Category Archives: Marketing Strategy

Does Brand Value Live Beyond the Grave?

enduring-value-brands-Lehman-BrothersI was most amused when reading about a new Scotch whisky that now carries the Lehman Brothers name. The product is called “Ashes of Disaster,” so is clearly meant to evoke memories of the failed financial services company. As a reminder, some consider the failing of Lehman Brothers the catalyst that triggered the 2008 global financial meltdown.

According James Green, a 34-year-old London entrepreneur that is launching the whisky, “It has a contrite, bereft peatiness,” as quoted from the Wall Street Journal article. Mr. Green plans to offer his spirits online and has gotten orders from bars in London and New York.

Who Owns a Brand Name Once a Company is Gone?

My curiosity was focused on a few aspects of this story. To start, there is the legal ownership question of the name. Barclays PLC bought parts of the firm in bankruptcy – and as you might have guessed, in 2014 tried to block Mr. Green’s using the name. According to the article, Barclays PLC said in the U.S. trademark filings that it “has a bona fide intention to use” the name for financial services. But, that wasn’t enough to stop Mr. Green’s endeavor.

I have a very basic understanding of trademarks. From what I know, even if Barclays PLC did open a new investment bank called “Lehman Brothers,” it still would not necessary preclude other businesses from using the name if the likelihood of confusion was minimal. In other words, if you ask for a Lehman Brothers whisky, most would not be confused to think you wanted to open up an IRA account at an investment bank instead.

Mr. Green has elected to use a name that invokes the reminder and feelings that we all felt (and experienced) at the time this financial firm failed. This is an important part of his awareness and branding strategy. In fact, unintentionally, I too am helping with his plight by writing this blog post (as are other journalists writing about this story).

I am not a lawyer, nor have I read the trademark filings, nor do I have visibility into exactly what Barclays PLC purchased. It could be the case that the assets they purchased did NOT include the brand’s name. If this were the case, then hats off to Mr. Green for having the insights and “chutzpa” to proceed forward.

Not the First Time

In credit to Barclays PLC, this is not the first time a company purchase has failed to include the appropriate trademarked or product names. Back in 1998, Volkswagen acquired Bentley Motors Limited, which at the time included both the Bentley and Rolls Royce motor car divisions (source).

What wasn’t recognized at the time, however, was that the name “Rolls Royce” was owned by the aircraft division, something that was not part of the deal. As you can imagine, this created an enormous problem, headache and embarrassment for VW. Fortunately, significant supply chain partners and future business opportunities were presented to help smooth the way. Their problem was ultimately resolved at a significant cost and with great complexity. Here is a detailed article for those who would like to read the whole story.

The Enormous Value of a Brand Name

What I find most interesting about the Lehman Brothers whiskey story is the fact that the two businesses are completely different – yet Mr. Green considers this name to be an important part of his go-to-market strategy. If this indeed the case (time will tell if he has success), then I would propose we need to completely re-think trademark law on company brand names. The value clearly extends for a wider scope of influence and, in this case, beyond the grave of when a high profile company went bankrupt.

In a similar note, the old adage of “any publicity is good publicity” might need to be updated or expanded upon. Perhaps any brand recognition is good too? Despite the fact that many, many people lost their jobs, their life savings and more when the original Lehman Brothers was dissolved, an entrepreneur looks to start a new business with the exact same name. If such a name tied to a terrible event can somehow be deemed worthy of launching a new product line, then I have a hard time figuring out if there can be any bad impact from a brand name, once it has become recognized on a global scale.

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How Much Content Should You Share?

free_downloadIn the world of content marketing, every marketer must make a decision on what information should be provided openly, and what should require registration to access. Traditionalists will argue that the concept is straightforward – information that is more valuable should be deemed “worthy” of registration to gain access. With registration, however, comes an expectation of future follow up, be it in the form of a call or email from the sponsoring party. This knowledge dissuades the reading of your material, working against your desired objective.

Today these lines are blurring, which is causing some angst for those of us involved in content marketing.

What is the right balance? The answer is “it depends” … who are you are targeting, and what is your objective?

Who is Your Audience?

If you are targeting the millennials or younger audiences, forget about trying to gate any content you want them to actually read. They simply won’t do it. And, if they do, it will be with a “bogus” email address and contact information you won’t be able to use anyway. Here your best strategy is to post good content often and provide an easy way to share it across social media. This will get your message out. Over time, it will generate interest worthy of further discussion.

