Friday, July 22, 2011

google+ will fail

Google+ will fail. That’s a pretty bold position to take given that Google+ is in beta testing, and, after all…it’s Google we’re talking about here. However, despite the flurry of chatter, and the soaring subscriber numbers, Google+ will not be all that it is heralded to be. It will not be the Facebook Killer.

Google+ was launched with the typical fanfare that would be expected of an announcement that Google was getting into the social media business (again). These are the guys that revolutionized search and built a tech empire that has swiftly become the world’s second most valuable brand. The common logic goes that if Google can do what it did for search, they should be able to do the same thing for social media. And, since everybody loves a good fight, the “rivalry” aspect with Facebook is helping to fuel the buzz.

As of July 12, 2011, Google+ had added approximately 7.3 million subscribers, and was up to 10 million by July 14. According to one statistician, the service is expected to hit 20 million if kept at its current pace. When invites were limited during its initial launch, some even turned to eBay to get in on the action.

So, with the all the hype, interest, and backing of an online titan like Google, why will Google+ fail? It all comes down to the value proposition. The reason Google+ will fail is that there is no reason; that is, no reason for consumers to leave Facebook.

“In the high-tech field a new product or system is considered worthless without a ‘killer application,’” writes branding expert Al Reis in his book The Origin of Brands. “Take the Internet, which was something of a high-tech curiosity until the killer app came along. That application was email.” As of yet, Google+ features no “killer application” that would make it the assassin of Facebook. It may do most of what Facebook can do. And, in some instances, it may do it better.

However, in unseating a brand leader like Facebook — especially one that dominates the Social Networking category (even the word “dominating” falls short of describing how entrenched Facebook is as the category leader) — better isn’t good enough. If Google+ wanted to kill Facebook, as should be its goal, it needed to reinvent the Social Media category, and branch off into something completely new. Something so new, and so groundbreaking, that it would make Facebook obsolete.

But it hasn’t.

Instead, Google+ has opted for a “me too” brand, just as Google Buzz was a me-too clone of Twitter. There is nothing revolutionary about Google+. There is nothing worthwhile about it. It may be signing up subscribers by the millions, but how many of those will be active in a month, or even a week? People have stated that they’ll drop Facebook once their friends start using Google+, but if everybody is waiting on the sidelines, who will jump in the game? My guess is very few. The end result will be that Google+ has millions of barely active subscribers who will post on their Facebook wall about how lame Google+ is.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

your brand doesn’t need a 'mr. t' strategy

Mr. T is one of the most iconic faces of the 1980s. He was the star of the A-Team, showed-up in the Rocky series, and has done a myriad of commercials over his acting career. His catchphrases reside among the immortal words of other American paragons like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, in spite of Mr. T’s cultural and celebrity prowess, he won’t save your brand.

“American consumers insist that they are not swayed by celebrity endorsements,” reports Adweek on the results of a recent Adweek/Harris Interactive survey. “More than three-quarters [of respondents] answered that it has no impact on their intent to buy.” Furthermore, only 4 percent indicated it would make them more likely to purchase. So, what are brands getting for the millions they spend on “buying” celebrities in hopes they can get consumers to buy? More often than not, nothing more than a wasted advertising budget.

Of course, this should come as no surprise to brand managers. Advertising master David Ogilvy (himself once a cultural icon whose words still serve as teaching tools for young, and old, advertising junkies) wrote in his 1983 book, Ogilvy on Advertising, that celebrities don’t move product. “Viewers guess that the celebrity has been bought,” Ogilvy wrote. “And they are right.” Ogilvy also suggested that celebrities have a way of overpowering the brands they’re advertising, making the celebrity (and, not the brand) the only memorable part of the campaign. Any time that an advertising technique — be it a celebrity, or “humorous” copy — overshadows the brand, it’s not good advertising. It’s even worse when you spend extra thousands, or millions, to secure an endorsement.

Your brand doesn’t need a celebrity. It needs a strategy that’s based on solid branding fundamentals. There have been several famous non-celebrities as “brand figureheads.” For example, Subway’s “Jared,” or “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt.” However, the difference between these individuals and celebrities like Mr. T is that the ad campaigns made Jared famous; Jared didn’t make Subway famous. Their appearances in the campaigns were techniques that enhanced the brand instead of overpowering it. Jared wasn’t a celebrity. He was a product testimonial. Likewise, The Man in a Hathaway Shirt was story appeal.

