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Business Week reported yesterday on Motel 6’s room (brand) redesign, which has become part of CEO, Oliver Poirot’s “Phoenix Project.”

Motel 6 hardly has a reputation for good design. At best, the 47 year old chain has been heralded for simple, no-frills efficiency. At its worst, it has been the punch line of jokes about dangerous roadside love-ins…Executives wanted to revamp the chain’s decade old look…so the company turned to Britain’s Priestman Goode, which had previously designed airplane cabins for Virgin Atlantic and cruise ship berths for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Their experience, executives felt, would surely come in handy when tackling the small spaces of the standard Motel 6 room. Designers were briefed to keep construction costs low and to create rooms that could appeal to the broad cross0section of society, from tourists to traveling executives…The results are starkly different from the previous incarnation. The carpet was ripped up, and wood-effect flooring lends a pared down, spacious look. Platform beds add modernity and character. Ambient lighting has replaced old-fashioned lamps, while accent walls painted with bright bold colors give the room a style just short of hip.

Motel 6 is specifically trying to attract more and more corporate customers and it looks like they are well on their way to do that. “Last year, the company pulled in $60 million from business customers, but it forecasts $100 million next year, despite the downturn.” And, Motel 6 execs claim customers are already thrilled by the new rooms.

What a brilliant move.

At a time when everyone, even those with jobs, are making sacrifices and biting the bullet in order to save a little extra coin, Motel 6 has decided to give us MORE.

Customers will be completely caught off gaurd. Those anticipating the usual economy-style room, will be blown away. Expectations will be exceeded. Smiles will be cracked. Everyone will be delighted by the upgrade and think, “Wow, what a great deal? What a great experience. I’ll definitely be back.”

Well played, Motel 6. I never would have expected an innovative branding move from you. But you have added enormous value to your product and have taken a huge step towards creating a totally revitalized, game-changing brand experience.

“Schizophrenic behavior dilutes core brand equity. While it may help in the short term, knee-jerk reactions to the immediate environment can prove detrimental to the long-term value of the brand, especially if they don’t link up to what a brand represents or the bigger brand idea.”

Defying The Genericizing of Brands – BSI

Interesting story in the WSJ this morning about Alec Duffy, the 33 year old theater director from Brooklyn.  Duffy found himself in an opportune position after he won the rights to singer/songwriter Sufjan Steven’s, newest single.  According to the WSJ:

Duffy won the rights to Mr. Stevens’s song in a 2007 contest called the “Great Sufjan Song Xmas Xchange.” Mr. Duffy submitted a song that he wrote — called “Every Day is Christmas” — that Mr. Stevens judged the best. In exchange, Mr. Duffy won the rights to Mr. Stevens’s “The Lonely Man of Winter”…In describing the prize, Mr. Stevens’s Web site said: “Sufjan’s new song becomes your song. You can hoard it for yourself, sell it to a major soft drink corporation, use it in your daughter’s first Christmas video, or share it for free on your Web site. No one except Sufjan and you will hear his song, unless you decide otherwise.”

The contest created by Sufjan is indeed deserving of major props.  It is, however, not a concept that should be seen as terribly mind-blowing, especially in today’s environment.  Artists, or I should say, the artists who intend on surviving in this climate will continue to be the trendsetters in the utilization of social-networking methods and tools that connect with and empower their fans–making them feel like an even larger part of the process.  It is the only way to break through the clutter and engage with the loyal and devoted fans you’ve already hooked in; the only way to maintain your brand’s/band’s reputation.  Releasing a decent recording simply won’t cut it anymore.

For me though, the coolest part of all this was Duffy’s response to his new position of musical-power.  Instead of selling the song for some sort of commercial use–which, I am sure, millions of people would have done if given the opportunity–he sent out an invite on his theater company’s website for fans to come to his home in Brooklyn to listen to the song (on headphones), together.  “The experiment lures strangers to Mr. Duffy’s living room about once a week, to [as he says,] “recapture an era when to get one’s hands on a particular album or song was a real experience.”

Duffy describes Sufjan as “the wizard behind the curtain,” and it’s very cool to me how, without being guided in any way by the artist, he has essentially gone out of his way to perpetuate this artistic perception.  He has taken full responsibility for maintaining the brand’s (Sufjan’s) reputation, almost making it a fulltime job.  It’s an amazing example of a brand’s message being embraced and consequently strengthened by the “consumer,” organically.  Authenticity at it’s best…

My favorite quote of Duffy’s is when he says about the gatherings, “This is the finest way we felt we could curate this song. It brings people together, rather than being lost among 14,000 iTunes.”

I will admit, I’m a bit late in recognizing these ads, but, considering I’ve done a good deal of Starbucks-bashing in the past, I figured it was worth highlighting some of the more positive steps they’ve taken to rebuild their reputation–reinforcing/embracing their positioning and distancing themselves from McDonald’s and the other, more “recession-proof” brand’s which have successfully belittled Starbuck’s overall image and reputation.

Starbucks was never simply about a cup of coffee, it was about “the best” cup of coffee–a taste and experience you couldn’t get anywhere else.  Nobody went there to only get a cheap cup of coffee that would satisfy their fix.  We went there because the whole experience felt focused and authentic, and that comforted you as you dished out a couple extra bucks for your latte.

