Your Reputation is not your Brand

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Sometimes creating a brand can seem like an exercise in generating adjectives. Brands are, after all, a reservoir of positive adjectives that we want the public to quickly associate with our product, company, or service. But take note, not all adjectives, no matter how positive, belong in the brand discussion because they are actually part of reputation. Brand and reputation are different, but I have had many clients who struggle with the distinction. Reputation is about character and integrity- brand is about personality, attitude, and passion.

If you are using adjectives like trustworthy, honest, reliable, dependable, fair, ethical, sincere, even quality in your brand statement, or tracking them as brand attributes, you are actually managing reputation. Reputation attributes must be earned or “vouched for” by friends and family that have first hand experience. Reputation must be managed, but it is a different sphere than brand… and if reputation gets tarnished, brand can’t repair it. Unless you are in an industry with chronic dishonesty and unsavory behavior, you cannot create distinction with reputation drivers. They are points of parity. Only brand creates distinction.

Reputation adjectives are not subjective, in other words there is a wrong answer. If the opposite version of the adjective would never ever be an acceptable attribute it is clearly about reputation and doesn’t belong on the brand list. The best test for an adjective’s being a reputation driver versus a brand driver is the “un” test. Adding the prefix “un”, as in “untrustworthy”, “unreliable”, “unethical”, (or “dis” honest) are showstoppers.  There is no antidote except to ask for forgiveness and repent.

Brand worthy adjectives are action oriented or descriptive of a behavior, and are subjective with no right or wrong answer. That is why brands always need a target audience. The target will either align with your brand and sign on, or respect your honesty and go elsewhere. Brand adjectives should be words like smart, fast, lighthearted, serious, simple, powerful, spicy, or quirky (obviously not a complete list). Brands present a trade-off, with more of this or less of that, forcing a decision on tastes and preferences not character, and thereby become unique and differentiating. A brand can’t be more or less honest, honesty is an absolute.

Brand and reputation co-exist, and the symbolic aspects of your brand (name, logo, product design, color) can trigger good or bad opinions about your reputation, but that is a consequence, not a purpose of branding. Good branding assumes good reputation while adding personality and distinction. In the same way we expect all of our friends to behave with integrity, be trustworthy, and honest, we describe them to others with nuanced adjectives like funny, creative, athletic, and perhaps “a foodie”… thus offering a better picture of their likability.

Talking about your brand with reputation adjectives can sound suspicious, prompting potential “hmmm, why do they have to say we can trust them?” reactions. It’s like selling someone on a blind date by saying the infamous “they have a nice personality”; it sounds like you are hiding something.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Tweet the author at @chillbidley


Celebrating What a Brand is Not


In a marketplace that is flush with options and where consumers are bombarded with promises, less can be more. Complex brands need complex communications and things get murky and out of control. Take the classic Swiss Army knife that has a blade for everything, is it still a knife or has it become something else? Today as we shop at drugstores for Halloween candy, grocery stores for toys, and hamburger chains for salads, the clarity of what a brand means to us is blurred as things are added. That’s why it is refreshing to hear a brand tell us what they aren’t. Chipotle and Trader Joe’s come to mind as brands who clearly tell us what they are about by telling us what they are not about. Strategically, choosing what not to be can powerfully communicate that a brand is special and worth noticing.

And More?

But this road can be scary, and it can be difficult to stay true to the idea. I remember seeing a business in Harrisburg PA for instance with the comical name “Simply Turkey and More!” Apparently a single-minded focus on turkey was not enough to be successful, but too entrenched to abandon. This isn’t the first or the last “and more” amendment I have seen to a name. It takes nerve to stay simple and not be lured into dangerous waters by the sirens of generalism.

In the case of “Simply Turkey”, they likely needed more turkey-centric holidays to grow the business. But for many brands the move from narrow to broad is based on current success and pure opportunism. The brand is popular as a tractor and can be extended to other merchandise via licensing, or a store has traffic and can capitalize with more merchandise variety. Both of these circumstances are legitimate paths to more revenue, but need to be considered with the brand’s long-term health at the core. Short-term gains can create big brand pains down the road. This is why it is imperative to have a clear understanding of what the brand is not, make it a cultural mandate, and stick with it.

