Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Are Brands Even Real?



Let's take a step back and think about it. What are brands anyway? Aren't they this kind of fuzzy idea that no one can define perfectly? Does labeling something a brand make it a brand?

When I think about brands, it's about attaching labels and identities to things and imbuing them with human qualities. But isn't it really all about quality products and innovation and outstanding service and responsiveness and trustworthiness? Isn't it also about what your product or organization stands for and how you treat your customers? It can also be about creating a unique value proposition and consistent messaging. And it can be about making promises and creating real value and differentiation. 

So, in a way, "brand" is an umbrella or catch-all term for managing the branded item in a way that makes it stand out and achieve marketplace success. It is a set of tools, techniques and measurements that lead to uniqueness and superiority. It is a process and a methodology. It is a discipline. It is a gestalt. 

And, in a way, that is what makes brand management so difficult. It is so much more than marketing communication or even marketing. It is about creating and maintaining a successful identity and strategy for your organization and its products and services. 

So, whether brands are real or not, they serve a very useful purpose. And frankly, it is much better to be a strong brand than a commodity. To this I say, "Long live brands!"


Monday, September 11, 2017

Honing Your Marketing Skills



In addition to consulting with a wide variety of organizations regarding brand strategy, I also have served as an adjunct faculty member in the marketing departments at two different business schools, guest lectured at dozens of business schools, conducted "brand camps" at other business schools and helped MBA students at different business schools develop their personal value propositions. I have also judged MBA students' new business ideas and served as a mentor to MBA students. 

These are all ways not only to gain exposure as a marketing consultant, but more importantly, to hone one's brand management and marketing skills. I have found one activity to be even more valuable in keeping my creative marketing ideas flowing. I serve on the marketing committees of a variety of not-for-profit organizations, sometimes as a committee member and often as a committee chair. Today, I am involved on the marketing committees of six different not-for-profit organizations, but over time I have been involved in the marketing committees of dozens of not-for-profit organizations. Further, as a board member and volunteer for the Advertising Council of Rochester (now Causewave Community Partners), I have helped dozens of other not-for-profit organizations wrestle with their marketing issues. 

Skills become more ingrained when you teach them and being an adjunct marketing faculty member provides you access to the latest business school marketing case studies and concepts. Volunteering on marketing committees of organizations with limited marketing resources helps you become highly creative and efficient in developing successful marketing strategies and tactics. They also expose you to a variety of marketing approaches that larger organizations may not have tried. And the combination of consulting, teaching, conducting research, writing books and articles and volunteering on not-for-profit marketing committees, provides for an amazing amount of cross-fertilization of ideas. 

If you are a marketing professional, whether working for a company, a marketing agency, a brand consultancy or some other type of organization, teaching what you know, writing about what you know and especially helping not-for-profit organizations with what you know is a win-win activity for all involved, but especially for you. Consider doing one or more of these things.

Six Approaches to Brand Positioning



Brand positioning is perhaps the most important task in brand management. Ideally, it should drive everything else. Brand positioning is part art and part science. I like to inform the exercise by in-depth research including qualitative customer benefit exploration, brand equity measurement, brand benefit importance/delivery mapping and brand position testing. Having said that, intuition and creativity also are important skills that feed into this process every step of the way. 

There are six basic approaches to brand positioning:

  1. Own one or a unique combination of two benefits that are highly compelling to the end consumer and unique to the brand within the traditional product/service category. The benefits could be emotional, experiential or self-expressive. (I no longer advocate focusing on functional brand benefits.)
  2. As a variation on this, own an emotional, experiential or self expressive benefit and a functional benefit that serves as the proof point for the emotional, experiential or self-expressive benefit.
  3. Own a highly compelling value that is shared with the end consumer.
  4. Focus on both (1) a differentiating benefit within the tightly defined product/service category and (2) the primary category benefit. (See Promoting Category Benefits for more information on this approach.)
  5. Choose to compete in a broader category than the traditional product category, providing for potentially more sales but also more competition. This usually results in a significant repositioning of the brand focusing on non-traditional brand benefits, but can include focusing on the narrower category benefits associated with the traditional product category as a point of difference in the larger product category. 
  6. Create a "category of one" brand by creating a new highly compelling category for which your brand is the only choice. (See Creating "Category of One" Brands for more information on this approach.)
I wish you great success in optimizing the position of your brand.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Promoting Category Benefits



Usually the brand that has the most to gain by promoting category benefits is the market share leader. For instance, as market share leader, Hallmark had the most to gain by promoting the benefits of sending greeting cards. 

