Monday, October 26, 2009

Two Brands, Different Decisions

A former television news media client of mine just recently switched Internet Service Providers. It got a cheaper deal. Hey, who isn't looking to save a buck where they can in this economy.

That same week, there was major breaking news in this market. The body of a missing 9-year-old girl was found plus an arrest. My former client was all over it on its Web site. Immediacy and responsiveness are critical drivers of its brand mission. That laser focus and commitment to living its brand mission the past few years are the reason it is now the viewers' go-to source in the market for breaking news and weather.

Wanna guess what happened when the masses came looking for late-breaking developments on its Web site? A door slammed in their faces. A "do not" enter sign. A broken promise.

You see, when it paid more it got more bandwith. Now, it pays less and gets less bandwith. The Web site shutdown from too much traffic.

Wanna guess what information-hungry consumers probably did next? They went elsewhere. To competitors. And that leaves a mark.

You see, consumers don't care about your excuses. They want what they expect from you - what you've promised - each and every time they need it. Break that trust enough and they will ultimately break up with you.

Station ownership is private equity. Definitely bottom-line thinkers. Can't really blame them for trying to run lean. But they are shooting themselves in the foot. By nickel and dime-ing it, this news brand, after spending the past couple years earning back viewers' trust, has taken the first step toward breaking its contract with its customers. Isn't it customers that ultimately pay the bills and help you realize a return on your investment?

Now, some contrast. Last week, a new online-only news Web site, the Texas Tribune (, went live. A few days later, in its own back yard, the tragic Fort Hood shootings.

The Texas Tribune could have covered it and in person. But it didn't. Why in the world wouldn't it?

"It wasn't our story. Should we have been just one more news organization that rushed to Fort Hood? I don't think so, " said reporter Matt Stiles, who joined Texas Tribune from the Houston Chronicle.

"We're about public policy and politics," said Evan Smith, one of the founders of the new not-for-profit. "What I wasn't going to do was send someone racing up the Interstate to cover something, however important, that wasn't ours."

Let those two quotes sink in for a bit.

Here is a brand-spanking new brand that could benefit from sampling. But instead it made a brand decision, not a bottom-line one. Time will tell how successful their enterprise will be. But it's off to a good brand start.

First, it appears the Texas Tribune has done an excellent job of immersing its staff of 12 mostly seasoned, enterprise journalists in its brand. They seem to grasp who they are and who they aren't. The Texas Tribune is creating it from the inside out, the only way to build an authentic brand and insure a consistent experience each and every time, at every point of contact, for customers and prospects.

Second, reminiscent of Southwest Airlines, it has a unique business model (funded by investors, endowment and donations) that allows it to be a brand first and foremost.

The Texas Tribune early on gets that your brand should be your most valuable asset, the thing you protect at all costs. That's THE real bottom line.

These are my Guts Feelings.

Kurt Bartolich
Founder, Brand Internalist
Guts Branding

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why Integrated (Insert Marketing or Brand) Is Backwards Thinking - FOLLOWUP

I read a review about the integrated marketing conference (see my previous blog) in the KC Star this morning. One quote in particular by a conference organizer got my dander up: "Your brand is not what you say about yourself. It's about what others are saying about you." She was referring to the impact social media has today on brands.

I guess she'd better get busy alerting the folks at Google, Nike, Volvo, Ritz-Carlton, OnStar, Coca-Cola, EA Sports, BMW, YouTube, Victoria's Secret, FOX Newschannel, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Verizon, Maytag, Apple, etc., etc., that they should shut up now and stop force-feeding their respective messages about safety, driving experience, conservative values, freedom, dependability, etc., down our throats.

But let's not let facts get in the way. Like, virtually everyone of those brands I listed, that continue "pushing" out to consumers, dominates it's category.

I get that social media has changed the landscape of marketing. It can create groundswell, both good and bad, and you should have the cup against the social media wall to know what's being said about you. But I liken it to producing a commercial: When editing, you start with the offline or basic edit followed by the online or final post. You would never go to air with just an offline edit. So, why would you make decisions based on social chatter that has no controls in place for the sample, weighting and statistical accuracy?

If you are seeing or hearing things about your brand in social media venues, by all means, investigate. Just substantiate it. The woman in the article also noted that blogs are influential but lack credibility. I too have seen this in research. To draw a parallel, in a study conducted a couple of years ago by my former employer, Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc., a question was posed to Millennials (also loyal viewers of) about The Daily Show, and if it influenced their political points of view. It was an overwhelming, "no." One respondent went so far as to say, "it's on Comedy Central after all." People are smarter and savvier than marketers give them credit. Aren't Facebook and Twitter really just condensed blogs?

