Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Quick Brand Health Assessment

You know your brand is winning in the marketplace when:
  • The brand is mentioned to customers and potential customers, and they brim with enthusiasm in their response.
  • Your brand’ s external messages “ring true” with all employees.
  • Employees are enthusiastic and consistent in recounting what makes their brand special.
  • The brand’s market share is increasing.
  • Competitors always mention your brand as a point of reference.
  • The press can’t seem to write enough about your brand.
  • Your CEO has a strong vision for the organization and its brand and talks more about the vision than financial targets.
  • Your organization’s leaders always seem to “talk the brand” and “walk the brand talk.”

Regarding the fifth bullet, your competitors mention your brand as a point of reference, I am always amused by the colleges or universities that describes themselves as "The Harvard of ..." Here is a partial list of those:
  • Stanford: Harvard of the West
  • Duke: Harvard of the South
  • Washington University: Harvard of the Midwest
  • University of Arizona: Harvard of the Southwest

Can you think of another category in which one brand is the point of reference for so many other brands? Every brand should aspire to be referred to in this way.

Bed Bath & Beyond - A Simple Marketing Tactic

As we approach mid-summer, retailers have begun merchandising back-to-school items (always a depressing thing to me because it reminds me of the fleeting nature of the summer months). Bed Bath & Beyond is no exception to this practice. My wife arrived home yesterday with a "School Information Document" for the University of Rochester that she picked up at our local Bed Bath & Beyond. She indicated that the store had made available customized versions of this document for each of our 18+ local colleges and universities. These documents are checklists that indicate what items are provided by the school and what to bring and what not to bring by category. The categories include bedding & accessories, storage and organization, bath/personal care & grooming, desk accessories, laundry & cleaning, electronics & audio, room decor and kitchen tools & dining. The documents indicate how you can shop online for these items and feature a map and directions to the local Bed Bath & Beyond store. 

Having spent years running marketing departments for companies, I can recognize a brilliant marketing tactic when I see one. This targets an important market segment at the right time of year. It requires minimum cost and effort to implement. It is likely to be very helpful to the targeted customer and it is very likely to result in significant incremental sales. My hat is off to the person who thought this up. This is what marketing is all about - discovering ways to make your customers' lives easier while selling more stuff. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Online Brand Management & Marketing Resources

ONLINE BRAND MANAGEMENT RESOURCES—Branding Strategy Source provides practical information on brand research, strategy and positioning. It also covers brand equity measurement, brand architecture, brand extension and other brand management concepts.—Marketing news and expert advice, with a comprehensive archive of articles on all aspects of marketing.—The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is comprised of more than 500 leading media and technology companies that are responsible for selling 86 percent of online advertising in the United States. The IAB educates marketers, agencies, media companies, and the wider business community about the value of interactive advertising.— is a group subscription service rather than an individual news site that connects marketing, advertising, design, and new media industry professionals to:
  • News, in-depth analysis, case studies, and best practice from its leading industry websites
  • Jobs through the Madjobs portal
  • Exclusive discounts and benefits to conferences, training, and awards
  • VIP networking events—About Marketing: articles, forums, chat, and more.—The MarketingProfs editorial team finds the experts and in-the-trenches marketers who know what they are talking about and delivers practical advice that you can actually use through its newsletters, conferences, seminars, podcast, articles, and webcasts.—MarketingSherpa is a research institute specializing in tracking what works in all aspects of marketing, offering practical case studies, research, and training for marketers.—The mission of Web Marketing Today is to publish down-to-earth articles, tutorials, webinars, and podcasts to help smaller, local businesses succeed online. Its authors are Internet marketing experts.

ONLINE BRAND-RELATED PUBLICATIONS—AdvertisingAge—Adweek of Advertising Research—Independent, daily brand journal (select the Journals and Books menu)—The Journal of Product & Brand Management—American Marketing Association—Journal of Brand Management—Sales and Marketing Management

List excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition. For the complete list, purchase the book here© 2015 Brad VanAuken

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What Really Matters in Building Strong Brands?

So what's the bottom line? What really matters in building strong brands? 

