THE RETURN OF MICROSOFT

Microsoft is making a huge comeback. The software giant has been going through a rebranding effort of late; updating its logo for the first time in 25 years in an effort to streamline its brand experience, and attempting to challenge Apple even further with the continued expansion of its retail stores. Now Microsoft is unleashing an onslaught of ads to promote the release of its latest operating system, Windows 8.

Sure Microsoft always rolls out a robust marketing campaign to support the launch of each new operating system, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that there’s something quite different this time around. In particular, with this ad promoting the Windows 8 picture password feature, it’s obvious that Microsoft went back to the drawing board with a strong focus on reimagining its most popular products, and delivering fresh product marketing ideas to go along with them.

After some problematic product launches in the past, it appears the Microsoft team now recognizes that marketing is only truly successful when the brand and product experience is equally as innovative. Only time will tell if this wave of product launches and colorful advertising will translate into increased sales for Microsoft, but it’s certainly great to see the software giant taking a bold approach to its marketing communications efforts.

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THE NEXT BIG THING IS ALREADY HERE

The common expression, “Don’t kick a man when he’s down” might resonate strongly in the real word, but it certainly doesn’t hold as much weight in the world of marketing. A prime example can be seen with the ongoing “The Next Big Thing” campaign by 72 and Sunny for Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphone, which pokes fun at Apple and iPhone users.

Although Apple achieved a record number of sales with the recent release of the iPhone 5, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there isn’t a great deal of difference between the iPhone 5 and it’s predecessor, the iPhone 4s. As a result, Samsung has been quick to capitalize on this setback by taking advantage of the opportunity to promote the Galaxy S III, albeit mocking iPhone users in the process.

One of the most innovative features on the Galaxy S III is S Beam, which allows users to instantly share all kinds of media by simply placing two Galaxy S III smartphones back-to-back. Although Apple certainly boasts higher brand value than Samsung, the ongoing “Next Best Thing” campaign is a brilliant strategy on the part of the Galaxy S III maker to take further bites into Apple’s market share, or at the very least change the current cultural conversation around the smartphone category.

BONUS: While Samsung is poking fun at Apple and iPhone users in North America, the Galaxy S III maker is taking a much more comedic approach in South America with the ongoing “Saved By TV” campaign by Mayo Draftfcb.

IS BRAND LOYALTY DEAD?

Brand loyalty is dead, or at least that’s the conclusion Bobby “Hundreds” Kim, Co-Owner and Creative Director of LA-based streetwear brand The Hundreds, came to in a recent post on instagram. While Bobby Hundreds is a key influencer in the world of street culture and urban fashion, he switched focus to the consumer electronics industry and spoke candidly about his recent experience with one of the world’s most beloved brands, Apple.

In particular, after years of being accustomed to the “sensation of cool design, innovative features, and of course, progressive technology,” his disappointing product experience with both the latest iPad (with retina display) and iPhone 5 resulted in a brand switch to Samsung.

Bobby Hundreds’ experience mirrors that of many customers today (myself included) when brands fail to meet consumer expectations. After 4 years of being a proud BlackBerry brand loyalist, I recently made the switch to Apple due to a repeated decline in product quality standards in Blackberry smartphones.

Up until recently, if anyone told me I would leave BlackBerry for any other brand I would have been hard pressed to believe it, but when even the most beloved brands repeatedly fail to meet consumer expectations they leave us with no choice but to seek out competing brands that at the very least maintain, if not exceed, their promise to customers.

Brand loyalty assumes that people buy from the same company over and over because they believe that company makes superior products (Stuart et al 2006: 142). However, as evidenced by my experience with BlackBerry and that of Bobby Hundreds’ with Apple, once levels of consumer satisfaction fall below acclimated standards, there is very likely to be a change in brand preference.

Brands are facing a new age of fickle consumers who are constantly in search of the next best product or brand experience. As such, the traditional idea of wooing consumers as early as when they’re toddlers, and cementing brand loyalty for a lifetime is hardly an effective or sustainable brand strategy.

