Category Archives: brand character

Turkish Airlines and the price of a reassuring brand

I started writing this somewhere over Eastern Europe aboard a Turkish Airlines Airbus 320 bound for Istanbul the third leg of four in a round-trip from Bahrain to Europe and back.  I can’t recall ever having traveled Turkish Airlines until two weeks ago when I made the reverse trip from Bahrain to the UK, but had I not been a captive of my round-trip ticket I would probably have switched carriers at Istanbul, never to return to the carrier again, such were the horrors of my first leg.

I find it hard to remember a more dour cabin crew than that which accompanied me from Bahrain to Istanbul.  I felt sure their training must have included hours spent in front of mirrors perfecting their scowl.  Their general, attitude toward passengers was variably off-hand or aggressive and they seem to have taken their frustrations out on the in-flight fare, which they had managed to suck all the moisture out of before throwing it at us.

What a contrast, therefore, was the second leg of the same journey, where we were greeted by smiles and tended with tasty, well-presented (by airline standard), in-flight catering.

Leg three of the round-trip was even better.  New plane, pretty attendants with nice smiles and truly good food and as I lounged in leather-clad comfort I reflected on how my opinion of Turkish Airlines may have differed, had this been my initial experience.  The final leg demonstrated how great, well-trained customer-facing personnel can even overcome other deficiencies in your offer.  The last of the quartet of Turkish Airlines planes I was to experience was clearly in the twilight of it’s years and it hadn’t been at the front of the maintenance queue either.  I found myself hoping this was because they had spent so ling diligently servicing the engines!  In the cabin there was only one working toilet, a number of the entertainment centres were faulty and the crew were put to the test by a woman with two juvenile delinquents who were sitting behind me and promised to ruin my flight.  However, they didn’t because the cabin crew worked hard to bring the experience back on track.  The complete event has underlined to me the importance for any business of achieving consistency and the essential role that internal marketing plays in that.

I have spoken many times in my seminars and writing about the importance of consistency in the success of a brand.  Not just consistency between the different facets of your business, but within each one too.  Had my third flight been my introduction to Turkish Airlines and what was my first been a subsequent experience I would have been more ready to accept that it may be difficult to get it right every time.  As things are I need more reassurance before I accept that Turkish Airline’s good stuff isn’t the fluke!  I often quote some statistics I picked up years ago that say it may cost ten times as much to sell for the first time to a customer than to make subsequent sales to the same person, but it will cost a hundred times that to entice a customer back once you have disappointed them.  Such is the price of reassurance.

Customers need the reassurance that only consistency will provide and of course while its best for everyone if you are consistently good, with all the implications that has for customer retention, pricing policy and margin; being average all the time is better than lunging from crap to brilliant in a way that makes doing business with you a lottery.

Achieving consistency is about nothing more or less than internal marketing.  Identifying your brand, its values and attributes and introducing them to every employee at every level of your business in such a way that they adopt them as their own.

If you have the right people in place they’ll take this and run with it bringing their personal skills and experience to bear and adding value to your brand and therefore your business.  There’s no shortcut.  Organisations who have chosen instead to apply a dictatorial approach to what they call “training” have consistently failed.  As dictators around the world have learned, dictatorship only works if you can preempt every eventuality, which of course you can’t, so you have to adopt a more nurturing approach and allow well-trained and motivated staff to interpret your brand values. In fact, one of the organisations that has achieved most success in this is another airline – SouthWest Airlines, who famously wooed customers with a consistent, if off-the-wall, brand personality through two industry slumps, almost uniquely maintaining profitability throughout.

These days we are all looking for ways to squeeze the highest return from investment and with the price of mainstream media what it is, communicating within your own business looks like a bargain.  What is more, most organisations find that the return they get on internal marketing significantly outstrips that of external campaigns.

I’m quite sure that had the cabin crew on my Bahrain to Istanbul flight focused on delivering the Turkish Airlines promise my overall impression of the airline would have been a lot better.  As it is, because I was a captive of my round-trip ticket the carrier had the chance to demonstrate what they really could do and I might just be persuaded to book with them again, but probably only if they were cheaper than their competitors.  As I said … such is the price of reassurance!

