Podcast: Is Your Brand Working?
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Marketing Entrepreneurship Sep 12, 2022

Podcast: Is Your Brand Working?

In the fifth and final episode of our series, “Insight Unpacked: Extraordinary Brands and How to Build Them,” we look at how to measure your brand’s health–and what you should do if you don’t like what you learn.

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You’ve done it! You’ve launched a new brand or revived an old one. But is your brand thriving—or floundering? You’ll need to measure your brand’s health. And if the news is grim, you’ll need a Plan B.

Kellogg professors Julie Hennessy, Jennifer Cutler, Jim Lecinski, and Tim Calkins will explain how to use tools like Twitter to understand how customers feel about your brand, and what happened when Old Spice and Lego started to target surprising new audiences. Finally, we’ll learn how Kellogg professors feel about Insight’s new brand.

Supplementary Materials

If you were inspired by Prof. Jennifer Cutler’s Twitter-data-mining technique and want to recreate it, you can read more about it here and here.

Prof. Julie Hennessy offers Old Spice as an example of a brand that has been able to reinvent itself by targeting itself to a new audience, namely women. Here’s how the brand historically presented itself.

And here’s the ad that changed everything for Old Spice.

Lego has also been able to grow by expanding to a new target audience: adults. You can stream all three seasons of Lego Masters, hosted by WillArnett, on Hulu. And if you’re shopping, Lego’s website even offers a separate tab for sets geared toward adults.

The first season of Insight Unpacked primarily features Kellogg faculty contributors to the book Kellogg on Branding in a Hyperconnected World. This book is available for purchase here. In addition, you can read three free excerpts on Kellogg Insight.

Prof. Paul Earle Jr.’s chapter on finding the right name for your brand.

Prof. Bobby Calder’s chapter on using design thinking to find a design that appeals to consumers on an unconscious level.

Prof. Mohan Sawhney on transmedia storytelling for brands.

Podcast Transcript

[SOUNDMARK: A Kellogg Insight Production]


Jessica LOVE: If you took a branding course two decades ago, it would have been about logo design, the colors you pick and how you legally protect your trademark.

These things are all still important and very much thought about today—as you heard us talk about throughout this series. But they’re not everything.

Julie HENNESSY: Today, brands are really fundamentally different from that. Now, they still have logos sometimes, they still have pieces of intellectual property that they want to protect. But today, rather than thinking of McDonald’s brand as the golden arches or Nike’s brand is the swoosh, we think about brands as sets of associations that exist in consumers’ heads.

LOVE: That’s Julie Hennessy. She’s a clinical professor of marketing at Kellogg, and wrote the chapter about how to measure brand relevance and health in the book Kellogg on Branding in a Hyperconnected World. And she says that these sets of associations that exist in consumers’ heads mean that brands can be more than just a business entity, in the traditional sense.

HENNESSY: Everything has associations, and everything that has associations potentially is a brand. Your mother is a brand because if your mother is like most mothers, her children have all sorts of associations about her both positive and negative.

LOVE: And all of these associations you have…coalesce to become part of your image. As a brand, there are some associations you can intentionally cultivate. And there are things that you CAN’T. And your brand has to find a way to LIVE with that.

HENNESSY: The discussion today is much less about controlling your brand than it was in the past and more about being a part of the conversation.


LOVE: Welcome to Insight Unpacked: Extraordinary Brands and How to Build Them, a podcast mini-series from Kellogg Insight at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. I’m your host, Jess Love.

Throughout the series, we’ve talked about how to cut through the clutter and figure out your brand purpose, your positioning, your story! You’ve come up with your name, your logo, your colors, a soundmark! Once you’ve done all of this, how can you know whether your brand is having its intended effect on your audience?

On this—the fifth and final installment of our five-part series, Julie Hennessy—who you just heard from—explains how to measure the success of your brand out in the world. We’ll look at the methods brands have traditionally relied on to get at this, how to take things a step further to dig deeper into the minds of your consumers…and what to do if you do learn that people have some unsavory opinions about you. Plus, we take our podcast branding experiment to a couple of experts to see how we did!

LOVE: Historically — until about 15-to-20 years ago — brands relied pretty heavily on a few different metrics to figure out how people thought about them. A big question was whether people knew their brand existed at all…and they would determine this by giving respondents a list of brand names — including their own — and asking which ones participants recognized.

