February 2

Flip Your Customer the BiRD – The Missing Link Between Branding and Profit

What do Pantene, McDonald’s and New Coke all have in common? Well….

  • Pantene spent about $1.2 million on failed advertisements trying to convince women in south east Asia to adopt it as their haircare brand of choice
  • McDonald’s dropped a cool $100 million trying to convince urban sophisticates to choose McDonald’s as their modern day Five-Guys (yes, I know… there was no Five-Guys back then… but you get the point)
  • And while Coca-Cola has never publicly admitted just how expensive their 77 day New Coke product launch program cost the company, various sources suggest the number is somewhere between $30-$50 million 

They all failed to flip their customers the BiRD.

And because they didn’t truly understand the Brand Relationship Drivers for their various customer types, they blew a ton of cash, wasted a bunch of time and surely lost out on a lot of opportunities.  

Historically marketers have treated branding as a funneling process. They took in huge amounts of information and sifted through it, researched it, argued about it and finally, out from the bottom of the funnel popped a single brand promise. 

For example, Volvo’s brand promise is safety. Then, they leveraged all communications against that single brand promise believing that by doing so we created a unique and identifiable brand positioning in the mind of the consumer. So in Volvo’s case, when a consumer wants to buy a safe car, naturally they will want to buy a Volvo. And when we see a person driving a Volvo, we immediately think, “there goes a person that is concerned about driving a safe car.”

But does branding really work like that in the real world? To find out, we ran a quick, down and dirty study using our social media accounts. 

And the survey says… that Volvo is doing a great job of branding. 82% of respondents believed that “people buy a Volvo because it’s safe.” 

But wait a minute… an interesting thing must have happened on the way to the dealership because when those same respondents were asked why THEY would BUY a Volvo, the singular buy because it’s a safe car message morphed into a far more complex and nuanced set of Brand Relationship Drivers. Specifically: 

  • 30% said they wouldn't buy a Volvo ever - ouch. 
  • 27% said they'd buy a Volvo because it's safe. And even if you remove the "wouldn't buy" folks and refactor, only 39% mention safety. 
  • 15% said they'd buy a Volvo because it was reliable.
  • The rest of the responses were too varied to tally but included, it's style, it's boxy (which I guess is a style), price, and prestige. 

What does this mean for brand strategy development today? 

In today’s global, multicultural, info-saturated, advertising fueled, social media driven culture, a brand is more than a promise – it has to be if it hopes to be relevant. Today, a brand is a product or service’s spirit. And a consumer's relationship with a brand is multilayered.

The first and primary layer is the Brand Entity. Unlike a brand promise, a brand entity is the sum total of the brand, not just a singular promise. It is the brand’s primary promise or reason for being its personality, its style, customer service, usage experience, political beliefs, and even its friends (associative brands) all rolled into one defining entity or belief system. 

The secondary layer is the Brand Relationship Driver (BRD) – or as I like to say, the real reason that your consumer actually makes the final decision to buy your product or service.

In this case, the Volvo brand entity (which is what people relate to) primarily stands for safety, the survey suggested that people would choose a Volvo for a lot of reasons other than just a concern for safety. 

To map your Brand Relationship Drivers, begin with an open mind and then combine qualitative and quantitative research approaches. 

Use qualitative techniques like one-on-one interviews, focus groups, ethnography and the like to understand if you have accurately crafted the Brand Entity and have accurately described the Brand Entities of your Competitor Brands and Associate Brands. Hopefully you have, but if not, then revise the misdefined Brand Entity(ies) accordingly. 

Next, listen for potential BRDs. Don’t assume anything. You want to know why these people actually buy your product/service or in the case of a new product/service, why they buy the category. Chances are, you’ll hear rational vs emotional purchase drivers. Though, that doesn’t exclude emotional drivers, especially with high risk/reward, luxury or badge brand purchases.

Then use qualitative approaches to gain statistical verification you have accurately identified:

  • Did you accurately describe the Brand Entity?

