Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Big Data and the Evolving Skill Set of Marketers

With the advent of social media and big data analytics, an amazing amount of information has now been amassed on most consumers. The trick is to know how to use that data to achieve organizational goals. Marketers' standing in organizations has the potential to increase significantly if they are able to successfully tap into this information to achieve these organizational goals. This starts with understanding who an organization's best customers are - those who are the most loyal and the most profitable and who deliver the largest lifetime value. This requires analysis of sales and profitability data against demographic, psychographic, geographic and other customer data to identify individuals and highly targeted market segments who promise the greatest ROI for the organization in question. Big data analytics can also identify other less intuitive but no less predictive indicators of high loyalty, profitability and lifetime value. 

The marketer must then know how to tap into a wide variety of databases to identify these people and send targeted, personalized messages, offers and other invitations to them. 

If the marketer is able to connect all of these dots, he or she is certain to become invaluable to his or her organization.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Top Ten Branding Mistakes

  1. Not being consistent in what the brand stands for. Often, a brand’s management does not have the discipline to stick to one message over time. The message changes frequently depending on the audience, the issue of the moment and what competitors are saying.
  2. Not standing for anything. Often, organizations grow through mergers and acquisitions. Sometimes, the acquired companies and brands have little in common.  They can vary significantly in quality and responsiveness and needs met. There is no common thread holding them together.
  3. Not delivering a good value for the price paid. I have worked with more than one brand whose managers have gotten greedy and increased prices while decreasing quality and service levels. This is not the formula for long-term success.
  4. The CEO just doesn’t get or support branding. I have interacted with CEOs that just don’t get branding. Some have said to me, “I don’t see why our brand has to be unique and differentiated if we produce quality products? Isn’t that enough?”
  5. Focusing on product features and attributes rather than customer benefits and shared values.  It is more powerful and sustainable for brands to connect with their customers at the benefit and values level. Attributes and features are less emotionally compelling and much easier for competitors to match and exceed.
  6. Thinking it is enough to say that “we are the quality, service or innovation leader. “ These are overused phrases that people disregard as being typical “chest beating.” Rather than claiming to be the leader in these, strive through your actions to be the definitive leader in these.
  7. Making a promise but then not delivering on it. Consider BP as an example. It is better to have not made the promise than to have made it and then clearly not delivered on it.
  8. Not understanding who your customer is or how your brand could appeal to him or her. Some organizations have not figured out who their target customers are or what really motivates them. They sell products but they really don’t have much customer insight. One cannot create a strong brand without deep customer insight.
  9. Not innovating. I have encountered many brands that rest on their laurels. They offered revolutionary products at one time but the competition has long since surpassed them. In the long run, the strongest brands in the land can’t compensate for mediocre products that are not keeping up with competitive offerings.
  10. Not supporting the brand with resources. I am amazed at how many organizations want strong brands but recently laid off their brand managers and slashed their marketing budgets.  How do they expect to build strong brands without adequate resources?

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Importance of Third Party Reviews In Branding

I find myself relying on Angie’s List more and more when choosing home contractors. Consumer’s Reports helps me decide on what appliances to purchase.  When I am approached by a not-for-profit organization for a donation, I research the organization on Charity Navigator first. When choosing lodging, I rely on Trip Advisor. And when choosing restaurants, I consult Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor and to a lesser extent OpenTable. Amazon.com has numerous reviews of books and other merchandise.  Goodreads also has book reviews. I go to CellarTracker to decide on which wine to buy.  Add Epinions and CNET to the list of frequented review sites. Now I am researching sailboats.  BoatU.S. helps with its reviews. And I find that I not only go to these websites to research brands and products, but I also contribute to these websites with my own detailed reviews. One can go to LinkedIn to read testimonials on individuals’ skill sets and professional strengths.  On a business-to-business level, it is important what industry analysts say about a company. What does Gartner or Forrester Research say about your company?

