Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Brand Authenticity Cycle

You know how it goes, Brand Authenticity = Product Authenticity = Brand Authenticity = Experiential Authenticity = Brand Authenticity. . . and the beat goes on!

You hear a lot about how brands are supposed to be “authentic,” although you’re likely to hear different definitions from different brands, some related to category, some related to experience, and some actually even related to brand, with some designations more plausible than others. Brand Keys views “brand authenticity” as a set of values – the most leveragable of which are emotional – that a brand can believably own.

The critical words in that last phrase was “believably own” because it turns out that there’s an enormous difference between a brand saying something, a brand doing something, and a brand doing something believably. If it helps, think of it as a brand’s emotional version of “a promise made, should be a promise kept.” In a world where consumers talk to themselves before they talk to brands, you definitely want consumers to feel that your brand is keeping its promises – or the promises you make about your products or services – and, thus, protect your brand’s authenticity.

In the Retail sector, “authenticity” has a lot to do with “trusting what the brand says or sells,” which has a lot to do with “brand reputation,” which has a lot to do with “customer loyalty,” which has a lot to do with “sales,” which has a lot to do with.  .  . well, you get the point. This is true in all Retail sectors, but more particularly in the sub-category “Discount Retailers.”

In a category where low-lower-lowest prices correlate so very highly with the perception of value and product primacy, consumers ask the question, does the product deliver on what was promised and do I feel I received real value?  Authenticity is why responsibility for things like illegal child labor practices ultimately came back to haunt discount retailers. They weren’t running the sweatshops, but who else was the customer to blame? Sure, cheap is cheap, after all. But do consumers really care where a product is manufactured? Or how? Or if it’s exactly up to specs? Or whether political prisoners are sewing soccer balls with their teeth? The easy, intuitively obvious and rational answer is, of course “yes,” but brand loyalty research in the Discount Retail category proves it’s so. And to a much larger extent that has previously been assumed.

A recent Brand Keys study examined Target, Walmart, and Kmart shoppers and measured the connection of authenticity to actual behavior in the marketplace. It turns out that people who felt the brand more “authentic,” shopped the brand six times more frequently, bought more products from that retailer, and were also more likely to rebuff competitive offers, especially one that were price-based. They don’t call it “Discount Retail” for nothing!

So an authentic brand yielded more loyal customers. But it also turns out that “authenticity” is strongly related to expectations consumers hold for primacy-of-product, the head-nodding response to the question, “Did I get what I paid for?”

These findings were most-recently face-validated when Target pulled Welspun India Ltd.’s products from their shelves after the brand’s investigation found they couldn’t guarantee that the products were actually 100% Egyptian cotton as advertised.

The following week Walmart announced that it would stop selling the “Egyptian” cotton sheets made by Welspun because they couldn’t attest to the products legitimacy. They removed all products from their shelves and have offered customers a full refund. They donated the sheets to some good cause.

But it turns out that Welspun has not used actual Egyptian cotton in their products for two years. Oops! And if that’s not enough to have you question the authenticity of products you buy, the Cotton Egypt Association, which certifies suppliers, estimates that 90% of products labeled “Egyptian cotton” are inauthentic, or the precise opposite of “authentic.”

Good brand marketers need to understand that not only must their brands be authentic, but their products must be authentic too. And while our studies have confirmed that precept, perhaps Shakespeare said it best:

This above all: To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Particularly it you want loyal consumers.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Trump (the Human Brand) Versus Trump (the Presidential Candidate)

A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, Brand Keys asked the question, “Can the Human Brand, Donald Trump, Become Candidate Trump?”

To answer that question we conducted a survey using our predictive loyalty and engagement metrics that have been independently validated to correlate very, very highly with consumer behavior.  And what’s more important than how Americans vote? And on the basis of those assessments, the answer to the question turned out to be “yes.” It seemed eminently possible to migrate this particular Human Brand to a Presidential Candidate Brand.

And, as predictive metrics are meant to predict, they did. And the rest, as they say, is at the very least, recent history. Although for many voters it has seemed like forever.

On the “Human Brand” side, more than 75% of the entities Mr. Trump listed in his presidential financial disclosure statement carried either his name or initials on lifestyle and consumer products. But a few months ago it was announced that Mr. Trump wasn’t going to put his name on a new chain of hotels, designed to cater to Millennials, a group where Mr. Trump has not polled particularly well up to now.

