Use Your Words

Like most mothers, my wife tirelessly taught our kids to “use their words” when angry or frustrated. Makes sense, right? Better to talk it out than fight it out.

OK, but what does this have to do with branding? Well, a whole lot today.

Societal behavior has changed. I’m not sure if it’s an evolution or transition or what, but in today’s highly judgmental and litigiously sensitive world, words are loaded and often weaponized.

On the world stage, one person’s ‘terrorist’ is another’s ‘freedom fighter.’ Any questioning or equivocation here can immediately drop you in the middle of an active ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ group.

It’s heady stuff, for sure. Come talk to us if we can help you better understand where and how your brand can thrive in even as confusing a market as we have now.

Closer to home, most people are decidedly either a Democrat or a Republican. The gap between us has never been wider. One errant comment about guns, open borders, and inflation makes you an ‘extreme MAGA Republican.’

Any comments of inhumane treatment of people, animals, or the environment will label you an ‘extreme liberal Democrat’ with ‘woke’ blood surging through your veins. And now, we all need to be trained to understand gender and sexual labels – ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘trans,’ ‘cis,’ ‘binary,’ ‘LGBQT+,’ and so on. Indeed, everyone must be respected for who they are and their individuality. No judgment here, but any use of the wrong word can be deemed deeply offensive to someone and met with swift and angry reactions.

What happened to mutual respect and ‘using our words’ to freely express views without being cut off and summarily dumped into an extreme bucket?

Is common sense under fire? Has ‘hype’ media taken over? Extreme views and warring factions make for great headlines and ratings. Where is objectivity and impartiality? Are we moving to a culture where inclusion outranks achievement, ‘optics’ rule, and mislabeling cannot possibly be accepted as an innocent mistake? Perhaps it is better not to say anything!

So much for ‘using your words’.

OK, what about branding?

Well, ask Bud Light. We all know the story. A promotion that partnered with a trans influencer lost the brand’s substantial share and a leadership position that they may never regain. Adidas, Target, and others who innocently tried to cater to similar new audiences were immediately labeled as ‘woke’ and publicly attacked accordingly.

So, what is the solution for a brand message in today’s market? 

Should a brand stay mainstream, entirely out of social discord, and devoid of social labels? After all, who cares what a banana grower or widget maker thinks? Possibly, but what happens to those new or current employees who demand to work for companies and brands that are ‘purpose-driven’ in terms of the betterment of humanity? Does staying quiet and agnostic create a relevance issue?

Like in most sectors of our life today, it’s complicated. 

But then again, does it have to be?

I have a simple solution.

When the world is in turmoil and the immediate future is uncertain, two factors will always win. Authenticity and Leadership. When times are wild, your brand’s consumers and customers are hungry for the truth and someone to give them hope for the future. This is the absolute opposite of ‘virtue signaling.’

You must understand your company and your brand’s SOBs (your Source of Business targets). If you know what your crucial growth users think and what they desire from your brand, focus all your efforts on providing the best product or service you can. And importantly, pay special attention to this … offer an authentic, relevant brand ‘home.’ 

The greats… Apple, Nike, Harley Davidson, Starbucks, Amazon, and even Taylor Swift provide an emotional venue where their SOBs want to be. Yes, a particular tagline or ad campaign might have drawn you to a brand. Still, mostly, it’s about being real and allowing your users the room to experience, adopt, and advocate your brand as a reflection of themselves without false assertions.

Advocate for your consumers and customers, your SOBs, and your people. Have the courage to lead them and do what’s right for them. No one can blame AB for wanting to expand Bud Light to a growing user group. Do not do it if it makes your core customer (your primary SOB) uncomfortable or alienated. If the beer they hold betrays their image of themselves, they will vacate your ‘brand room’ in droves. Greed is no excuse.

And here is an obvious tip. If you advocate for something socially beyond how wonderful your brand is, pick something everyone can agree on … not profoundly polarizing. I just noticed that Purina is advocating against domestic pet abuse… something that everyone, including their SOB, can agree on and would add to their brand room, I would think. 

What does Pickleball teach us about Branding?

New things come and go. Now and then, something sticks. Popularity rockets. A vortex appears in the universe and sucks up all manner of people, products and of course profits.

Pickleball is everywhere. Why? And what has that to do with Branding?

The game has been around for some fifty years but recently was reported as ‘the fastest growing sport in the US’ with some five million players spending 60 billion dollars on equipment alone. Oldies first picked it up as a fun, easy game akin to backyard badminton but now all ages are jumping in. It is important to note that the reigning female world champion is only 15.

Why so popular now?

