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 regularly refer to adrenalin as the chemical of change. To me, transformation must be radical and scary, because it pretty much requires the same levels of energy and momentum to get to a ‘dangerous’ place as it does to shift to somewhere a lot more comfortable. The only difference may be the time it may take for people internally to get comfortable again.
That’s particularly true if you’re a brand that has fallen behind – where the shift required to even stay alive can feel huge. And yet for all the effort, the concern, the misgivings, where your brand lands can in reality be right in the middle of the pack – meaning that sooner rather than later, the company will need to repeat the same process in order to avoid being lost.
So often, it seems, those undertaking brand change misjudge impact. People assess what has happened from the point of view of how far they have shifted rather than looking at the two things that really matter: the active difference it has made for consumers; and where the brand now lies in relative competitiveness and interest to those in the market today and those on the verge of entering.
It’s not just brands that need to catch up that face this dilemma. Even brands that lead their fields and are widely perceived as shapeshifters can agonize over decisions that, to consumers, are perfectly sensible once they do appear. I remember having this discussion one day in an airport with the Creative Director of a global clothing brand I know well. Pointing to the new imagery on the posters in the display window, I commented that I liked the way they had extended the brand a little.Read More
It is an indisputable fact that purchasing in product and service categories obeys the law of Double Jeopardy. This is – stated at its most simplistic – an empirical generalization that higher market share brands achieve stronger customer loyalty than lower market share brands in the same category. But the thing that always intrigues me is whether all brands obey the Double Jeopardy law to the same degree all of the time.
Take pretty much any data set at a point in time and plot brands on a graph comparing a penetration metric with a loyalty metric, and you will find a consistent relationship between the two; the higher a brand’s penetration the higher the loyalty. The metrics could be awareness and claimed trial, familiarity and favorable brand attitudes or actual penetration and repeat purchase, and the pattern will be there and favor the bigger brands. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from Double Jeopardy is that to grow market share, a brand must first grow its customer base.
But Double Jeopardy only holds if brands are broadly substitutable and appeal to the same target audience. And having spent more time than I care to think about looking at brand scatter plots like the one described above, I have noticed that some brands manage to break away from the category relationship. A few appear to do so on a consistent basis, and others do so only temporarily. Brands that manage to achieve a higher loyalty than is predicted by the category relationship tend also to be the ones that have managed to innovate, and create a perception of meaningful differentiation versus the competition. The ones that fall short tend to be premium brands that have lost their differentiation.
This observation makes me wonder if over time brands tend to revert to the category mean. In other words, from time-to-time brands find a way to innovate – either tangibly or intangibly – creating meaningful differentiation that allows them to command more loyalty than their size would normally dictate. But competitive pressures then erode that advantage, returning the brand to the category norm.Read More
A couple of months ago, Adrienne Bateup-Carlson sent me this op-ed by Roger Cohen. In it, Cohen laments the plasticization of experience. “The question of genuine, undiluted experience has been on my mind,” he writes. “Germans have a good word for something authentic: “echt.” We have an echt deficit these days. Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost … We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience.”
Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a fast-food “service experience” can sympathize. The greetings are anonymous, the requests generic, the answers pat, the actions either physically or mentally automated. This is life on rote, experience in a box. It feels as sincere as the latest apology for downtown traffic delays, the “Thanks for waiting” message from the telco customer service team and the reassurances from an insurer that they will “gladly” pay up in the event of a claim.
It often happens because experience is acknowledged but unowned by the people most responsible for brands. In an article earlier this year, Nigel Hollis was astonished to discover that, according to Forrester Research and Heidrick & Struggles, most CMOs are not responsible for customer service and support or in-store/branch training. “That seems crazy to me,” he observes. “ … If the CMO is charged with developing positive brand perceptions and value, then they should at least have control over the most important elements of the brand experience.”Read More
Branding Strategy Insider helps marketing oriented leaders and professionals like you build strong brands. BSI readers know, we regularly answer questions from marketers everywhere. Today we hear from Chris, a VP of Marketing in Atlanta, Georgia who writes…
“I head up the marketing efforts for a regional sports bar & grille chain with 50+ stores. I work with many restaurant operators and have not been able to put into simple terms how the short-term strategy of promotions is a mistake versus marketing our brand for long-term growth. The casual dining industry has been struggling and patience is not something my colleagues have and so easily we fall into the “we have do something” trap and come up with another promotion. We communicate WHAT we have [i.e. the promotions: $5 Cheesesteaks; Trivia @ 7pm; Kids Eat Free on Tuesdays, Late Night Happy Hour, etc.] instead of communicating WHY a potential customer should visit us [we are fun, we love sports, we have great food, etc.].
We have not marketed our brand in the past. There’s always been an offer attached or we just advertise an offer. I’m trying really hard to break the cycle. Research we just conducted shows our brand awareness is weak. We’re trying to be all things to all people so we don’t differentiate ourselves. We’re not providing the WHY. Anything you can share that will help me explain this on a level that an owner/operator can understand would be greatly appreciated.”
Thank you for your question, Chris. Brands exist to differentiate one company’s products from all other products in its category. By definition, brands are able to charge a price premium over commodities – the stronger the brand, the higher the price premium that can be charged. Brands deliver other benefits to companies as well:
- Increased revenues and market share
- Increased stock price, shareholder value and sale value
- Increased word-of-mouth marketing
- Increased customer loyalty
- Increased ability to attract and retain talented employees
- Increased employee job satisfaction
- Increased clarity of vision
- Increased profitability
- Decreased price sensitivity
- Increased ability to mobilize an organization’s people and focus its activities
- Increased ability to expand into new product and service categories
- Additional leverage with vendors and retailers (for manufacturers)
Brands are built over time through strong brand identity (logos, taglines, etc.), marketing communication and customer service. Most importantly, you must consistently deliver on the brand’s unique value proposition each time the brand interacts with the customer at each point of customer contact.Read More
Commoditization is a fact of market. I always remember that great observation by VJ Govindarajan that “Strategy starts dying the moment it is created”. It dies because its (potential) effectiveness dies and with that, its relative value.
That idea, transposed to brand is, in reality, what commoditization is: the (slow) death of relevant value. However, there are strategies you can put in place to reverse the speed and/or pace of that commoditizing effect. Here are nine ways I outlined to a leadership forum in Malaysia recently to decommoditize your offering and reassert its branded value.
In the presentation itself, I focused on actual commodities, but the principles are in fact applicable to any brand/product that doesn’t command the value that it needs to, or once did:
1. Think of the product in new ways – when you redefine what something is or could be, you reframe its context and it’s much easier to redefine what it can be used for. When you stop thinking of milk as a drink, for example, and start thinking of it as a food, as Fonterra did, you change the scope of the product you’re working with in so many ways.
2. Redefine who you want to be a brand to – if the current audience places a declining level of value on it, think about who might be able to use it in ways that enable you to regain value. Starbucks redefined the value of coffee globally by making coffee hip, urbane and tailored to individual taste. Now they’re looking to do the same thing with tea. In a world that really does believe it’s seen or searched it all, discovery is a powerful consumer motive.
3. Change what it looks like – sometimes changing the value of a commodity can be as simple as changing how it appears to others. Think about the difference in pricing and perception between bottled beer and beer on tap. However, new packaging alone won’t make up for a product that doesn’t add value. What it can do is signal the unrealized value that you want consumers to take up on.
4. Formulate your offer in different ways – the water industry changed how we think of water by adding vitamins and/or carbon dioxide and then segmenting those offers to specific audiences. Today, the world spends more than $100 billion a year on bottled water. What could you do to what you have to make it more than it is right now?Read More