Does your marketing message have “getability”?

July 7, 2010

About two weeks ago, I read Rohit Bhargava’s post “How Hanes & Dyson Are Winning By Naming The Problems They Solve” and it really resonated with me.[1] The post highlights two brands that are doing an exceptionally good job of explaining (through naming) the problems that their products solve.  Bhargava comments that this practice helps these brands with their “getability” – or how easy it is for their consumers to understand the problems they solve without a lot of explanation.  Bhargava explains, “When your marketing has getability, it means that it is simple, clear, and memorable.”

I personally began to understand the importance of getability over the course of this past year when I started my strategic brand and marketing consultancy.  It took some time for me to determine how I could simply and clearly explain what it is that I do and the problems that I solve (brand strategy isn’t an easy concept to explain).  For me, part of my challenge in achieving getability was my message, but most of it was identifying and understanding who I really needed to “get” me.  For me, achieving getability relied on focusing on two very specific target customer segments (mid-sized companies with existing marketing departments or creative agencies offering brand strategy services).

Currently, I am working with two clients who are also experiencing challenges with the getability of their marketing.  In both cases, these clients have been able to build their businesses over time, but they realized that they had the untapped potential to grow so much more.  Through my analysis of their marketing and their customers, it became apparent that their biggest barrier to unlocking their growth potential has been the poor getability of their marketing messages.  For several years, both companies have been touting very technical, complicated benefits that the majority of their target customers simply did not understand and therefore could not value.  Neither of these companies effectively articulated the problems that they solved in a language that was simple and clear for their target customers to understand.  Their confusing marketing messages were significantly limiting their growth potential.

Because both of these companies had experienced some success, they did not realize that their marketing getability was an issue.  Their limited success masked a significant marketing message problem.  It was only when each company started talking with their current and potential customers about their experiences with the brand and their interpretation of the marketing messages that the lack of getability was uncovered.

Since the getability of their marketing was not an obvious challenge to either of these companies for so long, I thought it would be worth posing some questions to the rest of us as marketers:

  • Does your marketing have getability?  How do you know if it does or not?
  • Have you recently conducted research (or just asked your customers some pointed questions) to assess your message?
    • Have you conversed with trusted customers and partners to ensure you are explaining the problems that you solve in a meaningful and easy to understand way?
    • How do your customers describe the problems that you solve? Are you using their language to communicate what you do to solve their problems?

It doesn’t require a lengthy research project to answer these questions.  A series of informal interviews can quickly uncover the answers, which may be very surprising, as it was for my two clients.

As we all strive to grow our businesses and improve our marketing, I challenge each of us to really focus on the getability of our marketing messages. Ensuring that our marketing is getable should drive powerful results.


[1] If you don’t already subscribe to the Influential Marketing Blog, I highly recommend it.

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Top 5 Marketing Reading Recommendations 1/11-1/24

January 25, 2010

Two weeks ago, I published a list of some of my favorite marketing articles that I had read over the previous several weeks.  I got a lot of great feedback that this list was very helpful to fellow marketers, and so I’ve decided to make it a regular post.  So with that, here’s a list of marketing related articles from 1/11-1/24 that I recommend you take a look at. Enjoy!

  1. Is Your Brand a Beacon or a Spotlight? (Ad Age). The article explains that while many brands are based on understanding their customers and their customer’s current needs, it is important for brands to stand for more than this.  Brands should also have an aspirational component to them to make them especially compelling to their customers.  This article is a great argument for brands to have a defined brand vision.
  2. Build Your Customer Experience Roadmap (Forbes).  This article summarizes the findings from a recent report from Forrester Research that ranks brands in terms of the overall customer experience that they provide.  The article highlights examples of brands in several categories that are providing excellent customer experiences, and then it provides ‘Three Golden Rules of Customer Experience.’  This article is definitely worth a read for anyone who is interested in improving the experiences that customers have with a brand, or anyone who is interested in improving customer loyalty for a brand.
  3. The Cost of Not Branding (MediaPost Online Metrics Insider). This post is a refreshing reminder that not investing in marketing or branding has a cost associated with it, and it mentions a couple of examples of how one could calculate the cost of not investing in branding.  For individuals who often find themselves in a position where they have to justify their marketing budgets, they will find this post very helpful.
  4. More CPG Players Embrace E-Commerce (Ad Age). This is an interesting article that describes how CPG companies are seizing a new opportunity to sell products to and better understand their consumers through e-commerce. For marketers in the consumer packaged goods industry who are not yet exploring e-commerce as a channel, this article is a good thought-starter.
  5. A New Rung on the Social Technographics Ladder (Forrester). For those of you who have read or are familiar with the book Groundswell, you know about the different technographic profiles that your customers may have when it comes to social media — these are the creators, the critics, the joiners, etc.  In a new report, Forrester Research unveils a new social technographic, the Conversationalist, and explains why this is a group that brands will want to watch closely.

Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #2: No well-defined brand vision

November 24, 2009

One of the first questions I ask organizations that I work with is “What is your brand’s vision?”  I ask this question because if the organization has a vision for its brand, then I can begin to understand where and how I can help them. Unfortunately, most of the time, I get a blank stare in response to my question, or something along the lines of “Well, we aren’t really sure.”

Not having a brand vision but trying to do marketing and brand building is like jumping into a car and driving to go somewhere without knowing what or where the destination is.  How do you know if you are headed in the right direction?  If you don’t know where you are going, how do you even know that a car can get you there?

Before an organization can start to tackle challenges like growing a brand with existing customers, extending a brand into new categories or driving awareness and interest with new customers, it needs to be clear on its long-term brand vision. The brand vision is the destination for the brand that the organization should be striving to reach.  As a result, a well-defined vision helps the organization narrow its focus to the critical objectives, strategies, and tactics that will ultimately help the organization achieve what it is trying to accomplish.  Additionally, when it is communicated, embraced, and reinforced in the organization, it is a valuable tool that aligns all of the brand stakeholders to working towards the same goals.

The components of a brand vision are in theory straightforward, but can be very challenging to formulate and assemble into a complete brand vision.  The components are:

  1. The brand’s core essence.  This is what the brand ultimately stands for or its ‘reason for being’
  2. The key functional and emotional benefits that the brand provides.  (For more detail on benefits, check out Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #1: Communicating Features Instead of Benefits)
  3. What the brand will be known for in the future.  This is also where critical goals and metrics should be incorporated such as, “Brand X will be a Million Dollar brand by 2015”, or “Brand Y will be present in half of the households in the U.S. by 2020”.
  4. The brand character.  This is the personality of the brand.

The components are challenging to develop because ideally an organization should designate a group of internal brand stakeholders (a brand team) to devote a great deal of time, thought, and discussion to make the vision as strong as possible.  Typically organizations do not prioritize brand vision development for these reasons.  However, if an organization can devote resources to and prioritize the development of a vision, it will be in a much stronger, more productive, and successful position moving forward.  The resulting brand vision becomes a powerful guide post that aligns the organization, making the marketing decisions and challenges it faces much easier to navigate because the organization knows where it wants to go.


Common Marketing and Branding Mistakes to Avoid: #1 Communicating Features instead of Benefits

November 12, 2009

Introduction to New Series:  Common Marketing & Branding Mistakes to Avoid

One of the things that I enjoy most about being a marketing and branding consultant is helping others solve their marketing questions.  When I was working as a full-time marketer for other companies, I didn’t find many people outside of my place of employment asking me for marketing guidance.  As one would expect, now that I am a consultant, I am finding that I get asked a lot more questions and receive a lot more requests for help from a wide variety of businesses and not for profit organizations.

A lot of the questions that I answer or challenges that I help solve are ones that I think a lot of brands and businesses face.  As a result, I’ve decided to start a blog post series that addresses some of the mistakes or pitfalls that I am seeing, and I try to suggest ways that each can be avoided or corrected.  This post is the very first of the series.

Mistake #1  Communicating Features instead of Benefits

One very common, but critical problem that marketers can face is understanding the difference between a feature (also known as an attribute) and a benefit.  As a result, marketers can fall into the trap of promoting features to their target customer instead of benefits.  This is a big mistake that can ultimately impact a brand’s success. As Phil Kotler and Gary Armstrong, renowned marketing gurus, state in their book Principles of Marketing, “Consumers do not buy attributes, they buy benefits.”

So to help clear up this problem, let me distinguish the difference between a feature and a benefit.  A feature or attribute is a characteristic of a product or service.  Examples of features are:  high quality, durable, well-built, etc. Features don’t do things for the target customer or make him feel a certain way.  Features don’t fulfill a customer’s needs.

