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FIJI Water = Commodity Status?

Jun 2, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Blog, Posts  //  Comments Off on FIJI Water = Commodity Status?

Is FIJI Water eroding its way to commodity status? Five years ago you could only find FIJI Water in high-class establisments. By contrast, I took this photo in Walgreens today.

FIJI Water: Commodity?

The Value of Staying Focused and Taking a Stand

May 24, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Articles, Blog  //  Comments Off on The Value of Staying Focused and Taking a Stand

By Michael Tanenbaum

FocusThe job of a corporate branding initiative is two-fold: to provide focus and clarity to a client’s long-term strategy; and to position the client to stand for something in the minds of its customers. Our job, as a brand strategy firm, is to be the guide, build the foundation and fashion the tools that reveal the brand platform, provide the focus and inform the stance.

Be focused.

If you have a great product, focus on building it and selling it in the right places. Don’t expand too quickly. Your brand is your legacy and your reputation. Resist the temptation to expand with more varieties and flavors, prices and services across too many new markets.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company had a proliferation of over 15 product lines and models supporting a variety of price points and an R&D effort that was diversified far beyond their core computer business. The stock was under $13 per share. Jobs simplified the product line to three main product families, introduced the iMac, and slowly refocused the company. Thirteen years later, Apple is a $240 billion juggernaut, yet its brand platform is still based upon no more than five major product categories at any given time.

POM Wonderful makes pomegranate products high in anti-oxidants. They’ve kept a laser focus. Yum Yum Donuts is still in the fresh donut business after 40 years. They haven’t updated their formula because it still works. Inn-n-Out Burger sells savory burgers. It has retained virtually the same menu since 1948 — quality you can still trust.

By contrast, FIJI Water is known for selling expensive bottled water from the South Pacific. It was once a bastion of exclusivity with a tightly controlled distribution strategy and a unique positioning selling to a core demographic of the world’s best hotels, restaurants and spas. It can now be found in supermarkets and discount chains, and threatens to erode into commodity status. A more viable alternative for these new channels would be to spin off a lower-priced and differently-named brand with its own customer associations.

Two more counterexamples are Starbucks and Dell. Starbucks used to be in the designer coffee business. Now they sell music, a million varieties of food and other accessories — and cheap, instant Via coffee in every grocery store you can think of. Focus has given way to clutter. Dell used to be in the custom mail-order computer business. Nobody could touch them on price or quality. Now they sell generic commodity-priced laptops in mass retail chains. And their stock is in the toilet. Focus has given way to irrelevance.

Take a stand.

As consistently articulated rather eloquently by Guy Kawasaki, if you want to stand for something in your customer’s mind, then you can’t stand for everything. This is a mistake that many companies make.

The Macintosh is a polarizing computer. It was designed for typographers, graphic artists and design geeks for whom computers are not machines but extensions of their own fun, whimsical personalities. The Toyota Scion is a polarizing car. It was designed for 25-year-old adventurers with snowboards and a golden retriever, not 45-year-old mothers with four kids.

Some people will love your product and evangelize its benefits. Those are your customers.

Some people will hate it with a passion. Those are not your customers.

That’s far more preferable than people not caring about your product. Those will never bring you customers.

If you take a stand, if you innovate, some people will inevitably not like what you do.

So what?

Bill Bernbach, founder of the DDB ad agency, once said, “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you and nobody for you.”

Don’t establish a mediocre brand just because you want to reach as many customers as possible. Stay focused. And take a stand.

Bring the Conversation to Your Customers

May 17, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Articles, Blog  //  Comments Off on Bring the Conversation to Your Customers

By Michael Tanenbaum

Tying together Brand and Social Media StrategyClients invariably ask me about the brand value of having a Facebook or Twitter presence. Indeed there is tremendous value in using social media to promote brands. The real value, though, lies in integrating the social media strategy into a broader brand strategy that includes a deep understanding of your customers’ needs and desires. It is not enough to have social media tools; it is about using the right social media tools to nurture and cultivate an ongoing conversation with your most esteemed customers and fans.

Let me explain by example.

I recently attended a large event at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa, a venue known for its conventions and meetings. I was most intrigued by the video screen in the hallway touting the hotel’s presence on various popular social media destinations.

Why does this matter?

