Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Most Desirable Brand Personality Traits



When considering brands, customers value some personality traits more than others. Below is a rank ordered list of desired personality traits. I have derived this list from numerous sources over the past thirty years.

Tier 1

  1. Trustworthy
  2. Warm/Friendly
  3. Responsive
  4. Intelligent/Smart
  5. Reliable/Dependable
Tier 2
  1. Honest/Possesses integrity
  2. Authentic/Real
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Customer-service oriented
  5. Easy to work with
  6. Creative/Innovative
  7. Resourceful
  8. Agile/Flexible
  9. Compassionate/Kind
  10. Takes responsibility
  11. Hard working
  12. Has a sense of humor/Funny
Tier 3
  1. Professional
  2. Well-organized
  3. Attention to detail
  4. Strategic/Big picture thinking
  5. Good listener
  6. Learns from mistakes
You should consider which of these personality attributes would work best for your brand. And it is not a bad list to consider for yourself. 

This is an earlier blog post on the brand personality attributes most often chosen by my clients for their brands. And this is a blog post on using brand personality as a point of difference. And just for fun, here is a brand that has a very strong personality. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Marketing Fundamentals



In the age of social media marketing, mobile marketing, search engine optimization, geofencing and big data analytics it is easy to lose sight of some of the fundamental and timeless aspects of marketing. In this post, I intend to re-anchor us in those marketing basics. Here we go.

  • People buy stuff. This includes products, services and experiences. In the end, it is all about the customer.
  • Marketing is all about getting people to buy more stuff, preferably profitably and sustainably. 
  • Putting oneself in the customer's shoes and using common sense rules the day. Who is the customer? What is she thinking? What is she feeling? What problems does she need to solve? Where does she get her information? Where does she shop? How can she be influenced? How does she think about the category? What does she think about your brand? What will get her to "buy now"? What will get her to buy more?
  • In the end, if you are likable, treat people well, solve their problems and make them feel good, they will come back to you again and again.
  • Have enough marketing tools in your toolbox. Consider brand identity, key messages, advertising, publicity, word-of-mouth, direct response, product design, product features, package design, product range, pricing, distribution, merchandising, strategic partnerships, co-marketing, etc. Don't keep on coming back to the same tool over and over again because that is the tool that you know best.
  • In marketing, remember that less is often better than more, especially regarding design and messaging. 
  • More often than not, social status sells. 
  • Fear sells - but use it sparingly. 
  • Aesthetics usually matter - a lot. 
  • Ultimately, you want your brand to be a friend who is trustworthy and likable. 
  • Marketing is not "rocket science" but it does require an understanding of human psychology and it relies on careful analysis and intuition, basic blocking and tackling and out-of-the-box ideas. 
As you become more adept at emerging marketing sub-disciplines, don't lose sight of marketing fundamentals. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Clash of Cost Savings and Brand Delivery



This was a battle that I fought when I was responsible for the Hallmark brand. Do we put different brand names on the same products to save money? Do we license our brand identity to a reading glasses company to make some quick cash? The answer to both questions was "No, we don't." 

At one point in Starbucks’ history, the company’s financial managers determined that switching from two-ply to one-ply toilet paper in Starbucks’ bathrooms would save the company a significant sum of money annually. Despite the potential cost savings, however, senior management rejected the idea. Why? Because inferior toilet paper does not support Starbuck's essence of rewarding everyday moments.

I am aware of a bank that wants to stand for simple and easy, but it has made several decisions in the opposite direction. As a customer convenience, it had coin counting machines in each of its branches but when they kept breaking down, the bank went back to requiring that its customers roll their own change before depositing it. In fact, the bank won't even allow the deposit of loose change. They also require that customers fill out deposit slips, even though the back tellers could easily process a deposit without them. Further, though they are aware of ATMs that accept, scan and provide customers images of deposited checks, they opted instead for ATMs in which deposit envelopes are required and the check images are not available to customers. Further, they are aware of the ability to scan a check on a smart phone as a convenient way for customers to make a deposit but have opted not to do that.

My point with the bank example is that the bank had decided that it would stand for something important to the customer and potentially differentiating - simple and easy banking - but instead, decision after decision, presumably due to cost or other resource considerations, decided to do the opposite leading to a brand that is comparable to or perhaps even inferior to other banks on the simple and easy scale, something that the bank was claiming for its brand. This is clearly not good brand management.

When you decide that your brand will stand for something unique and compelling, this should drive every investment and process decision. If you are not willing or able to support your brand's intended promise with real actions consider making a different promise or no promise at all. Or, better yet, initiate a project to align the organization's processes, systems and metrics in support of the brand's promise.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Airports and Place Branding



Airports are the primary transportation hubs of the twenty-first century, at least in the US, and in many other places as well. Most travel between countries and distant cities occurs by air today. Airports are the first things that travelers see when they arrive in a new place. And they are the first things that residents see when they arrive home.

So airports become a critical element in place branding. While the design of the airport itself can be distinctive and aesthetically appealing, that is not enough. The airport should also communicate the essence of the place. When one arrives in Orlando, there should be some excitement around theme parks, children’s characters and entertainment. When one arrives in Nashville, there should be some reference to country music. When one arrives in a western town such as Jackson, Wyoming, there should be some sense of the West. Resort community airports should communicate a sense of leisure. If an airport provides access to beaches, mountains or ski resorts, people should have some inkling of that at the airport itself. And when one arrives in a major metropolitan area, there should be some sense of its thriving business environment, culture and arts.

While hub airports must have some amenities that are not nearly as critical for non-hub airports, still the minimum expectation of airports has increased today.

