Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Brand Storytelling

In his book The Dream Society, Rolf Jensen makes the case for a shift from an information society to a dream society in which imagination and storytelling become the primary drivers of value. He identifies six emerging emotion-based markets:

1. Adventure
2. Community (togetherness, friendship, and love)
3. Providing and receiving care
4. Self-expression (“Who am I?”)
5. Peace of mind
6. Standing for something (convictions)

Many brands like to tell stories that demonstrate their values or their legendary service. Every brand story requires the following elements:

  • Core values that underpin the story
  • Moral of the story (central premise)
  • Hero (protagonist)
  • Villain (antagonist)
  • Plot (tension/conflict/resolution)
  • “Aha” moment
  • Transformation

Here are two other storytelling frameworks that you might find useful.

Mark Lightowler uses a storytelling map that includes the following nine elements:

1. Story setup (the background information the audience needs to know)
2. Protagonist (the hero)
3. Conflict (what stands in the way of the journey’s completion)
4. Outer motivation (protagonist’s motivation)
5. Deep issues (the deeper issues addressed by the story)
6. Opportunity (the protagonist’s inward reward for overcoming the conflict)
7. Arc (how the protagonist grows or changes inwardly over the course of the story)
8. Empathy (what causes the audience to empathize with the protagonist)
9. Tension (the unspoken feeling feeding the conflict)

According to Chris Vogler, the hero’s journey consists of the following steps:

1. The ordinary world
2. The call to adventure
3. Refusal of the call
4. Meeting with the mentor
5. Crossing the first threshold
6. Tests, allies, enemies
7. Approach to the inmost cave
8. The ordeal
9. Reward
10. The road back
11. The resurrection
12. Return with the elixir

Reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.

The Importance of Product

In large consumer packaged goods companies (houses of brands), the brand manager often manages product and brand decisions together. In branded houses, the product and brand decisions are often made separately. 

While products and brands are different - brands are the personifications of organizations and their products and services - products, never the less, are very important to the success of the brands whose names they bare. 

Witness the strength of the Apple or Tesla brands. They are based on high quality products with innovation, functionality and aesthetic appeal. Both also command premium prices and are in the luxury category. While a well thought through brand can increase the appeal of a mediocre product, it cannot completely overcome its deficiencies. As the saying goes, "You can put lipstick on a pig. It is still a pig."

Don't overlook the importance of the product or service itself when managing your brand. Deficient or sub-par products and services will tarnish the brand's image, while superior products and services will enhance its image.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Reference Prices

Pricing strategy is one element of brand positioning. A key concept in pricing strategy is reference prices. 

People often compare a product’s price to a “reference price” that they maintain in their minds for the product or product category in question. A reference price is the price that people expect or deem to be reasonable for a certain type of product. Several factors affect reference prices:
  • Memory of Past Prices.
  • Frame of Reference. That is, the price as compared to competitive prices, presale prices, manufacturer’s suggested prices, channel-specific prices, marked prices before discounts, and substitute product prices, etc. Creating the most advantageous (and believable) competitive frame of reference is essential to achieving a price premium.
  • Prices of Other Products on the Same Shelf, in the Same Catalog, or in the Same Product Line. The addition of a more premium-priced product typically increases sales of other lower-priced products in the same product line
  • The Way the Price Is Presented. For instance:

          - Absolute number vs. per quart, per pound, per hour of use, per application
            - Four simple payments of $69.95 vs. $279.80
            - Total purchase price vs. monthly loan payment vs. monthly lease payment (e.g., for automobiles)
  • The Order in Which People See a Range of Prices. Realtors, for instance, use the trick of showing the poorest value house first.
  • Rule of 100.” Percentage discounts seem larger if the total amount is less than $100. If it is more than $100, the absolute discount amount in dollars seems larger.

© 2015 Brad VanAuken. Reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Extending Brand from Premium to Mid-Market

Brand extension can be tricky. If done well, it can strengthen the meaning of the brand. If done poorly, it can dilute the meaning of the brand. It is particularly tricky to extend the brand down from a premium or luxury segment to a more mid-market segment. It is tricky because much of the brand's cache is in the status it confers based on its high price point and exclusivity. By definition, extending the brand down into a more moderate price point decreases the brand's exclusivity and status among its original customer base. 

The other trick is how to offer the brand at lower price points without cutting corners on the brand's product or service quality. Can one create a "brand lite" without harming the original brand?

Often, this brand extension decision becomes irreversible. 

Frequently, there is customer pressure to offer a lower priced version of the brand, especially among aspirational consumers. Retail chains, especially discount chains, would love to offer luxury brands at a lower price point, promising the brand owner significant unit volume. 

