Friday, November 9, 2018

Marketing Trends Today and Tomorrow

I am delivering a talk on the future of brand management and marketing next week. Things are changing so quickly in the marketing world that it is difficult for every marketer to keep up with all of the new approaches and techniques. While I do not have the space here to explain each one of them, I thought I would share my talk's outline to give you a flavor of the latest in brand management and marketing.

Today's Marketing Research Approaches
  • Big data analytics (including predictive analytics)
  • Combining data mines with attitudinal research
  • Attitudinal (and values) segmentation
  • Knowing when to apply which statistical technique regression analysis, ANOVA, factor analysis, cluster analysis and logistic regression
  • Eye-tracking technology
  • Using MEG, GSR, EEG, SST, QEEG, FMRI, PET and CT scanning to understand likes and dislikes
  • Better understanding memory encoders and triggers
  • Improved retail traffic pattern measurement and analysis
  • Drawing on the insights of behavioral economics
  • Measuring ROI
  • Identifying sales drivers
  • Anthropological studies
  • Conjoint analysis and AI
  • Emotion measurement tools
  • Online focus groups
  • Mobile research options
  • Color science and emotional response
  • Olfactory science and emotional response

Brand Management Today
  • Authenticity
  • Shared values
  • Community building
  • Using cultural symbols
  • Employer branding
  • Internal employee and system/process alignment
  • Brand co-creation with customers
  • Brand storytelling
  • Customer journey mapping
  • Customer experience design
  • Strategic partnerships and co-opetition
  • Game theory and competitive strategy

Marketing Today
  • Hyper-personalization
  • Geo-targeting and geo-fencing
  • Undercover, stealth or covert marketing
  • The poison parasite defense (to reposition a competitor’s brand)
  • Buzz (aka word-of-mouth) and influencer marketing
  • Creating influencer swarms
  • Content management, scaling content, creating viral content
  • Co-creating content with customers
  • Value-based community building
  • Proactive publicity as a primary tool
  • Unusual advertising media (crops, escalators, human tattoos, sidewalks, etc.)
  • Flash mobs and street team marketing
  • Authority marketing
  • Attaching pejorative labels to competitors’ brands (used mostly in politics)
  • Fully automated lead generation systems

If you are not familiar with any of these approaches, I would suggest that you look them up and become familiar with them. And I would be happy to hear from you if you think I have missed something. Please share your knowledge and insights with our readers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Ethics in Marketing

Ethics is not a topic that I hear marketers talking about very often, however it is something that I think about frequently because I understand the societal impact of what I do. Marketers can often drive human desires and behaviors, getting people to buy things that they may or may not need, making them feel better or worse about themselves in the process.

Skilled marketers wield a lot of power because between data analysis and intuition, they know how to manipulate people's thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. A long time ago, one client approached me saying that he needed my assistance because I was a "master of the dark arts." This took me aback because I try to be completely ethical in my approach to marketing but I knew what he meant by the comment. It was clearly intended to be a compliment. 

So what are some of the ethical issues in marketing? First and foremost is using marketing to make a product that is clearly harmful more appealing to people - for instance, selling cigarettes by appealing to people at a deep emotional level.  This can be achieved by linking the cigarette brand to independence, rebellion, good times, coming into one’s own power, etc.

Next is getting people to buy stuff that they just don’t need. How many toys does one child actually need? How many pairs of shoes are enough? Or, how many homes are enough? Some salespeople are so skilled they can get a person to buy something that he doesn't desire and for which he does not have a use. 

Then there is using fear to sell something. As we all know, fear works really well as a motivator, however constantly using fear to market products and services only serves to create a more fearful society motivated more by avoidance of potential problems than by embracing that which is beneficial or uplifting.

Related to fear-based marketing is the practice of assigning pejorative labels to competitors' brands, repositioning them as undesirable or even repulsive.   

Making false claims is both unethical and illegal. I am personally not as concerned about what is generally considered to be puffery, for instance stating that one’s brand is “the best in the world,” because few people are going to take that statement at face value.

Certainly, an ethical dilemma that most marketing agencies face is whether to do (a) what is in the client’s best interest or (b) what the client wants (if you know that what they want is not in their own best interest).  In this situation, are you forthright with the client but then ultimately collect your fees for executing what they desire or do you walk away from the project or business if what you are being asked to do is not in their best interest?  Is the client always right or is the client sometimes wrong?

How about getting someone to pay a huge price premium for a product because your brand bestows status on that product? Is this just helping people climb Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or is it getting them stuck on one step in that ladder (at a hefty profit to the brand)? Anchoring the premium end of a product range with an outrageously high price can get people to trade up to a more expensive product in the middle of the range. And setting an artificially inflated suggested retail price allows for a much bigger price discount, leading to an increased perceived value. Realtors often use the trick of showing their clients properties with poor values first to increase subsequent properties' perceived values.

Knowing that brands can sometimes make people feel more appealing, loved, smart, accomplished, valued, etc. I want to scream to them, “You are already appealing, loved, smart, accomplished, valued, etc. You don’t need a product or brand to be that.”

There is also this question: Does the relentless pursuit of more and better products, services and experiences lead to improved lives with more leisure time and a higher quality of life or does it just constantly raise the bar for what will satisfy while depleting natural resources and placing more demands on peoples’ lives?

