Jan 31

Will Starbucks water down its brand along with its coffee?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And, Starbucks sure seems desperate at the moment. Starbucks

First, they sacked their CEO and reinstated founder and chairman Howard Schultz in the position. Then Schultz announces that the brand has lost its way and promises to close stores and re-focus on core offerings. Next, McDonald’s, sensing vulnerability, announces it will open 14,000 coffee bars and go mano-a-mano with the once unrivaled coffee king.

And how does Starbucks respond? It begins testing $1 cups of coffee in its hometown of Seattle. That’s right, the guys who dazzled marketing professors everywhere by convincing Americans to pay $4 or more for a cup of Joe, have blinked.

One can almost sense the panic that must be pervading the hallways of Schultz’s once-proud empire. Slashing the price of its coffee flies in the face of everything Starbucks stands for, and should give a monumental image and reputation boost to McDonald’s gamble.

The Starbucks move makes as much sense as Lexus suddenly offering a cheap, ‘starter car,’ Gucci licensing body tattoos or Zegna selling designer overalls.

These are the times that try men’s souls and now is the time for Howard Schultz to stand firm and hold the line on pricing and brand consistency.

Jan 14

Looking for love in all the wrong places

Surveys about client-agency relationships are a dime a dozen and tell you what you already know. To wit,Reardon
clients are unhappy with their firm’s strategy, creativity, execution and responsiveness. Probe a little deeper and you’ll find concern about agencies simply not understanding the business of their client’s business.

So, as I reviewed yet another one of these surveys from a Cincinnati-based group called Reardon Smith Whittaker, I was taken aback by one ‘new’ finding: forty percent of client respondents said they ‘look forward to’ or find it exciting’ to search for a new agency. Can you believe that? Do they have no idea how tortuous new business pitches are for agencies? These respondents would be right at home in Gitmo or most any concentration camp of the 20th century.

‘…Enjoying and looking forward to…’ agency reviews is a clueless remark for many reasons, including:

– The inordinate amount of time and resources an agency has to devote to a new business pitch
– The business disruption caused by agency searches to both client and agency organizations
– The fact that an agency search means the prior firm, and the client conducting the search, failed to achieve the business communications goals.

For me, this last point is what rankles most. Enlightened corporate communications departments realize that success (and failure) should be shared. Sadly, there are still too many client-side personnel who will claim credit for success, but point the finger at the agency when things go south.

Obviously, there are some bad firms, but most provide a similar level of service. So, what’s the real issue? Usually, it comes down to staff turnover on the agency side (a big agency problem) and a corporate communications department that is either too far removed from the organization’s strategic decision making to connect it to PR, or simply too lazy to do much more than enact a purely tactical, media-by-the-pound campaign. Either way, senior management gets antsy at some point and demands a new PR firm. And, the communications department readily accedes because, ‘hey, it’s fun and exciting’ to do an agency search.’

Don’t get me wrong. Agency searches are critical when a client is looking to re-position itself, take the business in a new, more strategic direction or, if the PR firm really has failed to live up to its end of the bargain. Sadly though, most are fishing expeditions that may be fun for the ‘angler,’ but pure torture for us ‘fish.’

Jan 11

Promotional Darwinism Emerges from Writers Strike

Guest blog written by Laura Mills.

I am annoyed by this writers strike.  Like many, I want my “Grey’s Anatomy.”  I want my “Office.”  And IHershey
really want my new season of “24.”  Instead, we’re stuck watching reruns and increasingly mindless reality television (“American Gladiators,” anyone?), while contemplating the rapid depreciation of TiVo…

This week, Reuters reports that NBC is offering to refund some Golden Globe Awards marketers after scrapping the traditional telecast.  Disappointing news for a bored America, but let’s be honest.  As the Reuters story shows, the strike by the Writer’s Guild of America isn’t just our issue.  It’s putting marketers in a very unique situation.  As we follow coverage of the strike with hopeful anticipation, other news outlets report the increasing potential for an economic recession.  I think marketers are secretly over the moon to have a reason to cut back on broadcast spending, harboring an attitude of “let’s store the harvest and get ready for a chilly winter.”  Everyone knows that in the face of recession, marketing budgets are the first to be trimmed.  But alternately, I think the writers strike also provides a great opportunity. 

With the promise of hours of reality television in primetime, branded sponsorships are inevitable.  For example, a recent episode of Bravo’s “Project Runway” featured a design challenge sponsored by Hershey’s.  Models and sample sizes generally aren’t associated with Reese’s Pieces and Twizzlers, but they made it work.  Hershey’s allowed the designers to run loose in their Times Square store and pillage as much candy and merchandise as they could for use as materials in their garments.  It was brilliant, and even I’ll admit to craving a Kit Kat at the show’s conclusion.  If we’re going to see more of these types of promotions, I would hope for more out of the box thinking like Hershey’s and “Project Runway.”  In fact, here are some unexpected sponsorships that I would like to see:

• “The Apprentice” and the NCAA (Imagine Tim Tebow in the board room)

• “Dancing with the Stars” and Playstation (Think: Dance, Dance Revolutions)

• “Survivor” and Band-Aid

Joking aside, I expect to witness savvy brands distinguishing themselves from their competitors as they leverage the current broadcast landscape.  In many ways, it is its own sort of reality show.  Will you be watching?

