Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Susan Duval Joins Avant Marketing Group

St. Louis, MO – February 11, 2015. The Avant Marketing Group announces the addition of Susan Duval as an Associate in the market planning and research firm. Duval has extensive corporate management experience across a wide spectrum of industries with focus on account management, project management, business development and advanced analytics.

Duval complements Avant Marketing’s expertise in marketing, market research, branding strategies, business development and offers a unique perspective on the financial and operational aspects of programs. Previously, she has contributed to the business and financial growth of Mueller Prost, Express Scripts, Ralcorp, Purina and Arthur Andersen & Co.

Duval is a graduate of the University of Missouri – Columbia and is active with several organizations including the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, Council of Supply Management Professionals, Missouri Venture Forum, Association for Corporate Growth, SSM Hospice and Home Care Foundation, and the Mizzou Alumni Association.

“We are extremely pleased to add Susan to our expert staff,” commented Mark Vogel, Avant Marketing senior partner. “She brings with her a wealth of business and project management experience and will be an asset in the development and implementation of all client projects.”
Susan Duval may be contacted at or by visiting the firm’s website at

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Are Super Bowl Winning Ads Also Marketing Winners?

(St. Louis, MO – February 1, 2015). The 2015 Super Bowl continued its dominance in television viewership and the program’s advertisements gain as much attention as the game itself. We all have our favorites and national polls, including USA Today’s Admeter, track the popularity of our favorite commercials each year.

But do the most popular commercials make the most marketing sense?

For 2015, the Avant Marketing Group analyzed this year’s contenders from a marketing perspective to determine which commercials are most likely to succeed in reach marketing objectives. Each commercial was rated in four categories including impact, brand reinforcement, messaging and market relevance.

Based on this analysis, the following advertisers were rated as “Biggest Winners” and “Biggest Losers” for the 2015 Super Bowl.

Biggest Winners – Commercial focused on the website’s key selling proposition – assistance in developing a website for even retired football players. Good use of celebrities and relevant to a football audience.

Dove Care for Men – Expressive and emotional with support of Dove’s brand position. Dads are different than fathers – they care; caring, as well as Dove products, can be a masculine attribute.
Nationwide Insurance – Two spots humanized insurance but ratings were mixed between two commercials. “Pretty woman” spot promoted Nationwide as a company that “sees you” as an individual to meet your personal insurance needs. The remaining spot was viewed as a bit morbid for a football audience.

Snickers – Based on a running theme, Snickers is a solution when you are hungry and “not yourself”. Great use of celebrities including Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi.

Always – Received some of the highest scoring. The spot reflected Always commitment to women with an “in your face” comparison of self-images of girls.

Fiat – Borrowing product benefits from the “Little Blue Pill”, provided a bit of Italian humor promoting the higher performance auto model.

BMW – A commercial featuring Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel with a 21 year-old Today Show clip demonstrating that game-changing technology can be difficult to understand at first – transferred to present day in introducing the I3 BMW technology.

Biggest Losers
Carnival Cruise Lines – Suggesting that a Carnival Cruise will satisfy your emotional need to return to the sea (as narrated by JFK) is a totally absurd proposition. Possibly more suited for Windjammer or another back-to-nature cruise line.

Toyota – Great story lines, but they had nothing to do with Toyota or automobiles. Spots could have been used to promote a variety of products – touching, but does nothing to move the marketing needle.

Budweiser – The “Lost Dog” commercial was the most popular spot in USA Today’s Admeter Poll. But from a marketing perspective, the spot does nothing to position the brand or promote the product. The spot did more to promote Budweiser as a legacy brand (a well-liked brand, but with little or no market share.) Legacy brands in this category include Schlitz and Falstaff. (Note: a second Budweiser commercial did position the brand as a “beer for beer drinkers.” It’s unfortunate that the advertiser did not put as much creative investment in this commercial as Lost Dog – since it defended the Budweiser position against the share gaining craft beer industry.

Weathertech – Poor market relevance ratings for this commercial since floor mats are not a frequent or top-of-mind purchase. In terms messaging, stating that Weathertech floor mats are made in the U.S. is probably making foreign manufacturers tremble in their car seats. Just what America needs – U.S.-made floor mats in their foreign-made cars.

Loctite – Spending nearly all of its entire marketing budget on one 30-second commercial, the only winner here is the Fallon Agency in Minneapolis that talked its client in making this poor investment. If there was some exposure to a more continued promotion (in-store, etc. versus only social media), there might be some payoff to this gigantic investment.
Dodge – The “Wisdom” spot, which was designed to promote the 100th anniversary and experience of the car brand, simply told us that Dodge truly is “Your father’s Oldsmobile.”

Jeep – The “Beautiful Lands” commercial did expand the Guthrie song and lyrics internationally, but attempting to link it to a light SUV was a huge stretch – unless you are planning on driving your SUV to China to visit the Great Wall.

Honorable Mentions
No More – High impact spot featuring a 911 call from an abused woman. Touching, attention-getting, but a true downer commercial at Super Bowl parties. We hope they continue this campaign in more relevant broadcast and media environments.

Other Comments
Go Daddy obviously did not have a backup for its “Lost Dog” spot that was pulled from the game. This was a too serious of a spot to support this brand which has always been positioned as fun and somewhat creative.

Microsoft – Though no one commercial in this series gained “high impact” scores, the series will continue to build brand equity over time as people begin paying attention to the messaging. Simple put – Microsoft technology is a true enabler for all people.

McDonald’s – Good support of the brand positioning and success will be determined by the engagement of customers and frequency of free food offers through February 14th.

Coca-Cola – Great brand positioning, high production values with a contemporary story. Unfortunately, Pepsi owned the Super Bowl by sponsoring the amazing halftime show.

All commercials were rated on the following attributes:

Impact – This rating focuses on the stopping power of the spot which includes creativity and production values.

Brand Reinforcement – Overall reinforcement of the advertiser’s brand positioning, voice and personality.

Messaging – This rating is focused on the selling proposition and what viewers would “take away” from the spot.

Marketing Relevance – This rating is focused on the entire commercial and its relevance to the Super Bowl market audience. In other words, it may be a great commercial, but not best suited for the wide variety of audiences watching a football game.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Has Ferguson Affected the Image of St. Louis?

