News while I was away: Interbrand has released its Best Global Brands table, as advised on email by my friend and colleague Stanley Moss, a fellow Medinge director. Our concern at Medinge: what is the methodology?
When we wrote Beyond Branding, we questioned many valuations of companies using traditional ﬁnancial models. Here, we wonder about the rigour of Interbrand’s ones. Is GE such a strong brand, if one used consumer research, to come in fourth, after Coca-Cola, Microsoft and IBM? Indeed, does IBM have the same halo among consumers as it once did? And just how connected is Coca-Cola with its public?
Surely, Ford’s decline in 2005–6 could have been predicted by examining the brand, if branding theory holds up. Yet a sharp decline only shows up in this year’s results, with the brand losing 16 per cent of its value, according to Interbrand. I’d argue the same for Gap (down 22 per cent) and Kodak, other declining brands that Interbrand singled out.
Google (up 46 per cent), eBay and Starbucks are identiﬁed as brands that strengthened a great deal in 2005–6, which perhaps is not a huge surprise.
Intel, Nokia, Toyota, Disney, McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz round off the remaining top 10 places, Toyota experiencing a 14 per cent growth (something we could have told you anecdotally) and Mercedes a 9 per cent one (ditto, as its products improve).
I shouldn’t really complain. The Interbrand study is one of the more comprehensive ones, and I do look forward to the table each year.
And it is useful to the practitioner, potentially conﬁrming what we have sensed while working in the ﬁeld. Without studying the ﬁrms ourselves in many cases, all we have are anecdotes and instincts.
This year, I’m fascinated more by the 11th to 20th positions, all companies that recorded gains. American Express, BMW, Gillette and Louis Vuitton did well—and we have been privy to some of their info that also suggests growth.
A story on this year’s index appears in the current issue of Business Week.
Del.icio.us tags: brand branding brands Interbrand Medinge valuation Posted by Jack Yan, 14:15
In my 19-year career, I have not met a John Smith. I have met four men called Mike Parker. I know, via email, two Shailendra Kumars. I emailed an S. Jack Yan—the guy who used to own this domain—around 2002. At L’Oréal Colour Trophy, I met Colin Morley, a photographer—the namesake of my colleague who was killed in the Edgware Road bombing on July 7, 2005.
The Kiwi Colin Morley did not know that his British namesake was killed, and perhaps was a bit worried that I referred to it. But what are the odds of my meeting two men, in different professions and countries, with the same name?
And for those who ego-surf, have you noticed that your namesakes have similar interests to you? I ego-surf, as have two of my friends, and there seems to be some truth in the theory that your name determines who you are.
Can your brand do the same? Posted by Jack Yan, 12:46
I’ve returned from Auckland and L’Oréal Colour Trophy 2006, where I presented the Lucire Fashion Magazine Award to Jock Robson of Dharma. Jock’s entry, I was happy to note, was a ﬁnalist for the Supreme Award that night, too, meaning that I have a similar eye to the international judges from the UK and Canada.
Brigid is visiting family, meaning my date for the evening was an old friend, whose boyfriend was in the audience somewhere. In case anyone was wondering. It was also nice seeing Amber Peebles there, another old friend, but I don’t know where she disappeared off to during the evening.
I believe my opinion, that these are the Oscars of Hair, is not without merit. Making a quip about lacking a co-presenter—only the big awards that night had two presenters, as with the Academy Awards—was appropriate. Although I was holding the envelope, it was fun to ask for it: ‘May I have the envelope, please? Thank you, Sharon [Stone].’
I had wanted to say more and talk up Lucire, but the previous presenter, Headway editor and actress Charmaine Guest, simply came out and said, ‘And the winner is …’ It was hard to say anything of greater length after that.
Charmaine admitted to being nervous in front of 1,200 people, even though she had ﬁlmed a rather steamy love scene a few years back for a TV adaptation of Foreskin’s Lament. The old rule about public speaking being tough seems to hold true for many. I believe it is mental: with the bright lights, I could hardly see the audience.
It was also a pleasure to meet local TV personalities Mikey Havoc and Jaquie Brown, who each had changing rooms downstairs—a sign of stardom. Regular presenters like me got their hair done with the models. Jaquie has mastered the arts of self-deprecation and comedy timing, in my view—but you have to be a comedian to work with John Campbell.
I seem to be running into comedians lately, with Pio Terei appearing on Good Morning last Friday. And for those (Johnnie Moore included) who wanted to hear the rest of my “wall of penises” story that I began, there wasn’t much more. Brendon’s West Coast conservatism did kick in.
Curious about what the nurses were referring to, I tried to take a peek and put my head in. Mum’s reaction was swift: she covered my eyes. We both left. It was an anecdote about one contact with the health system and it was meant to segue into Mum’s experiences being a cancer patient. The health system, as I explained, is not about curing people, but ensuring that a ﬁnancial industry remains in treating illnesses and keeping certain companies and the medical establishment rich. This, I believe, goes some way to explaining why some men prefer not to see doctors for a regular check-up, rather than machismo.
And I managed to get some political humour in, referring to the Foreign Minister of New Zealand outside Cabinet and Barry’s run-in with him.
We in New Zealand need it. It has been too long since McPhail & Gadsby—and we are more sophisticated now. Posted by Jack Yan, 11:32
Car trim levels have always been the trick of the marketer, and the one I have noticed the most—probably because of its huge range in the UK—is that of Ford. Many car nuts my age can rattle off the Escort Mk II trim levels of base, Popular, Popular L, L, GL, S and Ghia, and Mexico and RS2000—letters or words that denoted how well equipped a car was, even if, fundamentally, they all looked roughly the same and they all went equally fast. Unless you opted for a bigger or smaller engine. But you were buying an Escort for three reasons: you were a ﬂeet manager, you were a private buyer who conformed, or you wanted to relive either Doyle off The Professionals or successful European or Mexican rallies.
Back in those days, they made some sense, mostly by counting the number of letters used. Nowadays, they seem harder to follow, because people do not wish to be separated by trim levels any more. Chevrolet followed such a course with one of the last Camaros: if you didn’t go for a Z-28, you weren’t treated (by pony car standards) as a pauper. The public tended to ﬁnd it harder to separate if you had gone with the cheap model, or a high-line one.
This is a reﬂection of how we don’t appreciate trim-level snobbery any more: that the person who buys a Focus Platinum deserves as much respect as someone who has a regular Focus. Both look pretty good—the base Focus no longer appears stripped-down from the outside. But Ford’s trim names are particularly tricky now.
There is a trim level called Zetec, named after a type of engine Ford used. In the case of the old Mondeo, it denoted a model that did not have a Zetec engine.
There is a trim level called Ghia, a car design studio in Torino. In the case of most Fords, it denotes a model that has no connection with the Ghia studios.
The Renault Scénic, not ofﬁcially the Mégane Scénic as it was at launch, still bears a little Mégane legend in the B-pillar, so why not refer to the Mégane heritage?
At Holden, the new Commodore has a trim level called Omega, which is also the model name it will have in Brazil; and the intermediate model continues to be called Berlina, but it is, according to the badging not a Commodore Berlina—the name it once possessed in the mid-1980s. To an Italian, Berlina Wagon seems contradictory. To the neophyte, the names are meaningless because (s)he does not know if the car is well equipped or not.
I don’t really enjoy this confusion, and I wonder if these tricky names mean anything to twenty-ﬁrst-century consumers. But since we no longer go for separating cars with L and GL these days, it is no wonder we have gone for names instead—names that are incomprehensible to all but the dealer and the car nut.
There has to be a better way to inform consumers. Sure, there’s the web search, which most people will do when car-shopping. Comparing trim levels between models is laborious and the tables are usually biased, anyway, if you see them in an ad or brochure.
Is it time to reintroduce the easy-to-understand trim level codes again—we can count letters like kids counted portholes in Buicks—or have we moved well beyond that in 2006? Do we shout simplicity: offer one trim, well equipped?
That theory does not really wash as people are very affected by prices in this business. But pretentious names, to me, don’t sound like informing the consumer that well, either. Posted by Jack Yan, 13:24
Queen of the Natural Glow, Suzanne Paul, lamented today on National Radio that she misses the days when you could go and buy milk. There are so many varieties nowadays, and in her household, they have to have three milk bottles—one for each member of the family—because of the different dietary requirements.
Her choice was to support her dairy—to our non-Kiwi readers a small convenience store which used to do a roaring trade in the pre-supermarket days. The local dairy, on the corner, was where you’d pick up your chewing gum, milk, newspaper and a copy of the Listener. At least that’s all I remember us getting from the local dairy on Adelaide Road 25 years ago. But you could buy Three Diamonds-branded sardines from Mitsubishi and Whittaker’s Peanut Slabs (a favourite of my maternal grandmother): that much was at my eye’s height. Size-wise, the stores are pretty small, usually helmed by a single person.
Simplicity, as everyone from Real Simple to Martha Stewart might tell you, is quite an attractive trait. People are, such as Ms Paul (no relation to Ru), willing to pay a premium. And some dairies do charge an awful premium, one reason that drove my mother to start shopping at Wardell’s when that opened in our ’hood when I was a kid.
