Tuesday, March 24, 2009

a rose by any other name

"a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," wrote the great bard in the late 1500s, when presumably the art and science of choosing names for companies and products was only slightly less well understood than it is today.

in that play, juliet says:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself.

ah, lovely juliet. if only she had been around for the naming of the Toyota Venza. i suspect there were many parts of men (and quite possibly women, too) being flung around in that naming discussion.

the bloggers actually like the car, which appears to be what one would expect from a toyota wagon, but a little spiffier. they go on a bit about how clearly the car's exterior design was intended to make the vehicle look "muscular" -- big tires, big metal grille, etc. but a lot of the visitor commentary is about how feminine and dare i say, girly, they think "venza" is, as a name. some of those commenters also point out that everyone knows in more than 50% of vehicle purchases, women either make the selection or highly influence the decision.

but apparently, these folks have not checked out their latin primers. "veno, "ven" and other similar word parts are derived from the latin venenum, meaning "poison." and "veni," as in "veni, vedi, vici,", means "come." in fact, in the french, the verb "come" (as in "come here") is venez.

now, the folks to whom i lovingly refer as the literalist nation would say something, ah... literal ... about this, like "oh, so what we're saying is we want them to come to the car and get poisoned?" as a reason for picking a different moniker. but the truth is, people make all kinds of crazy associations to names, whether or not they speak latin or french or tagalog. i'd bet there are a fair number of folks who would say "venza" reminds them of "pizza," as much as anything else. (and when you have to figure out where to take a family of 5 for an affordable dinner, presumably in your venza, the pizza place is a good option.)

those associations are built over time from experiences, a few of which are shared with the rest of the world, but the large portion of which are uniquely individualized. which is why choosing good names is such a difficult task, and why companies and brands should make sure they take this activity seriously. it's not something for employees to do as an internal communications activity, nor for senior executives to decide in an ops review. the marketing folks at toyota are not pikers, and i would wager they vetted this name pretty carefully with the target to ensure, even if it wasn't a lovefest, that there weren't any highly negative associations generated by the name.

many folks tell the "funny story" of the chevy nova reportedly bombing in spanish-speaking markets because "nova" in spanish translates into "doesn't go" (that story, by the way, is false -- see this snopes article for an excellent accounting of the truth about the nova name) as an example of bad naming. but the fact that most don't know the story isn't true just provides more evidence of how people can come to believe things without evidence. as someone who thinks of herself as a reasonably intelligent person, i have trouble with this idea... but as a marketer, i know for a fact it's real.

which is why, when i need a vehicle that'll be the next dog taxi for willy and hoover, i'll probably consider the venza. toyota, in fact, is now targeting dog owners for the venza. wired even wrote a story about this, calling out the strategy. and the venza's even been named the "top car for dogs" by dogtime.com and their dog reviewer, lucky (that might be him, in the photo on left). maybe we can get a play date together...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

of taglines and toilet paper

so one of my current tv faves -- and there are not many -- is Trust Me, the new TNT series featuring mason (eric mccormack) and conner (tom cavanaugh), who work for a chicago-based advertising agency. it's full of characters that i'm sure most people think are exaggerations but which, based on my experience, are dead-on accurate.

in the show's pilot, there's a discussion about taglines, which are the pithy little slogans that usually accompany an ad or brand campaign ... such as, say, "live like you mean it." conner tells mason they don't need a tagline for a campaign they're working on; mason says they do. when conner says, "nobody remembers those stupid lines anyway," mason's response is: “Just do it. Think different. Kills bugs dead. When you care enough to send the very best. This Bud’s for you. We try harder. The ultimate driving machine. Uh oh Spaghetti-os.”

actually, i think both characters are right. most of the time, companies don't need a tagline ... but the ones who develop great lines and invest in them effectively over time can leverage those ideas to gain significant competitive advantage.

one of the comments on my recent post re wisconsin and its tagline debacle suggested that: "[most people] view a state slogan about the way they would view toilet paper...when you need it, you use whatever's handy, and you don't particularly care about the color, they ply, the softness, or the texture."

and i suppose that's true, except that if we were to examine the toilet paper (the unused portion, that is) in the homes of those people, we'd find... what? charmin. scott tissue. cottonelle. northern. and sure, some store/generic brands, which i assume are resting comfortably in the bathrooms of the commenter. a wall st journal story from last fall points out that poor economic conditions are operating to increase sales of store brands as consumers look for easy ways to save money, but it seems people are more willing to scrimp on napkins and paper towels, and "toilet paper is holding up best."

