Monday, May 21, 2018

Identifying Riding Lawn Mower Brands by Color

I live in a town in which the minimum acreage per residential parcel is 3 acres. However, many of my neighbors have 30 acres or more. People live in this exurban location because they like its rural character. Many people fancy themselves as gentlemen farmers and some have horses and chickens and even llamas and bison. 

While some people use lawn services, most like to tend to their own grounds using lots of equipment, chief among them being the riding mower. The interesting thing about riding mowers (and other more expensive farm equipment) is the strong use of color to identify the brand. Having said that, many of the brands use the color red and to a somewhat lesser extent orange. Only John Deere features a green and white combination. And Cub Cadet, which historically featured yellow and white, now features only yellow. Both of these brands are quite distinctive and can be identified from a distance when someone is mowing his or her field or grounds. Roybi, a recent entry in this category, is also distinctive given its chartreuse and black color combination. It also has a distinctive shape. While Snapper has a common color, its shape is closer to Roybi's, which is unique and identifiable. 

Here are images of ten more popular riding mower brands. Notice which brands stand out due to color. Also notice how big the brand name appears on the vehicle and whether there is a logo hood ornament and how distinctive it is. Finally, identify other distinctive visual features such as vehicle shape, seat shape or tire treatment. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Fast Food and the Customer Experience

McDonald's recently created a marketing campaign promoting its new customer service including mobile ordering, customer touch screens and table service. Panera Bread has been using customer touch screens for awhile now. Wendy's has upped its game with very friendly and efficient staff who always greet customers and help them however they can. My local Boston Market is very well run with friendly table service and very clean bathrooms. I recently went to a Boston Market in Ft. Lauderdale that did not have table service, had a sparse number of tables and a very dirty bathroom. Boston Market clearly does not have uniform quality control or at least has a huge variance in quality of its restaurant managers. The Ft. Lauderdale Boston Market looked so neglected that I was sure it would soon go out of business.

The worst example yet of a poorly run fast food restaurant was one I recently had at a local Burger King restaurant. I must admit that I am not a big fast food restaurant user and I had not been to a Burger King in several years before I had the experience I am about to describe. The bathrooms were filthy, the tables were dirty, the staff members looked disheleved with poor personal hygiene. One employee wiped his nose with his hand while standing on the other side of the counter from me. And the person who took my order got the order wrong. When I pointed this out, he told me that the machine that made the drink I wanted was not operable so he substituted another drink of lesser value, a drink I did not want. He did not offer to get me something else or reimburse me for the difference in price. Based on this experience, I am pretty certain that I will not step foot in a Burger King again for a very long time if ever.

The point of this post is to point out how important a carefully designed and consistently executed customer experience is to brand perceptions and repeat purchase probabilities. I will continue to eat at my local Boston Market, Panera Bread and Wendy's but am very unlikely to step foot in a Burger King again. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Brand Identification in Advertising

While great ads will immediately capture your attention, draw you in, tell a story and make you laugh or cry, sometimes those ads miss one very important element - identifying the brand that it is advertising. 

There are many ways to make sure the brand is present throughout the ad. The advertiser could display the brand logo or icon in the upper left hand corner of the screen or on employee uniforms, vehicles, signage, product packaging or the product itself. Or the advertiser could use a very recognizable brand spokesperson or character in the ad. Further, the advertiser could play the brand jingle or at least music or sound effects that are consistently associated with the brand. Further, the advertiser could use a distinctive and recognizable filming style. A consistent campaign of ads over time increases brand recognition. The worst possible brand identification approach is to cut to the brand identification only in the last second or two of the ad as a sign-off, especially if it seems disconnected from the ad itself. The best approach is to integrate several different brand identity components into the ad in a seamless and natural way. 

If you have created a compelling ad that demands to be watched and conveys a powerful reason to purchase the product or service, don't forget to adequately identify the brand or you will have wasted an otherwise perfectly effective ad. 

