Arizona Shooting: Good for the Glock Brand?

12 Jan

Fair warning: this isn’t a post about how the Arizona shooting is the gunmaker’s fault, or the fault of loose gun legislation or enforcement, or over-the-top political rhetoric.

I simply find it interesting in a macabre way that — according to  Michael Riley of Bloomberg — Glock sales are surging in the shooting’s aftermath, particularly sales of the Glock 19, Mr. Loughner’s weapon of choice (as well — it should be said — of many law enforcement organizations). Though Riley reports gun dealers believe the sales surge is due to ” fears among gun buyers that stiffer restrictions may be coming from Congress,” no one can really suppose that Congress (OUR Congress), where there has been no gun legislation since 1994, is likely to rush through a bill banning the Glock. Indeed FBI data show sales were up on January 10 all over the land: 60 % in Arizona; 65 percent in Ohio; 16 percent in California; 38 percent  in Illinois; and 33 percent in New York.

No, this seems to be a simple case of a brand reaping the rewards of its product performing spectacularly in a very public way. As one of Riley’s interviewees said, this helps prove the Glock 19 “is one of the greatest guns made in the history of the world.” It’s as if the McDonalds diet Morgan Spurlock (barely) endured in Supersize Me had actually improved his health and he were REALLY “lovin’ it.” Or as if The BP oil spill IMPROVED the ecological health of the Gulf.

We all know now the Glock is now the baddest handgun in all the land. And that’s very good for the brand. Strange consequence of a bloody tragedy, yes? As a brand strategist and student of consumer behavior, it doesn’t make me feel so good about my profession today. I’m just saying…

Girl Scout Cookies and social media? It’s just not fair.

10 Jan

Girl Scout by Norman RockwellHave you heard the Girl Scouts are going to use social media to help peddle their product this year? It can only mean one thing: the apocalypse is upon us. Now I not only have to resist the temptation of filling my freezer with Thin Mints (about an eight day supply the way my wife and I plow through them) and my cupboard with peanut butter Do-Si-Dos® (two weeks worth, tops), now the little girl down the block will be able to stalk me online. Here’s their waistline-busting strategy, an innocent-sounding ploy called “The Cookie Club”:

“The Cookie Club” is an interactive, online cookie business for girls that teaches them about goals, tracks progress, and allows girls to send e-cards to friends and families. Using an online order form, customers are able to submit their “promised” cookie order that is automatically recorded on girls’ “Cookie Club”account order pages.

“Cookie Club,” indeed. It’s pure evil. My will already crumbles like a damaged Lemon Chalet Creme™ when I see my local peddler skipping up the walk, deadly order form in her wee hand. Now I might get e-cards. And I can order online, ANY TIME I GET THE URGE. Soon I’m sure she’ll discover my Twitter account (a simple search, any eleven year-old can do it). She’ll follow my tweets. I’ll feel obligated to follow her tweets. Ere long she’ll be tweeting me her sweet 140-character siren songs: “Have you tried the Dulce de Leches? They’re so-o-o delish! #mmmcookies.” Maybe she’ll begin responding to my blog posts: “Great post, Mr. Fiddler. Must have worked up an appetite for a fudgie Thanks-A-Lot™, yes? I can get a crate over to you tonight.” THERE IS NO ESCAPE!

And I guess that’s the point: no escape. It speaks to both the power and simplicity of social media and digital commerce that — no exaggeration — even an eleven year-old can manage it. In fact, I’d guess many eleven year-old girls will be much more capable than many 41 year-old marketing managers. And I have no doubt it will prove to be a productive addition to what is already a marketing juggernaut. What a wicked combination: personal contact, social media, beloved brand, online ordering, pre-teen energy and irresistible cookies. The future looks bright for Girl Scouts, terrifying for cookie addicts.

Lies vs. Truth. Advertising vs. Brand.

9 Jan

PinocchioOK, the title of this post is disingenuous. Advertising isn’t really about lying; many people just think it is. Once upon a time in Don Draper-land you could say almost anything about a brand and it was difficult to prove you wrong. “Fast, fast, fast relief.” “Little, yellow, better.” “The champagne of bottled beers.” Whatever. Oh, eventually people would figure it out. But by that time you may have already sold a tidy sum of product. It wasn’t that people really believed all the BS. It was more like a willing suspension of disbelief, a grain of salt attached to every ad.

