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Technology Trips Up Target Brand

In brand-building, retail, Target on January 16, 2014 at 9:07 am

There are the good guys. And the bad guys. Pick your Target

by Robert Liljenwall

Cash_Registers

Image from Wikipedia Commons

Well, the bad guys won this round.  110 million hacked Target accounts.  Are you kidding?  And the CEO just now comes out (1/13) and apologizes.  While Rome was burning, he sat there – obviously speechless. Although he made no comments, he did authorize a 10 percent discount for the inconvenience for those on the first wave (70 million) who had their accounts hacked, with PINs no less.  And then, when it was discovered another 40 million were hacked, he decided to descend from his throne and make a comment – on CNBC and the Today show nearly a month after the breach.

The Good Guys

The strength of Target’s brand (which “was” one of America’s strongest, most recognizable brands) could not counter the weakness of their technology.  When technology fails – as it did here, the brand suffers the most.  Sure, they were quick to announce a fix for the first wave, and then another admission of 40 million more breached accounts sorta put a dent in their already weakened brand.

Talk about a brand and technology “perfect storm.”  There is no end to this story of course, since there could be more bad news from Target.  Target reports that they did suffer loss of sales (2 percent to 6 percent) after the revelation of the first 70 million (duh!), but the CEO now says that there are getting back to more normal numbers.

This reminds us of how the CEO of Exxon sat in his office for a full week when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989 and had one of the largest oil spills in US history.  He shut down like a dry hole in West Texas.  Like the Target CEO, he was hopeful that nobody was watching … that they, too, would be swept away in the next tide.  It was … and Alaska’s shoreline has proof that it did.  They’re cleaning up that mess and it appears the oil damage in many areas will continue unto the future.

But it all goes back to the core of branding: Do you trust the brand?  I recall that I was tempted to visit the nearby Target store in Pasadena – but first, I would go by the ATM and get some cash.  Good decision at the time.  And then the news of the second wave hit – “my God, is this never going to end.”  While Target did admit that sales were down, they stated the fix is going to be costly and will affect earnings.

Question:  Are you willing to swipe your card at Target now?

But wait!  Now we learn that Neiman Marcus has been hacked – and more on the way.  Isn’t this just terrific?  The Neiman Marcus hack has not be divulged, but my friends with NM cards have already changed them.

Who are the bad guys?

Was this an inside job?  Was it the Russian mafia?  The latter suggestion has surfaced in more than one news report – “they are very talented in hacking into our systems.  I can see them penetrating other large retailers around the globe,” said one security expert.  Do you believe him?  We think more breaches like this lie ahead.

What is so scary is the apparent ease the hackers had in breaching more than 100 million accounts.  Who is next?  That’s the big question.

But make no mistake about it:  Technology failed.  Brand damage is severe for now – but BTN believes they will recover – especially if there are more hacked retailers.  Spreading the bad news actually helps Target.  Pity the thought. – RJL

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The Brand behind the Brands We Love

In brand-building, Healthcare, innovation, retail, Shopper Marketing on January 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Inmar leads the way in digital promotions

by Jeff Sandgren

As we wrap up another round of holiday shopping mania, there’s a powerful force at work behind the scenes. For more than 30 years a company you may not know has been quietly helping you shop every day, and lately they’re ambitiously working to change the way you’ll shop tomorrow. In the ‘Emerald City of Retail,’ the hidden Oz who’s helping to enhance your shopping experience (while not bothering to attract your attention) is a company called Inmar, and their ‘Intelligent Commerce Networks.’

Inmar Inside

Sometimes the brands you know and trust deliver on their Brand Promises by relying on other brands. Think ‘Intel Inside®[i]’: a great advertising slogan, catchy, memorable, succinct and effective. When you buy a computer, you’ll hopefully never even have to see the Intel chip, much less actually touch it; but the little sticker on the outside telling you it’s in there could easily sway your purchase decision. Another example, wordier but similarly powerful, is BASF’s old slogan:

We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better®[ii].

In both of these cases, the B2B company wants you, a consumer, to value their brands in order to make you feel better about buying – not from them, but from their customers, the B2C companies that sell finished consumer goods to you. It’s unlikely that you ever bought a chip directly from Intel or a drum of chemicals from BASF (unless you’re a bigger geek than the editors of BrandTech News, or go by the street name “Heisenberg.”)

But while you almost certainly know who Intel is, and probably have heard of BASF – the largest chemical company in the world (even if you don’t know what the letters stand for) – you might not know who Inmar is. And you might be surprised to learn that the financial transactions they process en masse daily have an annual aggregate value of about $44 billion across their promotion, supply chain and health care networks.

If you’ve ever clipped and used a paper coupon, chances are good that it was processed by Inmar. This was their first competency, and remains a major component of the company’s business. They started handling coupons back in the early 80’s, as Carolina Coupon Clearing, a company formed by the son of a Reynolds Tobacco exec who brought in a team of former IBM associates to elevate the process from one which, at the time, relied on weighing masses of paper coupons by the pound. The solutions they built, and the refinements that have evolved since, now enable a smooth, secure processing of billions of coupons from thousands of brands in countries around the globe. They currently process coupons for a large share of US companies; and they serve a global customer base with their broader promotional solution portfolio that has grown to include not only paper coupons, but also rebates, sweepstakes and now digital coupons – more on that in a minute. This approach of harnessing technology and smart thinking to improve complex processes still steers the company.

David Mounts, Inmar CEO

David Mounts, Inmar CEO

“It all starts and ends with people,” explained Inmar CEO David Mounts, at a recent interview. “We strive to find the best minds and intellectual capital we can, then we direct our investments to make it easier for bright people to deliver great solutions to our customers … and ultimately great experiences to consumers.”

