Guest Post: 3 Things Marketers Need To Do Now

August 20, 2009

This is the 2nd in a series of periodic guest posts. Susan Kanefield Lauinger is a senior marketing executive, strategist and brand consultant with L’Oreal, Philip Morris and American Express.

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August, 2008:   Do you remember what you were doing this time last year?  You may remember gas prices going up, you may have heard of a friend of a friend who had been laid off from his job, but overall, things in the U.S. were pretty good. 

September, 2008:   Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy.  AIG requires a bailout.  Stocks plummet.

Flash forward to August, 2009:   The fallout from the economic crisis has touched every corner of the U.S., causing a significant shift in consumer confidence and a sea-level change in the way consumers think about their spending and consumption habits.  

Marketers -- What Do I Do Now ?

Marketers -- What Do I Do Now ?

What Should Marketers be Doing Now to Rebuild Consumer Confidence?

1.  Keep the Conversation Going — As the economy suffers and budgets shrink, it is tempting to look to marketing dollars for quick cuts.  However, brands that go dark risk playing into the fear and uncertainty that consumers are feeling.  In fact, Harvard Business School professor John Quelch stresses that a recession is the time to maintain, not cut, marketing spending.  He writes:

“It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times. Uncertain consumers need the reassurance of known brands…”  (Read a summary of John’s article here).

2.  Remember the Basics:  In these tough economic times, there is a driving consumer need to get back to the fundamentals.  Consumers are hunkering down to weather the financial storm and are looking to their brands to reflect that new focus on things like price, value, family and stability.  

Kraft Foods, for example, has added a “Budget Wi$e” section to its website, highlighting tips for feeding your family while watching your spending.  One tab of this section called  “Why Snackrifice?”  highlights snacks you can feed your family “for about a dollar.” 

Kraft -- Focusing on Value with Snackrifice

Kraft -- Focusing on Value with Snackrifice

Kraft has also focused its product advertising on value messages.  For example, their advertising shows the difference between the cost of a DiGiorno frozen pizza and a restaurant pizza, or the lower cost of Kool-Aid vs. soft drinks. 

Allstate is another brand that has done a good job of reflecting this shift in consumer focus with its “Back To Basics” campaign.  The Allstate advertising talks about the brand’s experience managing through recessions and their understanding of what consumers need “after the fear subsides.” You can read more about this campaign here.

Allstate -- Focusing on the Basics in a Crisis

Allstate -- Focusing on the Basics in a Crisis

 3.  Think About the Future —  Although the pressure is on brands to cut spending, raise prices and retrench in these tough times, the smartest brands will be looking to the future and laying the groundwork for the next 6, 12 and 18 months.  Brands that have held fast during the recession and who are actively planning for the future will have a distinct advantage over brands who will be trying to reboot their consumer relationships in the coming months.

Keep the conversation going, remember the basics, think about the future — these are good maxims for success in any environment. But in the current hyper-charged environment where fear, uncertainty and budget conscious actions dominate, they are especially important lessons for Marketers in any business.

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Susan Kanefield Lauinger  is a senior marketing executive, strategist and brand consultant with deep experience in health & beauty, tobacco, and financial services with companies including Helene Curtis, L’Oreal, Philip Morris and American Express.  Susan holds an M.B.A. from Kellogg and a dual B.S./B.A. in Economics and Communications from Wharton/The University of Pennsylvania.


What’s Wrong with Word of Mouth Marketing

August 17, 2009

It’s common knowledge that word of mouth (WOM) by people you know is the most effective advertising. Research corroborates this:

Word of Mouth -- High Impact But Low Spending: Why ?
Word of Mouth — High Impact But Low Spending: Why ?

Yet, most Marketing organizations don’t behave as if it’s very important. According to PQ Media, 2008 WOM spending was $1.7B, +10% over the previous year. Estimated U.S. Marketing spending ranges from ~$500B all the way up to $1 trillion; WOM represents only 2-4% of total spend. So, why the impact vs. spending disparity ?  The answer, I think, is two-fold:

  • Word of mouth remains a black box for most Marketers — it’s really hard to figure out and even harder to do well.
  • It hasn’t been easily scalable–either within a persons social network or beyond.

