A (Re)Brand is More Than a Name

GNC logo

When you hear the term ”rebranding,” chances are you associate it with a change in name, logo, colors, or tagline associated with a brand. If you make those associations, you are correct more times than not. Most rebranding initiatives are more about style than substance; they are minor tweaks to update or freshen the brand.

In other cases, rebranding is more radical. One situation in which a major brand overhaul is needed occurs when a brand needs a fresh start to distance itself from undesirable associations. The brand identity (i.e., name and tangible assets like a logo) may have value in the marketplace, but brand equity has been hurt by other associations attached to the brand. This description fits the place where vitamin and supplements retailer GNC found itself.  The chain of over 4,400 corporate stores experienced revenue and same store sales declines of more than 8% in Q3 2016 compared to the previous year. Interim CEO Robert Moran said GNC was operating on an “old, broken model.” GNC was a prime candidate for rebranding, but what to do?

If It’s Broke, Fix It

The opposite of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applied to GNC. Its business model was broken, and business as usual would likely deliver the same results… which were not good! Among the marketing problems contributing to the broken business model were:

  • Different pricing for in-store and online channels
  • Noncompetitive prices for many products
  • A complicated loyalty program
  • A stale in-store shopping experience.

Any of the four issues identified potentially sour the customer experience. Put them all into play at the same time, and it can have the effect of driving customers away. The sales numbers offer evidence of lost customers. More than sales trends were at stake; declining brand relevance could have serious negative effects on GNC in the long run.

One GNC

The fix for GNC’s woes is a rebranding campaign called One GNC. It began with testing changes to the marketing this fall in 500 stores. The commitment to One GNC culminated with the closing all corporate stores on December 28 to replace signage and point-of-sale systems as well as make changes to merchandise presentation. Stores reopened the next day to formally kick off a fresh start for the brand.

So, what all did GNC undertake in the One GNC rebranding campaign? Marketing changes included:

  • Aligning prices across brick-and-mortar and online channels
  • Lowering prices on hundreds of product items
  • Introducing a simpler, free loyalty program called MyGNC Rewards
  • Freshening appearance of stores with new signage
  • Equipping sales associates with tablets so they can have greater information access on sales floor.

Never Lose Sight of Brand Ownership

The One GNC rebranding campaign is commendable. It is an effort to address the needs and desires of the constituency that matters most: customers. Why do they matter most? They are top priority because they own the brand. No, that is not a typo, nor am I referring to public ownership of a company. Brands reside in the minds and hearts of customers and others to whom a brand matters.

Sure, GNC owns intellectual property and “stuff” like equipment and fixtures, but ultimately brands are perceptions held by those who interact with a brand. If customers believe prices are too high, then they are too high. If a widely held belief is that sales associates are not very knowledgeable, then they are not very knowledgeable. You get the point—brands are what people believe they are until beliefs change.

GNC is reshaping beliefs about its brand and the customer experience. It is the best hope for meaningful change to come out of the GNC One rebranding campaign.

Embrace the Possibilities of Change

CHANGE

I am a lifelong baseball fan. It was my favorite sport growing up, and today I eagerly countdown the days until spring training camps open for MLB teams. It means two things: 1) baseball season is coming and 2) it will bring spring weather with it! MLB has taken its share of lumps in recent years in the court of public opinion. Prodigious home run totals by Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa were tarnished by allegations of performance enhancing drug usage. And, the sport has lost favor among young people as they have gravitated toward other sports and interests that are more fast-paced than the plodding flow of a baseball game.

Weighing Changes to the MLB Product

Major League Baseball is at a pivotal crossroads. The business of MLB is doing quite well, thank you, with robust revenues from media contracts and sponsorship deals. However, fan relationships with MLB are somewhat tenuous. We have many options for entertainment, including some that do not involve sports and do not require leaving home to venture to a stadium for several hours.

