Monday, December 19, 2016

Non-Marketing Books for Marketers

I am an avid reader. I read about fifty new non-fiction books each year. My home library contains more than eight thousand volumes, most of which I have read. Having read my share of brand management and marketing books, I can attest to the fact that most of them rehash stuff that has already been said many times before. Having said that, I think marketers can gain insight that will help them with their careers from non-marketing books. Here is my list of interesting non-marketing books for marketers. It includes the following topics and genres - behavioral economics, propaganda and persuasion, understanding American history and values, how personal identity and labels work, power and influence, insights from religious experience, insights from politics, and business models and business strategy.

  • Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaylor
  • Predictable Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Irrational Exuberance by Robert J. Schiller
  • SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen Dubner
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
  • Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion by Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson
  • The Dynamics of Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the 21st Century by Richard M. Perloff
  • The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by Shankar Vedantam
  • Snoop: What Your Stuff Say About You by Sam Gosling
  • Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau
  • American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard
  • The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony
  • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
  • The Prince by Nicole Machiavelli
  • The Will to Power by Friedrich Nietzsche 
  • The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman of P. T. Barnum by Candace Fleming
  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
  • The Future of Illusion by Sigmund Freud
  • Zero to One by Peter Thiel
  • the four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by Scott Galloway
  • The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
  • Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jerad Diamond
  • Political Ideologies and Political Philosophies by N. B. McCullough
  • The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life by Evanash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff
  • Co-opetition by Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff

For a listing of my nine favorite brand management and marketing books, click here. To order my Brand Aid book, click here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Market Disruption

Robots have replaced a large number of factory workers in many industries. Robotics have largely replaced people in most distribution centers. Digital photography made film-based photography obsolete. Smartphones replaced lower end cameras. Digitally delivered music is replacing CDs. Uber and Lyft will hugely disrupt taxicab service. Self-driving cars will eventually impact the trucking industry. Airbnb has brought new competition to hotels and motels. Medical diagnostic systems based on AI will radically change the role of Internists. The Internet has changed the way news is created and delivered. Drones may become a major method of package delivery. We now have smart homes that can be monitored and managed remotely. CreateSpace allows for on demand printing of books sold on 

Everywhere you look, there is disruption and there is no industry or job that is safe including knowledge worker jobs and other professional jobs. To be able to anticipate these disruptions and even capitalize on them, you must first understand their sources. Here are some of the sources of disruption:

  • The Internet
  • Robotics
  • 3D printing
  • 3D printed body parts
  • Digitization
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Voice recognition
  • Augmented reality and vision
  • Virtual reality
  • Aerial photography
  • Remote sensing
  • Wearable and ingestible sensors
  • Smartphones
  • Network effects
  • Nanotechnology
  • Big data analytics
  • Photonics
  • Advanced battery technologies
  • Composite materials
  • Exotic meta-materials
  • Self-driving (or autonomous) vehicles
  • Distributed embedded experiences
  • Gene editing
  • Organ repair and regeneration
  • Smart infrastructure
  • Distributed ledgers and blockchains
  • Smart cities
  • Seemless intermodal transportation
  • Deep learning
  • Providers become platforms
Underlying all of this is Moore's Law. In the 1960s, Gordon Moore predicted the continuous improvement in price, performance, size and power utilization of computing power.  

The business owner or marketer who is not aware of these sources of disruption is likely to be left behind by them. The person who is aware of them and is entrepreneurial and opportunistic may just create the next eBay, Uber or airbnb. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Ten Most Important Things to Know About Your Customers

Most marketers agree that market research and customer insights are very important to brand management and marketing strategy. This begs the question, "What are the most important things a marketer needs to know about his or her brand's customers?"

Here is my list of the ten most important questions a marketer needs to answer about his or her customers through research:

  1. What needs (functional, emotional, experiential and self-expressive) are fulfilled by products or services in your brand's product or service category?
  2. Which of those needs are met by all brands and which are met by only a few or no brands?
  3. Which product/service functions or features are critical and which are optional?
  4. Who shops the category?
  5. How can the category's customers be segmented? Which segments promise the greatest potential for  your brand?
  6. What are the customer's unmet needs within your brand's product or service category?
  7. What are his or her frustrations within the category?
  8. Who or what does your customer listen to (website, expert, friend, periodical, trade show, etc.) to make decisions in your brand's product or service category?
  9. Where is he or she most likely to go (distribution channels and specific stores) to find products or services like yours?
  10. How sensitive is he or she to prices within the category? What are his or her expected prices and what are the maximum prices he or she would be willing to pay?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Brand Aid

Brand Aid is used by more than two dozen colleges and universities to teach brand management and marketing. Here is what professors are saying about their use of Brand Aid:

'I am a huge fan of Brand Aid #2 and have been using it in my keystone graduate class called IMC 463 Brand Communications Decisions. I feel your book is one of the most practical and valuable books ever written about brands. I love the checklists and remind the students that your book is my graduation gift to them because it is a resource they will find useful every day they are developing, managing or increasing the value of brands.'

