Category Archives: General Marketing

So Banks Have Lost Trust…Do They Care?

What a difference a day makes!

In my last post, I referenced the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer survey. In another example of market research telling us what we already know, financial services (banks, insurance, mutual funds, etc.) came in dead last when it comes to the trust factor. In a nutshell, banks and their brethren have gone from being a necessary evil to potential charlatans. This is the kind of news that can make companies shake in their boots.

When I created the first draft of this post yesterday, I had a very cynical tone about the likelihood that banks would really change. Today, I am slightly less so and here is why.

The New York Times today carried this headline in its Business section: “Bank of America to End Overdraft Fees. This is an example of a bank that is voluntarily and publically taking action on behalf of consumers.

Is this action going to start a trend of banks competing to be the most kind and loving to their customers? Of course not. But it’s telling, and a small step towards regaining some trust.

Below, a reprise of the Edelman recommended actions to regain trust, and my take on each.

1. Work with regulators instead of fighting them. That’s not happening. Consider the words of TARP Chief Elizabeth Warren:

“The reason that we’re not changing things in Washington is that the banks have lobbyists in Washington in numbers I’ve never seen.  They’re coming not just once a month or once a week, or even once a day.  These guys are coming in two, three, four times a day.  They’ve got their position papers, and they just keep slamming in the same direction over and over and over.  And people that want to advocate for American families, that want some changes, or want to level the playing field just don’t have that kind of lobbying power.  And so what we’re really watching here is a David and Goliath story of monumental proportions.”

2. Be honest and transparent in communications. Yes and no. Frankly, a lot of transparency has been forced on the industry. A top example is the Credit Card Act of 2009. How much stupidity, pain and suffering could have been avoided if consumers had seen what I just saw on my Visa bill–that it would take 16 Years!!! to pay off my account if I paid the minimum each month. Why didn’t any single institution think of this themselves? Thus, my skepticism.

3. Focus on quality, not quantity, of communications. Maybe. Banks like to measure things. If they really listen to their customers (and Bank of America gets kudos here), they may realize that they make more “noise” than they need to. Less can definitely be more.

4. Spend less time pushing product and more time providing service. This is the crux of the matter. If banks do this, much of the other problems will retreat into the background. It’s going to be hard to do and it will take time because banks are filled with product managers and sales people, all with individual goals, and frequently a culture that rewards speed and volume over one to one marketing and personal relationships.

5. Engage customers and employees alike. The financial meltdown and the visibility of banks as major contributors to the problem has had a major impact on employees. If they don’t feel good about the company they work for, how can they be expected to engage customers? Banks have the power to do this, but do they have the will?

Only time will tell. My guess? Banks will behave less badly, at least for the next few years.


Filed under Brand strategy, Employee Brand Engagement, General Marketing

The Ten Brands I Give Thanks For

It’s Thanksgiving day, and although it sounds frivolous, I have spent the last few days thinking about what brands I really care about, that make a positive difference in my life, and that perform against higher standards than most. This is highly unscientific, personal, and random. But these companies make products that drive preference–mine at least–and stay the course in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

You will notice that the cool advertising is not  the reason these brands have been chosen. Cool advertising–or any advertising–is not the same as a brand. The same goes for the logo.

The list is in alphabetical order:

American Express For not recklessly pursuing the sub-prime market. For the wonderful Platinum card, which has earned every penny of the annual fee by giving me access to airline clubs on bad travel days. For retaining the original card member year on the face of the card.

Apple For gorgeous design, intuitive controls, and perfection in packaging. For not selling out to Intel’s co-branding dollars and keeping its advertising clean and distinctive.

Bergdorf Goodman For not contributing to the homogenization of the world and maintaining its one, spectacular and historic location. For merchandise that you can’t get elsewhere.

Felco For the best pruners in the world, in all sizes. 15 years and counting.

Google Voted in by my daughter, “because it answers all her questions,” and it’s hard to argue that. Besides, it isn’t afraid to take the logo out for a walk now and then. All I ask is that they stick with their mantra, “Don’t be evil”.

Hershey* For giving new meaning (or the original meaning) to “corporate social responsibility”. For employee retention and loyalty that few can claim. For staying true to its roots, even in extensions like the amusement park and hotel. *If they buy Cadbury and mess with the Trust, they are off the list.

