Aaron Gray // Greater Returns

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Musings on Web Analytics, product strategy + other stuff.

Narrowing the GAP

Here’s another example of a languishing brand attempting a turn-around. The GAP hasn’t stood for anything in particular in years (except bland, I guess). I’m not sure they’ve actually narrowed the focus to a point where they will be successful.

Laura Ries has some thoughts on what happened and where they should go. It’s an interesting read, and I recommend it.

This will be another one to watch.

Filed under: Marketing, Positioning

Eddie Bauer Embraces its Inner Male

Eddie Bauer is another example of a brand that got big, then moved away from its position in an ill fated attempt to expand and paid the price in declining sales. In 1996, prior to the brand expansion efforts, Eddie Bauer had sales of $430 per square foot according the the Puget Sound Business Journal. That had declined to $250 by 2006. The expansion efforts included moving to dressier lines and more women’s clothing, and abandoning the rugged outdoors position that made the brand so powerful in the first place. Stick to your position, or watch it erode and die.

As a clothing retailer, Eddie Bauer owns “outdoors” in the mind of the consumer. Straying from that proved disastrous. It appears that CEO Neil Fiske wants to return the Eddie Bauer brand to the rugged outdoors, where it came from.

Hooray for Neil! This will be another interesting turnaround to watch along with Starbucks. Interesting that both are taking place in Seattle. Don’t know if that means anything, but it’s nice to see this stuff happening in our own back yard here in the Pacific Northwest.

Filed under: Marketing, Positioning

Prediction: $1.00 Starbucks Coffee = Bad Move

Quick Prediction: Starbucks attempt to move down market with $1.00 coffee will prove to be another in a recent string of brand mistakes. Starbucks stands for “expensive coffee” in the mind of the consumer. Adding a $1.00 cup of coffee to the menu, and attempting to compete with McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts will dilute that perception, eroding the core perception of “expensive coffee”, and revenue growth with it.

Another recent mistake was the hot sandwiches for breakfast. While I personally loved them at first, the quality seemed to wane after several months. Worst of all, the ovens made Starbucks smell like a fast-food joint, not like a coffee shop. Frankly, it was disgusting. In a business like coffee, smell is a huge part of brand perception…and the sandwiches were killing the coffee shop vibe.

It’s funny [not so funny, I guess, more sad] to watch big companies like Starbucks start to mess with, and in some cases throw away, that which made them powerful brands in the first place. Starbucks is “expensive coffee”, Dunkin’ Donuts is “everyman coffee”, and McDonalds “fast food and kids”. Dunkin’ is doing great job with embracing who they are, and presenting an alternative to Starbucks. Starbucks could stand to learn from them. Stick to your position, Starbucks, or watch it erode and die.

UPDATE (2/22/08): Looks like movement in the right direction. Of course, its very unfortunate to see layoffs, but previous management laid a course that was unsustainable, so the course has to be corrected. My hat’s off to him for doing what needed to be done. Now, will he dump the $1.00 coffee, too? Time will tell.

UPDATE (2/25/08): I just heard from my wife that some stores are reporting that they won’t be getting rid of the hot sandwiches due to so many people complaining about their disappearance. This raises another interesting question: how to weight the protests of a vocal minority when trying to pull a brand back to its position. I’m sure there are people who would love Starbucks to sell cheeseburgers, and if Starbucks had introduced cheeseburgers, they would complain when they were taken away. The instinct, of course, is to try to please all your customers. The problem is, you can never be all things to all people. When you try to, you lose your focus. When you lose your focus, customers stop coming because they don’t know what you stand for. If I want a burger, I’ll go to McDonalds. If I want coffee, and I don’t want the fast-food burger experience with it, where do I go? Not Starbucks, I guess. We don’t have Dunkin’ Donuts here, so I’ll go to my neighborhood coffee shop. The point is this…I don’t have research on it, but I bet Starbucks is driving more people away with the fast-food experience than they are gaining by keeping the hot sandwiches. The counter-intuitive thing about positioning is that it, by definition, drives some people away, because your brand doesn’t represent what they want. But it also strongly attracts those that want what you represent (assuming you’re well differentiated from competitors). Those are the people you want to please, not the loud people tugging you away from your position.

Filed under: Marketing, Positioning

What is the Role of Marketing, Anyway?

The role of Marketing is to engage the mind of the consumer such that a transaction with the brand becomes a possibility, no…a desirable possibility, in the consumer’s mind.

The goal, of course, is to create legions of willing consumers — those who we can turn into leads or sales. Generating leads and sales is a (necessary) side effect of successful marketing, not the point of marketing. To say that marketing’s role is simply to create leads fosters an overly tactical view of the relationship between your brand and your customer focused on the mechanics of generating leads and sales, rather than the psychology of creating the desire that makes leads possible. As marketers, we can’t be very successful, over the long run, at generating leads from consumers who don’t already desire to interact with us.

How do we create that desirable possibility? Establish and reinforce in the consumer’s mind unshakable truths about what makes our brand unique in the category – not what is the same or similar to other brands. This is where we “decide what business we’re in.” This is where we consciously decide that standing for specific perceptions in the mind of the consumer means that some people won’t be attracted to us, but others will be more attracted to us. This is where we decide not to be all things to all people.

It’s called branding, or positioning, and doing it right has more to do with our success as marketers than almost anything else. It has practical benefits in the organization, too. Good sales people know how to position a solution or product, prospect by prospect, but that approach isn’t scalable. If we haven’t established who we are and what business we’re in, each lead comes with its own perceptions and assumptions, meaning your sales organization either has to scramble to “be who the prospect thinks we are”, which is a time- and thought-intensive process (being all things to all people is always exhausting and inefficient), or the sales team has to work to establish the right truths in the prospects mind, hoping the prospect follows them through the process and still desires to transact with you in the end.

What does this have to do with web analytics. Well, nothing, directly. But this is the big picture.
Often, as practitioners of a discipline focused on response and conversion rate and the tactical optimization of layouts and offers, we lose sight of the bigger picture in which we work. At the end of the day, our job is to help maintain a well positioned brand that consumers already desire to transact with. A weak brand won’t do very well, no matter how much you optimize your offers and layouts.

If you’re interested in more on branding and positioning, checkout Laura Ries’s blog, The Origin of Brands.

UPDATE 6/12: I was just reading this again and realized that I didn’t draw the connection between the idea of building desire to interact in the mind of the prospect with the current hubbub about word of mouth (WOM) marketing. That is, if you accept the posit that advertising doesn’t build brands, PR does (as I do) then suddenly WOM is critical. PR is nothing more than a way to seed WOM, on a large scale. As people read or hear in the media about about a new product (in a new category), word begins to spread person to person – and WOM takes over. PR just fans the flames.

There’s an interesting thread on this related to designing for social media over at Bokardo: http://bokardo.com/archives/how-to-design-for-word-of-mouth/. What I find interesting is that the WOM people are seeing one small piece of the puzzle (the power of WOM)…but not necessarily seeing the bigger picture of why certain products or services make it into the mind and others do not. And the question is…does design really matter? That is , does design impact the ability of a product or service to become a category leader as much as we’d like to think it does, or does it just please the niche who cares about great design (and I count myself in that niche). It’s that niche that buys Macintosh and aspire to be Steve Jobs (I have great admiration for Steve Jobs, although I gave up my Mac several years ago), but they haven’t made Apple the personal computer category leader. Though it is undeniably a better product. Food for thought.

Filed under: Marketing, Positioning

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