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First, in listening to the conversation at Mixx, we continue to cling to an outdated vocabulary that Don Draper might be able to recognize: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