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Creating Brand Standards

Making brand standards actionable.

Many brand managers are challenged with making standards actionable. In this webinar, we will explore the language, frameworks, and tools for creating brand standards that are simple enough for people to follow, but robust enough to make a difference.

Video Creating Brand Standards
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Full transcript:

My name is Kevin Budelmann. I am president of a design consultancy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called Peopledesign. Welcome to our webinar on Creating Brand Standards. I can see by the number of attendees that a lot of people are interested in this topic. I'm happy to share what we have learned in the course of our consulting lives over the last 20 years or so of doing this kind of work for a variety of clients, how the practice has evolved, and how we think about it today.

Thank you very much for joining me today. As I was starting to go through this material, one of the first things I couldn't help but notice is that brand standards abbreviated as "BS." It made me wonder, together with some of the comments that people posted on LinkedIn and other places if people doubt whether Brand Standards are something that is even achievable today.

Brand standards have a rich history and certainly a term as mentioned that many have a lot of interest in, and yet, it's an elusive subject. My belief is that it isn't BS. It is something that you can achieve or something you can strive for, based on a strategic focus. I do think it's an interesting question because I think that the criteria for branding today has been changing like a lot of dynamics in different marketplaces, and we need to respond.

Conventionally, brand standards have been seen as an offshoot of corporate identity standards, corporate identity manual so if you're familiar with this one, this is the New York City Transit Authority graphics standards manual by Massimo Vignelli. Vignelli Associates, your classic archetypical graphic identity manual.

The idea of documenting typographic specifications, sometimes language, graphic treatments, has a rich history. Certainly in the graphic design world and I would say that the corporate identity manuals used to be a mainstay in that industry and that the idea of branding, of course, has evolved a lot in recent years. I think that many of our clients and many in the industry are, in many respects, stuck in that mental model of what a brand standard is. What I hope to do is challenge that notion a bit today.

First of all, when we talk about brand standards, I think we first have to have a level set a little bit and have an understanding of what a "brand" is. We have a distinct point of view: A brand is nothing more or less than the perception that your customer has of your product or service bases on a series of experiences. Brand building today is about getting to a clear perception goal. This critical question is: What do you want your customer to think? Sounds like a simple question that could be easily answered, but it often isn't.

It starts with an understanding that a brand is not just the logo. Even if a graphic identity is specified very carefully in the corporate identity manual, the brand is not simply just some graphic treatments. It's a much broader issue. It's a more difficult issue, in fact, and how to address it becomes the criteria for a brand standards manual.

Thinking about brand standards and brand development, as we think about the brand perception goal, there are all kinds of things that shape a customer's perception. I think that the idea of standards are about encouraging a level of continuity within an organization, the way a product or service gets delivered. I think we have to recognize that there are many, many facets that contribute to that customer perception.

There are people, places, digital experiences, communications. Brand building today should be focused on many different kinds of interactions that happen over a period, and better understanding the relationships between individual customer touch points and how they link together to form an experience. Experiences result in a perception that a customer has of that entity or brand.

Developing standards for a brand is very much about trying to identify what are the points of continuity, what are the red threads that run through all of these different kinds of experiences. It's not a simple problem, especially for companies that get rather large. How do you deal with so many different kinds of complex interactions that can cohere?

If you've watched any of our previous webinars, or perhaps read some of our articles, one of the things to consider is this diagram in which I've become fond. It is a hierarchy for action. At the top, there are decisions that leaders make, which ideally filter down to actions being taken to enable practitioners and to people who get stuff done.

In the middle is this critical section around alignment. I use this in a lot of different context today. The way we use it in terms of our own firm and our offering is we think about the idea of focus and the idea of alignment and the idea of taking action. These three levels of activity are a very helpful model for thinking through decision-making and connecting strategy with action.

This idea of a brand perception goal in my mind relates directly to the idea of focus. If we can be clear about what we want the customer to think, what is the perception we want them to have, it should relate directly to the strategic focus of the organization.

