Restoring the Brand of a Fallen Superstar

You probably thought this was going to be yet another article about Lance Armstrong. No. Amidst all the hubbub over Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and the questions of will he or won’t he be able to come back, another fallen superstar has quietly (and arguably) completed his brand restoration.

Tiger Woods is back—the old, likeable, marketable Tiger.

Nike Golf smartly paired their newly signed superstar Rory McElroy with Tiger Woods in this fun “No Cup is Safe” ad. And Tiger looks as relaxed and friendly as ever.

Nike is the “too big to fail” behemoth of the marketing world. They remain pretty much untouched by scandal by knowing when to drop an athlete and when to hold on. They dropped Lance once he admitted to doping.

With Tiger, Nike didn’t waver. They were one of the few sponsors not to drop the big-name golfer after the embarrassing sex scandal that ended his marriage and left his career as one giant question mark.

Tiger, at the time, was Nike Golf. So, you can say (and I did in my 2010 blog post) that Nike didn’t really have a choice. They had to stick with their moneymaker.

They released a creepy commercial that featured Tiger’s father speaking while we were left looking at the golfer’s grim face. It reeked of “feel sorry for me” and had people all over the Internet talking. A risky move, but one that ultimately paid off.

This latest commercial is Nike’s smartest move yet on Tiger’s brand comeback journey. Pairing Woods with one of the most likeable players out there—Rory McElroy—was a flat-out genius move.

Watch the ad, and notice the old Tiger moves—the flashy smile, the bouncing of the golf ball on the club and then launching it, the trick shots and sly “you can’t touch me” look—are back.

Even if the two top golfers weren’t actually together when filming this ad, this pairing is one we will all look forward to seeing again and again—on the course and in commercials.

Red Robin Proves a Culture of Kindness Starts with Empowerment

Random acts of kindness are nothing new, especially not for Red Robin employees.

“Our team members, day in and day out, will bestow these random acts,” said Kevin Caulfield, a Red Robin spokesperson (as quoted in this ABC News article). “They’re empowered to do special things for our guests to make the experience a great one for our guests.”

The key word there is “empowered.” Empowering your employees to act on behalf of your brand to help consumers is key to building a great company culture and a well-loved brand.

What did Red Robin do this time that put them in the news?

The manager of their Apex, North Carolina restaurant, after a friendly chat with a very pregnant customer, took the charges for that customer off the family’s bill.

Receipt showing charge deleted and good luck wish

The husband told the story to ABC News with the goal that it would “make businesses see the value of being more personable.”

Businesses, customers are telling you what to do. Pay attention!

Stories like these are nothing new for Red Robin. In fact, they even have a special section on their website called “Unbridaled Acts” dedicated to these acts of kindness.

Unbridaled Acts web page

Caulfield said, “I can’t say enough that it’s just part of our culture.” And, really, it’s not that hard to do.

However, as much as it’s about empowering your employees, a customer-focused culture all starts with leadership that genuinely lives this culture everyday.

In the era of layoffs as regular practice for multi-million and -billion dollar companies, it’s hard to find CEOs who understand caring about people actually translates into creating profit.

And that’s exactly why I’m sharing this story. It’s time we change OUR culture and give more attention—and more business—to those companies that put people first.

So, please, share away!


FedEx Delivers—Why Can’t You?

Photo showing FedEx trucks

On Christmas Eve, I had one more gift I was waiting for to arrive. I had two packages coming from FedEx. The gift for one of my nieces was due to arrive at 10:30 a.m., or so the tracking site said. The other package, which was a gift for me, was due to arrive at 4:30 p.m.

At around 10:40 or so, I checked the FedEx tracker again for the gift I cared about. Under “Scheduled to Arrive” it now said “N/A.” I called FedEx and talked to a cheery Tim, who put me on hold and then said they’d check with the driver and someone would call me. An hour and a half later, there was still no package and no call.

At about 1:30 p.m., just as I was thinking “Well, it’s not the worst thing in the world if the gift is a day late,” a FedEx truck pulled in my driveway.

