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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.

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  • 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.

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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).

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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.

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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

In Tech We Trust

Posted by Chris Neal

Wed, Dec 04, 2019

In the world of corporate reputations, Big Tech companies have had a rough couple of years. As we ramp up full-steam into the 2020 electoral cycle, they are increasingly in the cross-hairs of government regulatory and legal actions.

Big Tech has lost valuable trust among customers, and the general public. Personally, I’ve recently had a lot of conversations with people who are convinced that smartphones are not only monitoring every click, swipe, and direct command, but also eaves-dropping on their general conversations in order to serve targeted ads. E.g., “When I mentioned to a colleague that I was going hiking, I was immediately bombarded with ads for hiking boots.” And in this same vein…if I’m being completely honest…I confess to putting my phone on airplane mode (and often turning it off altogether) for extended periods of time, only booting it up when there is something specific I need to use it for. Paranoia runs deep.

It was no surprise, then, when we just got back some piping hot tasty data from CMB’s latest self-funded BrandFxSM 2.0 study of 20,000+ U.S. consumers and confirmed that – yes – Big Tech has a major trust problem.Brand Trustworthiness_CNeal 2019-4

More specifically, the technology brands we covered had lower association with being “trustworthy” than our bundle of Financial Services brands, despite the financial meltdown of the 2008 Great Recession still in people's collective consciousness, and just two years after the massive Experian credit history data breach. And - yes - social media brands are taking the brunt of this "Trust Fall" of 2018-2019, but this is a “negative halo” effect impacting all of the “Big 5” Tech Brands (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft).

Like most things here at CMB, we don’t just want to proclaim that the sky is falling: we try to sort out what to actually do to prop it back up again. So, we dove deeper into our BrandFxSM data using Bayes Nets analysis to figure out:

  1. What should tech brands focus on to restore valuable trust?
  2. How does trust impact customer loyalty to technology brands in general, and through what mechanisms?
1. How to restore “trust” in tech

Interestingly, the biggest link to “trustworthy” is actually a tech brand’s functional benefits. In other words: people trust a tech company as long as it reliably makes their life easier in some tangible, functional way (see below).

Drivers of Trust Graphic_CNeal2019

Not too far behind this, there are strong links to perceived privacy & security (both as a general brand perception, as well as whether the brand makes people feel secure when they’re using it). There are “rational” ways to boost customer perceptions of your products & services as being secure and guarding their privacy, and while this is important, it is more impactful to get people to feel secure when they use your product. Factual proof-points aren’t enough to achieve this on an emotional level.

On the emotional side of feeling “secure,” we uncovered a strong link here with feeling “respected."

If someone believes a tech company actually respects them as a customer, they are more likely to feel secure when using them (vs. selling all of their intimate data to the highest bidder, regardless of purpose).

On the ”functional” side of brand perceptions around believing that a tech company’s products are private and secure, there is a strong link to believing that the company has a strong mission and values that you agree with.

MissionVisionValues_CNeal2019

If someone believes that the company ultimately has noble goals, they are more likely to perceive them to be good with their data’s security and privacy which makes them more likely to trust the company. 

This belief in the company’s mission, in turn, has strong links to overall Identity Benefits (i.e., “I feel good using [BRAND] because I believe in their mission and values, which align with my own.”)

2. How much does “trust” matter, and in what ways?

Perceptions of a company being "trustworthy" don't have a large direct impact on a customer's future usage intent, but they are linked to several other key things that do drive future usage intent. As we saw earlier, there is a strong linkage between "trustworthy" key emotional benefits like feeling secure, respected, proud, smart, and efficient. These are all important emotions for Tech brands to activate, and emotional benefits are the strongest predictors of future usage intent in this industry. Our analysis also revealed links between "trustworthy" brand perceptions and identity benefits (through privacy/security perception). As major tech companies are all vying to expand into people's everyday lives, consumers are increasingly making choices as to which "tribe" they are loyal to (and will use across many categories). At the moment, privacy, security, and, by association, trust play a significant role in their brand loyalty.

What now? If you’re a tech company, start by elevating your company’s core mission and values in media and PR campaigns. Through your messaging, convey a strong sense of respect for your customer as an individual, including their data privacy and security, because these have a greater impact on brand affinity and customer loyalty than any functional benefit a new product release offers. Consider increasingly innovative ways to give them more direct control over what types of data you can and can’t use, and for what purposes, making clear the benefits they also get by doing so (e.g., more free content or services, better-performing services like virtual assistants that can “learn” from more of your personal data). This way, you can deliver valuable, trusted information, in a way that doesn’t turn off your customers, like an ad freaking out your customers with hiking boots they don’t need.


Christopher NealChris Neal, VP of CMB's Tech & Telecom Practice, has over 20 years of experience in high tech, online, consumer electronics, telecom and media insights, analytics, and consulting.

Follow CMB on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest news and insights.

 

Topics: technology research, brand health and positioning, BrandFx, technology

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.

EMGmonaCrop2

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

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 a 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:

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

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