Friday, June 26, 2009

Trying to Be Everywhere Can Get You Nowhere. Fast.

In my never-ending quest to learn - and find source material for this blog - three articles this week caught my attention. I've got Guts (Branding) Feelings about each of them. For this blog, I'll focus on one in particular: Time Warner Links with Comcast for TV Everywhere Trial.

The focus of the article is about the cable giant moving a step closer to offering channels a la iTunes: The consumer selects and bundles the channels it wants rather than it being a cable cramdown. But that's not what I'm focusing on for this post. It was actually a section in the article about Hulu and the broadcast networks that most piqued my interest.

Unlike the other three big networks, CBS is opting not to make its programming available via Hulu, the Web site that allows you to watch your favorite shows for free. Today, shouldn't you make your products and services available to the masses and on their terms? Well, CBS' defiance (or, maybe they just haven't struck the right deal yet) didn't hurt it. In fact, it was the only network out of the big four to actually increase ratings last season. Keep in mind Nielsen now can measure out-of-home (and non-set top) viewing in top markets. So, any argument about ratings advantages or disadvantages doesn't hold water.

Was it because CBS, the top network in households the past few years, has better programming? In part. Who wants to watch bad programming no matter where it's offered? Wouldn't making it available "everywhere" be more convenient for consumers, just the way we all want things today? Yes. However, when it comes to strong brands in certain categories, the other side of supply and demand - something that's hard to get your hands on - is a powerful force! If you build it - a powerful, highly-desired brand - they will come. Even on your terms.

Remember when Coors beer was only available west of the Rockies? Everyone wanted it. People used to bootleg it. Smuggling Coors that was at the heart of the 1970s movie, Smokey and the Bandit. Today? Original Coors isn't even in the top 10 selling domestic beers.

Remember in 1999 when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was on ABC? It was generating ridiculous 30 and 40 shares? Then, ABC began airing it four nights a week. The show was cancelled less than two years later. Attempts to revive it, including it's syndication run, have had moderate success at best.

Then, there was the Sopranos. You could only get original episodes by paying for HBO. It made die hard fans wait nearly two years between season five and its final season without a single new episode. In fact, HBO remained very tight-lipped during final season production, refusing to leak any plot line details. All totaled there were only 84 original episodes during its nearly nine-year run. That's not very many when you consider that Law & Order has over 300 originals. If you wanted Sopranos, you had to do it on HBO's terms. Apparently, it worked. Sopranos was the most commercially successful - and one of the most critically acclaimed - cable program of all time.

Why does Nordstrom Department Stores only conduct one sale a year? Because it has such a strong brand predicated on extraordinary experience and high quality offerings it doesn't have to. In fact, having more sales would actually work in favor of competitors by effectively narrowing the gap of distinction between them and Nordstrom. Avoiding sales protects the Nordstrom brand and helps keep competitors separate in the minds of consumers.

Bottom line: Mass availability does not always equate to mass consumption.

In my opinion, the biggest mistake that Starbucks ever made was installing drive through windows, followed closely by over-expansion. Starbuck's brand was never about convenience. Rather, it's all about inconvenience. But inside the confines of Starbucks corporate, bottom-line decisions were made to expand in ways that conspired against the brand. My practice is built around the notion you build the most authentic brands from inside your organization out to consumers. Decisions you make in boardrooms are every bit as critical to protecting your brand as the systems, programs, training and people you put in place.

Mass exposure also does not guarantee mass appeal. It seems everyone is trying to figure out how to leverage social media. In fact, companies are redefining job descriptions and creating positions based on it. I believe there is value in social media. But I also find that people rush to jump on the newest bandwagon way too often. When online video first emerged, every client I worked with a few years back just had to find a way to "own it" in their market. Yet, research our company conducted for these broadcast media clients indicated "information" was actually more important to users of broadcast media news sites than video. This explains why newspaper Web sites, video poor but content-rich, have generally out-performed broadcast media sites in the local market space.

Keep in mind it was us, the practitioners, that added the "media" to social. Facebook and Twitter weren't created with that in mind. So, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind when entering the social media landscape:

--Does my brand actually fit in this space? If you have to wedge it in, it's not going to work. In fact, it could do be very off-putting to consumers if you're not careful. Twitter might make sense for a brand that is predicated on getting information out quickly to people, like a news and information brand or Apple, which could probably get away with creating groundswell with the release of a new iPhone. But is there really a Twitter strategy that works for say Tide? Volvo?

--Know exactly who is utilizing social media and how. A 2009 national study by Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc., indicated that Baby Boomers were more inclined to use social media sites for information and news. Conversely, the pre-teen and teen Millennials are using it more for watching and sharing videos, music and other Web-centric content. Because Boomers grew up in a passive advertising world, it's probably natural for them to expect to be marketed to on any platform. But the younger generation can smell a rat! So be careful.

--Listen. It's one of the key take aways from the Magid study. You don't need to be on Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc. But you do need to keep an ear to the wall and listen to what consumers are saying via those channels, and talk to them in an open, earnest way, when it's necessary or makes sense for your brand.

Most importantly, how distinctive and relevant is your brand? If it doesn't give people a reason to post, share or Tweet, they won't. Make sure your brand stays remarkable and does remarkable things, so people will keep talking about it.

Sometimes, trying to be everywhere gets you nowhere. Fast.

These are my Guts Feelings

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