Building a brand has always, and will always be, a joint venture, driven by the company first. That's because a brand is a promise. It's the company that initiates the handshake. Smart companies do their homework first by finding and exposing the gaps - and unmet or under served needs - in the market place, then reaching out. The consumer's role is to help dial in, and articulate back, important things like what it means to them, if it's satisfying their desires, if it's fulfilling the promise, if it's veering off course, competitive perceptions, etc.

These are my Guts Feelings.

Kurt Bartolich
Founder/Brand Internalist
Guts Branding

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why Integrated (Insert Marketing or Brand) Is Backwards Thinking

I recently received an email invitation to an "Integrated Marketing" conference in my hometown. From the description, it promised that attendees would experience the future of marketing.

Actually, my first exposure to the term, "Integrated (insert brand or marketing here)," was through a young woman fresh out of college who joined the same company I was working for a few years ago. She often spoke about integrated brand and her desire to become more involved with it, and to get our clients to practice it. I had never heard of the concept until that moment. I admit I didn't quite understand it.

Perhaps, I was naive. Had my head buried in the sand. Maybe, I was just too old school for those super-smart Millennials.

But I had a hard time believing any of those things to be completely true because many of my clients were in rapid ascent mode, chewing up large chunks of market share and spitting out competitors. More importantly, they were building strong foundations to sustain their trajectories.

Instinctively, it seemed to me, integrated (insert marketing or brand) was another of those new-fangled buzzwords or phrases that comes out of nowhere but everyone starts using like, vertical strategy, optimization, value justification, etc. Marketers...gotta love 'em. Great at pilfering, repurposing and repackaging.

My gut reaction to the phrase, integrated (insert marketing or brand), was "really?" That's because I've ALWAYS practiced - and counseled clients - that their brand is their strategy, and everything they do, every decision they make, every program they initiate or system they build, every person they hire, every campaign they create, every dime they spend, etc., should be birthed and governed by their brand mission. If you haven't been thinking this way all along, there is a good chance you are not the dominate brand in your category. If you aren't thinking this way, and you happen to be the leading brand in your category, you are probably on top for reasons out of your control. Regardless, you are vulnerable.

Let me further explain: By embracing the notion, integrated (insert brand or marketing), you are essentially buying into the idea that you must fit together all of your company's existing pieces to create one idea or image. The biggest flaw in this thinking is believing that you can simply fit those pieces together to form the same image. Chances are, your parts and pieces were created independently and tactically to address a particular and present concern or need. Over time, they stack up. Stacks of unrelated things add up to confusion in the mind.

Essentially, integrated (insert marketing or brand) is backwards thinking.

That's because brand is the all-encompassing thing. Brand is your strategy. It comes first. Therefore, everything you do should flow forth from your brand, not be cobbled together to fit it. Your brand should dictate all the pieces you create. If this isn't the case, it's going to take separation, not integration, from those things that don't fit the brand, and the formation of new things that do fit it, in order for all of your parts and pieces to naturally form that single (and hopefully, distinct) impression.

Brand should also be your business model. Few brands were ever born from a spreadsheet. Though, many have been killed by one. Southwest Airlines is a terrific example of this premise. It's business model has always been about efficiencies. It makes no bones about it. SWA also leverages it in ways to create a fun, easy, and hassle-free experience for customers, whereas other airlines, that are now clamoring to streamline, are making customers feel like victims of their inefficiencies...and appearing to be greedy. Southwest's latest assault, the campaign about bags flying free, is brilliant. It was born from its brand mission and provides stark contrast to what virtually every other carrier is doing. SWA continues to separate itself in relevant, meaningful ways.

Southwest is also a shining example of creating a culture that bleeds its brand at every single point of contact, so promise and payoff are always one. That's how you create an authentic brand. It might just be the best example of building a transparent (had to throw in a buzzword) brand from the guts of its organization out to the consumer.

By the time I write my next blog in a few weeks, I bet there will be dozens of new buzzwords in the mainstream attached to revolutionary promises. Heck, I've already come across a Web site that portends to create your personal brand through aggregation (fancy term for integration) of all your social and professional sites. Sounds like another example of "integration." You can believe the hype if you want. Or, you can stick with what really works and always will: Building a brand from inside your organization out to your customers.

These are my Guts Feelings.

Kurt Bartolich, Founder/Brand Internalist, Guts Branding

These are my Guts Feelings.