Saturday, September 24, 2016

Can Drummers Teach Us About Branding?

Just as a drummer is expected to find the right beat for a song to help pull the band and song together in a way that connects with the audience a good brand manager will really listen and learn about a brands product or service to help the organization find and articulate the true purpose and meaning of their brand.  Essentially, the brand manager will “pick the beat” of the brand and work with the organization to align marketing, operations, HR, and all support functions to deeply understand, internalize, align and deliver the brand across the organization and to each and every customer.  In organizations where this is done right it is easy to see and feel a brand culture living inside the company in the exact same manner as it does with the customers they serve.  The beat of the brand is the foundation that all things stand on.

Once you have clearly identified your brand story it is the brand manager's responsibility to help the organization "keep time" and stay aligned.  While every organization function will have a unique set of talents and capabilities just like each musician in the band its the beat that helps pull it all together making the “whole greater than a sum of the individual parts.”  Keeping everyone in the organization true to the brand mission is just like “keeping time” in a song.

I'm sure many of us have been in situations where we feel a bit like we are floating on air.  It might be when you master an instrument, a sport, of some talent where as you are performing you almost feel as if you are watching yourself perform.  It seems to come naturally.  Some call this being in the zone and it feels a bit like you are simply allowing yourself to express something your receiving from a higher purpose!  It feels so good and comfortable that it allows you to start adding style, taste and feel with ease as if everything around you has slowed down and you can just focus on finesse. 

What’s actually happening is through lots of practice you have mastered the basic activity and developed muscle memory that takes little conscious thought to perform.  This allows you the added ability to use your conscious mind to act by adding to the activity based on what’s happening in the moment.  

When brands have a strong sense of who they are and have built a brand culture that permeates the business their ability to react to the environment in a timely manner consistent with the brand comes more easily - just like the added finesse of the musician.  

A good brand example is how OREO quickly reacted during the 2013 Super Bowl between the SF 49ers vs Baltimore Ravens when the 34 minute lighting outage occurred.  Within minutes the brand posted on social media “Power Out?  No Problem,  You can still dunk in the dark!”  

Getting a organization's brand culture solidified within and across the business helps position the team to easily react to real-time opportunities in authentic ways.

So much more is able to be accomplished creatively when the mojo is happening and the team feels connected.  It’s as if almost nothing can stop the brand (or band) and creativity seems to build on top of creativity.  All cylinders are firing and the creative capacities appear endless – albeit the path must remain consistent with the brand story.  Having a solid brand story, an engaged and aligned organization that feels the brand culture really positions a brand and business to take advantage of continuous creativity.

Friday, September 16, 2016

3 Levels of Brand

There are basically three levels of a brand with each level building on the previous level.  Many brands will only ever reach level one or two and build successful businesses just the same.  Success is not limited to reaching the highest level of branding however, brands that reach the highest level are usually leaders in their categories and often command a premium value and price.  

The base level is grounded in logical connections (think left brain) and the expectation of the customer is that the product will simply work the way they expect it to.  The next level goes beyond the functional level and introduces an emotional connection to the brand.  Brands that operate on an emotional level are companies like car brands, fashion apparel brands, cosmetic brands and so on.  More than what these products do for you (functional), it is about how they make you feel (emotional) about using the brand.  The third and highest level is immersive (think right brain) and more than how these products make you feel it is about how they define who you are – sort of a badge of honor.  These are brands like Nike, Apple, Disney, Starbucks.

The first brand level is functional meaning how a product or service works.  Every brand has a basic promise they are “selling” and sort of a nonnegotiable position the product or service is expected to deliver.  Virtually every business and brand begins with a foundation of functional capability and many build successful businesses that never move beyond this level.  Every business must be a solid functional brand to be successful.  

Imagine a beverage company where nothing was consistent and the flavor was always changing, the ingredients were changing and it was difficult to rely on them.  You would lose confidence in the brand and very likely stop using and buying the product.  Think of commoditized products like hardware nuts and bolts, shampoos, generic store brands and so on.  These products build their relationship with the customer based on a simple expectation of “how they work.”  It’s not that there’s a lack of opportunity to move to a higher brand level it’s just the business operates fine without being more than their promise – in almost all cases these brands mainly focus on price and distribution.

The second level is emotional and introduces emotional feelings the customer associates towards the brand about the benefits the product delivers.  This emotional level is where many brands live and they spend a lot of time and money positioning the brand and communications to build their image to reflect those feelings.  Brands like United – “Fly the Friendly Skies”, Chase Bank – “Freedom”, Bounty – “The Quicker Picker Upper” or even Walmart - ”Always the Low Price Leader, Always.”  Most of these types of companies spend significant investments on media like TV, radio, print through advertisements that deliver there message.  Brands know they are successful as an emotional brand when customers begin reciting their brand messages whenever they see their brand logo or hear the brand jingle.

