Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The 4 Key Differences Between a Brand and Branding

Separated by a mere three letters, there's a world of difference between the words "brand" and "branding."  Too often, they are used interchangeably and interpreted in many different ways.  Common terms associated with both words include "naming," "identity," "tagline," "packaging," "advertising," and so forth, mainly centered around tactical elements.

In our experience working with organizations in the service sector, the difference between the two ideas comes down to this:  A brand is a destination, where you want to end up, while branding is the journey or the roadmap to get you there.

There are other important differences between the two terms, some dealing with dollars and others that just make sense.

A brand is a goal; branding is a strategy.

From the breakthrough book, "Positioning - The battle for your mind," (Trout and Ries), establishing a market position is a goal, it's where you want to end up.  Similarly, owning a brand (position) is where you want to be in the minds (and hearts) of your customers.

Branding, on the other hand, is the multi-phased process of securing that position and includes key strategies around the developmental, operational, promotional, organizational, and cultural building-blocks of brand development.  This Blog has a dedicated post on these steps if you're interested in learning more about these phases.

A brand is an asset; branding is an investment.

As it is often written, brands are the most valuable assets that companies possess.  According to Millward Brown, a worldwide market research company, brands account for more than 30% of the market value of companies in the S&P 500.  Relatively new branding companies such as Nike as well as the old guard like Proctor and Gamble have quantified the value of their respective brands and list them as assets on the balance sheet.

Branding is an investment of time, money, and other resources that organizations make in order to establish a well valued brand.  While promotional dollars account for a considerable portion of this expense, there are also operational and cultural investments that are made in order to deliver on the brand promise and protect its value proposition.

A brand is external; branding is internal.

Brands reside in the minds and hearts of your customers.  They provide more than the features of the product or service you're offering.  They create a unique benefit with a layer of excitement, inspiration, and comfort.  Mostly, they are defined by your targeted consumers who choose to buy and become engaged with your brand.

Branding a product or service starts on the inside - from an exploration of core competencies to market research with key audiences.  The process, as stated above, continues with operational and cultural enhancements that continue to keep the brand premise front and center within the organization so the brand promise rings true with consumers.

A brand creates fan loyalty; branding inspires stakeholder equity.

Great brands have many great fans.  Apple lovers will not only buy every new gadget the company creates, but they'll stand in line for hours in order to be the first to own a new device.  Brand fans also sport clothing and other "branded" items as well as engage in activities that support and feature their brand.

Branding includes strategies that inspire stakeholders, from employees to Board members, and create a sense of pride and ownership in the organization.  There have been many amazing examples of these types of programs that have been launched from diverse companies such as John Deere and the Cleveland Clinic.  If you have a chance to check out their on-line videos that are a component of the internal campaigns, they are well worth watching.

As more organizations seek out their approach to marketing, it is important to sort out the distinctions between brand and branding.  You, the marketer, will be intimately involved in the journey of branding while your consumers will choose to engage in your brand.

Cheers!

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hospital Branding: The 5 "E's" of Branding

If you've attended a marketing or branding conference, you'll agree there are dozens of definitions of the term "branding."  From the creation of an identity to the production of a commercial, the word certainly gets a lot of use (and misuse) and is attached to many meanings.  I recently attended Brand ManageCamp, a global gathering on branding where many well-known experts and authors shared their wisdom.  David Aaker, considered to be today’s branding guru by many and author of the recent “Aaker on Branding,” spoke and his insights helped me round out the right definition of the term.

I will admit, however, it’s tough to sum up "branding" in a single statement, so here are the “5 E’s of Branding," to put on your mental shelf next to the “4 P’s of Marketing.”  

1.  Essence

As Aaker explains, the brand essence is the first step in determining your brand strategy and reflects "the higher purpose of your brand and the reason it exists."  The essence includes your brand differentiation, benefits provided, and proof points.  In "essence," it's the essence of your brand's being. The starting point to determining your brand essence is to clearly identify the innovation and inspiration behind what gave it birth in the first place, whether a unique niche or consumer benefit.

Tactically speaking, this is the step in the branding cycle where great naming and identity strategies are born that visually and verbally reinforce the unique essence. 

2.  Expectations

Great brands create certain expectations before a consumer even uses them for the first time.  The benefits they provide are promoted through all media; paid, earned, and owned.  A key component of any brand strategy is how and when these expectations are created through advertising, public relations, social media, digital marketing, website development, and other media channels both traditional and on-line.  

