Pardon my French, but I feel like a total and utter s**t.  At least I’ll be punished by having to walk on the other side of the street every time I want to go to the drug store.

Allow me to explain.

I believe in supporting small businesses.  My grandfather, a pharmacist, had his own drug store.  My mom feels very strongly about frequenting privately-owned stores whenever she can – drug stores, book stores, you name it – and I try to do the same.  I still feel the “You’ve Got Mail” horror whenever some big box something or other gobbles up yet another street, pushing out all the small business owners just trying to get by.

Flash forward to the polar vortex of 2014.  I need snow boots and I need ’em bad.  I’ve checked all the usual suspects – Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Zappos… nothing but Uggs left in my size (ugh).  The shortage is so real that it’s made the newsmore than once.  There is a small shoe store near my apartment, and I saw some boots I liked in the window.  I went in and discovered that they were $245.  Not happening.  But there was a pair that – all in, including tax – was $130, which felt a lot better than $245.  The trained shoe salesman actually acted like, well, a trained shoe salesman:  he knelt before me, unlaced my old boots, put my new ones on, laced them up, then followed me around to hear whether they fit. He delivered a real service experience.  I left the store with $130 boots feeling sort of ok.  But once the $245 phantom price wore off, and I was home with boots for which I’d paid a lot more than I’d planned, I started to get… itchy.

That’s when I went online.

Armed with new information – the manufacturer’s name and model number – I was able to sidestep all the branded retailers who’d burrowed into my brain via their PR coverage and ad spends (I mean, Zappos? Really?  I don’t even like Zappos) and leverage the Internet’s long tail by just typing the specific shoe information into Google.  This allowed me to browse a number of retailers I’d never heard of, including one that was selling the same pair for $83 all in (including shipping, no tax).  That’s a huge difference.  I returned the first pair of boots to the neighborhood shoe store the next day.

Now, I feel awful about this.  I support small, private stores… I do!  But at what price?  At how much of a premium? A 56% premium? That’s a lot of money. I am now officially playing both sides of the argument: SHOP SMALL (“these big conglomerates are killing the little guy!“) vs. I WORK HARD FOR MY PAYCHECK AND WILL SHOP WHEREVER I GET THE BEST PRICE (“all these bleeding hearts who whine about little stores disappearing should put their money where their mouths are… but they don’t“).

The brick and mortar stores that survive will, for the most part, have to provide something that is (a) truly irreplaceable, or (b) at least worth a modest premium.  I’m talking out of my hat here, but take electronics:  people don’t buy the service warranties because they are expensive and don’t get used.  But maybe buying a TV at a physical Best Buy should gets you the 3-year warranty for free – an offer not available online.  Maybe stores that don’t have loyalty programs will have to start them – programs that provide REAL value – like $100 off your next purchase of any pair of shoes over $200 (I’m making this up, but you get the picture).

I know it’s not my job in life to crack the conundrum of showrooming, but I still feel guilty.  That’s why I figure that once I start wearing the boots I bought on the Web – the same lovely boots that Neil the real shoe salesman so caringly sold me in person – I’ll have to avoid walking by the store, lest he see my feet and discover that I was seduced away by a significantly smaller price tag.

If you’re not careful, you may get your wish.

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then. On my second blog, it’s David Jones‘ Adland. Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Marketoonist.

Given that today is Monday but it’s still somehow Black Friday, and it was Black Friday last Wednesday already, and it appears to still be Thanksgiving and yet Christmas… this panel seems awfully timely.

Enjoy.

Mojo readers know that I follow two wise business cartoonists and like to share their work once in awhile. On my second blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David JonesAdland. Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

Enjoy!


In December 2007, I went to a breakfast about women and financial services and wrote the post you see below as a result.

Flash forward to February 2011, and Wells Fargo launches a new Web destination for women thinking about retirement, backed by the results of a new study on the same topic. 

As I surfed over to Beyond Today, I was optimistic.  Unfortunately, I found more of the same.