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and the St. Louis Region have received both national and international attention. We are interested in your perception of how these events have affected the image and economic future of the St. Louis Region. Please complete this very short survey. Go to:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

National Food Service Management Institute Selects Avant Marketing Group for Rebranding

(St. Louis, Missouri – February 11, 2014.) The University of Mississippi, National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) has selected the Avant Marketing Group in St. Louis for the Institute’s rebranding project.

A NFSMI selection committee chose the Avant Marketing Group as the best fit to conduct research and to develop a new brand identity for the Institute.

Avant Marketing will assist NFSMI in the development of a new name, logo, tagline and a complete visual identity package. Avant Marketing will also provide the strategic plan for the launch of the new brand identity.

The National Food Service Management Institute, part of the School of Applied Sciences at The University of Mississippi, is the only federally funded national center dedicated to applied research, education and training, and technical assistance for child nutrition programs. The Institute was established by Congress in 1989 and funded at The University of Mississippi in 1991 by a grant administered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

NFSMI’s clients represent the full spectrum of child nutrition professionals in all 50 states and U.S. territories, including directors of school nutrition programs, school administrators, managers of individual school kitchens, servers, cooks, part-time dishwashers, industry, state agency staff, and child care providers both in homes and centers nationwide.

The rebranding assignment is based on developing a new brand that will effectively promote the Institute’s leadership in providing education, research, and resources to promote excellence in child nutrition programs.

The Avant Marketing Group is a market planning firm with expertise in enterprise branding including institutions, corporations and associations. The firm has specialization in the agriculture, food production and nutritional segments. It offers its market research, market planning and brand development expertise to both national and international clients.

Monday, November 4, 2013

AgTexas Tractor Drive Raises Over $100,000 For The Texas Food Bank Network

(Lubbock, Texas – November 4, 2013) – The 2013 AgTexas Tractor Drive crossed the Finish Line on November 2nd on the Texas Tech University Campus and the Texas Food Bank Network was presented a check in the amount of $104,949.78. The contribution will be used to purchase food for local pantries in the AgTexas Farm Credit 23-county market area.

The Tractor Drive, which began on August 16th, has traveled over 1,000 miles and has visited rural communities across 23 counties to increase awareness of rural Texas food insecurity and to support the efforts of FFA Chapters raising funds for the Texas Food Bank Network and their local food pantries. A total of 32 FFA Chapters and over 2,600 students participated in the successful fundraising program.

Breckenridge High School’s FFA Chapter raised the most funds and was awarded “Agnus”, the John Deere 5045 Tractor that was used during the Drive. According to Justin Hopkins, Breckenridge FFA Advisor, “Our students first focused on winning the tractor and then realized that this program was bigger than that. It gave our students the opportunity to help children their age who go without food on a daily basis.”

The Breckenridge FFA Chapter raised $19,600 for the AgTexas Tractor Drive through several fundraising events and collections throughout their community.
Dr. M. Duane Nellis, President of TTU, welcomed the tractor back to Lubbock and to the TTU Campus. “Food insecurity is a major problem throughout the state,” commented Dr. Nellis. “The AgTexas Tractor Drive and the efforts of our FFA Chapters are a great example of how we can eliminate hunger in our state.”

David Weaver, CEO of the South Plains Food Bank received the check from AgTexas Farm Credit CEO Mitchell Harris. “This effort and the hard work of the FFA Chapters are totally amazing,” stated Weaver. “With this amount of contributions, we will be able to purchase over 500,000 meals for families in rural Texas.”

Members of the TTU Collegiate FFA Chapter were also on-hand and canvassed the tailgating area for contributions prior to the Texas Tech/Oklahoma State football game.

“We are truly grateful to all the participating FFA Chapters who made this program a success,” stated Mitchell Harris. “We also thank our long list of sponsors, the Texas Farm Credit Bank and several other Farm Credit Associations for their contributions to this program. It was our pleasure to support a program that not only raised money for the Texas Food Bank Network, but also raised awareness of food insecurity in rural Texas.

Thirty-two chapters pledged their community service activities towards helping food banks under the program sponsored by the AgTexas Farm Credit Association. The Drive supported the Feeding the World – Starting at Home initiative for FFA Chapters across the country.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Avant Marketing "Driving Hunger Out of Rural Texas"

(St. Louis, MO -- 08/26/13) – On August 16th, a John Deere Tractor began its 1,000-mile trek across Western and Central Texas to support fundraising efforts for the Texas Food Bank Network. The tractor, making appearances at local FFA Chapter Events, will travel from Lubbock to Ft. Worth raising awareness of Rural Texas food insecurity issues while supporting the fundraising efforts of the FFA Chapters.

The concept and program is the brainchild of the Avant Marketing Group – a St. Louis-based market planning firm that saw the opportunity to develop a comprehensive marketing program to assist FFA Chapters in support of food banks.

“In 2013, National FFA introduced its program Feeding the World – Starting at Home to FFA members across the country,” states Avant Marketing senior partner Mark Vogel. “The program encourages FFA Members to pledge to fight hunger in their local communities by organizing hunger relief efforts. We developed the Tractor Drive concept to increase awareness of rural food insecurity and Chapter efforts in raising money for food banks.”

From Concept to Implementation – Not An Easy Task
Avant Marketing designed a comprehensive program that would engage the entire agricultural community – including farmers, ranchers and agribusiness in supporting FFA Chapters and food banks. But the initial task was to find an underwriting sponsor for the program that would benefit from the marketing awareness.

“We determined that the program was best suited for a Farm Credit Association,” says Vogel. These associations are large and are truly committed to agriculture and in providing food and fiber for the U.S. and the world.”

Avant Marketing reached out to Farm Credit Associations across the United States with the program proposal and AgTexas Farm Credit – headquartered in Lubbock, Texas was the first to respond. Thus, the 2013 AgTexas Farm Credit Tractor Drive was created.

Vogel states that Avant Marketing knew it only had capacity to manage one program for 2013 and it would be the first Farm Credit Association to respond that would be the program underwriter.

