Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How Cadillac can become cool again.

BNET contacted me recently and posed this question, “What should Cadillac do to strengthen its brand image?”

The article appeared today on BNET.  Given the limitations of space, the article had to excerpt the ideas put forward from each of the brand strategists who were interviewed.  But given the unlimited space of my own blog, I thought I’d offer up the complete point of view I shared with BNET.

Here's what I think Cadillac should do to regain its mojo.

Behave like a technology brand, not an automotive brand. Throughout the last century the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy.  Cars represented modern life at its best.  Today, technology defines modern life. Each new smart phone or lifelike home theater joyfully proclaims that today is better then yesterday.  Automotive brands such as Lexus and Ford are beginning to embrace this idea. Cadillac's brand positioning should be grounded in technology. This requires more than simply promoting whiz-bang gizmos. It's about projecting the sense of optimism and progress we want from technology. It’s about forging an image of being forward-looking, smart and efficient.

Here's the innovation brief I'd give to the engineering team: Pioneer new technologies that liberate us from old compromises.  Prove that design and performance can co-exist with safety and environmental responsibility. After all, the basis of Moore's Law, Silicon Valley's driving force, is that technology should always help people do more with less.

Understand the difference between "luxury" and "premium." Premium is more than price.  Premium is about worth.   This requires a new way of behaving.  The most successful premium brands exude worth through a mix of sensuality, rarity, confidence, authenticity and quality.  (These should replace typical automotive brand values such as bold, exciting, powerful, etc.)

Continue taking more design risks.  Right now, Cadillac’s cars are looking sharper, the interiors feel more premium and the quality of its cars and SUVs has been steadily improving. Cadillac has created a solid foundation from which to build.  Never again revert to playing it safe. Exploit the fact that a designer is now running the company. We live in a very design savvy age.  Bryan Nesbitt is a fresh face for the brand.  He should be used extensively in PR and maybe even advertising.  I think he could pull it off.   Internally, use design thinking to rethink the overall brand experience, not just the product.

Begin cultivating Gen Y.   To be sure, this generation is not yet ready to buy Cadillacs.   But it is a mistake to continue picturing this group on the playground – nearly half are of college age.  Cadillac needs to become this generation’s counter-intuitive statement.  Every generation embraces a new idea to proclaim that they are not their parents.  Boomers and GenX embraced Lexus and BMW over Cadillac and Lincoln.  The minivan was a revolt against the station wagon just as the SUV was a protest against the minivan.  Why can’t Cadillac be this next generation’s mark of independence from their Mercedes and BMW driving parents?

At the end of the day, Cadillac must solve the cocktail party dilemma.  People must be able to look a peer in the eye and say, “I bought a Cadillac” without having to explain why.  This is the crux of the problem.  People never have to explain why they brought a Mercedes (engineering), Lexus (quality) or a Land Rover (adventure).  Cadillac can be progressive and smart.

Playing it safe won’t do.  Cool, must-have technologies.  An image of being progressive and smart.   Audacious marketing.  And new cars that have convey the optimism and swagger of concept vehicles.  That's a plan that will rock the cocktail party circuit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Repositioning a brand.

Last week BD’M presented a deep dive into brand repositioning case studies to identify the strategies that drive success, as well as the mistakes marketers must avoid.

Dave Daily, Christine Dennis and Amber Greenwalt worked with me on researching these cases. We examined repositioning efforts over the last several years across a range of CPG, B2B and corporate brands.
As a starting point we isolated the most common strategies that marketers employ, levers that are often used in tandem for maximum effect:
  • New visual identity
  • New meaning and context.
  • New behaviors (distribution, media, promotion, product, etc).
  • New target audience.
  • New pricing.
After examining each of these brands we identified seven success factors shared by many of these marketers, and some cautionary notes:
  1. Clearly define the problem. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. (Walmart did this particularly well.)
  2. Find a new positioning from within the truth of the brand. Be credible. No skin grafts. (Cisco is a good example of extending a core brand truth.)
  3. Create tight alignment throughout the value chain. The experience must line up with the advertising. (Few have done this better than Target. Sun Chips is another interesting example.)
  4. Change behavior, not just words and symbols. Provide tangible evidence of change. (Hyundai nailed this several times over. As did Old Spice.)
  5. Seek inspiration from your best customers. (Holiday Inn conducted extensive research among customers. )
  6. Execute a seamless re-launch, no patchwork roll-out. (Holiday Inn seems to be doing this well, with real penalties for franchisees that do not meet spec.)
  7. Pre-plan Phase 2 of the re-launch. Demonstrate continuous improvement. (Hyundai has successfully sequenced image-shifting initiatives over time.)
This is just a executive summary of the presentation. If you are a marketer contemplating a repositioning in 2010, please drop me a note ( or tweet (@wikimurph). We'll be happy to share our full findings and implications, as well as examples of repositioning work we've executed for brands such as United Airlines and Applied Materials.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Design as a business strategy.

I've written on several occasions about the value of embracing design thinking as a business discipline, not just as an aesthetic process.

Design thinking forces executives to view the world from the customer's standpoint. It focuses on the overall experience and not just the tangible product. It requires reductive thinking. All very healthy business practices, not simply design practices.

Roger Martin, Head of Canada's Rotman School of Management, brings some fresh thinking to the topic, continuing the trend of B-Schools thinking and educating more like D-Schools. According to Martin, business leaders who embrace design thinking focus more on the possibilities over the existing framework, they balance analysis with intuition, and they discard templates in favor of fresh solutions when attempting to solve strategic challenges.

Another piece I read recently by Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds in the MIT Sloan Management Review further illuminates the similarities between great managers and designers. According to Duarte and Reynolds, "Managers and designers have to do the same things: Embrace restraints, question everything, and make sure tools don't get in the way of ideas. Design concepts such as hierarchy, balance, contrast and harmony are just as relevant to managers."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finding the competition's Achilles' heel.

We often see companies attempt to compete against a successful category leader through price cuts and other forms of discounting in an attempt to maintain market share. This is usually the sign of a company that is out of ideas.

A smarter strategic response is to see if you can turn the leader's strength into their vulnerability.

I was reminded of this while reading a Wall Street Journal article on how Illy has chosen to compete with Starbucks. Starbucks’ strength is its ubiquity. Illy cannot compete by building more brick and mortar. So its response is to piggyback on the ubiquity of local independent coffee shops, signing contracts with cafes that agree to serve Illy exclusively and allow Illy to exert quality control. Starbucks’ strength becomes its vulnerability – too many stores result in too much overhead and fewer opportunities to grow. Illy becomes the cool indie brand.

