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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.

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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

What’s in a Name: CVS-Aetna Acquisition Brand Strategy

Posted by Amy Modini

Tue, Mar 20, 2018

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Earlier this month, shareholders approved the $69 billion CVS-Aetna acquisition, marking one step closer to what would be the largest health insurance deal in history—far exceeding Express Scripts’ 2012 acquisition of Medco Health and  the CVS-Caremark Rx deal of 2006.

The CVS-Aetna announcement could dramatically reshape the healthcare industry.

From a brand strategy perspective, this acquisition is interesting because it involves two distinguished brands in the healthcare space—CVS is the country’s largest pharmacy while Aetna is the nation’s third largest healthcare provider.

Two powerful brands coming together

There are many layers to mergers and acquisitions (M&A), but developing a sound brand strategy is one of the most critical components of any agreement—especially when it involves two mega brands like CVS and Aetna.

Aligning on a brand strategy is as important as sorting out financials, operations, logistics, and everything else that comes with the complexities of this kind of deal.

The tricky part is there’s no prescribed framework for the “perfect” M&A brand strategy. How CVS and Aetna plan to proceed is still unclear—whether they remain separate, combine names, or land somewhere in the middle.

But there are several best practices to consider when developing an M&A brand strategy.

Brand strategy must match the business strategy

Why are you merging/acquiring? Is it to expand a geographical footprint? To fill a product or service gap? Whatever the reason, the “why” (e.g., the business strategy) MUST inform your brand strategy.

Dig into each brand to identify what the intrinsic qualities are and let those distinct value propositions guide your strategy.

Account for your audience(s)

Internal and external brand communications must align and support the overall brand strategy and should be tailored to each brand’s audience(s).

In the CVS and Aetna case, both brands touch many constituents—patients, employers, physicians, etc. The brand strategy must account for all these touchpoints and create messaging and experiences that meet each group’s specific expectations and needs.

Bring everyone to the table

M&A is a unique opportunity for brands to refresh their image. However, developing a lasting strategy should include employee input and buy-in from the top down.

Be transparent about the chosen brand path—ideally employees should be privy to changes ahead of time so they can begin to internalize the new brand promise.

Especially in the CVS-Aetna case, employees on the frontline who interact with patients and customers every day need to understand the chosen brand path to ensure a smooth and successful branding transition.

The branding gist

Whether it’s a $69 billion acquisition or the merging of two “mom and pop” shops, building a brand strategy is an integral piece of the M&A puzzle.

There’s no “right” way to approach this, but keeping in mind the business strategy, impacted audiences, and employee input will help make the development and implementation of an effective M&A brand strategy much smoother.

Topics: healthcare research, health insurance research, insurance research, brand health and positioning

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

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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

BrandFx: How to Fix Brands' Consumer-sized Blind Spot

Posted by Mark Doherty

Mon, Nov 27, 2017

Today’s executives are investing money, mind- and man-power into cracking the code of the Empowered Consumer. Every client I speak with understands the importance of developing a consumer-centric culture and strategy, and they are putting millions into making this a reality. But there's a pervasive problem affecting brands across industries—while research and insights have generally kept up with this evolution in consumer-centric thinking (witness the growth of ethnographic work and customer journey mapping), brand tracking has not. Most brands are still tracking their brand health through measures focusing solely on their brand and not on the consumers.

Just as retail stores are transforming their floor plans and service firms are overhauling their operations to enhance their customer-centricity, today’s brand health measurement and tracking needs to change, too. Trackers must put the consumer first and uncover how well consumers see “what’s in it for them”—specifically—how they benefit from being a customer. This is why we’ve introduced a truly comprehensive and holistic approach to consumer-powered brand measurement—BrandFx.

BrandFx focuses on what consumers want from a brand—the benefits driving purchase, loyalty and advocacy—and provides specific guidance and critical, concrete recommendations on what to (and what not to) communicate:

  • Identity Benefits: What should you communicate about who your customers are?
  • Emotional Benefits: How do you want people to feel about your brand?
  • Functional Benefits: What should you say people will get from your products/services?

It’s true that many brand trackers already cover elements of this approach. For example, some have transformed their functional brand attributes into functional benefits, and new thinking about the role of emotion in purchase decisions has led to a battery of emotional benefits in a growing number of trackers.

However, very few have incorporated benefits associated with consumer social identity, and as a result, they are missing out on a critical piece of the brand puzzle: The more the image of a brand’s typical customer represents a “tribe” they connect with or aspire to be part of, the more that consumer will try, buy, and recommend the brand.

 Our research shows that, when consumers identify with their image of a brand’s customer, they are 12-times more likely to consider the brand. And our proprietary assessment of a brand’s performance on these Identity benefits, AffinID, has proven to be a better predictor of brand engagement than the standard brand tracking metrics (functional and emotional) most brands rely upon.

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Advanced analytics provide insight into how these three types of benefits—Identity, Emotional, and Functional—fit together to explain how they drive the key outcomes of consideration, purchase and loyalty. In the example below we see how benefit composition varies by brand—highlighting key areas for differentiation.

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After three decades of refreshing and reviving brand measurement programs, we know the challenges for insights professionals charged with running trackers. Some of these are technical (making 30-minute questionnaires mobile-friendly), and some of these are strategic (balancing trackability with addressing the needs of a changing market). Brand tracking programs need to be designed with the flexibility to meet these challenges through analytics, technology, and thoughtful strategic planning. We understand these challenges and specialize in working with clients to tackle them successfully.

The bottom line is that consumers aren’t conducting business as usual and brands can’t afford to either.

Does your brand measurement have a blind spot?  Join CMB's Mark Doherty and Kate Zilla-Ba for a webinar: BrandFx: Consumer-powered Brand Measurement to learn more about transforming your brand measurement program into one that is truly consumer powered.

Watch Now

Topics: consumer insights, brand health and positioning, BrandFx

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

Posted by Lisa Hoffman

Wed, Nov 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

See it in action:

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

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

Topics: brand health and positioning, Identity, AffinID