Larry Mannino's Blog

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How to Save the Movies. And Maybe your Business.

When I used to go to the movies it was an Event. Two hours away from more of the same, and transported to somewhere new.

An escape.  Something different. I’d be excited, alert, aware. Fidgety even. Sitting in my seat. Waiting with anticipation.

There used to be a neat screensaver – oily, lava-lamp colors projected on the screen. Anticipation built. There was trivia sometimes; not GEICO trivia, movie trivia. Designed to speak to people who, well, loved movies. To encourage that love, even. The day-to-day fell away.

Then darkness. Then previews. Exciting, because I hadn’t seen them before.

Then the movie and I’d get lost in it.

Today when I go to the movies, it’s my living room transported to a public space with worse seats.

I see all of the commercials I see at home. They’re just bigger here.

Then too many previews I’ve already seen.

Then, finally, darkness, movie and larger-than-life screen – that part’s still exciting.

But if I miss it, I know it’ll be out on Netflix or DVD in the space of about 60 days or so, so if the experience is pretty much the same, but more costly and without added benefit, what’s the point?

Theaters complain. Hollywood complains.

But the simple truth of the matter is this:  they’re doing it to themselves.

They are no longer inviting us to escape. Instead, they’re asking us to experience exactly what we could otherwise at a greater cost and with less convenience. They are taking a short-term view of profitability, grasping at straws without a larger strategy. Nickel-and-diming and trying to extract every penny of built-in yet dwindling demand, instead of capitalizing upon – and amplifying – the incredible opportunity they already have.

In a world of people dying to get away, even for just an hour or two, they’re ignoring the obvious; they are uniquely positioned to succeed.

Instead, they see us as fish in a barrel; trapped and unable to get away, at least for a little while, from the old marketing game. For now, for that brief window of experience before the movie starts, we remain a captive audience. Rather than being creative with that opportunity, they ham-handedly exploit it .

The movie experience is fast becoming all too similar to what you can get somewhere – maybe everywhere – else. It is, essentially, neither special nor unique anymore – not really. It is the result of greed, fear of risk, and a lack of creativity on the part of the theater industry. And that is very sad.

As with all brands, if you do not differentiate, you die a slow and painful death. It is what I call The Rule of the Parity Provider: when you offer the same thing as everyone else, price becomes the sole differentiator.  Margins shrink as you try to compete and, eventually,  you simply go under. This is what’s happening here.

Twelve bucks for a ticket for two hours, OR twelve bucks for a month of Netflix?

If the movie theaters understood their opportunity to position themselves as a provider of escape, entertainment and respite from the world, this would be a magical ticket — a temporary pass to somewhere else —  that anyone would buy.

They have the opportunity to provide – and capitalize on – something truly unique. But they don’t.

They should. In fact, they must. There really is no alternative.

And when it comes to your business, and your brand, so should you.

What do you provide that’s truly different?  Be honest with yourself: What does your business do that’s the same as what your competitors do?

Once you figure that out, the important question becomes what do you offer that’s different?

What’s the one thing you can identify that you do Best, and that people can’t get anywhere else?

Build on that, and you’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive. And also suddenly discover that you no longer have as much competition as you used to.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

That’s what the Movie Theater Industry needs to do. And pretty much everyone else.

Is Brand Loyalty Dead?

I was reading an article the other day in The Wall Street Journal about how major brands are finding it necessary to raise prices on consumer staples in large part, it seems, to meet profit and earnings goals.  For some reason this is being presented as news though, if you are the type of person who, say, shops for their own food, this is in no way surprising. Or news, actually.

The reality is that prices on consumer goods – despite (questionable?) inflation index reports to the contrary (if you’re getting less for the same or more, isn’t that by-definition, inflated?) – have been going up for the better part of the past three years.  The trick, it seems, has been to change the packaging dimensions and reduce the actual amount of product volume while keeping the price reasonably stable, with only incremental increases.

For example, the concept of “a gallon of bleach’ now seems somewhat nostalgic, if not archaic: things used to come in standard weights and measures like gallons, pints, quarts, liters and the like. As consumers, this was a matter of course, and not worthy of perpetual vigilance.