We see this same dynamic at work in other categories.

Amazon turned Barnes & Noble’s success in building bookstores around the country into bloated overhead that hangs around the retailer’s neck like a lead weight.

Apple reshaped Microsoft’s long time dominance in the corporate market into the image of a tweedy bureaucrat.

Enterprise built an entirely new category – temporary replacement cars for suburbanites – that Hertz and Avis cannot easily serve from their deeply entrenched airport locations.

And then there is Google, a company that uses the power of "free" as a competitive wedge to disrupt categories.

Your competitor's strength also can be its Achilles' heel. Find it and exploit it. Don't play the game by their rules. They'll win every time.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The power of touch.

We’re supposed to be hurtling toward an age where all business is done through ones and zeros, with sales and service more efficiently handled online.

To be sure, we see many examples where this is producing a better outcome for marketers and their customers. Witness iTunes vs. Tower Records, Netflix vs. Blockbuster, Amazon vs. Barnes & Noble or Expedia vs. your neighborhood travel agent.

But this rush to virtual selling is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for all categories and marketers. Some recent examples illuminate our desire to see, touch and feel products, and how the best service is often carried out face to face.

What got me thinking about this is Microsoft’s announcement that it is opening retail stores, with the first launching in Scottsdale and Orange County. Like Apple stores, these outlets will sell hardware and software and offer technical support for people who are proud to be a “PC.”

And speaking of Apple, reports suggest that its stores generate more revenue per square foot than any retailer in the country. What more need be said about the power of a strong retail concept?

Recently, General Motors took the bold step in California to sell its cars on eBay. Great idea, lousy results. Turns out people prefer coming into the dealership to haggle. (I’ve witnessed this dynamic before in automotive research. Customers say they hate haggling but don't want to accept a fixed pricing model.)

Best Buy, a client of BD’M, has a strong online sales channel but knows that its key source of differentiation and repeat business is the knowledge and objectivity of its “blue shirts” working the store aisles.

Jyske Bank, Denmark's third largest bank, represents one of the most famous case studies on the power of a unique retail experience. Jyske re-imagined their 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.

I am fortunate enough to have earned United’s double-secret “Global Services” status from our client. The aspect of the service I value most (other than the really cool black card!) is the GS hotline where the phone is answered by a real, empowered person before I even hear the first ring. While not an example of brick and mortar, it is another way to give customers the satisfaction of real and helpful interaction, not automated voice prompts.

The lesson to be learned may be that we are a prisoner of our vocabulary. Brick and mortar. Click and mortar. Retailing vs. e-tailing. Perhaps it's simply about the reassurance customers get from real live human interactions. That can happen in a store. That can also happen online via “click to chat.” Either way, it has to happen. I think we’re starving for true contact.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Read this today while supplies last.

Advertising has long relied on the straightforward call-to-action to prompt consumers to act now. It's been a simple tactic that never required much more thought than how loud to shout or how bold to make the type.

However, today's media environment challenges us to imagine new ways to invite a response from customers. Mobile, search and social media create smarter and more specific opportunities to prompt an immediate action.

I began thinking about this when I saw an ad for Sony Pictures' new release, "2012." The billboard said, "Search 2012." This call-to-action is brilliant in its simplicity. It recognizes that people are increasingly dialing up brands through search, not by typing in a brand's URL. The volume of Google searches prompted by this call-to-action results in a wall of search hits that makes 2012 seem like a pop culture buzz machine. Moreover, the simple request to "search" may even inspire more curiosity about what one will find.

I've long advocated that we view mobile phones as a response device, not as an advertising platform. I think we can agree that everyone we know carries a mobile phone. And smartphone penetration is around 20% and climbing. (Presumably much higher among the business crowd.) For example, including an SMS call-to-action in a magazine ad transforms an offline message into an interactive message. The exponential increase in iPhone apps is creating new ways for consumers to shop as soon as they see a brand's commercial. In fact, Pizza Hut now ends its commercials with an invitation to order via iPhone.

Social media offers an entirely different call-to-action. For example, Prius asks people on Facebook to share "Random acts of Prius" -- small gestures that can help your friends make the next 24 hours better than the previous. (Props to my former colleagues at Saatchi.)

So next time we're writing a brief, or thinking about writing a throw-away final line of copy, take a few minutes to think through a more interesting way to compel customers to interact with the brand.

But do so today!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Designers invade the executive suite.

Last year Advertising Age published an article I wrote about the lessons car companies can learn from the iPhone. One of the suggestions I made was to elevate designers to a greater leadership role.

Two reasons why I wrote this: First, car companies are industrial design firms at their core. Second, design-led thinking is a business strategy, not simply an exercise in visual packaging. Design-led thinking forces a company to have a more intimate understanding of their customers and their interactions with the brand, and then be very reductive in creating a more valuable experience.

I didn't think it would ever happen. But it has. Twice. In Detroit.

Last month General Motors promoted designer Bryan Nesbitt to be General Manager of its Cadillac Division. That's unheard of. Until, of course, this week when Chrysler promoted Ralph Gilles to be President of its Dodge Car unit. This is a bold and long-overdue move. I'm eager to see what unfolds.

The clearest perspective on design as a business strategy comes from David Butler, Coke's VP of Global Design. "Here, it's about creating more value. How do we sell more of something? How do we improve the experience to make more money and create a sustainable planet? We're leveraging design to drive innovation and win at the point of sale...full stop." His profile in October's Fast Company is an instructive read.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The best small agency in America.

This week Barrie D'Rozario Murphy was selected by the Association of American Advertising Agencies as the best small agency in the country.

The O'Toole Award is a top industry honor for overall creative excellence across a range of clients and media platforms. The small agency award specifically recognizes this accomplishment among agencies of less than 100 people. BBDO won the honor for best large agency, and Bartle Bogle Hegarty was selected as the best midsize agency.

Bob, Stuart and I are thrilled. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the people who work at BD'M, as well as to our clients.

The people at our shop all left good jobs at good agencies to run off and join the circus with the three of us. And the blue chip clients who enlisted us -- such as United Airlines, Best Buy, Applied Materials, Compellent -- all took a leap of faith in hiring a new agency. We will never stop working hard to reward the faith everyone has shown.