3.  Experience

This is where the "rubber hits the road" and great brands deliver on their promise as well as the expectations that have been created. The importance of communicating the brand internally comes to life during this stage, especially for service brands that rely on stakeholders and their customer service experience to support the promise. 

4.  Effect

One of the authors/speakers at Brand ManageCamp, Lou Carbone - CEO and Founder of Experience Engineering - talked about the outcome of a positive (and negative) experience as “effect.”  What long-term, long-lasting “effect” will your brand have on someone’s life?  Will they have an emotional or rational outcome based on the experience your brand provides?  In his book, “Clued In:  How to keep customers coming back again and again,” Mr. Carbone asks the question:  “Is your company a ‘firm of endearment?”  Well, is it? 

5.  Engagement

The affect of your effect can be measured by the level of engagement your consumers have with your brand.  Have they “liked” it and now have it on their personal news feeds?  Are they a part of an “owned” audience where you can now channel your brand messaging in the most efficient manner? Do they become immersed in your brand events or offerings?  Creating a loyal user today goes even deeper to converting a consumer to a brand enthusiast.  Someone who becomes totally immersed in your brand and engaged in its culture and lifestyle.  Remember, they don't buy your brand, they give you permission to sell to them.

Branding is a long-term strategy involving many steps. No wonder it's hard to create consensus around one specific idea or definition.  However you choose to define it, keep the "E's" in mind.  Hopefully  they will help ease your mind when it comes to the fun and challenging task of creating a brand.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hospital Branding: Great brands are a reflection of their consumers.

Great brands make a promise to consumers and deliver real value.  They go beyond "feature/benefits" and improve the way we feel, perform, and enjoy life.  Think about your favorite brands and the messages they communicate; most likely one or more of these lofty platforms are covered.

A recent consumer study was conducted to peel back benefits and uncover what really drives consumers to certain brands.  These are called "heartbeat" brand attributes because they, well, make hearts beat with excitement, passion, and hope. In the 2014 "Heartbeat Brand" survey, conducted by Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, consumers (N=225) were asked, "How important are the following characteristics of a heartbeat brand?"  The top three that emerged as "very important/important" were:
      • Reflects a personal passion           69%
      • Improves health and well-being    66
      • Expands my knowledge                 64
All three of these characteristics reflect something bigger than the product or service you provide.  They make your consumers better people; healthier, smarter, and more engaged in their lifestyle interests.  The findings also suggest that great brands support worthy causes, not too surprising since Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies are being implemented by many large brand corporations.  
The other insight this study shows is what great brands don't do.  According to the findings, it's not that important for heartbeat brands to "provide connectivity" or "enhance career success."  This suggests that, unless they are specifically professional-oriented brands, consumers prefer those that reflect on them as individuals in their personal lives.  

So, what does this all information mean for marketers.  While you can draw conclusions, too, here's a start:
  • Really understand your consumers - Not just their demographics and lifestyles - but their passions, ambitions, and interests.  Your ability to reflect these insights in your communications with them will strengthen your brand relationship.
  • Keep it personal - Professional success is important, but the study indicates that people keep that in a separate "bucket."   
  • Help people disconnect - We're all so connected these days!  This study suggests that heartbeat brands help people disconnect.  Maybe that's why Apple brands focus more on our ability to pursue passions than the "connectivity" they create.
  • Well-being is an important aspect of health - Not only should healthcare brands talk about and illustrate active lifestyles, but showing confidence, positivity, and overall well-being are just as important.
Great brands reflect the people who use them.  Not the other way around.  The more you know about the personal lives of your consumers; their interests, desires, dreams, and passions, the more you can reflect these attributes in your communications.  And that means greater stopping power and brand loyalty.  Peel back your brand benefits until you find what makes the heartbeat of your consumers tick.  

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hospital Branding: The Q Word Lives On



In a quest to discover which attributes consumers attach to their favorite brands, Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy recently conducted a survey among 200 U.S households.  The findings, soon to be published in an e-Book, "Heartbeat Brands and What Makes Them Tick," cover a variety of topics and will shed many insights on brand strategies.

As a sneak peak, one key finding of the study reinforces what Ford and Zenith understood decades ago:  "Quality is Job 1" and "Quality goes in before the name goes on."  Back in the day, these famous brands owned the "Q" word and it did wonders for their sales and lasted a generation in advertising life years (about 10:1 in human years).  Other automobile and television manufacturers staked out different brand claims and let Ford and Zenith run with the quality strategy.

