Archive for the ‘brand strategy’ category

Microsoft Needs to Be a Good Orange, Not a Bad Apple

December 9th, 2010


Perhaps the wisest words I’ve ever read about branding strategy are attributed to the late, great Jerry Garcia, who once said:  “The idea isn’t to make people think you’re the best at what you do; it’s to make them think you’re the only one who does what you do.”

If there’s one company on the planet that’s in sync with Mr. Garcia, it’s Apple. (Interestingly, the only other one that comes immediately to mind is Pixar, another company largely shaped by the DNA of Steve Jobs.)  And if there’s a company that doesn’t groove on Mr. Garcia’s vibe, it’s Microsoft.   In fact, Microsoft doesn’t even try to make you think they’re the best at what they do; rather, they’re trying to make you think they’re just like Apple.

But Microsoft will never be like Apple, any more than Bill Gates will ever be like Steve Jobs.  Let’s face it:  Jobs is cool; Gates is geeky.  Apple is cool; Microsoft is–well, it might not be geeky, but it certainly isn’t cool.  And that’s okay!

Sadly, as an article in the Chicago Tribune indicates, the new Microsoft stores are embarrassingly similar to Apple stores.  The problem isn’t that the stores aren’t nice; it’s that they aren’t original.  Since everyone knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Microsoft is simultaneously reinforcing that Apple is worthy of emulation while making itself  look like a plagiarizer.

Microsoft needs to get over its genius-envy and embrace the things that make it unique.  For example, it could position itself as “everyman” (in subtle contrast to Apple’s “snob”) by emphasizing:

  • The affordability of Windows-based products
  • Its support of the very popular Flash media format
  • The dramatically larger number of products and programs that use its operating system

When Toyota was at its peak, it didn’t try to make you think it was like Mercedes Benz, nor did Budweiser in its best days try to make you think it was like Heineken. They took pride in who they were–and, oh, by the way, they were the market leaders.

Microsoft is also a market leader, yet its actions reflect insecurity rather than pride. Apple and Microsoft are as different as apples and oranges.  It’s time Microsoft embraced that fact.

After all, oranges are more popular than apples.

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!”

An Easy Solution to a Tough Naming Problem, By Gum!

January 6th, 2010

Most of my posts involve rating an ad or some other marketing initiative, but on occasion I’ll use this space to float an idea. The impetus for my latest idea is today’s news report that the new owner of the Chicago Cubs, the Ricketts family, is seriously exploring the possibility of selling the naming rights to the Cubs’ stadium, which for years has been known as Wrigley Field.

Given what they shelled out for a team with a big payroll that fans would like to see get even bigger, the family can hardly be blamed for turning over every stone of opportunity in search of incremental revenues. But this naming rights situation could easily become stickier than a well-chewed piece of Juicy Fruit.

After all, many die-hard Cubs fans are at least as loyal to the ivy-covered “Friendly Confines” as they are the team itself; changing the name of this venerable structure won’t sit well with these folks. What’s more, they’ll likely take it out not only on the Ricketts family, but on whatever company signs on to put its brand over the door to the joint. (Many Chicagoans still call White Sox stadium “Comiskey Park” instead of “U.S. Cellular Field”, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who refers to the former Sears Tower as “Willis Tower.”) And all of this means that any company contemplating a deal with the Ricketts family will value the rights much lower than if they didn’t have to worry about offending the Cubs fan base.

Fortunately, I have a very obvious solution to this tricky dilemma. After minutes of thorough and painstaking study, I’ve come up with a company that could buy the naming rights without offending one single member of Cub Nation. It’s a well-known, iconic brand that’s as American as apple pie and, well, baseball. In fact, its products are already sold at this ballpark and virtually every ballpark in the country.

The company: Wrigley.

Admittedly, after having its name adorn the stadium for the past 83 years at no charge–since Wrigley owned the team for much of that period–Wrigley (or its new parent company, Mars) might not savor the notion of suddenly having to write a check for that privilege. But they have to recognize that there is some benefit in having your brand name associated with one of the most popular sports franchises in the world, and they should be willing to pay a fair price for that benefit. In fact, given that Wrigley is the only company in the world who could purchase the naming rights without upsetting fans, these rights are actually worth more to Wrigley than they would be to anyone else.

I would suggest that the Cubs and Wrigley agree on an objective third party to determine the fair market value of the naming rights based on what other sponsors have paid for naming rights across the country, and then have Wrigley’s price be two-thirds of that figure. This way, Wrigley can feel good about getting a healthy discount, and the Ricketts family can sleep at night knowing they have more money in the bank as well as an unruffled fan base.

