Month: March 2011

Loyalty and lust

Over tea with Alex in the sun a couple of afternoons ago, we got talking about what you can count on in a market, and what you can observe but not necessarily depend on. I’ll leave it to Alex to share the specifics of what she talked about in her own inimitable way, but our conversation did get me thinking about the different kinds of customers that brands have today because in the face for scale, it’s easy to confuse the different levels of interest and loyalty. Let’s start with what happens when you get waves of visitors. It’s tempting to have your head turned by the massive numbers that can swarm a post, a thought, an idea, a product. Suddenly your metrics are through the roof and your mentions are running like ticker-tape. You are the talk of the world, and the temptation of course is to think you’ve made it. You have their front of mind. But that space is mercurial, and attention – one the Holy Grail of marketers – is now …

Making the second sale

People say the first sale is the hardest to make. You have to find the right person in the right company, you have to catch them at the right time in the right mood, make your pitch, you have to convince them to go with you. That’s got to be the hardest thing in the world doesn’t it? I’m not so sure. Because, at least with the first sale, there’s the curiosity factor. There’s the opportunity to try you out, maybe on something small, maybe on something others are struggling with or that issue they have not got round to. First sale takes determination and courage and the willingness to push through against many, many obstacles. But I think the second sale is more difficult. OK, it’s easier in that they’ve seen what you did. You have some small degree of familiarity on your side. The risk of course is also that they’ve seen what you did. They feel they know you. They’re forming their own impressions about your abilities. The real disadvantage though is …

What are you worth?

Some fascinating insights in this piece on how consumers are valued collectively and individually by organisations. I was amused to see how, in B2B trades, consumers were valued at much, much more than they were when organisations contacted consumers directly. Some time back I had an issue with what each Facebook customer was worth (still do). But in comparison to some of the deals mentioned, they’re being very modest. Compare for example the $1147 that AT&T is proposing to spend on each T-Mobile customer or the $4,700 that Cablevision Systems Corp. will pay for each Bresnan Communications customer with the much smaller amounts that cable, utility and credit card companies pay individuals to switch. One example quoted has Energy Plus offering JetBlue frequent flyers 3,000 points, worth around $45, for choosing it as their electric supplier. It tells me that what the market values customers at as a group and how the companies themselves value customers as individuals appear to be at significant odds. It’s almost as if as soon as they can put a …

What’s a brand problem?

I’m always fascinated when people tell me they have a brand problem – because I’ve seldom encountered one. I’ve encountered a whole range of business problems however that addressing the brand can fix. One of the real concerns I have with many “brand strategies” is that they work in too small a circle. The vicinity of their reasoning is marcomms, which is important of course and immediate, but what gets lost with such a restricted approach is the wider thinking needed to really address and resolve the matter at hand. And unless you take that broader approach, unless you actively build the widest context into your consideration set by really understanding what’s happening to and within the business, you’re just dealing with what’s in front of your nose. There’s also a very real risk that the brand strategy is actually little more than an elaborate but ultimately isolated justification for the communications approach.

Light my fire

What do you do if you’re one of the world’s most famous lighter companies and the number of smokers is dropping?  If you’re Zippo, you look for ways to capitalise on your ‘cool’ image and extend your brand into products ranging from watches to leisure clothing. Zippo hit its zenith around the mid-1990s with 18 million lighters a year. Today, that figure’s dropped to around 12 million lighters a year and the hunt is on for products that are, in the words of president and chief executive Gregory Booth, “rugged, durable, made in America, iconic”. It seems to be a standard operating procedure these days. Brands hit a certain scale and then look to diversify in order to fish in other waters, or else, their iconic products hit their use-by date and they start looking for ways to sweat their assets, or someone brings a brand back from the dead and looks to add product lines to what they hope is its revitalised equity. Sadly, many of these diversifications don’t strike me as strategic. They …

Checking the All Blacks line-up

Brand extension is always one of those issues that people grapple with. On the one hand, there’s a wish to capitalise on the goodwill that has been patiently built up, sometimes over an extended period of time. On the other, there’s always the concern that the brand is going to run out of road, and end up attached to products that don’t reflect the true spirit of the marque. The clear concern being voiced by some in rugby circles is that one extension of the All Blacks brand, merchandise, has crossed that line; that a range of products that includes baby bibs, Easter eggs, watches and lunchboxes risks, in the words of Michael Jones, “watering down … the heritage embodied in [the brand]”. That raises the issue of what the All Blacks brand stands for. What is the core idea that everything to do with the brand reports to? If the brand is about growing up in New Zealand to become a rugby legend – if that’s their core idea – then the current range …

What’s in the box?

Marc Levinson’s book The Box explains why a “soulless aluminium or steel box held together with welds and rivets, with a wooden floor and two enormous doors at one end” was able to revolutionise trade. As Levinson points out the container is about much more than what it does, it’s about what it now represents to all of us living and buying in the global economy: an extraordinary system for moving goods between places at minimal cost and with as little complication as possible. Along the way, the humble container literally changed the world around it: new ports became valuable; just-in-time became possible; international trade accelerated; loading and delivery times shrank; trade became standardised; supply chains extended. But the economic benefits that arose from the container didn’t come from the box itself, clever as it was. The real innovation came from entrepreneurs who, over time, discovered how they could apply the potential of the container to their commercial advantage. It was those people who saw that this box with “all the romance of a tin …

Reading between the lines

One of my favourite reminders to every brand is – be very clear about what it is you are selling. So often, companies have a view of what they’re offering that differs from what their customers are actually buying. News that The New York Times has confirmed its pricing strategy has me wondering if they have fallen into the same quandary. The temptation when you produce a newspaper must be to believe that customers are buying news. The Times certainly seems to think so. According to the article, the new pricing strategy means readers get up to 20 articles per month free, and after that they will be prompted to purchase a subscription. That limit is designed to “draw in subscription revenue from the most loyal readers while not driving away the casual visitors who make up the vast majority of the site’s traffic.” If you get to the newspaper via social media the 20-article rule does not apply, but there is a five article a day limit for those who access the site via …

Noting Moleskine

In theory, a company like Moleskine should be redundant. Who needs a little black sketchbook these days? Who needs pencils and the ability to sketch and note down ideas? And yet many people – and I’m the first to confess, I’m one of them – are ardent fans. Why? It’s because Moleskine have sold us a fantastic story: a story of romance and creativity, of spontaneity and genius, of travels made and ideas explored that actually relies on its heritage to work. Woven into their brand are associations with artistic and literary giants. In fact, this little black notebook, with its polite strap, has built up a backstory that embodies great thoughts captured on the move, and celebrates freedom, inspiration and potential … It’s a backstory of sharpened pencils, crisp paper, and lateral thinking, washed down with (at least) strong coffee, that absolutely targets those who love creativity. Sometimes, just sometimes, the most powerful thing you can do in your brand storytelling is to revive what people yearn for, or fear may become lost.