10 Pitfalls of Start-ups: How to Succeed Through the Initial Three Years and Beyond

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman Taking the Plunge

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Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, you conduct thorough research, plan meticulously, execute strategy flawlessly ‒ but over time, you barely survive, or worst yet, fail altogether. What gives?

According to statistics, as the latest available numbers from the two U.S. government statistical agencies responsible for providing data about new businesses illustrate, The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five years after new establishments were founded (1995, 2000 and 2005 respectively), 50%, 49 and 47 percent of them (correspondingly) were still in operation.

Merely reading a business book, this article, or attending a well-regarded entrepreneurship course/program is no guarantee of success in increasing one’s odds of business success. It takes diligent implementation of a viable business plan, focus, determination, consistent and well thought out action, as well as an obsession with the customer, amongst other traits and approaches. Management of a business is not a science, it’s a practice.

SME/SMB business owners optimistic despite odds of failure

A new, independent survey has found that small and mid-size business owners share several distinct attributes that help them live their passions while adapting to the shifting economic landscape.

Commissioned by Deluxe Corp. a publicly traded company and leading provider of marketing services and business products for small businesses and financial institutions, the study surveyed more than 1,000 SMB owners around the U.S. The results showed 86 percent of the respondents believe they can do anything they set their minds to, with 77 percent also stating they would rather learn from failure instead of never trying at all.

Based on the results, it’s no wonder entrepreneurs are known as risk averse and tenacious ‒ or as some would light-heartedly state, “We’re going to succeed because they’re crazy enough to think they can.”

Pitfalls of business failure

On the whole, businesses fail due to its owners’ lack of fundamental business knowledge. Needless to say, failed businesses did not operate the same way as those that succeed. The following are oversights and inaction responsible for their demise.

  • For starters, it’s going into business for the wrong reasons. If the only reasons an aspiring business person desires self-employment is making money and selling a product he/she is in love with, stick to a regular job and conduct business on the sidelines or as a hobby. Making money should not be the sole end goal. Simon Sinek, an accomplished author and adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world, in his popular talks worldwide, including TED, compellingly emphasizes the following:

Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?  Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.”

  •  The business is undercapitalized: a business with too much debt and a cash flow that doesn’t support it ‒ as a result of overestimated revenues and cash flow with underestimated expenses/cost of business.
  • Lacking business development – sales, the lifeblood of any business. Emphasis mainly on product rather than actually shipping quantity to its target market.
  • No USP/differentiation: another me too product, price sensitive, commoditized, and failure to communicate it in a captivating way.
  • Not focused on a particular market. Confused, and as a result, applying a gunshot approach. Unclear of its business model.
  • Poor execution of business and marketing plan. Lack of clear focus and direction. Moreover, inability to adapt to a changing environment, as well as anticipate future trends and plan for them – market phasing out unwanted items or services.
  • Poor operational management. It can be one or a combination of motives including lack of discipline, internal bickering between partners, owner arrogance, stubbornness, a closed mindset, and/or a lack of work ethic which causes complacency. Many start-ups have a carefree attitude to promote efficiency in the workplace, often needed to get their business off of the ground and persevering long afterwards.
  • Business expansions that are poorly planned and not appropriately financed. Although this growth is normally viewed as a positive development, its timing, execution tactics, and inadequate funding to sustain profitable growth stifle proper business progress.
  •  Failing to control costs – negligent fiscal management.
  • Creating dissatisfied customers: Not in touch with them along with a lack of a customer centric policy and fervent implementation with constant monitoring. Many businesses, small and large alike, offer lip service as they continue to disappoint their customers. It is a fact that the cost of acquiring a new customer is five times the cost of keeping an existing one.

Maze and Businessman

7 principles for business success: Avoid being a failed business statistic

If an entrepreneur is resolute enough to increase the chances of triumph from the outset, he/she should consider several key principles. These seven beliefs have been forged through my personal experiences, those of others I have either researched/interviewed and/or advised, as well as based on long-term practice and common sense seasoned with a touch of academia.

1)    A Viable Product or Service with the Right Business Model and a Passionate Person Behind it

It should fulfill a need, offer a benefit, be innovative and differentiate itself. It’s also imperative that the entrepreneur is passionate about the product/service, empowers his/her staff, as well as practices/conveys business ethics. To excel in the business, the entrepreneur must have the right mindset and attitude. This includes drive, perseverance, tenacity, and an undying belief in himself/herself and the value he/she adds.

2)    Adequate Capital

Critical and can vary depending on the size of the undertaking. Start your capital search with a good business plan that shows investors and lenders your company’s potential. Expect to realistically invest about 30% of your own money based on the total value of the project. Last but not least, cash-flow is the lifeblood of your business if you’re going to sustain the operation financially.

3)    Marketing, Sales and Customer Driven

Advertise, publicize, differentiate, ‒ and be compelling, as well as memorable with your messages. Deliver on those promises and constantly remain customer focused. Sales, on the other hand, is part of the marketing function.  It includes business development and account management. Sales is crucial to business because it is the bottom line, whereas marketing is about getting a product known and the customer keeps your business alive.

4)    People

Don’t simply HIRE well educated and experienced people but most importantly MOTIVATED, dedicated, coachable and with interpersonal skills. Moreover, make certain that the people you hire fit-in with your corporate culture.

5)    Systems and Structure in Place

Every business requires a disciplined way of conducting itself. This way everyone is on the same page. Consider publishing an “operations manual” and continuously enforce its procedures.  However, at the same time, it should include an element of flexibility to avert stifling the organization. Without any structure, the chances of failure increases.

6)    Strict Internal Financial Controls and Adequate Cash Flow

Finances should be closely supervised, borrowing wisely and avoiding overspending. Watch your financial ratios and yields (where applicable). The success of your business is, in many ways, measured by the bottom line. Even if you hired a full-time accountant, you would still need to have a
fundamental knowledge of accounting, how it works, and how to apply its basic principles in order to run a flourishing business. Once again, “cash flow” Cash flow is of vital importance to the health of a business. One saying is: “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity, but cash is king”.

7)    Continuous Improvement, Innovation and Sustained Growth

This is by no means a one-time event but rather an on-going process. Innovation encompasses offering distinguished and improved solutions which meet or exceed market requirements and expectations from your customers ‒ whether offering a desirable product or upgrading a service experience.

Keep in consideration ‒ govern oneself accordingly

Entrepreneurs, and inventors alike, may be quite well versed with the products and/or services offered, but not necessarily with running their business including a bucket list of daily administrative tasks. Most notably, sales, marketing and finance/accounting undertakings. This is where honest consideration should be given in either bringing in a partner to complement the entrepreneur’s weaknesses or an external adviser and/or mentor to guide him/her. A sounding board should not be dismissed as an advantage solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Prior to drafting a business plan as the roadmap, which assists one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, plotting a business model should be considered as a prelude to the business plan.  The idiom “putting the cart before the horse” clearly reminds us of this erroneous and common approach ‒ in this case, the business plan preceding the business model or lack thereof. The business model includes the components and functions of the business, as well as the revenues it generates and the expenses it incurs. It is part of the business strategy.

Typically, small businesses with inept ownership usually fail in the first year or two, but even companies in their growth stage can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6 out of 10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients. Marketing maven and renowned author, Seth Godin, succinctly puts it this way:

Many entrepreneurs use an innovation to make an impact, but the hard part, the part that we’re rewarded for, is engaging with the user, the audience, the market. Bringing something to people who didn’t think they wanted it, know about it or initially welcome it, and make a difference.”

In the end, small businesses are started and managed by entrepreneurs, who with all their best intentions, are highly motivated but typically lack training in standard business practices. Thus, entrepreneurs with little more than a great idea, limited funds and a lack of management/operations skills and experience are prone to failure without the resources that can sustain and help grow their business.

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The Global Mindset: Entrepreneurship Beyond Borders

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By James D. Roumeliotis

With globalization prevalent at an unprecedented rate, we are witnessing a growing number of entrepreneurs entering foreign markets with products or outsourcing manufacturing. Taking their small- or medium-sized businesses globally with different and unfamiliar customs and regulations can hamper success. Overcoming these challenges requires a mind shift through a good command of foreign cultures, values, and a sound strategy by the entrepreneur. Moreover, the same knowledge can create diversity awareness by embracing and respecting multiple cultures within the organization.

Global Citizen

The capitalist as a global citizen

Along with knowledge of all fundamentals of running a business, the “global” entrepreneur systematically seeks out and conducts new and innovative business activities across national borders. Diversity of thought and culture is needed to handle global business matters most efficiently. Undoubtedly, those best prepared have an international background having lived abroad and/or studied international business. Given that not everyone has had this opportunity, there is no reason that an entrepreneur can’t get self educated and think, as well as act globally. Rather than just focus on local home issues, global horizons can be released by immersing oneself to foreign news sources (both political and business related), as well as carrying out research and obtaining information to guide toward the best decisions. Learning another language, culture, and physically exploring the countries of interest, can’t help but develop a global mindset, motivate to evaluate foreign strategy, and ultimately allow seeing things from a different perspective.

For global research purposes, resources and services at one’s knowledge base include:

1) Go online and investigate how the Internet functions in this country; key sites; key offerings; style; information dissemination

2) Examine local media; i.e. news sources online and off line, business publications. Some publications are in English. Many are not. Don’t hesitate to use Google’s “translate this page” application.

3) Multicultural training can’t hurt. Contact either educational institutions or management consultancies, who can help you prepare the necessary groundwork

4) Most countries have governmental export organizations, which provide support. In the USA contact: USCS; In Canada contact the EDC; in the United Kingdom contact the UKTI.

Most countries have “trade missions” – an overseas program for local businesses that want to explore and pursue export opportunities by meeting directly with potential clients in specified foreign markets.

In addition to cultural awareness aspect, it can be useful to find reliable local partners, who are already established and understand the country’s market you wish to target. Certain countries will not let you enter without a “local” partner. Do yourself a great favor and inform yourself on how this can work to your advantage.

Trying to contact local distributors, sales agents or licensees may not be possible without the proper introductions. Therefore, do your homework. Exploiting an existing customer base in a partnership arrangement can be very advantageous.

Payment terms and guarantees are another issue that can be dealt with through the guidance of various government export programs.

Guy Laliberte

From local and humble beginnings to the international stage

What most people don’t realize are the humble beginnings of most local firms before their recognition on the international stage.

Take for example the French-Canadian entrepreneur Guy Laliberte, and co-founder of the internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil. He had his humble beginnings as a street performer in Montreal where he used to entertain small audiences alfresco with his stilt-walking and fire-eating acts.

In 1984, despite his limited command of the English language and unfamiliarity with the global scene, Laliberte had a vision to create and eventually export an upscale alternative to the traditional circus. His original plan was intended to be just a one-year project.

Cirque du Soleil was scheduled to perform in eleven towns in the Canadian Francophone province of Quebec over the course of thirteen weeks. After its inaugural show across Canada with a cast of 70 to 100 performers, the Cirque unveiled its first show outside Canada in 1987. It took place in Los Angeles with great fanfare.

The stakes were high. As Laliberte recalls:

“I bet everything on one night. If we failed, there was no cash for gas to come home.”

Beyond his wildest dreams, the applause rumpled across the States like thunder.
Over the years, he continued to learn and adapt to various market conditions. With an astute understanding of branding his circus grew.

Its success is a manifestation of imagination and hard work. What differentiates Cirque from its predecessors are unique shows fueled by emotion. Today, there are 19 shows in over 271 cities on every continent except Antarctica. The shows employ approximately 4,000 people from over 40 countries and generate an estimated annual revenue exceeding $810m.

What I also admire about Guy is that he is more than just an entrepreneur. He is also a philanthropist, space tourist and professional poker player with an estimated net worth of $1.36bn according to Forbes World’s Richest (as of 9/2/17). In 2015 he sold a 90% stake to U.S. private equity firm TPG Capital and Chinese investment group Fosun, valuing the firm at $1.5bn.

The Global Mindset: Entrepreneurship Beyond Borders

My final take

Although international business is fraught with challenges, strategic planning coupled to measured risk taking pays big dividends. However, you cannot rest on your laurels. Political and economic trends shift with the wind. Sailing with the wind allows an entrepreneur to feel the pulse of trends while at the same time giving the individual a template for personal growth.

Secondly, unlike previous generations, the internet provides countless opportunities to reach out and broaden target audiences in a way that was not possible.

Governmental agencies, in most major developed countries, through collaboration with their foreign attaches, are prepared to help intrepid business people by providing entrepreneurs with technical support and resources.

If foreign expansion is on your agenda, study those firms who have made the leap successfully.

The example of the Cirque du Soleil brilliantly demonstrates how it
is possible to stake out your corner. Logistically, Cirque also understood that success needed to collaborate with locals and to deliver entertainment in a focused way which transcends culture and language.

I attribute this success as well as others to a keen appreciation of EQ rather than IQ. After all, having a global mindset implies cultural intelligence coupled to traditional business practices.

