Who determines absolute value?

AbsoluteValueMany people, myself included, believe in the power of a strong brand. Brand positioning has influenced buying decisions for years and a company with a strong sense of their own brand and a commitment to authentically walking out that brand is at an advantage over their competitors.

In the past, a great brand could significantly influence if not determine the absolute value of a product or service.

But, is that marketing truth evolving?

I’ve just finished reading the book Absolute Value, What Really Influences Customers in the Age of Nearly Perfect Information* by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen and it digs into this issue. The book offers many examples of how consumers have viewed and evaluated brands in the past and how they are coming to interact and judge them today. When you see the trends spelled out, in example after example, it’s pretty eye opening.

To kick things off — the authors list 5 widely held beliefs and suggest that they are all becoming less true today.

  1. A company’s brand is more important today than it has ever been
  2. Nurturing loyalty should be the marketer’s primary, day-to-day concern
  3. All customers are irrational
  4. An overload of opinions may actually paralyze people
  5. Positioning is the most important part of the marketing game

The authors assert that most brands are losing their role as a definer of quality and that a consumer’s past satisfaction is not as anchoring as it used to be. They also contend that because of the abundance of rational information that is so readily available to all of us, our methods of evaluating products and services has changed dramatically.

We really don’t shop/buy the way we used to. Let’s say you need to buy a car. Back in the day, you either went to a dealer based on your brand preference or you might have reacted to a TV spot or your neighbor’s experience.

But today, what would you do? You would look online and read the reviews. You’d look at safety reports. You’d then go to a site and could review exactly what the dealer paid for any car you were interested in. Finally, armed with print outs and a price you knew was 3% over dealer invoice, you’d head to the dealership.

Suddenly, you have access to all kinds of data that wasn’t readily available a decade ago and much of that data is ranking, grading and critiquing the item in question.

Given those two choices – a fuzzy brand preference or hundreds/thousands of reviews from other people – which do you think will influence you more today?

If you’re like most other people, you’ll trust the masses more than your own perception or previous experiences, unless you’re already a brand zealot.

That’s where the problem comes in for marketers. In this new marketplace, there’s a voice that is overshadowing theirs. And it’s not just word of mouth. It’s word of mouth, amplified. Many voices and they’re so much easier to find/listen to. And it turns out, their collective wisdom and experience is quite compelling.

This book is a thought provoking read. (Buy a copy of the book**) It will make the marketer in you tilt your head and really wonder about the effectiveness of your efforts. It will make the consumer in you examine your own purchasing patterns and identify some of your biggest influencers.

But whichever hat you’re wearing — it will force you to look at our world and your work in marketing a little differently. Just like your consumers are doing.

 

 

 

*I received a copy of this book from Emanuel Rosen but I really did read it and I really liked it and found it thought provoking.  You’d be amazed at the number of books I receive that I don’t really like… and therefore, don’t mention to you.

**Amazon affiliate link

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Why would I pick you?

brand_redmarble_optWe have to remember that every day, both our existing customers and potential customers are looking at us and wondering “why would I pick you?”

Marketing 101 is that you need to understand how you’re different from your competitors.  It is perfectly logical — if you cannot differentiate yourself in terms of what you sell, how you sell it or why you sell it — the only differentiator left is price.

Maybe it boils down to this.

Would you rather invest the time and brain equity into figuring out (from the consumer’s point of view) how you are different or would you rather just have to be the cheapest?

Either choice is a good one.  It’s really all about your business’ strategy.  After all, Walmart seems to be doing okay with the cheapest route.  But let’s say that you don’t want to commit yourself to a perpetual price war.  Then what?

Then you need to go back to really understanding how you’re different (for the love of all that is holy, please do not say — it’s our people or we care more) and what sub-set of potential customers is in perfect alignment with that distinction.

Did you twitch a little at the phrase “sub-set of potential customers?”  This is one of the main reasons why I think companies don’t discover and honor their brand better.  They want everyone’s money — not just the right people’s money.  I’ll dig into that later this week.  For now, let’s stay focused on the discovering how you’re different.

We have a branding process that we walk clients through and I’m proud to say that many of our clients will tell you that it completely changed the way they did business.  It’s one of our favorite things to do at McLellan Marketing Group.

But…for you do it yourselfers — start by really taking some time and answering these questions, but remember, the answer can never be the product or service you sell:

  • Beyond profitability, what is the mission of your company?
  • If your company were to leave a legacy, what would it be?
  • How does your organization make the world a better place?
  • If firm disappeared tomorrow, what would be missed most of all?
  • What is the single most-important aspect of your company?
  • With regard to your organization, what do you feel passionate about?
  • What business is your company in?
  • What business is your company not in?
  • Which three adjectives best describe your organization?
  • Who (customer) would love your company the most?
  • How do you prioritize your customers? If you had to allocate 100 points between the different customers segments or types (in terms of importance), how would you do so?
  • What customer need does your product/service fulfill? Why does your target customer need or want you sell?
  • What emotion(s) do you most closely associate with your product or service?
  • How will your organization change your industry?
  • How will your company change the world?

