Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Determining the Current Brand Position

One of the first steps in a brand repositioning project is to determine the current brand position. While this is often done through a brand audit in which the brand's website and its collateral materials are studied along with those of its competitors, this only identifies what the brand in question and its competitors are saying about themselves, that is, it will only help you identify the intended brand position, not the actual brand position. Why? Because a brand is owned in the minds of its consumers (and anyone else who is aware of the brand). It's position only really exists in their minds. 

So, to uncover the real brand position, one must find out what consumers are thinking. This can come from qualitative research such as focus groups or depth interviews or quantitative research or both. I have talked about our proprietary BrandInsistence(sm) brand equity measurement system. It measures over 70 different components of a brand's equity. It uncovers the brand position though open-ended response questions and brand delivery rating questions. This results in brand positioning maps for the brand in question and it competitors. 

Some of this can also be discovered through third party product/service rating websites and social media discussions involving the brand. Examples of third party sites are,, and

The important point is to understand what consumers are thinking and not just what the brand is saying about itself. I have seen brands that have claimed to be the quality, innovation, customer-service or style leaders only to be discovered to be inferior in those areas after hearing from consumers. So, as you can imagine, brand positioning maps and work driven from marketing communication can be quite different from that driven from customer research. Make sure you always conduct customer research before repositioning a brand. Otherwise, you might end up with a highly flawed brand position. 

This problem can occur with marketing agencies that are weak in marketing research capabilities or that want to reserve the vast majority of a client's budget for the creative work. It can also occur when a client is not willing or able to provide adequate budget for the research. All of the subsequent creative work may be for naught if the positions of the brand in question and its competitors were not really understood because customer research was never conducted. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Importance of Brand Planning

"If You Don't Know Where You Are Going, You Will Probably End Up Somewhere Else" - book title by author David Campbell.

Hopefully, you have developed and are executing against a detailed brand plan. And hopefully, you are measuring the results against that plan. 

Brand plans are much like business plans or marketing plans. You start with high level objectives. What are you trying to accomplish? Increased revenues? Increased profitability? Increased IAT (individual average transaction)? Increased brand awareness? Increased distribution? Increased market share? Increased brand loyalty? Adoption by new market segments? Changing brand perceptions? Dialing up a particular brand association? Changing the brand's unique value proposition? Increasing customer engagement?

These objectives are then supported by strategies and tactics. The tactics usually have budgets and timelines associated with them. And often there is an assigned "point person" for each tactic.

Numeric goals or targets may also be associated with each of these objectives, strategies or tactics. That is, the plan should have some metrics associated with it. 

Finally, a plan is always an "ask" for a certain level of budget in return for a certain level of delivery against the objectives. That is, to some degree, a brand plan is a roadmap for achieving a specific set of objectives for a specified level of investment. 

Plans can look out over a few years but given the changing nature of markets, they often require tweaking on an annual basis if not more often. 

Even if you are in an extremely fast moving industry and even if you are consumed by daily crises, it is an important exercise to step back at least once a year to reassess if you are focusing on the right things to achieve organization and brand objectives. Brand plans reinforce a certain level of logic and discipline.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Twenty Brand Management Tips

Today, I am sharing twenty tips or "rules of thumb" about brands and brand management.

  1. The only thing that stands between a commodity and a brand is relevant differentiation.
  2. More than anything, your brand must be admirable. And, if not admirable, likable. 
  3. In the long run, a strong brand will not completely compensate for a faulty product or service.
  4. Brands that stand for something of substance create more loyal customers. 
  5. In general, broader distribution aids brands in two ways - increasing awareness and accessibility.
  6. Everything else being equal, brand accessibility will translate brand preference to brand purchase.
  7. Your brand must deliver a strong value. Value is the ratio of benefits (functional, emotional, experiential and self-expressive) divided by costs (monetary and time). 
  8. Brand crises are inevitable. Planning for successful crisis recovery is critical. 
  9. Brands are stronger the more targeted they are.
  10. Outside of demographics and usage, attitudes are one of the most effective ways to target brands.
  11. All marketing plans must be informed by in-depth customer insight.
  12. In general, strong brands share these qualities: trustworthy, responsive, reliable, innovative, service oriented.
  13. Online marketing makes it quick and easy to test the effectiveness of different messages and approaches.
  14. The increasing political polarization in the US creates opportunities to target based on this polarization. 
  15. Increasingly over time, services and experiences will be more in demand than tangible products. 
  16. If brand perceptions are a result of the total customer experience then brand managers have a very wide set of dimensions that they must manage or influence.
  17. The market for products and services targeted at the top 1% of income earners and asset owners is large and growing. 
  18. In many ways, the notion of "reach and frequency" is still quite relevant. The importance of each will vary depending on what you are trying to accomplish.
  19. Increasing marketplace transparency will only hurt brands whose delivery does not live up to their promises.
  20. Never forget that you are only employed because your brand and its products and services are delivering something of value to their customers. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Brands, Mystery & Exclusivity

Mystery and exclusivity are two very powerful human motivators. Let's take one at a time.

A partial reveal is always more powerful than a full reveal. And the more often one is exposed to the partial reveal, the more one craves the full reveal. It's human nature. Whether it is in a new product unveiling or a television series plot line, people get hooked based on the mystery and not knowing. I have witnessed many successful new product introductions in which outdoor advertising reveals a little bit at a time in each subsequent iteration until the buzz reaches a very high level. In dating, playing "hard to get" is often a very successful strategy. 

