I Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny. Let Me Check Twitter First.

Sometime during the first week of any Marketing 101 course you learn about the halo effect. Quite simply it is a term used to explain preference shown towards certain products or brands because of a favorable association.  For example, say you like Reese’s peanut butter cups (and who doesn’t), and while walking down the aisle at your local grocery store you spot a jar of Reese’s brand peanut butter, you figure it must be packed with sugar and taste pretty darn good as well so you buy it.   Reeses Peanut ButterThis type of association can be the result of other products made by the same manufacturer (such as Reese’s) or, in the case of a brand, the association that brand has with everything it touches.

The halo effect is a really big deal in the sports sponsorship universe.  Attach your brand to the right athlete or team and you will endear yourself to their fans.  This of course has been done since before Jesse Owens sported a pair of shoes crafted by the founder of Adidas in the 1936 Olympic Games.

Nike has had a couple of the most recognizable wins in this area, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.  At least Tiger Woods was a big win, now, not so much.  Tiger Woods became toxic for Nike and his other sponsors in December 2009 when his extra-marital affairs were revealed in dramatic fashion.  Now the Los Angeles Clippers have become toxic thanks to raciest comments by the team’s owner Donald Sterling.  No one wants to touch the Clippers because of the negative halo effect the brand currently has.  Sponsors ran from the Staples Center as if it was on fire.  Which of course was the correct move.  Stay with the Clippers and your brand becomes associated with Sterling and his views.  Drop the Clippers and you send a message that your brand does not tolerate racism.  The decision was easy.

So how long should a brand stay away in a situation like this?  In this case, probably until the Clippers have a new owner.  But it’s not always that cut and dry.  Not long ago I was involved with a client whose brand was under attack.  Misleading rumors were being spread about their flagship product and they wanted to know the extent of the damage in order to determine if a formal response was needed, and if so, the best way to go about it.  The rumors were untrue, but that mattered little.  Once out there, consumers are far more likely to believe what their friend shares on Facebook than a company statement denying it.  In fact, if the rumor hasn’t really gained much traction, any “official” statement by the company denying it will typically only serve to draw attention to the matter and risk fanning the flames from a small brush fire into a 10,000 archer blaze.  So where does the tipping point lie for responding, for abandoning a sponsor, for acknowledging a competitors move?  Fortunately for brands who find themselves embroiled in situations like the Donald Sterling debacle, or that of my client, the fallout is now easier than ever to assess, and consequently, a plan of action easier to create.

Curious about the impact of Donald Sterling’s comments on the Clippers sponsors I ran a quick analysis on a few sponsors using my company’s text analytics tool.  Below is a measurement of the online conversation associated with State Farm, one of the Clippers major sponsors.  The data was drawn from multiple social media platforms and blogs.  Notice the massive spike on April 28th in the volume of comments shortly after the news of Sterling’s remarks broke.
Daily Basic sentiment trend from 2014-04-22 to 2014-05-19

Drilling down on the comments I found that the negative comments had more to do with the situation rather than an actual dislike of State Farm.  For example, people would retweet news that as a result of Sterling’s comments, several sponsors such as State Farm had decided to drop the Clippers or should drop the Clippers.

Take a look at the topic wheel for State Farm below covering the past 30 days.  When people mention State Farm and “car insurance” together, they also mention Donald Sterling.  When people mention State Farm and “video” together, they also mention Donald Sterling.  When people mention State Farm and “state farm commercials” together, they also mention Donald Sterling.  The relationship is significant and penetrating every aspect of the brand.

Topics from 2014-04-22 to 2014-05-19 (1)

On the other hand, take a look at Red Bull, another sponsor of the Clippers.

Daily Basic sentiment trend from 2014-04-20 to 2014-05-19There was certainly an uptick in negative comments on April 28th, but nothing like what State Farm experienced.  The target market appears to be using social media to discuss Red Bull over a much wider range of topics.  The cluster analysis below shows this.

RedBullFor example, drilling down on “Sebastian” in the second largest cluster I found that the cluster is primarily about a YouTube clip Red Bull put together about the new Formula One racing regulations as explained by Sebastian Vettel (and of course featuring Red Bull’s racer as the background prop).  The clip has over two-million views and is a factor in the steady rise in positive comments seen throughout May so far.

Sometimes a quick and speedy response to negative news is easy for a brand to assess and the course of action obvious, as was the case of with the Clippers.  However, often times the extent of the damage isn’t immediately apparent.  When that is the case, a quick knee-jerk response could lead to disaster.  Fortunately for my client they carefully analyzed the situation before determining a course of action.  After discovering that the rumor wasn’t dominating the conversations associated with their brand, the decided to do very little to publically address it; so as to not draw more attention to the rumor itself.  The strategy has worked so far.  Although still out there, it’s now an old rumor, one that would make you seem out of touch with the latest if you decided to share it.  As a result, the brush fire appears to have burned itself out.  Had they not assessed the extent of the rumor properly, they very well could have fanned the flames with a disproportionate or poorly directed response.

