Archive for the ‘Brands’ Category

Tapping your (big) partner’s brand – six strategies that work

Monday, November 29th, 2010

In almost any tech industry segment you’ll find a few very large companies surrounded by dozens to hundreds of complementary smaller companies that do everything from filling in functionality gaps to adding industry specialization or providing service and support. This ecosystem is important to the big company’s success and most, to varying degrees, works to grow and nurture their ecosystems.

But if you’re a small- to mid-size company, being part of a big company ecosystem is anything but a free ride to success.  This is especially true from the PR and marketing side.  Many times I’ve heard small company execs talk about how signing a deal with Oracle or Microsoft will lead to instant credibility and visibility, followed shortly by big sales. They are usually crestfallen when it doesn’t materialize quite the way they thought.

Gold PartnerBig companies have a lot going on. Their PR teams and product managers are invariably overworked, and have a huge number of mouths to feed.  That joint press release you wanted? Not going to happen.  Maybe a quote, if you’re lucky. And the response from the media is worse?  Reporters and bloggers simply do not care that you’ve become a Gold Certified Platinum whiz bang partner of the year. Not only do they not care, but will get pissed if you even send them the press release.

For sure, there is huge brand-building potential from partnering with a big company. How do you tap into that potential, and ride the coattails of your big-brand partner?  Here are six strategies I’ve found to be way more effective than issuing a press release about your partner status.

Target the partner’s bloggers – Most big companies have a thriving cadre of bloggers at various levels within the company. These are not professional journalists. They are looking for ideas and content assistance.  By educating them about how you fit in the big company’s ecosystem and help boost sales or increase customer satisfaction, they may be inclined to write about you in their blog, or you could even supply a guest post.  Be sure to read the relevant blogs and comment often.

Create compelling content – As noted, big company marketing types are typically very busy.  That means they won’t be doing any work on your behalf. However, if you come up with some smart contributed articles, they will often be willing to be quoted, are even add their name to the author byline.  Editors will be much more interested in the article if there’s a big name on the byline.

Support initiatives – Most of the time, the major players won’t give small upstarts the time of day. That can change when the big company has a major product launch.  They are often looking for endorsements and quotes to show how the industry is backing the new initiatives. Be ready with Johnny-on-the-spot press releases, quotes and spokespeople.

Partner events – The big partner events can be a good opportunity to make some noise.  Ideally, you can work your way into one of the keynote speeches.  If that doesn’t work, be sure to place as many of your customers, technical and product experts on panels and workshops as possible, and then funnel information to reporters and bloggers covering the event.

Partner beat reporters – Media outlets, whether online or print, devote inordinate amounts of space to big companies.  Many, such as the Wall Street Journal for instance, have reporters fully dedicated to only covering IBM or Microsoft.  It’s worthwhile letting these reporters know how your company fits into the space. They won’t write a dedicated story about you, but you can get mentioned in other coverage.

Self-publishing and social media – Scrapping for coverage in a brand-centric world is hard work. As a supplement, you can control your message and build your brand on your own.  By using social media tools, and publishing articles, videos and podcasts on your websites you can create significant buzz. This is where engaging the partner can be useful to creating more exposure and building your credibility. For example, you could interview the partner for a news podcast and use that as the basis for a thought leadership, brand building effort.

Working with big partners is never easy. It takes real organizational commitment to building the relationship in the first place and developing product and sales opportunities. The same goes for trading on the partner’s brand name. Done right, however, the payoff can be significant.

What communication strategies have you found to be successful on the partner front?

Customer Engagement and Design Experience Key to Brand Building

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Over the years, I’ve found it fascinating to see how different marketing and creative disciplines define “brand.” My favorite: brand = logo. While the logo is an important visual output of the brand experience, to say that a brand is fully represented by its logo is ignoring a much bigger picture.

Apple is perhaps one of the most obvious companies that truly understands the full view of what it takes to build a powerful brand. This understanding is integrated into its packaging and product design. The marketers at Apple have mastered the customer engagement experience in their stores. Even the clothes Steve Jobs wears are part of the brand experience. And this doesn’t even touch the online experience, cultivation and nurturing of their followers, advertising, PR and overall marketing strategy. All that Apple does makes customers feel they are part of something hip and cool. With a few exceptions of course (that iPhone antennae issue sure didn’t help, but enormous brand equity certainly softened the impact).

