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  • Posted by: Dyfed "Fred" Richards on Thursday, February 16 2012 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

    It’s that time of year when men go weak at the knees, generally act like fools and spend most of what’s in their wallets in the all-out pursuit of love. The price of flowers skyrockets, restaurant reservations become as rare as diamonds and – speaking of diamonds – jewelry ads clutter the airwaves and newspapers. It is de rigueur to purchase one or more tokens of affection for your significant other on Valentine’s Day. For many men, a safe and (somewhat) affordable choice is a bottle of perfume. Problem solved. Or is it?

    The explosion of perfume brands in recent years is unprecedented, especially in the celebrity-endorsed category. The rule of thumb seems to be that you must have a signature scent to be taken seriously as a “star.” (“D-listers” need not apply.) To the perfume houses of the world it is serious business to sign the latest and greatest “It” girl or hunkomatic boy to endorse the newest smell in a bottle; Andy Warhol’s 15-minutes-of-fame prophecy seems to be alive and well in this category. It can be a dangerous strategy to link a brand with an individual whose celebrity may burn bright one day and flame out the next; however, when one of these fragrances hits the big time the rewards can be considerable for both star and perfume house.

    But back to the consumer: How does a bewildered male select the right celebrity perfume brand for his special someone? More often than not, he will endeavor to navigate the cases and aisle displays of a department store perfume and cosmetics department – the poor fellow! Will his selection be Elizabeth Taylor’s classic White Diamonds, one of the first celebrity-endorsed fragrances and still one of the top-10 sellers? Or will he choose the much-promoted scent from a manufactured movie or television star? How about one from a former bad-boy rap artist or a perfectly coiffed teen singer? Purchasing perfume at a department store can trigger a dizzying sensory overload and intimidating experience at shelf. Overwhelmed, many men beat a hasty retreat to a perfume store – big mistake! There, they typically are confronted by shelves and shelves of various bottles and packages all screaming for attention while they fight their way through a crowd of giggling school girls covered in Hello Kitty glitter and lip gloss!

    Two decades ago the perfume category was dominated by classics such as Chanel and brand choice was simple. Today, some perfume houses feature entire portfolios of scents dedicated to a single celebrity, and use a tiering strategy to milk the franchise for as long as the star remains relevant: The master celebrity brand is launched in high-end department stores, followed by the debut of flanker sub-brands and limited editions in mid-tier and mass-market retail stores. This is savvy marketing, as the widespread availability and affordability of these celebrity scents increases category awareness as a whole and supports brand stretch for both the celebrities and perfume houses. It’s a “good, better, best” approach to scent branding that consumers appear to understand and tolerate.

    Another way that perfume houses strengthen the brand-consumer connection is by involving the celebrity in their scent’s creation, from inception through development and marketing. The celebrity’s participation in crafting their perfume and its brand proposition is what consumers see and appreciate; it also provides the authenticity consumers admire. (This interesting relationship between brand, manufacturer and consumer could provide insights for other categories.) I understand that Lady Gaga was a stickler for details in the development and launch of her scent with Coty; this is laudable and understandable, as the brand equity of both Gaga and the perfume house were on the line. Sean John Combs and J Lo seemed to have cracked the code with scents that might just outlast their singing careers. Sean John managed three years at the top spot for men’s brands, while J Lo launched Glow and generated over $80 million in first-year sales.

    Unfortunately, none of this back story helps the poor sap who, at the end of the day, just wants to buy some perfume and make a positive, heartfelt impression on his beloved. My advice to fellow males is to do some homework before you make the trek to the department or perfume store. Flip through magazines or store circulars and sniff the perfume inserts. What scents do you find most appealing – sweet, citrus, or musky? Peruse the bottles on your lady’s dresser; what perfumes does she prefer and for what occasions? Then, armed with your new-found knowledge, let your nose lead you in the right direction.

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  • Posted by: Dyfed "Fred" Richards on Wednesday, December 21 2011 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

     

    In the space of a few decades – and within less than one generation – technology products have evolved from devices such as record players, Walkmen and VCRs to a vast array of digital delights we now refer to as “consumer electronics.” But as the high-tech category continues to expand in its offerings and influence, electronics aren’t the only things evolving. Consumers are, too, and their evolution is creating branding and communication challenges for category participants young and old.

