Feb 282011

Success-brand-investment Brand investments are smart spending when done right. The March 2011 issue of Success magazine features the article “Spend Your Way to Prosperity,” with recommendations for the best initial investments entrepreneurs should make. The article includes a quote from Merriam Associates on spending money upfront to protect your brand with a trademark and by owning your brand in the digital realm. The book Merriam’s Guide to Naming advises owning as many variations of your brand’s URL as you can afford to buy, along with reserving variations on your brand name on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In. The March issue of Success is on newsstands now.

Feb 072011

gawker brandGawker.com fans were in full rebellion over the Gawker brand redesign. Some threatened to never visit the site again. The Twittering class hated Gawker’s redesign launched February 7th. On February 9th, that all changed. Gawker.com broke the story of the “classy” Congressman showing off his flabby torso and traffic boomed.

Consumers pretty much always hate change–witness the initial flack when the new Starbucks logo launched last month. For the Gawker brand, the reaction to their new design was as hate-filled as it was predictable. From Twitter:

FruitMuffin The new gawker redesign is terrible! @Gizmodo and @Lifehacker, I’m sad to say it, but you just lost a reader, it’s too annoying to use.

Zombie_Rights Wow, ok. Who decided to let Satan himself redesign all the Gawker sites, anyway? I was wondering what the big deal was about, and yeesh

norahpdx gawker‘s site redesign makes my face hurt. what a disaster.

Wise companies use design for strategic purposes that may or may not initially please the masses. In Gawker’s case, their new design makes it possible to put their important stories first. The old design locked them into a a reverse chronological order, making an important story disappear off the home page as new material was posted after it. Strategically, the move made sense.

Consumers don’t always understand strategy–they are driven by familiarity. The wisdom of Gawker’s redesign hit two days after the new site look launched. The icky pictures of a congressman who imagines himself hot proved irresistible. Traffic was still up by 22% as of yesterday, the latest available Alexa stats as I write this post. And this hot story is on the Gawker front page (though a Tom Cruise/Scientology Slave article–with an equal creepy factor–has nudged it further down towards the bottom.) The new design makes it possible for Gawker to squeeze this story for all it is worth in terms of site traffic and time on site–and that makes strategic sense, whether you like the design or not. Likeability is a direct function of familiarity.

Design is important to brand, but in the end, product is more so. A great logo and great packaging can’t save a crappy product. The Gawker grand is about supplying “gossip from Manhattan and the Beltway to Hollywood and the Valley,” is something they continue to do very well.

As for the Gawker brand redesign haters, they can chill a bit. The new design will grow on them. Most brand redesigns do.

Jan 242011

brand-value-fallingThe brand value of Johnson & Johnson is falling due to product recalls, product unavailability and other problems. The December, 2010 recall of Rolaids is more than a new cause for heartburn at Johnson & Johnson. Coming on the heels of a year of unprecedented recalls, this latest problem is having a major impact on brand value. Beginning with the January 15th recall of Tylenol and expanding through the Spring and Summer with recalls of such consumer icons as Motrin, Benadryl, St. Joseph’s Aspirin, Mylanta, DePuy hip replacements, and prescription drugs like Epogen and Procrit, the Johnson & Johnson brand has suffered from a pattern of manufacturing and quality control failures.

Loss of More Than 27% of Brand Value

Grant Thornton’s September 10, 2010 report on declining brand value calculates that the Johnson & Johnson brand lost 27% of its value. And this analysis was done before some of the major recalls of the summer and fall. Moreover, the damage to the recalled product brands themselves has to be much, much greater. And possibly permanent. Consumers are being forced to switch to competitive brands and generic replacements. Convincing them to come back to Johnson & Johnson brands will be no small feat. That the company has been dragged before Congress and is the subject of an ongoing Department of Justice criminal probe does not help.

Johnson & Johnson Can’t Yet Take the First Step to Brand Repair

Restoring share of market and brand reputation will take plenty of money and even more time. Of course nothing can be done until the first step in brand repair can be taken, and that is: fix the problem–something that month after month of recalls, plant shutdowns and management shakeups haven’t been able to address. That the recalls are so broad-based across so many divisions in so many countries, and that they seem to just keep coming, does not bode well for the Johnson & Johnson brand that  so long has stood for trust.

A side note: Johnson & Johnson and its brands do not have either a Twitter or Facebook presence. As we have covered here and here, companies can’t wait until they are in a crisis to try and make effective use of social media.

UPDATE: The company has posted a 12 percent decline in profit and a 5.5 percent decline in sales for the fourth quarter 2010.

Jan 092011

A good brand reputation is not a service you can buy and can’t be gained by a clever stratagem. Still, reputation managers at companies trying to do damage control or damage prevention always seem to be on the look-out for shortcuts that can shut down any negative conversation about brand.

Preventing Negative Conversation Is Impossible

Some companies use stratagems to try and prevent negative conversation. In advance of an expected Wikileaks attack, Bank of America registered hundreds of negative domains in mid-December. Erik Sherman writes on bnet “BofA executives have limited imaginations when it comes to the many ways people could put down the company and its managers.” And he points out they are years too late, with sites such as www.BankofAmericaSucks.com having carried on a brisk trade in negative consumer opinion for years. Despite Bank of America’s big URL buy, hundreds of negative URLs remain. In fact, another blogger Cory Doctorow calculates that the number of potential URLs limited to just five negative variations (blows, sucks, crook, thief, and fraudster) at a cost of just $5 each would exceed the capital reserves of the bank.

Drowning Out Negative Conversation Also Doesn’t Work

Some companies try to flood the conversation with false positives. Techniques can be as ham-handed as reviewing your own company (five stars!) on Yelp! to systematic attempts to manipulate search engine results. Companies like ReputationDefender.com floods the Web with positive content optimized to make the pages of search engine results pages. Covering this company years ago, Forbes.com recounted a story of one executive who used the service to drown out sites calling her a “fraud” and “con artist” with stories of her business, her upcoming book, even her recipes, though she is quoted in the article as saying, “the truth is, if it doesn’t go in the microwave, I don’t make it.” Google “Reputation Defender Scam” and you’ll find dozens of reasons to stay away from this company and any service like it. It should come as no surprise that cheaters cheat. If your company is already battling negatives, don’t pile on with dishonesty. A good brand will behave as honorably online as in real life.

Integrity Works

Honesty is its own reward, but in business, it is also profitable. I have talked about transparency of today’s world and the absolute need for brands to be genuine in a half dozen articles. In a world of Wikileaks and Gawker, nothing is secret for long. Whatever might be gained by shading the truth will cost plenty when your brand gets lambasted in public. A good reputation is not gained by a stratagem and can’t be bought as a service. It takes genuine effort over a long, long time. Build your brand on solid rock and it will weather many a storm. (see here and here)

Jan 052011

Wikipanic—it’s the new word for the latest marketing threat. What will happen to your brand if Wikileaks attacks it? As Mastercard, Paypal, Visa, and Bank of America are finding out, marketers need to be ready in advance of disaster, whether a plane crash, an oil well explosion or a wikileak/hacktivist attack. Companies can’t risk a wikipanic. They need to be wikiready.

wikileaks wikipanic

The New York Times is reporting that Bank of America was threatened by Julian Assange with a promise to bring them down and expose “the ecosystem of corruption.” The company is trying to get a jump on the crisis by finding out where they are exposed, how they are exposed, and what will be exposed. Their expensive counterespionage team is conducting a massive document review, investigating every lost, stolen, or missing computer, and crafting a security, operational, and brand reputation response. What should you do to be wikiready for a Wikileaks attack?

Don’t Be Evil and You Don’t Have to Wikipanic

Google’s informal corporate motto may be derided, but it is one everyone should adopt. Even before Wikileaks, our “information wants to be free” world had become too transparent for companies, governments, executives and politicians to have a realistic expectation that their actions can stay hidden. The days when a president like FDR could keep his wheelchair secret or a senator like Chris Dodd could conceal his sweetheart Countryside mortgage deal are long gone. Task one for companies seeking protection from a Wikileaks-type assault is to avoid doing anything that would be embarrassing or damaging when made public (not if). Know that someone is always watching.