Would Subway have achieved the same level of success with its “health and nutrition” positioning if they used someone like Justin Bieber? No. Celebrities have access to personal trainers and nutrition consultants. The “testimonial” technique would have been completely lost. And, what would have happened if Ogilvy had decided to use Frank Sinatra instead of Baron George Wrangell for the Hathaway campaign? Would consumers have even paid attention to the shirt? Doubtful.

This is not to say that celebrity endorsements fail 100% of the time. Using a celebrity who is an authority on the industry or product for which he is advertising can be beneficial to a brand. Rory McIlroy testifying to the quality of golf clubs, for example, might be a worthwhile investment. Maybe. At least it will certainly be more worthwhile than Mr. T hawking Snickers.

If your brand is looking to do something with endorsements, try focusing on delivering a solid brand performance to your customers. After all, it’s their endorsement that is the most influential to their friends. Yeah, it’s really cool that for $1 million you can get a celebrity to like your product. And, for $2 million, that celebrity will probably endorse your competitor as well.

Instead of dumping money into expensive advertising campaigns, or buying a head-nod from a celebrity, turn that money back into your business to improve upon things that will really better your brand. Denny’s opted out of advertising in the 2011 Super Bowl, saying they would rather spend that money on programs throughout the year. "It is a very expensive exercise and I don't believe it's necessary for us to continue to put all our eggs in one basket," says Frances Allen, Denny's Chief Marketing Officer, in an interview with AdAge. “We decided to focus our efforts on a broad, multilayer program that we believe better rewards our guests throughout the year, vs. doing a big, onetime push for Super Bowl.”

This lesson is especially apposite for small businesses with limited budgets. Never underestimate the power of smart branding fundamentals that resonate with consumers. There’s more evidence that a solid brand foundation will move product than there is for any endorsement from a celebrity. And, the return on investment is unquestionably higher.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

are you doing too much with your brand?

The goal of every brand manager is to get the brand to resonate with consumers in a personal and lasting way. Branding is a war for the mind. And, if your brand is eventually able to overcome the noise of market competition and find that sacred spot in the mind of a consumer, it’s a remarkable accomplishment. The brands that most often find, and then keep, these positions are those that most easily cut through the noise because of their consistent focus on a singular idea.

Papa John’s began in 1983 and focused on a narrow menu that allowed it to deliver on the promise of “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” “By keeping the Papa John's menu simple, we ensure the quality of our product by using only the best ingredients,” says the company’s website. Through this narrow focus, Papa John’s was able to build itself from a pizza shop in the back of a bar to America’s third-largest pizza chain.

Simplicity allows brands to do more than improve the quality of their services. It also allows brands to have a narrow focus on new markets, and can even create new categories. Online dating services are a great place to look for this concept in practice. Although dating services like, eHarmony, and PlentyOfFish dominate the online dating market, splinter services with a narrower focus have created new opportunities for growth. is a dating service for Jewish people. Because it leads the category for “online Jewish dating,” it can bill itself as the “most popular online Jewish dating community” (illustrating the power of category leaders). Other examples include dating sites for exclusively “beautiful people” (, dating sites for mature singles (, and even dating sites for married people ( It’s likely that this trend will continue, and even more new categories for online dating will emerge.

On the other side, brands that try to do too much have a hard time lasting in the market. These brands often fall for the fallacy of “convergence,” a branding idea that says that the more your product or service does, the more appeal it will have to a wider audience. Unless these products offer a convenience factor greater than their individual parts, the brand is doomed for failure. It’s because the more functions or service offerings that a brand promises, the harder it is to deliver. Consumers instead will opt for the “specialists.” A restaurant that offers fish, tacos, hamburgers, chicken, steaks, and salads may do one or two of those things well, but most consumers go to a Legal Sea Foods for fish, a Five Guys for hamburgers, or a Ruth’s Chris for steaks. These brands have established themselves as leaders because they have a narrow focus on their brand and excel at delivering on that focus.

If your brand is struggling, consider pruning it down and narrowing the focus. It’s better that you do one thing very well than several things poorly. By having a wide focus, brands lose to the specialists who can deliver a higher-quality product or service. Additionally, a wide focus makes it impossible for you to establish a brand position in the mind of a consumer. Don’t try to do too much with your brand. Keep it simple.