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Larry Light asks “Is This Your Grandfather’s Harley-Davidson?” in Forbes.com

Has Harley-Davidson met its Oldsmobile moment? The venerable motorcycle brand faces the deleterious consequences of demography. On the one hand, Harley continues to be reliant on the defining mood, spirit and discretionary spending of Baby Boomers (think Marlon Brando’s outlaw motorcycle 1953 film, The Wild Ones, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper in the 1969 film Easy Rider, and the hauntingly sad Rolling Stones Altamont concert). Today, many Baby Boomers are aging out of the motorcycle lifestyle.

Is This Your Grandfather’s Harley-Davidson? Forbes.com

Read the rest of Larry Light’s piece now! Click here.

The Mass Middle of the Market is Muddling its Way Into the Future

The village of Tupper Lake, NY, in the Adirondack Park has a population hovering just under 6000. In the short summer season tourists and second-home owners boost that number. Recently, there has been a seasonal gentrification with the opening of two craft breweries, but it is basically a struggling place to live. Tupper Lake is a small town 130 miles southeast of Montreal, Quebec, and 89 miles south of Cornwall, Ontario. In Tupper Lake, there is a Dollar General, a Save-A-Lot, a Family Dollar, and a Day Wholesale.

Read the rest of Larry Light’s latest LinkedIn piece here.

Read Larry Light’s Latest Forbes.com Piece “I’m Ford And I’m Proud”

From the piece: “Ford Motors Company is under a microscope these days. James Hackett, CEO, is continually being scrutinized. Wall Street finds his Ford vision and strategy inscrutable. So, in order to make itself clear, last October Ford introduced a new campaign. The message is “Built Ford Proud”. It is a self-praise message highlighting Ford’s 115-year history of commitment to building great vehicles and communicates Ford’s ambition to lead in the future through smart vehicles for a smart world.”

Read the rest here: I’m Ford And I’m Proud

Larry Light Explains “Why Avis And Enterprise Are Beating Car Dealerships To The Future” In Forbes.com

“Both Enterprise and Avis have created options that address a more flexible, adaptable, variable approach to transportation.” says Arcature CEO Larry Light. Read the rest in his Forbes piece “Why Avis And Enterprise Are Beating Car Dealerships To The Future“.

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Photo Credit to Drums600

Larry Light Points Out “Why Your Favorite Healthy Snack May Not Be Healthy?” In Forbes.com

As the FDA is nearly about to address food and beverage labeling this coming summer, how brands can use the term “healthy” may be redefined. Read Larry’s latest Forbes piece to learn Why Your Favorite Healthy Snack May Not Be Healthy?

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Photo Credit Mike Mozart under CC License

Larry Light Discusses The Boeing 737 Max Brand in Forbes.com

In his latest Forbes piece, Larry light asks the question “Can the Boeing 737 Max brand reputation be repaired?”.

Read his thoughts here: Can The Boeing 737 Max Brand Reputation Be Repaired?

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Photo Credit: pjs2005 from Hampshire, UK

NEW RULE FOR BRAND ORGANIZATIONS

The phrase “Be a runway, not a control tower” popped up a few of years ago in a Singapore newspaper. The phrase is a great way to put a frequent brand organization occurrence: the resistance to change.

For brands to be successful in the ongoing challenge to remain contemporary, the idea is not to oppose change but to drive it.  Change happens all the time. Today it is almost impossible to keep aware of everything that changes around your brand. The digital advertising business has to deal with technologies, devices, and apps that change so much faster than people adopt and adapt.

Yet, opposition to change happens. Employees may fear how change will alter their jobs. They may think that what has been the current methods of operation should continue to be the standard operating procedure. Or, they are very happy and complacent and see no need to change.

Change initiatives usually come with a detailed program, an HR course, a set of slides, a video, a script, an app, a dictionary, a metric (or series of metrics), out of-office seminars, and in many cases a slew of young, junior consultants who take up a lot of office space. For many brands with change in leadership there is also a change initiative: new person, new ideas.