However, features can be translated into benefits that are meaningful to the target customer.  Benefits fulfill the target customer’s needs or desires.  Benefits are the reasons why a customer chooses a brand and buys a product or service. Examples of benefits are: ‘makes me look like I have good taste’ or ‘won’t break so that I won’t have to buy another soon’.  Benefits can be functional (what the product/service does for the target customer) or emotional (how the product/service makes the target customer feel).

The key to translating a product or service’s features into benefits is understanding the target customer’s needs.  By understanding these needs, a marketer can identify the relevant benefits that fulfill the needs.  The benefits are based on the product or service’s features/attributes.

So with all of that said, marketers should look at the messages that they are using to grow their brand and promote their products or services.  Are the messages communicating the benefits to the target customer?  Or are they really just communicating the features?  Benefits are much more meaningful and impactful than features, so if features are being communicated, the brand is not realizing its full potential.  Marketers can stop making this mistake by translating the features into benefits for their target customer.


5 Ways to Activate Your Customers

October 28, 2009

It seems that it is a commonly held belief that a highly satisfied customer is one of the strongest marketing assets a business can have.

Despite this accepted assertion, I have recently been in contact with a surprisingly large number of businesses that haven’t given any thought to how they can leverage this asset.  These businesses have been hoping that word of mouth will be an inexpensive, effortless method for growing sales and their customer base.  To a degree, they are right; positive word of mouth will help.  But they could grow so much more if they thought about how to activate their satisfied customers.

What I mean by activating customers is very simple:  motivating customers and giving them tools to enable them to spread a brand’s message easily and authentically.  Customers generally like to share information that they acquire through their experiences with products/services and brands.  By activating this inclination, a business has a greater chance of having customers share their experiences with others and spreading the news or information that the business wants them to pass along.

There are many ways to activate customers.  Some of these are unique to certain industries, business models, or customer segments. However, below are a few ideas that should be applicable to most businesses.  None of these has to be complex or expensive, but these suggestions do require some thought, planning, ongoing management, and measurement to have the greatest impact.  Take a read through these to help spark some ideas on the best ways to activate your customers.

5 Activation ideas

  1. Create a program to formally recognize your best customers. Acknowledge and thank them for being good customers.  Make them feel valued and appreciated with special offers, ‘sneak peaks’ of new offerings, etc.  These customers will feel more loyal, and hopefully so special that they can’t help but tell their friend about their special treatment and great relationship they have with your business.
  2. Give your customers a voice and solicit their ideas and opinions in low or high tech ways. The medium isn’t as important as the act of listening to your customers.  The important aspects of this are that you can ask your customers what they think, give them a chance to respond, and consider their responses in the future to improve your products, services, or overall customer experience.  These things can be accomplished through social media tools, but they can also be accomplished through face to face discussions, phone conversations, focus groups, customer events, and other outlets.  The medium you choose really should be driven by your customers’ preferences.
  3. Keep your customers informed. Whether it is a new product launch or your next tradeshow appearance, ensure your customers are ‘in the know’ so that they can anticipate their next experience with your brand.  By keeping them updated on a regular basis on your news (such as through a newsletter, email, or blog), you can stay top of mind with them and further help them spread your news to other potential customers.
  4. Arm your customers with exclusive ‘marketing materials’. Ideally, this would be something that they can use in their daily lives, but that also happens to tell your brand’s story for you when they use it around others.  These ‘marketing materials’ could be product samples, special catalogs, or any other collateral that customers would find useful and better yet, would be proud to share with their friends because it is so unique or exclusive, and it has made them feel special by receiving it.
  5. Implement a ‘tell a friend’ referral program. For every person a customer refers to you resulting in a strong lead or a sale, give a ‘thank you’ in some form to the referring customer.  There are two things about the referral program that are very important.  First of all, the thank you has to be sincere.  The customer should believe that you really are thankful.  Secondly, the program should motivate the customer to continue to refer people to your brand.  This motivation typically means rewarding the customer in a way that is meaningful and valuable to them.  The hardest part about this is figuring out what that is (and this is where you refer back to #2).

I hope that these ideas encourage you to think about the ways that you are activating your customers currently and inspire you to develop some additional methods you can give to your satisfied customers to leverage.  And if you have some other suggestions of ways to activate your customers, please share them.  They would be much appreciated!


New product assessment of Starbucks Via: 5 things to consider when launching a new product

October 1, 2009

Over the past couple of days, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the new product launch from Starbucks known as Via Ready Brew (instant coffee).  Much of the buzz is being generated by Starbucks itself, but there is also a lot of chatter coming from people (customers, analysts, competitors, marketers, etc.), and many of them are questioning Starbuck’s rationale for launching the product.

Since I am a passionate brand supporter and former Starbucks marketing manager, I thought that this well loved brand and highly publicized launch would be a great example to illustrate some key questions marketers should consider when they are thinking about a new product introduction.  Below is my checklist of questions that any marketer can use when considering a new product or service launch, applied to Starbucks Via.

New product idea assessment checklist

  1. Does the product meet an unmet need? In my experience with product launches, this is the most fundamental question to consider.  New products that address and fulfill an otherwise unmet need for their target customer have a great chance of bringing more customers into the category and revolutionizing the category’s segmentation.  In Starbucks’ case, it claims that Via is meeting two needs:  portability & value.  I have to admit I am not sure that both of these really are significant unmet needs of their customer targets.  I am assuming that Starbucks has two target customers for this product:  existing Starbucks customers and ‘instant’ coffee drinkers.   With that in mind, from my previous experience working in the coffee category, I don’t recall ‘portability’ of coffee being something with which customers struggled (in fact they generally seemed to think Starbucks had become ubiquitous).  As for value, there probably is a need for a more ‘value priced’ coffee that is still high quality. My biggest concern with this, however, is that Via costs about $1 per serving.  This still seems a bit pricey for a cup of coffee to be considered a real value offering, especially among current instant coffee drinkers.
  2. Is the unmet need large enough to sustain the new product? Sometimes, even when a product does a great job of meeting an unmet need, the market size of the need is too small to really pursue.  At Campbell Soup, we used to joke that if we were considering a product launch that would perfectly meet the needs of campers, then the product shouldn’t move forward (because the market was too small to support the investment that a company the size of Campbell would make to launch the product).  With that in mind, I couldn’t help but cringe when I read that Starbucks was selling Via in REI.  Aside from that, my other concern for Starbucks is the size of the need for premium but good value instant coffee.  I am sure there are people who would really like this, but I am concerned about how many of them are out there who will become sustained customers.
  3. How differentiated is the new product from alternatives? For many unmet needs, a lot of customers find alternatives or ‘work arounds’ to try to fulfill what they are lacking.  A new product that is truly differentiated from and performs better than these alternatives has a tremendous chance for success.  This is one of the areas where Via is strong.  It is truly differentiated from every other coffee ‘solution’ out there.  It definitely provides a unique set of benefits.
  4. How much incremental sales will the new product generate? This question is always a hard one to estimate, and it often is the one that stops new products from getting to market.  New products can often make existing products obsolete, or at least considerably cannibalize existing sales if the new products do not appeal to a wider set of customers overall.  This is the issue I am most concerned about for Via.  Because it is a good value alternative to Starbucks coffee, and because it is being sold to customers who have already made the decision to go into a Starbucks store, it could significantly cannibalize the sales of both the beans and the beverages in the store.  To try to counteract this, I would suggest that Starbucks not target its existing customer base by selling Via in its store, but focus more on appealing to the instant coffee drinkers and focus distribution only in grocery stores and other retail venues where Via will not compete ‘head to head’ with Starbucks’ existing products.
  5. Do the product’s benefits fit with the core essence of the brand? This question is critical to ensure that the product continues to be brand building with its customers.  If the new product doesn’t fit with the brand’s core essence (what the brand ultimately stands for), this will hurt both the new product and the existing brand by confusing (or perhaps even disappointing) customers.  In Starbucks’ case, the core essence is about providing an excellent coffee experience.  Via’s benefits fit with this core essence, and so the launch of Via makes sense from this standpoint.

Based on this quick assessment of Starbucks Via against these questions, it appears that the new product has some key strengths, but its prospects aren’t entirely clear.  There are a few things that Starbucks might consider changing to increase its chances of success such as pricing the product at an even greater value to really make the benefit more meaningful and selling the product only in grocery and other retail channels (not its own stores).  Of course, the launch of successful new products is as much an art as it is a science, and so despite some weaknesses, the product may be a home run.

