Sunday, January 31, 2016

Branding Is All About the...

I am currently working with a client whose opinion is that branding is mostly about the data and analysis that lead to consumer insights. She has a PhD in marketing research. I have another client who does not believe that quantitative research is nearly as useful as qualitative research in branding. His first job was as a focus group moderator. I have another client who indicates that branding is all about the design. His background is graphic design. Still another client says it's all about the bottom line - the sales, profits and return on investment. He was an MBA finance major. I had worked with an advertising agency that felt it was all about the brand's story. They had really strong copywriters on their staff. I have had a business partner who primarily thinks about how things look more than their actual content. He had been a radio DJ and male model prior to becoming a brand guy.

I believe all of these are important in branding. My point is if you feel as though you are being strongly steered in one of these directions, it is quite possible that the person you are working with has a background that is leading you down this path. Make sure you take a holistic approach to brand management. Qualitative and quantitative research leading to deep consumer insight is very important as is strong content, a great story, good design and looking good in general. And all of these ultimately need to lead to strong sales, profits and ROI. Don't neglect the other aspects of brand management just because a client, colleague or business partner is strongly pushing you down the path with which he or she is the most familiar or comfortable.

Remember, if you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail and if you only have a screwdriver, everything looks like a screw. Make sure as a brand manager that you have and use the complete toolbox.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Brands and Happiness

One lens through which you can view your brand is, "How does my brand bring happiness to people's lives?" Does your brand make people happy? Does it make their lives easier? Is is surprising or unexpected in some way? Is aesthetically pleasing or beautiful? Is it charming? Is it amusing? Is it funny? Does it help people save time or money? Is it an indulgence? Is it quirky? Is it intuitively easy to use? Does it convey status?

Consider GEICO's gecko. Or Apple's product design. Or Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World. How about iPhone's Siri? Or the scent of a Cinnabon product? Or the anthropomorphic M&M characters? Or the latest Hermès scarf design? Or the feeling of driving a brand new MINI? Or Harley-Davidson bike? Or even the simplicity of Swiffer house cleaning products? Consider the friendliness of your local Starbucks barista. 

How does your brand bring happiness to people's lives?

Monday, January 25, 2016

States of Mind

When I think of evocative brand names - Pandora, Hotwire, Apple, Gateway, Tesla, Amazon, Uber, AXE - or when I think of evocative advertising imagery, from the cigarette ads of yesteryear (Marlboro) to today's pharmaceutical ads (Lunesta), it makes me think of how important signaling a state of mind is. This led me to inventory different states of mind that people seek or to which they aspire. Here is the list I compiled (in no particular order):

  • Tranquility/serenity
  • Freedom
  • Expansiveness
  • Effortlessness
  • Anger
  • Rebellion 
  • Discovery
  • Delight
  • Naughtiness
  • Playfulness
  • Complete letting go
  • Uninhibited
  • Letting off steam
  • Complete control
  • Adulation
  • Debauchery 
  • Animal magnetism
  • Unbridled bliss
  • Sexual release
  • Lightness
  • Belonging
  • Complete acceptance
  • A sense of being home
  • Longing
  • Nostalgia
  • Venturing into the unknown
  • Testing the outer limits of achievement
  • Taking risks, living on the edge
  • Flirting with danger or mortality
  • Instigating drama
  • Feeling completely safe and secure
  • Melancholy 
  • Tantalizing the senses
  • Surrounded by beauty
  • Complete comfort
  • Complete luxury
  • Complete indulgence
  • To be completely satiated
  • In the chase
  • Striving
  • Living completely in the moment
  • Flow state

My point with this is that brands, through names, identity systems, advertising and other imagery can tap into and evoke these deeply sought after states of mind ... and that will sell products.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Taking Risks

Southwest Airlines tried something new when it decided to create an airline based on a new low cost model and employees who were cheerful and funny. took risks when it created an all online mega store. eBay was also an entirely new concept. Industry insiders laughed at GEICO when it began advertising so heavily with a gecko spokesperson. Uber thought out-of-the box when it created its new model for paid vehicular transportation. Wegmans has a history of constantly trying new things and integrating them if they work and abandoning them if they don't. Tesla started a new car company based on the concept of an all electric luxury car. And they decided not to sell through dealerships. CarMax created an entirely new model for selling used cars. Abercrombie & Fitch repositioned itself from a staid century-old upscale sporting goods store to a hip clothing store targeted at the teenage market. 

