of our life and part of our history.
But note the word I used – “experience.” I didn’t say “commercial” or “coupon” or “2 for 1 deal.” While these may ultimately help in driving volume or, even potentially enable the brand to be in the right place at the right time, they aren’t a replacement for the actual experience. To grow your relationship with consumers, the brand has to become part of their lives. Any marketing program that does otherwise is a waste of time and resources.
Draper refers to Hershey’s as the “currency of love.” It is a rich story that serves as a strong base for the brand’s role in its consumer’s lives. The question you have to ask yourself about your brand is, what is its currency? In other words, what is the foundation that you are going build off to truly have a relationship with your consumer base?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Brands that Helped and Hurt Their Relationships With Consumers At the Super Bowl

If we think about the Super Bowl as a way from brands to grow their relationships with their consumers, some brands fared well and others fared poorly.  Let’s look at the winners and losers:

Positive Impact on Consumer Relationships

·         Radio Shack – Relationship Status: Mature/In A Relationship Rut – Radio Shack used brutal honesty by admitting that its relationship with its consumer base is stuck in the 80s. Honesty is always helpful in growing a brand relationship and Radio Shack maximizes it to its fullest. I and many other viewers are now intrigued and now want to visit a Radio Shack!


·         Coca-Cola – Relationship Status: Mature, Yet Still Exciting – Coca-Cola was 2 for 2 with both spots keeping a 125+ year old brand relevant and exciting. The one that is generating the most buzz is “The America The Beautiful” spot that featured the brand’s Americana traditions via a 21st century lens. While controversial, it generated so much talk value that many viewers were tweeting about during Pepsi’s Halftime Show. Moreover, it shows that Coke will never allow its flagship brand to get in a rut with its consumer base


·         Microsoft – Relationship Status: Growth – Microsoft’s spot featuring ex NFL and Lou Gehrig sufferer Steve Gleason shared how technology can aid our lives and takes a cue from Apple in connecting the brand’s functional benefits into an emotional payoff.


·         AT&T BeatsMusic – Relationship Status: Meeting Memorably – AT&T used Ellen Degeneres to drive awareness of its new BeatMusic Unlimited Music Download System. A great mix of both entertainment and explanation, the spot intrigue me enough to find out more about the new service.


Negative Impact on Consumer Relationships

·         Butterfinger Cups – Relationship Status: Butterfinger (Mature/In A Relationship Rut), Cups (Meeting Memorably) – Butterfinger decided to introduce its new Butterfinger Cups spot by using odd three-some type imagery that ended up coming off as weird and borderline uncomfortable. As a consumer, do I really want to meet this new brand under this type of cloud?


·         Chrysler 200 – Relationship Status: Chrysler (Mature/Relationship Rut), 200 (Meeting Memorably) – Chrysler decided to use Bob Dylan and spend 1:55 out of its 2 minute buy preaching the strength, determination, and capability of the American auto worker before finally showing a brief visual of the new 200. I really thought it was an ad for the American Automobile Association vs. a particular brand. The ad breaks a cardinal rule,  unless you are the category leader, never discuss the category.


·         Oilos Greek Yogurt – Relationship Status: Growth – In another sexual innuendo, Dannon’s Oikos combines the reuniting of the cast of Full House with a not so subtle sexual joke involving yogurt on John Stamos’ pants. It spent too much effort and time on an overplayed joke and out of date TV series and not enough time trying to romance the consumer.


·         SodaStream – Relationship Status: Meet Memorably – Beyond showing me Scarlett Johanson demonstrating how SodaStream worked, the ad did nothing to convince me that it was going to be any better than the soft drinks that are available out there. After seeing the ad, I have no idea what SodaStream offers that is going to make we want to take the time or deal with the mess that I am going to make to create a homemade softdrink.


Tim Halloran is author of Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, Intimate Relationships with Consumers (Feb. 3, Jossey-Bass) and president of Atlanta-based Brand Illumination.  With over 20 years of strategic consumer brand management and new product experience, he has built and directed some of the world’s largest brands, and now counsels businesses on ways to improve the relationships between their brands and consumers.    .

Monday, November 18, 2013

If they wanted to, the Redskins can rebrand themselves

The team from Washington, DC had used the name for years. They had won a world championship and numerous league championships with that mascot. On the surface, to change it would be unthinkable. However, given the connotations that the name implied, the owner decided that the team couldn’t operate under that banner anymore and a change was made.  As a result, the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards in 1997.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the Washington Redskins? From the way the punditry has been talking about the controversy over the NFL team’s name, a reasonable person might come away thinking no other team had ever successfully rebranded itself. But actually, it has happened a number of times in the past – and with great success.