  1. Fun, easy, simple game, anyone can learn quickly, play pretty much anywhere, and enjoy. 

(How about that for a brand statement?) 

  • An antidote to Covid and all the complex pressures we still suffer through today.
  • Caters to a wide range of personalities. Aggressive young ‘bangers’, can bang away. Heady vets can finesse, and everyone can find something to laugh about on and off the court.
  • Has grass roots, local community feel. This may slowdown as commercial entities take over but for now it is as easy as turning up at the local park, meet and play with a bunch of lay-back, easy-going individuals.
  • All sorts of enticing new equipment and entities to engage with and obsess over. 

So what lessons are there in this for building your Brand?

  1. An easy, fun lifestyle – free of hassle and conflict is extraordinarily appealing in today’s world. Everyone is looking for this. Give it to them.

Remove as many expensive, complicated barriers to your brand experience as possible. Be authentic. Of course, do not present your brand as being, easy and fun if it is not. Fakes are for scammers and baiters.

  • Shorten and amplify the first brand exposure and trial experience. We are in a world of instant gratification. Make your brand accessible and rewarding. Word travels fast and people-enjoying-people is fuel for mass acceptance.
  • If you are launching a new lifestyle brand in the product or service arena study pickleball brands. Here is a classic example of ‘first brand in the brain’ by Trout and Ries, (I believe).

Not too long ago, there were a few paddle manufacturers. The typical racquet brands like Head, Prince, Wilson jumped in.  But names like Selkirk, Engage, Gamma, Franklin with a more specific pickleball focus now lead several hundred makers. Selkirk for example took this strategic high ground of designed for pickleball and began a paddle innovation path and sport involvement that has their paddles now on back order and selling for over three hundred dollars supported with tons of internet content and pro sponsorships. Not unlike Nike of old. Worth studying these evolving brand phenomena.

  • Engage the community biome. Pickleball has found a home close to home.

As such is bringing neighbors, friends, and families together. This is a natural, enjoyable place generating lots of positive energy. Again, a perfect venue for your brand going forward. Remember it isn’t about the medium or even the message anymore. It’s about how the Internet and social media can connect your brand at the community level.

As 2023 rolls around it is a great time to reassess your brand and if needed reignite its energy and attitude. Rocket it like pickleball!

We at Rocket Branding are always happy to work with you on this and potentially throw in some free pickleball lessons. [email protected].

‘New Normal’ Branding

Never has the concept of ‘brand’ been more critical to growth. And not just for products or services but companies, organizations and indeed governments. 

The ‘New Normal’ is horrifying – costly, chaotic, crime rampant, climate scared and for now at least uncertainty rules.

Why is this?

We are living through a time where there are way more questions than answers.

Almost every aspect of our life is unclear. And the questions are huge. Should the world transition immediately into green energy and full-scale globalization as proffered by many new country leaders and ‘world thinkers’ at recent world forums. That’s fine but who gets to pay? Ordinary people of course. They are expected to assume the substantial ‘transition’ costs ($7 gallon!), while suffering through fatigued infrastructures (baby food) and dealing with the invisible killers in our homes like pandemics, cyber hackers and, of course the senseless violence now in our neighborhoods. 

Who is going to answer these questions and solve the problems?

Hank Ostholthoff, Head of ProHabits, who counsels corporations on work habits laments at the ‘epidemic of lack of leadership.’ Who is going to find the solutions and even more so execute them? Big ideas are wonderful but putting them into action is an entirely other problem. The government can always give out checks but ultimately all this does is feed inflation.

So why is branding so critical in all this?

Simple. Normally, clear minds could turn to the facts. Not anymore. Traditional sources of news and knowledge filter everything through biased ideologies and pile it on with social media disinformation. Regardless of how image-driven a brand is, it’s success through the sales cycle has always relied on information that persuades you to ultimately buy or not? This is now true not only for products and services but for companies and political entities. Who can you possibly believe? 

Here’s the key point.

If we can’t decipher what is right or wrong, then all you can do is decide how you feel about something. How you feel about a brand and the company behind it? How you feel about a philosophy or agenda? Who do you believe in?

Brands have always been at their most successful when they have a earned a ‘warm familiarity’ and indeed advocacy with and from their best growth audience. Hopefully this is supported by the product or service experience. With all the uncertainty on earth today and lack of answers we as humans will rely more on our gut, on who we trust.

What do we do? 

The concept of ‘brand’ has never been more critical. Brands today must work out how to become more humanly and experientially relevant and feed the feelings that create positive decisions. Which brand do you believe? Which brand truly understands what we are all going through. Empathy and inspiration. Not gratuitous, virtue signaling or back slapping. It’s genuineness. It is authenticity. It is moving forward and making things better if only in small ways. It is becoming emotionally relevant.

