Brand Management Archive

Could the Verizon iPhone Cause This Year’s Biggest “I Told You So” Moment?

January 10th, 2011

Assuming the rumors are true, and Verizon announces tomorrow that it will offer the iPhone on its network, then we’re curious as to one very problematic scenario.

As many people know, iPhone customers love their phones but hate the AT&T network.  Oh, if only Verizon would swoop in and save the day!  If this day turns out to be January 11, 2011, and soon AT&T customers begin flocking to Verizon, it’s safe to wonder whether Verizon’s network will actually be prepared to handle the increased digital traffic on its highway.

And, if there is a traffic jam… oh boy, watch out, ‘cuz AT&T’s gonna have a field day on this one.  Think about it: AT&T has had the iPhone since 2007.  Though it’s been bashed roundly for its spotty network coverage, the company has had nearly four years to iron out the network kinks.  If a decent percentage of AT&T users flee to Verizon, presumably that will relieve some strain on the AT&T network.  That’s got to make dedicated AT&T iPhone users happy about their newfound digital boon.

In turn, Verizon will have to hope and pray that its network doesn’t suffer the same growing pains that AT&T did.  This is largely due to the eeeeeeenormous expectations on Verizon to deliver its perceived stronger network service to customers, including its new iPhone cohort.  And it’s also due to the fact that Verizon has done next to nothing to dampen or explain those expectations in realistic terms.

So Verizon, if things don’t go well, what is your PR plan?  How will you respond to any network sluggishness?  More importantly, what will your marketing plan be when AT&T lampoons you for all the image problems it has already gone through?

This is the stuff that keeps PR pros up at night and should scare the Verizon C-suite straight into hammering out a strong iPhone crisis management public relations plan, if it hasn’t already.

My choice, My message, My PR

January 10th, 2011

Just how much can a re-branding go to improving public perception?  Get your notebook out as we’re going to school…

An issue really heating up in Congress is the debate over for-profit colleges.  Industry regulations were loosened under the Bush administration, and enrollment soared.  Unfortunately, many graduating students got saddled with huge debts so the Obama administration proposed “Gainful Employment” regulations to address this problem.  Both for-profit colleges and investors see these regulations as a threat, as might be inferred from falling stock prices.

From the PR standpoint, the label “for-profit college” invites scrutiny; certainly these organizations are aware of that.  So they coined “career college to focus on the service they provide, i.e., educating professionals.  We can see these themes on the University of Phoenix website, and in their op-ed and on the APSCU website.  And, career colleges rightly associated themselves with more tangible outcomes a long time ago, such as graduating IT and healthcare professionals.

But just like they changed from the Career College Association to the APSCU, their brand must continue to evolve.  For example, why aren’t their graduates in the arts emphasized more, or those in green jobs?  Smart brand evolution would stress that a career college fulfills not just one need but many needs.  Quick op-eds won’t cut it when facing PR quicksand like this.  And, while the APSCU website gives many examples of success stories, it has too much buzz-word infused information.

Re-branding is not an uncommon thing and your organization shouldn’t be afraid to take a few risks.  Take Starbucks for instance.  Their logo offers a nice visual of how gradual brand evolution can benefit a company.  Lesson: embrace change.  And if you’re still afraid that change might ruin your brand, remember one thing – there’s nothing like a return to a classic.

Your Crisis Is My Crisis Too: The Tale of Brands and Microfinance

January 5th, 2011

A big part of PR is brand and association.  When we say “computer companies” you might say Apple or Dell… we say “Wall Street” you say Goldman Sachs…. you get the point.  But, what happens when we say “microfinance”?  Those outside the industry will probably scramble for answers.  That said, if your organization engages in microfinance, then your PR brand thrives or suffers along with the image of the industry – unless you’ve taken steps to distinguish yourself.

