Webisode “Infotainment”: Can it Boost Your (B2B) Brand Profitability?

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A creatively relevant story about people’s lives can lead to stronger brand relationships…even in B2B.

Over the past decade, content marketing has become the staple best practice for strengthening brand relationships. Blogs (like this one), white paper marketing, book authorship, branded documentaries, and one of the most intriguing and creative forms—branded webisodes—provide today’s marketer with an expanded palette of options to deepen and broaden customer relationships. The use of Webisodes—part of a trend called branded entertainment—is growing because marketers are compelled to find new methods to reach consumers in an era when traditional media are losing personal engagement time to the Internet. Webisode formats can range from a previews/trailers; a promotional series, part of a collection of shorts, or conversely, segments of a long form piece such as a TV series.

In any of the above formats, effective webisodes:

  • Use entertainment and video storytelling to engage stakeholders
    Television and movies taught us that visual storytelling is the “killer app” for engagement. Done well, ironic humor and humanitarian appeal are especially effective approaches.
  • Emotionalize the brand
    Emotion adds dimension more powerful and motivating than even logic to any relationship.
  • Relate to issues first
    Focusing on issues or cause (social, life stage, cultural, moral, political, or other lightning rods) tap into people’s mind at a visceral level in contrast to sales approaches that trigger emotional barriers.
  • Promote buying v selling
    When people “buy in” to a cause or an issue, selling isn’t needed to make a transaction.

Historic analogies

As my mom used to say, “Everything’s different but nothing has changed.” Blogs are really just reincarnations of the company newsletter with one big difference: WordPress and other digital blogging tools make it easier for anyone with a computer to be a publisher. White papers are still one of the best tools for thought leadership positioning. The difference here is digital creation and access. And webisodes are very much like early radio and TV serials, sponsored, owned, and produced by advertisers and their agencies instead of by producers and networks. The difference is the medium: broadcast versus the internet, the latter providing some game-changing advantages.

Media trending toward web video

It’s no longer news that web video is taking a bite out of TV viewership. Nielsen’s (television audience research) most recent study indicates that viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by a little more than 4-and-a-half hours per week. http://bit.ly/1p7nVvc That’s equivalent to roughly 40 minutes per day.

At the same time, YouTube now reports that:

  • YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any single cable network
  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that’s almost an hour for every person on Earth
  • 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
  • YouTube is localized in 61 countries and across 61 languages

My purpose in citing these stats isn’t to diminish TV advertising. It’s still the 800-pound gorilla to beat. But rather, my point is to emphasize that webisode marketing done right—with focused objectives, cogent strategies, and the right metrics attached—can now create a serious competitive advantage with clear ROI. For many brands that either can’t afford TV time or don’t fit into the TV advertising model (such as B2B), webisodes can present a green field of opportunity.

Can webisodes deliver real business results?

Many media historians portray our current period as the “post-broadcast era,” implying that audiences are sharing more of their video consumption with the web and media other than broadcast. Not to say that web entertainment will replace broadcast or cable TV. That would be like doomsters of the 1940’s and ‘50s who presaged TV replacing radio.  And though it probably won’t displace TV, web video does contribute to an ever-fragmenting, increasingly complex media landscape in which consumers have so much choice that traditional media-driven marketing it is neither practical nor effective. That’s why content-driven marketing provides a sorely needed solution. It creates valuable, targeted content to repurpose in as many media as possible.

On the flip side, in order to get views, web video needs to be supported with targeted search marketing, SEO techniques, social media, and traditional promotion. This support allows audiences to discover what’s important to them, in a compelling format, on demand—when they have a specific heightened need or interest. Webisodes fit this solution profile like a glove, versus dubiously relevant promotional content force fed as an inline component of entertainment programming (aka TV).

Early webisodes

On October 6, 2006, rapper Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy) debuted DiddyTV, sponsored by Burger King. Today, YouTube shows the first webisode garnering more than 993,000 views and 70,000 subscribers while building a social web brand community for a cultural niche. Not bad for an inexpensive webisode series. However, if you look deeper into the comments and thumbs down click counts, you might see a balanced story.

The following year, Mini Cooper launched Starsky & Hutch/Dukes of Hazzard webisode spoof “Hammer & Coop.” The effort, which centered around a six-episode web series, generated 1.5 million views and consumer interest that eventually translated into 800 vehicle sales (at least that’s the official report). But Mini didn’t just entertain visitors, it also presented a Mini web configuration tool to bring visitors closer to buying. The official report is: “Three hundred seven thousand unique visitors went directly to Hammerandcoop.com and spent an average of six minutes viewing the videos. Another 722,000 connected there through miniusa.com. Of the 722,000, 355,000 of them configured a Mini (by model, engine and extras); 22,000 people saved their configurations; and 2,400 of those sent them to dealers. Min reports that data represented about a 33% conversion rate that translated to about 800 vehicle sales.” http://adage.com/article/madisonvine-case-study/initial-results-mini-s-hammer-coop-effort/116193/

While I see a couple holes in the metrics strategy (from what I can tell, the 307,000 hammerandcoop.com visitors weren’t directly connected to configuring a car or the resulting sales funnel), this early example of webisode infotainment broke new ground for the medium. Bottom line: Mini Cooper sales were down 4% Q1 2007 YOY. However, US Mini Cooper annual sales hit their highest historic point to date in 2008, at 54,077 units. http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2011/01/mini-cooper-sales-figures.html It gives pause for thought.

