Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Brand Strength Assessment Tools You Can Use Now

Senior management at most successful businesses have realized that their brand, and the characteristics it represents, is one of the most valuable assets they own. If used properly, a powerful brand can propel a business’ profitability for years to come, guide product development, enhance revenue in a variety of ways, and drive their business’ growth. But how do you know if your brand is strong, if it is being diluted or damaged, or is entirely corrupt and even damaging?

Through our work with a host of national companies and a wide variety of brands, we have developed some tools we use to assess the strength of a brand, highlight potential weak spots, and reveal opportunities based on the results of some test questions. These were developed and vetted through one-to-one, lengthy interview research conducted over years, with customers of service, product, consumer and b-to-b purveyors. Each was refined and adjusted to meet the specific type of business, and then the data aligned along four quadrants using a multi-variant matrix to correct for industry and business model differences.

If answered honestly, these questions are structured to inform brand managers, marketing VPs, and senior management where things can be strengthened and where they can be capitalized upon for great effect. You can apply this same test (except for some proprietary differences) to your brand and do your own quick assessment. The more times you perform the test within your group of stakeholders, the more accurate it becomes, as more data points will tend to bring out strong linkages and commonalities within your organization. It can be segmented by department, to give you a read on how your brand info filters through various lenses internally based on job function. Or you can split it by job responsibility or title strata to determine whether your brand ideals have filtered down from the top or originate at the bottom.

Now the real question is, if you score below 40, what can you do to increase your score and strengthen your brand. At least some answers can be found in an analysis of the data from these questions as well. A follow-up article to this one coming next time will provide some insights as to how to use the data to get the job done quickly and cost-effectively. For now, on to the test:

Answer all 25 of the following questions in the following way.
• Assign a 1 if the answer is “Never”
• Assign a 2 if the answer is “Sometimes”
• Assign a 3 if the answer is “Almost Always”
• Assign a 4 if the answer is “Absolutely Always”

Total the responses and score your brand’s power, integration and saturation based on these ranges:

• 25 - 40 - Brand is not well integrated and is vulnerable to pirating or may be damaged easily
• 41 - 55 – Brand needs support both internally and externally, not doing you as much good as it could be
• 56 - 75 – Brand is solid, but could use some polishing. Review with staff, add weight to priority scale
• 76 - 100 – Brand is strong. Lower end of scale (below 85) needs additional buffing; above 90, you could see through this company the brand is so well represented and transparent.

1. We actively investigate what is important to our customers, using research,
face-to-face interviews, questionnaires, suggestion boxes, etc.

2. We understand how our customers feel about our products and services.

3. We judge the effectiveness of our brand in terms of how it looks and feels to our customers – not how it seems to us.

4. We understand the attitudes of our customers and their changing views and needs.

5. We don’t have to discount prices in order to attract and keep our customers.

6. Our customers can state quite clearly and simply what is important about our brand to them, and why they think it is different.

7. Our communication plan includes all the various places and ways in which we interact with our customers.

8. We have aligned our organizational structure, operations and culture with our brand values.

9. We understand what differentiates our brand from our competitors.

10. Everyone in our organization knows what our brand stands for and can articulate that idea simply and clearly.

11. Everyone in our organization knows what they have to do to deliver on our brand promise.

12. Our communications, marketing, service delivery, finance and HR functions are all aligned with our brand objectives.

13. Branding is championed throughout our organization, from the CEO down.

14. Strengthening and protecting the company’s brand is a fundamental driver behind our organization’s long-term goals.

15. We have a brand management program in place that is continually looking for new and more effective ways to protect and enhance our brand throughout the organization.

16. Accounts quantifying the value of our brand to our business are included in our financial systems.

17. Details of our brand and the strategy that drives it are well documented and that information is available to those who need and desire it.

18. All key stakeholders are involved in our brand creation process.

19. Our company has systems in place for carefully monitoring the appropriateness, timeliness, integration and consistency of our branded communications.

20. We view brand as applying to far more than just our visual identity and our marketing communications.

21. Our brand includes not just our core organization but also our partners and key third party suppliers.

22. We regard our brand agency(ies) as our strategic partner(s) and actively involve them in organizational and communications planning and review sessions.

23. Our marketing and communications team have an integrated understanding of our brand and are in constant communication over brand-related activities and issues.

24. The consistency of our brand is paramount. It reaches way beyond just tactical brand campaigns and it is deeper than even key personnel changes.

25. If our brand did not exist, the vast majority of our customers would notice our absence and really miss having us in their lives.

