Monday, April 29, 2019

Insights from 20 Years as a Brand Consultant

Over the past 20 years, I have been retained by more than 200 organizations to help them with their brand problems. I thought it would be interesting to share with you what I believe to be the root causes of some of these problems. Here are the types of problems that I have encountered (that I can remember).

  • The brand has been resting on its laurels and the rest of the industry has not only caught up but surpassed the brand in product and service innovation.
  • The organization has grown through many mergers and acquisitions. Its brand architecture is overly complicated and redundant. To reduce costs and create greater customer clarity, it needs to significantly rationalize its brands and its product offerings. 
  • Recent business acquisitions have made it impossible to use the previous brand positioning. The positioning needs to change to reflect the new breadth of offerings. 
  • The acquiring company makes a big mistake with the acquired brand because it does not understand the target market's needs or the acquired brand's essence. 
  • The product and service are excellent and the price is right but there is little to no awareness of the brand.
  • The start-up has not thought through who its most advantageous customers are or how to best reach them.
  • The organization's leader has an authoritarian style that does not allow for distributed leadership or decision-making. This is stifling the organization and the brand.
  • The brand had a recent customer crisis from which it is still recovering. 
  • The organization is significantly underinvesting in its brand. 
  • A smaller local brand is now competing directly with a huge regional, national or global brand.
  • The organization is clueless about its brand messaging. The messaging is disjointed and ineffective.
  • The organization's distribution strategy is wrong for the brand's positioning. It is working against the brand.
  • The organization's pricing strategy is a mess. It is causing channel conflict problems and customer perception problems.
  • Customer interfacing systems have glitches resulting in sub-par or even horrific customer experiences. 
  • VC has taken the brand over and is making short term decisions to the detriment of the long-term viability of the brand.
  • The brand's logo makes the brand look very dated. 
  • New marketers have been hired and they know little to nothing about brand strategy or research. They are smart enough to know that they need to hire this expertise. 
  • The brand has historically been positioned based on functional features and benefits. The brand's leadership team wants to change the brand positioning to include emotional benefits and shared values. 
  • The brand's business model no longer works. The organization cannot not make its revenue and profit targets if it continues to use the same old model. 
  • The company wants to grow its business through brand extensions. But they need help in understanding the best avenues for extending the brand.
  • A new CEO or CMO has arrived and wants to make his or her mark on the company and the brand.
  • A new leader has arrived and is significantly changing the organization's strategy. Because of this, the brand's positioning needs to change. 
  • The brand manager is seeking the limelight and a promotion. He or she hires a consultant to initiate a project to take the brand to the next level. 
  • Management wants to refresh the brand before a new capital campaign (not-for-profit organizations) or the launch of new products under the brand's umbrella. 
  • An academic institution or one of its divisions is up for review and reaccreditation and needs to revisit its brand's mission, vision, values and messaging as a part of that process. 
  • The organization wants to set up a brand scorecard or dashboard and wants to determine the best measures to include. 
  • The organization wants to better segment its market. It is looking to outside help to conduct a comprehensive segmentation study.
  • The organization wants to measure its brand's equity on a regular basis to better manage its brand.
  • A brand needs to be fortified before the organization pulls the trigger on a new distribution strategy.
  • The marketer wants to take the brand out to new markets but doesn't want to make a mistake in doing so. 
  • The organization wants to take the brand upmarket or downmarket and again wants to minimize the risk of doing so. 
  • The brand's package design is too complicated and it is not helping the brand at point of sale. They need the package to be redesigned. 
  • Retailers such as Walmart and Amazon have backed the product brand into a corner out of which they seem not to be able to escape because of the retailer's extreme leverage. The product brand needs a strategy for dealing with this more effectively.
  • Believe it or not, sometimes I am hired because a marketer has always wanted to work with me. This has happened more than once but I make sure there is a real problem to be solved before I say yes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Establishing Brand Metrics