Today, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder finds himself with a significant branding challenge.  More than other Native American-branded teams, the “Redskins” name and mascot are perceived to be quite offensive by some. In recent months, the chorus to change the team’s name has escalated through ongoing protests by Native American groups, a Bob Costas editorial on Monday Night Football, and a casual mention by President Obama. Meanwhile, the teamhas a legion of passionate fans who claim that the mascot’s 80+ year tradition celebrates and honors Native Americans with fight songs like “Hail to the Redskins.”

The lines are being drawn, emotions are taking over, and both sides appear to be entrenched for what appears to be a big battle. Redskins ownership is faced with the ultimate brand challenge. On one hand, if they continue to use the Redskins name, they will continue to field calls to boycott the team, ongoing protests, and a scenario where the controversy is always part of any team discussion. On the other hand, the team is the third most valued franchise in the NFL (according to Forbes) with a passionate fan base who feel strongly that the team’s name is an integral part of its tradition, heritage, and ultimately its brand. If Snyder acquiesces and changes the name, how will that affect the brand’s relationship with a significant portion of the fan base? Is there any way to change the name without alienating them?

AdAge estimates that a rebrand could cost $15 million. According to Forbes, the organization is worth $1.7 billion. What Snyder, and the team name’s defenders, need to acknowledge – if they can peek up from their foxholes – is that over time, the controversy over the name will erode the brand’s value. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, originally a supporter of Snyder’s, has been careful to back down from a strong position of support. Influential sports journalists like Peter King and Christine Brennan have said they’ll no longer use the name. Members of Congress have weighed in. Snyder should act, now, before the controversy gets worse.

But how do you change a brand that isn’t working for you any more without alienating your most loyal customers? Here are some thoughts on how I would seek to resolve this extremely difficult branding problem.

First, understand your most valuable customers – and your potential customers. The team needs to understand the extent of the issue. How many are actually offended by the mascot name and how deep does it run? The Redskins must go out and survey members of the population, including Native Americans, passionate team fans, season ticket holders, and the general population to determine the degree of the controversy. They may find that a number of their loyal fans actually agree that the name should change, or that a number of potential fans would actually like the team more if they had a less polarizing name.

Focus on other elements of the brand, beyond the name and the logo.  The team has a number of attributes that go into the brand. Yes, the name is one, but there are significantly more. These attributes range from the current players, the stadium experience, and the team’s history and traditions. Research can tell them exactly where the name and mascot rank on that list, and what other factors are important.

Seek out brand managers at other teams that have changed their names and get their advice. A team mascot/name change is hardly new. Beyond the aforementioned Washingon Bullets – Wizards change, there are at least 20 teams that have changed their names without relocating:  baseball’s Devil Rays became the Rays, the Tennessee Oilers became the Titans, the Houston Colt .45s became the Astros, and this year, the New Orleans Hornets will tip off as the New Orleans Pelicans. It is critical to understand how these teams implemented their name change and rebuilt their brands. And bringing them into the conversation would remind Washington’s fans that other teams have gone through this, too.

Consider ways to use a potential name change as an opportunity to increase the brand’s value. There is no doubt that if a name change is made, a significant rebranding initiative must occur. However, who is to say that with the right imagery, a new brand name can’t be as strong or even stronger as the existing name? Lots of fans will want to gobble up merchandise featuring the new mascot – especially if significant excitement is generated. A name that aligns more closely to the Washington, DC “brand” and what it represents might give fans additional pride in their hometown team. Furthermore, letting fans take part in helping to select the new name would help make it more personal.

It all comes down to managing the team’s relationship with its fans. Think about your own relationships. Over the course of our own relationships, one member may undergo a significant change with the support of their partner. Relationships are hurt when one partner makes that change without support the other. If the Redskins decide to take this big step and change their name, they will have to earn the support of their fan base. But by understanding what they really value, they can make the change in a way that helps their most valuable customers remain loyal.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The PGA - Trappings of a One Man Brand….

With the Masters finishing up just a week ago, it has become abundantly clear that the PGA brand cannot go beyond one individual. This individual hasn’t won a major tournament since George W. Bush was president, yet, continues to be the face and the focus of the PGA. Of course, the player I am referring to is Tiger Woods and no matter where he stands on a given tournament’s leader board, you can guarantee that he will be the headline.

How bad has it gotten? Consider this, after day one, 22 players had scores at or better than Tiger Woods. What was the headline? That Tiger Woods was only 4 back. The players that were actually leading the Masters (Marc Leishman and Sergio Garcia) were a tertiary headline. On day two, Woods was assessed a 2 shot penalty for the illegal drop that was taken at the 15th hole which only served to add to the headlines with the leaders, once again, taking a back seat.