The Internet has made the world and its brands, products and services much more transparent. Can these reviews be seeded? Yes. Can they be manipulated? To some degree they can. However, a brand can’t easily erase a bad review. And it is even more difficult to erase or overcome multiple bad reviews. The consumer is increasingly in control of brand reputations. Which means the brand experience itself has to be consistently outstanding for a brand to succeed in the long run. Good marketing copy is not going to compensate for bad customer reviews.

I am a huge advocate of these websites and the transparency that they engender.  It leads to a quicker sorting of the “wheat from the chaff” and encourages continuous improvement of product attributes, customer service and the total brand experience. I tip my hat to these third party review sites. They hold all of us more accountable for what we actually deliver.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Brand Valuation vs. Brand Equity Measurement

Brand valuation is just what the term implies – it assigns a monetary value to the brand. This helps people understand that a brand is an asset that must be managed and protected. Brand valuation can transform CFOs into brand advocates. It is also useful in M&A situations. Many companies’ valuations far exceed the sum of their tangible assets. While this can be due to many factors, research has shown that brand value is one of them.  Online companies, in particular, have valuations that far exceed their tangible assets and often the brand itself is a substantial part of the company’s overall value.

Brand valuation’s usefulness is limited to the benefits that I have described above. Beyond these benefits, brand valuation offers little help in managing the brand or increasing its equity or value. This is where brand equity measurement can help. Our system of brand equity measurement measures each of the five drivers of customer brand insistence – awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility and emotional connection. Further, it identifies key brand associations, brand personality, brand vitality, brand loyalty and brand positioning opportunities and vulnerabilities vis-à-vis the competition. All of these inform specific actions that can be taken to strengthen the brand.

Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Brand equity can be measured. Brand equity measurement systems do this. So, if you are responsible for managing your brand, you should be measuring its equity and all of its equity components so that you can diagnose and solve any problems and identify and seize any opportunities.

I wish you great success in measuring and strengthening the equity of your brand.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Brand Positioning is Easy

Facilitating a one-day brand-positioning workshop seems to flow easily for me and it often seems effortless to the workshop participants. But don’t confuse this with an easy task.  Just because something appears to be effortless doesn’t mean it requires little to no skill. It often requires quite the opposite. Some clients recognize this while others think things must have turned out so well because of the particular alignment of the stars on that day.

I have conducted more than 250 different brand strategy consensus-building sessions for well over 100 organizations. Each session lasts seven to eight hours. This translates to 1,750+ hours facilitating brand strategy consensus. Add to this six years of formal business and marketing education, reading hundreds of marketing books, thousands of hours researching and writing Brand Aid, dozens of case studies used to teach brand management and marketing MBA courses, formal training in group facilitation and ideation techniques and eighteen years spent building and managing brand management and marketing functions for two different companies.

Similarly, a concert pianist might make a very complicated concerto seem effortless, a skilled artist might paint a high quality portrait in relatively short order and a master chef might create an astounding meal from scratch without any recipe.

Regardless of the specialty or profession … Education counts. Experience counts. Practice counts.

I have heard some people say, “Anybody can do marketing,” while I have heard others say, “Anybody can facilitate a brand positioning workshop.” Consider this - successfully positioning a brand just might not be as easy as it looks.


The Power of Consistency in Branding

“We thought we’d update the logo a little.” “It’s not a new tagline. It’s just a catchy phrase that we are using instead of the tagline.” “We thought the icon would make a great decorative element.” “We are thinking about creating a new name for the organization.” “We developed a new product so we created a new brand for it.” “We created a different tagline for each audience. Pretty clever, huh?” “We were getting so tired of the old logo.” “It’s more fun to present the brand in a wide variety of colors.” “There was no room for the icon so we left it off.” “This is a funky stylized version of the logo targeted at younger audiences.”

