Catalyst Branding

7 Lessons For Marketers From The 2016 Campaign

March 30, 2016

While for many the 2016 presidential campaign has been painful to watch, there’s key learning – both good and bad – for marketers to apply in crafting and executing our marketing plans.

If you want to establish a powerful and unassailable position, connect with core needs.

The reason why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have drawn disproportionately large crowds to their events is that they’ve both tapped into the politically disenfranchised in a powerful way. While going about it with differing messages, these two polarizing candidates have drawn important support by connecting with these target’s core concerns. In the process, they’ve fostered strong convictions that defy logic.

While it’s important to have a strategy, success often depends on tactical opportunism.

The successful candidates in this race are masters at counterpunching. They rule the news cycle by taking advantage of events as they unfold. They thrive by listening carefully and responding quickly to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.

Differentiation and neutralization are equally important.

We all know it’s important to differentiate our offer from competition, but success in this race has been as much about neutralizing competitive advantages as it has been about differentiation. This one is tricky for there’s a fine line between success and alienation. But, it’s becoming increasingly clear that marketers need to bring neutralization messages into our narrative to help distinguish our offer, particularly if we’re challenging the status quo.

Authenticity remains critically important.

It’s important to remain true to who you are if you want to build meaningful connections. One of the most promising candidates going into the campaign is no longer a factor in the race because he morphed his persona three times in the course of the campaign. Targets sniff that out fast and quickly turn away if you fail the genuine test.

Mechanical repetition of key talking points can alienate targets.

Marketing today is about building a dialogue. That same candidate’s waterloo moment came in the midst of a national debate where he mechanically repeated his key talking points over and over in the face of critical onslaught. It turned many interested voters off and cost him valuable ground, which he never recovered. Targets want to be talked with, not at.

Influencers can be effective if they are credible.

We’ve seen a marked dilution of the impact of endorsement in this campaign. Does that mean influencers are no longer valuable? Research tells us that third party endorsement remains one of the most powerful catalysts in the buying decision for both consumer and b2b targets. But, targets must believe the endorser’s message. They just can’t say it. It must be credible.

The impact of traditional marketing media is on the wane.

Fascinatingly, attack ads are not working in this election as they have in prior contests. The most polarizing, yet successful candidate has leveraged free media and relied primarily on Twitter and Instagram as his social media of choice. This has worked gloriously for him. Targets are consuming media as they live today. New channels are reaching people more effectively than traditional channels. It’s time marketers take notice.

These are some of the key lessons I’ve taken away. I’m sure there are many more insights that each of you have gleaned from this process. I’d love to know what they are. Please share.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding

The Power of a Refresh

October 6, 2015

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I use Asana – a wonderful productivity enhancing, program management app. Asana is entrenched as part of my everyday ritual. I can’t imagine living without it.

Yet, like most other habits, my relationship with Asana is largely back of mind. The app is an important tool, but I rarely consciously think about it.

This week, Asana launched a very well done refresh, including a fresh new logo redesign. Interestingly, the net effect brought the brand front of mind for me again.

I was reminded how central Asana is to my everyday work life. I went to the blog and the website and discovered new features that are even more helpful. I learned and appreciated more than I have in the past year. The brand refresh helped renew my relationship.

My experience with Asana is very similar to that I have with Apple and other important brands. A software or hardware refresh often has the same impact. I learn more. I’m reminded of how important the brand is to my everyday life and I recommit to the brand again.

Given my ADHD, that all lasts just a few days. But, the impact is extremely powerful.

All of which leads me to believe that brands should think differently about how regularly to refresh.

Conventional wisdom suggests a five-year refresh cycle, at the minimum. I think that dated advice is no longer helpful.

Instead, I’d be looking to refresh some element of the customer experience twice yearly to keep customers actively engaged with your brand.

This doesn’t mean taking steps as dramatic as those taken by Asana. But, it does mean being much smarter and more aggressive in keeping your brand front of mind with your core marketplace.

I’d start today to craft a regular refresh plan and roadmap. Begin with an assessment of user experience needs and opportunities. Then craft a plan with logical stages – from regular clean-up to transformative regeneration. The return will more than offset the effort.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Customer journey mapping, Demand Driving Strategy

Managing Demand: Branding is Necessary, But Not Sufficient

March 3, 2014

During my long career at Interbrand, my colleagues and competitors operated under the misconception that branding was the center of the universe. All we needed was to build a strong brand for a client and their business would grow dramatically. Unfortunately, reality proved us wrong.