the point is, a good tagline can help to solidify the emotional connection that all great brands have with their consumers. in "just do it," nike expressed the feeling that each of us has in our body somewhere, way down underneath the cheeseburger-and-fries excesses, an athlete, capable of physical excellence. we just have to get off the couch, which nike is happy to help us do, so long as we have $65 for a t-shirt (shirt = $5; nike logo = $60).

why do we have $65 for a nike shirt as opposed to $5 for the exact same cotton T from wal-mart? i suppose because we've come to believe that we somehow won't be able to "just do it" as well with walmart. they, after all, are about helping us save money so we can live better. i wonder if they thought that we'd be taking all that saved coin and spending it on nike stuff elsewhere???

great taglines can find their way into popular culture in a way that mission statements, value propositions and corporate-speak just can't. this may be reason enough to have one, although it's not an activity for the faint of heart (or pocketbook). but when you consider the impact on your target's propensity to purchase, the rationale is there. it's true nike spends a boatload on advertising ... but they make significantly greater money by selling products carrying the swoosh.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

o my, my.
that's about all i can say in summing up this week's coverage to date of the giant fray that is wisconsin's effort to re-brand itself.

it all started on monday, with our local journal-sentinel detailing the gov's intro of the new identity at the governor's conference on tourism in la crosse. the people quoted all said brand-launch-y type things, which is what one would expect.

it did not take a nanosecond, however, for the legion of you-gotta-be-kidding-me to get itself in gear, and in the last 18 hours there's been an AP story and nearly 3,000 clicks on the fark.com page dedicated to making fun of the new slogan. some of those erudite entries:

Dude, Yer Gettin' A Dells
Now with More Appleton than Perfect Strangers
So Awesome, Even Brett Favre Came Here
No, not near Chicago. No, that's Michigan. No, that's Minnesota.
Wisconsin: Home of the Frozen Lake DUI
Wisconsin: Eat Cheese or Die
Give Me Bratwurst or Give Me Death
Live Like A Fatty
Wisconsin: Making your liver cry for 161 years
You Moo's sure do know how to party!!!!
At Least We're Not Canadians (or Minnesotans)
Drink Like There's No Tomorrow
and one of my personal favorites... It's The One Shaped Like An Oven Mitt.

followed by a raft of riffs on the "... like you mean it," including "tax like you mean it," "drink like you mean it," and the like, coupled with modifications to the artwork including the cartwheeling figure doing a kegstand and having cash fall out of his pockets, respectively.

i think quite possibly my favorite quote comes from the california dietician who apparently has authored a book using the phrase and went off to the ap reporter about the fact that wisconsin is not going to get a federal trademark. that's so cute. the phrase is so hackneyed that seeking trademark protection would be ridiculous, even if the classes of use between cookbooks and tourism were even close to being confused with one another. of course, here in wisconsin i suppose that IS debatable given so much of the state's connection to beer, cheese and sausage.

in today's story, the state's brand manager took the equally expected approach when these kinds of things happen, which is to say words to the effect of, "__ you very much for your opinion, but we think it communicates effectively. everyone is always going to have a different opinion about such things." she is, of course, right about this last bit. but i really have no idea about the communication effectiveness thing -- and if she did, why didn't she put some data out there to back it up???

the stories talk about the fact that they vetted the tagline for legal purposes, but never about whether the tag was tested with the intended targets... presumably tourists and businesses in other states. which means, candidly, that ALL opinions expressed thus far -- including my own -- are horsehockey. this is what brand manager lady should have said. it wouldn't have kept the farkers from going after it (although if i were her, i would've farked them back with the research until they packed up their puns and went sulking off to wherever farkers go when they've been dissed).

ladies and gentlemen, if you take nothing else away from this blog's collection of drivel, i hope you will at least remember monica's golden rule, which appears on a piece of paper i once shot at while at a gun range. my performance was not too bad that day -- out of 15 rounds, i nailed 6 or 8 pretty much in the center, and the rest fairly close-in. i don't keep that memento to impress people with my shooting skills -- i keep it to remind them, and myself, that we are not the target of everything we see. data, data, data (and the insight one should be able to get from it) is key to making sure this kind of thing doesn't happen. hopefully the state will figure this out and give the next salvo in the campaign a little more of a chance,

in the meantime, tho, i'll be practicing my cartwheels like i mean it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Willy's Guest Blog #2

hi, everyone. it's me, willy! i know you all have missed me since my original post. so i thought i'd update you on what's going on in my life.

