A marketing analysis of LeBron’s decision

July 12, 2010

I feel that I should state up front that this post will be a bit different from the typical posts that I write for this blog.  Most of the time, I try to write posts that give some hints and tips to help marketers improve their brand management and marketing.  This post doesn’t follow this pattern.  Being an Akron, Ohio native, and a devoted Cleveland sports fan, I can’t help but comment on LeBron’s “decision” this week to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers after 7 years and join the Miami Heat.  I know that there have been many analyses, articles, and posts over the last four days regarding LeBron’s decision (and it seems most of these have not been in favor of the decision), but I would like to think that my perspectives on his decision will be a little bit different.  I am not going to analyze if his decision was a good one for his career in terms of his chances of winning a championship, ever being an MVP again, or being considered one of basketball’s greatest stars in the long run.  I know that there are a lot of opinions already published regarding these topics.  Instead, I’d like to offer my opinions on his decision from a marketing perspective, both for the LeBron James “brand” and for his many sponsors.  Given my ties to Cleveland, I’ll admit that my analysis isn’t entirely objective, so feel free to take it with a grain or two of salt.

For the LeBron James brand, I’m afraid that his decision to leave the Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat has significantly destroyed its value. Unfortunately for LeBron, I don’t think that he received much counsel in terms of protecting his personal brand while he was weighing his options (I wish I could have had a chance to talk with him about this!). The backlash against LeBron that has come from all areas of the country (not just Cleveland, Chicago, and New York), with the exception of Miami, has been staggering — and not just among sports fans.  It seems that the general sentiment towards LeBron and his decision is one of disgust.  I believe that there are two issues that have caused this reaction:

  1. People are angered that he didn’t stay loyal to his hometown team and that he chose to embarrass Cleveland so publicly on a special ESPN program.
  2. They are shocked that he did not choose to try to become a legend and win a championship on his own.  Instead, he chose to try to win one with the help of his “buddies” in South Beach.  Because of his choice to join forces with two other great players, his unique talent will no longer be center stage – it will be diluted as he becomes one of three key players on the Heat.

One week ago, LeBron was arguably one of the most loved and respected athletes in the U.S.  Today, he is mocked for his immaturity and despised.  This is such a sudden and dramatic shift in sentiment — and one that I do not think LeBron will be able to ever entirely overcome.  No matter how well he plays in the future, he will never have the brand power that he had before 9pm EST on June 8th, and I believe he significantly curtailed his future sponsorship opportunities as a result of his brand value destruction this past week.  I know that people are arguing that it is good that LeBron didn’t make his decisions based on money, but I wonder if he thought about how much he might be limiting his future earning potential for additional sponsorships, based on his decision to “take his talents to South Beach”.

With respect to LeBron’s existing sponsors like Nike and Coca-Cola (who owns Vitaminwater), I am very curious to know their overall reactions to LeBron’s decision is at this time.  If I were a brand manager for any of LeBron’s existing sponsors at the moment, I would be having emergency meetings with my advertising and PR partners to determine my strategy moving forward.  Given that the general public’s sentiment toward LeBron has completely reversed so quickly, I would be very extremely hesitant to continue or launch any significant campaigns featuring LeBron at this time.  Associating my brand with his devalued brand would not be something I would be focusing on.  I am very interested to see if LeBron is de-emphasized from his current sponsors’ campaigns and if, over time, these existing sponsorship deals are not renewed quietly.  I suppose only time will tell, but I have a hunch that there are a lot of LeBron’s sponsors out there who are not very happy with his decision or with the way he decided to announce it.

So those are my two cents on why LeBron’s decision might not have been the best one from a brand and sponsorship perspective.  Again, I admit that I might not be the most objective person to analyze the situation given my roots — so I’d love to hear your perspectives if you have any.  From a marketing perspective, do you think LeBron’s decision was a good one?

4 blog improvements in 2010

January 5, 2010

With the start of the new year, I’ve decided that it is time to make some changes (hopefully improvements) to the ALL In One Marketing Greenhouse.  Admittedly, 2009 was a year of learning, trial and error.  I intend to make 2010 the year of engagement with value to the Greenhouse readers.

