Category Archives: Branding

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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Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

By James D. Roumeliotis

What is in it for me - features vs benefits

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There was a time when brands and their sales staff would tout the features of their products. This was most notable with consumer products and automobiles amongst other goods. “Our product has this and that” and “Our product will do this and that for you.” sound alike, but are distinctly different. In this day and age, the second one wins over customers by a long-shot.

Take the case of buying a watch. The function of a watch is to tell time. All watches do this. To differentiate, a watchmaker must bring something else to the table. For example, the Rolex Submariner has many outstanding features. Watch fanatics can recite the details like kids cite stats of baseball players. However, most clients want to feel elegant. They already know that a Swiss watch means high quality. The benefit of wearing a Rolex is to make the wearer feel like James Bond or Gianni Agnelli. The benefits are is style, class, and self-esteem.

People Buy Benefits Rather Than Features

Features of a product are considered a ‘good to know’, whereas its benefits are deemed more relevant to its users as “what I can relate to and need to contributes positively to my sense of self” sell not only the product, but the “idea” of the product. Since there is competition with virtually every product, brands should create interest to more than practical needs of potential customers. The brand’s product(s) must persuade customers to think that it/they perform better and offer a much better value than the competition. For example, Hyundai’s Genesis, through its advertising and sales consultants, stress ‘intelligent value’ when compared to the established premium auto brands like Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Lexus. The emotional benefits are what a brand/product ought to be targeting and appealing to. This would make the driver feel as if he/she has made financially and emotionally a wise decision.

As marketers are quite familiar with the term “sell the sizzle, not the steak”, in layman terms, it signifies that you’re not only selling the product, but the idea of the product.

What is Your Brand USP? Benefits Must Be Tangible

To begin with, a “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. A brand promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. A major part of this is what’s called the “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP.

Prior to launching or invigorating an existing product, the questions which should be asked are:

  • What is our purpose?” and as a result: How is our target market going to benefit from our product?
  • What will the brand and product stand for? How are they going to be positioned?
  • What is the product’s intrinsic value? Perceived value?
  • Is it going to be a lifestyle product?

Simon Sinek takes the aforementioned a step further with thought provoking questions. 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.”

Alternatively – Sell a Lifestyle and an 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. Brands also 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 and craftsmanship, amongst others.

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 any new product launch such as the imminent iWatch. 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.

Features vs Benefits

The Final Take

If your product stands-out on its own because it functions splendidly and enhances its intended purpose, then it can’t help but be embraced by consumers without the artificial hype. It’s what they will talk about to others which is the most candid endorsement the product can earn. It’s equally important to sell the idea of a product as it’s to sell the actual product.

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 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 consistently every time.

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Ambiance Marketing: A multi-sensory approach to attracting and retaining clientele

by James D. Roumeliotis

Sensorial marketing

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The dictionary conveys to us that “ambiance” is “the character and feeling of a place.“ A place which wants to attract the most discerning souls, should be unique and embody a complete lifestyle concept which combines a relaxed, spiritual ambiance amongst an elegant setting and decor with attention to detail. Staging an impressive, well executed upscale event, such as a product launch or promotion takes creativity, organizational skills, as well as savoir faire.

Pleasing hors d’oeuvres and drinks prepared and presented with pizzazz are complemented by soothing music which is also an integral part of the ambiance and ranges from classic music to smooth jazz or chill-out rhythms. The attractive, smiling and well mannered staff is dressed stylishly.

All of these elements combined will, undoubtedly, seduce the senses and generate good vibes along with positive memories created. This principle applies equally well to business establishments and brands and includes boutique hotels, restaurants & bars, fashion boutiques and other upscale business establishments. In marketing, a multi-sensory approach is proven to increase sales.

To be effective, the use of an integrated approach is essential across various touch points with the purpose of engaging customers.

Today, consumer purchase decisions are increasingly driven by consumers’ hearts. With ambiance marketing, a custom designed attractive setting – yet alluring with captivating style, invites customers to truly feel the brand experience by adding character. This is accomplished by connecting the emotions to a product or service, and infusing it with a tangible and intangible essence that remain in the customers’ minds.

