The list was compiled by John Tantillo, who markets his services as “The Marketing Doctor” and is the author of People Buy Brands Not Companies. Tantillo is a contributor to Fox News and Fox Business Network and hosts a weekly radio show, Brand Talk’s Go Brand Yourself!, on WVOX 1460 AM. E-mail him at doc@BrandTalkRadio.com.
No company, service nor individual will ever be all things to all people. What matters is that the company or individual is the right things to the right people. With this in mind, here are 2013′s brand winners and losers:
2013 Brand Winners:
Hope that referring to Pope Francis as a “rock star” will not offend anyone, but he really is a religious rock star! How can one dislike a dignitary who is humble and eschews opulence? In a recent local TV story in New York, it was reported that among high school students on New York’s Long Island, church attendance was up and students wanted to know more about the pope. This is a great step. Branding and marketing is all about satisfying needs, and Pope Francis is now the Catholic church’s new CMO, chief marketing officer. What a wonderful brand to have at this time!
US Air/American Airlines
The merger of these two great brands has created the largest airline in the world. US Air will become the New American Airlines and will then have to drop “new” in order to adhere to FTC guidelines.
American Airlines has been a brand since 1930 and has many brand loyalists, while US Air, which changed its name from Allegany Airlines in 1979, will defer to the older, more established brand name, which is a very good thing. Some may question whether this merger will be good for American Airlines and US Air customers. It could very well be a split decision, where American Airlines customers feel that brand services are diminished while US Air clients may perceive that service is enhanced. Whatever side one is on, we will have to wait for the results. Let us hope that the New American keeps their new and old customers in mind.
You know when your brand has heft when one of the richest men in the world decides to become a partner in a $23 billion deal. Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. decided to own half of H.J. Heinz Co. and supply cash to help fund the acquisition by 3G Capital. 3G Capital, an investment firm with offices in Rio de Janeiro and New York City, will control operations at the food brand.
Even though in October of this year Heinz Ketchup was dropped from McDonald’s as the condiment of choice, good things are ahead for this venerable brand if silly corporate missteps are avoided in the future. This can be accomplished by having the branding and marketing team stay strong and continue its commitment to satisfying the needs of their customers. Let’s see what the future holds for this robust brand.
The Royal Family/Prince George
Just when you thought we were finished with the Royal Family, Prince George comes along as a new celebrity brand. Not only do we have on the royal stage two charming and attractive parents, we now have a little one who can make even the critical stop and stare.
In addition to getting our attention, Prince George reminds us about family and how best to live up to that royal brand name. He will learn early what he can and can’t do and what is expected of him as a royal. No matter who wears the crown, it is all about service and duty, and this is what Prince George will learn, like his father before him. The strength of the royal family rests on this long-term consistency. As his great-great grandmother refused to leave London during the blitz, putting herself at risk and endearing herself to the British people, Prince George will understand family tradition and how this quality can satisfy the needs of his people.
The great American snack cake, marketed as a “Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling,” is still a brand with legs. Twinkies were made and distributed by Hostess Brands until early 2013, when Hostess announced that they were closing their doors. In July 2013, Twinkies were once again available in the United States, thanks to the marketing savvy of Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. The lesson learned by Twinkies is to know your target market and then give them what they want. Health-conscious “granola munchers” are not members of the Twinkies target market and will never eat nor buy this long-loved American brand. As marketers, we must understand this and adhere to a basic branding principle: it is all about the customer, no matter what anybody tells you.
2013 Brand Losers:
No matter what side of the aisle you are on, this brand has not had a positive rollout. Part of the problem is that the brand name alienated a third of the market even before it was introduced to potential customers, which is not a good thing from a branding and marketing perspective. Handlers of brand Obamacare should have corrected this provocative brand name from the start with a reminder: It is the “Affordable Care Act,” NOT Obamacare.
The problem with brand Obamacare is not only in the name. In the months and years to come, the overall marketing of the plan will be studied by graduate students across the country. The real issue is not whether they call it “Obamacare,” the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” or the “Affordable Care Act.” It is whether the brand name really satisfies the needs of customers.
If you replaced your Blackberry with another smart phone device, you prove my point: Blackberry must be a 2013 Brand Loser. Brands are all about satisfying customer needs and Blackberry simply did not meet them. With their “app-unfriendly” devices, competitors like Apple and Samsung came into the market and caused a migration away from the once-robust brand. Why? Because the competition saw what potential customers wanted and gave it to them. With users moving away from phone-only devices, one could see that it was only a matter of time before the Blackberry would be a brand of the past. The lesson here: Always be branding, which means always be listening to what your customers are saying.
Carnival Cruise Lines
When one mentions the Carnival Cruise brand, you probably think of five days of nonworking toilets (Carnival Triumph ) and 4300 passengers having to be flown back to their respective homes because of technical problems (Carnival Dream). This is not good for a brand’s image, especially when one is in the business of providing leisurely vacations where one wants to get away from the stresses of mainland life.
By taking three months to replace their previous CEO with Arnold Donald, there were clear signs that Carnival simply did not get it, and this is why Carnival is the 2013 brand loser. In addition, it was only when New York Senator Chuck Schumer threatened to introduce a Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights legislation that the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) (not Carnival Cruise Line) adopted a cruise passenger bill of rights very similar to the one proposed by Schumer. What were they thinking? Carnival’s stock remains more than one-third below its 2004 peak, a reminder of how much reputation is left to mend. With a new CEO in charge, hope springs eternal that they will get it right in 2014 and beyond.
Paula Deen is a brand loser for reasons you may not think. Even though one can never accept anyone using hateful language, she worried too much about what her critics thought and forgot about her customers.
Those who criticized her were not her fans or customers, plain and simple. She worried too much about herself and too little about her customers. If Paula Deen would have had an Internet-based show targeted to her customers in addition to her Food Network one, perhaps this would have saved her a great deal of brand angst. After her Matt Lauer interview, book purchases by her fans doubled in one day, which is further evidence that knowing your target market and not worrying about bad publicity is what branding is all about. The lesson to be learned here is that it is not about you, it is always about your customers.
Here is an example where the CEO, Ron Johnson, thought he knew more about what his customers wanted than what his customers really wanted. He erred in two ways: first, by getting rid of sales (discounting) and replacing it with his “everyday low pricing” strategy; and second, by attempting to attract a more upscale market in a short period of time.
Marketers and branders can never overestimate the importance of knowing one’s customer and what they want now (not what they wanted six months ago, but what they want today). It is important to emphasize this so that the products and services will meet customer’s needs at that moment. This is a good lesson for all of us: branding is not about us, it is all about our customer. No matter how smart we think we are, when it comes to branding, it is whether our customers like what we are offering them. If they do not like the product or service, then we have nothing to sell. It was obvious that the thoughtful Ron Johnson failed to realize it is all about your customers, no matter how logical your argument may be.