Master and Commander Brands

No one is born great but certain people have seized moments that have allowed for greatness to happen. Then you have certain brands that have done absolutely nothing except put out a great product coupled with a bit of good timing and even greater luck leading to that product or brand enjoying a marketing and consumer relationship nirvana that allows that brand or product to live in a Brand Valhalla.

There are brands that cross over or evolve into something much more than just merely brands. They go on to become part of the fabric of the skin their consumers wear and how they identify themselves. They’re deeper than badges; they’re tattoos of trust and finality where a consumer has bonded to the point of necessity, association and in some cases friendship. The brand is there in the good and bad times and memories are attributed to that brand or product as if it’s become “that song” where it was either your first time, your last time or God bless, your best time.

Once these brands have become part of the fabric however, the ones that continue to evolve go from being part of the outfit to THE outfit and once that happens you are truly master and commander.

Jack Daniels is a master and commander brand.

As a biker there are two things I absolutely need in my ethos and no, take your mind out the gutter. I’m not referring to those two things. I’m talking about my motorcycle of course and my Jack Daniels. Oxygen is not necessary for bikers ‘cause God knows if we could smell ourselves after we got off from a long run we wouldn’t want to breathe in anything at all but after that long run a mandatory shot of Jack is as necessary as the air we breathe. Hell, even if you don’t like Jack you drink Jack as a biker. The brand is what bikers drink. In fact, clubhouses that don’t stock the product or run out of it risk the immediate result of rioting or social media condemnation by biker nation if Jack is not available.

The product has commanded the necessity of their presence within the demographic of the biker set and because they are as integral as a Harley Davidson within the lifestyle, they have mastered a position of libation superiority that has transcended mere whiskey and become the liquid that quenches the spiritual biker soul. I know bikers that if you were to slice them you could legally sell their blood as alcohol enriched Jack Daniels whiskey.

Harley Davidson is another brand that has transcended and become a Master and Commander. There are bike clubs that won’t even allow for other bike brands to be ridden by members of the organization. Can you imagine a certain bar in your town not allowing you to come in unless you’re wearing True Religion jeans?

How the brand became a master and commander depends not just on the brand or product itself but I'd say more so on the journey it shared with the consumer. When a brand is accepted by a culture it is there to withstand the turbulence of times with that culture as well to celebrate the occasions that demand it. It in many cases becomes the family member that you can actually count on because it has always been there. Remember TV Guide? One of my friends has a hilarious story he tells from time to time about getting spanked with a TV Guide because he had hidden all his fathers belts so his father grabbed the next best thing...the TV Guide. It's a memory he has forever and when TV Guide changed from the pocketbook perfect bound to the saddle stitch my friend...and his backside...toasted farewell to a good friend. It had formed a truly lasting memory for him...and TV Guide was at its core.

For the marketer the job of continuing to market that Master & Commander brand is not as easy as it may appear because you have a violently passionate constituency that is as knowledgeable about the brand or product as the managers behind that brand. They can smell bullshit a mile away and no one likes to chase their fertilizer with marketing bullshit. Marketing these brands involves a much deeper understanding of the relationship that brand/product has with its consumer, the historical nature of that relationship and accepting to a degree where the consumer wants that relationship to go. For the marketer marketing the Master & Commander brand they must realize they are in servitude to the master and a rude wish sometimes is nothing but a polite command.

Having said that I sure could use a drink.

Marketing -- The Old Rules Still Apply

Last week Spotify made the puzzling announcement that they were shifting their US Media Planning Buying from Starcom to 360i. The move itself wasn't puzzling, 360i is a good agency run by very smart people, what was puzzling was the accompanying commentary from Spotify's VP of Creative and Strategy: "We're not a brand that plays in traditional media". Now the marketing trade pubs might have taken that comment out of context as it was reportedly said a year ago; but it does seem to be this spirit that led Spotify to hire 360i -- a digital-only shop.

As far as I know there is no published rule book for Communications Planning, but if there were one on page one of that book if would say:

You can't keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. When using only one media channel you reach a plenum or plateau and you begin spending more and more for less and less results because essentially you are talking to the same people.