It matters because Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa has a Twitter presence with over 2,200 followers and 1,000 tweets. This specific hotel is actively using Twitter to post room promotions, push sponsorships and publish links to other businesses that are relevant to its customers. By reaching more than 2,200 influential and plugged-in customers, they are not only engaging those customers but also promoting their brand platform. (Its regional cousin, Hilton Anaheim, has even more: nearly 5,000 followers and over 3,000 tweets)

But Twitter is not where it ends. The Twitter campaign plugs into Hilton Costa Mesa’s broader social media strategy, including a Facebook page and a branded YouTube channel promoting the hotel as “Southern California’s premiere meeting destination”. It also features a blog that offers such goodies as a referral program specifically for the social media community.

Similarly, Hilton Hotels, the parent company, has a suite of iPhone apps for its hotel chains that enables travelers to book a hotel room, check in remotely and even order food — all from the comfort of their own iPhone. It seems that Hilton is angling to be THE destination for business travelers who are already avid and connected social media users. And Hilton Costa Mesa is carving out its own social media credentials by closely connecting itself to its most technology-savvy customers.

Where are YOUR customers hanging out online? How can you bring your conversation to them? Do they tweet about your service on Twitter? Comment about your product on Facebook? Buzz about your company on Google? With what promotions can you reward your most valuable customers? How can you provide them with an efficient and painless user experience?

Follow, engage, reward, challenge and energize them!

Stay Relevant to Avoid Social Media Failure

Mar 18, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Blog, Posts  //  Comments Off on Stay Relevant to Avoid Social Media Failure

What happens to a company like Domino’s or Comcast when it fails to properly use social media to connect with its customers? The brand becomes irrelevant, a casualty of missed opportunities. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from getting in the game: Use social media to follow, engage and challenge your customers. Remain relevant.

Intriguing piece by Jack Morton Worldwide’s Experiential Marketing Blog, What Does Social Media Failure Look Like?.

Gar Vaynerchuck on Storytelling

Mar 16, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Blog, Posts  //  Comments Off on Gar Vaynerchuck on Storytelling

Storytelling is the way to build a strong brand nowadays. Take it from Gary Vaynerchuck. He is possibly the most passionate entrepreneur I know of. He really cuts to the core of what most makes a brand “click”.

In his own words:

“Storytelling is a give-and-take. Paint the picture of what your brand is. In today’s world, you do that by getting into the trenches…Tell your story. Tell it every day. And tell it from the heart. Make it authentic. Care. Don’t bullshit. And you have a business.” – Gary Vaynerchuk (2009)

Owning a Word in the Mind

Mar 16, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Articles, Blog  //  Comments Off on Owning a Word in the Mind

By Michael Tanenbaum

How do brands become famous? They own a word or phrase in the minds of their consumers.

Business owners can learn a lot about branding from Hollywood. Especially at awards shows. Watching the Best Actress presentation from the 2010 Oscars, I was reminded of how well brand-positioned the best actors are in Hollywood. In fact, many of the A-list actors are instantly recognizable by a word or a phrase.

Take a look at this clip:

Specifically, at 6:25 and 2:17, respectively, when Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are introduced for Best Actress, Stanley Tucci and Forrest Whitaker are summarizing what these actresses are known for in a couple of key words and phrases that could be taken straight from the personal branding playbook.

For example, Stanley Tucci says that Meryl Streep is, to most people, “brilliant, the most acclaimed film actress of our time” and shows “grace and humility” off-screen. That is what she is publicly known for. But he also points out that she displays “kindness”, a “collaborative nature”, “great good humor”, is “a dream to work with” and a “wonderful friend”, and possesses a professional “selfishness that is unseemly”. She’s not being typecast; she’s “quite simply the best”. This is what she is known for within Hollywood circles.

What Stanley Tucci is doing, consciously or subconsciously as scripted by the writers of the Oscars, is expressing Meryl’s brand personality in a way that is distinct and that only she can credibly claim in Hollywood. The elements that make her the “most acclaimed film actress of our time” are a combination authentically linked to her — and her only — and therefore inform the shorthand for how she is known.

Walter Matthau once said: “I used to think of myself as being an actor. But people don’t want to see actors. They want to see personalities.”