“Mitchell Harris, CEO of AgTexas Farm Credit responded to my proposal within an hour,” says Vogel. “It was a program that the association was seeking to direct its community service while raising brand awareness for the organization. “

Since Avant Marketing wanted to ensure that every dollar raised by FFA Chapters went to food banks, it also needed to enlist secondary sponsors to pay for the operational costs of the Drive – including equipment, personnel, travel costs and promotional items. Working as a team, AgTexas Farm Credit and Avant Marketing gained the support of both regional and national sponsors to come along for the ride. This included a tractor donation from two implement dealers in the AgTexas market region, a free lease for a Dodge Ram Truck from Enterprise Car Rental, and a cargo trailer from a local trailer dealer. In addition, Monsanto is supporting the effort as well as several Texas commodity groups and organizations.

Next step was to enlist FFA Chapters in joining the program to support their national community service pledge to fight hunger. To date, 28 FFA Chapters and over 2,500 members are participating in the program. Avant Marketing is ensuring the success of the fundraising and Chapter events by providing each Chapter with promotional materials including banners, posters, brochures, donation buckets and log sheets.

FFA Chapters are scheduling their events which will feature the tractor appearance. In many communities, the Chapters are inviting local farmers and ranchers to bring their tractors to town and join the “tractor caravan” as it enters each community. When the tractor arrives, it is also accompanied by the cargo van – a moving billboard filled with sponsorship logos and an inflatable tent to gain the attention of the general public for each event. Avant Marketing is assisting each FFA Chapter Event by providing media outreach support and alerts throughout the Drive schedule.

Additional Incentive for FFA Chapters

Though having professional marketing assistance is an incentive for FFA Chapters to join the program, Avant Marketing wanted a component that could also support the Chapter’s financial needs. As an additional incentive, the FFA Chapter that raises the most money on a per-member basis will win the actual John Deere 5045D Tractor after the Drive.

“FFA Chapters can elect to keep the tractor for classroom or project activities or they can raffle or auction off the tractor to raise funds for their Chapter,” states Vogel.

Media Role in the Drive

To maintain a high level of awareness of the program, Avant Marketing is also ensuring that media plays an important role in the Drive. First, the market planning firm gained in-kind sponsorship support of key media in the Lubbock, Abilene and Ft. Worth markets. For instance, Fox 34 AgDay and 580AM in Lubbock are media sponsors and will provide update reports on the Drive throughout the entire program schedule.

In addition, Avant Marketing has created the 2013 AgTexas Tractor Drive website and social media on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to keep the program top-of-mind with FFA Chapters and other followers. The Drive Crew will be uploading daily reports on their progress and also produce feature video reports of their travels and the interesting people and communities they visit along the way.

Texas Food Bank Network – Perfect Partner for the Event
To support the program theme, “Driving Hunger Out of Rural Texas”, Avant Marketing wanted to select an organization that could easily and effectively make the best use of the raised funds. The Texas Food Bank Network provides support for all food banks in Texas, and through its buying power, can turn every dollar in donation to five dollars in food. The Network will track donations on a county level and ensures that those donations will fund food purchases returned to the identified county and its local communities.

“It is a great program since every FFA Chapter is ensured that the money they raise is being used efficiently to purchase food for their local community food pantries,” says Vogel.

10-Week Schedule for the Tractor Drive

The Drive began at its Kick-Off Event on August 16th at the American Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock and will visit rural communities and FFA Chapter events from Lubbock to Ft. Worth in the next 10 weeks. The Finish Line for the Drive will be November 2nd at the Texas Tech/Oklahoma State Football Game as the tractor returns to Lubbock. The Finish Line Event will include the check presentation to the Texas Food Bank Network and recognition of the FFA Chapter who raises the most money by rewarding them the tractor.

“It has really been amazing to see the amount of energy and enthusiasm this program has created in Texas,” remarks Vogel. “With the support of AgTexas Farm Credit, our sponsors, Texas Food Bank Network and over 2,500 FFA Chapter students, this program truly has the potential of Driving Hunger Out of Rural Texas.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Kick-Off Event for the 2013 AgTexas Tractor Drive a Huge Success!

The Kick-Off Event for the 2013 AgTexas Tractor Drive was held Friday, August 16th at the American Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock. Great turn-out and great event thanks to the AgTexas Farm Credit Staff, Celia Cole, Lee Pipkin and David Weaver from the Texas Food Bank Network and many representatives from the local FFA Chapters.

For coverage of the event, go to:

Friday, August 9, 2013

AgTexas Tractor Drive Kickoff Scheduled for August 16th

The 2013 AgTexas Farm Credit Tractor Drive will begin its 1,000-mile trek across Western and Central Texas on August 16th to raise awareness of food insecurity in rural Texas while supporting the fundraising efforts of FFA Chapters.

The Kick-Off Event will be held at the American Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock and representatives from AgTexas Farm Credit Services, Texas Food Bank Network, Sponsors and FFA Chapters will be in attendance.

Over 2,500 FFA Chapter Members have signed up to conduct fundraising and hold tractor appearance events across a 23 county area. All proceeds will go to the Texas Food Bank Network and will be allocated to support local food banks from where the Chapters reside. The FFA Chapter that raises the most funds, based on a per-member basis, will win the actual tractor after the Drive.

“Poverty and the lack of nutrition is not just an urban problem, it is also a problem of rural communities,” says AgTexas Board Chairman, James Ray Schronk. “Although the number of people living in poverty is lower in rural communities, there’s still one in eight rural Texas families living below the poverty line.”

AgTexas Farm Credit Services is the major underwriter for the program and additional sponsors have signed up to support operating costs for this extension effort. Sponsors include B.E. Implement, Bramlett Implement, Enterprise Car Rental, ARMtech, CoBank Farm Credit Leasing, United Supermarkets, Lubbock County Farm Bureau, Crosby County Farm Bureau, Plains Cotton Growers, Ag Workers, Hill County Farm Bureau, Monsanto, United Cooperative Services, South Plains Electric Cooperative, Comanche Electric Cooperative, Lyntegar Electric Cooperative, Essence Bottling, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Eastland County Farm Bureau, Erath County Farm Bureau, H&H Trailers, KRFE AM 580, Fox34/Lubbock, American Museum of Agriculture and
“As part of the agricultural community, we sometimes take food for granted,” says Mitchell Harris, AgTexas CEO. “I don’t know one AgTexas member who isn’t concerned about the nutritional needs of our fellow Texans. If we all pull together, we can accomplish so much in assisting the less fortunate.”

