Category Archives: stimulating brands

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 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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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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Maestros of Ambiance: The Art of the Hotel & Food Establishment Experience — in visuals

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Branding Essentials for Small Enterprises

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Small Business Branding

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Entrepreneurs may possess an abundance of passion for their small enterprise, but when it comes to promotion, value proposition, and building a brand their enthusiasm wanes. Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings.

No matter how small your venture may be, branding is essential. Branding is more than sticking a logo on a letterhead or business card.

Branding is the DNA of what you sell or do. Considering clients want to bond with a brand, you owe it to yourself to generate a story line. Buying today is so much more than a question of need. It is a question of relationship.

It is a given fact that a small enterprise will not have the budget or resources to implement a high powered show, outsource to an award winning agency or hire a PR/Marketing team to handle the ins and outs of this side of the business. However, what you do have or should have is creativity, innovative thinking, a sound understanding of your market, sweat equity and chutzpah.

Getting to grips with the differentials

The terms marketing and branding are often used interchangeably. This is a mistake in understanding. They are in fact two different concepts and should be understood as such.

Marketing is defined by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) as: “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”.

Marketing provides strategic support to the sales function, by locating and nurturing qualified leads in order to reduce the cost of sale and shorten the sales cycle. To accomplish this, marketers use a variety of techniques, such as advertising, market research, and logo design.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as:
“A name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

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. Any viable small business must embrace branding, have a clear sense of identity and value proposition. Many start-ups typically make a cardinal mistake by thinking that they are just selling products or services. The organization of the firm may be sound, but a strong grounding in branding will make your venture a pure success story.

Branding in essence is the heart and soul of your venture. It sets your products or services apart from the competition. This is particularly true in certain sectors where price is the only differentiator. Competing just on price is a dead end game. The only firms who can win at this deal in high volumes and low margins. Small businesses cannot compete here. Service and experience therefore, should be added to the column of differentiators.

For example, local or neighborhood businesses which sell products with a reputable identity and favorable customer perception will invariably sell more and can command a better prices. Take the case of La Vie Claire in France. The franchise model has made these shops institutions in targeted neighborhoods. Most products are branded with the name of the store. Other brands are small or unknown. Sales at individual point of sales hinge on the service and advice of the resident manager. Given the price points of organic food, cosmetics, vitamins, mineral supplements clients seek a value added proposition to shop here on a regular basis. The key component is reliability, friendliness, and good products, which are fresh.

What is Branding - Green Board

Consider the following keys:

1) Begin by defining your brand
Their is a small mens clothing boutique in the ninth arrondissement in Paris. The name is Husbands. It is off a main shopping street, but you would need a reference to know it exists. The brand ID is classic English tailoring ready-to-wear with a rock ‘n roll attitude. Fabrics are top notch and there are subtle detailing common to bespoke. Prices are moderate. However, if you are a new comer to the store, the first question you would ask yourself is: What is the unique selling proposition?

The owner of this store, will be happy to oblige you by talking to you about his passion and why the clothes are good value for money. However, is Husbands a brand? To the client, the answer is no. The story line of the brand and the store should be clear without an explanation.

2) Positioning
What do you want your brand to represent? Examine text book examples of brands that work. Don’t copy. Just learn the lessons and apply them to your brand in the making. A good case here is Hackett. When Jeremy Hackett first started out on the wrong end of the Kings Road, he understood that his brand had to embody something. In his case it was the essential British kit. Everything about the original concept captured the elegance of British tailoring without copying Savile Row. The store was old school for a new generation. The moment the press talked about his venture, the shop was off to the races.

The concept of Hackett was clearly defined from the beginning. Everything and I mean every detail was bonded into the brand and the DNA was solid and clear in any client who visited the premises.

3) Visual Identity
Neglect this point at your own risk. Color, lighting, furnishings, logo, bags, and so forth must speak with one unified voice. If the voice is mixed or unclear, your brand is dead in the water. Online presence must support the bricks and mortar entity. If you just sell online, fine. Just make sure their is one storyline, coherent, defining, and engaging. If it is, clients will act as ombudsmen. If it isn’t, you won’t make a single sale.

Take the case of Atelier de l’Armee based in Amsterdam. The strength of the brand ID is workwear, vintage, military. The concept revolves around craftsmanship with a contemporary voice of high quality and style.

4) Articulate your messaging
Ensure coherent communications online and offline. Three brands come to mind worthy of your attention: Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, and DKNY. Each of these brands encapsulates a unique and distinctive vision. The products become the props to their fantasy worlds. The message delivery is always on target because they have been thought through with precision. Which ever value proposition you entertain, you must admit that the ID is engaging and speaks with its clients as valued partners not at them.

Advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management are only the tools of the trade. The right messaging spearheads each component in a contiguous manner, which everyone finds engaging and wants to be part of. Does your brand accomplish this? If not, better go back to the story board.

5) Obsession
Often I have this discussion with colleagues and clients. It is about generating an obsession. Almost sounds like a perfume brand. Successfully generating obsession is the best sort of brand loyalty. Clients are enchanted and as mentioned before on this blog constitute a magic kingdom.

A year ago, Entrepreneur magazine had published an article by author Paula Andruss titled “The Secrets of 7 Successful Brands.” In it, she wrote that regardless how long ago those brands were launched, they all share one thing in common: They have figured out how to work their way into customers’ hearts, minds and wallets. Companies include online eye-wear retailer Warby Parker, TED and Pinterest, amongst others.

Funny Law Firm Name

Branding for the private/professional practice

To develop a following requires a brand, and it doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, dentist, an accountant, or an attorney. All self-employed professionals should include it on their wish list. Your personal “brand” is what comes to mind when your “clients” are deciding whether to see you for the first or not.

Your credentials have much to do with your image in the consumer’s mind, so does your office ambiance and the courtesy (or lack of) offered the minute your staff greet the patient/client at the front desk. You may also be the doctor with bad breath or architect who is frequently late for appointments.

When branding your own private practice, you have the ability to carefully create a brand position that will appeal to your market and make your profession more successful through broader, or in some cases, very specific appeal. However, brand development requires time, energy, as well as a reasonable budget.

Personal brand positioning is the activity of creating an identity with a distinctive value in the target customer’s mind. For instance, when we think of an accomplished defense attorney, the first ones that spring to mind are those who have a reputation for having a high rate of litigation success – or cardiologists who are identified as utterly competent in curing most heart diseases and extending their patients’ life span. Essentially that is the position they occupy in your mind whenever you think of them.

Putting it all together

Branding significantly increases the overall value of brand equity. It’s proven that the brand value is ten times more than the physical assets of the company. It is more like investing in goodwill and this is priceless.

For a certain small businesses, the notion of marketing and branding remains unfamiliar territory. New business school grads however should approach this subject with eyes wide open. You can be a small fashion brand, boutique or even restaurant. Just examine the original Dean & Deluca, the gourmet food emporium, when it was located on Prince Street in SoHo, New York. The concept and vibe was pure branding genius.

Whatever path you choose, choose wisely. Create a brand with purpose. Give your audience a value proposition. Make them want to be part of your success story. Align your goals with an experience and the clients will come in droves.

Bonding with your audience also requires that you monitor the client’s behavior and the brand’s online reputation. Reputations can be fostered with either free or pay-for-service online tools such Google Alerts and Reputation.com. It is often advisable to conducting research among both your customers and employees. Timeframes can vary depending on your activity. Classic measurements take place either twice a year or annually.

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