Here are some exercises for you to do when you are watching television ads:

  • If you have seen the ad before, do you immediately know which brand is advertising when the ad begins?
  • Time how long it takes for you to identify which brand is advertising.
  • Count the number of times and ways in which the brand is identified in the ad.
  • Count how many times the brand is mentioned in the ad.
  • Assess how seamless the brand identification is with the ad itself. 
  • After having seen the ad, do you get the sense that it could have only come from one specific brand?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Animals in Advertising

Those of us who are old enough remember Kellogg's Frosted Flake's Tony the Tiger. Leo Burnett also created Charlie the Tuna for StarKist and Morris the Cat for 9Lives. And Taco Bell used a chihuahua dog in its advertising.

But lately, more and more advertisers are using animals in their ads. One might ask "Why?" It has long been known that humor lowers resistance to advertising messages and that sex, violence and emotion lead to better recall. Animals in ads are attention grabbing. Research has also shown that animals reduce resistance to ads and create emotional connection with people. People are naturally attracted to animals, especially baby animals, which are perceived to be cute and stimulate the nurturing instinct. Further, there are big advantages to anthropomorphizing animals, not only because they are more relatable but also because their personalities can reinforce the personalities of the brand. Finally, using animals instead of celebrities as brand spokespeople is less risky and much more cost effective. 

Here are some other brands that have used animals in their advertising:

Geico has also used a squirrel in its advertising. Bridgestone used a squirrel in its similar but funnier ad. And Nestle Kit Kat ran a squirrel ad in India. 

Notice that many of these ads also use humor. And John West Salmon uses a very power combination - animals, humor and violence.

Here is a video of the top 10 Super Bowl ads featuring animals. And here is a video featuring funny animals in commercials. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Using Lexicon to Build Brand Mystique

Some activities have their own lexicon, as do some brands. When I was growing up, I fished for muskies, walleye, perch and bass with my family. We took an annual two week vacation at Black Lake and spent much of our time fishing. Later in life, I took up fly fishing. In regular fishing, people sometimes use bobbers to indicate when a fish strikes. In fly fishing, these floating devices are called indicators. And in fly fishing, the study of etymology is critical. An attractor is an impressionistic fly pattern tied with certain fish-enticing characteristics. And one must know the meaning of caddis, callibaetis, chironomid, comparadun and Czech nymphing - and that is just a very small example of fly fishing terms beginning with the letter C.  Clearly fly fishing is more high-brow than bass fishing. 

Sailing has its own terms too. A sailor must know the difference between port and starboard. And one must know the difference between a close reach, a beam reach and a broad reach. It is really important to know the difference between tacking and jibing. And there are lots of terms for boat parts - i.e. halyards, a boom vang, a topping lift, stanchions and a windlass. 

And consider some surfing terms - focusing on just the terms beginning with C again - carving, charging, cheater five, choka, chowder, clidro, closeout, clucked, cranking, cripples and cutback. 

These terms seem to create a shared secret language or lexicon. It is a way to talk with precision about the essence and art of your activity. And it lets you know that the other person is part of your club. 

Brands also create their own lexicon. Consider Starbucks with its short, tall, grande, venti and trenta drink sizes. And how about skinny drinks and leaving room? Starbucks also introduced frappuccinos and macchiatos, terms people had not heard of related to the Maxwell House, Folgers or Sanka coffee brands. 

And consider Harley-Davidson related terms - ape hangers, bobber or bobtail, blockhead and chopper. And how about the Duo-Glide, Dyna Glide, Electra Glide, Hydra Glide, Super Glide, Tour Glide and Wide Glide, which are all Harley-Davidson registered terms?

And of course Apple has iMacs, iOS, iPhone, iPad, iPod, iTunes, iBooks, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD.

Brand-specific lexicon helps people feel the bond of a shared language. It can lead to the sense of being an insider and even to a cult-like emotional connection to the brand. Consider what creating a brand-specific lexicon might do for your brand. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Marketing & Sales

Marketing and sales are important partners in increasing an organization's revenues. However, some might perceive them to be an odd couple, but more about that later.

First, marketing and sales are different. Marketing has many sub-disciplines but overall it is the organization's investment in identifying and building demand for its products and services. Sales, on the other hand, tends to be more tactical and immediate (strategic sales and enterprise sales notwithstanding). It is all about getting the customer to purchase something as quickly as possible. It is about closing the deal. 

