brand leadership

Strong brands have strong leaders with strong personalities. This branded leadership will help organizations succeed because the audience will have confidence that the leaders will respond to their needs.

colonel sandersLeaders of the organization (at all levels) can influence brand perception. How they exercise that influence can have positive or negative effects.

But where does this leadership come from? There are three primary sources:

Shoppers trust Joe down at Joe’s Butcher Shop more than the corporate meat cutter behind the glass at the Mega-Low Mart. The product is similar in both instances. Why is there a major perception difference? It’s because shoppers perceive Joe as a guide, curator, and maybe even a friend. His personal integrity stands behind his product. The meat at the big box store is presented as a faceless commodity.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the small mom & pop business can do this stuff, right? That’s their strength. Major national brands can’t do it.”

Perhaps you’re reading this post on a product you picked up down at Steve’s Apple Store.

Steve Jobs was defined by Apple and Apple will always be defined by Steve Jobs (and Woz). Jobs’ personal credibility bled through to the brand. While he was infamously a hands-on micromanager in development and design, he didn’t personally sell iPhones, Macs, and the rest to consumers….Or did he?…You saw the personal connection between him, the brand, and consumers at when he unveiled a new Apple product when he was alive and you certainly saw it when he died.

You’ve seen this strong personal leadership that crossed the veil into the brand at several strong corporate entities. Tony Hsieh at Zappos. Richard Branson at Virgin. Herb Kelleher at SouthWest. Oprah at … Oprah. All individuals whose personal leadership made those brands great.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the founders of these companies made a huge impact on the corporate brand. But our founder is ____. (boring / evil / dead / etc) We can’t do it.”

No doubt Henry Ford, in his day, made as much or more of an influence on his company as any of the people I mentioned above. His influence on the Ford brand is finished. But with social media connections to people like Scott Monty (@ScottMonty), there is a personal leadership and connection to the brand. Through an effective social media strategy, consumers can talk “personally” to a brand and feel a one-on-one connection that is similar to Joe down at the butcher shop.

Another point to remember is that brand leadership happens at every level of the organization. The barista that you interact with every morning who knows your name and you know theirs is more of the face of Starbucks to you than Howard Schultz is. Develop a corporate culture that helps the people who are ambassadors of your brand (employees, volunteers, other customers, and more) show brand leadership.

People want to interact with personalities, not corporations. No matter where the leadership for that personality comes from, organizations will benefit from it whether it be from an employee empowered corporate culture, an interactive social media presence, or a visible dynamic founder.

brand mutiny aboard the Pequod

The basic question is: Do you know this mermaid well enough for her to carry an entire global brand?

starbucks new logo

Even though you may have seen her everyday for the past 40 years, I don’t think anyone has really noticed her. The Starbucks logo is being revamped and she’s the siren(not mermaid) who has quietly sat in the middle of their logo since 1971. But she’s now front and center. And alone without the words “starbucks” or “coffee”.

It’s a fact that logos need to be updated (or you’d still be looking at the nipples on the original woodcut version of the Siren while sipping a Caramel Macchiato).

starbucks logo evolution

But logo evolution, like all forms of brand evolution, needs to be a very slow and incremental process. I can see dropping the “coffee” out of the logo; but not the “Starbucks”. After all, Starbucks customers don’t go there for the coffee. They go there for the CUP.

In any case, it’s a treacherous time to be messing with a logo. (just ask GAP).

the part of marketing that marketing people forget

Starbucks hopped on the Foursquare marketing train early and came out with a great promotion. But Starbucks’ bold move flopped.

Why did they fail? The answer is simple. They forgot (or failed) to communicate their marketing plan with a very important group in the marketing experience — their employees. (It’s the same reason I get stiffed on free syrups when I use my Starbucks card.)

You can spend gobs of money, time, and attention on marketing to get people in the door — but the promises you’ve made with your marketing have to happen when those people come through the door.

Most of your brand is NOT built through advertising, PR, or any marketing message. The brand is mostly built through mundane daily customer experiences. It’s not sexy, but it’s true.

And the customer experience is almost totally controlled by the operational side of the business. If the marketers need/want to build a brand, they need to share their vision and brand strategy with the parts of the company who actually interact with customers.

This is true all the way from the master overall marketing strategy down to individual marketing initiatives. It’s important on all levels, but it becomes even more important when you’re using new and emerging marketing platforms like Foursquare or other forms of digital media. Innovators and Early Adopters are important groups. You want to make sure that employees are delivering superior customer experiences to people who will heavily influence WOM.

For example — The other day, a local sandwich shop tweeted that I could get 10% off if I mentioned Twitter when I ordered. I went there for lunch and mentioned it to the cashier who didn’t even know what Twitter was.

It comes down to the fact if you’re delivering messages to potential markets, you need to share the content of those messages with ALL the people in your organization. They are the ones who will make it work.

hey brother, can you spare a dime? I’m a little venti

Starbucks is concerned that you think a $4 cuppajoe is an extragavance in a tight economy. They’re planning an ad campaign to rid your little mind of the “myth” of a $4 sbux treat.

