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Brands construct identities of how we want to perceive and portray ourselves. We buy a brand because it highlights part of our personality. For example, people who buy a football top are aware that it highlights their passion for that team.

But what about brand avoidance? Why do we deliberately avoid certain brands given the choice? There are three types of brand avoidance that occur when we choose to disown a brand:

1)      Experiential– where we have tried a brand and it failed to meet our expectation

2)      Identity– where the brand image is symbolically dissimilar with our identity

3)      Moral– where our belief’s clash with a brand’s values or associations, particularly where that brand poses a negative impact on our society

Experiential Brand Avoidance

Experiential brand avoidance needs little explanation. Remember the time you saw an advert on TV and the product looked so amazing that the next time you went out shopping you bought it? Then you actually tested it and it wasn’t what you expected? This was like the toy Furby for me.

What is interesting to note is that a study found that stores which hold multiple brands are often impacted by the negative experience with the brand bought. For example, TK Maxx sells a range of brands, so if a customer buys a Calvin Klein top from the store and it frays in the wash, TK Maxx becomes the target of unfavourable attitudes. The customer associates the product failure with the store selling inferior products.

Identity Brand Avoidance

Identity brand avoidance is where a person avoids a brand based on one of three reasons.

1)      The person dislikes the associations with the brand image. For example, I refuse to buy anything Nike as it represents UK Chavs and trend followers. We aim to buy brands that have symbolic compatibility with ourselves and will avoid brands that portray an image we find incompatible.

2)      The person dislikes the lack of authenticity. The brand holds certain generalisations which the consumer finds is not supportive of their personality. For example, I love the Audi A3 however would no longer wish to own one due to the amount of ‘boy racers’ that I now see speeding around in them.

3)      The person dislikes the loss of individuality. This is where a brand can become too popular and loses its authenticity. Sporting brands are particularly prone to this dilemma with hardcore sports fanatics. For example true runners will often prefer to buy New Balance, Asics or Mizuno over Nike as they are considered the specialists in that field.

People will often have a desire to protect their sense of individuality rather than buy into a brand that portrays a generalisation. By avoiding certain brands, people a preventing a loss of their own identity.

Moral Brand Avoidance.

Referring to political and socio-economic sets of beliefs, people will avoid a brand if it has any negative moral associations.

For example, Nike has been reported to exploit its non western workers. An interview with over forty people found that Nike was avoided due to its moral implications with their work ethics.

Consumer cynicism and country of origin effect are two emerging themes from moral brand avoidance. Cynical consumers believe that self-interest alone motivates companies. For example, the financial industry giving out bonuses to their employees while the UK Government is lending them tax payers’ money. Consumers distrust the altruistic motives of companies which leads to brand avoidance.

McDonald’s emerged in the study where consumers found that it only introduced salads to recapture the market. Up until people were more aware of food consumption and health, McDonald’s didn’t seem to care that they were selling high fat and salt products. It was only after people have become more conscious that the company has taken action and claimed an interest in our health needs.

Moral avoidance with regards to political ideology is influencing some international consumer’s perceptions where people will avoid a brand for its globalisation. Many of us may be able to relate to this where we prefer to buy our fruit and vegetables from a local store as opposed to a large chain. The belief that we are supporting our local area and resisting global homogenisation makes us feel far better.

Managing Brand Avoidance

There are a few ways to manage brand avoidance. Firstly the company needs to make a genuine adaption of the brand which begins at the highest point within the company. Secondly, the company needs to amplify its perceived quality to consumers to re-engage their lost audience.

If a firm chooses to keep their brand as it is, then it might attempt to create a new set of associations to a sub-brand. This could create an illusion to consumers, that they are selecting a competing brand when in fact both brands are the same company.

A company could establish strong ties with other businesses to alleviate brand avoidance too. For example, Coca Cola have a presence in bars, so even if you choose to avoid them you may have no choice but to buy their product in certain situations.

Finally positive word of mouth could further help some customers to re-evaluate their brand avoidance.

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Here today gone tomorrow or here today and here to stay? There are many debates floating around about the importance of social media and its support in generating new business, income and interest. The problem is whether or not you are on the right platform, investing your time in the right tools and sites and whether or not these will bring a return?

