Archive for the ‘brand equity’ category

Progressive Management Anything But

August 19th, 2012

As I’ve said many times before, your brand isn’t about what you say; it’s about what you do.  And based on this story (courtesy of Seth Godin‘s blog) of how Progressive Insurance treats its customers, it’s hard to imagine a company doing a more inept job of brand management.

I realize that a lot of people like Progressive’s “Flo” advertising campaign. (I can only assume these people are also big fans of Gallagher and Carrot Top.)   Not only have I never been a fan of the campaign’s low-brow, unsophisticated humor, it’s always led me to suspect that the people running Progressive’s marketing department have questionable judgment.  Sadly, those suspicions have been confirmed by this story of how Progressive has treated the family of Katie Fisher.

This story tells you two things about Progressive: they’re heartless, and they’re stupid.   Heartless because of the way their actions have dumped salt on the emotional wound that Katie’s death caused her family.  Stupid because the $75,000 they’re trying to save pales in comparison to the cost of the deservedly horrendous publicity they’ve generated for themselves.

Here’s hoping that Progressive’s management will wake up and not only decide to make good on the money they owe the Fishers, but throw in an extra $100,000 or $250,000 as payment for the badly-needed wake-up call.

It would certainly be the progressive thing to do.

Google’s Actions Betray Its Users and Its Brand

February 17th, 2012

“Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their iPhones and computers—tracking the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked.”

If you read that opening sentence from this Wall Street Journal article and had never heard of Google Inc. before, what would your impression of the company be?  Probably that it must be a sleazy, unethical, untrustworthy company with which you you never want to do business.

It’s been said that your brand isn’t defined by what you say but what you do.  If that’s true–and I think it is–then Google’s actions have put a significant dent in its brand equity.

This isn’t the first time Google has compromised its users’ privacy, and Facebook and others have been guilty of similar violations.  Perhaps the phenomenal success experienced by Google and Facebook has left their leaders feeling that they are someone immune from the ethical standards by which the rest of us play.  And, for the most part, their users do seem to have looked the other way rather taking these companies to task for their behavior.  I have to believe, however, that  sooner or later these serious ethical lapses are going to take a serious toll on the loyalty of their users and hence on the sky-high stock prices that Google and others command.

One of the many things Google does well is to creatively modify their logo to celebrate holidays and other special occasions.  I suggest that until they regain their ethical bearings, they modify their iconic “I feel lucky” tag to read “I feel violated.”

Ping Quietly Scores an Ace

January 29th, 2011

It’s always impressive when a company performs a sincere act of generosity, particularly when they don’t call attention to it.  And it’s better yet when, despite the lack of self-promotion, consumers somehow find out about the generous deed.

I recently received an email about a wonderful program in which Ping provides a full set of golf clubs to military veterans who participate in the Wounded Warrior Project.  As this article explains, Ping modifies their clubs so they can be used by these heroes regardless of whatever appendages they might be missing.

Now emails like the one I received are making their way to golfers everywhere, making them aware of Ping’s admirable actions and suggesting that it might be nice to reward Ping by making them the brand of choice when it’s time to buy a new driver or set of irons.

My only hesitation in giving Ping high marks for a powerful public relations coup is that it suggests this was a conscious–and exceptionally clever–attempt to build their brand equity rather than a sincere and selfless effort to thank these veterans who have given so much for their country.

Ultimately, I decided that whether Ping is being exceedingly clever or exceedingly generous, they are more than deserving of a rave review.

The Big Ten Needs a Bigger Idea

December 14th, 2010

We’ve known for some time that the Big Ten Conference wasn’t great at either math or communications.  After all, for years this eleven-team conference has inexplicably continued to call itself “The Big Ten”, and they’re sticking with their name even though they’re about to add a twelfth team.  I can certainly understand wanting to maintain your brand name and brand equity, but when your brand name describes the composition of your product (like the number of teams composing the conference) and that composition changes, it seems to me that the name has to change as well.  Otherwise, you just look foolish, and while you’re maintaining your brand name, you’re diminishing your brand equity.

Well, the small minds at the Big Ten offices have done it again:  they’ve just launched a very uninspiring logo (above), and they’ve named the two divisions within the conference “Legends” and “Leaders”.  The logo will surely generate mostly yawns, while the division names are guaranteed to be met with hoots and hollers.  Most conferences use geographic terms–like “North” and “South” or “East” and “West”– to designate their divisions, but the Big Ten can’t because they chose not to organize their divisions on a geographic basis.