So, how do you make your brand more successful in this extremely uncertain and complex world?

Three considerations.

  1. Study and understand where and how your brand best fits into the lives of your best growth audience and identify the emotional triggers.
  • Take a long-term view – 3-5 years and begin working towards a more meaningful brand relationship with your best audience (consumers, customers, users, voters, advocates and do not forget your employees and associates). Remember a string of small victories is more meaningful and believable in this evolving environment.
  • Great, iconic brands typically make their biggest brand gains in periods of craziness and large-scale uncertainty. Time to get going.

Call us and we’ll help you get there. Rocket Branding 312 316 5290.

Extreme Branding Gone Awry

Extreme BrandScreen Shot 2019-01-20 at 3.03.59 PMing is alive and well.

Nike jumped into the deep end of civil rights with Kaepernick’s Anthem kneeling. Now Gillette has followed suit with a not so subtle attack on ‘masculine toxicity.’

I get it! Gillette, like Nike, wants to make sure their global mega brand is relevant to the younger males who appear to be more sensitive to social purpose.

Nike played on their enduring, ‘Just Do It,’ campaign. Gillette is using their long time, ‘The Best a Man Can Get’ platform.

One can look at this from a business view and say bravo. Gillette’s viral buzz is on fire; brand re-awareness is rocketing and should continue so through the hyped Super Bowl season.

Nike’s sales were reportedly up after their campaign launched and although their effort turned off some loyal users, it has apparently worked for younger audiences. Time will tell. As one young friend said, ‘At least they had the courage to use their money to help make things better.”

I asked the same young person what they thought of the new Gillette campaign and he said,“Stupid. I don’t need some shaving company lecturing me on how I should be.”

 Oops!

Of course this was just one person’s view, but it doesn’t take more than a Google minute to see that he was not alone. One report showed twice as many dislikes as likes.

Scanning through the comments, unlike Nike, which tended to be about social conscience for all, Gillette’s approach hits a more personal note.

Nike did not lecture the viewer on his or her role in civil liberty issues. They were celebrating Kaepernick’s individual right to ‘Just Do It.’ You can argue with the way he protested but at the same time you cannot argue with everyone’s rights to justice.

Gillette on the other hand may have made a bad mistake.

Did they take the right stand? Who are they talking to?

No question, the #MeToo movement has put a spotlight on sexual harassment, and yes, bullying has come to the fore today in really nasty ways including suicides and school shootings.

But, and this is a big ‘but’, not all males are bullies or sexual predators as this campaign seems to imply. These aren’t rampant diseases that every male indulges in. Maybe more was tolerated in the 50’s and 60’s as in the footage they showed, but not today.

In fact, data shows that females are just as likely to bully. Social media can be decidedly mean. A black eye is not good but it can heal. Being socially ostracized can hurt for a long time.

And BTW, on a purely personal note the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ is something I have heard just as often in my life from females and mothers. And why did the producer shoot men as though they were standing against a wall like in all the thousands of firing squad movies we’ve seen?

Gillette took a #MeToo movement against those males that sexually harassed to a platform indicting every male’s behavior and their duty to the next generation of males to boot!

 Do males really need a shaving brand to lecture them on the bad behavior of a few and their supposed collective toxicity?  I think not and unfortunately their attempt at what I call Extreme Branding will backfire for some time to come.  After all switching shaving brands is not a big decision and Gillette is by no means unique. It is somewhat harder to move away from Nike products.

Hopefully they are going to evolve this campaign back to the original basis of the ‘The Best a Man’ campaign by celebrating the admirable aspects of manhood as opposed to taking on a gratuitous grandstanding attack on it.

Perhaps P&G should have taken note of Bud Light’s highly successful, ‘Dilly, Dilly!’ campaign where taking a stand ‘for the many and not the few’ actually works.

Or more so, look at their own excellent history of taking aging brands and reintroducing them to the young. I helped P&G do so in the successful re-launching both Old Spice and Head and Shoulders brands.

P&G’s Dawn Detergent’s, saving at-risk wildlife campaign is one of the more brilliant pieces of Extreme Branding I have seen. Their platform of strength and mildness was taken to an even higher level when they moved it into the ugly tragedy of oil spoils.

So what are the lessons here?

Extreme branding can certainly re-activate the presence and potential relevance of a brand to new generations but it can also backfire in profound ways.

Some tips:

1. Pick your poison carefully. It is fine for the brand to have an Extreme Branding platform but this is not about a strategy  looking for a noisy cause. It is about authentic and relevant beliefs.