AgTexas members, 4-H and FFA Members, as well as other area farmers and ranchers are invited to join the tractor caravan as it enters their community. This will increase awareness of the program and demonstrate our commitment to fighting hunger.
FFA Chapter community events will include cookouts at local supermarket parking lots where the official drive tractor will be on display. In addition, many FFA Chapters are planning tractor appearances at school and sporting events or designing custom events such as a 5K Run to support the fundraising efforts.

The tractor crew will be documenting their daily travel on the Drive’s website as well as through the popular social media sites.
“It’s an ambitious project, but the need is worthy of our attention and community-service efforts,” Harris comments. “By pulling together, we’ll make this a great event.”

The Avant Marketing Group is managing this 12-week event. For more information about our market planning and implementation services, contact Mark Vogel at:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Avant Marketing Offering Free Guide to Agricultural and Food Production Research

The Avant Marketing Group has developed an overview of effective market research methodologies in the agricultural and food production industries entitled, “A Guide to Agricultural Market Research.” The informative guide is offered free-of-charge to marketers and agency personnel who are currently active in the agricultural markets.

Technology has affected all business practices including marketing. The practice of market research has been influenced by new techniques and processes not available just ten years ago. The guide is designed to provide an overview of effective research methods.

“Market research continues to be critical for agricultural marketers,” explains Avant Marketing senior partner Mark Vogel. “Ag marketers must not only understand the members of their distribution and end-user audiences, but they must also pay attention to the final consumer markets connected to the products or services sold.”

The guide reviews all effective market research methodologies used in the agricultural and food production industries today as well as it provides definitions of market research terms including statistical validity, confidence levels, sample proportioning and margin of error.
Marketers interested in receiving the free guide can request a copy by contacting Mark Vogel at

The Avant Marketing Group, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri is a market planning firm with specialization in the agricultural markets. The firm has conducted market research in nearly every agricultural market in the country with diverse producers, growers and dealers as well as with consumer audiences. More information about the Avant Marketing Group can be found at

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Salinas Unveils New Brand and Economic Plan

The City of Salinas, California unveiled a new identity and strategy to entice new companies, expand existing companies and grow local startups with the hope of bringing badly needed jobs to the Salinas Valley.

The Avant Marketing Group worked with the city administration to develop the new municipal brand identity. Avant Marketing conducted one-on-one interviews, focus groups and online surveying to gain the input from the community. In total, over 250 residents and business leaders engaged in the branding process.

The economic development strategy comprises a number of components, including a new logo, a new website, marketing materials and personal outreach invested in educating the world about Salinas.

The strategy will focus on key attributes the city has to offer, what City Manager Ray Corpuz said is a matter of "taking what is special about Salinas and turning that into an economic development strategy."

The new Salinas logo depicts a stylized city skyline with cultivated fields in the foreground and a mountain range as a backdrop. Under the logo is printed the city's new slogan: "Rich in Land. Rich in Values."

"The essence of the new brand identity captures Salinas' respect for our land, heritage and diversity while also representing our progressive plans and positive future," said Jeffrey Weir, director of the city's Economic Development Department. "The new city logo depicts Salinas as a progressive metropolitan area that is truly connected to our valley with emphasis on the importance and value of our area's agriculture."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

AgTexas Farm Credit Services to Sponsor Tractor Drive to Support Food Banks

(12/18/12 – LUBBOCK, TEXAS) AgTexas Farm Credit Services announced today its plan to conduct a unique fund-raising program in the summer of 2013 to support the Texas Food Banks in its 23-county market area.

The “2013 AgTexas Farm Credit Tractor Drive” will feature an agricultural tractor traveling from community-to-community across the Texas Plains and Central Texas to raise awareness of poverty in the state and the continued need to support the nutritional needs of those less fortunate.

“Poverty and the lack of nutrition is not just an urban problem, but also a problem in rural areas,” states AgTexas Board Chairman James Ray Schronk. Although the number in poverty decreases in rural communities, there is still one in eight Texas families in our communities that live below the poverty line.
“As a strong supporter of Texas agriculture, AgTexas Farm Credit and its members are greatly concerned that the number of people living in poverty in our communities has reached the highest point in 50 years,” comments Mitchell Harris, CEO of AgTexas . “Most alarming is the fact that over one in four (26.6%) children in Texas lives in poverty.”

The 2013 AgTexas Tractor Drive will promote fund-raising participation from FFA Chapters in the 23 county area and will include scheduled events in local communities. The FFA Chapter that raises the largest contributions will be rewarded the actual tractor after the event.

The Tractor Drive personnel will post daily reports and videos about their activities on the popular social media sites so that both association members and the general public can keep abreast of the program’s progress throughout the summer of 2013.
In addition, AgTexas Farm Credit will be recruiting sponsorship partners for this event to assist in defraying the actual costs of the Tractor Drive so that 100 percent of contributions go directly to the Regional Food Banks. Interested sponsors can contact Kristy Tucker at AgTexas or Mark Vogel at the Avant Marketing Group (phone: 314.576.7700).

AgTexas finances agricultural production, agribusiness, farm and ranch land, rural recreational property and country homes. The Lubbock-headquartered cooperative has branch offices in Brownfield, Burleson, Hillsboro, Levelland, Lubbock, Ralls, Seminole and Stephenville. It is part of the nationwide Farm Credit System.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New Videos on City/Municipal Branding

More and more cities are seeking brand identities for their communities. Proper branding can provide a municipality with a market advantage when seeking new residents or businesses while creating "propulsive energy" with all residents.

To learn more about Avant's process for municipal branding, see our videos (Part 1 and Part 2) on YouTube:

The Avant Marketing Brand Platform

We have posted a new video that describes the formalized Brand Platform that we utilize in brand development for our clients. While there are hundreds of different formats for platforms, the Avant Marketing version has been successfully used for corporations, association and municipalities and is also becoming more critical in the positioning of products and services.