Not all risks pay off. Saturn was a different kind of car company and a different kind of car but when it got integrated back into GM mainstream, it began to fail. Song Airlines, a Delta Airlines startup, was designed as a lifestyle brand targeting stylish hip professional women and focused on creating a new culture in flying. It started at the worst possible time for airlines, post 9/11.

My point with each of these brands is that wildly successful brands (and some that fail) usually step out of the box, break the industry mold and take risks. As a brand, you cannot win by doing what everyone else in your product categories is doing. 

I can't tell you how many clients have said to me, "But if we do that, we would be taking huge risks. No one else in the industry has ever done that before." I have also heard the following: "We just don't know how to do that." "That is not our area of expertise." "But then we would be entering a new product category." "Our shareholders would not allow that." "That is just too risky. What if we fail?" Gambling establishments are quick to point out that "you can't win if you don't play." The same holds true for brands. If you are unwilling to take any risks, it is almost certain that you will not stand out as a brand. In fact, every single brand that was successful over the history of commerce took a significant number of risks to achieve their success. That is just how it works. 

If you are unwilling to take at least calculated risks, your brand will never achieve the highly successful differentiation you would seek for it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Trade Secrets

Don’t overlook trade secrets as a form of protection. Trade secrets are simply information, techniques, procedures, codes, patterns, plans, processes, formula, and prototypes that are developed confidentially and that are kept confidential. Trade secrets even include customer lists and instructional methods. The Coca-Cola syrup formulation is an example of a trade secret. (The added value of this approach from a brand perspective is that it often creates a mystique that has its own cachet.)

Sometimes it is better to keep something a trade secret than to patent it. In some industries, companies routinely watch for competitors’ new patents and then try to design around them. Noncompete and nondisclosure agreements are important, but not infallible, in protecting trade secrets. The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 protects trade secrets against theft. Information is legally considered to be a trade secret if an organization can show that it took reasonable measures to keep the information secret and that there is economic value to the information not
being made public.

A business can protect its trade secrets in the following ways:
  • Share confidential information only on a “need to know” basis.
  • Limit the number of employees exposed to trade secrets. Always inform employees exposed to those trade secrets a) that they are being exposed to secrets and b) of the importance of keeping the secrets secret.
  • Mark all confidential documents CONFIDENTIALNO COPIES ALLOWED. For added security, number each copy and keep a log of which numbered copy was given to which employee.
  • Use access logs for trade secrets.
  • Require anyone (employees, suppliers, customers, consultants, and other business partners) who might come in contact with trade secrets to sign confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements before the relationship begins.
  • In consultant contracts, be clear about what intellectual property the consultants are to assign to your company during their assignment.
  • Require employees to sign noncompete agreements that prohibit them from working for competitors for a period of time after their employment with you ends. If this is done within an employment contract, present this information to prospective employees well before they commence their employment with you so that the “consideration” is employment.
  • Employment contracts can also prohibit moonlighting or consulting for companies in similar lines of business while employed at your company or, less restrictively, while on company time or using company equipment
  • (including computers).
  • Educate employees about the treatment of proprietary information during and after their employment with you.
  • Carefully orchestrate employee terminations so that employees are not able to take proprietary information with them.
  • Schedule exit interviews with departing employees. Use those interviews to remind departing employees of their confidentiality obligations.
  • Develop, communicate, and enforce security processes—from physical security for the building to security of paper documents and computers. Secure confidential information with electronic and mechanical locks. (Passwords or codes should be changed regularly.)
  • Never store or allow transfer of confidential information outside of your company’s firewall.
  • Make extensive use of shredders.
  • Be especially careful of contract workers. Provide them with a company computer so that they don’t have to use their own on the job.
  • Conduct trade secret audits.
  • Most important, identify all trade secrets and develop formal protection plans for those secrets