John Greening, Associate Professor at Northwestern University in Evanston IL heading up the Brand Management specialization in the Graduate Medill Integrated Marketing Communications Program

'Since we first communicated, I have used your book in graduate level branding course for three cohorts. Simply, your book is a tremendous asset to me and my students. They rave how your content and writing style is so practical, direct and applicable. Furthermore, the cornerstone of the course is a group assignment where the students complete the Brand and Brand Management Audits for an organization of their choice. I couldn’t be more pleased and impressed with their effort and the quality of their work.'

Brian Vollmert, Assistent Professor of Marketing at North Park University

You can order your copy of the book here.

College/university instructors can order their evaluation copy of the book directly from the publisher here.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Brands and Integrity

I have read Ryan Holiday's book, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. In the book's introduction, Ryan Holiday says "If you were being kind, you would say my job is in marketing and public relations, or online strategy and advertising. But that's a polite veneer to hide the harsh truth. I am, to put it bluntly, a media manipulator - I am paid to deceive."

In his book, All Marketers are Liars, Seth Godin explains that "when consumers are motivated by irrational wants instead of objective needs and there is almost no connection between what is actually there and what we believe, presenting stolid factual information about a product is a losing strategy. Instead, marketers should tell "great stories" about their products that pander to consumers' self-regard and worldview. Because consumers prefer fantasy to the truth, the marketer's duty is to be "authentic" rather than honest, to "live the lie, fully and completely" so that "all the details line up"-that is, to make their falsehoods convincing rather than transparent."

One person who was searching for my marketing consulting services indicated that he was looking for a "master of the dark arts." Others talk about manipulation and deception. A relatively new form of marketing is stealth, covert or undercover marketing in which a paid actor poses as a regular person and pretends to love the brand or product in question in a setting in which many people may be using the product or brand and similar products or brands. Sponsorship ambush is a marketing concept in which the non-sponsor brand upstages the sponsor brand to be perceived as the sponsoring brand but at little to no cost. Nike has done this a couple of times at the Olympics in which it successfully upstaged Converse (in 1984) and Reebok (in 2000). 

In this US presidential election cycle most experts agree that the election was swayed by a preponderance of false news which was accepted as true and spread across social media and word-of-mouth by many people. The candidate who was the most knowledgeable about domestic and foreign affairs and who mostly talked policy (functional benefits) lost, while the person who didn't say much of substance but who provoked strong emotions won.

Some say that we are living in an age in which truth does not matter. All that matters is how you make someone feel, even if that is through the placebo effect. Marketers have switched from talking about functional benefits to emotional, experiential and self-expressive benefits.

There is an often repeated quote inside the Washington, DC beltway: "The main thing is honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made."

Maybe we have gotten to a point in our history where very few people need much of anything tangible. Rather, they just want to be entertained and feel good. In the 1999 film, The Matrix, the main character Neo is offered the choice of the red pill or the blue pill. If he takes the red pill, he escapes from the matrix into reality, which turns out to be quite harsh. If he choses the blue pill, he remains blissfully ignorant of reality in the made up world of the matrix. 

In one recent study of integrity by profession, only 4% of Americans thought that the marketing and advertising industry demonstrated integrity. That was dead last after US Congress, which had a slightly higher percentage of 6%.

And yet, people want to be able to trust their brands. They want to be able to rely on their brands. They want to be able to count on them to consistently deliver on their promises. They do not want to be deceived. They want their brands to do what they say they are going to do. 

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that brands must operate out of integrity. (By the way, I believe every person and institution should too.) While people might enjoy gorging on cotton candy, in the end, they need real nutrition to survive and thrive. Marketers who would deliver "good feelings" through smoke and mirrors but nothing else might reconsider their value proposition. It reminds me of motivational speakers who are hired to pump an audience up but who really say nothing of substance that can be used later. I have heard many of them at national sales meetings, which seems to be one of their favorite venues. 

