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Was a Gender-Neutral Doll the Right Move for Mattel?

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Fri, Oct 04, 2019

MattelCreatableWorldSized

Did I ever tell you about my dissertation…? Wait, don’t go! I promise it’s interesting.

It was 2002. My advisor and I had been studying gender stereotypes, which we found were still depressingly pervasive. Then, for my dissertation, I examined reactions to men and women who broke the mold. I thought that people would dislike stereotypically masculine (e.g., ambitious) women and feminine (e.g., sensitive) men, but try to hide it—so I measured their emotional reactions using facial EMG.

Facial EMG involves placing pairs of electrodes over muscles that contract when we frown or smile, as shown on the Mona Lisa. (My apologies to any art history majors out there.) People can’t mask the immediate, involuntary emotional reactions that register in their faces. Most of that muscular activity is too fast and too subtle to be captured by human or computer/AI-based facial coding, but EMG captures it well. At CMB, we have a method of measuring emotional reactions tailored to market research—it does an excellent job and doesn’t involve electrodes. But if you expect people to actively lie about their feelings, facial EMG is the way to go.

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What did I find in analyzing literally millions of milliseconds of facial activity? Feminine men elicited warm smiles from women—but were laughed at by other men. And masculine women were universally reviled. Lots of eyebrow furrowing. People didn’t even try to hide it.

Add this to the many other forces that encourage adherence to gender norms—like the manly men and womanly women portrayed in everything from blockbuster movies to local ads—and it’s no shock that kids learn gender roles early. Kids are perceptive. They see stereotypical male and female characters held-up as ideals in toys and on TV, and can easily infer what’s expected of them.

In this way, gender stereotypes are both pervasive and constraining, like invisible straightjackets we wear everyday—we don’t have to let them confine us, but the pressure is always there.

That leads me to Mattel and Creatable World, their new gender-neutral doll. According to their official tagline, it’s “designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in—giving kids the freedom to create their own customizable characters again and again.”

Here is a major toymaker refusing to communicate an expectation that “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls.” This is huge. Especially when we consider the crucial role of play for kids in imagining possibilities, exploring interests, connecting with others, and discovering oneself.

So did Mattel do the right thing from a moral perspective?

Yes. No doubt in my mind. When kids don’t feel the need to live-up to masculine and feminine ideals, they get to be who they are without pressure or fear of reprisal. They can be smart, compassionate, strong, expressive, ambitious, fashionable, funny—or all of the above. It’s up to them!

But Mattel is a publicly traded company looking for healthy profits. Particularly nowadays, when so many things—online and off—compete for kids’ time and attention. So it’s also worth asking:

Was a gender-neutral doll the right move from a brand perspective?

Again, I’d say yes. It’s exactly the right move. Why? Because of the crucial role identity benefits play in driving brand appeal.

At CMB, we’ve identified four key psychological benefits brands need to deliver in order to drive appeal:

  • Functional Benefits (e.g., “checking-off” goals or to-dos; saving time; saving money)
  • Social Benefits (e.g., sense of community; conversation; social connection)
  • Emotional Benefits (e.g., positive feelings; enhanced joy; reduced pain)
  • Identity Benefits (e.g., pride and self-esteem; self-expression; a positive self-image)

We leverage all four in BrandFx, our proprietary approach to helping clients achieve brand growth. In fact, we recently fielded a BrandFx study with over 20,000 U.S. consumers. In total, they provided nearly 40,000 evaluations of major brands across multiple industries. We’re still knee-deep in analysis (more blogs to come as we roll-out our results!), but so far this much is clear:

Identity benefits are particularly important.

That holds true across brands and industries—even “rational” industries like financial services. But it’s especially true for brands in the entertainment space, like Mattel. With Creatable World, Mattel is helping kids explore, express, and embrace their unique identities with a doll that offers more possibilities and imposes fewer constraints. This will pay off in kids’ interest and engagement.

Yes, many parents may be against it. But I have two things to say about that based on what we’ve seen across multiple studies:

First: Kids tend to drive toy purchase trends. They see, they like, they ask… and ask… and ask… And parents want their kids to be happy, so kids often get what they want—even when their parents feel ambivalent about it.

Second: Most parents aren’t morally opposed to their kids playing with toys associated with the opposite gender. It’s that they’re afraid of other kids’ reactions. As a parent, I can relate. There are times I’ve steered my boys away from things that I thought might lead to the spirit-crushing, innocence-busting experience of being ridiculed by peers. But when parents see evidence of shifting norms and acceptance among kids, their fears will diminish—and the fact the Mattel has released a gender-neutral doll is evidence in itself. After all, Mattel knows kids, and they put a lot of money on the line. So, if my boys want a Creatable World doll, it’s theirs. Because what I really want is for them to be able to choose their paths—and feel valued for the amazing, unique individuals they are—without having to squeeze themselves into a narrow vision of what it means to be a man.

