Brand Association and Customer Perception
When I was a kid, one of my mother’s favorite “mom-isms” was…tell me who you run around with and I will tell you what you are.
Like many of my mom’s seemingly esoteric pearls of wisdom, that phrase was probably lost on me in my youth. Today, however, I understand the power of associations – not only in the context of one’s personal brand but for corporate brand health as well.
Your Customer Experience Defined
From my perspective, your customer experience is the sum of perceptions consumers have about your brand based on their interactions with you. Those perceptions, rightly or wrongly, include not only your behavior but also the actions of those who associate with you and your products. It is for that reason that so much time and energy is spent trying to associate product use through celebrity endorsements or partnerships with social media influencers.
Sometimes associations are formed in unexpected and undesirable ways. Take TIKI® brand torches for example. In 2001 the TIKI®torch brand, popularized in the 1950’s, was purchased by Lamplight® (a family owned manufacturer of outdoor torches). In essence, it was such a good association between Lamplight® and TIKI® that the former acquired the latter. To keep the backyard/leisure lifestyle theme going, Lamplight® itself associated with a family of brands under W.C. Bradley Co. These brands include grill maker Char-Broil® and fishing reel manufacturer Zebco®. All of which brings together positive lifestyle brand synergy.
Now to the unwanted brand associations for TIKI®. Imagine being an executive at the Lamplight® company and reading the following headline in the New York Daily Press about your TIKI® brand…
Moreover, imagine seeing images of your product splashed across print and electronic media in the hands of participants in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. A rally that was a precursor to senseless violence and death perpetrated by white nationalists.
Swiftly and without equivocation leaders at Lamplight® took to Facebook and in a resounding TIKI® brand voice stated:
Many social media posts emphasized that TIKI® did NOT need to issue the statement as people understood they were not supporting the action. As a customer experience consultant, I disagree.
TIKI’s® leaders demonstrated wise brand stewardship by asserting that their product is NOT an authorized symbol of a movement which would tarnish TIKI®’s identity and brand equity. While most rational adults can separate the product itself from those who seek to use it in intimidating ways, TIKI® forcefully dissociated themselves from the fray.
Cynics of TIKI®’s action, might say, “No big deal, who wouldn’t quickly distance themselves from toxic brand associations?” I say commerce and the risk of giving up revenue can make easy things difficult. For example, in the context of this same White Supremacist brand association quagmire, Bill Chappell of NPR highlights the groundswell needed to oust the Neo Nazi website Daily Stormer from the GoDaddy web hosting platform:
GoDaddy had banned the site after receiving complaints from the public led by women’s rights advocate Amy Siskind, who wrote via Twitter, “@GoDaddy you host the Daily Stormer — they posted this on their site. Please retweet if you think this hate should be taken down & banned.”
More than 6,500 people retweeted her message, and the Web service replied late Sunday night: “We informed the Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service.”
The big takeaway from this week’s blog is my mom was right. Namely, associations do matter whether those associations are strategic or inadvertent.
All of us must realize that perceptions of alliances are formed when two things co-exist. As brand stewards, we are responsible for strengthening those connections when beneficial and severing them when they are detrimental!
An Emerging Theme In Thematic Investing
Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are popular vehicles for market participants looking to engage in thematic investing. Thematic investing looks to take advantage of future growth trends, including disruptive technologies. Given that forward-looking approach, stock-picking in the thematic universe is equally as hard, if not harder, than in traditional market segments.
Go back to the late 1990s, before the bursting of the Internet/technology bubble. Back then, investors stood an equal chance of selecting E-Toys over Amazon or some no longer in existence networking equipment maker over Cisco.
“History is littered with examples of prospering industries with no indication of which company will come to dominate the industry,” according to Nasdaq. “This suggests that successful thematic investing is more about selecting baskets of investments rather than single securities.”1
The ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF (DTEC) provides basket exposure to a broad swath of thematic investments. DTEC features exposure to not just one or two emerging technologies, but 10 such themes on an equal-weight basis.