So how about this for an idea: the dairy as a premium shopping venue? It would sell based on simplicity being something you would pay more for. One kind of milk, vetted by the retailer, as being the best—Sun Latte, which I spotted last week, claims as much (though I could only be enticed on being given a 30¢ coupon). The surroundings would be comfortable, but simple, too. While supermarkets’ variety is designed to keep shoppers in, the premium charged by the Simplicity Dairy would be saving shoppers’ time. Make your grocery list, like Mum used to. Then head over to the dairy, and pay around 15 per cent more—it’s in your ’hood, probably on your street corner, and not get stuck with useless goods that you would never use. An overall saving of money and time.
Of course, the little dairy will never have the marketing muscle of the supermarket, nor the buying power. We are conditioned to hunt for the lowest price and the 10¢ saving. But it only needs to market itself in one area. That means hitting the community newspaper and being visible in the area with eye-catching livery. It means using the visual cues of branding and turning its assets into pluses, especially as consumer tastes begin balking at the Wal-marts and foreign ownership of supermarkets.
Del.icio.us tags: repositioning simplicity branding marketing dairy supermarket retail FMCG New Zealand Posted by Jack Yan, 06:04
In the last week and a bit, while tidying up the layout of this blog, I had a chance to revisit my blogroll. I’m still hesitant to put personal links there (there are many, like Jack’s Lounge and The Queer Chef), so that could be something for a separate page. However, of the ones directly related to my work, there are some new blogs that deserve attention.
Neill Archer Roan was kind enough to write some very nice things about me today at his blog, and that does mean he occupies a bit more share of mind this afternoon. I discovered Neill’s blog not too long ago, around the same time I discovered Citizen of the Month, run by a Neil with one l. I got the two gentlemen confused and even bugged Neill about a post I made on the latter blog. (It was about Jacqueline Bisset, and that is worth bugging someone about.)
It wasn’t Neill’s patience with me that marks him out, or the ﬂattering post, but that his blog is one of the clearest and most well thought out marketing and business strategy sites out there. Too many of these sites are full of wank, and Neill’s isn’t. He manages to get into pretty deep issues without labouring them with jargon.
I had no hesitation in “Favoriting” his site at Technorati.
One Plus One Equals Three, Tom Peters and BrandTarot Blog are the other additions. The ﬁrst is an Australian site discussing design, which gives me greater perspective about that market. I still cover the scene for Desktop magazine, speciﬁcally on typography, and these guys always seem to ﬁnd the latest gems.
Tom Peters’ site needs no introduction, but I had no idea the guy had turned it into a blog. Shows how long since I last visited it. And Tom does blog on there, which is just as well—if he’s good enough to turn out some great books, he should be sharing some of his wisdom on a regular basis. Most of the posts are on strategy and on some larger national economic issues, in which our work takes place.
Finally, John Grant’s BrandTarot Blog has a bit more of a futurist bent, which I enjoy. No one can predict the future, though it doesn’t stop us from trying. And I love reading about someone else’s insight into new markets and the future of blogging. The reality is always somewhere been the most whacky and the conservative. A bit like the weather. Posted by Jack Yan, 01:48
Microsoft will be playing me-too this Christmas with Zune, an iPod rival that, apparently, wasn’t a surprise to the tech observers out there. Those who doubted its resolve before Xbox came out to challenge Playstation will probably not do the same: Microsoft’s marketing muscle and the general absence of the Microsoft name and visual branding will probably endow the gadget with a sense of cool for the holidays.
Xbox was a wise move, and as each iteration has been released, Microsoft has reﬁned the branding more, even to the point of commissioning its own typeface. One can bet that Zune will follow suit. Observers expect Microsoft to have an iTunes rival ready—otherwise Zune becomes just another gloriﬁed MP3 player. (Let’s also hope it’s less ugly and dull.)
It’s hardly original, but Microsoft has almost deﬁned its brand over the last generation as a follower, a computeresque Procter & Gamble that produces things that most people will love. When you have money behind the idea, number two is not too bad a position to be in, because that can often mean number one in sales—as Toyota will no doubt attest with its Corolla.
Zune merely conﬁrms it, and if anyone wondered whether the cool factor would be lost because of how Bill Gates dresses, then they shouldn’t worry. People found plenty of reasons to buy an Xbox and ignored the Microsoft connection; just as many ignore that many of New Zealand’s food brands are French-owned, such as Just Juice.
There is still some proof, therefore, that the ideas of old can still work to push people into consumerist tendencies—but they only work with a wad of cash behind you. But in Microsoft’s defence against the cynic (like me), this is the market orientation at work, too: few companies can band together to produce a convincing rival, regardless of the spend. There is something very right at play at Redmond, something we hardly give credit to the company for because it is a giant.
Still, for everyone else, we have to work in the 21st century, with 21st-century techniques. If we want to get the kudos of Xbox or Zune, then we need to out-think them. Innovative marketing techniques such as getting word of mouth electronically, being one with customers, and not practising a top–down approach as Microsoft will do. When you don’t have millions on a global marketing campaign, you produce something that is so compelling that people automatically want to be part of it. That often means studying the fringe, taking a chance on an idea which, when brought into the organization with a market orientation, will ﬁnd success.
In the meantime, getting the brand and the marketing structure right are a good start—then let the innovative ideas ﬂow.
Who knows? We might come up with the next big gadget for Christmas 2007. Posted by Jack Yan, 09:52
In the latest The Republic, an East Vancouver-based newspaper, Kevin Potvin links globalization to terrorism. And it is not the ﬁrst time these two concepts have been connected—earlier this year, I came across an Iranian news agency that advanced similar arguments, from the point of view of a host country.
The argument is not without merit: globalization, or at least the abuse of host nation workers resulting from global economic forces, has caused resentment, and a widening gap between rich and poor nations. Norman Macrae predicted as much years ago—and it is coming to pass, albeit expressed in non-economic events.
I have been a supporter of globalization in terms of sharing, operating as a single planet, spreading ideals and high standards—but not everyone looks at it this way. But there are plenty of idealists who see globalization in terms
Ask around: most people say they want world peace. Not just beauty queens. And most people believe unity is something we should strive to achieve, even if the UN doesn’t seem to be the body through which this can be done. I believe the internet is, or at least the foundation for a greater global movement, linking people together. You are reading these words because of the internet. If so many of us believe this, then why doesn’t the world begin to shift? Well, I say the world is shifting—we just need to make sure it shifts in the right direction, with our values intact.
As we become more aware that people are helping one another across the ’net—from funding schools in Africa to campaigning for the release of journalists—then the smaller these once insurmountable problems seem. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, buoyed by Warren Buffett’s funds, is signiﬁcant not just for solving some of the world’s poverty-related issues, but for showing that the few can change the lives of many.
It wasn’t that long ago that people said Bill Gates was the anti-Christ, dissing him because Microsoft was too big. The chorus is still there, but it is quieter, because he and his wife’s foundation has proven to deliver more than empty promises. It wasn’t too long ago, either, when we believed that we had to go to a bank or Western Union to send someone some money. In 1995, most of us got the news through printed newspapers or TV programmes, restricted to our domestic media.
The optimistic view can still be achieved, and if there is a silver lining to all of the current conﬂicts on this planet, it is its exposure of the forces that globalists like us have to encounter and ﬁght.
Fifteen years ago, they would have looked impossible—had we even known about them. Now we just think they look hard, and we have to make a plan of attack. In another 15 years’ time, they might be problems we can solve by clicking a button online and having a conversation.
If we don’t lose sight of the idea that we all mostly want the same thing, that we can achieve them together, and that our real, shared values are going to be the drivers.
Del.icio.us tags: globalization terrorism unity world peace values humanity charity internet conversation dialogue change time Posted by Jack Yan, 07:30
This probably proves fellow blogger BlackOps’ point that this is turning into a car blog, but Tesla Motors (mentioned on this blog last week) has released information on its new roadster. It’s a stylish motor that looks a bit like the Lotus Elise (though when you check the site, you realize that the design evolution has been quite different), and if the promises hold true, then it will knock the technological socks off all the other electric cars that have come before.
If they can get the price right, then I will say that this will be the next ’64½ Mustang, sales-wise. But even if they don’t, it shows that American innovation is not necessarily about retro design and revisiting past glories. Provided it doesn’t get trampled by the establishment (and Tesla’s backers are visionary, dot-com types who have shown the establishment the ﬁnger before), the Tesla Roadster is far more an expression of American optimism than anything Detroit’s Big Two are churning out today. The boss has his own blog, and he’s been elsewhere arguing his position—and listening to criticism.
Most importantly, it could be proof that listening to your customers—people who have cried out for an alternative to the internal combustion engine and high fuel prices—works wonders. All it takes is courage to break the mould, and, in this industry, a heck of a lot of money. Posted by Jack Yan, 06:09
Every now and then, I pop into Blogﬂux’s generous MapStats service, which shows me where my last 100 visitors have come from. Today, my blog hits have doubled—nearly trebled, based on some days’ visits. I wondered why. In February, my strong hit rate was due to a few posts I made on the Jyllands-Posten publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammed, but today, the hits were greater than that. Not long after, my personal acquaintance to Denise Vasi, who goes out with Russell Simmons, became a reason some people visited.
