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Brand Modeling

Retail’s Mysteries Revealed: Can You Tell Today What Your Customers Will Want Tomorrow?

The brand-breaking challenges JC Penney has had are in no way inevitable, Forbes magazine says, in this discussion of predictive analytics. By harnessing the power of mathematics, we’re told, retailers can significantly reduce the risk of going catastrophically off-brand, alienating your best customers, and losing market share. Does Forbes have it right?

Yes and no.

Yes, because statistical analysis of previous customer behavior provides retailers with tremendously valuable information. Objectively examining what has happened in your stores over the course of time can be a very revealing exercise. Retailers who engage in this type of analysis often discover things about their operations that they never otherwise suspected.

In the Forbes article, for example, we see how retailer Perry Ellis discovered that when their associates actively engaged with customers, such as assisting them in the fitting room, those customers would spend 50% more on Perry Ellis merchandise than customers who were left alone to shop.

This type of insight is valuable. But it is not sufficient.

Going Deeper: The Secret to Retail Growth

It’s really good to know what your customers have done. It’s even better to know why they’ve done it. Understanding the mathematics of customer behavior is a great first step, but to achieve sustainable, meaningful growth, retailers need to understand their customers’ motivations.

This is where things get complicated. 90% of customer behavior is unconscious. This means that customers don’t fully know — and they certainly can’t articulate — what leads them to embrace one retailer and eschew another. All of the stuff that determines these decisions takes place ‘off radar’, in the customer’s unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind is a complex and nuanced territory. We all have an unconscious mind. It’s where we store the millions upon millions of messages we’re given by our culture, education, and environment about the type of person we’re ‘supposed’ to be. Every image we see, every story we hear, every experience we go through leaves its mark on our unconscious mind. Together, these forces combine to form our self image.

Customers make purchasing decisions that reinforce their self image. Have you ever had a customer walk into the store and say “This place just feels right?” When they’re expressing that sentiment, it’s because the experience you’re providing is in alignment with their self image.

Now, obviously, every customer has their own unique self-image. No two people on this planet view themselves the same way. However, it’s possible to discover what traits and characteristics are integral parts of the majority of your best customers’ self image. This is done through the process of Brand Modeling, a proprietary process we’ve developed to help retailers attract and build strong relationships with highly profitable customers.

Identifying the primary unconscious drivers of customer behavior makes it infinitely easier for a retailer to stay on brand, better please their customers, and build market share. In other words, there’s a reason Kohl’s is successful, and JCPenney isn’t.

The ability to predict, with a high degree of certainty, what your customers are going to want tomorrow, begins with statistical analysis of previous purchasing behaviors. But it doesn’t stop there. When you’re willing to go further, and delve a little deeper into what makes your customers tick, that’s when true sustainable retail growth happens.

Solving the Mysteries of Retail: What Makes Customers Choose You?

Some zaftig mannequins are getting serious love from shoppers all around the world. More than 16,000 people have shared the image you see here, enthusiastically embracing the new profile on display at a Swedish retailer. ““Finally, mannequins showing how clothes fit on real women. I’m changing where I shop!”

What’s behind this enthusiasm?

It’s easy to forget that something as ordinary as a mannequin is a messaging vehicle. Fixtures are, almost by definition, made to be taken for granted. But as retailers, we can afford to leave no aspect of our operations unexamined.  The typical mannequin used in America is a size 4 or 6. Some brands don’t even bother with that—they use strategically arranged poles and hangers to display their wares.

When shoppers look at these images, what are they seeing? Women come in all shapes and sizes, with the greatest number coming in at size 14. These women are continually bombarded with images of women who don’t look like them. Between airbrushes and makeup artists, ‘perfection’ is to be found everywhere but their own mirror. There’s a tremendous amount of cultural and social baggage that our customers are carrying with them at all times, an internalized narrative that dictates how they’re supposed to look and in what ways they fall short.

When they come into the store and encounter mannequins that are less than half the size they themselves are, the cultural narrative they’ve come to expect—the one that tells them they’re not good enough, that they’re failing at the ‘be a beautiful woman’ game—continues uninterrupted and unchallenged. It’s a seamless delivery of a negative narrative so ubiquitous that shoppers take it as an inevitability. Inevitable, that is, until they encounter an alternative.

Then it’s a different story.