Style is fine and making people feel good is fine, but an absence of substance will catch up with you in the end. And marketing is much more than deception. I see my role as a brand consultant as one who helps organizations and their brands rediscover their reason for being, what makes them unique and compelling, what they believe in, what they value and how they are uniquely making the world a better place. That is highly motivating to me, to the organization and its employees and to the organization's customers. That's how I roll. I am hoping that's how you roll too. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Strategies before Tactics

I get a lot of my blog post ideas from interacting with clients. I was recently reminded again how important it is to approach brand management and marketing at a strategic level before identifying and executing the supporting tactics. 

What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to increase brand awareness, change brand perceptions or behaviors, introduce the brand to new market segments, increase the perceived value of the brand, create more emotional connection to the brand, move the brand more upscale, extend the brand into new product or service categories or something else? What are you trying to accomplish?

Bosses who want marketers to jump right into "actionable" tactics without providing the strategic direction first do the brand a great disservice. 

Run in the other direction if you hear any of the following requests outside the context of a specific brand management or marketing strategy (or, better yet, ask what objectives or strategies these are intended to support):

  • I want you to run some ads in [a specific medium].
  • Come up with some "out of the box" marketing ideas and execute them.
  • Create a new marketing campaign.
  • Start advertising on Facebook.
  • We need to start using QR codes. 
  • We need to come up with a new logo. This one has been around for too long.
  • Just do something different. The other stuff hasn't been working.
  • Create a campaign for Millennials. Baby Boomers are starting to die out.
  • I'd like to see some big outdoor advertising.
  • You need to decrease your marketing budget by 30%.
  • I would like you to run an ad featuring me. Work me in somehow.
  • I got a great deal with the [call letters] radio station for some advertising. Reach out to them to buy some ad time.

You may laugh at some or all of these or maybe you have experienced one or more of them yourself. Either way, make sure that every brand management and marketing plan or action is based on some carefully thought through objective. 

This may seem basic, but I am surprised by how many organizations seem to jump straight to the tactics before thinking through what they are trying to accomplish with the tactics. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Brands and Consistency versus Surprise

I and most other brand consultants and especially brand identity experts talk about the importance of consistency in brand identity and execution. This is because a consistent identity is what leads to successful memory encoding and decoding. Any amount of inconsistency works against this process. Consistency in execution works because people have the assurance of knowing what to expect. Consider a McDonald's experience in one place versus another. And finally consistency is important because people can count on it. The brand is trustworthy, predictable and reliable. 

Having said this, a brand can benefit from presenting elements of surprise or unpredictability, but only if those elements are pleasant surprises. 

I have often said that a brand is the personification of an organization and its products and services. Given that, it is instructive to consider the role of consistency and unpredictability in people. 

It is important that you can trust me, that you can rely on what I tell you is true. It is also important that you can predict how I will treat you (hopefully well) and what you can expect from me and what you cannot expect from me. 

Having said that, would it be terrible if you discovered that I had an amazing voice and sang you my own rendition of "Happy Birthday" on your birthday or that I am an accomplished oil painter and painted a lovely picture of your prized possession, your sailboat? I think not. If we surprise people in delightful ways, it can only add to people's perceptions of us. So paying it forward or committing random acts of kindness are not elements of unpredictability that detract from the brand experience but rather are elements that can enhance it.

So, your brand's identity must remain consistent to increase brand recognition and recall. And your brand must remain trustworthy and deliver on its promises. However, building a more subtly textured personality and random elements of surprise can create a more nuanced and interesting brand that is more intriguing to people as long as those elements of surprise are positive.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Leading-Edge Brand Management & Marketing

I usually write about timeless or evergreen brand management and marketing topics - the fundamentals that were true years ago and that are still true today, the topics and concepts that every brand and marketing manager needs to know to be successful.  But today, I am writing about what is new, what is current, and what is leading-edge. 