2. Don’t overstate your brand’s role. A brand can certainly educate, inform and at times be very persuasive on social issues. Chances are that many more eyeballs are going to see the Gillette advertising than may read the #MeToo news. So be sure you know what the role of the brand’s message is out there and make sure you are turning a lot more on than off, or you will be hurting the very cause you are trying to help.

3. Be Smart. Extreme Branding is a long-term strategy. Treat it as such and fight the battle to win overtime. Don’t just pop your head up, yell a little and then sit back down. Where Gillette goes next can well determine their fate in my mind at least.

 What say you?

 

 

 

EXTREME BRANDING

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 10.24.56 AMCan brands compete without taking sides on toxic issues? Do brands need to have a voice in today’s highly polarized, public arena where extreme views seem to dominate?

Are cushy, corporate messages about saving everything enough to portray social sensitivities or do they need to go further?

Well, you can argue that Nike has indeed crossed that line.

 

Nike’s bold campaign, supporting the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick’s stand (mind the pun) against police actions is worth pondering in this extreme branding context.

Edgy celeb campaigns are not new for Nike. They have supported controversial sports stars. However, until now the controversy stayed within the confines of sport. Tennis’s on-court, bad-boy John McEnroe was an early figure for Nike and today’s big Nike names, like Tiger Woods, Ronaldinho, and Serena Williams are not without their public issues, but again in all these, Nike has held their involvement to within the sports context.

Kaepernick’s case is not about competing on the sports field. Nike has decided to celebrate his right to ‘believe in something.’ Fine, standing up for one’s rights is all-American and admirable but Nike has moved outside sports and into arenas with heavily divided public opinion, like racism and respecting America.

Yes, one could argue that Kaepernicks’ stand is within the realm of sports. He is a professional footballer, and the venue for his anthem kneeling protest was on the sidelines, but again his stand is not about sporting achievement.

Ok, you can also argue that the Nike brand has always been about self-motivation and individual triumph. Just Do it. Got it. But, whether Nike would agree or not, the brand is now risking turning off consumers who violently disagree with Kaepernick’s views and can act on this by burning their Nike shoes, switching to others like Reebok and Adidas and even banning Nike gear (as a Louisiana Mayor has reportedly done.).

At stake could be Nike’s respect for four American institutions … sports, the Police, the minority/social justice advocates and the National Anthem and Flag. In one action they have poked these huge hornet’s nests of emotion, angst, and outrage.  Each with its full complement of extreme views.  

According to a recent Reuters study, 72% of Americans agreed that Kaepernick’s behavior was inappropriate. NFL viewership is down.

Nike sales will plummet!

However, they have not. There was stock market resistance and videos of people burning their shoes, but sales were actually reported to increase, and even the Louisiana Mayor has apparently walked back his ban. Stocks are back up, and Wall Street pundits are using words like ‘genius’ and ‘brilliant’ to describe Nike’s bold strategy.

How could this be? Where is the sales effect of the many with strongly opposing views?

Well, herein lies the reality. Strategically Nike brand folk may have determined that they needed to grow equity and sales for their new shoes among the younger audiences who tend to favor equality and fairness and the rights of individuals. And, who unlike their older cohorts are less vested in the traditional American icons and importantly more likely to buy directly online. What marketer would not like that going forward?

My older friends may not burn their Nike shoes but do proudly announce that they will stop buying Nike. Basically, who cares because my younger friends who represent the bigger market couldn’t care less and put Nike campaign down to ‘good marketing.’ “Its Ok they are just trying to sell their stuff.”

And here is the kicker. Nike is a global brand, and like many American brands who are really global brands these days, they are less US-centric. Some 60% of Nike sales are outside the US and growing among populations, who are more likely to stand (or should I say kneel) with Kaepernick’s views.

So there it is.  At the risk of gross oversimplification, the question is should brands stay in their comfort zones of keeping everyone happy or should they risk alienating some buyers by following a more active or even extreme role in populist causes?

Great question. It’s all about building your brand and future growth. And, in today’s brand parlance it’s also all about authenticity. As they say, you are what you believe.

It is a perfect time to dig deep into this strategy for your brand and see where it takes you. We’d love to help you think it through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Branding In The New Norm

New NormSociety is changing. In some cases at tectonic levels. Brand marketers beware.

Tradition is no longer the norm, and the ‘new norm’ is still working itself out.

 Just a cursory squint at the world shows this.

 Look at two historical ‘normal predictors -human relationships and business.

