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. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Brand Spokespeople and Characters

Not every brand uses a spokesperson or character as a part of its identity system or advertising campaign but many have over the years. The spokesperson or character can give the brand a distinctive voice and personality. 

This blog post is a celebration of some of the more memorable brand spokespeople and characters. 

Some of the earlier characters were used by food brands, especially children's cereals.


Some have changed gradually over the years.


While others have been put to rest.


Some brands feature a legion of characters.


Many insurance companies have used them over the past decade or two. It all began with this guy.


But then others followed.


 

Some were very cool and effective, but perhaps too effective in socially unacceptable categories. 


Some sell drug discounts.


While others sell CPAP cleaning devices.


Some eat too much.


And some are afraid of being eaten.


Some seem to be cousins, perhaps creating links between product categories where none should exist.


Some were rather short lived.


While others had a particularly long run.


And some just keep going and going and going...


Some are intended to be friendly and fun, but for people suffering from coulrophobia, they evoke other emotions.


Some brands were embarrassed by their spokesperson choices.



While others stuck with their spokespeople even after times got tough. 


Some spokespeople are always trying to be in control.


And finally, a salute to one of the first characters - a giant of a guy.



Here is to all of the characters and spokespeople that have given voice and personalities to their brands!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Customer Brand Insistence Revisited




I have been preaching about the five drivers of customer brand insistence since we first developed and tested this brand equity measurement system in the late 1990s. Since then, we have tested this system with hundreds of brands across almost as many product and service categories. It indicates that five things drive customers from being aware of a brand to insisting upon the brand and then ultimately being loyal to and even being advocates of the brand.

Again, these are the five drivers:

AWARENESS

The first driver is awareness. If you offer the best product in its category backed by the best service offered at the lowest price delivering the best value, and no one has heard of it, you will not achieve any sales. Awareness is the cornerstone of any marketing campaign. Awareness not only puts a brand in a purchase consideration set, it also increases customer preference, quality perceptions and purchase intent. Strong marketing campaigns with both reach and frequency increase awareness as does broader distribution. And PR and proactive publicity, including publicity stunts, can significantly increase brand awareness.

RELEVANT DIFFERENTIATION

The difference between a commodity and a brand is not a name or a logo - it is relevant differentiation, or put another way, a unique value proposition. Give customers a reason to choose your brand over other brands in its product category. The best differentiators are shared values, self-expressive benefits ("brand as a badge"), extraordinary product purchase or usage experiences, superior customer insight that leads to anticipating and addressing latent needs, easy one-stop shopping and offering a superior value based on the perceived benefits received for the amount of time and money required to receive those benefits. Once the relevant differentiation is created, then the marketer needs to make the relevant differentiation very clear at each and every point of customer contact. Focusing on just one differentiating benefit increases a customer's ability to recall that benefit so choose the brand's differentiating benefit wisely. Here is a post on how to position your brand in overcrowded markets. And here is a post on branding in highly competitive categories.

VALUE

I already touched on this. For most people, the two scarce resources are time and money. Give them more time and more money while solving their problems or meeting their needs and you have delivered a good or perhaps even excellent value.

ACCESSIBILITY

All things being equal, the more accessible brand will get the sale every time. Wider distribution not only increases brand awareness, it also increases brand accessibility. 24/7 brand access is better than more limited access. Accepting multiple payment methods and one-click shopping also increases accessibility. There is also a psychological aspect to accessibility. Do people believe your brand to be accessible, or for one reason or another, do they feel that your brand is less accessible to them?

EMOTIONAL CONNECTION

Brand personality, brand voice, brand visual style, brand trustworthiness (which includes brand consistency and reliability), brand responsiveness, outstanding customer service and technical support (with includes front-line employee training and empowerment), loyalty programs and purchase and usage frequency can all lead to increased emotional connection. Well thought-out marketing campaigns with highly emotional elements can also add to this. Here are two posts on the related concept of brand tribalism - Tribal Branding, Brands & Tribalism.

I am going to add one other thing to this list. Powerful brand MEMORY TRIGGERS that are consistently used over time and across campaigns will increase the ability of customers to remember the brand and associate it with its most powerful benefits to them. These triggers may include distinctive colors, shapes, icons, sounds, scents and other mnemonic devices. And they might be incorporated into the product itself, its packaging, its merchandising, its signing, its marketing campaigns, its insignia merchandise or other communication vehicles. Often, key elements of a brand's identity system are its primary memory triggers. Here is a related post on brands and memory structures

So, to create a winning brand, focus on awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility, emotional connection and memory triggers.