Ever wanted to know what consumers really desire from their brands? Then you won't want to miss this episode with our phenomenal guest, Kurt Bartolich, the founder of Brand Certain. Kurt's bi-annual survey of 1,600 consumers provides precious insights into shifting consumer preferences, shattering the old paradigm of 'uniqueness' in favor of genuine qualities like honesty and authenticity. We unearth the importance of convenience and originality to consumers and scrutinize case studies: Bed Bath and Beyond's failure to meet consumer desires and Verbo's triumphant brand positioning.
Can CEOs master the art of public speaking? Kurt's years of experience lend us invaluable advice on this topic. With a focus on honesty, transparency, and authenticity, he discloses practical tips to enhance unscripted, natural conversation, ensuring your brand message resonates with consumers. We also delve into a crisis management case, examining how Toyota navigated troubled waters. This episode is a treasure trove of practical takeaways on building consumer trust and shaping successful brands - a must-listen for anyone invested in understanding and meeting consumer needs.
A recent Nationwide survey described what it is that consumers want from their brands. The question is do you know what consumers want from your brand and are you delivering it? We'll find out on this episode of Shift Shapers.Host:
This is the Shift Shapers podcast, Connecting benefits advisors with thought leaders and entrepreneurs who are shaping the shifts in the industry. And now here's your host, David Saltzman.David Saltzman:
To help us answer that question. We've invited Kurt Bartolic. Kurt is founder of Brand Certain and knows all about the survey because it's his survey. Kurt, welcome to the podcast. Thank you, David. It's great to be here To give us a little bit about your background. We always find it fascinating to hear how people got to be doing what they're doing today.Kurt Bartolich :
Yeah, it's kind of an interesting path, though not too disparate. I started out in a local market television many years ago. I have a face for radio, so I was behind the scenes. I worked in the marketing department and basically responsible for on-air promotion of the brand of the station. I did that for about 10 years. A couple different stops, a couple different markets. I actually am based in the Midwest, so they were all Midwest markets. I started to realize that I was more of a different kind of thinker. I had kind of a different way, I think, of looking at brand. I was probably, I like to say I was a little more Montessori in a parochial world when it comes to brand. After that I had a chance to go work at a couple really small ad agencies, which is a great experience because you get to do everything. I realized at that point that my path was really in helping companies discern their brands and went to work for two different research firms. Now that may seem quite disparate, but I was a brand consultant for a really big research firm in entertainment and media and went to another small research firm started by some former executives of Gallup. Research came naturally to me, even though I don't have a math analytical mind. I've seen numbers and I see stories. I didn't really see the numbers. I thought, wow, this isn't that hard, even though it's harder than it really is. At that point I realized I could merge both of those worlds doing real brand research that statistically sound, because I had great teachers and brand. I started brand certain in 2009.David Saltzman:
That's awesome. Let's talk about the survey a little bit. What was the scope of the survey? What was the reach? Who got surveyed? Sure, Excellent.Kurt Bartolich :
Just sort of a quick backstory. I started doing these national studies on brand back in 2016. I've evolved it. I do it bi-annually and I've evolved it. But I've always tried to have a large representative sample, started out with about 1,200 consumers back in 2016. I've since expanded it to 1,600 or so consumers. I start with the census and try to match it very closely. Now it's self-funded. Because of that, there's certain concessions you have to make. I want to make sure there's certain demographics from a census data standpoint that we line up with and some other things we just let play out. We can always wait data Right if there's a certain area where we didn't have a quota, mm-hmm, and so that's really it. We try to make sure we represent the entire country. You know we do have quotas on race and ethnicity. We do try to get a good spread on age from adults 18 plus. That's really you know. We want to open it up to get people in, but we also want to make sure that we're able to dissect the data by age. Gender is one where we kind of let it play out. I know the census says it's about 50-50. Surveys in general tend to skew a little more female anyway, particularly when you're using third party panels and but we also make sure that we divide the country in four regions Same four regions that we do every year. We want to make sure we get 400 per region so we can also have statistically accurate micro samples in different parts of the country.David Saltzman:
Well, the reason I asked the question was because I'm going to ask you my next question, which is what qualities do consumers want in their brand? And I wanted the audience to understand that this is not just a regional survey. This is, you know, no matter where you're listening from, you can take this information to heart and try to measure what you're doing in your practice against it. So what are the things that consumers want from their brands?Kurt Bartolich :
Yeah, that's a really great question and thanks for that little caveat, because I think it's not only what they can measure against, but I think this is fairly agnostic. When it comes to whether you work for a company, whether you're independent industry agnostic, I think the data applies fairly universally. What's really fascinating is I started seeing this trend around 2018, where some of the old sort of staples of brand, like unique, for example and there's another one that's slipping my mind right now, but there were certain qualities that I started noticing kind of shifting, and you know we always think about well, your brand should be unique, right, Well it should. But I think there's a difference today. But that was a quality we kind of started seeing dropping down the list of what characteristics and attributes they want and what do we start? What we started seeing really rising up the list was what I would call more human characteristics for brand. So things like honest, authentic, genuine you know those qualities that, as human beings, we embody and more of sort of the corporate type of thing started falling down the list. So it was. It was really interesting to track that and that is stabilized since 2020. And so when we see those things and honest and genuine and authentic, are in the top five, along with convenient. And then there's a. You know, depending on how you slice the data, the fifth quality is a little bit different, but originality, right. And so getting back real quickly to the unique thing, you know, I remember as a child, growing up, there was this thing called the pet rock, and for those who are younger listening to this, I apologize, but you know, someone came out this idea of a pet rock and made a million dollars, but it went away pretty quickly, right, Because it was really not a meaningful distinction. It was just unique for unique sake. And I think what the research is telling us today is yes, even though unique may not be in the top five anymore, though it's in the top 10, you still have to think about what sets you apart. And I think what they're saying with some of the other qualities that are just outside the top five, when they're saying, you know, a solves a problem, or original, which is number five, I think what they're really saying is that your uniqueness must be meaningful.David Saltzman:
So can you give us a couple of real-world examples of where it has it, where it is and where it is not? Okay, so, in terms of where we're seeing the human characteristics in brand, or where we're seeing… when a brand has missed the mark altogether, and maybe we're not talking about Bud Light, maybe we're talking about something else. Yeah, and a brand where they are just spot-on.Kurt Bartolich :
Yeah, so there's a lot of brands that have missed the mark. One of the brands that… and sometimes on my LinkedIn profile, like MicroBlog you know I don't write long blogs, I'll just… I'll see something from a brand standpoint that doesn't line up with the research or just sort of my ideology around brand. A recent one that I think… and it's been in the headlines a lot is Bed Bath and Beyond. You know they're an example and there's a lot of reasons why Bed Bath and Beyond failed, but I think one of the biggest things that it did that was a mistake was back when it added the beyond. It added that ampersand of beyond because, as you know, brands can't be all things to all people. Right, it's just not how consumers' minds work. They want to know, minds think in categories and so they want to know you know, in this category of mind. These are the brands that actually are meaningful to me and that are memorable to me and they get bookmarked. And when you have an offering and a name that connotes the opposite of focus, there's a good chance the brand's not going to work correctly and that's more corporate thinking around brand, whereas consumers are saying and my research also supports this, our research says that focus and simplicity is critical to brand success today. So that's sort of the antithesis of that. I think. An example of a brand today that's really doing it well and it's you know, different brands sort of come into my periphery and I get excited about them. They do it well and I hope they… I cross my fingers that they stick with it. I think it's Verbo. I think VRBO is a brand that I think is really hitting all the right buttons. I love their whole premise around being always private, because what I really appreciate about that is it's a clear focus, it's objective, not subjective distinction, and what it's basically doing is counter positioning Airbnb, a really great brand premise will counter position or reposition your competitors sort of by proxy, and when they're saying they're always private, they're saying Airbnb and everybody else isn't, and I love that. That's a great…. Any brand that can take on their competitors indirectly and reposition them with a 180 degree difference but a meaningful difference is going to be successful as long as they don't mess it up.David Saltzman:
So, if you create a brand that consumers trust, how do they react? How do they act in ways that are beneficial to the brand?Kurt Bartolich :
Yeah, there's… we definitely dove into that in this particular round of the National Study and they will actually do some really interesting things. Number one they will tell others about your brand. Right, if they really trust a brand, they'll tell others about it. I'm a firm believer that your brand is actually a reputation, and you know a lot of practitioners… there's a lot of really good brand practitioners out there, but there's still a lot of that sort of agency mindset where it's all about slogans and labels and we're not about that. Right, we want to build that reputation and if you have a really strong reputation and really consistent, your consumers will be more loyal to it for sure. The research also says they'll tell others about that brand. They'll even recommend it. They'll tell you different things. They may tell someone about your brand because it's something that you know that they're growing more attached to, but they'll also go further and recommend it. And sort of a third thing that we saw in the research is they're much more likely not to consider others. I think it was about 40% in the study said that if there's a brand we really trust, we're less likely to shop around.David Saltzman:
You know it's interesting. In my marketing practice we work with a lot of clients who are well under $10 million a year and they seem to get fixated on what my logo is and what my slogan is. And you know we try to tell them that unless you're running a 50 or 60 or 70 or $100 million business, that's nationwide or international, nobody cares about your logo except you. Nobody cares about your slogan unless it's confusing, in which case we need to fix it, but it is. I'm interested to hear you talk about your brand being your reputation, but I think that's a great place for businesses of all sizes. You know, to start, you know we tell clients all the time clear beats clever, because clear is true to yourself and clever. Is somebody trying to be something? Maybe that they're not. So let's move along the conversation a little bit. How do consumers behave with brands they don't trust? Do they just abandon them or is the old saw about? You know they'll tell a zillion people more when they don't like something than when they do.Kurt Bartolich :
Well, that's a really good question. I can't speak to what the negative output would be just from a research standpoint, like what's, what's the opposite if it's a brand they don't trust. But certainly you can imply, if it's a brand they don't trust, they're going to be more likely to shop around. Number one, right? They're going to look for an alternative, perhaps if that's something really important to them. You know, I think sort of the biggest thing with with a brand they don't trust besides, that is going to be, they're just not going to talk about it as much either, right? So, again, sort of the opposite of what I said for the brands that they trust, they're probably also less likely to forgive it when it makes a mistake. That was something that we dove into in the research, not to go too far off track from your question, but I think this is really important. It does tie back to trust and you know we don't do crisis consulting or crisis communication types of things, but it seems like brands are kind of sticking their foot in their mouth. And, by the way, when I say brands, I'm talking about people. You know, companies don't build brands. People build brands. People are human, people make mistakes and I started wondering about this a long time ago, back in like 2011, 2012, I was. I was wondering how does a brand like Toyota and I don't remember the year, but I think it had some issues with sudden acceleration, and you know, my first thought was, wow, this, this could really hurt their brand reputation. But yet, you know, six months later or so, at the end of the year, I kind of checked back in on to see what impact it had on their sales, and it had none. In fact, they had their best sales year to date, excluding rental car figures, and I thought what is going on here? Here's a brand where people lost their lives, made headlines and yet, you know, toyota had their best sales year to date and I started thinking about this idea of brand forgiveness and there was a few other things through the years that caught my attention as well, so I made metal notes about that and it was this particular year. I thought I want to put that out there in this, in this study, to try to figure out a little bit about brand forgiveness. And, to your point, there is a tie specifically to and maybe this is the most important thing If those create breaches of trust and you know whether it's you have a data breach which is somewhat out of your control, but it's still you know, it digs into trust. And or whether an executive has said something that they didn't mean to say, but you know, we hear this every day of the headlines. Right, and that level of brand forgiveness seems to shrink dramatically. Right, if you have a brand breach, as I like to call it, and at that point there is at least, if I remember correctly, like 36, 30%, 36, 37% of consumers who said unequivocally I'm done with you. Because I also wanted to know if this cancel culture thing was a fad. Right, and the data says no, it's not a fad, it is real. Over a third of consumers If you make a mistake, they don't care what you have to say, they don't care what you do, they are going to no longer trust you and probably switch brands.David Saltzman:
But the people who are in PR firms and who are publicists have this notion that if you make a gaffe let's just use that as a generic term you have a very short period of time to own it and to fix it. If you take advantage of that short period of time and you own it and you fix it, do you still suffer the same amount of drop-off as if you just kind of let it float out there in the ether?Kurt Bartolich :
You know, first of all, 100% agree with that. You've got to get out in front of it. But I take you back to those attributes that consumers want from brands today, and you can start right there and look at your checklist, and you've got to be honest, right, and you have to own it. I've heard, I've heard and watched a lot of videos, like on YouTube, of CEO apologies and when, when, when those apologies are seen as not being honest, cloaking blame on the consumer Right versus just completely authentically owning it, you probably have no chance in heck of in that 36 or 37 percent, of saving it right, let alone maybe even beyond that. So I think, if you look at what you do and our data did actually get some prescriptive outcomes for what you should do if there's a brand gap or a brand breach and we have that in our study and it's there are some certain things you need to do immediately, right. What was fascinating, though, was and I don't remember the actual percentage, I apologize off the top of my head. I want to say it was close to 60% of all consumers said. We will take a wait-and-see Attitude until all the facts come out, so I think you have to get out in front of it right away and say we're going to get to the bottom of this, we're going to fix it and you really have to own it. One quick sidebar on this there was a study done, I think it was by UCLA, as a really great study. It was a behavioral study and they will. They looked at CEOs and, if I think they had, they looked at over a hundred CEOs, their Apologies after a mistake or leaders of a company, and the very next day they looked at the stock market prices. Did their stock rise? Did it stay flat? Did it drop? And a hundred percent of those CEOs who they deemed their apology to not be sincere and To not take complete ownership of it, their stock prices drop the very next day. So there is a real-world business implication to this.David Saltzman:
You know, a good follow-on to that and and we've got about a minute and a half left is we were talking off air about how important authenticity is and that. That kind of goes to the apology question. If you go on the air or you go to whatever medium you need to reach your, your clientele, and you're reading a statement that sounds like it was written by a Washington law firm. It comes across as I'm saying the things that my handlers are telling me to say, as opposed to I'm being sincere and what. What comes to mind is Elon Musk. People love him and people hate him, but the one thing that they know about him is he's genuine.Kurt Bartolich :
Mm-hmm you.David Saltzman:
So how do you do that? I mean what's? I know it's kind of oxymoron to say how do you make sure that you're acting in authentic manner? Is it just not being inauthentic?Kurt Bartolich :
Probably you know, I think, I think you know and you know, not every CEO is the best orator, the best speaker, right? But yet you want the person, the head of the company, out in front of people, and so as much as you can be unscripted. I know it's also a slippery slope, right, because sometimes people continue to put their foot in their mouth, right? I don't know if there's one easy answer, david, this is such a tough thing I'll give you. So I put that market, one of those market research companies I mentioned that I worked for years ago. They had, and they still do, an executive coaching division, and I don't remember if it was maybe 2005, 2006,. Mcdonald's had. It had been reported that McDonald's had pink slime in their burgers, right, and that became a big deal. Mcdonald's had never done any sort of it at the executive level. A public conversation, public speaking, a public apology, whatever the case may be, actually hired our firm, magid, that I worked for, the executive coaching division, to coach the CEO at the time because he was invited to be on Dateline. And what I appreciated and I heard from some of the coaches was they really said yeah, you know, kind of know what you want to say but don't script it out, but really practice that unscripted natural delivery. So that's a really great question. I don't know if there's a one size fits all answer, but what I think is really the common denominator. And honest. Yeah, yeah, be transparent, be honest and be authentic.David Saltzman:
Yes, and that's a great place to leave our conversation for today. Kurt Bartolic, founder of Brand Certain. Kurt, thanks for a fascinating conversation, thank, you, David, for having me on.Host:
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