Really happy older couple

Why why why must we continue to alienate big blocks of women? 51 million women in the United States are single and I’d wager that a lot of them, like me, don’t cook.  To start a blog post about investment allocation with “Pasta, pot roast, peas… ever get in a rut with your menus?” is just old school. Not to mention the shot of the hysterically-delighted older couple (maybe he’s on Viagra) on the home page while 40-50% of marriages end up in divorce, 32 million people live alone, women live considerably longer than men, etc.  Or the primary involvement of Jean Chatzky: an expert I like, but one who is frequently seen in other venues (like The Today Show and Oprah).

In other words, there’s no new news here – still Version 1.0.  I guess I expect more.  Maybe the thrashing is because gender is no longer (or shouldn’t be) a primary segmentation characteristic in the first place.

Women And Financial Services
December 2007

I attended a breakfast last week entitled “Marketing to the Female Investor.”  I was pretty jazzed about this because, in addition to a pretty good expert panel, the core of the event was a review of fresh research on the topic and I was looking forward to getting a sophisticated update on my own experienced-but-possibly rusty notions.

That’s not exactly what the audience got.

The research’s executive summary declares that “single women are on the rise” (is this the 70′s?) and the study confirms that women are living longer, marrying later, get 58% of all undergrad degrees awarded in the US and are opening businesses at 2x the rate of men.  Speakers presenting the research still referred to this as the “women’s market” – despite the fact that 52% of all US citizens are female – and declared that members of this group have “special needs.”  The research itself, as in years past, said that 71% believe that financial services marketing is targeted to men, and fewer women then men say they understand financial services products well or extremely well (e.g. mutual funds, stocks, IRAs, trusts).  A nervous presenter inadvertently plunged me into a moment of despair when she explained that, while the female respondents may not have an equal understanding of said products, “they are still intelligent.”

Good grief.  Had nothing changed in 15 years?

When the morning (mourning?) turned to the panel, however, the tone began to change for the better.  Most of the panelists’ real-life priorities and programs focused on women’s changing roles in society, and how these role changes are increasingly non-linear:   that women, more so than men, may move back and forth between the core roles of provider and caregiver… and may, as a result, be more or less educated about financial services, may be shopping for products at different times, etc.

So is there a primary segmentation scheme more relevant than gender?  Is it more valuable to target based on whether a person of either gender is home taking care of a child or aging parent vs. bringing home the bacon?  With roles, education levels and life span all changing, is gender becoming a secondary variable, rather than a primary one?

I sketched out the following during the session (and since I can’t draw in 3D, I just inserted the “Decision Maker” axis in here so I wouldn’t forget about it…):

There’s no question that, when observed in as close to real circumstances as possible, men and women tend to have different ways of consuming information, choosing financial advisors and so on.  But, right or wrong, “women’s marketing” has frequently been housed in retail bank groups focused on special niche populations – and this has not served to create a breakthrough positioning for, well, anyone.

Maybe we’ve reached a critical mass at which point it’s not whether one is female or male that should drive marketing communications and sales process design, but rather the role a person plays that dictates her – or his – financial needs, habits and buying behaviors.

We Are All Connected

October 15th, 2010

by Stephanie Fierman

Overused phrase #535,285: “Our best asset is our people.”

We’ve all heard and/or used this phrase forever, but… do we actually behave as if it were true?

Lately, I’ve noticed an “us” vs. “them” tone creeping into some of my own professional reading from people who ought to know better – and it worries me. Two examples:

From the 9-27-10 issue of Fortune: “Secrets of an Undercover Boss” is an article in which the four CEOs that participated in CBS’ television show, “Undercover Boss,” share their observations after concealing their identities and spending some time doing non-managerial jobs inside their companies. The firms are all large professional concerns in the food and media/entertainment industries, and these are all educated, experienced executives.

To a person, all of them said that what surprised them was how hard their employees work: how hard their jobs are. This just knocked me out. In the context of business leadership, this has got to be one of the most fundamentally abhorrent things I’ve heard in some time.

“I thought it would be simple to do,” said one of the execs after driving a forklift around a warehouse. “What I learned is that it’s very hard to do. It was taking me forever… and I broke my pallet. My supervisor took me off the forklift.” You can read for yourself how well he did at a job that required him to experience actual weather.

