Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What’s behind the rise of French brands on the global scene

The Artist’s historic triumph at the Oscars not only warmed my French pride and special love for French cinema but it also reminded me that many French brands still seem to have this Je-ne-sais-quoi and are actually very active / present in the global marketing landscape (many of them actually leading most of these big tickets advertising slots during that kind of annual iconic mass…)  From L’Oreal to Chanel, Danone, Vuitton or Michelin ,  I was wondering what makes these French brands stand tall against perennial, global American juggernauts such as Coca-Cola, Nike, McDonalds, Apple or Ford…

Maybe it is the universally sensitive & charming sides that transcend various cultures, the delicate balance between brainy & emotional, mindful of their connection with an audience know to be diverse and complex. Where the British brands are so good at standing for civilized wit in a  universal English language, la French touch thrive to convey refined yet exotic & skilled at tapping in something very universal in each of us: that something being “the soul”.
As much as American brands carry a unique sense of power & dominance (epitomized by Dodge’s Guts & Glory , bordering on arrogance & imperialism), it seems that French brands uniquely personify suave & opening us to new things: the US brand is aspirational & speaks of leadership, the French brand is inspiring, accessible, attractive & evocative without being too esoteric or spiritual as Oriental brands can be seen. Descartes (Reason) meets Beaudelaire (symbolism/lyrism) or Lafayette meets Scott Fitzgerald…
It seems to me that the lessons in the area of marketing /brand strategy are the qualities that most successful French identity icons or other non french brands understand so well:
  1. Remain true to your roots: you should stay true to yourself when you grow & reach out to the world, speak the universal language of your roots (no pun intended, L’Oreal) in a way that’s not afraid of being original, sounding different and minding the diversity of your audience: whilst the Chanel legend has been reinvented & exposed over & over again instead of being diluted whilst being reinvented by design (Chanel’s Lagerfeld, Guesquiere’s Balenciaga) , retail or aggressive brand extensions to multiple spokespersons /faces ; Chanel, Vuitton, Armani…
  2.  Embody Universal but multi-identity: it also tells us that once you found your voice (brand positioning, channels) you can be as flexible as to have variations around a central personality or theme (Vuitton or L’Oreal’s “You are worth it” could have looked a bit rigid but has been spun & played by many stars or multiple faces (also H&M, Zara, Orange, Petit bateau)
  3.  It's OK to be unapologetically Aspirational & stylish: Refinement & sophistication are OK even in Mass marketing: you don’t need to oversimplify to be effective, popular & recognizable; they are ways of making the average Joe feeling special & impacted/empowered by a challenging , non-Politically Correct idea (Dove natural beauty campaign) or a deliberately elitist branding (Stella Artois, Marc Jacobs, Air France … )
  4. Don’t be afraid of mystery, epic or drama::in love as in life, not everything needs to be explained, analyzed or demonstrated: nurture the mystique, play with the grandiose & symbolic, everybody loves a big saga;know how not to reveal too much too soon and keep your audience guessing or real life pain or doubt or open interpretation: that's what keeps it exciting/ entertaining or interactive  even overtime or overexposed...see Apple, British Airways, Les Miz, Edith Piaf, Catherine Deneuve…
  5. Stay relevant & connected:keep surprising by innovating, don’t be too predictable : you should show your main target groups that you understand  new modes of communication & love to connect with your consumers in new or diverse ways the Medium is the message: multichannel /multi mode of communications (Sponsorship, grassroots, online, social media etc…), your brand should be confident & consistent enough to diversify its touchpoints & medium of choice (HSBC, Michelin, Ikea, Perrier, Agnes B or Old Spice’s “the man your man could smell like” type campaigns)
  6. Use modern yet timeless know-how: renew the message & the narrative but cultivate the legend, the savoir-faire (Lacoste, Hermes, Evian, Laduree) and the love of the craft: quality will always be in Fashion, the story of the making is eternal
  7. Play from tasteful feelings and sensuality don’t hesitate to pack on subtle sex appeal or sentimental, naughty or emotional: as long as it’s not vulgar or too hard-sell, cute or racy is refreshing & impactful  (Orangina’s Sexy Jungle, Mugler, Amelie, The Smurfs,  Nespresso’s George Clooney)
Now, even in French branding, there is no miracle recipe, it's all about work, consitency, vision & art, the last thing boiling down to the right execution...but most importantly in the way these traits are relevant to your brand strategy & marketing objectives at a given point in time or on the long term...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Should we let marketers be just fame whores ?