Word of Mouth vs. Viral Marketing

Some people differentiate between WOM and viral. WOM is described as one to few, viral as one to many; as well, viral includes sharing and resharing–usually via the web. I think this distinction is largely false as WOM can become viral–e.g. the recent United Airlines guitar video (4.9M views).

Word Of Mouth Marketing
Word Of Mouth Marketing

WOM should build your brand. The mainstream media love to report on highly creative viral videos–e.g. the T-Mobile sing-a-long in Trafalgar Square, etc. These videos do generate incredible amounts of viewing, but are they really building the brand ? Do they engage consumers to better understand how and why the brand is better than alternatives ?

Word Of Mouth — More Scalable in Two Directions

WOM is changing as the web enables two simultaneous phenomenon:

  • Vertical Scalability – The web continues to enable new ways for consumers to share information  both within their social circle and beyond. Sharing opinions and ideas through blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Social Networking sites, etc. has vastly increased the scalability of WOM, as one person can now reach most people within their social network instantly and of course, people well beyond.
  • Horizontal Scalability – The rise of social networks and OpenID, Facebook Connect and similar services will enable personal network portability. This means that friends and families–and their opinions–will be able to flow with consumers as they traverse the web and interact with products and services. So, WOM from your social network will now become available in places it wasn’t before.

Basic Elements of Word of Mouth

Given the rising importance of WOM, how can you harness this powerful opportunity for your brand ?

1) Define Who’s Talking – Within your brand users, there’s almost always a group of 10-15% of users who are “amplifiers.” These consumers have unusually large social networks and form part of their self-identity from sharing new information with friends and family. Similarly, there are important non-users who need to be identified as well — bloggers, heavy Twitter users, etc. who can disproportionately impact your brand.

2) Define What They’re Talking About — Amplifiers don’t just randomly talk about your brand. In fact, they tend not to talk about your core mainstream messaging. Why ? Because everyone already knows about it; they get no psychic reward because there’s nothing new. They tend to talk about and share things that are important to them and also new and surprising about your brand–positively or negatively. Conduct research among amplifiers to understand the main themes they are talking about.

3) Determine Which Mediums They’re Using – Where are amplifiers talking about or sharing your brand ? Off-line in casual conversations ? On-line via Facebook ? Understanding which mediums amplifiers are using to talk about your brand gives you insight into how to facilitate or enable these conversations. Do research to find out.

4) Understand What Receivers Are Doing Next – Understanding receivers is just as important as understanding amplifiers. Without a receiver there’s no WOM. Most important is to understand what receivers do after hearing a theme. Do they visit the store ? Search on line ? Visit the web site ? Consult another friend ? Share via Twitter ?

5) Test and Qualify WOM Stimuli — If we know who is sharing, what they’re talking about, in which channels, and what receivers are doing after the conversation, then what ? Using WOM themes, develop a range of stimuli — e.g. customer experience “moments of truth,” white paper/special user content, tips/how-to’s, personalized web micro-sites, etc. to help drive accelerated word of mouth. Run a small test versus control. Did you get more people to talk or share your stimuli ? What did listeners do afterwards ? Did you build your brand equities ? Increase consideration and purchase of your brand ? Which stimuli worked best ?

WOM is hard work. Like most Marketing, it starts with really understanding your consumer. But the consumer understanding work is not well understood. And WOM is even harder to drive in a systematic and disciplined way. As WOM becomes more important, it becomes increasingly important for Marketing organizations to increase their WOM capabilities and most have a long way to go. What’s your Marketing organizations WOM IQ ?

