Wednesday, December 1

Branding Lessons: La-Z-Boy Reinforces Its Challenge

LaZBoy Ad
The New York Times detailed an interesting dilemma for La-Z-Boy. It seems the company best known for recliners is struggling with non-recliner sales.

The company's solution is to push a "we're more than recliners" message with spokeswomen Brooke Shields. One of the ad headlines is especially clunky: “When La-Z-Boy says ‘relax,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘recline.’" The goal is to present a message of comfort, quality and family-friendliness and help break up the brand definition.

Can enviable brand recognition really be a liability?

Yes and no. Yes, it can be with La-Z-Boy, especially with the new campaign. And no, it didn't have to be if La-Z-Boy realized there was a much simpler solution, with or without Shields.

The challenge with the new campaign is that it invests considerable time conjuring up the old and powerful image, which reinforces the message supposedly holding them back. La-Z-Boy is most readily identified with a 1950s-60s-70s image of a head of household kicking everyone out of the recliner. Shields even says so in one spot, reinforcing it was "Dad's chair."

That image, even within the confines of storytelling, is powerful. It almost drowns out the rest of the message, which has Shields talking about her family, which isn't shown, enjoying her full line of La-Z-Boy furniture. The button cute ending has her muse about no one being able to kick her off the furniture now.

The spots, especially, aren't bad. Shields does a great job delivering authenticity with the lines. And, according to the article, the campaign will total at least $20 million, combining spending by La-Z-Boy and by furniture dealers. Ironically, however, this only constitutes a fraction of the total ad spend for La-Z-Boy, which will likely focus on recliners.

A different solution La-Z-Boy could have taken might have used Shields or not. It might have introduced a new sub-brand such as "Laurel by La-Z-Boy" (generic for the purposes of this post) and been paired with images of families. It might have been more effective, creating a bigger space between the original brand and the La-Z-Boy brand, while still capitalizing on the history and strong name recognition that owns recliners.

It could have also quelled the one authenticity-killing realization that despite Shields claiming a couch as her own, she is also married to several other shoots. It's hard to believe that she owns them all. It's even less convincing when you see the same setup in the product-only shoot.

La-Z-Boy Nostalgia Has The Mark Of Old School Marketing.

There is nothing wrong with La-Z-Boy as a company, despite what many might consider a high side price point. Still, it seems a complete strategic overhaul of its marketing is in order. It has all the right assets, with many of them being managed at a just above par level.

For example, you can order the furniture online, but the interface is an off-putting funnel approach for every product. (And some products are not available for online purchases.) The website has a 3-D room planner, which has potential for people with updated computers. It also has a construction primer worth checking out.

La-A-Boy also has fledgling social network efforts in play, with an emphasis on the most popular networks. However, the communication suggests the company isn't certain about what to do with these accounts. It's not bad, just basically bland (although they deserve props for promoting Ronald McDonald House). A blog would probably help their networks fine tune their content contributions and open up a better conversation.

The point is that Laz-A-Boy seems to have the right ingredients but it still seems separate with an obvious lean toward recliners. A refreshed plan could probably help reinforce furnishings much better than a traditional mass media marketing approach. In the meantime, it's worth watching as a living case study.

Tuesday, November 30

Considering Interventions: Help Friends Kick The Traffic Habit

Porsche hits one million fans on Facebook
It's always easy to tell when your communication team's traffic habit has turned into a chronic addiction. The most common symptom is unabashed boasting — companies that celebrate milestones by issuing releases that they've reached a magical benchmark that consists of people who can't afford to buy their product or are well outside their intent for communication.

Don't laugh. Addiction — defined by psychoactive substances which cross the blood-brain barrier once ingested, temporarily altering the chemical milieu of the brain — can happen to anybody, even some of the most respectable brands. And when it happens, the best thing people can do is host an intervention.

Porsche Needs An Intervention.

"Although we are witness to passionate customers and fans every day, it is neat to set another Porsche milestone by growing to over 1,000,000 strong on Facebook," said Josh Cherfoli, online relationship and marketing manager for Porsche Cars North America. "It's an excellent opportunity to help us connect with our fanbase, and we thank them all for sharing our passion."

That was the quote pulled from an actual news release boasting that more than one million people worldwide have shown their love and support for Porsche by, ahem, liking it on Facebook. They even have a reward program for fans willing to give up their friends list, along with all of its demographics.

