Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What a Chief Marketing Officer Needs to Know

Today's chief marketing officer (CMO) has to have a very broad set of skills. Here is a longer list of skills and abilities one should look for in that individual:

  • Demonstrated ability to lead and inspire teams
  • Passionate customer advocacy
  • Business development skills
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Strategic vision
  • Creative thinking
  • A passion for continuous learning
  • A willingness to stay abreast of the latest brand management and marketing trends
  • A willingness to stay abreast of the latest industry trends
  • Outstanding written and verbal communication skills
  • Strong influencing and persuasion skills
  • Strong observation and listening skills
  • An ability to view the world through the lens of others
  • A profound understanding of human motivations
  • Common sense
  • An entrepreneurial spirit
  • Agility and adaptability to change
  • Financial management skills
  • The ability to interact well with cross-functional peers on the senior leadership team
  • Understanding the varied marketing needs of different internal stakeholder groups
  • Understanding all the ways in which the marketing function needs to interact seamlessly and productively with the sales organization
  • Being familiar with different types of organization designs/structures for marketing departments and sales organizations
  • Understanding the pros and cons of different approaches to sales incentives
  • Knowing how to determine the appropriate size of the marketing budget and how to optimize its use across a wide variety of marketing functions
  • Being able to create professional development programs and plans for marketers throughout the enterprise
  • Willingness to inform and educate the organization about the brand's unique value proposition
  • Knowing how to develop succession plans for marketers including when and how to cross-train them in various marketing sub-functions
  • Knowing how to identify organizational knowledge gaps and ways to fill those gaps
  • Knowing how to gather sales and customer data from throughout the enterprise
  • Knowing how to gather competitive intelligence
  • Knowing how to discover, interact with and use organization outsider feedback loops through social media
  • Knowing how to measure and provide an ongoing internal feedback loop of customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • Knowing how to create an appropriate brand scorecard and suggesting which metrics should be included on a balanced organizational scorecard and in common measures
  • Knowing how to create and manage a sound marketing planning process
  • Knowing which marketing strategies and tactics lend themselves to accurate ROI assessments
  • Knowing how to choose and best manage marketing agency relationships
  • Having a knowledge of the different types of research methodologies and understanding which work best to identify and extract different types of information
  • Understanding CRM and its uses
  • Understanding pricing strategy
  • Understanding distribution strategy
  • Understanding marketing research, big data analytics, brand management, brand licensing, advertising, media planning, promotion, direct marketing, corporate communications, public relations, investor relations, product development, package design, digital marketing, mobile marketing, retail merchandising, membership management and trade marketing as appropriate

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Growth Strategies for Risk-Averse Organizations

I recently received this question from a blog reader: What are the most effective marketing and growth strategies for risk-averse organizations?

First, one must assess the source of the risk aversion. Often it is insularity. The organization doesn't know any markets other than the ones it is currently serving or it doesn't know how to produce any products other than the ones it is currently producing. It could be that the organization has too many fixed costs associated with a very specific production process and would find it prohibitive to reconfigure or set up a new production configuration. Sometimes, when a company is privately owned by a prominent member of the community, that person is more concerned about his or her reputation and is worried that a risky growth move might cause an embarrassing setback. Sometimes, the organization is just run by a risk-averse person or group of people. 

There are a few ways to identify risk aversion. One is the unwillingness to invest capital. Another is the percentage of revenues that come from new products or markets. A slow or declining growth rate may also be a symptom of risk aversion. And finally, some organizations perform an inordinate amount of marketing research to identify potential problems. A related tell-tale sign of risk aversion is how many decision-making steps are present in the new product development process of the organization (if they even have a new product development process).

So, what are some of the best ways to grow despite risk aversion? The easiest way is to expand distribution geographically or through new distribution channels. Another way is to hire additional salespeople or to create new sales channels. You can also make your brand more accessible by selling it online or by extending store hours. 

Risk adverse marketing approaches include (low cost) publicity, targeted online marketing, providing additional sales support and tracking the cost of generating sales leads and tracking which of those leads results in new business. Co-marketing with other non-competing brands stretches marketing dollars. Offering co-op marketing budgets to retailers if your product is sold through retailers is another option.  

