Monday, May 20, 2019

Sling TV

I love the Sling TV ads. Here's why. Like the first GEICO ads that featured a cute gecko as a mnemonic device to help you remember the name, Sling TV uses strong references to swinging to do the same. Further, like the GEICO ads, it is entertaining and funny. The commercials might even be described as campy. The commercials capture and keep your attention. From there, they go on to the brand message, explaining what Sling TV is and why you will like it. One of the concepts that works in both its reference to swinging and Slinging is "freedom" as many people seek freedom from their cable TV provider and their long-term contracts and high fees. For all of these reasons, I think these are strong ads.

You can see some examples of these ads here:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Dissecting the Apple Brand

While Apple has never been a client of mine, I have been an Apple customer for years. I am writing this blog post from a MacBook Air attached to my iPhone while listening to iTunes. I am writing this because the brand has been a very successful iconic brand and I thought it would be fun to explore the brand positioning, personality and associations. These thoughts and observations are purely my own and may not reflect the actual brand position or promise.

First, the brand is simple and easy to use. In fact, it is intuitive. When I switched from a Microsoft computer and operating system to an Apple computer and operating system, I did not refer to any instruction manual. I just turned the device on and started using it.

Second, it is sleek and aesthetically pleasing. Its design is minimalist. It and my Tesla Model 3 have that in common. In fact, my iPhone pairs nicely with my Tesla and my Bang & Olufsen headphones have an external volume control that works seamlessly with Apple devices. I feel that these brands fit well together because they share a focus on excellence, innovation and clean design aesthetic.

Apple has not been an open platform. It controls what software is used with its devices, almost eliminating compatibility problems, speeding up processing time and making it more difficult for viruses and malware.

Apple has become the un-Microsoft brand. Put another way, it has become the superior alternative to Microsoft-powered devices. People have tired of the problems associated with Microsoft-based platforms, especially related to computer security, viruses and malware.

In-store customer service is top-shelf, furthering the hassle-free intuitively easy nature of the brand. And the stores reinforce the design aesthetic of the brand.

Apple is an innovative company and is not afraid of creating something new that makes a previous product obsolete. Witness iPods. They are not afraid of anticipating customer needs and desires and are happy to deliver benefits that customers had not even imagined. The creation of iPhone apps is an example of this.

The cross-compatibility and communication between all of Apple's devices is another positive aspect of the brand.

Brand marketing emphasizes the "cool" factor of the brand.

Steve Jobs was a visible entrepreneur associated with the brand.

There is a certain social cache associated with using the brand. All of the above, plus its higher price points, reinforce this.

Empowered and engaged employees would indicate careful hiring practices. In fact, it has been said that Apple managers ask three questions of potential job candidates: (1) Do they display grit? (2) Can they deliver a Ritz-Carlton level of customer service? and (3) Could they have gone toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs?

Related to this, Apple's culture seems to be one dedicated to discovery and excellence.

Considering all of these positive traits together, it is no wonder that Apple is a top global brand.

For my take on why is also a top brand, click here.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Brand Positioning Components

Brand positioning components will likely vary depending on which brand consultant or marketing agency you use. These are the core elements that most consultants or agencies use:

  • Target customer definition (demographics, psychographics (lifestyles, attitudes, values, behaviors, job titles, etc.)
  • Brand essence (the heart and soul of the brand - it's timeless quality - in the form of 'adjective adjective noun')
  • Brand promise ('Only [brand] delivers [relevant differentiated benefit or shared value]')
  • Brand personality (seven to twelve adjectives that describe the brand as if it were a person)

Brand mission, vision and values are often added. Its mission is its reason for being, its purpose. Its vision is what it wants to be, its aspirations. Its values can best be communicated through "We believe..." statements.

Some people talk about a brand's DNA. This is roughly equivalent to its essence. 

Some people talk about a brand's unique value proposition. This focuses on the same thing the brand promise does - the brand's unique and compelling point of difference.

People often support the brand promise with proof points and "reasons to believe" the promise.

Sometimes, people will articulate the brand promise or unique value proposition within the context of a specific product or service category or competitive frame of reference. How this is defined can make a big difference in the overall brand positioning.  

Some people add brand archetype to the mix. The brand archetype speaks to the brand's underlying motivation and is roughly based on Jungian archetypes.

Some include core brand attributes in the brand positioning statement. 

Fewer people add brand pricing and distribution strategies to the brand positioning statement, though most people consider these to be more tactical and less strategic. However, for some very upscale brands, these can be a very strategic part of the brand's positioning. 

The brand positioning statement is a strategic internal document that guides almost all of the brand's marketing activities. It is always included in agency or creative briefs. 

To a large degree, the brand positioning statement is the roadmap for how a brand takes on human qualities and what human qualities it takes on. It is also a roadmap for how the brand will succeed in the marketplace.

Other blog posts on brand positioning:

And here is BrandForward's online step-by-step brand positioning workshop, everything you need to successfully position or reposition your brand:

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Emotionally Connecting with Your Customers

Most brands want to connect emotionally with their customers but few actually do. What does it take to create that emotional connection?

Brands that create emotional connection are deliberate about achieving it. First, those brands and their brand owners often have a strong set of values, values that they ultimately share with their customers. For example, Patagonia's almost reverent love of the outdoors and a pristine environment. Or Tesla's and Elon Musk's dream of a post-fossil fuel world. Or FOX New's focus on a very specific view of the world.

Next, those brands need to really understand their customers. They need to possess deep customer insight. This usually happens through qualitative research, often using guided imagery and projective techniques.  They need to understand customer self-perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, values, hopes, fears and anxieties. We helped Footjoy do this to refocus its brand from superior functional attributes (keeps your feet dry on a wet course) to a self-expressive benefit - The Mark of a Player.

Next, one must carefully design the customer experience. This may include customer journey mapping and customer touch point design. Often these brands create customer experience or engagement manager positions to maintain focus on the customer experience.

Next comes building the customer experience into the culture. Disney does this well, as does Zappos, Nordstrom and Starbucks. One of my favorite examples of this is Ritz-Carlton's "Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen." If you are interested in creating a better customer experience,  I would encourage you to read Be Our Guest (Disney), The Zappos Experience, The Nordstrom Way - Customer Service Excellence, Leading the Starbucks Way and especially The New Gold Standard (Ritz-Carlton).

At Hallmark, we pursued a Legendary Service initiative, in which we encouraged customer facing employees to deliver service that is so unexpected and extraordinary that those service moments became the basis of widely told legendary stories.

This notion of emotional connection needs to work its way into the brand's essence, mission, vision, values, promise, unique value proposition, archetype and personality. That is, it needs to become part of the brand's DNA.

One way we work with our clients to do this is to create "We believe..." statements, statements which reflect their values and that will connect emotionally with their customers.

There are many tools and techniques to create deep emotional connection with customers. If your brand is not connecting emotionally with its customers, contact us. We can help you make that happen.

Other related blog posts:

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Online Brand Positioning Workshop

Now BrandForward's highly successful, often emulated, brand positioning workshop is available online. It will provide you with everything you need to position your brand to win. And, even better, we are offering a May 2019 only substantial price discount. 

CLICK HERE to sign up for the workshop.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Insights from 20 Years as a Brand Consultant

Over the past 20 years, I have been retained by more than 200 organizations to help them with their brand problems. I thought it would be interesting to share with you what I believe to be the root causes of some of these problems. Here are the types of problems that I have encountered (that I can remember).

