Fran Lytle and her husband, Bill, cofounders and principals of Bound Brook-based Brand Champs, spent the six months before they got married on different continents. They met in the film industry when their careers intersected for a short time – he was an actor and she a trends analyst – but in the half year before they got married, he was filming in Yuma, Arizona, and she was in England. This experience, and the potential for marital disintegration in Los Angeles, convinced them that if they wanted to stay married, they needed to change careers and move.

They decided to come back east – he was from Basking Ridge and she from Long Island – and they created a business transferring their skills to a new venue. "We realized that the skills we had from the film business were applicable to helping brands and advertisers," says Lytle, so they created Brand Champs ( www.brandchamps.com).

Lytle will speak on "Brand Discovery: Defining Your Brand to Motivate Customers" at a NJAWBO dinner meeting on Wednesday, February 13, at 6 p.m,. at the Main Street Bistro in Freehold. For more information, call Linda Coppolino at 732-938-2095.

"We have particular expertise in how to connect brands to women, who are the primary decision makers," says Lytle. She particularly enjoys speaking at women’s events, helping women business owners find the most motivational aspects of their brands particularly for women, who react differently to images, color, shapes, and words. She helps her customers define their brands from three perspectives:

Brands are like people. "Brands are living, breathing entities," explains Lytle. "They have souls, belief systems, personalities, and relationships. As long as you look at a brand as a person, it is easier to develop communications that are relevant to people." This may sound like it comes straight from the New Age, but the philosophy is really a pragmatic one, firmly based in the lessons of social science.

Lytle offers two examples of how some well-known brands have developed distinctive personalities. Hallmark has a personality of sincerity, with cards and products that communicate very sentimental messages. When a group of writers in the early 1970s suggested introducing a line of funny, tongue-in-cheek cards, the corporation feared that a split personality, as it were, would alienate the customer base, who expected Hallmark to be sincere.

But a good idea is a good idea, and Hallmark did embrace the idea. It just developed it in a new division called Shoe Box, whose brand personality, says Lytle, is being exciting. If you look on the back of a Shoe Box Card, you will notice, in very tiny letters, the words "a division of Hallmark."

The clear distinction between the personalities of these two brands was essential. "Before you decide on a relationship with another person, it is important to know their personality," explains Lytle, "and similarly with a brand, because it manages your expectations about a product."

In another example, Lytle described Dunkin’ Donuts as a sincere brand – using Rachael Ray, America’s sweetheart, in its advertising – as against Starbucks, whose exciting personality is expressed in advertising that it is "more than a cup of coffee – it’s about the experience."

"Starbucks created its own language, lingo, and products, and more of a club atmosphere," observes Lytle. "Starbucks wanted to play in the coffee space but not in the Dunkin’ Donuts sandbox," says Lytle, "so it created its own."

A brand is part of a relationship. A brand’s personality affects the nature of its relationship with a potential consumer, which in turn affects buying behavior. "When people understand the relationship they have or could have with a brand," says Lytle, "it fosters an environment of caring about the brand and the customer-brand interaction."

Put simply, brands need to go beyond sharing information about what they offer functionally to a consumer and project their meaning – how they will affect a person’s life.

Panasonic accomplished this masterfully in a recent TV campaign promoting home theater components that are easy to connect. The TV spot starts by briefly showing illustrations of the home theater components super-imposed over a busy family rushing around the house. Then the illustrations easily connect and are superimposed over the same family gathering on a sofa with a bowl of popcorn in front of their home theater to watch a movie (this is the "meaning" of the home theater for this family). Then the illustrations fade out and these words appear over the family: "Bring back family time."

The campaign presents neither the technology behind the home theater system nor the product’s efficacy (for example, the sound or picture quality). It presents the product’s "meaning."

To help people understand a brand’s meaning, the Lytles help companies create what they call a "true product," a statement of 20 words or less that explains what the brand does, yet is broad enough to allow for other product lines or delivery systems in the future.

Lytle offers two examples of true products. Starbucks’ is "We provide an uplifting experience that enriches people’s lives – one moment, one human being, one cup of coffee at a time." And FAO Schwarz’s is "We are the leading specialty toy retailer that is a source of wonder, and a trusted resource for each new generation."

