Be decent

People perceive their favorite brands as trusted friends and react accordingly when a brand falls short of their expectations or promises. Think of a brand as a decent human being and act like one.

Here in the Netherlands one of the biggest banks has an issue with decency. Now for months, we hear ‘how Rabobank is growing a better world together’. Rabobank even announced a three-year programme to kick-start the transition to a more sustainable food and agricultural sector.

Perhaps unfortunately for Rabobank, two things have happened in society:

  1. People are in general more suspicious about what big companies are saying and especially in the banking industry.
  2. As Rabobank correctly has identified, sustainable food and agriculture have become more and more critical to choices people make.

The more relevant and important your brand or cause is to people, the more your actions will get noticed – and get reactions.

It took only a little bit of time for people to figure out where Rabobank invests. Turns out ‘6.8 out of the 8.8 billion that Dutch banks invest in ‘very animal-unfriendly meat industry’ comes from the bank that advocates a ‘better world.’

In our connected world, both positive and negative messages distribute faster and wider than ever before. As a result, the Dutch now know that the Rabobank is not what they advocate. They also know it is not only the Rabobank that has this issue, but many more banks – there are only a few without issues.

Suddenly consumers are getting aware of a new category in banking – ‘the animal friendly banks,’ opening the doors for the real sustainable banking brands who smartly so jump on the wagon and educate consumers about the wrong investments traditional banks make.

And how is the Rabobank responding? Just as how people expect from the big institutions: without taking real responsibility. Rabobank does not think of their brand as a decent human being and does not act like one. Only when a brand does, people will acknowledge the mistake and might forgive you for it.

Will the biggest change for Diet Coke in 35 years make a difference or is it lipstick on a pig?

A very exciting start of 2018 for Coca-Cola Company in America: the successful Coke Diet brand is renewed after 35(!) years.

Coca-Cola Company calls it a relaunch of the brand. The cans are smaller, have a fresh new design, and there are four extra flavors.

The renewal and modernization of the Diet Coke brand is done to attract a new generation of drinkers and offers millions of current fans a new look and more flavors.

Rafael Acevedo, the North America group director for Diet Coke, further explains that “we’re modernizing what has made Diet Coke so special for a new generation. The same unapologetic confidence still comes through, and the same great Diet Coke taste people love is here to stay, but we’re making the brand more relatable and more authentic.”

A two-year study has shown that younger Americans have an affinity for “big, yet refreshing and great-tasting flavors” in their favorite foods and beverages – from hoppy craft beers to spicy sauces.

So far everything goes according to the plan. Coca-Cola Company sees an opportunity to increase their share in the category of diet cola: welcoming new drinkers with new flavors and getting current drinkers to try new flavors.

The problem, however, is that whole soda category in America is in decline for the last 12 years. In 2017 the sales were similar to 1985 (!). These days, consumers know better: sugar is not good for you. This insight causes the whole category to decline.

You would think the war against sugar would give the sales of diet products a push – the fewer calories, the better – but it is not happening. Why? Consumers are getting more and more skeptical about artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame. In fact, the skepticism is so bad, that currently, the high-sugar variants of Coca-Cola and Pepsi the number 1 and 2 most sold cola products.

It did not help that Coca-Cola in 2012 began to defend the use of sweeteners in newspapers. This way you achieve exactly the opposite effect: consumers will trust you even less.

And it becomes tough when your biggest competitor starts to make a point in advertising and on the can that aspartame is excluded from their Diet line.

Consumers move to other categories of drinks and the big winners in the fight for healthy drinks are not the Diet brands, but the water brands, including Dasani, a brand of Coca-Cola Company.

I expect that the new design and the new flavors will undoubtedly benefit the Diet Coke brand in the short term. However, in the long term it is “lipstick on a pig”. The trend against unnatural has started, and not just in the soft drink category. Also in the food category the organic market in America has grown from 1B USD in 1990 to 40B USD in 2017. This is a trend that will affect many categories.

