Friday, December 9, 2016

Strategies before Tactics

I get a lot of my blog post ideas from interacting with clients. I was recently reminded again how important it is to approach brand management and marketing at a strategic level before identifying and executing the supporting tactics. 

What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to increase brand awareness, change brand perceptions or behaviors, introduce the brand to new market segments, increase the perceived value of the brand, create more emotional connection to the brand, move the brand more upscale, extend the brand into new product or service categories or something else? What are you trying to accomplish?

Bosses who want marketers to jump right into "actionable" tactics without providing the strategic direction first do the brand a great disservice. 

Run in the other direction if you hear any of the following requests outside the context of a specific brand management or marketing strategy (or, better yet, ask what objectives or strategies these are intended to support):

  • I want you to run some ads in [a specific medium].
  • Come up with some "out of the box" marketing ideas and execute them.
  • Create a new marketing campaign.
  • Start advertising on Facebook.
  • We need to start using QR codes. 
  • We need to come up with a new logo. This one has been around for too long.
  • Just do something different. The other stuff hasn't been working.
  • Create a campaign for Millennials. Baby Boomers are starting to die out.
  • I'd like to see some big outdoor advertising.
  • You need to decrease your marketing budget by 30%.
  • I would like you to run an ad featuring me. Work me in somehow.
  • I got a great deal with the [call letters] radio station for some advertising. Reach out to them to buy some ad time.

You may laugh at some or all of these or maybe you have experienced one or more of them yourself. Either way, make sure that every brand management and marketing plan or action is based on some carefully thought through objective. 

This may seem basic, but I am surprised by how many organizations seem to jump straight to the tactics before thinking through what they are trying to accomplish with the tactics. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Brands and Consistency versus Surprise

I and most other brand consultants and especially brand identity experts talk about the importance of consistency in brand identity and execution. This is because a consistent identity is what leads to successful memory encoding and decoding. Any amount of inconsistency works against this process. Consistency in execution works because people have the assurance of knowing what to expect. Consider a McDonald's experience in one place versus another. And finally consistency is important because people can count on it. The brand is trustworthy, predictable and reliable. 

Having said this, a brand can benefit from presenting elements of surprise or unpredictability, but only if those elements are pleasant surprises. 

I have often said that a brand is the personification of an organization and its products and services. Given that, it is instructive to consider the role of consistency and unpredictability in people. 

It is important that you can trust me, that you can rely on what I tell you is true. It is also important that you can predict how I will treat you (hopefully well) and what you can expect from me and what you cannot expect from me. 

Having said that, would it be terrible if you discovered that I had an amazing voice and sang you my own rendition of "Happy Birthday" on your birthday or that I am an accomplished oil painter and painted a lovely picture of your prized possession, your sailboat? I think not. If we surprise people in delightful ways, it can only add to people's perceptions of us. So paying it forward or committing random acts of kindness are not elements of unpredictability that detract from the brand experience but rather are elements that can enhance it.

So, your brand's identity must remain consistent to increase brand recognition and recall. And your brand must remain trustworthy and deliver on its promises. However, building a more subtly textured personality and random elements of surprise can create a more nuanced and interesting brand that is more intriguing to people as long as those elements of surprise are positive.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Leading-Edge Brand Management & Marketing

I usually write about timeless or evergreen brand management and marketing topics - the fundamentals that were true years ago and that are still true today, the topics and concepts that every brand and marketing manager needs to know to be successful.  But today, I am writing about what is new, what is current, and what is leading-edge. 

Given the importance of customer insight, I will start with the latest market research. These are at the forefront of today's market research approaches:

  • Big data analytics
  • Combining data mines with attitudinal research
  • Attitudinal segmentation
  • Knowing when to apply which statistical technique - regression analysis, ANOVA, factor analysis, cluster analysis and logistic regression
  • Eye-tracking technology
  • Using MEG, GSR, EEG, SST, QEEG, FMRI, PET and CT scanning to understand likes and dislikes
  • Better understanding memory encoders and triggers
  • Improved retail traffic flow pattern measurement and analysis
  • Drawing on the insights of behavioral economics
  • Measuring ROI
  • Identifying sales drivers
  • Antropological studies
  • Conjoint analysis and AI
  • Emotion measurement tools
  • Online focus groups
  • Mobile research options
  • Color science and emotional response
Here are the most recent areas of focus in brand management:
  • Shared values
  • Community building
  • Using cultural symbols
  • Employer branding
  • Internal employee and system/process alignment
  • Brand co-creation with customers
  • Brand storytelling
  • Customer touch point design
  • Strategic partnerships and co-opetition
  • Game theory and competitive strategy
And here are some leading-edge trends in marketing:
  • Hyper-personalization
  • Geo-targeting and geo-fencing 
  • Undercover, stealth or covert marketing
  • The poison parasite defense (to reposition a competitor's brand)
  • Buzz (aka word-of-mouth) and influencer marketing
  • Creating influencer swarms
  • Content management, scaling content, creating viral content
  • Co-creating content with customers
  • Value-based community building
  • Proactive publicity as a primary tool
  • Unusual advertising media (crops, escalators, human tattoos, sidewalks, etc.)
  • Flash mobs and street team marketing
  • Authority marketing
As expounding on these topics could easily fill a tome, I would admonish you to conduct an online search for any of these for which you do not have a firm understanding so that you can learn more. Or let me know if there is a particular topic you would like me to cover in depth. This is the current or perhaps leading-edge state of brand management and marketing today.

PS - I would also be curious if you think I missed something.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Laddering Research

When we conducted laddering research at Hallmark, we discovered that most product and brand benefits ultimately supported the underlying need to preserve self-esteem. (Laddering is a research technique that probes consumers to better understand underlying basic human values the brand addresses. It investigates benefits that underlie product attributes, consequences that result from the benefits, and values that underlie the consequences. The results are often mapped to outline the brand’s benefit structure.) Different benefits may have followed different paths to that end, but, ultimately, the need that they fulfilled was the same fundamental one: to preserve self-esteem. We explored certain emotional end benefits—self-affirmations that contribute to different aspects of a person’s self-esteem; among them:
  • I am frugal.
  • I am competent.
  • I am successful.
  • I am a good mother.
  • I am a good wife.
  • I am a good friend.
  • I am unique.
  • I am lovable.
  • I am making a positive difference in the world.
  • I am in control of my life.

Although the following data is from a study conducted decades ago, it points out that some of the most powerful motives are fundamental ones. Some of the most effective advertising over time has tapped into these motives. I have observed that the most powerful brands and products are those that help people stay healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In fact, brands and products that can help people with the following (largely spiritual needs) are extraordinarily powerful:
  • A sense of purpose
  • A sense of community
  • A sense of self-worth
  • A sense of well-being
  • Personal empowerment
  • Healthy, trusting relationships
  • Peace
  • Hope
  • Joy

To that list you could also add communication that taps into any of the higher order needs from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: affiliation, esteem, or self-actualization.

Reprinted from Brand Aid, available here
© 2015 Brad VanAuken

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Customer-First Branding

I have now worked with more than 200 brands. In doing so, I have not only worked with the marketing teams but also the leadership teams. Each organization has a unique leader with a unique leadership style and a unique culture. One truth that is obvious to me having briefly embedded myself in many different organizations is that if the leader and the leadership team put the customer first in everything that they do, their organization and its brand thrives. If they are inwardly focused or primarily financially focused, they struggle more to succeed. 

The primary purpose of any organization, for profit or not-for-profit, is to serve people in one way or another. Even not-for-profit organizations that focus on animal rights or environmental preservation are doing so because of the will of their supporters. Organizations that forget who they are serving or why or who have financial targets as their primary objectives often lose their way and end up struggling. 

So, I encourage you to create a mission-driven organization and brand. Fight tirelessly to better serve your customers each and every day. In so doing, your organization and brand will thrive. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Brand Management Issues

If you are responsible for any area of brand management or marketing, I am seeking your input regarding the most pressing brand management and marketing issues that you, your organization or your brand faces. 

Please click on the link below to take the survey.


And please invite clients and colleagues to take the survey too.

I will report the results in an upcoming blog post.