Category Archive: How to Guide for Marketers

Can you re-train your Brain to be more Strategic?

Strategy“You have to be more strategic” gets said daily in the corporate world. Everyone seems to proclaim they are a “strategic thinker” on their Linked In profile. I hear the word “strategic” all the time, when it’s not even strategic.  People get promoted because they are strategic, and held back in their careers at a given level because they aren’t strategic enough.  Yet, have you ever really had a conversation with your boss about what it really means to be strategic?  Can they articulate it?  Or do they just say it and you just take it?  Have you ever received training on being more strategic?  Likely not.  

So what does it mean to “be a strategic thinker”?    

To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first. Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planning who can see connections. Non Strategic Thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly, and will get frustrated in the delays of thinking. They think doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They are frustrated by strategic thinkers. But to be a great marketer, you must be a bit of a chameleon. While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand. They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action. And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff we need done. I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and non-strategic, almost equally so. You must be able to talk with both types, at one minute debating investment choices and then be at a voice recording deciding on option A or B. You need to make tough choices but you also have to inspire all those non-strategic thinkers to be great on your brand instead of being great on someone else’s brand.

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The problem with strategy is that things in our corporate life get in our way. The first conflict is with action, as corporations are pressured to take action, not stand still. There is a mistaken belief that doing something is better than doing nothing. The problem is that without proper focus, it just spreads resources randomly (investment, people) The second Conflict is with Sales. Sales people are not less strategic, they are just a different type of strategic. They place a higher value in relationship than many marketers. They have to work within the needs and opinions of their buyers and balance shorter term risk with strategic gains.  Your brand might just be the tactic they use in their relationships with customers.  The third conflict is with Agencies. Agencies are more emotional than brand leaders and value pride more than the brand leader—Agency people want to make work they can show off.  The best Brand Leaders understand and work with these conflicts, and manage to stay “on strategy”, fighting off various pressures to go “off strategy”.

I think strategic thinking is a natural state, but it is un-learned through our youth.  The way we teach and reward people as they grow up, we almost force strategic thinking out of them. Every test in school has a right and wrong answer, very little room for options or opinion. In the classroom, there is a pressure to answer quickly, provide the answer the teacher is looking for. Teachers ask you simple questions, and you’re not really allowed to ask them deep questions.  As we get Brand Leaders from some of the best schools, they pride themselves that their brain works so fast–I love asking people “who here thinks fast?” and the entire room puts their hand up. I say “who here thinks slowly?” and no one puts their hand up.  What is wrong with thinking slow? Is it a bad thing? But really, you need to slow down your thinking to ask all the right questions, map out scenarios, figure out the impact of your potential actions.  You need to slow down, to decide what to do, before you do it.  

Can you re-train your Brain to be more Strategic?  

Strategic thinking starts with slowing things down and seeing all the options. You have to do the deep dive thinking before you start moving. Here’s some ways to slow down your thinking, force your thinking and you might actually find that you move faster.

  • Find your own thinking time: block off time, go for walks at lunch or a drive to get away from it all. You need to find a way to reach your subconscious mind, where your best thoughts might be. 
  • Proactively, do the deep thinking BEFORE the decision time comes: Dig deep into the analytics, no matter your level. Every six months, I’d answer six simple questions: 1) where are we? 2) why are we here? 3) where could we be? 4) how do we get there? and 5) what are we doing to get there?
  • Next time you’re in a meeting, spend your time and energy asking great questions, not giving great answers: As the Brand Leader you are the thinker and decision maker on the team, surrounded by subject matter experts who know everything. The big secret about Brand Leaders we don’t always want to share is we don’t really know anything about anything. And once you realize that puts you in a very powerful position, you’ll be a better marketer.

There are six elements that are essential to good Strategy.  

  1. Vision: An aspirational stretch goal in the future, linked to a well-defined purpose.
  2. Focus: Alignment of your limited resources to an distinct strategic point, that creates positive momentum towards your vision.
  3. Time and Space: Speed of execution always matter, because the potential strategic opening will be taken or the opportunity may close.
  4. Early Win: Quick movement and momentum towards your vision, as potential proof to everyone that this strategy will work.
  5. Leverage: Ability to turn the Early Win into creating a momentum of even greater pressure that leads to the tipping point to something bigger.
  6. Gateway: Realization point where you see a shift in positional advantage or power that allows you to see that your vision is achievable.

Most Brand Leaders have fear of focusing too tightly. But without focus, there can be no leverage to turn your efforts into a return that is bigger than the effort. If you aren’t making choices you’re not making decisions. Good marketers use the word “or” more than they use they word “and”. But, the only way to win in strategy is when your gains exceed your effort—you to get more, than you put in. That starts with focus. Every Brand has limited resources (financial, time, effort and alliances) against endless opportunistic choices to make (target, message, strategy and activities). Strategy starts with making a choice, where you will apply your limited resources, against the pressure points you know you can win and breakthrough, so that you can gain something bigger than the point itself.

