Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A venti-size brand challenge

This is a love letter to a brand I crave every day but fear may be losing its way.

I read today that Starbucks in investing in a new TV campaign to help feed its voracious appetite for growth. As an advertising professional I supposed I should greet this as good news. But I don't. I believe in great brands. And, to be sure, TV has a role in the creation of many powerful brands. But this is not the solution Starbucks needs at this moment. In fact the idea of using mass marketing may exacerbate the very problems that have led to its decision to become a mass marketer.

The company's growth is insatiable. It's difficult to maintain a cult of the "third place" when the brand is every place. I recently heard a bit of biting satire (I believe attributed to The Onion) that captures the issue: "In order to maintain its rampant growth Starbucks will begin opening new locations in the men's rooms of existing Starbucks."

In an internal memo accidentally leaked to the media earlier this year, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz exhorted his management to get back to the core brand promise - great coffee served in an intimate neighborhood coffee house setting. Schultz pointed out several decisions he believes have watered down the customer experience -- e.g., the new automatic espresso machines that, because of their height, removed the theater and romance of watching the barista prepare your latte, or the company's decision to use flavor-lock packaging that robbed the environment of any coffee aroma whatsoever. Small decisions on their own. Big decisions when viewed with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight.

Here's an example of from my neck of the woods of standardization run amok. As part of its recent acquisition of Diedrich's, an O.C. coffee house chain, Starbucks took over one of Diedrich's crown jewel locations, a beach front store in Laguna Beach, home to surfers and artists. This joint exuded a bohemian feel with beachy furniture and live music in the evenings. But rather than preserve this vibe in a Starbucks way, out went the local flavor and live music and in came the McFurniture and piped-in music (available for $12.99). Pity.

So what should Starbucks do instead of TV? I'd like to see the brand invest in creating more experiences. Give me more reasons to visit and spend time -- e.g., free WiFi. Since coffee is a social experience, advocate social issues in the same manner as American Express does so well throughout the year. Own the idea of great coffee by helping me appreciate the nuances of different beans and coffee regions. Be a loud advocate for Fair Trade coffee. And when it comes to music, be the launching pad for new indie music.

In sum, I want my Starbucks to behave more like an artisan and less like a marketer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Democracy rules

I heard about this website the other day and believe this might finally be a way to return an element of democracy to the democratic election process.

10questions.com is soliciting videotaped questions from voters around the country. We the people will vote on the top 10 questions we want our politicians to address. Candidates in the upcoming presidential race will be invited to give their response to each question.

I love this idea. It will enable us to sort out and prioritize the truly important issues (and not the fluff they debate in D.C.) and give us a way to compare and contrast candidates.

It makes me wonder if this could be applied to brand marketing. What if Ford invited the buying public to vote on the design they would like to see the company build? Auto design is so secretive for no apparent reason. If a competitor caught wind of the design Ford was going to build it would take them two years to ramp up and do a similar version. I'd love to see one of the car companies take design to the people and let democracy rule.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What's Danish for smart branding?

I've written about the power of brand design in an earlier post. The story of Jyske Bank in Denmark is another example of the role design can play in helping a company achieve its marketing objectives.

Jyske (pronounced "Yeeska") set out to increase the number of customers it serves. That's a brief we've all seen before. But instead of resorting to free toasters, viral films or more advertising, Jyske Bank opted to change the experience itself. They used design to redefine the very concept of banking. They made the brand tangible and physical in a manner that evoked an emotional connection. They created that special "third place" -- a haven that is neither home or work -- that has been the secret sauce behind Starbucks' success

The result? Jyske Bank doubled its customer base in one year by improving loyalty while attracting brand new customers.

Take a look at this video. You'll see a great case study and brush up on your Danish.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

To pay or not to pay...?

The majority of Radiohead's loyal fans rewarded the brand's social pricing experiment by totally ripping off the band and paying nothing for the new album.

The band launched its new album, Rainbows, online and allowed fans to set the price.

A recent survey by comScore shows nearly two-thirds of "fans" opted to pay nothing. Zippo. Nada. And those generous souls who decided to pay coughed up an average of $6.00.

This should come as a surprise to no one. Free wins every time. What Radiohead should have done is set a fair price (say, $6) in exchange for stripping away all the overhead that fans shouldn't have to pay for in this digital age (e.g., distribution, marketing, and especially those anti-green and difficult to unwrap plastic CD cases, etc.)

Darwinian marketing

Facebook announced yesterday a new “social advertising” program that facilitates peer-to-peer brand recommendations.

Here’s what Facebook is proposing and why marketers should care: Users can choose to endorse a brand and then share that message with their entire social network; marketers can attach an ad message to the user's notification. It’s opt-in. It’s peer-to-peer. Sounds nice and tidy. What marketer wouldn’t like this? Well, for starters, those with crappy products and customer service.

Therein like the central point of wikibranding. While word of mouth is certainly not a new phenomenon, consumers’ instantaneous access to mass media with which to broadcast their opinions is an entirely new dynamic. Facebook's social advertising program will enable consumers to spread the good word about good products. It will also enable them to alert friends to avoid bad products or companies with frustratingly poor customer service.

In the end, this is a wake-up call to companies to design products that delight or get voted off the island.

Wikibranding is Darwinian marketing at its best.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Don't mention the P-word

When was it decided that prunes were no longer called prunes? Did I miss the memo?

I saw a commercial yesterday for California Dried Plums. There was nothing particularly special about the spot. In fact it was exceptionally ordinary. But one line of copy caught my ear, “California dried plums, what we used to call prunes.”

A quick search reveals what we might suspect: this was the result of careful market research to find a name that didn’t conjure images of elderly people sipping murky brown prune juice to alleviate constipation. Thanks to this clever rebranding we can now imagine young people sipping murky brown dried plum juice to alleviate constipation.

I suspect this same marketing team may have been the masterminds behind changing the name of Sugar Pops to Corn Pops, which is clearly a healthier cereal. (But it doesn’t explain its latest line extension – Chocolate Peanut Butter Pops. Seriously.)

And while I’m thinking about it, whatever happened to Mr. Salty Pretzels?