This past week Microsoft showed it still has a handle on creating a powerful brand experience with the launch of Xbox Kinect. As the company moves to show Xbox providing something for everyone and being more than a gaming console, it created experiences that connected people to the brand. The launch event in Times Square alone positioned Xbox Kinect as the hottest thing on the market, with dancers showing off the capabilities with R&B star Ne-Yo at center stage. Throughout the year the company has created hands-on experiences for consumers to bring them close to the products and connect them to the brand. Microsoft just raised their forecasted holiday sales for the product from 3 to 5 million based on pre-sales and initial sales since last week’s launch, indicating their brand engagement and launch strategy will pay off. Time will tell in the coming weeks as holiday sales numbers are released.

The moral of these stories? When thinking about your brand, it’s important to consider how you weave the experience through every touch point you have with your target audiences — from your sales associates, retail presence, customer support and Web site to creating experiences that engage consumers directly via events and social media. And design together with innovation plays a critical role, especially in the consumer market where it can make or break the sale.

 Who are the companies you think truly get “branding?”

Building Brand the Old Fashioned Way…By Earning It

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Recently a good chunk of the world watched in nervous anticipation as the Chilean miners were rescued. After 69 days of captivity stuck in a tunnel a half-mile below the surface nobody really knew what to expect. As my family was glued to the TV watching the capsule rise out of the ground with the first miner, we expected him to be weak, emaciated and generally in poor shape. But much to our surprise each miner looked pretty good, had a smile on their face and wore a pair of really cool sunglasses.

But it was nighttime so why the sun glasses? Since the miners were underground for so long they needed the protection for their eyes to properly adjust to the light. As luck would have it, a Chilean journalist had contacted Oakley, explained the situation, and the company promptly donated 35 pairs of glasses with special UV ray protection. I assume that Oakley donated the glasses out of the goodness of their hearts, but what an impact it may have on their wallets.

Oakley reaped a staggering $41 million worth of media exposure for this altruistic gesture. Front Row Analytics broke down this number and even gave estimates for the financial impact in each county that ran the footage. It’s really unbelievable when you think about it.

We’ve talked a lot about brand and building brand equity in this blog over the past year. Assuming that Oakley donated the glasses and didn’t view this simply as a product placement, then they deserve all the free publicity they get. Brand is not simply about having your product on display. As define in Wikipedia, “The word brand has continued to evolve to encompass identity – it affects the personality of a product, company or service.” In this case Oakley is reaping the benefits of securing worldwide exposure. But in building their brand through this act of kindness, Oakley gets positioned as a company that helps people who are in trouble, and I bet you that people who wear Oakley sunglasses will reference the fact that these are the same glasses that the miners wore when they had their first taste of freedom in over two months.

Building Brand Through Social Media

Friday, September 17th, 2010

For many people, social media is changing the way we interact with one another. To some degree, it’s more about communicating via one-to-many instead of one-to-one. It’s great to be able to find long lost friends from high schooland reminisce via Facebook or to find out what a pro athlete is thinking about during a game via Twitter. None of this is lost on the corporate world.

While the center of most people’s social media experiences are Facebook and Twitter, startups like Foursquare andGroupon show there’s still some new opportunities in the social media landscape for new services. And marketers – especially those building consumer brands – are starting to capitalize. Here are a few interesting examples of how companies have leveraged social media to engage their customers and build a community.

PepsiCo, Mashable and VC firm Highland Capital Partners have teamed up to launch PepsiCo10. It’s a new competition that looks to match startups in fields like social media and mobile marketing with industry mentors and brands within PepsiCo with which they can pilot their products.

Another interesting campaign is one concocted by The Gap who partnered with Foursquare and Groupon. For this campaign The Gap teamed up with popular group-buying site Groupon to offer a nation-wide deal: $50 worth of apparel for just $25. By the end of the day, 441,000 groupons were sold bringing in a little more than $11 million. You can also see what Toy Story 3, AOL and Starbucks have done.