I spent the last two months working intensely with four great companies to catalyze growth and in not one of the cases were we focusing on making the brand stronger. We’d done that already, quite successfully in each case. Instead, we were focusing on building plans and programs to build stronger engagement with, and more effective fulfillment of, the core brand promises we put in place earlier.

Since we launched Catalyst three short years ago, it is compellingly clear that branding is necessary but insufficient in and of itself for managing demand. Instead, we must simultaneously master three integrated challenges – branding, engaging and fulfilling.

Branding: Establishing the Foundation

Effective branding establishes the foundational promise. We provide a solid platform for growth by articulating “who” the brand is, “what” it does and “why” it does it. This process matches the brand’s distinctive skills with the needs of its target audiences to articulate a promise that is relevant, credible and distinct. We use all of our finely honed skills to define the brand’s personality and reflect it through a unique communication style using both verbal and visual cues, managed consistently across the wide array of touch points the brand uses to communicate with its targets.

Engagement: Managing to Purchase

Engagement is the process of managing the customer’s journey from the initial need or desire that triggers the demand, through the search and evaluation process to the point where the purchase decision is made. Here, success is predicated on understanding the steps of the journey, the key milestones in the process and the touch points consulted to make decisions along the way.

This process has transformed dramatically with the rise of the internet and social media. Gone are the days when a brand could assume success by shouting through advertising and then selling hard with face-to-face interaction. Today b2b and b2c customers move through a thoughtful process of learning, evaluating and deciding that is best fueled by well placed information and well-timed problem solving.

Opinions of key influencers, from friends to experts; company owned, influencer sponsored or retailer provided web sites; social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +, Pintrest, Tumblr, Instagram and Yelp; PR; and events are all critical touch points that need to be evaluated and used effectively to engage and guide targets through the process of making the decisions important to your brand.

This fresh understanding of the engagement challenge has influenced the creation of a new discipline – inbound marketing, elevated the importance of strong informational content and given rise to wide array of marketing tools and skills, including marketing automation and lead management, search engine optimization, and influencer relations. Used well, these tools provide us with the skills to better manage the engagement process and the insight to understand quickly what is working and what is not working in the mix. We can now optimize for effectiveness and make the brand work harder than ever before to build rich and rewarding relationships.

Fulfillment: Securing the Relationship

Branders and marketers are only now appreciating the need to closely manage the process of fulfilling the promise once the target is actually engaged. Delivery is more important than ever today because targets are constantly testing and revisiting their purchase decisions as they bring the new product or service into their lives.

Fulfillment involves understanding and managing the process that customers move through once they’ve made the decision to purchase, from initial integration, installation and testing through ongoing usage and the decision to commit to the product, service and brand. Again, rich informational content and effective problem solving drive success in this process.

The key touch points are very similar to those used in the engagement process, but they are used differently once the purchase decision is made. Here the emphasis is on enablement as customers seek ways to get more out of what they’ve purchased by themselves. It is also important to establish a safety net with opportunities for interaction should the challenge be more difficult than individuals are capable of managing on their own.

Effective enablement and support helps to validate the purchase decision and in the process helps to forge a more fulfilling relationship with the customer. Fulfilled customers buy more from a brand. They also tell others how fulfilled they are, which in turn influences engagement with new targets and helps make the brand stronger.  It’s a self-renewing cycle.

The beauty lies in the fact that all through the process we can gather feedback, learn and refine to ensure that we’re making it better and better all along – improving the value of brand, engagement and fulfillment as integrated demand management tools.

With these three important tools, we can manage and grow demand. Handled separately, these tools are only limited in their ability to assure the desired result, but managed together as an integrated whole we can assure that we’re doing what’s necessary to spur growth.

There’s no question that to be effective, you need to start with a strong brand, but that’s not enough for managing demand. Don’t let any consultant advise you that it is. Work on all three together and you’ll make the impact you desire.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, Internal Brand Engagement, Uncategorized

Progressive Innovation: The Key to Retention, Advocacy & Growth

September 10, 2013

My Nike FuelBand stopped working last week. It’s kaput. After wearing it most all of my waking hours since I brought it home on St. Patrick’s Day last year, my right wrist is naked. I miss it. There’s quite a void.

Normally when it comes to the technology in my life, such a loss would be cause for a minor celebration. When the old one breaks, there’s nothing stopping me from immediately running out and getting the newest model. The excitement of fresh new utility immediately replaces any sense of loss.

Those who know me know that I rarely even wait for what I have to break. The draw of the new is so powerful that I often shelve technology that is working perfectly just to experience the latest and greatest.

So why am I still sad?

