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The Power of the Brand: The Peloton COVID-19 Story

Posted by Daniel McDonald

Mon, Jun 15, 2020

Pelaton Blog Opener

“You have a Peloton? Are you crazy?” I’ve heard this multiple times from people who are shocked that I was willing to pay “that much” for an exercise bike. Yes I did, and frankly, my fiancée and I love it (#NotAnAd).  I still remember the first Peloton commercial I saw. It featured a fit younger female biking in the middle of her living room in what appeared to be a penthouse in New York City. It came off as a luxury, a product for the rich, not something that belonged in the corner of your dining room where the only view is an outdated china cabinet. Fast forward to Christmas 2019, Peloton takes a seemingly innocent—now notorious—approach to being more obtainable with the slogan, “for anybody that wants it.” Peloton’s attempt to balance luxury with affordability and attainability has proven challenging.

Enter COVID-19, suddenly, that initial sticker shock seemed rather small when my only option is working out at home. In the past few months I have heard more and more of my friends buying a Peloton bike, including a few that called me crazy when I took the plunge a year ago. Peloton has recently reached over a million subscribers and their biggest problem is delivering bikes fast enough. So how does a brand go from a widely panned marketing flop to selling more products in a few days than they expected in the entire month?

It's not a complex formula, when you take away an outlet for people, they are going to look to fill it somehow. That’s exactly what’s happening for Peloton during COVID-19, they’ve been able to capitalize on a bad situation. But what happens when gyms reopen, and people adjust to the new normal? How does the rapid growth Peloton has been experiencing become more than just an outlier? True, this won’t be a toilet paper situation, they can’t expect people to start hoarding exercise bikes, but that doesn’t mean Peloton can’t become the first-choice outlet for working out.

Peloton has always been willing to spend money on advertisements, and even the infamous ones, have made Peloton a well-known name. In fact, I would argue that the average person can’t name more than 2 or 3 stationary bike brands. This means, that even though the market is oversaturated, people only recognize a few brands. Now more than ever Peloton should continue pushing their advertisements, but with a different approach. Recently, we’ve seen a shift in advertisements due to the pandemic, whether its poking fun at the fact that there is always that one person who can’t figure out how to unmute themselves on Zoom, or just showing their compassionate side towards the situation. The main point is brands are acknowledging our experience in a timely manner. Peloton is a unique brand because even during this troubling time, they can remain almost fully functional. They have trainers constantly putting out new classes, both from the comfort of their own home (safely and alone) and inside one of their New York studios. They must let everyone know, whether they are an existing customer or not, that they remain focused on physical fitness and can provide anyone the opportunity to stay healthy. Now more than ever Peloton can realize their goal of providing fitness “for anybody who wants it”.

One thing is for sure, change is inevitable for everyone. People are eager to get back to a gym or spend the money on advancing their own home gyms. No one can be sure what the new normal or long-term impact will be like when this is over, but in a time where interaction is unfeasible, connection is critical. Brands like Peloton, Netflix, and HelloFresh are emerging as leaders because they are focused on the human element. They clearly benefit from more people staying at home but what happens when those people start to leave? How do the brands that have seen exponential growth during COVID-19 transition themselves into the new normal? But humans are creatures of habits, and as long as Peloton continues to stress their flexibility, compassion, and purpose, exercising at home will remain a habit.


Daniel McDonaldDaniel McDonald, Associate Researcher, is a proud first-time homeowner, which is the perfect addition to his Peloton bike.

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Topics: consumer insights, advertising, marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, growth and innovation, Market research, retail, consumer psychology, COVID-19

Sailing Rough Seas Toward a Brighter Future

Posted by John Conti

Thu, Jun 11, 2020

How’s this for an understatement: we are living through difficult and unprecedented times. As we confront the interconnected realities of a global pandemic, economic crisis, and a long overdue reckoning with racial injustice, we—individuals and organizations—are faced with a lot of uncertainty. Still, in our recent webinar, The Case for Optimism*, I felt inspired by my colleague Judy Melanson and Marketing & Brand Strategist Armin Molavi to lead through uncertainty with optimism.

John C Blog Optmism Quote

With this conversation in mind, I believe there are three key focus areas that will help brands, and other organizations, navigate these challenging times and build a better future:

1. SHOW GENUINE EMPATHY & TAKE ACTION

True empathy and compassion are critical in building strong relationships. Many brands know people are suffering and they are taking steps to honor those working to keep us safe and to support those in need. But it feels as if many brands opened-up the crisis playbook and followed the same formula. There is even a YouTube mashup of recent COVID-19 ads showing this, but several leading brands—like LinkedIn, Hilton, and American Express—have found genuine and unique ways to show empathy.

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, LinkedIn Learning is providing free courses on diversity and inclusion to help users understand the challenges preventing equitable workplaces.

Hilton and American Express have teamed up to ease the burden COVID-19 has placed on our frontline workers. They have donated up to 1 million free room nights to medical professionals battling the pandemic. These rooms allow them to ‘sleep, recharge, or isolate from their families’ without worry or financial stress.

John C Blog Hilton Quote

2. REDEFINE LOYALTY & PARTNERSHIP

Loyalty is a relationship—a two-way street. For years, brands have worked to develop a large following of consumers who are loyal to their product/service, but now is the time for brands to show their loyalty and commitment. Leading brands do right by their customers to demonstrate their commitment and strengthen the relationship, no matter the cost.

Credit card companies, insurance companies, and other creditors are delaying payment due dates and waiving late fees. Auto insurance companies have seen a precipitous drop in insurance claims saving them millions. But rather than pocket those profits several companies including American Family Insurance are providing refunds directly to policyholders. In fact, American Family Insurance is refunding customers $50 per insured vehicle plus a 10% credit on personal auto policies adding up to over $450 million in support at a time when many customers could use the extra cash.

As Armin discussed in the webinar, establishing partnerships is another strong way to prioritize the consumer over the brand. In the retail space, organizations big and small are pledging sustainable action and investment, whether it’s Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge and/or Claude Home’s call to donate proceeds to support the Black businesses and anti-racist work one day a month. These leaders are uniting brands to support the Black Lives Matter movement by building relationships with consumers and other businesses.

John C Blog Quote - Partnerships

3. BE BOLD

I am inspired by the courage of those who have long fought for racial equality and heartened that we will see real change. During the height of the Covid-19 outbreak several manufacturers switched their focus from their own products to developing medical supplies and equipment. Ford Motor Company stopped several vehicle assembly lines and partnered with 3M to manufacture respirators for frontline workers and ventilators for patients battling Covid-19.

While some brands have played it safe in response to the Black Lives Matter Movement by just blacking out their social media accounts for a day or issuing a cookie cutter response, there are others demonstrating moral clarity and leadership, including Ben & Jerry’s and Nike.

Ben & Jerry’s has always been a leader in corporate social responsibility and has made it their mission to make the world a better place. They proudly issued We Must Dismantle White Supremacy, along with a four-step call to action to seek out ways to drive change. Their characteristic boldness, and steadfast focus on social issues over the bottom line, is an example of strong corporate leadership.

I have also been inspired by Nike’s attention on racial injustice, a cause they have championed for years (see Colin Kaepernick) and is deeply engrained in their corporate values. Their recent For Once, Don’t Do It video plays on the ad’s iconic ‘Just Do It’ tagline and shines a spot light on the cause. It is a great example of a brand continuing to live its values through an authentic, trustworthy message.

The fact is, most of us (myself included) have a whole lot of work to do, and bold statements must be backed by bold action and accountability.

The future can seem like a scary place but if we show empathy, demonstrate loyalty & develop partnerships, and act boldly we can all emerge from these crises with a brighter future. 

*Recorded Thursday, May 28, 2020


John Conti-1John Conti is an Account Director at CMB.

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Topics: consumer insights, marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty, Market research, COVID-19, consumer sentiment, customer centricity, Racial Justice

Buyer (and Seller!) Beware: The Emotional Bias in User Reviews

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Wed, Mar 04, 2020

In 2006, psychologist Daniel Gilbert published a book called Stumbling on Happiness. It posed a provocative question: “Think you know what makes you happy?”

Spoiler alert! You don’t.

SoH_book

The basic premise is that people are bad at predicting what will make them happy in the future. But they know when they’re happy now. In fact, scientists who study emotion generally agree that the best way to learn how someone is feeling at a given moment is not to scan their brain or read their face—it’s to ask.

So, according to Gilbert, the best way to predict whether something will make you happy in the future is to ask people who are experiencing it now: How does it them feel?

This speaks to the awesome utility of user reviews—some of which are also fun to read. (A special shout-out to the Amazon shoppers who’ve reviewed BiC’s Retractable Ball Pens “For Her”…)

Bic_review

But while user reviews can be quite helpful, most have a built-in bias: The people who write them tend to be experiencing emotions high in activation.

Emotional activation is one of two dimensions that underly all emotion; the other is valence.

  • Valence is the intensity of a positive or negative feeling
  • Activation is the amount of physical energy associated with it

They are often correlated, but they aren’t the same. Take, for example, feeling angry vs. feeling sad: Anger and sadness can feel equally and intensely bad in terms of valence. But anger is high in activation. It’s agitating and makes people want to act. By contrast, sadness is low in activation. It’s wearying and makes people want to withdraw.Core_emotion

Critical user reviews tend to come from customers feeling negative high activation emotions (e.g., anger, frustration or disgust) because they want to funnel that energy into something—like calling customer service, lodging a complaint, quitting the brand, or venting their feelings in other ways. Incidentally, that’s also the reason why stories about brands that spark moral outrage are particularly likely to go viral. (Don’t believe me? Just ask United Airlines.)

Negative low activation emotions (e.g., feeling disappointed or discouraged) can be damaging in their own ways—for example, when they lead customers to quietly lapse. But those customers are much less likely to raise a fuss or write a scathing review. 

The same goes for positive emotions: Inspiring high activation positive emotions (e.g., excitement, delight or pride) leads customers to do things like proactively recommend the brand or take time to write a glowing review. Positive low activation emotions can be good too—for example, in financial services, making customers feel comfortable and secure drives retention. Still, customers who feel comfortable and secure aren’t likely to shout it from the rooftops.

In short, user reviews only tend to capture extreme poles within the top two quadrants of emotional experience:  Customer_quad

But if we can’t rely on user reviews to give us the full picture, what can we do to predict how a brand will make us feel?

As luck would have it, at CMB, we just fielded a major study on the psychological benefits delivered by a range of brands. We had a nationally representative sample of over 20,000 people. And, to assess the emotional impact of using each brand, we applied our proprietary measures of valence and activation—so the results are perfect for (among other things!) identifying brands that make people feel great.

This brought to mind Stumbling on Happiness and got me wondering… What brands should I be considering? I can’t disclose all our results, but I can share a few things that I plan to do differently based on our findings:

  • First, I’m going to use PayPal more often. We found that, for most people, using PayPal inspires low activation positive emotions like security, peace and calm—and that’s exactly how I want to feel when I’m sharing my financial data. (Interestingly, Netflix also scores well on low activation positive emotions, bringing new meaning to the phrase “Netflix and chill”.)
  • I’m also going to surprise my kids with Mario Kart, which drives high activation positive emotions for players. But I’m sticking to my hard “no” on Fortnite. Fortnite makes players feel a whole host of negative emotions, and middle school is hard enough as it is…
  • It’s not just Fortnite! We identified many brands that trigger negative emotions—including specific financial institutions, tech brands, and media IPs like Game of Thrones. (The latter really resonated for me—the final season made me so mad I blogged about it.) There are even whole sub-industries that evoke negative emotions—like cable providers.
  • I can’t drop my cable provider. What I can do is spend more time managing my investments, which—under normal, non-epidemic circumstances—generates surprisingly strong positive emotions. In fact, we found that investing with companies like Fidelity and Vanguard feels as good as shopping Amazon or watching Star Wars, and better than checking Instagram—the top social media platform in terms of eliciting positive emotions. To quote my colleague Lori Vellucci, who discussed this in her blog Social Detox, Financial Retox: “If you want to feel really good in 2020, log off social media and invest with a financial services firm!”

Our research also has implications for brands regarding the critical importance of understanding the emotions expected and experienced by their target consumers in terms of both valence and activation.

  • To motivate the kinds of actions that support customer acquisition—like trying the brand or recommending it to friends—brands need strategies that inspire positive, high activation
  • To improve retention, they need strategies that cultivate the comforting sense of inertia that flows from positive, low activation Particularly in industries, like financial services and tech, where peace of mind is key to customer satisfaction.
  • To minimize fallout from negative, high activation emotions, brands need channels that enable customers’ frustrations to be expressed privately, addressed efficiently, and tracked in order to see whether the same issuers are irritating others.
  • To prevent attrition from customers feeling negative, low activation emotions, bands need strategies for flagging them—since they may not be making much noise—and fixing the issues they find disappointing or draining.
  • To attract new customers, brands must also manage prospects’ emotional expectations. Anticipating negative emotions—whether high or low activation—is a strong barrier to brand consideration.

Understanding brand performance in each emotional quadrant is one of the ways we help our clients inform strategies that are high in consumer EQ. And that’s the real reason we do this research—to help our clients.

Implications for how to live life more joyfully are just the cherry on top!


Erica CarranzaErica is CMB’s VP of Consumer Psychology. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University. Prior to CMB, she led insights research at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Follow Chadwick Martin Bailey on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

 

Topics: marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, BrandFx, consumer psychology

Build Customer Intuition and Empathy to Expand Your Brand

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Feb 18, 2020

Customize, personalize, localize, humanize – these are the elements of a customer-centric program that is designed to expand brand reach, and to cement relationships with existing users. A deep commitment to customer-centricity at every level of the organization is the key to customer engagement and brand expansion.

Your goal should be to go beyond mere understanding of your customer, and to instead build your company’s empathy for and intuition about your customer. When marketers and senior executives have built their intuition of their customers, product development, and messaging are more successful. We need only look at the Peloton disaster to be reminded that failed intuition for your customer can lead to public embarrassment, or shaming. Conversely, think of the Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial years ago (9!). Still relevant today. They totally get their family consumer.

Pelaton Commercial

Volkswagen Darth Vader Commercial

How do you build empathy, and ultimately intuition about your customers? In Qualitative research we apply new methods, and tell vivid stories:

  • Leverage technology that meets consumers where they are. For example, Gen Z are digital natives, so we advise methods that utilize apps and employ mobile-first for capturing their in-the-moment reactions
  • Agile techniques embed your customer in every stage of development, allowing for continuous refinement of your concept or prototype
  • By building compelling narratives, critical insights will resonate throughout your organization, and become everyone’s stories about your customer
  • Cement those stories by socializing them throughout your organization in vivid, creative ways such as live panels or immersion spaces

Without discarding traditional qualitative methods, we’re constantly seeking, and trying new tools. One incredibly effective example of this is the use of agile pop-up communities. We’ve worked with groups of consumers over 6, 8 and 12 weeks to react to, brainstorm and iterate on ideas, bringing them from good to great, and from brand-centric to customer-centric. Through this approach, we’ve seen tremendous success using pop-ups for loyalty ideation, understanding insurance decision making, choosing a senior community for your loved one, communicating with Gen Z about financial topics, and more.

If you’re wondering how to make this happen, join the club! This is an exciting time in qualitative research to challenge ourselves, experiment, and innovate. Try social media to recruit participants. Social media can engender strong connections quickly, and shorten the time needed for finding great participants. For UX/CX testing, consider eye tracking. We’re using this method to share and talk to consumers about their own behavior. Using another agile method, especially for concept development, we have evolved traditional focus groups into iterative focus groups. Rather than rinse and repeat across multiple groups and cities, we begin with initial concepts, and optimize them with target customers over an intensive 2 days.

We’re also extending these iterative and agile methods to socialization workshops that spread the word in lively, engaging ways, and activation sessions that bring diverse teams together in a creative space to collaborate on tangible ways of implementing action steps.

Brand relevance and expansion don’t come easily. The good news is that we’re living in a time with an abundance of creative ways to connect, to engage and build empathy and intuition, thereby achieving meaningful relationships with your target customers.