  • The brand has been resting on its laurels and the rest of the industry has not only caught up but surpassed the brand in product and service innovation.
  • The organization has grown through many mergers and acquisitions. Its brand architecture is overly complicated and redundant. To reduce costs and create greater customer clarity, it needs to significantly rationalize its brands and its product offerings. 
  • Recent business acquisitions have made it impossible to use the previous brand positioning. The positioning needs to change to reflect the new breadth of offerings. 
  • The acquiring company makes a big mistake with the acquired brand because it does not understand the target market's needs or the acquired brand's essence. 
  • The product and service are excellent and the price is right but there is little to no awareness of the brand.
  • The start-up has not thought through who its most advantageous customers are or how to best reach them.
  • The organization's leader has an authoritarian style that does not allow for distributed leadership or decision-making. This is stifling the organization and the brand.
  • The brand had a recent customer crisis from which it is still recovering. 
  • The organization is significantly underinvesting in its brand. 
  • A smaller local brand is now competing directly with a huge regional, national or global brand.
  • The organization is clueless about its brand messaging. The messaging is disjointed and ineffective.
  • The organization's distribution strategy is wrong for the brand's positioning. It is working against the brand.
  • The organization's pricing strategy is a mess. It is causing channel conflict problems and customer perception problems.
  • Customer interfacing systems have glitches resulting in sub-par or even horrific customer experiences. 
  • VC has taken the brand over and is making short term decisions to the detriment of the long-term viability of the brand.
  • The brand's logo makes the brand look very dated. 
  • New marketers have been hired and they know little to nothing about brand strategy or research. They are smart enough to know that they need to hire this expertise. 
  • The brand has historically been positioned based on functional features and benefits. The brand's leadership team wants to change the brand positioning to include emotional benefits and shared values. 
  • The brand's business model no longer works. The organization cannot not make its revenue and profit targets if it continues to use the same old model. 
  • The company wants to grow its business through brand extensions. But they need help in understanding the best avenues for extending the brand.
  • A new CEO or CMO has arrived and wants to make his or her mark on the company and the brand.
  • A new leader has arrived and is significantly changing the organization's strategy. Because of this, the brand's positioning needs to change. 
  • The brand manager is seeking the limelight and a promotion. He or she hires a consultant to initiate a project to take the brand to the next level. 
  • Management wants to refresh the brand before a new capital campaign (not-for-profit organizations) or the launch of new products under the brand's umbrella. 
  • An academic institution or one of its divisions is up for review and reaccreditation and needs to revisit its brand's mission, vision, values and messaging as a part of that process. 
  • The organization wants to set up a brand scorecard or dashboard and wants to determine the best measures to include. 
  • The organization wants to better segment its market. It is looking to outside help to conduct a comprehensive segmentation study.
  • The organization wants to measure its brand's equity on a regular basis to better manage its brand.
  • A brand needs to be fortified before the organization pulls the trigger on a new distribution strategy.
  • The marketer wants to take the brand out to new markets but doesn't want to make a mistake in doing so. 
  • The organization wants to take the brand upmarket or downmarket and again wants to minimize the risk of doing so. 
  • The brand's package design is too complicated and it is not helping the brand at point of sale. They need the package to be redesigned. 
  • Retailers such as Walmart and Amazon have backed the product brand into a corner out of which they seem not to be able to escape because of the retailer's extreme leverage. The product brand needs a strategy for dealing with this more effectively.
  • Believe it or not, sometimes I am hired because a marketer has always wanted to work with me. This has happened more than once but I make sure there is a real problem to be solved before I say yes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Establishing Brand Metrics

Often, organizations will use awareness, preference, rank in consideration set, share of wallet, Net Promoter Score and other brand loyalty measures, customer satisfaction, distribution and market share as the primary brand measures. Awareness is important because without awareness, the brand does not exist in the customer's mind. Preference, rank in consideration set and share of wallet are also indications of brand strength, as are distribution and market share. Net Promoter Score is a very popular measure of attitudinal loyalty. Its strength lies in its ability to be compared across a huge number of brands across a wide variety of product and service categories. There are other measures of attitudinal and behavioral loyalty. Customer satisfaction is a particularly useful measure for categories in which satisfaction is low. Service organizations will want to measure multiple dimensions of perceived customer service. Organizations also sometimes measure brand perceptions related to the intended brand promise or unique value proposition and key brand messages. This can include perceptions of shared values, brand attributes, brand benefits (functional, emotional, experiential and self-expressive), brand personality attributes and other brand associations. And finally, various measures of emotional connection can be very insightful.