The position that MLB finds itself in has prompted new commissioner Rob Manfred to explore ways to streamline the game consumption experience and pack more action into it. Among the changes proposed by MLB are:

  • Speeding up the pace of game play– One of the criticisms of baseball has always been the slow pace of play relative to other sports. This difference is magnified in a world in which we allow ourselves little down time- we multitask, watch top 10 plays of the day, and gather sports news 140 characters at a time. MLB experimented with rules changes to speed up play in the Arizona Fall League including a no-pitch intentional walk (rather than throwing four balls on purpose to walk a batter), maximum 2:30 break between innings as well as during a pitching change, and no more than three “timeouts” per team during a game.
  • Increase offense by reducing size of the strike zone– Scoring has decreased steadily since an all-time high of 5.14 runs per game in 2000. Last season, MLB games averaged 4.07 runs per game, the lowest since 1982. The league-wide strike-out rate was the highest ever and the walk rate was the lowest since 1968. One reasons blamed for the decline in runs scored is an expanding strike zone. A review of strike zones in MLB found the average strike zone expanded from 436 square inches in 2008 to 475 square inches in 2014. MLB rules committee will monitor the size of the strike zone in 2015 and consider making changes beginning with the 2016 season.

No rules changes have been made yet for any of the product elements mentioned. But, give MLB credit for acknowledging that issues exist and taking steps to evaluate how to make the product more exciting for fans.

What can be Learned from MLB about Product Marketing

Marketers can benefit from the situation that MLB is currently facing. Specifically, three steps that MLB has taken that could ultimately lead to a better product are:

  1. Acknowledge flaws– Some of the business metrics for MLB suggest all is well, but leadership is savvy enough to see that flaws exist in the product. When a business is unable or unwilling to acknowledge its weaknesses, there is little chance they will be overcome.
  2. Learn from others– If your business is falling short in some way when it comes to delivering the best customer experience and you acknowledge it, a useful first step can be to observe how others have dealt with similar issues. In the case of MLB, it has borrowed practices from the NFL and NBA to incorporate video review of uncertain umpire calls and the pace of play experiments. Sometimes, you can even go outside your industry or category to learn from other firms’ successes in improving the customer experience.
  3. Don’t assume– While there has been much talk about pace of play diminishing the MLB consumption experience, it may not be the culprit when it comes to turning off prospective baseball fans. It has been pointed out that the length of NFL and college football games have increased, yet the popularity of those sports is as high as ever. If MLB focused all of its product improvement efforts on speeding up the game because they thought that is what mattered to people, it would have overlooked the decreasing run scoring trend. One of the easiest traps we fall into as marketers is a false belief that we understand what is happening in the market and know what our customers want because of our experience. Simply put- don’t make assumptions!

Will MLB implement changes that it has been floating? The brand has one other characteristic that is somewhat unique; baseball is a sport steeped in tradition. Change may be hard to sell to traditionalist fans. But, given that businesses operate in environments that are ever changing, it is incumbent on all marketers to embrace the possibilities of change.

Clienteling: Brick-and-Mortar Retailers’ Last Stand?

Clienteling

If we believe what we read, brick-and-mortar retailers may soon be added to the endangered species list. Traditional stores cannot match the vast breadth of merchandise offered by e-commerce retailers. And, most small retailers are incapable of matching prices with online behemoths like Amazon. The desire for convenient, open anytime access to shopping makes online retailing an attractive option for consumers. Physical stores have become known as showrooms for shoppers wanting to “kick the tires” before going online to make purchases. “Showrooming” as it is known has become a significant threat to retailers, with the end result being brick-and-mortar stores that do not have a strong online presence are left scrambling to figure out how they can compete and survive.

Play to Your Strengths

Before we shutter the brick-and-mortar model, retailers have one significant asset with which to work in the battle to maintain relevance: Face-to-face contact with shoppers. For all the disadvantages of brick-and-mortar stores compared to their e-commerce competitors, a major advantage traditional retailers enjoy is the ability to build relationships one customer at a time through the in-store experience. We have all heard the standard “may I help you?” when shopping; that is only a notch above totally ignoring shoppers as a customer service practice. Instead, brick-and-mortar stores must capitalize on their proximity to shoppers to demonstrate concern, answer questions, and offer solutions. A recent article by Sarah Mahoney referred to brick-and-mortar stores’ opportunity to build relationships as “clienteling,” a positive play off of the term showrooming.

