Manage your brand like a band

There is a lot to learn from the music industry. It is a business that has gone through a lot of change ever since it started, yet it has a consistent approach in managing their superstars: the brands of the music industry!

The below lessons can help you to look at your brand differently or give you a different perspective. Have some fun while pretending you are managing your brand as if it were your number one band!

 

Lesson 1: A good story sells
Remember T.A.T.u? Profiled as lesbian singers causing controversy when kissing on a music video. It worked. A lot of press brought T.A.T.u. to the attention of many, resulting in singles and albums that were selling very well.
When it turned out the singers of T.A.T.u. were not lesbian things started to go downhill for the band. A good story sells, but it better be a real one.

Ask yourself: what is the story of your brand? Do you have one? Is it real? Is it personal?

Lesson 2: Never lose focus
Singers and bands all have unique styles. Their styles are their product categories and differentiation. When you hear on the radio your favourite brands, eh bands, you need only a couple of seconds to recognise them! It is the power of brand familiarity.

You will not see successful artists changing styles. Imagine the techno artist moving into classic or the rock band becoming a euro dance band? While many artists could do many different things they have learned that if they become everything to everyone, they will become nothing to no one.
Ask yourself: is your brand focused or does it mean many different things to many different people? Is there an opportunity to focus?

Lesson 3: Grow around your core
Artists grow, they modernise their style, they adapt to society and new trends. Growth is always natural and never radical. Think about Madonna, growing her brand by catching trends and expressing them in her own unique style.

Ask yourself: how has your brand grown? Have you stayed consistent or moved in many different categories? How do your consumers / customers really see you?

Lesson 4: Familiar but new
The music industry is a master in pushing new versions of the same songs. Think about all the special mixes, never heard before versions, live concerts, remixes, remastered versions, versions with booklets, ultimate editions and more.

Even bands that do not exist anymore still keep selling new materials. For example, The Doors released six studio albums, their last official album is from 1971. This does not stop them from pushing out new materials even as recent as last week!

The keyword here is New. After all, people are interested in New and buying New.

Ask yourself: do you clearly market new features or functionalities as New? Are they the main story in your marketing?

Lesson 5: Styles go out of tune
Music styles go out of tune. For example baroque music, once super popular, it is now a real niche. The same is happening to brands. Today’s popular product categories with popular brands will turn – over time – into a niche or simply die. Think MP3 music players, vinyl albums or CDs.

Ask yourself: in what business are you really in?

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

Coca Cola should ride, not fight

Coca-Cola Company feels pressure as the overall soda drink category is in decline. At the moment Americans drink about 167 liter of soda per year. This is a drop from about 201 liter in 1998.

Water has again become America’s favorite drink, with an increase of 38% from 1998 to about 211 liter per person per year in 2013.

At the same time there is a growing pressure to fight obesity. Even so that New York City tried to put a size limit on sugar soda drinks served in the city.
It seems though, that it is not just the sugar soda category that is in decline, it is the diet soda category as well.

To turn the wheel Coca-Cola Company started running an advertisement to defend the use of artificial sweeteners.

The advertisement has the following headline “Quality products you can always feel good about” and then goes on saying “Our use of high-quality, low- and no-calorie sweeteners, including aspartame, allows us to give people great-tasting options they can feel good about”.

Why would Coca-Cola Company defend the use of artificial sweeteners while there is clearly a trend towards natural?

In the US the growth of organic food and beverages has grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. The global alternative medicine sector is expected to reach close to $115 billion by 2015. This is all fuelled by a trend towards herbal and nature-based products.

Coca-Cola Company should see this trend as an opportunity and not fight it. After all, when consumers see an advertisement defending ingredients in products it can be interpreted as coming from somebody trying to ‘prove them wrong’. Especially since the perceived honesty and ethics standards of advertising practitioners are very low. In the US they are just above the bottom two: members of congress and car salespeople.

Instead, Coca-Cola Company should ride the trend and grasp the opportunities now before somebody else will.

First, Coca-Cola Company can position Coca-Cola as the number one brand in All Natural Cola: a Cola truly made of 100% natural ingredients, no chemicals, nothing, just natural.

Second, Coca-Cola Company should consider introducing the natural Stevia sweetener in Cola products. It recently started doing that in some countries with Sprite.

The tough question to answer is: will it keep using sugar in its normal Coca-Cola and use Stevia only in the diet/light variants or will it go the full way and kill the diet/light products all together?

Either way, the soda business is up for a change, a change towards becoming more natural.

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

Instagram out of focus

We all know Instagram, the app to take photos with your mobile, apply beautiful filters and share them. Instagram makes pretty much any photo look good! Recently Instagram added the possibility to create videos, add beautiful filters and share them.

