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?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Brands and Dreams

Dreams are one way through which brand managers can make their brands highly desirable.

Everyone has dreams. Some are childhood dreams. They can be dreams about what they want to be when they grow up. Maybe they want to be doctors or astronauts or college professors or basketball players or rock stars. They might dream about attending a particular college or living in a particular place. Perhaps they fantasize about the sorts of lives they want to create for themselves. What kinds of families they want to have. The types of people they want to marry. What their weddings will be like. How many children they want to raise. What types of houses they will live in. What family traditions they will pursue. Where they will vacation.

As one gets older, the dreams will likely change. Maybe they dream about the next house or the next car. Possibly, they dream about the next promotion or eventually inhabiting the corner office. Maybe they dream about starting their own business. Maybe they want to start a nightclub, an accounting firm, a food truck or an organic farm. Maybe they dream about a vacation home in one of their favorite places.

Maybe they dream about owning expensive toys – an endless pool, a sailboat or a motor home. Maybe the toys are more modest – a drone or a new set of skis or a mountain bike. Perhaps a hobby is what drives their dreams – racing dirt bikes or owning a horse farm or winning a bass fishing tournament or finding that extremely rare comic book to add to the collection.

Maybe the dreams are related to health or personal hygiene. Maybe they want to lose a few pounds or get rid of a few wrinkles. Maybe they dream about becoming more active after a successful knee replacement. They could be dreaming of quitting smoking or overcoming a nasty drug addiction. Perhaps, they are dreaming of beating a dreaded cancer.

Maybe they dream about their retirement - where they will live and what they will do during the next stage of their lives.

My point is that life is full of dreams, fantasies and wishful thinking. Brands would do well to understand those dreams and to help fuel and fulfill those dreams. Have you thought of your brand in the context of the dreams that it addresses? Have you thought about how your brand can contribute to the formation and fulfillment of people’s dreams?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Brands with Purpose

Fundamentally, most people want to make the world a better place – for themselves and others. The vast majority of us are not motivated to create pain and chaos, but rather to seek pleasure and happiness. And yet, too few of us find a way to achieve this in our work lives.

Wise business leaders are discovering that building businesses around causes not only motivates employees, but also customers and other stakeholders.  What if your brand was all about making the world a better place? What if your brand and your organization became a movement? What if they reached down to people’s deepest desires for a more perfect world? What if they became a beacon for one small way in which the world could become a friendlier place? What if they captivated people’s imaginations? What if they ignited people’s passions? What if they became a rallying cry? What if they created deeply convicted evangelists?

As a business leader, take the risk to follow your vision for improving the world. Make this your brand’s mission. Align all of your resources in support of this cause. And don’t be too amazed at what gets swept up in this momentum.

Think of how much better this feels that concentrating on producing more widgets, increasing production efficiencies or extracting increased quarterly profits. Not that these won’t occur, but rather that a more pure and fundamental motivation will more effortlessly lead to these and other positive outcomes.

Is your brand underwhelming? Is your organization in the doldrums? Have you lost your personal motivation? Consider realigning all of these in the service of mankind. And don’t be surprised if a stunning turnaround occurs.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

United Airlines Just Can't Get it Right

Physically removing a paying passenger from an overbooked flight is not good for the United brand, especially given that other passengers were capturing the whole incident on video, which can now be seen on YouTube. The correct response was not for the airline to claim it was right but instead to make things right. 

It would have been much better policy and far cheaper to continue to offer higher value flight vouchers until someone voluntarily gave up the last overbooked seat. And clearly it would have been better to do this before all of the passengers were assigned seats and comfortably boarded on the plane. There are so many better ways to have handled this situation that it is surprising that physically removing a boarded passenger against his will was the chosen course of action. 

This seems to me to be a policy, customer service and PR issue. 

And this from the same airline that encountered a PR SNAFU a few weeks ago when it barred two girls from boarding a plane for wearing leggings. 

And of course, it is the same airline whose callous approach to a musician passenger whose guitar they broke led to the famous "United Breaks Guitars" video, viewed by almost seventeen million people. 

And, while almost ancient history now, it is the same airline whose flight attendants threatened a labor action labeled CHAOS (an acronym for "creating havoc in our system") during the airline's "United Rising" advertising campaign, which was intended to indicate a reemergence from an extended customer service slump. 