Martha Stewart The brand, not the person. For inspiring me to get back in touch with my inner crafter, and make my home a better place. For an unerring eye for color, composition and quality. For products that are manufactured to high standards.

NPR For miraculous programing that brings a fresh face and point of view to whatever it covers. For Car Talk, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Jonathan Schwartz, An American Life, all of which have kept me in my car long past the time for me to get out.

Olay For reinventing itself from an obscure, old lady brand, to a well-priced, well-researched, line of skin care products just before the recession hit. Well done!

OXO For changing forever the experience of peeling a potato–in other words, ergonomic innovation. For standing out among all the endless kitchen tools.

The minute I finish this post, I will undoubtedly come up with other winning brands. I’ll just keep them until next year.

How about you?

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Filed under Brand strategy, corporate identity, General Marketing, package design

Five Suggestions for Bob Lutz

Dear Mr. Lutz,

Congratulations and condolences on your new role. It’s exciting and fraught with peril. This is the chance to do things right, and show the world that the “new” GM is something more than a hollow, feeble version of the old company. You don’t know me, and you never will, but I would like to offer some free advice. You see, I really want you to succeed. Although I am not an automotive marketing expert, it occurs to me that GM has done nothing but listen to automotive marketing experts for decades, and where did it get you?

So here are a few ideas that you might want to consider as you begin to turn this battleship around:

1. Simplify. What is Chevrolet? There are 19 different nameplates, and that doesn’t count all the hybrid versions, varieties of horsepower and coupes vs. sedans. You have beginner cars and mid-price cars and SUV’s and muscle cars and sports cars. And now you want to bring in the G-8 from Pontiac. Who can keep track of all of those? And who can afford to market all of them? GMC = trucks. I get that. That works better.

2. Think about women. A lot. My 17 year old daughter doesn’t think that cars are for guys. When she turned 16, she spent countless hours on-line researching cars. And she wasn’t just looking for cool colors. She had makes and models down cold. My niece had no fear of a manual transmission, because for her it meant she could get more car for less money. As for me, I am addicted to the Cars section of the Sunday New York Times. Women have huge purchasing power, we know how to do our homework, and we don’t like the perception of  a “boys club”. Make sure you have women in senior roles at each of your ad agencies. Believe me, when campaigns are created by men, for men, it shows.

3. Forge a new path. Don’t say that you want Buick to be “like Lexus”. Maybe the world doesn’t need another Lexus. Explore new categories. Surprise and delight us.

4. Worry less about “crafting messages” and more about having a conversation with your customers and prospects. This is hard for marketers who are used to owning the brand. Let go. It’s a transparent world and one individual opinion–good or bad–can literally be heard around the world. Good brands are essentially tribal. Find your tribes and tap into their enthusiasm. And for heaven’s sake, remember your employees. We have all seen what bitter, overworked, stressed-out employees can do in the airline industry .

5. Think service. Long after the sale, the car owner’s only contact is with service people. To the extent that you can control the service departments at dealerships, ensure that these experiences are good ones. You probably can control your corporate customer care centers, and these should be staffed with people who adore your cars, know how to tap additional resources, deal with cranky or frustrated people, and are empowered to take action when it is warranted.

That’s all for now. Five things is all anyone can remember anyway.

We’re rooting for you!

Warm regards,


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Filed under Brand strategy, General Marketing

Microsoft Comes Up With A Great Name–Bing

I was very pleasantly surprised to read in today’s New York Times about–not the new search engine from Microsoft–but its choice of a name.  Bing. Naming is one of the very hardest things to do in branding, which I have obviously mentioned before, and I think this one is a winner.

Early commentary on AdAge is negative, but it’s more about Microsoft the evil empire, than it is about anything else. I’m just taking a moment to revel in a real word that is clearly the result of an actual creative brief! Bravo to Microsoft’s marketing team as well as their agency, Interbrand. What is not known is whether or not this is the same team that came up with the original name, the unfortunate “Kumo“. (If so, well, congratulations on a good recovery.)

Clearly, I have not seen the brief, but can infer some of the criteria:

Short, Memorable, “Verb-able”, Evokes a sound, Easily pronounced, Upbeat (?)