While these are some of the approaches that may be easiest to to "sell" to risk-averse organizations, these are not necessarily the most risk-averse approaches. Often, the best way to assess the potential of new products, services, revenue streams and marketing approaches is to test them in some markets and, based on the results, modify and expand the approach/offering or pull the plug on it. But this is more the sign of an organization that is willing to take calculated risks. 

I found this to be an interesting question. I hope it has helped you think about the topic.

How Can Start-Up Brands Beat Well-Known Brands?

I was recently asked two related questions: Why are new no-name brands able to topple big decades old brands in today's environment? How can a small start-up brand effectively challenge older established brands?

There are so many different ways to answer this, many related to technology, but some also related to legacy brands resting on their laurels. The advent of digital photography (invented by Kodak) killed Kodak's previously highly profitable business model that was driven by film purchase and developing. This disruption was amplified by the advent of smart phones with built-in cameras. 

Uber's online platform not only revolutionized and democratized the way people can get rides but it also made it much simpler to find, hail and pay for a ride. Plus, it provided for a record of one's paid automotive excursions. This is an innovative model that is scalable and has network effects. Also working in Uber's favor is the general low level of quality of taxi service compared to the service offered by Uber drivers driven by a constant customer feedback loop. 

Though backed by a lot of money from Pay Pal's founder Elon Musk, Tesla also has made significant inroads vis-a-vis legacy automobile brands. It has done this by sheer strong will and innovation. From its vigorously pursuing the concept of a luxury all electric vehicle to its sales and marketing innovations, Tesla has taken the risks to do things differently. 

The Internet also makes it easy for smaller companies to seem bigger than they are and compete effectively with larger, more well-known companies. And the customer targeting offered by Facebook and other social media platforms makes it more cost effective to go after highly targeted customers. 

CarMax, though supported with major funding, came into existence because legacy used car dealerships did not treat customers well. CarMax saw the opportunity to make automotive purchasing easier and more transparent. Again, it relied on an innovative business model and a transformative technology, a database that can be accessed from anywhere through the Internet. 

Airbnb is another example of a brand that has used the Internet as its platform to achieve scalability. But it also is driven off of the concept of shared resources. This same sharing of resources has worked for Zipcar and Zagster.

So, in summary, these examples point to the following sources of legacy brand disruption and displacement:

  • An innovative business model
  • A superior model of customer service delivery
  • New superior technologies
  • The Internet
  • Software-driven solutions
  • Scalability
  • Network effects
  • Resource sharing
  • Product differentiation
  • Highly targeted marketing

Friday, March 9, 2018

Marketing 101

This year, I am volunteering on six not-for-profit marketing committees. These committees are usually comprised of marketing professionals from the community. Some are retired and some are in between jobs, while most are just busy marketing professionals who are generous with their time and talents. One of the committees on which I volunteer is associated with a social membership organization and is comprised mostly of non-marketers.

A recent committee meeting was interesting. People had lots of ideas. "Let's stuff mailboxes in nearby neighborhoods." "Let's offer a discounted first year membership through a silent auction." "Let's advertise on Facebook." "Let's put up posters at nearby cafes and similar establishments." "Let's co-market through non-competing local organizations." "Let's have an open house." "Let's offer trial memberships." "Let's offer an incentive for current members to recruit new members." And the ideas kept flowing. 

While the ideation was energizing, it was also frustrating because there was little focus. This is where I inserted myself, understanding that there is a marketing discipline that requires a specific order in decision making. Hopefully, this is completely obvious to most experienced marketers, but here is the order in which marketing decisions must be made. There are no short cuts. To execute marketing effectively, one must answer the questions raised by each step before one precedes on to the next step in the process. 