What is Old is New

If the description of clienteling sounds familiar, it should. The quest to create a personal, meaningful shopping experience can be traced back to the general store. Store owners knew almost all of their customers by name as well as had intimate knowledge of their preferences and buying patterns. In turn, the merchant could deliver value to customers by maintaining a stock of items that customers wanted and being empathetic to their personal situations. Clienteling is the high tech equivalent of the all knowing shopkeeper. Technology infused into the shopping experience assists in painting a more complete picture of customers and enables employees to tap inventory information and other data to help customers find the products they desire.

The stakes have been raised to deliver exceptional shopping experiences. It is no longer enough to ensure the retail sales floor is adequately staffed to process transactions. Salespeople should be looked to more like a concierge than a clerk- their role is to add value by tapping technology while delivering service with a personal touch. Websites simply cannot match brick-and-mortar stores when it comes to customer interaction, but that advantage is often not utilized fully. Combat showrooming by delivering a personalized experience that is reminiscent of a bygone era.

Death,Taxes, and Broken Promises

A brand is not a single-dimension concept created by a business. It serves multiple roles- it creates identity through name and logo, it projects an image through brand associations formed about it, and it connects customers and others in a relationship with the brand owner. One other valuable role that a brand serves is to make promises. Some promises are explicit, like service guarantees and product performance claims. Other promises are implicit, expectations that we form about a brand. Some of these implicit promises are suggested to us through marketing while others are formed as a result of our interactions with the brand.

A Promise Problem
A great brand excels at delivering against explicit and implicit brand promises. Consistency in actions is influential in building brand reputation. But as the saying goes, promises are made to be broken, and we are often disappointed by the experience of a broken promise made by a business with which we do business. An Accenture study of U.S. consumers found that broken promises is an all too frequent phenomenon. Among the study’s findings:

  • 70% said a company had made a promise to them (hey, it should be 100% based on the above description of brand as promise, but we will cut the respondents some slack)
  • 40% said they have had the experience of a broken promise made by a business
  • 90% said they would consider switching to another company because of a broken promise
Customers of telecommunication companies were especially familiar with broken promises as this industry was cited most frequently (22%) followed by retailers (11% of customers had experienced a broken promise made by a retailer). Not surprisingly, customer service failures were chief contributors to broken promises, with having to repeat issues multiple times to a company’s personnel (45%) lack of employee knowledge to resolve problem (33%), and failure to satisfactorily resolve a problem cited as actions (or inaction) that led to a broken promise.
Forgiving Customers
The Accenture study found hope for companies struggling to overcome broken promises experienced by customers: Many people will give a business a chance to resolve a service failure and minimize the damage of a broken promise, with 80% of survey respondents saying they would complain to the company before switching to another provider and 55% saying they would give a company two chances before giving up on it. These findings on customer flexibility is a welcome reprieve for a business. Like death and taxes, service failures that lead to broken promises are inevitable.

Even the most customer-focused organizations will have a breakdown in service delivery or some aspect of the customer experience that is inconsistent with brand promises. Thus, the goal is not to strive for zero broken promises. Instead, businesses must have a clear understanding of promises as perceived by their customers. When performance falls short of promises, the response to service failure can make the difference between reinforcing customer trust or irreparably damaging it.

Marketing Daily – “The Power of Keeping a Promise”

Shipping Seals the Customer Experience

A great deal of emphasis is placed on the customer journey in creating experiences that add value and influence satisfaction judgments. The customer journey refers to the different steps and touch points that go into a consumption experience. Design of physical spaces, employee staffing and training, and  consistency across offline, online, and mobile channels are three considerations that can determine the quality of the customer experience. However, there is one other touch point that occurs post-purchase that can make or break a positive evaluation of a consumption experience: Shipping.

Segmented Market for Shipping
Recent studies of 750 consumers and 62 major retailers by Exolevel revealed different segments in terms of how shipping is valued by consumers. Among the findings that suggest shipping can be marketed differently to various segments are that:

  • 81% of consumers said it is important for retailers to give shoppers choice of of customer pick-up or delivery regardless of payment form
  • 56% of retailers offer different fulfillment options (e.g., ship or pick-up)
  • 24% of consumers said it was important for retailers to offer same-day delivery. Among those who value same-day delivery, 30% were willing to pay $5-10 and 19% would pay $11-20 for the service.
  • 26% of retailers currently offer same-day delivery
  • 25% of consumers would be willing to wait up to two weeks for a product if there is no delivery fee.