We will also never stop being cheeky and having fun, as evidenced by the advertisement we ran in yesterday's New York Times. The response has been fantastic. I think it touched a pent-up desire by many in our business to have some fun, have a point of view and be a bit provocative.

But as we've said in interviews, the ad is in good fun. We're simply jealous of those big agencies!

Friday, September 18, 2009

How to provoke reappraisal of your brand.

Time will tell if GM's new corporate campaign featuring CEO Ed Whitacre will work. An advertising columnist recently suggested that "GM out Hyundais Hyundai."

Out Hyundais Hyundai? Really? Hyundai has been on a journey to recast its image for a decade. It's strategy? Bold, bet-the-ranch marketing initiatives:

  • The most comprehensive warranty in the business.
  • A direct appeal to rethink Hyundai, based on fact and accomplishment, not bravado.
  • A buy back program that showed great insight into the real issue facing consumers in the recession (consumers who had jobs but feared not having one later in the year).
  • A risky move into the near luxury sedan market with Genesis.

The result? Year-to-date Hyundai has picked up over a point of market share (source: Automotive News). A Herculean task to be sure. Every GM brand lost share. The proper domestic comparison to Hyundai is Ford, which, like Hyundai, has kept its head down and worked hard to get its quality and design right. Like Hyundai, Ford has also picked up market share this year.

So this begs the question -- where are the facts to support that corporate bravado ("car for car, we win") is fresh or effective?

I have no connection to Hyundai and no axe to grind. I'm simply a fan of smart and brave marketing. (That and about 15 years automotive marketing experience.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Open letter to Detroit: think like a technology brand

General Motors grabbed headlines recently by claiming its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid will get 230 miles per gallon in city driving. Clearly, such an audacious claim must be independently verified. But the sheer game-changing nature of this claim underscores an opportunity for GM to carve out a new place in our collective imagination by behaving more like a technology brand and less like an automotive brand.

Throughout the last century the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy. Hitting the open road expanded our horizons and put a bigger world within our reach. Cars represented modern life at its best. But that was then.

Today, it is technology that defines modern life. Technology liberates and connects. Each new smart phone, wafer-thin laptop and lifelike home theater joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday.

Technology brands are the new “car.”

I don’t advocate that GM or Ford or Toyota begin behaving in some geeky kind of way. Rather, it should take its cues from brands such as Sony, Apple, Google or GE. These brands deliver a sense of boundless optimism that was best expressed by Microsoft’s old themeline, “Where would you like to go today?”

For those who question the wisdom of focusing on branding strategies given the myriad issues GM faces, I have one simple word: Malibu.

In 2007, GM revamped the Chevy Malibu from top to bottom to compete with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, two cars that have ruled the midsize sedan market for years. The result is a $20k car that looks, drives and feels like a luxury sedan.

Consumer Reports recommends the new Malibu. Kelly Blue Book concludes that it looks like a $40k car. JD Power ranks the Kansas City factory that builds Malibu as one of the top three quality plants in the country. It was voted Car of the Year. Nevertheless, more than twice as many people bought a Camry last year. Brand equity matters.

Here are some initial steps companies such as GM and Ford can take to begin behaving like a technology brand.

First and foremost, auto manufacturers must create modern cars. This isn't just about whiz-bang features or alternative fuel vehicles. Modern cars are best defined by the more relevant relationship they create with their customers. Modern cars are democratic, offering the latest technologies to all, not just in the top of the line models. Modern cars liberate us from old compromises by proving that design and performance can co-exist with safety and environmental responsibility. Modern cars are an extension of the personal technologies that make our lives smarter, better organized and more entertaining. And modern cars look, well, modern.

Second, forge alliances with respected technology brands. After all, brands, like people, are often judged by the company they keep. The success of the Chevy Volt requires that we trust the Chevy brand as a credible source for an electric car. What if GM had partnered with GE on this? (Its name is General Electric, after all.) The company is a manufacturing giant. Its growth strategy is linked to green-tech (“ecomagination”). And it is a household name with a reputation for innovation and dependability.

Third, lift a page from Apple, the tech brand that teaches the master class on marketing. Here are four lessons drawn from the iPhone launch:
  • Design, design, design: The iPhone looks like nothing else. It took no cues from category norms and wasn’t an exercise in incrementalism. Design reigns supreme at Apple. Steve Jobs is manic about design. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of design, is a rock star. It’s time to elevate the automotive designers to be the face of the company instead of the suits. Let's see car designers on the cover of Fortune, Wired and People, not the CEO. After all, auto companies are industrial design firms.
  • Limited supply: Here’s a very simple rule: a company shouldn’t produce more product than it can profitably sell. Sounds simple, but seldom happens. Limiting supply negates the need for brand-sucking rebates and tent sales. Apple is genius at this.
  • New distribution model: Sales associates at Apple stores are trained to be living ambassadors of the brand. Consumers may not get this same experience at the average car dealership. So here’s where an auto company needs to swallow a brave pill. Don’t sell the next hot new car through dealerships. Signal change by changing where the car is sold. Establish centrally located shopping galleries – in malls, in airports, in downtown business districts – staffed by the same well-trained ladies and gentlemen hired for car shows. (Dealers must still be reasonably compensated for any sales occurring in their market area since they will 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 iPhone it generated a huge amount of curiosity by doing the exact opposite of what auto companies do: Apple said nothing. Auto companies tend to debut the concept car three years in advance at an auto show, create websites offering sneak-peeks, and give car magazines early test drives in return for good coverage. And what happens? 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. Tight distribution. Clever marketing. Seems so simple. And therein lies the beauty of Apple’s success, and the lesson for automotive brands.

Last century, Detroit pioneered mass production to democratize the automobile and bring freedom, mobility and joy to more people. Cars lost this sense of child-like wonder as they grappled with grown-up issues such as safety, fuel economy and global warming. Going forward, which company will be the automotive brand that best democratizes technology to solve these challenges and let us to rediscover that sense of wonder on the open road.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A caveman's guide to branding.

Most branding campaigns follow a time-tested architecture: an overarching brand idea, supported by individual attributes, all communicated within the context of an unifying creative idea.

And that's what intrigues me about Geico's brand campaign -- it is completely disintegrated. The insurer uses at least four distinct campaigns to land different proof points.

To be sure, Geico's overall goal is to position itself as a better value. Its USP has been unchanged for years: "15 minutes can save you 15% or more."

It uses the lovably cheeky gecko to communicate the overall value message.