Spotify has reached its plateau.

According to reported figures, their paid subscriber growth stalled sometime around March of 2013 and while they have been able to drive growth recently by close to 50%, these spikes have largely been driven by deep discounting which will likely result in a high churn rate once all the freebee's run out. So what once was hockey-stick line of growth has now become almost a flat line and I suspect it was one of, if not the reason, for the agency change.

Spotify has a number of issues facing it not the least of which is that artists are starting to pull their catalogues because of the royalties they are paid...or more appropriately not paid. Taylor Swift is the most recent and prominent artist to do so but Adele, Radiohead, Coldplay, David Byrne, Beyonce and The Black Keys all have either pulled their catalogue or only allow Spotify access after time has passed after new releases.

Spotify is also facing real competition for the first time by companies that nobody wants as competitors -- Apple and Google. Beats Music (owned by Apple) YouTube (owned by Google) are figuring out how to go to market in a significant way with streaming music.

However, the competition is still in their infancy and it is only big name artists who can afford not to be on Spotify, so neither one or both can be used to explain away lack of real growth.

Spotify's biggest current problem might well be themselves and their philosophy that they don't "play in traditional media".

If Spotify, and the investors that keep funding them, desire for something more than straight-line subscriber growth, they might want well want to begin "playing" in little bit bigger marketing sandbox than they have been playing in up to this point.

Having a Fool for a Client...Why In-House Programmatic Is A Bad Idea

Yesterday I was speaking with a couple of colleagues and the conversation turned to the hot topic of Programmatic Buying and whether not companies should begin moving it in-house.

My colleagues both felt that it made sense to move in-house for a couple of reasons: First, there would transparency on the buying costs, which is still an issue for a number of trading desks and by some estimates put the "lost" client budget due to unseen fees or trading profits by as much at 30%. And, secondly, the company would "own" its data as opposed to being into a pool of data to be used by the trading desk and all their other clients, and in the era of Big Data nothing is more valuable than the data you own and can sell or not have be sold to others.

While we were talking I was reminded of Lincoln's quote about lawyer's representing themselves -- that the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.

I was reminded of it because moving in-house seems to be similar mistake in many ways.

Why? Because it is inevitable in companies that control their own buying and data that they begin molding these to and for the company's agenda; in other words taking their own advice. Soon company's begin finding what they want to find as opposed to what the need to find. And they inevitably fall behind the market on modeling, pricing and best practice.

Let me explain by way of an example. A number of years ago I had a client that I and the rest of the industry recognized as one of the paragons of data collection, remarketing, prospecting, upselling and so on. In fact both Forbes and Harvard Business Review had covered their capabilities as "best-in-class". 

They had massive data base and six segmented audiences with at least three sub-segments for each parent segmentation and could pretty much predict when anyone would use their services and how they would do so.

When they had hired us they had reached a plateau and wanted ways to continue growth and had wanted media planning an buying to help with that. From the first meeting on it was apparent what the issue was and it wasn't solely having to do with media planning and buying. 

The company's very sophisticated segments and models were so sophisticated that that a data narcissism had taken over such that their model and segments were built solely on how customers interacted with their company, not on how customers interacted with the category nor the competitors nor the rest of the marketplace.

Now this might seem like a "no-brainer", however, I have seen this over and over again at companies that are considered, and are, best in class. They solely parse the data that is available to them and not to the whole of the marketplace largely because other data might not be available, or the costs are too high to buy it and they consider themselves the best anyway so what else can they learn?

Well a lot actually, and I think this is the most compelling reason not to move in-house. I think internal pressures and agendas are natural and very quickly the trading desk would be focusing on these. And, in the Big Data future being bound to one data set is going to impede growth.

It will be crucial to access data pools outside of a company's own existing database and go beyond narcissistic benchmarking and best practice regimens not only for media pricing but for enhanced modeling, prospecting, cross-selling, and upselling as well and one way to do that is to hire an outside Programmatic buyer.