Brand Equity in a Digital World

Starbucks Digital Brand

Companies focus on short-term returns. They must. They answer to shareholders on a daily basis. Investors are looking for returns to be instantaneous. But this may stop brands from investing and growing for maximum generational potential. In a quest for short-term gains, brands may even be encouraged to make decisions affecting long term brand equity.

We often talk about brand, and the most common measurement is brand equity. This is the overall value of the brand as perceived by consumers and investors. There is no single method of calculating brand equity. It is comprised of quantitative elements such as profit margin, market share, and so on. It is also derived from qualitative characteristics which are much more difficult to measure. These characteristics would include brand awareness and reputation.

Brand equity is the value of the brand in its entirety. Brand equity matters when you market. Placing a specific brand on a product clearly changes the performance of that product in a sales channels. This is the power of the brand.

Advertising like any other market or industry shifts. The direction of marketers to utilize particular channels continues to change as channels evolve. Mass media, such as broadcast TV and radio, was extremely popular in the 90s, and then of course the onset of digital in the new millennium shifted all eyes rapidly to online and eventually mobile devices. And even with Likes and Follows, brands were still struggling to create brand loyalty which is a great sign of Brand Equity.

The early 2000s also saw significant investments in experiential marketing, and the hype for this channel was all brand perception! Brands opted for live interactions to engage the public and prove their value to consumers. The brands watched this approach increase loyalty across product lines. Brands realized the now disparate consumer was no longer as engaged with or influenced by mass media. An even truer relationship was created through common causes, and thus this media channel quickly turned to a form of activism. To be friends with the consumer, brands aligned themselves with causes the consumer identified with. Brands were seeking to share values with the consumer. Have a connection beyond the product.

Experiential marketing was more expensive and required significant investments, and corporations could not sustain these investments with the downturn of the economy. Shareholders wanted less investment in marketing, but more return.

It was the rise of digital. The rapid deployment of new technologies continued to grow exponentially during the mid and late 2000, and into the second decade of the new century. This again caused a shift in advertising dollars. The marketers had found a great channel for driving quick, short lived, campaigns that yield instant results. However, this once again created a brand loyalty problem.

Digital activations were focused on the immediate results – impressions, clicks, conversions. There is an irony in the ability to measure results in digital spaces. Broadcast cannot typically be measured in a direct retail transaction, and while digital can be directly measured this may be a fatal flaw in how it’s implemented. This new medium would be seen as successful only if each and every campaign yielded direct results. This caused brands to enter and exit the digital marketing arena. Brands were in a quandary. They knew people were online and mobile, but the didn’t see direct results in the clicks. How could they justify continuing the investment?

This drove digital advertising to constantly employ incentives, promotions and discounts. These are all great options when choosing how to activate a market segment, but these are temporary relationships with a consumer. They fail to create street cred and are absent all brand loyalty for longevity.

Digital has only begun to be understood by serious marketers. There are vast opportunities in this one channel that splinters into hundreds. It is more complex and complicated than most area aware, yet offers many versatile tools. Digital marketing offers exceptional performance and outcomes, but also at great risk.

Digital is not about the next seven days. It is not just a game of clicks received during the time an ad is running. Campaigns and conversions can have a value in immediate return, but must also be recognized for longevity. It’s about creating campaigns digital relationships that go beyond a Like or Follow; relationships that consumers will enjoy and find rewarding long after the brand’s investment.

This creates a culture and a commitment between brand and consumer. These digital engagements pay dividends for just brand equity. Ultimately, they drive additional clicks and conversions when the consumer may otherwise debate a choice. They create loyalty with a brand. They increase brand equity.

When brands screw up, their equity matters. And, every brand will encounter a crisis at some point in their career. Whether it is Apple releasing a poorly tested map app or Target having breached data security or from years past with Tylenol falling victim to aspirin tampering, or Toyota’s car problems… every brand will have a crisis. Today, every brand will have mini-crisis created online and it doesn’t take much for one outspoken individual to become a group, and grow quickly.

Brand equity can be the healing agent. It will win a brand acceptance of a sincere apology and quickly the public will forget what could potentially be the ultimate downfall for the brand. The past decade has seen a rise in transparency and accountability. This was very much driven by the public and brands had to embrace the concept to protect their brand equity.

How do you move from click ands and conversion per $1 invested to a long term return? Invest in your relationship before you ask your customer to do so.