If your not using social media analytics to monitor the chatter about your company, you run the risk not knowing what to respond to, how to respond, who to respond, when to respond, or if a response is even needed.  This type of information intelligence, unavailable just a few short years ago, should now be considered mandatory.

What’s Working Utah?

From the greatest to the least, every company makes mistakes in marketing, sometimes costly mistakes.  As marketing researchers, helping companies avoid mistakes and make good decisions pretty much sums up the purpose of our existence in this world.  Recently in an effort to stay true to this cause I channeled my inner boy scout and embarked on a “service project” of sorts.

What's Working Utah

For the past two years I have volunteered as a chapter officer for the Utah Chapter of the American Marketing Association.  There are ten of us volunteers who manage this chapter of two-hundred or so marketing professionals.  Once a month the chapter meets to network and hear from selected speakers who are experts is various areas of marketing.  My job, as the chapter officer over marketing research, has been to work with the other officers to plan our monthly meetings and respond to any research requests.  However, the research requests have been fairly infrequent.  When I signed on two years ago, I was hoping for a steady flow of requests from people yearning for answers to the marketing world’s deepest secrets, but what I got was only an occasional satisfaction survey request.

Wanting to provide something of greater significance, I decided to undertake a research project that I thought would be of value to chapter members or, at the very least, help me feel like I was making more of a contribution.

Knowing that there were a lot of talented marketing professionals in the Utah AMA I decided to select a few and ask if I could interview them.  As a result I was able to spend about 45 to 60 minutes with twelve of the Utah AMA’s best and brightest simply asking what was working at their company in six key areas related to marketing:

1.  Social Media

2.  Search Marketing

3.  Traditional Advertising

4.  Branding

5.  Customer Retention

6.  Innovation

At the end of each interview I also asked each of them what they saw as emerging marketing trends for 2014 and beyond.  All interviewees were C level or VP level marketers at their respective companies and all were members of the Utah AMA or had some tie-in with the Utah AMA.

In the end, I was able to compile a collection of valuable and practical marketing “advice,” for lack of a better word, that I garnered from these one-on-one interviews.  Although the final report may not be chuck full of endless never before heard of insights (though I do believe there are a couple of those), it fulfills its purpose, which was to simply offer examples and  first-hand perspectives of a few solid marketing strategies that are working well at different organizations.  Of course, what works for one company may or may not necessarily work for another, but being aware of the tried and true can often lead to new ideas and enable the development of a framework or outline that can be built upon.

You can view and download the report here:  What’s Working Utah Marketing Report- 2013.  At 23 pages, it isn’t necessarily a quick read, but I’ve peppered it with enough highlighted quotes and pictures to make it fun and easy to flip through if all you have is a couple of minutes.  Enjoy!

A Researchers Experience with Google Consumer Surveys

Jupiter is big.  With a diameter of 88,694 miles it is roughly eleven times wider than the Earth.  Comparing the diameter of Jupiter to the diameter of the Earth is like comparing the 2013 revenue of Google to the 2013 revenue of Nielson (the largest player in the marketing research industry, according to the Honomichl Top 50).  To continue the analogy, GfK (another Hinomichl) would be roughly the width of our moon, and Discovery Research Group, not sure, we’d probably be the width of that asteroid Bruce Willis blew up in the movie Armageddon years ago.

JupiterMy point is that when Google announced it was invading the marketing research universe with Google Consumer Surveys back in 2012, many of us may have felt like the Death Star was rounding the planet on its way to destroy the rebel base.  So big and so capable, Google presented an obvious concern.  Two years later, the Death Star may still be out there, with all its technological potential, but based on my experience with Google Consumer Surveys, it doesn’t pose much of a threat, at least in its current form.

About a month ago a new client came to us asking for consumer feedback on several different versions of a logo they were considering for their new startup.  I proposed a fairly comprehensive research plan, which they promptly turned down stating that it was outside of their budget.  They then told me what their budget was and asked what they could get for it.  My first thought was nothing, at least nothing that would give them anything meaningful, but then I thought about Google Consumer Surveys, ran the numbers, and decided that we could at least give them something instead of nothing, and so the experiment began.

My client was okay with the limitations of Google Consumer Surveys, as I explained them, but since this was my first foray into their universe, I wasn’t fully aware of all the limitations until I actually wrote and programed the survey.  The following is some of the good, the bad, and the ugly that I encountered during this process:

First the good:

  • The interface of the Google Consumer Survey platform is simple and easy, colorful and intuitive.  Pick one of ten question types, replace the text, upload your pictures, and your good to go.  You can build a survey in minutes.
  • Looking at results is just as simple.  They are straight forward, graphical, include the margin of error, and you can easily see how responses are trending while the survey is running.  With the click of a mouse you can compare the results of different demographic cohorts and geographies, switch between percentages and counts, and easily share results.
  • With prices ranging from .10 cents to $3.50 per complete, depending on the number of questions, Google Consumer Surveys is very affordable.  We were able to stay within our client’s budget.

The bad:

  • Exporting your data is easy, but if you want it in any form other than .csv, you’re out of luck.  Also, expect to spend a fair amount of time converting the text of the responses to numeric outcomes if you want to run any type of meaningful analysis on the data.  Even with a short survey, this ended up being a tedious and time consuming process.
  • Have a lengthy survey?  Sorry, ten questions is the max.  Participants encounter your survey request when they want to gain access to information that they may otherwise have to pay for, like premium news sites or entertainment content.  In order to get to the content, they must take the survey.  Because of this, they won’t take the survey if it is too long, so Google keeps the length in check.
  • You can target demographically and geographically, but the targeting is “inferred.”  This means that while you can specify that you want a certain age group or gender, there is no guarantee that that is what you will get.  Targeting is based on browsing history and uses the same algorithm Google uses for targeting ads.  Google does allow for one multiple choice screener question, but if you choose to use it on some other question, you can’t also choose to target by age, gender, or geography.

The ugly:

  • Don’t plan on being able to add any logic to your survey.  No skip logic, no display logic, no validation, nothing beyond a straight up question.
  • Ten question options is a little deceiving, you really have more like four: Different versions of multiple choice, star rating, image comparison, and open-end.
  • You can have a maximum of only five options for a multiple choice question.  My client had nine different logos to compare (four unique styles and nine different color combinations), making it impossible to display all of them at once.  I had to break it up into one question on style, showing the four style options, and one question on color.  However, for the color question I had to make it an open-ended question and instruct the participant to type in “red”, “blue”, “green”, etc. because there were six color options.  This ended up working out in the end, but I’m sure it came across as being unprofessional and a little weird for the participant.

There’s more to my bad and ugly list, like a limit of only two open-ended questions, and a max of 175 characters per question, (this sentence has 174), but I’ll stop for now.

I really like Google.  Chrome is my browser of choice.  I have an Android phone and Gmail account.  Whether it’s YouTube, Maps, Google+, or Drive, like millions of others, I interact with Google in some form or fashion several times a day.  If Google decides to put forth the effort to developing Google Consumer Surveys into something more, as a “hard core” researcher I’ll embrace it, but until then, the product has a long long way to go to becoming a legitimate survey research tool for the masses of market research providers.

Why Things Catch On

ContagiousWhen I was in 5th grade I brought a small yo-yo to school.  Smaller than any other yo-yo my classmates had ever seen… they were fascinated.  I wasn’t a yo-yo wizard, but I could make my small yo-yo do just about anything an average sized yo-yo could do.  At recess kids gathered around to watch and give it a try.  A couple of days later a few of my friends showed up to school with small yo-yo’s of their own.  Soon more followed, and before long anybody who wanted to be one of the cool kids in the 5th grade had a small yo-yo.  The craze quickly spread around Morningside Elementary resulting in new rules and restrictions on where and when yo-yo’s could be used.  Since then I have been unsuccessful in creating a fad or craze of any other type.  Not that I have tried, or really even want to, but I look back at that experience with a degree of wonder.  Why is it that some things catch on like that?  Is there a formula or recipe for making something go viral?

Recently I had the opportunity to conduct in-depth interviews with several people who were over the marketing department at their respective companies.  One of the questions I asked was about social media successes that their company had experienced.  While most could quickly point to a success, when I asked why the particular YouTube video or blog post they mentioned was so successful, they had difficulty coming up with a clear reason.  The most common response was that they really had no idea.  Everyone I interviewed was very smart, most of them were VP and C level executives, but not one of them could come up with a solid response.

About this same time I came across a book that looked like it might hold the answer to this question as well as solve the mystery of my yo-yo fad that has been tumbling around in the back of my mind for more than 30 years: Contagious – Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger.

In Contagious, Jonah provides example after example as to why things catch on, why they go viral, why with little or no advertising, something catches fire.  He breaks it down into six key reasons (S.T.E.P.P.S.):

  • Social Currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories

Social Currency – This is about making people want to share your message because it makes them look good for doing so.  We look good if we share something that is remarkable.  Things that are remarkable are unusual, extraordinary, humorous, novel, surprising, extreme, or simply interesting.  They are worthy of remarking about.  We share what is remarkable with the hope that it will make us look interesting, smart, or cool for doing so.  In essence, we are going for the halo effect, to use a marketing term.

We also like to look like insiders.  Like we have special access to something or know privileged information.  Block something off with a velvet rope and everyone will want to go there.  Sell out of something and everyone will want it.  If you have privileged access to something that is perceived as scarce or exclusive, it makes you feel special, unique, or high status.  You want to share it because it makes you look good.  Most do it subtly, bragging isn’t cool, but we find a way to let people know of our awesomeness.

Triggers – Triggers are cues that make people think about your product or service—they remind.  Social Currency may get people talking, but triggers keep people talking.  The best triggers form links to our common every day environment.  Jonah gives an example of how in 1997 the candy company Mars noticed an unexpected uptick in sales of its Mars bar.  The company hadn’t changed its marketing in any way or done anything special.  What happened?  The Mars Pathfinder mission happened.  NASA’s Pathfinder probe landing on Mars generated an enormous amount of news and interest.  The media attention acted as a trigger to remind people of the Mars candy bar and sales increased.  In another example Jonah shares how boring Cheerios is mentioned more frequently on Twitter than exciting Disney World, simply because the everyday act of eating breakfast makes people think about Cheerios more than Disney World.

Emotion – We share things that arouse a lot of emotion in us, positive or negative.  High arousal positive emotions include “awe” (an amazing YouTube video of someone singing the national anthem), “humor” (“Charlie bit my finger!”), and “excitement.”  Negative high arousal emotions include “anger” (Can you believe this!) and “anxiety” (“Tonight on the ten o’clock news, the hidden health hazard that is in 40% of Utah homes.”)  However, low-arousal emotions like “contentment” and “sadness” decrease sharing.  No one wants to be a Debbie Downer.  We want to share something that will reflect positively on us.

Public – Seeing other people do something makes people more likely to do it themselves, the keyword here being “seeing.”  If it’s built to show it is built to grow.  This is called “social proof,” and it’s why people seed tip jars at the beginning of a shift.  It’s why forty-percent of college student binge drink, but when asked about it privately, the majority of them are uncomfortable with it.  Their peers seem happy about it, so they assume they are the outlier.

If something is observable, it is more likely to be discussed.  When Apple first introduced the iPod, there were a lot of competing digital music players, almost all with black headphones.  Apple made their headphones white.   The product advertised itself.  It offered visible social proof of who was using it.  LiveStrong wristbands stood out against almost anything people were wearing because they were yellow.  “I voted” stickers allow people to make their private act of voting visible to the public, providing a reminder that it’s election day, others are voting, you probably should too.

Practical Value – People like to pass on useful, practical information—news others can use, and saving money is perhaps the most practical thing we can pass on.  However, no one wants to sound like an ad or look like they don’t know what a real deal is.  This means any money saving deal needs to be a strong one, and the best way to enhance the value of any deal is to put it in perspective.  Deals are evaluated, not in absolute terms, but by relative comparison.  How does it compare to what we already know—our reference point.

Practical Value is also more easily shared if it is simple.  Topics that are short (unlike this blog post), focused, easily digestible (i.e. numbered lists), and attractively packaged catch fire easier.  The more narrow the content, the better.  Lots of people are interested in football, but because so many people are interested in it, no one person likely comes to mind when you come across related content.  However when you come across an article about a specific team, you might think of a friend right away who is a fan and share it.  You practically feel obligated to do so because it is so relevant and uniquely perfect.  Practical Value = Relevance.

Stories – Narratives are inherently more engrossing than basic facts.  People will share a story about how their dog got sick after eating a certain type of dog food so other dog owners can avoid the same fate.  We learn through stories.  The story of how Jared lost almost 100 pounds eating at Subway was interesting and entertaining enough that people shaded it even when they weren’t talking about weight loss.  People learned all they needed to know about Subway through the story.  “That’s the magic of stories,” says Jonah.  “Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter.  People can talk about the product or idea without seeming like an advertisement. “

Stories can be discovered, as was the case with Jared and Subway, but they can also be created for the purpose of sharing.  However, when trying to create a good story it is vital to remember that more important than getting people to talk is what they talk about.  If the story is unrelated, it’s useless.  This is often the case with an entertaining commercial we see, maybe even share, but then can’t recall what was being advertised.  The brand or product benefit must be so key to the story so people can’t tell the story without mentioning it.

So back to my yo-yo example, perhaps not all six reasons came into play perfectly, but enough for it to catch on.  The yo-yo was remarkable because it was unusual and different (Social Currency), every time the recess bell rang it was yo-yo time (Trigger), the size evoked a sense of awe and amazement (Emotion), every recess it became very noticeable (Public), it was relevant to my friends who were always looking for something new and fun to do at recess (Practical Value), and it gave them something to talk about “Kevan has this cool super small yo-yo.  Check it out” (Story).

Talkin’ Bout My Segmentation

Talkin’ Bout My Generation Segmentation

Not my song.  Not my generation.  I’m one removed from the rock and roll of the self-centered “me” generation.  I grew up way back in the day when MTV actually showed videos and I don’t recall seeing anything much from The Who.  The point is I know the song, but I can’t identify with it, it doesn’t resonate with me.  There’s no need for me to live in someone else’s past.  Use that song in a commercial and I probably tune it out.  Grab a song from the 80’s that I like and I might take notice.  Pull something else into the ad like people my age, activities I like, an environment I can relate to, maybe a well know actor or line from an 80’s movie that Boomers and Millennials won’t get, make it entertaining, and I’ll pay attention.

It’s a fairly basic concept; simply show your target market using your product, and they’ll take notice because they can project themselves into the circumstance.  But to really resonate your marketing needs to do more than just create a mental picture or association; it needs to communicate a level of understanding so that your target market says “yea…they get me”.  So how do you do that?  Your best guess?  Trial and error?  To barrow a word from a much much older generation, that’s “tomfoolery”.  (I don’t think I resonated with anyone with that word choice).  But to my point, research is how you get there, in particular segmentation research.

As marketers we love segmentation.  Several years ago, I don’t know when, sociologists started segmented society into generational cohorts and named them.  It’s still largely a work in progress.  Prior to writing this post I researched multiple sources to find a solid definition of the start and stop years for each generation and learned that not only are the names different, but that nearly every credible source disagrees on the established dates for every generation after the Baby Boomers.

millennials, generation y, generation x, baby boomers,

While useful, generational segmentation is only a start.  The “one-size-fits-all” characterization doesn’t really work for a sizable percentage of each generation.  Some even say generations should be defined by attitudes rather than years since attitudes change over time and people from older generations sometimes adopt the characteristics of younger generations and vice-versa.

There is a need to go well beyond generational segmentation in order to truly create a marketing campaign that resonates.  This is where surveys, focus groups (in person or online), MROCs and other marketing research methodologies come into play.  Once the research has been done we can move away from general assumptions and into data that more accurately defines who your customers are.  If the data is quantifiable we can even preform cluster analysis and develop detailed profiles of each customer segment.

Understanding generational differences is an important element of marketing.  Multiple books have been written on how to effectively market to the attitudes of each generation.  And while there is a lot of value in knowing these differences, there is far more value in knowing and understanding your customers, your potential customers, and how to speak their language.  Good segmentation research accomplishes this.

Time GenX GenY

Six Reasons Why MROCs Rock

First, in case you’re not familiar with what an MROC is, it stands for Marketing Research Online Community. The format and interaction is somewhat similar to that of Facebook. A little like a focus group and a little like a survey panel, the platform provides for interaction and sharing between a moderator and participants. The moderator asks questions or assigns tasks and the participants respond. The insights gained from this research tool are rich and powerful. Below are six reasons why this is the case.MROC

Deeper Insights. Like a focus group an MROC provides an opportunity for the moderator to ask follow-up questions and for participants to comment on what others in the group have said. It is from this type of interaction that the deepest insights are often obtained and unanticipated discoveries come about. The ability for participants to share pictures, video, and interact with other media in an MROC adds to the level of insight that goes beyond what most other research methodologies offer.

Eagerness to Share. Take a moment to think back a few years, maybe a lot of years, like way back to when you were in kindergarten. One of the first lessons you reluctantly learned was sharing. Fast forward a few decades and sharing has become a necessary part of life. We share a lot, sometimes still reluctantly, but we do it. However, when it comes to sharing our opinions we are eager to do so, especially online. We like this type of sharing. In fact we seek out opportunities to let people know exactly what we think, what we saw at the store, if we like what they shared with us or not, and to post cool photos of our pets, children, or our most recent vacation. If the participants are genuinely interested in the subject at hand, they will be more than eager to share their opinion and become actively involved in the study. The result is better responses, jam-packed insights, and possibly a lower incentive required to get people to participate.

More Realistic Insights. I love focus groups, I’ve moderated many myself and firmly believe in their value. However, focus groups aren’t always reflective of reality. With a focus group we throw together a group of strangers who have never met and then ask them to make snap judgments about a product or service they likely have never seen before. The situation is unnatural. I’d like to think that everything focus group participants say is what they truly believe, but I know that that isn’t always the case. With an MROC participants are given time to think. Sometimes feedback from quick first impressions is preferred, but in life, unless you are buying a package of gum at the checkout stand, more often than not we take time to think about our decisions. MROCs allow participants the ability to think at their own pace before giving responses.

Greater Anonymity = True Opinions. I recently completed an MROC where only about twenty percent of the participants chose to upload their profile picture. The use of your real name is typically optional. The ability to hide behind the anonymity of the internet is one of the reasons people readily share their true opinions online. For example, the music video by sixteen year old high school student Rebecca Black titled “Friday” has gathered over 57 million views on YouTube. From that statistic it would be easy to assume that most everyone likes her video, but take a closer look and you will see an 80% thumbs down. With lyrics like “Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards” it’s not hard to see why. Personally, the video is not my cup of tea, but kudos to her for being bold enough to try. The song is catchy and like it or not you will sing it in your head after watching it. I’m going to guess that if Rebecca Black was to personally ask people if they liked her video, most everyone would politely reply that they did, even strangers, because of the social pressure that the situation creates to be polite. However on YouTube it’s a different story. The internet allows us to be anonymous. The social pressure to conform is mostly negated and consequently people more easily express their true opinions then in focus groups.

Committed Participants = Better Insights. The number of people who participate in an MROC can vary in size from a dozen to upwards of 1000 or more, but in my opinion MROCs that are on the smaller end of the spectrum provide deeper insights. When someone is part of a small group that is asked for their opinion they feel like an insider, they feel influential, they think more carefully about their responses because they feel that their opinion counts more than if they were part of a large group or survey.

Backroom Interaction. If you have ever observed a focus group you know that participants sometimes make a comment that you want explored further. Sometimes the moderator follows up on these comments, but not always. Of course with surveys there is no chance for follow up. Because an MROC takes place over several days, weeks, or even months, there is ample time for the client to review responses and ask the moderator to probe further or open a new discussion on any fresh insights.

Gushers, Running and External Variables

I need to preface this entry with the caveat that it is about 80% back story and 20% marketing research.  Usually I like it to be the other way around.  That being said, enjoy getting to know a slice of my life called “running”.

I am one of the most healthy, yet at the same time, unhealthy people you will meet.  I exercise six days a week, jogging or bike riding three of those days and lifting weights the other three.  I follow my morning exercise routine up by drinking a V8 and eating some sort of whole grain cereal or oatmeal topped with flax seed, chia seed, or some other healthy supplement.  I chase that down with a GNC Ultra Mega Greens Men’s vitamin.

I then head to work where by about 10:00 I am ready for lunch.  To keep my hunger at bay for a couple of hours I eat, not a banana, apple, or celery stick, but typically candy and/or chips (more often ‘and’ than ‘or’).  In fact I have an entire drawer in my desk dedicated to unhealthy food.  Occasionally you will find almonds or fruit leathers in there, but it’s mostly salty, sweet, full of high fructose corn syrup and red 40.  I’m sucking on a lemon drop containing the delicious ingredient “yellow 5” right now as I wright this.  In my snack drawer you might even find Gushers if you’re lucky.  Yes Gushers, those chewy fruit snack pouches that are marketed to elementary age kids as a school lunch snack are possibly my favorite.

In order to compensate for my sweet tooth and avoid putting on extra pounds I have recently increased the distance that I typically run.  I used to only run two or three miles each day that I ran, occasionally stretching it to four, but lately I have stepped it up just a bit to three to five miles.  I did run a marathon once and made a solemn promise to myself during the race that I would never do it again.  That was at age 35.  Other than that I’m not really a long distance runner.  I’m now age 43 and steadily slowing down each year.  I know this because I’m a marketing research nerd.  I track and analyze everything, and for the past thirteen and a half years I have kept track of how long it takes me to run a two-mile loop in my neighborhood once each week.   I haven’t just written down my times, but I have kept multiple graphs in a spreadsheet to analyze my progress, or lack thereof.  Below is the rout I run.

Jogging Rout

The result is the sad but expected proof that I am in fact getting older each year and as a result slowing down.  My thirteen and a half year experiment is a near perfect demonstration of the effects aging has on our physical capacity.  There is no question that I was faster and in better shape at age 30 than age 43.  My fastest time thus far this year is not as fast as my slowest time thirteen years ago.

Average Times

However, my experiment is done.  In July we moved to a new house.  It’s a bigger nicer home in a great neighborhood, but I miss my old jogging routs.  Even if I was to find and run a new two-mile loop, the distance would likely be off by just a bit and the elevation changes wouldn’t be the same.  The comparison may be close, but the external variables would be different.  It wouldn’t be a valid comparison.  For any tracker to be valid all variables must be held constant.  As clearly demonstrated from my experiment, and seen in the graph, even the time of year can play a big influence.  I am always in my best shape in the summer and my worst shape in the winter.

One of the mistakes marketing researchers often make is not controlling for these variables, taking them into account in the analysis, or acknowledging them.  It may not always be possible to control everything, but at the very least any external variable should be acknowledged and accounted for.

Average Time

Using Strategic Insights to Steal a Lions Kill

This video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3AtVgiYKd8 shows three men walk straight up to 15 hungry lions and steal part of their kill.  It completely puts to shame all videos of people swimming with sharks, making the shark swimmers look like wimps by comparison.

When I first saw this video I gave the men who did this a 10 for bravery and a 10 for stupidity.  Then I thought about it a bit and wondered if my rating was unjustifiably high, not for bravery, that one sticks, but for stupidity.  These men didn’t do this on a dare, they didn’t do it out of desperation, they didn’t do it just to find out if it would work.  Impressing a local girl may have been a factor, but regardless, they knew exactly what they were doing and how to do it.  They understood perfectly the risk and the reward.  With everything at stake they planned their move carefully and then executed it with strategic precision.


Strategic Insight is the term we use to describe the knowledge a company has that allows it to make good tactical decisions.  Decisions that ultimately result in increased market share, greater profitability, and eventually enough money to take the entire company on an African safari to watch people like Rakitha intimidate lions in person.

Companies that lack Strategic Insight are content to push onward at a comfortable pace feasting on beans and rice instead of a nice juicy wildebeest stolen from a pride of hungry lions.

So how does one acquire Strategic Insight?  It isn’t something that comes without effort.  The kind of Strategic Insight that enables companies to leap ahead of their competition isn’t achieved in an hour long brain storming session with department heads.  The type of Strategic Insight that has the potential to vault your company to the next level is best discovered by seeking it from those outside your organization.

Have you ever tried to read a sticker on a glass window or bottle from the inside looking out?  It’s difficult and takes a while.  Take a piece of paper sitting next to you right now and hold it up to a light with the blank side facing you and the printed side facing the light.  Start reading, you can do it, your mind is smart enough to figure it out, but it’s a slow process, you probably had to flip the paper over a couple of times because you weren’t exactly sure what a word was.

Most organizations are unqualified to develop true Strategic Insights internally because they are too close to their own products and services to see what their customers see.  They have been involved too long and are in too deep.  In essence they are inside the bottle or building looking out at the back side of the label.  Their customers are on the outside looking in.  Each are looking at the same thing from a different perspective.    Their customers know exactly what the label or piece of paper says because it’s facing them.  The company thinks it knows what it says because, after all, they created it.  But they don’t have the same perspective their customers do.

Marketing Research is what enables companies to see their products and services as their customers do.  The result is better understanding and the outcome is Strategic Insights.

One final example.  The world of sports is full of teams seeking Strategic Insight on their completion.  One of the first things most professional teams do in order to get ready for an upcoming game is to view videos of their opponent.  They study their competition carefully and strategically analyze their opponent’s weaknesses and strengths in order to learn how to defeat them.  Unfortunately in business not all companies follow the mindset of a professional sports team.  Instead they rely on their internal efforts alone.  They can come up with ideas that might work, but without leveraging the insights that come from studying their competition they will only come up with ideas, untested ideas.  Ideas can be good, ideas can be bad.  Strategic Insights are more than ideas, strategic Insights are knowledge, the kind of knowledge that can only come from the outside in, the kind of knowledge that can only come from marketing research.

R.A.T.U.F.A. Branding

Contrary to the spelling of its name, the Ratufa isn’t a “rat”, it’s a squirrel, a “very large tree squirrel”, according to the ultimate authority on squirrels, Wikipedia.  There are four species of the genus Ratufa living in Southeast Asia…and that’s about as exciting as it gets.  If you want to see a Ratufa, also known as an Oriental Giant Squirrel, in action, follow this link to a YouTube video of one eating a cookie.  (The logic of how this “exciting” video has over 16,000 views escapes me).

RatufaIn the Branding World, Ratufa is something different.   Each letter, R.A.T.U.F.A., stands for one of six fundamental components that I believe are critical to a solid branding strategy:  Relationship, Anchor Belief, Trust, Unique Selling Position, Focus, and Authority.

Relationship.  Branding is about relationships.  The relationship you have with your target audience.  Just like in real life, relationships take time and patience.  And just like in real life, this relationship must be worked on….constantly.  Regular communication with your target audience lets them know how much they are valued.  This connection is critical in order for them to feel comfortable and have trust in your brand, but also in order for you to understand them, their likes and dislikes, preferences, satisfaction, etc.

Anchor Belief.  This is your brand’s “big idea”.  The center of you brands universe.  Everything revolves around, focuses on, and refers back to your brand’s anchor belief.

Gatorade is one of the more well-known brands in the world.  When I mentioned it you instantly associated it with sports, likely football, track, or basketball, along with images of highly skilled and determined athletes drinking colorful Gatorade and the lightning bolt on the side of the bottle.  But you have probably never heard of Gatorade’s anchor belief/big idea; “The will to win in a bottle”.  Now that you know it, it’s clear how everything the brand does revolves around that single idea.  It’s not a very catchy tag line, so it never flashes across the screen at the end of a commercial, but its message is communicated perfectly to the target audience.   Once your target audience connects with your anchor belief, it becomes much easier to get them to buy whatever it is you are selling.

Trust.  The marketing world has literally shot itself in the foot on trust.  The myriad of unsubstantiated claims makes it simply impossible to believe what any company says about its brand.  That is until they have earned your trust.  Trust is about being authentic and real.  Social media has made brands more transparent than ever.  Try and pull a fast one and your toast.  Try to hide your brands flaws and they will be found.  Want to be seen as more authentic?  Don’t try to be something you aren’t, don’t be afraid to admit a weakness, genuinely support a cause your target audience believes in, and most important, deliver on your promises.  Nobody‘s perfect.  No brand is perfect.  No one expects perfection.  Everyone appreciates honesty and authenticity.  Sync your brands values with the values of your target audience and you will build trust.

Unique Selling Position.  There is perhaps no better measure of a brand’s strength than its Unique Selling Position (USP).  Closely related to an Anchor Belief, your brands USP is what sets it apart from the competition.  It is a claim that is yours alone.  No other brand can offer it.  It is your Anchor Belief put into action.  Your USP communicates to your target audience the primary benefit of choosing your product or service over that of the competition.  It positions you in such a way that your target audience sees you as both different and better than the competition.

Focus.  Focusing your brand’s message gives it clarity and strength.  It also means not going after absolutely everyone who might possibly use your product or service.  When you go after everyone, you weaken your connection and relationship with your core target audience (your best customers).  They feel ignored.  People respond when the message your brand sends resonates with them.   Exercising a measure of restraint by not trying to be everything to everyone creates focus.  If you need to have two or three different USP’s than maybe you need two or three different brands.

Focus also creates consistency.  Consistency builds confidence.   Everything about your company right down to the color of the tile on the floor of the janitor’s closet must be a consistent reflection of your brand.  When everything is consistent, your brand, and everyone in your company, is focused on its anchor belief.

Authority.  Authority is about proof.  Repeat customers may not need proof but attracting new ones requires it.  Authority is earned.  Often slowly.  But bit-by-bit it builds through customer recommendations, likes, posts, awards, etc.  Once established as an authority, everything a brand does is instantly credible.  People pay attention and sales happen.

Brands develop over time, like taking care of a vegetable garden.  Brand development is more a process of working hard at nurturing and cultivating a healthy environment for your brand to grow than trying to force quick results.  Sure there’s much more to branding than the six core components discussed here, but get these six right, and your brand will develop into something extraordinary.

Two-Dozen Bite-sized Branding Bits


Every so often I’ll come across an article, blog post, or book that resonates my own thoughts or viewpoint on a subject almost perfectly.  This was the case with “Brand Against the Machine” by John Morgan.

For me, the book simply put into words much of what I already believed about branding, and did it in a way that made perfect sense.  John takes perhaps the most discussed marketing topic on the planet and delivers a refreshing perspective.

As I was reading I found myself highlighting sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph.  Probably enough for a 365 page “Brand Against the Machine” quote of the day calendar.  Below are two-dozen of my favorite “bite-sized” quotes.  Some are a little out of context, but as long as you keep branding as the subject in mind, you should be okay.  Oh yea, and I highly recommend purchasing the book.  Even if one of your self-proclaimed titles on LinkedIn is “Branding Guru”, you will learn something.  Maybe even that being a “self-proclaimed” guru of anything is lame and worthless unless you can actually back it up with reality and proof.  Enjoy.

  1. Your goal is to position your brand in the mind of the consumer as one of, if not the, top authority in your industry, to be seen as a valued resource rather than another service provider.
  2. At some point your competition will match you.  The only element they cannot match is your brand.  There are a lot of business that make shoes.  There is only one Nike.
  3. Branding is what makes me drive past a Kmart while going to Target.  They sell the same stuff, for the most part.  But I have a different perception of each of them.  My trust level is different for each of them.
  4. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be found everywhere, as traditional branding would suggest.  You just want to be found everywhere within you niche, everywhere your audience is hanging out.
  5. When you’re trying to get your message in front of everyone, you end up causing your target market to feel ignored.  They want to know you’re speaking directly to them.
  6. When your message is focused and directed toward a certain group of people, those people respond.  They respond because they realize it’s for them.  That’s the kind of attention you want.
  7. Proof is what makes you an authority.  Information is like a new form of currency.  The more information you share, the more you’ll be positioned and viewed as an authority.  Bringing new ideas to the table and people acting on those ideas:  that’s proof.
  8. Something magical happens when your audience finds your content to be genuinely helpful: They trust you.  They value your message and thoughts.  Now they will buy form you and be excited to do so.
  9. Your brand’s anchor belief is your brand’s philosophy or viewpoint.  It’s a big idea that is the focus of all of your products, services, marketing, presentations, and any other element of your business.  Its premise becomes the backbone of your brand.
  10. You must be completely focused on your anchor belief.  It helps define your brand and gives prospects clarity about you.  This is why it’s absolutely critical to ensure your philosophy and message is a part of all you do, whether that be a marketing campaign, video, blog post, product, webinar, or presentation.
  11. It’s easier to get someone to buy into your philosophy and anchor belief than it is to buy a product.  Once they’ve bought into your philosophy, it is super easy to sell your product.
  12. What’s your story?  Your target audience is asking that question.  How well you tell your story matters.  Your creation story of how you got to be where you are now, both in life and the creation of your business.  People love to know how something came about and how it got started.
  13. If the only people who would really miss your business if it went under are either related to you or your closest friends, you may have a “boring” problem.  Don’t misunderstand me.  It’s not that you can’t be a dentist or sell shoes or do something that others do.  It’s that you can’t do those things in the same way as your competitors and hope to have a brand that people feel like they need to feel complete.  Identify what makes you different.
  14. Taking care of people when there isn’t a problem and when it’s not expected is a sure fire way to generate positive word of mouth.  Helping people who are in a jam will do amazing things for your brand.
  15. If you want your brand to be a huge success, developing a strong relationship with your target audience is a must.  Have patience.  Let the relationship mature.  Frequent communication with your target audience lets them know that you value the relationship.  It allows you to get to know them.  How can you serve and provide value to your customer if you don’t even know them?
  16. Anyone can copy what you do, but few can copy how you do it.
  17. Often a great USP (unique selling point) says what you do that others are afraid to do.
  18. Most business fail to maximize on their brand touch points.  A touch point is simply any form of contact someone has with your brand.  It can be an e-mail, conversation with an employee, direct mail piece, commercial, or blog post.  Understand that every touch point counts, no matter if it’s big or small.
  19. When your audience sees that you share the same values as they do, you begin to build a level of trust with them.
  20. Nothing creates a stronger bond than an “us versus them” mentality.  You want to create a feeling that they are part of a larger “us.”  Position your brand and its fans as being against “them.”
  21. If you want someone to be a fan of yours, start by being a fan of theirs.  Treat your brand advocates like rock stars—because they are.
  22. Consistency builds confidence with consumers.  It shows you are a brand people can rely on.  A brand that if they put their trust into, you won’t let them down.
  23. Every element of your business supports your brand or tears it apart.  Employees are no exception to that.  They represent your brand on and off the clock.
  24. The number one thing you don’t want is for people to be indifferent about your brand.

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