Monday, July 25, 2016

Exploring Retail

If you are the manager of a brand that sells at retail, you have likely studied the retail chains that carry your brand in great detail. You may also have access to store and chain-specific category management and shelf management reports. You probably also frequently conduct market and store tours.

But, just in case you are not totally familiar with the retail environments in which your brand sells, I would recommend that you visit the stores in which you brand sells and note each of the following aspects of the retail selling environment:

  • Is the store a stand-alone pad store, in a strip shopping center, in an enclosed shopping mall or in some other type of location?
  • What are the store's hours?
  • At what time are you visiting the store?
  • Is there adequate parking? Is the parking lot full, almost empty or somewhere in between?
  • What does the store entrance look like? What products are featured there? What signage is there?
  • Is music playing in the store? What type of music?
  • How big is the store (square footage)?
  • What is the general feeling of the store? Is it more like a warehouse or a quaint boutique?
  • Is there effective way finding in the store? Are product categories well marked?
  • How prominently are prices featured in the store?
  • Is there signage indicating price discounts? How prominent are those signs?
  • How is the store organized in general? How are the different product categories organized
  • What is the store's traffic pattern? Can shoppers explore the store in their own pattern or is the shopping path predetermined (as in Ikea)?
  • Are there convenience sections for quick purchase of staple items?
  • What products and brands are featured on the end caps?
  • What special merchandising sections exist?
  • Is there a "manager's favorite" section?
  • Where is your brand located in the store? Is it located in more than one place?
  • How many skus and shelf facings does your brand have? How does this compare to the competition? 
  • How many competitive brands does the store feature?
  • Does the store offer its own brand in your category?
  • How does your brand's range of products compare to that of the competition?
  • How do your brand's prices compare to those of the competition? Are they comparable, higher or lower? Does your brand offer a comparable range of prices or a wider or narrower range of prices?
  • Do you offer different sizes than the competition does? What is the reason for this?
  • Which products are in the "strike zone" (at eye level)? Which are merchandised up high on the top shelf? Which are merchandised down low on the bottom shelf?
  • Do some brands have stand alone merchandising? What are the features of that merchandising?
  • Which products and brands are featured in the seasonal aisle? 
  • What products and brands are merchandised at the check stands?
  • Are your products and brands merchandised adjacent to all of the logical complementary products?
  • In how many places in the store are your brand's products merchandised? How does this compare to competitive brands?
  • Are your brand's products well-stocked on the shelves?
  • Does your brand stand out vis-à-vis competitive brands?
  • Is it easy for the consumer to make sense of your brand's range of products and what makes each sku different from the other skus? 
  • Are store associates available throughout the store and in your brand's departments/aisles to answer customer questions?
  • Overall, do you believe your brand has a strong presence in the store, a weak presence in the store or something in between?
  • What one or two actions could be taken to increase your brand's chances of selling more successfully in the store?

For more information on brands and how to successfully manage them, purchase Brand Aid.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Branding and Scarce Commodities

In today's world, time and money are often the scarcest commodities. People try to save time or money or both. Many people do not have enough of either. Others earn and have a lot of money but find time to be what they most lack in their lives. While others may have all of the time in the world but little money. How does this relate to brands and marketing? One must realize that people behave differently depending on what commodity is scarce in their lives.

I have written before about the four generic customer segments - convenience-driven consumers, price-driven consumers, brand loyal consumers and category enthusiasts. Often people are loyal to brands because they know their quality level and can count on them. Always choosing the same brand saves lots of time and effort. So, in a way, this is an approach that values time. Convenience-driven consumers shop for items that they need wherever they can find them regardless of price. While price-driven consumers will typically hunt for the lowest prices and will go out of their way to pay less. Category enthusiasts are less sensitive to time or money because they highly value the category itself and enjoy the time they devote to shopping for new products and brands in the category. However, depending on what is scarce in their lives, category enthusiasts can display some of the behaviors of convenience-driven, and especially price-driven consumers too. 

When you create your brand and establish its pricing and distribution strategies, you should be cognizant of what is scarce in its customer's lives.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Marketers Must Interact with Customers

We in the marketing community interact with each other a lot. We have our own language and our own issues. Advertising people move from agency to agency. And marketing people move from company to company. We attend the same conferences. And we are concerned about the same latest technologies and marketing techniques. 

