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I read with interest several articles and comments by marketing executives who were assigned the task of branding British Petroleum (BP). There seems to be a sense of betrayal and disillusionment that a brand that they thought could never fail actually let them down. It seems that many marketing executives look at branding as more than a professional exercise. It isn’t just that they built a brand that was highly successful economically. It is an affirmation of perfection and even of doing good for the broader society. BP no doubt touted its multi-faceted programs at helping communities, the environment, cleaner energy, and helping the disadvantaged, all of which made the marketing professionals look good as well.
The stakes for the marketer in a branding effort are extremely high, particularly if the brand becomes a national and international icon. Those who worked on Exxon prior to its disaster and more recently on BP are asking themselves how they could possibly protect themselves from a brand that falls from the highest summit.
If you think that this discussion is well out of reach of common everyday business practices, think again. As marketers, we are always subject to the assurances of the client despite our own due diligence that their product or service is brand-worthy. In fact, many agencies today demand proof about a claim of a product’s quality. The fact that they will be paid well may not be enough to persuade the agencies to take on the account. They may be concerned about the long-term viability of the brand, but they will also want to be assured that the brand will live up to its name.
The power of branding is such that it is much more than a name, symbol, or logo. Customers actually become emotionally attached to the extent that they really do wear it on their sleeves. Wearing a brand is to many consumers not an ancillary item. It becomes very much a part of their persona. They really do take “you are what you wear” to a different level. But oddly this emotional attachment is not reserved for customers only. Officials at marketing agencies become equally as attached. Working on a brand account is somehow not only a sign of success, but it also becomes part of their persona.
So whether it was Exxon, BP, Toyota or Tylenol, the professionals working on branding pondered the key question of “how could it have happened?” Mistakes and accidents are simply not supposed to be a part of the branding effort, which is what makes them the brand. But as we have all learned in the recent past, brands are not invincible and when they fall it is from a much higher plain.
But brands are said to have yet another advantage which is why they are so coveted. They most often have the ability to recover when other products and services faced with the same calamity simply fold. BP presumably designated $20 billion for amongst other things compensation and damages to people living in the Gulf area. It obvious takes a BP to commit that kind of money to survive, but not only to survive, to resurface with the brand intact.
Over the past half century, several airlines have either had to fold, merge, or change their names after an accident. Safety is so paramount in the psyche of consumers that recovery is difficult unless the public is lead to believe that the brand is no longer a factor, one way or another. Or, as Tylenol did when its product was tampered with, create a tamper-proof bottle to essentially promise consumers that the calamity cannot repeat itself.
It will take a lot more than the $20 billion for BP to prove that they have taken the necessary steps to assure the public that an off-shore drilling accident like what happened in the Gulf of Mexico will never happen again. Toyota is still busy trying to convince its customer base that its automobiles are safe. They are on an intense campaign to convince the public that gas pedals will not accelerate on their own and that brakes will stop when prompted.
Marketers agree that the public expects nothing short of perfection when it comes to brands. The professionals too want to feel that they are working on a product that exudes success. It is perhaps the dream of many entrepreneurs to develop a product that turns out to be a brand. Needless to say, the rewards can be enormous.
In the late ‘90’s a young man with an electronic testing gadget for physicians (and for home use) was convinced that he had the ultimate new product. He had an exclusive with the producers in Asia and had managed to raise a considerable amount of capital to market the product. As a first step, I suggested distributing the product (retailing at $249) to at least 10 physicians to make sure that the product lived up to its hype. The entrepreneur thought that it was a waste of time since it already had been tested and marketed in Belgium. He wanted this gadget to become a national brand or the “next Apple,” as he termed it. Seven out of the 10 physicians reported problems with the device including not working properly in sunlight. Needless to say, his dream fizzled. Like the marketers involved with BP, I was glad that I did not become emotionally involved with a product and potentially a brand that was less than perfect.
By Menachem Lubinsky
Jason, a Queens resident, has been a patron of a hardware store since 1977, despite the fact that he had left the neighborhood in 1991. He travels more than a dozen miles whenever he needs a hardware item to the small family-owned store instead of shopping in one of the large chains just down the road from where he lives. You see, on a summer day in 1977 New York City was in the midst of a blackout and Jason badly needed a large flashlight to care for his ailing father. While most of the stores in the area were closed, the hardware store was open for just an hour or so, working under candlelight. Earlier in the day there had been a run on the flashlights and the store owner wisely put two aside for his own family.
When Jason walked in, he learned that the store had sold out its flashlights, but when he told the owner why he needed the flashlight, the owner handed him one of the two large flashlights without hesitation, refusing to take any money. “Just go ahead and take care of your father.”
