Who owns your brand?

Brand stampI have heard a lot of marketers over the years say that companies don’t own their brands; that it’s the public, the consumer that owns the brand.

Nonsense. Continue reading

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Apple dodges brand-killing bullet by not launching cheap iPhone

Apple iPhone 5CI’ve read (primarily in the mainstream business press) a lot of criticism of Apple’s recent iPhone 5C unveiling since the big presentation last week. Most of that criticism is directed at Apple’s failure to add a device to its lineup that can compete with cheaper smart phones, deemed a particularly important strategy for competing in China and other Asian markets.

I don’t really understand the surprise. Apple has spent many years and a lot of money building their brand, one of the strongest brands in the world. A brand that offers beautifully designed, simple to use devices that deliver an incredible user experience … at a premium price. You can add to that products that last, thus providing value for dollar. I had my last iMac for eight years; granted, it was pretty slow by the end, but find me a PC that old and lets compare.

Had Apple followed the expectations of the investment community and launched a cheap iPhone, they would have destroyed their own brand. Suddenly, the conversation would shift away from “do I want pay for an iPhone or settle for something not quite as cool/beautiful that I can get a deal on?” to “which device can I get for less?” The brand would have started down the road toward commoditization.

Look what happened to Krispy Kreme in Canada when they started offering packaged doughnuts in gas stations. Their brand was built around the experience of getting a fresh, hot doughnut as opposed to one that had been sitting on the counter for hours. Or Starbucks when they expanded too quickly and started replacing baristas with machines. They killed the experience and nearly their brand – thankfully, for this brand fan, they pulled up in time.

There are hundred of other stories of brands that abandoned their core value to chase a market. Most end the same way: short-term gain that leads to the ultimate demise of a previously strong brand. Apple, wisely, dodged that future last week and held firm to their strategy. For a great explanation of what they did do in launching the iPhone 5C, have a read of this Daring Fireball blog post by John Gruber.

I think the biggest risk right now to Apple’s brand (other than our inability to re-animate Steve Jobs) is that they are publicly traded and the pressure that puts on delivering short-term results at the expense of building long-term value. I am not an expert on what it takes to succeed in places like China and India. I don’t know what Apple will need to do to build market share there, but I’m glad they were smart enough not to compromise their brand to do it (this time).

But I don’t think anyone should be surprised or disappointed by what they saw last week.

Why B2B companies need to give away a little free milk

Free milk?

Too many B2B companies companies fear that the very thing that sets them apart from their competitors is too valuable to share publicly, for fear of having it stolen. In the modern era of content marketing, this kind of thinking is costing you business.

I was recently discussing the merits of content marketing with a senior executive at financial services company. More accurately, I was trying to convince this executive that the company had a tremendous opportunity to engage its customer and prospects online using the expertise the organization had amassed in dealing with the operations of thousands of businesses over the years.

Why not, I suggested, use that expertise, that institutional knowledge, to create content that would help businesses succeed? Show them how what you’ve seen from working with the best and the worst can help them save bottom line costs.

By putting that kind of content out there, I added, and helping companies you might not even be doing business with, you will be building a brand through utility. You will be gaining trust. That trust will translate into business. Maybe not next week or next month, but it will.

This executive’s argument to me was that this was giving away too much. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk fir free, to turn a tired phrase. The fear was that, by making their knowledge public, competitors could steal it, businesses could use it and then not buy the core product from them. Whereas, if they held the information close, and only let it out to customers as part of the business contract, they could control that information better.

On the surface, that argument makes sense. Who wants to equip your competitors to do a better job? Why give away this kind of value with no guaranteed return? Sure, fear can shut down that discussion pretty quickly. But that argument is flawed in a couple of major ways.

First of all, when your product is a commodity – which this one was – you need to wrap it in a unique selling proposition (USP) to differentiate it. If you hide that USP from the world for fear that someone will steal it, it doesn’t have any more value than if they did.

The second reason this argument fails for me is because human behaviour is largely predictable. Predictability dictates that there will be a return on investment for this type of good content. Here’s why I think that:

The kind of people who trust in the value of good counsel understand there is even more value to be had by working with someone who demonstrates this expertise, beyond what may be given on the surface. The content you put out there, if it adds real value, can convince prospects that they stand to gain even more by entering into a relationship with you – even if the product is a commodity they can buy anywhere.

Now, there will be those who do not want the relationship. These are the do-it-yourselfers who just want the whitepaper so they can try to make it work themselves. They want tips, guides and ideas they can implement on their own. They may not immediately – or ever – see the value in partnering with a company with that expertise.

That’s okay, though, because what they will do – if your content is really good – is share your material. They’ll let others know how useful it was, because it makes them look smart to share smart ideas. This increases the likelihood of your content finding its way into the hands of more and more of the first type of person. The one who values and appreciates expertise enough to pay for the relationship.

It takes work to create that kind of content; and it takes time to take effect. But if you’ve got the raw material, why wouldn’t you? I, personally, don’t see the downside. What do you think? Is it worth giving away the milk for free?

Don’t make me Tweet to get service

Two levels of customer service is a recipe for underwhelming.

Recently I had problem with Airmiles regarding some ski passes I ordered. I needed them fast, their delivery commitment was slow. So, I went to the website and filled out the email form, following the rules like a good customer. The response I got told me I could expect to wait 4-5 days for a response.

On what planet is that delay acceptable today?

So, I tweeted my displeasure and got an immediate response suggesting I email the company’s Twitter email address. I did, and that email was answered the same day. After a little back and forth we solved the problem. Then I got the response from the the original email form submission from four days prior. In my mind – as with all customer interactions – I wasn’t talking to Joe, or Suzy, I was talking to Airmiles; so what the heck?

One of the problems this highlights for me (and there are a few to choose from) is a lack of connection within the company. Consumers today have access to many channels to talk to brands. Many of them use multiple channels. If those experiences aren’t aligned, you are not consistently delivering on the brand promise. There has to be consistency, and there shouldn’t be secret clubs for those who find the right channel. Unless of course you are trying to change behaviour, but then shut the channel down. Don’t under deliver.

Why do we care so much that Steve Jobs is dead?

I am poring over my Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin feeds today and reading verse after verse extolling Steve Jobs and what he gave the world. I even posted one myself. I am struck by the depth of emotion that his death evokes.

The majority of those posting never met the man. They did not know him. Their connection was through the devices that his company created. But their grief is real, I don’t doubt it.

I think it speaks to need we have to put a face on a brand. To connect on an emotional level with our chosen purveyor of goods. Our attachment is to the devices and the brand, but we have a need to transfer that love and respect to a single person. Not a company. Not a team of engineers. A single person. If Jobs still had a partner, an equal, I wonder if the outpouring would be as great. I don’t think so.

It’s a terrible loss, no doubt. But what are we really grieving?

Book review: Six Pixels of Separation

Wow, what a month. Did anyone see where August went? I discovered some new levels of busy in the last full month of summer and it took me much longer to get through the second of my 12 marketing books challenge than anticipated.

It’s a funny coincidence that the book is Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation and just recently Mitch blogged about the challenges of keeping up with your planned to do list.

I was not surprised that I enjoyed Mitch’s book; I have been a fan of his blog and podcast of the same name for years. Those active in the social media space will not find a lot that they haven’t heard elsewhere – especially if they follow Mitch, but where this book really excels is at talking to it’s target audience: business owners and executives who are unfamiliar with the social landscape. In fact, I decided early on that I needed to buy copies for some senior people in my company in the hopes that it would lead to better conversations.

Mitch does a fantastic job of showing business owners exactly why they should be using social media to grow their business. He also offers a good amount of how to for the do-it-yourselfer. If you are an entrepreneur or a business leader and you think you should be using social media, but don’t know why or how, buy this book. You will not regret it.