Microfinance was once lauded by politicians and the media.  One prominent microfinance institution, Grameen Bank, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 along with its founder Muhammad Yunus.  But microfinance has come under serious scrutiny because several crises have arisen all at once.  Oversaturation of loans, high interest rates, mixed results for borrowers, and large profits for lenders have tarnished the industry image.

Grameen was harshly criticized in a Norwegian documentary which claimed that $100 million were improperly transferred to a bank affiliate.  SKS Microfinance, the largest microfinance institution in India, has been questioned about the suicides related to microloans in Andhra Pradesh, India’s fifth-largest state.  This isn’t the best kind of media attention.  Even worse, SKS doesn’t seem to be sympathetic.  Their statements to the press are bland (“The trigger factors for suicide are manifold, such as stressful situations at home,” according to Bloomberg).

When the PR and press were good, these institutions should have taken the opportunity to make themselves distinct, develop their brand, and control their own fate.  Instead they relied on the goodwill associated with the microfinance industry and now lack the tools to respond and manage the problems of the industry – in other words, they lack good PR.

US Airways Still Hasn’t Checked in on Tech Trends

December 28th, 2010

At the Blog Aesthetic, our articles are inspired by current events, public affairs, the latest celeb flubs, or anything else with an interesting PR twist.  And, sometimes, serendipity is our muse.

Today’s topic evolved from real-life travel events, namely in trying to check-in via mobile phone for a US Airways flight.  You’d think that mobile check-in capability would be standard for major airlines today.  Indeed, American, Delta, Continental, United, JetBlue, and Southwest all offer this feature to travelers.

As for US Airways… unless you fly out of Las Vegas (see below), you’re out of luck.

This is sad for several reasons.  First, one of the earliest and prominent mentions of this technology was a USA Today article … in 2007! Right now we’re only three days away from 2011, and US Airways remains firmly grounded on integrating mobile check-in technology.

Second, every single major competitor offers this service, so it should be safe to rule out technological hurdles.  In seeking good PR, businesses must promote a characteristic that positively distinguishes them from the competition.  For US Airways, this is hard negative distinction that no company should tolerate.

Third, if an airline can’t keep up with simple tech trends like this, what does that communicate about their brand and corporate ethos?

Fourth, steer your eyes back to the image.  Tech-savvy folks will notice an iPhone 3 is the example phone, a product that is already behind the iPhone 4.  This glitch adds more momentum to the idea of US Airways being out-of-touch on tech trends.

And lastly, it’s one thing for a company to acknowledge a deficiency and take steps to correct it.  It’s another for the company to peddle a “nothing to see here” attitude, or exaggerate the truth.  For US Airways, take a gander at their Twitter feed, where a recent status update exclaims they have “mobile tools for boarding passes” – which we now know is a fib unless, of course, you are in Las Vegas.  And only flying out of Las Vegas.  Too bad the airline is rolling the dice on staying in touch.

Stay for the Credits – They’re Better than the Feature!

December 20th, 2010

Since the dawn of the first (and now annoying) chime of “you’ve got mail,” content copyright battles between mom-and-pops and mega-behemoth titans rage on predictably.  More often than not, the default outcome is the titan unleashing litigation, at considerable cost and embarrassment.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see Warner Brothers apply a dose of PR common sense in a recent skirmish over its newest film release “Yogi Bear” (now the negative film reviews, that’s another issue entirely).  Edmund Earle, a young animator and apparent fan of the decades old characters, made his own digital parody with Yogi and Boo Boo based on another film, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”

Say what you want about Earle’s unusual taste in story telling, but give your real kudos to Warner Brother’s PR team.  No doubt the studio was set to, err, pull the trigger and litigate the video into non-existence.  Instead, somewhere along the way the PR and legal minds met at the table and everyone took a deep breath.  Knowing how costly it would have been to fight this battle, and appreciating the reality that once a video goes online it never truly disappears, the Warner Brothers team did the sensible thing.  They contacted Earle, requested that he add a disclaimer in his clip’s credits, and poof… the story got little to no traction.

