Monday, June 13

Branding Reversals: Just Call It Something Else?

applesAccording to a University of South Carolina study in the Journal of Consumer Research, marketers have an easier time misleading dieters with product names. Dieters, the study concludes, rate food items with healthy names such as "salad" as being healthier than those with less healthy names such as "pasta" even when the foods are identical.

"The fact that people's perceptions of healthfulness vary with the name of the food item isn't surprising," Dr. Caglar Irmak, an assistant professor of marketing at the Darla Moore School of Business, said. "What is interesting is that dieters, who try to eat healthy and care about what they eat, fell into these 'naming traps' more than non-dieters who really don't care about healthy eating."

For example, when study participants were given a choice between the same candy labeled "fruit chew" and "candy chew," dieters perceived the candy named fruit chew as more healthful than the one named candy chew. They also ate more candies when the items were called fruit chews (versus candy chews).

Dieters avoid forbidden foods based on product names.

Where marketers take advantage of dieters is in the naming of foods. Specifically, researchers said a salad may include items that dieters typically would avoid (meat, cheese, bread or pasta); milkshakes listed as "smoothies;" potato chips called "veggie chips;" and sugary drinks labeled "flavored water."

"These results should give dieters pause. The study shows that dieters base their food decisions on the name of the food item instead of the ingredients of the item," Irmak said. "As a result, they may eat more than what their dieting goals prescribe."

He said non-dieters are equally prone to make bad choices. They tend to miss cues that imply healthfulness, including names, because of their lack of focus on healthy eating.

Heightened awareness opens the doors for double-sided branding.

While not included in the study, the article that will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research hits a home run in better understanding the nature of branding and why consumers are sometimes duped into choosing the exact opposite of what they are seeking.

For example, prior to the Gulf Coast oil spill, consumers considered BP one of the top energy providers in renewable energy. Johnson & Johnson secured a position as placing medical safety first until recent actions eroded the brand. Susan G. Komen for the Cure was a frontrunner in reputation until bad decisions undermined its credibility.

brand erosionHowever, prior to brand erosion, the brands benefited from word associations whether or not they were delivering on the brand promise. Consumers with a heightened sense of need (clean energy, safe medicine, breast cancer) seldom vet their purchasing decisions, referrals, or recommendations. Instead, they rely on prevailing word associations — much like dieters assume salads are healthy — in order to make purchasing decisions.

Conversely, consumers without a heightened area of interest are less likely to be swayed by such word associations attached to brands and brand names. In fact, it's very likely the increased information overload could be forcing people to rely less on evidence and more on simple and sometimes erroneous word associations that are conditioned by friends and self-selected information streams. Ant that is some real food for thought.

Friday, June 10

Failing At Mitigation: Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & JohnsonJohnson & Johnson is embroiled in what may be the crisis communication dilemma of the year. You would never know it from their Website. Instead, you'll see a huge section that details how much they care about people.

At the same time, Johnson & Johnson has made a dramatic shift in its communication strategy since the days it delivered a best practice in crisis management for Tylenol in 1982. Instead of being at the forefront of product safety, it is patently less aggressive about product safety related to its other assets.

Specifically, although Johnson & Johnson lends its legal team to assist the court cases being lobbied at Motrin, its once stellar reputation for communication doesn't seem to cover McNeil Consumer Healthcare, which markets the Motrin brand. The Motrin brand is in a communication firestorm. Its Fort Washington plant was suspended in connection with the recall of infants’ and children’s liquid over-the-counter (OTC) products manufactured there. There are other problems with the Motrin brand.

Can a company wear a black and white hat in medicine?

Even more current, Johnson & Johnson is reveling in praise for new labeling on acetaminophen products while simultaneously poised to fight a settlement and labeling related to another tragic story mentioned last week.

SJSThe company's argument seems to be that the Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (SJS/Tens) experienced by several children in the last few years after taking Motrin doesn't warrant warnings let alone responsibility. They contend it is too isolated. Ironically, it also flies in the face of their 1982 best practice in crisis management.

Back then, Johnson & Johnson revised medication safety because of an isolated incident that affected nine people in Chicago. The company didn't even have any responsibility for that atrocity and it stepped up. But now, when it seems to be responsible, it is willing to invest considerable funds to fight.

