Mapping the U.S. By Its Brands

To extend the metaphor “you are what you eat,” in the U.S. it’s fair to say “we are what we buy.” You can tell a lot about an area based on how consumers behave and that includes the brands that they buy in to.

Direct Capital thought the same thing and decided to break out the biggest brands by state, based on a Google-sourced popularity contest. The results make for an interesting, albeit debatable visual of the country’s most loved (and sometimes loathed) brands:

Top brands by state 2014

Top Brands by State | Image Credit: Direct Capital

A few points to note: this was a graphic built on the number of Google searches for a brand in any given state, which also brings in people looking for work at those companies and all kinds of other informational actions that don’t necessarily indicate popularity.

It’s also where many of the brands have major offices or headquarters, such as Target in Minnesota or Heinz in Pennsylvania, so this could just be people looking for directions!

Even so, the brand map provides an interesting snapshot of regional preferences, from the brewers in Wisconsin to the West coast’s tech head domination. For a closer look at other brands that almost made the grade across various states, you can read the full results here.

So, did your state’s results make you proud or simply make you squirm? 


Brand Values Make Dr Dre the Undisputed King of Hip Hop

A little over ten years ago, Eminem jokingly rapped that his peers “act like they forgot about Dre.” Even with his tongue planted firmly in cheek, he couldn’t possibly have imagined quite the level of domination that his veteran colleague would go on to achieve as the decade progressed.

That’s according to this hip hop-oriented version of the many Forbes rich lists that do the rounds from time to time, which shows the man otherwise known as Andre Young as the undisputed king of the genre’s highest earners.

Forbes’ Top Ten Biggest Names in Hip Hop 

Dr Dre with Beats headphones

Image Credit: Zennie Abraham

1. Dr. Dre – $620 million
2. Jay Z – $60 million
2/3. Diddy – $60 million
4. Drake – $33 million
5. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – $32 million
6. Kanye West – $30 million
7. Birdman – $24 million
8. Lil Wayne – $23 million
9. Pharrell Williams – $22 million
10. Eminem – $18 million

Stunningly – or perhaps not surprising at all if you watch the stock market and understand his relationship with Apple - Dr Dre alone is worth more than twice as much as the rest of these household names. Even with the star couple status of Beyonce alongside Jay Z, or the contemporary TV appeal of Pharrell, none comes close to touching hip hop’s most established artist.

This says a lot about the appeal of brand partnerships and the lucrative potential they bring for music makers. On the flip side, the brand gains an otherwise elusive level of credibility that often holds equal value in terms of reaching their target market.

For all the talk of money flowing out of the music industry, the right hook up with a brand name is clearly a powerful strategy to bring those dollars back.

Among All the Hype, Don’t Overlook Apple Pay

Apple Pay logoYesterday’s big Apple event was a big deal for many reasons, as one of the world’s biggest brands seeks to claw back its top spot from Google and other competing companies. 

But for all the hype and hoopla around the Apple Watch (née: iWatch) and the iPhone 6, it could be a far less trumpeted announcement that brings Apple’s brand back to the forefront: Apple Pay.

Many services have tried to dominate the mobile payment space. Google Wallet had big name partners like American Eagle and Subway, yet has so far failed to capture the interest of Android users. And despite PayPal and Square being two of the best-known names in the online payment space, a lack of major partnerships has hampered growth of the services as mobile payment providers. 

But even with all this competition, no brand is as well placed as Apple to finally take the digital wallet mainstream.

It has potentially millions of accounts (and their payment cards) already on file after a decade of first iTunes and then its app store drawing in digital consumers. Apple is likely to skim a small percentage off the top of every sale, which starts out as small change but could quickly accelerate to an exciting new revenue stream if the company snags a significant portion of what will be an estimated $100 billion industry (Forrester Research) before the decade is out.

And with other big brand names like Whole Foods Market, McDonalds, Walgreens and Disney already on its side, enough high-spending iPhone owners should be convinced to make the jump, which in turn will drive more merchants to do the same. 

Apple Pay Partner Brands

Worries over fees are a concern, as is security following the iCloud scandal that recently reignited interest in the online privacy debate, so Apple Pay has some challenges before it can become a major player in mobile payments. But as we so often see, convenience tends to trump all other concerns when it comes to mobile technology.

Paired with an Apple Watch and/or an iPhone, Apple Pay could well have what it takes to convince consumers to leave their bulky old wallets and purses at home, freeing up space in their pockets at the same time as they line those of Apple.

#WinWednesday: TD Bank Takes Time Out for Customer Appreciation

Whatever you think of the banking industry, it’s easy to agree that banks are rarely at the front of the line when it comes to customer service or creating a positive image.

From long lines and indiscriminate fees to just plain old distrust of financial folks, bank brands can be tough to trumpet. So TD Bank has done particularly well to capture enough attention and goodwill to be our first #WinWednesday, the positive note ahead of the inevitable fallout of our #FridayFail.

As the video below shows, the bank took time out to have a customer appreciation day, with ATMs – Automated “Thanking” Machines – dispensing personal gifts to some of those who bank with them and editing everything together in one tear-jerking viral montage.

