Tag Archives: marketing

The Business of Building a Country’s Brand

AP Photo/Sergei Grits

Flipping through a magazine — if you’re like me and still do that — you’ll often encounter a colorful advertisement beckoning you to visit some place like Montenegro or Switzerland. “Belarus,” the slogan says. “Hospitality beyond borders.” But do you even know where Belarus is? What images does its name conjure? At The GuardianSamanth Subramanian tells the story of a whole sector of the marketing industry outside tourism, whose machinations remain invisible to consumers, but whose work shapes our opinions about place.

Many people associate Mexico with drugs, China with pollution, and Russia with spies and snow, but each country has so much more to offer than those social ills. A host of marketing firms now work with nations, regions and cities to sculpt their public image, crafting an identity that either polishes preexisting rough edges, or builds one from scratch from history, character and potential. To attract visitors, a place must be safe and full of activities, but tourism is not rebranding’s only objective. Some places want to reposition themselves on the map of public opinion. They want to increase their status and respect among their neighbors. Many want foreign investment, and to attract business, they must appear flourishing and stable.

Nation-building requires more than writing taglines and designing logos. It requires psychology, and firms can conduct years worth of research and interviews to identify how to fix image problems or make places like Primorsky Krai visible in the first place. As with all marketing, some part of the image is a lie, and branding’s inherent manipulations don’t always work. Example A: Gaddafi’s Libya. As Subramanian asks in his piece: What makes a nation a nation?

Of all their projects, the Grands are proudest of Tatarstan, which has bolstered their reputation among the people who run Russia’s regional governments. The government of Tatarstan, a republic of around 4 million people in south-western Russia, was convinced it wasn’t getting the recognition it deserved, either in Moscow or overseas. In 2013, they hatched a plan to promote the region’s heritage.

When Instid was hired, the government merely wanted a thick book, with glossy photos and text about the artefacts in Tatarstan’s museums. The Grands expanded this meagre vision. They reached into the period of the Bulgar kings, who ruled this region between the seventh and 13th centuries, and distilled a set of attitudes and values that had persisted into modern-day Tatarstan. The people were perfectionists, the Grands decided. They honed their skills and craftsmanship continuously, they were competitive, and valued pragmatism; they also bore a sense of loss about their past, and they prized the material over the spiritual or the intangible.

The products of such study – lessons from medieval history, or patter about “mastery,” “decisiveness” and “speed” – can seem amorphous, or even concocted. But they lent structure to some of Tatarstan’s initiatives, Alex Grand said. Schools and universities folded these cues into their syllabuses; architects based blueprints on them. In their annual reports, government officials took to naming sections after the values the campaign celebrated. The tourism sector, which was never encouraged as warmly as industry, received a dose of state enthusiasm: its own ministry, more funds, better training.

Read the story

What Happened to eBay?

It was musical theatre camp in the early aughts, and my summer camp was putting on an abridged performance of My Fair Lady. Looking back, I definitely had a crush on the slightly older girl who played the lead, but at the time I attributed her allure to her bohemian fashion sense — so unlike my middle school classmates! — and her killer voice. Let’s call her Nellie, because that was her name. I must’ve gone home and regaled my mom with stories of Nellie’s outfits, because my next memory is my mom and I sitting cross-legged on the guest room bed, scrolling through listings of fringed vests and flared denim. It was my first time on eBay, and I was hungry for love, bargains, and screen time. Until now, secondhand shopping was done in-person at Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and my only online auction experience happened on Neopets. eBay enchanted me, and I trawled it for hours on end. I never bought anything; I didn’t have a credit card or parental permission to spend hundreds of dollars on pilling Abercrombie polos, but browsing was all I needed.

That’s all changed. I haven’t peeked at eBay in years, and apparently I’m not the only one who’s forgotten it exists. At Racked, Chavie Lieber reports that eBay is struggling to keep up with its resale market competition, primarily Amazon Marketplace and sites like Poshmark, ThredUp, and the Real Real. What happened to make eBay this way? Was it the strangely ugly user interface? The lack of a luxury authentication process? And what does the future of eBay, if there is one, look like?

