Author Archives: Evelyn Starr

5 Ways A Good Rivalry Benefits Your Brand

Michael Phelps competing June 28 in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on NBC Sports

Michael Phelps competing June 28 in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on NBC Sports

Do you know who Michael Phelps is?

Unless you have been living behind a boulder, you probably do. (I avoid clichés.)  The 31-year-old swimming phenom has 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, and has set numerous world records.

Phelps’ main rival, Ryan Lochte, has 11 Olympic medals.  Without Phelps present Lochte could be considered the best male swimmer of all time.  But he happened to come of age at the same time as Phelps and therefore has an underdog position to him.

Sort of like Dustin Hoffman getting an Academy Award nomination in 1983 for his fabulous starring role in Tootsie only to come up against Ben Kingsley in Gandhi.  (And yes Ben Kingsley is an amazing actor, but I really wanted Dustin to win that year.)

Michael Phelps retired from swimming after the 2012 Olympics, his fourth Olympic appearance.  Instead of savoring a Phelps-free Olympic opportunity, Ryan Lochte bet him $1000 that he would come out of retirement to compete in Rio at the 2016 Olympics.

Well, last week Phelps qualified to compete in three individual events and possibly three relay races in Rio.

But Lochte hasn’t collected any money.

It’s not that Phelps wouldn’t pay him.

Lochte hasn’t asked.

Here’s what Lochte had to say about Michael Phelps in a Sports Illustrated interview with Maggie Gray:

“I guess you could say we have one of the best rivalries in sports. You know we help each other out.  We push each other.  You know he’s one of the world’s greatest swimmers.  And I mean we hate to lose.  So every time we go on those blocks it’s every man for himself.  But you know at the end of the day, win or lose, we’re still going to be friends.  We’re still going to play cards together.”

Fierce competitors by day and card-playing friends by night.

What’s up with that?

It’s not just the camaraderie of the U.S. swimming team.  Ryan Lochte knows that he has become a better swimmer from competing against Michael Phelps.

And just as rivalries propel Olympic athletes to higher levels of personal performance, brand rivalries have propelled companies to greater success and more creative innovations than they would have had without the head-to-head competition.

Think Coke and Pepsi.  MCI and AT&T.  Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks.  Nike and Reebok then; Nike and Adidas now.

Netflix bested Blockbuster.  But that wasn’t the end game for them.  They have reconsidered their brand position and have set their sights on a new rival:  HBO.

Why has singling out a major competitor for a rivalry worked well for most of these brands?

  1. A key rival focuses your attention by giving you something specific to strive for. Besting them for an account, for shelf space or for market share, for example.
  2. Rivalry can prompt you to better measure and follow key metrics that give you a clearer picture of your business.
  3. Rivalry can help you understand your brand better. By studying key rivals’ brand performance and your own, you get a more in-depth understanding of your brand’s strengths, weaknesses and market position.
  4. Contrasting with a rival can sharpen your brand differentiation. Remember 7up, the Uncola?
  5. Rivalries make great brand stories. Internally these stories can motivate your team. Externally, used judiciously, brand rivalry stories can highlight your brand’s strengths with your target audience.  Just keep it professional.

To tap the benefit of a rivalry for your brand:

  • Choose a meaningful rival. Window dressing to best a rival easily or to make your brand look good fools no one.
  • Be clear about your goals. You don’t want to emulate your competitor; you want to become a better and stronger version of your brand.
  • Keep it professional. The rivalries here work because the athletes respect each other’s talents and abilities.  Mudslinging tends to backfire and reflects poor sportsmanship.
  • Avoid emotional distraction. Taking any lost sale or other defeat too personally detours you from your long-term brand goals and sinks energy into an unfruitful use of your time.
  • Avoid obsession. If emotional distraction is a detour, obsession is a train wreck.  Just ask Tonya Harding.  If you have an obsessive personality, rivalry might not be the right strategic tool for you.
  • Stay focused on your brand goals. It’s rare that one brand definitively wins a rivalry.  Use the competition to motivate yourself and your team.  Celebrate your progress and your individual successes along the way.

So will Ryan Lochte ever get his money?  Here’s what he said about the bet:

“I think it was just a good old-fashioned bet that we had going on.  I don’t really care if I collect on it or not.  I’m just glad that he is back in the water.  And I think that was kind of the main goal of that bet was getting him back in the water and representing Team USA.”

I’d say he has gotten his money’s worth.

Oh, that’s a cliché, isn’t it?  Rats.

