What is The Essence of Hampton Roads?

Flag of Hampton RoadsMarketing within Hampton Roads is hard enough. But what if the task at hand is marketing Hampton Roads period? Or, to make things more complex, what if the task at hand is branding Hampton Roads? That’s the task that this year’s group of emerging community leaders in “LEAD Hampton Roads” has taken on as a class project. LEAD is a yearlong development program that is a part of the Hampton Roads Chamber, boasting more than 1,200 alumni in its ranks.

As an alum and a former board member, I’m pretty close to the LEAD mission. The group is very connected and passionate about building both a strong region and a strong leadership base for the region as it grows.

I was honored to sit on a panel with some esteemed friends and colleagues at a recent LEAD retreat to talk about the history and background of the market, the never-ending naming debate, and what it would look like to promote the “brand” of Hampton Roads. Each panel member brought a rich background of marketing inside, outside and aboutDelcino Miles, Mike Carosi, Joel RubinHampton Roads. I can tell you that in the hour-plus that we talked, we (see the sidebar for who “we” are) barely scratched the surface of what I feel is the real issue the group needs to grab hold of.

The group has to be clear about the objective of branding the region in the first place. There are two very-high-level targets and objectives: 1) those who live and work here, and 2) those we want to live and work here (for purposes of growing the region). If I were this year’s lead class, I would focus on point number 1 first.

I’ve written before of what a brand is and what it is not. It’s easy to get caught up in what it is not. A brand is not a name. It’s not a logo, or an image. It’s not a tagline or a spokesperson. It’s not the number of people that can recall the name. It’s not a product, it’s not a service. These are all elements of the brand. The brand is the embodiment of all of these elements (and more) and their ability to be linked together instantly and subconsciously in the mind of the consumer to conjure an impression. That brand impression is what creates a behavior, and marketing is all about creating behavior. More on that one in another post.

There is, already, a brand that is Hampton Roads. It defines where we live. It has attributes. It has features. It has strengths and weaknesses. It is compellingly different from other regions, cities, and areas of the country. For instance, the fact that our hometown is NOT identifiable with one specific major city (a la New Orleans or Charlotte or Cincinnati … all similarly sized markets) makes it unique. That lack of a central hub fosters geographic and lifestyle diversity different from any of those markets. There are brand impressions, created by the various symbols, cultures, geography, names, trades, communities and historical elements of the brand.

At the core of the brand: essence.

Brand essence. What does the brand stand for? How do the people who ARE the brand Project Achievability Testdefine it? What are the organic and emotional elements that make the brand unique and lasting? Why do people come here, live here, thrive here, STAY here? These are all impressions that exist and are deeply, justifiably rooted. When a marketer creates a brand strategy for an existing product, or in this case a region, he or she must define the core essence of the brand, starting with the legacy that already exists. From there you can imagineer a bold brand strategy that embodies new elements and begins to transition impressions over time.

Promoting the brand of Hampton Roads means both understanding the essence of what the brand is and creating a strategy for what we want it to be over time. That is a daunting task. There must be a lot of overlap. Consider the existing essence as a firmly planted pivot foot. If we know where it is planted, we can pivot 360 degrees, addressing all types of audiences and opportunities, without contradicting the true essence of the brand.

A brand core essence is very succinct, but it is not a tagline and it most likely will never appear in an ad. It guides both business development and marketing communication. It is simple, believable and defensible. Most importantly it is honest. All stakeholders need to understand it and believe in it.

What does a core essence look like for a market? Take a look at Las Vegas. I don’t know if the marketing team for the city has articulated a core essence, but to me it’s simple: “unbridled adult fun.” Vegas has always been about fun — the kind of fun you can’t have anywhere else. You can see why a slogan like “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” is so fitting. But that crazy experiment in the early 90’s to market it as a family destination? Clearly a pivot foot violation.

So my challenge to the class of 2016 is this: define the core essence of our region. Forget about the name. Forget about a tagline. Not important right now. Explore the work that Chris Bonney and the folks at Bonney & Company did in “Envision Hampton Roads” as a starting point. Help plant the pivot foot, and that alone will be a huge accomplishment. And call me if I can help.

TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Roads

Is your ad strategy on course?

If you’re a business in Hampton Roads weighing your advertising options, traditional TV (broadcast and cable) continues to provide huge reach and impact. But how people consume various media, and more importantly how their video viewing habits are shifting, is essential for you to know to effectively plan where your advertising dollars should be spent.

Microsoft Word - proofed_TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Ro

Nielsen numbers show that US consumers still watch over four hours of traditional (Nielsen calls it “live”) TV every day. But that number has dropped from four hours and 29 minutes per day in 2013 to four hours and 11 minutes over the past two years. The pace is precipitous and consistent. The amount of DVR viewing has held pretty steady, but the amount of time spent on smartphones has nearly doubled.

Three very important points to keep in mind here:

  1. The shift to online/streaming viewing is generationally driven. A recent report from ABC showed that 28% of TV watched during prime time by 18-34-year-olds is online streaming or video on demand, compared to 11% for those age 25-54. Microsoft Word - proofed_TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Ro
  2. This shift will accelerate. Smartphones are already in the hands of 80% of US consumers, but the lion’s share of mobile online TV is viewed by only 20% of those folks. This is not an “80-20” rule that will stand. As network apps and “TV anywhere” gain awareness, that number will experience a hockey-stick effect. Add to that the fact that nearly 60% of households now have an Internet-connected TV, and the opportunities to stream video skyrocket.
  3. These are no longer individually unique media consumption behaviors. People don’t consume one medium at a time. Look around in a restaurant, airport, doctor’s office—or your own family room. Who is looking up, and who is looking down at their mobile device? Nielsen reports that 84% of smartphone and tablet owners use those devices while they’re watching TV. YOU NEED TO BE IN BOTH PLACES.

The graphs here are published data from Nielsen’s “Total Audience Report.” It’s a great deep dive to understand what’s going on in the world of media consumption. But to help understand what’s happening, and what will happen with TV viewership locally, I reached out to some local media experts for insight.

The bulk of ad spending for local broadcasters and cable still ties to traditional TV advertising: :05-:60 spots inserted into linear broadcast (that includes cable) programs. And, of course, the stakeholders feel that will continue. “Local newscasts (including weather, traffic and high school/college sports) remain some of the highest-viewed programming on local broadcast televisions in any market.” Says Doug Davis, president and CEO of WAVY. “Newscasts provide a daily, engaged viewer for local advertisers…a viewer who is watching the news…not DVRing it.”

Kari Jacobs, WVEC president and GM, agrees. “I believe TV viewing will remain strong largely due to locally produced news, live sports and big events (e.g., the Oscars). It will be interesting to see which (streaming) delivery methods (Netflix, Roku, etc.) will excel.”

But Gordon Borrell, CEO and president of Borrell and Associates and nationally recognized expert on local market media trends, is a bit more pragmatic. “The fact is, people are watching more ‘video’ than ever, but it’s the old model—broadcast TV—that’s in trouble. I wouldn’t recommend that a TV advertiser necessarily cut back TV. Rather, I think an advertiser needs to determine the appropriate mix of media available today that is needed to support whatever promotion they have at the moment.”

Local broadcasters, as well as Cox, have long offered digital advertising packages and online content to help you diversify your media mix and reach their viewers online. “We certainly recognize the impact digital has on traditional viewing patterns,” Jacobs adds, “and our digital options for content and advertising options reflect this change and will continue to evolve.”

But with the shift to streaming and on-demand viewing through Internet-connected devices, advertisers are clamoring for a way to measure their text boxvideo advertising investment that makes sense online and offline. That shift is underway. Sharon Fanto, vice-president of Cox Media, explains. “Most [advertisers] want to measure how they reach consumers with a metric of impressions rather than simply gross rating points (GRPs). Those impressions are found on multiple screens across multiple devices, which makes sense since consumers are spending more time with video on multiple devices. Our focus has to continue to be making it easier for our clients to reach consumers wherever they are, on whatever device they are using.”

This shift in planning and measurement from GRPs to impressions, cost-per-impression, and ultimately cost-per-conversion (sale) tied to your impressions are what ultimately open the door for effective cross-platform planning. Hopefully, all media reps, planners and buyers are headed in this direction because digital advertising options will drive it.

An impressions-based video strategy can level the playing field in comparing costs for reaching TV viewers in a mass broadcast audience vs. an individually targeted and streamed insertion online. Add to that the efficiency that real-time bidding (the ability to set budget limits on how much you are willing to pay for each individual impression) online can bring, and you have the ability to make your video advertising achieve results that you could never afford in a broadcast-only world.

Your online-to-broadcast mix percentage will vary based on your objectives as well. In Borrell’s words, “TV is the number one medium for branding. No one can touch it.” But if your goal is to drive online engagement, having at least a companion digital video strategy is vital. The Virginia Dental Association, in a statewide campaign that has been running for the past three years, has been able to increase traffic to a targeted page from 200 page views a month to over 500 A DAY by integrating a targeted digital video campaign. That’s how effective it can be.

Bottom lines:

1. If you are a local advertiser whose ad strategy is heavily leveraged in TV, and you are not already consistently and diligently deploying a SIGNIFICANT online video component to your strategy, you are behind the times.

2. If you’re are a local business that has not been able to afford TV advertising because of budget or geographic scope, you could be losing ground to competitors who have learned to geographically and demographically target video messages online to your prospects and customers.

Video advertising is king. It carries more emotion and credibility than any other medium. Consumers will find it wherever they go. More and more, they are going online with devices in hand. Your media mix needs to recognize that.

Outdoor Stands the Test of Time

Outdoor stands the test of time–and technology.pic4

Billboard, the most well known facet of out-of-home (OOH) advertising, has long had a bad rap in Hampton Roads. Many communities have enacted and currently enforce strict signage regulations that severely limit the number of locations and their availability. Still, even with the seismic shifts in media consumption brought on by untethered Internet access, OOH remains an impactful and efficient medium for location-based and brand messaging. As more boards convert to digital signage, the limited space can accommodate more total advertisers in rotation. The future of buying that digital space – in fact, all OOH – will continue to get caught in the wave of technology change that is programmatic planning and buying, but that is a topic for a future conversation.

To get a broader perspective, I reached out to Rob Smithwick, VP of OOH media strategy for EMC Outdoor, to answer a few questions about the comparative state of OOH in our market.

Q: How does Hampton Roads compare with other markets its size relative to billboard saturation?

A: Hampton Roads struggles with billboard coverage in its largest cities: Virginia Beach (containing about one-third of the market’s population), Chesapeake and Hampton. These cities’ laws governing locations are so strict that finding approved and available locations to build on is very difficult.  Many years ago, Virginia Beach created laws to remove all boards through attrition. As time passed, and roads were widened, boards were lost forever.  What good locations do exist in these cities are expensive due to demand. Coverage is “good” in comparison to other markets / cities in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Suffolk.

Q: What does the conversion to digital signage look like?

A: The space owners have converted their BEST locations to digital, just like they did when Trivisions were the newest option (mechanical, three-sided, rotating faces).  Those “best” locations provide more advertisers the ability to reach their targeted traffic / demographic by offering up to eight “spots” per complete rotation. Each spot stays up for eight seconds as a national average, in most cases nationally.  Some space owners run six advertisers at 10 seconds each. Both would allow each ad to be seen about once per minute.

Q: What percent of boards are digital?Kathryn Moore, Media Director for Seventh

A: On a percentage basis, the number of digitals may seem low, but keep in mind that the space owners are only converting those boards with the highest client demand and traffic, so their impression counts are good.  In Hampton Roads, about 4% of the total number of boards are digital. That percentage will certainly grow over time.  The cost of the construction and installation of digital faces is coming down with the national demand.

Q: What has that meant to the industry?  What should advertisers expect in terms of cost/exposure with digital v. static boards?

