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?

Deconstructing the Bell, Rogers, Telus Wireless Auction Ad

Bell, Rogers, Telus Ad in Aug 21 Toronto Star

Toronto Star Ad Page 2

There was a two-page ad from Rogers, Bell and Telus in today’s Toronto Star attempting to explain their case against the rules for the pending wireless auction.

The idea is a good one, and brave. I can imagine it must have been a Herculean effort to get these three competitors to get into a room and develop and agree upon a message. Unfortunately, their efforts fell a little flat. I’ll explain where I think they went wrong and what they could have done differently.

The three arguments put forward in the ad are that the competition is unfair and favours the US company Verizon; will cost taxpayers money to subsidize foreign companies’ bids; and that rural areas will suffer because US competitors will focus on urban markets, forcing Canadian companies to follow suit.

The fairness argument gets lost in industry jargon and the assumption that consumers will understand the structure of the auction and how the “blocks” that are being auctioned work. In general, the “big, bad Americans” argument misses the mark when the ones putting it out there are considered monopolistic behemoths by many Canadians.

The second point argues that Canadians will be picking up the bill for subsidizing the Verizon bid with their tax dollars. Maybe, but if I don’t know how, I can’t come to judgment and the ad doesn’t give me that information. It is also difficult to get people to consider the implications of tax dollars being spent for one thing versus another in the face of having to pay those taxes anyway. Especially when the counter argument is lower wireless rates, which come directly from consumers’ wallets.

Finally, the argument that rural Canada will suffer basically states that Verizon will focus growing business in big cities and that will force Bell, Rogers and Telus to do the same. That may be true, but the cynic in me wonders if that isn’t where they focus already. Isn’t that where the majority of customers reside?

The call to action is also a lost opportunity. It directs consumers to a website (fairforcanada.ca) to learn more about the issue. The website, by the way, is beautifully designed. Kudos to the developer. But not having made a very compelling case for themselves, I’m not sure it will drive much traffic there (or how they will know if visitors came from this ad without a customized URL).

The flaws in the arguments, though, are not the biggest problem with the ad. By trying to reframe the issue, they have ignored the one issue consumers are certain to care about: what this auction will mean for their own wireless bills.

A better approach might have been to address the short-sightedness of the price issue (presuming it is short-sighted), making the case it will cost jobs and reduce investment in innovation. Follow that with a call to action that encourages participation in the debate, not just education. Maybe next time.

You can still impress with simple gestures

Happy customersA great impression doesn’t have to come from something big, or even something tied to your core product or service.

I’ve previously written about how small things can make a big difference to a customer experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to get the big things right, too, but it’s often the small, unexpected things that leave a lasting impression.

Recently I bought a new iMac from the online Apple store. After spending hours agonizing over how fast a processor I needed, how much memory, what other add-ons I should get, I finally clicked the Process Order button. What followed was a sensation that reminded me of how I felt as a child when I would find my Christmas presents hidden away in my mom’s closet weeks before Christmas. I knew what was coming, but all I could do was wait, and wait.

After a day I got a confirmation email that my new Mac had shipped. The delivery date was four or five days out. It seemed a little long, but it was coming form California to Toronto, by ground I surmised.

The next day, though, while I was doing some yard work in front of my house, a FedEx van pulled up and there was my new computer. I have no doubt that Apple padded the delivery date to account for worst case scenarios and to ensure they under promised and over delivered. It’s simple concept, but it still works. I was thrilled. I had already resigned myself to the worst case scenario delivery date and they amazed me by killing it.

It’s not a hard thing to do, and it’s a far cry form their core competency, but they clearly spent some time orchestrating and opportunity to surprise me. Never under estimate the ability of the seemingly simple to improve a customer experience.

There are lots of small opportunities to amaze your customers in areas they don’t expect, an in ways that don’t cost you a lot of money. Find some of them, it’s worth it.

Can Castro Run a Start-Up?

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What happens when your whole country is a factory in a post-industrialist economy?

I’m on vacation in Cuba, sitting pool-side and reading Ctl Alt Delete by Mitch Joel. As I read the chapter on thinking like a start up, I am struck by the contrast to that mindset encouraged by the socialist economy down here.

In his book, Joel argues that the economy and the way we work is changing and those who succeed during this period of change will be those who treat their jobs and their lives like a start up. That means being willing to take risks, to change course, adapt, work hard, look to the edges to find opportunities to make a difference and, above all, find ways to start things.

Companies like Zappos, Apple, and Disney teach and empower their employees to think and act like this. The results are stories of tremendous customer experiences, leading edge products and really happy customers that buy more and spread the word.

Contrast that to the corporation that is the country of Cuba – all industry government owned and all workers with their assigned tasks and wage. Each person has a job. They have a standard wage attached to that job, and very little likelihood of change or advancement. Take the microcosm of the resort I’m at. If you are in the gift shop at closing time, for example, they will not sell you anything. Their job is to work the register and that stops at closing time. Come back tomorrow if you want that item so badly.

Our resort lost power for a day while I was down there. Despite some concerned customers, the staff went about their normal jobs, refusing to deviate. If part of their job was affected by the lack of power, that part didn’t get done. There was no adaptive thinking.

The front desk wouldn’t change any money because the computer was down, despite having the rates posted on a sheet of paper and a calculator on the desk. The bar, having brought in canned beer on ice when the draft pump stopped working, would not let me take a can and insisted on pouring it into wasteful, little plastic cups.

We spoke to a lifeguard who told us that, because there is no incentive to work harder, people perform their job description to the letter and no more. There is nothing to gain; no raise, no promotion, no bonus. No reason to find ways to be great, or new ways to do things.

In this state of flux that the world economy is in, I wonder how long a socialist economy like Cuba’s can last. How long before economic pressure forces a change? How long can the commodity of a beautiful beach and great weather overcome this gap?

Could we see the demise of the industrial economy on a country-wide scale in this little tropical paradise?

I know I am straying into political realms a bit here, but the alignment to what thinkers like Joel and Seth Godin write about in terms if the impact on companies completely applies here, I think. It’s a fascinating case study, don’t you think?

That pond needs email

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I get excited when I see small businesses doing good marketing, and it’s usually a simple opportunity they’ve taken advantage of.

At a rest stop on the way to Niagara Falls, a company called Coles Pond Store has done a waterfall/pond installation. It caught my eye not only because it’s attractive, but because we are thinking of putting one in our backyard.

The installation is in a spot that sees a lot of traffic, so points for a good location. But location isn’t everything. Coles needs to think of the timing of my exposure to their marketing. I’m probably not shopping at the rest stop.

In the middle of the installation is a sign for the store with a QR code on it as well. I didn’t snap it with a QR reader, but it probably just takes me to a website homepage.

Better would have been if it took me to a landing page to sign up for an eNewsletter on pond building tips. At a rest stop, I’m not likely to be inclined to seek out more details, but I would if I’m reminded to a few days later by the arrival of a newsletter.

We’ll see if I remember to check the photo I took when time comes for me to build, but the Coles is off to a good start.

Customers are people, too

This week I had a positive customer experience with Marketingprofs.com and it got me thinking again about why companies so often mess up and treat prospects better than customers.

So, here’s what happened. I’ve been a MarketingProfs pro member for years, but somehow I also ended up on their prospect list. I think I may have done something wacky changing my email once. As a result I get both email updates as a customer and the ones they send to those they hope to convert.

This particular email offered me a free course if I signed up as a pro member. It was a $500 value and I know their courses are excellent. I felt a little cheated that someone they hardly knew was getting this offer when a loyal customer like me wasn’t. So, I responded to the email explaining that I was a customer already, but that I’d sure like to take advantage of this offer.

It took a few days, but Penny from MarketingProfs emailed me back and told me that a private code had been created so I could take advantage of this offer. Thank you, Penny, that’s great news.

Why is it that so many companies do this? They get so fixated on luring in new customers that they forget to save some of those great deals for existing customers. The telecom companies are famous for this. So are the banks. Is it any wonder loyalty is so low in those industries? Why not switch mobile providers with every new deal if you get ignored after signing the contract? It’s the same reason people cheat in relationships: I’m just not appreciated.

The recent decision by the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) here in Canada to kill all three-year contracts for mobile companies will make this problem even worse for them if they continue focusing on just new business.

This whole issue of getting new business by treating existing customers right is something Joseph Jaffe writes about in his book Flip the Funnel in much more detail than I can cover here if you are interested.

Coming back to my experience with MarketingProfs, I think they provide great value for my money. I’m a satisfied customer and this incident ended well for me. But imagine how much better it would have been if I hadn’t had to ask. What if they just occasionally surprised me with an offer to thank me for being a loyal customer?

What if my mobile company did the same? My bank? Dare I suggest my insurance company? Here are three industries that stand to make huge gains by showing a little appreciation.

How about you? Are there companies you deal with who get this right? Or wrong?

But I’m the Mayor!

Just because your customers are on vacation doesn’t mean you can be.

We have a family cottage about three hours north of Toronto. Two years ago I discovered the marina had a check in on Foursquare. Being addicted to social media, I dodged the calls from my wife to put my phone away and checked in. At the time there was only one other check in.

In short order I became the Mayor of Harris Lake Marina! While I didn’t expect a ticker tape parade, I was curious to see if anyone at the marina noticed. They didn’t. I don’t even think they know they are on Foursquare, let alone how to make it work for their business.

This is cautionary tale for small business owners. Your customers may be trying to engage with you online even if you aren’t there.

It wouldn’t have taken much effort to monitor Foursquare. To offer discounts on items in the marina store for checking in. Supporting that with a Facebook page that posted current weather conditions, upcoming events, allowed cottagers to sure photos and stories.

The lake is small and the cottagers are definitely a tribe. The marina is definitely a part of that community. They could be a much larger part of it, though., and online could support that.

Sadly, they don’t even recognize the Mayor when he walks into the store.