Inmar innovation

In the coupon world, paper still dominates in sheer volume, but the most impressive growth percentages there days are being posted by digitally discovered coupons. Digitally discovered coupons fall into two major groups. The already familiar Print-At-Home (PAH) coupons – those discovered online and printed with home computers – increased in use by more than 12 percent in the first half of 2013, relative to 2012. The newer kid on the coupon block is the use of completely paperless “e-wallet” coupons, where the reward is either loaded to a consumer’s loyalty card or stored on a smartphone app. While still a small segment, the use of these promotions increased by more than 230 percent in the same period.

The targeting and personalization capabilities of these digital offers provide powerful new ways for marketers to engage and entice consumers with increasingly relevant offers, and to gain insights on what consumers preferred (and what provided the best return on investment). But with this new sophistication comes the matter of new complexity. To help brands and retailers cut through the cyber-maze, Inmar has developed their Offer Management app, which lets marketers easily create offers, aggregate performance data and score the promotional effectiveness of multiple offers across all channels.

The rapid development of these solutions by Inmar has, in part, been accelerated by two recent acquisitions: the first, a company that pioneered an innovative technology to facilitate the secure distribution and redemption of digital promotions; and the second, a company with deep expertise in shopper behavioral analytics. By combining Inmar’s own knowledge and experience of couponing and promotional strategies with the added power of analytics and shopper insights, and with the real-time, on-demand delivery of offers to smartphones and tablets, Inmar’s innovations are changing the promotional game for brands and retailers – and delivering offers to consumers on products they want, with promotion types they like, across the digital platforms they individually prefer.

Inmar integration

One shopper insight that everyone knows is that shoppers in the checkout line don’t want to be delayed. Retailers are keenly aware of that, and they are particularly (and rightly) sensitive to the impact of any new technology at checkout that might slow things down. So the big hurdle that digital couponing has had to clear has been one of achieving a seamless and super-fast digital redemption when the paperless coupons are presented. No one wants to download a coupon offer to their loyalty card or unique identifier, then have to wait for an elaborate network to validate the coupon, in a setting where passing seconds feel like minutes. But the validation can’t be skipped, either, because coupon fraud can cost retailers millions. Inmar’s point of sale technology, developed by acquired company M-Dot achieves secure, accurate, real-time redemption by leveraging the speed and scalability of cloud technology. In fact, prior to Inmar’s acquisition, M-Dot was chosen as the winner of Amazon Web Services’ Startup Challenge. The solution is so scalable that it has been demonstrated to execute over a million concurrent transactions in a 10th of second.

More recently, Inmar built on that impressive back-end integration with a promising new front-end partnership. They recently announced a strategic relationship with NCR, one of the top Point Of Sale (POS) system providers for retail. The new offering will integrate Inmar’s digital coupon solution with NCR’s marketing and POS applications, providing retailers with a powerful new platform for quickly and easily planning and implementing digital coupon campaigns, offering paperless coupons to shoppers across multiple touchpoints … including mobile phones and tablets.

According to Mounts, “Retailers that ‘opt in’ will be able to introduce digital promotions into their marketing efforts with remarkable speed – and at minimal cost.”

It’s a win-win-win solution: shoppers get the added savings of digitally discovered coupons, without slowing down their checkout experience; retailers get an easy platform for implementing their digital coupon campaigns; and consumer goods manufacturers get a much more targeted delivery mechanism that can yield new insights in minutes.

Inmar involved

For all the technology focus, Inmar hasn’t lost sight of its ‘human goals’ either. Ever since opening shop in Winston-Salem, Inmar has remained true to its community, where it is one of the area’s major employers. This part of North Carolina has seen economic decline over the past decades with the erosion of three of its major industries – tobacco, textiles and furniture – the latter two primarily declining due to relocation of the industries to cheaper offshore markets. Inmar, by contrast, has stayed in the game locally, opening three different offices as headquarters for its coupon, product returns and pharmacy solutions groups. Supporting operations in the supply chain, health care, and coupon redemption networks occupy around 30 additional facilities across North America.

Exterior_8.29.12

Now the company is upping its ante by consolidating all three local offices into a beautiful new complex in downtown Winston, with almost a quarter million square feet of modern office space, renovated from an old tobacco processing plant. Located on the edge of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, a cornerstone of the Renaissance of Winston-Salem, the new facility clearly underscores Inmar’s corporate social responsibility and its commitment to the local jobs it has created.

When Mounts says it all starts and ends with people, he clearly means it. – JTS


[i] Registered trademark of Intel Corporation

[ii] Registered trademark of BASF SE

Top Ten Brand/Technology Stories for 2013

In Apple, brand-building, Healthcare, Microsoft, Steve Jobs on December 29, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Big Brand Hits and Misses From 2013

by Robert Liljenwall

Top TenIt’s been quite a year for big brand stories, and even bigger surprises. Here’s our take on the Top Ten stories for 2013, from the intersection of branding and technology.

 1)  Edward Snowden managed to build a powerful, influential global brand in less time than it takes to say, “Gotcha!”  And all on the back of technology and the US National Security Agency secrets he divulged starting in June 2013.  While he may not be a household word, he certainly is now infamously (or famously) known in every government spy agency, every major capital, and by every editor or newscaster carrying the day’s news.  Only 30 years old and a relatively low-level NSA contract employee, he managed to steal rarified, classified material that is called the most significant leak in US history.  He used The Guardian and The Washington Post while employed by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to leak his material.  At his news conference from his ‘temporary home’ in Russia this past week, he says the leaks and subsequent chaos caused at the highest level of governments around the world has assured him of ‘victory.’  “Mission accomplished,” he says.  He thinks of himself as a hero while others have other apt descriptions.  Time will tell how this plays out.

2)  The National Security Agency’s brand image has fallen fast since the Snowden disclosures.  The NSA-Snowden story remains evolutionary as one judge tells the government to stop and another one just the other day says it’s OK.  But surely this NSA scandal has affected the US brand all over the world. The reality is that probably everyone else is doing it, too … so it’s probably more bark than bite from the average American point of view.  But in government circles, the confusion surrounding NSA and all government ‘oversight’ programs bothers many of us.

3)  Obamacare site bombed on launch.  Millions have been impacted by the false start, and the cancellations of 5 million-plus insured guarantees a major hit on Obama and his signature program.  The continuing debacle exposes tremendous technical shortcomings of government-run program.  How has this affected Obama’s brand?  Obama’s negative ratings continue their downward spiral. Recent polls show that most Americans don’t want or like the Affordable Care Act – and it’s just beginning.  Will more Americans lose or gain insurance coverage in early 2014? How will the voters’ sentiment play out in the midterm elections?  If there was a BrandTech News ‘perfect storm’, this was it!

4)  Cyber Monday surpassed expectations, and mobile commerce on smartphones and tablets are making inroads toward becoming the biggest e-commerce sales day in history, up 16.5 percent to $2.29 billion.  Mobile traffic (as a part of online sales) showed similar record sales – IBM’s data demonstrates that mobile shopping did grow significantly from last year – with traffic increasing by 45 percent to 31.7 percent share of all online traffic, and total sales growing by 55.4 percent year-over-year to surpass 17 percent share. But, mobile’s share of traffic was down 20 percent from Black Friday while its share of sales was down 21 percent.

5)  Target‘s 40 million ‘error.’  This story moves onto the list and no, it’s not the first time hackers have gotten into credit card files.  But 40 million?  Is this a brand-buster for Target? We at BrandTech News think that Target has really mismanaged this fiasco – offering a lame 10 percent discount  … they beefed it up a bit, but it was, as one writer put it: “… a puny effort.”  News reports that a group in a Target parking lot were regaling in their recently purchased Christmas gifts – only to have police discovered they did so with purloined credit card #s.  It sends a chilling message on how fragile the relationship there is between a brand’s success and the failure of technology.  What will it take before you trust Target again?  We’re still skeptical.

6)  Changes at the top – Microsoft’s Ballmer moving on. Michael Dell takes control back. Personal brands linked to their technology heart/soul have been the hallmark of America’s technology history, starting with such iconic brands as Thomas Edison, Tom Watson, Bill Hewlett and David Packard.  Their brands were synonymous with their technology.  Ballmer leaves on a mixed note and no one has been named to replace him.  Dell tries to reclaim his past glory days by taking his namesake company private.  We believe that Apple, Google, and even Samsung have all whizzed past the former Whiz Kid. The future of the PC – as we used to know it before smartphones and tablets – is in doubt.  And let’s not forget ‘golden boy’ Ron Johnson – former head of retail for Apple – who was unceremoniously disposed as CEO of J. C. Penney.  Personal brands will be forever linked to their founders and managers over time … and to be sure, it’s a challenge to survive in these chaotic times.  Perhaps Steve Jobs ‘got out’ at the right time – the pinnacle of his career and company?  Time will tell.  We’ll be watching.

7)  Apple wins China Mobile.  This is probably the biggest, best news Apple has had in a while.  Their fall launch was successful to a point – rave reviews on the technology and upgraded products, but capturing China Mobile with 760 million users is the big (nix that, it was HUGE) win on the global stage.  Surely this will propel Apple’s future onto solid ground in Asia, but on the homefront, Apple has some homework to do, in our view.  The Apple story is two-edged – #1 – Apple has made up lost ground on its stock closing in on $600 after plunging below $400 in the past 52 weeks … .and Apple is now worth $503 billion, making it the most valuable company on the Planet.  So the brand continues to perform well with investors, but the #2 worry is whether Apple has lost its creative and innovator brand status. Not everyone is saying this, but we suspect that Apple’s brand will suffer greatly in the winter rollout of new products if they don’t come up with something new, spectacular even.  Is Tim Cook really something more than a good operator?  He is that – but Apple customers and investors want more to insure the future.

8)  Facebook and Twitter go public – check your calendar – both are healthy at year’s end!  Brand turnaround for Facebook is our Comeback Player of the Year. Twitter’s early success is not assured for the longer term – too early to tell, but Facebook has legs and is riding high for now.  Thank you, Mister Zuckerberg, for your vision.  After exploding out of the box and hitting a high of $65, Twitter fell back to Earth just a tiny bit – losing 13 percent as of last week before New Year’s.  Finding the economic models that is going to propel these two behemoths toward financial security seems to be the challenge – initially for Facebook they are fast figuring out the ad revenue model, and soaring at present. Twitter remains optimistic it will solve their revenue challenge in the near term.  From a brand point of view, both Facebook and Twitter have ranked high with users … and investors, too.  Our question for you:  Do you visit Facebook every day?  Do you tweet?  Let us know your answers.

9)  Microsoft buys Nokia.  You’d think this was a ‘marriage made in tech heaven’ several years ago, especially when Nokia controlled the world’s mobile market share.  But BrandTech News – and others – aren’t so sure this recently done marriage is going to last long.  Nokia had already accepted a ‘live-in’ relationship with Microsoft when they committed to Windows Phone several years ago, and many thought this merger was on fast forward, not on pause.  But it finally happened.  And the Finnish folks couldn’t be happier since they were on a death march much like BlackBerry – too little, too late.  But now with Microsoft’s Bank solidly behind the new couple (and publicly committed in splashy television ads), Nokia has another chance to again be a dominant player the mobile market.  The brand still has plenty of strength in Europe and elsewhere, but we think it’s been critically diminished in the US market – perhaps irretrievably.