If change is on our doorstep, I’m ready to welcome it in, and I’m likely not the only parent who feels this way.

 


Erica CarranzaErica has a B.A. from Wellesley College and 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.

Topics: marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, digital media and entertainment research, growth and innovation, Identity, emotion, BrandFx, consumer psychology

Brand Tracking for the Digital-first World

Posted by Ashley Harrington

Wed, Dec 12, 2018

digital brand tracking-3

In today’s digital world, there are innumerable ways to reach your customers. It’s critical to know where, when, and how your brand is performing so you can prioritize your marketing resources and investments accordingly—where is your brand resonating most with consumers?

Traditional brand tracking gets at this somewhat with questions like, “Which of the following brands, if any, do you recall seeing an advertisement for in the last three months?” Respondents are then asked to identify the specific channels they saw (or heard) the ad—was it on TV? The radio? Social media?

But this questioning can be tricky because it relies on respondents’ ability to accurately recount their memory of an ad. However, remembering specific ads isn’t always easy—sometimes we’ve seen respondents citing television commercials for brands that don’t advertise on TV.

To avoid relying solely on respondent recollection, one solution is to leverage behavioral data to blend digital ad tracking (e.g., conversation rates, new sessions) with traditional brand tracking data (e.g., “Please recall a specific ad”).

At CMB, we take this traditional advertising question a step further by tagging and tracking the performance of a brand’s digital ads, then incorporating those insights into the overall brand tracking program.

We’re able to tag respondents as either “exposed” (saw an ad) or “control” (did not see an ad) so we know for sure if they in fact experienced an ad—even if they don’t remember it themselves. This tagging mechanism allows us to measure the lift in perceptions associated with ad exposure based on verifiable behavior versus just respondent recall.

Ultimately, this digital approach can help provide more context around:

  • How did exposure to a specific digital ad impact consumer perception or consideration?
  • Do certain digital advertising tactics impact particularly segments differently?
  • Which campaigns or messaging resonate best and lead to action?digital brand tracking example

Linking behavioral data to digital ad and traditional brand tracking can help paint a fuller picture of a brand’s marketing performance. It helps fill in some gaps between traditional digital ad tracking (e.g., clicks, sessions) and traditional brand tracking (e.g., “Which ad do you recall seeing?”) so marketers can better understand which strategies are working.

Of course, there are considerations when integrating this kind of data into your brand tracking study:

  • Not everything can be tagged. For example, certain channels don’t allow for this type of media tagging. So, marketing campaigns or strategies that rely heavily on the channels that are blocked may not be the best fit.
  • Weighting/sampling. In some cases, it’s possible that a “lift” we see among those who are exposed may be due to a difference in demographics related to targeting. Therefore, we recommend considering setting certain key qualities to equal when making comparisons.
  • It’s tough to track competitive ads, so it’s still valuable to ask those stated recall questions as they can tell us how recall fares vs. the competition.

As marketers continue to invest in digital strategies, it’s critical brand tracking programs evolve to consider these investments. By measuring digital ad exposure based on verifiable data, we're able to help marketers better understand what's working—informing smarter decision making.

Ashley Harrington is a Research Director at CMB who is hoping behavioral data will one day provide us with a clever solution to the age-old expression: “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Topics: brand health and positioning, brand tracking

To Label Me is to Negate Me (Sometimes): The case for occasion-based segmentation

Posted by Peter Cronin

Wed, Aug 29, 2018

beer

One of my favorite lunchtime routines is to walk from my office over to the Trillium Brewing Company in nearby Seaport to grab a 4-pack of their current small-batch, limited-time, freshly brewed double IPA.

As far as Trillium knows, I’m an “Epicure”—a beer drinker characterized by my ardor and appreciation for craft beer.

During the summer months, I occasionally stop at BJ’s Wholesale Club to get a 30-pack of Corona (along with a couple of limes) because I like to have something to offer guests when hosting a cookout. In these instances, I’m looking for value, but not necessarily the cheapest option because quality and image are still important to me. BJ’s might consider me your average “Cost-aware Enthusiast.”

Every year on my birthday, which typically coincides with the start of March Madness, I stop at my local beer store to buy a six-pack of Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. They probably consider me a “Sports Oriented” beer drinker.

So, who am I? A beer snob, a deal-seeking but conscientious host, or a sports fan?

The answers are “all of the above” and “it depends.”  

In some categories (like beer) the same person may experience a variety of needs in any given time and make different choices based on those needs. Segmenting people by their dominant motivation/need risks majorly oversimplifying reality.

To understand opportunities for growth in categories like this, a better alternative is occasion-based segmentation. Rather than segmenting people into groups, occasion-based segmentation considers multiple use occasions instead of just one. As you can see from my example, I’m more apt to purchase one type of beer over another based on the occasion (e.g., time/day, who I’m with, what I’m doing).

Occasion-based segmentation is particularly successful when anchored in the psychology of habits. When a behavior is rewarding, we tend to repeat it. The more we repeat it, it eventually becomes a habit. For many people, drinking beer is habitual. Take my backyard BBQ, for example. Throughout the summer, I repeat the cycle of having friends and family over, eating good food, drinking Corona with lime, and feeling relaxed, restive and connected. This occasion has all the key components of a habit: my craving (motivation) to host triggers a routine of good food and drink that results in feeling connected (reward). Feeling connected makes me to do it again.

When we ask people about their occasions at CMB, we also ask what motivates these choices and to describe the rewards—including the emotional and functional outcomes. These inquiries become the base of the segmentation. 

Segmenting your market by usage occasion can be a powerful source of insight about your consumers. By linking brands to occasions and understanding the psychological needs and emotions that drive choices, marketers can position their brands to be the preferred choice. They can tailor messaging to each occasion to build engagement, preference and loyalty.  

Brand managers at The Boston Beer Company, AB InBev, MillerCoors, etc., should be less concerned about whether I’m a “High Impacter,” a “Macho Male,” a “Trend Follower,” or a “Chameleon.” Classifying me attitudinally will dramatically underestimate the complexity of my buying habits. 

Instead, understanding the core types of beer drinking occasions (and the driving psychological needs and emotions of each), how much volume each occasion represents, and which groups of people over-index on them, can enable marketers to make informed decisions on where and how to focus their messaging, promotions, and product development efforts.

Peter is a brand guy who is fascinated with understanding how others see the world, and an equal opportunity beer drinker who refuses to be labeled.

Learn more about segmentation and market strategy:

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Topics: research design, quantitative research, brand health and positioning, market strategy and segmentation

What Amazon Can Teach Us About Delivering on Customer Loyalty

Posted by Ashley Harrington

Wed, Apr 25, 2018

 

amazon packages (resized)

I live in a historic Boston neighborhood rich in restaurants and charm, but poor in parking. If you have a car, you have two choices: spend a fortune on a dedicated monthly parking spot or drive in circles until you find free street parking.  I don’t like to waste money or time, so I don’t own a car.

I don’t own a car, but I do have two kids. So, I need stuff and I need it all the time. Enter, Amazon.

I use Amazon on all my devices and have multiple apps. I use it for both planned purchases and impulse buys. I Subscribe and Save for everything from baby wipes to granola bars. I order groceries from Amazon Fresh. I try on clothes with Amazon Wardrobe. I buy e-books. I watch movies and TV shows on Prime. I use Now to get emergency toddler bribes delivered in an hour.

On top of all that, I pay Amazon for the privilege of buying things with them with an annual Prime membership. If that’s not the ultimate sign of customer loyalty, I don’t know what is.

If I was responding to an Amazon loyalty study, I would certainly make it into the “Super User” group, checking all the boxes for how we might define loyalty: frequency of purchases, cross shopping, willingness to try new categories, likelihood to recommend, etc. 

My “Super User” status didn’t happen all at once—it was gradual thanks to the “Amazon Effect.” Over time, Amazon plucked one more category of our household expenses from another retailer.

I work with clients every day to help measure, understand, and improve their customer loyalty. While few companies have the infrastructure and the sheer breadth of product and services in such a frictionless way, there are lessons any brand can learn from Amazon’s excellence in curating a faithful customer base.

 Here’s how Amazon keeps me loyal:

  • Anticipates my needs: I wasn’t actively thinking about how great life would be with a paper towel subscription. But, I gave Subscribe and Save a shot and now we never run out and I can't imagine my household without it.
  • Gives me back my time: With Fresh, I can enjoy time with my family instead of spending it in the grocery store (if you enjoy taking your children to the grocery store, I nominate you for a Parent-of-the-Year Award!)
  • Provides me with flawless execution and problem resolution: Amazon’s apps and website are easy, fast, and intuitive. Once I order something, I know exactly when it’ll arrive on my doorstep. If there is an error, Amazon’s customer experience team is polite and fair in resolving an issue.

While I am a loyal customer, there are certain things I don’t buy on Amazon. Some because they aren’t sold (yet) (e.g., wine) and others because I enjoy shopping elsewhere. And there are Amazon services that aren’t for me. For example, I don’t need to tell Alexa to turn on my lights.

 So, even for this Super User, loyalty has its limits.

 Ashley Harrington is a Research Director at CMB who recently starting using “Amazon” as a verb and probably has goldfish crackers in her bag.

Topics: brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty, retail, ecommerce

NASCAR Races to Stay Relevant for the Next Generation

Posted by Brian Jones

Wed, Apr 18, 2018

As a stock car racing fan who makes an annual pilgrimage to the Daytona 500, I’ve experienced the evolution of the NASCAR brand from the seats of the iconic 2.5-mile track.

No place is the emotional connection between brand and customer more palpable than at an event where drivers enter the stadium in a gladiator-style procession before climbing into their cars for a 200+ mph chariot-like battle on a 31-degree banked asphalt track.

NASCAR 1

It is exhilarating.

But while NASCAR excels at creating an emotional experience for its current loyal fan base, the organization is challenged to deliver a branding experience that will attract the next generation of fans—while how people consume sports continues to evolve.

On top of that, NASCAR must motivate existing and new fans to view/attend/buy not only its own brand, but the myriad co-sponsors.

NASCAR is built on cobranded endorsements on all levels—including individual athletes (e.g., Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon), teams (e.g., logo-plastered M&M’s Toyota racecar), tracks (e.g., Lowe’s Motor Speedway), and even the race series themselves (e.g., NASCAR’s Xfinity Series). More recently, at the 2017 Daytona 500, NASCAR rolled out Monster Energy NASCAR Cup SeriesTM—the latest sponsor of the premiere racing series.

So how is NASCAR adapting to meet changing consumer demands?

  • Less prominent onsite branding: At the 2017 and 2018 Daytona 500’s, gone were the prominent product swag and logo placements of its former series sponsors, Sprint (2008-2016), Nextel (2004-2007), and NASCAR’s 31-year relationship with RJ Reynolds (1971-2003). In its place, I witnessed Monster Energy bringing its next generation youthful appeal—less signage and more experiential, like offering fans ride-alongs on off-road vehicles.
  • New marketing channels: NASCAR is supplementing real-time coverage with exciting social media experiences geared towards the digital-savvy generation of younger driver-athletes.
  • Improved customer experience: The International Speedway Corporation (ISC) has invested $400+ million in a venue retool of Daytona’s Speedway and the surrounding property to improve fan experience.
  • Investment in content strategy: NASCAR recently created a Content Strategy Group to centralize its creative, digital, social marketing, and advertising operations.
  • Revamp of scoring system: Perhaps the most surprising change is NASCAR’s recent revamp of its point system. In 2017 NASCAR rewrote the rules for how drivers compete and earn championship points during the season. No other major sport has changed its product so completely in response to changing consumer opinion about how they want to experience their sports entertainment.

At the time of the Monster Energy deal announcement in 2017, Mitch Covington, Monster’s VP of Sports Marketing said, "I think you'll see a little more Monster at the Daytona 500. But at the same time, the sponsorship's not about painting it all green. It's really about doing some really cool things with sponsorship."

NASCAR 2

But last week, NASCAR and Monster Energy announced it’s “highly unlikely” the partnership will continue beyond the 2019 race season—a sign NASCAR is reevaluating its current sponsorship model.

To simplify sponsorship opportunities for brands, NASCAR may bundle its top sponsorship with the sanctioning body to include the tracks and tv partners, omitting series naming rights which has been used in the past.

NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve Phelps told ESPN, “Our competitive advantage is that our fans understand the importance of sponsorship and they go out and support our sponsors… we just think there’s a better model to make sure that sponsors want to stay involved more broadly.”

The future of NASCAR’s sponsorship model is still unknown, but Covington’s quote sums up their efforts. For sponsorship to be effective, NASCAR must strike a balance between honoring what fans have always loved about the NASCAR brand (+ sponsors) while embracing innovation and change.

Brian is a loyal NASCAR fan who also enjoys helping clients solve their biggest business needs using advanced market research methodologies like CMB’s Brand FX— a solution that measures the social, emotional, and functional benefits a brand provides to customers.

Topics: brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty, BrandFx