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At The Blake Project our sole focus is helping organizations create brands that build and sustain trust. Branding Strategy Insider is an extension of our efforts as brand consultants to help marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands.

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Marketing

The Rising Influence Of Marketers

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Brand Marketers

The reason why companies have worked photocopy business plans for so long is because they never thought to work any other way. It just seemed too risky. The rise and rise of producer nations, in the words of Michael Porter, “riveted attention on implementation”. Watching Japan, then China and India continue to progress, many companies fell further into the action trap. They believed that the only way to outrun their immediate competitors and their looming Asian rivals was to, somehow, out-do them.

But as Michael Porter has commented: “It’s incredibly arrogant for a company to believe that it can deliver the same sort of product that its rivals do and actually do better for very long…It’s extremely dangerous to bet on the incompetence of your competitors” – and that, he says, is what companies are doing when they rely on operational effectiveness for competitive advantage.

My sense is that operational effectiveness and efficiency currently account for about 50 – 70% of perceived competitive advantage, but that percentage is falling. It’s falling, because of course consumer expectations continue to rise – ironically as more and more best of breed thinking is installed – and consumer emotions continue to change – as more channels give consumers unprecedented access to brands and to each other.

As quality becomes ubiquitous, it’s harder and harder to gamble on incompetence.

And it becomes easier and easier for consumers to change brands for no reason whatsoever other than what they feel. Because the actual risk in doing so is getting smaller and smaller thanks to best-of-breed.

All this makes for an irrational economy. And the irrational economy plays by very different rules.

As Avi Dan points out in this article in Forbes, “Customers are now able find out much about the company they wish to engage with: where and how a company makes its products; how it treats its employees, retired workers, and suppliers; how much it pays its top executives; how seriously it takes its environmental responsibilities and the like.”

The criteria is no longer what they get. It’s just as much what they know – and therefore feel.

The role of Chief Marketing Officers in such a world, Dan goes on to say, is “to meld the internal and external faces of the enterprise”.

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Brand Marketing

Hollow Brand Claims In An Age Of Scrutiny

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False Brand Claims

We’re all tempted to do it at some stage: to overstate the advantages; to push the benefits of what is on offer past the point of credibility; to state that what we are doing or offering is better than what others are offering, but with no substantiation for that belief.

The obsession with short-term growth coupled with natural competitiveness and the intensity of competitors come together to motivate brands to disregard the boundaries of responsible advertising. In New Zealand, for example there’s a recent case of caged eggs being sold as free-range and at free-range prices. Business Insider Australia highlights a number of other examples of false claims that have collectively cost companies many millions of dollars, including: Activia yogurt (which claimed the nutritional benefits of its product were clinically and scientifically proven when they weren’t); Taco Bell (whose seasoned beef was seasoned with oat filler); and Skechers (which claimed its sneakers were calorie burning when there was no evidence of tangible benefits).

It doesn’t stop there of course. Ads are retouched to make things look bigger or smaller than they really are, offers are rendered useless by their terms and conditions, products are advertised as available at a certain price but in reality they aren’t, environmental claims are made that prove groundless…the list goes on.

At best, these are mistakes or oversights. At worst, they are snake-oil deceptions. Leaving aside those who deliberately set out to rip others off, often, it seems to me, the brands that are inclined to engage in hollow practices are those where sales have become an obsession at the expense of other aspects of the relationship. That’s a very old-fashioned view of business as we all know. And yet it persists because focusing on the numbers and incentivizing people to do what it takes to make the sales targets can be seen as easier than connecting with customers and building valued relationships.

Why do we behave like this? Why do human beings exaggerate and even falsify? Is it just money? Apparently not. Novelist Sarah Jio talks about the very human factors that drive people to deceive in this article in the Huffington Post. She quotes Dr Robert Feldman who says we are programmed socially from a very young age to make ourselves look better. Feldman points to a study he led in which 60 percent of people lied during 10-minute conversations with strangers – not once but two to three times on average. Most of those who took part had no idea they had done this until they saw the replays on video of their conversations.

