Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is Sears Serious? From Craftsmen, Kenmore, To Mid-Range Fashion Like Cheryl Tiegs, Back To Luxury Goods Like Jimmy Choo, And Now To Bondage Wear.

JCPenney is not the only major department store chain trying to reinvent itself these days. Sears, whose hard reputation was literally built with Craftsmen tools and Kenmore appliances, who tried years ago to move to the “softer side” with slightly higher-end fashion, who most-recently tried to change the brand image by moving to the sumptuous side, offering luxury goods like Jimmy Choo, Chanel, and Stella McCartney via their online Marketplace, apparently moved to the much harder side of Sears, when it was discovered last week that it had a wide variety of bondage and fetish clothing on offer too, lending new meaning to the phrase, “Back to School” fashions.

Sears is121 years old, so we can’t attribute this to a mid-life crisis. Let’s just call it a brand identity crisis. Harder side, softer side, sumptuous side, and now stricter side. OK, it’s been tough times for Sears, and increased sales would be greatly appreciated by CEO Ed Lampert, who’s said he’s looking to “transform” the department store chain. But for that, he needs money, so they’re apparently beating the online landscape, trying on alternative lifestyles for the brand.

To be fair, these are all third-party vendors, but it is Sears’ website, and one has to wonder whether the brand – which just suffered a $279 million 1Q’13 loss – is also suffering from some sort of cognitive dissonance disorder. First offering Sears fashions where you don’t have to pay a lot, then shifting to luxury goods where you do have to pay a lot, and then offering fetish wear, where you’re going to pay a lot too, just in a different way!

Anyway, if you go to the Marketplace site, and search for Elegant Moments, product pictures come up. But if you click on one of the fetish items, here’s what comes up: “Yikes, We’re sorry, but that page is no longer available.” There’s a “Ask Sears,” where one of their “skilled agents will help you find what you’re looking for,” but apparently the more hard-core Elegant Moments offerings are no longer on offer no matter how much you beg! But on the site, Sears is “here to help you find just what you need,” so if you key in alternative brands like “eForCity 2pc Leather Harness Cupless” or “Allure Lingerie Leather Harness With Pouch,” it all comes up for you to buy. Some of the products even allow you to click and zoom, but remember, this is shopping, so not smut!

It was satirist, Tom Lehrer, who wrote, “Filth is in the mind of the beholder,” so no value judgments being made here. We champion people’s rights to live the lives they want and dress the way they want, but specializing in brand and engagement measures – and having identified that this is a category currently driven mostly by “Store Reputation” (and not “Range of Merchandise” as in decades past) – we have to say this seems a less-than-organic brand transformation, and we’re pretty sure we’re not the only one’s who’ll feel that way.

Only time will tell if this departure from the more traditional image will increase Sears’ brand engagement, customer base, and profitability. Who knows? Maybe the softer-porn side of Sears will finally do the trick.

Connect with Robert on LinkedIn.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Which Charity Is Best? How Corporate Giving Can Boost Branding, Sales

Everyone from Helen Keller to King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden gets credit for the admonition, “Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something,” which is true enough for both people and corporations. But people usually don’t have to debate all that much about exactly what charitable giving they ought to do. You know someone who’s suffering from a disease. Maybe it’s you. So you give time or money, or race, or run to raise money for someone looking for a cure. Or you feel strongly about the environment. So you give to a group trying to protect the planet. Government budget cuts cut back on culture, and culture is important to you, you give to a group that supports the arts. When it’s one-on-one, it’s easy to be expedient about your behavior. But isn’t as simple for a brand or a corporation.

So here’s a little test for you. To which charitable category do you think your brand should contribute? Not your personal brand (another column, another day), but the one you work for. If you’re not a brand or marketing professional, then feel free to act on an entirely personal basis. Below there are a dozen classifications listed alphabetically, with a couple of examples of organizations operating in that particular sector. No bias was intended, just giving examples here.

There are lots of them out there in the real world and they’re all looking for corporate contributions and brand support, so this is just to get you thinking. If we missed a category feel free to add it to your list. If there’s an organization that realistically fits one of the categories, feel free to add that too. You can’t give to all. That’s not realistic. You have to pick one. And you need to remove any personal bias. So which would be best for the brand?

Animals: SPCA/Humane Society of US
Culture: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts/MOMA
Domestic: Red Cross/United Way
Educational: United Negro College Fund/Teach for America
Environmental: Sierra Club/Nature Conservancy
Health: American (Cancer/ Diabetes/Heart/Kidney) Society
International: CARE/Save the Children
Literacy: Reach Out and Read/Local Libraries
Medical: City of Hope/St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital
Public Affairs: American Civil Liberties Union/Points of Light
Public Broadcasting: National Public Radio/Local Stations
Youth: Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America/YMCA

While you’re thinking about it, we readily acknowledge that most companies and brands – we’re not even talking about the largest or most successful, just the average company or brand – involve themselves in charities of one sort or another. OK, true, it’s not necessarily a mandated activity in The Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility, but it’s something that most brands and companies do. And with nearly 1,600,000 registered charities of one kind or another, it isn’t difficult for a brand to find one that is – if not specific to – at least tangential to their primary target audience. So good for them.

Or is it? Is what they do as good as it might be? We don’t mean are they giving enough? These are for-profit companies we’re talking about, and there’s just so much any one brand can realistically give, and, as previously conceded, an unfortunate reality is they can’t give to them all. So again, we ask, is what they do as good as it might be?

In this instance, we’re asking for them. For the brands, we mean. Ben Franklin said that there was nothing wrong about “doing well, by doing good,” so with all the deserving organizations out there, some questions should get raised: Is the brand really doing as well as they might, doing this kind of good? Mightn’t they do better if they supported some other organization also doing good, maybe even concentrating on the same thing as the other organization? Why shouldn’t brands do both – do well and do good? Return-on-investment may not be a highlighted portion of The Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility, but it is in the annual report.

If you think about these kinds of initiatives as co-branding exercises, there are predictive methods of ascertaining how well a brand can do doing good, before time, effort, money, and brand equity is spent. Brand engagement assessments allow brands to see how associating the brand with one group doing good, may help them do better than associating with another group, also doing good. Real brand engagement – a leading indicator of sales and profitability – measures how such CSR initiatives increase consumers’ perceptions of the brand as better meeting expectations they hold for the Ideal in the category. In non-research terms, do they “see” the brand in a better light? And that will vary depending upon the partner organization they opt to support.

Below are two examples of this kind of assessment. Sticking with our theme, we’d like to point out that the quality of mercy is not strained even in the branding industry, so the names of the brands and the organizations they currently support have been blinded. We looked at two brands, one with primarily a female audience (X), and one with a primarily male target audience (Y) – each supporting the same charity (A).

Then we looked at an equally analogous charitable alternative (B), just to see what would happen to brand engagement when we measured “this BRAND (absent any sponsorship or associations) supporting this organization,” using validated engagement assessments. BTW, as well as being predictive of consumer behavior, an engagement assessment of this nature obviates the problems faced by having to factor in actual marketing, advertising, sponsorship or PR efforts and the dollars put against these kinds of initiatives, as that varies from company-to-company. Results have been configured to read as percentages, with the category Ideal being 100%, and the philosophy and practice of brand engagement being to get the brand as close to 100% as possible.

So, Brand Managers, CMOs, CFOs, and other interested parties, given these results, what would you do? Brand X does do well by doing good with organization A. Not quite as good with organization B, so it would seem they’ve opted for the right choice. Brand Y, on the other hand, could have done much better had they done good with organization B. And doing well, by doing good isn’t cynical, it’s just good – and fiscally responsible – brand management.

It was Mother Teresa who said, “Give, but give till it hurts.” But nobody ever said you couldn’t make sure you don’t hurt your brand while you’re doing it.

Connect with Robert on LinkedIn.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Nike Nixes Ryan Braun Sponsorship

Nike dumped disgraced Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun, suspended for the remainder of the season for alleged drug violations – the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In addition to his wearing the swoosh, Nike sold t-shirts emblazoned with “Big Bat Like Braun.” The Nike deal was estimated to be worth nearly $2 million dollars a year, and if you add to that the fact Wilson no longer carries a Braun-model glove and that he doesn’t get a paycheck during his suspension, the financial cost of using PEDs has gone way, way up. For the player and the brands sponsoring them. 

Braun isn’t the first athlete to lose his endorsement deal with Nike. They dropped Lance Armstrong in the face of his admission he “juiced” to win his Tour de France titles. So why the big deal about performance enhancing drugs? You’re entertained by the play aren’t you? The athletes play all the harder, don’t they? And if they all do it, doesn’t it just even out? After Tiger Woods’ sex scandal, Nike kept him. They even ran an ad this year featuring Woods that said, “Winning takes care of everything.” So doesn’t it? If it takes care of everything, doesn't it take care of PED-use too?

Actually not. And yes, it is an irony of the major leagues. Cheating on your wife, and cheating on the game just isn’t the same thing. Why? Because cheating on the game is cheating on the fan, and now you’ve gone and made it personal! In Braun’s case, you have to factor in this is the Big Show we’re talking about. Players are supposed to have an authentic skill-set. You know, to be best of the best. Otherwise, all of us could do it, and probably for fewer sponsorship dollars. Just saying.

Everybody, including Major League Baseball, recognizes that it’s a really bad idea to adulterate the game. Sponsors like Nike have always recognized the influence star athletes have on their brands, and the brand is diminished. When revelations of this kind of cheating comes out it raises a question mark in fans’ and sponsors’ minds, if not an asterisk in the record books.

And when it comes to fan and brand engagement, question marks never ever help.

Connect with Robert on LinkedIn.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.