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The Luxury Brand Ranking and Consumer Accessibility Pyramid: What It Takes to Move Up

Commentary by James D. Roumeliotis with pyramid created by Erwan Rambourg

Luxury Image - Woman With Diamond

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Few brands can really claim the trademark of luxury. It is those which combine allure with pedigree and quality attributes. Discounting is not part of their strategy and their entire raison d’être is geared to the Ultra High Net Worth (UHNW). Many of their products actually increase in value over time since they are either discontinued, necessitate a long waiting list/time and are most desirable (supply/demand). Many also offer bespoke products and services since their type of discreet clientele prefer personalization and/or one of a kind. Brands that become too accessible are less appealing to such well-heeled buyers.

Erwan Rambourg, an HSBC managing director and author of the book, “The Bling Dynasty: Why the Reign of Chinese Luxury Shoppers Has Only Just Begun” created a luxury brand pyramid which depicts how major brands range in accessibility from the lower end with “accessible luxury”, such as spirits, a fine steak and perfume, to ultra-high-end luxury like rare diamonds. This is the luxury influence level ranking pyramid:

Luxury Pyramid by Erwan Rambourg

Getting On Top of the Pyramid

Luxury purveyors who aspire to cater to the top tier of spenders should have a mission, vision and a sound implementation strategy to reach this elite demographic target ‒ short of simultaneously pursuing the aspirational consumers who are prone to cutting back when the economy takes a dive. This latter group of consumers dilutes the cachet of the brand and can turn out less profitable in the long run. Moreover, the High Net Worth Individuals or HNWI and Ultra High Net Worth Individuals or UHNWI frown upon offerings which are accessible to the mainstream as they desire status and exclusivity.

Products and services should be unique, well designed and packaged, finely crafted ‒ and executed with refinement for the elite. Those are ways to entice the interest of, and ultimately retain, the ultra-wealthy. Products and services should never appear as ordinary yet absolutely personal.

In the luxury sector, traditionally there hasn’t been any shortage of customization for the very well heeled. Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions, whereas, the ultra-luxury and exotic automobile sectors such as Rolls Royce and Ferrari respectively offer a wide array of customization options. Each vehicle coming out of the studio will be completely unique and guided by a personal designer at the manufacturers. This is how ‘the total customer experience’ materializes.

What do the HNWIs and UHNWIs seek in their lifestyle?

According to the white paper, Strategies for Effectively Marketing to High Net Worth Consumers”, written by Richard Becker (August 2008), High Net Worth Individuals enjoy Golf, tennis and physical fitness ‒ endeavors typically associated with exclusive ‘members only’ clubs.

HNWIs/UHNWIs cherish their time and know what they want. Even time is a luxury and limited resource for them, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them. They can be generally described as:

– Seek a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Often require customized solutions to mirror their lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Take pleasure on getting extra attention from the brands they pursue;

– Prefer the uncommon to the mundane;
– Expect to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which they’re able and willing to pay;
– Aspire an aura of exclusivity;
– Crave an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seek products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance;
– Want to feel in command of their purchase decision without any pressure;

– Expect discretion and confidentiality – most notably from service providers such as private wealth institutions and concierge services amongst others.

Likewise, what they purchase is a visual extension of their individuality and lifestyle. A well-crafted product, for example, reflects an individual call to beauty.

Putting it all into perspective

In the United States the top 1% possess 40% of the wealth owns half of all the stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

Fickle and discriminating, these customers’ purchasing attitudes are based on personal beliefs and taste for finer things in life along with discretion. They are quite selective, know what they want and aspire to be catered to effortlessly. They seek the total customer experience along with pampering, personalized service which can include fashion consultations and exotic journeys. Best of all, they are willing to pay top money for the products and services they want.

An offline strategy requires an equal online presence. This is accomplished by placing stunning imagery, video, engaging content and constant refinements along with savvy Internet marketing to connect the brand with luxury social channels. It’s connecting with its like-minded audience.

Think brand positioning and focus on, as well as cater solely to, your core market rather than be all things to all people. Stay out of the bottom end and aspirational markets and instead, aim at the top end markets.

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The Hiring Conundrum: How to Correctly Employ Talent

By James D. Roumeliotis

Job Candidates

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How often do we hear employers, of all sizes, complaining that there is a dire shortage of good talent out there? What should we really make of this? Is there anyone to blame – everyone but the employers themselves? Consider the daily hiring procedures and habits of most employers to realize who is at fault for the hiring dilemma. Engaging prospective employees by utilizing mainly the human resources staff and/or relying solely on a plethora of job boards, automated hiring/”big data” or software to scan and screen-out resumes is not only irresponsible but rather a wasteful practice, totally impersonal, as well as a thoughtless and a lazy way to bring, supposed, qualified people on board.

Through third parties and automated systems, how is a hiring manager going to discover candidates who bring more than just skills to the table – ones who also bring about an ideal attitude and character? Think soft skills/emotional IQ. The job of hiring should be conducted by none other than the person to whom the potential new employee will be reporting to – or rather be assigned with tasks.

If there is a list of ideal and practical methods of properly hiring employees, which I fully subscribe to, then you ought to read the article “How To Hire: 8 stunning tips“ in Nick Corcodilos’s blog “Ask The Headhunter®.”

Here is the link: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/10693/how-to-hire

Eavesdropper next table

Keep Your Recruiting Radar Constantly Active

Recruiting done properly and effectively is not an occasional task but an on-going process. Potential candidates can be discovered anywhere. Even if the hiring manager is not actively seeking a candidate, he or she should be doing so proactively by keeping his or her ears and eyes open at all time and literally anywhere – whether during networking, social activities, or during his or her time off. I am aware of two such cases; whereby a business owner and a recruiter, respectively, both came across their potential candidate while dining at a restaurant. In either case, they were impressed when they overheard an individual, at the table beside them, talking about his/her career goals and aspirations. The pleasant personality and discussion drew them in impressive ways that the hiring managers could not help but engage with this person. In the end, the eavesdroppers extended the individual an invitation for a job interview. Eventually, they were hired by their respective employers.

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Adding Personality to a Dull Product Through Clever and Humorous Ads

By James D. Roumeliotis

Poo Pourri Ad Image

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Let’s be candid: not many of us pay much attention to advertising for life insurance, bathroom tissue or medical devices. What’s there to be excited about? Adding a dose of personality with humor may create attention for those types of products which we would not otherwise have given them much attention — especially among a plethora of advertising. This also applies to generic products such as soap and bottled water.

Not every product or service brand is stimulating

Not every brand is as exciting such as Victoria Secret, Porsche or Apple. Many brands, it turns out, are simply staid, generic or both. However, the creative ones have put much thought into developing content which captures attention. This would come in a form of either:

– a humorous type ad;

– an emotional style ad which results in becoming remarkable and memorable; or,

– embodies a certain lifestyle which most in the target market would be able to relate to as their own;

– it turns out good enough that many of us would share the advertisements with others (as I am doing in this article).

Cases in point worth noting: clever ad campaigns

Below are examples of products and services which can stir emotions – whether arousing, dramatic or amusing.

Zyppah (snoring device)

Zyppah (“Happy Z” spelled backwards) is an oral sleeping device which claims to eliminate snoring. It doesn’t sound or look like a sensuous device, so the brand decided to develop a clever advertising campaign by creating a character – a spokesperson of sorts with a thick New York City accent, named “Jimmy.” The results can be watched and heard below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZBiPxn-haA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWHIkX7_mHY

Poo-Pourri (a fragrance brand that develops and markets deodorizing toilet sprays)

 Suzy Batiz had an obsession with getting rid of “poop odor” to the brink that for nine months she relentlessly worked on developing an oil-based spray you put on the surface of toilet water before you go. It worked! Her claim is that her product, named Poo-Pourri, has a unique oil which “…creates a layer, and whenever the poo goes in, it actually encapsulates it, it sort of ‘wraps’ the odor.” Truth be told, bathroom products are not the most thrilling to market, let alone such a spray to diminish poo smell – or so you thought. By taking a taboo subject and adding humour and surprise, Suzy Batiz and her marketing creatives, decided to add a dose of bliss to the video ad by featuring an elegant, well-dressed woman with a British accent and revealing her grief of trying to disguise unpleasant bathroom aromas. The ‘Girls Don’t Poop’ initial ad campaign quickly went viral gathering over 6 million views and 278,000 shares in its first week. Here is the video link: https://youtu.be/ZKLnhuzh9uY

Big Lou/Term Provider (life insurance broker)

Life insurance, for many, is a morbid product which needs to be sold rather than bought by most on – and if so, on their own initiative. Therefore, how does a prominent term life insurance brokerage firm start a conversation and promote its intangible products which only beneficiaries can eventually claim its proceeds? Term Provider, the actual name of a term life provider decided to add a pun by branding it with a catchy name – Big Lou – as if its owner is obese and nicknamed Lou is in Louis. We are not certain if the founder/owner of this agency is actually overweight as he claims, as we do not get to see him in his ads. His ads, link below, are for the most part, aired on CNN satellite (think Sirius XM) radio.

https://biglou.com/commercials/

Eyelab (Optometry examination facility in South Africa)

This ad campaign was created in a form of print advertisement by Canvas in South Africa for Eyelab, to promote its professional services. The one below insinuates that this attractive lady needs to have her eyes examined since she appears to have chosen an incompatible and geeky looking man as her mate. In reality, her choice can be quite subjective and a personal choice of hers without any of us being too judgemental. Needless to say, it is eye examination promotional content with a different twist.

http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print/eyelab_couple_1

Optometrist Funny Ad

Bling H2O (luxurious) water

How about branding water and putting the world’s most expensive price tag on it predominantly by visual appeal and perception? That’s just what its founder and president, Kevin G. Boyd, did for Bling H2O which he labels it as “luxury” and charges about $44 per bottle. He has accomplished this through a clever marketing strategy such as:

– focusing on distribution of limited editions;

– creating a fancy glass water bottle to add cachet;

– conveying a glamorous story with his marketing messages;

– has celebrities sipping his water and as a result, gaining massive publicity.

AAA

Virgin America and Air New Zealand (airline safety instruction videos)

In less than two weeks following its release online, Virgin America managed to get almost 6 million people to watch their safety video without even stepping foot on the plane.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg

Air New Zealand created something a little different and entertaining for their safety instructional video by celebrating the third and final film in The Hobbit Trilogy – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOw44VFNk8Y

In the final analysis

Although many products or services such as bottled water, insurance and banking services are not exciting on their own, it doesn’t mean they should remain dull. They still do have the potential to be branded with charm, emotion, sex appeal, or yet attributed to a certain lifestyle. A good sense of humor also comes a long way – provided that creative campaigns can be produced with unique and passionate content worth talking about and sharing.

Positioning the brand is another way to differentiate any generic product. It’s what you create in your target customer’s mind, along with the benefits you want him or her to think of when he or she thinks of your brand.

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The Authentic Brand: A Precious Asset Developed Through Transparency, Customer Experience and Ultimately, Loyalty

By James D. Roumeliotis

aaa3

Honest by ad. A pioneering company launched in January 2012. The company is unique in communicating about the supply chain of its products and pricing.

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Trust is a hard thing to come by these days whether between people or between people and brands. When the founders of a start-up build a brand from the ground-up or the executives of an established one are in modus operandi mode, taking a cautious approach to their brand image, in both scenarios, ought to be part of growing and preserving the business with a constant eye on the future.

Sadly, nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is advertising, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. With some brands, it is the tiny print in disclosure statements which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. The majority of consumers do not read small footnotes. Think of the worst offenders of this practice: the cellular phone/telecommunication providers, insurance companies, credit card providers, as well as the automobile manufacturer promotional offers and pharmaceutical advertisements – to name a few.

Deception concealed as sincerity: How to chip away at your brand

The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster.

In the 2015 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient®, published the reputations of the 100 most visible companies among the U.S. general public. What appears on the top five, among other notable brands as consumers perceive them, are Wegmans Food Markets, Amazon, Samsung, Costco and Johnson & Johnson respectively.

Consumers have high and explicit expectations from brands, thus anticipate what the brand promises via its marketing material and/or what is stated on the product packaging. What a brand actually delivers and how it behaves in the process is what consumers get to feel.

A brand which utilizes short-term sales and marketing tactics for quick short-term gain fails financially in the long-term by acting in an ethical way. As marketing maven Seth Godin rightfully proclaims, “In virtually every industry, the most trusted brand is the most profitable.” As with our personal lives, trust with branding is based on what one does, not what one says.

Boosting sales and market share via misleading and deceptive tactics

According to a 2013 Harris Poll, regarding the most and least trusted industries, the advertising industry was near the bottom of the list when rated up against many other business sectors. Seemingly, truth in advertising is a misnomer. Misleading and deceptive advertising by many marketing and branding executives, give the entire industry a negative perception.

The food processing domain is no more honest with labels that claim to be healthy but without support with any concrete scientific facts. Food companies tout their devious label claims of organic, nutritious etc. – although an absurd amount of sugar and/or sodium is present in the ingredients along with unnatural artificial ingredients). Kelloggs even went as far as having to be ordered, by the courts, to discontinue all Rice Krispies dubious advertising which claimed to boost a child’s immunity system.