Admittedly, coming up with appropriate names that aren’t geographically-oriented is quite a challenge, but I’ll give it a whack.  Given that there are six teams in each division, how  about “Six of One” and “Half a Dozen of Another”?  No?  How about these division names:

  • “Abbott” and “Costello”
  • “Hall” and “Oates”
  • “Captain” and “Tennille”
  • “Yin” and “Yang”
  • “Mac” and “PC”
  • “PC” and “Non-PC”
  • “Rock” and “Roll”
  • “Run” and “Pass”
  • “Hut One” and “Hut Two”

While I’m at it, how about some new equity-preserving names for the conference itself that retain “Big” and “Ten” without being misleading:

  • “The Big Ten-Plus-Two”
  • “The Bigger-Than-Ten”
  • “The Big Greater-Than-or-Equal-to-Ten”
  • “The Big Tension”

Okay, maybe we’re not quite there yet. I’ll keep working on it, but in the meantime, I do have a tagline for them:

“The Big Ten:  12 on a 10-Scale”

With Southwest, Bags–and Gags–Fly Free

October 6th, 2010

Today I enjoyed the services of one of my “hero companies”:  Southwest Airlines.  Hero companies are those that do virtually everything well:  great products, great service, great people, great marketing.  There aren’t many companies on the list; Apple and Starbucks are definitely on it, and so is Southwest.

Southwest is one of the most underrated businesses of all time in my opinion.  For them to be the most (and often the only) profitable airline year after year after year is nothing short of amazing, particularly when you consider that they do it despite charging extremely low fares.  I also love the fact that they’ve further separated themselves by refusing to charge for bags while their competitors nickle and dime their customers–and their brand equity–to death.

But what might best differentiate Southwest from the competition is not only the way they motivate their employees, but the way the leverage their employees’ morale to enhance the customer experience.

I shot the above photos today with my Blackberry in the jetway  of my plane as I was boarding a flight from Chicago to Denver.  The life-size photos of Southwest employees smiling and waving at you made for a very warm and surprising welcome.  And what was particularly impressive was how genuine the smile was on each and every person.  I found myself thinking, “Man, these people really love working for this company.”  And then I found myself smiling too, which is not something I’m used to doing when I board an airplane.

And it didn’t stop there.  From takeoff to landing, the flight attendants and the flight crew were engaging and smart…and very funny.  After reciting the mandatory instructions about how to use the flotation device in the event of a “water landing” (my all-time favorite euphemism, BTW), the flight attendant added, “So you can just paddle around until the Coast Guard arrives.”  He then took us through the oxygen mask drill, telling us that if you’re traveling with a child, you should put your mask on first before putting the mask on the child.  He then added, “And if you’re traveling with two children–(dramatic pause)–pick whichever one you think has the most potential.”

Both jokes were delivered with impeccable timing.  And both were non-politically correct, which fits perfectly with the image of a company whose brilliant former CEO Herb Kelleher was known for chain-smoking, swigging Wild Turkey, and publicly arm-wrestling his fellow CEOs.  This is a company with an attitude–and a very infectious one at that!

A big part of making customers loyal to your brand is getting them to think of the brand in personal terms, to feel like they know and like the people behind the brand, and to believe that those people care sincerely about their happiness.  That can be hard to pull off when you’re a manufacturer, but when you’re in the service business, you have hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of opportunities each day to have your employees build your brand equity with every customer encounter.

Unfortunately, very few service companies get that, but Southwest Airlines certainly does.  And that’s why their brand equity continues to fly as high as their shareholders equity.

Will Apple Admit That It Has a Worm?

July 15th, 2010

For the past several years, I’ve considered Apple to be the best marketing organization on the planet.  Their ability to anticipate–and, more impressively, create–consumer desires has been without parallel, as has their penchant for product design and advertising.  Now, however, we’ll get a chance to see how good they are at crisis management.

As this Wall Street Journal article shows, it seems clear that Apple’s vaunted product design team–including legendary co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs–dropped the ball in developing Apple’s new iPhone 4.  The otherwise well-reviewed device appears to have reception problems that result from a faulty antenna design that wasn’t subjected to adequate testing.

Surprisingly–and disappointingly–Apple’s initial reaction was to cavalierly suggest that the problem was the result of users holding the phone improperly.  They then copped to a software glitch, which they inexplicably tried to minimize by suggesting that it affects their earlier-generation iPhones as well.  And now both explanations are being challenged by Consumer Reports, which claims the problems are hardware-related.

Whatever the truth is–and all signs seem to support Consumer Reports’ side–Apple had better be completely forthcoming from this point forward or its credibility, and its brand equity, will take a serious hit.  Apple and Mr. Jobs have been on an infallibility streak for several years, so admitting they’ve screwed up will hurt.  But Apple’s fans–and prospective future consumers–will forgive imperfection much more readily than dishonesty or cowardice.

Apple has produced millions of sweet, crisp, juicy products that have thrilled millions of consumers–including me–and in the process created a company worth more than Microsoft or General Electric.  But if they don’t start displaying more candor, humility and urgency in confronting this rare misstep, they run a real risk of letting this one bad Apple spoil the bunch–not to mention a bunch of brand equity.

The Dawn of a Brilliant Idea

June 21st, 2010

It turns out that one good thing can be associated with the otherwise disastrous BP oil spill:  a brilliant TV commercial by Dawn dish detergent.  What Procter & Gamble has pulled off is truly amazing:  they’ve leveraged a national disaster, reinforced their brand’s reason-for-being, and done so in a way that doesn’t feel the least bit exploitative. On the contrary, it feels downright altruistic.