While all contemporary airports should have a variety of restaurants and bars, interesting shopping and free Wi-Fi, many also have wine bars, massage establishments, water features and different types of entertainment venues. Further, many have sections that trace the place’s rich history, public art galleries, art installations from local artists and high visual impact overviews of their areas’ cultural and other attractions.

From a branding perspective, the airport should communicate whether the place has a rich history, unique geography or natural features, strong sports franchises, rich cultural attractions, unique outdoor attractions, a constellation of prestigious universities or something else.

Taking my hometown, Rochester, NY as an example, we might consider reinforcing any or all of the following at our airport:
  • Our rich civil rights history with Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and the Woman’s National Hall of Fame
  • The Finger Lakes wine trails
  • The world renown Eastman School of Music, the Rochester International Jazz Festival and our numerous other museums, festivals and cultural amenities
  • The Strong National Museum of Play
  • University of Rochester, RIT and our sixteen other universities
  • That we are the US photonics hub (with an explanation of what photonics is)
  • Art installations from our famous artists such as Albert Paley and Wendell Castle
  • Our rich golfing heritage, with 100 regional golf courses and country clubs, such as Oak Hill, that have hosted the PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship, LPGA Championship, US Open, US Senior Open and Ryder Cup
  • Our numerous bodies of water – Lake Ontario, The Finger Lakes, Genesee River, Erie Canal, etc.  - and their unique recreational opportunities

Every place has some proof points like this. Make your place interesting and exciting from the moment a person gets off the plane. Make the traveler want to slow down and learn more about your place as he or she makes his or her way from the plane to ground transportation.

My point is to not limit the promotion of the place to a visitor's information booth with brochures from the various local hotels and attractions. That is so 20th century.

I know this is asking a lot of airports, but having integrated this thinking into airport design will pay rich dividends in helping reinforce a place’s unique value proposition. After all, an airport creates the very first impression of a place and it is the first thing that welcomes the weary resident home again.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Brand Consistency, But at What Cost?



It is important for a brand to be consistent so that people know what to expect and so that they are not disappointed. Having said that, what if the only way to be consistent across thousands of locations in countries throughout the world is to offer a consistent mediocre product?

I will take Starbucks as an example. Most metropolitan areas now have dozens, if not more, different cafe/coffee house options. We certainly do where I live. Most of them offer not only their own coffee and other drinks but also their own selection of food items. I go to two different places because they make awesome almond croissants. One makes a very good yogurt bowl with fresh locally sourced fruit and freshly made granola. One place has a full menu of breakfast options from French pastries to omelets, Eggs Benedict and hearty American options including pancakes, waffles, French toast, bacon, sausage, etc. One place makes to-die-for brownies and another place makes to-die-for chocolate chip cookies. We even have one place that specializes in comics, cereal and caffeine - really. 

So, I am completely underwhelmed when I walk into a Starbucks with their consistent but completely mediocre food options They don't even offer a healthy option other than a pretty bad oatmeal with lots of packets of long shelf life stuff to throw on it. 

This all makes me wonder why Starbucks doesn't consider pursuing a business model in which they partner with local bakeries or other local food sources to provide fresher, tastier, healthier and higher quality food items. I wouldn't mind being surprised by the food items that I might find at a Starbucks in a different city, different part of the country, different country or different region of the world (assuming that they have a way to maintain the quality of the locally sourced items). Honestly, I have gotten bored of Starbucks. I can find a better cup of coffee at many places and the food is better at almost every other place. Consistency often works in a brand's favor but if it comes at a cost of quality, then one might want to reconsider the need for that consistency. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Brand is Not Just One Thing



If a brand is owned in the minds of its target audiences, and it is, then it may have as many different meanings and positionings as there are people who perceive it. Marketers talk as if there is only one brand positioning for each brand, and perhaps there is only one intended brand positioning, but my thirty plus years spent working with hundreds of brands has taught me otherwise. In fact, one of the things I can learn quickly from brand equity studies is how consistently or inconsistently a brand has been experienced by different consumers or even the same consumer.

I often ask these two open-ended response questions in brand research: (1) "Thinking about brand X, what comes to your mind?" and (2) "What, if anything, makes brand X different than or superior to other brands in the Y category?"

If you haven't hand-coded at least hundreds of these responses (and, with a quick calculation, I have hand-coded more than 100,000 of these responses over time), then you may not know how different these responses can be for the same brand. For instance, it is quite common for one brand's response to be "very high quality" and "very low quality." It is also not uncommon for the same brand to be known as both "convenient" and "inconvenient" and "old fashioned" and "leading-edge," though this last dichotomy is less common. My point is that due to product, service, technical support, distribution and even communication inconsistencies, brands have inconsistent reputations. 

I have done a lot of work in the health care industry. It is not uncommon for patients to have very different perceptions of a health care brand based on interactions with individual health care professionals, the medical conditions that they are dealing with, their prognoses and the outcomes. 

Customer service training and quality control systems also have a big impact on brand perception consistency. And even differences between products offered under the same brand name. Consider experience of a high-end limited edition version of a brand and its lowest priced entry-level product without many features. The brand might be described completely differently by people experiencing these two ends of a brand's quality/price/feature continuum. 

As a brand manager, don't assume that your intended brand positioning is always the brand's actual positioning in the minds of its target audiences. Further, you can be almost sure that your brand has as many nuanced meanings as there are people experiencing your brand. Having said that, it is your responsibility to insure that its intended brand positioning is communicated (and actually experienced) as consistently as possible repeatedly so that there is not a significantly different brand meaning for each person experiencing the brand.