Thursday, June 30

More Brands That May Disappear

With technology changing a mile a minute and with the economic downturn, we've seen a lot of great brands go by the wayside.  As a marketer, it's sad because I know the blood, sweat, and tears that team after team has put into building years and years of brand equity.  But also as a marketer I know that this is the reality of a free market and if you don't keep up you get shut out.

There's a great article that predicts the brands that won't make it into 2012 -- it's now become an annual review of brands in trouble.  The list is quite shocking, actually.  You can read it here.  There are some biggies on the list, including:

Sears!  Yes, the holding company that owns Sears and Kmart is in desperate trouble.  Could be the end of an era to see this great brand go down.

Saab!  When I graduated from college and moved to Boston, Saab was the "it" car in New England.  It's so strange to see this brand in trouble.  But the car industry has been hit hard, and many have not responded with the kind of innovation necessary to keep up.

Sony Pictures!  Once a big powerhouse in entertainment, it looks like the company now needs to focus on its core electronics business to keep afloat.

MySpace!  Not a surprise, actually, if you think about it.  Since Facebook exploded, has anyone gone to this site?

A&W?  Maybe not such a surprise either, but fond memories of pulling up to that place!

Are the folks that compiled this list right?  Not 100%, the market is too fluid and unpredictable to be sure.  But last year they noted Blockbuster and T-Mobile so they have their finger on the pulse to some extent.  Stay tuned.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Wednesday, June 29

Katy Perry

I've been accused of having the musical taste of a sixteen year old girl, and I have no problem with that.  I love pop music, especially if it has a beat.  My obsession must have started in the 70s when "someone left my cake out in the rain."

So I didn't exactly go kicking and screaming with my teenage kids to the Katy Perry concert the other weekend.  She has me feeling like "I'm living a teenage dream."  I honestly had no idea, though, how much I would enjoy it ... from a branding perspective. Nothing wrong with a summer concert either, by the way!

This girl is a brand!  First of all, I knew more of the songs than I probably should admit or ever realized.  Fun pop music that had us all on our feet the entire time.  What struck me most, though, was how consistent her music was to her personality to her costumes to her backup singers to her dancers.  Every element of the show was totally Katy Perry - bright, colorful, full of energy, and a complete ray of sunshine.  Right down to her "dot candy" dress.  Katy Perry is all about being happy with yourself and reaching your potential - read the lyrics of "Firework" and you'll see her brand in action.

Her audience seemed to fit her brand as well - a huge mix of very happy parents with their teen and pre-teen kids, single ladies out for the night, and even couples bouncing along to the beat.  She got a little raunchy here and there, which honestly felt a little off brand to me, but that might be more of the Dad in me than the marketer.

She was a little slice of heaven, with a surprisingly good voice.  She even performed a classic Whitney song, probably a little nod to all the parents in the audience.

Katy Perry - what a great performer and a great brand.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Tuesday, June 28

Measuring Your Social Influence

I suppose it's human nature to want to keep score -- we are just competitive beings in that manner.  It starts early in life as we get grades in our classes and join sports teams at school.  It continues into adult life as well as we look to get raises and promotions at work -- we like to keep score.  I guess it's a way of benchmarking our progress and understanding our worth in the world.

As we get more and more active in social media, it's no wonder we would want to keep score there too.  How many Facebook friends do you have?  How many followers on Twitter?  As much as we all say that it's more about quality than quantity, we all know that we all keep score.

So it's no wonder that along comes a way to measure our presence in social media; a way to aggregate all the outlets we are participating in and measure our collective influence.

Klout score is one of them, as is Peer Index ... branded websites where you register and the program continually measures your sphere of influence.  It couldn't be easier to sign up, there's no hurdle there.  It's fun at first, but after awhile I'm not sure what to do with it.  It changes a lot, probably in an effort to get you to keep checking.  These sites are brands, by the way, and they too need to keep score of traffic for their advertisers.  But how could my influence fluctuate that much from day to day and week to week.  I was really scratching my head over it and then I realized what it's all about.

Gaming.

Measuring your social influence is really just a game.  I don't think there's really any true meaning to it, and I don't think it's especially actionable.  It's just fun.  You get a "score" and you get to compare it to others and you get to see if any of your activity in social media gets your "score" to improve.

Just fun, nothing more, at least not from my perspective.  But it is the birth of a new industry and its own set of brands, I'll give you that.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Monday, June 27

Foursquare and American Express

I think a new day may just be beginning for location-based social media.  Late last week Foursquare announced a new partnership with American Express, basically an expansion of a test market they had been running where American Express card members get special savings by checking into select retailers and restaurants using Foursquare.