That video is heading up to 8 million views in less than one week, driven in no small part by a Buzzfeed article on the subject that pulled in more than one million readers. Trending its way to the top of Facebook and Twitter topics, all of this attention is great brand building stuff, especially when so much of the surrounding  news  reports suffering and war.

Whether you see it as an excellent example of a company giving back, or a cynical attempt to curry favor (yes, some just couldn’t get into the giving spirit) with a skeptical public, the result is the same: plenty of positive press for TD Bank and a home run for this week’s #WinWednesday brand!

Comcast Kills Customer Service (and Its Merger With TWC?)

customer service signIt seems strange that we still need to say this in 2014, but here goes: thanks to social media, any customer complaint can go viral.

That’s right, customers not only have a voice online, they have a potential loud hailer. And if you don’t hear them early in the complaint process – or worse still, you frustrate them even more – things can quickly escalate from customer service issue to PR disaster.

Comcast found that out this week, thanks to an unbelievably dense employee who was caught blocking a customer’s desperate attempt to cancel his Internet service. Unfortunately for the rep and the brand, the caller recorded a full xx minutes of this argumentative attempt at “service,” which is embedded below for your listening misery.

In the wake of the call going viral, the audio has not only been heard more than 4.9 million times, it’s also headline news for every media outlet with a passing interest in tech and big business (which is most of them!)

And even more than the media fallout, this comes at a time when Comcast is trying to convince regulators that its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is a good idea that will benefit customers. Obviously the media has taken the two stories and combined them into one glorious headline-making advertisement against that idea, the repercussions of which will be enormous if it sways the FCC’s decision.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable logos

Customer service lines have had a terrible reputation for decades, but the worst examples have remained contained. No longer. Every smartphone is a ready-made recording device, complete with instantaneous sharing capability.

Comcast learned that the hard way this week. Other brands would be well advised to take heed and redouble customer service training to ram home the worst case scenario to employees.

Money Talks: Brands Send Mixed Message on Paid Social Media

Like-Dislike Thumbs - FacebookIt all started with Mark Cuban.

Since the marketing and media-savvy owner of the Dallas Mavericks  spoke out about Facebook’s business model 18 months ago, the blow-back  has come  faster and more critical for the world’s largest social media platform.

Not least of this criticism was the reaction to a widely-shared study on limited organic reach, conducted by Ignite Media late last year, which showed a 44% drop in the natural reach of page posts within just one week of Facebook’s December algorithm change.

Clearly the company is pushing brands towards paid reach, a path that it , and many anticipated a major push back against Facebook this year. The reality seems to reject that hypothesis.

Advertisers Embrace Paid Social Reach… Slowly

What’s actually happening is a cautious embrace of social media advertising across the board, with Facebook suffering only a slightly larger pullback than its main rivals.

Research from Ad Age shows that almost half of the brand advertisers surveyed will “modestly increase” their social media ad spend on Facebook this year, with only a 5% gap between those who say they will do the same on Twitter.

And when it comes to major increase in paid social Facebook wins out by a percentage point, with 11% of those asked planning a significant increase. With decreases in budget at roughly the same level as those major increases, it’s clear that few brand advertisers have found the gumption to shift their annual spend away from social, especially when it comes to the anticipated flow away from Facebook.

The End of Free Reach

For brand pages at least, it appears that the party is over when it comes to uninhibited access to Facebook fans.

Even though these users have ‘liked’ the page willingly, there’s only so much space in a News Feed and Facebook is adjusting its algorithm to surface only the most engaging content. At least that’s the public-facing explanation, while behind closed doors the company is now answerable to shareholders and must prove its revenue growth since going public two years ago.

Either way the upshot is the same, brands who want to expand their reach must either be the most skilled content marketers on the planet, or pay for the privilege. 

To break through that noise in future, more and more brands are going to have to up their social media budget.

And despite a lot of early grumbling as the transition has gathered pace, it seems that in the long term advertisers are going to accept the need to pay for attention on social media, as they would any other marketing channel.

Friday Fails: Twitter is Not #OzApproved for TV Doc

Dr. Oz may be one of daytime TV’s most ratings-approved medical advisors, but it’s unlikely he approves of the submissions to his latest Twitter campaign.

Clearly hoping to start a healthy new Twitter trend with his #OzApproved hashtag, in asking viewers to submit suggestions for food that would qualify the good doctor struck a nerve with those who don’t care for his style of medicine.

Consider some of the submissions so far:

Dr. Oz hashtag fail

From junk food to mystery meat and snake oil to magic beans, the suggestions as to just what Oz might approve came thick and fast. That last one in particular may be a painful observation for Dr. Oz, who came recently came under fire from TV satirist John Oliver for his hawking of “magic” pills and nutrition supplements without legitimate scientific backing.

Mehmet Oz

Image Credit: Wikipedia

The famous doctor – real name Mehmet C. Oz – has a longstanding, self-titled show on daytime television,  and this week appeared before a Senate Subcommittee charged with investigating false claims by weight loss products. Having associated his program with such products, Oz is already facing a backlash and social media is always a place to pour fuel on that type of fire.

So fair warning: if your brand is in the public eye for the wrong reasons at any given point, it’s probably not the best time to ask for opinions!