Posts Tagged 'brand experience'

Major shift in CMO priorities for 2010

As I promised in early posts, the new data from our annual CMO study will be put online here before we issue our formal report.

This year the study was fielded by the good folks at Bellwether Interactive, led by Frank Woei. Last year the study was fielded by Forrester (formerly Jupiter Research).  The study is among CMOs and other marketing decision makers at corporations with revenues of $250 million or more (about 70% are over $1 billion in revenues).

The headline:

A major shift in CMO priorities for 2010.  Marketers are re-engaging with customers.  The focus on cost-cutting and ROI has given way to brand building — or rather, rebuilding after a year of neglect.

Top 3 priorities for 2010:

#1. Evolving our brand as our company’s business strategy evolves

#2. Preparing for an economic upturn

#3. Refreshing our brand’s image

Compare this to the Top 3 priorities for 2009:

#1. Achieving measurable ROI on marketing efforts

#2. Developing marketing programs that integrate online and traditional media

#3. (Tie) “Translating the customer experience across different touchpoints”  and “Cutting marketing budgets without cutting performance”

This is a very positive sign for marketing in particular, for companies that believe in marketing and for the overall economy in general.  Marketing plays a vital role in stimulating demand.  Without demand, the economy will stagnate.

Story as execution vs. Story as strategy

The brilliance of BBDO over the years had been the power of their story telling in the advertising executions.  Phil Dusenberry was a natural born storyteller.  He was also a screenwriter, most famously for The Natural.  Ted Sann was the creative force behind the agency for many years.  Is it a coincidence that he earned a Master of  Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the fabulous Iowa Writer’s Workshop?  (Full disclosure, I worked at BBDO and also have an MFA in Creative Writing.)

BBDO were masters of storytelling as execution.

What is new is storytelling as strategy.

What is most powerful is when the storytelling combines the strategic with the executional.

That means elevating storytelling up to the highest level of defining the brand itself.  What is the story of the brand?  That is a bigger question than what is the story of the advertisement.

The story of a brand will include a number of elements:

1. The founding of the brand, which some people refer to as the “brand myth”.  That is a slightly misleading term since the creation of the brand is based in fact.

Brands have a past (except, of course, for a completely new brand) and people have a set of associations with the brand that have formed over time.  By recognizing this past and emphasizing the relevant threads of the past, it is possible to increase the relevance of the brand today and to set the trajectory for tomorrow.

2. The persona of the brand.  This is a fleshed out description of the brand, including the brand’s relationship to the various audience.  This relationship between the brand and the audience hinges on understanding the role of the brand in the life of the audience — professional life for b2b brands, personal or family life for consumer brands.

Often companies will overestimate the role of the brand in the life of their customer, which may create a sense of arrogance in the branding.

On the other side of the coin, underestimating the role of the brand can lead to missing opportunities for elevating the brand’s image.  It is easy to imaging the executives at Intel saying, “We are just a computer chip and consumers are buying the computer brand.”  In that situation there never would have been an “Intel inside.”

3. The verbal story of the brand.  Capturing the brand story in writing is important for an internal understanding of the brand and for having the right language to connect with customers.  The language of the brand must fit the persona.  It needs to be language that resonates with the audiences.  It is most powerful when it has strong, coherent, metaphors.

It is most unique when it has its own vocabulary, provided that the vocabulary is intuitive, not insular.  Intuitive language allows us to recall our own memories, combine them with the brand story and co-create a much richer set of associations.

Apple has built a unique vocabulary around animal metaphors — Safari, Leopard, Tiger.

Starbucks has its own language of Frappucino, Tazo, Vivanno.

A verbal story is far more than a name and a tagline, but those are included in the brand’s vocabulary.  Be careful about defining the brand in abstract language and then waiting for the advertising agency, the PR agency, the digital agency to all create the actual language used in the marketplace.  That demotes the brand story to the level of execution instead of integrating the brand story with the executional story.

4. The visual story of a brand.  Not all communication is verbal.  Psychologists have estimated that up to 80% of communication is non-verbal.  So the visual story, the visual metaphors, of a brand need to be carefully developed at a strategic level.  What are the strong visual metaphors of the brand?  When we see a rich and robust metaphor, we begin to co-create powerful associations in our minds and memories.  These strong metaphors shape our memories more profoundly than factual information.

For Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes it is Tony the Tiger (the voice of Tony the Tiger is another way of communicating through the senses).

