Friday, March 8, 2019

Think Like The Customer

I was meeting with the marketing committee of a not-for-profit organization on whose board I sit earlier today. We were discussing a major report that we intend to release to the community. The report is on a rather technical subject - river quality - and we talked about crafting frequency asked questions (FAQ) to accompany the report and press release.

This made me think of something that all skilled marketers are able to do. That is, put themselves in the customer's shoes and think and act like the customer. This includes knowing what concerns are on the customers' minds, how they are likely to view and process different topics, where they go to get their information, what their preconceived notions are, who they are inclined to believe and what is most important to them.

So taking the FAQ document that would accompany a river quality report card as an example, here are some of the questions that I would imagine might be asked:

  • Does this mean we can swim in the river without worrying?
  • What impact will this have on beach openings?
  • Can we eat fish that we caught from the river?
  • Should we worry if we get a mouth full of water?
  • Is the water potable, that is, is it ok for drinking?
  • When did you measure the water quality?
  • How often do you intend to measure it going forward? How often will we see updated report cards?
  • What exactly are you measuring? 
  • What are you not measuring that we should worry about?
  • What is the biggest source of pollution?
  • Who is the biggest polluter?
  • Is there anything I can do to help clean up the river?
  • How long will it be before the river is completely clean again?

I am not going to include the complete list of potential questions. But my point is that a marketer must always try to think like the customer. What is on his or her mind? What is he or she worried about? How will he or she react to this? If you were a water quality engineer or scientist you might have come up with a different set of FAQs, but would they have addressed the community's actual questions and concerns or would they have missed the mark?

I have noticed a similar thing in survey construction. A survey is not constructed with the respondent in mind if the most frequent answer to a list of possible responses is "other (please specify)." It means that the person who supplied the answer options really doesn't understand what is most important to the respondent. Sometimes the person who constructs the survey is so clueless that the list of options does not include anything that the respondent would choose. That becomes problematic because then the respondent has to pick something that he or she would not normally pick just to move ahead in the survey. 

As a marketer, you must understand your customer well enough to ask the right questions, create compelling messaging, place the marketing messages in the right media and get the customer to make an actual purchase. 

So, the bottom line is that you must think like the customer if you are to be successful as a marketer. And, while you may not be the target customer yourself, you must have done enough research and have enough empathy and insight to be able to walk in the customer's shoes anyway.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Brand Reputation Management

How should organizations measure and manage their brands' reputations? While many people suggest using something as simple as Net Promoter Score, which is a very popular measure of attitudinal loyalty, reputation metrics must include much more than that. 

Each brand has multiple audiences, each with its own expectations for the brand, so reputation metrics need to capture how each audience perceives the brand. The audiences include not just the different customer segments, but also shareholders, employees, vendors, business partners, the communities in which they operate and the general public.

So, the key question is, "What reputational elements are the most important for each of those groups?" Awareness is often a metric, as is preference. But perceptions of relevance, trustworthiness, quality, innovation, accessibility, responsiveness and value may also be important, as may customer service and technical support ratings. Being a good partner, collaborative, environmentally sensitive and a good corporate citizen are also possible metrics. 

So, the first step is to understand what matters most to each audience. The next step is to translate these into specific metrics. Then you must set up a system or systems to measure each of these on a regular or even rolling basis for all of the key audiences. 

You can also monitor social media sites, product/service rating sites and even your own customer and business partner forums to capture perceptions of the brand and especially against the chosen metrics.  And you can use online tools to monitor and analyze brand mentions. 

Further, you can add periodic questions to your brand/business pages on Facebook and in other websites. Each question would be designed to gather data on one or more metrics. 

I had already mentioned business partner forums. Businesses can convene specific forums to share information with customers and other business partners and can use those forums to collect brand perceptions. 

Focus groups, surveys and other traditional research techniques, online and offline, can also be useful sources of information on reputation. Qualitative research such as focus groups, mini-groups and one-on-one depth interviews can help you probe deeply on the areas of most interest or greatest concern. Topics for in-depth exploration might include areas of vulnerability and potential threats.

All of this information needs to be gathered by a responsible party, who aggregates, sorts, formats and reports on the findings in the form of a dashboard or scorecard. And then action should be taken based on the findings. The findings should result in objectives, goals, strategies, tactics and action plans. 

All of this needs to be supported at the top of the organization. There needs to be real commitment to the process. 

It is my strong recommendation that you develop brand reputation metrics that are tailored to your brand and company. The process of managing against those metrics should also be tailored to your organization's specific requirements. I wish you great success in developing a robust system of brand reputation metrics and management.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Will Brands Even Be Around in Ten Years?

As a brand strategy consultant, I have ridden the upward trajectory of brands and branding for the past 20 years. In the 1980s and before, brand management was mostly practiced by consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. By the mid- to late-1990s, large companies were beginning to manage their corporate brands at an executive level. This was the timeframe during which I was put in charge of the Hallmark brand. Since then, brands and brand management has become ubiquitous. I have been called upon to brand museums, universities, trade associations and other not-for-profit organizations. I have also branded municipalities and geographic regions...and restaurants and medical practices and health care systems and medical devices and individuals. It seems that everything is branded these days. 

And yet, there have always been prophets predicting the end of brands. Naomi Klein argued against brands (and, in particular, the consumptive environment they fuel) in her book, No Logo in the late 1990s. And many have come out since then either predicting their demise or calling for their demise. In fact, I have always wondered how long the phenomenon of branding would last. 

So, here are my arguments for and against the end of brands.

Arguments for the end of brands:

  • Big data analytics, automated sales funnels and individual targeting make brands far less important in the purchase decision process.
  • Product and service quality have gotten so good across the board that almost any brand will meet or exceed our needs. Therefore it doesn't matter which brand we purchase.
  • Information access provided by the Internet creates much greater brand transparency and gives consumers much more power over brands.
  • No brand lasts forever and with the rate of technological disruption, increasingly, brands will come and go in a matter of years rather than decades or centuries.
  • Because of the maturity of markets, few brands are really that different from any of their competitors.
  • Most markets have gotten so hyper-competitive that most purchase decisions are now based on price.
  • Mergers, acquisitions, venture capital (VC) takeovers and other significant changes in ownership lead to inconsistent brands that cannot be relied upon. This reduces the value of brands.

Arguments for the end of all but a few mega-brands:
  • Very simple, Amazon, Google and Facebook will end up owning the world. No other brand will matter.

Arguments for the continuation of brands:
  • Brands are all about relevant differentiation and unique value propositions. If your products or services do not have these, they are commodities and their sales will largely be driven by price. No one wants this.
  • While technology lowers industry entry barriers and allows for the emergence of new brands at a very rapid pace, it is only the long-term reputation of a brand that guarantees quality, service and desirable attributes. Brands are the way to break through the marketplace clutter to purchase something that you know you can rely on.
  • Brands imbue products and services with human qualities. This is the only thing that can result in emotional connection with consumers and consumers are mostly driven by their emotions. 
  • Strong brands still result in many financial and other business advantages: increased sales, market share, profitability, stock prices, shareholder value and customer loyalty, decreased price sensitivity, increased ability to charge a price premium, increased ability to attract and retain talented and motivated employees and increased bargaining power with business partners.
  • Brands can share powerful values with their customers, so much so that they can become the self-expressive vehicles for those shared values and the organizers of communities for people who share those values. This is an extremely powerful "glue." 

As you can see, there are some arguments for brands slowing fading away and arguments that they will continue to be an important part of our world. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Friday, February 15, 2019

How Brand Experience Can Overcome Time Constraints

Generally, people feel two types of scarcity in their lives. They often feel as though they do not have enough money to do everything they want to do. And they often feel as though they don't have enough free time to do all that they want to do. So, the two scarce commodities are time and money.

And it is now almost a cliche when someone responds to the question, "How are you doing?" with "I am busy, really busy." It seems to be the standard answer to that question by most people these days.

So, how is it that some brands can make time seem to stand still for people as they interact with the brand? Have you ever interacted with a brand that seems to put you into a flow state? You lose all track of time and really don't mind it if you have spent too much time with the brand. These are the brands that create amazing experiences.

As a brand guy, I think of almost everything as a brand or at least as being capable of being branded. So, rock brands and other musical groups are brands. Colleges and universities are brands. Cities are brands. Museums and art galleries are brands. Amusement parks are brands. Restaurants and night clubs are brands. And people are brands too. I am sure you have lost track of time when interacting with some of these brands. And I am sure you have wanted to spend more time with some of these brands.

Convenience and accessibility have become very important to today's consumer. He or she wants everything "now." Consumers have been spoiled by everything being a click away on their smart phones. Long copy, long ads, long anything can not seem to hold people's attention anymore.

And think about how people feel about long commutes. This is a major contributor to quality of life or lack thereof. It's hard to keep up with all of our work. We don't have enough time for our families. We don't have enough time for our hobbies. We don't have enough time to exercise. Our vacations are too short. We don't have enough time for ourselves.

And yet, some brands seem not only to overcome this feeling of scarcity but literally to pull you into an experience for which time doesn't seem to matter.

Not many brick and mortar retailers can compete with online retailers regarding price or selection or being open 24/7. So brick and mortar retailers must create a better experience to attract and retain customers. Von Maur department stores feature pianists playing music in the stores. Bass Pro Shops have large aquariums filled with fish.

And let me tell you about my experience with Tesla. I love riding in the car so much (because of the quiet, high performance road handling, the acceleration, the spacious uncluttered interior, the Tesla streaming radio and the amazing sound system) that I look for excuses to get in the car and drive around. Now that I have a Tesla, I am running many more errands for my wife. "Honey, is there anything you need me to pick up while I am out?" "Where are you going?" "I don't know. Just out." To create a legitimate purpose for spending more time in the car, I have taken to driving for Uber and Lyft. It results in barely a blip in my income, but it allows me to drive around in my spare time and to share the experience with others who may not have experienced riding in a Tesla before.

The point of this blog post is to encourage you to create a brand experience that is so desirable that people not only do not complain about it taking too much time but rather complain about not being able to spend enough time with the brand. What sort of brand is yours? One that people are too busy to interact with? Or one that people can't wait to interact with? And one, that when they do interact with it, they lose all track of time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Positioning Your Brand to Win!

I am pleased to announce that I am now offering an online version of my highly acclaimed brand positioning workshop. The workshop provides you with everything you need to create a unique and emotionally compelling brand promise along with every other element of a comprehensive brand positioning statement. For more information, click here.