This is reason enough to get out of our marketing "box" and spend some time with our customers. The other more important reason is so that we do not lose touch with the people to whom we are marketing.

Many companies require their marketing people to spend a few months to a year as salespeople before assuming marketing roles. Some companies require their marketers to monitor customer service calls several times a year. Some require marketing people to work on the front lines in customer facing positions at least a couple times a year. Other companies have required their marketing employees to role play the lives of some of their customers. Some research projects require anthropological research in which the marketer must observe customers as they purchase and use the brand's products. Harley-Davidson executives ride in HOG Rallies with their customers and then debrief what they saw and heard back at the office after the HOG rallies. One research technique for children and young adults is to ask them to take pictures of whatever they want in their lives for a period of time and then submit those pictures to the marketers to sort through and analyze. 

The point of all of this is to stay close to your customers and their lives so that you can understand and even anticipate their needs. This is an essential role of every successful marketer.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Brands and Expertise

One way for a brand to win in the marketplace is to be an expert on a particular topic or on behalf of a specific customer group. In this way, the brand becomes the first one the target market thinks of associated with a particular product category or need. 

Following are examples of expert retail brands:

  • Bass Pro Shops - fishing
  • Orvis - fly fishing
  • Michaels - arts and crafts
  • West Marine - boating supplies
  • DXL DestinationXL - clothing for big and tall men
  • Lane Bryant - plus size clothing for women
  • lululemon - athletic clothes for yoga
  • TYR - competitive swimwear
  • Spencers - novelty items for teenagers
  • Adventure Scuba - scuba diving equipment
  • Light Bulbs Unlimited - light bulbs

There are many more local examples of very specialized retail stores. This specialization allows a brand to become the first that comes to mind associated with a particular customer need or product category. It also allows the brand to anticipate and even lead customer needs within the category. Expertise and focus is one way to create relevant brand differentiation.

Brand Equity Measurement 101

What is brand equity measurement and how can it help your brand? First, let me start by saying that marketing professionals still have different definitions of brand equity and therefore brand equity measurement. If one defines brand equity as the value that a brand adds to the branded product, service or organization itself, then we have a broad understanding of brand equity. Common brand equity measures include brand awareness and a brand’s perceived relevant differentiation. Most models include these two metrics. Other common metrics include a brand’s market share, the price premium that the brand can command over unbranded products in the same category and customer loyalty to the brand.

Models can be super-simplistic, such as the popular Net Promoter Score, which only measures one thing – attitudinal loyalty to the brand – with one question, the likelihood of recommending the brand to a friend or colleague. Or they can be comprehensive, such as our BrandInsistence brand equity measurement system, which measures over 90 brand equity components (including two different attitudinal brand loyalty questions). Most brand equity measurement systems are somewhere in between these two extremes.

Our BrandInsistence system has as its underpinning the five drivers of customer brand insistence – awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility and emotional connection. But it also measures the importance of and brand delivery against up to 24 brand or category benefits or shared values. The benefits can be functional, experiential, emotional or self-expressive. It also measures top-of-mind brand associations (the brand is owned in the mind of the customer) and top-of-mind brand differentiators. And brand loyalty and brand vitality and up to 30 different brand personality attributes. We have four standard emotional connection measures, which move from mild emotional connection to deep emotional connection. But we can go much deeper with an ancillary product that can map your brand against hundreds of personality attributes and emotions.

