Rush Limbaugh’s lessons on branding

rush_limbaughThis relatively short post is for all of you out there who think that brands are the sole responsibility of the marketing department.

Recently, it was reported that the St. Louis Rams were up for sale and that several groups were interested in bidding for the team, most notably, a group headed up by Dave Checketts (former CEO of Madison Square Garden) and controversial radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh.

Several NFL players have already stated that if Mr. Limbaugh’s bid is successful they will never play for the Rams. People in St. Louis have vowed to never again attend games, and at least one NFL owner (Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts) has said he will never vote to approve such a sale.

Why? Because you are who you associate with, and the Rams will have a distinctly different brand if Mr. Limbaugh is one of the owners. After all, Mr. Limbaugh is a brand unto himself – A brand that, through association with the Rams, will hurt ticket sales, free agency and, ultimately, the value of the franchise, merely because he is such a divisive personality.

So next time you think that brands are managed by your agency or marketing department only, think about Mr. Limbaugh and his potential effect on the St. Louis Rams.

A company is a living, breathing entity whose brand can be affected by everything – including customer service, sales, operations, product quality, and even its ownership group. And if you do something out of brand character, like bring a polarizing influence into your company, it can really hurt you in the end.

Think of it as ‘The Limbaugh Effect’.

Mega Dittos.

Update – Mark Cuban just wrote a good post on why the NFL can’t let Rush Limbaugh be an owner here.

Update #2 – Don Banks from SI.com is reporting that Limbaugh has been dropped from the group bidding to buy the Rams.

Social Media = car. Brand = gas.

social-mediaOnline Spin just released an article about succeeding with Social Media and how the answer isn’t in advertising, Facebook pages or Twitter profiles. To this statement I only have one thing to say:

Duh.

Online Spin has it right. But is this such a revelation? Why is it that so many social media ‘experts’ out there don’t understand the fundamentals of brand engagement? When people talk about your brand, or friend/fan your brand, or tweet about your brand, it’s because they have bonded with your brand, not because you simply exist. The principles of brand strategy and engagement have never been more essential today, yet these social media tacticians have many clients believing that they’ll reap financial rewards if they just set up a fan page on MySpace.

The only companies that do well in social media without clear brand support are the ones who innovate in social media. Companies like Naked Pizza who put up a Twitter billboard out front of their location to give followers special deals. The desired brand effect was a pizza for early adopters (go figure, the pizza is 100% organic).

If you’re living up to your brand promises at every touch point and creating advocacy with your customers, then your elevated presence in social media is assured. Not only will people flock to your social media sites, but they may even create their own fan sites as well. I recently flew Virgin America and loved it so much, I devoted a whole article to it. And I don’t even know if Virgin has a Twitter profile.

My advice is this: get your brand in order and build some loyalty. Until you do, your social media presence won’t do much for you. Think of it this way. Social media is the car and your brand engagement is the gas. Without people who love you, your social media ain’t goin’ no where.

How to erode brand trust – by Hyatt

firedI’m a fan of Hyatt Hotels. In fact one of my favorite hotels is the Hyatt Olive 8 in Seattle. As a customer I have always been pleased with their attentive service and care, which are strong pillars of their brand.

However, as a consumer, I was really disturbed to hear about Hyatt’s recent underhanded move to eliminate their housekeeper positions in Boston and replace them with a third party. I won’t go into details (click here for the story), but it hardly smacks of any care. And if any of it is true, how can they not think this erodes my trust in their brand?

In this day and age companies just can’t get away with acting out of brand character. You can’t tell consumers you’re one thing and then be completely opposite to your internal stakeholders. We’ll find out one way or another. And here’s the worst part. Due to social media proliferation this PR gaffe won’t be localized to the Boston area. It has the potential to affect Hyatt globally.

So what may have begun as a cost saving measure, has now become a costly crisis for Hyatt. And all because they didn’t think that their staff was a part of their brand.

Hyatt has responded to the negative press with a statement you can read here.

Would your ad survive at a cocktail party?

cocktailWhen clients evaluate their brand ads, they should think of the ad as a person they’re meeting at a cocktail party.