Giving Customers a Reason to Choose You

Malcolm Gladwell tells a famous story about Howard Moskowitz, the food scientist who discovered for Prego that what customers really, really wanted was a chunky spaghetti sauce. Armed with this information, Prego introduced a chunky sauce, and had some of its most profitable years ever. Part of the reason Moskowitz was so successful in his research was that he was willing to question everything. No variable was fixed. Everything that could be questioned would be questioned.

It was this process—an early analog to the process we call Brand Modeling—that revealed the unexploited growth opportunities available to Prego. Bringing that same approach to retail means objectively analyzing every aspect of a store’s performance to identify what messaging is being shared with the customer, and assess the effectiveness of that messaging. Couple this with an insightful statistical analysis of customer behavioral patterns, thought processes, and beliefs, and the result is a revelation of the operational changes you can make to better attract and satisfy your customers.

In other words, if the mannequins you’re using tell your customers they’re fat failures, you might want to change your messaging. Universally, we’re drawn to images, iconography, and representations of people who physically resemble us. The larger mannequins are in alignment with how many customers see themselves. Presenting this image in a positive, celebratory way makes customers feel that they also are worth celebrating.

As a shopper, which experience would you prefer? We’re not different than our customers. They’re people, just like we are. Remembering that is the key to humanistic marketing and successful retail brand building.

The Mysteries of Retail: Should You Lower Prices in a Tough Economy?

It’s a tough time to be in the grocery business. Walmart, which derives nearly half of its revenues from grocery sales, recently reported that February 2013 was the worst sales month they’ve had in 7 years — an absolute disaster, according to leaked internal memos. The SymphonyIRI Group, in a report entitled 2012 CPG Year In Review: Finding the New Normal, points out that consumers are shopping fewer grocery stores — 3 rather than 5— and they’re buying less when they’re there. What sales growth there has been is largely attributable to inflation. Customers are very aware that they no longer have the purchasing power they used to.

Given these facts, doesn’t dropping prices seem like a smart strategy? When things cost less, people buy more: it’s not a complex equation here.The answer seems obvious.

Obvious, that is, unless you’re Whole Foods. Whole Foods is facing the same problems as the rest of the grocery industry. Droughts and extreme weather anomalies have negatively impacted the supply chain while transportation costs have increased exponentially at the same time customer confidence in a better tomorrow is lower than a snake’s belly. Nearly 3 out of 4 subjects in the SymphonyIRI report feeling that their financial situation will deteriorate or remain unchanged in the coming year.

And Whole Foods has one problem that’s uniquely their own. Ever hear the phrase “Whole Paycheck”?

Brand Modeling: Who Does Your Customer Think You Are?

Whole Foods, understanding the heightened value customers are placing on value given the current economic situation, has begun dropping their prices. Despite some initial success, the move concerns financial experts, who fear that too significant a price drop will negatively impact the Whole Foods brand identity.  Can Whole Foods continue to offer what makes them unique—namely high-quality,  healthy, organic food—while successfully competing on price? Will the changes that must inevitably come in the wake of lower prices disrupt the Whole Foods experience so significantly that their loyal shoppers will take their business elsewhere, or will the move draw in new customers?

These are some pretty big questions to leave to trial and error. Preserving brand integrity and promoting growth during difficult economic circumstances don’t have to be mutually exclusive goals. Finding the sweet spot that allows you to accomplish both simultaneously requires the use of modeling.

A model for your brand should identify the range of beliefs your best customers have about your store. By determining how important a role each of those beliefs plays in your customer’s relationship with you, it becomes possible to predict the outcome of any operational changes you make. A mathematical analysis of the behaviors and beliefs of your customer base eliminates the need for trial and error. You won’t have to guess how much to lower prices. You’ll know.

In this instance, we’d examine how central Whole Foods’ high prices are to their brand perception. Is paying top dollar an essential of the Whole Foods experience, or is there room for those prices to come down?

What percentage of customers will be alienated by embracing a different pricing strategy? How much new traffic will you attract? An effective Brand Model can provide these answers. Armed with this information, you can weigh the costs and benefits of many different pricing strategies objectively. Choose the option that best meets your company’s needs, with the confidence that every move you make will appeal to your existing customer base.

You can strengthen existing relationships while attracting new business, even in a tough economy. Sometimes that means lowering prices, and sometimes that means keeping your prices high. What strategy is right for your company? We’ll help you figure that out.