A lot of what the organization needs to do in terms of its internal activities and how it presents itself to its customers and even literally what the offering is should be directly tied to what it is that we want the customer to think. I also think this idea of identity, even though that's been falling by the wayside a little bit, I think it's still connected. The identity of a company is wrapped up in its focus, and how it wants to be perceived.

Brand standards, I believe, are an aspect of alignment. When we think about the idea of creating principles, creating systems, language, metrics, standards are a way to align strategic focus with action. I think we know this, but I don't know as if we always have the vocabulary for thinking about it or for moving forward.

When we start on brand standards projects, I often think it's a symptom of a larger problem. While this particular webinar is not on developing strategic focus, that's a different piece that we did a few quarters ago, I might suggest that a lot of times, the idea or the desire to create brand standards is often a symptom of not having clear focus.

I think these critical questions around what's the philosophy, the goal, the value proposition, the audience, claims, support meaning some of these topics that we've covered elsewhere are really critical drivers for creating alignment and enabling action, of course. Documenting brand standards as an alignment technique is very, very difficult without clarity of focus.

Of course, standards mostly are about trying to enable practitioners, practice areas. Think about what happens all in the day-to-day activities of the organization. The idea of creating standards for individuals or teams to follow is about getting individual activities that are desperate in nature, better aligned and better focused to reflect the strategic direction of the organization.

Here's where we're going to dive a little bit deeper. I think one of the critical questions here is trying to wrap our heads around what touches the customer and, in fact, maybe an equally important question might be what doesn't touch the customer or what doesn't impact the customer.

Of course, as we think about brand, very often our minds go to things like the graphic identity packaging, but arguably, a brand is obviously very much reflected even more so in the product or service, the offering itself. Obviously, marketing and sales, even facilities, signage, wayfinding and, of course, talent and work processes, all of these have an impact on what the customer experiences.

It becomes a complicated affair to start thinking about how are all these things aligned together, and I think that the idea ideally of brand standards is about trying to document and describe and become a helpful tool to help bring these very disparate parts of the organization together.

I shared a version of this slide in my last webinar around alignment specifically, but I find it relevant here, too, and I added a bit more. The interesting part about what happens at the bottom of that pyramid, that hierarchy of action, is that there are these practice areas and practice areas are owned, necessarily, by practitioners. There is deep expertise in different areas and each of those practitioners, there are people that go to school and they have career advancement and they have different goals and language and metrics that often define the conventional silos of a lot of organizations.

Of course, working on standards on any level that start to connect those different groups together is about how to bridge those silos, and that's not a small objective. One of the things that tend to work against teams working together, I found, is the idea of best practices. Now my saying that, I'm not implying in any way that you shouldn't have best practices or that organizations and certainly practitioners shouldn't be aware of their best practices from their industry and their practice area.

I think that sometimes the practice areas that define a particular discipline, in many respects, can be limiting and keep people in their lane a little bit too much, and I think there needs to be, sometimes, a better way to allow different parts of an organization to define success in a more common way.

I have some tongue-in-cheek descriptions here at these different part of an organization, conventionally, and these are all clichés, so I apologize. I think the important thing that happens in terms of the translation from strategic focus into action has to do with this little narrative that I have in the lower left.

I don't know if this sounds familiar to anyone, but the idea that ... It starts with an executive as an idea and is a belief that it will be simple and will work perfectly and then it doesn't. Then, in fact, there's often unanticipated complexity through that process and that complexity becomes institutionalized. It becomes part of the norm.

This is how a lot of organizations get, they get mired and process and they slow down and they sometimes aren't working as effectively as they could. I think that there's often a disconnect between what's happening in terms of the strategic focus, even if it's a great idea at the top and how it's actually implemented on the ground, if you will.

I don't know, those of you who are familiar with Austin Powers and put Dr. Evil here. We joke about it sometimes in our firm where there's a scene in the movie where Dr. Evil has all kinds of wonderful ideas that he'd like to spread his evil around on the world. Of course, when he's refuted by his associate several times in a row, he just goes back to, as he says, let's just do what we always do, hijacks, nuclear weapons and hold the world hostage.