For all I know, it took 18 months of torture to come up with the solution. But it doesn’t look that way. It’s a completely non-tortured, non-coined word. It’s a fun word, which is a departure for the massively literal Microsoft.

And yes, of course, the actual product must now deliver on a rather delicious promise that suggests “aha”, “eureka”, etc. But right now, it’s delightful to recognize some very very nice work. 


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Filed under Brand strategy, General Marketing, Naming

Cheap and Cheerful Is Just the Ticket!


I had a little time to kill yesterday at Grand Central Terminal. I headed toward the bookstore–generally my favorite place to waste time–when I was stopped in my tracks by a storefront I hadn’t seen before.

The company is Pylones, a French-based retailer. As far as I can tell, they bring new meaning to anthropomorphism. 

For example:





A Grater!

A Grater!

Imagine these, and hundreds of other, colorful objects, artfully arranged on tables, walls, cubbies, piled in pyramids and so on. The music was bouncy, playful. Every shopper in the store was smiling. I noted that some packaging identified Pylones as an “editeur d’objects”. What a perfect description.

In addition to being different, special and fun, almost everything in the shop was inexpensive. Many items were under $10. 

All in all, a delightful branded experience. Lighthearted is good! After so much seriousness, we are greatly in need of a happy moment or two.

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Filed under General Marketing, Identity Design

The End of Pontiac: A Cautionary Tale Of Brands That Were Loved Too Much

CNN just reported that Pontiac will end. This is further evidence of the frequently reported fact that that GM has”too many brands”. Which leads me to wonder how and why that could happen.

GM is a classic house of brands:

The GM brand portfolio

The GM brand portfolio

Today (prior to the demise of Pontiac), GM offers a total of 101 vehicles across a collection of 8 brands. Toyota, the world’s biggest car company, has 3 brands (Toyota, Lexus, Scion) and 75 vehicles, 59 of which are under the Toyota brand. Lexus is a fairly limited luxury brand, and Scion is a tiny niche brand, so the Toyota name stands out loud and clear. Is that a factor? Was it  sibling rivalry run amok, with no real parental control? 

I recently had the very good fortune to speak to a former GM senior marketing executive, and he provided support for my hypotheses and gave me additional background on how and why GM brands became a problem rather than an advantage.

GM was essentially formed as a holding company, which is the way that a house of brands is built. Historically, the individual car companies had a great deal of autonomy, which was balanced by strong central planning from the finance perspective. This worked quite well while the US was dominant in the auto industry. Over time, as the business became more competitive, GM adopted professional product management practices.

Branding at this point was at the the product line level (e.g., Camaro, LeSabre), not the general car company. With 50 or 60 different product brands clamoring for attention, it was confusing for the consumer and the sales people. Enter Toyota, and its simple message of quality.

Needless to say, the center could not hold, and the fragmented system of product managers ended. Focus then returned to the general car brands. And each car brand, of course, had its own advertising agency, which was fully invested in protecting its client no matter what the brand perceptions or sales data might suggest. Plus, each car company had its own system of brand tracking and success factors that probably obscured looming problems. That’s what I meant about sibling rivalry.

Like any parent, it was virtually impossible for GM to tell one of its offspring that it was loved less than the others, so despite increasing evidence that there were too many brands, senior management held on. Yes, I know that it was much more complex than this–dealership pressure, union issues, manufacturing and R&D commitments, etc. And from what I hear, the shut down of the Oldsmobile brand was painful in the extreme.

Is there a moral to this story? Let me suggest the following:

  • Companies with different brands that compete against each other owe it to themselves to establish a single, consistent approach to brand metrics. Diageo, for example, is famed for this.
  • Don’t let tradition and emotion and years of promises to sell more product get in the way of business decisions. Just like in certain families, an intervention is sometimes called for.
  • An architecture built on a master brand can offer real power and efficiency, despite the protestations of your ad agency or brand identity firm. And you can have a house of brands that breaks into master branded product portfolios.

I’m sad about the end of Pontiac. I was sad about the end of Oldsmobile. As an American of a certain age, I still had a sense of these brands standing for different things. It would be good to see GM move through this painful process as quickly as possible. Let’s get past it, and then find a way to celebrate and share the word about the resurgence of value and quality from GM and all the Detroit automakers.

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Filed under Brand architecture, Brand strategy, General Marketing, Market Research