Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Brand Awakens: Strategy Lessons From Disney

Brand is probably one of the most complex (and overlooked) assets to manage in a business. At its essence, brand is your reputation, built on past customer engagements, that you channel into an advantageous narrative.  It's hard to build, difficult to measure and always evolving. Having been involved with strategy and brand at several large companies, I appreciative how difficult it is to shepherd the brand in support of strategy.  .

When I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens recently, I was quite interested in how Disney would treat what is arguably one of the most valuable brands of all time. Having been involved with significant branding efforts, I know the levers to pull and pitfalls to avoid when planning a strategy.  Although it is easier to manage the brand around a creative property that is owned (i.e., Star Wars) vs the brand for a company which is more amorphous, Disney's effort hit all the right levers. Consider:

1. Know who you are. Many companies try and change their brand. The reality is that you can only change in a very narrow band because it has to be based on reality. Disney clearly embraced the space adventure, family drama and humor of what Star Wars is supposed to be. Contrast that with the earlier prequels which seemed to dabble between political complications and other new themes.

2. Know your customers and segment their needs.  Star Wars has many different targeted segments, but it essentially boils down to devotees, casual consumers and new customers. They have plans to continue to build with all three of these segments.  You see it quite clearly in their decision to have both new trilogy movies and stand alone movies.  

3. Create content based on who you are and what your customer segments want. Some people have complained the movie is a little derivative and seems somewhat manufactured. In fact, it was likely manufactured so that it would have specific pieces that appeal to devotees, casual consumers and new customers. 

4. Build excitement. You need to launch any new branding effort with excitement to separate from the herd. Disney mastered this with planned leaks, a stream of information and a genuine sense of enjoyment. 

5. Curate the experience. A company need to guide its brand and not let others control the narrative (as much as you can do that these days). Disney did this by getting control of its creative properties, laying out a timeline and giving fans a swim lane to understand where Star Wars exists. 

6. Drive awareness. People have to be aware of the brand relaunch for it to be successful.  Disney had a marketing blitz with product tie-ins, late night coverage and dedicated promotions and displays in major retailers. Although it went close to the line of over saturation, it did this in a way that seemed to curate the experience as discussed above.  

7. Live the brand. You see it all the time. A company says it is one thing, but you see it doing something different. Disney seems to have embraced Star Wars beyond the marketing.  The stars are likeable, they kept an amicable relationship with the old guard (e.g, George Lucas and several senior hires) and crowd sourced some of the props to keep the fans engaged. 

8. Manage backlash. There are always naysayers. People complained the movie was didn’t advance the story, etc. Disney essentially addressed some of these points straight out through director interviews or said they would address in the many movies to come in the future. The one area of bigger backlash among some fans was around past content.  Disney determined that large swaths of Star Wars material was not "canon".  Disney approached this by being straight forward about its decisions and making nods to this past material.  

9. Maintain momentum and adjust course. Disney has already moved into promoting the next movies while this one is just coming out on DVD. It is likely they will adjust scripts based on feedback and by having a stable of different directors they will keep ideas fresh.  

Some would argue that Disney didn't have to do much to deliver a hit . They may be right for a one off effort, but more was required to build the foundation for a lasting effort.  Looked at through the lens of a brand strategy, their effort was a master class for how to pull all the levers in the right way.  Their work will get a more difficult with a host of sub brands and a complicated slate of movie and games but they have laid that strong foundation.  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Succeeding With Collaboration

Ask customers what they want in many product categories and they can intuitively jump from understanding what the product does today, to what they want it to do in the future.  With collaboration, though, customers need help visualizing the product promise.  The implication for those focused on collaboration is big  …. if customers don’t have a mental starting point today, they can’t imagine what better collaboration looks like tomorrow.  This realization struck me over the last week from three different angles:

·         From the vendors …….