Webisodes for B2B

What about for business to business brands? Blendtec makes blending technology for home, manufacturing, and foodservice.  They launched their webisode series “Will it Blend” (www.willitblend.com) in 2007, featuring its founder, Tom Dickson, in a wacky role as a lab technician attempting to grind up everything from cubic zirconium “diamonds” to iPhones in Blendtec brand blenders. YouTube shows more than 6.7 million views on the “diamond blend” show including more than 16,000 likes and only 2013 thumbs down.

 

AnotherB2B example is an animated production by Lawson, a provider of software and service solutions in the manufacturing, distribution, maintenance and service sector industries. This webisode provides a good competitive positioning tool, effectively promoting Lawson’s “Simpler is Better” brand. It’s no slouch for such a nichey industrial target at more than 89,000 views. I’d like to see a metrics bridge that connects these views to results in a shift in positioning, revenues, and/or margins.

 

Business-to-business brands can use content marketing—including webisodes—to exploit market niches with a fresh approach to engaging their customers, limited only by imagination and, of course, budget. Unlike broadcast TV, web presence is free, so the only cost in getting a series on the web is production, which can be managed incrementally with theme, creative development, and production values, which new technology has made dramatically more efficient.

But wait. TV has built-in audiences (that’s what you pay the stations and networks for). With webisodes, you’ll have to generate the audiences yourself (you knew there had to be a catch). This “detail” has been the primary barrier in the success of many web videos.

What’s the right objective for webisodes?

Social media and advertising can get pretty expensive in the quest to promote your webisodes for customer acquisition. So why not start by using them to improve the lifetime value of your current customers? One excellent use for webisodes is cross selling lines to existing customers. Webisodes can provide context (relevant issues and situations that uncover real needs) in dramatic, comedic, or simply interesting ways (how to, etc.). This leads the customer to buy into a larger brand context and a larger solution set. With effective funneling surrounding the webisodes, it’s possible to tightly track ROI on existing or past customers.

A proven ROI formula?

Despite a few days of exhaustive research on the web, I haven’t been able to identify any recent B2B webisode examples. Maybe that’s because there’s not yet a tried and true formula that links webisodes to ROI. GroPartners is now engaged with one of our clients in an effort to do just that. We’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, if you have any additional information on webisodes that you’d like to share on my blogpost, please leave a comment (link top of page). I’d love to post it.

GroPartners Consulting

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Branded Documentaries: Captivating Consumer Consciousness

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In recent years, branded documentaries have gained popularity in the marketing mix among a wide range of brands, including Stella Artois, Ericsson, Audi, Proctor & Gamble (Pantene/Downy), PetSmart, Jack Daniels, and Revlon’s Mitchum deodorant and many others.

What are Branded Documentaries?

The difference between branded documentaries and advertising or public relations is that they are actually “micro movies” (usually 3-20 minutes long) versus ads or sound bites (under 90 seconds). And unlike corporate videos, branded documentaries are issues-focused, versus brand-focused. These micro movies “feel” different. They tell emotive stories with cinematic techniques, resulting in a deeper and more engaging experience than is possible from any form of direct promotion.

Branded documentary director Nathaniel Hansen provides some insight: “Viewers are a lot more media and message savvy than we often give them credit for. If the film is people- or issue-focused, it’s a great way for the brand to take a back seat and let the content build demand.”

Some filmmakers behind branded documentaries prefer original music scores to heighten this cinematic experience. They feature real people telling stories around issues and events in their own words with authenticity that only the “real deal” can evoke. The sponsor’s brand may not be featured in the production, though sometimes cleverly placed. Instead, these films often use a carefully crafted storyline to present a worthy cause, or build a solid case for why certain attributes present in the brand are important in making people’s lives better.

Pantene Pony Up

Pantene Beautiful Lengths used branded documentaries to promote a cause: donating human hair to make wigs for cancer patients.

For example, in 2012, Pantene Beautiful Lengths charity expected to donate a record 12,000 real hair wigs to women fighting cancer nationwide. Though we can’t confirm this goal was met, the Pantene Beautiful Lengths website reports that since it’s inception in 2006, Pantene has donated to cancer patients approximately 24,000 wigs made from 400,000 consumer-donated pony tails. As a core component of Pantene’s marketing program, they created a branded documentary series that captures compelling stories from hair donors and wig recipients to drive public interest in the Beautiful Lengths program. In Pantene’s case the documentary was clearly branded. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK0J5jgf36M&list=SPIUDgI1r16CsQxkYdDNImNXCV3Rrf2EXM&index=1

Painting Coconuts is a documentary posted in January of 2013 that takes viewers behind the scenes of the model-building genius of the Audi Quattro® Experience. This one-of-a-kind slot car track creates a virtual driving experience with the world’s first car-mounted camera and iPad display/controller to put participants in the seat of a model Audi Quattro as it streaks around the highly detailed model track. “Drivers” take control of a custom-made 1/32 scale Audi A4 model slot car to test their on-track skills  and promote the luxury auto brand. This documentary was a great way to leverage the investment in building the track, bringing it to the masses in a well-made 15-minute film (though it could have been 9 minutes with the same impact). It didn’t necessarily stir me to any form of action, but it did raise my awareness of the Quattro and associated it with detailed craftsmanship and driving enthusiasm.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQxOKtCWEGE

Albert Maysles

Legendary documentary director Albert Maysles helped Mitchum keep it’s slot on retail shelves.

Mitchum rekindled interest in the heritage brand by sponsoring a nationwide contest in search of the “Hardest Working Man in America” in 2010. The deodorant/antiperspirant brand worked with CAA Marketing, director Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour,” “Red Dragon”) for a branded-entertainment program that played to its heritage and tagline: “So effective you could skip a day.” The winner was Chad Pregracke, founder of Living Lands & Waters, who alone racked up more than 50,000 votes for the award. Chad hauled over 6 million pounds of garbage from America’s rivers and their water sheds over the last 10 years, working seven days a week and selling what he could from the trash. See http://vimeo.com/64632163 for a short video case study including traditional and social media programs supporting the program and results.

Telling v Selling

Why are branded documentaries becoming so popular? My knee-jerk research reaction while writing this blog was to pit branded documentaries against traditional advertising effectiveness. But after doing some research, I realized it’s just not that simple: They are two entirely different forms of promotion, like PR and advertising. Branded documentaries deal with issues. They tell longer-form stories that engage viewers in causes of social conscience, learning, or special interest, then associate the content with a brand through sponsorship or some other non-direct means.  By contrast, advertising deals with overt selling messages based on direct product use features and benefits. You might say the contrast could be summed up as “Telling versus Selling.”

Can documentaries actually convert customers or make paid promotion more effective with a halo effect? I’d love to see a study on that.

Market Drivers

The motivational model consumers use to make purchase decisions appears to be changing. One major driver is the growing culture of social responsibility (aka “causes”). Brand consumption is no longer an “I” thing, but now a badge of community consciousness. Consumers and customers feel and show others that by “participating in brands” (aka buying and using them) they’re actively making the world a better place. The emotional logic goes something like this:

“This documentary makes me feel strongly about this cause →
This brand is associated with this cause →
  (they must be providing some kind of support for it, right?) →
So by buying their brand (consistently), I can support this cause →
This makes me feel good because I am making the world a better place!”
 

Another driver of brands’ increased investment in documentaries is the ubiquitous adoption of online video by the world’s population:

  • Online video now accounts for 50 percent of all mobile traffic and up to 69 percent of traffic on certain networks. (Bytemobile Mobile Analytics Report).
  • 52 percent of consumers say that watching product videos makes them more confident in online purchase decisions. (Invodo)
  • Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that’s almost an hour for every person on Earth (http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html)

Statistics supporting web video as a dominant medium go on ad infinitum.

Attributes of Successful Branded Documentaries

For the most part, it appears that filmmakers and brands agree on the common attributes of successful branded documentaries.

  • Identify and define success metrics before you begin the production—you’d be surprised at how it guides decisions throughout the production
  • Be sure that the story aligns with your brand’s positioning
  • Use real stories and real people—it’s really hard to fake real life
  • The documentary should be built on professional cinematic qualities, so don’t try to use a director who produces mostly commercials or reality-style smart phone videos
  • Focus the storyline around emotional engagement (a kind of stress), some facts, and a dash of humor (to relieve the stress at strategic points)
  • Make it personal to the masses (present the topic in a way a great number of people can relate to)
  • Before you begin, implement a content marketing strategy for roll-out across an integrated campaign
  • PICK YOUR BATTLES – branded documentary is a BIG leap of faith for most brands and clients
  • Focus on the issues and the people who are impacted by them, not the brand

Contact GroPartners Consulting for more information on how to make branded documentaries work for your organization.

GroPartners Consulting

Peer-to-Peer Power: Low-hanging fruit for high-powered results

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P2P ROI Infographic

P2P ROI Infographic

In attempts to replicate top performers’ results among
their peers, many organizations instinctively look to traditional
methods. Additional training and messaging, managing toward strategic goals, internal promotions, compensation incentives, and research lead the list. But today forward-thinking organizations are finding success with technology-driven peer-to-peer (P2P) employee collaboration strategies.

P2P collaboration can galvanize employee engagement efforts
to a point of measurable return on investment (ROI). Much like
social media’s effect on consumerism, peer-to-peer collaboration among employees is empowered by new technologies and efficiencies that can take employee engagement to a whole new level — including bottom line results. At this new level there is a “P2P Effect” that takes on its own momentum. With it, an organization can improve business performance in targeted areas and clearly track it to ROI.

Read the full story on how “The P2P Effect” can deliver surprising business results. Download GroPartners’ informative white paper, “Peer-To-Peer Power: Harnessing the P2P Effect for Improved ROI.”

 

GroPartners Consulting

LinkedIn Endorsements: Do they help or hurt your reputation?

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Do you think LinkedIn’s Endorsement feature is less credible
than real recommendations?

LinkedIn is one of the greatest networking tools in history. By and large, its networking, research, sharing, employment opportunities, security, thought leadership and other features have changed the way the world does business. But how many times have you endorsed someone on LinkedIn for skills you really weren’t familiar with? It’s ok. Most of us have done it (though we might not admit it). But what does that say about the value of the endorsement feature of LinkedIn?

It seems that when you accept an endorsement from anyone, the next time you login you’re greeted (or assaulted, depending on your perspective) by a large endorsement panel featuring profile blocks with the smiling faces of people you know. I’m sure you’ve been through this: You see one of your close business buds in the first group of endorsement blocks and you want to support him or her, so you click the Endorse button. But it doesn’t stop there. The endorsement panel continuously reloads, going through your entire contact network soliciting every possible endorsement for each contact until you just give up and run.

Does it look legit?

How does it look to legitimate employers or prospective business partners and clients when they see one person endorse you for every skill set listed? It can look like a love fest or reciprocal pay-off, but probably not an earned endorsement for highly developed skills, right? I don’t know about you, but I’ve rarely–if ever—tapped all of the skills of any single contact. So how could I legitimately endorse them all? The endorsement generator asks, “Does (fill in the name) know about (fill in the skill)? Even if the answer is yes, there’s a big difference between awareness and expertise.

In my opinion, the most credible endorsement blocks show a bell curve with the most endorsements in core skill areas and fewer in peripheral skills. Theoretically, the graphical layout of the endorsement section could be used as a credibility gauge for each of one’s skill sets. In reality, however, LinkedIn endorsements have turned into a popularity contest, spiraling out of control, diverting the original intent and undermining its own credibility. LinkedIn is classified as social media, but unlike Facebook “likes,” LinkedIn endorsements can build an erroneous profile of an individual that is less likely to be scrutinized in an open forum. Imagine if people were able to comment on the validity of the endorsements!

Credibility isn’t the only thing potentially undermined. Security can be at risk as well. Recently I experienced an incident where a virus caused a former client’s LinkedIn account to endorse my skills every day for two weeks! Creepy.

Remember real recommendations?

Remember the pre-endorsement days of LinkedIn, when there were real recommendations? People had to actually write an original statement of tribute and confidence.  It may have been difficult to get people to devote the time and energy to provide recommendations, but that’s what gave them real value. Today’s endorsements are just too easy to click off, cheapening the currency of real, thoughtful recommendations. Why?

  • They have no QA process
  • They’re too easy to create and distribute
  • They’re not discerning
  • They are “suggested” by LinkedIn rather than “originated” by the contact

Maren Hogan on Recruiter.com wrote a good article on how to use endorsements to your best advantage (http://www.recruiter.com/i/6-ways-to-make-linkedin-endorsements-worthwhile/). She suggests the following ways to create value with LinkedIn endorsements.

  • Add strengths to your profile
  • Skip endorsements that don’t speak to your best strengths
  • Accept the LinkedIn endorsements only from people you know
  • Endorse selectively
  • Start using and providing ‘old fashioned’ recommendations

Do you feel LinkedIn’s endorsement tool is credible? Could it actually harm your reputation? Share your comments by clicking the link at the head of this post.

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The Absolute Necessity of Strategic Alignment

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ex1=ex2The gaps between strategy and execution are very real and at the heart of why so many business growth plans fail. Communication, alignment, staff attrition, “agendas,” and a hundred other factors contribute to breaches between strategic leadership and the ultimate actions of the tacticians who execute the plans.

A common challenge among organizations is how to identify these myriad gaps, define directives that fill them, and align leaders on making them happen…all while remaining aligned with the core purpose of the organization (aka brand vision). Addressing this challenge requires a business process that spans a 360-degree view of the organization and its environment on every front, including external forces such as suppliers, distributors and customers. This process can be the catalyst that brings the business model to life.

An ideal solution might be found in a well-defined, repeatable process that strives to make the lives of all the organization’s stakeholders better at once. By aligning common goals of all the organization’s stakeholders and corporate goals, core skills, talent, and assets, the process would guide operations to satisfy the ‘ultimate equation:’ Customer Expectations = Customer Experience. That means aligning employees, leaders, partners/distribution channels, operations, and others with customer goals in a holistic business process.

Oh yeah, and it has to be simple.

Aligning coverFor more on how to ensure your organization is strategically aligned, download my white paper, “Aligning the Stars: A Powerful Process for Strategic Alignment.  

I’d love to hear your feedback on it.

GroPartners Consulting

The Sad State of Corporate Vision Statements

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shutterstock_94813702In their book, “Built to Last, Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” Collins and Porras found “companies that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to the changing world. The dynamics of preserving the core while stimulating progress is the reason that companies such as Hewlett-Packard, 3M, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Merck, Sony, Motorola, and Nordstrom became elite institutions able to renew themselves and achieve superior long-term performance.” Collins and Porras found that these companies, and those like them, have outperformed the general stock market by a factor of 12 since 1925.

How Corporate Vision fits with Corporate Objectives

Corporate vision is what provides a long view; a plumb line to reference in all decision making. If the vision is aimed at the greater good, all business objectives will be guided by those tenets and act as guidelines within which the business must operate. Consequently, business objectives should always be subject to the boundaries of the vision. That means the vision should be carefully thought through at the highest levels of the organization and articulated with crystal clarity. Often a facilitator skilled in this area is needed to offer perspective.

What makes for a terrific (or horrific) corporate vision?

Vision statements should not be long or complicated. Too many times I’ve walked into company lobbies to see a plaque on the wall with three paragraphs of “mice-type” under a bold headline “Our Vision.”

What makes for a great corporate vision? I decided to reach out to a few leading brands to provide examples of solid vision statements that bridged the gap between business and customer objectives. Instead of clear vision, what I found (for the most part) were horrifyingly ham-fisted collections of words thrown together into heaps of nonsense.  Few of them were well written. And the meaning of them was often even worse.

Let’s Grade Some Vision Statements

Keep in mind that a good vision statement is one that balances the health of the business, the customer relationship, and the greater good of society.

HP: A++

“Human Progress”
(http://hpbrandcenter.com/strategy_overview.html)

This one blows my mind. I don’t believe I have heard two words together that have resonated more deeply. Like chest-rumbling summer thunder in the distance, these words communicate on a visceral level. The HP Brand Strategy website continues, “Brand strategy is the connection between our business goals, our marketing tactics and our company’s soul — turning theories and ideas into tangible actions that build the brand we want customers and other audiences to experience when they think of HP.” Wow. These guys get it.

Virgin Atlantic: B

Our vision is to contribute to creating happy and fulfilling lives which are also sustainable.”
(source:
http://www.virgin.com/people-and-planet/our-vision)

This vision statement is directionally valid because it speaks to improving the quality of life of people, and not the company. In order for a corporate vision statement to endure just about any external force, it should speak to what it’s endeavoring to do for the world, not just for itself. With this sustaining energy, the brand can transform to adapt to anything in the future because it’s not product based, market based, or even industry based. It’s about making people’s lives better, no matter what business they’re on. Virgin started as a record store. Now it has more than 50 branded companies in businesses as diverse as space travel, wine, and charities. To founder Richard Branson, it’s all about the experience – making people happy with sustainable living. I must admit, though, it could be a little more focused, and better written.

Pearson Education: F-

“To fulfil the educational needs across a spectrum of individuals with reliable experience and technology.”
(source: http://www.pearsoneducationservices.com/visionmission.php)

Even if you could forgive the spelling error (it was published on their website), the syntax indicates that Pearson’s target is a segment of people with reliable experience and technology. I don’t think that’s what they really meant. It’s one thing to get the purpose and focus of the vision statement wrong – it’s a whole different level of brand neglect to post something this important on a corporate website with incorrect spelling and syntax errors. And OMG, from an education company? Seriously?

Microsoft C+

“Create experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of Internet services across a world of devices.”
(source: Seattle Times, blog by Benjamin J. Romano, September 8, 2008)

(delivered by COO Kevin Turner at a buzz event, circa 2008)
Updated from the former original Bill Gates and Paul Allen vision of, “A computer on every desk,” neither of these statements are very altruistic in their service to mankind. But then again, I guess Gates was pretty good at separating his philanthropy from his juggernauts, waiting until after the corporate rat race was behind him to get all humane and everything.

B-  Walmart:

To promote ownership of Walmart’s ethical culture to all stakeholders globally.
(source: http://www.ask.com/question/wal-mart-s-vision-statement)

This is less of a vision statement than an internal cultural objective. At any rate, I didn’t downgrade this one too much because it speaks to ethical treatment of stakeholders and not to its own capitalistic interests and because it’s supported by values of being fair, having integrity, respecting others and embracing diversity.

Get the picture?

The vision should be in the service of people first while balanced with the corporate health. That’s what makes brands sustainable. And that’s why you’ve got to start with a really grounded vision before you can focus your corporate goals, objectives, and strategies. Take a look at your vision, does it pass the “vision test?”

  • Speaks to how the brand will make life better for people
  • Implies how the brand will sustain its business continuity and economics
  • Is short enough for every employee and customer to internalize and evangelize

What’s your idea of a great corporate vision? I’ll grade it for you 😉

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What Does “Operationalizing the Brand” Really Mean?

Buzz words. Oy. Our breed is the worst. Branding, story-telling, metrics, alignment. OMG. Half of us can’t even agree on what personas are.

So now “operationalizing the brand” is a buzz phrase that’s sweeping the marketing community. But what does it really mean?

Operationalizing the brand (it took me a few tries to be able to say it without sounding like a complete moron) is about aligning employees’ actions, business processes, and investments to provide customers with what they expect from the brand, within the constraints of business objectives (revenues/margins). It involves setting and meeting customer expectations from the inside of the organization out to customers. It’s about getting employees to understand and truly believe what they are doing every day makes a difference in achieving the same, ideal customer experience. It all comes down to people and metrics.