Dec 04

Eli Manning is anything but ‘unstoppable’

The problem with celebrity endorsements is, well, celebrities. And, unless a brand acts quickly toCitizenwatchad0507
disengage itself from a poor performer, its fortunes can plummet right along with the celebrity’s stock. Sometimes the decision is obvious, and smart marketers have dropped such losers as Brittney, Barry Bonds and Michael Vick faster then you can say brand disaster.

But what should a brand do when it signs a deal with a marginal performer? Citizen watches is facing that dilemma after inking a deal with New York Giants Quarterback Eli Manning. Unlike his celebrated big brother Peyton, Eli’s career has been anything but rosy. Despite pulling out a last-second win at Chicago this past Sunday, Eli’s performance was questionable at best. And, two Sundays ago, he single-handedly blew the game by throwing four interceptions against the Vikings.

So, when Citizen Watches airs commercials and publishes print ads saying their watches are as ‘unstoppable’ as Eli Manning, it elicits a chuckle, a cry of derision or worse.

Eli Manning is a real mixed bag. And, I for one don’t want to own a watch that, like Eli, might work one minute but stop the next. If Citizen continues to stand by their man, I suggest they switch from ‘unstoppable’ to ‘unfixable.’ At least it will ring true.

Tip o’ the hat to Isaac Farbowitz for this idea.

Nov 21

Dante’s Kids

Guest blog written by Gene Colter.

Come with us now as we descend into hell. Down through the first circles and on to the murderers andMortgage_2
harmers of the innocent and young. Gaze upon the horrors to be seen there. –

I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting and avoiding the come-on letters, but this one got by me. It came in a good-quality envelope, the sort of one used to see wrapped around personal letters back when people wrote letters. So I opened it. On the cover of the card inside was a color photo of a darling baby girl. She was some months past birth, given her ability to hold her head up and the stud earrings she was already sporting, but she was still swaddled like a baby. My mind raced: Whose baby is getting christened? Why don’t I recognize this lovely little doll? I opened the letter to find out.

Whereupon I found out that I, Eugene, could lower my monthly mortgage payment if I could meet with a representative who had reviewed my loan and who would soon be in my neighborhood to chat.

That representative, of course, would be a mortgage broker. He and his ilk are well represented down where the sun never shines. And, despite a daily pounding of news coverage on the woes of the nation’s housing market, some of the worst salespeople in the country continue to ply their trade just as they did when housing prices were inflating and loans of dubious merit were being extended to people who had little hope of being able to live up to their terms.

This is an industry that has not even begun to grasp the basics of reputation management. Salesmen in general have always had a complicated reputation, but the mortgage-broking industry stands out in its awfulness.

Continue reading

Oct 10

The tale of the magic wristband

Long ago and far away there existed a mighty financial institution whose leaders decided to takeMortgage_2
advantage of something called subprime mortgages. They saw an opportunity to make millions and millions in new fees by offering ridiculous mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them. Even worse, the intricacies of subprime mortgages escaped the unsuspecting borrowers who chose instead to be bedazzled by the prospects of owning their dream house.

Well, the housing bubble burst and many of the poor homeowners lost their houses, their savings and, in some cases, their futures. And, the big financial institution was pilloried in the press as being the bad guys who had lured unsuspecting consumers into the mess with aggressive marketing and pricing.

All the bad publicity hurt the big company. Its stock plummeted, its CEO was attacked in countless interviews and 12,000 employees were laid off.

This made the company’s executives angry. So, they hired a big PR firm and announced an aggressive internal and external campaign aimed at ‘taking the offense.’ It was a real beauty.

Continue reading

Aug 22

Never underestimate the power of a website

Marketing Consultant Robb High’s survey of 132 agency executives and 118 client decision-makersImage_2
confirms the importance of agency websites.

According to High’s survey, 97 percent of clients on the prowl for a new agency examine an agency’s site as part of the due diligence process. And, more than three-fourths of client decision-makers believe the ‘people/staff’ profile sections are the single most important component of an agency’s site.

Yet, almost half of the agencies polled have sites that only contain profiles of the two or three most senior people. And, 18 percent don’t feature anyone on their sites.

High’s results confirm what we’re seeing: more and more prospects asking for biographies of the ‘team’ that would work on their account. It’s always been important but, I think, so many ‘clients’ have been burned by the big agency ‘bait-and-switch’ model that they’re insisting on the team ‘meet and greet’ before pulling the trigger.

