Be Timely

So I’m standing in front of my house this weekend, watching the kids scooter around, when we’re suddenly accosted by various people passing out flyers. One gentleman asked me if he can share some information about a local candidate. I shuffled some papers around so I could grab the brochure. Once I had it, I noticed that another candidate’s flyer was tucked inside. There was no mention of a two-for-one from the guy. I just chuckled and turned away.

As I made my way inside, I looked at the tag-along and noticed that the date stamped on the back was 2006. I get the efficiency, since it was a re-election campaign. In fact, I almost applaud it. There’s only one (major) problem. A lot has changed in the last two years—far too much to just recycle what you’ve already done. By simply reusing your old stuff you are saying one of two things: either you are too out-of-touch to recognize that things have changed, or you haven’t done what you said you were going to do the first time, so you just say it again.

The same goes for any business. A consistent message is key. Beat it like a rented mule, especially if it is good and on target. But also recognize that as you produce, address issues and evolve, you move along and tackle the next set of problems.

I don’t, by any means, advocate that you should craft your message around the latest trends. Doing so would signal that you aren’t committed to who you really are. And if you’re not committed, why should anyone else be? Being timely and consistent with your message reinforces your brand. It shows your audience that you are focused on addressing the needs of your constituents (customers, consumers, employees, etc.).

Constant reinforcement of your message is necessary for solidifying your brand. Incorporating timely needs into that message is critical to building a long-term brand.

Not Sure What They Are Selling

I’ve been seeing a number of different car commercials lately, but, other than the obvious, I’m not really sure what they’re selling. Some examples:

  • GM, yet again, is offering employee pricing on its vehicles. This year, they attempt to couch it in terms of an anniversary. This is something they have been doing since around 2000, and they pull the trick out whenever their sales are in the dumps, which seems to be most years. If your vehicles weren’t relevant before, resurrecting a bad sales idea isn’t going to change that. Sell your cars on their merit, not the fact that you’ve been overpricing and underdelivering.
  • VW seems to think that German engineering is best expressed through black Beetle acting as a talk show host. Saying that you have German engineering doesn’t make it good—the engineering itself does, however. Tell me what it means and what I can expect to experience from it.
  • Mitsubishi has introduced a new engine, yet doesn’t feel the need to explain to anyone what makes it unique or at least different. When you spend that kind of R&D money, market the heck out of the result.
  • Ford has introduced a new box on wheels with so-so EPA estimated mileage, touting it as something people should desire. Two things: one, average or slightly above average EPA estimated mileage isn’t enough, you have to do something revolutionary; two, most of us don’t care one lick what the EPA estimates the mileage to be in a vacuum on a treadmill with no friction, we care about the actual mileage from driving on real roads.

When you are marketing a product, no matter what it is, you have to focus on the actual features and benefits. If you don’t have any, save your money and reputation and stop selling it. Focus your energy on creating something that actually creates a point of differentiation. Be unique. Serve a market others ignore. Make a positive difference. But don’t, under any circumstances, try to treat your customers like gullible fools. That is the quickest route to irrelevance.

Realistic Product Placement

I got the Madden ’09 for the Wii this past week. It’s amazing that the franchise is 20 years old. It certainly has come a long way since I played the first version way back when. That includes the product placements.

At first, it seemed like it might only be music artists getting some extra exposure. However, in their attempt to make the game as real as possible, EA Sports has added sponsored segments, interspersed at key points in the game.

The move is somewhat brilliant. Our real NFL world is plastered with sponsorships. It only makes sense to translate that to the video games worshipping the sport. And make additional profit in the process.

The difference here is that we sort of expect it. We aren’t taken by that much of a surprise. It seems to fit. So there really isn’t much to complain about. We’re used to it. We’ve been conditioned to it. And it really doesn’t come off as overt.

I wonder, though, where else it might work in a seamless manner such as this.

add to del.icio.us :: Digg it :: Stumble It! ::

Losing that Loving Feeling

When an organization really connects with people, something special happens. A bond forms. A mutual respect and admiration drives the relationship. The organization is driven by its passion to deliver its product and exceed all expectations.

It does it so well, people talk. And their friends make a connection. And they talk. And their friends connect. And it continues.

The organization grows and expands. Then they find themselves facing a difficult choice: seek to appeal to an even broader audience and reap tremendous rewards or stay true to your roots and forgo the potentially big payoff.