Another cheery man, whose name I didn’t get, popped out of the truck with both my packages. I was hoping that would happen—that their systems would show I have two packages coming from two different places—so only one driver had to make a trip out.

“Oh great, you have both packages,” I said. “I don’t really care about that one,” I pointed to the envelope from the Gap. “But that was the one I was waiting for because it’s a gift.”

He said, with a knowing smile, “Ah yes, everybody wants these packages.”

As he was walking away, I wished him a Merry Christmas and said I hoped he didn’t have to work too late. “I only have an hour left,” he said with so much enthusiasm I couldn’t help but smile too.

If people working on Christmas Eve (probably dealing with a lot of cranky people waiting for their packages) can be cheery, why can’t people at every company?

I worked retail for years, so I know how nasty customers can get. It’s not always easy to stay cheery. But, here is one day—Christmas Eve, a very important day—and this company left me with such a positive experience.

I didn’t have to wait long for a person to answer the phone. I didn’t have to wait long when Tim put me on hold (yet he thanked me for my patience and apologized for keeping me waiting). My two packages arrived courtesy of a friendly FedEx driver. And Yolanda from FedEx’s Memphis office called me an hour later to make sure my packages arrived, and she was also super-friendly.

As a bonus, the Amazon items I ordered a few days ago were delivered in the mail (four days early!).

Be nice to your customers. Wow your customers. It’s the simple things that make us happy, so deliver—like FedEx does.


Wegmans Hits Just the Right Note “In Sandy’s Wake”

I had no intention of writing anything about Hurricane Sandy this week. And then this email from Wegmans supermarket landed in my inbox and I had to say something. It’s a shining example of how a company should handle itself when disaster strikes.

Wegman's Email: In Hurricane Sandy's Wake

Human, Thoughtful and Helpful

Wegmans sent their “In Sandy’s Wake” email Thursday morning. Rather than explain it to you, I’ll just show you how disaster response should be done. The email came from MaryEllen Burris, senior vice president of Consumer Affairs for Wegmans.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, all of our stores are now open. Generators kept the stores going in areas most seriously affected by the storm (New Jersey and Pennsylvania north of Philadelphia in particular), but the current issue is being sure our employees can get to work safely so we can keep the Jersey stores near the shore open. Sufficient gasoline is a problem.  We are working with the communities in need to determine how we can help with storm recovery.

We recognize that we provide an essential service, and not just for food, but prescription and over-the-counter drugs. That’s why we try to prepare for the potential of power outages. Plans started in motion behind-the-scenes last week, testing our generators, bringing in additional truck-mounted or leased generators when necessary and securing an adequate fuel supply just in case. We used many of the portable generators we needed to be ready, not only in our stores, but in our distribution facilities and bakeshop.

But this storm was particularly challenging because it affected all of our 81 stores to some degree. Some measures were already in place. We have 16 stores built with permanent generators (all new stores) and we keep 10 portable generators to move where we need them.

Ms. Burris hit the perfect balance of information and explanation without overdoing it. The tone is matter-of-fact and caring at the same time. No overexplaining, no making excuses.

Crowd Engagement

Burris and management at Wegmans recognized an opportunity to get closer to their customers in a time of need, and created a hashtag to help customers find information they were looking for and connect at the same time.

We started receiving a lot of calls and tweets from our customers looking for information. The topics changed frequently, as the situation changed.  We created hashtag #WegSandy for customers who wanted to follow along for breaking news.  You also shared with us different ways you were riding out the storm:

Thanks to the Bethlehem @wegmans employees in the coffee/tea department for their great work this morning! #sandy #frankenstorm

Thank god for the Woodbridge Wegmans! #hurricanesandy #wegmans #coffee #aftermath–@keriannexo

But it’s comments like this one we received from a customer on Twitter that helps bring it all into perspective:

Thanks for being open today… Gives me and my community a step toward normalization… We’ll go to Wegmans, then it’ll be ok–@darcydorwar.

Very nicely done. Not only did they stay connected to their customers, but they gave them recognition as well, including sharing Instagram photos users shared with the #Wegmans or #WegSandy hashtag.

Taking the Extra Step

Notice how non-promotional Wegmans was in their actions so far. The next section of the post-hurricane email included food safety tips, which are so fitting for the many people who lost power for less than a day (and the others wondering what they would’ve done if they had lost power).

Wegmans’ actions here are completely consumer-focused, which all companies and marketers should realize are what people want in a time of need. In the same spirit of giving, I’ve decided to list those same food tips for you here:

Here are some important Food Safety Tips if you experienced a power outage as well as resources for further information:

One More Thing

On Wednesday, I was shopping in Wegmans to fill my empty fridge. As I walked by long, empty produce shelves on one side of the produce department, I asked the two workers scrubbing the shelves there if they lost power during the storm. The young man answered cheerfully that they kept their power but their deliveries got delayed, so they took this opportunity to give everything a good cleaning.

Cheerful, compassionate, helpful, informative—I could keep going. But I know I don’t have to. Their actions speak much louder than my words. And I hope marketers everywhere hear them loud and clear.


Rules are Rules, Right? Not If You Want to Keep Your Customers Happy

Marketers, business owners, retailers and service professionals should know, it’s the little things that count. Making exceptions is sometimes the rule if you want to serve your customers well.

Zappos knows this. With their extreme focus on providing the best customer service possible, they don’t let any little things stand in the way of a positive customer experience. You can see how committed CEO Tony Hsieh is in the video below. In it, he even explains why they will help a customer buy through a competitor at times.

Banana Republic (at least my store) does not seem to quite understand this type of customer-focused philosophy.

Banana Republic Loses Appeal

Much of my wardrobe is from Banana. I shop at the outlet store near me and get fantastic deals. Plus, most important, their clothes fit my style and my long legs. In short, I am a fan.

On Friday, I hurried up there so I could take advantage of the 30-percent-off coupon I got through e-mail. I knew my weekend was busy, so I squeezed in a visit because I still needed more business and interview wear.

I found a ton of stuff! When I went to check out—waiting patiently I might add for a solid five minutes or more while one customer had a problem sorted out and another opened a charge account. No problem, I noticed belts and found the dressy brown belt I’ve been needing. Productive waiting—not bad.

My turn came and I handed the coupon over only to be told I couldn’t use it. The coupon was only good for August 4 and 5. My bad. I honestly thought that Friday was the 4th. Who can keep track anymore? The cashier gave me a choice:

  • I could buy the items and come back over the weekend with the coupon for a credit;
  • I could place the items on hold and come back the next day with the coupon to purchase them; or
  • I could open up a Banana Republic credit card account and get 30 percent off my order right then.

After a bit of conversation I asked, “Isn’t there any way you can give me the discount right now?” I did make an honest mistake, which was quite obvious by the look on my face when she told me I couldn’t use the coupon.

Turns out the cashier was also the manager. Even the manager can’t make an exception? Come on now. I’ve been a retail manager. I know it can be done.

The kicker is that she could give me the discount, but only if I opened a Banana Republic credit card. That’s what makes it so aggravating.

You cannot buy something in a store these days without someone trying to get you to open a credit card account. Irresponsible and annoying. Does no one learn lessons from our recent economic turmoil? These stores care more about their credit card promotions than they do their customers. Some stores even announce how many applications leading associates got as a sort of competition among the employees. Ever ask yourself what customers think of those announcements?

But I digress.

Notice how the burden of all those choices were on me? Three of the choices included an extra trip back—a huge inconvenience when I already had plans for the weekend. The fourth choice involved me adding another card to my credit report, wasting my time and the waiting customers’ time so I can give the proper information so Banana Republic can make out.

What were they willing to do for me—a regular customer? Nothing.

Do You Know How Your Customers Feel?

So, here’s the result. I felt very disappointed with my favorite store. I felt lied to and patronized by the manager (whether she was doing both or not doesn’t matter—this is how she made me feel).

Driving back the next day, I felt even worse. Yes, it’s my own fault for screwing up the dates, but the manager had a choice to do something about it and chose not to. I will remember that.