And some fun ones to twist your brain around:

  • If your company was a shape, what would it be?
  • If your organization was a texture, what would it be?
  • If your firm was a mood or feeling, what would it be?
  • If company was something from nature, what would it be?

If you’re really brave — pull together some of your best customers and see how they answer these questions.  Or, schedule a team retreat and walk through them with your employees.

If you actually take the time to really dig into each of these questions until you’ve come up with answers that resonate and aren’t the first or a trite response — I think you’ll be surprised at how it changes the way you look at your business, what potential customers you approach and how you describe yourself.

Are you brave enough to tackle these questions?

 

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Building a great brand means going the extra mile

My Briggs & Riley bag

My Briggs & Riley bag

Want a great brand? Building a great brand means going the extra mile. Let me give you an example.

I travel a lot so I decided it was time to invest in a suitcase that could take the beating that 100+ flights a year dishes out without having to be replaced every year.  So after doing more research than a suitcase purchase should require, I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a Briggs & Riley suitcase.

Keep in mind, I’m usually a run to Target and buy a bag kind of guy.  So this was a big money decision for me.

I made the investment because the bag is guaranteed for life.  Here’s how they talk about their guarantee:

If your Briggs & Riley bag is ever broken or damaged, even if it was caused by an airline, we will repair it free of charge – Simple as that! Here’s how the Briggs & Riley Simple as that® guarantee works:

A. Simple bag repairs – you can send or bring your bag to a local Authorized Repair Center. No repair number is needed. Please note that you are responsible for any freight charges incurred when shipping your bag to an authorized repair center.

B. Badly damaged bags – we recommend sending them directly to Briggs & Riley at one of our Official Company Repair Centers.

Our ‘Simple as That®’ guarantee will cover the repair of all functional aspects of your Briggs & Riley bag for life.

In my mind, that meant:

  • It would last a really, really long time before anything broke, ripped or didn’t work
  • It would be easy to get it fixed, if I ever had to
  • These people really care about their customers

I love the bag.  It’s easy to pack an entire week’s worth of stuff into, if I need to.  Shirts and sports coats travel well and come out pretty wrinkle free.  So I’m happy.

photo[2]_optFast forward to 10 months after the purchase.  The bag has a rip in it.

So I go to the B&R website and complete a form.  It’s relatively painless (who knew a suitcase could have a serial number?) and I submit it.  Unfortunately, because there were no authorized repair centers in my area, I had to send my bag back to Briggs & Riley.

The email telling me this gave me all the information I needed but didn’t express any sentiment or apology for the fact that I was going to be inconvenienced.

I had to take the bag to a UPS store because really — who has a box big enough for a large suitcase laying around.  By the time I bought the box and paid for the shipping, it was close to $100.  Lovely.

photo_optThen, I waited.  And waited.  I didn’t hear anything from Briggs & Riley.  It had been a few weeks and I was just about to reach out to them via their website when voila, my repaired suitcase arrived with this card that outlines what got fixed.  And that’s it.

So let’s review.

  • Briggs & Riley makes expensive and well crafted bags
  • They guarantee the bag for life and will repair the bag for free
  • They make it simple to get the bag repaired
  • They honored their promise — fixed my bag and sent it back to me

So they follow all the best business practices.  They make a quality product and charge a premium for it. They back their product with a rock solid guarantee and then they honored that guarantee.

They did it all right. And yet….they screwed it up at every turn.  They had so many opportunities to build a bond and their brand and they whizzed by every one of them.

When someone pays a ridiculous amount of money for something you sell — they want to be reassured that they made a good call.  they want to be your fan.  Let me say that again — they want to be your fan.  But you have to extend the invitation and make the effort.