Burton has a very high energy visual style, extreme and frenetic.  Apple has a very high energy visual style but it is smoother, rounder, more sophisticated.  Both appeal to young adults.  Both are unique visual vocabularies for their brands.  This visual language needs to be robust, influencing every aspect of the brand from product design to online design to advertising to retail design to business forms, invoices and so forth.

Burton snowboards: high energy

High energy design

High energy design

5. The experience people have with the brand.  The brand story is told through other sensory methods in addition to the verbal and visual.  Using storytelling at the strategic level means defining those experiences at the very beginning and not leaving it until the website is being developed.

The brand strategy should provide a strong guiding hand to the actual execution.  The more places that a customer can experience a brand, the stronger that strategic guidance needs to be in order to present a coherent face to the world. In a digital world the user experience has the potential be among the strong branding elements.  There is a fine balance between creating an easily accessible, functional online experience and one that is strongly branded.  We have seen examples where the branding is only considered as a skin or paint on top of a functionally defined user experience.  The brand experience should define the functionality and not the other way around.

It is not limited to digital experiences or retail experiences.  Consider for a moment how the Ritz-Carlton brand is defined by the service experience.  That experience has been codified and turned into a rigorous training program.  The same for Disneyland.  There is no reason that it cannot be done for any brand which has a strong service element.

By defining the brand story at a strategic level, the executional storytelling will add more dimensions and create a coherent whole.  The days when a few television commercials and lots of media spending could create a brand are quickly coming to an end.  The ways people come into contact with brands, both B2B and consumer, are proliferating.  In this world, the need for strong, robust strategic storytelling is growing.

Brand Avoidance – or – stop that brand!

Brand avoidance, motivations for anti-consumption, organizational disassociation, and freedom of anti-choice!

No, today is not opposite day.  Although I have to admit to a through-the-looking-glass-darkly sensation as I began to read about brand avoidance and anti-choice.

There is a small body of research that looks almost exclusively at the dark underside of branding — brands that people go out of their way to actively avoid.  Usually we think of a brand as an attention magnet. Strong brands have a strong attraction.  Weak brands have little or no attraction.  This looks at the other side of the magnet where the brand pushes people away, it repels them.

Professor Michael Lee has been one of the academics in this area.  He has been creating a framework for  categorizing and understanding the types and mindsets of brand avoidance.  He separates them into 3 categories based on the primary cause for avoiding a brand: bad experience, identity avoidance and moral avoidance.

Bad experience: Going out of your way to avoid consuming a brand because you had a bad experience with it

Identity avoidance: Going out of your way to avoid consuming a brand because it is disturbing to your self-image — symbolic incongruity (I love that phrase!).  The, “I would be caught dead in that” mentality is how I like to think of it.

Moral avoidance: A conscious choice to avoid a brand because of its actions or behavior.  Not shopping at Wal-Mart because they lock-in workers overnight or don’t offer health insurance to most employees.

The concept of anti-choice is antithetical to how we typically think about marketing.  No doubt there are some clever companies out there exploiting this mindset.  I can see the marketing campaign now:  It’s the anti-choice of a new generation!

What really jumped out at me was the recognition that people can and do change their minds, and behaviors.  They can look at a brand in a new way, their relationship with the brand can – and does – change over time.

This is particularly important to brands that are second or third tier brands and trying to break into the top rank of brands.  LG and Lenovo are two that come to mind immediately.

In the paper by Professors Lee, Motion and Conroy, one paragraph in particular jumped out at me.  While meant to propose a strategy for countering brand avoidance, it immediately struck a chord of recognition.  In fact, it was very similar to the bold strategy taken by Samsung starting in the mid-1990s to elevate the brand image and reputation.

“The first antidote [to brand avoidance] involves a genuine adaptation of the brand, one that is initiated from the highest point within the company and permeates throughout the entire brand/organization. Such a strategy may alleviate brand avoidance that is motivated by corporate irresponsibility or consumer resistance philosophies; however, in spite of these efforts many consumers may remain cynical. Thus, such a drastic strategy may not be feasible for the firm.”

That is indeed a drastic strategy.  And very, very powerful.  At Samsung the initiative came from the Chairman himself.  His call to action was, “Change everything except your spouse and children.”  They changed product quality, product design, marketing strategies, pricing strategies, distribution strategies…as well as the brand strategy.  And Samsung had the courage and patience to stay on the same course for a number of years instead of changing strategies every 12 or 18 months.