Surprisingly the concept of operationalization originated not from business, but from physics — an analysis of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Without straying into the intellectual abyss of physics, the general idea is that any concept (like brand value) is actually defined by the measurement operations that you use to quantify it. So the effectiveness of your strategy comes down to your system of metrics that connect strategy to execution and back (numbers that show how closely aligned all internal stakeholder actions are with what customers want).

It’s a continuum that feeds strategy with consumer/customer data that helps shape business strategies and execution. These data not only feed marketing approaches, but product development, operations, HR, finance, business development and other critical areas. It’s all driven by customer behavioral and perception data.

The metrics can be between business operations, between the operations and marketing and/or the customer, etc. But my favorite is connecting brand investments to business objectives. I like it because everyone thinks it’s so difficult, but it’s as simple as selecting a business objective you want to use as a baseline, and then creating a metrics trail from brand investments back to the business objectives. GroPartners loves to do this.

In my first-ever v-blog, I reduce the concept of operationalization to everyday business functions. After you watch the video, click the “comment” button at the top of the blog and share your thoughts.

To begin your road to operationalization, start by assessing the alignment among your internal stakeholders (employees) and your brand vision, mission, values, and value proposition. Matching these data against customer perceptions will give you a quantified idea of how much opportunity you have to strengthen the brand and grow. If you need some help with this, contact your brand strategy consultant, or GroPartners.

Special thanks to Julie Lindwall and Steve Italiano for lending their superior video production talents that made this edition possible.

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How to Get More Brand Funding from your CFO

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How to get more budgets for brand building

B2B marketing folks are often deer in the headlights when their CFOs challenge them for proof that brand building funds return value on their investments.

Financial executives – especially in B2B organizations often have a hard time justifying brand-building investments. That’s mostly because when marketing folks like us are asked to provide ROI calculations for the big bucks we request, we morph into deer in the headlights before their very eyes.

So what do we do? We cloak brand building in marketing execution expenses that the financial guys can wrap their heads around. Simply put, we expense it. Feeling wimpy yet? You’re not alone. But now it’s time to help your CFO understand the value of building brand equity and put it in the asset column where it belongs…because investment in assets and a solid valuation methods are things they can relate to.

Who Doesn’t Want Higher Business Valuation?

For many middle-market B2B companies, brand equity falls off the financial radar completely, mostly because there’s no official GAAP measurement formula for organic brand equity. In a survey of nearly 200 senior marketing managers, only 26 percent responded they found their “brand equity” metric very useful. That’s pretty sad, considering that some prominent marketing researchers believe brands are one of the most valuable assets a company owns. This is a measure brand and marketing managers should leverage in their stakeholder relationships.

B2B branding metrics

Who doesn’t want 5% – 20% more company valuation?

Even in B2B, where “branding” is looked upon as something more suited for consumer products, brand equity can account for 5% – 20% or more of a company’s market value.  And who wouldn’t want that (except maybe for that Cheerio-lobbing cherub who disses Jimmy Fallon on those Capital One commercials)?

In certain industries, increasing customer loyalty by 2% can impact the bottom-line in the same way as a 10% reduction in costs (The Market Research Executive Board, “Measuring Brand Equity”). The report continued to cite that a composite of companies with brands considered by business leaders as “superior” grew 402% in the 1990s while the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose only 308%. And if that tidbit doesn’t cause pause in your CFO, toss this one at her: research finds that companies with the largest gains in brand equity generated an average current-term stock return of 30%, while companies with decreases in brand equity lost 10%. This is the kind of cred bean counters need to begin viewing brand as an investment instead of an expense.

What is brand equity really?

Brand equity trends are a good barometer overall brand health. But much like measuring the happiness of hippos, no single, comprehensive, industry-wide definition for brand equity exists. If pressed for a broad definition, brand equity essentially addresses the financial value that a brand’s identity, persona, and emotional appeal add to a product or service. It’s less about function and more about the customer experience and relationship.  It all comes down to RAPPORT.

“Emotional value” is a pretty squishy thing to measure in financial terms, but it is undeniable that even in B2B, emotional attachment is a powerful issue. Though it may be expressed on different levels than B2C, people are still involved in the decision-making, influencing, and purchasing processes. And where there are people, there are emotional attachments.

The bottom line is…well, the bottom line…meaning that even if a brand has an emotional connection with its stakeholders, differentiation in the marketplace, high awareness, and easy accessibility, but not sustainable sales and margins; what’s it worth? This could be one reason why many B2B financial folks hold limited regard (and approve fewer, smaller budgets) for supporting this “phantom asset” than in B2C.

The flaws in most approaches to B2B brand equity measurement are their overemphasis on marketing factors and diminished emphasis on business, financial, and operational efficiency factors. After all, equity is a financial concept, so brand equity measurements – especially in B2B companies – should be less about the marketing aspects and more about the business and financial impact, right? One hitch: Marketing folks are more comfortable identifying and measuring brand equity drivers (marketing factors) that are great for prescribing ways to improve the financial equity of a brand, but not so good for measuring the equity. See the difference?