The next question is about what you want to accomplish.

What is Your Objective?

My experience has taught me that the decision to pursue content marketing really comes down to two reasons: Lead Generation or Branding. Of course, these goals are not always mutually exclusive. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume one objective can be seen as a primary goal.

If Lead Generation is your goal, then the purpose is to gain contact information for your target audience. That means some sort of registration is needed. But, that doesn’t mean registration is required for all material. Obviously, website content is listed openly for search engine indexing and visitors to read. The next level of interaction might be to offer more detailed or valuable content seen as valuable to your audience. An example might be a sponsored analyst market research report with data that is not readily available for free.

Dedicated landing pages should be prepared for such documents so you can best measure how many visitors landed on the page, and then how many of those visitors actually completed the form to access the content. Response rates can then be measured to evaluate if your message and content is appropriate, if it matches your audience’s expectations, as well as if it was deemed worthy enough to register to access.

But what about if your objective really isn’t to just collect names and contact info? What if you are trying to position yourself as a subject matter expert, which would then lead to new business? For example, what if you are a non-profit association serving your particular industry or market? What if the value you provide the marketplace is more based on influence or authority? And, if you can demonstrate you are an active, relevant voice in that marketplace, might it then be in your best advantage to openly publish content that is valuable?

Drawing the Line of Thought Leadership

It is under these circumstances that the decision of what to share gets tricky. If you are a “young” of new company, perhaps one that is still establishing itself in the marketplace, then providing access is probably more in your best interest to build street “credentials” and demonstrate you are a thought leader. Once you have built your brand awareness, however, then the research you perform will be deemed as highly valuable, and in most cases, worthy of purchase – beyond a simple registration page, but at a level where money is exchanged for your content.

A great example of a later stage company is Gartner, a research firm with 1,000+ analysts. Their reports are highly relevant and insightful – clients pay thousands of dollars a year to access this information. Gartner should not give away their content.

On the other end of the spectrum might be an industry trade association, say operating in an environment where significant industry changes are occurring and new competitive threats are now emerging. This type of organization might be short-sighted in believing that none of their content should be shared with the general public. At the current time, potential membership firms that aren’t yet a member are not likely to pay to gain access, but might be influenced to join if they believe such membership will position themselves (by association) as being part of a “leading” thought leadership group.

Another potential strategy is to release some of the information for free, and to request a different type of “payment” for the full report. This could take the form of providing three references, or to agree to participate in a future market research study. LNS Research has adopted this content marketing strategy, and has achieved success so far.

What is your strategy? Are there other options to consider? My recommendation is to adopt a blended strategy – give something away for free to entice engagement as well as please your younger audience. At the same time, other content should be at a level of value that your prospective audience is willing to “pay” in some way to then continue the engagement. Are there other ways to gate content such that a reasonable ROI on your content marketing program can be achieved? It would be great to hear from you.

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Message to Influencers as Part of Your Communications Strategy

ice_cream_simple_purchase_processI find it quite interesting to observe how purchase decisions are finalized. This process is even more fascinating when you look to see how the process has changed over time. As a marketing professional, it is critical to understand just how your target audience makes a purchase. If you don’t understand this process, you will likely waste precious resources, time and effort trying to encourage a behavior that might never occur.

Let’s first take a look at what I would consider to be a pretty basic purchase process – the decision to buy an ice cream at the beach.

A Simple Purchase

The first thing to consider is that this process will vary, depending upon if you are alone or with a group. In all likelihood, you will be with another person. In this case, the decision really isn’t yours alone to make. There is a time factor. Are you late to another destination with your companion? If so, then there will likely be no ice cream for you. L

Alternatively, if the weather is hot, you are with a group that is has time and money, then perhaps the likelihood could be quite high that you will have a cold treat becomes quite high. Not so fast … even in this scenario, there is a possibility that someone in your party is particular. Is it too crowded? Do they have my flavor? Are there Sherbet options? Only after navigating through these final considerations might a purchase be consummated.

As this example hopefully demonstrates, even a basic decision to purchase an ice cream cone at the beach will likely be impacted by the power of an influencers.