Solving the Mysteries of Retail: Why Do Some Salespeople Sell More Than Others?

As a retailer, your success is almost entirely dependent upon how successful your sales team is. Not all salespeople are created equal. There are tremendous variations in personability, physical attractiveness, and understanding of human nature as well as the sales process to take into account. Some of these factors can be controlled for with hiring practices and training, and that is what good retailers do.

True brand dominance becomes possible when a retailer takes things to the next level. The reason some salespeople sell more than others is due to the way the salespeople appear to the buying public. This is an external factor that is easy to control, yet the potential here is woefully underutilized by most retailers.

Foot Locker is one step ahead in the game. The athletic footwear chain has 3,400 stores in 23 countries, and has earnings that put them far ahead in the race with their closest competitors, Finish Line and Shoe Carnival. The brand does have a preferential relationship with Nike, a superior brand in and of itself, but that is not the only reason the chain does very well.

Foot Locker’s sales team sells more sneakers than other shoe salesmen. Why is that?  Take a look at the way they’re dressed.

Retail Genius: Archetypal Images

When Foot Locker has their sales team dress as referees, they’re harnessing the power of archetypal images. Obviously, the sight of a referee is familiar to the athletically-inclined – Foot Locker’s primary market – but the referee is also symbolically powerful. Throughout the world, a referee represents authority. They stand as a person who should be listened to.

Through generations of human experience, our collective symbolic understanding has grown and evolved.  Our conditioned response to show respectful obedience to referees manifests not only when we encounter them on the playing field, but subtly extends to referees outside of the expected setting. Additionally, you don’t need an actual referee to bring out that conditioned response – it can be provoked by distinctive elements of the referee’s appearance, such as a striped shirt.

In other words, while a Foot Locker customer is in the store or even on the brand’s website, they are continually being supplied with the visual cues that tells them how to respond to messaging they receive. When a Foot Locker employee suggests a certain pair of sneakers — or perhaps a second or third pair, or a T-shirt to go with the new kicks — that customer is primed to agree, and make the purchase.

What Archetypal Images Will Help Your Sales Team Sell More?

What your sales team wears, as well as the colors, imagery, and iconography they’re surrounded by, has a tremendous impact on how much merchandise they’ll sell. Yet if you do a quick survey of the retail environment as it stands right now, you’re going to find that the vast majority of retailers have their sales teams in some variation of black pants, white shirt or khaki pants, primary colored shirt — combinations customers have been taught they can disregard without consequences.

Nobody ignores the referee.

A Brand Model can help you identify which archetypal images will command the attention of your target market.  The most appealing archetypal images are those that embody the vision our customers have of themselves at their very best.  These images draw customers in. They internalize and reflect upon these images, searching for the identifiable factors they can emulate or adopt to become more like the person they admire – the idealized version of themselves.

Having the right archetypal imagery in your store, whether that be through your messaging, marketing, employee apparel, signage or other visual elements, attracts attention and assures your customers that they’re in the right place.

It works for Foot Locker. It can work for you. Transform your sales team into the one that can’t be ignored. Help your sales people sell more. It all starts with a Brand Model. You can get yours here.

You Can Get There From Here: L.L. Bean’s Sure Footed Approach To Social Media

L.L. Bean has been very successful in the mail order business for one hundred years. Founder (and namesake!) Leon Leonwood Bean would be proud — and probably absolutely dumbfounded by the latest role the familiar catalog has taken on in the marketing and promotion of his business.

Earlier this month, Liz Pride, who hails from Leon’s neck of the woods, took the L.L. Bean catalog and used it as the basis of her creative endeavor, a quirky Tumblr called “Your LL Bean Boyfriend.” On the site, Pride pairs images from the catalog with short snippets of copy that could have come directly from the pages of your favorite romance novel.

For example:

Nathan quietly opened the door and brought in a tray with a bowl of chicken soup over to me. “Let’s kick that cold you have,” he said, “I know how much you want to go skiing next weekend.”

The combination has been in a hit. In a little over a week, Pride has collected over 7,000 followers, including the L.L. Bean team.  Carolyn Beem, a spokesperson for the sportswear and outdoor gear retailer, told AdWeek, “We’re just going to watch it like everybody else,” she says. “We think that it’s a load of fun. It’s well written, and it’s funny.”

