Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Is This a Branding Problem?



I have been a brand strategy consultant for 18 years and have worked with over 200 brands. And I have been approached by many other brand owners who were seeking help. Here is a dirty little secret - not all of the problems I have been asked to solve as a brand consultant have been branding problems. 

While seventy to eighty percent of the time, the problems have been branding problems, the rest of the time they have been other problems that the management teams thought could be solved by repositioning their brands or giving their brands new identities.

Here are the other types of problems that I have uncovered in the course of my brand strategy consulting:

  • Inferior products
  • Sub-par business models
  • Significant flaws in customer service training
  • A divisive CEO
  • Extreme management team in-fighting
  • A toxic organizational culture
  • Disruptive technologies that have made their products obsolete
  • Customer-facing computer systems that undermine delivery against the brand promise

And even if the problem is a brand-related problem, when asked to refresh the brand's identity, often the problem extends well beyond a brand identity problem. These are some of the brand-related problems that I frequently encounter:
  • An out-of-control and confusing brand architecture due to multiple mergers and acquisitions
  • A unique value proposition that is no longer unique in the industry
  • A "me too" product and brand strategy
  • Poor brand identity controls
  • A lack of understanding of the customer and his or her needs
  • Market share being taken away by an increasing number of niche brands
  • Focusing too much on functional needs rather than emotional, experiential or self-expressive needs
  • Inefficient and ineffective marketing spending
  • Marketing department skill set gaps
  • Incompetent marketers
  • Poorly performing marketing agency partners
  • Need to recover from a brand crisis
  • Inadequate marketing spending and extremely low brand awareness
  • Salesforces running amuck in improperly positioning or messaging their brands to make a sale
  • Inconsistent positioning of brands across geographic markets
  • Brand extension failures
  • Inconsistent target markets for the same brand
  • Financial decisions that substantially compromise the customer brand experience

So when someone jumps to the conclusion that a new logo is required to revive the brand, dig deeper. The problem is likely to the much more complicated than that.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Brand is Owned in the Mind of the Customer



As a brand manager, you probably have heard this statement (or some variation of it) at least a few times: "A brand is owned in the mind of a customer." Al Reis made the point in most all of his books that the brand needs to own "one thing" in the minds of its customers. Whether a brand owns one thing or two things or even a myriad of things in the minds of its customers, at the end of the day, a brand is what its customers think it is much more so that what the its managers intend for it to be.

That is why we get a read on peoples' brand associations in all of our brand research and especially as a part of our BrandInsistence(SM) brand equity measurement system. We ask this as an open ended question and we ask it in two different ways:

  • Thinking about [brand], what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
  • What makes [brand] different from or superior to other brands in the [product category name] product category?

Having hand-coded and interpreted the responses to these questions in more than one hundred different brand studies, I will confess that I have seen a huge variation in the consistency of answers across brands. Some brands are known primarily for one or two things (telling me that the brand manager has done his or her job well), while at the other end of the continuum, other brands are known for as many things as there are customers responding to the survey. This tells me that those brands are substantially underfunded or have not been well managed. 

The goal is to create significant consistency around what the brand stands for, what it promises to its customers and what its top associations are. Ideally, those top associations are highly relevant and purchase motivating to the customer. Further, ideally they evoke strong positive emotions. 

While one might think it is useful if a brand stands for something different to each customer and potential customer, it really isn't because then the brand does not stand for anything in particular.

An entirely different topic for another blog post is how to change brand associations from one or two negative (or even neutral) associations to one or two highly compelling associations. 

But suffice it to say that "a brand is owned in the minds of its customers," so it is important that you know what it does own so that you can carefully manage what you intend for it to own to become highly compelling to its target customers.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Brand Positioning



Despite the importance of this topic and the fact that this is our number one requested service (I have helped more than 200 brands with this), I have not written a blog post on this in a while. So, here are some of my thoughts on brand positioning.

First, this is the most important and fundamental task for brand managers. Everything else - brand identity, brand messaging, customer touch point design, etc. - must build off from this work.

