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How SoulCycle Stays in the Saddle of Customer Loyalty and Consideration

Posted by Savannah House

Wed, Sep 12, 2018

spin class-1

Scroll through Instagram and you’ll see ads from every conceivable fitness craze—from trampolining and aerial yoga to infrared saunas.

What’s “hot” today (seriously, check out these saunas) might not be tomorrow, and because apps like ClassPass make it easy to try new workouts, it’s an even tougher market for upstarts to break through and survive.

That’s why I am a huge admirer of indoor cycling studio SoulCycle, and how it’s managed to survive and thrive despite the rise and fall of other fitness fads (is water aerobics still a thing?)

Last week at INBOUND 2018, Julie Rice, co-founder of SoulCycle, shared how she built fitness empire. In just over 10 years, she grew a single studio in Manhattan (Rice herself working the front desk) into a multimillion dollar pop culture phenomenon with a cult-like following.

What is it about a 45-minute spin class that catapulted SoulCycle into the ranks of brands like CrossFit and Nike? A brand that successfully fulfills the functional, emotional and social identity needs of its target customer.

SoulCycle’s workout lives up to its promise

This goes without saying, but SoulCycle is one heck of a workout. It’s more than riding a bike. Riders clip into stationary bikes and pedal to the beat of the music—following the lead instructor by adjusting speed and resistance based on the song.

From a customer experience perspective, SoulCycle delivers on the promise of an intense workout. Having been to a few classes myself, I can attest to how physically demanding their classes are—leaving you sweaty and physically drained (but accomplished).

This, in a sense, is the most tangible and functional benefit SoulCycle provides its customers—presumably the biggest reason why riders pay $36 per class.

But, there are other reasons why riders love SoulCycle beyond the solid workout.

SoulCycle sends riders on an emotional journey

As Rice explained last week at INBOUND, SoulCycle was always intended to be as much an emotional experience as it is physical. Twelve years later, that still holds true.

Words like “athlete”, “legend” and “warrior” adorn the SoulCycle studios. When the studio lights are off, these words are illuminated in white as vibrant reminders of how riding at SoulCycle is supposed to make you feel.

It’s emotionally transcending to be in a dark room with music blasting, pedaling in unison with 30+ other riders, while the words “LEGEND” and “WARRIOR” (and of course the instructor) scream at you to keep pushing. It’s empowering. You feel like a bad ass each time to dig your foot into the pedal.

At the end of the workout, you’re left feeling lifted, encouraged, and powerful. Few fitness brands can achieve this level of emotional connection with their customers—a force that drives riders into the saddle week after week.

The SoulCycle community

A good workout and emotional connectivity are integral to the SoulCycle experience. But perhaps what’s most compelling about SoulCycle is its masterful way of tapping into the social identity of its riders.

SoulCycle has strategically cultivated an “in” community that riders can’t get enough of. Both in the studio and out on the streets, riders gladly sport SoulCycle swag as badge of membership to this close-knit community.

A recent study by Harvard Divinity School researcher, Casper ter Kuile, underscores the importance of community in choosing fitness brands. People are drawn to fitness classes like SoulCycle because they “long for relationships that have meaning and the experience of belonging rather than just surface level relationships,” he continues, “Going through an experience that tests you to your limits…there’s an inevitable bonding that comes from experiencing hardship together.”

SoulCycle is about riding as a pack… and more importantly, being part of that pack.

It’s this feeling of inclusion and being part of a group of likeminded athletes that drives its unprecedented tribal following—a loyalty rivaled only by CrossFit.

And for SoulCycle in particular, maybe it’s the exclusivity—being a member of not just any community, but THIS community—that makes SoulCycle so alluring.

The Final Sprint

In 2011, Rice and business partner Elizabeth Cutler sold SoulCycle to national luxury fitness gym Equinox—forming a united front between the elite brands.

This partnership represents the continued success of SoulCycle as a leading fitness and lifestyle brand—one whose customer loyalty has continued over the years.

Fitness brands (all brands, for that matter) can learn a lot from SoulCycle in terms of what it takes to truly delight and retain customers. Of course, it’s necessary to provide a superior customer experience (a solid workout, in this case) and establish an emotional connection with customers. But, brands cannot forget about the critical role social identity and community play in maintaining customer loyalty.

As markets continue to be disrupted by technology, innovation and new entrants, brands must leverage functional, emotional, and identity benefits to stay in the metaphorical saddle of customer consideration and loyalty.

Savannah House is a marketing manager who is slowly but surely ticking different fitness classes off her bucket list. 

Topics: customer experience and loyalty, Identity, BrandFx

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:

Watch Now

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

Emotions Run High with Virtual Assistants

Posted by Chris Neal

Wed, May 09, 2018

woman with VA

The pace of innovation and disruption is accelerating. Just 10 years ago Uber and Airbnb didn’t exist and the iPhone was still a novelty shown off at parties by overenthusiastic tech lovers. Now, we have a hair salon receptionist convinced she's speaking to a real person when in fact it was Google Assistant that was scheduling an appointment. While it might be hard for many of us to remember the last time we took a cab or used a flip phone, change is hardly straightforward and tech adoption raises critically important questions for brands.

Why do some people resist change while others embrace it? What emotions trigger true acceptance of a new technology and a new way of doing things?  What is that “a-ha” moment that gets someone hooked on a new habit that will be enduring? 

To help understand consumers’ journey with evolving technology, we applied our BrandFx framework to the broad virtual assistant category—measuring the functional, social identity, and emotional benefits that people seek from Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc. I shared our findings from the identity aspect here.

And while each of these three benefit types play a role in adoption and use—the role of emotion is profound.

We asked a lot of people about how they use virtual assistants—from information seeking to listening to music to planning and booking a trip. Then we ran analytics on the overall emotional activation, valence, and specific emotions that were activated during these different use cases. 

Our findings have broad implications for anyone in the virtual assistant category creating marketing campaigns to drive adoption, or product UX teams looking to design customer experiences that will deepen engagement.

Currently, virtual assistants are primarily used as information-seeking tools, basically like hands-free web queries. (See Exhibit 1):TOP VA USES CASES

Even though virtual assistants are evolving to do some pretty amazing things as voice-based developer communities mature, most people are only scratching the surface with the basic Q&A function. Asking Siri or Alexa for the weather forecast is a fine experience when they’re cooperating, but it can be extremely frustrating when you don’t get the right answer—like getting the current temperature in Cupertino when you live in Boston.

Meanwhile, watching TV or shopping through your virtual assistant turns out to be a much more emotionally rewarding experience, based on the analytics we ran. The problem for the industry as a whole is that these more emotionally rewarding use cases are among the least used VA functionalities today. Teams that market these experiences must motivate more consumers to try the more emotionally rewarding VA use cases that will deepen engagement and help form a lasting habit (see Exhibit 2):

Use, emotional activation, and emotions activated by use case v2

Listening to music and watching TV/movies yields high emotional activation in general—specifically “delight.” Our driver modeling shows that feeling “delighted” is one of the top predictors of future usage intent for a virtual assistant product (see Exhibit 3):

emotions that drive VA usage-2

As Exhibit 2 above indicates, using virtual assistants for scheduling and calendaring has overall moderate emotional activation, but is particularly good at activating feelings of efficiency and productivitythe single strongest predictor of use in this category.

emotions that drive VA usage-1

 

Tellingly, however, the scheduling and calendaring function also over-indexes on feelings of frustration because this task can be more complex—currently AI and natural-language processing (NLP) technologies are more apt to get these kinds of requests wrong. 

In general, “frustration” indexes high on more complex use cases (e.g., arranging travel, coordinating schedules, information seeking). This is a warning to the tech industry not to get too caught up in the hype cycle of releasing half-baked code quickly to drum up excitement among consumers. It also helps explain why younger demographics in our analysis actually experienced more frustration with VAs than older cohorts (contrary to my initial hypotheses). 

Younger consumers are attempting to do more complex tasks with virtual assistants, and therefore bumping up against the current limits of NLP and AI more frequently. This is dangerous, because they are the key “early adopter” segments that must embrace the expanding capabilities of virtual assistants in order for the category to become pervasive among mainstream consumers.

Consumers will quickly abandon a new way of doing things if they get frustrated. Understanding and activating the right positive emotions and minimizing the negative ones will be critical as brands continue to vie for the top virtual assistant spot.

Interested in learning more about the emotional dimensions of Virtual Assistant users? Reach out to Chris Neal, CMB's VP of Technology & Telecom.

Topics: technology research, growth and innovation, AffinID, Artificial Intelligence, BrandFx

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

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