Friday, May 22, 2009

The Little Memo That Does Big Brand Things

I was reading an article in the NY Times the other morning at my favorite little coffee shop. It was about how companies are creating these new positions focused on intercepting chatter via Twitter, Facebook, etc., and leveraging social media opportunities. The new PR/publicity I guess. Anyway, the article focused on a young woman who does just that for Southwest Airlines. But what jumped out at me wasn't the social media implications. It was her quote about how employees have the "freedom" to try new things.

I didn't get the sense she was merely spitting back the company line. Rather, I surmise SW employees are truly empowered to live and innovate through the brand. All of my experiences with Southwest, limited as they may be, have always been the same, and mirror its external messaging. One thing I do know for sure is that you can only authentically innovate, and meet customer expectations with such consistency, when you build a brand from the inside-out.

The article also got me to thinking about an organization I worked with and
how it fosters brand focus, compliance and creativity internally. Once a month on average an email is sent around to all employees with an attachment called, @#&%Watch (I've disguised the name because the entire strategy is self-contained in it). But what @#&%Watch does -and what something similar can do for any organization - can be revolutionary.

Credit where credit is due: The news director created @#&%Watch almost two years ago. And he's stuck with it (he is also responsible for coming up with the actual brand mission, the most unique, memorable and strategic one I've seen yet for a media organization). As smart as he is, I'm not sure even he initially knew how this little, single page (on average), reoccurring memo would have such a big impact on focusing a culture and shaping audience expectations.

Getting down to the nitty gritty, @#&%Watch contains its share of atta-boys/girls, lauds team efforts, highlights when creative solutions are devised, points out missed opportunities, and provides constructive feedback and tangible ways to attack in the future. Most importantly, every pat on the back, praised team effort, creative inspiration, missed opportunity, and fix, is about one thing and only one thing: Delivering the brand mission! What you'll never find is anything that doesn't speak to, support, nurture, grow, or deepen the brand. I've yet to see a subjective claim of superiority or anything about marketing or advertising. It is always focused on delivering on the brand mission.

I offer eight reasons why a tool like @#&%Watch is such a powerful brand-building, culture-changing weapon:

1. It constantly signals that the brand is every one's responsibility.

2. It reinforces that the brand is what they do, not just a part of, or an "in addition to" thing, that they do. It's the focus, period.

3. It reinforces that the product is the brand.

4. Expectations are clearly set and defined. Essentially, you will be judged by, and held accountable to, the brand mission.

5. It fosters healthy, brand-based competition. Who doesn't like to be singled out, recognized and even rewarded in front of peers? And, if it's your name frequently popping up, it can do wonders for your career (or help you keep your job in this economy).

6. It singles out who really is working for the brand, and who is working against it (the latter part of that statement doesn't necessarily reflect intent). You'll know who to target for additional education, training and mentoring.

7. It's the equivalent of an ongoing creative brief, used by advertising agencies to communicate a strategy to the creative department, to ensure you're "talking the walk" while you're simultaneously "walking the walk."

8. Most importantly, it helps ensure that every time a customer or prospect comes in contact with the product, a stakeholder, brand mission communication, etc., its what they've come to expect and trust.

What has @#&%Watch done for this particular media brand? I can argue it's had a seismic impact. It's preference has boomed from 17% to 29% in less than two years and ratings are up virtually across the board. Still not convinced? There was no external media, no advertising campaigns, nothing more than some basic sampling tactics during the entire first year after the brand mission was birthed. Focus was on walking-the walk down the narrow path of the brand mission.

Now, I do have a few beefs with @#&%Watch. It should come out more frequently, at least twice a month, if not weekly. You can never champion your brand mission too much. It would be more effective if it had an organization-wide focus, not just a product-specific bent. It's best when your CEO drives it top-to-bottom and all department leaders contribute. Ultimately, I'd like to the see contributions from stakeholders as well. It will enhance buy-in and accountability.
In this age of viral, apps, and tweets, all externally-focused channels, a reoccurring brandate (brand mandate) for your entire organization about what you stand for, what you won't stand for, who is delivering it, and by virtue of exclusion, who isn't, how it is being delivered, and ways to better deliver on it, can do wonders for your culture, including improving employee satisfaction and loyalty (nothing unifies like a great strategy), unite internal and external expectations, reposition your competitors, and turn a market in your favor.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tide Turning?

Yesterday, while on another Web site, I saw a link for Tide Dry Cleaners. Of course, I had to investigate further. Not because I'm a Tide guy or connoisseur of dry cleaners. But because of the red flag that went up immediately in my mind about the potential implications for one of P&G's most powerful brands.

I'm building my Guts Branding practice around the premise that you should build your brand from the inside out, distilling it in a brand mission (to learn more about brand mission development, please refer to post, How New Brand Launch Rewrote the Record Books). But Guts has a deeper meaning. It also speaks to conviction and courage. As in, you must have the conviction to live and abide by the part of your brand mission that defines what you are and will be, and the courage to stand by the part that defines what you shouldn't be.

I don't understand P&G's move to open Tide Dry Cleaners. But I bet I know where it was hatched: A P&G conference or board room. I could be wrong but I'm guessing consumers weren't banging down doors, begging P&G to open Tide Dry Cleaners. But you can talk yourself into anything really. I can hear the execs behind this move, "Tide isn't really a detergent, it's about a superior cleaning experience. So, it makes sense that people will associate that with a dry cleaning."
This reminds me of Unilever's thinking a few years ago with it's Dove brand. The company took it's "beauty" image as license to extended the brand name to other segments, including hair care. It had initial success but soon saw sales decline. As the Godfather of brand, Al Ries, so often points out, line extensions rarely work because of the back end damage done to the core brand. Essentially, he says that image ultimately gets watered down, will lose its drawing power, and open the door for a more focused, powerful brand to take over the category. History tells us, he's rarely wrong.

While Dove's image might truly be about beauty, I surmise it's tethered to bar soap. I wonder if Tide's superior cleaning image is chained to laundry detergent? The image, I'm speaking about is the one that exists inside consumers' heads. While some dry cleaners provide laundry service, dry cleaning and laundry are two completely different things. I routinely have my suits, dress shirts and sweaters dry cleaned. The image that immediately pops into my head is of a "dry" process, not a wet one. Hence, the phrase, "dry cleaning." I imagine I'm not alone in these perceptions.

Will Tide dry cleaners succeed or fail? Only time will tell. Measuring success or failure is less about what happens "now" and more about what happens to the long-term image of the core brand from which the extension was made. I admit to limited knowledge of the dry cleaning needs of most consumers, and what aspects of it might be going unsatisfied. If the average dry cleaning consumer is anything like me, then good, timely service and the expectation that all my clothes will come back to me clean and intact are givens. So, then for me, it really comes down to location and price. The last time I checked, Tide's price points are at or near the top end of the detergent category. Will people driving by a Tide Dry Cleaners automatically perceive it to be a more expensive operation before ever giving it a chance?
My Guts feeling about this move is the same as I have with any brand that wants to extend. Take a step back and really look at the big picture. What are the long-term implications to the core brand image? I believe you are better off trying to deepen the experience of a powerful brand than spread it around. Volvo has been brilliant at this by constantly reinventing vehicle and people-related-to-auto safety. A powerful brand should be an inch wide and a mile deep.
And what message are you sending on the inside? You are better off feeding the expectation inside your organization that you build brands around unmet needs in a marketplace, not in the company portfolio.
Even if opportunity exists for a different dry cleaning experience, P&G could have launched a new brand under a different name much like Honda did with Acura, Gatorade did with Propel, and Gap Inc., did with Banana Republic and Old Navy. Or, maybe it should have contemplated a different market all together and opened up laundromats. That would seem like a better opportunity for people to actually experience and connect with Tide, the detergent brand.

With the proliferation of brand extensions permeating shelf space, getting your organization to hang your logo on a myriad of other products appears to be a much easier proposition to green light than getting permission from consumers. However, asking for forgiveness later can be a very, very costly proposition.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How New Brand Launch Rewrote the Record Books

To say the launch of FOX 40 News at 9 PM in Jackson, MS, was a success might be an understatement. Perhaps, exploding onto the scene is more appropriate. National media rep firm Katz says it might be the most successful newscast launch ever based on the strong demo delivery just two months after its birth.

One could easy attribute the impressive debut to obvious things: Only local news brand in 9 p.m. time period, strong FOX network lead-ins, including ratings vacuum American Idol, dominant outside media share of voice in March, and a robust appetite for local news by mid-Mississippians. None of that hurts. But being on the inside and co-leading the initial strategic process and on-going brand implementation and training, I can poke holes into those theories:

  • On the surface, the research indicated pretty strong allegiances by existing late news (10 p.m.) viewers to their favorite brands, so why should anyone bother to watch news at 9 p.m. instead of entertainment fare?

  • The ratings generated by FOX 40 News at 9 p.m. during the March 2009 sweep were virtually as strong on non-American Idol nights.

  • An effective media buy can help create awareness but it doesn't guarantee anything will happen, including sampling. Today, even for strong, established brands, loyalty is conditional. In a diary market like Jackson, where news brand partisanship was already established, getting people to actually remember and write down that they watched our new brand rather than their favorites is so far beyond just sampling.

Happenstance nor serendipity was a conspirator in the successful launch. This was a premeditated, orchestrated, inside-out, strategic assault, to win the minds of Mid-Mississippians. And here is the process that we engaged, which can also work for you whether you're launching a new brand, breathing new life into a brand growing stale, or refocusing a brand that has become blurry:

1. Find the gaps, fill the gaps.

2. Launch a brand, not a product.

3. Create a brand mission and build it from inside the organization first.

4. Launch with a whisper.

Find The Gaps, Fill The Gaps

Every brand has weaknesses and every market opportunities. If you know where and how to look, you'll find them even in the strongest of brands. The keys are knowing which to exploit and how. The "gaps" have to be relevant, sustainable and something no other competitor owns in the minds of customers and prospects. It's important to remember that even though a product or service may claim something as its own, it doesn't mean your audience feels the same way. The research engaged by our strategic partner in Jackson, Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc., helped find the holes, plunge deep into them, expose competitive weaknesses, and find the opportunities to leverage.

Launch a Brand, Not a Product

This is a critical distinction: launching a 9 PM newscast is a tactic. Launching a brand is a strategy. People usually make brand choices rather than product choices. Without developing a brand strategy as the anchor, your products that represent your brand will drift off course. So, when FOX 40 News at 9 PM launched in late January, it was merely a plank, albeit an important one, in the overall brand strategy.

Another critical piece of the strategy was changing the mindset inside the organization from thinking like broadcasters to thinking like "news and information providers on the first available platform." Thus, was launched a half a year before the broadcast news debut. While the benefits of launching on the Web weren't obvious to a team of broadcast-hungry journalists, there were many including (and most importantly) how to be deliver the brand in a Web-specific way. A talented but mostly green team also benefited by forming critical relationships, building local sources and learning the market well before the broadcast news switch was ever flipped.

Create A Brand Mission and Build It From Inside The Organization First

I've been called a slogan-hater. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I do hate bad slogans, which I define as anything that isn't instantly recognizable as the uniqueness and essence of your brand. That's why I was/am a fan of "Everyday Low Prices," "The Ultimate Driving Machine" and "Just Do It." But all too often you end up with the likes of, "Travel Should Take You Places," "Life. Well Spent" and "More Driving Pleasure." How many different logos could rest comfortably above those tag lines? Too many. Two is too many. In case you're wondering, it's Hilton, Sears and BMW, respectively.

Conversely, when you think search, sexy lingerie or fried chicken, what instantly comes to mind? Of course, Google, Victoria's Secret and KFC, respectively. The point is a brand is about an idea, concept or approach. Would you rather have a slogan like "Feel the Difference" or own a powerful idea like, "safety?"