This not that

Making clear statements of what you promise not to do is a form of reductive differentiation versus the usual additive approach, and can be more uncomfortable for established brands than new ones. Making choices is more difficult than addingmore reasons a brand is better, and sometimes could strain relationships or mean walking away from sales. It forces brands to say no. CVS  not selling cigarettes is a great example. But there is no shame in saying no. We all honor unwavering focus and dedication. It is easier to understand and to reward brands that draw a line on what they will and won’t do. It makes consumers feel good about their own choices. Olympic athletes train from an early age to be exceptional at one sport with the intentional exclusion of others. In some cases, playing or training for another sport can actually be detrimental to their abilities. Distractions cost… a lot. Brands have the same risk.

Another motive for the “what we are not” approach is that Millennial’s and Gen Z consumers are attuned to personalities defined by “avoidant archetypes”- vegan, gluten free, etc. They are suspicious of accommodation and waffling brands, and brands that trade on fads and opportunism. They embrace brands that are deep versus broad: brands that are “for this… not that”.

No makes yes stronger

Clarifying your brand idea should begin with defining what you are not before focusing on what you are. Brands that clearly are not something benefit by being perceived as being more authoritative, more trustworthy, and having higher quality because it communicates passion and purpose. Of course brands have to stand for something too, but clearly defining what a brand is not is a way of providing more emphasis for what a brand is.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Tweet the author at @chillbidley

Amazon Dash Button Leapfrogs the Shopping List

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The shopper path-to-purchase just got shorter—a lot shorter. In a move that may smack of being an early April Fool’s prank (it’s not), Amazon today announced theDash Button as a product replenishment system to Prime Members, which enables instant re-ordering of many of life’s simple needs.

The branded widgets work with 255 products from 18 brands, including Tide detergent, Keurig cups, Olay face cream, Huggies diapers, Bounty paper towels, Gillette Fusion shaving products and anything else that can typically trigger a trip to the store and now can be ordered with the push of a button.

Place the gadget close to the shelf where you keep the items, push the button when you feel you are running low, and Amazon sends your phone an alert to place the order with your Amazon app.

While still invite-only, device-makers are already developing with the Dash-based Internet of Things ecosystem in mind, including Whirlpool’s smart washing machine and a coffee pot by Quirky.

Disruptive Implications

The implications of the Dash Button—an extension of its Dash scanner announced last year—are huge for retailers and CPG companies. It will disrupt the path-to-purchase model that has been effective for marketers of consumer packaged goods for years. The model focused efforts and investment on creating preference for their brands and consistently getting them into the shopping basket- bridging the in-home and in-store experience. The model has been a basis for influencing shoppers by managing the predictable path of identifying a need (replenishment), to getting a brand name onto the shopping list, to influencing the shopper to trade up or add on a sale in-store.

P&G’s classic “first and second moments of truth” approach to branding and marketing has been the Gold Standard of this path-to-purchase discipline. In their influential approach, P&G divides efforts to create preference into the shelf (first moment of truth where packaging and product claims rule) and the home (second moment of truth where the product performs). Retailers also jump onboard the path-to-purchase model by driving shoppers to their store for convenience, price and promotion, private-label brands, and their own apps with shopping lists.

But the Dash Button’s Internet of Things bolt-on ease threatens to destroy the first moment of truth and the path-to-purchase as we know it, merging the home and the store shelf and switching more power to the CPG brands. It makes the shopping list and the store irrelevant for consumables purchases.

Incumbent Brands, Incumbent Retailers

Amazon’s innovation leapfrogs the shopping list by creating an immediate means to reorder an incumbent brand at the point-of-use. The Dash button replaces the idea of preferred brand (a cognitive bias) with incumbent brand (an enduring decision). It eliminates the store and channel decision, obsoletes in-store marketing, and further elevates the smartphone as a primary means of engaging the shopper with new items, deals, and brand-switching messaging. It redefines convenience, and perhaps most importantly, it gives brands a new permanence in the home versus an ephemeral and fickle “preference”.

Because the products that lend themselves to the Dash Button are in traffic driving categories, fewer trips to brick-and-mortar retailers will result. Target, for instance, is relying on increasing their relevance to shoppers by emphasizing consumables. They will have new challenges to their strategies to drive traffic if and when the Dash Button and similar frictionless replenishment technologies become mainstream. Amazon will become the incumbent retailer. This development will likely cause tension between traditional bricks and mortar retailers and CPG companies.