Second, this is much more difficult than it might seem upon first consideration. Most industries are mature and most viable brand positions have been taken. Increasingly, the vast majority of brands in most categories are delivering well not just on the cost-of-entry customer benefits, but also on most of what used to be differentiating customer benefits. 

Here are the brand positioning components that I address in our process:

  • Target customer definition (in great detail)
  • Brand essence (the heart and should of the brand)
  • The brand promise (including the competitive frame of reference, differentiating benefits or shared values and the proof points/reasons to believe)
  • The brand archetype (what motivates the brand to behave in the way that it does)
  • The brand personality (seven to ten adjectives that describe the brand as if it were a person)

The brand's unique value proposition is closely related to the brand's promise. They are essentially the same thing. Often, I also help brand manager's think through the brand's mission, vision and values. This work precedes the brand positioning work (or at least runs parallel to it). Finally, another way to think about this is to ask the question, "Why?" Why does this brand exist? Why should it exist? Why should people care?

Further, we often consider customer lifestyle and price positioning as a part of brand positioning. 

A variation in brand positioning is to create a "category of one" brand. Creating a "category of one" brand entails defining the brand's category in a way that is meaningful and highly compelling to the target customer, while allowing only one brand to be in the category's consideration set. This is easier said than done and few brands have successfully achieved this. 

Increasingly, we have been asked to position brands in ways that create more emotional appeal. This typically requires focusing on emotional, experiential and self-expressive benefits or shared values. This also usually requires deep qualitative customer research as an input to the brand positioning process. 

A trick in positioning any organization brand is to create a unique and highly compelling position that spans all of the brand's product and service categories. To do this, the brand manager must first understand how the brand could be successfully positioned in each of those product and service categories and then discover the common thread between them. Too many brand managers give up on this difficult task and decide that the umbrella brand stands for "quality" or "innovation" or "service" or "leadership" or some other non-differentiating cliche

Increasingly, one must know how to differentiate brands in commodity categories. And I mean real commodity categories - petroleum, soybeans, water, etc. There are more than two dozen techniques we use to specifically differentiate commodities. All of them can work with brands that have parity products.

In our brand positioning workshops (in which we build leadership team and stakeholder consensus around the brand), we also address business strategy (including business models) and competitive strategy as they relate to brand strategy. We believe that brand strategy cannot be developed in a vacuum.

We use our very powerful proprietary BrandInsistence(SM) brand equity measurement system to identify brand positioning vulnerabilities, gaps and opportunities to inform the brand positioning process.

When we have crafted a new brand positioning, then it is time to create the supporting brand identity including the brand tagline. Further it is time to create the brand elevator speech and the brand story. And it is time to build an integrated marketing campaign in support of the brand position.

For more information on brand positioning, refer to Brand Aid, available here.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Naming Brands



Developing a strong brand name is more difficult than it would seem. Here is what I look for in a strong brand name:


  • It is associative descriptive, that is, it alludes to the promised customer benefit. 
  • Or it is completely coined. That is, it has no other meanings. 
  • It is short - one or two syllables per word and no more than two words.
  • It is not an acronym. 
  • It is easy to remember.
  • It is easy to spell.
  • It is easy to pronounce.
  • It is alliterative.
  • It is unique. It stands out.
  • It has no unintended negative meanings.
  • It is surprising, shocking or unexpected.
  • It conjures up positive emotions.
  • The sounds created by its letters convey a feeling that relates to the brand or the intended customer.
  • It is legally protectable. 
  • Its URL is available. 

Here are some of my favorite brand names. Consider which of the above criteria each of these names best deliver on.
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • BestBuy
  • BlackBerry
  • Cinnabon
  • Crayola (crayons)
  • Dove
  • DieHard
  • Dunkin' Donuts
  • Hotmail
  • Jaguar
  • KitchenAid
  • Kodak
  • Lean Cuisine
  • PlayStation
  • Slim Fast
  • Tesla
  • Virgin
  • Weight Watchers
  • Wrangler

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Big Questions for Brand Management & Marketing



I follow a large number of topics outside of brand management and marketing. Today, I want to bring some of my disparate reading to bear on brand management and marketing in the form of some futuristic questions. Hopefully, they will spur your thinking. 