Here is a link to one of the recently published articles by Professors Lee, Motion and Conroy and  on research into BrandAvoidance.  Caution: this is wonkish.

The short films of Madeleine Gekiere

This coming Saturday, September 26th, the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan is presenting a rare screening of several short films by the artist Madeleine Gekiere.

Madeleine is an extraordinarily talented artist who works in many media.  I first came under the influence of her work when I was about 5 years old and read the book “John J. Plenty and Fiddler Dan” by the poet John Ciardi and wonderfully illustrated by Madeleine Gekiere.   I only discovered that connection many years later.  More to the point, her work in assemblage has influenced our approach to a technique we call “brand constructions”.  In her work, Gekiere has infused her paintings with everyday objects, toys and materials.  When I first saw one, it immediately triggered my involuntary desire to reach out and touch it.

I once heard her tell about creating some of her assemblages for a children’s hospital.  They so enchanted the children!  They were irresistible!  The kids kept pulling pieces off the the creations.  Finally the hospital had to take them down before they were completely destroyed.  The children’s delight was the hospital’s distress.

In brand constructions, the consumers are asked to create a story about the brand using a preselected set of materials, including images.  The physical materials give the consumer a great deal of leeway to literally construct their own story.  The pre-selected set of images (usually 50) allow us to raise some hypotheses about relevant metaphors to see if they resonate with the audience.  It has been our experience that the added physical materials give insight into more subtle areas of branding such as textures and tonality.

The screening of Madeleine Gekiere’s films and a conversation with the artist herself  is at 7 pm.  See you there!


Howard Johnson as a character

In my previous post I began to discuss the ways to consider your brand as if it were a person, a fully developed or “rounded” character that you might find in a book or movie.

It’s worth the exercise because those brands become more than just household names, they become part of our culture.

From the outside it looked like any ordinary 1964 Cadillac limousine.  In the expensive space between the driver and the passengers, where some installed bars, or even bathrooms, Mr. Howard Johnson kept a tidy ice cream freezer in which there were always at least eighteen flavors on hand, though Mr. Johnson ate only vanilla.

So starts the novella The Oranging of America by Max Apple.  It was first published in American Review and then as the title story in Apple’s first short story collection.  Howard Johnson is more than just a name or a label, he is the main character in this wonderful story.  A fully realized example.  And a lesson to everyone who considers themselves a branding expert.

The richness of observation and insight bring Howard Johnson closer to us than any advertising brief could.  We read this delightful story and understand the man, understand the brand.  Yes, it is fiction. But a wonderfully realized fiction.  And, after all, isn’t that really what a brand is all about?  Being as live in our minds as the most powerful characters in literature…or movies…or plays.

I was first introduced to that story by the writer and cultural critic John Leonard.  It was one of the stories that had a staying power.  It burned brightly in my memory long after I put down my copy of the book.  So I highly recommend it — for a variety of reasons.

Another example: In the mid 1990s I was working on the Kellogg’s advertising account at J. Walter Thompson.  Before one of my frequent trips to Battle Creek, Michigan, a friend sent me galley proofs of The Road to Wellville by T. C. Boyle.  It was a novel about William Kellogg himself.  Not far from my hotel room was the real building where the fictional Kellogg was starting his empire.

I strongly recommend any marketer to read these stories and books.  They are immensely enjoyable.  And they are enlightening on the power of a brand, the myth of a company’s founding, to make a true human connection between the company and the customer.

No positioning statement can do that.


Last Thursday HSBC was giving you the opportunity to make yourself heard.  If you happened to be walking anywhere near Madison Square you were being invited to express yourself about preselected attributes.  

All you had to do was step up on a soapbox, hold up a sign and speak your mind.  JWT and LeadDog Marketing did the rest.  


Speak up America!

Speak up America!










The thought crossed my mind that I could use the opportunity to stand on a soapbox and explain to HSBC that the experience of their branches did not align with the cultural sensitivity of their ad campaign.  There is a lot they can do to improve and brand the HSBC experience.  Just look at what TD Bank (formerly Commerce) did with their brand experience.  At last, a place where  I could make myself heard on the key marketing topics of the day!  

Instead I nearly knocked over a sandwich board filled with fine print.  You’ll see how they start with the alarming statement “…you (i) understand that you will be engaging in activities that may involved risk of injury….”  It goes on to say in bold print “VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL RISK AND DANGER of personal injury (including death)…”  


The fine print...

The fine print...

