In my previous post, I talked about the marketing phenomenom known by many as “Starbucks”. In my opinion, Starbucks is one of the most powerful marketers in present day, up there with powerhouse brands like Disney and Apple. I highly recommend reading this post along with my previous post. I realize they are more long-winded than usual but that just means the articles are loaded with lots of useful gems and nugget of knowledge!
Reviewing my brief Starbucks case study, one of the key points I made was about how consumers often go with what is convenient and familiar, rather than what provides better quality or “value”. After writing that piece, I came across a brand marketing/power of presence blog by Lance Winslow which inspired me to revisit this topic. He is right on-point when he states that the power of presence and brand marketing theories apply to just about every facet of society. Starbucks definitely has the power of presence nailed, especially in Washington and New York. The interesting thing about the Starbucks brand is that many people can’t figure out what the logo really is yet they can spot it from a mile away – now THAT’S powerful!
The beauty of the Starbucks brand, to me, is that they are selling status – yes, STATUS! People figure that, if you can afford Starbucks on a regular basis, maybe two or three times a day, you are doing well for yourself; after all, spending $7-35 a day for coffee and perhaps a snack seems like such a frivolous expense when there are cheaper alternatives. Strabucks has become so viral that many company cultures revolve around people treating others to their products. I can recall many a workplace where there would be designated “coffee guys” that would go on runs for several people at once. Often, these coffee runners would be expected to pay for the coffees of those they are trying to suck up to. Amazingly, this gesture goes a long way. Buy your boss a coffee from the food cart on Main Street and you’ll get a funny look but buy him/her Starbucks and you get the “job well done” look.
Considering the status component to Starbucks buyer habits, it can easily be said that the Starbucks product line is a luxury line. It is not something you need and there are cheaper, more effective alternatives, but the snobs will not hear of it. Starbucks is to Dunkin Donuts what Lexus is to Toyota – you get essentially the same product but one brand carries much more prestige (at least in mainstream society).
Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl commercial is essentially the de facto textbook marketing case study and it certainly teaches some powerful lessons in brand marketing. I’d pair Apple and Starbucks up as similar brands in that they both sell luxury to what some may consider snobs or even elitists. Even though both brands alienate many customers through their pricing and image, there is an undeniable warmth and intimacy to these brands. What Apple has done exceptionally well since day one is selling style and ubiquitous coolness factor to it’s customers. Starbucks does that too, though in a different manner. Starbucks provide a place where people can relax to a nice cup of coffee, decent pastry, and a paper. The Apple Store now has a similar cafe offering as well.
Moving on from the Starbucks-Apple comparison, I have to say that Apple is probably one of the strongest brands ever. People argue that they really mucked things up by not pursuing the computer market dominance that the PC ended up taking. I say that Apple never really wanted to appeal to the masses or else they would have taken a different approach. Back then, the 1984 commercial alienated PC users by essentially calling them mindless drones. Today, we have the “Apple and PC guy” commercials doing the same thing but with a light-hearted approach, of course. I remember some of my fondest memories as a child was having the Apple salesperson come over to my home and show me how cool the Apple computer is. I’d play some games, do some learning exercises, and sit in awe. That’s just it, though: the Apple computer has always been specialized. It seems that Apple has always focused on educaters, graphic designers, and musicians. This focus has created a perceived value that tells the consumer “we do all those things best.”
Whether you detest Apple for their marketing efforts or find them inspiring, you can’t deny that they are brilliant brand marketers. Not only can people recognize the Apple logo anywhere but the style of the new Mac sticks out in anything that tries to emulate their success. Any time I see the clear plastic with underlying white surface, I can’t help but to think “they stole that from Apple.” Many manufacturers are taking pages from the Apple book of style just to grab consumer attention.
As I always say, Apple coined many things. Their crowning achievement, to me, was not the creation of the Mac but, rather, making the word “iPod” synonymous with “MP3 player” – most people don’t even know the difference or that there are other very similar, if not better, products out there! The massive success of the iPod has allowed Apple to cross-sell and cross-promote like never before. iTunes is taking over many PC’s as the preferred multimedia solution. The QuickTime format is being pushed now more than ever. Podcasts are becoming more prominent than traditional blogs. By focusing on very specific things and leveraging a powerful brand, Apple has achieved mass appeal without making that a direct goal. Brilliant.