To view the video, please follow the YouTube Link:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Humboldt, Saskatchewan, Selects Avant Marketing for Branding Assignment

The City of Humboldt has selected the Avant Marketing Group for brand development. Incorporated in 2000, Humboldt is the municipal hub for the east-central region of Saskatchewan, an area realizing significant growth due to the manufacturing, mining, education and agriculture industries.

With the city’s recent growth, and region’s continuing economic development, there is an identified need to articulate Humboldt’s brand promise and to define consistent brand usage across the media spectrum.

“The increasing exposure to the City of Humboldt’s municipal brand requires a more professional approach,” states Jennifer Brooks, Director, Communications & Community Development. “Avant Marketing was selected for the assignment based on their unique combination of marketing strategy and municipal branding expertise.”

Avant Marketing will analyze existing materials and research to distill the city’s brand essence into tagline form. In addition, Avant will provide comprehensive guidelines for Humboldt’s visual brand identity, from logo usage and corporate identity to a new website design and marketing communications.

“We are delighted to work with a firm that can bring an outside perspective and a professional approach to our identity for future branding and marketing efforts,” commented Brooks.

With this assignment, Avant Marketing expands a growing, municipal-client roster of recent and current accounts that includes Salinas, California, University City, Missouri and Medford, Oregon.

Avant Marketing Group is a market-planning firm located in St. Louis, Missouri. The firm provides market research, brand development and market planning to a variety of clients in both the private and public sectors.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Defining The Types of Brand Associations

Did you know that there are four levels of brand associations? We explain the differences among brand awareness, brand advocacy, brand affinity and brand fanaticism in our latest video and why it's important to develop brand fanatics in your market.

Go to:

Friday, October 19, 2012

New Downtown Medford Brand

October 19, 2012
By Greg Stiles
Mail Tribune

Saying it's proud of its past and looking to the future, the Heart of Medford Association will unveil its new brand for marketing downtown today:

"Metro Medford. Historically centered. Progressively inspired."

"A duality emerged in our process," said Diane Raymond, Heart of Medford Association executive director. "People are very proud of our heritage, and people are anxious to move forward and be progressive. Those two things became clear, but the question was 'How do you marry those things together?' "

The brand, which includes the tag line "Good life. Good living," will be introduced in a series of gatherings beginning with an invitation-only gathering for HMA members and community leaders on Main Street this morning.

The scope broadens during at 5-8 p.m. gathering at Vogel Plaza, on the corner of East Main and Central Avenue, featuring live music and a light show. From 8-11 p.m., a launch party open to the public will take place at the Sparta Building, 401 E. Main St., featuring a 17-piece band. Reservations are required at

The new brand and logo, developed by Avant Marketing Group of St. Louis, has a bold "Metro" and a scripted "Medford" with a checkered background. The "Metro Medford" brand gives a nod to the nation's 207th-largest metropolitan statistical area (albeit one that includes all of Jackson County) and fourth-largest in Oregon.

Following a 2010 market survey, city officials, community leaders and residents were asked to fill out online surveys to help the rebranding effort. "We had a very successful turnout," Raymond said. "People told us what they thought and then we synthesized it with our market research. This wasn't something from a bunch of people, sitting in a room wondering what we should call downtown. It was a very organized process. People told us what they thought, we listened, and I think we have a home run."

While the brand is designed to market downtown Medford's commerce, it fits with other recent rebranding efforts as well, she said. "This brand belongs to everyone downtown," Raymond said. "The Commons is another brand, just as Travel Medford is another. This will be complementary to those other brands."

The Commons is the redevelopment area that includes the Lithia Motors headquarters, while Travel Medford is the visitor and convention division of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

A Metro Medford website will go live in about two weeks, Raymond said, with a Facebook page and other social media efforts appearing in the near future as well. "We've done this in such a short time," Raymond said. "We haven't been able to pull off everything at once."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What's the Difference Between a Name and a Brand?

Avant Marketing Group has posted its first video in a series focused on Branding and Market Planning. To view the video, go to:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Downtown Medford Oregon Brand Coming October 19th

The Avant Marketing Group had the privilege of developing the new brand identity for Downtown Medford, Oregon. As a community that has gone through a tremendous evolution from being the center of the Southern Oregon timber industry to now more focused on the service and education industries, Medford has reinvented itself and its downtown commercial district.

On October 19th, Medford will unveil its new brand identity with a formal brand launch. As Diane Raymond, Executive Director of the Heart of Medford Association commented, “Avant hit a home run in capturing the spirit, values and identity of our community.”

Medford is now promoting its brand launch which will be quite an event for the community. You can follow along with this activity at:

Municipalities, associations and corporations are finding the value of the propulsive energy that a proper brand identity and platform can generate. Though it takes a lot of hard work to develop a successful identity, it is always rewarding for Avant to see such community engagement in their new identity.

Friday, June 22, 2012

RCGA Abandons Brand

The St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association (RCGA)announced that they will no longer utilize its developed brand for St. Louis -- "Perfectly Centered. Remarkably Connected." They will support the branding developed by the St. Louis Convention and Visitor's Commission -- "St. all within reach."

We do commend the RCGA for moving its branding support to the Convention and Visitor's Commission's brand identity. At least now we have one identity to market versus two.

Unfortunately, the region isn't using its full branding potential regardless of which tagline is used. Many times regional and municipal enterprises fall into a trap when they attempt to pursue "place branding". They attempt to define the identity by promoting the physical attributes of the area versus understanding that what truly differentiates a community is its people.

Smart enterprises understand that powerful brands are based on the shared values of the community. When a brand is developed properly, it engages both internal and external stakeholders in the shared values and provides everyone with "a reason to believe". It not only gains the interest of targeted marketing audiences, but provides a rallying cry that has full potential of making residents true brand fanatics.

Residential real estate provides a simple example. Talk to any real estate agent and you will be surprised at the number of homes that are sold that don't meet the buyer's physical house requirements. Buyers will have an extensive list of characteristics that include number of bedrooms, style of home, fenced-in backyard, etc. The agent will run the characteristics against the database and provide listings that most meet those requirements. The agent and buyers tour each house and check off the number of requirements that each house meets. Then, the buyers spot a home that meets none of the requirements and instantly fall in love with it and put in an offer.

Was the buyer's list of requirements wrong? Did the buyer's requirements change in the process?

