Companies are in a perpetual race to expand sales. And the easiest way to do that is to expand their well known successful brands into other categories. As marketing consultant and author of many bestsellers Al Ries puts it “If a brand is well known and respected, why can’t it be line extended into another category. That’s common sense. That’s why Xerox, a brand that dominated the copier market, introduced Xerox mainframe computers. A decision that cost the company billions of dollars. That’s why IBM, a brand that dominated the mainframe computer market, introduced IBM personal computers. In 23 years of marketing IBM personal computers, the company lost $15 billion and finally threw in the towel and sold the operation to Lenovo, a Chinese company.” Ries is the author of such marketing classics (with Jack Trout) as The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. In this interview to Vivek Kaul he speaks on various aspects of branding and marketing.
You have often said in the past that there is a a big difference between common sense and marketing sense. Could you discuss that in some detail with examples?
Common sense is another way of saying “logical.” Almost every rule of marketing is not logical, it’s illogical, which I defined as “marketing sense.” It takes years of study and personal experience to develop good marketing sense. Yet too many management people dismiss the ideas of their marketing managers because “marketing is nothing but common sense and who has better common sense than the chief executive?” Line extension is a typical example. If a brand is well known and respected, why can’t it be line extended into another category. That’s common sense. That’s why Xerox, a brand that dominated the copier market, introduced Xerox mainframe computers. A decision that cost the company billions of dollars. That’s why IBM, a brand that dominated the mainframe computer market, introduced IBM personal computers. In 23 years of marketing IBM personal computers, the company lost $15 billion and finally threw in the towel and sold the operation to Lenovo, a Chinese company. That’s why Kodak, a brand that dominated the film-photography market, introduced Kodak digital cameras. In spite of the fact that Kodak had invented the digital camera, the company was never successful in marketing the cameras under the Kodak name. And recently Kodak went bankrupt.
With all the experience you have had consulting companies all these years which area of marketing do you feel that marketers have the most trouble with?
We have had the most trouble working with large companies marketing big brands. And the issue is always line extension. Companies want to expand their sales so they figure the easiest way to do that is by expanding their brands into new categories. In other words, line extension. We have worked with Burger King, Intel, Xerox, IBM, Motorola, Procter & Gamble and dozens of other companies that invariably wanted to expand their brands whereas we almost always recommend the opposite strategy. Narrow the focus so your brand can stand for something. The second issue is timing. We have always recommended that companies try to be the first brand in a new category. But that is a difficult sell to top management. Their first question is usually, What is the size of the market? Of course, a new category is a market with zero revenues. And many, many management people never want to launch a product into any category that doesn’t already have a sizable market. We worked for Digital Equipment Corporation, a leader in the minicomputer market. We tried to get them to be the first to launch a personal computer for the business market. (IBM eventually was the first to do so, but without a new brand name which led to their failure.) In spite of days of meetings and presentations, the CEO of Digital Equipment refused to launch such a product. “I don’t want to be first,” he said, “I want IBM to be first and then I’ll beat their specs.” After IBM launched its personal computer, Digital Equipment followed, but never achieved more than a few percent market share. Eventually the company more or less fell apart and was bought by Compaq at a discount price.
How can a No. 2 brand compete successfully with a leader?.
What a No.2 brand should do is easy to explain, but difficult to execute. A No. 2 brand should be the opposite of the market leader. Why is this difficult to do? Because it’s illogical. Everyone assumes the No.1 brand must be doing the right thing because it’s the market leader. Therefore, we should do exactly the same thing, but better. That seldom works. Take Red Bull, the first energy drink and the global market leader. One reason for Red Bull’s success was the fact that it came in a small, 8.3-oz. can that symbolizes “energy,” like a stick of dynamite. So almost every competitive brand was introduced in 8.3-oz. cans and marketed as “better” than Red Bull. Except Monster, a brand introduced in 16-oz. cans in the American market. Today, Monster is a strong No.2 brand with a 35 percent market share compared to Red Bull’s 43 percent share. Also in the American market, BlackBerry was the leading smartphone until Apple introduced the iPhone. BlackBerry had a keyboard. Apple eliminated the keyboard and used a “touchscreen” instead. Mercedes-Benz was the leading luxury-vehicle brand until BMW came into the market. Mercedes vehicles were big and comfortable, so BMW became smaller and more nimble, as dramatized in the brand’s long-running advertising theme, “The ultimate driving machine.” As a matter of fact, BMW introduced the campaign with a two-page advertisement headlined: “The ultimate sitting machine vs. the ultimate driving machine.”
