Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Types of Research for Brands



I have spent the past 35 years conducting research on behalf of brands. Over that period of time, I have conducted hundreds of studies. In this blog post, I thought I would outline the types of research that you can conduct and the things you can learn from that research. One of a researcher's most important roles is to select the right research methodology given the business and marketing objectives and the action standards.


  • Though qualitative research - focus groups, mini-groups, depth interviews, online groups, etc. - you can better understand customer attitudes, beliefs, values, hopes, fears, concerns, needs, desires and perceptions of the category and your brand and competitive brands. 
  • Through conjoint analysis you can create the optimal combination of product/service attributes/features that deliver the greatest perceived value.
  • Price sensitivity research (projective) and price elasticity research (based on historical sales) can help you develop the optimal pricing strategy.
  • Brand equity studies will help you measure brand awareness, preference, associations, personality, relevance, differentiation, accessibility, perceived value, emotional connection and loyalty.
  • Brand positioning studies can help you identify the most powerful unique value proposition.
  • Brand asset mapping can help you understand what a brand's associations and most important assets are. 
  • Brand extension research can help you understand into what new categories a brand could be most successfully extended.
  • Brand emotional heat mapping research indicates the degree to which a large variety of emotions are associated with your brand.
  • Attitude and usage studies will help you size and dimensionalize the market for your products.
  • Customer segmentation studies can help you segment the market on a wide variety of demographic, geographic, psychographic, cohort, attitudinal, values, purchase behavior and usage behavior dimensions.
  • Consumer purchase and use diaries can be used to monitor thoughts, behaviors and purchases over time to discern patterns. Diaries on smartphones are an emerging version of this research.
  • In-store traffic pattern mapping including in-store heat mapping can help the the design of store layout and retail merchandising. It can also indicate with which categories, products and brands consumers spend the most time.
  • Customer journey mapping is a process that helps you understand the entire customer decision making and purchasing process. 
  • Anthropological research takes many forms but basically approaches customer research using anthropological methodologies. 
  • Customer service testing helps you understand all of the dimensions of your customer service delivery and how it was perceived by the customer.
  • Mystery shoppers help you experience the customer shopping experience first hand.
  • Logo research can help you develop the most powerful logo with the greatest recognition and recall. 
  • Concept testing can help you understand how unique and compelling a concept is, whether it be a business, product, service or brand concept. 
  • Advertising can be tested in a variety of ways. You can conduct a pre and post test to measure differences in brand awareness and associations. You can compare the results of two different creative approaches in an A/B test
  • In online marketing, you can measure click through rates, cost per click and cost per thousand. 
  • With CRM systems, you can measure the ROI of different lead generation sources and different sales approaches. 
  • Perception Analyzer research allows you to view the results of quasi-quantitative research in real time while also being able to stop and ask qualitative questions of the respondents. 
  • Eye tracking research can help you design better ads.
  • Using CT scanning and other medical technologies to measure human response to ads can make likes and dislikes very clear. 
  • Combining data mines with attitudinal research is very powerful. 

For more information on brand-related research, refer to the Brand Research chapter in Brand Aid, second edition, available here.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Marketing Trends Today and Tomorrow



I am delivering a talk on the future of brand management and marketing next week. Things are changing so quickly in the marketing world that it is difficult for every marketer to keep up with all of the new approaches and techniques. While I do not have the space here to explain each one of them, I thought I would share my talk's outline to give you a flavor of the latest in brand management and marketing.

Today's Marketing Research Approaches
  • Big data analytics (including predictive analytics)
  • Combining data mines with attitudinal research
  • Attitudinal (and values) 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 pattern measurement and analysis
  • Drawing on the insights of behavioral economics
  • Measuring ROI
  • Identifying sales drivers
  • Anthropological studies
  • Conjoint analysis and AI
  • Emotion measurement tools
  • Online focus groups
  • Mobile research options
  • Color science and emotional response
  • Olfactory science and emotional response

Brand Management Today
  • Authenticity
  • Shared values
  • Community building
  • Using cultural symbols
  • Employer branding
  • Internal employee and system/process alignment
  • Brand co-creation with customers
  • Brand storytelling
  • Customer journey mapping
  • Customer experience design
  • Strategic partnerships and co-opetition
  • Game theory and competitive strategy

Marketing Today
  • 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
  • Attaching pejorative labels to competitors’ brands (used mostly in politics)
  • Fully automated lead generation systems

If you are not familiar with any of these approaches, I would suggest that you look them up and become familiar with them. And I would be happy to hear from you if you think I have missed something. Please share your knowledge and insights with our readers.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Ethics in Marketing


Ethics is not a topic that I hear marketers talking about very often, however it is something that I think about frequently because I understand the societal impact of what I do. Marketers can often drive human desires and behaviors, getting people to buy things that they may or may not need, making them feel better or worse about themselves in the process.