And speaking of weather, one of the other CEOs remarked that, “When I was out… in 98° heat, I was struck by how hard these employees work.” Or a third, who thought she “knew the jobs and would be really good at them” before having ever actually done them. “They were a lot harder than I thought,” she says. “The amount of personal attention we give our [customers] blew me away.” So she is, to some extent, as disconnected from her customers’ experience as she is from the employees who create it?

And last but not least, the fourth: “I didn’t have an appreciation for how hard these guys work.”

I think one of them, though, put his finger on a critical factor underlying all of their stories: “the employees I met had incredibly different life experiences than I’ve had, and yet with every person I found amazing connections.”

In other words, the employees doing real work were “different than” which – in this context and by implication – I believe is code for “less than.” Less educated, less intelligent, less sophisticated… and therefore capable of performing tasks so simple that anyone could do them well (why, it’s SO easy, even a CEO can do it!)?  There is no logical connection between an individual’s economic circumstances and how hard he works or how much pride he takes in doing a good job.

I mean, the idea that an executive for some reason thought that she’d “be good at” any field job before she’d ever tried it shows not only a lack of awareness but a lack of respect for her workforce. Then again, this is also the individual who says, “It’s amazing how much more you can learn when you don’t think you’re the smartest person in the room.”

Amen, sister.

A 2009 professional profile tells us that this CEO “takes the occasional water thrill ride herself just to demonstrate to potential investors and VIPs how much fun it really is.” I might suggest that she spend some time cleaning and maintaining such a ride so that she gets a full sense of the experience.

From the 9-30-10 issue of the Wall Street Journal: I stopped to read a column because of a large photograph of a woman I thought I recognized. I did know her – the photo was of the woman who shines shoes at my neighborhood shoe repair shop.

What I did not know about her is that she came to the U.S. from Ecuador eight years ago to earn money to support her family. She earns $20/day plus tips. She rents a room in Queens and works six days a week. She talks to her family, but has no money to travel and has not seen her husband or two daughters since leaving Ecuador.

Here’s how this WSJ column began [hang with me here]: “If salary were the arbiter of excellence, the most excellent people on earth would be hedge-fund managers, CEOs and, perhaps movie and TV stars. While experience has proved that not universally to be the case, most of us buy into the notion, myself included. So it sometimes comes as a surprise when we run across an individual barely scratching out a living whose drive and discipline and sense of excellence rivals that of those our culture celebrates with fat bonuses and fetes at charity galas.”

I am not certain who “most of us” would include but, again, we have the opinion (“myself included“) that compensation somehow equates to performing exceptionally well on the job. More money = a better job done.

This to me is hugely destructive, offensive and a whole lot of other things that a lady does not say in public. And as for fat bonuses and charity galas, does the Madoff and Kozlowski families’ ability to get and give away money equate to “excellence?” If any of us were going to resort to stupid stereotypes, in fact, wouldn’t it be the other way around? That the “regular joe” works harder than the ivory tower-encased senior executive? I guess the answer would be no… if the question was being asked of some senior executives.

We decry the fall of the American worker, and yet these are the true underlying opinions some business leaders and opinion-makers have? That “real people” are not as good, not as capable, not as useful, not as… worthy? Even when these leaders are talking about their own employees?

Go back to what we were all taught about true leadership and respect from Tom Peters and others. Be conscious of your thoughts. And if that doesn’t work, by the way, just think about what’s truly in your best interest. Most of us will get to the same place.

I am a contributor to the Marketing Executive Networking Group’s blog, MENG Blend. A version of this post was originally published HERE on the MENG site.

Stretching More Than Dollars

October 1st, 2010

by Stephanie Fierman

It’s true that people love certain brands, and it can be awfully expensive to launch new ones.  I started thinking about this after seeing some slightly off-kilter commercials: could it be that established brands are trying to extract value by presenting new uses for existing products?

Witness the following:

* EGGO ON THE GO-GO.  Working three jobs to pay the mortgage? No time to sit down for breakfast? No problem – take Eggo waffles with you! Last I checked, butter and syrup are a real pain on the subway, so this ad shows kids and adults running out the door with waffles in their hands.  A kid is just running with – you know, a plain ol’ waffle – and a woman says that she takes hers with just a “smudge” of (what looks like strawberry) cream cheese.  A smudge? What’s a smudge? And is that waffle toasted? Because raw would be gross, but cold and toasted and hard would be, well, gross… And then you’ve got the smudge… Eeeee!!