The reason this time? Because I had written about Kim Cattrall and her advertisements for the Nissan Tiida, a topic which I explored again earlier today. The blogosphere had many, many visitors curious to know about the commercials, probably hoping to catch a glimpse of them. Sorry folks, I don’t have them, though I have seen them in both Australia and New Zealand.
But what is strange is where these folks are coming from. First, here are the last 98 visitors to my blog on July 20.
Pretty standard, really, though having someone visit from Africa was a treat.
Here are the last 100 folks on the site, virtually all searching for Kim Cattrall on July 21 (US Paciﬁc time is used):
Kim was hot, especially in Masquerade. She still is for her age. And this is actually very, very good for Kim’s ego. It shows she may be the biggest thing to come out of Cheshire since Lewis Carroll. Draw from the above maps what you will, because I thought Sex and the City was popular everywhere, not just a single country as this indicates.
We can assume that there are more people surﬁng for leisure Stateside, or that only Americans know of the advertisement’s ban (not likely, since I know about it), or hardly anyone outside the US really cares if an innuendo-laden commercial is on the internet or not (the one on YouTube, if anyone wonders, is not the one).
I wish I had stuck some ads on this site now and earned a few bob off them. Posted by Jack Yan, 03:09
Nissan has pulled its latest Kim Cattrall TV commercials from New Zealand screens, after complaints—despite the ads being approved by the Television Commercial Approvals’ Bureau prior to their airing.
The worst this ad ever got was Cattrall saying how the Nissan Tiida (Verso in the US) was bigger than she thought and good it felt inside.
The Associated Press has Cattrall’s lines:
“Why didn't you tell me it was so big? I just wasn’t prepared for it,” she gushes. “The all-new Nissan Tiida makes you feel really, really, really good inside.”
She tells a salesman: “Ah! That was amazing. Absolutely fabulous! I mean the great body and the way you moved it.”
After so many seasons of Sex and the City, a cultural phenomenon of sorts which included using the f-word on network television, these complaints seem hypocritical on the part of Kiwi viewers.
I am all for values, but I would rather Kim have her double entendres, nothing new on New Zealand telly, than some of the crap that passes for programming.
Put it like this: if you are an eight-year-old and you get the jokes, then you are a bloody ﬁlthy eight-year-old. (When I was eight—heck, when I was twelve—I would have been none the wiser.) Parents who fear that their kids are getting the wrong idea need to look to themselves to see if they really are parenting, rather than blame a Japanese-French automaker. If they, as adults, are getting offended because things were not like this 30 years ago, then I question how observant they were.
Del.icio.us tags: Nissan Nissan Tiida Kim Cattrall humour double entendres advertisement TV commercial innuendo Posted by Jack Yan, 01:23
The situation in the Middle East, and the call for a ceaseﬁre, bring to me a personal conﬂict. I try to break down things into concepts I understand. And I understand marketing and law, the two areas I was trained in.
If I had an opponent in business, I would try to beat that opponent. In some cases I would do it in a gentlemanly fashion. Last year, I was in regular dialogue with my colleague and rival Lisa Phelan, publisher of New Zealand Style, a magazine that since folded. I saw no reason to treat Ms Phelan as my enemy—and when she was essentially destroyed via newspaper articles, I called with my support.
That was a lot more fulﬁlling than joining in the chorus and help spread rumour after rumour, when I had it on good authority from Lisa that there were falsehoods in the mainstream media.
But I would not set out to destroy an opponent.
In business, I imagine the equivalent of war would be using legal resources to get a company struck off the Register, using rumour and half-truths to rally people around my cause. I would use political power as well, and make life
And yet, that would not serve my business. It would cost heaps. My customers would be ill-served. Throughout these blogs, I preach the notion that we have to focus, stick to our knitting, stay ﬁrm to our vision, and, if we are competing, beat someone because we lived out the concepts that we set out at our founding.
When we lose sight of that vision, we rebrand, or we ﬁnd some way of motivating or reorganizing ourselves so that we restore our purpose and our strategy.
So how does that relate to nations?
I know I would not try to destroy another. But I also know that harbouring and protecting terrorists so offend me that I could not stand still.
Israel has obviously decided that talking doesn’t work when protecting its interests. So often there have been talks, but things have been derailed by the slightest actions of other states. And the same may be said of Israel’s actions, when viewed through the eyes of others. Contexts inform all.
But what are the visions of these nations?
They must include existence, survival, protection and peace.
I know this because each generation of Israeli has been told, ‘When you get to my age, there will be no more wars.’ And each generation becomes disillusioned when this parental promise fails to materialize, and look to familiar behaviours.
‘Familiar behaviours’ would be the Six-day War and the Arab–Israeli War, and following a playbook. I make no judgement on who was right and who was wrong in these wars, nor do I make any judgement about who ﬁred the ﬁrst shot. I am hardly in a position to do so, not being from their cultures. But I know that they did not solve any problems long-term, because here I am in 2006, writing this blog post.
At the end of the day, and even if people do not want to admit it, the purest vision, the fundamental raison d’être, of each of these warring nations, is identical.
It’s easy for a businessman sitting on his hind end in New Zealand to say that getting back to original visions and defusing a situation are the ways forward, for that would make me as guilty as those I have criticized: bringing in my own ideas on to nations I have neither lived in nor visited. But I am here to learn, which is more than I can say for some.
There is a gap between these concepts and what may be known in the region itself. I do not really know for sure, but I renew my earlier call to go to blogs from the area. This time, we need to go beyond creed and toward nationhood and learn what affects the people in Lebanon, Israel, Syria and the Palestinian territories. Even bloggers in Iran—the ones that haven’t been arrested or killed for having their views, that is.
However, I know Israelis, Lebanese and Syrians. I know that they share the same basic values as me. I know they don’t always agree with their governments because all they want to do is darn well get on with life.
They all do. Which makes me think that those raisons d’être for their nations are the same.
And, when you get back to these ﬁrst principles, terrorism is incompatible with them. I don’t care how much money Iran pumps into these places. But I do care that it created Hezbollah, and how this is creating instability in nations that do not want terrorism.
Which means there should be unity between them to rid themselves of terrorists, a decision that other nations have come to.
They all have a common enemy because they all agree that terrorism is not something they condone, just as rumour and the local media’s treatment of Lisa Phelan last year were something I could not join in.
These may be as different as chalk and cheese, but they have origins in the same place: the removal of one party because it is seen as a game of “survival of the ﬁttest”.
I argue the game is the survival of our values, and why our nations were formed in the ﬁrst place. Call me naïve, or call me a dreamer, but I cannot see why there has not been greater unity to serve individual nations’ purposes.
PS.: For other viewpoints: Bill Kristol has written an op-ed with some thought in the Murdoch Press. A contrary piece appears in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian today by former Knesset member Uri Avnery.
Del.icio.us tags: Israel Lebanon Syria Iran Middle East Middle East conﬂict war terrorism United Nations UN ceaseﬁre politics Posted by Jack Yan, 23:30
The new coComment has launched. In a nutshell, coCo, as les initiés know it, is a program to help you track comments made on blogs. The latest edition tracks comments made by non-coComment users as well as registered ones, and while there are some tiny glitches, as one would expect, it shows that the application’s folks in Genève have been listening to users.
I was ﬂattered to be one of the people invited to trial the new coCo before it was made public, since I hold the record for number of comments made. I wonder if that is such a great claim to fame!
The interface has been tidied up by Namahn, while coCo also offers a commenting feature for pages that aren’t set up for it. CoComment will now also track conversations even if the user decides not to participate.
It’s another stage in the blogosphere’s evolution, where the catch-cry is inclusion, not exclusion. CoComment is now, in theory, available to all, so those who feel they do not wish to have a blog can still be part of conversations made on one.
Much the same can be said of marketing’s evolution, which is also tied to dialogue: we might not all have our own ﬁrms, but we can at least make our voices be heard. Now, we can track just where those voices went, what may have been said in response, and if we need to follow up. I see coCo playing a big part in this new world of ours. Posted by Jack Yan, 11:58
Contrary to expectations when I wrote my previous post, the car posts keep coming. CoComment is down for maintenance presently, and I felt it worth recording what I just wrote at the Kiwi Car Lovers’ Blog, which I discovered tonight, rather than leave it to the Swiss service to keep track of. But it is relevant to the core idea of this blog of branding.
It’s a fairly well written blog with three contributors, and a case was made about the decline of Mercedes-Benz. In response, I wrote the following.
The quality issues are over these days, in my view, having driven B, CLS and S lately. The ML was a pig—borrowed one that was falling apart and with plastics that were typically nasty-American.