That is, like so many things, no longer the case.  In fact, if you buy a ‘gallon’ of Clorox bleach now – or really, any name brand – you are looking at not 128 fl. ounces, but instead, 121 fl. ounces.  And, in-step with this, comes the change in copy away from a traditionally defined unit of measure, like gallon, and toward a more subjective and slippery term, like “pack”. Curiously enough, off-brand and generics are still 128 oz, and far less expensive – a point brought up by the WSJ article as a factor with which the big name-brands must now contend. It seems that vigilance is indeed necessary.

The look and feel of the bleach bottle is about what it once was, though upon careful inspection, it’s a little thinner front-to-back, no doubt to keep shelf visibility high and create the illusion of traditional size.  If you use a lot of bleach, that 7 ounces adds up, especially when the prices creep higher.  And if you produce a lot of bleach, that skimming tactic also contributes handily to your company’s bottom line – especially when considered at a massive production scale wherein you essentially give the consumer 3{23224a7f521af97bae50b30e4728840741fbe348559ab868556c0274d88c7331}+ less product for the same price.

Now that this under-the-radar practice has become so commonplace, and repeated so often as to be accepted and made invisible to the average consumer, it appears to be safe for producers to more overtly raise the prices publicly, further exacerbating the value inequity.

And it’s not just Clorox, of course.  It appears to be every single, ‘trusted’ brand out there. Another example? I eat a lot of tuna – Bumblebee Solid White Albacore in water, to be exact. It’s quick, easy (I’m not a millennial and thus can wield a can opener) and has always been of dependably high-quality.  In fact, if you go to their website it was always pretty close to the so-called ‘steaky’ option on the right.

About 6-months ago, that changed. At first I thought I’d gotten a bad batch; the tuna was yellow, watery, chunky and smelled strongly of fish (yes, I know it’s fish, but this wasn’t quite right). It wasn’t bad per se, but much closer to a lower grade of tuna.

The price had already crept up, first in can-size back around 2010 and more recently in actual (net) product — you needed to read the print to realize that the 5 oz. can was not only 4-ounces of actual tuna — but now, it seemed, we were also dealing with additional sleight of hand from the good folks at Bumble Bee; while I didn’t want to believe it, after repeated attempts it became clear that inferior tuna wrapped in a familiar and more premium package was the new norm.

Then, when I discovered THIS, it all became quite clear:

This isn’t just solid white tuna – oh no, this is Prime Fillet!

Ooooh. Take in the majesty of the gold can. The aspirational, pinkies-up font choice of Prime Fillet…. The far higher price.

I cracked open this golden can of wonder and, gasp! It was, as near as I can tell, filled with my old Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water!

Now, I don’t like to think bad things about anyone, especially corporations, which are apparently people, but the evidence would suggest that there was a bait and switcheroo going on here! I don’t know for sure, of course, but as a loyal consumer of Bumblebee Solid White Albacore Tuna – for years, mind you – and presented solely with actual tangible experiential evidence, I dare say the Good Folks at Bumble Bee might be playing games.

And testing my Brand Loyalty.

Is there any reason for Consumers to remain blindly loyal to Brands anymore?

It’s a good question, and as a someone who works with brands for a living, and helps shape the way people think about them, an important one.

From the consumer side, the short answer is no. And that should be frightening to brands, both large and small.  Sure, publicly traded companies have an obligation to their stockholders, but they shouldn’t think only in quarterly terms, and sacrifice consumer trust for shareholder profitability – that’s slow suicide.

It is my experience that, despite a million bits of content to the contrary, your Brand is simply the way people think about you, your product or service.  That’s it – everything else details.  And the details are important, the way that is accomplished and the strategy behind it.