Amazon Dash Button app

Unintended Consequences

Many questions will need to be answered as the Dash Button rolls out. Will there be a third party that starts to play, where shoppers can chose the retailer? Will CPG companies take cost out of their packaging and in-store marketing as the shopper switches away from making purchase decisions in-store and their products get delivered directly to the home? Being a premium service, will technologies like the Dash Button create further social polarization between the haves and have-nots, relegating shopping for consumables a chore only the lower income shopper must endure? Could the Dash Button potentially mean that affluent shoppers will be harder to get into Walmart, Target, and the Dollar retail channel?

Like the Operant Conditioning experiments in the 1930’s, Amazon has now created a way to turn our homes into a virtual “Skinner Box” that fulfills our needs for nearly immediate gratification. The implications for retail cannot be overstated, and retailers will need to match the innovation with their own innovation to stay relevant and give shoppers reasons to shop beyond price and convenience

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Tweet the author at @chillbidley

How Apple Re-invented Premium

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It was 1991 when we got our first Mac. It was a Macintosh LC, nicknamed “the pizza box”, and “LC” I now know stood for Low Cost, but I don’t remember it being cheap. In fact, at over $2000 it was the most expensive thing I had ever bought, next to my car. A relentless series of desktops, PowerBooks and MacBooks, and now iPhones and iPads later, I still buy Apple products and expect to pay substantially more than for non-Apple choices. My new iPhone is at least two-times the cost of an Android smartphone.

By definition Apple products are premium because they cost more. But what needs to be recognized is that Apple has re-invented what premium means, and this re-invention is as profound as the innovation of the products they sell.

Luxury is a very old idea

Premium is often regarded as synonymous with luxury, and signaling luxury relied on showing off what society regarded as scarce or difficult to attain. Luxury is an extraverted idea. The display of a Rolex on a wrist, or Mercedes in the driveway is display of achievement and status. Yet over generations of marketing, many of the signals of luxury are whitewashed over mundane products to give them a premium aura, creating nothing but hollow bling. Additionally, manufacturers and retailers look for a range of pricepoints on the shelf… to trade-up shoppers to higher priced items via cosmetic upgrades or additional (often unnecessary) features. Lastly, luxury can be associated with being pampered, but many comforts that used to be exclusive, like air-conditioned vehicles, have been made common. Overall, arriving at premium based on the symbols of luxury is often an illusion, and consumers, especially millennials, are realizing it.

Premium is now introverted, not extraverted

Today premium is no longer an extraverted, but an introverted idea, thanks to Apple. There is certainly social currency in having a Macbook, iPhone, or the soon to be cool Apple Watch, but they represent a new kind of premium not about scarcity or pampering, but about potential. The luxury of potential does not rest on the cultural symbols of a society based on privilege, aristocratic splendor, or the imperialistic conquest of exotic furs and spices. Apple represents the unlocked potential of achievement, not the spoils. This is a game-changer for all premium brands, and will require re-tooling or we will see new, introverted premium brands quickly overtake the old guard. For younger affluent consumers, a Tesla is more desirable than a Mercedes, and the Apple Watch may well be more desirable than a Rolex, because they are more than products- they are accessories for a new attitude. This new attitude redefines what is valuable around who is in our lives, our sense of purpose, and how we engage, not what we own.

Apple may not have set out to redefine premium, but whether intentional or not, it is the result of their behavior as a Brand. To reverse-engineer Apple’s formula for the new premium idea, here are three phenomena that have added up to the “premium of the future” based on a change from extraverted to introverted.

Introverted Premium is the Why, not How or What

Traditional luxury often originates as fine craftsmanship, but it creates objects that are coveted and displayed, not ideas that are scalable. I will credit Simon Sinekback in 2009 for illuminating the idea of “Why” as a powerful way to lead and inspire organizations and appeal to consumers. Apple is obsessed about its “why” and as a result it creates products and experiences that are premium. To quote Sinek regarding his why-centric Apple idea- “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” These are introverted motivations. Simple, user friendly, even beautiful are qualities that we value personally, not to be broadcast socially. The simplicity allows one to express oneself and work more effectively, and beauty is both a metaphor for simplicity and an inspiration for our own great works. This earns our respect and creates desire. “Why” is the center of the circle, but how we all connect with the why is more mysterious, and just as important to being premium.

