Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Brand Positioning is More Than a Tagline or a Logo

Every once in awhile, when we are retained to help an organization with its brand strategy, participants in the process are thinking that we will help them come up with a cool new logo, an amazing tagline or a memorable advertising campaign. While all of these are possible byproducts of the project, we primarily focus on helping organizations develop a more robust business model and unique value proposition. This may include embracing a new set of values too. While these will likely result in a new brand identity, messaging and marketing communication, they may also result in organization changes including culture changes. Additionally, they may result in new hiring criteria, performance objectives, customer service processes, employee training and products/services. Further, they will have implications for budgeting, including capital investments. The purpose of crafting a new brand strategy and positioning is to gain a competitive advantage that will decrease price sensitivity, allow the organization to charge a price premium and develop more loyal customers. This starts with the strategy but is then translated into a customer promise, which must be communicated and especially delivered upon. So brand strategy is just that, a strategy. But it must be translated not only to identity and communication, but also to tough decisions and real action. People who don't have this broader understanding of brand strategy formulation may be in for a shock when they retain a genuine brand strategist to help them with their brand strategy.  

Brand Research a Must for Brand Positioning

Our primary focus is brand strategy and repositioning based on deep customer insight. Many organizations will ask us to reposition their brands but are reluctant to conduct the necessary customer research at the beginning of the brand repositioning process. They will say, “We conduct ongoing customer satisfaction research,” or “We do product research quite frequently” or “We measured our brand’s equity five years ago” or “We talk with our customers all of the time.” But, do they know which brands have the highest top-of-mind unaided awareness within the relevant product categories? Do they know how their brand is perceived? Do they know the top-of-mind associations for their brand? Do they know their brand’s personality? Do they know if their customers can relate to their brand emotionally? Do they know how attitudinally loyal their customers are to their brand? Do they know the most important brand and category benefits and how their brand stacks up against the competition in delivering against these benefits? Do they know their brand’s perceived strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis the competition? Have they identified their brand’s positioning vulnerabilities and opportunities? Do they know whether their brand is perceived to deliver a good value for the price paid? Is their brand perceived to be vital or resting on its laurels? Is it perceived to be innovative, responsive, trustworthy, reliable or friendly? Do they understand how these perceptions vary across various customer segments?

Successful brand repositioning requires intuition, creativity, insight, analysis and a deep understanding of the customer and his or her perceptions. The insight, analysis and deep understanding are largely informed by rigorous brand research. Repositioning a brand without research is akin to painting a masterpiece with one’s eyes closed. Neither is a very good idea.

© 2015 by Brad VanAuken

Monday, April 27, 2015

The 10 Laws of Branding

A brand must...

1.      Stand for something.  It should know its customers well and its values should align with its customers’ values. It should epitomize specific customer values so well that customers will want to use the brand as a way to express their values to the world.

2.     Strive to be unique in relevant ways. Forget about claiming to be the quality, service or innovation leader (all of which have been greatly overused). Be unique. Be different. Be unique and different in ways that really matter to customers.

3.     Make promises and deliver on those promises. Yes, promise relevant differentiated benefits to your customers. But, even more importantly, consistently deliver on those promises at every point of customer contact. Consider designing brand promise proof points into every customer touch point. For even greater impact, consider creating new customer touch points.

4.     Interact with its customers, not sell to them. With the advent of various technologies, including the Internet, customers are now in control. They will filter out anything that they do not find entertaining, interesting or informative.  Interact with them as a friend would. Find ways to help them.

5.     Constantly anticipate customer needs and innovate. Brands cannot rest on their laurels. Become the Apple within your category. Don’t be risk adverse. Take your category by storm.  Leapfrog the competition through relevant innovation.

6.     Co-create itself with its customers. Work with your customers to evolve your brand and its products and services according to your customers’ needs and desires. Harley-Davidson executives go on H.O.G. Rallies with their customers to experience the brand with its customers.

7.     Create a unique purchase or usage experience. People pay more to Build-A-Bear themselves. Consider the iPhone (smartphone) experience versus the typical mobile phone experience.

8.     Find ways to become more and more important to its customers. Most brands have discovered that is far easier and more profitable to meet an increasing number of needs for existing customers than to try to appeal to new customers. Become an expert in meeting your target customers’ needs.