When the recession hit, things got bad–it could not have been more blatant how nervous Starbucks was about their “luxurious” brand and how it would be viewed by a suddenly more frugal consumer.  McDonald’s harassment didn’t help, and very quickly the Starbucks brand, which was already having trouble staying on-point, felt completely off-balance…

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starbucks-print-ad-new-york-times

This new series of print ads, however, are a nice step in the right direction.  Instead of fighting with McDonalds on price, these ads explain the central difference between a Starbuck’s cup and the “discount” alternatives.  As a coffee lover myself–someone who likes to think he can tell the difference between a good cup of coffee and a shitty one–the copy, paired with the look and feel they’ve created, really hits home.  Nicely done…

Branding Strategy Insider frequently writes truly great, insightful posts.  Two of the more recent posts are especially worth mentioning…

In Branding: The Next Generation, Martin Lindstrom explains the evolution of the “branding”industry–moving from an industry focused on the “Me Selling Proposition (MSP)” to, the more modern strategy of the “Holistic Selling Proposition (HSP).”

HSP brands are those that not only anchor themselves in tradition but also adopt religious characteristics at the same time they leverage the concept of sensory branding as a holistic way of spreading the news. Each holistic brand has its own identity, one that is expressed in its every message, shape, symbol, ritual, and tradition — just as sports teams and religion do today.

I’m not disagreeing with Lindstrom’s discription of HSP or even the need for his charge to the branding world, I would argue, however, that thinking “holisticly” about branding has always been the most effective strategy and is, therefore, not as revolutionary as he makes it sound.  Sure, the collective of different mediums making up “the whole” has grown and many of the same mediums have evolved into something new, but I don’t think it’s right to assume all marketers are only now realizing how valueable it is to be active and consistent in every (relevant) medium.

Speaking of which, the word “consistency” is not only one of my favorites–at least as it relates to good branding–but it is central to the above idea of holistic branding, because each part must be consistent with the others that make up the whole.

In The Power of Consistency (another Brand Strategy Insider post), Brad VanAuken asks, “what is it about marketers that cause them to want to create something new all of the time?”  He goes on to say:

When it comes to brand identity, I learned a long time ago that consistency is the secret to success.  With enough repetition, people encode the brands identity (usually not as read words but as the recognized look, shape and feel) in their brains, preferably linked to things that matter to them. If you mess with the overall look and feel of the brand, these linkages and associations are likely to break down…Redirect your more creative tendencies to new product development or out-of-the box marketing campaigns and tactics.

Well said, Brad.  Thank you for that.

KFC is a cysts on the ass of American culture…

OK, I apologize for the graphic language, but we should all be reminded of the enormous role KFC and all the YUM! Brands continue to play in the perpetuation of gluttony and unhealithness around the world.  And, as much as I hate the product KFC injects into global societies, their brand strategy, which has become increasingly disillusioned, has me more concerned.

First, the “Re-Freshed by KFC” idea, where a man dressed up as Colonel Sanders (and a professional crew) fixed potholes around five US cities, was one of the strangest ideas I’d ever heard.  Did they really think people would get hungry and/or be reminded of “freshness” when they starred at and smelled freshly laid gravel? eh…

More recently, the TV spots focusing on KFC’s new grilled chicken recipe seem even more off beat to me.  They show KFC President, Roger Eaton, front and center professing his love for the grilled bird.  This spot is supplemented by spots that feature well-known chefs (i.e. Sandra Lee) explaining how delicious the new recipe is –this was smart.  But who thought it was a smart to use the blantently Austrailian (non-American, non-Kentuckian) Roger Eaton, as the spokesman?  For me this screams “phoney, corporate, mass-produced, chain food.”  KFC still stand for Kentucky Fried Chicken, right?  “Kentucky” and “Fried” have clearly begun to fade from the brand.  The next step will likely be the introduction of a KFC burger.

UPDATE: A brilliant piece from The Onion on how KFC will no longer be allowed to use the word “eat” in any of their advertisements…

“KFC’s claim that its fried offerings have ‘that taste you’ll just love to eat’ is in direct violation of federal regulations,” acting FCC chairman Michael Copps said. “The word ‘eat’ is legally permissible only in reference to substances appropriate for human consumption. Any implication that a consumer could or should ‘enjoy’ a KFC Crispy Strip fails to meet these standards, and presents an unlawful deception to consumers.”

“Any future appeals by KFC for the public to ingest its products will be met with swift legal action,” he added.

Working in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission to defend consumers from what they call “blatant untruths regarding the edibility of KFC menu items,” officials at the FCC have issued a list of acceptable words and phrases the restaurant can use in its television and print ads. While “eat,” “feast on,” and “taste” remain off-limits, the FCC has approved the use of “purchase,” “be near to,” “look at,” and “hold.”\

…In keeping with the false advertising subchapter of the FTC Act of 1914, the fast food chain is prohibited from setting its commercials in a kitchen, dining room, or any space generally associated with the act of eating. It is also not permitted to show people chewing, rubbing their stomachs contentedly, or exiting a bathroom stall with a look of relief that suggests they have digested the product. Utensils of any kind are also expressly forbidden, even when held by an animated character.

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