Friday, December 20, 2019

Thinking Like A Customer

In assessing marketing talent, there is one thing that sets hyper-successful marketers apart from everyone else - they can put themselves in their consumers' shoes and they do so all of the time. 

Designing a website? Who will use it? What are their needs? What will they be looking for? What will they notice first? What information do you want to convey to them? What do you want them to do? What language will they understand best? What is the optimal navigation path for them?

Writing copy for an email campaign? Who are you writing for? Where are they in the process of interacting with your brand? How do they feel about your brand? What do they need to know now? What will hold their attention? What do you want them to do? What next step do you want them to take?

Creating a television ad? To whom should this ad appeal? What state of mind will they be in when they are watching the ad? How familiar are they with your brand? How will you appeal to their values and their emotions? Do you know what their values are? How do you want them to respond to the ad? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do next?

Top marketers naturally think like this - not just once in awhile but all of the time. 

If you encounter a "marketer" who seldom considers the customer's perspective, don't hire him or her. If that person is a close friend, suggest that he or she might consider pursuing another career. This insight has to come naturally and it has to be active 24/7. 

I have encountered marketers who are good at graphic design or copywriting or social media but do not think in this way. At best they will be good tacticians if given enough direction. But they will never be great marketers. 

Do you want to be a great marketer? Think like your customers. Put yourself in their shoes.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Why Brands Can Seem More Scattered and Conflicted Than Humans

Humans can at times seem quite scattered or conflicted. Some can exhibit substantial mood swings. While others might seem to have multiple personalities. However, most of us are quite predictable day-to-day and over our lifetimes. 

While brands should strive for a similar level of consistency and predictability so as to seem trustworthy, often brands will have significant swings in values, behaviors and personalities. A radical example of this is Abercrombie & Fitch.

Abercrombie & Fitch was founded in 1892 as an upscale sporting goods store. In 1928 Fitch retired and sold the company to his brother-in-law James Cobb. Under Cobb, sporting guns, fishing tackle and polo, golf and tennis equipment were added to the mix. During the Great Depression, sales dropped precipitously. After that, the products were mostly sold in seasonal shops at resorts. The brand continued to struggle for years until it filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1976. Oshman's, a sporting goods retailer, purchased the brand for $1.5 million in 1978 and continued to operate it as a sporting goods store, trying different product mixes, but without success. The biggest change came in the years 1988 through 1999 when Limited Brands purchased the brand for $47 million and turned it into a trendy brand focused on teens, sex and pop culture. This was as big a pivot as ever has occurred for a brand. More changes have been made between 2000 and today and the brand has had its struggles. In 2006 CEO Mike Jeffries made a comment disparaging customers with body types not like those of Abercrombie & Fitch models. That comment came back to haunt the brand in 2013, when detractors launched the "Fitch the Homeless" Internet campaign. The campaign highlighted giving used Abercrombie & Fitch clothes to the homeless. With the advent of celebrating differences, including different body types, Abercrombie & Fitch continues to struggle with its product mix and brand positioning.

A second example of a highly schizophrenic brand personality is Volvo. In the late 1990s to mid-2000s, Volvo Car executives believed the brand position of the “ultimate safe car” for families was too limiting and began to extend the brand into the performance car segment targeted at men. Results were disappointing. When Ford bought Volvo in 1999, it pushed the brand into the crowded luxury brand market. Ten years later, sales were down 20 percent from where they were when Ford first purchased the brand. Volvo Car Corporation was then acquired by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Under this new ownership, in August 2011, Volvo Car announced a new global brand strategy—”Designed Around You,” focusing on a position of human-centric luxury cars that are safe and dependable. In November 2013, Volvo Car Corporation announced a new brand strategy designed to revive the brand in the United States after a decade of declining demand. According to Automotive News, “The new focus is on ‘Scandinavian’ design, safety, environmental leadership, and ‘clever functionality’ reflected in state of the art—yet simple— infotainment systems.” 

Both of these examples demonstrate why brands can change quite a bit. The change is usually the result of poor positioning in the midst of changing market forces leading to new ownership (or at least new leadership) that then pursues a radically new brand position. Though sometimes brand change can occur associated with a leadership or ownership change without the pressure of a poor brand positioning. 

For your information, the image at the top of this post is of a vintage Abercrombie & Fitch Leather Rhino, circa 1970s. This item is not appropriate today and has no fit with the current brand. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Marketing Automation and the Human Factor

Today, much of a marketer's work is related to digital marketing and marketing automation. Considerations include choosing the right CRM, setting up automated sales funnels and drip email campaigns, linking online databases, making sure autoresponders are working properly, creating Google ad campaigns, feeding Facebook pages with the appropriate content, making sure the website is mobile optimized, setting up meta tags and other SEO, using Google analytics and setting up other data analytics. Much of this requires the evaluation of different software solutions and the linking of different software components and plug-ins.

All of this can be quite time consuming and distracting. But where is the human element in all of this? Does the customer get to develop a relationship with your company or brand? Is there an emotional connection? Is there a human being they can call upon? Do they really feel heard?

This is why television advertising still makes sense for many brands. And this is why front line customer service is so important. People want to interact with other humans, maybe not all people and maybe not all of the time, but certainly most people and at least some of the time. Admittedly, some people prefer the convenience of using ATMs over interacting with bank tellers. But others still prefer to interact with a person even if it means waiting in line in the bank's lobby.

Yes, we want everything to be scalable and we are enticed to replace people with automation. And organizations usually want to pay the customer facing service employees as little as possible because there are so many of them and the organizations want to maximize their profits.

But where does that leave our brands and us when emotional connection is largely removed from the process and the few points of human contact are overworked and underpaid (and often undertrained)?