L.L. Bean has done more than watch the popular Tumblr. They’ve even participated, adding their own comment to the site: Elizabeth- we at LLB are loving this. Most of us never thought of LLB and sexy in the same sentence. It is the talk of the office!

A Humanistic Approach To Social Media: Joining The Conversation, Not Controlling It

We have to applaud L.L. Bean for skillfully navigating one of the emerging challenges of social media: the brand-centric conversation in which the brand itself is not the driving nor primary voice. If Clay Shirkey’s right about the cultural and social changes we can expect to see in an environment of cognitive surplus (Not familiar? Watch Clay’s TED Talk on the topic here!) there will undoubtedly be more and more of these types of creative projects being developed by Brand Lovers.

The challenge we have as brand managers is complex. Becoming aware of conversations, assessing them, and determine what role, if any, we have in their progress, is not a process that we, as an industry, have articulated particularly well to date. It is unsettling for leaders who believe they have the ultimate control over what their brand is all about to discover that that’s not true at all: it is customers who build brands, not brand managers and marketing departments.

If one were to speculate on the reason’s L.L. Bean’s leadership believed that their customers chose them before any other brand, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the values of high quality merchandise, rugged outdoor aesthetic and trustworthiness (backed by an almost legendary guarantee) would rank very high on this list. What Liz Pride’s work is doing is revealing another layer of psychological associations Brand Lovers have with L.L. Bean. In Liz’s world, the L.L. Bean customer is sexy, caring, and nurturing. It’s an expansion of L.L. Bean’s key marketing message that evidently has great appeal and the brand didn’t have to lift a finger to benefit from it. The fact that they did, engaging in the conversation in good faith and with good humor, has further endeared the company to those drawn in by the hunky models and romantic prose.

The tenets of Brand Modeling remind us that listening to the customer, completely and on a number of levels, is the route to success. LL. Bean, by abandoning the all-to-common typically litigious, controlling response to creative endeavors with a more humanistic, welcoming, and responsive approach, has gained access to new insights about what their customers value most about their brand. We’re sure they’re going to capitalize on those insights.

Your organization can do the same thing if you’ve got the vision and courage to commit to putting customers first.

Would You Like Fries With That? Examining The Value of Humanism in Employee Relations

First, it happened at Wal-Mart. Then it was employees at numerous NYC McDonald’s staging a one-day strike.

Both groups of strikers were advocating for better wages, health care benefits, and the ability to organize. The typical striker makes less than $8/hour. At approximately $1,280 a month, before taxes, if they can get full time hours, these workers will make just around $15,000 a year. This is a few hundred dollars more than the Federal Poverty Guidelines for an individual. Employees of both organizations report being encouraged to supplement their wages with governmental assistance programs.

Wal-Mart and McDonalds are among two of the richest brands in the  world. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest brand, reported an increase in global profits in 2011, while McDonald’s dominated the fast food sector with $24,074 million in revenues.

The disparity between the two group’s financial situations is readily apparent: the employers are fabulously wealthy, while the employees are perpetually teetering on the edge of destitution. Is this situation ultimately sustainable? Let’s consider the question from a humanistic perspective.

What Makes Someone Go To McDonalds?

McDonald’s may be the dominant player in the fast food industry, but they’re hardly the only game in town. Even the smallest municipalities generally offer a suite of fast food dining options: Pizza Hut, Subway, Taco Bell and KFC are nearly as ubiquitous as the Golden Arches. Given the choice, why do people decide that they want to eat at McDonald’s. What makes the chain so popular?

The principals of Brand Modeling teach us that an organization’s best customers (the Brand Lovers who loyally return to an establishment time and time again, doing a significant amount of business, while enthusiastically and spontaneously promoting the brand to their family and friends) are those who feel that the organization’s values and vision are in alignment with their own worldview. McDonald’s, which has spent decades urging customers to ‘Come as you are’ with a diverse rainbow of faces saying “I’m loving it” has done an effective job convincing the public that their restaurant is a place where they’d feel welcomed and valued just as they are.

The introduction of labor problems into the picture creates a tension in the relationship McDonalds has with its best customers. It is very easy for McDonald’s customers to identify with McDonald’s employees: many of the people who visit McDonald’s most often are suffering disproportionately from the economic downturn. The same can be said for Wal-Mart’s customers. The customer sees themselves as having more in common with the employee than the employer, and that sense of commonality can have an economic impact, if it becomes clear that the employees are being mistreated or dealt with in bad faith.