Another way companies tended to track brand awareness was by presenting a category…like fast food or laundry detergent… and asking which brands the respondents associated with that category.

HENNESSY: So I might say what brand names come to mind or what companies come to mind when you think of the category of cameras, but I don’t give you any help.

LOVE: If you’re already a well-known brand, like McDonald’s, you’d instead measure your brand health by asking people what adjectives they associated with you. Like… “to what extent do you think McDonald’s is delicious? Cheap? A responsible brand?” Those sorts of questions.

All of these practices are tried, true and still used today. They can still help you figure out if your brand is reaching people and hopefully, as a result, causing them to choose your product over someone else’s.

But… There’s a problem with relying solely on these measures in today’s digital world. Consumers have a lot more control over how a brand is perceived these days.

HENNESSY: Realistically, with consumers able to talk so freely on social media with each other, we don’t control the brand. Great example of that is Crest right now, who over the last 70 to 80 years has built a brand that’s really all about the impact of fluoride on protecting teeth and specifically kids’ teeth. And now there are these consumers with a voice that are talking about science and what Procter and Gamble would consider not-so-much science that maybe fluoride is more bad for your teeth and bad for your health than good. Now, whether this is good science or not, those consumers have a pretty big voice and can have a very, very big impact on the associations around a venerable brand like Crest.

LOVE: People are having a lot of online conversations about brands. On Facebook groups, on Yelp, on whatever forum you can think of. And they’re deciding for themselves whether a brand is good or bad…reliable or unreliable…or if it totally contradicts what you advertise it to be. A brand’s image is more so at the mercy of the public than ever before.

And that means, to measure your brand’s health, it’s not enough to look at awareness of your brand. Or to present people with a list of pre-determined adjectives. And that’s because…

HENNESSY: The associations consumers had about us were always much broader and much deeper than what we were saying in our advertising.

LOVE: So then…what can you do as a brand to understand how people think about you?

HENNESSY: We stop telling them what to think and we start a little more asking them without trying to lead them to what they think.

LOVE: Rather than giving people a list of adjectives they might associate with your brand, you’ll instead want to ask people “when you think of this brand, what comes to mind?” And then you listen.

HENNESSY: Stop being so obsessed with what you are saying and start paying attention to what consumers are saying.

LOVE: In a sense, it’s like Bobby Calder said to us early on in the series: You want to tap into that less conscious part of people’s brains by letting them free-associate. You’re after an automatic, reflexive, associative reaction.

As you’re asking people your open-ended questions, Hennessy says you’ll want to look for some things. One is contradiction. Which can be full of meaning. Remember when we talked about all that bad press that Toyota got about some serious issues it was having with its cars?

NEWS CLIP: Toyota has a problem…cars taking off on their own, up to 100 miles an hour…

LOVE: This problem with Toyota’s cars accelerating suddenly and not braking so well…was a disaster for the brand. Or so you would THINK. But Hennessy says that, if you asked consumers what they thought about Toyota...at the time…

HENNESSY: They would tell you, “well, first I think of crashes or not stopping” And when you ask what else, they’d say, “reliable.” So this is really interesting because this is an inherent contradiction. When we think about what a reliable car does, we think, well, it always starts, but it’s actually more important that it always stops.

LOVE: And yet, the idea that Toyota is reliable ultimately won out. Hennessy says the car company’s repurchase and loyalty measures didn’t suffer after the scrutiny and recalls.

It seems as though, in order to justify their daily decision to keep driving the cars, consumers dug in their heels and clung to the idea that their Toyota was safe. Pay attention to these sorts of contradictions.

HENNESSY: I learned more about brands from the weird things consumers are thinking than the expected things that consumers are thinking.

LOVE: Because it’s intel like that that can help you understand whether or not you can bounce back from something that you wouldn’t think you could bounce back from. The other thing you’ll want to pay close attention to is word choice.

HENNESSY: When you ask consumers what they think, there’s a difference between whether they use the word affordable or cheap. And cheap, interestingly, can be a good thing or a bad thing. If consumers say you are fast and convenient, and cheap, it’s probably a positive. If they say you’re cheap, and unhealthy, and junk, it’s probably a negative.

