Trump, Morality, and Business Taking the High Road

Who would have thought that taking a stand against neo-nazis would spark an outcry in 2017 America? But it did. After repeated refusal from Donald Trump to outright condemn the beliefs of the White Nationalists (aka Nazis) who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, numerous CEOs who belonged to Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum decided to disband the group.

In a statement from Jamie Dimon, Chase Chairman and CEO, he explained how Trump’s reaction to events do not fit with his values or the values of his company. As he stated, “There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned and has no place in a country that draws strength from our diversity and humanity.”

As someone working for an organization that has worked closely with Chase for more than a decade, I say, “Hell yes.” But it begs the question, why did so many companies and CEOs respond to Trumps call in the first place? CEOs like Elon Musk (who would eventually decide to stop advising the President after Trump backed out of the Paris Climate Accord) said he joined the Presidential Advisory Forum “…to provide feedback on issues that I think are important for our country and the world.” Being the voice of reason became a driving force for many of those who joined the effort.

The cynic might say it was just “good business?” After all, Trump won half the country’s vote. You don’t want to turn your back on half of America if you own a business. But it would seem now that “good business” is taking a backseat to “good.”

Only time will tell if this will affect their businesses. However, if one were to listen to the “loud” voices on social media, you would think it would be the latter. After 30 minutes of Chase posting Jamie Dimon’s statement on Facebook, 80% of comments were negative against Jamie Dimon and Chase.  That’s right, 80%. But the “like” response tells a different story from the comments. 95% of the clicks were likes and loves. Only 5% hate.

This is the world that CEOs are facing today. Ambiguity is the norm. And what should be a simple decision has become more complicated for business owners. Some businesses, like Nordstrom, who took hardline stances against the Alt Right from the beginning, saw increases in sales. However, sites like grabyourwallet.org who list companies who they believe you should boycott due to their anti-trump views are surprisingly popular. In February of 2017, this site had more than one million visitors.

So, you would think what Jamie Dimon and other business leaders did today would be easy. It was not. It was brave. It was just. And it could very well affect their business in the near future. The great thing is that ultimately they didn’t care. The hope is that, in the long run, choosing to support all people will lead to more customers choosing to do business with you.

 

 

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Talking Funny (Accents and Advertising)

As the world has changed, so has advertising. Promoting a product, service, idea, place-thing-to-be-sold-here isn’t just about promoting features and benefits, it is also about promoting a sense of meaning and identity. And much to my surprise, an aspect of this that too often overlooked is the importance of language.

In a country there are a host of regional dialects and accents. In the US there are dozens, though the sake of simplicity we can “group” them into broader families ranging from seven to twenty (it really depends on which linguistic model you choose to apply).  What this means is that various forms of the English language coexist and help define us in the context of where we are in relation to others. Marketers need to take into account that language is not just a way for us to speak (as in the transfer of information), it is also a revealing element of who we are.

Based on accent, word choice, etc. it is possible to determine our background and social status. Granted, depending on the context we may shift from one speech pattern to another, but the point is that language carries identifiers of class, region, gender identity, etc. (a dear friend originally from Alabama becomes decidedly more Southern after a drink or when in the company of other Southerners).  The dialect used in an advertisement therefore has an influence on the brand and the way it is perceived. Some dialects are seen as friendly and down to earth, some sound erudite, while others are viewed as authoritative. Because of these various attitudes towards the dialects of the English language, choosing the right one for a campaign is relevant to the way consumers perceive the message put forth..

Some years ago, a US-based survey found (we’ve all heard about it at some time or another) that brands using standard British English were viewed more favorably and rated higher in quality and sophistication. That could of course be disputed since context and history play a role in the interpretation, but the underlying point holds true; because the variety of English used in marketing has a powerful influence on how the audience judges the spokesperson, who also functions as a voice for the brand, the attitudes consumer forms are transferred to the overall brand. The important point being that language identity not only enhances the message put forth, but also validates it.