If I was the Director of Marketing for Briggs & Riley, here’s what I would do different:

  1. When someone buys one of our bags and registers it (with the serial # etc) I would send them a hand signed thank you note from the CEO/President, welcoming them into the B&R family and inviting them to join our customer exclusive club
  2. Our club would offer travel tips for the seasoned road warrior, packing tips etc.
  3. Every holiday season, we’d send a small gift (like B&R luggage tags) to the members of our club.
  4. If someone came to our website to report a damaged bag, we’d have them fill out the form but the email confirmation/reply would outline what they should expect, in terms of time frame etc.  It would also offer a sincere apology that they have to be inconvenienced by not having their bag.
  5. We’d have a suitcase loaner program.  No one spends that kind of money on a suitcase unless they travel a lot.  We’d offer to ship them a clean, used bag to use while theirs is in our shop.  All they’d have to do is pay to ship it back.  (I doubt very many people would accept this offer…but the gesture matters)
  6. When their bag arrived at our repair center, we’d notify them that it had arrived and give them an estimated date for the return of their bag.
  7. Sometime during the repair timeframe, we’d send them a funny video about their bag recovering from its surgery and as soon as it was released…it was headed back home.
  8. In the box with the returned bag, we’d send them a thank you note from the repair team, thanking them for their confidence in Briggs & Riley and apologizing again for the hassle.
  9. In 30 days after the bag was returned — they’d get a letter from us, asking if the bag is now performing to Briggs & Riley standards.

Most of those ideas wouldn’t cost very much money.  But each one would get one step closer to creating a brand zealot — someone who raves about their bag and convinces other people to buy one too.

Building a brand doesn’t have to cost a fortune. It’s about doing what’s right and then asking yourself — what else could we or should we do? And then doing it.  That’s how you create a love affair with your customers.

Don’t rest on your great product. In today’s hyper competitive world, you have to do a lot better than that.

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Why isn’t marketing’s version of storytelling working?

Storytelling, storytelling, and more storytelling.

Seems like every marketing book, blog (including mine if you’ve been reading this week’s posts) and study is talking about how we should be using storytelling as a marketing technique.

I couldn’t agree more.  Unfortunately, I think most attempts fall short.

Earlier this week — I made the point that A) It seems that despite all the hype — we’re doing less real storytelling today and B) storytelling is hardly a new tactic.

Marketers clearly believe that storytelling is a critical component of their marketing efforts.  As you can see (click here to see a larger version of the chart above) by the chart above, according to a 2012 B2B Content Marketing Trends survey conducted for Holger Schulze for Optify, 81% of respondents listed engaging and compelling storytelling as one of the three most important aspects of content marketing.

So — no argument that marketing’s version of storytelling is critical to a business’ communications success. The question is — why are so many companies doing it badly and not experiencing the results they want?

The stories don’t evoke an emotion: There’s not a memorable story around that isn’t seeded in emotions.  For some businesses, especially those in the B2B sector, it’s hard to imagine what emotions their products or services might trigger.  That’s because the marketers are staying at the features level of sales, not delving into the benefits that lie beneath.

It might be as simple as your prospect is afraid if they make a bad decision, it will cost them their job.  Or it could be that what you sell is helping your clients fulfill their reason for existing — which to them is very emotionally motivated.  If you dig deep enough, you’ll find the emotions behind your stories.  Be sure you expose those in your storytelling so that your audience can relate to and empathize with the people in the tale.

The stories don’t use data to lend credibility: As we discussed in my post about the Revolutionary War book — what made those stories so dramatic and grabbing was he facts that were dotted throughout.

As the folks at the Content Marketing Institute points out in this blog post — data can be used in a variety of ways to tell your story.  Think visual data like an infographic or let the data suggest a new angle or insight for both you and your audience.

The story doesn’t take us on a journey: In marketing’s version of storytelling, we often take shortcuts to get to the big reveal.  But in doing that, we rob the audience of the arc of the story. Every story is, in essence, a journey that chronicles the the problem, the fight to solve the problem and how things are better once the challenge is resolved.

But a great story lets the journey also help the audience see the motivations, frustrations and worries of the characters while they try to face the problem. The outcomes are also wrapped in more than just the tangible results.  When the story is rich with details – we also learn more about the intangible results and ultimate value of delivering the right solution.

The story doesn’t include a next step/call to action: Here’s where most marketers really miss the boat.  A well crafted story draws the audience in, helps them connect with the main character and feel their common pain.  As the story evolves, the prospect is pulling for the character — because in reality, the character bears a striking resemblance to them.  They experience the ups and downs within the story and as the story delivers the happy ending — the prospective customer is thinking and feeling relief and a desire to share in that sort of outcome.

So marketing’s version of storytelling is all too often, a big tease.  You led them right to the edge — get them hungry for what you’re selling but don’t give them a clear and defined next step.  Ask yourself — what do I want them to do next and be sure you make it easy and quick to take that next action.

If you don’t include this as a part of your storytelling — the whole point of telling the story in the first place is wasted.  You aren’t a court jester earning your supper.  You’re trying to help someone decide whether or not you hold the answer to their problem. Once you demonstrate that you are the right choice — be sure you give them a chance to tell you so.

What do you think? Can you tweak the way you’re telling your company’s story so that it drives leads and sales?

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Have we lost the art of storytelling in marketing?