Fix The Problem First

If Wikileaks is going to reveal something damaging, fix it before you have a wikipanic. Too many marketing and public relations people go into damage control mode, controlling damage to a brand reputation before fixing what is causing the damage. This kind of response is worse than counter-productive. BP doubled-down on the harm to its brand by trying to protect its reputation while the oil spewed. Focus on fixing the problem, not on minimizing the problem or on issuing defensive message. Honesty and transparency can be painful, but brands that respond this way do bounce back. Admit, apologize, atone–and don’t do it again. People won’t forget, but they will forgive.

The Bigger the Brand the Bigger the Target

Last week, I wrote on the expanding role of brands. No longer are they strictly commercial expressions. Brands are increasingly co-opted for larger economic, social and political debates. If you have a powerful brand, be ready for that power to get turned against you. Big brands are highly vulnerable to security breaches from:

  • Lost laptops or laptops left in places where others could quickly download information to a portable hard drive while you are out getting coffee
  • Data sent to outsiders by disgruntled employees—or customers
  • Data in the hands of outsiders who may not protect it adequately (Bank of America’s data may have escaped from the documents given to the Securities and Exchange Commission, congressional investigators and the New York attorney general’s office, though those organizations naturally deny it)
  • Old fashioned hacking–like the coordinated cyber-attack on 2500 companies in 196 countries that began back in 2008 and continued for years (finally revealed publicly in February 2010)
  • DNS attacks that can bring down a Web site like Mastercard’s
  • Co-opting of a brand to make a political statement (think McMansions or Disneyification)

Be Ready

If you have a valuable brand, digital vandalism, a wikileaks assault, or cyber-attack is a matter of when, not if. Have your communications infrastructure in place and operating to avoid a wikipanic. USAir and Continental didn’t seem to know how to use Facebook or Twitter before or immediately after their plane crashes. BP used one-way corporate-speak on Twitter and Facebook and were more than one step behind on YouTube.

Dec 192010

With Michael Vick stepping back into the role of spokesperson, an old blog post “When a Brand Is a Person” is newly relevant.  That post was written while Martha Stewart was rebuilding her personal brand. Now, years later, we can look back and consider what drove her successful comeback. We can also look at the subsequent implosion of the Tiger Woods brand last year. Both brands can tell us about the ultimate success of the Michael Vick brand.


The Martha Stewart Personal Brand Comeback

Martha is back, bigger than ever before. Deals with Macy’s, Pet Smart, Home Depot, Michael’s, and a potential cosmetics line,  make the Martha Stewart merchandise business highly profitable. The Martha Stewart brand brings in $7.3 million in operating profit, more than making up for the company’s $800,000 publishing deficit. The Martha Stewart brand benefits from the fact that Martha’s securities fraud was not the least bit relevant to her cooking, crafts, and homemaking brand. The design and presentation savvy behind her success never flagged.

The Tiger Woods Brand Is Still in the Rough

While the Tiger Woods scandal is still fresh, the outlook for a brand comeback is not positive. Unlike Martha Stewart’s brand, the damage to Tiger Woods is fundamental to his brand positioning. Tiger Woods once stood for integrity. No more. Dishonesty to his wife and many girlfriends was one thing. His self-centeredness and lack of self-control did more damage. Finally, his cynical attempts at damage control finished off the Tiger Woods brand. Some estimate Tiger lost $40 million in sponsorship income. Much of that income is probably lost for good. And Tiger isn’t helping himself much by losing tournaments and losing his temper.

Prospects for the Michael Vick Brand

Michael Vick has an excellent shot at restoring his value as a brand. His prospects are mor

Dec 162010

Microsoft brand failure rate is high. Analysts continue to criticize the once high-flying company and consider its prospects as cloud computing and competitive products dim the prospects for the company’s operating systems.

