Integrity Is What A Brand Lives By … Or Not

Brand IntegrityIntegrity … a brand lives and breathes by this. Right? All (ok maybe not ALL) business owners live by their integrity as this drives who they are and how they are perceived in the marketplace. Zappos did not become the best online retailer by not living by their brand integrity. Integrity drives as it is that adherence to principles that your customers embrace and gush about. Integrity is the fuel behind the unimpaired excellence that makes customers make you the only choice and have them sit around the campfire and sing your kumbaya. Many brands but cannot achieve that ultimate brand loyalty. It is earned and when there is a challenge of that very integrity that earned the loyalty, the brand image is tarnished. Over the past year or so, we have seen a lot of brand images being tarnished and it is up to us as the consumer to say yes I am in or no no I am going elsewhere. As a HUGE fan of the NFL and of course my beloved JETS I have been challenged by the integrity of the brand that is the NFL.

The Brand of the NFL

The brand of the NFL is huge. Ok bigger than huge. It is a 9 billion dollar industry and growing.  We trust you NFL that you will bring us the best of the best each week and when you do, we buy more thus adding to your revenues. We buy tickets to the games, we fly city to city to support our team, we are so proud to wear our jerseys, sweatshirts, jackets, boxers, socks, clings on our cars … we spend our money to show our support and in return we ask you to maintain the integrity of the brand.

Integrity of the NFL Brand

NFL, we as fans ask you to maintain the integrity of the brand. You are not above any other brand, though sometimes you make us feel that way. You are not there all year round like so many other brands. You are SEASONAL. Yes, NFL, you are seasonal but yet garner more revenues than many companies can even fathom. Forget Hello, you have us with the tingle in our ears from that last whistle in the ProBowl. We are that dedicated. We watch or go to the draft and fully engulf you as we love our teams and because you, NFL bring us our team, you become a part of us. We trust that you will give us what we give to you. We can see that the integrity of the NFL brand is an umbrella as each team and everyone associated with the team has to uphold that integrity. And when our team loses we are not yelling at you umbrella NFL or we used to not … now that umbrella has been flipped! We, the fans, the ones who trusted and believed that you would uphold the integrity of the brand, are screaming at you.

Losing Brand Integrity

The NFL has lost the integrity of the brand. If we did not see this in Weeks 1 or 2, we were slapped really hard in the face on Monday Night Football in the Green Bay vs Seattle game. I recognize that there are contract disputes and each side wants and wants and there is no giving. The NFL knew for months that the contract talks were not progressing, could stale and the refs would be locked out. We as fans trusted that the contract dispute would be worked out. Like any other brand that is in a crisis, we expected them to fix it. The replacement refs were that quick fix but this band-aid seems to be made of dental floss as boy oh boy it is quite thing and is not getting the job done. You NFL have caused chaos, come at a very big price.

Do the NFL refs make a lot of money? YES! But should we care? Really, should we? Some may say we should but, I think the greater question is, is it necessary to keep the brand in tact to pay them high salaries? The NFL refs are part time. Imagine on a part time gig making about 150K – not to shabby. But we have to think about the responsibility they have and how the pressure shifts to THEM to uphold the integrity of the brand. If the refs did not bear the burden on the field to uphold the integrity of the NFL brand, there would be no discussion about the replacement refs. Actually, if this was untrue, the NFL would have crumbled years ago as there would not be many players willing to play, there would not be any fans and without players and fans, there would not be an NFL, which would trickle down to College and then HS and Pee Wee. Game over. Instead, the refs bring a high level of expertise and professionalism which keeps the players playing, the fans coming and contributes to the success of the brand. Now with the replacement refs, the NFL has lost the integrity of the brand. They, the NFL exclusively OWNS the overall brand and the integrity therein, so it was theirs to lose.

Restoring Brand Integrity

Can the NFL restore the integrity of the brand? Sure. Like in any crisis, there can be a turn around. However, a chance was missed when the NFL made their official statement and felt that the replacement refs as well as the replay refs (who are not replacements) made the right call. The NFL created more of a crisis here and while the NFL will survive this, a crater larger than the Grand Canyon has been created. While the blown call is alarming, the official statement send up more red flags than meets the eye. Losses happen but when it comes at the hands of those who could have prevented this, it becomes difficult to swallow. It makes us think what is it going to take for the NFL to realize that there is a huge crisis and it goes deeper than the integrity of the brand. Fans love our teams and our players (though sometimes we are critical of their play) but we do not love you NFL owners and commission.