"As part of the continued celebration, fans can sign-up via Facebook to have their name inscribed on a special Porsche model. This vehicle will then be displayed as part of a unique exhibit at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany," says the release.

And, despite this being such a coup for Porsche, it still doesn't trust social media. Photos of new and historical Porsches are only available to accredited journalists on the Porsche Press Database. Whatever that means.

Obviously, Porsche is drunk on traffic, likes, follows, and friendz. On the news that Porsche reached one million, the fans celebrated by mentioning things like "That bloated SUV shouldn't be in the same photo as that beautiful machine," "hello you will join my group sex and sport," "2011 Cayenne S is 'ridiculous'... test drive one if you can," and "My mom told me about this webpage that lets you test a Macbook Air and keep it at no cost!" Ah, isn't one million fans love grand?

As food for thought, you might contrast all that excitement with another fan group for the manufacturer abandoned Infiniti G20 with 1.5 million posts or on its Facebook page. It's not supported by Infiniti or Nissan (as far as I know), but fans there talk about stuff like "how hard is it to take out a G20 trans auto...," "join us for a toys and tots G20 donation drive," and "looking for a GTIR ECU for a decent price trying to give life to my G20." See the difference?

Sure, G20 net hasn't broken one thousand on Facebook, but it's very clear where the real fan love is at, which is a shame because Porsche was one of my favorite childhood car fantasies in the 1980s. Tears even welled up in my eyes when that poor Porsche 928 landed in the lake. But not today. Porsche needs an intervention.

Monday, November 29

Banking On Friends: Why Bulk Is Going Bust

Experian Marketing Services' CheetahMail recently released an analysis that ought to wake up bulk promotion supporters, especially those relying on email as a means to deliver messages. The analysis pinpoints just how significantly emails from trusted sources outperform other marketing campaigns, even when the offer is the same or inferior.

• Friends-and-family emails had 43 percent higher open rates and 29 percent higher click rates compared to bulk promotions.
• Friends-and-family email transaction rates were 85 percent higher and 2.5 times higher against bulk promotions.
• Friends-and-family emails generate higher sales per email than bulk promotions and much higher referral rates.
• Friends-and-family emails with links to social networks had higher referral rates than direct-to-offer links.

Bulk Promotions Are Slowly Going Bust.

Before every social media expert nods in agreement, it might be important to point out that the trust measurements are changing in 2011. While the current trend is to trust people with significantly higher frequencies, the public is already beginning to slowly shift away from "brand ambassadors" who are attempting to supplant the blind bulk promotions.

Friends might trust friends who share links to social networks, but when "friendz" share simply to make pennies on the dollar or because they are enamored with a brand, then any established trust will begin to evaporate. In fact, many people have already filtered the top tier of abusive sharers — that one uncle who has nothing better to do than pass along chain emails and conspiracy memos. They were the first to go and certainly not the last.

Only Careful Sharing Will Increase Trust.

While most "influence" measures are built on a formula of little more than "volume times frequency times mass," those score-trumping trends, especially when linked to rewards for the sharer, will eventually crash. Ergo, while we all appreciate friends who share a new music discovery or review site, people are less inclined to "like" pages and "follow" brands because their second cousin likes to win contests and perks.

The trust evaporation factor may even happen faster as those once engaged are pelted by direct promos because they wanted to help a friend win a T-shirt or some other lowbrow novelty. Smart marketers already know this and have adjusted to accordingly. And those that don't? Many are already crumbling, including some who are nothing more than consultants.

Sunday, November 28

Planning For Purpose: Fresh Content Project

When you take a good hard look at the communication landscape today, the fundamental missing ingredient for most companies is a strategic communication plan. After all, if more companies were operating with a communication plan, it seems highly unlikely they would use algorithms to shortcut influence selection, invest more time into "viral" results instead of outcomes, or continue to use the punch list of collateral materials that defined most communication plans three decades ago.