Likewise, in the unrelated phantom recall of Motrin products two years ago, McNeil Consumer Healthcare apparently tried to cover up the recall by repurchasing product but not calling for a recall. The result could have led to dangerous products being left out in the marketplace. Johnson & Johnson is fighting that lawsuit too.

Crisis management in the world of multi-brands.

Johnson & Johnson is hardly alone in creating massive companies with multiple brands that most consumers miss on the surface. The question crisis management teams need to start asking themselves is, despite the various degrees of separation, can a corporate parent really afford to play two sides against the middle anymore?

Isn't this the same argument that BP attempted to make during the Gulf Coast oil spill with the incessant blame game? That the lead company was somehow exempt from responsibility if the contractors under its watch were about to make a historic environmental catastrophe.

Like it or not, consumers are connecting the dots with more and more frequency. Companies are held accountable for employee actions. Companies are held accountable for contractor actions. So doesn't it stand to reason that subsidiaries are also accountable?

Ergo, don't consumers deserve to hear better words from attorneys representing a Johnson & Johnson company that “McNeil complied with every federal regulation and that’s what the proof is.”

Mitigation is the single most important aspect of crisis communication.

Under normal circumstances, maybe not. But given Johnson & Johnson has invested billions of shareholder dollars to appear like it is the absolute leader in pharmaceutical customer safety, Johnson & Johnson is risking one of its greatest assets, a brand name that managed to escape increased scrutiny after the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics two years ago.

disaster planningIn considering the four basic tenets of disaster planning, Johnson & Johnson is continuing to fall short in the area where it was always the strongest. Mitigation focuses on long-term measures to reduce or eliminate risk. It considers more than whether a company "can" win a case. It considers what is lost when a company does win a case.

In this situation, when you add up the court cases, future court cases, immediate public relations damage, and long-term brand damage versus a few settlements, relabeling costs (for a product not even on the market right now), and a physician education campaign, it seems to me Johnson & Johnson is reacting instead of taking the kind of proactive safety measures it used to be known for at great cost. Much more than $10 million. Much more than $1 billion. Much more than $10 billion.

The inherent weakness in the decisions being made at Johnson & Johnson regarding Motrin may even reinforce why a toothless public relations division is not necessarily the best division to handle crisis management. They all too often focus on minimizing publicity damage instead of considering the big picture of brand position. Likewise, lawyers aren't always the best crisis management leaders either. Some of them are too busy framing up crisis management cases in terms of whether it is winnable or not.

To make it work, companies need balanced crisis management teams that can objectivity assess the problems before them. And, if public relations is placed in charge of more than a crisis communication team, then they need to be (at least) empowered and given equal consideration as the legal team. Of course, this also assumes the PR team has enough crisis training. Most of them do not.

At Johnson & Johnson, the growing crisis ought be to handled much like an employee incident. Johnson & Johnson needs to scrub McNeil Consumer Healthcare of executives who allow the worst to happen. And, if they cannot manage themselves as a division, the company might consider folding the Motrin brand into its Johnson & Johnson brand. Of course, all this assumes Johnson & Johnson wants to maintain its reputation as a leader in consumer safety, an asset it once spent billions to create.

One wonders what Robert Wood Johnson might think. He was the former chairman (1932-1963) who crafted the company's credo before anybody ever heard the terms corporate social responsibility and a moral compass. What happened?

Wednesday, June 8

Branding: Personal Brand Meets Lifestyle Brand

PirateFor the failures of the personal brand concept, there are enough people who believe that marketers want to help them out. The new CMO buzz word being bandied about with increased frequency is lifestyle branding.

Specifically, that means brands give up on any functional attributes and focus their marketing on lifestyle choices. You might even consider it business marketing in reverse — marketers trying to make their products a badge identifier for certain lifestyles as opposed to developing products to meet the needs of an existing lifestyle.

Why is lifestyle branding becoming popular?

One of the most brilliant marketing strategists (even though by all accounts, including his own, he was a bastard) was Charles Revson, who started a nail polish company after the cosmetics company he worked for passed him over for promotion. Of course, his tenacity alone didn't take his tiny company, Revlon Cosmetics, to the top. It was his marketing.