Some people are still living in Don Draper-land, believe any claim worth dreaming up is worth making. But their numbers are dwindling. In a world where customers have become more skeptical, communication between brand and customer is increasingly two-way, and customer-to-customer communication takes place in open forums, the words “truth in advertising” have taken on a whole new meaning. Now “true” no longer means “not demonstrably false,” but “demonstrable.”

Brand claims must reflect reality or face the consequences. The onus is now on companies to mothball the smoke and mirrors in favor of picture windows. It’s not just a communications challenge. It’s a performance challenge. You can only promise what you can deliver. And you must deliver what you promise. It’s a simple rule, if not always easy to follow. Brands drive advertising, rather than vice versa.

For brands that can look honestly at themselves and maintain discipline between communications and operations, this is good news. They should prosper. For those searching for  a 21st century Don Draper, beware.

Is your name important? Ask Johnny Cash.

3 Jan

Heck, yes! I can’t believe how many times I’ve been asked this question by clients or prospects who don’t believe their names really matter, as if “good enough” is good enough. It’s as if they never heard Johnny Cash sing “A Boy Named Sue.” “IBM is a nothing name and look how big they are. And what’s so special about McDonald’s, anyway?” True that. but those were brands that grew up in much simpler times.  Would Apple be Apple if it were called Good Business Computers? Evaluating the value of a company’s brand is a tricky business. But the last estimate I saw for the value of the Apple brand on the Interbrand “Best Global Brands 2010”  list was a little north of $21B. How much of that $21B you think is attributable to the name? If it’s even one percent, that’s worth a few thoughts, no?

In the words of a colleague of mine, a not-so-good name doesn’t help you any, but a good one “puts the wind at your back.” In a world teeming with new companies, new products, new restaurants, new ideas, new every-fricking-thing, why WOULDN’T you want the face you present to the world to be as memorable, meaningful, interesting, and maybe even as provocative as it could be?

But don’t take my word for it. Check out this great post by Jason Cohen about how he stumbled onto the name of Smart Bear Software and what that did for the business. And if that doesn’t  convince you, read what David Placek of the naming company Lexicon recently wrote about the importance of corporate on his blog.

The important question about names isn’t “Does a good one matter?,” but “What IS a good name?,” or “How do I create a good name?,” or “How much is a good name worth?”

All I got for Christmas was a digital refrigerator.

31 Dec
The Pandigital Novel

My new Pandigital Novel, a little digital refrigerator.

I’ve thus far resisted both the iPad and Kindle: iPad because I figured it would both improve and come down in price if I waited a little longer; Kindle because I figured I’d eventually go iPad, which would render it redundant. But my family just couldn’t bear to see me without another digital device in my paws. That goes for my wife, especially, who was sure my headaches were caused by reading the New York Times on my iPhone every morning in bed.

So when my older son drew my name in the family Secret Santa sweepstakes, he and my wife conspired to fix the problem. Because the iPad’s price put it way over this year’s family Santa limit, and they thought I needed a little more breadth than the Kindle could offer, they settled on the Pandigital Novel, a moderately priced stepchild of the two. With the Kindle’s screen size and an Android OS, the PN offers a backlit color display, with email, Internet and access to Barnes & Nobles’ Nook Books. It’s an eReader with greater aspirations.

There are lots of reasons to like the PN, as well as yearn for the Kindle (lighter and easier to read text) or iPad (bigger, user-friendlier, lots more functionality). Whatever, I’m grateful for the gift, which is now part of my daily life. But that’s not what this post is about. No, what this post is about is how I use my PN and what it says about The Future.

My iPhone is a phone with other goodies. My TV is a TV I can hook up to the Internet. My laptop is primarily a business machine (even if increasingly less primarily). But my PN is simply a portable content delivery device. I find myself moving seamlessly between email, internet and books, checking my blogs on Google Reader, browsing the B & N book store. The PN’s a little slow, compared to a laptop or iPad, and— most frustratingly — won’t run most online video formats, which leaves out YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, et al. Regardless, this little critter has quickly become the thing I drag around the house when I’m home, like Linus’ blanket. Let’s assume for a moment it did serve video (not such an odd notion; the iPad does). It would then contain just about all the content I needed on a daily/hourly/immediate basis.

