This Brand Is Your Brand, This Brand Is My Brand

In my role as adviser to marketing leaders, I am often met with the question: “How do I figure out if it is better to invest in brand or to invest in something else?” To which I often respond with a perplexed, “Is there anything else?”

Brand is what keeps the lights on in my home and the bar stocked with Bourbon, so you will excuse my brazen partiality. But hear me out. Companies take products and services to market and create experiences for prospects and customers – these are “things” that they manage. Brand is an all-encompassing perception that holistically reflects how these “things” are viewed. When the organizational gods draw their charts, they more often than not drop brand in the domain of marketing. Indeed, there is an umbilical relationship between brand and marketing, but it would be entirely erroneous to view brand as circumscribed by marketing. Anything and anyone that shapes brand perception drives brand.

The brand does not belong to the CMO alone. It belongs to all, from the CEO on-high, to the front-line brand ambassadors. It runs from the fountainhead of marketing through every part of the business, from ritzy show rooms, through distribution warehouses, to IT data centers. If you listen hard, you may hear a Woody Guthrie variant reverberate off cubicle walls: "This brand was made for you and me." This is the anthem for modern marketing.

Read more

Nature or Nurture? Culture As A Cornerstone Of Global Branding

The Earl of Greystoke would have grown up in an idyllic English manor, sipping tea and munching on clotted cream biscuits, were it not for a rather unfortunate turn of events that left him orphaned in equatorial Africa, being raised by a she-ape. At the heart of Edgar Rice Burroughs' tales of Tarzan, which have captivated audiences for over 100 years, lies an elemental question: what makes us who we are – nature or nurture?

In my last blog post (Marketing's Dirty Little Secret), I discussed the biology of behavior and how we are wired to ride the express-lane for decision making. This is an area of investigation that is gathered much steam, including work done by Forrester (see How People Choose by Shar VanBoskirk). This interest in consumer neuroscience has led us to another intriguing area of inquiry: How do we account for cultural context in the biology of behavior? How does nurture shape the biological nature of our decision making?

Read more

Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret

For all the talk about customer centricity, there’s a dirty little secret that no marketer will easily admit to: Marketing — as a discipline and as the core of most traditional business school marketing curricula — is inward-looking. Take the much-vaunted four Ps: build the right product, price it correctly, put it in the right place, and promote it to induce purchase. It’s all about the brand, not about the consumer. The consumer responds predictably, robot-like, to the various strategies cooked up by marketers.

Meet Homo economicus — the rational consumer. The foundation of modern marketing. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. She doesn’t really exist.  

It’s taken a while for the marketing community to even talk about this. When I was at the University of Chicago, I sat in Richard Thaler’s Ph.D. class on behavioral economics, which was, even in late 1990s, well ahead of its time and disconnected from the MBA curriculum of the abovementioned four-P flavor. In 2011, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman offered two very different thought systems for mass consumption in Thinking, Fast and Slow. Thaler recently reviewed the Michael Lewis (of Liar’s Poker and The Big Short fame) book on the collaboration between Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Here’s the basic idea: There are two systems that drive our decision-making. The first is highly analytical and was presumed to be the epicenter of our rational being.

Read more

The Color of Money at Nordstrom is Not Red or Blue, It's Green.

Cincinnati, wedged between Kentucky and Indiana at the southwestern tip of the state, is where swinging Ohio blushes deep Red. Except for a few pockets of anomalous defiance that cling Blue, one of which boasts a Nordstrom store. Nordstrom, like a growing number of brands, finds itself caught in the drama of a political America at war with itself. The upscale retailer, facing boycotts from Left and Right, has been forced to pick one. And while it may appear that Nordstrom has picked Blue over Red, it’s actually picked Green above all else.