These are the steps:

  1. What are the business and marketing objectives that this marketing plan or campaign is intended to address? That is, what are we trying to accomplish? What are the metrics and what are the goals?
  2. To make this happen, who are we targeting? What market segments will best help us achieve our goals? Think demographics, psychographics, attitudes, behaviors and geographics. Be as specific as possible. 
  3. What does our brand stand for? Do we know what its unique value proposition is? What is its promise? (This step could be accomplished earlier in the process however often the target customer definition can lead to developing a more powerful unique value proposition and brand promise.)
  4. What are our brand's most important messages? What do we want to say that will cause our target customers to be interested in and choose our brand?
  5. What communication vehicles and tactics should we use to reach our target audiences with these key messages? What are the most effective and efficient ways to reach our audiences? (This may include a variety of strategies and supporting tactics, and along with the next step, full-blown marketing and media plans.)
  6. Given what we are trying to accomplish, what is the right timing for each marketing tactic?

A consistent brand architecture and identity system and execution should underpin all of this. And one should set up success measures if at all possible to determine which messages, strategies and tactics worked best. And, of course, the plan will have to work within a specified budget. On occasion, it might also inform or lead to a request for a specific budget. 

So, while marketing tactic ideation is fun, there is an order of steps that will lead to a much more thoughtful plan and successful outcome. If you are a seasoned marketing professional, this just highlights and summarizes what you already know. If you are new to marketing, please follow these steps. They will help you develop much better marketing plans and achieve much better outcomes. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

BrandForward's Next Level Growth Process

BrandForward is proud to introduce a new proprietary process that guides our clients to identify opportunities for accelerated growth. This process features opportunity identification maps, an online survey instrument and a strategy formulation workshop among other components. It helps you identify new markets, new revenue streams, new business models and new competitive strategies. It also helps you identify marketplace gaps, brand positioning opportunities and opportunities for add-on sales. It looks at everything from strategic partnerships, licensing opportunities and alternative pricing strategies to product bundling, line extensions, new product development and alternative distribution strategies.

It includes exploration of productization, scalability and network effects. It also identifies potential sources of industry disruption and paths to “category of one” branding.

If you want an intense “deep dive” in identifying high potential growth opportunities for your organization, this is a highly efficient way to do so. Applying all of the latest growth strategy tools and an objective outside perspective to your organization’s growth potential, it teaches you how to identify, explore and amplify that potential. And its modest investment promises a very high return.

Brad VanAuken, who concentrated in competitive strategy at Harvard Business School, leads all workshops. Brad was also the lead new business development strategist for Hallmark. For more information on how you can grow your business with this process, contact Brad VanAuken at vanauken@brandforward.com.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Brands are People Too

Brands are the personification of organizations and their products and services. In this way, those organizations and their products and services can take on human qualities. They can stand for something. They can make promises. They can have personalities. They can share values with their customers. They can be funny. They can be friendly. They can be dependable. They can be trustworthy. And, in this way, people can relate to them, like them and even feel emotionally connected to them. 

Think of the qualities that you most admire in a person. For me, it is compassion, intelligence, playfulness and quick wittedness.  For you, it may be something else. 

Now consider the personalities that have been given to specific brands, sometimes by brand spokespeople or characters, at other times just by sensory design and brand messaging. Consider GEICO's gecko. He is cute and likable and funny with a pleasant accent. And Dos Equis' The Most Interesting Man in the World is debonair and successful with a plethora of rich experiences and stories. It implies that life will be more interesting with Dos Equis.  And Farmer's Insurance University of Farmers advertising campaign presents Farmer's Insurance as a calm knowledgable, seasoned brand that can handle anything because it has seen everything. And remember Tom Bodett's folksy voice that says, "I'm Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and we'll leave the light on for you."? This is folksy, friendly and reassuring. And remember Alistair Cooke, host of PBS Masterpiece Theatre? He epitomized civility, informed nonchalance and authority, just the right mix for Masterpiece Theatre. 

I must admit, that on the other hand, I do not understand the appeal of Progressive Insurance's Flo, the fictional salesperson character appearing in more than 100 of their commercials. To me she is unattractive, awkward, plain and geeky without much going for her, not a spokesperson I would want for a brand. Having said that, I am clearly missing something as there are multiple Flo ProgressiveGirl fan pages with tens of millions of likes on Facebook. 

I think you get my point though - brands are intended to add human qualities to organizations and their products and services so that they can better connect with people in an emotional and loyalty-building way. Have you thought through what type of person you want your brand to be? 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Brands & Goodness

According to BrandForward's research, one of the top attributes brands strive to be is trustworthy. Related to this, brands usually also strive to be customer service oriented, responsive, reliable and dependable. Other research has shown that people want their brands to have positive intentions toward them and to be capable of carrying out those positive intentions. 