* I LOVE THE SMELL OF ASPIRIN IN THE MORNING. Then there’s Bayer A.M. A television ad features a working dad moving in slo-mo while the voiceover asks whether you’ve ever needed a little get-up-and-go in the morning. He takes Bayer A.M. – “an extra-strength pain reliever with alertness aid specially formulated to fight morning pain and fatigue” – and suddenly he’s racing out the door. Specially formulated! My goodness, what is this magic drug?  That would be caffeine – 65 mg of caffeine in each tablet. Less than 1 cup of coffee. So much for pharmacological breakthroughs.

* GOOD DIGESTION FOR DESSERT. Lastly, there’s Yoplait positioning yogurt as dessert. This was new to me, but apparently Yoplait actually sold “dessert yogurt” back in the 80s.  I don’t know – it’s hard to ponder “dessert!” when all I can think of is Jamie Lee Curtis and those animations of little microbes floating around in my gut.  Maybe it’s just me.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these, of course; one could say they actually represent the creativity of the folks behind these brands.  But there are limits: when they start suggesting that we use Stayfree Ultra-Thins as shoe insoles, I’m outta here.

 

 

Two Small Moments, 9 Years Apart

September 16th, 2010

by Stephanie Fierman

I opine regularly on customer service because for many businesses – particularly service businesses – the phrase is almost a misnomer.  Call it what you will: the employees who take calls, live chat with a shopper or interact in person are the brand.  No amount of ad dollars or coupons or general cajoling can overcome a bad experience(s) long-term.

For me, it’s almost a transcendental point.  Brands are about emotion. They’re about warmth, connection and a true, deep understanding that we must reflect back to the customer in order to create preference and earn loyalty. The sad fact – and opportunity – for businesses today is that it really takes so little. Consumers feel so beaten down by lousy service that the tiniest bit of helpfulness and sincerity has a magnified impact that radiates the brand message back out to the marketplace.  But for many companies, it’s not in the DNA: it can be more comfortable to advertise, fool with pricing and open mega-call centers, because that’s what we’re taught.   Then you get out into the real world and discover that, essentially, the golden rule is everything.

Go figure.

So let me tell you about two small moments that had a big impact.  They are certainly on a different scale, but I think they have something notable in common.

Moment #1:  September 21, 2001 – New York City.  I am a long-time New Yorker.  I don’t think it’s the only place in the universe to live, but it’s my home and I’m proud of it.  No matter how long I live here, the New York skyline still gets me every time I return from somewhere else.

On September 11, 2001, I was somewhere else and the flight freeze meant I couldn’t get home.  It sounds ridiculous, but I felt as though I should have been there. It’s my city.

I wasn’t there when it got hurt. I wasn’t there when friends died.

When I finally did make it back, I took the 6 train down to the Financial District.  I think it was September 21. When I climbed out of the subway, I found a planet I did not recognize.  Crowds were everywhere.  The sidewalk was thick with people, milling around, shouting to get each other’s attention, taking pictures and generally contributing to the chaos.  I took five or six steps out of the subway stairwell and and froze.  When I stopped, I noticed some gray particles floating in the air, landing on me.  It took me a few seconds to realize what they were.  

It was the end of the world, and all I could do was stand there under a big scaffold, staring in the direction of a still-smoking hole in the ground.

I don’t know how long I stayed immobile, with the flakes wafting down on my sweater.  It must have been a minute or two because suddenly a cop emerged from the sidewalk mosh pit.  He walked over to me, put his hand on my arm and said, “Are you ok, miss? Do you need help?” And then he stood there, waiting for the answer.  From me. One little person. He maintained eye contact and just waited, with the kindest look on his face.

Snapped out of my daze, I immediate said I was fine, embarrassed that I’d taken this guy away from the melee.

I have never forgotten that moment, and never will.  That cop had everything more important to do, but he took a couple seconds to care.  He put a human face on the inhuman.  I think he saved me, in a fashion, right there on the sidewalk. 

I’m not saying that I having paid attention to reality in the last nine years, but that experience changed my view of the New York City Police Department brand, just a little bit, forever.  