Imagine offering a $34,000 version of a $120,000 luxury car. Would it be the same car? How would the lower price point version of the car affect perceptions of the brand? Imagine offering Hermès scarves at a significantly lower price at Kmart. Columbia sportswear took its brand out to the mass channel, creating significant incremental sales volume, but at the cost of not being perceived as being comparable to North Face or Patagonia in quality. 

Some brands approach this as a consumer entry strategy. Capture the Millennials with the lower price point, get them hooked on the brand and then lead them up to the higher price points as their incomes rise.

How often have you heard someone say, "That brand used to be good. Now they have watered it down to appeal to the mass market."?

Think about this when you are considering extending a luxury or premium brand down to a more mid-market segment:

  • Is it acceptable to us that this might be an irreversible decision?
  • Is the incremental sales volume and total profit worth the possible decrease in brand cache?
  • If we decide to do this, in what ways can we approach this to minimize the negative impact on our current customers?
  • If we do this, how will our brand's products and services vary across the price segments?
  • Could using a sub-brand help us achieve this?
  • At the same time we are making our brand more accessible to more people, can we also create an even more exclusive version of the brand for our historically loyal customers? 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Brand Naming

I have always contended that the brand's positioning and promise and especially the consistent delivery against that positioning and promise are much more important than the brand's name. Having said that, I have also contended that most brands could benefit from an improved name.

There are three general types of names: (1) coined (Kodak, Xerox), (2) associative descriptive (Amazon, Die Hard) and (3) generic descriptors (Engine Division, Pharmaceuticals). Coined names have the advantage of no previous associations but the disadvantage of requiring significant marketing communication to build their meaning. Generic descriptors tend to be used as sub-brand names when an organization wants most of the credit to go to the parent brand instead. Associative descriptive names are the most prevalent today. They allude to the promised benefit, allowing the name to contribute to the brand's understanding from the start.

I am not a fan of acronyms as names. They tend to be a meaningless string of letters. Some naming companies create associative descriptive names by combining word parts with different meanings. Names like InfoSys and AccuView would fall into this category.

Names tend to take different forms for different types of brands. Law firms usually include partners' names in the name. Bands often pick names with strange combinations of words, such as Screaming Pumpkins or Insane Clown Posse. 

Street names can be interesting. Mostly they are created to allude to the natural environment that was altered to build the street or housing development (or that existed only in the developers mind) - such as Sandy Creek, Oak Meadows or Maple Grove. A particularly nice neighborhood in my city bears the following street names - Harvard Street, Oxford Street, Berkeley Street, Dartmouth Street, Wellesley Street, Cornell Street and Vassar Street.

Sometimes a completely unexpected whimsical name within the category can have breakthrough power, such as Puffin Optics or Koala Cola. 

Strong naming options should meet these criteria:

  • Short
  • Easy to pronounce
  • Easy to recall
  • Alludes to the primary brand benefit
  • Has positive associations
  • Is legally protectable in the relevant product/service categories
  • It's URL is available (the toughest hurdle in today's world, especially if the naming candidate easily meets the first few criteria) 
For every final naming option we present to clients, we typically generate hundreds of other options, the vast majority of which do not make the cut against the above criteria. Naming is a fun but deceivingly difficult part of brand identity development. 

I wish you great success with your brand naming projects. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Purpose Driven Brands

In our over commercialized, consumer-driven world, being purpose driven is a refreshing change. Not too long ago, a new type of corporate entity emerged - B corporations. According to www.bcorporation.net, "B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency." California has two corporate forms specifically designed for social enterprises, the Benefit Corporation and the Social Purpose Corporation. Other states have followed suit in developing these types of entities. The Body Shop, Newman's Own, Working Assets and similar companies were some of the first to operate out of a social conscience. I have written much about Patagonia and sustainability. Dove's Real Beauty campaign is another example of promoting positive change in the world. Life is Good focuses on spreading that message. Even Zappos focuses on "delivering happiness." And Change.org empowers people to drive positive change in the world.

Consider the advantages to organizations of being purpose driven - increased emotional connection to employees and customers, greater employee and customer loyalty, true employee and customer engagement, focus on win-win rather than win-lose, better employee morale and stronger commitment to the organization's success.

In 2014, Deloitte conducted its Core Beliefs and Culture survey. In that survey, it found that purpose driven organizations are much more likely to deliver strong growth and returns than non-purpose driven organizations.

And, here is the most important aspect of purpose driven organizations for brand managers - brand mission, vision, values, promise and positioning are central to the success of those organizations. The brand becomes the entity around which management, employees and customers rally. 