In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope. — Charles Revson

But that isn't lifestyle branding, not really. Lifestyle branding is more akin to what came next. Lifestyle branding doesn't sell help as much as it creates the illusion that you, as a consumer, actually arrive at some destination. The Prius is a great example.

While there are a percentage of people who buy the Prius as eco-freindly consumers, the majority of Prius buyers today only want to buy the illusion that they are intelligent and practical enough to purchase the vehicle. In other words, it has less to do with the consumer's demographics and more to do with proving that they belong to those demographics, whether they do or not. As Rob Lyons once put it, it's part ego-trip.

The Prius isn't alone among brands that became adopted by posers. There have been dozens to win and lose in their attempts to make a statement. Before Coors became a national brewer, it represented an elite in-ness. So did Perrier water for a spell. And you can easily add Starbucks to the list. It has always sold the Seattle culturally-savvy image more than it sold coffee.

To be fair, not all lifestyle brands are intentional. Toyota didn't necessarily set out to create a lifestyle brand with the Prius as much as a second wave of consumers did. Perrier water, on the other hand, did. And until a benzene mishap, it once captured 80 percent of the bottled water industry in North America.

Creating a lifestyle brand is a marketing crapshoot.

The point to consider here is that there are two paths toward a lifestyle brand. One is less intentional because consumers create it on their own. That isn't a gamble as much as it is recognizing that the real strength of a brand lies in the relationship between the consumer and the product.

Intentionally attempting to create a lifestyle brand is much more of a gamble, like Puma is reportedly trying to do now. It's dumping the longstanding battle with Nike and Adidas and trying to embrace the "after hours" athlete crowd market. And Alex Chernev, who wrote the article mentioned above, did a fine job pointing out that Nike and Adidas will be the real winners.

Where Puma might win, according to Chernev, is if they can appeal to the consumers' need for self-expression and convince them that this brand is representative of their arrival. However, short of Puma redesigning their shoes (which they are), the whole thing is nothing more than a brand attempting to out-pose the posers.



Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. One of my favorite case studies revolves around the ad campaign launched by Miller to cut into the coolness market of microbreweries. Nobody who identified with the microbewery scene believed the campaign. But to make matters worse for Miller, the blue-collar customer did believe it, didn't identify with it, and swapped out Miller for Bud.

In a sense, creating a lifestyle brand out of a marketing campaign is nothing more than a sleight-of-hand trick. The best a brand can hope for is that posers "think" it represents the lifestyle they want to mimic (authentic consumers are almost never fooled).

Minimizing the gamble for a lifestyle brand.

The only way to minimize the gamble is to recognize that the consumer has an equal stake in product positioning (unless you're a start-up developing a product for a specific group). The point being that if you are lucky enough to get a core group of consumers who identify with a specific lifestyle for a certain reason, you can adjust your marketing to reinforce it.

This approach was one of the ways we helped a car dealer become a regional leader despite facing off against a 20-year established incumbent competitor. While the incumbent attempted to bring in a broad "sales" driven consumer into their dealership, we developed a campaign around the market segment that already identified with the national brand. There was more to it than that, but that is a simplified explanation for the success.

On the other hand, if I was a marketing director for Puma, for example, I might even be a bit concerned with the new campaign because it's attempting to target a non-existent lifestyle by combining too many lifestyles that don't identify with each other. Of course, Puma might already feel confident in attracting a certain segment and their campaign just doesn't prove it. Time will tell.

What is especially interesting to me is the allure of lifestyle brands anyway. They seem most suited to the poser crowd, which tend to be the same ones who embrace personal branding. The general concept for personal branding is that, somehow, how you present yourself is what you are (or, more specifically, what you buy). Many people believe it too.

But doesn't that really make the entire exercise feel like some brands are starting to pretend to be something they are not, in the hopes that consumers buy it so they can pretend they are something they're not? Huh. Maybe they're made for each other.

Monday, June 6

Teaching Tech: iPads Pop Up In Classrooms

Solar SystemAccording to the Irish Times, one secondary school is getting rid of school books and replacing them with iPads. The iPads will be phased into use starting September, when all 90 first-year students at the college will be given the option of using the Apple machine instead of a bag full of school books.