We now live in an increasingly global context. Thanks in part to the Internet. The traditional norm would have us protecting cultures, borders and wealth. The new norm wants us sharing and equalizing without discrimination or cultural preference.

Deep lines are drawn today between entrenched folks on either side of this bucket of issues. Whereas this is true on the surface and in the media, many homegrown views may be softening, especially as populations continue to become more ethnically and culturally mixed. Adherence to traditions and values temper with each mixed marriage, migrating family and every new political and religious chapter.

The new norm is happening.

Take me for example. I am an Australian with Viking and British colonial roots, married to a Greek-born American with a long, proud, Hellenic heritage. Our Amercian-born children have a healthy dose of all these cultures. They will carry mixed values forward to undoubtedly more rich mixtures. 100% anything is no longer the norm, and black and white issues are more in the realm of earth tones in this new racially, hyper-sensitive, earth-loving, everyone-shares world.

And speaking of changing population mix. The poorer classes are having children while the middle and upper socio-economic couples are more likely to be having pets or alternative life partners. With each new year, decade and generation these factors will dictate everything from the food we eat to the brands we buy, the people we see and the work we do. It already has. Did you know that Mahummed, in one form or another, is one of the most popular names for new baby boys in the UK today?

What actors or ‘actor persons’ do you portray in your mainstream TV commercials? Probably not all white? Or all black, or brown or yellow? Right?

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 3.14.17 PMTake the test. Watch 15 mainstream commercials tonight and tell me what the ethnicity of the main actors are? I see a lot of standard continental-like faces with semblances of African, Hispanic and Asian features. The universal being, so to speak.

Political leadership as well is now anything but traditional and may never be again (#twitter) and unfortunately, the ‘religion’ that is getting the most attention and new members all over the world, is hell bent on murdering innocents.

And lastly on the point of the new norm for human relationships. Look how we communicate today. It is evident the monumental changes digital is having on the universe, but even beyond that, it is quite amazing to me how limited traditional free speech has become. A mere slight inference or private utterance of any of the letter words (‘n,’ ‘H,’ ‘q’) can get you fired, threatened and publicly ridiculed beyond redemption. You now have to watch your ‘ps and ‘qs literally.

So to business. Several prominent CEO’s just pulled out of Trump’s business committees on the basis of his supposed, racially insensitive comments.

CEO’s now have to have a clear and public opinion about highly charged social issues. Most American Fortune ‘bigs’ derive business worldwide. They no longer compete purely on a US basis either for revenues or talent. And, if in the past, the C-level could hide behind Annual Reports and ‘corporate spokespeople’ they are now being called upon to ariculate their company’s global ‘purpose’ and ‘shared values.’

Business can no longer hide from the new norm.

It’s a slippery slope when a brand gets it wrong. Pepsi’s widely lambasted attempt at ‘unity and peace’ in its Kendal Kardashian commercial certainly exemplifies that.

Mainstream brands could once hide from serious social issues in their consumer marketing. Corporate philanthropic activities sufficed. Not anymore. If brands do not understand how to navigate through these far-reaching and rapidly evolving new norms, then they can quickly lose relevance to new generations.

Oh and here’s a clincher. Your company name is now a brand. Whether it is the name on what you sell or not, it will be a factor in purchase and buy decisions. And no, B2B companies are not exempt from this.

Claims like Made in America and Proud Sponsor of the US Olympics etc. are examples of company/brand messages that straddle product benefit and quarzi social comment. But are they enough in this highly charged environment?

So do branders pick a side on any of the big ‘ism’ issues (like racism, elitism, terrorism, materialism, populism and so on) or just stay the heck away from these and concentrate on selling the advantages of their products and services?

Or could they win hearts and minds by owning one of the softer ‘new norm’ issues like peace, unity, literacy and of course whales?

Indeed the company, product or service you brand can dictate this. Soap makers can proffer a safer, cleaner environment. And do. Coffee makers can support indigenous farm sharing, and environmental packaging and pet product producers have no end of abused puppies to love. And, well, of course, P&G’s Dawn sure cleans oil-spill, drenched ducks.

I wonder, however, if this is going to be enough for the new norm, particularly for big mainstream players. Focused new upstarts risk far less by taking on the hard issues. Yes, Ford and GM can attempt to cater to earth-friendly fuels but here is Tesla, by all accounts a new big player in the alternate fuel auto industry.

So what to do?