The best thing you can do for your brand is to ensure that people (1) understand what you do, and (2) always have a genuinely positive association with it whenever and wherever they encounter it.  That little, deceptively simple piece of brand-philosophy forms the basis for a Brandphilic™ approach to branding. Brandphilic™ is a process I developed after years of working with brands and figuring out what works universally and consistently. Also, yes the trademark is real – as was the struggle to secure it 😉

Think about this:  if Clorox – a name synonymous with bleach – or Bumble Bee, a Brand similarly associated with tuna – cannot be trusted to deliver on their core value proposition, what does that mean for the strength and value of their brand?

It’s not a good sign. Trust is the key to a strong brand. Consumers are forgiving, but not stupid. And they communicate their approval or disapproval for a Brand and its actions with their pocketbook.

Now, this would normally be the place where, in the past, I might suggest that Brands need to shape up or they will eventually take a beating.  And, yes, that is true, but no, it will not change their behavior — not anymore.

I asked whether Brand Loyalty is Dead and, despite identifying the problems, I believe that we’ve moved into a new era. Bottom line: the corporations no longer care, and are brazenly overt about it.  They are no longer scared of – or really, even beholden to – the consumer, because they’re far more scared of the shareholder, and the potential blowback from missing e.p.s. estimates by a penny.  So they will continue to wring out and wrangle every drop of possible profit.

To the detriment of their customers.  To the detriment of their employees. But ultimately not to their detriment – especially if they are one of the last few conglomerates standing, because they will simply be Too Big to Care.

As I wrote at the end of Cogh and The Machine, we are fast moving into a future which will ultimately see merger and acquisition activity increase: it is a simple matter profitability through economy of size, a matter of their survival and a matter of time.  In the end, there will be a handful corporate behemoths to which we are all beholden – regardless of whether the vast majority of the populace – or perhaps even the government –  likes them or not.

It is a matter of scale, of economics and of – whether we say differently or not –  consumer behavior. Yes, the onus is on us. Every time we buy a product from an Amazon or a Walmart, we are choosing convenience, which is certainly understandable. But we are also voting for a certain future in which only the largest survive, and once the corporations become few and giant and the only choices, then Brand loyalty won’t matter because there ultimately won’t be that many brands left. And if a brand is really a matter of perception, and the brand no longer needs to care about how people think about them, then what?

The question then moves from ‘Is Brand Loyalty Dead’ to  “Does Brand Loyalty Even Matter?”

And in that future, the answer is still no.

The Good News? Please? Anyone?

That future has not been written yet. It’s still a 2-way street where the consumer can — and does — strongly impact the behavior of the corporations and businesses they choose to have a relationship with.  And the better news is that that somewhat apocalyptic economic scenario need not happen – but mindfulness is key.

Voice is powerful.  Action is necessary. And your Choices matter.

To passively accept the increasingly unacceptable behavior of many – though to be fair, not all — corporate entities is to allow this behavior to continue. Even encourage it. In an age where most people are treading water financially, it’s difficult to make the hard choice. But if you look downstream, and see where the path may lead, it becomes necessary to step back for just a moment and say Enough! And say it loudly, and rationally – don’t just scream, because no one wants to hear that.

And vote with your wallet, and encourage your friends to do likewise.

Perhaps then those Brands That Listen, when they respond appropriately to that particular line of financial reasoning, will have earned your Loyalty and it will begin to Matter once again.

Here’s to optimism, choice, discourse and dialogue in a world that sorely needs it – cheers!






How To Fix Everything

Ever interrogate a 4-year old? If you’re a parent, you probably have — and usually after something has mysteriously become broken while you weren’t there.  The routine is always the same: there’s a little watery-eyed shrug (which almost always effectively turns your heart into a puddle), and then the magic words:

“It just happened.”

The thing is, that wasn’t true then, and it’s equally never true for adults.

Which is to say, there’s a cause behind every effect, but we spend too much time reacting to the effect than we do unraveling the actual cause.

For example, let’s say I come up with a new tagline for a client’s brand.  Now, I don’t just reach into my magic bucket of words and crank these things out, hoping something will stick. Nope, instead coming up with a tagline is mid-stream in the process; I’ve already spent lots of time unearthing their USP, developing a strategy and we’ve worked through the process to come to an agreement on direction and how best to present their brand over the long term.  The tagline needs to capture and convey all of that, so once the initial legwork’s done, it’s my job to do just that.