I will express this in several different ways. People want to be able to trust their brands. They want their brands to possess integrity. They want brands to deliver on their promises. They want their brands to tell them the truth. They want their brands to have their best interests in mind. They want their brands to care about them. They want their brands to do what is right on their behalf. In summary, they want their brands to be GOOD. 

So brands that lie, intentionally deceive, cut corners, make promises on which they cannot deliver, are not focused on meeting the needs of their customers, are greedy, are unethical or otherwise are not good are brands that are in trouble. 

Take the US Congress as an example. Based on the average of many different polls, Congress' job approval rating has remained around 16% for the past several years. Why is it so low? Because US citizens are not confident that their representatives are doing what is right on their behalf. Instead, they believe those representatives are serving the special interests that fund their campaigns. I would argue that the US Congress brand is is trouble. While this is an extreme example, it is not the only example. I have written a few times about brands that do not deliver on their promises. United Airlines has been a poster child for this. BP is also a brand that has not made good on its environmental promises. In fact, there are countless other examples of this. 

While this might seem to be a cliche, I think it comes down to the Golden Rule. Is your brand treating its customers the way you would want to be treated? If your answer is "no," you have a lot of work to do to get your brand back on track. The problem could be the result of leadership, metrics and scorecards, systems, processes, employee recruiting criteria, employee training, recognition and reward systems, organization structure or just plain greed. Whatever its cause, as a brand manager, you need to get your brand back on track. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Finding the Hook in Marketing

I just returned from a local Boy Scout council marketing committee meeting. One of our agenda topics was the promotion of Earth Day merit badge workshops. The two merit badges in question are "Energy" and "Nuclear Science." Two professors from SUNY Geneseo are teaching the workshops. Professor Dennis Showers, an Eagle Scout and author of the Energy Merit Badge book and Professor James McLean (physics and astronomy) are leading the workshops. Activities and demonstrations include Geneseo's eGarden, solar powered car and a particle accelerator. Professor Showers will sign copies of the merit badge book that he wrote. Both of these merit badges support our country's emphasis on STEM.

While not always the most popular merit badges, we wanted to get a good turnout for these workshops.

The council publishes a newsletter that is sent directly to parents of scouts. Given the timing of the workshops, we felt as though this could be one of the primary communication vehicles to promote the workshops. There certainly was enough to promote that might spark interest in the workshops, from the solar powered car and the particle accelerator to the eGarden and signed copies of the merit badge book. Yet, were these powerful enough to get the scouts to sign up for the workshops? Then we thought about what parents of scouts want most for their children - success and happiness in life. So why not promote the fact that there are a wide variety of career options in energy, all of which pay quite well. Careers in energy would lead to a comfortable life. And isn't that what merit badges are all about - helping scouts to explore various hobbies and careers?

We decided that our primary communications target is parents. And we we decided that the lead message would be lucrative careers. We will still hype the other fun parts of the day, including visuals of the cool demonstrations the scouts will get to see. This will play well with the scouts themselves. 

This simple promotion exercise led me to think about how everything a marketer tries to sell needs a powerful "hook." This emerges from a solid understanding of the primary target audiences and what is most likely to motivate them to take the actions you intend to have them take. Never neglect the "hook" in your marketing communications.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Brand Sounds

Visual identity elements are the first things that come to most marketers’ minds when brand identity is mentioned. However, visual identity elements appeal to just one of the five senses – sight. Today, I want to call your attention to how sound is used to identify brands.

Over time, there have been many powerful advertising jingles. Do these words bring a tune or a brand to mind?

Commercial Jingles

“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”

“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”

“Nationwide is on your side.”

“I wish I was an Oscar Mayer Weiner”

“Hotdogs, Armor Hotdogs – The dogs kids love to eat.”

“I’d like to teach the world to sing.”

“The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.”

“Ba da ba ba ba I’m Lovin’ It.

