Yahoo, Yodel, Yodel House

What’s the ROI on SXSW investment?

Yahoo, Yodel, Yodel House
The Yahoo Yodel House at SXSW 2015

The amount of money spent by companies trying to capture the attention of the tens of thousands of people visiting SXSW this year will run in to many millions of dollars.  The return they are likely to get on it is questionable.  Part of the problem is that most will have set no clear goals; part is that even those that did will not have any way to measure whether or not they have been achieved, let alone quantify the value delivered as a result of their investment.

Let’s take Yahoo! as an example.  I use it because it is one of the bigger names and it had a huge presence at the event, taking over one of Austin’s premier event and live music venues [according to its website], Brazos Hall.  Other similar examples include GE, IBM and VISA.

I visited the Yahoo ‘Yodel’ House a couple of times during my trip to SXSW and they had spared no expense.  There were the standard free drinks, lavish decoration in brand colours [which was changed on a regular basis], an AV set up that most local television stations would be envious of, venue managers, security, bar staff… you get the idea.  On both occasions it was buzzing.

My question is what was the point?  What did Yahoo! get out of it?  The lounge was busy.  People had a good time. They were able to recharge their devices.  They had a few [more] free drinks. My question to them is, SO WHAT?  What’s the tangible benefit?  The return on investment?

My peers would claim that visitors were engaging with the brand. They’ll say the Yodel House created buzz; pictures were shared on Instagram; people were Meerkat-ing [sic]; tweeting; hashtagging… This is often called ’brand awareness’ or brand marketing [it might be awareness, but it’s not marketing] and that’s great, but it is also unquantifiable! It has no tangible value.

I use this not to single out Yahoo! but to illustrate a growing trend.  Companies through huge amounts of money at making on awareness but without considering whether it makes financial sense to do so.  Often there is little thought about what the long-term return will be, let alone the short-term one.

It’s a dangerous trend. Sure, companies like Yahoo! and their ilk can afford it. They have deep pockets.  Some smaller companies have VC money they can “invest”, but the majority don’t.  And, if there is no tangible value then surely the money could be better invested in other things?  Things that are likely to deliver a return. Things that are likely to support the growth of the business – not just brand awareness for its own sake.

How many people that visited the Yahoo! lounge at SXSW will have gone home and changed their default search engine from Google to Yahoo!?  I think you know the answer to that.

Startup and SmallBiz Marketing tip: understand what action you want people to take and focus your time, energy and money on achieving it.  Successful marketing begins with strong relationships built via public relations.

PR & marketing killed Target in Canada

Target has just announced that its expansion in to Canada will end, with the closure of 133 stores.  Why? A fundamental failure of the company’s marketing.  Target failed to understand the market and, as a result, failed to provide the products Canadian customers wanted, at the right price and failed to promote itself correctly.

I remember my first trip to a Target south of the border in the mid 1990s. It was a revelation.  Living as I did in the UK there was nothing like Target – somewhere you could go to get almost everything at incredibly competitive prices.  Having visited Target stores in the US many times since I moved to Canada in 2010 the experience in my local Canadian store was a very different experience.

Having experienced the US stores, Canadians wanted that same combination of product choice and price that they experienced there, but the company failed to replicate it successfully in Canada. This breach of customer goodwill made Canadian customers think differently about the company.  Combine this with a lack of a clear differentiator between stores like Canadian Tire and Walmart and you have all of the ingredients for failure.

That, in my opinion, is the reason for Target’s failure in Canada.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: business success is based on building and maintaining solid relationships with the people that matter most to achieving it.  Don’t take your customers for granted and be prepared to stick with it for the long haul. If you change the brand experience – a combination of value proposition, core values and customer experience – then you fundamentally change the relationship you have with customers.

BlackBerry Has Lost Control

Update: An unsubstantiated rumour on May 11 2015 that Apple could be interested in acquiring all, or part, of BlackBerry caused the Waterloo-based company’s stock price to skyrocket.

Yesterday I explained that BlackBerry is facing its biggest challenge yet as it looks to turn the business around: an increasing number of people, including once loyal users, appear not to care.  Shortly before the markets closed yesterday a report surfaced claiming Samsung had approached the Waterloo-based company about a takeover.  The share price rocketed before falling back in after hours trading as the approach was denied by BlackBerry.

It’s another demonstration of a company’s future [and stock price] is in the hands of others.  The fact that the only people who appear  interested in BlackBerry are investors, looking to make a quick buck on M&A rumours, rather than a long-term recovery of the business through selling products customers – it has been reported the company is having trouble winning back corporate customers] want to buy then it reinforces the point I made in my earlier post.