first of all, i'm taking a cue from my mom and using a photo that is lovely but not ... ah, shall we say, nowsville? and i'm a dog! that means i'm 7 years older than something, sometime. i forget exactly what since i've been multiple 7s and early doggie forgetfulness is beginning to creep in. but that's ok coz my mom can't remember anything either and it hasn't seemed to make much of a difference. except occasionally she forgets to feed us and i have to pull a cujo to get her to wake the hell up.

how does this relate to marketing? well, certainly good marketing has to be memorable so people feel like they've seen whatever it is before and therefore it must be good. like, when i go to PetSmart, there's this one shelf that i really like. it has rawhide stuff on it and i'm not allowed to have rawhide ever since i ate some when i was a puppy and my mom had to spend the entire weekend outside with me and my intestines... but believe me, i'm buying whatever these people are selling. i can imagine that lovely scent in my doggie dreams! if i ever bust outta this joint, that's the first place i'm headed.

what else. well, you know, it's march in wisconsin and that means ... it's still cold, and we're not putting the stupid doggie boots away for another 2 months. shoot, i'll bet we get another snowfall. that's really hoover's thing more than mine; i'm ready to be a california canine anytime. and take those stinking boots (literally!) back to PetSmart where they belong.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ameriprise -- the trilogy is complete!

as promised, here is the update on the Ameriprise saga:

so the very nice and highly competent customer service person returns my call and we walk through the process of getting accounts set up on their website. i can't log in because i've forgotten my stupid username and password. i'm thinking i should probably just use "stupid" as a username and whatever the numbers are for "stupid" as a password, and then i'd have no trouble remembering them.

anyway, rather than transferring me to some call center in a basement in minneapolis or mumbai, she puts me on hold for a very short interval, and comes back on the line with an IT person who gets the UI/PW situation resolved in the nanosecond it requires to hit a key (which should also be marked "stupid" on her keyboard, so people like me can be more expeditiously handled). then, in a curious display of IT-hijinks, the card account which has been the subject of so much consternation and blogging is all of a sudden resting comfortably on the page, minding its own business, and looking like it's been there all along. i know this isn't the case, and tell them so, and they calmly agree with me even though i can tell by their voices that they think i'm crazy.

i don't care, though, because i am the customer and i have been helped!!! it's silly to think that customer service problems are good for brands, but i will say that sometimes solving a problem gives a brand an added boost it wouldn't have gotten if it had simply performed acceptably well all along. and now, i'm going to tell my 4 followers and anybody else who's seeing this post (given the Ameriprise experience, i now make room for that possibility) about how great Ameriprise is, when i might not have gone out of my way to do that otherwise, because these kinds of great brand UX experiences are, in truth, pretty rare and when people like me find them we tend to talk about them.

i'm sure that Ameriprise, given a normal market, would rather have their clients recommending them for other reasons (e.g., growth, stability, investment performance, etc.) -- and who wouldn't agree that "they made me a ton of money!" sounds a bit more compelling than "they solved my card website problem!" -- but it's a crazy world out there and beggars can't be choosers. small brand victories in the short term can help win the war in the long run.

Ameriprise, thanks for restoring my faith in your brand. we're gonna know each other for a long time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ameriprise Part 2, and 3, and the illusion of control

when you're a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. and i admit it....i am, most often, the nail, and these posts are written from a very nail-oriented perspective. which is just my way of saying, "hey, hello... i'm your target and you, Mr. or Ms. Marketing Genius, are not really hitting me on the head or even striking the broad patch of drywall in my vicinity."

occasionally (much less occasionally, lately), i am the hammer and this allows me to recognize the good work of other hammers. so here's what's happened in the ameriprise saga (see my earlier post, below, for the start of the story.)

so the day after i wrote that post, i come home to a phone message from a lovely lady from ameriprise, who says, among other things, "we saw your blog." and i'm like, WHAT? no, that's impossible. i only have 4 followers and 2 of them are dogs. i share a maiden name with the third and my bed with the 4th. but sure enough she had seen the post and knew all about the poor customer service and left her phone number and said she would help me AND the other gal who was apparently in need of some instruction on the company's products and services.

i don't know whether i was more thrilled at the fact that i'm surfacing on amerprise's marketing comms screen as some kinda person of influence, or that they just wanted to fix the brand UX... but in either case, i was in fact thrilled and am using this opportunity to give big snaps to ameriprise for getting it right (well, i'm assuming they will. we've been playing phone tag, which is by no means a situation entirely under their control. so stay tuned for amerprise Part 3, where i will report faithfully on what happened and either send you flying in droves to seek financial nirvana from them, or not.)