    • You may believe it, but does a statistically significant section of your target market agree with you?

  • Is it meaningful to the consumer in a positive manner?

    • While Brand Entity alone won’t usually cause a person to buy the product, it certainly can cause them to not buy the product. Create an entity that a consumer dislikes and you can pretty much assure yourself that person won’t buy your product, regardless of the BRDs you advertise.

  • Are the BRDs identified in the qualitative phase real? Here you’re looking for statistical verification.

  • Are the BRDs segmentable? Once you’ve identified the statistically verifiable BRDs, you need to cross-tab the research to see if you can reverse engineer a target market.

  • Are the segments worth talking to? Are the segments big enough to result in a positive return-on-investment? You may have 50 people that buy your product for a specific reason, but if it costs more to reach those 50 than they’ll purchase, don’t bother.

  • Will talking about one BRD alienate people that respond to another? This is a tricky one. But it’s important because it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to segment your message delivery in such a way as to eliminate all message spill. So if your BRD mapping shows that teens and senior citizens both like your product for different reasons, you’ll need to consider what a teen is going to do if they see a message targeted to the senior citizen and vice versa.

The power of the Brand Relationship Driver approach comes from building segmented groups of consumers based on their REASON for buying and creating mini-communications plans around those reasons.

This isn’t terribly different from HBS professor Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to be Done framework. Under that framework, brands need to get two things right in order to successfully connect with and co-opt consumers. 

  1. Consumer personas — a clear understanding of the consumers. This helps the product designers and the brand team understand and empathize with the people for whom they are building the product. Detailed customer personas also help the brand team get a grip on the next requirement.

  2. Use cases — It’s not sufficient to simply know who the consumers are; a brand team also needs to understand their needs. Every consumer has a use case, a specific need, for which they are buying a product. The brand needs to figure out this use case (or use cases) and position itself as THE best choice to meet that use case.

    Here again, our research validated the theory. We asked respondents to tell us how they make three different dining out decisions. First, if they're going to lunch, second, if they're dining out on a Tuesday night and third, if they're having a romantic dinner. We wanted to know what they're primary decision variables were for each use case.

    Just look at how the decision variables change for each use case. Personally, I found the last one, Romantic the most interesting because that decision really wasn't about what the decider wanted, but what they're partner wanted. 

  • Lunch Decision Job: get me in and out quickly and secondarily, be close by so I can have minimal travel time
  • Mid-Week Dinner Decision Job: Eat something I really like, so it's all about food type and menu offering.
  • Romantic Dinner Decision Job: What does my partner want/favor... and then are we in the mood for an adventure (try something new) or want confidence that our "date night" won't be ruined (old standbys). 

Like Brand Relationship Drivers, JTBD focuses on the purchase decision drivers at the moment of truth, and seeks to own those drivers in the consumers’ mind. According to Christensen, this matters because understanding the “job” for which customers hire a product or service helps innovators more accurately develop products that align with what customers are already trying to accomplish.

And I’d argue it also makes message creation to those same target audiences so much easier and produces more relevant and actionable marketing.

Why should you use BRDs? 

If you think about it, at its essence, branding is an irrational consumer response to marketing stimuli. Every day, consumers pay a dollar more to get a branded product or service rather than the non-branded or private label product or service. 

But to keep that gravy train rolling, you have to know WHY that person was willing to pay the extra money to buy your brand. To assume that everyone is buying the brand because of a single brand promise is to ignore the fact that a brand is a complex, multifaceted entity that people form relationships to, but not always for the same reason.

BRD Mapping attempts to solve the branding puzzle leading to increased message relevance and ultimately increased sales.


But what do you think? Feel free to let me know via comments or drop me a note on Twitter (@TomMartin). Like the bio says, I do love stiff drinks and good debates! 


This post was originally published on Insight & Information, the weekly sales and marketing blog created by the fine folks at Converse Digital. If you want to learn how to create, engage in, and convert conversations into new clients and customers, give them a call


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