Protecting Your Brand With Common Sense

The Olympic Games are almost upon us. Like most major sporting organizations, the Olympic Committee and the US Olympic Committee protect their commercial marks aggressively. That intellectual property is a huge piece of the value they sell to official sponsors and keeping non-sponsors from doing ambush marketing is a big part of any sports organization’s daily life. It becomes front and center during marquee events. 

Companies find ways around this enforcement, of course. You’ve probably seen dozens of ads about “The Big Game” every January. You know they reference The Super Bowl even though it’s never said, don’t you. It’s a term the NFL tried to protect but was unable to.  The USOC and IOC are just as aggressive about terminology ranging from the obvious (Olympics, Games, Medal, Rio) to the less obvious (Effort, Performance, Challenge).

Today isn’t about whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Having spent much of my career selling and protecting commercial sponsorships of sporting events, you can imagine where I come out on ambushing. I do, however, have a bone to pick from the other side of my career, which is digital. I think it’s instructive for all of us.

Social media is social. Sharable. A conversation. More importantly, social media has become how many people learn and stay in touch with what’s going on in the world. Not in the USOC’s eyes, apparently. They sent a letter out last week which reinforces all of the aforementioned commercial restrictions around the upcoming games, especially with respect to athletes who may be sponsored by non-USOC or Olympic sponsors. But the letter went further.

“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

It doesn’t stop there. The same letter sent by the USOC reminds companies (except for those involved in news media) that they can’t reference any Olympic results or share or repost anything from the official Olympic account. I think that’s pretty far over the foul line. Social media by definition is meant to be circulated and almost any sponsor will mention “going viral” as one of their goals. How can you tweet or mention anything about the games without using a tag that’s discoverable? Why wouldn’t you want broader attention drawn to your event if it’s not otherwise a commercial message? Yes, I understand (better than most!) how sponsors try to share the brand equity of the event without authorization, but if all they’re doing is retweeting your own post, how are they sharing brand equity?

Protecting intellectual property is one of the most important things any brand or business can do. There are limits, however, and that protection should hardly ever interfere with common sense and the world of social sharing. You certainly don’t want to be seen as a bully. Do you agree with that?

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Filed under sports business, What's Going On

Why Free Data Is A Bad Thing For You

Everyone likes “free.” Heck, there are plenty of marketing tomes that say “free” might just be the most powerful word in marketing. Well, as usual, I’m here to burst your bubble about one particular aspect of something free which I find detrimental to us all. It’s something aggressively marketed by T-Mobile and Verizon but others do it as well. It’s called Zero-rating of data. Their “Binge On” and “FreeBee Data 360” offerings provide subscribers with free streaming media that doesn’t count against their data plans.

The basic concept is that ISP‘s – in this case the two aforementioned wireless carriers – don’t charge consumers for data used when the consumers use specific sites or services. That’s pretty appealing. In fact, T-Mobile reports that mobile subscribers who sign up for their “zero-rated video” offering immediately double their consumption of video. So why is this a bad thing?

Verizon bought Yahoo this morning. They previously bought AOL. One might expect that those two companies and their services will become zero-rated for Verizon customers. While T-Mobile has yet to buy a competitor, one can easily imagine them assembling their own lineup of content and service providers. Cable providers have been doing the same thing for a long time with fledgling cable networks. They take equity in these companies and, in return, provide carriage on a better tier (meaning it’s more widely available). These cable providers are also ISP’s.

The reason our digital ecosystem is flourishing is that until recently there was no one picking losers and winners. Zero-rating does exactly that. Think about the food court at a mall. There are two restaurants side by side, but one serves free food which is paid for by the mall landlords. Which one do you think will have the longer line, regardless of the quality of the food served? If a new streaming service enters the market but there is no data charge to visit their entrenched competitors, what chances do they have to succeed?