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6 Steps for Turning Digital Chaos into Brand Equity

July 23, 2009

From my July 21 guest post on Branding Strategy Insider:

The marketing landscape is increasingly chaotic and getting more so. The old world of command and control marketing messaging is dead. And marketers are woefully unprepared to deal with this new reality. In a recent survey, over 70% of CMO’s surveyed said they feel ill-equipped to manage their brands in this new digital environment.

The explosion in new media channels, and the increasing ease with which consumers can react to, create content about, and generally discuss brands is challenging even the best marketers. How do you manage your brand in such a chaotic consumer empowered world ? How do you ensure that consumers understand your brand equity and that you drive a single minded understanding of your brand promise ?

Explosion of Media Channels

Media channels — paid and otherwise – are increasing exponentially. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, webinars, forums, reviews, etc. are only the beginning. Everyday brings new options. Who had ever heard of Stumble Upon a year ago ? Consumers ability to access these new channels, engage with other consumers, and talk back to companies has radically changed how Marketing organizations need to behave. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The Social Map below by Brian Solis shows how many different options there are–and the pace of change is fast.

The Increasingly Chaotic Digital Landscape (courtesy of Brian Solis)

The Increasingly Chaotic Digital Landscape (courtesy of Brian Solis)

6 Steps for Turning Digital Chaos into Brand Equity

Here are 6 steps you can take to ensure your brand effectively engages consumers with your brand promise in this increasingly complex and chaotic environment:

  1. Be Different, Special and Better — Let’s start with a basic truth. Your brand equity is what consumers think it is–not what you think it is. Unfortunately, too many brands have brand equities that are identical to competitors. So, the starting point is to have a brand promise, and delivery of it, that is truly differentiated–a basic truth too often ignored in today’s frenzied world of media and digital innovation.
  2. Know Your Target’s Media Habits – Consumers consume media content differently. Know your targets media habits–traditional and new, and don’t be seduced by the latest media innovation if your target isn’t participating. Map their usage. Then, listen to the communities that are conversing about your brand, understand their priorities and beliefs, and identify respected opinion leaders.
  3. Measure Marketing Contact Point Impact – Understand not just what your target is doing, but the impact of different contact points.  Quantifying the relative impact of contact points provides a data-based framework for deciding where to focus your limited resources. Word of mouth has always been important, and digital is making it even more so. Thus, it’s critical to identify your categories “amplifiers” who drive it.
  4. Equip Your Organization to Deliver the Brand Promise – Knowing your brands key contact points, you can then map organizational ownership to each of these. Many “old line” functions are being impacted by new media–e.g. PR, Customer Service, etc. Ensure that they — not just Marketing — really understand your brand promise, what it means, and how to deliver it.
  5. Organize your Team to Engage Key Media Channels / Amplifiers — Establish teams to engage with consumers across your most important digital channels. Equip them with the talent and skills to publish, respond, and engage–whatever is required to focus the discussion on your key brand equities.
  6. Create Value-Added Content — Consumers want more from brands than just a restatement of the brand promise. They want relevant and creative content that surrounds and supports it. Sometimes, they even want to create it. Do your homework to understand what kind of content your consumer wants, whether and how they can contribute, and how it can support and reinforce your brand promise.

Reactive, Proactive or Engaging ?

It’s natural to feel that some of your Marketing communications are reactive and some are proactive. But engaging your target audience over time in an intelligent dialogue that drives your brand promise is key:

  • Lead with your brand promise in new and creative ways. Engage with consumers to interpret it based on their values and needs.
  • Give consumers a voice about your brand and brand promise by enabling feedback, comments and user generated content.
  • Guide consumers back to your brand promise, even when they have a negative experience or point of view. Ask “how could we do better?”
  • Use value-added content that surrounds and supports your brand promise to make it easier to engage consumers.

The key point is this: focus your limited resources. Focus on the most impactful, highest consumption media channels. Focus on building relevant, value-added content to surround and support your brand promise. And then focus your organization on engaging with your consumers across the key media channels in a conversation that continues to reinforce, develop and deepen your brand promise. Why ? So that when consumers think of your brand, they think of one thing — how you’re different, better and more special than the other guys.