A History of Microsoft Brand Failures

Indeed, Microsoft has a long track record of failed brands. Here are a dozen examples:
Vista: This failure hurt the most. Microsoft is synonymous with operating systems, so a failed product in this category was a body blow. Released in January 2007, by April 2009, the software had only achieved a 24% share of PC operating systems. Most people still prefer to limp along using decade-old systems.

Kin Phone: It took years and billions of dollars to develop, but only sold 503 units after 48 days on the market. In terms of financial cost, this brand inflicted plenty of damage.

Tablet PC: The failure of this brand chipped away at Microsoft’s reputation as an innovator.  Ground-breaking when Microsoft first announced it ten years ago, the Tablet PC was surpassed by better design and better marketing of the iPad and Samsung’s Android.

Zune: An innovative reputation can’t be won with copycat products. Microsoft’s Zune portable media player has not been able to effectively compete with Apple and its iPod.

MSN: As Microsoft struggled with MSN Search, which became MSN (with the butterfly), then Live Search and now Bing, Google started, grew, and now dominates.

WebTV: The internet over television sounded like the holy grail of convergence. But the product never produced a revenue stream as its tech-averse customer base created an expensive customer service nightmare.

Passport: Microsoft demonstrated branding cluelessness by originally calling this “thing”  Microsoft Wallet, then Passport, then .NET Passport, then Microsoft Passport Network, then Live ID, then Windows Live as part of MSN. Phew! Moreover, entrusting sensitive information to a company known for operating systems with massive security bugs, Passport was a no-go. The service closed August 2009.

Encarta: Why pay for a limited and outdated encyclopedia when there is Wikipedia? This brand finally expired on March, 2009.

Bob: Bob was meant to be a user-friendly Windows interface, but turned into a laughing-stock that perennially makes the “worst of” lists. “Bob” appears to be an internal project name that somehow escaped as a public-facing brand name on an embarrassing product.

Money: Brand trust issues aside, Microsoft Money could not compete against online banks, free personal finance tools and more established and robust financial software products.

WinCE: Yup, this product made people “wince”. This personal digital assistant software brand represents years of trying, failing and eventually giving up.

“I’m a PC”: In answer to Apple’s successful “I’m a Mac” branding campaign came the inexplicable “I’m a PC” answer from Microsoft. In addition to adopting an “I know you are, but what am I” brand positioning, the campaign didn’t identify the brand Windows beyond a logo and said nothing about the “V-Word” (the failing Vista operating system). Why invest in advertising a generic like a PC?

Key Factors in Microsoft’s Brand Failures

  1. Poor design:  Apple’s brand is built on excellent, innovative design. Microsoft design is generic and old-fashioned.
  2. Inconsistency: The Apple product brands all support key brand attributes of the parent company: coolness and easy usability. Microsoft branding is all over the map, with some product brands having almost no association with the parent company and with no brands sharing a unifying attribute that would bring them all together as Microsoft.
  3. No jumping off point: Apple has always been about devices integrated with software, making it easy to create new products of all kinds. Microsoft was just an operating system, and a bug-ridden one at that.
  4. Problems with trust: Microsoft has been seen as arrogant and pushy. Its reputation has never recovered from the anti-trust lawsuit in the 1990s.
  5. Poor follow-through: Beyond a launch announcement and a few ads, many Microsoft products flounder unsupported.

Lots of money and really smart people are Microsoft brand strengths, but the company cannot reach its full potential without smarter branding. Little by little, newcomers like Google and old competitors like Apple will eat their lunch.

Dec 102010

It was just a matter of time before the kinds of people who vandalized brands at world economic summits resorted to brand cyber-vandalism. The Wikileaks hacktivists recognize brands as political symbols, targeting global brands like Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, Amazon, Twitter and Shell.


Gone are the days when a brand was a simple guarantee of product quality. Brands today play a greater political, social, and economic role. Brand power extends far beyond products and companies to symbolize more powerful companies and larger issues.