The question is: does it really matter? Will Instagram users care, follow and start sharing videos enhanced with filters en masse?

The answer depends very much on how Instagram is positioned in the minds of users. When users think “apply filters” but say “just Instagram it” then yes, users could make the leap.

But I have some doubts. First, Instagram is simply the #1 photo sharing site for photos with filters. The core of Instagram is photos + filters, it is not the other way around. This is very hard to change.

Secondly, in the photo and video online business it is not about convergence, it is all about divergence. Flickr has done videos since 2008, but videos are really hard to find on the site. In fact, there is not a single mentioning of “video” on the flickr.com home page. The same goes with professional photo editing tools. Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture both provide possibilities to edit videos, but no mentioning of this feature on their main product pages.

While the adoption rate for Instagram with video will be huge and we will see plenty of users trying it out, I do believe that the better route for Instagram in the long run would have been to keep focus and continue to bring only the best possible photos + filters experience under the Instagram brand.

At the same time Instagram could have expanded the business to video by either acquiring an existing company or by starting a new brand with a dedicated focus on video + filters. This would allow the company to innovate in both categories without dependencies. More importantly, in the long run, it might bring in users who are not using Instagram for photos or don’t want to use it.

Good examples are Twitter and Vine (which is owned by Twitter). Both are about snippets of information, Twitter in text, Vine in a 6 second looping video. Both are managed under a separate brand. A case could have probably been made for Vine to be called Twitter Videos, but luckily it got to remain as an own brand and look what happened!

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

Marimekko, do not buy the rights!

After Kristina Isola acknowledged the plagiarism of a design, it has been very interesting to see the various reactions of Marimekko, media, marketing and branding professionals. However, the most important and defining factor for the Marimekko brand going forward has been left out: managing the associations that consumers have with the brand Marimekko.

In the end, brands are merely associations in the minds of consumers. For example, Coca-Cola is associated with the real Cola drink and Snickers is associated with a peanut candy bar. Brand associations are very difficult to change. That is, until something disastrous happens and the brand owner does not deal with it properly. We have seen that happening to BP after the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. The share price has still not recovered.

For Marimekko, the most important thing should be to ensure that consumers do not change their brand association. For example, if a consumer believed before that Marimekko equals “iconic Finnish fabric design”, Marimekko should do everything it can to avoid a change of association to “iconic Finnish fabric design and possible copies”.

The decision of the company to buy the rights to designs of Maria Pryimachenko will only give more opportunities for consumers to change the brand association. Why? Because it allows the discussion to continue and most importantly, it gives a constant physical reminder of the copy scandal. The continuous opportunity for consumers to change their brand associations is very harmful and can even be fatal for a brand.

If you are convinced that buying the rights to the designs of Maria Pryimachenko is the best thing to do, I invite you to go to a Marimekko shop and imagine you see those designs. Then be really honest with yourself: what do you think and feel about Marimekko? Has it changed? How?

What could Marimekko have done to ensure that consumers would have little opportunity to change their brand associations? They should have started with a different outcome in mind: a zero change in the brand association. As a result, the company should have been very firm and confident with consumers and media.

Don’t fight the facts, but deal with them. Don’t wait and see, but act. Don’t blame, don’t dismiss but take full responsibility and publicly end the relationship with Kristina Isola. By not distancing itself strongly from her, Marimekko indirectly indicates that ‘it is not a big deal’. From the moment this crisis started Marimekko should have followed its corporate value “fairness to everyone and everything” and actively reached out to the copyright holders.

When all of the above happens in an open and transparent way, a way that consumers can come to terms with and think ‘I understand and I would have done that too’, the brand is OK and brand associations have little opportunity to change.

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

Burger Brand Battle

Context: In Finland is a burger fast food duopoly between McDonalds (American) and Hesburger (Finnish). In May Burger King announced it would re-enter the market (their first attempt years ago failed) through a local chain called Restel.

Big news when Restel announced to bring Burger King back to the Finnish fast food market! Of course, McDonald’s quickly pointed out that the fast-food market in Finland is tight. Indeed, after Hesburger bought Carrols in 2012 the common believe might have been that the Finnish market is to small to go beyond a duopoly. Nothing could be further from the truth: with the arrival of Burger King the burger brand battle is about to start!

So, what might happen?

For the current players in the market, McDonalds and Hesburger I can only see trouble at the horizon. In general brands are strongest when they mean one thing and one thing only, like Heinz = Ketchup. This is the power of focus. Both Hesburger and McDonalds are currently not very focussed brands. Let me ask you, how would you describe McDonalds or Hesburger to your friends in a couple of words without using any marketing talk? It is quite difficult, isn’t ? I have heard some: McDonalds is the original or American, Hesburger is Finnish, there is a difference in mayonnaise etc. These are all right, but they do not help McDonalds or Hesburger to position itself clearly in the market.