A lot of organizations get to that moment, where teams retreat in the face of confusion. If there's a disconnect between how the practitioners understand what they need to do and what the leadership wants them to do, practitioners go about doing business the way they normally do. They revert to business as usual and their best practices that they are, with all good intentions, trying to achieve for the organization.

What I would suggest here is that the future is about serving the customer better and that your customer is the common denominator. Thinking about the customer needs is a macro lens for prioritization for all of these kinds of activities and it supersedes, very often, best practices, at least at the outset.

As we think about creating standards and this idea of what happens in this alignment area, there are at least two different ways in which this can be put together. First of all, I might propose that the top layer as you move from the higher level of focus into alignment is about translating that vision and then the lower level is enabling practitioners. Let me explain what I mean.

At the higher level, first of all, it's a matter of trying to ... Once you get clarity around the philosophy, goal, the value proposition and the things that should have happened in that strategic focus conversation, the next part has to do with envisioning or extrapolating from that vision what that might start to look like.

This can be a challenging thing for a number of reasons. First of all, sometimes people lack some expertise in thinking about things this way, knowing how to identify patterns and principles without being overly prescriptive about the practice. There are a number of models that help organize customer touchpoints. Around the idea of a customer journey, what I'm calling pixels, things and people, character use and meaning and the idea of a brand Bible, which I'll get into in a minute.

The critical question here is, as we think about the customer, the perception goal and all of these different activities that have to add up to something coherent, asking ourselves, what should happen as we try to translate this vision. There is a time for dividing and conquering – but not yet.

I say that because I think too often what happens is that sometimes leadership might have a vision, and they hand it to all of the constituent leaders or VPs in an organization and that there's a sense of going go forth and conquer. You take on your piece, and I'll take on my piece. I think that sometimes happens too soon. I know this is a cliché, but certainly the idea of being better collaborators and better communicators is a critical part of this next step.

I think that it's important to have input from practitioners, which is to say executives often don't have that kind of practical practitioner knowledge about what happens down at the bottom of that pyramid. There needs to be input there. However, practice areas need to be somewhat agnostic. That is, can't immediately click into best practices for that particular discipline and assume that that will override all other processes. This is about creating a new process to achieve the brand perception goal that we're aiming for our customer.

Part of it overlaps the strategic focus part, the competitive claim brand promise, but beyond that, it goes into, I think, ideas around customer-centered modeling. Better understanding the customer pain points. What are customer behaviors and beliefs? What is the context for making decisions? How do they move through the life cycle as how they experience the brand? What are their expectations?

I think very often customer expectations run contrary to the results of, sometimes, best practices within a particular discipline. The goal should be partly around developing new principles, new metrics, new language and maybe even new roles. Mapping the customer journey is one way to do this so thinking about time, the customer's passage in a linear progression from point A to point B is one way to think about drawing these, sometimes very disparate parts of the organization, different disciplines, different investments together into one.

There are a lot of models for these things. At Peopledesign, we often used the idea of building awareness, convincing and committing and supporting this middle layer. Some of you may be familiar with what's sometimes called the five Es model, which has to do with entice, enter, engage, exit, extend. Truly an organization can personalize this and use it to their own benefit, but I think that probably the simplest way to think about it is what happens before, during and after a particular kind of event.

That could be on a micro level in terms of a particular, let's say a retail experience as you move through a store or it could be at a macro level in terms of the overall life cycle of a customer. In any case, thinking about how these things relate to one another, looking through the lens of the customer and how they perceive it, independent of media, independent of departments and who's responsible for what, you'll create a more comprehensive end and a better experience.

The next mechanism has to do with media so what I call pixels, things and people. They're listed in the order of difficulty and how difficult they are to change. Pixels in some respect are the easiest thing to change these days, but one of the things I'll suggest here is that pixels are not a project. The reason I say that is too often people think about the web initiative or increasingly, let's say mobile.

Digital efforts as a project. We need to take this on as a project and we need to move forward. They're not wrong in a sense, but the challenge is that digital media is a medium. It's not something you do once and then you go home. The idea of thinking about, obviously, the web and mobile, but also increasingly, it's about environments or it's about embedded technology and even more so into things like transactions and automation. I think that we need to think a little bit bigger about how the digital artifacts, digital media may play a role that runs as a thread through our customer experiences that shape perception.

