Brand Evolution

One of the key challenges facing Marketers is how to ‘create’ brands, and consequently how to build ‘value’ in those brands over time. Yet a brand doesn’t merely come into being. It must ‘evolve’ through stages in a process developing from a ‘Concept’, becoming a ‘Product’ and eventually reaching the status of a ‘Brand’. But it shouldn’t necessarily stop there. A number of brands have moved to higher levels of existence where their scope and influence exceed that of their original intent, appealing to new audiences and moving into new markets; these can be defined as ‘Franchises’. Franchises reflect the commercial scope of a brand, yet there is a higher echelon, one where the brand’s role defines everything that an organisation believes, does and will do, where brand and culture merge to create an all pervasive ‘Vibe’. V4PJ695SSF6Z

The ‘Concept’ is the original idea that has been formed, yet it cannot be considered a ‘Product’ until it is positioned to a market, i.e. a ‘Product’ is anything that is offered to a market for attention, acquisition, use or consumption that might satisfy a need or want. The dividing line between a concept and product is therefore the market interface.

A product is not by right a ‘Brand’, merely because it has been given a name and identity. This is often an aspect of uncertainty and misunderstanding. Many organisations have adopted product or brand marketing teams; to many this is merely a case of semantics, yet there are significant differences in managing a ‘Product’ versus a ‘Brand’ which need to be taken into consideration if those products or brands are to develop and grow. A ‘Brand’ is the promise of a future action or experience that, when kept, creates preference in customers minds. The essence here is that a brand is a promise. It is based on previous experience and thereby necessitates an awareness and understanding by the brand owner of what constitutes that promise: the elements that are expected by the customer to be present in whatever version or form that brand takes. A brand can be leveraged across different channels and products as long as it retains its core equity. Products can have sequels, but it is not until the ongoing promise to the customer has been established that the product, or set of products, can be construed as a brand.

So where does that leave the ‘Franchise’? The fundamental question here is: what’s the difference between a ‘Brand’ and a ‘Franchise’? The two aren’t mutually exclusive – a franchise is a form of brand. A ‘Franchise’ is a service or offering that has already been successful which enters into a continuing relationship with the customer. It is this relationship, rather than just a promise, which differentiates the franchise from brands which haven’t yet reached this commitment in customers’ minds. The relationship dictates a presence for customers that, if absent, would be missed. Franchises are therefore more entwined in customers’ lives.

The model is not a way of ‘pigeon-holing’ properties; it should be thought of as a continuum with some products being closer to becoming brands than others and some brands closer to franchises. More important than the definitions themselves is how do owners move their property between each level – this framework allows us to consider the progressions between each strata, i.e. how do you turn concepts into products, products into brands, and brands into franchises. By looking at the change processes we can develop strategies and tactics to progress a property up the hierarchy and thereby increase its value.

Not every concept will or should eventually become a product; not every product will or should become a brand; not every brand will or should become a franchise. The important consideration for property owners is to create and maintain a balanced portfolio. The danger for brands and franchises in creatively driven industries is for that creativity to wear-out. We’ve seen time and again where brands have become too formulaic in their execution resulting in the overall customer experience being lost through a lack of creativity. It is the responsibility of brand and franchise owners to constantly reinvigorate and reinvent the customer experience, whilst maintaining the core essences that maintain the brand or franchise promise. This is easier said than done. Yet understanding the characteristics, behaviour and transitions of each level in the evolutionary process will help property owners to marry their creative talents with meaningful consumer insight and direction to create innovative, customer demanded concepts, products, brands and ultimately franchises.

There are a multitude of examples of companies who own stables of brands and franchises. But there are a small few companies where the brand has reached such a level of meaning that it defines the company’s existence and forms the beliefs, culture and attitudes of every employee. Apple, Pixar, Virgin, and the BBC are examples where the ‘Brand’ has become a ‘Vibe’. Not only is the franchise relationship a customer-facing external one, the relationship has internalised to define the culture, attitudes and approach to work for all employees. Employees buy into and live the ‘Vibe’ throughout their working lives. A vibe can evolve, as with the BBC, but it can also be created. This must be done from the top down, with inspirational leadership defining not only the ‘values’ of the brand, but also the attitudes and cultural references, i.e. the vibe.

Every brand cannot become an Apple, Pixar or Virgin. But even those brands started somewhere…as concepts.

Beyond The Funnel: The Marketing Hourglass

The Marketing Funnel, Sales Funnel or Adoption Funnel, as the concept is commonly referred to, is one of the core marketing models used by companies and consultants to outline the progression of potential customers from first contact with a product or brand through ultimately to purchase. It provides a picture of how customers can be segmented into different stages as they move along a journey, directed by marketing and/or in-product messaging, to create the desired action, i.e. making a purchase or subscribing to a service. However, product adoption can be extended further to a point where the customer actually ‘markets’ on the product or brands behalf; i.e. they become advocates or evangelists who proactively spread marketing’s most valuable asset of all: word-of-mouth. The traditional ‘funnel’ therefore doesn’t illustrate the complete journey of a customer. An ‘hourglass’ model would be more appropriate; where the action of purchase / sign-up is merely the central point, and the progression of the customer extends beyond the funnel through additional stages of engagement with the product to ultimately become advocates / evangelists.

The model below defines this progression and provides a concept for how marketers can migrate potential and active customers through their levels of engagement. The benefits for the marketer are to firstly define the characteristics of customers at each level, and then to understand the processes involved in moving between each level. In this respect marketing strategies and tactics can be developed to ‘manage’ the customer through their journey in order to maximise their experience, value and engagement.

Brand Flux and the 5th ‘P’ of Marketing

The historic definition of a brand was one of consistency. The basic premise of what constituted a “brand” was the constant repetition of messages and behaviour to form a promise of future behaviour in the mind of the consumer. The limited media channels available and negligible opportunities for customer feedback or interaction meant that the brand owner retained control over the brand’s definition and, to a large extent, how it was received and interpreted by it’s intended audience.

The world has changed. Brands are now defined by flux. In a sea of noise emanating from an ever-increasing array of voices – brand owners, media commentators, retailers, and especially consumers – the brand has to create relationships with a multitude of parties to form values that have resonance beyond a mere promise of future behaviour. Brands define who you are, what you stand for, and increasingly, how you engage with others.

Brand Flux has ceded control of a brand’s definition to the audience. Marketers cannot dictate exactly how a message is presented and in what channels, especially in the social media sphere. It is now a question of cultivating a brand via networks of multi-dimensional dialogue.

If the definition of a brand has changed, so has the definition of Marketing. Every Marketing course starts with the 4 P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion – I suggest that we add a 5th, Propagation. This extends beyond Promotion to a deeper and more subtle engagement with the consumer, one where you’re not actually ‘Marketing’ to them at all. Propagation is the process of disseminating brand messages and values to an increasing number of individuals by natural reproduction. It is the process of turning the audience into the medium.

South Africa 2010: The Social World Cup

It’s interesting how you can chart the progress of new media by its application to World Cups:

Japan / Korea 2002 was the ‘Internet’ World Cup
Germany 2006 was the ‘Mobile’ World Cup
South Africa 2010 should be the ‘Social’ World Cup

But will this year’s event deliver on that promise or will the social media experience of the World Cup be left wanting? As football is one of the most socially engaging subjects there is, it’s funny how historically it hasn’t seemed to have taken the social net by storm. Sure, football is mentioned in all the usual places, yet somehow you feel that it should be bigger, more widespread, more vocal.

So is this World Cup the tipping point to usher in a new age of football fanaticism throughout the online social world? And how are brands – especially the big players – using social media to engage with fans? Again, as a fervent football fan maybe I’m missing something, but I’m just not feeling it. We’ve got the expected bombardment of tournament guides and alerts, but I was wanting so much more…for brands to think outside the box and use social media to take interaction and engagement with the World Cup to new levels.

I guess my main criticism is that the majority of the campaign mechanics being used feel ‘obvious’. Sure, they’re brilliantly executed, have presence across the key social networks, and are supported with considerable PR and paid marketing, but it all feels like it’s been seen before. Coke’s ‘Goal Celebration’, Budweiser’s ‘Bud House’, McDonald’s ‘Ultimate Fan’, Pringle’s ‘Dance To Victory’, Nike’s ‘Write The Future’…big money campaigns where the central mechanic is very formulaic and tries to tap into social media by merely having a Facebook page. For me these are symptomatic of the wider problem of brands’ approaches to social media – that it’s just seen as a tactical add-on to the marketing mix rather than a fundamental change in the definition of the term ‘ marketing’.

With the amount of money being spent by brands to gain exposure and association with this World Cup, it’s dissappointing that there aren’t more creative and impactful activities being implemented. But maybe that’s the point. With so much money at play and the media environment dominated by the major brands, creativity is being dampened.

Video Killed The Marketing Star

It’s amazing to think that YouTube has been in existence for 5 years – it feels like forever, but in Internet terms, I guess it is. To highlight this anniversary, YouTube announced on their official blog that they’d passed the 2 billion views a day mark, an astounding figure which goes to highlight the demand for video content online.

This fact hasn’t escaped the Marketing community, who are readily jumping on the bandwagon of the latest phenomenon in online promotion. Not that online video content is a new thing of course, yet advances in streaming and serving technologies have enabled greater access, quality and manipulation of content to finally meet the needs of Marketers and demands of the audience. 2010 is set to be the tipping point in the evolution of online video for Marketing, and yet many companies, brands and Marketers lack the appropriate strategic consideration of their online video presence. Online video neither fits the historic model of TV advertising, nor is it merely an extension of online display. In effect it is a combination of the two, a blend of TV audience planning with the analytics, targeting, optimisation and interactivity of online.

As with all digital marketing components, video must be considered in the context of the wider online and offline marketing mix. Although hugely powerful tactically in it’s own right, online video compliments and integrates with other elements of the mix to amplify and extend brand messaging and attributes. As such, it is important to develop a strategic approach to online video which underpins the brand objectives and overall marketing strategy.

Content

Merely putting an existing TV ad online doesn’t really cut it – unless you’re Nike of course! Online video content has to be compelling for the intended audience and appropriate to the contextual environment. There is a vast array of creative forms that online video content can take, many of which have been used by brands in the past and many, I’m sure, are still to be conceived by Marketers and Creatives in the future. Variety is also king…using a number of creative approaches enhances standout, engagement and resonance. As Marketers we need to ask:
- Who is the audience that the piece is talking to?
- What is the response that we’re looking for? What actions do we want the audience to take?
- What are the messages and emotions that need to be conveyed?
- How does the piece generate impact with the target audience?
- What do they consider entertaining / informative?
- What is the ‘value’ transaction being delivered in exchange for the audience viewing the piece?

A fantastic recent example of a piece of online video creative which ticks all the boxes is the ‘Walk On Water – Liquid Mountaineering‘ video, purportedly from Hi-Tec. This has a clear audience in mind, engages that audience with a compelling subject and dilemma – is it real or are they faking it?, delivers a succinct product message, yet does so without ‘marketing’ to the viewer.

The delivery quality of the online video should also be carefully considered. Different sites, units and serving solutions have different quality thresholds. Depending on the values of the product or brand, the nature of the video content itself, and the needs / expectations of the target audience, the Marketer must decide what their requirements are in terms of the final quality of the video being presented to the viewer. For example, in the context of a high-end video game, where graphical quality is a primary driver of overall product quality and demand, it is imperative to use the highest quality video presentation possible to present the game, often excluding advertising and distribution formats or outlets that would otherwise be included within the media plan. However, the home-video documentary style of the Liquid Mountaineering example above dictates that production quality is less relevant.

Distribution

The raison d’être for online video content is to be viewed – simple. As much emphasis should therefore be paid to the distribution of video content as to it’s creation. The are 2 approaches to the distribution of online video content: push and pull, or to put it another way: video dissemination or video attraction. Both can and should work in tandem to build a swell of demand and anticipation for a brand’s content.

Dissemination entails the more traditional practice of push marketing – proactively displaying video content in an outbound fashion to the target audience. It is disruptive marketing, where the objective is to interrupt and create impact. It’s fair to say that push / outbound marketing has received a bad press with the onset of Web 2.0, but this shouldn’t be the case. It still has a role to play in a Marketer’s arsenal, and the unison of ‘push’ and Web 2.0 ‘pull’ offers an effective and efficient strategy for engaging with the consumer in a 360° manner. In the context of online video, there are a number of tools available for the dissemination of content: video display units, pre- / mid- / post-roll, online TV, on-demand players, email, etc. These can either be viewed as the sole source of generating direct views, or as a means of ‘seeding’ views to build a snowball effect fwith users disseminating the content to other users in a viral fashion. Ultimately, dissemination is about getting your video content onto users’ personal online ‘hubs’ – be that their Facebook or MySpace homepages, YouTube channels, blogs, etc. – so that user is marketing the content on your behalf.

According to online video advertising delivery provider Telemetry, 30% of intended video ad impressions called into banner positions may never be seen by the user due to planning / delivery irregularities or issues with reporting. This makes us question a) the level of service being provided by media agencies and ad servers, and b) the relevance of metrics currently being used by Marketers to track and optimise their campaigns. Standard online measures such as impressions, clicks or rollovers aren’t sufficient to accommodate the growing volume and complexity of online video advertising. A further level of tracking is required covering delivery, positioning and viewership (number of eyeballs, length of viewing, frequency, etc.) to be able to maximise the distribution and effectiveness of online video advertising.

Attraction involves the seeding and social engagement to bring users to your ‘brand outposts’ to view online video content. Gone are the days when having a single central product / brand website is suffient to sustain a presence with the online audience. Now brands require a portfolio of interlinked ‘outposts’, including a product / brand website, where users can access, discuss and share content. ‘Brand outposts’ must be consistent in iconography and messaging such that their sum is greater than the individual parts to generate an overarching brand experience on the web. Marketers must then use social engagement tools to draw users into their content through search, blogs, tweets, content aggregation and bookmarking tools such as Digg, Reddit, Delicious etc., and PR 2.0 outreach. As with video dissemination, ultimately attraction can turn viral as users start adding outposts to their follow / subscribe lists and promoting these across their social graphs. For example, a recent YouTube Masthead campaign by Cadbury allowed the user to click in the banner to ‘like it’ on Facebook, thus extending the reach of the video to their network.

Promotion

As outlined above, a combination of push and pull tactics will maximise the distribution potential for online video content. It is also important to promote it across wider offline and online marketing and PR activities. For example, directing users online to view an extended version or behind-the-scenes of a TV ad (example Mars John Barnes World Cup ad), or making branded programming available via on-demand players, for example Family Food Fight with Flora on Demand Five.

Online video content is an immensely impactful and engaging tool for the Marketer in the context of a wider online and offline marketing mix, however, unless strategic consideration is given to the factors outlined above, it can also potentially damage a brands equity and product success potential. We are at the vanguard of what Marketing can do in the online space to enhance the engagement, interactivity and impact of video content.  It’s the responsibility of this generation of Marketers to work with content creators, ad agencies, media agencies and ad serving providers to realise this promise and potential.

Feel free to add a comment and let me know how you’re using online video content to promote your product, service or brand.

VAULT CRM Model – A Conceptual Model for Online Customer Relationship Management

Many models of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for online products, sites or services are highly technical and often tied to a specific software package or solution. Too often the fundamentals are overlooked, with a lack of understanding of the needs and considerations of the end user. The VAULT Model provides a simple conceptual framework which enables the Marketer to align  strategies and tactics to groups of users as they progress through their product (read site or service) experience.

The model propounds five ‘stages’ in a users progression as they encounter and experience a product. These stages compartmentalize the user so that specific actions can be applied to engage and motivate them towards long-term satisfaction and retention.

It is fundamental for the Marketer adopting a CRM programme to understand what the core objective of their product is. What’s the end game? What’s the desired user transaction? Is it to purchase an item or items? Is it to view information or content? Is it to register for a service? Once this has been determined, the five stages of the VAULT Model can be defined and applied:


V – Virgin:
“Users who are about to, or have recently experienced the product for the first time.”

Customer retention starts before a user first actively experiences or engages with a product. Their future behavior and attitudes towards the product are conditioned by their initial encounters with a brand through word-of-mouth or marketing. It is therefore imperative for the Marketer to consider how their acquisition marketing leads into the initial product experience and consequently, how the user is first ‘welcomed’ to the product. For websites, this requires understanding where the ‘doors’ are into the site, i.e. key pages through which new users first enter. How does the site messaging introduce and explain the product? How intuitive is the navigation to the next step in the product adoption process? How do you reward repeat visits and behaviour? Get the welcome right and it makes keeping users easier in the future.

A – Activated:
“Users who have actively engaged with or adopted the product in a repeated fashion.”

The second stage in the VAULT Model is to define what constitutes ‘activation’ and to determine how to move a user from being a ‘Virgin’ into being ‘Activated’. These answers will vary depending on the product offering and user profile / lifecycle. An ‘Activated’ user could be one that purchases a number of items (one or multiple?), or registers on the site to access additional content or benefits. It is imperative that the definition of activation relates to the core objective of the product. Activation Rate, i.e. the number of new users meeting the definition of activated, should be monitored on an ongoing basis as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). As with Virgin users, attention should be paid to not only how a user is ‘converted’ into becoming Activated, but also how they are ‘welcomed’ into this new level of engagement. Site messaging should reassure the user that they’ve made the correct decision.

Activated users can be further analysed and understood based on their degree of activation. At a basic level, this can take the form of ‘Light’, ‘Medium’ or ‘Heavy’ users. These definitions should again be based on the core objective of the product and tracked as part of the suite of KPIs. Accordingly, strategies and tactics using a mixture of messaging and offers can be applied to transition users between these three strata to increase product usage. An alternative segmentation identifies ‘Occasional’, ‘Regular’, ‘Advocates’ and ‘Super Fans’. These terms not only reflect the nature of the user, but also suggest how they evolve and can be used strategically to ‘up-sell’ and ‘cross-sell’ the product, ultimately leading to greater loyalty and product evangelism. These Activated segments are defined as follows:

Occasional – “Users who have activated their product experience, yet are sporadic in their usage.”
Regular – “Users who demonstrate frequent and on-going product engagement and usage.”
Advocates – “Users who frequently use the product and who actively tell non-users about its benefits, so spreading word-of-mouth.”
Super Fans – “Users who proactively market the product in an organised fashion.”

Moving users along this continuum – Occasional > Regular > Advocates > Super Fans – is the key to driving repeat adoption, loyalty and evangelism. How do you encourage this? Marketers can look to offer benefits to users who behave in a certain fashion, e.g. make multiple purchases, return frequently, or pay a premium. These benefits can take the form of subscriptions, loyalty programmes or access to  exclusive ‘VIP’ areas or content. The Marketer should also consider how to make it easy for the user to evangelise about the product to non-users through referral rewards / affiliate programmes, adding content dissemmination and bookmarking tools such as Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc. or simply ‘Send To A Friend’ links.

U – Unstable:
“Existing users who are becoming erratic in their behavior towards the product and / or disillusioned towards it.”

The central pillar of a CRM strategy is to identify ‘at risk’ users before they end their relationship with the product, and to put in place tactics in order to persuade them from doing so. VAULT defines this group as ‘Unstable’. Per Activated users, the definition of an Unstable user will vary depending on the nature of the product and it’s core objective. Generally, these definitions will relate to the behaviour and / or attitudes of the user. Product satisfaction will invariably be a key component where if this drops below a certain threshold, it is likely that the user will be lost. Using datamining and on-site research techniques, the Marketer can track a user’s behaviour and attitudes to ascertain the point at which they become ‘Unstable’. For example, on-site research can track users’ declared satisfaction and align dissatisfaction with specific user behaviour or profiles. These can then be targeted across the wider site audience to trigger corrective measures in the form of messaging or promotional offers.

An extension or alternative metric to satisfaction is the concept of “net promoter scores”. This measures the difference between the proportion of users who give a high response (9 or 10) to the question: “on a scale of 0 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend us to your friends or colleagues?”, termed “Promoters”, and those who give low ones (0 to 6), “Detractors”. Some companies have found that net promoter coefficients correspond highly to customer loyalty and future behaviour and, as such, net detractors can help in the opposite manner by identifying potential Unstable users. Both satisfaction and net promoter models have been questioned: satisfaction in that it reflects only vague feelings rather than a telling action, and net promoters as the model is unbalanced given it’s scoring system. Used in unison, satifaction and net promoters / detractors can guage the levels of and specifically identify Unstable users; what’s important to the Marketer however, is to follow-up to understand what’s going wrong with their offering and how they can correct this.

L – Latent: “Users who have not engaged with the product for a sustained period of time, yet who have not fully terminated their relationship.”

‘Latent’ users are those who have dropped off in their activity with the product. This could be for a host of reasons: dissatisfaction, a superior competitor offering, lack of further need for the product, etc. It is important for the Marketer to understand why this is the case so that they can take the necessary measures to avoid this with future users. Again, the number of Latent users should be tracked based on a time period of in-activity, the threshold set using datamining / research to understand the likelihood that they will return within respective timeframes.

If the user has provided some form of contact details through a registration process, it may be possible to re-connect with them. This action can take two forms: research to understand the reasons behind their lack of activity, or some form of promotion to entice them to re-engage and switch back into the product. The optimum solution would be to use a combination of the two in order to encourage a greater research response.

T – Terminated: “Previous users who have not engaged with the product for an elongated period and have thereby ended their relationship with the product.”

The final outcome in the VAULT progression is full termination. This can be defined based on two possible scenarios: straight closure of an account / request to un-register, or a lack of activity for a period of time at which it is accepted that they will not use the product again. As with the previous stages, it is important to monitor the number and proportion of users terminating, otherwise defined as the product’s ‘Churn Rate’ (for any given period of time, the number of participants who discontinue their use of a service divided by the average number of total participants). A key objective of a CRM programme is to reduce and minimise both Latent and Terminated users. Again, if the user has provided re-contact details, it may be possible to win them back with a reward offer or serve them with a research questionnaire to ascertain their motivations for leaving.

Applying the Definitions

As highlighted, the above definitions will vary depending upon the nature of the product, user profile and lifecycle of adoption. The VAULT model is intended to be built around a level of understanding and insight derived from a programme of datamining and research which enables users to be identified, segmented and tracked such that specific actions can be applied in the form of: follow-up research, site usability design changes, targeted messaging, or tailored promotions. It is this integration of data and activity built around the five stages of adoption and termination which enables the Marketer to ‘manage’ users from product consideration, through activation and ultimately to prevent potential deactivation, all of which leads to long-term user retentionin other words, VAULT is all about locking them in.

Please feel free to add comments and let me know your thoughts on how this model can be applied and improved.

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