The answer is that though the buyer was shopping for a "house", the buyer ended up purchasing a "home". They found an environment that resonated their personal values versus the physical requirements. It was actually a strong connection between home buyer and home owner and their shared values.

Strong enterprise branding works in the same way. It is more effective to brand the "people of the place" versus the actual place.

By following this simple brand strategy, we would have the ability to attract more people to call St. Louis -- home.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Marketers Optimistic Yet Cautious About 2012 Spending

In April 2012, Avant Marketing Group solicited participation in an online poll with 350
Marketing Executives from the Agricultural, Manufacturing and Financial Services business

The results of the poll reflect that the majority of respondents planned for an improved 2012
sales year with 1st quarter results tracking to forecast. In addition, the majority of
respondents expect year-end sales to either meet or exceed expectations – yet over half have
been conservative and cautious with marketing spending and less than one-third are planning
on adding marketing staff to their organization.

1. Sixty-eight (67.6%) of respondents forecasted increased sales in 2012
compared to 2011 actual. Another 29.4% forecasted flat sales and 2.9%
forecasted decreased sales.

2. Based on 2012 1st Quarter results, 67.6% of respondents state that sales
are tracking to forecast, 14.7% state that sales are higher than forecast
and 17.6% state that sales are lower than forecast.

3. Similarly, 67.6% of respondents expect total 2012 sales to meet
forecast, 26.5% expect sales to exceed forecast and 5.9% expect sales to
be lower than forecast.

4. Ironically, 55.9% of respondents state that they have been
conservative and cautious in their marketing investment so far into 2012
– waiting until they have a good read on the economy. Another 26.5%
have been confident and are aggressively investing their marketing
budget. In addition, 14.7% have already increased their marketing
budget and 2.9% have already decreased their marketing budget.

For a copy of the full research report, contact Mark Vogel:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Downtown Medford Oregon Selects Avant Marketing Group for Brand Identity Development

(St. Louis, Missouri – 4/24/2012) – The Heart of Medford Association has selected the Avant Marketing Group to develop a new brand platform, name and tagline for the downtown Medford business district. The business district serves a market population of over 400,000 in the Jackson County area of Southern Oregon.

“We selected Avant based on the firm’s brand and municipal experience and expertise,” states Diane Raymond, Executive Director. “We are delighted to work with a professional firm that can bring us an outside perspective to our identity as we go forward with our branding and marketing efforts.”

Avant will analyze existing research to formalize a brand platform for the business district. This will be used to create a sustainable brand identity and positioning to be used in future marketing efforts.

Downtown Medford has witnessed tremendous investment and rejuvenation in the past several years. With the support of over 30 restaurants, as well as a variety of retail and service businesses, efforts have been focused on formal marketing strategies to attract more people to the district.

Avant Marketing Group is a market planning firm located in St. Louis, Missouri. The firm provides market research, brand development and market planning to a variety of clients in both the private and public sectors.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What Would Have Our World Looked Like Without Dick Clark?

Radio Disc Jockeys don't normally earn tributes. In 1956, a very young Philadelphia DJ was given the opportunity to take his high school dance show nationwide and American Bandstand was born. Dick Clark become a regular in our Saturday television viewing. His contributions to our American culture cannot be overlooked.

In the 1950s, popular music was not integrated. In fact, most charted hits were recorded and produced by both white and black artists and marketed separately under different labels. It was Dick Clark that opened the opportunity for that decade's black artists to go mainstream. From Chubbie Checker to Gladys Knight, Clark's open-mindedness and courage changed the color of music from that point on.

Before Dick Clark, artists and record promoters most effective promotion was the bus tour across the country. Driving from town-to-town, musicians would make an appearance on the local radio station and then perform live that evening. Dick Clark is responsible for developing the music industry that we know today. By producing a television show targeted to teenagers and featuring music and artists that were previously only promoted on radio, he evolved the entire music industry and assisted its phenominal growth that was witnessed in the 60s and 70s.

Most importantly, Dick Clark defined the teenage market. Before American Bandstand, marketers ignored the under-21 audience believing that there was no consumer market unless you reached legal age. Marketers soon realized that American teenagers are key purchase decision-makers, do have disposable income and are the essential innovator segment for many trends --not only fashion and music trends, but even today as reflected in technology adaption.

If we were to rate Dick Clark's career and his contributions to our culture based on his Rate-A-Record segment, we give Dick a big "Thumbs Up". Dick, you were "easy to dance to and had a nice beat". Your legacy and marketing insight will live for many years to come.

For now...Dick long.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Business Journals Provides Advice on Enterprise Branding

The Business Journals has published a video on branding and when a branding firm is needed. Go to:

Saturday, March 3, 2012


UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo., March 3, 2012—In celebration of the diversity of University City’s residents and its notably vibrant neighborhood culture, Mayor Shelley Welsch unveiled the City of University City’s new brand identity – “Neighborhood to the World™”—at the city’s “Celebration of Diversity” event on March 3, 2012.

The “Celebration of Diversity” event was held at University City’s Centennial Commons recreational complex and included information booths from dozens of local organizations—all representing the religious and ethnic diversity of the City. The International Folk Dance Association of University City provided a live dance performance for guests and local restaurants provided refreshments.

The new identity is the result of a formalized branding process undertaken by the City that included input from residents, businesses and community leaders.

“Our new community identity, ‘Neighborhood to the World’ captures the true brand essence of University City,” commented Mayor Shelley Welsch. “It embodies both our pride in our neighborhoods and residences as well as the fact that we are one of the most diverse and welcoming communities within the region.”

University City is at the leading-edge of municipal branding as more and more communities understand the importance of identifying their assets through formalized branding. As competition grows to attract residents, tourists, as well as business, branding provides a differentiated identity that assists communities in promoting and communicating their true core assets.

The University City branding effort began in August 2011. City Manager Lehman Walker charged the Avant Marketing Group, the City’s public communications and marketing firm, to develop a renewed identity for the City that would assist in promoting both the opportunities and quality way of life in the community.

“The Avant Marketing Group provided a formalized analytical approach to define our identity,” stated Walker. “Through focus groups, one-on-one interviews and online surveys, the new identity was developed based on community input and will highly resonate with our residents because of its source.”