Truth In Humor: Monty Python: The People Are Revolting

In an organization that uses a humanistic approach, it is recognized that all parties to a company’s success have needs and wants that must be satisfied. Employees that are worried about food security, the ability to pay for housing, or how they’ll buy their children’s school clothes are not employees who are capable of delivering a top notch performance for the organization. Cost-containment through excessively low wages inevitably results in a situation where performance and customer satisfaction are compromised.

Organizations have the choice between deciding exactly how much quality they’re willing to sacrifice in order to keep costs low, or explore the increase in motivation and performance that would accompany a more complete meeting of their employee’s basic  needs. The humanistic approach would favor the latter. Ultimately, this is the only sustainable option over the long term. Employees who have their needs met in a satisfying fashion are not employees who strike in a highly visible fashion, endangering the strength of the customer-brand bond. Putting customers first means being willing to listen to and be responsive to your employees.

The Power of Narrative: After the 2012 Election

If there’s one story that bears examination in the wake of the 2012 Presidential election, it’s why so many people were so profoundly shocked by the outcome. This is a tale about the power of narrative, and how the stories we believe shape the way we interact with the world.

Jonathan Martin provides us with a vivid illustration of the concept in his Politico article, The GOP’s Media Cocoon. There are several points in there that are vitally important for those of us who are brand managers to understand.

Prior to the election, there was a significant portion of the American electorate that was absolutely confident that Mitt Romney was going to win in a landslide. This confidence was based almost entirely on what people were hearing from the media.

As Martin points out, today people can customize their media intake. They have a range of television stations to follow. There are countless websites, blogs, and internet pundits to adhere to. Those folks who still read newspapers can choose their favorites.

What we’ve learned here is that people have an overwhelming tendency to choose those media sources that present the stories they like best; the tales they find most in alignment with their own values and beliefs. This tendency is hard-wired into us. One of the fundamental aspects of cultural formation is the sharing of a common narrative among many individuals.  It is not inherently a good thing nor a bad thing; it is a human thing.

Where the train goes right off the rails is when a widely shared narrative diverges significantly from observable reality. These situations present a crossroads for the individual. Do they trust in evidence presented by their own eyes and ears, or do they cleave to the narrative that mirrors their own personal belief system?

Cultural Stories: What Do Your Customers Believe?

This is not a quandary unique to Republicans. This conflict comes up time and time again throughout an individual’s life. Do Nike sneakers make you a faster runner? Will riding a Harley-Davidson make you a bigger badass? Does choosing Ikea furnishings for your home really make you a more stylish individual? One hopes for the best, but at the end of the day, we are who we are.

In individual situations, the stakes are relatively low. If you’re jogging a 22 minute mile before you buy your new Nikes, and you’re jogging a 22 minute mile after you buy your new Nikes, no one’s going to know this but you. Your relationship with the narrative Nike presents can continue unchanged. Or you might lose faith in Nike. Or you might become an even bigger believer and decide you need even more Nike gear to reach your personal athletic goals.

What happens when we scale the concept up? Group dynamics are complicated things. The more prominently and heavily invested someone is in continuing a particular narrative, the more vehemently they will cling to it, even in the presence of direct evidence to the contrary. This phenomenon explains Karl Rove’s now infamous meltdown when confronted with poll results that ran counter to his expectations. A narrative can be so compelling and central to one’s existence that having it disrupted or disputed creates great tension in the individual.

As Brand Managers, we need to know what narratives are central to our customers’ lives.  More importantly, we need to know how they see themselves relative to these central driving stories, and where these tales fit into the larger collective experience of reality.

Our job is to resolve, rather than create, internal tension in our customers. Brand Modeling presents the most efficient way to identify the points where the tensions can be eased. The Republicans have left their base with a significant amount of tension, and it could be that their brand suffers significantly as a result. Given a roadmap that more accurately predicts human behavior, everything could have been different. We’ll see if the party has a greater understanding of the power of narrative the next time around.

Should You Care If Your Customers Are Saying Goodbye To Church?

They’re called the “Nones,” and they’re one of the fastest growing demographic groups in America, according to a recent well-publicized study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Adults who have no religious affiliation number approximately 46 million individuals, roughly 20 percent of the total population. One third of adults under the age of 30 consider themselves unaffiliated.