All I can say is, "United, you are not managing your brand well." People remember these things, and given options, will choose other airlines if they are able. Hire and train for legendary service, focus on employee satisfaction and up your crisis management game.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Brand Strategy Workshop Errors

We conduct strategy formulation sessions or workshops on the following topics with our clients:
  • Brand mission, vision & values
  • Brand positioning and repositioning
  • Brand architecture
  • Brand extension
  • Inside out branding
  • Customer touch point design
  • Brand storytelling
  • Brand co-creation with customers
  • Pricing strategy
  • Distribution strategy
  • Brand planning

I have personally conducted more than 400 of these workshops and I have also witnessed others conducting similar workshops for a wide variety of clients. Unfortunately, I have observed many errors in conducting these workshops. Here are some of the more common errors:

  • Not having all of the key decision makers participate in the process.
  • Not understanding the group's "culture" and operating style upfront.
  • Being dressed inappropriately for the group and their culture.
  • Using inappropriate language for the group (too formal or informal, etc.).
  • Not preparing adequately for the workshops. Neglecting to conduct pre-workshop participant surveys or prepare appropriate "information sheets" and other handouts.
  • Not having the room set up properly with the right chair and table configuration, easels, marker pens, projection systems, sound systems, etc.
  • Serving food that is too heavy and that will cause people to be drowsy. 
  • Keeping the room too hot or too cold. 
  • Not setting expectations properly or at all.
  • Not gaining the group's upfront trust regarding the process and the intended outcomes.
  • Not providing the appropriate instruction, guidelines, tools and templates so that people will be guided and even forced to develop sound strategies. 
  • Showing off one's expertise or bragging about one's background (versus letting it speak for itself).
  • Not configuring the break-out teams with the optimal mix of people on each team. 
  • Not keeping careful track of time and therefore running way over on time or not completing the intended agenda with the promised outcomes.
  • Related to this, not knowing how to give each person appropriate "air time" without long-winded speeches, rehashing of things previously said or going down unproductive "bunny trails."
  • Not drawing out the quiet people in the room. Not allowing everyone to be heard.
  • Not finding a way to gently shut down people who would dominate the conversation.
  • Not knowing how to handle disruptive or passive aggressive participants. 
  • Giving in to unproductive requests that will derail the process.
  • Allowing people to be distracted by email messages or phone calls.
  • Not paying attention to the energy of the room and calling for breaks when they are needed.
  • Allowing participants to come and go throughout the day so that previous group decisions would need to be revisited to include the temporarily absent people in the process.
  • Not knowing how to drive people to consensus. Not having developed a wide enough array of techniques to do this.
  • Not holding and feeding the energy of the room. This is a key part of a facilitator's role.
  • Accepting group consensus on mediocre or poor strategies. 

People may observe a strategy session or workshop and think, "That's easy. I could do that. Look how easy it was to come to consensus." I would liken it to watching a couple's winter Olympic skating routine. "Look how easy and graceful they make that seem." Indeed.

Before you conduct a strategy workshop, make sure you have fine tuned your group facilitation skills, properly prepared for the workshop with great attention to detail, had a good night's sleep and proper nutrition and thought through what the optimal result might be. It is easy to conduct a workshop. It is less easy to conduct it well with a happy energized team and outstanding results.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Brand Positioning 501

What is brand positioning really? While it is conducted as a strategic exercise that includes a variety of components such as target customer, brand essence, brand promise, brand archetype and brand personality, it is much more than the sum of its components. It is all about making your brand relevant and emotionally compelling to people. It is about establishing real value with your brand. And it is about creating a competitive advantage for your brand.

I have previously written blog posts on when to position or reposition a brand, but until now, I have not written about the the most important and the most difficult aspects of positioning or repositioning a brand.

First, the most important aspects of positioning a brand:
  • The most important element of brand positioning is customer definition. You must understand who your brand is targeting and why.
  • It is also a useful exercise to conduct customer segmentation, usually through segmentation research. There are many ways in which you can segment customers, however we often prefer to do it through attitudinal statements
  • In the absence of brand equity research (ours includes brand positioning maps), it is very difficult to position the brand to the greatest advantage.
  • Qualitative research will also help you get deep into the mind of the customer. This should be conducted before the quantitative research.
  • You must discover brand benefits that are both "unique" and "compelling," which is much easier said than done.
  • You should focus on the experiential, emotional and self-expressive benefits. Save the functional benefits as "proof points" or "reasons to believe."
  • The most successful brands have a strong set of values and stand for something. Related to this is developing a strong sense of brand purpose.
  • Your brand needs to claim a position that is authentic for the brand. And it must be capable of delivering on its promise at each point of customer contact.

Some of the more difficult aspects of positioning a brand are:

We have helped more than one hundred and fifty organizations successfully position or reposition their brands. I wish you great success in positioning or repositioning your brand.