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Sunday, October 16, 2011






Over the past few years we have written a good deal in these DISPATCHES about a brand’s Marketing Objectives—those specific consumer or customer behaviors that we marketers get paid to make happen. On the one hand, it seems odd that we would so often return to this subject, as it is so fundamental to the marketing function (surely, the concept of Marketing Objectives is taught in every Marketing 101 course?). But, on the other hand, in actual practice we continue to see so many annual Brand Marketing Plans that either (a) omit marketing objectives entirely—leaping from Business Objectives like volume, profit, and share directly to marketing tactics; or (b) include marketing objectives, but they are imprecise or incomplete (as in not being truly measurable and/or not mathematically linked to delivering the Business Objectives). 


Actually, there is yet another imprecision that we often encounter when working with our clients to articulate the Marketing Objective, especially for a Communications Brief (which we sometimes refer to in the Brief as the Communication Behavior Objective). This imprecision has to do with, quite simply, not saying exactly what we mean. We may use one of the “classic” Marketing Objectives—such as adoption, switching, increased frequency of use, increased amount of use, “trading up/over,” and exclusive use (loyalty)…but, upon deeper examination, this is not precisely the end-behavior the brand really seeks from its communications. And, articulating the precise behavior that the brand seeks from its communications is absolutely essential in guiding the creative teams toward the messaging the brand requires for stimulating that behavior.


As a case in point, consider MasterCard’s global “Priceless” campaign, now in its fourteenth year. Looking back now, after seeing hundreds of broadcast, print, and digital executions, what would we infer to have been the stated Communications Behavior Objective that led to this longstanding campaign idea? One common inference that we hear is that the “Priceless” campaign has always aimed to “increase frequency of MasterCard use by switching cardholders from their Visa or Amex cards, or from cash.” But that’s two behaviors: increased frequency and switching. While it may be true that credit card consumers targeted by the “Priceless” campaign will end up using their MasterCard at the expense of or instead of their Visa cards or cash, is this campaign really a switching campaign? We think not. It is far more likely, seeing the preponderance of executions in the campaign, that the original behavior objective was much simpler: “increase frequency of MasterCard use—for purchases both big and small.” For the creative team the distinction is important because stimulating frequency of purchase or consumption (or even frequency of prescription-writing) typically requires a quite different dramatization than stimulating someone to switch from one brand to another.


Just to be clear on this, and to stick with credit cards, go back even further in time to the famous (and also long-running) Visa campaign, “Visa. It’s everywhere you want to be.” That campaign dramatized time and again why credit card consumers should choose Visa over American Express—because Visa was accepted at more prestige venues (such as the Olympics or the Rolling Stones World Tour) and Amex was not. Now this was a switching campaign! Did Visa also enjoy increased frequency of use at the expense of Amex? Undoubtedly. But again, putting yourself in the shoes of the Visa Brand agency’s creative team at the time the campaign idea was being developed, if the stated Communication Behavior had been to increase frequency of Visa use, the hard-hitting dramatization of Visa’s acceptance over Amex’s would likely never have seen the light of day. So it really does make a difference to the story the brand’s campaign idea will tell what precise end-behavior the brand requires.


One other, related thought comes to mind when thinking back to these two, highly successful credit card campaigns: Just how many Communication Behavior Objectives ought a brand team (and their communications agency) include in their Brief? As we saw, while some people inferred that the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign was aiming for two, albeit related, behaviors, in actual practice it’s always best to select the ONE end-behavior that the brand requires first and foremost from its communications. Sometimes selecting this one end-behavior is intuitive: the messaging required to bring totally new users, or to bring back long-time lapsed users, into a category is plainly different-in-kind from a message to solicit switching from users already in the category (consider, for example, aiming to bring vitamin supplement users into the category for the first time versus aiming to switch current supplement users from the Nature Made Brand to the Centrum Brand). At other times, getting to the end-behavior may require more in-depth consideration and dialogue—especially with the creative teams. It is always a best practice to have the creative team’s perspective (not merely the account team’s!) on the end-behavior articulated in the Communications Brief…and on what kinds of messages and dramatizations such an end-behavior will likely generate.


We’ve already looked at the distinction between the behaviors of Increased Frequency and Switching. Here are a few more distinctions that we recommend considering—towards saying precisely what we mean in our Marketing and Communication Behavior Objectives:

  1. Switching or Conversion? These two terms are normally used interchangeably. But, if you stop to think more about them, each carries, at least, a different connotation. Simply stated, switching connotes something that may be temporary; conversion connotes something more permanent—as in a “religious conversion.” We marketers work in so many categories wherein consumers “switch” from one week to the next, depending upon what lead brand is featured (for example, between Minute Maid and Tropicana Pure Premium orange juices; or between Coke and Pepsi). Even if we compete in categories with less week-in and week-out “deal-switching,” more often than not when we seek switching we’re actually looking for switching some occasions but not all of them. When we seek to convert, however, we’re more likely seeking to gain a total or long-lasting switch: a consumer who has suffered from one or two “lemons” from, say, an American car brand is very likely to be a prime candidate for a conversion to a Japanese car brand. The point is that we probably need a different or an even stronger story to gain a total conversion than we do to gain some switching occasions. So the question to answer is, “Which end-behavior best describes what the brand must achieve in its communications?”
  1. Switch or Trade-Up? Classically speaking, a trade-up is a consciously planned internal switch—as in switching from one item in the brand to another. The original trade-ups, after all, were all about giving consumers an incentive to move from their “half-pound” size to the “pounder.” Or to move from the 1 liter to the 2 liter. In more recent times and in some categories, the switch is from one of the Company’s less profitable brands to a higher profit one. Again, it’s important to be clear what type of trade-up is desired—to ensure the message and dramatization will work most effectively.
  1. Trade-Up or Trade-OverSometimes, as when one drug brand is about to lose its patent protection and “go generic,” but the brand has a follow-on drug in the same class, the objective is to stimulate something more precisely termed trade-over. This kind of end-behavior requires some natural linkage to the previous brand (for example, Prilosec’s “Purple Pill”) while still suggesting an easy move to the follow-on brand (Nexium’s, next generation “Purple Pill”). As it happens, trade-over campaign ideas may not always require the same kind of message or dramatization that a trade-up campaign idea will.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney


If you're planning to attend the OPEN Brand Positioning & Communications College session scheduled for November 15-17, 2011 in Evanston, Illinois, now is time to make your reservation.  Just contact Lori Vandervoort at lorivan@bdn-intl or 800-255-9831 (620-431-0780) to reserve your spot.



Richard Czerniawski

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Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

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Mike Maloney

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Austin, Texas 78703

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