Because of their symbolic power, brands are regularly co-opted to attract attention and dramatize political issues. That is how The Gap has become a symbol for sweatshops, McDonalds for the obesity epidemic, Walmart for labor violations, Disney for cultural imperialism, Barbie for sexism and on and on. Many brands are more powerful than sovereign nations. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations, not nations. This is exactly what has gotten Shell into trouble with the Wikileak revelations that the company is more powerful than the Nigerian government.

Brands as Political Symbols

Brands make abstract concepts simple and personal. Brands are in our homes, on our backs, and in our bodies. They are an accessible and satisfying target. Taking on armies and governments is daunting. Torching a Citibank or breaking the windows at a KFC is easy.


Ready or not, leaders of powerful brands must recognize that their roles and responsibilities have expanded. Symbolic use of brands in political, social, and economic debates is part of the new reality.

Dec 082010

Interpublic’s hyper-local media agency Geomentum (whose brand name was created by Merriam Associates last year), was selected by MEDIA magazine as a specialty agency of the year for 2010.  The awards was based on the company’s strategic vision, innovation and industry leadership. A profile of Geomentum and its achievements will appear in the January issue of MEDIA and the award will be presented to Geomentum in New York at the MEDIA gala on January 11th.

Oct 252010

Yes, sort of. The old-fashioned document you faxed to a bunch of editors and reporters is dead. The more recent idea of a “social media press release” is also dead—it did more for the PR agency that invented it than it did for people seeking coverage. Yet that doesn’t mean that an evolved press release is not still a powerful marketing tool. What is different about press releases today is how they are written, what is in them and how they are used.

Writing the Evolved Press Release

Headlines used have to catch the eye of an editor. While that is still important, writing for search engines is at least equally important. Include your most important keyword in your headline. Make sure the body of your release is just as rich in keywords. Use subheadings and bullets. You might even put some of the more important sound bites as bullets before starting your main copy.
–>The key take away—make your release easy to scan and make sure it is written with SEO (search engine optimization) in mind.

What Goes In the Evolved Press Release

Old-fashioned press releases announced news. That is still the case today, but it is by no means enough. The evolved press release also includes:

  • Links: Link to relevant pages and blog posts on your site. Offer white papers and resources to download.
  • Quoted Source Information: Consider including connections to LinkedIn bios, onsite corporate profiles, photos, and published commentary.
  • Rich media: Include charts, photographs, even video that is relevant to the release.
  • Sharing widgets: Include widgets for connecting to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Make it easy to share your content with an “email this” widget. Experts are advising against social bookmarking. Lee Odden, who writes the Online Marketing Blog says it is “social media suicide because Digg users are 99 times more likely to Bury social media news releases than to Digg them.” http://www.toprankblog.com/2007/04/five-dont-with-social-news-and-bookmarking/
  • Metadata: You need to write a meta title, meta description, and well-researched keywords, and include them with the release. If your release is picked up, editors will find the keyword suggestions helpful. On press release distribution sites, metadata helps your release get found.

Using the Evolved Press Release

Sending your press release to actual members of the press still makes sense, but it is only a first step. You can use your release to get links by submitting it to a reputable press release distribution service like Business Wire or PR Newswire. Be wary of free press release submission services as they are full of “spam” press releases—sales pitches with the word “news” pasted at the top. Your release is unlikely to get picked up from any of these free services and the links will not be high value ones in terms of SEO. Make sure to post your release on your site. Use html so that search engines can find your release more easily than they can a pdf. Give the release to your sales staff. They can send it to prospects and dormant clients as a way to stay in touch. Releases can also be used as part of a sales kit.
–>And don’t forget to Tweet! Once your release is on your site, make sure to schedule Tweets about it. Link back to it from your company’s Facebook page and LinkedIn profile. Have your SEO team do a little link building with relevant blogs.
Far from being dead, a well-written, newsy, release rich in content can help with SEO, with attracting links, and can have a long “afterlife” as a sales tool.

© 2014 Lisa Merriam