  • How will big data analytics affect brand management?
  • As AI, robotics, the Internet, smart machines and automation continue to replace human jobs, how will this affect the role of brands?
  • How will the increased concentration of wealth affect brands?
  • With the significant decline in the faith in traditional institutions (government, schools, religions, corporations, etc.), can brands become the primary source for values alignment and community building?
  • How will the increased use of propaganda, false news, negative labeling, and other dysfunctional persuasion techniques affect marketing?
  • Will there be a tipping point when "love" becomes a more powerful motivator than "fear"?
  • Will the reptilian brain and strong emotions always be a more powerful driver of decisions than the rational mind (cerebral cortex)?
  • Who will own the vast amount of personal data gathered on individuals through the Internet and other sources?
  • Will we ever have a model that will be able to accurately measure the ROI for most marketing actions?
  • Given the definition that "a brand is the personification of an organization and its products and services," how is it that personal branding works? That is, how does a person personify him or herself and what does that really mean?
  • We have largely moved from a product economy to a service and experience economy. What is next after that?
  • When a majority of humans no longer are needed in the workplace due to automation, what does this mean for the type of economic system that will be most effective and what does that mean for capitalism, our consumer culture and branding?
  • When will we have developed a comprehensive model of purchase decision influencing and causality?
  • What is the end game for brick and mortar brands given the increasing appeal of the Internet for product and service purchases?
  • As more and more people become completely self actualized, what does that mean for desires, consumption, products and brands?
  • How will behavioral economics change the way we do marketing?
  • What is the end state for geo-fencing?
  • What will the impact of the rise in multi-national corporate power be on nation states and on brands?
  • When "transporter machines" (as in Star Trek) become real, what will that mean for location-based brands?
  • What approaches and applications will propel brand management and marketing into a more ethical sphere? And what approaches and applications will propel it in the opposite direction?
  • What will the impact on the human brain be when every type of information, calculation and answer can be generated by computers and instantly accessed by humans? How will this impact human needs and desires?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How Do You Want Your Brand to Impact its Customers?



One way to strengthen your brand is to think about how you want it to impact its customers. Answering each of these eleven questions will help you do this:

  • How do we want our brand's customers to feel? What emotions do we want our brand to evoke?
  • What is our brand's ideal personality?
  • How should our brand treat its customers?
  • How will our brand enhance its customers' lives?
  • What functional benefits does our brand deliver to its customers?
  • In what ways will our brand surprise and delight its customers?
  • What does our brand stand for? What are its values?
  • What is different and special about our brand?
  • What does our brand do that no other brand in the category does?
  • In the end, for what will our brand be remembered?
  • What is the one thing we want our brand to "own" in the mind of its customers?

For more information on brands, purchase Brand Aid here.

Brand Advertising and Humor



Given that (a) most people multitask, (b) there are so many distractions and (c) people can ignore or skip ads these days, it's important to create ads that capture people's attention from the very beginning. And it is helpful for those ads to be entertaining throughout. 

Luckily, there are a bumper crop of funny ads these days. GEICO started this trend in the insurance industry with its cute little gecko. Its ad campaigns have evolved over the years but they still are funny in very unexpected ways. Here are some examples of GEICO ads. One of the things they do well is integrate the key message into ad ("You can save 15% or more on car insurance") in a very clear manner. 

While GEICO started the funny ad trend in the insurance industry, many insurance companies have followed suit. I also like the Farmers Insurance Hall of Claims commercials. They have a consistent feeling, a consistent spokesperson, a consistent message ("We know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two.") and the familiar jingle at the end - "We are Farmers. Bump da bump bump bump bump bump." Here are some examples of those. 

Dos Equis' "The Most Interesting Man in the World" series of ads is also a highly entertaining campaign. And the message is always the same - "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty my friends." Here is an example of some of these ads. 