Three customer segments emerge from these results:

  • Any way fulfillment – These buyers want the same flexibility for delivery that they enjoy in the shopping process (can shop in-store, online, or via an app). They want similar leeway in the final step of the customer journey.
  • Immediate fulfillment – Nearly one-fourth of shoppers value same-day delivery, and many of them are willing to pay a premium for that service. Marketing same-day delivery as value added convenience or offering free same-day delivery for purchases over a certain amount are two tactics that could support offering this amenity to the segment of customers interested in it.
  • Value fulfillment -Evidence points to existence of a segment whose value judgments can be perceived by free shipping given that 25% of shoppers surveyed are willing to wait for up to two weeks for a shipment if it meant paying no shipping costs. This segment prefers to put dollar expenditures into product purchase and accepts a trade off between price paid and speed of delivery.
Wrap Up the Customer Experience
Considerations for shipping strategies often key on two factors: 1) Costs and 2) Competition. While these variables are important and should not be ignored, what is missing from consideration? Or, should I say who is missing? The customer. Findings from the Exolevel consumer survey reveals that buyers are not homogeneous when it comes to their desires and expectations for shipping. Just as customers have different motivations and needs for the products they buy from you, they also differ in how they evaluate shipping in their overall experience with your business. Use shipping strategically to effectively wrap up a positive customer experience. Don’t let a satisfactory customer journey be derailed at the end because shipping options are inflexible or inconvenient.

 

Tapping into Passion from the Past

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

– William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1950)
This quote is very poignant to me. My father clipped it from a newspaper article and taped to his lamp. I never asked him why he had done so, but in my mind I knew the answer. It spoke to him about the memory of my older sister (who died at age 6, four years before I was born) and my mother (who passed away in 1980 after a brutal bout with brain cancer). I can visualize that clipping taped to his lamp vividly even though it has been almost 15 years since I last laid eyes on it. 
I was reminded of this quote last week, albeit in a very different context. A family outing to take in the musical performance Video Games Live turned out to be more than a stellar performance by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. The performance was a multimedia entertainment experience featuring music from video games. Video game fans from children to Baby Boomers were treated to an eclectic collection of music that was a gamer’s paradise! The evening reinforced the notion that the past is not even past.
Game not Over
The sold-out symphony hall was into the show. In a way, I was surprised by the excitement and energy that I observed among the crowd. My expectations were responses to the effect of “hey, I remember that game.” Instead, each number was greeted with a raucous reaction. It was obvious that people were doing more than walking down Memory Lane; the music connected them with their experiences of playing those games. It was not a nostalgic evening as that would suggest revisiting something from the past that had lost relevance or popularity.
Connect with Emotions
So what does my experience at Video Games Live have to do with marketing? The takeaway is that emotions connect people with brands and products. Facts, figures, and statistics make for compelling rational appeals, but they are not very powerful for building liking and preference (i.e., emotion-based states). For video games, the emotions developed can link players to memories of childhood interests, hanging out with college roommates. Today, the gaming experience has broadened to making connections with strangers while playing online. The point is that video games were an important part of the self-identity of many attendees at the concert. 
Marketers should look for ways to go beyond selling what products can do for customers and emphasize telling what products have done to customers. This shift is about moving marketing efforts from being about information (what the product does) to transformation (what the product does for me). I enjoyed watching the reactions of people seated around us when the orchestra began playing another song. The joy, excitement, and love of the music and games for which they were the soundtracks was very evident.
Product features and their benefits evolve as innovation occurs, but the emotional associations people have with a product’s role in their lives is more permanent. In other words, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.” Look to find and nurture the emotional connections people have with your product.

Shoring Up the Three Legged Stool of Customer Experience

A great deal of emphasis is put on the customer experience because of its impact in determining satisfaction and loyalty. In turn, satisfaction and loyalty influence profitability. An element of customer experience that can be easily overlooked is the internal relationship between a firm and its employees. When employees are ill equipped to serve customers in terms of training, of course the desired outcomes will be more difficult to attain. But, what happens if trust between management and employees has not been fully developed? The stage is set for failure to reach satisfaction and loyalty targets.