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Branding and Social Media

4 Keys To Building Brand Social Value

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Social Brand Strategy

We sometimes forget that with social media, it is not about the destination, it is about the journey; a journey that is defined by the goals a brand hopes to realize when it engages a network of individuals. Viewing “social” as an “emerging communications” medium is like calling water wet. Let’s lay it out here: We are social.

We are seven billion individuals dynamically interacting within scalable groups exhibiting similar behaviors and patterns. Out of these interactions, new behaviors emerge which cannot be inferred from individual components alone.

Our worth in groups is far greater than the sum of us as individuals.

So then, what motivates individuals to join networks? Consider these four primary relational motivations:

  1. Competition (especially games, high-feedback environments)
  2. Excellence (think badge value and bragging rights.)
  3. Curiosity (think creativity – stories, photo albums, etc.)
  4. Affection (think human beings who need social relationships, all of us!)

Arranging the four into a diamond – take a look at what is revealed for Facebook, then Facebook with games (as presented by Davide ‘Folletto’ Casali in a talk on Social Experience Design).

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Brands & Consumers

Brands vs Choice Overload

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Brand Strategy And Choice

We are the sum of our choices. In many ways, what we choose is a declaration of who we are and our choices even impact how we relate to each other.

Insightful marketers understand that having fewer choices usually correlates with better, more actionable decision-making. As the number of choices increases, the choosing experience becomes less liberating and satisfying and actually can be a source of anxiety, as more choices demand more of our ‘working memory’ to process. Suddenly we lose our keys more often and forget why we walked into the room we’re standing in. We actually overload our working memory with all of the decisions we make – both the big choices, and the small ones.

Here’s what usually happens when you offer people too many choices:

  • Delay: People will delay their decision, procrastinate, and even go against their own best self-interests when presented with more choices than their working memory can process.
  • Less engaged: The gap between being overwhelmed and tuning out is razor thin.
  • Unsatisfied: The more offerings placed in front of us, the less satisfactory choices we will make. Our working memory cannot go that deep while working on other things… like breathing, walking, etc.

In the The Paradox of Choice Barry Schwartz adds: “At the other end of the spectrum, when people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation, the cumulative effect this variety brings is powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, the negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.”

Sheena Iyengar is a leading thinker of understanding choice. She offers four “C”s to brand marketers to help reduce the amount of overload and anxiety.

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Brand Purpose

10 Ways To Measure Brand Purpose

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Brand Purpose Strategy

Metrics and big data are on everyone’s minds it seems these days – a symptom of the market’s continuing obsession with quants as measurement of proof, and indeed proof of measurement. The framework of financial measures (and acronyms) that dominated investor reporting has today been supplemented by a plethora of social measures intended to track every click, count every interaction and in the process derive sentiment and “truth” from every social engagement.

“Measure what matters because it matters what you measure”

Such a bewildering array of data points raises its own dilemmas of course, not the least of which is how to prioritize and balance all these insights and, at the same time, maintain an objective and effective view of progress against goals and strategies. It may seem strange, given this, that we propose measuring another aspect of commercial activity. The difference, and the challenge, is that we believe it is increasingly important for brands to find ways to assess the contributions of what has previously been unquantified.

There is good precedent. The concept of a “brand” being an asset, and a quantifiable asset for the balance sheet at that, has graduated from heresy to legitimacy. There are still those who question the methodology but overall there is a wider acceptance that some things we can’t touch, such as goodwill, have a prove-able commercial effect and value.

The contribution of Purpose to a culture and to a brand’s strategic focus has been gaining traction for some time. Deloitte’s Culture of Purpose 2013 Report, for example, identifies a strong sense of purpose as a strong and proven contributor to long term success. Their Report identifies cultures with purpose as having higher performing employees and generating strong financial performances. Other attributes include a distinct brand, clearly defined values, a rich belief system, greater customer satisfaction and better employee satisfaction. The findings endorse the thinking in John Kotter’s 2011 book Corporate Culture and Performance in which he directly correlated “high performing cultures” and financial performance.

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