The market research included focus groups with 39 residents and business leaders, over 25 one-on-one interviews with key community and business leaders, and participation from over 80 residents through an online survey.

Through the research, several key community attributes were identified. University City residents value the City’s central location, its arts & culture, parks & recreation, and the friendliness of the residents. Most importantly, the research identified University City as a vibrant residential community that is diverse, progressive and open-minded.
“Our diversity provides tolerance and an energy that is not found in other communities,” remarked Mayor Welsch. “It prepares us to be a global community and allows us to attract the best and the brightest in both people and business as we continue to grow.”

The new brand identity is consistent with strategies employed by many communities that now understand that the competitive arena is no longer just local or regional, but global in scope.

“While most communities in this area are focused on regional competition, our new brand identity elevates University City to a much higher competitive level,” says Walker. “We have the assets, diversity and progressive mindset to attract investment in our community on a global basis. Regardless of ethnicity or nationality, you will find our community welcoming, a true place to call home. ‘Neighborhood to the World’ is not just a slogan, but an open invitation to both individuals and businesses that are seeking a progressive and eclectic environment in which to live, work or play.”

The new brand identity will begin appearing on City signage and in communications. It will be used in the City’s economic development efforts and as a “calling card” for all marketing and promotional efforts. In addition, the new identity will be featured in several new planned City communications activities including a resident newsletter and website that will assist in the communication needs of residents, businesses, newcomers, tourists and business prospects.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why Your Annual Marketing Plan Might Be Doomed For Failure

Okay, we all have been taught that the most effective way to manage business and marketing efforts is through an annual plan that defines objectives, strategies, budgets and schedules. Right?

Unfortunately in today’s dynamic environment, companies that are directing their marketing efforts through an annual plan may find themselves at a tremendous competitive disadvantage…here’s why:

1. This is the type of year where annual sales forecasts are extremely unpredictable. There are certain industry’s that are seeing tremendous growth spurts while others are slowly lagging. In this type of economic environment, sales forecasts are more predictable if done month-by-month versus on an annual basis.

2. Consumer trends (and even business-to-business trends) are reflecting tremendous movement. Adoption is accelerated based on consumer confidence, technological advances and financial security. Add on top of that the guaranteed demographic changes and you will see a market that is dramatically and significantly changing. With several product categories ensured pent-up demand, it’s difficult to estimate when the purchasing floodgates will be opened from an annual basis.

3. Consumer behavior and how we communicate to them is changing as rapidly as the trend lines. Two years ago who would have predicted the number of 50+ consumers subscribing to social media sites or the dramatic decrease in telephone landlines? Marketing communications is more spontaneous and interactive than ever before. A marketing plan developed six months ago might be obsolete in reaching next month’s market.

4. Marketing managers, just like consumers, are hesitant to spend marketing dollars until they have a strong confidence in return-on-investment. No one wants to be caught overspending based on sales. This tendency leads to slow investment at the beginning of the year and accelerated spending in the later part of the year. By managing marketing budgets on an annual basis, you might be under serving your market potential based on this simple fact. This not only eliminates any growth potential but hands over market share points to your competition – particularly new entries into your market.

So how do you plan to stay in pace with the dynamic market?

We suggest companies establish budget parameters on an annual basis, but create specific marketing plans on a quarterly basis. In this way, you have the ability to make critical adjustments that are driven more from immediate marketing and sales data.

The whole point is that market planning should address both short-term and long-term sales objectives. Don’t just be cost-of-sales overhead but create a market plan and environment that is as dynamic as your marketplace. Smart marketers keep pace with the market by identifying the key trends that can be taken advantage of for increased sales and market share.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo., Feb. 24, 2012--The City of University City will unveil its new brand identity at the city’s “Celebration of Diversity” community event on March 3, 2012. The event will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Centennial Commons and is free and open to residents and non-residents.

The celebration will include performances by local groups and musicians, information tables hosted by local organizations and institutions, refreshments and more. A special presentation by Mayor Shelley Welsch will begin at 7 p.m. and will include the unveiling of the city’s new brand identity.

“The new identity is the result of a formalized branding process undertaken by the City that included input from residents, businesses and community leaders,” said Mayor Shelley Welsch. “Our new community identity captures the true brand essence of University City.”

University City is at the leading-edge of municipal branding as more and more communities understand the importance of identifying their assets through formalized branding. As competition grows to attract residents, tourists, as well as business, branding provides a differentiated identity that assists communities in promoting and communicating their true core assets.

The University City branding effort began in August 2011. As part of their assignment, City Manager Lehman Walker charged the Avant Marketing Group, the City’s public communications and marketing firm, to develop a renewed identity for the City that would assist in promoting both the opportunities and quality way of life in the community.

“The Avant Marketing Group provided a formalized analytical approach to define our identity,” stated Walker. “Through focus groups, one-on-one interviews and online surveys, the new identity was developed based on community input and will highly resonate with our residents because of its source.”

The market research was a community-wide engagement effort and included focus groups with 39 residents and business leaders, over 25 one-on-one interviews with key community and business leaders, and participation from over 80 residents through an online survey.

The new brand identity will begin appearing on City signage and in communications. It will be used in the City’s economic development efforts and as a “calling card” for all marketing and promotional efforts. In addition, the new identity will be featured in several new planned City communications activities including a resident newsletter and website that will assist in the communication needs of residents, businesses, newcomers, tourists and business prospects.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What is Planned for 2012?

What's being planned for 2012? Take three minutes to participate in our confidential online survey about anticipated sales and planned marketing allocations. By participating, you can get a copy of the results. Go to:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Southern Group of State Foresters Selects Avant Marketing Group for Forest Products Marketing Coordination

St. Louis, Missouri/February 22, 2012 – The Southern Group of State Foresters (SGSF) has selected the Avant Marketing Group to coordinate its Forest Products Marketing. The SGSF is a non-profit organization made up of State Foresters from 13 Southern States, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to Mike Zupko, Executive Director of SGSF and Chair of the SGSF Services, “Avant’s experience and expertise in the timber and building products categories will assist in the marketing efforts of our organization.”

Mark Vogel, Avant Senior Partner will lead the project management efforts for this initiative.