As she had to re-enter every item over again, I said to her, “See, it would’ve been easier for both of us, if you had just given me the discount yesterday.” I hope she realized how true that is and chooses differently for someone else next time.

Will I stop shopping at Banana Republic? Probably not. It’s hard for me to find clothes that fit. But, I won’t be in a rush to go back and will most likely check other stores first.

Remember the Little Things

Ask yourself, how does your customer feel after doing business with you? If you don’t know, then ask your customer. You don’t want them walking away feeling like I did.

It’s the little things you do that people remember. Look for opportunities to make your customers feel appreciated in every transaction. It’s worth it, and it’s easy!


Speaking of little things, all retailers should stop putting those sewn in tags on skirts, pants and other clothing. No matter how you remove those cardboard tags, they leave holes. Not good!

Banana Republic tag on a skirt

Holes in skirt left by tag


Who is Ann Patchett and Why Should Your Company Care?

Photo of a Borders store with closing sign on it

Are you doing enough to promote yourself? Doing enough to promote your company? Are you doing enough to promote your industry?

Hmm, did that last question get you?

If you’re thinking, “Why do I need to promote my industry?” then you might want to take a look around. Many professions and industries are endangered, for example:

  • Brick & mortar retail stores
  • Publishing houses
  • Newspapers and journalists
  • Supermarkets (in my area, I can name at least three large chains that have gone under or are in trouble)

If you think your industry is riding high right now, keep in mind the turnaround from uphill to downhill can be quite quick.

Follow the Leader

Believe it or not, I’m going to tell you to follow an author’s lead. Ann Patchett is the author who is a shining example of how to treat your fans and customers and, hence, preserve an industry.

Be the Change

Over the past several years, bookstores have been closing like mad. When big-house bookstore Borders went down, Ann Patchett had had enough. She wasn’t just sad about it like the rest of us. She decided to take matters into her own hands and started a bookstore of her own.

With business partner (and publishing veteran) Karen Hayes, Patchett opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, saying:

I think of this as my gift to the city: This is what I want to see in Nashville, and if I want to live in a city with a bookstore, then I’m willing to pay for it.

Putting her money where her mouth is—how refreshing. That’s what more of us need to do—take action. But we should probably start being more proactive about it than reactive.

Go the Extra Step

I was in Target the other day (cooling off from the 100-degree heat) and already had a book in my hand to purchase when I saw State of Wonder by Patchett. I had only read one book of hers (Run), but I knew from the very first pages of that novel that she was an excellent writer.

Reading the book jacket, I still was planning to buy the first book I picked up that day, but then I saw something that changed my mind. On the very first page of her trade paperback was a letter:

Dear Target Guest,

I think of Target as a place where a person can run in and pick up just about anything, and I’m glad to know that books are included on that list. Not every town has a bookstore anymore, and I think it’s great that Target takes an interest in providing and promoting books, especially in the places where people might not be able to easily find them otherwise…

Patchett goes on to say many more nice things, but you get the gist of it. She wrote a nice, personal letter to her reader, and she thanked Target in the process. And she ends with, “I hope you enjoy it.” (I did, by the way.)

As a reader, I feel almost like she was speaking to me, handing me the book herself. I don’t need any more reasons to love Target, but Patchett also does a great job promoting the retail giant and making us feel like there’s a fabulous collaboration taking place here.

What Will You Do?

Maybe if we all kept that big picture in mind and showed our appreciation more often, we’d have more industries and professions that continue to find ways to work together and grow.

If your profession is already in danger, think of ways you can change the profession or the environment to make it last. Think of other companies or industries you can join forces with for an innovative or just plain smart and profitable partnership.

And if your profession is not in danger (yet), do the same thing—think of ways to change and grow. Think of smart collaborations to pursue.

Technology changes fast. This world changes so quickly. Don’t wait for the change, be it! This is the only way to steer your own course.


A Rebrand Gone Wrong: Wharton’s One Word Problem


Does that word grab you? What do you think of when you hear it? Do you associate any person, business or organization with it?