I have to admit that I have been a late bloomer when it comes to location-based things.  I have not seen the benefit to telling people where I am and where I am spending my money.  I don't necessarily want people to know and I certainly could care less about being the Mayor of my local Starbucks.  But now I get it.

If I can use my American Express card and get a special deal without having to clip a coupon or even scan my phone with the cashier, then I am in.  And that's exactly what this new partnership allows:  big savings that are just a tap away and then show up on the American Express statement as a credit.

Now I'll check in!  Now I get it!

I believe that this is just the beginning of an industry that has had a slow start.  Not anymore.  Away we go!

What's your experience?  Jim.

Thursday, June 23

Extra Dessert Delights Gum

Today's blog post springs right out of an innocent post and then long comment trail from my Facebook page.  The other night, I simply posted "Mint Chocolate Chip", simply because I was enjoying a tiny little sampling of my favorite ice cream.  Next thing I know, people are commenting on a new line of chewing gums from Extra that are all flavored by popular desserts.

Sharing information, comparing flavors, and clarifying the brand name.  Who says we need advertising to launch a product and spread the word?  Gotta love social media!

Extra Dessert Delights Gum.  A new line of gums that came out last October that feature flavors like Strawberry Shortcake, Key Lime Pie, and yes of course Mint Chocolate Chip.

Thinking it through, it's pretty darn clever.  After a meal, I know I always have a hankering to taste a little dessert, just to kind of finish off the meal and my taste buds.  But I always always hesitate because I don't want the calories.  Hence my little sampling of ice cream the other night.  So if a stick of gum, flavored just right, could satisfy that need with no calories, why not?  Not to mention that chewing gum after a meal has been said to aid digestion and also prevent calories.  Plus it freshens the mouth -- it's a buffet of benefits!

A gum born of a true need?  A gum born of a true insight?  With real benefits?  Is this marketing at its best or what?

Extra Dessert Delights Gum - a new reason to start chewing gum again and to re-engage with the brand.  Brilliant.  Now let's go see what it tastes like!

What's your experience?  Jim.

PS - did you know that Extra creates different flavors of gums around the world to cater to local tastes and cultures?  This is a smart brand.  Dying to see what they offer in Australia!  Road trip (that's for you, Sandi and Rick)!

Wednesday, June 22

P.F. Chang's

I had my first P.F. Chang's dining experience over twenty years ago when I was living in Boston.  It was a one-of-a-kind Chinese food restaurant that brought the genre to a whole new level.  I was impressed with this "China Bistro" ... well done.

I had no idea that it was the start of what might easily be the first and only premium Chinese food restaurant chain.  What's amazing is that the brand has been able to maintain it's great taste and consistency while it has expanded from market to market and beyond.

But not without its cost. Not only is the bill quite high, but have you taken a look at the calorie and fat counts?  Holy spring roll!  That's ok though, with knowledge in hand we can make good choices.

And now at home too!  The brand is introducing a line of home food products that you can cook up on the fly. All the delicious flavors right in your own kitchen.  Just watch the counts, please.  A lot of grocery store food brands have origins from the restaurant scene, I've just never been so personally involved from the beginning.  The restaurant is a staple in my house, although I'm not sure I'll buy into the home foods. But that's just me ... I don't cook Chinese at home, it's a restaurant thing for me.

It's been fun witnessing the growth of a unique brand.  Started out as a unique concept and has just grown and expanded along the way.  Not only from market to market but also from restaurant to home.

Have you tried the brand ... what's your experience?  Can it translate home?  Jim.

Tuesday, June 21

"Me On The Web" by Google


Here's a concept that I didn't see coming:  managing your reputation online.

It's a funny concept but if you think about it, makes total sense.  Social media is a portfolio of public spaces where we all put ourselves out there and others can comment and editorialize.  Our "brand" is out there and people are evaluating it.

Every post, picture, and comment we send out builds toward our online "brand", which I believe should be consistent with the rest of our brand.  It's all building toward our online "reputation", as they say, which again I believe should be consistent with the rest of our reputation.

Over the past year, there have been quite a few online reputation management tools and firms that have cropped up.  The big gun, Google, just entered the picture with "Me On The Web".  Sure, Google Alerts might have been the first step in reputation management (let me know when my name pops up somewhere), but "Me On The Web" makes it so much more official and having Google jump into the game makes the concept so much more legitimate.  We all need to manage how we are represented on the internet and we need to know what others are saying about us.  Particularly if we use the web for our professional "brands".

Klout scores have made some traction as well, but I believe that "Me On The Web" will eventually provide so much more information that just a number to feel good or bad about.  It will show us texture and content that should be useful as we navigate social media spaces.