Do you have a key rival that you’ve targeted to motivate your brand team?  What have you learned from them?  Would you play cards with their owner?

Share your answers in the comments.  I love a good rivalry story.

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How FitBit Stays Fit

array of FitBit productsI have been exercising regularly most of my life.  As a high energy person, I discovered in my teens that expending this energy often helped my sanity.  And that of the people around me.

In high school I took modern dance classes.  In college I took aerobics classes.

When I moved to Boston, I found a gym and cajoled myself to go there a few times a week. 

Once my husband and I were living together, we would sometimes meet at the gym after work.  Knowing that he was going to be there made it easier for me to go.

This motivation grew exponentially more important once I was pregnant.  I was working 8-9 hour days while carrying 20+ extra pounds.  You could see how the impetus to then cart those 20+ pounds to the gym at the end of the day might be hard to come by.

But I knew Dan was going to be there.

So cart them I did.  Three times a week until the day before my due date.

I remember that last workout.  It was a Sunday and we went to the gym together.  I got on the treadmill and walked for 40 minutes at a whopping 3 miles an hour.  Before you guffaw at that slow pace, try strapping 28 pounds around your lower abdomen before your next treadmill session.

Dan was facing me, riding on a recumbent bicycle and smiling at me.  It was all the motivation I needed.

The benefit of having workout buddies is nothing new.  But what is new in the last 10 years is that fitness companionship has gone digital.

Enter Fitbit.

In 2007 FitBit founders James Park and Eric Friedman set out to apply technology to help people get healthy.

After a few years of debugging technical glitches, FitBit took off.  People everywhere were donning the wearable fitness trackers on their wrists and aspiring to their 10,000 steps a day.  The company projects a 35 percent increase in revenue in 2016 to $2.4-$2.5 billion.

From the beginning, Park and Friedman realized that it was not the technology that would motivate people to get moving.  It was the support of – and competition with – your personal community that would get you off the couch.

To set the brand up for success, the founders baked that key aspect into the brand’s definition.  Per CEO James Park:

“You can think of Fitbit as the world’s largest fitness social network that has been monetized by the sales of hardware.”

This definition rocks and I believe it will steel them against the onslaught threatening their brand.

Though FitBit is still on a strong upward trajectory performance-wise, investment analysts and the media are sounding alarms about the brand’s future.

Two major threats have tripped the alarms.  The first is a class-action lawsuit filed in January claiming that the devices inaccurately measure heart rates at high levels of activity.  The evidence offered centers on a study that was funded by the plaintiffs’ law firm.  Hmmm.

A New York Times article reported that research assessing FitBit’s device performance found mixed results, with some studies showing that they worked well or at least as well as the laboratory equipment they were compared to.

The second and bigger threat is the Apple Watch.  Indeed Apple is a formidable competitor. But not invincible.

Two factors will help FitBit here.  The first is the social network at the core of their brand definition.  If your personal community is on FitBit, that’s where you will want to be.

And community size on FitBit is growing.  FitBit users’ average number of friends rose from 4.9 in 2014 to 7.5 in 2015.

The second helpful factor is the founders’ commitment to keeping the brand, and its products, simple.  While they have added some metrics, the brand’s products still center on their health purpose and network.

Simple as an attribute is underrated.  People have a hard time understanding that less can be more.

The media and analyst community are waiting for FitBit devices to do more and are unrelenting in their comparisons to the Apple Watch.  Brian Chen of The New York Times said:

“Yet the fact that Fitbit’s products focus on one thing — tracking your fitness — is not helping the company’s image in this era of Swiss Army knife devices, where products like the iPhone and Apple Watch can do multiple things.”

But Mr. Chen and others miss the point.  The brand doesn’t focus on tracking your fitness.  It focuses on keeping you healthy by connecting you to your social fitness network and by giving you data to compare and cheer each other on.

The company is holding its ground, expanding the functions slowly – like sleep monitoring – and staying true to their simple attribute, and their health and social network foci.

Another way FitBit bucks convention is to look at their business a year at a time instead of quarterly.

Wall Street can’t handle that truth.

In the absence of guidance from the company, analysts had estimated that FitBit would earn 23 cents a share in the first quarter of 2016.  When the company announced they would either break even or earn 2 cents a share, FitBit stock prices fell.

But CEO Park just shrugged.  He isn’t guiding the company by Wall Street metrics.  He is managing the brand long-term.

