Integrity Is What A Brand Lives By … Or Not

Brand IntegrityIntegrity … a brand lives and breathes by this. Right? All (ok maybe not ALL) business owners live by their integrity as this drives who they are and how they are perceived in the marketplace. Zappos did not become the best online retailer by not living by their brand integrity. Integrity drives as it is that adherence to principles that your customers embrace and gush about. Integrity is the fuel behind the unimpaired excellence that makes customers make you the only choice and have them sit around the campfire and sing your kumbaya. Many brands but cannot achieve that ultimate brand loyalty. It is earned and when there is a challenge of that very integrity that earned the loyalty, the brand image is tarnished. Over the past year or so, we have seen a lot of brand images being tarnished and it is up to us as the consumer to say yes I am in or no no I am going elsewhere. As a HUGE fan of the NFL and of course my beloved JETS I have been challenged by the integrity of the brand that is the NFL.

The Brand of the NFL

The brand of the NFL is huge. Ok bigger than huge. It is a 9 billion dollar industry and growing.  We trust you NFL that you will bring us the best of the best each week and when you do, we buy more thus adding to your revenues. We buy tickets to the games, we fly city to city to support our team, we are so proud to wear our jerseys, sweatshirts, jackets, boxers, socks, clings on our cars … we spend our money to show our support and in return we ask you to maintain the integrity of the brand.

Integrity of the NFL Brand

NFL, we as fans ask you to maintain the integrity of the brand. You are not above any other brand, though sometimes you make us feel that way. You are not there all year round like so many other brands. You are SEASONAL. Yes, NFL, you are seasonal but yet garner more revenues than many companies can even fathom. Forget Hello, you have us with the tingle in our ears from that last whistle in the ProBowl. We are that dedicated. We watch or go to the draft and fully engulf you as we love our teams and because you, NFL bring us our team, you become a part of us. We trust that you will give us what we give to you. We can see that the integrity of the NFL brand is an umbrella as each team and everyone associated with the team has to uphold that integrity. And when our team loses we are not yelling at you umbrella NFL or we used to not … now that umbrella has been flipped! We, the fans, the ones who trusted and believed that you would uphold the integrity of the brand, are screaming at you.

Losing Brand Integrity

The NFL has lost the integrity of the brand. If we did not see this in Weeks 1 or 2, we were slapped really hard in the face on Monday Night Football in the Green Bay vs Seattle game. I recognize that there are contract disputes and each side wants and wants and there is no giving. The NFL knew for months that the contract talks were not progressing, could stale and the refs would be locked out. We as fans trusted that the contract dispute would be worked out. Like any other brand that is in a crisis, we expected them to fix it. The replacement refs were that quick fix but this band-aid seems to be made of dental floss as boy oh boy it is quite thing and is not getting the job done. You NFL have caused chaos, come at a very big price.

Do the NFL refs make a lot of money? YES! But should we care? Really, should we? Some may say we should but, I think the greater question is, is it necessary to keep the brand in tact to pay them high salaries? The NFL refs are part time. Imagine on a part time gig making about 150K – not to shabby. But we have to think about the responsibility they have and how the pressure shifts to THEM to uphold the integrity of the brand. If the refs did not bear the burden on the field to uphold the integrity of the NFL brand, there would be no discussion about the replacement refs. Actually, if this was untrue, the NFL would have crumbled years ago as there would not be many players willing to play, there would not be any fans and without players and fans, there would not be an NFL, which would trickle down to College and then HS and Pee Wee. Game over. Instead, the refs bring a high level of expertise and professionalism which keeps the players playing, the fans coming and contributes to the success of the brand. Now with the replacement refs, the NFL has lost the integrity of the brand. They, the NFL exclusively OWNS the overall brand and the integrity therein, so it was theirs to lose.

