Monday, December 15, 2008

Inspiration in seat 1B

I shared a flight yesterday with Alan Simon, the Chairman and CEO of Omaha Steaks. What an inspiring guy.

Omaha Steak is a nearly 180 year old family business. How many companies can claim that? Although Alan has since turned over day to day management to his 52 year old son, he still makes the commute from Orange County to Omaha twice a month because he loves the business so much. He finds the time to give back to the community by being on the boards of two universities. And he seems to know more about media technologies than most people half his age -- including me!

But the biggest delight was sensing I was meeting a man with the mischievous humor of a teenager.

It made having to fly on a Sunday afternoon worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marketing in a recession: Message from the front lines

A few weeks ago I conducted a marketing survey of senior executives across a range of businesses such as automotive, pharmaceuticals, toys, home remodeling, consumer electronics and retail.

I wanted to learn if there were common themes in the way a diverse group marketers was navigating the current recession (depression?).

Not surprisingly, all marketers are hurting and nearly every segment of their business is down. Lack of credit is affecting consumers and businesses alike. High priced premium segments, which seemed unaffected at first, have caved. Consumers are saving money by trading down to a lesser alternative or waiting for deep discounts on the products they desire. B2B purchases are drying up as companies cut CapEx budgets. There is a “slash and burn” mentality to marketing budgets.

But there are some bright spots as well.

Products and services that appeal to the consumer’s “cocooning” instinct – e.g., entertain at home, family games – are showing some resiliency.

Toys receiving heavy TV support seem to be holding up because parents may not want to scrimp on giving their kids what they want for Christmas.

Brands that feature a broad price range -- e..g, high/medium/low tiers, value bundles, etc. -- seem to be holding customers in the brand franchise.

Several executives reported that they are counting on their recent investments in new innovations to help weather the storm. “New” still attracts interest and curiosity.

However, if there is one single theme that is consistent across these marketers it is this: Get closer to your best customers.

Companies such as Allergan and Kohler, which sell through intermediaries, are investing in service and training to maintain loyalty among the people who recommend their products to end-users. For example, Allergan runs outreach programs designed to train physicians be better business people and run a more profitable medical practice.

Best Buy and Volvo are appealing to their best customers with more 1:1 marketing, private shopping events and loyalty incentives.

Land Rover and Sony are turning to smarter database marketing efforts.

Mattel is using street teams to put its electronic games into the hands of its priority customers.

Navistar is evaluating using more outbound telemarketing to better qualify and prioritize sales prospects.

I recently heard a quote that said, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” This captures the mood of theses marketers. The intensity of this recession is compelling many companies to reassess all aspects of their marketing plans.

Done right, many of the tactics they are using to survive today may continue to frame their strategies when the economy picks up again in the future. (And it will pick up again.)

Focus on your best customers. Do not take them for granted. Lavish them with appreciation and respect during the good times as well.

Focus your media spending. Digital media is the new branding medium, not just a tactical and transactional medium. Use a mobile call to action to transform all offline advertising into opt-in, interactive media.

Focus on the products in your portfolio that truly matter. Don’t get too broad and scattered. If a product isn’t delivering profitable growth, loyalty or a strategic halo for the brand, don’t waste precious resources even in good times.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Creating heroic brand narratives

I am intrigued by the art of storytelling in helping marketers create more meaningful and lasting brand identities.

Stories help us understand. They convey meaning. And in an increasingly overwhelming and fast-moving world, meaning trumps information.

If we step into the way-back machine and return to our English Lit classes, we might remember that stories are built on several essential elements, including archetypal characters, the hero's journey and resolution of conflict.

Archetypes are the universal characters that form what Carl Jung called our collective unconscious. Over the millennia, we became hardwired to instantly recognize the meaning of archetypes like the outlaw, hero, ruler, jester, temptress, innocent and the everyman. Defining and expressing brands as archetypes may be more powerful than the traditional brand personality statement in creating a deep connection with consumers.

The "hero's journey" was first defined in Joseph Campbell's book on comparative mythology, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces." Campbell isolated the hero stories that recur in ancient fables, the Bible and Hollywood films. In short: a person ventures forth from the common world...confronts obstacles and adversaries...wins a decisive victory...and returns with the power to help their fellow man.
We see the Hero's Journey in Hollywood:

An innocent young prince tries to run away from his troubles and instead discovers the redeeming power of friendship and truth.

A farm boy leaves his family and unites with rebels and outlaws in an epic battle of good vs evil to save the world from the corrupt and villainous empire.

We see it in politics:

A common man rises above racial barriers to inspire a nation to defy the divisiveness of red states and blue states and reclaim the promise of the United States.

We see it in brands:

A free thinker liberating the world from beige conformity.

An advocate of women's self-esteem battling against the falsehood of media-defined beauty.

An authority-defying rebel uniting a community in a crusade against fear.

Great brands tell great stories. The best among these find a way to be the hero in an ever-unfolding narrative. Like our favorite literary protagonists, heroic brands have a clear sense of true north that shapes their beliefs and behaviors.

True to Campbell's concept of the hero's journey, heroic brands make clear what it is they stand for by being equally clear about what they oppose. Classic brand positioning leads us to define what a brand stands for. The heroic brand model compels us to go further -- define the antagonist. After all, the most passionate causes tend to be in pursuit of both – a noble ideal that inspires us and a status quo that must be vanquished. It is the tension between these opposing forces that trumpets a call to arms.

The moral of this story? We need to stop thinking like advertisers and begin thinking like storytellers.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kaizen in action

There are varying points of views on how to bring more innovation to marketing communications. Too often the discussion languishes in empty exhortations to be more nontraditional, viral, guerrilla, etc.

I met the other day with a friend and former client, Kim McCullough, the head of marketing communications for Toyota, who gave me a clear and actionable user's guide for managing innovation in marketing communications. Kim refers to it as the 70/20/10 plan.