The Three Legged Stool of Customer Experience
Customer experience expert Shep Hyken discusses this situation using the analogy of a three legged stool. To effectively manage customer relationships, the three relationship “legs” must be made strong:

  1. Management must trust employees
  2. Employees must trust management
  3. Customers must trust the company

If any of these legs are weak or are missing altogether, the stool will collapse. While the analogy of a three legged stool could suggest independence among the three relationships, the reality is that the three legs are highly interrelated.

Needed: A Culture of Trust
One word describes what is needed to ensure that the three legs that support customer experience are strong: Culture. A culture of trust must be established in all three of these relationships. In particular, employees must trust management’s decisions, programs, and leadership. Employee trust breeds confidence in the firm and empowers employees to do their part to deliver great customer experiences. Unfortunately, this leg of the stool often is damaged by managers’ failure to get employee buy-in, solicit their input from the front lines of servicing customers, and not viewing the firm-employee relationship as a marketing priority. A culture of trust sustains the firm-employee relationship by educating employees on their role in serving customers, acknowledging their successes, and giving them permission to fail occasionally.

View Employees as Customers
It is disheartening to see companies that espouse to be “customer focused” treat their employees as an afterthought. Extend the marketing concept to the internal market, your employees. Of course, they are not customers in the same sense, and if you subscribe to the adage that the customer is always right you may want to reconsider it when it comes to employees. But, there is little room to argue that if employees do not have a great relationship with their own brand, they will not be able to advance customer-brand relationships as well as they could if their leg of the customer experience stool was stronger. What is the current state of firm-employee relationships in your organization? Are they doing their part to hold up the stool, or is it a weak point that could break if not addressed?

Business 2 Community – “Trust Enhances Employee and Customer Experience”

40% of Your Customers Would Leave You- What to Do?

Would it be unsettling if you learned that 4 out every 10 of your customers are thinking about switching to a competitor? For many business owners and marketing managers, it would be a nightmare scenario that could cause many sleepless nights. This statistic is not a hypothetical question for wireless communications providers. A recent global survey of 8,700 consumers by Nokia Simmons Networks found that about 40 percent of wireless customers would entertain switching companies. That figure is astounding in itself; it is further amplified by the fact that this figure is 20 percent higher than just one year ago. Wireless companies hold leverage in the form of restrictive contracts that include early termination fees, but otherwise it appears that they are vulnerable to customer switching behavior.

What Customers Want
According to the NSN survey, what matters to wireless subscribers is pretty straightforward:

  1. Voice quality
  2. Network coverage
  3. Contract conditions

If these factors are the greatest influences on customers’ choice of wireless provider, it should not be too difficult to manage these issues to make them positive contributors to a customer’s experience of doing business with the wireless provider of choice. Managing these factors and other touchpoints in the customer experience (e.g., billing, customer support) can be reduced to one word: Simplicity. A product whose underlying technologies are anything but simple to communicate via voice, text, and access the Internet must replace complexity with simplicity when it comes to the user interface with wireless companies.

Managing the Customer Experience
Knowing what customers value in their consumption experience is a starting point in managing customer satisfaction and minimizing customer churn. Going forward, one characteristic of companies that effectively retain customers will be a commitment to mapping and measuring the steps of the customer journey. In the wireless device category, voice quality, network coverage, and contract conditions influence satisfaction but are not the only determinants. Companies that commit to getting a more in-depth understanding of what customers want at every step in the customer journey will be better positioned to meet those wants and minimize dissatisfaction that could trigger a desire to switch to a competitor.

Here is a parting thought shared by Sarah Reedy, who wrote the article linked below: “Acting like you could lose a customer at any minute is the best way to ensure you don’t.” 

LightReading.com – “Mobile Users Yearn to Churn, NSN Finds”

Coca-Cola’s "Ahh" Moment with Teens

Like all brands, Coca-Cola strives to reach and engage customers in a challenging environment of first screens, second screens, and third screens. That order is particularly tall when it comes to connecting with the all-important teen market. The media consumption habits of this coveted segment of beverage consumers are different than their older siblings who came just before them and drastically different from how their parents engaged with media during their teen years.