What is it about marketers that cause them to want to create something new all of the time? I have been told that I am a creative, out-of-the-box thinker, but when it comes to brand identity, I learned a long time ago that consistency is the secret to success.  With enough repetition, people encode the brand’s identity (usually not as read words but as the recognized look, shape and feel) in their brains, preferably linked to things that matter to them. If you mess with the overall look and feel of the brand, these linkages and associations are likely to break down.

So, how does one combat these tendencies? In the following ways…
  • Develop a sound brand strategy and identity from the start
  • Base them on deep customer insight
  • Carefully think through your brand’s architecture and identity system, anticipating as many new products, services, media and other applications as possible
  • If possible, also consider any potential industry or business model changes
  • Develop brand identity standards or guidelines and distribute them widely
  • Assign a brand identity overseer / enforcer
  • If there is a need to reposition the brand, think carefully about how you can preserve the current awareness and positive associations while moving the brand to its new position
  • Incremental, minimally perceptible changes are almost always more effective than extensive ones

For instance, we explored changing Hallmark’s tagline from “When you care enough to send the very best” to “When you care enough to give the very best” to accommodate gift giving beyond mailed greeting cards and “Because you care enough to send the very best” after reviewing research that showed that some consumers only choose to use Hallmark branded products for special occasions. Even if we had made both changes (“Because you care enough to give the very best”) few people would notice the changes because they are minor and incremental. [Note: Neither of these changes occurred while I was at Hallmark because the executive team was very cautious about making any changes to Hallmark’s identity.]

In summary, think twice when you have the urge to change something about your brand’s identity. More often than not, after careful consideration, you will decide that the change is not in the brand’s best interest. Redirect your more creative tendencies to new product development or out-of-the box marketing campaigns and tactics.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Does Your Organization Approach Brand Repositioning?

Often, we are retained when a new CEO comes on board and changes the direction of his or her company and its products and services. As a part of that effort, the CEO asks the CMO to initiate a rebranding effort to communicate the change in direction.  In this way, the rebranding effort supports substantive changes in products, services or business direction. When a rebranding project is initiated in this way, we are often called upon to help the organization revisit its mission, vision and values in addition to its brand’s essence, promise and personality. The CEO is the primary driver of the initiative throughout the organization.

At other times, we are invited to help companies reposition their brands independent of premeditated business changes. But, this is still a strategic exercise. We focus on what needs to change to create a substantive and compelling point of difference and we work with the management team to achieve that substantive point of difference. This may result in organization redesign, business process redesign, product redesign, customer service overhaul and other real changes. Key to the success of this approach is involving the organization’s leadership team throughout the process.

A third type of brand repositioning requests comes from organizations that know their brands lack differentiation from other brands in their categories, but that view this mostly as a brand identity and marketing communication exercise. This initiative usually comes from the marketing department itself and may or may not be instigated or supported at a higher level in the organization. We try to work with the internal team to not only change the brand’s identity and marketing messages but also to create additional brand promise proof points at each point of customer contact through our customer touch point design workshop.

There is a final type of brand repositioning project, in which we typically do not get involved (because we are brand strategy consultants). These are initiated by marketing departments and are viewed primarily as the need for a new communications campaign supported by fresh creative. It is independent of any real change in the organization or its products or services. The key point of difference is created through the messaging itself.

It might be useful for you to think through how your organization approaches brand repositioning and what that says about its capacity for long-term success.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Changing Brand Perceptions

Brand perceptions are much more often created by the product or service experience itself than from marketing communication. Marketing communication is much more effective in building brand awareness than it is in creating or changing brand perceptions.  That is not to say that marketing communication cannot be used to help change perceptions, but it can’t do it alone and it can’t do it in the absence of real changes in the brand experience. So, when a brand perception is negative and requires a change, that change is likely to include one or more of the following:
  • Competitive strategy
  • Business model
  • Vertical or horizontal integration
  • Product functions, features and styling
  • Product line breadth and depth
  • Customer service, including problem handling
  • Bundling/unbundling of products and services
  • Product/service customization
  • Amenities
  • Technical support
  • Availability
  • Responsiveness
  • Pricing strategy
  • Distribution strategy
  • Internal culture
  • Employee hiring criteria
  • Employee training
  • Performance metrics
  • Common measures
  • Internal systems and procedures
  • Capital investments
These all require the support of the organization’s CEO and his or her leadership team. So the main point in this post is that brand repositioning is not just a marketing activity. It goes well beyond marketing communication and requires real changes in product/service delivery across multiple functions. This is an enterprise-wide activity that must be driven from the top to be successful.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Brands and the Feelings They Evoke

