Thursday, March 31, 2016

Course Recommendations for Future Brand Managers

Different business schools offer different courses in their marketing curricula. Some of those schools have brand management concentrations. Here are the courses I would recommend for students who would intend to become brand managers:

  • Introduction to marketing
  • Marketing research
  • Consumer behavior
  • Advertising and promotion strategy
  • Integrated marketing communications
  • Social media strategies and tactics
  • Product management
  • New product development
  • Pricing strategy
  • Marketing channels and distribution strategy
  • Global marketing
  • Accounting
  • Financial statement analysis
  • Business forecasting
  • Analytical tools for decision making
  • Business plan development
  • Statistics
  • Business law
  • Business writing or copywriting
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Marketing management
  • Public relations management
  • Competitive and business model strategy
  • Brand management
In addition, the following electives would be useful:
  • Service marketing
  • Business-to-business marketing
  • Luxury marketing
  • Customer service management
  • Sales management
  • Brand valuation and brand equity measurement
I would also recommend taking additional psychology, philosophy and writing courses. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Promoting Brands Through Insignia Merchandise

I usually write about brand research and strategy, however today I want to focus on something much more tactical - promoting brands through insignia merchandise. I was recently at the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport. While there, I discovered a great example of promoting a brand through insignia merchandise and high impact retail displays (in the duty free store). 

Rather than writing at length about what they did, I am posting a series of photos that I think will be self-explanatory. I will mention that what first caught my eye was a set of pajama bottoms that were covered with hundreds of brightly colored M&Ms. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rebranding Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the first degree granting technological university in the English-speaking world. Rensselaer was established “for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life.” Since Rensselaer’s founding, its alumni have impacted the world in many significant ways, including:
  • Building the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Building the Panama Canal
  • Inventing the Ferris wheel
  • Inventing baking powder
  • Inventing television
  • Creating the microprocessor
  • Founding Texas Instruments/creating the first pocket calculator
  • Creating e-mail (including using the @ symbol)
  • Managing the Apollo project that put the first man on the moon
  • Inventing the Reach toothbrush
  • Inventing digital photography
Yet, for all of its accomplishments, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rensselaer was not well positioned (to prospective students) compared to its world-renowned rival, MIT, or even schools such as Caltech, UC Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon. Many state universities (e.g., Purdue, University of Illinois at Urbana, etc.) offered exceptionally strong technical programs at significantly lower costs than private universities. Ivy League schools and other first-tier liberal arts universities were building their math, science, and engineering programs. And most states had public universities that provided respectable engineering programs. This increasingly competitive landscape left Rensselaer in a positioning “no man’s land.” I was on Rensselaer’s alumni board of directors and national admissions committee at the time. We worked with the school to conduct research to better understand the college selection process. We interviewed students (and their parents), some of whom chose to attend Rensselaer and some of whom didn’t. We explored what factors were most important in their decision-making process as well as their perceptions of Rensselaer as compared with other schools. And we conducted focus groups with alumni and businesspeople to better understand their impressions of Rensselaer.

Almost everyone who knew of Rensselaer perceived it to be a first-rate technical school. Many put it in the same class as MIT. People “in the know” were genuinely impressed with the school and the caliber of its students, its academics, and its research. But there were drawbacks:
  • Rensselaer is in Troy, New York (which lacks the appeal of, say, Boston or California).
  • Rensselaer is not as well known or prestigious as MIT. It does not have the same name cache.
  • Rensselaer costs more than state engineering schools (though after factoring in financial aid, costs can be comparable).
  • Rensselaer was known to be a “boot camp.” It’s been said that “you don’t go there to have fun.”
  • The curriculum was perceived to be too narrow compared to liberal arts schools.
  • The school had a lopsided male to female ratio (13:1 when I attended in the mid-to-late 1970s, and a 3:1 ratio today).
  • A significant portion of Rensselaer’s students (mostly those who had used Rensselaer as a backup school to MIT and others) felt inferior to students at their first-choice schools.
Furthermore, those with no connection to the school had no impression of the school. Awareness was also nil among the general U.S. population.

These were significant hurdles. And yet, looking at the school itself, there were also a number of very strong advantages, which include:
  • A rich history by alumni of major contributions to society
  • A vital, engaged campus community
  • A strong student leadership development program
  • Innovations in entrepreneurship, with one of the first and perhaps best known business incubators and a strong student entrepreneurship program
  • Award-winning innovations in educational techniques
  • Thriving interdisciplinary research centers
  • Programs that ranked among the best available in the world
  • An increasingly strong reputation throughout the world (Interestingly, the university’s reputation was stronger in many other countries than it was in the U.S. Midwest!)