Every brand is constrained by resources—dollars, people, alliances and time. Slide1Focus makes you matter most to those who care.   Focusing your limited resources on those consumers with the highest propensity to buy what you are selling will deliver the greatest movement towards sales and the highest return on investment for those resources.  In a competitive category, no one brand can do it all. Focus makes you decide whether to be better, different or cheaper. Giving the consumer too many messages about your brand will confuse them as to what makes your brand unique. Trying to be everything is the recipe for being nothing.  Trying to do everything spreads your resources and your message so that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”. With a long to-do list, you’ll never do a great job at anything.   And in a crowded and fast economy, “ok” never breaks through so you’ll never get the early win to gain that tipping point that opens up the gateway to even bigger success. Without focus, there is no movement from your efforts.

You need focus in every aspect of your marketing. It starts with a focused Target Market: While it’s tempting to sell to everyone. Focus your resources on those most likely to buy. Realizing not everyone can like you is the first step to focus on those that can love you. You also need a focused Brand Positioning: Start with the target market you just picked–and assess their need states to see where you can best match up. Slide1Beloved Brands are either better, different or cheaper. Or they are not around for much longer. You need a focused Strategy: Brands need to understand where they sit before picking strategies. Evaluate the health of your brand using the Brand Funnel to understand where you are strong and should keep pushing or where you have a weakness (a Leak) that you need to close. And finally, you need a focused Activities. While everyone talks ROI, I talk ROE as well. Return on Effort forces you to prioritize all your activities.

When you focus, 5 things happen to your brand: 

  1. Better ROI:   With all the resources against one strategy, one target, one message, you’ll be find out if the strategy you’ve chose is able to actually move consumers drive sales or other key performance indicators.  
  2. Better ROE: Make the most out of your people resources.
  3. Strong Reputation: When you only do one thing, you naturally start to become associated with that one thing—externally and even internally. And, eventually you become very good at that one thing.
  4. More Competitive: As your reputation grows, you begin to own that one thing and you are able to better defend the positioning territory
  5. Bigger and Better P&L: As the focused effort drives results, it opens up the P&L with higher sales and profits. And that means more resources will be put to the effort to drive even higher growth.

Case Study:  Starbucks loses Focus by going after entertainment

A great case study in a brand who lost their focus is Starbucks back in 2003, as they took their corporate arrogance and large following and entered the music and movie business.  What happened is they lost focus on what they do really well:  sell coffee in an atmosphere that helps you escape your hectic life. As we hit 2008, people were wondering if the Starbucks bubble had begun to burst. Starbucks closed stores and laid people off. Would it be the next Benneton? But the Brand successfully re-focused by building around Coffee, closing every store for hours to re-train their barristers, coming out with new coffee flavours and building innovation around the coffee routine with pastries, snacks and sandwiches.  Since the re-focus, sales are up 58% over 5 years, and margins are back up to a highly respectable 55% levels.  Slide1

Transforming your Focus into a Gateway to something bigger

Once you breakthrough, strategy becomes a transformation going beyond the breakthrough.  Too many pure strategists over look the importance of the EARLY WIN, think of strategy as just vision and strategic choices. But they’ve never run a Brand, and they don’t know how many others you need to keep motivated and aligned. You want that Early Win, to kick start some momentum—you can slice off part of the business, a segment of the population or have your message connect and breakthrough.  The LEVERAGE is when you start to see and use the positional advantage or power that the early breakthrough has given you. Without this, the early win becomes the only win, and it’s a hollow strategy. Look for ways to find that tipping point: leverage those who have broken through as a way to gain other followers, use the messaging to drive some momentum. As you go through the process, it’s important that you not get distracted from achieving the GATEWAY that lines up best to you vision. It’s easy to be tempted by new opportunities that your breakthrough has given you but stay focused on your Vision.

Marketing Warfare borrows strategic thinking from War.  Napoleon was a notorious strategic thinker, known to map out every possible scenario, and prided himself on making quick adjustments knowing every option.  Napoleon had two main strategies:  1) where there opportunity to win, attack their strong point first, break it and then finish the battle against their weakness.  2) where there is limited opportunity, attack their point of weakness which forces their strong point to disperse in a defensive posture.  

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Case Study:  D-Day focuses the entire war effort on capturing a beach.