9.     Be consistent in its identity.  There is usually no need to change names, taglines, logos, etc. People need to recognize and trust brands over time. Don’t confuse their ability to do so.

10.  Build awareness. A brand can offer the best products in the world backed by the best service at the lowest prices, delivering the best overall value, but if no one has heard of the brand, then all of this is for naught.

The 10 Proven Ways to Align Your Organization with its Brand's Promise

I have helped many organizations build their brands from the inside out for over ten years. In the process, I have learned what is critical to the success of those endeavors.

1) RIGHT RESEARCH-INFORMED PROMISE: Your brand’s promise must be based upon customer, competitor and internal insight. This can be achieved through qualitative and quantitative research and an honest assessment of internal strengths, weaknesses, core competencies and strategic intent. The promise must be unique, compelling and believable.

2) CONSENSUS BUILDING PROCESS: Your brand’s promise must be developed through a consensus-building process that includes (at a minimum) your organization’s chief executive officer (CEO) and his or her staff and its top marketing executives. Don’t leave this step to an internal marketing department or an external marketing agency (unless they accomplish this through a consensus building process). Brand strategy and positioning is closely tied to organizational strategy, especially for organization level brands.

3) BRAND PROMISE TRANSLATED TO BRAND IDENTITY: The brand promise should be translated into a supporting brand identity, including logo, tagline and elevator speech among other key components. This should be integrated into a system that includes brand architecture and naming conventions. These should then take the form of guidelines that are available to all employees and business partners through an online platform. Digital asset management systems provide for even greater consistency control.

4) CUSTOMER TOUCHPOINT DESIGN: Involve your employees in brainstorming how you can bring your brand’s promise to life at each point of customer contact and how you can create new points of customer contact prior to the purchase, at the point of purchase, immediately after the purchase and on an ongoing basis during product/service usage and beyond. The brand’s promise must come to life in more than just its identity and in its marketing communications.

5) INTERNAL COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATION: At a minimum, you should communicate to and educate employees and business partners about your brand’s promise. This can best be accomplished through a multiple year (2+) integrated communications and education plan and campaign that touches each employee at least seven times. Tactically, one can build key brand messages into all existing employee communication and training vehicles. One can also post the brand promise or elevator speech in the most visible locations throughout the organization’s workspace. There are also numerous ways to put it into each employee’s workspace (screensavers, posters, mouse pads, etc.).

6) EMPLOYEE REWARD/RECOGNITION SYSTEM: Fully customizable online employee reward/recognition systems that can help align employees in support of the brand’s promise are now available to be leased or purchased. They state brand promise goals clearly and concisely and provide rewards (gift certificates, merchandise, etc.) and recognition for employees who are caught bringing the brand’s promise to life. The systems encourage employee involvement and provide a mechanism for manager involvement and oversight.

7) CULTURE THAT ALIGNS WITH THE INTENDED BRAND PERSONALITY: In a seminal study on corporate brand strategy success, The Conference Board discovered that alignment of organization culture with brand personality is highly correlated with brand strategy success. This can be achieved in the following ways:
  • Choosing brand personality traits that are both compelling to customers and natural for the organization to deliver upon, that is, ones that seem to be built into the organization’s “DNA”
  • Being honest about whether senior management can live in alignment with the intended brand personality
  • Where there are alignment gaps, pursuing a culture change project to align employees with the intended brand personality

8) BUILDING BRAND MEASURES INTO EMPLOYEES MEASURES: Peter Drucker said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” This is true of brand alignment as well. Build key brand measures into organization common measures or translate them into individual measures for the positions most likely to impact customers (product development, marketing, sales, customer service, etc.).

9) INTERNAL SURVEYS: Periodically survey employees to understand how well they can articulate the brand promise, whether they know how they can positively affect the brand and whether they have personally pursued actions to enhance the brand.

10) CEO SUPPORT: When the CEO understands the power of strong brands and uses the brand promise to align all of the activities of the organization, you are halfway to your goal of creating an organization filled with brand champions. Assigning responsibility for day-to-day management of the brand to a senior executive also is very helpful. And communicating to employees that they are all expected to be brand champions rounds out brand ownership from the top to the bottom of the organization.