Some brands choose to affirm fealty to a cause, and while this choice may not be overtly political, it defines the brand along the political spectrum. Hobby Lobby's owners are unabashed about Christian principles in its mission statement. Domino's Pizza, until its sale to Bain Capital, was heavily influenced by its founder’s Catholic activism. But most brands tend not to have such a foundational imperative. Many find a purpose because experts have told them it will strengthen their brand equity. Taking a stand may appear to be a shallow calculated decision, bereft of heart, but it does deliver on the one ethical responsibility that management has – its fiduciary responsibility to its principals, the shareholders.

Read more

New Rules For Branding In Emerging Markets: Make Aspiration Accessible

I spent a few days in India this month, and couldn’t help but be struck by an advertisement for a soft drink that played endlessly on television. Two convertibles pull up alongside each other on what looks like a pristine expressway. Perky members of the opposite sex exchange amorous glances and flirtations ensue. Bottles of the soft drink are cracked open, and predictable mirth ensues. Life is good with sweet lemony soda water.

For the uninitiated who think this is just another soda ad, it may be difficult to gauge how entirely ludicrous this scene is. Roads in urban metros in India are pummeled by a crush of traffic and the cacophony of horns almost at all times. The New York times reported this month that India has surpassed China in air pollution and that about 1.1 million people die prematurely in the country every year from the pollution. Anyone foolish enough to ride in a convertible would be served well by a gas mask. Public mating rituals common to Western cultures are found only in a sliver of society much narrower than the mass market for a soft drink. “Eve Teasing,” a euphemism for public sexual aggression targeted against women, is a major concern.  

So where did reality and depiction of reality part ways? Are these, dare we whisper, Alternative Facts?

Read more

It's Time For B2B Brand Equity To Step Out Of The Shadows

B2B brand management has come a long way from its roots in consumer packaged goods and has gradually branched out to play an equally central role in B2B markets. B2B CMOs are just as invested in bettering their brands as B2C. No longer relegated to industry rags and trade shows, B2B marketing is entering a new age, with firms like CA Technologies, General Electric, and IBM in the vanguard. At a Forrester event, General Electric CMO Linda Boff remarked that GE is often the first brand —not just the first B2B brand —on platforms like Pinterest, Snapchat, and Vine.

But are most B2B brands successful in following in the footsteps of these trail blazers? Forrester research with over 1,000 B2B and B2C decision-makers reveals mixed results. Here's the good news: B2B CMOs include Brand in their top three priorities and consider Brand Management to be the strongest skill set in the department. But here's where it gets ugly: 25% of B2B CMOs consider Brand Awareness an important marketing metric; only 15% believe Brand Equity is important.     

This chasm between awareness and equity, which also exists for B2C brands, can prove particularly vexing and stubborn for B2B because of some commonly held misconceptions:

  1. Brand matters more for B2C (a lingering notion despite being soundly dispelled)
  2. The role of brand (in a traditional sales-driven culture) is to drive awareness and fill the mouth of the funnel (the reality points to a vital role in securing choice and loyalty)
  3. Brand Equity is amorphous, eludes specification, and hence best avoided (there exist many robust quantitatively-specified equity models
Read more

Not just good. Not just great. Build an amazing brand.

There are plenty of good brands. And some great ones. But few can arouse the intensity of emotions that make them inseparable. Brands achieve resonance at the point of inflection where the interaction transforms from transaction to relationship. And like any relationship, resonance occurs in intensifying layers, with the best brands being able to trigger an enduring and self-amplifying relationship.  

Patagonia has practically written the book on how to do this right. Newer brands like Spanx and Dollar Shave Club have built a loyal following by rewriting the rules. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and CrossFit have built communities that thrive on shared experiences. And “legacy” brands like USAA and Delta Air Lines have effectively engaged their communities to strengthen their bond.

Forrester clients can read about these Resonant Brands in my new report (From Great To Amazing: Building Brands With Enduring Resonance). Here’s a quick preview of how CMOs can steer their brands towards Resonance:

 

Get Emotional

If you deliver a great customer experience, you’re halfway to building an amazing brand. Now, ramp up on emotional connections — they are much stickier than functional excellence.