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Building a brand like Fender

The attention of anyone who is even vaguely interested in music and many more who wouldn’t know their crotchet from their elbow, has been drawn this week to the news that Fender, who have been making guitars for musicians around the world since 1946, is going public.

If you are thinking of taking a stake, you’ll be buying into a true icon, not just of twentieth century music, but of branding, because whatever else Fender may be, this is what a great brand looks like.  What Fender have done, of course, is create that most illusive, yet essential ingredient of any brand – a community.  And what a community!  When I was a would-be pop star the Fender Stratocaster (or Strat to its friends) was the six-string of choice for greats like Jimmy Hendrix.  The musicians around me were readily defined as either Fender or Gibson guys (although Eric Clapton somehow managed to straddle the two quite successfully for some years).  But it wasn’t and isn’t just about the Fender corporate brand.  What gave the business its sustainability was the way it catered for a widening range of musical genres and cultural sub-groups with a range of products that, whilst sharing the same DNA, each enjoyed its own dedicated following –  Stratocaster, the original Precision (which probably was more of a revolution even than the Telecaster) and Jazz basses, catered for clearly defined musical types, giving, what could easily have become a niche brand, essential breadth.  The business was also smart enough to listen to and watch its customers (Oh, how I wish a few more businesses could say the same!).  Musos were increasingly customising their guitars and Fender responded by creating its custom division where pros and enthusiasts to this day can specify their unique Fender incorporating all Fender assets – the tremolo bridge, solid state, pick-ups etc. crafted for them.

The trick of broadening your appeal (and thereby both increasing your customer base and deepening the relationships you have with them) by applying your core brand values to a range of niche products is one every business needs to practice.  In recent months I have been working with a perfume manufacturer and retailer where the principal equally applies.  In our case the corporate brand is built on ethnicity and high quality, but each of the range of perfumes and other products if played correctly has niche appeal and personality that we are building communities around.

But while you can’t afford to be a one-trick pony these days and innovation is definitely what it’s all about, it’s equally essential to approach your product and offer development  in a structured fashion.  I’ve highlighted before in these pages the need for every business to not only define their brand and have a clear strategy, but to support that with a methodology that ensures every new initiative contributes rather than detracts from the objective.  Businesses go off-track and waste fortunes every day on initiatives that either don’t contribute or even have a detrimental effect on their business, don’t be one of them.  My Brand Discovery program me has a built-in briefing process that comes into play with every new initiative, forcing those in the driving seat to justify the project against pre-defined criteria.  If you haven’t adopted a tool like this you need to get onto the programme.  Get it right and in a few years you could be floating your business for $200million!

Building Brand Britain

Over that last week or so, prompted by the UK riots, we Brits have listened to endless analyses and proclamations by local community members, civil servants and politicians centred on fixing our “broken society”.  As always with these situations, there has been plenty of scepticism heaped on the potential any new initiative has for success.  However, there is only one real obstacle to all the remedial plans announced by David Cameron and others and that’s motivation.

I believe that Dave is a good motivator and getting better, he talks sense, even though his opponent Ed Miliband, seems intent on trying to neutralise that with mindless and responsible political point-scoring.  (If I were him I’d shut up before people started to realise that it’s the left-wing, crap that his party has expounded for decades that has given certain sectors of society the idea that they have rights they haven’t earned and therefore created this disaffection).

The marketers among us will recognise the task facing us as brand-building and as anybody reading this blog over the last few years will know building Brand Britain is one of my pet subjects. The problem is that we have singularly failed to respond to the obvious need to develop Brand Britain and we still don’t have the right people in harness to tackle the job.  Forget the political masseurs, data-analysis’s and bean-counters, where are the marketers in the team?  Without them we won’t get past first base because the people who are currently in the driving seat simply don’t get it.

Over the past few years I have approached politicians, government departments, local councils and private enterprises with initiatives designed to help build Brand Britain.  In many cases, because I have always believed that unemployment and local business initiatives are both inextricably linked and critical to the cause, these initiatives have addressed local unemployment, been designed to strengthen communities and help the mid-sized local businesses who are the key to the future of our nation, shift up a gear and take on the world.