Given the importance of customer insight, I will start with the latest market research. These are at the forefront of today's market research approaches:

  • Big data analytics
  • Combining data mines with attitudinal research
  • Attitudinal 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 flow pattern measurement and analysis
  • Drawing on the insights of behavioral economics
  • Measuring ROI
  • Identifying sales drivers
  • Antropological studies
  • Conjoint analysis and AI
  • Emotion measurement tools
  • Online focus groups
  • Mobile research options
  • Color science and emotional response
Here are the most recent areas of focus in brand management:
  • Shared values
  • Community building
  • Using cultural symbols
  • Employer branding
  • Internal employee and system/process alignment
  • Brand co-creation with customers
  • Brand storytelling
  • Customer touch point design
  • Strategic partnerships and co-opetition
  • Game theory and competitive strategy
And here are some leading-edge trends in marketing:
  • 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
As expounding on these topics could easily fill a tome, I would admonish you to conduct an online search for any of these for which you do not have a firm understanding so that you can learn more. Or let me know if there is a particular topic you would like me to cover in depth. This is the current or perhaps leading-edge state of brand management and marketing today.

PS - I would also be curious if you think I missed something.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Laddering Research

When we conducted laddering research at Hallmark, we discovered that most product and brand benefits ultimately supported the underlying need to preserve self-esteem. (Laddering is a research technique that probes consumers to better understand underlying basic human values the brand addresses. It investigates benefits that underlie product attributes, consequences that result from the benefits, and values that underlie the consequences. The results are often mapped to outline the brand’s benefit structure.) Different benefits may have followed different paths to that end, but, ultimately, the need that they fulfilled was the same fundamental one: to preserve self-esteem. We explored certain emotional end benefits—self-affirmations that contribute to different aspects of a person’s self-esteem; among them:
  • I am frugal.
  • I am competent.
  • I am successful.
  • I am a good mother.
  • I am a good wife.
  • I am a good friend.
  • I am unique.
  • I am lovable.
  • I am making a positive difference in the world.
  • I am in control of my life.

Although the following data is from a study conducted decades ago, it points out that some of the most powerful motives are fundamental ones. Some of the most effective advertising over time has tapped into these motives. I have observed that the most powerful brands and products are those that help people stay healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In fact, brands and products that can help people with the following (largely spiritual needs) are extraordinarily powerful:
  • A sense of purpose
  • A sense of community
  • A sense of self-worth
  • A sense of well-being
  • Personal empowerment
  • Healthy, trusting relationships
  • Peace
  • Hope
  • Joy

To that list you could also add communication that taps into any of the higher order needs from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: affiliation, esteem, or self-actualization.

Reprinted from Brand Aid, available here
© 2015 Brad VanAuken

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Customer-First Branding

I have now worked with more than 200 brands. In doing so, I have not only worked with the marketing teams but also the leadership teams. Each organization has a unique leader with a unique leadership style and a unique culture. One truth that is obvious to me having briefly embedded myself in many different organizations is that if the leader and the leadership team put the customer first in everything that they do, their organization and its brand thrives. If they are inwardly focused or primarily financially focused, they struggle more to succeed. 

The primary purpose of any organization, for profit or not-for-profit, is to serve people in one way or another. Even not-for-profit organizations that focus on animal rights or environmental preservation are doing so because of the will of their supporters. Organizations that forget who they are serving or why or who have financial targets as their primary objectives often lose their way and end up struggling. 

So, I encourage you to create a mission-driven organization and brand. Fight tirelessly to better serve your customers each and every day. In so doing, your organization and brand will thrive. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Brand Management Issues

If you are responsible for any area of brand management or marketing, I am seeking your input regarding the most pressing brand management and marketing issues that you, your organization or your brand faces. 

Please click on the link below to take the survey.


And please invite clients and colleagues to take the survey too.

I will report the results in an upcoming blog post.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Brands & Meaning

As more and more people climb toward the apex of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs throughout the world, the search for meaning becomes an increasingly important and widespread pursuit. Historically, the majority of people were so busy surviving that they didn't have time to think about meaning. And, if they did, institutionalized religions were more than happy to provide them with pat doctrinal answers. 

But today, more and more people are searching for meaning in their lives. In fact, for some, it becomes an existential crisis. "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "What is the meaning of my life?" "What should I live for?" "Can I really make a difference in the world?" "Does my life matter at all?"

I would contend that brands can help people discover meaning. Patagonia embraces the spiritual and rejuvenating qualities of nature and wilderness with the conviction that it must be protected and preserved. Newman's Own believes that business profits can be channeled to make the world a better place. Tesla believes that sustainable, clean energy must be developed and embraced to create a livable environment for future generations.