    When I was growing up, the male head of the household typically purchased, assembled and operated the family’s technology products, although everyone enjoyed their benefits. The television remote (attached to the TV by a cable) was the prized object; dictating channel selection a coveted task. I recall my father being greeted with much fanfare and delight when he carried our first VCR across the threshold. In those heady days, schools stopped classes to watch space shuttles being launched into outer space, and my father faithfully recorded the events for posterity on a VHS cassette. We felt we were on technology’s cutting edge.

    My, how (quickly) things have changed! Today, every family member is in charge of his or her personal technology products, and it is often the youngsters who tutor their parents in the latest operating systems and apps. The digital revolution we have been witness and partner to has reshaped our world, but at what cost? As the human race embraces each new high-tech innovation in our never-ending quest for speed and access to information, there is clearly a trade-off taking place: Our evolving role within an evolving technology chain is moving us farther and farther from the original source of information, hampering our ability to determine its veracity. It is somewhat akin to our relationship with the food chain. The farther we drift from the source of our food – the how, when, and why the chicken breast ended up on our plate – the less we know about the food’s composition, nutritional value and safety; creating, in essence, a food identity crisis.

    Technology brands, I fear, may be on the verge of a similar identity crisis. While the local food movement is course-correcting and educating retailers and consumers on the nutritional and environmental value of selling and eating locally produced foods, the consumer electronics industry continues to blindly charge ahead, creating a larger and larger vacuum between the source (code and content) and the consumer. Apparently, CE manufacturers are banking on the fact that a vast proportion of consumers are not interested in the “who, what, when, where, how or why” behind their high-tech toys. As long as manufacturers continue to produce “the latest and greatest” products (whatever that means), consumers will continue to snap them up. Or will they?

    Increasing numbers of consumers are becoming more selective and informed about their technology purchases – and they are using technology itself to compare and contrast features, components, price and availability. Consumers’ evolving buying habits should be a wake-up call for the CE industry to evolve its branding and marketing practices. For example, the industry has been talking to itself using jargon and (meaningless) alpha-numeric codes that left the consumer behind decades ago. Offering simplified messaging for the majority (which spans all age groups), with easy access to more in-depth information for technophiles, is paramount. Any CE brand that can cut through the communications clutter and simplify the customer journey will be seen as revolutionary.

    Someone recently told me that – at some moment in time – every person has his or her day, every company has its best year ever, and every brand has the “it” product. (Recall that Betamax and VHS had their day in the sun.) However, to achieve sustainable success in the “blink-or-you’ll miss it” world of consumer electronics, a brand’s messaging – and its packaging – need to keep pace with the evolving information needs and preferences of its target audience, which is growing larger and more diverse by the minute.

    It is time for CE brands to rethink the role that packaging plays for products that primarily engage with prospective buyers online or in a store’s out-of-the-box display, such as TVs, laptops and e-readers. Here’s a personal example: I recently bought a flat-screen TV; a significant financial investment and major family event. My wife and I first conducted extensive online research to determine what brand and model would best meet our needs, based on the price we wanted to pay. Later, when we arrived at the store to see what our chosen TV actually looked like, on-shelf product cards and “Kevin,” our friendly sales associate, detailed its features and benefits. I even got to use the remote to test the sound and picture quality. We didn’t see the TV’s packaging until after we had made our purchase. However, when we got home, the importance of that packaging became clear. With no “Kevin” to help us with set-up, the on-pack illustrations, as well as the accompanying instruction card and new user DVD, walked us through the process.

    Packaging’s evolving role in the consumer electronics category creates new challenges and opportunities for CE brands to engage with consumers. To succeed, these brands may well need to think “outside the box.”

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  • Posted by: Dyfed "Fred" Richards on Monday, August 1 2011 03:55 PM | Comments (0)

    July is National Ice Cream Month, a perfect reason to celebrate this flavorful, icy treat in my monthly Design Perspective. The joys of ice cream transcend geography and generations: From a creamy vanilla topping, a slice of apple pie, to rocky road dripping down a cone and over the fingers, enjoying ice cream is a universal experience. Who hasn’t dropped whatever they were doing and raced out the door when they heard the jingling bells on the ice cream truck as it made its way up the street?