This article takes a quick look at the sites which are most beneficial for UK businesses.

1)      Twitter– I won’t go into too much detail here but Twitter is a great way to establish contacts, share interesting information and build a brand name. IF you share relevant information and follow others who share information which is relevant to you then you will soon grow your twitter profile.

2)      Facebook– A tough decision to make as it depends on what industry you come from. For example B2B with an industrial end user may find that their Facebook page is difficult to grow as its not the typical route for businesses to use to make contact with one another. However if you are B2B with the end user being a consumer, then creating a Facebook page can build your brand name and identity to strengthen your competitive selling within the B2B sector. Finally B2C is a must. No matter how small your brand, if you are interacting directly with consumers you must have a Facebook page to build a reputation and allow fans to interact with you.

3)      LinkedIn– A useful tool to grow the personal side of the brand. This takes more commitment but portraying a personality and advertising the people who work for you (and are therefore internal customers) can support the business where buying cycles are long. LinkedIn works well for B2B industries, especially when users join and communicate often on group forums related to their line of work.

4)      Pinterest – A new find for me but the potential to use this site as an online pinboard means an opportunity for businesses to push their brand. People post images that they love to their own board which is shared amongst followers. The benefits of a B2C or B2B2C company is that a brand page with interesting images could attract customers and improve brand awareness.

5)      Digg – Articles are a way to improve your search engine results and provide information to potential customers. Even if you write about the latest news in the industry you work in, it shows customers that you are knowledgeable and therefore more trustworthy. Digg is a fantastic way to promote articles to generate more hits. Plus Google searches the website regularly which will help improve the article’s visibility.

6)      Triberr – Another new find for me recently. Triberr is effectively where you gain support from other ‘tribe’ members who share the same interests as you do. You have ‘bones’ which you share as a type of payment incentive for other tribe members to re-tweet and share your article. Find yourself in a good tribe, and you are sharing your article to a gigantic network.

7)      Klout – Measuring social media is important and Klout is one of the better tools to measure how influential you are within the fields that interest you. Let’s say you regularly write about marketing and share information about this. Klout will give you a score based on how many people read the links you share, re-tweet these links and respond to them.

8)      Empire Avenue – My favourite tool and one which I want to sell my personal account on here http://empireavenue.com/GECKO87  This is the most fun tool to measure your social media on. Its a financial game where you trade in purchasing shares, monitor dividends and you interact with other shareholders. The aim of this site is to interact as much as possible with relevant people to increase your share price. I have found that this isn’t the best way to build your brand as many of my contacts are based in America, however it’s a tool which you will want to return to as it rewards you for your social media efforts.

The one problem with using so many sites and tools is that it can all become overwhelming. You must keep sight on the reason behind creating a social network for your brand. Ultimately businesses invest in social media to see a return, but it’s not a quick process. Social media requires time, nurturing and investment before you can reap the rewards so ensure it is the right step for you.

Note: There are a few more tools which I would recommend such as Tweetdeck. However I didn’t want this article to drag out past the length of a persons’ leg. Keep an eye out on posts and articles to measure which tools are right for your business as wasted time is wasted money. For example you do not want to invest heavily in something which will end up like MySpace now do you?

Networking can be a frightful concept to some people. Even to this day I still find it a very intimidating environment. You walk in to a room of thirty people and immediately head to the coffee table. Why? Because you look busy, you can hold a cup in your hand (defensive pose), and it gives you the comfort of looking preoccupied.

On the inside, the majority of us will walk into the room and be filled with apprehension. Although logic suggests that everyone is there to socialise, emotions are hard to control and the fear of rejection seeps through. This is normal. I’ve attended seminars where even the most confident speakers have admitted feeling fear.

So what comes first?

LOGIC– everyone is there to mingle, talk about their businesses and see if they can help anyone. It’s important to remind yourself of this. Ignore those little insecurities and be bold.

Walk into that room with the knowledge that there are plenty of people who feel just like you. If you need a drink then head to the beverages BUT talk to the people who are pouring themselves a drink. The chances are they are doing the same thing as you so are welcoming a conversation from you.