Hospitals also use the Q word in their branding and marketing strategies, too freely and frighteningly often. One problem with this approach is that their competitors do, too, and it becomes overused and under-appreciated by consumers. However, as indicated below,  the Q word is alive and well in consumers minds and hearts - how it's defined and used in a brand strategy is what makes it tick.  An important lesson for healthcare marketers.

Among all brands, quality is the most desired attribute

The "Heartbeat Brand" survey asked the question, "when it comes to your favorite brands, how important are the following characteristics?" There it is...at 90% "very important"...the Q word.

This question was asked in the survey to confirm that "quality" is a must have. Not a nice-to-have.  But you just can't say it, you have to define it. In the survey, "quality" was defined by product/service performance, innovation, design, "feel," consistency, craftsmanship, and longevity, among others.

Hospital Marketers Agree, and Disagree

When it comes to the use of quality as a strategy, hospital marketers agree. We asked them to rate the same list of characteristics that they feel are most important to consumers and 79% of hospital marketers named quality as "very important."They were fairly close to the other responses, too, with the exception of "modern/up-to-date." While 54.1% of consumers cited this characteristic as "important/very important," 86.2% of hospital marketers considered it a more important attribute.  Note to hospital brands that are building or updating facilities: don't just call it "new" or "modern" and leave it at that. The adjective needs to be defined in order for it to be relevant to consumers.

There will be many more posts here using findings from the "Heartbeat Brand" survey that will hopefully cause a few ah-ha's and head scratches. And, as mentioned, an e-Book will put it all together in a tidy package. But for now, remember that quality is still "job 1" and consumers want it from your brand. And just don't say it or display it (with stars or other "awards"). Define it in terms that are important to your consumers and satisfy their desires along the lines of those benefits mentioned above.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hospital Branding: Marketers need to SWIM with digital media, or sink.




The next wave of digital marketing requires brand builders to either SWIM or sink.

Digital marketing is no longer the after-thought in the marketing plan.  In fact, it should be front and center in your discussions about the most effective ways to market your organization's products and services.  While traditional, off-line communications still has its place in terms of promoting a brand message and satisfying goals related to awareness and preference, digital marketing is the “go to” for achieving behavioral metrics and creating customer transactions.

At a recent healthcare strategy conference, savvy marketing guy Chris Bevolo of Interval, presented on the topic of digital marketing.  In his presentation, Chris stressed that digital marketing strategies must be considered first, and in this order: search, web, and mobile.  Marketers need to think through how consumers will search their brand, where it will take them, and how they are searching.  A highlight of his session for me was the discussion that mobile is not just for those on the go anymore.  The cell phone and pad have replaced the remote control and the "couch potato" is a person on the go when it comes to mobile marketing.

In thinking about Chris’ presentation, and my own need for acronyms to keep things simple and memorable, I added another element to the formula above and put a tidy bow around it called "SWIM," and if you don’t approach your digital strategy with this in mind, you might just sink.

SWIM stands for Search, Web, Interact, and Mobile, and here’s why:

Search:  How people find your brand, and how your brand finds interested consumers.  

As you plan your digital strategy, discussions have to start with Search.  Defining key words, optimizing them, determining social media channels, evaluating the many methodologies of behavioral, contextual, and other search tactics are all part of the key decisions you need to make to keep your brand as a consideration in the world of search.  

Start this discussion by asking questions such as, "if people look for us, how will we show up on the main search engines?"  Or, "if people search this subject, where will our brand come up?"  

Web:  Where people find your brand online. 

In an online world, your brand, and the brand experience, live on your website.  After people find you, where will it lead and what will it look like?  Key discussion points around ease of use, navigation, responsiveness, and “look and feel” are all elements of this strategy. 

The conversation has to include brand consistency; is the content on message with the overarching brand strategy and promise.  And, does the online experience deliver on it?

Interact:  What visitors want when they visit your site.

Engagement is more than a new buzz phrase, it’s the "wow" experience people want to have with your brand online. Strategic decisions have to include how you will create meaningful and immersive interactions with visitors to your site.  Before your bounce rates soar, consider interactive tactics such as downloadable information, videos, and other tools that will keep your online visitors stick around.  

Your customers live in a visual, instant gratification world.  Does your website deliver?

Mobile: When (and where) people find you. 