Consider transforming your organization into a purpose driven organization with a purpose driven brand.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Brand Manager Frustrations

Often, I encounter frustrated brand managers who are responsible for their brands’ equities but who do not have the jurisdiction to control all of the variables that result in their brands’ equities. Here are some examples:
  • People throughout a highly decentralized organization are creating communication material using the brand’s identity, often incorrectly.
  • The sales force is empowered to create brand communications without any oversight.
  • The organization’s leadership team agrees to what the brand stands for and what its unique promise is, but the brand manager has no authority over most customer touch points.
  • The brand manager is incented to invest in the brand but most other people throughout the organization are incented to cut costs in a way that undermines the brand.
  • A separate department is licensing the brand to whoever is willing to pay for its use, even if that use conflicts with what the brand is supposed to stand for.
  • The organization’s management believes that the least painful way to cuts costs is to slash the brand’s marketing budget.
  • Someone else in the organization is responsible for discounting the sales price of (that is, promoting) the brand’s products and services.

Here are some solutions to this dilemma:
  • Work with the HR department to redesign the organization in greater support of the brand.
  • Learn how to become a master influencer with compelling stories that win others over.
  • Create a robust yet flexible brand identity system and standards.
  • Establish a digital asset management system that provides maximum control over use of the brand’s identity.
  • Make the organization’s leadership team aware of the issues associated with effectively managing the brand.
  • Lobby to take on all responsibilities that are required to control delivery against the brand’s promise.
  • Head up a cross-functional brand identity oversight group.
  • Establish rigorous criteria for extending the brand into new product and service categories, including through brand licensing.
  • Spearhead a brand customer touch point design workshop with senior leadership's endorsement.
  • Lobby to establish key brand management measures as a part of a balanced scorecard.
  • Regularly report progress against key brand metrics to the organization’s leadership team.
  • Provide regular brand management seminars, presentations and readings to the organization’s management team.

Keys to Success in Brand Building: A Summary

Following are the first four of twenty-one keys to success in branding building as I have outlined them in my book, Brand Aid.
  1. First and foremost, the brand must stand for something. Its mission, vision, and values must be clearly articulated. Furthermore, its promise must have been crafted with much forethought. And the promise must be relevant, compelling, and unique. That is, the brand must offer and deliver on a “unique value proposition” that matters to its target markets.
  2. To support this value proposition, the brand must know whom it is serving. It must know this customer in great depth. What motivates that person? What are the customer’s hopes and fears? What are his attitudes? What does she value? How does the person purchase and use the products and services in the categories within which the brand operates? This requires in-depth research and strong intuition about human behavior and motivation.
  3. Next, the brand’s identity must consistently support its value proposition— that is, its intended essence, archetype, personality, mission, vision, values, and promise. The brand identity refers to the name, logo, colors, tagline, brand voice and visual style, and other visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory cues associated with the brand.
  4. Aesthetics matter more than most people realize. Establishing a refined or otherwise compelling brand design aesthetic will have a positive impact on the brand. Witness Apple, Jaguar, and Ty Nant.
Excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition. © 2015 Brad VanAuken

Friday, June 19, 2015


Companies that routinely use marketing research to uncover customer attitudes, values, hopes, fears, needs and desires have taken the first step in co-creation. Harley-Davidson executives participate in HOG Rallies with their customers. While participating in the event, they observe, ask questions and interact with their customers. They then return to their headquarters to debrief and use what they have learned. This is one example of ethnographic research. Another is giving customers cameras, allowing them to capture images around the topic of interest. Many brands use customer advisory boards. Some have created their own user panels. Many companies choose customers with whom they beta test new products. More and more, companies are using online forums to solicit customer input. For many years, Coca-Cola has explored different ways to deliver end-user customization. Co-creation takes all of this a step further. It requires that the end user participate in the design process itself. We have developed a process to help you co-create your brand with its customers. It combines needs exploration, ideation, prototyping and simulation, and of course, the participation of your customers.

If you accept as a premise that all products and services and therefore all brands exist for one purpose and one purpose alone, to meet human needs, then the advantages of customer co-creation becomes obvious. Why not involve the customer in the design of something that is intended for his or her use?

In urban planning or land use planning, design charrettes with the participation of residents and other interested parties serve this purpose. Techarrettes are a variation of this focused on technology or software products. In a more limited way, crowd sourcing is a form of co-creation. Open innovation or user innovation is clearly a component of co-creation.