Introverted Premium transforms the Brand idea into a religion

Since the birth of the Macintosh with it’s graphical interface, “simple” has been the singular idea underpinning the Apple brand. The quest for simple unleashed computing on the masses in a way that may never have happened without Apple. But having a strong idea, a “why”, can only have success if it becomes religion and drives action. Apple made simple-ness into a kind of religion (albeit a “lowercase” religion). It had a prophet in Steven Jobs, a “spiritual center” in Cupertino, a liturgy in the famous Macworld EXPOs, and zealots from the creative class. Apple’s advertising and communications felt different and amplify “simple” into the belief that Macintosh is for smart, creative people who need a way to express their individuality, which attracts evangelists. The religion of Apple is always moving forward and bringing our own stories along with it. The brand provides us with technology-based optimism: an introverted doctrine of progress based on the individual’s escalating ability to achieve and connect.

Introverted Premium is an experience, not a thing

Apple is an experience above all else, and the majority of that experience happens when we are alone with our devices. After all, we unlock our experiences with our own personal Apple ID’s. We have our music, our apps, and our friends all personalized and organized in an Apple way. We create our own versions of the experience inside of a digital world tethered together and enabled by Apple.

It is easy to equate experience with a place like the Apple Store, but when your Brand is like a religion the store becomes a temple. The Apple Store creates a place to gather as a community and see other Applepostles. The store is a locus for the Apple idea that is experienced personally everywhere, without walls. The Apple experience is portable and omnipresent, and introverted. It is tactile in the products, aesthetic in the interfaces, audible in the sounds, human in the sales and support, empowering in the functionality, and it is well managed at every touch-point.

Characteristics of the new premium

The experience delivers consistently in these three areas, providing the clearest definition of the new introverted premium:

  1. It consistently presents a “why” brand idea through design, communications, and behaviors, and does not rely on the extroverted motifs of status and luxury that can be obstacles to acceptance or irrelevant to many cultures and groups.
  2. It allows the triumph of our own stories over its own. It pulls the believer into an optimistic view of the future, with an endless well of innovation that will give us more power and control- the keys to new capabilities. The Apple Watch, for instance, promises to take our Apple experience into a new story of healthcare and wellness. We don’t doubt that it will.
  3. Finally, the brand experience of Apple is about how we feel, not how we want others to judge us. This is the ultimate change in the premium paradigm.

There will always be luxury goods in the classic sense of Louis Vuitton and Prada because there will always be elitism. The future, however, will require a new perspective on premium, pioneered by Apple. Brands that seek a premium position in sectors like automotive, retail, travel, and dining will win by embracing an introverted, experience based mindset, the sooner the better.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Tweet the author at @chillbidley

Big Retailers Push to be Small

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Of the 15 new stores Target plans to open in 2015, the majority will be the smaller format TargetExpress and CityTarget stores. Meanwhile, Walmart, Office Depot and Best Buy are also adding smaller format stores to their fleets.

This makes a lot of sense for retailers that have maxed out their suburban presence and are looking to urban areas to add stores. Expanding into underserved markets is a business basic, even if those opportunities can seem few and far between.

But the challenges of being small are not small. Unlike Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, which can build stores within throwing distances of current locations without cannibalization, these larger retailers face a different “zero sum” marketplace. More locations do not translate to more consumption—or sales.

Sales volume must be obtained from other sources, which can include e-commerce sites, same-day delivery services and even entrenched local retailers.

What to sell

The challenge with smaller stores is getting both the breadth and the depth of the merchandise assortments right. A big-box store’s reason for being is to be a one-stop shop for everything in the category, the classic “category killer”—or in Walmart’s case, a super-center providing virtually everything in abundance.

Downsizing assortments and eliminating categories is messing with the recipe. And it is not a matter of proportionately reducing everything to fit. There is an interdependency of merchandise that can make or break the concept, and some categories that need space because of fast inventory turn can crowd out slower turning but essential categories. Having enough bottled water or printer cartridges can mean too little frozen food or backpacks. The trade-offs can ruin the store’s overall appeal.

Assortment is not the only challenge. There is also the constraint of transportation. The number and size of items a shopper in an urban context will buy are impacted by how much they can carry. Purchases are smaller but visits are more frequent. More footfall is required to see similar sales per square foot performance, which is a dynamic many retailers are not used to managing and can take some experimentation to master.