This is what matters:

  • Creating an interesting and memorable identity and consistently presenting it over time
  • Gaining deep customer insight through market research
  • Owning a benefit that really matters
  • Standing for something admirable or important
  • Creating a compelling brand story
  • Maximizing brand presence (through communication and distribution)
  • Promoting brand buzz
  • Anticipating customer needs and innovating solutions to those needs
  • Paying attention to aesthetics
  • Engaging consumers at different touch points
  • Establishing brand metrics and managing the brand against those metrics
  • Building on brand strengths while shoring up potentially fatal brand weaknesses
  • Enlisting organization-wide understanding and support of the brand

Friday, July 14, 2017

Personal Branding

My favorite definition of a brand is "the personification of an organization or its products and services." In this way, the brand can hold a certain set of values, stand for something, have a personality and make promises. It can also connect emotionally with its customers and its other audiences. 

That is why the notion of personal branding seems somewhat ironic to me, because, given that definition of a brand, personal branding must be the process of making a human being more human. Or put in a slightly different way, it is imbuing the human being with a unique and admirable set of human qualities that are highly compelling to his or her target audiences. 

My approach to personal branding began with a very useful course that I took at Harvard Business School (HBS) - Self Assessment and Career Development. The course was based on the school's realization that those alumni who pursued what they loved were the most successful throughout their lives. So why not give its students a jump start in determining what they love and how that could lead to a highly successful career choice?

For more than two decades, I have developed, refined and taught a course entitled, "Discovering Your Truth, Living Your Truth." It is informed not only by that HBS course, but also by several courses that I took at Center for Creative Leadership, Esalen Institute and through a variety of other leadership and personal development organizations.

Our approach to personal branding is very simple. Develop a succinct and powerful personal elevator speech that is no more than 30 words (and hopefully far fewer words) based on deep personal and marketplace insights. We spend most of the time helping our clients develop the insights necessary to craft the right personal elevator speech (sometimes called a personal value proposition). 

Core to that statement is focusing on attitudes, attributes, skills and competencies that are found at the intersection of the following three sets: (1) this is one of my personal strengths, (2) I love using this skill and (3) it is a strong marketplace need.

The trick is to use the most powerful assessments and other tools to help people determine what is in each of these three sets (personal strength, personal motivation and marketplace need) for them. This includes extensive journaling against a set of highly introspective questions.

I am increasingly asked to teach this as a one or two day "boot camp" as a part of the MBA student's career development at business school MBA programs throughout the country. 

If you have not gone through this process and you are competing for jobs in the job market, you are at a disadvantage.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Understanding the Competition

WHEN A COMPANY positions its brand in a customer’s mind, it is positioning that brand against other brands. It is critical to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each of those competitors along with the industry structure itself. (In fact, wise organizations dedicate a person to understanding the competition.)

Important sources of competitive information include:
  • Competitor websites.
  • Press releases. There are free online services that can send you daily e-mail messages with press releases on topics of interest to you.
  • Industry analyst reports.
  • Financial analyst reports. (If you have a Charles Schwab or Fidelity account, you can use their research functions to view company research reports from a wide variety of financial analysts.)
  • News clipping services.
  • OCRInternational ( and Avention ( consulting and research services.
  • Harte Hanks (, Hoovers ( and other company databases.
  • Online database searching services, such as FirstSearch, ProQuest, and Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe.
  • Services that track advertising spending.
  • Search engines and intelligent agents.
  • Online chat rooms, bulletin boards, and discussion groups.
  • Product/brand review websites e.g.
  • Trade magazines.
  • Trade shows.
  • Competitor direct mail campaigns. Add a friend or relative to their lists.
  • Your field sales force. Responding to the information they send from the field will encourage them to send more.
  • Ex-employees from competitors’ firms. They may be under your employ now, or they can be identified from job search databases.
  • Current customers. Many of them will pass on competitive communications they receive.
  • Primary and secondary research (qualitative and quantitative, including brand equity studies). Make sure to investigate syndicated studies. Syndicated studies are typically published by large research firms such as ACNielsen, Harris Interactive, and Forrester Research. An example is IntelliQuest’s Computer Industry Media Study.
  • Purchase and use a competitors’ products (i.e., become a customer). Your entire management team should do this; it is an excellent way to understand competitors’ customer experiences.
  • Market tours. If you work in retail, visit stores that carry your competitors’ products and talk with the sales associates about their products and services and what the companies are like to work with.
  • Competitive intelligence firms