Mercedes’ problem with exploring so many niches—at some point we will have a Klasse for every letter of the alphabet—is not so much that they do. The issue is that the designs are not cohesive and the company’s approach to using design to express its brand is almost Japanese. In other words, disparate.
Having said that, the CLS is sublime: it was a car I was ready to hate till I had one for three days, and it ﬁtted as neatly as Pamela Anderson into a red wetsuit.
As to the smaller cars, the B is competent but overpriced; sure-footed but visually incongruous. However, no manufacturer can survive without going downward, and creating a brand from scratch can be dodgy (to wit, Smart, though establishing brand equity takes time, and I agree with Rob about its US chances).
I keep saying, ‘Premium is the new mainstream,’ something that is happening in all consumer goods. Cars are no exception to this demand for premium quality in everyday items.
Thus, the takeover of Chrysler was probably inspired in idea, but sloppy in execution—the destruction of Plymouth, the repositioning of Chrysler, all proving that the Germans, with the possible exception of Volkswagen, are not good at brand management.
The last sentence is an exaggeration: the German automakers are great at managing German brands, and they learn very quickly from their mistakes. Hence, BMW is having a whale of a time with Mini. But its failure with Rover (which was partly a brand issue—notice how many times the advertising tagline was changed during its ownership and how it could not decide if Rover was a member of the BMW Group) and Mercedes’ with Smart (clever in many respects; less so with its pricing given where Swatch watches were positioned) were on my mind when I wrote the above.
Not enough emphasis was placed, at the time, on how the brands could be integrated, nor how mainstream, volume manufacturing could be combined with its core competences. (Easy to say with hindsight.) But the Germans were right about three aspects: that new niches needed to be explored, economies of scale would become important, and acquiring a volume manufacturer was a sure way to prevent someone else from buying itself.
Mini was not a ﬂuke: BMW followed its own handbook on that one, similarly with Rolls-Royce. The rest shows that branding and marketing need to be part of the strategic decision, especially where consumer-targeted products and services are concerned. It is the one interface between organization and consumer.
These days, fortunately for Stuttgart, DaimlerChrysler has wised up, its brands’ standing so deﬁned that it deems it safe for Chrysler underpinnings to be beneath the Mercedes A- and B-class come the turn of the decade. Plus, the quality shocks of the last 10 years have seen Mercedes’ build improve no end in the last year. All of that sounds like positive brand equity to me.
Del.icio.us tags: DaimlerChrysler Mercedes-Benz BMW premium niche marketing mainstream branding brand Posted by Jack Yan, 09:49
One more for the car nuts (if there are no more surprises as with MG Rover) in what has practically been ‘Automotive Week’ here at my blog.
I’ve noticed all these people copy this one inﬂuential car designer’s style, despite none of them giving him much real recognition when one of his earliest models appeared. You know who I mean. And now, when you look at the side of some sedans, you see the same technique used at the boot or trunk: a visible shut line. It’s as though the bootlid is a little shell, so to speak. The rear window ﬁnishes higher than the car’s beltline, and the bootlid begins there, “reaching down” to the beltline.
In the past, you couldn’t normally see the shut line of the boot of a car from the side. But now, I’ve seen it on the Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse, the Lexus IS, the Toyota Mark X and Camry, the Maybach 57 and 62, and the Honda Legend.
Get on with it, guys. You, too, Chris. Stop copying the 1995 Hyundai Avante (or Lantra or Elantra, depending on where you were born). It’s been 11 years since we saw this.
Posted by Jack Yan, 06:04
In case anyone is wondering where Barry Soper is, and why he won’t appear on Good Morning tomorrow, the following articles in the New Zealand mainstream media will explain it all:
• M. Houlahan: ‘Senator caught in Peters’ media war’, The New Zealand Herald
• T. Watkins and V. Small: ‘Trade deal wins top US backer’, The Dominion Post
Winston Peters seems to have a different grasp of reality from what all the journalists have, while Barry is calling the New Zealand Foreign Minister’s behaviour the strangest he’s encountered in 26 years of international political reporting.
The Senator mentioned in the headline is neither Republican nor Democrat, but John McCain (just kidding—blame the President if you didn’t like that gag).
We’ll no doubt hear more next week but I’ll see if I can mention this on air! Posted by Jack Yan, 23:39
This Friday on Good Morning: women drivers. I have to wonder about this one. Clumsy women drivers are certainly the stuff of sexist stereotypes, and women like Jodie Kidd and Vicki Butler-Henderson have shown the boys that the “fair sex” is not to be messed with behind the wheel.
However, to date Brigid has allowed me to drive each time, and everyone close to me (and every regular blog reader) knows of my love for automobiles. Knock on wood, in nearly 20 years I have been accident-free, and that’s driving on three continents.
I don’t think you can tear boys away from their cars: it’s how we’re wired. We have been raised around them. Monster Garage is more compelling than a Meg Ryan comedy. The Hoff is only cool because he used to have a talking Trans Am, not because he made a few bob wearing red trunks. I am considered cool in male conversations because I have driven some amazing vehicles.
So, we have staked our claim. Cars are our turf. But does this answer the topic on Friday, which forces Paul and me (Barry is away, so ex-cop Dave will probably appear) to consider other aspects of cars, men and women?
Let me think. No man will admit that a woman is a safer driver. No woman will admit that a man can take directions better. When it comes to road rage, I think we are pretty well split. Brigid has cussed as a passenger at other clumsy drivers, while I do the Roger Moore thing, and nod and smile. I am the moron who lets people into intersections (unless they are driving BMW 3-series or various Corollas).
Women buy an awful lot of SUVs. An awful lot. The boys will argue it’s because they need the protection and make some sexist comment. I suspect that if I really start quizzing the girls, they will admit that the wheel arches of the GMC Jimmy remind them of a man’s pectoral muscles, the same reason we boys are drawn to Aston Martin DB7s and Jaguar E-types.
This is primal stuff, even if no one wants to admit it, going right back to how our brains are wired and what we are drawn to. Gender-wise, we are probably as bad as each other. Cars are all about sex: girls and their Jimmys. Boys and their Ferraris. Sex. I think that is what they want to hear on Friday. Posted by Jack Yan, 11:25
Wouldn’t it be great if Bill Ford or Bernd Pischetsrieder went on a car blog and chatted with car nuts?
There are Bob Lutz’s posts at GM’s FastLane Blog, but they seem to be exceptions. Some posts are merely targeted at current, disposable-income-ready American customers. Having a divisional head pushing the GMC Arcadia was a bit of a yawn. Mate, it sounded like a bloody ad—so, why am I reading FastLane again? (And, obscure reference time: wasn’t The Fast Lane the name of a documentary about John Z. De Lorean?) Bob’s latest entry is about future Opels, which are signiﬁcant, but he did miss the Commodore launch, which was the début for GM’s global rear-wheel-drive, large car architecture, or Zeta as it was known.
GM supporters might be able to correct me, but I don’t think I have seen Bob in the comments in response—which he would if it were a real blog. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the guy heaps and think he is a true motorhead and a gentleman. But the blog looks like, for the most part, a one-way marketing vehicle from GM.
However, the CEO of Tesla Motors, with an electric-powered roadster on the way on the 20th, has been chatting to car nuts on Autoblog. Martin Eberhard has been explaining things about electric-powered vehicles, from deﬁning kilowatt hours to investors and assembly, and basically defending his patch.
I think this is admirable, and the way of the future. CEOs should be out there, caring about the customer, and hearing comments. I proposed recently on an assignment that the organization be restructured so the incoming CEO was answering feedback form comments, or at least a minimum of one-third of them (it was not a huge organization). How else can an it be steered and its image managed, in a world driven by brands? Quarterly ﬁgures do not cut it in the real world. Posted by Jack Yan, 11:18
It takes independent sites to give you the correct news. All the Oklahoma hype (reported even at this site) about MG, or NAC–MG as the company is ofﬁcially called now, comes from a letter of intent. The Unofﬁcial Austin–Rover Resource’s Keith Adams, along with Ian Robertson, reported:
NAC-MG’s boss, Mr Yue Yang Wie conﬁrmed that the company had major conﬁdence in the MG brand name, and it would be pushing it hard as a global brand, although he ﬁrmly stated that the Oklahoma deal had yet to be cemented, and currently amounted to a letter of intent signed by both parties. According to NAC-MG, the Americans had jumped the gun, and the future of the Ardmore site depended on the needs of the business.
Not only did we not see that in the mainstream media, we haven’t seen any clariﬁcation of the earlier stories after Mr Yu’s press conference. (The different spelling of the NAC boss’s name is merely due to dialectical differences.)
More of the story is at Keith’s site, which has been fairer and more optimistic than the downbeat, “they will die” tone of most of the British press. That attitude contributed to MG Rover’s downfall in the ﬁrst place. And omitting the above statement made by Yu indicates that little has changed among journalists covering MG Rover.
The Unofﬁcial Austin–Rover Resource’s story contains further news on collaborators and engine development. Posted by Jack Yan, 14:01
Folks may be wondering, with all the nip–tuck operations I am doing on the blog, why there are three strangers to the top right of this page. After I was voted off 25 Peeps (jeepers, I make it sound like the blogosphere’s Big Brother, without the sexual assaults), there were a few good people I wanted to champion. (For an explanation of the 25 Peeps site, go to my ﬁrst post earlier this year about it.)