Some people medicate themselves with "retail therapy." Each purchase feels good for a while but then more purchases are required to maintain that good feeling. 

How about those huge purchases that marketers can get people to make, for instance luxury cars, luxury boats, fine art, expensive wines, etc. Some people can easily afford these things and very much appreciate even minutely incremental improvements in quality. Others however may be stretching their budgets to “keep up with the Joneses.” This second group may experience immediate post purchase remorse after such a large purchase. Is it ethical to market to these people based on aspiration?

And, related to that, if people experience buyer’s remorse immediately after a purchase, is it a good thing or a bad thing to create a post purchase touch point that relieves their anxiety and makes them feel better about the purchase?

Then there is competitive consumption. I am a sailor. In the boating world, it is a relatively common practice to keep trading up to bigger and bigger boats. Heck, among the one tenth of one percent, they are trading in 100 foot yachts for 200 foot yachts and 200 foot yachts for 400 foot yachts. Then it gets even crazier. "My yacht has two helicopters, four jet skies, four personal submersibles, two tenders and bi-level swimming pools. How about yours?"

And what about selling functional substance, a real solution to a problem, versus good feelings? Many brands (and salespeople for that matter) are masterful at selling good feelings without really delivering much else. I often feel this way about motivational speakers. Is something tangible really more valuable than something completely intangible?

And, is it better to market to and deliver on a need or a desire? Is one better than another? What if one desires something that is not good for him or her? Is that the marketer’s problem? Is it another person’s right to judge what is good or bad for another?

So how do I see that marketing can be truly helpful to organizations, brands and their customers? First and foremost, brands can help organizations focus on how they can best add value in the market, especially in unique ways. A brand’s unique value proposition can become the organization’s internal rallying cry, energizing employees and mobilizing them to deliver on the brand’s promise. Marketing can also highlight a particular brand’s unique advantage over competing brands, helping consumers to make more informed decisions. If one includes marketing research as a part of marketing (as well they should), there is a huge advantage to understanding what the customer actually needs and wants so that the organization can deliver it to him or her. Identifying and determining the best ways to meet human needs is a noble endeavor.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Brands and Tribalism

While many people consider tribalism to be a bygone adaptive effect in the evolution of human culture, many forms of tribalism exist today. Modern tribalism recognizes that humans feel more safe and comfortable in smaller groups of people with whom they share similar values. Tribes can also lead to a sense of belonging. And research has shown that the human brain can only process up to 150 individuals as fully developed complex people. After that, stereotypes, hierarchical schemes and other models for clustering people must be used to make sense of things. This is why organizations of 150 people or less tend to feel more inviting and personal. 

While tribalism has the advantages listed above, it also has its downside. Tribalism tends to lead to ethnocentrism and often to ethic or racially motivated conflict. Essentially, people in a tribe recognize each other as familial individuals who have value, while others outside the tribe are often demonized or at least dehumanized or ignored. 

While tribalism leads to greater cohesion and loyalty, it can also make understanding of a broader world and quick adaptation to changing conditions more difficult. 

Brands can become important to people by linking to their tribes. Tribes can be based on any set of values, beliefs or interests. This offers brands many opportunities to align with tribes to create greater emotional connection and loyalty. The key is to understand the underlying hopes, fears, beliefs, values and shared interests of tribal members. 

In the USA, the most visible tribes are political tribes, religious tribes and socio-economic tribes. But there are also geographic tribes, racial tribes and special-interest tribes. But any organizational affiliation can act as a tribe from Rotary clubs, Boy Scouts and veterans groups to hiking groups, equestrian groups and sailing clubs. Even university affiliations and sports teams can act like tribes.

Again, for a brand to appeal to a specific tribe it needs to know what beliefs, values and interests hold that tribe together and further, the brand needs to understand the tribal language, symbols and rituals. 

Alignment with a tribe can create staunch devotion to the brand. In fact, the brand can become another outward manifestation of tribal membership. I wish you great success in aligning your brand with one or more tribes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Compulsive Naming Syndrome

Compulsive Naming Syndrome is more common than one might think. When I was at Hallmark, in part because we had more than seven hundred writers and artists and tens of thousands of skus, but not just because of that, people were creating named product lines, services, programs and promotions almost weekly. But Hallmark is not the only organization that suffers from this malady. Organizations often hire me because their product, service or program naming has gotten out of control. I recall helping one organization whose employees were creating named brands for employee picnics and bowling tournaments. And I remember standing in a very large room with McKesson's hundred or so marketing directors and walls plastered ceiling to floor with names, logos and taglines - hundreds, if not thousands of them. 

Another company called on me to simplify their brand architecture that had grown through a series of mergers and acquisitions over time, so much so that identical individual products were offered under dozens of different brand names in separate product catalogs, creating much confusion for their customers. 

Frankly, even I am guilty of this. My brands include this blog, Branding Strategy Source, my book, Brand Aid, my company, BrandForward and even my personal brand, Brad VanAuken. Would it be better to focus on fewer brands? Probably. 

Going back to the Hallmark example, as the company's chief brand advocate, I commissioned market research that ultimately showed that the average social expression consumer was not aware of any of our brands except for Hallmark and Shoebox. There was significant effort going into creating names and identities that never broke through the clutter of the myriad of brands that people are exposed to daily. When it comes to brands and names, less is more. 