Restoring Brand Integrity

Can the NFL restore the integrity of the brand? Sure. Like in any crisis, there can be a turn around. However, a chance was missed when the NFL made their official statement and felt that the replacement refs as well as the replay refs (who are not replacements) made the right call. The NFL created more of a crisis here and while the NFL will survive this, a crater larger than the Grand Canyon has been created. While the blown call is alarming, the official statement send up more red flags than meets the eye. Losses happen but when it comes at the hands of those who could have prevented this, it becomes difficult to swallow. It makes us think what is it going to take for the NFL to realize that there is a huge crisis and it goes deeper than the integrity of the brand. Fans love our teams and our players (though sometimes we are critical of their play) but we do not love you NFL owners and commission.

The safety of the players has been compromised and, as fans, we love them more than we could ever love the overall brand of the NFL. We have to wonder what will it take for the NFL to fix this? A catastrophic injury? As much some may believe that a boycott would evoke change, it would never happen as we love our teams and would never leave our players. You see NFL we do not come for you we come for them, our players. You now have separated the players from you and, unless you fix this right now, I am not sure any crisis communications strategy will bridge the gap you have created between you and the players.

NFL, it starts with you as loyalists like me are not even on the same street as your ballpark. Houston, we have a very serious problem!

What do  you think? Can the NFL repair their brand image?

photo credit: Parker Michael Knight

Does A Brand Need To Be Remarkable To Succeed?

Keurig is remarkableDoes a brand need to be remarkable to succeed or is  “ok”  good enough? We see some businesses that are just ok and are very successful or maybe they are perceived to be successful? Maybe they are bringing in one time sales and no repeats? Or maybe they are hanging on by a string and trying to stay afloat. For some, if the cash register is ringing that is all they need as they must be doing something right if they are converting sales. However, in order to stand above the rest, we need to be remarkable. If not, we become invisible to many. That may not be a big deal when we are invisible to those that are not our target market, but when it is our target market or a segment thereof, it is a problem.

There are too many choices out there and, if we are not viewed as remarkable, we are getting lost in the shuffle. There are over 100 different types of aspirin. 100 different types. Who knew? Certainly not consumers as they have their brand/brands and the rest are ignored. That simple little (s) on the end of brand is what scares CEO’s, CMO’s and business owners. In order for a brand to remain competitive, we need to be remarkable so that consumers purchase us and only us over and over. In other words, we need brand loyalists and lots of them. This begs a 2nd question here of do we need to be remarkable to convert first/second/third time buyers into loyalists? Can we have brand ambassadors without being remarkable? I tend to think not as building brand loyalty is not easy as we know and if we are not remarkable then we run the risk of giving our competitor an opportunity to swoop on in, show our customers that they are remarkable and have our customer become loyal to them.

Being Remarkable

Being remarkable is more than a great product/service, the marketing of that product/service or the service that is associated with the product/service. While it can be a combination of it all, it is actually a bit simpler. Being remarkable is standing above all the rest by performing one thing or multiple things that much better. It also does require having the guts to be remarkable. Keurig® is remarkable as it took something that people were making & buying for years and simplified it. What was Starbucks selling – coffee. Yes but more SINGLE CUP COFFEE. What were you making at home? A POT of coffee. Starbucks told us it was not ok to make an entire pot of coffee when we really only needed a single sized cup; which of course they came in 3 sizes. Boy oh boy did change the way people drank coffee. They had consumers begging for that $5.00 cup of coffee. Keurig brought the making of coffee back home with single cup servings. Fresh as fresh can be. No more burnt coffee smell (now if we could just eliminate the smell of burnt popcorn!), no more making a pot of coffee that goes to waste or is too strong as we put in less water or too watered down as we could not get the amount of grinds and water in proper proportion. They made a cup that has the proper amount of grinds and water ratio.

How To Be Remarkable

Change the way people think. Show them that you are remarkable by changing the way they think about you. Tell them and show them that you are remarkable and when you say this/prove this over and over, people will start believing. You have changed the way they think about you while at the same time you are making them think of your competitor differently. In the example above, being remarkable was nothing more than taking something that already existed and bring it back down to simplicity and making coffee at home.  No more waiting on lines for your own single cup of fresh coffee and spending $5.00 a cup. It can be made in the privacy of your own home, at the office and even some coffee shops and oh did we mention with some of your favorite brands? Even Starbucks has realized that the K-Cups® are the now and while it is taking away from in-store single cup sales, it still brings people into their store to buy some for home, to get that morning muffin or danish. Keurig has taken over the single serve coffee market that Starbucks dominated. Remarkable. As I was finishing this post, I came across an article where Starbucks is gearing up to launch its own single-serve machine, Verismo system by Starbucks, to directly compete with Keurig. Remarkable has its downside … when it is that good, people play copy-cat.

