Marketing & Branding Mistake #4: Lack of Character

December 29, 2009

*A version of this post originally appeared on Kyle Lacy’s blog where I was invited to write a guest post.

If your brand were a celebrity, who would it be and why?

This is a question that is often used to define a brand’s character, which is a critical component of the overall identity of a brand.  Unfortunately, because it seems abstract, this type of question doesn’t get asked and answered enough.  As a result, many brands don’t have a real character.

Up until recently, many brands were able to grow without having a well-defined and compelling brand character.  As long as a brand provided a consistent set of meaningful, differentiated benefits to a target group of customers, it had a reasonable chance of being successful.  This was because the brand could control its messaging, as it consistently talked to its target customer.  It had its key messages, and it could stick to communicating these.

The communication framework between brands and customers is now very different.  Gone are the days of one way communication of a brand’s message to its customers.  A brand now must engage in a conversation with its customers to stay relevant to and be embraced by them.  A conversation means that a brand can’t just keep stating its key messages.  It has to respond to what customers are saying and asking, and sometimes the key messages just aren’t appropriate responses.

So in these cases, what is a brand supposed to say?  How will it know how to answer its customers’ questions and participate in unscripted dialogue?  This is where the brand’s character plays a critical role.  The brand’s character rounds out the brand into something more than just a set of benefits and key messages.  It gives the brand a life that enables it to talk with its customers without the key messages while still staying true and consistent to what the brand stands for.  It is more than just a tone that the brand uses.  It is truly the brand’s personality, defining its temperament, attitude and behaviors.  The brand’s character differentiates it from other brands with common benefits and it gives customers one more way to develop an affiliation and stronger relationship with the brand.  So while perhaps the brand character could have been an overlooked brand element in the past when differentiating benefits and messages were enough, it is now the critical component that supports conversations between a brand and its customers.  Without it, who are the customers really conversing with?

Can you identify the celebrity that personifies your brand?  If the answer doesn’t readily come to your mind (and isn’t matching what everyone else in your organization would say), perhaps you should take some time to more fully develop your brand’s character.  It will make the conversations between your brand and your customers far richer and more meaningful.

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!

7 free tools every brand or marketing manager should use daily

July 16, 2009

As I have been making the transition from being a brand manager for a large company to being a brand strategy consultant in the last few months, I have had a thirst for information in a way I never had before.  As part of my quest to become a better, more informed, and up to date resource for my clients, I have been leveraging a lot of free information and tools.  Some of these tools (such as newsletters), I collected in my inbox for years while I was a brand manager and rarely opened.  Other tools are ones that people have introduced to me in the last several months.

Recently, some of my friends in brand or marketing roles for companies have been asking me how I seem to be so ‘in the know’ about marketing trends, new products, or the latest technologies.  They know that this is information that they should and would like to know, but they don’t think that they have the time it would take to stay on top of it.  They are too bogged down in managing their brand projects and fighting daily fires, and they don’t know where to begin.  If this sounds a little like you, read on. 

Below is a list of 7 free tools any marketing or brand person at any company should use on a daily basis. 

  1. Marketing Daily News– Email newsletter every weekday that summarizes breaking news across industries in branding & marketing.  Published by MediaPost which also has many other free newsletters for various industries, targets, trends, technologies, and types of marketing professionals.  I subscribe to about 8 or 9 in total from this source.
  2. Brandweek Daily Insider – Email newsletter every weekday summarizing new brand campaigns, new products, latest research across many industries.
  3. GMA Smartbrief – Email newsletter every weekday summarizing top news in the Consumer Packaged Goods industry.  Even though it is focused on the CPG space, there is still a lot of learning to be leveraged from this publication for all marketers.
  4. Adweek Creative — Email newsletter weekly covering all news and trends in advertising content and messages.
  5. Google Alerts— Monitor your own brand and company as well as your competitors in the news and in blogs using this tool.  You receive an email with all of the clips daily, weekly, or as they happen.  Set this up under Google News.
  6. Use an RSS feed like Google Reader for blogs– Set this up to monitor your favorite marketing, industry, or customer target blogs.  In a future post, I will have a list of my favorite marketing and brand blogs to subscribe to.
  7. Twitter Search and an RSS feed — Monitor what people are saying about your brand, company, competition, industry, and category by setting up searches in Twitter.  Once you set these up, you can have them come into your RSS feed.

Going through this list will probably take about an hour to get through per day. 

I know that this big time investment, but I guarantee that the time investment will generate a positive ROI for the brand and your career.   You’ll naturally leverage new case studies and best practices in your marketing plans.  You’ll be better positioned to preempt the competition.  When your competition does act, you will be able to respond more quickly.  You’ll have a better idea of what is going on with your customer.  You’ll be the first to bring new ideas to the table.  You’ll be considered very well informed and a thought leader.

Try out these tools and let me know what you think.  And if you stumble across any other tools that you find useful that should be added to this list, please post a comment.  I’m still learning too.

Mystified by social media? Be a customer.

July 2, 2009

I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised at how many business owners, leaders, and managers there are who are really confused, intimidated, or mystified by ‘social media’.  I admit that I certainly was one of those people up until several months ago.  I was so focused on my corporate job responsibilities that I didn’t take the time to observe what was going on around me.  I absorbed marketing trends on an ‘as needed’ basis (as dictated by the immediate needs of the company I worked for).

I think that there are probably a lot of people out there in a similar situation to this.  Now, suddenly, ‘social media’ seems to be everywhere, and there are a lot of people who are really nervous about it.  They aren’t quite sure what it is, they don’t know how to use it for their business, and yet all of these social media experts are saying that they have to act quickly before they get left behind.  No wonder so many managers and business leaders are so uneasy about social media, and aren’t sure what they should do.  I think that all of this buzz and urgency is making social media seem bigger and more intimidating than it really is.

Don’t get me wrong – social media is a big deal, and it is a great thing.  It finally gives brands/businesses the ability to have conversations with their customers.  Business leaders have a better chance of understanding their customers’ needs, issues, and concerns than ever before.  They have the chance to ask customers for help in making product or service decisions.  They can leverage their customers to troubleshoot problems and can really bring their brand to life for their customer in a way not previously possible.

So since social media can be such an extraordinary tool for businesses to leverage, I’d like to provide a bit of advice to those leaders who are still intimidated or confused by it.  My advice is simple:  Before you do anything for your business, remember that you are a customer too.  You buy products and services.  You have hobbies and passions outside from your work.  Why not see how social media is used between you as a customer and the brands, companies, thought leaders, and celebrities that you are interested in?

Watch and listen.  Participate in the conversations that interest you.  Sign up for Twitter and follow people, brands, companies that interest you.  Don’t know who to follow?  Check out Tracking Twitter to find some great companies and people to follow.  Go to Google Blog Search and search for blogs on topics that you want to know more about.  Be a ‘regular person’ – just like your customers are. 

I guarantee that within a few weeks, social media won’t be so intimidating anymore.  You will begin to see opportunities for how you can join in the conversation with your customers, and how certain tools might be really useful for your business.  Sure, implementing a social media program for your business will still take a lot of thought, strategy, planning, and resources to implement effectively — but it will be so much easier to embrace it and understand its value once you can experience it as a customer.