Wharton (as in the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) hopes so. They want to stand out from their competitors. To judge for yourself how they’re doing, see the chart below:

Chart showing taglines of Wharton, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford and Kellogg

Rebranding is never easy. Even the best organizations can flop at it. Remember Gap’s failed attempt? Now, Wharton, one of the best and smartest institutes in the world, is struggling too. Not sure they recognize that yet though.

According to Melissa Korn of the Wall Street Journal:

The Philadelphia business school’s new advertising tagline, “Knowledge for…” will be completed with a variety of words, such as “action,” “global impact” and “life.”

With 20 research centers and initiatives scattered about, Wharton faces a problem. As Thomas Robertson, Wharton’s dean and marketing professor, puts it, the previous brand was inconsistent and the research centers “weren’t immediately identifiable as Wharton.”

Makes sense, right? Their reason for rebranding is a good one.

Wharton also made a good decision to target their so-called “quant” audience. As Korn reports:

The new marketing materials rely heavily on charts and graphs, including an infographic with concentric circles to show how far students travel to study at the school and another with colorful vertical bars to represent finance professors’ years of experience.

Smart. So far, so good. So what went wrong?

Clearly, they want to woo potential students with knowledge. But, they forgot the most important part—the differentiator.

Sure, Robertson talked about it in the WSJ interview. He even cited differentiation as a reason for the rebrand. And if you’ve read the interview, maybe you’ve even spotted the problem in Robertson’s answer to one of the questions:

Why a Wharton undergraduate degree? Why should a 17-year-old want to study at Wharton rather than be a math or economics major at Penn or elsewhere?

Answer: You could get an undergraduate degree at Harvard, Yale [or] Princeton. A lot of these students would then compete with our students for jobs on Wall Street or with consulting firms. At Wharton, it’s half liberal arts and half business, and we think that’s a pretty good mix.

Lame. I expected to hear a strong differentiator there. Instead, we got a half-assed hint of “half liberal arts and half business.” And if the school overall thinks that, why did they just decide on “knowledge”?

Wharton is a top-three business school known for its strong finance programs. Living outside of Philadelphia most of my life, I can tell you that you have to be smart to go to Wharton. The best and the brightest want to go there, and the school has strong entrepreneurial ties.

Where is that in the new brand? What attempt did they make to shift promotions toward this new generation? (Besides just charts and infographics?)

What would make you choose Wharton over Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia?

The One-Word Problem

Wharton is like Cher—recognizable in one word. As Olivier Blanchard said in comments on Google+:

See, I thought Wharton’s single word would be “Wharton.” Why? Because it’s Wharton. What other word or brand do they need? It’s kind of like Harvard or Yale. There’s no need for a tagline.

“Knowledge” is not like Cher. Rebranding around one word is not a good idea. Even if it’s a great word, it can get stale pretty quickly. You’ll see Wharton taglines like “Knowledge for action. Knowledge for global impact. Knowledge for life.”

Doesn’t every school impart knowledge?

In the interview, Robertson talks about how Wharton is investing in:

  • Innovation
  • Social impact
  • Global presence

Notice, he didn’t say “knowledge.”

Innovation, social impact and being global are important current focal points for schools and for businesses. These are factors Gen Y look for. Where are these in the new brand?

The economy has sucked for the past 10 years or so. Take students with exceptional minds and add Wharton’s strength in finance and global reach and the result is leaders who can make a strong global, social impact and solve these economic problems.

You want to change the world? Wharton can give you the tools. Who wants pithy little knowledge when they can have gravitas?

Brainstorm taglines that mean something:

Wharton. Shaping leaders who change the world.

Wharton. Your first step toward leaving a legacy.

Wharton. Giving you the power to change the world.

Wharton. Transform the future of business worldwide.

Innovators, difference-makers—Your home is here.

Knowledge for Action.

Did you feel that dip? That blah at the end?

Check out Wharton’s new video. There are plenty of directions they could’ve gone using the words and ideas in this video, yet they still chose knowledge.

Knowledge only gets you so far. It’s the application of it that breeds success, and that comes from wisdom.