Moment #2:  September 11, 2010 – a Target store in suburban New Jersey.  I might as well tell you that I’m addicted to online Target coupons at the moment, and had a fistful of them when I rolled my cart up to check-out yesterday.  Among my treasures were two units of the same product, so I had simply printed two of the same $1-off coupon.  I’d been wondering how Target controlled for one person printing the same coupon over and over, but hey: who am I to question a larger life force?  Plus, the last time I was in the same store, the clerk let me use both (yes, I’d done this before), so I thought I was in good shape.

Once this new clerk had scanned and bagged my purchases, I gave her the small pile of coupons.  I don’t think we’d made eye contact yet.  When she got to the two identical coupons, she handed one back to me and said, “Yyeahhh [pause] the story with this is [pause] you can only use [pause] one of these coupons.” Now I wouldn’t say she put her arm up to her face to block a strike, exactly, but she looked… uncomfortable.  It was pretty obvious that she’d said these words before with less-than-pleasant results and was bracing for impact.

Busted!  Darn it. In a split second I decided whether or not I was going to whine to get the second dollar (“But the last time you took them! Wahhhh!”), but it just seemed so not worth it.  She really looked pretty miserable and – as a result – any hissy-fit I might have been working up to just lost steam.

I just looked at her and said “OK.”

She looked back, startled, and thanked me

Odd. And now she was staring at me. 

As I began to wrestle with the bags, the woman said, “Let me see that other coupon.”  I figured maybe there was some other deal she was going to give me, or maybe she just wanted to throw it away, or whatever.

She took the second coupon, scanned it to give me the second dollar off and said [quote], “I just love how you handled that.”

After I pushed out a “Huh?” she just repeated herself, smiling and shaking her head, looking visibly relieved.  I made an off-hand comment that I’d been working on not sweating the details and she responded, “Well it’s great.  It’s working.”

Interesting.

By taking a breath for just a second and factoring in someone else’s vibe, I not only got better service but some seriously positive karma, as well.  The next time I go to that store, that moment is what I’ll be thinking about.

So this post, my friends, is about two things.  One, I wanted to tell a story in remembrance of 9/11 and what was lost.  Second, both stories (plus the one about the JCrew supervisor several weeks ago) are about tiny actions that made a big difference.  Moments in which someone acted human and kept the big picture in sight (when maybe we expected the opposite).  These are the interactions – the moments of truth – that are remembered and associated with your brand in the person’s mind.

If you have a business and/or nurture a brand, reinforce for yourself and your organization what you want that association to be and commit yourself to injecting these moments into the experience of your prospects and customers.  And as I mentioned earlier, the horrible condition of customer service is good for the rest of us: it means that you can create these experiences, frankly, without jumping all that high.

And away from work, I suspect all of us could use a few more of these moments for ourselves and others, as well.  Do something different.  The smallest kindness might produce something surprising.

In A Fog

September 1st, 2010

by Stephanie Fierman

There’s been a bit of a scramble among brands seeking to leverage AMC’s popular series, Mad Men. BMW is one of the largest and most frequent sponsors, prompting an auto site to gush, “BMW’s underwriting for Mad Men is mad marvelous.”

Maybe so. After all, the series is about an advertising agency and the supposed glamour of the post-War period, all glowy and wistful. It’s an unusual opportunity to create a fresh and fun message… IF it makes sense for the brand.

BMW did two things right. First it aligned itself with the overall je ne sais quoi of the show: the ambience, the characters, their lifestyles, their appearance, their tastes, the physical environment. That provides a very broad base upon which to construct an association. BMW is already an upscale, luxury brand, so this association is more of a positive reinforcement than a flat-out creation.

Second, this attachment is even further strengthened because BMW’s ads run during the episodes themselves. As the show transitions almost seamlessly from content, to commercial, and back again, the company and its cars place themselves directly alongside the target of their (and your) dreams. The viewer sees both in the same sitting; the brain experiences both in the same moment. The connection is made in real time.

London Fog‘s new Mad Men-related ads, on the other hand, miss on both these counts.

Unlike BMW, London Fog’s owner, Iconix, chose to bet all its chips on one single character, Joan Holloway (aka Christina Hendricks). This demands a plausible or at least believable connection between what the product and the individual represent, which is not present here.