The sole point of this post is to encourage marketers to not undervalue television advertising, videos, personal selling, technical support, customer service and other sources of personal interaction. While Walmart no longer does this, why do you think they employed store greeters for so many years? And guess what they replaced the greeters with? Higher paid "customer hosts" with more stringent hiring criteria and expanded responsibilities.

Again, do what you need to do with marketing automation but never forget about the human touch.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

After 35 Years in the Business, My Thoughts About Marketing

Following are my stream of consciousness thoughts about marketing.

  • People have beliefs, attitudes, values, hopes, anxieties and fears. Marketers must understand these to be successful.
  • In marketing, less is almost always more. This is true of copy and visuals. 
  • The actual customer experience is the most important driver of brand perceptions.
  • Building awareness is the most important marketing activity. Communicating relevant differentiation is the most important branding activity. 
  • People make purchase decisions based on emotions, not logic. Every marketer should understand this.
  • Brands should focus on their most compelling assets, especially if they are unique.
  • Humor and entertainment can be very powerful components of marketing communication. 
  • Shared values and "brand as a badge" (self-expressive vehicle) are the two most powerful sources of brand differentiation. 
  • Related to this, many brands succeed as status symbols.
  • Customer service is a very important part of a brand's success.
  • Know customers' primary sources of information and where they are most likely to shop.
  • To a very large degree, marketing is a combination of consumer psychology and common sense.
  • The sales function is critical to successful brands. Personal relationship-building matters.
  • Sales and marketing must work together seamlessly. 
  • Build a robust but flexible brand identity system. Colors matter. So do symbols and icons. 
  • Brands can often connect with people at a sub-conscious level. 
  • Where a brand is distributed (and where it is not distributed) says a lot about the brand. Make sure your brand's distribution is consistent with its positioning. 
  • Price can be an indicator of quality. Use reference prices to create desired price perceptions. 
  • Inconsistent execution can kill a brand in the long-run. Brands must be trustworthy. 
  • It has been my observation that successful marketers tend to be entrepreneurial, opportunistic and good at ideating. They are always looking for new approaches to marketing.
  • Never forget that marketing is about relating to people and their needs and desires. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Limits of Marketing (and Customer Service) Automation

In the past few years, I have used marketing automation extensively for my own business and I have interacted with marketing automation from many other businesses. While there is the argument that marketing automation enables one to market 24/7, even when one is sleeping, there are also some cautions that should occur regarding this technology.

First, technology should not completely replace human interaction, which allows for emotional connection. If one uses technology independent of human interaction, it will be more difficult to make or close a sale and it will be virtually impossible to create customer loyalty based on that emotional connection. You must carefully integrate your marketing automation with human interaction.

Second, older people would rather talk to other people, not read FAQs, click through predetermined menus, "press one for...," fill out forms, receive auto responses, etc.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, many companies are not fully competent at designing their marketing automation systems. They don't turn off a prospect email drip campaign when the prospect turns into a customer, leading to confusing or annoying email messages. Or they present the customer with an automated cost estimate that only allows for an "accept" response with no ability to ask questions, discuss or partially accept the estimate.

I have encountered companies that have put me on multiple email streams based on how they coded me on their systems. Because of this, I am inundated with multiple email messages a day from these companies. I have also encountered a couple of companies for which "unsubscribe" only turns off one email stream, not all of them. I find that I have to repeat the "unsubscribe" request multiple times until I am actually unsubscribed from all of their email streams.

Then there are faulty executions of older automated telephone customer service approaches, which can be quite frustrating. Some systems don't mention your need in their menu of choices, forcing one or more of a few things to happen - choosing an option that may get you to the wrong person, putting you into a continuous loop of scrolling through the options again and again, or worst of all, hanging up on you. Another problem is when one system sends you to another system, for which you need to reenter your name, account number, password, PIN, telephone number or payment method.  People don't like to have to do this more than once, and the best CRM systems, if programmed correctly, can eliminate the need to do much of this even once.

Marketing automation and customer service automation are here to stay but don't overestimate their ability to make a sale for you or build your brand. And don't underestimate their potential to annoy your customers.

The best systems are carefully constructed with sophisticated filters, triggers and decision logic. And they provide for human interaction at critical points throughout the process. I have encountered too many systems that are poorly constructed, with the potential to damage the brands they were designed to help.

So be very careful when designing your marketing and customer service automation systems. They are useful tools but need to be carefully designed.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Brand Switching

"62% of consumers who switched brand in the past 12 months did so because brands successfully attracted them, rather than bad customer experience pushing them away.
61% of consumers switched brand at least once in the last year, with automotive (70%) and supermarkets (68%) showing the highest percentage of customers willing to switch brands due to the lure of new opportunities.
Only banking found previous poor customer experience to be an equally decisive factor for the switch, where it was a 50-50 split.
Consumers see a brand being ‘genuine’ as more important in encouraging them to try a startup versus an existing brand they haven’t tried before (31% vs 17%). ‘Innovativeness’ (25% vs 20%) is also important, as well as ‘reflecting a consumer’s values’ (17% vs 13%)."
Source: MarketingWeek Monday, September 30, 2019 email 
Data source: Data & Marketing Association (DMA)
So authenticity, innovation and shared values are brand attributes that can lead to new brand trial and brand switching behavior. And, per previous research, high customer satisfaction does not guarantee customer loyalty. In fact, in categories in which customer satisfaction is high across most or all brands, loyalty is diminished.
For other thoughts on brand loyalty, authenticity, innovation and shared values consider these blog posts:



Shared Values:

Other reasons why customers may switch brands:
  • Customer service is poor or lacking
  • The brand does not deliver at least an adequate value for the price
  • You do not have an adequate understanding of the customer and his or her needs
  • Your brand is resting on its laurels, it is no longer exciting, it is not keeping up with the competition
  • Your brand is not readily available or accessible compared to other brands
  • Another brand offers a free trial and delivers a better value proposition
  • A superior disruptive brand enters the market
  • Your brand has not established sufficient emotional connection with its customers

We recommend that clients constantly measure their customers' attitudinal loyalty and emotional connection to the brand. Our BrandInsistence brand equity measurement system measures attitudinal loyalty and increasing degrees of emotional connection. Even small statistically significant changes can be bellwethers for potential problems. But know that no amount of measured satisfaction or loyalty can guarantee that brand switching won't occur.  

