Thursday, March 30, 2017

Brands and Core Values

Some people identify with the Marlboro Man and his rugged independence. Others identify with the Horatio Alger story of rags to riches. Some people envision Mayberry RFD and its small town life. Some believe Ayn Rand got it right with her logical positivism philosophy. Others can much better relate to Mother Theresa. 

For some, it is about traditions. It might be the tradition of singing Christmas carols in a candlelight Christmas Eve church service. For others, it is about bringing family together at a Thanksgiving meal. Yet for others it might be about eating a hot dog and drinking beer at a baseball game. If you are from up north, maybe it is more about the hockey game.

Some may feel patriotic about the American flag, while the Confederate flag might be more of a symbol for others. 

Freedom, self-sufficiency and self-determination may be the vision of one person, while for another it might be the sense of community and collectivism. 

For some, it is all about aesthetics and beauty, whether found in a painting, a park, a poem, a garden or architecture. While for others it is about sport and competition and winning. 

Some people view themselves as collegiate, preppy types, while others think of themselves as good 'ol boys. Some fancy themselves to be intellectuals, while others think of themselves as mechanically inclined. Some are flamboyant screaming "look at me" while others are happy to be "plain Joes" who blend into the woodwork. 

Social circles can be based on neighborhood, school district, age, race, social class, profession, hobby, church, political party, sexual orientation or something else. Some people are so broad in their thinking that their circle of friends is unbounded.

Some people believe there is a God who oversees all things while others think our existence is just a happy (or maybe not so happy) coincidence. Some view the world as ultimately good and friendly, while others view it as hostile and highly competitive. Another group views it as random and lacking in any ultimate state.

My point to all of this is that brands must understand people's beliefs and core values if they are to relate to people in deep and meaningful ways. My other point is that there is likely to be more than one version of almost everything from religious values to the American Dream. The brand manager needs to decide to what beliefs and values his or her brand is primarily intended to appeal.

Brand Implications of Business Partnerships

There are a number of reasons one might partner with other brands and there are a number of ways in which this can be done. Your brand might partner with another brand to increase its distribution or exposure. The other brand could provide access to new or different markets for your brand. Maybe your brand could use some of the partner's marketing budget or at least stretch a shared marketing budget further. Maybe the partner's brand has attributes with which you want your brand to be more associated. Perhaps the other brand has skill sets or services that your brand does not offer. The other brand could lend greater credibility to your brand. Or it could be a point of difference for your brand. 

Partnering opportunities include the following types of relationships:

  • Manufacturer/retailer 
  • Manufacturer/distributor
  • Brand/agent 
  • Brand/media 
  • Brand/sponsor 
  • Brand/spokesperson 
  • Brand licensing agreement
  • Ingredient branding
  • Co-branded products or services
  • Co-marketing

While there are many advantages to partnering with other brands, there are also potential disadvantages. Any time two or more brands are associated, there is the opportunity for negative brand equity transfer or even brand confusion. 

For instance, does associating your brand with the other brand diminish your brand's reputation in any of the following ways? Calling to question its:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Authenticity
  • Responsiveness
  • Competence
  • Expertise
  • Quality perceptions
  • Technical expertise
  • Customer service orientation
  • Exclusivity

Consider what being associated with Wal-Mart or Breitbart News or Sears or BP or Wells Fargo or Enron might do to your brand. While there are a number of advantages that could come from linking two brands, the disadvantages could outweigh the advantages, especially if the disadvantages relate to brand trustworthiness and reputation. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Branding and the Power of Labels

Donald Trump is the master of creating pejorative labels that stigmatize his opponents, for instance Crooked Hillary, Crazy Bernie, Little Marco, Lyin' Ted and 'Low Energy' Jeb. 

The military creates labels that make lethal weapons sound more palatable such as peacekeeper missiles. The Affordable Care Act was carefully named to present its most important promised benefit, while the opposition relabeled it ObamaCare to give it a more negative connotation. Or consider the clean coal label. Some would say that is an oxymoron. 

Of course, public relations professionals are well acquainted with euphemisms, the substitutions of agreeable or inoffensive expressions for ones that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.

Whether used to make something sound better or worse, labeling is is a powerful tool in persuasive communication. 

If I wanted you to think less of a particular university, I might call it a nerd school or a party school or a backup school or a finishing school. Or consider how it would feel to you if someone were to label your high school a ghetto school.

Opposing political parties are constantly labeling their bills in the most positive light while relabeling their opponent's bills in the most negative light. 

Obviously, there are countless labels that can be applied to individuals to make others think less of them. Many of those labels are profane.

A well crafted label can create a strong emotional response, either positive or negative. Consider the power of labeling in positioning your brand or repositioning those of your competitors. 

For what it is worth, I am personally much more a fan of positive labeling than negative labeling for ethical reasons.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Brands and Non-Functional Benefits

Luckily, most of us in developed countries have roofs over our heads and are not starving. Many of us have gainful employment, loved ones with whom we share time and a fair number of creature comforts. For us, our basic needs are met without much thought or effort. 