The brand is a mixed blessing

Often these smaller stores betray the brand expectations, or create new store types that shoppers have difficulty assimilating into their shopping repertoire. Retailers like Aldi and Trader Joe’s, who are inherently smaller, have unique, differentiated propositions and products that shoppers value and know how to fit into their lifestyles. A small Best Buy, however, can be confusing. Is it a great place to shop for a big screen TV, or a convenience store for cables?

For the big stores that want to re-scale to smaller stores, opening under the banner of their larger namesake is a blessing and a curse. While they do offer familiarity and tap into the broader promotion and marketing engine, the risk is over-promising and under-delivering. Communicating the nuance of store size and store promise is a brand naming architecture challenge, with names like “express” or “neighborhood” that are often lost on shoppers in this short-attention-span world.

Tesco’s failed small-format Fresh & Easy experiment in the US is a great example of the challenges faced by even the best retailers. Creating retail concepts derivative of the parent can be a big risk but is a necessity, especially considering the retail saturation in suburbia.

A requirement, however, is starting from scratch with the store idea for the urban environment vs. adjusting the existing recipe. In the end, the best-situated retailers are the drug chains that already reside in the urban landscape. Urban-friendly, innovative stores like Walgreen’s and CVS may never carry big screen TVs, but they will certainly continue to update themselves over time and prove to be formidable competition to urban invaders.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Making an Experience Sharable

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 Some words that we use frequently and automatically are taken for granted. Recreation is one of those words. I don’t mean the concept I mean the actual word. We think of recreation is an activity, but delve into the language and what emerges is the idea of re-creation. Recreation is activity worthy of remembering, or re-creating in our minds.

The aim of any interaction with a Brand should be recreational. The experience should leave a a positive residue that is worthy of memory, and sharing. We want the audience to re-create the good points out loud… one-on-one or with social media. Naturally when we enjoy something we want to share the experience. Things seem more real, more tangible, when we can see and feel the reaction of others. Enjoyment validated is enjoyment experienced.

We share positive and negative experiences because we are social beings, meant to live in groups and watch each other’s backs. If we could travel in time back to pre-history, I would bet that our ancestors would engage in stories about happening upon a field of berry bushes (positive), or the time they startled a mama-bear (negative). These stories inevitably become exaggerated and embellished as they are retold. The net result is that they teach others what to seek and what to avoid.

Research by the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman speaks to the idea that we commit experiences to memory in specific ways. Kahneman’s discovery of our “experiencing selves versus remembering selves” tells us that an overall positive experience can be “ruined” in our memory because of one profoundly negative element. When we are in the moment we are engaged in consuming what is happening with our senses and responding. What Brands and experiences must connect with is the remembering self, that storytelling part of our memory that we can access and share. In Kahneman’s words, “what we get to keep from our experiences is a story”.

The challenge with Brands and experiences is to not only mitigating negatives, but to prime the story and make it’s retelling more likely, and more salient. Much has been written about “storytelling” and it’s role in brand and marketing, but I want to add a different slant. We want our Brand to be a mentor, the customer to be a hero, and a transforming journey, but what storytelling “seeds” are we planting in the customer’s head for them to share. How can the experience provide a memorable landscape, populated with signature events and landmarks that can be re-created and re-told?

These experiential landmarks are key to creating memorable, and therefore sharable experiences. And to be really sticky in the memory, they need to be personal. The trap of many experience designs is that they reach for the “big bang”. They offer an initial value in the ability to be the new cool thing. The first folks who visited a Rainforest Cafe had a story to tell, but it was about the newness of the experience and getting credit for seeing it before others. After that the experience stories became about the food or the prices and a downward spiral ensued. There was no more storytelling fuel as the experience wasn’t personal, it was  “mass”. The signature event didn’t refresh or connect one-on-one with individuals. It was one gigantic landmark; an event.

Effective landmark experiences add up to a story versus explode all at once. And they provide a memorable context for personal experiences to happen. They can be architectural spaces, exciting merchandising and displays, scents and sounds, but the common denominator is that they must be unique to the brand, and play a supporting role to a personalized interaction.

An effective way to to think about a sharable experience design is to test the story-worthless via scripting the story you want told. Work the story back to the design and keep refining. What contexts need to be created and what personal interactions need to be orchestrated? The goal is to get to that pre-historic moment where the delights and amazement of finding the berries crowd out the unfortunate encounters with bears.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Admiring a Brand for the Wrong Reason is the Biggest Branding Mistake

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Do you have Apple Envy?

