Monday, May 22, 2017

In a Way, It's All the Same

I live in the world of brand promises and brand positioning. I help people determine their brand's essence. And I help them determine their brand's mission, vision and values. And their brand's archetype and personality. Some consultants help people discover their brand's "true north," while others help people determine their brand's mantra. One consultant I know helps people answer their brand's "why." And brands have tag lines and slogans and elevator speeches. Is this all word mumbo-jumbo or is there something behind each of these terms?

There are certainly subtle and not-so-sublte differences between each of these terms, however, at a more macro level, they are all used to gain clarity on one thing - Why does this brand exist? What makes it different from other brands? What does it stand for? How does it make a difference in the world? Why should people care? 

It is about strategic thinking and clarity and "fire in the belly." It is about getting the brand's leadership team "on the same page." It is about rallying employees around the brand's purpose. It is about energizing the brand and making it relevant and vital. And it is about making the brand stand out.

So yes, these terms might seem like jargon or marketing mumbo-jumbo, but they drive a strategic process that is critical to a brand's success. So regardless of which terms you decide to use, you must do the strategic work that they represent to put your brand on a successful trajectory. 

For definitions of each of these terms, refer to Brand Aid, chapter 2 (Understanding the Language of Branding) available here

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Brand Management's Rewards

I previously listed the business benefits of strong brands. Today, I want to talk about the intrinsic rewards of building strong brands. 

Strengthening brands creates better customer experiences. It can do this by improving products, customer services and a myriad of other things. Ultimately, thoughtful brand management will lead to an improved world. How does this work?

When we reposition brands or strive to strengthen their equities, we focus on specific ways to do that for each brand. All result in an improved customer experience. For instance, in our branding projects, we have:

  • Focused on industry-leading responsiveness resulting in minimal production downtimes and savings of millions of dollars
  • Offered customers a superior range of choices
  • Delighted customers with the most whimsical designs
  • Served as a proud badge of competence and expertise
  • Made banking simple, easy and fun
  • Made successful entrepreneurs feel as though they had arrived in the cadre of a community's "movers and shakers"
  • Made people feel safe again
  • Helped a professional association become highly valuable to its members again
  • Helped a community celebrate its strengths, attracting new residents and making current residents feel better about where they live
  • Made it easy for people to build with their products
  • Created a university of technological innovators
  • Fixed system errors that previously made their customers angry
  • Created a health care system that was more efficient and more humane
  • Made a specific group of surgeons feel like "rock stars"
  • Made a continuing care community feel like an extended family
  • Told a story about environmental sustainability that gave people hope
  • Brought back fond memories of the past

My point is that brand management is more than logos and advertising and social media. It is about improving the customer experience in both tangible and intangible ways. It is about improving products, services, industries and ultimately the human condition. Feel good about what you do as a brand manager for it is truly important work.

What do people want?

I had recently mentioned to a friend that one of the benefits of my job is learning what people really want. In my 35 year career as a marketer, I have conducted hundreds of customer research studies in a myriad of categories. When one conducts everything from depth interviews, focus groups, ethnographic studies and brand extension studies to product conjoint analysis, attitude and usage studies, brand equity studies and segmentation studies, one learns what people want. I have conducted research in categories as wide ranging as universities, municipalities, continuing care retirement communities, health care systems, vacation timeshare exchanges, hotels, RV resorts and campgrounds, homeowner's insurance, automobile insurance, banking, professional membership associations, vacuum cleaners, pizzas, juices, baby carriers, children's school supplies, graduation rings, cheerleading uniforms, greeting cards, floral arrangements, gas stations, convenience stores, online retailers, livestock feed, pet supplies, industrial seals, fenestration supplies, furniture and architectural building supplies - you get the idea.

So what do people seem to want?

  • Social status
  • Personal attractiveness
  • A way to express themselves creatively
  • People who will pay attention to them and care about what they have to say
  • Ease and comfort
  • Security and safety
  • To make sense of the world
  • Entertainment and humor
  • Camaraderie 
  • Intuitive simplicity 
  • Functionality
  • Durability
  • Reliability
  • Friendliness
  • Truthfulness
  • Respect and personal validation
  • Responsiveness
  • Beauty and aesthetics
  • Other sensory pleasures
  • To be surprised and delighted
  • A reasonable price

While not every one of these apply to every product or service category, these are the things that I have observed that people want.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Genesee Brewing Company

Just a few years ago, Genesee Brewing Company, New York State's oldest brewery established in 1878, was on the brink of bankruptcy. That was before North American Breweries, and its parent, the Triple Bottom Line (economic, social, environmental) company Florida Ice & Farm Co. invested $70 million in the Genesee site over the past few years. It is now investing another $40, which is matched by the State of New York's $9.5 million investment. This includes a new 130,000 square foot production building and expands the brewery by 18,000 square feet and adds 128 jobs. It is becoming a state-of-the art eco-brewery in an emerging eco-district that includes Rochester's High Falls on the Genesee River. It also features a new brew pub, museum and meeting and education center.