10) BlackBerry’s ‘death watch.’  Here’s the latest: executives jump ship; huge losses; burnt through $800 million this past year.  We heard there were reports for hospice care until the new Foxconn deal in Indonesia put all talk of being ‘done’ on hold – temporarily, at least.  Indonesia is a stronghold for BlackBerry, but the brand is so tarnished that it would take a miracle to turn it around.  BrandTech News expects that BlackBerry will not be able to catch up with Android or iOS, and even Windows Phone in many markets.   They will remain – forever – a second or third tier player.  Not enough to survive. – RJL

Branding gets real personal – ask Carole Schiffer

In brand-building, social media on December 6, 2013 at 1:48 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

Some of you reading this article are probably contemplating that when you “retire,” the idea of earning some extra bucks selling real estate might be just the right ticket to keep your mind sharp and your wallet full. After all, how hard is it? 

Carole Schiffer

Well, ask realtor Carole Schiffer – it’s pretty hard, and it’s extremely competitive. Carole is one of 1.2 million members of the National Association of Realtors in the US, but that’s where the similarity stops. Using the most advanced real estate tracking software … staying connected with social media … and having an advanced, user-friendly website that contains a broad array of up-to-date real estate news – have all enabled Carole to become one of Coldwell Banker‘s top real estate agents, ranking in the top 500 out of 140,000 CB agents nationwide. And she does it in one of the country’s most competitive markets – Brentwood, Bel-Air and Beverly Hills. Her average sale is more than $2 million, and despite the economic downturn in the real estate market in past years, this has been one of her best years.

BTN:  What keeps you at the top? 

Carole:  There’s really no secret. The fact is that “location” remains an imperative in staying at the top in CB’s national network. I am blessed to work in one of the most attractive areas in the world. But honestly, it’s just hard work and staying positive in a very competitive market that is populated by some of the world’s most successful agents.

And to stay competitive, I take advantage of the online programs that Coldwell Banker provides, but I also deploy my own online initiatives to differentiate myself from others.  You cannot afford to be a “me-too”, even with a quality firm such as Coldwell Banker.

Besides keeping up, I take advantage of my communications skills and constantly build relationships with my client base. This remains a relationship business and will always be that way.

BTN: Who is your market?

Carole:   My ‘market’ stretches from Malibu to Beverly Hills to Bel Air to Marina del Rey, and I am blessed with the privilege of selling some of the world’s finest residential real estate. Westside Los Angeles is also rich in community assets, including some of the world’s most beautiful seashores, education (UCLA), culture (The Getty and many outstanding museums), shopping and dining. And of course, there’s the weather. From Day One in my real estate career, I have continued to invest in my community through a variety of non-profit organizations and civic activities. Real estate is all about building your personal brand.

BTN:  How has the business changed? 

Carole:  I started my business when we didn’t have the Internet, email, social media, and digital real estate services that have now flooded the Internet. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a lot of hand-holding and we spent a lot more time scrambling around West LA in our cars (and in traffic) showing homes and shepherding transactions through escrow.

This frantic pace continues, even with the best technology. If fact, there is more hand-holding going on today because the transactions have become more complicated. And there are more forms, not less. The environment is much more litigious, and the liability for agents has greatly increased.

For every real estate transaction in California – a tree loses its life! Regulations and laws are much more complex and wide ranging, and it’s a challenge to stay up with it all.

What has also changed is that my neighborhoods and communities have become “hot” properties on the global market. Los Angeles’s Westside is one of the hottest destinations for foreign/US buyers – they want to be here because it consistently has retained higher property values.

Given these assets and opportunity, I joined the best broker in the area (Fred Sands) who then sold to Coldwell Banker in 2000. Coldwell Banker dominates the greater Los Angeles area – as well as the entire US market in terms of total sales and listings. It has consistently attracted the best agents – so “CB’s brand strength” extends to my brand.

BTN:  How does technology play a role in your success?

Carole:  I’m sure your readers are all computer literate – so are all of my clients these days. Most explore the many real estate websites that can drill down to specific listings and areas – long before they start their actual, on-the-ground search – and the latest statistics prove that out.  So the Internet plays a critical role in how we deal with our clients – who come to me much better informed and prepared than before.

One of my key marketing communication strategies is the use of emails. For the past six years, I have produced a unique online newsletter (The SchifferLine) which is sent on the first and the 15th of each month. One goes out to nearly half of my neighborhoods via email (I use Constant Contact); and the other goes out via regular mail to everyone in my prospecting area (which are called “farms”). Each issue of the bi-monthly newsletters is posted on my web site (www.caroleschiffer.com) on the home page.

This form of online and offline newsletter is, without question, my most important marketing tool because I deliver up-to-the-minute real estate news about their community twice a month. No other public medium does this. The advantage of Constant Contact is that I know exactly who opens my newsletter. And I have recently hired a Social Media Coordinator to address all of my social network demands.

One of the interesting technology advancements that has really saved agents enormous time and frustration is electronic signatures. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but trust me, when you’re in Bel Air and have to travel to Malibu 20 miles away to get a document signed, you’ll appreciate just how valuable that technology is!  And as we become more international today, having the electronic signature is a big factor in closing a transaction, because time is always of the essence.

BTN – Tell us about your branding efforts

Carole:  On the advice of my marketing consultant, I invested heavily in building a brand identity more than 15 years ago, which I still have. I branded everything with my unique color scheme and logo … and it went on all of my stationery, business cards, lawn signs, advertising, website, and a vast array of marketing materials from post cards and brochures to e-marketing tactics on a broad scale. I did not use the Coldwell Banker-branded materials unless I had to. I wanted to differentiate myself from all of the other CB agents in my office and in West Los Angeles. The wonderful news about my identity is that it is still current, still attractive, and I get compliments all the time on how beautiful my communications are.

How do I differentiate myself from 1.2 million Realtors? I position myself as the community expert on the Westside, providing prospects with a plethora of detailed information about each of the major communities I serve.  The knowledge I have of the communities I service is what sets me apart.  But more importantly, I know my neighborhoods inside and out.  I know property values, real estate trends, I keep up to speed on financing and mortgage rates, and I have a vast and valuable network of clients and agents with whom I work.