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Most Pressing Brand Management Issues

Since November 2016, we have fielded a continuously running survey of marketers' most pressing brand management and marketing issues. Specifically, we asked marketers to indicate how important each of 29 different marketing issues were to them and how easily they could address these issues internally or with external resources. 

The respondents represented a wide variety of industries and industry sectors. 

Brand managers, marketing directors, marketing managers and marketing consultants comprised more than half of the respondents. 

Respondents also included CEOs, presidents, chief marketing officers, marketing vice presidents, marketing associates, copywriters, account executives, digital marketing managers, marketing coordinators and digital marketing associates.

These are the most pressing issues according to the survey's respondents:

  • Aligning our execution in support of our brand's promise
  • Updating/refreshing our brand's identity
  • Aligning employees in support of the brand
  • Gaining greater customer insight

The next most pressing issues include:
  • Telling our brand's story better
  • Improving our brand's unique value proposition
  • Developing a (better) brand elevator speech

The next most pressing issues are:
  • Getting our brand management team to buy into our brand strategy
  • Managing our brand image on social media 
  • Building more emotional appeal into our brand
  • Connecting marketing campaigns and creative with brand strategy

Do you find that you have any of these issues in your organization? Please share your brand management and marketing issues with us through this ongoing survey: SURVEY LINK

BrandForward offers services to address all of these needs. For more information on BrandForward, go here.

Copies of Brand Aid book are available here.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Branding and Accessibility

Accessibility is one of the five drivers of customer brand insistence in our proprietary BrandInsistence (SM) brand equity measurement system. Accessibility is critical in converting preference or need into an actual purchase. Time and money are the scarce commodities in most peoples' lives, therefore accessibility is related to locations, hours of operation and price. If the brand you prefer is available somewhere near or convenient to you during the hours when you are available and at a reasonable price, you will very likely make the purchase.

A few decades ago, Hallmark discovered that its card shops' typical hours of operation (9 am to 6 pm) was limiting their revenue potential, especially compared to grocery stores and other mass merchandisers that had much more convenient hours. (and the Internet in general) shook up the retail world for a number of reasons, not the least of which was 24/7 accessibility. 

In real estate, the mantra is "location, location, location."

I have been frustrated visiting a city on a Tuesday or Wednesday only to find that its public art museum is closed. Most (so I assume all) museums are closed on Mondays but open other days of the week.

It took me quite a while to realize that a fine dining restaurant in my town is only open on Thursday evenings. (It caters events the other nights of a week.) In the interim, I largely ignored that nearby restaurant because it was mostly closed. 

Recently, I happened upon a place whose hours are Friday through Tuesday from 10 am to 2 pm.

My point in all of this is that your brand must be accessible. Ideally, it is available 24/7 at a reasonable price. 

Here are two other blog posts that I have written on brand accessibility: 1 and 2.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Brand Management & Marketing Issues Survey

Please share what your most pressing brand management & marketing issues are by taking our survey here.

The Gestalt of Branding

Are you responsible for marketing your brand? If so, you probably do one or more of the following to promote your brand:

  • Television advertising
  • Radio advertising
  • Print advertising
  • Digital advertising
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Unusual media advertising (sidewalks, busses, sandwich boards, etc.)
  • Collateral materials
  • Direct mail
  • Website
  • Content strategy
  • Email newsletters
  • Blogs
  • Social media interaction
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • White papers
  • Public relations
  • Pitching stories to news outlets
  • Publicity stunts
  • Other proactive publicity
  • Conferences, events and rallies
  • Contests
  • Membership clubs
  • Insignia merchandise
  • Frequency programs
  • Product sampling
  • Special promotions
  • Brand lisencing
  • Sponsorships
  • Classes and workshops
  • Flagship stores
  • Factory tours
  • Brand museums
  • Trades shows
  • Providing industry analysts with brand information
  • Special rewards for high value customers
  • Brand characters
  • Brand spokespeople
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Digital asset management
  • Customer touch point design
  • Orchestrating legendary customer service
  • Co-marketing campaigns with other brands
  • Personal selling
  • And many, many more marketing strategies and tactics