Google is moving towards having Google+ as an underlying platform for many of its collaboration services.  Experts think it is a solid product, but what about the average user Google is trying to capture?  Forbes writes that people are having trouble understanding the value proposition. 

Takeaway:  Collaboration products have to be delivered towards a value proposition, not in search of a value proposition

·         From popular culture …..

Science fiction has a place in shaping the advancements we see in technology and consumer products.  Perhaps a stretch to call Star Trek Into Darkness science fiction, but when my son and I saw the movie, I was struck at how everything but collaboration had been re-imagined.  Warp speed - check.  Teleportation - check.  But what about collaboration?  They still use hand held communicators and communication advancements were focused on speed over distance, not better collaboration.  I can’t think of many books or movies that paint a compelling vision of what collaboration in the future should be. 

Takeaway:  Vision matters - we have to first be able to imagine a better collaboration future before we can realize it

·         From the experts …..

I was part of an expert discussion on new collaboration products.  As features were explained, the audience was not grasping the value.  Only when a top down use case was demonstrated did the value come into focus.  Collaboration selling is often done within the traditional technology “speeds and feeds” paradigm.  Collaboration today has no clear “speeds and feeds” with features still evolving

Takeaway:  Successfully selling collaboration requires an evolved go-to-market model

Collaboration holds great promise with a few gating factors holding back the market.  Successfully selling collaboration requires cementing a vision, creating purpose built technology and driving go-to-market coordination between product/marketing/sales.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Global Brand Value Studies - How do they help business leaders?

Brand is one of the most important assets a company "owns", broadly defined as the whole of customer sentiment towards your company.  Although easily defined, brand is hard to value and even harder to manage.  Interestingly, there seems to be more 3rd party insight available on the value of a brand than there is on the levers you can pull to impact that value; several companies put out annual brand value rankings.  These rankings have always been interesting, but unless you are involved with mergers and acquisitions and need the brand value to calculate intangible assets, the rankings have done little to help the line managers wondering, "what levers can I pull"?

Millward Brown, a WPP company, just came out with its brand value study, called "Brand Z".   Encouragingly, this year, they have begun to look at the levers a company can pull.  The methodology to calculate brand value still requires a firm grasp of finance, but Millward Brown broke down a couple metrics that actually begin to have relevance to leaders ... specifically, they look at a customer's engagement with a brand over time (called TrustR) and a willingness to pay metric (called Value-D).  These are business priorities around which there are real strategic conversations happening.  

The brand value rankings are still likely to be used as "score cards" ... how did my company do, what do I need to justify spend ex post facto, etc.  However, going beyond a single brand value is a step in the right direction of informing decision making and begins to move the study's relevance beyond just corporate bragging rights.  The study is worth a read.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

SuperBowl Advertising: Black Eyed Peas With Salesforce’s Chatter versus Darth Vader

Every SuperBowl becomes a crucible for advertising.  If a company is willing to pay ~$3 million for a 30 second spot and expose itself to the largest possible audience, it better be confident in its strategy, message, creative and the objective it hopes to achieve. 