Coca-Cola’s syrup formula is kept in a bank vault in Atlanta, and only Coca-Cola’s board of directors has the power to request the vault to be opened. Only two anonymous employees know the formula, they have signed nondisclosure agreements and they are not allowed to fly together on the same plane.

(Source: Stephen Fishman and Rich Stim, Nondisclosure Agreements: Protect Your Trade Secrets and More, Berkeley, CA: Nolo, 2001).

© 2015 Brad VanAuken, Reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Brand Awareness and Consistency

I have written before about the link between marketing spend and brand awareness. I have also written about the link between brand distribution and brand awareness. However, there is a third factor that affects brand awareness - brand consistency. 

It doesn't matter if you have thousands of brand distribution points if your products primarily bear the identities of a large number of sub-brands, product names or co-brands instead of the brand itself. In fact, identifying each product or location with more than one brand (co-brand, sub-brand, etc.) can also be confusing. People may not link all of those products to the brand. Further, if the brand's products and services vary significantly in quality or in its attributes and features across executions regardless of branding treatment, all of those products and services may not register in people's minds as the same brand. 

Related to this is the problem of inconsistently rendering the brand's identity across executions of the brand. If different iterations of the same brand's identity exist in the market simultaneously, this adds to confusion and is likely to decrease brand awareness. 

So, inconsistencies in brand identity treatment or product quality or product attributes and features can confuse people. This is true of consumer packaged goods or location-based brands (restaurants, gas stations, retail stores, etc.) or any other type of brand. 

We are currently working with a client that has a very large number of locations for its brand in a relatively small geographic area. Despite this, its brand awareness is fairly low. I have visited many of its locations. They vary a lot in their quality and configuration and bear a number of different identities. The client thinks of them all as the same brand but it would be difficult for the public to do so.  

Brands that have grown through numerous acquisitions can create confusion, especially if all the brand did each time it acquired a new location was remove the old brand identity from signage and replace it with the new identity without changing the product or environment or experience. This is true of hotels, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores or any other type of retail format. 

Consistent brand identities linked to consistent products or services delivering consistent customer experiences leads to increased brand awareness. Inconsistent execution does not. And we all know that awareness is the cornerstone of strong branding

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Brands Require Research

We are occasionally approached by entrepreneurs or smaller businesses to help them figure out their brand, product or business model strategies. We are working with one such brand now. In these situations, often the entrepreneur creates a company, product or brand around personal intuition and insight. But maybe that entrepreneur or company is stumped about how to grow the brand. They are not sure in what direction they need to move next to take the brand to the next level. 

Usually, this is because they do not understand what it is about the product or brand that most appeals to the customer. They are not sure of its primary benefit, its purchase triggers or what sort of person is buying it and for what reason. Sometimes, the product or brand is so innovative that it is difficult for them to even articulate what category it is in. This lack of understanding makes it difficult to decide how to tweak the product or brand to take it to the next level. It also makes it difficult to understand in what ways the brand can be most successfully extended to generate additional sales. Sometimes, they need to drive down costs to make the product viable in the long run but they don't know which features they can eliminate without harming sales. At other times, they may not know how to convert impulse sales into repeat purchases. Some worry that their products or brand are primarily selling as a novelty and they are not quite sure about how to guarantee a lasting revenue stream. Sometimes the brand and the product work very well together. At other times, they are sending conflicting messages.