So please think about it. Do you or does your organization suffer from Compulsive Naming Syndrome? If so, there is a cure - brand rationalization followed by abstinence. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Brands, Identity & Labels

In this era of increased tribalism, I thought it important to revisit the topic of personal identity and labels. There are many types of identities and labels that can be applied to an individual. They may be related to any or all of the following:

  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Culture
  • Political party
  • Religion
  • Profession
  • Avocation
  • Personality
  • Passions
  • Socio-economic status
  • Body type
  • Schools attended
  • Place of birth
  • Place of residence
  • Family

Identities, which can be assigned to a person or assumed by a person, can lead to any or all of the following:
  • A set of rules by which to live (beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors)
  • A set of rules by which NOT to live (beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors)
  • Stereotypes
  • Power and social status (domination or submission, superiority or inferiority)

With identities come labels. By definition, when someone or something is labeled he or she is set apart. Labels create the notion of "the other." The label says "He is one of us" or "She is not one of us." Labels are a way to divide people, exclude people and subjugate people. With labels, there are insiders and there are outsiders.

Alternatively, labels can make people feel better about themselves, bolster their self-esteem, give them a sense of belonging and increase their power and status. 

Consider what it means to be a gay black man or a Republican woman. What does it imply about someone if he drives a pickup truck and bowls? If a woman has a PhD from Berkeley, lives in Boulder, Colorado and drives a Prius, what does that say about her? What if a man works on Wall Street, has five homes including one in Nantucket and drives a Bugatti among other cars, what does that say about him? If a women told you she was a social worker, what does that say about her? What if a black woman told you she was a conservative Republican? What assumptions would you make about her? And if a person told you that he graduated from Liberty University and is active in an Assemblies of God church, what assumptions would you make about him? How do you think a lighter skinned Indian (from India) would treat a much darker skinned Indian? And what if someone told you she was a Wiccan? How would you feel about her? If someone told you he was a Unitarian, what would you assume about him? What if you knew someone was a Muslim from Pakistan, how would you feel about him? If someone told you that she was from Ojai, California, what would you assume about her? Would you be confused if you encountered a female NRA member who worked in an animal shelter and who was an avid supporter of the ACLU? 

All of this has implications for brands for the following reasons. Applying a label or presenting an identity conjures up stereotypes and leads to assumptions, perhaps mostly positive, mostly negative or a little bit of both. However, for any given individual, each stereotype or assumption may be correct or terribly wrong. 

And the interesting thing is how labels are perceived differently across different groups. For instance, to a liberal, the liberal label is positive, whereas to a conservative it is negative and vice versa. Or consider how what might have generally been considered positive (and still may be by some) is now considered to be negative by many. For instance, generally well-educated, accomplished people who have done well in life and who have high socio-economic status have historically been well regarded, but consider how some people now label them "elites" pejoratively. Or consider how "Evangelical Christian" has become a negative label from some people's perspectives. Or consider how so many people now have an aversion to "one percenters," the most financially successful among us. 

Clearly, brands need to be careful about addressing identities, assigning labels or appealing to certain groups over other groups. 

While tribalism and labels seem to be all the rage these days and while fear-based marketing is on the rise again, I would contend that in this increasingly globally interconnected world, we must eschew labels and give up fear-based marketing if we are to survive as a species.

Here are some of my previous blog posts on this topic:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Twenty Research-Based Findings Regarding Brands

I have drawn these findings from a variety of research studies. Most are outlined in my Brand Aid book.

  1. The five drivers of customer brand insistence are awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility and emotional connection.
  2. Brand familiarity and knowledge are the most important components of brand equity, leading to liking, acquisition, retention and profitability. 
  3. A brand's relevant differentiation is highly correlated with its ability to command a price premium and its increased profitability. 
  4. A brand’s perceived quality increases with increases in advertising impressions, regardless of message. 
  5. Media environment affects advertising claims. For instance, quality claims are more effective on elite or prestigious websites because people associate the claim with the media environment. 
  6. Consumers are more apt to relax and accept advertiser recommendations when the tone is that of a friend or an unbiased authority.
  7. Aspirational, upscale, and high status brands have the potential to alienate customers who lack confidence. While these customers might admire these brands, they don’t feel comfortable using them. Building warmth, humor, and less formality into the brands to make them more approachable helps overcome this problem.
  8. When a brand applies a positive label to its potential customers, they are more likely to purchase that brand.
  9. Lifestyle branding associates a brand with a particular lifestyle or type of individual, primarily delivering self-expressive benefits to the customer. A not often considered downside of this approach is the increased competition that it invites from brands in other product or service categories that have decided to associate with the same lifestyle. 
  10. In most product categories, price is the primary purchase incentive for no more than 15 percent to 35 percent of all customers.
  11. Customers share bad brand experiences with approximately twice as many people as they do good brand experiences.
  12. Declining brands tend to lose buyers while the brands’ loyalty and purchase rates stay stable among remaining buyers.
  13. Extending one or more products of an average quality brand into a higher quality segment increases the brand's overall quality perception.
  14. In some sectors, an increase in the consumer base by just one percent is otherwise equivalent to a 10 percent cost reduction.
  15. Suggestive brand names assist with recall of brand benefits that are suggested by the names, but inhibit recall of other subsequently advertised brand benefits.
  16. Country of origin, when known, affects brand perceptions, especially within luxury categories.
  17. Customer experience is the result of these factors: social environment, service interface, retail atmosphere, assortment, price, customer experiences in alternative channels and the retail brand.
  18. “Purchase intent” tends to be inflated for declining brands and understated for emerging brands.
  19. Advertising is often most effective in increasing share of market when brands are so similar that the advertising message is the primary source of differentiation.
  20. Immediate post-purchase brand reinforcement increases a customer's attitudinal loyalty. 