Since they’re knee-jerking and killing the high-end coffee brand image they’ve cultivated for years, I’m willing to help out in this endeavor. Here are some other budget conscious ideas for Starbucks and their customers:

  • Order a venti double decaf hot water and make ramen noodles with it
  • Ask your barista to write a “the way I see it” quote on the side of your thermos filled with Folgers
  • Forget all these ‘value paired’ Starbucks breakfast combos. Two words: Pop Tarts
  • Why stop with breakfast? Go lunch and dinner. Two more words: Tuna Casserole — an artisan blend of store-brand tuna mixed with store-brand mushroom soup, government cheese, store-brand noodles, and topped with a crunchy store-brand corn flake blend
  • If rough times last until this fall, pick up an unfinished pumpkin latte off of an unbussed table. Pour it into a discarded jack-o-latern at the curb and enjoy a rustic pumpkin soup.
  • Water down the drinks.
  • Save electricity on the grinding. Pour the beans out in the parking lot each morning. Let the traffic crush them up. Sweep up, place in the espresso makers, and introduce the new “Asphalt blend”
  • Charge for wi-fi access … oh wait.
  • Put Starbucks kiosks into the local Dollar Stores.
  • Get Obama to bail you out
  • Organize customer biscotti potlucks
  • What’s your idea? Put it in the comments.

brewed stupidity

This happened today:
–Well established local media organization wants to shoot video of the Starbucks coffee for votes promotion (which btw could be illegal)
–The barista-in-charge won’t allow interviews or footage to be shot in the store.
–Free coverage and promotional value to a large captive audience goes out the window

If you’re trying to embrace viral marketing, you can’t be scared of cameras and people who are wanting to spread your message.

And beyond viral issues, you just need to teach common sense to local employees so you don’t miss out on opportunities like this. Corporate won’t always be there to dictate. Employees should know how to handle unique situations.

While I understand they may be trying to limit their legal snfau, shutting down coverage isn’t going to help. This is a news story today (albeit a minor fluff one), SBUX should have issued talking points and done a heads-up to local stores about media relations.

In fact, organizations should make sure each and every person in your organization is familiar with the current marketing plan and know how to handle media interviews. (or in today’s world, anybody who comes in with a camera.)

double half caff

Earlier this week, Advertising Age quoted me in an article on some comments I made about Starbucks shutting down over 7,000 locations one night in late February for a barista boot camp.
It’s now old news, but let me clarify and expand upon my original comment — and provide some updates.

First off, it’s obvious that the shutdown was not “training”. It was nothing but a PR/media stunt. It garnered LOTS of free coverage from the press who seemed not to realize they were being used.

I had said in my original comments that I would be interested when baristas started spilling the beans (ha!) about what went on during the 3 hour period. Just as I predicted, customer service was discussed during the training as well as how to make a machine produce three dollar foam. But some baristas are ticked off about the training and point to poor working conditions and wages as a reason for sub-par customer service and not-so-perfect drinks.

But here’s your big problem, SBUX. Customers aren’t finding any big difference. And that is a huge problem. After pulling a stunt that showcases how you’re going to improve, people expect…improvement. When it doesn’t show up, you’ve ultimately hurt the brand.

Cream and Sugar

Saturday afternoon on the way to Nashville, I stopped at a McDonalds to get a Coke. Here’s the conversation that the person in front of me had with the cashier…

GUY: Senior coffee, please

MICKEY D: Would you like for us to add the cream and sugar?

GUY: (While glancing down the counter at the cream and sugar) It’s right there.

MICKEY D: Would you like for us to add it?

GUY: Why? It’s right there.

MICKEY D: Silence and blank stare

GUY: Silence and blank stare

While the McDonalds counter guy couldn’t offer an answer….let me.

It’s because there was a committee meeting of the “premium” coffee folks in Oak Brook, IL. Phrases such as “compete with Dunkin Donuts”….”create a customer experience”….and “an upscale Starbucks interaction” were used heavily.

I’m sure they came out of the meeting thinking they had the next McDLT.

Of course, if they’d just asked a senior citizen and a teenager at a rural McDonalds off of I-65 what they thought of the idea, they’d told them….”but it’s right there!”

McDonalds next big and great ideas?
–Would you like for me to squirt ketchup on your fries?
–Would you like for me to chew your food?
–Would you like for me to have the angioplasty for you?

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Caffeinated Promises

There’s the old adage that “if you don’t take care of your customers…someone else will”. That now seems to be the case after Starbucks reneged on an iced coffee internet coupon.

As always, when you drop the ball, someone is there to immediately pick it up. Caribou Coffee has announced they will accept the Starbucks coupons for a set timeframe this Friday afternoon.

Aside from the fact that Starbucks shouldn’t be in the coupon business (if you can lay out $3 for a cup of coffee…you’re not a coupon clipper), this shows a deeper truth about marketing. Honor your promises to the customers. Even if that “promise” wasn’t exactly what you meant or got a little out of hand, if it won’t bankrupt you….follow through. Or else a bunch of your customers might be checking out a competitor this Friday afternoon.

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Decaf Venti Amplification and Clarification with Foam

I wanted to clarify and add to my McDonalds “premium” post after something I saw on the news this morning. The focus of the story was that McDonalds is going after the morning coffee market now firmly held by Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.

The talking head from McDonalds’ marketing department was listing the reasons why the new “premium” coffee was better than competitors:: They have a “special bold blend…how studies show that people get their morning coffee to go (perfect for drive-throughs)…and that they had more retail locations for customer convenience. On paper, these are all good reasons to get into the coffee market and expect to win. However, consumers don’t buy things in a marketing analysis. They buy them in the real world.

So what will happen in the real world? When it began in Seattle, Starbucks was all about the coffee….and only the coffee. The customers were coffee fanatics that could taste the subtle differences in different coffees. And some of those people still come to Starbucks.

But most of Starbucks’ customers now go there to announce to the world the following statement about themselves:

“I just paid $2 more for a cup of coffee than I needed to. I must be affluent (or at least doing OK). I am also worldly and hip because I have conveyed my coffee needs to a barista this morning. Look at the cup that I drink from and draw your own conclusions!”

90% of Starbucks’ customers don’t go there for the coffee. They go there for the CUP.

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