Category Archives: brand equity

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

by James D. Roumeliotis

harley-brand-tattoo

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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.

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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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Brand Refresh: Re-branding Through a Meaningful Transformation

By James D. Roumeliotis

Rebrand Image

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When a brand reaches a stalemate, management is to blame for neglecting constant evolving market trends, competitive pressures and ignoring customer feedback. If sales turnout to be lackluster for several quarters, it may be time to consider a re-branding strategy and implementation. Investing and continuously reinvesting in a brand’s nuance will earn and retain consumer loyalty. However, it is not adequate to merely change the look of the logo through an image makeover. The promise it conveys must be delivered each and every time – irrespective if selling a product or service. The advice offered herein concerns a fatigued brand and its product(s). As for a damaged brand, due to a company crisis, it is a subject on its own not reviewed in this article.

Complacency breeds mediocrity

In business, as with any other endeavor, progress is an ongoing process. Nothing should be taken for granted. Undoubtedly, the most profitable and enduring companies achieve their longevity and lengthy track record of success by constantly reinventing themselves. Once a brand is launched, it requires constant nurturing if it is to remain relevant, as well as customer engaged. This includes seeing opportunities and acting upon them in a timely and focused manner. Moreover, being aware of making adjustments according to ever changing trends in the marketplace, as well as through customer feedback, is paramount. The tools in a company’s chest is marketing research which uncovers needed information for a thorough understanding of its target market including perceptions its customers have for the brand. As a result, its knowledge will be updated with regards to consumer preferences and expectations. Following this, a short-term and mid-term approach should be implemented.

Customer centric vs product centric

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet 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 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished via “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

Building and sustaining a brand necessitates continuous enhancements by means of innovation and customer centricity. The marketplace is also evolving and the consumer is more savvy, thanks to the internet. Add to that competitive and price pressures. In addition, there is a massive shift in purchasing behavior of the younger target groups most notably the Millennials, who unlike their parents, are very particular in their tastes and purchasing habits. This is due in part to an expanding world of choices and options for just about everything they ever need or want. Thus, new market realities should be contemplated when re-establishing a brand.

Branding in essence is the heart and soul of the business. It sets a business’s products and/or services apart from the competition. This is particularly true in certain sectors where price is the only differentiator, though competing merely on price is a dead end game as your product falls into a commoditized category. The only firms which can win at this game are those in high volumes and low margins. Needless to say, it is much better to target a niche market, especially in the premium category, where there is less competition and margins are higher.

Examples of brands which overhauled their brand to a higher level, reflect on the following:

Hyundai: From dull automobiles and inferior quality they transformed to developing striking designs, improved quality and sold at attractive prices. Taking their brand one step further, they added a halo effect by creating a premium category, in Genesis to rival the well-established and pricier German competitors such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi models.

Apple: This strong brand began as a premium personal computer company with its first product, the Lisa, in the early 1980s. Much later, it introduced new and sought after categories in consumer electronics including the renowned iPhone. Fast forward to today, by hiring two former luxury domain senior executives and with the introduction of the Apple Watch, including an 18-Karat gold version (named Edition), the brand appears to be implementing a luxury strategy. Since perception and brand image is important in luxury distribution, Apple is considering opening separate stand-alone watch boutiques.

IBM: This brand went from computer manufacturing to IT consulting services. The company had to make a painful choice: innovate or die. It made the bold decision to abandon the core of its business model – selling low-margin personal computers, supercomputers and other computer hardware to a completely new focus – providing IT expertise and computing services to businesses. The business model revamp paid off. A few years in and IBM had acquired a significant number of companies in the IT services sector to dominate it with high margins.

To revamp a brand, consider carrying-out the following enhancements with purpose:

  • Add an element of sensuality and desire: Read article
  • Enhanced, appealing and easily recognizable identity: The logo, communication style, color scheme and any other visual elements of the company. Perception by its target market is key. Brand identity (company created and how it wants to be perceived) and brand image (what the consumers actually perceive) should be in sync.
  • Improved product and service: It is not simply adequate to reinvigorate a brand without refining the company’s products and services which should also make a positive difference. Read article
  • Compelling USP: The unique selling proposition should be meaningful and convincing if it is to be convey differentiation for the brand along with its products and services.
  • Storytelling: Brands build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. For example, luxury brands boast their pedigree.
  • Lifestyle brand: 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. Read article
  • Prestige or premium category: Move away from a commoditized product to a prestige and premium category if you want to differentiate as well as charge a premium price which in turn improve margins. Doing so should justify the “prestige” and “premium” labels through high-quality workmanship and materials along with benefits which trump its competitors. Adding a story behind it increases justifies the price increase. The brand may also be considered “mass luxury” or “masstige” (“prestige for the masses” and defined as “premium but attainable” by the masses.). Lacoste apparel is a fitting example.
  • Social media and PR savvy: Engaging with your target audience – this is conducted through social media and requesting Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.
  • Make it fun and effortless to do business with you: Make each touch point a pleasant and graceful experience. Hire for attitude and train for high standard of customer services including thorough product knowledge and a no pressure consultative selling approach. Read article

To add to the above, it is imperative to include a management team and subordinates who buy into, as well as apply the above-mentioned elements.

Rebranding Image 2

Image is perception – repositioning time

A brand should be sensitive to its image and equally mindful about what its perceived strengths and weaknesses are as compared to its competition. A SWOT analysis helps uncover these.

There are a good number of factors to recognize in regards to what can erode a brand. According to The Blake Project’s Brand Strategy Insider newsletter, an article entitled “60 Signs Your Brand is Dying”, it describes: “What kills a brand, more often than not, is what it lacks rather than what it does: conviction; energy; value; humility; cash; discipline; imagination; focus…” along with a list of 60 reasons a brand is dying. We witness this with the downfall of the Blackberry brand of smartphones. The executives at the company were so arrogant, that they did not initially see yet later ignored the disruption Apple and the now ubiquitous Android platform would bring to the smartphone market. As a result of Blackberry’s lack of a long-term strategy to outmanoeuvre its competitors, it hastily introduced new products which still left the brand two steps behind Apple and Google with its licensed Android.

The takeaway

The brand is the personality, as well as an (intangible) asset of the business since it possesses equity which in turn is its value and goodwill from a consumer perspective. The more valuable it is, the more can be charged for the product and/or service. The foundation of the brand is/are its product(s) and/or service(s), followed by the total customer experience ‒ which includes customer service. Thus, building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings.

A brand ought to undergo rejuvenation and in some cases, a fundamental change if it is to be relevant with its intended audience. To do so requires a systematic understanding of its typical customer profile, its wants, desires and the changing marketplace. This is done through a market analysis – the results of which will be taken in consideration for a new/updated and creative strategy with efficient implementation. If the brand has become stale, which is usually revealed through a steady decline in sales and discouraging customer feedback, it is a strong indication that its products and/or sales ought to be improved and re-launched.

In the end, can you frankly answer the following?

– What do you aspire your brand to stand and be relevant in the mind of your target market?

– What is your unique selling proposition?

– What is your raison d’etre? (Watch this immensely popular TED video by Simon Sinek)

– Are you admired?

– What are you doing to align your goals, objectives and to remain a compelling brand in your market?

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

by James D. Roumeliotis

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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 2018 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 2018 Harris Poll, regarding the most and least trusted industries, Banks represented 4 of the top 8 companies by trust rating this year, with Supermarkets adding in another two of the top 8. The remaining companies in the top 8 were in the Credit Cards and Insurance industry, such that Supermarkets and Financial Services companies took all of the top 8 spots.

By contrast, TV and Internet Service Providers occupied each of the bottom 4 positions in the rankings, and 7 of the bottom 11 overall.

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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How to Blemish Your Brand and Lose Market Share Due to Short-foresightedness: The Trouble with Major Food Brands

By James D. Roumeliotis

Nestle

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Yours truly, who took the audacious dive into the functional food and beverage business as a start-up and has presently taken it into the early stage phase, is having a field day reading about the challenges and frequent plethora of lawsuits brought about by consumers who have had enough of the deceit of the major food and beverage brands.

Once upon a time, during previous generations, renowned household brands such as Kraft, Kellogg’s, Pepsi Co. and General Mills, among many others, who once dominated the supermarket shelves along with loyalty.  Today, through their complacency and/or (as public companies) continuous pressure for quarterly sales and profit results mount, as well as through their cunning practices, we notice a backlash from food shoppers – most notably the more health conscious and finicky Millennials.

What Gives in the New Normal?

Today, consumers are more health conscious. This justifies the constant and extensive growth and popularity of the organic, non-GMO, clean label, plant based, farm-to-table and gluten-free product offerings. A large percentage of food producers of products in those categories are the small and nimble new kids on the block. They have hit hard on the established brands who are scrambling to adjust to this new reality.

Despite their vast resources and capital at their disposal, as large ships, they are not able to swiftly make the necessary reformulations or to introduce a healthier fare. As a result, the pressure from the unceasing decline of their revenues and market share are leaving them with no choice but to react, rather than be proactive.  Their path to least resistance is to acquire small health food and functional beverage brands in large numbers to compensate for their short-foresightedness.

The Permanent Health Craze

Hasty and reactive decisions, conniving strategy and foolish leadership have come back to bite them – serves them right. Use of inexpensive and toxic ingredients to engineer taste profiles and in some cases, make the products addictive, some of which include refined grains, MSG, artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, Carrageenan and the other artificial and unfavorable which most of us have a difficult time pronouncing. Add to this GMO corn, soy and…well you get it.  More expensive and healthier options can be used but their fiscal paranoia signifies to them this will hurt their bottom line. The big brands avoid raising prices to compensate for more expensive natural ingredients despite research showing that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier choices.

Lawsuits Galore

The cause of distrust among consumers can be rationalized due to corporations misleading the public as a whole, since most of those public food producers are, first and foremost, accountable to heir shareholders. Deliberate misleading information by food producers in regard to nutritional benefits is akin to the nickel-and-diming by airlines, hotels and banks. But unlike the latter list, when it pertains to food, it is considered more critical as our health is at stake.

As a result, in the last few years, there have been frequent class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies. Everything from Non-GMO claims and the use of a better-for-you sounding ingredient such as “evaporated cane juice” rather than using the simple term “sugar” (one and the same). Such negligence and deceptive practices have made the established food brands vulnerable.

According to a Forbes August 2017 article by John O’Brien, titled “Food Companies Beware: Class Action Attorneys Aren’t Slowing Down”, it describes that  “Plaintiffs attorneys who target food and beverage companies with class action lawsuits are showing no signs of slowing down, according to analysis from international law firm Perkins Coie that also shows California’s lawyers are the most active.” Some of those lawsuits include consumers claiming they were misled into buying the product due to mislabeling.

Here is a small sample list of the shameful established food and beverage brands (click for the link to lawsuit article) with seemingly dysfunctional and old school strategies. They have become a favorite punch bag from the likes of this author along with numerous consumer groups and their hired attorneys.

Why Brand Image and Loyalty Matter

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.

Brand reputation quote from Benjamin Franklin

Customers first, employees second — investors/shareholders third

In the ivory towers of public corporations, the CEO and board of directors have been programmed to put their stakeholders best interests above all else. Their mission is to do what it reasonably takes to deliver quarterly results ─ in other words, to focus on the short term rather than sow the seeds and do what is most beneficial for the future direction of the company ─ despite any short-term pains. Savvy and considerate top management know better that customers and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  The main principle is that if employees have a positive attitude, are passionate, well trained and competent, results will be reflected through positive customer experiences resulting in brand loyalty. Ultimately, the shareholders will reap the benefits through stock performance and generous dividend distributions.

Large well-established companies have several advantages over smaller ones mainly due to their imposing size, their brand recognition as well as for their plethora of cash and human capital. However, despite their deep pockets and plethora of resources, they are risk adverse, bureaucratic in their decision-making process and to some extent, disengaged from their customers. Moreover, if they are a public company, their initial allegiance is to their shareholders.

Start-ups and smaller businesses, on the other hand, have less money and resources at their disposal to grow or even compete in the unapologetic and competitive landscape. Yet, the small business is agile, nimble and creative and possess several advantages such as a clean slate, rather than the baggage many large corporations have been carrying over the years, as well as perceived as more trusting by consumers, further engaged with their customers, and a refreshing alternative to the established brands – provided the products offer unique and attractive characteristics.

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Filed under 1, brand equity, Branding, branding not products, Business, business management, consumer packaged goods marketing, cpg branding, customer engagement, customer experience, decision making management, discerning clients, discriminating clients, dysfunctional companies, executive decision making, Food business, Food entrepreneurship, food marketing, Food production business, inept management, leadership, poor leadership, preventing business problems, public relations

Brand Experience, Not Product Branding: Cutting Through the Clutter

by James D. Roumeliotis

Brand Experience

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Products in the same class-categories struggle to differentiate themselves. Consumers often take brands for granted. Purchases are not so much conscious brand selection as choice by default. The two following examples highlight this. Going out for coffee in North America usually dictates a visit to Starbucks. When sparkling water is ordered at a restaurant, Perrier appears almost by magic.

The age of the internet has made copying competitors’ products, marketing strategies, and overall business practices to name a few. It’s not enough to merely compete at a product and pricing level which doesn’t take long to be outdone. Anyone can lower prices. What begs the question is where you draw the line before your profit margins are eroded to the point of no return and many ramifications for a business. Savvy marketers look beyond pricing and product features. Instead, they search for sustained ways to market their brand rather than their product.

“Branding” redefined for the new era

 To begin with, 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.

When consumers are 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.

A branding strategy should consist of:

  • Brand Positioning – Position is a descriptive sentence, slogan or image the brand is known for in the mind of the consumer and which the company delivers on it consistently. This is what sets the product or service apart from competitors.
  • Brand Identity – This is every visual expression of the brand, whether in print, television, digital or the iconic (Pullman) brown color identifying the trucks and delivery staff of the UPS courier company.
  • Brand Experience – 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.
  • Storytelling – Brands build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands boast their pedigree.
  • Engaging with your target audience – this is conducted through social media and asking for feedback. Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.

The holistic selling proposition

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet 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 5 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.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, 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.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Developing the customer relationship through customer experiences

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.

According to Bain & Company, a leading management consultancy firm, out of 362 leading companies surveyed, 80% believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree.

The experiences customers go through with your business determine the ultimate perception of your brand and image. Customer experiences also spread the word (offline/online) to others (friends, relatives etc.) about your brand/image. 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. This requires proper training and occasionally evaluating employee performance. Moreover, improvements may be necessary with systems, technology, methods, services, products and even physical premises. Complacency should be replaced with continuous improvement.

Creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to 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.

B2B branding differentiation

Consumers are attracted to brands’ nonsensical benefits such as status, affinity, self-comfort and prestige, whereas, Business-to-Business (B2B) customers make their purchase decisions based on practical rationale including pricing, product performance and specifications, Moreover, brand loyalty in the B2B sector is higher than in consumer goods markets because companies in the commercial and industrial segments seek satisfying and long term relationships since jumping from supplier to supplier can cause havoc and inconsistencies with product quality control. Consequently, developing brand loyalty among enterprise customers can capture a larger share can increase profit margins while protecting them against lower-priced competitors.

The final take

The key to success is to market your brand, not your product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with your customers. Branding positively adds value to your company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value.

A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote a more than a product with key benefits and attributes. Note however that 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.

One way to overcome the ‘price only’ differentiation, which erodes profits and does not generate loyalty, is for a company to consider building a lifelong relationship with each customer. To do so, requires that each customer enjoys a positive and hassle-free transaction with each touch point. The goal is also to reduce or eliminate customer problems altogether, but that begins prior to and during the first contact with the customer. All problems should be documented, reviewed and corrected without much delay. Hiring the right people is vital, so is training them properly, as well as empowering them to deliver a remarkable customer experience.

When promoting brands, consider that earned media trumps paid media and enhances the brand image. With adverts, consumers don’t care what marketers say. According to a 2015 Nielsen Group report, “False” is the term 89% of consumers closely associated with advertising campaigns.

Whether a product or service ‒ is a luxury brand or falls into another category, it is how you stand out from the crowd that distinguishes you. Know your target audience, get inside their heads and understand how they think and feel. What are their fears, emotions and anxieties? Once you’ve understood this quite well, you then manage the brand consistently.

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

By James D. Roumeliotis

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

By James D. Roumeliotis

Brand Equity image - Coke bottle

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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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