Monday, July 31, 2017

Don't Wait Until It's Too Late

Organizations of all types contact us when they need help with their brands. Often, we work with very strong brands that want to improve their marketplace positions. At other times, we work with brands that may have lost their edge or even their way over time, either because they had become complacent or because of marketplace disruptions. Today, I want to talk about a third type of brand. These are the desperate brands that are in crisis mode. 

One organization we worked with had computer system failures that made it impossible for its customers to use its brand. Further, this brand's customers were pursuing a class action lawsuit against the brand.

A luxury brand we worked with had an absolutely beautiful product that typically sold at a 95%+ price discount. This was because the product rarely lasted a few weeks before it broke and was no longer usable. Further, the management team of that brand had no idea who its customers were or why they bought its defective products.

A higher education brand we worked with had no competitive brand position or messaging. They basically said, "We are a college. Come here if you want to go to college."

One brand had a problem with its billing system that made it very difficult for the company to collect its earned revenues. 

Another organization's problem was its management team and the toxic culture that it created. Everyone was focused on taking everyone else down, not on doing what was right for the business. 

We have been approached a couple of times by high profile personal brands (individuals) who were in crisis mode because they had run afoul of the law.

We worked with another organization that had been taken over by a venture capital firm. That firm was targeting a new customer segment that was completely alienating that brand's core customer segment to "juice" short term revenues so that they could sell the company at a profit.

Another brand we worked with had less than a .5% unaided awareness among its target audience. Very few people had ever heard of the brand.

One brand had not attracted a new customer in over two years. A large part of the problem was nepotism. The business development person was ill suited to the job but the son of the founder. 

One business owner had a very high end restaurant that was doing poorly. The problem was a total lack of marketing skills including the nearly fatal targeting of the wrong customer who could not afford the product.

Fortunately, in all cases, we were able to help these brands. However, many of these brands were at a point of desperation before they decided to reach out for help. And some of them had cash flow and other financial problems, making it much more difficult for them to seek the help they so desperately needed. 

It is much easier to strengthen your brand when things are going well than it is when your brand is on the brink of failure. In either case, we can help you. 

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.