Drawing Brands From Memory

This is a fascinating article about how well people can recall and recreate brand identity systems of well known brands. It would seem to indicate what brand identity experts have known for some time - colors and shapes tend to be the most important components of identity systems. Further, it would indicate that more complex systems are more difficult to completely remember and recreate. And replicating people used in logos can be difficult. It also indicates that it may take awhile for an updated identity to begin to replace the previous one in people's minds.

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Relationship Between CMO and CIO

Because the brand is ultimately about the consumer experience, I have spoken about the cooperation that needs to happen between CMO and HR VP, but equally importantly in today's digitized world, there needs to be a close working relationship between the CMO and the CIO.

Consider the impact of the online banking software and its functionality to a customer's experience of his or her bank. Or of the software that powers the bank's ATMs. Consider how Tesla vehicles are completely dependent on Tesla's software in creating the user driving experience. Or consider any retailer that has both an online and physical retail presence. Does the software make the user experience seamless across the channels? Or any company that uses a CRM system. How good is that system at creating personalized customer experiences?'s user experience is completely based on software. And Uber and LYFT could not have become the industry disruptive brands that they became without the intricate software that drives them. But even consider the software that drives airlines' pricing, capacity management and transportation logistics. Or consider the software that supports FedEx, UPS and other package delivery companies. Even drone deliveries are software dependent.

My point is that software makes all of the difference in the world regarding user experience and therefore brand experience. So, if a CMO is not constantly working with the CIO to improve the customer experience, then that CMO should step down to make room for someone who is more attuned to today's world.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

What Brand Equity Studies Can Reveal

I have conducted brand equity studies for hundreds of brands over the past twenty years. In doing so, I have identified some patterns that tend to occur throughout the studies, patterns that it would be helpful for brand managers to understand. Here are some of the insights from those studies:

  • Brands often have lower unaided awareness than their managers expected.
  • There typically are far more competitors than those that the brand manager considers to be in the competitive set. 
  • Competitors often come from outside of the organization-stipulated product or service category.
  • Defining the competitive frame of reference properly makes a huge difference in positioning and managing the brand to its greatest advantage.
  • Often, the brand manager gets the competitive frame of reference wrong compared to customer perceptions.
  • For most brands, the brand associations vary widely between customers, indicating that the brand's intended unique value proposition is not consistently experienced.
  • Nowadays, most brands (including competitive brands) deliver well against the most important category benefits.
  • Often, competitive brands look more alike than they do different to customers. 
  • Most brands lack relevant differentiation.
  • Sometimes, a brand's personality attribute is its greatest differentiator.
  • Emotional benefits are always more powerful than functional benefits.
  • People downplay the importance of the brand itself. They are more focused on what the delivers to them.
  • I can easily tell the following from brand equity studies: (1) whether the brand is based on deep customer insight, (2) whether the brand is well managed, (3) whether the category is nascent or mature, and (4) whether there are problems with pricing, distribution, product features, package design, brand messaging, marketing spend, continuous innovation or something else.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Customer Purchase Patterns

Do you fully understand your customers' purchase patterns? Do you know how often they buy? Do you know what puts them in a ready state to buy? Do their purchases follow a regular pattern? Are they seasonal? Do you know what events or stimuli can trigger a purchase? Are their purchases  sensitive to pricing or promotions? Are their purchases planned or impulsive? Are your customers brand loyal or are their purchases driven by something else such as convenience, price sensitivity, variety or entertainment? Can you get your customers to "stock up" on your product? Can you sell your product in different quantities? Will this make a difference in purchase likelihood? What can you do to get your customers to purchase more frequently? Do you know if there are any substitute products for your product? How much does channel of distribution or location come into play regarding purchase of your product?

Is your product a necessary staple or is it a discretionary spend? Is your product purchased as an indulgence? Do you know what customers' expected price for your product is? Do you know the highest price customers are willing to pay for your product? Will customers buy your product while in any state of mind or will they need to be in a specific state of mind to buy your product? Some products are more likely to be purchased when customers are in a euphoric state, while depression stimulates the purchase of other products. Are people more apt to buy your product at a specific time of day or on a specific day the week? Are they more likely to buy your product when they are alone or with friends? Some products are more likely to be purchased when people are on vacation. Is yours one of those products? Some products are purchased in conjunction with other products. Do you know what other types of products, if any, are purchased with your product? Are there certain barriers that cause customers to think twice about buying your product?

Regarding all of the questions listed above, would you answer them differently for different customer segments? 

You should be able to answer the majority of these questions. If not, you need to gain greater insight into your customers and their purchase patterns. 