Not only can co-creation lead to better solutions, but it also empowers end users and has the potential to substantially increase their loyalty and advocacy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Automobile Purchases and Self-Image Reinforcement

Research has shown that at least some people choose specific automobile brands to reinforce their self-image, project a certain social status, and enhance their self-esteem. They also choose them to “fit in” with their chosen social group. Other factors contribute to choice, including constraints such as income and capacity to acquire.1

Think about this. What might each of these brands say about the purchaser’s self-image and intended social group/status:

  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Chevy
  • Jeep
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • MINI Cooper
  • Subaru
  • Tesla
  • Toyota
  • Volvo

1. Source: Liza-Jane Sowden and Martin Grimmer, "Symbolic Consumption and Consumer Identity: An Application of Social Identity Theory to Car Purchase Behavior" (Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference 2009), http://www.duplication.net.au/ANZMAC09/papers/ANZMAC2009-206.pdf.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Heritage and Nostalgia

Baby boomers and other older cohort groups have witnessed many changes in their lifetimes and have many fond memories, some going all the way back to their childhood. I remember summers on Black Lake with friends motoring around the lake, exploring new tributaries and claiming uninhabited islands as our own. I remember the smell of homemade bread rising in my childhood kitchen. I remember playing with my Heathkit fifty-in-one electronics kit, my chemistry set, my microscope and my magic kit. I also remember all of the pranks I used to purchase and use - fly in the ice cube, whoopee cushion, disappearing ink, fake dog poop, fake vomit, hand buzzers, exhaust pipe noisemakers and gum that turns a person's mouth black. Remember playing Monopoly or Life or Twister? Or how about Pac-Man?

Brands can tap into heritage, fond memories and nostalgia. They can trigger memories or feelings of carefree childhood, life in simpler times and the good ol' days. Coca-Cola's bottle shape harkens back to its original bottle shape. Many old fashioned candies are in great demand by some consumers - Necco Wafers, Mary Jane, candy bead necklaces, wax candy (colored syrup in a wax bottle) and PEZ. Genesee Brewery recently introduced product names and packaging that harken back to its original beer brands. 

Are there ways for your brand to tap into its heritage to create a strong sense of nostalgia? 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Today's Top-of-Mind Thoughts on Branding

Here are my top-of-mind thoughts on branding today:

  • A brand is the personification of an organization and its products and services.
  • You should determine your brand's archetype, attitudes, values and personality.
  • Ideally, your brand should stand for something admirable to its target customers.
  • Distinctiveness is an important attribute of a strong brand.
  • Your brand's identity system needs to be robust but flexible enough to work in every environment and application.
  • You must present your brand's identity consistently across applications and over time.
  • You must remain consistent in your brand's core messages.
  • Brands need to evoke emotions and create experiences.
  • You need to develop a compelling brand story.
  • It is useful to create and use a carefully crafted brand elevator speech.
  • When in doubt, fewer brands are always better than more brands.
  • Keep your brand's messaging simple and easy to understand.
  • Build as many proof points as possible in support of your brand's promise.
  • Know who your brand's target customer is. 
  • Develop deep insight into what motivates that person.
  • If you are able, develop your brand into a source of self-expression (brand as a badge).
  • Realize that brands are assets that must be managed.
  • You can't manage your brand if you don't routinely measure the elements of its equity.
  • Don't stop innovating.
  • Quality and service are always important.

Brand Aid, second edition is available here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Evolution of Luxury Brands

In a previous article, I outlined what upscale consumers want. In this article, I will outline trends in luxury marketing:

  • Luxury brands will need to increasingly understand and meet the needs of millennial consumers.
  • Luxury brands should focus on enhancing the purchase and usage experience.
  • Luxury brands will be impacted by consumers who are world travelers and have had luxury brand experiences globally. (For instance, US domestic airlines should be concerned about how business or first class accommodations and services are executed by non-domestic carriers on international routes just as US airports must be concerned about the evolution of airport ambience and services globally.)
  • Luxury brands need to continue to focus on aesthetics and the tactile quality of their products.
  • Luxury brands should increasingly focus on history, heritage, culture, pedigree and shared values.
  • Luxury brands need to perfect their stories.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Conjoint Analysis

Traditionally used for pricing research, conjoint analysis is very applicable for brand research as well. Respondents rate their buying intent for products comprised of various combinations of attributes (including product, service, sales terms, price, and brand attributes). Brand name is one of the attributes. Not only is this an excellent approach to measure the overall equity of your brand name vis-à-vis competitors, but it also allows you to measure the interactions/relationships of your brand name with other attributes. Simulation exercises also allow you to project the impact on share of preference for various attribute combinations (what-if exercises).

For additional information on conjoint analysis, go here.