The trick in all of this is to choose metrics that correlate with intended customer business outcomes such as sales, profits, share of wallet, purchase frequency, loyalty and willingness to pay a price premium. The link between brand metrics and these outcomes can be arrived at through statistical correlation techniques. In the end, you want to measure things that actually matter and about which you can do something. It also helps if the measures are diagnostic so that you can identify what needs to be changed.

Marketing is often dismissed as too "touchy feely" with no direct links to ROI. The more a marketer can chose metrics that help him or her truly manage the brand, the more successful he or she will be. As Peter Drucker famously said, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ethical Issues in Marketing

What are some of the ethical issues in marketing? First and foremost, we should not be 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, or coming into one’s own power.

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? But is it the marketer's role to address this?

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, where people are more motivated to avoid potential problems than to embrace that which is beneficial or uplifting.

How about using sex to sell products? This has been a strategy used successfully across a myriad of product categories for decades. Is there anything wrong with linking sex to an unrelated product or using women as objects of sexual desire? 

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. However, deliberating misleading the consumer or creating false expectations is wrong. 

Related to this, aren't marketers asked to focus on a brand's advantages and downplay or ignore its flaws. And, in some cases, aren't they asked to recast data to make something bad look good or a disadvantage look like an advantage? Is this selective recasting of data wrong? 

How about when a brand uses actors to create buzz about a brand? For instance, a brand might pay actors to extol the taste of a new alcoholic beverage in bars. And the actors never divulge that they are actors. Is this wrong?

How about assigning negative labels to a competitor's brand to reposition it as something highly undesirable? Is this ethical?

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 the client wants is not in its own best interest). In this situation, are you forthright with the client but then ultimately collect your fees for executing what the client desires, or do you walk away from the project or business if what you are being asked to do is not in the client’s best
interest? Is the client always right or is the client sometimes wrong? And are you sure you know better than the client what is in his or her best interests?

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)? And isn't it the role of brands to decrease price sensitivity and allow for price premiums?

Knowing that brands can sometimes make people feel more appealing, loved, smart, accomplished, or valued, I want to scream to them, “You are already appealing, loved, smart, accomplished, and valued. You don’t need a product or brand to be that.” How can a product really make people feel more of anything, especially in the long-run?

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?

How about those huge purchases that marketers can get people to make— for instance, luxury cars, luxury boats, fine art, and expensive wines? 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?

And what about selling functional substance, a real solution to a problem, vs. 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? Is it better to market to and deliver on a need or a desire? Is one better than another? What if people desire something that is not good for them? Is that the marketer’s problem? Is it another person’s right to judge what is good or bad for you?

Once, a client indicated that he wanted to hire me because he understood that I was a "master of the dark arts." Is this how you want to be perceived? I raise these questions and issues to get you, as a marketer, to think about not only what works but what is ethical. If you are a highly skilled marketer, you have a lot of power to persuade people to make choices in certain ways, to believe certain things, to purchase certain products and to behave in certain ways. Are you using this power responsibly?

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 businesses include marketing research as a part of marketing (as well they should), there is a huge advantage to understanding what customers actually need and want so that the organization can deliver it to them. Identifying and determining the best ways to meet human needs is a noble endeavor.

Reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Brand Life Cycles

Brands personify organizations, products, services and other entities. In this way, they take on human qualities, human qualities that often lead to shared values and emotional connection. But what types of qualities should a brand take on during different stages of its life cycle?

As you think about this, think about romantic relationships that lead to life-long partnerships. What must a new brand (or acquaintance) do to gain mindshare? It must be exciting, fun, new, different and bigger than life. It is all about the "new" and the publicity and buzz. Think about all of the excitement that occurred when or Tesla were first introduced.