Can your brand give people a cause and a reason to live passionately? Can it stir something deep inside them that says, "Yes, I can make a difference. Yes, my life does matter."?

Brands that are focused on truly meaningful missions, ones that lead to the greater good, have the power to captivate and mobilize people. 

For more information on brand management and marketing, read Brand Aid, available here

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Marketing & Common Sense

Common sense: noun - the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions; sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts; good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.

Here is a little secret that I have learned. You can take many marketing courses. You can read dozens of marketing books. You can know everything there is to know about brand positioning or advertising or search engine optimization, but if you don't have common sense, you will not be a highly successful marketer.  

There are may types of intelligence. IQ measures one type. You have heard of emotional intelligence. There is spatial intelligence. Linguistic intelligence. Kinesthetic intelligence. Musical intelligence. Existential intelligence. Logical-mathematical intelligence. Naturalist intelligence. And intra-personal intelligence. But the intelligence I am referring to is common sense. What do I mean by this?

You intuitively know how someone is going to behave. You know what is safe to do and what is not safe to do. You know how someone is going to react to something. You know the most logical places to look for something that is missing. You know what will work and what will not work. You know what will motivate people and what will enervate them. You know what someone is thinking. You know what is on his or her mind. And you know what you can say that will make him or her feel better. You come up with simple ways to solve everyday problems. You can get things done without overthinking them. This is common sense.

How does this apply to marketing? You know who is most likely to buy your product and who is less likely to purchase it. You know what people are thinking and what you need to do or say to motivate them to buy your product. You know what is holding people back and you can help them overcome these barriers. You know where people are most likely to go to get their information. You know who they are mostly likely to believe. And you know the arguments that can best work to change their minds. And you know where they are most likely to go to purchase your product. And rather than following complex formulas or plans, you just do what you know will work. You keep it simple and you do what makes the most sense. This is common sense marketing. 

Forget about the fancy buzz phrases. Forget about the new shiny objects. Forget about the latest marketing theory. Or the latest social media craze. Forget about the latest consulting jargon. Forget about the latest hot methodology. Just keep it simple and do what makes sense. This is common sense marketing. Never lose sight of good old common sense. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

How does it make you feel?

Think about how different people make you feel. You might love to get together with one person because you feel understood and validated by her. You might enjoy another person's company because he always makes you laugh. Another person might make you feel inadequate or insignificant. Another person might anger you. You might be completely fed up with another person's self-centeredness or his BS. While someone else might completely entrance you with her amazing stories. You might look forward to seeing someone else because he completely stimulates your intellect. While another person might bore you because he never has anything new or interesting to say.

Brands can have the same effect on people. Because they take on human qualities, they will likely evoke certain emotions. Can you trust the brand? Does the brand tell engaging stories? Is the brand affirming? Does the brand make you feel good about yourself? Or does it make you feel bad about yourself? Does the brand provoke fear or anger? Is the brand charming? Does it make you laugh? Is the brand interesting enough to hold your attention?

Consider the Dove brand. How does it make the average woman feel? Consider GEICO? How does that brand make you feel? Lululemon? How about the Trump brand? The Ritz-Carlton brand? The United Airlines brand? The Harvard brand? The Under Armour brand? Wegmans? You get the idea.

Advertising campaigns and the actual brand experience can go a long way in evoking specific feelings. 

A question the brand manager should always ask is, "How does our brand make you feel?"

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Defining Target Markets

For some brands, target market definition may be easy or intuitively obvious. But if generally you think it is a trivial exercise to define a brand's target markets, you may be not be thinking deeply enough. 

We encourage clients to define primary, secondary and tertiary markets. We believe primary markets should be very tightly defined. They are the bulls-eye of the target. They are the most advantageous or lucrative group for the brand. They are the customers your brand would most like to serve. 

The following goes into identifying/defining target markets:

  • Identifying your brand's most important differentiating benefit or shared value. It needs to be purchase motivating, unique and believable.
  • Identifying the market segment or segments to which this has the greatest appeal. 
    • This requires an in-depth understanding of customer attitudes, values, beliefs, hopes, fears, needs and preferences. 
    • This also requires careful segmentation based on a combination of demographics and psychographics, including differentiating attitudinal statements.
  • Identifying the short- and long-term potential of the targeted segment. This includes estimating segment size, growth rate, purchasing power, purchase frequency and profitability.

