Saturday, June 1, 2013

News flash: One more trademark violation bites the dust

Anyone who manages a company's visual identity program will tell you, it's like playing a game of corporate whack-a-mole. Every time you settle one case of logo misuse, another two pop up.

I'm pleased to report that one such violator of the identity program I manage has decided to actually pay for their own image design, rather than steal one. (It didn't help that this particular violator happened to be a major financial donor to our athletic program!)

Here's my organization's logo:

Here's how the violator has been misusing it (on cows, no less!) for the last few years:

Thankfully, the ranch has developed a new sign and logo and no longer needs to steal, er, borrow, ours in order to sell their products.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Sad news on the brand marketing front

The Wichita higher ed marketing community is reeling over news about Butler County Community College.
In a bold move that reminds me of my early days in non-profit marketing, the college eliminated its brand marketing unit. My friend, Ryan Entz, who served as marketing director, had informed me some time ago that this was in the works, starting immediately after the departure of Butler's president.

While there are all sorts of issues surrounding this decision, one of the key ones was a struggle on that team's part to help administrators understand the connection of brand marketing work to bottom-line measures, like enrollment and revenue growth. There's a hard lesson in this for all of us who work in this craft: You've got to demonstrate bottom-line value! This is true for internal agencies, like the one I lead, just as it is for external ones.

Someday, a CEO, CFO or big client is going to ask, "How does what you're doing grow our business?" You'd better be ready at all times to answer that question.  Better, you should be demonstrating it constantly without being asked.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The reports of traditional media's death are greatly exaggerated

While many marketers are still fixated on the "bright, shiny object" that is social media and mobile technology, here comes yet another study that shows those old fashioned, clunky, traditional media remain very relevant. In research conducted by McKinsey and Company, it turns out that television, newspapers, magazines and radio win out over Web and mobile delivery channels when it comes to news consumption - big time.

Okay, everybody. Go back to being mesmerized by the bright, shiny object.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Getting beyond the USP

In an excellent article in Marketing News, professor Don Schultz cites economist Daniel Kahneman in questioning the relevance of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Shultz points out the USP concept – that successful advertising must be based on a single, specific advantage – has been drilled into marketers’ heads since the 1960s.

Kahneman, Schultz points out, introduced the idea that people normally don’t make rational purchase decisions. Instead, they base decisions on subconscious emotions and feelings, what Kahneman calls System 1 thinking. System 2 thinking – decision-making that is effortful, logical and conscious – comes into play less frequently than we might think. After all, it’s hard work.

Schultz argues that most marketers assume System 2 thinking when developing marketing and advertising strategies. We conduct research, search for the top three benefits consumers want, then shape our marketing to speak to those benefits, all the while missing the fact that for most consumers, they’re making gut-level decisions NOT based on perceived benefits.

Schultz observes that new media (read, Web and social media) are really System 2 delivery systems while traditional media are largely System 1 environments.  Schultz aptly asks, “How can the two modes of thinking be addressed in one integrated marketing strategy?”

What do you think?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Back to school for J.C. Penney

Retailer J.C. Penney’s marketing team has learned a very basic marketing lesson in an embarrassingly public way:
NEW YORK – J.C. Penney is sorry and it wants your business back.
    That’s the gist of its latest ad, a public “mea culpa” which the mid-priced department store put on its YouTube and Facebook pages.
    The ad, titled “It’s no secret,” shows shots of women working, playing with their children and doing other everyday activities.
    “Recently J.C. Penney changed,” a voice-over states. “Some changes you liked, and some you didn’t. But what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing, to listen to you.” (Associated Press, May 2, 2013)
 Bull#*@! Let me rewrite that script so that it conveys exactly what J.C. Penney is trying to say:
VISUAL: Show shots of empty J.C. Penney stores; clerks with hands in their pockets.
VO: Recently J.C. Penney changed. Again. It turns out you didn’t like a single thing about the changes we made before. And you left to shop at Kohls and Macys and Target. It’s our fault. We’re boneheads. We learned two valuable lessons: First, we learned that we should consider customers when we fundamentally change our brand. Second, we learned to keep the notes from our freshman Marketing 101 class. It turns out we just might need to refer to them later in our careers.  Bottom line: (whiny voice) Puullleeeeze come back!
In the latest issue of Marketing News, Michael Krauss writes, “How do you make your retail experience truly customer-centric?” You spend as much time as you can listening to your customers.” Doh!

