kentucky kicks a**

One of the very first blog posts I published in 2005 was a repurposing of an op-ed article I wrote for the Courier-Journal about the failure of the Unbridled Spirit “rebranding” of Kentucky. I’ve used that story many many times since then. It’s featured prominently in Brand Zeitgeist. I use it in my marketing keynotes when I speak about branding. Because I’m from the Bluegrass State, it’s one of my favorite ways to talk about misconceptions on brand strategy.

branding keynote speechAfter seven years of lackluster response to Unbridled Spirit, someone decided to do something about it. A group calling themselves Kentucky for Kentucky has taken the task of reimagining the branding of the state commonwealth.

They’ve replaced “Unbridled Spirit” with “Kentucky kicks a**” (no asterisks) complete with a YouTube video that’s gone viral and related merchandise.

Their campaign, which is only a few weeks old, has already outpaced the real campaign run by the Kentucky Department of Tourism in Facebook likes, video views, etc. It made a big jump when it picked up national exposure in the USA Today this week.

Many have faulted the state tourism department spokesman for their response, but I can see the point of the tourism bureaucrats trying to distance themselves from this homegrown branding effort because of the vulgarity of it. It plays well with certain demos, but will turn off others which is a death knell for tourism.

While I’ve gone on record against vulgarity, I do like the fact that this campaign does something right. It has emotion. It has personality. Instead of trying to cram a corporate brand message down someone’s throat, it takes the brand equity that is there and translates it into something people want to share and experience. State leaders should take a lesson of how to properly translate a brand message into something people want to share.

(btw. KY does kick a**.)

brand strategy lessons from zappos cyberattack

Online retailer Zappos has been attacked via one of their servers in Kentucky. (yes, we have servers and electricity in Ky.)

Anyone who has spent any amount of time following me or listening to me speak knows I love to use Zappos as an example of great customer service. I even used them as a case study in Brand Zeitgeist. And once again, they are showing some smart reactions to a bad situation. Just a few important points to learn from this event:

Cyber attacks are a reality. If you have sensitive customer information in digital format, it’s not a matter of “if” this will happen to your organization, but “when”. Do as much as you can to prevent such attacks, but also have a plan ready of how you will respond when it does happen.

Communication is important. The knee-jerk reaction for most after an event like this would be to communicate with customers … which obviously is important. But a more important first step is internal communication. Customers will ask your employees questions. Employees need to know how to respond to those questions. CEO Tony Hsieh sent out an email to employees prior to the customer email going out.

They’ve gone to emergency mode by taking the call center offline and just using email as a single point of communication. They have pressed each employee into service as a customer service rep during this crisis. Most companies couldn’t dream of doing this. But, because of the unique culture at Zappos, even the janitors know how to respond to customers.

The social media lesson is that, even though they’re focusing on email, they are actually responding to each individual post on their Facebook wall and each tweet on Twitter.

Today, there are only the quick and the dead. Zappos didn’t have numerous meetings to only post a weak response a few days after the event. They worked quickly and decisively by resetting all passwords and initiating the first point of communication about the problem with customers. The first storyteller frames the narrative.

Well built brands can take a hit and recover. Much of what they’re doing with this reaction couldn’t be done if they had not spent the last several years creating a great corporate culture which bled through to a well-developed brand strategy. This is probably the most important lesson for brands to learn. You need to build your boat before you get to the water.

UPDATE: They’re even responding to the postive feedback:

white (flag) coke

It’s something I say a lot…
You don’t own your brand.
You can (and should) develop a brand strategy to guide the message, but ultimately the attributes of the brand rest in the hands of the market.

coca cola white holiday cans 2011Coca-Cola is getting pushback on their white holiday cans.

Coke drinkers are mad about everything from the fact that the white cans are too similar to silver Diet Coke cans to furthering the global warming polar bear hoax. And to prove the theories of product sensation, some drinkers think Coke tastes different in the white cans. The whole incident harkens back to the Tropicana or Gap logo disasters.

Coca-Cola seemingly didn’t learn the lesson of their 1985 New Coke disaster and messed with another core attribute of their brand.

