- Brand vectors are a tool to help measure and visualize your brand by plotting your position between two believable extremes.
- Examples of extremes include “stodgy v. free spirit” or “cheap v. luxury.” Organizations fall somewhere between the two, and the brand vector is the visual tool that helps graphically illustrate that perception.
- Brand vectors create internal and external alignment of your brand and help you visually differentiate your brand from competitors.
- Combining several key vectors gives your brand multi-dimensional life.
Charity of the Week:
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The Iterative Marketing Podcast is a production of Brilliant Metrics, a consultancy helping brands and agencies rid the world of marketing waste.
Onward and upward!
Steve Robinson: Hello, Iterative Marketers! Welcome to the Iterative Marketing Podcast, where each week, we give marketers and entrepreneurs actionable ideas, techniques and examples to improve your marketing results. If you want notes and links to the resources discussed on the show, sign up to get them emailed to you each week at iterativemarketing.net. There, you’ll also find the Iterative Marketing blog and our community LinkedIn group, where you can share ideas and ask questions of your fellow Iterative Marketers. Now, let’s dive into the show!
Hello everyone, and welcome to the Iterative Marketing podcast. I’m your host, Steve Robinson, and with me, as always, is the inquisitive and yet authoritative, Elizabeth Earin. How are you doing today, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth Earin: I am good. How are you, Steve?
Steve Robinson: I am doing very well. I saw a TV commercial recently that I just really, really loved and I have been wanting to tell you about. I figured I would wait until the podcast.
Elizabeth Earin: Which one is that?
Steve Robinson: Have you seen the commercial for, I think it’s Whirlpool, where they have the mom asking all the right questions?
Elizabeth Earin: Yes, it makes me cry. I am a crier. I cry at everything, but yes. I am just talking about it; you are going to make me tear up here.
Steve Robinson: I love that commercial. I just think it’s a really great example of totally connecting with your audience. And no, I’m not a mom or stay-at-home mom, but my wife is, and she and I watched it together and you just see yourself instantly in those questions.
Elizabeth Earin: Oh, definitely. With my son being a year and a half old and not quite talking yet, it really resonated with me. I understood the frustration that she was feeling.
Steve Robinson: It just seems like a great example of applying a lot of what we have talked about here on the podcast with personas and customer journey, because it’s kind of See stage content that any mom can identify with, regardless of whether they are in the market for a washer or not, and tying it back to the brand, so I thought it was great.
Elizabeth Earin: And emotionally connected, which is always what we look for.
Steve Robinson: Exactly, exactly. So what are we talking about today?
Elizabeth Earin: Today, we are talking about brand vectors.
Steve Robinson: And this is a concept that’s probably foreign to most of our audience since this is something that we have sort of cooked up here at Brilliant Metrics.
Elizabeth Earin: I know what brand is, but what exactly is a brand vector?
Steve Robinson: So, a brand vector is a tool that’s used to visualize and measure your brand, but not just in one way. So we have brand awareness, which is commonly measured through surveys. You have aided and unaided awareness, and you are trying to understand if people are familiar with your brand name and maybe a component of what you stand for. A brand vector is measuring something very specific about your brand, one particular brand personality attribute or one particular market position, and it’s figuring out where your brand sits on a continuum.
Elizabeth Earin: I like it because, again, it’s a tool for identifying your brand, which we are always looking for something that we can then apply to our brand and share with our teams. And I like it because, rather than just saying that you are one thing, you are kind of giving a spectrum. So you know exactly where you fall on that. So it’s something to say you are a free spirit, but exactly how free-spirited are you? If you are showing that, against the extreme of being stodgy and you are just a little bit above the midpoint, then yes, you are a free spirit, but you are not free-spirited that you are totally out there and hard for the general public to relate to that. So, it helps to really put that into perspective.
Steve Robinson: I think to help our audience visualize this, we kind of need to explain what a brand vector actually looks like. And I am going to use my hands here, so I apologize for not watching us on video, but it’s basically a line, and at the end of the line, you have two believable extremes. So on one end, you might have, as you said, stodgy and on the other end you might have free-spirited. And so you can picture the guy in a suit and tie with a vest sitting in a leather chair on one side, and you can picture the guy in sandals and shorts on the other side, right? And then you have got to figure out where does your brand sit between these two extremes? Because you could have one that’s all the way over and that stodgy guy and the leather chair, and you could have one barefoot and shorts on a beach. And a brand could have either personality, and you position your brand along that continuum.
Elizabeth Earin: For our listeners that might be having a hard time visualizing stodgy and free spirit, a couple of examples that you can go off of this, cheap on one end and luxury on the other, and where you fall within that range can help to build that perspective. Another option is exclusive versus inclusive.
