Branding


In February, 2009 Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the following: “The company’s success hinges on its ability to transition to online video from DVDs…” Thanks to devices such as Playstation 3, X Box 360 and the iPad, one could say the transition has been wildly successful. However, two issues still plague Netflix from gaining wider acceptance. A greater variety of current movie titles and TV programs and a future where bandwidth is not capped out.

Many consumers complain that the current selection of movie offerings on Netflix resembles walking the middle of the isle of yesteryear’s Blockbuster where only B-movies and never heard of straight-to-video releases lurk. What Netflix needs is a constant supply of the latest and greatest titles to keep consumers coming back or they may start seeking other avenues.

Striking Deals for Better Content

One of the nagging issues since Hastings made his prophetic comment is that Netflix hasn’t been able to strike enough deals with the likes of HBO and the big movie studios to gain access to the streaming rights for fresh content.

Despite these problems the 14 year old company has had some recent gains by reaching agreements with NBC Universal and CBS as well as acquiring AMC’s  Mad Men. It’s also important to recognize the success of Netflix online venture can be attributed to its ingenious use of algorithms (known as its content recommendation engine) where its vast store of titles are targeted to subscribers unique profiles. And even with its recent price increases many analysts predict the company will continue fair well because of it’s convenient and seamless ability to work on so many platforms. (Android, iPhone, iPad, Xbox360, Wii, PS3, PC and 3DS to name a few.)

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To advertisers and marketers it’s important to realize that kids and young teens are extremely media/computer savvy and the best way to engage them is to be authentic and to always converse with them on their terms. What may be surprising for parents and teachers is what were once thought to be effective and efficient methods for teaching and providing guidance may now no longer be as relevant or meaningful for todays kids. 

Just a few years ago the folks at Common Sense Media wrote, “we may think of our kids’ online, mobile, and technological activities as “digital life,” but to them, it’s just life. Their world is as much about creating media as it is about consuming it.” And that in essence is what matters most – much of how kids view their world is through technology.

Generation Z

For kids born after 1998, “known as “Generation Z”,  they know of no life without Internet, ubiquitous cell phones, iPods, iPads, social media or 24/7 entertainment.” They’re also much more brand and fashion conscious at these younger ages.

This axiom holds true when considering how kids are learning and how they are choosing to get involved in activities both online and off.

The Power of Agency

What shouldn’t be surprising are the things kids can do  – and are doing – when empowered to do so. As Melissa Clark-Reynolds, CEO of Minimonos, stated at the Sustainable Brands ’11 conference, “kids need to be given agency”, that is “they need to be given the capacity to make powerful choices and affect the world.”

Minimonos (Spanish for little monkeys) is an online game that challenges kids to think in sustainable terms by rewarding them for doing the right thing. The purpose of Minimonos is “to have a place that embodies core values like sustainability and generosity, without turning those values into a boring lecture.”  What’s more, these kids are looking for authenticity and something that will inspire them – but it has to be on their terms and level of interest.

More than most parents may be willing to admit, a large percentage of today’s kids are extremely media savvy (they totally get it!) and they can detect the insincerity of a website, a social media platform, or any game or program that may be purportedly “designed for kids” but clearly doesn’t understand what motivates and engages them. If any of the content feels like it’s being imposed or is just irrelevant, then it’s summarily rejected. However, if the content has real value where the kids feel empowered to make decisions, are able to connect with other like-minded kids and can realize social status through rewards (gamification) – and it’s fun – then there is a good chance the website/game or social media platform may be a success.

What’s also important is when kids are given this “agency” it is not to diminish or negate the need for providing safety, structure and supervision while they’re spending time online. “The very nature of their constantly connected culture means kids must understand the concept of privacy so that what they post and create won’t hurt them or embarrass them at some point down the line.” However, as Emily Bazelon writes the The New York Times, “parents and lawmakers are [at times] so worried about protecting our children that they can fail to distinguish between real threats and phantom ones.” The point is to strike a balance between protecting and monitoring kids while also allowing them to find their space online where they can flourish.

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Lars Breneman is planning a vacation to visit his relatives in Germany next year and after reviewing his flight options he’s chosen to fly with Lufthansa. Lars’ decision wasn’t based on any loyalty to his German ancestry, rather he chose the German airline because he’s doing his best to save money – and reduce his carbon footprint. Lars, who lives in Seattle, discovered that Lufthansa has recently begun testing bio-fuels to help lower its carbon emissions, which also means the airline may eventually pay less towards the new EU carbon fees.

The New York Times recently reported, “starting Jan. 1, 2012 the European Union will require all carriers entering or leaving its airports to either reduce their [greenhouse gas – GHG] emissions or pay a charge — whether the airline is United, Air France or Lufthansa… and the “cleanest” airlines will pay less in emissions fees.”

Depending on the size and model of aircraft, airplanes on average spew 244 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions for every mile flown. Source: Blueskymodel.org

 

For Lufthansa the objective is to become the “driver of change” in reducing GHG emissions with its new biofuels and has estimated a savings of 1,500 tons of CO2 emissions during the recent test period.