Often, organizations will use awareness, preference, rank in consideration set, share of wallet, Net Promoter Score and other brand loyalty measures, customer satisfaction, distribution and market share as the primary brand measures. Awareness is important because without awareness, the brand does not exist in the customer's mind. Preference, rank in consideration set and share of wallet are also indications of brand strength, as are distribution and market share. Net Promoter Score is a very popular measure of attitudinal loyalty. Its strength lies in its ability to be compared across a huge number of brands across a wide variety of product and service categories. There are other measures of attitudinal and behavioral loyalty. Customer satisfaction is a particularly useful measure for categories in which satisfaction is low. Service organizations will want to measure multiple dimensions of perceived customer service. Organizations also sometimes measure brand perceptions related to the intended brand promise or unique value proposition and key brand messages. This can include perceptions of shared values, brand attributes, brand benefits (functional, emotional, experiential and self-expressive), brand personality attributes and other brand associations. And finally, various measures of emotional connection can be very insightful.

The trick in all of this is to choose metrics that correlate with intended customer business outcomes such as sales, profits, share of wallet, purchase frequency, loyalty and willingness to pay a price premium. The link between brand metrics and these outcomes can be arrived at through statistical correlation techniques. In the end, you want to measure things that actually matter and about which you can do something. It also helps if the measures are diagnostic so that you can identify what needs to be changed.

Marketing is often dismissed as too "touchy feely" with no direct links to ROI. The more a marketer can chose metrics that help him or her truly manage the brand, the more successful he or she will be. As Peter Drucker famously said, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ethical Issues in Marketing

What are some of the ethical issues in marketing? First and foremost, we should not be using marketing to make a product that is clearly harmful more appealing to people—for instance, selling cigarettes by appealing to people at a deep emotional level. This can be achieved by linking the cigarette brand to independence, rebellion, good times, or coming into one’s own power.

Next is getting people to buy stuff that they just don’t need. How many toys does one child actually need? How many pairs of shoes are enough? Or, how many homes are enough? But is it the marketer's role to address this?

Then there is using fear to sell something. As we all know, fear works really well as a motivator; however, constantly using fear to market products and services only serves to create a more fearful society, where people are more motivated to avoid potential problems than to embrace that which is beneficial or uplifting.

How about using sex to sell products? This has been a strategy used successfully across a myriad of product categories for decades. Is there anything wrong with linking sex to an unrelated product or using women as objects of sexual desire? 

Making false claims is both unethical and illegal. I am personally not as concerned about what is generally considered to be puffery; for instance, stating that one’s brand is “the best in the world,” because few people are going to take that statement at face value. However, deliberating misleading the consumer or creating false expectations is wrong. 

Related to this, aren't marketers asked to focus on a brand's advantages and downplay or ignore its flaws. And, in some cases, aren't they asked to recast data to make something bad look good or a disadvantage look like an advantage? Is this selective recasting of data wrong? 

How about when a brand uses actors to create buzz about a brand? For instance, a brand might pay actors to extol the taste of a new alcoholic beverage in bars. And the actors never divulge that they are actors. Is this wrong?

How about assigning negative labels to a competitor's brand to reposition it as something highly undesirable? Is this ethical?

Certainly, an ethical dilemma that most marketing agencies face is whether to do (a) what is in the client’s best interest or (b) what the client wants (if you know that what the client wants is not in its own best interest). In this situation, are you forthright with the client but then ultimately collect your fees for executing what the client desires, or do you walk away from the project or business if what you are being asked to do is not in the client’s best
interest? Is the client always right or is the client sometimes wrong? And are you sure you know better than the client what is in his or her best interests?

How about getting someone to pay a huge price premium for a product because your brand bestows status on that product? Is this just helping people climb Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, or is it getting them stuck on one step in that ladder (at a hefty profit to the brand)? And isn't it the role of brands to decrease price sensitivity and allow for price premiums?