It uses the caveman with a chip on his shoulder to to communicate ease and convenience.

It uses celebs right off the D-list to communicate its commitment to customer service.

And now it is using a leering pile of cash to communicate low price.

We've all seen campaigns with different spots in the mix (think McDonald's), or different campaigns tailored for specific media environments (think Nike in football vs. basketball vs. golf), or campaigns for different products within a portfolio (think Toyota Tundra vs Yaris).

But seldom do we see completely different campaigns in support of different support points.

Contrary to what one might expect -- i.e., a blurry cacophony of messages -- each of Geico's messages breaks through and stands on its own feet, is unified by a brand personality that is likable and humorous and, ultimately, supported by the 15% USP.

Is it working? I can only assume so, because Geico has pursued this model for years. We have to assume the graphs are heading in the right direction or they would have abandoned this funky model years ago.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Go Forth.

Wieden + Kennedy’s new campaign for Levis is stunning in its truth, its insight and its audacity.

The great brands are underpinned by an essential and enduring truth. By linking to the words of Walt Whitman and, on its new website, the United States Constitution, Levis has reconnected with the truth of its brand. Levis is America. And America has always been shaped by people with the courage and tenacity to dream and work towards a better tomorrow.

Its unique insight is in seeing the hollowness of most Millennial-targeted messages of hope and optimism, or perhaps more specifically, how bankrupt these messages must feel to Millennials in the current economy. Instead, “Go Forth” implies that hope and optimism are found by individuals who venture forward and work towards their dream. True of the framers of our Constitution. True of the gold miners in 1849 (the original denim crowd). True of Mr. Whitman. It must also be true of people today if we are to achieve our potential.

But the audacity, the brilliant audacity, to create a website in which citizens can co-create, edit and share their take on the Constitution is to be celebrated. It transforms the Constitution into a communal wall posting which, if you will momentarily suspend your judgment about that concept, is exactly what the Constitution needs to be: a living, shared, and debated document chronicling the will of the people.

Go forth indeed.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lion hunting.

The team at Barrie D'Rozario Murphy is thrilled to be one of only two U.S. agencies to win a Gold Lion award for film at last week's International Advertising Festival in Cannes.

BD'M was hired by the Chambers Hotel in Minneapolis to draw more guests into its bar, linger a bit longer, and, of course, run up higher tabs to boost the luxury hotel's revenue.

The result was a faux surveillance video that led guests to believe they were privy to live security shots around the hotel. We included shots of actual guestroom interiors interspersed with a variety of staged scenes - a nun praying to a man in a chicken costume, an alien in the hallway to a blow-up doll on a bed. The video, designed to complement the Chambers' collection of original contemporary art, helped deliver a double-digit increase in traffic to the bar.

It's an exciting example of the role and effectiveness of nontraditional media in solving business challenges.

To watch a excerpt, visit, and click on brand experiences/chambers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A battle of business models.

A BD’M client noted recently that they were engaged in a battle of business models. This is a clarifying thought – a competition between the fundamental strategy employed by each competitor for creating and delivering customer value.

This point of view implies that each company competes through a single, overarching business model. But can a company compete by spreading its bets across multiple business models?

This was on my mind when I read an article in yesterday’s New York Times about how Amazon will employ three different business models to sell books. As we all know, Amazon’s core business is selling pulp books direct to consumers. And, with Kindle, Amazon is now in the business of selling digital downloads of e-books. But Amazon has decided to also sell its e-books on competitive services, such as iTunes, for the same $9.99 price it charges Kindle owners.

Jeff Bezos and company have created three different models, a move primarily designed to follow the customer and preempt competitors, and also produce a healthy side-effect – greater internal competition to drive ongoing innovation and greater focus.

Strategy guru Michael Porter has long said that alignment is the test of a great business strategy – i.e., a unique value proposition, delivered through a differentiated value chain, with all activities aligned, and all connected back to the balance sheet. Porter’s litmus test doesn’t go away, rather companies will have to apply this thinking across several business models simultaneously – a game of three-dimensional strategic chess.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to reposition a brand.

Sun Chips is a case study in the making of what can happen when a marketer thinks outside the box, or in this case, the bag.

Sun Chips have long been positioned as a slightly healthier alternative, with less salt, fat and other naughty stuff. Most every snack brand tries to make this same claim. So how do you stand out? By deciding to ignore the conventions of typical snack food marketing.

Their new marketing campaign is smart and tightly aligned:
  1. They've taken their name and created a logical brand association: sun --> solar --> green --> healthier planet.
  2. They are forging this brand association through actions, not just words. (Solar powered manufacturing plant, biodegradable packaging)

  3. They are using unique media properties to reinforce the brand idea.

  4. They are tapping the power of PR and crowd-sourcing to seek and fund other ideas for a healthier planet.

  5. They are aligning the company's philanthropic investments behind this idea. (Donating $1m to create a solar-powered recovery center to help a tornado ravaged town get back on its feet.)

It's too early to tell if this will be a wild success or an abysmal failure. What is clear, though, is that they are refusing to play small ball. This is a brand team that is truly reaching for the stars.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The lesson of BMW Films

An article on questions why our industry hasn’t built on the success of BMW Films and the potential of branded content. I used to ask this same question until I realized it is the wrong question.

BMW Films made its online debut in 2001 with short films produced exclusively for the web by marquee talent, including directors John Woo, Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, Tony Scott among others, and starring actors such as Clive Owen, Madonna, Mickey Rourke, Forest Whitaker and Don Cheadle. The Hire consisted of eight action-packed episodes featuring Clive Owen putting the ultimate driving machines through the paces.

The Hire was ahead of its time. Broadband penetration in the United States in 2001 was less than 20%. (Remember the tedium of viewing rich content on dial up?) The films couldn’t capitalize on social media because Mark Zuckerberg, Tom Anderson and Steve Chen (founders Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, respectively) may still have been in high school at that point.

Yet, back in the day, these films broke new ground by changing how we viewed the web. Up to that point, marketers used the web as a substitute for print. Sites functioned like online brochures -- very heavy on text and photos. BMW Films showed that the web didn’t have to be static – it actually could be a replacement for TV, using sight sound and motion to engage viewers.

And that's precisely why the question posed in Adweek misses the point. BMW Films used the web like TV. Right for then, wrong for now. The web has changed dramatically since 2001. It is no longer about one-way broadcasting. It’s about ceding control, co-creation, relevant functionality and crowd-sourced input.