J.C. Penney earns for itself a special place in the brand marketing hall of shame, right next to Coke Classic, Gap and Maker’s Mark.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em

“I’m limited,” Elphaba sings to Glinda in the musical, Wicked. Recognizing one’s limits isn’t always an easy task.

If you work in marketing like I do, no doubt you find yourself connected to one or more organizations that need marketing help. My skills and background have led me into several non-profit organizations as a volunteer.

Such was the case with a local arts organization in my home town. I was invited to join the board of this little non-profit. I later became a board officer, carrying primary responsibility for marketing. The organization embraced some things I was especially passionate about, plus I enjoyed the people who were involved.

Like so many small, volunteer, start-up groups, this one had growing pains. While made up of local, dedicated people, few had business or leadership experience. As a result, the organization suffered from a lack of clear direction, few if any priorities, no business plan to speak of, poor delegation of authority and severe duplication of effort. I found the situation challenging, but I enjoyed the company of the people with whom I worked.

Spinning slowly around the drain
As a marketer, my professional orientation is around clear objectives and measures. For this little organization, the majority of board members instead valued the social aspects of working together. It carried me only so far until it became evident my personal and professional needs weren’t being met. In fact, they were being openly challenged. By pressing for a more business-like approach, I was alienating myself from people who were satisfied with “just having fun.” And as the organization began taking on debt and creating long-term financial obligations, the risks of such a loose-as-a-goose approach were mounting.

It became easy for me to blame the organization and its leaders. As I grew more and more dissatisfied with the situation, I was growing increasingly unhappy with those around me. It was becoming toxic.

My epiphany came one morning on a fly fishing trip in New Mexico. While perched with coffee at the foot of a mountain outside Taos, it dawned on me: I needed to leave. To paraphrase an old counseling axiom, accept your organization’s limits, and stay or go based on your own. I realized my problem was in me and not only in the organization I served. Call it a culture clash or being in the wrong place at the wrong time – bottom line, I just didn’t fit. I was limited.

My resignation from the board was received with expressions of regret, but few board members were surprised. They saw the problem, too, perhaps before I did.

Marketers drive toward clear objectives and well-articulated definitions. It’s the nature of our business to want strong strategic plans, carefully targeted audiences and measurable goals. But  some organizations are simply unable to function that way.

I experience this from time to time in the university where I work. While most departments appreciate the work my marketing staff and I do for them, a few are simply not geared to answer basic questions like What are your objectives? or Who is your audience? or What are the outcomes you want? For whatever reason, they just can’t do it. As a result, they often can’t prioritize needs or plan beyond a week into the future. This frustrates everyone involved. In such situations I often tell my team to fold up the tent – there simply may be nothing we can do to help.

I’ve often said that in marketing, relationships are the most important element to success. Sometimes, limitations dictate that relationships must be preserved at the expense of good business sense. It’s important to know when and how to accept an organization’s limits, and stay or go based on your own.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The secret to good marketing

What would you say if someone asked you, “What’s the secret to good marketing?”

In my book, the answer is the same whether you specialize in writing, graphic design, media relations, research, strategy, Web content or any other marketing specialty. Marketing is essentially problem solving, so it’s only natural that fundamental to the right marketing solution is understanding the problem in the first place.

To paraphrase Patti Crane of Crane MetaMarketing, every problem comes embedded with a solution. If you understand the problem well enough, the solution will be staring you in the face.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A runaway train or marketer's dream?

The Wichita State Shockers are in the NCAA Final Four. At a place like Wichita State and in a town like Wichita, that's news. Big, big news. A local ad agency friend reminded me this week that this is the stuff most marketers only dream about.

My staff has been slammed this week with all the media and public attention being heaped on the university, not to mention social media activity and Web traffic that have gone way off the chart. Don't get me wrong - it's a terrific problem to have. I characterized this to a group yesterday as like being on a speeding train while hanging on for dear life to the outside grab bars. You're doing well if you just hang on.

The challenge, of course, is to keep a strong brand message present through all the hoopla. With all eyes suddenly focused on our institution and our town, we have an opportunity that our meager marketing budget could never buy. We can tell our story to millions of happy people who suddenly have an insatiable appetite for any information about us. For this marketer, it's enough to make you giddy.

The lift in the community where we focus most of our marketing efforts is simply phenomenal. For Wichita, Kansas, this really is a transformative event. A professional colleague of mine, Deanna Harms of Greteman Group, was quoted as saying “The Shockers’ amazing run and multiple upsets create such an opportunity for Wichita. When the spotlight hits, you want to be smiling. And Wichita is. Ear to ear.”