Today, London Fog is generally utilitarian, functional, male (androgynous?), classic (tired?) and generally unremarkable, while Hendrick’s Joan is nearly the polar opposite: voluptuous, sexy, powerful, womanly, stimulating. She’s brightly-colored cotton candy in a dress. When you watch the show, her sexual presence makes her nearly every man’s fantasy at one point or another. She’s unattainable, like a rare luxury item.

London Fog is the opposite. By its own admission, the brand has far-flung distribution and high consumer awareness: it holds little mystery, no magic, no unattainability. Mad Men‘s Joan would not wear a London Fog, and no woman (consciously or unconsciously) believes that she will be “more Joan” by wearing the brand. The effect is double-whammy, given that the clothes (which might look fine on “normal” people) appear boring, dull and awkward draped on Hendrick’s frame. The two zeitgeists are just too far apart.

Iconix may have thought that Joan’s essence would rub off on the product. And, prior to Hendricks, Iconix enlisted Eva Longoria and Giselle Bunchen for its ads, presumably with the same objective. The problem is that consumers cannot make brand connections that aren’t there or – worse – pulling in opposite directions.

Forcing an otherwise adequate brand into an environment that makes it appear inadequate is sad and unnecessary: an embarrassing kind of brand dissonance that can do the brand more harm than good.

Lastly, the Joan ads do not have the benefit of being absorbed in the same moment as the story itself. The connection failure is particularly dramatic when experienced in the middle of a fashion magazine, surrounded by circa 2010 fashions, photos and messaging.

Managing a brand – particularly one trying to meld a perhaps very different past with the present – is a fine art. The brand steward must have an unblinking grasp on what the brand is and is not, what it might become, how fast such a change in direction might be made and how to begin. If that direction is wrong, or the speed too fast, the desired messaging won’t find its target and you may needlessely displace the neutral-to-positive feelings most people have about the brand in favor of all the characteristics the brand does not possess. It’s work grounded in an almost DNA-level of understanding of brands, consumer desire and human behavior.

Most brands have positive if not wonderful attributes to emphasize. Show yours in its best light. Avoid whatever might be hot right this second if it just doesn’t fit, and create an environment in which the product can truly shine.

There’s a real reputation-meets-revenue battle happening online.

Today, any advertiser with a Google AdWords account can buy virtually any keyword to advertise its own goods, regardless of whether said advertiser has the rights to use the word.  This is particularly troublesome for companies that have spent decades burnishing brand franchises and consider the associated names and words to be reputational assets of great value. 

If you go to Google right now and type in “LVMH” (the owner of numerous brands including Louis Vuitton and Hennessy), one of the sponsored ads shouts “Designer Handbags 70% off,” with a URL that includes the Louis Vuitton name. That has LVMH steamed and the company sued Google in Europe for trademark infringement.

Well the ruling is in… and it’s a split decision, advantage: Google. Upon Google’s appeal of earlier rulings (that didn’t go its way) the highest court in the EU has determined that – on its face – the mere fact that an LVMH-protected word is available for sale by Google does not mean that Google is in violation of LVMH’s trademark rights.  stephanie-fierman-louis-vuitton.jpg

Specifically, the court has said that the search company is not violating trademarks if (a) its automatic ad system is judged to be “merely technical, automatic and passive” in its operation, and if (b) the company is not aware and cannot be expected to fully police all the words that advertisers purchase.

Since computers are programmed by humans, I would argue that the first point is debatable, but there it is.  It was not a flat-out win for Google, however, as the court also ruled that Google must remove said ads if the brand owner formally complains about an advertiser infringing on its marks.  If Google fails to do this, the court says it won’t be so helpful in protecting Google’s revenue stream the next time around.

The court also reinforced that Google could be held liable for selling keywords that openly encourage or facilitate counterfeiting, which is a win (or at least a booster shot) for brand owners.  And lastly, the court also clarified the responsibilities of advertisers who mustn’t, by “using such keywords, arrange for Google to display ads which do not allow Internet users to easily establish from which undertaking the goods or services covered by the ad in question originate.”