One of those things that so many brands want is scale: eBay is enormous. It has 171 million users, with 1.1 billion listed items at any given time. But it’s also no longer the only game in town…It’s dedicated to remaining an online marketplace — nothing more than a platform on which buyers and sellers can interact — a position that’s hard to justify as it’s become less enticing to both kinds of users. It hasn’t invested in warehouses or inventory; it hasn’t introduced competitive shipping programs. It now needs to both differentiate and elevate itself, and then it must communicate all of that to the customer…

eBay also thinks it’s positioned to acquire Millennial and Gen Z customers who have largely ignored the site. “Younger customers don’t have misperceptions of eBay — they don’t have any perceptions,” says [Suzy Deering, eBay’s chief marketing officer]. “We’re not even in their awareness at all.”

The company’s research has found that a younger audience wants unique products and “is searching for items that push against conformity.” In this way, Deering believes eBay can be something of a foil to Amazon: “People felt like they were becoming anti-human because Amazon is so habitual, but that isn’t us. If you love Converse, you come to our site because there’s every color, every graffiti-ed version, vintage. You’re not going to get that if you go onto Amazon or into a department store.”

 

Read the story

Inside the Content Machine

Assembly line workers

Many of the freelance writers I know cobble  together their income from a mix of projects:  journalism, copy writing, web production work, and cranking out content widgets. Call that last bit what you will — content marketing, brand journalism, native advertising — skilled writers can make good money in this sector of the word market.

And there’s a fat supporting industry to all that content marketing gold — books, classes, fancy conferences. On Tablet, Sean Cooper attends a content marketing conference to find out how the content industry is selling itself — and selling itself out.

…the roaring fire that was 20th-century nonfiction magazine literature has been hosed down to wet coals. In this new 21st-century post-literature era, the techniques and tools of the journalism trade have been plundered by scavenger industries, which rightly foresaw profit opportunities in what has been called branded content, native advertising, or content marketing, which agglomerates techniques used to build characters, create narrative arcs, and establish tones of voice that once served as conduits for nonfiction writers attempting to intimately mind-meld with readers. While journalism continues to struggle, burgled storytelling devices are being leveraged at scale by content-marketing agencies and branding studios that publish content stories to satisfy shareholder expectations. One industry analysis estimates that the content-marketing business will be worth $215 billion in 2017. The Struggling Writer is here to see them count the money.

Read the story

To Be an Instagram-Ready Restaurant, Don’t Forget Your Selfie-Optimized Lamps

Image by Paulo Valdivieso (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Back in the 1970s, memorabilia-heavy restaurants became popular as they facilitated the loosening-up of sexual mores. These days, colorful tiles, bold wallpaper, and the occasional (ironic?) taxidermy piece can all trace their origins to our need to capture and broadcast our well-curated pleasures. As Casey Newton shows at The Verge, Instagram is the driving force behind the current vogue for easily reproduced, sleek-kitschy idiosyncrasy — including adjustable lighting that allows diners to take the most flattering selfie possible.

Few restaurants have taken photo-friendliness as seriously as Bellota, a Spanish restaurant that opened in San Francisco last year. The entryway is enclosed, creating a pleasing shadowbox effect as you look into the dining room. The kitchen is open, and encourages patrons to take 360-degree videos of the space. Many Instagram posts feature pictures of “the ham wall,” which is just what it sounds like: a window that looks into the temperature-controlled room where Bellota stores $50,000 worth of Spanish jamón ibérico.

The most striking thing about Bellota may be the custom lamps at its 25-seat bar, which let patrons adjust the lighting in order to get the perfect shot. “I’m probably the most avid Instagram user of the group, so I kept bringing it up,” says Ryan McIlwraith, Bellota’s chef. He wanted the lighting to do justice to the restaurant’s tapas plates and signature paellas. “It turned out these lamps we got were just perfect for it,” he says. The lamps can be tilted or turned 180 degrees, and the light’s intensity can be adjusted up and down. An “advanced feature” allows patrons to rest their phones on the lamp’s neck so as to take a selfie. (I did, and must admit the lighting was lovely.)

