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Branding Tip: How To Humanize Your Brand

In brand-building, innovation, social media, Technology on March 6, 2014 at 1:22 pm

3 ways to breathe life into your brand

by Sookie Lioncourt 

Your customers are human, and so are your business partners. The people who create your products and contribute to the proliferation of your ‘brand’ are also all, human. As a response, it’s just fitting that you should also start ‘humanizing your brand’ to make it more interesting and universally appealing. Tim Ingold Jr. and Jabil Circuit of Wired said that through this practice, retailers and establishments alike “can seek ways to add a personal touch to non-traditional outlets” for your products and services. With the rise of digital technology, this can be done with ease — you can leverage social media interaction to provide real-time information to the public, use an intelligent virtual machine in your freestanding kiosks that dispense products, or take advantage of augmented reality technology to add a lively flair to your brand. To elaborate this further, read on below for we discuss how digital technology can indeed give life to your precious brand.

Through Social Media Influence

Using a social media channel is a thoughtful and deliberate process in giving life to your brand that yields some great benefits when properly utilized. Maren Hogan of the HR Examiner pointed out that the “humanization of a brand fosters more intimate brand-customer communications, customer loyalty, growth through feedback and increased engagement.” Here’s how you can leverage social media:

  •  Document…Document…Document…

Collate all the responses from your customers and visitors, even if they are criticizing your products and/or services. The whole point of having a social media account is to hear, apart from being heard. Treat your online followers as if they are all your friends by listening to their suggestions and sentiments.

  •  Respond Rapidly and Individually 

Those who will leave a quick wall posting your business page wanted to be acknowledged and addressed immediately. If the information is not yet readily available, at least have the decency to tell them that someone is looking into the situation. Inactive social interaction translates to inconsistency in your business and company as a whole. “No one likes an inconsistent company… this is a glaring flaw when making use of social media interaction,” as highlighted by Wise (@letsgetwise). The web may be far too big to win over everybody, but a bit of personality is way better than being a faceless autobot.

  •   Say Sorry When Necessary 

Humans are not perfect. We do commit errors and mistakes and that’s OK. Apologizing to your customers will help them realize that your brand is committed toward serving them and caring for their personal interests. You’ll be surprised by the favorable effects that you can achieve when you “kill” them with kindness.

The Use Of Virtual and Real-Life Objects

What could be more human than a product that acts like one and operates like a person? One example of this one is the virtual holographic mannequin of Boston’s Logan Airport named Carla. She is an attractive young lady that gives out pieces of advice ranging from air security and safety. She and her other virtual sisters, whose located in strategic locations inside the airport, are also there to greet passengers and accompany them as they leave and arrive in the vicinity.

Another example is the campaign created by Douwe Egberts Coffee Company called “Bye Bye Red Eye.” The Dutch company installed high-tech coffee vending machines in airports and other public places that interacts though facial recognition software. So, when a yawning traveler approaches the machine, it automatically dispenses a hot cup of coffee for that wearied person.

Though these practices are done outside the traditional store setups, using the machine’s lively element can establish a more personal link between the brand and the consumers.

By Augmenting Reality

Augmented Reality, three-dimensional web tools, and interactive computer applications can also add a human flair to your brand even without an actual person from your company involved in the process. For instance, some clothing and Eyewear e-commerce shops are employing the use of virtual fitting room that uses the customer’s web camera to see if a particular product is ideal for them or not, before doing a transaction. Since this practice fosters a product-consumer engagement, using Augmented Reality is a cost-effective way of humanizing your brand.

With the proliferation of technology, adding a human touch to your brand is no longer a difficult venture. As you’ve seen, you can leverage social media interaction to provide real-time information to the public, or use an intelligent virtual machine or tangible object to foster product-costumer engagements and vice versa. — SL

BrandTech News is excited to share the insights of our first Guest Reporter, Sookie Lioncourt, bringing us news and views from her home office in the UK.  Welcome, Sookie!

Guest Reporter: Sookie Lioncourt

Guest Reporter: Sookie Lioncourt

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sookie Lioncourt has a solid background in business administration and marketing, she can give you helpful pieces of advice to kick start your business, and ensure your brand’s success by leveraging the power of digital technologies and online media platforms. Talk to her via LinkedIn.

The Brand behind the Brands We Love

In brand-building, Healthcare, innovation, retail, Shopper Marketing on January 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Inmar leads the way in digital promotions

by Jeff Sandgren

As we wrap up another round of holiday shopping mania, there’s a powerful force at work behind the scenes. For more than 30 years a company you may not know has been quietly helping you shop every day, and lately they’re ambitiously working to change the way you’ll shop tomorrow. In the ‘Emerald City of Retail,’ the hidden Oz who’s helping to enhance your shopping experience (while not bothering to attract your attention) is a company called Inmar, and their ‘Intelligent Commerce Networks.’