Ultimately, as the cultural characteristics, including speech, of the spokesperson influence the persuasive process, the ability to identify with the spokesperson based on the dialect has an influence on the purchase intention. The more connected in terms of dialect the speaker and listener are, the more favorable the evaluation of speaker, and the associated brand, will be. Language creates a deeper sense of cultural belonging. By underlining and verifying a company brand, as well as enhancing the possibility of identification, the presence of dialect has a great impact on overall perception when promoting a product or brand through television adverts – simply because of the social constructions and strong attitudes towards our speech.

What that means is that when crafting a brand platform, a campaign, or even a simple one-off piece of collateral, the importance of language goes beyond word choice. If the goal is to connect, then how we sound is as important as what we say.

 

Brands, Ads, and Culture

The old advertising model advocated the creation of an external brand image to influence consumers. It talked about benefits, it talked about the company, it promised to give you sex appeal. Those times are long past. This is partly due to the sheer number of channels in which people interact, but we believe there is a deeper reason. And that deeper reason is that successful brands both reflect and transform culture. In other words, talking about what you do is no longer enough. To compete in today’s landscape, you have to convey why you exist and connect it to how people experience their world.

Today we’re seeing that certain issues which could be considered secondary to a brand are suddenly primary. People are not just choosing the best, the sexiest, or the cheapest. They’re choosing brands that have meaning. Their concept of nature, of self, of society takes center stage. And this is where brands taking on a new and intriguing role.

So, what role does brand play in this landscape? The simple answer is that brands become symbols for crafting identity. They introduce, reflect, and influence meaning. The most resonant brands are creating value not just by the products or services they represent, but by the symbolic power they impart.

We believe that to be relevant and long-lasting, a brand must operate like a member of a culture. A company must share out its core values and articulate WHY it exists. A brand must stand for something and drive people to participate in it, become part of it. People want to belong to something bigger than themselves. People need to be part of a tribe.

Shades of Blue: Marrying Art and Science

When chemists at Oregon State University4.jpeg discovered a brilliant new blue pigment serendipitously, they were not thinking about
creating art. But in a true art meets science moment, an applied visual arts major bean using the blue pigments in her artwork as part of an internship in Subramanian’s laboratory. This was also her first foray into the world of chemistry. Human history is filled with examples of innovation that occurred at the juncture of art and science, whether it’s as profound as Leonardo da Vinci’s explorations of anatomy or as mundane as liquid nitrogen ice cream. The point is simple – creative inspiration, whether in product development, advertising, or any other activity, is a matter of rethinking how we look at a problem.

Driven by CEOs that want to see ROI and engagement for every cent spent versus the equally valuable but often nebulous idea of “brand impact,” campaign and branding initiatives can be particularly challenging for CMOs today. Seemingly competing world views clash in large part because we take a binary position – it’s an either/or mentality where art and science are somehow in conflict. But is that fair or is it a modern construct? Are art and science so divergent or have we slipped into a lazy pattern of thinking.

Brands that want to take advantage of the intersection of art and science can start by simply acknowledging the fact that creative and metrics are not mutually exclusive concepts. By blending these two components of the creative process (and yes, science is a creative enterprise) and giving them a common goal to work tow
ards, we see focused innovation. We see new expressions of a common undercurrent.

Blending art and science is about collaborating in ideas generation: the inter-relationship is critical, you can’t have one thing without the other. Code or data are
just a bunch of numbers without the art. A visual masterpiece that produces no action is inspired but not inspiring. Science enables us to be more creative, and creativity allows us to get the most out of our data. But consider “the multiplier effect”. If either the data or creative are bad, the idea will fail. Or worse yet, if they work alone, without the cross-pollination that happens when different ways of experiencing the world come together, then the result can be flat out detrimental. It’s not one or the other that we need, it’s both. It’s not science plus art equals results, it’s more science times art, so a zero for either means failure.

That is where the interesting ideas are – at the intersection of exploration. The future is all about ideas connecting. Those who can bridge art and science will be in demand, will be powerful. If our ideas are going to change hearts and minds, then we need to find expression that can move freely between the boundaries of art and science.