Read the story

What Sexual SEO Looks Like

library
Photo by differitas

In The Walrus, Natalie Zina Waschots describes her time doing search-engine optimization for a Toronto pornography curator. She tagged images with anatomical and other sexual descriptors to help randy users find the type of porn they wanted. Although the optimization was standard, Waschots’ essay shows how sex work affects a person’s own sex life, and how working with sexual content makes some employees think it’s okay to be sexist.

It feels strangely noble to shepherd horny web surfers along in their pursuit of self-gratification, and under different management, it would probably be a fulfilling, even pleasant, job. I could learn to deal with the fact that constant exposure to sexual content is starting to alienate me from my body and make me distant in my romantic relationships, that my brain is slowly becoming saturated with the language of fucking. But what really gets to me are the standard-issue white-collar indignities: an overbearing, creepy boss, and the singular tediousness of cubicle life.

Read the story

The ’90s Soda that Nobody Cared About Until It Was Dead

In The Believer in February, 2014, Michael Schulman wrote about one of the most dramatic and memorable failures in American branding: Coca-Cola’s OK Soda. Marketed to Gen X’ers in 1994, the OK Soda brand died by 1995, though its artifacts live on in collector circles and advertising lore. As ’90s fashion and music cycle back through popular culture, this epic story of food, failure and the secret heart of youth culture highlights the arrogance of business people who think they know what you want and how to manipulate you into buying it.

When OK Soda was introduced, of course, Coke executives were certain they had it right. Drawing on a study from MIT, the company had pinpointed what Generation X was all about. “Economic prosperity is less available than it was for their parents,” Lanahan theorized. “Even traditional rites of passage, such as sex, are fraught with life-or-death consequences.” Tom Pirko, a Coke marketing consultant, told NPR, “People who are nineteen years old are very accustomed to having been manipulated and knowing that they’re manipulated.” He described the soda’s potential audience as “already truly wasted. I mean, their lethargy probably can’t be penetrated by any commercial message.”

How to sell soft drinks to such people? The answer was to embrace the angst. Coke turned to Wieden + Kennedy, the ultra-hip Portland, Oregon, ad firm that had devised Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. The agency’s pitch has become the stuff of soda lore: research had shown that Coca-Cola was the second most recognized term in the world. The first was OK, which, the firm pointed out, was also the two middle letters of Coke. So why not combine the two? The drink was christened OK Soda, and its semi-reassuring motto was “Things are going to be OK.”

Read the story

How Burger King Generates Buzz on a Budget

Burger King likes being edgy, Schwan says, and it has proved that it doesn’t mind doing things that might make other brands blush. In August, as the company pushed a new spicy version of its chicken fries—a cult favorite the chain returned to the menu after a flood of social media requests—it tweeted a picture of what appeared to be a stack of pornographic magazines. The skin books, their cover images blurred, were set next to a box of Fiery Chicken Fries, and the tweet read: “Hotter than your summer reading list. #fierychickenfries.” Less than a week later, a similar tweet featured blurred-out images of bikini-clad women with this message: “Hotter than your browsing history.”

In an age when office chatter has moved from last night’s TV episode to the latest viral video, part of Burger King’s marketing advantage has been its willingness to move quickly to exploit a constantly churning Internet news cycle. After the company reentered France in 2013, following a 16-year absence, social media there were besieged with negative comments from French customers complaining about long lines at the restaurants. Burger King didn’t waver in the face of the apparent customer service crisis. Instead, it printed some of the “angry tweets” on construction panels at the new locations as proof it had heard the negative feedback. That gambit generated millions of retweets, won a marketing award, and again showed Burger King to be a brand that isn’t afraid to ignore conventional wisdom. “The better it is you understand what you stand for, the easier it is to react quickly,” Schwan says.

Craig Giammona, writing in Bloomberg Business about how the Burger King chain’s bolder, racier viral marketing strategy is increasing sales by using social media to integrate itself into pop culture, and it’s doing it for less money.

Read the story

Every Kiss Begins with Kay… And Strategic Placement in Your Suburban Shopping Mall

In “Kay, Zales, and Marketing Diamonds to the Middle-Class Man”—a recent feature for Racked—Chavie Lieber wrote about Signet Jewelers, the parent company that owns such household names as Kay Jewelers, Jared, and Zales. Signet became the largest specialty jewelry company in America by targeting the midmarket jewelry segment, knowing their customer base, and doing some serious marketing. Trust also plays a major role in jewelry purchases, and Signet has honed customer trust via an unlikely strategy: store location.

Location is another incredibly important factor in the company’s success, says Angie Ash, executive vice president of jewelry marketing firm Fruchtman Marketing. Stores for Signet’s three largest brands (Kay, Jared, and Zales, which make up 41, 21, and 14 percent of the brand’s sales, respectively) are strategically placed. Most Kay and Zales storefronts are located in suburban malls populated with shoppers, while Jared storefronts are “normally free-standing sites with high visibility and traffic flow, positioned close to major roads within shopping developments,” as per the company’s 2015 annual report.

This emphasis on location not only correlates to sales, it also helps build brand recognition among shoppers.

***

Echoes Ash, “A customer that walks past the same mall jewelry brand every single week is going to eventually feel comfortable enough going when he’s ready to buy something. These mall jewelers also don’t have many barriers. They are an open storefront where people can go right up there and talk to an employee. In most cases, they also have price tags so shoppers can easily look at the items and see what they can afford.”

Read the story

The Benefits of Being No. 2 in Business

Back in the early 1960s, also-ran Avis — a smaller, less successful business than Hertz — decided to run a new advertising campaign, one that embraced its market position rather than trying to change it. “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder. Or else,” the company’s advertisements read. Avis’s initial business insight was to locate its cars at airports, not in downtowns, but its most ingenious one was to play up its inferior position. It focused on its newer fleet and better customer service, promising, “We’re always emptying ashtrays,” and “Since we’re not the big fish, you won’t feel like a sardine when you come to our counter.” The strategy worked: The company moved from the red to the black and expanded its market share — even, within a few years, coming close to beating Hertz.

It makes sense: Differentiate in order to compete. Upscale or downscale. Don’t go head to head. And so Lyft is driving away from it again — or, rather, doubling down on what made it different in the first place. “We’ve gotten to or are getting to scale in all our cities,” Zimmer told me. “What’s the next experiential push that helps us realize the broader vision?”

—What’s next for ridesharing’s biggest underdog? Annie Lowrey takes a look in “Can Lyft Pull an Avis?” in New York magazine.

Read the story

Joe McGinniss: 1942-2014

Nixon had refused the teleprompter from the start. He kept all the figures—crime rising nine times as fast … 300 cities … 200 dead … 7,000 injured … 43 percent of the American people afraid … He kept them all in his head, like the date of the Battle of Hastings.

Now he was starting again: “As we enter the last few days of the nineteen sixty-eight campaign, there is one issue on which there is a critical difference of opinion between the two candidates and that’s on the issue of law and order in the United States. Mr. Humphrey pledges that he will continue the policies of the last—”

He stopped.

“I don’t like that, either,” he said. “Let’s—We’ll do another one here.”

Again, three beeps from the machine. Richard Nixon sat at the edge of the desk, looking at the floor. He rested his chin on his fist.

-Journalist Joe McGinniss, from The Selling of the President 1968, hailed as one of the classic books about the modern marketing of a presidential candidate. McGinniss, who also wrote books including Fatal Vision, died Monday at age 71 from complications related to prostate cancer.

***

Photo source