My point is that marketing is much more complex than it would seem to be at first glance, and associated with that, because resources are never unlimited (and usually quite to the contrary), one must decide the optimal mix of marketing strategies and tactics to achieve marketing and business objectives for the brand. Further, these strategies and tactics must be integrated and supportive of one another and they must reinforce the same brand promise and position. Thus, brand marketing is truly a gestalt. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mass Appeal vs. Niche Brands

It is important for every enterprise to identify and even anticipate consumer needs and then satisfy them. The more solid the product or service, the larger market share one is likely to achieve. 

Today, I want to talk about the difference between mass appeal brands and niche brands. I will use hotels as the example product category. Large hotel chains have figured out exactly what the consumer wants and have provided it at a very reasonable price point. Consider hotel brands such as Hilton Garden Inn or Courtyard by Marriott. Business travelers desire free, easy to use WiFi, free off-street parking, clean rooms and basic amenities, a small gym in which to work out and a free breakfast among other amenities. Many different hotel brands offer their version of this amenity package today. Some throw in free water or cookies in the lobby or a free newspaper to continuity program members. Sometimes there is a swimming pool (but usually not large enough in which to swim lengths) and sometimes there is a gift shop or concession area for snacks, drinks and personal items. Most of these hotel chains offer exactly what the traveler desires and with great consistency. This leads to a strong brand position for maintaining a national (or international) presence and a significant market share. However, this is often accomplished at the sacrifice of real differentiation.

Contrast this to niche hotel brands. Recently, I wrote about La Posada Hotel. That is truly a niche brand. It is independently owned and there is only one location. Here is another example of a niche hotel, nhow hotel in Berlin. It is a hotel designed for musicians and music fans. It features two recording studios, guitar rental and much more. Or, how about some of these unique lodging ideas in Canada? Or, how about this list of the world's 50 most unusual hotels?

My point is that there is room for both consistent, strong value brands with mass appeal and niche brands that are unique and highly compelling to the right audiences. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Brand Identity for the 21st Century

Brand identity management is a key component of brand management. The number of brand identity firms and graphic design firms that create identity systems and logos are practically countless, though their capabilities typically vary widely. Traditionally, brand identity systems have included one or more of the following:
  • Name
  • Graphic mark, emblem, symbol or icon
  • Typefonts
  • Color palette
  • Tagline/slogan
  • Subrands, endorsed brands and other related brands
  • Prescribed spatial relationships between all of the above

But identity systems can also include scents (Cinnabon), sounds (Harley-Davidson), tastes (Bowmore) and textures (Mrs. John L. Strong). In fact, scents are the most effective at encoding and decoding brand associations in memory. 

Other elements of a brand identity system include brand voice and visual style and visual patterns and blocking. A brand spokesperson (Motel 6's Tom Bodett) or character (GEICO's gecko) might also be a part of a brand's identity system, as might specific types of music. Hallmark Hall of Fame commercials in the 1980s and 1990s featured a specific style of piano music. The brand's identity system should communicate its archetype and personality. 

Product and package design might also be a part of the brand's identity system. Consider Coca-Cola's bottle shape, Absolut's bottle shape or Tiffany's distinctive robin egg blue color packaging. Or consider Christian Louboutin's red soles. Apple products also have a consistent distinctive look and feel. 

The typical logo must be recognizable on a business card or above a store entrance. The Internet requires a version of the logo in the form of a badge or button. But all uses should be considered - letterhead, website, vehicles, employee uniforms, insignia merchandise, building signage, etc. 

A brand's identity system must be flexible enough to be experienced consistently regardless of communication vehicle, venue or use.

At a minimum, you should have the brand's identity system and standards accessible digitally to all relevant parties within your organization and outside of your organization (strategic business partners). Ideally, you manage this through a digital asset management system. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Brands & Positive Emotions

Research has shown that positive emotions and especially social connectedness leads to increased health. Kindness and compassion and the sense of belonging all contribute to positive health. In her book, Positivity, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson says that data shows that negative emotions, such as fear, can close down our ability to function, whereas positive emotions open us up to possibility and the ability to move forward. 

Dr. Fredrickson's list of the top ten positive emotions is as follows:

  1. Joy
  2. Gratitude
  3. Serenity
  4. Interest
  5. Hope
  6. Pride
  7. Amusement
  8. Inspiration
  9. Awe
  10. Love
Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, created this list of the top twenty positive feelings and emotions:
  1. Joy
  2. Interest
  3. Serenity
  4. Hope
  5. Gratitude
  6. Kindness
  7. Surprise (pleasant)
  8. Cheerfulness
  9. Confidence
  10. Admiration
  11. Enthusiasm
  12. Euphoria
  13. Satisfaction
  14. Pride
  15. Contentment
  16. Inspiration
  17. Amusement
  18. Enjoyment
  19. Awe
  20. Love
As marketers, we know that fear is a motivator, however fear has a negative impact on people (unless there is a real danger to avoid). So, I would encourage you to consider what positive emotions your brand could evoke in people. Consider how your brand can contribute to improved health through positive emotions. While this can be accomplished through advertising, it can also be achieved through customer service and a myriad of other ways. Choose a positive emotion or two (or three) on which to focus and include its development in your brand's plan, complete with objectives, goals, strategies and tactics. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

La Posada Hotel

"Well, I'm a standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me"

Take it Easy by the Eagles

My wife an I are on on two-week Grand Circle tour of the National Parks in Arizona and Utah. We started in the Grand Canyon and will proceed to Petrified Forest, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce and Zion. We have passed through the Painted Desert and will pass through Monument Valley. Other points of interest include Flagstaff, Sedona and Jerome, AZ, Moab, UT and Las Vegas, NV. But today, we are in Winslow, AZ and I just can't seem to get that Eagles song out of my head. 

But this blog post is about history and storytelling and brand differentiation. You see, I am writing this from my room at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, AZ. I am staying in one of the last great railroad hotels in America. Built in 1930, it is a Fred Harvey Hotel built by the Santa Fe Railroad. Upon arriving at the hotel, we were handed a 28-page hotel guide that tells the story of the hotel's history and its restoration. The hotel features a film that does the same. The hotel's restaurant is award-winning with unique and retro menu items and rivals top restaurants in big cities. The hotel's current owner, Tina Mion, is an accomplished artist. Her artwork can be edgy and includes political commentary, parody and the topic of death and dying. A lot of it is quite funny. The hotel features a gallery of her work and giclees of that work can be purchased in an expansive hotel gift store.  

This hotel is adjacent to active Amtrak train tracks and is elaborately but tastefully decorated in a Southwestern style. The rooms are large and feature heavy wooden doors with unusual hardware, hand painted furniture, shelves full of books, Navaho rugs, huge Mexican tin framed mirrors and many other unique touches. 

One hallway in the hotel features photographs of many of the famous people who have stayed at the hotel including movie stars, US presidents and foreign dignitaries. Each room is named after a celebrity who has stayed in the hotel. We are staying in the Gene Autry room. 

The hotel is filled with artifacts, curiosities, historical plaques, edifying filmstrips and other items of interest that could consume hours of one's time. Of all the hotels at which I have stayed so far in my life (and I have stayed at thousands of them), this is the most unusual. It transports me back to a different place and a different time. 