What is your brand doing to turn digital chaos into brand equity ?

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Will Pruning Your Business Build Your Brand ?

July 20, 2009

Nothing is more sacrosanct in Marketing than never giving up a customer. But is keeping all of your customers always the best way to build your brand? Here’s a possibly controversial view:  in the future it will become even more important to gracefully remove dissatisfied customers from your franchise–and this will be key to maintaining a healthy and growing brand.

Build Your Brand by Pruning Low Value Customers (visual courtesy of AdWeek)

Build Your Brand by Pruning Low Value Customers (visual courtesy of AdWeek)

This is because “recommendations from known people” is the most powerful form of advertising, and your detractors are likely hurting your brand more than you think. And as my recent blog post “How the Future Social Web will Transform Marketing” pointed out, word of mouth from friends will become vastly more important in the future.

Are all Customers Equal in Value ?

Not all customers are equally satisfied. Whether you’re using standard satisfaction metrics or Net Promoter Score, a customer satisfaction metric popularized by Fred Reichold in his book ‘The Ultimate Question,” it’s important to not just look at overall satisfaction, but to understand differences in customer satisfaction across products, channels, customer groups, acquisition channels, etc. to identify potential problem areas.

Net Promoter Scores -- Identifying High and Low Value Customers

Net Promoter Scores -- Identifying High and Low Value Customers

Customers are also not equal in economic value. Some are more valuable and some are less. Measuring the profitability or life-time value (LTV) of a customer is a complex, but important marketing metric.

Customer Lifetime Value -- Some Customers Are Unprofitable (courtesy of Pear Analytics)

Customer Lifetime Value -- Some Customers Are Unprofitable (courtesy of Pear Analytics)

Not surprisingly, customer satisfaction and lifetime value are related. More satisfied customers are generally more loyal, more willing to pay a higher price, less likely to switch brands based on promotions and price deals, and are more likely to generate positive word of mouth that positively benefits your brand. Conversely, less satisfied customers are likely to generate negative word of mouth. This is critically important because “recommendations from people known” is the single most trusted form of advertising based on a recent Nielsen study.

Building Trust -- Recommendations From Friends Count Most

Building Trust -- Recommendations From Friends Count Most

Measuring your various customer groups on satisfaction and customer profitability is the starting point for understanding whether pruning customers will build your brand. Slice your data to identify groups of customers with low satisfaction and/or profitability, understand why, and then determine whether the problem is economically solvable. If not, you have to ask whether it makes sense to prune the customers.

“De-Recommending” Your Brand

Because if you don’t, dissatisfied customers will be “de-recommending” your brand and eroding your hard earned brand equity. Research has shown that only about 5% of customers will complain, but of the balance 95% that don’t, they’ll not only remain dissatisfied but also tell an average of 9-10 people each about their poor experience. They are, in Net Promoter terms, brand detractors that hurt your brand.

 Examples Where Pruning Could Make Sense

  • Channel Experience – Customer satisfaction by channel — web, phone, retail, etc. is often significantly different. Should you shut down a channel ?
  • Product Variant – Product satisfaction frequently differs by product variant, with some variants having much lower satisfaction. Should you eliminate a product or product line ?
  • Acquisition Channel– Some acquisition vehicles deliver lower satisfaction and lower profit customers than others. Should you de-emphasize an acquisition channel or tactic ?

Gracefully cutting business lines and exiting dissatisfied and vocal customers from your franchise in these and other similar situations is important to building your brand. Why? Because exiting dissatisfied, low value customers will reduce negative word of mouth, improve your average satisfaction, and improve profitability. And not doing so will become ever more risky as the future social web enables customers to bring the opinions of their friends with them as they traverse the web and interact with products and services like yours.

Are you bold enough to build your brand by pruning your business ?


Should Your Brand Focus on “Energy” To Drive Growth ?

