Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Projective Research Techniques

Projective techniques overcome some of the limitations of direct questioning. Here is why:

  • People are not always conscious of their underlying motivations.
  • People tell you what they think you want to hear.
  • People are sometimes embarrassed to admit their real motivations, thinking that divulging them would reflect negatively on them.
  • Most people think of themselves as being completely rational in their decision making, so they discount or dismiss non-rational reasons for their behaviors.
  • Some people fear how marketers might use the information “if they were to learn the truth about me,” and so they withhold that information to avoid being manipulated.

Projective techniques can help you better understand brand personality. For instance, consider this question: “If the brand was an animal/car/person/sports team/occupation, what animal/car/person/sports team/occupation would it be—and why?” A particularly powerful version of this question is “If this brand were a party, what kind of party would it be and why?” One can then probe on venue, music, food, drinks, people attending, what they are wearing and vehicles they drove to the party providing deep insight into brand personality.

There are other projective research techniques that help you get below the surface. They include:

  • Sentence completion
  • Consumer letters
  • Word association
  • Brand time capsule
  • Collages
  • Stereotypes
  • Brand obituary/epitaph
  • Thought balloons
  • Brand press release/headline
  • Psychodrawing/modeling
  • Brand sorting (on a wide variety of dimensions)
  • Role-playing and reenactment

I also have used the technique of providing participants with numerous pictures of a wide variety of people in a wide variety of settings. I then ask which of those people would buy, receive as a gift, and use the brand, and which wouldn’t. I then ask people to explain their answers.

Another technique explores perceived differences between brands. Ask people to sort products (competitors’ products and your products intermixed) into two piles—the “brand in question” and “not the brand in question.” (One version of this method disguises the brand mark; the other one doesn’t.) Once all of the products have been sorted, probe why people thought the product either was or wasn’t the brand in question. (If this exercise is done in focus groups, ask participants to write their answers down first so that they are not biased by each other’s answers. Collect all of the answer sheets and compare the written responses to the group discussion.)

(c) 2014 by Brad VanAuken, excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition

To pre-order your copy of Brand Aid, click here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Qualitative Research Leads to Emotionally Compelling Brands

Some brand managers with whom I talk are still are thinking in terms of product functions and features as the brand’s primary point of difference. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to have unique or superior product features. It is also important to offer exceptional customer service. But functionality, even unique functionality, only goes so far when creating highly compelling brands. In making decisions, people are primarily driven by their emotions. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in psychology, social science and marketing studies.  Emotions are usually driven by factors much more invisible than product functions and features. This is where qualitative research comes into play. 

Qualitative research can uncover deep emotional drivers. It can uncover self-esteem issues, paths to self-esteem, self-image, beliefs, values, attitudes, hopes, anxieties and fears.  Now this is the stuff that underlies emotions. So, how does qualitative research uncover these?

Whether one is conducting focus groups, mini-groups or individual depth interviews, one can go deep by using some or all of these techniques:
  • A wide variety of projective techniques
  • Collages
  • Sorting
  • Laddering
  • Guided imagery
  • Storytelling
  • And more…

When we are asked to help reposition a brand so that it creates a much stronger emotional connection with its customers and potential customers, this is where we start. And when we do, the results can be quite impressive. We usually discover something that no one would have thought of without the help of the qualitative research. Sometimes, after the fact, people will say “Of course. That makes perfect sense.” But, prior to the research, no one had thought of it. To create emotionally compelling brands, start with qualitative research to gain deep customer insight.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Brand Personality

Brands are the personifications of organizations and their products and services. Selecting a brand personality is one of the tasks necessary to create that personification. Over the past fifteen years, I have helped well over one hundred brands from almost every product and service category select a brand personality. Last week, for a presentation, I counted the number of times each adjective was chosen to represent a brand for all of our past clients. 

For the first time, here is the list of the thirty most selected brand personality attributes in decreasing order of selection, with #1 being the most selected:
  1. Innovative
  2. Trustworthy
  3. Reliable
  4. Responsive
  5. Professional
  6. Easy to work with
  7. Service oriented
  8. High quality
  9. Friendly
  10. Customer-focused
  11. Competent
  12. Approachable
  13. Visionary
  14. Honest 
  15. Effective
  16. Committed
  17. Welcoming
  18. Respected
  19. Leader
  20. Knowledgeable
  21. Inspiring
  22. Fun
  23. Experienced
  24. Driven
  25. Dedicated
  26. Collaborative
  27. Smart
  28. Resourceful
  29. Helpful
  30. Entrepreneurial
Our clients also selected 143 other adjectives to describe themselves. Here are some of the more unusual adjectives selected:
  • Enlightened
  • Gentle
  • Green
  • Heroic
  • Iconic
  • Lighthearted
  • Nurturing
  • Passionate
  • Perceptive
  • Resilient
  • Rugged