The responses I have received from the public sector jobs-worths in particular, though unsurprising have been nonetheless frustrating.  Unimaginative Job Centre Plus employees civil servants and local councillors have simply disregarded projects and initiatives as representing just another unwelcome task.  There’s no point and very little scope for public sector workers like these to adopt an initiative that’s not dictated letter by letter from Whitehall because their world isn’t a meritocracy.  Why should they take on something they aren’t compelled to?  There’s nothing in it for them.  Besides, these people aren’t employed for their creativity and they are entombed in a culture that actively discourages any kind of creative thinking, so expecting them to appreciate any concept is always an ask too far.

Life skills that should have been taught throughout a person’s school life, if not at the cradle, are belatedly outsourced by Job Centre Plus to HR and recruitment companies.  I’ve spoken to a few of these contractors.  They view these projects with the glee of a paedophile assigned to changing room duty at kids swimming gala and submit proposals that represent minimal input and maximum income for them with the balls-out cheek that comes from knowing the people assigning these projects don’t have the first idea what they are doing and are just relieved to have a tick in the “assigned” box.  When I have gone to these organisations to volunteer help and advice, the response has been eerily uniform and something to the effect that “…we‘ve managed to blag the approval of the JCP people for this half-baked programme, so there’s nothing in it for us if we actually do the job properly”.

These are the kinds of issues that will threaten any British brand development programme and unless someone wakes up pretty quickly and recognises that we ARE building a brand and therefore need to follow the appropriate process, we are destined to failure once again.  That means someone (Dave will do) having a clear picture of what Brand Britain looks like and starting with the mother of all internal marketing campaigns that will bring the public sector and government puppet masters into line behind the concept.  The public are motivated, the players are listening and we’re unlikely to find ourselves with a better promise of success for a brand building venture than now this side of World War Three.

Brand building – Murdoch makes the connection.

Its been a weird week for brand associations.  In the UK the revelations over The News Of The World phone hacking, its peak intriguingly coinciding with the parent, Murdoch-owned News International’s bid for control of BSkyB, has led to Rupe closing down Britain’s oldest and biggest paper.

I wouldn’t suppose for a moment that this has anything to do with right and wrong.  He’s done this purely for reasons of value not values.  Its emerging that there were already plans afoot to launch a Sunday edition of TNOTW’s sister paper The Sun, so the empire isn’t going to lose its readers, just the overhead represented by the journos, administrators and printers who produced TNOTW.  My contacts tell me that a quick audit also unsurprisingly revealed that The News Of The World brand had been irreparably damaged by hack-gate and although I’m surprised if the paper’s average reading age was such that they possessed sufficient social conscience to boycott it, the overnight disappearance of its advertisers has to be a bit of a pisser.

Like the advertisers, politicians of all hues are desperately scrambling, with varying degrees of sure-footedness, to disassociate themselves with Murdoch (Although today’s press conference suggests that Dave’s penny is still teetering), who some claim has been their puppet master for many years.  The end of an era, if not the Murdoch empire some say – I doubt it somehow.

This event however, does serve to underline the influence that the brands other brands are seen with, can have on their success.  I’ve long propounded the notion that product brand perceptions are heavily influenced by the retail brands they are sold through and the other products on the shelves alongside them.  The reverse is also true and similar associations exist between football teams (soccer to my US readers) and their players and even national brands.  It’s not uncommon to hear individuals being decried because of the company they keep and the same dynamic applies to every kind of brand.  Its why, despite their “fashion brands” claim you don’t find Hermes in TK Maxx.

Back in Prague this week Vaclav Havel, leader of the liberation of the former Czechoslovakia from Communist rule and undoubtedly the most respected man in the Czech Republic (admittedly not a difficult distinction to hold in a land of very shady political characters, but undoubtedly justified in his case) chose to endorse AAA Autos, one of the most deeply miss-trusted commercial organisations in the country.

