Ben Wise on Branding

Watching the world through the lens of the brand

Archive for May 2010

Don’t Engage If You Can’t Engage

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Self-professed social media gurus will be quick to tell you that brands need to engage with consumers online. Get on Twitter and Facebook and consumers will love you for it.

However, before jumping in, brands need to ensure that they have the true commitment required or they may end up hurting their brand instead of helping it.

Last week I wrote a post on Workopolis’ brand refresh. Someone from the PR firm reached out to me through Twitter asking if I would like to speak with someone from Workopolis about their brand. As well, a Workopolis employee commented on the post. My first instinct was they were doing a great job by reaching out and showing a willingness to engage in a dialogue with me about their brand.

But I soon learned that the company lacked follow-through. I responded to both saying I would love to speak with someone further about the brand. It has been almost two weeks and I still have not heard back.

I wasn’t expecting a response to the original blog post and was delighted when I received one. I was, however, expecting a response once they reached out to me and found myself disappointed.

This goes to show both the potential and the danger of social media for brands. The commitment in terms of time and human resources are high, as are the risks. If a brand isn’t ready to use social media properly, they will continue to put themselves at a greater risk of harming their brand.

What do you think?


Written by benwisebranding

May 28, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Apple Is All Grown Up, No Longer the Underdog

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It has been hard to miss the news that Apple’s market cap surpassed Microsoft yesterday, making it the most valuable tech company in the US, and second overall, behind Exxon Mobil. Earlier this week, Apple also announced that they will be ending the much-loved ‘Get a Mac’ ads (check out their 10 best ads).

I thought it was perfect timing that both of these happened in the same week, as they both portray the reality that Apple is all grown up and can no longer play the role of underdog, which was so clearly portrayed in the ‘Get a Mac’ ads.

For years Apple has played the role of the underdog to perfection. Fighting against industry giants like Microsoft and Sony, Apple managed to maintain this ‘little guy’ market position despite their rapidly growing top and bottom lines.

Luckily for Apple, this change in position has been fairly gradual over the past couple of years as they increasingly occupy the market space around cool, entertainment, and ease of use. As their soaring market cap can attest to, these are obviously powerful attributes for a brand to be associated with.

However, Apple does face risks. While they were once the beloved scrappy underdog, they will now face competitors who can credibly play that role. Apple has already taken some bad press for the mysterious process of getting apps approved (or denied!), and may encounter further resistance as other app stores catch up and offer a credible alternative.

The biggest risk Apple faces, however, is inflated expectations, everywhere from Wall Street to Main Street. After a series of industry changing innovations (at least 6 by my count), consumers will be disappointed in any new product that isn’t a home run.

What do you think? Can Apple’s winning streak continue?

Written by benwisebranding

May 27, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Whitepaper Release

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“Forget Social Media: Think Social Profitabiliy”

That is the title of a new whitepaper released today. I co-authored and had the privilege of working with some of Canada’s leaders in this space. The other authors are:

  • Kerry Munro, former head of Yahoo! Canada and currently COO of Syncapse
  • Ken Wong, marketing professor at Queens University
  • David Kincaid, current CEO of LEVEL5 Strategic Brand Advisors and former EVP Marketing at Labatt and Corus
  • Andris Pone, Brand Strategist and Copy Writter who blogs at Good Brand Bad Brand

The premise of the paper is that by calling it ‘social media’, it gets relegated to the marketing department. Instead, it should be what we termed ‘social profitability’, where it is a cross enterprise effort led by the C-Suite.

I hope you enjoy the paper and would love to hear your feedback on it!

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May 26, 2010 at 8:17 pm

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Lawsuits are Only for Desperate Brands

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I’ll be the first to tell you how competitive a world today’s brands must live in. Whether on price, design, function, or personality, brands are constantly attacked from all angles. This makes it increasingly difficult for existing brands to maintain their leadership roles and for new brands to gain a foothold in their target market.

But don’t feel too bad for brands. Despite these challenges, they continue to thrive, creating stronger and potentially more loyal relationships with their consumers.

This is why I get so upset when brands start suing each other. Subway is suing other companies that use the term “footlong” to describe a food product. This is a clear sign of desperation. A brand will usually only sue a competitor to protect an advantage that they have gotten used to. In other words, a brand will only sue someone if they don’t have any other way of maintaining their competitive advantage. It is a move of last resort – a sign of desperation.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lawsuits out there that are legitimate, but far too many are not and it is a shame when great brands like Subway resort to such cheap tactics.

What do you think?

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May 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm

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Starbucks Protects Itself with Defender Brand

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While marketers love to examine the price premium that a strong brand can command, the reality is that all brands face price pressures. There is always a cheaper alternative. As most brand managers are in their role for only a few years and are evaluated primarily on short-term results, the temptation is to cut price to maintain volume.

But there is another way!