But, after a while, the newness and novelty wear off. For a brand (or a romantic partner) to have longevity, it (or he or she) must prove to be trustworthy, reliable, consistent, responsive and service oriented. This requires outstanding listening and empathy skills. Consider the brands (and people) that you have relied on throughout your life.

While these qualities will extend the life of a brand (or a relationship) well beyond the brief courting stage, they may not be enough to create a lasting emotional bond. For that, being likable counts for a lot. This includes being friendly, affable and maybe even charming and witty. That is, the brand (or the individual) is fun to be around. GEICO's gecko and its general sense of humor in its advertising is a good example of this.

Finally, no matter how strong the emotional bond is, sometimes relationships get old and stale. This is why lifelong learning, staying interesting, occasionally doing the unexpected, reinventing the self and remaining innovative are very important to extending the brand's (or relationship's) life indefinitely. So far, Apple has done this.

I share this to have you think about where your brand is in its life cycle and what it must weave into its attitudes, personality and behaviors to extend its relationship with its customers and its life.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Differentiating on the Unexpected

Opaque is an all in the dark restaurant. With the help of a giant crane, Dinner in the Sky serves just that, dinner in the sky. Southwest Airlines differentiated itself based on a sense of humor. Build-A-Bear Workshop decided to involve the customer in the creation of the product. Von Maur department stores feature live pianists. And the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN features a duck march in its lobby every day. Having conducted hundreds of focus groups, I can say with almost certainty that no customer ever recommenced those unique brand differentiators. And those differentiators would not rate well vis-vis more expected benefits in quantitative studies either. They were the result of out-of-the-box thinking and organizational risk taking.

Any brand can do this, but few do.

Let's see just how crazy we can get. Consider a financial institution brand. Let's just envision what we could do with the brand at its bank branch locations.

Simple, closer-in ideas:

  • Serve coffee
  • Provide free snacks
  • Provide a wide variety of magazines
  • Provide self-serve coin counting machines
  • Add public rest rooms

A little further out:

  • Add massage chairs
  • Feature fish aquariums in the lobby area
  • Include a fountain in the lobby area
  • Have televisions streaming the latest news and stock reports
  • Co-locate with a coffee house
  • Co-locate with a post office branch
  • Add passport services
  • Add legal services
  • Feature live music on Friday afternoons and evenings

    Really crazy ideas:

    • Sell convenience store items
    • Wash people's cars while they are inside the branch
    • Polish people's shoes while they wait
    • Produce a light show at noon each day

    Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. But it gives you an idea of what a brand could do. These are not things a bank or other financial institution would typically think about or seriously consider. And yet, one or more crazy, out-of-the-box signature items might be just what it takes to thrust the brand ahead of competing brands. And the competitors would not have seen it coming.

    While I used financial institutions as an example, this could apply to any brand in any product or service category. Consider exploring this approach for your brand. If nothing else, if will likely prove to be a fun exercise. But, at best, it might actually transform your brand into something new and extraordinary that no one had previously conceived. 

    Thursday, March 28, 2019

    Competitive Strategy 101

    One of the concepts that I recall from my Competitive Strategy course at Harvard Business School (based on Michael Porter's Competitive Strategy book) is that to win in the marketplace, you need to pursue one of the following three competitive strategies - value, focus or differentiation. That is as true today as it has ever been.

    In some categories, on some occasions and for some consumers, value is all that matters. When a purchase is not that important to us and we want to save money, we seek out value. There are many brands that deliver a good value these days. delivers value as do many other Internet brands. Ikea is all about value. H&M focuses on value, as does Walmart. Kia and Hyundai also focus on value. ALDI is known for delivering on value. And there are many no frills, low cost airlines that also focus on value. Increasingly, people shop Marshalls, Stein Mart, Tuesday Morning and T.J. Maxx for good value on name brands. 

    And then there is focus. Bass Pro Shops focus on outdoorsmen, and especially fishermen. Orvis focuses on fly fishermen. Lane Bryant focuses on plus sized women and Big & Tall focuses on men's big and tall clothing. Pilot Flying J focuses on the needs of truckers. The Aspen Skiing Company focuses on skiing, as does Vail Resorts. Varsity Spirit Corp. focuses on cheerleading and dance. 