About the Author: David Poulos, Chief Consultant at Granite Partners, has been providing marketing guidance and expertise to clients firms large and small for over 25 years. Specialties include non-profit membership marketing, tradeshow marketing, direct mail, and full-scale strategic marketing campaigns. He can be reached via the web at, or by phone at 410-472-4570. Granite Partners is based in Sparks, Maryland and services clients nationwide.

2007 Granite Partners, LLC – reuse or reproduction by permission only. More articles like this one intended for use by marketing professionals can be found at

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ten Ways To Make Sponsorship Build Credibility, Visibility For Your Brand

Every business out there has probably been approached about a sponsorship, or included sponsorship in their marketing mix in one form or another, especially those with a consumer sales focus. But how do you make the selection of which one’s might be the most effective long-term?

Careful selection of the events, products, and people you sponsor will allow you to activate that sponsorship to benefit fully from your association. In order to make a beneficial selection, you have to know your brand inside and out, and have a good handle on some of the more “outlying” characteristics that consumers have pinned to it – not just the ones you’re broadcasting about it. Some of those alternative characteristics can make for very solid sponsorships if you pick them carefully and engage fully with all the opportunities they offer.

Many businesses don’t engage fully with the opportunities they do select, and get less-than-optimal returns as a result. This is one situation where you really do get out what you put in. Don’t stop at the logo on the sign, that’s just the beginning. Here’s ten ways to maximize the return on a sponsorship opportunity, planned or impromptu:

For Event Sponsorships:

10) Make sure to provide adequate materials to the event hosts so that all participants receive something from you at the event. Don’t short the count on the collateral, the promotional items or the literature, because that one person who gets left out will carry that impression longer and to more people than all the rest combined.

9) Be sure your brand is represented adequately, accurately and repeatedly. You’ve purchased a certain level of exposure, and most event organizers will bend over backward to help you get it, but if you don’t speak up and remind them, you may not get everything you were promised. Check everything to be sure the brand is represented in the best possible light, and that it’s reproduced at an adequate size, color fidelity and resolution to do you some good – after all, you paid for it.

8) Even if you don’t have something already created, make sure you take advantage of every portion of the sponsorship package. Most sponsorships are multi-faceted, and usually multi-media. If you don’t have elements in use already for each medium, be it flash video, print collateral, sales sheets, logo files in every possible format, bios, soundbites, banner ads, animated gifs, promotional blurbs and items, signage, banners, and other typical elements to take advantage of the whole package of opportunities, create whatever it is you’re missing. You might be the only one of the sponsors who does, in which case, guess who’s going to be the most memorable?

7) Make sure the audience matches your efforts. Most brands have a broad range of demographic, psychographic and geographic audiences it serves. Be sure the sponsorship you pick reaches at least a viable, sizeable niche slice of your total target market. If not, it doesn’t make sense to participate.

6) Make your selection based on LIFETIME CUSTOMER VALUE, and not just acquisition cost. It may cost you $25 to reach, influence and close a new customer to buy your product once. But if the event sponsorship is a valid one, you not only close one sale, but in most cases (if you’re doing your retention efforts correctly), you’ve gained a long-term customer who will enact or refer multiple sales over the next few years. Once you factor that in, the numbers on ROI work much better.

5) Do your part of participate in the success of the event. Your name and your brand is now attached to this event. Do you part to promote it, get some mileage of your own out of your participation, fill the stands and pack the seats – it‘s to your benefit, it drives that many more people to view your participation, and bring you more customers.

4) If the package doesn’t fit, ask for what you want. Most event organizers want the sponsorship to benefit you, so that you’ll repeat or extend your participation and become an evangelist for their event. They want to make you happy, and will negotiate in good faith if you have an alternative proposal to present. If you don’t ask, they won’t likely offer what you want. The tough part is accepting and using the valuations attached to each element. Most often it pays to just make the best overall deal you can, and work it to the fullest.

3) Pick events that make interaction logical. A mountain bike company sponsoring a swimming event doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that same company sponsoring an off-road bike race makes perfect sense. That’s not to say that you can’t sponsor an event outside your industry, you just have to be selective so that the audience can easily make the connection between your brand and the activity they‘re engaged in at the moment.

2) Make the sponsorship an integral part of your strategy, even if it isn’t. Plan your sponsorships to work with your product’s sales curve, either to boost the top or fill in the troughs, seasonally or geographically. If you’re expanding your service or delivery area, work events on the fringes of your current area to make the expansion more organic. If you sell primarily in the summer, work the earlier and earlier events, or later into the fall to extend your season and broaden your exposure.

l) Don’t select more sponsorships or pick more events than you can fully support. The up-front cost is just the tip of the iceberg, and once you add manpower hours, staff training, brand monitoring time, collateral and participation costs, and follow-up and activation costs, it’s easy to get overextended, and not give a full effort to anything, a recipe for failure. Make an honest commitment to the right mix of events and participate fully for the greatest benefit.

Making smart selections when choosing a sponsorship is a combination of art and science, and the basis is really knowing your market, knowing your brand intimately, and using some common sense with an audience perspective. Sponsorship can be a strong part of your marketing mix, if you make the right choices and work them to the fullest.

If you found these tips helpful and would like to read more, pick up your copy of "The Marketing Doctor's Survival Notes"

Monday, November 7, 2011

10 Things You Can Do To Boost Attendance at Your Next Conference

Everybody likes something for nothing, but most business people have become spoiled by attending meetings and conferences on the company’s dime. Well, based on current economic conditions, some of your member’s companies may have precious few dimes to spare for sending their employees to meetings, even though they will be the first to admit the value is there and that they support training and education. So, how do you encourage member companies to help their employees further their professional education, and in turn provide increased value to the company as employees? Below are 10 approaches that have found success, under a variety of economic conditions, at putting attendees in their place – at your meeting.

1) Make it Easy
All the conference marketing in the world can fall apart at the registration form if it is too complicated, too difficult to read or understand or if there are too many steps to the finale. Examine your reg form, and if it takes more than five steps to the last page that says “Congratulations, You’re Registered,” it is too tough, and will likely experience a higher level of abandonment (web or paper), no matter what the price or location. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify (apologies to Thoreau).

2) Help Them Find You
Create a separate landing page for your conference, different from your website – a simple one-page info sheet with a button leading to your registration page – and optimize it for search engines to the very best of your ability. Keep it maintained, keep it fresh as speakers or events are added, and be sure to update and modify the tags to really zero in on the typical searcher – your ISP reports should show you where the visitors are coming from and even some information about location, dwell time and other indicators of audience origin. Read those report, and use them to guide your optimization. If you do not have that expertise in-house, countless SEO firms would be happy to help you for a reasonable fee. Use that landing page address on anything not nailed down that goes out of your office – fax covers, e-mail signatures for all staff, all collateral, book and purchase receipts, dues invoices, outer envelopes, everything. Drive traffic there, and the registrations will follow.

3) Help Them Get There

In an era of rising energy and transportation costs, getting to the meeting and staying there are the two largest expenditures for all but the most local attendees. If you can find some way to offset some of those costs that works for nearly everyone, take full advantage of it and promote it heavily. Car rental companies, hotels, airlines, Amtrak, all offer some sort of discount package, and many can be persuaded to start such a program for you if the volume is sufficient to warrant it. If you add up 10% off the car rental, 15% off the hotel room (above the normal block discount), free hotel shuttle to the convention site, possibly a free meal coupon at the convention, and 10-15% off airfare from select cities with a single carrier, that adds up to significant savings. Once these arrangements are in place, promote them heavily, showing how much you’ve saved your attendees over doing things on their own – you’ve got to beat the travel aggregators at their own game, and that required a certain level of creativity and the ability to go the extra mile for your members.

4) Keep It Close To Home

Do your homework, and some analysis on your attendance patterns, especially when selecting location. Pull the last four year’s worth of attendance reports, and gang them sorted by city. Clear attendance patterns related to city of origin should emerge, and you can safely let those patterns guide your destination city selection for several years in advance. If 60% of your members come from the East Coast, and the balance are sprinkled in the Midwest near the Mississippi river, don’t schedule your next convention in San Francisco – everyone has to travel to that one, and their costs will shoot up as a result, giving you lower attendance. As a rule of thumb, to avoid location drop-off, no more than 10% of your attendees should have to travel more than 500 miles. Unless you are limited by available venues of a certain size, there should be a suitable location that fits those parameters for the great majority of organizations.

5) Bring the Family
One of the most popular strategies for families who are looking to cut costs is to combine business travel with family vacations, effectively cutting the overall vacation cost by the amount subsidized by the company to send the employee to the meeting. If you facilitate this natural tendency, you will boost your attendance. Make it easy for them by including family activities during meeting hours, offering group discounts for activities, and offering spouse activities including lectures, trips and outings specifically for spouses. Work with your destination cities to arrange for special branded days at local attractions, discount offers for attendee’s families, family oriented hotel amenities and the like to encourage bringing the family along. If you offer something of value, they will come.

6) Make It Fun
You know you have great content, and that your meeting is a valuable source of interaction, networking and industry solidarity-building, but all work and no play makes Jack and Jill dull folks. While some groups go overboard by centering the meeting around the golf outing, be sure to find a good balance in your program agenda between educational activities and team-building, lighter and more fun activities. Carefully placed on the seminar agenda, they won’t hurt your session attendance, and will increase your overall attendee count noticeably. Be sure to announce the winners of any competitions or contests to the general populace at a time when all can recognize them, to help build participation for this event next year.