But that is not my story. My story is about the company's approach to marketing. A decade ago, its marketing consisted mostly of advertising focusing on sexy women, a very traditional, outdated and sexist approach. Today, its product offering and marketing have evolved in many ways. But the example I want to focus on today is the company's recent announcement that it will be floating twelve giant fermentation tanks from Albany, NY to Rochester, NY via the historic Erie Canal, passing through the Upstate cities of Utica (home of Saranac Brewery) and Syracuse (and many smaller towns) along the way. It is a functional decision because each 20 foot by 60 foot tank is too large to ship via truck or train. But Genesee Brewing Company has turned this into a publicity and social media event informing people in each place along the canal about the dates on which the tanks will pass through their towns. 

I am a big fan of proactive publicity and this is a great example of that. It will be a significant branding photo opportunity, but it also links an historic brewery with one of New York State's most historic developments, the Erie Canal. It links the nostalgia of Upstate New York's heyday with its more recent resurgence to the same for Genesee Brewing Company. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Business Value Creation

Today, intangible assets are the dominant contributors to business value creation. Recognizing this, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young developed a rigorous, comprehensive model of business value creation called the value creation index. Its components include innovation, quality, customer relations, management capabilities, alliances, technology, brand value, employee relations, and environmental and community issues. Several of these relate to my previous blog post on multiple stakeholders

I recently heard Doug Rauch, former president and 31 year veteran of Trader Joe's, speak. He spoke of the following as contributing to business success:
  • A compelling purpose
  • Focus - not being all things to all people
  • The long-term view
  • Innovation
  • Taking risks
  • Constantly monitoring the environment, including monitoring potential outside of industry threats
  • Putting the employees first

Brand managers would do well to consider these as a part of their management of the brand. This includes creating non-financial metrics and a balanced scorecard.

Our BrandInsistence brand equity measurement system indicates that awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility and emotional connection underly brand equity. 

My latest book, Brand Aid, has more information on all of this topics.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Shareholders Aren't Your Only Stakeholders

When I was in undergraduate school, I recall my professors talking about the different stakeholder groups of businesses - customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, the communities in which the businesses are embedded and the natural environment. Today, the almost universal mantra seems to be "maximize shareholder value," indicating a singular focus on shareholders and profits. If shareholder value is maximized, it likely requires that the value delivered to the other stakeholders is diminished. This is, to some degree, why businesses have so enthusiastically focused on automation as a cost-effective replacement for their employees. This is also why government regulations have increased over time - to protect employees, customers and the natural environment from the adverse effect of a singular focus on maximizing profits. 

This is not an indictment of capitalism. In fact, the adoption of some form of capitalism by developing countries has lifted a large portion of the world out of poverty and created a growing middle class. You can see strong evidence of this in China and India. 

Rather, this is a strong endorsement for a balanced scorecard. If businesses want less government regulation then they need to reconsider the expectations and needs of their other stakeholders - customers, suppliers, employees, communities and the environment. 

Extensive research has demonstrated that companies that treat their employees well and even put their employees first have achieved significantly better financial results over the long-term. Happy employees result in happy customers which results in happy shareholders. This is a virtuous cycle. On the flip side, businesses that only focus on the shareholders and the bottom line without deeply understanding and meeting the needs of their other stakeholders deliver sub-par financial performance in the long-run. 

Best practice companies focus on stakeholder insight and stakeholder engagement. This starts with stakeholder mapping to identify all of the stakeholder groups. This is followed by extensive stakeholder research to better understand stakeholder needs, hopes, fears and expectations. Then metrics are established for each stakeholder group. Finally, the organizations must establish and execute stakeholder engagement plans.

Remember, businesses only exist to meet human needs, not just the needs of top executives and wealthy shareholders, but the needs of all stakeholder groups. 

Some businesses have adopted ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plans), through which each employee is a part owner of the company and is committed to and shares in its financial successes. Some businesses share their profits with their customers in the form of rebates based on the business success. Other businesses take the form of co-ops in which employees and customers share in the business operation and ownership. And, fortunately, many businesses have charitable foundations or other mechanisms through which they give back to the communities in which they are imbedded. This includes robust United Way campaigns, employee days off for volunteer activities, gift matching to charities and organization-adopted charities. Many businesses have adopted environmental management systems to identify and mitigate the environmental impacts of operating their businesses. This often has the added benefit of reducing costs.

I hope this has helped you think about the multiple stakeholders whose needs and expectations businesses should strive to meet and even exceed.