Owning a business is no different. Customers don’t want to see products. They want to experience personalities and relate to stories. Brand positioning expert Laura Ries explains that, just as famous Hollywood personalities own words or phrases in the public’s mind, you as a business owner need to own a word or phrase in the minds of your consumers:

In Hollywood, Meryl Streep is the “most acclaimed film actress of our time while Helen Mirren is “the Queen.” Jim Carrey is a “goofball” while George Clooney is “the man’s man.”

In business, Coca-Cola owns “classic”, while Pepsi is the “choice of the new generation.” Apple owns “innovation and design” while Dell owns “direct sales and business.”

What word or phrase do YOU own in the minds of your customers?

If You Create Value, They Will Pay

Feb 22, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Articles, Blog  //  Comments Off on If You Create Value, They Will Pay

By Michael Tanenbaum

Online content providers are in a doldrums. Consumers simply do not want to subscribe to pay for content. A just-released Nielsen study reports that 79% of web users avoid websites that charge for content, particularly when they can find the same content elsewhere for free with only a modicum of effort. (See story: Nielsen reports online user trends) Some providers have explored alternative business models, such as easier payment methods and micropayments, but so far few solutions have opened up consumers’ wallets.

So much online content is already available for free that it has become valued as a commodity. How can you create preference, inspire loyalty and command leadership in a digital world where so much is given away for free?

This is a problem.

The answer is to provide customers what they can’t get elsewhere, within a credible price range, at a level of service unparalleled in the particular industry. If you build a strong brand, people will pay.

Witness the success of Apple’s iTunes Music Store (iTMS), with a deceptively simple business model of 99¢ for most music downloads. While it did not put illegal filesharing out of business, its ease of use and massive selection of quality artists, among other branded features, simply made it a more engaging and reliable experience than most other methods of acquiring music. iTMS is now the largest music retailer in the world.

In the newspaper publishing industry, The Wall Street Journal has blazed its way to profitability, both online and offline, with its pay-to-play model. (See story: “What the Wall Street Journal Has, Few Will Match”)) The Journal provides insightful analysis of largely exclusive, narrowly focused content at a level of scholarship few other publications can match. In 2009 they landed the #8 spot on Mediaweek’s Digital Hot List of significantly relevant Web properties.

Why do consumers value the iTunes Music Store and The Wall Street Journal while they complain about paying for other content? Why is HBO so popular while network TV is falling to pieces? They each offer differentiated products that the competition cannot. And consumers are willing to pay — sometimes even top dollar — for unique, original and compelling content.

Which Social Media tools are right for your brand?

Feb 22, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Blog, Podcasts  //  Comments Off on Which Social Media tools are right for your brand?

Christopher Korody

In this podcast, we interview Christopher Korody. As an award-winning entrepreneur with a passion for social media, Chris explores its power to create awareness, foster interest, stimulate consideration, simplify purchase and nurture loyalty. This passion leverages his unique skills in business development, content creation and media production. Chris has previously served as Senior Creative Director with Dick Clark Productions and as the Vice President Senior Creative Director with Jack Morton Worldwide. He currently develops program strategy and creates content for social media initiatives. His website is

This podcast is presented to educate and inform business owners about the importance of cultivating a powerful brand strategy. We conduct audio interviews with local business leaders, academicians and brand practitioners.

Go Where They Are

Jan 25, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Articles, Blog  //  Comments Off on Go Where They Are

by Dani Endrei

Absolut billboard

On my way home I saw this Absolut Vodka billboard. It seems companies are starting to realize the power of partaking in the online community. In this case, instead of pointing people to their own website ( and expecting people to stop what they are doing and visit their site, Absolut created a presence on Facebook. Now, with close to 500,000 fans, they use the page to offer their fans the ability to be the first to receive exclusive visionary content, event invitations, drink recipes and prize giveaways.

Absolut chose to go where the people are. They chose to stay relevant by creating a conversation and intriguing people with creativity on their own turf.

So I ask of you:

Are you still spending your marketing dollars interrupting your customers…or are you engaging them?

Know Your Consumer First

Jan 7, 2010   //   by Michael   //   Blog, Podcasts  //  1 Comment

Andrea Scott, Marketing Professor at Pepperdine University

This week we speak with Dr. Andrea Scott, Professor of Marketing at the Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management in Malibu. She discusses the importance of doing market research and understanding consumer behavior when conducting a branding campaign.

This podcast is presented to educate and inform business owners about the importance of cultivating a powerful brand strategy. We conduct audio interviews with local business leaders, academicians and brand practitioners.


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