Market Segmentation

Market segmentation is often necessary to effectively meet the needs of different customer groups. Different segments will value different aspects of your products, services, and brands differently. You should have a good understanding of the following dimensions of each market segment:
  • Its overall size and its growth rate
  • Its price sensitivity
  • The benefits that are most and least important to it
  • How well it is served by existing products and brands
  • How brand loyal it is
  • How it selects and purchases the product
  • How accessible it is
  • The distribution methods it prefers
  • How it uses the product
  • Its product usage/replacement rate
  • Its longevity and projected evolution over time

Markets can be segmented in the following ways:
  • Product Usage Segmentation. For instance, some people use baking soda to deodorize their refrigerators, while others use it as a surface soft scrub, to treat insect bites or itchy skin or as a toothpaste.
  • Purchase Behavior Segmentation. In many industries, four groups than often emerge to one degree or another are:
    • Brand loyal consumers
    • Convenience-driven consumers
    • Price-driven consumers
    • Consumers that enjoy seeking out new brands and products within the category
  • Benefit Segmentation. People might buy a sailboat to race, for a daysail, to cruise on a vacation, to live aboard, to entertain friends, or as a second home.
  • Price Segmentation. Price segmentation will yield higher overall revenues and profits if designed properly. Airlines have made a science out of price segmentation. First-class travelers pay more. Business travelers with tight schedules will be less price sensitive. Tourists with fixed budgets, flexible schedules, and a long planning horizon will look for lower fares. Some people will only travel taking advantage of last-minute seat-filling bargain prices. Other last minute travelers have no choice and behaviorally (but probably not attitudinally) are virtually price insensitive. Seats are less expensive on slower days (Saturdays, December 25, etc.).
  • Lifestage Segmentation. There is a system of segmenting adults into eight distinct mindsets using a specific set of psychological traits and demographics that are proven to drive consumer behavior. Consult: Strategic Business Insights VALS (values and lifestyles) at, and U.S. MONITOR at
  • Cohort Group Segmentation. Refers to people who were born at approximately the same time and who have experienced the same events at the same lifestages.
  • Psychographic Segmentation. Refers to segmenting people based on their values, attitudes, and lifestyles.
  • Geographic Segmentation. Segmenting people according to their geographic location can help target people in the same socioeconomic bracket who may share interests or concerns.
  • Geodemographic Segmentation. Refers to segmenting people based on their location—typically zip or postal code—and demographics, such as age and income. Consult: Claritas’ PRIZM® Premier, P$YCLE® and ConneXions® segmentation tools ( and CACI’s ACORN (

As the previous list illustrates, consumers can be segmented on many dimensions. The trick is to arrive at a segmentation scheme that relates to differences in purchase motivations and behaviors. Different brands are designed to appeal to different needs with unique points of difference. It is important to understand the consumers for whom your brand will mean the most and who will have the highest likelihood of responding to your brand messages.

Reprinted with permission from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Most Desirable Brand Personality Traits

When considering brands, customers value some personality traits more than others. Below is a rank ordered list of desired personality traits. I have derived this list from numerous sources over the past thirty years.

Tier 1

  1. Trustworthy
  2. Warm/Friendly
  3. Responsive
  4. Intelligent/Smart
  5. Reliable/Dependable
Tier 2
  1. Honest/Possesses integrity
  2. Authentic/Real
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Customer-service oriented
  5. Easy to work with
  6. Creative/Innovative
  7. Resourceful
  8. Agile/Flexible
  9. Compassionate/Kind
  10. Takes responsibility
  11. Hard working
  12. Has a sense of humor/Funny
Tier 3
  1. Professional
  2. Well-organized
  3. Attention to detail
  4. Strategic/Big picture thinking
  5. Good listener
  6. Learns from mistakes
You should consider which of these personality attributes would work best for your brand. And it is not a bad list to consider for yourself. 

This is an earlier blog post on the brand personality attributes most often chosen by my clients for their brands. And this is a blog post on using brand personality as a point of difference. And just for fun, here is a brand that has a very strong personality. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Marketing Fundamentals

In the age of social media marketing, mobile marketing, search engine optimization, geofencing and big data analytics it is easy to lose sight of some of the fundamental and timeless aspects of marketing. In this post, I intend to re-anchor us in those marketing basics. Here we go.

  • People buy stuff. This includes products, services and experiences. In the end, it is all about the customer.
  • Marketing is all about getting people to buy more stuff, preferably profitably and sustainably. 
  • Putting oneself in the customer's shoes and using common sense rules the day. Who is the customer? What is she thinking? What is she feeling? What problems does she need to solve? Where does she get her information? Where does she shop? How can she be influenced? How does she think about the category? What does she think about your brand? What will get her to "buy now"? What will get her to buy more?
  • In the end, if you are likable, treat people well, solve their problems and make them feel good, they will come back to you again and again.
  • Have enough marketing tools in your toolbox. Consider brand identity, key messages, advertising, publicity, word-of-mouth, direct response, product design, product features, package design, product range, pricing, distribution, merchandising, strategic partnerships, co-marketing, etc. Don't keep on coming back to the same tool over and over again because that is the tool that you know best.
  • In marketing, remember that less is often better than more, especially regarding design and messaging. 
  • More often than not, social status sells. 
  • Fear sells - but use it sparingly. 
  • Aesthetics usually matter - a lot. 
  • Ultimately, you want your brand to be a friend who is trustworthy and likable. 
  • Marketing is not "rocket science" but it does require an understanding of human psychology and it relies on careful analysis and intuition, basic blocking and tackling and out-of-the-box ideas. 
As you become more adept at emerging marketing sub-disciplines, don't lose sight of marketing fundamentals. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Clash of Cost Savings and Brand Delivery

This was a battle that I fought when I was responsible for the Hallmark brand. Do we put different brand names on the same products to save money? Do we license our brand identity to a reading glasses company to make some quick cash? The answer to both questions was "No, we don't." 