It makes sense, but can be difficult for the agency since the ‘team’ a prospect meets with, say, September 5th might not be the one that’s available on October 5th when the client makes its final decision. That’s because a day or a week at an agency can be like a year in more traditional businesses. Clients come and come. Accounts wax and wane. And, while Johnny, Janey and Akbar may have had time available when they first met the prospect well, stuff happens.

High’s survey is instructive and we, for one, will be making changes to our web site to make it more user friendly and people-focused. Prospects will be seeing more Peppercommers on our site, but they’ll have to balance that with the realities of agency life when it comes to the composition of their actual team.

Aug 14

Not walking the walk

I’m always fascinated to attend industry seminars and see my peers grappling with
business developmentIst2_187726_self_promotion_2
and branding issues. They know exactly how to counsel clients on the best and brightest ways to break out from the pack. Yet, when it comes to agency marketing, most firms simply don’t walk the walk.

A new survey* undertaken by marketing consultant Robb High substantiates this alarming trend: namely, 76 percent of 132 marketing communications firms surveyed have no regular outbound communications directed to marketing decision-makers. And, more than two-thirds of the 118 client decision-makers surveyed couldn’t name more than five agency brands. And, that spells trouble with a capital ‘T’.

So, while a select few agencies focus on fine-tuning their positioning, creative campaigns and strategic partnerships, the average one isn’t even attempting to communicate in the first place. When I ask agency owners and senior executives why they don’t consistently and clearly communicate their ‘value-adds,’ they typically say they’re focused on billable client work. Or, they’ll say they’ve tried it once or twice but, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, ended up assigning the most junior person who invariably fails.

Over the past 12 years, we’ve always treated our firm as a critically important client. We’ve allocated the necessary time and manpower and assigned our very best people to promoting Peppercom. And, it’s paid off. Big time.

While I’d like to think that most agencies will wake up and pay attention to High’s stats, the likelihood is that the majority will remain in denial and just keep their noses to the grindstone. And, that would be a fine strategy if client-agency loyalty really did still exist.

*From Robb High rhigh@robbhighconsult.com Tuesday August 7th 2007
Results of a survey among 132 Markeing/Communications  firms and 118 client marketing decision-makers:
76% of MarCom firms have no regular outbound communications directed to client marketing decision-makers (regular = more than 3/year).
68% of client decision-makers cannot name more than 5 agency brands (aside from their current agency or agencies.) 59% of those who know 5+ brands rate their depth of familiarity as "agency brand name only."  68% of MarCom firms with outbound communications send to a list of fewer than 100 companies, even though only one in 16 clients conducts a review in any given year. 79% of MarCom firms with an outbound communications program use only land mail. 97% of decision-makers select email as their "preferred" form of business communication.

Jul 16

Let’s rename this service ‘DieBlogComments.com’

With the traditional and digital worlds still buzzing about the bogus posts of Whole Foods CEO John Mackay on his own company’s site, comes word of a 100 percent unabashedly ersatz new service called Buyblogcomments.com.

As the name implies, bloggers who want increased traffic and improved search rankings pay this service to generate "authentic" comments that link back to the blog. The service essentially spams the comment pages of other blogs and inserts backlinks to drive traffic and Google juice. The site says:

"Finally, you can purchase quality blog comments without the stress of finding someone to write the comments, or buying some high priced automated program. BuyBlogComments is NOT spam! When you purchase blog comments from us, you are getting quality blog comments. They wont be saying stuff like "nice site, check out these free insurance quotes".. the blog comments will be about the blog post that we are commenting on. You won’t even be able to tell our blog comments apart from the rest. So the blogger is safe, it will look completely like a legit comment that someone reading the blog post wrote. In fact, most bloggers will like the free comments to help with their community…"

How clever. As if bot spam wasn’t annoying enough. Now blog readers have to endure a new, more disguised layer of spam. Sadly, I’m guessing a few unethical firms will experiment with this service. Hopefully BuyBlogComments will die a quick death.

Jul 10

Meet the new Delta. Same as the old Delta

Delta Airlines recently emerged from bankruptcy with a promise to be much more customer-centric in Delta_2   everything they do.

And, at times in my back-and-forth travel to Rome this past week, they did a pretty fair job. But, any efforts at ‘winning’ me back went badly off course last weekend. First, we sat and sat at DaVinci Airport in Rome just so one ‘connecting’ passenger could make the flight. It was great for him, but caused a 90 minute delay for us.

After landing at JFK and clearing customs, we were directed to baggage carousel six. We waited there for 25 minutes. Then, we were re-directed to carousel one. We waited there for another 25 minutes before, yes, they directed us back to the original carousel.

Needless to say, all this turbulence had my mind (and stomach) spinning…Delta’s back all right. And, if my experiences are any indication, they’ll be making a final approach towards oblivion in the not-too-distant future.