Helen Buford, President & COO, Denneen & Company has Answers to your Marketing Questions

1.       What advice do you have regarding effective assessment of a market?
There are many keys to conducting an effective market assessment. A lot of research and investigation is required to do the fundamentals properly – evaluating historic category trends, projecting future category growth (which can be a challenge if data is limited for niche or small specialized markets), identifying high-growth segments within the industry or category, doing a thorough assessment of competition, and identifying key customer and consumer needs. Of particular importance is identifying drivers that can influence market demand. Often it is necessary to think broadly, searching for drivers that might not at first be apparent, such as the impact of seasonality on the market, or behavioral shifts in consumers that might have a tangential or ripple effect on consumer demand.
There are ultimately two very important success factors in doing a market assessment. The first is evaluating the market with no pre-conceived notions, by approaching the assessment objectively and with an open mind. Think of the assessment as a mystery to be solved – the more thorough, intuitive and inquisitive you are, the more valuable the insights are that might be discovered. The second success factor is to be as persistent and resourceful as possible when looking for information. Our team will often find industry experts who are willing to shed light and share their expertise on the market. We have uncovered some amazing insights through outreach to colleagues, and well-designed interviews of people that we have connected with through social media. When traditional market information is hard to find, this is an especially useful technique.
2.       What advice do you have about effective brand positioning?
Effective brand positioning must be four things: relevant to the consumer target, differentiated from competition, clear, and concise. In order to create positioning that is relevant, you must have an extremely thorough understanding of the consumer/customers wants, needs, habits, and attitudes. You must also understand how the brand/product fits into their lives, as well as their perceptions about the brand and category. The idea is to craft an idea that will resonate because it is grounded in a deep understanding of what is important to them, and addresses how the brand will meet that need.
The second attribute – differentiation – can be difficult to achieve, especially in highly fragmented categories or when the brand does not have a feature that is truly unique. Absent any true product or brand innovation or differentiation, if the brand can be positioned so that it makes the consumer think about it differently than competition, it can live in its own unique space within the category. A great example of this from many years back was the repositioning of the Excedrin brand.   Excedrin had no unique product features and there were certainly many aspirin products on the market with which it competed at the time, and it needed something to make it stand out from competition. The company decided to position the brand as the “headache medicine,” becoming the first OTC product to position itself as a solution to an entire category of illness. A bold and brilliant move; Excedrin was probably no better able than any other aspirin product to treat headaches, but it was the first to make this connection with consumers, and effectively owned the headache space as a result.
The third and fourth attributes — a clear and concise statement of brand position — can also be difficult and require deep thinking and work. It is tempting to want to create a laundry list of great benefits that the brand provides, but as many marketers know, the brand runs the risk of standing for everything and nothing when it succumbs to that temptation.  When the organization disciplines itself to really focus on the single idea  or two that is most important, relevant and differentiated to communicate about the brand, the consumer can have a clear understanding of what the brand is really delivering.
3.       What are your thoughts (and advice) on the differences between winning with consumers vs. winning at retail in store?
This is a great question with which marketers often struggle. As many know, winning with the consumer can entail a lengthy courtship of communication and dialogue, establishing relevance, and meeting the consumer where he or she lives. When the consumer is also the shopper, the job becomes easier; the marketer must work closely with the retailer to understand the consumer/shopper’s needs and behaviors through shopper analytics, and build continuity between the dialogue and proposition that has been established outside of the store, as well as the product assortment, pricing, packaging, merchandising and promotion that occur within the store. The ultimate goal is to close the sale at retail, knowing that the consumer’s experience with the product and future marketing and other dialogue will be integral to driving them to purchase the next time.
However, the marketer’s job becomes more complex when the consumer and the shopper are different people.   The marketer, together with the retailer, must develop  an in-depth understanding of both the consumer’s and the shopper’s needs through research and shopper analytics (the latter including what the shopper purchases, how frequently, at what price and if on promotion, with what other products, etc.). The marketing strategy outside of store will influence the consumer to select the brand and instruct the shopper to purchase, but there will certainly be cases where the shopper is left to make the decision of what to purchase. In that case, the shopper is the consumer, and gaining their attention, reinforcing the brand proposition through packaging and merchandising, and incentivizing trial through pricing and promotion become much more important.  Again, careful collaboration between the retailer and the marketer to develop the right strategies that achieve both goals – getting the consumer down the aisle and into the category, and making a sale at shelf – is vital.
4.       With the many ways that brand-building and retailing have changed due to consumer technologies, what thoughts (and advice) do you have regarding the fundamentals that have remained the same?
Because the marketing environment has changed so dramatically – the most critical change being that the consumer is really in charge of their interaction with the brand – the single most important, and fundamental, thing that retailers and marketers can do is to understand the consumer. I have spoken about the importance of developing an in-depth understanding of the consumer, and this has become even more possible because of technology. In addition to doing the essential marketing and in-store research – what consumers are interested in, engage in and talk about – is abundantly understandable via the internet and social media. Consumers’ lives today are much more complex than they used to be and their needs are evolving almost daily. By understanding the consumer at their deepest level – what motivates them, what they care about, the problems in their lives – marketers can still make meaningful connections and provide relevant solutions with their products and services.  Retailers understand the power of consumer and shopper knowledge as well, and are creating solutions in store to meet consumer and shopper needs.  Merchandising of products that together provide a solution for shoppers (such as baby thermometers with baby cough medicine) is an example of how retailers are responding to their shoppers’ and consumers’ needs.

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