At one point in Starbucks’ history, the company’s financial managers determined that switching from two-ply to one-ply toilet paper in Starbucks’ bathrooms would save the company a significant sum of money annually. Despite the potential cost savings, however, senior management rejected the idea. Why? Because inferior toilet paper does not support Starbuck's essence of rewarding everyday moments.

I am aware of a bank that wants to stand for simple and easy, but it has made several decisions in the opposite direction. As a customer convenience, it had coin counting machines in each of its branches but when they kept breaking down, the bank went back to requiring that its customers roll their own change before depositing it. In fact, the bank won't even allow the deposit of loose change. They also require that customers fill out deposit slips, even though the back tellers could easily process a deposit without them. Further, though they are aware of ATMs that accept, scan and provide customers images of deposited checks, they opted instead for ATMs in which deposit envelopes are required and the check images are not available to customers. Further, they are aware of the ability to scan a check on a smart phone as a convenient way for customers to make a deposit but have opted not to do that.

My point with the bank example is that the bank had decided that it would stand for something important to the customer and potentially differentiating - simple and easy banking - but instead, decision after decision, presumably due to cost or other resource considerations, decided to do the opposite leading to a brand that is comparable to or perhaps even inferior to other banks on the simple and easy scale, something that the bank was claiming for its brand. This is clearly not good brand management.

When you decide that your brand will stand for something unique and compelling, this should drive every investment and process decision. If you are not willing or able to support your brand's intended promise with real actions consider making a different promise or no promise at all. Or, better yet, initiate a project to align the organization's processes, systems and metrics in support of the brand's promise.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Airports and Place Branding

Airports are the primary transportation hubs of the twenty-first century, at least in the US, and in many other places as well. Most travel between countries and distant cities occurs by air today. Airports are the first things that travelers see when they arrive in a new place. And they are the first things that residents see when they arrive home.

So airports become a critical element in place branding. While the design of the airport itself can be distinctive and aesthetically appealing, that is not enough. The airport should also communicate the essence of the place. When one arrives in Orlando, there should be some excitement around theme parks, children’s characters and entertainment. When one arrives in Nashville, there should be some reference to country music. When one arrives in a western town such as Jackson, Wyoming, there should be some sense of the West. Resort community airports should communicate a sense of leisure. If an airport provides access to beaches, mountains or ski resorts, people should have some inkling of that at the airport itself. And when one arrives in a major metropolitan area, there should be some sense of its thriving business environment, culture and arts.

While hub airports must have some amenities that are not nearly as critical for non-hub airports, still the minimum expectation of airports has increased today.

While all contemporary airports should have a variety of restaurants and bars, interesting shopping and free Wi-Fi, many also have wine bars, massage establishments, water features and different types of entertainment venues. Further, many have sections that trace the place’s rich history, public art galleries, art installations from local artists and high visual impact overviews of their areas’ cultural and other attractions.

From a branding perspective, the airport should communicate whether the place has a rich history, unique geography or natural features, strong sports franchises, rich cultural attractions, unique outdoor attractions, a constellation of prestigious universities or something else.

Taking my hometown, Rochester, NY as an example, we might consider reinforcing any or all of the following at our airport:
  • Our rich civil rights history with Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and the Woman’s National Hall of Fame
  • The Finger Lakes wine trails
  • The world renown Eastman School of Music, the Rochester International Jazz Festival and our numerous other museums, festivals and cultural amenities
  • The Strong National Museum of Play
  • University of Rochester, RIT and our sixteen other universities
  • That we are the US photonics hub (with an explanation of what photonics is)
  • Art installations from our famous artists such as Albert Paley and Wendell Castle
  • Our rich golfing heritage, with 100 regional golf courses and country clubs, such as Oak Hill, that have hosted the PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship, LPGA Championship, US Open, US Senior Open and Ryder Cup
  • Our numerous bodies of water – Lake Ontario, The Finger Lakes, Genesee River, Erie Canal, etc.  - and their unique recreational opportunities

Every place has some proof points like this. Make your place interesting and exciting from the moment a person gets off the plane. Make the traveler want to slow down and learn more about your place as he or she makes his or her way from the plane to ground transportation.

My point is to not limit the promotion of the place to a visitor's information booth with brochures from the various local hotels and attractions. That is so 20th century.

I know this is asking a lot of airports, but having integrated this thinking into airport design will pay rich dividends in helping reinforce a place’s unique value proposition. After all, an airport creates the very first impression of a place and it is the first thing that welcomes the weary resident home again.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Brand Consistency, But at What Cost?