The safety of the players has been compromised and, as fans, we love them more than we could ever love the overall brand of the NFL. We have to wonder what will it take for the NFL to fix this? A catastrophic injury? As much some may believe that a boycott would evoke change, it would never happen as we love our teams and would never leave our players. You see NFL we do not come for you we come for them, our players. You now have separated the players from you and, unless you fix this right now, I am not sure any crisis communications strategy will bridge the gap you have created between you and the players.

NFL, it starts with you as loyalists like me are not even on the same street as your ballpark. Houston, we have a very serious problem!

What do  you think? Can the NFL repair their brand image?

photo credit: Parker Michael Knight

Does A Brand Need To Be Remarkable To Succeed?

Keurig is remarkableDoes a brand need to be remarkable to succeed or is  “ok”  good enough? We see some businesses that are just ok and are very successful or maybe they are perceived to be successful? Maybe they are bringing in one time sales and no repeats? Or maybe they are hanging on by a string and trying to stay afloat. For some, if the cash register is ringing that is all they need as they must be doing something right if they are converting sales. However, in order to stand above the rest, we need to be remarkable. If not, we become invisible to many. That may not be a big deal when we are invisible to those that are not our target market, but when it is our target market or a segment thereof, it is a problem.

There are too many choices out there and, if we are not viewed as remarkable, we are getting lost in the shuffle. There are over 100 different types of aspirin. 100 different types. Who knew? Certainly not consumers as they have their brand/brands and the rest are ignored. That simple little (s) on the end of brand is what scares CEO’s, CMO’s and business owners. In order for a brand to remain competitive, we need to be remarkable so that consumers purchase us and only us over and over. In other words, we need brand loyalists and lots of them. This begs a 2nd question here of do we need to be remarkable to convert first/second/third time buyers into loyalists? Can we have brand ambassadors without being remarkable? I tend to think not as building brand loyalty is not easy as we know and if we are not remarkable then we run the risk of giving our competitor an opportunity to swoop on in, show our customers that they are remarkable and have our customer become loyal to them.

Being Remarkable

Being remarkable is more than a great product/service, the marketing of that product/service or the service that is associated with the product/service. While it can be a combination of it all, it is actually a bit simpler. Being remarkable is standing above all the rest by performing one thing or multiple things that much better. It also does require having the guts to be remarkable. Keurig® is remarkable as it took something that people were making & buying for years and simplified it. What was Starbucks selling – coffee. Yes but more SINGLE CUP COFFEE. What were you making at home? A POT of coffee. Starbucks told us it was not ok to make an entire pot of coffee when we really only needed a single sized cup; which of course they came in 3 sizes. Boy oh boy did change the way people drank coffee. They had consumers begging for that $5.00 cup of coffee. Keurig brought the making of coffee back home with single cup servings. Fresh as fresh can be. No more burnt coffee smell (now if we could just eliminate the smell of burnt popcorn!), no more making a pot of coffee that goes to waste or is too strong as we put in less water or too watered down as we could not get the amount of grinds and water in proper proportion. They made a cup that has the proper amount of grinds and water ratio.

How To Be Remarkable

Change the way people think. Show them that you are remarkable by changing the way they think about you. Tell them and show them that you are remarkable and when you say this/prove this over and over, people will start believing. You have changed the way they think about you while at the same time you are making them think of your competitor differently. In the example above, being remarkable was nothing more than taking something that already existed and bring it back down to simplicity and making coffee at home.  No more waiting on lines for your own single cup of fresh coffee and spending $5.00 a cup. It can be made in the privacy of your own home, at the office and even some coffee shops and oh did we mention with some of your favorite brands? Even Starbucks has realized that the K-Cups® are the now and while it is taking away from in-store single cup sales, it still brings people into their store to buy some for home, to get that morning muffin or danish. Keurig has taken over the single serve coffee market that Starbucks dominated. Remarkable. As I was finishing this post, I came across an article where Starbucks is gearing up to launch its own single-serve machine, Verismo system by Starbucks, to directly compete with Keurig. Remarkable has its downside … when it is that good, people play copy-cat.

Changing The Way People Think

What Keurig did was nothing new. They changed the way we thought. They utilized some basic fundamentals in marketing:

    1. Identified their target;
    2. Within their target, identified the ones that were willing to switch;
    3. Outside their target, identified the ones that were willing to listen; and
    4. They did something that no-one else was doing.

This allowed them to introduce their product to the market through knowing exactly whose mind they could change  and who would be their word of mouth stream.  They identified those that were willing to listen & repeat  but are not necessarily going to buy.  This segment many overlook as they are not increasing the bottom line directly however, they sometimes are the ones that make the most noise that gets more people to listen as their minds have been changed enough for them to have listened and repeat what they heard.

Brand Image In The Marketplace

You cannot change the minds of others unless you are aware of your brand image in the marketplace overall and also for your customer segments. Just because people buy from you does not always equate to a positive brand image. We buy out of convenience as was discussed with fast food purchasing. The fast food chains while do not have a bad image, they certainly are not winning any prizes with anyone in the medical field/personal training/educational systems, etc. There are more groups that if they came together collectively that would change the minds of many about fast food. If enough hear it from different places, they start to really listen and minds are changed. We feel safer/more willing to trust when we hear the same thing from various sources/resources.

Brand Reputation

Your reputation is driven my your actions and the perception of your actions. There is nothing more maddening when we see company that has employees who treat customers poorly; fail to react in a manner that is expected or justified; and/or just lose sight of their goals and their competition differentiators. Your brand reputation does directly effect the way customers think of you, your ability to change the way they think about you and also how customers will talk about you others.

1. How you respond in a crisis matters.

2. How you respond to a triumph matters.

3. How you respond to nothing matters.

Nothing? how do you react to nothing? It is that place between crisis and triumph, launch and maintenance; kind of an off-season for your brand where your presence is necessary but there is not that much company business going on to talk with consumers about.  Customer satisfaction plays a big role in your brand reputation and that leads to loyalty and also being remarkable. Customers/consumers pay attention to how they are being treated. If the red carpet is rolled out for a $1.49 purchase, we notice.  If we are met with a gum cracking, texting while screaming over us for someone else to open, we definitely are not going to feel good about that experience and that brand. Their reputation suffers every time we talk about them negatively to others. Sadly, they have sent a message that is embedded in our minds – not all customers matter.  Unfortunately, this comes at the hands of employees which no matter how much we train, stand over, remind, etc. sometimes employees fall short of consumers expectations.

In the end, being remarkable is not as difficult- unless we ourselves do not believe that our brand is remarkable. One thing that sets us a part from the rest is one message to change minds. Your image and reputation are just one piece of the remarkable pie that sets the stage for embedding a positive message in the minds of consumers that does not leave any wiggle room for them to have doubt.

Keurig® photo credit: adamdachis

Choosing Your Audience Without Apologies

choosing audience without apologies Choosing your audience without apologies is traditional advertising of tv, radio and print as these spots tend to reach the watchers of a certain show, magazine/newspaper or station and not necessarily those that would ever purchase. This holds true on the web as well with sites that have ads that reach the target market and then some who are viewers of the site but do not fit the exact target of the ad. Sure, we look at the numbers provided by the media outlets and strategically place ads based upon the demographics provided by them and see where our target is there and bam, we place and run. There is always an audience that is not the target and some may become and for others, the spot is falling on deaf ears. That is the nature of traditional advertising as regardless of how technology betters, we can never solely attract our target audience. Do we need to apologize for this? No. We have become accustomed to receiving advertising messages that are not for us. Sometimes we listen or sometimes we do not. Advertisers hope we do as they just want a return on their investment.

No Apologies

Discount retailers who are targeting a certain segment never apologize for having discount merchandise or attracting for new customers. They never apologize for not having the size scale or ample amount of merchandise that a non discounter has. They lure us in by giving us merchandise that is sold at a lesser price, which gives us more to enhance our lives in family time and enjoying the opportunity to have new things. They embrace living on a budget and exploit it. They are not trying to make the wealthy like them or dislike them, they are honing in on their target market through targeting them in the moment and creating the story for them and never apologizing for creating the “good life on a budget” story.

Bloggers do not apologize for the reach they get when their article is retweeted. Actually, we thank people for sharing. We apologize if someone does not like our writings but never apologize for the new set of eyes. If we apologize for the new audience then we are making a crucial error as our business model will be flawed. Yes, we need to map out our target market but there has to be a path to growth and expansion. Build your blog community and company by understanding and directly talking/selling to your core audience to create brand loyalty but also be mindful of the larger audience that may not know of your existence. There is no apologies needed to build a stronger business and attracting new customers to help enhance their lives. There are no apologies needed when we are gaining attention for what we believe in and want others to believe in (unless of course it is destructive in nature and sets out to cause  harm). Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ are not apologizing for attracting new people in drones. They are not apologizing to those that choose not to pay any attention to them. Why should other advertisers? Why should we have to apologize if our message is received by someone who would never buy? They make us by lashing out and we are compelled to, to protect the reputation and integrity of the blog/the company.

Creating the Apology

Creating the apology is done when when a tweet or an ad goes bad and people swarm all over it. This is more than people listening, it is where people are listening and reacting. The more popular the negativity becomes, the more attention that is given and people start listening to what you are saying in your apology. Many times this is people who may have never heard of us. This starts to snowball and while it can spiral out of control, it can also attract some new eyes and broaden your audience. No apologies here for bringing awareness so long as it has a positive outcome. When the awareness brings in negativity from the new audience and it continues to linger in the media, it can be damaging. We saw this with Ragu with saying men are incapable of cooking a family meal as that is a woman’s job. They were empowering women as the queen of the kitchen and not apologetic for dissing men who are the king of the kitchen. While we can all appreciate empowering people through advertising for them to relate to the product and the story it is telling to persuade them to buy but when it lends itself to the stereotypes, it starts to turn off certain audiences. Was this damaging enough to Ragu to hurt sales or was it just one select target market that had their attention and it was ignored by their loyal customers who championed them for supporting women with all that they do each day with work and caring for the family?  Competitors had a new target market opened up to them with those that were outraged and certainly were not apologetic to attract this new target.

Do We Ever Need To Apologize When Choosing Our Audience?

Do we need to apologize when we miss the mark? Missing the mark happens where the targeting starts to get broader and we generalize. We select certain criteria about  our target market and hit up those that meet the criteria. There is no way of ever knowing exactly if every single person we are targeting meets all the criteria so we run that risk of pissing someone off. If Hanes started inundating me with mens’ boxers emails, tweets, etc (and while I love Jordan), and I never clicked on, responded or bought, I would get annoyed. I would recognize that they are reaching out to women who would buy for their significant other and while the lil man loves his boxers,  I am not in the market for mens’. Would they need to apologize for targeting me? If I said publicly said something in a tweet I would think they would and remove me from their target list (while adding me to the boys targeting efforts) but do they really need to apologize? They generalized that women, especially of a certain age, with child(ren) would be buying for their man and they may attract new customers with this generalization. Do they need to apologize to me because while I fit MOST of their criteria, I do not fit all (in this scenario, the biggest part)? I do not think so.

When I purchased ONE Giants shirt years ago as a gift and was still getting direct mail and emails to buy more when I bought a ridiculous amount of JETS merchandise from the same company, I was concerned. How can a company continue to send out direct mail and emails that never get opened? I suppose that this is a topic for another post but for right now, do they need to apologize for clogging up my email or my mailbox? I purchased an item so I was added to their targeted list. They had no idea that I would not buy more Giants merchandise. But year after year when the emails went  unopened and offers in direct mail never were acted upon, they should have gotten the hint. Did they need to apologize? No. They just needed to review the information better. This is being lazy and growing the numbers and not paying attention to the buying habits. Maybe they need to apologize for that. Hmh. That would be something. If a company came out and issued a formal apology for not paying attention to the buying habits of people and continued to email them as if they were a regular buying customer (and not creating marketing messages geared to decrease attrition). In other words, we were lazy and did not pay attention and we will improve that. Interesting concept and again probably best flushed out in another post.

When we are targeting with intent to expand upon our audience and improve customer conversion we do not need to apologize unless we offend an entire group. Mistakes happen. Outside of a bad mistake, we are targeting and reaching them to let them know we exist. We are trying to create awareness and the potential customers’ story by identifying the opportunity to buy and fulfill a need or want. It is right here in front of them with the underlying message to trust and act now and buy. Again no apologies for that. It is business and they key word in the headline is choosing. We do have a choice to target them or not.

Thoughts? Do we ever need to apologize for choosing our audience?

photo credit: Arenamontanus

Brand Loyalty or Loyalty to the Rewards?



brand loyalty or loyalty to the rewardsBrand loyalty it is what brands try and build with each customer or even before they become a customer. The ad copy, the branding, the packaging, the commercials are all set to speak to the buyer to create the emotional connection of need. You need to buy this brand because it does this or buy this one over that one because this one does this and that one does not. The buyer has hear, listen and react to the message and understand the differentiators and choose the one that best fits their needs.The brands themselves are branding their brand through creating the need but the consumers are choosing the brands that best fulfill their needs. Diapers, we may recall Pampers but yet find that Huggies fulfill the needs and is a better or more practical choice for us. We may prefer Pampers but Huggies does the job just fine. Think of making a grocery list where we write down that we need salad dressing, ketchup, cereal, we go to the product itself and not the brand name. However, most times as we are writing, we know what brands we will be bringing home. We do not need to write down Heinz ketchup as we know we are buying Heinz so ketchup suffices. As a  consumer, you are buying them and thinking only of them but why? Is it because that is what you always buy or is it driven by some sort of reward?

Brand Loyalty

Consumers that are loyal to a brand do not see any other on the shelf; there is no attention paid to the other brands pricing, packaging, location or advances to try and lure them away. Those that are brand loyal know that they were and still are being targeted with messages and pay close attention to the details. We know pricing of the brand we purchase, and, while different stores may vary on the pricing we know that over time it all evens out. As a brand there is a two fold of loyalty here (when carried at a local retailer and not their own exclusive shop) as there is loyalty to the retailer as well as the brand. As brand loyalists, we know the quality of the product or service and we feel we are receiving the ultimate value as even if the “other” brand is discounted by the retailer this week we will still make that sacrifice and pay just a little bit more than usual for our brand. We will not stray and be a brand switcher.

Loyalty to the Rewards

As consumers we cannot ignore the rewards and discounts. The door buster sales, the buy one get one, the three for X dollars. The sale items are merchandised so that we see them on the end caps of stores, the front display, the extra $.25 in the coupon that the retailer will double. We are inundated with these specials and discounts. The reward of receiving the coupon, for some keeps them loyal by making them come and buy. What happens when the rewards stop coming. Do they still buy? Do they always buy when you extend the reward? Depends on how the reward is presented and the attention given to it. Did we know that we needed before the reward was introduced to us or did the reward create the urgent need within us? Reward based loyalty is not new as casinos have built entire programs around rewarding customers for spending money at their establishment. the more they gamble, the more points and rewards they earn. This benefits they receive from losing money act as a buffer and a change of mindset as the focus is off of the loss and on what they are getting for free.  The same concept applies when we receive a 30% off coupon or see an ad on tv for up to 80% off. We forget that we are spending money to receive the reward.

Brand Loyalty vs Loyalty to the Rewards

As a brand that is relying upon retailers to sell their product, it is hard to tell if people are brand loyal or loyal to the reward. If sales are spiked during a promotion like the Superbowl or a seasonal event like the kickoff to summer and the BBQ season, we cannot look at that as brand loyalty for all buyers. Some are buyers all year round of chips, salsa, beer, hot dogs, hamburgers, buns, condiments, etc. We can better gauge brand loyalty for stand alone retailers who can track sale for sale their customer buying habits. In casinos, we can see habits of gamblers where they come in for certain promotions where they can earn double the points or for a big giveaway. The casinos know that their gamblers are choosing them this week but the very next week or even the next day, they are headed off to the casino down the road for their rewards. Free or the thought of winning matters and drives them. This is not loyalty to the brand, it is loyalty to the reward.

True brand loyalists will purchase regardless of the reward. The reward is an added benefit. If Diet Pepsi is not on sale at my grocery store, I may only indulge in one sleeve and when I have to make a mid week trip for something I either ran out of or forgot to put on the list, I will head over to the other grocery store to see their special on Diet Pepsi. Diet Coke is not an alternative. I will spend a bit more for a 12 pack or do without before I buy Diet Coke. Coca Cola could give me a 12 pack for free and I will donate it before I drink it. I am that loyal to Diet Pepsi. This is loyalty to the brand and not the reward.

Are your customers loyal to you or the reward? Or is it something completely different where they continue to purchase from you or refer you because the presumed risk of trying them is too high? This is something that we need to look at when we are considering discounting, targeting and how we interact with our customers. Are people only purchasing due to the feeling like they are receiving something back? If your prices are lowered by 20% will that pull the trigger and make them buy? For reward loyalists, you can raise your prices 50% and then discount 20% and they will buy whereas the loyalist will be willing to pay the 50% spike.

Again, can you readily identify those that are loyal to you or the reward?

photo credit: Travel 2.0