On the other hand the US airline industry has taken a different approach having recently filed a lawsuit before the European Court of Justice.

It would be safe to say that the impending fee has caused some friction. “The European Union is imposing this on U.S. carriers without our agreement,” Wendell Albright, director of the Office of Aviation Negotiations at the State Department, said in a recent NY Times interview. “It is for the U.S. to decide on targets or appropriate action for U.S. airlines with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.”

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Last week at the Sustainable Brands ’11 conference in Monterey, CA there were some prominent takeaways that many brands (large and small) are now doing as a normal part of business. Being sustainable, which is both environmental and social, has become more than an eco-trend and much more than presenting the consumer with a “green” image.  In fact, green washing is one of several varied terms used to describe businesses that attempt to fool the customer into believing that their products are safe, natural and/or do no harm to the environment. However, today’s mobile consumer is extremely savvy and often are quite cynical. In response to this backlash many businesses are finding that authenticity and transparency are the keys to building successful and lasting relationships with their customers and shareholders.

What was loud and clear to this attendee is that sustainability should be embedded rather than tacked onto existing business practices and that marketing efforts should focus on product quality first rather than any “green attributes”.  The key is to understanding what motivates consumers and one emerging movement is the use of gaming for marketing and product usage purposes. What is referred to as “gamification” is now a major catalyst for changing well-entrenched behaviors and creating new social norms while engaging consumers in fun and rewarding ways.

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From the uprising and liberation of countries in the Middle East to the heart wrenching earthquake / tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, the role of social media and mobile technology has become inextricably woven into our daily lives. The tipping point came in mid-2007 when social media really started to take off while at the same time smart phones exploded onto the scene. For marketers, tapping into this new “engaged audience” has been a windfall for some while problematic and baffling for others.

The key is to step back from traditional marketing principles by being helpful, genuine and offering a worthy experience while allowing the consumer to generate the buzz.

Social media’s appeal has stemmed from the fact that it is user-generated content that can be both personal and broad based. When social media was embraced by huge numbers of online individuals and communities it occurred so fast that even today many businesses are still trying to figure out what to do. Those businesses that recognized the true potential of social media quickly understood that by offering worthy content, valuable insight and being accommodating have resulted in creating loyal customer communities.

As we now know, the success of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have fulfilled a need for meaningful connections. And it’s no accident that the popularity of the smart phone and its numerous apps have accelerated this change. People are now connected 24/7 and can do everything from choosing where to eat, to buying books, insurance and music, to playing Angry Birds and just about everything else. It has been an evolutionary process where the best ideas, services, apps and businesses have survived and flourished while those that haven’t measured up have been discarded and largely forgotten.

Users have All the Power

For businesses still trying to figure out how to navigate and succeed in this environment they must accept the fact that first and foremost social media is a ground up medium. Users have all the power.

As Jamie Monberg stated in Fast Company, “today’s consumers are stingier with their brand loyalty than in the past because they can afford to be: they are burdened only by an abundance of choice and knowledge.” To enter this arena wisely is to provide a genuine experience and/or credible content that users will embrace and gladly promote. Being overtly commercial is a sure path to being discredited.

Monberg makes this point exactly. “Today, any brand has a potential army of credible, unpaid spokespeople that are willing to work on its behalf. And this army is the exact same group of people who are willing to work against it.”

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In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a new trend emerging with online advertising that’s more content focused and more in tune with the idea of conversing with the viewer rather than the standard practice of overt one-way advertising.

The reason is simple, most of us have learned how to ignore online banner ads and those annoying animated ads that jump out at us as we click on a new page. Most people hate these ads and all of the obstacles that prevent us from immediately accessing the content we are seeking.

As Chris Anderson, curator from the non-profit group TED, recently stated, “online ads are not adding anything to our web surfing experience. Rather, they are annoying us, boring us, and even enraging us.” Instead advertisers should be seeking to join the online community by sharing information and providing worthy content as well as joining in the conversation.

“We’re moving toward a future where advertisers and consumers are part of the same community, sharing ideas and engaging in a learning cycle, together,” Anderson continued and went on to advocate that advertisers should create ads that are worth spreading.  “We (at TED) want to encourage development of ads-with-a-difference… that engage our audience authentically, intelligently and delightfully. Ads that people will want to share because they encapsulate ideas worth spreading.”

This idea isn’t new. The 25-year tradition of the highly anticipated Super Bowl ads may well fit into this category of engagement where viewers actually look forward to seeing the commercials. It makes one ask why advertisers don’t create worthy TV spots all the time?

Non-Traditional Advertising Methods

At any rate, the idea now is to become part of the conversation. Advertisers need to engage prospects with credible content that isn’t overt, intrusive or just blatant in-your-face advertising. Those marketers that succeed in this evolving arena will likely be embraced by viewers and may ultimately create loyal consumers as a result.