LOVE: Knowing whether people think of your brand as cheap and crummy…or affordable, good-value-for-money…is a distinction you’ll want to listen for.

Of course, all of this advice we’ve mentioned so far involves asking people questions. Jim Lecinski is a clinical associate professor of marketing at Kellogg. And he says a good way to gauge how your brand is being received by the broader community in real time is by taking stock of what people see, think and do online.

Jim LECINSKI: ​​So “see” are things like impressions, visits, views, awareness. Just like broad stuff. How many views of your YouTube video were there? Because like nothing good can happen if you’re never seen. That’s sort, sort of the first thing.

LOVE: Then, once you know how many pairs of eyes are getting on your brand, whether that’s pageviews of your website or impressions on Twitter, for example, you’ll want to know, upon having seen you, what do people THINK of you?

LECINSKI: Do they think you’re a leader, or you’re a friend or you’re contemporary or you’re hip or you’re something I’m interested in? Now we get into things like customer satisfaction, net promoter score…like those kinds of things.

LOVE: For this step, you may want to rely on a survey, as we’ve discussed earlier. But you can be creative about how you design this survey to make it as easy as possible to participate: perhaps it is just a single question sent to your mailing list or social media followers periodically, allowing you to track satisfaction over time. Maybe it’s asking people to select either a smiley face or a frowny face after a digital interaction to rate their experience. You will also want to track reviews of your product as it makes its way into customer’s lives.

LECINSKI: And then the last level is…we need you to do something. Like we need you to download a white paper, sign up for our email list, buy something, subscribe…like take an action.

LOVE: In other words: what are people actually doing with your brand? Are they buying your products? Joining your mailing lists? Requesting a free sample? Collecting data on what people see, think, and do online is a great way to track your brand health over time.

Jennifer CUTLER: The problem is that especially in social media, a lot of things change very rapidly.

LOVE: Jennifer Cutler is an associate professor of marketing at Kellogg. And she says that, to get the most useful insights out of social media in particular, you have to find ways to VERY quickly measure how people feel about your brand–more quickly, at times, than even a digital survey might allow for.

That’s where “social listening” tools come in: commercially available tools that monitor social media activity in real time. In fact, a few years back, Cutler came up with her own tool–one that you could code up yourself, if you were good at that kind of thing. This tool gauges how social media users feel about brands…even when they aren’t posting about those brands!

Her tool looks at lists generated by Twitter users. If you’re unfamiliar, Twitter users can create their own curated newsfeeds around topics of interest…like sports, science or politics…they do that by putting certain Twitter accounts that they associate with those topics into those lists.

CUTLER: I have methods that I’ve developed with my computer-science collaborator that you just need to put in one keyword. Just put in the word “sustainability.” And it will go and find accounts that are organized by users into lists about sustainability.

LOVE: It then looks for overlap between the followers of an account that we know is highly associated with sustainability, like Greenpeace…and the followers of a particular brand like…the Toyota Prius. This information is used to come up with a score between one and zero that shows how strongly people associate that brand with sustainability. Cutler’s algorithm can do all of that super fast.

CUTLER: The beauty of this, compared to a lot of prior work in data mining, is that it’s fully automated and you can get a perfectly up-to-date model—the cleanest, most recent language—with just a single keyword… All of this, for anyone who has some programming background, would be very, very easy to both replicate and tailor towards their purpose by reading the papers themselves.

LOVE: We’ll actually have a link to those papers on our website at kell.gg/unpacked.

Okay…so…let’s say you do your research. You’re listening to what people have to say about your brand. You’ve mined social media for intel. And …you don’t like what you’ve learned. In other words, your brand is not healthy. What do you do? One option is to shift WHO your brand is targeting. Take the male grooming brand, Old Spice.

COMMERCIAL: Wake up! Wake up with Old Spice…and feel the freshness of the open sea!

LOVE: Procter and Gamble had acquired the company in 1990. And it came with…almost no value to it.

HENNESSY: It didn’t have very high awareness. And even worse than that, the dominant associations around Old Spice were about old men and the sea and fish.

COMMERCIAL: …the open sea! With Old Spice! And get a super smooth shave with Old Spice shave cream.