Changing The Way People Think

What Keurig did was nothing new. They changed the way we thought. They utilized some basic fundamentals in marketing:

    1. Identified their target;
    2. Within their target, identified the ones that were willing to switch;
    3. Outside their target, identified the ones that were willing to listen; and
    4. They did something that no-one else was doing.

This allowed them to introduce their product to the market through knowing exactly whose mind they could change  and who would be their word of mouth stream.  They identified those that were willing to listen & repeat  but are not necessarily going to buy.  This segment many overlook as they are not increasing the bottom line directly however, they sometimes are the ones that make the most noise that gets more people to listen as their minds have been changed enough for them to have listened and repeat what they heard.

Brand Image In The Marketplace

You cannot change the minds of others unless you are aware of your brand image in the marketplace overall and also for your customer segments. Just because people buy from you does not always equate to a positive brand image. We buy out of convenience as was discussed with fast food purchasing. The fast food chains while do not have a bad image, they certainly are not winning any prizes with anyone in the medical field/personal training/educational systems, etc. There are more groups that if they came together collectively that would change the minds of many about fast food. If enough hear it from different places, they start to really listen and minds are changed. We feel safer/more willing to trust when we hear the same thing from various sources/resources.

Brand Reputation

Your reputation is driven my your actions and the perception of your actions. There is nothing more maddening when we see company that has employees who treat customers poorly; fail to react in a manner that is expected or justified; and/or just lose sight of their goals and their competition differentiators. Your brand reputation does directly effect the way customers think of you, your ability to change the way they think about you and also how customers will talk about you others.

1. How you respond in a crisis matters.

2. How you respond to a triumph matters.

3. How you respond to nothing matters.

Nothing? how do you react to nothing? It is that place between crisis and triumph, launch and maintenance; kind of an off-season for your brand where your presence is necessary but there is not that much company business going on to talk with consumers about.  Customer satisfaction plays a big role in your brand reputation and that leads to loyalty and also being remarkable. Customers/consumers pay attention to how they are being treated. If the red carpet is rolled out for a $1.49 purchase, we notice.  If we are met with a gum cracking, texting while screaming over us for someone else to open, we definitely are not going to feel good about that experience and that brand. Their reputation suffers every time we talk about them negatively to others. Sadly, they have sent a message that is embedded in our minds – not all customers matter.  Unfortunately, this comes at the hands of employees which no matter how much we train, stand over, remind, etc. sometimes employees fall short of consumers expectations.

In the end, being remarkable is not as difficult- unless we ourselves do not believe that our brand is remarkable. One thing that sets us a part from the rest is one message to change minds. Your image and reputation are just one piece of the remarkable pie that sets the stage for embedding a positive message in the minds of consumers that does not leave any wiggle room for them to have doubt.

Keurig® photo credit: adamdachis

Winners and Losers of Super Bowl Advertising

winners and losers of super bowl advertising We are just outside of 3 weeks since the Super Bowl and already some people have to take a minute and think about where it was played (despite NBC saying Lucas Oil Stadium what felt like over 200x throughout the day) who played in the game, who won the game, who won MVP and salsa dancing, there is salsa dancing in football? We know this to be true and we also know that beneath this lies the media buzz, the chitter chatter and pretty much any unaided recall of the commercials. Ouch! That is tough to swallow for any marketer, let alone those that advertised during the game.