Contrary to Adweek's story, branded content is not struggling to find its footing, an assertion that seems weighed down by a Hollywood-centric definition of content. Branded content is flourishing in new ways that are more tailored for Web 2.0. Subservient Chicken allowed consumers to control the entertainment. T-Mobile’s flash mob campaign capitalized on social media. GE’s online effort for ecomagination and Nike’s mobile initiative both used augmented reality to glue our eyeballs to the brand.

We should tip our hat to BMW Films and appreciate what it unleashed. But instead of looking backwards, we should embrace its essential lesson: Consider how consumers are using the web today, then rethink it and set the bar higher.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Project Natal

I've seen the future. It's spelled N-A-T-A-L.

The new human interface for Xbox is mind-bending. No controllers whatsoever. You are the controller. It reads body movements. It makes Wii look old fashioned.

I'm not a gamer. I'm more fascinated about the implications this technology can have on product design -- e.g., computers, home entertainment, retail.

It seems the technology we witnessed in Minority Report wasn't so far in the future after all.

Monday, June 1, 2009

we > me

My previous post on popularity discussed the influence that crowds can have on consumer decision making and behavior. This post highlights how a company can use crowd-sourcing to improve its own decision making and behavior.

Few companies have the courage to fully expose themselves to the power (and potential pitfalls) of social media like the folks at Best Buy (disclaimer: a BD'M client).

Best Buy's CMO is a prolific tweeter (@bestbuycmo), using microblogging as an external internal communications channel to reach the 20-something year old Blue Shirts working in the stores who are unlikely to read email from HQ. Barry Judge uses this channel to invite suggestions and feedback beyond the protective bubble that normally surrounds senior executives.

The Best Buy Idea Xchange opens up Best Buy's innovation process to its best customers to suggest ways to improve the retailer's merchandising selection and business practices. I like the honesty and commitment expressed on the site. Here's an excerpt:

We're new at this. Its probably going to be messy for awhile. We'll probably miss stuff. We'll probably screw up. But we'll learn and get better as fast as we can. We'll blog every two weeks with updates at first. Then we'll build in new and better ways to talk to you about your ideas - when we're reviewing them, or implementing them or when we decide we just can't do anything with them. We'll always be honest. We can promise we're all going to do our best. That means listening closely, talking openly about the ideas that you've shared. And trying our hardest to make it happen.

These behaviors are a good example of the formula that drives social media: we > me. Most corporate decisions are based on feedback in a conference room of 10 like minded executives, or off the results of 50 people in focus groups. Social media exposes companies to ideas -- good and bad -- from a much wider cross-section of people and perspectives, helping to break the protective bubble that tends to insulate companies from their customers.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Popularity sells.

Carl Bialik's article in the Wall Street Journal on the influence of Top 10 lists questions the wisdom of crowd-sourcing, but also highlights a proven tactic that marketers should consider to help drive incremental sales.

Popularity metrics abound online: Top 10 emailed stories on Most downloaded songs on iTunes. Yahoo's Top 10 user searches. Studies show that people decide what to do in part by following others. We are pack animals at heart, finding comfort in the herd.

Bialik's article cites instances in which marketers were able to dramatically shift customer preference and behavior by calling out those items and choices preferred by other customers.

Amazon has employed this successfully over the years ("people who bought this book also bought..."). However, Amazon makes this recommendation after you've made your initial selection. The dynamic Bialik reports on is the influence popularity has on the initial purchase decision.

I could see ways of applying this to many different categories. Ford dealers could post a sign on the roof of a Fusion letting me know that 63% of current Fusion owners bought the new Fusion. Best Buy could let me know that 57% of people who bought this flat panel combined it with this blu-ray player. United could tell me that 68% of people booking the JFK-SFO flight I'm considering purchased a one-day Premier Travel Option.

Timely and specific suggestions of what similar customers prefer can lift sales. How do I know this? I heard other people saying so.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What does your brand oppose?

I usually don't think of mayonnaise. That's probably why I like Miracle Whip's new campaign. After spending years trying to tell me what Miracle Whip is, and an equal number of years of my total lack of interest, the brand finally got my attention by telling me what it isn't.

In its new TV spots, Miracle Whip seems to be against conformity and playing nice with other condiments. It demands to be heard through the bread. In fact, it thinks mayo is a wuss.

This campaign reinforces a theme I've been exploring lately -- the power of brand narratives. Great brands tell great stories. They are the lead character on an inspiring journey. They have a clear sense of true north. Importantly, they know what they stand for and what they oppose.

Miller High Life's delivery guy campaign is another good example of a brand that defines itself by clearly stating what it's against. High Life celebrates blue-collar common sense by railing against high-minded nonsense.

Across the pond, Nestle’s Yorkie candy bar is famously marketed as being “not for girls”, with appropriately tongue in cheek advertising.

Dove breathed new life into the brand by harnessing the tension between what it stands for and what it's against. Its highly successful "campaign for real beauty" positioned the brand as an advocate of women’s self-esteem battling the falsehood of media-defined beauty.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the blueprint for this type of branding strategy -- Apple.

Next time you're defining your brand strategy, don't settle for simply declaring what your brand stands for. Define what you oppose, your proverbial line in the sand. Consumers will reward you with their attention.

I could go on an on about this. But I'm for brevity and against long-winded dissertations.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Think like a storyteller, not a marketer.

Ad Age this week is reporting that Budweiser is returning to the type of emotional advertising that was its trademark in its halcyon days.

I hope the brief goes deeper than that. Emotional advertising is not a goal, it's an outcome. What characterized the great Bud advertising was a keen sense of storytelling and empathy. The brand was a reward for a honest day's work.

As I've posted before, stories are a very potent form of communicating. Stories help us understand. They convey meaning. And in an overwhelming and fast moving world, meaning trumps information. The most enduring stories are built upon several essential elements, including archetypal characters, the hero's journey and resolution of conflict

Storytelling has been a hallmark of the campaign BD'M creates for United Airlines, giving the brand a very distinctive message in a category that normally defaults to commodity service claims.

In the beer world, I tip my hat (and my glass) to the folks at Dos Equis. The "most interesting man in the world" campaign is a classic narrative in the making. They've nailed an archetypal brand personality and convey keen sense of what the brand believes in as well as what it opposes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

@kogibbq...a tasty success story

Kogi BBQ is an interesting case study on many levels.