Coke is red. That simple sentence should be in their brand book as something to never mess with.

I assume their white can strategy was another subtle step to back away from Christmas messaging to more generic PC polar bear ‘holiday’ ads. But Coke can’t easily shed Christmas symbols they helped create like the iconic image of Santa Claus.

For over 100 years, Coke has become a part of the American cultural zeitgeist. They have done a good job making people have an emotional attachment to their sugar water. They need to be careful not to disturb those emotions.

the uninspired white meat

The National Pork Board has announced that, starting today, they will abandon their 25 year old tagline for pork, “The Other White Meat”, for a new slogan: “Pork: Be Inspired.”

Their new website, PorkBeInspired.com, has more info on the new tagline as well as videos of Candace Cameron demonstrating different ways to cook pork. Between that and John Stamos being floated as a replacement for Charlie Sheen, we may be in the midst of a Full House renaissance.

But I digress.

In 2000, a study conducted by Northwestern University found “The Other White Meat” slogan to be the fifth most memorable promotional tagline in the history of contemporary advertising. The slogan has achieved the ultimate in brand success. It has established itself in the cultural zeitgeist. Anyone can make a reference to “the other white meat” in conversation or in the media with confidence that it will be understood.

Why just throw all that brand equity away for a shallow forgettable slogan that has no concrete connection to the product?

When the motivational speaker down at the Airport Marriott says “Be Inspired”, will you think about pork chops?

Pork has seen some hard times as of late. Pork sales are not great. The unfortunate intital moniker of the H1N1 virus in 2009 hurt pork consumption. While pork is the most popular meat globally, it comes in third behind beef and chicken in the U.S. So some strong marketing is needed, but why not build on the strengths?

The success of any agricultural commodity branding (Beef, it’s what’s for dinner … The incredible edible egg … Got Milk? … Cotton: The Fabric of our Lives) lies in long term exposure to the fundamental aspects of the commodity. (Subsidies and checkoff fees help too.)

And that’s true for any brand strategy. Build your marketing on the foundations that you’ve already established. Don’t tear everything down and start from scratch unless you want people to forget the old brand. (see BP, Phillip Morris, etc)

Apparently, the pork board does see the value in the “other white meat” slogan. They are regulating it to what they call a “heritage brand” and say will be used in some communications. This is obviously to keep a foot in the intellectual property door and keep the pig rustlers away from it.

So there’s hope. Maybe eventually they’ll be inspired to bring back their best asset.

how the brand extension cookie crumbles

There’s a great marketing lesson to be gleaned from recent news about Girl Scout cookies.

Samoa Girl Scout CookieThe Girl Scouts have announced they are downsizing the varieties of cookies they sell to just six flavors. They’ll now just offer Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, Samoas, Lemon Chalet Cremes, and Tagalongs.

Why are they doing this? When they looked at the numbers, they saw that just five varieties made up a whopping 77% of total cookie sales.

Girl Scout cookies had been a victim of something that happens to alot of successful brands. They had become bloated with brand extensions. They had over 25 options which meant 20 flavors of cookies just sat there with minimal sales. They had ridden the trend of moment rather that focusing on the core brand by launching cookie flavors geared toward certain demographic groups or healthier options with sugar-free or trans-fat options.

They’re cookies. Cookies are not supposed to be healthy.

Companies can get lost by offering too many brand extensions. A decision to branch out to new products must be considered carefully. While new product offerings can help, it can also dilute the brand. Brands must know what their core brand is all about. When your brand is considering product extensions that don’t fit that mold of the core brand values, you must either make the (major) decision to change the core values of the brand or reject the new offering as something that doesn’t fit.

Had some brands made that simple decision, we would never have seen silly gimmick-of-the-moment flops like McDonald’s Arch Deluxe, Bic Pantyhose, Coors Spring Water, Taco Bell Burgers, Virgin Cola, and more.