The company has lost control of its own destiny.  It is at the mercy of its news agenda.  It cannot control [I would argue it is unable to define a clear brand or value proposition] its own destiny. It’s the last place a company ever wants to be and it appears not to know how to regain control.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?  Tell me in the comments below.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: whatever you do, retain control of your brand and its perception.  When a third-party has control your business is almost certainly doomed.

$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications

BlackBerry has a death wish!

The BlackBerry Passport launches tomorrow. The question is will anybody care?

The company has, yet again, failed to build the relationships it needed to change the perception of the company, and its marketing around the launch of the new handset has been woeful. Again.

I wrote 18 months ago about my launch plan for the company’s BB10 devices and have been reflecting on what I would do differently for Passport. In reality, much of my BB10 remains unimplemented and would have give the company a better chance of success than anything I’ve seen to date.

The only thing I would change from my original plan would be the device cost. Announced yesterday, $599 dollars off contract is too much. A 50 dollar difference between the Passport and the iPhone 6 won’t persuade people to give BlackBerry another chance. Many wouldn’t switch if the price differential was $500. It’s not so much about the handset, although the Passport is an acquired style choice, but about the brand image.

There are those that have claimed, ‘market share is not BlackBerry’s game’. Some have said it’s about margin. Some who say the company is focused on Enterprise, not consumers.

So why even mention the price differential to the competitors? Why mention the comparative size of the screen? Make a clear statement that you’re focused on a different market.

Lastly, and most importantly, BlackBerry has failed to communicate these clearly via PR and marketing to build relationships and get people to take the action you want them to. BlackBerry has failed on all counts and it’s running out of runway.

I wrote almost three years ago that BlackBerry was its own worst enemy.  Nothing I’ve seen since convinces me otherwise!

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip:  Don’t get distracted by the competition. Don’t be scared to sell on differentiators. Be prepared to trade on the value you deliver in the eyes of your customers and prospects – and if that doesn’t work… it’s over.

BlackBerry: the easy part is over. Now the hard work begins.

Blackberry’s stock has rallied in recent days.  Buoyed by John Chen’s announcement that the restructuring of the company is over, many people have started to talk about turnaround and of better days ahead.  The reality is that the restructure was the easy bit.  The hard part – selling devices and in increasing volumes than in recent years – may yet consign the company to the mobile telecommunications history books.  It’s a part of the jigsaw puzzle that the company has been notably poor at in recent years. 

The nadir being had to be the company’s Super Bowl advert that left many scratching their heads at what they had witnessed.

The Blackberry YouTube account shows more than 1.2 million views – some would claim this to be a success because it created ‘buzz’. But when the advert served no valuable purpose it did far more damage than good.

In order for Blackberry to complete the turnaround that Chen now says he
believes is 80:20 in favor of successfully being executed it needs to retain its existing customer base and start to capture those that have in recent years abandoned the company.   That is going to require a PR and marketing campaign the likes of which the company hasn’t seen for at least a decade.  I’d even suggest it would take a campaign to
rival the one credited with turning around a failing Apple Computer in 1998.
 Blackberry needs to beat the master marketer, Steve Jobs, at his own game.

Before you start, I’m not suggesting that Blackberry go after iPhone customers.
 I think to continue down that path would be the death knell for the company.
 What I’m talking about is something that gives Blackberry diehards, and those
that could be tempted back, a reason to buy a new Blackberry over any of an
increasing number of attractive alternatives.  The company needs to be clear about what it stands for – and why people should care.  

In order to do this the company needs first to identify who its audience is and start to rebuild some of the burned bridges with a PR program.  Its value proposition needs to be clear and its message compelling.  It also needs to deliver it in a consistent way across
multiple platforms, both directly and via traditional, online and social media
channels.  This is something that the company has struggled to do, despite it being one of the most important parts of a successful turnaround.

Unless the company can successfully rebuild relationships and deliver marketing that encourages consumers [B2B or B2C] to take action then the company is doomed, no matter what their financial position is.  They’ll be consigned to the lower leagues of the mobile telecommunications marketplace – something they’ve been trying to avoid ever since Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone.

Do you think Blackberry will make it?

Read my continuing analysis of BlackBerry’s turbulent struggle

Social Media, Brand Called Obama, Yes We Can

What The Brand Called Obama Means For Your Business

Yesterday I was lucky enough to interview business journalist Ellen McGirt about a piece she wrote back in 2008, called ‘The Brand Called Obama‘.  It tells the story of the President’s campaign – both to get the Democratic nomination and for President – and how he used social media to build the ‘Yes We Can’ platform.

I wanted to know what businesses and politicians could learn from what Obama did more than 6 years ago.  Here’s my interview:

What do you think companies can learn from Obama’s use of social media?  Why do you think more politicians haven’t been able to emulate what he did?

Apple. Greener.

Apple released a new video on its website today – called Better.  It sets out the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability and many believe it suggests Tim Cook’s vision for the company.  To that point it is voiced by Cook.

