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Monday, April 27, 2015



Don’t you just hate it when you’re driving in a strange city, using your mobile or rental car GPS, and the direction lady with the overly-friendly voice says, “Prepare to turn left in one quarter mile”; and within a flash you’ve gone that quarter mile, only to discover that it’s not exactly a left turn you must make but a bearing to the left…and not seeing an intersection requiring a full left turn, you zoom by, missing the bear-to-the-left altogether. All you can think about, in your “now what do I do” frustration is to scream out, “Why the flip doesn’t she say exactly what she means, what she wants me to do?”


Precision in language makes a big difference—no more so than in setting Communication Behavior Objectives (what some marketers also refer to as Marketing Objectives) for a brand’s messaging. More specifically, it makes a big difference in the actual content of the messaging, and naturally then, the kinds of ideas creative teams come up with. We have discussed this difference a good many times in our weekly DISPATCHES. And yet, we continue to hear marketers either (a) imprecisely articulate the exact behavior they want or (b) choose the wrong behavior altogether for their planned messaging campaign. So, more and more lately we have been urging our clients to not only establish and share a precise definition for each of the possible communication behaviors the organization might pursue, but also to literally verb-alize their chosen behavior in their creative briefs… “verb-alize” as in consciously use the precise verb or action-word that denotes the desired behavior the communications must deliver.


To get more precise ourselves about what this verb-alizing means, let’s first re-visit those “classic” Marketing/Behavior Objectives that apply in every product or service category (with some minor modifications in certain product classes, such as drugs or medical devices):


The Classic, Stood-the-Test-of-Time Marketing/Behavior Objectives  (“Verbs”)


1.  Adopt--Get new users to start using the category for the first time with your brand (or, sometimes get former/lapsed category users to start using the category again). 

2.  Switch—Get users already in the category, but using a competitive brand or facsimile, to use your brand (at least for some occasions) instead.

3.  Increase Frequency—Get current users of your brand to use it more often.

4.  Increase Amount—Get current users of your brand to use more when they use it.

5.  Trade-Up—Get current users of your brand to change out one of your brand’s offering for another that’s better/more expensive/more profitable.

6.  Be Loyal—Get current users of your brand to use only your brand.


Laid out like this, the behaviors seem straightforward enough, distinctly different—right? Well, not exactly. We’ve found that, typically, the last three are pretty much clearly understood and commonly used by most marketers and their managements. It’s the first three that more often than not get folks caught up—for different reasons. Let’s take a look with an example or two of what we mean.


1. Trial ≠ Adoption. These two action words, though commonly used interchangeably, definitely do not mean the same thing, do not denote the same behaviors. Of course, getting someone to try is a fundamental of good marketing; but it’s a one-time behavior (“to attempt something for the first time,” not many times--look it up!). To adopt, however, denotes some level of post-trial, on-going usage…sufficient usage to demonstrate that a user is now “in the brand fold” (even if not at the usage level yet of, say, the brand’s heavy or loyal users). It may be that all your brand really seeks in its messaging is to get a multitude of one-time consumptions, but not many management teams we know of would sign up for such an outcome. No, what companies really want is that end-behavior--to adopt.


And being precise about which one makes a big difference in the messaging the brand’s creative resources end up developing. For example, if you want Chinese consumers to start buying and eating peanut butter—something totally foreign to them—you might go with a communication that simply says, “Try it. You’ll like it.” Or, maybe more persuasively, “Try the great taste that Americans have loved since they were kids.” And such a message might deliver a good number of individual trials. But if you really want them to adopt peanut butter, to add it to their food/snack set, chances are it will take a lot more than asking, “What have you got to lose with a one-time taste?” It will likely take content and ideas that get at the “why” of peanut butter—to include, perhaps, why it may even be an “acquired taste” and therefore take a series of uses or a number of combos with other things before you’ll start loving it.


There are two other things worth mentioning about adopting. First, to adopt is not the same behavior as to increase frequency; that comes later in the brand franchise-building sequence. As already noted, to adopt means getting a user to some threshold level of brand usage. Once safely in the brand fold, the brand may then aim to up that user’s usage to moderate or heavy…thereby requiring messaging that incites an increase frequency or even amount of use. Second, an equally good way to verb-alize adoption is simply to say Acquire New, or Former, Users (not Get Potential New Users to Try).


2. Increasing Frequency, though often associated with, ≠ Switching. Said another way, a very common way for a brand to increase its frequency of usage is to do so at the expense of another, usually competitive, brand or like product. There are countless communication examples of this at work. One of the most famous on-going examples is that originally launched by the California Milk Board in the mid-1990’s: “got milk?” While squarely aimed at reminding milk drinkers to keep plenty of milk on hand for regular consumption with their favorite treats (chocolate chip cookies) or foods (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), since most consumers can only drink so many gallons of beverages each year, most of these Milk + Favorites occasions likely come at the expense of another beverage—iced tea, coffee, maybe even a soda. But, the messaging in the communication campaign is not directly encouraging switching from another beverage to milk; if it were, the messaging content would have pointedly highlighted all the reasons why milk was a better choice than these other beverages.


Another example we have talked about a lot is MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign. Again, the brand aims to get more everyday uses of the card at the expense of cash and other cards in consumers’ wallets…but the thrust of the messaging is, similar to that of “got milk?” to increase frequency of MasterCard use. The thrust is not why Master Card is somehow a better performing credit card. Okay, maybe one could argue that the brand is suggesting that, emotionally, MasterCard fits better with the values of today’s pragmatic consumer than, say, the more “elitist” American Express Card. Still, though, a close look at the hundreds of MasterCard executions indicates the messaging intends to increase frequency much more than to make the case for a switch.


Why go on about these distinctions? Simple. Because when it comes time to prepare a tight Creative Brief, both the Brand Team and their Creative Teams must be in precise agreement on exactly what end behavior is being sought. After all, getting current users to increase their frequency of use for a brand they already use  takes a quite different kind of idea than getting competitive users to switch from a brand they like and have a relationship with.


And for these reasons, when developing communications it’s really, really important to verb-alize the exact end behavior your brand seeks.

Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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