    Finally, there is differentiation. Christian Louboutin shoes are differentiated as are Vilebriquin bathing trunks, Robert Graham shirts and Loudmouth apparel. MINI Coopers are differentiated as are Tesla automobiles. Opaque restaurants are differentiated as are Bojangles' Restaurants, Cracker Barrel restaurants and CoreLife Eateries. 

    The trick is to know when to differentiate and in what ways and for which consumers. American markets are continuing to bifurcate. That is, most of these markets are tending to go upscale or downscale with fewer options in between. That is because the middle class is shrinking at the same time that more people are becoming increasingly affluent while others are struggling more and more financially.

    Differentiation is most important in upscale markets. It is also important in categories through which consumers are making personal statements such as automobiles, home decor and clothing. 

    But the need to differentiate (versus seeking out value) can be highly situational. For instance, I may be looking for value when purchasing a pair of khaki casual pants. Whereas, I might want to make a statement with a shirt that I would wear at a party or out on the town. In the latter instance, I am looking for something highly differentiated and am willing to pay extra for that differentiation. 

    As a marketer, it is important to know what competitive strategy or strategies will work best for your brand and in what situations and with which consumers. 

    Friday, March 8, 2019

    Think Like The Customer

    I was meeting with the marketing committee of a not-for-profit organization on whose board I sit earlier today. We were discussing a major report that we intend to release to the community. The report is on a rather technical subject - river quality - and we talked about crafting frequency asked questions (FAQ) to accompany the report and press release.

    This made me think of something that all skilled marketers are able to do. That is, put themselves in the customer's shoes and think and act like the customer. This includes knowing what concerns are on the customers' minds, how they are likely to view and process different topics, where they go to get their information, what their preconceived notions are, who they are inclined to believe and what is most important to them.

    So taking the FAQ document that would accompany a river quality report card as an example, here are some of the questions that I would imagine might be asked:

    • Does this mean we can swim in the river without worrying?
    • What impact will this have on beach openings?
    • Can we eat fish that we caught from the river?
    • Should we worry if we get a mouth full of water?
    • Is the water potable, that is, is it ok for drinking?
    • When did you measure the water quality?
    • How often do you intend to measure it going forward? How often will we see updated report cards?
    • What exactly are you measuring? 
    • What are you not measuring that we should worry about?
    • What is the biggest source of pollution?
    • Who is the biggest polluter?
    • Is there anything I can do to help clean up the river?
    • How long will it be before the river is completely clean again?

    I am not going to include the complete list of potential questions. But my point is that a marketer must always try to think like the customer. What is on his or her mind? What is he or she worried about? How will he or she react to this? If you were a water quality engineer or scientist you might have come up with a different set of FAQs, but would they have addressed the community's actual questions and concerns or would they have missed the mark?

    I have noticed a similar thing in survey construction. A survey is not constructed with the respondent in mind if the most frequent answer to a list of possible responses is "other (please specify)." It means that the person who supplied the answer options really doesn't understand what is most important to the respondent. Sometimes the person who constructs the survey is so clueless that the list of options does not include anything that the respondent would choose. That becomes problematic because then the respondent has to pick something that he or she would not normally pick just to move ahead in the survey. 

    As a marketer, you must understand your customer well enough to ask the right questions, create compelling messaging, place the marketing messages in the right media and get the customer to make an actual purchase. 

    So, the bottom line is that you must think like the customer if you are to be successful as a marketer. And, while you may not be the target customer yourself, you must have done enough research and have enough empathy and insight to be able to walk in the customer's shoes anyway.

    Thursday, March 7, 2019

    Brand Reputation Management

    How should organizations measure and manage their brands' reputations? While many people suggest using something as simple as Net Promoter Score, which is a very popular measure of attitudinal loyalty, reputation metrics must include much more than that. 

