Saturday, April 21, 2012

How an economist looks at good eats.

Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University and avowed foodie, has a great article in this month's Atlantic: "Six Rules for Dining Out." Although his rules might be helpful for finding good eats for cheap, his perspective is what I found most fascinating. Cowen employs economic drivers to decode what's likely to be best or bust. And no surprise that a supply and demand perspective applied to dining leads to some surprising conclusions.
Low-rent restaurants can experiment at relatively low risk. If a food idea does not work out, the proprietor is not left with an expensive lease. As a result, a strip-mall restaurant is more likely to try daring ideas than is a restaurant in, say, a large shopping mall. The people with the best, most creative, most innovative cooking ideas are not always the people with the most money. Many of them end up in dumpier locales, where they gradually improve real-estate values.
It's like psychologist Daniel Kahneman breaking ground--and winning a Nobel Prize--in economics. Outsider thinking often shakes things up. And it often wins.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Variation on theme.

It's a given that a company can't sit still. It must constantly evolve its brand, products, and overarching strategies. It needs to keep a firm finger on the pulse of now, catching even the most subtle shifts in the competitive landscape and customer desires. RIM comes to mind as someone who's fallen flat on all those fronts, but they're far from alone.

Even old-school consumer brand Pepto-Bismol had to change in order to stanch dropping sales. But the question for them was, as for every business and brand, how to change? Unsurprisingly, the fine marketing folks at P&G tapped into social media to find an answer, which I also found unsurprising: Pepto-Bismol and weekend partying go together. From a recent Businessweek article:
So P&G decided to try to lure potential customers before their eating and drinking binges by touting the product on Facebook with the upbeat slogan “Celebrate Life.” The result was an 11 percent market-share gain in the 12 months through fall 2011.
But for big corporations, wholesale positioning changes aren't quite so easy, especially for those with complex and diverse offerings. So what's a behemoth brand to do? Change its entire brand positioning on the whim of the marketplace? That's like an oil tanker being asked to swerve around like a speed boat. Most likely it just can't do it. But even if it managed to pull it off somehow, it'd likely capsize on its first zigzag.

Even though they're competitors to my primary client, I have to give a hat tip to AT&T in this regard. They're currently respinning "rethink possible," their brand positioning line--not with a new line, but with new twists to the idea behind the line. It's a brilliant way to evolve a big, complex brand to fit right now, again and again, without throwing away hard-earned equity or appearing trendy and fickle.

One way they altered the campaign was with a bolt-on line: “It’s what you do with what we do.” It steers the campaign away from idealistic and forward-looking and toward personal and life-enhancing. This is what über-famous and -fantastic creative David Lubars from BBDO, the agency responsible for the campaign, had to say about it:
By augmenting the theme with the new phrase, Mr. Lubars said, “we put a new suit on” the campaign and emphasized “how people’s lives are entwined with technology” and the benefits of “life on the network” (the AT&T network, natch).
"Rethink possible," like other lasting positioning lines, has yoga-like flexibility."Priceless," "Smarter Planet," "You're in good hands," "Just do it," whatever--they all can be, and have been, spun in a myriad of ways. Now, just to pick a random example from a magazine, let's consider Trend Micro's "Securing your journey to the cloud." It's certainly focused and relevant right now, which could be a good differentiator in the short run. But what do you do in a year or so, after everyone's already made the journey? It's back to the drawing board.

For awhile, positioning lines were becoming very passé in the agency world. Although there's clearly value in the best of them, a line like Trend Micro's can be highly constricting. It's comparable to strict brand guidelines that kill execution latitude. They're great for brand consistency, terrible for consistently surprising and relevant brand expression. With ongoing change as our era's theme, how can a company leave surprising and relevant expression off the table?