Regardless of whether they are literally on the move, your customers are finding you via their mobile device.  And most likely, it’s while they are in the comforts of their own home, and on the couch.

A website or App that is responsive and optimized to mobile technology is no longer a "nice to have," it's a "have to have."

Hospital branding discussions are not complete without digital marketing strategies and desired actions.  Remember, digital does not complete the discussion - it starts the conversation.

If you "SWIM" as you navigate your digital marketing strategies, it will help your brand stay afloat by forcing you to determine how your brand will surface and the type of immersive experience your consumers will have.  And if you feel like you're over your head, breathe, yell "SOS" (Swim or Sink), and float until you're ready to ride the digital wave again in the most appropriate manner.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Experience Branding in the Fourth Dimension

Branding is a strategy designed to establish a unique (brand) position for a product or service in the minds of your customers.  Tactical elements for implementing this strategy include identity development, design architecture, advertising, sales promotion, operational enhancements, signage, and the list goes on.

There, I've said it.  Had to get that out of my system after reading so many new blogs and articles about branding in the last few weeks.  While I'm glad to see a resurgence in the term, there are still too many definitions and interpretations of what branding means.  But this is to be expected as the dynamics and tools of the marketing communications field are fast-changing, especially in hospital branding.

The promotional component of the brand strategy has also changed.  Brand communications, on the heels of an explosive third dimension based on Internet usage,  is now entering the Fourth Dimension. Here's how the evolution has unfolded:

Dimension 1:  Communicating the brand through traditional, off-line media. Depending on your goals, this is still a viable way to reach your consumers and create 'heart and soul' around your brand.  Super Bowl commercials work at the highest level in this regard to create an emotional connection to a brand.

Dimension 2:  Out-of-Home Media. As the population moved around, so did traditional advertising.  From bus shelters to outdoor boards, baseball stadiums to theaters, reaching consumers where "they live" outside of their homes rounded out traditional advertising methodologies.  Out-of-home is still a much practiced and practical approach to reaching consumers while they are on the road.

Dimension 3:  On-line and Mobile.  You know the facts of the digital world, its impact, and growth history.  Brand promotions via your on-line, social, and web strategies make branding a 3-D proposition that complement the first two dimensions.  The Pew Research Center recently released a report entitled "Digital Life in 2025."  Fifteen theses are discussed, and all are fascinating.  Here are two that struck me as most relevant for hospital marketing strategies:  1) Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity... and 2) Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.

Dimension 4:  Immersive Experiences. Welcome to the Fourth Dimension. J. Walter Thompson, one of the world's largest and most influential marketing agencies, publishes an annual list of influential trends.  In 2014, number one on the list is "immersive experiences." The study suggests that brand experiences will become more immersive and altogether more enveloping in a bid to capture consumers' imagination and attention. Several factors are cited as contributing to this trend; better, cheaper technology, a generational shift, the demand for experiences over material things, shareable experiences, and delivery from distraction.

Think about how brands are immersing themselves into your daily life. 

From music, movies, and shopping experiences, this art of branding is all around us.  Oscar Meyer bacon has an app that wakes you up in the morning with the sound of bacon crackling and an accompanying scent! Entertainment experiences put a priority on the "wow" factor.  According to the study, 71% of adults say that they like it when brands actively attempt to capture their imagination.  For healthcare branding folks, the immersive experience is only beginning.  According to Aron Roberts, software developer at the University of California-Berkeley, "we may well see wearable devices and/or home and workplace sensors that can help us make ongoing lifestyle changes and provide early detection for disease risks, not just disease."

The Fourth Dimension adds a whole new set of big ideas to the concept of branding. Here are some questions to ask your team as you delve into it:
  • How can I turn events into experiences?
  • Am I using technology in the most powerful ways?
  • Do I have "wow" factors built into on-site experiences?
  • How can I improve traditional and on-line strategies to make them more interactive and immersive?
The digital revolution clearly added another dimension to the strategy of branding.  And it didn't end there.  Wearable objects...scented apps..."wow" experiences....we're only beginning to see the possibilities. Add this dimension to your strategy grid and brainstorm in 4-D. It's more than bringing a brand to life, it's making your brand a part of life.

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hospital Branding: What’s Your Brand Named?

We recently attended an American Marketing Association brand leadership breakfast, featuring Rodrigo Sierra, CMO & SVP of the American Medical Association.

In addition to providing insights on leading his organization in a challenging marketplace, he discussed the evolution of the organization’s brand – brands they have shed, and how they want their brand to be perceived in the future.

