Big Brand Hits and Misses From 2013
by Robert Liljenwall
It’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