The SGSF mission is to provide leadership in sustaining the economic, environmental, and social benefits of the South's forests. The group of State Foresters works together to identify and to address existing and emerging issues and challenges that are important to southern forests and citizens. More information about the organization can be found on its website:

Avant Marketing Group is a market planning firm located in St. Louis, Missouri. The experienced group of professionals provides market research and planning with specialization in enterprise brand development, market communications, market segmentation, channel strategies and new product development.

Avant Case Study: Tiryaki Agro

In terms of food and grain processors, you may know the brands ADM, Bunge and Cargill, but have you ever heard of Tiryaki Agro?

The Avant Marketing Group was challenged with the assignment to rebrand Eastern Europe's leading food processor. Tiryaki started its commercial activities by opening up a lentil processing facility. After 30 years, Tiryaki is today a leading agri-business and food company that operates over 80 countries around the globe. Tiryaki is Turkey's biggest private sector company and exporter in the agro foods industry, buys grains, pulses, dried nuts and oil seeds from growers, transports them, processes them to food manufacturers who market them to consumers at retail. As an agricultural commodities company, Tiryaki provides a pathway by which products grown by farmers are turned into the foods that are served worldwide.

Strategically located at a key crossroad of trade for emerging economies, Tiryaki sources food from over 25 countries and export to more than 80 countries on five continents. Tiryaki is also the world's biggest certificated organic wheat exporter and the top player in the pistachios market.

Avant was challenged to develop a new corporate identity for Tiryaki. Using our proprietary Brand Development Process, we conducted market research with company leadership, employees and customers. This resulted in defining a formal Brand Platform.

Key elements of the new Tiryaki Brand Platform included its Vision, Mission and Shared Values that resonate with all stakeholders.

Vision -- To become a regional power in our industry, targeting the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Middle East and North Africa regions.

Mission -- To contribute to the sustainability and easier supply of the basic foods for the economic and healthy nutrition of both present and future generations.

Values -- Diligence, honesty, reliability, fairness, modesty, challenging.

Our assignment took us to Istanbul (administrative headquarters) and Gaziantep (operations headquarters) to conduct the work. Cultural and language differences always make assignments more complex, but Avant drove deep into both the Turkish and company cultures to complete this assignment.

The new brand identity can be viewed at

In terms of a Brand Essence that resonates with both employees and customers, Avant developed the Turkish term, "iyi insanlar. Bereketli topraklar." In English, the Brand Essence simply translates to "Good People. Good Earth."

We would like to thank Tiryaki for this assignment and allowing us to gain tremendous insight into their organization and the agricultural commodities markets of Eastern Europe. We would also like to thank Pro Wolfe Partners who collaborated with us on this project and is responsible for the graphic logo design.

The next time you snack on a pistachio, you now know the "Good People and Good Earth" that is most likely behind the product.

For more information about Avant's Brand Development Process or about our "Living the Brand" brand management approach to marketing, please contact us at

Friday, January 27, 2012

Another Avant Success Story -- Solutia Sold to Eastman Chemical

Congratulations to Solutia and Jeff Quinn and his team on the announcement of Solutia's sale to Eastman Chemical Co. Eastman will pay Solutia investors $22 in cash and 0.12 of an Eastman share for each of their shares. The cash and stock offer, valuing Solutia shares at $27.65 each, is 42 percent higher than Solutia's recent closing price.

See full article at:

Avant had the opportunity to assist Solutia in developing its new brand identity in 2010. The "team of 100 employees" that was set up to bolster morale and to spread the Solutia gospel was part of Avant's "Living the Brand" training that included train-the-trainer workshops in St. Louis, Shanghai, Sao Paulo and Brussels. All 3,000 employees celebrated the brand launch and attended workshops around the globe.

Solutia is another example of how proper brand development investment pays dividends.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Seasoned Market Researcher Joins Avant Marketing Group

(January 19, 2012 – St. Louis, MO) – The Avant Marketing Group is pleased to announce the addition of Jim Kramer to its market research and planning staff.

Kramer comes to Avant Marketing from Market Probe where he held the position of Vice President – Account Management for 12 years. He will be responsible for Avant Marketing’s research and analysis functions in the areas of consumer, business-to-business, and agriculture and animal health research.

“Jim is a great complement to our existing staff,” commented Mark Vogel, senior partner. “His immense knowledge and experience will assist us in our continued efforts to provide unmatched research and planning for our diverse group of clients.”

Kramer received his BA and MBA from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. His experience includes quantitative and qualitative research with both domestic and international projects.

Avant Marketing Group is a market planning firm located in St. Louis, Missouri. The experienced group of professionals provides market research and planning with specialization in enterprise and municipal brand development, market segmentation, channel strategies and new product development.

Kramer can be reached at or by visiting the firm’s website at

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Power of the Right Branding

We commonly come in contact with companies that are frustrated with their new business development. They blame the lack of budget for their woes and wish they could increase brand awareness to attract prospects. They all make the similar comment, "If prospects only knew what we offer and how good of job we do for our customers -- we would have great sales growth!"

For some, it is not a matter of marketing budget but the lack of proper branding. Without the proper brand positioning, your product and superior performance could be your best kept secret.

Your brand provides you with the most impact and visibility regardless of the size of your advertising budget. From the sign on your office door, the front lobby receptionist to every customer contact, your brand gives you the opportunity to tell the world who you are and what you are all about. If your brand does not do that in a differentating way with conviction, it's time for you to revisit your brand platform.

Powerful brands do not need to be that complexed. Take for example the law firm Levenfeld Pearlstein. With its website as an important marketing channel, this law firm expresses its "reason for being" as simply "Unusually Good". The positioning promotes a tone and personality not normally associated with lawyers. It offers a promise as well as it sets the bar for performance for each and every employee.

The Avant Brand Development Process provides enterprises with the ability to define the correct Brand Platform that perfectly tells your story to the world. Not only does the process maximize your brand impact and communications, but it truly becomes the "rallying cry" that promotes high performance within your organization.

Be looking for the new brand identities for two clients in one of our favorite categories -- municipalities. The new brand identities for Salinas, California and University City, Missouri are scheduled for launch in early in 2012. Both brands are focused on increasing city affinity with residents while attracting prospects in both the residential and business categories.