Friday, September 13, 2019

Historical Brands in America

John Jacob Bausch & Henry Lomb

I recently purchased The Branding of America book by Robert Hambleton at an art gallery used book sale. One of the things that I immediately found fascinating (though not surprising in retrospect) is that most of the earlier brands in America were named after the people who founded the brands versus using coined or associative descriptive names, which is a much more common approach in contemporary branding.

Here are some examples:

  • Colgate: William Colgate
  • Levi Strauss: Levi Strauss
  • Borden's: Gail Borden
  • Steinway: Heinrich Engelhard Steinway
  • Campbell's: Joseph Campbell
  • Heinz: Henry John Heinz
  • Bissell: Melville Reuben Bissell
  • Gillette: King Camp Gillette
  • Kraft: James Lewis Kraft
  • Maytag: Frederick Lewis Maytag
  • Schick: Jacob Schick
  • Bausch & Lomb: John Jacob Bausch & Henry Lomb
  • Westinghouse: George Westinghouse
  • Johnson & Johnson: Robert Wood Johnson & James Johnson
  • Dow: Herbert Henry Dow
  • Ferris Wheel: George Washington Gale Ferris
  • McCormick: Cyrus Hall McCormick
  • John Deere: John Deere
  • Yale: Linus Yale
  • Otis: Elisha Graves Otis
  • Crane: Richard Teller Crane
  • Pitney-Bowes: Arthur H. Pitney & Walter Bowes
  • Remington: Eliphalet Remington
  • Colt: Samuel Colt
  • Smith & Wesson: Horace Smith & David Baird Wesson
  • Winchester: Oliver Fisher Winchester
  • Studebaker: The Studebaker brothers
  • Buick: David Buick
  • Packard: James Ward Packard & William D. Packard
  • Ford: Henry Ford
  • Chevrolet: Louis Chevrolet
  • Chrysler: Walter Percy Chrysler
  • Pabst: Frederick Pabst
  • Saks: Horace A. Saks
  • RJ Reynolds: Richard Joshua Reynolds
  • Spalding: Albert G. Spalding
  • J. Walter Thompson: James Walter Thompson
  • Woolworth: Frank Winfield Woolworth
  • Sears: Richard W. Sears
  • Dow Jones: Charles Henry Dow & Edward C. Jones
  • Wrigley: William Wrigley Jr. 
  • Elizabeth Arden: Elizabeth Arden
  • Kresge: Sabastian Spering Kresge
  • Orvis: Charles F. Orvis

As an outlier, George Eastman named his company Eastman Kodak Company in 1892. The word Kodak was registered as a trademark in 1888. George Eastman said, "I devised the name myself. The letter 'K' had been a favorite with me - it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter. It became a question of trying out a great number of combinations of letters that made words starting and ending with a 'K.' The word "Kodak" is the result." The coined name 'Kodak' became the brand. 

Compare all of these brands with some of today's entrepreneurs and their brand's names:
  • Microsoft: Bill Gates
  • Amazon: Jeff Bezos
  • Patagonia: Yvon Chouinard
  • IKEA: Ingvar Kamprad
  • Virgin: Richard Branson
  • Starbucks: Howard Schulz
  • Tesla: Elon Musk
  • Google: Larry Page & Sergey Brin
  • Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg
  • Yahoo!: Jerry Yang & David Filo
  • Lululemon: Chip Wilson
  • Airbnb: Joe Gebbia & Brian Chesky
  • Uber: Travi Kalanick

It is interesting how entrepreneurs have largely moved away from naming brands after themselves to creating coined, associative descriptive or fanciful names. This is an example of how branding has evolved over time. 

PS - One modern outlier is Donald Trump, who brands all of his businesses with his last name. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Cognitive Distortions & Marketing

I think everyone should learn about the most common cognitive distortions (or thinking errors) as we are all subject to them. Importantly, I have increasingly witnessed political campaigns playing to many of these errors to achieve their intended ends. I believe this is highly unethical. But understanding what these errors are will help you understand how people (including you) can be and are being manipulated. And, as I am sure you know, politicians aren't the only ones playing to these errors. Anyone who is trying to sell you something has a tendency to do this if he or she knows about these errors and is less than completely ethical.

