Tag: strategy

Gene Simmons on Brand Development

gene simmons brand development
If there is any band in music that understands brand development, longevity and merchandising, it is KISS, and, for that success they can largely thank Gene Simmons and his personal PR campaign.

Loud, brash and brazen in concert, Simmons – aka The Demon – is also a reality TV star and marketing genius behind much of KISS’s plethora of swag, mementos, and souvenirs. What is it about Simmons that makes him so successful?

Gene Simmons Net-Worth Continues To Rise

First, nothing is ever good enough. When asked why he keeps going, even with a net worth reportedly exceeding $300 million, Simmons is quick to answer, “I’ll never stop hunting more money. I’ll never have enough. Life is business … I must keep moving.”

While some people may pretend otherwise, the want – or need – for more cash is a fine reason to continue to push and grow and strive for greater success. From the very beginning, Simmons pushed the group to sell as much merchandise as they could. From plush dolls to lunchboxes and TV shows … KISS is not happy unless they are leveraging their fame and hard work for more money and fame … which can lead to even more money. Not a bad cycle, really.

Big Ideas and Bigger Fanbase

The key, for Simmons, has been about keeping the brand in front of current and potential fans as much as possible. He understands that a band can only produce so much music, so they can only sell so many records. But they can sell swag to the same people who buy the records…so why not? The system increases the fan’s connection to the band, which, in turn, increases the band’s fanbase and popularity.

And, that, really, is the key factor. No matter what you are selling, if you have customers, you should do what you can to turn those customers into fans. Fans feel a part of your brand, not just a consumer of it. That connection is the real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As the brand, you give greater meaning and value to the fan, and they return that connection with greater brand loyalty. Everyone wins, or, in Simmons’ case, they keep rocking all night…every night.

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Amtrak’s Crisis PR Is Off The Rails

amtrak-derail-crisis-public-relations
Days after the deadly Pennsylvania Amtrak crash while investigators are still trying to sort out what happened, the rail line is trying to pick up the PR pieces. The crisis PR has not been good – and that will continue to be an uphill battle. Already tiny factoids are popping up on social media comparing airline travel and rail travel.

The main question being asked by investigators is “why did the train speed up when it was supposed to be slowing down.” According to reports, when approaching a curve rated for no faster than 50 mph, the train, which had been traveling at 70 mph, sped up to more than 100 mph. At this point, investigators say they are unclear as to whether or not the train speed was increased manually by the engineer.

To this point, investigators have found no issues with the track or the mechanics of the train. But that is not the question the general consumer public is asking. All they can see is that a train was going too fast and killed at least eight people and sent 200 more to local hospitals. “Why” is a secondary concern. They want to feel safe, and they don’t, regardless of what caused the issue.

And, because they don’t feel safe, speculation rules. Despite the fact investigators have already released the information that the engineer was not using his cell phone and had not been drinking or using drugs, people are still – loudly – asking “what went wrong” with the driver.

Spokesmen have said that no “common sense rational person” would think it okay to travel at that rate of speed in that turn, but this is not comforting.

In point of fact, there’s no evidence to prove the engineer is a “crazy person.” But now that this idea is in the head of the public, it’s not just going to sit down and die. It may fester and spread.

Amtrak has a multifaceted PR nightmare. They are dealing with the facts of the case as they are revealed, AND they are dealing with countless speculations and outright rumors that are being generated by all the PR missteps. Every mishap leads to crisis PR – and those who handle it well have less damage than those who do not.

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Sainsbury Chief Headed to Jail

sainsburys
Things just went from bad to much, much worse for Mike Coupe, head of British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s. Coupe was just handed a two-year jail sentence in Egyptian courts for “attempting to seize checks from Egyptian businesses sixteen years ago. At the time, Sainsbury’s was trying to break into the region. According to reports, Egyptian courts said they convicted Coupe because he is the most senior employee of the company. When Coupe chose to skip the trial, he was convicted in absentia. The conviction won’t mean much as long as Coupe steers clear of Egypt, but, even still, the conviction is a prime example of how unfair both legal and public relations issues can become.

Unfair? Yes, definitely. How else can you describe being convicted of a crime based on the actions of a company that, at the time did not employ you. That’s right, Coupe was convicted even though he had not met the complainants and he was in London – not employed by Sainsbury’s – at the time of the incidents.