My point is not to promote this hotel, but to highlight a brand that is substantially different within its category. This is based on many factors, but hotel design, history and storytelling are chief among them. If you need to stay or eat somewhere within 100 miles of this hotel, this is the hotel you should choose. The experience it delivers is that different. Every brand should aspire to this level of differentiation.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Brands that Harken Back to Simpler Times

Some people embrace change and even are the drivers of change. They are the visionaries. They are constantly thinking several steps ahead and imagining what could be. They are very comfortable with uncertainty and have no interest in clinging to the past. They can create order from seeming chaos. And many of them are happy to "blow up" the status quo to create something entirely new. These are the people who are creating the disrupting technologies and companies. These can also be the social entrepreneurs. While some people are wired this way, for many others this can be quite unsettling. 

Many people worry about their futures in an ever changing world. "Will I be safe?" "Will I be comfortable?" "Will I still have a job?" "Will I be ok?" "I am falling further and further behind." "I am not sure I know how to navigate all of this." "This is frustrating." "This makes my head spin " "I just wish everything would slow down a bit."

This second group of people, which I suspect is the majority of people, often are nostalgic about the "good and days." They like the simplicity of Mayberry RFD or Leave it to Beaver or even American Westerns in which good and evil are simply defined and clearly recognizable. 

Some brands can win by focusing on the needs of people who long for simpler times. Give them old fashioned hospitality. Be friendly with them. Make things simple for them. Use humor. Focus on traditional values. Infuse your brand with nostalgic elements. Provide them with certainty and anchors. Present simple choices. Speak in "black and white." Use symbols that harken back to simpler times. Take on the personality of Andy Griffith or Aunt Bee. This can be a winning approach for some brands. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

In a Way, It's All the Same

I live in the world of brand promises and brand positioning. I help people determine their brand's essence. And I help them determine their brand's mission, vision and values. And their brand's archetype and personality. Some consultants help people discover their brand's "true north," while others help people determine their brand's mantra. One consultant I know helps people answer their brand's "why." And brands have tag lines and slogans and elevator speeches. Is this all word mumbo-jumbo or is there something behind each of these terms?

There are certainly subtle and not-so-sublte differences between each of these terms, however, at a more macro level, they are all used to gain clarity on one thing - Why does this brand exist? What makes it different from other brands? What does it stand for? How does it make a difference in the world? Why should people care? 

It is about strategic thinking and clarity and "fire in the belly." It is about getting the brand's leadership team "on the same page." It is about rallying employees around the brand's purpose. It is about energizing the brand and making it relevant and vital. And it is about making the brand stand out.

So yes, these terms might seem like jargon or marketing mumbo-jumbo, but they drive a strategic process that is critical to a brand's success. So regardless of which terms you decide to use, you must do the strategic work that they represent to put your brand on a successful trajectory. 

For definitions of each of these terms, refer to Brand Aid, chapter 2 (Understanding the Language of Branding) available here

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Brand Management's Rewards

I previously listed the business benefits of strong brands. Today, I want to talk about the intrinsic rewards of building strong brands. 

Strengthening brands creates better customer experiences. It can do this by improving products, customer services and a myriad of other things. Ultimately, thoughtful brand management will lead to an improved world. How does this work?

When we reposition brands or strive to strengthen their equities, we focus on specific ways to do that for each brand. All result in an improved customer experience. For instance, in our branding projects, we have:

  • Focused on industry-leading responsiveness resulting in minimal production downtimes and savings of millions of dollars
  • Offered customers a superior range of choices
  • Delighted customers with the most whimsical designs
  • Served as a proud badge of competence and expertise
  • Made banking simple, easy and fun
  • Made successful entrepreneurs feel as though they had arrived in the cadre of a community's "movers and shakers"
  • Made people feel safe again
  • Helped a professional association become highly valuable to its members again
  • Helped a community celebrate its strengths, attracting new residents and making current residents feel better about where they live
  • Made it easy for people to build with their products
  • Created a university of technological innovators
  • Fixed system errors that previously made their customers angry
  • Created a health care system that was more efficient and more humane
  • Made a specific group of surgeons feel like "rock stars"
  • Made a continuing care community feel like an extended family
  • Told a story about environmental sustainability that gave people hope
  • Brought back fond memories of the past

My point is that brand management is more than logos and advertising and social media. It is about improving the customer experience in both tangible and intangible ways. It is about improving products, services, industries and ultimately the human condition. Feel good about what you do as a brand manager for it is truly important work.