Here are some of the most common errors:

  • Anchoring bias - you are over reliant on the first piece of information that you see or on the first belief to which you were exposed
  • Conservatism bias - you tend to favor prior evidence or thinking over new evidence or thinking, causing you to be slow to change
  • Confirmation bias - only seeing those things that confirm your preconceived notions, including any prejudices or other biases 
  • Choice-supportive bias - when you have chosen something, you tend to feel more positive about that thing
  • Dunning-Kruger effect - people of low ability have illusionary superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability to be greater than it is
  • Overconfidence - this is a variation of the Dunning-Kruger effect that might appear in people of any cognitive ability level
  • Availability heuristic - you overestimate the importance of the information that is available to you over other information that is not
  • Filtering (or selective perception) - seeing only what you want to see while filtering out the rest
  • Clustering illusion - seeing what you want to see in random patterns or events
  • Polarized (or black & white) thinking - if it is not this, then it must be that - there is no room for gray areas, complexity or nuance
  • Negative bias - you tend to believe in and respond more to the negative than the positive, related to this, you act more out of fear than hope or vision
  • Overgeneralization - making generalized conclusions based on one or a very few data points
  • Jumping to conclusions - making a snap judgement before all of the facts are in - deciding on the outcome prior to the analysis
  • Magnifying or minimizing the scale of an event or problem - blowing it out of proportion or significantly downplaying it
  • Oversimplifying - taking something complex and simplifying it to the degree that it cannot be properly understood or addressed
  • Bandwagon effect - this is a form of groupthink in which you are more confident in a position that a large number of people seem to share
  • Fundamental attribution error - you overemphasize your personal uniqueness
  • Always being right - assuming that you are always right and that anyone who disagrees with you must be wrong
  • Projection bias - you think people think like you, agree with you and support your point of view whether they do or not
  • Labeling - you might label something to make it look bad, argue against it or lump it with others in a larger group - you might also mislabel something
  • Emotional reasoning - making decisions based on how you feel rather than objective reality
  • Personalizing - taking everything personally, holding yourself personally responsible for something that was not completely within your control
  • Blaming - this is the opposite of personalizing - with this error, you do not take personal responsibility; rather you point the finger at others
  • Fallacy of change - thinking that others need to change for you to be happy
  • Confusing correlation with causation - just because two things appear to be correlated does not mean that one caused the other
  • Framing effect - you accept or reject something based on how it was framed
  • Context effect - for instance, luxury items only advertised in upscale magazines and sold in upscale retail outlets are perceived to be of higher quality
  • Taking something out of context - without context, something might be interpreted completely differently
  • Observing just a portion of the whole - you might observe data points that contradict the general trend, for instance, if you choose a different shorter or more limited timeframe
  • Placebo effect - believing that something will have a specific effect often causes it to have that effect
  • Authority bias - you tend to follow people in authority rather than your own conscience - you chose authority over your own decisions
  • Illusory truth effect (or reiteration effect) - the more something is repeated, the more you think it is true even if it isn't
  • Scarcity effect - the more scarce you think something is, the more you want it - this applies to exclusivity
  • Recency - tending to weigh the more recent information more heavily
  • Zero-risk (or loss aversion) bias - you would rather avoid any risk even if slight risk would result in a large reward
  • Pro-innovation bias - getting overly excited about anything new
  • Action bias - you prefer action over anything else even if the action is ill-conceived and dangerous or dysfunctional
  • Decoy effect - often marketers feature one or more items at a very high price (or a much poorer value) to make the other higher priced (or better value) items seem more reasonable
  • The choice paradox - the more choices you have the more anxious you feel

I could provide an example of how each of these cognitive errors was used in sales, marketing, persuasion or manipulation, but I will provide just five examples and leave it to you to think about how the others can be and are being used in this way.
  • Emotional reasoning - consider pharmaceutical advertisements in which there is an emotionally appealing scene of two lovers strolling through a field of wildflowers while the company is quickly mentioning the possible negative side effects of the drug
  • Labeling - consider the way our current US president labels his enemies as a way to make them seem less desirable 
  • Framing effect - this is what almost every public relations firm specializes in - marketing copywriters are also expert at this
  • Decoy effect - this is why many realtors show house hunters the highest priced, poorest value house first
  • Scarcity (or exclusivity) effect (and context effect) - this explains while luxury brands such as Vilebrequin limit their distribution to only a small number of upscale shopping centers in carefully targeted upscale markets

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Listen First, Talk Later

You may have heard the statement, "That is why God gave you two ears and only one mouth, to listen twice as much as you speak." Listening more than you speak is good advice for any human being, but especially so for salespeople and marketers.

A marketer that has not asked open-ended response questions of customers and potential customers in depth interviews, focus groups and other qualitative research forums is at an extreme disadvantage. I even load my quantitative research instruments up with those types of questions. And a salesperson who sticks to the selling script and makes sure he hits on all of the qualifying questions without first building rapport and trying to understand the customer's hopes, fears, needs and desires is an ineffective salesperson.

I recently read an article that indicated that most people listen to formulate their response rather than to understand.

If I have said this once, I have said it thousands of times - a brand personifies an organization and its products and services. In this way, it is able to build an emotional connection with its audiences. Emotional connection starts with rapport building. It grows with understanding, deep understanding. I counsel marketers that they should know their customers' beliefs, attitudes, values, hopes, fears, anxieties, needs and desires. Further, they should know where these customers go for information and advice about the brand's product or service category. Frankly, they should also know something about the customer's personal life. I often ask the question, "What keeps you up at night?"

Listen first and speak later. And when the customer is on a roll, follow that line of thought. Did you know that people who do more listening than talking are more likable than people who do more talking than listening? Everyone wants to be heard. And one cannot be heard if you are too busy talking.

I was recently in a very high end men's clothing store. I was interested in purchasing a variety of items. But the salesperson, rather that watching me to see what I gravitated toward, kept on leading me to items and styles in which I had no interest. When I did not respond positively to his direction, he only tried harder. I did not buy anything from that store that day. My wife was with me and encouraged me to stay and try on the items in which I was interested. I respectfully declined to do so. I had to get out of there because the salesperson was annoying me to the point of complete frustration.