Let's take a wealth management firm as an example. The firm could define its target market as "all individuals and institutions who have more than $250,000 in investable assets." However, having helped numerous wealth management firms brand themselves, I have found that each has its own unique target market. For instance, one firm decided that its target market was:
  • Successful self-made entrepreneurs who have at least $1 million in investable assets and who feel as though they have not been adequately recognized for their accomplishments.

This firm decided to become a surrogate high-status organization with which its clients could associate to demonstrate to the world that "they were movers and shakers" and that "they had arrived."

Another wealth management firm I worked with decided that this would be their target:
  • People who are retired or on a fixed income who have investable assets of between $250,000 and $500,000 and who are afraid that their retirement assets will not outlast them. These people are highly risk adverse and want to protect against downside risk, often because they had experienced a significant decline in their asset value in the past.

This firm had a unique methodology for guarding against downside risk. 

The other wealth management firms with which I have worked had equally unique target customer definitions and brand positions. Unique target customer definitions always help clarify the associated unique brand positions.

Think twice before you define your target market as "all women between 25 and 55" or "all homeowners with household incomes exceeding $40,000." These are not highly targeted enough definitions to be useful. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top 100 Branding Blog

We are proud to announce that feedspot, a leading RSS reader, has named a Top 100 Branding Blog in 2016.

The Art of Persuasion

There are certain techniques that advertisers, politicians, salespeople, speechwriters, preachers, and others have long known to be effective in persuading people. Social psychologists have studied many of them in great detail. Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, in their book, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, outline four basic strategies to effectively influence others: 1) defining/structuring how an issue is discussed, which includes setting the agenda and creating the frame of reference, 2) establishing credibility (authority, likability, and trustworthiness), 3) vividly focusing the audience’s attention on the key point the communicator intends to make, and 4) arousing emotions in a way that can only be satisfactorily addressed by taking the communicator’s desired course of action.

In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., focuses on six principles of persuasion: 1) reciprocation (people try to repay favors out of a sense of obligation); 2) commitment and consistency (people behave in ways that support an earlier action or decision); 3) social proof (seeing other people doing something makes it more acceptable and appealing); 4) liking (people are more likely to say yes to people and brands that they know, like, and trust); 5) authority (people are inclined to yield to authority); and 6) scarcity (people are more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something).

Cialdini also indicates that many approaches lead to “liking”: physical attractiveness (which studies have shown to be a function of body/facial symmetry), similarity (people feel comfortable with you and can relate to you), compliments, familiarity (through contact and cooperation), and direct or indirect association with other likable entities.

Both books are quite interesting and well worth reading, if only to help you better understand how third parties attempt to persuade you on a daily basis.

Other considerations in creating highly persuasive communication:
  • Always design the message to play off of the audience’s preexisting beliefs, values, and prejudices.
  • To be effective, your point of departure must be from a place of agreement.
  • Try to define the issue in a way that your brand can’t help but “win.” This is why it is so important to choose the optimal “frame of reference” in brand positioning.
  • Sometimes, just asking the right questions can reorient people’s thinking about a topic in your favor.
  • Comparisons/contrasts alter perceptions of the items being compared/contrasted. For example, when I moved to Rochester, my realtor first showed me a number of overpriced houses that required much work. When we got to the houses that she wanted me to buy, they seemed even more appealing than they might have otherwise if she hadn’t first shown me the other houses. This concept is also used in establishing reference pricing. Create reference prices that make your price seem more reasonable or even a “bargain.”
  • Be careful when labeling, categorizing, or describing competing brands or approaches in ways that cast them in a negative light. While it is an effective technique (that is, it usually works), in the long run, it may cast a less favorable light on your brand.
  • Making people feel as though they are a part of a group (assigning brand labels, brand-as-a-badge) helps sell products and brands.
  • Fear and guilt sell. (Example: “When you care enough to send the very best.”)
  • Paint vivid pictures of desired or dreaded end states with words or images, or both.
  • Let people touch, try, use, and otherwise interact with your product or brand before they buy it. Once they have done so, they are much more likely to want to purchase it. This works for a wide variety of situations: from automobile test-drives and in-home free-trial uses of products, to overnight stays on the campus of a college that you are considering attending (assuming the experience is positive).
  • Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is a well-studied technique that increases persuasion. Through NLP, you can establish a strong rapport with the audience by mirroring the mannerisms and expressions of the audience, which allows you to more easily lead them in the direction of your choice.
  • “Largest,” “fastest growing,” “most popular,” “highest rated,” and other similar claims provide strong third-party endorsements for a product or brand. (Alternatively, they may be perceived to be puffery by a jaded audience unless you back them up with credible proof points.)
  • Repetition increases the effectiveness of communication.