A Complex Sale

Given the above hypothetical scenario, one might wonder how a complex enterprise software solution is ever purchased! Sometimes, looking back on deals I was involved with, it is indeed amazing that they actually closed. Consider just some of the variables that must be addressed:

  1. Will the new software be compatible with the company’s existing IT systems?
  2. Will additional training be required?
  3. Can our existing staff support and run the program with training, or will new hires be needed? (If this is indeed the case, re-consider purchasing different software – the point here is to IMPROVE productivity)
  4. Is the new software necessary? In other words, can the problem be solved in a different way using the existing IT infrastructure, perhaps residing in another department or another business unit? Consider if you had just spent $1 billion on an ERP deployment, which still isn’t done, to really see the ramification of this consideration.
  5. Will I, the buyer, be out of a job if this new software is installed? (This might mean you are speaking to the wrong buyer.)
  6. Will this new software support our existing policies and process governance guidelines? Or, will it enable out-of-policy or procedures?

 

No Purchase is made in a Vacuum

What should now be abundantly clear is that the role of influencer is critical, so cannot be overlooked. As such, your marketing communications program and sales strategy must accommodate this reality. Any concerns or questions presented by influencers must be addressed. Of course, what this means is that topics for communicating to your audience must now include ancillary topics, perhaps some that might not have seemed intuitive when establishing your initial marketing communications strategy.

Sadly, those that neglect this expanded requirement for messaging will hit stumbling blocks at the worst possible time – when it comes time to closing a sale. An influencer may not be able to close a deal, but they can certainly block one by influencing a decision maker to defer purchase, or worse, select your competitor’s offering.

In my next post I’ll take a look at how social media has taken a role in helping facilitate the role of the trusted advisor or influencer.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in creating and executing marketing communications strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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What Happens if a Supplier Enters your Market?

Google-wireless-competitor-threatGoogle just announced plans to offer wireless service. What might this mean for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile? How would you respond if one of your suppliers announced they are going “upstream” and will now offer the exact same product or service you offer?

I was amused when I read about this announcement, including the quotes provided by Google, and the reporter’s assessment, so I thought this might be a good topic to explore in greater depth.

To start, the words “Google is now entering your marketplace” are likely to bring considerable levels of concern to most business owners. It just isn’t good to have another competitor – especially if they are Google or Apple – given they often see the world quite differently. These types of companies have a history of being disruptive technology providers.

With regards to the impact of this announcement on the wireless Telecom industry, I suspect it is not all bad news. In order to help understand what this type of announcement might mean to your business, it is helpful to review the Porter’s Five Forces model, as referenced in this article.

Porter’s Model

According to the model, there are five “forces” that determine your competitive environment (the Google announcement clearly applies):

  1. Supplier Power: This force is more from a cost and control perspective … worst case scenario is if you have only one supplier; they can then charge you top dollar, and you have no negotiating ability to achieve better terms.
  2. Buyer Power: This force comes from your buyers – how effective can they pool purchase decisions across channels and geographies to drive down prices?
  3. Competitive Rivalry: This force speaks to your competition. If you face multiple competitors offering similar products, then you don’t have much negotiating strength to drive higher profits.
  4. Threat of Substitution: This force is similar to what competitors you face and how “generic” your product or service is; for example, if your service can be performed by your customers, then a price ceiling exists – above that price will result in zero sales, as your customers will simply do your service or build your product themselves.
  5. Threat of New Entry: This force is the threat of the unknown, so to speak. Worse case is if it costs little in time or money to enter your market and compete … if your profits suddenly increase and anyone can enter your market, then it won’t be long for profits to drop. Those seeking to create or sustain monopolies are trying to address this force.

 

So What’s Going on with the Google Announcement?

I would propose each of the above listed forces might be in play, with some more so than others. Google doesn’t have a monopoly in providing handsets. Samsung and Apple are viable competitors. Google admitted in the article that the last thing they want to do is to disrupt their current sales model selling Android phones to the carriers; Google must tread lightly.

Another key factor for Google is the last force – the cost of entry. The wireless Telecom industry has a significant barrier to entry … in the billions of dollars range. If you want to be a national carrier, then you will need to build out a nationwide footprint, and, you will then have to replace it every 7-10 years as new technology advances go mainstream. This is a big investment, and one that Google won’t take lightly. In the announcement, it was mentioned that Google has established wholesale agreements with the carriers, so is not looking to make that big investment today.

What Should the Carriers Do?