speaking of control ... i was having lunch with a couple of folks from 2 fine milwaukee-based communications shops in pr and design, and we were in general agreement that control is not all it's cracked up to be. the design house had just been notified that their work has garnered some awards, and i thought it was a pretty interesting circumstance that those award-winning items are the ones where the client did not get out his/her pointy finger and insist that the type be in a certain color or font, that the images be cropped a certain way, or make any other stupid pronouncement that should without doubt be left up to someone who went to design school (or could have). on the pr side, the same was true -- at the time of the interview, the client had not been convinced the story was a great placement, but gave the agency the benefit of the doubt and in the end it turned out to be a terrific score.

i think really we should stop believing in "control" as a way of getting what we actually want, and instead favor "guidance," which enables agencies and other outside service partners to do more and better work, faster, more easily, and with greater value while still in the end providing us with deliverables that meet our needs. sometimes this means paying for things you end up not wanting -- but i think the true cost of that is significantly less than the benefit of getting something great you didn't know you needed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Brand UX

i had a very interesting conversation today with a very smart guy named dick bondy, a fellow who has probably forgotten more than i'll ever know about brands and marketing. dick is consulting now and is carving out a pretty interesting niche for himself in the area of corporate brand launches.

these events, known in the trade generally as "these @#$%^!& events," due to the fact that nobody really knows what they're supposed to be or how they're supposed to work, and as a result most of us who have done them usually just devise our own programs and hope for the best, or at least, the absence of disaster. ameriprise is an example of a company that did a fabulous job on its launch event, helped by my very good friends at lippincott, when they transitioned from american express to their new moniker.

but in my view, it's not all sweetness and light for the ameriprise brand at the moment. apart from being tarred with the same brush that's blackening the image of all financial services companies, i think they have what i call a brand ux (user experience) problem.

i happen to be an ameriprise customer, having been a client of american express financial services for many years. i've had the same advisor for the last 14 years, and she's fabulous (note, that's not to say i'm doing better in the market than anyone else whose holdings are in the tank). but she is extremely bright, extremely responsive, and i'm quite sure she does a better job at managing my money than i could do on my own.

one of the services she recommended recently was that my husband and i take advantage of the Ameriprise Achiever's Circle credit card, which has no annual fee if you keep a certain level of assets in Ameriprise accounts. i called, spoke to an equally fabulous customer service rep on the phone, and we ordered up the cards. and they came in a lovely little folder with all the features of the card, etc., and at this point i would say my ameriprise user experience was completely intact -- they've suggested to me a brand promise of intelligence, capability and great service, and they had delivered completely on it.

but then... i wanted to set up the card online so i could see transactions, balances, etc., so i went to their website (the intelligent thing, in my view) but couldn't find anyplace where it talked about the card, other than to sell you on signing up for it. so i called the number on the card, and got the web address, http://www.servicemycard.com/, and learned that barclays is the card servicer.
ok, i guess i'm all right with that - strong brands can align with other strong brands and not defeat their value propositions - but it would've been nice if somewhere along the way they'd told me so.
so i begin the laborious process of setting up the card. pick a username. password. photo. phrase. enter your mother's maiden name. the first school you attended (by this time, i'm getting a bit ornery, but dealing with it). now enter your address, telephone, employer, blah blah blah.... and now i'm thinking stuff like "does ameriprise really know what the hell's going on here?" and then finally i get to hit the "go" button and .... it doesn't work.
like an idiot, i try the whole process again (isn't it funny how we've become conditioned to thinking that somehow it's OUR fault and not the website's?). and again, it doesn't work. by this time, i am livid.
i call the number again and tell a not-so-fabulous phone rep the problem. she puts me on hold for an hour -- ok, it was probably 3 minutes but it felt like a hour--and then she says "your financial office has to set it up for you."
me: "financial office? i don't have a financial office. i have an advisor. do you mean my advisor has to set this up?"
her: "your financial office has to set it up for you."
me: "I DON'T HAVE A FINANCIAL OFFICE." (i probably was speaking in all capital letters by this time.)
her: i don't know anything about that. it says here you have to have your financial office set it up for you."

i hung up the phone and chalked it up to material for a good blog post.

this is why brand UX is so, so important. brand is not about a great logo -- it's about a great company, and products, services, and customer interaction that are completely consistent with that greatness. it wouldn't have been so bad, arguably, if i wasn't thrilled with the rest of the ameriprise delivery -- then i would've e
xpected mediocre performance on the credit card thing, and my expectations would have been fulfilled. but they set themselves up to fail on this one, and i can only hope they figure it out soon... before i, and others like me, decide to go elsewhere.