Now imagine if this play-by-play were replaced with scorched-earth litigation.  Not only would the video have bounced around Facebook status updates and Twitter, but other animators would have rushed to Earle’s defense and probably have produced other parodies that skewered the studio.

As much as litigation PR is about telling your client’s side of the story, it’s also about appreciating the likely outcomes of a lawsuit and knowing that a small lump here and there beats a costly legal battle any day of the week.

UBS Stands Against Un-Buttoned Suits, Unruly Beard Stubble, Unusual Bad Smell

December 15th, 2010

Just as much as public relations counsel enhances external communications, the best PR firms also help clients with internal communications.  Large enterprises can forget the thought and care required in producing mundane materials such as employee handbooks, newsletters, and company-wide announcements.  Not only should sensitivities of the target audience of employees be kept in mind, but as the entire world has noticed, one should always assume that such communications will be leaked … and cause significant embarrassment.

Today’s offender is UBS, the global financial firm based in Switzerland.  The new UBS 43-page dress code was leaked to the press and paints the organization in an extremely unflattering light.  Among the UBS dress code requirements are:

Flesh-colored underwear;

• Compulsory scarves with authorized knots;

No eating onions (this is a dress-related item?!?);

Fingernail length.

Defensive and hostile communications like this dress code only serve to offend the workforce, doing more harm than good to the business bottom line.

Now of course, it’s really no one’s business how shiny UBS wants employee shoes to be, so from the PR standpoint there’s no need to defend the dress code.  Still, the flip-side to that point is that UBS shouldn’t go to pains to justify specific aspects of the dress code, such as stating that the manual is “in line with Swiss precision” – such quotes truly miss the Alpine forest for the trees.

Tumbling, Stumbling, Bumbling PR

December 6th, 2010

Alas, poor Tumblr… Let’s get right to the point: If your company’s entire presence is online, i.e., your website is the heart and nervous system of your business, then at some point your business will disappear — at least temporarily.  Your site will have an outage or downtime.  It’s a matter of when, not if.  This has happened to Facebook, foursquare, Gmail, Amazon… the list is lengthy.  There’s even a site dedicated to tracking outages!

Consumers and site users, though they get frustrated, will understand if your site has a simple, regular-speak statement that explains the problem.  Sites like Twitter (assuming it’s not down as well!) allow you to update your core base and interested media tracking the outage.  So, as the C-suite of your online titan, you really have no excuse to skip crisis PR basics on the situation.

As of this time, Tumblr has been down for 15 hours.  Here’s what they have to say about it:

Anyone know what a “database cluster” is, assuming you’re not an IT guru?  We certainly don’t, and a good bet is that the massive universe of Tumblr stakeholders also have no clue.  Their Twitter account isn’t much help either, other than to tell you how “painful” the downtime is.

Tumblr, dearest Tumblr… how about telling us what a database cluster is?  Even in playful or tongue-in-cheek language, it would go a long way.  Maybe a quick explanation that also discusses how long such problems last, and how they’re resolved?  And when the outage ends, how about some good crisis management that explains what steps you’ll take in the future to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again?

Without taking these steps, each second of Tumblr‘s outage only encourages competitors to poach the user base.

Krisis … Er, Crisis PR Gone Kaput

December 1st, 2010

Crisis PR can push a client to act very quickly in changing or ending certain business practices.  One recent noteworthy case is the ubiquitous celeb family the Kardashians, and the quick vanishing act performed by their name brand pre-paid debit card.

Just as soon as the card was announced, numerous critics pounced on the card’s predatory and heavy-handed fee structure.  The primary concern was that the card was being marketed to teenage girls, who critics argue lack the understanding of the delicate finances and responsibility required to manage such a card account.

To that end, the wise thing for the Kardashians to do was to, ahem, cancel the card.  And, a simple statement acknowledging their error could have put a nice end to the PR crisis and helped them move on.  That’s largely what happened, except for a couple of poorly executed twists:

First, their lawyer issued such a statement on the family’s behalf, instead of the family doing so themselves.  Effective crisis public relations counsels the client to make such statements directly to show authenticity and sincerity in seeking redemption.  Having your lawyer make the statement runs counter to this consideration.