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Proactive Publicity

I am a big fan of proactive publicity as a way to build your brand. Here are some examples of proactive publicity:
  • When Hallmark launched the industry’s first personalized, computer-generated cards, they sent personalized cards to talk show hosts.
  • EasyJet invested a large portion of its marketing dollars in a lawsuit against KLM, claiming unfair competitive practices, positioning itself as the underdog on the side of the public.
  • Trivial Pursuit marketers sent games samples to celebrities featured in the game and to radio personalities who had an affinity for trivia.
  • The Peabody Hotel in Memphis has ducks march out of the elevator down a red carpet to its lobby fountain twice a day with great fanfare under the direction of the Peabody Duckmaster. Hundreds of people watch and take pictures, many of which are posted on social media.
  • A nonprofit organization, whose mission was to encourage woman over age 40 to get mammograms annually, wanted a message that would “break through.” I suggested they feature a bare-chested woman with a double mastectomy on outdoor signs along major highways, using shocking copy such as “Over 40? Don’t wait until it is too late. Get a mammogram today.” Or, “Which pain is worse? Over 40? Get a mammogram today.” (Imagine the buzz this billboard campaign would create.)
  • To create buzz about the movie Frenzy, Alfred Hitchcock floated a dummy of himself down the Thames River.
  • In the “Will It Blend?” campaign, Blendtec demonstrated the power and durability of its blenders by posting a series of YouTube videos of its blender blending everyday items (an iPhone, marbles, baseball, crowbar, Bic lighters, Super Glue, etc.).
  • Taco Bell quietly conducted nationwide research to find twenty-five men across America named Ronald McDonald, and featured them in television and web ads enjoying items from Taco Bell’s breakfast menu.
  • And click here to see how TNT promotes itself with proactive publicity.

Excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition, © 2014 by Brad VanAuken

Pre-order your copy here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Patagonia and Sustainability

Patagonia has had an environmental ethos for as long as I have been aware of the brand. (I hiked in their stand-up shorts in my college days, which are long since past.) Their mantra is “reduce, repair, reuse, recycle and reimagine.” Lately, Patagonia has been urging its customers to “buy less.” Patagonia ran an ad telling people “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” They have created videos showing people how to repair used clothing and they are creating sewing kits for their customers.  They also encourage people to buy used clothing and return clothing they no longer want so Patagonia can find a new use for them. Patagonia donates 1% of its revenues to environmental causes and has set up a fund to invest in start-ups focused on sustainable food, water and energy. It makes its fleece jackets out of recycled bottles, uses only organic cotton in its cotton products, was one of the first California companies to switch to wind energy and powers its headquarters with solar panels.

In 2012, the first year of its “buy less” marketing campaign, sales increased almost one-third over the previous year as they opened 14 new stores.  Patagonia’s customers buy into and enthusiastically support its authentic environmental ethic.

(c) 2014 by Brad VanAuken, excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here now.


Dale Buss, “Patagonia Enjoys Unique Benefits of Its Authentic Sustainability Ethos,” August 29, 2013.

Kyle Stock,  “Patagonia’s ‘Buy Less’ Plea Spurs More Buying,” BloombergBusinessWeek, August 28, 2013.

Jennifer Elks,  “Patagonia Launces ‘Responsible Economy’ Campaign” October 1, 2013.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Brand Naming

Brand naming may seem simple, however it is anything but simple. Generally, for a final name that makes it through all of the evaluation hurdles and is accepted by the client, generally hundreds, if not thousands of names were explored. So, what makes naming so difficult? First, the proliferation of brands in the market. Second, with the advent of the Internet, a brand must compete not just within a small geography, but throughout the global market. Which leads to the next point, the URL needs to be available. And one wants to own “.com,” not “.net,” “.info,” or some other equally obscure URL suffix. And one should not add “company,” “llc,” or other unexpected modifiers to the end of the name.

The name should be:
  • Easy to pronounce
  • Easy to spell
  • Not used by any other brand, but especially competitors in the same categories and markets
  • Short
  • Easy to recall
  • Not have unintended or negative meanings, including in other languages/cultures
  • Broad enough to outlive a product category or a business owner
  • Easy to trademark (and still available to trademark)
  • Available as a “.com” or “.org” or .edu” URL, depending on the type of brand

It is also desirable for the name to communicate the brand’s unique value proposition if possible. (This is a tall order, so many brands should be happy to rely on the tagline to do that.)
It has been my experience (in the dozens of naming projects in which I have been involved) that the best, most desirable names are almost always already taken. Great minds think alike and it is likely that someone else in your category has initiated a naming project before your naming project, so they have taken the next best name available.

Sometimes it is desirable to choose an “out-of-the-box” name, something that does not immediately come to mind, and something that may cause some client discomfort. Usually, these are the names that have the greatest breakthrough value.

Often, we will conduct customer research to understand brand and category associations before we develop names. We always conduct multiple ideation sessions and we usually develop mind maps in at least one of those sessions.

One must carefully manage client expectations and demands in a naming project. If this is not done, one could be involved in a multi-month project with dozens of rounds of name generation. This is just not necessary.

The worst approach to naming is an internal (company or organization) naming contest. This almost never results in names that can be used. And it raises expectations that one of the names submitted by employees will be used.