LOVE: So with Old Spice, P&G got low awareness and some associations they didn’t care for. Hennessy says that in response, P&G had one of two paths to take: One, they could work on changing these associations and convincing their audience that they were wrong about Old Spice. It’s a road people take frequently. The problem?

HENNESSY: Trying to convince the same consumer who thinks negatively of you that they’re wrong is very, very difficult.

LOVE: The other path, then, that P&G had was to talk to a different target audience. One whose awareness for the brand is really low…so you don’t have to convince people that they’re wrong about anything, because they don’t know much about it to begin with.

HENNESSY: So one of the things the Proctor and Gamble did successfully in the repositioning of Old Spice is they talked to not so much men, but the women associated with those men that wanted to encourage those men’s newfound interest in grooming and taking a little better care of themselves.

HENNESSY: So if you think about the iconic, probably most famous of the newer Old Spice ads, we start with a very attractive gentleman talking to young women about how through the use of Old Spice, the man in their life can smell better, be more attractive and be even more a man to them.


HENNESSY: Very, very successful campaign that really starts with a pivot on target.

LOVE: A big lesson here is that…rather than trying to get rid of unwelcome associations, you should accept them and find clever ways to work around them.

HENNESSY: It really isn’t about getting rid of negative associations because they almost never go away, it’s about shoving them down the list and getting positive associations to be more primary in the list and negative associations to be a little less primary in the list.

LOVE: But let’s say that your brand faces a different problem. Say that your brand has high awareness and positive associations…and it’s healthy with its target audience. These are all great things! But you could still find yourself stuck as you try to expand to new audiences that don’t necessarily think your brand is for them. This is the problem that Lego faced. All the usual measures of brand health were positive.

HENNESSY: The only negative association that consumers have about Lego is the pain that is caused when you step on a Lego block in bare feet.

LOVE: But Lego was nonetheless having trouble growing. The problem was that kids were playing with traditional toys less and less…and moving onto electric toys when they were younger and younger. Which, for Lego, meant they needed to find ways to appeal to other audiences. Like…adults!

HENNESSY: If you look at the history of what Lego has been trying to do over the last 15 to 20 years, it’s really all about brand extensions.

LOVE: They created more complicated and higher-priced Lego sets for adults…like replicas of famous world landmarks…including the Colosseum. Which, if you’re curious, costs $550. They also got into movies.

COMMERCIAL: Hurry! The door is slowly closing!

LOVE: They got into reality competition shows…where adult contestants tried to out-build each other.

COMMERCIAL: Get ready…for the greatest competition….ever built.

LOVE: Hennessy says that these kinds of brand extensions are a good option for brands with SUPER high awareness, high likeability and high market share because they have a built-in launch pad. And it’s worked out OK for Lego. But there’s no guarantee of success. Because even if you do everything right to launch or extend your brand you might miss something.

Hennessy: It might be just putting really, really good resources to do something well that shouldn’t have been done at all…correct?

LOVE: So…where does all of this leave us at Kellogg Insight? Remember our Insight Unpacked podcast experiment? As you may recall, we wanted to create a new podcast brand that was built around “deep dives” into a single topic, like how to build an amazing brand that can stand out from the clutter.

So we took the new brand we’d created – the concept, the name, the logo, the soundmark, all of it – and we took it to Hennessy and Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Kellogg who, you might remember, we talked to in the very first episode.

So, we asked what the two of them thought.

HENNESSY: I think you’ve got a nice framework started here.

Tim CALKINS: I give you all the credit for diving into this and I think it looks great.

LOVE: Don’t worry, it wasn’t all praise. They did have deeper critiques for us. But here’s what did work for them:

They liked, for one, that rather than build a new brand from scratch…we wanted to leverage the existing Kellogg Insight brand by making the name “Insight” part of our title. Because it was already working to communicate that people were going to get research and insights from Kellogg faculty.

They also thought that our brand name, Insight Unpacked, conveyed our focus pretty well: a dive deep into a certain business discipline. There was some confusion over the beginning sound in our soundmark…which, if you couldn’t tell, is a door opening…

CALKINS: “Oh yeah…”

LOVE: And there was a bit of disagreement over our logo design…which, you may have seen, is instructions for folding a paper crane. Calkins liked it. Hennessy felt it could use some work.

