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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Focus Group Moderation

Having conducted more than one thousand focus groups during my career and have moderated over forty groups myself, I can attest to the fact that focus group moderation is not as easy as it looks to the casual observer and focus group moderators can range from brilliant to less than adequate. Poor focus group moderation is one of the reasons marketers shy away from focus groups and question their value. This begs the question, "What leads to deeply insightful and highly useful focus groups?"

Here is my list of components that lead to successful focus groups:

  • Choosing the right participants. Being very deliberate and specific about who you want to engage in the process.
  • Doubling up on groups so that you are not hearing from just one group for each demographic.
  • Spreading the groups out geographically if your brand or product has a broad (national or international) geographic customer base.
  • Carefully crafting the discussion guide well ahead of the groups themselves. 
  • Developing the proper stimulus to use in the groups. Sometimes the stimulus can be elaborate.
  • Capturing and anchoring some of the responses on paper prior to soliciting group discussion so that all responses are captured and contrary responses are not lost but encouraged to be articulated.
  • Hiring the right moderator with the right skill sets.
  • Detailed back room note taking.
  • Skillful management of the back room discussion.

What should one look for in a moderator?
  • The ability to put the participants at ease and relate to them one-on-one as a peer.
  • Someone who has outstanding group facilitation skills. 
  • The ability to draw all participants out and to politely shut down participants who try to dominate the conversation.
  • Someone who can draw on a large portfolio of projective research techniques. I list twelve of these techniques in the latest edition of my Brand Aid book.
  • Someone who is skilled in conducting guided imagery. This is particularly important for drawing new ideas and potential product/service enhancements out of participants, something they are rarely able to envision or articulate otherwise.
  • Someone who is agile and is able change course effortlessly upon the need to do so. 
  • Someone who recognizes and exploits topics and discussions that that would benefit from deeper probing.
  • Someone who can alter the discussion content and flow based on previous learnings (with the client's permission) as the series of focus groups proceed so as to gain maximum learning from the the groups.
  • The ability to write an insightful report of findings including implications and recommendations.
  • The ability to edit focus group video tapes to succinctly and powerfully reinforce key insights from the groups.
  • A broad knowledge of marketing and marketing research so that the groups will be facilitated within the broader project context.
  • Someone who can maintain a high energy level within the room.
  • Sometimes a knowledge of the industry for which the focus groups will be moderated is an advantage.
  • More importantly, extensive cross-industry moderation experience can be an advantage.

Focus groups are typically a large time and money investment. Make sure you get the most out of the groups that you conduct.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Similar Product - Different Brand

I took up fly fishing a couple years ago. I have several lightweight 100% polyester long sleeve fishing shirts in my closet. They range in color from slate blue to tan, white and a shade of green. All of them are tailored in a similar fashion although some have rubber buttons while others have regular buttons. Some use VELCRO on the pockets while other use zippers. They are all made of a rip-stop weave. They all have a cape back for better breathing. Most have sleeves that can be rolled up and tied off to become short sleeved shirts. But each is a different brand purchased at a different store. One is labeled GRT from Columbia Sportswear Company. One is Field & Stream brand. And one is labeled Carhartt Force. LL Bean, Patagonia, Orvis, Worldwide Sportsman Freecast, Magellan Outdoors, Simms and several other brands offer similar shirts. 

Given that the products are designed for the same sport and are so similar with the same functionality, it made me think about how the brands themselves imbued the products with different qualities and different meanings. 

