Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Research Must Precede Strategy

Marketing research must precede brand strategy -- period. The best strategies are based on extensive research. Qualitative research can provide insights regarding beliefs, values, attitudes, hopes, fears, anxieties, dreams and other core motivations. It can also help you understand how the category is perceived and how each of the brands in the category are perceived. Customer segmentation studies can help you dimensionalise your market and discover the most lucrative customer segments for your brand. Brand positioning research can help you understand what your brand stands for and whether and to whom that matters. It can also help you discover competitors' vulnerabilities and brand positioning gaps and opportunities. There is also brand equity research, brand asset mapping, brand extension studies, logo research, advertising effectiveness studies, and more. 

I have successfully crafted strategy for more than 200 well-known brands. From that experience, I can tell you that there is a direct correlation between the quality of a brand's strategy and the amount and quality of research that preceded it. It's that simple. Sometimes clients want me to help them craft the strategy without the research. That is a mistake. So, consider this to be an admonition from a veteran of the process. 

For a complete course on brand research, follow this LINK

Anatomy of a Marketing Plan


A marketing plan is a request for funds in return for a promised level of incremental revenues, unit sales, market share or profits. One can develop marketing plans for products, services, market segments or brands. The critical components of a marketing plan includes the following:

  • Summary
  • Objectives (attract new consumers, create new uses, increase share of requirements, incent trial, encourage repeat purchase, encourage add-on purchase, increase awareness, increase loyalty, change value perception, increase emotional bond, extend into new product and service categories, etc.)
  • Situation Analysis
  • Market analysis
  • Competitive context
  • Customer profile (segments, needs, attitudes, behaviors, insights, etc.)
  • Strategies and tactics (touching upon all key marketing components that will be used: product, packaging, pricing, distribution, advertising, publicity, sales promotion, social media, selling, etc.). Be specific.
  • Operations considerations (impact on plant capacity, need for new assets, etc.)
  • Financial projections
  • Pro forma profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cash flows, etc.
  • Including funds required to execute plan
  • Supporting customer research (qualitative research, concept testing, volumetric modeling, market test results, etc.)
  • Risks and contingency plans

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Brands & Browser Functionality


I normally do not post about something as tactical as this, but it has a huge impact on brand perception. Recently, as I have been approached by companies trying to sell me their services, I have found several of them do not have websites that work on my Safari browser. Logins don't work. Navigation does not work. Text is overlapped. I try my Firefox browser. The same result. DuckDuckGo. The same result. I approach them about this. They tell me their website works best (no, only works) on a Google Chrome browser. But I work from a MacBook Air and an iPhone. I do not want to load yet another browser on both devices. And, just in case you are wondering, I have the latest versions of the browsers that I do use, so it is not that.

How can I perceive a company to be professional and worthy of doing business with if its website does not work using common browsers. It gets worse. There are companies whose websites are not set up to work well on mobile devices. Most online platforms and web development tools make it easy to create mobile-friendly versions of websites. It is not rocket science. 

Don't even try to solicit business if your website doesn't work using common browsers or mobile devices. You will waste the potential customer's time and you will create a very negative brand perception. How can companies think this is acceptable in today's world?

If you outsource development and maintenance of your website (which most companies do), make sure the website is compatible with all major browsers and mobile devices. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Do you know how non-customers perceive your brand?

To be efficient in marketing spending, brands usually focus on their best customers first and then on their other customers. Typical objectives are to increase their customers' individual average transactions (IAT), spending and share of wallet. They often also want to increase customer loyalty. Less often, brands allocate marketing resources to communicating with potential customers, especially if one of their top objectives is to increase their base. Sales-driven organizations sometimes error on the side of bringing in new customers at the expense of constantly earning the loyalty of current customers, but this is an expensive proposition and one that is difficult to sustain in the long-run.

But I am increasingly witnessing this problem among brands. They know how to speak to their current customers well but they have not invested enough in understanding how to speak to non-customers. This is especially problematic if the non-customers are potential customers or if their current customer base is shrinking. These organizations become insular, only interacting with current customers and only understanding how current customers perceive them. Often, they only communicate through customer-specific channels and publications, failing to communicate or influence the brand narrative in other forums. Further, they do not invest in marketing research focused on non-customers who could become customers. Because of this, they really don't understand why those people have not become customers. 

I have found that some of the deepest insights come from non-customers and former customers. If you understand how they perceive your brand you can better position your brand to retain current customers and attract new ones. 

Don't make the mistake of understanding and communicating only with those who are closest to your brand. Don't become an organizational echo chamber. Much can be learned from understanding and communicating with those who are not part of your brand's family but who could be if you tried to better understand their concerns, needs and perceptions.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Dick's New Destination Store


A 17,000 square-foot turf field is adjacent to the Dick's new 100,000 square-foot Eastview Mall store. 


I am happy to write about something happening in my neighborhood. Dick's has decided to erect its first destination store concept at my local mall, Eastview Mall in Victor, New York (a suburb of Rochester, NY).

As malls and retailers are struggling with how to pivot as more and more product sales are conducted online, Dick's has decided to explore the path of offering substantially enhanced customer experiences as a part of its retail brand.

This will not be your typical sporting goods store. The concept is to merge product with service, experience and community building. Imagine a place that offers a turf field by summer, an ice-skating rink by winter and a running track and rock climbing wall all year-round. Imagine workshops and training sessions for athletes of every type and all ages. Imagine team practices at the store. Imagine advice on how to create your own home gym. And imagine a juice bar, movie nights and birthday parties as a part of the concept. Every department within the store will have an experience element built in. 