A couple of months ago Science Creative posted an article on Danny MacAskill’s amazing bike riding videos that were sponsored by Red Bull, VW and other advertisers who sponsored his breathtaking stunts. This form of advertising is low key where the advertiser isn’t prominent during the spot. The talent is the content which is what attracts viewers and in-turn, makes the video go viral. The product/brand association with Danny’s talent is subtle but effective simply because it’s deliberately set in the background.

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Why is it when we’re in the midst of a “crisis” we tend to think this event is somehow unique in human history? At first there is a tendency to panic and then, after way too much hand wringing, the vast majority of people eventually pick themselves up and move on.  It’s only years (or months) later with the benefit of hindsight that historians are able to clearly see who the innovators were based on their courage and ultimate success while the rest flailed about in fear of change.

This scenario could easily be about politics, war or business since a “crisis” is often the result of a human endeavor that involves similar emotions, reactions and ultimately – solutions. In this case the subject matter isn’t about the auto or banking industry or the even the manufacturing sector that’s under siege, instead it’s about the advertising industry. At this very moment, while many insiders are worrying about their agencies, a few brave souls are charting new paths to success while also employing basic principles that still work.

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Do popular brands help define who we are? Do they help provide the visual and iconic clues that define an era or specific moments in time? And do brands need to stick to one image or campaign in order to be successful as representations of moments in time?

Brands that stand the test of time are the ones that are fully ingrained in consumers’ minds. Al Ries of Advertising Age recently wrote an excellent article that argues, “Once a brand is established with a clearly defined marketing position, the brand’s owner should ask a fundamental question before making any significant changes. Why tinker with success?”

Mr. Ries also states, “the way to build a brand is with a consistent message over an extended period of time.” The end result of creating a consistent message is what’s known as building brand equity. Brand Equity is created over time through marketing, PR, advertising and more recently social media, and is constantly reinforced by gentle or sometimes over-the-top reminders (ads) that together serve as a ubiquitous force that’s woven into our collective conscience. In other words, we become so familiar with the brand that we recognize it as being a normal part of popular culture and our everyday lives.

As Colin Drummond so eloquently wrote in his blog Brands Belong in Culture, Not Categories:

A brand’s true usefulness is in how it helps us to participate in culture… brands represent aspects of today’s America: modernity, hope, intelligence, optimism, blindness and decay. These brands are culturally useful to us when we use them or even just have an opinion about them. Because our association with them says a lot about who we are. Significant brands are never just relevant to a category, they contribute to culture at large.

Marking Time with Familiar Brands

Familiar brands from Apple and IBM to Kellogg’s and Colgate-Palmolive often form the backdrop to our daily existence and over time become the icons that help define the present and our past. As Science Creative‘s blog mentioned in an earlier post on technology, “look at any old photograph and it’s the clothes and “products” around the subjects that truly dates the photo.”

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SEE THIS ON SCIENCE CREATIVE

Picture yourself living a middle class life at the beginning of the last century. Let’s say the year is 1904. The times feel modern and technology is rapidly expanding and seemingly improving our lives.  Amazing things are happening in this new century, back on December 17, 1903 the Wright brothers actually flew an engine-powered aeroplane – magnificent! Later, in 1904 a Canadian by the name of John E. Kennedy would define advertising as “salesmanship in print”. This would ensure from that point onward, new technology would be marketed as a product or benefit that every consumer needed – now.

The onslaught of new fangled technology such as radios, the new Gillette safety razors, vacuum cleaners and even Crayola Crayons had to be marketed and the public was soon immersed in the wonderment of being able to consume and live the life of modernity.

Back then there was a sense of excitement and a feeling of anticipation with the introduction of each new technological marvel. Because so much of what was becoming available could hardly have been imagined only the year before it was a magical and incredible time.

Of course marketing and advertising helped promote this “idealistic world” that new technology offered in ever-growing abundance. Over time consumers became accustomed to the “what’s new” marketing formula. As a result, what was once “new and incredible” soon became old, dated and years later would stand as a marker of history. Look at any old photograph and it’s the clothes and “products” around the subjects that truly dates the photo.

As the 20th century progressed and wars came (which accelerated technological advancement), marketers and advertisers continued to promote an ever-growing variety of “New” consumer goods with technological advancements that were always remarkable.

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These days, when one thinks about clean energy, solar and wind power most likely come to mind first while geothermal and wave power may not be too far behind.

However, the other growing source of clean energy that is plentiful, available and producing jobs is Biomass Energy. Right now its proponents are working hard towards making the industry a major player in the clean energy sector.

Until recently, the emerging biomass industry has been somewhat below the radar in the public realm. One may ask why the mass media hasn’t promoted biomass as a major renewable energy source as they certainly have done when showcasing solar and wind energy.

Recently, Science Creative contacted Richard Madeira, Vice President of Enginuity Energy in Pennsylvania. He offers an explaination, “One reason may be that biomass fuels just aren’t sexy and the sector itself isn’t as well organized as the others. However, once people sit down and learn the facts, they always say – ‘Wow’!”

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