Which leads me to non-functional needs. Most of today's brands deliver on non-functional needs. Here are some examples:

  • If I am feeling bored or depressed, perhaps my favorite alcoholic beverage, television show or video game will help. Or perhaps, I will succumb to shopping therapy.
  • Entertainment is always a welcome distraction. Entertain me with your ads. Make me laugh or at least make me smile. 
  • Perhaps I want to prop up my sense of social status. Several automobile brands will help in this regard, as will club memberships, expensive hobbies (such as horses or sailing), a more exclusive address, a new high end kitchen, an exotic vacation, a second home on the water,  a well-stocked wine cellar, all gold fixtures, designer label clothes or insignia clothing featuring elite brands. 
  • Perhaps I want to think of myself as erudite and sophisticated. Time to attend a lecture, stroll through an art gallery, join a book club, watch an obscure art film, go back to school to get a degree in an obscure subject area of interest, attend a ballet performance, read poetry or hang out at the most hip cafe in town. 
  • Maybe I just need a break and want to chill. I could take a walk through the woods, read a good book, meditate, tend to my flower garden or sip coffee at an outdoor cafe. 
  • Maybe I am craving an adrenaline rush. Time to go skydiving, hang gliding, race car driving, ski racing or some other such pursuit. 
  • Maybe I want people to notice me. It is time to wear wild clothes, die my hair pink or purple, get tattoos or get a brightly colored convertible sports car. Or maybe I will get a Segway or Vespa.
  • Maybe I am not feeling loved. Adding a dog to my family would help or perhaps volunteering at a soup kitchen would put me in the right place.
  • Maybe I am feeling ugly. Diet pills, anti-aging creme, a facelift, new clothes, and new hairstyle, a manicure, a pedicure or a complete makeover could help. 
  • Perhaps I am feeling rebellious. I am tired of trying to fit into my employer's or society's rules. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle might fit the bill. Perhaps I will take up smoking. Maybe tight fitting black leather clothes will do the trick. 
  • Maybe I am feeling poor. A trip to the local casino might make me feel better (but probably not). Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket. You never know. 
  • Perhaps I am having an existential crisis. What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Does anything really matter? Does my life really matter? Time to take up a new spiritual practice or go on a spiritual pilgrimage or find a spiritual coach or spend time at an abby or an ashram. 

I could go on an on with examples but I want to respect your time. My point is that most brands deliver on emotional, experiential and self-expressive benefits as opposed to functional benefits. And all of these benefits start with how the person is feeling and what he or she can think of to address those feelings. 

Another interesting point is how our past experiences impact what brands and products we interact with to meet a particular need. Take status as an example. While a house chock-a-block with gold might be a status symbol to some people, to others it demonstrates tackiness and a lack of sophistication. And while a Corvette or a Mustang might be a status car to some people, a Mercedes-Benz, an Alpha-Romeo or a Tesla might be a more appropriate status symbol to others. And while an expensive powerboat (for instance, a cigarette boat) might be a status symbol to some, to others it might be a sign of lowbrow tastes. 

A marketer needs to be constantly aware of the states of mind that their products and brands conjure up in the minds of their consumers and the underlying feelings that prompted them to interact with those products and brands. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Brands and Ecosystems

When studying biology in high school and college, I understood ecosystems in the context of the natural world. A traditional dictionary definition might be "a system or a group of interconnected elements formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment." 

Ecosystem has become a buzzword in today's business world. In this context it means "any system or network of interconnecting and interacting parts." So, in manufacturing, each of these might be elements of the ecosystem: raw materials, component parts, energy supply, university and apprenticeship skills training programs, skilled labor, R&D, manufacturing process design, machine tooling, assembly, etc.

So, what are the most important components of a brand's ecosystem?

  • The brand management function
  • The marketing research function
  • Including a brand equity measurement system
  • Graphic designers trained in brand identity
  • Copywriters and editors
  • Other skilled professionals in a number of marketing functions - product development, product management, package design, advertising, promotion, social media, retail merchandising, brand licensing, CRM, etc.
  • Including marketing agency partners
  • The categories within which the brand is sold
  • The vehicles through which the brand is presented
  • Other products and brands with which the brand is presented or otherwise associated
  • The forums in which the brand is discussed
  • The venues where the brand is available for purchase
  • The organization's culture
  • Organization design elements that enhance the brand - recruiting criteria, organization structure, training programs, common measures, rewards and recognition, etc.
  • Internal systems and processes that support the brand's promise
  • The organization's salespeople
  • Customer service representatives
  • Technical support personnel
  • The brand's customers including its different customer segments
  • The brand's country of origin

While this is not a complete ecosystem list, I hope it points out that a brand and its perceptions and success rely on much more than the its identity and its marketing communications. Ideally, the brand manager must keep each of these in mind when managing the brand.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Brand Tonality

Whether writing an elevator speech or advertising copy, it is important to get the brand's tonality right. This should be informed by the brand archetype, personality and voice, which are part of the strategic brand positioning exercise. 