Certainly a sign like that should give you fair warning.  It should be posted at the entrance before you actually go into the park.  That would give you the option of avoiding death at the hands of HSBC, JWT and Lead Dog Marketing.  In fact the sign was a good 15 feet into the park.  By the time I was reading it, I was already taking unreasonable risks into my own hands.

Wow, the agency business has gotten much rougher than the days when I was an SVP at J. Walter Thompson.  

Give me liberty or give me...residuals?

Give me liberty or give me...residuals?










And way, way, way down on the board buried in the fine print is the gotcha line.  It says that simply by walking in the Park you…

grant the right to Producers to utilize your image, likeness, actions, name, voice and statements in perpetuity in any live or recorded audio, video, or photographic display or any other transmission, exhibition, publication or reproduction made of, or at, this event without further authorization or compensation.”

Not only was I risking injury and death but I was also giving up the rights to my own name, likeness, etc. forever!  And in exchange I was getting no compensation at all.  None.  And I didn’t have to sign my name, I just had to walk into the park.

Of course any “unauthorized video recording is prohibited.”  

The final irony?  HSBC was asking people to talk about FREEDOM…


Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose...

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose...

A tale of two cities (aka why is one brand experience not like the other?)

In the past 2 days I had 2 different retail experiences that I would like to share.  One of them is clearly helping to drive business.  The other is clearly driving away business.

This is the tale of Fairway Markets and Duane Reade.

On Sunday afternoons the Broadway and 74th St. Fairway Market is a complete chaos.  The aisles are jammed.  It’s getting close to dinner time.  Hungry and impatient New Yorkers are picking-up last minute things for dinner and for packing school lunches.  Then you face the line at the cash registers.  At any other retail store the lines would be intimidating.  At Fairway they move.  They move fast.  Next.  Register 3.  Next. Register 7.  Next.  Register 2.  

The cashiers are fast, fast.  They’ve been trained in speed shopping.

On just about any day you can walk into just about any Duane Reade in the city and see 3 or 4 people standing in line.  You go about picking up the items you need, hoping against hope that there will be no line when you get back to the register.  But the line has grown to 8 or 9 people.  You stand patiently, waiting while the one cashier calls the manager for a price check.  The manager looks at the line and begins the process of opening a second register.  By this time the line has added several more people and not a single transaction has been completed.  Soon people drop out of line.  They put down their items and head out the door without making a single purchase.  Business is walking away.  

While standing in line at Duane Reade I made some mental calculations of how much business they must lose due to the check-out situation.  They claim to have over 250 locations in the NY area and are the fastest growing in the category.  If they could fix the experience, then they would be able to do more business with fewer locations.  The cost of retail space in NYC is much higher than the cost of hiring  another cashier.  

Duane Reade recently underwent a big rebranding program, too.  All of these resources spent on expansion, branding.  But the fundamental business problem appears to be the shopping experience.  It would seem that they could improve their brand reputation and business performance by an internal program centered on the customer experience and employee pride.

This was much the same problem that brought down Circuit City.  About 18 months before they went under, Circuit City laid-off 3,400 of their best, most experienced sales people to save money.  That led directly to a decline in sales, particularly of high end items that require more expertise and hand-holding. Imagine if Circuit City had instead cut their ad budget and poured those resources into keeping and motivating the best sales people?  Is it possible they would still be around today?  To be fair, the economic latke dealt them a huge blow when they were already weakened.

Organizing marketing departments

It is generally agreed and supported by research that the practice of marketing is undergoing many changes to meet the needs of today’s world.  However changing the practice of marketing cannot happen without organizational changes.  

Simply stated, if the marketing department continues to be organized the way it was 5 or 10 years ago, it will have great difficulty putting into place new methods of marketing.

One of the areas of greatest change is the area of customer experience.  In today’s world there is an qualitative and quantitative expansion in the way that a company interacts with a customer — or prospective customer.  For instance, customer support has gone from calling an 800# to online.  And it is online on the same website that is marketing other offerings.  Ordering a product happens on that same site, too.  Suddenly you have a need for integrating customer service, sales, order processing and marketing into a single customer experience.

But companies are not organized that way.  The customer service, sales, order processing and marketing are separate departments.  They do not have the internal organizational structure or processes for integrating their efforts.

There is a great gap between what needs to be done and what is being done.  

Our research shows that 82% of CMOs/Marketing VPs say that their marketing departments are working more closely with other departments that touch the customer.  