Now that I’ve solved that problem, I’m ready to tackle a slightly larger one: what it will take for the Cubs to win their first World Series in 102 years.

Does This Campaign Seem Off-Target to You?

December 9th, 2009

For much of this decade, Target was one of the most sophisticated and effective advertisers in the retail industry. Their ads were bright, upbeat and infectious, and they made their products the heroes of every one. Most impressively, these ads were instantly recognizable as Target ads, even if you didn’t see the Target name or distinctive logo until the very end of the spot. In a word, this advertising was smart.

Several articles in various business journals have discussed Target’s recent strategic shift to increase its emphasis on low pricing in response to its soft sales trends. Changing your strategic stripes is always dicey, and based on the slew (sleigh?) of holiday ads Target has launched in recent weeks, it looks like they’ve yet to get a handle on their new tack. And the result could be a real dent in Target’s brand equity.

Several of the ads involve vignettes in which a gift recipient is concerned that the gift-giver has spent too much on them. Each time, the ad ends with the giver saying that the gift didn’t cost as much as it appears, and that’s fine. What I don’t like is what happens in the middle of the ad, which is invariably a downer. In “Confession”, a young daughter’s guilt forces her to confess bad things she’s done, like reading her older sister’s diary and forging her mom’s signature. In “There Yet”, a young woman feels compelled to let her gift-giver know that she’s not as into the relationship as he appears to be. Both spots are only marginally funny and leave you feeling a little sad, a little uncomfortable, or both.

Another ad called “Is It Working?” shows a boy projecting his father’s rear-end onto their big-screen TV, while the unsuspecting father is trying to fix the TV that his son has led him to believe is not working properly. Written or directed differently, this ad could be amusing or even charming, but instead it comes off as sophomoric at best and mean at worst. All of these ads end with a voice singing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” but the feeling you’re left with is hardly a warm one.

A prior series of ads, including one called “Gingerbread”, featured an over-caffeinated Martha Stewart-like “perfect homemaker” who is clearly stressed out keeping up with all of her holiday projects. The first ad made me smile slightly, but by the third one I wanted this lady to leave me alone and return to her asylum.

I’m all for using humor in advertising, but–especially for a mainstream advertiser with Target’s upbeat brand image–the humor should be smart, uplifting and light rather than clumsy, cynical and dark.

It seems clear that Target’s marketers have abandoned their brand’s distinctive persona without identifying an appealing replacement, and I suspect that the result will be a 2009 holiday season with decidedly off-target sales.

Bawdy Wash

February 13th, 2009

I recently heard a radio commercial for Dial for Men Body Wash, which bills itself as helping men–presumably young, hip, very macho men–deal with “man-stink” and provide “maintenance for your mansuit”. The product’s container is cleverly shaped like an oil can, and its package graphics and website are full of “manly” images. While all of this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, there is no question about whom Dial for Men is targeting or the kind of image it’s attempting to cultivate. This brand reeks machismo!

The only thing that doesn’t quite work for me is the name, Dial for Men. The deeply-ingrained image of the company’s flagship brand, family-oriented Dial Soap (“Aren’t you glad you use Dial?”), fights the macho, maverick image Dial for Men is shooting for. It even begs the question, is there a Dial for Women? (There isn’t…at least yet.) And the corporate-looking Dial logo looks stiff and out of place surrounded by the rest of the Dial for Men packaging graphics. I just can’t help think that all of this macho marketing would work much harder if it were supporting a unique and more macho brand, like Bubba Body Wash, or even Mansuit Body Wash.
There’s another liability with the Dial for Men name. If I’m a loyal, older and more conservative consumer of Dial Soap, and I hear the Dial for Men ad spokesman saying “I used to wear a helmet on my melon and a cup over my brat and potatoes”, what’s my reaction going to be? In many cases, I think the Dial Soap consumer may find the Dial for Men ad to be in poor taste, and that has to have a negative impact on Dial Soap’s brand equity.
Many companies decide to treat new products as line extensions of an existing brand rather than creating an entirely new brand. The rationale is generally that it’s more cost-effective to leverage existing brand equity rather than having to build awareness of an entirely new brand from ground zero. But there are hidden costs to this approach: namely, the original brand’s imagery may keep the new brand from soaring as high as it could, and the new brand could have a negative impact on the original brand’s equity.
As a former marketing VP for Dial Corp, I might not be perfectly objective, but in this case I think my former employer dialed a wrong number. Whatever success they’ve had with Dial for Men–and for all I know, it could be a booming success–I suspect they’d be maintaining even more mansuits had they pursued a different branding strategy.