That is a shame. Tiger Woods’ continued popularity is also an albatross around the PGA’s neck. He has become the brand. While he has undoubtedly brought thousands, if not millions of new fans into the game of golf, the fact of the matter is that the PGA has aligned its brand so closely with him, that it lives and dies with Tiger’s performance. And like Tiger, the PGA is also in a 5 year slump.

The consequence of this is that the PGA is perceived to be compromising its brand for one player – and that is dangerous territory. A number of players and caddies indicated that had any other player done what Tiger did at the Masters, they would have been disqualified. Many believe that because of Woods’ popularity, he was given what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Little things that you probably don’t notice also indicate how desperate the PGA is for a dominant Tiger Woods to rescue its brand. Take, for example, the leader board. If Tiger is tied with a group of players at a certain score, Tiger will always be listed first on television coverage, and if at all possible, on the first page of the leader board. The networks know that if a casual viewer tunes in and sees no Tiger on the leader board, they will likely refrain from watching.

The PGA is in this position because for years, it put all of its eggs in the Tiger Woods basket. Like the NBA’s reliance on Michael Jordan, it was a very successful strategy for years when Tiger, was in fact, dominating the game. But it has evolved into a tired, looking back type of a strategy when, in fact, the tour should be looking forward and communicating that is brand is bigger than one player. Look only to young Adam Scott, the charismatic Australian who actually won the Masters in a remarkable playoff over Angel Cabrera. It was exciting, dramatic, and nerve wracking to the bitter end. It represented the best of the PGA.

And that should be a lesson that the PGA takes forward. The brand must be more than one player. In fact, I would argue that the PGA has been engaging in lazy marketing by leveraging Woods’ prior dominance at the expense of looking at the bigger picture. Now the brand is paying the price. A lesson for the PGA: Become bigger. Leverage the holistic umbrella of the PGA brand, the beauty of its stops, the ongoing drama that takes place every week, and the tour’s array of various players and their personalities to recapture the brand’s romance with its fans. And when or if Tiger Woods becomes the dominant player he once was, all the better. Just don’t count on it in building your brand.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

“Hey Mitt, It’s Your Brand, Stupid” – How Mitt Romney Can Fix His Brand and Save His Candidacy.

For all his supposedly strong business acumen, it is amazing that Mitt Romney has not done a better job in developing the “Mitt Romney” brand. Given the election cycle, candidates have a very short period of time in which to establish a credible brand that is appealing to their consumer base (in this case, the voting public). In 2008, President Obama created a powerful brand that was epitomized by one word, “Change”. If you were to ask 100 people on the street what word or phrase best described Mitt Romney, you would not hear one consistent phrase. That is a sign of a weak brand. Meanwhile, Obama has managed to cultivate his brand with surgical precision. Obama stands for something. One may not like what he stands for, but there is no doubt that Obama has a crystal clear brand positioning.

But for Mitt Romney to have any chance at all in unseating the president, he needs to quickly establish the Mitt Romney brand and launch it when he has the largest platform of the campaign - the first debate on October 3. In creating his brand, he needs to remember these 3 fundamental rules of brand positioning.

- Identify a crystal clear target audience – Romney is still trying to appeal to way too many voters. As controversial as the “47% comment” was, there was an underlying point. Romney will never tap into the Democratic base. He is no Ronald Reagan. So, politically speaking, he should not waste any resources against this group in his marketing. Romney needs to identify the voters that will be the key to winning in November and truly understand what their needs are and develop a plan that addresses those needs better than his opponent. He needs to stop trying to be all things to all people.

- Sacrifice - Romney’s other big problem is that he has been trying to woo independent voters, who are in the middle and whose philosophies are very difficult to articulate. They may be liberal on some issues and conservative on others. And those issues may differ from one voter to the next. As a result, this has caused Romney to “Flip Flop” as he vacillates to appeal to those voters. He needs to stand for ONE point of pain that his target audience has in common. He needs to focus on this one point and not try to communicate multiple messages. A best in class example is Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign message “It’s the economy, stupid.” In Clinton’s 1992 campaign, he sacrificed every other message to keep the focus on the economy. This leads us to…..

- Stay On Message – Romney needs to understand that everything communicates. Every speech, every tweet, and every bumper sticker must be aligned to that one key message. Everything needs to focus on that point of pain. Even when answering a reporter’s question or in Wednesday’s debate, Romney always needs to bring it back to the key message he wants to articulate. Obama successfully did this with the “change” mantra in 2008. Romney must do it now. Every minute discussing something else, is one less minute to bring home his core message.