Then there is the “premium” orange juice from popular brands such as Tropicana, Simply Orange and others which are highly processed, and usually stored for several months before reaching consumers at the supermarket fridge aisles. This processing method is used to retain the juice from spoiling. However, during that process, it also strips the flavour which is injected back into the product, once it finally gets packaged, to give the juice its original orange flavour. Not surprisingly, the orange juice producers do not make any reference to this anywhere.

Informative and authentic eye-opener documentaries such as Food Inc. and Tapped have upped the ante in terms of the exposure shared with the public to what is wrong with the food processing/food chain and water bottling sectors respectively. Moreover, the GMO debate with the exceptionally well-connected and deep pocketed Monsanto (the St. Louis-based biotech giant and world’s biggest seed seller) will not be going away any time soon.

Other industries notorious for deceit are banks and cellphone/telecommunication companies with their hidden fees. These blatant revenue generators are sales at any cost – short-term gains, of course. These companies guilty of gouging seem to be testing the limits with consumers – as if the latter are ignorant. Those absurd fees evidently enrage the culprits’ customers.

Employees reflect the brand

First and foremost, trust begins with company employees. If they are well trained and treated with respect and transparency, the employees will trust their employer and radiate their enthusiasm, as well as loyalty to their customers by going the extra mile.

Along with a brand being a valuable asset for any business, people also fit into the equation as an important asset. This is where hiring the right people, on-boarding them, training them adequately and empowering them all create a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Many brands are myopic to the point that they unintentionally and unknowingly allow their dissatisfied customers to go away without a thought. Front-line staff is either not trained properly and/or lacks the proper attitude to handle clientele appropriately.

During the industrial era, consumers would simply purchase what was produced, shopping where that product was available and paying the price the retailer demanded. In essence, the manufacturer and the store were in position of strength. As products and consumers have changed over the years, the concept of ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘consumer insight’ came about. As we progressed into the new millennium, the transparency and unrestricted information available on the internet has changed all of that. Today consumers are not only better informed but they are also in control. They can make or break a brand through their actions. So what does this say about listening – and acting?

Consumers will no longer refrain from informing companies on what may have gone wrong ─ whether it’s a particular brand or a competitor’s. With the numerous platforms for consumers to make their voices heard online, brands have to be very reactive and not allow anything to chance. In an age when the consumer’s outcries and influences spread quickly, the results can signify lost sales and a deterioration of brand loyalty.

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When all is said and done

Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

A “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

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The Inept Organization: Weak Leadership as the Culprit

by James D. Roumeliotis

Embarrasing Moment Photo - Pants down

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How often do you come across a company, either as a consumer or at a business relationship level, and realize how frustrating it is to deal with?

To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is here that procedural decisions are shaped and executed. An entity’s leadership is expected to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth.
Moreover, there is a constant search for the “right” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.

We notice that in certain types of B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted by “disservice” during their business exchange. Shortsightedness might lend itself to make this underhanded approach appear “profitable” on paper. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are not conceived with trust or respect.

Success Breeds Success

Companies that foster the right attitudes and strategies put the firm on track for success. Examining their corporate histories, you can witness a trajectory of growth. They have a tendency to dominate their markets and “win” through competent talent, innovation, and an entrepreneurial mindset within the leadership at the executive level. These choices underscore the prosperity and rapid growth of the institution. An examination of Google or Facebook shows this quite nicely. They are not built like “traditional” corporations nor do they act like them.

Organizational leadership is accountable for creating value for customers, employees and its owners/investors. When Bill Gates conceived Microsoft, he put the firm on track for providing constituent audiences with what nobody else could provide. Understanding “asset” management in an expanded meaning of the term guaranteed that Microsoft would succeed under Gates stewardship.

The opposite is equally true. When top executives lack knowledge or experience for board positions, they should not be promoted to these leadership roles. Some family owned firms run afoul here and this brings up the issues of sustainability and corporate governance. Another weakness in running an organization, in my view, is pushing for short-term profitability at the expense of solid planning. For example, with large organizations, competence is not the primary value but rather connections, politics, and clever tactics. Such “benefits” can usually compensate for incompetence.

No business can continue to prosper unless it attracts fresh and eager talent. Despite the dilemmas within the financial world, top organizations consistently lure new talent with lucrative compensation packages. It is easier for a firm such as Goldman to tap the “best” because of its reputation, size and success than a small local financial player.
When Goldman recruits they know where to look, whether it is Harvard or the London Business School. Prospects will already contain the seeds of the corporate culture in their past. Given the “right” conditions, new talent blossoms. Qualifications are never enough. They are a starting point reinforced by attitude and values. The selection and screening process is designed by HR to weed out inappropriate candidates.

Take the case of Michael Page, the global recruitment firm. Ever wonder when you pass one of their buildings on a Friday evening why the staff at the pub all seem to resemble one another, whether men or women? They were intentionally selected to match a model.

To give another example, Microsoft’s interview process includes quizzing candidates with challenging technical questions. This practice not only assesses problem-solving and knowledge ability, but also explores the ability to perform under pressure, which is a key skill required to succeed in Microsoft’s intense work environment.

One thing is firmly certain ─ the best-managed companies have “one” factor in common:
They are constant achievers in their respective industries. These companies exude managerial excellence. Financial performance is the result of this style of management. Consider companies such as Boeing and Under Armour, among others, which thrive and considered as “America’s Best Managed Companies” by Forbes magazine.

Deeds Not Slogans

Companies with inept leadership usually fail in the first year or two, but even established companies can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6/10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Mark Zuckerberg. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges daily to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:
• Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
• No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
• Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
• Absence of or very little communication among staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
• No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
• Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
• Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
• Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
• Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
• No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
• A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
• Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
• Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
• Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
• High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
• Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo
• No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
• The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
• Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
• Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/undercapitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
• Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
• Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
• Lack or very little employee training & development.
• Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
• Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

Top executives need to be accountable to the ownership or Board of Directors – whichever applies, or at least to an outside arm’s length and neutral party such as an adviser who can also play “devil’s advocate” when necessary.

Good Organizations Matter

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. For its clients to receive stellar service, the firm must have its house in order. Besides structure and an efficient operation, employees should be trained and empowered to do their jobs efficiently.

Seth Godin, a renowned marketing strategist, stated succinctly: “If you want to build a caring organization, you need to fill it with caring people and then get out of their way. When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring. When you free your employees to act like people (as opposed to cogs in a profit-maximizing efficient machine) then the caring can’t help but happen.”

Companies that disrespect their employees and shut-out clients get willfully isolated and have a short life span through an erosion of market share and significant loss of revenue. A company’s goal should place emphasis on serving its people properly and fairly. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities hinder that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.

In a nutshell: Well-run companies thrive no matter what by hiring the right people, taking good care of them, listening to customers and never ceasing to innovate and improve.

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What Constitutes an Authentic Customer Experience and Which Brands Are Role Models?

By James D. Roumeliotis (with content/survey by Ian Golding)

Customer Loyalty Service Support Care Trust Business Concept

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As a big proponent and practitioner of the total customer experience, I often cringe when I and many others endure displeasure when transacting with established brands. The companies in question happen to possess deep pockets which constantly communicate about how wonderful they are doing business with. In actuality, they fail miserably in delivering on those messages. The blame goes to their frugality and/or complacency along with their dysfunctional business practices.

Building emotions into the brand’s DNA

According to Derrick Daye, partner at The Blake Project, in his intriguing article,Igniting Brand Growth Via Emotional Connectionshe states that research shows that, on average, 50% of purchase decisions are based on emotion and that a ‘Right Space’ – the core emotions a brand seeks, is what its customers should feel across every single interaction/touch point with which they encounter.  He further states that “Marketers that understand this and that harness the power of emotions are today’s true brand builders and are uncovering new opportunities for growth faster than their competitors.” A case in point used is with Apple. The brand utilizes four emotions that drive customers to loyalty. They are delight, surprise, connection and love. This video displays how Apple succeeds at accomplishing this.

Survey says

In January 2015, Ian Golding, a Certified Customer Experience Professional and Customer Experience Specialist based in the U.K., conducted an independent survey of people across the world to find out who their number one Customer Experience brands are and most importantly what makes them top of mind for this purpose. Below he reveals the findings of the research. It is fair to note that much of this material was derived from Ian Golding with his permission.

top-10-brands-customer-experience

The right customer experience is commercially rewarding

The sheer mention of ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Customer Centricity’, is still often greeted with a rolling of the eyes by those who are more focused on sales targets, operational efficiency and tasks. The irony though is that the former makes the latter much more successful. Also, it’s no coincidence that each of the top 10 brands has recent performance milestones to be proud of:

  • Amazon Q4 14, net sales increased by 15% over Q4 13
  • Apple 39.9% profit per product (3 months to end Dec 14)
  • First Direct Moneywise “Most Trusted” and Which? Best Banking Brand
  • John Lewis profit before tax up 12% in 2014 vs 2013
  • Disney Earnings per share up 27% in year to Dec 2014
  • Air New Zealand Earnings before taxation up 20% in H1 15 vs H1 14
  • Mercedes Revenue increased 12% from 2013 to 2014
  • Starbucks Revenue rise 13% in Q1 FY15
  • BMW 7% increase in vehicle sales in Jan 15 vs Jan 14
  • Boden Shipping 12,500 parcels each day

Is it just a coincidence that the brands you are saying are the best at Customer Experience all seem to be faring well on the commercial front? It appears as though all of the brands that are ‘great’ at Customer Experience share common characteristics

These organizations have common characteristics

I wanted to know what it is that your favorite brands do to make them your #1 at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I asked for up to three reasons from each respondent and received 575 comments. Following verbatim analysis, 13 categories were identified, each distinct but interlinked. They were, as follows (with the percentage frequency they appeared):

  • Corporate attitude 15.9
  • They’re easy to do business with 14.9
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem 11.4
  • The attitude of their people 9.4
  • Personalization 8.0
  • The product or service 8.0
  • They’re consistent 7.5
  • The way it makes me feel 6.3
  • The way they treat me 5.1
  • They’re reliable 4.4
  • They do what they promise 4.2
  • They’re quick 2.6
  • The technical knowledge of their people 2.3

We will look in more detail at what we mean by each of these in a moment but to view at any one in isolation would risk limiting what is being achieved by these organisations. This diagram shows how interdependent each area is in aligning with the corporate attitude and ultimately organizational goals and the very purpose for why the business exists:

characteristics-of-customer-experience-brands-by-j-golding

Focusing on these attributes is what moves companies from fighting a rear-guard action to fix issues of their own making to creating a compelling a sustainable brand for the future. It also means that customers are increasingly exposed to better experiences as they go about their daily lives and that’s important because it keeps nudging the bar of expectations higher. This is why the brands that do these things are ones that people consider to be the very best at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. Digging deeper into each of the 13 areas we can build a picture of how the companies who get it right control the way they do business.

  1. Corporate attitude

It’s another way to describe organizational culture and it underpins everything that happens to or with a customer. More specifically, in the words of those who responded to the research, companies who have the right attitude:

  • Put people before profits and non-human automation;
  • Know they’ll make more money in the long-run with this approach;
  • Test all experiences thoroughly (to eliminate unintended consequences);
  • Listen and demonstrate they understand their customer;
  • Pay serious attention to detail;
  • Empower their staff to makes decisions and act straightaway;
  • Stay true to their values, admit when things go wrong and fix them;
  • Ensure their staff are fully trained and informed;
  • Recruit for attitude and alignment to brand values.

They also said: “…they treat each customer as we would a guest in our home” and “…they balance customer obsession, operational excellence and financial rigor.”  Almost every other category is a sub-category of this one. It shows how important the right culture is.