Brand equity systems should be used to achieve the following on behalf of your brand:
  • Create a baseline brand equity measurement for your brand so that you can measure the impact of your brand management activities on the brand over time
  • Provide the information that populates the brand scorecard
  • Identify the brand’s strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and threats, including brand positioning vulnerabilities and threats
  • Identify competitive brands’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • Identify advantageous brand (re)positioning opportunities (for your brand and competitive brands)
  • Measure the impact of specific brand enhancing programs or campaigns
  • Measure progress made by the brand over time
  • Validate the value of your brand to the leadership team of your organization

Here are some examples of how people have used our BrandInsistence brand equity measurement system to strengthen their brands:
  • One client discovered that they had a value and price perception problem. They took corrective action and then remeasured the brand equity, which increased substantially after the corrective action.
  • Another client discovered that they were doing everything very well and that the people familiar with their brand loved the brand and were very loyal but that their major problem was extremely low brand awareness based on very low market penetration. After taking corrective action, sales of their brand skyrocketed.
  • Another brand discovered that a recent extension of their brand into a new market to increase sales turned their traditional customers off and that their loyalty was decreasing substantially. Based on this, we recommended a new business model to the client.
  • Another client whose brand was in rapid decline discovered new product and service areas through which their brand could become relevant and compelling to its target audience again. When it implemented these changes, it saved the brand and its organization. Based this project’s outcome, key members of the organization’s leadership team were promoted.
  • Another brand discovered that its brand perceptions were incongruent with the perceptions of its primary distribution channels. By changing distribution channels, its sales began to soar.
  • Another brand discovered that the consumer was completely confused about the brand and the benefits that it delivers because of some very confusing brand cues from product packaging. Based on this insight, it is revising its brand’s promise, redesigning the brand’s product packaging and identifying the customer segments that are most likely to highly value this repositioned brand.
  • One client discovered a competitor’s brand positioning vulnerability and was able to successfully reposition the competitor in a negative light, creating a share shift to their brand.
  • Finally, one client discovered that it was inferior in almost all aspects of its brand equity and especially in the delivery of its products and services vis-a-vis its competitors. Based on this, it re-engineered its business model and is preparing to be acquired. 

You might also want to read this post on brand equity measurement. And if you are interested in learning more about how we can help you measure and manage your brand's equity, please contact us at

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Identifying & Crafting Brand Triggers

We are offering a new service - helping brands identify and craft brand triggers. Let's start with what brand triggers are. They are stimuli (visual, auditory, olfactory, etc.) that encode and decode a specific brand into and out of the the human brain. 

First we start by understanding which triggers are currently associated with the brand. This is done by presenting a large number of different stimuli to customers and potential customers from different market segments to determine which are most strongly linked with the brand in question. We then ask the brand manager to identify which triggers they would like to associate with the brand. We then develop a plan to (in some cases create and) link the new triggers to the brand. 

Let's use a zoo brand as an example. We may find through research that people associate the following with zoos - elephants, giraffes, lions, peacocks, sea lions, penguins, flamingos, animals in cages, cotton candy, popcorn, the smell of animal feces, hay, bright sunny weekend outings with the family, petting goats, riding ponies, a lion's roar, etc.

What if the zoo's brand manager likes the animal associations/triggers but does not like the animals in cages or the smell of animal feces associations/triggers. And what if the brand manager wants to add triggers associated with animal conservation, species survival, habitat conservation, animal science summer camp, marine biology field trips, animal intelligence, animal behavior, genetics, reproduction and other more scientific or otherwise complex topics. What visual, auditory and other triggers could be associated with these? And can one create brand associations that are triggered by frequent everyday events?

Through an ideation process we can identify and link certain triggers frequently encountered in everyday life with these key intended associations for the zoo brand in question. In this way, we are methodically building the most advantageous brand association maps in people's minds. 

This may seem strange, but what if we could get people to think about the zoo brand every time they encounter dog feces on the ground or cat feces in a litter box (rather than trying to sever this association)? And what if we transformed that trigger/association into something educational (e.g. diet or ecological interdependencies) or otherwise positive? Certainly, this would significantly increase the occurrence of brand recall on an everyday basis. 

Or what if we did something crazy like give zoo donors pink flamingos to put in their yards to  indicate that they supported the zoo while strengthening that association and making it much more prevalent throughout the community?

The whole point of this blog post is to indicate that we can and should carefully mange brand triggers. Very few brand managers do this, but the ones that do achieve uncommon success. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Get the Brand Message Right

I have worked with clients who are totally focused on the media plan or the social media tactics or on which marketing communication vehicles to use and what the spend should be for each of them. But they completely neglect the brand message. 