In the 70/20/10 plan a marketer would invest 70% of its budget in proven, effective communications strategies, another 20% in rolling out new strategies that have been tested and vetted in the previous year, and use the remaining 10% as seed money for new test and learn opportunities.

The brilliance in this strategy is its clarity and simplicity. First, it recognizes that marketers should not run away from things that work simply to pursue the latest buzz marketing strategy d'jour. Second, it dedicates resources to mainstream recent tests that have proven their worth. (Too many times we see marketers test new strategies only to do nothing with the results.) Lastly, it continues to fuel tomorrow's innovations and ideas, which, if successful, will become part of the 20% investment the following year.

This 70/20/10 model creates a virtuous cycle for innovation. It is also an example of Toyota's commitment to the principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The sun speaks again.

During the Democratic National Convention, the Sun decided it was time to address planet earth, speaking through its friends at Applied Materials (and one of colleagues at BD'M, copywriter Phil Calvit, a.k.a., the voice of the sun).

The Sun spoke again in today's Wall Street Journal, this time expressing its appreciation for the Congress' decision to extend the Investment Tax Credit which will continue to provide much needed relief to those companies investing in new alternative energy technologies, such as renewable solar energy.

BD'M also created this site to show how Applied Materials is making good on the Sun's promise.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What great marketers do well.

I’m giving a talk next week to the MBA students at the University of California, Irvine. I’m posting this outline to to invite readers to share their ideas and improve this list.

My goal is to give these MBA candidates the type of marketing insights that grad schools tend to overlook – mainly that all marketing challenges cannot be solved through statistical analysis and analytics. Many of us would agree that after spending a few years in brand marketing we learned that it is often the softer skills that define great brand leaders.

I’m not going to spend time going on about quality, integrated marketing, interactive media, etc. Price of entry ideas like these are more suited for a speech entitled “How to avoid being a mediocre marketer.”

When I think of the hallmarks that define great marketers I come up with this list.

Brand literacy: They understand that not all products are brands and that branding is not solely the responsibility of advertising. They understand how brand equity is built through experiences, emotions, design, pricing, distribution and the entire marketing mix.

Customer intimacy: They go beyond focus groups and one-size-fits-all quantitative studies. They know there is no such thing as a monolithic customer definition, rather the customer is a portfolio of segments and needs. They behave as commercial anthropologists, observing customers 24/7. They show empathy towards customers and try to see the market through their eyes. They are transparent, knowing that the internet has vanquished secrets and that customers will destroy brands they cannot fully trust.

Relevant differentiation: They know that underneath all the slick marketing must exist a product with a meaningful and unique proposition. To them, having a USP is not old school, it is how you win. They also know that differentiation for the sake of being unique is the fast track to irrelevance. We need to differentiate on things that matter to customers.

Storytelling: They understand the power of a compelling brand narrative. Great brands tell great stories. They understand the power of archetypes. They are the protagonist in an ever unfolding story. They understand the need to define what they stand for by being clear about what they oppose, because every protagonist seeks to overcome some challenge or foe. It is this journey toward a noble cause that makes them human and interesting.

Innovation: They know that markets and trends move at lightning speed. Innovations create an aura of infectious momentum for a brand. They innovate in brand appropriate ways because they have taken the time to understand the true essence of their brand and find new expressions of that core idea.

Test and learn: The great marketers know that many new ideas are doomed to fail. But instead of being paralyzed, they build learning cultures to improve their odds of success. They invest in learning opportunities – test markets, new designs, pricing, extensions. If something doesn’t work they celebrate the insights gleaned on how to do better next time. They are tenacious, they indeed do it better next time.

Design: They subscribe to the great quote (used by designer Yves Behar), “Advertising is the price companies pay for being unoriginal.” They know that we live in an increasingly visual age and that great design can not only better serve the customer’s spoken and unspoken needs, it can also convey powerful brand meaning.

Thoughtful interactions: They know that every interaction matters. The website. The packaging. The events. And the performance of the product itself. Customer interactions form the basis of the brand relationship and, increasingly, are a catalyst for positive creds in social media. Strategy sets a direction, execution determines success. Details matter.

Context: They know that brand meaning is not an absolute concept. Customers often form opinions in a relative manner. Where a brand shows up and the company it keeps can be powerful influencers. Media can shape meaning. Distribution choices can shape meaning. Associations and alliances can shape meaning.

Alignment: They know that a USP is most powerful when it is aligned and reinforced through every aspect of a company’s value chain. Pricing. Distribution. Sales force incentives. Training. Recruiting. A USP is not an advertising idea…it’s why the company exists. It shapes their corporate culture, and vice versa.

I have examples in mind for each of these, but would love to hear your candidates.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Deja vu all over again

Yogi Berra allegedly said “this is like déjà vu all over again.” I was reminded of Yogi’s wisdom while thinking about what marketers can learn from the way in which consumers reacted during previous economic meltdowns.

Our economy is a mess. Jobs are fragile. Real net income for working Americans is stagnant. We knew this for a while but chose to ignore it while buying our McMansions with zero money down. It takes the evaporation of trillions in personal wealth to get our full attention.

Now that we’re duly panicked, how will we respond? One clue is to examine how consumers reacted the first few times we saw this movie.

Let’s go in the way-back machine. No, not 1929, let’s start in 1987. Conspicuous consumption was in vogue. Michael Milken was peddling junk bonds. Yuppies drove “beemers.” Wall Street’s ficitonal Gordon Gekko preached how “greed is good.”

Then came Black Monday, the day the Dow plummeted over 20%. (To put this in context, this past Monday’s 777-point free fall was a 7% decline.)

The consumer response was best defined by trend guru Faith Popcorn who coined the term “cocooning” to describe our desire to seek shelter from the storm by embracing simple pleasures and honest, back-to-basic comforts.

Out went the “beemers” and in came SUVs. The Ford Explorer and the Jeep Cherokee took off because SUVs provided a sense of security, strength and escape from a dangerous world.