You know the list of characters:

1. Chatter box – Yammers on, non stop, about his job, colleagues, kids, and everything else under the sun and doesn’t ask you a thing.

This is the ad that says too many different things and doesn’t care who you are.

2. Boring guy – Doesn’t have an opinion on anything. Has monosyllabic vocabulary.

This is the ad that tries to appeal to everyone.

3. Fashion disaster – Purple plaid jacket with yellow pants, white socks and red shirt.

This is the ad with no design balance, 4 font styles and bursts (i.e. 20% off!!)

4. Salesman – Won’t stop going on about his time share in Cancun.

This is the ad that screams “Buy NOW!”

5. The genius – Talks down to you like you’re eight years old. Usually has ‘doctor’ in his name.

This is the ad that spoon feeds the concept to you so you won’t miss the point.

A cocktail party is a lot like reading a newspaper or watching TV. There are lots of people (ads), and many of them would like to talk to you. Many clients do not consider this when evaluating their ads. So, next time you’re criticizing your ad, consider this:

If your ad is:

A. Interesting
B. Interested
C. Easy to understand
D. Well groomed
E. Not pushy

You probably have a good brand ad on your hands. And what’s more important is you’ll have a brand personality that people may want to meet again at the next party.

Why your brand needs to tell some people to piss off

trespassingWhen we work with clients on their brand strategy we spend a good deal of time defining their desired audience (i.e. people who will love them). We make great progress defining socio-economic traits, demographics, psychographics (and any other graphics we can come up) for both desired and, more importantly, undesired audience.

When the new brand is applied, however, more often than not, it doesn’t tell the undesired audience to piss off – generally because once marketing has presented the brand roadmap, their company has a different focus, which usually sounds like this: Any Business Is Good Business.

Translation: Welcome undesirable audience!

By doing so, the company can make short-term gains and look good to its investors, but in the long-term, they’re not doing themselves any favors. They aren’t creating a tribe of advocates. By appealing to everyone, they water down their brand personality. What’s worse is that they draw in an audience that is guaranteed to not love them. Which continues the cycle of escalating advertising and marketing costs, new customer acquisition programs and high churn rates.

Instead, if they are clear from the outset about whom they don’t want, they’ll appeal more to those whom they do want. Those people (while a smaller group than ‘everyone’) are the ones who have the potential to love them, and are much more likely to become advocates of the brand. And it doesn’t take a genius to understand that if customers love you, they’ll tell their friends about you, which reduces advertising costs, reliance on new customer acquisition programs and customer churn.

So why aren’t brands boldly saying ‘you’re not for me’. Probably because we’re too focused on short-term results, and the fear that telling some people they aren’t for us will cause bad publicity.

Are there any strong brands out there that you could say are for everyone?

How pigs can teach us good branding

pigThank god they changed the name of the Swine Flu to H1N1 Virus. I was scared to death to walk through the grocery store, let alone contemplate eating bacon or pork for the foreseeable future. But now that they’ve switched the name, I feel much better about the whole situation. Heck, I even had a BLT for lunch.

But don’t ever – EVER try to serve me chicken. I’ll throw it back in your damn face. After all, did you know that you can catch a pox from it?

And while we’re on the subject, you’ll never get me to travel through Germany. That’s where everyone gets measles.

In fact, you can scratch a bunch of countries off my list. You can forget Japan – you encephalitis-spreading jerks. And you can keep West Nile to yourself, you virus-loving bastards.

The worst thing about living close to the ocean though is that I can never go into the water. After all, don’t want to catch crabs. That’s nasty business, I hear.

You’ve got to admit, we really do live in the age of communication, when the pig farmers’ lobby can get the name changed of a worldwide disease that’s already on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The switch from Swine Flu to H1N1 Virus is timely, but if anything, it only demonstrates very short-term thinking. Once the furor around this flu dies down, it will fade into obscurity, just like all the other famous diseases and pandemics we know.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to a bbq. They’re serving insane bovine!