First, it's an inspiring story of a guy who has a 4 a.m. epiphany about how delicious Korean BBQ would taste on a taco and then has the courage to follow through on his idea, resulting in a hugely successful SoCal food business.

Second, it's an instructive story about the role that social media can play in creating a grassroot phenomenon.

Kogi BBQ has no fixed location. It is a roving truck that announces its location via twitter (@kogibbq). Flash mobs of Kogi fanboys (and girls) drop what they're doing to go and wait for the Kogi-mobile to show up.

Similar to yesterday's post on T Mobile's campaign, Kogi offers another example of what's possible when social media is at the center of the brand idea, not an ad hoc extension.

I often find that some of the most interesting marketing happens at the local level. Large national marketers could learn much from studying best practices from companies like Kogi, not McDonalds.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Social media is mass media.

T Mobile's new flash mob campaign is a good example of a media mash up. Is it a TV commercial? A viral video? Social networking? Blogging? The answer, of course, is all of the above.

This campaign illustrates what's possible when we put digital and social marketing at the center of the idea and not treat it as an extension of a TV spot.

T Mobile used teaser videos, social networks and good old fashioned word of mouth to summon over 13,000 people to London's Trafalgar Square last week to sing a fairly in-tune rendition of Hey Jude.

The result? A fun TV spot and, more importantly, thousands of posts, texts, tweets and YouTube videos from people who attended the event, and even more chatter from people like me who heard about it online. Moreover, when you get Perez Hilton's stamp of approval, you know you're doing something right in the pop culture zeitgeist.

The days of simply putting a TV spot on YouTube are over. Marketers need to map out a social media strategy at the outset of a campaign and not leave it to chance. Hope is not a strategy.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dan is right.

Dan Wieden, founder and head of Weiden + Kennedy, gave a thoughtful and impassioned pitch at the 4As conference on why diversity matters and why advertising agencies must get their act together.

My favorite quote: The issue of diversity "continues to gnaw at me because, like it or not, in this business I essentially hire a bunch of white, middle-class kids, pay them enormous, enormous sums of money to do what? To create messages to the inner-city kids who create the culture the white kids are trying like hell to emulate."

The imperative to create a more diverse agency culture is not something we should do because it is politically correct. It's something we must do to ensure the long-term success of our industry.

We are in the business of helping clients build their business through our unique ability to understand and connect with main street America. We've done this well over the years largely because we tended to mirror the face of America.

As the American landscape continues to become more diverse, so must we, or risk falling out of touch with consumers and becoming less capable of providing clients with fresh, relevant ideas.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The slipperly slope of discounting.

Today's New York Times has a good article on the slippery slope of discounting. Price cuts of 50% have given way to scorched earth discounts of up to 70%-80%.

Retailers find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Offer steep discounts and risk losing pricing power longer term. (Detroit car companies never really recovered from decades of discounts and rebates.) Or don't discount and risk a steep drop in store traffic and sales.

An added challenge with discounts is that they are easily matched and simply lower revenues for all competitors. Sandwich chains are seeing this in their $5 lunch wars. Ditto for airlines.

Some brands have found better alternatives, or have at least augmented their discounting with demand-building strategies that also strengthen brand equity.

Best Buy is broadening its appeal to price conscious shoppers by featuring low prices on house brands such as Insignia. The retailer is also maintaining its emphasis on customer service and support (e.g., Geek Squad).

Hyundai was the first car company to realize that consumer anxiety was the main obstacle to sales, not purely affordability. Its Assurance program recognized the emotional component of value -- i.e., the need for consumers to feel smart and in control.

There is no doubt that discounting must play a role in spurring demand during a recession. But marketers would be wise to balance this pricing strategy with other offers -- e.g., loyalty bonus, warranty, added convenience -- that can help differentiate the promotion while also building a lasting positive brand image.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thank you world.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mark Earth Day by recognizing some of the contributions being made by some of the companies we work with at BD'M.

We partnered with Best Buy to help brand and promote its Greener Together initiative to help address the damage caused by too many electronics piling up in our landfills. We need to remember to not just dump an old TV or PC. Bring it in to Best Buy to be safely recycled.

Applied Materials is a nanotech company. So what has that got to do with Earth Day? At its core, Applied helps the world do more with less. Chips that are more powerful yet more efficient. Architectural glass coatings that conserve energy. Flat panel displays that are brighter yet use less energy. And a large and growing solar energy business that is helping to scale this industry to reach grid parity.

And today, our friends at United announced a new program to help eco-conscious fliers do something to offset the carbon footprint created by jet travel.

When companies try to support green initiatives they walk a fine line between trying to do something and being called out for not doing enough. Fair game. But doing something beats doing nothing every time.

On this Earth Day 2009, let's take a moment to say thank you to mother earth, through words and deeds. Perhaps this song will put us in the mood.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The dark side of Wikibranding

I coined the term wikibranding to capture a new marketing dynamic -- consumers have even more power than marketers to rapidly define brands now that access to global mass media is just a point-click away.

Social media enables consumers to co-create and spread a great brand narrative just as easily as it enables consumers rightfully destroy poor quality brands. Most marketing people know this too well.

PR folks at Domino's and elsewhere are learning another painful lesson about social media -- there is no such thing as a local incident, everything is immediately global. The damage control needs to be swift and devoid of spin.

From The New York Times:

Video Prank at Domino's Taints Brand

By Stephanie Clifford

A video prank two Domino's Pizza employees posted online has shown how social media has the reach and speed to turn tiny incidents into marketing crises....

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Optimism requires hard work. And that's the point.

Optimism has long been a uniquely American trait. It defines who we are. We are a nation of people who believe tomorrow will be better than today. It is why our forefathers and mothers risked long ocean voyages in search of a new world, why settlers in wagons ventured ever westward and why immigrants continue to come here by any means possible, by plane or make-shift raft from Cuba. (As a Pakistani born son of Irish immigrants, it is why I am here today.)

Our ingrained sense of optimism was set in motion by our founding story, fueled by generations of immigrants and reinforced by years of abundance and success.

Lately, though, I've come to wonder if our definition of optimism, or more pointedly our underlying motivation, has changed over the past decade, perhaps not in a good way.

American optimism was always an extension of our "can do" spirit. Anything was possible if we worked hard enough to make it happen. Our optimism sprang from hard work, not hope. We knew tomorrow could be better for us and our children if we rolled up our sleeves.