© 2015 Brad VanAuken. Reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here. Brand Aid devotes a chapter to brand research highlighting dozens of different brand research approaches.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Market Research

Generally, market research should be left to marketing research professionals. The role of a brand manager is to clearly articulate the questions that the research needs to answer. Ideally, the answers to those questions will impact key decisions and actions. If deep insight is sought, usually some sort of qualitative research is required, such as depth interviews, focus groups and mini-groups. There are now a variety of online qualitative research approaches. Top moderators are skilled with a large array of techniques for probing including guided imagery, laddering and many different projective techniques. If something needs to be quantified, usually quantitative research is the answer.

Asking the right target markets and market segments to participate in the research is critical. Understanding the impact of sample size on confidence levels is also critical. If designed the proper way, quantitative research can be used to understand differences between market segments including those based on demographics, psychographics, product purchase behaviors and product usage behaviors. Question ordering is important so as not to bias subsequent responses. How a question is worded will alter the responses. If a rating scale is used, the number of points on the rating scale and its symmetry or asymmetry will make a difference in the range of responses.

Brand managers need to know what the research can provide and what it cannot provide before it is fielded. Sometimes clients ask for research outputs that the research was never intended to deliver. 

How one invites a person to participate in the research will affect the response rate but also any biasing or the lack thereof.

Today, there are countless marketing research methodologies. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. One of the roles of a competent marketing research professional is to determine the most appropriate technique for the questions to be answered. 

Brand Aid, second edition has one chapter dedicated to brand research and another dedicated to brand equity measurement. It also has a chapter dedicated to understanding the consumer and another to understanding the competition. You can order a copy of the book here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Should Marketers Rely on the Reptilian Brain to Motivate People?

Roughly, the brain can be divided into three parts, the reptilian, the limbic and the neocortex. The reptilian brain focuses on survival and is primarily driven by fear but also includes emotions such as aggression, greed, dominance and submission. The limbic system is the emotional part of the brain and it relates pain and pleasure to activities that hurt and help you. It does this by linking particular activities to pain and pleasure in one's memory. The neocortex is the newest addition to the human brain. It controls functions such as logic, reasoning, creative thinking, language, the integration of sensory information and other higher thinking functions.

Marketers have found that people make decisions primarily based on emotions, and in particular, the emotion of fear. That is, people primarily use the reptilian and limbic parts of their brains to make decisions even if they view themselves as being highly evolved rational human beings. 

Here is what I would ask marketers to consider. Through fear-based brand messages, we continue to fan the flames of peoples' fears, fears that cause anxiety and irritability and often irrational behaviors. While this usually works, I would ask you to consider brand campaigns based on noble values - freedom, beauty, grace, kindness, compassion, joy - these sorts of things. Consider Dove's Real Beauty campaign or Patagonia's Don't Buy This Jacket campaign or even Newman's Own's All Profits to Charity approach. All three campaigns are highly successful. 

Marketers can make a positive difference in the world by helping humans move beyond the ancient reptilian brain to parts of our brains that are more aligned with how we want to evolve as a species.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Get the Basics Right

One of the first steps in a brand positioning project is to measure the brand's equity including its ability to deliver on a variety of category attributes, benefits and values. Sometimes the brand equity study uncovers flaws in basic product and service delivery. For instance, for a retail brand, one might find that the store locations are inconvenient, the hours of operation are inconvenient, the customers cannot find places to park, the bathrooms are filthy, the customers do not feel safe, items are often out of stock, the products are inferior, the prices are too high, the sales associates are rude, the lines are too long or the retailer does not accept certain common forms of payment. While the people running the brand may be looking for that signature thing that will make people choose their brand over other brands, my advise to them is, "Yes, I will help you find your brand's unique value proposition, but first you must focus on getting the basics right."

Sometimes, basic blocking and tackling is required before one can move on to the more advanced plays. While category fundamentals will not lead to differentiation, if they are not addressed properly, differentiation's impact will be greatly diminished.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Rebranding FootJoy

FootJoy is a well-known golf brand (67 percent of golfers use it) recognized for having comfortable, exceptionally high quality products that stay dry in wet conditions. FootJoy sells shoes, gloves, outerwear, socks, and accessories. Traditionally, FootJoy focused is messages on its superior product features and functionality; however, it knew it needed to create a more emotional connection with its customers. FootJoy retained us to help create this emotional connection. Through qualitative research, we learned that FootJoy was perceived to be a golf-centric brand that is for people who are serious about golf. We discovered that it had the potential to be a strong aspirational brand as it possessed all of the qualities to which serious golfers aspire. The result was a new tagline (FJ. The Mark of a Player.) that underpinned a new advertising campaign, making FootJoy a badge that says, “I am a serious golfer.”

© 2015 Brad VanAuken. Excepted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.