A brand’s culture sometimes can be the control tower keeping everyone on course, and focusing on avoiding any and all risk. Brands flourish in supportive organizational cultures. If the organization is risk averse or closed to change, it creates an inflexible and relevancy-resistant environment.

Brands must stay relevant. This requires change. Continuing to do the same old things when the world is dynamic is a formula for failure. The biggest challenge that brands face is ensuring that brand teams are open to change, and that the organizational environment is conducive to change. In organizations undergoing change, for that change to be genuine and not superficial, cultural change initiatives must be consistently reinforced, widely communicated, supported from the top of the organization, and realistic for the organization’s current situation.

Brands are dynamic, active promises about what they will do for the customer. Brands do not do well where the control tower effect is in place. Brands need continuous renewal. Brand teams must be aware and alert to marketplace changes and anticipatory ideas for satisfying customer needs. With too much control tower, without the continuous renewal of innovation or renovation, a brand will stagnate. The business will stagnate. Enduring profitable growth requires building a continuous renewal cycle.

When there is a misalignment and conflict between the brand strategy and the brand culture, the culture prevails over the strategy. Culture always wins. Brands need supportive, flexible cultures. If the culture is inactive and risk averse, in other words, a control tower closed to change, the misalignment is serious.

Brands need the runway. But, this does not mean there are no brand boundaries. Every runway is a well-defined pathway. Skidding off the runway is no good. Taxiing outside the boundaries of the runway is dangerous. Staying within the lane but being able to have change take flight is in a brand’s best interests.

 

LEARN FROM THE MISTAKES OF OTHERS

Almost 30 years ago, Peter Senge, a systems scientist and lecturer at MIT’s business school, developed the concept of the learning organization. This idea became a big wave in organizational development and thinking. Basically, a learning organization is a company that enables the learning of its members while continuously transforming.

According to Mr. Senge and his peers, a learning organization develops because of the pressured business landscape and helps keep businesses competitive. Others, such as Harvard’s business theorist, Chris Argyris, saw learning as being keenly aware of what competitors are doing; recognizing and keeping abreast of changes and innovations in the marketplace; and, then responding with creative solutions.

When people think of learning, they often focus only on learning only from successes. Some marketers call this the “transfer of proven success.” Others refer to it as “copying with pride.” But, it is just as important to learn from mistakes. Learn from your own mistakes and learn from the mistakes of others. Learn from your close competitors’ mistakes.

Last winter, Automotive News, the auto trade press bible, reported that Lincoln would be changing its model names from letters to names. Owners and customers were confused as to which brand was which. Its brands were named MKS, MKZ, MKT, MKC, and so forth. The head of marketing, sales, and service said, “There’s a lot of challenge associated with the letters and putting those together.”

Luxury car brands tend to use letters or alphanumeric combinations.  The more mass-market vehicles tend to use names. So, for example, Toyota uses names while Lexus uses alphanumeric branding.

However, it was not just the letter names that put Lincoln in the hot seat. The vehicles were not differentiated enough to make the labels meaningful. Mercedes and BMW have highly differentiated models that are segmented by class (C-class, S- Class) for Mercedes, and series for BMW (3 series, 7 series).

Cadillac introduced a cavalcade of products. They have not learned from the mistakes of Lincoln. Cadillac had a model called ATS (a compact sedan), which was supposed to be the “BMW fighter.” It is being replaced by the CT5. Cadillac’s CTS will also be discontinued and replaced by a midsize sedan also under the CT5 nameplate. There will be the CT4, a small vehicle like a BMW 2 series. A CT6, also a sedan, will be differentiated by GM’s Super Cruise hands-free driving system. There will be the XTS, a large sedan. And, there will be the XT4, a compact cross-over, and a larger model the XT5, as well as a three-row crossover, the XT6. Is all this clear to you? The only named brand is the Escalade, which, by the way, is the only brand that actually makes money for Cadillac.

If you go on the Cadillac website, the coupes and sedans with the alphanumeric names and similar designs are just as confusing as the Lincoln models. The engines differentiate many Cadillac models. But, when parked in a lot, no one sees the engine; people see the vehicles. Striving to be a luxury brand is about more than labels and names. It is about meaningful differentiation. Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Lexus are successful not because of how they label their vehicles but by the relevant, differentiated experiences they promise and deliver.