The next step in creating a relationship between a brand and its potential consumer is to develop what Lytle calls "single-word equity." This is a single word that describes what the brand wants to be known for and helps make meaning for a consumer, both of which are essential to developing strong relationships. For Disney, the single word is "happiness." Their products are not amusement parks, entertainment products, or events. "If it can provide happiness," says Lytle of Disney’s approach, "that’s the business it will be in."

Every brand has a culture, a soul, and a belief system. "This is important particularly for women," says Lytle. In contrast to men who usually take in the available information and make a decision, women make decisions in a cyclical manner. "They move forward, circle back, and look for validation of their considerations," explains Lytle. They are searching for a perfect answer, not just a good solution, and they want that answer to be in synch with their own beliefs and feelings.

Lytle compares the different underlying belief systems behind two chains that sell body products. The Body Shop has a foundation, launched in 1990, that gives financial support to pioneering organizations in the areas of human and civil rights and environmental and animal protection. Its website states: "Our business runs on passion, and our five values – protect the planet, support community trade, stand against animal testing, defend human rights, activate self-esteem – govern all that we do, from reducing our carbon footprint to ordering our envelopes."

Bath and Body Works, on the other hand, says Lytle, is all about product efficacy – shinier hair and smoother skin.

As for likely customers, the social activists will probably chose Body Shop. "If you believe in fair wages, you will make your purchase at Body Shop, because you have the same soul and belief system," she says.

When the Lytles work with customers, they help them to align these motivational aspects of brand with insights they have gleaned about the behavior of the potential customer group – through psychological inventories, focus groups, and Internet panel research. Only at the end of the process do they work with either an advertising agency or inhouse design group, which "personifies" the brand definition through advertising, communications collateral, promotions, and entertainment content.

The goal is to define the brand in a way that will resonate with people, "so they will look at an ad, and say, `Hey, that’s for me,’" in Lytle’s words.

Lytle helps art directors avoid falling into the trap of evaluating an ad purely on its artistic merits: "If I can provide the artists some background in consumer behavior, they can do what they do best – creative, fabulous ads that motivate behavior because they are based on real behavioral science."

Lytle measures her success with her customers by listening to the language they use to evaluate ad copy: "We talk about whether an ad aligns with the personality we defined, whether we see the true product coming through in the copy, and how the belief is coming through. It takes away from the emotional aspect of `I like this, I don’t like that,’ which often leads to brand failure."

One of Brand Champs’ customers was the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which the Lytles worked with in the year following 9/11 to help build leisure traffic south of Houston Street. There were 15 museums in lower Manhattan, all within walking distance of each other, ranging from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to the Museum of the Chinese and the New York City Police Museum. "They were each individually doing their marketing and outreach," says Lytle, "and we had the opportunity to brand them together."

The Lytles brought together the executive directors and vice presidents of marketing from all the museums in a room for three days. "There was a lot of discrepancy," says Lytle, "and everyone felt their museum was unique and different, and there was no way to bring them together." But using their process, the group finally came to agreement. "We were able to peel back the layers and get to the fundamental aspects," she says. "They all tell the history of people through stories." The tagline they developed for their advertising, which expresses the essence of the brand, was "15 unique experiences. Thousands of unforgettable stories."

Fran Lytle received a bachelor’s degree in marketing and psychology from California State University in 1976. After college, she worked as a trend forecaster on films such as "Birth of the Beatles," "Under the Rainbow," "The Double McGuffin," and "The Gambler." Her husband and partner, Bill, received advanced degrees in social science and mathematics from Marietta College. His film screen credits include "Return of the Jedi," "Under the Rainbow," "Raging Bull," "Hollywood Nights," and "The Buddy Holly Story." Fran and Bill met while both were working on the made-for-television movie, "Elvis."

The Lytles live in Bridgewater with their daughter, Maggie, a senior at Bridgewater-Raritan High School. Fran loves reading, swimming, and gourmet cooking, and she is the chair of the Bridgewater United Methodist Church’s hospital committee and an active member of American Women in Radio and TV. She is the relationship editor for Garden State Woman magazine. She and Bill published their first book, "Connection Moments," which was a finalist in the relationship category of the Best Books of 2006.

As for the motivational aspects of the Brand Champs brand: Their personality is" sincere;" their brand relationship with customers is based on "passion;" and their beliefs are threefold: (1) Every woman should be encouraged and mentored – empowering her to be successful in all aspects of her life; (2) by understanding behavioral differences, people will have better relationships – and this world will be kinder place; and (3) each person has purpose in life, and discovering and serving that purpose leads to authentic happiness.

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