I wish you great success in transforming your organization and its employees into a brand promise delivery machine.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What Makes Your Brand Distinctive?

Can people readily identify your brand when they use its products or experience its services? Can they tell it is your brand just by looking at its products? Where is your brand's logo? Does your brand have a distinctive look or style? Does it emit a distinctive sound? Does it have a distinctive scent? Do its products have distinctive sizes or shapes? Do they have unique colors? Is your brand always packaged in a distinctive way? Does it have a differentiated feature? Does it do something that no other brand does? Is there something distinctive about its texture? Is there something unique about the way it works? Is it configured differently than other brands? Does it perform a unique function? Do your brand's products or services perform with a distinguishing cadence? Does it have a characteristic tone or personality? Does it have an unmistakable attitude or point of view? What elements consistently set your brand's products and services apart? Are its elements bundled in a unique way? If someone removed your brand's logo from the product and put another brand's logo on it instead, would they still know that it came from your brand?

I hope that this line of questions makes it obvious that slapping a name or logo on a product or service isn't enough to create a distinctive brand identity. What elements set your brand apart? What contributes to its distinctive identity?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What is a Brand?

Over the years, I have heard dozens of different definitions of what a brand is. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. A brand is the personification of an organization or its products or services.
  2. Because of this, a brand can stand for something, have a certain set of values, possess specific personality attributes and relate to people on an emotional level.
  3. Also, because of this, a brand can make promises. It should promise relevant differentiated benefits. And, more importantly, it should demonstrate integrity by consistently delivering on those promises.
  4. Brands tend to be associated with one or two specific things in people's minds. Ideally, the dominant linkage is with its promise of relevant differentiated benefits (that is, its unique value proposition).
  5. A brand is the sum total of experiences and associations with its identity (name, logo, etc.).

Purchase Brand Aid, second edition here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ten Sources of Potential Share Loss

Don’t ever be satisfied with ‘business as usual.’ There are always others in the marketplace trying to create the next ‘killer application.’ They are smart, they are savvy, they have discovered new technologies, they have deep customer insight and they have an outsider’s perspective. Stay close to your customers. Understand their frustrations. Identify their latent needs. Keep abreast of market trends and new technologies. Constantly innovate. Test new features and new concepts. Relentlessly search for superior solutions to the customer needs that your products address today. Try to view your business from an industry outsider’s perspective. Try to put yourself in your customers’ shoes.

Following are ten sources of potential share loss for your products and brands:

  1. SUBSTITUTE PRODUCTS – Products offering a similar consumer benefit but from a different product category
    1. Examples:
                         i.     Vacation rental homes in lieu of hotels or motels
                        ii.     Contact lenses versus eye glasses, LASIK surgery versus contact lenses
                       iii.     Aspirin versus Acetaminophen versus Ibuprofen versus Naproxen
                       iv.     A plane versus a train versus a bus

  1. BIG BOX RETAIL/CATEGORY KILLER STORES - A new retail format offers significantly more variety and selection (and often lower prices too) than your retail store does
    1. Examples:
                         i.     Barnes & Noble replacing smaller, local book stores
                         ii.     Wal-Mart replacing smaller, local department or variety stores
                        iii.     Home Depot or Lowe’s replacing smaller, local hardware stores

  1. NEW TECHNOLOGY - A new product or technology meets the same needs as your brand’s products do (often in a superior way), even if it is not in the same industry
    1. Examples:
                          i.     Computers replacing typewriters
                         ii.     UPS and FedEx replacing US Postal Service package delivery, E-mail 
                                 replacing US Postal Service mail
                        iii.     DVDs replacing videotapes, Netflix replacing video/DVD rental stores, on-demand movies replacing videos or DVDs
                        iv.     Digital clocks replacing analog clocks
                         v.     MP3 downloads replacing CDs
                        vi.     Books on tape/CD versus printed books
                       vii.     Digital versus traditional chemistry based photography
                      viii.     Online brand asset management systems replacing brand identity guidelines/standards manuals