Skilled marketers wield a lot of power because between data analysis and intuition, they know how to manipulate people's thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. A long time ago, one client approached me saying that he needed my assistance because I was a "master of the dark arts." This took me aback because I try to be completely ethical in my approach to marketing but I knew what he meant by the comment. It was clearly intended to be a compliment. 

So what are some of the ethical issues in marketing? First and foremost is using marketing to make a product that is clearly harmful more appealing to people - for instance, selling cigarettes by appealing to people at a deep emotional level.  This can be achieved by linking the cigarette brand to independence, rebellion, good times, coming into one’s own power, etc.

Next is getting people to buy stuff that they just don’t need. How many toys does one child actually need? How many pairs of shoes are enough? Or, how many homes are enough? Some salespeople are so skilled they can get a person to buy something that he doesn't desire and for which he does not have a use. 

Then there is using fear to sell something. As we all know, fear works really well as a motivator, however constantly using fear to market products and services only serves to create a more fearful society motivated more by avoidance of potential problems than by embracing that which is beneficial or uplifting.

Related to fear-based marketing is the practice of assigning pejorative labels to competitors' brands, repositioning them as undesirable or even repulsive.   

Making false claims is both unethical and illegal. I am personally not as concerned about what is generally considered to be puffery, for instance stating that one’s brand is “the best in the world,” because few people are going to take that statement at face value.

Certainly, an ethical dilemma that most marketing agencies face is whether to do (a) what is in the client’s best interest or (b) what the client wants (if you know that what they want is not in their own best interest).  In this situation, are you forthright with the client but then ultimately collect your fees for executing what they desire or do you walk away from the project or business if what you are being asked to do is not in their best interest?  Is the client always right or is the client sometimes wrong?

How about getting someone to pay a huge price premium for a product because your brand bestows status on that product? Is this just helping people climb Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or is it getting them stuck on one step in that ladder (at a hefty profit to the brand)? Anchoring the premium end of a product range with an outrageously high price can get people to trade up to a more expensive product in the middle of the range. And setting an artificially inflated suggested retail price allows for a much bigger price discount, leading to an increased perceived value. Realtors often use the trick of showing their clients properties with poor values first to increase subsequent properties' perceived values.

Knowing that brands can sometimes make people feel more appealing, loved, smart, accomplished, valued, etc. I want to scream to them, “You are already appealing, loved, smart, accomplished, valued, etc. You don’t need a product or brand to be that.”

There is also this question: Does the relentless pursuit of more and better products, services and experiences lead to improved lives with more leisure time and a higher quality of life or does it just constantly raise the bar for what will satisfy while depleting natural resources and placing more demands on peoples’ lives?

Some people medicate themselves with "retail therapy." Each purchase feels good for a while but then more purchases are required to maintain that good feeling. 

How about those huge purchases that marketers can get people to make, for instance luxury cars, luxury boats, fine art, expensive wines, etc. Some people can easily afford these things and very much appreciate even minutely incremental improvements in quality. Others however may be stretching their budgets to “keep up with the Joneses.” This second group may experience immediate post purchase remorse after such a large purchase. Is it ethical to market to these people based on aspiration?

And, related to that, if people experience buyer’s remorse immediately after a purchase, is it a good thing or a bad thing to create a post purchase touch point that relieves their anxiety and makes them feel better about the purchase?

Then there is competitive consumption. I am a sailor. In the boating world, it is a relatively common practice to keep trading up to bigger and bigger boats. Heck, among the one tenth of one percent, they are trading in 100 foot yachts for 200 foot yachts and 200 foot yachts for 400 foot yachts. Then it gets even crazier. "My yacht has two helicopters, four jet skies, four personal submersibles, two tenders and bi-level swimming pools. How about yours?"

And what about selling functional substance, a real solution to a problem, versus good feelings? Many brands (and salespeople for that matter) are masterful at selling good feelings without really delivering much else. I often feel this way about motivational speakers. Is something tangible really more valuable than something completely intangible?

And, is it better to market to and deliver on a need or a desire? Is one better than another? What if one desires something that is not good for him or her? Is that the marketer’s problem? Is it another person’s right to judge what is good or bad for another?