A: Digitals have basically expanded the quantity of “faces” in the best locations. There are no production or installation charges; you can change creative throughout each day, week, 4-week period or day-part, and much more. In my opinion, there are downsides.  You now share that space with other advertisers, so your Impressions are lower than buying a comparable static board, because of the increased number of advertisers. Additionally, the space owners have determined that they can charge a premium for each “turn” on each board.  While it is less than buying its static neighbor, per 4-week period, it is not one-sixth or one-eighth of the rate. If a static face in the same area has a cost of $8,000 per period, one digital turn, with the same traffic, would likely be $4,000 to $5,000 per period.

Q:  Any comment on overall spend – up or down here, and here vs. nationwide?

A: BilWonder what your billboard design wouldlboards in Hampton Roads are about 15% more expensive than other comparable markets, and evenly placed coverage is a struggle. You have to buy a little deeper (or more boards) to achieve your TRPs.  That is why we offer alternatives like trucksides, gas pump tops and transit in Hampton Roads, and other markets with similar challenges.

Q: Anything different about outdoor here that advertisers, big or small, need to know and be aware of in planning their advertising?

A: There are good billboard opportunities to be found.  Like most businesses, occupancy drives rate, so checking on availability often, buying at the right time and finding the best locations to reach your target audience is key. Don’t buy boards that you, your family and friends see.  Buy boards that your POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS see. Keep your target in mind.  Leave your ego out of advertising. Again, considering other Outdoor Media options may be helpful, and there are many in Hampton Roads.  Most advertisers stop at Billboards.

 

Bottom line, as a part of an integrated strategy, OOH is a traditional medium that bears strong consideration in your media mix. Digital conversions should continue to help provide inventory relief. While not comprehensive, these maps will give you a good feel for locations across the market.

Hampton Roads Poster Map-EMC

Hampton Roads Digital Map-EMCHampton Roads Bulletin Map-EMC(1)

The Technology Is Pretty Simple

 It’s the Stuff That’s Complicated

Just ask a digital media buyer.Chevy Guy

Technology and stuff sure make us marketing executives sweat. The whole world found that out firsthand when Chevy’s Rikk Wilde crashed the MVP party with his now-famous #technologyandstuff description of Madison Bumgarner’s new Chevy truck. And of course it wasn’t the technology or the stuff that had Wilde beading up with sweat, it was the national stage.

But the Chevy exec and lifelong baseball fan drew national attention to a big topic, one the digital advertising and media world grapples with daily: finding a way to make high-tech advancements simple enough for everyone, even really high-powered people like marketing execs, to understand.

In local market advertising, even a fairly big local market like Hampton Roads, VA, advertisers grapple with the question of how, when and where to shift marketing dollars into digital media, and how to know when that strategy is working. While pay-per-click advertising can be pretty straightforward if the consumer is properly motivated to click, digital display advertising has fallen out of favor. Measuring response has been difficult, primarily because of the way it has been bought and tracked.

Enter #technologyandstuff.

The highest-tech, most cutting-edge system and tool within digital media buying is a sophisticated system called a Demand Side Platform (DSP), which allows an operator to buy media programmatically and bid on digital advertising inventory in real time.

Whew. See? Sweat beads.

You can read a great blog describing some of the DETAILS of the stuff that makes up programmatic buying here, but let me tell you that what the technology does is make sure that the advertiser’s ad only shows up when a targeted customer is actually surfing. And the advertiser only pays what he or she has bid for that targeted customer. And then all this stuff measures what is working best, and the buyer tells the technology to do more of that. The same stuff measures what is not working so well, and the buyer tells the technology not to do so much of that.

While I don’t exactly expect you to follow all of that particular technology and stuff explanation, I can tell you that as an advertiser you should gain an understanding of programmatic buying.

In one form or another, it will become the way advertising is bought and sold going forward.

It is automated advertising buying compared to manual buying, and it will drive the efficiency and measurability among all types of advertising. And that includes traditional forms like broadcast and cable, outdoor and print.

Even some of largest local advertisers will admit that, although they have a very diverse media mix and an ongoing focus in driving social as well as real-life connections to their brand, the plans are not very well coordinated, and they lack the ability to measure how effectively their digital advertising is working. Technology is going to continue to open up more media mix opportunities. Find someone to help you understand the stuff, and you’ve got the secret ingredient to make it work.

 

Creating Demand

 How to gross people out and keep mattresses moving in Hampton Roads

I’ve often wondered just how many mattress stores a town needs. Seems more and more like mattress stores in Hampton Roads are competing with Starbucks and 7-Eleven for the title of “most stores per capita.”

Mattress Firm, which bought the locally owned Mattress Discounters stores in 2010, now lists 28 stores across the metro area and nearly 1,500 across the US. Sleepy’s took the market by storm starting in 2011 and now lists 21 stores across the DMA. The firm, which has over 900 stores, mostly in the northeast, purchased the Mattress Discounters chain (separate from the locally owned company) from RoomStore in 2012.Advertising with fear

Add to that a half-dozen Original Mattress Factory stores and large and small furniture retailers along with several other outlets and you’ve got a mattress dealer on every corner. So what drives all of this demand?

If you’re Mattress Firm, you don’t wait around until people are ready to buy. You create the demand. You tell them when and why they should buy their next mattress, even if the message gets a little scary, creepy or gross.

The execution of “Replace Every Eight” is the Mattress Firmperfect example of creating FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the marketplace and stimulating sales. People who buy a mattress with a 10- or 15-year guarantee expect the mattress to last that long, but hit them with a message that says your mattress is soaked in “gallons of sweat, pounds of dead skin and millions of dust mites” and they might just replace their mattress sooner. Eeeww.

Most mattress advertising centers around getting a better night’s sleep, which is the top reason people replace their mattress, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Consumer Reports recommends changing every five to 10 years, and The Better Sleep Council (BSC) says every five to seven years. So replacing a mattress every eight years, as a benchmark, probably isn’t so far-fetched. But now I’m only worried about sleeping better (the number one reason the BSC says five to seven years). Mattress Firm’s creative team found the happy middle ground to capitalize on a great (no pun intended) alliteration opportunity. All that gross stuff will accumulate(8), so don’t procrastinate(8). Cute and clever.

But scary. Scary is motivation. It carries across media channels, it sticks in your brain: eight years’ worth of dust mites crawling around chewing on pounds of … well, you get the picture. FUD is a powerful, effective advertising tool (no product does this better than mouthwash). In many cases it’s based on fiction, not science or reality. So good for Mattress Firm in this case to at least have some real advocates to lean on.

TV Advertsing Postage Stamp

Hampton Roads–Is your TV advertising losing its edge(s)?

Make sure your spots are running as you expect.

Quick disclaimer: This is one of those posts with the true intention of helping all parties. High definition TVs have become mainstream, but merging all of the technologies involved means that sometimes commercials aren’t running as designed. Everyone involved wants the best result every time. More eyes, and more awareness will help.

Read on.

Here’s the quick math from Nielsen: 718,930 TV Households in Hampton Roads. Around 75% of those households have at least one TV that’s high-definition enabled (widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio), and 77% subscribe to some type of HD subscription service (cable, satellite, Netflix, Chromecast, etc.). So if you’re a TV advertiser, the vast majority of households are watching your commercials in HD on a widescreen format.

TV Advertising Full Screen

Here’s the view when your image fills the HD screen.

But are your spots always filling the screen? Are you using the full real estate your spot was produced to fill?

According to some of the market’s most prolific videographers and producers, nearly ALL the video produced for commercial TV for the past several years has been shot in HD and produced in widescreen format for HDTV. Yet I find it amazing the number of spots that appear on HD channels that are either “clipped” on both sides, reducing the image to the smaller, standard definition (SD, 4:3 aspect ratio) image, or reduced in all directions, creating a “postage stamp” impact with a black frame all the way around.

Why does it happen? How do you avoid it? How can you make sure it doesn’t happen to you? Well, the bottom line is the only practical way to really know it’s NOT happening is to keep a human eye on your spot schedule as it runs.

Because cable and satellite providers still carry some channels in SD at the old 4:3 aspect ratio, advertisers either need to provide a version of their commercials that have been edited down to the SD width, or allow the broadcaster/cable

TV Advertising Center Cut

Image “Center Cut” to fit the 4:3, standard definition screen.

system to shrink the entire image to fit, which results in the “letterbox” black bars at the top and bottom of the image. Since some programs, and even some ads, run intentionally this way, you may well be conditioned to not even notice.

According to Mark Johnson, Chief Engineer at WAVY-TV, the problem can happen a couple of different ways. 1) Since all

commercials are digital files, they must be uploaded, labeled and encoded properly by the advertiser, production house, or agency. Then the directions or “tags” need to be accurate as to which version of which spot runs where. 2) The proper spots must be loaded into the commercial insertion systems with the proper directions. When a system finds a mis-match it defaults to “fill” the screen, top or bottom, with those black bars that, to me, symbolize wasted screen space and wasted ad dollars. The other factor that can affect how spots (and programs) look on air is actually how the viewer has his/her own screen formatted, which none of us can really control.

“All of the spots are looked at before they go on air” said Johnson, “but we can’t always tell how the advertiser intended the spot to look.” Cutch Armstrong, Director of Marketing and Client Solutions at Cox Media Virginia, says that each spot is uploaded to the Cox system in Atlanta and viewed by technicians before airing. With both Cox and WAVY, as well as most video providers, the file upload process goes through servers located centrally (national or regional locations) and are added to the schedule through an automated process.

TV Advertsing Postage Stamp

“Postage Stamped.” Full 16:9 frame, but reduced to fit the 4:3 width.

The bottom line is, if a spot is running counter to how the advertiser expects, the first time anyone notices may be when the spot runs live.

Armstrong says it best, “Everyone wants the best possible result. They want their stuff to run perfectly every time.” But the systems can create difficulties. “Cable systems and broadcast networks require certain ‘codecs’ [file types] in order to be compliant with the diverse format standards set by the networks.” Most stations or outlets post the requirements and codecs on their websites and can tell when a file is uploaded improperly (Armstrong sent me an 11-page document, as well as a one-sheeter that Cox Media uses.)

So preventing it comes down, quite simply, to attention to detail. The computer systems do not malfunction; they respond to incorrect inputs and the result is painful. Spots have to be produced, labeled, trafficked, scheduled and inserted properly. I’ve resisted the temptation to add actual examples to this post, because this is not intended to be a finger-pointing exercise. It does happen often, and if you want examples email me at jdelatte@seventhpoint.com.

The only way you know it happens is if you see the spot run. I guarantee, if it happens the broadcaster or operator wants to know. Cox (who also handles commercial insertion for Verizon in Hampton Roads) has set up a specific inbox, VAStopClipping@cox.com, for customers to notify the operator of any problems. We’ve actually created systems to monitor and spot check schedules for clients. It is possible to receive actual air-checks of every spot that runs from third-party services such as Kantar Media or Media Monitors, but the cost could obliterate the ROI of your campaign. Instead, have someone set up spot checks of your schedule on various channels using a DVR, then scan the spot breaks and verify that the spots are running correctly.

Of course human error happens, and a spot that runs in the wrong aspect ratio is not a wasted spot. But until HD formats completely replace SD and until one universal codec becomes standard, the potential problem will exist, and as an advertiser you want to maximize every inch of the screen.

Could You Outlast Goliath? Here’s how to “do it” in Hampton Roads.

Hampton Roads Taylor's do it

Joe Taylor doesn’t need a sling to slay giants.  He’s got something a whole lot more important, and maybe more rare these days; he’s got customer loyalty.

Taylor is the third generation leader of Taylor’s do it centers, the local hardware store chain with 11 locations sprinkled across south Hampton Roads. Along with his brothers and his crew, Taylor does battle constantly with the tug that we locals feel from the big box stores. But customer loyalty brings a sense of staying power to Taylor’s that, at least in one case, has helped the company outlast a giant competitive threat.

I met Joe Taylor several weeks ago after one of those local business breakfasts that Cox and Inside Business put on. I just wanted to let him know what a loyal supporter and fan I have been of his store in the Haygood area of Virginia Beach for almost 30 years. We talked about the once-upon-a-time plan to shutter the store (it never happened), and we mused about the fact that Lowe’s, who bought a huge chunk of property about a half-mile down Independence Blvd, had decided not to build there. Taylor’s comment to me, “that’s great, but I won’t be happy until they actually sell that property.”

Well happy day, Joe. I read recently in Virginia Business Magazine that Divaris Realty’s Eric Bucklew took care of that problem for you.  The buyer is planning another shopping center or mixed-use development. Chalk one up for the little guys; the little guys with big brand loyalty and staying power.

I know what keeps me coming back to Taylor’s. I can find stuff that I need, and I can get in and out in five minutes.  But I wondered how Joe would define it.  I asked him what he see as the magic formula that has kept the family business going for 87 years.

He gave me four key focal points:

  • “Our stores are very clean, organized, and well lighted which is an important start in attracting customers, especially the female customer which is 55% of our customers.”
  • “Convenience.  Whether it is a big box or one of our stores, many customers are busy and choose the closest store.  We work hard to find locations in the neighborhoods in which our customers live.” Good strategy, I have to drive by at least one Taylor’s on my way to either of the big box stores.
  • Taylor feels customers expect good service at a big box, but likely won’t get it. “When a customer shops in a Taylor’s location, they expect good customer service, and they better get it,” he told me.
  • Niche products and services. Like those greenhouses that spring up every April, Stihl power tools and the whole line of Weber grills, not just one or two choices.

He went on to say that Taylor’s has been very careful to stay close to its local roots. Not just in giving back 10% of profits, but also in carefully executing its expansion strategies. According to Joe, “Taylor’s Do it centers is a familiar company to many in the Hampton Roads region.  However, should I venture more than 30 miles away in any direction to locate another store, I would have to work much harder to establish our brand and educate our customer about Taylor’s.”

Disciplined business, customer and marketing strategies pay off well for the long haul. And as for that female focus, I just remembered my wife wants some of those fancy rubber boots right by the cash register.

Passing The Brand Challenge

If everyone in your organization understands your brand strategy and delivers on it at every customer touch point, that alone will be enough to differentiate your company and keep customers coming back time after time.

For marketing companies, responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) from prospective new clients is an ongoing exercise.  A learning exercise.  It forces us to develop new thinking, to apply our knowledge and to be the best at solving business problems in a competitive environment.  One particular exercise posed an interesting question that required a very specific definition.

The potential client was a Hampton Roads health care provider.  The question was simple enough; “How does the branding of professional services differ from branding product services?”

  • At its very core, a brand is defined by the expectation that exists in the consumer for a product to consistently deliver to a certain value, performance, service and quality level.
  • Brands are differentiated by the degree and consistency to which they deliver on these expectations.
  • A successful brand strategy is grounded in a keen understanding of consumer needs and expectations and defines sustainable key differentiating elements that the product delivers consistently and over time to meet those needs.

Maintaining brand quality is more easily accomplished with product services that have replicable, consistent and measurable processes.  Production and distribution quality can usually be controlled for, pricing strategies can be made to be consistent from point to point and the consumer can expect each product to perform as the other would.

You expect every Pepsi to taste like the last and every Titleist golf ball to fly as far as the last (golfer not withstanding).

 Sales and customer service practices can be key brand attributes, but most often it is the product itself that forms the emotional bond with the consumer.

Branding professional services presents a more complex challenge.  For a healthcare provider, its brand promise must consist of delivering professional services to the same level of quality and consistency over time.  Successful implementation means not only that the brand strategy and promise be clearly articulated, but that those professionals delivering the service understand it, subscribe to it and strive for relentless execution of the strategy on a daily basis.  To be successful, the group of providers needs to create successful internal as well as external brand communication strategies to create buy-in and consistent brand delivery.

If the product your company provides is primarily a service, the degree of understanding, buy-in and agreement throughout your organization is critical to your ability to consistently deliver on a solid brand experience for your customers.  Your brand is your service, your service is the way you touch your customers, each day and in every way.

The death of brand loyalty, even in tough times like we are facing today, has been greatly exaggerated. 

Use every tool and every opportunity to communicate your personal vision, and to reinforce the critical elements of your brand with each employee.  As a leader you can never be too consistent, you can never be too clear if you are to successfully differentiate your brand.