Personally I like what Mountain Dew has done with their DEWocracy campaign. The company launched a campaign last year called DEWmocracy, which allowed Dew’s loyal fans to choose the next Mountain Dew flavor – they ended up choosing Voltage. The success of the last campaign though has spurred a new one where they’ve upped the ante with their Dew Labs Challenge, which utilizes, 50 boxes of Dew, and a lot of YouTube.

Not only are companies using social media to drive sales and build brand loyalty but they’re also getting input on products and helping to develop new offerings. Talk about hearing the voice of the customer!

By changing how they reach customers, companies are helping usher in a new era of communicating, branding and building loyalty. Do you relate better to a company if you’re engaged in one of their community programs? Does it bother you? Do you feel like Big Brother is watching when they send you coupons for a store that you’re walking by?

Successful Brands Get Personal

Monday, September 13th, 2010

This past week I was reminded of the importance for brands to not only understand their target audience(s), but find ways to get personal with individuals. This was spurred by an email I received from Groupon with the subject line “New: Personalize Your Groupon Deals”.

Having suffered Groupon fatigue from the influx of irrelevant offers, I was quite excited to see their effort to personalize the experience. Unfortunately, when I went to the site to take the survey, they only asked for my gender, birth date and zip code. They missed an incredible opportunity to learn more about my interests and preferences and thereby create a strong, long-term relationship based on truly customized deals (not my zip code).

In today’s world, understanding your target demographic is not enough. People expect to have a personal relationship with brands, so companies must take an extra step to understand psychographics- any attributes relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles.  Netflix and Amazon do a stellar job of this through employing technology that learns about their subscriber’s preferences and then offering up relevant recommendations. There is something very powerful about feeling a company really knows you, and accomplishing this is nearly impossible if the engagement strategy is based off of broad sweeps of demographic profiles.

There’s an interesting parallel between brand engagement and media engagement. Good PR professionals know they must carefully research their target influentials. It’s essential to know what they’ve written about and what topics they care about before approaching them. I’ve seen many instances over the years of PR professionals get slammed for spamming reporters and bloggers with cookie cutter pitches, resulting in irritation, no coverage and deteriorated credibility. In many instances, the guilty “blanket pitcher” who didn’t take the time to get to know their target gets redirected to the junk folder (or worse, called out publicly in an article or blog post).

The lesson for brands: find ways to get to know your customers on a more intimate level or you too are likely to be overlooked.

What brands do you think do a good job of understanding their customers?


The Power of Multichannel Marketing

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

The power of video gaining viral legs can create incredible visibility for a brand. One of my personal favorites – the Evian roller babies – brought this brand back to life for me after moving it to the passé section of my mind sometime in the 90s. However, even though I loved the video, I still haven’t been motivated to pick up a bottle. I just smile when I see the logo and pay heed to the creative talent who developed the video.


Interestingly, Evian started running the ads on TV a few months ago. Apparently the sales pipeline thinned out from the online push and they’re trying another approach.

This week, SymphonyIRI released the latest sales data for Old Spice body wash, the product that has risen to the number one most viewed video spot thanks to the muscular Isaiah Mustafa sending messages from the shower.

Bad news Mustafa – sales are down. Apparently these past four weeks, the campaign has been running without a corresponding coupon, leaving consumers less motivated to purchase. Sales have dropped 30-33 percent since the buy one, get one free sales promotion ended, giving Mustafa quite a bit less muscle on his own.

This serves as an important reminder that motivating target audiences to take action requires more than an entertaining video. Today, capturing a consumer’s attention takes a minimum of 3-5 touch points from multiple sources. Companies must create 360 degree campaigns which reach their targets in all the places they are engaged — media, blogs, point of purchase, social networks, online video sites, events, etc.  And there has to be a compelling call to action and/or incentive. For the general consumer, coupons are particularly hot right now as the recession has conditioned us to look for ways to save.

Regardless of your target audience, the importance of having a multichannel marketing plan is imperative. A one legged stool just won’t stand up. Unless of course your only goal is to be the number one viewed video and have people smile at your water bottles. And let’s not forget – viral isn’t a given, so even this goal has no guarantee.