So how do I see that marketing can be truly helpful to organizations, brands and their customers? First and foremost, brands can help organizations focus on how they can best add value in the market, especially in unique ways. A brand’s unique value proposition can become the organization’s internal rallying cry, energizing employees and mobilizing them to deliver on the brand’s promise. Marketing can also highlight a particular brand’s unique advantage over competing brands, helping consumers to make more informed decisions. If one includes marketing research as a part of marketing (as well they should), there is a huge advantage to understanding what the customer actually needs and wants so that the organization can deliver it to him or her. Identifying and determining the best ways to meet human needs is a noble endeavor.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Brands and Tribalism



While many people consider tribalism to be a bygone adaptive effect in the evolution of human culture, many forms of tribalism exist today. Modern tribalism recognizes that humans feel more safe and comfortable in smaller groups of people with whom they share similar values. Tribes can also lead to a sense of belonging. And research has shown that the human brain can only process up to 150 individuals as fully developed complex people. After that, stereotypes, hierarchical schemes and other models for clustering people must be used to make sense of things. This is why organizations of 150 people or less tend to feel more inviting and personal. 

While tribalism has the advantages listed above, it also has its downside. Tribalism tends to lead to ethnocentrism and often to ethic or racially motivated conflict. Essentially, people in a tribe recognize each other as familial individuals who have value, while others outside the tribe are often demonized or at least dehumanized or ignored. 

While tribalism leads to greater cohesion and loyalty, it can also make understanding of a broader world and quick adaptation to changing conditions more difficult. 

Brands can become important to people by linking to their tribes. Tribes can be based on any set of values, beliefs or interests. This offers brands many opportunities to align with tribes to create greater emotional connection and loyalty. The key is to understand the underlying hopes, fears, beliefs, values and shared interests of tribal members. 

In the USA, the most visible tribes are political tribes, religious tribes and socio-economic tribes. But there are also geographic tribes, racial tribes and special-interest tribes. But any organizational affiliation can act as a tribe from Rotary clubs, Boy Scouts and veterans groups to hiking groups, equestrian groups and sailing clubs. Even university affiliations and sports teams can act like tribes.

Again, for a brand to appeal to a specific tribe it needs to know what beliefs, values and interests hold that tribe together and further, the brand needs to understand the tribal language, symbols and rituals. 

Alignment with a tribe can create staunch devotion to the brand. In fact, the brand can become another outward manifestation of tribal membership. I wish you great success in aligning your brand with one or more tribes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Compulsive Naming Syndrome



Compulsive Naming Syndrome is more common than one might think. When I was at Hallmark, in part because we had more than seven hundred writers and artists and tens of thousands of skus, but not just because of that, people were creating named product lines, services, programs and promotions almost weekly. But Hallmark is not the only organization that suffers from this malady. Organizations often hire me because their product, service or program naming has gotten out of control. I recall helping one organization whose employees were creating named brands for employee picnics and bowling tournaments. And I remember standing in a very large room with McKesson's hundred or so marketing directors and walls plastered ceiling to floor with names, logos and taglines - hundreds, if not thousands of them. 

Another company called on me to simplify their brand architecture that had grown through a series of mergers and acquisitions over time, so much so that identical individual products were offered under dozens of different brand names in separate product catalogs, creating much confusion for their customers. 

Frankly, even I am guilty of this. My brands include this blog, Branding Strategy Source, my book, Brand Aid, my company, BrandForward and even my personal brand, Brad VanAuken. Would it be better to focus on fewer brands? Probably. 

Going back to the Hallmark example, as the company's chief brand advocate, I commissioned market research that ultimately showed that the average social expression consumer was not aware of any of our brands except for Hallmark and Shoebox. There was significant effort going into creating names and identities that never broke through the clutter of the myriad of brands that people are exposed to daily. When it comes to brands and names, less is more. 

So please think about it. Do you or does your organization suffer from Compulsive Naming Syndrome? If so, there is a cure - brand rationalization followed by abstinence. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Brands, Identity & Labels



In this era of increased tribalism, I thought it important to revisit the topic of personal identity and labels. There are many types of identities and labels that can be applied to an individual. They may be related to any or all of the following:

  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Culture
  • Political party
  • Religion
  • Profession
  • Avocation
  • Personality
  • Passions
  • Socio-economic status
  • Body type
  • Schools attended
  • Place of birth
  • Place of residence
  • Family

Identities, which can be assigned to a person or assumed by a person, can lead to any or all of the following:
  • A set of rules by which to live (beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors)
  • A set of rules by which NOT to live (beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors)
  • Stereotypes
  • Power and social status (domination or submission, superiority or inferiority)

With identities come labels. By definition, when someone or something is labeled he or she is set apart. Labels create the notion of "the other." The label says "He is one of us" or "She is not one of us." Labels are a way to divide people, exclude people and subjugate people. With labels, there are insiders and there are outsiders.

Alternatively, labels can make people feel better about themselves, bolster their self-esteem, give them a sense of belonging and increase their power and status. 