I want to believe as much as Tom Sullivan  in long term brand generosity & substance...In fact I always work with my clients from that assumption & mindset.
However, the thing is Kardashians, the last GOP darling or Lin sensations are the brands that suddenly get billions of impressions and are repeatedly grabbing the public psyche across all kinds of consumer segments or categories, even over a few months ‘s span; in fact I would argue that the most successful brand builders are the one (like Sir Richard) who can sharply focus on a brand for a launch, an event, build momentum & then drop it, move on to another story, another market like it didn't happen. Is there proven longevity or better performance for long term consistency or long term loyalty ?  besides. consumers are fickle, getting more & more ADD, more quickly bored, the average attention span is that of a text message or tweet: they demand to be fed with a new, shorter show, a new story, a new profile every week, every month, every year. We are living in the "Dancing with the stars" or "American Idol" of the day lifecycle.Marketers just need to come to terms with that reality and do the best job instantly, ready-to-eat fast food marketing…the dinner can't wait and is not even convinced that long term balance nutrition helps live better & longer. Long term view is a plus for a talented marketer but long term impact hardly appears in any corporate review or the most widely used ROI modeling research, let alone in advertising award circles or the digital agency narrative.
So, as an old school integrated marketer, I would settle for pragmatic & fame whore whilst keeping a 3rd eye for the more sustainable layer if it's within reach for the same price: that’s the stuff that will make my clients come back to me vs the next guy for the next step…while I keep driving them in the same right direction !

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Starwood brand experience & socia media:great example of brand /customer equity waste

As every empowered consumer & traveler, I recently posted on TripAdvisor my latest horrendous experience with the W hotel in Montreal.
After kindly droping a note to Chief brand Officer for Starwood H.Q. where I was calling his attention to both bad customer delivery & associated bad buzz link that i had generated, here is what I received:
1) a generic response from a very kind yet uninvolved Public Affairs agent who refered me to the local general manager
2) a back-handed apology from an arrogant & defensive hotel general manager who felt sorry that I had a bad experience (heavily suggesting that it was nothing but my only perception...) and claimed that it would be much beter after their planned million dollar renovation...
3) a LAVISH 2 nights points equivalent as compensation (not even enough to stay in the same category but in the cheaper tier ! )

What this teaches us is:
1) management should ALWAYS be set up to keep the pulse via appropriate & natural channels for a clear and open dialogue that allows them to hear from customers; however globettrotting, a  BRAND leader SHOULD NEVER BE too BUSY for a dissatisfied customer; isnt it common sense that that same management would, after delegating response to local manager, monitor its nature and impact on the customer: isn't it why it's called MANAGEMENT ?
2) the result is that I felt more insulted by the G.M.'s response than before his intervention...insulting the customer's intelligence & making bad excuses is never a good thing, adding insult to injury ! As if refurbushing was to replace bad employee attitude, horrendous breakfast service or poor bar management !
3) I will NEVER give a second chance to the W franchise after that handling
4) the number of Tripadvisor members reading my review of  this single W  location has reached over 1 500 views in less than 1 week and keeps growing: that means that the BAD  BUZZ is still spreading through a 30+ millions community, with my recommendations for direct alternative competition hotels in the area: how's that for defusing a situation & making it a better outcome for the brand, especially in regards with my intial goodwill & opprtunity given to Starwood for redemption :)
5) this experience has cast a perennial doubt & serious limitation on my Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty towards ANY of the Starwood portfolio brands as  they share the same central policies, processes and officers in charge ! Good job on Customer  Lifetime Value across 10 brands !!!

In short, best example of multi level brand imposture:  not delivering in real life whilst too busy trying to play cool AND even worst MANAGING customer quality delivery /loyalty & social media  BUZZ...

What a very talented & multi-skill waste !

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