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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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Groundhog Day Over and Over Again....

So if you missed it last week, Pepsi is coming out with Pepsi Next, a mid calorie drink that has about 60 calories per can.

My question is...why?

What are they thinking?

Mid calorie/half the sugar/half nice and half naughty products litter the graveyards of new product launches. In the soft drink industry alone, heck, specifically in the cola category, mid calorie products have come and gone with little success. Its not like we have to go back to the far reaches of time to find these failures either. In 2001 Coke rolled out "C2", a half calorie version of Coke. It was a disaster. Three years later, Pepsi thought they could do it better and launched "Pepsi Edge" which left us almost as quickly as it appeared. In the interim we've seen everything from Dr. Pepper 10 to vitaminwater10 to Trop50 - none of these are exactly setting the world on fire.

Why? Because consumer sentiment tends to be - if I am going to indulge myself, I am going to indulge myself. I am not going to go half way. I either am going to indulge or I am going to be "good". It's kind of like being half pregnant - you either are or your aren't. Consequently, the successful product launches in this category have taken a zero calorie proposition and made it taste better (Coke Zero) vs. trying to get someone to sacrifice a few calories for a little bit of taste.

So, we'll see how Pepsi does with this latest half baked, half calorie cola. My guess is that it will join its brethren in the half calorie graveyard, where the graves are only halfway dug.....

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Strategic Thinking in 2012?

Here's to 2012. I'm sure most out there are happy to get rid of 2011 and hopeful that 2012 will rid us of what is now a 4 year and counting slump. 2011 kind of ended like it came in - with shortsightedness on all fronts. None of this was better epitomized than the emergency bill passed by Congress and signed by the President that extended the payroll tax cut for....wait for it.....2 months. Yes, 2 months. 60 days. That is what we've come to in Washington - Congress and the President bickering over tactical band aids that do nothing to improve the quality of life in the long term. But this shortsightedness isn't just reserved for Washington, DC. I continue see business, and specifically the marketing of brands, take the exact same route - ignoring the long term health of brands for a short term fix. Everyone is thinking about making this quarter's numbers and forgeting about long term brand building initiatives. Marketers are refusing to acknowledge that many of the things they are implementing to ensure that volume is achieved will damage the long health of their brands. You had to try hard this Christmas NOT to buy something at some sort of a discount. (If you bought anything this Christmas for its full retail value, then no offense, but you got snookered.) What happens to consumers when they continue to see low price points? They start expecting it. When they start expecting it, they refuse to buy products at anything but the discounted price. How many times have you heard or even said yourself, "I'll wait until it goes on sale?" In other words, the discounted price starts to become the internal reference point - and all of a sudden the value of the brand has gone down. Sure, the discounts may enable the brand team to claim they've hit their numbers, but at what price (pun intended)?

My hope for 2012 is that we all start looking at things with a longer term perspective. Let's try to apply some strategic and long term thinking to our brands, our careers, and our lives. It will be the only way we get out of this mess that we have put ourselves into as a result of our shortsightedness.