Inmar Inside

Sometimes the brands you know and trust deliver on their Brand Promises by relying on other brands. Think ‘Intel Inside®[i]’: a great advertising slogan, catchy, memorable, succinct and effective. When you buy a computer, you’ll hopefully never even have to see the Intel chip, much less actually touch it; but the little sticker on the outside telling you it’s in there could easily sway your purchase decision. Another example, wordier but similarly powerful, is BASF’s old slogan:

We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better®[ii].

In both of these cases, the B2B company wants you, a consumer, to value their brands in order to make you feel better about buying – not from them, but from their customers, the B2C companies that sell finished consumer goods to you. It’s unlikely that you ever bought a chip directly from Intel or a drum of chemicals from BASF (unless you’re a bigger geek than the editors of BrandTech News, or go by the street name “Heisenberg.”)

But while you almost certainly know who Intel is, and probably have heard of BASF – the largest chemical company in the world (even if you don’t know what the letters stand for) – you might not know who Inmar is. And you might be surprised to learn that the financial transactions they process en masse daily have an annual aggregate value of about $44 billion across their promotion, supply chain and health care networks.

If you’ve ever clipped and used a paper coupon, chances are good that it was processed by Inmar. This was their first competency, and remains a major component of the company’s business. They started handling coupons back in the early 80’s, as Carolina Coupon Clearing, a company formed by the son of a Reynolds Tobacco exec who brought in a team of former IBM associates to elevate the process from one which, at the time, relied on weighing masses of paper coupons by the pound. The solutions they built, and the refinements that have evolved since, now enable a smooth, secure processing of billions of coupons from thousands of brands in countries around the globe. They currently process coupons for a large share of US companies; and they serve a global customer base with their broader promotional solution portfolio that has grown to include not only paper coupons, but also rebates, sweepstakes and now digital coupons – more on that in a minute. This approach of harnessing technology and smart thinking to improve complex processes still steers the company.

David Mounts, Inmar CEO

David Mounts, Inmar CEO

“It all starts and ends with people,” explained Inmar CEO David Mounts, at a recent interview. “We strive to find the best minds and intellectual capital we can, then we direct our investments to make it easier for bright people to deliver great solutions to our customers … and ultimately great experiences to consumers.”

Inmar innovation

In the coupon world, paper still dominates in sheer volume, but the most impressive growth percentages there days are being posted by digitally discovered coupons. Digitally discovered coupons fall into two major groups. The already familiar Print-At-Home (PAH) coupons – those discovered online and printed with home computers – increased in use by more than 12 percent in the first half of 2013, relative to 2012. The newer kid on the coupon block is the use of completely paperless “e-wallet” coupons, where the reward is either loaded to a consumer’s loyalty card or stored on a smartphone app. While still a small segment, the use of these promotions increased by more than 230 percent in the same period.

The targeting and personalization capabilities of these digital offers provide powerful new ways for marketers to engage and entice consumers with increasingly relevant offers, and to gain insights on what consumers preferred (and what provided the best return on investment). But with this new sophistication comes the matter of new complexity. To help brands and retailers cut through the cyber-maze, Inmar has developed their Offer Management app, which lets marketers easily create offers, aggregate performance data and score the promotional effectiveness of multiple offers across all channels.

The rapid development of these solutions by Inmar has, in part, been accelerated by two recent acquisitions: the first, a company that pioneered an innovative technology to facilitate the secure distribution and redemption of digital promotions; and the second, a company with deep expertise in shopper behavioral analytics. By combining Inmar’s own knowledge and experience of couponing and promotional strategies with the added power of analytics and shopper insights, and with the real-time, on-demand delivery of offers to smartphones and tablets, Inmar’s innovations are changing the promotional game for brands and retailers – and delivering offers to consumers on products they want, with promotion types they like, across the digital platforms they individually prefer.