Right now, after perhaps losing a heartbeat or two, the best response is that of a calm business partner seeking to expand a mutually beneficial relationship. This strategy is quite common in the Telecom industry, primarily based on the fact that the cost of entry is so high. Revenues get allocated between the carriers, but, it is a big revenue “pie” to share from.

Google explained in this latest announcement that their intent is to test new technologies and to ascertain what innovations are possible from a Telecom or infrastructure provider‘s perspective.  For now, this is likely a true statement. The Public Relations team working at Google should be very careful what future announcements are publicized, as well as the specific wording of such future communications. Clearly it is in both parties interest to maintain a civil relationship. Should the Telecom provider’s relationships sour with Google in the years that follow, then that might not be taking the best long-term perspective, given the enormous buying power of Google – as a customer and as a supplier.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Marketing is More than Advertising

I find it interesting when I speak with new acquaintances and they ask me what I do. I’ll typically respond with “I’m a marketer” or “I’m part of a marketing team.” Nine times out of ten, the response I’ll get back is “Oh, you do advertising.” I used to be surprised with this response, given that advertising is really just a small part of the marketing discipline. Now, I have come to expect it.

Of course, advertising is a part of the marketing mix. It comes in many forms, as shown in this recent media share chart.

advertising_spend_by_catetory_2013

Average allocation of advertising budget for marketers in 2013. Source: BIA Kelsey.

Each of these categories represent are part of the advertising spend, with each component offering unique advantages and opportunities, depending upon what you are selling and where your audience resides.

But, the role of a marketer is far more than planning a media spend and allocating budget to various communications channels. Marketing is really about understanding customers. Who are they? Where to they shop? What leads to a purchase decision? And, with this knowledge, what can be done to influence and accelerate the process? These are the questions a marketer must understand. With this knowledge, advertising spends can then be established and executed, with hopefully an understanding of what results will emerge.

Working in high tech for the past couple of decades, my advertising spend is highly focused trying to reach a specific audience. I have never worked in a role of advertising to the masses. I do marketing campaigns tied to some sort of “asset” that yields inquires for helping prospects to solve business problems. As you likely can tell by now, I work in what marketers call a “b2b” or business-to-business environment. Traditional advertising spent for this type of marketing is typically more brand or image based, so done only by the largest companies interested in building awareness of their name or presence within a particular market.

The Age of Experience

Today, marketing might be better described as “managing to create and sustain the best customer experience,” which is rewarded by new and existing customers purchasing your goods or services. There are many ways the purchase experience is impacted – from what other customers are saying, to what is published on news sites, to what is involved in the purchase process. (See “Is Customer Satisfaction” article link)

The role of a marketer is to ensure that each of these “parts” of the experience lifecycle all come together to tell a consistent story with a logical conclusion: purchase this product or service, and you will be better off, will solve your problem, or will feel good about yourself for doing so. If any part of the prospective customer experience lifecycle fails to consistently deliver this story, you have a problem. And, this problem isn’t something that just the marketing department needs to worry about … it impacts your entire business.

Let me give you an example. I recently had an experience where I was undergoing a purchase of a product that required some level of knowledge of what options to consider as well as what choices would be appropriate. The owner of this business didn’t think it necessary to train their new sales staff. As a result, I was stuck with someone who had no business being in a sales role – he didn’t know anything about the products, the competition, or how to even proceed forward with the purchase process. This lack of training led to a terrible customer experience, one that scarred the entire process (and one that will lead me to never do business with this company every again.)

Marketing Plan as part of a Business Plan

When preparing a business plan or speaking with a business plan writer, it is important to understand what role marketing will play as part of your plan. Marketing professionals are tasked with a critical role – helping the sales process be effective. This is way more than just running ads in a local newspaper, magazine or a billboard.

Today’s marketers have much more responsibility to look at the entire purchase process – from how a product or service is introduced to a prospective user, to what the purchase process is like. Without a clear focus on the entire process, a company’s financial future is limited, to say the least.

Those companies that are too small to justify hiring a marketing person or staff must rely upon themselves to review their own customer purchase experience, and to then address any shortcomings that might be identified. Unfortunately, this can often be a difficult exercise when there are likely other pressing needs involved with running the business. Ironically, it is in these situations where the greatest price is paid and the greatest opportunity for improvement is available.

Perhaps the first step to raising awareness of this opportunity is to get the stereotype of “Marketing is advertising” out of our heads.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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