Hopefully these questions spark some thoughts for those of you who are currently considering new product ideas.  This list isn’t exhaustive, but it gives some good  ones to consider.   Are there others you might also add to this list?  Let me know and also how Starbucks Via would stack up against them.


Four Marketing Lessons I Learned on Summer Vacation

August 31, 2009

As some of you may know, I had the luxury of taking a vacation a few weeks ago.  My vacations are very rarely of the relaxing kind.  I am someone who has a hard time sitting still, and so my vacations are generally full of activities.  This vacation was no exception as I spent a week at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state.

While on my trip, I had the opportunity to hear some very inspiring speakers including Daniel Pink, Anna Deavere Smith, and George Kembel talk about their perspectives on creativity and innovation.  I heard several ideas during the week that made me think that if only I had learned these things when I was still working in marketing for larger organizations, I would have done things differently, and perhaps would have generated far better, more creative work.  Because I think that these ideas have important implications for marketing, and business in general, I thought I would highlight a few for you — just in case you didn’t get a chance to take your own summer vacation.

What I learned on summer vacation:

  1. Rewards don’t work well when creativity is required.  This idea was championed by Daniel Pink who cited study after study that showed that contingent motivators (if you do this, I’ll give you that) do not spawn greater creativity.  Contingent motivators do work well for processes or routines, but they actually limit creative thinking.  Therefore, organizations that try to motivate their employees to develop new products or innovations through things like bonuses or promotions, are not going to get the best creative thinking out of their people.  The rewards change the focus to achieving a goal and become a distraction. 
  2. Self direction leads to engagement (which in turn leads to creative thinking).  If  contingent rewards don’t work to generate creative thinking, what does?  According to Daniel Pink, as long as people are compensated adequately and fairly, one successful motivator is  autonomy or self direction.  Giving individuals the ability to direct how, where, when, and what they work on leads to higher overall engagement and therefore more creative thinking.  I can speak to this first hand.  Since I have begun to run my own business, I have noticed a real increase in my passion for my work.   Now that I choose when, where, and what I work on, my productivity and creativity are higher than they were when I did not have this autonomy.  I realize that it isn’t realistic for companies to allow employees to only work on what the employees want to work on all of the time, but why not some of the time?  Why not start with setting aside one day where everyone gets to work on anything they want for the whole day, with the understanding that at the end of the day, everyone has to show what he did.  Why not see what ideas are uncovered?  FedEx does this once a month.  Why not at least give it a try?
  3. Empathy gives meaning to your work, which is motivating.  Most people who have taken a marketing class know that understanding a customer’s needs is critical to successfully marketing a product.  However, it fascinates me how many people skip over the step that they need to follow to really understand their customer’s needs.  There are a lot of organizations that consider research to be a ‘nice to have’, and most of them don’t think that they have the time or resources to invest in understanding their customer, so they decide to work off of a hunch.  While I understand why they do this, this approach is flawed.  As George Kembel explained, research gives marketers the opportunity to truly empathize with their customer and really understand their customer’s needs.  If they can walk in their customer’s shoes, they more acutely ‘feel their customer’s pain’ so to speak, and therefore have a greater motivation to think creatively to resolve the ‘pain’ or need.
  4. The power of the words ‘thank you’ should be leveraged more often.  Okay.  This idea was not one I picked up from the speakers.  This was one that struck me on my flight to my vacation destination.  I was sincerely thanked twice by the flight attendants at Continental Airlines for switching my seat by two rows on the plane so that a family could sit together.  The action took very little for me to do, but I felt like a rockstar as far as the flight attendants were concerned because they were so grateful.  This experience got me to thinking about how organizations really miss the opportunity to make their customers feel very special (and increase their loyalty), just by authentically thanking them for giving their business.  It doesn’t take much as long as it is sincere and personal.  Do you have a process or program for thanking your customers?  What about the ones who not only give you business, but who help build your brand for you (i.e. by positive word of mouth, referrals, feedback, etc.)?  If not, perhaps it is something you should consider.

So those were my big ‘a-ha’s from my vacation.  What about you?  Do these spur any additional thoughts or ideas?  Or did your own vacation generate some ideas you’d like to share?  I’d love to hear from you.