Admittedly, marketers must carefully choose their brands' target markets and then identify communication vehicles that can reach those markets with the greatest effectiveness and efficiency. And admittedly, most of the impact of brand communication is on building brand awareness, not changing brand perceptions.

But having admitted to both of these, I contend that the most strategic part of what is largely a series of tactical marketing exercises is choosing the right message - one that reinforces the brand's unique value proposition. The message needs to be emotionally compelling, unique and believable for the brand.

I find that more often than not, true marketers get this. But people who have come from operations, engineering, finance or even general management backgrounds (or new, inexperienced marketers) often default to the tactical decisions while paying little to no attention to the message itself. Or sometimes, they decide that the message should be some gimmick (e.g. a celebrity endorsement), or worse yet, a giveaway or a price discount.

I have had marketing decision makers tell me that they don't have the time to determine what the optimal brand message should be. Maybe next time. 

You are wasting your marketing communication spending if you are not using the marketing communication vehicles to convey the right message. Before you jump into the weeds of the marketing communication tactics, step back and make sure you have the right message to communicate.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Brands and Networks

I have never heard anyone talk about brands in terms of networks, but it would be useful to do so. In economics and business model strategy, "network effects" refers to the added value to certain types of businesses when more people are networked into them. 4G LTE networks become more valuable to their customers with each customer that they add, especially when they offer free "friends and family" plans. Social media platforms also have positive network effects. Consider the increased value of LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms as they add more people. The same goes for a variety of online commerce websites. Consider the power of network effects for eBay. And consider how important network effects are for Airbnb, Craigslist, Angie's List and others.

In what ways can brands benefit from network effects? Certainly in the way that I describe above, when the business proposition itself improves with more users. But here are some other networks to consider:
  • A brand's communication/media networks. Are they creating greater brand awareness? Are they getting to people who will act as brand advocates? Are they connecting with people who are "network hubs" and who can substantially extend the brand's reach to a large number of others?
  • A brand's distribution networks. Are they extending the brand into new markets or they limiting the brand's chances of success?  Are they creating additional visibility for the brand with key target markets? Are they proactively introducing the brand to new markets or are they reducing the brand's value by extracting too much profit without a commensurate increase in brand value?
  • A brand's delivery networks. Brands and their products and services can be delivered in a variety of ways - in person, through software, over the telephone, over the Internet, through ATM machines, through other companies' products, through other companies' services, etc. Some of these networks have great reach, while others are more limited in their reach. Some get to key influencers. Others don't. 

Reaching one person who is well thought of, highly networked, and outspoken through multiple communication platforms to the right audiences will have a very large impact. Consider me, for example. If you want to get your message about brand strategy out, if you can get me to say something about it, I could do so through one of my two blogs reaching close to 50,000 marketing professionals, or through my Brand Aid book, available in many languages throughout the world. The book is available in hard cover, an eBook version and an audio version. To date, more than 20,000 hard copies have been sold to marketing professionals. It is used in dozens of business schools across the world, influencing thousands of future marketing managers. And, I am highly active on social media, with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other accounts. Finally, throw in dozens of speaking engagements and dozens of new clients each year, enabling thousands of other people to hear what I have to say.

Another thing to consider is that some networks are more appropriate for your brand than others. And some are more credible than others. Some have higher quality perceptions. Some target more upscale audiences. Some are faster than others. And some are better at reaching the target audiences in the most effective and efficient ways. 

Clearly, considering and managing what networks your brand is tapping into will have a big impact on its success. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Donald Trump Brand - Our Research Results

Donald Trump has estimated his net worth to be in the billions of dollars, mostly based on the brand value of his last name. Prior to Donald Trump’s run for president of the United States, the Trump brand stood for luxury, success, risk taking and fearlessness.

Now that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president, we wanted to determine if his campaigning has changed his brand perceptions. To that end, we conducted a nationwide online survey between June 24 and July 4 to better understand Donald Trump’s brand perceptions. We asked 300 people how well each of 115 personality attributes described him. We compiled these attributes from articles written about Donald Trump combined with our battery of standard brand personality attributes. Here is what we found:
  • No one perceives him to be shy
  • Few view him to be subtle and very few perceive him to be politically correct
  • Most everyone perceives him to be confident and outspoken
  • Almost everyone identifies him as ambitious and a businessman
  • Most identify him as rich and a billionaire

This is where the agreement ends. We found significant differences in brand personality perceptions by political party affinity, educational attainment and, to a lessor extent, household income level.  We also found that people who were unemployed and looking for work and those disabled and unable to work had much more positive perceptions of Donald Trump than people who were employed and those who were unemployed by choice. Interestingly, there were very few differences in perceptions by gender.