“We received huge support from the teachers and parents for the idea – we had 96 percent support – but in no way is this obligatory," school principal Jimmy Finn told the publication. “Parents have the choice to go with the iPad or school books like it was always done.”

The story could mark a dramatic step in education, not only in Ireland but in the United States. One of the cost-containment ideas being employed by the school is to spread the cost over three years and including it in the tuition. They estimate the full package will cost 700 pounds (inclusive). In the States, costs might be as little as $200 more per year and save money.

In the United States, the average cost of school books per semester is $400 to $900 and up or $2,400 to $3,200 or more (depending on degree). Textbook savings wouldn't be the only benefit. Publishers that ordinarily charge $100 or more per book to make up the high cost of color printing, durable covers, and modest distribution could save significantly and possibly even generate more money for textbook authors by making the material more public than school book stores.

Textbook replacement is only the beginning of tablets in education.

Tablets could, in effect, allow professors to automatically share handouts, documents, reading lists, and even presentations immediately following class. In some cases, certain programs actually deliver better context, allowing teachers to supplement it.

This isn't the only place education could change. In China, students are replacing notepads with tablets. They are the perfect tool for musical instruments, design tools, and artistic inspiration. Personally, I see the potential as much more significant, giving teachers and students immersive education.

For example, students could record a lecture and/or take notes. A teacher could then allow students to download Romeo & Juliet, take home the movie (normally played in class), and some supplements depending on the subject being covered. The student could even complete an assignment using the same tool, and then email it to the teacher.

Having all the assignments in hand could help the teacher frame additional discussion points, and possibly, even open up connected subjects such as the historical relevance of the play. Or whatever they like. And so on and so forth.

There are iPad and tablet pilot programs in the U.S. as well as some push back.

Even Vineet Madan, vice president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education eLabs, says U.S. schools are tablet ready. And, believe it or not, teachers' unions might be the biggest road block to integrating tablets. Why? Tablets may provide greater scrutiny over class material. Some are concerned about the cost (even if it will save dollars), the training some teachers will need, and what age to introduce the technology.

However, despite setbacks in some areas, some schools in the United States are moving ahead. The Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts in South Providence, for example, has been adding iPads. There is also a pilot program in Missouri. And another in Andover. And other in Boston. And another on the California side of Tahoe. And Burlington. And Maine.

Why I'm a proponent of iPads and tablets in the classrooms.

I already have firsthand experience. After giving my 4-year-old daughter an old iPhone (calling is not active) and seeing her play games like Super Why! and, even though she is a year or two off, Stack The States, she is even more enthralled with starting kindergarten this fall. I've also walked her through programs on my iPad, like Solar System For iPad or thumbing through a collection of art at the Louvre. Those, of course, are only a few.

The point is that children are never too young to supplement their education. Sure, there was a time that my daughter reminded me she was 4 and bit the phone for no apparent reason (maybe she was mad at the pigs on Angry Birds). But other than one incident, she has been responsible with it, enough so that I'm considering iPads (with the stipulation of non-gaming) for both children regardless of next year's classrooms. The learning curve is very low; the interest is very high. What's not to like? We might not be all that far off from A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

Friday, June 3

Failing As The Fifth Estate: Public Relations

Two people sent me keen observations yesterday: one in a comment, another in an email. The observations are worth sharing. Maybe it will even wake up a few public relations and social media professionals who claim to cover their industry. More and more of them have all but fallen asleep at the wheel.

Motrin is currently embroiled in one of its most pressing public relations challenges and blowing it badly. And yet, nobody in the public relations or social media spheres seem to be covering it. Instead, public relations and social media pros are too busy writing about love me tools, mea culpas about failed panels, and (unbelievably) the 2008 Motrin ad campaign.

Perhaps worse, all the overwriting about the 2008 snarky ad campaign overshadows the current crisis on search engines (unless you are specific).

A Brief About Motrin's New Crisis Communication Battle.

If the snarky ad campaign didn't convince some people that Motrin can be insensitive to consumers, then perhaps the pair of new crisis communication scenarios will make them think twice. The first revolves around 3-year-old Brianna Maya, who was given Motrin in 2000.