And, as another example of its community-building, this Dick's store will conduct a community contest to name the field. 

This should begin to give you an idea of how brick-and-mortar retailers must evolve to compete with the convenience and cost-savings of online product sales. 

Successful brands have always focused on emotional and experiential customer benefits over functional benefits. And the most successful brands have created a sense of community based on shared values. They have become the home for tribes of like-minded individuals. And retail brands that follow this path have become destinations.

While elements of this have been tried by retailers before, this is a first for a pure sporting goods store. For instance, several sporting goods stores have featured rock climbing walls. Orvis offers classes on fly tying, casting and other fly-fishing skills. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World format has indoor ponds, fish aquariums, restaurants and archery ranges and teaches classes on everything from fly fishing, dutch oven cooking and archery to hunting and GPS navigation. Its largest store, Bass Pro Shops Pyramid in Memphis, TN is housed within a 321 foot (32 story) high pyramid structure. 

And looking further afield, consider the Build-a-Bear Workshop brand, which creates a complete experience around customizing one's own teddy bear. Or the Rochester-based grocery store brand, Wegmans, which grows stronger and stronger every year by constantly creating and innovating new customer experiences within their stores. 

I am looking forward to how this concept evolves, what will work and what will not work as well, what will be added and what will go away. But, rest assured, I think Dick's is on to something. This is the only way brick-and-mortar retail will thrive well into the next decade.



H-E-B Brand the Big Winner in the Texas Energy Outage



People often are fond of their local grocery store chains. H-E-B is no exception. During Texas' recent winter storm and energy outage, H-E-B became even more beloved as it proactively helped the people of Texas in several different ways. When a busy H-E-B store in Leander, TX lost power, the store's staff let shoppers take their goods home with them without paying. H-E-B employees also handed out flowers to customers waiting outside in line. H-E-B donated $1 million of food to 18 food banks throughout the state. And it provided thirteen truckloads of water to the City of San Angelo to distribute to those still under active "do not use" water restrictions.  It also cut power to non-essential parts of its business to help preserve the energy grid in Texas.

H-E-B has focused on community support in other ways as well.  It created a donation campaign in its stores and online to help support "Feed Texas." And it delivered more than 80,000 "Meal Simple" meals to hospitals throughout the state. Some of this was an extension of what H-E-B was already doing to support Texans throughout the pandemic and even before then. 

Stephen Harrigan, and novelist and journalist from Austin was quoted as saying, "It's like H-E-B is the moral center of Texas." The business editor of the San Antonio Express-News wrote, "We'd all be better off if H-E-B took over the Texas power grid." And it is very telling that Texans have worn t-shirts that say, "H-E-B for President."

Admittedly, much of H-E-B's disaster responsiveness has to do with its logistical prowess. In fact, H-E-B's effectiveness in this area reinforces the Texan notion of no nonsense, get-it-done competence and hard work. In that way, H-E-B's values align well with Texans' values, creating even more emotional connection between the brand and its customers. 

H-E-B's community contributions over time, throughout the pandemic and during the most recent winter storm and energy outage crisis have reinforced its reputation as a local business that cares about the people of Texas and that can be relied on to look out for Texans' needs and their well-being, especially during crises. 

All of this has led not only to increased goodwill and brand loyalty, but also to a huge amount of free publicity and word of mouth "buzz" throughout the state of Texas and the USA. Other brands would do well to take notes on what H-E-B has done and continues to do for people in the communities that it serves. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Global Competition & The Increased Importance of Carefully Crafted Messaging


Mobility and communication have increased substantially since the dawn of inexpensive air travel and the Internet. Historically, competition was mostly local or regional, but with every breakthrough in transportation and communication technology, every business is increasingly competing with every other similar business across the globe. 

Companies that used to pay hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for a well thought through brand identity system, are now seeking out smaller agencies from smaller local markets that can do the same work for a fraction of the cost. And if a logo is all that one wants for one's business, many price-sensitive organizations are turning to graphic designers in countries where wages are so low that they can get a new logo for $200 or less. 

In the twenty-two years that I have successfully positioned brands for my clients, more and more product and service categories have become mature and overcrowded with too many brands saying (and doing) exactly the same things. Unless an organization pursues leading-edge innovation, disruptive technologies, "category killer" business models or other radical out-of-the-box approaches to competition, even though they may have distinctive brand identities, they have for all intents and purposes, become commodities that are beholden completely to price and convenience for their survival. 

This is why carefully crafted - no perfectly crafted - brand messaging is so important. Almost all brands are now competing in a sea of choices that can hardly be differentiated from one another in the minds of potential customers. Your brand needs to stop potential customers in their tracks. The messaging needs to be so "spot on" that it derails their continued product search.

Radical innovation is still a competitive advantage. And there are a myriad of ways to increase convenience (location, 24/7 operations, individual targeting, responsiveness, etc.), however competing on price is a slippery downward slope that ultimately leads to disaster. But if you don't get your messaging right, not much else matters. 

Does your messaging...

  • Immediately address the potential customer's pain point or need?
  • Meet the potential customer where he or she is now?
  • Make your brand sound substantially different from every other brand?
  • Engage the potential customer emotionally?
  • Help the potential customer to feel completely understood?
  • Convey a brand personalty that is highly compelling?
  • Use just the right amount of words (no more or no less) than the medium requires?
And are the word choices highly relatable by the target customer? And is your messaging memorable? 

As the global competition gets stiffer, don't forget to substantially improve your messaging.