Sainsbury’s PR team has fired back, calling the claims – and the conviction – groundless and promising to appeal. Of course, from a PR perspective, the conviction just pushes more pressing business into an unforgiving public light.

First, Sainsbury’s foray into Egypt turned out to be a disaster. The company tried to find a place in the market but failed, at a cost of 111 million pounds and a loss of 100 stores. Of course, that was sixteen years ago…but it gets worse. Amidst falling sales and dropping stock value, the company was expected to cut hundreds of jobs across the board. Even the most frivolous lawsuits bring these other very real and very painful items to the surface.

That’s the PR lesson here. Nothing happens in a vacuum. If something goes wrong while something else bad is happening or on the heels of another PR crisis, the whole is always worse than the sum of its parts. The two negative stories – if not stopped – can feed on each other, creating a self-sustaining wave of negative PR that is difficult to stop. The earlier your PR team can get out ahead of the story and stop it, the better it will be. Wait too long, and it may be too late to do anything at all. At that point, your brand is at the mercy of the news cycle and your customers’ attention spans. Don’t ever let it come to that.

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Will Facebook’s Focus Shift to Mobile Ads?

facebook mobile advertisement

Has the whole world gone mobile? Apparently. Fresh off its app split – remember all the controversy over the FB messenger app? – Facebook has announced a move toward more mobile advertising.

The move comes on the heels of less than stellar first quarter revenues. When Wall Street hemmed and hawed, the folks at Facebook decided to look at a fairly bright silver lining. User engagement and mobile ad revenue were both up, indicators that user habits are shifting…and so is the profit center. How skewed is that shift?

Well, according to reports, mobile accounted for about 87% of Facebook’s active user base. That’s up 24% over the same time last year. More people going mobile? A lot more apparently. Try roughly 1.25 BILLION users. That’s a lot of clicks.

Given this massive shift toward mobile use, it’s not surprising that Facebook’s mobile revenue is also on the rise. Nearly three-quarters of Facebook’s total advertising revenue came from mobile ads in the first quarter of 2015.

More importantly, daily user numbers are up. 936 million users access the site daily, a massive number that is both driven by and driving the shift to mobile, as well as mobile profitability. These markers fit well into Facebook’s ongoing strategy to reach more users across the world, specifically in places where the Internet is only or primarily accessible on a mobile device.

But to truly tip the scales, Facebook needs more major marketers to invest in mobile. While that trend is promising, it isn’t quite there yet, creating some tentativeness in the company’s approach to the not yet fully tapped mobile market. When that happens, expect the Internet’s social media Big Dog to telegraph a sea change in the way everyone uses and profits from online content.

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Microsoft at 40 – Where will the Brand go from Here?

changes-at-microsoft

A recent report by CNN released an email sent by none other than the godfather of the computing age – Bill Gates. Apparently, the Microsoft co-founder sent the email as a way to connect with Microsoft employees and celebrate four decades of changing the world, one computer at a time, since 1975.

According to CNN, here’s what the email said: “Early on, Paul Allen and I see the goal of a computer on every desk and in every home. It was a bold idea, and a lot of people thought we were out of our minds to imagine it was possible. It is amazing to think about how far computing has come since then, and we can all be proud of the role Microsoft played in that revolution.”

It really is incredible when you think about how things were when Gates and Allen made that goal compared to what the world is today. Back then, no one saw much need for this upstart idea of the “personal computer,” but now billions across the globe are carrying computers in their pockets. From crazy idea to individual necessity in a generation. That’s the power of an idea whose time has come.

But Gates was not just looking back. In the same message he praised the leadership of current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, saying, “In my role as technical advisor to Satya, I get to join product reviews and am impressed by the vision and talent I see.”

But do you see what he did there? Gates is not only offering support and approval, he is tacitly revealing his current role in the company. Never one to shy away from making decisions, Gates is seen now as the face of his billion-dollar international charity and less the face of Microsoft, but his shadow still looms large in every way that matters. Far from the hands-off godfather, Gates is still a major player in the present and future of the company that helped make him the richest man in the world. And, even in a celebratory email, he is casting vision and defining the company.

“I hope you will think about what you can do to make the power of technology accessible to everyone, to connect people to each other, and make personal computing available everywhere.”

That may sound like a happy thought, but coming from this source, it’s more like marching orders.

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Target Rebounds After Breach

target data breach

These days it seems like news of major retailer data breaches has become weekly events. But even the frequency of these breaches does little to calm the public outrage when they happen. Surviving to re-engage and thrive after a breach is a tough hill to climb, and no company seems to have managed that obstacle better than Target.

Back in 2013 Target experienced a massive data breach, compromising the credit card records of a huge number of customers. Business, as expected, took a serious hit. Sales stalled as customers began opting for cash – or not shopping at Target. Since then, Target and new CEO Brian Cornell have been working hard to bring the business back from the brink. According to CNN, their efforts have yielded a steady rise in sales and a stock price at an all time high.

Since Cornell took the helm, Target stock has jumped 40% while Walmart stock has only risen 11%. There are several reasons for this, including cost cutting measures that made Wall Street investors smile. But these internal measures were only the beginning. Cornell has also instigated a focused marketing campaign that highlights four categories in which Target has seen continued success.

In addition to a massive marketing push involving kids fashion, Target is also doubling down on messaging related to its baby products, children’s products and wellness. These retail segments have proven steadily profitable, and Cornell is wisely doubling down on his fastest horses.

This – ahem – targeted PR allows the company to focus on highly profitable growth areas while other product lines play catch up. Buried just under the surface of this approach is a return to Target’s winning message: “We are stylish, yet affordable.”

That message quickly and effectively separated Target from its closest competitor, Walmart, making it the choice of a hipper, trendier segment of the consumer market for whom Walmart had been both a necessity and a punchline. Target became a status definer. “Poor” people went to Walmart. Chic people – with similar bank balances – shopped at Target. The company rode that distinction to massive market success, ripping market share away from Walmart in market after market. The massive data breach stalled that juggernaut. But now Target’s decision makers have found a winning message to recapture that position…as long as they keep hitting the mark with the right audience.

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Maserati Takes Aim at Porsche

maserati vs porsche ronn torossian

When it comes to high-performance coupes, both Porsche and Jaguar have legions of loving and dedicated fans. But now, according to Ronn Torossian, there’s a new player on the scene that should create a rather interesting automotive love triangle. Maserati recently introduced the Alfieri coupe, a 2016 model that seems clearly aimed at stealing market share from Porsche’s vaunted 911 and Jag’s adored F-Type. When Maserati presented a version of the Alfieri at the recent Geneva Motor Show, high-performance car fans ignited.

Some of the reasons to love the Alfieri include 404 horsepower right out of the gate, with options that can crank that power up to either 444 or an asphalt boiling 510. Fortunately, the standard all-wheel drive will allow the Alfieri to hug that scorched asphalt every inch of the way. Not that long ago, Maserati pledged to move 75,000 cars a year by 2018, but brand reps insist the Alfieri is not the car to make that happen. Instead, their new performance coupe is slated to be a low-volume model, more of a shock and awe campaign to illuminate the entire Maserati line.

Take note, brand managers. This is an excellent strategy when you are repping a brand with a perennial seat on the outside looking in. Yes, Maserati has a dedicated core of fans, but not nearly the raving and raging fan base of its closest competitors. This is partly because Maserati has always been about “exclusivity and luxury.” It’s the brand that doesn’t want to be popular with all the people…just all the right people. Still, those “exclusive” people tend to have the cash to be very selective, and they often buy with flash and panache in mind…at least as much as performance. Given that market reality, Maserati has to step out of its We’re For the Select Few mold and aggressively go after those coveted “few.”

The Alfieri should get them looking, more than once, not just at the Alfieri but at the entire Maserati line. Exposing the “right people” to all that you offer can help raise the water level across your entire brand. You will attract potential customers who may not want your “grabber” product, but might fall in love with something else you offer…something they would not have otherwise given a first, much less a second, thought.

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AOL Founder: Now is the ‘Pivotal Point’ of the Internet

aol founder ronn torossian

Speaking to a crowd of thousands of tech junkies and industry entrepreneurs at the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive technology festival, keynote speaker and former AOL CEO Steve Case stated that the world is at a “pivotal point” of the internet as the Web enters its third wave.

The first wave, of which Case’s AOL was at the forefront, ran from 1985 through 2000 or so and consisted of the internet’s rise in popular culture from a closed-off network used by governments and educators to a utility-like commodity billions depend on every day. When the internet hit its second wave around the turn of the millennium, large companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and eBay rose to power, further incorporating the Web into everyday life.

Now we are at a crossroads, Case says, as the third wave begins. This new era will be characterized by new disruptive companies tackling more areas of daily life: food, healthcare, transportation and energy, among others. Those entrepreneurs who are successful will need to “understand the battle ahead.”

Fueling the transition will be a greater access to capital than even in Silicon Valley’s high-flying “bubble” days. Crowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have democratized the funding of new tech companies and products, allowing developers to connect directly with those interested in a new idea. Meanwhile, venture capitalist firms and large companies have embraced the idea of activist investing, using the commercial sector toward the public’s greater good. Case used the examples of Toms and Etsy as two cutting-edge for-profit companies who have managed to help communities worldwide through activism and giving back.

Finally, Silicon Valley, today’s worldwide center of the tech world, will no longer have a monopoly on the brightest minds and most promising companies as new regional hubs in the United States and elsewhere pop up to serve an expanding industry. In Kansas City, Pittsburgh and the North Carolina coast, as well as regions in the Middle East and Africa, this process has already begun. A decentralized tech industry will encourage innovation, competition and a reformatting of tech culture that has become somewhat dysfunctional, Case says.

AOL took 10 years to reach 1 million users, a feat today’s most-successful social networks and smartphone apps accomplish in a period of days or weeks. The Web as a communication medium has come a long way since the U.S. government legalized its commercial use in 1992, and Case says the new era is just getting started.

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Singers Get Crunchy over Granola

 

haulin oats pr

Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but copyright infringement will get you nowhere but court. That, says Ronn Torossian, is a lesson an NYC-based granola company is learning the hard way. Powerhouse singer-songwriters Hall & Oates are suing a Brooklyn-based granola company for selling a brand of granola called “Haulin’ Oats.”

Hall & Oates took the company to federal court to stop them from selling the product, stating that to do so violates their trademark and damages their brand. The company in question, Early Bird Foods, has yet to comment on the suit in the media, but has decided to take another tack. They offered a discount on their product online where customers use a coupon code based on a hit Hall & Oates song. Definitely have to give them credit for wit, but that promotional stunt may just backfire.

This is the second time Hall & Oates have sued a company for marketing a brand labeled “Haulin’ Oats.” Back in 2014, the duo learned a Kentucky-based company was selling oatmeal under the same name. They approached the company and were able to work out a deal. Now, Haulin’ Oats brand is available in five states.

This, of course, is the right way to end an obvious trademark infringement. If you are absolutely set on using the name or a derivative of it, work out a deal with the owners and sell to your heart’s content. While flouting the rule might position Early Bird as the heroic Little Guy fighting the Power, in the end they may just end up getting the worm.

Guess this rules out Ben & Jerry doing that long awaited “Sara Swirls” flavor.

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Why Snapchat is Exploding

RONN TOROSSIAN SNAPCHAT

According to reports in TechCrunch, social media upstart Snapchat is looking to bring in more than $500 million in new investment. To that end, the company has been wooing groups that include Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. The amount they are seeking nearly matches the $648 million the company has already received to date. While the companies in question are not talking to reporters, Bloomberg reported that Alibaba has agreed to invest $200 million in Snapchat.

A couple of interesting notes here. First, Alibaba, as an e-commerce company, has an opportunity to hedge its ‘net interests while also expanding them in what some have called the “uncertain” marketplace of social media. Further, Prince Alwaleed has also invested in Twitter, long described as a competitor – or even a proto version of – Snapchat. Spreading investments across competing brands is nothing new to Alwaleed. His firm also holds interests in AOL, Apple, Motorola and Fox.

All this cross-investing and funding of competing brands might be seen as either bet-hedging or yet more evidence that the ‘net really is the Wild West. The former could certainly be a fair assessment, but the latter is less so.

Yes, the Internet still qualifies as both a technology and financial powder keg, both a realm of almost limitless possibility and an environment with all the loving nurture of outer space. There is certainly plenty of cash to be made, but many fortunes will be shattered along the way. So, what’s the best way for a company to set itself up to look enough like a winner in order to get the funding it needs to become what it aspires to be?

Again, Snapchat provides a solid answer. The platform began with a proven commodity then tweaked it just enough to be seen as completely distinct in the consumer marketplace. That distinction appealed to a wide and enthusiastic demographic, which flocked to the product in droves. When their experience exceeded expectations, they kept coming back for more. Quick success and a rapidly expanding fan base equals investor gold. Add to that a consumer base that either is not aware it IS the product or does not care, and you have a winning combination.

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