The new chain, not as high-end as his usual ultra-luxury properties, has apparently been designed to compete with Airbnb and other hotel chains’ more stylish and tech-savvy brands, which have also targeted younger consumers. Eric Danziger, Trump Hotels CEO, said the company wanted “to reserve the name Trump only for luxury and never want to confuse customers or owners of the difference in a four and five-star property.”

Given trends in the hotel business, that decision made real business sense since Trump (the Human Brand) has been generally associated with wealth, luxury, and glamour, and for some, wretched-excess. But as Oscar Wilde noted, “Nothing succeeds as excess,” and Mr. Trump has. Succeeded, that is. His branded products have provided an answer for consumers who aspired to share in the lifestyle of the powerful and influential and the rich and famous. And over the years, the Trump brand has very successfully done precisely what a brand is designed to do. It brought added-value to products and services that bore his name – one of the critical obligations of 21st century brands and the ultimate acid test for a real brand.

In a study Brand Keys conducted pre-Presidential Candidate Trump, we found that adding the Trump name increased the perceived value of products or services anywhere from 20% to 37%.

That’s enviable by any category standards, but recent events have raised a new question: How was Presidential Candidate Brand Trump affecting Trump the Human Brand?  We already knew that his observations regarding minorities resulted in Macy’s dropping his line and other partners withdrawing from deals. So to provide some research insights into how Mr. Trump’s highly publicized, often-contentious, and never-boring transition from brand to candidate has affected the Human Brand, we conducted another survey to measure those effects.

Of the seven categories previously examined, Presidential Brand Trump increased added-value in the two categories with which Mr. Trump is currently most associated: TV/Entertainment and Country Clubs and Golf Courses. Added value regarding Real Estate has remained high but unchanged from two years ago.

But in more consumer-marketplace related products like shirts, ties, suits, and jewelry, Trump the Human Brand’s added-value has been significantly degraded. All changes – up and down – are significant at the 95% confidence level, although, as noted, twice the number of categories are down as they are up!

Category                              Human                      Presidential              Added-Value
                                              Brand                            Brand                     Differential          TV/Entertainment:                   37%                              43%                            + 6%

Country/Golf Clubs:                 35%                             40%                            + 5%

Real Estate:                             30%                             30%                         Unchanged

Dress Shirts:                            30%                             22%                            - 8%

Ties:                                         29%                             23%                            - 6%   

Suits:                                        25%                            19%                             - 6%

Watches:                                  20%                            11%                              - 9%

It was P.T. Barnum who first said, "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right," but he was running an exhibition hall and not a presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump’s comments regarding immigration, Mexicans, President Obama’s birther issues (both pro and con), the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of women, his admiration of Vladimir Putin, his Great Wall, his great wealth, his great health, and his love (and possession) of big guns and big hands has been – to say the least – controversial, polarizing, nasty, nastier, and sometimes just downright comedic for a presidential campaign.

It’s been said, “to err is human, to forgive divine.” But given the results of our most recent survey, it turns out that Human Brands apparently don’t always have that option and 21st century customers/voters aren’t as magnanimous as they used to be in simpler times!

But when it comes to the actual election, we’ll be measuring Presidential Brand Trump after the first debate just to see where that version of Trump – and Secretary Clinton – stands in the political arena.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Apple iPhone 7 Sucks (When It Comes Building Loyalty)

MEMO TO APPLE: When Delight Becomes Expectation, Loyalty Becomes Uncertain

It may surprise consumers to realize, but it was only nine short years ago that Apple introduced the iPhone. Sure that’s nearly an eon in tech-time, but with that introduction Apple set a very high expectation bar – as well as A very fast pace for innovation and design ­– for all smartphones to come.

The level Apple set became the “delight.” One that kept users upgrading again and again for the past 8 years as well as enticing users of competing systems to defect to Apple – even in the face of lower-priced offerings. Every year Apple met, set, or exceeded expectations consumers had for their Ideal smartphone. And doing that kept consumers loyal and the brand very profitable. Quod erat deomnstrandum.

But then the competition reset category expectations. Two years ago Samsung introduced the first water-resistant smartphone. Earlier this year they introduced the two-camera lens system. LG introduced their version of that camera shortly thereafter. Samsung had already developed greater screen resolution and had extended the screen to the edge of the phone, a trick of design that made the screen appear bigger. Last week Apple unveiled their long-awaited iPhone 7.

Yes, it has improved battery life and a dual-lens camera. It’s water-resistant now. They’ve removed the headphone socket from the bottom of the phone, which now requires wireless AirPod headphones (or a converter to use your traditional headset). Apple still has its integrated, easy-to-use hardware/software, but that’s not new. Neither is their legendary customer support infrastructure.

