Your Video Says A Lot About You

If you’ve seen some of my tweets from the weekend, you know I was in Las Vegas for a tradeshow. Normally, I would have flown Southwest. This time, however, US Airways provided my transportation.

There were no major issues. We successfully took off and landed without incident in both places. Always a good thing.

But the safety video was pretty telling. For starters, it had to have been at least a decade old. iPods weren’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye. The laptop was one of those old bulky things most people stopped using before the turn of the century. There was no acknowledgement of cell phones capable of operating in airplane mode. And to top it all off, the safety card on the video was an entirely different color from the one in the seatbacks.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the airline’s safety video would be as old and outdated as its business model. Maybe that explains why it is struggling to stay afloat.

Here’s a hint, if what you show to all of your customers is tired and outdated, you’re not evolving and improving. Citing the cost of upgrades as an excuse for living that far in the past is lazy and inexcusable. And it says everything about the type of company you are.

Put your best foot forward to your customers. Show your best face at all times. When you start doing it in one area it’s contagious. And the rest of your business should follow suit. Start making those changes, US Airways, and there might be hope for you yet.

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Underdoing It at Overstock

I wonder if the good people at Overstock.com really have a message about who they are and what they represent. Their initial ads focused on a women sexually describing that it was all about “the O”.

Now, they apparently have some state of the art delivery system so that nothing gets between you and your purchase. But they don’t. They use the same as most others—UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.

So, what are they all about? What makes them important? Judging by their home page, it’s the index of items they sell and some special promotions. There’s no single identity for them.

And the identities they’ve tried to create don’t say anything accurate or important. There is no central message.

Look at your own brand through a consumer’s eyes. Does it make sense? Does it tell you what you need to know about the brand? Is it consistent with who you are? Is it all tied together to deliver the same message through multiple channels?

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Great Service Leads to Success

My family is in the midst of a move to Phoenix. Through this process, we have worked with a number of different people providing various services. Some much better than others. It’s easy to see, based on the quality of service received, who will be successful and who won’t.

First, let me start with the two real estate agents we used—one in New Orleans and the other in Phoenix. Each has a good understanding of their respective markets and gives what appears to be good advice to clients. Where they differed (greatly) was in their follow-up. One followed up at every turn, often calling as soon as she had something to tell us. The other, not so much. In fact, more often than not, we were calling looking for answers.

The agent that had hardwired the follow-up into activity is, by far, the more successful agent.

Next, comes my lawn guy. I have the misfortune to be allergic to most grasses. Cutting my grass tends to put me into a bit of a sinus coma. It’s not fun. So, we had a lawn guy in New Orleans take care of our yard. He had been doing it for us for the past few years normally was highly reliable. This year, proved to be a much different story. Weeks would go by without us seeing him. Other things he had promised—weeding our front garden and powerwashing the house and sidewalk—simply didn’t happen.

As we were showing the house and getting to crunch time (receiving and accepting offers on the house and going through the inspections and appraisal), he was nowhere to be found. The grass crept about ankle level, approaching mid-calf. I called him, and he promised to be out that day. Two days later, he still hadn’t shown or called back to say he wasn’t going to be there. I called again. Same thing. I called two more times before he showed up—after we’d made the sale.

My guess is that after the owners settle in, he’ll approach them about continuing to care for the yard. Since they saw how “well” he maintained it, I’ll bet they turn him down. Other neighbors probably won’t look to him for his services either.

I had similar experiences with other service providers, just with this one event.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to service, you need to go above and beyond. Keep people informed. Make certain that your work can speak for itself. Exceed people’s expectations.

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Some Ads Miss the Mark

National advertising campaigns don’t come cheap. The concept, production, placement and associated commissions add up quickly. Even a pure cable TV run will end up costing in the hundreds of thousands. So, if you are going to make that kind of investment, you want an ad that makes sense, gets the message across and produces results.

I’ve seen a few lately, though, that seem to miss the mark. Before discussing them, however, let me explain what I mean. Here, I’ll be talking about commercials that actually attempt to be relevant and convey a customer-conversion message. These are not off-the-wall concepts intended to score high on recall with little actual payoff.

First up is the Chevy Malibu. Their commercial promoting their precision engineering and assembly has a wonderfully rhythmic song playing in the background. The music choice obviously targets a certain age demographic—young professionals seeking something stylish and reliable. The problem comes in the selection itself. The song is called “Lazy Eye”, which many in the target audience will recognize. While making that connection is vital, associating your manufacturing with a lazy eye seems to be a bit disjointed. Sure, it may be a minor issue, but someone missed it. What else did they miss?

Next are two Maytag commercials. The company has a newish slogan, “Built Strong to Last Long.” It ties in well with their history. Maytag is known for reliability and lasting longer than its competitors. One of their early commercials with the new tagline shows the “Maytag Repairman” shooting baseballs into the front of a washer/dryer. Great visual. A newer commercial focuses on the dryer’s ability to remove wrinkles. It’s an admirable quality, but it has nothing to do with how strongly built it is or how long it will last. They need to do one of two things: either keep focusing on its strength and ability to last, or use additional messages to emphasize what else it does well. It is perfectly fine to use more than one tagline, based on the core message you are expressing.