    In recent years ice cream’s appeal as a meal-ending dessert has broadened to that of an anytime indulgence. The resulting explosion in the number of local, regional, national and global ice cream brands is nothing short of remarkable. In some ways, the market emulates the microbrewery beer industry, with its proliferation of local players. I reside in Cincinnati and am fortunate to live within walking distance of an ice cream parlor that features one of the local brands. This brand has a consumer following whose loyalty borders on fanaticism; to suggest that any other brand of ice cream is superior is regarded as sacrilegious. This devotion is akin to how passionate and territorial consumers are about their local beers. It stirs something deep within us; a desire that is difficult to describe but easy to ignite. It also helps to propagate a never-ending debate: Which ice cream brand is the creamiest? Is hand-packed superior to pump-packed? Do add-ins enhance or detract from the primary flavor? Does ice cream taste better in a cone or cup? I guess we will have to keep sampling to know for certain!

    The design language of the ice cream market generally adheres to themes of location, ingredient, heritage, or indulgent stories. Local brands place great pride in their roots, often featuring area landmarks or a color palette specific to their town or city of origin. Sometimes they use a family name as the brand name; this helps build the story behind the brand. Regional brands more often than not began as local brands but their packaging has evolved over the years to make the brand look bigger and more commercial. Unfortunately, this design approach can have a downside: Consumers invariably compare the new version to the original and may decide, “It don’t taste like it used to.” National brands employ power branding and all of the graphic tricks of the design trade; all-American nostalgia reigns supreme within this category. Finally, global players strive to communicate consistency and brand value. 


    While the usual ice cream category clichés abound there are some innovative players who excel in their branding and packaging. For me, Haagen Dazs is a key global player, not only because its ice cream consistently uses high-quality ingredients but because it expertly manages its key brand equities. I have cited this brand on many occasions as a best-in-class example and not just in the ice cream category. As any great brand should, Haagen Dazs builds an exceptional consumer experience around its brand, from the instantly recognizable name itself all the way to the worldwide perception of its premium status. Haagan Dazs’ branding elements are as pure as its product ingredients: Keep things simple, clean and consistent, and play to the category language. How does Haagan Dazs do this? The company consistently uses four of its key brand assets – logo, color, pattern and ingredient story – across all consumer touchpoints. Any additional elements either speak to the category, the event, the category language or the delivery mechanism. It’s a sweet recipe for brand success that other ice cream brands would love to replicate.

    The Haagen Dazs Principle

    At Interbrand we frequently use an approach we call the Haagen Dazs Principle. It is based on the simple idea of leveraging four of a brand’s key assets – in this case, logo, color, pattern and ingredient story – and delivering them consistently across all touchpoints, no matter the media. Once these four assets have been identified, additional contextual messaging can be added without detracting from the ability to identify the brand and its core. This enables a brand to maintain consistency, differentiate itself from competition and continually accrue brand equity. Interbrand’s proprietary process focuses on identifying these media-agnostic equity elements and helping our clients and their agency partners activate them in the marketplace.

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  • Posted by: Dyfed "Fred" Richards on Tuesday, May 10 2011 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

    As brandchannel reported, the Australian government has recently announced moves to become the first country in the world to adopt plain packaging for cigarettes. This means removing logos and branding – as well as featuring graphics meant to disgust and shock the prospective buyer, along with a related health warning.

    I would argue that Australia’s strategy isn’t likely to stop anybody from buying cigarettes – just as a similar strategy isn’t likely to stop anybody from buying bullets. If someone is intent on buying a product with known negative side effects, “scare tactic” packaging is not likely to deter the sale. However, this approach does set a potential precedent for categories as extensive as household products, lawn and garden, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and car care.

    Any product that could be deemed lethal beyond its intended use might fall into the same situation as cigarettes in Australia. Requiring that such a product be branded in a manner that articulates its negative side effects is a dangerous path to follow, as the negative can actually become a positive to some consumers. Such has been the case in movies where the villain – for example, The Joker in “Batman” – becomes more attractive to audiences than the hero himself. Also, what about the potential of the anti-brand becoming a brand? To see how this can work, simply look at the MUJI brand, which deliberately pursues the pure and the ordinary, and offers products that avoid unnecessary functionality, an excess of decoration, and needless packaging.