But perhaps one of the strongest branding efforts over the past 30 years has been my community involvement – having founded and produced the Great Tastes of Brentwood for 20 years … member of area Chambers of Commerce boards … active in some of Los Angeles’ many cultural organizations. These all play a key role in building my brand.

BTN:  How would you sum up your branding and technology connection?

Carole:  Even with all the new, great technology, this is still a person-to-person business. You have to be an expert on so many levels – and it doesn’t hurt to be a damn good psychologist, either. But that’s another story. I have built my business on being the most efficient, most effective Realtor I can be – but you still have to build relationships with your clients and fellow agents. It’s a relationship business more than ever. Clients have to trust you … they have to respect your advice and your skills. Agents, too, have to trust you and respect your relationship, not only with them but with your clients as well.

I have had some terrific mentors, such as Tom Ferry (currently) and Fred Sands, and I have a great support team of marketing and administrative staff. We’re moving to improve our social media experience and we are always looking for ways to better connect with our clients and prospects.

One of the privileges I have had with Coldwell Banker is that I am the company mentor in our Brentwood office. I work with all the new agents who enter the business, which is a responsibility and an honor. It’s very stimulating and gratifying to help younger agents enter our profession.

In the end, it’s been a tremendously rewarding and profitable career, and I still enjoy it even after 30 years! – RJL

Obamacare – Where brand and technology collide

In brand-building on November 20, 2013 at 9:24 pm
English: President Barack Obama's signature on...

English: President Barack Obama’s signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010. The President signed the bill with 22 different pens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Robert Liljenwall

One doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out that the Obamacare brand and its technology (health care.gov) have fallen on bad times. We at BTN have not seen any collision this colossal in scope and damage that has affected so many millions as the Obamacare rollout. The brand – Obamacare, is really a mixed bag between President Obama and his signature program, the Affordable Care Act – but as we all know, President Obama owns it now, and for a long time since its passage in 2010, it was a plus. Now, it has become an albatross around President Obama and the Democratic Party – at least for 12 Democratic senators up for re-election next year.

Even as we write this story, former President Bill Clinton bluntly chimed in that “Obama should live up to his promise to Americans that if they like their health plans, they can keep them.” For the record, Clinton didn’t think Obama’s apology “cut it.”

From a brand point of view, Obamacare – if it is ultimately successful – will be the President’s greatest legacy – a brand that will live positively forever. Who knows how we will refer to the Affordable Care Act in 10 years or 40 years, as we do with Social Security or Medicare? But if it doesn’t fare well, then everyone, including Democrats, will run as fast as they can from that brand. And one journalist commented on Bill Clinton’s rebuke of Obama is that he is laying the groundwork for Hillary in 2016 – “it isn’t her program!”

So how does one measure the Obamacare brand, and how is it linked to the President? On the surface, the brand linkage between the ACA and Obama is a natural extension of the President’s own brand. Obama, a brand by itself, is a strong, easy-to-pronounce six-letter word that represents one of the most powerful persons in the world – and comes with all of the attendant prestige and power of the office. So it was a natural brand extension – and it sounds good – O-ba-ma-care. Rolls right off your tongue and ear. It reads well, too. And focus groups would have probably given this symbolic brand name a thumbs-up. “Works for me …” one Democrat pollster said. So, it is difficult to “cut off” the Obama brand from the public perception of Obamacare, when it is actually the Affordable Care Act.

Latest Polls measure brand strength

As a “brand,” Obamacare poll numbers indicate that a majority – 53 percent – of likely voters are unfavorable toward the ACA and only 43 percent are favorable. (Rasmussen)  But the numbers have been fluid since the near-collapse of the website and attendant confusion on how and when the site will be fixed. In some states, like Virginia, poll numbers by CNN indicated that 48 percent viewed the ACA favorably and 50 percent viewed it unfavorably.

But in looking at the “Obama” brand by itself – the latest Wall Street JournalNBC poll, shows that only 41 percent in late October viewed Obama in a positive light, with 45 percent holding a negative impression. Surely, his falling poll numbers have something to do with the Obamacare rollout.

A more fluid measure of Obama’s standing is the public assessment of his performance in office is also sinking:  Only 42 percent approved of the job he was doing, a low in the President’s tracking on the Wall Street Journal – NBC since he took office. When you compare these poll numbers with both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton at a similar time in their presidency, they had a 58 percent and 62 percent approval rating respectively. Bush (W) had a low of 36 percent at the same time – after Katrina hit.

So, how does Obama get back a positive brand perception?  According to former Clinton White House adviser Chris Lahane, second-term presidents all face a decline in their second term which “effectively makes them lame ducks.” But other Democratic leaders beside Clinton state that Obama “over promised” what the public was going to get with the new health care law. With the continuing confusion and technology fiasco at hand and the top news story on every newscast every day, Obama can only improve his brand by ‘fixing the website’ and making good on his promises, as Clinton has urged. He needs to build back trust with the public.

Of course, political brands are most vulnerable to personality and performance issues, and because Obama pushed so hard to get the bill passed and lauded its benefits (“… you can keep your doctor” … and “keep your plan if you like it”) have just ‘done him in in our opinion, no matter how hard you try to back-track with even legitimate reasons. The public, it seems, has already voted on this for now … and we await the looming Dec. 1 fix-it-deadline. – RJL

3D Printing Poised to Reshape the Fashion Industry

In 3D Printing, brand-building, Fashion, New York Fashion Week on October 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Fashion Strategist Bob McKee Foresees 3D Fashion Flights of Fancy

by Jeff Sandgren

Melinda Looi design, realized by Belgium-based 3D Printer Materialise

Melinda Looi design, realized by Belgium-based
3D Printer Materialise

It’s easy to think of the fashion industry as innovative and agile, a perfect match for the rapidly-evolving world of 3D printing. All those ever-changing styles and designs – radical, elegant and everything in-between – surely these are the hallmarks of a culture that adapts to change at lightning speed. Fashion seems like a tailor-made 3D printing launchpad. To get the industry insider view, we checked in with Bob McKee, longtime fashion industry vet, currently Global Fashion Industry Strategy Director for Infor. We were in for some surprises.