It remains to be seen if the influx of new Cadillac models will raise the luxury image of the Cadillac brand. Unless the Cadillac models are clearly differentiated, Cadillac may find that the problem Lincoln had was not a Lincoln problem. It was a brand management problem. Learning from someone else’s mistake is far better than making the same mistake on your own.

 

THE SIX RULES OF BRAND REVITALIZATION: ETSY’S BRAND RECOVERY

Recent news about Etsy indicates that the new leadership under CEO Josh Silverman has implemented a successful brand turnaround. The online crafts seller was in dire straits just a year ago. There was consensus among many that Etsy was doomed, a victim of not only Amazon, but also other direct to customer selling on sites such as Instagram.

However, today, Etsy is thriving. As Financial Times so clearly stated: “The results suggest that the problem was not the threat from a Seattle e-commerce giant but rather its own mismanagement.” Brands do not die a natural death. There is no natural brand lifecycle. Brands can live forever but only if properly managed. Brands under inept leadership falling under the spell of common tendencies for trouble such as losing sight of the core customer, letting bureaucracy and processes take over, playing not to lose instead of playing to win, failing to adapt to changes in the marketing world, or not having a clear direction, inevitably move into the death spiral. Mr. Silverman followed what we call The Six Rules for Brand Revitalization.

Mr. Silverman did the following:

Rule #1 Refocus the organization: Mr. Silverman refocused the organization around a clearly articulated brand direction. He gave employees a vision of a possible dream, a common ambition that all could buy into and implement.

Rules #2 Restore brand relevance: Etsy had evolved to an “eccentric” crafts fair avoiding fundamental marketing approaches, and had favored its craftspeople over the customer. And, although the headquarters still retains its quirky character, there have been substantial brand changes designed to attract new customers. One of the top brand priorities is making and keeping core customers happy.

Rule #3 Reinvent the brand experience: Etsy’s website was cumbersome and off-putting, especially for novices. One of the first changes made was to improve the website to make the site easier to find and easier to use. Marketing the experience is now a priority as Etsy indicates it will increase its marketing budget to communicate the Etsy experience.

Rule #4 Reinforce a results culture: Mr. Silverman focused on stopping the bleeding. He implemented job cuts but also increased commissions, keeping these below that charged by Amazon. The focus is on generating high quality revenue growth. Furthermore, Etsy is solvent enough to begin reinvesting in the brand.

Rule #5 Rebuild trust: Etsy’s craftspeople made a record US$1billion in gross merchandise sales over the last holiday season in 2017. Even though sellers were miffed about the increased commissions, it is clear that the new approach is working, offering them a better platform for their goods. As for customers, an easier, more comfortable, consistent brand experience that delights is fulfilling the promised brand experience. Consistent delivery of the promise to employees, sellers, and customers builds trust. Be consistent.

Rule #6 Realize global alignment: Through Mr. Silverman’s focus, the brand has a common, global direction. Now, that the brand is on solid footing, Etsy is expanding its global presence. Etsy closed a deal with the German crafts site DeWanda, whereby DeWanda shuts down and refers its craftspeople to Etsy.

In speaking with analysts and fund managers, the problem at Etsy was a “classic” management problem. The previous CEO was a technical engineer rather than a brand-business focused leader. And, although there were technical difficulties at Etsy, brands need classic brand management even in our techno-obsessed, digital, online and mobile world. Brands can be murdered by misguided marketing practices. Brands die when they suffer from self-inflicted wounds of mistaken marketing actions.

The turnaround at Etsy has demonstrated that if properly managed, it is possible for brands to thrive in an Amazon-dominated business environment. It is all about winning and keeping customers every day. Brand leadership is a never-ending commitment. And, as Etsy shows us, brand success does not just happen; we must make it happen.

 

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Photo Credit Etsy

THE LURE OF LOCALIZATION

Customization and personalization are increasingly important marketing opportunities. Customization means flexibility of product and service design. Personalization means respecting and reflecting personal differences, attitudes and values. Personalization conveys respect for customers as individuals.

