Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy and Safe Festive Season to all

The final entry into the Bloggosfear this year is wishing all who read and enjoy, maybe even don't enjoy, my various ramblings, a very happy and safe Festive Season.

The Bloggosfear will resume operations some time early in the New Year, with a full appraisal of Christmas presents, the challenge of furtive returns to the store in the annual post-Christmas swap meet and the conversion of gift cards within the constraints of face value and store selection.

Cheers to you all...


Friday, December 17, 2010

Christianity's millenium of missed opportunity

The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. "Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass). Extract from Wikipedia
Yep. According to Wikipedia, the term 'Christmas' kicked off in about 972 years ago, even though the driver for it was the birth of Christ some 1038 years earlier. When you think about it, those branding dudes of 2000 years ago were pretty slow off the mark. Nonetheless, after taking over 1,000 years to get to launch date, no one could argue they hadn't thoroughly evaluated the perceptions of all relevant stakeholders in the process.
It's clearly the most effective branding program in history (unless you can come up with a better one!). Celebrated globally, even by non-Christians who've yielded to the market domination of Christmas by recognising it as another great excuse to party and indulge in unbridled largesse. The historical information in next bit also derives from Wikipedia:
The brand refreshment program for Christmas appears to have begun in about the late 18th Century when the brand consultants introduced a character to capture the spirit of Christmas, Santa Claus. Oddly enough, the 'character' first appeared in the 4th Century in the form of St Nicholas of Myra, the inspiration for the early European figure, Sinterklass. 
Centuries later, circa 17th Century, the Brits created another bod, Father Christmas. Essentially, the guy had similar characteristics to his European counterparts - generosity of spirit, reflected in gift giving. Being a Brit, he also had a dress sense somewhat different to that of the Europeans.
The logical conclusion for the brand consultants was to merge the UK concept with the traditional European Christian evolution and polish up the brand story a bit. Enter stage left, a based in the North Pole, a sleigh tugged around by reindeers, elves and all the rest. An absolute fantasy, remotely located so no one using 18th Century transport methods could easily check its veracity!
Christmas is a fine example of branding. It relates a story that is both factual and mythical. It strikes a deep emotional chord almost universally. It's a bloody good excuse to take a break and let your hair down. It's a great time to socialise and a hell of a reason to reconnect with people you've neglected to call all year. In other words it pulls all the right strings - belief, leisure, pleasure and indulgence.
The great thing about living in the digital age is that if Christ was born today, we'd have quickly got our act together and not denied about 40 generations of humans from the celebration. To appreciate how quickly we could have got things moving, take a look here.
Best wishes to all from the Bloggosfear for the Festive Season.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cost obsession driving the commoditisation of a generation

As I watch my tween-aged daughter glued to the computer screen for hours each day, talking to her mates, I find my mind drifting to the sort of social conditioning that's been going on to encourage it. I hear you say, "well just stop her doing it, you negligent, no-good father". My immediate repost to that is "Just try it - and why should I anyway?"

You see, we've created this impersonal world of instant gratification and commoditisation. Every move we make from government down to small business encourages destruction of face-to-face relationships, even though they are ultimately the most effective, if not the most efficient, form of communication. When Gen Zs start their casual jobs in department stores in the next few years, just see how difficult it will be to strike up a conversation.
This is one of the consequences that concerns me as the competition ideologues in our federal bureaucracy roll out reforms to 'cut costs' to consumers. While I think some reforms are required to regulate against price gouging and, occasionally, outright theft, I draw the line at the almost single-minded focus on costs that seem to drive reforms.
It's a mindset that relegates the concept of value and personalisation to virtually nothing. Let's cut bank fees. Great idea, but then why kick up a fuss when banks close branches and cut staff to protect margins and push us across even more into the internet banking space? All of a sudden, regional MPs fire off salvos about the unfairness of it all, but they're complicit in the reforms that cut the guts out of the system in the first place. Doh!
There's a pretty good possibility that my tween daughter will see the time when there are no street shingles bearing the name of a bank or telco. She'll run her life online, interfacing with virtual customer service staff, computers in the clouds and she'll own products for which there is no tangible evidence of ownership. But perhaps we're being driven to a society that is so impersonal we no longer need 'personalisation'? And what does this mean for brands - the very essence of businesses with which people identify?
So when I ask why I should bother to get my daughter off Facebook, the question is well-founded. I'm swimming against a tsunami of social engineering and commercial reality that dictates that her life is defined within the perimeter of her 15.4-inch laptop screen. It's one of the costs of cheapness.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pedalling through bicycle brands