Brands owe it to their customers to keep pushing the envelope, always staying a step ahead of expectations, because as a recent Interbrand article on the future of brand building points out, “purchase decisions are becoming more fluid, better informed, and dynamic.” An internal failure to innovate, or simply poor product or brand experience, is a problem that even the best marketing won’t solve.

Brand loyalty isn’t dead, but it’s certainly a concept that needs some rethinking and rekindling. Brands need to give consumers a reason to believe in them; as with any relationship, trust must be earned and maintained. As Seth Godin plainly puts it, what’s needed today is brand humility:

“Brand humility is the only response to a fast-changing and competitive marketplace. The humble brand understands that it needs to re-earn attention, re-earn loyalty and reconnect with its audience as if every day is the first day.”

Despite his earlier remarks, Bobby Hundreds’ comment at the end of his post, particularly about missing his BlackBerry smartphone, actually reveals that brand loyalty can in fact be re-earned, and is quite frankly desired by consumers.

MORE THAN A PAIR OF JEANS…

The ongoing “Go Forth” campaign by Wieden + Kennedy for Levi’s has played an instrumental role in enabling the brand to reclaim its iconic status in the US within the last few years. In particular, the latest spot in the series exemplifies how brands ought to communicate with consumers today.

Rather than attempt to tell its own story, here Levi’s makes a conscious decision to tell the story of its customers. While admittedly a bold move, this strategy strikes up a more personal conversation with Levi’s customers. It resonates, it works, and here’s why.

Consumers today are all too familiar with brands hurling mass marketing messages at them, and quite frankly they are tired of it. They see through it like clear glass. Consumers want to know that brands understand them; their beliefs, desires, fears, and aspirations.

In a recent article marking the launch of the Best Global Brands 2012 Report, Jez Frampton, Global CEO at Interbrand, addressed this shift in consumer attitude and highlighted the new challenge for brands today:

“Today’s customers are skeptical, vocal, savvy – and have everyone competing for their attention… In order to succeed, brand owners must become more sensitive to the needs and desires of informed and discerning customers who demand high degrees of engagement – and consistency.”

With this “Go Forth” spot, Levi’s is boldly accepting the challenge. By cleverly integrating itself into its customers’ story, Levi’s is able to communicate in a way that connects, empowers, and inspires. Ultimately, this enable’s Levi’s to stand for more than just pieces of denim sewn together, but as Jez Frampton says, “a living business asset”, woven into the very fabric of its customers’ lives. Or better yet, as the narrator in the ad proclaims, “It’s the thread in your seams that’s tied to your dreams.”

DEFINING INSIGHT IN ONE WORD

Along with innovation and social engagement, one of the current buzzwords in marketing is “insights”. These powerful pieces of information are the driving force behind the development of integrated marketing communications strategies. As such, entire teams, divisions and agencies have been formed for the sole purpose of uncovering consumer, cultural and market insights.

A recent discussion on the consumer insights interest group on LinkedIn asked members to define insight in one word. While, of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, this discussion certainly made me take some time to reflect carefully on how I would define an insight.

An insight is more than just pure knowledge about consumer behavior or market trends. It represents vital information that can be leveraged to create value for consumers. Consequently, an insight is not valuable in itself. It’s valuable because it can be used to create meaningful opportunities and solve business problems. But how exactly can this be described in one word?

The best word I can use to describe an insight would have to be seed.  A seed is the propagative source of a plant. Simply put, it brings the plant to life. A well nurtured seed will grow and flourish, while a neglected seed will degenerate or essentially becomes functionally useless. Similarly, insights bring marketing and communications strategies to life, but they only become useful when applied strategically and used in meaningful ways.

The recent “Bring Happiness Home” campaign by PepsiCo Greater China Region (GCR) exemplifies the nature and definition of insights I have provided. PepsiCo discovered that a disconcerting trend for youth is that they no longer want to go home to celebrate Chinese New Year. In particular, a survey showed that around 70 percent of Chinese youth expressed hesitation toward going home.

This insight became the inspiration for their “Bring Happiness Home” campaign which combined viral marketing with TV advertising. PepsiCo developed and distributed a microfilm online, which tells the story of an estranged family spread out across the country that ends up reuniting to celebrate Chinese New Year.