Also, the university had embarked on a significant long-term commitment to enhance the student experience, addressing everything from administrative procedures, counseling, and breadth of course offerings to quality of instruction, the male-to-female ratio, and campus aesthetics. And, gauging from student surveys over time, the efforts were producing significant results.

Here are the key insights that led to Rensselaer’s very powerful current positioning:
  • Rensselaer’s students have always been serious about their chosen fields of endeavor and their studies.
  • Rensselaer’s faculty, students, and alumni want to make a difference in the world.
  • Rensselaer is and has been a leader in technological innovation.
  • Rensselaer’s alumni, throughout the school’s history, have made major, lasting contributions to society.
  • Rensselaer was emerging as a leader in entrepreneurship, especially technological entrepreneurship.
  • “Technological creativity” seemed to capture the essence of the school and the spirit of those associated with the school throughout its now 190-year history.
  • Rensselaer wanted its new positioning not only to capture the school’s unique competitive advantages but also to inspire its students and give them confidence. (In the mid-to-late 1970s, under George Low’s leadership, the school informally adopted the slogan, “Rensselaer: Where imagination can achieve the impossible.” For a short time after that, the school used the slogan, “Rensselaer: For minds ahead of their time.”)
So, Rensselaer’s tagline—”Why not change the world?”—was born.

Confident? Yes.
Aspirational? Yes.
Inspirational? Yes.
Accurately reflecting the school’s strengths and those of its alumni? Yes.
An invitation to like-minded individuals and organizations to “come join Rensselaer in its quest”? Yes
Effective in recruiting an increasing number of highly qualified students? Yes.

Rensselaer’s entering freshman classes are the most qualified and talented in the last few decades. Each class seems more qualified than the one before. As one measure, the Class of 2005 arrived on campus with an average SAT score of 1307, 25 points over that of the previous class.

And in the three years between 2005 and 2008, applications went from 5,500 to 11,000. In 2013, more than 16,100 high school students applied for admission to Rensselaer and the average SAT critical reading and math score for the admitted group averaged 1408. And, the most important question: Are students satisfied with Rensselaer and its recently articulated positioning? Yes.

Today, Rensselaer is thriving. In early 2001, it received a gift of $360 million—the largest single gift (at that time) ever made to a university. In 2004 it built a $82 million Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies to expand its research portfolio; in 2008 it built a $200 million Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center to showcase its world-leading electronic arts program; in 2009 it built a $92 million East Campus Athletic Village; and in 2013 it established its $100 million Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), featuring the seventh most powerful supercomputer in the world.

© 2015 Brad VanAuken, reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition

Monday, March 28, 2016

Brands and Attention to Detail

I define brands as personifications of organizations or their products and services and I spend a lot of time talking about the emotional, experiential and self-expressive aspects of brands. Indeed, brands mostly connect with people on an emotional level. But I want to focus on functional benefits today.

I have spent the better part of March traveling for business and pleasure. I have stayed in numerous hotels and even on a sailboat. Having spent weeks away from home in different living spaces the importance of attention to detail has been driven home to me. Let's take sailboats as an example. I spent seven nights on a forty foot sailboat with five other people. The boat was our home. We cooked, grilled, ate, slept, showered, kayaked, swam, snorkeled and traveled on this sailboat. It requires a very high level of skill to design an aesthetically pleasing, fast, safe, seaworthy, comfortable boat on which to live for extended periods of time. Every square inch of space needs to be used to maximum advantage. Electrical systems, plumbing systems, navigation systems, sail systems and several other necessary systems need to be crammed into this limited space. Space for several people to move around comfortably is required. Good ventilation is necessary. There is also the need to keep things as dry as possible. Anti-skid decks and and hand holds are required throughout the boat as are other safety features. And then there are the creature comforts - cup holders, sound systems, facial tissue dispensers, technology (computer, iPhone, etc.) interfaces, etc. Provisions must be made for every possible catastrophic event - power loss, grounding, fire, hurricane, rouge wave, etc. Finally, traditional luxury materials (teak, mahogany, brass) must be balanced with more modern, functional materials (carbon fibre and other low weight, high strength composite materials). 

Having sailed and cruised on many different vessels produced by different boat/yacht manufacturers/brands (Baltic Yachts, Bavaria, Beneteau, Bermuda Cutter, C&C Yachts, CW Hood, Hinkley Yachts, Hobie Cat, Island Packet Yachts, J/Boats, Janneau, Laser Boats, Morris Yachts, Nautor's Swan, Pacific Seacraft, Pearson Yachts, Sabre Yachts, Sailfish, Schock Harbor, Sunfish, Tartan Yachts), I can verify that the sailing performance, spaciousness, creature comforts, craftsmanship, aesthetics, sea worthiness, durability and performance in light and heavy air varies greatly from boat to boat.