Earlier in my career, when I was interviewing for marketing positions, it always raised major "red flags" with me when the employer in question used the words marketing and sales interchangeably or when that employer said he or she was looking for a marketing person when he or she was really looking for a salesperson. 

In many organizations, especially B2B organizations and those organizations that are not marketing-driven, marketing's primary responsibility is to support the selling effort. In this way, the marketing function is primarily a support function for the sales force. In marketing-driven organizations, marketing typically drives many decisions including target customers, product, packaging, pricing and distribution. Product managers or brand managers may also have P&L responsibility. And this is informed by a marketing sub-discipline, marketing research. In these organizations, it would be wise not to refer to marketing as a support function or a marketing professional as a support person. 

Most marketers will have strong communication skills. Depending on the marketing sub-discipline, the ideal marketer might be more intuitive or more analytical. Many marketers are strong both intuitively and analytically. And generally, a marketer is driven by curiosity and variety. A marketer may be introverted or extroverted. 

Alternatively, salespeople must be outgoing, friendly and likable. They must be good at building personal rapport quickly. And it helps if they are good at reading people. Salespeople are often driven by money, which is why sales commissions work so well as incentives. While engineers and scientists can be trained as salespeople to pursue technical sales, the average salesperson is more focused on interpersonal skills than technical skills. Salespeople should not be afraid to make cold calls and they must be able to take rejection in their stride. On the negative side, I have witnessed more than a few salespeople tell potential customers whatever they wanted to hear regardless of the statement's veracity to close the sale.

Organizations that are serious about their marketing functions often require marketers to first take a sales position (or at least a rotation in sales) to better understand the customer and the work of the salesperson before he or she assumes his or her marketing responsibilities. Similarly, some organizations require their marketing managers to monitor or even personally handle customer service calls at least once a year. 

Marketers can help salespeople by creating the appropriate brochures, product spec sheets and other collateral materials. They can also support trades shows, national sales meetings and user conferences. Further, marketers can set up CRM systems that salespeople can use. And marketers can create many online and offline mechanisms to create sales leads for salespeople. And one should not forget strong marketing campaigns and, perhaps even more importantly, strong brands that create customer pull and make the salesperson's job significantly easier. 

Going back to my earlier "odd couple" comment, marketers are often motivated by the brilliant consumer insight, the analytical discovery or the inspired creative campaign, while salespeople are driven by the closed sale and the increased commission. However, the two functions comprise an important duo for any organization that wants to increase its revenues. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Brands and Distribution Strategy

When I am advising start-ups and rapidly growing brands, often distribution strategy is critical to the success of the brand. Choosing the right distribution channels in the right order can make a big difference in three ways: (a) brand awareness building, (2) brand accessibility and (3) brand positioning and quality perceptions. 

Usually, start-up brands have little to no awareness. If the brand in question has a first mover advantage in its category, rapid distribution expansion is critical to its success. If it is an industry disruptive brand, it sometimes needs to choose a new distribution method that circumvents prevailing distribution methods.

If the brand has only slight advantages over its competition, accessibility advantages will make a huge difference in sales and market share. 

Brands that want to be perceived as luxury brands may choose more limited distribution options, focusing on those channels that will reinforce their luxury status. Sometimes a brand that eventually intends to be an aspirational luxury brand with a wider audience starts out as being very exclusive at first to establish itself among the affluent influencers first before expanding distribution to a wider audience. 

Sometimes distribution expansion is sequenced based on early adoption by the most important influencer groups first. 

There are many considerations in choosing the sequence of distribution expansion. It can make a difference in quality perceptions, pricing, exclusivity perceptions, perceived popularity and momentum, speed of adoption and even the ultimate success of the brand. Related issues to be considered are retailer leverage, the ability to control price discounts and perceptions, exclusivity, brand association transfer (between retailer and manufacturer), service and technical support levels, ability to control brand identity and customer experience, access to end consumer data and channel conflict. 

I hope this helps you think about distribution in a more strategic way as it relates to brands and branding. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Brand Management Today

In the past 30 years, I have witnessed significant changes in brand management and marketing. In this post, I will summarize what has stayed the same, what has changed significantly and what some of the most important considerations in brand management and marketing are today.