Burger King on the other hand can capitalise on a very strong position: Burger King = Fire-grilled beef. So, if you want a fire-grilled beef burger you go to Burger King. When it comes to brand clarity Burger King is currently the winner!

What could McDonalds do?
McDonalds could focus on being the really FAST, fast, food restaurant. After all, a fire-grilled beef burger does imply slowness to it. Another alternative is to (re)focus around family: McDonalds, the family fast food restaurant.
What McDonalds should not do is to further increase the number of products. For example, the current MyBurger campaign does not help to increase clarity of what McDonalds is. It is merely a nice marketing activity but it is not helping to build the brand.

What could Hesburger do?
Hesburger will be in an interesting position. Being a Finnish chain in the middle of the two American giants they should play the Finnish card. This could be done through ensuring everything they sell is produced in Finland. If this means reducing items on the menu, then go for it! For example, a Fish burger made of fish from Finland. Of course, on the box you can read which Finnish fish is used in the burger. Another alternative is to play on the Finnish taste buts. Hesburger will be perceived to know the Finns best!

Now, is the Finnish burger market really so tight that there is only space for three chains?
I don’t think so! Could you imagine a chain that only and only focuses on organic burgers? I can! Or what about a chain like the In-n-Out burger in the USA that has only three top notch quality burgers on the menu? Could that work? Of course it can!

I claim that in Finland there is space for at least five burger chains… let the burger brand battle begin!

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

Flip your brand

There are many logical reasons to line extend or stretch a brand. There could be an opportunity in a business domain close to your core business. In this case, extending the current brand into the new business area is often preferred over building a new brand, especially when budgets are tight. Perhaps the current core business is declining, and in order to survive, new business areas must be entered. Often the thinking is to save the brand in order to save the company.

Therefore, at some point most companies will think about stretching their brands. The assumption is that consumers can make the stretch too and will follow the brand into new areas, purchasing more along the way. “Consumers love our brand, so they will love our brand in the new product category too”. To prove this thinking, a healthy dose of consumer research is then conducted. And guess what? The consumers usually see an option for the brand to stretch! All good, so you think…

Unfortunately that is often not the case. In research situations, consumers are not actually buying the line-extended products. Rather, they are getting compensated to participate in the research. In reality, consumers do not always understand the extension and actually grab their wallets to make a purchase.

To find out if consumers will follow you and buy your brand in a new category, I suggest that you first try the “Line Extension Flip”. This test is a simple rule of thumb, and you don’t need any consumer research to do it. You just need a clear, open mind and lots of common sense.

First, think of your brand extended into the new target category. Then, imagine a brand already in the target category trying to extend into your current category. Finally, ask yourself, “Does this make sense?”.

I’ll try it with some examples:

Your current brand and category: Angry Birds mobile game
Your brand extended to the new category: Angry Birds children’s book
FLIP IT
An established brand in the new category: Pip and Posy children’s book
That brand extended to your current category: Pip and Posy mobile game
Does it make sense? Yes!

Current: Angry Birds mobile game
Extension: Angry Birds HDMI connector
FLIP IT
Current: BlueRigger HDMI connector
Extension: BlueRigger mobile game
Does it make sense? No!

Current: Fazer Blue chocolate bar
Extension: Fazer Blue chocolate drink
FLIP IT
Current: Oatly chocolate drink
Extension: Oatly chocolate bar
Does it make sense? Yes! (Cannot wait!)

Current: SOL cleaning services
Extension: SOL security services
FLIP IT
Current: Securitas security services
Extension: Securitas cleaning services
Does it make sense? No!

There are a couple of things to keep in mind before you start “Flipping”. First, only flip product brands. Remember, consumers buy products, not companies. Secondly, if the brand you want to extend is the current category leader, then it will have strong associations to that category in the consumer’s mind, and therefore you will find it is less likely to make the stretch. On the other hand, if your brand has no strong associations with anything in particular or has association with many things, it is more likely to be extendable. Finally, always Flip brands in the context of today’s market situation. Don’t use the Flip test to post-rationalise past decisions.

Now, try the Line Extension Flip test on your brand extension idea and let me know the outcome!

This post appeared in Markkinointi & Mainonta

DealExtreme.com -> DX.com = waste of money

DealExteme is a Chinese based gadget web store. Al products are made in and shipped from China. Shipping is for free and prices are amazing. Personally I ordered some camera equipment, like remote controls etc here.

When I was visiting DealExtreme  I noticed a big banner on their site:

I know what the folks at DealExtreme must have been thinking… we have a great website, we are selling well, we have a reputation of delivering cheap gadgets with free shipping but we want to make it even more easier for consumers to find us, so … we buy DX.com and rebrand DealExtreme to DX.com, we cannot go wrong!