For instance, do you want Tom Bodett ("We'll leave the light on for you."), Alister Cooke (PBS Masterpiece Theatre host) or someone else to represent your brand? Is your brand edgy or conservative? Does it have a sense of humor or is it serious? If your brand has a sense of humor, is it witty, sarcastic, slapstick, highbrow, dry or something else? Is it erudite or homey? Is its vocabulary large or small? If it were a writer, would it be John Steinbeck, William Faulkner or someone else? Is it hip and trendy or is it timeless? What sort of music is appropriate for the brand? A James Taylor ballad, a BeyoncĂ© hit, a Mozart concerto or something else?

Don't leave your brand's tonality to a copywriter's guesswork. And don't allow every communication to assume a different tone on behalf of the brand. Decide upfront on your brand's tone and then stick to it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Creative Brief

One of the places at which the wheels can come off a rebranding project is between the strategy and creative phases of the project. Often, a company will hire a brand strategy consultant to help it formulate its brand strategy including its brand promise and other brand positioning elements. Brand architecture, distribution and pricing strategies are also possible outputs of the brand strategy phase, as is customer segmentation. This phase is often informed by marketplace analysis and qualitative and quantitative customer research. And it almost always involves decision making by the leadership team. This sometimes follows organizational strategy sessions, including mission, vision and values formulation.

The creative phase typically includes brand identity development (logo, tagline, type fonts, colors, etc.), brand messaging (brand elevator speech, brand story, etc.) and marketing campaign development.

At a minimum, the transition between the strategy and creative phases should include a detailed creative brief based on the agreed to strategy. Often, key members of the creative team attend or actively participate in the strategy phase of the project. And sometimes the same firm is used for both phases (assuming it has strong capabilities in both strategy formulation and creative development).

Here is what you want to avoid in the transition:

  • A lack of understanding of the strategy by the creative team
  • Development of a creative approach that does not support the intended brand strategy

So here is a typical creative brief as outlined in my Brand Aid book:


  • Background/Overview: (history, context, and a general overview of the competitive environment and the problem)
  • Marketing Objective: (desired tangible result, usually in target customer’s attitude or behavior; intended effect with quantifiable success criteria)
  • Current State: (what the customer thinks today)
  • Desired State: (what we want them to think and what we want them to do)
  • Assignment: (deliverable, timing, and budget)
  • Product or Service: (if product/service-specific)
  • Target Customer: (be as specific as possible)
  • Brand Essence: (the “heart and soul” of the brand expressed as “adjective, adjective, noun”)
  • Brand Promise: (only [brand] delivers [relevant differentiated benefit or shared value])
  • Proof Points: (reasons to believe)
  • Brand Archetype: (choose and elaborate on one or two archtypes that explain the brand’s motivation and drive its behavior)
  • Brand Personality, Voice, and Visual Style: (from the positioning statement, list adjectives that describe the brand; for instance: voice: down-to-earth, assertive, confident, warm, sarcastic, witty, reassuring, eloquent, simple, etc.; visual style: bold, bright, energetic, soft, textured, ornate, understated, nostalgic, futuristic, etc.)
  • Mandatories: (those items that are givens). It is best to provide as few constraints as possible. I usually specify the brand identity standards and system as the only mandatories. There may be legal or regulatory mandatories as well.

For additional information on brand management and marketing, you can purchase Brand Aid, second edition here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Increasingly Bifurcated Consumer Market

I have been conducting in-depth customer needs research on behalf of a few different clients as of late. In the process of conducting this research, I have discovered something quite interesting. Customer needs and benefits have become more bifurcated. That is, the needs and benefits are becoming more separated into one of two buckets. I will label the two buckets "Self-focused Needs" and "Outward-focused Needs." 

Here are some of the needs that arise within the "Self-focused Needs" bucket:

  • Wealth
  • Income
  • Power
  • Social status
  • Fame
  • Prestige 
  • Superiority
  • Creature comforts
  • Luxury

And here are some of the needs that group together in the "Outward-focused Needs" bucket:
  • Making a difference
  • Contributing to a better society
  • Helping others
  • Valuing diversity
  • Curiosity
  • Open-mindedness
  • Community
  • Global awareness
  • Environmental sensitivity
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Aesthetic appreciation

The people who seek to fulfill self-focused needs view those who seek to fulfill outward-focused needs as "soft," "weak," "naive" or "politically correct." This (self-focused) group is driven more by the sense of a zero sum (win-lose) game, a hyper-competitive environment, hierarchy and fear.

The people who seek to fulfill outward-focused needs view those who seek to fulfill self-focused needs as "selfish," "black and white thinkers" or "spiritually unevolved." This (outward-focused) group is driven more by a non-zero sum game, cooperation/collaboration (win-win) and the view that the world is innately friendly and good. 

I find this to be truly fascinating. It is something marketers should keep in mind as they approach customers.