Consider what it means to be a gay black man or a Republican woman. What does it imply about someone if he drives a pickup truck and bowls? If a woman has a PhD from Berkeley, lives in Boulder, Colorado and drives a Prius, what does that say about her? What if a man works on Wall Street, has five homes including one in Nantucket and drives a Bugatti among other cars, what does that say about him? If a women told you she was a social worker, what does that say about her? What if a black woman told you she was a conservative Republican? What assumptions would you make about her? And if a person told you that he graduated from Liberty University and is active in an Assemblies of God church, what assumptions would you make about him? How do you think a lighter skinned Indian (from India) would treat a much darker skinned Indian? And what if someone told you she was a Wiccan? How would you feel about her? If someone told you he was a Unitarian, what would you assume about him? What if you knew someone was a Muslim from Pakistan, how would you feel about him? If someone told you that she was from Ojai, California, what would you assume about her? Would you be confused if you encountered a female NRA member who worked in an animal shelter and who was an avid supporter of the ACLU? 

All of this has implications for brands for the following reasons. Applying a label or presenting an identity conjures up stereotypes and leads to assumptions, perhaps mostly positive, mostly negative or a little bit of both. However, for any given individual, each stereotype or assumption may be correct or terribly wrong. 

And the interesting thing is how labels are perceived differently across different groups. For instance, to a liberal, the liberal label is positive, whereas to a conservative it is negative and vice versa. Or consider how what might have generally been considered positive (and still may be by some) is now considered to be negative by many. For instance, generally well-educated, accomplished people who have done well in life and who have high socio-economic status have historically been well regarded, but consider how some people now label them "elites" pejoratively. Or consider how "Evangelical Christian" has become a negative label from some people's perspectives. Or consider how so many people now have an aversion to "one percenters," the most financially successful among us. 

Clearly, brands need to be careful about addressing identities, assigning labels or appealing to certain groups over other groups. 

While tribalism and labels seem to be all the rage these days and while fear-based marketing is on the rise again, I would contend that in this increasingly globally interconnected world, we must eschew labels and give up fear-based marketing if we are to survive as a species.

Here are some of my previous blog posts on this topic:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Twenty Research-Based Findings Regarding Brands


I have drawn these findings from a variety of research studies. Most are outlined in my Brand Aid book.

  1. The five drivers of customer brand insistence are awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility and emotional connection.
  2. Brand familiarity and knowledge are the most important components of brand equity, leading to liking, acquisition, retention and profitability. 
  3. A brand's relevant differentiation is highly correlated with its ability to command a price premium and its increased profitability. 
  4. A brand’s perceived quality increases with increases in advertising impressions, regardless of message. 
  5. Media environment affects advertising claims. For instance, quality claims are more effective on elite or prestigious websites because people associate the claim with the media environment. 
  6. Consumers are more apt to relax and accept advertiser recommendations when the tone is that of a friend or an unbiased authority.
  7. Aspirational, upscale, and high status brands have the potential to alienate customers who lack confidence. While these customers might admire these brands, they don’t feel comfortable using them. Building warmth, humor, and less formality into the brands to make them more approachable helps overcome this problem.
  8. When a brand applies a positive label to its potential customers, they are more likely to purchase that brand.
  9. Lifestyle branding associates a brand with a particular lifestyle or type of individual, primarily delivering self-expressive benefits to the customer. A not often considered downside of this approach is the increased competition that it invites from brands in other product or service categories that have decided to associate with the same lifestyle. 
  10. In most product categories, price is the primary purchase incentive for no more than 15 percent to 35 percent of all customers.
  11. Customers share bad brand experiences with approximately twice as many people as they do good brand experiences.
  12. Declining brands tend to lose buyers while the brands’ loyalty and purchase rates stay stable among remaining buyers.
  13. Extending one or more products of an average quality brand into a higher quality segment increases the brand's overall quality perception.
  14. In some sectors, an increase in the consumer base by just one percent is otherwise equivalent to a 10 percent cost reduction.
  15. Suggestive brand names assist with recall of brand benefits that are suggested by the names, but inhibit recall of other subsequently advertised brand benefits.
  16. Country of origin, when known, affects brand perceptions, especially within luxury categories.
  17. Customer experience is the result of these factors: social environment, service interface, retail atmosphere, assortment, price, customer experiences in alternative channels and the retail brand.
  18. “Purchase intent” tends to be inflated for declining brands and understated for emerging brands.
  19. Advertising is often most effective in increasing share of market when brands are so similar that the advertising message is the primary source of differentiation.
  20. Immediate post-purchase brand reinforcement increases a customer's attitudinal loyalty.