Unfortunately you do go wrong because “DX” are just two letters that do not mean anything… Let’s imagine the following conversation:

  • Wow, where did you buy that amazing gadget?
  • I bought it at DX.com
  • DX.com? What is that?
  • O, it is website with great deals from China

Versus

  • Wow, where did you buy that amazing gadget?
  • I bought it at DealExtreme.com a Chinese web store

The latter makes of course much more sense as the brain does not need to figure out the meaning of “DX” and in word of mouth it does not need explaining. Abbreviations are simply not a good idea: you want people to remember your name… not your abbreviation.

 

Netflix buys DVD.com, what’s next in the branding saga?

Netflix, once known as one of the most successful dot-com startups is going through a rough time with some serious branding mistakes. Today I read on engadget.com that Netflix bought DVD.com… why would they do that?

Seven years ago the world looked great for Netflix. In 2005 it was shipping 1 Million DVDs per day to its subscribers. Wow! Netflix had an amazing position: it simply was #1 in the DVD rental. Netflix was nicely riding on the DVD player sales. There was one problem though… the DVD player was eventually going to be replaced by digital distribution.

The Netflix folks saw that coming and in 2007 they introduced streaming under the same Netflix brand. The service became successful but times changed and in Q3 2011 Netflix lost 800.000 subscribers.

The Netflix folks saw that one coming too and decided that the strong brand Netflix should live on in the streaming business, making place for a new brand called Qwikster for the DVD rental business. A couple of months later the idea was buried.

Or… was it? Netflix has now bought DVD.com. I am sure one of the ideas of the folks at Netflix is to use that for the rental business, moving Netflix over to the streaming business forever.

Now… what is going on here? Is this really the smartest move? No it is not!

Firstly, Netflix should have retained the Netflix brand for the DVD rental business only. The brand was the number one in the category. Even though the category is dying (and with that the brand) it would have been the best thing.

Secondly, for the streaming business a second brand would have been appropriate. It is a substantial new business / category in which the company could have been number one again. This brand should have been positioned as the streaming service.

Thirdly, buying a generic domain “DVD.com” is really a waste of money. Consumers are not thinking “I’d like to rent a DVD so I go to DVD.com”,  they think “I’d like to rent a DVD so I go to Netflix.com”. The DVD.com “brand” is a waste of money.

 

The art of version numbers – II

Version numbers are everywhere… every piece of software,  many websites, photo camera firmware, well pretty much on anything that is software. Yet, in marketing we do not seem to get it right when communicating the meaning of version numbers to consumers.

For consumers this is rather annoying because in the end everybody can relate to numbers. 8 is perceived better than 7 and 7 is perceived better than 6. Even with sub numbers: version 5.2 is perceived better than version 5.1.

So, you might think: what is the problem? The problem comes in when we start adding the third sequence number: what is the difference for consumers between version 2.0 and 2.0.1?

I propose something very simple:

  • Version 2.0: the second version of a product, truly different/better from version 1.0
  • Version 2.1: the first iteration of version 2.0: new features are added, but it is not a complete overhaul. If it were a complete overhaul the version would be version 3.0.
  • Version 2.1.1: a bug fix release of version 2.1, there a no new features, it is just a better version of 2.1. If it would have new features it would be version 2.2.

So, let’s take a look how this works in practice with a couple of examples:

iOS software updates
These work great with the above principle: the last big upgrade was iOS 5, followed by release 5.0.1 which was a bug fixing release. This was followed by release 5.1, a feature release. All easy to understand!

Another division inside Apple follows a different approach with Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro
The latest release of Apple’s professional video editing software (version 10)  has not started of that well. Many of the Pro features like multi cam editing were missing in the first release. It did cost Apple lots of customers, who moved to Adobe products. Now months later Apple has made updates to its software. The latest release adds pretty much all the missing features from the first version. Yet… Apple calls this significant update version 10.0.3… For consumers just looking at the numbers: version 10 (10.), no significant updates (.0), some fixes (.3). In my view, marketing the product as version 10.3 would have clearly indicated the massive improvements to the product!

 

Version 10.0.3: significant or not so significant update?

Rather like this…

Version 10.3, this must be significant!

What do you say? Can we simplify versioning in communications?

 

Skype: your answer call button is on the wrong place!

Am I the only one having an issue with the Skype incoming call UI?

Whenever somebody calls me I intuitively move my mouse over the first button to take the call… in the Skype UI this is however the “Hang up” button. To me the logic is “Answer” and then “Hang up”, not the other way around…

Is it just me?

Incoming call UI
Corrected incoming call UI

No-nonsense brand bites since 2009