Starbucks chose the former. Eight years ago, I wrote a case study advocating for free Wi-Fi in their shops and a focus on a music partnership. They did some of it (my case study was not the reason why) as well as several other things that diluted who they were. They even went so far as to print out customers’ orders on stickers and put them on the cup where the baristas’ scribbles are supposed to go. That was the true sign that the end was near.

The news surrounding the number of pending store closures and associated layoffs, then, comes as no surprise. They broke their connection to their core audience. And while they had a good run, they lost track of who they were and are paying for those sins.

When faced with the opportunity to grow and expand, look closely at what that will do to your identity. Does it fall in line with who you are? Is it the natural evolution of your business? Or is it an attempt at the quick score? Are you diluting your brand and what it stands for?

add to del.icio.us :: Digg it :: Stumble It! ::

Lessons from a Bike Saddle

I’ve come to realize that managing the life cycle of a product or brand is similar to riding a bike. It’s about shifting gears appropriately and making adjustments in rough terrain. Let me explain.

Starting your ride    

Start your ride in a comfortable gear. You’re warming up, getting the kinks out, checking to make sure you are ready for what lies ahead.

Uphill

The secret to a successful climb is to keep pedaling. Keep yourself moving forward, in a lower gear, which allows you to pedal faster. You may lose a little speed on each revolution, but you will go further and with greater efficiency. The same is true for your brand. When you launch, you want something that is ready to go. It’s tempting, then, to wait until your growth starts to slow before making any real changes.

You are better off to make smaller tweaks as you grow, using that momentum to grow even more. Roll with the changes, not against them. It is much too difficult to restart up a hill when you are in that higher gear—making one large, sweeping change versus smaller ones along the way.

Plateau

At some point, you’ll reach the peak, and sales will start to plateau. Here’s where you shift gears, again. This time, you are slowing down the pace of change, increasing the efficiency of your investments.

Downhill

When you find your sales in a precipitous decline, just coast. Spend as little as possible. If you have an opportunity to change course and start back up a hill or along another plateau, start pedaling in that direction.

Rough Terrain

There may be times you find yourself going over some rough terrain. It is crucial to remain vigilant, making slight changes quickly so as not to lose your balance or veer too far off course (unless you got off course in the first place).

The real key is to remain in efficient control of what you are doing, not fighting against yourself or overusing resources. Because properly managing a brand is just like riding a bike.

add to del.icio.us :: Digg it :: Stumble It! ::

Managing Internet Sales

One of the biggest challenges for any company that sells a product is protecting its trademark and MSRP online. It’s even worse when you sell through others, whether they are distributors or retailers (or both).

The best way to maintain the integrity and legitimacy of the brand is to implement a tight policy that specifically addresses how your trademark can and cannot be used and what leeway, if any, you will allow with respect to MSRP—even if it is really Manufacturers Required Retail Price.

Some issues to consider:

  • Is it OK for them to sell on third-party sites like eBay and Amazon?
  • What kind of sales and promotions will you allow them to run?
  • Where will you let them ship? (Continental U.S. only, internationally, etc.)
  • What words can they use for online ads?
  • Do you want them to advertise your product as “lowest price”?

And regardless of what your policy says, you have to be able to monitor and enforce it. And your customers have to know that you’re paying attention. Thank and compliment them on their compliance, and give then tough love when they break the rules.

This is your brand. Don’t let someone else hijack it.

add to del.icio.us :: Digg it :: Stumble It! ::

Making Something Different

I’m watching a repeat of the season premiere of Project Runway (yes, I am a fan). The challenge for the first week was to take grocery items and repurpose them into something fashionable. Many succeeded, while a few fell flat on their faces.

The most common error was taking an existing fabric—like a tablecloth or shower curtain—and converting it into a dress. Sadly, my young daughters do something similar without much thought.

The ones that proved better used unique materials to get to the same place. A few others added an artistic flair, bringing things up another notch.

Managing a brand is not much different. As Seth Godin likes to say, you have to do something remarkable, something akin to a purple cow. I recently had someone tell me that their “green gorilla” was their version of Godin’s cow. Yawn. It’s just another colored animal. That’s not creative. That’s lazy.

Do something no one else is doing in a way that no one else will. Be unique. And do it well.

add to del.icio.us :: Digg it :: Stumble It! ::