There are different types of names. They range from coined (Kodak, Xerox) to associative descriptive (DieHard, RoadRunner) to whimsical (Apple, BlackBerry) [including invented whimsical (Squidoo)] to generic descriptive (engines, lab equipment). Each has its place and which is used depends on the type of brand, its market position and its intended longevity among other considerations.

In summary, there are many considerations in brand naming and it is not a trivial exercise. If you intend to name or rename a brand, give it the attention it deserves.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Preconceived Notions

A person’s preconceived notion or expectation can alter his subsequent experience. Recall the Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola challenge in which more people preferred Pepsi in a blind taste test but more people preferred Coca-Cola in the taste test when the brand was identified.  Subsequent to the original taste test, a group of neuroscientists conducted their own blind and non-blind taste tests of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. What did they find? They found that when the name of the brand was revealed a different part of the brain was activated causing a variation in the results. Also, consider how Conservative Republicans interpret the same behavior or event differently than Liberal Democrats do. Both examples are the result of preconceived notions or expectations.  In his book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely cites numerous examples of this biased view of the world that is difficult for anyone to escape. The lesson for marketers is that by linking the brand to positive associations prior to the actual brand experience, it will enhance the experience itself. Robert Graham embroiders “Knowledge Wisdom Truth” into every article of its clothing so that people who are familiar with the brand will subconsciously link these noble qualities to their product purchase and usage experiences, enhancing them significantly.

(c) 2014 by Brad VanAuken

Excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition, to be published in December. 

Source: Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), pp. 155-172.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why People Buy Products, Services and Brands

Why do people purchase the products, services and brands that they do? At a minimum, marketers should think about this periodically. Ideally, marketers should always be thinking about this. So, why do people purchase specific things?
  • They solve problems.  They make my life easier or safer or more pleasant.
  • They are whimsical. They make me smile or laugh. They make me feel playful. They entertain me.
  • They are beautiful. They are a source of awe or wonder. They calm me. They make me feel good about my life. I love to be surrounded by beauty.
  • They surprise me. I love their unexpected nature. They fulfill my need for mental stimulation and variety.
  • They make me feel important. They give me status. They feed my ego.
  • They are addictive. They fulfill a deep craving. They are pleasurable. They are satisfying.
  • They provide me with information or knowledge or access.
  • They give me more time. They increase my freedom. They reduce my workload. They release me from mundane tasks.
  • They reduce my anxiety. They increase my peace of mind. They give me one less thing to worry about.
  • They stimulate my senses. They look, smell, taste, sound or feel good.

Think about this. What are some other reasons people buy things? Why do you buy what you buy? What was the most recent product, service or brand that you purchased? Why did you purchase it? Why did you choose it over the competitive alternatives? What was your most memorable purchase? What made it memorable? What product, service or brand do you value the most? Why do you value it?

This sort of thinking should be second nature to marketers. After all, isn’t marketing the art and science of motivating people to buy specific products, services and brands?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

But My Category is Different...

Since 1999, we have helped well over 160 brands. They represent at least a third as many product/service categories, if not more. When being considered for a project, we are often asked, “Have you done work in XYZ category?” “Ours is a different category. We are only interested in consultants with experience in our category.” I have had this question asked about B2B, heavy industrial, FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), retail, pharma, federal agencies, professional service firms, trade associations, not-for-profit organizations, medical device companies, financial service firms, senior service organizations, church-related organizations, hospitality companies, luxury products providers, municipalities, colleges and universities, celebrities, nations and I am sure there are some others.

My answer always is, “You are the experts in your category. I am the branding expert and I am also a quick study. It benefits you that I have experience across a myriad of categories.  I will be able to bring ‘out of the box’ insights and ideas to the project.”

Are there differences between categories? Sure. Are they differences that would stymie a brand consultant? No, not unless he or she didn’t have much mental horsepower.

What categories have I found to be different?
  • B2B because of the purchase decision making process and the marketing tactics used
  • Pharma because of the regulatory issues and insular nature of the industry
  • People (especially celebrities and famous people) because there is a self-analysis and personal coaching component to the project
  • Places (municipalities, regions and nations) because of the diversity of the stakeholders, lack of marketing savvy and the complexity of the decision making process
  • (Sometimes, but not nearly as much as one might think), not-for-profit organizations because of the lack of budget and sometimes the lack of a marketing expertise in the organizations
  • FMCG because one has to understand retail, POS data, category management and other issues specific to FMCG

Sometimes potential clients not only want to know that we have worked in their category but also in their region of the country or world (to understand the culture in which their brand is imbedded). I think there is some validity to understanding the regional culture. Luckily we have worked in all regions of the US and most regions of the world.

Outside consultants bring not only deep functional expertise but also broad cross-category experience to bear on any problem they are asked to help solve. Frequently, I have discovered that companies or industries are so inwardly focused that they can't see their most glaring flaws but they also don't recognize their biggest opportunities. 

Having noted some differences between categories, brand consultants are called upon because of their customer insight and brand strategy/positioning expertise, not their expertise within a particular product or service category. Our branding processes, templates and criteria work across all product/service categories. They haven’t failed us yet. But then again, we have not yet done work in the ‘QRS’ category. ;-)