A good salesperson or marketer has a sense of what motivates people, why they act the way they do, when they are displaying buying signals and when they are signaling that they are annoyed, bored or angry. Being able to read body language is also a plus in this profession. But the most important thing is ask the right questions and then to carefully listen to the responses to those questions, including the nonverbal responses.

My client proposals have a very high acceptance rate. Why? Because when I am on a sales call, I ask the right questions to best understand the person's pain points, what he wants to accomplish and what he would consider to be a win. And then I feed that understanding back to him along with my recommended approach based on his very specific needs. People have used different words to describe this process including consultative selling and strategic selling. What is is not is transactional selling.

The bottom line: Listen to your customers before you say anything to them. You have two ears and one mouth.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Bulletproof Process to Reposition Your Brand

Over the past twenty-one years, BrandForward has successfully repositioned more than 200 brands in almost every product and service category. We have worked with start-ups, Fortune 100 companies, B2B companies, B2C companies, not-for-profit organizations, colleges and universities, financial institutions, health care systems, trade associations, municipalities and more.

Throughout that time, we have refined a proven process to successfully reposition brands to be unique, emotionally compelling and believable. And we have worked with many brands to transform them into "category of one" brands.

We have differentiated brands in commodity categories and built strong emotional appeal into brands that had previously differentiated themselves based solely on functional attributes. We have created brand positions that work across a wide array of product and service categories, rebranded merged entities and connected brand positions to marketing campaigns.

This brand positioning process normally costs tens of thousands of dollars. Today, I am offering you an online version of this process for only $275. This is inconsequential compared to most brand marketing budgets. And to sweeten the deal, I will give you a signed copy of my best-selling Brand Aid book ($29.95 value) and three hours of my consulting time ($1,000 value) for free. I think you will agree with me that the ROI for this small investment is exceedingly large.

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Friday, August 30, 2019

Beware of Asking Too Much of Marketing Copy

I have witnessed executives asking for a single communication to do too much. "I would like this communication to build awareness and initiate a purchase." "I would like this to speak directly to our customers, prospects and employees." "I want this communication to prompt them to give us their name and contact information and purchase our special offer." "This communication should get prospects interested in us and educate our customers." "This communication should introduce them to our brand and describe all of our products and services in detail."

Less is more. And, just as importantly, one needs to know what specific thought or action the communication is being optimized to achieve, and with whom.

Yes, one can use marketing vehicles and communications to achieve different actions in a multi-step sales or marketing process. But in that process, the first communication's objective might be as simple as making a prospect aware of your brand. Or it might be to help people understand your brand's unique value proposition. Another might be to establish your brand's credibility or thought leadership. Or perhaps it is designed to encourage a click-through from a social media platform. Yet another message might be designed to get someone to enter his or her name and email address. Or the purpose of a communication might be to get someone to watch a video. Another might be to get someone to sign up for a discussion with a salesperson. One of the final steps is usually to initiate a purchase. Most sales processes are multi-step processes. The appropriate marketing communication must be matched with each step.

In other scenarios, the objective of the communication might be to get someone to stop by your trade show booth or drop a business card in a raffle bowl. Or it might be to invite someone to a product demonstration or other event.

It is hugely suboptimal to try to get a single communication to achieve multiple ends. When this is tried, it usually achieves no end well. It is ineffective. So when you are designing a marketing message or writing its copy, make sure you are very clear on the objective (singular, not plural). And the objective shouldn't have multiple parts either. If each communication is written well with one objective in mind, it should achieve its goal and move people through the sales process.

Think twice and then push back if you are being asked to write copy to achieve multiple ends, and especially with multiple audiences. If you don't you might end up with something that doesn't achieve any particular objective well.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Everything is Fantasy

I am writing this from my Adirondack home where it occurred to me that most everything is fantasy. Here is what I mean by that. I have enjoyed decorating my log home with a wide variety of pieces that I have found from Adirondack rustic furniture and decor stores. My house is chock-a-block with black bear, moose, loon, trout, fly fishing, canoe and pine tree motifs. The furniture is mostly hand-crafted from wood and leather and everything from paintings, sculptures, lamps, placemats, towels, wall hooks and switch plates feature the Adirondack rustic look and feel. I have created a fantasy for myself and for the people to whom I rent the house when I am not here. One could build a normal house in the Adirondack Mountains, but most do not. And one could rent a normal house in the Adirondacks, but most do not.

This is not the only example of creating fantasy. Some people buy automobiles to reinforce a certain attitude, feeling or lifestyle. We often do the same with our dress. Are we powerful business executives, laid back beach bums, professorial types, rebels without a cause or something else?

Restaurants have themes. When I was in Moscow, I encountered restaurants with the most elaborate ethnic themes played out in costume, decor, menu items and even musical instruments. Japan has a lot of themed restaurants including one very questionable restaurant based on a toilet theme and another based on an Alcatraz prison hospital theme.

Harley-Davidson promises the feeling of complete freedom on the road and the comradeship of kindred spirits. I worked with a client who ran branded private campground resorts. They were designed to feel like exclusive private country clubs.

When you think about it, we all create personas for ourselves. We want to be perceived in a certain way and fit into a certain group. Some people love Walmart, others love Target but would never step foot in a Walmart store. Some Target fans pronounce Target as "Tar-J" to reinforce its more upscale feel to Walmart. While others would laugh at the "Tar-J" label and not step foot in either store. They feel more at home in stores such as Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue or Bergdorf Goodman.

Beyond, food, water and shelter, we begin to think about things such as friends, camaraderie, social status, who we are or who we want to be and how we fit into the world. All of these play well into choosing the "right" personas and interacting with the brands that reinforce who we believe we are or who we want to be.