Think about how each of these may vary by brand:

  • Store at which it is purchased (Tractor Supply Co., Dick's Sporting Goods, LL Bean, Field & Stream, Orvis, Macy's, etc.)
  • Average price point ($35, $50, $100, $400, etc.)
  • What the typical customer does outside of fly fishing (lawyer, business executive, farmer, hunter, etc.)
  • What the brand itself is signaling
    • Which brand says "I am one of you" the best
    • Which brand is the most prestigious
    • Which brand is the most true to the sport of fly fishing
  • Which brand is perceived to be the most functional
  • Which brand is perceived to be of the highest quality
  • Which brand is perceived to be the most durable

It is interesting to think about how the appeal of very similar products varies depending on the brands that are associated with those products. This then is at the center of what branding is all about.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Business to Business Marketing

Business-to-business organizations are able to draw on a unique set of marketing tactics that are appropriate for business customers but not end consumers.
  • Create and actively interact with customer advisory boards. Invite the most influential opinion leaders to participate.
  • Create and actively interact with strategic partner boards.
  • Create external “expert councils” for all major new products. Invite the most knowledgeable and influential outside experts to participate, and involve them in the product design itself.
  • Hold conferences and seminars, inviting current satisfied customers, prospective customers, and internal and external industry experts. Present case studies, discuss the latest innovations, let the experts speak, and allow time for networking.
  • For software companies, beta test your software with major influential customers and those that would provide compelling case studies and testimonials.
  • Hold product launch parties for important customers.
  • Record testimonials from your most supportive customers and subtly interweave them with the background music that plays when people calling your company are put on hold. (Hopefully, incoming callers aren’t on hold for long, otherwise this technique could become annoying to some people who are waiting to speak to a customer service or technical support rep regarding a major problem.)
  • Develop and disseminate a portfolio of customer case studies to reinforce specific brand benefits to specific target customers.
  • Publish and widely disseminate white papers to position your organization and brand as experts in your field.
  • Develop a speakers bureau and actively orchestrate speaking engagements at key industry events such as conferences, trade shows, and industry association meetings. At our company, we started a local chapter of Toast masters and assigned the speakers bureau responsibility to a specific individual.
  • Actively seek industry association committee assignments and board positions.
  • Constantly keep the following people and organizations aware of your brand and its latest accomplishments:
    • Industry analysts
    • Financial analysts
    • Resellers and other strategic partners
    • Your organization’s professional partners (i.e., lawyers, accountants, management consultants, advertising agencies)
    • Trade magazine editors and writers
    • People who write about your industry for the general business press
    • People who write books about your industry
    • Other opinion leaders

© 2016 Brad VanAuken, excerpted from Brand Aid, available here.

Small Business Marketing Techniques

Many small businesses cannot afford the techniques persued by larger companies. The following techniques are ideal for individuals and smaller businesses.
  • Conduct demonstrations, classes, and workshops. A restaurant’s chef can teach a cooking class for a continuing education program or for a department store or cooking supply store.
  • Speak at conferences and for professional associations. Join your local chapter of the National Speakers Association and register with speakers bureaus. Publicize your speaking engagements.
  • Hold contests.
  • Write articles for newspapers, periodicals, and professional journals.
  • List yourself as an expert (e.g., in Radio-TV Interview Report; the Yearbook of Experts, Authorities, and Spokespersons; Broadcast Interview Source, Inc.; ProfNet). Connect with journalists (HARO—Help a Reporter Out). Post your press releases on PR distribution sites (PressReleasePoint, PitchEngine, PR Newswire, PRWeb, etc.).
  • Host a local radio or television show on your area of expertise, or be a guest on one.
  • Network online and offline (in professional associations, conferences, trade shows, benchmarking groups, chambers of commerce and popular social media channels).
  • Publish newsletters (online or offline).
  • Publish a blog.
  • Write a book.
  • Hire a publicist.
  • Maintain relationships with the press.
  • Get involved in civic organizations. Donate money to local charities, especially complementary causes.
  • Volunteer to judge competitions.
  • Wear branded shirts and other clothing.
  • Put your company's logo and contact information on your motor vehicle.
  • Cross-promote with complementary or nearby businesses.
  • Give away insignia merchandise (featuring your business’s name, logo, tagline, and contact information).
  • Write letters to new residents introducing them to your business (perhaps offering them a free or reduced-price trial).
  • Script your customer service and tech support people to cross-sell and upsell products and services as appropriate. (Be careful not to over-incent people. They should only cross-sell/upsell in the most helpful way as appropriate.)

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What Can Brands Sell?

