Category Archives: Branding

Customer Insights Mean Everything

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 2.18.36 PMI had a great time hanging with Leslie Westbrook for a couple weeks earlier this month.

Leslie is an Ole Miss graduate who went on to a phenomenal career in market research and consumer perceptions.

She started with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, and then worked for New Product Insights in Kansas City before starting her own company in Maryland.

She’s helped position and launch so many products over the years: Pampers. Pringles. Duncan Donuts coffee. Dairy Queen Blizzard. Quaker Granola Bars. And the brands on her resume are incredible: Hallmark. Purina. Coke. Kraft. Johnson & Johnson. Sara Lee. General Foods. Nestle. Max Factor. Ragu. Del Monte. Arm & Hammer. Kimberly Clark. The list is endless.

In the early 1980s when I was in college and just reading about the Tylenol poisonings, she was working with McNeil Consumer Healthcare (the brand’s owner at the time) to develop new tamper resistant packaging and to position the new caplets which replaced the capsules.

We both love research and knowing what customers think, and hit it off well. She talked to a variety of classes, helped my classes with a focus group project, met students, shared ideas and more.

One of the many things that jumped out though is a theme that’s near and dear to me: That in marketing, it’s the little things – the tiniest of details – that can make or break a customer relationship and set the tone for a brand.

pringles1970Leslie talked about Pringles. When she was testing the product, it was assumed customers would pour the chips into a bowl or on a napkin before eating. No one anticipated they’d stick their hand into the container to get the chips. So P&G redesigned the packaging to remove the sharp edges around the opening of the tube so people wouldn’t cut themselves when they reached inside.

Pampers was an interesting challenge. At the time, many women were appalled at the idea of wrapping their babies in plastic – most said good mothers would never do such a thing.   Understanding this nuance, Pampers wasn’t positioned as a convenience. Instead, it was marketed as being good for the baby because it wicked moisture away from the skin, meaning less chance of diaper rash. This messaging did the trick and sales took off.

In the early days of granola bars, there was only kind: dry and crunchy. They crumbled easily and were a mess to eat. Understanding this, Quaker realized the appeal of a bar that held together when eaten. Thus, the success of a soft “chewy” product that became a hit.

Call me crazy, but I love this stuff, and it was fun to spend time with someone else who loves it too!  I look forward to Leslie’s next visit.

Click here, here and here to see some of my previous posts on how little things are the big things in marketing.


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Filed under Branding, Customers, Market Research, Sweat the Small Stuff

Winning Pays

UMOle Miss beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last night.

Now that’s a sentence you don’t see often because it’s only happened one other time in college football history. Ole Miss beat Alabama in Oxford last year too, which was without a doubt the best game I’ve ever attended anywhere, anytime. As pundits are saying this morning, if last year was an upset, what’s it called when it happens two years in a row? I don’t want to jinx it so will stop right there with my euphoria.

Sometimes people think collegiate athletics is out of hand – that the emphasis is too great, the stakes are too high, athletic budgets are out of whack with the rest of the school and the coaches make too much money. Lowly professors (of which I am one) grumble they get tiny (if any) annual raises, their departments deal with budget crunches and they teach in outdated classrooms while gleaming new athletic facilities spring up across campus.

The University of Texas at Austin has a $260 million athletic budget, with more than 10 percent of it coming just from sponsorships, merchandise sales and royalties. While that’s the second largest budget in the U.S. (behind Oregon, which moved into the top spot this year because of a one-time donation from Nike’s Phil Knight), it’s trending this way everywhere. Schools hand the marketing to conglomerates such as IMG Worldwide and Learfield Sports. They make a mint from conference television networks and media rights. Coaches at Division I schools make millions, and coaches at Division II and Division III colleges watch their players get beat up playing big schools in non-conference games because it brings in the money.

To be sure, college athletics is big business.

But for all the naysayers, this stuff is what builds the brand. Sure, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze makes a lot of money. Often, coaches are the highest paid public employees in any given state. But if they can win and keep a clean program, it’s worth it. Double or triple their salaries and it’s still worth it.

In the Ole Miss example, look at the exposure winning games like last night brings. The Rebels were highlighted all day yesterday on ESPN’s College GameDay. The game was watched around the nation. Now highlights are being replayed on all the sports shows, and the school is trending on social media everywhere. Money can’t directly buy this kind of exposure, but success on the field or on the court makes it happen.

We know high school students everywhere are checking out Ole Miss this morning. If this keeps up, we know applications will increase next year. In 2008, I was teaching at Drake University in Des Moines when the men’s basketball team made it into the first round of the NCAA tournament – something that rarely happens there – and student applications the following fall spiked while the community beamed with pride.