  1. They’re easy to do business with

It’s obvious to say a company should be easy to do business with and yet that’s not always the case. What respondents meant by “easy” included:

  • There are no barriers in the way for doing what a customer needs to;
  • It’s simple to get information, purchase and use the product;
  • Needs are anticipated and catered for;
  • Customers don’t need to repeat information;
  • They can switch from one channel to another with no impact on progress;
  • Products can be returned or fixed with minimum effort on the part of the customer;
  • They are available when and where customers want; they can be reached without waiting and won’t limit the hours of their support functions to office hours if customers are still using their products and services all day every day;
  • They are proactive in taking responsibility, for example: Finding products at other stores and having them delivered;
  • Customers have no objection to self-service because it has been well thought through;
  • Information is presented in a timely, clear and relevant way.
  1.  Helpful and understanding when I’ve got a question

Being easy to deal with is critical when a customer needs help or simply has a question. On the assumption that good companies do respond (a recent Eptica survey found more than 50% of online inquiries go unanswered), helpful companies are ones who:

  • Listen to understand before acting;
  • Give a customer the feeling that they are trusted and respected;
  • Will provide an answer and additional, relevant help;
  • Provide certainty and manage expectations about what will happen next and at each stage;
  • Empower employees to make decisions;
  • Resolve issues first time and quickly;
  • Have employees who are happy to give their names and direct contact numbers;
  • Pre-empt problems and solve them before customers are aware;
  • Fix customers’ mistakes without blame or making them feel awkward;
  • Follow-up afterwards to check everything was sorted and is still as it should be;
  • are not afraid to apologize when they get it wrong.
  1.  Attitude of the people

Individual employees who are interacting with customers become a proxy for the brand. If they demonstrate the wrong behaviors the damage can be hugely expensive but getting them right does not cost a huge amount of money. Most often a function of the corporate attitude, the most appreciated characteristics are:

  • Being courteous and friendly;
  • A positive, “I’ll sort it” attitude;
  • They are good at listening;
  • It’s obvious they care about, and are proud of, the product/service;
  • They are professional and not pushy;
  • They are helpful and proactive;
  • They are genuine and humble;
  • They smile;
  • Hey are engaging and interested in the customer;
  • They have personality, not a corporate script;
  • They are patient;
  • They show respect for their fellow colleagues.
  1. Personalization

We are all individuals and like to be treated as such. Having “big data” was seen as the answer but as these companies demonstrate, it’s not only more important to have the right data and do the right things with it, but it’s also linked again to corporate attitude. Those who get the personalization right:

  • Understand, anticipate and are proactive;
  • Keep customers informed with relevant information;
  • Shows they listen and act, not just collect feedback;
  • Create a relaxed environment because a customer’s needs fits neatly into what they are offering;
  • Create a feeling of respect, that they care and have “taken the time to know me, to make things easier for me”;
  • Make it feel like dealing with a person where there’s a connection, not just a transaction;
  • Allow their customers to control the degree of personalization in terms of frequency and content;
  • Remain flexible and adaptive to the circumstances, not scripted.
  1. The product or service itself

Making it easy, personal and rewarding will be wasted effort if the core product or service doesn’t live up to expectation. At the end of the day, your business must have something of value to the customer to sell! When it comes to products and services, the #1 Customer Experience brands are those who:

  • The right mix of choice, relevance, quality and innovation;
  • Well designed, so it is easy to get it to do what it’s supposed to;
  • Quality is complemented by relevant innovation, not technical innovation for the sake of it;
  • Obsessive about the detail;
  • Paying as much attention to secondary products, such as food on airlines;
  • Good at turning necessary evils into compelling attributes – Air New Zealand’s legendary on-board safety briefings, for example;
  • Adept at keeping up with, ahead of and shaping basic expectations.
  1. Consistency

As customers we like certainty and predictability. It means that the decisions we make carry less risk because we can confidently trust the outcomes. It also demonstrates stability of, and a shared understanding of, strategy. For our respondents, consistency is about experiences that:

  • Look and feel the same;
  • Can continue easily wherever, whenever and however;
  • Match or build on the positive expectations created last time;
  • Have continuity in not only what happens but how it happens; tone of voice, quality, different locations, store or franchise, people and processes, performance;
  • Provide the same reliable answers to the same questions;
  • Integrate with other services.
  1. The way it makes me feel

Emotions are a function of how good the other two cornerstones of Customer Experience – function and accessibility – are. How they were made to feel, whether intentional or not, is what people remember. Being the personal consequence of most if not all the issues covered here, it is what drives our behavior about whether or not we will do the same next time and tell others to do the same. If people think they are part of something special, connected to a company that lives by like-minded values, they will FEEL special. And as human beings, we appreciate that. Survey respondents cited a number of great examples:

  • “Get on an Air New Zealand flight anywhere in the world it already feels like you’re home”;
  • “The packaging increases the anticipation when opening a new product” (Apple);
  • “Interactions with employees don’t feel like processes out of an operating manual”;
  • “There is (the perception of) a genuine relationship; it’s not just about them selling every time they are in touch”;
  • “They make me feel as if I’m their only customer” (Land Rover).
  1. The way they treat me

At the root of how we feel and therefore behave is often down to how we are treated. Good and great companies have experiences that:

  • Demonstrate respect;
  • Show an empathy with customer needs;
  • Don’t do things like asking a customer to repeat information if handed from one colleague to another;
  • Keep customers posted on feedback they’ve given;
  • Recognize their customers both by staff individually in-store and organizationally;
  • Have a consistency of treatment even when not spending money in-store;
  • Create relevant retail environments so that customers feel they are treated as if they are somewhere special;
  • Develop meaningful loyalty programs that acknowledge past purchases and reward future ones;
  • Are not patronizing in tone.
  1. They’re reliable

Not surprisingly, reliability is cited as a key attribute. Although we simply expect things to work as they did last time or as it was promised, we probably won’t get too excited if that is the case. However, the consequences of it not happening will result in additional time, effort, inconvenience and sometimes cost to the customer; not what a brand would want to be blamed for. There are some markets where the mere hint of a lack of reliability in its truest sense has serious consequences for a brand. More generally, reliable customer experiences are ones that:

  • Give confidence and a level of trust that what we ask for when we buy is what we get – there are no nasty surprises;
  • Understand that they are key to repeat purchases and advocacy. No-one will put his or her own reputation on the line to recommended any brand product or service that is unreliable.
  1. They do what they promise

Again, this is a character trait we appreciate in friends, family and colleagues and it’s no different when dealing with a business. It can be seen as a subset of “the way they treat me” but it is also critical at a strategic level too; the brand is what people say it does and so that has to be consistent with what it’s promising, just as its employees need to keep their own promises to customers too. There’s a real financial benefit here too where unnecessary and costly rework can be avoided. How many enquiries coming into the business are because “You said you’d get someone to call back”, “You said you’d send me a copy of that statement” or “Where’s my fridge, I’ve had to take the whole day off work and there’s still no sign of it.” Customer experiences that do what they promise:

  • Live up to the expectations they set;
  • Have employees that do what they say they will do;
  • Do it all consistently;
  • Fix it quick if they fail;
  • Are good at managing expectations.
  1. Timely

As customers, time (alongside money) is a commodity we trade with. A company who appreciates the finite and precious nature of it will create a distinct advantage. In today’s everything-everywhere-now life it’s not surprising that speed is an issue. Expectations are rising all the time where customers interacting with other brands see what can be done. Timely customer experiences are ones that:

  • Move at the right speed for customers;
  • Show respect by having have good reaction times once a customer has initiated part one of a two-way activity;
  • Manage expectations, so if it’s not “quick” as defined by customers there are also, no disappointing surprises;
  • Are not just focused on speed of delivery but are quick to answer the phone, flexibility to find ways around rules and respond to questions.
  1. People knowledge

Having people who are technically competent with their product knowledge is another character of top brands. Companies that possess employees like this have an invaluable asset who are:

  • Able to translate the concerns and questions;
  • Able to articulate complex issues in simple language;
  • Are not patronizing;
  • are proud that their knowledge can help someone else.

In Closing: Be your Chief Customer Officer

Through my personal research and experience ─ and those of the authors credited above, one arrives at the conclusion that Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

Stellar customer experience is not only reserved for the big brands. It can exist with businesses of all sizes and stages. It is about a mindset ─ the right attitude and culture within the organization where everyone is customer centric which matters more than solely the bottom line.

As a final point, the leadership of the brand, whether with a title of president, managing director or CEO (C-suite), he or she should be the “chief customer officer.” According to a survey that The Economist Intelligence Unit recently conducted of how global companies manage their customer experience programs, 58% of companies that are much more profitable than their competitors report that the CEO is in charge of customer experience management. Indeed, the commander-in-chief of the company is the one who sets the tone and culture for the organization. If the CEO of a publicly traded company focuses on quarterly profits to satisfy its shareholders’ demands at the expense of being customer centric, everyone else below him or her will do what it takes to fulfill their boss’s expectations and requirements. It is quite a regrettable situation which occurs often with many public corporations.

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20 Steps to Launching a Food Company: Lessons from a Start-up in the Gluten-free Sector

by James D. Roumeliotis

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For those who are considering venturing into the recession proof food production sector, though previous experience in that domain would be a valuable asset, if you have the passion, discipline, adequate funds, a viable product, and a high caliber team (with individuals that bring sales, marketing and finance expertise along with CPG know-how), your rate of success will undoubtedly increase. However, in practice there are no guarantees of triumph regardless of your resources. Blame is not entirely on the entrepreneur but rather on circumstances beyond one’s control. As such, there is a way to increase positive outcomes throughout the start-up journey by being prepared and anticipating potential hurdles in advance. This entails implementing a feasible strategy, remaining resilient along the way and applying a practical step-by-step process as the one outlined in this article. Consider it as your guide which was developed as a result of painstaking experiences during 18 months which ultimately led to launching a gluten-free and health snack from the ground-up.

What it takes to make it to market

  1. Food product or beverage idea, viability and development: How unique will your product idea be? Which food category is it supposed to fall under (snack, poultry, dry snack, frozen etc.)? What will be unique about it? Will it possess sales potential ─ especially repeat sales? Initial sales are fine but repeat orders are more important.
  2. Market research and competition: Like in every type of business and industry, conducting market research and your in-depth information about your competition is imperative in deciding if your potential product is good enough to compete with existing products. How will it be sold? Pricing etc. (marketing mix).
  3. Testing/Sampling and feedback: Before you invest in purchasing ingredients, packaging and other items in bulk, it is highly advisable that you determine if your food product will have appeal in the marketplace. That said, feedback from focus groups can not be underscored.
  4. Co-packer/contract manufacturer or kitchen space leasing: To produce your product you may want to find and negotiate with a facility where it will be produced in small or large batches – either with your own team or one provided to you. Co-packers/contract manufacturers normally charge per hour of production (with a minimum daily run) or a fee per packaged finished product. Along with their own in-house brand, they have the extra capacity to accommodate private label contracts.
  5. Product costs and potential earnings: Have someone with accounting and costing experience do this on a spreadsheet. Know your costs and margins ahead of time, as well as what you can potentially sell it wholesale and/or direct to the consumer ─ keeping in mind there are intermediaries involved such as food brokers and/or distributors.
  6. Ingredient sourcing: Contact potential suppliers of ingredients. Shop around especially for the best deal, supply capabilities, for quality certifications, and credit terms. Make certain you always have two or three suppliers as a back-up. Ask for specifications of each ingredient.
  7. Product formulation testing and sampling: This is most certainly not a one-time event but an on-going process. Do not be surprised if it can take as many as 50 or more trials before the formula has been refined. Refrain from haste in launching your product until the flavor profile and texture you are trying to achieve are above board. Your brand and brand new reputation are at stake.
  8. Scaling from the kitchen and lab to mass production: Small batches in the kitchen will not yield the same results when going into full scale production. The formula will almost certainly require several tweaks made progressively during the production process to produce similar texture and flavor.
  9. Funding requirements and sources: Based on what it will cost you to bring the product to market (with a reserve for unforeseen expenses), including constant operating expenses and perhaps a reasonable salary, determine how much you will need less your own funds (dubbed “bootstrapping”). The balance can be sought from either private investors and/or friends and family. Banks are reluctant to lend to start-ups as they would rather wait several months for your business to show some traction.
  10. Market – Retail, institutional or both: Establish where you will be pitching and selling your product. Keep in consideration that by going retail, you ought to invest additional funds in branding, packaging, instore sampling, promotional activities and perhaps shelf/slotting fees by major supermarkets. Start locally and slowly expand outside your area, state/province and eventually beyond your country borders.
  11. Channels of distribution: If you will be dealing with retailers, it is not always possible to go direct as they prefer you do so indirectly via distributors they deal with (a matter of streamlining inventory and invoicing). Distributors can tag anywhere from 30” to 40% margins above what you wholesale the product for. Retailers will tack on an additional 30% to 45% by the time it is sold to the consumer. If you are seeking to outsource your sales activities, consider doing so by hiring a food broker or two who have great contacts in the retail and institutional food sector, thus open many doors for potential purchase orders. Typically, they earn 5% to 6% of sales made under their account.
  12. Marketing and branding strategies: In the business world, it goes without saying that marketing and branding activities are crucial in developing awareness for the product. The new normal is more emphasis on digital/social media, experiential marketing, cause marketing and guerrilla/grassroots marketing among other tactics. Going retail takes long to establish brand recognition which is a costly affair.
  13. Business model and business plan: A business model describes how and where you wish to operate your business, as well as how you plan to generate revenue and profit, whereas the business plan is a comprehensive document which states your businesses’ operational, marketing and financial goals and how it intends to meet them. It is like your company’s road-map. The business model you create is detailed in the business plan. Therefore, the business model comes before the business plan akin to the horse before the cart. Both are essential.
  14. Company name and formation, as well as product liability insurance coverage: There is no legitimate business without forming a company – an incorporation (limited liability) in favor of a sole proprietorship or general partnership (merely a registration). Additionally, do not take any risks in case there is a recall and/or someone gets ill caused by your product. Anything can go wrong from the supply chain to the product getting processed at the plant – regardless of the safety measures in place. Top food brands have not been immune either.
  15. Brand name trademark: Take the cautious path of protecting your company name and brand (including the logo). In the end, you will have invested an adequate amount of time and money, therefore, make certain you protect the intangible assets you are creating, otherwise, it may cost you plenty more to defend it in the future.
  16. Food safety issues, nutritional declarations and labeling requirements: This is a vital responsibility and requirement from the FDA (U.S.), CFIA (Canada) and in the European Union it is Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 . Legislation with those governmental agencies includes what should be declared as ingredients on the packaging, as well as on the compulsory nutritional label (format varies from country to country).
  17. Packaging design, formats, POPs and UPC bar codes: The expression, “You eat with your eyes” applies quite well when it comes to food packaging – especially if you want your product to stand-out. A colorful, yet minimalist clean design on a quality package speaks volumes and can command a premium retail price. It is what is know as “perceived value.” Consider creating a POP display which will further expose your product, accentuate it, as well as possibly avoid paying slotting fees. Bear in mind that every product item, called a SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) requires its own bar code called a UPC (Universal Product Code). You can register and obtain this for an annual modest fee at gs1.org (or www.gs1ca.org in Canada).
  18. Going to market, in-store sampling and other activities: Launching a product for sale requires careful planning and timing. This should be well coordinated with your team and the food broker and/or distributor (or retailer directly). To introduce the unfamiliar product/brand to the consumer, where he or she shops, it is highly recommended that sampling be conducted in-store. There may be a cost associated with this if a third-party marketing company, specializing at this, is hired.
  19. On-going refinements and customer feedback: Once a product arrives on retail shelves, there is no reason to get complacent. A product’s flavor profile should be enhanced based on customer feedback which should be encouraged by making it easy for him or her to communicate with you (email, social media and perhaps a toll-free number on the packaging).
  20. Continuous research and development for new products – in-house production consideration: Progress and category success require constant innovation, refinements and tactics ─ whether it is with existing products or launching new ones.

Everyone needs to eat to survive

Starting a business is a challenge with statistically high failure rates during the initial five years ─ let alone starting a food production business. Statistics on this sector show promising growth.  However, the food sector, especially in the health category, has tremendous opportunity for brands which offer snacks, ready to eat or easy to prepare meals which are tasty, allergen-free and with all natural ingredients – especially plant based.

The biggest challenges in the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) sector are the need for a large sum of capital (most notably if you plan on opening your own facility), a focus on research & development, scaling the product from the kitchen to manufacturing, as well as executing a plan for going to market. It is also an industry with government safety regulation requirements which the food entrepreneur should be quite familiar with and comply without compromise.

Despite the industry’s inherent challenges, it is still worth considering this route as there is plenty of room to increase one’s prosperity while also benefiting the consumer with nourishment. Although there is complexity involved, it is recommended that one starts small, hires a contract manufacturer for production. The moment sales begin to increase dramatically along with cash flow, a that juncture, in-house manufacturing may be a viable option.

As for risks, choose to take the “calculated” type as in “planned with forethought.” Anticipate problems and be prepared with viable solutions. Finally, watch those margins carefully.

______________

According to Mintel, a research firm, these are the food market categories.

  • Baby food market
  • Breakfast cereals market
  • Dairy market
  • Fruit and vegetables market
  • Meat and egg products market
  • Pet food market
  • Savory spreads market
  • Snacks market
  • Bakery market
  • Chocolate confectionery market
  • Desserts and ice cream market
  • Meals and meal centers market
  • Processed fish market
  • Sauces and seasonings market
  • Side dishes market
  • Soup market
  • Sugar and gum confectionery market
  • Sweet spreads market
  • Sweeteners and sugar market

I would also add:

  • Specialty-Gourmet
  • Gluten-free
  • Health food
  • Vegan
  • Paleo
  • Artisan
  • Meals-to-go

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This Blog’s Top 10 Most Read Articles of 2016

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Once again, the ten most read/popular articles have been rounded-up — this time for 2016.

Thank you for your readership and much success to you this year.

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#1 Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity
#2 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion
#3 Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly
#4 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible
#5 Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty
#6 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions
#7 Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All
#8 Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic
#9 The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent
#10 Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation
Which is/are your most favourable?

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THE SEVEN KEY PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS in slides – A Personal Belief Through 38 Years of Practical Experience

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The Cult Brand: Providing an exceptional experience to the point of total customer devotion

by James D. Roumeliotis

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There are brands that tout their virtues of their products and/or services with a religious fervor. A “cult” brand is a product or service with a strong loyal customer following, whereby their clients are fanatical about their products or services to the point where their lifestyle revolves around those popular brands. This level of fanaticism also makes those devout followers unsolicited brand ambassadors.

Cult brand examples with customer aficionados include Apple, BMW, Porsche, Fox News, Lulumemon, Zappos, Oprah, Harley Davidson and Starbucks to name a few. As with Starbucks, it offers a superior product and experience that some people would go out of their way, by driving by less expensive alternative coffee shops, to pay for Starbucks’s pricier cup of coffee.

More than just a product or service, it is a lifestyle

Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone.

Call it “hype” or give it any other label, cult brands are a unique breed which create and are given plenty of attention. Their brand value is also much higher than their closest competitors. They have achieved a special connection with consumers through their distinctive appeal.

Unlike religious or similar type cult following, the cult brand is considered “benign” or a “benign cult” since it satisfies a need and desire in a positive and harmless manner. Some brand loyalists have gone as far as having their beloved brand tattooed on their body.

A brand is considered as a “cult” brand if the following aspects are present:

  1. Customers receive more than a product and/or service ─ they experience a lifestyle;
  2. Brand devotees firmly believe there are no substitutes for their beloved brand;
  3. Customers feel a sense of ownership with the brand;
  4. Loyalty is prolonged over time compared to brands which are considered fads and unsustainable in the long-term;
  5. An extraordinary degree of customer loyalty exists.

Ingredients of a cult brand: using psychology, identity and a sense of belonging

It is not enough for brands to spend plenty of money on glorified advertising. Any company with an adequate budget can do that. The essential challenge is to utilize an approach that makes people to want to embrace a product and/or service that people would enjoy making it part of their life, as well as identity and belonging.

Brand cult status is an emotional component of the brand but it is not as simple to achieve. As per The Cult Branding Company, a brand consultancy firm, there are seven rules of cult brands this author stands behind ─ and are as follows:

Rule #1 – Differentiate: To achieve a special connection with consumers, the brand should have a distinctive allure and be unconventional in a good sense.

Rule #2 – Be Courageous: Cult Brands are successful because they are unlike their competitors. They possess their own personality, DNA and rules. They are also passionate about their offerings and their customers for whom they exist in the first place.

Rule #3 – Promote a Lifestyle: The goal of a lifestyle brand is to get people to relate to one another through a “concept brand.” These brands successfully sell identity, image and status rather than merely a “product-service” in the traditional sense of the term.

Rule #4 – Listen to Your Customers: Focus on serving your customers’ desires by being customer-centric. Encourage feedback and utilize it as an opportunity to form ideas, and provide solutions that establish and retain loyalty.

Rule #5 – Support Customer Communities: Cult Brands build effective and sustainable relationships with their customers by developing and supporting a customer community which allows users, partners, and company employees to share information, answer questions, post problems, and discuss ideas about product enhancements and best practices in real time. Cult brands also gather their loyalists by organizing occasional social events to ignite additional enthusiasm for the brand.

Rule #6 – Be Open, Inviting and Inclusive: Cult Brands do not discriminate in terms of age, race or sexual preference. As such, everyone who believes in the brand’s mission is welcome.

Rule #7 – Promote Personal Freedom: For most, the Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs pyramid includes elements of self-esteem and self-actualization. As such, a well-regarded brand will express this as much by promoting freedom which is essential in expressing one’s own unique identity and worldview without fear of consequences.

brand-loyalty-2

In the end: Achieving the highest level of emotional connection via brand advocacy

Cult brands have a fanatical customer base. A culture is created around the brand based on consumers of a niche group. From there, the brand evangelists spread the message and enlist more followers.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless – even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

That said, innovative products, exceptional services, the total customer experience and the lifestyle which comes with being associated with the brand are what truly makes a cult brand exceptional from competing brands. The key objective is to create a relationship of trust. The world’s powerful brands establish trust and friendship with their customers. They develop emotional capital, and gain passion. This is what makes them great, thus “cult” brands.

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Authentic Luxury Brands and E-Commerce: Incompatible to their Core Values

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Definitions of “luxury” vary significantly and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “luxury” is not the easiest to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria, depending who you ask. Irrespective what anyone considers the term, it denotes a privileged lifestyle and a “nice to have” product or experience.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated: “A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test:

  • Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
  • Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
  • Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle?
  • Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals can purchase without question?
  • Does the brand offer authenticity?
  • Does it implement an absolutely no discounting policy?
  • Is the product (and at least most of its materials/parts) manufactured only in its country of origin?

Rationale of an absence of “authentic” luxury sales online

Many genuine luxury brands such as Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton are reluctant to utilize the internet to sell their pricey merchandise ─ other than a limited number of more affordable items such as their cosmetic lines, fragrances and small leather goods, as well as their silk scarfs.

There are three major reasons why luxuries brands of this caliber should not sell their products online.

  • Unique business model: The top tier luxury brands such as Hermes, Chanel, Dior and Patek Philippe, amongst other prestige marques, require a controlled distribution environment whereby they determine merchandising and pricing. They are ultra-sensitive in the manner in which their label gets handled. This is why they target and legally pursue third party e-commerce sites vigorously. Moreover, unlike traditional marketing, the mention of price is considered a taboo in the unconventional luxury marketing strategy. In the ideal luxury world, price is not something which should be divulged ─ let alone online. As a golden rule of thumb, the presumptive price should be higher than it really is.
  • Total customer engagement: High-end luxury brand executives firmly and unanimously believe that high-priced and exclusive goods should be viewed and felt in person in a plush and attentive retail environment which attracts their best shoppers. Additionally, the well trained sales staff offer fashion advice and alterations on the spot. Their swanky online presence serves to bring the consumers to their bricks and mortar shops. This approach confirms the answer to this question: Do the well-heeled, who seek exclusivity and personalized experiences with their luxury purchases, want to make their extravagant purchases online such as a $15,000 watch or handbag? Probably not.
  • They are privately owned and operated: Unlike the mainstream market and publicly traded luxury brands such as Ralph Lauren, Coach, Tiffany & Co and others, top tier luxury brands are not eager for volume sales. To retain their scarcity, cache, and avoid diluting their intrinsic value, they refuse to respond to rising demand. They also include a conservative policy of making it more inaccessible to consumers whom they are not targeting. Consequently, with privately held luxury brands, profits are done with the long term in mind, not necessarily the next quarter. In comparison, the publicly traded ones, which are accountable to their shareholders, are constantly under pressure to trim production costs and increase revenues and profits which lead them to cater to a larger audience ‒ the mass affluent. So much for all the elements of ‘genuine’ luxury purveyors who are doing away with scarcity and exclusivity.

Vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, stated, “Yes, maybe they could increase sales (through e-commerce).” However, she elaborated, “a brand’s goals aren’t always to increase sales. It may be to preserve the quality of the brand so that it stays in business for another 100 years.

According to David Sadigh, founder and CEO of the Swiss digital banking magazine, “Swissquote”, the share of e-commerce sales in the luxury domain amounts to about 5%.

Authentic luxury brands who are not catering to the mass affluent are in a league of their own when it comes to e-commerce. Having said that, their present conservative strategy achieves its intended purpose. Essentially, when someone acquires an object of desire, he or she purchases craftsmanship, cache, pedigree, created in limited quantities, enhance one’s lifestyle and offer exclusivity ─ the top tier in its domain.  This is a contrast to the “masstige” brands such as Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, which according to a trend report from PMX – a marketing and research agency, revealed that both of those fashion labels dominated the online market share in their luxury category.

When it comes to authentic luxury sales, every touch point in the purchase process affects brand perception, which in turn makes customer service and presentation vital.

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Brand Equity: Building and Maintaining It Through Competencies, Integrity and Loyalty

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Those in business should know the meaning of a “brand” (source: Investopedia”/ a distinguishing symbol, mark, logo, name, word, sentence or a combination of these items that companies use to distinguish their product from others in the market.). Taking it further, a “brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

A brand is an intangible asset which may increase in value if the business is positively impactful. We refer to this as “brand equity” which is comprised of brand awareness (the level of familiarity with the uniqueness of a company’s products and/or services), brand attributes (are the practical and emotional links which are allotted to a brand by its clients and potential customers), perceived quality (the customer’s perception of the quality of a product and/or service of a particular brand), and brand loyalty (when customers turn into advocates and loyalists due to their favorable series of experiences).

To get an idea of the value of global brands, one only needs to consult the annual list of the most valuable brands compiled by Interbrand ─ a global brand consultancy firm.

Consumer trust is the company’s most valuable asset; thus it must be protected.

Brand building: the importance of transparency

The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster. Along with ethics, transparency affords many benefits to the organization such as higher business valuations when seeking investor capital, improved attraction and retention of high caliber employees, and scores of loyal clients. Companies which are forefront with their mistakes will be heavily rewarded. This is a trend called “flawsome.”

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

Brand Equity Matrix

Faux pas or deceit?

Reputations and trust affect brand equity. They are more difficult to win back than to lose. To become a desirable brand, be easy to do business with, focus on efficient and hassle-free service and refrain from deceiving customers.

Unfortunately, these days we witness many companies, most are public, whose short-sighted strategies to spruce up profits, increase market share and maintain shareholder value, made the executives complicit in creating circumstances which resulted in cheating their customers ─ albeit discreetly. Nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is about their advertisement, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. Other brands take it further with their tiny print in disclosure statements – which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. Alas, the majority of consumers do not read small footnotes.

The following are a few examples depicting such cases.

Chobani, renowned producer in the U.S. of Greek style yogurt with a significant share in its category was recently taken to court by a group of consumers for its false advertising. The plaintiffs claim that Chobani’s nutritional declarations on its product packaging are deceptive and confusing. Instead of reacting cautiously, Chobani officials were condescending. In court, they blamed consumers for being naïve and unable to apply common sense when going grocery shopping. They went further urging the judge to throw out the case.

Canadian based large dairy and cheese producer Saputo thought it was a good idea to shrink the size of their milk bags rather than raise prices. After all, consumers would not take notice, was their thinking. However, what Saputo failed to realize is that consumers these days are savvier as they take the time to research online and elsewhere. They are also prudent where and how they spend their money – seeking the best value. Furthermore, people seek transparency with brands, let alone the ones they are loyal too. Consumers certainly do not appreciate deception.

Now Saputo is scrambling to win back customer trust and loyalty by investing millions in doing so.

British Airways, once the pride of the British as “The World’s favorite airline”, decided (their number crunchers take all the credit) without any advance notice to its passengers/customers, to eliminate long haul meals to Economy passengers for flights under eight-and-a half hours. Instead of the usual offer of a sandwich snack, the crew has been instructed to offer only one fun-sized chocolate six hours after their first meal. This frugal attempt has naturally infuriated customers.

General Mills, the food giant known for its breakfast cereals was not immune from a lawsuit claiming it misled consumers by marketing Cheerios Protein cereal as a high-protein alternative to regular Cheerios.  However, the main difference was that the former new version contained 17 times more sugar per serving than the latter regular version.

The above brands have done nothing more than exploit their once devoted customers and having to reluctantly and awkwardly apologize in the end. They subtly make changes for their internal benefits while shortchanging consumers ─ and believing (more like hoping) they will not take note. Those type of moves certainly impact the brand and image.

In the end: building the value of the brand diligently

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become loyalists and advocates – buying into it more often and recommending the brand to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation which in turn increases brand equity.

Transparency builds trust and loyalty – it’s what makes your audience believe you. The days when anything that was stated on ads was considered believable is no longer effective today. Social media is proving a fertile ground for breeding brand loyalty or where consumers can voice their frustration and dissatisfaction. George Orwell said something clever with his quote,” In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

A Sloan Review article makes an excellent point by stating that “brand is a “customer centric” concept that focuses on what a product, service or company has promised to its customers and what that commitment means to them. Reputation is a “company centric” concept that focuses on the credibility and respect that an organization has among a broad set of constituencies, including employees, investors, regulators, journalists and local communities — as well as customers.

Brand equity caters to customers and prospective customers alike as it measures marketing success in building and maintaining customer relationships. Alternatively, corporate reputation relates to who can help or hamper a company’s capability to achieve its strategic goals.

Measuring brand equity consists of brand audits, brand evaluation and brand tracking all three conducted by brand experts trained in this specific area. Interbrand is a consultancy firm which does this and publishes its annual most valuable global brands listing.

Managing brand equity requires brand reinforcement (through brand awareness and brand image), brand revitalization (increase product use, entering new markets, adding brand extensions and line extensions, re-positioning and seeking new markets) along with a brand management crisis plan for timely implementation (as in acting swiftly to savage reputation, recover lost sales along with consumer trust).

The Blake Project, a branding consultancy firm, suggests in one of its articles (Rise of the First Responder Brands) “Of all the benefits strong brands offer it is time to add one more to the list:

  • Increased revenues and market share
  • Increased stock price, shareholder value and sale value
  • Increased awareness
  • 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)
  • Increased ability to organize effective disaster response and relief”

As for companies which place profits before their customers, an ideal illustration is the infamous pharmaceutical brand Mylan whose callous CEO, Heather Bresch, along with her executive accomplices sharply increased the price on their severe allergy EpiPen from about $100, when Mylan acquired the product in 2007, to approximately $600 which comes in a pack of two. This naturally caused a national controversy and public outcry. Following this development, Ms. Bresch hastily decided to reduce the out-of-pocket cost to patients but retained the skyrocketed list price. Shortly thereafter, the drug maker began to offer a generic version of EpiPen for half the list price of the brand-name remedy.

Due to its greed and short-sighted decision to increase pricing dramatically ─ most notably with a vital product it dominates, and whose principal acted in a condescending manner, the brand will suffer long-term trust and be scorned. Consequently, this may dilute the brand’s equity for some time. Incidentally, Ms. Heather Bresch heads the generic-drugs lobby and is the daughter of an American senator.

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Enticing the Luxury Home Buyer Through a Holistic Marketing and Sales Approach

by James D. Roumeliotis

Med Style residence

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It is not surprising that luxury home buyers have much higher expectations compared to mainstream home buyers. It is about the amenities and the enhanced lifestyle which comes with the property in an upscale neighborhood. Those buyers also prefer a new home which is in a move-in condition and has an open floor plan alongside a fully automated home environment. Wealthy home buyers also remain attracted to high-end real estate because of a strong perception of value and location.

Another important factor to consider is that luxury home buyers are becoming ever more interested in holistic experiences.

Mainstream vs premium vs a luxury home

Most homes for sale are considered “mainstream”, or “conventional.” Their standards differ from country to country subject to local traditions, construction criteria and bylaws, cost of living, and other economic indicators. These type of homes includes basic amenities for the average population and considered affordable for the working class and middle class.

Premium homes are a better alternative to mainstream homes. They are larger, more attractively designed, built with finer materials, include many upgrades, as well as additional comforts. Moreover, part or the entire home can be custom built as per buyer’s personalized wishes.

As for “luxury” homes, they have it all – location (neighborhood, schools, affluent community), imposing and attractive architecture, high beamed ceilings, plenty of lighting, quality millwork, top end materials throughout, perhaps even a gym, movie theatre, temperature controlled wine room, indoor garage space for at least three to four vehicles, as well as an elaborate layout with a great deal of living space. In some cases, unobstructed views and high-tech home gadgets. Above all, they possess elegance, quality, integrity and are distinct with no expense spared. The threshold for a property to be considered luxury is at least $1 million depending on location. Large urban condominiums are also included into this mix ─ most notably penthouses. Generally speaking, luxury is considered “exclusivity” and what separates an ordinary house and an extraordinary house ─ with classifications such as a “villa”, “mansion”, a “manor”, “estate”, or even a “ranch.”

The art of living – going beyond beautiful homes

Luxury real estate projects should be marketed in similar fashion to what Cartier, BMW or Rolex are achieving. This marketing approach is based on demographic and psycho-graphic analysis which equates to extreme attention to customer experience and demands; integrated marketing across every touch point. The formula is straightforward: the right designer and appliance brand, the right location, the right product, and the right ambiance for the luxury customer. A custom luxury home is incomparable which is designed specifically for a client and explicitly for the location chosen or owned by the client. It resonates with the client’s personality.

Understand what your home offers which is unique to its competition. There is an emotive component of any luxury purchase. Create a display area on the property that allows your potential buyers to have the emotional experience of what living in the residence would be like. It is all about evoking and engaging the potential new owner. Creating a sense of a desirable lifestyle. Seduce and dazzle your clients with the emotional “wow” factor. Create an experience. Very good examples of this are the marketing techniques applied by luxury real estate brokers Sotheby’s International Realty, Christie’s International Real Estate, Savills (U.K.), as well as New York City luxury condominium project maven, Michael Shvo. The theme is the same: dazzle them and emphasize “lifestyle.”. This helps in spreading the word. Associate the property with renowned names/brands/designers as part of the cachet. That’s what helps trigger a sale and at prices beyond what one would expect to pay for the property.

New York by Gehry Lifestyle Photo

“Irreplaceable Property Marketing” ─ Unique & Hard to Emulate

Make the look and experience authentic with the impression that it’s irreplaceable. People want to feel they own something that has a personality and a story. This entails more than just the usual appliance upgrades or other high-end amenities. It is also the staging of the appropriate furniture making the prospective home buyer feel at home and envisioning himself or herself what it feels like living there. Doing so requires applying the art of elegance, art, culture and design along with a touch of pizazz. The key to a successful sale with a high-end property is to offer something the buyer is not able to find elsewhere.

New developments and modernized properties should be design conscious and unique – able to cater to the discerning as with single detached residential homes. They ought to be promoted and presented with panache, flair, and hype but tasteful. A professional marketer, with refined brand image skills and savoir-faire in the luxury real estate domain, can develop and execute a strategy that will make the project and its identity speak on its own. Branding is not a logo, it is a perception in the mind of the consumer about the personality of a company and what it stands for. With a favorable brand name, which in essence is “reputation”, attracting and making the sale requires less effort.

Seductive marketing: Demonstrating the properties by unconventional methods

New York City entrepreneur, luxury real estate broker and diplomat Paolo Zampolli applies novel methods of promoting and selling his listings while offering his high net worth clients the first-rate treatment. He hires former fashion models as his assistant agents touting exclusive properties ─ or taking them onboard his yacht, by way of the Hudson river, for clients to view their potential properties. His creative mind takes it one step above, literally, as he hires a helicopter to give the prospective buyer’s spread a bird’s eye view.

Raymond Bolduc, the top real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in Florida, believes that closing a deal requires throwing a party. As a means of advertising and promotional exposure, he creates attention by hosting lavish social events at his multi-million-dollar home listings to lure in prospective buyers. He does so with panache complete with luxury cars ─ and yachts if it is a waterfront property.

The following marketing channels should be considered to increase the exposure of the properties for sale.

  • Global websites
  • Glossy print campaigns
  • Newspaper inserts
  • National media coverage
  • Advanced social media platforms
  • Mobile technology

In the end

Since luxury home buyers are inherently wealthy, they should be approached and sold to differently. That said, property consultants/real estate agents should be well trained and very knowledgeable in sales, marketing, as well as thoroughly familiar with the unique properties they sell. They also retain client confidentiality and avoid conducting typical open houses to ward off the curious public since multi-million dollar homes demand pre-qualified buyers only.

Luxury home builders and real estate agents should focus their marketing activities to well-heeled and tech savvy Millennial buyers who seek turn-key homes that are eco-friendly, smart wired and cater to their busy and connected lifestyles.

As Lew Geffen, the Sotheby’s International Realty partner in South Africa, states in its marketing collateral,Property marketing is essentially ‘Show Business’ but Sotheby’s International Realty has aimed at ‘theatre’ ─ with all the levels of drama and passion the brand is fully capable of carrying.”

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The Challenger Brand: Going Up Against the Category Leader with an Alternative Product and Ethos

By James D. Roumeliotis

Challenger Brand

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The status quo is a complacent syndrome which exists with most established brands regardless of which sector they are categorized in. Despite a large capital chest, they are short-sighted, dull and lack the nimbleness to adapt swiftly. However, there those such as Nike and Amazon, among others, which innovate constantly. Nowadays, newbie companies fill in the gap and disrupt entire industries with revolutionary business models, products and services – whether in the service domain (think AirBnB, Uber and Netflix), automotive (consider Tesla) or in the consumer product domain (such as Dyson, Under Armour, Warby Parker and Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo brand).

The anatomy of the challenger brand

A “challenger brand” is defined as a company or product brand, whether a start-up or established, which faces up to the category leader in an advocacy stance. As a result, this type of brand/company is brusque to the point of creating and applying bold tactics. Furthermore, it is distinct and emotionally driven to be able play from a position of strength behind the dominant player in its sector. Consequently, the challenger brand eagerly takes on a unique position and showcases with conviction, to its target audience, why it is the logical alternative to the segment leader. Unique features offered may include enhanced features and benefits from those offered by the category leader. These may include better materials, technology, functional and attractive design, craftsmanship, performance, above average service, better value for the money, as well as social responsibility to name a few. This works well with consumers who are either under-served or under-valued by the leading brand.

Uber, with the birth of the ride sharing app, came along and challenged the taxi domain through a paradigm shift. It took the taxi leagues worldwide by storm which got the cabbies up in arms and resulted with them protesting and asking their local government to legislate against their nemesis. Rather than looking inward and reforming to compete, the cabbies chose the path to ferociously protect their precious monopoly. One taxi trade magazine even printed a column that condemned Uber as a “corporate pariah,” a “malignant tumor,” and a “giant octopus” that has “spread its tentacles globally.”

A challenger brand is determined to persist and persevere to constantly make a point to undermine the leading standard in order to change the rules to the benefit of the customer.

How to outsmart the category leader

When the challenger brand does not have the marketing budget to go head-to-head with the established brand in its category, it is easy to see why the latter can fail. To overcome this problem, the challenger creates unconventional marketing tactics which are more effective than traditional ones with much less ad spending. Sometimes that advertising is giving jabs to the weakness inherent with the category leader and it can include clever yet subtle messages which, if effective, may be able to persuade consumers who were leaning toward the established brand that it is not all that great as always thought.

Advocating and standing for something compelling, such as Patagonia with its social responsibility mission which is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”  The idea is to make a strong emotional appeal about the changes they seek to make a difference with. It is demonstrating and personifying not only through mere words but also with deeds that they are a better alternative to the incumbent brand. This takes being and acting confident through passion, beliefs and a purpose against the norm in return for something that matters.

Jude Bliss, the editor of the online blog The Challenger Project, had made this noteworthy statement: “Challengers are as clear about what they are rejecting as they are about what they are championing, which involves clearly defining what you see in the current market that is broken, as well as what change you can bring.”

It does not matter whether you are a new and small brand or the largest. Everyone can partake as a challenger brand. As long as your largest competitor defies with your ethos, then you have a cause for a challenge. No better example of this than Apple vs Microsoft with their witty advertising jibes at each other as to whose PC is the smarter choice for the user.

Another tactic to use as a challenger brand, if you are in the consumer goods domain, is to be creative and stand-out among the crowd with exceptionally designed yet functional packaging. Taking away the bland and ordinary and making the product desirable. Consider what Toblerone chocolate, Veuve Cliquot champagnes, SKY Vodka and others have succeeded in doing which eventually spiked their sales.

Audi has taught other brands how to challenge

BMW and Mercedes Benz are two German premium leading auto brands which command an equal level of prestige and respect. Both are in the same league in terms of German engineering and precision. However, each has a distinctive style which distinguishes it in the target audience – younger who prefer dynamic driving and older demographic with preference for a luxury drive respectively. As regards to Audi, up until the several years ago, the brand was deemed as the awkward stepchild of the parent VW group — the Toyota of the German elite of sorts. Lately, Audi has stepped up its game and finally entered the world as a true competitor along with their German tagline exuding what they stand for: Advancement through Technology. Audi has been gaining on its German rivals. Its firm commitment to excel has brought Audi to an audacious position to vigorously challenge its opponents BMW and Mercedes.

In 2009 in a busy Los Angeles, California intersection, a billboard ad rivalry between what Audi initiated and with BMW responding had escalated to a new level. A tit-for-tat had ensued when Audi placed an image of the all new Audi A4 along with the headline: “Your move, BMW”. Santa Monica BMW, a local dealership, took on the challenge and entered a virtual chess game when it added a billboard not far from Audi’s which featured a photo of the BMW M3 with the counter punch, “Checkmate.” A few days later, Audi unveiled a new billboard to replace the one with the A4. It featured an R8 super-car and read: “Time to check your luxury badge. It may have expired.” In the end, BMW moved its billboard to some other place and the billboard ad war came to an end.

Audi and BMW Billboard Challenge 1

Audi and BMW Billboard Challenge 2

In a Brand Channel blog interview with Loren Angelo, director of marketing for Audi of America, has said that “As a challenger brand, you have to look at your category, your situation…and attack it head-on.” He further elaborated: “We need to continue to challenge. That’s what allowed us to drive our position and to turn the brand around beginning in 2008. A challenger brand doesn’t mean we only challenge the competition, but we communicate how we challenge the status quo and challenge complacency in our industry and in culture.”

That being said, as a challenger brand, constant and persistent messaging with conviction to the target audience ought to be applied along with the delivery of unique customer experiences to solidify brand loyalty.

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The Art of Sparking Emotions: Building Desire for Your Brand

By James D. Roumeliotis

Couple in Love

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Whether offering products or services, a business is expected to create connections and engage in conversations with its prospective clients ─ but equally important, with its existing clienteles. While these connections might come in the form of attractive print ads, or utilizing social media/digital platforms, or even face-to-face interactions at various touch points, they should all be tailored to initiate meaningful conversations between brand and consumer. Conversations that can achieve sales targets along with obsessive fan followings which ultimately boost the popularity of the brand.

Customer engagement: the essentials

More than 20 years ago, a popular method for companies to obtain sales was to utilize a sales force and apply pressure tactics. Some companies used the telephone as their tool of choice for cold calling. This was a typical marketing and sales approach. Sales staff where trained in persuasion and closing techniques including answering the most popular objections. This is what is known as a “push” strategy. Today, customer engagement works in reverse. It is the customer, whether an end-user or a business, who decides if and when to communicate with a company. The typical contemporary consumer has the power of the internet and word of mouth in determining great deals and which brands they should be transacting with. Moreover, on the consumer side, there are countries with strict national regulations concerning telephone solicitation. This has had companies scrambling to stay relevant with the times and is considered a “pull” strategy. There is also a refined marketing method known as Permission Marketing” (opposite of interruption marketing) which was coined by marketing maven Seth Godin. As a result, marketers have been adjusting their strategies and integrating them with online and offline marketing activities, along with a laser focused approach with their specific audience. This has resulted in deep customer engagement.

Customer engagement is not a single outcome ─ it is an ongoing dialogue. They have come to expect more personalized interaction, customized solutions, timely results and most certainly a “bang for their buck.” This requires brands to be customer centric ─ with everyone in the organization on-board, in addition to being well versed in the digital age. This includes blogging, Twittering, Instagram posting and viral marketing among others. One other notable trend is towards widespread audio and video production and communication. From podcasting to mobile video, audio and video is predominating in our digital world.

Push vs. Pull marketing

Push marketing and pull marketing are different yet complementary marketing methods for promoting a business – most notably online.

Push marketing is more traditional methods of advertising – essentially, you are pushing your message to your audience, regardless of whether they want to receive your message or not. Push marketing focuses on product features and awaits the audience to respond. Examples of push marketing include email marketing, website advertising, and cold calling.

Pull marketing is more proactive, pulling the customers toward your brand/product with targeted messages they care about. Pull marketing is all about brand building. Examples of pull marketing include media interviews, public speaking, and word of mouth advertising.

The holistic approach

Consumers today are more brand conscience, better informed and with more options. Despite this, there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the five human senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

The five senses, when applied toward the customer, are regarded as follows:

  • Visual – lighting, decor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile – textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory – fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Storytelling along with the total customer experience

Standard products and mundane user experiences don’t offer compelling reasons for consumers to do business with certain brands. If a business can’t articulate its USP (unique selling proposition) ‒ as to why anyone should do business with your brand, your product and/or service merely becomes a “commodity” whose price will be the sole determinant in any transaction.  Being formidable and considered top of mind in your B2C sector requires a philosophy – a certain culture which will develop a following by consumers who share your values.

Quality materials, assembly and final product look increase a company’s competitiveness. The quality of a product may be defined as “its ability to fulfil the customer’s needs and expectations”. If the characteristics and specifications of a brand’s product line are equal or superior to its competitors, along with a fair price-value equation, the brand will turn out to be a preferred choice.

Storytelling, on the other hand, builds relationships by the stories that are well told. Stories add personality and authenticity to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands tend to boast their pedigree since their discerning clientele desire a deeper level of involvement and understanding of the history and heritage of the brand when it comes to their luxury purchase. This is referred to as “experiential luxury.”

It is essential that the sales professional be product proficient and adept at assisting and guiding the client to the purchase making use of flattery, romance and showmanship. To illustrate, when selling a niche automobile such as a Porsche, the sales consultant can talk about racetracks, describe road-holding capabilities, build-up a fascinating story – after which time he/she can bring-up reliability and the technical details which confirm to the discerning client what he/she is already aware of.

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with it. They become brand loyalists and advocates – purchasing the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.

In the end

With a plethora of marketing noise, differentiation in the delivery of non-evasive communication, personalized service and focus in niche markets will be the determining core value equation for success in attracting and retaining clients.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

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Three Things Businesses Can Learn from the Late Prince, The Artist

by James D. Roumeliotis

Prince Logo

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Prior to his sudden demise, I always had quite the fondness and following for Prince, “The Artist.” Ever since I discovered his music in the late 70s, what never seize to amaze me since was his eclectic work (comprised of dance, funk and rock tunes), vocal range and the method in which he always managed to integrate it all seamlessly during his formidable stage presence.

However, what many may not have been aware of was his show business acumen. Prince built and sustained his personal brand along with the resources he exploited which comprised of his musical entertainment enterprise.

What I have learned from this beloved and prematurely departed artist are three lessons which any business can use as a takeaway for implementation. They are as follows:

1) Stray from the ordinary and remain relentlessly competitive

“The Artist” was widely acclaimed by his fans, the media and fellow musicians as one of the most influential and creative musicians of his generation. He seemingly left behind an impressive music legacy. Unlike most artists, Prince was a prolific songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sang in a variety of vocals, produced his work, as well as displayed dance and theatrical antics on stage. Must we forget that he was also an actor ─ most notably in “Purple Rain” along with performances in four other movies including on television. Moreover, he wrote songs for and produced work for other musical acts including some he impacted and/or for whom he acted as their mentor and coach.

Prince also knew how to outdo his competition by standing out with his artistic performances including the eccentric outfits he sported along with his leaping dance acts he displayed with his platform shoes ─ as he only stood at 5’2”/1.58m. Some of his singles, which eventually turned into big hits, were purposely targeted at some of his rivals.

An exemplary display of Prince’s unique and memorable performance was a video, recorded at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The illustrious artists playing the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” include George Harrison’s son Dhani, along with old band-mates and collaborators Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Steve Winwood. However, most striking among this band, who stood slightly apart from the rest while they played ordinarily, was Prince. Despite his small frame and wearing a dark suit with a red shirt, a matching derby hat, and staying on the sidelines for the first 3:27 minutes or so (in the YouTube recorded video), he suddenly steals the show with his passionate guitar solo. As the song ends, Prince abruptly takes off his guitar, tosses it in the air and then disappears off stage. That was probably the most memorable part of the video from my perspective. Many more who watched it share the same sentiment.

2) Branding, image and reputation are your equity

As with traditional businesses, Prince had created a personal persona – where the brand and performer were synonymous. He created a logo dubbed the “The love symbol” ─ one that blended the symbols for male and female which was instantly recognizable. It was also the shape of his customized guitars. Prince even owned a signature color in the mind of his followers – purple. His occasional provocative lyrics, seductive singing, dramatic performances and distinctive album covers all depicted a unique style as an icon and as a showman of his personal brand.

As one Twitterer remarked in his Tweet following Prince’s death,Prince built a brand around his music and his genius before content marketing and personal branding became a thing.” Another stated, “Like Bowie, Prince reminded us that it’s not just OK to be weird—it’s cool to be weird.”

The moral of this narrative is that as a business, follow what Prince did ─ by working on building your brand image consistently, by establishing unique features with your products/services that distinguish them from the competition, and by being true to yourself, as well as by what you truly stand for.

3) Become vertically integrated

Prince was more than an artist, he was one who only entrusted himself with songwriting, arranging, producing, naturally performing his own music, as well as distributing it through his own label (NPG Records and Paisley Park Records before it). To do so, he built a $10 million state-of-the-art complex in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota which he named Paisley Park Studios. That said, he became his own vertically integrated corporation. This was, after all, a multi-talented musical artist who believed in taking control of his own destiny and in return, earning the maximum revenue and profits rather than giving much of it away – most notably to a record label. He considered the role of record labels exploitation and slavery. He was a fierce advocate for artist rights and independence and in he had standoff with Warner Bros., his label at the time. In protest, Prince removed his name from his album releases and changed his name to a symbol. He also styled himself as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Furthermore, during a legal battle with Warner Bros., he scrawled the word “Slave” on his face during his appearances and performances.

The significance with this illustration is that a business with adequate capital, resources and expertise ought to consider amalgamating most or all of the processes under its own umbrella. A such, quality control and improved profits are now controlled by the business itself.

Paisley Park Studio

Paisley Park Studios

A final point of intrigue

On a noteworthy footnote, in his 37 years as an artist ─ and unlike many with his fame, he kept himself out of the negative spotlight. He never plagiarized a fellow artist’s work, never had to hire a ghost writer, and neither involved in a scandal which would drag him to the courts. In the end, he was capable of playing more or less 20 instruments admirably and having earned 19 Platinum albums, 6 gold albums, along with a double diamond record for his Purple Rain album which sold 21 million copies. Impressive for a personal brand to say the least.

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Catering to a “Luxury Lifestyle”: Definition and Execution

by James D. Roumeliotis

Yacht Lifestyle Shot from the Air

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A “luxury lifestyle” denotes a way of life which is pleasantly enhanced through well crafted products and exceptional services. These include dining at the best restaurants, lounging in the finest hotels, dressing in premium and bespoke clothing, wearing jewellery/watches produced in limited quantities, possessing and driving the most extravagant cars, traveling to exotic destinations, and playing with the most sophisticated tech products – amongst others. Needless to say, those consumers are connoisseurs of the finest products and services money can afford them.