With that in mind, I am introducing the following enhancements to the blog:

  1. Dear Amy.  Have you ever heard of a little column called Dear Abby?  Well, in 2010, we’ll have some posts that feature Dear Amy.  Any marketing or branding questions that you have can be emailed to me at amy@allinonemarketingusa.com, and I’ll analyze, respond, and recommend solutions in a post (free of charge!). These can be questions on any marketing topic such as how to raise awareness for a local charity you are trying to get off the ground or how do you get 30 million people to try your new product on a $10,000 budget.  No marketing question is too big or small.  I’ll do my best to give you my two cents in a post or two.
  2. Book reviews.  As marketing professionals and business leaders, it’s sometimes all we can do to get through our industry journals and Google Alerts each day, let alone stay up to date on some of the latest strategic marketing thinking.  To help you know what’s out there and what you might want to invest time in reading, I’ll do periodic book reviews that will summarize the key points that I take away from these books.  Think of it as Cliff Notes for marketing strategy.
  3. Top articles and blog posts.  As a consultant, it is my job to read the latest brand, product, and retailer news daily.  You probably try to do this too — but like the books — it can be very challenging to keep up.  As a result, I’ll be writing posts every couple of weeks that summarize my ‘must read’ blogs and articles.  I hope that you’ll find this useful.
  4. Shorter posts, but more frequently.  Okay, this isn’t an enhancement, but this is something I will try to work on this year to make the blog more useful and user friendly.

What else?  What would you like to see covered?  What would really add value to you?  Talk to me…I’m listening.

Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #3: Focusing on the Sale

December 14, 2009

Once upon a time, companies who measured the profit coming from each transaction, product line, or customer segment were considered to be first in class.  Over time this best practice of measuring profitability has evolved from focusing on individual transactions to focusing on the profitability of the total customer experience. Unfortunately, some organizations have not adapted to this new approach.

In today’s highly connected world, customers are seeking to build relationships with brands, and they do not view marketing activities and transactions independently.  Each of these are just different types of  touch points that a customer has with a brand, and the customer does not really distinguish between them.  For example, a great purchase experience is a superior marketing tactic that will drive future purchases.   For the customer, the overall experience that he has with a brand (which includes all types of touch points) impacts his future relationship (and likelihood of additional purchases) with the brand.

Since customers are evaluating a brand based on their total experience, companies should also focus on this total experience. From a measurement and analysis standpoint, instead of trying to maximize profits for any given product line or transaction type, companies should try to maximize profitability over their total customer experience. As a result, this might mean that a company should lower its price (and profitability) on some products that introduce a customer to the brand in order to maximize the total number of products that a customer purchases over the lifetime of the relationship with the brand.  It also might mean that a company should heavily invest in certain marketing programs with existing loyal customers, if it will help customers recommend the brand to others.

The key to successfully maximizing the value of the total brand experience is understanding the role each transaction and touch point plays in the development of the experience.  Once a company stops focusing only on the sale, but instead on the long term relationship, it will unlock long term profit potential.

Q. Why isn’t anyone buying? A. Check the value (Part 2)

May 21, 2009

Last week, I started to address a two-post topic about first checking the value proposition of a product or service when no one is buying.  Generally, people are motivated to buy when they will capture value from a product or service.

VALUE = Consumer Perceived Benefits – Consumer Perceived Costs

I used the case of nohome.org to illustrate some factors that should be considered when trying to increase the consumer perceived benefits of the value proposition.  In this post, I will continue to use nohome.org as my case study to address the second part of value:  the consumer perceived costs.

The case of nohome.org:

Jerome Greene is the CEO of nohome.org, a service that offers ‘humanitarian web hosting’.  For every dollar earned, one dollar will be used to build homes for refugees entering Indiana each year.  nohome.org offers 3 plans, the lowest starting at $19.95 per month.  A week ago, Jerome asked the question:  Why isn’t anyone buying?

Part 2 of the analysis:

To help Jerome and nohome.org minimize the consumer perceived costs, I asked a couple more questions.

Question 1:  How does the price of $19.95 per month compare to the best web hosting alternatives out there?