Steve Robinson: And the key is that it’s not just one line. You are not just plotting your brand on one of these lines. You are going to take multiple different vectors and figure out where you sit on each one in order to build a bigger and more vibrant picture of your brand and where it sits in the marketplace.
Elizabeth Earin: I like it because it allows us to adjust some of the problems that we face when we are talking about brands, specifically that we can measure our brands quantitatively beyond aided and unaided awareness.
Steve Robinson: Yeah, it tracks back to an actual number, and so you can look at the number point in time. You can look at how that number changes over time, and really get a feel for not only your position but your momentum as well. It also helps to establish alignment because you are not just going to measure where senior leadership believes that the organization is. You are not just going to measure where the marketing department thinks the organization is. You are going to measure at a couple of different points, and so we often run brand vector surveys with the employees of the organization. We run them with the senior leadership. We run them also with existing customers and then what we call near misses, those people who have been involved in the sales process at some point but are not current customers so they haven’t had a chance to fully drink the Kool-Aid.
Elizabeth Earin: I love that we look at it in terms of both internal and external alignment because I think, so often, when we do a brand audit, we are really focused on that external portion. Where is our brand identity? Where is our brand image? What’s that gap? And it’s almost always focused on the organization versus the customer or the outside external market. And we forget about the employees, but employees and the people who are living our brand every single day are so important to you to making our brand what it is. This gives us a way to address that and audit that and see are we in line, where do we have opportunities to create better alignment?
Steve Robinson: Yeah. And ideally if you are measuring all of these different points, you should end up with a very tight cluster of dots on this line. That never happens in real life, but…
Elizabeth Earin: It’s our goal. It’s what we are striving for.
Steve Robinson: Exactly.
Elizabeth Earin: I think the other thing that you are able to do, and I love that we have incorporated, so not only do we have where our senior team sees us and where our employee see us and where our customer see us, but we throw in an extra dimension there and we throw in our competitors. We always want to know how we relate to our competitors, and this is very helpful when you are sitting down and really looking at strategy and what differentiates you. This is a very easy visual way to look at that.
Steve Robinson: Yeah, absolutely, because you want to make sure that you are differentiating from those competitors, but not just that you are differentiated, but how you are differentiated. So if you can figure out which components of your brand are most important, then you can figure out how far away is your dot from your competitors’ dots, because ideally, it’s in its own little space, right?
Elizabeth Earin: Sure.
Steve Robinson: So I think this is a good point right here for us take a quick break and talk about how we can help some people.
Elizabeth Earin: Before we continue, I’d like to take a quick moment to ask you Iterative Marketers a small but meaningful favor and ask that you give a few dollars to a charity that’s important to one of our own. This week’s charitable cause was sent in by Cat House of Budweiser in Hayden, Idaho. Cat asks that you make a contribution to the American Kidney Fund, the nation’s leading non-profit helping people fight kidney disease and live healthier lives. Learn more at kidneyfund.org or visit the link in the show notes. If you would like to submit your cause for consideration for our next podcast, please visit iterativemarketing.net/podcast and click the “Share a Cause” button. We love sharing causes that are important to you.
Steve Robinson: Okay, and we are back. So before the break, we talked about kind of what a brand vector is and how we use them. Let’s break down the actual process of creating a brand vector. Really, it starts with your senior leadership because you have to engage your senior leadership and understand where they see the organization. And it’s a great place to start because you immediately get buy-in from them on the project and they feel like they are part of it, because if you throw this at them afterwards, it can usually cause a problem within the organization, so getting them engaged early, asking them where they put their dots and then getting consensus there is usually one of the first steps.
Elizabeth Earin: The next place to go is take a look at your competitors, and this is a little trickier because, for the sake of resources and time, you are not going to necessarily be running a full brand audit on the competitors so take your best guess as to where they fall on these different spectrums.
Steve Robinson: Yeah. And usually just a cursory view of their website, looking at some of their literature, you’ll get a feel for where they are, and certainly your salespeople have encountered these folks in the field before. And you can always test your theories there. You don’t have to get too in depth.
Elizabeth Earin: Another great resource when you are talking about your competitors as well is you have a recent employee that has jumped ship from one of the competitors and is now working for you, they can provide some very valuable insights as well.
Steve Robinson: And I always check the career section of the competitor’s website because that’s where they are really describing their culture, and that’s really what’s going to shine through in their brand anyway.
Elizabeth Earin: Great idea.
Steve Robinson: The next step after you have got your competitors’ map is you are going take a look and whittle down which vectors are most important, which ones really matter to your brand and your position within the marketplace.