Knowing that brands can sometimes make people feel more appealing, loved, smart, accomplished, or valued, I want to scream to them, “You are already appealing, loved, smart, accomplished, and valued. You don’t need a product or brand to be that.” How can a product really make people feel more of anything, especially in the long-run?

There is also this question: Does the relentless pursuit of more and better products, services, and experiences lead to improved lives with more leisure time and a higher quality of life, or does it just constantly raise the bar for what will satisfy while depleting natural resources and placing more demands on peoples’ lives?

How about those huge purchases that marketers can get people to make— for instance, luxury cars, luxury boats, fine art, and expensive wines? Some people can easily afford these things and very much appreciate even minutely incremental improvements in quality. Others, however, may be stretching their budgets to “keep up with the Joneses.” This second group may experience immediate post-purchase remorse after such a large purchase. Is it ethical to market to these people based on aspiration?

And, related to that, if people experience buyer’s remorse immediately after a purchase, is it a good thing or a bad thing to create a post-purchase touch point that relieves their anxiety and makes them feel better about the purchase?

And what about selling functional substance, a real solution to a problem, vs. good feelings? Many brands (and salespeople for that matter) are masterful at selling good feelings without really delivering much else. I often feel this way about motivational speakers. Is something tangible really more valuable than something completely intangible? Is it better to market to and deliver on a need or a desire? Is one better than another? What if people desire something that is not good for them? Is that the marketer’s problem? Is it another person’s right to judge what is good or bad for you?

Once, a client indicated that he wanted to hire me because he understood that I was a "master of the dark arts." Is this how you want to be perceived? I raise these questions and issues to get you, as a marketer, to think about not only what works but what is ethical. If you are a highly skilled marketer, you have a lot of power to persuade people to make choices in certain ways, to believe certain things, to purchase certain products and to behave in certain ways. Are you using this power responsibly?

So how do I see that marketing can be truly helpful to organizations, brands, and their customers? First and foremost, brands can help organizations focus on how they can best add value in the market, especially in unique ways. A brand’s unique value proposition can become the organization’s internal rallying cry, energizing employees and mobilizing them to deliver on the brand’s promise. Marketing can also highlight a particular brand’s unique advantage over competing brands, helping consumers to make more informed decisions. If businesses include marketing research as a part of marketing (as well they should), there is a huge advantage to understanding what customers actually need and want so that the organization can deliver it to them. Identifying and determining the best ways to meet human needs is a noble endeavor.

Reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Brand Life Cycles

Brands personify organizations, products, services and other entities. In this way, they take on human qualities, human qualities that often lead to shared values and emotional connection. But what types of qualities should a brand take on during different stages of its life cycle?

As you think about this, think about romantic relationships that lead to life-long partnerships. What must a new brand (or acquaintance) do to gain mindshare? It must be exciting, fun, new, different and bigger than life. It is all about the "new" and the publicity and buzz. Think about all of the excitement that occurred when or Tesla were first introduced.

But, after a while, the newness and novelty wear off. For a brand (or a romantic partner) to have longevity, it (or he or she) must prove to be trustworthy, reliable, consistent, responsive and service oriented. This requires outstanding listening and empathy skills. Consider the brands (and people) that you have relied on throughout your life.

While these qualities will extend the life of a brand (or a relationship) well beyond the brief courting stage, they may not be enough to create a lasting emotional bond. For that, being likable counts for a lot. This includes being friendly, affable and maybe even charming and witty. That is, the brand (or the individual) is fun to be around. GEICO's gecko and its general sense of humor in its advertising is a good example of this.

Finally, no matter how strong the emotional bond is, sometimes relationships get old and stale. This is why lifelong learning, staying interesting, occasionally doing the unexpected, reinventing the self and remaining innovative are very important to extending the brand's (or relationship's) life indefinitely. So far, Apple has done this.

I share this to have you think about where your brand is in its life cycle and what it must weave into its attitudes, personality and behaviors to extend its relationship with its customers and its life.