Several years ago I was put in charge of informing how a giant telecommunications company should rebrand after a major acquisition. The client saw their past as an era of “utility monopolization” and all of the consumer negativity that comes with it. The post-merger future appeared to present an opportunity to start a new chapter, and be an iconic brand that people would love and respect, versus tolerate. The available resources put towards the new brand seemed limitless, so the potential for this big change seemed plausible.

What resulted was what I dubbed “Apple Envy”, and it inspired me to look at brands in a fresh way. Following Apple was a potential trap. Did the audience for telecommunications services want their provider to be like Apple or did emotions and “belonging” not drive their choice?  We did exhaustive research on what does drive choice in this space and concluded that consumers did not. In fact they hated the idea. They certainly didn’t want the current brand, but they did want one that helped them do more and be better connected to the world.

So can a brand be iconic and not be another Apple… not be a rockstar? This client’s brand was an American institution so it seemed destined to make an impact, but how and why?  The answer appeared to lie in how we as humans attach to brands, not how brands project themselves to us. Understanding Brand Attachment was going to provide the answer, and it did.

I won’t disclose the details behind the eventual solution for this client, but I will share what I believe to be an important aspect of how we all should approach Branding, based on how customers engage and attach with Brands.

To begin, we humans are not hardwired to create relationships with corporations; we are wired to relate to each other as fellow humans. We identify each other by name and we categorize each other based on perception and experience: friend versus foe, strong versus weak, supportive versus destructive, etc. We can see this categorization in action when we feel in need. Who do we turn to when we feel lonely, feel depressed, need leadership and wise counsel, or maybe need a ride to the airport? This categorization process is fundamental to our social abilities as humans.

Brands are the personification, or humanization, of corporations. We can’t help it. As humans we automatically evaluate corporations as human entities. We project our human bias onto whatever and whomever we have a relationship with. This can be seen in our behavior towards our pets. Who hasn’t felt like their dog is sad when we leave them alone? We project our human feelings and emotions onto a dog or cat irrationally and expect them to be like us emotionally. In reality the opposite is also at work. Our dogs and cats project their “dogness” and “catness” onto our behaviors. A recent scientific article just proposed that cats see their owners as giant, benevolent felines. We import each other into our respective realities. Likewise we project our human bias onto organizations, and Brand is the manifestation of that projection.

The mistake many Brands make is benchmarking against a homogenous, monolithic notion of a great brand. The reality is that there are myriad ways a brand can be great, or iconic, just as there are many ways a person can be great. We categorize people as great leaders, athletes, entertainers, hard workers, and on and on. We would not expect an Olympic champion to go through a makeover and become a world-class chef.

With brands the first level of categorization is utility. Not basic utility, but a higher order idea of what we need from them as human surrogates. This first division is Affinity or Enabling.

Affinity brands fill our need for identity; to define ourselves to others, project our values, and our basic need to belong. Affinity brands end up on tee shirts and tattoos. Apple is an affinity brand, as is Harley-Davidson, Nike, and Rolex. These brands are iconic in the way celebrities are iconic. These are the friends we want to be associated with. The cool kids who make us feel good that we know them.

Enabling brands fill our need to be more powerful and effective. They give us “Superpowers” to become like comic book heroes. Enabling brands give us extreme capabilities like the ability to get a package from New York to LA overnight, or get a pizza to magically show up in 30 minutes. We don’t wear enabling brands on tee-shirts, but they make us feel secure and empowered on the inside. They make us feel smart.  UPS, Delta, and Verizon are enabling Brands, and iconic. These are the experts we go to when we have a problem. These are our BFFs.

There isn’t a “preferred” place to be with this Affinity/Enabling classification. Both fullfill a need and both have icon potential. It is like male and female; they are different but equally human. I also believe that it is more of a scale than an absolute, but be careful not to try to be both. Take a stand. The point is that a brand should know how its desired audience desires to attach to it and the utility it provides. For existing brands, like my telecom client, it is not impossible, but unnecessary to change from what they were (Enabling) to what they aspired to be with Apple Envy (Affinity) and they fortunately saw the logic.

In today’s customer-centric, brand-experience focused world, an understanding of Brand Attachment is not an option. Resources are too scarce and there is less time to correct mistakes. So start by asking yourself if your brand would pass the tee-shirt test. Would your shirt make you feel like you were really cool or delivering a delicious pizza?