It comes down to knowing what your brand represents — and using that perception to your advantage.

the jolly old brand

I had been thinking about writing a Christmas post, but couldn’t come up with an idea. Then I realized I’d already written the post; it was just ensconced in a book. What follows is an excerpt (pages 53-56) from Chapter 7 (Brands are Driven by the Message) of my 2010 book, Brand Zeitgeist where I used Santa Claus as a “case study” on using media and marketing to maintain brand consistency over the (very) long term…

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Page 55 of Brand ZeitgeistBrands are a long-term proposition. Just a few ads or a couple of PR mentions won’t have much effect over the short term. When you step back to look at brands that have used media and advertising over the long term, the power of a brand zeitgeist can clearly been seen.

The modern day image that most people have of Santa Claus, with the plump belly, red coat, and white beard has largely been shaped by media and advertising. For centuries, Santa Claus was portrayed as everything from a gnarled elf to a tall gaunt woodsman.

One of the first major steps to creating a unified Santa brand in the mind of the zeitgeist occurred with Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s poem was published annually in numerous newspapers and periodicals and helped define the basic physical characteristics of Santa in the public’s mind:

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

In the latter part of the 19th century, cartoonist Thomas Nast built on the foundation of Moore’s poem. He depicted Santa Claus as a plump man in a red suit and further cemented other aspects of the Santa brand in the zeitgeist with things such as a North Pole residency in his drawings for Harper’s Weekly magazine.

The modern day image of Santa was firmly established starting in 1931 when Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblomto develop advertising images using Santa Claus. Sundblom further built on established canon by Moore and Nast and drew Santa as a warm and friendly human character. The Coca-Cola Santa was placed heavily in the company’s annual Christmas ads in national magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others.

Santa Claus is a brand that reaches almost every section of the zeitgeist. Stop almost anyone on the street and they could recite a checklist of all of Santa’s characteristics that have been established in the zeitgeist. If Santa is portrayed in the “wrong way,” consumers will reject it — i.e. skinny in a blue suit. He’s the ultimate example of a successful brand zeitgeist because everyone is on the same page as to what the brand represents.

However, there’s no way you can replicate his success with your brand. For one thing, the media atmosphere is much different today. The entire populace isn’t focused on a few big magazines and three television networks. You don’t have Coca-Cola’s media budget. You don’t have two centuries to wait for your brand strategy to kick in. Finally, let’s face it, you’re not Santa Claus.

But you can learn branding lessons from Santa on how to use media and messaging to establish your brand in the zeitgeist. Firstly, Santa has stayed true to a set of core brand assets and never drastically rebranded to keep up with trends and fads. During his busy season, he is everywhere. He’s at the mall, in parades, on TV, in magazine ads, and in your house. The brand image is inescapable. The image is consistent, clear, and repeated to the point of that the brand image of Santa Claus has been seared into mind’s eye of the public.

The Santa Claus brand was spread in the zeitgeist over the long term by using traditional media and word-of-mouth. While it might be impossible to build a similar juggernaut brand using those same methods, there’s now a new variable in the brand messaging and media equation. Until recently, Santa didn’t have to deal with the Internet.

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And that was an oh-so-clever segue into the “messaging in the digital zeitgeist” section of the chapter. If you’re interesting in reading the rest of the book, you can find Brand Zeitgeist on Amazon. Or you can become a fan of Brand Zeitgeist on Facebook.

influential brand advocates

Lots of talk on Twitter lately about the connection between brand advocates and brand influencers. (by the way, you may know brand advocacy better by the term “word-of-mouth”)

During these discussions, I tweeted:

Advocacy depends on what you do. Influence depends on how others react to what you do

In other words, there are many people who love your brand. They’re your advocates. They’re on your side. But many of those people only have small offline or online networks to spread recommendations to other potential markets.

But interspersed in your group of brand advocates are a few influencers. At cocktail parties, other people ask them about the latest big thing or they could even be the local newspaper’s movie/restaurant/etc critic. They might have a massive Twitter following, thousands of YouTube subscribers, lots of Facebook friends, or be connected in some other online network.

When it comes to earned impressions, choosing to invest in those influential brand advocates is essential to success. Your hope (and plan) should be that your advocates ARE influencers.

But for many, the challenge is to find the influencer needle in the advocate haystack. The answer is simple; provide tools and knowledge to all your advocates. The influencers will know what to do with it.

Isn’t that an unfocused waste of resources on the unwashed masses of your “uninfluencial” advocates?

It doesn’t hurt to help them spread your word either. Just as you wouldn’t turn down a press mention in a low circulated / low rated traditional media placement, you shouldn’t dismiss the long tail power of lots of “uninfluential” recomendations.

And while some of the networks are new, these are really not new concepts. Malcolm Gladwell discussed how ideas spread in The Tipping Point and I even discussed how well designed products and services have a natural zeitgeist quality in Brand Zeitgeist.

But for marketers, here’s the tough truth about advocates / influencers: This is not something that can be solved with just marketing. Having a great product / service and delivering positive customer service is what creates brand advocates. The new role of marketing is to provide the infuencers the narrative to spread the word about those great things.

corporate memo stupidity

GM has sent out a memo telling employees to stop refering to the Chevrolet brand as “Chevy.”

From the Advertising Age Adages blog…

The note said:
“When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple, for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding … Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer.”
Adages is now preparing a return memo to inform GM that Coke is, in fact, shorthand for Coca-Cola.

I’m one of the world’s most ardent advocates for brand consistency. But I also know the heart of the brand resides with the consumers, not the company. If people buying your cars are calling them Chevys, you call them Chevys.

Jetpacks thinks the memo is a stunt. He may be right. But if it’s real, GM has more pressing brand issues to deal with rather than trying to retrain 100 years of consumer behavior. And if it is a stunt, it’s a dumb one.

Corporate is charging staffers 25 cents for each time they use the word Chevy. I wonder who pays everytime chevy.com redirects to the main site?

And what happens if Chevy Chase walks into GM headquarters? Something like this?

UPDATE: Chevy clarifies their “poorly worded memo”

rebranding the hut

hutIn one of the worst “re-branding” moves that I’ve ever seen, Pizza Hut is dropping pizza from its name and will now be known in some locations as just ‘The Hut‘.

What a great move. Trash over 50 years of brand equity for something that makes me think of a dark dank dwelling in the Third World. Of course, it’s been coming for awhile. They’ve brand-extended themselves to oblivion instead of doing the core product (pizza!) well.

What makes it even more sad/funny is the delusion they’ve sold themselves and are now sending out in media relations…

…characterized the name change as an attempt to transform its stores into hip hangouts…..The new “hut” stores will be more than a place to simply pick up some take-out…they will include televisions that broadcast CBS programs such as “Wheel of Fortune” and “Entertainment Tonight.”

Because we all know the kids think that nothing can be more “hip” than Wheel of Fortune. Maybe they could reach back into the CBS archives and air old episodes of ‘Murder She Wrote’ to be even more hip.

They just may have a bad case of self-loathing with their name. They’ve tried to “rebrand” the Pizza Hut name on several previous occasions like “Pizza Hut Pizza & Pasta Cafe”, “Pizza Hut Italian Bistro”, “Pizza Hut WingStreet”, and the half-joking April Fools’ prank, “Pasta Hut”. A smart guy once said “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity”

Hey Yum!, listen up. The problem is not the Pizza Hut name. The problem is the customer experience. Even though your spokesperson, Christopher Fuller, gave a cheesy non-answer to real issues, the facts are clear in the public’s mind: Your employees don’t care. Your stores are dirty. Your service is horrible. (In one of my local Pizza Huts, there’s a sign above the lunch buffet that says not to even bother requesting any type of pizza because they aren’t going to do it.) And as I previously said in this post, you have forgotten your core product.

In kneejerk fashion, other chains may follow the move:

  • Dominos will become “Backgammon”
  • Papa Johns will become “Papa Smurfs”
  • McDonalds will become “Mick”
  • Taco Bell will become “The Bell”
  • KFC will become “Sammy Nellas”
  • Burger King will become “CP+B”

connecting the dots

Another printed newspaper went away today and with typical media self-absorption, the paper reported their own obituary with an in-depth report complete with a full page front page farewell. This death comes on the tails of last week’s Pew Research report that apparently shows that the public is not concerned with the demise of newspapers.