When a marketer gives a presentation there should be a dose of cleverness. When describing brand types they have moved away from, he did not disappoint, and offered:
“Brandpa” – a grand old brand – tired and in need of some renewed vigor.
“Brandelabra” – a multi-pronged brand strategy where each remains siloed, shines equally, but tends to fizzle out over time.
We couldn't stop ourselves from expanding on his examples and thinking what we’d call many of the brands we see as we look at healthcare systems and associations.  Some common brand strategies that we see include:
“Scatterbrand” – one that’s all over the place, where each execution or message is seemingly unrelated to the other.
“Brandwagon” – the “me too” brand that looks, sounds and feels like their competition. 
“Interchangeabrand” – a message that is completely believable, but not unique to their organization.
“Sans-a-Brand” – all window dressing, with no strategy to hold it up.
The organization that introduced us to “Brandpa” and “Brandelabra” ended up favoring a brand type that met several criteria:
  • Unique
  • Relevant
  • Forward-thinking
  • Flexible
  • Inclusive
Their winning brand type was:
“Brandwidth” – the maximum amount of potential for your brand – with everyone and everything supporting your brand promise and singing the same tune.
As you evaluate your brand, is it in need of an update (“brandpa”)? Does it lack a unique brand story (“interchangeabrand”)? Or, is yours on-track and poised for the future (“brandwidth”)?

Your turn, what brands would you add to the list?


Mike Chapman is Vice President / Account Director at Springboard Brand and Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm located in suburban Chicago. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Mike at 847.398.4920 or mike@springboardbrand.com

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hospital Branding: How do you measure success?

Maybe it's the Olympics, or maybe it's that time of year when new campaigns are being launched and will be judged as precisely as ice dancing.  In either event, the topic of measuring brand success is near and dear to every marketer and the discussion of metrics should be at the starting gate rather than the finish line.  After all, that's why we go through the discipline of establishing quantifiable goals, developing targeted strategies, and generating tactics to achieve desired actions.

Remember DAGMAR?  For those who don't, it was an old advertising agency acronym for "Defining Advertising Goals Measuring Advertising Results."   As a student, I remember thinking DAGMAR was some scowling scholar who was always peering over my shoulder reminding me that this was a business of results, not only big creative ideas.

Results...oh how times have changed.  Decades ago, marketers would celebrate in the hallways when bi-annual market research showed percentage point increases in awareness and preference.  Fast forward to 2014.  Can you imagine waiting around for the next wave of data or trying to make the connection between marketing efforts and sales without adequate information?  We are in an era of instant gratification and real-time results - DAGMAR would be doing his happy (ice) dance!

While we can literally review a campaign's success via digital media and metrics within hours after launch, there is still a place for other, more traditional types of measuring.  Again, it comes back to objectives and what you're trying to achieve.  Here's a take on different ways to evaluate success and their various methodologies.
  • Attitudinal - Studies suggest that before consumers will use your products and services, they need to know and like you.  Their attitude toward your brand is important information and includes variables such as awareness, preference, likability, and knowledge.  One of the best ways to measure your success in this arena is through market research and consumer studies.  You might not jump up and down in response to a percentage gain shift in preference, but it's a vital piece of information relative to your competition and the ultimate usage of your brand.  
  • Behavioral - Social networks and digital media have created new measures of success called behavioral metrics.  Behavioral metrics are interactions with your brand without the consumer actually having to pay for their experience.  Facebook "likes," website visits, banner click-throughs, and other digital analytics are all examples of these measures and help satisfy our thirst for instantaneous results.  Other examples of behavioral metrics include the number of attendees at a seminar, screening program,  or other marketing event.  Again, there's no monetary exchange, but there is a "trial" of your brand and the experience you are seeking to create.
  • Transactional - The third category goes for the gold, in keeping with the Olympics theme.  This is where the proverbial "rubber hits the road" and sales are generated for your product or service.  For marketers, this is oftentimes the most difficult to measure because reports are lagging and share-of-market data is incomplete. Additionally, when sales are up there are many factors in play, but when they're down, it must be the fault of marketing!  Hospital marketers have an even tougher time because share-of-market information can run behind by as much as 18 months when depending on hospital associations for this data.  Lastly, no matter how effective marketers are in tying out strategies to transactions and sales, there are many naysayers who are not convinced the effort is working or worthwhile. 
While DAGMAR's head would spin given all the complexities of the branding and advertising business compared to decades ago, his scowl is a reminder to think through desired results before developing integrated strategies.  The three measures of success discussed here, attitudinal, behavioral, and transactional do not live in silos - they have to co-exist and complement one another.