Coca-Cola is seeking out teens through an ambitious digital marketing campaign called Ahh. The campaign is ambitious because it focuses on using digital media to reach teens. Ad agency Weiden + Kennedy created experiences- games and videos designed with mobile access in mind. In addition, Coca-Cola is turning to crowdsourcing by inviting teens to create their own Coca-Cola branded experiences, with 25 of them becoming part of the Ahh campaign. Would-be content creators are challenged to create an experience around the the theme “the ultimate in refreshment.”

There is method to the madness behind Ahh. Coca-Cola learned through research into teen consumers that the more fun, interactive, and random content is the more likely they are to engage it. Thus, a digitally-driven campaign is not just a gimmick to reach an audience segment that lives on their mobile devices. Marketing has always been about reaching people where they are- door-to-door salesmen, network television, Internet, social media, and now mobile represent a tradition of connecting through mediums that are most suitable given the audience targeted.

Not only is digital a good fit for reaching teens, but digital experiences are a good way to stimulate interaction with the Coca-Cola brand. A noticeably absent element is a strong call to action. Some marketers would ask, “Shouldn’t all marketing tactics encourage the audience to do something (preferably buy something)?” In this situation, no- Coca-Cola seeks to build bonds with teens through play and entertainment experiences. If this approach is successful, sales will follow… if Ahh can establish brand relevance among teens. Play and fun might give teens a brief entertainment experience, but if that is the extent of impact then they will quickly move on to other entertainment options.

Coca-Cola’s Ahh campaign is bold because it is a departure from the emphasis on mass media to spread brand messages. The reality is to reach teens a different kind of brand experience is needed. Inviting creation of experiences is a key piece of Ahh; the ad agency is not totally controlled messaging. Buy-in among teens can be enhanced through their involvement in content creation. Relevance increases when the audience becomes involved with the brand. I like that Coca-Cola has invited teens to create experiences as it will not only draw them into deeper brand relationships, but the audience-created experiences will help tell the Coca-Cola brand story from teens’ viewpoint.

Marketing Daily – “Coke Targets Teens with Its First All-Digital Effort”

Something Old is Something New in Retail Shopping Experience

I am part of the back end of the Baby Boomer generation; because of that I missed out for the most part on a nostalgic era of customer service: home delivery. I recall a dairy in my hometown making home milk deliveries, but that service stopped before I was old enough to remember it. The dry cleaners delivered completed orders, the TV repairman came to our house (probably because the TV was too heavy and bulky to take to a store), and the pharmacy brought prescriptions to our door. It was a convenience that was not necessarily driven by shoppers’ hectic lifestyles. Instead, it was an amenity a service providers offered because it fit with their customer service philosophy.

Unfortunately, home delivery gave way to mega shopping malls and later, find-it-yourself e-commerce. Delivery was no longer viewed as a benefit for customers as much as it was an expense that could be controlled and ultimately eliminated. After all, if the Walker household needed milk, they needed milk. The absence of a home delivery option would not eliminate product demand. But, just when it seemed that home delivery was little more than something one stumbled across while walking down Memory Lane, online retailers and their brick-and-mortar competitors are rediscovering delivery as a tactic for enhancing customer experience.

Recently, Amazon, Ebay and Google have experimented with same-day delivery of purchases. Walmart has considered a unique twist to delivery- asking for “volunteers” to drop off purchases to family or friends. Online shopping already owns a convenience advantage, and same-day delivery removes the number one drawback to buying online: delayed gratification. Brick-and-mortar stores can give in to e-commerce merchants on this amenity or negate it by offering delivery, too. While store-to-door delivery is the exception and not the rule, some retailers are experimenting with delivering purchases. Sport Chalet, a 53-store sporting goods chain based in California, began delivery from store in all markets earlier this month. Delivery is a means for Sport Chalet to differentiate itself in the highly competitive sporting goods market.

Traditional retailers have been getting squeezed by competition and technology for years. Before we marginalize brick-and-mortar stores, they may opt to return to the past to deliver (pun intended) the next big thing in creating value through the customer experience. The costs of offering delivery to customers must be wrapped into a more comprehensive calculation of revenues attributable to delivery and the impact of delivery on brand loyalty.