Don’t believe me? Wharton gained plenty of knowledge from all the data they collected from their crowdsourcing efforts—really good data. But they chose Knowledge.

Wharton. Wisdom is your window to the world.

Get students excited about being there.

Yes, use the charts and infographics, but also keep the testimonials. Get good ones. Why not get alumni, especially famous and successful ones to say why they chose Wharton over Harvard and the like. Get alumni to share powerful stories of how they’re making a difference now.

Do it in the format of Fast Company’s 30-Second MBA videos.

That’s smart! And I’m not just saying that because these are my ideas. C’mon Wharton, your knowledge tagline just makes you sound like the 131-year-old you are.

And you’re welcome for the free advice. Feel free to contact me if you want more.

By the way, Wharton, if you don’t want to listen, maybe one of the other schools will. Kellogg’s message is so long you can’t call it a tagline and has “we believe” in it—a major mistake. I’m sure they’d be happy to change to: Kellogg. Because wisdom takes you further than knowledge.


For an in-depth story of how Wharton went through this 3-year rebranding effort, check out Poets and Quants’ Wharton Crowdsources Its Branding Message.

Print ads showing Absolut bottle shape in a Paris Metro entrance and the insides of a Geneva timepiece

Absolut Shift from Advertising Icon to Enigma

It’s not enough anymore for brands to “just” have a TV commercial. Video can be spread much farther, so the goal is often for a brand’s commercial video to go viral.

What started me thinking about this lately was the Absolut Greyhound ad. It has this very cool, futuristic vibe to it, but it didn’t seem to really push the product.

See for yourself:

I’m not a fan of this video as an advertisement, though it does make a decent music video for the Swedish House Mafia. And you’ll see there’s even a call to action in the bottom left corner of the ad to “Shazam now” and, I guess, find the music and/or video on the mobile music site.

Maybe Absolut wanted it to seem like product placement in the video instead of an advertisement. The problem is, will you really make the association between futuristic greyhounds and Absolut vodka? I doubt it. But their previous ad, I think, did things a bit better.

Crowdsourcing the Creative

The previous ad was called “Absolut Blank.” Here it is:

Absolut Blank is described on their YouTube site as:

a global creative movement, in which ABSOLUT appears as a catalyst for contemporary leading-edge creativity. In collaboration with a new generation of artists:

Adhemas Batista
Aestethic Apparatus
Brett Amory
Dave Kinsey
David Bray
Eduardo Recife
Fernando Chamarelli
Good Wives & Warriors
Jeremy Fish
Ludovica Gioscia
Marcus Jansen
Mario Wagner
Morning Breath
Robert Mars
Sam Flores
Thomas Doyle
Zac Freeman

This is a fantastic idea—a way to get more people interested and involved. I don’t know so much about using Absolut as a catalyst for a “global creative movement,” but they do get an international audience as evidenced by the comments on YouTube being in various languages.

My personal favorite comment is one that contradicts the ad’s closing statement, “It all starts with an Absolut Blank.” The commenter’s idea was (I’m paraphrasing): Doesn’t the night usually end as an absolute blank if you’ve been drinking?

I love that the artists get credit for their work. However, these videos, both Greyhound and Blank are far from viral.


1-min ad = 5800 views

3-min offical music video = 614,000 views

1-min ad = 83,700 views

Notice it’s the music video that gets the most views. What does that say about the intent here?

A Look at Absolut’s Iconic Past

If you’re a consumer of Absolut, which I am, you will know that they named their vodkas for flavors: Absolut Citron, Absolut Mandrin, Absolut Kurant, etc.

So where do “Blank” and “Greyhound” come from?

Absolut was always known for their iconic print ads, which featured the outline of a vodka bottle seen “naturally” in different locations or items (like the Paris Metro and this watch below).

Print ads showing Absolut bottle shape in a Paris Metro entrance and the insides of a Geneva timepiece

They had to do something different to compete in today’s world, and they had to stay in brand too. I think their new ads do stay in brand but need some tweaking to get the Absolut brand back to iconic status.

I’m not confident they’ll be able to do that. Are you?