STOP doubting yourself, it doesn’t matter that you are young, female, male, short, tall, old, have an odd business that’s hard to explain, or that your competitor is in the room. Just be yourself at all times and remember NOT TO look at everyone’s name tag and the company they work for. You are failing to think about the benefits of everyone in that room the moment you do this.

One key thing about networking:

YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO SELL YOUR BUSINESS TO THE PEOPLE IN THE ROOM. YOU ARE TRYING TO BUILD A RELATIONSHIP AND USE THE CONNECTIONS THAT THESE PEOPLE HAVE.

A common mistake for most people at networking events is they try to sell you their business from the moment you have introduced yourself. You listen to their business and all you are thinking is how could my business fit in with this company? If they offer something you don’t need you disregard their business card. They will do the same. If you begin to realise that neither you can help each other directly but you may have contacts to share then you immediately open your network up to a wealth of opportunities. If you spoke to the thirty people in that room and they each had five connections worth knowing, then you will have extended your reach to 150 businesses.

Walking away.

It’s comforting to stick with the person you introduced yourself to. It is often hard to leave the conversation even when you are both tired of each other’s company. So leaving a conversation politely is something that you need to remember. Whilst standing with that person, ensure your posture is open and welcoming. Standing face to face with one another is a closed position that will prevent other people from engaging. Standing side by side will welcome people to join in which allows you to leave politely while the other person is engaged. If however this opportunity does not arrive politely say something along the lines of “it’s been a pleasure meeting you today, best introduce myself to a few more people but thank you for your time, I will be in touch very shortly.”

After the event.

Contact the people you spoke to as soon as you can. Email them within 24 hours, add them on LinkedIn, and call them after a few days. Keep yourself fresh in their minds. Networking is not a hunt, it’s like farming. You develop your relationship and get to know that person. You build trust, support one another and then you will naturally choose to promote each other.

Final Tip.

When you are interacting with people you need to leave your mark. This can be very difficult to do if there are a large amount of people. You need to ensure that when a person picks up your business card they remember your face, your personality and how you can help them. The best way to leave your mark is to take a pen with you. When you hand over your business card write something on it in front of them. This will take them out of their card swapping tradition and make them think. I draw a smiley face and say “hopefully you won’t forget me now” as I smile an awful lot. This has proven to be a huge success for me.

One term which regularly arises in the marketing journals I read is customer satisfaction. It’s always suggested that customer satisfaction is key to a successful business. Seems obvious right? Would you return to your local Subway if they spat in the sandwich right in front of you? Of course not. Well you certainly wouldn’t want to but if there was no alternative you may be forced to. There is actually a lot to learn about customer satisfaction and so I have written this blog to give you an insightful overview.

First of all why is customer satisfaction so important? Customer satisfaction is proven to lead to customer loyalty. Customer loyalty leads to increased shareholder value and asset efficiency. So you keep your customers happy and your business will grow along with the income.

For a customer to increase your earnings they need to be loyal. Loyalty isn’t just a person who repeatedly buys from you, it’s where they consciously evaluate and buy and brand regularly over others.

Example: I regularly buy my shopping from Tesco when I am at work. This is not because I like Tesco because the truth is I can’t stand it, but it is convenient. If Asda opened up nearby I would prefer to go there, EVEN if it was a bit further out that the local Tesco. This is because I am loyal to Asda.

If a customer buys from you once it is considered a transaction-specific experience and is unlikely to get a customer to switch to you unless you exceeded their expectations greatly. Even dissatisfaction with a single transaction is unlikely to lead to a customer switching unless it is extreme.

Example: You are a loyal customer of Pizza Hut. You visit regularly but one time you walk past Pizza Express and decide to give it a go. Psychology shows that you want to like the experience but not as much as Pizza Hut as you want to confirm your ideas and beliefs that Pizza Hut are the better choice. This makes it harder for Pizza Express to gain your loyalty. However you find that the taste, the quality, and the people create far more of an experience. The price is great and they went above and beyond your expectation to deliver the best pizza experience you have had. You allow yourself to rate them higher than Pizza Hut and can in an extreme case become loyal.