What brands do you think are the best success stories when it comes to multi-channel marketing? Failures?

Crisis Management 101 Gone Bad

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

The New York Times ran an interesting piece this past weekend (“In Case of Emergency: What Not to Do”) on what can be learned by crisis management mistakes made by such industry-leading companies as BP, Toyota and Goldman Sachs.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past several years about how crisis management has changed, particularly with social networks providing a much bigger stage for issues to catch instant fire. We saw this play out most recently with JetBlue, a topic my colleague Rob Goodman discussed earlier this week.

While the need for greater speed, broader engagement strategies and approach to the tone of messaging are a clear change (and in some cases such as JetBlue, what business decisions should be made), it struck me that many of the fundamentals of crisis management have and will always remain the same. And yet, companies still seem to fail at these basics:

1)      Put those who are impacted first. Having managed several crises in my career, I’ve seen the initial defensiveness and temptation to shift blame set right out of the gate.  All the while those who have been or could be impacted get lost. First things first- make sure you’ve expressed sincere concern, start taking immediate action and let the public know what they need to do. Unfolding how things happened and where fingers should be pointed can wait.

2)      Never blame the customer. The NYT piece provides some great examples of how this has backfired, particularly when Audi blamed customers for acceleration issues that led to hundreds of crashes in the 1980s. Even if true, better to explain how to avoid a crash than blatantly say it’s the customers fault.

3)      Know your full situation before making bold claims. In the case of Toyota, they clearly didn’t have a clear perspective on what was causing their acceleration issues, but still moved forward with offering explanations. The problem: turns out their explanations weren’t entirely true, and they were further exposed when the full story was revealed. Better to say you are still evaluating the issue than offer up or provide the wrong answer.

4)      Never lie. This one goes without explanation. One hundred percent guaranteed you’ll get caught. It amazes me that companies (and people) still think they’ll get away with it. Bill Clinton? Steroid users in baseball? Just a few examples.

5)      Have a crisis plan in place. For many companies, crisis is inevitable. Having at least the basics in place for when that time hits is imperative, and yet, so many are left in a scramble because they were in a state of denial. This is a guaranteed recipe for a double crisis- the one at hand, and the one with PR teams, executives and lawyers wasting precious hours trying to figure out what to do.

It amazes me that such established and sophisticated brands outlined in this article missed the boat on these fundamentals which have remained true for eons. I can see not understanding how to implement social media into the strategy, but making claims before you know the full truth? Ouch.

What other companies do you think botched the basics? Which companies do you think have handled a crisis situation wisely?

If You Can’t Laugh At Yourself, Who Can You Laugh At?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

By now we’ve all heard about the JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, who apparently had had enough of the rude passengers and bailed out on his plane by deploying the emergency slide on the runway to walk away from his job. Not to be caught empty-handed he even had the nerve to take a few beers with him. Kind of reminds me of the scene from the movie Network where actor Peter Finch opens up his office window and shouts “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Steven appears to be the classic anti-hero in this tale and his legend seems to have grown day-by-day. There’s even a Facebook page devoted to this story and it reportedly got over 20,000 Facebook fans in less than a week.

A quick check online came up with a wide variety of stories in such outlets as Forbes, Chief Marketer, TMZ, There are tons of other sites (business, general news, airlines, blogs, etc.) that have covered the news but what I find interesting is how JetBlue has handled the situation.

In today’s media-centric, 24×7 news cycle world, reputations and opinions can be severely tarnished if the wrong message gets out. For example BP made a number of mistakes with how they approached the fiasco of the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.

JetBlue, a relative newcomer on the corporate scene in the world of aviation, could have taken a hard-line approach by reprimanding or firing Steven. While the airline would have been completely justified I’m sure public opinion would somehow be swayed to provide support to him. My feeling is that almost any company would have taken this approach. However, as soon as I heard how JetBlue was approaching the issue, one company came to mind: Southwest Airlines.