Pop culture captured the zeitgeist in movies like Baby Boom and TV shows like Thirtysomething. “Nesting” gave rise to enjoying movies and board games at home with friends as well as the over-hyped trend of women leaving the career track for the so-called mommy track. New brands like Lexus capitalized on our desire for luxury without the premium price and the stigma of conspicuous consumption.

Soon enough the stock market bounced back. BMW sales went up. Martinis and cigars were rediscovered. Michael Milken was replaced by sock puppets. We believed the new economy would spare us from ever again having to eat meatloaf.

By 2001, Greenspan’s warning of our “irrational exuberance” caught up with us when the early companies proved worthless and the tragic events of 9/11 shook our country to its foundations. The market plunged southward, wiping out retirement nest eggs, diluting 401k accounts and creating a pervasive feeling of vulnerability. Setting aside the impact of 9/11, we learned the “new economy” was as irrational and cyclical as the old one.

But the way in which consumers responded this time was different. Consumers didn’t “cocoon” and “nest” or get all warm and fuzzy about staying at home with kids. We got smarter. Unlike 1987, we had the Internet to help us save money without having to give up the brands we enjoy. We still bought BMWs, but we found the best deal on before going to the dealership. Off-line, we witnessed the advent of strategic shopping – i.e., shop at Wal-Mart for daily necessities to be able to indulge at Nordstroms for those things we truly desired.

What now? Is this credit crisis (and war and failure of leadership and…) jarring enough to send us back to home and hearth? If so, does this provide growth opportunities for brands such as Mattel (games), Volvo (security), Best Buy (stay at home entertainment) and Kohler (remodel instead of move)? Has the Internet fundamentally changed how we respond as consumers because we are better informed and empowered? Or will we seek what Faith Popcorn describes as the “pleasure revenge”?

Predicting the future is a fool’s game. But being unprepared could be even more foolish. Marketers should immediately connect with customers. Listen to what they're saying, but really listen to how they're feeling.

Begin taking steps to be well-positioned for what’s ahead. Find a clear and honest value proposition. Reinforce emotional connections and a sense of community. Invest in service and warranties to replace risk with reassurance. And use the web to help consumers make smart and informed choices.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Digitally-inspired brands

The IAB’s Mixx conference in New York was extremely well organized and featured a diverse roster of speakers, including Chrysler CMO Deborah Meyer, eBay CMO Michael Linton, CBS President Les Moonves, TV host Charlie Rose, BBDO chief Andrew Robertson, digital media author Clay Shirsky and Heroes executive producer and creator Tim Kring. Although the event didn't break new ground, it did illuminate several themes that brand marketing professionals would be wise to embrace.

Here’s my take-away: Stop the debate over brand vs. interactive. Interactive marketing is, in fact, our most powerful brand building strategy.

More and more marketers intuitively understand this. The question then is why we’re not yet using this medium to its full potential.

One reason is that too many people in advertising define "brand" through the narrow lens of a product’s TV or print campaign. Consumers build brand impressions through a complex mix of first-hand experiences, peer opinions and, yes, intangible and emotional imagery. Ignoring true consumer behavior is not a recipe for success.

Inspired, planned and crafted properly, interactive advertising has the power to tap into each of these brand-building elements. It can inspire deep engagement, allowing customers to interact with and customize their own version of the brand. (Witness Nike+.) It can expose customers to the opinions of like-minded peers. (Witness Apple’s community ratings.) It can immerse customers in highly emotional and engaging brand narratives. (Witness HBO’s Voyeurs campaign.)

So why are these examples the exception rather than the rule?

First, in listening to the conversation at Mixx, we continue to cling to an outdated vocabulary that Don Draper might be able to recognize:

  • “Traditional” vs. “non-traditional.” (TV will become a digital medium next year. Traditional?)
  • “New media.” (If you want to make a 24 year-old laugh, refer to the web as new media.)
  • “Brand advertising” vs. “interactive.” (See paragraph five above.)
  • “Above the line” vs. “below the line.” (I never really knew what this meant to begin with. I doubt consumers do either.)
  • “Media” vs. “Creative.” (Need I elaborate?)
  • “Off-line” vs “On-line.” (Is a billboard with an SMS call to action really off-line?)

Second, we use misguided metrics to gauge interactive advertising, placing too much emphasis on the “last ad” metric (i.e., the last click the customer made before buying) as the best measure of effectiveness. This metric ignores the influence of other media and messages that drive us to that last click. New research from Microsoft’s Atlas Institute suggests that the “last ad” standard ignores the impact of of other touchpoints, presumably product experiences, sampling, advertising, social networks, by revealing that 71% of sponsored search clicks are navigational in nature – i.e., the consumer typed in the precise brand or product for which they were looking.

Third, we have too many specialists and not enough hybrids. Don’t get me wrong, we need people who are subject matter experts, if not zealots, on TV, interactive, mobile, PR, et al. Without access to their expertise we are merely posers. But we need more hybrids, people who are passionate about ideas regardless of platform. These are the professionals that will crack the code because they most closely resemble how consumers think and behave.

All of us, specialists and hybrids alike, need to view interactive as a human experience and not a channel. We need to think more like event marketers, retail environment architects and product designers. The people working in these disciplines understand that well-crafted experiences convey a compelling and lasting brand idea.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Flex your brand identity

More often than not brand identity is treated like some sacrosanct object, kept rigid and inflexible in the pursuit of brand equity and awareness. It's hard to argue against that goal, but there may be some counter-intuitive ways to reach the same goal.

I'm beginning to see several leading marketers loosen the reins on their brand identity to allow their brands to seem more topical and relevant.

My partner Bob Barrie turned me on to the latest example: Coke Zero in the UK is temporarily changing its name to Coke Zero Zero 7 to celebrates the brand's tie-in with the upcoming Bond Film, "Quantum Solace."

I think Google may have set this trend in motion with its willingness to change its logo everyday to make the brand appear plugged into the zeitgeist of the moment.

MasterCard flexes its logo at the end of each commercial to echo the idea of each spot, making the identity seem an intrinsic part of the spot and not just a closing punctuation mark.

When I was at Saatchi & Saatchi we developed a very flexible and fun way for Toyota's "moving forward" themeline to appear on the screen in a way that extended the storyline of the commercial.

Each of these examples comes from marketers that show great confidence in their brand, as well as respect for the customer's intelligence.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Microsoft's moist and chewy teaser campaign

Microsoft's new spot featuring Bill and Jerry is being universally skewered by the press and bloggers alike.

Am I missing something? It's a teaser spot for goodness sake. Get off Microsoft's case. It's not supposed to communicate anything nourishing or lasting. It's the advertising equivalent of an energy drink -- a quick jolt to the system to get our attention. Mission accomplished. (My only quibble: forcing Bill and Jerry to introduce each other to the viewers. "Bill Gates!" "Jerry Seinfeld?!" I think their faces are fairly well known.)

Having gotten that off my chest, the campaign that follows had better be amazing.

I've read previously about one potential idea -- windows, not walls -- which could be the basis of a compelling brand narrative, something that's been lacking over the years. Windows is a shared language and platform for global collaboration. It helped create today's flat world. The brand needs to stand for something meaningful or it will become irrelevant in the coming cloud.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What Google learned attending Comi-Con

There was a good bit of noise this week about the launch of Chrome, Google's answer to Explorer, Firefox, Safari, et al. Is it a better browser? Don't know. I'll download the beta and find out. (The new version of Firefox recently lured me away from Sarari. It's simply faster.)

What I enjoyed most about Chrome's launch was the comic book they created to explain why it's a better browser. Very counter-intuitive. Take something dry and complex and make it fun and simple to understand.

The folks publishing operating guides for digital cameras should take note. Hell, even the 50-page manual for my new digital watch would have been better as a comic book. I might even have gotten past page 17 -- setting the high tide graph -- with a few illustrations and humorous copy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Serving the customer...what a concept!

Best Buy is winning with a simple idea: do what's best for the customer. (Best Buy is a client of BD'M.) It's amazing how such a simple idea can be so successful. Conversely, it's equally amazing how few companies show the ability to grasp this idea.

Yesterday's article in the Wall Street Journal featured a side-by-side comparison of shopping for a TV at Sears, Circuit City and Best Buy. The article's concluding thought underscores the power of Best Buy's strategy: "We left Best Buy feeling confident we'd end up with the right television."

Best Buy is not alone in viewing service as a competitive advantage. The folks at Starbucks, Enterprise, FedEx, WaMu, Southwest and Ace Hardware win using the same simple formula.

Treat the customer well and they will come back. What a concept.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Why doesn't GE make electric cars?

Hybrid cars are going mainstream. My former client, Toyota, has sold over one million Prius. Nearly every automaker is planning to launch some kind of hybrid.

GE should be in this market. (It’s name is General Electric, after all.) The company is a manufacturing giant (jet engines, locomotives). It is in the financing business (GE Credit.) Its growth strategy is linked to green-tech (eco-Imagination). And it is a household name with a reputation for dependability.

Why not make an electric car? One reason may be that GE lacks a sales and service channel.

The solution may be to use GM or Chrysler dealers. Both companies lag far behind in the development of hybrid vehicles. The GE name might create more buzz than if either GM or Chrysler launched its own hybrid car. And the dealer network would benefit from a new product that generates traffic into their stores.

In today’s automotive industry it is increasingly fuzzy who makes what. While private label branding is common in other businesses, it is only beginning to take root in the car business. Chrysler is considering sourcing mid-size cars from Nissan while also talking with Chery about selling the Chinese manufacturer’s cars in the U.S. under the Chrysler badge. GM and Toyota share a manufacturing plant in California that turns out the Toyota Corolla and the Pontiac Vibe. Different companies. Different brands. Same manufacturer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lessons on integrated marketing inside a box of Crayola Crayons

I found myself today in yet another discussion about the merits of traditional media vs. new media. I wish these terms would evaporate because we’re still trapped in a 1999 marketing dictionary.

Here’s what I try to remember to keep myself sane in these conversations:

If you want to make a 20 year old laugh, refer to the web as new media. Ditto for mobile.

Debating the merits of new media vs. traditional media is as useful as debating television vs. print. It’s all media. What matters is knowing how, when and why you use each.

Digital must be planned as part of the main course, not the side dish. Continuing the food metaphor, Burger King’s Whopper Freak-out made for a good commercial, but the true depth of the idea was found online. One couldn't exist without the other.

There is no such thing as traditional media, only traditional uses of media. Is BDM’s mobile text campaign for Applied Materials “traditional” because it appears on a billboard? Of course not. Conversely, should a not-too-distinctive rich media ad be considered “new” because it appears online? (You get the point.)

Digital has as much branding power as television and print. Television will become a pure digital medium in early 2009, offering the targeting and accountability we demand of online marketing. Which is traditional? Which is the branding medium?

Mobile has the power to immediately transform every billboard, television commercial and print ad into opt-in interactive media. Just add a text call to action instead of a URL.

I believe we learned the basics of integrated marketing at age five when we got our first giant box of Crayola 64 crayons. Before getting this box we drew fairly mundane pictures using traditional colors like blue, red and brown. Then, with 64 crayons suddenly at our disposal, we used every color imaginable (because we could) and made really confusing drawings.

In time, we learned how and when to blend a little green and brown with a touch of wild strawberry and neon carrot. We didn’t debate which one was the traditional color, we just knew they blended together to make for a beautiful drawing.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Text message from the sun.

Folks attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver will be greeted by somebody with an important message: the sun.

BD'M collaborated with Applied Materials to create a campaign to reinforce the potential of solar energy, a solution that is increasingly within our reach.

Applied Materials has long been a global leader in the semiconductor business and is now applying its nanomanufacturing technologies to green-tech solutions such as solar, energy efficient glass and lighting.

The DNC campaign consists of newspaper, outdoor, and a cool mobile initiative. Text SUN to 42107...the sun has something to say.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kudos for the Ford Flex

Last month I wrote a piece for Advertising Age about what the auto industry could learn from the iPhone’s success. It sparked healthy a response, becoming one of the magazine’s top e-mailed articles that week and prompting many readers to post their opinion on, many agreeing, some not.

The best “response” to date is the way Ford is launching its new Flex – a truly segment-busting car (minivan? cross-over?). With the Flex, Ford is bringing to bear many of the strategies outlined in the article. (PS: I harbor no illusion that my opinions had any influence. Having worked extensively in the car business, I know Ford’s strategies were likely in place 18 months ago.)

First and foremost, Ford showed courage in green-lighting a love it or hate it design. The all too common decision is to choose safe designs that are mildly appealing to as many customers as possible (with the notable exception of the Chrysler 300). Ford chose instead to turn heads and be passionately appealing to a select group of customers.

And speaking of design, Ford enlisted a fashion designer, Anthony Prozzi, to imbue the car’s interior with non-automotive design cues.

Ford is generating buzz and demand by orchestrating a slow roll-out in major markets such as Atlanta, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles before broadening to a full national launch. This is so much smarter than the tendency to flood dealer lots with too many cars which then require buzz-killing incentives to bring down the inventory. (I can sense the fingerprints of my former Toyota client, Jim Farley, who is now CMO for Ford Motor. The man knows a thing or two about marketing.)

Great product. Smart marketing. Let’s hope it can overcome the bad timing of launching in the current economy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Brave New Brand: The 'Era of the Artist?' ... when scarcity meets endless supply

Brave New Brand: The 'Era of the Artist?' ... when scarcity meets endless supply

Insightful article by a former colleague.  Erik applies the razor v. razor blade economic model to the music business.  He make a good point.  My partner Stuart D'Rozario is currently recording his second CD.  He may beg to differ.

Friday, August 8, 2008


The team at Barrie D'Rozario Murphy has been working hard for months creating United Airlines' new brand campaign that will debut tonight on the Olympics.

We're thrilled with the new campaign.  We're even more thrilled with the review our client's work received in today's Chicago Sun Times.  Please vote.  Often.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Redesigning the Stop Sign

If you are curious why it can seem so hard to create simple ideas, then please check out this video. It's a hilarious satire of the creative development process. Even funnier knowing that it was sent to me by a client with a good sense of humor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Advertising is the price companies pay for being un-original."

I don't know who authored this quote, but I found it in this video of a presentation Yves Behar gave at TED about the need for design to create products that tell a story.

I believe all great brands tell a story. Advertising has always been a powerful way to weave a brand narrative. But the process of storytelling should begin with the design of the product itself and be carried through all points of contact. Design shouldn't be used as a shortcut to make average ideas look better. True of products. True of advertising.

Design Thinking helps solve business problems by creating solutions from the customer's point-of-view. A good example is the way Target rethought its pill bottles to help customers sort out the jumble of bottles in the family medicine cabinet, and by doing so Target created a differentiated idea for its pharmacy business.

Design isn't limited to physical products. It can help create a better customer experience. Jyske Bank in Denmark set out to attract more customers, a brief we've all seen before. Instead of free toasters, viral films and more advertising, Jyske Bank opted to rethink the banking experience from the customer's point of view. They manifested their various savings and checking services as physical "products" to make them tangible and clear and evoke 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? Ad Age reported that Jyske Bank doubled its customer base in one year by improving loyalty while attracting new customers. Take a look at this video. It's a stunning case study and a good way to brush up on your Danish.

Design as a business discipline is even emerging as a potential alternative to the traditional MBA, witness Stanford's so-called D-School.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How Detroit can create the next iPhone

Like hundreds of thousands of people across the country, I stood in line this weekend at the Apple Store in Newport Beach to buy the new iPhone 3G for my daughter after three unsuccessful attempts at nearby AT&T stores.

Witnessing this exuberant demand for a new product made me wonder if this feat could be repeated in other categories, such as the auto business. What would an automaker have to do to seduce consumers to stand in line to buy a hot new car? Here are some lessons from the iPhone:

Functionality: Auto execs pondering how replicate the iPhone’s commercial and cultural success would be wise to note that the iPhone is not simply a marketing phenomenon. The iPhone is a breakthrough product. It revolutionized the mobile phone business through design, features and functionality.

One way for auto companies to create breakthrough products may be to begin thinking like a consumer electronics brand. Technology brands are the new car. Throughout the last century the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy. Cars represented modern life at its best. Today that role is served by each new smart phone, gaming system, wafer-thin laptop or lifelike home theater that joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday. An automaker should commit to creating a truly modern car, a car that democratizes the latest technologies; a car that liberates us from tired compromises by proving that design and performance go hand-in-hand with safety and environmental responsibility; a car that is an extension of the personal technologies we use to make our lives smarter, more organized and more entertaining. Create a car that joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday.

Design, design, design: The iPhone looks like nothing else. It took no cues from category norms. It wasn’t an exercise in incrementalism, as if often the case with domestic auto design.

Cult of celebrity: Auto companies tend to believe “celebrity” is attained by having A-list actors and rappers drive the car. In Apple’s case, its celebrity is organic. Steve Jobs is a celebrity. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of design, is a celebrity. It is time to elevate the automotive designers to be the face of the company instead of the suits. Let's see these designers on the cover of Fortune, People and Vanity Fair. After all, at their core these companies are industrial design firms.

To fast track this cult of design celebrity car companies should enlist a hot industrial designer (Yves Behar) or an accomplished architect (Frank Gehry) to create the next “must have” design of the year. And I don’t mean creating a “Cartier” edition, which usually means a special trim package. Fully empower this outside designer.