First off, I think the reports of the death of newspapers are widely overstated — because they’ve been over reported by the subjects themselves.  The Narcissus Media demands that other news orgs report on other news orgs. So the Seattle and Denver news deaths were front page news from the NY Times down to the Podunk Weekly Times (circulation 51).  The editors of other papers were interested in the deaths of these papers so they thought you would be too.

Plus some of these papers (which are actually for-profit businesses!) needed to die just like some banks need to die right now. Over-consolidation and over-monopolization of newspapers have caused unrealistic expectations from shareholders of these bloated behemoths corporations. (Radio, you’re next!) The reality is that with more available media outlets some markets can no longer support more than one major daily newspaper. (but what about the San Francisco Chronicle, you cry? Prediction: If the Chronicle does go under, there will be a new nimbler newspaper pop up in its place within a month.)

Despite the naysayers — there will always be a market for news and information. Sure, now is a rough economic time for any industry that depends on ad dollars — but a sensibly run media organization that’s looking to the future will be OK in the long run. That doesn’t mean that information will always be printed on sheets of dead trees and thrown on your doorstep. That model is going / will eventually go the way of the dodo. I think the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a good coal mine canary to see if a traditional newspaper can transition to a new distribution model.

Every pundit, guru, and almost everyone in media has put their two cents in about the journalism “crisis” and have come up with a plethora of ideas from micropayments to new distribution models to crowdsourcing. Some have merit and some are “just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” (a favorite phrase of the pundits). From my seat in the nosebleed section, I see that newspapers (and all traditional news media) have two main problems that need to be solved before the ship sinks:

Problem 1) — a house divided against itself cannot stand
I rail and rant against organizations that have no marketing/business strategy. And while having no strategy is a bad problem, there’s something that’s even worse — and that’s having two strategies. News organizations are particularly prone to this problem because of the supposed “editorial wall” (there’s a great post here about this problem). Walk into any traditional media outlet and ask 5 people what’s the organization’s plan for dealing with the new realities of communication, and you’ll get 5 answers that will be biased by the side of the wall they’re on.
REALITY: People read the newspaper for news. Go try to sell advertising in a paper that has no news content and see how far you go.
REALITY: Reporters want a paycheck. That Mac needs electricity to run. Advertising supports the economics of journalism.
SOLUTION: Every news organization needs to kill their separate internal tribes, come up with one war strategy that everyone agrees on, and fight the white man before he takes your land.

Problem 2) — the Brand has been forgotten
There’s a disconnect in perceptions when it comes to news coverage. While the news orgs are saying “You’ll miss us when we’re gone!“, the public is saying “uhhh, no we won’t“. It doesn’t matter who is right. But guess which group’s perception matters to the bottom line and staying in business?

Brand is perception. Perception is reality. What changed the public’s perception of the news brand into something they think they can live without?

Alot of people blame the emergence of online media for journalism’s current troubles. And while it’s a major factor, online is not what is killing newspapers. Newspapers saw the Internet coming way before you had your first AOL account. The trouble was that their first line of defense didn’t work in Web 1.0. When Web2.0 rolled around, they saw they missed the opportunity so now they’re trying to out amateur the amateurs — which is killing the brand image they’ve been cultivating for 50, 75, or 100 years. It’s not hard to find ameutuer-ish crap on the Internet, but it is hard to find sources of information that you’ve trusted for years.

The news media have not done a good job selling their USP. Instead of focusing on the one thing that they could do better than anyone else (local news), they wrapped 2% of news into 98% of other stuff that could easily be replicated by competitors and sold it as such.

The sale to the news consumer is not “you can’t get this type of information anywhere else”. It devolved into “buy a subscription and get a CD and an umbrella“.  News media have forgotten what they’re really selling so the consumer has forgotten as well. The public thinks they won’t miss the newspaper because the newspaper has cultivated a brand that they are the place to get the items that the public can now get other places in better ways. But there is no better way to get local news.

Problem 2 is the bigger problem and the one that will take the longest to fix. But the fix needs to start today.

Plus there’s a third problem of trying to fit old mass media models into new media which I addressed last fall.