How to get your name in search results in 10 days

googleGetting your name into search engines can be extremely beneficial. It’s how employers do more research in potential employees. It’s even a way some people check out people they’re dating.

When I talk to folks outside of the marketing community, the question of personal brand or reputation comes up frequently. They tell me that they’ve Googled their names to see what comes up. Most of the time, nothing does, or very limited/obscure stuff. If you’re concerned about what’s coming up in search (or not coming up) this post is entirely about getting your name out there, in a positive way.

Here’s what to do:

1. Buy the URL of your name.

This is really easy to do, and it will cost you about $10 a year. Unless you’ve got a popular name, it should still be available. Even if you do have a common name, you can still buy URLs with alternate extensions, like .net or .ca. Here are a list of sites that allow you to search for your URL and buy it:

Netfirms
Network Solutions
Go Daddy
Register.com

2. Create a website

Whether you got your URL or not, you can still get your name up in search rankings if you start a website. Sounds daunting, but it really isn’t. In fact, it’s really easy to do, it’s free and doesn’t require any technical ability whatsoever. Here are a list of free website/hosting sites out there that are extremely useful.

Weebly
Webs
Wix
Jimdo
Synthasite

Once you’ve gotten to one of these sites, you’re probably wondering what the hell to post. All you really need to do, if you want to do the bare minimum, is post one page. If you want your ranking to reflect your career aspirations, then make sure the copy you write sounds like to first paragraph of your resume. If you want it to be personal, then write some copy that’s more personal. It’s also good to write in the third person. It sounds more authoritative in a search result.

3. Get Linkedin

When you Google my name, the first result is my Linkedin profile. If you haven’t heard of Linkedin, it’s the Facebook of the business world. It’s free. It’s also easy to build a profile and, if you want it to, it will automatically search your address book for people you know and can link to.

4. Start a Blog

This is asking for a bit of a commitment, because blogs are time consuming. But really all you need to do is post something once a week. Is that too much to ask for – 200 words a week? Blogs are terrific because they are indexed by both regular search engines and blog search engines. I’d recommend that you register a blog under your name and focus on areas that you know something about. Remember, go back to what you want your search results to say about you. If you want to be seen as an incredible chemical engineer, then probably best to stick that topic instead of why pancakes beat french toast. Here are a list of great, free blog sites:

WordPress
Blogger
Blog
Shoutpost
Typepad

5. Make some comments

Another easy way to get your name out there is to comment on articles and blog posts. Probably the top 25 out of 50 search results that come up for my name are comments I made. For many sites you have to register to leave a comment. Make sure you enter your name for your username, and be smart about your comment. Just because it’s easy to comment doesn’t mean you should be flippant. Whatever your comment is, it will live in search results for a while. And the simple rule is, the more famous the article, the better your comment will do in search rankings.

6. Be a critic

I started a profile on Amazon a while back and made wrote a review on a book called Made to Stick. I’m amazed that the review appears so high in search results. So if you’ve read a book or two, bought a TV, played a game or traveled anywhere, write a review about it on a popular site (Amazon, Best Buy, Tripadvisor, etc.). It will get indexed for search.

7. Be shameless

By now I am sure you’ve heard of Twitter, the microblogging tool that’s taking the geek world by storm. What you’ll notice is that the folks who are really good at getting followers always post helpful links. Do the same. But every once in a while, post a link that goes to your website or blog. If you’ve got something interesting for people to read or see, they’ll follow you. You can also post your blog or web URL when you make comments. If it’s too long, just go to Tinyurl to shorten it. You will also want to ping search engines when you have a new post to your blog. Here are some popular tools:

Feedburner
Pingomatic
Technorati

8. Be consistent

Building your online brand isn’t tough, but it takes consistency to make sure it stays where you want it to be. If you follow all of the previous steps and drop them all a month later, rest assured your search rankings will fall into obscurity. Also, everything is time/date stamped by the search engines. If someone does a search on you and the most recent thing is from 5 years ago, what does that say about you, other than you’ve been living in a unibomber shack in the woods.

Some of these steps will index quicker than others, but rest assured, you’ll see your results change in about 10 days.