Time is running out for Mitt Romney. Without a substantial brand “repositioning,” he will find himself on the short end of the stick come November 6th.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Bee Gees - The Promises and Pitfalls of Brand Repositioning

With the death this week of Bee Gee vocalist Robin Gibb, we've been seeing a lot about the Bee Gees on the news. Of course, we've seen the era that the Bee Gees are most famous, the "Saturday Night Fever" era of 1975-1979 when the Bee Gees ruled the airways with a disco oriented sound. But fewer know that the Bee Gees originally started out as a pop, folk oriented group that actually sounded more like early Beatles than late 70s disco. In the late 1960s, the Bee Gees were known for such pop/folk rock hits as "New York Mining Disaster 1941,"Massachusettes", and "I've Got To Get A Message To You" - all of which cracked the top 20 in the US marketplace. As the 60s turned into the 70s, the Bee Gees fell out of favor with the American public. Records stopped having hit singles and consequently sold fewer and fewer copies. To stay viable, the Bee Gees had to make a big change - and they did. Noting the sudden consumer trend toward rhythmic disco music, the Bee Gees drasatically changed their sound to tap into the musical needs and wants of the American public. The results speak for themselves - seven number 1 singles from 1975-1979 and reaching their peak with the 40 million album selling "Saturday Night Fever," which was the number one album in America for an astounishing 24 weeks. Of all image changes that have occurred in the rock and roll era, the Bee Gees turnaround rates as the most successful.

Of course, the strong brand repositioning that the Bee Gees executed also doomed them to fall almost as fast. With the arrival of the 1980s, music took on a fundamental shift and disco was on its way out. Arena rock and new wave would soon dominate the airwaves, leaving the Bee Gees, with such a tightly focused brand positioning around disco, out in the cold. While there would be numerous attempts to recapture their sales and airplay success of the late 1970s, the Bee Gees would never be a driving force in the music industry again.

What are the lessons that we as brand marketers can take away from the Bee Gees? Well, the band succeeded in repositioning their brand to an entire new group of fans. They had a laser like focus on a disco oriented sound and from the mid 1970s on, they did not deviate from that focus. And for a time, they were incredibly successful with that approach. However, unlike the world of consumer products, the Bee Gees were also a victim of a constantly changing music industry in which a "trend" lasts for only a short while. While the Bee Gees would rise to great heights as a result of their tighly focused alliance with disco, it would also be their downfall. Brands have to continually evolve - maybe consumer sentiment in your industry isn't as dynamic as that of pop music, but the Bee Gees and their sudden rise and sudden decline, remind us that as marketers, we have to be continually aware of how our consumers' tastes are changing and not to be caught flat footed when "You Should Be Dancin'…"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No Longer Champion

Wheaties is on the ropes. So says a recent article in USA Today. "The Breakfast Of Champions" has seen its share of the cereal market fall from 6.5% of the cereal market in the 1960s to 0.5% of the market today. What happened? Wheaties had a strong brand and strong associations. For athletes, a true canonization of athletic achievement was to be featured on a box of Wheaties. How has this brand lost 4,000 sales per day in the past 3 years?

The failure of Wheaties was a failure to innovate. According to article, Wheaties "rested on their laurels" and lost its positioning stronghold. It wasn't healthy enough for the Fiber One crowd and not sugary enough for the Lucky Charms fans. It is in the "muddy middle" - a place where brands go to die. As product categories become more niche, brands that once owned a particular positioning in the marketplace are seeing that positioning being usurped by more tightly focused brands. Sure, at one time Wheaties was the "athletic" brand - its benefits were tightly weaved around energy and health. The brand even produced a popular phase, "I hope you ate your Wheaties this morning" when someone was planning for an especially difficult or tiring day.

But what has the linkage to athletes, energy, and a popular saying gotten Wheaties in the year 2012? A half of 1 percent of cereal sales. The fact of the matter is that Wheaties stopped innovating. It kept chugging along, satisfied to put the random World Series winner or Olympic champion on its box while healthier and more energizing cereal brands were being launched that chipped away at its core proposotion. What exactly does Wheaties stand for today? Well, if you asked 100 people, the same qualities would probably emerge - Wheaties is still the breakfast of champions and Wheaties is healthy and Wheaties may provide me energy. But if I am now in the store and compare Wheaties against other healthier cereals and other energy cereals, Wheaties loses. Its product no longer fulfills its brand promise. It stopped innovating. It stopped creating line extensions and brand messaging that evolved with the times. It just stopped. And now it is paying the price.

Wheaties is not the only example of this - Sears, JC Penneys, Wendy's are also experiencing similar situations to various extents. And there are some other major brands who, if they do not begin innovating soon are likely to suffer the same fate. We'll address them in a subsequent blog, but the message here is clear - if you do not continue to evolve your message and product line, your "championship" will be short lived.