A Staten Island police officer still frequents a downtown café after the owner shared some food with him while on duty in the aftermath of 9/11. You probably can relate your own story of a benevolent act that you will never forget. Sure, this might be ascribed to human kindness but marketers say that it is this kind of benevolence that leaves a lasting impression on customers who enthusiastically share these acts of kindness with hundreds and even thousands of others.
There were many examples of this during the recent volcanic ash episode which shut down more than 100,000 flights. JFK became an instant shelter for the thousands of stranded travelers. Saveria, which owns many stores at the airport donated hundreds of bottles of water and soda. Some f the restaurants even offered free food. These are all acts of kindness that will no doubt be remembered for a long time.
Customers, however, were not so kind to Jet Blue when it stranded travelers on a tarmac for eight hours on a cold day in February, without a bit of information on the cause for the delay (which turned out to be weather related). It took the airline many weeks to recover from what was the airline’s worst PR fiasco.
While travelers were appreciative of the water and the cots that were provided by the Port Authority during the volcanic ash shutdown, they were not as forgiving when it came to the airlines. It appears that while some airlines had their staff cut and run, others were there to lend a sympathetic ear. Others went well beyond the call of duty: Wrote Ad Age: “At Terminal Seven at JFK, British Airways’ concourse was virtually empty because the airline had paid for hotel accommodations for all its passengers, and had handed out food vouchers.”
Ad Age also noted: “And, to its credit, the hotel industry in the U.S. for the most part did not try to take advantage of the situation with price gouging. A group of almost 40 hotels in New York banded together to offer stranded passengers a 15% discount on room rates, although the Associated Press reported that a Hong Kong hotel raised its rate from 250 euros to 800 within the same day.”
Writing in a business column, a noted marketing consultant, actually urged businesses to seek out “situations of despair” to demonstrate “that it’s not all about the money.” He pointed to a linen store in the Midwest that was quick to donate a new set of linen to a family of six that had been displaced by a fire.
He and other marketing consultants have always argued that customers have a long memory. Just as they remember the good deeds, they are also likely to recall when a business simply does not rise to the occasion. Some of these deeds might even sound petty. A woman staying in a Midtown Manhattan hotel could not get over the fact that the hotel had “given” her an oversized umbrella to protect her from a rainstorm as she was heading to an interview. She wrote to a local newspaper “You better believe that I will never stay in any other hotel when I am in New York.”
A restaurateur I know well says he trained his waiters to observe customers who appear less than thrilled with the dish they ordered. As soon as the waiters “guess” that the customer is unhappy, they immediately offer to replace the dish. “I will do the same for customers who appear to leave over most of the dish. It’s a small cost for customer satisfaction.”
While you might say that this column has more to do with human decency and good behavior, it is to a great extent just that, but it is also marketing at its best. The ability to recognize that a deed is a small cost for “satisfaction” for whatever reason is not as widespread as it should be. Imagine a marketing program that actually kills two birds with one stone: Indifference and bad marketing.
By Menachem Lubinsky
It occurred to me that some businesses may actually be making a choice of sales over marketing. They believe that marketing may be too abstract, certainly when compared to sales that have a more immediate result. Hire a salesman, the reasoning goes, and you will soon count the successful “hits.” Invest in marketing and you may end up throwing “bad” money after “bad” money. This is particularly true when a company works with limited funds.
A food company client looking to boost sales was engaged in just such an exercise. The president of the company was being pulled from both sides. A senior marketing consultant opined that his company would be far better off investing in long term branding and marketing while a fiscal advisor retorted that he “always had time to risk money in marketing.”
Continue reading “Marketing and Sales: Perfect Together” on Lubicom’s Marketing Blog.
By Menachem Lubinsky
Ever so often a new term emerges in marketing that becomes an operative concept in the field. There was a time when “spin” dominated the marketing profession, although it was often thought of in a derogatory way. Putting a spin on something was not necessarily thought of positively. Spin was looked at my many as a defensive measure and not as a positive marketing concept.
Now ”optics “ is the new boy on the marketing block. It is being used to describe the appearance for something. Talmudic students should have no difficulty in recognizing the new term. The chazal teach us that appearance can be every bit as problematic as the real thing. We are not permitted to drink almond milk in the same setting as meat because of “maaris ayin,” which essentially is optics, or the way that it would appear to the naked eye. Since almond milk looks every bit like cow’s milk, the casual observer would deduce that the person consuming the milk was mixing milk and meat.
Continue reading The New “Optics” in Marketing on Lubicom’s Marketing Blog.
By Menachem Lubinsky
Leafing through a local weekly newspaper, I noticed an ad that read: “It’s 2010; Do You Know Where Your Marketing Is?” It went on to offer “free consulting” on brand image, but appeared to be more of a design firm’s quest for customers to redesign their logos and corporate image in general. On occasion, people turn to me for advice on a professional that could help with them with their marketing, which actually led me to write this column.
Continue reading “Who’s Who in Marketing?” on Lubicom’s Marketing Blog.