© 2016 Brad VanAuken, reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Under Amour Brand

My wife, who is a substitute teacher, recently commented on how many children in the schools in which she teaches wear Under Armor branded clothes. When she said this, it occurred to me that the Under Armor brand has become ubiquitous. So, what are they doing right?

Whether it is "Rule yourself," "I will what I want," or "I will," the brand has become the underdog, anti-Nike brand. It is about overcoming tremendous obstacles and odds to achieve personal success. It is about the power of will, tenacity and hard work to achieve one's goals. It's about passion and its about confidence. It's about an attitude and its about winning. They have enlisted many elite athletes whose stories reinforce this narrative from Stephen Curry, Michael Phelps and Misty Copeland to Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Memphis Depay.

Technically, the product is performance apparel that wicks perspiration off of the skin rather than absorbing it. It is engineered to keep athletes cool, dry and light. But the Under Armor brand does not focus on this, but rather on the underlying attitude that is highly appealing those who would purchase the Under Armor brand.

This is an example of a brand that stands for an attitude to which people aspire. So the brand become a "badge" (a self-expression vehicle) for those who aspire to that attitude. And the brand is reinforced by a simple recognizable icon.

Click here to view some of their videos on YouTube.

For another example of an athletic brand that has superior functionality but that focuses on self-expressive benefits, click here to read my post about the FootJoy brand.

Personal Branding

I have had the benefit of going through rigorous self-assessment, first at Harvard Business School in a course called Self-Assessment & Career Development. But after that, through the Center For Creative Leadership's Leadership Development Program, Personnel Decisions International's EXCEL program, a Clear Purpose Management course and an executive education program at University of Kansas. And then further through Hallmark's business leadership, executive leadership and creative leadership programs. I have taken everything that I learned from these programs and from a number of courses that I have taken at Esalen Institute to create a personal branding course called "Discovering Your Truth, Living Your Truth." I have successfully delivered this through numerous companies and organizations over the past decade.

Course Objectives:
  • To help you identify and live your deepest truths
  • To help you create a life that brings you joy and energizes you while simultaneously providing you with a deep peace of mind

Course Overview:
Most people follow paths that are dictated by their parents, teachers, bosses, employers, the society within which they live, etc. rather than from within.  Studies have shown that people who have discovered who they are and what drives/energizes them are much happier and more successful than those who haven’t.  As Socrates said, ‘an unexamined life is not worth living.’  Yet many people never take the time to do just this.  This course provides a process that will help you discover and live your deepest truths.

People who love what they do are far more successful than people who are motivated only by financial reward. If you love what you do, your work becomes play and your passion makes hard work and long hours seem effortless.

Course Outline:
Session 1 – Introduction to Self Analysis
  1. Why I am here? – a sharing
  2. General principles to help guide me in this process of self discovery
  3. Introduction to journaling
    • Given a set of questions designed to provide personal insight
    • Journaling to occur outside of class over the next 3 weeks
  4. Tapping into my dreams – identifying patterns
Session 2 -- My Strengths & My Dreams
  1. Guided imagery – my ideal relationship, job, day, life
  2. Guided imagery – the ideal world, how the world should be
  3. Identifying my strengths
  4. What makes me unique – I AM exercise
Session 3 -- What I Believe – My Credo
  1. What I believe, how I intend to live my life – creating my personal credo
    • Religious/spirituality questions
    • Personal credo questions
Session 4 – What Drives Me
  1. Exercises to help me identify what energizes and enervates me
  2. Dyad partner feedback
  3. Developing a list of personal energizers and enervators
Session 5 – My Life Plan
  1. Pulling it all together – crafting a life plan including objectives for the work/career, family/home, health/physical, financial, emotional, social/recreational, personal development and spiritual dimensions of my life
  2. Tools and techniques to help me stay on my chosen path
  3. Crafting a personal "elevator speech"
To create a personal brand that is authentic and compelling, one must first do this introspective work. People who love what they do are much more successful than those who are only working to pay the bills. And one can only be articulate about one's unique value proposition if that person knows what he or she loves and at which he or she excels. 

For more information on this course or personal branding, contact Brad VanAuken at