As the buzz about content marketing, social media and all things digital continues to rise, one of the catch phrases that gets a lot of attention is storytelling in marketing.  We afford it incredible lip service but do we actually practice it?

As we give way to our USA Today sound byte style of sharing information, are we losing the emotional tug of telling a great story?  Even in our case studies where we’re trying to help the prospects see themselves in relation to someone we’ve already helped  — are we too focused on the facts and too willing to sacrifice that emotional tug?

I worry that we are so focused on making sure we communicate the facts that we don’t trust your audience enough to find them if they’re wrapped in the emotion of the brand. The danger of that is that buying is an emotional response.  We buy based on our emotions and justify the purchase with the facts offered. But we very rarely buy on facts alone. So it we don’t offer up both sides of the equation — we leave our prospects wanting and our cash registers empty. Storytelling in marketing isn’t just to entertain or be memorable.  It is to drive brand loyalty and increased sales.

What made me ponder this on a Sunday morning is a local phenomenon that put the spotlight on the potency of storytelling for me. A Dunkin’ Donuts opened up in my community (we may be one of the few cities in the country that didn’t already have one) and the line on opening day was literally around the block.  Seriously — who stands in line for an hour for a donut?

Well, they did. And when I thought about the brand…I too had a very warm reaction to it. When I hear “Dunkin’ Donuts” my mind immediately goes back to the wonderful story driven TV spots they did back in the early 80s.

They used a character (Fred the Baker) to tell the audience why Dunkin’ Donuts were better — fresher, more variety and certainly made with more love.  I still crack up when I think of Fred in his dress, covering up his mustache, trying to get some competitive intelligence.

That’s great storytelling.  I not only learn that Dunkin’ Donuts bakes their donuts all day so they’re always fresh, but I learn about the variety (5 kinds of jelly donuts) and their commitment to quality. And it was funny to boot.

On the flip side of the emotional scale, there are few brands that tug at the heartstrings with their TV spots like Hallmark and Folgers.  Very different products but the same link to family and special times.  Check out these spots and see how you react to both the story and the brand.

 

If you look at the dates on these spots — you’ll see that they’re all more than 20 years old.   I’m hard pressed to think of a company today that takes the time to tell the same sort of story (Budweiser may be the exception) today — in any media.

So here are some questions I’m pondering and wonder what you think:

  • Has this sort of storytelling become passé?
  • Are their any brands out there today who do this sort of storytelling in any media?
  • Does social media and content marketing really lend itself to good storytelling?
  • Do we need to go “old school” to really work storytelling into our marketing efforts?
  • Are we equating storytelling to factual case studies rather than emotionally triggering customer stories?
  • Is there a current brand that is really using storytelling to create an emotional connection with their audience?
  • How can we better marry the digital marketing tools with the age old art of telling compelling stories?

Storytelling in marketing is hardly new. But it’s as effective today as it was when David Ogilvy and the other patriarchs of our field wove their compelling tales. The question is — how good are we at marrying the old and the new?

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Get your brand on

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times — your brand is not your logo.  It’s so much more.

Want to explore what branding is really about and how it can completely change the trajectory of your company?  Then you need to get to Chicago on October 11th for my friends at The Brand Establishment’s one day seminar on brand. (read more here)

What We’ll Cover:

  • Brand – The Most Oversold, Yet Least Understood Word In Marketing Today
  • The Definition of a Brand – Finally
  • 
Branding vs. Brand Development
  • 
Where The Brand Lives
  • Your Brand On Steroids
  • Build From The Inside Out
  • Your Brand Essence
  • Internal Brand Strategies – Moving Every Employee From Hearing About A Brand To Believing There Is A Brand To Becoming The Brand
  • Brand Management For The Long Haul
  • Business And Brand Strategy Alignment
  • Brand Touch Points – “Promises To Delivery” Mechanisms
  • The Brand Establishment’s BrandLab™ Approach – Looking Through The Brand Lens
Brand Momentum – Monitor, Measure And Adjust
  • The Strategies Behind Successful Brands
  • Secrets Of Successful Brands
  • Who’s Doing It Right Today
  • How To Implement In Your Own Company

Presented by two of the nation’s leading brand experts, Jim Hughes and Tom Traynor; this seminar will provide today’s working marketing executives with the knowledge, tools and techniques needed to lead their organizations to greater profits and category domination, even in a slow economy.

At the end of this rigorous one-day session, you will be awarded a Level-One Certificate of Achievement from the country’s foremost authority in brand development, branding and brand management – The Brand Establishment.  (Read the brochure)

I know these guys and they’re the real deal.  So if you can get to Chicago (or are already there) this would be an eye-opening, business changing day.  Hope you make it there.

(Click here for more info, registration links etc.)

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