The ﬁrst person, who is no longer there either, was Citizen Brand’s Mike Swenson. Then, Atul at Things I’ve Noticed, who also got voted off before me. I knew Mike prior to his appearance at 25 Peeps, but Atul I discovered through it.
I managed 12 days and am now no. 49 in the 25 Peeps Hall of Fame, but in that time, the site has introduced me to some decent folks whose blogs I will visit regularly.
These three folks are the following. Lynn shares her poetry at Sprigs, Shane’s (or Camera Guy No. 2, according to Lynn, since I was the ﬁrst) blog is called Daddy, Coder, Gamer, Photographer, and Sandalina is going through the days leading up to her wedding at Sandalina Bambina (surely a reason to visit). They were kind enough to promote me, or mention me, and it’s the least I can do in return—and I am happy to say all three are now regularly among the top at 25 Peeps, thanks partly to clicks of readers of this blog. Thank you. And thank you for keeping the people wearing next to nothing lower on the scale, including the man with his bum cleavage and—um, what do you call a necklace you wear on your waist above your ass?
Given the way the blogosphere works, as well as coComment, I’ve surfed to must-read blogs that have given me some real enjoyment, including Citizen of the Month (via Sprigs). And as I type this, I realize my friend Charles—the Queer Chef, whom I met via K’s blog—is now on 25 Peeps as well.
Considering that we all applied months ago, the coincidences were interesting to see, not to mention that four guys had the idea to pose with their cameras in their 25 Peeps photos. (Charles, I might try to ﬁnd a pic of you without your boyfriend to put up at right. I probably wouldn’t have a het couple having a snog, either, but more signiﬁcantly, I see more of Odd than I do of you in your pic!)
The fascinating thing is how connections can be quickly formed, not just because there is a common cause—to see someone stay at 25 Peeps—but because we all ﬁnd some fellowship at having been, or being, 25 Peeps alumni. Not that much ties us together otherwise, other than enjoying the blogosphere—something I felt when I was surﬁng on specialized bulletin boards in the 1980s and early 1990s, or when email became commonplace soon after. Similarly, Randy Thomas’s ‘Longest Comment Thread Ever’ has seen me connect with people, notably John (a.k.a. Stickyweb), who works in TV in Australia.
There is such a thing as blog spam, which is annoying the experience. And, I imagine, we will have to deal with that, too, as blogs become more commonplace. I no longer enjoy email, so will a day come when I will not enjoy the blogosphere, because spammers have ruined the experience? Yesterday alone, Blogger caught nine spams, waiting for my (dis)approval. Not a nice way to begin the day.
What can we do to prevent this from ruining our experiences? Throw more technology at it, advertise the fact that comments are moderated, or hope the countries promoting these get their act together and stop these spams?
Incidentally, over the last four days I have noticed a healthy rise of those folks reading me via their readers. Thank you for including my blog among your daily reads. Please do send me some feedback as to which posts you are enjoying most: the work ones or the social ones, or whether I have the balance right. Posted by Jack Yan, 07:18
Finally, Nanjing Automobile Corp. has announced its plans for MG TF production at Longbridge, England.
Company president Yu Jianwei has told the British press that £10 million will initially be invested in the former MG Rover plant. Production begins early 2007 for mid-2007 sales.
It’s wisely starting small, with 80 people currently at the plant—a far cry from the 6,000 who were there when MG Rover collapsed last year.
Production is slated to be 12,000 to 15,000, using CKD kits imported from Red China.
As expected by some MG Rover watchers such as Michael Wynn-Williams at The Unofﬁcial Austin Rover Resource, NAC will establish an R&D centre at Longbridge. Michael had written last week:
If we assume that TF production will match GT production, and so utilises the same 500 assembly workers, then this leaves 500 left over kicking their heels. This is around the size of the previous MG Rover vehicle development strength and leads me to believe that the weight of vehicle design will take place in Longbridge. My guess is that the University of Oklahoma R&D facility will be engaged simply in federalising these designs. The actual reason for its existence is almost certainly linked contractually to the funding coming from the state. Were Oklahoma to become the world centre for MG design then we wouldn’t see another new model for up to ﬁve years, certain death for the brand.
Meanwhile, Automotive News reports that NAC will indeed Federalize the MG Rover cars for the American market.
These are all prudent moves: starting production on a small scale, gaining expertise, and ensuring that the quality can remain high. More importantly, Nanjing has found itself with a brand that has immense equity globally—speeding its entry into American and European markets. That is the key to all of this: the timing, the investment, the news coverage, the expansion. All of this has followed the brand.
Regardless of the size of its local competitors like Chery or China Brilliance, NAC has leap-frogged them. Not only that, the media and the public are fast getting used to the idea that NAC is the parent of MG, more quickly than they accepted that Proton owns Lotus.
It just needs to sort out the intellectual property situation over MG, and be particularly wary of whether Red Chinese rival SAIC will get the Rover name off BMW for its models. There may be less equity in Rover now, but it’s still a recognizable brand.
NAC’s biggest threat is not whether SAIC can make more cars, or throw more money at doing so. Its biggest threat is knowing that two can play the brand game.
Del.icio.us tags: brand branding NAC MG MG Rover SAIC Posted by Jack Yan, 13:47
I’ll be leading the redesign of the Lucire web site, which has been postponed more times than I care to mention here. I have a few concerns: if we abandon the 160-pixel-wide skyscrapers in favour of these 300-wide advertisements, is that reasonable? Do readers have any feedback on this?
My principal aim, aside from ensuring that Lucire’s brand values are maintained, is to keep it clean and workable with our Silverstripe content management system, while being an evolution of what we had before.
We will adopt some technology to ensure that the headlines and some other odds and ends are displayed in the correct typeface. Nothing new now, but the applet is new to us, and particularly vital.
Comments are welcome, especially as I am redesigning with a print magazine existing now, whereas at the time of all the other redesigns, Lucire was web-only. Posted by Jack Yan, 14:57
Not everyone has a broadband line, and this page was getting rather long with the extra comments. So to save all that downloading, I made some minor adjustments to the template, so that comments now appear on the item page, not the main one.
Not that I mind getting comments. Oftentimes, comments will inspire further comments. In fact, I worry a bit that this move will cut down on the number of comments and random conversations that could spring up: one of the joys of blogs is seeing new threads emerge as readers network and connect with one another. This makes the blog a fantastic research and networking tool.
One such place where these new conversations have sparked up has been Randy Thomas’s Everyday Thoughts Collected, with the ‘Longest Comment Thread Ever’. It’s already home to the most commented thread on coComment, with nearly 600 comments logged since his experiment began on June 19.
While it’s not the longest thread—an earlier post concluded that, along with the comments made—I have seen ﬁrst-hand how new conversations are struck, and new friendships and connections made.
Randy asked me over the weekend to cook up a graphic for those who reached the milestones (every 50th comment; then every 100th after the 500th comment), which I duly made using one of his art works. I can legitimately display it, having been a “milestoner”. Let the experiment continue. And, in the meantime, your comments about the disappearance of comments from the main page are welcome. Posted by Jack Yan, 10:09
Stefan Engeseth wrote about pop star Madonna and her ability to connect with her audiences at his Detective Marketing blog today. But a lot of Madonna’s genius is down to rebranding, more effectively than any organization can, as I wrote in response:
Madonna’s reported genius is her ability to reinvent herself periodically when one image becomes tired. This is genius in the music industry—especially as each Madonna incarnation is successful and high-proﬁle. Other singers who have gone through reinventions—Olivia Newton-John, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears—have never been able to hold a consistent “share of mind”.
In a branding sphere, few rebrands work so well because companies are hampered with an existing image. Madonna took care of that by shocking people early on—and each “rebrand” is expected to cast away the remains of the last, something that organizations, generally, cannot (but maybe could?) do.
After all, when we are assigned a branding task for a client, we have to take into account the history, for better or worse. There is still some brand equity in existing images. Madonna, because she has shocked and done 180-degree turns, does not need to take into account too much beyond current and emerging consumer trends. In a weird postmodern twist, the only history is to have no history—something that few can do. Anyone who has tried is instantly compared to Madonna—she has personal rebrands pretty much sewn up in the pop world. Posted by Jack Yan, 06:10
Holden—noticeably referred to as ‘GM Holden’, as the post-2002 Daewoo became ‘GM Daewoo’—delayed its VE Commodore launch by 20 minutes: ﬁrst advertised as webcasting at 10.30 a.m., the web page then went to 10.40, and then 10.50 a.m. Australian EST. However, the Calais V, the Commodore SS V and the Caprice were just launched at the Melbourne Convention Centre and over the web at Ninemsn.
Screen grabs from the event follow.
Ofﬁcial pics follow—interestingly, they were uploaded after the event, so there were no photographs with embargo dates, as are common in the media.