But questions regarding loyalty and customer defection potential abound. What of the organic design that created the original category expectations and that currently drive nearly 40% of the loyalty in the category? How likely is the “new” iPhone to engage customers – both current and competitive? Will smartphone users of all stripes find enough brand value in Apple’s new version? And if not, will current iPhone users hold on to their existing devices longer? Oh, and how long before I lose my AirPods?

To provide some insights into those questions, Brand Keys measured the iPhone 7 (as introduced by Apple) using our predictive engagement and loyalty metrics to compare the Apple 7 to earlier Apple loyalty measures collected back in January of this year.

Back then Apple rated an overall 89% (versus a category Ideal configured at 100%), which ranked Apple #1 but just 1% higher than Samsung. Back then Apple was seen by customers to best meet their very high expectations for the single category loyalty driver having to do with “Cameras, Apps, and Multi-Media.” They also did very well when it came to “Brand Value and Customer Support,” but did less well when it came to “Organic Design” and “Personal Connectivity,” the two most-important loyalty drivers in the Smartphone category.

So optimally, the new iPhone 7 would raise the brand’s ability to better meet the expectations consumers held for each of the four category loyalty drivers, thus increasing brand engagement, independently validated to correlate very highly with positive consumer behavior in the marketplace. QED.

Regrettably, the new assessments do not bear out that objective.

When it came to “Organic Design,” the Apple iPhone 7 was rated significantly lower than January assessments, and only directionally higher for “Personal Connectivity.” Thus are the vagaries of customer expectations, and the removal of traditional headsets, one can only suppose. There was no change when it came to “Brand Value and Customer Support,” which one might have guessed. They’re Apple, after all.

The only significant increase was in the driver “Cameras, Apps, and Multi-Media,” and all together, looking at Apple’s 4-driver weighted average versus the Ideal of 100%, actually resulted in a decrease of 2% for the Apple brand, or an overall loyalty and engagement rating of 87%. To paraphrase Alexander Pope, “Hope springs eternal for all tech brands,” but it’s not necessarily accorded.

And sure, Apple can count on the Innovators, the (Very) Early Adopters, and the Apple Passionistas to line up for the 7, although we think it’s fair to point out they only account for about 17% of the population. Additionally, Apple, which has provided opening weekend sates data for the past 8 years, has decided it’s not going to do that this year. Or any more. They rationalize that decision citing initial sales aren’t the best indicator (anymore?). Oh, and estimates for iPhone sales in the coming year are modest at best.

None of this comes a surprise to us. In our annual survey of the most innovative brands in America this past July, Apple slipped from the #1 spot to #4. Yikes! It would appear that what was once seen to be iconic is now viewed as generic. And a brand that once delighted now battles to meet consumer expectations.

And build customer loyalty, too. QED.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Most Loyal Fans In the NFL

The NFL season always kicks off with teams planning for an Ideal season leading to Super Bowl. This year, the annual kickoff game felt familiar, with the Carolina Panthers opening the season in Denver looking for a chance to bounce back from last year’s Super Bowl loss, the first time a Super Bowl rematch kicked off an NFL season, but the 24th time Brand Keys has announced the results of its annual Brand Keys 2016 Sports Fan Loyalty Index, this round focusing on the NFL.

Appearing in the Super Bowl is every team’s Ideal outcome. Fans also have an “ideal” in mind – the Ideal team. Fans see their ideal team as the one that better meets their very high expectations. Teams that can, always win the “Loyalty Bowl.” There’s no trophy, but it comes with something more important – emotionally engaged fans, increased game viewership, and increased purchases of licensed merchandise.

Here are the 2016 - 2017 season NFL teams that scored when it comes to fan loyalty, and those that didn’t. For comparative purposes, #’s in parentheses are team’s rankings for last season:

Top 5
1.             New England Patriots (#1)
2.             Denver Broncos (#3)
3.             Green Bay Packers (#2)
4.             Seattle Seahawks (#3)
5.             San Francisco 49ers (#6)

Bottom 5
32.      Cleveland Browns (#30)
31.      Jacksonville Jaguars (#31)
30.      Oakland Raiders (#32)
29.      Washington Redskins (#29)
28.      Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#28)

Brand Keys’ Sports Fan Loyalty Index was designed to help professional sports team management identify precise fan loyalty rankings in their home and national markets with insights that enable the league and team to identify areas – particularly emotional ones – that could use some strategic brand defense.