All of these problems can be solved through customer research that leads to customer insight. One must begin with deep qualitative research to uncover purchase motivations, brand perceptions and an understanding of what needs the brand fulfills in people's lives. This should also uncover how the brand makes people feel, when they feel compelled to purchase the brand and what are some of the brand's purchase triggers. The quality of qualitative research moderators varies hugely. Some merely sit at the end of a focus group table and ask questions, while others have a very large box of tools to stimulate deep insight. The latter are often more expensive, but they are almost always worth the extra investment. A lot of valuable insights can be garnered through well thought through deep qualitative research. This can then lead to quantitative research design. The quantitative research might be an attitude and usage study, a customer benefit segmentation study, a brand equity study (if their is high enough brand awareness) or a study that leads to customer targeting and volumetric forecasting. 

Here are the questions that need to be asked:

  • Who is buying our products or brand?
  • Why are they buying our products or brand?
  • What triggers them to buy our products or brand?
  • What can we do to get them to repeat their purchase of our products or brand?
  • Are our products and brand congruent with one another or are they working against each other?
  • What are the most viable paths for extending our brand to generate incremental sales?
  • What is the essence of our brand?
  • What deep needs does the brand fulfill?
  • What does it promise to its customers and potential customers?
  • Who are our brand's most viable customers?
  • What are our brand's most promising customer need segments?

Taking your brand to the next level might require deeper customer insight. Research to uncover that insight can have a huge payoff if designed and conducted properly. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Qualities of An Effective Brand Manager

While this is only my opinion, I believe the following to be qualities of an effective brand manager:

  • Well read - fiction (storytelling, character development, plot development, human motivations and drama), nonfiction (art, architecture, music, history, biography, leadership, philosophy, religion, physics, metaphysics, science fiction, food, travel, psychology, sociology, anthropology, behavioral economics, marketing, finance, business management, business strategy, etc.) and poetry
  • Well travelled - as a true world traveler, not just a tourist, getting to know local people and cultures
  • An ernest observer of human behavior, with an intuitive understanding of what motivates people
  • A solid understanding of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
  • Curious about everything with a genuine interest in everything
  • Spiritual and philosophical, striving to have a deeper understanding of things
  • An out-of-the-box thinker - an idea person
  • Friendly, amiable and approachable
  • A strong orator with persuasive verbal communication skills
  • An entertaining conversationalist
  • A good command of logic and argument with good debating skills
  • A very strong writer, with a flair for language and persuasive written communication skills
  • A good storyteller
  • Talented at creating emotionally compelling sound bites
  • An effective influencer
  • A competent project manager with the ability to manage against cost, schedule and performance
  • Adequate analytical skills - ability to sift through data to discern anomalies and trends
  • Marketing research expertise
  • Financial management skills
  • Decisive
  • Confident
  • Self-aware
  • Willing to make tough decisions and take calculated risks
  • A good manager, counselor and coach

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Different Types of Brand Benefits

I have often said that their are four types of brand benefits: (1) functional, (2) emotional, (3) experiential and (4) self-expressive. In addition to this there are values that the brand might share with its customers. Let's explore examples of each of these using one brand and one product - the Apple MacBook Air. (This just happens to be the computer from which I am writing this post.)

What are some of its functional benefits?

  • It is small and light, almost as small and light as a iPad, making it easy to transport to meetings and when traveling through airports.
  • As with all Apple machines, it powers up quickly and powers down quickly. This is due to integrated software, and in the case of my laptop computer, a solid state hard drive. This becomes very beneficial when one has only five or ten minutes to use the computer (while waiting in a hotel lobby, during meeting breaks or during airport layovers).
  • It syncs well with my iPad, iPod and iPhone. I can play my iTunes music off of any one of them and it transfers easily from one device to the other. 
  • It is less susceptible to computer viruses so I don't need anti-virus software and it is less likely to freeze or malfunction due to malware.

What are its emotional benefits?
  • I feel good about having one of the best computers around. I feel secure that it will turn on and work every time I try to use it.
  • The name Apple just makes me feel good. It is a more approachable name than that of many other computers.

