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Toward a better brand (12 thoughts)

April 27, 2009

This was my first official blog post on the Canadian Marketing Association blog back in September 28,2007. With some gentle editing I have brought it here.

With  economic conditions impacting ever more constrained budgets and the increasing pressure to drive transactional results – it’s easy to fall into the short-termism trap. But I think smarter marketers will come to recognize that it’s not impossible to combine strategic and tactical programs.

I hope you take the time to read and share your thoughts.


1. Organically grown brands develop deeper roots.

Brands that have a greater emphasis on organic growth have no choice but to develop a more complete understanding of how well their brand promise is delivering existing needs. It forces brands to constantly look forward toward the innovation stream that will keep the brand promise relevant and fresh with its customers. Organic growth does not preclude acquisition – merely seeks to create a better balance between the two – of fixing the holes in the bucket. A study by Media Marketing* found that the probability of making a sale to new customers was 5-20 % compared to 60-70% of a sale to active customers – provides further support to this view.

Addendum:  Retention is the new Acquisition

2. Consistency is 99% of the solution.

Without consistency there is no possible foundation for a brand to keep its promise. We sometimes take for granted the ability of the human link to perform as envisioned. And because of any number of reasons – motivation, training, buy-in, challenging interactions etc… there are disconnects. To understand their challenges, their motivation and the tools they have for delivering the customer programs you develop, set a period of time each month to work alongside the customer facing staff.

3. To keep customers for life – first you need a plan, second you need a plan, third…

Keeping customers engaged with your brand for longer periods of time requires a commitment in understanding and evolving with their needs while keeping the brand fresh and relevant. As part of your long-term plan, consider creating a tenure incentive (membership has its privileges) benefit program to show your customers you are serious about wanting them to stay.

4. Needs change. Innovate or die. See rule # 3 If one has a strong brand/customer centric ethos, the evolution of a brand’s promise is a natural outcome. It’s based on staying current with the things one’s consumers find value in, fixing the things that are broken, throwing away the superfluous and move forward with evolving future needs.  Those interested might find The Game Changer (Lafley & Charan) to be of value.

Given the advent of social media – anyone not taking advantage of the ability to co-create the brand with one’s partner (see point #9) deserves their fate.

5. A good solution solves the problem.

The right solution leaves them wanting for more. Look beyond the immediate problem and try to understand the upstream and downstream ecosystem of the problem – at all the things that are impacted by the problem and then seek to develop extended solutions to address this. When you succeed, the customer will elevate you to partner status.

Case in point. Tide ColdWater…clean clothes and save energy cost and help reduce GHG

6. Listen, Focus & Astound.

Making an impact – a lasting impression on the consumer is critical. The innovation  by itself is usually not enough to make quick headway in the market- for that we need to bring in integrated marketing into the mix. The challenge is to make the communication and experience multi-channelled and simple by helping customers Visualize the End Result or Benefit (VERB). 

7. PULL is more powerful than PUSH.

Addendum: See here for a fascinating perspective and go to this Harvard Business Review Blog as well.

8. People are 90% of the brand.

Ask your customers where they place the greatest accountability for the brand’s performance/satisfaction both positive and negative – chances are they will point at somebody. Product failures are relatively infrequent because of the standards that go into the production process. But there is no way of engineering people. Somewhere along the way a person-to-person interaction will occur for which the consumer will hold the brand’s representative accountable – both positive and negative. Having responsibility for your brand actually means taking ownership of your customers and their end-to-end experience with the brand. See rules 1-7 and 9-14.

9. Not everyone buying your product is actually your customer.

A lot of people buy our products, only some of them are actually the customers we have developed our brand promise to deliver against. When filtering down to this group – you may be surprised by how few brand customers you may actually have. Congratulations – you have just taken an important step in reclaiming your brand. The big debate (at least in my mind) is how to manage the rest, the non-customer buyers who by some twist of fate are giving you money you never asked for – but your CFO is planning on. One approach seeks to integrate significant sub-segments into the fold – but only insofar as it doesn’t dilute the core brand platform. A more purist approach would minimize resource expenditures against non brand customers wherever possible and seek to create a self serve channel – even to the point of ‘firing’ their customers. However the first priority is always your brand’s customers, make sure you continue to grow with them and measure your progress because they are probably someone else’s target.

Addendum: Consider segmenting your franchise into:


10. The weakest link defines everything. Today matters most.

11. Actions speak, feelings resonate.

Learn how to make your customers feel your thanks. A perfect solution delivered by a surly attendant will not endear the kind of repeat business that an attentive helpful attendant can with an imperfect solution. Neither situation is ideal – but as long as the solution is satisfactory – I believe most people would go with option B.

One of the most power transformational differences you can make for your brand is to let customers feel they are appreciated. Not the polite “thank you have a nice day” discourse – but the actual sincere sentiment. So how does one manage to convey gratitude on a relatively large scale and still make it seem sincere and not some ploy? Providing some brand related benefit is not a wise path – because it lends itself to your customers putting a financial value and then wondering to themselves – “So after all these years and all the money I spend with Brand X, I only warrant $Y?” To avoid this, consider a gift that is ‘priceless’ by nature such as a good works program that allows your customers to define which charity they would like to have supported. You’ll be in excellent company since American Express did a program like this in 2007. And through it all remember that you are doing this because you in fact want your customers to understand they are appreciated and your thanks are just a small part of it.

12. A Brand is a Promise Kept.

Brand Affinity is a relationship strengthened.

Continuity without emotion is just a sequence.

Continuity with emotion is loyalty

I have already spoken about the brand promise and brand affinity in earlier posts. The important thing to remember about continuity programs is that by themselves they are only a series of conditioned responses. That you have purchase continuity is great as it proves you have a workable value proposition for the customer. But to leverage continuity programs one needs to engage the customer and transform the behaviour into a memorable experience. And therein lays the challenge we all have.

* The original research was done by Dr. Terry Varva who now is a principal with Ipsos. The original statistics where published by Doug Proden, Terry’s associate, in an article entitled “How to Win Back Lost Customers” in Direct Marketing to Business Report , October 1995, on page 7.

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