The third and highest level is immersive and more than how a product/service makes you feel these brands begin to define who you are and what you stand for.  Brands like Disney, Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Under Amour, Lulu Lemon and so on are great examples of companies that build meaningful enterprises at an immersive brand level.  These brands have solid functional products and services that create positive feelings for the customer and on top of that they immerse their customers in a sense of purpose – something meaningful that the customer believes in.  

Among the attributes these brands and companies have is a very clear vision of who they are, what they stand for and why they exist.  Many of these brands have products that are means to something of a higher purpose.  For example Starbucks purpose is to be the “Third Place” between work and home.  Apple provides products that unlock people’s creativity.  Disney entertainment creates experiences that deliver life long memories.  All of these companies are connecting with customers at the highest emotional level and become important parts of people’s life stories.  These brands understand the power of story telling and how their story helps customers to connect to them, derive meaning and purpose and build memories in which those customers recruit other like-minded customers (word-of-mouth marketing) to the brand.

Immersive brands always trigger a sense of “love” for and to the brand and what they mean in the customers lives.  Whenever you ask someone about the brand they almost always respond with “I love that brand!”  You also sense the love is not unlike how they feel about certain people.  To a large extent these brands occupy a similar space in their minds.  This means their trust for the brand, their expectations for the brand and their advocacy for the brand are so high they reach a point of vulnerability.  Should something go wrong with their relationship with the brand the customer always take it personally and their expectations of how they should be treated are very high – they expect better service than any level one or level two brand. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

So What's A Brand Really?

Brands are many things to many people – what you see, read, hear, feel, experience.  In business conversations the idea of brand seems to be very broad and many businesses have a seemingly way of making everything “fit the brand.”   The truth is if you ask 30 different executives what a brand is you’ll likely get almost as many definitions.  

However the broader a business allows the definition of “their brand” to be the less impact, uniqueness, value and ability to build a meaningful and competitive brand culture becomes.  The business may very well be successful however the relationship with the customer will always be limited to arms length transactions or better said simply a transactional brand.  

To build beyond the transaction and create exponential brand value where customers become emotionally attached to a brand the business needs to clearly focus on what it stands for and more importantly why the customer should care.  This moves the business customer relationship to one of caring for each other and in a sense a more human connection.  The better a business connects with a customer around meaningful values, ethics and concerns which are reinforced by their products and services the larger the brand equity grows in the customers mind.  

As customers give more of their mind-share to a brand the more meaningfulness the brand becomes in a customer’s life.  This is called brand equity and often is associated with premium value beyond other options of a similar product or service.  The more meaning something has in our lives the greater we will use, talk about, share and recommend the brand to others.  The best way to think about brand equity is like our personal relationships.  Those relationships we hold closest to our hearts are afforded more of us and more of them including trusting, caring, defending, forgiving and so on.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Great leaders never believe they're the smartest on the team - instead they cultivate an environment to create the smartest teams"
 Chas Hermann

Monday, September 5, 2016

Stop Marketing...and Start Listening!

The Customer is in Control now!

For many, many years brands had the fortune of crafting and controlling their message to customers virtually single handed.  Through great creative and thoughtful marketing strategy brands were able to create extremely specific views of their product and/or service.  By investing heavy in media, PR and promotion the brands could virtually get customers to recite their messages.

From traditional channels (TV, radio, print, PR) to the new Internet enabled social word of today it's always been about having the best communication arc with the customer! 
About the the only channel with more impact, which is still true today, was word-of-mouth marketing.  What's different today is the ability to make word-of-mouth messaging as big or bigger than company controlled messaging.  The internet, social media, blogging and the explosion of new media channels has shifted the balance of power fully to the customer...and that's a very good thing for everyone.

Today more than ever business must be earned.  Business must be earned everyday by ensuring the customer is always satisfied with your product or service!  If an issue develops it seems everyone is watching to see how the company will address it.  Will the company go silent, defend the product and minimize the customer or will they they engage the customer and do everything in their power to make it right and improve their overall business in the process.  The companies that do the latter are thriving in today's connected world and they are growing rapidly.

The benefit to companies today is the ability to get feedback from their customers in real time.  The responsibility is to react to the feedback in the manner that reinforces who the company really is and what it is they stand for.  Brands and companies that look at the internet enabled new platforms as an expansion of marketing tools beyond traditional media like TV, radio, print, and even PR are leveraging the most important connection that matters and that is the customer connection.  We might start thinking about all the marketing tools available to brands as element in a communications arc with our customers - past, current and future.  Perhaps we should re-think of marketing as marceting and let the sum of the parts be greater than than the whole!