Inmar integration

One shopper insight that everyone knows is that shoppers in the checkout line don’t want to be delayed. Retailers are keenly aware of that, and they are particularly (and rightly) sensitive to the impact of any new technology at checkout that might slow things down. So the big hurdle that digital couponing has had to clear has been one of achieving a seamless and super-fast digital redemption when the paperless coupons are presented. No one wants to download a coupon offer to their loyalty card or unique identifier, then have to wait for an elaborate network to validate the coupon, in a setting where passing seconds feel like minutes. But the validation can’t be skipped, either, because coupon fraud can cost retailers millions. Inmar’s point of sale technology, developed by acquired company M-Dot achieves secure, accurate, real-time redemption by leveraging the speed and scalability of cloud technology. In fact, prior to Inmar’s acquisition, M-Dot was chosen as the winner of Amazon Web Services’ Startup Challenge. The solution is so scalable that it has been demonstrated to execute over a million concurrent transactions in a 10th of second.

More recently, Inmar built on that impressive back-end integration with a promising new front-end partnership. They recently announced a strategic relationship with NCR, one of the top Point Of Sale (POS) system providers for retail. The new offering will integrate Inmar’s digital coupon solution with NCR’s marketing and POS applications, providing retailers with a powerful new platform for quickly and easily planning and implementing digital coupon campaigns, offering paperless coupons to shoppers across multiple touchpoints … including mobile phones and tablets.

According to Mounts, “Retailers that ‘opt in’ will be able to introduce digital promotions into their marketing efforts with remarkable speed – and at minimal cost.”

It’s a win-win-win solution: shoppers get the added savings of digitally discovered coupons, without slowing down their checkout experience; retailers get an easy platform for implementing their digital coupon campaigns; and consumer goods manufacturers get a much more targeted delivery mechanism that can yield new insights in minutes.

Inmar involved

For all the technology focus, Inmar hasn’t lost sight of its ‘human goals’ either. Ever since opening shop in Winston-Salem, Inmar has remained true to its community, where it is one of the area’s major employers. This part of North Carolina has seen economic decline over the past decades with the erosion of three of its major industries – tobacco, textiles and furniture – the latter two primarily declining due to relocation of the industries to cheaper offshore markets. Inmar, by contrast, has stayed in the game locally, opening three different offices as headquarters for its coupon, product returns and pharmacy solutions groups. Supporting operations in the supply chain, health care, and coupon redemption networks occupy around 30 additional facilities across North America.

Exterior_8.29.12

Now the company is upping its ante by consolidating all three local offices into a beautiful new complex in downtown Winston, with almost a quarter million square feet of modern office space, renovated from an old tobacco processing plant. Located on the edge of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, a cornerstone of the Renaissance of Winston-Salem, the new facility clearly underscores Inmar’s corporate social responsibility and its commitment to the local jobs it has created.

When Mounts says it all starts and ends with people, he clearly means it. – JTS


[i] Registered trademark of Intel Corporation

[ii] Registered trademark of BASF SE

BrandTech News Q&A with CoreBrand CEO James Gregory

In Apple, brand-building on September 3, 2013 at 9:00 pm

One of our preferred sources for updates on big brands is CoreBrand’s BrandPower reports.  CoreBrand specializes in helping organizations understand, define, express and leverage their brands for measurable results. They offer practical and applicable brand research, valuation, strategy, identity systems and management. Independent since their founding 40 years ago, CoreBrand focuses on using brand as a business asset to improve corporate value.Jim Gregory 01 (Square)

We recently spoke with CoreBrand’s CEO, James Gregory, about their latest Brand Respect report, just published in August. Jim is the founder of CoreBrand, and the creator of the Corporate Branding Index®, an annual research survey designed to capture vital reputation and financial statistics for CoreBrand’s various measurement products. The Brand Respect report factors in ‘familiarity and favorability’ to identify the most-respected and least-respected brands, based on a survey of a large panel of business executives.

BTN: What common characteristics do you see in the Top Ten Most Respected Brands that place them so highly?

JG: If I could put it into a single word I would say “consistency” — Consistency of vision and communication, consistency of business processes, consistency of the culture within the company are all keys to getting the most out of your brand building efforts.

BTN: What do you think is keeping Apple out of the Top Ten, and/or what could they do to move to the head of the class?

JG: Apple is not universally loved except by those us who are brand zealots. Certainly Apple has been moving up over the years and is doing very, very well as a brand but it has not yet achieved the Top Ten status among the business leaders we survey.

BTN: Do you see a relationship between the Favorability decline and the rising influence of Millennials and their notorious lack of brand loyalty?

JG: Certainly something has been putting downward pressure on Favorability. We look at inflection points such as when did all of this start and we can trace it back to 2003-2004 when Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted holding management more accountable for their financial statements. We have not arrived at a conclusion as to the drivers of the decline — certainly Millennials may play a role in the decline of Favorability.