Those insights includes values beyond win-loss ratios, and provides an apples-to-apples comparison of the intensity with which fans within a team’s home market support the home team versus corresponding values for the fans of the other teams or leagues in the same market. Winning is great, but there are three other powerful and emotionally-based factors that need to be taken into account when it comes to fan loyalty. Percentages next to each indicate the contribution they currently make to fan loyalty and engagement:

History and Tradition (30%):
Is the game and the team part of fans’ and community rituals, institutions, and beliefs?
Fan Bonding (29%):
Are players particularly respected and admired?
Pure Entertainment (21%):
How well a team does, wins, losses sure. But even more importantly than win-loss ratios, how entertaining is their play? On-the-field aggressive play is an acceptable component of this loyalty driver.
Authenticity (20%):
How well they play as a team, both offense and defense. New managers, as they’re seen to be responsible for the genuineness and credibility of their team, can also help lift this driver. So can a new stadium.

Ultimately you need to know what fans really expect to do that – beyond a winning season because some people think football is a matter of life and death. Depending on your level of fan loyalty, sometimes it can get much more serious than that.

To check out where your team ranked, take a look at

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Is Your Brand Sponsorship Real Gold or Fool’s Gold?

Brands spend good (sometimes great) money on sponsorships. A lot of brands do. Today, with brand differentiation and engagement more (and more) difficult to come by, sponsorships seem a good way to invest some of a brand’s marketing dollars.

The rationale goes like this: brands get added value from a celebrity’s or an athlete’s accomplishments and talents. Back in the early days of branding we called it the “halo effect,” the halo referring to an angel, a spiritual being superior to humans and, one can only suppose, fitness clothes or running shoes or cola brands. But, as brands have discovered to their detriment, hitching their brand wagons to fallen angels doesn’t always quite work out they way they planned. So what’s the brand version of caveat emptor? “Cavendum sponsors”?

This all came to mind when the story came out of U.S. Olympic gold-medal swimmer Ryan Lochte admitting he lied about being robbed at gunpoint by thieves impersonating Rio policemen. The real story actually involved the staff at a gas station insisting Mr. Lochte and three other U.S. Olympic swimmers pay for a bathroom they vandalized. Ryan’s story broke on the Today show and, given the high-crime rates in Rio, fanned fears of more robberies there and the story took off like Olympic runners at the sound of a shot pistol.

Mark Twain advised, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything,” which, as it turns out, Mr. Lochte and the other swimmers couldn’t. Embarrassed by the story, local authorities launched a probe, and released a security video from the gas station that contradicted Mr. Lochte’s story. So Mr. Lochte’s account of the incident was a lie. Or, as he suggested in social media outreach, an “over-exaggeration,” a partial truth, and, ultimately, a really stupid thing to do. But you probably know the story, which only got bigger.

But, that’s not the end of the story. They say when it comes to celebrity spokespeople, “a partial truth always turns out to be a whole lie.” Another thing they say is, “liars never prosper” and it turns out that Mr. Lochte won’t. Ralph Lauren, Speedo, Airweave, and Syneron-Candela all dropped Mr. Ryan as a representative of their brands, non-representative of their brand values, deciding no angel he!

Ralph Lauren is not renewing their association with Mr. Lochte. Speedo said that while they appreciated their former relationship with Ryan, they could not condone behavior counter to the values of the brand. Speedo hoped that Mr. Lochte learned from this experience. Then they dumped him in the deep end of the sponsorship pool, donating his $50,000 fee to Brazil’s Save the Children. Syneron-Candella dropped Ryan saying, “We hold our employees to a high standard and we expect the same of our business partners.” Japanese mattress company Airweave ended its endorsement agreement with Ryan too.

So cavendum sponsors. And sure, there’s a degree of risk in anyone brands sponsor, and superstar athletes sometimes get “passes” and come back from public scandals. Behaviors can be modified, but personality defects like narcissism and compulsive lying cannot be so readily cured – no matter how much social media outreach is thrown at it. Although in today’s media-driven, socially-networked, 24/7 society, there’s always a spot for a disgraced celebrity someplace. At bargain basement prices, of course.

Athletes who aspire to the big-money brand sponsorships should wake up to the fact that there’s a big pool of “winners” out there, all of them with agents looking for new income streams for their clients. This year, the U.S. Olympic competitors won a total of 121 medals, 46 of them gold. So there are many qualified spokespeople for brands to pick from. And that’s no lie.

So athletes, keep that in mind! Because with so much real gold out there, sponsors won’t invest any brand dollars in fool’s gold.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.