So as much as some brands may cringe at the thought of having something in common with Walt Disney World or Las Vegas, all brands are building a little bit of that fantasy into themselves because people enjoy creating and responding to fantasy, especially as it helps them define who they are and what they love.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Secret Ingredient - Caring About People

Most markets are populated with mature brands that struggle to maintain differentiation because it is easy for competitors to match any function, feature or service that is of value to customers. Most sources of differentiation don't last that long anymore. They quickly become "cost of entry" benefits.

But in working with more than 200 brands across a wide variety of categories I have discovered one differentiator that is difficult to identify and even more difficult to copy - genuinely caring about people. I have worked with several brands that have this as a differentiator. It works in every category that I have witnessed and it is real. These brands' customers will tell you how important it is to them to interact with people who really care. Friendliness, empathy and genuine concern are difficult to fake. And frankly, while leaders can intentionally design organizations to develop and nurture caring cultures, I have also found that organizations with those cultures tend to be clustered in specific metropolitan areas. I have been tempted to tell the economic development arms of those cities to add friendly, caring employees to their lists of regional strengths.

And as people become satiated with physical "things," the only thing left to sell them are services and experiences. Services and experiences are largely dependent on human interaction for their delivery. Again, caring employees matter.

Here are some of the employee attributes that contribute to a truly caring customer experience:

  • Genuine concern for others - narcissists need not apply
  • Good listening skills
  • Empathy
  • Intuition about human needs and emotions
  • Willingness to slow down and spend time with others
  • The ability to accurately read body language
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Emotional maturity
  • The strong desire to truly serve others
  • High acceptance of self and others
  • Meeting each person where he or she is without judgment
  • "Thick skin"
  • A positive attitude
  • A sense of humor

I have witnessed first hand how this differentiator directly results in increased market share, customer retention and profitability. This is a differentiator well worth exploring in this era of hyper-competition.  Good luck in pursuing caring, compassionate employees.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Sharing Your Brand's Values Through Storytelling

Sharing a set of values with customers is one of a brand's most important sources of emotional connection with its customers. I have written before about brands that do this well.

There are a variety of ways to communicate those values, but one powerful way is through brand storytelling, especially if the story is about the founder's vision or legacy. Often, this is found in the "Our Story" section of the "About Us" section on websites.

Here are some good examples of that:

I hope these examples help you think through how you might tell an emotionally compelling story about your brand highlighting its origins and its values. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Focusing on the Why

Another common error in marketing communication is focusing on the product or service description including its functions and features rather than focusing on the end customer benefit, the why. People will read further once you have gotten their attention. And you get their attention by speaking to one of their desires, fears or problems. Only after you have captured their attention in that way can you begin to talk about your solution to their problem.

Always begin by speaking to the customer's desires, fears or needs:

  • Saving you time
  • Saving you money
  • Making life easier
  • Simplifying your life
  • Reducing your stress
  • Keeping you safe
  • Increasing your comfort
  • Entertaining you
  • Strengthening your reputation
  • Getting you out of a bind
  • Solving a difficult problem

When writing marketing copy, always think from the customer's perspective, not your own. Further, organize the information from the customer's perspective, not your own. Often, internal departments, divisions, categories, programs or even product groupings do not make sense to the customer. Organize what you are saying into the categories that the customer understands. 

The bottom line is that you need to emphasize emotional, experiential and self-expressive customer benefits rather than product functions, features or attributes. Only address the latter (product attributes) when they can be used as proof points for how you will deliver the former (customer benefits). 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Less is More

A common mistake inexperienced marketers make is to cram too much information into marketing copy. I have seen this manifested in several ways:

  • Too much copy on PowerPoint slides - often full screen visuals with no copy are the most effective
  • Too much copy on product packaging, especially for products that are displayed at point of purchase
  • Too much copy in brochures and other collateral materials
  • Too much copy on outdoor advertising - consider how much a driver can read in one second or less
  • Websites cluttered with copy, visuals and click through buttons

Research has shown that the more information that is shared, the less people remember any of it. Always ask these two questions: (1) What are the one or two messages that we are trying to convey with this communication vehicle? (2) How can we communicate each of these in five words or less?

And if you are trying to make memorable points, think of doing it in lists of three things, each with its own bullet. It would be best if each thing was communicated with three words or less. And it is very powerful if each thing is communicated with one very simple and precise word.  It is an added bonus if all three words start with the same letter, creating an alliteration. But don't force the alliteration by choosing words that don't exactly convey each of the three concepts. 

Related to this, I find simple infographics are powerful communication sources. I like using triangles with three messages, five pointed stars with five messages or the intersection of three circles (a Venn diagram) symbolizing the combined power of three intersecting things. 

We are now living at a time in which people think in sound bites and communicate in Tweets. You may be offering a complex product or solution, but it is still up to you to break the message down into simple consumable parts. Think about what simple message needs to be conveyed at each step in the marketing process and then convey that and no more.

And remember, marketing copy is not about sounding smart. It is about communicating clearly. 

To paraphrase French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, "If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter." Take the time to write shorter marketing copy.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Brand Visual Style

Part of a brand's identity system is its visual style. So what are the components of its visual style? Here is my list:

  • Color palette
  • Typefaces and graphic styles
  • Types of images used (size, shape, subject matter, feeling, illustrations vs. photography, medium, special effects) 
  • Graphic symbols
  • Shapes
  • Texture
  • Distinctive patterns
  • Form
  • Layout and horizontal vs. vertical blocking 
  • Use of lines or borders
  • Sharp vs. soft edges
  • Value and contrast
  • Shading
  • Use of white space
  • Spacial relationship between elements

I recommend the following books for brand identity development: 

Brand Voice

Your brand's voice is comprised of its tone and its word choice among other components. Together with your brand's archetype, personality and visual style, your brand's voice helps you to personify your brand. 