What has remained important over time:
  • Having carefully identified the brand's target customers and having gained deep insight about their hopes, fears, attitudes, values, needs and desires
  • Identifying and communicating the brand's unique value proposition 
  • Having developed a well-thought through brand identity system and being consistent in presenting the brand's identity
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being dependable and responsive
  • Product/service innovation
  • For some brands, serving as a status symbol

What has emerged as very important:
  • Creating the total brand experience - customer experience design including customer touch point design
  • Focusing on customer service
  • Telling a compelling brand story
  • Interacting with customers through social media
  • Creating a seamless online and offline presence 
  • Gaining information on and targeting individuals
  • Standing for something and sharing a set of values with customers
  • Creating a community platform for customers who share the brand's values
  • Being able to justify the value of specific marketing activities through measurement
  • Delivering a good overall value, including delivering quality commensurate with price

And what has emerged as helpful to brands:
  • Humanizing the brand
  • Giving the brand a sense of humor
  • Surprising and delighting customers, adding an element of unpredictability without sacrificing dependability
  • Treating the customer as an intelligent human being
  • For some brands, taking a courageous and admirable stand on societal issues

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Purchase Patterns of Wealthy Households

There are many stereotypes about how the wealthiest households spend their money. Here are some of the research-based findings on that topic.

According to a The Wall Street Journal article, the most popular cars among people in the wealthiest 25 zip codes in the USA (median home prices from $3.4 to $6.7 million) are: Tesla Model S (starting price: $71,070) (accounting for the most car sales in 8 of the 25 zip codes - all in California), Mercedes-Benz E-Class ($51,905), Jeep Grand Cherokee ($28,690), BMW 3 Series ($33,475) and Ford F Series ($25,065). Notice that the list does not include Bentleys, Bugattis, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maybachs or Porsches.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, high income households spend significantly more than average households on food away from home (more than one-half of their food purchases), housing operations, supplies and furnishings, personal insurance and pensions, cash contributions, education, entertainment and apparel and services. High income households also spend more on alcoholic beverages, reading and transportation.

According to Experian's 2011 Discretionary Spend Report, households with discretionary spending of $30,000+ (that is, households with median household incomes of $204,000+) index much higher on airline affiliation cards, American Express cards, paying full balance on credit cards, having home improvement, home equity and mortgage loans, and contributing to arts, culture and humanities organizations. 

According to another study high-end department and technology stores and cultural amenities (museums, art galleries, concert halls, etc.) are frequented most by high income households. 

According to AdAge, The Wall Street Journal is the periodical with the highest household income, followed by Barron's, The Economist, United Hemispheres, Washington Post Sunday, The New York Times Sunday, The New York Times daily, American Way, Conde Nast Traveler, The Atlantic, Southwest Spirit, Architectural Digest and Yachting. Magazine reading habits of the affluent also include Ivy League Magazine Network publications (alumni magazines (Brown, Chicago, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford and Yale) and several other travel magazines (Global Living, Afar, Travel & Leisure and Elite Traveler). Other interesting publications include Boat International (super yachts and luxury yachts), Private Islands (for people who own or want to own private islands) and Black Ink (only available to American Express Centurion cardholders - $7,500 initiation fee).

While the nouveau riche might strive for outward expressions of their newfound wealth to establish their socioeconomic status, old money prefers to downplay their wealth, not only because they are secure in their position but also because they have discovered that too much outward display of wealth only invites unwanted interest. 

So, on what types of spending are households with large disposable incomes focused? Mostly services and experiences- travel, fine dining, educational and personal development experiences, cultural activities and charitable activities. And if they are seeking luxury products and experiences, what are they looking for in those products and experiences? Artistry or beauty, exceptional design, quality craftsmanship, limited availability (exclusivity), a rich history and heritage, and a high level of service including respect and civility. 

Regarding today's status symbols of the wealthy - college or university (Ivy League is best), zip code, travel (exotic is best), unusual experiences, private jets, multiple homes, equestrian sports, yachting (super yachts among billionaires), wine cellars, ultra-luxury watches, jewelry, art, private clubs, board memberships, civic involvement and ample leisure time. 

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

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.