If we fast forward to WWII, while Germany was fighting a war on two fronts (Russia and Britain), Allied Forces planned D-Day for 2 years and joined in full force to focus all their attention on one beach, on one day. Prior to the attack, there was debate, do we attack in one place that could be penetrated or in multiple spots where the Germans could would have to fight many battles?  If we look at D Day using the six elements of good strategy, we can see how 

  1. Vision: Win World War II, with a goal to re-claim Europe and stop Germany. Spread democracy.
  2. Focus: Almost all of the Allied forces, with 200,000 soldiers, landing on the Beaches of Normandy on the morning of June 6th.
  3. Time and Space: Planned excessively, debated options, looked for beaches unguarded by Germans. Russia attacking from the East weakening/distracting Germany.
  4. Early Win: Despite heavy casualties, able to capture the beaches and get heavy Allied forces into continental Europe.
  5. Leverage: Re-claiming Paris, pushing back the German Army, turned the momentum into the Allied Forces side. Positional Power had shifted to where Germany now defending on their own territory.
  6. Gateway: A year later, the German Army is defeated in Berlin. US now able to focus and fight Pacific war and defeat Japan.

d-dayIf we were to write a Brand Plan for D-Day, here’s what it would start to look like:  

  • Vision:Win World War II, spread ideals of democracy.
  • Goals: Re-claim Europe, maintain troops.
  • Key Issues: How do we turn the tide in the war effort in Europe? Where would the best attack be to get onto Continental Europe? What defense technology investments are needed?
  • Strategy: Pin Pointed Attack to gain a positional power on Continental Europe.
  • Tactic:  D-Day, take all our troops and attack the Beaches of Normandy to get back on mainland Europe and battle Germany on an equal footing. 

Case Study: Avril connects with her core audience through Free Mall Concerts.

A great example of strategy that might not look like strategy on the surface was how Avril Lavigne’s career was managed. In 2005, Avril’s career was flat, after some early success, which is a normal path for young musicians. avrilTo kick off her album, she did a series of free mall concerts—and was criticized as desperate. She was desperate and not everyone understood the logic.  Let’s use the six elements of good strategy to assess the Avril re-launch:

  1. Vision: Be a pop superstar again, #1 album, sold out concerts.
  2. Focus: Malls are exactly where her target (11-17 female) hangs out, allowing her to focus all her energy on her core target. 
  3. Time and Space: First ever to give free concerts, she still was relatively famous. Everyone (mom and kids) was happy with the “free” gesture.
  4. Early Win: She attracted 5k screaming 13 year olds per mall—creating an early win among her most loyal of fans: those who loved and adored her. Local news covered the story giving her added exposure. 
  5. Leverage: She was able to leverage the good will and energy to get these loyal fans to go buy her album in the mall record stores which helped her album debut at #1 on the charts.
  6. Gateway: Everyone knows the charts are the gateway to the bigger mass audience–more radio play, more iTunes downloads and more talk value. The comeback complete.

Avril’s strategy holds up very strong.  Not a surprise because Madonna did this same strategy for years, except replace malls for teeny-boppers with London Night Clubs for 20-somethings where should we drop her songs and even make random appearances.  If Avril were a brand, here’s what the plan might look like:

  • Vision:  Recording Super Star
  • Goals:  New Album Sales, increase popularity, new recording contract
  • Key Issue:  How do we drive album sales for a slumping Avril? 
  • Strategy:  Reconnect with core teen fans to create momentum to trigger album sales
  • Tactic:  Free Mall tour to get most loyal fans to reconnect and buy the new album.

Case Study: Starbucks refocuses by building around the Coffee routine.

trbghzsds183Starbucks experienced tremendous growth through the 80s and 90s, mainly because of the their coffee. Starbucks quickly become a life ritual in the morning to wake you up. Following their “hobby” into the entertainment field in 2003-2008, they hit the skids and faced some trouble that caused them to re-trench and focus on building around their coffee ritual again.  Let’s use the six elements of good strategy to see how they did this.

  • Vision: Cherished meeting place for all your quick service food needs built around coffee.  
  • Focus:  Build around the coffee ritual, but look to shift the coffee routine to both breakfast and lunch. They built a broader portfolio of products–refreshing drinks and delicious deserts, snacks and sandwiches around these two time slots.
  • Time and Space: Starbucks had the under-utilized bricks and mortar of their restaurants going un-used past 11am.  Driving a broader portfolio would own more share of requirements, while moving the ritual to lunch would allow them to drive more same store sales from the same real estate investment.  
  • Early Win:  Starbucks launched series of new products that made Starbucks seem big on innovation, including Sandwiches, Wraps, pastries and cookies, all with high quality. 
  • Leverage: The leverage point was turning a coffee routine into a breakfast/lunch routine, expanding the life ritual of Starbucks so that it’s now a broad-based place for breakfast and a light lunch, but still connected with coffee. 
  • Gateway: Starbucks is no longer seen as just for coffee, but rather an escape at any point in the day. Most Starbucks are open till Midnight.  Sales have grown double digit each of the past 5 years and the Starbucks brand is one of the most revered and beloved with consumers.  