Any or all of these might be components of your brand's voice:
  • Tone
  • Accent (socio-economic, regional or foreign)
  • Young or mature
  • Vocabulary (frequently used words and phrases and never used words and phrases, grade level of vocabulary)
  • Syntax - the structure of the words and other linguistic elements
  • Verbose versus concise (length of sentences, use of parenthetical phrases)
  • Use of slang, jargon or buzz phrases
  • Use of analogies, metaphors and other figures of speech
  • Coining a new phrase unique to the brand
  • Sense of humor
  • Sonic qualities (including volume, pitch, male versus female)
  • Tempo and cadence (lilting?)

When thinking about different brand voices, consider Faulkner versus Steinbeck. Or Alister Cooke (Masterpiece Theatre) versus Tom Bodett (Motel 6: "We'll leave the light on for you."). Consider GEICO's gecko or Ernie the pistachio-loving elephant. Or even consider Columbo the unassuming but shrewd homicide detective with seemingly incoherent circumstantial speech in the television series of the same name.

The following are different tones of voice that you might consider:
  • Friendly
  • Sincere
  • Accessible
  • Authoritative
  • Sophisticated
  • Professional
  • Erudite
  • Informative
  • Wise
  • Lively
  • Energetic
  • Laid back
  • Folksy or "down home"
  • "Every man" or "every woman"
  • Cute
  • Quirky
  • Soothing
  • Soft spoken
  • Nurturing
  • Aspirational
  • Upbeat or optimistic
  • Uplifting
  • Passionate
  • Self-depreciating
  • Terse
  • Poetic

And following are different tones of voice that you probably want to avoid:
  • Arrogant
  • Pompous
  • Sophomoric
  • Pedantic
  • Ignorant
  • Clueless
  • Distracted
  • Self-absorbed
  • Mean-spirited
  • Uncouth
  • Impatient
  • Ditzy

Sometimes, it is easiest to point to a well-known personality who embodies what you want your brand's voice to be. Perhaps you would use that person as a brand spokesperson or at least as a shorthand for what you want your brand's voice to be.

If you do not have one marketing agency presenting your brand across all media, you should consider  including a detailed description of brand voice as a part of your brand positioning statement. This may include a brand voice dictionary of frequently used words and phrases.

The more you are able to personify your brand in a unique and highly compelling way by defining its archetype, personality, voice and visual style, the more your brand will come to life as if it were a person. If you need more help in this endeavor, contact us about our brand voice (and visual style) worksheet(s). Good luck.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Brands and Habits


  1. A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition
  2. An established disposition of the mind or character
  3. Customary manner or practice
  4. An addiction, especially to a narcotic drug
We all have habits. For instance, we order the same menu item every time we go to a specific restaurant. Or we purchase the same brand of soda pop. Or we start our day with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. Or we go to the gym and work out every morning. 

Some of our brands are habits for people. For instance, someone may smoke a pack of Marlboro Reds every day. Or maybe someone stops at Dunkin' Donuts every morning on the way to work. Or perhaps someone only goes to Hallmark stores to purchase her greeting cards. Someone may have a favorite peanut butter brand or a favorite brand of toilet paper, which she faithfully and habitually buys. Or maybe someone pours himself a shot glass of Tito's vodka after arriving home from work every evening.

Some brands have tried to increase sales by suggesting that their brands could be incorporated into daily rituals. A food brand might try to incorporate its use into the morning breakfast ritual. Other brands might try to incorporate their use into family picnics, happy hours, Thanksgiving celebrations or graduations. 

I recently interacted with an organization whose 9 month reconstruction project would create a brand interaction hiatus for that long. The organization is a cultural institution and the audience is composed of cinephiles. I suggested an ideation session to identify ways to engage the audience in similar brand-related habits until the theatre reopened with teasers to create anticipation of the reopening. 

For a while, Starbucks was encouraging its morning customers to purchase a second drink in the afternoon via a price discount offered on their register receipts.

If your brand interaction is habitual, congratulations. Focus on reinforcing that habit and be careful not to do anything that could break the habit. If your brand interaction is not habitual, consider how you can make it so. Habitual behaviors tied to brands create regular guaranteed frequent repurchases of the brands. 

As a side note, I would strongly encourage the establishment of healthy brand habits, such as working out at an LA Fitness club every morning, using a Waterpik water flosser every night or hiking with Merrell hiking boots every Saturday over more health damaging brand habits. 

To learn more about the ten habits of Starbucks drinkers featured in the image above, click here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Most Important Qualities for Brands

I have posted one or two articles on the brand personality attributes that organizations most often choose for their brands. In this article, I will share the qualities that I believe are most important for brands to possess. I am basing this on the qualities that people seek most in others. I think this is highly relevant because brands are the personifications of organizations and their products and services. By definition, brands take on and express human qualities. So why shouldn't brands take on the qualities that people admire the most in themselves and other people? 