I'm not sure that it's all fleshed out yet, and there's still a bit of "gaming" in this all.  It's basically just fun to track what people are saying about you.  But I love the concept, and I think we'll be seeing more of this kind of thing as we continue to build our own brands.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Monday, June 20

The Fate of Books

We got into a really interesting conversation the other day about the fate of books.  With the advent of e-books, a lot of people are abandoning the old-school, physical book.  Sort of like what happened to records, tapes, and now CDs through the years.  Thank you very much, iTunes.

Me?  I still like a book.  I'll confess that I'm not a voracious reader and I certainly understand the merits of e-books, especially when it comes to storage and reading while traveling.  But I just like the physical nature of holding a book and flipping through the pages.  It's comforting.  Not so much maybe for fiction, but for decorating, cooking, fashion, and photography -- at least for me.

But many of the people that I was with the other night felt quite the opposite.  They are ready to abandon books.  Get rid of them out of their lives and carry it all on an e-book.  They see books as heavy baggage and I get it, totally.  For those who love them, e-books have changed their lives, allowing them to read as many books as they want where ever they want to.  Even on the beach with no glare :).

So what's your take?  What do you think is the fate of books?  What's your experience?  Jim.

Friday, June 17

Walgreens Wellness

It's pretty amazing to see how the American drug store has evolved through the years.  Back in the day, it was simply a place to fill a prescription and buy an OTC product or two.  Simple, bare bones, to the point.  Now, it's an entire retail experience across all the OTC and HBA categories as well as food, school supplies, home cleaning, flowers ... you name it.

And now Walgreens is focusing that experience on wellness, and it's really well done if you ask me.  A thorough portfolio of products and services all designed to aid in personal wellness.  An amazing brand in action.

First of all, the brand's line of private label products have become, well, a brand.  Gone are the days when these products were merely knock-offs of well known brands.  They now have an identity of their own, and an advertising campaign to boot.

And the Walgreens wellness services just keep growing, getting richer and richer at each turn:
- Walgreens takecareclinic:  An instore health clinic where you can get simple wellness services from a health care provider with no appointment.  Flu shots, allergy tests, even sports physicals.  Not the first of its kind, but certainly best in class.
- Walgreens Wellness Tour:  In partnership with AARP, Walgreens has a traveling health care bus going to 10 cities to provide quick and easy health care access to senior citizens.  You can even get your body mass measured.  It's happening while we speak.
- Walgreens Wellness Benefit:  a debit card, if you will, offered by employers to help pay for select prescription and OTC products at Walgreens.

Walgreens, just one example of the new evolved drug store.  Offering so much more than just filling prescription drugs.  It's an entire healthcare experience.

What's your experience?  Jim

Thursday, June 16

MUJI

I find this recent import from Japan to be an interesting retail branding story.

MUJI.  Unless you live in one of the major metropolitan areas, you probably have not heard of this new retail store.  It's very new to the US and I just happened to have stumbled upon it while walking in my neighborhood in NYC.

The store claims to be an "unbrand".  In fact MUJI in English means "no name quality goods."  The store is filled with mostly monotone, simple products that are all unbranded, almost generic in nature.  I bought a grey scarf that is probably the most plain item that I own.  I couldn't even describe the color, but I still thought it was cool.

The brand is minimized for sure with merchandise that is very plain yet spans clothing, home accessories, bedding, organizing items, and even file cabinets.  Go figure.  The designs are minimalist, simple, and almost "shy".  And although the product lines are created by pretty famous designers in Japan, you wouldn't know that because the brand doesn't promote them.  It's trying to not be a "brand."

This whole "not a brand" thing feels like a huge disconnect, don't you think?  The prices are far from "generic" and retail stores feel more exclusive than mass to me (not to mention the affluent neighborhoods where the stores are located).  The mere fact that the brand is trying to consciously be an "unbrand" in fact makes it a brand.  There's an identity and a look that makes it a brand no matter what they call it.

It's actually a nice experience -- that's a brand.  The stores have a mission and an essence -- that's a brand.  Generic styles or not.

What's your experience?  Jim

Wednesday, June 15

Straying From Your Personal Brand

Have you ever had one of those days when people are commenting how you "don't seem like yourself," and you get questions like:  "Are you feeling ok?" or "You seem tired." or "What's up with you today?"

Meanwhile you thought you were doing just fine, thank you.

I made a little discovery the other day about why this sometimes happen.  How could it be that I'm feeling fine but everyone else thinks that there might be something wrong?

I've strayed from my personal brand.