I've been punting around on a Shogun hybrid bike for several years now. It's sort of left-over water pipe welded into a triangular frame - the sort of thing a plumber might build. Basically I bought it on the assumption that 'twould merely be a flash-in-the-pan fitness kick that might see me staggering back up the last leg of a 10km run willing myself back into the driveway and a hot shower about once a month.

But no, this riding thing has kicked in a bit more than expected and I now find myself punting anything from 40 to 90 km on Sundays, being blown into the weeds by lycra-clad pencils riding cool-looking drop bar bikes. Even their gear changes sound good as they slide through the cogs and accelerate over the horizon. Clearly, this is not good enough, so the journey into bicycle brand evaluation has begun.

The journey so far has been akin to my home theatre shopping experience of a couple of years ago and covered in past entries. There's a bucket load of brands out there, all geared by the ubiquitous Shimano, which I've noticed also has a high profile in the fishing reel business. Basically anything with gears is in Shimano's kitbag.

You'd think that would be a leveller, but it's not. Because, like Sara Lee cakes, Shimano makes gears layer ober layer ober layer. There's all kinds of sub-brands and numbers, which make absolutely no sense to the uninitiated - like audio visual cable specs only ten times worse.

Some bike brands appear in every decent store - Giant, Trek, Cannondale - while others seem to have limited distribution. Perhaps the limit is their price, which is often akin to an amount you'd pay for a small Korean car. Then within brands, there is a plethora of models, with apparently exponential price increases for very little gain. You're starting to get the picture, I know naff-all about what I'm looking at.

So, in the absence of real knowledge, I inevitably end up looking for a 'reputable' brand. But is this the right approach? The guru websites that cover bikes place 'fit' as the most important purchase criterion i.e. whether the combination of frame, handlebars, seat, gearing etc. suit your body and purpose. So you'd think brand should not be a driver, other than it might suggest the bike might cover a few thousand kilometres before disintegrating under you.

But brand does matter and I think I've discovered the reason. Again, it comes down to the primal emotional drivers that determine brand success: When you're dressed in lycra it's distressing for the peletons of riders flying past to see that your undercarriage is not only rudely exposed by the lycra, but is also reflects blissful acceptance of sub-par performance. So how much do I have to pay to avoid that? Thanks. I'll take one of those.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Damn! I missed jumping on the Oprah brandwagon!

The royal visit's well under way and I haven't prepared any plans for ambush marketing during Queen Oprah's drop in to Melbourne today. Because ambush it would have to be - marketing budget being somewhat constrained as it is by ... well ... lack of money.

But it's a great opportunity for the superannuation industry. We've missed the message that everything Oprah does is 'Super'. All the opportunities that presents! Where's Super Dude, Bill Shorten, with some government-sponsored slogan like "Oprah's super, like MySuper" ?  Huge opportunity missed, Bill.

I have to stop deflecting. Back to the point about being a failed marketing bod for not having jumped on the Oprah brandwagon. Why didn't I see the potential to life a low-engagement product or brand into the stratosphere of the total pre-occupation that surrounds the Queen of Talk?

If only I'd used social media to engage my brand in the conversation. I should have recognised the vacuum that I left for networked Gen Ys wanting to know what our super fund thought about Oprah - particularly the nuances of her tour like whether she looks good in an Akubra.

Now there's a guy we need in financial services marketing - the Akubra marketing guy (used in the unisexual sense). Everyone's wearing an Akubra. It's a ubiquitous part of the tour kit - like boarding and alighting from Qantas aircraft - other than A380s!

Why didn't I set up a superannuation account for every member of the touring party and have them all walking around with new member kits? Cool huh? The ultimate ambush. Ambushed for life! I'd even waive the $0.95 a week member fee for Oprah in recognition of the cashflow contribution that 9% of her annual earnings would make to the fund. Does she know earnings are tax-free after age 60 I wonder?