I say chose to, but it seems he sort of slid slowly and inexorably into what I am sure he’ll come to regard as a mire, as a result of one of his charities accepting a hand-out from the company.  Tony Denny the enigmatic half-Aussie founder of what may be Europe’s biggest used car franchise has long-boasted of his political connections – I might say, far more enthusiastically than those connections have advertised their connections with him.  This week, it seems, he’s managed to leverage this connection in a stroke of genius that will undoubtedly bring him greater benefit than it will Havel.  It seems that AAA lent Havel’s wife’s foundation Vision ’97 an Audi (probably a cut-and-shut with a leaky sump) in exchange for her endorsement, but when Denny called the loan in Pani Havel was out of the country, so her husband stepped in as her understudy.  Was this Tony Denny watching the airport for Dagmar Havlova’s departure and quickly nipping round to Vaclav with a deadline he just had to meet?  Who knows, but I’m surprised Havel fell for this and disappointed to see the Havel brand devalued by its association with the Czech Arthur Daly.

Enter Vision ’97’s PR spokeswoman Sabina Tancevova to explain that there is nothing unusual in the nearest thing Czechs have to Nelson Mandela fronting a Dodgy Motors ad.  Who is she trying to kid.  But then, if I were in her shoes I’d be feeling a bit vulnerable given that it’s the role of PR to manage deals like this.  If she’s daft enought to buy into a cars-for-cred deal like this on behalf of the Havels who could blame AAA Autos for rubbing their corporate mits together in glee?

Such is Czech culture that I fear AAA, the most controversial of Czech Automotive brands, will have significantly raised its credibility, particularly among older Czechs, with this one association.  Maybe Rupert Murdoch, already one newspaper and possibly a TV franchise down this week, could get a few tips from Tony Denny?

Why Brands are communities

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled onto a discussion on a LinkedIn forum headed “What does a brand mean to you”.  A large number of marketing people have responded with definitions of what a brand is (which I’m not certain is quite what the author of the question actually meant) and, as usual with these things, the contributions are variously, almost there, misguided or just plain bollocks! 

Nobody, in my view, actually nailed the definition of a brand, which, given that the group is for marketing people, is at best sad and maybe even criminally negligent, but certainly explains why marketing, or marketers, get bad press.

For a few years now I have earned a living from debates like this one that take place in my seminars and workshops, but these are conducted with people who are there to learn.  I have to admit when I witness so many supposed experts failing to nail, what is essentially “marketing #101” I sometimes feel like just giving up and opening a sub-Post-Office in the Outer Hebrides!

There may be no absolute “right” answer to this question, but there are clear wrong answers and many of those that appeared on this discussion are just too ludicrous to repeat.  Among the “almost-got-its” though are suggestions that a brand is a promise, reassurance, differentiation or a set of values.  In fact a brand is all of these things, but they are elements rather that the definition itself.  A brand is a whole lot more.  These people need to join the delegates to my workshops in digging deeper to get to the real root.    Never since I first sat down and gave this subject serious thought, have I been in any doubt that a brand is a community.  The reasons that I stick to this concept are innumerable, but here is an outline of my rationale.

Since Abraham Maslow first explained it to us in simple terms its been generally accepted that humankind is on a journey toward self-actualisation.  I don’t see any reason to disagree with Maslow or the thousands of psychologists and researchers who have since advanced and refined his work.  At the risk of over-simplifying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, he characterises self-actualisation as a state of absolute confidence in one’s own being, values, position – emotional self-sufficiency if you like.  Our journey from humble beginnings has progressed through a number of levels to a point where are secure in some respects, but still seek approval and need to feel belonging, so we join communities – tribes, clubs, religions, and brands are a part of this pattern of behaviour.

In modern society we have a vast array of membership options available to us and we also have complex personalities with many traits, which we would all ideally like to express, but merely joining a group or club isn’t enough.  To gain the approval that we crave we need to demonstrate our belonging and to this end we adopt badges.  We can support a soccer team and we wear their strip, we drive a make of car and apart from actually driving it around we carry the logo on our key-chain.  We wear clothes with labels exposed, we carry shopping bags from our preferred stores for days or weeks after we actually made our purchases and we wear crosses on chains and other trappings of religious groups.  In some countries people join gangs and wear their “colours”.  There’s no doubt, we not only have to belong, we need to be seen to belong.

As marketers we commonly use research that defines people by their subscription to newspapers, the cars they drive, the luxury goods they own or the stores they shop in, so its surprising that so many marketers don’t get this flip-side of the same coin.

We choose the communities we do because we feel they represent certain facets of our character or belief system, but complex as we are, it would be rare to find a group that covered all the bases so we join a number of groups with high-profile values and beliefs that together represent most of the values and beliefs we feel are important in ourselves.  This gives rise to each of using a portfolio of brands.