What do people want?

I had recently mentioned to a friend that one of the benefits of my job is learning what people really want. In my 35 year career as a marketer, I have conducted hundreds of customer research studies in a myriad of categories. When one conducts everything from depth interviews, focus groups, ethnographic studies and brand extension studies to product conjoint analysis, attitude and usage studies, brand equity studies and segmentation studies, one learns what people want. I have conducted research in categories as wide ranging as universities, municipalities, continuing care retirement communities, health care systems, vacation timeshare exchanges, hotels, RV resorts and campgrounds, homeowner's insurance, automobile insurance, banking, professional membership associations, vacuum cleaners, pizzas, juices, baby carriers, children's school supplies, graduation rings, cheerleading uniforms, greeting cards, floral arrangements, gas stations, convenience stores, online retailers, livestock feed, pet supplies, industrial seals, fenestration supplies, furniture and architectural building supplies - you get the idea.

So what do people seem to want?

  • Social status
  • Personal attractiveness
  • A way to express themselves creatively
  • People who will pay attention to them and care about what they have to say
  • Ease and comfort
  • Security and safety
  • To make sense of the world
  • Entertainment and humor
  • Camaraderie 
  • Intuitive simplicity 
  • Functionality
  • Durability
  • Reliability
  • Friendliness
  • Truthfulness
  • Respect and personal validation
  • Responsiveness
  • Beauty and aesthetics
  • Other sensory pleasures
  • To be surprised and delighted
  • A reasonable price

While not every one of these apply to every product or service category, these are the things that I have observed that people want.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Genesee Brewing Company

Just a few years ago, Genesee Brewing Company, New York State's oldest brewery established in 1878, was on the brink of bankruptcy. That was before North American Breweries, and its parent, the Triple Bottom Line (economic, social, environmental) company Florida Ice & Farm Co. invested $70 million in the Genesee site over the past few years. It is now investing another $40, which is matched by the State of New York's $9.5 million investment. This includes a new 130,000 square foot production building and expands the brewery by 18,000 square feet and adds 128 jobs. It is becoming a state-of-the art eco-brewery in an emerging eco-district that includes Rochester's High Falls on the Genesee River. It also features a new brew pub, museum and meeting and education center.

But that is not my story. My story is about the company's approach to marketing. A decade ago, its marketing consisted mostly of advertising focusing on sexy women, a very traditional, outdated and sexist approach. Today, its product offering and marketing have evolved in many ways. But the example I want to focus on today is the company's recent announcement that it will be floating twelve giant fermentation tanks from Albany, NY to Rochester, NY via the historic Erie Canal, passing through the Upstate cities of Utica (home of Saranac Brewery) and Syracuse (and many smaller towns) along the way. It is a functional decision because each 20 foot by 60 foot tank is too large to ship via truck or train. But Genesee Brewing Company has turned this into a publicity and social media event informing people in each place along the canal about the dates on which the tanks will pass through their towns. 

I am a big fan of proactive publicity and this is a great example of that. It will be a significant branding photo opportunity, but it also links an historic brewery with one of New York State's most historic developments, the Erie Canal. It links the nostalgia of Upstate New York's heyday with its more recent resurgence to the same for Genesee Brewing Company. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Business Value Creation

Today, intangible assets are the dominant contributors to business value creation. Recognizing this, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young developed a rigorous, comprehensive model of business value creation called the value creation index. Its components include innovation, quality, customer relations, management capabilities, alliances, technology, brand value, employee relations, and environmental and community issues. Several of these relate to my previous blog post on multiple stakeholders

I recently heard Doug Rauch, former president and 31 year veteran of Trader Joe's, speak. He spoke of the following as contributing to business success:
  • A compelling purpose
  • Focus - not being all things to all people
  • The long-term view
  • Innovation
  • Taking risks
  • Constantly monitoring the environment, including monitoring potential outside of industry threats
  • Putting the employees first

Brand managers would do well to consider these as a part of their management of the brand. This includes creating non-financial metrics and a balanced scorecard.