It is important for a brand to be consistent so that people know what to expect and so that they are not disappointed. Having said that, what if the only way to be consistent across thousands of locations in countries throughout the world is to offer a consistent mediocre product?

I will take Starbucks as an example. Most metropolitan areas now have dozens, if not more, different cafe/coffee house options. We certainly do where I live. Most of them offer not only their own coffee and other drinks but also their own selection of food items. I go to two different places because they make awesome almond croissants. One makes a very good yogurt bowl with fresh locally sourced fruit and freshly made granola. One place has a full menu of breakfast options from French pastries to omelets, Eggs Benedict and hearty American options including pancakes, waffles, French toast, bacon, sausage, etc. One place makes to-die-for brownies and another place makes to-die-for chocolate chip cookies. We even have one place that specializes in comics, cereal and caffeine - really. 

So, I am completely underwhelmed when I walk into a Starbucks with their consistent but completely mediocre food options They don't even offer a healthy option other than a pretty bad oatmeal with lots of packets of long shelf life stuff to throw on it. 

This all makes me wonder why Starbucks doesn't consider pursuing a business model in which they partner with local bakeries or other local food sources to provide fresher, tastier, healthier and higher quality food items. I wouldn't mind being surprised by the food items that I might find at a Starbucks in a different city, different part of the country, different country or different region of the world (assuming that they have a way to maintain the quality of the locally sourced items). Honestly, I have gotten bored of Starbucks. I can find a better cup of coffee at many places and the food is better at almost every other place. Consistency often works in a brand's favor but if it comes at a cost of quality, then one might want to reconsider the need for that consistency. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Brand is Not Just One Thing

If a brand is owned in the minds of its target audiences, and it is, then it may have as many different meanings and positionings as there are people who perceive it. Marketers talk as if there is only one brand positioning for each brand, and perhaps there is only one intended brand positioning, but my thirty plus years spent working with hundreds of brands has taught me otherwise. In fact, one of the things I can learn quickly from brand equity studies is how consistently or inconsistently a brand has been experienced by different consumers or even the same consumer.

I often ask these two open-ended response questions in brand research: (1) "Thinking about brand X, what comes to your mind?" and (2) "What, if anything, makes brand X different than or superior to other brands in the Y category?"

If you haven't hand-coded at least hundreds of these responses (and, with a quick calculation, I have hand-coded more than 100,000 of these responses over time), then you may not know how different these responses can be for the same brand. For instance, it is quite common for one brand's response to be "very high quality" and "very low quality." It is also not uncommon for the same brand to be known as both "convenient" and "inconvenient" and "old fashioned" and "leading-edge," though this last dichotomy is less common. My point is that due to product, service, technical support, distribution and even communication inconsistencies, brands have inconsistent reputations. 

I have done a lot of work in the health care industry. It is not uncommon for patients to have very different perceptions of a health care brand based on interactions with individual health care professionals, the medical conditions that they are dealing with, their prognoses and the outcomes. 

Customer service training and quality control systems also have a big impact on brand perception consistency. And even differences between products offered under the same brand name. Consider experience of a high-end limited edition version of a brand and its lowest priced entry-level product without many features. The brand might be described completely differently by people experiencing these two ends of a brand's quality/price/feature continuum. 

As a brand manager, don't assume that your intended brand positioning is always the brand's actual positioning in the minds of its target audiences. Further, you can be almost sure that your brand has as many nuanced meanings as there are people experiencing your brand. Having said that, it is your responsibility to insure that its intended brand positioning is communicated (and actually experienced) as consistently as possible repeatedly so that there is not a significantly different brand meaning for each person experiencing the brand.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Marketing Needs Survey

We are conducting a study of organization marketing needs. If you are a marketer working for an organization, please take five minutes to complete this survey. We will report the results here when our data collection and analysis is complete.

Here is the link to the survey: MARKETING NEEDS SURVEY

PS - At the end of the survey, you have the option of entering to win a Brand Aid book, two hours of free consulting or a $50 gift card.

Monday, July 23, 2018

39 Marketing Tactics that Work - Part 3

ADVERTISING is usually the most important element in any brand marketing plan, but many companies are finding that other approaches are also effective. Some have pursued these approaches out of necessity, being unable to support national advertising campaigns, while others are just more innovative than most in developing their marketing repertoires.