Some smaller schools are adding athletic programs simply because of the exposure and students it will bring.

A lot of my Ole Miss students are from out of state, sometimes from seemingly far away places like Washington state, California, New York. And I often ask what put this place on their radar, what first piqued their interest in thinking about Ole Miss?  I usually hear one of two things.

The first is athletics. They watch our football team play, they see game day festivities, they want to be a part of it. Winning puts us on the map in ways nothing else can.

The second thing I hear when I ask that question is The Blind Side, and thank goodness cable networks play that movie repeatedly and not Mississippi Burning.

To those academics who lament the fact that athletic programs hog all the attention and coaches get such high salaries, I ask: How much money do you bring into the school? How much national exposure does your department generate? And how many students would discover your program if athletics didn’t put the institution on the map first?

So thank you Coach Freeze. Last night proves you are worth every penny and then some. What you do means I have more students to teach and the brand on my own resume becomes more valuable. When you win, when the team wins, we all win.

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Catch 22

book-publishing1I was talking with an author yesterday. His name is Michael Henry; he’s got a new novel (his 8th) on the way. It’s called Murder in the Grove – the plot is rooted in the riots on the Ole Miss campus in October, 1962. It sounds great and I can’t wait to read it.

During our conversation, he mentioned that book publishing is a “Catch 22” these days: Publishers are hesitant to work with authors who haven’t already sold a lot of books, but how’s a new writer supposed to sell books if they can’t find a publisher?

He said it’s the same in the music business. Recording companies favor musicians who have previously sold a lot of music.

And I started thinking how that’s similar to what I hear from students all the time: To land a marketing job, they need experience on their resume. But how do they get experience if employers won’t ever hire someone without it?

Unfortunately I don’t have much advice for authors or musicians.

But when it comes to internships and jobs for my students, I tell them to grab something – anything – to get their first gig out of the way. Then build the resume from there. Sometimes students hesitate to take an internship because they don’t think the opportunity sounds exciting, of they feel the responsibilities might be menial.

But a dull internship is still an internship.

My first internship was at a marketing agency in London. Although that sounds great to say, the experience was anything but. On some days they’d send me to the store to buy more milk and tea for the break room. On other days, I’d sort through file cabinets and organize brochures. Although I got to meet a lot of nice people, the job was generally boring and lasted just a semester.  But from that point forward, I had a track record. Having that internship made getting the next (better) one easier.

Years later, it was a similar paradox when I left my corporate job and started consulting, I knew the hardest client to get would be the first one. How much would I have to tap dance when a prospect asked for references or wanted to know whom my other clients were? I was open to anything, and the first marketing project I landed involved creating display boards for a trade show for a small insurance company. I remember standing there with foam boards and Spray Mount wondering if I’d made a huge career mistake.  But that project led to a better one, and then a better one, and within a few months I had landed some nice projects with the corporate offices of Wells Fargo Mortgage, Farm Bureau, Nationwide, a few municipal governments and other entities.

There will always be Catch 22s. The trick is doing what you need to do to move past it.

For more information on Michael Henry’s books, click here

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Brand Colors

photo(16)What color is associated with breast cancer awareness? Everyone knows it’s pink. And if you receive a gift that comes in small turquoise box with a white ribbon, it comes from Tiffany’s.

Smart marketers know how to link their brand to certain colors. But the concept is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I attended an antique tractor show with my dad last week.

For as long as there have been tractors, farmers have known that green means John Deere and red means International Harvester (and the sub brand Farmall).   Back in the day, there was also orange (Allis Chalmers), yellow (Minneapolis Moline), gray (Ford) and a variety of other proprietary color schemes for tractor brands that now no longer exist.

It meant you knew what brand of tractor your neighbor had simply by looking into his field. Most farmers were loyal to only one brand; for example they were either “red” or “green.” Much like it’s rare today to find someone who drives both a Chevy and Ford, it was unusual for a farm to be both John Deere and International. I’m not sure if the preference was because of passion, or just due to what was sold by the local implement dealer.  Perhaps a farmer was red or green or orange because that’s what was convenient to buy in their town.

photo-6I did see a couple white tractors at the show that stood out like albinos among all the other bright colors. I learned that International called these tractors “demonstrators.” They’d use these machines to demonstrate the latest models, and it was obvious to anyone watching that a farmer may be considering a new purchase.

Speaking of white, there was once a tractor brand named White, which was the result of various mergers and acquisitions of other companies. Ironically, the tractors weren’t painted white. They were silver. I believe this company only makes planters today.

Here’s a country song called John Deere Green.

For more information about other brands and their colors, click here.

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Trump Card

Trump CardsDisclaimer: I’m not endorsing or promoting any presidential candidate. My political beliefs or party affiliation (if any) aren’t relevant here. This blog isn’t about politics. It’s about marketing and communications.

So it is from this vantage point that say I admire Donald Trump. Currently there are 17 – SEVENTEEN – candidates vying to win the Republican nomination. Which one stands out? Which one makes the headlines? Which one are pundits talking about? Which one am I writing about?

The Donald.

Good marketing communications is about making your product or service stand out. It’s about being different, and generating buzz and being remembered. That’s exactly what Trump is doing.

Sure, he might be a clown sometimes. But he’s a clown people remember – one people know something about – unlike most of those other 16 what’s-their-names.

I know, I know. Standing out for the wrong reason can be bad. Think about Toyota or BP. They dominated the news for a while, but they stood out because of mistakes and accidents. Trump is no accident. He’s a guy that knows his brand, knows his audience and has figured out how to maximize his marketing communication.

Kudos to you for that, Mr. Trump.

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Word of Mouth Marketing: WOW

womTwo years ago, the undergraduate Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at Ole Miss had 80 students.  Last year, it was 190.  Now it tops 450.  Wow.

Why the fast growth?  Several reasons: Enrollment across the entire university is up, so that helps.  We continue to receive very positive feedback on the IMC curriculum from students, parents and alumni – it’s a good mix of journalism, communication, business and liberal arts courses.  Jobs are in demand for people with these skills.  And students in the program give it a big thumbs up.  In a survey last May, 86 percent said they were satisfied, 77 percent said they’d pick the major again if they had a do-over, and 81 percent said they’d definitely recommend IMC to other students.

That last one – positive word of mouth – is what I believe is really behind the numbers. (It’s also the one that keeps me up at night, because what grows fast by positive word of mouth can also be destroyed just as quickly if the buzz turns negative.)

Word of mouth is an important component of IMC.  Sure, everyone knows that good things said about a brand can be influential, but beyond that it’s important to understand how word of mouth works, how it’s quantified and measured, and more.

Fate intervened a couple weeks ago when I had the chance to visit with Stuart Sheldon, president of Escalate Marketing.  It’s an Atlanta based agency that offers experiential and word of mouth marketing to clients such as Barilla, Birds Eye, Coca-Cola, and others.  (I met Sheldon through a colleague who used to work in brand management at Coke.)

He champions the idea that a critical component of IMC – beyond things like direct marketing, public relations, advertising, sales promotion and all the other strategies – is leveraging the power of passionate customers in an organized way.  In other words, orchestrating the good words of customers, just like advertising and other messages are orchestrated (and integrated).

This goes way beyond just “likes.” In fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with social media.  According to Sheldon, word of mouth happens through:

  • Face to face interactions (72%)
  • Phone conversations (17%)
  • Text messaging (4%)
  • E-mail (3%)
  • Blogs and chat (1%)
  • And other means (3%)

What’s more, research also shows that about 1 in 5 consumer purchases in the U.S. are solely the result of word of mouth.

Think about that.  One in 5 is a powerful statistic, and yet it makes perfect sense.  What purchases have you made, what brands have you tried, because of the recommendations (or even just chatter) from people you know?

This is a fascinating concept, and while word of mouth marketing isn’t anything new, its recognition as a marketing discipline is somewhat recent.   Check out the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, formed just about a decade ago.

I look forward to learning more.  It’s a very important part of the IMC equation.

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Think Pink

pinkhighwayAs nearly everyone knows – thanks to the phenomenal marketing efforts of the major breast cancer charities – October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I have never seen a brand extended into so many things.   I was thinking about it again this morning as I peeled the pink lid off my yogurt.  That color and the ribbon is everywhere.

A couple of the more unique extensions I recall seeing this year:  A pink highway ramp in Iceland, and the pink helmets, cleats, socks and gloves worn by the University of Oregon football team in their game against Washington State. (Pink was everywhere in the NFL this month too.)

Some pundits wonder about “pinkwashing,” – the idea that perhaps organizations climb on the pink bandwagon more to enhance their own bottom line than that of the charity.  And to be sure, sometimes pink has showed up on things that don’t make sense.  (A few years ago, the Susan G. Koman Foundation took some flack for teaming up with KFC on a “Buckets for the Cure” promotion – health and fried chicken aren’t usually things that go together.)

I’ll leave that debate to others, but the fact remains this is an absolutely incredible integrated marketing communications effort.  When you become so well branded that your organization can “own” a color — well that truly is amazing.  Kudos to the breast cancer charities.

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