In Jackson, the research led us to a certain approach, which I won't reveal out of respect for those still affiliated with the brand. But rather than create a slogan, a more externally-focused communication tool, we articulated the approach in a brand mission, an internally governed road map to creating a unique, focused and sustainable brand. Why a brand mission? How does it differ from a company mission statement?

A brand mission is just as sounds, a mission and a path to creating a brand. It's usually distilled in a few sentences, focuses on unique value, relevance, and style and tone, and clarifies what you do, why you do it and how you do it for the entire organization to fulfill. A great brand mission should leave no doubt as to who you are and who you aren't! Two of my favorite brand missions are Google's, "Do No Evil" and Ritz-Carlton's, "We are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen." Brilliant! A company mission statement is usually chock full of superiority claims rather than points of differentiation, aspirations rather than tangible ways to deliver, and platitudes rather than straight talk. They are generally full of something else!

Another way to distinguish between brand and company mission is the wall test. A great brand mission should only be able to hang on one wall, yours. Corporate missions can usually hang on any company's wall.

Following this line of thinking, The Station for FOX 40 News brand mission became the strategy and entire focus of the organization, and every one's responsibility. That's the only way to truly bring your brand to life. It also must be driven from the top down, you must bleed it from everything you do and base every decision you make on it. Right now, in this tough economy, too many decisions are being made in boardrooms rather than in brand rooms. Remember, brands are about and for the consumer. While these tactics might keep your brand afloat in the short term, where will it be when the economy recovers? Are you telling consumers that your brand is bailing on them at a time when they need things they can count on? I'd hate for my brand to be in that boat. But if you have a brand mission in place, and are anchoring all your decisions to it, there is a good chance it wouldn't need a life jacket. Why hasn't Honda offered an assurance or buy-back program? It doesn't need one! It is being true to its brand yet economically relevant by focusing on how it's higher quality and lower maintenance costs equate to lower ownership costs.

Ultimately, you must hold everyone inside your organization and everything you do accountable to your brand mission. Otherwise, it will never become true, never become authentic, never sustain you during downturns. It will just end up being like a corporate mission: not worth the paper it's printed on!

Every aspect of the strategy we devised focused on bringing the brand mission to life, even down to the name, Your Station for FOX 40 News. Rather than forgettable call letters or multiple names like FOX 40 for the station and FOX 40 News for news products, we went with just one for simplicity, to provide distinction in a sea of call sign-driven monikers, and signal to viewers and internal stakeholders alike what is our priority.

In the year leading up to launch, top station executives Leigh White and Mark Kunkel built in daily accountability's for ensuring organization-wide brand compliance They even provided severe weather training from the National Weather Service to certify every single employee as trained storm spotters.

In the meantime, Magid V.P. and consultant, Pete Seyfer, and I created and spearheaded on-going brand training, not just for the news and marketing, the "face" of the brand mission, but for every person, every department in the station. Every little detail like how to properly answer the phone, the role account executives were to play in the brand and not just dealing with clients and prospects, to what every second of FOX 40 News at 9 PM would look, sound and feel like, and everything in between, was orchestrated and aligned to deliver on the brand mission. It's the only way to ensure every interaction customers, prospects, clients, community partners, etc., have with your brand is consistent and delivers, no over-delivers, on the expectation you create.

Launch with a Whisper

How can you place a media buy and still call it a soft launch? It depends on how you define "soft launch." It's one thing to let people know about a new product. It's another thing to anoint it. Huh?

Let me explain it this way: The launch campaign promoted the arrival of the newscast and in a new time period, but it never directly reveals the actual brand strategy. No other expectation was created, other than one guerrilla tactic to create sampling: All the important weather and news in the first 10 minutes (guerrilla because it's an hour-long newscast). Anytime you launch a new product, even with all the advance strategic planning and brand training, orientation, systems, rehearsals, etc., the likelihood that your product will live up to a prematurely anointed expectation, is slim. That's troublesome because your brand only gets one chance to make a first impression. You risk creating brand baggage, which you have to offload before you can get back to building it. Most importantly, if you are truly living your brand mission every single moment, your audience should have no doubt, and immediately, as to what you are all about.