Second, if you’re going to make a statement, don’t throw in any laughable points for the media to highlight.  The lawyer’s key quote was that the Kardashian sisters “have worked extremely long and hard to create a positive public persona” and that effort was compromised by the card’s fees.  This statement is incredibly arrogant, particularly since the family’s biggest claims to fame are association with a likely murderer and a notorious sex tape.  Unfortunately for the Kardashians, it’s the quote that most connected with the media.  Plus, it’s hard to reconcile a “positive public persona” when this is the front of the card you’re marketing:

We’d give the Kardashians a C+ for their crisis management.  The timing was great, but the delivery was a bit off mark.

Microsoft Wisely Reboots PR Strategy on Kinect

November 29th, 2010

Talk about walking itself back off the pier!  As Black Friday continues to ride the media, shopping, and economic wave until Christmas, tech toys continue to be all the rageMicrosoft certainly stands to benefit with the recent introduction of the Kinect, the motion-based videogame system that takes home entertainment to new interactive levels.

The interesting thing is that the Microsoft Kinect is actually a highly sophisticated component, and hackers, computer scientists, and other tech enthusiasts are modifying the machine for use in 3-D graphics and video production.  In this sense, the Kinect joins other products with versatility beyond their anticipated use.  For example, something as simple as baking soda has significant utility beyond being a food ingredient.

When a company creates such a hit, the smart thing to do is ride the wave of positive attention and integrate consumer satisfaction into the public relations and marketing strategy, similar to what Arm & Hammer did with its respective product.  You’d think that Microsoft would follow that philosophy.  And they did, but that stance is a significant change of heart from the company’s initial public position on the Kinect modifications.

At first, Microsoft made the ominous statement that it will “work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant.”  Yikes!  After seeing the amazing amount of great press to be had, the company quickly reversed course and gave glowing assessments – “Anytime there is engagement and excitement around our technology, we see that as a good thing.”

That’s the PR attitude Microsoft sorely needs, especially since much of its product line lacks the sizzle that a certain rival generates regularly.  The PR lesson here is to embrace sensible consumer satisfaction, something that’s hard to generate in the first place!

Dialing back Electronic Privacy Expectations

November 16th, 2010

As smartphones continue to replicate or replace other daily means and devices, it’s only natural that the base technology will expand even further into individual users’ routines.  The big news of the moment is the collaboration between Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to bring consumer payment services to mobile phones.  Dubbed “Isis,” the project will have the three companies integrate near-field technology and piggyback on Discover’s financial network – thus crossing swords with the other major credit card companies.

We all love convenience, and one less piece of plastic in our wallets is great and all, except… what does this mean for digital privacy in the new pay-to-play age?  And, what are the members of Isis doing to communicate their expectations and positions on this very topic?

Even if we’re wowed by the ability to pay for goodies with our phones, Congress will likely want to learn more at a looming lame-duck hearing on technology and telecommunications privacy issues.  Here are questions that will probably be asked at that hearing:

What security measures are in place to protect consumer credit information? (The flip-side of this coin is that the credit card companies have decades of experience and knowledge on this front.  If they wanted, they could easily run a PR campaign to show how far ahead they are and counter the Isis business objectives.)

What will the default settings be on phones for consumers, will they have to opt-out of the service?

Will phone companies now make such a payment service a mandatory part of all phone service plans?  In other words, will the payment service be bundled with all cell phone plans?

How will payment information and customer profiles, purchases, etc. be shared?  Will that information be sold to marketers and retailers for use in targeted advertising?

This is just the tip of the iceberg – the policy implications are dizzying, as is the future of electronic consumer transactions.  When so much is on the line, it behooves the corporate players to be very transparent and smart in their communications and media efforts.