Most of you know that a brand can and should be much more than the product or service to which it is applied. And brands can and should promise customer benefits beyond purely functional benefits. I have said often that brands should deliver emotional, experiential or self-expressive benefits. Or they should stand for something and share values with their customers. So what are some of these less than completely tangible benefits that brands could own?

  • Aesthetic beauty
  • Poetry
  • Symmetry
  • Nostalgia
  • Confidence
  • Silliness
  • Playfulness
  • Humor
  • Reassurance
  • Strength
  • Harmony
  • Excitement
  • Surprise
  • Warmth
  • Nurturing
  • Status
  • Permission
  • Understanding
  • Acceptance
  • Belonging
  • Serenity
  • Freedom of expression
  • Discipline
  • Concentration
  • Safety
  • Inner peace
  • Creativity
  • Vision
  • Risks
  • Adrenaline rushes
  • Lightness
  • A wakeup call
  • Wonder
  • Gratitude
  • Foregiveness
  • Passion
  • Intensity
  • Stimulation
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom
  • Truth
  • Raw emotionality
  • Shock value
  • Release

If you haven't thought about your brand in some of these ways, consider it. It will bring a whole new dimensionality to your brand.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Future of Brands

I have prognosticated about the future of brands several times throughout the last decade. Most of what I predicted has occurred. In a way, brands are still on the same trajectory that they were on a decade or so ago.

Here is where I believe brands will need to go:

  • They will need to embrace a set of values and stand for something.
  • They will need to take on pleasing and even entertaining personalities. 
  • They will need to become very consistent in their delivery across channels of communication and distribution.
  • They will need to embrace outstanding customer service in order to remain in business.
  • They will need to continuously improve in their crisis management and error recovery.
  • They will need to embrace the Internet and mobile devices as important (but not the only) platforms.
  • They will need to remain agile and constantly innovate.
  • They will increasingly rely on big data and other types of data mining to achieve their objectives.
  • They will need to be professionally managed.
  • They will always rely on deep consumer insight - hopes, fears, values, attitudes, beliefs, lifestyles, behaviors and motivations.
I wish you great success in taking your brand into the future.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Marketing is More than BS

I have been a marketer for more than 30 years. And, as a brand strategy consultant, I have worked with more than 20 marketing agencies and 200 different companies and brands. Over time, I have heard people refer to marketing as "BS," "overhead," "the dark arts," "fluff," "a necessary evil," "disconnected from reality," "soft," "manipulation," and "baloney." 

If you have read my book Brand Aid or have been following my blog posts, you know that I disagree with these assessments. Marketing is a discipline that uses both the left and right sides of the brain, drawing on qualitative and quantitative research, sales metrics and brand equity measures but also tapping into human and creative insight. 

And, increasingly, one can measure the ROI of specific marketing programs, whether it is tracing online ads to views, click-throughs and product purchases or trade show investments to name and contact information acquisition, salesperson followup and, ultimately, sales. 

And each marketing sub-discipline has its own very specific skill set - marketing research, new product development, advertising, promotion, direct marketing, social media, mobile marketing, (big) data mining, retail merchandising, brand management, product management, pricing strategy, distribution strategy, brand licensing, public relations, guerrilla marketing, product marketing, sales support ... and there are many more. 

It bothers me when someone with no education or experience in any aspect of marketing thinks or says he or she "can do marketing." And I really don't like it when I hear someone say "a monkey can do marketing." Neither of these are true. 

While common sense and intuition regarding human motivation and behavior are important qualities of a successful marketer, they alone are not sufficient to create outstanding results. 

Admittedly, there are some in our profession who are less than well qualified while believing that they are fully qualified. This can be explained by the Dunning-Kruger effect

The one thing that writing Brand Aid has taught me is that there is more to marketing than meets the eye. There are many formulas, templates, metrics, rules of thumb, insights and other inputs that go into writing a winning marketing plan and developing a winning integrated marketing campaign. 

So the next time someone calls marketing "BS," don't take it personally but make sure you are not treating it that way but rather are a student and practitioner of all of the aspects of the art and science that comprise marketing.