Macy's and Martha: Managing an Awkward Brand Moment

May 29 2013

By now, most of you members of the shopping public are aware of the contentious court battle between Macy's and J.C. Penney over Martha Stewart's Home Collection. Now, Martha has a long history of selling different products and product categories with retailers other than Macy's. She produces a line of carpets for FLOR, a number of furniture collections with Bernhardt, sold a lower-end line of paint and linens with K-Mart, and sells home office products through Staple's. It was only the J.C. Penney deal that would have infringed on Macy's, in which J.C. Penney was hoping to sell kitchen, bedroom and bath goods that would compete directly with Macy's. Martha's Home Collection is the anchor of "The Cellar" at Macy's, where the retailer offers up all of its tabletop, cookware and home goods from a variety of vendors. Martha's products are an essential draw that brings customers into this department nationwide. 

So, what was Martha thinking? Did she think that Macy's needed her so badly that they would simply accept her actions? I don't know, but I would imagine that J.C. Penney's was offering a better cut of the profits, important as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's earnings are down. None the less, Martha has a history of making some strange choices. Who knows the psychology behind her self-destructive moves, (remember the insider trading conviction, and the ankle bracelet, which are hard to forget)? She has had such an enormous influence over late twentieth sensibilities, home aesthetics, and how we live that one would think that she could rest secure in her enduring legacy, but that doesn't seem to be part of her emotional make-up and drive. She also seems unable to understand that her actions create reactions. Did she actually think that Macy's would roll over?


                                               Macy's Martha Stuart Collection direct mail

Ultimately, Macy's has won the Martha battle, and has handled the crisis in an interesting way. The whole court battle played out in the media, and was never a crisis that was acknowledged or communicated directly between Macy's and their customers. It was simply not addressed, and played out in the background. Now that the issue is resolved, Macy's has handled the win in a graceful way. Hence, the direct mail piece that arrived last week. It doesn't say, "Martha's still here," or "Martha's back." It merely reminds you to come and shop Martha's Home Collection at Macy's; with Martha herself featured front and center on the piece. Very classy brand management, I must say.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The fate of Brooklyn’s Great GoogaMooga: A food festival not in the making

May 22 2013

        Image via

After what was reviewed by many as an event failure last year, the 2nd annual Great GoogaMooga festival took place in Prospect Park in Brooklyn this past weekend with promises of several improvements meant to alleviate many of last year’s problems. While promoter Superfly was not at fault for the rain that caused the cancellation of Sunday’s programming, the fact that the event was not called off until hundreds of people were already in line and waiting to enter was frustrating for attendees and vendors alike. The one hundred-plus food and restaurant vendors were left “holding the bag,” with their already prepared foods and lots of it, after preparing additional offerings rather than running out of food as they did quickly during GoogaMooga’s first year. The vendors immediately put out a ‘cry for help’ in New York Magazine by mid-day Sunday (check out the power of social media here), collectively asking the public to patronize their restaurants instead, as their booths had been washed out. The management’s gross incompetence and level of brand mismanagement will hurt the future of GoogaMooga. 

On the other hand, Williamsburg’s weekly Smorgasburg Food Festival has been very successful, offering a variety of local treats in an outdoor setting. Although the food is expensive and lines are long for the most popular offerings, people are willing to pay for the overall experience—unique, artisan, locavore eats in a fun, sunny weekend setting. They do lots of things right, and establishing a sense of community is one of them. Smorgasburg began as an offshoot of the popular outdoor weekly market The Brooklyn Flea, and has expanded in an organic way, rather than starting big. People have watched Smorgasburg grow, and are committed to supporting the local New York based food artisans.

Ultimately, the problem with GoogaMooga is that the promoter failed to fulfill the brand promise, and didn’t come close to delivering what they had committed to, with a resulting damage in brand identity and equity. In its first year, attendees faced food and drink shortages, overcrowding, and frustratingly long lines. In its second year, GoogaMooga put its consumers last, and they felt it. 


Tags: , , , , ,

Art, Photography, and Life at the Palm Springs Photo Festival 2013

May 15 2013

This year's Palm Springs Photo Festival was a blast. In addition to giving my talk on branding (kindly attended by photographers and a posse of wonderful artist representatives), we also went to a few amazing symposiums. I had the opportunity to learn even more about the museum aspect of the fine art market from an illustrious panel of experts, and to meet and review portfolios for some incredibly creative and talented photographers from all parts of the world.

Thanks, Jeff Dunas! You guys do a great job! Oh, and we saw an amazing Roger Ballen show at the divine mid-century Palm Springs Museum of Art. He is obsessed with birds. Me, too! Check the show out here.

           Photograph by Roger Ballen, Gasping 2010, Palm Springs Art Museum

Tags: , , , , ,

Why We Love FedEx

May 09 2013

Two days before the Vancouver, Canada leg of my 3-week, 5-city trip last month I realized that I had forgotten my passport in New York. I was in San Francisco, and needed it to be overnighted to me before leaving for my flight. My passport made it to a FedEx location in New York before the end-of-day cutoff, and just as FedEx promised, arrived at my San Francisco hotel at 8:30AM the following morning on the dot. FedEx made me a promise, and delivered. You just don't get the same feeling of confidence from any other carrier.

Just like Q-Tip and Kleenex are synonymous with cotton swabs and tissues, FedEx is synonymous with fast, assured delivery. When a company is synonymous with a category, it is considered in the branding world to be a coined term. When we sneeze, we ask for a Kleenex, because they are the brand that defines the category.

FedEx has successfully built a credible, sustainable brand with very few blips over the years. When they do make a misstep (as everyone does), and our package gets stuck in Nashville or New Orleans, we're so upset that we vow never to use their service again. But, ultimately, we return to them, because we know that they are fast, reliable, and (almost always) on time. 

Thank you, Fedex. Vancouver was beautiful!

          image via

Tags: ,