However, over time, I have come to realize that many brands would benefit from promoting category benefits. While those brands are competing most directly with close-in competitors, that is competitors in the most tightly defined product/service categories, they are also competing with what I call "everyone and everything else." 

Consider a fine art museum. It is certainly competing with other nearby fine art museums but it is also competing with every other use of its potential patron's time and money - other recreational or educational activities including other types of museums, botanical gardens, movies, baseball games, etc. That is why it would be wise not only to focus on differentiating benefits within the category but also the category benefits themselves as ultimately, the brand is competing against brands in other categories.

As another example, consider a yacht club brand. It is competing against other yacht clubs within the same geography. But it is also competing against other uses of recreational time - traveling to a nearby city, playing tennis, riding bicycles, playing golf, having a picnic, visiting a zoo, etc. A yacht club can grow by stealing share from other yacht clubs (that is, by getting a bigger slice of the pie) or it can grow by convincing more people that sailing and racing sailboats are very rewarding activities (by expanding the pie). 

At Hallmark, we produced two different types of advertising. One highlighted the benefits of maintaining relationships through card sending, while the other spoke to why someone should give a Hallmark card instead of another brand of card. 

Promoting category benefits is particularly important in categories that are static or shrinking. It will have a much greater impact on revenues than trying to steal share. 

If you haven't considered this already, consider whether promoting category benefits would be beneficial to your brand.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Brands & System Design



How many times has a brand's computerized system made you frustrated or angry? Have you ever had to enter your user name and password more than once to get what you wanted either online or via the telephone? Have you been offered a price discount as a valued customer only to not receive it because the link on the push email sent you to the website without recognizing you? Have you ever encountered an automated customer service system that does not provide a choice for the issue you are trying to resolve? Or how about the automated system that keeps sending you in an infinite loop, never to reach your destination? How about when you have to explain your problem over and over again to each new person because they do not have a system of shared notes? My favorite is holding for say 30 minutes only to discover that the automated system sent me to the wrong department, resulting in another 30 minute hold. Once, I had this happen with four different telephone number transfers. I was really upset by the time that I finally reached the person who could help me. 

I encountered one website that only allowed me to buy one ticket at a time. (I wanted to purchase multiple tickets for the event.) I had to reenter all of my information including name, contact and credit card information for each individual ticket purchase. How ridiculous is that?

Most recently, I booked flights on Delta Airlines for my wife and I using Expedia's online platform. (I have been an elite status member of both Delta and Expedia for years.) Unbeknownst to me, the only Delta tickets that Expedia listed were Basic Economy fares. I booked my flights and discovered at the airport that we had no seat assignments. We were assigned separate middle seats in the back of the plane at the boarding gate, were boarded in the last boarding group and there was no room for our luggage in the passenger compartment. I politely inquired about this at the boarding gate, reminding the gate agent of my elite status, only to be told that I had purchased basic economy tickets with no frills. The gate agent even subtly implied that I was a cheapskate and that I got what I paid for. The only problem is that I did not know that I had purchased Basic Economy tickets and I was not given an option to purchase a better ticket. My wife kept asking me (sarcastically), "So, this is what you get for your years of loyalty and elite status?" I am definitely annoyed at both Delta and Expedia. 

The point of this blog post is to indicate how important system and process design is in creating and maintaining brand loyalty. 

On the flip side, I am a very loyal American Express customer. Why is that? Because their customer service systems work very well and I have always been treated very well by their customer service representatives. Ditto with Ritz-Carlton systems and employees. 

When designing your brand experience, don't forget about the role systems and process design play in customer satisfaction and loyalty.