In a declining category, a brand has to take what it can take while the category is still selling, but as a company, you will have to focus on new categories. And this is what Coca-Cola Company does very well, as we see with their new brand for ice tea: Fuze Tea, but more initiatives are needed to get back in growth mode.

Dutch supermarket brand Albert Heijn leaves the German market

Albert Heijn is a Dutch supermarket chain and part of the Ahold Delhaize food retail group. Ahold Delhaize operates in 11 countries with 21 brands.

Mid-2011 Ahold announced to open Albert Heijn (in the Netherlands abbreviated to AH) stores in Germany. The retail group naturally has a healthy growth strategy to expand in adjacent markets and beyond.

The retail group envisioned that the “AH To Go” convenience store formula could serve as a spearhead for growth in Germany. It has not worked: the doors of the stores in Germany will close as of 1 April 2018.

Very unfortunate, of course, because anyone who has ever entered one of the “AH to Go” stores in the Netherlands can conclude how sophisticated these stores are: a combination of the right products, location, and convenience.

The supermarket chain says that the stores did show ‘modest growth’, but that there were not enough possibilities to continue.

I have trouble believing that the “To Go” formula does not catch on in Germany. Even Nielsen sees that “convenience and drug stores” have strong growth potential in traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Going forward, the ‘Albert Heijn’ brand is only available in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Curaçao. That, personally, seems sufficient to me. Because let’s be honest: the name Albert Heijn simply does not go well in non-Dutch speaking areas. Let alone the abbreviation “AH”, “Ahhhh To Go”? Don’t think so.

The photo above this article is from the opening of Albert Heijn in Köln (Neumarkt). Now, imagine for a moment that the picture below is from the opening of the German convenience store chain “Nahkauf” in Amsterdam, London or Partis. Is that going to be successful? I do not think so.

In Germany, the brand Nahkauf stands for shops in small villages with attention to fresh and locally produced products.

Also in the Netherlands, that concept would obviously be good, but it would never work with the Nahkauf brand. Similarly, you cannot expect the name Albert Heijn to work outside the Netherlands. You cannot be successful with a bad name, not even in an emerging, growing category. Even with all the knowledge and expertise available within the retail group, you will not be able to pull it off.

It seems to me time for a new attempt in Germany, but this time under a different brand name: a name that can be pronounced by anyone in the market without problems.

A new way to be even closer to your customers

We all know that humans are emotional beings. In every decision we make emotions play the decisive role.

Understanding emotions are therefore fundamental to be even closer to your customers because once customers are emotionally connected, they stay loyal.

Emotions drive loyalty – Loyalty drives profits.

Brands therefore continuously try to find new ways to be even closer to prospects and buyers, because, once a brand is in the heart and mind of buyers, it will affect purchases and increase publicity through word of mouth.

What if brands were able to accurately understand how consumers feel emotionally about their content, and be able to create content based on desired emotional responses?

This is the holy grail of advertising, and it is here today. With Artificial Emotional Intelligence, brands can create that deeper emotional connection.

Once brands accurately understand how consumers emotionally react to content it will change the way how we become even closer to our customers. Imagine being able to:

  • optimise text in headlines, websites, chats, PR etc to fit the desired emotion of the brand
  • perform emotional analysis on social media and influencers to finally see the true emotional impact of content and go far beyond sentiment analysis
  • Place digital ads only in emotionally suitable pages on websites – no more ads showing up in the wrong places
  • Text to speech engines that become more human
  • And many more!

This is not science fiction. Using Artificial Emotional Intelligence you can be even closer to your customers today.  

Take a look at the BMW slogan. Which slogan will evoke the right emotional reaction in the reader? The Ultimate Driving Machine or The Best Driving Machine?

The brand character of BMW is that of the Achiever archetype, thus fitting well with the evoked emotion of Amazement. Yes, BMW made the right decision.

As an international brand advisor, I am fortunate to work with brands around the globe. I know that many brands struggle to be even closer to customers. Understanding the emotional reaction of customers to content even prior publication sounds magical. 

With the company we have done what nobody else has been able to do before: we accurately forecast the emotional reaction of customers to text and do that in many languages.