What are its experiential benefits?
  • I like the look of the backlit keys on the keypad.
  • I like the touch of the keypad. 
  • I like the smooth rounded corners on the laptop.
  • I like the way the hinge works when I open or close the laptop - very smooth.
  • I like the way the plug attaches magnetically to the laptop and I like the green light showing me it is attached properly.
  • I like the look of the backlit apple on the laptop cover.
  • I like the sleekness of the device.
  • I like the texture of the brushed aluminum body.
  • I like the intuitive way that the operating system works.
  • It pairs perfectly with my Bang + Olufsen headphones, whose volume control is designed to work with Apple devices.

What are its self-expressive benefits?
  • The computer signals that I like quality products.
  • It signals that I appreciate finer things.
  • It signals that I am willing to spend more for better quality.

What values does Apple share with me?
  • An appreciation of aesthetics.
  • An appreciation of finer things.
  • The love of innovation.

I have not listed all of its benefits and as you can see, some benefits interact with and support one another. If I were to summarize the benefits from my perspective it would be - high quality, easy to use, aesthetically pleasing and tactilely attractive. It is sophisticated yet very approachable. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Successful Advertising Approaches

Here is a list of effective general advertising techniques:
  • Always dramatize your brand’s most important benefit.
  • Create simple ads—they are usually more powerful.
  • Create copy in smaller chunks (sentences, paragraphs, etc).
  • Use natural and “real life” writing or dialogue.
  • Subtly tap into people’s fears and anxieties.

Here are some print advertising techniques that have proved to be effective:
  • Try to evoke the reader’s curiosity. Begin by asking a provocative question and/or feature an image that piques the reader’s curiosity.
  • Put quotes around your headlines.
  • Romance/dramatize your product or service.
  • Try to trigger multiple senses; use words that help people feel, hear, smell, and taste your product.
  • Tell a story.
  • Communicate “news.”
  • Provide information that is useful to the reader.
  • Always write in the present tense.
  • Be as specific as possible.
  • Include customer testimonials (they should seem natural, not scripted or polished).
  • Know how readers read (from right to left, top to bottom in the United States) and place your headlines, illustrations, captions, and copy accordingly. (In his book Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads, Roy H. Williams indicates that savvy photographers and graphic artists have known for some time that there is a spot on a piece of artwork to which the eye is irresistibly drawn, roughly between the middle and upper right corner of the artwork.)
  • Use white space to focus the reader’s attention on something important.
  • Use words that sell: at last, now, new, introducing, announcing, finally, limited, save, free, win, easy, guarantee, breakthrough, wanted, etc. (Keep in mind that as consumers become more sophisticated and savvy, there may be instances where these words might be clichés or overused and thus may not be as effective.)
  • Avoid metaphors, analogies, puns, double entendres, “insider” references, and other nonstraightforward language. Alliteration is sometimes effective.
  • Avoid jargon, dialect, acronyms, and model numbers, especially in headlines.

Here are some successful approaches to television advertisements:
  • Company leader as brand spokesperson. Examples are Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic, Dave Thomas of Wendy’s, John Schnatter of Papa John’s, and Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams brand).
  • Interesting character as brand spokesperson (Mr. Whipple for Charmin).
  • Customer testimonial.
  • Visualization of the brand benefit and/or the “reason why.”
  • Product demonstration (demonstrating product usage and showing brand benefit).
  • Torture test (Timex “Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’”).
  • Problem-solution.
  • Before-after. To some large degree, advertising sells the hope of an improved future with the use of a particular brand of product or service. Before-after advertising reinforces this hope.
  • Competitive comparison. Although it is usually not wise to identify the competitive brand by name, a special case would be the comparison to premium brand(s). However, this can lead to greater category price sensitivity.
  • Slice-of-life vignette (telling a story about the benefits of the brand).
  • Presenter/”talking head” (in which a person attempts to persuade the viewer about the benefits of the brand).

© 2015 Brad VanAuken. Reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.