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Learning From Orlando: The Center Store Re-imagined

Disney World

Disney World

Attempts to invigorate the “center store”… that wasteland in the grocery and Supercenter… seem to be in limbo. A few years ago it was the hot topic at retail conferences and trade shows, but it looks like the topics of omni-channel and mobile/digital are now stealing the show.

But the truth is that the center store remains an automatic, list driven experience that doesn’t inspire or excite us. The perimeter of the grocery is still the sensorial star. Mobile coupons, a smattering of department reinventions ala P&G, Kimberly Clark, and Purina that appear to be incongruent, and the occasional curved fixture are cries in the dark. Beyond that, the center store is nothing but gondola runs ad nauseum.

Understandably the perimeter of the supermarket has received the most attention and investment. Grocers saw their expertise in “fresh” as a strategic advantage, and lever, over the Walmart Supercenter onslaught. But the playing field has become more equal now, 20 years later. The center of the store is still untapped potential.

What if? What if the center store was an experience and not a task? I want to take a few moments to jump-start the topic. And I want to be a bit unorthodox. So, let’s talk about how we can learn from Orlando Florida.

In the 1940’s, Orlando was a swampy, humid town in the relative center of a state already known as a tourist destination. The only thing notable about Orlando was that it had an Army base. That was probably the only reason to visit Orlando.

Then, all the attention in Florida was fixated on the coastline. The great beaches, sun and surf fueled the investments in Miami, Daytona, Naples. These were the produce departments, delis, and bakeries of the state. They are sexy. The center of the state was just the leftover land in between the coasts. But look at Orlando today? There are more direct flights to Orlando from points elsewhere in the US than any other city in Florida and is annually the most visited American city.

The reason is vision and investment. Walt Disney had created Disneyland in southern California in 1955. He had an even grander vision for an eastern version that would be closer to the majority of the American population, but coastal property was expensive. The center of the state was economically irrelevant, so it was cheap. But it had traffic and infrastructure. Disney World opened in Orlando in 1971, and since has been a magnet for other development, including Universal Theme Park. The place attracts people, and the people spend.

Orlando is a great analogy for what could happen to the center store with vision and investment. With today’s additional pressure for retailers to stay relevant in the face of Amazon same-day delivery, the center store must create value beyond inventory holding power. Of course it needs to be easy to shop for shoppers on a mission, but with 50,000 items and only 500 in the average household, couldn’t space be re-imagined? What if it wasn’t a sea of gondola shelving, but a collection of themed spaces that flowed into each other, like the “worlds” at Disney? What if you could learn about how the products can fit into your needs best or solve a problem versus check off a list?

With breakthroughs in mobile technology, in-store networks, and especially mobile payment, the grocery may not even need a single entry/exit anymore to funnel shoppers through the checkouts. What could this do for convenience that could shake up the entire center store layout?

Let’s see what we can learn from Orlando as the evolving future of retail demands fresh thinking. The store could be the best of both, with great beaches AND a fun exciting destination in the center, creating a destination experience that no eCommerce retailer could match.

Would You Buy Crackers From This Owl?

Kroger's new entry price-point brand

Kroger’s new entry price-point brand

Have you heard this one? Knock-knock. Who’s there? Moo. Moo wh…INTERRUPTING COW! Well meet Kroger’s new interrupting owl.

In June Kroger launched 3 new private label brands to replace their aging “Value” brand for entry price-point products. The move was more than a facelift; it was a complete re-imagining of the branding strategy for this tier of products. It marks a big shift in the role of the Kroger name in the mix of merchandise by excluding their logo altogether. Two of the new brands are certainly quirky- an owl whispering “P$$T” for food items, and “Check this out” for non-foods. There is also a fresh food solution that used to scream “Value” in red and blue but is now tastefully presented as Heritage Farms. It is the talking owl, however, that is worth examining.

This “talking owl” approach reflects a new consumer proposition around savings grown out of the Great Recession; saving is fashionable, saving is fun, savings are gathered not hunted. (It also shows some bravery on the part of Kroger to embrace an unorthodox new creative direction.)

The past solution utilized the store’s logo as an endorsement and the big Value message was code for “cheap”. I can see the up side of removing the store name from these entry price-point products for Kroger. It’s a potential drag on quality associations when the chain is looking to associate its logo with national brand competing products elsewhere on the shelf. It is also tough for Kroger generally since they go to market under so many different banners (Ralph’s in California, Fred Meyer in the northwest, etc.) Removing their name neutralizes the products across their system.

What is breakthrough about the solution is that the owl character directly engages the shopper in the store. Additionally the brand communicates something positive about the shopper’s decision once at home versus being just a graphic announcement of low price. The packaging, by actually “speaking”, becomes a part of the store experience itself as shoppers scan the shelves. The owl and provocatively bouncy type interrupt with a proposition that is almost anti-brand. Once in the home pantry, it then reinforces that Mom is smart, not a mere penny-pincher.

Here the owl as a spoke-species is the wise purveyor of intelligent choices. In this economy of “good enough” he intervenes in the aisle and alerts shoppers with a direct message; “Psst, check this out…”

Private label merchandise is a powerful means for retailers to manage margin and retain customers with proprietary offerings. Here the new Kroger program creatively becomes part of the store experience itself. The hard part is the art of managing the SKU’s so that they do not trade down shoppers from their higher priced options, but entice them into categories they are buying at dollar stores or avoiding all together.

After a few hundred trips I may get tired of the owl or he may start to lose his interrupting power, but hey, he may start saying other creative and relevant things and become a valuable new brand asset. Knock knock. Who’s there? A great new approach to connecting private label with the store experience.

Honoring the Toaster: The Ultimate Customer Experience Mentor

The humble but indispensable toaster

The humble but indispensable toaster

Being a consumer today is a lot harder than ever. How we do the things we need to do every day is changing at a dizzying pace. Simply interacting with all our devices, our car stereos, the ATM, stores, and even healthcare providers require us to learn and relearn the means by which we get the results we want. This learning requires an investment in time and energy, usually only to have an “upgrade” result in us having to start nearly from scratch. Usually the upgrades have the motive of simplification and/or added functions, but many seem to change for the sake of change… except the toaster.

When is the last time that you needed to relearn how to use a toaster? As an appliance, toasters are perfect in their functional transparency and clarity of purpose. They are comically simple. In fact, we take these wonders of the industrial age for granted.

When I think about approaching a customer experience challenge, I think about how I would “toasterize” it. Toasterizing requires some creative thinking in metaphors, but it can uncover what is providing a great experience versus what is superfluous and driving customers crazy.

Here are the reasons why I believe a toaster represents the ideal experience.

  1. It manages expectations. It says what it is and does what it says. An orange is orange, a fly flies, and a toaster toasts. Enough said.
  1. It cannot be easily substituted. If you don’t have a toaster, you probably will forego toast. Toaster ovens are overkill.
  1. The operation is intuitive. I think I was only shown how to operate a toaster once in my life and I did not have to be shown again.
  1. The inner workings are not mysterious. You can actually see the thing doing its job. The little wires inside get hot and look hot, and the bread turns to toast in front of your eyes.
  1. The process is sensorial. You can actually tell the moment the bread turns into toast by the toasty smell.
  1. The user settings are direct. Toast the bread longer for dark (or burnt) toast, shorter for light toast. If the toast is too light you can push it down for more time. If you burn it its your fault.
  1. The time it takes to do the job is consistent and reasonable. The sub-conscious knowledge of how long the toaster takes allows you to multi-task effectively.
  1. It does one thing and is not insecure about it. The toaster is one of the elite appliances that can set out on the counter full time, so it has a big ego I’m sure.

The toaster’s more modern cousin, the microwave, is indispensible but a horrible experience that is tolerated versus enjoyed. (Bring to mind any service providers you may have?). How does it work? What do the frozen dinner’s instructions require from me? Will this food now burn me when I open it or eat it? Add your other complaints here… Would you rather toast that dinner if it only took 2 minutes?

Improvements on the toaster are barely non-existent. Sure there are some fashion concessions, and I have seen one that burns a Hello Kitty face on the toast, but the inner workings are the same. The toaster has reached appliance nirvana.

For such a humble gadget, the toaster is a master at delivering what we want from it, and therefore has become indispensable. It delivers great value and we give it a place in our collection of must-have objects. I find that the toaster test is a great way to casually evaluate your experience on the 8 points above. Ultimately the toaster is simple and intuitive and a great experience role-model. So the question is… is your customer experience a toaster or a microwave?

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.