Sometimes a sound or a sequence of sounds is just as powerful or even more so than a jingle with lyrics. Consider the power of these sounds in conjuring up specific brands.


NBC’s musical notes, G, E, C

Intel theme music

Apple Mac boot up

Each version of Microsoft Windows has its own boot up sound sequence

Harley-Davidson engine

MGM lion’s roar

And finally, sometimes brands have theme songs without the lyrics.


John William’s Olympic Fanfare and Theme

ABC’s Wild World of Sports theme song

National Geographic theme song

Loony Tunes theme song

When developing brand identity systems, don’t forget to consider unique and ownable sounds.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Brands vs. Brand Names

All brands have names and identity systems. The identity systems typically include type fonts, colors, icons and other visual elements. Sometimes they also include auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile elements. And they sometimes include taglines. 

The brand name can convey a specific intended meaning or feeling or it can just be a name that has been assigned to the brand without that intention. The tagline goes further in communicating the brand's intended promise.

But a brand's name is just like your name. It is merely a label. It is a way to identify you with words. And a brand's identity is the same as your visual appearance and perhaps the other sensory queues that you emanate such as your voice or pheromones. 

The brand, on the other hand, is more than its name and identity system. It is what is behind the name and identity system. Just as you are more than just your name or appearance. You are a complex sentient being who has a personality, a style and set of values, certain attitudes and behaviors, likes and dislikes, etc. You are the sum total of all that goes on in your head and your heart and your body (and some would say in your soul too). You are your thoughts and your words and your deeds.

Brands have the same complexity.

People perceive you not just based on your name and appearance, but also on your personality, attitudes, values and especially your behaviors. The same its true for brands. 

So, as a brand manager, you need to be concerned about the products and services and processes and systems and organizational culture and strategic partnerships that impact your brand's values, attitudes and behaviors, especially as they relate to the end customer. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Marketing & Common Sense

Marketing seems to have gotten so complicated. People speak of CRM and SEO. Successfully navigating social media seems difficult for many people. There are an increasing number of new communication platforms. How does one plan media across so many different channels? Marketing research now includes online focus groups, eye tracking and brain scanning among several other high-tech approaches. And then there is big data analytics. Where will it all end?

And yet, I would encourage marketers to revisit good old fashioned common sense. 

Who is our customer? What are her needs? How does she perceive us? Where does she shop? How does she make her purchase decisions? Who or what informs her buying choices? What stands in the way of her buying our products? How can we make our products more appealing to her? What messages will resonate with her? How can we get her to buy more of our stuff? How can we better connect with her on an emotional level?

These are the simple common sense questions that every marketer should ask. The funny thing is that so many marketers get caught up in the tools and tactics that they forget to ask the fundamental questions. 

Don't forget to use common sense when you are developing marketing programs and campaigns. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Customer Service Comes of Age at Insurance Companies

In 1999, BrandForward conducted a comprehensive study of brand equity and brand perceptions in the insurance industry. The study gathered metrics on more than 200 insurance brands. The results were not flattering. All insurance companies but one (State Farm) disappointed their customers when it came to claims. This contributed to a lack of loyalty, focus on price and insurance company switching.

Fast forward to today - 19  years later. If Allstate is an example of how insurance companies have evolved over time when it comes to claims processing, they have been careful students of creating the total brand experience and customer touch point design.

I hit a deer last week. Upon calling Allstate, I was instructed to download the Allstate app to my smartphone so that I could file a QuickFoto Claim(R). The app instructed me to take the appropriate photos of the damaged area, each corner of the car, the VIN and the odometer. That took 5 minutes at most. Based on their conversation with me over the phone and these photos, they processed my claim in less than 2 hours and then downloaded the difference between the claim amount and my deductible in my checking account through my bank's debit card. The money was available instantaneously.

Meanwhile, they helped me locate a local collision shop and had already sent them my claim information. The collision center sent a tow truck and has kept me informed about the process and schedule.

Allstate also called the nearest Enterprise car rental location and had procured a loaner car for me while mine was in the shop. This cost is covered by my insurance policy. Enterprise stayed open a few minutes late (past their 6 pm closing time) to accommodate me and then upgraded my car. They followed up with me a day later to make sure my rental was satisfactory.