But yet, they do. Companies will only advertise in the Yellow Pages because that is the only place they find clients (probably because that is the only place they advertise), fall prey to online algorithm schemes (foregoing homework for scorekeeping), and dumping quality content in favor of gimmicks meant to fool spiders into directing people toward their content. All of it is largely symptomatic of operating without a plan, which is why these five fresh picks might make you think beyond the quick fixes.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of November 8

• Five Things PR And Marketing Should Break Free From In 2011.
Three of the five suggestions from Priya Ramesh, not surprisingly, are printed: Yellow Pages, newsletters, and brochures. She has a point. The digital editions of such communication devices are more engaging and less wasteful, which is why she concludes that traditional press releases and meetings without purpose could go too. While I might argue that some of these seemingly dated communication vehicles sometimes have a time and place, the real takeaway from Ramesh is to reconsider the company's communication. The days when every company must have this, that, or the other thing are long gone.

Klout Versus Reality.
The most popular "influence" measurement device online is Klout despite the shortcomings of the service. It continues to receive praise and accolades from a handful of people intent on elevating their "activity" scores on Twitter (and optionally, Facebook). Klout has also done a masterful job at marketing, sucking companies into offering "rewards" across the server. According to Klout, it measures actionable items. However, the service mostly measures frequency. The more time you spend on the service, the more "influence" you supposedly have. Geoff Livingston offers up a host of other problems.

Destined To Obscurity.
Ike Pigott calls it partly right. Too much of the Web is based on little more than vanity measures and spiders. Quality has very little to do with what becomes popular on the net. Sure, sometimes quality bubbles to the surface, but the primary reasons to communicate — to inform, persuade, teach, and inspire — are often trumped by searches and reciprocal sharing (networks of people who share whatever people who share their stuff share). And, as more people embrace the content creation of crap, quality tends to be buried at the bottom. It was the very reason we started this project.

• Why Social Media Marketing For Foreign Languages Is Vital.
Guest writer Christian Arno shares an interesting study that suggests 83 percent of marketers are planning to increase their spending on social media, but only 26 percent plan to run campaigns in more than one country. The survey is shocking when you think about it, given that the Internet is has a population that far exceeds the reach of one country. While proximity marketing can be smart, planning to attract people from other countries can be smarter. Or, at least, removing some of the barriers. You cannot establish a presence online without thinking outside the imaginary boundaries that separate people.

• Humanizing Business & Brands: Your Ambassador Ecosystem.
There was plenty of push back related to a post by David Armano, given the abundance of name dropping and plug for his company's trust barometer gizmo. But if you look past all that, the models make sense in that they aim to provide a framework for the communication operations of a company. In many cases, companies don't have to adopt one or the other, but it does seem to me that companies ought to be taking more care in mapping out their communication models as part of their communication plans. Of course, we all know that most companies have no communication plan, but we can dream.

Thursday, November 25

Being Thankful: Happy Thanksgiving

Hand Turkey“Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I used this quote a couple years ago as the lead in lesson for my son around Thanksgiving. And in some small way, it made an impact on his life.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. We're both still thankful for many of the items that made that list and those that came after. But this year is different. Rather than be grateful for the abundance of things, I'm happy with one.

The hand turkey.

The first hand turkey on record supposedly dates back to 13,000 B.C. It was included among the paintings discovered in Lascaux. Of course, North American turkeys are not the same as the turkey fowl in Europe, but it's still interesting to think ancient people used the same artistic technique employed primarily by artists, ages 4-6, today. (The above hand turkey was made by my daughter, age 4.)

Hers reminds me how much hand turkeys are like people. We're basically the same, with subtle differences that make us unique and interesting and worth getting to know. Some hand turkeys are fat and others thin. Some are plain and others fancy. Some are embellished like my daughter's creation, breaking away from tradition. And others are familiar, resembling something we might have drawn years ago. See for yourself.

They are all different, but we can't really say one is better than the others. They are all equally creative within the confines of their sameness. And it kind of makes me wonder sometimes why we can't see people much the same way. All those differences of opinion are nothing more than embellishments on the same design. We might celebrate them instead of fretting about them.

You know, like hand turkeys. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24

Dumbing Down: TSA Policies Are Not A Privacy Issue

It may take some time, but the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department Of Homeland Security will eventually lose the argument they have chosen, and their failed public relations program is only part of the reason. The real problem is they have chosen the wrong argument in what seems to be an attempt to dumb down complaints.

“We are constantly evaluating and adapting our security measures, and as we have said from the beginning, we are seeking to strike the right balance between privacy and security,” John Pistole said in a statement.