Things, of course. The logical one is products, the actual product you interact with, but also showrooms, facilities, signage and even as it starts to relate to things like product portfolio planning, through developing road maps, research and design. The idea of these physical artifacts and its relationship with the digital artifacts, I think is critical. These things are connected. Even if they aren't necessarily in a digital way, I think it's important to recognize ...

Too often I've worked with a lot of organizations where the product development path seems to be almost an independent discussion from almost everything else. Similarly, facilities and similarly, let's say marketing and, again, all of these things end up in the lap of the customer and the customer has to try to decipher them and derive some meaning. Either that's clear or it's not.

Then people. People are critical. They development out of talent and how they interact with these systems, how they interact with your customers, what do they say, how do they behave. It's a whole other practice area, of course, as you get into human resource development, but the idea of teams and talent, training. Also, things like incentives and how do you think about the team and how are they supposed to interact with these digital and physical things. The idea being, of course, to develop a coherent system that will start to translate the vision.

Again, as you may notice here, what I've tried deliberately to do, is dodge conventional classifications for responsibility, in part because they should be mutually owned by different parts of the organization. It's just a lens to start thinking about these experiences that can start to allow them to relate to each other better and add up to singular whole.

Another model is one that we introduced in our book. We published a book in 2010 called Brand Identity Essentials, and there are a few different versions I just listed here for your reference, but on paperback it actually has a slightly different title, and it's in different languages and there's an iPad version. There's a poster if you're at all interested, so there's a link there and things.

I apologize for the commercial there. I guess what I wanted to mention here is that the structure of the book and the structure of the poster is based on the idea of graphic identity, identity programs and brand identity. It's a little bit like a small-medium-large. If you think about it in this context, you could think about it as brand experiences: What is the character of those experiences (maybe the physical properties, the aesthetics, perhaps the emotions, the feeling)? How are they used? What is their function? What's the application? What medium?

Of course, both of those things are a more abstract level is what do they mean. What's the connection to the customer? What are the customer motives and how that relates to that connection. What's the story? Lenses for thinking about the customer experience, and ways of unpacking the vision that relates to these experiences and touchpoints is the first step of moving from strategic focus into alignment – and developing brand standards.

The next level down is what I'll call enabling practitioners. This is the space and if you work within a corporation or have clients who do, certainly this is the space of the cross-functional team. The evolution of a cross-functional team has emerged to deal with this issue. Some are more successful than others, frankly. A lot of it has to do with how well those individuals are able to communicate with one another. As I say, if each practitioner stays only in their own lane and thinks about the metrics and the language and the goals that are focused on that individual practice area, it's harder to work in a cross-functional way.

This becomes critical, to be able to work this way. I think, in fact, even new job titles are starting to emerge in this space. I mentioned earlier about new roles. New job titles in terms of ... Titles that start to sound like a combination of two different jobs. I think throwing in the word brand with almost anything else is like you're straddling two traditional practice areas. I think even the user experience, UX design, depending on who you speak to about how that's defined these days, it very much is about actually connecting dots. It's less, sometimes, about a particular practice. It often has to do with digital things, but it may not.

If you're familiar with the idea of T-shaped individuals – the idea that an individual has some deeper expertise in a particular practice area, but also can work horizontally with other practice areas – is a point of view that we subscribe to for our own hiring practices. It is also required for groups to function in this way.

It does, in fact, though, require practitioner knowledge. You can't be talking about the impact on a facility without somebody from facilities. You can't talk about the product without having product engineering and product design in the room. There's a necessary skill set or else you're just talking in generalities about things that can't actually be achieved.

It's about establishing patterns. I think the historical corporate identity manual is what had previously occupied this space, but fits here. It's a larger problem now. A lot of it is about prototyping and building examples, which I'll explain in a moment. There are different ways of thinking about, also, paradigms. What do you always do, sometimes do and never do in the idea of brand standards?

Here is a little bit about prototyping. The designers who may be on this call, this will be a very familiar concept, but the idea of this iterative between thinking in order to make and making in order to think, I think, is valid here, too. I think that as you move down toward certain practice areas, you have to think about the problem as moving from the idea of a problem on the left through an iterative process to create principles on the right.

The reason I mention in this context is I think that it can be difficult to create principles for brand standards in the abstract. It's hard to go from we just want some rules for how to govern all of our work. It can be difficult to just create those rules independent of examples illustrating those rules.

Certainly, we have found that a way to enable practitioners in this way is to create something, is to create an example. This is commonly seen as a design exercise. It seems like almost skipping over the alignment step and jumping down to a particular practice area, but it's a way to ... You can keep the resolution of the prototypes low, and you can work through something quickly as a way to learn, as a way to better understand and describe those principles.

I think it's a matter of working through some examples as a way to go down to a detailed resolution or detailed enough, a higher level of detail so that you can evaluate and say okay, does this reflect the character of the strategy that we are aiming for. If so, how might we describe it and then if we can describe it, we can write it down, and it becomes more of a standard or principle that we can follow for future such exercises.

What I would encourage you to do is to look for brand levers. The poster that I mentioned that came out of our book project, it was actually organized into the three buckets I mentioned earlier in terms of brand identity, identity programs and graphic identity, but the other side of the matrix on the poster had to do with these other characteristics, which are really just levers, the way I look at it.

You could think about each of these dimensions as a slider or scale. A scale from one to ten or a way to ask yourself how does imagery play a role, how does color play a role, how does dimension play a role, how does contrast play a role. Do we employ humor? How does social media play into this? How do we think about ... How much does personalization play?

We're really looking, in many respects, for a vocabulary, way to communicate across disciplines and enable some level of choice because these things are choices. It's a way to get more descriptive about the character of a solution and the character of a principle and the type of standard that you might like to adopt as an organization instead of just saying I like that or don't like that.

This is not a discrete list. I put etcetera at the bottom. These are the 33 that we came up with for the book, but certainly, the goal is to work toward a common vocabulary as a starting place for having a more substantive discussion about brand standards.

Finally, I just mention in case it isn't obvious, but I've been on too many projects where it isn't obvious so I will mention it. I think very often with standards, sometimes people think about standards as something that, and certainly based on my earlier discussion here, is so much about trying to affect the customer's perception, as it should be. People assume that it starts with launching something in a public way, with customers.

However, a critical part with any of these exercises is engaging parts of the organization and the actual creation of the standards themselves. Brand Standards should be co-created by different departments.

Even people who weren't involved in that process per se, a new program should be launched internally first. It is very important to explain the vision, its meaning and implications, needed training, and timetable. Nobody wants to hear about the new standard after it's been implemented and is in front of the customer. The internal launch is often overlooked – it is too often crammed in at the last minute.

This is partly due to a desire to launch quickly, but these difficulties can be difficult to overcome, depending on the size and complexity and the character of your organization. It's important to make sure that there's internal alignment before you can get external alignment.

Finally, I'll just mention that the 100th item in our book is about keeping things simple. If all of this sounds really complex, here's maybe a simple way to have some level of triage on these issues, which is, thinking about aspects of your brand and what's standard and how you execute on standards, just think about what will you always do, what will you sometimes do and what will you never do.

It's a useful mechanism for understanding how much continuity does there need to be. How are you going to achieve continuity across all these different kinds of dimensions as I mentioned the last several slides? Certainly, I think that any brand will have certain things that will always be and I think that that's useful to identify them and be really clear about, every time we execute on this brand, it has to have at least these three, four, whatever, things. Certain characteristics, certain aspects that represent the brand because we feel that those things are really critically important in helping to shape that customer perception.

Then there's a category of things that are sometimes there. They're optional, and they may be up to practitioners, or they may be subject to some level of interpretation, or maybe they're a guideline, but not a rule. Then there are things that we never do. I think that's also helpful to identify. In fact, sometimes it's a little bit easier to identify the things you'll never do as a way to achieve what you'll always do. What would be totally wrong for a brand? Being clear about that is, I think, another useful way. It becomes a simple shorthand for thinking about something that could get pretty complex.