If you were to write the Starbucks, here’s how it might look;

  • Vision: Cherished meeting place for all your quick service food needs
  • Goals: Increase Same store sales, greater share of requirements from Starbucks loyalists
  • Key Issue:  How do we drive significant growth of same store sales?
  • Strategy:  Move Starbucks loyalists to lunch with an expanded lunch menu.
  • Tactic:  Exotic refreshing coffee choices, light lunch menu, increase desert offerings.

Here’s a checklist to see if your strategy holds up:

  • An end in mind vision, pathway that has milestones, objectives and specific goals for your programs
  • Specific strategic choices that are mapped out, not a vague chance.
  • Pin-pointed focus of your resources (effort, investment, time, partners)
  • An early win as the breakthrough point.
  • Game changing Leverage point, where there is a change in positional power and you’re able to turn a small win into something big.
  • Gateway to something bigger, defined as a win for the brand that translates into an increase in power or value.

Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions.

At Beloved Brands, we run a Brand Leadership Center to train marketers in all aspects of marketing from strategic thinking, analysis, writing brand plans, creative briefs and reports, judging advertising and media. To read more on strategy, here is a workshop on HOW TO BE THINK STRATEGICALLY, click on the powerpoint presentation below:

At Beloved Brands, we make Brands better and we make Brand Leaders better.™

We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or phone me at 416 885 3911

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If you knew that being a better Advertising client would get you better Advertising, would you actually be able to show up better?

For most Brand Leaders, it can take quite a lot of experience to finally get good at Advertising.  Getting good Advertising is very hard.Slide1 In fact, it’s likely the most complex part of marketing, because it’s where everything comes together–your consumer, your brand strategy, your positioning and every opinion in your entire company. It’s hard for a Brand Leader to manage at times and it can be hard to find that missing ad you’ve been looking for. If you want to see a company struggling on Advertising, look at Wendy’s and the lack of consistency they’ve had since Dave Thomas.

What makes some Brand Leaders GOOD at Advertising?  

Simple put, they are able to consistently get good advertising on the air, and keep bad advertising off the air.  

That might sound like a simple answer, but it is actually a very complex.  From my experience, I’ve rarely encountered an easy process for getting to great work. All the great ads ad had a long list of doubters, detractors and obstacles to maneuver or overcome. There is always a near breaking point. You should almost be scared when it goes too easily. Must mean it’s too safe.  

Brand Leaders tend to doubt themselves. You Never Find Your Comfort Zone: You are convinced you’re not good at advertising. No experience, feel awkward or had a bad experience. You think you’re strategic, not tactical. You are skeptical, uptight, too tough and too easily annoyed.  You Don’t Know If It’s Really Your Place to Say Something: You figure the ad agency is the expert—that’s why we pay them—so you give them a free reign (aka no direction). Or worse, you give them the chance to mess up, and blame them later.  You settle for something you hate, because of time pressure, or you don’t know why: You don’t really love it, but it seems ok for now. The agency says if we don’t go for it now, we’ll miss our air date and have to give up our media to another brand.  You can’t sell it in to management: you need to make sure if it’s the right thing to do, you are able to sell the idea in. Tell them how it works for your brand—and how it delivers the strategy.  

Brand Leaders also doubt their Agency.  These factors start when the Agency writes a brief you don’t like—or you box them into a strategy they aren’t really big on. If either of you force a strategy on the other, then you’re off to a bad start. You need to have some deep rich discussions to get on the same page, literally. You feel the Creative team over sells you: you get hood-winked with the “we are so excited” speech: You’re not sure what you want, so you settle for an OK ad in front of you—the best of what you saw. Ask yourself what’s missing before you buy.  You lose connection with the Agency: Agencies are more emotional than clients. But they want to make great work. Keep your agency motivated so that you become the client they want to make great work on, rather than the client they have to work on.  You lose traction through the production and Edit: Talent, lighting, directors and edits can reflect tone—if the tone changes from the board to the edit, then so does your ad.   You should make sure the final edit matches your vision of the board.

As David Ogilvy said:  “clients get the advertising they deserve”.  Taking that one step farther:  An OK agency can do great work on a great client. But a great agency will fail with a bad client.  The question Brand Leaders need to be asking:  If you knew that being a better client got you better advertising, would you actually be able to show up better?

Being a great Brand Leader starts with your Behavior

The best Brand Leaders dig in and do their homework. Everything they do starts and ends with the Consumer in mind. Use Insights to connect.

You tightly Control the Strategy, yet give the agency Freedom on Creative.  You Focus the Brief on one objective, one target market, one big idea, one benefit.  Start with the Desired Consumer Response, and then figure out what to say.  You always Think Strategically yet Act Instinctually.

When it comes to the creative work, great Brand Leaders can Inspire greatness from creative team, yet unafraid to Challenge for better.  Be open yet decisive: know what you Want, but never know until you See It.  You take creative risks to Stand Out, not fit in, yet the perfect tone for your brand.  See Big Ideas that leave a Legacy, not just make an ad to make the year.