Elizabeth Earin: I think this is the tricky part, and we are actually going to get into this in more depth in just a few minutes here, but you are really trying to find the ones that are most important and a manageable number that makes sense. Having 30 different vectors is not something that, as a corporation or a company, you are going to be able to maintain.
Steve Robinson: And really, it becomes very important in the last step and that is to actually do the measurement. And so now you are going to reach out to your employees, you are going to reach out to your customers, you are going to reach out to those near-misses those not quite customers, as well as resurvey this senior leadership to see where everybody puts their dots on that line so you can see how tight your groupings are.
Elizabeth Earin: Now this was a pretty quick overview of what this process looks like. Obviously, there is some more information and some more depth that goes along with this, and we have got the full process outlined on the Iterative Marketing website and there is a link in the show notes.
Steve Robinson: So let’s break into that – the trickiest part of this process is usually picking which vectors are most important. I know that that’s where we have gotten hung up in the past, and I imagine that’s where our listeners are also going to get hung up. So how do we go about that?
Elizabeth Earin: So we are going to divide these into two sort of buckets. The first being brand vectors that are associated with our brand’s personality, and the other half are going to be associated with our market position.
Steve Robinson: When you are picking your brand vectors, and we’ll have a list, a tool out on the site of some of the stock ones that we start with, but we usually introduce some custom ones as well. The key is to identify the two believable extremes, and so to break that down, they are believable in that you could picture a brand taking this position. So you can’t have a brand vector of evil versus good because you are just not going to have a brand that chooses to be evil; it’s not a valid brand vector. So they have to be believable on both sides. And then you also have to make sure that they are extreme because if it’s two kind of middle of the road positions, then you are not going to get a whole lot of value of having a position on one side or the other.
Elizabeth Earin: So when we take a look at brand personality, what’s sort of the guiding force? What is it that we are trying to communicate with these brand vectors?
Steve Robinson: We are trying to take an emotional position. If you think about it as a consumer, you don’t put a whole lot of thought into the decisions that you make on a day-to-day basis. If you did, you would spend hours and hours in the grocery store just to get through your list.
Elizabeth Earin: I still spend hours and hours in the grocery store to get through the list, but that’s a whole another story.
Steve Robinson: But in general, you make these snap decisions and you purchase things and usually you are doing it with your gut. And it’s funny they have done studies on how – and I think I have mentioned this in past podcasts, but it bears repeating, they have done studies about how we make decisions and they are entirely emotional. We actually backfill the rationale afterwards. Does that mean that we aren’t using valid inputs, rational inputs, to make those decisions? No. Our emotional engines are taking what we know, what we have learned, and then in a complex computer we can’t see spitting out a decision, but a lot of that comes out of gut and a lot of it comes out of what you know, like and trust. And so if you think about who are your closest friends and why they are your closest friends and why you know them and like them and trust them, it comes from certain components that their personality that align with your own values and that’s why you choose to surround yourself with those people. It’s no different with brands. And so when we look at selecting our brand vectors on the brand personality side, it’s identifying where those personality attributes that are going to make other people know your brand, like your brand and trust your brand. They are either going to attract or repel.
Elizabeth Earin: So I think a few examples to kind of help make this a bit more tangible. When we are talking about some of the brand personality vectors, we are looking at informal versus formal. Breaking that down, what’s coming out in your communication style, what’s coming out in a way that your employees are addressing, the way that your employees are interacting. This all falls within that spectrum and where you are is going to be guided by each of those individual interactions.
Steve Robinson: Other examples are plain-spoken or using very fluffy language. You have other examples of corporate or entrepreneurial, things like classic or timeless, are you always hip and trendy, current trend, following the current trend and style. Those sorts of things are things that would either pull people in or push them away as brand attributes. What about market position? What are we looking for there?
Elizabeth Earin: So, market position — a little bit — the emotion seems to come out of that and it turns more into a rational decision process that the prospect is going through and really ties into, when you are looking at competitors, what are the differences between them? What are you comparing between the competitors? And that’s where these market position vectors come in.
Steve Robinson: And usually they are based on one of the three fundamentals of market positioning, right? So better, faster, cheaper, pick two. It’s the same kind of thing. Now where you introduce some subtlety is what does “better” mean for your industry? Does “better” mean that you are higher touch in your customer service? Does “better” mean that your product functions better? Does “better” mean that it’s built from better materials? It depends on whether you are offering a product or service and where your competitors hang their hats, and you know this for your industry. And the same thing is true of faster and cheaper and what do those mean within the context of your product or service, because cheaper on the surface might mean something entirely different from — your product ends up costing your customer money in the beginning but ends up saving them significant money in the end.
