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Brad VanAuken

Brad VanAuken Brand Education

Superior Marketers And Their Brain


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.

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

FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers

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Brad VanAuken Brand Building

Brand Building And Fear


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 Positioning

Defining Your Competitive Frame Of Reference


Choosing the most advantageous competitive frame of reference is a very important part of brand positioning. Earlier on Branding Strategy Insider I shared how Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute redefined itself from an engineering school to a place where technological innovation thrives (why not change the world?®). I shared how The Strong Museum redefined itself from a children’s museum to THE place that studies and explores play and American University redefined itself as a place for WONKs, focusing on its location in Washington, DC and even its association with public policy. In all three of these instances, the brands intended to move from more crowded categories to a category of their own creation in which they became the only (category-of-one) brand.

I have also explored how to define the category that a cola brand might be in. Is the category colas, or carbonated beverages or soft drinks or non-alcoholic beverages or all beverages or rehydration or human liquid consumption or refreshment or something else?

What category is Dasani Drops in? Perhaps the tagline defines it – “flavor enhancer.” Does this mean that the category is not flavored water? How does that help Dasani Drops competitively?

There are hundreds of professional associations and societies in health care, reflecting the degree of complexity and specialization in that field. We are working with a professional society in health care that develops physician leaders. Is their competitive frame of reference professional societies for physicians, professional societies for physician leaders, professional societies for health care executives, professional development for health care administrators, leadership development for physicians or something else? While these may all seem similar, depending on what they have chosen, their competitive set and unique value proposition changes, especially in this crowded field.

Just as choosing the most advantageous target customer definition is not a trivial exercise, so too is choosing the competitive frame of reference. Choosing a competitive frame of reference based on the most powerful motivators for the target customers can lead to a previously undefined category in which your brand has few, if any competitors. That category definition helps your brand own the benefit more quickly before any other brand is able to claim it. Being able to redefine the category requires out-of-the box thinking.

If interested, we have tools to help you explore category description alternatives, including those that can transform your band into a category-of-one.

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 Brand Strategy

Brand Strategy For Commodities


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 Promise

Making And Keeping Brand Promises


Brands make promises and then they must keep those promises. Making the promise is easy. Keeping it is the hard part. One can make a promise with words. But it can only be kept through actions. Consider BP repositioning itself as an environmentally friendly brand with the “Beyond Petroleum” slogan and the bright yellow and green sunburst icon. BP supported this with a $200 million public relations advertising campaign designed by Ogilvy & Mather.  It worked well until the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Then other actions came to light, like the environmentally controversial oil sands project in Alberta, Canada.

A brand’s marketing department, often assisted by marketing agencies, can help a brand craft its promise, but who is going to make sure the promise is believable and sustainable with real proof points? Who is going to make sure that the organization can authentically deliver against the promise?

This is why the brand’s promise must be crafted at the most senior level of its organization. Delivering on the promise requires alignment with the organization’s mission, vision and business plans. It will affect the allocation of resources including capital expenditures. To deliver on the “Beyond Petroleum” promise, BP needed to invest significantly in alternative energy sources including R&D spending in that area and it needed to implement tighter environmental standards and controls not only for its own operations but also for all of its sub-contractors. These are not marketing manager decisions. These are CEO decisions.

When we conduct brand positioning workshops for organization brands, we include the organization’s CEO (or equivalent) and his or her staff, including his or her CMO. Why, because this is a strategic exercise that will require total organizational alignment and support. A marketing manager cannot guarantee this. And an external marketing agency certainly cannot guarantee this.

Remember, the most important part of a brand’s promise is not the making of the promise, but rather the keeping of the promise. Make sure your brand is able to do that.

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

Read More