7) Show the Value, Not the City

If your meeting provides real value for the attendees, offers features for everyone can find beneficial, and gives your members a way to connect with their peers and colleagues, the city is a distant third on the list of reasons to attend – so why does so much of the current marketing material showcase and theme off of the destination city? Granted there are funds to be had by collaborating with the local CVB to help promote the destination, but that does not mean that the city is going to resonate with your members’ needs for a conference. They may have had a bad experience with or in that city, not have reasonably convenient flights in from their home location, or not be much of a draw for a segment of your membership for whatever reason. Why risk alienating a segment of your membership by leading the charge with the city. If you offer good content, your marketing should be able to substitute the city name for any other at will, with no negative effect on offer value, graphic presentation or registration rate. Take this test: pull your latest conference promotion and substitute Ottumwa, Iowa, for the destination name currently there, and see if your meeting value proposition drops or if your imagery or graphics no longer make any sense. If so, you are depending too heavily on the city’s cache to attract attendees, and at some point you will hit a clinker and your meeting attendance will drop precipitously for no apparent reason.

8) Let Them Know You Care
Once you have garnered a registration from a member, that should be the beginning of the conversation, not the end. Keep in touch with your registrants almost as rigorously as you do your prospects, and your no-show rate will drop precipitously, boosting actual attendance. Offer special discounts for registering before a certain deadline above and beyond the usual earlybird special. Cut rates for those who register online rather than by mail to encourage online registration. Offer free transportation to the conference venue from a series of destination hotels if they register by a certain date to encourage early registration. The more you over-deliver and under-promise, the more likely they are to actually board the plane and attend, and still feel great about the experience.

9) Let Them Pay Their Way
Make paying for the meeting easy, convenient and reasonable. Allow for the broadest range of payment methods possible, including adding their registration costs to their dues invoice for the year (for a slight increase in price), take all the credit cards you can, accept checks both personal and corporate, offer discounts for multiple registrations on one bill, anything to make payment easy for the attendee. The more open you are to such options, the more likely they will make an effort to find a way to pay you to attend, and the more creative they will be in arranging for that payment. Couched properly and priced correctly, pay-up rates won’t suffer significantly, and your attendance figures will rise beyond any additional risk incurred.

10) Let Them Bring Some Moral Support
Flying to a strange city, finding the conference venue, signing up for the “right” seminars, attending functions populated by strangers, and making it home again can be daunting for a certain segment of your membership, especially the newest members, who might not have attended one of your events and don’t know what to expect. Increase their comfort zone and reduce their trepidation by offering a reduced rate if they bring a friend or colleague. Traveling together is a great bonding experience and can make things easier, sharing rides to the airport and the venue, attending sessions together and comparing notes, etc. By subsidizing the Buddy System, you have just increased your attendance by 25% but only increased your costs by 12.5% - not a bad formula.

Whatever you do to promote your meetings, boosting attendance year over year will be especially tough when the economy takes a turn into negative territory. The more you are willing to give now the more your efforts will pay benefits when things get better. You will have increased your penetration of your membership, boosted their loyalty, and given them a reason to spread the word to their peers and industry colleagues about the value of your meetings and your organization as a whole.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Welcome to the very first of what I hope to be many blog posts as I drag myself kicking and screaming in to the 21st century - in just under a decade, too, not bad!

For the last year or so I've wanted to create a forum for senior management execs and other marketing pros to be able to exchange ideas, pick up tips and best practice tidbits, get questions answered, and be able to share some of my experiences assisting some of the major brands in the country to be their best and most effective through what I call "marketing common sense."

I try not to use too much jargon, for a couple of reasons - one, it's pretentious, and two, it moves so quickly and morphs so fast that it can quickly become dated and stale, not to mention creating some confusion and misunderstanding - the antithesis of what I'm trying to do, which is communicate ideas clearly.

As a start, I'd like to confer some "Thank You"s to some folks who've been very supportive of this effort:
1. Thanks to SMEI folks and to Greg Cangialosi of Blue Sky Factory, who prompted me to get off my ass and do this.
2. To Renee Novak, who's always wanted a place to read more about "The world according to Dave" - I think that's her way of saying I'm opinionated, but she has too much class to say it outright!
3. To my clients, who've stuck with me, even when they didn't have a current assignment but kept in touch
4. To my old bosses, some of whom understood me not at all, and some of whom understood only too well, but all of whom realized the strength needed to try and manage the unmanageable . . .
and lastly,
5. All my friends and colleagues, who over the years have by turns encouraged and tolerated my antics, and had the grace to let me fail as well as succeed on my own . . .