  1. INTERNET SOLUTIONS – The Internet is often superior in offering maximum product variety, robust search and browse capabilities, 24/7 service and low prices. This can take share from brick and mortar retail store sales.
    1. Examples:
                         i. versus Barnes & Noble big box book stores
                         ii.     Online computer backup versus customer owned backup hard drives
                        iii.     Online versus box office ticket sales

  1. MEGA-TECHNOLOGY PLATFORMS – What used to address a single customer need now delivers an ever increasing number of features and applications previously delivered by other products
    1. Examples:
                          i.     Computers
                         ii.     Cable televisions
                        iii.     Mobile telephones
                        iv.     MP3 players

  1. VERTICAL INTEGRATION - A supplier or customer integrates upstream or downstream into your business
    1. Examples:
                          i.     Printers entering the publishing business
                         ii.     Grocery stores opening their own organic farms
                        iii.     Clothing manufacturers entering the fashion design business

  1. TIMESHARING - Timesharing makes it much more cost effective for people to own a fraction of a product or to rent it when needed versus owning it outright
    1. Examples:
                          i.     Condominium timeshares
                         ii.     Private aircraft fractional ownership and rentals
                        iii.     Yacht fractional ownership and charters
                        iv.     Cyber cafes
                         v.     Art rental

  1. SUPERIOR CONVENIENCE – Someone else is selling the same customer benefits that you are but in a way that is much more convenient for the customer
    1. Examples:
                        i.     Home delivery versus pick-up versus in-store shopping
                       ii.     24/7 access versus standard daytime and evening hours six days a week
                       iii.     Pay via the Internet or telephone versus the mail
                       iv.     Free rental car while your car is being serviced; better yet, the service shop swaps the cars at your house or place of work

  1. VALUE-ADDED ENVIRONMENTS – Sometimes a new product purchase or usage environment based upon deep customer insight can provide a preferred customer experience at a price premium
    1. Examples:
                        i.     Starbucks – coffee is now $3-4 a cup because you get to drink it in an  environment that provides a pampering experience
                        ii.     Build-A-Bear Workshop – pay more to build your own teddy bear from scratch. It is a fun experience.

  1. SERVICE ON STEROIDS – Someone else is doing what you are doing, only with superior customer service
    1. Examples:
                         i.     Grocery stores with in-store dining or freshly made ready-to-eat gourmet meals (such as Wegmans)
                         ii.     Dry cleaners that pick up and deliver
                        iii.     New home developments that include concierge services, country club memberships and on-site daycare

I wish you great success in anticipating and addressing the potential sources of brand share erosion. Stay ahead of the competition -- constantly innovate ways to gain share instead of losing it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Understanding Your Consumer

I am in the process of buying another sailboat. As I look at sailboats and ponder this decision, I realize how complicated it is to know what I want and why.

How much do I want to spend? Can I afford a new boat? Will I pay cash for it or finance it? Do I want a boat that has been kept in salt water? How much will it cost to haul the boat from the place we buy it to the place we will sail it? Do I want a maintenance free boat? (There is no such thing.) How important are classic lines and the aesthetic appeal of the boat? (A lot.) How important is it to have the best looking boat in the harbor? Will I be racing the boat? Do I want it to have a specific PHRF rating? How well does it point up into the wind? Does it sail well in light air and in heavy winds? How big of a boat do I want? Does it need to be rigged so that I can single hand it? (Yes.) Do I want a ship’s wheel or a tiller? (A tiller.) What equipment comes with the boat? What electronics does the boat have? What sail inventory comes with the boat? Where will I be sailing the boat, on Lake Ontario (a Great Lake), Canandaigua Lake (a Finger Lake), the Maine Coast or somewhere else? One yacht broker suggested that I buy a larger boat and then charter it through a boat chartering company in the Caribbean. When I decide on what body of water I will sail the boat, then I need to decide in which bay, harbor or port I will keep it. This includes deciding on the marina (or yacht club). It also includes deciding on a slip or a mooring.

Will my wife be joining me on the boat? How often? How big does the cockpit need to be? Does it need to seat eight people comfortably? Does it have a dodger to keep us out of the sun? Does it have a cabin? Does it have a head? Does it have a galley? How many people does it sleep? Will we be inviting other couples out with us? Overnight? How much teak and mahogany does it have below deck? How will the boat affect my relationship with my wife? How will it affect our social life?