According to a white paper and survey, conducted by the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Co., it indicates that there is no widely accepted definition of “luxury lifestyle.” It goes on to say that Attendees of the 2012 Financial Times Business of Luxury Summit suggested the following definitions: “a way of living,” a set of “attitudes and values,” or specific “consumption habits.”  Consumers interviewed in London, Milan, Munich, and Paris gave equally diverse definitions. Some offered a broad perspective (“a way of being, dressing, behaving” that “sets you apart from the rest”); others referred to particular products, brands, and experiences (“staying at nice hotels”); still others took a cynical view (“it’s just brand names, that’s all” or “it’s marketing”). Its interviews with senior executives from luxury- goods companies such as Harry Winston, Hermès, and Roberto Cavalli yielded yet another varied set of definitions, including “embodying the lifestyle of an iconic designer” and “offering a holistic brand experience.” Although they all defined the phrase differently, 70 percent of the executives they interviewed said they regard their brands as luxury-lifestyle brands.

A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote more than a product with key benefits and attributes. However, lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life.” It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand. Take Versace, for example, which besides its fashion apparel and accessories also has hotels, home furnishing/décor, linens, beauty and more. Giorgio Armani also has his eponymous name on hotels, furniture, fashion, jeans and beauty. From these two fashion icons, we can certainly surmise that they have a legitimate claim as “luxury lifestyle” purveyors.

Developing the luxury standard of living through desirable customer experiences

Lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life”. it is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand. think of Ralph Lauren and you can readily see it is not about the clothes. it becomes an attachment such as the sports car brand Porsche to an exclusive club in which you can be a member through emotional identification through use of the products in question. Smart companies understand these principles and look to keep the customer engaged. By doing so, they clearly forge the sort of long term relationships, which become the envy of their designated sector.

The “Total Customer Experience” is the sum total of the interactions that a customer has with a company’s products, people, and processes. It goes from the moment when customers see an ad to the moment when they accept delivery of a product and beyond.

The experiences customers go through with a purveyor of luxury determine the ultimate perception of its brand and image. Customer experiences also spread the word (offline/online) to others (friends, relatives etc.) about your brand. That said, each customer contact (“touch points”) should be handled with the utmost care to ensure that the total brand experience a person has is constant.

Lifestyle brands develop emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal examples are the diehard brand enthusiasts and early adopters who must get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market such as BMW, Armani, W Hotels, Louis Vuitton and Rolex ‒ just to name a few. These have given way to consumers to buy products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol.

The luxury lifestyle in the services domain

In the category of “services”, the luxury lifestyle is all about execution in delivering an exceptional experience with pizzazz to the discerning ─ whether it is a bespoke travel excursion in an exotic place, producing an exceptional dining experience or organizing an over-the-top event, each one ought to create a pleasant memory which would want to be repeated.

A successful service related luxury lifestyle exists when the following take place.

– Delivered with passion
– Exclusivity
– Discretion
– Exceeding expectations
– Seamless
– Refined
– Posh
– With attention to detail

Consider American Express − most notably for its “by invitation only” Black/Centurion card. For hotels, worthwhile mentions are the Hotel Plaza Athenée, the Four Seasons (including its private jet tours), the Ritz Carlton, and boutique hotels Hotel du Cap and Hotel de Crillon to name a few prominent ones. They splurge and provide the perfect luxury experience with outstanding service, exclusivity, and pedigree.

Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni Travel, Orient-Express and Cunard Line. Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include fractional jet ownership such as NetJets and FlexJet, as well as global concierge services such as Quintessentially.

In the final analysis

Whether offering a product or service, it is how a luxury brand delivers an experience that distinguishes it and makes it stand-out from the mainstream. In essence, it’s a holistic approach.

Luxury lifestyle brand offerings should be constantly refreshed, giving discerning customers a reason to repeatedly do business with the brand. Tiffany & Co., decided to undergo “investing in the theater of shopping in its stores”, as its CEO Frederic Cumenal implied as regards to the renovations of its largest store ever which it opened in China.

Selling a distinct lifestyle is what discerning clients crave and gladly relate to. Organizing exclusive by-invitation-only events should be considered. Exclusive events make one feel notable. For example, Italian sports automaker Maserati invited a select number of brand loyalists to a new experience in Europe that gave them the opportunity to sail on-board the 70 ft./21,3 m Maserati sailboat. In addition, they drove models in its current range including the new Maserati Gran Turismo Sport model.

In the end, living the luxury life is irresistible to many from every range of background and nationality. The temptation includes the aspirational affluent.

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Filed under 1, Business, description of luxury, discerning clients, discriminating clients, lifestyle marketing, Luxury, luxury lifestyle

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Marketing Tactics: Spending Less and Generating More Exposure & Revenues

by James D. Roumeliotis

Hexagon Honey Packaging

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When it comes to marketing food products, known in industry jargon as “Consumer Packaged Goods (using the acronym “CPG”), it takes more than mere advertising. Any brand with a deep advertising budget can do so. However, the skill is in knowing how to best utilize a limited budget for maximum effectiveness. Surprisingly, many smaller brands seem to be running circles around their much bigger brand counterparts with greater resources. The key differentiator is in the strategy and implementation including the ideal target market, brand positioning and specific media sought.

Guerrilla marketing: Getting noticed on a shoestring budget

Persuading consumers to consider your product on their shopping list takes time and an ample marketing budget. However, getting consumers to take notice of your product can be swift if a combination of Guerrilla/unconventional marketing tactics are used in conjunction with unique packaging design.

The term “Guerrilla marketing” refers to an unconventional and bold approach for a business to promote its products and/or services in ways that capture the attention of potential customers. They are creative, memorable, attract people’s attention (some may be controversial) and require a limited budget which makes it ideal for small to mid size businesses. “Guerrilla marketing” was originally coined in 1983 by Jay Conrad Levinson who also wrote the book “Guerrilla Advertising” with subsequent editions and derivatives which followed.

In keeping with the CPG theme, Nestle’s Kit Kat candy bar brand utilized Guerrilla marketing by placing creative candy-themed benches across large cities as the image below depicts.

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Today, if a brand, especially a new arrival on the market, wants to stand-out in a crowded marketplace, it ought to consider the following means and tactics.

Online/digital Content marketing: This is absolutely the medium/platform which should not be overlooked. Even large brands are placing more emphasis with digital in their integrated marketing strategy. Content is released frequently but in small doses utilizing Twitter, blogs, Linkedin etc. along with stunning lifestyle images and video with must view material (Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo to name the most prominent digital venues).

Public Relations: As this is earned media, what is stated about a brand from a third party is considered trustworthy. Creating buzz through the media, including the use of press releases, is an inexpensive way to earn publicity in lieu of traditional advertising spend.

Alliances – associations – sponsorships: These are additional considerations to boost exposure which turns-out to be a win-win for both parties (sponsor and sponsored party/ beneficiary).

Storytelling: A brand should include storytelling which places an emphasis on the brand’s heritage, the reason for being and why it is offering such a product or products. It is more than content and a narrative, it is a picture made up of feelings, facts and interpretations.

Food packaging: Eating with our eyes

The value added in design, craftsmanship, branding and overall quality can elevate a product into an epicurean delight. Clever and innovative design significantly increases sales and improves brand performance. In addition, it can do plenty of silent marketing. Consider Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar brand, whose distinctive yellow triangular packaging and equally shaped product inside is instantly recognizable. It undoubtedly portrays a premium product yet offers a good value for the price. The brand’s marketing spend is much less than its competitors, though its sales and profits are known to be exceptional in its category.

There are many ways of seeing the value of design. For instance, you can measure sales and relative value as an output of changes in design. Design can also improve your standing among rivals and give you a competitive advantage. The Design Council published a report where facts and statistics concerning the value of design are highlighted. One interesting statistic is that design conscious businesses can expect a return on their internal design investments as high as 125%. That’s quite an impressive return compared to other types of investments made in a business.

What may be obvious is that if you have high quality design, you do not need to compete with your competitors on price. If the design of a product packaging has a “wow” factor to make it stand-out on the shelf, then consumers will choose it even if the price is slightly above the competing products. If the product inside is as good as its packaging, customers will enjoy what you have to offer and continue to be loyal to your brand. That is the result of offering something unique and of a higher standard.

Lifestyle marketing: Non-traditional methods to reach modern consumers

Generally speaking, a brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based solely on features, benefits and cost. A study from the Kellogg School of Management revealed that brands serve as a means of self-expression along with the limitations of expressing a consumer’s identity through brands. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Two CPG brands which have joined the lifestyle bandwagon and spending more money and resources away from traditional marketing are Oreo and Red Bull. The former has created one article and image on the pulse of pop culture per day for 100 days with not much revealed of what would come next. Red Bull which spends a staggering 30% of its revenue in marketing and sponsorship events, has also launched a magazine with over five million subscribers, including a record label and two film studios to produce its lifestyle and experiential material.

Healthy eating and acquiring new tastes are modern day trends which can’t be ignored by CPG marketers. Smaller portions are also a recent trend which equate to less calories for consumption along with much focus on natural and non-GMO ingredients.

Creating new categories and uncontested market space

Instead of competing head-on in the same product category, as the majority of brands are accustomed to, consider creating an entirely new class which will be in an uncontested marketplace. This approach is known as Blue Ocean Strategy®. It was developed by two professors at INSEAD, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne who are also co-authors of Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant (Harvard Business Review Press). As they put it, they observed that companies tend to engage in head-to-head competition in search of sustained profitable growth. Yet in today’s overcrowded industries competing head-on results in nothing but a bloody “red ocean” (as in cutthroat competition turns the ocean bloody red) of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool. Lasting success increasingly comes, not from battling competitors, but from creating “blue oceans” of untapped new market spaces ripe for growth.

Blue Ocean Strategy Chart

An intriguing case study which puts the above strategy in perspective is Australia’s Casella Wines. In 2001, it entered the overcrowded and highly competitive wine industry in the U.S. with its Yellow Tail brand. By the end of 2005, it had reached sales with 25 million cases ─ achieved on a limited marketing budget. This triumph placed Yellow Tail in the category of the overall bestselling 750ml (25.4 U.S. fl. oz.) red wine, outstripping Californian, Italian and French wine brands. It accomplished this by applying the Blue Ocean strategy framework. Consequently, Casella Wines’ Yellow Tail brand targeted the beer and ready-to-drink cocktails in the U.S. market and created Yellow Tail to be easy drinking, an informal selection, fun and an adventure ─ in essence, an uncomplicated, fruity wine structure that was instantly appealing to the mass of alcohol drinkers.

A category which should not be ignored are Millennials (aka Generation Y). They are projected to spend $65 billion on consumer packaged goods (CPG) over the next decade, yet there are many misconceptions and challenges in reaching these shoppers, according to a white paper by WPP’s Geometry Global. Millennials are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. They are known to be quite sophisticated, technology wise, unaffected by most traditional marketing and sales pitches. As a result, CPG companies should adjust and innovate to stay digitally connected with the Millennial consumer.

Sensorial branding: Exploiting the senses

In keeping with the spirit of the five senses, you can exploit them entirely to create a favorable experience in synergy, for guests and clients alike. Below are some of the most important factors:

SIGHT – choice of packaging, its design along with its images, the font type and colors. Add to that a stand-alone point of purchase (POP) display.

TOUCH – the feel and ergonomic design of the packaging. This is how the consumer interacts with it. Plenty of emphasis should be placed on this when designing the package.

TASTE – finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter. Food product samples ought to be available as consumers would prefer to try a product they are exposed to for the first time. Presentation is equally important which has an impact on the overall image of the setting.

SMELL – it is all about the smell of the product. This sense is closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something like computer controlled scent machines to entice. Sensory technology can be very influential down an aisle. Case in point: a French bakery café can deliberately use ventilation to deliberately spread the smell of roasted coffee and baked items sold to induce clients to make or increase their purchases. A company which is known to furnish such state-of-the art equipment is Scent Air Technology.

By integrating the brand-building strategies to appeal to all, or most of the senses, sales have actually increased.

At the end of the day

Marketing done well can improve your brand’s awareness, lead to more sales, word-of-mouth, as well as gain client loyalty.

Using clever marketing approaches which do not cost a fortune, along with innovative and attractive packaging, can lead to impressive sales. However, to develop repeat purchases (think “sell-through” at the retail level), the product itself should taste good and produced with quality ingredients.

Stay in touch with your customers via social media interactions and occasional email newsletters and a blog. Do what you can to improve the lives of these people with valuable advice and special offers. The product should exude that it occupies a part in a pleasant lifestyle.

Remain true to what is making your CPG brand a success and refuse to become complacent. Keep refining, innovating, never mislead (through false benefit claims and nutritional information) and engage constantly with your loyal clients. These activities are not deemed a onetime event but rather an on-going process.

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Filed under 1, blue ocean strategy, brand positioning, Branding, branding not products, Business, competition, consumer packaged goods marketing, cpg branding, cpg marketing, cpg packaging, food marketing, Marketing, package design, positioning, public relations, publicity, pull marketing