Here’s how your brand can achieve clarity of focus and success like FitBit has:

  • Define your brand well. Choose your true differentiator as the basis of the brand.  Know the few attributes that matter most.
  • Stay true to your brand. Use the brand definition as your compass and your litmus test for decisions on everything from your company culture to new features to new product development to marketing communications.
  • Pay attention to the metrics that matter. While overall business metrics are important, identify those metrics that reflect your brand’s purpose in life and monitor them as well.  They can signal early trouble or help you hold steadfast during temporary fluctuations.
  • Don’t bow to pressure from competitors, the media, Wall Street analysts or your father.
  • Manage your brand for the long-term. Like raising children, the rules you set in your house are not going to be the same as those in your neighbors’ house.  You guide your children by what their specific needs are.  It’s the same with your brand.  If convention doesn’t work for your brand, find a system that that does.

Children proved to be the straw that broke the gym-buddy routine for Dan and me.  So we brought the gym in-house.  Literally.  There is an elliptical trainer in my office.

It stares at my back as I write for you.  And after watching me work for hours it beckons.  Off I go!

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A College Brand Standout

3 blank college pennants - one navy, one gray, one maroon.

Image Source: Pennantflags.com

On April 20th, as I sat in an auditorium at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I had my marketing heart stolen.

My son AJ and I were in the process of a 1000-mile tour to revisit three colleges to help him choose one.

On that beautiful Wednesday morning, AJ was sitting in on a class while I attended a one-hour parent session conducted by Neil Weissman, Dean of the College. read more

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Should Your Brand Be on Facebook?

Facebook like thumbs up hand and thumbs down handWhen I woke up on April 3, 2009, I did not know that I would be joining Facebook that day.

Around 8pm I had just connected on LinkedIn with friends from my high school years when one of them wrote, “You need to get on Facebook! We have been posting some old group photos that you are in.”

Talk about an incentive to join. read more

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How New Customer Only Deals Burn Your Brand

light bulb burning bright unlike new customer only deals which hurt your brandIn addition to my roles as wife, mother, healer and finder of things in our household, I am also Chief Operations Officer.  Like any good COO, I seek to keep overhead costs down.

So when our electricity bill shot up this winter, I investigated. read more

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Vacation by Chocolate

Evelyn's Original Chocolate Wrapper from Hershey's Chocolate World brand experienceMy husband Dan has a particular knack when planning vacations.  I’m not talking about posh accommodations or exotic destinations or exclusive restaurants.

When he was helping to plan our trip to Paris to celebrate my 40th birthday, he discovered that a major chocolate exhibition was going to be there at the same time.  Besides sampling and purchase opportunities, there were multiple exhibits including a replica of a 17th century dress made of chocolate. read more

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Cases of List-taken Identity

Good list management means seeing the customer's point of view.For the past year I’ve been immersed in my son AJ’s college search.  We’ve visited 11 schools, some of them twice.  It’s been fun and one of the funny outcomes is that I have realized that I would be happy to go to college now. 

I’m not serious of course.  But there are some schools who think otherwise.  Three colleges have begun courting me. read more

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Getting Carded at 50

Over the course of Thanksgiving week I traveled about 600 miles.  From our house in Natick, Massachusetts to my parents’ house in Northern New Jersey, out to a college visit in Pennsylvania and then back to Natick again.

At the end of this odyssey I arrived home to find an unmarked envelope in my mail.  You know, the kind with no sender identified in the return address.

I thought it might be an updated credit card that the issuer did not want to call attention to in the mail.

But no, it was my AARP card. read more

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Will Zagat Fly or Fade?

Zagats Boston Guide Brand in Adolescence At Risk of Not MaturingBefore I started writing monthly newsletters four years ago, I wrote restaurant reviews.  Just one or two a year for Zagat’s Boston Restaurant Guide.  One contributed review was enough to score me a free copy of the next guide release and seemed well worth the effort.

When Zagat first launched its guide in the early 1980s it was unique. It provided succinct reviews and ratings from patrons instead of critics.  This was revolutionary in the 1980s.

Like many new products, the Zagat guide emerged from the recognition of an unmet market need.  read more

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Cheap Skate Marketing

Evelyn's black boot collection for brand storytellingI love autumn in New England, so I’m a happy camper up here right now.  And yes, autumn presages a long winter, but I have found ways to enjoy that too.

One of the benefits of New England’s long winters is that you can wear boots six months of the year.  I’ve gained an affinity for black boots and wear them almost every day once the cold sets in.

In a decidedly un-Imelda Marcos-move though, I’ve not amassed a huge collection.

Instead I have a few favorite pairs that I keep in good order with a yearly visit or two to my buddy Oleg, the cobbler in Natick Center. read more

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