The ambiance you create is one of your best marketing tools. The aesthetic appeal to human senses, the feel of your business and the brand you create is your image. Along with great service, it is one of the most important reasons customers will choose you over the competition.

What should you consider when developing ambiance?

In keeping with the spirit of our 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 lighting, décor, colors and an ergonomic layout. You can get a real sense of movement using these elements. Lighting is also very helpful when it comes to the overall event and low intensity lighting such as dimmed soft halogen or LED lights along with the presence of lit candles create a stress free atmosphere. In addition to your building materials and lighting, the art you choose to put on your walls will make a huge impact on overall ambiance. Local art, modern art, renaissance art or a hodgepodge of all of them will help convey the ambiance you are trying to define.

LISTEN – music, effects, volume and vibrations. The tone and the energy of the room can be set with the right music selections. Think about using a “signature” sound effect to draw attention to different happenings throughout establishment or event. Upbeat music that would be appropriate in the evening may not appeal to your morning customers who have just gotten out of bed. If you have an Italian-themed bar, you may want to interject some Italian music from artists like Zuccero or Eros Ramazotti. If your theme/branding and ambiance is geared to a very hip, young audience, it will likely suit your customers to include songs with a driving beat from cutting-edge alternative and electronic artists.

TOUCH – textures and comfort. This is all about how your guests and/or clients interact with the environment. Plenty of emphasis should be placed on this when designing the layout. It should be ergonomic. The more comfortable the space, the longer guests/clients will linger in any given area. The materials you use to build out your operation will be a major component of the ambiance of your business and the choices are many. Countertops can be granite, frosted glass, laminate or of exotic wood. Floors can range from acid-etched concrete to terrazzo to granite. The use of wood can evoke a feeling of warmth. Exposed pipes and air ducts can give your business an industrial feel. Draperies can dampen sound and add texture.

TASTE – finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections with the intention of pleasing most taste buds. Presentation is equally important which has an impact on the overall image of the setting.

SMELL – it is all about fragrance which aids in creating emotion. This sense is usually neglected yet of all our senses, the sense of smell is 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 icing on the cake, sort of speak, in complementing the overall mood. If it is a French bakery café style of operation, the smell of roasted coffee and baked items sold will induce clients to make and increase their purchases.

A case in point in terms of a successful establishment, which implemented the above principles spot on, is a popular upscale “member’s only” bar in Dallas, Texas called “Candleroom”. It did not become renowned simply by accident. This has been accomplished by developing and executing the perfect atmosphere for young professionals seeking to socialize in a dramatic and spacious setting – a progressive urban lounge modern in design and decorated with bold, sensuous colors. The ultra swanky décor with its velvet, leather and fine furniture are lit by candles and dimmed chandeliers. DJs spin house, rock, hip-hop and dance for those that are interested in a little more of a dance club setting, while the attractive staff working behind the bars mix exotic drinks for the patrons. As a result, it is considered by many discerning clubbers to be one of the most handsome drinking destinations in Dallas.

Focus groups: Uncovering your customers’ specific desires for your success

As companies grow larger, they commonly hire a market research firm to determine what their customers like, dislike and what additional products or services they desire. This is often uncovered through the use of focus groups.

There is no reason you cannot poll customers in your area in the same way large multinational companies do with great success. Focus groups can be helpful if you are already open or just beginning to plan your business. Rather than simply assuming, it is in your best interest to know if you are giving your customers the products, services and ambiance they desire. Feedback is important, hence you need to find out what your customer’s needs are and fulfill as many of them as possible. After you analyze the information you have received from your focus group, try to incorporate the best and most workable ideas into a motif that will define your business and create the ideal ambiance to attract and keep your customers.

On a side note: Branded CD compilation

Designing and implementing custom music and visual strategies that emotionally anchor a brand to its clients, should be considered. The goal of branded CDs is to turn your listeners into disciples of your brand. Every aspect of your custom CD says something about your brand, therefore, custom CD’s place equal importance on print, media, and visual elements in addition to the music. Specialty music compilation companies such as Sonodea and Custom CD Corporation oversee all logistics related to custom branded CD music compilation and development. They work closely with clients on everything from the music themes to the packaging to the visual content. This ensures that the music, look and feel of the CD resonate with their customers’ clientele and target demographic.

In some fashion, all business is show business and storytelling. Brand image is all about the experience, perception and differentiation you create in the customers’ mind. Ambiance marketing takes all this into meaningful consideration by applying its multi-sensory approach to attracting and retaining clientele to your brand and business establishment.

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Food Distribution Guy interviews James Roumeliotis from Artizan Fine Foods

Sharing an interview podcast I recently had, conducted by a food marketing expert on how I launched Artizan Fine Foods with my partner and what differentiates our products.

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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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This Blog’s Top 10 Most Read Articles of 2017

The ten most read/popular articles in this blog have been rounded-up — this time for 2017.

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

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1] The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

2] Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

3] Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

4] Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

5] Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

6] Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

7] Exploring the Luxury British Automotive Total Customer Experience: Part 2 ‒ Jaguar Cars

8] Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

9] Genuine Luxury vs Accessible Luxury: Two Distinct Yet Opposing Categories

10] Sex and Sensuality in Advertising: Why it is effective and how to refine it

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The Sensuous Brand: How to create allure with products and user experience

by James D. Roumeliotis

Sky Vodka - Sexy Brand

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Why are visually appealing products rare which make purchasing it a delight and worth talking about? Common sense dictates that product design should be attractive – perhaps possess sex appeal if the brand behind its product(s) seeks to make a sales impact. Although beauty is subjective, there are common standards of attractive packaging, which are smart and demonstrate the intrinsic value of the product’s attributes.

However, many will agree that smart design looks timeless, expresses character and is visually seductive.

Barring lingerie labels such Victoria’s Secret or Agent Provocateur – which in and of themselves will ooze with sexiness, most other brands and their products from non-seductive sectors can still create and possess a sense of styling along with desire.

A brand that caters to all the senses, begins with an appealing brand identity, followed by creative industrial design of its products – which are complemented with a positive customer experience in every touch point.

Artfully articulating what your brand and offering represent

Adding personality to objects and human interaction are quintessential to customer envy and desire.

There are brands that design and churn sensuous looking products. However, there is one that most will agree is top of mind for the refined consumer electronics market –- Apple. It’s all about the appealing logo, the attractively designed and “feel good” products, the alluring packaging, the intriguing ads, and the overall positive customer experience at their retail level, Needless to say, it’s a contemporary brand that undoubtedly gets it. It’s no wonder it created a strong following, or as marketing maven Seth Godin would describe as a “tribe.”

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

Product design is key to a great brand. Design is the elemental differentiator with competitors. Allure builds the emotional bond and turns owners into enthusiasts.

“It’s all about integrating design and brand,” says Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet Studio.

We need to cease thinking of them as different disciplines. The essence of the Apple brand comes through its design. Take the logo off a BMW and you still know it’s a BMW.”

Design also needs to be part of the strategic plan from the start, embraced by the CEO and across the Board.

A brand is not your logo or ID system,” says Robert Brunner, founder of the design shop Ammunition and author of ‘Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company.’

It’s a gut feeling people have about you. When two or more people have the same feeling, you have a brand. You get that feeling via smart design, which creates the experiences people have with the brand. Everything you do creates the brand experience; ergo design is your brand.

The holistic approach to customer attraction and retention

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.

Creativity, quality, storytelling and above all, 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.

Be first, different & daring – above all, visually stimulating

Plan and execute flawlessly the following to differentiate and develop into, as well as remain an enviable brand through artistic design and function:

–       The brand logo and company presentations should possess flair, consistency and be memorable;

–       Focus on a specific target audience/niche market rather than divert to several markets or the general population;

–       Innovative and “feel good” product design (both visually and tactile): Get inspired by designs from Philippe Starck, Pininfarina, Porsche Design and Bang & Olufsen. Architecture by Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid  Automobile design trends by Audi, Tesla, and in the last few years, Hyundai with its entire model makeup. Kohler Group doesn’t simply design functional bathroom and kitchen sinks and faucets, but rather bold designs and technology to an otherwise lackluster plumbing product sector.

Perhaps product customization and personalization should be available as an additional offering.

–       As for service related domains, place emphasis on employee attitude/personality, empowerment, constant training, effortless accessibility for your clients, flexibility when solving issues and presentations with style, as well as finesse. Each and every customer should be treated with personal care – a sign of individuality;

–       The Total Customer Experience: Be easy to do business with – accessible – at every stage of a transaction from initial contact/pre-sale, during the sale and post-sale (follow-through and customer service). Zappos, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton Hotels and American Express (to name some of the finest examples) are renowned for their obsession with customer service and total customer experience;

–       Soothing sounds and striking visuals: Consider sound branding complimented with refined standout visuals (audio, images and video). Surround your brand and its products/services with fashion, beauty, design and attractive models – without any marks of tackiness;

–       Packaging design should be visually appealing, distinctive, tastefully decorated, and equally inviting to open.

–       Sponsor, collaborate and/or associate with a fashion related brand and/or the arts. Both brands can benefit from combined exposure (PR and advertising). Luxury goods brands such as Versace, Bulgari and Fendi are teaming up with property developers to offer upscale designer hotels. Their trademark at hotel properties, in a select number of affluent cities worldwide, offers their loyal clients something new to get excited about.  It’s a collaboration which celebrates a shared fondness in design and luxury experiences.

–       Create and own a captivating name and category for your product or product line. Luxottica, is the world’s largest eyewear company, controlling over 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands (eye glasses and prescription frames) including Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses, along with Chanel, Prada and many other designer labels. It re-invented eyewear which were once considered a “medical device” and developed them into a fashion statement. They no longer label their products as “glasses” but as “eyewear” and “face jewellery” (for a lack of a better term/descriptive);

–       Marketing collateral and ads should be: (i) slick, (ii) minimalistic, (iii) emotional, (iv) portray a lifestyle, and (v) apply the “less is more” mantra. Arouse curiosity. Effective marketing campaigns should also include elements of: Imagination, Mystery and Memory;

–       Be a visionary and innovate – anticipate what your sector will look like in 3-5 years and begin to plant the seeds/strategize in a timely manner. Avoid complacency. Blackberry is an excellent case study exemplifying what they should have done a few years ago to remain relevant amongst iPhone and the Android platform smartphones.

Lessons from luxury brands: 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 including prominent brands such as BMW (ultimate driving experience), W Hotels (avant garde designer hotels for a younger audience, along with whatever you want, whenever you want it, as long as it’s not illegal), Louis Vuitton (prestige and opulence), Rolex (representing the pinnacle of achievement; fulfilling and perfection in one’s life) and Aston Martin (power, beauty, soul and heritage). Those brands have given way to consumers to buy their products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol. Abercrombie & Fitch had once experimented by creating a lifestyle based on a preppy, young Ivy League lifestyle. Their retail stores evoked this lifestyle through an upscale environment, physically attractive models, along with spicy ads featuring young people living the A&F lifestyle.

Hermes Equestrian Fashion Photo

Hermes gets it right with its sensuous ad campaigns

The final take: Elegant & intelligent design

Beauty and design in all things is artistic, engaging, stimulating and creates a sense of comfort. It’s also a very personal thing. Creativity is beauty in art form. It starts from nothing, utilizes mind exploitation, imagination then something awe inspiring is produced which stimulates the mind and senses. The approach to creativity is the way an artist might stand before a new canvas, on which a beautiful painting can be crafted. Staff who work in a creative environment should be given plenty of leeway to utilize their full potential – the freedom to flourish. Not doing so limits their artistic talent and deprives the company from taking a leap at the competition. Apple has successfully unleashed the talent from their product engineers by creating a non-stifling work environment. As for architects and industrial designers, they should definitely possess the talent and imagination to create and turn extraordinary drawings into reality.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. When Apple releases a new consumer electronic device, people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This is a result of Apple constantly building an emotional attachment to its products by managing the total user experience.

“Total customer experience” is not an option but rather compulsory as part of an alluring brand. It takes savvy planning, execution and perpetual refinements to stand above the crowd. It’s how you get noticed and remain relevant. Luxury brand desirability is driven by standout design, craftsmanship, as well as what is felt.

It takes vision, creativity and intuition, along with unflagging discipline and a sense of style, to keep a consumer focused company relevant and its products on everyone’s must-have lists. No brand should be complacent.

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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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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

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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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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.

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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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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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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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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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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Genuine Luxury vs Accessible Luxury: Two Distinct Yet Opposing Categories

By James D. Roumeliotis

Mass - Masstige - Prestige

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“Masstige” (a combination of two words: “mass” and “prestige” – aka mass with class) is a contemporary marketing term which denotes prestige for products perceived as luxurious and targeted to a wide range of customers known as the “mass affluent.” As per Wikipedia, the mass affluent are the high end of the mass market, or individuals with US$100,000 to US$1,000,000 of liquid financial assets, or consumers with an annual household income over US$75,000. These upper middle class individuals can afford to splurge on some of the finer (and affordable) things in life which include fashion merchandise, sporting goods, cosmetics, various accessories (silk ties, scarfs, small leather goods, perfumes etc.), high-end consumer electronics/gadgets, as well as culinary food and spirits. Brands in those categories depend on the “masstige” crowd for a majority of their sales, despite a few which also happen to be purveyors of inaccessibly priced products catered to the HNWI/UHNWI (aka the very wealthy or the 1% respectively).

This is purely an oxymoron and paradoxical since in the authentic luxury domain, “mass prestige” is an artificial term for “luxury” as it is not generally geared for the mass but rather the well heeled. Sadly, the true meaning of “luxury” has been bastardized by many brands who are falsely in the “luxury” business (in the true sense of the word and definition). ​However, there are luxury brands which have chosen to offer lowered priced products in a bid to join the “accessible luxury.” Think Coach with its leather bags and accessories or Chanel with its perfumes and cosmetics.

Defining the true meaning of the term “luxury”

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 in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

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 as follows:

  • 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? (i.e. the product or service will enhance one’s experience through an exceptional appeal)
  • Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?
  • Does the brand offer authenticity?

Genuine luxury purveyors remain relatively small and select in their category. Ultra wealthy (UHNWI) consumers purchase rare luxury products because they seek to distance themselves from the mass through the emotional value of acquiring flawless and rare objects of desire.

“Aspirational” luxury, on the other hand, is another fancy marketing parlance which is generally defined as a brand that most want but only a fraction of them can actually afford it. Most cannot afford a $2000 bottle of vintage wine but may be able to occasionally splurge on a $200 bottle of one of the finest single malt Whiskey.

Identifying luxury sectors

Genuine Luxury is classically defined in three key segments:

1) Luxury Goods: Fashion & Accessories, Watches & Jewelry, Well-being & Beauty products.

2) Lifestyle Purchases: Automotive, Experiential Travel, Home & Interiors, Exclusive Alcoholic beverages (exceptional wines, champagne & spirits)

3) Private/Executive Jets and Yachts: An absolute category in their own right.

Brands which fittingly claim authentic luxury status

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 UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth). Many of their products actually increase in value over time since they are either discontinued or necessitate a long waiting list/time.

Most notable authentic luxury brands are in the haute merchandise category:

Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Rolex and Cartier.

Other players to this core list include: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Gucci, E. Goyard, Charvet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bulgari.

Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Orient-Express and Cunard Line.

Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include credit cards with no limits, jet ownership, private plan charters, global concierge services and the like. Think NetJets and Amex.

“Accessible” luxury is a marketing notion, not a merchandise category

The concept of making luxury available to the masses goes against what true luxury is as
there is no such thing as accessible luxury ─ it is either luxury or it is not as “accessible” luxury is a marketing notion and not any product category. Think Michael Kors, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Godiva and Apple among others. Top luxury brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have accessible luxury with perfumes and cosmetics, sunglasses, as well as accessories (leather, silk scarfs etc.).

In marketing parlance, being coined as an “accessible” luxury good can be deceiving when the quality of materials is not quite at par as one would normally find in a “genuine” luxury product. For such companies, becoming too commonplace is a risk for such brands as they lose their cache due to a lesser price line, as well as risk their reputation for the sake of increasing their revenues. Then there are some non-luxury brands which use the codes of luxury strategy to grow their sales. Needless to say, many consumers will eventually catch-on that such products are merely a gimmick thus on their way to lose their luster.

Masstige - My other bag is a Birkin

“Premium” and “prestige” categories defined

If luxury brands are related to scarcity, quality and storytelling then premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodities in general: i.e. pay more, get more.

These brands are less ostentatious, more rational, accessible, modern, best in class, sleek design, and manufactured with precision. Beats headphones and TAG Heuer watches are a case in point and so is Audi and Lexus in automobiles.

“Luxury” and “prestige” brands respectively both have a similar status. Although some may disagree, in some cases, brands such as Mercedes-Benz automobiles, are considered to be both “luxury” and “prestige.” There are also brands which are either labelled one or the other. It depends how they are identified in the eyes of consumers.

Prestige brands offer a high level of innovation, craftsmanship ─ and with some categories, the finest ingredients or raw materials. Due to their well-established names, status and pedigree, they boast quite a loyal following. As a result, they can command premium prices which their clients do not mind paying for since they are made to feel special. Examples of some prestige brands include Breitling watches, Lancome cosmetics and Aston Martin automobiles.

The distinction between a prestige brand and premium brand is simply one of perception. In automobiles it is Cadillac and Lexus vs their German counterpart of BMW and Audi. In watches, it is perhaps a Rolex versus a Breguet and a Cartier.

On a final note

When it comes to lower priced supposed “luxury” products for the affluent masses, they are essentially “premium” products ─ otherwise known as “masstige.” The brands succeed at creating fancy designs and utilize expensive looking material to make their products appear very expensive which are then sold at a fraction of the price compared to genuine luxury brands in the same product category. Add clever window dressing and marketing and the result is that those products become affordable objects of desire. Unlike authentic luxury brands which are manufactured at their country of origin (mainly Italy, France or the U.K.), they are outsourced to low labour cost factories in Asia or Turkey. Despite this, they are given a premium markup which is intentionally done to create an aura of high value.

As long as there is a big demand for massitige products that its target market can afford and make them part of their social status and lifestyle, the category will be around indefinitely.

As a final point worth mentioning, at this day and age, there are luxury branding experts who claim that there are actually four categories of luxury: Old, New, Eco and Indie as exhibited in the following table (credit: David Sherwin). This translates into additional choices ─ categories to satisfy most desires.

Four Types of Luxury Chart

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The Top 10 Most Read Articles in this Blog for 2015

by James D. Roumeliotis

Top 10 Articles for 2015

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As in every year, I have once again rounded up the ten most read/popular articles — this time for  2015. The following ten captured the most attention by numbers and from 154 countries in all. See them all below in descending order.  Your views are always encouraged including subject matter you think I should be covering more of.

THANK YOU for your readership and I look forward to feeding your mind with much more business practical food for thought this year which can be applied for timely results.

1 Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

2 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

3 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

4 Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

5 Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

6 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

7 The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent

8 Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

9 Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

10 Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

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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.

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.

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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Filed under Branding, Business, business management, Business success, customer experience, customer service, Marketing

Education Branding: Adding a Distinct Personality to an Institution of Learning

By James D. Roumeliotis

Cleverbox, UK - integrated school branding example

Cleverbox, UK – integrated school branding example

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When we think of brands, we mainly think of companies. It is not often that we think of educational institutions. However, with competition amongst them, whether in the private or public sector, many have begun considering its importance and value. As a result, they are developing and implementing branding strategies so as to distinguish themselves. Branding is a powerful differentiator and creates top of mind with prospective students who are considering where to apply for college, university or a vocational/trade school/polytechnic institute. Private elementary schools and high schools also play into the equation but with the parents of the students primarily targeted.

As personal branding has become ever popular over the years – most notably for professionals in the job market, as well as practitioners in private practice (consider physicians, attorneys etc.), post-secondary schools in particular are also taking branding earnestly in consideration. To name a few that undertook a branding project at heart, and as a result have become renowned, are Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, which describes itself as “immersed in business, engaged in liberal arts” and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. with its tagline, “Why not change the world?”. The for-profit institution of higher learning University of Phoenix, in Phoenix, Arizona, boasts its innovation in higher education which helped pioneer many of the conveniences that students now enjoy — evening classes, flexible scheduling, a university-wide academic social network, and an immersive online classroom which it has been offering for nearly 20 years.

As one would expect, educational institutions target diverse markets worldwide via their various programs offered. This makes their marketing messages all the more challenging.

Understanding privileges of Ivy Leagues

Pedigree, along with established high standards, unmatched curriculum, elite professors and lecturers and prestige, compel the Ivy Leagues’ inclination to seek only the top students for entry in their programs. Fewer than one out of ten students are usually accepted at Harvard, Stanford and Princeton for example. Prestigious and sought after colleges, trade schools and high schools can also be counted in following similar ranks holding on to their place in the top echelon which are also reflected by their exorbitant tuition fees. Parsons School for Design in New York City, the Career Training Academy in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) and The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville (New Jersey), respectively, have their own stringent criteria so as to retain their stellar reputation and cache. It is hard for the public schools to make such claims. This phenomenon is also driven by the plethora of applications received but with limited available places. It can also be stated that artificially set low admission quotas is vital to retain the brand prestige ‒ akin to authentic luxury brands production limits.

As a side note of interest, Ivy League universities have the most loyal, as well as wealthy alumni which contribute large sums of money as indicated by the universities’ vast endowments. By the end of fiscal year 2013, U.S. News’ three highest-ranked National Universities were Yale, ranked No. 3 with more than $20.7 billion in endowment monies, Harvard University, ranked No. 2, with nearly $32.7 billion, and Princeton, ranked No. 1, had nearly $18.8 ​billion.

Branding through emotional attachment and the total student experience

As universities and other educational institutions are having to confront challenges such as student enrollment, rising tuition fees, third party school rankings, and disruptive online course offerings such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), their distinction and relevance, amongst their rivalry, is in dire need of a jolt.

For starters, many institutions lack a target segment and a strategy on how they intend to reach it. Education is a knowledge service, thus a school’s campus facilities reflect its identity, whereas its teaching staff, administrative people, board members and alumni are a significant brand asset.

Branding is critical for success in any organization. It begins with the idea of what the organization will be perceived as. What do you want it to represent? What do you want your learning center to stand for? What type of image are you aspiring to portray? What type of students are you seeking to attract?

This brand promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer ‒ in this case it’s the student. The brand should include the Unique Selling Proposition (USP), positioning (What should the brand stand for among its target group?), personality (Traits the brand possesses that consumers/students can relate to) and define the entire organization by touching every aspect of it. Those are crucial factors that will make it truly unique. Successful branding methods and results can also get the organization out of the commodity trap and attract value in terms of higher tuition fees ‒ or at least justify the value of existing fees. 

Articulating what the brand stands for and why it is better than the competition, is where a brand communications strategy and execution come into play. Commonly used methods of brand communications include advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management programs and public relations.

When students are delighted with their on-campus experiences, they begin to bond emotionally with the school. They become brand loyalists and advocates – transacting with the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the school’s reputation.

Key points: a university with a well-respected brand has an enormous advantage

An article in The Guardian newspaper’s blog entitled, “What’s in a name? The value of a good university brand”, includes questions such as “In this rapidly changing marketplace, university branding is about much more than logos. But what does this mean for students and the role of branding in higher education in general? These queries formed the basis of a recent Guardian roundtable, held in association with brand communications consultancy Purpose. The debate was conducted under the Chatham House rule, which allows remarks to be reported without attribution to encourage a frank debate. Consequently, the discussion produced recommendations compelling enough that they should not be overlooked.

The roundtable heard that universities looking to brand themselves successfully should:

  • Focus on their core values, such as: academic integrity that links teaching, research and scholarship; business-friendly courses with employability appeal; and the positive student experience on offer.
  • Target communications at parents as well as students.
  • Involve academics as much as possible; their enthusiasm can often bring big dividends.
  • Highlight student testimony in university marketing materials.
  • Make the most of social media’s influence and reach.

Case Studies: a vocational education institute and a community college

New Frontier School Board Continuing Education (Montreal, Canada)

New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) Continuing Education, in a suburb in Montreal, Canada, wanted to bolster enrollment and student engagement. Over a period of 12 months, The Watershed Media conducted an extensive communications audit, developed the blueprint for an online and offline marketing plan, and executed an entirely new digital and social media strategy and brand outlook. From their discovery, they knew that the success of the brand hinged on fostering intimacy and dialogue between the school and its students. Whatever they did had to be honest, authentic and true to life.

  • The Watershed injected the brand with a very personal narrative that celebrated the common theme of overcoming adversity and breaking through despite obstacles; a story that so many of their students shared in common. “I Choose Me” and the “Journey begins with you” were conversational brand elements that nurtured the empathetic quality that were the hallmarks of a school that was very student centered.
  • They revitalized the school’s social media presence through staff training and engagement, strategic content direction and social media marketing.
  • The website was built from the ground up and focused on reflecting a modern image that gave its users clear information, helped them make informed decisions about their future, and then act on those decisions through online conversion tools. The Watershed complemented student tools with community resources that would make the NFSB a valued asset to the communities it services. Site analytics are used to help refine content and define user experience in increasingly meaningful ways.
  • Equally important was their work helping NFSB shift the marketing culture at the school and discover their shared capacity to influence change through everyday inter-actions.

AriannePeters_Sample

Ramapo College of New Jersey (Mahwah, NJ, U.S.A.)

The brand strategy conceived and implemented by Words & Pictures Creative Service was to create an image campaign (print and radio, separate from the recruitment campaign) that would feature successful, famous, historical people who “could have been” Ramapo students. Shakespeare, Marie Curie, Andrew Carnegie, and Booker T. Washington were some of the role models who represented different schools in the College. This campaign elevated the College to a place where “some of the greatest minds in history could have started their futures” and where “the great young minds of today could start their futures.”

Results: Ramapo College experienced the following benefits and improvements over four years resulting in part from the image-building ad campaign:

  • Follow-up Eagleton survey conducted four years after original survey revealed overall dramatic increase in public awareness and improved perception.
  • Ranking in S. News & World Report moved to #1 public comprehensive college in the North for these consecutive years.
  • Combined SAT scores rose from 1120 to 1180.
  • HS rankings moved from top 24% to top 17%.
  • Full-time residential undergrads increased from 52% to 60%.
  • Retention rate from first to second year increased from 82.4% to 89.4%.
  • Retention rate from second to third year increased from 68% to 74.8% to 80% currently.
  • Graduation rate increased from 42.75 to 62.3% (well over national average of 50%).
  • Numerous industry and CASE awards recognizing excellence in the advertising image campaign and other collateral materials.
  • First-time donors increased by 35%.

In the final analysis

Educational institutions, whether in the youth sector, college level, vocational sector or in higher education/university ought to brand themselves succinctly to differentiate when communicating with prospective students, and perhaps with parents of students too. Needless to say, in the educational sector, the student is both the product and the customer. The service is the education delivered by its qualified educators. A well-crafted and compelling unique selling proposition (UPS), which the institution will consistently deliver upon, can give it a leg-up over its competitors in the category ‒ as well as build its brand. This is how a school creates well-earned attention, prominence and perceived value. It does this through its meticulous execution of its marketing and operating strategies, by way of a positive total student experience coupled together with its high academic standards. The approach is no different from a company selling apparel, food or hospitality.

Branding is an investment which offers the educational institution a distinction in competitiveness, awareness, a professional image and its reputation whilst adding equity to the organization’s assets. However, it’s a long term resource because it takes time to build a brand.

The practice of education branding building includes positioning. In this day and age change is a necessity not solely reserved for companies but equally important for schools – whether a university, college, vocational center and even in the youth sector (elementary and high school). Some may have require repositioning and re-branding. In the same way as the USP, this necessitates a well-defined (positioning) strategy so that the institution can build a consistent and successful brand in the course of time.

In re-branding, a new brand platform, including the identity and messaging should be carefully studied and developed.

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Filed under Branding, branding schools, re-branding, rebranding