Well, the problem is there is no latest and greatest Nike FuelBand. The model I bought almost 2 years ago is the same model I’m forced to buy today. Sure, I have the choice of more colors, but the core utility I was so excited about on my first day is still the utility I would be buying today. In my world, that’s a reason not to buy.

When Nike launched the FuelBand, I immediately jumped on the bandwagon. The device played an important role in my life. It helped me realize just how much of a slug I could be when I was working and it motivated me to get up on my feet and keep moving everyday. The daily pursuit of my “goal” helped reinforce my active behaviors and keep me healthier than I would otherwise be without it.

From the beginning, I wore the band proudly and sang its praises to all who wondered why I was suddenly wearing a bracelet. I imagine over the past two years, I’ve contributed to the sale of two-dozen or more devices. I was madly in love and all who knew me, knew about my new favorite thing.

That is, until my first anniversary last March.  You see, I’ve been trained by Apple to enjoy a regular cadence of fresh new capabilities. I expected that Nike would refresh the FuelBand through regular software upgrades so that I could do what I was doing even better and importantly, could do even more to be healthier. I also expected Nike to realize the need to refresh the hardware on an annual basis to open the door to ever expanding utility, which in turn, would fuel my desire to rave even more loudly to anyone who would listen about how important the device was in my life.

Unfortunately, the anticipated software and hardware upgrades never came.  There are rumors of an impending new release, but so far there’s nothing tangible enough to confident in.

So… today Nike is likely losing one of its most loyal customers.  With the need to rethink the relationship, I’ve found alternatives that offer greater utility than Nike and there are several new devices coming to market that offer the potential to transform the value these devices deliver to us all.

Brands, like all of our relationships, need to find ways to stay fresh and interesting in our lives.  When they do, we remain very loyal, often in the face of significant competition.  When they don’t, we’re open to consider alternatives that, in the light of more objective consideration, often prove to be superior to the brands we’ve been loyal to all along.

In today’s world of consumer technology, software driven progressive innovation is the key to customer retention, relationship longevity and advocacy. Without it, even the strongest of relationships are destined to end. And when they do, it’s likely not just for a single product. Often it means unraveling a relationship across multiple products and categories. All of which dramatically reduces share of wallet and stifles growth.

For Nike, that’s the case with me.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy

The Wisdom of Engaging by Intruding

July 22, 2013

Have you been watching traditional TV lately?  Does showing me the same ad for ED in every show I watch through the day really engage me?  Does watching an ad twice in a single commercial break make me pay more attention?  In today’s world, does the notion of a “commercial break” continue to be relevant for how we really live?

I feel like I’m watching the very end of an era.  The world of advertising and advertisers are struggling to hold onto the last vestige of the Mad Men era, when the consuming public has moved to a whole new way of engaging with brands and making purchase decisions.

Think about it.  Traditional advertising works by intruding into the experience that audiences are enjoying.  It forces targets to stop doing what they want to do and listen to what the advertiser has to say.  And this is supposed to be engaging.

How much sense does that make?  Let’s build engagement by bugging people, interrupting them, forcing them to listen to what we have to say and keeping them from what they really want to do.

Today, we’re much smarter about how our targets prefer to be engaged.  Study upon study shows that targets – both b2c and b2b – move through a learning process where they talk with people they trust, do their homework on brand websites and review sites, consider expert opinions and then make their choices.

It’s all on their terms.  They control the decision process and determine how and when they consume information.  Engagement is built through learning and experiencing.  The preferred media is the web and the preferred communication style is informational.  If you can make the information a little entertaining, all the better.

This is buttressed through recent studies that show us that company websites and the opinions of category experts are the only two media people trust more than they distrust.  All other media – advertising, email, collateral, etc. – are more distrusted than trusted.

Research does tell us that traditional advertising still has a role.  It is a particularly strong validating tool, especially for people who have made big purchase decisions and for the employees of companies that advertise.  However, traditional advertising’s role as a catalyst for shaping decisions is on the wane.  Fewer and fewer customers cite advertising as one of the touch-points that shaped their decisions as they moved through the selection process.

Given this, it’s time for marketers, business leaders, consultants and agencies to be much smarter and more creative in building successful engagement programs.  We need to disrupt the status quo and leverage the touch-points that customers actually prefer to use in navigating through their purchasing process.

We’ll be far better served by teaching rather than interrupting.  We need to be there when customers want us rather than force them to pay attention to us when they would rather be doing something else.  When you think about it, it’s fairly obvious – isn’t it?

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Customer journey mapping, Demand Driving Strategy, General