That, of course, is not news. But what’s interesting is how I begin to think about that content. Because it’s now all coming out of the same device, all the lines blur. TV, movies, books, email, YouTube, blogs, Facebook, music: it’s all stuff that comes out of the same little device. Think of content like food. Once upon a time, people gathered their food in all sorts of different places and stored it in various ways. Much greater distinctions were made between beef and pork, milk and meat, raw foods and cooked. Now we all go to the supermarket, pick up what we want and put it in the refrigerator. There aren’t so many mental distinctions between milk and meat, root vegetables and leafy greens. They’re all in the same box. When we want something to eat, we go to the fridge. Devices like the PN are like digital refrigerators. When we want some food for the brain, we can open it up and take our pick.

The ramifications of this complete convergence of content make the current debates over who will “own” TV delivery or music delivery a sideshow. The real question is how long will it be before we see Digital Content Supermarkets, virtual Safeways where you can scan the aisles for the latest Grisham novel, this season of SVU, or whatever else your brain desires. How much power will those Digital Content Supermarkets wield? Who will lead the way? Amazon? Netflix? Apple? A Player to Be Named Later? Will subscription services, like uber cable companies or Netflix be the wave of the future? Parochially I wonder, what will that mean for advertising? For brands?

Aaaaugh, it makes my brain hurt! Must go to my digital refrigerator and grab a cookie!

Lights out on a wild 2010. How was YOUR business year?

30 Dec

If it was anything like ours, it was a Wild Mouse ride from beginning to end.

In January, faced with the reality of overhead in a recession-frightened, post-retainer, digital world, we changed our essential business model from mostly-in-house to mostly out-of-house, transforming our full-time creatives into contract workers, free to pursue other things while often occupied with the same work they’d been doing with The Fiddler Group (at a higher hourly rate). I won’t claim it was part of a brilliant strategy. And it certainly wasn’t easy. Like most big changes, it was simply an obvious necessity.

For our clients, the change was virtually invisible: we still did the same things, on the same schedules, with mostly the same people.

For us, the change was more transformative than we thought it would be. Freed from the necessity of bringing work that would fill the plates of everyone on staff, while still somewhat nourished by ongoing clients and projects, we soldiered on. But faced with a radically different daily landscape, we soon found ourselves asking a question we thought we knew the answer to: What are we now?

Our essential mission hadn’t changed. We were still brand builders, dedicated to helping our clients — most of them medium sized challenger businesses — discover what makes them unique, enhance it and leverage it for growth. We still had all the processes and wisdom we’d developed over the years. And we still had access to all the talent our clients appreciated. But looking around the office, it was obvious: we were different.

At first it was a little depressing. The place was quieter (especially during the Big Snows of January and February, when the office was nearly inaccessible). We needed to negotiate with partners when clients needed certain work that we’d always done in-house. We had to become better project managers. More work was done at a distance, without benefit of the office pop-in. We felt diminished, even a little ashamed sometimes of our lower head count. But over the course of the year, little by little, through some dark days and some brighter ones, it became apparent that what we’d done by shrinking our staff was grow our capabilities. By changing our business model, we’d increased our value to clients.

Now at year’s end, we are not only helping clients realize their brands, we’re helping develop strategy and execute with a greater pool of resources (from a much larger geographic range) and a higher degree of expertise. They’re connecting with their customers in more ways than ever, through social media,  video, and who knows what all, as well as traditional media.  The walls have truly fallen. And we’re giving them the leadership they deserve.

So who are we now? Brand builders, yes, but evolved to build brands in ways we haven’t even considered yet, in a world we know will be unpredictable. We’re offering more to existing clients, and have begun attracting clients we might never have attracted just a year ago.

The year that began with such consternation and anxiety, and which at times looked dark, now flows into another with much more promise. I wouldn’t call 2010 a fun year. But, gee, it could have been a lot worse. We survived it. We’re better. And I expect a day will come when we point to it as The Necessary Year.

How was yours?