Limited supply: Here’s a very simple rule: a company shouldn’t produce more product than it can sell. Sounds simple, but seldom happens in the car business. Limiting supply negates the need for brand-sucking discounting and creates a perception of rarity that strengthens the marketer’s pricing power. Apple is genius at this.

New distribution model: Sales associates at Apple stores are extremely well trained and are living ambassadors of the brand. Consumers may not get this same experience from car salespeople. So here’s where the auto companies need to swallow a brave pill. Don’t sell this hot new car through dealerships. Signal change by changing how the car can be bought. Establish centrally located viewing galleries – in shopping malls, in airports, in downtown business districts – staffed by the same well-trained ladies and gentlemen hired for car shows. Sell the cars there or online. And, knowing that state franchise laws don't allow cars to be sold without dealers, give dealers a reasonable commission on all sales that take place in their designated sales area. Dealers must be properly compensated because they play a crucial role in providing ongoing service.  (Fixing a car is a tad more complex than fixing an iPhone.)

Advance buzz: When Apple launched the original iPhone it created a huge amount of buzz and curiosity by doing the opposite of what auto companies tend to do: Apple said absolutely nothing. Auto companies tend to debut the concept car three years in advance at an auto show, create microsites for sneak-peeks, and give the buff books early test drives in return for good coverage. And what happens in return? The buzz peaks well ahead of the product's retail launch. The new mantra must be to reveal less and intrigue more.
 (Dealers did this quite well back in the days when they'd cover up new models until launch day to keep curious faces pressed against store windows.)

Apple did all of this and more. Breakthrough product. Inspiring design. Smart pricing. Clever marketing. Seems so simple. And therein lies the beauty of Apple’s success.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sony rediscovers its mojo.

Several years ago when I led Young & Rubicam in Southern California I had the opportunity to work with Sony Electronics.  During that time I developed tremendous respect for the brand's quality, innovation and design.  But I also confronted first-hand the silos that separate the company's considerable entertainment content from its hardware.

Sony owns movie and music companies and also markets the hardware on which to enjoy movies and music, not to mention videogames.  I can still recall the difficulty in getting Sony Music to come to the table with Sony Walkman (remember Walkman?).  These silos where invisible to most until Apple launched iPod and iTunes, a perfect combination of hardware and content.  Game. Set. Match.

That's why I was very excited to hear last week's announcement that Sony Pictures will offer
customers who own a web-enabled Sony Bravia TV the ability to stream Hancock, its summer blockbuster, before it is released on DVD.  Content and hardware working together to create unique value.  This was the simple vision of Sony's founder, Akio Morita, finally brought to life by Sir Howard Stringer, Sony's current CEO.

This test, if successful, has major implications for how movies will be distributed in the future and may do to video distribution what iTunes did to music distribution.

But I'm equally interested in the implications for the Sony brand.  I think we're about to see the brand rediscover its mojo.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Barack, please focus your campaign

Those who know me know that I am a passionate supporter of Barack Obama's campaign for President.  I talk up his candidacy.  I have been a foot soldier during the primaries going door-to-door.  I've given money.

But I am disappointed that Obama's advisors (and Barack himself) have not yet focused on the meaty issues facing America.  I'm all for change.  But what type of change?  So Barack, and your army of bloggers, here's my plea:  in the spirit of the great brand marketers, embrace one overarching idea and then focus all messages and policies to support this defining idea.

While it is true that Americans want change, we are a fairly risk-averse culture.  What we actually want is to change course toward a destination that is safe and secure.  We want a secure future that inspires optimism.  We want a secure future we can leave to our kids.   Some will argue for a return to a past that seems, in foggy hindsight, to be more secure than today.  But if the past was so good, how did we end up with failing schools, $4.00 gas, war, and melting ice caps?  

Barack, focus your candidacy on creating a more secure future for America.  Redefine national security.  Inspire Americans to understand that security goes beyond a strong military and, by doing so, undercut the Republican Party's single issue definition of security.  Focus on five policies that will create long-term economic, strategic and personal security.

Education is a security issue.  Better K-12 education creates economic security when our children are better prepared to compete in the global economy.  Alternative energy is a security issue.  Investing in wind, solar, and nuclear resources will lead to strategic security when the future of the United States is no longer held over a barrel.  Healthcare is a security issue.  Policies, both legislative and market-driven, that make healthcare more affordable will inspire a feeling of personal well-being and security.  The environment is a security issue.  Common sense initiatives that help lower greenhouse emissions will help guarantee the security of our communities, country and planet.  And, of course, military spending is a matter of great national security.  But what we need is a new investment strategy that leads to a more agile force capable of winning asymmetrical conflicts.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Small company with big insights

I came across Pomme Bebe as part of my work with the Merage School of Business, which is focused on the art and science of strategic innovation.

I usually write about large national brands, so why post about this start up formed by two UC Irvine alumni? Because I believe marketing leaders at Fortune 500 companies could learn a thing or two from this new venture.

Pomme Bebe's positioning wonderfully simple: Fresh organic baby food. No marketing over think. No spin. It is clear, relevant and differentiating to young health-conscious mothers.

The company's founders understand their customers and have created a unique retail experience to reinforce the brand promise. At its retail location in Newport Beach Pomme Bebe offers moms and their babies a tasting bar to sample the food and decide which concoction the bundle of joy prefers. Moms can relax and socialize in the bebe lounge while enjoying a fresh squeezed drink. The store also offers a drive-up service for moms who need to pick up an order but can't get out of their car while baby is fast asleep. Indulgent? To be sure. But the brand is not trying to be all things to all people (another important lesson).

Lastly, the brand design feels joyful and optimistic and is applied consistently across the packaging, website (which offers moms the convenience of ordering online) and the in-store experience (a lesson perhaps drawn from Apple).

This is a start up with great potential to scale.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Good idea. Poorly executed

Chevron ran a spread in yesterday's Wall Street Journal announcing a game called Energyville  in which we are challenged to choose the best energy policy for our city while minimizing economic, environmental and security impact.