Build Communities

An engaged community will do the heavy lifting around building brand and salience for you — if you give them a reason to. Create the right environment and the context for your brand communities to thrive.

Have A Unique Voice

Read more

The Vanishing Dichotomy Between B2B and B2C Branding

 How My Experience As A Decision Maker Formed My B2B Branding World View

Before I threw caution to the wind and launched myself with wild abandon into the world of branding, I had a normal life.  For a few years, I ran a retail business for a Berkshire Hathaway company (and since everyone asks, yes, I did meet and have dinner with Warren, although I suspect his recollection may not be as crisp as mine.) We manufactured and sold uniforms to government agencies: Police, fire, EMS, postal service, and others. As you'd expect, our customers were quite insistent that the fabric for the uniforms be made in the U.S. That is until budgets got slashed, and belts got tightened. Then the only thing that mattered was cost. So we were sent scampering to find the lowest-cost fabric and our global fabric sourcing program had to go from zero to sixty in a matter of months. 

Read more

This Black Friday, Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Black Friday approaches. I should be breathless with anticipation. You see, I’m a brand strategist. To me, the prospect of millions of people reveling in thousands of brands and turning the bottom line from red to black is brand nirvana. It’s like Christmas came early. Which it does, in a way, on Black Friday.

Yet, the tendrils of self-doubt infiltrate my exuberance. Must a weekend so treasured for time spent with friends and family be ruined by being pepper-sprayed at Walmart, by being gored in the Pamplona bull run down the aisles at Best Buy to save 50 bucks on a TV I don’t need? Do we really need to spend any more time glued to our devices buying more clutter?

Maybe you feel this way, and maybe you don’t. But you would expect brands to be cheerleaders for Black Friday, right? Wrong.

Black Friday 2011: Patagonia buys a full-page ad in the New York Times and instructs readers not to buy its jackets. That’s right, they pay good money to tell folks not to buy their stuff. Citing the “astonishing” environmental cost of making jackets, they encourage people to reuse and recycle. Fast forward to Black Friday 2016. This year, Patagonia is donating 100% of Black Friday sales to grass roots organizations "working to create positive change for the planet in their own backyards."  Yes, you did read that correctly. 100%. And sales, not profit.  

Black Friday, 2015: REI decides to remain closed that day and give all its employees a paid day off. No, their P&L does not self-combust. Instead, they choose to close shop again for Black Friday 2016. REI’s CEO says that this “reinforces both REI’s culture with employees and the message that resonates with the company’s core customer base.” About 2 million people plan to #OptOutside with REI.

Read more

Kale Is Good For JetBlue And Other Tales of Brand Resonance

A powerful brand not only has to be extremely relevant to prospects, it has to make itself an invaluable and inextricable part of customers' lives as well. In the recent Forrester report called Navigate Your Brand To Resonance: Four Milestones To Brand Building, I outline a road map for CMOs with four clear stops, from salience to resonance, on the road to building a powerful brand. This journey is a must-take road trip for CMOs looking to assess the state of their brand and craft a strategy for taking it to the next step. The milestones are shown in the figure below:

The roadmap traces a deepening connection between brand and consumer built on a foundation of customer-obsessed experience delivery and powerful emotional connections. Good brands succeed in being salient, inducing trial, creating memorable experiences, and forming emotional bonds. Amazing brands do more – they energize the entire brand-consumer relationship in a way that creates a resonant and enduring bond. Brands that achieve this resonance are twice blessed -  they reap the rewards of loyalty with existing customers and also set in motion a powerful recommendation engine which feeds the awareness and salience funnel. As Forrester research has consistently shown, word of mouth and recommendations are far more credible than brand-generated paid and earned media.

In the report, I provide several best practices of brands on this journey from salience to resonance; here are a few:

Read more