BTN: Your report mentions that Delta and Best Buy, while among the least respected, are on the rise.  Can you offer any insights or examples on what they’ve been doing that may be contributing to that rise?

JG: The “Least Respected” list represented companies with the greatest divergence between Familiarity and Favorability. Best Buy is going through a major reinvention of its brand and we’re watching it closely to see if it has traction. Delta has nearly universal Familiarity but quite low Favorability for a company of that size. Delta’s merger with Northwest and their rebranding efforts are starting to show signs of improving the brand, but they have a long way to grow. Also, this was not a reflection about their customer service but rather about three attributes of Favorability including: Overall Reputation, Perception of Management, and Investment Potential. The airlines industry scores very poorly on Investment Potential and all companies within the airline industry could use more respect.

Shopper engagement sounds like ‘war.’ It is.

In Apple, brand-building, retail, Shopper Marketing on August 21, 2013 at 4:29 pm

By Robert Liljenwall

Retail isn’t the same anymore.  Consumers are marching into their favorite retailer with their smartphones at the ready … these handy data companions are helping customers analyze retailer offerings and give focused advice on their shopping list where and when it’s not available from the retail shelf.  Shopper engagement is not managed by the retailer as much anymore as by the shopper, who is now in control.  Armed with new ‘shopping weapons’, today’s shoppers know exactly what they’re looking for. And if they don’t find what they want, they either move on or order online when they get home.  Shoppers are on the hunt, especially in these challenging economic times (and, yes, we know that recession was officially over in June 2009.)??????????????????????

It is not always ‘bad news’ that consumers are now empowered with more information than ever before.  Retailers and brand marketers who truly know their customers’ needs and wants are able to capitalize on the shopper desires.  And as Internet sales continue to rise in all sectors (e-commerce rose 18.4 percent through the first six months of 2013 compared to same period in 2012), we spent more than $64 billion online during the second quarter of this year according to the US Census Bureau, which tracks these things … an increase of 4.8 percent over same period in 2012 of total retail sales of $1.126 trillion for 2013 2Q.

So what does this all mean?  We know several things:  One out of four Americans work in retail services.  Retail sales is increasing … slowly at a rate of 0.09 percent for the second quarter, and, no, retail is not going away.  Also, we know that mobile commerce is not going to take over retail (projected that only 1 percent of total retail sales will be on mobile devices by 2016.) And according to latest consumer research, the average consumer uses 10.7 different sources to make a purchase decision.  It all doesn’t just happen in the store.  But we know that, too, don’t we?

But what is happening is that individual retailers are fighting to keep their customers happy and keep them buying “in-store.”  Best Buy is notable for its struggle against Amazon and was able to make a dent in their California market by forcing Amazon through legislation to pay sales tax, but is that enough?  Target kicked out Amazon Kindle products – each were tired of being “showrooms” for Amazon and its own products.

Enter POPAI – the Global Association for Marketing at Retail – which published their fourth edition this spring of “Marketing at Retail – Understanding, Influencing and Winning Today’s Shopper.”  POPAI itself has experienced a metamorphosis in its 76-year history – starting out as a vendor-driven point of purchase trade group attracting producers, retailers and brand marketers.  But as technology expanded across all fronts, POPAI today reflects the broad array of “interests” that serve the entire retail industry – both in-store and online.

Marketing At Retail

Marketing At Retail

In this 386-page text – the largest ever – you will certainly recognize the change in the retail and technology landscape.  New chapters on mobile commerce, social media, and technology advances and online integration with in-store merchandising.  You will find an expanded offering presented by 23 of the top professionals in marketing at retail.  This publication is also available on an e-Version.  You can order your copy at http://popai.com/book/buythebook. Hard copy sells for $39.95 and the e-Version for $35.95.

Starting in summer 2011, we found that in putting this publication together we wanted to have the most complete resource for everyone serving the retail industry – and subjects not previously covered such as mobile commerce and social media were going to play a major role.  Throughout the editing process, too, we were constantly updating the chapters because technology and new retail initiatives were coming into the industry and we wanted to insure our readers they had the latest.

We do recognize that retailers certainly know that their #1 goal is to gain customer insight.  Consumer behavior, as Dr. Dan Flint (University of Tennessee) points out, is changing as technology changes, because consumers now have more data available to them than ever before.  “They can make choices quicker and more accurately because they have current data at their fingertips.”  And the authors point out that retailers are learning how to provide better customer technology support inside their stores with Wi-Fi and local data points on what’s on sale and to guide them to their own personal shopping needs.

Speaking on behalf of the authors, I want to share with you one grand example of how stupid some major retailers can be.