The other Maytag spot focuses on what appears to be an annual sales event called “May is Maytag Month”. First, giving a sale a name like that creates a mouthful. In the ad itself, the copywriter and voiceover obviously struggle with it, making the ad sound confused and confusing. They overthought the alliteration and lost their way. If you can’t fix the copy to make it work, don’t be afraid to change the name. It’s better to flow properly than to stick to something cute.

Last are the spots for Laughing Cow cheese. A woman sets up the premise (such as making sure her garden is beautiful, though she can’t tell because it was more effort than her body could handle), then voiceover swoops in to remind us that we can’t always have everything we want…except with Laughing Cow. OK. When you spend most of your precious screen time setting up a scene that appears to lead into a pain reliever ad, cheese is the furthest thing from your mind. Unless it has some bizarre analgesic property. The commercial is a stretch at best. Focus more on the cheese and less on unassociated stories.

When you are looking at anything that is going to reach a customer, make sure that what you are using to represent you and your message is consistent with who you are and what your message says. Don’t let “creativity” hijack your core brand promise.

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Should GE Sell or Partner Appliance Unit?

GE announced last week that it is considering selling, spinning off or partnering its appliance unit. My first thought went to why they would want to dump it at all. GE has a long history of dumping underperformers (units and people). In December they put their finance unit (or at least some of the individual divisions) up for sale, and many have called on them to sell NBC Universal. NBC makes some sense as ad revenue is declining, and, frankly, the network has had better success with its cable programming than its scripted broadcast offerings.

That leaves three major drivers for GE: medical devices and equipment, aircraft, and alternative energy such as solar and wind. Solar and wind power is a growing industry, deserving of additional investment. Medical devices and equipment is somewhat of a reach and soon may start to lag. While GE innovation in this area is top-notch, the associated rise in health care costs will push down sales over the next few years. A similar situation exists for aircraft as the increased costs have forced airlines to reduce their capacity.

The other issue is what happens to the brand itself. If GE sells or spins off the unit, the ultimate value hinges on whether the GE name goes with it. Many suitors may want the brand for continuity, even though IBM and Lenovo were successful in the change. In that case, however, Lenovo was already producing the computers for IBM, so it was little more than a name change. GE isn’t in the same boat.

Allowing the GE brand name to accompany the sale exposes GE to a diluted value in the name as well as the risk of a negative association with the ultimate owner.

A partnership, in my humble opinion makes much more sense. Part of the reasoning behind the underperformance is because GE Appliances have not penetrated the international market, making them reliant on home sales, particularly new homes, in the United States. The housing market will rebound (new housing starts rose in last month, thanks mostly to apartment construction), and a strong international production partnership will give them the market exposure in other countries they so desperately desire. Then, in time, if they still wish to sell the division, they have ready-made partner (assuming the relationship goes well) and could command a higher price.

Shedding poor performers and investing in higher ones is a smart business move. But it should be done when other efforts to increase performance fall short or the organization decides it must go in a completely different direction.

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Balancing Consistency with Innovation and Creativity

When you have a brand, the one thing customers look for is consistency. Even if it’s bad, the fact that it is consistent gives them comfort. Yet, too much consistency can feel like a rut. It can bring on a mean case of boredom.

You work with it day in and day out, and have even before most of your customers had their first experience with your brand. You produce a solid product that users have come to love. But a yawn highlights your excitement.

So you look to create something new. Be innovative. You’re going to break down walls. Start working on the craziest of ideas. Revolutionize whatever it is rattling around in your head.

That’s where the balancing act comes into play.

No matter how creative you want to be, unless it is keeping with your brand promise, you will create inconsistency and confusion, lessening your brand’s value. The only way it won’t is if your brand was failing before and you are redefining it.

So be innovative. Develop some of your hairbrained schemes. But before getting too far along, tailor it to fit within your brand and what it promises.

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Human Rights and the Internet

Today, I’m taking a break from my normal brand management posts and joining Bloggers UBloggers Unitenite in discussing human rights.

Growing up, I used to believe that we should not impose our own cultural biases on others’. To me, the issue was simple and straightforward: That’s what their world is like. If they don’t like it, they are free to leave. As I’ve come to learn, that really isn’t the case.

Yes, that is their world. But whether they like it or not is irrelevant, because for nearly all of the poorest and developing nations, they really don’t understand that there is something different available to them—a life and a world that believes in personal freedoms and equality. The education systems in those countries, if they exist, don’t support multi-cultural instruction. Even with the Internet, nations and service providers can deny access to anything they believe to be unsuitable to their own means.

Such is the case in China, among other nations. And yes, while it will pose a problem for news outlets covering the Olympics later this year, the bigger issue centers on the lack of access it citizens have to basic information outside of Chinese national control. It’s bad enough that their government is happy to imprison you for visiting unapproved, yet entirely legitimate sites.

We, on the other hand, are much more fortunate to be where we are with the human rights we enjoy. And since we have the opportunity and access available to us, it is incumbent upon us to set the example. Promote open access to the internet. Use the technology responsibly. Support those nations that follow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Do you part in the nations that don’t follow the Declaration to set the example and treat the citizens with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Our own United States and many of our service providers have a few lessons to learn in this arena as well. But if we all openly support human rights and accept all that comes with those rights, we will recognize our dream of a truly world wide web.

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