  1. Hire ahead. Not Behind. Take a leaf out of Clayton Christensen’s book, Innovator’s Dilemma. Just as he recommended not relying on your current people to innovate the next new products, don’t rely on your traditionalists to build your company’s role or at least position it in the ‘new norm’ world.
  2. Play Long Ball. There is no quick fix here. Plan for the long-term with the same amount of careful rigor as you would with financial and ops planning.
  3. Listen and Learn. Don’t rely on the media to inform on the new norm. They quite frankly do not have a clue what is going on today. Many have still not internalized that a new POTUS was voted in. This, mostly because they are looking at everything through traditional lenses. Big mistake. Go to the source … the people. And listen. They may not give you the answers, but they can certainly help you frame the questions.

No, this is not going away, and it isn’t finished. The new norm is here and evolving. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

What say you?

 

 

 

 

 

Brand on Life Support

Congress blogThere is a brand, an important brand, that has approval ratings way down in the teens (even lower than cockroaches and traffic jams according to a US World study) … and maybe beyond hope.

Most Americans, sadly agree that the US Congress is floundering. And more so today. Dysfunctional, petty and seemingly incapable of achieving much of anything. There is a reason that ‘drain the swamp’ was a particularly popular campaign message in the recent Presidential election.

Even the victorious party that just swept into power cannot get a new health-care plan agreed … and after supposedly working on it for over seven years. Little hope for tax reform or the other so called campaign promises.

Certainly, ‘Congress’ is not a brand in the conventional sense. Tough to buy off the shelf or from a car dealership. But anytime you ask people for their support and more so their funds then you are judged no differently. Would you rather give your money to your senator or buy a new TV, or more to the point, pay your bills?

But what is most alarming is that young Americans who want careers where they ‘can make a difference in the world’ are not choosing politics. Even political science students, according to studies conducted by Rutgers and Harvard, favored ‘community service’ two-to-one over ‘politics’ as the means to achieve their goals. Similar sentiments were found among high school students also researched.

When smart, young folk are looking at career choices and see that what was once an honorable, admired profession is now more about finger-pointing than policy making, they look to other ways to help the world. Interestingly entrepreneurship, which would in the past be seen as the antithesis of political action, is to many seen as a better way to help.

Some polls do show favorability scores for one’s own elected Congress person, but even that is falling. Many see that when their successful candidate goes off to Washington they are caught up in a broken system where no one seems to be able to move the ball forward.

So what to do?

We all know that money is at play. The cost to compete and win as a Member of Congress is out of reach of many. ‘Influence’ money pops up all over Washington. Privacy is also a problem. Few want to face the brutal scrutiny of the Internet and media if all they end up with is a bad book deal.

Yes, you don’t have to be a Senator or Representative to play ‘inside the beltway’ game, but the smelly bad stuff trickles down hill. It has a way of collecting at all levels and gunking up everyone’s good intentions.

 So again what to do?

To be brutally honest I am not sure. It will obviously have to be a bipartisan coming together of some kind. Some incentive to work across the aisle. And it probably has a lot to do with finding and nurturing a new crop of capable leaders.

This is comprehensive ‘system’ reform, and we all know how long anything tied to the word ‘reform’ can take!

Is there something in our brand bag of tricks? Well, let’s see.

Thinking of Congress as a brand you could begin to offer up a new face, literally.

We will always give smart, young people a chance. Let’s identify and begin publicly rewarding and supporting the new faces of Congress who are making a positive and not just ‘politically driven’ difference. This is not and should not be partisan. This is all about strong, determined Senators, Congress men and women working for real change and not party or special interest favor.

So what about the money, I keep talking about?

Well, those rewarded should be funded by the growing class of wealthy private donors who pledge to give based on demonstrated honest, authentic change and not ideological mania.

Call it the Gabebufzuk Project (for Gates, Bezos, Buffet, and Zuckerberg). The wealthiest Americans will, by law set aside each year ten million dollars for the one person or team in Congress that makes the most difference for the American people and have it ratified by an online, national vote.

Overly simplistic. Pollyannaish maybe but at least it is a public attempt to right an arguably swamp-stuck ship. At this rate, if the perceptions and processes of Congress do not change it will become a brand of even older, more tired folk with less support and consequence. What then?

What say you?

 

 

 

 

 

How Brands Survive Bricks to Clicks

bricks blog shotThere is nothing sadder, I think than seeing an empty space in a shopping center, once filled by a vibrant, bustling retailer.

E-commerce is no longer a new growth segment. It is now shaping the future of retailing. Aided and abetted of course by savvy consumers who shop the retail options they want, without moving more than their finger.

Yes, we get it. This is not news. And ‘brick’ retailers are already finding ways to marry ‘bricks with clicks’… personalized offers, store pick-up/return, etc.

But now Amazon is reported to be acquiring premier food retailer Whole Foods. Bricks and clicks galore!

 There are all sorts of predictions and scenarios on what this will mean to traditional brick retailers. Especially as it relates to the future of large format retailers? Do we really need to battle our way to and through the local Costco, Target or Wal-Mart? Why can’t we buy online and have them battle their way to us? Uber of everything?

And more to the point (as it always is) why do we, consumers, have to pay for that large space (as we always will). Give us what we want in an affordable, convenient way, and we’ll take it every time. And that probably means that we won’t be paying for the real estate taxes, utilities, and wages that the local, debt-ridden municipalities will seek from your ‘big box’ facilities.

 What does this all mean to traditional brand retailers?

 So you are a brand that has spent years, if not decades, building its reputation and support through the shopping experience.

You may be like a local hardware store that thrived for years near me with its jam-packed shelves and friendly staff. Customers walked in with some piece from a broken old faucet and walked out with the right part and emboldened with the knowledge of how to fix it. You survived a Home Depot opening near by and a move to a bigger space. But you couldn’t compete on price and still pay the costs to keep your doors open. You are now a large empty space in a strip mall.

What do you need to do to survive this rather miserable scenario?

Hey, brighten up. You own the one thing that no new brand or new online store can ever have. You have been successful in brick and mortar shopping for a long time. Chances are you have built a familiar and trusted brand relationship with your local community. There is absolutely no reason why your brand reputation will not transfer to the digital world and be even more successful.

It is really as simple as understanding your brand story.

 Take that hardware store above. I cannot get anywhere near the same help or solutions from Home Depot or any website as I once did from that store. Even if I had somehow I wouldn’t feel as confident or supported.

So set up a ‘knowledge’ site with video integration where I can connect, show you my broken faucet. You’ll help. If I need a part you’ll deliver it from a supply warehouse (maybe have a local charity deliver and be part of your Millennial’s ‘cause related, purpose-driven community’) or you’ll send a plumber with a new faucet, etc. Whatever. The idea is that you transfer your knowledge brand story to an online retail opportunity. Site costs are still a lot cheaper than the mounting store costs.

Knowledge is the new ‘secret sauce’ in digital retailing. It is also the great equalizer. With more and changing options for every shopping item in the world, knowledge is invaluable, profitable and competitively sustainable.

 Yes, I know there is a ‘depends’ comment here. How can you replicate the smell of fresh bakery online or new car leather or ogle a paper thin TV or try on the new fashion, etc.? All good issues but also creatively solvable with technology and understanding your brand message.

We believe that with rare exception ‘brick’ retail brands can survive and indeed thrive in the new digital age. It’s all about brand story, not bricks.

 We at Rocket Branding love this stuff. Call us, and we’ll help find your online brand story and profitable future.

 

 

 

 

Hope or Fear. Where Brands Thrive or Die.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 2.45.22 PMWall Street believes ‘greed’ and ‘fear’ drive financial markets. These two emotional states have also driven brand growth for decades. But something is changing, and one could argue that ‘greed’ is now best stated as ‘hope’, at least for branding purposes. Disregard this change at your peril.

Let’s break it down.

‘Fear’ is easy to understand. Consider brands for insurance, medicine, and security. Not the kind of products we think of first thing in the morning, or at all, if we can help it. We buy them when we fear the consequences of not doing so.

Insurance brands like Geico, Progressive, and Aflac, try to break through this lethargy with entertaining characters – lizards, ducks (and of course the omnipresent Flo) with ‘no-fuss-less-money’ approaches. They try to overcome disinterest without the heavy hand of fear. Then there is Allstate’s Mayhem campaign that hits you over the head with it. Literally.

Drug and medical brands also depend on the ‘fear and consequence’ mindset. Let’s not delve into irritable bowel syndrome and such, but you see how playing on fear works to drive these brands.

‘Greed’ on the other hand is all about the things we want. A whole lot more engaging. Luxury, shiny, creamy, gooey, exotic travel, exquisite perfumes. The list goes on. Stuff that excites, pleasures and feeds our self-indulgences and social image.

Qantas Airlines enjoys one of the best safety records in the world but rarely promotes it. Comfort, service, and destination are all better selling points than the scary safety notions. Car brands are notorious purveyors of greed. Sleek, sexy, fast. Volvo played the family safety card. Even though successful over the years, it has been difficult for them to also sell the performance and image of that owners seek.

If you understand where your brand competes in the ‘greed and fear’ contexts, you will know how to position, message and market it.

But as mentioned at the beginning, for the first time in maybe five decades, this I believe is changing and quite profoundly so.

Fear is still fear but greed is in many ways is much less in vogue. At one time it was quite aspirational to be wealthy and successful. Big car, big home, big career. You were to be congratulated, envied and even admired.