I have a Macy’s revolving account and pay my monthly bill online.  When I made a ‘confirmed’ payment on my Macy app. via my iPhone, I noticed that the payment had not been subtracted from my account within a week’s time.  I called Macy’s only to learn from the Macy’s customer service rep that…”We’re sorry, but we’re finding that many payments made on the iPhone do not get recorded even though you receive a confirmation!”  “Well, is this new?”  “Oh, no, it’s been going on for some time.  We’re sorry.”

Sorry!!!  I couldn’t believe it. But wait … the nightmare continues … I went to make my payment online with my iMac, and then I can’t seem to get a confirmation, so I called customer service again. The Macy’s rep asks what kind of browser I am using.  “What do you mean?  I am using Safari.”  “Oh, sir, we don’t really support Apple.  Do you have a PC you can use?”  True story, so help me Steve Jobs.  Can you believe that a major retailer would allow this to happen?  My next purchases were with….guess who?  Amazon.  (We awarded Macy’s the Lemon Award for August.)

Retailers who don’t give the same kind of attention to detail and support that an Amazon gives to its customers is going to find defections growing.

Is there a ‘war’ going on?  You bet.  Retailers who understand the stakes are Disney, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Starbucks, In & Out Burger, Nordstrom’s and Apple, of course.  They have their customers in focus – they have gained keen customer insight, which should be the goal of every brand marketer and retailer.  There are many great retailers who are embracing the “new, smarter shopper” and are eager to support them online and in-store with technology that enables them to easily get the ‘stuff’ they want.

Shoppers have more choices than ever … and when retailers make it difficult to do business with them … you lose them, perhaps forever. You have to win the shopper battles to win the war! – RJL

[Note: both editors of BrandTech News are also contributing authors to the POPAI textbook, and Robert Liljenwall is Co-Editor]

What is the easiest way to build a brand?

In Apple, brand-building, Disney on August 23, 2011 at 11:46 am

By Robert Liljenwall
Outdoor bulletins (nee Billboards) are one of the surest and fastest ways to build brand awareness in any market – especially in Southern California where it’s the Billboard Capital of the World – with millions of cars (and consumers) on the road practically every minute of every day who pass by these Advertising Wonders.  You can build brand awareness quickly and cheaply in Southern California – with its 28 million residents – by purchasing strategically positioned large, outdoor bulletins on key freeways like the 405, 110, 5, 210 and 60 in the Los Angeles region.

They aren’t cheap per board – some running over $45,000 per site, per month – but the CPM is relatively cheap – in the pennies/M – compared to television.  And you can get complete coverage within a short time frame (like 30 days) of practically 100% of the market.

Everyone knows that you never walk in California – you drive, whether it’s for lunch 60 miles away or to go to the corner super market just steps from your home.  Californians are so lazy and auto-dependent; they love to soak up the latest billboards just to keep their minds awake while in hour-long traffic jams on the not-so-efficient freeways.  Of course, you know that you cannot put more than seven words on a billboard and have it understood, right?  But there are more agencies than not  and dim-witted clients who just love to jam just about everything including the kitchen sink into the 18×48 billboards – Look at all that empty space? Of course, at 80 miles an hour, you can probably just read three or four words.

Notable brand marketers who know their outdoor stuff – Apple (who else?), Anheuser Busch,  Toyota, Audi, Coca Cola, Heineken, Hollywood studios….they are pros at putting up eye-catching ads with not a lot of copy – they just want to sell the brand.  Outdoor advertising is a brand-building medium that remains hugely popular with advertisers.  It’s cheap, efficient, and proven to be remembered with consumers.

The latest technology, of course, is four-color process, large vinyl printed sheets that stretch across the outdoor boards.  Long gone are the famous billboard artists who use to hand paint all the artwork – including the photo-like artwork that was an “art” by itself.  I remember when we did the Disney characters on our billboards in the 1960s and 1970s….it was all original art from our style-guides given to these very talented artists.  They loved working on the Disney characters because they admired the art and creativity.

Today, this art has all been replaced by Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.  It’s mechanical but efficient and spot-on accurate.  I love the simplicity of the Apple billboards – no copy, just the outline of a dancer with the iPod in their ears.  Clean and simple.

This brings me up to the attached artwork (below) – I was speaking in Mexico City this week (August 15) for Diffusion Paramerica – who is one of Mexico’s largest billboard companies – and they surprised me with place five billboards around Mexico City with my photo and subject matter on it – and also had five taxi cabs with my mug on it, too.  Surprised?  I think so.  It’s a first for me.  –  RJL

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