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a lot of experience with web hosting services, but in doing a quick search of other offerings, it seems that there are lower priced alternatives available.  These alternatives do not offer the humanitarian benefit that nohome.org provides, but they do set a reference point for consumers for web hosting without humanitarian benefits.  This reference point is important because it impacts the consumer perceived price.  With a little subtraction, consumers can figure out what nohome.org is suggesting the value of the added humanitarian benefit is.  If they don’t agree with this suggested value, then there is a problem.  Either the price is too high, or they don’t fully understand the added benefit.  Lowering price is always an action of last resort, so I suggest Jerome first revisit how he can amplify his benefit.  Alternatively, he might consider suggesting to consumers a different alternative that they use for their reference point.  I used godaddy.com as my reference point — but maybe that was not the right one.  Perhaps Jerome could tell consumers, “Compare nohome.org to XYZ” and suggest an alternative that will be a better reference point and lower the perceived price of nohome.org.

Before I move off this question, I would like to add that the issue of reference points might be a larger factor in the consumer perceived cost today than it was a few years ago.  It is my hypothesis that in the tough economic climate, consumers are making an extra effort to search for alternatives to find the best value, and so they have more reference points.  This may be further impacting the perceived price of nohome.org.  It might also be impacting how much a humanitarian benefit is worth to consumers.  So a price of $19.95 for services from nohome.org might have been acceptable for consumers three years ago, but it might not be at this point in time.

Question 2:  Is there a way to further minimize the risk cost of buying from nohome.org?

Perceived price is only one component to the total perceived cost to consumers.  The others are risk cost, transaction cost (cost to consumers of transacting), and production cost (the cost to consumers of producing the benefits).  I assume that the production and transaction costs for nohome.org are low (but Jerome should verify this).  However, I do think that the risk cost could be high.  If nohome.org is a relatively new brand and service, consumers might be questioning its reliability and performance.  This means that nohome.org might appear to be a riskier choice, and therefore have higher consumer perceived costs.  Jerome should try to find ways to increase nohome.org’s credibility to reduce risk.  He might consider doing this by posting a list of his current clients on his website.  He could include their testimonials.  He might also find a spokesperson or endorser.  Anything he can do to increase consumer confidence in his service and reduce risk will increase his overall value proposition.

In conclusion…

The question of “Why isn’t anyone buying” is a critical question that many of us have faced.  I don’t want to present this two-part blog as the complete answer as to how to fix this problem.  My goal with this series of posts is only to help identify some of the factors that might be contributing to the problem.  Think of these questions as seeds to help the value proposition grow as big as it can be.  If anyone has any other suggestions of factors to consider when it comes to the value proposition, please submit a comment!  I would love to hear it.

Q. Why isn’t anyone buying? A. Check the value (Part 1)

May 15, 2009

This week on the social networking site SmallerIndiana, the CEO of the organization nohome.org, Jerome Greene asked the questions: 

“You have a great new idea, everyone loves it, but no one else is buying it.  What’s the problem?  Is it your message?  Is it your website?”

Being someone who is passionate about marketing, I couldn’t help but offer my ‘two cents’ to him immediately.  But his questions got me thinking …. there are probably many people out there with similar questions.  So to help those facing a similar challenge, I thought I would try to address Jerome’s problem publicly  by suggesting he consider a few things over the course of a couple posts, and in doing so, hopefully spark some answers that can help others.

Before I go too far, let me just say that the ‘obstacle’ to people buying could be all sorts of things.  It could be the message.  It could be the website.  It could be the audience.  But before anyone decides to do a website overhaul, I suggest first checking the value proposition.

VALUE = Consumer Perceived Benefits – Consumer Perceived Costs 

In this post, I am going to talk about ways to maximize consumer perceived benefits using nohome.org as my case study.  The next post will discuss ways to minimize consumer perceived costs.

The case of nohome.org: 

nohome.org offers ‘humanitarian web hosting’.  For every dollar earned, one dollar will be used to build homes for refugees entering Indiana each year.  nohome.org offers 3 plans, the lowest starting at $19.95 per month.

The analysis:

To help Jerome and nohome.org maximize its benefits, I asked a series of questions.

Question 1:  What are the consumer benefits to purchasing web hosting from nohome.org?

Keep in mind that in general consumer perceived benefits include product performance, the service experience, the reputation and image the consumer gets by purchasing, and the relationship experience.

In nohome.org’s case, the benefits appear to be website hosting with a 30 day money back guarantee, no contract, 99.9% up time, and knowing that for every dollar earned, one dollar is used to build homes.  From my perspective, these benefits are primarily product performance and a little service oriented. 

Question 2:  Do consumers understand these benefits and do they perceive them as benefits?