Do long running marketing campaigns help? How many companies have the patience to run a marketing program for two or three or four decades?
Next to line extension, that’s the biggest problem in marketing today. Companies don’t run marketing programs nearly long enough. The best example of a long-term successful campaign is the one for BMW. “The ultimate driving machine” strategy was launched in 1975 and the company still uses the same slogan today. That’s 37 straight years. Most marketing programs don’t last longer than three or four years. That’s way too short a time to make a lasting impression in consumers’ minds. I can’t recall any major marketing program, except for BMW, that has lasted more than a decade or so.
In a recent column you wrote that logic is the enemy of a successful brand name. What did you mean by that?
By “logic” I mean what you would use as a brand name if you did not study marketing and had no experience as a marketing person. In other words, common knowledge versus specialized knowledge. It’s like the Sun and the Earth. Common knowledge would suggest that the Sun revolves around the Earth and not the reverse. Look out your window and it’s obvious that the Sun is moving and the Earth is standing still. But specialized knowledge knows that isn’t true.
What is the connection with brand names?
As far as brand names are concerned, logic or common knowledge suggests that a generic name like Books.com would be a better choice than Amazon.com. If the prospect wants to buy a book, then logically the prospect would go to a website like Book.com or Books.com.
But a marketing-trained person knows that isn’t true. It’s not how a mind words. When a person hears the word “Book,” he or she doesn’t think it’s a website at all. It’s the generic name for a category of things. On the other hand, thanks to its marketing program, “Amazon” has become a specific name for a website devoted to selling books. So when a person thinks, “I want to buy a book on the Internet, he or she doesn’t think “Books.com,” he or she thinks “Amazon.com.” In almost every category, a specific “brand” name performs better than a generic “category” name. Google.com is a better name than Search.com. YouTube.com is a better name than Video.com. There is a caveat, however. In the absence of a marketing program that establishes a brand name in consumers’ minds, a generic name could do well.
Why do you say that as a general rule, any name that specifically defines a category is bound to be a loser?
Consider how a mind works. If I say “coffee,” you literally hear that word in your mind spelled with a lower-case “c.” It’s a common noun, or a generic word that stands for an entire category of things. The same reasoning hold true for a more specific name like “High-end coffee shop.” If I say “Starbucks,” on the other hand, you literally hear that word in your mind spelled with a capital “S.” It’s a proper noun, or a brand name that stands for a specific chain of high-end coffee shops. Oddly enough, you can use common English nouns in another country as brand names? Why is this so? Because consumers don’t know the meaning of these common words. So these words become proper nouns instead and usable as brand names. For example, a stroll down a street in Copenhagen turned up these store names: Biggie Best, Exit, Expert, Face, Flash, Joy, Limbo, Nice Girl, Redgreen, Sand and Steps. Nice brand names in Copenhagen perhaps. But they wouldn’t work in America.
What do you mean when you say that “the internet is exceptionally good at promoting web, not physical, brands.” Could you explain through examples?
First of all, consider the fact that the Internet has created a host of new, very-valuable Internet brands including Amazon, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Groupon, Pinterest, LinkedIn and dozens of others. How many new physical brand names were created on the Internet? I can’t think of any. The Internet is the newest, latest medium. It attracts people who are interested in what’s new and different on the Internet. So there is intense interest in any new website that promises a revolutionary way to handle some of your affairs. But there’s not the same level of interest in new physical brands. Like a new toothpaste, or a new camera, or a new breakfast cereal. That doesn’t mean that new physical brands can’t take advantage of the PR potential represented by the Internet. They certainly can, but it’s going to be more difficult for a physical brand to get a lot of attention on the Internet than an Internet brand.
You recently wrote that “If you don’t have the right strategy, good tactics won’t help you very much. And social, like all media, is a tactic. What concerns me is that too many marketers have elevated tactics — especially those of social media — to the level of strategy.” Could you elaborate on this statement?
Our leading marketing publication is called “Advertising Age.” I have suggested facetiously that the publication should be called “Social Media Age,” because a high percentage of the stories the publication writes about involve social media and marketing on the Internet. Strategy is seldom mentioned. One reason for the intense interest in the Internet is because many aspects are easily measured. A video on YouTube, for example, will be measured by: (1) The number of “Views.” (2) The number of “Likes.” (3) The number of “Dislikes.” And (4) The number and content of “Comments.” That’s a range of responses no other medium can deliver. No wonder marketing people devote endless hours to evaluating the success of Internet programs. But suppose a marketing program is not successful. Do you blame the strategy or the tactics? Today, it’s too easy to blame the tactics. My feeling, however, is that most of the time strategy is at fault.
Are there any ideas on branding which you have espoused in the past which you have now junked?
Yes, we used to think that brand names ought to communicate something tangible about the brand. Duracell is a good example. It suggests that the appliance battery is a “long-lasting” brand. But today, there are too many competitors in any given market. A tangible name like Duracell is likely to be surrounded by many other brands with similar names, confusing the consumer. A meaningless name is often a better choice. It allows you to develop your own unique meaning for the brand. Google is a good example. Initially it meant nothing, but today it means “search.”
What is your opinion on big brand names. India has a lot of them like Tata and Reliance. And they attach these names to every business or product they launch? How do you view that?
That’s line extension and it might work today in India, but would never work in America. In America, there are too many competitors in every category with distinctive brand names. A line-extended name like Tata and Reliance would be at a serious disadvantage here. Why does it work in India? I’m not an expert, but I believe that India suffers from a shortage of venture capital as compared to the United States. It’s hard for an entrepreneur to launch competitive brands to Tata and Reliance because it’s difficult to raise enough money for their introduction. But I believe that will change in future so both Tata and Reliance should be concerned about the future of their brands.
(Interviewer Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
When the whole world was going gaga about Facebook’s Initial Public Offering (IPO), there was one man who did not fall for all the hype, looked at the numbers of the company, asked some basic questions and concluded “they don’t know how they are going to make money.” Looks like, he was proved right in the end. The stock was sold at a price of $38 per share, and has fallen since then. Aswath Damodaran was the man who got it right. “In hindsight everybody will tell you that they were bearish on Facebook. Nobody will admit to buying the shares,” points out Damodaran. He is a Professor of Finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University where he teaches corporate finance and equity valuation. In some circles he is referred to as the “god of valuation”. In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul.
Let us start with Facebook, you have been critical about their IPO pricing?
The trouble with Facebook is figuring out, first what business they are going to be in, because they haven’t figured it out themselves. How are they going to convert a billion users into revenues and income? And second, if they even manage to do it, how much those revenues will be, what will the margins etc. They don’t know how they are going to make money. Whether they are going sell advertising to these users? Whether they are going to sell products to these users? Services to these users? I think all they know right now is that they have a lot of users.
But if they have no idea of what to do with their users, how did they make the $4billion in sales that they did last year?
They are selling. 12% of that came from selling stuff for Zynga (The maker of popular games such as “FarmVille” and “CityVille,”). The remaining 88% did come from very subtle advertising. The question is that whether they can scale that up? Because right now it is kind of invisible. You can’t see it because it is relatively small. But if they want to generate the kind of revenues they want, you are going to see it on your Facebook page. And it is going to be very very clear that they are using what they know about you to pick those ads. And I am not sure people will be comfortable with that knowing that they are seeing not just your profile but your interactions. So they can see how old you are. What political party your support? What sports you like? It is all going to go. And that’s their selling point.
So it will be some sort of invasion of privacy?
It is not some sort of invasion of privacy. It is an invasion of privacy. The question is can they do that without people getting pissed off and saying I am leaving Facebook and going elsewhere. And that I think is the big unknown. Because let’s face it, they have not just a billion users, but they know more about these users than any other company on the face of this earth. If you want a company to find 35million people who fit a specific demographic characteristic, the place to go is Facebook. They can show it to you. The only question is that if you did advertise through Facebook to those 35million is this the kind of forum were they are inclined to click on an ad.
How does it compare with Google?
In case of Google it is a much more direct business model. It’s search. You click and that’s it, everybody could see what they were doing. Facebook is a much more subtle model. On Facebook you are talking to your friends, which is a private conversation between you and your friends, but when you see these intrusive ads on the side, you realize you are not just talking to your friends, you are talking to your friends and somebody at Facebook is monitoring you at the same time. That’s a very tricky challenge. So they have made the $4billion, but at the value (the market capitalization of the Facebook stock) they have they have to make $35billion. And that’s a very different game because that would mean a lot more ads on every page directly focused in on what the users are doing.