Southwest has always been known as a company that approaches customer service, at least during the in-flight service, as light-hearted. Pilots sharing humorous flight plan information over the intercom, flight attendants who sing, etc. It sets a tone for fun and makes flying, which isn’t the easiest of tasks, more enjoyable.

Following suit is JetBlue, an airline known to take a unique approach to managing an airline and providing amenities for customers who seem to remain quite loyal. In fact JetBlue was the highest ranked airlines in the 13the Annual Loyalty Leaders poll. JetBlue’s blog entry on August 11 poked fun at the situation, went out of its way to praise its entire in-flight crew members, and generally diffused the situation. For a potentially huge crisis situation, JetBlue’s self-effacing approach appears to have paid off.

What about you? How have you dealt with crisis management issues? How did you go about protecting your company’s brand image?

Trust and Google’s Brand Rep: Is Net Neutrality a Tipping Point?

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The recent debate over net neutrality is a heated one (to say the least). Since Google and Verizon’s talks made the news a few weeks ago, the media has been peppered with headlines discussing the issue. Big questions at the heart of the debate include who should get priority on the Web, how this will impact innovation and small business, whether the government can police this effectively, if this is just a play for big business to benefit, and the overall implications for consumers.

Given the tremendous amount of ink already given to these questions, I’ll save my opinions for another day when the dust settles a bit more. Instead, let’s take a look at the impact to Google’s brand: will net neutrality be the tipping point for trust in Google, transforming them from the company with the “don’t be evil” motto into a “corporate behemoth”?

Based on discussions brewing on the Web, it appears trust could be on the line. Consumers are noting they are moving to new search engines, that the company has lost its connection with its start-up roots and that they are moving away from their entrepreneurial positions to ones that benefit them as a large business. Even comedian Jon Stewart has joined the discussion, documenting the variance in Google’s message from 2006 to present (in his unique way of course).

Jon Stewart on Net Neutrality

The change in their position alone could have huge implications for the company and Google will have to carefully navigate how they reconcile their former “free Internet for everyone” stance with what is a very complicated issue. Consumers could see this as creating a hierarchy for Internet access, with big business looking to line their pockets at their expense. This story isn’t new, and the headlines could increasingly take a turn for the worse from Google’s perspective (insert “evil empire”).

The imperatives for Google: show how net neutrality still aligns to their original position and be clear on the benefits to consumers and small business. If it doesn’t line up, it will be interesting to see how Google is discussed going forward.  One thing for certain, the Google brand is rapidly moving from warm fuzzy search company, to tech titan.

When Does Social Media Become Marketing?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I remember a conversation I had with a colleague about 15 years ago when the Web was starting to become a mainstream part of our daily business world, especially in the high tech market. The person said that the Web was simply another distribution channel and she somewhat downplayed the importance that the Web would have in our daily lives. Boy was she wrong.

Fast forward to today and you have a much different picture. The Web is critical to our daily business lives, both in the B2B and B2C worlds. But it cannot be done in a vacuum. As analyst firm AMR said in a recent report, “Two thirds of B2B marketers believe that online must be complemented by traditional marketing activities.”

I’ve read articles and heard from multiple companies that “we need a social media plan.” The reality is this cannot be done as a standalone effort – it must be part of a larger marketing strategy. With experts like Forrester Research predicting a doubling in B2B interactive marketing spending by 2014, forward-thinking B2B and B2C companies need to continue to strengthen their online and social media talent with a combination of in-house and external resources. Sadly, BizReport says that 60 percent of B2B firms have no staff dedicated to social media compared with 54 percent of B2C players. Why is B2B lagging here?

My feeling is that we live in a results-oriented business community, not to mention a results-oriented society, which means we need numbers and validation. Gut instinct is fine but it’s hard to argue for social media-savvy staff members to the C-level executives if you can’t justify the benefits. To date, it has proven challenging to directly link things like re-tweets or blog posts to increased sales, especially for big-tickets items like database software or bulldozers.

Social media can be a great tool to help companies connect with their customers, partners and industry influencers and has potential to drive revenue growth. Whether you use an outside agency or take it in-house, a successful social media strategy must be part of the overall marketing plan for your company backed with real metrics.

How do you see social media strategies changing as they become an integral part of your marketing plan?

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