What are ways that you’ve been able to build empathy and customer intuition to expand your brand? Have you tried any of the methods above? Please continue the conversation by leaving a comment below!


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun leads CMB’s Qualitative + Innovation practices.

Favorite vacation: Cambodia / Favorite class: Philosophy / Free time: Triathlete and Volunteers for the homeless of Boston

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Topics: qualitative research, brand health and positioning, BrandFx

To Take a Stand or To Play it Safe? The Choice Can Affect Your Brand Consideration

Posted by Jen Golden

Thu, Dec 19, 2019

Companies today have a lot to think about. Not only do they need to create compelling products and/or services that meet consumers’ functional needs, but how much consumers relate to a company’s  values is also crucial in gaining and building customer loyalty. Topics that used to be considered taboo, like race, politics, gender-identity and equality are becoming top-of-mind in brand campaigns and content, and a mis-alignment with customers can be very detrimental to a company or brand (take Pepsi’s failed campaign with Kendall Jenner as an example).

A brand’s Social Benefits includes how much a consumer agrees with the values, ethics, or morals expressed by a brand and how much a consumer believes a brand reflects their own personality, tastes or values.

  • In a recent self-funded study, CMB surveyed ~20,000 customers and prospects across 81 Finance, Tech, and Media brands.
  • Looking across brands, consumers who agree with the values, ethics, or morals expressed by a brand are over 3x as likely to consider using (or continue to use a brand) than those who disagree with the brand’s views in these areas. There is an even bigger gap for social media companies (those who agree are 5x more likely to consider a social media brand than those who do not agree with the values, ethics or morals expressed!).
  • Feeling neutral on a brand’s values, ethics, or morals doesn’t directly benefit brands. In fact, it’s not much better to have consumers feeling neutral on your brand’s social stance than having them disagree with what your brand is doing. Taking a stance can often be worth the risk if you are doing right in the mind of your customer.

1_SocialResponsibilityBlog_JenGolden_Dec2019

  • The same pattern holds true when we look at consumers perception that a brand reflects their own personality, tastes or values. They are over 5x more like to consider a brand if they agree with this sentiment.

2_SocialResponsibilityBlog_JenGolden_Dec2019

Agreeing and identifying with a brand’s values can also spill over into perceptions of a typical brand user. Consumers who agree that a brand reflects their personality, tastes or values are more likely to identity with the typical brand user – and this includes their political views. People who believe they share the same political views of a typical brand user are more likely to consider the brand than those who do not (40% are very likely to consider if they identify with politics of the typical brand user vs. 25% consideration for those who do not).

3_SocialResponsibilityBlog_JenGolden_Dec2019-1

As far as politics go, HBO has recently run into some backlash with their new show Watchmen, which is based on a political, left-leaning comic. While the show is getting rave reviews from critics and fans, some have flooded Rotten Tomatoes to give negative reviews calling the show “too woke” and questioning its “politically correct” narrative.  

BUT, is this something HBO needs to be worried about? HBO’s current customers skew progressive politically, and 58% of HBO’s customers identify with the perceived political views of a typical HBO user. 54% of HBO’s customers also believe that HBO reflects their own personality, tastes or values. While HBO may be angering some by choosing to air Watchmen, they are willing to take a risk to connect more closely to the politics their core customer base identifies with vs. not engaging in the topic of politics at all.

4_SocialResponsibilityBlog_JenGolden_Dec2019

Ultimately, people want to feel connected with their favorite brands, and with increased political polarization, it’s more important than ever for brands to understand their customers. Intimately knowing your audience (like HBO may have known when they green-lit Watchmen) can make it safer to take a stand politically or otherwise. In fact, taking a stand can deepen the audience’s emotional connection with the brand because it is aligned with their customer’s personal beliefs, making them a more loyal and engaged customer. Actress Regina King from the Watchmen series said it best when she said in response to the show “Most of us, as human beings, want to feel like someone else knows their pain and is talking about what they’re talking about.


Jennifer GoldanJennifer Golden, Project Director.

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Topics: brand health and positioning, co-creation, BrandFx, brand tracking, Social Benefits