Also: A bevy of helpful, focused meetings to consider; servant leadership explained; and Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross on mergers
What's in a name? Clearly not a brand identity, if Budweiser beer is correct.
We've been told that a logo is not a brand. But Budweiser has gone a step further by temporarily jettisoning its name and calling itself America to ride the blue-collar political bandwagon that has shaken up the United States.
Seems odd, if not dumb. But on his blog, Bryant University Management Professor Michael Roberto ( says he doesn't feel the crucial issue of recognizing the beer on the shelf will be a problem since the company has kept its iconic motif, simply substituting the new name in the familiar font.
Surprisingly, the gambit of alias marketing is not novel. Vegemite, in 2012, took a similar rebranding tack, Emily Contois, a Brown University PhD student in American Studies notes on her blog. The tactic went awry then for reasons that might give Budweiser executives cause to be wary.
Vegemite isn't well known in North America but she stresses that the salty, savoury spread arguably is an Australian food icon so powerful and recognizable that it can and does stand in for the nation in both national and international contexts. She wonders whether Budweiser holds equivalent status in the United States and abroad?
Press coverage in Australia was actually feeble but not consumer reaction. There was fury over the contradiction that Vegemite had been bought by American company Kraft, which itself had been owned by Altria Group Inc., a tobacco company better known by its prior name Phillip Morris. Of course, Budweiser risks inflaming similar sentiments since the beer wanting to be America is owned by InBev, based in Belgium and Brazil.
Donald Trump's insurgency in the Republican presidential primaries has tapped into a sense of patriotism among blue-collar workers, who happen to be Budweiser's prime audience. Prof. Roberto points out the brand has been losing market share for more than 25 years as younger drinkers increasingly opt for pale ales and cocktails over the King of Beers. Also, craft beers – the Barack Obama-Hilary Clinton-elitist alternative – have been making great inroads. So this is a call to arms for true beer drinkers. Make America Great Again by your choice of beer.
That appeal didn't fare too well with marketer Joseph Anthony, chief executive officer of Hero Group. "There were few aspects of society that had seemed immune from the binary and partisan political climate of 2016. Thanks to Budweiser, we can now cross beer off that increasingly small list."
Ms. Contois observes that the attempt to take advantage of patriotic connections with "Australia" Vegemite came at a moment when those appeared to be fading. Juan Sanin Santamaria, a lecturer in Australian studies at RMIT University, predicted the imminent decline of Vegemite's symbolic power as Australia further integrates with Asia politically, economically and culturally.
"And so perhaps this summer is not going be the most American of a generation, but one whose Americanness is the most uncertain in a generation," Ms. Contois said. "It's a season when the likes of Budweiser and Donald Trump encapsulate the anxieties and hopes for what our future might hold."
Prof. Roberto wonders about how the rebranding will play out on social media: "Could the campaign shift in unexpected directions, particularly as an incredibly unpredictable and perhaps tumultuous U.S. election campaign unfolds? The rebranding is a bold effort to jump-start a slumping brand, but it does have some potential risks. Executives might feel that they have no choice. Miller's core brand was once Miller High Life. Look what happened to that once iconic brand."
Target Marketing magazine associate content editor Taylor Knight says that despite the initial social media backlash, the rebranding gets people talking about the beer again. That's welcome free marketing.
It also might win back core customers. She points to a Mindset Media study a few years ago that found Budweiser drinkers are 42 per cent more likely to drive a truck than the average person. "The study also concludes that Bud drinkers are emotionally steady, practical and aren't too keen on authority. Isn't that what everyone thinks of when they think of the stereotypical Budweiser drinker? A middle-class, truck-driving, patriotic, union worker?" she writes.
And while much has been made of the Trump election connection, she also notes this is an Olympic year, when patriotism inevitably gets stoked. It's a timely year for a beer called America.
University of Maryland Professor Joydeep Srivastava compares this effort to when Coca-Cola shipped Coke to all the soldiers during the Second World War. It became synonymous with home and America. Colleague Mary Harms calls the visual execution of the campaign masterful: Besides writing America in the same script as Budweiser, other details reinforce the patriotic message in a playful way while keeping to the brand's previous image and colours. The "King of Beers" tag line was changed to "E Pluribus Unum," and "AB," the Anheuser-Busch initials atop the can, has been changed to "US."
"Their logo is such an icon and has such rich history. A lesser-known beer might not have the same effect," she says.
But just as there are Democrats and Republicans, there are craft beer drinkers and mainstream beer drinkers. And just as Mr. Trump hasn't been appealing to many Democrats, the University of Maryland's William Rand feels the gambit "will primarily appeal to those who drink Budweiser and other mainstream beers, and will probably do well in that market. But it will fail to expand Budweiser's market share among craft beer drinkers."
We'll know more, of course, about the time the ballots are counted.
2. The value of single-issue meetings
Alberta consultant Mike Kerr says that instead of trying to cram a myriad of issues into one meeting we should keep sessions to one issue. From his newsletter, here are a few suggestions, in his typically offbeat style:
– Daily team huddles: Use these to improve communication and strengthen your corporate culture. The drill: No chairs, short and sweet.
– Oops meetings: He points to Swedish software company Centiro Solutions, which has a "failure club" that holds humorous meetings at which individuals share their mistakes and what they learned. By making the meetings fun, people feel comfortable admitting goofs.
– Best practices meetings: Try some best practices meetings focused on various topics, from reducing stress at work to up-selling to clients.
– Chat 'n' chew meetings: Beryl Health holds monthly "Chat 'n' chew" meetings at which employees can eat with senior managers and ask any questions they like or share any idea or concerns.
– Culture club meetings: Given the importance of corporate culture, why not focus on it? Hold dedicated meetings where you encourage honest conversations around what's working and what's not working with your culture.
– Reverse meetings: One of his clients holds meetings where the newest team members create the agenda and facilitate the meeting. "It gives new employees experience at facilitating meetings, and the meetings generate a completely fresh perspective on the workplace," he notes.
– Whine and cheese meetings: Serve cheese and give everyone the opportunity to whine about something that's not working for them at work, but in a funny exaggerated way that makes it safe. "For every whine, come up with at least two solutions so you can bottle the whine," he says.
– The possibilities are limitless meetings: Every quarter or half a year hold a meeting where you only brainstorm future ideas and possibilities for your organization.
– Team strengthening meetings: Focus on how your team is working as a team. Agree to one thing everyone needs to start doing, one thing you need to do better, and one thing everyone needs to stop doing.
3. Quick hits
– Leadership guru Ken Blanchard feels we can all learn from his daughter's experience at Nordstrom. She confided she had a strange boss: "At least two or three times a day he comes to me and asks if there is anything he can do to help me. He acts like he works for me." Mr. Blanchard calls it a model of effective servant leadership.
– Over their tenure, as they push to be more successful, the definition of success evolves for chief executive officers, says executive search consultant Terry Gallagher.
– Which is better, somebody who achieves excellence because he is a natural at an activity or somebody who works hard to become better and better, overcoming adversity? Researchers Scott Barry Kaufman and Chia-Jung Tsay say studies show we believe it's better to be a striver but actually favour naturals, a bias we might want to minimize.
– In mergers and acquisitions, expect your employees to go through the famed stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. To avoid the dip in engagement accompanying those emotions, consultant Cord Himelstein recommends involving employees in decision-making, increasing rewards for personal sacrifice and above-and-beyond performance, and ensuring any new employee duties come with proper training.
– When your boss applauds you for some action, don't use that moment of recognition as a soapbox to address deficiencies or to ask for other support. Airing any grievances takes away from the experience, consultant Jeff Birk says.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter