January 28, 2007

Sticks & Stones

I hear that Bostonians are kicking up a stink because the new owners of one of the city's institutions, the Ritz Carlton, are renaming the hotel as the Taj Boston and (as locals see it) tossing out some eighty years of tradition and local pride.

But what's in a name? You could argue that it's only natural that the Mumbai-based Taj Group wish to brand the hotel to reflect their own pride of ownership. Or that business-entities change their names with such regularity that this local storm in a teacup will soon pass.

However, I'm not sure that this particular storm is easily weathered. Landmark brands, whether places, products or services, almost always stand for something more than legal ownership in the minds of their customers and hospitality brands in particular need to tread very carefully in this contentious space.

Here in Dublin, the much-loved Shelbourne Hotel, was lumbered with clumsy (and forgettable) tags of ownership by some of its more recent landlords but I understand that its newest owners are calling it simply The Shelbourne, which should ensure at least that it will keep its place in local affections following its current facelift.

What's your take on this? Which of your own favourite brands have you seen renamed at the cost of your loyalty?

January 20, 2007

Across The Great Divide

I've been amused at the hullabaloo over soccer player David Beckham's extraordinary deal and especially tickled at the venom with which it's been greeted in some quarters. It's true that the football fan in me is offended at the notion that this one-trick show pony is putting himself out to stud at rates beyond the wildest dreams of some of the game's true thoroughbreds but as a marketer I can only stand back and applaud.

I believe football stepped across the touchline onto a very different playing-field whenever it first adopted the play-for-pay of professionalism and Beckham's prodigious leap to legendary status (as a brand rather than a footballer) sees him playing the rules of this newer game to perfection.

In my experience, business owners are often offended at the ability of their own lesser-talented, lesser-conscientious competitors to secure dazzling contracts or build lucrative markets. They say quite rightly that it isn't fair. But the marketplace by its nature isn't fair. As business-owners we ignore this at our peril.

If we are to succeed in business, we must play the game by the rules of the marketplace where the race isn't to the fastest or the best but to the one who most appeals to the market (the 'fairest' only in beauty-contest terms). Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, fastest, fairest and best in their own sports, understood this and have managed to charm both the amateur enthusiast and the sharp-eyed professional in us.

So which side are you on? Do you think it's possible to play-for-pay and retain corinthian values? Or, like me, do you believe that once a sport chooses to go professional then the rules of the game change forever?

January 09, 2007

Look Who's Talking

A brand called ‘you’?

Time magazine’s choice of the individuals who are “building community and collaboration on a scale never seen before” (yes, that’s you and me apparently) as its Person Of The Year for 2006 suggests that some traditional notions of branding were turned on their heads during the year just past.

This would seem to be borne out by the lightning-quick move of online brands such as YouTube, Bebo, MySpace and Second Life to the centre of the worldwide stage and the value that another whiz kid, Google, was prepared to put on YouTube when it purchased the company for $1.65 billion during the year. However, despite their impressively-quick ascent to the top of the pile in 2006, we will probably need to wait another while before acclaiming these as great brands rather than precocious players who have simply made the most of their first-mover advantage.

For more on the past twelve months as seen through brand-coloured spectacles, please visit: Brandwidth 2006 – Year In Review

January 03, 2007

White Christmas?

Like most of us, I'm just emerging from the belly of the Christmas and New Year celebrations and find myself inclined to wonder just what we were up to exactly over the last few weeks. I don't wish to jump on a bandwagon to mourn the passing of the Christian meaning of Christmas but it's difficult to see that there's anything left at all of any significance in our public celebration of the ancient feast. Whatever about what goes on behind closed doors, it felt to me that on the streets and in the shopping malls we were simply going through the motions.

Just before Christmas, Declan Kiberd in his Irish Times column suggested that "what was most romantic in Christianity was its openness to the stranger". Some of that romance, which I remember myself from happy Christmas returns to Ireland when I lived on the far side of the world, certainly seems to be missing now as we retreat to our castles to celebrate with a chosen few. Despite Shane McGowan's 'Fairytale of New York" topping a number of 'Best of' polls over the holidays, there is little evidence to suggest that we have turned to the strangers in our own streets to make them welcome at Christmas.

If the experience of other immigrant cities is anything to go by, it strikes me that we might look to the 'strangers in a strange land' among us when we next celebrate Christmas and enter into a spirit which is much older than the token feasting and exchange of gifts of the past few weeks.

Bah humbug..? What do you think?