HENNESSY: I think the bird is interesting, but then the bird needs to come out of a cage or out of a box or something and, and, you know, kind of rise because of the knowledge that it has.

LOVE: Remember that you have to have a brand purpose? One that legitimizes your whole existence in the world? We decided that our purpose was to make sure our faculty’s research and ideas were connecting with the larger business community. But Calkins thought we could take it further and expand into some higher-order benefits.

CALKINS: We want to help people be more effective business leaders, or we want to help organizations succeed and thrive… Those are higher order benefits.

LOVE: And both felt like our target audience, which we defined as largely alumni and emerging business leaders who were interested in a specific topic–like branding–was still missing the mark a bit.

HENNESSY: There’s this tendency to say, well, who should see this? And the creators of content will always feel like, well, everyone should, right? Everyone would get value from this. Well, everyone would not

LOVE: Calkins thought we could narrow it down more.

CALKINS: It’s a slightly different audience we’re going after we’re going after. It’s someone who wants to understand or is seeking to go beyond the easy answers…who appreciates the complexity, who wants to think through some of these issues more.

LOVE: Our target audience, Calkins thought, could be people who are just genuinely curious about how things work. Sure, we’d capture aspiring business leaders in that, but he felt like, maybe, our audience could be some of the same people that listen to podcasts like, for example, NPR’s How I Built This, where business and thought leaders tell their stories about the companies and movements they’ve built. They’re anecdotal but inspiring accounts that show how someone accomplished what they accomplished. It’s one angle of a how-to. Insight Unpacked is different, but similar in that it explains how something works.

All-in-all, Hennessy and Calkins felt like we were off to a good start. But what we also wanted to know from them was…now that we’ve done these things…how would we measure our success? Our brand health?

HENNESSY: One of the first things I would do is be really explicit and fairly exhaustive in taking the first people that in the first year or so come into contact with the new logo, uh, the new sort of content you’re producing the new format and ask them questions about what they liked, what they didn’t like, where they got value, where they didn’t get value, right?

LOVE: In short, we should release the podcast and spend a good amount of time understanding what people like and don’t like about it…before we even THINK about planning and scripting a second season and getting it to more pairs of ears.

And how should we figure that out? Both Calkins and Hennessy said we should try to avoid focus groups for an important reason. Because people don’t generally want to give hard feedback to your face.

CALKINS: I worry with podcasts. That’s exactly what you would hear people say, oh, that’s such a nice podcast. I mean, I, I would never listen to it myself, but you know, they, they’re not even gonna say that. They’re just gonna say, it’s a great podcast. Yeah. I’m gonna listen to it. I will for sure.

LOVE: Hennessy said that surveys are a good way to get around that because they are less personal and people won’t feel as nervous to say what they really feel. She said that monitoring social media to see what people are saying about you, whether you use a tool like the one Jennifer Cutler developed or another commercially-available product, is another useful way to understand where you fit into the picture, compared to your competition.

Finally, we needed to know: how many pairs of ears should we even be aiming for? Calkins said we should look at how similar podcasts are performing, in terms of downloads and engagement. But he said we should be careful to not compare ourselves to podcasts that are heavily resourced…like ones backed by the New York Times. Sure, we have the backing of the Kellogg School of Management, but the New York Times is on a whole different level.

Now, in keeping with all of this advice, we want to know: how do YOU, listeners, think we did? What did you get out of this podcast? How’s that brand coming along? You can leave a voicemail at 847-859-9534 and you can email insight@kellogg.northwestern.edu. We’ll put your responses up on our website.



LOVE: And that’s a wrap on our first season of Insight Unpacked! Again, you can check out the ads and brands we mentioned throughout our series on our website at kell.gg/unpacked.

Insight Unpacked was written by Laura Pavin and Jess Love. It was produced by Laura Pavin, Jess Love, Jake Smith, Emily Stone, Fred Schmalz, Maja Kos, Blake Goble, and Kevin Bailey. It was mixed by Andrew Meriwether. Special thanks to Julie Hennessy, Jim Lecinski, Tim Calkins, and Jennifer Cutler. As a reminder, you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, or our website. If you like this show, please leave us a review or rating. That helps new listeners find us.
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