Brand communities work in the same way that neighbourhoods do.  We move in because they are the kinds of places where people “like us” live, but we’ll usually bring along values and traits that are new to that community.  For example you might be an executive on the up and move into a quiet up-market district and be the first resident with a motorcycle or motor home, or the first member of an ethnic minority to move into an English rural village.  Unavoidably, your arrival and introduction of new features, values or traits will change the dynamic of that community.  It’s the same with brand communities.

There’s no doubt that we judge people by the brand communities they belong to, just as we judge people by the company they keep.  You must have heard someone comment on an acquaintance as “mixing with the wrong kind of people”, it works both ways, but a brand’s character is not only defined (in part) by its members, but by the other brands it associates with, so distributors, retailers and other brands that these retailers also offer all influence our perceptions. You can see how the company a brand keeps influences perceptions in niche fashion brands that start as exclusive trappings of affluent middle or upper classes and become chav icons.

Smart brand guardians will influence this to their advantage and will leverage the opportunities these changes bring about, but most of all the role of a brand guardian is to ensure that their brand is always “vivid”.  There is no place in the grand plan for grey or me-too brands.  If you want to be worn as a badge of belonging (and believe me you do!) you have to be distinctive, make a statement, stand for something.  Today’s brands can’t hope to amount to anything unless they stand out.  This means being abreast of current topics, airing them and taking a stance that will give members and potential members something to hook on to.  As Anita Roddick did with Body Shop.

The values that brands represent, the causes they support and the style they adopt combine to infer a promise.  A brand may not be a promise or a proposition, but there is a promise inherent in every brand – it’s the consequence of joining it.  I ask my delegates to think of their Brand Promise in terms of the way in which a customer’s life will be transformed by buying into it, and I mean “transformed” because these days nothing else cuts it!  You can ignore it if you like, but whether you choose to acknowledge and manage your brand or not, you do have one, people recognise it and if you don’t adopt causes and manage it your promise will be taken to be “don’t care”, which is not attractive.

This also underlines the importance for those who are responsible for administering the brands to understand that neither they, nor the corporations that employ them “own” brands.  There is nothing more democratic than a brand community.  Every member has influence and the direction it takes is dictated purely by weight of opinion.  Members are not confined to customers either.  Distributors, retailers, suppliers, investors are all players.

If you are asking what the point is of all this, its simple.  I call the relationships we have with brands “Brandships” and they work just like the relationships we have with our friends.  You know and trust your friends, you take their advice, you will put yourself out to be with them and you might even place your life in their hands.  Likewise, followers of a strong brand will go out of their way to buy it, they’ll pay more for it than a competing brand and if that brand wants to introduce range extensions they’ll readily try them.  This in turn aids distribution, reduces reliance on advertising, enhances margins and cuts down that critical time span between product launch, the emergence of competitors and profitability.  Basically, a strong brand adds to efficiency, which is the point, the only point in fact, because the single thing that separates commercial success from a failure is efficiency.

Maximising marketing efficency. It’s the old strategic v. tactical debate again!

had an interesting discussion with an agency founder the other day that reminded me why I started The Full Effect Company and took to championing the “integrated” cause.

When I set up The Full Effect Company my proposition centred on marketing communications rather than marketing, but while my horizon has broadened the same principle holds true.  When you really get down to business, its efficiency, nothing more or less, that separates success from failure.

And that’s what integrated marketing is all about – getting every element of a business pointing in the same direction.  In the area of marketing communications the elements operate on two levels – strategic and tactical.  Strategic is about building your community, making your customers feel at home and comfortable so they stick around, spend more time (and money) with you and even help you add members (customers).  Tactical, on the other hand, is all about short-term, prompting actions, introductions, sales. (over-simplification I know, but I’m talking to people who know this anyway, so I don’t need to state the obvious)

The thing to remember in all this is that while the influence of strategic communications can only ever be long-term, tactical communications will always not only constitute a call to action, but have a strategic influence as well.  Its unavoidable.  It’s there in the style of execution, the language and the graphics you use. Ignore it at your peril because it will go on working anyway and if you don’t manage it, it could actually be undermining your message and neutralising the investment you have in it.  On the other hand, when the tactical messages support aspects of the bigger strategic idea the relationship become synergistic.  If you make the most of the strategic element within your tactical communications you’ll increase your efficiency significantly and get a whole lot bigger bang for your buck.  And that’s where I started my Full Effect Marketing mission to increase my clients’ efficiency.  I’ve moved on a bit since then, but it’s still the fundamental principle behind all that I do.