Transactional measures are still golden and you will be judged by your ability to move market share.  However, the other measures of success will help illuminate your branding efforts and provide consumer engagement along the way.  Here's to your standing at the podium!


Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand and Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hospital Branding: 2014 - The Year of Less


Happy New Year!  As is always the case in hospital branding, 2014 is sure to be filled with many adventures and marketing challenges.  But, based on new studies about social trends, best-selling lifestyle books, and well-read business publications, it will also be a year with less.   Perhaps in contrast to the past few years, where the focus has been on more - technology, choices, services, information, and so on - the arrow is pointing toward "less" in 2014 as consumers attempt to simplify and streamline their lives.

Here are a few key areas of trending in 2014 where the focus will be on less, but will offer more opportunities for healthcare marketers.
  • Immersive Experiences - The new JWT study identifies this topic as its number one trend.   Brands will envelope us with a full and immersive experience like hot brand Sonos does with its wireless speaker systems.  On a recent trip to Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, PA, I took a tour of the new front entrance space and it was, quite simply,  beautiful.  A hotel-like reception area with uniformed ambassadors, brand and consumer-friendly colors/lighting, and less!  Less clutter of wheelchairs in the hallways, less hassle with a separate waiting area for valet parking, and less lines with streamlined admission areas.  Kudos to my friends in marketing and Laura Harner, Director of Guest Services, for creating a true brand experience that really envelopes visitors with the right sights, sounds, and well, less.   
  • A visual world - Our world is visual.  From on-line videos to Instagram, from Pinterest to Snapchat, consumers want less explanation and long-copy, and prefer ideas to be presented visually.  The implications for marketers are endless in terms of advertising, signage, social media, on-line communications and so forth.  In short, be visual and less verbose.
  • Impatience - It's just not for kids anymore...our entire society is becoming very impatient.  We want less in terms of wait times, administrative runarounds, lines, hold times, and for those brands that can achieve this, it will pay off in terms of more gratification and brand loyalty.  Audit your brand and customer service initiatives to determine if it meets your patience criteria.
  • Going Mobile - No surprise here as more people will streamline their on-line activity with fewer devices and a greater focus on mobile technology.  The consumer has definitely been the winner in the cell phone wars between Apple, Samsung, and others - as new devices offer many more features, apps,  and amazing synchronization between them.  Evaluate your on-line strategy to make sure web pages and social media channels are optimized for mobile technology.  In  addition, this is the year to offer services and information, such as ER wait-times, via text strategies and/or mobile portals. Beep beep.
  • Less Anonymity - Let's face it, it's hard to go stealth these days.  From re-marketing digital ads  to government monitoring of emails and social posts, "big brother" is definitely in the house.  As a marketer, you can do more with less such as encouraging consumers to share safe information on landing pages, websites, and social media channels.   We're used to it!  You should also think about doing less in this regard, too.  For example,  I recently learned of a hospital that ceased publishing birth notices in the local paper for fear of arming potential baby-nappers with too much information. The trend toward less anonymity works for and against marketers and should be treated with caution.
  • Less Tradition - From new marriage laws in many states to over-the-counter marijuana being sold in some states, old traditions and practices are being turned upside down.  The opportunities for marketers are endless in terms of engaging the new consumers and recognizing that differences exist among them.  As written months ago in this blog,  the "modern family" of today is diverse, interesting, and not sitting around the dinner table at 6 p.m.  This is truly the time to "skate to where the puck is going (thanks, Wayne) in terms of looking at your business and consumer base, and leaving your caution zone behind.
  • Mindful Living - More stress has caused the desire for less toxins in our lives and consumers are seeking out more zen and less gluten.   From healthier eating, wellness initiatives, and more engagement in social communities and groups, marketers of health-related products and services have an enormous opportunity to support the concept of mindful living.  It is not as much about getting healthy as staying healthy - mind, body, and soul -  and healthcare organizations can surely take the lead.  
These are just a few examples of 2014 being the "year of less."  As marketers, it gives us greater opportunity to develop brand promises and service strategies that are more engaging and in line with today's visually-driven, less anonymous, less traditional, more mindful and mobile customer with less patience.  And who could ask for more!

Here's to a wonderful, healthy new year.


Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand and Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com