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Brad VanAuken

Brad VanAuken Brand Education

Superior Marketers And Their Brain

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One of the reasons I love marketing is because it requires both sides of the brain to be a truly skilled marketer. While some highly intuitive leaders have achieved great success from their intuition alone and while some advertising agency “creatives” have created brilliant campaigns without the benefit of research, most truly gifted marketers know how and when to use each side of their brain.

For instance, it is important to create “out-of-the-box” stimulus to present to customers in research, but it is also important to know which research technique to use and in what order questions should be asked to minimize biasing. It is even more important to know whether the research was constructed in a valid way that can be relied upon. If you are a marketing researcher, CRM expert, direct marketer or product manager, analytical skills and metrics are very important. If you are developing advertising campaigns, you had better have a very active right brain. The same is true if you are developing out-of-the-box publicity approaches.

One must know when to listen to research results and when to ignore them.  And one must be able to understand why qualitative research findings might differ from quantitative research findings and what to do about it. Sometimes analytics will indicate a particular market segment, product benefit, pricing strategy or merchandising strategy can take your brand to the next level. But it is equally as important to be able to get deep inside your customer’s head to understand his or her deepest values, attitudes and motivations.

So, what skills are important for a top marketer? A highly skilled marketer should possess each of these skill sets:

  • Psychology – understanding human motivations in a deep way, knowing what makes people “tick”
  • Selling – intuitively knowing what words, phrases and approaches connect with customers and cause them to want to buy what you are selling
  • Communication – outstanding and persuasive written and oral communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills – good listening skills, personal charisma, being likable, connecting with others easily
  • Analytical skills – understanding budgets, financial statements, marketing research design, data analysis and statistics
  • Broad cultural knowledge – knowing what your customers are exposed to and what is informing their fears and desires
  • Broad exposure and experience across multiple disciplines – to stimulate creative connections between seemingly unrelated things

This is why I think of marketing as a “gestalt.” It is also why mediocre marketers outnumber marketers who are operating at a high level of functioning by a wide margin. Finally, it is why it is difficult for someone who is not a marketer to gauge the competence of any given marketer.  In the end, it is this constant back-and-forth between right-brain and left-brain that makes marketing so fresh and interesting.

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Featuring John Sculley May 16-17, 2013 in San Diego, California
A unique, competitive-learning workshop limited to 100 participants
As in the marketplace — some will win, some will lose, All will learn

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Brad VanAuken Brand Building

Brand Building And Fear

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Unfortunately, fear is still the primary motivator among humans. I say unfortunately because I would hope that one day we would transcend our fears and be motivated primarily by our highest dreams and visions. It would lead to a much more utopian world.

Never the less, as I lead up to a brand marketing point, here is a partial list of some of our most common fears (in no particular order):

  • Fear of flying
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of intimacy
  • Fear of commitment
  • Fear of crowds
  • Fear of making a mistake
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of damnation
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Fear of being discovered as an imposter
  • Fear of germs
  • Fear of clowns
  • Fear of snakes
  • Fear of spiders
  • Fear of wild animals
  • Fear of drowning

And marketing messages certainly play off of fear. Consider the opposite of each of these marketing claims. With our brand, you will feel:

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Brad VanAuken Brand Strategy

Brand Strategy For Commodities

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I remember a particular branding workshop that I was conducting in Dubai a few years ago. Marketing managers from throughout the Middle East attended, including many from different energy companies.  In the pre-workshop survey, several of the energy company marketing managers (from different companies) indicated that they wanted to know how to differentiate their energy brand so that they could charge a price premium over the competition in what is largely a commodity category. At the beginning of class, I recounted the pre-workshop request and indicated that I could help them differentiate their brands but that each company would have to choose a different approach to brand differentiation for it to work.

I use a specific exercise in my educational workshops to prove that commodities can be differentiated. I create a team competition to brand water, the primary component of the earth’s surface, our bodies and almost every other living thing on this planet. This is as close as it gets to branding a pure commodity. I ask the teams to determine the target customer, brand position, brand story, advertising campaign and packaging, pricing and distribution strategies, among other marketing elements.