I thought a few ads were excellent.  My favorites were little Darth Vader using the force to start the Volkswagen and Chrysler’s hard-nosed view of Detroit.  However, for me the ad that stood out the most was from for its Chatter product.  It stood out because:  
  •  A business to business (B2B) company,, used the ultimate pop culture pitchmen, the Black Eyed Peas.  This is pretty uncommon in B2B.  Accenture did it with Tiger Woods, a few other companies have done it.  But most don’t make the pitchmen as integrated into the product and usually just trade off the pitchmen’s persona.     
  • was launching a product, Chatter, that is a fundamental new approach to business, breaking down the work/business silo.  Whether or not Chatter or any of the other products deliver on the promise, this is quite a fundamental shift.  Usually, companies control their internal collaboration and conversation.  In this case, Chatter is offering itself as a platform, outside of the company, to enable dialogue.  
  • The product is based on the concept of the cloud that about 90% of the audience probably does not need to understand.  Microsoft has taken some admirable swipes at marketing the cloud .… touching up photos and watching television shows while stuck in the airport.  Making the cloud an actual player in the ads is more interesting.  Anyone 35 and younger probably views the cloud as standard operating procedure so I applaud the effort to not market the cloud so much as a concept and instead make it a supporting player in the ad.  
The Chatter commercials seem to have been universally panned.  However, I think it might actually have been one of the few that achieved its business objectives.  We will never know what Marc Benioff and team wrote down in their marketing plans, but here is my take: 
  • Linkage to clear call to action:   Ads usually don’t drive the sale, but should be a chain in the sales process.  In this case, I assume a large number of people actually visited the Chatter site.  On the site, there was a clear next step … enter your business email and start engaging in your company’s conversation.   I thought this was brilliant.  Not a call to action for another white paper.  Not some inane Facebook “like” request.  This was something you could fundamentally have interest in. 
  •  Broad awareness achieved:  SalesForce, unlike many other Enterprise software companies, needs the individual employee to be an advocate.  I’m not sure of the audience size for the SuperBowl, but aided awareness for SalesForce has likely shot through the roof.  
  •   Buzz created:  In today’s tech conversation everyone is trying to out-innovate everyone else.  Although arguably much of the buzz has been negative, it’s still buzz, people are talking, etc.  There is also plenty of places to take SalesForce’s approach  into popular culture given how ubiquitous the Black Eyed Peas are.  
Overall, I’m not sure how SalesForce justified its ROI on this advertising spend,  but of all the advertisements, I think this is one that might have made the most business sense.  Sure, every ad could be improved and this one is no exception; perhaps a different creative approach would have made this more enjoyable, but I'm not sure it would have made it have more impact.  As I wrote, my favorite ad was Darth Vader with the Volkswagen …  but enjoyment and impact aren’t correlated.  I’m not going to buy a Volkswagen, but I might check out the Chatter site.  

Friday, April 30, 2010

Gulf Coast Oil Spill - Early thoughts on the response

Almost two weeks into what promises to be one of the largest spills in US history, questions are beginning to come up about the decision timeline around the response.  Given the response went through a standard command and control model any of the actions can be considered against the standard operating procedure and the assumptions that feed into that operating procedure.  Below are some early thoughts based on these two categories.  Please note these aren't based on inside knowledge and may prove incorrect once more details come out.

  • Search & Rescue needs to be separated from environmental response at the outset:  Usually, marine incidents feed up into one centralized command center.  Anyone in this command center is going to focus immediately on the possibility of saving lives as they should.  In parallel, though, a separate structure should immediately be set up to focus on the oil spill.  That way, both events get full focus.  This approach usually should happen; what will be telling is how quickly this separate structure was set up and in place.    
  • Faulty assumptions likely exacerbated the spill impact:  The first assumption was based on a perceived understanding of oil rig design that there should have been a safety that stopped the flow of oil.  This assumption likely meant that during the first flurry of conversations, experts thought there would be no danger of a large scale spill.  The second assumption was about the size of the leak which went from 5K to 10K barrels a day.  Given the dispersion of an oil spill is based on basic variables like amount of oil, wind direction and current, the models of how big the spill would get were likely wrong.  
These assumptions seem to have lead to a delay in recognizing the size of the problem and the subsequent deploying of other resources like commercial vessels and the US Navy.  Unfortunately, this also means that the spill is exponentially larger (by area) and harder to contain than if the severity had been recognized and responded to at the outset.

How will this play into the future?  The standard operating procedures should be modified to include checks into the assumptions that exacerbated this spill.  There will be debate about first response actions (e.g., what happens when the first notice of an oil spill is received).  Given we don't exist in a world of unlimited resources, every spill can't be treated like the "big one" before all the facts are known.  However, there will likely be considerable debate about what the first response should look like in the future and whether it needs to be bolstered.