While I see increasing evidence that businesses are understanding and exploiting this principle, there’s still a long way to go and it’s certainly not just the small guys who need the lessons.  The friend I mentioned at the start of this piece and I both had first-hand experience of major international organisations with problems that were symptomatic of them forgetting this basic strategic/tactical rule.

A while back I was called into a series of meeting with a major telco who were complaining that they weren’t getting value from their marcoms investment.  They had a strategic message that was getting more woolly by the day and were investing heavily in creating numerous short-term campaigns from scratch each year.  Their problems were two-fold.  Firstly their tactical campaigns were always short and very expensive, so they never had the opportunity to really get up a head of steam and fully repay the investment made in them.  Secondly the tactical messages were so diverse and disconnected from their strategic message that they were not just missing the opportunity for synergy, but sending out confusing, if not contradictory messages that just muddied the water.  This in turn meant their relationships with their customers (Brandships) weren’t as strong as they could be. Yes, it was all very inefficient.

Sadly, while they didn’t disagree with me, the remedy I suggested had political implications that they just weren’t prepared to contemplate.  As is often the case, I was talking to the marketing department and my solution suggested both a change of process and structure and a reduction in head-count, a suggestion that echoed rather hollowly inside their ivory tower.  Oddly enough my friend had a very similar story from a different sector.  Needless to say, faced with an impasse like this my relationship with this telco was short, but by way of my vindication, they were reported in the press last month as having exactly the problem I defined for them, so the cracks are now plain for all to see.  You would think it would be back to basics for them then?  However, I’m not expecting the phone call any day soon!

The key to this kind of efficiency lies in what I call the Brand Model. In the case of my Brand Discovery programme, this is a definition of a brand using eleven parameters, including a promise and a considered set of facts that make that promise credible. If once you have a Brand Model in place you assess every planned initiative in the context of its contribution to or reflection of the promise and these support facts, you’ll not go far wrong.  In the context of your marketing communications this should result in campaign elements with tactical messages that hard-underline one of the support facts and place it in the context of your strategic message.  People who are really good at this are Tesco in the UK with their tactically led messages that culminate with their strap-line “Every little helps”. Philips Electronics’ “Sense and Simplicity” which not only translates back to their product design briefs but results in advertising where the “sense” and “simplicity” are always demonstrated (and these words quoted religiously in headlines and body copy) and to a lesser extent Specsavers’ “I should have gone to …” message.

Until more businesses focus on squeezing the maximum strategic benefit from their tactical initiatives and messages and thereby achieve full efficiency, it’s hard to justify, in these cash-strapped times any purely strategic initiatives.

Need an illustration of integrated marcomms? Should have gone to Specsavers.

I realise that this campaign has been around for a while now, but I find myself eagerly awaiting the next commercial, which in itself is an indication of just how good it is.

“Should have gone to Specsavers” is, on the face of it not a particularly strong proposition.  For one thing it doesn’t actually make a promise, but what it lacks in directness it more than makes up for in the way it has exploited all the opportunities it creates.

The tag line is in the vein of the Tesco “Every little helps”, although I would suggest that Tesco’s is more of a promise, but Specsavers stick to the golden rule by illustrating why I should belive that message in different and highly amusing ways every time they wheel it out.

I like this because it is a big idea that they are exploiting to the full.  “Should have gone to Specsavers” may not be a smack-you in-the-face proposition, the promise is inferred rather than made outright, but I particularly like it because the individual tactical messages back it up with hard facts – discounts, deals etc.  I’m also confident that Specsavers’ data will show that the use of humour has transformed a boring commodity business into a desirable brand by giving it a clear and desirable personality.

In my opinion, Specsavers is one of the very few UK business right now that is producing efficient advertising and demonstrating to everyone how to get maximum bang for your buck by aligning tactical and strategic messages.  That’s integration!