    I believe that Australian consumers will eventually become immune to the arresting images and statements inherent in this scare tactic packaging and that it will have absolutely no effect on anyone who wants to smoke. Consumers begin to accept the visual language of any given category over time; this then becomes the visual stimulus for the category rather than a deterrent. Frankly, while other categories may be less disturbing than cigarettes in terms of product content, their packaging is just as off-putting in terms of visual stimulation and bland thinking. Yet, consumers welcome this visual language into their lives and homes every day.

    It is clear that the Australian government is hoping to stun consumers into not purchasing cigarettes. However, my guess is that this negative packaging approach will merely slow sales in the near term and they will rebound later. If the government really feels this strongly about the product, then why not ban cigarettes altogether? That would send a far more profound message than this cosmetic approach.

    In the end, consumers only know what they know and find it very difficult to articulate why they like or do not like a particular product. Even in flash card exercises or focus group sessions (e.g., “Do you like this image? Would you purchase this brand?”), they typically reference the language with which they are familiar. Keeping this in mind, the Australian government’s scare tactic packaging, designed to be a deterrent, may instead become part of the category vernacular.

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  • Posted by: Dyfed "Fred" Richards on Thursday, April 14 2011 02:36 PM | Comments (0)

    As a homeowner, I make a series of seasonal pilgrimages to my local home improvement store to purchase the necessary tools and supplies to tackle all of the jobs on my “honey-do” list. Like any man, I enjoy the sights and the smells of a hardware store, where you can pick up painting or gardening advice along with your bag of 10-penny nails, and stroll up and down aisles containing everything from toilet fixtures to gas grills.

    After spending considerable time in hardware stores, I have noticed some common design denominators for product categories. One eye-catching practice: Tools and tool accessories are, for the most part, colored yellow and black, red and black, or green and black – traditional colors to signify danger and/or strength, dominance, and vitality.

    Black paired with a vibrant color can never be ignored. The combination creates the ultimate “power” duo; it’s the de facto color palette for tools and signifies that the product means business, is robust and is made for men – you know, real men who understand tools. So powerful is this palette’s pull that some brands intent on breaking into the tool category default to it in an effort to belong – which does nothing to help them stand out from their more established competitors.

    Beyond the instinctive, primal associations the male subconscious has for these strong color palettes, they also serve a practical purpose. For years, contractors have used bold colors to help identify and differentiate their tools from those of other contractors on the job site; also, to protect their investment from theft and loss. Contractor sales comprise 25 percent of the revenue for large warehouse stores and, furthermore, contractors spend considerably more per visit than “regular” consumers. In fact, they were at the tip of the spear in driving the success of the warehouse store format.

    It is no surprise that the marketing approaches which have proven successful in the hardware category have not changed much in the last decade. But do they have the power to sustain, or even grow, the market? Home improvement stores and their product suppliers may need to retool their traditional, color-based branding practices so that their brands speak to new shoppers (including females!) without alienating their core audience.

    One possibility – particularly in today’s challenging economic times – is to appeal to instinctive consumer emotions such as safety and security. To do this, marketers need to don the mantle of consumer and ask some new questions of their brands and products: How can this help me save money on home repairs? Reduce energy bills? Keep my family safer? Make living with less easier to bear?

    Consumer watchwords have shifted from “power” and “prosperity” to “practical” and “priority.” Hardware brands, therefore, need to focus more on their products’ purpose rather than their potential to impress the neighbor across the hedge. Add a dash of color? Sure. But remember to talk to consumers about what really matters: how the brand can contribute to their family’s safety, security and financial well-being.

    Color and Instinctive Design

    Brands create consumer pull; however, the psychology of brand purchase decisions is far more instinctive than rational. In fact, 95 percent of purchases are based on an unconscious decision; on emotions rather than logic. Understanding the shopping decision-making process is key to orchestrating buying behavior. By leveraging brand, design, consumer and shopper insights, companies can develop powerful, instinctive packaging designs that connect with shoppers’ key emotions and produce as much as an 80 percent conversion rate. Color is one of the design techniques that Interbrand uses to instinctively delight and connect with the shopper and consumer. Among others are telling stories, creating characters, playing with numbers, signatures and scripts, and opening ceremonies.

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