Watch Apple’s Better now.

Released for Earth Day the video suggests that Apple may be back in the game of value-based PR.  ‘Better’ has all the hallmarks of the THINK DIFFERENT video that many see as the start of the rise the company has been on for the last 15 years and is focuses on the values – what it stands for – as it looks to continue to dominate the mobile, post-PC and media distribution industries.

I’ve written about the importance of values to the foundation of Apple’s brand during the Steve Jobs era – and how they’ve moved away from them under Cook’s tenure.  ‘Better’ fits the THINK model of delivering the right message to the right audience, at the right time via the right channel – and appears to be a move in the right direction and could provide the company with a new point of differentiation over competitors like Google, Samsung and Motorola.

I hope it is the start of a trend where companies build relationships with their audiences based on values, not product specification.  Apple will ultimately lose a battle based on feature and function.  A battle based on values… a battle for hearts and minds, however… now that is a battle Apple could win.  Easily.  It is for that reason that ‘Better’ could be the most significant piece of communications the company has issued in the post Steve Jobs phase of the business.

Want to know why values are so important? This is why.

Why Maserati’s Super Bowl Advert, “Strike” Was Really Public Relations.

Did you see Maserati’s first TV advert?  What did you think?  I’ve watched it… I don’t know how many times and every time I watch it I’m impressed.  Very impressed.  Many people didn’t understand it when it ran.  Most hadn’t heard of the Marque, let alone the Ghibli brand. Questions and analysis about the advert quickly spread on Twitter.  What was the 90 second spot all about?

Most Super Bowl adverts use humour or celebrity. Most are showy.  This one was like watching a trailer for a movie – I keep thinking the Will Smith movie ‘After Earth’ should have done something similar.  But the Maserati advert wasn’t really an advert, it was a public relations tactic.  A masterpiece.  It was the start of rebuilding relationships with customers that had purchased the ill-fated Ghibli of the 1980s; customers of other four-door sedans who secretly wanted an Italian sports sedan, but couldn’t afford the $140,000 for a Quattreporte.  Strike was about saying we’ve watched and learned; we’ve listened; and now we’re back.

UPDATE: The company reported that it closed 2014 with its best year ever in North America, with sales growth of 169%.  It sold 13,411 vehicles in the year; 12,844 of them after the Super Bowl spot ran.  Assuming an average of 100,000 per vehicle [the Ghibli starts at $67,000 with the Quattroporte costing between $108 and $140,000] that’s revenues somewhere in the region of a $1.2bn on an estimated $20m [space plus spot production] investment in public relations.

What is ‘Brand?’

You often hear entrepreneurs talking about launching a brand. The reality is it is not something that you create and communicate to your audiences – you build it. Your brand is what your audiences say about your business when you leave the room and it’s a combination of everything you do and everything you say.

Brands take time and effort to build and are based on values, rather than features, functions or publicity. They are also very easily destroyed. When you’re thinking about building your brand – about the things you want your audiences to say about you when you’re not in the room – think about what values they will buy in to and how you and your team members can demonstrate that to them on a daily basis.

Brand is often very closely tied to an entrepreneur’s vision, but needs to be like a stick of seaside rock – the values must be consistent wherever somebody engages with it, from sales to product development, customer service to social media.

Watch  more PR Espresso episodes

$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications

BlackBerry MUST Die!

$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications
BlackBerry MUST Die!

Whether Fairfax Financial, Google, Cisco, Samsung, former founder Jim Balsillie or, my favourite, Apple end up with all or part of troubled Canadian telecoms company BlackBerry one thing is clear: the BlackBerry name must die. This won’t be a problem in the event that the company is broken up, but should Balsillie or Fairfax chief Prem Watsa succeed in their bids and take the company private the chances of succeeding will be small unless the new owner changes the name.

Here are three reasons why:

  • The BlackBerry brand is irrevocably damaged. It’s become synonymous with delays, undelivered promises, disappointment and, ultimately, failure. If the company has any chance of successfully re-establishing a serious place in the handset market then it will need a new identity.
  • Once BlackBerry hangs out the ‘under new ownership’ sign the company will likely take on a new direction and that fresh start predicates a new identity. BlackBerry is synonymous with the world of the early 2000s, not the sort that are currently being sold by the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google and, even, Microsoft.
  • BlackBerry says Enterprise. If the new company has visions of providing handsets and services to a wider audience, whether directly, or as a service running on third-party handsets, it needs to shake off those Enterprise perceptions.

The truth is that whatever the company is called, in order for the startup formally called BlackBerry to succeed it needs to go back to the start and re-think its value proposition, target audience and validate its marketing assumptions.  It needs to go back to basics and create an entirely new strategic communications plan.

If you were running the startup formally known as BlackBerry, what would you call it?