No so much today. Perspectives have changed. The rich are still rich and even richer. But the poor populations, the environment, and nature are all at higher risks and the stigma of power mongering and corruption among ‘elites’ the world over is now at a flash point. New terms like ‘clean the swamp’, ‘populist view’ and ‘purpose-driven’ marketing are emblematic of this.

I remember at one time being on the team to sell the new American Express Green Card campaign, ‘Membership has its privileges globally. It was very successful in the North America but not so internationally. To many cultures, only the ruling classes enjoyed privileges. I believe that North America has caught up with this now and again the idea of greed or excess so to speak is no longer PC.

So what do we do? Clearly, consumers still want their luxuries and pleasures and will buy brands in this context. But be careful.

If your brand is supported by those over 50, I’d say be as hedonistic as you want. But if your consumer base is under 40 and Millennial then I would rethink your Greed platform.

Folks under 40 have a greater sensitivity to the notion of greed partly because of the basic inequality or injustice issues, but also importantly because of uncertainty of the future and more so their future. Clearly fear has crept into greed. Some of this is real of course in terms of the health and safety of the world, but some of it is also from the daily flood of negative news. Between the 24/7 broadcast news and social digital media, we not only get all the negative world headlines (bad news sells) but we get on the spot, real time videos with the more scandalous zooming around the Internet at warp speed. So we not only hear the official news but also the supposedly ‘real’ backstory often from someones’ cell phone.

We hear and see way too much of the bad stuff, and it plays major havoc with our sensitivities and sense of well-being.

So here is my simple answer.

Let’s rethink ‘greed’ as ‘hope’ and if our brand needs to live in the ‘I want more’ space (formerly known as ‘greed’) be very careful how we moderate our message and present our brand. It’s not just about being better but being human. It’s not about isolated individuals but social fun and engagement. More authenticity. Less BS.

Bottom line. If you are building a brand in a ‘fear’ context, go at it full blast but if you favor the ‘greed’ context then at least think long a hard about moving into a ‘hope’ context where humanity and authenticity thrive.

We love this stuff at Rocket Branding.

What say you?

 

Brand Bashing … The New Norm?

Screen Shot 2017-02-25 at 10.33.56 AMSaw this on Facebook, apparently reposted from TV celeb, Anthony Bourdain.

Asking myself have we moved into a new era of public ridicule? Is extreme disrespect a new norm?

Could anyone imagine a similar President Obama doll zooming around the Internet in his first month in office?

Yes, we all understand free speech and free markets. As distasteful as this is someone has the right to make, sell and promote this doll. (And here I am of course, unfortunately, furthering the image’s exposure). Every day there are similarly low posts all over the Internet.

“Hey did you see the one about Putin leading Trump around like a dog?”

So here is my question.

Regardless of your politics is this good for America?

Is it Ok to so personally and publicly attack the President of the United States in this manner? Are we now going to show our disagreement with someone’s view or preference by personally debasing them?

Certainly, Trump was the ‘against-all-odds’ nominee and his ‘plain speaking – call for change’ posture has been a lightning rod for the opposition’s wrath, but why does it have to be so childish and ugly?

This kind of thing has happens from time-to-time, but cooler heads usually prevail, and the discourse returns to a higher level. Not now. It appears that many of the loudest voices out there in Hollywood and the media are on such a tear against Trump and his policies that nothing is too crass or mean-spirited. And it doesn’t look like it is going to let up anytime soon.

And more to the point, many who oppose Trump and who would normally keep that on higher ground are relishing these barrages and pushing for more gutter sniping. SNL used to be funny now it’s just a Trump trashing show. CNN used to be balanced news now it’s a constant drumbeat on everything Trump bad, every day.

So is this extreme brand bashing going to become a normal tactic for politics? And if so, will it transfer to how we brand builders take on competitors? Wouldn’t be the first time. Regretfully it’s the outrageous, witless stuff that seems to fuel the social, digital marketing world in which we compete.

I guess, or at least I hope, that this style of brand marketing will not prevail and that we will all return to that place where we can disagree on ideas but agree on respectful and dignified behavior.

The world is always watching and judging. Right now they see this stuff and again regardless of their politics America just looks stupid and small.

I strongly recommend that brand builders do not ‘go gutter,’ not only because it brings your brand down, but it also weakens quality perceptions over time.

Remember the age-old truth. People don’t want to know what the other won’t do for them until they know what you will. A lesson well-learned by Hillary Clinton’s Campaign and apparently is still being learned by her rabid, party supporters who are just hell bent on bashing away.

What say you?