Recently, however, optimism evolved to become an entitlement, no longer an earned reward. We bought houses bigger than we could afford because we had every reason to believe we would get another raise or that our portfolio would continue to grow. We used magic money -- a.k.a., home equity loans -- to buy the muscular SUVs we coveted. We didn't have to work any harder. Good things just happened.

While the current recession has shaken our confidence, recent polls suggest that President Obama is inspiring us to find reasons to be hopeful once again.

I am hopeful the current "cleansing" process will bring us back to the true definition of American optimism. Tomorrow will be better than today, but only if we roll up our sleeves and earn it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Microsoft finds an idea.

Microsoft's new Window's campaign finally has found a clear selling proposition to support "life without walls."

Windows enables us to find and configure the exact computer to meet our needs because it is the standard embraced by every manufacturer...except Apple. (This seems a little more compelling than Jerry's desire for a moist and chewy PC.)

Leaving aside comments on the execution, the premise that Windows opens us up to a full spectrum of options and brands is persuasive. Additionally, it gives Microsoft the opportunity to reposition Apple as a take-it-or-leave it brand that asks us to sacrifice choice in pursuit of cool.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A lesson in why brand image matters.

Next time somebody tells you that brand image doesn’t matter, that the internet has transformed consumers into rational and well-informed shoppers, just respond with one word: “Malibu.”

In 2007, GM revamped the Chevy Malibu from top to bottom to compete, once and for all, with segment leaders Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, two cars that have ruled the midsize sedan market for years. The result is a $20k car that looks, drives and feels like a luxury sedan.

Consumer Reports recommends the new Malibu. Kelly Blue Book concludes that it looks like a $40k car. JD Power ranks the Kansas City factory that builds it as one of the top three quality plants in the country. It was voted Car of the Year.

Nevertheless, more than twice as many people bought a Camry last year.

It is unreasonable to expect to rewind years of inconsistent quality and value in one year. Having worked with both Ford and Toyota at Y&R and Saatchi, I have seen first hand the hurdle that domestic brands face.

As consumers, perhaps it's time to rethink our aversion to domestic cars, do some homework to update our facts, and, minimally, take a test drive. Then buy the best car.

As marketers, never assume we can milk a brand (or starve it) for years and expect consumers to stay loyal.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wearable technology.

Check out this video from TED, presented by Patti Maes from the MIT Media Lab. It is a mind-blowing demo of the potential of wearable technology. Which marketer will be the first to test this? Let the race begin.

It takes about two minutes for Patti to get to the demo, but hang in with it, you'll be glad you did.

Thanks to Dominic Lee for turning me on to this.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twitter explained.

This video hit the bullseye. Supports my post below that Twitter is best used as a wiki -- not a public diary.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What I've learned about Twitter.

I'm approaching my one year anniversary on Twitter (@wikimurph). My first tweet? "Mountain biking in OC." For some reason I felt the world needed to know that. One year and hundreds of tweets later I've learned the true value of Twitter.

Twitter is a real time wiki. Although Google won't admit it, Twitter is a search engine, not a "poor man's email" as it was recently derided by Eric Schmidt. Twitter allows us to tap into the brainpower of people around the world, trusted advisers and total strangers alike.

Over time I noticed that I've gravitated toward people who write tweets that share knowledge ("just saw a presentation about...), tweets that pass along a provocative observation ("has anyone noticed that..."), tweets that point me toward content I might not otherwise have stumbled upon ("check out this site..."). I am following brand strategists, marketing gurus, social media wonks, designers, pop-culturists from Sydney to Sao Paolo. In turn, I have folks around the world following me, including my two teenage daughters (odd time we live in!).

I know I'll still write the occasional narcissistic tweet ("exciting dive today!"), but I've learned I have to give if I want to get. The community gets better when we share something interesting.

I'd write some more, but I'm heading out for a ride. ;)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The IDEO of marketing communications?

I’ve long been a fan of IDEO, the product innovation and design company, and have been thinking about what an advertising agency can learn from how they work. What would the “IDEO of marketing communications” look like?

I first encountered IDEO when ABC news did a story on the firm. Nightline sent a team to the Bay Area company to chronicle a condensed three-day version IDEO’s innovation process, but didn’t reveal the brief until the day before the cameras arrived. Their assignment – reinvent the grocery shopping cart.

Take a look at these videos, served up in three parts. (Disclosure: these videos are sold on Although I lifted these from YouTube, I bought a copy three years ago.)

IDEO and an advertising agency are in the same business, albeit with different outputs. We both create imaginative ideas to help marketers grow. IDEO’s solutions tend to be 3-dimensional products. An agency’s end product tends to be online and on TV.

IDEO’s process is fluid, evolving to meet different engagements. But the core seems to be defined by four key principles:
  1. Inspiration by observation (more anthropological, fewer focus groups)
  2. Collaborative brainstorming (always succeeds over the lone genius)
  3. Hot teams (drawn from diverse fields to create a collision of perspectives)
  4. Rapid prototyping (enlightened trial and error, act before you’ve got all the answers)
The diversity of talent and disciplines we had at Saatchi LA helped us move toward this culture. And our “no walls” credo at Barrie D’Rozario Murphy is designed to foster this same collaboration.

So what would the “IDEO of marketing communications” look like? I have my own point of view (no silos, less hierarchy, more diverse talent, truly collaborative brainstorming, etc.), but would be more interested in learning from others.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Building iPhone apps that don't suck

I like this piece by Fast Company, "How to build an iPhone app that doesn't suck." I think we'd all agree that apps rock. But, truth be told, for every must-have app there seems to be 10 lame ones. Fast Company's slide show provides a quick guide for marketers to follow. My favorite in the list? The WebMD app. Useful content served up through a simple interface.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What's in a name?

I like what Shell is doing with its new formulation, "nitrogen enriched gasoline." Shell resisted the the temptation to make up some scientific-sounding name (such as Chevron with Techron) and instead spoke in plain simple English. Techron feels like marketing, nitrogen feels like science.

Imagine, then, the dilemma faced by the folks at Mercedes Benz when they chose a sub-branding theme for its new line of biodiesels. Mercedes BlueTEC involves a substance called AdBlue. AdBlue is urea. Here's a case where the plain simple English rule would not have worked well. Who wants to drive the urine-powered E Class?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why Skittles matters.

Skittles jumped head first into the uncharted world of social media with its new un-website.

What's an un-website you ask? Check out This is wikibranding in action. Users define and create the brand's message and content. links to Twitter and Facebook to enable folks to tweet and friend the brand.