Over the years, some very good new business concepts emerged from these workshops. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them have been turned into thriving profitable businesses by now.

Here are just some of the ways in which water can be branded to remove it from the commodity category and to enable one to charge a price premium for it:

  • Taste/flavoring/carbonation
  • Color
  • Bottle/packaging shape/color/functionality
  • Source/story
  • Health qualities
  • Ways to drink
  • Temperature control
  • Size
  • Price
  • Suggested uses
  • Highly targeted markets
  • Bundling with other products
  • Distribution

And here are some general approaches to branding commodities, both B2B and consumer products:

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Brad VanAuken Brand Positioning

The Importance Of Careful Customer Targeting

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I have positioned five wealth management brands and over a dozen other financial service brands in my brand consulting career. Most people, when thinking about wealth management brands, think the target customer is fairly straightforward – anyone who has more than $250,000 or $500,000 of investable assets – individuals or institutions. And while most wealth management firms’ customers would meet this criterion, this is not the bulls-eye of the target. As an example, when working with wealth management clients, they have arrived at each these different definitions of their target customers [1]:

  • People 55+ on fixed incomes who have at least $250,000 in investable assets, have experienced significant decreases in net worth at least once and are worried about loss of capital and inability to live on their investments
  • Entrepreneurs who have created their own wealth, have at least $1,000,000 in investable assets and feel as though they have not been adequately recognized for their accomplishments
  • Individuals who have at least $500,000 in investable assets (many of whom previously managed their own portfolios) and desire a wealth management firm that can talk to them in depth about fundamental and technical analysis, market trends, investment philosophies, asset allocation, etc.
  • Individuals who have at least $500,000 in investable assets and who are tired of dealing with aggressive New York City brokers who do not listen to their needs or give them personal attention
  • Christians with at least $250,000 in investable assets who believe in wise stewardship of resources so that they can be generous with their families and communities

Imagine what the brand promise for each of these brands might be. Imagine what the marketing messaging might be. Imagine through what channels, methods and media these potential customers might be reached. Imagine how the brand promise might be delivered. Imagine the proof points that might support the brand promise.  Imagine what the products and services might be and how they might be delivered. Each of these would be different, radically different, for each of these brands.

While I used the wealth management category as an example, this is true of every product/service category. Brands that create amazingly loyal customers tend to have very well defined target customers, so much so that they tend to share values with those customers.

When we are conducting brand positioning workshops, it is important to spend as much time as possible defining the target customer. It is akin to the saying that “defining the problem is half of the solution.” Defining the target customer properly gets you most of the way toward crafting a unique and compelling brand promise. I wish you great success in carefully defining your target customer.


[1] Target customer definitions are altered for illustrative purposes

Sponsored byThe Brand Positioning Workshop

Join us at The Un-Conference: 360° of Brand Strategy for a Changing World
Featuring John Sculley May 16-17, 2013 in San Diego, California
A unique, competitive-learning workshop limited to 100 participants
As in the marketplace — some will win, some will lose, All will learn

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Brad VanAuken Slogans/Taglines/Jingles

Brand Strategy: AVIS Abandons Trying Harder

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Brand Strategy Avis Tagline

After 50 years of “We try harder,” AVIS Car Rental has announced that it will replace that slogan with a new one, “It’s your space.” When introduced, “We try harder” was lauded as a brilliant counterpoint to Hertz’s #1 position in the car rental industry. It was a strong brand promise that played off the belief that the #2 car rental company would work harder on a customer’s behalf.

Since the introduction of that slogan, the competitive landscape in the rental car industry has gotten more crowded and more challenging. Having used most of the rental car brands myself, I can confirm that Enterprise has consistently shown that it tries harder in the area of customer service. Perhaps, that’s why AVIS finally walked away from its much-lauded slogan.

While I can understand that “It’s your space” is customer focused, it is not a promise and I am unconvinced that it differentiates. I am sure a great amount of brand research went into the development of the new tagline (or I at least hope it did). But I just don’t get it. As a very frequent business traveler, I am not compelled to use AVIS based on this new slogan.

I will withhold judgment until I have seen the marketing campaigns associated with this slogan unfold, but, for now, all I can say is, “huh?”

What is your opinion?

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