In face very frankly I didn’t realize there are ads on my Facebook page for a long time…
It is pretty subtle right now because they don’t have that much advertising. If you think of revenue of $4billion spread out across a billion users, you are going to see a very few ads because it is still on the sides. And sometimes it doesn’t even look like an ad. Right. It’s a Facebook friend with GM. You click on it and before you know it you are looking at GM’s product offerings. So it is very subtle right now. But it can’t stay subtle for them to make the kind of revenues they have to make to justify their price now. The kind of scary thing here is that Mark Zuckerberg has said that he wants to build a social enterprise and not a business enterprise.
What does he mean by that?
What he means by that is he built Facebook so that people could talk to each other. He didn’t want ads on it. For a long time he refused to take ads on Facebook until he was told that if you can’t take ads there is no other way to make money in this. So I am not sure how willing he is to go the distance because it is going to be a fight. It’s going to be a fight against not other social media companies but against the big players. The Googles and The New York Times of the world. This is a tough game to fight and you got be willing to act like a business and I am not sure is willing to yet.
You called the business model of Facebook, a Field of Dreams. Why is that?
Yeah. You ever seen that movie? Field of Dreams.
In the movie Kevin Costner moves to the American Midwest and he is walking through this cornfield. And hears this voice and it says “if you build it he will come”. He being Shoeless Joe Jackson, a baseball player from a 100 years ago. On the faith that these old baseball players will show up, he builds this baseball field in the middle of Iowa and everybody asks him, why are you building this huge baseball field in the middle of nowhere? And he tells them, if I build it they will come. And that in a sense is what social media companies are doing right now. They are building this place where there are lots of users and they are telling people trust us if we build this, they will come. They being advertisers, product sellers, they will come. But in the Field of Dreams they did come but I am not sure in these companies that they will.
Talking about the current price of Facebook how do you see it? Yesterday is closed at around $33.(The interview was conducted on Thursday, May 24,2012) Has it fallen enough?
I think it fell enough in those two days that you are going to get a consolidation. The next run on them will tell how far they might go back. The low 30s are close enough to my intrinsic value that I wouldn’t call them massively overvalued. I think there is enough potential in the company. If it dropped to $15 then it’s pretty much a bargain. At $31-32 its pretty close to intrinsic value
The intrinsic value you calculated for Facebook was $29?
So why was the stock valued at such a high price of $38 per share when it was sold to the public?
It wasn’t valued. It was priced.
So why was it priced at such a high price?
Remember they weren’t pricing it on a blank slate. They could see transactions happening in the private share market where people were buying and selling Facebook shares. And there the prices were going at about $42-43. So they said if people are buying and selling at this price, these are real transactions.
What sort of stock market was this?
For the last two years Facebook has been on what’s called a private share market where people who owned shares of Facebook were allowed to trade.
So is it like over the counter?
Not even over the counter. They are actually beyond the counter. These are private companies that are not incorporated. So this is a completely unregulated share market. Like Goldman Sachs could sell shares. Players in this market are pretty big institutional investors they are not individual investors. Transactions here have particular merit because these are two informed investors transacting and they are coming to a price. And investment bankers saw that price and they said if they are paying $42, then we should be able to sell it at $38. And they also got onto the phone and they called institutional investors. They tried to gauge demand until Thursday evening (May 17,2012). And that’s why they set the price at 4 o’clock on Thursday because that’s how late they were pushing this off to make sure that there was enough demand.
Wasn’t this a throwback to the days of the dotcom bubble?
This is how all pricing is done in IPOs. IPOs are always priced they are never valued because essentially your job as an investment banker is to sell at that price. What was unusual here was that demand and supply that they gauged collapsed. They didn’t realize how thin the market was until one hour into the offering when they saw the price collapse. It started at $38, it went to $43, and then very quickly it kind of collapsed. My theory is when you price things you are building in market perceptions, what you think will happen etc. You are basing it in on momentum. That’s a very fragile thing. You don’t want mess with it. Even people who are buying based on pricing and momentum like to tell themselves that they are buying based on value. So they look for a good story and they don’t want to have their face rubbed at the fact that they are buying because everybody else is paying the price.
