The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
I swiped this cartoon image from a wonderful TED Talk by Sheena Iyengar on the art of choosing. If you are managing a brand, do yourself a favor and take some time to watch it. It has significant implications for brand marketers.
As I listened to her scholarly presentation, I thought how the power of choice affects our collective work in building the value of brands. Obviously choice, and more specifically free choice, is what we Americans have built our entire cultural narrative on over the past two and a half centuries. But is our cultural inclination for more and more choice really serving us? I ask the rhetorical question because I think it’s worth thinking about.
We have abundant choice. We are surrounded by options. This is not so in other parts of the world. It is interesting to note, that in those cultures where many choices have not been previously available, the sudden available of choice causes tremendous stress and anxiety for people. People simply have a difficult time sorting things out. In some cultures, choosing for oneself is viewed as disrespectful to the harmony and collective well-being of all concerned. For example, in Asian cultures, it’s better to have the “buy-in” of others, particularly those who are admired and respected, who participate in the choices an individual makes. For these people community trumps individualism.
When it comes to the brandscape, our available choices in all product categories seems more and more endless. So much so that I am beginning to believe that choice is dumbing us down as a culture.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating less freedom to choose. I’m simply throwing the idea out there that we might have more choice than is really good for us. At a minimum, we have more choice than what is truly useful to us. I don’t believe ubiquitous marketing online or off is helping bring more clarity to people about choice. More marketing and more choice just adds to the slush pile.Read More
Branding Strategy Insider helps marketing oriented leaders and professionals like you build strong brands. To that end we’re happy to answer your marketing questions. Today we hear from Bill, a Senior Brand Manager in Chicago, Illinois who writes…
“I’m a long time reader who will be attending The Un-Conference. My question – After an initial success of our functional beverage product introduction, we have experienced a drop in sales within the retail channel. Our prices are competitive with other brands. We believe our label describing our functional benefits may no longer be resonating with consumers. We’ve tested various descriptive words in various decorative packaging design themes. We came away with a lot of information about what words and designs people like–but no useful information revealing why our brand is losing momentum and sales. What would you suggest we do next?”
Thanks for your question Bill. Fixing words on your packaging that need fixing is an easy thing to do. Influencing consumers to reach for your product at shelf rather than the other alternative is a very difficult thing to do. It’s tempting to go for the quick tactical fix – some clever copywriting and a few design tweaks. You must think bigger. To win the battle at shelf requires your product represent a greater, more valuable idea to the consumer than the words and decorations used on the label to describe its function and benefits.
Consumers must value “the reason to believe” your promise. Certainly, product attributes, functions and benefits form the building blocks that differentiate one thing from another. Being different from your competitors is not enough to win at shelf.
Consumers demand and expect products to function and deliver the promised benefits. Today everything is good. On the shelf, good = the same. Abundant choice and clutter has made today’s consumers deaf and blind. They’re immune to buzz words, descriptors, starbursts and flashy colors. To win at shelf requires your product represent a higher ideal steeped in shared values and a greater experience. If it doesn’t, it better be the cheapest price. (If that is not a goal — re-focus)
To get consumers reaching for your brand rather than your competitors requires they hold a perception in their mind of a desired experience that’s difficult to substitute.
If the product doesn’t represent a higher ideal and is functionally the same as everything else, copywriting and graphic design, no matter how clever and cool, won’t be effective in building long term sales growth and brand value even if you win some design awards.Read More
Economics is about deciding what’s valuable.
After the re-set in the global economy, people everywhere are re-evaluating and sorting out what is valuable in their lives and what is not. What the world needs now is to have more value added to it. And that’s what brands must do — add value to the world — if they want to lead the market in the post-marketing world.
This is one timely and underpinning theme of our brand strategy event, The Un-Conference: 360° of Brand Strategy for a Changing World May 16th & 17th in San Diego.
Creating new value is fundamental to the healthy functioning of our free-market economy. Like the natural law of gravity, creating new value is the natural law of increase. People are always seeking an increase to their lives — wanting to be a higher and more fuller expression of themselves. As brand marketers, when we have the opportunity to serve people well, we find greater meaning and satisfaction in our own life experience.
