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Ahh, brand premium. The holy grail of branders. We all seek it, yet few find it.

I’ve always been mildly intrigued by the difference in pricing between a woman’s stylist and a men’s barber. But today as I was getting my $15 haircut at the local barbershop, I decided to do some research. What I found, though, was that prices for men’s haircuts – in Manhattan anyway – can approach those for women.

What’s the difference between a $15 haircut and a $160 haircut? Turns, out, a lot. Stylist Antonio Gonzales writes that for $160,

most stylists in this price point will take the time to sit with you before each cut and discuss the look you are trying to achieve and will have the skill set to make recommendations on the various looks that will be best suited to your facial structure. They will also discuss with you how they envision the process unfolding to arrive at the end result.

They are able to make these recommendations based on extensive knowledge of the latest styles and techniques gained from training at the leading hair specialists, such as Vidal Sassoon or Mahogany.

In other words, these stylists invest heavily in building the skills and knowledge required to help you achieve exactly the look you seek. Antonio mentions other supporting elements, including head massages, the decor and soothing teas. But what creates value for both the customer and the salon is an obsessive focus on you, the client, and doing whatever it takes to create a superior experience that you are willing to pay for.

And that makes all the difference.

Experience matters.

Last week I wrote about the brander’s paradise that is South Beach. This week, I spent some time in Manhattan, which most would think of as a brander’s paradise.

But right now I only feel fatigue. And I’m not just talking about Times Square.

Manhattan, everywhere, overloads the senses. Every possible square inch of space has a message, from the glitzy store fronts on 5th Avenue, to the small restaurants with only a few tables, to the apartment buildings offering “superb” rentals. You can’t walk even a block without being overwhelmed by logos for coffee shops!

How do you choose?

Clearly, a budding Manhattan brander must go WELL beyond the awareness – consideration – preference mantra that has been drilled into our heads since our first marketing classes. Yes, you must get the customer’s attention. But that is only the start. The product benefits must, of course, engender loyalty.

But survival requires commitment. And for that, the experience matters.

South Beach, where I live, is a brander’s paradise.Miami Beach

No, I’m not just talking about the ubiquitous retailers, including Sunglass Hut which opens its largest store in the nation tomorrow or the always-packed Apple store.

In an instant, even the untrained eye spots the sunburned tourists, the convention goers, the college students, the wealthy Brazilians, the homeless, the religious (the Miami Beach Community Church built in 1921 on Lincoln Road is a local institution) – yes, everything and everyone is branding themselves.

All vy for attention, using all the senses – the ever changing group of young women hired by restaurants to entice passersby to eat at their establishment, the wafts of perfume, the clothes, the feel of the just-ripe fruits, the DJs in the trendy stores, and, above all, the powerful logos.

But once they’ve got your attention, then what? Who hasn’t had a bad meal, even in a highly-rated restaurant? Or a terrible date? Or bought overripe fruit? Or walked out of a store because there is nothing in our size or the quality of the material is substandard? As my good friend, Chris Gammill and I constanty discuss, the experience matters.

What experience are you delivering?

Been to Home Depot lately? If not, go and see how a good HR strategy equals a good marketing strategy!  And no, they’re not paying me for this.

In the midst of this record heat wave, I got up early to replace a hose so my lawn doesn’t burn out, and some weed killer, and Home Depot is conveniently close by. Several years ago, I would drive elsewhere because, IF I could find a clerk, they might have known where these were, IF I could get their attention.

Today, I was greeted as if I were the only thing that mattered and, after describing my needs, I was introduced to a herbicide expert who helped me find exactly what I needed. Then he escorted me to the hoses, ensuring that I had the necessary help (none required, really…).

What changed? A couple of years ago HR chief Tim Crow renovated training programs, expanded cash bonuses and increased employee/customer face time. And they’re having an impact: after a 2-year slide in sales and profit, both were up last year.

If the goal of marketing is to attract and retain customers well, it’s working at Home Depot, with a huge assist from HR.

And my wife no longer minds going there.

On my way home from a peer group session of CMOs (with a shout out to the Forbes CMO Network and gyro who sponsored the evening), I reflected on the commonalities between good networking and good marketing.

If you’ve ever been to a party (and most of us have), you’ve noticed there are those who “work the room” and seem to have met everyone there by the end of the evening. What do they do that makes them successful?

First, they engage. They don’t passively await someone to connect with them.

Second they question, and listen. They “always think in terms of what the other person wants,” to quote Korean war general James van Fleet.

And, third, the truly exceptional ones “arouse in the other person an eager want,” quoting Dale Carnegie.

A pretty good set of rules for marketers.

That’s what my bank – Peoples United Bank – is telling me.

Yesterday (Feb. 16, 2011), when I went to the portal (the link above) to log in to my account, I noticed an offer for free Kindle (if you click on the link to see this, you may have to do so a couple of times since the offer rotates with other offers for low mortgage rates and low home equity lines of credit). Read the rest of this entry »

Innovation = invention + commercialization.

A couple of years ago, when my friend and colleague Chris Gammill and I were working on creating and then driving IBM‘s brand strategy, we narrowed in on innovation as one of not only IBM’s critical attributes, but also one of the US’s as well, as participants in the National Innovation Initiative that Sam Palmisano sponsored for the Council on Competitiveness.

One of our struggles was why IBM, which perennially leads the world in number of patents, was not seen as an innovator in our brand research, of which we had very, very detailed data. We researched and attended conferences and interviewed experts and debated incessantly, until we finally arrived at this formula. When we realized what we had, I called up the EVP for technology, Nick Donofrio, and said I needed to see him – his frustration with brand data was legendary. Read the rest of this entry »

Once again, I find myself flabbergasted at service levels in the midst of the worst recession most of us have ever seen.  In my post How not to make a sale, I describe how a retailer drove us from a physical establishment after we had committed to buy. But it appears that direct retail operations are also not immune mistakes in organization, job design and incentives that result in lousy service.  Read the rest of this entry »

I think I first became intrigued by the potential of innovation as a Peace Corps volunteer in one of the most resource-deprived countries in the world. I saw, surprisingly, an incredibly inventive people: Read the rest of this entry »

Was in Cabo San Lucas (tip of the Baja) on vacation last week and, being who I am, enjoyed just observing the local marketing (OK, so I did some other stuff as well) – everything from flea market vendors carefully displaying their wares to ‘aligners’ trying to entice us into attending a condo sales pitch to the brochures (with varying degrees of professional design…) for the various outdoor activities (snorkeling, whale watching, ATVing, etc) to the hawkers on the beach. But by far the most interesting marketing I saw was the leveraging of Web 2.0, even if inadvertent, by a restaurateur who has no web page and, as best I could tell, no access to the internet. Read the rest of this entry »

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