How does your brand make people feel? Does it make them feel safer or more secure? Is it reassuring? Does it make them feel more in control? More confident? Does your brand make them feel sophisticated or sexy? Do they feel as though they are making a difference in the world by purchasing and using your brand? Does your brand put a smile on their faces? Does it harken back to a simpler time, a time of innocence and playfulness? Does using your brand make them feel as though they have status? Does it reinforce who they perceive themselves to be? Does it make them feel smart? Does it make them feel uninhibited and free? Does it amuse them? Does it make them feel as though they have arrived in society? Does it give them a sense of belonging? Does it take them back to an earlier time in their lives? Does it take them back to their childhood? Does it help them fanaticize about their future? Does it make them feel romantic? Stylish? Giddy? Does it make them want to sing or dance?

Brands can do all of these things and more. Don’t forget about how your brand could make people feel.  People are much more likely to respond to feelings than a laundry list of attributes and features.

For each of the feelings that I have listed above, can you think of at least one brand that evokes those feelings?


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Brand Architecture and Identity

We have helped scores of companies with brand architecture issues. More often than one might think, we are approached by a division of a much larger company for help with its division-level brand architecture. Sometimes there are three or four levels of branding with numerous brands or sub-brands at each level. Knowing that consumers can only remember up to two levels of branding, we determine the best way to simplify the system to make it easier for consumers to understand and talk about the brand's product or service offerings. So far so good, however, we often discover that there are additional levels of branding above the division level that need to be dealt with and often that is outside of the scope and control of the management team that brought us in.

Often there are very strict brand identity standards at a higher corporate level and sometimes those standards are impractical or not compatible with the division level needs. In other instances, there are no standards at a corporate level. As consultants, we need to make sure that whatever we decide fits into the higher level brand identity system and standards. However, this often increases the number of brands that we are addressing, and usually the corporate level brands are a given for the purposes of our project. Sometimes this leads to a corporate-wide brand architecture project through which we are able to solve everything at once. Sometimes, based on the success of our division-level brand architecture work, we are brought back later to address the corporate-wide architecture. And sometimes we just have to deal with the corporate architecture, which can result in a sub-optimal solution at the division level. 

Unless one is dealing with the top level brand, every brand needs to be considered within the context of the higher level brand structure of which it is a part. This is no trivial task. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Unusual Advertising Media

Companies have used everything from sidewalks (ads written in chalk), walls above men’s room urinals, and posters on bulletin boards, to the sides of trucks and buses, athlete’s clothes, and crop art (images created by plowing fields in certain patterns). A German company is now printing advertising messages on toilet paper. Evian funded the repair of a run-down pool in London in return for featuring its brand’s identity in the pool’s tile design, which could be seen by people flying into and out of nearby Heathrow Airport. Procter & Gamble placed upscale porta-potties (air-conditioned, with hardwood floors and aromatherapy candles) at state fairs to reinforce the luxury of its Charmin toilet paper.




©  2015 Brad VanAuken

Excerpted from Chapter 10, Nontraditional Marketing Approaches that Work in Brand Aid, second edition. This chapter lists more than sixty different types of nontraditional marketing approaches with hundreds of examples.