The power of perceived value kicks in really well when you have a strong brand and high prices to match it. People figure “I am paying for a greater value” so it is worth it. Apple and Starbucks, again, are both notorious for this. If you compare a comparable PC with it’s Apple counterpart, the chances are that the PC will be 50% cheaper, if not more. The prices are becoming more reasonable but, on the mobile computing side of things, Apple notebooks are still insanely pricey by today’s standards. Of course, the perceived value outweighs the obvious price spikes. If you are a graphic designer or sound engineer, you’d be laughed at for using anything other than a Mac. The snob factor rears it’s ugly head once again.
Another thing that Apple does well is listen to their customers. While they alienate potential new customers, Apple continues to cater more to their existing customers; in essence, making them their greatest marketing channels. When you have many extremely happy customers, you’re basically priming brand evangelists to enter the marketplace and spread your word. When you have a powerful brand, you have a powerful message, a story. Marketing is about giving people something to talk about and Apple definitely accomplishes that with a flare that few can even compare to.
Naturally, not everyone can own their own “purple cow” brand but there are still other methods for establishing a good perceived value. I personally think that the value of collaborative thinking has been greatly under-rated, perhaps because there are those out there that water down the value of planning and brainstorming. When you get strong think tanks and community hubs going, you create a different sort of buzz. Sites like WorldThinkTank.com and WorldSentiment.com do a great job of giving people things to talk about though, in their cases, they are not creating the buzz, just facilitating it. The marketplace is moved by people that create buzz (Apple) and those that facilitate it (the media); as a business, if you can effectively leverage both you win the game.
These are the things that fuel strong brands. Buzz and viral marketing is bigger than ever now with all the blogs and online PR that is available. I think my buddy Price has a brilliant business model on WorldSentiment simply because he captures some of the key elements of marketing. I won’t get into too much detail on that but I think he is poised to make WorldSentiment a strong brand because he has set up the site so that content can be easily syndicated, messages are concise, and increasingly busier visitors can quickly communicate their thoughts without devoting lots of time. I myself was a huge WorldSentiment participant until the site got hacked and many popular discussions got lost in the mix (it was then that I decided to focus on my blogs and other writing/creative efforts).
Currently, I am expanding a brand of my own. This brand is TGAP. I have to thank Harry Beckwith and his simple yet effective approach to marketing. If you really think about the concept of “selling through”, it’s all about everything that happens from initial contact to actual service delivery, which includes what most would refer to as sales & marketing efforts. Beckwith hit upon arguably the most important components of brand marketing which are recency and familiarity.
Recency is what helps those with long-term memory issues remember certain brains over others. If you recently saw an ad for a company and then have a consumer decision to make soon after where that company is offering a solution for what you see, chances are you may go with them because they are freshest in your memory. Recency is what helps people decide whether they go with an unknown company or the “devil they know”. Chances are that there are negative items in their recent recollections but, since they know what they are getting into and recognize the brand, they’ll take a gamble. Like I said in my previous post, do not attempt to assume that consumer decisions are logical in any way.
Familiarity is very simple and is supported by the recency factor, naturally. Familiar brands win over the unknowns all the time. It’s the old “Brand X” versus the household brand issue: people are predisposed to certain opinions when all they’ve known is a particular side of the story. Some consumers will never try an alternative solution because they figure if what they have works fine, they shouldn’t have to explore other options. Brand loyalty is another vital component in effective brand marketing.
In the end, strong brands can strong-arm the market. Perceived value will almost always defeat actual value, even if the actual value is far lower than what is being projected to the consumer. When you have developed a wonderful brand identity for your business, people will not see much else, and that is when you have the opportunity to build more hype and, hopefully, deliver quality service to match the hype. These are the methods that keep loyal customers passionate about your brand. These are the things that make your customers the real advocates of your business. If you look at things this way, Apple, Starbucks, and many other powerhouse brands have a marketing force consisting of millions upon millions of people. Quite impressive, I’d say!