There is another powerful force… the lure of localization. Localization is more than the farmers’ market or the neighborhood craft brewery.  Local is a distinctive feeling of community. Local creates a sense of belonging.

Locally sourced, locally crafted, locally owned, regionally authentic, one-of-a-kind, bring a sense of cultural, ethnic, economic, and social connection. Artisanal, regional cheeses, local distilleries and breweries, grass-fed cows on local farms, cage-free chickens, arts and crafts, non-GMO, fresh, organic, locally made employing local people, and other local elements and activities that bring “real” into our lives continue to grow and are increasingly attractive and affordable. Homemade items from Etsy; retro items from eBay; and modern vintage from Restoration Hardware – all of these give us a sense of truth.

Local is more than location. It is also about local values. It is the comfort of belonging to a familiar community. Localism provides authenticity, genuineness, and a true sense of reality as in “This is what it is really all about.” It is a feeling of being a part of people just like me.

Feeling like a local gives us a sense of belonging to a social group with distinctive interests and priorities. In our current world, we have this need to belong while we consciously attempt to maintain our individuality. Feeling like a local means that we can stand out while we blend in.

For Millennials especially, it is important to feel like a local. Millennials value living and working in the same neighborhood.  They like “walking neighborhoods where you step outside your home, and have opportunities to have exchanges with others. In walking neighborhoods, people pass others on the street, and can connect. In a digital, AI, VR, and AR world, we need neighbors and belonging more than ever before.

Short-term residential rental housing is leveraging this need. For many people, staying away from home creates a sense of loss. We lose our anchors. Instead of staying at a standardized global hotel brand, people are searching for hotels with a local, neighborhood feeling.  As Airbnb says, short-term rentals let us choose a neighborhood where we can “live like a local.” Feeling and acting like a resident is important. Barry Sternlicht (former CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and creator of W Hotel and Westin’s Heavenly Bed) is investing in short-term residential rentals. His investment in a start-up goes to support the addition of new upscale, branded residences for short stays to compete with brands like Lyric, which is listed on Airbnb. Airbnb has its own brand as well, “Friendly Buildings Program” that features rental units provided by “friendly” landlords. The short-term residential rental market appeals to corporate travelers who prefer integrated neighborhood lodging experiences.

WeWork is another example of creating feelings of belonging. WeWork generates feelings of community. Not only does the brand provide communal office space, but, also, through its WeLive brand, it offers apartments. And, to provide for physical and mental wellness, We Work just opened Rise, its gym and spa featuring treadmills, boxing bags, saunas, and massage studios. (The New York Times indicates that the Rise memberships are from $100 to $360 a month.)

Brands have an amazing opportunity to leverage the need for feeling like a local – enhancing the sense of belonging – for all individual customers. Here are three things brands can do right now:

  1. Figure out what makes your brand “authentic” to its audience and then consistently and creatively deliver that authenticity in its experience. Increasingly, deliver the local “real thing” over a who-knows-who-how-where it-was-made. We want something genuine, honest, we can trust. People trust local over distant. People trust locally grown over imported from Mexico.

 

  1. Design ways that customers can become involved in the brand community. People want to feel like a local – this need to belong is a need to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Create personalized participation for customers. Don’t automate everything. People see certain services as being more authentic when delivered by a human. All-digital-all-the-time can be dehumanizing and deadly. Feeling like a local entails being within a neighborhood of real people.

 

  1. Create conversations. Employ the art of conversation. Conversation is collaborative: it is an engaging, connecting, channel-agnostic interactive, and integrative force. Whether vocal or digital, it can be used to generate a feeling of local. Conversation builds trust.

 

Feeling like a local helps us understand our places: our communities, our neighborhoods, our homes, or our countries. Feeling local binds us together as belonging to some place or communal physical, psychological, geographical or virtual space. Local provides kinship with a particular place, wherever that is, and in whatever physical/virtual state that is.  Technology is transforming the world by lowering the physical barriers of place. By respecting local values and tastes and ideas, by rooting in the local space, brands deepen trust.