Thursday, January 28, 2016

Facts Can’t Stop Brand Trump

You can’t have missed Sarah Palin’s well-publicized endorsement of Donald Trump. Somewhat quieter has been the confederation of conservatives trying to get other “conservative thinkers” to speak out against the Republican Presidential front-runner.

The most recent has been Ross Douthat, a conservative author and New York Times columnist, in this past Sunday’s Times op-ed, “The Way to Stop Trump.” Mr. Douthat’s advice? “To attack him effectively, you have to go after all the things that people like about him. You have to flip his brand.” The problem is that itisn’t as simple as Mr. Douthat seems to suggest.

Last June when Mr. Trump announced his candidacy, we asked, “Did a Human Brand stand a chance at a run for the highest office in the land?” To answer that, we conducted an emotional engagement poll. If you’d like to hear about that, listen to the predicted outcome in our “What Happened?” recording, “Tippecanoe and The Donald Too,” at

Mr. Douthat went on to list a series of very rational facts that he believed would “persuade people that (Mr. Trump) is a con artist” and, therefore, derail Mr. Trump’s nomination.  But as the brand engagement process – whether you’re a pet food or a political candidate – is far more emotional than rational. So just using cogent facts to topple a successful brand isn’t generally a good strategy, and particularly not in the case of Mr. Trump.

No matter how those facts line up, Donald Trump is a human brand extraordinaire! And despite how many marketers have fallen into the very bad habit of calling everything and everyone a “brand,” Mr. Trump is one of a very, very small club of Human Brands, who embodies 100% of the values of his enterprises and ideas. “Human Brand” is a designation representing the highest level of imbued meaning, values, and differentiation any brand can be. Shifting consumers away from their faith in and engagement with brands like that on the basis of facts is difficult, if not downright impossible.

Adding the Trump name to virtually anything increases perceived value anyplace from 20% to 37%. In terms of consumer emotional engagement, adding the Trump brand causes the product or service to be seen as better able to meet consumer expectations for their Ideal and the values that drive positive behavior in a particular category. In this case the Presidency of the United States.

So when Mr. Trump announced, we looked at the category engagement drivers for the Republican Ideal President, and how Brand Trump measured up to them. These have been validated every Presidential election cycle since 1980, and generally speaking the drivers – in the order Republicans “see” their Ideal President – can be described as follows:
  1. Resolve: has the strength and leadership to guide the country?
  2. Perception: has an understanding of the problems facing the county?
  3. Action: has a plan for solving the problems? (Hint: walls count, apparently)
  4. Compassion: does the candidate care about all the people?
1,350 registered Republicans in the 9 U.S. Census Regions assessed Mr. Trump using our emotional engagement questionnaire and, compared to the Republican Ideal calibrated to be 100%, on an overall basis “Brand Trump” measured 84%. After the Palin endorsement that assessment went up to 89%. We expect that after exhibiting the resolve not to participate in the most recent Republican debate, that score will have moved up again

Brands with the kinds of high engagement levels voters are exhibiting toward Mr. Trump always lead in the marketplace when it comes to sales, so given the general tenor of the electorate, that’s likely to translate to votes in the political arena. So, no matter how rational, sensible, logical, fact-based, and well-conceived, Mr. Dlouthat’s recommendations are, they just aren’t as effective and compelling in shifting brand perceptions when it comes to voter emotional brand engagement as it does in an op-ed column.

It was Ronald Reagan in his address to the 1988 Republican National Convention, who misquoted John Adams, saying, “Facts are stupid things.” Mr. Reagan laughed and corrected himself.

But in this instance, when it comes to Brand Trump, he was absolutely right the first time.

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.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Chipotle: Better Safe Than Sorry

The brand that started the “fresh movement,” is hoping for a fresh start.

It took Chipotle twenty-two years to transform itself from a burrito stand to a $23 billion quality brand. They did it by meeting customer expectations regarding the values of fresh, locally sourced, customizable food at a fair price. Oh, and it was generally agreed the brand had integrity. And they did all this long before the phrase “genetically modified,” was ever uttered in competitive brands’ boardrooms, and in consumer-value time, light years before competitors tried to re-position their offerings as “fresh.” Or “customizable.” At the time, competitors were busy focusing on their Dollar Menus.

Anyway, Chipotle showed up on our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index a decade ago – in 2006 – once there were enough locations nationally for reasonable levels of customer incidence. And over the next five years the brand moved up the Fast Casual restaurant loyalty list to the number one spot. By then everyone in the category was chasing them. For being fresh, for being additive-free, for being customizable. They seemed unstoppable.

It only took seven months after one – then six more – outbreaks of E. coli bacterium and salmonella-related illnesses, to dramatically effect customer loyalty for Chipotle. Chipotle same-store sales, which had reached a brand and category-best of +20%, dipped almost 15% last Quarter. Yikes! So it came as no surprise that in our 2016 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, Chipotle dropped to the number 6 spot (of 21 brands on this year’s list, five of which were new). Again, yikes! Why the drop? And why didn’t the brand fall further down the list?