This approach makes sense for brands in virtually all product categories - not just media - because of how congested all have truly become, and how many me-too products and services are out there making me-too claims. If you're still skeptical, I suggest you explore the launches of Google, Starbucks, Hugo Boss, Haagen-Dazs, YouTube and Swatch, to name a few. They avoided traditional media. In fact, some never uttered a paid word.

Bottom Line

What it comes down to is that branding is really how you walk the walk. Advertising is how you talk the walk. Developing a brand mission to crystallize how you put one foot in front of the other, making it your entire organization's only focus, driving expectations and accountability from the CEO's chair down through the entire organization, and creating and implementing systems, mandatories, on-going training, feedback, evaluations and accountability's that you hold people to every single day, before you ever utter a word publicly, is the best approach to creating an authentic, lasting brand experience for customers and prospects, and a brand-driven culture that will provide immediate rewards and continue to lift and grow your brand well into the future.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It's What's on The Inside That Counts

For the past several months, a former and highly-respected colleague of mine - and still good friend - during my tenure at Frank N. Magid Associates Inc., has been on my case to start blogging. Apparently, he believes I have ideas about brand worthy of sharing. Today, I finally decided to take his advice and "put myself out there." I hope you'll be compelled to come back often and read, share and even post your own comments.

My topic of choice for my first brandecdote (you will find that I tend to mash words together to create new ones) will be a success story. That post is coming soon. I'll use this first post to provide a little insight into how my mind works when it comes to all things brand, and set expectations for future posting.

I'll begin by saying, I don't believe in research. Rather, I believe in the right research. Attitude precedes behavior. When you know the "why" you can effect the "what." A well-designed and implemented study helps you find and mine the perceptive "gaps," as well as who owns what images, positions and perceptions in the mind. I believe in administering research not only to customers and prospects, but also to employees. That helps you find the disconnects, critical for building your brand from within first. But unlike the majority of brand practitioners, instead of immediately taking those findings and attacking the customer angle, I first attack the company angle. More on how to specifically and successfully do this in future posts.

I also believe there is as much to learn in failure as in success. So, I too will share personal experiences of things that didn't work or went awry. You will find, however, there are common themes when brands crater. Not always, but usually they can be traced back to company leadership and failure to drive the brand mission through every square inch of the organization.

What I believe most about brand, and will substantiate with evidence from my own experiences and those from respected colleagues and peers, is a simple premise: The most powerful brands are built from within your organization first to ensure when customer and company converge, it's a real, seamless and extraordinary experience, every single time.

This inside stuff isn't always sexy. It rarely makes headlines in the trades. It's not how agencies land big accounts. But it is the heavy lifting required to ensure your brand remains focused, true and the continuum. It's the backstory and real reason behind the success of powerful brands like Ritz-Carlton, Google, Starbucks (okay, S'bucks from three years ago), Zappos, Clif Bar and Company, to name a few. When is the last time you saw an advertisement or campaign from any of them? What are their slogans? Exactly.

Okay, Zappos does have a slogan: Powered by Service. But it's more than an externally-focused tag line. It's intrinsic value lies in a culture engineered to fulfill a specific customer promise. If you've ever dealt with Zappos, your definition of what customer service should be will be changed forever.

Think of this brand building approach like an elite athlete's body: a strong core is the most important muscle group to develop. It's what helps swimmers rotate in the water to make them faster, it's how Tiger Woods creates such torque and distance off the tee, and it's what enables a long jumper to pull themselves through the air rather than push. Most people assume an athlete's power and speed are generated by arms, shoulders and legs, the visible stuff. What ultimately gives athlete and brand alike power, flexibility, consistency and longevity, is the core.

Like I said, it's what's on the inside that counts the most.