At first glance the game, which was developed by The Economist Group, seems like a smart way for Chevron to involve consumers in the debate and allow us reach smart and sensible conclusions on our own.  More so than yet another big oil TV commercial on Sunday Morning news programs, the engagement and interactivity of Energyville creates the potential to educate people on the opportunities and realities of alternative energy sources while also making a realistic case for the role of oil in our country's future energy policy.

The let down for me was its heavy-handedness.  About halfway through powering my city I received a lecture on the need for oil.  This singlehandedly diminished any objectivity or usefulness I had ascribed to Energyville.  

Chevron needs to assume its consumers are smart.  Let us reach our own conclusions about the need for oil as we discover through trial and error that the energy choices we made are inadequate to meet demand.  Don't hit me with the propaganda in the middle of the game.  As somebody once told me, leave some room in the mousetrap for the mouse.  

Monday, June 23, 2008

Postcard from Cannes

The annual advertising award show in Cannes is meant to showcase all that is good about the advertising business.  It celebrates big ideas that build our build our clients' brands in memorable and imaginative ways.

But often I'm struck by how Cannes also has the ability to shine a harsh light on things that must change in our business.  Two articles in Adweek bring this to mind.  

The first deals with the confusion over how certain entries were categorized.  Is an integrated campaign a TV idea?  Or an online idea?  Or a promotional idea?  I'm not sure clients care.  They just want ideas.   Only agencies worry about silos and categories.  That has to change.  (That's why BD'M built its model around "no walls.")

The second article reports on WPP's Martin Sorrell questioning why Google is going straight to clients and disintermediating agencies.  Clients might rightly wonder why their agencies believe they should be immune from the same forces that marketers face.  Instead of hand wringing we need to add more value in this process.  BD'M has extremely productive meetings with Google.  We seek them out as partners (another "no walls" behavior) and bring imagination and solutions to the package they offer marketers.  It can be no other way.

And, lastly, given the currently economic environment, I can't help but wonder how clients feel seeing their agencies basking in the South of France while they are facing eroding profits and share.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Where do you want to go today?

This is the question Microsoft posed several years ago in its brand advertising.

I referenced this recently in a conversation with one of our clients and later wondered how different Microsoft's brand image might have been if they had stuck to this idea.

"Where do you want to go today?" peeled away the rational layers of Fortress Redmond and revealed the emotional raison d'etre for software, operating systems and browsers -- they unleash our potential, allowing us to go anywhere and learn anything, be part of larger social and semantic communities, and break the shackles that chain us to our office, right from our PC.  This brand campaign could have been an ever-unfolding narrative of optimism and discovery.

Because Microsoft abandoned its attempt to define an inspiring true north for the brand,  it allowed Apple to personify it as the dumpy and insecure PC dweeb.  Pity.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Text "shoptext" to learn more

I've posted several times about the untapped potential of mobile marketing to transform offline media into interactive touchpoints.

I just came across a company called ShopText that offers agencies and marketers a one-stop service to begin testing this idea.   Savvy magazine publishers such as Hearst (Cosmo, Good Housekeeping, Esquire, et al) are using ShopText in their books to demonstrate to marketers that print remains a viable medium for building brands.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Design to the rescue

Yesterday's WSJ had a good article on P&G's new packaging for Febreze. It is yet another example of how design can help solve marketing challenges.

The Febreze brand managers were facing the same challenge shared by many consumer product companies: how can we sell more products? Many marketers resort to the same solutions -- cut the price, coupon, offer 25% more for the same price, heavy-up advertising.

What I like most about this example is that it seems to have been inspired by a simple insight -- consumers are likely to use more Febreze if it is visible in the home rather than tucked away out of sight under the sink along with myriad other household cleaners.

So in comes the design team armed with that insight, along with competitive references from Method Products (a pioneer in applying brand design to everyday household products) and Kleenex tissue boxes. And out comes a piece of packaging that has the ability to transform the brand more than any repositioning campaign ever could.

Now let's hope the new brand advertising lives up to the packaging.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I met my "frenemy"

WPP's Martin Sorrell uses a great expression to describe companies with whom we both compete and collaborate -- the "frenemy."

I met one today.  Spot Runner.

Spot Runner can create TV commercials for a fraction of the cost of a large agency and then geo-target the commercial to the right audience in the right location.  Their customers tend to be small local and regional businesses that cannot afford TV using traditional means, or orphaned brands within large consumer product companies.  The entire transaction is done through Spot Runner's website.  (Yes, we're in an era where the client/agency relationship can be described as a transaction.)

The collaborative opportunities within the frenemy relationship are using Spot Runner to support local dealers and franchisees with one-off tactical promotions, or perhaps for test marketing ideas before investing in a large-scale campaign.  

Will Spot Runner put advertising agencies out of business?  Thankfully just the really awful ones.  Not to be overly Darwinian, but the herd could be thinned a bit

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Something a little more important than brands

Several items collided in my head today and made me think how desperately we need to solve our country's energy crisis.

Our clients at United are grappling with the impact of oil at $133 a barrel.  My colleagues in the auto business are grappling with the impact of gas spiraling well over $4 a gallon.  And our clients at Applied Materials, who are now deeply involved in applying nanotechnology to help make generating solar energy more affordable, are grappling with the massive capex bets their customers need to make in order to effectively scale solar into a viable solution.

Solving our dependence on oil is not just an economic imperative, it is increasingly a national security imperative.

We need a serious and concerted effort that joins government and business behind a noble and important goal -- energy independence.  In 1962 President Kennedy rallied the country to go to the moon, and in so doing created a space program that went well beyond putting a man on the moon -- it served as a catalyst for many parts of our society including science, engineering, medicine, computers and education.  Hell, we even got Tang out of the deal.

What if we did the same for clean-tech.  A forceful call to action for government, businesses and universities to invest and collaborate around a single goal -- a safer, more economical, more secure and cleaner country.  