We have seen so many spy shots of the car that this was not a huge surprise. What was emphasized was that this was a billion-dollar Australian programme, and that the Commodore is a car designed by Australians to world-class standards. (The irony is that this was delivered in an American accent by Holden boss Denny Mooney.) Which perhaps goes some way to supporting my theory that getting the marketing of one product right can push the entire nation’s brand, getting Australia into the new and proﬁtable sectors.
Nation brand shifts are hard to do without one champion product, but Australia would be wise to piggy-back off this, just as New Zealand piggy-backed off the hype surrounding The Lord of the Rings.
It might not mean that Holden’s brand itself will ﬁnd strength—why else have the GM name endorse it (except to indicate the car’s export intent)?—although the Commodore will be a strong halo product. Whether it can overcome the negativity of the Daewoos at the bottom end of the range is another story.
Del.icio.us tags: Holden Holden Commodore VE Commodore cars nation brand nation branding branding Australia innovation marketing Posted by Jack Yan, 01:23
This isn’t an automotive blog by any means, though with my interest in cars, it invariably will steer that way on occasion.
After dissing Holden for its unwise Korean moves of late, tomorrow (Sunday, 10.30 a.m. Australian eastern time) will see the début of the new VE Commodore (“hat tip” to Autoblog) at Ninemsn. It is the company’s most anticipated model in decades and its ﬁrst all-Australian effort since the last WB Statesman in the 1980s. I don’t remember this much hype since we sat round the telly in July 1982 waiting for the huge Holden Camira ad to come on to both TV networks in New Zealand.
Holden was, as regular blog readers here know, in the toilet in the 1980s, with a report saying that it was virtually dead. It would become a retailer of cars from Suzuki, Isuzu, Nissan, Opel and Cadillac. In 1989, the VN Commodore, a widened Opel Senator, took Holden back into the traditional Australian full-size car market, but it was 1997 that saw it become a global player.
Prior to 1997, Holden had exported some cars—there were the occasional Toranas in Hong Kong, and there were Holden Premiers ﬁtted with Mazda Wankel engines once upon a time—but it was never a global player. It found itself supplying the Middle East with rebadged Commodores and Statesmans as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice, a trade which eventually extended (under different brands) to, inter alia, Brazil, South Africa, Thailand, Korea, China and, in small numbers, the UK.
Therefore, news of the VE Commodore (and WM Statesman) is not of the “this car will make or break Holden” variety, even if its Barina and Viva leave something to be desired and are brand-weakening. Instead, curiosity surrounds two matters: (a) how well will its exports fare with the new model, which will now be assembled in Red China as well, and during a time of high oil prices; and (b) it is the ﬁrst showing of GM’s Zeta architecture, which is supposed to underpin a bunch of American cars as well.
Seeing Australia, which has had more continuous rear-wheel-drive passenger car expertise over the last 10 to 15 years than GM in the United States, gives a sense of antipodean pride, especially after previous lemon-ﬂavoured efforts such as the Ford SA30, or Mercury Capri, as it became known in the US. Those who have sampled the Holden Commodore and, say, the American Chevrolet Impala, a car of similar size but with front-wheel drive, will point to the Australian car as being dynamically superior, with better build quality.
It may give a halo to the Australian nation brand, if played right—and does it need to play this right. While future American buyers might not know immediately that Holden had a major hand in regular GM cars, they soon might, with so many Googling before purchasing. The implications of the launch are far greater than giving Holden a leg up on the international stage. It may show Australia to be technologically advanced, opening the door for exports of goods and services in non-traditional markets—something it needs given the overall decline in manufacturing since the 1980s’ Hawke government. Olivia Newton-John-nice this is not (plus, wasn’t she British-born?).
At the end of the day, nation branding could drive a recovery, on a grander scale than GM or Australian politicans envisaged.
Del.icio.us tags: Holden GM Australia nation brand nation branding branding technology innovation export Posted by Jack Yan, 23:50
Yesterday on Good Morning, although it was ﬁlmed on Tuesday (shh, I’m not allowed to tell you), netted me the most number of comments in a day. Barry, Paul and I had an extra 10 minutes to cook, taking over from the regular chef on the show, not that we had any idea we were to do this, after discussing men in the kitchen.
The results give life to the adage, ‘Too many cooks spoil the venison meatballs,’ and after the cameras went back to Sarah, I added sesame oil and soya sauce to the meat. I am, after all, a very, very distant relative to Martin Yan, the TV chef. I know what I am doing. It’s in the genes.
The Jack and Brigid courtship gags were limited to one, referring to my tie, which will give both of us some relief while courting in the public eye.
We were perhaps more relaxed knowing that the segment wasn’t live, and because I managed to sleep more, I was more on form. But the live buzz wasn’t there.
On the same day, I met Frankie Stevens and Megan Alatini, two of the judges from NZ Idol (Stables, the third judge, appeared weeks before). While I am too old to be on that show, I did impress them with my Simon Cowell impersonations. Somehow, Stables’ job is secure.
Watch us between 30 and 55 minutes in to the programme this weekend on the web before our day is replaced with Monday’s show. Posted by Jack Yan, 13:04
Je souhaite à mes lecteurs français un bon et joyeux 14e juillet! Nous nous rappelons les idéaux de la démocratie et la république aujourd’hui. Posted by Jack Yan, 07:23
The British media have been rather negative about a few things in the wake of Nanjing Automobile Corp.’s announcement that MG will resume production. The main concern is, rightly, from the UK Transport & General Workers’ Union, since members have found it hard getting new jobs since May 2005: does an Oklahoma factory mean fewer potential jobs at Longbridge? The answer seems to be yes as NAC revised its production forecast for Longbridge downward.
In their negativity, a few other pertinent facts have been omitted. The MG TF was never sold Stateside, and I am not sure if it was just because MG lacked a dealer network there. The engines, for a start, were not Federalized. Secondly, will the TF and 75 saloon pass NHTSA safety tests? Thirdly, my good mechanic friend, Stephen Hamilton, says the TF was basically a basket case in terms of build quality, so the Nanjing, Longbridge and Oklahoma plants have their work cut out. No one will buy an MG that leaks any more.
There remains the question of rival MG Rover producer Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., which has intellectual property rights to the 25 and 75 models in a separate deal. To be on the safe side, SAIC is developing its 75 model off a long-wheelbase platform, and last month a revised model was seen testing at the Nürburgring. The revised model looks newer and fresher than what NAC might build, which, to my knowledge, is a facsimile of what ﬁnished production in England last year.
A reasonable option would be for Nanjing to produce MGs and SAIC to produce Rovers, but the two companies might not see a friendly, sensible division as a way forward. It will also depend on securing rights to the name: Rover’s brand is owned by BMW, though the Bavarians are happy to talk turkey. MG’s is probably owned, at least in some European countries, by a Dutch concern.
The ultimate decision on how to divide production and the brands may be down to Red China’s competition agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), who could well see sense in the two marques battling it out to maximize proﬁts—and, of course, the inﬂuence of the motherland. This one major political consideration is consistently overlooked—China isn’t all about market forces.
SAIC is restructuring itself into an even bigger monster back in Shanghai, on the local share market, and with new backing, it could potentially keep NAC a niche player of sports cars and warmed-over sports saloons.
Still, support from MG-philes has been strong. After all, MG has returned because of the enthusiasm of a small Chinese company. This is not a faceless behemoth. It sounds more like a bunch of guys who could have been quite happy making Fiat Palios and Seat Ibiza Mk I knock-offs for the local market, but who loved cars enough to give this venture a go. That, in itself, should be applauded, even if I have some concerns about NAC’s capitalization and its way of leaking information to the media.
Let’s hope NAC’s Monday announcement will bring some needed transparency to the table, because being “one” with its audiences is the greatest weapon a small company has against the likes of SAIC in 2006. NAC can be cleverer and outsmart its rival: the question is whether it has the will to do so and move to a brand orientation.
Del.icio.us tags: MG MG Rover cars NAC SAIC Red China Politburo China Posted by Jack Yan, 02:45
Here’s one for you place branders to think about: what if there were a wine that was marketed but no one had any idea of its origin? Stefan Engeseth proposes moon wine in his blog.
Meanwhile, we’re looking at Moldavia at work. The place must rank as one of the lesser known nations these days. Sure, there was Michael Præd’s character off Dynasty, but nothing beyond that. And I was too busy looking at Catherine Oxenberg anyway. Not that I would these days.
Moon wine—it may well work, though there’s a part of me that says it would have been great marketing that in July 1969. There is the obvious difﬁculty of getting pieces of moon rock to ferment the wine, and will its eventual bottling location on Earth matter? (It doesn’t for Coca-Cola, surely.) Posted by Jack Yan, 11:25
There was plenty of news about Nanjing Automobile Corp. and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.’s respective MG Rover revivals of late, including the start-up of parts’ manufacture and a promise that the brand would be relaunched at the British Motor Show. But I did not see this one coming: the revival of MG in the United States, at a new plant in Oklahoma, as part of NAC’s efforts.
Automotive News had been tracking the developments, collated at Keith Adams’s comprehensive The Unofﬁcial Austin–Rover Resource.
MG Motors North America had its opening ceremony today and is part of a multi-billion-dollar funding effort, thanks to Oklahoma Sovereign Development, LLC (Googling this name results in a blank today); Davis Capital, LLC; the State of Oklahoma; the City of Oklahoma City; and the City of Ardmore.
Duke Hale, formerly of Isuzu and Lotus, will be president and CEO. The old TF roadster will return to production at Longbridge, according to NAC, and the TF coupé, previewed prior to MG Rover’s demise last year, will go into assembly in Oklahoma, with 500 new jobs created there. The old MG sedans—I assume the old ZT, probably renamed the MG 7—will be built in Red China. And before anyone says that they are on platforms well past their sell-by dates, let me remind you that the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and Magnum are on one that is older still. The MG’s one is no older than what the current Opel Astra H sits on.
If successful, it proves that having relatively loose visions (and tight ﬁnances) that enable left-ﬁeld developments to take place works even in larger corporations. Let’s hope that the ﬁnanciers put their money where their mouths are. At best, I am cautiously optimistic.
Del.icio.us tags: MG Rover MG revival brand relaunch NAC Nanjing Oklahoma cars automobiles SAIC Posted by Jack Yan, 09:35
At Katja’s blog, Hi Diddly Dee, an Actor's Life for Me, discussing elegance, I wrote earlier today:
Elegance is inside you, beginning with a conﬁdence that’s expressed outwardly. And that outward expression is contextual, anchored with notions of solid shades as opposed to prints, natural make-up as opposed to going overboard with colours and foundation, and accessories that accessorize rather than overwhelm.
Context suggests that old-fashionedness comes into it, whether it’s CZJ [Catherine Zeta-Jones] (in public) or Leslie Caron—taking the idea of what was acceptable 30 years ago and injecting a modern twist. If anything, a personal sense of elegance comes from that very twist, if you consider other style icons like Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy—pre-Onassis—or Audrey Hepburn.
It’s useful to remember some of fashion’s lessons, especially as the cycles indicate we are heading back toward the mid-1970s in style. Timelessness is never a bad aim, regardless of which aspect of design one deals in—with the proviso that timelessness must never be a pretext for boring work.
When it comes to brands, understanding the past and equipping an organization for the future is often key to the marketing and brand strategies. When translating that into visuals, the designer would not go amiss bearing timelessness in mind—especially as the marketing strategy will have been written with a 25-year life in mind. Posted by Jack Yan, 14:27
We’re ﬁlming our spot on Good Morning tomorrow afternoon, so we have to pretend it’s Friday morning. It’s our ﬁrst non-live broadcast—and let’s hope the only one. Pre-recorded feels different, a bit like that time they ﬁlmed that one episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show without a studio audience because people were too depressed after JFK was assassinated.
Our reason is that there’s some TVNZ retreat going on this Friday, and the crew’s heading north.
And we’ve been advised that we cannot do any more public hellos this week. Out of politeness I should not comment further on that, plus I can presume their reasoning (viz. our show isn’t about saying hello to teenage viewers undergoing cancer treatments). I think Amber Bradley will be disappointed, and regular readers know what I think about audience engagement. We’ll just have to be cleverer about slipping in our greetings, maybe rub our noses as a form of alert. Amber, we’ll ﬁgure out something!
This Friday’s show is on cooking, and whether we chaps are as good as the ladies. Charles, if you’re reading, and you are the Queer Chef, let us know your thoughts! I think we are. Posted by Jack Yan, 09:36
The Renault–GM alliance might not be as big as people suspect. Car companies already source a great deal of their components from the same place, and a tie-up would mean lower pricing for Renault and GM. The ofﬁcial line might not be too far from the truth this time.
Sure, we hear big names like Kirk Kerkorian, and I know he has grand visions for cooperation. Somehow, I still believe GM will drag its heels because of a Johnny Foreigner syndrome, and Renault will be held back by French politicians.
Any real merger could begin here, but I don’t think it will unfold the way things did with Daimler-Benz AG and Chrysler Corp. last decade. There, we were confronted with one group willing to spend, and another group ﬂexible enough to say yes.
I don’t think the same factors exist this time, with GM preferring to look at streamlining its operations globally rather than join an alliance, at least not beyond component sourcing and some shared platforms. If anything, this will rejuvenate Bob Lutz’s efforts to bring GM units more closely together.
Del.icio.us tags: GM Renault Nissan alliance merger Posted by Jack Yan, 06:33
I was reading through David Penny’s PowerPoint slides on manufacturing, from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise. Business failures are not down to a lack of innovation, according to one of his charts, but that growth and customer focus were low.
It’s something I believe branding can ﬁx. When I talk about branding, I usually talk about it in the realm I understand—as a means to achieve greater business performance, rather than a quick ﬁx of slapping on a logo.
The branding model I follow takes into account the market orientation model put forward by Narver and Slater, as I have mentioned before. They believe that management commitment, faciliative management and interdepartmental connectedness are factors, and these are important in vision-setting and research. Research helps an organization ﬁnd its place and reﬁne its brand attitude, something that summarizes what it stands for. It’s easier to remember that than a mission statement, which our research shows does not really help the bottom line.
Vision and research account for most of the work in creating an effective brand. That research must, necessarily, take into account audiences and their tastes. That also includes being open enough to detect where the high-growth areas might be.
By having a brand focus, a company does its foundation work more effectively.
One problem is getting sufﬁcient research. Small- and medium-sized enterprises might think that they do not have enough money to do that. But, with the internet, they can probably access the right research a lot more quickly.
Posting on blogs, using networking groups (many of them free, such as LinkedIn) and plain old conversing on email helps access international knowledge. Industry groups, where possible, need to help rally these players and get them talking to one another. Through that, intelligence can be shared and unions formed, especially among smaller players.
Restructuring businesses so that the owner can have access to the intelligence on an ongoing basis, such as getting him or her to view the feedback form, helps a company stay ﬂexible and understand consumer demands.
However, underpinning all this must be a sense of differentiation, as the organization’s competences can be duplicated.
Anyone can make a ﬁzzy brown soft drink but only Coca-Cola, Virgin and Pepsi have been able to make any inroads into the cola market.
Each company already has some idea of its brand, or at least its values. Small businesses need to look at theirs, and use this additional research to reﬁne their brands. At least then, the brand and the brand attitude can be right. The research stage will allow them to have a clear idea of consumer demands. Then, that innovative energy can be put into meeting a customer need, rather than being a heroic failure.
Del.icio.us tags: brand branding market research market customer consumer innovation small businesses Posted by Jack Yan, 03:41
There seems to be more action on the wireless (radio) these days. My friend Dave Gibbons, at Radio Active, has launched a new site where one can download songs via cellphone. He encourages people to pass the word about Jiggy, though as far as I can tell, it’s for the New Zealand market only (cellphones aren’t as global as the ’net).
Secondly, Groove 107·7 FM, one of my favourites and my must-listen when in town, is spreading its word virally, and I want to prove that this can be done. Its offer:
Wellington’s Groove 107.7FM are prepared to offer you $300 free radio advertising with no strings attached. All you have to do to qualify is forward this email on to the owner or manager of at least 7 businesses who would like more Wellington customers and also forward it back to firstname.lastname@example.org
Again, it’s very local, but if anyone wants to take advantage of the offer in Wellington, New Zealand, give me a holler via my feedback form or just add a comment below, and I will forward the message to you.
There is a theory that despite the high internet penetration in New Zealand, we don’t have a sufﬁcient online culture to take advantage of viral campaigns. I think differently—and radio, of all media, needs them hugely. Posted by Jack Yan, 00:47
Barry Soper’s exaggerations of my courtship with Brigid on Good Morning may need some clariﬁcations. First, Brigid and I are not engaged, and if we were, you’d hear it from me, and probably on this blog ﬁrst. Secondly, I haven’t made plans to propose prior to her ﬂying out to the UK, something that might just freak her out.
But the lads and I on Good Morning do want to shout out again to Amber Bradley, who is getting radiotherapy and a small dose of chemo. Good luck, Amber, and we are with you! (And the weather outside is lousy, so you are not missing much.)
In case anyone is wondering, the segment yesterday was delayed till 10.15 a.m. as Barry and Paul ignored advice and took State Highway 2 to Avalon, and got caught up in the landslide, which blocked part of the motorway. Natch, yours truly got there on time by using an alternative route, though I noted on my return that the motorway warning sign at Johnsonville requested people to use an ‘alternate’ route. To a New Zealander, alternate is a verb, alternative is an adjective. The Queen’s English and all that rot.
Finally, it was too early for me to sing Bing Crosby tunes, though I hope viewers enjoyed the reference to High Society. Posted by Jack Yan, 07:08
My godmother relayed this story today. She took her 11-year-old granddaughter to a restaurant, which shall remain nameless, in Wellington, New Zealand. Her granddaughter typically orders a raspberry and lemonade. The drink came, and it was a funny colour. She took a sip and said it had a funny taste. Her grandmother conﬁrmed that—and that it was brandy and lemonade.
When my godmother went to enquire with the waitress, she was told that they did not have raspberry and that the boss asked that customers be given something better.
But serving alcohol to an 11-year-old?
The only thing the waitress said was the restaurant would not be charging for the drink.
My godmother, who is particularly well connected, could have had the place’s liquor licence revoked.
I will be keeping in mind the restaurant’s name and not go there. And it is lucky that we don’t have big mouths.
It’s not as internationally signiﬁcant as the time Jack Straw shook hands with Robert Mugabe, which I am discussing with Kate at her blog, but it comes close to sheer stupidity.
And people wonder why some jobs are being outsourced to India and Pakistan.
If we don’t sort out our educational standards, then we are setting ourselves up to be a low-skilled country. But we can’t then compete with the factories of Asia, unless we join the “race to the bottom” (click here for an opposing view).
Our only option is to strengthen education, so as not to lose the technological advantage young people have today. That will lead to more innovative minds, and greater success for tomorrow’s businesses.
However, for the time being, we might just have to complain when 11-year-olds are given brandy. If young people are not being taught common sense at school, they may as well learn it from those of us who have to pick up the pieces in the community. Posted by Jack Yan, 06:08
Light relief after a heavy day: there is a site called Blanks on a Blank, inspired by Snakes on a Plane. The idea: create your own movie with a variation of the theme. The Lions on a Bus short at the beginning hits on the idea, and is particularly well done.
Now, this is the sort of marketing that New Line itself should have sanctioned, and a lot sooner, too. This was just what it needed when Snakes’ Google hits were heading south not that long ago, and to involve people—just as they hyped the ﬁlm in the blogosphere to begin with.
Deadline is August 3. Posted by Jack Yan, 04:54
A year ago, my friend and colleague Colin Morley was murdered by a terrorist at the Edgware Road Underground station.
Before he was killed, he wrote to me and asked the following. I never had a chance to respond.
‘I am interested in … measuring standards. I have a lot of experience of that at Vodafone and the measurements are still rudimentary despite millions of pounds’ worth of market research. And we can measure the number and intensity of people’s network relationships. Still isn’t easy to deﬁne the human side of things.
‘Any ideas on this very welcome.’
There is no simple way to measure intangibles, and it has kept mathematicians like Chris Macrae working for years. Chris, and I, are pretty sure that brand is one of the indicators of the strength of the human side.
We know the failure of numbers and even the Dow Jones index as being inhuman. I am not even sure if they are good indicators of whether a company will be successful. It is better to develop, in my view, a scale that measures the strength of a vision, of the quality of brand research, of the effectiveness of the exposition of a brand, and the brand image.
All of these involve understanding human reactions and perceptions, and since I have done research linking them to business performance, they can be modiﬁed as a measurement of a company’s success.
One could even use those network relationships to build the model on. I used concepts from Narver and Slater to underpin my brand model; the network relationships at each stage could be measured to make a new model “more human”. How strong is the network at the time of research, for instance? Did its strength ensure more accurate research? Were more people reached? And how intense are the feelings the further out you get on the network?
This new model could indicate not just how good each stage of the brand is, but how many people the brand touches, and, therefore, how inﬂuential the organization can be. You also get a clearer idea of the organization’s business performance.
I may be over a year late, Colin, but I know you are up there, inspiring my answer. I hope I did your question some justice, at long last.
Although we did not get a chance to meet up at Medinge 2005, I think of you and your family today. You will be missed, because you showed us a way forward in our business lives. People may think that you did not get to see beyond July 7, 2005. I argue that you were so ahead of your time that you lived well beyond 2005 in your attitude and vision—and we will only ever catch up as we get through each year.
Read Colin’s obit in The Guardian last year, after he was conﬁrmed as one of the victims in late July 2005. Colin’s obit in The Times is here, and he was every bit the visionary the newspaper said he was.
Del.icio.us tags: brand measurement standards human network relationships branding vision Colin Morley 7-7 Posted by Jack Yan, 08:50
Sometimes, blogs have so many comments that they can get overwhelmed. A great example of this openness in discussion has been happening at Amir Massoud Tofangsazan: the Blog Continues, where the thousands of comments have had to be broken up periodically, and new threads begun. These comments have been on a single topic, viz. the alleged sale of a dodgy laptop by Mr Tofangsazan.
At K, Speaking!, one blog I frequent for its friendly atmosphere, comments tend to go in all directions. But K, the man behind the blog, has always been willing to encourage conversations between his readers, creating personal and personable posts from which chats can spring.
What is intriguing right now is the emergence of Randy Thomas’s ‘The Longest Comment Thread Ever’ at Everyday Thoughts Collected on the ‘Top Conversations’ list at coComment. Long threads have been done on occasion, and it is not the ﬁrst time participants have tried to get one into coComment (something that came up after I mentioned it), but Randy set out to create a long thread. While there are longer ones, it will be an interesting experiment to watch.
People can come together because of a common cause. Alternatively, they can come together because they feel comfortable somewhere. And ﬁnally, they may come together without a cause, but because they see some joy in reaching a goal. Posted by Jack Yan, 09:51
The Daily Telegraph has a story on a new compendium, written by broadcaster Max Cryer, about New Zealand English, called Godzone Dictionary (thanks to Rob O’Neill at NZBC for the link).
It’s worth this off-topic mention, since I do get asked about the New Zealand dialect frequently from foreigners, plus others have talked about which slang words are distinctively Kiwi. Quite often we come up with those that are shared with Australians and Britons, but Max may have come up with a bunch that are unique to these parts. This may place this blog in some context.
The book seems well researched, based on the quotations Max has given. And for those of us who remember Max Cryer on the radio and the telly, it’s a case of, ‘If Max doesn’t know, then I’ll be buggered if I know who does.’
At least it is not a silly book like Newzild, on the Kiwi accent written in the wake of Australian Afferbeck Lauder’s Let Stalk Strine, that only served to show non-New Zealanders that we were a bunch of followers. Posted by Jack Yan, 13:00
My 300th post. Am I going to do something heavy, addressing globalization and the rag trade, and link it all back to automobiles and brands?
Um, no. I’ve decided to write something pithy today, and it is very much something that came via the blogosphere.
When surﬁng a while back, I came across 25peeps.com, which shows 25 people with blogs. If you want that person to stay, then you click on their image (mine’s of me holding a camera, a version of the one above left). I hope you will consider clicking through and clicking on yours truly!
It says something about Web 2·0 and how decisions about popularity are driven by citizens, not big budgets. It also says something that the remaining photos are slightly sexual in nature—it wasn’t like this when I ﬁrst signed up via Dannie Jost’s blog.
I know I could complain here about how we are driven by images, and we only get the Web 2·0 that we deserve, one which reﬂects our values. But that could be another post. For now, I’m hoping we can redress the balance, at least for a wee while.
Update: Mike at Citizen Brand is on 25peeps.com now as well. Click here to go to the site with his referral URL, and his photograph is at left. (Mike, I apologize for poaching your image but I hope it will help your remaining on 25peeps.com.) Posted by Jack Yan, 04:52
Prof Theodore Levitt’s passing was reported by Grant McCracken at This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics last week and is certainly worth more than a nod to Grant’s blog or the Harvard Business School site.
Levitt’s name takes me back to my early marketing days at B-school, where I read ‘The Globalization of Markets’, in which the term globalization was apparently coined. He made a convincing argument about the homogenization of markets, one which underpins many business decisions today. For better or for worse, Levitt made us sit up and take notice of the phenomenon. His work on differentiation in The Marketing Imagination underpinned some of my own beliefs about branding and marketing, though I admit I never read the original work, just excerpts cited in other academic articles on the topic. And his allegation in his early ‘Marketing Myopia’, that there are companies that focus on sales before marketing, but pretend they are the same, still rings true.
Without Levitt, the blogosphere would be far poorer, too, as we take his thinking into the 21st century.
Levitt was 81, and is survived by his wife, Joan, four children, six grandchildren and two sisters. Posted by Jack Yan, 11:07
After saying I didn’t have blog posts, along comes one that is very worthy of noting. Brian Phipps’ blog, Brands Create Customers, shows a model which places brand at the core, something that I believe in, and have implemented on our clients’ behalf.
Let me say such a model does work. And it must work as a driver for other functions in the ﬁrm, if at least to create an “attitude” for how the organization operates. I can’t think of it failing, with the exception of ﬁrms which claim to have a brand orientation but don’t follow through.
Read more of Brian’s post here. Posted by Jack Yan, 10:38
No major posts this weekend (apologies, but in my defence I did do 33 posts in June) as there are a few things to take care of at work this week—but for a minor distraction, Snakes on a Plane does have its trailer out, at Yahoo! Movies. Still can’t see the Lucires in the seat pockets. The Google hits are back up, to 4,950,000, probably through mainstream-media coverage as we near the August 18 release date Stateside. For a more major distraction, check out some of the blogs I have noted at right, plus my Technorati Favorites. Posted by Jack Yan, 10:23
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