The 10 themes represented in DTEC are as follows: 3D printing, clean energy, cloud computing, cybersecurity, data and analytics, fintech, healthcare innovation, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile payments and robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
Generally speaking, fund issuers have been quick to respond to disruptive and transformative technologies, bringing products to market to tap these themes. Prior to DTEC coming to market late last year, there were ETFs devoted exclusively to cloud computing, cybersecurity, robotics and other themes featured in DTEC. However, few use the basket approach to themes employed by DTEC.
February, a rough month for U.S. stocks, highlighted the advantages of DTEC's multi-theme methodology. Seven of the 10 themes found in the fund finished the month lower, but DTEC was able to outperform the S&P 500 on a monthly basis.
Focusing on individual themes can be rewarding over the long-term, but not all investors have the risk tolerance for such a strategy. Consider this: the Indxx Global Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic Index jumped more than 48% in 2017. That type of performance is enough to seduce many investors, but that same benchmark slipped 7.60% in February, generating monthly volatility of 34.10%.2 Said another way, that robotics and AI index's February slide was more than triple the loss experienced by DTEC during the month.
While it probably is not accurate to call the indexes devoted to individual disruptive themes “old,” many use old school weighting methodologies. For example, the two largest components in the ISE Cloud Computing Index are Netflix, Inc. (NFLX) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN). Only two members of the S&P 500 have larger market values than Amazon while Netflix currently has a larger market cap than Wal-Mart (WMT) and McDonald's (MCD).
Holdings subject ot change as of 12/31/17
For its part, DTEC not only equally weights its 10 disruptive themes, but its 100 components as well, potentially reducing single stock risk in the process. As the chart below confirms, equally weighting stocks is rewarding across sectors and market capitalization segments.
Past performance does not guarantee future results
Annualized returns for the past 10 years show seven of the 11 S&P 500 sectors, when equally weighted, outperform cap-weighted equivalents, according to S&P. Three of those seven sectors – financial services, healthcare and technology – are prominent parts of DTEC's roster.
1 Source: Nasdaq Dec. 28, 2015 https://www.nasdaq.com/article/what-thematic-investing-is-and-its-strengths-and-risks-cm559209
2 Source: ETF Replay data
An investor should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before investing. To obtain a prospectus which contain this and other information call 866.675.2639 or visit www.alpsfunds.com. Read the prospectus carefully before investing.
An investment in the ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF (DTEC) may be subject to substantially greater risk and volatility than investments in larger and more mature technology companies.
There is no assurance that the market developments and sector growth based upon the themes discussed in the article will come to pass.
ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF shares are not individually redeemable. Investors buy and sell shares of the ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF on a secondary market. Only market makers or “authorized participants” may trade directly with the Fund, typically in blocks of 50,000 shares.
ALPS Advisors, Inc. (AAI) has engaged IRIS Werks, LLC (IRIS) to produce analysis and commentary on ALPS-advised ETFs. IRIS currently has a compensated business relationship with AAI. AAI is not affiliated with IRIS.
The content and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and not the views and opinions of AAI. In addition, AAI assumes no responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the content written by the author.
There are risks involved with investing in ETFs including the loss of money. Additional information regarding the risks of this investment is available in the prospectus. Past Performance is not indicative of future results.
The fund is new and has limited operating history.
ALPS Portfolio Solutions Distributor, Inc. is the distributor for the ALPS Disruptive Technologies ETF. AAI is affiliated with ALPS Portfolio Solutions Distributor, Inc.
The author is not an investment professional and this article should not be considered investment advice. While the information and statistical data contained herein are based on sources believed to be reliable, the author takes no responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the content. Additionally, this article should not be relied on or be the basis for an investment decision. Information that is historical is not indicative of future results, and subject to change.
S&P 500®: A capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.
S&P SmallCap 600®: A capitalization-weighted index that measures the small-cap segment of the U.S. equity market.
S&P MidCap 400®: A capitalization-weighted index that measures the mid-cap segment of the U.S. equity market.
Indxx Global Robotics & Artifical Intelligence Thematic Index: The Indxx Global Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic Index is designed to track the performance of companies listed in developed markets that are expected to benefit from the increased adoption and utilization of robotics and Artificial Intelligence ("AI"), including companies involved in Industrial Robotics and Automation, Non-Industrial Robots, Artificial Intelligence and Unmanned Vehicles.
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