Although, those that advertise during the Super Bowl know that these ads are different and while the purpose of advertising is to sell, the purpose of Super Bowl advertising is more about receiving that coveted best ad, worst ad (they receive a lot of free media time that does not always damage their brand) and those that just rounded out the top 10 to get the media buzz via TV, radio and the web. The amount of free mentions  that the best ads and the worst ads receive is almost incomprehensible. That $2.5M investment suddenly is now worth $15M or so. When we say it this way, we have to think why on earth does any big brand not jump in feet first? This takes ROI to new levels.

Purpose of Super Bowl Advertising

Is the purpose of advertising during the Super Bowl to sell? Yes … well. Yes. … well. If you are like me instinctively you say YES! But then there is that little voice inside that says, well – they really want to be named the winner of the best ad but why would they spend millions to just be named the best ad? Well, let’s break this down a bit. Every big brand has a media budget well into the millions. Year after year they spend millions to create and place ads on television so why is there a big deal made about the cost of advertising during the Super Bowl?

Is it because some are spending what would be their monthly budget in 1 day? Ok but then we have to look at the mentions and calculate how much all that coverage would have cost and … Wait, can we say that the mentions are measurable in ad spending dollars? Ads are ads, mentions come with opinions/trust from the person mentioning and sometimes discussion. This can influence the viewer either in a positive or negative way and that cannot be calculated. Saying that increase or decrease in sales would be a good gauge is not practical. There are too many variables. Which brings us back to the purpose of Super Bowl advertising. It is not only to sell. It is to get favorable brand mentions over and over and over again across various mediums as the more mentions the more people are listening and the more people are listening, the more they are compelled to hear what people are saying and hearing so many people favorably speak about a brand does make people look over and consider. With the Super Bowl ads and all the media coverage, it does make us watch many of them again which has us spending time exclusively focusing on the ad and the brand. We know who and what product the spot is for. We see if our thoughts align with what others are saying. If so there are some who are compelled to buy to protect our own self image. Not sure self image plays a role? Talk to someone who has a dinosaur phone and what they say when you pull out your iphone 4G. They immediately try and protect their own image by making the excuses of having a flip phone still.

Super Bowl Ads Mentions Shelf Life

We have become so trained to view, semi-process (enough to hold a conversation) and move on to the next best thing. The next best thing is something remarkable or that beautiful disaster where we shake our heads but rush to the keyboard to burn plastic in getting our comments, shares and blog articles out about it. Do we ever think about how this remarkable or catastrophic ad/action will only have a shelf life of less than 2/3 weeks? Overall, the Super Bowl ads were a bit lackluster this year but there were some really good ads (someone had to win best ad) that we are not talking about anymore.  Did the mentions create enough of an impact upon customers for them to put the product/brand into self image so that it translates into sales? Could we ever really know? Maybe this could answer as to why not every single big brand is not advertising during the game. Yes, the free mentions and the buzz around the commercial/product/brand is enormous and cannot ever be replicated (the amount of mentions nationwide at one time/short period) but it could be too much of a risk to rely upon the positive mentions to influence people who are not customers to become customers based upon what people in the media are saying.

Winners and Losers of Super Bowl Advertising

The winners we think would be the best ads that people are mentioning over and over.  The Super Bowl is a lot about the game winner and loser of super bowl advertisingbut also a lot about the ads. We wait for them each year and boy are we quite elated when a brand we purchase regularly or just love has a really great ad. That makes us feel really good as we have associated ourselves with the brand in purchasing or loving them and a good ad reinforces our image of them and also our own self image and the image of us to others. Image. That is who the winner and losers are in Super Bowl Advertising. If having the iPhone was connected to something extremely negative then we know people in drones would run and get something else. Have to protect our image. Some would be individualists and gleefully get into discussion/debate/argument with anyone who challenges them on keep in the iPhone.

In the end, the winners and losers of the Super Bowl advertising is the image that we as consumers have for the brand and how image in purchasing that brand is viewed upon in the eyes of others. I guess in many ways that keeping up with the Jones’ does exist, when it comes to our self image of course. It is our own little piece of fame that we have when we are associated with something great and recognized for that association.

Thoughts – is it as simple as image being the winner and loser of really any advertising?


photo credit: Super Bowl Champs – tedkerwin; photo credit: chess – cogdogblog