In most cases the experiences customers have will either slightly exceed their expectation or just fail to meet it. This results in the customer feeling unmoved and there will be no change. When customers fall into this area it is called the “zone of indifference”. There is a bowl shaped diagram below which better explain this. If a customer’s feelings fall into the gentle slopes of the bowl they are indifferent. If your business greatly exceeds or grossly fails to meet their expectations then you will have a loyal or very unhappy customer.

How is Customer Satisfaction Determined?

Satisfaction should be judged (with loyalty) over a number of experiences. There is a formula to determine customer satisfaction which is:

PERCEIVED QUALITY – CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS = CUSTOMER SATISFACTION

As customer satisfaction is a result of cognitive and affective evaluation a business must meet their informational needs and their expected feelings.

The customer will judge a business typically on three areas; Product, Process and After-sale service. This means that businesses will have look at each and every stage they interact with the customer and aim to maintain high levels of service and information to keep their customer happy.

Product performance is evaluated by the cost, the technical sophistications, the durability and the ease of use.

Process performance is evaluated by the interpersonal interaction with the business and ease to purchase.

After-sale service is evaluated by the customer’s judgement of quality of the service and evaluation of the interaction experience with the service provider.

Apply the customer satisfaction formula to each of these areas and you will be able to judge where the company fails to meet the customer’s expectations.

Is it that simple? Unfortunately not. What I’ve written so far explains what the business should be aware of from their end to make improvements. The strength of the relationship between customer satisfaction and loyalty is STRONGLY influenced by characteristics of the customer such as gender; age; income; involvement and variety seeking. If you want to better understand how these characteristics affect purchasing behaviour and loyalty please read Customer Traits affect Customer Satisfaction.

I’ve written about customer satisfaction and loyalty in Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty Simplified to allow businesses to see where they ought to improve to meet the expectations of the customer. I mentioned how important customer loyalty is to businesses and how there is often a zone of indifference in what businesses do unless they greatly exceed the customer’s expectations. Have a read if you want to see the formulas to evaluate where businesses may be failing.

In this article I discuss the effects that customer traits have on customer satisfaction so that businesses can better understand how to target their customers.

The strength of the relationship between customer satisfaction and loyalty is STRONGLY influenced by characteristics of the customer such as gender; age; income; involvement and variety seeking.

GENDER: Women’s purchasing behaviour is found to be strongly influenced by their evaluation of personal interaction processes. Compared to men, women are more involved in purchasing activities paying more attention to the information given and attitudes of the sales personnel.

AGE: Information processing declines with age. Older people have restricted information-processing capabilities therefore they are more likely to rely on their crystallized abilities (their knowledge of specific problem content as a result of learning and experience over their lifetime). Younger people rely on the information available to them. Remember “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.

INCOME: Generally the higher the income, the higher level of education that person will have had. The higher the income, the more the customer focuses on the quality of the relationship with the service provider. The lower the income the more focus there is on the product. This is because the monetary risk will be perceived as higher and therefore the focus is on the quality of the product over the sales pitch.

INVOLVEMENT: The amount of involvement a person has with the product. The more relevant or important the product is, the more time is invested researching information and therefore the significance of a sales pitch is greatly reduced. The sales person can help to confirm ideas and beliefs thought by the customer (which will increase the likelihood of the purchase). Overall however product satisfaction becomes far more important.

An example of this is the time invested in buying a chocolate bar at a petrol station. You are in the queue and people are behind you. The cashier recommends the latest range of Maltesers and due the low importance and relevance of the product you go with the cashier’s choice. Now try buying a car with £30,000 that you saved. The sales person is telling you about the latest range of Vauxhall cars. However due to the importance of the product and the amount of money which you will have to invest you have done your research. You have spent hours trailing online, spoken to people about the cars you narrowed it down to and gone with your gut feeling on a Ford. The sales person is highly unlikely to change your mind on something which you have so much time and money invested in.

VARIETY SEEKING: Under certain conditions everyone has a need for variety in his daily life. When a customer seeks variety, they have wants and needs that often can’t be filled best by one brand. Customers will switch regardless of their satisfaction with the original brand e.g. a customer at a vending machine who is very satisfied with their Twix bar may fancy a change and purchase a Lion bar. There is little a company can do in these cases but continue to be reliable for when the customer returns.

Knowing these five characteristics of a customer could dramatically change the marketing techniques businesses use. There is no point throwing an overwhelming amount of information towards an old man. However there may be a benefit to having a persuasive and informative sales person when dealing with a middle-aged affluent woman.

Marketing and Psychology often combine to give you a far more insightful look at consumers than what is typically learnt at Universities. The knowledge of key marketing concepts plus understanding what makes people tick is like holding a royal flush in a poker game.

I’ve mentioned The Benjamin Franklin Effect and Attitudes Come From Actions before which all play a great part in better understanding psychology. Now I want to share some marketing psychology so take a look at how to change a person’s mind.

Kevin Dutton, author of Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art & New Science of Changing Minds explained that there was five key elements that could be used to persuade someone to your point of view:

SIMPLICITY: Keep your message short, sharp, and simple. Shorter messages are easier to absorb and retain.

PERCEIVED SELF-INTEREST: Focus on the benefits that the person you are speaking to will get from doing what you want. If there is little for a person to gain, they are less likely to be persuaded. It’s better to give positive enforcements rather than negative ones.

For example: you may want a friend to go halves on a plate of nachos but they aren’t particularly hungry. In this instance it would be worth pointing out that the price is great if split into two and so even if they aren’t hungry they could enjoy a light snack for a bargain. Or mention that they haven’t enjoyed nachos with you in ages (or ever) so why not enjoy doing something/ reminiscing together. You could tempt them with the idea of nachos, suggest putting a topping on that they’d enjoy.

INCONGRUITY: Surprise the person. Instead of saying the nachos are £4.50 say they are 450p.

CONFIDENCE: If you sound like you don’t believe what you are saying, then how can you expect people to believe you? You must sound confident in what you say. Even when the person knows your facts are wrong, they will be more convinced that you are right. A great example is David Attenborough. If he told you that they discovered that oxygen never existed you’d be likely to believe him due to his confident and authoritative voice.

EMPATHY: Try and imagine how that person feels and it will help you persuade them. Nod when they nod, let them know that you are on their level. After all we are inherently more likely to trust people who come from a similar (tribe) background.

Hopefully you will use these tactics for good and not for bad but these are methods which are seen daily in advertisements. The mother worried about her child catching a virus in the Dettol adverts. The car salesmen who comes from wherever you have come from. The politician visiting the local communities. Becoming more aware to what is around you gives you the power to decide yourself and not be persuaded so easily by future marketing (hopefully not putting me out of a job!)

I genuinely can’t stand Apple. I know this alienates a lot of readers but I still can’t stand Apple and it has to be said.

I dislike companies that grow on the basis of having a ‘cool’ brand image. Apple rely on their image to sell their products which end up looking great but contain a lot of technology similar to their competitors. What’s worse is their competitors tend to offer superior products.

For example: Samsung makes 26% of IPhone 4’s components’ cost. Samsung make the RAM, the internal memory chips, the A4 chipset: basically what makes the phone run and retain information. The IPhone 4 costs £150 on average to make, yet they sell from a whopping £499! Now that’s a mark-up! When you take into account that the heart of Apple’s IPhone 4S is Samsung it makes you wonder why people are obsessing over having one- why not buy a Samsung?

I am just rather particular about when to fork out £500 plus. This is why I do not waste my cash on an Apple product. Apple no longer builds or creates anything these days; they are a design company. As long as they get to market early they know they will captivate an audience. Why? Because they have invested heavily into marketing. They know that if they create a buzz over their brand name they are set to rob the moronic followers. The people who think its “cool” to have an Apple product, to prove they are a follower of a trend.

Simply put I believe Apple lack the technological competition (without Samsung). They rely on their marketing and designers. After all, they are just pulling parts off a shelf from other companies and putting them together in a nice well designed plastic and aluminium shell these days.

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