Using EMRAYS brands can finally start connecting on an emotional level and be closer to their customers. Read more at emrays.com or contact me for a demo.

Originally published on 15 November in LinkedIn.

Presidential Brand Battle – 6 reasons why Trump will win

This Presidential campaign in the USA  is -to say the least- very interesting. I do not think ever before we have seen candidates that are both disliked by so many people. Yet, the simple fact is that regardless all of that only one will win.

I lived in the USA when Obama won his first election. Ever since I have followed closely every election. In February I concluded that we could be looking at Bernie Sanders and Trump for president. I was partly right (depending on the various views on what actually happened inside the Democratic Party election process).

Now, roughly a month before the election I look at both candidates through brand glasses and predict that -perhaps against all odds- Donald Trump will become the new president of the United States.

Here are 6 reasons why Trump will win the election:

1. NEW over DIFFERENT

People are not interested in what is different, they are interested in what is NEW. When a new iPhone has launched the headlines are all about the new features, hardly ever about what is different.

Similarly in politics. Obama won in 2008 with the one-word slogan “Change”. Change from the old, a promise of something new.

Today Trump represents the NEW – he distances himself from the establishment and has a new approach to the campaign. On the other hand, Hillary represents DIFFERENT, she is a different representation of the current political landscape.

 

2. POWERFUL SLOGAN

Trump clearly has the better slogan “Make America Great Again”. Whether you are as a voter in the Hillary or Trump camp – it is hard to argue with the intention – who wouldn’t want to make America great (again)? And for those who remember, the slogan is a more active version of the Reagan slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again”. Indirectly giving the message that it can be done, just like how Reagan did it in the eighties.

Clinton, on the other hand, has had weak slogans. First, there were the self-centered “Hillary for America” and “I’m With Her” slogan. Followed by the current “Stronger Together” slogan. This slogan is very controversial after the scandals with her private e-mail server, mixed interests of the Clinton Foundation or calling out Trump supporters as “deplorables” and Sanders supporters as “basement dwellers”.

 

3. THE BETTER NAME 

All successful products start with a good name. It is the foundation of your marketing. The name “Clinton” has a lot of history.  While both positive and negative it simply cannot be avoided. People have a perception of the name “Clinton” in politics and perceptions are hard to change.

On the other hand the name Trump has a history as well. Yet, there are no established perceptions of the name in the context of politics.

 

4. MORE (FREE) PR, MORE ENGAGEMENT

When looking at Google trends, social media and the established media it is clear that Trump has the lead in engagement. Of course, not all is positive but that is ok. In many ways, the established media is handing the benefit of the doubt unwillingly to Trump. They help to build the brand as reverse psychology will come to play. With all the negative press voters will ask themselves “If this guy is so bad, why is everybody then writing about him?” or “Is there nothing bad about Hillary ?”

 

5. LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE GRABBING THE WALLET

The Reuters headline “Trump scores with small money, lags with big donors” tells it all: there is a different type of support for Trump. These are not the few big cooperations or hedge funds, but the average American willing to invest in the brand. This is key as these people have shown their support by grabbing their wallets.

If played well these supports can over the next weeks amplify the Trump brand. After all, they have invested in the brand and will talk about it. In conversations, we trust a human to human recommendation over any marketing message.

 

6. CLEAR FOCUS

For any brand a clear focus is crucial. Brand supports must be able to tell what the brand is about and where it stands for.  Trump has picked topics and over the campaign has stuck to them. The topics do raise debate fueling the brand engagement. Hillary does not seem to focus on one topic and her topics do not raise the same amount of brand engagement.  Great brands know that in the mind of the consumer a brand that does just one thing really well is more credible than a brand that does everything.

 

LOOKING FORWARD TO 2020

Regardless the outcome on November 8 this presidential campaign has proven to be one of its kind. And who knows, perhaps it has set a bigger change in motion. A change that gives the Independent Candidate a shot to the presidency in 2020! Now that would be a change!

Published on Oct 5 2016

Brand lessons from Donald Trump: clear focus, massive PR and a great slogan

With the US elections in full swing it is interesting to take a brand approach to the candidates.

Without any exception Donald Trump is checking the brand boxes.

1. Clear Focus

First Donald Trump has a clear focus – he has picked his battles and topics. While many disagree he has at least picked his topics and sticks to them.  Great brands know that in the mind of the consumer a brand that does just one thing really well is more credible than a brand that does everything.

2. Massive PR

When you dominate the headlines you are top of mind.  Google Trends reveals that Donald Trump is dominating the headlines already for a long time. Bernie Sanders is recently topping Hillary Clinton.

PR-Elections-2015-onwards

What does this really mean? Somebody else is talking about what the Trump brands stands for. Whether the articles in the news are  positive or negative it will do one thing very well: making the focussed Trump brand even more real. This works especially well against brands/ candidates that are not outspoken enough: they will appear less firm or even a bit all over the place.

3. The slogan

A great slogan is a memorable phrase that is the summary of a brand. It  describes the product and its unique benefit and set the brand above the competition and ultimately create a reason for people to buy or join your brand.

Trump is nailing it here. Some might still subconsciously remember the slogan from the 80’s when Reagan used “Let’s Make America Great Again”. For others it gives a real reason to join the brand:

Trump_America_Great_Again

Anyone could say “I’d like to make America great again”.

The other slogans give a much less real reason to join the brand:

  • I’d like to be with her (Hillary Clinton, democrat)
  • I’d like a new American century (Marco Rubio, republican)
  • I’d like to be all in for Jeb (Jeb Bush, republican)
  • I’d like to  join courageous conservatives (Ted Cruz, republican)

All these slogans are in my opinion similar to Mitt Romney’s 2012 “Believe in America” (are there any Americans who deep down not believe in America?) and the John McCain 2008 slogan “reform, prosperity and peace”. Both lost against Obama with the slogans “Change” (2008) and “Forward” (2012).

In the 2016 elections there is one exception, the slogan of the democrat Ben Sanders who gives also a reason to join the brand “I’d like a future to believe in”.  Perhaps not surprisingly Ben Sanders is trailing Donald Trump in PR.

 

Coca-Cola’s “Taste the Feeling” slogan does not differentiate

Marking a significant shift in its marketing strategy, Coca-Cola  announced on Jan 19 that for the first time, all Coke Trademark brands will be united in one global creative campaign: “Taste the Feeling.”

Chief Marketing Officer Marcos de Quinto says that “The bigness of Coca-Cola resides in the fact that it’s a simple pleasure – so the humbler we are, the bigger we are. We want to help remind people why they love the product as much as they love the brand.”

Rudolf Echeveria the VP of global creative, connections and digital, adds “we’re going from ‘Open Happiness’ to exploring the role Coca-Cola plays in happiness, we make simple, everyday moments more special.”

Sounds like a convincing story except that it does not differentiate Coca-Cola from the competition – at all. “Taste the feeling” works just fine with Pepsi as well.

Pepsi-taste-the-feeling

The soda industry is in decline

CMO de Quinto explains the insight behind the campaign “we’ve found over time that the more we position Coca-Cola as an icon, the smaller we become.” This is a strange insight since the decline of the soft drinks category is happening with or without the iconic Coca-Cola brand.

In the USA the category is already for 10 years (!) in decline. In 2014, there was 14% less sold than in 2004 with the biggest losses for the Diet variants fuelled by concerns over the use of artificial sweeteners. “Water is hot and diet soda is not” writes the WSJ.

It is Coca-Cola and Pepsi again

Inside the soft drink category there is a shift happening: for the first time in years the regular Coca-Cola and Pepsi drinks are leading again. Cola drinkers are back to the core: real cola with sugar. The time could not be better to giver cola drinkers the real reason to choose Coca-Cola over Pepsi.

Taste the Real Thing

‘Taste the Feeling’ is not unique. What is? Taste the Real Thing of course!  No matter whether it is a regular Coca-Cola, Diet or Life, there can be only be one The Real Thing and that is Coca-Cola. The real reason to stay with the brand and buy it time after time again.

Coca-Cola-Taste-the-real-thing

Growth from other categories

To continue growth as a company the Coca-Cola Company will need to re-focus and reposition. Get leadership positions in new categories with new products under new brands.

And while exploring new categories and working on gaining leadership positions give current consumers the reason to drink Coca-Cola: Taste the real thing.

 

From idea to ‘Non-fiction book of the month’ in the UK

I am extremely proud to tell you that The Only Book You Will Ever Need on Branding is available as paperback and ebook with Little, Brown Book Group in the UK and on 28 December in India with Hachette India.

Not only that, the book is chosen as the Non-Fiction Book of the Month DecemberWe never expected that to happen, because it is a book about branding after all!

From an idea to a book

I have had the ambition to write a book about branding in a down to earth no-nonsense approach since starting this blog in 2009. During my coaching sessions with international startups at the global accelerator program AppCampus I noticed that my visual training materials and concepts were really helping and I believed there was enough material for a new type of brand book and started writing.

In March 2013 I called my ex-Nokia colleague Liisa Puolakka who is based in London with the question if we could do this together. The idea was to get it ready over the summer. That we did not make… the ambition was to really deliver an no-nonsense book about branding. The mental test for every page was if anyone with a business to run, whether a café owner or a tech start-up, could pick up this book and start applying it, immediately and literally on the run, without a need for a prior degree in marketing and branding!  We checked again and again that we were really focusing on telling the reader HOW to do things, not focusing on WHY to do things and the academic theories of branding.

Publications in Finland and the Netherlands

In November 2013 the book was in good shape. Our first reviewers provided us invaluable feedback that we used to sharpen some of our messages including the illustrations. We did not make fundamental changes to the story or any of the book’s messages, not because none of the feedback suggested it, but because we had debated the whole book between ourselves from all angles so many times that we truly had no doubts about it.

Our initial plan was to rock Amazon CreateSpace. That approach changed when we got in touch in December 2013 with Suomen Liikekirjat, a publisher in Finland. Entrepreneurship in Finland had been growing rapidly, yet there was no book to support these businesses on building a brand. The publisher saw immediately value in helping to change the technical product mindset of entrepreneurs to more of a branding & marketing mindset. The book launched in Finland in April 2014. We were super happy!

Being Dutch it was only natural to reach out to Dutch publishers. So, in the same month we contacted Haystack, a Dutch publisher. We immediately had a click with their website, the type of books and approach. Interestingly enough Haystack was immediately on board as well. It took literally 4 hours from sending the manuscript to getting the phone call with the message “let’s do it!” – finally a book about branding that everyone would understand! The Dutch version of the book was a success. It reached position 45 out of 28.000 management books and stayed for 25 days in the top 100. Readers awarded the book with 5/5 stars.

In March 2013 I called my ex-Nokia colleague Liisa Puolakka who is based in London with the question if we could do this together. The idea was to get it ready over the summer. That we did not make… the ambition was to really deliver an no-nonsense book about branding. The mental test for every page was if anyone with a business to run, whether a cafe owner or a tech start-up, could pick up this book and start applying it, immediately and literally on the run, without a need for a prior degree in marketing and branding!  We checked again and again that we were really focusing on telling the reader HOW to do things, not focusing on WHY to do things and the academic theories of branding.

Entering the BIG markets

Our dream has always been to enter te big markets and reach as many business owners as possible. So, we knew a publisher in the UK would be needed. While we do not had an agent (a must in the UK to get your book published!) we approached Little, Brown Group (part of Hachette) anyway… and the same thing we experienced in Finland and the Netherlands happened again… the publisher loved the book.

Lovers and haters

With everything… there are people who love what you are doing and people who hate it. Don’t focus on the haters… Our experience so far is that business owners & CEO’s love the book (check out our reviews), corporate marketers and brand consultants don’t. The fist group loves the focus on the HOW, the latter misses the details of the WHY – which means that the book seems to have met the needs of its target group!

The BIG lesson

To me the BIG lesson was that you must envision the end goal. The end goal for us has always been to reach as many people as possible. That is our focus. The road to it is very important, especially the starting point. Our publisher Hannu Palmu from Suomen Liikekirjat had trust in us and the book. With that trust we gained trust in the Netherlands. With the success in the Netherlands we gained trust in the UK… So, make sure you have proof points along the way on the path of realising your dream and don’t give up. If it does not feel right, it likely is not right. Change direction and stay determined to reach your envisioned end goal!

The book is globally available as paperback and ebook through:

Michiel

Read more about the book including reviews

(A)lphabet, (B)rand, (C)orporate

The transition from the corporate brand Google into the new corporate brand Alphabet is a real success at the stock market. Since the Alphabet start date on the 5th of October there is an upward trend in the share price. The third quarter results announced last week made the party complete. Larry Page and Sergey Brin receive homage from investors!

Like most startups, Google had a very specific mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” achieved through a focused product: the search engine.

However, the company has thrown itself into all kinds of new product categories:

  • Calico for combating the aging process and associated diseases
  • Google X for advanced technologies such as the autonomous car
  • Google Fiber Internet and television
  • Nest for home automation (smoke detectors, thermostats, etc.)

If a brand tries to be everything to everybody, it will ultimately become nothing to no one. In Google’s case, where the most successful product uses the same brand name as the company and people use ‘to google’ as a verb, the company owners need to make a choice. A new corporate brand is the only real logical move.

Under the new corporate brand Alphabet can Google continue the pursuit its mission, while new product brands can explore and conquer other categories. This can now be done with focus and most importantly without diluting the Google brand. In addition, the new structure gives also investors more insight into where the money is spent.

Yet, this goes against the natural pursuit that many companies have: ensure a strong corporate brand identity. Too many product brands can indeed seem tiring for both consumers and employees. Both are reasons to consolidate brands under the corporate brand. Another reason may be -as in the case of Unilever- to bring the corporate brand more to the forefront to give it even more the role of authority and credibility.

Alphabet shows us that laser-sharp focused product brands may be the right tools to turn the corporate promise in broader spectrum, strengthen it and bring it to new heights!

Even Apple products deserve a beautiful name

The new Apple products are still very Apple and introduced to the market in an Apple way. Think different still counts.

Take Apple Photos. It is the replacement product for both the consumer and professional products iPhoto and Aperture. Apple Photos was received with criticism because of lacking functionality.

Exactly Apple!

Two existing products had to be replaced because they had to change. The fact that it will take time before the missing functionality is back is fine with Apple.

Power of the ecosystem

Then Apple Watch, the first real smart watch. Developers see opportunities through the power of the ecosystem. Again typical Apple, after all, as Jobs in 2004 said “the core technology [or consumer devices] is going to be software” and after iPod, iPhone and iPad that is also the case with Apple Watch.

And the latest addition is Apple Music, in which Apple took the old concept of Radio and give it a new look with Beats 1, the radio station that broadcasts live from different cities around the world.

The real big change

The real big change is that all these products are all brought directly under the Apple brand on the market: the strong Apple brand is followed by a descriptive name.

Apple is apparently abandoning the unique – recognizable – one word names such as Mac, iPhone and iPad for products.

This is in itself a logical “top-down” decision. In this way Apple Photos, Apple Watch and Apple Music all contribute immediately to the Apple brand.

However, if you look “bottom-up” I am convinced that when Apple had given all products unique names, such as iWatch, it would really contribute to the success of Apple. The success of iPod and iPhone were instrumental to the success of the Apple brand. You do not hear many people saying “I want an Apple”, but in stead your hear “I want an iPhone for my graduation”.

Unique names make it also easy to talk about your products. “I stream music from Beats on my iWatch” is much better than “I stream music using Apple Music on my Apple Watch”. Consider also the search query “how to edit photos in photos” which is weird in itself. In the result you find not only Apple Photos but also Google Photos. Or just search for “apple photos” and indeed you get photos of apples.

With beautiful brand-worthy products you make as a brand difference. With unique names you make it even easier to talk about them. And that is precisely the purpose of a brand!

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