Better get down to Fed Square and get a message and kit to her. I'll take a colleague from financial planning in case it gets personal...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wikileaks opens a brand debate

The democratisation of organisational reputation via the internet is a face of life. No brand is immune from public scrutiny and comment. The brandkarma website blog has run an article about whether governments are capable of resisting the web-based makeover experienced by every other institution.

It says in relation to the current Wikileaks furor: "What is at play here is the principle that democracy and the public interest, all the way to issues of national security, are better served by the truth than by secrecy and subterfuge." It proposes that the controversy highlights that governments may now be exposed to the "radical transparency from which they thought they'd be exempt."

The commentary refers to an article in The Guardian by Heather Brooke, which postulates further on the implications of digitisation for government, politics and national security.

Of course brandkarma has taken an interest because of the brand industry's constant hollaring about brand transparency and accountability. It's an interesting take on an extraordinary debate.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Big brands fly into storm

Three of the world's leading brands have encountered severe turbulence in recent weeks - Qantas, Rolls Royce and Airbus and all three may be on a collision course in the courts, with Rolls Royce the company in the firing line.

The issue went public when one of Qantas' new Airbus A380 Rolls Royce engines blew in mid air, resulting in a grounding of the fleet, an investigation that pinned the source of the problem on faulty engineering or manufacture in an engine component and a recall by Rolls Royce of A380 engines from Airbus.

It seems that the upshot of this is going to be a significant dent in the cowling of one of the UK's most venerated brands and collateral damage to the other two. For Qantas in particular, this is an awkward situation. While there have been some concerning incidents involving Qantas over the past few yeasrs, the media has ensured every minor glitch discovered on the tarmac or elsewhere is magnified out of all proportion. So the Rolls Royce incident, not of Qantas' making, simply tags onto a conga line of stories damaging to the brand.

Qantas' brand problem is that customers generally do not analyse the veracity of some of these issues in any depth. Their perceptions are mainly shaped by their experience of on-time service and reliability. The question of unreasonable media scrutiny, helped by some mischief making by some stakeholders, doesn't register. Add personal experience to subconscious doubts about safety issues and you have a potent mixture of brand-eroding agents.

Airbus customers are airlines, who you would think would apply a fair level of analysis to the reasons for delays to orders due to the Rolls Royce recall. But it still isn't good news that refitting aircraft already in service will place priority demands on the supply of new engines, thus delaying deliveries of new aircraft scheduled for 2011.

Quite apart from the financial impacts, these companies, especially Qantas with its direct exposure to reputational risk among consumers, will be turning a lot of attention to restoring the lustre of their brands. So it's no surprise that Qantas has already announced it reserves the right to sue Rolls Royce for financial losses incurred through the grounding of its aircraft, should it not be able to reach a commercial settlement with the engine manufacturer.

Of course, that amount is calculable. But how calculable is the cost of restoring reputation? It will be interesting to see if that is built into the equation should the matter go to court. How do you calculate loss of brand equity?

And where does this leave the Rolls Royce brand? Perhaps it's flown under the radar of consumer consciousness, even the company's well-heeled automotive customers. There is no research yet to bear this out. However, if you want some insight on the burgeoning chorus of discontent, perhaps visit my old mate, Ben Sandilands' report, Rolls Royce under fire from all parties over A380 engines.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's not all apples for smartphone marketers

No surprise really that the only brand that attracts a reasonable level of brand loyalty amonth smartphone owners is Apple. The ubiquitous iPhone is an object of desire for corporate tyeps whose choice is often dictated by paranoia about iPhone's security architecture.

A survey conducted by GfK in the US, showed only 25% of smartphone owners planned to stay loyal to the operating system running their phone, with loyalty highest (59%) among Apple users and lowest (21%) among Microsoft users. RIM's Blackberry scored 35%.

The survey points out that the buyer decision is not about the handset, but about the high-end user features, in particular the apps available for the various operating systems.

GfK analyst, Ryan Garner says: "Loyalty with a handset is a lot more complicated these days in that people buy into experiences at the high-end level. If a phone doesn't do what it says it will do or what the owner hopes it will do, the maker will lose loyalty."

In the end, branding is a simple thing isn't it? The consumer experience is all that counts, not the means of getting it.

More detailed article at Reuters.