In summary, the way we seem to think about brand standards today is really a lens for decision-making. First, think or consider a new approach, the idea of the corporate identity manual has evolved. A brand is a perception shaped by experience. These systems are holistic things, and it can be a complicated endeavor, but it's necessary to see the big picture and recognize that the desire, the itch to create brand standards may, in fact, be the symptom of a larger problem. Be aware of that.

Standards themselves are part of alignment. From my standpoint, it's a matter of connecting focus with action. In order to inspire action, you need to engage practitioners. You need to be able to work with practitioners because you need their skill sets and expertise, but they also need not be locked in their lanes.

As a way to move forward and create a new system, I think there are at least two tiers of this alignment. One has to do with translating the strategy and the other is enabling those practitioners. Translating the strategy has to do with building on that strategic focus to extrapolate and organize into customer viewpoints (not based on, for example, IT, facilities, or marketing) but more based on a more broadly defined experience. What should be the character of the digital brand?

What is the customer's perception or expectation of what it's supposed to be? Keeping it at the principle level is a way to start describing what that experience should be. Then start thinking about those building blocks. Different kinds of brand levers. What are the new principles and even conceivably titles of people who are to govern these kinds of things. What are the language and what are the metrics? Above all else, keep it simple.


Q: If there's no capable brand champion in the company, someone who will oversee and manage a brand, do you stay engaged and act in that capacity?

A: That's a question for us, specifically, in terms of our own capabilities. It is very interesting. I would say that we do, in fact, act in that capacity often. We try to act as a catalyst. Ultimately someone internally needs to function as the brand champion. Often these kinds of issues aren't identified by senior management as a chief concern. What can happen is that these issues are brought to the table from a particular practice area. It's coming from the web team, or it's coming from facilities, and there's usually a champion at the practitioner level who's starting to see the bigger picture. We help the organization see a broader picture and start connecting dots.

Q: Will you be making the recording and slides available after the webinar's over?

A: Absolutely. I am recording this webinar and will post it on our website and I will send you all a link once it's up there.

Q: How do you overcome a lack of appetite in value for understanding brand?

A: It's a tricky one, for sure. The word brand can be problematic because it's loaded and has particular kinds of meanings. I think, from my standpoint, a brand is not a shallow thing. It's something that's quite deep. All I mean by that is that it's really how the customer perceives you so the reason a customer may choose your company over another company is their brand perception.

It's hard to see that as not an important question. I think the bigger question is how do you shape that perception. You can call it brand, and you can call it something else, in fact. Brand, depending on where the organization is coming from may have an appreciation for that definition, but many organizations may not. Just starting to think about how do customers make decisions. Having a better understanding of what ... Why do they choose your firm over someone else? These things are critical to understanding, from my standpoint. I think that most executives would agree with that so maybe starting there is a useful place to go.

Q: Can you give a specific example of how a brand standards have provided a lens for decision-making?

A: It just so happens that about a week and a half ago, I gave a talk talking about a product development. One of the scenarios that we got involved in had to do with certain brand attributes that we had developed, co-created with our client-customer. In this context, it had a lot to do with trying to simplify the product offering.

This company that had many, many SKUs and a lot of historical products and had a difficult time trying to make decisions about what to keep and what not to keep. If you're in a manufacturing space in particular, you have a tendency to have made this upfront investment in tooling, setup, etc. That's a lot of organizational momentum and resources in a particular direction. It's hard to change. It was hard to have a conversation internally with that particular client with how to do that.

Part of the brand discussion had a lot to do with trying to be easier to do business with. They saw themselves as being one of the easiest companies to do business with within their category. That's all well and good to claim, but it's a totally different thing to start to execute on, of course.

As we started to go through this kind of process and better understand what does that look like, one of the most confusing parts was the fact that they had such an overwhelmingly complex product offering. We had come up with a model for a system that was for them. Although it's interesting because we've used a similar approach for other clients at this point, just because it's universal in a sense.