Republicans primarily described him using these words (in decreasing order):
  • Businessman
  • Hard working
  • Successful
  • Confident
  • Leader
  • Strong
  • Real
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Competent
  • Ambitious
  • Rich
  • Positive
  • Energetic
  • Passionate
  • Professional
  • Loyal
  • Billionaire
  • Interesting
  • Good
  • Smart
  • Responsible
  • Brave
  • Honest
  • Reliable
  • Inspiring
  • Outspoken
  • Trustworthy
  • Dependable

And they used many more positive words and almost no negative words to describe him.

While Democrats primarily described him as (in decreasing order):
  • Outspoken
  • Egotistical
  • Narcissist
  • Loud
  • Bully
  • Rude
  • Greedy
  • Sexist
  • Bigoted
  • Dangerous
  • Intolerant
  • Superficial
  • Selfish
  • Pretentious
  • Narrow-minded
  • Ambitious
  • Crass
  • Ill-mannered
  • Angry
  • Boorish
  • Impulsive
  • Confident
  • Huckster
  • Elitist
  • Fraud

 People with less than a college bachelor’s degree described him as:
  • Businessman
  • Ambitious
  • Hard working
  • Confident
  • Successful
  • Outspoken
  • Rich
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Billionaire
  • Leader
  • Real

 While people with a bachelor’s degree or greater described him as:
  • Outspoken
  • Egotistical
  • Ambitious
  • Confident
  • Loud
  • Crass
  • Narcissist
  • Impulsive
  • Rude

 People with household incomes of $74,999 or less described him as:
  • Outspoken
  • Ambitious
  • Confident
  • Businessman
  • Rich
  • Successful
  • Hard working
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Billionaire
  • Passionate

 While people with household incomes of $175,000 or more described him as:
  • Confident
  • Ambitious
  • Outspoken
  • Egotistical
  • Businessman
  • Loud
  • Flashy
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Rich
  • Authoritarian
  • Crass
  • Energetic

In summary, those who (a) are Republican, (b) have less than a college bachelor’s degree and (c) more modest household incomes and (d) are unemployed looking for work view Donald Trump as a rich, successful, outspoken businessman who has many positive traits. Put another way, Republicans and those who are less successful have positive perceptions of Donald Trump. Those who are Democratic, and are fully employed with higher educational attainment and income view Donald Trump in a very negative light. The first groups would view the Trump brand similar to historical brand associations, while the latter groups have mostly negative perceptions of the Trump brand.

The data would indicate that his style and demeanor appeal more to people who are less well educated and who have more modest incomes. For instance, more highly educated people and people with higher incomes perceive him to be loud, while people with less education and lower incomes do not. Crass and other negative adjectives follow the same pattern, while likeable and other positive adjectives follow the opposite pattern.

If I were a Republican brand strategist, I would focus on Donald Trump’s bulldog qualities and his ability to “get the job done” on behalf of those who are fed up with the status quo.  If I were a Democratic brand strategist, I would focus on Donald Trump’s narcissism and propensity to operate only in his own self-interest and I would present evidence that he is not nearly as competent and successful as he portrays himself to be.

Interesting branding questions that emerge from this study are:
  • Is all publicity good publicity?
  • Does the extremely high awareness of the Trump name mostly help Trump, even if recent polls show that approximately 60% of US citizens have negative perceptions of Donald Trump? Which is more important, brand awareness or brand perceptions?
  • Will these negative perceptions of Donald Trump affect his ability to license his name for royalty income?
  • How does this affect the asset value of the Trump brand?
  • Does this affect the Ivanka Trump brand, and if so, in what ways?

For more information regarding the results of this survey, contact Brad VanAuken, president of BrandForward, Inc. at