What are we waiting for?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don't let this happen to your brand.

Very funny video from The Onion depicting a Blockbuster as a living museum for tourists curious to learn how people used to rent videos in the old days.

Blockbuster used to be cool.  But that was before VoD, Netflix and iTunes.

How easy it is for an innovator to become yesterday's news -- or today's punch line.  This is why I firmly believe in the need for brands to innovate in good times and in recessionary times.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

TV is dead. Long live TV.

In early 2001 I gave a speech entitled "The Future of Advertising" at a chapter meeting of the American Marketing Association.  (I know, I know...even Nostradamus would have been embarrassed to use that title.)

I'm in the way-back machine because some recent headlines reminded me of something I talked about that day:  the advent of addressable TV advertising.  I spoke breathlessly about interactive TV (remember Wink?) and some emerging chatter about addressable TV.  My instincts may have been right but my timing was way off.

Seven years later that chatter about addressable TV advertising is now a full-fledged dialogue.  New companies such as Invidi Technologies can now provide cable operators with the tools to target specific commercials to specific viewers.  Industry initiatives such as Project Canoe, a consortium of cable operators, are working to create a universal model to deliver, price and measure addressable advertising.  The future is coming.  Any day now.

What's behind this recent momentum toward addressable TV advertising?

First, the moon and stars are finally aligning.  Like the Web, TV is now a digital medium.  Let that sink in for a moment and it becomes apparent that it is time to rethink its potential.  Combine its new digital delivery platform with the fact that viewership, while increasingly fragmented, is stable and large and we have a significant opportunity to reinvent TV advertising.

Second, the cable operators have a significant economic incentive to innovate.  They currently capture only $5 billion of the $70 billion marketers invest in TV advertising.

Third, and perhaps the most powerful driver of change, is pure fear.  And to cable operators fear is spelled g-o-o-g-l-e.  The folks who brought targeted advertising to the Web with AdWords are now exploring the potential to bring targeted buying and pricing to TV through a test with EchoStar's Dish Network.

Marketers and agencies should actively support these initiatives.  Addressable advertising will give us the ability to continue tapping TV's unmatched power to brand through sight, sound and motion with much greater precision and metrics.  Sounds like a win-win.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What's your brand narrative?

I've posted before on how great brands have a sense of true north -- a compelling point of view that shapes their beliefs and actions and keep them moving forward with an infectious sense of momentum.

I want to expand on that and add another dimension -- great brands also know what they oppose. Three brands illustrate this point.

Harley Davidson's new campaign, "screw it, let's ride", is a powerful manifesto for the brand. This campaign found a way to link Harley's defy authority ethos to today's zeitgeist of war, recession and slippery politicians. The campaign and website unite a community in a crusade against fear.

The Dove "Real Beauty" campaign shook the cosmetic world a few years back by standing up for individual self-esteem and exhorting people to question and defy the pretense of media-defined beauty.

For over two decades Apple has been on a crusade in celebration of creativity by demonizing grey conformity. This was set in motion in its epic "1984" spot, continued through its "Think Different" positioning and still exists today in its cheeky "Mac vs. PC" campaign.

What all three brands have in common is an appreciation of narrative. In any great story a protagonist must also have an antagonist. Every hero's journey involves overcoming challenges and adversaries, whether they be dragons, tyrants or competitors.

So what's the lesson for marketers?  Create a compelling story, not just a strategy. Go beyond defining what you stand for; decide what you oppose.  The most passionate causes tend to be in pursuit of both -- an ideal that inspires and a status quo that must be vanquished.  It is the yin and yang of these two forces that trumpets a call to arms.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Google "google" for a smart innovation strategy.

In my previous post on strategic innovation I wrote about the mistake many companies make putting innovation on the back burner during a recession.  In a difficult economic climate strategic innovation is often viewed as a luxury.  Smart companies, on the other hand, view innovation as a growth strategy, and these companies never place growth on the back burner.

This interview with Google's CEO Eric Schmidt reinforces this point and sheds light on Google's innovative approach to innovation.  He nails a huge idea -- i.e., innovation is a culture, not just a strategic process.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Introducing the washing machine of TVs

Today's Wall Street Journal quotes the vice president of brand marketing for LG Electronics as saying, "If you go to Best Buy, you can't tell the difference between any of the TVs; even to me, I cannot tell which is LG. They all look the same." (I doubt that was on the list of talking points prepared by his PR team, but I respect his candor.)

Why do the major TV set makers allow this steady commoditization of their business to continue?

Sony Electronics was a client of mine several years ago. Sony Wega TVs (pronounced, oddly enough, "vega") were the industry benchmark because they were based on an innovative and proprietary picture technology that offered customers a clear reason to pay more. (This built on a heritage of picture quality that started with the Sony Trinitron.) Sony's minimalist silver boxes also set a new design standard with a look that has now become common.

But much has changed over the years. Low price offerings from LG, Samsung and Vizio have created a war at retail. Consumers wait to buy the latest and greatest at steep discounts.

I think there are two sources these companies can turn to for inspiration to find a way out of this price-driven mess -- i.e. Apple and, ironically, LG appliances.

Apple can charge a premium for its laptops for reasons that are well known: their design stands apart from the sea of sameness and, importantly, because they work better (i.e., simpler, more intuitive).

Several years back LG challenged the commoditization of the appliance category with washers and dryers that brought curvaceous design and bold colors to a category that only knew white boxes. LG also brought forward useful new features such as steam cleaning. (As Best Buy's agency for its home appliance business, the team at BD'M has seen first hand how this approach to design has elevated these "boxes" to become true objects of desire.)

In both cases these marketers challenged and beat a commoditized market by using design as a business strategy. And both managed to charge a premium by doing so.

The average person may not pay 10% more for a 10% improvement in picture quality. But they are more likely to pay more for fresh design that showcases their discerning sense of style and brings a small bit of joy to everyday activities.