A lot of times, it’s the company holding back great advertising.  A great Brand Leader is willing to Fight for great work, even with your boss. You never settle for OK.

Brand Leaders need to be strong at every stage along the way in the Advertising Process

You have to dig in on the Pre Work, before you get to the brief.  Do the work on Insights, create a Big Idea and lay out Brand Concept and know it motivates. Write a very Focused Brief.  Need one Objective, insights, desired response, one Benefit, RTB. Create the box

Hold a Creative Expectations where you meet with the creative team before that first creative meeting.  It’s a chance for clarifying your first impressions on your vision, passion. Inspire and focus creative team.  I recommend you hold a Tissue Session, especially when you don’t have a campaign. Be open to new ways of looking at your brand. Focus on Big Ideas, push for better.

At the Creative Meeting, be positive, focus only on big picture, give direction, make decisions. No solutions. No Details. Are you inspiring?  Hold off on getting all detailed in that creative meeting and take a day or two to write a Feedback Memo that is detailed, challenging but without giving specific solutions. If the creative brief creates a box for the creative team to solve “in the box” solutions to your problem, then your feedback should also create a new box.  Give the creative team a NEW problem, not your solutions to the problem.  

Gaining Approval is one of the biggest factors separating good from great. You have to keep your boss informed at each stage from the brief to the first creative ideas, always leading the discussion on where you want to take it.  If you use Ad Testing, use it to confirm your pick, not make your decision.  As you sell in the Ad, be ready for resistance and be ready to fight any internal resisters to make it happen.

As you go into production, give some room to the experts but always get what you want. It’s important for you to manage the Tone to fit the brand. Always, get more than you need.  At the Post Production, I always recommend talking directly with and leverage every expert in the room.  You’d be shocked how few Brand Leaders do this, figuring it’s not their place. 

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To get better Advertising, Brand Leaders need to show up better within the Advertising Process.  As you look at the process above, here are eight Challenges to Brand Leaders to push you to be better at Advertising

  1. Do you develop a testable Brand Concept with rational and emotional benefits, plus support points that you know are actually motivating?
  2. How tight is your Brief? Do you narrow the Target with engaging insights? Do you focus on the desired consumer response before deciding what your brand should say? Do you focus on One Benefit and OneMessage?
  3. Do you meet creative team before the first creative meeting to connect, align them with your vision and inspire them to push for great work?
  4. Do you hold Tissue Sessions to narrow solutions before going to scripts?
  5. At creative meetings, do you stay big picture, avoid getting into details? When giving direction, do you avoid giving your own solutions and but rather try to create a “new box” for the creative team to figure out the solutions?
  6. Do you take creative risks, and willing to be different to stand out?  To break through the clutter with your brand story, Brand Leaders have to get comfortable being “different”.  Brand Leaders start to tense up when things get “too different”
  7. Do you manage your boss at every stage? Do you sell them, on your vision what you want?   Are you willing to fight for great work?
  8. Are you one of your Agency’s favorite clients?   Do they “want to” or do they “have to” work on your business?

Getting Great Advertising is a Balance between Freedom and Control.  

Most Marketers allow too much FREEDOM on the strategy but want to exhibit CONTROL on the creative.  It seems odd because it should be the reverse. You should control the Strategy and give freedom on the Execution.   

The Advertising Strategy sets up the Creative Brief.  Within a good brand plan, you should have an advertising strategy that should answer the following five key questions.

  1. Who Do We want to sell to?  (Who is your Target Consumer?)
  2. What are we selling?  (What is your Benefit?) and Why should they believe us?  (Reason To Believe)
  3. What Do We want the Advertising to do for the brand? (Strategic Choices)
  4. What do Want people to think, feel or do? (Desired Response)
  5. What’s the long range feeling the brand evokes (The Big Idea)

These Five questions form your Advertising Strategy before you get to a Creative Brief.
The best advertising comes from doing your HOMEWORK.  The idea of a Creative Brief is to “create a Box”  Creative people are motivated by the challenge of the problem, more than the execution of a simple solution.   Give them a problem.  The role of the brief is to create the right box, enough room to move, but enough direction that defines the problem.    A good brief should isolate the task to coming up with Creative that expresses the strategy. Do not come up with strategy through the creative.

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Things Creative people don’t want:

  1. A blank canvas: They prefer a problem that they need to solve through creativity. As mentioned above, Creative Advertising people are more problem solvers than they are blue sky thinkers.  
  2. An unclear problem: They don’t want endless streams of data. They don’t want so many options built into a brief, they don’t know where to start. Giving information “just in case” is confusing for them. They need focus in order to deliver great work for you.
  3. Your Solutions: They find it demotivating to be asked for their expertise (solving problems) and then not utilized (given the answer)Stop writing copy. When I need to articulate creative “bad ideas”, I try such hyperbole to make sure it is “really bad”.