Elizabeth Earin: Now again, there is a lot of different ways you can go with this, and as Steve mentioned, on the website, we have got some examples of some different vectors for both brand personality and market position. A couple of tips as you would view that document and try to figure out what makes sense for your company. One, you want to pick at the ones that you know are going to resonate with your customers. Why are your customers choosing you over the competition? The answer to that question is going to help you figure out which brand vectors are right for you.
Steve Robinson: Exactly, and you also want to make sure that you are picking brand vectors that position you off of the middle generally, and there are exceptions, and I will get that in a second, but usually you want to pick the vectors where you are on one of the two extremes, because if you are positioned on one of the two extremes, those are the ones that push away the wrong fit customers and pull in the right fit customers because it’s something that they can identify with. It’s hard to identify with blah. Now, the exception to that is the third thing you want to look at and that’s your competitive set. You can find that, sometimes, if all of your competitors are off on extremes, being in the middle might actually be a competitive advantage and might be a brand vector that you want to include, because now you have — your competitors are repelling everybody at the two extremes and you are being more inclusive and being able to pull people in that maybe don’t identify with either end of the spectrum. So generally, you want to be on the ends or closer to the ends for the brand vectors that you are going to focus on, the exception being, where do you differ from your competitors? Because that’s the last component that you want to look at when you are picking which vectors you are going to run with.
Elizabeth Earin: Okay. So we have picked our vectors, we have run our studies, we have got all the data back, now what do we do?
Steve Robinson: Now we need to take a look at our dots and it’s all a matter of interpreting dots on these spectrums. The first thing you want to look at is how tight of a grouping do you have of these dots? How close together are they? Because if all the dots are in the same place, gold star. I mean, that’s awesome because that means that your team, your employees are totally in line with your brand. They know who you are and they are acting it in the marketplace. That means that your senior leadership actually knows who they are and your customers are following in suit. If they are not in alignment, then you have a problem.
Elizabeth Earin: Let me ask you this. You have done this once or twice. How often have you seen those dots in perfect alignment?
Steve Robinson: Very, very rarely, and it’s a nice little win when they are, but usually, one is off from the other two, and more often than not, it’s senior leadership or the employees. One of them is usually in alignment with the customer.
Elizabeth Earin: And so what do you do at that point?
Steve Robinson: I’d like to liken this to there’s a fable or story about a ship captain. The ship captain is sailing in the dark of night. There’s no moon, and he sees a light dead ahead of his ship, right? And so he pulls out his radio and he radios out, and he says to the other ship, “Our bearing matches your bearing. You need to move. Otherwise, we are going to have a head-on collision.” And the other ship says, “No, you need to move or we are going to have a head-on collision.” And the captain says, “I don’t think you understand who I am. I am captain of the such-and-such ship. We are this huge ship and other ships move, not us.” And the other person on the other end of the radio says, “I don’t think you understand who we are. We are a lighthouse.”
Elizabeth Earin: I love that story, but I think it’s a great example.
Steve Robinson: Yeah, it ties back to exactly what we are talking about here because when you look at, okay, if your dots aren’t all alignment it means that some dots need to move. And the dot that is your customers and your target audience, your near-misses, that dot is the lighthouse because that is the one that is going to be the hardest to move. It’s going to cost the most money and the most resources.
Elizabeth Earin: But there are exceptions. There is an exception to when you may want to try to move that dot, and that is what you often refer to as an aspirational vector.
Steve Robinson: Yes. So brands don’t have to be stagnant. If you are, you are not being responsive to the market. You are not being responsive to your competitors, and you are not carving that unique position. And so it is good and healthy to have one or two aspirational vectors where we are trying to influence our target market that our brand is actually a little bit further out on that spectrum. And the key is to limit the number of times and places that you are trying to do that, because if you try to do that in all vectors all at once, you are just going to confuse the audience about who you really are.
Elizabeth Earin: Well this really only works if you have got pretty tight alignment with your other dots. If you have got where senior team, where employees and the customers all in the same general area, then you have got more room to go after this aspirational vector, but otherwise, you are sending a mixed message.
Steve Robinson: Absolutely, absolutely. So if you are not going to try and move the market, then that means that you have to move one of the other two dots. And so if you are moving senior leadership, now it’s just a reset on expectations. And if you have got a good leadership team, they are going to see the data and they are going to realize, “Okay, we are not where we thought we were. This is where we actually are,” and it’s a matter of educating and informing based on the data from the survey. So that’s one of the benefits of just doing this exercise to begin with. If it’s your employees, well, now you have got to take a little bit more action and you actually have to launch into some internal branding and take some actions to get your brand communicated and reinforced internally within the organization. We will talk more about that next week under Brand Activation, because we believe that brand activation ist as much internal as it is external. If you do want to move that dot externally, well, now you are doing a more traditional brand activation campaign or programming, getting your audience engaged with your brand in ways that are actually going to shift their perception and move them emotionally or logically to where you need them to be on that particular spectrum.