A Scorecard Just for B2B Brand Equity

To provide measurement of brand equity specifically for middle-market B2B brands that balances the marketing (external) and financial (internal) dimensions of the brand, I’ve crafted a scorecard that balances the two. The scorecard framework is based on the perspective that brand and business objectives always work hand-in-hand, because neither would exist without the other (if you believe that brand is a relationship with stakeholders). Another point to keep in mind is that the scorecard metrics are not meant to be used as isolated snapshots, but rather assessed in trends, taking the measurements at different periods over time and watching the delta and direction. This trending approach averages temporary influences and favors long term outlooks for valuation and predictive modeling.

B2B branding

The Devil’s in the Details

Category headers

Dimension: The aspect of the brand to be measured

Eight select business and marketing dimensions of the brand are identified from a balanced “branded-business” perspective

Internal/External: Categorizing each metric as internal or external

Internal factors are things that can be controlled internally, such as setting pricing, aligning people, or switching operational processes or investing in specific capital equipment. These are business metrics. External factors are controlled by forces outside the brand organization. They include factors such as media, marketing, events, economics, etc., and affect the dimensions of external culture, awareness, and preference.

Loyalty is a bridge between internal control factors and external control factors because the organization (internal) has control over loyalty programs, but customers (external) are ultimately the ones who control the loyalty score. These unique qualities make loyalty a very powerful indicator of brand health because they provide an ultimate measurement for the faithful delivery of the brand promise.

Metric: The specific measurement for each dimension

1. Financial: Price premium and positioning over median category pricing

This is a traditional brand equity measure. One caveat: Make sure the category is segmented very carefully (whether you are valuing a product or corporate brand). Price premiums can skew heavily either way if the category includes competitive alternatives or substitutes positioned off your target. If you’re valuing a corporate brand, you can quantify corporate perceived price positioning by using a “basket of brands” approach against the market median pricing of an equivalent basket for each competitor.  This is an internal metric because the B2B brand has control over its pricing.

2. Operational: Operational alignment score

Operational alignment occurs when the operational aspects of an organization and its people are all in alignment with the brand strategy. This means that everyone in a line position knows what to do on a daily basis in their jobs to support the brand’s delivery to its customers. This often combines elements of the corporate and product brand strategies. Operational alignment is not given much credit in the brand equity spreadsheet, but it can dramatically reduce costs in many ways. This is an internal metric because the B2B brand has control over its operational investments, processes, and policies.

3. Efficiency: Employee/customer brand delivery alignment score

Brand delivery is a brand touch point metric that assesses the alignment of stakeholders’ beliefs of what the brand delivers to them, above and beyond the functional aspects of the product or service. When employees and customers share the same understanding of what the brand is delivering (attributes beyond the functional), a brand is well aligned. When operationalized in every employee and customer group, this metric can pinpoint areas of misalignment, leading to clues for significant improvements in customer satisfaction. This is an internal metric because the B2B brand has control over setting and meeting customer expectations.

4. Loyalty: Net Promoter Score

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a measure of customer advocacy and evangelism. Essentially, it measures the percentage of branded customers who actively refer a brand within their personal and professional networks. High NPS has been related to strong brands and sustainable financial success. This is a hybrid internal and external metric because the B2B brand and the customer each have some control over loyalty.

5. Awareness: Brand awareness score

Brand awareness alone is a measure of marketing success and not necessarily financial success. But combined with the other metrics in this scorecard, it can help drive financial success. This is an external metric because awareness is a customer perception factor.

6. Recognition: Logo/packaging

Brand recognition is an important dimension that helps quantify not only differentiation, but also the degree to which a brand cuts through the noise of the modern marketing landscape.  It is an external metric because it is customer perceiption-based.

7. Preference: Market share trend

This metric is a traditional bell weather and helps round out the competitive success of the brand. This is an external metric because it deals with the external market competitive milieu.

8. Cultural: Buzz metrics (segment or industry)
Social media has made “buzz” an undeniable part of our brandscape. Measuring resonance with brand positioning amidst current socio-economic trends is another facet of awareness, but includes richer customer positioning connotations. This is a purely external factor because it is in the control of customers.

All metrics should be expressed in percentages and averaged together for a composite score. Each or any of these factors can be weighted to accommodate specific industry peculiarities.

Once you begin treating your brand investments like investments instead of expenses, you’ll be surprised at how much more confident you’ll be in your brand budget discussions.

Contact GroPartners Consulting for guidance on how to measure your B2B brand equity, either corporate or product. 847-845-6970

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Brand Strategy Roadmap

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A strong corporate brand strategy is one of the most powerful forces an organization can marshal. Properly operationalized, it can mRoad mapeasurably improve top-line effectiveness for product brands and bottom line efficiencies throughout the organization from the stock room to the board room − and everywhere between. In the best brands, the strategy acts as a guide for every stakeholder decision, from the highest level to the most granular, which can result in reduced management costs and greater employee satisfaction.

But just as any other kind of strategy, the true power of brand strategy is activated only with aligned execution. A brand strategy road map helps brands stay on track with clear process, aligning business, vision, people, and process.