I don’t know about you, but if I’m an advertiser that gets into hot water for legally buying a word that Google sold to me – and I’m not trying to sell knock-offs – I’m naming Google in my legal response.

stephanie-fierman-brand.jpgLVMH has been on the attack re. this issue for a long time all around the world, and must fight infringement in all possible sales channels. It has sued (and has won), for example against eBay in the past.  And  LVMH was front and center in the effective elimination of a thriving Louis Vuitton counterfeit trade on Canal Street in New York City.  After this ruling, the company will flood Google “Don’t Be Evil” Inc. with complaints until the search company will at least have to question what (and how much) it is defending by taking on massive legal expense (and bad PR) in order to make money from advertisers leeching off others’ trademarks.

And speaking of buying Louis Vuitton knock-offs on the street, a LVMH board member asks what may be the most probative observation yet: “Under trademark law anywhere in the world, brand owners have the right to stop third parties from using their names. “Why make an exception for the digital world?”

 As the division between online and offline “worlds” continue to disappear, why indeed?

Is Santa the best marketer ever?

Think about it:

Long-term reputation management: No Tiger Woods problems here. Ever.  Do you think that Coca-Cola worries that it might go to sleep one night and wake up to find a sex tape of Santa on the Web? Have you ever noticed that the whole “Mommy kissing Santa Claus” business never seems to go past a certain point (paging Charlie Sheen…)?  Nope, not gonna happen.  Santa is one reliable dude.

Brand promise and channel integration: No matter where you go, you receive the same disciplined message.  Movies, television, email, radio, social media, Web, snail mail, music, retail… You get the same message everywhere and each channel builds upon and reinforces the others.  He’s big, he’s fat, he wears a red suit and he gives you what you ask for on Christmas Eve. Not December 23. Not December 25. It’s December 24. Every year. The end.

Never any hidden charges:  There are no Congressional committees convening to discuss whether Santa is taking advantage of consumers.  There is no small print.  You are not likely to be subscribed “accidentally” to a magazine simply by unwrapping a gift beneath the tree.  Santa’s pricing appears to be entirely above board. And somehow, shipping is always free.

mom-reading-santa-stephanie-fierman.jpgBrand advocacy: Think of all the parents who read stories about Santa, take their children to see Santa, tuck said children into bed on Christmas Eve with the promise that Santa will soon arrive with presents… Santa has a virtual army of adults carrying his message each and every year, in the exact way that will have the greatest positive impact on each individual child.  Wow!

Long-term view of the customer relationship: Santa is committed to NPV, and everyone’s NPV is BIG.  If you’re a  kid, he wants you to tell other kids what he gave you.  He wants you to talk to your parents and grandparents about what you want.  He wants you to bring your friends to meet him.  And when you grow up, he encourages you to invite him into your home and buy extravagant gifts in his name.  Santa: the ultimate “cycle of life” promoter.

Customer targeting and personalization: If you ask Santa for a bicycle, you’re going to get a bicycle.  You might also get socks, but if a bike is your preferred method of transportation, you won’t get a wagon by mistake. Further, Santa is very likely to build the bike in the exact color you specify. 

A message of “giving back” that’s attainable and not too sanctimonious:  Be nice, get your gift.  Be naughty, and you’re on your own.  No chest-beating, no lectures, no threatening.  Everyone knows the rules, and the rules don’t change.believe-in-santa-stephanie-fierman.jpg
 
Attributes powerful enough to overcome controversy: Santa has a problem that I don’t think any other brand has ever experienced – that is, some people don’t even believe he exists! You may not like a brand like Reebok, or Microsoft, or Hanes, or whatever, but you wouldn’t think of denying their very existence on the planet. And yet, the core attributes represented by Santa transcend even this existential challenge. Even those who “know” he doesn’t exist still enjoy the gestalt of the brand.  Name me a pizza chain or a department store or TV manufacturer who can say the same.

I could go on (ultimate loyalty program, no channel conflict, efficient manufacturing, distribution and customer service support…), but you get the idea.

Though another Christmas has past, perhaps we should all look to Santa for guidance in 2010.  After all, his operation is well-loved, profitable, always in growth mode and he never loses customers.  I’d be happy with that.

For more marketing thoughts and ideas, check out my second blog at Marketing Observations Grown Daily.