In the creative meeting, Brand Leaders need to sort through their thoughts

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Ask do you love it?  How passionate are you? If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it? If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end. But if you love it, you’ll go the extra mile and make it amazing.  You’re not doing anyone a favor keeping work you don’t love.  Eventually, you won’t fight for it and give up on it.

Reach for your gut reaction.  What’s your immediate reaction when you reach for your instincts? Relax, slow yourself down enough to soak it in, right in the meeting. It’s easier to quickly reject out of fear than find what your gut really says. Many times, instincts get hidden away because of the job.

Is it on strategy? Is the Ad an expression of what you wrote in your strategy documents? Use the ABCS to help frame things, so you can evaluate it past how you feel. The tool gives you something to ground yourself. Take your time with this thinking.

What is the long term potential?  Is it BIG IDEA, you can see lasting for 5-10 years, going across various mediums (mass, on line, in store), capable of speaking of the entire product line up, Think about leaving a legacy—which forces you to think of campaign-ability.

 

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 If you knew that being a better client got you better advertising, would you actually be able to show up better?

 

At Beloved Brands, we run a Brand Leadership Center to train marketers in all aspects of marketing from strategic thinking, analysis, writing brand plans, creative briefs and reports, judging advertising and media. To read more on HOW TO BE BETTER AT ADVERTISING, click on the powerpoint presentation below:

 

At Beloved Brands, we make Brands better and we make Brand Leaders better.™

We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or phone me at 416 885 3911

 

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10 Things GREAT ADVERTISING should do for your Brand

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Advertising is very hard. In fact, it’s likely the most complex part of marketing, because it’s where everything comes together–your consumer, you brand strategy, your positioning and every opinion in your entire company.  It’s hard for a Brand Leader to manage at times and it can be hard to find that missing ad you’ve been looking for.  If you want to see a company struggling on Advertising, look at Wendy’s and the lack of consistency they’ve had since Dave Thomas.

Here is a tongue-in-cheek look at why Advertising can be difficult. Slide1

What makes some Brand Leaders GOOD at Advertising?   I love asking this question and I never really get great answers.  Usually people think “they are creative people” or “they listen well” or “they have lots of advertising experience in their background”.  All a little true, but my simple answer might be a little complex:  Simple put, they are able to consistently get good advertising on the air, and keep bad advertising off the air.  But this is actually a very complicated answer.  From my experience, I’ve rarely met an easy process for getting to great work. All the great ads ad had a long list of doubters, detractors and obstacles to maneuver or overcome. There is always a near breaking point. You should almost be scared when it goes too easily. Must mean it’s too safe.

But from what I see, the biggest reason in getting great Advertising starts with how good the Brand Leader is.  An OK agency can do great work on a great client. But a great agency will fail with a bad client.  Being good at Advertising takes time, practice, feedback and a willingness to adjust. 

slide15The Real Question to be Asking yourself: If you knew that being a better client got you better advertising, would you actually be able to show up better?  The presentation below outlines how to be better at advertising, looking at the skills, behaviors and experiences Brand Leaders need.  As a starting point here are the 10 elements you need to achieve better advertising:  

The 10 things GREAT ADVERTISING should do 

  1. Set Yourself Apart. Beloved Brands must be different, better, cheaper or not around very long. The story telling of the brand’s promise should help to separate the brand from the clutter of our minds. That starts with creative that feels different and makes the brand seem different. 
  2. Focused! A focused target, a focused message, a focused strategy against a focused communication idea and a focused media. 
  3. Keep the Idea and Communication very simple. Communication is not what is said, but what is heard. Too many people try to shout as many messages as they can in one ad. What the consumer hears: a confusing mess or nothing really. My challenge to you is to stand up on a chair and yell your main message as though you are standing on top of a mountain. If you can’t YELL it out in one breath, then your idea is too complex. The Volvo Brand Manager gets to yell “Safety” in one clean simple breath. Can you do that? 
  4. Have a Good Selling Idea. While big ideas break through, they also help you to be consistent, because you have to align your thinking to the Big Idea. You’ll see consistency over time, across mediums–paid, earned, social and search, throughout the entire brand line up of sub brands. Consumers will start to connect to the big idea
  5. Drive Engagement:  Too many Brand Leaders forget to engage the consumer. They get so fixated on saying their 7 messages that they figure the ability capture attention is just advertising fluff. But it all starts with Attention. The consumer sees 5,000 ads a day and will likely only engage in a handful. If you don’t capture their attention, no one will remember the brand name, your main message or any other reason to believe you might have.
  6. Let the Visuals do the talking. With so many ads, you need to have some visual that can capture the attention, link to your brand and communicate your message. The ‘see-say’ of advertising helps the consumers brain to engage, follow along and remember. As kids, we always love the pictures. We still do. 
  7. Sell the solution, not the product. People use brands to solve problems in their lives. They’d prefer not to have that problem than have to buy your brand. No one has ever wanted a quarter-inch drill, they just need a quarter-inch hole. 
  8. Be Relevant with the Consumer. A beloved brand finds a way to matter to those who really care. Not only in the right brand promise but in the right communication of that promise. You can’t sell carpet cleaning to someone who just has hard wood floors. 
  9. Have the Ads based on a consumer Insight. Insights are not facts about your brand. That’s just you talking AT the consumer. Insights allow you to connect and turn the ad into a conversation. Insights are something the consumer already knows but they didn’t realize that everyone felt that way. Insights enable consumers to see themselves in the situation and once you do that, the consumers might then figure the brand must be for them. 
  10. Tell the story behind the brand. Talk about your brand’s purpose. Why did you start this brand? What do you hope that the brand really does to help people? Why do you get up in the morning. Remember: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Think of Advertising as the Creative expression of your brand strategy.