In case of Facebook it was quite the opposite…
If you look at what the investment banks and Facebook insiders did in the last week they almost rubbed the investors faces in this. They rubbed it in the sense that they kept hiking up the offering price, saying we know you are suckers. At the same time the insiders were selling the shares in the week leading up to the offering. If I had been the investment banker I would have spent the last week talking about the user base, and advertising because that would have given the momentum investors a crutch. I am purely buying it because of advertising revenues. Instead it was all about pricing. They made it very transparent that they were not valuing the company. It was all demand and supply. I have a feeling that if you point to midday on Friday (May 18,2012) and say that was the time when the momentum on social media companies, not just on Facebook, shifted. And if you look at what has happened since it is not just Facebook which has seen its price collapse. It’s Groupon. It’s LinkedIn. It’s the entire sector. And I wager that there are IPOs lined up to go to investment banks of social media companies, that are either being pulled right now or being dramatically repriced.
You have said in the past that Facebook has huge corporate governance issues. Can you elaborate on that?
It has got voting shares and non-voting shares. Zuckerberg has got the voting rights. It is also incorporated as a controlled corporation which basically means that you don’t have to follow the corporate governance rules (like the Sarbanes Oxley Act) that publically traded companies need to do. They can have insiders on the board.
Is that allowed?
If you are controlled corporation it is. And Facebook has been very open about that they are going to be a controlled corporation.
How does regulation allow for something like that?
As long as you make it public. If it is a controlled corporation investors have to make a judgement as to whether they care. In case of Facebook initially it looked like they didn’t care. Right from the beginning Facebook has been very open that they are not really going to be a publically traded company and that really they are a private business that wants the capital that public markets give them. But it is going to be Zuckerberg’s company.
So they won’t give out much information?
They might give out the information but you will have no say in what they do. So if they do an acquisition…
Did they overpay for Instagram?
They paid. I don’t know whether they overpaid. But the paid and there was no accountability. Zuckerberg basically decided to pay a billion (dollars) then he told the board that I have bought the company and I have paid a billion. This is not the way a company should be bought. A CEO shouldn’t be deciding what to pay overnight and you shouldn’t be telling the board of directors after you have bought a company that I just bought a company for a billion and I just want you to know.
This is like how mom and pop shops down the road operate…
It is a way a dictatorship operates. Facebook is a corporate dictatorship.
So who influenced Zuckerberg to do what he is doing?
Google set the framework that Facebook is using right now. The voting shares, non-voting shares. Sergey Brin and Larry Page are the models that Zuckerberg is using.
Can you elaborate on that?
Until Google came along, US companies generally did not have two classes of shares. Voting shares and nonvoting shares were for a long time banned by the New York Stock Exchange. So most companies didn’t even try. So if you look at Apple, you look at Microsoft they had only one class of shares. Google essentially did two things. They did their IPO through an auction rather than through investment banks. And secondly they decided to have voting and nonvoting shares. If institutional investors had risen at that point of time and said we are not buying these shares because we don’t have enough voting rights, then Google would have been forced to go back to drawing board and then come back. Institutional investors were okay with Google doing that. Once they opened that door every social media company you look at LinkedIn and Groupon, they follow what Google did.
So these shares are listed on NASDAQ?
Yes. NASDAQ allows for voting and nonvoting shares that is the part of the reason for listing on it. The New York Stock Exchange because it is in competition with NASDAQ has now also started relaxing, they want the money, they want the listings. So they will take Facebook even if it’s voting and nonvoting shares. So this will be a race to the bottom.
So the shares sold to the public were nonvoting shares?
They are low voting shares. The shares that Zuckerberg owns have 10 times the voting rights, which means he has 57% of voting rights with 35% of the shares. And he will always make sure that remains above 50%.
So he can go ahead and buy anything without requiring clearance from the board?
Google for instance recently issued new shares which have no voting right at all. So that is the third layer. You have ten voting rights shares. One voting rights shares. And no voting rights shares. Zuckerberg can go out and raise as much capital as he wants. If he issues no voting rights he will always have 57%. He going to lock in that voting percentage.
But how is something like this allowed in a developed market like the US?
I don’t think it should be banned. Let the investors decide for themselves. Lots of countries you have two classes of shares. Its par for the course. And you just price it in.
It’s just that it hasn’t happened in the US for a long time?
I think you will wake up one day and see I wish I had voting rights. But you chose to be a part of this game. I am not feeling sorry for the institutional investors in Google who are crying about the fact that Google does things they don’t like. You bought the stock you live with it.
(The interview was originally published in the Daily News and Analysis(DNA) on May 28,2012. http://www.dnaindia.com/money/interview_facebook-is-a-corporate-dictatorship_1694603)
(Interviewer Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])