Yesterday, my team and our marketing counterparts in the Athletic Department met to plan "what if" strategies. What if the Shockers advance to a national championship game? What if they come home Tuesday morning with a big trophy? This is all uncharted territory for us, but at least we have some sense of how we would further develop our organization's brand if this might happen.

There'll be time in coming weeks to assess and reflect. For now, though, we're just hanging on to the speeding train, and trying to help develop a brand that may never be quite the same again. Every now and then I believe marketers are given golden moments when the work they do can truly change an organization, or a community. For me and my team of marketing pros, this feels like such a moment.

Go Shocks!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What's the world's greatest brand?

Tough question. Lot's a ideas come to mind. Apple. Nike. Starbucks. There are plenty of others. But the one thing those brands have in common is that they are winners. And we all want to be associated with winners, right?

But hang on, if there was a brand that was so strong, so compelling, that it could turn losing into winning, wouldn't that make it a really great brand?

Enter the Chicago Cubs. This iconic brand has turned losing into a success story.

Now, I admit I'm deeply biased here. I've spent a lot of my precious lifespan following the Cubs, sitting in cold rain and sweltering heat in the Friendly Confines, hoping for a run or two and vowing with great abandon each season that "This year may be the year." (By the way, this year very likely WON'T be the year.)

In a recent article, Rick Reilly of ESPN joins the chorus of voices with the latest theory on why the Cubs can't win, and this one has nothing to do with a goat. Reilly argues that because Wrigley Field and the City of Chicago don't allow advertising displays in the ballpark, the Cubs miss out on tens of millions of dollars that could help them buy success. "If I were a Cubs fan, I would despise Wrigley. I'd want Wrigley laid flatter than Wrigley gum," Reilly writes.

What the author fails to understand is that the Cubs' brand, despite - or perhaps because of - its losing ways, may be one of, if not THE, greatest baseball brand today. And much to his dismay, the Cubs' owners rake in the cash on that brand year after year. Have you tried getting a Cubs ticket in the last ten years? Good luck.

Sure, the Cubs could move out to Evanston or some other suburb, build a mega-stadium, grow ad revenue and have cash to buy the best players (although the Yankees have proven this doesn't always work), but they would no longer be the Cubs. Just ask any true Cubs fan.

Sometimes, brands are so powerfully held in the minds of their faithful, they become more powerful than virtually any other corporate asset. Coca Cola knows this. So does the Gap. And Maker's Mark. What marketer wouldn't want to build such a brand, even if it meant losing to do it?

Hey hey, holy mackerel. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ten myths about youth marketing

Fuse Marketing, an agency to Fortune 500 companies that specializes in youth marketing, recently published the "10 Myths About Youth Marketing That Are Holding Back Your Brand." Here they are:

Myth #1: "Young people are so different today."  Fact: There is remarkable consistency in the concerns of young people regardless of the decade they are studied.

Myth #2: "The environment is a key concern for the majority of young people." Fact: Only about two percent of young people rank the environment as a key concern. Nearly ten times that many rank money as a key concern.

Myth #3: "A brand's website is its most important marketing asset." Fact: Social media command much greater attention than a brand's website.

Myth #4: "Young people dominate social media." Fact: Less than 20 percent of Facebook's 750 million users are teens. Twitter's use by young people is even smaller.

Myth #5: "DIY (Do It Yourself) Culture is a new phenomena." Fact: Each generation has its own version of independence. DIY has been well documented for at least 50 years.

Myth #6: "As the most ethnically diverse generation in history, brands need to segment consumers to communicate effectively to them." Fact: The many ethnicities that make up today's youth culture are more homogenous than in times past.

Myth #7: "Gaming is irrelevant to me - I'm not in the video game industry." Fact: Young people play video games for an average of two hours per day.

Myth #8: "TV and print advertising are dead/dying." Fact: Both media are extremely relevant today. Millennials watch about 2.5 hours of TV per day; 68 percent read magazines regularly.

Myth #9: "Music (and the music industry) is less important to young people, and therefore to marketers, too." Fact: Millennials spend a little more that five hours per day listening to music.

Myth #10: "Texting (a.k.a. mobile marketing) is an effective way to reach young people." Fact: Only ten percent of young people say it's okay for brands to text them.