Why is this important? It's just a candy after all. (A very addictive one at that.) It's important because it represents a bold move by a marketer to defy the category norm and test something different.

Check out and you'll understand the dilemma faced by CPG brands. Why on earth would anyone need to visit And for the five people who do visit it, why on earth would they want to sit through a video on the history of sharing?

Skittles' new un-website has people talking, although it may only be media wonks at this point. But chatter is chatter in this world. The spammers have already hijacked the chatter, proof that it's working! (And for those in the agency world who are all-a-twitter over the fact that this site mimics that from modernista, get your head out of the agency bubble. Modernista does not own this format any more than one can lay claim to owning the idea of using music in a TV spot. This is a creative tactic available to all.)

The real test will be what Skittles does next. What will it learn from the unfiltered chatter? How will it engage and facilitate the next level of engagement? How this will inform the fundamental definition of the brand?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Want brand loyalty? Be loyal to customers.

Customer loyalty is often a one-way street. Customers patronize specific brands over time and in return get....well, nothing.

Car companies are big on loyalty marketing. But these programs often amount to nothing more than a special discount ("loyalty bonus") and sneak previews of a new model. The problem is that any buyer can negotiate a similar discount any day at any dealer.

When you think about it, Apple does little for its best customers. We stand in line like everyone else. And how about Coke and Nike and Sony? What's the benefit of staying loyal?

So this brings me to a category we love to bash -- airlines -- and offer some praise.

For example, United Airlines (disclosure: although a BD'M client, I was a "1K" customer years before) offers its frequent fliers a wide range of perks in exchange for our continued business. As a loyal customer I get to fast track through check-in and security lines. I can sit in Economy Plus and get more legroom (and not get my laptop smashed by the guy in front of me) free of charge. I receive upgrades and free tickets. My baggage fees are waived. That's real stuff that offers me economic and emotional benefits.

Very few brands offer real benefits and appreciation for our loyalty. This is a mistake, and also an opportunity in the current recession.

The best way to survive in the current climate is to get close to your best customers. They are most likely to buy and most likely to talk up the brand. They are the proverbial low hanging fruit. For example, Best Buy (another BD'M client) sent me a $50 gift card the other day in recognition of some recent purchases. What's smart about this is that I'm likely go into the store and spend more than $50.

The entire industry that sprung up around customer relationship management (or CRM) clouded a very simple premise: say thank you to people.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

At Last

When I was at Ogilvy we pitched and won the Jaguar account with a beautiful campaign featuring Etta James’ immortal torch song, “At Last.”

The lyrics were tailor made for a brand that, at the time, peopled admired and aspired to someday own. The campaign ran for several years and, along with some new product, helped to revitalize the storied marque. (There was an anecdote of a priest alluding to our campaign in his sermon and using the lyrics to draw an analogy about finding salvation in our lives. How’s that for branded content?!)

However, yesterday I saw a spot for Hoover using Etta’s song (sorry Beyonce, it will always be Etta’s tune). I was crushed. It ruined my fond recollections of that campaign. How it fits a vacuum cleaner, I don’t know. And whether or not Hoover’s version finds its way into a Sunday sermon remains to be seen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hard lesson for Tropicana. But smart response.

I'm clearly not the only one who questioned Tropicana's new packaging.

The NY Times reports the brand is bowing to public pressure and bringing back the iconic image of the straw stuck in the orange.

When I started this blog, I coined the term "wikibranding" to capture this very phenomenon -- i.e., brands are increasingly defined and communicated by customers, not by the manufacturer.  Rock on tweeters!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Focus. Execute. Learn. Repeat.

A new study by the CMO Council confirms what many of us see every day. Marketers are far too distracted by short term issues ("random acts of marketing").

Several months ago I spoke to an MBA class (CMOs in training) at the University of California, Irvine and shared my POV on the hallmarks of great marketers. Given today's business climate, it would be unwise for any CMO to attempt to excel on all the traits I outlined. With mounting demands and pressures facing today's CMO, and with ever-decreasing resources, it's essential that a CMO set priorities and operate within a clear and focused framework. For example, I recently offered this framework to a CMO at a large company:

  1. Clarify the value proposition. Seek relevant differentiation. The noise in the market is loud and confusing. Make sure the offering is in-step with customer needs.
  2. Reassess loyalty drivers. Get close to your best customers. Categories and customers change. What drove loyalty five years ago may be less sticky today.
  3. Appeal to new segments. Begin attracting tomorrow's customer -- e.g., younger customers, multicultural markets, older customers, etc. If the target statement in the marketing plan reads like it did three years ago, time to blow off the dust.
  4. Make sure the website is the best in the category. The most functional. The easiest to navigate. The most well designed. This is a powerful manifestation of the brand. Ensure all marketing activities lead back to it.
  5. Continue improving. Innovation doesn't have to happen on a grand scale. It can be a series of small test and learn opportunities. Follow the 70/20/10 rule.

Recessions don't last forever. The smart marketers are those that are focusing on initiatives that will help their company be healthier, leaner and stronger as the economy recovers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Marketers, fear is thy enemy

I've posted several times about ways in which marketers are adapting strategies to grow market share during the recession. I continue to applaud what I see from Hyundai.

Hyundai is addressing the fundamental issue -- FEAR. The vast majority of consumers are not facing layoffs or home foreclosures, yet are understandably anxious about the future. Therefore, they curtail spending.

Hyundai launched its Assurance program in January, allowing consumers to return their new Hyundai within a year of purchase if they lose their job. Smart. Sales jumped 14% in January in a month when the industry was down 37%.

Yesterday Hyundai sweetened the program by offering to pay the vehicle loan or lease for 90 days while the owner looks for work. The owner will not have to repay Hyundai for these payments if they decide to keep the car.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Happy, shiny brands

Barack Obama's campaign sold us on the idea of hope and optimism. Judging from recent brand makeovers, corporate America is banking on hope and optimism to sell us on everything from colas to cream cheese.

Happy, shiny brand logos, however, are not enough to tap into the energy that President Obama helped to unleash. The lesson to be drawn from Obama's successful campaign is that we are in the era of action, not just words.

The marketers that best captitalize on this wave of optimism and change will be those that actually do something positive and new.

Marketing that shouts and interrupts needs to make room for marketing that provides a useful service to its customers (think Nike+, Southwest's "Ding" or Lucky's iPhone app).