What will the resale value of the boat be when I want to sell it? (A fraction of what I paid if it is a new boat but perhaps something very close to what I paid for it if it is an older boat and I maintain it well.) How often will I use the boat? Will it distract my wife and I from our social calendar, our other hobbies and our travels? Or do we want it to become a significant part of our lifestyle? Will we anchor the boat in coves and sleep on it at night? Will we swim off the boat or is the water too cold or too polluted? Are we mostly going to do day sails or will we sail it for longer periods of time? If we sail it on Lake Ontario, will we just sail it locally or will we sail it to Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Sackets Harbor, the Thousand Islands, Montreal, Quebec City and the Gulf of St. Lawrence? If we sail it that far, will we sail it into the other Great Lakes, down the Eastern Seaboard and across the Atlantic Ocean? What additional equipment will we need if we do that? How important is brand? I am partial to Hinckley, CW Hood, Baltic, Nautor’s Swan, and Leonardo, but they tend to be too expensive for me. I have also found that I like Frers, Colgate, Schock Harbor, Tripp and Hylas. But I might be convinced to buy another brand. Would I ever consider mass production brands such as Catalina, Hunter, Beneteau or Jeanneau? Should we just charter other people’s boats in cool places instead? Or should I just volunteer to crew on someone else’s boat at one of the local yacht clubs? Or maybe I should just get a Sailfish or a Hobie Cat.

This is the type of detail a company must consider when developing, branding and selling its products. This is the nuance of a person’s purchase decision.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Profile of a Successful Brand Manager

To be a successful brand manager today, one must possess these qualities:
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Good listening skills
  • Political savvy
  • Influencing skills
  • Leadership skills
  • An entrepreneurial spirit
  • Strong analytical skills, including a basic understanding of statistics
  • At least a basic understanding of marketing research
  • A basic understanding of financial principles
  • An intuitive understanding of human motivations
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • A love of lifelong learning
  • Social media proficiency
  • A strong work ethic
  • Common sense

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Happy Shoppers

Last night, I attended an RIT guest lecture delivered by Ben Disanti and Ken Hicks of Disanti Hicks + Partners out of Chicago. Their firm specializes in shopper marketing. It uses a variety of research methodologies to better understand consumers' reactions to different categories and brands within the shopping environment.

One of their more interesting findings is that people who enter stores in a happy mood spend 10% more in those stores. This has implications for what occurs just prior to entering the store. Was parking a hassle? Did they just get splashed by a passing car in the parking lot? Was the sidewalk in front of the store slippery? Were the shopping carts at the store's entrance dirty? Was there something on their approach to the store that made them smile? Were there flowers in bloom in front of the store? Did something they saw upon their approach to the store make them laugh?

As you can imagine, if the shopper's mood just prior to entering the store is important to their spending, so too is the design of the entire shopping experience, which can be based on thoughtful research.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Authentic Brands

In today's increasingly transparent world, brands must be authentic. People seek authenticity everywhere - in people and institutions and brands. Brands must be very careful to keep the promises that they make. And brands that claim a certain set of values must live up to those values. With global news coverage and the instantaneous nature of social media, no brand can get away with a lack of integrity for long. 

In 2000 BP rebranded itself as “bp: beyond petroleum” with a new bright yellow and green sunburst icon. BP supported this with a $200 million public relations advertising campaign designed by Ogilvy & Mather.  It worked well until the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Then other actions came to light, like the environmentally controversial oil sands project in Alberta, Canada. If you are going to claim to be an environmentally friendly energy company that is moving beyond petroleum, you must be just that, an environmentally friendly energy company that is moving beyond petroleum. In 2011, BP divested itself of its solar power assets. In 2013, BP announced its intention to divest itself of its wind power assets. While it still uses its newer icon, it can no longer tout "beyond petroleum."

The lesson in this example is that brands must be authentic. They cannot successfully claim something that they are not. 

Examples of brands that are living their values (so far) are Patagonia (creating outdoor clothing, accessories, packs and gear, while striving to minimize harm to the environment) and Newman's Own (quality food products, all of whose profits go to charity). 

Before your brand promises something or claims a certain set of values, make sure is based on authenticity. It will help the brand's communications and activities flow with much less effort.