At the same time, 78% say that internal silos are the single biggest barrier to integrating marketing with the customer experience.

This is a classic example of how companies are working at cross-purposes.  The internal structure is getting in the way of meeting customer needs. They become self-defeating organizations.  That leaves an opening for a new competitors who have developed either organizational structures or processes that allow for substantially better integration.

So why don’t companies simply reorganize their marketing functions?  

We have  identified 3 reasons:

1. In today’s economy the role of marketing appears to be dropping in company priorities.  Shortsighted or not, it is a reality driven by the economic turmoil and uncertainty.  

2. There are few role models to follow.  Organizational consultants — the McKinsey’s of the world — look at best practices.  They benchmark other companies to identify models that have been successful.  This is great in a stable environment or where innovators have risen to highly visible success.  But during times of rapid change the benchmarking process points to the past, not the future.  

3. Internal resistance to change.  Integrating marketing into other areas is often seen as taking away the initiative and independence of those other departments.  There is internal resentment that becomes the underlying emotional driver.  Of course it is not stated that way.  There is always a rational and logical reason that each department has for the status quo.

There are companies and executives who will recognize the situation either through a moment of great insight or through a dramatic need to change in response to competitive pressures.  The change will come.  Marketing departments need to be reorganized and their relationship with the rest of the company needs to be redefined.

Aristotle Brand Guru, Part III

In an earlier post I nominated Aristotle as the first Brand Guru because of his ground-breaking analysis of what goes into making a superior drama.  All of his observations have analogies in creating a compelling and engaging narrative for your brand.  The following are three observations on how to apply Aristotle’s framework to the business of branding (and marketing, really)

So, a quick summary of the 6 elements identified by Aristotle:

Plot: what happens during the play

Characters: who are the characters in the play, their roles and relationships

Thought or Message: what is the underlying moral or political message of the drama

Spectacle or staging: the scenery, sets, props and stagecraft 

Diction or poetic language:  the verbal style, the spoken words of the characters.  Aristotle addresses the importance of metaphor and metaphorical language in particular.

Song or music:  how the harmonies, rhythm, instruments and voice all appeal to our emotions through our ears

Observation #1:

Appeal to all senses.  Aristotle recognized the power of engaging all of our senses, not just the words or images.  In the very definition of a brand that means building in the sensory or experiential elements.  The typical Brand Positioning approach does not even touch on the sensory elements.  All too often they are left to be defined by the online group, the customer service group, the advertising agency and others.  Aristotle grasped the importance of the completeness of the experience, the spectacle.  In Narrative Branding we have sought to do the same.

Here is an example.  Try to imagine the Star Wars movies without the musical score.  George Lucas credits the music as among the most important emotionally resonant factors that contributed to the movies’ success.

Observation #2

Characters have roles and relationships.  They are not simply a list of adjectives.  Defining these roles and relationships is often overlooked in branding.  Or it is defined internally by the company and not by their customers.  We worked with one well-known brand that defined themselves as “an indispensable partner” to customers.  The only problem is that customers completely rejected the idea of partnership because it implied a deeper financial relationship than actually existed.  To compound it, the internal legal group decreed that the word “partner” could never appear in marketing materials for similar reasons that customers rejected it.  Through co-creation research we were able to bring the customer’s desired relationship to light. As a result the brand gained both credibility and relevance — along with a jump in sales and margins.

Observation #3

Aristotle understood the importance of time.  Plot is all about how events unfold over time.  It means that there is a past, a present and a future — although not always presented in a chronological order.  Just think of movies that are told through flash-backs.  In Narrative Branding we have baked in the unfolding of the narrative arc over time.  There is a dynamism in this movement through time that matches the dynamism of changes in the marketplace.  

This is the very opposite of  brand positioning, which is a static approach to marketing. In the positioning model a company holds and defends a single position.  It is meant to last for years and years and years.  “Immutable” is how Trout and Ries phrase it.  consider the practicality of that for a moment.  Is your business immutable?  Or is your business dynamic, changing and adapting to a dynamic marketplace?

Those are just 3 observations of how Aristotle has much to teach us.  Wouldn’t it be swell if everyone rushed over to their bookcase to pull down the copy of Aristotle’s Poetics?  Okay, perhaps not.  Much of this is really based on common sense and taking a really observant, non-judgmental look at human behavior.  It’s enough to think of your brand as a hit Broadway musical or the most incredible attraction at Disneyworld.

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