ABC reports a "fine rash on her body and mild redness around her eyes morphed into something insidious." The reaction to the medicine, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (SJS/Tens), is rare but extremely painful and potentially fatal.

For Maya, it burned and blistered her body inside and out, blinded her in one eye, required her to be sent to a burn unit, and left her reproductive organs destroyed. She also suffered partial brain damage during the acute phase of the reaction.

SJSAccording to the new ruling, the SJS/Tens reaction was triggered by Children's Motrin, which is marketed by McNeil Consumer Products, a division of Johnson & Johnson. A jury recently ordered the drug manufacturer to pay $10 million for her injuries after they determined that McNeil Consumer Products, a division of Johnson & Johnson, was negligent in warning consumers about such a risk. Children's Motrin is currently unavailable on the Motrin website.

Its unavailability comes with the second crisis communication under covered by public relations and social media. It relates to a phantom recall conducted by the company in 2009. The most hideous example of all communication was included in the State of Oregon's complaint. Contractors were advised of the following by the company:

“Do not communicate to store personnel any information about this product. Just purchase all available product. If you are questioned by store personnel, simply advise that you have been asked to perform an audit.”

McNeil Consumer Products and Johnson & Johnson are defending themselves against the lawsuits.

According to The Consumerist, Johnson & Johnson maintains that the labeling was adequate and the condition is "extremely rare" in the Maya case. And other than initially disagreeing with the verdict, most media outlets report Johnson & Johnson is not responding to requests for comment.

As a crisis communication case study, this isn't a quick fix nor can it be cured with the five steps to crisis communication. I started outlining it earlier this week for next, but opted to provide some backgrounder notes after receiving two separate inquiries about PR taking a pass on this one. This fact also makes me amend my review of Welcome To The Fifth Estate from yesterday. It seems more people need to read the book than I initially said.

Rethinking The Fifth Estate With Shrink Wrap.

As mentioned, one of the primary components of Geoff Livingston's book is that communicators must become participants in a larger world to deliver effective communication. And while he doesn't necessarily say it verbatim, therein lies an interesting point for professionals to ponder...

As communicators who claim to be active participants looking out for the greater public, isn't there an unwritten obligation to cover the uncomfortable along with the slapstick sideshows? Or is something else causing PR to be silent about Motrin?

Is it that professional communicators have taken the advice of Shel Holtz to not be a PR ambulance chaser to heart? Is it that most public relations professionals aren't impressed with the numbers this story may or not draw compared to "three steps to develop a social strategy" or some such nonsense? Is it that public relations has moved so far up the 'expert' perception ladder that it has turned in its fluffy bubble for shrink wrap, tightening the plastic until nobody can see anything beyond their own antics?

After all, the two stories mentioned above, combined with the recent discovery that Johnson & Johnson knew its antibiotic Levaquin increased the risk of tendon damage and equally relevant Baby Shampoo debacle, could make Johnson & Johnson the public relations story of the year. And yet, even self-proclained communication leaders at Ragan are more interested in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food plate.

It's a curious thing, this dramatic shift in content. Over the last year, a field that used to pile on crisis events ad nauseum is now too busy for them. Who knows? It may be that for all the empowerment that came with becoming The Fifth Estate so did the risk of becoming too important to be bothered with the rest of the world.

Johnson & Johnson case study ahead, sometime next week. Of course, I'm sure it won't be more fun than a balloon popping post.

Wednesday, June 1

Reading Livingston: Welcome To The Fifth Estate

Welcome To The Fifth EstateIf you conduct a rudimentary search for social media on Amazon, you'll pull up more than 150,000 titles. And so many of them, quite frankly, aren't much more than anecdotal paperweights or maybe fire starters.

Yes, even those that drip with praise from their fellow colleagues. The way I see it, if I'm ever to be accused of doing any favors for any colleagues in social media, let it be said the favor is not reviewing their books. I read them and sigh. It's the same reason I've passed on two invitations to write one.

There are some exceptions. Social Media ROI by Olivier Blanchard is probably one of them. I've only put off reading it because I know Blanchard and he and I see so closely on the subject it feels like volunteering to be the choir. And then there's Welcome To The Fifth Estate by Geoff Livingston.

