Brand Winners... And Losers: Microsoft and Peanut Corp.

Brand Winners…

   And Losers

The Marketing Doctor says:

Winner: Microsoft

Loser: Peanut Corp. (and Peanuts)

Folks, I’ve been writing a lot recently about poli-marketing (see my Fox Forum takes here and here) and celebrity branding (Phelps, here), so I figured I ought to return to some business marketing basics to keep some skin in the game.

Luckily, this week has given us an ample supply of business winners and losers… and I couldn’t ask for more from my two standouts.

Readers of my many marketing tirades on Microsoft will be shocked to see the behemoth moved into the winner category this week.  Take heart, the Marketing Doctor is not abandoning his senses, but when a company that has done so many things so wrong for so long then actually seems to take my advice (or at least a page from their successful marketing competitor, Apple), they deserve a little credit and encouragement to go even further.  Without further ado, then, our winner and loser:

The Winner:

Yes, it’s Microsoft.  Why? 

They have decided to open retail stores in which to sell their products.  They have also hired David Porter, formerly an executive at Wal-Mart, to oversee the effort.

This is hopeful news and might just suggest that my old poor marketing exemplar is finally realizing that real marketing is about understanding your Target Market and satisfying needs —not just delivering the “brilliant” product vision with the message to the consumer: take it or leave it (but you’d better take it).

The former Wal-Mart executive will probably push real marketing, but we’ll have to wait and see if this transforms the company —after all, Gateway computers tried the retail store approach, and that failed. 

An even bigger question: what will they be selling in these stores?  Answer: Microsoft products which, when I last checked, are touch-and-go when it comes to satisfying consumer needs.  Zune?  Vista?  No stampedes for these products.

In other words, until they have real marketing coursing through their corporate veins and informing everything from retail store outreach to product development, they will keep hobbling. 

I don’t think you’ll ever find a story like this one about Apple.  To give a synopsis: a woman is suing Microsoft for being charged nearly $60 to downgrade —that’s right downgrade— from Vista to an older version of Windows because Vista had so many problems.  There are so many things wrong with this scenario from a real marketing perspective; I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  Oy vey!

Still, 1) even if Microsoft is just copycatting Apple, this at least indicates that they have a marketing pulse and are aware that business as usual isn’t working; and 2) retail will put them at consumer ground zero, and maybe some of that sales floor, cash-register reality will trickle up into the company.

So there is hope in them hills; and because of this, the wobbly giant from Redmond, WA moves to this week’s winner’s circle.

The Loser:

Peanut Corp. 

This week’s loser is really the poster child for corporate irresponsibility (looks like even potential criminality) and proves like nothing else that real marketing is top-down and inside-out. 

What do I mean?  Well, if you are a company that markets to consumers directly, you are constantly held accountable on almost every front of your business. From what I can tell, Peanut Corp. didn’t have this sort of accountability built into their business. In other words, real marketing didn’t play a role in their business plan.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, contrary to what the snide and cynical anti-marketers out there think, real marketing keeps companies honest because it demands that they constantly seek, discover and then meet customer needs.

If you are engaging in real marketing, then almost by default you won’t try to duck (as Peanut Corp. allegedly did) basic health regulations (like not letting a live bird roost above your peanut processing line) and basic human decency (like letting salmonella-tainted products be distributed).

Beyond Peanut Corp. showing us what not to do as a brand… the bigger point is that peanuts (and all companies that mash, grind, puree and sell them) are now suspect because of one bad player.  People are only going to worry about the recalled products linked to Peanut Corp. you say? 

Fuggedaboutit.  A survey showed that while almost everybody has heard about the peanut problem, consumers are hazy about the details.

This means that the peanut industry will need to re-establish its relationship with consumers and especially drive home the safety and wholesomeness of peanut products. 

On the other hand, these kinds of marketing “crises” are often great opportunities to grow market share when the company or industry remembers its Target Market and acts fast. 

One idea is to enlist the real marketing police and re-energize the old “Seal of Approval” with an independent group of business and community professionals who’ll establish (or re-establish) standards and publicize them for the industry.  Add to this a social networking component and a web-based nutritional/educational/promotional campaign that might even discover new consumer needs/uses/recipes for the embattled peanut, and we might see the whole peanut industry pie grow bigger than ever (i.e., “Peanuts: the economical health food”).  Stay tuned on this one.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


Real marketing keeps companies honest and growing.


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