While it needs to accomplish a strategic task, it also projects an image of what your brand is about. Good advertising starts with a big idea—big enough to stand over time, giving the consumer a consistent touch point with the brand. The idea may need to have room for an array of support messages that build the one constant vision and positioning for the brand.

Always remember there is truth in advertising! Slide1 In fact, un-true advertising is rejected by consumers—because the consumer sees no consistency with their perception of the brand. Usually the truth is the obvious—we just don’t see it or want to deny it (e.g. Listerine is strong). Good advertising is a balance between the rational truth (task benefit oriented) and emotional truth (connection/solution focus). Un-True is not just about the facts, but positioning, tone and emotions.

People remember stories that connect with them. Whether you`re showcasing the brand`s benefits, the purpose behind the brand or the story of the brand, the best way is to frame it within a creative story.

Brand Leaders need a tool to go on How to Judge Creative.  

A very simple process is the ABCS of Advertising: Attention, Branding, Communication and Stickiness. This ABC’S method will work across any medium whether it’s TV, PR, digital or social.   

  • Attention:  You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising. Consumers see 6000 ads per day, in every part of their lives. If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.  
  • Branding:  Ads that tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best. Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand. It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad.  
  • Communication:  Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand. Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it.  
  • Stickiness:  Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time. In the end, brands are really about “consistency” of the promise you want to own. Brands have exist in the minds of the consumer.

Brand Leaders need to be strong at every stage along the way in the Advertising Process

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As you go through this process here are 10 challenges you might not always do, but if you’re struggling with your advertising, I think you should. 

  1. Do you develop a testable Brand Concept with with rational and emotional benefits, plus support points that you know are actually motivating?
  2. How tight is your Brief? Do you narrow the Target with engaging insights? Do you focus on the desired consumer response before deciding what your brand should say? Do you focus on One Benefit and OneMessage?
  3. Do you meet creative team before the first creative meeting to connect, align them with your vision and inspire them to push for great work?
  4. Do you hold Tissue Sessions to narrow solutions before going to scripts?
  5. At creative meetings, do you stay big picture, avoid getting into details? When giving direction, do you avoid giving your own solutions and create a “new box” for the creative team to figure out the solutions?
  6. Do you take creative risks, and willing to be different to stand out?
  7. Do you manage your boss at every stage? Do you sell them, on your vision what you want?   Are you willing to fight for great work?
  8. Are you one of your Agency’s favorite clients?   Do they “want to” or do they “have to” work on your business?

Great Advertising starts with a Great Brand Leader with a Great Strategy and a willingness to take risks

At Beloved Brands, we run a Brand Leadership Center to train marketers in all aspects of marketing from strategic thinking, analysis, writing brand plans, creative briefs and reports, judging advertising and media. To read more on HOW TO BE BETTER AT ADVERTISING, click on the powerpoint presentation below:

 

At Beloved Brands, we make Brands better and we make Brand Leaders better.™

We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or phone me at 416 885 3911

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Managing Others: Advice for Brand Leaders on managing and developing Marketing Talent

New Brand Managers tend to Suck

I don’t mean to sound too cynical but that statement is a reality. I used to tell my newly promoted managers that “you’ll really struggle managing others till your 5th direct report”. Becoming a good Brand Leader takes time, self assessment and maturing. New Managers get very little people manager training or coaching, and are just thrown into the fire.  A few weeks into the new Manager role, just as they are about to finally delegate, they just say “oh, I can do this faster than it will even take to explain it, so I’ll just do it myself”.  Instead, new Managers hoard all the good activities and just give the lousy easy to accomplish work to their direct reports.  

They see themselves as managing a series of tasks, and miss out on the idea they are managing someone’s career. A recent Harvard study has narrowed down what the modern leader is looking for from a boss:  they want career advice and coaching.  It’s not whether the boss is nice, funny, inspiring or challenging–not whether they are too involved or not involved enough. What really separates an OK boss from a great boss is “do you give a damn about my career?”