Click here to order your copy of the book.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Brand Manager Competencies and Responsibilities

Brand Manager Competencies
  • Strong ability to influence behaviors and perceptions without
  • formal authority
  • Respected throughout the organization
  • Strong written and verbal persuasion skills
  • Adequate analytical skills
  • Customer research experience
  • Strong intuition about human behavior and motivation
  • Good project management skills

Brand Manager Responsibilities
  • Identify, refine, the brand’s “unique value proposition.”
  • Monitor, measure, and manage brand equity/strength.
  • Increase brand awareness, relevant differentiation, value,
  • accessibility, and emotional connection.
  • Develop brand plan.
  • Monitor progress against brand plan.
  • Be responsible for results against brand plan.
  • Drive brand understanding and support organization-wide.
  • Champion/drive initiatives that support delivery of the brand
  • promise.
  • Brand messaging—elevator speech, tagline, campaign themes,
  • proof points, etc.

Brand Identity Manager Competencies
  • Strong ability to influence behaviors and perceptions
  • without
  • formal authority
  • Respected throughout the organization
  • Likable
  • Assertive
  • Ability to say “no” in a nice way
  • Some understanding of brand identity standards and systems

Brand Identity Manager Responsibilities
  • Manage the brand architecture.
  • Establish brand architecture and naming decision rules.
  • Establish brand identity standards including co-branding standards.
  • Maintain brand identity consistency.
  • Chair the brand identity council/team/board.
  • Help manage brand identity transitions resulting from mergers
  • and acquisitions.
  • Help determine identities for new brands/subbrands.
  • Anticipate and accommodate new brand identity needs



© 2015 Brad VanAuken
Excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition, available for sale here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Comprehensive Brand Management Training

Here is what I would want a brand manager in my marketing department to know:
  • What a brand is
  • The benefits strong brands deliver to organizations
  • The brand management process
  • What leads to customer brand insistence
  • What contributes to brand loyalty
  • What helps brands connect emotionally to their customers
  • How to conduct a brand audit
  • How to measure brand equity
  • How to measure the asset value of a brand
  • How to read and use point-of-sale (POS) data in managing brands
  • Customer segmentation approaches
  • Qualitative and quantitative brand research methodologies and approaches
  • How to use projective, laddering and guided imagery techniques
  • How to align brand values with customer values
  • The different types of brand benefits
  • How to turn your brand into a “customer badge” (self-expressive benefits)
  • How to read brand positioning maps
  • How to develop brand essence, promise, archetype and personality
  • How to successfully (re)position a brand
  • How to differentiate commodities
  • How to create a “category of one” brand
  • How to successfully extend a brand into new product or service categories
  • How to create and manage a strong brand identity
  • The various types of brand names and architecture
  • Developing a brand identity system and standards
  • How to develop a powerful brand tagline
  • How to develop a brand “elevator speech”
  • How to write a creative brief
  • How to evaluate advertising campaigns
  • How to develop a successful direct marketing campaign
  • How to use publicity and word-of-mouth marketing to a brand’s advantage
  • Using blogs and other social media to build brands
  • How to build brand proof points into every point of customer contact (customer touch point design)
  • How to develop a strong brand marketing plan
  • B2B marketing tools and techniques
  • How to use internal communication, education and training and organization design to align the organization in support of the brand
  • How to develop a brand building organization and transform employees into enthusiastic brand champions
  • Key considerations in brand pricing strategy
  • Key considerations in brand distribution strategy
  • What is important to know about managing global brands
  • The primary responsibilities of brand managers
  • The primary responsibilities of brand identity managers
  • Trends in brand management


We offer comprehensive one- to three-day workshops to teach all of these brand management skills, overall or in-depth on a particular brand management subject. We do this through conference companies in numerous countries in every region of the world. We are also brought in to deliver this as a part of university MBA marketing programs. And, individual companies and organizations hire us to conduct these workshops for their employees. We are happy to customize these workshops for specific industries. For instance, we have customized workshops for the bed & breakfast, digital media, energy, fashion, municipality and restaurant markets. Our workshops include lecture, numerous case studies, individual and team exercises, and many tools, templates and checklists.

Brand Aid, second edition is available here.