Well, the drop itself was self-evident and inevitable. You can’t feed consumers “quality,” “fresh” food, and have them get sick without expecting some repercussions! But sick as they might have been, when it comes to loyalty, customers are six times more likely to give the brand the benefit of the doubt in adverse circumstances – like the original outbreak.

But with the epidemic of illnesses that followed, that fount of customer forgiveness is drying up, and it’s now showing up in how consumers “see” the brand meeting their expectations. In this case for the value of quality, but mostly for the value of “safe food preparation,” which has always been a value-component in the category, but has had generally lower expectations surrounding it. Fast casual consumers don’t expect to get sick from the fresh food on offer. But that said, last week Chipotle received a grand jury subpoena related to an outbreak in California, an indication that the Justice Department and the FDA might be considering a criminal case. Zowie!

In the meantime Chipotle is doing what it can. Conceding that they may be more vulnerable than other fast food and fast casual restaurants because of their fresh ingredients and fresh preparation, they’ve put food safety controls into place that experts say should reduce the risk of food contamination to virtually zero. So huzzah! And it is closing down the entire chain for a few hours next month for a system-wide food-safely meeting just to make sure that everybody is on the same safety page. When it comes to food safety, you can’t be too careful.

Will this help improve the brand’s loyalty and engagement efforts and assessments? Well, like they say about colds and chicken soup, “It couldn’t hurt!” But given their previous loyalty levels, customers are also six times more likely to see the actions being taken as responsible and believe the Chipotle brand can cure these ills.

Because when it comes to loyalty, 21st century consumers question all their beliefs. Except the ones they really believe, and those they never question!

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.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What Happened? Successful Strategies, Marketing Misdeeds, and the Brands that Loved Them

Winston Churchill said, “however beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Those words have taken on greater weight over the past 75 years, as making predictions tends to be a far more frequent and popular pastime than actually checking back on their accuracy.

Today the most important question brand marketers should be asking is, “Was research we based our strategy on, predictive?” Asking that before you commission the research can help when the time comes to answering the ultimate question of marketing life, “What happened?”

Some of problem has been that predictions of consumer behavior and brand performance are more often based on counting “likes” and tallying tweets, summing up social network shares or measuring how entertained consumers were by a brand’s efforts. Happily, prediction of consumer behavior becomes remarkably less risky when one relies, instead, on emotionally-based, validated engagement metrics. Those point the direction to what people will actually do, instead of what they say they are going to do.

As our own annual test, Brand Keys once again examines how closely what we said during the year on our blog, in our LinkedIn posts and in TV, radio, print, and online interviews about strategies brands were – or were not taking – matched up with actual market results. In short, to see what happened?

We invite you to click on this link: What Happened?
And listen to some recorded answers to that question, along with some consumer insights, market realities, and brand practicalities we hope you’ll find both useful and enlightening. We’ve tried to make them entertaining, too, so feel free to share them with your friends and colleagues, or even tweet about them!

This year our look-back examines predictions we made about Super Bowl advertisers and Presidential candidates, Fast Food, Casual Food, and Natural Food, loyalty leaders, loyal Millennials, pizza loyalists, bourbon drinkers, and all manner of smart subjects from smartwatches to smarter brands. And, in case you missed them, we’ve also included a recording addressing key Trends for 2016 to give you and your brand a head start on success.

Churchill also noted, “men occasionally stumble on the truth,” but when it comes to today’s consumers, that’s not really good enough. No matter how many views and likes your marketing efforts obtained.

So pull up your computer or mobile device and join us again this year, or for the first time, and give a listen and find out, What Happened?

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.

Friday, January 01, 2016

2016’s Top New Year’s Resolutions

It’s been said that a New Year’s resolution is bound to be broken. Maybe it’s just that people just set the bar too high for themselves.

My favorite acknowledgment of that is the one that goes, “my New Year’s resolution list usually starts with the desire to lose between ten and three thousand pounds.” It turns out that losing weight has perennially been No. 1 on most people’s New Year’s resolution lists, and that was true again this year.

How do we know? As part of our annual Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (those results will be available in February, we absolutely promise!), we also asked 11,600 men and women about their 2016 New Year’s resolutions. Here’s their top-16:
  1. Lose weight
  2. Eat healthier
  3. Exercise more/more regularly
  4. Save more money
  5. Keep my resolutions more than a week
  6. Get organized/plan better
  7. Get out of debt/pay all my bills
  8. Be a better person/volunteer
  9. Spend less time on Facebook
  10. Spend more time with my family
  11. Quit smoking
  12. Learn something new/a new language
  13. Get a new job
  14. Drink less
  15. Find a new relationship
  16. Read more books
It turns out, not everyone makes a New Year’s resolution. According to this year’s survey only 58% plan to do so for 2016. And, alas, on average only 9% are successful at keeping them, to one degree or another. Maybe that number would be higher if we called them something else, like “New Year’s casual promises” or “things you think would be a good thing to do, but are under no legal obligation to fulfill.”

Or maybe it’s just like Mark Twain said. “Now is the accepted time to make your annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

We wish you success in your 2016 endeavors. Whatever they are.

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.