A Review (of sorts) of Welcome To The Fifth Estate by Geoff Livingston.

One of the reasons I've been looking forward to Livingston's book beyond our longtime friendship, is the subject he chose to tackle. The premise seemed one off from social media. Pulling from history, Livingston notes that if the media might be considered the Fourth Estate then social media has helped give rise to the Fifth Estate (the masses), individuals who use technology to provide their own news, or more than likely, vet the news that is coming at them.

I've had an interest in this subject, citizen journalism, for years. I'm often torn between the those who see it is as good and those who see it as bad — watching firsthand some valiant or obscure individuals attempt to restore objectivity to the news even while so many lazier journalists long for reinstating yellow journalism.

But that isn't really what Welcome To The Fifth State is about. It's really an organizational primer that would help public relations and marketing professionals demonstrate the difference between an organization's traditional marketing efforts and communicating with the various social structures of online communities and social networks.

It’s an important lesson for any organization, even more so when you consider the online medium isn’t mass media as much as it is a media by the masses.

Livingston does a fine job with this, opening up with a warning to companies that advocacy consumers with journalism-like followings are on alert and waiting for them. And, in doing so, he helps recast how organizations might view this environment — especially using a significant number of case studies and references that sort our halo stories or horns — before they dive right in.

Welcome To The Fifth EstateThe best of the book is the call for companies to move away from silos to hives. I might call such a move integrated communication, but the analogy is strong. Designating different non-communicative budget-competative departments (silos) is no longer functional. All of the various communication-related roles need to work together. (Ergo, it doesn't make sense to have a Twitter account offering to assist with customer service problems if they have no direct tie to customer service solutions.)

I'm also happy to give props to Livingston for always being smart in helping organizations move away from thinking of everything in terms of tools and tactical counters. Instead, he rightly tees up considering the organizational strategy as opposed to the piles of tactics they have become.

However, he then drifts into providing tips on developing a social media strategy, which will help organizations refine their programs, but ruffles me up a bit because it's not really strategic communication. It's broader conceptual tactical thinking, which is a step up from what most companies do but still a rung down from strategic communication.

Why Welcome To The Fifth Estates Works As A Primer.

I don't mean to dismiss his central theme. (It might even be a case of semantics.) Contrary, what Livingston is attempting to drive home is that you cannot interrupt a conversation about a baseball with a message to sell someone a baseball bat. Doing so is asking for trouble and dilutes or destroys the brand.

Instead, he advocates for participating with the community on their terms. And that's smart. In other words, by talking about the game with the people talking about it, you might just sell a few bats too. Really, it's not unlike the difference between people you chat with at a professional luncheon and those who are too busy pumping their business cards in your hand.

All in all, Livingston does deliver a book several steps above the books littering online shelves. It seems to me the people it would best serve fall into three categories: People who are taking an interest in social media (or being thrust into it), executives who won't be doing it but want their team to start doing it, and a whole lot of "tool strategists" that count how many followers they have.

At the same time, you also expect Livingston to simplify some complex organizational concepts in an increasingly conversational way that anyone can relate to. It's a super fast read and presents several case studies that aren't talked about as often. You can finish it in a weekend afternoon and feel smarter for it on Monday. (And that doesn't even mention the introduction by Adam Ostrow, which I'll save for another day.)

That is not to say there aren't some "devil in the details" issues to watch out for. There are typos, too many. And on occasion, you might want to recheck some references because the stories don't mesh well with how events played out. (The one that stands out the most is JetBlue, but only because I covered it. Their blog only went silent as Neeleman was pushed aside.)

Who Might Be Best Served By A Visit To The Fifth Estate.

Welcome to the Fifth Estate is even stronger for Livingston than Now Is Gone. And it will open up more speaking opportunities for him as a professional who adds more quality to the field than people who "seem" to be more popular.

I can easily recommend it for executives who have less interest in social media but know their company needs to adopt it. There is no doubt it will help them avoid being sold snake oil. I also think it's a very worthwhile read for anyone who isn't up to speed on strategic communication but operating in social media. Livingston will take you half to three-quarters of the way there. And lastly, I appreciate the opportunity to have read an advanced electronic version because it provides a great snapshot of where we are on the path to wherever we might end up.
 

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