Let's get started. Here are the qualities people most often mention that they look for in friends:
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Dependable
  • Empathetic
  • Non-judgmental
  • Forgiving
  • A good listener
  • Generous
  • Sense of humor
  • Fun to be around
And here are the qualities that they seek out in life partners:
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Sense of humor
  • Reliable
  • Fun to be around
  • Shared values
  • Compatibility
  • Mutual respect
  • Forgiving
  • Intelligent
  • Hard working
Here are the qualities people seek out in leaders:
  • Honest
  • Possessing integrity
  • Confidence
  • Positive attitude
  • Inspirational
  • Accountable/takes responsibility
  • Creative/innovative
  • Empathetic
  • Sense of humor
  • A good listener
  • Decisive
Here are why people love dogs and sometimes prefer them to other people (ok, I know dogs are not people):
  • Affectionate
  • Loyal
  • Uncritical/don't judge
  • Unconditional love
  • Exercise partner
  • Reliable
  • No hidden motives
And here are the qualities that people seek for themselves:
  • Being a good person
  • Competent
  • Respected
  • Wise
  • Smart
  • Trustworthy
  • Kind
  • Loyal
  • Helpful
  • Compassionate
Do you notice similarities between these lists? Here are the qualities that they have in common:
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Dependable
  • Sense of humor
  • Fun to be around
  • A good listener
  • Empathetic
  • Kind/generous
  • Non-judgmental 
  • Forgiving
As you are thinking about a persona for your brand, consider these qualities. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Ten Ways to Successfully Position Your Brand in Overcrowded Markets

Today, brand managers are increasingly at a loss about how to differentiate their brands. In most product and service categories, every unique and purchase motivating position has been claimed by one or more brands. Product and service categories have matured, brand research has gotten sophisticated and competitors have successfully filled all of the brand positioning niches. So what is a brand manager to do to discover a new unique and compelling brand position?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Identify, create and own a new "category of one." The Strong National Museum of Play did this by repositioning its brand from a children's museum to the only museum of play. 
  2. Through qualitative research, discover one or more compromises all of the brands in the category are making with their consumers and then design a business model and brand to overcome these compromises. CarMax did this vis-a-vis traditional used car dealerships and Uber did this vis-a-vis traditional taxicab companies. 
  3. Choose a valued benefit that has never been a part of the category. Apple did this with the introduction of smartphone apps. Southwest Airlines did this by owning "fun."
  4. Add an element to the brand that no other competitor in the category has added. Opaque did this. It introduced the concept of dining in the dark. 
  5. Make an outrageous version of a traditional product. Check out Loudmouth Golf for wild clothes. 
  6. Combine two or more products into one or two or more functions into one product. Victorinox Swiss Army was one of the first to do this with its knives. 
  7. Focus on a niche market or on one market segment. Orvis and lululemon do this, as does Lane Bryant. 
  8. Create a character that gives the brand a distinctive personality. Kellogg's Tony the Tiger was one of the first, but GEICO's gecko,  Progressive Insurance's Flo and Jamie and Pistachio's elephant, Ernie are also examples of this. 
  9. Go left when everyone else is going right. Naomi Klein did this with her No Logo book when everyone else was writing about the power of brands.
  10. Use a new material or technology that no one else is using. SmartSolve has created environmentally friendly dissolving paper, pouches, labels, thread, tape and adhesive. 
What do all of these approaches have in common? Out-of-the-box thinking.  None of these brands would have become what they became if their managers had applied linear or incremental thinking. 

If you are interested in this topic, here are some other blog posts that might be of interest to you:

By the way, the Interceptor vehicle pictured above is a car, boat, plane and helicopter all in one, applying idea #6 above.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Identifying Target Customers

Identifying and describing the target customer should always the first step in any brand positioning process. If you don't know who your customer is, how can you successfully position the brand? In our brand positioning workshops, we usually get people to identify the primary, secondary and tertiary customer targets. Sometimes, they describe the current customer and then describe who they want the future customer to be. We encourage them to be as specific as possible when defining the target customer. We want them to describe the target's "bulls-eye," that is, the customer who is the most advantageous to the brand. We have found that if you successfully define the "bulls-eye," people on the outer rings will also be interested in your brand. Often we phrase the target customer definition this way - "[Description], but especially [more detailed description]."

As real-life examples of the level of specificity that we are seeking, consider these definitions of primary customers for two different wealth management firms that we have helped brand.

  • Successful entrepreneurs with at least $1,000,000 to invest who feel as though they have not been adequately recognized for their accomplishments
  • Retired people with fixed incomes and at least $250,000 to invest who have experienced major market losses or are afraid of major market losses and and not sure their savings will last their lifetimes

Sometimes we are asked if one should focus on the direct customer or the end consumer. Our answer is almost always, the end consumer. Because, if the end consumer is not interested in your brand, your direct customer will likely also lose interest in the brand.

People sometimes ask about the difference between target customers and target audiences. There is a significant overlap between these two groups but customers almost always purchase something from your brand, while audiences may be customers or they may be influencers, regulators, vendors, strategic partners or other stakeholders. 

To indicate how complicated target customer descriptions can be, I will choose two examples, a research university and a municipality. 

Research University Brand Targets 
  • Potential students
  • Parents of potential students
  • High School guidance counselors
  • College guides
  • Alumni
  • Friends
  • Employers (firms recruiting students for jobs)
  • Current students
  • Faculty
  • Administrators
  • Staff
  • Potential faculty, administrators and staff
  • Federal, state and local governments
  • Private and public sources of research funds
  • Accreditation bodies
  • Peer institutions
  • If the university includes a medical school - physicians, nurses, other hospital staff, patients, potential patients
  • The community in which the university is located

Municipality Brand Targets

  • Current and potential residents
  • Current and potential businesses
  • Specific industries
  • Business leaders
  • Cultural institution leaders
  • Travel writers
  • Meeting and event planners
  • Event producers, including sports event producers
  • Tour companies
  • Professional associations
  • People living within a certain radius of the municipality 

And none of this addresses market segmentation, another important part of customer targeting. For more information on market segmentation, consider these blog posts:

And for another post on defining target markets, click here.

Not very often, but every once in a while, I will hear someone say "Our target audience is everyone," or "Our target audience is all adult women." Both of these are much too broad to be meaningful or to offer any direction.