Archive for August, 2008

What If Starbucks Couldn’t Sell Coffee?

August 31, 2008 Leave a comment

I was watching “American Originals: Budweiser” on CNBC tonight, and one of the most interesting things they pointed out was that Anheuser-Busch was unable to produce beer for about 14 years during Prohibition. They survived by diversifying and producing other products, including ice cream, ginger ale and refrigerated cabinets.

What would happen if other companies were unable to produce their flagship product?

What if Starbucks couldn’t sell coffee?

What if Harley-Davidson couldn’t sell motorcycles?

How would these and other similar companies survive?

Apple was originally known for the Mac. It revolutionized the idea of a personal computer, however, nowadays, when consumers think of Apple, they don’t just think of Macs—they think of itunes, ipods, and iphones. They’ve not only dramatically changed the computer industry, they’ve also become brand leaders in music distribution and cell phones.

They didn’t invent these things; they took something familiar and made some distinct changes to make them into something new. These innovations helped them cross the chasm of early adopters into the mainstream market.

Why do so many companies put their eggs into one basket?

Categories: MARKETING Tags:

Mad Men De-Twittered

August 29, 2008 Leave a comment

AMC has lost a significant opportunity this week by not allowing fans of the show to continue posting on Twitter under the characters’ names. What they should have done was follow the lead of companies like Timberland and Pabst Blue Ribbon, who understood that sometimes the best way to grow your brand is to just..let..go.

In “The Culting of Brands,” by Douglas Atkin, the author says, “Occassionally, gifts fall into the lap of unsuspecting brand managers. Sometimes communities will adopt a brand that the brand isn’t trying to engage. If it does, don’t mess with it. Resist your inclination to control events and let the community become the brand manager.”

Case #1: Timberland is most notably recognized for their rugged hiking boots and outdoorsy ethos, however, the hip-hop community has embraced their flagship product. There’s even a famous hip-hop star, Timbaland, who has adopted the company’s moniker as his stage name.

Case #2: Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) was really popular back in the 70’s before light beers (Bud Light), imports (Heineken), and microbrews (Sam Adams) dominated the market and PBR sales slumped.

Writes Atkin, “But by mid-2002 something had changed drastically. Pabst Blue Ribbon had miraculously become the fastest growing brand of all domestic beers, achieving double digit growth within a declining industry.

What happened to spark such a turnaround? A thriving community had adopted PBR as a brand that espoused their ideals. They liked how they had never seen advertisements for it, and that it was a throwback to America’s heartland and blue-collar ideals. It was a beer that wasn’t about image.

Irononically, this embrace quickly gave PBR an image. Impressively, PBR’s marketing team has resisted the temptation to jump on the hipster bandwagon and try to market to this cynical demographic. They realize that they are popular because they haven’t been trying to woo anyone. PBR wisely realizes that it completely needs to let go if they want to continue to enjoy their resurrection within the hipster community.”

Everyone was shocked to see AMC using Twitter to promote the show, and instantly catapulted the network’s “cool” factor. AMC should have let the fans grow the fan base on the site organically–they were doing a great job, especially with the 60’s era dialogue. Either way, AMC put the kabosh on this and we won’t know where it may have lead. Really ironic, as Gawker pointed out, that a show about advertising doesn’t know how to advertise itself.

Categories: MARKETING Tags: ,

Book Review: The Culting of Brands

August 25, 2008 2 comments

I’m currently reading a great book on Branding called, “The Culting of Brands: When Customers Become True Believers” by Douglas Atkin.

Atkin provides evidence and case studies that illustrate how religious cults and brands are very similar, and outlines the strategies marketers can use to build cult-like followings for their brands.

Most of us, when we think of the word “cult,” envision obsessive, socially inept and desperate people with serious psychological problems.

Atkin argues that the reality of cult members is actually quite the opposite: they are intelligent and educated social-connectors. He also says that, “..people become addicted to ‘cult brands’ like jetBlue, Apple, eBay or Mary Kay for more or less the same reasons that people become committed to cults like the Hare Krishna.”

According to Atkin, “A cult is normally a group that embraces new or fundamentally different ideas. Its ideology departs significantly from the prevailing beliefs of the surrounding culture. It is therefore progressive.”

A few key points:

  • “People in significant numbers are not going to join an organization populated by social failures. They will be drawn to a religion such as the Mormon church, and a brand such as Saturn, through word of mouth. That mouth has to belong to someone whom potential recruiters will trust and respect.”
  • Most of the public think people join cults to conform. They actually join to become more individual. Atkin interviewed a writer and Mac user who said, ” ‘..a Mac made me creative. No, actually, I was creative to begin with, and in some ways, they made me more creative.’ It had taken that part of his identity that he considers his most defining characteristic, his creativity, and accelerated it. That’s a pretty important role he has ascribed to a mere brand.”
  • Cults/brands must exist outside of social norms in order to be embraced by their target audience. In other words, you can’t be all things to all people. For marketers, this is a perfect example of the importance of niche marketing. By separating yourself from the mainstream, you appeal to the alienated group who will become loyal advocates of your brand. Harley-Davidson is a great case study: they have a repeat purchase rate of 95%!

Overall, this book provides an interesting viewpoint on how brands are built. I felt it was a little repetitive and could have been about 50 pages shorter, but I found the sections on jetBlue and Saturn especially interesting.

There are so many products and services out there with little to differentiate them in the eyes of the consumer. The most important concept a marketer needs to understand is that consumers are looking for an emotional connection in “cult” or “brand” communities, and the individual’s need to become a part of these puzzles gives marketers an excellent hot-button to push.

BUY IT ON AMAZON The Culting of Brands : When Customers Become True Believers

Categories: BOOK REVIEWS Tags:
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