Elizabeth Earin: Another issue that has come up, and we have done these in the past, is that sometimes your dot isn’t different than your competitors’, and so when that’s the case, what do you do? And I think it’s important to know that if it’s one dot, that’s not really an issue. You can’t be different in every single area and you are going to see some overlapping as you move within your market. So again, one dot is not really an issue. If you have got multiple dots that are kind of laying on top of each other, and especially if it’s with the same competitor, then you have got to take a look at where you can possibly make a change or even an acquisition of the competitor’s firm.
Steve Robinson: Yeah, that’s a great example of where an acquisition might make sense. It could also mean just picking another vector because maybe there’s another vector that you didn’t see as core to your brand but one where there is differentiation. And so if you add another vector and maybe more likely substitute a vector, because you are going to want to pull one out if you want to pull one in, then you have an opportunity to hang your hat on something that’s a little bit different and it will drive the differentiation in that way and that’s just a matter of auditing your existing branding materials and shining a light on that way in which you are different.
Elizabeth Earin: So you mentioned auditing the existent materials, but one thing when we talk about brand, brand is so much about perception. It’s all about perception. So how often should we be coming back and looking at our brand vectors to see if something has changed either in our leadership team, in our core values as a company, with how our employees are interacting, or even just how with our customers are perceiving this.
Steve Robinson: We generally recommend looking at this about once a year. Any more than that and you have survey fatigue issues and you haven’t given enough time in between your measurement points for anything to really change, because it’s not going to change overnight. But any less frequently and you don’t have the data you need on where you are at right now to be able to make educated decisions as you go to position within the marketplace or as you go to create collateral. Does that make sense?
Elizabeth Earin: It does, it does.
Steve Robinson: Let’s talk a bit about how brand vectors play a role in re-branding and what have you seen there, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth Earin: This can be a very, very useful tool when it comes to re-branding, because it allows us to focus on exactly what it is that we are trying to change within your brand and then how are we going to measure it moving forward. So it’s a great place to start. Where you can potentially run into some issues and where you want to caution anyone who is going through re-branding or considering re-branding and is thinking about using brand vectors is that you really want to limit the number of vectors that you are trying to change in alignment with what we talk about all the time. Part of our Iterative Marketing methodology is starting small. We really want to start small, and again, limit the number of vectors that we are trying to change so that we have a better chance to see which ones are making an impact with our market. And also, it allows us to better manage that change.
Steve Robinson: Yeah. The brand vector process gives you sort of an anchor that you can kind of tie all of your efforts in that re-branding effort to is kind of how I like to look at it, because you are looking at each dimension separately so that you can see when we come out the other end of this re-brand, we expect that these dots are going to move like this and that’s a very – it can be a very unifying way to get everybody on the same page as to what this re-brand means beyond just new or pretty, more modern logo, right? Because ultimately, you want to do more than that.
Elizabeth Earin: Yeah, it’s all about the feelings that are associated with that logo and the emotions that are attached to it.
Steve Robinson: I think we have done a pretty good job of laying this out. Like we said, there’s much more resources on the website that we will link to in the show notes, but next week, we are going to talk about once you have these brand vectors and you defined your brand off of this, how do you engage in a brand activation if it’s appropriate? And I’m really looking forward to that conversation.
Elizabeth Earin: Me too. It’s an exciting one and I really like the employee side of it. It is just as important as the customer facing side.
Steve Robinson: In the meantime, I want to thank everyone for making time for us this week, and until next week, onward and upward!
If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to the podcast on YouTube on your favorite podcast directory. If you want notes and links to resources discussed on the show, sign up to get them emailed to you each week at iterativemarketing.net. There, you’ll also find the Iterative Marketing blog and our community LinkedIn group, where you can share ideas and ask questions of your fellow Iterative Marketers. You can also follow us on Twitter. Our username is @iter8ive or email us at [email protected].
The Iterative Marketing Podcast is a production of Brilliant Metrics, a consultancy helping brands and agencies rid the world of marketing waste. Our producer is Heather Ohlman with transcription assistance from Emily Bechtel. Our music is by SeaStock Audio, Music Production and Sound Design. You can check them out at seastockaudio.com. We will see you next week. Until then, onward and upward!