In it, you will find a guidebook to engage your audiences in an authentic, sustainable way. Why not give it a go and see what happens?

Stay tuned for the next book in my little odyssey.

Do you want Lady Gaga to follow you on Twitter?

I got a really interesting email the other day. It was forwarded by a friend who received it because she was identified as a potential client by the sender. In an interesting business extension, Universal Music is now offering up its roster of artist to help your brand run a successful social media campaign. Universal, it seems, is now offering brands the chance to “combine your social brand initiatives with Universal Music artists to deliver a successful program.”

They very nearly position themselves as an agency with the ability to deliver integrated marketing strategies. Maybe I’m slow and I missed this transition; perhaps they’ve been at this for a while. Regardless, it gives me pause to think.

On one hand, I think that’s pretty smart; renting out the fame of their product to increase the exposure of another brand. Good for them for figuring out a way to make money in the music business because they can’t compete with free downloads.

On the other hand, though, the alignment seems forced. It feels like a disconnected and desperate cash grab. Like they have so given up on figuring out how to reinvent their business model that everyone is now in charge of “special projects.”

And then I wonder what this process will do to the reputations of their artists (okay, granted some are beyond selling out). Will it over commercialize even the likes of a Gaga or a Bieber? And, while I’m at it, what is their reputation as a digital marketing agency, if that is how they are positioning this service?

Like I said, pause for thought. A curious one. I wonder what some you think …

Book review: Digital Impact, The Two Secrets of Online Marketing Success

Finished! That’s book number one down in my 12-month challenge. I really enjoyed Digital Impact. I was a little worried when I saw the cover – a little too 1980s sci-fi, but inside was true gold. My biggest takeaway is still the subject of my last post, the assertion that fishing (attraction) is a more important strategy for today’s marketer than hunting (targeting). Beyond that, though, the book is really well structured and easy to read.

The two secrets are implementing good performance metrics and spending the time to create really compelling content (Magnetic Content). Those might not seem earth-shattering, but Mayar and Ramsey do a great job of breaking their ideas down into digestible, actionable chunks with solid examples.

For example, they propose a total of seven metrics and group them into exposure metrics (is your content getting noticed?), strategic metrics (is your content moving the needle on your goals), and financial metrics (is your content making you any money?). Through subsequent chapters they they explore six key digital channels and recommend the best metrics from each category for each channel. It’s simple and easily implemented. By easy, I mean understandable. They make it clear that doing it right takes time and money, but I feel confident I can take these channels on with a little trial and error.

Those looking for the quick and simple DIY model of digital marketing may be disappointed. Their approach, done right, is not something you could implement overnight. But, if you are looking for an easy to read, practical book that can apply to any business, Digital Impact is the one you want. It covers all the big channels, how to create great content for each and how to measure the impact of what you create.

So, that’s one book down and 11 to go. Up next: Six Pixels of Separation, by Mitch Joel. A long over due read.

Marketers need worms, not bullets

As I make my way through Digital Impact, by Vipin Mayar and Geoff Ramsey – as part of my journey through 12 marketing books in 12 month – one of the first concepts that struck me was the need to be a fisher not a hunter as a marketer today.

Hunting, they assert, involves “tracking and targeting your prey (the consumer) and then shooting them with your ammo (ad messaging).” Fishing, on the other hand is all about attracting the consumer with the right bait. That bait, of course, is the content you put out through various channels. The better your bait, the better your catch.

Any fisher (the real kind, not the metaphorical) will also tell you fishing also requires patience. You need to continue to put out quality content until it lures the fish.

Fishing alone won’t feed most companies, though. Mayar and Ramsey point out later in the book that the best content undiscovered will not bring in customers. So, you have be a bit of a hunter, too; to target your prey with ad messaging to let them know where your bait can be found.

So, what are your weekend plans? Hunting, fishing, or sitting on the dock with a beer?