    Each brand has multiple audiences, each with its own expectations for the brand, so reputation metrics need to capture how each audience perceives the brand. The audiences include not just the different customer segments, but also shareholders, employees, vendors, business partners, the communities in which they operate and the general public.

    So, the key question is, "What reputational elements are the most important for each of those groups?" Awareness is often a metric, as is preference. But perceptions of relevance, trustworthiness, quality, innovation, accessibility, responsiveness and value may also be important, as may customer service and technical support ratings. Being a good partner, collaborative, environmentally sensitive and a good corporate citizen are also possible metrics. 

    So, the first step is to understand what matters most to each audience. The next step is to translate these into specific metrics. Then you must set up a system or systems to measure each of these on a regular or even rolling basis for all of the key audiences. 

    You can also monitor social media sites, product/service rating sites and even your own customer and business partner forums to capture perceptions of the brand and especially against the chosen metrics.  And you can use online tools to monitor and analyze brand mentions. 

    Further, you can add periodic questions to your brand/business pages on Facebook and in other websites. Each question would be designed to gather data on one or more metrics. 

    I had already mentioned business partner forums. Businesses can convene specific forums to share information with customers and other business partners and can use those forums to collect brand perceptions. 

    Focus groups, surveys and other traditional research techniques, online and offline, can also be useful sources of information on reputation. Qualitative research such as focus groups, mini-groups and one-on-one depth interviews can help you probe deeply on the areas of most interest or greatest concern. Topics for in-depth exploration might include areas of vulnerability and potential threats.

    All of this information needs to be gathered by a responsible party, who aggregates, sorts, formats and reports on the findings in the form of a dashboard or scorecard. And then action should be taken based on the findings. The findings should result in objectives, goals, strategies, tactics and action plans. 

    All of this needs to be supported at the top of the organization. There needs to be real commitment to the process. 

    It is my strong recommendation that you develop brand reputation metrics that are tailored to your brand and company. The process of managing against those metrics should also be tailored to your organization's specific requirements. I wish you great success in developing a robust system of brand reputation metrics and management.

    Monday, February 18, 2019

    Will Brands Even Be Around in Ten Years?

    As a brand strategy consultant, I have ridden the upward trajectory of brands and branding for the past 20 years. In the 1980s and before, brand management was mostly practiced by consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. By the mid- to late-1990s, large companies were beginning to manage their corporate brands at an executive level. This was the timeframe during which I was put in charge of the Hallmark brand. Since then, brands and brand management has become ubiquitous. I have been called upon to brand museums, universities, trade associations and other not-for-profit organizations. I have also branded municipalities and geographic regions...and restaurants and medical practices and health care systems and medical devices and individuals. It seems that everything is branded these days. 

    And yet, there have always been prophets predicting the end of brands. Naomi Klein argued against brands (and, in particular, the consumptive environment they fuel) in her book, No Logo in the late 1990s. And many have come out since then either predicting their demise or calling for their demise. In fact, I have always wondered how long the phenomenon of branding would last. 

    So, here are my arguments for and against the end of brands.

    Arguments for the end of brands:

    • Big data analytics, automated sales funnels and individual targeting make brands far less important in the purchase decision process.
    • Product and service quality have gotten so good across the board that almost any brand will meet or exceed our needs. Therefore it doesn't matter which brand we purchase.
    • Information access provided by the Internet creates much greater brand transparency and gives consumers much more power over brands.
    • No brand lasts forever and with the rate of technological disruption, increasingly, brands will come and go in a matter of years rather than decades or centuries.
    • Because of the maturity of markets, few brands are really that different from any of their competitors.
    • Most markets have gotten so hyper-competitive that most purchase decisions are now based on price.
    • Mergers, acquisitions, venture capital (VC) takeovers and other significant changes in ownership lead to inconsistent brands that cannot be relied upon. This reduces the value of brands.

    Arguments for the end of all but a few mega-brands:
    • Very simple, Amazon, Google and Facebook will end up owning the world. No other brand will matter.