Following are some examples of nontraditional marketing techniques:
  1. Word-of-Mouth, Folklore, Testimonials, and Referrals
    • Taco Bell ran a television commercial about dropping a truck from a helicopter in Bethel, Alaska, to bring residents its Doritos Locos tacos.
    • In its Global Word-of-Mouth Study, GfK Roper found that consumers worldwide cite people as the most trustworthy source of purchase ideas and information. In fact, it finds that by a very wide margin over advertising, people are the best source of ideas and information for prescription drugs, new meals/dishes, retirement planning, restaurants, saving and investing money, new ways to improve health, places to visit and hotels to stay in. Word-of-mouth tends to be more effective than paid-for marketing communication because it is more persuasive (coming from a third party) and more targeted (only communicated to people who are likely to find the information valuable).
    • According to Keller Fay Group research, 93 percent of word-ofmouth occurs offline.
    • In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger outlines six things that cause ideas, products, and messages to become contagious: 1) social currency (i.e., people share things to make them look good to others); 2) triggers (it is important to make sure the message is linked to everyday occurrences in the target customer’s market; e.g., the Kit Kat + Coffee campaign increased Kit Kat sales by a third in the first tweleve months of the campaign); 3) emotion (awe, excitement, amusement, anger, and anxiety—coupled with the message—increase the contagiousness); 4) public availability (making things more observable makes them easier to imitate); 5) practical value (people pass on useful information to others, which tends to be highly targeted and therefore more likely to become viral); and 6) storytelling (make sure the product or brand benefits are integral to the story so that they are not lost with the story’s retelling).
    • Focus on hard-core users, opinion leaders, and what Emanuel Rosen, in his book The Anatomy of Buzz, calls “network hubs”: They read, they travel, they attend trade shows and conferences; they serve on committees; they participate in best practices benchmarking studies; they do public speaking and write books, articles, newsletters, and letters to editors; they teach courses, they consult, they advise others.
    • Expose people to things that make great “cocktail party talk.”
    • Give people sneak previews, “inside information,” “behind-thescenes stories,” and factory tours. Let them meet the product designers.
    • Give new products to the trendsetters (seeding).
    • Ask your employees to spread the word to everyone they know. Give them free products as a perk. This technique will attract people who like the product category and brand. It will also familiarize them with your brand’s products so that they can make better salespeople.
  1. Shopping Channel. Many companies have discovered that the QVC and other home shopping channels is a great way to promote new products.
  2. The Neiman Marcus Catalog. In the catalog, BMW once offered a limited edition of its Z3 Roadster with a “Specially Equipped 007” dash plaque. After BMW sold all 100 cars, there were still approximately 6,000 people on the waiting list!
  3. Product Placement. Featuring your brands and products in movies and TV shows.
  4. Covert or “Stealth” Marketing. For example, companies pay a) doormen to stack packages featuring their logos in building lobbies, b) people to sing the praises of a specific brands of alcoholic beverages in bars, c) actors to pose as tourists asking passersby to take their picture with a new camera/cell phone product, and d) models to ride their scooters around town. (When companies are caught doing stealth marketing, it may have a negative effect on brand equity and cause consumers to become even more jaded, especially if the tactic is more deceptive than it is creative.)
  5. The Poison Parasite Defense. Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University discovered that a new way to counter and dilute a competitor’s message is by creating ads that offer opposing arguments embedded in visuals that link to the original ads being countered. An example is a successful antismoking campaign that featured mock “Marlboro Man” ads depicting macho cowboys on horses in the same rugged outdoor settings as the original ads; however, in the mock ads, the cowboys are coughing and showing other signs of ill health associated with smoking, thus triggering this new highly negative association with Marlboro.
  6. Airline Radio and Television Shows. Virgin America, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, and Emirates provide this opportunity on their in-flight entertainment channels.
  7. Unusual Advertising Media. Companies have used everything from sidewalks (ads written in chalk), walls above men’s room urinals, and posters on bulletin boards, to the sides of trucks and buses, athlete’s clothes, and crop art (images created by plowing fields in certain patterns). A German company is now printing advertising messages on toilet paper. Evian funded the repair of a run-down pool in London in return for featuring its brand’s identity in the pool’s tile design, which could be seen by people flying into and out of nearby Heathrow Airport. Procter & Gamble placed upscale porta-potties (air-conditioned, with hardwood floors and aromatherapy candles) at state fairs to reinforce the luxury of its Charmin toilet paper.
  8. Scarcity, Exclusivity, and Secrets. These qualities make people feel like insiders and make things seem more valuable; they may make things more likely to be talked about.
  9. The Internet. Online marketing (and, in particular) is covered in greater detail later in Chapter 11 of Brand Aid.
  10. Traditional Marketing Techniques "on Steroids." Here are some traditional techniques taken to an extraordinary level of success:
    • Packaging. Method’s line of ergonomically designed, minimally printed household cleaning products; Mio’s “Liquid Water Enhancer” that fits pleasingly into the palm of the hand; Ty Nant’s use of cobalt blue bottles to break into the mineral water category, and Voss’s use of aesthetically pleasing cylindrical glass bottles to do the same; the use of blue bags for home-delivered papers by The New York Times.
    • The Product Itself. Never underestimate the power of design to differentiate! Think Apple’s iPhone, and the Smart Car and MINI Cooper.
    • Vehicles, Uniforms, and Signage. Coca-Cola, FedEx, and UPS use trucks as billboards. UPS uses its delivery people’s distinctive brown uniforms. Lucent displayed large branded signs in front of each of its offices.
    • Point-of-Sale Signs and Merchandising. Mass displays of Coca-Cola cases to bring the brand to the top-of-mind. Signs, posters, and coasters featuring a particular brand of alcohol are intended to accomplish the same in bars and taverns.
    • Free Product Trial. Candy Crush Saga and Words With Friends both offered a free app to attract users to their games, with the option of additional features if the customer purchases a low-cost upgrade. Element K provided e-Learning IDs featuring run-of-site (over 800 courses) for free for three months. This works especially well with low variable cost items for which there is some perceived risk of purchase.

Excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition available at