Our BrandInsistence brand equity measurement system indicates that awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility and emotional connection underly brand equity. 

My latest book, Brand Aid, has more information on all of this topics.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Shareholders Aren't Your Only Stakeholders

When I was in undergraduate school, I recall my professors talking about the different stakeholder groups of businesses - customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, the communities in which the businesses are embedded and the natural environment. Today, the almost universal mantra seems to be "maximize shareholder value," indicating a singular focus on shareholders and profits. If shareholder value is maximized, it likely requires that the value delivered to the other stakeholders is diminished. This is, to some degree, why businesses have so enthusiastically focused on automation as a cost-effective replacement for their employees. This is also why government regulations have increased over time - to protect employees, customers and the natural environment from the adverse effect of a singular focus on maximizing profits. 

This is not an indictment of capitalism. In fact, the adoption of some form of capitalism by developing countries has lifted a large portion of the world out of poverty and created a growing middle class. You can see strong evidence of this in China and India. 

Rather, this is a strong endorsement for a balanced scorecard. If businesses want less government regulation then they need to reconsider the expectations and needs of their other stakeholders - customers, suppliers, employees, communities and the environment. 

Extensive research has demonstrated that companies that treat their employees well and even put their employees first have achieved significantly better financial results over the long-term. Happy employees result in happy customers which results in happy shareholders. This is a virtuous cycle. On the flip side, businesses that only focus on the shareholders and the bottom line without deeply understanding and meeting the needs of their other stakeholders deliver sub-par financial performance in the long-run. 

Best practice companies focus on stakeholder insight and stakeholder engagement. This starts with stakeholder mapping to identify all of the stakeholder groups. This is followed by extensive stakeholder research to better understand stakeholder needs, hopes, fears and expectations. Then metrics are established for each stakeholder group. Finally, the organizations must establish and execute stakeholder engagement plans.

Remember, businesses only exist to meet human needs, not just the needs of top executives and wealthy shareholders, but the needs of all stakeholder groups. 

Some businesses have adopted ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plans), through which each employee is a part owner of the company and is committed to and shares in its financial successes. Some businesses share their profits with their customers in the form of rebates based on the business success. Other businesses take the form of co-ops in which employees and customers share in the business operation and ownership. And, fortunately, many businesses have charitable foundations or other mechanisms through which they give back to the communities in which they are imbedded. This includes robust United Way campaigns, employee days off for volunteer activities, gift matching to charities and organization-adopted charities. Many businesses have adopted environmental management systems to identify and mitigate the environmental impacts of operating their businesses. This often has the added benefit of reducing costs.

I hope this has helped you think about the multiple stakeholders whose needs and expectations businesses should strive to meet and even exceed.

Friday, April 28, 2017

What Builds Brands Today

A few decades ago, brands were primarily built through compelling television, radio and magazine advertising. More recently, brands have been built through an almost uncountable number of media and channels. However, the real builder of brands today is the brand experience itself. Whether it is's quick, easy and cost-effective way of finding retail goods or the experience of being pampered at a Mandarin Oriental Hotel, it is all about the experience. On the flip side of brand experience are examples such as Chipote Mexican Grill's outbreak of E. coli and, more recently, United Airline's unique approach to customer "re-accommodation."

So, what are some of the elements of great customer experience? Here is my list:

  • Authenticity
  • Accessibility
  • Approachability
  • Quick response
  • Reliability
  • Friendliness
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Innovation
  • Uniqueness
  • Listening skills
  • Customization
  • Empathy
  • Expertise
  • Competence
  • Beauty and aesthetics
  • Pleasant sensory experiences (visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile)
  • Rarity and exclusivity
  • Familiarity
  • Shared values
  • Humility
  • Civility
  • Sincere apologies
  • Humor
  • Optimism
  • Story telling
  • Comfort
  • Luxury
  • Safety
  • A sense of well being

Which of these does your brand deliver well? Which of these does your brand deliver consistently? Which of these is your brand known for? Which of these differentiates your brand from its competitors?