Delving into the Pew report reveals some critical insights about this cultural change. Respondents still overwhelmingly report having faith in God. Many consider themselves extremely spiritual. They haven’t abandoned the absolute fundamentals of their faith identity. What they’re leaving is the church, and by extension institutionalized religion.

As you might imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion centering around exactly why this change has happened. The Pew team is calling the results unprecedented. In the New York Times, Pew Forum researcher Gregory A. Smith says, “We really haven’t seen anything like this before. Even when the baby boomers came of age in the early ’70s, they were half as likely to be unaffiliated as compared with young people today.”

What the “Nones” Know: Times Have Changed

Now, we’re loathe to argue with the people at Pew. They’re great researchers, and no one can match them for the focus, intensity, and professionalism that they bring to their work. But in this instance, we need to say that a vital part of the picture is being missed here.

The decline in formal religion affiliation is not a unique phenomenon. Instead, it is a larger trend where once powerful social structures no longer appeal to individual members in quite the same way. The flocks leaving the church are the same people who no longer involve themselves in local politics, belong to community organizations like the Elks or Kiwanis, or volunteer to improve circumstances in their community. There are a number of factors that have lead to this change.

Researchers including Ray Oldenburg, Barry Wellman, Anabel Quan Haase, James Witte and Keith Hampton have been tracking the factors contributing to decline of community, and identifying what structures have emerged to replace those that have been abandoned.

It’s important to understand that the abandonment of traditional social and cultural organizations does not indicate that people have given up their need to belong to groups that reinforce and support their individual identity. That need remains constant. What has changed is the way people are filling that need for themselves. Loyalties have changed.

Organizations that required a significant commitment in terms of time, behavior modification, and economic resources have been left behind for brands that want nothing more than regular sales. The barriers to entry to a relationship with a Starbucks, for example, is significantly lower than the complexities involved with joining a synagogue, yet the meaningful rewards, in terms of connecting with others and reinforcing one’s self-concept, remain the same. Absent of any pervasive social pressure to act differently, the choice to realize the greatest rewards while making the least amount of effort or sacrifice is a no-brainer.

This is important knowledge to have when you’re deciding how to position and market your organization. This major cultural shift has played out in real time in the life of your consumer. They know they have an infinite number of brands they can ally themselves with, and little in terms of meaningful consequences in abandoning former associations. Starbucks has used this knowledge to become one of the most dominant brands in the world. If your organization can recognize and capitalize upon the voids created by this shifting social dynamic, you’ll be able to do the same thing. It’s a matter now of putting customers first.

Watching the Winds of Change: Hurricane Sandy & Apple

Hurricane Sandy has secured its place in the  history books. The mammoth hurricane came late in the season, taking an unusual track through New Jersey toward the center of the country, lasted for days, and created billions of dollars worth of damages. Much of lower New York, including Wall Street, shut down for Sandy’s arrival.

Against that backdrop, a business news story has to be a pretty big deal indeed to capture any attention. Apple delivered, choosing Monday to announce major changes to their leadership team. Long-time Jobs protege Scott Forestall, head of the iOS division, is on his way out the door, as is retail store head John Browett.

Deriving Actionable Information From An Uncertain Environment

Hurricane Sandy and the Apple management shake up have one trait in common. Both events introduce a huge amount of uncertainty into the lives of many.

For people living along the East Coast, knowing where the storm would hit, how intense it would be, and what type of winds and precipitation it would deliver, dictated their decision making.  Should they evacuate? Should they stay put? These are life and death decisions that have to be made in the absence of perfect information.

Apple’s investors and brand loyalists are watching Tim Cook and the remaining leadership with the same intensity those in Sandy’s path watched the Weather Channel.  The company’s been through a lot, and it doesn’t look like its been weathering the storms with grace. After losing Steve Jobs, Apple finds itself in an increasingly crowded and competitive gadget marketplace. Apple Maps floundered badly out of the gate, very visibly. Are the winds of change lining up to blow Apple out of its long-held dominant position?

In many ways, Hurricane Sandy was very different from the typical hurricane. It brought together combinations of meteorological factors that many weather forecasters had never seen before. Despite this, the track, intensity, and duration of the storm was predicted with a fairly high level of accuracy. This is due to the robustness of the models used in weather forecasting, where historical data is combined with scientific insight about the behavior of storms. The information generated is reliable enough to guide life-or-death decision making.