“The fashion industry is historically slow to adopt new technologies,” said McKee. “We have changed very little since the industrialization of fabric manufacturing.”

McKee offered performance fabrics as a good example. These stretchy materials that practically define athletic fashion today are not a recent invention. They were created back in the 1940s; but it took the industry more than 30 years to adopt them at scale. Today stretch fabrics incorporate features that help them wick away moisture and provide anti-microbial surfaces. “Cotton apparel in workouts is history,” McKee noted. Some of the more forward-thinking adopters have chalked up significant successes. In the area of stretch fabrics, McKee cites Under Armour as an example. The company, formed relatively recently in 2006, just reported quarterly revenues of $455 million, a 23 percent increase over the same period in the prior year.

So how will 3D printing fare? The pace of adoption seems to be accelerating. Consumer-friendly design applications like AutoDesk have helped democratize graphic design by tapping into a far broader base of talent outside the traditional big-name design houses. And now 3D printing may be poised to be the next big thing in reshaping how clothes and accessories come to market – and the variety of forms they take once they get there. Examples were evident at the recent New York Fashion Week, where London-based designer Catherine Wales showed off her 3D printed ‘Project DNA’ collection of masks, futuristic corsets and helmets, and Kimberly Ovitz’s 3D printed jewelry commanded audience attention … and headlines.

3D printed Catherine Wales design

3D printed Catherine Wales design

Online design communities are going to play a key role, McKee pointed out. “Threadless.com is a great example in the 2D printing world. It’s a wonderful venue for frustrated graphic designers. But it still took time.”

Threadless was founded in 2000, as a hybrid design community and e-commerce site focused on tee shirts, where artists submitted designs, community members voted on their favorites, and the most popular were printed for sale. By 2004 it was printing new shirt designs every week; in 2008, Inc. magazine declared them the most innovative small company in America, with an estimated $30 million in sales. At last count the Threadless community included more than 2.4 million designers. “It’s not hard to imagine the same evolution with 3D fashion accessories and jewelry,” said McKee.

Indeed, such communities for 3D printing are already expanding, led by Shapeways (which earlier this year closed a $30 million Series C round of financing, led by Andreessen Horowitz), i.Materialize, Ponoko and Styleshapes. Like their graphic tees counterparts, these sites allow designers to upload their creations, and consumers to buy the material realizations. An added twist in this case, given the already proliferating population of consumer-grade 3D printers for home enthusiasts, is that the designs themselves are often the commodity. The trendy/techy consumer can get custom-made bangles without ever going to the store, or even the mailbox, as long as there’s enough thermoplastic in the print tank.

BrandTech News believes that co-creation and co-branding are fertile fields to till for innovative fashion brands in apparel, accessories and footwear. As McKee notes, “fashion is all about making a statement that differentiates us from the masses … even if we look like everyone else we like.” So will we see consumer goods bearing both a name brand look and logo and the personal emblems of hipsters and fashionistas?

“Brands are cautious,” noted McKee, “so I think it will come about, but slowly. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when.’ Consumers are driving the retail business, and they increasingly turn to brands and retailers who are creative and innovative. But brands have to figure out the right way to do it, preserving the brand essence while designing in personalization elements. You have to design the mold before you pour the gold.”

Fashion visionary Bob McKee

Fashion visionary Bob McKee

McKee even foresees a hybrid of graphic design and 3D printing in the development of the actual fabrics. He predicts that printing of synthetic fabrics on consumer-friendly (and relatively affordable) 3D printers is on the horizon. “You’ll see it within five years. Ten years from now it will be common to wear articles that we don’t even think twice about printing ourselves.”

Designers will continue to play a role. McKee posits that Vera Wang, Jimmy Choo and other edgy designers willing to experiment could well be early brand adopters. “Vera’s always a half step ahead,” said McKee. And celebrity emulation will be another powerful driver that leverages the agility of 3D printing. For consumers who want what their favorite celebs are wearing, 3D printing promises nearly instant gratification.

“We’re near the point,” said McKee “where you’ll see celebrities step onto the red carpet for the Emmy Awards and, before the ceremony is over, consumers will be ordering the apparel and accessories of their favorites.” – JTS

Free Product Sampling Sound Like a Dream? Then PINCHme.

In brand-building, curation, retail, social media on September 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm

by Jeff Sandgren

Product sampling: a time-tested stalwart of consumer engagement, new product trial-driving and brand conversion. Whether it’s that first slice at the deli, or the cheery little kiosks scattered throughout Costco, the experiential pull is strong – and historically low-tech. That changed several years ago when online companies like StartSampling began offering subscription-based “e-sampling” programs. But as quickly as the online providers grew, the consumer engagement turned in many cases to disengagement, with complaints about subscription fees, irrelevant product samples … even scams. Indeed, a quick Google search of “online product sampling” includes names like “scamfreesamples,” above the fold. That alone speaks volumes.

Fast forward to 2013, and an innovative Australian company is looking to reinvent sampling into the brave new world of Internet-enabled, socially-connected, value-conscious consumers, with a model that promises to deliver relevance and delight to consumers at the same time as it provides laser-like targeting (and ROI) for the sponsoring Brand Marketers.