Which leads to exclusivity. If a brand is only available in certain places, especially a limited number of upscale places, it usually has significantly more cache. For instance, if you can only purchase the brand on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Upper Fifth Avenue in New York, Hong Kong's Causeway Bay, New Bond Street in London, Champs Elysees in Paris, Orchard Road in Singapore or The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, then your brand likely has significant luxury cache. 

A brand is even more exclusive if the vast majority of people in developed countries have never even heard of it. Such a brand can serve as a badge to inner circle members. These brands might be found in enclaves such as Aspen (Colorado), Costa Smeralda (Sardinia), Côte d’Azur (France), Monaco, Northeast Harbor (Maine), St. Moritz (Switzerland) and Yellowstone Club (Montana). 

Sometimes being mysterious and playing "hard to get" creates even more demand. Some brands might want to choose this strategy.

In case you are wondering, the image at the top of this blog post is of a Maybach Exelero. It's a very nice car with a top speed of 218 mph. You can purchase one for $7.8 million.

Brands & Risk Taking

Sometimes a brand's worst enemy is its risk adverse caretaker. Usually, to break through in an overcrowded marketplace, a brand has to take some risks and do things that other brands in the category are not doing. 

My biggest disappointment as a brand strategy consultant is when, through rigorous research and out-of-the-box thinking, we help a client identify a breakthrough strategy that has the potential to catapult their brand ahead of the competition but then, due to their risk aversion, they decide not to execute that strategy. 

These phrases are telltale signs of that type of thinking:

  • I just don't know if senior management will go for that.
  • It will cost too much.
  • It is a risky move.
  • But we don't know if it will work.
  • We've never done that before.
  • No one else is doing that.
  • There's probably a good reason it never has been done before.
  • It is just too edgy.
  • What if it turns some of our current customers off?
  • I want to hold on to my job.
  • But we don't know how to do that.
  • I think we just need to take small, incremental steps toward that.
  • It's a great idea. Maybe we should consider it again in a couple of years.
  • But that will require a lot of changes.
  • I just don't know if our people are up for that.
  • But how can we walk away from 150 years of history?
  • Don't ask me to present that.
  • But what if it doesn't work?
  • I think it will put our brand too much in the spotlight.
  • That is crossing a line that no one has crossed. 
  • But what if we fail?
  • It's more than this organization can digest right now.
  • I am afraid that there are too many fires we need to fight right now. We do not have time for this.
  • I think the idea is just too far ahead of its time.

Only leadership teams that are willing to try new approaches and take calculated risks will ultimately survive and thrive in the long run. Breakthrough thinking and disruptive strategies are essential to long-term survival and growth.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Customer Profiling

Customer profiling helps organizations identify and then effectively target the most lucrative customer segments including how to best reach them in the shopping process and what brand messages are likely to work best with them.

We help organizations profile their customers in actionable ways. First, we measure brand purchase intent. We then discover the values, attitudes, aspirations, behaviors and demographics that have the highest correlation with high purchase intent for their brand. This helps us identify different customer segments for targeting, including the most promising segments. For more information on customer segmentation, go here or here.

Specifically, we measure the following:
  • Brand purchase intent
  • Customer demographics:
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Marital status
    • Employment status
    • Occupation
    • Presence of children
    • Household income
  • Shopping behaviors:
    • Where information is gathered
    • Influencers
    • Distribution channels and stores shopped
    • Purchase frequency
    • Average amount spent
    • Importance of quality
    • Importance of design
    • Importance of customer service
    • Importance of price and price discounts
  • Values, attitudes and aspirations
    • Lifestyle/activities (3-6 statements)
    • Shopping (3-6 statements)
    • Self-perception and personal style (3-6 statements)

We can also include product usage questions, depending on how many categories the brand represents. And we can correlate values, attitudes, aspirations, behaviors and demographics with brand preference and brand loyalty (including Net Promoter Score) as well.

If you do not have an actionable profile of your customer, you should consider doing this work. It makes your marketing spend much more effective and efficient. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Things that Marketers Know

Having worked with many non-marketers in organization leadership teams, it has occurred to me that many things that I think are "common sense" are not so common for non-marketers. That is to say that skilled marketers are intuitive about some things that non-marketers are not. Here is my list of things that skilled marketers just know (or think about) that others may not:

  • What things will create an emotional response for different types of people
  • What will increase a product's impulse purchase appeal
  • What simple phases and messages will cause something to go viral
  • What words and phrases have the most power to cause someone to make a purchase
  • How to pick the right target customers for different products or services
  • Where a person is most likely go to get information about your product or service
  • How to stay in front of people and build relationships
  • The need to minimize the steps or barriers to purchase
  • How to "close the sale"
  • How to get people to "buy now"
  • Developing the right angle to get publications to cover your story
  • How to generate massive proactive publicity
  • Where to place a product on a shelf or in a store to maximize its visibility
  • How to upsell
  • How to bundle or unbundle products and services to maximize sales
  • How to create reference prices to increase the average price paid
  • How to use price segmentation to increase revenues and profitability
  • How to signal quality through pricing
  • How to use exclusivity to increase demand
  • The importance of location
  • The importance of timing
  • The importance of listening to needs
  • How to plant doubt about or reposition a competitor
  • How to stand out in a sea of sameness
  • That "less is more" in package design and messaging
  • What the visual "strike zone" is in any advertisement
  • The importance of brand identity consistency
  • When to be consistent and when to "mix it up" with unpredictability 
  • How to plant ideas in people's minds and make them think that the ideas were their own
  • How to connect with anyone on a personal and emotional level
  • With a few simple questions, knowing what is the primary driver in a person's life
  • Related to this, knowing where in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs a person primarily resides

So, when you think, "well, this is just common sense," it may not be. It may be something that is learned over time by skilled marketers.