A similarly robust model can be built for any brand. Bringing together historical data, focused on identifying those factors most responsible for brand success, coupled with psychological insight about the behavior of customers, results in a Brand Model organizations can use to identify the direction most likely to result in profitable growth.  This type of information is critical to have when guiding a company through a difficult period.

Will Tim Cook’s move toward a more collaborative, unified leadership structure result in an increase in the innovative, empowering devices that allowed Apple’s most loyal customers to express themselves so well? Or is he removing a vital element to the creative process, gutting the company’s vision at exactly the time it is needed the most? Close observation of consumer response going forward will provide the answers to these inquiries, and if he’s smart, Tim Cook will be listening.  That’s the only way to steer your company through the winds of change.


A Tour de Farce: When The Hero’s Journey Goes Right Off The Rails

One cannot watch Lance Armstrong’s very public fall from grace—he has been stripped of all seven Tour de France victories, and has been barred from competitive cycling for life—without having brought to mind some words from Joyce: “They discovered to their vast discomfiture that their idol had feet of clay, after placing him upon a pedestal.”

There’s no doubt that Armstrong was on a pedestal. Prowess as a cyclist made him an idol to thousands. That number exploded as Armstrong battled and beat testicular cancer. These were the legions that supported the Livestrong Foundation, which provides support to people with cancer. Now that Armstrong has been found to be guilty of doping, many fans and supporters feel cheated. Livestrong donors have asked for their money back. Legendary cycling commentator Phil Liggett says he feels like a fool for having defended Armstrong so vigorously, for so long.

Armstrong’s sponsors have all dropped him. Nike, Trek Bicycles, Anheuser-Busch, 24 Hour Fitness, Oakley, and Honey Stinger have all severed ties with the racer, although not necessarily with the Livestrong Foundation.

The near-universal repudiation of Armstrong is interesting from a psychological perspective. What’s going on here? Why did people—many of whom have no intention of ever purchasing a bike, much less riding one—identify so strongly with Armstrong? Why are they so hurt by this  news now?

Understanding Your Customers: Archetypal Images

Lance Armstrong was an appealing figure to many because he embodied one of the most powerful archetypal images: the Hero. He is now reviled, and represents a new, equally powerful archetype: the Traitor.

When we talk about archetypal images, we’re referring to a type of persona or character that comes up time and time again through history. As we cycle through the ages, humanity repeats itself. Some people do majestic, awe-inspiring things – great feats that are remembered and celebrated. These people become the heroes. Other people do pretty terrible things, lying and deceiving to achieve their own ends. These people become traitors.

We talk about our heroes.  We talk about our traitors.  We talk about them so much, given time, that the stories we tell are more important than any objective facts may be. The symbolism of the story transcends the substance of it. So many different stories of heroism and achievement get woven together, resulting in one collective image almost everyone can identify with.

These tales are used to educate and guide us: if a person is held up as heroic, we believe they’re admirable, and that we should try to emulate the qualities or characteristics of that individual. If another person is held up as traitorous, we believe they’re a bad guide to making positive life choices. We try to avoid doing what traitors do. Even today, you won’t find lots of young mothers naming their babies Benedict Arnold.

Lance Armstrong very visibly, and abruptly, shifted from being a Hero to being a Traitor. This created a tremendous amount of internal conflict within those individuals who identified with him, trying to emulate his behavior, attitude, and near magical ability to survive cancer.

People who used Armstrong as inspiration to hang in there and keep fighting, no matter what, actually expended energy, effort, and resources to hang in there and keep fighting. They paid a personal cost for their commitments. When they learn that they’ve paid this cost under a fraudulent pretense, the internal conflict created becomes very intense. No one likes feeling duped or betrayed.

Being able to shift Armstrong from the Hero category to the Traitor category resolves some of that internal tension for the consumer. The greater the feeling of betrayal, the more vehement and profound the distancing behavior will be.

Smart brands, including Nike, have acknowledged this tension in issuing their statements about Armstrong.  It’s a way to demonstrate that the brand’s feelings and values are in alignment with those their best customers are experiencing. Lance may have crashed his career, but with smart, strategic understanding of who their customers are on a humanistic level, brands like Nike and Oakley will move on from this incident with no damage done.