Brand strategy originates in your organization’s  vision and values. Aligning business goals, customer wants and needs, and employee satisfaction with that vision is critical to sustainable growth.

Virgin Logovirgin brandsVirgin operates 53 separate brands, as diverse as airlines, records, books, and health. All Virgin brands are based on the same vision and values:

“Virgin believes in making a difference. We stand for value for money, quality, innovation, fun and a sense of competitive challenge. We strive to achieve this by empowering our employees to continually deliver an unbeatable customer experience.”

Experience…Founder Richard Branson showcases the Virgin brand with his swashbuckling extreme sports, spaceships and experience-steeped TV commercial roles. By contrast, many organizations mistake the branding process for an identity exercise. And while that is an essential piece of brand, there are three major components to branding:

  • Brand Strategy
  • Brand Development
  • Brand Engagement
Brand Strategy Road Map

A brand strategy road map helps communicate the process to senior management and provides “gates” that must be sequentially satisfied to move through the process. (Click graphic to enlarge)

Your company’s best branding strategies will almost always come from aligning customer insights with organizational vision, values and business objectives. Those strategies are brought to life with brand development (logos, messaging, governance, programs, products, services) and should permeate your organization’s processes and culture/employees. Only on this strategic footing is the brand ready to push outward to customers through sales and marketing touch points. This process helps organizations “live the brand,” so customers’ and consumers’ brand experience is consistent with what the brand stands for. This consistency provides a host of business benefits from enhanced productivity, support for premium pricing, and deflection of competition, to higher revenues and margins.

shutterstock_32689690Mergers & Acquisitions

When a merger or acquisition occurs, though there may be solid business due-diligence behind the transaction, brand misalignment is likely. Rarely are two brand cultures so similar that an alignment action isn’t needed to optimize business performance. Developing a brand strategy roadmap, along with some seasoned facilitation and guidance, helps resolve brand misalignment issues so people and processes support a common goal.

Get the (big) picture?

Alignment essentially assures that people, processes, and business goals all understand the vision and support each other. Alignment of talent, brand delivery, marketing, operations, and other functional areas and stakeholder groups make up the entire alignment picture. “People” include not only employees, but also distributors and customers.

Chicken and egg

There’s a debate among brand consultants about whether business strategy drives the vision or vice-versa…that business strategy may change the organizational vision. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment (see top of post).

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The True Measure of Customer Delight

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Delighted customers are worth more than their individual revenue streams.

In my August, 2010 frenchonbrand.com, “Is Customer Delight Overkill?” (http://wp.me/pU6PC-25), I downplayed the concept of customer delight as potentially over-performing on the premise that people don’t necessarily want to be delighted, merely satisfied. My logic was that over performing in this area causes excess cost. Since then, and as a result of one of my reader’s well-informed and thoughtful comments (thanks, John H. FMB!) —  and more research on the subject — I’ve moderated my position on customer delight and pass along the following convincing metric: a way to measure the impact of customer delight on word-of-mouth promotion to optimize the investment.

I realized the impact of customer delight extends far beyond the customer, after a review of W. Edwards Deming’s Profound Knowledge and Fred Reichheld’s “The Ultimate Question” (Net Promoter Score a.k.a. NPS). In this holistic approach to business, operationalizing customer delight becomes essential to its importance. Instead of viewing “delight” as overkill, I can now reconcile it with other favorable business results, such as increasing the lifetime value of a customer (promoter) beyond the customer revenue stream, and into areas such as:

  • Low-cost customer acquisition via referrals (reduced marketing costs)
  • Viral customer acquisition (referrals of referrals)
  • Lower customer attrition (customer loyalty)
  • Lower employee attrition (employee loyalty)
  • Lower customer price sensitivity (perceived value)
  • More nimble market response due to vibrant customer connections (innovation)
  • Continuous improvement of operations through cultural alignment (operationalized brand)
  • And many more

The result is sustainable growth.

To measure customer delight word-of-mouth radiance, Reichheld offers the following formula (this can be modified per individual situation). A customer survey is needed to capture the information needed to perform the calculations below (contact GroPartners for specific survey content).

Pick a benchmark date in the past (for example,  the past 12 months, or last fiscal year). Then use this measurement process.

1. How many delighted customers do you have?
Find out how many of your new desirable customers were referred by other delighted customers (NPS of 9 or 10, meaning “on a scale of 1-10, how likely would you be to refer a friend or colleague to your brand?)

2. What is your average new customer worth?
Calculate (or see industry analysts’ calculations) what your average new customer is worth in dollars and cents.

3. Calculate the total value of those new delighted customers
Multiply the data from #1 (above) by #2 (above)

4. Calculate the value of positive comments
In your NPS survey, also ask respondents for positive or negative comments that support their NPS rating. If x number of positive comments generated $y in revenue (from 3 above), divide y/x to calculate the value of each positive comment

6. Calculate the value of each promoter
In your survey, find out the number of people per year to which each promoter might have commented, and multiply the average number by the value in #4 (above) to get the value of word-of-mouth per promoter.  This is the “magic number” that helps optimize customer delight.

Anything can be measured. Even the power of customer delight. Now I’m a believer. How about you?

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