 

Love, Passion, and Attachment

Brand love is a rich concept in the field of consumer behavior. If the consumers love a brand, then sales volume of the brand will increase, as brand love gets transformed into brand loyalty. So, marketers should formulate appropriate strategy so that the brand has a strong emotional appeal and target customers fall in love with the brand. This matters because post-consumption satisfaction is likely to lead to emotional attachment with a brand over time with multiple interactions with love.jpgthe brand. It implies that cumulative satisfaction over a period tends to lead to an emotional bonding between consumer and brand. Satisfaction with the brand positively influences the feeling of love towards the brand. Individual romanticism and brand love, the romantic individual is highly emotional and seeks pleasure. So, brand love is also an attitude towards the brand, creating that sense of brand love we so desire. Brand love is highly affective in nature. As such, favorable brand experiences lead to love towards a brand over time. Favorable brand experience positively influences brand love. Individual romanticism and brand experience, romanticism enriches the experience-seeking process surrounding any act of consumption through subjective personal introspection. But is love enough?

Increasingly, you hear people talking about brand attachment, which has three central elements:

  1. Affection: (connection to the external face of the brand)
  2. Connection: (the brand’s alignment with my values)
  3. Passion: (desire for something specific within the brand)

When these three emotions are in play, it is highly likely that there is attachment. It may be an indirect influence on the brand, but it is a strong influence. More than brand loyalty, brand attachment almost becomes a part of you.

Whatever it is that attracts you to a brand to begin with most likely has to do with the way marketing and advertising have served up the content about that brand. It’s the first date, so to speak, when the brand catches your eye and makes you take notice.  This is the point in which you are then brought into what “virtuous circle of brand attachment.” There are three specific phases for the brand, which follow along this path. From each of these, it leads to the other:

Advertising & Marketing to –> Brand Attachment to –> Financial Performance

So, if I am so attached to a brand, let’s say Basil Hayden bourbon, then it follows that by my buying it repeatedly, their financial performance improves. Multiply that by millions of customers, and your bottom line is happily shored up by engaged, repeat customers.

The good thing for brands and companies is that people with strong brand attachments influence other people around them. So, in this sense, there are advocates that develop from their strong brand attachments. These fans or followers of the brand are not only becoming fans or followers to stay, they are also bringing their friends along, increasing the brand’s customer base. They are true brand evangelists, meaning their connection goes beyond brand loyalty. It builds a sense of devotion. It builds passion. The benefit to the brand is that these loyalists are more motivated to devote their time to trying to bring others into the fold. They defend the brand, degrade alternative brands, and devote more time to the brand through brand through engagement is social media.
The message is simple. Find out what your customers’ passions, connections and affections are. Target your marketing efforts with that in mind, and see how they follow by becoming attached to your brand – not just showing loyalty, but true attachment.

 

 

Semiotics and the Brand

Marketers have long recognized the symbolic nature of shopping and consumption.  Products and brands are symbols for sale – products and brands are often purchased as much for their symbolic value as they are their pragmatic value.  And this is the heart of Semiotics.

Semiotics is the study of symbols , signs and sign processes.  I has been a fundamental part of anthropology since the beginnings of the discipline.  Experts in Semiotics are trained to identify and make sense of these symbol systems, uncovering how they construct and reflect the cultural contexts in which they are found. As it relates to business, Semioticians are trained to identify, interpret, and leverage these symbolic meanings for purposes of market definition, brand development, brand positioning, communication strategy, design and packaging.

Brands are symbol systems that consumers associate with verbal, visual, and performative elements of communication. They are temples to meanings that are rarely articulated in focus groups or surveys. That means that every element of a product or service, from cans of beer to amusement parks, is wrapped up in a series of symbols that consumers use to interpret what a brand means and how it relates specifically to them.  These symbolic dimensions add value to products by creating added dimensions beyond the obvious, functional needs. Brands allow consumers to create meaning for themselves, helping them construct who they symbolically want to be. This sense of self is an articulated schema  that functionally controls how self-referent information is structured and categorized.  It establishes how closely a brand reflects the self, which means they are tied to how people construct identity. The more closely the symbolic structures are tied to the sense of self, the more important they become to the individual. Brands, then, speak to those elements of existence that shape the unspoken needs we have as human beings for such concepts as love, status, ritual, power and belonging. In other words, they touch us on a deeper level that stirs our emotions and our interest.