The marketplace is a slush pile of clutter.
Your biggest competitor in the marketplace is clutter. Attention spans are shrinking, people are fatigued by marketing messages coming at them from everywhere and on every device… attention spans are shorter, media channels are ever changing. One could argue now that people don’t care about brands, and they really don’t want a relationship with a brand — unless they get a discount.
If your company/product/brand no longer existed would any one care?
Does your brand represent an ideal (beyond your product / service function and money-making) that customers highly value? Does your organization focus on innovation that provides your best customers just what they’re asking for, or do you focus on providing future customers what they’re dreaming of and waiting for?
We live in the post branding/marketing world everything is branded and everything is good.
In a world of me-too products, resonance and relevance is an increasingly difficult challenge for brand marketers in every business category. If your value proposition looks, smells and tastes like marketing, people are more inclined to ignore you.
For brand owners who care about building an enduring and valuable brand, the recent JC Penney drama offers an excellent learning opportunity. Venerable retailer JC Penney opened its doors more than a century ago and generates annual revenues of nearly $13 billion from its 1,100 stores. JC Penney was a force to be reckoned with in mid-market department store retail for most of the 20th Century. And that’s exactly why the brand is stuck in its self-inflicted drama today. Like its competitor Sears, the department store format is becoming a relic–an idea that no longer serves shopper’s changing behaviors and preferences in our digital age.
Now JC Penney is a broken company and a broken brand.
And no matter how much the brand needs fixing, it won’t happen until the internal culture is fixed. JC Penney is a brand without a soul, with no higher purpose than profit taking. Customers no longer care about JC Penney– not the once loyal shoppers who valued their discount coupons, nor the potential up-market name brand shopper the “new JCP” tried to attract. Over the past two years, JC Penney same store sales have dramatically declined nearly 30%. The company’s stock is trading at roughly half of what the current hedge-fund owners paid for their original investment. Heads will roll and they did!
Let’s look at the lessons for marketers based on JC Penney’s recent attempts to transform its iconic brand:
What got you there, won’t keep you there.
Brands begin to decline long before the cash they generate does. JC Penney’s owners and executive management were heavily invested in keeping up the status quo–doing the urgent work of meeting the numbers and maximizing shareholder value, while the more important work of innovating new value for a new generation of shoppers seemed less of a priority. Sadly, once the decision was made to transform the JC Penney brand, the CEO in charge of creating the transformation of a 100 year-old brand was fired in less than 18 months. Seemingly too little, too late.
Lock onto true north before changing anything.Read More
A shared value is a belief that both the brand and consumer have about a brand’s higher purpose, philosophy, culture and contribution. At the heart of enduring brand storytelling, shared values will be the only reason people will notice, listen and act.
Brands can’t market their way to making people care about the value they claim to provide. Besides consumers don’t care about your marketing anyway–their attention spans and tolerance grows ever shorter.
Clutter grows exponentially.
When what matters (beyond transactions and money-making) is shared between brand and customer, there is no need for selling, convincing, persuading and discounting prices…it’s simply about the resonance of the like-minded. The story of your brand must be born out of the shared values between the brand and those who care about it.
To those marketers who still believe consumers really want a “relationship” with their brands, the general consumer in the category doesn’t want a relationship with a brand – they want more discounts!
Brand storytelling reinforces shared values not functional benefits.
Brands can’t share values with everybody–only with some people. As Wayne (actor Mike Meyers) profoundly states in the comedy Wayne’s World “Led Zeppelin didn’t write songs everybody liked, they left that to the Bee-Gees”. So it is with brand storytelling.
In the outdoor / technical apparel category, Patagonia represents far more value than the functional benefits designed into its technical outerwear products. Functional benefits are the ante in the category. If you wear stuff that doesn’t meet the ante in the category, you’ll probably freeze to death on your next mountain adventure.
For Patagonia customers who share the brand’s passion for sustainability and environmental stewardship, there simply are no other substitutes. Patagonia’s rich history, founders story, and its authentic and trusted culture, echoes within the heart of the customer through the brand’s story of shared values.
Resonance creates preference.Read More