So when, on those rare occasions, a client comes back post-presentation and says it doesn’t work for them, well, the 4-year old in my wants to stamp my foot and say ‘No! You’re wrong! I’m right! And I’m taking my toys and going home!”.

As a strategist, I’ll let you in on a little secret: That’s NOT a good strategy.

But as an experienced adult, I also know that it’s time for me to respond, rather than react. And also to recognize that this didn’t ‘just happen’. There was, somewhere during the process, a miscommunication, or misinterpretation, where something didn’t quite click.

In short, there’s a cause for the effect.

I know this seems like common sense but, again, often times we seem to try and fix the effect, rather than the cause.

If your car stalls, it didn’t just happen. 9/11 didn’t just happen. If the stock market tanks, it didn’t just happen. If you’re significant other packs up and leaves you nothing more than a hastily written note, it didn’t just happen.

The good thing is, if we can just remember to just take a single breath when whatever happens happens, and remember that we have a breadcrumb trail back to the source, we can fix pretty much everything.  Which makes life less scary and hopeless.

And one final thought: good things don’t just happen either, so try and unravel what’s going right, understand that cause, multiply as needed, and enjoy the effect.


Why Peas + Potatoes = Progress

When I was a kid, I hated peas. Absolutely hated them.  But when I was a kid, it was maybe a different time – at least in our household.  There was no “Well, what would little num num like instead?”.  Nope. If it was on your plate, you ate it. Period.

Which, for a pea-hater, was tricky.  Eventually, in order to actually leave the dinner table and get on with my life, I learned a trick: mix the dreaded peas into the mashed potatoes (which I happened to like), and maybe throw in a drop of ketchup on the tough days.

That way I could get my peas down without evening realizing it, because I liked what was around them. Plus I got to get up from my table, and my parents were, well, reasonably happy.

Everyone’s got both peas and potatoes in their life. For example, I don’t like the tedium of doing media plans for clients, but if I want to get their message in front of the right people, it’s a necessary evil. My peas, if you will.

But I do like strategy, and I love to write.  Those are my potatoes.

When I do a media plan, I do both, but focus on the parts I like more than the ones I don’t.  That way, the work gets done, my clients are happy and, in the long run, I get to choose what I want to eat.

Which is still, typically, not peas.

But they’re growing on me 😉

Ever Want to Start Over?

Sure you do.  Most people do — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when done for the right reasons, it can be a sign of growth.  Here’s the thing: if you think you’ve reached your limit in the old, and want to move on to the new, to that place where you can be the next best version of yourself, then starting over doesn’t always mean starting from scratch.  Sometimes it just means recognizing that you need to be a ruthless editor — of your life.  And editing starts with getting rid of some things so you can make room for better ones.  And maybe in the process, you also discover that some of those things you were holding on to so tightly were also holding on to you.

Maybe holding you back.  From the new. And the better.

All of which is to say if you’ve arrived here expecting to see my old blog, well, I dumped it.  All of it (though I did back it up – you know, just in case).

And if you’re seeing this message, know this: it’s temporary.  Like everything else, really. Change is always happening, but when you step back and take a look and realize it and then embrace it, well, that can be liberating.

Long story short-ish, I’m restarting the whole thing. Building out a new blog about 3 topics: Branding, Creativity and Life.

For me, that’s enough categories and pretty much capture everything I do as a writer, brand communications strategist, author, creative, human, husband and father.

Much of what I do is driven by a desire to help people.  These days, most of the work I do is by referral and usually involves figuring out what’s broken and finding ways to fix it.  I unearth brands and shape the way people understand and think about businesses. I write about things that matter and do my best to make a difference whether it’s profitable or not because, in the long run, people count a whole lot more than profit.

Which means if there’s something you need help with, feel free to reach out to me directly and I’ll do my best to help, because we need more of that these days.

About the blog? It’ll be a work in progress, pretty much like life. It’ll mostly stick to those three categories, and hopefully will provide you with some value and a little entertainment along the way.

And thanks for playing along 😉