As an example, I have done a great deal of work over the years around household provisioning.  From beer to toilet paper to cereal to soap. In all of these cases, the reasons for brand loyalty are only minimally tied to function. Yes, performance and price drive sales, but consumers are fickle and willing to turn away from brands they have no symbolic ties to when something else comes along. Not so for those brands with strong symbolic associations. Consumers who are loyal to a brand of soap because they associate it with being a good parent are more likely to stick with the brand no matter what. Brewers that talk less about calories and the affects of alcohol, focusing instead on nostalgia, connoisseurship, and status are more likely to retain their consumers.  The more the brand touches the underlying symbolic drivers behind the purchase, the more likely they are to see long-term commitment on the part of the shopper and consumer.

A brand is a sign, or more accurately a system of signs, that triggers a process of interpretation is a consumer’s mind, which means it is more than a series of functional, commoditized features and benefits. It touches on memories, associations with broad cultural ideals and individual desires. It is an act of two-way communication, not just a one-way projection by the company to the consumer. When brands speak to the rationale and meanings behind these semiotic structures, brands move beyond the codes governing a product category and enter the personal space of the consumer. That positions the brand to become something more than a commodity, it becomes part of the consumer’s life and promotes a wider array of associations between the brand and the consumer. That produces loyalty and great market share.

Marketing More Than Features: Windows to the Soul

We spend an awful lot of time marketing features to individuals; neat little segments that correspond to the demographic data we glean from surveys and similar devices.  We talk about features, function and material benefits. The catch is that people work, live and think in terms of a socio-cultural system. That means they are frequently doing more than buying things and that the reasons for their choices (and the marketing they respond to) are more complex than what the numbers tell us.  As an example, look at how we frequently market something as seemingly functioanl as windows.The window is more than glass.  It holds symbolic meaning on numerous levels and tells us a great deal about a culture, a time frame, the nature of a place, etc.  It is a liminal juncture that serves as both gateway between the inside and the outside world. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent at this juncture. These can range from borders at the entry to a house to airports or hotels, which people pass through but do not live in. The window is a transparent border and signifies a powerful transition between the inside and the outside world.  The window signifies the border between Place and Space.

Not surprisingly, there seems to be a great deal of discussion around curtains, blinds and the ways by which we frame our windows. In some cases these mechanisms are primarily functional, serving to block out interaction with the outside world and limit the ability to look into the closed space of the home.  They serve to cut off interaction.  In other instances they define the environment, framing the outside world in an ornate display that turns it almost into an abstraction. The frame signals that what is going on outside is beyond the bounds of the lived experience.  It also signifies that the window is something special, something with meaning and power, to the person or people within the home.

There is a powerful concept in Japan around the idea of uchi and soto. The basic concept revolves around dividing people into in-groups and out-groups. When speaking with someone from an out-group, the out-group must be honored, and the in-group humbled. This is achieved with special features of the Japanese language, which conjugates verbs based on both tense and politeness.  One of the complexities of the uchi-soto relationship lies in the fact that groups are not static; they may overlap and change over time and according to situation. Obviously, the concept applies to space, place and the transitions between the two.  The transitions are usually visibly marked in some way to signal that the dynamic of an interaction is about to change. The window works on a similar principle.

So what does this mean for someone designing or marketing windows, curtains, blinds, etc.? It means that the window is more than a series of feature and price points. It means that people endow windows with special meaning and that the things we use to frame them and reflect the cultural lives and realities of the people using them, and that changes the message entirely.  How does the window fit into the concept of “home?” What are the various meanings of “home” and how do you design or market to those?  As with so many things, it isn’t about the product, it’s about where the product fits into a person’s life.  Speak to those things and you’ve changed the nature of the conversation between the product, the brand and the people involved in the buying decision.