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Why CrossFit Athletes Become Brand Promoters

Posted by Molly Sands, PhD

Wed, May 30, 2018

kettle ball

Earlier this year, 500,000 of my closest CrossFit friends and I came together for the Reebok CrossFit Open—the world’s largest organized sporting event. For five weeks, athletes would eagerly await that week's assignment, then head to the gym (for what I can only describe as some serious pain and suffering) to complete the workout under the supervision of a certified CrossFit judge. 

That type of commitment shows true customer dedication.

CrossFitters like myself have earned the reputation for being diligent promotors – a term used in market research to describe people that are very likely to recommend a brand to others. I often hear jokes like, "The first rule of CrossFit is to never shut up about CrossFit" (and it is). While I know not everyone wants to hear about my max back squat or the latest paleo craze, as a market researcher, I am in awe of how CrossFit has built and maintained its strong brand loyalty.

Here at CMB, we look at three key benefits that drive this type of brand loyalty. I may be biased, but The Open is a clear indicator that CrossFit has successfully capitalized on each of these benefits:

Functional benefits. Does this product deliver the desired result?

I’m not waking up at 5 a.m. to trudge to the gym in the snow to do handstand push-ups unless I see some dramatic improvements in my fitness. Not only can CrossFit be extremely effective for building strength and improving physical fitness, the program also concretely measures your progress to underscore these functional benefits. Athletes are encouraged to keep diligent records of their workouts so you can clearly see improvements over time.

Emotional benefits. How does this product make me feel? Does it fulfill my emotional goals?

There's a known link between physical health and emotional well-being, so it's not surprising a fitness-focused lifestyle would also deliver emotional benefits. However, CrossFit provides a range of emotional benefits beyond just an increase in general well-being, including increased self-efficacy, pride, and emotional strength. Additionally, positive emotions are associated with the sense of community the boxes (translation: box = gym) strive to create. All these result in an “upward spiral” of health and happiness that drives brand love.

Social Benefits. Are the other users of this brand like me? Are they people I want to be like?

When we choose a brand, we consider what the typical brand customer is like. Do we have anything in common with this person? Are we part of the same “tribe”? Are they someone we’d like to be friends with? CrossFit creates a tight-knit community of people who identify with and relate to each other. We regularly do team-based competitions and partner WODs (workout of the day) that help develop strong relationships with other members of the box (remember, that means gym). Everyone completes the workout together, and as we know from social psychology, mirroring physical movements can actually cause people to identify more strongly with each other.

And as you can see even from a few short paragraphs about CrossFit, we even speak our own language (e.g., box, WOD, AMRAP, EMOM, MetCon, etc…) All this helps to create a “tribe” that members identify with. Not only do lots of people love the brand, they also become ambassadors (promoters) that encourage others to use the brand, too!

Overall, CrossFit builds brand loyalty by inspiring measurable progress towards attainable goals, creating an “upward spiral” of health and happiness, and developing a strong sense of belonging to a community.

This is a valuable lesson for any brand looking to build a faithful following. While the desired functional, emotional and social benefits may vary by brand and industry, the importance of highlighting each benefit does not. Brands can utilize these underlying principles—and maybe even some of these exact strategies—(tall, venti, grande sound familiar?) to build brand loyalty in a base of dedicated consumers.

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Watch our short 20-minute webinar to learn more about the three benefits that drive customer loyalty:

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Molly Sands is on the Advanced Analytics team at CMB. When she’s not building predictive models, you can usually find her at a local CrossFit box or at least recommending it to somebody.

Topics: emotional measurement, customer experience and loyalty, Identity, BrandFx

How L.L. Bean Weathers Customer Loyalty

Posted by Nicole Battaglia

Wed, Apr 11, 2018

 LL Bean Boots_cropped

Sorry outdoor apparel fans, L.L. Bean isn’t accepting your beat-up duck boots anymore. The Maine-based outdoor retailer recently ended its flagship Lifetime Return Policy.

 L.L. Bean founder Leon Leonwood Bean introduced this policy over 100 years ago to prove their commitment to quality products and ensure customer satisfaction. And since then, generations of Bean-loving customers have enjoyed the forgiving policy.

But not everyone’s been so kind. A growing number of customers have taken advantage of L.L. Bean’s generosity by treating it more like a free exchange policy. According to the Associated Press, the company has lost $250 million on returned items that cannot be salvaged or resoled in the last five years alone!

From a financial perspective, this move makes sense. But the loyal Bean boot enthusiast and market researcher in me is curious about potential branding implications—will this alienate lifelong customers who might view this as L.L. Bean as “breaking its promise”?

For more than 100 years, L.L. Bean has built its brand image around “designing products that make it easier for families of all kinds to spend time outside together”. Enduring Northeast winters as a kid, I can vouch for the quality of their products—they are truly second to none. L.L. Bean isn’t ‘cheap’, but I don’t balk at their prices because I know I’m getting something proven to withstand harsh winters.

But, my loyalty for L.L. Bean runs deeper than the quality of my boots. Growing up in a Bean-loving home, I have a strong emotional connection to the brand.  I have memories of flipping through the catalog (back when that was the popular way to shop) and getting excited about when it was time to order a new backpack and matching lunchbox—monogrammed, of course.

When I’m home for the holidays, I head out to the local L.L. Bean store to make my holiday gift purchases. In 2015, L.L. Bean featured a golden retriever puppy on the cover of its holiday catalogue. As someone who grew up with goldens, this ad resonated with me on an emotional level.

I also strongly identify with other L.L. Bean enthusiasts. Most kids I grew up with had the monogrammed backpacks, and when I went to college, everyone wore Bean boots. My image of the typical customer is clear, relatable and socially desirable—the three aspects of social and self-identity that drive purchase and loyalty.

 When it comes to analyzing a brand’s performance, it’s critical to look at the complete picture and account for the identity, emotional, and functional benefits it provides. For me, the functional benefits (e.g. keeps my feet dry during a Nor’easter) L.L. Bean provides me are undeniably important; however, the emotional and identity benefits ultimately rank higher.

 I can’t speak for every customer, but the move to end their Lifetime Return Policy won’t keep me from shopping at L.L. Bean. Yes, it’s a shame the retailer had to rescind its signature guarantee—one that underscores their commitment to the quality of their products. 

But, it’s a powerful lesson for brands in an increasingly disrupted age: the strength of the benefits you provide your customer—social, emotional, and functional—can mean the difference between weathering the storm and keeping and growing your customers.

Nicole Battaglia is a Sr. Associate Researcher who isn’t pleased she’s had to wear her Bean boots into April this year.

Topics: customer experience and loyalty, Identity, AffinID, emotion, BrandFx

What Kind of Mother Are You?

Posted by Cara Lousararian

Wed, Mar 28, 2018

baby clothes (resized)-3.jpg 

People are quick to judge how we parent these days. No matter what you do, someone’s bound to have an opinion. And social media makes it especially hard where people can publicly shame and criticize parents from behind the veil of an Instagram handle.

This is one of the main reasons I stay away from social media.

But I’m not 100% immune from judgment because it happens every day in the real world. I often wonder what kind of mother I’m being labeled as based on my daughter’s appearance—from the clothes she wears and the toys she plays with to the stroller she rides in.

My daughter will have her first birthday this month, and in thinking about what I’d like to give her, I’m realizing that most of her gifts will be for my own benefit—what I think she’ll look cute in or what books I want to read.

The reality is, I’m shopping for myself.

As people, we gravitate towards brands that help us express and reinforce our identity. Each purchase decision is a statement of the kind of person we are—we’re always asking ourselves, “Am I the kind of person who uses ‘Brand X’?”

This principle also applies to parenting. For example, when we consider how to dress our children, we’re asking ourselves, “Am I the kind of parent whose child wears ‘Brand Y’?” How I dress my daughter says as much about me as a mother as it does her.

Until my daughter is old enough to dress herself (and I hope that day is a long way off!) she’s an extension of who I am as a parent.

So, for her first birthday, I will choose brands that reinforce who I am as a mother. I’m down-to-earth and don’t need my daughter wearing overpriced and “trendy” clothing, so I’ll gravitate towards brands designed for mothers like me.

Watch our recent webinar to learn more about how brands can provide identity, emotional, and functional benefits to build customer loyalty.

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Cara is a Senior Research Manager who is lucky to have such a fun, beautiful 1-year old daughter that doesn’t mind wearing Carter’s and reading books only about dogs. 

Topics: Identity, BrandFx

Relatability, Desirability and Finding the Perfect Match

Posted by Dr. Jay Weiner

Tue, Feb 13, 2018

hearts-cropped-1.jpg

Dear Dr. Jay:

It’s Valentine’s Day, how do I find the one ones that are right for me?

-Allison N.


Dear Allison,

In our pursuit of love, we’re often reminded to keep an open mind and that looks aren’t everything.

This axiom also applies to lovestruck marketers looking for the perfect customer. Often, we focus on consumer demographics, but let’s see what happens when we dig below the surface.

For example, let’s consider two men who:

  • Were born in 1948
  • Grew up in England
  • Are on their Second Marriage
  • Have 2 children
  • Are Successful in Business
  • Are Wealthy
  • Live in a Castle
  • Winter in the Alps
  • Like Dogs

On paper these men sound like they’d have very similar tastes in products and services–they are the same age, nationality, and have common interests. But when you learn who these men are, you might think differently.

The men I profiled are the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, and Prince Charles of Wales. While both men sport regal titles and an affinity for canines, they are very different individuals.

Now let’s consider two restaurants. Based on proprietary self-funded research, we discovered that both restaurants’ typical customers are considered Sporty, Athletic, Confident, Self-assured, Social, Outgoing, Funny, Entertaining, Relaxed, Easy-going, Fun-loving, and Joyful. Their top interests include: Entertainment (e.g., movies, TV) and dining out. Demographically their customers are predominately single, middle-aged men.

One is Buffalo Wild Wings, the other, Hooters. Both seem to appeal to the same group of consumers and would potentially be good candidates for cross-promotions—maybe even an acquisition.

What could we have done to help distinguish between them? Perhaps a more robust attitudinal battery of items or interests would have helped. 

Or, we could look through a social identity lens.

We found that in addition to assessing customer clarity, measuring relatability and desirability can help differentiate brands:

  • Relatability: How much do you have in common with the kind of person who typically uses Brand X?
  • Social Desirability: How interested would you be in making friends with the kind of person who typically uses Brand X?

When we looked at the scores on these two dimensions, we saw that Buffalo Wild Wings scores higher than Hooters:BWW vs hooters1.png

Meaning, while the typical Buffalo Wild Wings customer is demographically like a typical Hooters customer, the typical Hooters customer is less relatable and socially desirable.  This isn’t necessarily bad news for Hooters–it simply means that it has a more targeted niche appeal than Buffalo Wild Wings. 

The main point is that it helps to look beyond demographics and understand identity—who finds you relatable and desirable. As we see in the Buffalo Wild Wings and Hooters example, digging deeper into the dimensions of social identity can uncover more nuanced niches within a target audience—potentially uncovering your “perfect match”. 

Topics: Dear Dr. Jay, Identity, consumer psychology

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

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

people-festival-party-dancing.jpg

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

Porsche Drivers for Trump! Why Perceived User Identities Matter to Brands

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Fri, Nov 04, 2016

Take a moment to think about the kind of person who drives a Porsche. What is that person like? Paint as clear a mental image as you can. Is it is a man or a woman? Young, old, or middle-aged? How would you describe that person’s personality, passions and values?

Now think about the kind of person who drives a Volvo. What is that person like? Or the kind of person who drives a Subaru? Or drives a Chevy? Or a Cadillac? Or a Mini?

If you’re like most people, for each of these cars, you picture a very different driver behind the wheel.

In fact, this summer we asked over 18,000 consumers to describe the typical user for 90 different brands, across 5 different industries, using their own words and batteries of perceptions. Our results uncovered images of typical users that differed vastly by brand and industry on a range of dimensions. For example:

  • The typical Porsche driver is often seen as a rich white man who is single or divorced. He is sporty, stylish and ambitious—but also arrogant, materialistic and self-centered. He’s into fashion and luxury. He likes to party.
  • The typical Volvo driver is also seen as a wealthy white man, but he’s more of a Northeastern intellectual. He’s into books and the arts. He’s responsible, self-assured, and a parent. His politics are progressive. He is not into sports or partying.
  • The typical Subaru driver is seen as a more middle-class, family-oriented parent who is smart, practical, responsible and caring—a nature-lover with a soft spot for pets and a desire to support good causes.
  • The typical Chevy driver is seen as a white, middle- to lower-class family man from the rural South or Midwest. He is reliable, humble, relaxed and genuine. He likes hunting, sports, and the great outdoors.

Consumers’ perceptions even differed on who each of these drivers was supporting in the presidential primaries. Who did they think the Porsche driver supported?  Trump. By a very large margin. And while the Volvo driver was seen as supporting Bernie or Hillary, the Subaru driver was seen as feeling the Bern. Most assumed the Chevy driver would vote for Trump, but consumers were also twice as likely to say he’d vote for Cruz than they were for most other brands we tested. We found a skew towards one of the candidates for nearly every one of the ninety brands we tested across the auto, airline, beer, fashion and food industries. 

Consumers’ generally held beliefs about the kind of person who uses each brand are driven in part by experience (e.g., all the Subaru drivers you know), and in part by marketing (e.g., ads like this one).

But does it really matter what consumers think of the kind of person who uses a brand?

YES! It does. A lot.

The more consumers identify with their image of the kind of person who uses a brand, the more they will try, buy, pay for and recommend it. That’s because consumers are people, and people are driven by their identities. They embrace brands that help them reinforce, enhance, or express who they are—and the brands that do this best are ones that help them feel connected to people like them, people they know and like, or people they’d like to know. Consider: Would you rather be like the kind of person who drives a Porsche, a Volvo, a Subaru, or a Chevy?

In fact, consumers’ perceptions of the typical brand user matter more than their perceptions of the brand itself. We see clear mathematical evidence of this with AffinIDSM, our approach to uncovering consumers’ image of who uses a brand, and ways to strengthen how much they identify with that person.

  • As part of this approach, we calculate an AffinID℠ Score to quantify how much consumers identify with their image of the brand’s typical user
    • The score is based on the clarity, relatability and desirability of that image
  • Across industries, brands with high AffinID℠ Scores win on consideration, loyalty, price elasticity, and advocacy
  • In our research with 18,000 consumers, AffinID℠ was the #1 predictor of brand performance, beating out every brand perception we tested
    • Including: high quality, trustworthy, useful, easy/convenient, a good deal, worth paying more for, safe, secure, exciting, fun, reputable, innovative, socially responsible, understands its customers, cares about its customers, and rewards customers for their loyalty

The power of AffinID℠ lies in the fact that human beings are social beings with identities shaped by our social groups and relationships—they provide self-knowledge, self-esteem, and the social norms that guide our behaviors. So we are particularly attentive to other people. And brands aren’t people. Brand users are.

Furthermore, while perceptions of brands and the people who use them are interrelated, they usually aren’t the same. Case in point: Consumers who love amazon. When we ask them to describe amazon, they say it has “great” customer service, prices, variety and convenience. When we ask them to describe amazon customers, what do they say? “Smart.”

To close, I’ll give one last example—a personal one. Porsche.

Let me start by saying to any Porsche owner who might be reading this that I’m sure you’re a lovely person who doesn’t fall into any stereotype. I think now is a good time to go get some coffee and consider how well you’ve done for yourself—I mean, after all, you have a Porsche! And, go ahead, donate more to Trump. It’s not too late. You can skip the next few paragraphs.

(Is he gone yet? Great—let’s continue…) 

If you asked me what I think of Porsche the brand, I’d say: cool, reputable, fast, high quality, expensive. But if you asked me what I think of the typical Porsche driver, my response would be similar to the mass-market view described above: white male divorcee, wealthy, materialistic, in a midlife crisis, likely overcompensating for something.

So, as nice as I think Porsches are, I’m not spending my next bonus on one. I’m not like the person I envision as the Porsche driver, nor do I want to be. I’m a happily married mother of two. (Incidentally, the last mother I saw driving a Porsche was Carmella Soprano.) To get me to ever consider a Porsche, you’d have to really shake-up my image of the kind of person who drives one. But I’m sure there’s a marketer out there who could do it. Gauntlet thrown.

If you take away anything from this longer-than-usual blog (thanks for reading!), make it this: To change what consumers think of your brand, change their image of the people who use it. In today’s competitive marketplace and identity-driven culture, it is more important than ever that brands communicate a clear, compelling image of their typical customer.

Are you communicating the right image of the kind of person who uses your brand? 

Erica Carranza is  CMB's VP of Consumer Psychology with supplier- and client-side (American Express) experience. She  earned her Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University.

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Topics: consumer insights, brand health and positioning, Identity, Election, AffinID