To me, this is an example of a carefully designed customer claims processing experience and an integrated system of interaction with their strategic partners, including the smart use of mobile technology. This has significantly improved my perception of Allstate and has cemented my loyalty to them. And this should be equally beneficial to them as I have six personal and business policies through them.

As I do not have claims very often (perhaps once every ten to twenty years or so), I cannot attest to how other insurance companies handle these situations. However, I can attest to how Allstate has handled their claims processing and my hat is off to them for an excellent job.

Monday, January 15, 2018

50 Growth Strategies

Most every organization intends to grow. In fact, if an organization doesn’t continue to grow it generally must do the opposite because costs continue to increase whether the organization grows or not and it is difficult to continually pass the cost increases on customers without eventually experiencing decreases in unit sales.    

The ways in which an organization can grow are almost unlimited. Here are just some of the ways in which an organization may be able to increase its revenues and grow:
  1. Sell existing products or services through new channels of distribution, for instance online or specialty stores
  2. Increase brand awareness through wider distribution, increased marketing and more focused, more efficient marketing
  3. Sell existing products or services using new sales methods, for instance direct marketing or retail focused teams
  4. Increase brand accessibility through extended hours or flexible payment options
  5. Sell existing products or services in new geographies
  6. Sell existing products or services to new customer groups or markets
  7. Explore opportunities within different ethnic markets
  8. Sell your products or services as an ingredient brand within another organization’s products or services
  9. Go upstream or downstream in the product or service production process (and profit generation)
  10. Acquire and perhaps brand your own channel of distribution
  11. Identify and pursue economies of scale
  12. Pursue network effects
  13. Create additional product skus (or service offerings) targeted at different customers or customer need states
  14. Go upscale – create more upscale versions of your products or services
  15. Offer a less expensive version of your product or service (but be careful to do this is a way that does not alienate your current customers)
  16. Offer a wider selection of related products or services
  17. Offer a wider selection of product or service quantities, that is package your products or services in different quantities at different prices points
  18. Create a more expensive sku to increase the reference price for your other products within the same category – this will encourage customers to “trade up”
  19. Cross-promote your products with other related or unrelated brands that may appeal to the same customers
  20. Develop and sell a wide variety of accessories for your products
  21. Bundle and sell two or more products together
  22. Generate licensing royalties by licensing your brand to other organizations’ products or services that deliver against your brand’s promise
  23. Invest in R&D to create entirely new products and services
  24. Invest in a proprietary technology that will lead to competitive advantages for your products
  25. If appropriate, find ways to make your products collectable
  26. Offer your products in a series
  27. Use each product to sell another product
  28. Create a system of integrated products so that the purchase of one product from your organization leads to the purchase of additional products from your organization
  29. Transform your brand into an aspirational brand or a self-expression vehicle for its customers
  30. Create new demand for your product by creating new uses for the product
  31. Through research, become the expert in meeting a particular market segment’s needs, offering additional products and services to become increasingly indispensible to people in that market segment
  32. Through market research, identify and develop products or services for new market segments
  33. Increase the individual average transaction by suggesting add-on sales
  34. Offer discounts for larger or increased orders
  35. Offer paid services associated with your products, such as installation, consulting and technical support
  36. Offer financing and extended warranties
  37. Offer extended service contracts
  38. Offer customization opportunities
  39. Merge with or acquire complementary businesses
  40. Discover the compromises your industry is making with its customers and reconfigure your offering to overcome those compromises
  41. Increase overall revenues through price segmentation
  42. Identify where there is price elasticity and raise prices accordingly
  43. Create a more compelling design for your products
  44. Create more compelling packaging for your products
  45. Apply the “timeshare” idea to your business to generate alternative markets for its products and services
  46. Create versions of your products that play off of current societal trends
  47. Identify new product or service categories to which your internal capabilities are well suited
  48. Create a new product development function
  49. Establish an internal venture fund
  50. Select for intrapreneurship skills and motivations when hiring employees

I hope this list has helped you to think more broadly about the ways in which you can grow your organization and its products and services. And I hope it has created some optimism about its prospects for growth Finally, I hope it has generated some specific ideas for growing your business.