Starbucks creates avenues for new artists to be introduced to the world. They provide free wifi, a cultured connection to great products, even some free music streaming. There’s a perceived value in the comforts they create and provide. This is even in their messaging. A letter in 2013 from the CEO, Howard Schultz, stated, “From the beginning, our vision at Starbucks has been to create a “third place” between home and work where people can come together to enjoy the peace and pleasure of coffee and community.”

What could possibly be a better statement of brand position? They’ve stood up on issues from gay rights to gun control. Their leadership takes responsibility, embraces open and honest discussion. The brand equity is high.

There’s more to digital than free wifi and streaming music. Investing in digital may include easy-to-pay mobile platforms which include the free music of the week picks. Providing tools to consumers is a great digital extension. Here are some companies who have invested to maintain relationships:

Zillow – This real estate site provides apps to help with financing, mortgage calculation, etc.

Johnson & Johnson – This massive consumer products company invests significantly in apps for health, fitness, nutrition, etc.

Audi – The car company offers games for auto driving enthusiasts of all ages.

Ikea – The Swedish furniture maker famous for flat boxes offers many tools for room layout and design.

These companies are not profiting off the apps they develop – not directly for every click, at least. These are investments in relationships with consumers. If brands think short term, how will they ever choose to invest in long term relationships?

A proper digital strategy will leverage the short term clicks with building a long term relationship. Every single digital activation from PPC campaigns, e-commerce purchases to app downloads and email campaigns must have an audience nurturing component to build a relationship. Those relationships are your brand equity in the digital space.


Nurturing the Undeveloped Market – Your Customers

How’s your Lead Scoring system working? Oh, you don’t do that yet? Ok. How’s the CRM utilization in your company? I see. Well, that’s too bad because you’re spending a lot of money trying to win new customers when your current customers would love to buy more.

In preparing our 2013 Financial Industry Digital Marketing Review we came across some very surprising and disappointing statistics. The sad reality is that these statistics are similar across industry sectors.

The number one goal of surveyed American Bank Association members was to widen the relationship with current customers. In short, sell more services and products to current customers. Yet, #10 on their marketing objectives was customer retention.

Let’s get this straight – I want to sell you more, but I don’t care if you stay. There are many reasons a company may not concentrate on upselling current clients. Most commonly is a focus on marketing to and bringing in new faces. After all, we will most likely have a bigger win with someone new than an incremental increase with someone existing.

Let’s run some simple math. If your business has a growth goal of 15% this year, without considering natural attrition rates for your industry, you need to gain 15% NEW customers. How about the other option – can you get 50% of your clients to by 30% more than they do today? What about focusing on your top opportunities? Can you get those currently small, but potentially large relationships to double?

The reality is that it’s easy to do. Properly structuring a nurturing campaign will generate significant inbound leads from current clients. Challenge number one is data. 50% of projects fail to even start because CRM data is out of date or incomplete. We better know something about our customer before we try to sell them more.

What are the basic objectives to these campaigns:

  • Test interest – your clients will express indirect interest through email campaign clicks and a variety of other mechanisms;
  • Be creative – show a connection between existing services and new services your customer should know about;
  • Make it easy for your client to inquire, learn more, and even estimate the cost and return of using a new service;
  • Be human – follow-up with a live phone call to customers who show an interest in products or services through clicks, web visits, surveys, ROI calculator usage, etc.
  • Incentivize – if you are convinced this is a win-win for your clients then give them an incentive to sign-on

Knowing what your client may wish to purchase next is not enough. You must measure and identify a likeliness to change. Their propensity for moving an existing relationship, acquiring a new service or product, or simply reaching a proposal stage may be triggered by industry or market changes, competitor movement, or opportunities. Be sure to identify these for yourself to know when an interest will convert to a sale.

Nothing replaces constant communication. Today, communication can also be considered service to your customers when executed right. The disconnect between sales, marketing and client service is what causes the phenomena of minimal growth with existing relationships.

Be sure you don’t rely on one group to execute well. Sales teams don’t stay in touch as much as they should. Service teams are busy executing for today, not planning for tomorrow. Marketing is typically focused on new relationships. Support all three through automated communications programs that provide invaluable data back.

Consider how an effort to better service and retain existing accounts can also mean realized sales gains for your business.

Chasing Emotions for Commerce and Wealth

You can trace every single business transaction back to an emotion. If you’re in the non-profit world, but still responsible for fundraising, you especially know what this means. Whether you’re an entrepreneur searching for your next big idea, a business owner trying to grow or a marketer responsible for promoting a product or services – pay attention.

My office mates have coined some of the phrases they hear me say often in our strategy sessions. Every few months I introduce a new concept for them to think of as marketers. These apply to any and all media – tradition, digital, etc.

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Follow the money.
  • What can we leverage?

Each of these helps us test the effectiveness or increase the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. Well, chasing emotions does the same thing. And my office better prepare to start hearing me say – Where’s the emotion?

Think about why people make purchases – the special egg yoke separator will save me time in the kitchen, this sports car goes fast, this printer/fax/scanner combo machine will take up less space, cool magazine cover, attractive label on the bottle of wine. Granted, these are mostly consumer purchases, but who makes the buying decisions for companies? People of course, so this is true in the B2B world, as well.

Go beyond the physical product world into professional services or intangible technology such as apps and you will still find emotions driving purchasing decisions. Whether it’s the in-person interview with an attorney or downloading a an app for reading news each and every interaction is based in an emotional response. Marketers must realize the vast array of personalities they are dealing with.

A conversation with a professional coach the other day raised a question regarding the sales process. As a business development person should you try and match the style of the person you are selling in order to win over their trust? Ironically, in my years of training, I quickly said yes. The coach differed. He said that today it’s about being aware of the mix of communication and how to best interact, but that it’s not always mimicking the style. I will agree with that more detailed answer, especially in an age of authenticity and transparency.

If that’s true, how does an online purchase or app download or product sitting on a retailer’s shelf interact with you to ‘mix’ with your style?

It’s important to first note that you will not satisfy or attract everyone so don’t try – otherwise the old adage of “You better stand for something, otherwise you’ll fall for anything,” comes true. If you look at the most successful companies you will find their toughest market adversary has a different personality. Think about what these companies represent and then how that compares to their competitors:

  • Apple vs. Dell (or Mac vs. PC – thanks to the TV commercials this is easy)
  • Axe Body Spray vs. Old Spice
  • McDonald’s vs. Wendy’s
  • TOMS Shoes vs. Cole Haan
  • Google vs. Yahoo
  • Facebook vs. MySpace

If you go to the heart of these products or services you will find there is an emotion that fits. MySpace was developed for musicians and music enthusiasts. Now, did Facebook steal the audience or provide a new home? MySpace is attempting a comeback and ironically, to many music enthusiasts it never failed. It was simply a different audience.  Axe Body Spray is most likely not purchased by the same gents purchasing Old Spice. Not that the latter is seeking a fox hunt in the English countryside, but they certainly aren’t believing a body spray will win them the attention of beautiful woman.

I felt it was important to put in Google and Yahoo and some of the others to show that the emotional charge doesn’t go away just because a product or service is free. If anything, it’s probably more predominant. Swipe the screen of you smartphone and think about all the app choices you have for each and every app you are using. There are a hundreds of apps for investing, expense management, news consumption, etc. Perhaps it’s features you liked better in one or another, but it could also be that emotionally, you preferred how one app interacted with you – simplicity, complexity, visual appeal, shared audience, whatever the case may be.

If you chase the emotion you will find the sale. Just don’t be a paranoid, bi-polar, schizophrenic because then no one wants to hang out with you.

Feeling Good as a Customer From Marketing Automation

It’s important for customers to feel wanted. This creates loyalty with a brand. In the Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B) markets there is certainly a drive by large brands to create this loyalty.

Consumer brands connect with consumers through cause marketing activations supporting non-profits, by providing education and tools that help consumers with their diet, money management, child safety, etc., and even by connecting them with other like-minded individuals while satisfying their competitive edge Examples of these would be BMW’s support for women’s breast cancer, Proctor & Gamble’s Mom’s Club and MapMyRun.

Due to the activities of these brands, the consumers become engaged and connected. It’s no small feat to create this brand loyalty, but it is possible when the brand exhibits the same core principles and beliefs as the consumer.

The Business to Business (B2B) market is equally able to utilize this approach, but there is generally one significant difference. In the B2B space, it is oftentimes individuals buying from sales people, not buying from a faceless brand. This represents a challenge for companies. A B2B enterprise typically relies heavily on the sales channel to engage their client and develop the relationship. In B2B marketing, there has been a strong move toward automated marketing platforms.

These platforms act as relationship nannies. While they do, to an extent, watch over the activity of a sales channel partner, sales team or even individual sales person, they are generally structured to supplement their activities. Contact with clients is influenced by many factors:

  • Size or value of account / relationship
  • Frequency of purchase
  • Length of sales cycle
  • Potential for account growth

Unfortunately, the influence is typically greater from the individual responsible for that relationship, and not strictly the factors above. Many sales individuals know what they should do, but that doesn’t mean they do it. An automated marketing platform helps sustain the relationship in the absence of personal activity. The key to a successful platform is the ability to create authentic touch points, be consistent, and ensure you support the individual relationship as much as the corporate presence.

The B2B market recognizes that individuals are typically loyal to other individuals. If a commercial lends leaves bank ‘A’ the customer will most likely follow that individual to bank ‘B’. If that is the case, why would a company even consider fostering a stronger relationship between the sales person and the customer? Simple – everyone wins.

If the client is enjoying a great relationship with their sales person, and also partly realizes the company is causing “some” of that activity, they are still extremely happy and engaged. This will create more sales. If the relationship generates more sales, the sales person is happy. They are compensated on performance and thus happy with the increased revenue. Of course, they also recognize the company’s valuable input in the relationship making them more loyal. And last, the company is happy because they’ve maintained a customer and increased sales, their salesperson has more time to concentrate on new business development, and their salesperson is well compensated, thus loyal in their employ.

Automated campaigns are extremely simple to structure especially with a bit of creativity. Here are a few examples that can be easily implemented:

  • A thank you email auto-generated to a customer after an order. This email should have a specific trigger point – length of time since last order, size of order, etc. The content should appear personalized – from their sales rep, identifying the specific order, including a thank you. Success will be in the details – Do you have the client’s name or nickname correct? Does the email appear authentic because they don’t get too many?
  • The New Year letter – this can be a review of the client’s account from the previous year sharing some successes that the salesperson individually reached as a result of the client’s commitment. (i.e. I was recognized as favorite salesperson for ABC Company because of your growth and input.) New Year’s letters that are printed and delivered in a first class envelope, and personally signed, can be very effective for an overall relationship.
  • Birthday cards – yes, the under executed, but still widely known to be effective, birthday card. Data mining for client birthdays is very easy these days. They can be captured as a security question for web site account access, they can be data mined from free, public, online sources. Printing a personalized card that embeds the individual into the brand or company visually can be a very strong and fun message showing dedication.
  • Smaller businesses may tweet or Facebook post recognition of a client on an automated basis.
  • We Miss You – emails are generated to clients who are outside of their typical ordering cycle.
  • Pre-vacation emails are sent from the salesperson personally to share alternative contact information and personal assurance of the company’s commitment is included.

There is also an opportunity to semi-automate marketing processes that drive even greater loyalty. Imagine a few of the

  • A system automatically sources x clients each week and provides links to their LinkedIn profiles for their salesperson to the ‘endorse’ or ‘recommend’ on the network.
  • Integration with or other CRM system prepares an email message to all clients of a salesperson based on recurring contact requirements set by the company. Messages are canned, but provide the opportunity for a custom message to be inserted by the salesperson.
  • Related product emails are generated to promote a product the client has not purchased prior, but aligns with other services or products they have purchased. These must be held for the salesperson to review ensuring the information is appropriate.
  • Care packages – these are not done often enough by salespersons. Is your company structured to expedite a care package for a client’s new baby, marriage, or business achievement? Create a system that let’s your salespersons easily execute these needs.
  • The corporate anniversary card – wouldn’t it be nice to receive a note card in the mail, personally signed by the salesperson saying thank you for the anniversary of your very first order on xx date? Utilizing information that is readily available makes communications personal and appreciated. Including a ‘thank you’ in the form of a gift card or coffee card can go a long way.

These automated marketing systems are NOT expensive to implement, and the return is exceptionally high. Your company should determine the appropriate number of client contacts per year, and the recorded contacts in you CRM system. The average differential is what you should automate. For example, if the company feels a client needs to be touched every 2 months (6x/year) based on the type of product or service, consumption, competition, etc., but the average CRM report shows less than 4 contacts per year, then automate 2-3 communications.

The fully automated systems are obviously easy to execute. We oftentimes hear that companies can’t rely on their data in the CRM from the sales team or the sales team won’t sign birthday cards and get them in the mail. Guess what, your right. Today you may not be able to, but tomorrow you will.

The automated systems are effective tools and your top performers will recognize this. They will utilize the system to the maximum extent possible. When a pile of birthday cards lands on their desk, they will not only sign them, but insert personal notes and comments of their own. Your ‘B’ team will start to see their success. If the automated system uses incorrect information; such as a nickname, it will only take a few client comments before the salesperson is attentive to the CRM system content. Your ‘C’ team will be more easily identified so you can, well, fire them.

We would all like to think we have an “All Star” sales team. The reality is that we have few rock stars and some groupies. Help make your groupies look and even act like stars.