Whether we've thought about it this way before or not, we all have a personal brand.  Elements of ourselves, features and benefits if you will, that have come to represent who we are and what we offer to people.  Sort of like how Tide is in a familiar orange bottle and has ingredients that help us wash our families' clothes.  As people, we have the same kind of thing:  familiar packaging and an expected attributes that define who we are and what we do.  It's our own personal brand.

Me?  I'm known for colorful patterned shirts (usually with jeans and a blazer) and a certain energy level that I bring to the day.  Every once in awhile when I stray from my "brand", it's amazing how people notice.  Not consciously, because it's far too subtle, but sub-consciously.  They can't mark it exactly, they just know that the "brand" is off.

So if I wear a formal suit or muted colors, they perceive me differently and assume that there's something wrong.  Or if for whatever reason I'm a little more quiet that day, they assume that I'm tired or not feeling well.  Meanwhile, it's just a day when I felt like wearing a monotone color or am allowing others to take center stage.  But that's not my brand!

One day even I noticed it myself.  I wore a pair of "bucks" and felt oddly southern all day, totally out of character.

So do a little social experiment.  Stray from your personal brand for a day.  Don't do the expected -- wear different kinds of clothes from your normal.  See what happens.  See if you get any comments.  I'm betting that straying from your personal brand will get you some unexpected reactions.

So please do tell me ... what's your experience?  Jim.

Tuesday, June 14

High School Graduation

"I can't believe the time has come."  "Wow, how time flies."  "Can you believe it's actually here?"

These are the comments I heard all weekend as we went from celebration to celebration for my daughter's high school graduation.

But not from me ...  I personally do believe that the time has come.  This has been a long time in the making.  And yes, I can believe that it's actually here.  Of course it's here -- this is life and we've been preparing for this moment for 18 years.

I'm not one of those Dads who is sad to see my kids grow up.  I embrace it.  I've spent years preparing them to become adults, so I am not at all surprised to see them become adults.  I love every minute of it.

So as I sat in the audience, I wasn't crying because I was losing my baby.  I was emotional because I know what's ahead for her.  Four of the most amazing years of her life are about to begin.  She has the rest of her life ahead of her and she can make it whatever she wants it to be.  Her "brand" has just begun.

Graduation for me is not the end and it's not closure.

It's a new product launch.

 Sure, it's the recognition of a major accomplishment but it's also the beginning of all that's great ahead.  As we get to the top of one mountain, we start out at the bottom of the next.  What could be more exciting than that?

What's your experience?   Jim.

Friday, June 10

Modern Family



This post is probably a long time coming, but I just have to comment on the show "Modern Family."  I know we are on summer hiatus, but I still continue to watch the shows, even though I have seen most of them.  It's the closest I come to appointment television, at least for scripted tv.

The show is simply amazing.  Yes, it's funny.  And yes, the character development is spot on.  And yes, it's an equal opportunity offender.  All of those things.

But it's also real.  More real than reality television.  I see myself in those characters, I see my family, and I see my friends.  I see the way I want to be and the way I wish I wasn't.  I see my life and all the colors, shapes, emotions, and textures.  It truly is a modern family.

I have even more appreciation for the actors now that I recently saw the entire cast on "Inside the Actor's Studio".  These folks love working with each other, or so it seems.  And by the way they do their craft well -- they are in fact acting because when you see them as people they are not at all like their characters.  Their work is really well done.

I love "Modern Family" because it gives us insight into what is really going on in today's families.  Sure, it's scripted, but as a marketer I'll take an insight from where ever I can take it.

What's your experience?  Jim

Thursday, June 9

HGTV: My Yard Goes Disney

I've been talking a lot about brand collaborations and strategic partnerships this week, both on this blog and at work.  I love when brands trade valuable marketing assets and share their precious equities to bring something new to consumers.  HGTV has certainly entered this game, as I personally noticed during a marathon viewing session this past weekend.

There's a new show that I found very fascinating:  "My Yard Goes Disney", where designers from the Disney theme parks come and do backyard makeovers for families.  It's amazing to watch the design process at work and to witness creative transformations of the Disney kind.  Of course along with it comes a sweepstakes to win a trip to a Disney theme park as well as a backyard makeover of your own -- we would expect that for sure.

We know Disney, as a brand, to be all about magical entertainment and creativity.  And we know HGTV, as a brand, to be all about creative home design.  Bringing the two together to create a magically entertaining backyard space for the family is truly the best of both worlds.

HGTV has really stepped up its game, and is right up there along side The Food Network and Bravo for engaging programming and motivating promotion.  They've been creating their own celebrities and obviously negotiating great strategic partnerships, including the one with Sherwin-Williams paint that I wrote about this week as well.

I've never watched a lot of HGTV, but it is clearly now in my programming consideration set.  And my "watch" list for great marketing.

What's your experience?  Jim.