A Defender brand is one used to protect against low-cost competitors. For example, if P&G were to launch a low-priced laundry detergent it would be a defender brand. The new brand would protect P&G from losing market share to private label competitors, without having to lower the price and potentially damage the brand equity of Tide.

Seattle’s Best Coffee: The Defender of Starbucks

Starbucks acquired Seattle’s Best Coffee in 2003, but only recently has gained much value from it. Facing increasing pressure from less expensive competitors (McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, etc), Seattle’s Best Coffee allows Starbucks to compete in the low-price segment of the market without harming their core brand. Starbucks is now pushing Seattle’s Best Coffee into national fast food chains, including Burger King and Subway.

Starbucks is able to successfully implement a defender brand strategy for two key reasons:

  1. Starbucks can leverage their geographic coverage and get national distribution quickly for Seattle’s Best Coffee
  2. Both brands are kept almost completely separate. It is important that consumers don’t have a close association between the two brands, or they won’t effectively play in their respective segments.

What do you think? What other companies are effectively using Defender brands?

Written by benwisebranding

May 17, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Foursquare Brings Customer Intimacy to the Masses

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In 1995 Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema released a book called The Discipline of Market Leaders. In a nutshell, they stated that there are three value disciplines and companies must choose one in which to excel. The three areas are:

  • Operational Excellence (eg. FedEx or Wal-Mart)
  • Product Innovation (eg. Intel)
  • Customer Intimacy (eg. Four Seasons)

The Customer Intimacy discipline provides a highly customized level of service. Since this is often expensive to provide, it creates a price premium and is generally offered to a small number of customers.

However, with sufficient data, some companies are able to provide a high level of customization to a large number of customers. My favourite example is Amazon, whose book recommendation engine knows my reading preferences inside and out and can alert me to book releases or sales that are perfectly aligned to my preferences.

Foursquare is now aiming to do the same thing. On the company blog, they announced that the list of nearby “Places” will be customized based on each user’s habits. This will be driven by the vast amounts of data that Foursquare has collected from its hundreds of thousands of users. Not only will their algorithms take into account the places you have ‘checked in’ to, but will analyze the existing popularity of different venues, as well as other factors like the time of day.

The result, if the algorithm works as planned, will be a user experience that is tailored to each individual user. Done properly, this is an extremely powerful brand proposition and can produce excellent loyalty among consumers. And unlike most Customer Intimate businesses, when powered by data it becomes extremely scalable. In fact, the more users on Foursquare, the more powerful their recommendation engine will become as they will be able to collect more data. This is much more efficient than a hotel or retail store that has to hire enough sales staff to give each customer an equally customized experience.

What do you think? Is Customer Intimacy the right discipline for Foursquare?

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May 13, 2010 at 1:19 am

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Workopolis Brand Refresh – Boom or Bust?

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Canadian job site Workopolis is undergoing a major repositioning. Previously, they have touted themselves as “Canada’s biggest job site.” The new campaign, which Gabriel Bouchard, the company’s Chief Brand Officer, called the result of “a long strategic process that led to a repositioning of the company”, moves the emphasis to the user with the new tag line “Time to shine”. The new positioning is certainly a step in the right direction but is still a couple of years too late.

Out With The Old

Being “Canada’s biggest job site” implies the obvious functional benefit that users will be able to find any job they want. Equally obvious is the downside that the site will attract a lot of competition, which is only exacerbated by the recession. I think what happened here was that the leadership of Workopolis realized that with new competitive pressures, particularly from LinkedIn, they needed to refresh their brand strategy.

In With The New

Giving job seekers their “Time to shine” moves Workopolis along the brand positioning spectrum from a functional to an emotional benefit. Users gain self-confidence and respect when they shine, and this is certainly something that many are looking for after a long recession. Without a doubt, a move toward an emotional brand positioning is a smart choice, as it has the potential to create a more ownable and lasting connection with consumers.

The Verdict

Unfortunately, the brand refresh does not go far enough in addressing the threat that LinkedIn represents. LinkedIn, set up as a social network for professionals, provides additional functional and emotional benefits to consumers that Workopolis simply cannot match. LinkedIn offers not only job posting, but the opportunity to connect with other users, develop your personal brand, and grow your network.

There is always a risk in relying on functional benefits, but until they are replicated they offer the most compelling brand to consumers. And since these benefits exist even for people who are employed, LinkedIn is able to create loyalty among users who reap ongoing benefits. Furthermore, social networking platforms by their very nature offer emotional benefits simply by being a social network, which can create a feeling of acceptance and belonging. See this old post about the emotional benefits of social networks.

The bottom line, the Workopolis refresh is a bust as it is not a big enough shift to make them competitive with LinkedIn and other more sophisticated job sites.

What do you think? Does Workopolis stand a better chance with their new positioning?

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May 11, 2010 at 12:51 am

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