Since its inception, Dawn’s primary benefit has always been its ability to cut through grease, and in recent years its advertising has pushed gentleness as a secondary benefit.  What better way to illustrate this “tough on grease yet gentle” positioning than showing Dawn being used to remove oil from ducklings and baby otters?  And what better–and more timely–way to support a worthy cause than to donate proceeds from Dawn’s sales to cleaning up the gulf?

I must admit that the luster of this ad diminished slightly when I learned that it’s been running off-and-on for almost a year; in other words, it wasn’t created as a result of the BP oil spill.  It turns out that Dawn has been used to clean endangered wildlife following other less catastrophic and less publicized oil spills.  Still, I think it took courage for P&G to run this commercial now, given the risk that some people would charge them with greedily capitalizing on the gulf’s misfortunes.  And had this commercial been created will less sophistication, less warmth or less sensitivity, it could easily have come across badly.  This clearly was not the case, however, and the decision-makers at P&G were able to recognize this spot as the masterful piece of communication that it is.

I can’t remember when I’ve seen a marketing initiative that makes you feel so good about a brand and its parent company while simultaneously powering home its unique selling proposition.  I guess it just never dawned on me that such a thing was possible.

That’s the Spirit…NOT!!!

April 7th, 2010

Spirit Airlines will go down in PR history for making one of the all-time moronic marketing moves:  announcing that it plans to charge passengers up to $45 for each article of carry-on luggage.  The story has been featured prominently today on virtually every national, regional and local television news program, and it will certainly be covered extensively on every other news medium in the country over the next 24-to-48 hours.

Never mind that Spirit offers extremely reasonable airfares; the company will henceforth be known as the jerks who dreamed up the idea of charging for carry-ons, and possibly for giving many other airlines an excuse to do the same thing.  (I say “possibly” because the public outcry has been great enough that other airlines may decline to follow suit.)   I suspect that much of the population had never heard of Spirit before, but they certainly know them now.

I certainly understand that most airlines are in severe financial trouble and need to find new ways to eke out a profit, but Spirit couldn’t have landed on worse solution.  Every consumer I’ve seen interviewed–as well as many of the anchorpeople reporting the news –are absolutely outraged at this decision.  After all, carry-ons have helped us avoid four major hassles associated with flying–damaged luggage, lost luggage, time wasted at the baggage claim, and fees for checking luggage–and now Spirit has the audacity to mess with this.

If Spirit wanted to enhance their revenues, they should have silently raised their airfares, which they could have done without jeopardizing their positioning as one of the lowest-cost airlines.  Few people would have noticed, and it certainly wouldn’t have been headline news.  And had United, American or some other larger competitor decided to test the waters of charging for carry-on luggage, Spirit could have gauged the public’s reaction before deciding whether to follow suit.

But now Spirit has taken a huge, self-inflicted hit to its brand equity, a hit from which it may never fully recover.

It’s great to innovate, but your innovations should be based on things you hope your customers will love rather than ones you know they’re going to hate.  In other words, you have to be smart enough to recognize an idea that isn’t going to fly–and especially one that’s going to crash and burn.

Why Xfinity Is Anything But Comcastic

February 20th, 2010

It was recently announced that the company formerly known as “Comcast” will now be known as “Xfinity.” The ostensible rationale is that since the Comcast brand is associated with cable television, it is cannot effectively represent the expanded services the company is now starting to offer. Interestingly, company spokesmen also acknowledged that the company’s less-than-stellar reputation for customer service had reduced the consumer equity of the Comcast brand.

Okay, I understand the predicament they find themselves in, but I don’t think they have a smart solution. First of all, it doesn’t matter what they call the company if they don’t fix their problems with customer service. Assuming that they do fix those problems, it’s not clear to me that a name change makes sense. I have to believe it will cost tens of millions of dollars more to create awareness of the new brand than it would to tell the story that Comcast has dramatically improved its service. (Note: I wouldn’t say that if the Comcast name were an object of scorn or considered to be the universal symbol for bad service, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Rather, I suspect that most consumers would be willing to change their image of Comcast as long as the company gives them a legitimate reason to do so.)

Moreover, I don’t like the name “Xfinity.” It looks like a typo and sounds like a typo. There’s simply nothing interesting or clever about the name. Two similar but better choices right off the top of my head are “Nfinity” (which sounds like “infinity”) and “Dfinity” (which sounds like “divinity” and is a play on high definition).

To make matters even more confusing, the parent company is still going to retain the name Comcast, so the name they can’t wait to get rid of has been exhumed even before it gets buried.

What’s ironic about all of this is that I’ve always been a fan of their use of the phrase “It’s Comcastic!” To create an adjective that they could own was a brilliant stroke of marketing, and now the value of that trademark will soon be absolutely zero.

I just hope we’re not soon going to be subjected to ads exclaiming, “It’s Xfinitive!”