We tried to get them to identify or work with them to identify, which products they should promote, which is a pretty simple answer for them. New products – the latest, greatest – was the most competitively differentiating. Next, we helped identify products aren't they going to promote, but are they going to continue to support. Here is the lion's share, the middle of the bell curve. There were a lot of products that they wanted to make sure that they took customer service calls for, but our argument was you don't have to put that on the front page of the website or whatever.

The third category was what do you retire, and that's, of course, the more difficult decision, but I think once we gave them a lens through which they could start to make those kinds of choices. Once we made a decision about being easier to do business with, it was easier to go through their very long product offering and do this triage on which products do we promote, which products do we support and which products do we retire.

In fact, it had a pretty significant impact in terms of how they viewed themselves, but also, it made the price book simpler. It made their website simpler. It did a lot of those kinds of things. It was successful approach.

Q: What advice do you have for a start-up who is finding out more and more about who their customer is and what they want every day as they grow? We established brand standards prior to launch, but we are learning more about the customer every day.

A: That's a great question, in part because actually I think this is the attitude that most organizations should have all the time. I think that one of the biggest challenges we find among a lot of organizations is the fact that there is too much of the conventional understanding of who the customer is. They're not in appreciation about the fact that the customer is probably changing quite rapidly.

Whether you're a start-up or whether you're a more established company, I think understanding that you should, in fact, be finding more and more about your customer every day, should be an explicit goal. While this particular session, I don't go into the specifics about how ... There was one slide, I think I talked about trying to understand the context of decision-making and behaviors and motives of the customer. That's a very deep and wide initiative, to understand that.

If you think about some of the best and most successful companies around today, many of them have incredible levels of information. Unprecedented levels of information about their customer and real-time customer information that also in real time, sometimes changes what they do and how they do it.

I think this is the model of the future. In some respects, being a start-up might be an advantage in that you are smaller and don't have the scale and complexity that a more established firm might have. In any case, it's a discipline that every company today should be thinking more and more about.

A simple example is Google Analytics. I'm amazed how little attention organizations are paying to such a powerful tool. New tools like this offer an incredible amount of information – it's amazing!

You can go much deeper than that, depending on your system. If you use automated marketing, and if you think about order processing and start to correlate various streams of data, it can be very powerful. We are certainly moving into an era of Big Data era, it's something that all organizations should think about.

Q: Do we conduct market research? How do you acquire knowledge?

A: You need to determine customer needs and wants. Makes me think we should do a webinar on that topic. Our approach is based largely on qualitative ethnographic research. There's a lot of history of quantitative market research out there, and there's nothing wrong with that necessarily.

I do think that sometimes conventional quantitative market research studies don't lead to new conclusions so people study the same market in the same way and they ask the same kinds of questions and they get the same kinds of results. Then people feel like the research was a waste of time and money and perhaps it was.

There are techniques that have been developed over the last few decades which are being used in a marketing context and that we subscribe to. These methods are more about trying to understand what users need, and less about what people want. People can tell you what they want, but they can't tell you what they need. Nobody told a market researcher that they really wanted an iPhone before it existed. Perhaps that's too easy of a target, but I think that trying to better understand what our customer is trying to achieve, what do they want, what are they motivated by, what is the context of their decision-making, how much do they know about the product or service that you're offering?

So much of those things play into how they make decisions about a brand and I think should be informative in developing a strategic brand focus. The research that you had employed to understand those things are very different than conventional surveys. It's a not as shallow and wide, but it's more deep and narrow.

Let me see here. Still a lot of people on. Any more questions, anybody? Let me see here. I've answered all these questions. That's a nice comment. Thank you very much for your feedback.

Thank you very much for listening. As I mentioned, I'm making a recording of this webinar and will post it on our website. I'm happy to entertain any questions separately from all of this.

Stay tuned. We will be having a fourth webinar this year in the fourth quarter, and I will certainly let you know when that happens. We haven't yet put the topic together, but we will soon.

Again, thank you very much for taking time out of your day to join me. Have a great day.

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