Except, it's not a privacy issue. It's a liberty issue.

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." — The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV), United States Constitution

Currently, no matter how you frame it (even claiming that certain transportation methods are privileges, as if), TSA policies are a direct infringement on the fourth amendment. And, even the TSA argument, that 75 to 80 percent of the public supported these measures, we might remember the U.S. Constitution was not written to protect a democratic majority, but the minority.

Heck, I've seen polls over the years that suggest better than half of all Americans would vote to have their homes searched without warrants too (based on the pretense they have nothing to hide). And a certain percentage are in favor of installing videos everywhere to help quell their irrational fears. But that doesn't make it right, just, or even remotely American as Henry Blodget seems to pretend.

The most recent TSA policies, those that were inspired by timing (and despite a bill that barred their use as primary scanners) along with pat-downs, are a threat not to our privacy but to our liberty to travel freely in the United States. Unchecked, you could argue such tactics for anyplace where people congregate (don't laugh). And if that continues to happen, unless Americans speak out against early infringements, we may as well declare the very people we are protecting ourselves from the victors.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." — Benjamin Franklin

I ought to make it clear, I'm not necessarily a fan of TSA security officer bashing in general, especially after my recent experience with air travel. Not every airport is staffed by overzealous or authoritative agents. Most are decent, respectful people, with the difference between departing from Las Vegas and departing from Providence like night and day.

Granted, one airport is significantly busier than the other. However, the professionalism, demeanor, organization, and courtesy of the agents in Rhode Island was light years ahead of Las Vegas, where it is made abundantly clear that the security check points are to screen for terrorists with every citizen and visitor being a suspect. Management in Las Vegas ought to take note.

Our representatives might take note too. The hypocrisy is deafening. The laughter is disheartening, conjuring images of being subjects as opposed to citizens once again.

The brewing public relations nightmare is a point of contact problem.

In response to the backlash of a situation that the TSA created, Pistole has resorted to begging citizens against opting out of full image scanners and pat downs, especially during Thanksgiving. It wouldn't be fair, he argues, to make it a hassle for those trying to make it home during the holidays, as if the opt-outers are somehow responsible for the decisions the TSA made.

I'm sure many colonists were put off when their tea was tossed into the Boston Harbor too. That's the way it goes sometimes.

The only solution to fix the continued erosion of TSA's reputation is to reverse some invasive policies and, most importantly, understand that for the majority of air traveling Americans, the point of contact — security check points — IS the public relations program. Every TSA security officer IS also a public relations agent. No amount of communication can change this fact; even TSA's mission statement demands it.

The TSA is operating out of alignment with its mission.

"The Transportation Security Administration protects the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce." — TSA Mission Statement

While some people consider the horror stories related to pat-down searches, each infraction need not be excused away as accidental lapses in service. They are in direct violation of the agency's own code of conduct to "respect and care for others and protect the information we handle."

The point is that the administration is causing its own problems, which stems in part from Pistole operating off the TSA mission statement with his own, as provided for in his bio, to "grow as a risk-based, intelligence-driven counterterrorism agency dedicated to protecting our transportation systems."

His approach seems to have nothing to do with respect and care for others or to ensure freedom of movement for people. But, without meaning to disparage his otherwise respectable career, individual visions do not trump an agency's mission. If the TSA truly wants to be on the same side as the public, it will change its policies, adopt less invasive procedures that have resulted in better outcomes elsewhere in the world, and remind officers that their employers are the people in front of them.

Full body imaging is only the beginning, says the TSA website.

Don't expect it to happen soon. The TSA has outlined exactly how aggressive it will become in the near future. In developing what one of my colleagues calls the theater of checkpoint security, the TSA states it has deployed more than 900 X-ray systems and 450 imaging scanners, plans to add biometric identification systems (fingerprints and iris scans), and expand operations to include not only subways and other transportation, but "important facilities" as well. Think about that for a minute. Or two.

Then consider that these videos will become more frequent and the responses less defensive. According to the response, the father removed the shirt of his son to expedite a search, but what remains unclear is why removing the shirt might have expedited it.

All this, and it's still safer to board a plane (1:10.46 MILLION) than to drive a car (1:84). I'm slating the issue as a case study.

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