So yes, everyone likes free but in this case free is a bad thing. It will restrict the development of new companies. It will give more power to the gatekeepers. It enables internet providers to gain a significant advantage in the promotion of in-house services over competing independent companies, especially in data-heavy markets like video-streaming. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, digital media

The Importance Of Eating It

This Foodie Friday we turn to a business lesson surfaced by hospital food. My mom recently had a short stay and her sole complaint (after heart surgery!) about the experience was the food. As it turns out, she is far from alone in this. This article from an Ottawa newspaper (via First We feast) tells the story of a how a hospital changed the nature of its food service. It’s the reason why that’s instructive to the rest of us.

One of the administrators actually ate some of the hospital food. What happened next was that he got some other managers to do the same.  For a week. As the article said:

He and other managers didn’t particularly like what they tasted and saw. After food managers choked down three meals a day for a week, there was a consensus that things had to change.

Nothing like eating your own dog food, right? But that’s a critical part of serving our customers well and each of us needs to do that on a regular basis. When was the last time you tried to go through checkout on your own online store? How was the experience? How about trying to return what you purchased or put in a call to your customer service department? My guess is that none of your top managers have done any of those things in a while.

Several years ago I wrote a post on eating your own dogfood. That had to do with believing in what it is that you sold. I’d like to extend that concept to not just believing in it but actually experiencing it so that your belief is grounded in reality and not through rose-colored glasses. The hospital administrator answered a complaint about the food thusly:

 “Our management team has recently eaten hospital food for a week and agrees with your observation that we need to improve the presentation and taste.”

That answer is one I’d believe as a consumer because it’s grounded in some first-hand experience with their food. When was the last time you tasted yours?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Mass Markets And Mass Media

I’ve written a number of times over the last few years about the changing patterns of content consumption and how those changes are affecting the media business. I read some statistics last week that make me think we’re almost at the tipping point where we’ll see some irreversible things happening that affect not just media but marketing as well.

First, the statistics. The report is GfK‘s The Home Technology Monitor and while there wasn’t much “new” in it, the acceleration of some trends is interesting:

New findings from GfK show that US TV households are embracing alternatives to cable and satellite reception. Levels of broadcast-only reception and Internet-only video subscriptions have both risen over the past year, with fully one-quarter (25%) of all US TV households now going without cable and satellite reception. TV households with a resident between 18 and 34 years old are much more likely to be opting for alternatives to cable and satellite; 22% of these homes are using broadcast-only reception (versus 17% of all US households), and 13% are only watching an Internet service on their TV sets (versus 6% of all TV homes). Overall, 38% of 18-to-34 households rely on some kind of alternative TV reception or video source, versus 25% of all homes.

Why this is meaningful has to do with the symbiotic relationship between mass marketing and mass media. As Ben Thompson put it in a Stratechery post:

The inescapable reality is that TV advertisers are 20th-century companies: built for mass markets, not niches, for brick-and-mortar retailers, not e-commerce. These companies were built on TV, and TV was built on their advertisements, and while they are propping each other up for now, the decline of one will hasten the decline of the other.

As you can see from the chart, viewing of traditional TV by young people in the first quarter of this year (traditionally a high-viewing quarter as many people stay inside during winter) dropped precipitously. There aren’t many mass markets and there really aren’t mass media. Why, then, are we focused on measuring things that are no longer really relevant? Anyone?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On

Playing It Backward

I spend a fair amount of time working with startup companies. By definition, these businesses have a lot of planning and building to do. What problem are we solving? How will we make a product or service that accomplishes that solution? What will that cost and what’s the financial plan? How do we gain enough traction to scale? It often seems overwhelming, even to someone with my years of experience. When I can see that there is a fair amount of frustration on my clients’ faces, I’ll usually ask if they know how great golfers think about how to attack a hole.

Stay with me here – this isn’t yet another excuse to talk about golf here on the screed. Great golfers will play a hole backward. They start by thinking about where the pin is on the green (front, middle, back, left, center, or right) using the pin sheet every caddie and player carries. That sheet gives them the location – how many feet on from the front, how many feet from one edge. That allows them to figure out the best angle for the approach shot, which then dictates where they want to land the tee shot. Backward.