Sound like a dream? Jeremy Reid says “pinch me.”

pinchmelogo2No, literally. His company, PINCHme, founded earlier this year in Sydney Australia, is about to cross the Pacific and beachhead in the US market, starting in October. The formula has been a big hit Down Under, where in a mere six months Jeremy and his 30-person team have signed up a half million consumers and 50 major CPGs. In the first 30 days of its launch in the Sydney market, PINCHme signed up 2 percent of the population, and it’s been a steady climb since. As for the brands, they include CPG giants Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever, Kraft, Nestle and many more.

To find out how the new service is different, we asked Founder Jeremy Reid to explain the new approach.

Jeremy_Reid_23-(1)

Jeremy Reid, Founder

“Sampling today is very effective,” said Reid, “but not very efficient. Are the brand sponsors getting the right products in front of the right consumers? Are they getting a measurable ROI on the sampling costs? Those are the problems we’re solving with PINCHme.”

A key element of the platform is its integration with shopper loyalty data from some of the key providers. “It’s a win-win,” said Reid. “The shoppers see only personalized offers on their home page, so they don’t have to browse through products that really don’t fit them. And the brands are only investing in sampling for consumers they want to target.”

There’s a lot of analytics going on in the background, Reid explained. When consumers are presented with their targeted offers, they can only choose one-third of the selections. “That’s powerful choice information, and it drives a much higher trial rate on the samples,” said Reid. Even before the choice, unsure consumers are offered an array of digital content and other product information. In other words, they’re engaged in the selection process – thoroughly.

Fulfillment is handled by PINCHme, who delivers a PINCHme-branded gift box in three to seven days. The offers refresh every Tuesday, but before a consumer can select more items, they have to answer a mini-questionnaire of six questions, anytime within a 30-day window after receiving their package. Reid claims the completion rate in the Australian test market is an impressive 94 percent. Consumers can even make a follow-up purchase right from the survey website … and may be incented to do so with special offers from the Brands.

And, of course, all this is tightly integrated with social media, encouraging the consumers to share their discoveries with their networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and all the usual suspects.

Proof of success back in Australia comes from the Brands themselves: Nestle is already on its eighth campaign, and P&G is on its 10th.

Pinchme-graphics

The big news for consumers is that they can pre-register now for the upcoming US launch, simply by going to pinchme.com. So if you like the idea of trying new things, and love the idea of doing it for free, you might want to check it out …

… and let us know how you like the service. – JTS

Niche and Innovation: Simplicity Sofas Puts the Pieces Together

In brand-building, innovation, retail on September 24, 2013 at 7:59 am

by Jeff Sandgren

The Piedmont Triad of North Carolina, formed by Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point, was once the dominant hub of furniture manufacturing in the US. High Point still tags itself as the “Furniture Capital of the World,” boasting some of the largest showrooms in the country; but the manufacturing core that fills them has moved offshore to lower cost facilities in Asia. Much of the area now has a ghost town feel, with shuttered factories – and shuttered local businesses that once thrived when furniture-making drove a vibrant local economy.

In the middle of this arid business landscape is a bright, thriving oasis of success: Simplicity Sofas. Starting with a small factory in High Point in 2007, they’ve already had to relocate to a bigger facility to keep up with the demand for their specialized product, shipping more than $4 million of furniture to thousands of customers … without a single negative review. Along the way they’ve been a finalist for the Customer Experience Innovation Awards, received two “Best of Market” awards at the International Home Furnishings Market, and been recognized with a $20,000 Grand Prize as Small Business Innovator of the Year. All without moving out of town.

How have they pulled off this commercial miracle?

The answer is twofold: niche and innovation. Back in 2003 designer/inventor/master craftsman Glenn Laughlin and furniture industry veteran Jeff Frank teamed up to create a line of high quality, quick-assembly upholstered furniture that fits into small rooms and tight entranceways where normal furniture cannot go. Glenn and Jeff spent four years perfecting the revolutionary technology and building the first prototypes. Locating in High Point has allowed them to tap into a deep local talent pool. They custom build one piece at a time using solid oak frames, and back their product with a lifetime warranty.

I experienced the ingenuity of this solution firsthand a year ago, when I ordered a full-sized couch, oversized chair and storage ottoman from them. The whole shipment arrived in the back of a van, with room to spare. Because we’re local, a company employee delivered it and assembled the furniture in our living room, in less than 15 minutes. For those outside of the Piedmont Triad, they offer free catalogs and fabric swatches, and shipping across the US.

Dawson and Sydney, furniture installation experts

Dawson and Sydney, furniture installation experts

Watching the assembly process, I realized that I could just as easily have done it myself – and that’s saying a lot, since I’m all thumbs. See for yourself: here’s a video of an 8-year-old boy assembling a couch in less than five minutes. Not impressed?  Then how about a 7-year-old girl assembling a chair in a minute? Go, Sydney!

This fall, the company is innovating into another ‘tight spot’: the RV (recreational vehicle) market. Simplicity began to hear of customers who were installing their furniture in RVs, easily navigating the extremely narrow door width and avoiding the headaches and cost of the previous solution. The old way? Remove the windshield. No wonder they love Simplicity Sofas. But what the RV enthusiasts said they really wanted was a convertible sofa bed that could fit into the same tight spot.

So Simplicity Sofas innovated for this new niche, designed one, perfected it and launched it earlier this month at the largest RV show in the country, the Annual Pennsylvania RV & Camping Show in Hershey, PA, drawing more than 40,000 attendees. It takes a little longer to assemble, and probably isn’t a project to delegate to the children, but it’s still … simplicity.

Jeff Frank, President Simplicity Sofas

Jeff Frank, President
Simplicity Sofas

“Everything we develop is designed to meet an existing need,” said President Jeff Frank. “Our sectional sofa is another example. We had a customer whose family room was at the end of a particularly difficult staircase, so even our sofa couldn’t navigate the turn. We went back to the drawing board and developed an easy-to-assemble sectional [just see Sydney’s video] that solved their problem. Today they’re another happy customer, and we’ve got another successful product line.”