In order for consumers to get the most value from a product or service, they have to understand all of the benefits they are receiving, and they have to perceive them as benefits.  Remember, value is all from the consumer’s perspective.  If the consumer doesn’t understand or perceive the offerings as benefits, the benefits need to be communicated differently or other offerings must be added that consumers do perceive as beneficial.  Jerome might want to consider conducting a consumer survey to make sure that consumers really understand the benefits they receive from nohome.org.

Question 3:  Is there a way for nohome.org to add more perceived benefits for its consumers without incurring more costs?

Given that most of nohome.org’s benefits are currently performance or service related, it seems like there may be some room for additional benefits to be added.  For instance, could nohome.org amplify its reputation/image benefit by giving customers a ‘badge’ on their site that demonstrates their humanitarian choice?  Could nohome.org provide a relationship benefit by building a special ‘community’ for its consumers who have a humanitarian interest in common?  Better yet, could it give its consumers some sort of ‘relationship’ with the refugees they are helping through a newsletter or an event?

Question 4:  Are the perceived benefits nohome.org offers differentiated?

I am assuming they are, but if they aren’t, Jerome might want to revisit #3 to think about other unique benefits nohome.org could provide. 

The other part of the equation

Hopefully these four questions spark some ideas to further enhance the perceived benefits of nohome.org and other products and services that are having trouble ‘making the sale’.  Of course the other area of opportunity for improving the value proposition is by minimizing perceived costs …. and that will be covered in the next post.

The opportunities for marketing in a downturn

May 4, 2009

Last week, I read the post on BrandFreak.com about how a downturn can be an exciting time for ‘run of the mill’ brands.  I absolutely have to agree.  A little while ago, I worked on the SpaghettiOs brand at Campbell Soup, and at the time, I would have loved to have been able to market that brand during a downturn in the economy.  Don’t get me wrong, marketing any kind of brand during a downturn is scary and challenging, but it also changes your consumer’s mindset.  A product that hasn’t changed for 50 years, but that consistently provides a relevant benefit at a very affordable price point suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting and desirable to consumers — as long as you remind them of how you fit into their lives and meet their current needs. 

To take the BrandFreak post a step further, I would argue that it is also an exciting time to be managing a ‘premium’ brand or one that might be considered more than ‘run of the mill’.  Undoubtedly, brand managers of this type of brand are feeling a little uncomfortable right now, but there is an opportunity to continue to develop your brand in this tough time — as long as you are making sure that your emphasis is on the value that you are providing your consumers.

My message to both types of brand managers is this:  this is an exciting time to be marketing your brand because it will encourage you to help your consumers change the way they might have traditionally viewed you.  You have the opportunity to successfully market your brand in this economic climate, if you demonstrate your value and relevancy to your consumer.

For ‘Run of the Mill’ Brands

How are you using this downturn to your advantage? 

  • Are you reminding your consumers about how useful and relevant you are? 
  • Are you finding cost-effective ways to communicate with your consumers to let them know that you provide an important benefit at excellent value? 
  • Are you tapping into consumers’ natural gravitation toward nostalgia, comfort, and reassurance to help drive your brand?
  • Are you helping them discover new uses for your product or service that they might not have considered before?

If you aren’t doing these things, you might be leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.  Think about how you can take advantage of the shifting needs of your consumer so that you are more meaningful.

For ‘Premium’ Brands

How are you demonstrating that you are ‘worth paying more for’?

  • Are you highlighting all of the value that you have to offer?  (For instance, Starbucks for a long time only highlighted its superior coffee and didn’t talk much about all of the other important value that it provided such as community involvement, better environmental and social practices, etc.  Now it has decided to start talking about these things to help highlight all of the value it provides)
  • Are you demonstrating a commitment to your consumers to help them get all of the value that they can from your product or service?
  • Are you identifying ways that you can add more value to your product or service, without increasing the cost to the consumer?
  • Are you considering removing benefits or attributes of your product or service that consumers might consider less important so that you can lower the cost (or at least not increase the cost) to your consumer?

This list isn’t exhaustive, but these would be some things to consider doing to help elevate the perceived value that you provide to your consumers.

At the end of the day . . .

I won’t pretend that marketing during a downturn is easy for any kind of brand.  However, if you adapt your marketing to this economic climate, it should make your brand that much stronger coming out of the downturn.  Making sure that your consumer is clear on the value that you provide is never a bad idea — and it is an especially good idea to focus on it during a downturn.