More recently, the Wonderful Pistachios Commercials have infused some humor in selling Wonderful Pistachios. Here is one example of this series of ads.

If you can integrate your key brand message into ads that are highly entertaining and that have coherence, you have a better chance of breaking through the commercial clutter. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Brands and Authenticity



Patagonia is authentic. Newman's Own is authentic. Ben & Jerry's used to be authentic. But far too many brands have followed the advise of this often repeated quote, "The most important thing is honesty. Once you can fake that, you've got it made." Another version of the quote is "The secret of success is sincerity. Fake that and you're in."

I remember when BP (British Petroleum) repositioned itself as BP (Beyond Petroleum), the green energy brand. Not too long after that, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill occurred bringing to light BP's total disregard for the environment and lack of investments in green energy. 

The BP example is not atypical. Many companies have jumped on the "green," "organic," "socially responsible," and "clean energy" bandwagons. In fact, now there is even "clean coal," whatever that is. 

My wife recently encountered an automobile dealership that presented itself as "honest" and "straight shooting," with no haggling, just clearly marked prices and an unconditional guarantee of complete customer satisfaction. The dealership turned out to be anything but that. They attempted to overcharge her, tack on all sorts of hidden fees and upsell her on useless services. After she bought the car, she discovered a quirky problem that caused the car to seem as though it had a dead battery at the most inopportune times. Trying to get it repaired was a real hassle.  

While hucksters, con artists and opportunistic business people have been selling "miracle elixirs" for decades and even centuries, it doesn't help legitimate brands that are trying to make the world a better place. When one cannot discern a legitimate organic food product from a fake organic food product, it depreciates the meaning of "organic." When someone is selling fish or produce that has been frozen and shipped from an ocean away as "local," it diminishes the meaning or "locally grown" or "locally caught."

It is not only important for a brand to be authentic, it is also important for it to distinguish itself from the posers. If this is not done, it creates confusion in the marketplace and may reduce the meaning of the authentic behavior. As an example, be clear on what "organic" or "local" actually means and perhaps even create an "organic" or "local" seal that can only be used by those brands that are truly "organic" or "local."

Marketers will always try to come up with descriptors that sound legitimate and even imply a certain behavior or condition but that don't really mean much. Take for example, these claims:
  • Natural farm raised meats
  • Pasture raised meats
  • Fresh
  • Naturally grown
  • Simply raised
  • Nature raised
  • All natural
  • Responsibly grown
  • Animal welfare approved
  • Made with a clear conscience
In your role as a marketer or a consumer, beware of fakes posing as authentic products and brands. Help your brand and its product or service categories clearly differentiate between the "real deals" and "fakes."

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Brands and Habitual Behavior



Often people purchase a particular brand purely out of habit. Sometimes the function of a familiar brand is to reduce the time and effort associated with choosing a particular product. One can rest assured that his or her needs will be met with the familiar product or brand. 

There are several steps to creating a habit-forming brand. Recent research indicates that it takes two to eight months to form a new habit, depending on the individual, frequency of use and type of habit to be formed.

The first step is to initiate product trial. The next step is to encourage repeat purchase. After that, frequency of use becomes important. 

During wartime, tobacco companies distributed free packs of cigarettes to active duty soldiers. AOL became one of the earliest and best-known for-pay online services primarily because it gave away millions of floppy disks featuring 50 to 120 hours (and even up to three months) of free online services. 

Many brands use frequency programs to encourage ongoing loyal behavior. I have frequency cards for several different coffee houses. And I am a member of several airline and hotel chain loyalty programs. Starbucks used to offer discounts on afternoon coffee drinks for the days on which you purchased your first coffee drink in the morning.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg indicates that key to forming a habit is identifying the cue that is associated with the habit and the reward that reinforces the habit. Any of these can be cues: time of day, a particular place, a certain emotion, the presence of particular other people or a kind of ritualized behavior. 

Once the habit has been formed linking the habit to a frequently encountered cue the trick is  to offer some basic reward to reinforce the behavior. 

The following are some books that address this topic in greater detail: