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Competing on Image Isn't Enough: Why and How to Make Your Brand an Expression of Identity

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Wed, Jan 24, 2018

girl with coffee.jpeg

Brand image matters.

For marketers, that’s a truism—and for good reason. Brand image does matter. I see evidence of it every day, in the work we do at CMB, uncovering insights that help brands craft winning strategies. We spend a lot of time helping our clients decide how to fine-tune their brand image, market it effectively, support it with products and customer experiences, and track their progress. Some brands have been wildly successful in their pursuit of a brand image that has helped them maintain a competitive edge (e.g., Disney is “magical,” Apple is “innovative,” Walmart is “affordable”).

But the traditional focus on brand image hasn’t kept-up with people’s lives.

We live in a world where people are inundated with options. Are you looking for something to eat? Something to watch? Something to wear? Whatever it is, rest assured you’ll have lots of possibilities. Even something as mundane as shampoo yields over 100,000 hits on Amazon. It’s gotten to the point where scientists are studying the effects of “too much choice” on our wellbeing.

In a market this saturated, competing on brand image is no longer enough.

Most brands already strive to communicate a positive brand image and a well-defined set of brand benefits. In every industry, many brands are vying for the same customers and claiming the same (or similar) attributes. People are quick to say that Apple is “innovative”—but they say the same thing about Samsung. So, when they’re choosing their next smartphone, “innovative” won’t be a deciding factor.

Furthermore, competing on brand benefits (like service, cost, and convenience) isn’t always practical. I witnessed that firsthand in my time at American Express. Great customer service and Membership Rewards were once part of a unique value proposition. But, nowadays, card benefits offered by one brand are quickly copied by others, and the industry is stuck in a “race to the bottom.” In their efforts to beat competitors and increase share, brands are undercutting profitability to offer ever richer card rewards.

What’s a brand to do in a world where it’s gotten this hard to compete on brand image and benefits?

The answer: Compete on brand tribe.

People love brands that help them express their identities. And, thanks to the explosion of options for consumers, every choice is now a chance to express who we are.

Yet decades of scientific research have shown that our identities are social—they are shaped by our social groups, norms, and connections. Who we are depends on our real and aspirational relationships with other people. So truly strategic brands lead people to equate using the brand with joining a tribe that expresses an identity. And the secret to creating that connection is a clear, compelling brand customer image. After all, brands aren’t people. But brand customers are.

Your brand’s customer image is the mental picture people have of the kind of person who typically buys or uses your brand. It’s related to brand image, but it’s not the same. To take one of my favorite examples, consider Subaru. When we ask people to describe the brand Subaru, they say “safe” and “reliable.” But when we ask them to describe the typical Subaru owner, they say “middleclass,” “family-focused,” and “outdoorsy.” They picture someone with kids and a dog, who likes to hike, and who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries. There’s a lot of nuance to their image of the typical Subaru customer—including attributes a person can embody, but a brand cannot.

Of course no image of your brand’s typical customer will truly capture your actual customer base. Your brand’s customer image is more like a stereotype: A set of overgeneralized assumptions about typical members of your brand tribe. But people tend to rely on stereotypes—often unconsciously—in order to navigate our complex world. Accordingly, brand customer image has powerful effects on consumer behavior.

For example, at CMB we’ve found that:

  • When people identify with their image of a brand customer, they are 14-times more likely to choose that brand, and 15-times more likely to recommend it.
  • As predictors of brand engagement, our measures of identification with the perceived customer routinely beat perceptions of the brand—even on dimensions as important as quality, price, value, service, convenience, authenticity, reputability, and innovation.

Taking all this into account, it’s no surprise that many of the most iconic ad campaigns have invoked a clear, compelling customer image. Remember “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC”? Dove’s “Real Beauty”? Or the insidiously cliquey “Choosy moms choose Jif”?

To effectively compete on brand tribe, make sure that you have answers to these three questions:

  1. What is your brand’s current customer image? Does your target audience already have an image of the kind of person who uses the brand? If so, how clear is it? What attributes define that image (e.g., what demographics, motives, and values)? And what (if anything) makes it unique compared to competitors’ customer images?
  1. How compelling is that image? Is it an image of a person your target audience can relate to? Is it a kind of person they know and like, or would like to know? Does it represent an “ingroup” or an “outgroup” tribe—and how appealing is it compared to their images of competitor brand tribes?
  1. How can you optimize that image? What’s working about the image, and what isn’t? Which assumptions should you reinforce—and which should you work to change—to own a customer image that is compelling and unique for your audience, and realistically attainable for your brand?

If we want to influence consumer behavior, we must remember that consumers are people, and that people are social animals. Show them a group that they want to belong to, and they’ll adopt the attitudes and behaviors they believe to be normative (i.e., typical) for that group—including choosing the same brand.

Yet most brands today are not leveraging this powerful insight in a truly disciplined, quantitatively-validated, systematic way. 

And in the current competitive context—across industries—it’s more important than ever. Brands assume that consumers are asking themselves, “What brand do I want to use?” But, at a deeper and more decisive level, they are really asking: “Who do I want to be? Do I want to be the kind of person who uses this brand?”

Interested in learning more about how CMB leverages consumer psychology, advanced analytics, and market strategy to help clients build customer-centric brands? Watch out latest webinar on BrandFx and the three critical pieces to the brand engagement puzzle:

Watch now!

Topics: brand health and positioning, Identity, AffinID

CES 2018: Virtual Assistant Battle Royale

Posted by Savannah House

Wed, Jan 17, 2018

AI_Resized.jpg

Last week the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wrapped up in Las Vegas and left us feeling excited and invigorated about what’s to come in tech. From talking toilets to snuggle robots, CES 2018 was yet another reminder of how deeply technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives.

This year, once the world’s largest tech show found its way out of the dark, CES was all about virtual assistants.

Alexa vs. Google Assistant

Amazon’s Alexa has dominated the virtual assistant category—claiming 70% of the market share in 2017 and then ending the year with strong holiday sales as the most downloaded app for Apple and Android on Christmas Day. But this year, Google (who typically keeps a low profile at CES), made its presence loud and clear.

From wrapping the Las Vegas monorail with the words “Hey Google” to erecting a massive playground in the CES conference center parking lot (complete with a giant gumball machine), Google is making it clear that it intends for Google Assistant to be a legitimate contender in the virtual assistant space.

It’s about integration, not separation

Both Google and Amazon used CES 2018 as a platform to announce new partnerships for their virtual assistants. Alexa will soon be found in Toyota cars, Vuzix smart glasses, and Kohler smart toilets. Meanwhile, Google is integrating its smart technology with a slew of products from leading brands like Sony, Lenovo, and Huawei.

If there’s one takeaway from these partnership announcements, it’s that voice assistant technology will not be confined to the realm of their makers’ product lines. Instead, voice assistants intend to be everywhere—plugging into smart glasses, smart earbuds, and smart toilets—underscoring the tech industry’s expectation that voice assistants will continue to play a much bigger role in our digital lives.

Crossing the chasm

It appears Google’s goal at CES wasn’t necessarily to woo tech lovers with its Google Assistant. Rather, it was to show regular people what is possible with virtual assistant technology. This is important because it demonstrates the (potential) ubiquity of this category once thought of as only for early tech adopters.

However, despite pushes to show “regular" people that virtual assistants are meant for everyone, our research indicates that social identity is playing a role in preventing widespread virtual assistant adoption.

As the chart indicates below, peoples' ability to relate to the typical user is the biggest driver in virtual assistant usage:

VA drivers (branded)-1.jpg

However, currently, consumers can’t relate to the typical virtual assistant user, which is keeping them from “crossing the chasm” and becoming regular users themselves.

The virtual assistant category will only grow in complexity as more companies enter the game (let’s not forget about Siri and Cortana). But, while flashy conference displays, exciting partnership announcements, and product demos are all helpful in attracting more consumers, if virtual assistant brands want to achieve more mainstream adoption, the brand and creative teams need to tackle the virtual assistant image problem head on.

Savannah House is the Marketing Manager at CMB, and as a light sleeper, is most excited about the robotic pillow.

Topics: technology research, internet of things, Identity, AffinID, Artificial Intelligence

AI's Image Problem: Who's the "Typical" Virtual Assistant User?

Posted by Chris Neal

Tue, Jan 09, 2018

siri2-1.png

Every nascent technology and every tech start-up faces the same marketing challenge of “crossing the chasm” into mainstream adoption.  Geoffrey Moore framed this very well in his 1991 classic, “Crossing the Chasm”:

adoption curve.pngWord of mouth can play a huge role in motivating certain segments to sip the Kool-Aid and make the leap.

With CES 2018—the world's largest gadget tradeshow—happening in Vegas this week, I can't help but wonder if mainstream consumers don’t relate to the early adopters of a new technology? What if they think it’s used by people who aren’t part of “their tribe”? Will it prevent them even considering the new tech? There are countless technology categories that have faced this challenge, for example:

  • certain gaming categories trying to expand beyond 15-24-year-old males
  • consumer robot products to this day
  • social media when it was first introduced
  • Second Life and other virtual worlds

I hypothesized that the virtual assistant (VA) category—and specific brands within it—faces this challenge. Yes, many people have tried and used Siri, but few mainstream consumers are truly using virtual assistants for anything beyond basic hands-free web-queries. To further complicate things, an increasing number of “smart home” products that connect to intelligent wireless speakers in the home (e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple’s forthcoming HomePod) are proving divisive. Some people love the experience or the idea of commanding a smart device while others categorically reject the concept. 

My team and I had the chance to test out a few hypothesis through our Consumer Pulse program and —voila!—we’ve got some tasty (and useful) morsels to share with you about how social identity is influencing consumer adoption in the virtual assistant space using our proprietary AffinIDSM solution.

Here’s what we found:

Social identity matters in the virtual assistant space. We studied US consumers (18+)—covering usage, adoption, and perceptions of the virtual assistant category and a deep-dive on four major brands within it: Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana by Microsoft. We covered rational perceptions of the category, emotional reactions to experiences using virtual assistants, and perceptions of the “typical” user of Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana.

We then ran fancy math™ on our data to create a model to predict the likelihood of a virtual assistant “category rejecter” (i.e., someone who has never tried a VA before) to try any one of those assistants in the future. Our analysis indicates that how much a current VA category rejecter relates to their image of the type of person who uses a virtual assistant is the number one predictor of whether they are likely to try the technology in the future:

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Unfortunately for the industry, category rejecters do not find the typical VA user very relatable. 
AffinID metric by brand.png

As the chart indicates, relatability (biggest predictor of likelihood to try as shown previously) scores the lowest of the three components of AffinID: relatability, clarity, and desirability. You may ask yourself: “are scores of 12 to 14 ‘good’ or ‘bad’?  They’re bad: trust me. We’ve now run AffinID on hundreds of brands across dozens of industries, so we have a formidable normative database against which to compare brands. The VA category does not fare well on “relatability,” and it matters.

Some brands’ VA ads, while amusing, are not very relatable to “normal” mainstream consumers. For example as my colleague Erica Carranza points out in her recent blog, Siri’s ad featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing impossibly awesome things in one day (including taking a selfie from outer-space) with the help of Siri isn’t exactly a “normal” person’s day. A-grade for amusement on this one, but it is playing into an existing perception problem.

Stereotypes about users’ age and income are currently keeping “rejecters” away from the virtual assistant category.

The age gap between rejecters and “typical” virtual assistant users is a social identity construct keeping rejecters out of the category. Current rejecters, not surprisingly, skew older while current heavy VA users, also not surprisingly, skew young.

We uncovered this disconnect with a big predictive model using “match analysis” on a variety of demographic, personality, and interest attributes. For every attribute, we examined whether there was a “match” or a “disconnect” between how a rejecter described themselves vs. how they perceived the typical user of a virtual assistant brand.

The two specific perceptions that had the greatest ability to predict a rejecter’s likelihood to consider using a brand in the future was an age-range match and an income-range match. For example, if I’m over 35 years old (hypothetically!), and I perceive the “typical” user to be under 35 years old and higher-income than me…so what? Well, it does matter. For new technologies to achieve mainstream adoption, they must debunk the widespread perceptions that the early adopter is “young” and highly affluent, and that their product can be used by everyone (think: Facebook). SNL pokes fun at this generational discrepancy.

But in all seriousness, if a virtual assistant brand wants to achieve more mainstream adoption among older demographics, the brand gurus and creative teams working on campaigns need to tackle this head on.

And they must try to do this—ideally—without alienating the original early adopter group that made them their first million (think: Facebook, again…how many Gen Zers do you know who actually use it actively?). I—prototypical 45-year-old suburban dad—can’t imagine using Snapchat, for instance. If Snapchat wanted to get me and my tribe to buy in as avid users*, it needs to convince me that Snapchat isn’t just for teens and early twenty-somethings. Or it needs to launch a different brand/product targeted specifically at my tribe, and market it appropriately.

It’s worth noting there are other social identity constructs that help predict whether a non-user of a virtual assistant is likely to try a product in the future. For instance, the few VA category rejecters who perceive the typical (young, affluent) user as being as “responsible/reliable” as themselves are more open to trying a VA in future than those who do not perceive VA users this way. So, we’re seeing this stereotype that virtual assistant products are for young, affluent professionals living in a major coastal city with no kids to contend with yet, and this is turning some consumer segments off from trying out the category in earnest.  

Stay tuned to this channel for more on our study of the virtual assistant category. I’ll be covering some key insights we got by applying our emotional impact analysis—EMPACT℠to the same issue of what virtual assistant brands should be doing to achieve further adoption and more mainstream usage of their products. 

*I am more than 95% confident that the Snapchat brand gurus do not want me as an avid user…and my ‘tween daughter would definitely die of embarrassment if I ever joined that particular platform and tried to communicate with her that way.

 

Topics: technology research, EMPACT, Consumer Pulse, AffinID

Robo-Advisors Aren't Your Father's Financial Advisor

Posted by Lori Vellucci

Tue, Dec 12, 2017

Back in the day, if you had a little money to invest, you called up the brokerage firm that your dad used, you talked to his“guy” and you asked him to invest your money for you. Those days aren’t totally gone, but over the last few years new technology has disrupted the traditional investor-client relationship—resulting in more ways than ever to invest your money yourself.

We all remember the iconic E*TRADE baby from way back in 2013. E*TRADE’s campaign brought the online discount stock brokerage firm for self-directed investors model into the mainstream. Since then, more DIY investment platforms have cropped up, each vying for the modern self-directed investor’s business. But one important learning from the DIY trend of the past decade is that even though this model lends itself to independent investing, DIY-investors still need some type of investment help.

Robo-advisors: The rise of AI in finance

The first robo-advisor was released in 2008 to help these new investors make smart money choices. For the most part, early DIY investors didn’t have a formal finance background, so robo-advisors offered them portfolio management services and insights that were once reserved for high-net-worth individuals—at a fraction of what a traditional human financial advisor might charge. It was a gamechanger.

Robo-advisor technology continues to shape the financial services industry with big players like Charles Schwab and Ameritrade each launching their own in the last few years. This growing interest and investment in robo-advisory technology is great for DIY investors and offers a ton of opportunity for traditional financial firms be on the cutting edge of FinTech.

Given the changing landscape, we wanted a better understanding of investor perceptions of robo-advisor clients.  Through our 2017 Consumer Pulse, we surveyed 2,000 US adults about FinTech, traditional financial services firms, and who they perceived as the technologies' typical user.

Who's using robo-advisors?

Typical Robo-Advisor User.png

CMB’s AffinID (a measure of social identity’s influence on consumers) score for this FinTech offering indicate that while all three components of AffinID (clarity, relatability, and social desirability) could stand improvement within the investor community. Relatively speaking, relatability is weakest--people have a clear image of what the typical robo-advisor user is like and that image is socially desirable, but they don't view the typical user as part of their "tribe".

The inability of investors to relate to their image of the typical robo-advisor user sheds light on a potential roadblock. Robo-service providers targeting traditional investors might consider messaging that conveys a typical user more closely aligned with the “traditional investor image”.

What emotions are driving use?

We found that robo-advisor users themselves are driven by feelings of being smart, wise, and savvyefficient, practical, productive.  Inspiration and motivation are also key emotional drivers for robo-advisor services.

Emotions that drive robo-advisor usage2.png

Why does this matter? It tells us what brands looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded FinTech market could be doing to attract more customers. These emotional drivers could be important messaging elements for those companies looking to court new money from traditional investors.

Are robo-advisors the next "big thing" in FinTech?

FinTech adoption curve2.png

Three quarters of robo-advisor users consider themselves early adopters, this is in contrast with users of mobile wallet and online-only banking--two technologies that have entered the mainstream. As traditional financial service providers make considerable investments in driving robo-advisor adoption, our findings show that to drive adoption it's critical to understand both how consumers want to feel, and how they perceive and relate to their image of the typical user.

Interested in learning more?

Our comprehensive FinTech study also looked at online-only investment apps, online-only banking, and mobile wallets. Download a sneak peek of our findings from all four in our Facing the FinTech Future series:

Topics: financial services research, Identity, AffinID, Artificial Intelligence, BrandFx

The Social Identity Effect: How one Millennial “Found Herself” at the MFA After Midnight

Posted by Lisa Hoffman

Wed, Nov 15, 2017

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Shortly after midnight last weekend, I was surprised when someone suggested that we head to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). Despite my love of art, while interning at the museum in college, I learned that people like me were not its "typical" daily visitors. Asked to conjure up an image of those who go to the MFA—an imposing neoclassical building located in Boston’s Fenway—I pictured school groups, white-haired docents, and tourists…lots of tourists.  I did not envision urban millennials looking for a respite from the Boston bar scene. Not until I saw it for myself.

In 2014, the MFA set out to grow their audience and take advantage of a city teeming with recent college graduates. They needed to continue to appeal to their typical daytime patrons (those older tourists, families, and school groups), but with a new director in place, the MFA saw an opportunity to become a sought-after destination for Boston’s millennials. So, the museum launched #mfaNOW—a series of late-night parties, artistic celebrations, and lectures targeted at young Bostonians looking for a fun night out.

These events are an incredible success—hundreds of millennials are lining up at the door on weekend nights, sharing on social, and bringing their friends because they now see themselves as MFA museum goers. The MFA is experiencing the social identity effect validated by our research: to change the image of the brand, you need to change the image of the typical brand customer.

I experienced it myself that night, as I wandered through a crowd of hip overnight revelers, my perception of the museum and museum-goers began to change. It wasn’t because of the heart-pumping music and flashing lights—though those were cool. It changed because I was immersed in people like me—young city-dwelling professionals—people I could understand, relate to, and who I wanted to be with. It felt like at any point I could run into someone I knew in the crowd, making the night an experience I was excited to share with my friends, either later online, or at the next event!

As the results of our research show, who consumers imagine as your brand's "typical" customer really matters. In fact, consumers are 12x more likely to consider brands when they can identify with their image of its typical user. So, brands looking to influence or change their brand perception need to consider who their typical (or target) customer is and create experiences and offer services and products that appeal to that person.

See it in action:

The MFA changed the image of its stereotypical visitor when it introduced #mfaNOW. It offers millennials—people like me—the opportunity to see their peers experiencing (and enjoying) the museum in an entirely different context than a typical daytime visit—a paradigm shift for an established brand.

Learn more about how we’re helping clients leverage the critical role of identity to create truly customer-centered brands. 

Topics: brand health and positioning, Identity, AffinID

The Art & Science of Selecting a Spokesperson

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Wed, Nov 08, 2017

This article was originally published in Website Magazine.

When is tapping a celebrity to endorse your brand a good idea, and who should you choose? In an age when scandals erupt in the time it takes to share a tweet, getting it wrong is at best a wasted opportunity, and at worst a PR nightmare.

It’s hard to predict a celebrity scandal. Luckily, consumers tend to forgive brands that take steps to condemn bad behavior (when his doping came to light, Lance Armstrong lost eight contracts in a single day, starting with Nike). But what about wasted opportunities? No marketer wants to invest in a celebrity if a less expensive strategy would work—or to pick the wrong celebrity for the job.

To make the right decision for your brand, before signing any celebrity, make sure that you understand your brand’s customer image.

Your brand’s customer image is consumers’ stereotype of the kind of person who uses the brand. It relates to the brand’s overall image, but it’s not the same. For example, consider Subaru:

  • When we ask consumers to describe the brand Subaru, they say “safe” and “reliable.”
  • But when we ask them to describe the typical Subaru owner, they say “middleclass,” “family-focused,” and “outdoorsy.” They picture someone with kids and a dog, who likes to hike, and who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries.
Subaru - hiking family_blog.jpg

There’s a lot of nuance to their image of the typical Subaru customer—including attributes a person can embody, but a brand cannot.

Customer image is crucial because people are social animals. Our social identities shape what we think, who we are and strive to be, how we act and the choices we make as consumers. So truly strategic brands lead consumers to equate using the brand with joining a tribe that expresses an identity. And the secret to creating that connection is a clear, compelling brand customer image. In our research at CMB we’ve seen that consumers who identify with their image of a brand’s customer are 14-times more likely to choose the brand, and 15-times more likely to recommend it. What does this mean for selecting a celebrity spokesperson?

1. First, get a deep understanding of how your target audience sees the brand customer 
Do they already have an image of the kind of person who uses the brand? If so, how compelling is that image? What’s working about that image, and what isn’t? Which assumptions should you reinforce—and which should you work to change—in order to own a customer image that is compelling and unique for your audience, and realistically attainable for your brand?

2. Consider signing a celebrity if the brand customer image is unclear

Given the importance of the brand customer image, having a new or lesser-known brand may pose a challenge: When your target audience tries to imagine your typical customer, they may draw a blank. On the upside, that means you can build the customer image from scratch—and a celebrity endorsement can provide an effective strategy. In additional to pairing the brand with a familiar face, your campaign can draw on consumers’ “built-in” knowledge about the celebrity to communicate what you want them to know about your brand tribe.

3. Consider signing a celebrity if the brand customer image isn’t compelling

Stereotypes are notoriously difficult to change. So it often happens that a brand’s (formerly appealing) customer image is no longer relevant—or even alienating—to new consumers. For example, we partner with many respected, longstanding brands that are working to attract younger generations. A key barrier is the image of an “older” customer. The answer isn’t to put a Kardashian in every ad. (We’ve all seen how that can go…) But snagging the right celebrity can disrupt preconceived notions about the kind of person who buys or uses the brand. Especially when the endorsement seems genuine. This ad comes to mind as great example for having challenged stereotypes of Chrysler drivers and Detroit.

Another great example is the choice of Maya Rudolph by Seventh Generation. Consumers tend to think that people who buy “green” household cleaners are condescending “activist types” who have money to pay a premium for products that don’t work well. That’s not a compelling tribe. But Maya Rudolph, a comedic actress and a mom, gives Seventh Generation customers an image that’s much more relatable and fun. I’m a particular fan of her video promos on the Seventh Generation website.

4. Think twice if the customer image is niche and the goal is to broaden appeal

The image of the Subaru driver shows the impact of ads like this, which have an “every parent” quality. A famous spokesperson could undermine that message. Sometimes signing a celebrity—any celebrity—isn’t the best approach. For example, if you’re a tech company trying to drive adoption of your Virtual Assistant, you’ll need to battle the perception that typical users are a niche group: Young, tech-savvy, affluent, white men. So you may want to show a diverse group of regular people doing regular things with the personal assistant, like Google during this year’s Super Bowl—rather than a celebrity doing extraordinary things, like The Rock using Siri to snap selfies from space.

22261-26696-170802-Rock-l.jpgSource: appleinsider

5. If you take the plunge, pick a celebrity who embodies the top priority attributes you want to convey

Picking someone well-known and well-liked may seem like a safe bet. But it fails to consider how that person might influence the image of the brand customer. Instead, identify specific priorities for what to communicate based on consumers’ current image of your customer, their image of competitor brand customers, and what does (or doesn’t) express their identities and values. Then map those priorities to their perceptions of potential spokespeople.

While there’s no guaranteeing that a celebrity won’t behave badly, at least you can take steps to make sure that you sign a spokesperson who conveys the right image of your brand tribe.

Erica Carranza is VP of consumer psychology at Chadwick Martin Bailey (CMB). She earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton University and has more than ten years of experience leading research for major brands. Prior to CMB, she spent time in consumers insights at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Topics: marketing science, Identity, AffinID

Putting Viewers First in the New Media Landscape

Posted by Lynne Castronuovo

Thu, Jun 22, 2017

Televsion and Fishing.png

While recovering from a recent running injury, I logged A LOT of miles on the “dreadmill” and “helliptical” at the gym—both conveniently equipped with televisions to keep me entertained. Because I was also in the middle of a kitchen renovation, I found particular solace and inspiration in my good friends from HGTV: Tarek and Christina, Chip and Joanna, and the Property Brothers.

I’d grown particularly fond of Tarek and Christina’s “Flip or Flop”, so when I stumbled upon a recent New York Times article about them, of course it caught my attention. Why is it, the author wonders, do these home improvement “stars” now regularly share the covers and pages of magazines previously dominated by Brangelina? Gone are the days of traditional star power and mass appeal programming—as media consumption continues to fragment, niche is the new mass.

Media companies, from networks to celebrity magazines, are having trouble reaching these smaller groups. They’re still fishing in the biggest ponds left, which in the case of HGTV, has a relatively large fanbase in Middle America. But even with the sizable HGTV audience, there’s also the FX and AMC “big-city smarty-pants” groups to think about. With these splintering subgroups, what’s a media company competing for their attention and loyalty to do?

“Do I like these characters?” to “Who do I want to be?”

Traditional programming research focuses on what the viewer thinks about the show’s plot, characters, setting, etc. Don’t get me wrong, these elements are still essential to programming. However, in identifying subgroups based on the content they watch, we need to answer some important questions about identity, namely: “Who do I want to be?”, “Do I want to be perceived as the kind of person who watches this show?”, and “Can I relate to people who typically watch ‘Flip or Flop’?”

As people, we’re motivated by opportunities to reinforce or enhance our identity—it’s an integral piece to who we are. The brands we use (or in this case, the content we consume) can be an expression of identity, so we’re inclined to align ourselves with those that express it in a way that’s meaningful and true. In that vein, we find we can tell much more about a viewer or consumer by asking the identity-centric questions above than something like, “What do I think about the cast of ‘Flip or Flop’?”

This identity-centric framework is the basis for CMB’s identity measurement solution—AffinID. AffinID helps brands understand their target consumers’ image of the typical person who uses their brand (or watches their content) and finds ways to strategically influence that image to strengthen how much consumers identify with the image.

 As competition increases, identity measurement should play a key role to media companies.

So, as the media landscape becomes more fragmented and competitive, and as we continue to see niche groups with particular tastes pop up, media companies need to consider the important role identity plays in viewership—the more a person perceives a show and/or a network's typical viewer as the kind of person they are, they know and like, the more likely they are to engage in it.

This has distinct advantages for content creators testing new pilots—with so many players churning out quality, original content, there’s no room for mediocracy. Prior to pilot launch, creators can measure the identity benefits offered by the show to predict performance, help identify and profile likely viewers, and diagnose potential barriers to viewership.

This approach could be equally helpful to advertisers. Much of the advertising research conducted today is tactical, focusing on ad load and placement. The holy grail is finding what ads are “relevant” and aligned with not only the network, but also the particular program. And as viewers continue consume programming on a number of different platforms, it’s more challenging than ever for advertisers to be sure they’re reaching the right audience or fishing in the right pond.

AffinID can help advertisers identify perceptions of the viewer that drive these positive behaviors, strategically influencing them through the elements/moments featured in the program promos and identifying the ad placements/brand partnerships that make sense for a particular show.

While I won’t be watching Christina and Tarek as much now that I’m running outside again, and have a newly renovated kitchen, they remain important reminders of the future of media consumption. Like celebrities, there are fewer shows with “mass appeal” these days. In order for media companies (content creators, advertisers, etc.) to remain favorable to targeted audiences, they'll need to start looking through an identity-centric lens and consider questions like, “Who do I want to be?”

Lynne Castronuovo is an Account Manager at CMB who enjoys running outside when she’s not cooking meals in her shiny, new kitchen.

Topics: digital media and entertainment research, AffinID

Sporting Brand Loyalty

Posted by Caitlin Dailey

Wed, May 24, 2017

american football-5.jpg

The Celtics (my personal favorite Boston team) are just hanging on by a thread after last night's loss against the Cavaliers. But despite the Celtics playoff buzz around Boston, some die-hard Patriots fans are still riding the high of Super Bowl LI. Case in point, a couple weeks ago I saw a SnapChat of a friend replaying the game on his DVR just to relive the glory.

I was also just in Atlanta for some focus groups and couldn’t help but smile when my cab driver proudly pointed out the new Falcons stadium—he didn’t know I was a New Englander. So, although it may seem unseasonable to talk about the Patriots in May, I need to take the opportunity to share that Super Bowl LI was the greatest comeback in history, and as it turns out, a chance to show off the power of always seasonable brand loyalty.

In the weeks leading up to the big game, I saw a lot of social media posts and articles predicting an underwhelming Super Bowl due to Atlanta’s small fanbase. They argued the game would be more exciting if we were playing the Dallas Cowboys, a team with much sexier brand appeal.  I’ll admit, we Pats fans can be a bit cocky, but can you blame us? Regardless, one pro-Pats article that ran in the Boston Globe led to a Falcons fan banning Boston-based Sam Adams in his Georgia convenience store until after the Super Bowl. That’s commitment!

Removing Sam Adams from the shelves of one convenience store for a few weeks didn’t have much impact on the brewery’s bottom line, but the store owner’s boycott is an example of the potential power of true brand loyalty. The convenience store owner demonstrated his loyalty to his team, the ban culminated in some playful banter between the two parties on Twitter, and as far as I know, Sam Adams is back on the shelves of that store. So while the stakes here were low, wouldn’t executives, at let’s say Pepsi or United Airlines, have benefitted from building the kind of loyalty this Falcons fan felt —something to help brands get through a PR crises?

There are many drivers of brand loyalty. Perhaps a brand makes its consumers feel a certain way, garnering the right emotions that keep them coming back for more. Maybe the brand sends the right message about the kind of person who uses its product/service, creating a sense of kinship among its customers. Or perhaps the brand is really good at creating meaningful customer experiences. It could also be as simple as “I love the New England Patriots (or Celtics!) because I grew up watching them".  Often it’s a combination of all these drivers.

Marketers are facing pressure to answer critical questions to help build loyalty. How is your brand answering the call? Is your brand conveying the right message? Do your customers feel valued enough to not jump ship? Is your loyalty programming compelling enough?

 Who’s doing it right, and who’s getting it wrong? Tell us in the comments.

Caitlin Dailey is a Project Manager for the Travel/Entertainment/Finance/Insurance practice. Outside of work she is a company dancer with DanceWorks Boston. She’s a true Boston sports fan, and the only Falcons she likes are from her alma mater, Bentley University!

 

 

Topics: customer experience and loyalty, AffinID, emotion

The Power of Identity: A Look at Super Bowl LI Advertising

Posted by Savannah House

Fri, Feb 10, 2017

As a Boston-based strategy and research firm, we CMBers had high expectations for both the Patriots’ performance and of course, the Super Bowl ads. I’m happy to report that neither disappointed.

111 million people tuned into last Sunday’s game, making Super Bowl LI the fifth most-watched TV broadcast in history. But of those 111 million people, surely not all of them are Pats, Falcons, or even football fans. So while it’s hard for us New Englanders to believe, some people watch the Super Bowl (at least in part) for the commercials. After all, each year brands vie to have the most talked and tweeted about ad – setting the bar high to deliver quality, original, and memorable content.

In this divisive time, many brands were commended for tackling culturally relevant issues head on. And while I thought there were a number of really beautiful ads, I’d like to suggest a few other criteria for evaluation: 

  • How well does the ad align with the Super Bowl occasion?
  • Could you connect the ad to the brand and the value of the brand?
  • Did it communicate a compelling image of the brand’s typical user?
Question three is of particular interest to me because it’s related to our newest research solution, AffinIDSM.  AffinID helps brands understand their target consumers’ image of the typical person who uses their brand and finds ways to strategically influence that image to strengthen how much consumers identify with the image. Our research shows that the more consumers can identify with their image of the typical person who uses the brand, the more they will try, buy, pay for, and recommend the brand. This way of measuring brand perception is different from the traditional brand-centric approach (“What do I think of the brand?”) because it focuses on perceived brand user image.

AffinID measures how compelling a brand user image is based on its clarity, relatability, and social desirability; so from an advertising perspective, we’re interested in evaluating how well the spot communicates a clear, relatable, and socially desirable message of who the brand’s typical consumer is.

That said, I thought it’d be fun to review a few popular Super Bowl LI ads through an AffinID lens:

"Romance" from Skittles
Created by: Adam & Eve/DDB

Reminiscent of the classic “pebbles at the window” scene, Skittles “Romance” features a love struck teenager throwing Skittles through his beloved’s bedroom window. The Skittles are intended for his love, but unbeknownst to the teen, she’s actually letting her mom, dad, grandmother, home intruder, policeman, beaver (?) etc. take turns catching candy in their mouths.

  • Clarity: Skittles is sending the message that everyone (even beavers?) eats their candy. While this inclusive message resonates with a wide audience, it may diminish the brand’s clarity of who the stereotypical customer is.
  • Relatability: “Romance” features a wide range of Skittles customers, making its image of the typical user highly relatable. 
  • Social Desirability: From the looks of the ad, everyone seems to be having a great time eating Skittles. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with them?

Skittles_AffinID.png

"Yearbooks" from Honda
Created by: RPA

Bust out your high tops and cassette tapes because Honda’s “Yearbooks” will take you for a trip down memory lane. “Yearbooks” features animated yearbook pictures of heavy hitters like Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Steve Carrell, Missy Elliott, Viola Davis and Jimmy Kimmel celebrating the notion of “chasing dreams and the amazing places they lead” yearbooks typically evoke.

  • Clarity: While it’s fun to see high school versions of celebrities like Amy Adams and Magic Johnson, the ad features so many different people that it’s not clear who the typical Honda CR-V driver is.
  • Relatability: I think to some extent we can all relate to someone in this ad. Even though they’re famous celebrities who may not be relatable in real life, in the ad they’re portrayed as normal high school students excited about their future. And really, who didn’t go through an awkward high school phase?
  • Social Desirability: This is undoubtedly a fun ad, but there’s not a strong social desirability here. Though warm-hearted, it doesn’t portray an aspirational social identity like other car commercials do – specifically ones that feature successful and sexy drivers.
Honda_AffinID.png

"Google Home" from Google
Created by: 72andSunny

The Google Home spot hasn’t gotten much love in “best of” articles about this year’s Super Bowl ads, but it may have helped Google Home take major strides across “the chasm”—while unintentionally setting off a bunch of the systems in homes of those who already had it. In the 60 second spot, the voice-activated smart speaker “welcomes” home people from a variety of backgrounds (younger, older, parents, pet-owners) and is used, seemingly with ease, to do things like turn on the lights and translate helpful phrases like “Nice to meet you” from English to Spanish.

  • Clarity: Mass market consumers probably lack a clear image of kind of person who has a virtual assistant—or assume that it’s an affluent early-adopter. While the people shown in the Google Home spot were diverse, they all shared an “everyday” quality that was likely clearer and more relevant than the image most Super Bowl viewers had had before they saw it.
  • Relatability: Where Google Home lacks clarity, it makes up for in relatability. Since the ad features people from all walks of life, it’s pretty easy to find someone you can relate to – whether it’s the young couple with sleepy kids or the mother in need of an ingredient substitution while she cooks for her family.
  • Social Desirability: The ad’s feel-good theme throughout makes me want to jump into any of the scenes – it’s 60 seconds of friends and family hugging, laughing, and loving. If that’s not socially desirable, I don’t know what is.
Google_AffinID-2.png

As marketing, insights, and advertising professionals know, there’s way more to developing and testing messaging than my quick “analysis”. That’s why we created AffinID – to help brands and their agencies develop effective, consumer-centric strategies for growth by recognizing the power of consumer identity in brand decision-making. 

Learn more about AffinID by watching our latest webinar with Dr. Erica Carranza—CMB’s VP of Consumer Psychology. And let us know which ads you found engaging (or not) in the comments.

Watch Now

Savannah House is a Senior Marketing Coordinator at CMB who places as much weight on the quality of the Super Bowl snacks as she does the commercials.

Topics: consumer insights, brand health and positioning, AffinID

Marketer Beware: Brand User Stereotypes Bias How Consumers See Your Ads

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Thu, Jan 19, 2017

Imagine you see the picture below in an ad for Jack Daniels. Who is this guy? Where is he? What’s he like?

Man in boat_v2.jpg

I see a middle-aged man somewhere in the south. He’s out fishing. He’s a stoic, rugged, “salt of the earth” kind of guy. He drives a truck—and if it breaks down, he can fix it himself, thank you very much.

But what if, instead, you saw this image in an ad for the clothing brand Patagonia? What would you think about the man in the picture?

I’d imagine him on adventure vacation someplace exotic. He’s from California. He cares about looking good, feeling good, and doing good. Later, he’ll be scaling a mountain and drinking a juice cleanse.

In other words, if he’s in an ad for Patagonia (vs. Jack Daniels), I’d make a whole different set of assumptions.

This effect is driven by our tendency to develop stereotypes. After all, consumers are people, and people are social animals. We tend to categorize other people into types, and use our beliefs about those types to guide our perceptions, expectations, and behaviors. Stereotypes can be nefarious, no doubt. But they’re a fact of life. They’re a mental shortcut we’ve evolved in order to navigate a complex world—and they’re hard to avoid because they often operate at an unconscious level.

A brand can easily become the basis for a stereotype—an image of the kind of person who uses that brand (e.g., the kind of guy who drinks JD, or wears Patagonia). And that image can bias how consumers see the brand’s advertising.

Case in point: Research we conducted for a financial services brand with a reputation for being popular among older, affluent consumers.

The goal was to test advertising that would broaden the brand’s appeal—particularly among Millennials. But when we showed Millennial prospects an ad with a picture like the one above, they assumed that the man was much older. They said things like: “He was a Wall Street businessman. Now he’s retired and canoeing alone on a lake… This is probably his last vacation.” (Ouch!) To succeed in shaking-up their image of who uses the brand, the ads had to unambiguously portray customers in young adult life stages (e.g., a couple having their first baby).

The ads also had to show activities that were appealing without being too out-of-reach. Pictures of twenty-somethings yachting, or at the ballet, just reinforced prospects’ ingoing image of uber-wealthy customers with whom they couldn’t relate. ("I don't identify with any of these pictures! I don't own a boat… I never go to the ballet.”) And, for some prospects, these pictures just seemed unrealistic. Yachting Millennials didn’t fit with any type of person they knew.

Another pitfall were pictures of young people that struck prospects as realistic, but inadvertently
triggered other negative stereotypes. For example, a picture of a man wearing a hat like this…hipster hat (cropped).jpg

…triggered a “Hipster” image, and that was a turn-off. Prospects didn’t think they had much in common with him, didn’t aspire to be like him—and definitely wouldn’t want to hang out with him.

These perceptions matter a lot. Consumers’ image of a brand’s typical user needs to feel real and be compelling—because, as I wrote in an earlier blog, consumers’ image of the kind of person who uses a brand can really help (or really hinder!) brand growth. To attract consumers, the image should feel like a kind of person they know and like, or would like to know.

Here’s the good news: Marketing can play a powerful role in shaping that image. Not to say that it’s easy. Great marketing is art + science. So we developed AffinIDSM to support brands and agencies with science that can help them get the art of the marketing right. More specifically, AffinIDSM is a research solution designed to tackle three key questions:

  • What is consumers’ current image of the brand’s typical user?
    Note: They may not have a clear image, which is a challenge and opportunity for the brand—but that’s a topic for a different day!
  • How compelling is that image?
  • How should you optimize that image?
    In other words: What should marketing and brand initiatives seek to communicate about the kind of person who uses the brand in order to drive consumer engagement?

Then we can test ads to make sure that they convey the intended image, and that they avoid hard-to-predict missteps. (See above re: the “Hipster” hat… Who knew?)

I’ll be talking about AffinIDSM in an upcoming webinar. Curious? Sign-up below!

In the meantime, “The More You Know” lesson for today is that consumers’ image of a brand’s typical user—and their stereotypes of people in general—will bias their perceptions of marketing, whether we like it or not. The best course of action is to understand what those images are, the effect they have on consumers, and how to strategically influence them so that they work in the brand’s favor.  Tweet: @cmbinfo Consumers’ image of a brand’s typical user bias their perceptions of marketing https://ctt.ec/b254L+[Tweet this]

Erica Carranza is CMB’s VP of Consumer Psychology. She has supplier- and client-side market research experience, and earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton University.

PS – Have you registered for our webinar yet!? Join Erica as she explains why to change what consumers think of your brand, you must change their image of the people who use it.

What: The Key to Consumer-Centricity: Your Brand User Image

When: February 1, 2017 @ 1PM EST

Register Now!

Topics: consumer insights, webinar, brand health and positioning, AffinID