This is where attention to detail comes in. The total user experience is created by that attention to detail. To anticipate every conceivable user need in every conceivable situation leads to a better product and brand. While I believe sailboats are an extreme example of this, hotels, automobiles, mobile phones, restaurants and many other product categories also need to carefully think through and design for the total user experience. And this requires great attention to detail. 

While brand managers would do well to focus on the emotional brand experience, they must not neglect the attention to detail that creates the best overall functionality. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

College & University Brand Benefits

Brands promise relevant differentiated benefits. Those benefits can be functional, emotional, experiential or self-expressive. Further, brands can promise shared values. Brand value is the ratio of the bundle of relevant benefits divided by the cost (time and money) of acquiring those benefits. To conduct quantitative brand positioning research, one must first identify all of the potential benefits delivered by the brand. As an example, here is a partial list of potential benefits delivered by college and university brands:

  • Prestige
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Challenging one's assumptions
  • Broadening one's knowledge and understanding
  • Being exposed to people from different backgrounds and cultures
  • Personal growth
  • Career training
  • Job placement
  • A rich social life
  • The ability to compete in a particular sport
  • Forming lifelong friendships
  • Increasing one's income potential
  • Increasing one's social status
  • Independent living
  • Living in a different geographic region
  • Living in an aesthetically pleasing environment
  • A pedigree
  • Becoming a part of a large professional network
  • A safe space to experiment
  • A time to try new things
  • An adventure
  • Being in an environment in which people share your values
  • The ability to explore different areas of interest
  • Learning from world-renown experts in your intended field of study
  • The ability to conduct research in your intended field of study
  • The ability to take on leadership roles
  • The ability to study abroad

A skilled brand researcher will be able to determine which of these drive brand preference and college or university selection. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Customer Service and Brand Perceptions

I travel a lot for business and pleasure. I have been to many countries around the world, including many third world countries, some dictatorships, a couple communist countries and some religion-based states. I just returned from Cuba. Staying at hotels and resorts and eating at restaurants throughout the world has led me to experience many different degrees of hospitality and service, including the complete lack thereof. 

In the USA, we have grown accustomed to a fairly high level of personal service when we interact with brands. Most people know the mantra, "Right or wrong, the customer is always right." Ghandi said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Going back more than thirty years, companies have hired consultants to help them create "legendary service" cultures and "aha! moments" for their customers. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Ritz-Carlton employees are empowered to offer each guest up to $2,000 per day to make things right with those guests.

We expect happy greetings, smiles, civility, politeness, deference and responsiveness in our interaction with service people. And we expect their patience and understanding when we are slow in our interactions with them. We even have grown to appreciate service people who anticipate our every need before we do ourselves - refilling water glasses, pulling a shade down to reduce the sun's glare in our eyes, replacing a dropped napkin, carrying our luggage for us, etc. We have grown accustomed to positive brand experiences delivered by well-trained and pleasant service people.

This is not the case everywhere. I am generally very civil, pleasant and perhaps even annoyingly cheerful in my interactions with others. Which is why it surprises me when I find that a service person completely ignores me or yells at me or tells me to do something myself. I have even had service people respond, "So what?" One waitress spilled wine on me and then started laughing. I recently witnessed a concierge shouting, cursing and shaking his fist at a customer. 

Don't take good service for granted. It is an important element of a positive brand experience.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Implicit vs. Explicit Purchase Motivations

Whether in qualitative research or quantitative research, people don't always tell the whole truth about what motivates them to purchase or use a particular brand or product. Sometimes this is because they are unaware of their underlying motivations. Sometimes they are aware of their underlying motivations but don't want to say for fear of embarrassment. Sometimes they say what they think they are expected to say or what they believe to be the norm so that they don't feel like an outlier. Sometimes they are trying to be helpful or positive and give the researcher the answer they think the researcher wants to hear. For a number of reasons, explicit answers to direct questions do not always yield the full answer to human motivations.

This is one of the reasons we use projective techniques in qualitative research. We don't ask people "Why do you do it?" but rather "Why they think some other people do it?" taking the focus and pressure off of them and their personal motivations. Have you ever heard a child ask a question for a friend? "My friend wants to know..." Is that question really for his or her friend?

Likewise, in quantitative research, while you can gain some insight from scaled responses to purchase motivators, this should be supplemented with analysis of correlations between the purchase motivator ratings and purchase intent, or better yet, actual purchases. This can only be determined through analytical correlations techniques. 

So when someone says they really like driving a Mercedes-Benz because of various creature comforts and the way it drives, you may find out through projective techniques or correlation analysis that the dominant reason is that driving a Mercedes-Benz gives the person more confidence because it is perceived to confer more social status. 

Make sure in your research that you are probing not only for explicit responses but also for implicit ones. The implicit ones are often the more important of the two.