I think great business people often play their businesses backward. Some might call it starting with the end in mind but I think it’s more than that. For example, I think it’s a better and more accurate method if you begin with what number of customers get you to sustained profitability and go backward to find out how you’ll scale to that number (I generally use 10x growth per year) than to begin with where you think you might be now and guess at growth rates. The former gives you targets that will get you where you want to go and an ability to formulate marketing and other budgets to support that growth. The latter is reacting to where you might find yourself without a clear path or guidance for budgeting.

I try to play most decisions backward. Where is the pin (my goal)? Where is the best place from which to attack it and how do I get to that place? Execution then becomes simpler – I’m only focused on the next shot – the next task – because I know I have a plan. Do you?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

How Facts Can Be Fiction

I was discussing some numbers with someone the other day. It was clear from the conversation that she was taking every bit of data as gospel. I tried to explain a few important things to keep in mind when working with data and as I thought about it perhaps my thinking could be helpful to some of you out there in screed-land.

We all want as much certainty in our business lives as we can get. Part of that is wanting all of our numbers to be facts. They’re not. You may be familiar with the term “sampling error.” Basically, it means that the data is off because the sample from which the data is drawn is not representative of whatever it is you’re trying to measure. While you might think that, for example, your analytics measure everyone, they don’t. Most of the data we read uses some sampling. Sometimes it’s a timing issue – financial data, in particular, can be skewed based on where we might be in a business calendar or where those who pay us are in theirs.

The point is that there are error rates involved with many of these “facts” because these facts are really just estimates.  TV ratings, for example, are probably the most widely known estimates and multi-billion dollar businesses involving networks, agencies, and marketers revolve around numbers everyone knows are not particularly accurate. There are error rates.

Here is the advice I give people. Figure out what questions you’re trying to answer and then find as many different sources of data as you can. If possible, see if you can get multiple people to interpret those data sets. In theory, they should all come up with the same answers. It’s critically important that you NOT tell them what position you’re trying to support (can you find me some information that says we should do XYZ). That is a recipe for disaster because it encourages people only to look at data or interpretations of data that supports what you or they already think is true. That is turning “facts”, which are already often on shaky ground, into a larger fiction, and that’s not what we’re after, is it?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Do You Respect The Traditions? Then Change Them!

By Alice.jessica.north

This Foodie Friday I want us to reflect on a quote I read. It comes from Chef Massimo Bottura who runs a restaurant currently ranked as the world’s best. He did and interview with the folks at Business Insider and one thing he said particularly resonated with me:

Most of the time I ask myself, “Is the tradition really respecting the ingredients?” If it’s not, then I have to change the recipe. In the beginning, it was difficult to do, but after we showed people we could evolve the traditions by taking a different approach, everyone accepted it with open arms.

I think that statement has broader application beyond the kitchen. We have many traditions in our business lives. Some of them are relatively innocuous such as our daily routine and some of them are quite important such as what is the nature of our business. It’s in these latter traditions that we find ourselves often not “respecting the ingredients” by ignoring the changes occurring around us.

Let me give you an example. When I was with the NHL over a decade ago we began discussing the streaming of local games. At the time we had some technical concerns ranging from bandwidth both on our end and consumers’ along with others. Those technical issues are long gone, and the NHL has been successfully streaming lives games to consumers since 2006, but only to consumers out of the local market where the game is airing. It has taken a decade for the local television deals to evolve to permit in-market streaming. That “ingredient” – the local television contract – was no longer “in season” and was being overly respected. The recipe had to change and it finally has, as this article shows. Bravo!

That’s one example. You can probably cite several in your business area where the recipes need change so that the traditions evolve and become relevant to the modern world. We can change things up while preserving the integrity of the tradition and the best things about why it became a tradition in the first place. Circumstances change. We need to as well.

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Filed under Consulting, food