Therein lays perhaps the simple key to Simplicity Sofa’s success: fanatical devotion to understanding and satisfying their customers. They listen to customers, innovate designs to solve problems no one else addresses, and then delight buyers every time – all right here in the former heartland of American furniture making. As William Shatner (yes that William Shatner) recently observed, “Simplicity Sofas furniture boldly goes where no furniture has gone before.”

And by the way, I love my sofa.  Maybe too much. – JTS

Looking back and forward on 5s Journey

In Apple, brand-building, iPhone, retail, Steve Jobs on September 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

The journey is over. And it is now beginning. I have my 32GB Gray iPhone 5s in hand … and I am warming up to it. If you really want to experience it before you buy it, download iOS7 and you’ll get the (almost) complete look/feel, which takes time getting used to. I hated the color and font scheme of iOS7 but my passion to get the 5s overcame my dissatisfaction with the look I had on my 5 after downloading 7.  Thought the pastel/light gray scale was very inappropriate and still do, but I am getting used to it. If you need glasses to read your screens on your iPhone, you’ll need them for sure on the 5s.

But back the journey. As you may have read, I canceled my phone order for a gold 32GB when I realized that I could actually get one on 5/20 at the Pasadena Apple store (instead of waiting until Oct. 8). They still had plenty of gray 32GB in stock … and the wait was a very tolerable 45 minutes in line. The Apple sales people were extremely helpful, courteous and gave me all the time necessary to feel comfortable with some minimal training. The entire transaction took less than 20 minutes, and it was seamless. I was, indeed, thrilled I made the right choice to stop by for a second time at the now infamous Pasadena store (where fights broke out early 5/20 with homeless stand-ins who were cheated by a rather unscrupulous creep who refused to pay them to stand in line for 10 hours). The line at Apple was 3 times longer than when I got inside … apparently word spread that they had some inventory – AT&T had only 64GB.

iphone-5s-loveWhy am I so passionate about this?  Brand marketers love people like me – we put up with lines, some dissatisfaction with the product, and still plow forward through what most people think is insane. This is what Steve Jobs has done to me and millions more. Is the torch passed?  I think so. Business Week had a great cover “What Us Worry?” – showing CEO Tim Cook and his two henchmen – Craig Federighi and Jony Ive. But like I said earlier, “it’s too early to tell.” I can tell you this:  It’s fast. Video and photo quality are the best ever. Downloads are quicker. New pull-up that gives you immediate access to key programs is brilliant. And thank God for iCloud – all apps and programs perfectly preserved.

So far, the Journey with Apple has been a real treat, actually. Well that’s not totally true. My girlfriend, Julie, wasn’t particularly happy with me waking her up on 5/20 at 4:45 a.m. to run me down to the Apple store (some 5 miles away) to see how the line was (too long) … and she continued to comment on this ‘sacrifice’ during the day. “Yeah, but haven’t you had fun telling all of your friends about your ‘experience’?” “Of course …” So, I just provided her with some great story-telling fodder … so she benefited, too, wouldn’t you say?  She agreed. – RJL

Social Media at the Emmy Awards

In brand-building, social media, Video, Movies & Television on September 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Media maven Diana Madison gives us the scoop on social media at the upcoming Emmy AwardsHollyscoop

by Jeff Sandgren

(Sept. 19, 2013)  With the Emmy Awards just days away, buzz is building on what to expect from this year’s ceremony. And no one’s amped up more than the celebrities themselves. Social media is playing an increasingly bigger role in how celebrities (and award ceremonies) engage the public. For the inside scoop, we checked in with media maven Diana Madison, TV Personality, TV host and Executive Producer of the Hollyscoop News Show.

BTN: We’re interested in how celebs brand themselves to the public, and how that brand spills over into their public personas, their activities and their public lives. Who’s really rocking it?

Diana MadisonDiana Madison: We live in a culture that is obsessed with seeing what our favorite celebrities are eating, wearing and saying. Some stars have taken advantage of their fans’ interests, like the Kardashians. These girls are smart to promote their clothing line, perfumes and other projects through their social media. Kim Kardashian has more than 9.9 million followers on Instagram, which is four times the audience that her reality TV show has on E!, which can benefit her when promoting projects.

BTN: How important is social media to celebrity branding? Who’s doing an especially good job with social networks?

DM: Social media is a great way for celebrities to build their brands by getting closer to their fan base. It’s a great way to keep stars relevant with social media because they are in the public eye. For example, Lady Gaga is good at this as she tweets hints, teasers and riddles about her upcoming music and tours. Betty White is another example of someone who has used social media to connect with a younger audience. With Betty on social media, fans took to Twitter and Facebook to demand that she get a gig on SNL.

BTN: How about the dark side – can celebrities do damage control with social media? Any negative examples?

DM: If a celebrity has done a bad deed, they can certainly use social media to repair their reputation by apologizing and showing a more sincere side. Amanda Bynes is one celeb that has bombed on social media by oversharing. Some of her tweets and posts make us wonder if she is sane.

BTN: On the technology side, we’re focused on the trend toward multiscreen, interactive and audience-curated content. At the event level, are the Emmy Awards doing anything techy that’s cool and new this year?

DM: The Emmy Awards is getting more tech-savvy this year with their awards show, which airs Sunday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on CBS. They will be giving fans a backstage pass on social media @PrimetimeEmmys. Sources tell me that more than 15 cameras will be positioned in various areas on the red carpet as well as backstage to give viewers at home the exclusive Emmy experience.

BTN: How can fans follow the social media buzz before and during the awards?

DM: The hashtags #Emmys, #Emmyscongrats and #EmmysChat will be used to preview stars having candid moments when they win their Emmys, give their speech onstage, meet the press and take their Emmy photos. This is a great way for an awards show to generate buzz on social media as fans can follow, chat and discuss all of the candid moments that cannot be seen on television.

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