The microfilm also cleverly integrates PepsiCo’s leading brands; Pepsi-Cola, Lay’s and Tropicana. Meanwhile, PepsiCo refreshed the role of the traditional 30-second TV commercial to act as a movie teaser, highlighting strong synergies among the three brands and still celebrating individual brand truth.

While a valuable piece of information, the insight about Chinese youth expressing hesitation towards going home for Chinese New Year only truly became useful when it was used to create value for PepsiCo’s consumers in a meaningful way.

BRIDGING THE GAP: FASHION AND BRANDING

“A woollen mill doesn’t tell you a herringbone cashmere will cost you £70 per metre one month and £25 a few months later. The button-maker doesn’t tell you “buy one hundred of these, and we’ll throw in fifty of those.” What they make is as good today as the day it was made, and will be just as good a year from now. To pile it high and sell it cheap would be to devalue the product; devalue the raw materials, devalue the labour, the months and months of effort and expertise that has gone into making the finished article.”

Paul Vincent, Co-Founder of menswear brand S.E.H. Kelly, speaks candidly about how pricing affects brand value. The connections between fashion and branding aren’t always clear, but Vincent unintentionally helps to bridge the gap in a recent interview with Well Spenta site dedicated to covering honestly crafted products.

Although he speaks primarily from a managerial perspective for a fashion brand, a lot of his comments also relate to brand strategy across a multitude industries. In an attempt to meet short-term marketing and communication objectives, several brands today often ignore Vincent’s point above about using pricing as a tool to further develop and maintain brand value.

Read the rest of the interview here, where Vincent also talks about the power of selective brand collaborations and online consumer engagement.

PREMIUM POSITIONING: NIKE+ FUELBAND


Within the last decade, it has become widely recognized that up to 90 percent of new product and service introductions fail. These product failures can be attributed to a variety of reasons, ranging from a lack of proper target market definition to some products simply being too far ahead of the market.

However, one oft-disregarded cause of failure is that some of these new products tend to be poorly positioned. More often than not, the success (or failure) of a new product can largely be dependent on its positioning, and a perfect example can be seen with the recent launch of the Nike+ FuelBand.

On its own the FuelBand is an innovative product which, in addition to tracking your steps, time and calories on an LED display, essentially makes use of a new unit of measurement – NikeFuel. Input your daily goals and the FuelBand will measure your movement – the closer you get to your goal, the closer to green you get on the LED display. FuelBand is also equipped with USB and allows for wireless syncing with your iPhone (or iPod) for more detailed data, instantly making your information available to share through your social networks.

Nevertheless, Nike (or presumably the planners at its ad agency of record, Wieden+Kennedy) recognized that an innovative product such as the FuelBand needs to be backed by an equally innovative positioning. Hence, the development of the tagline, “Life Is a Sport. Make it count”, which successfully integrates Nike’s ongoing Make It Count campaign. Although the idea of life being a sport is well-known and even sometimes used in colloquial language, it wasn’t until now that the phrase has been successfully commercialized. More importantly, this clever move on the part of Nike also has important implications for the brand.

First, it elevates Nike’s brand value and perception in the minds of consumers. This idea of life as a sport creates a unique brand association because it essentially redefines the meaning of sports, and in turn serves as a key differentiator for the Nike brand.

Second, it establishes a competitive advantage in the minds of customers, particularly because it embodies the timeless value of life which other brands within the sportswear and equipment industry are yet to do.

Third, this positioning widens Nike’s target market – an already broad group to begin with (See: If You Have A Body, You Are An Athlete). In particular, non-traditional athletes (free runners, break dancers, etc) now have a stronger sense of connection to the brand because they can all relate to this universal idea of life.

Ultimately, introducing the FuelBand using this idea of life as a sport helps convey Nike’s unique value proposition and further emphasizes the brand’s superiority within the sportswear and equipment category. Although the FuelBand won’t be available worldwide until May, you can watch the spot below in the meantime to see which activities (including impersonating MC Hammer) count or don’t count towards NikeFuel.