    Arguments for the continuation of brands:
    • Brands are all about relevant differentiation and unique value propositions. If your products or services do not have these, they are commodities and their sales will largely be driven by price. No one wants this.
    • While technology lowers industry entry barriers and allows for the emergence of new brands at a very rapid pace, it is only the long-term reputation of a brand that guarantees quality, service and desirable attributes. Brands are the way to break through the marketplace clutter to purchase something that you know you can rely on.
    • Brands imbue products and services with human qualities. This is the only thing that can result in emotional connection with consumers and consumers are mostly driven by their emotions. 
    • Strong brands still result in many financial and other business advantages: increased sales, market share, profitability, stock prices, shareholder value and customer loyalty, decreased price sensitivity, increased ability to charge a price premium, increased ability to attract and retain talented and motivated employees and increased bargaining power with business partners.
    • Brands can share powerful values with their customers, so much so that they can become the self-expressive vehicles for those shared values and the organizers of communities for people who share those values. This is an extremely powerful "glue." 

    As you can see, there are some arguments for brands slowing fading away and arguments that they will continue to be an important part of our world. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Friday, February 15, 2019

    How Brand Experience Can Overcome Time Constraints

    Generally, people feel two types of scarcity in their lives. They often feel as though they do not have enough money to do everything they want to do. And they often feel as though they don't have enough free time to do all that they want to do. So, the two scarce commodities are time and money.

    And it is now almost a cliche when someone responds to the question, "How are you doing?" with "I am busy, really busy." It seems to be the standard answer to that question by most people these days.

    So, how is it that some brands can make time seem to stand still for people as they interact with the brand? Have you ever interacted with a brand that seems to put you into a flow state? You lose all track of time and really don't mind it if you have spent too much time with the brand. These are the brands that create amazing experiences.

    As a brand guy, I think of almost everything as a brand or at least as being capable of being branded. So, rock brands and other musical groups are brands. Colleges and universities are brands. Cities are brands. Museums and art galleries are brands. Amusement parks are brands. Restaurants and night clubs are brands. And people are brands too. I am sure you have lost track of time when interacting with some of these brands. And I am sure you have wanted to spend more time with some of these brands.

    Convenience and accessibility have become very important to today's consumer. He or she wants everything "now." Consumers have been spoiled by everything being a click away on their smart phones. Long copy, long ads, long anything can not seem to hold people's attention anymore.

    And think about how people feel about long commutes. This is a major contributor to quality of life or lack thereof. It's hard to keep up with all of our work. We don't have enough time for our families. We don't have enough time for our hobbies. We don't have enough time to exercise. Our vacations are too short. We don't have enough time for ourselves.

    And yet, some brands seem not only to overcome this feeling of scarcity but literally to pull you into an experience for which time doesn't seem to matter.

    Not many brick and mortar retailers can compete with online retailers regarding price or selection or being open 24/7. So brick and mortar retailers must create a better experience to attract and retain customers. Von Maur department stores feature pianists playing music in the stores. Bass Pro Shops have large aquariums filled with fish.

    And let me tell you about my experience with Tesla. I love riding in the car so much (because of the quiet, high performance road handling, the acceleration, the spacious uncluttered interior, the Tesla streaming radio and the amazing sound system) that I look for excuses to get in the car and drive around. Now that I have a Tesla, I am running many more errands for my wife. "Honey, is there anything you need me to pick up while I am out?" "Where are you going?" "I don't know. Just out." To create a legitimate purpose for spending more time in the car, I have taken to driving for Uber and Lyft. It results in barely a blip in my income, but it allows me to drive around in my spare time and to share the experience with others who may not have experienced riding in a Tesla before.

    The point of this blog post is to encourage you to create a brand experience that is so desirable that people not only do not complain about it taking too much time but rather complain about not being able to spend enough time with the brand. What sort of brand is yours? One that people are too busy to interact with? Or one that people can't wait to interact with? And one, that when they do interact with it, they lose all track of time.