This year, the winners and losers all come down to two things: the importance of Target Market and the importance of brand.
Bottom line, no company and no individual will ever be all things to all people. What matters is that the company or individual is the right things to the right people.
Tiger Woods – Late last year everyone seemed to be predicting the demise of this legendary golfer. I didn’t. Not because I have psychic powers but because looking through the marketing lens it was obvious that two things will probably keep Tiger Woods from oblivion.
One, as an athlete he is a performance brand. This means that as long as he continues to perform on the golf course, he will receive media attention.
Two, his Target Market (i.e., golfing fans), admire him as a golfer first and foremost not as a role model. It is these people who will support his brand over the long haul. Tiger may not have blitzed the links in 2010 but he held the line in an incredibly difficult game. With at least 10 to 15 more professional playing years left in him and that amazing athleticism, concentration and patience behind him, he may well be on the way to a full brand comeback.
Apple – 2010 saw Apple become the most valued technology company on the planet. The company did this by consistently delivering products consumers want. There have been a few mis-steps: the reluctance to support Flash video on the IPad and the clumsy initial response to the antenna problems. But Apple, unlike Microsoft, seems to understand that constantly adapting to satisfy consumer needs is what great marketing is all about. Build-it-and-they-will come never works, listen-to-what-they-want and then build that, always does.
Julian Assange – Hero or terrorist? Courageous journalist or reckless traitor? Assange seems to be radically different things to different people. At the end of 2009, Assange was a name that few people knew, but by the end of 2010 it is as close to a household name as you can get these days in our splintered-media world.
With his super villain shock of white hair and euro-Australian accent, Assange has made himself much more than the frontman for WikiLeaks. He represents something that many people find admirable or at the very least interesting and he has consistently represented WikiLeaks’ mission and philosophy. Bottom line, in a cynical world with little belief in media truth-telling and widespread suspicion of “spin”, Assange has become the go-to brand for unadulterated news. In no way am I condoning what I think is actually very destructive behavior on Assange’s part, but from a brand perspective, what he has managed to do by becoming such a central figure in news and politics is simply extraordinary.
General Motors – With a third quarter net profit of $2 billion and a massive 54 percent rise in year to date sales, GM is on the road to restoring its position as the world’s leading automaker. Two years ago, with bankruptcy and a government bailout looming this hardly seemed possible.
How did they do it? The company re-dedicated itself to its brands. People don’t buy a GM vehicle, they buy a Chevy, a Buick, a Cadillac. By remembering this and focusing its marketing to convey the strength of its brands, GM was bound to make this comeback.
Sarah Palin – Folks, she may not be your cup of tea but that’s only because you’re not in her Target Market. 2010 has been the former governor of Alaska’s big year.
She has established herself as a national brand and weathered criticism that would have sunk most others. Her reality program on TLC earned the highest-ever ratings for that network and her daughter went far on "Dancing With the Stars" because of a grass-roots call-in campaign that reflects just how many people like this woman.
Does this mean she’s a shoe-in for president in 2012? No.
But what it does mean is that, you can’t count her out just because she’s not someone who pleases Eastern establishment political pundits. Her Target Market forgives her for leaving the governor’s office early. Fact is, they like her… a lot. And in politics, this counts more than pundits want to acknowledge. Is she our Andrew Jackson? Stay tuned.
The Democrats – The Democrats have managed to forget that they are here to do what the people want. Once again, they’ve made the classic mistake of thinking that they got the messaging wrong not the policies.
Bottom line, until the Democrats understand that the majority of Americans do not believe that government is the permanent answer to their problems, the Democratic brand is going to weaken.
Keep an out for Evan Bayh and other Democrats who understand that the party’s future is about listening to the people.
BP – After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the gulf, and the company’s ham-handed response, BP has a lot of brand damage to undo. Fact is, I’m not sure this is even possible.
Years of advertising and millions of dollars of P.R. were squandered when the company's platform burned. It created a story that was seen around the world and one that lasted for months. It also succeeded in making the oil company look reckless and arrogant. A name change and a top to bottom brandover are probably needed here.
Warren Buffett – Warren Buffett was the Daddy Warbucks of 2008 and 2009. A benevolent, capitalistic champion, he helped come to the rescue of the global economy and offered humble and sage advice from Omaha. His brand was built over years by never seeking the spotlight and operating consistently with sound investing principles. But 2010 has not been good for Mr. Buffett.
Buffett’s brand strength is his perceived sincerity. This took a big hit a few months ago when he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times that overlooked just how much he personally benefited from the government handouts to Wall Street that the American people are now really beginning to question. The problem here is that Buffett is vulnerable. Once people start doubting his sincerity and start seeing him as an operator out for his own gain, his brand might quickly fall into disrepute. My advice? Switch into silent mode in 2011.
Mark Zuckerberg – He’s one of the youngest, self-made billionaires in the world and his service is used by hundreds of millions –I love Facebook, but the Mark Zuckerberg brand needs help. The box-office winner "The Social Network" skewered him. His attempts to cast himself in a good light –i.e., especially promising to give the Newark, New Jersey school system a billion dollars on "Oprah"— looked phony and cynical. And what could have been a great brand redeemer, the Lesley Stahl "60 Minutes" interview, fell flat.
Moreover, the success of Julian Assange and his release of all those sensitive government documents means Zuckerberg’s almost religious push against personal privacy might further tarnish this brand in 2011 if people begin to rebel against the idea that all information should be shared.
LeBron James – A lot of people are going to say I’m crazy for saying that a man who may very well be the best basketball player of all time was a brand loser in 2010… but here’s why. Like Tiger Woods, James is a performance brand. As long as he performs well on the court, his brand will stay strong. However, there’s a caveat. Let’s call it the Barry Bonds factor. Tiger Woods was never directly bad to his fans. Bonds, however, was seen as aloof. The fiasco over whether James was going to stay in Cleveland made James look like he didn’t care about his fans. James’ 2011 New Year’s Resolution should be simple: remember that without the fans, he wouldn’t have a job no matter how good he is.
And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and president of the Marketing Department of America who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion and the author of a new book "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."