July 7, 2009

What if I told you that one of your core beliefs about brand equity is wrong? If you’re like me, you were trained to believe that as a brand manager, you should define your key brand equities, develop marketing programs to communicate these to consumers, and over time, “own” these attributes. If you believe that, you’d be right, but not totally so. It seems there’s a special kind of equity your brand needs to own these days. And one that very few brands understand, much less drive.

Brand Market Value vs. Brand Consumer Value

In recent years, brand value has climbed inexorably higher, as measured by Millward Brown’s Brand Z Most Powerful Brands and others. Using the Millward Brown data, brand value climbed from 5% to 30% of the S&P market cap over the past 30 years. Brand experts cheered; it was an implicit endorsement of the great brand building efforts across companies.

Brand Market Values Rising vs. Consumer Brand Equities Falling -- A Brand Bubble ?

Brand Market Values Rising vs. Consumer Brand Equities Falling -- A Brand Bubble ?

But, a curious thing was happening. Brand equity measures, as measured by consumers, were falling.  Traditional measures such as awareness, trust, etc., were eroding based on surveys by Y&R Brand Asset Valuator (BAV). How could this be? How could market driven brand values be going up, while consumer driven brand equity scores were going down?

Causes of Declining Brand Equity

John Gerzema and Ed Lebar of Y&R think they know the answer. The markets were wrong. Brands and branding are in a serious state of disrepair. In their excellent and well researched book, “The Brand Bubble,” they cite the following for the deteriorating health of brands. They are declining because of:

  • Excess Capacity– There’s been an explosion of choice. Consumers are drowning in more products and services than ever. There is less differentiation and greater commoditization.
  • Lack of Creativity – With more choices, consumers increasingly look for creativity and unique experiences from brands. Yet most brands today are highly similar, and deliver modest incremental improvements.
  • Declining Trust – Brands considered trustworthy have eroded from 52% in 2007 to 25% in 2006. Why? Public scandals, corporate misdeeds and institutional crises. Perhaps more important is transparency of information on the web—no brand can hide or say things not consistent with reality – authenticity counts.

You may or may not agree with these causes. What seems inarguable is this – key brand equity measures have generally declined over the past 20 years.

Growing and Successful Brands

There is a small minority of brands that are growing both market brand value and consumer brand equities. Companies as disparate as Google, Subway, Lego, Dove and Axe have shown it can be done. When Gerzema and Lebar searched the data to understand what was driving this growth, they identified a new factor – “brand energy.” They describe energy as “the consumer perception of motion and direction in a brand.” They describe brands with energy as being irresistible and differentiated because they:

  • Move with innate purpose and conviction
  • Constantly reinvent themselves
  • Engage consumers on their own terms
  • Compel devotion
  • Move culture and categories

Branding Implications – From Current to Future

What’s interesting about their learning is the following: it refocuses marketing from what the brand currently delivers—a static state–to where the brand is going. Motion and direction mean the brand is going somewhere. Consumers want to be with brands that are on a compelling journey. They want brands that:

  • Create a sense of mission. Dove is about redefining beauty.
  • Continually surprise and delight them with new products and services. The iPhone and apps.
  • Engage them in a conversation, not talk at them. Subway’s fresh, healthy tips for parents.
  • Creatively use new communication channels. Best Buy people on Twitter.

These are behaviors consumers expect from great brands—now and in the future. There’s an implicit “contract” these brands have with consumers that says: we will be dynamic and ever changing in meeting your needs. And the brand is as much about the future as it is about the present.

This change in orientation from the current to the future is a huge mindset change for most Marketing organizations. Going forward, brands will still need to stand for important functional and emotional equities – bigger, faster, better, etc. What’s different is that to be successful, brands will need to spend an equal amount of time and effort communicating and delivering what they’ll be in the future. Because the most successful brands will provide energy–direction and motion that helps take consumers forward to where they want to go—not just stay where they are.

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