Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Is Your Brand Still Relevant?

When talking about brands, brand managers often mention relevant differentiation but a less talked about topic is brand relevance. What happens when your brand is no longer relevant to its target customers? What happens when it is decreasingly relevant to any customer? What are the signs that your brand is losing relevance?

If you are a typewriter brand, what is your relevance in the age of laptop computers, tablets and even smart phones? If you are a photographic film brand, what is your relevance in the age of digital cameras? How relevant was the Blockbuster brand after the emergence of Netflix or Amazon Prime? If you are a taxicab brand, what is your relevance in the age of Uber and Lyft?

But one doesn't even need to go as far as brands that have been the victims of completely disruptive technologies. About ten years ago, I conducted a series of workshops for library administrators from a wide variety of academic, private and public libraries, helping them not only to think about their brands' missions but also about what they intend to be to thrive well into the twenty-first century. Similar thinking is happening (or needs to happen) for shopping malls, brick and mortar retailers, metropolitan areas, city centers, medical practices, museums and universities. 

What was relevant twenty or thirty years ago, or even ten years ago, is no longer relevant today. People expect entertainment, engagement, sound bytes, ease of use, remote access and even a shared set of values. Things are just changing too fast. The Internet, AI, robotics, big data analytics, 3D printers, alternative energy sources and the like are changing people's expectations and how they interact with the world. They expect lower cost, being able to order from their smart phones, on-demand use, instantaneous delivery, home delivery, entertainment, education, engagement, cross-channel integrated customer databases and customer-centric service.

So, is your brand and its business model still relevant? Or do you have some work to do to insure its long-term, and possibly even near-term, viability?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Brand Leadership

Unfortunately, there are too few true leaders in this world. Authentic leaders, not just people assigned to leadership roles, possess a number of unique qualities. They are visionary, charismatic, introspective, compassionate, decisive, and above all, inspiring. They tend to be self-aware and curious. They care about people and enjoy lifelong learning. And often, they embody the brand's values and are the most passionate advocates of its cause. They are the true believers and the brand's standard bearers. They have stamina, take risks and are resilient.  

Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard, Tesla's Elon Musk, and someone I had the good fortune of knowing, The Nature Conservancy's John Sawhill all fit that description. 

They speak about the brand as if it was a cause. They get people excited about achieving the brand's mission. They get people to embrace and internalize its vision. And they encourage others to join them in becoming true believers. 

Administrators keep things running. They make sure everything is operating effectively and efficiently. They meet their numbers and make sure all of the financial ratios are met. If you only hear a CEO taking about revenues, profit margins and other metrics, it is quite possible that he or she is not that visionary, inspirational leader. That does not mean that true leaders do not pay attention to the numbers - they have to - but they are motivated beyond that, by the mission and vision of the brand. And they find a way to achieve those while pursuing a sustainable business model. 

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 yellow 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. Ryobi, 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 Ryobi'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?