Think about your People in terms of Skills, Behaviors and Experiences

Most Managers focus on strengths and weaknesses, because that’s the old school method for managing people.  We even ask it during interviews and use it on year-end performance reviews.   Most new Managers figure their role is to fix the weakness so their direct report doesn’t look bad, or even worse, make them look bad as a Manager.  One shift I’d love to see Managers make is to work with their direct reports on closing Gaps, instead of fixing Weaknesses. The difference between a Gap and Weakness might seem like semantics, but I see it as a management philosophy.

  • With a “weakness”, you can’t really fix it, and it may even be dangerous to fix it because you risk changing the person too much. I’ve had managers who tried to get me act more like them and when I tried, I found that I wasn’t being true to my authentic self.  I believe that a weakness and a strength are usually directly linked. So as you work to minimize the weakness, you might be dulling the related strength at the same time. For instance, “challenge too much” came up in many of my reviews as a weakness, and it has gotten me in trouble on day 1 and year 20. Not until I had a boss coach me through my style did I learn to manage “how I challenge” and how to turn it into a strength instead of a weakness. Even as a consultant, I say my role is to challenge.
  • With a “gap”, it is something you can close through learning, coaching, application and feedback.  For instance, early on in my career, I had a gap in with advertising because I wasn’t on a brand that did much advertising. Because I lacked the experience, I lacked the right skills and behaviors. I didn’t really know how to give feedback, I didn’t really know the role of a brief and had very little knowledge of the advertising testing methods. I had good instincts, but unsure how to deliver them. Once I got significant experience, observed the right behaviours and added in various skills linked to writing a good brief, giving effective feedback or judging on what would work in the marketplace, I was able to close the gap in the advertising area. Advertising to me, was never a weakness–just a gap that needed closing. And 15 years later, I’m now training Brand Leaders on Advertising.   

When you start to think about Gaps, you can observe if your direct report is meeting the standard of their peers or the expectations for the current role. You can also make decisions on their readiness for promotion, and possibly use the Gap analysis as a way to close on a few specific areas before the promotion.  And finally, you can provide an assessment to help focus the colleague to work on to continous ways to improve.

In terms of coaching, think about three layers of coaching:    

  • The obvious Year End Review is the most formal document you’ll write on behalf of the company.  Nothing in the year-end should surprise your direct report, and every point should have been discussed many times throughout the year.  There’s nothing worse than sitting down and having no idea what your boss would say.  When I was doing reviews, I even emailed out the written review document 48 hours ahead of time, giving people the chance to digest all the thoughts and to come prepared ready to discuss each point.  (when I did “anonymous” feedback at year end, I made sure I signed my name to it)
  • The next layer down are Quarterly Reviews, which I think are essential to helping someone grow. It’s my belief that marketers can grow faster than we think–but they can only grow with timely feedback. Use these meetings to review accomplishments during the quarter, and to focus on ONE THING they are working on, get them thinking of one skill and one behaviour they were currently working on.  With great marketers, I found with good feedback they could quickly close the gap within one-quarter.
  • Use day-to-day feedback, providing consistent and regular On the Spot Feedback. With agreement on the ONE THING, it’s important that you highlight when you see examples of them closing or not closing the gap. 

Below, I break out the essential skills that every Brand Leader needs, the leadership behaviors that Great Brand Leaders exhibit and the experiences you need to gain. 

Marketing Skills

I have mapped out 32 core skills a Brand Leader needs to be successful.  I have broken down the skills under one of 8 core areas:  

  1. Seeks to Understand: skills that help use data from all sources, reports and methods.
  2. Analytical:  skills for asking the right questions and getting beneath the surface.
  3. Strategic Thinking: skills to enable you to focus, staying on strategy and guiding strategically
  4. Stays organized:  skills around projects, meetings, budgets and various functional needs
  5. Innovation: skills for brainstorming, developing and testing concepts and taking ideas to market
  6. Advertising: skills related to briefing, giving feedback and making decisions on media and creative ideas.
  7. Go to Market: skills related to working through customers, merchandising
  8. Leadership:  skills related to managing others to maximize the talent pool, working the system and managing up and sideways.

 

10530900_10154328451135332_274029533138390707_nEach of these skills can be learned with a balance of classroom training, coaching, feedback and learning by doing. The big myth in marketing is “you will learn all this on the job”.  No you won’t.  If you don’t learn how to do it right, you’ll learn to do it wrong. By the time you move up to Director, you want to make sure you can close most of the skill gaps.  As a junior marketer, there is nothing worse than reporting to someone who lacks any of the essential skills on this list. 

Leader Behaviors

I’ve also mapped out the 15 leader behaviors that you need to be a succesful Brand Leader.  I have broken down the behaviors under one of 5 core areas:

  1. Accountable to Resultsneed to see you take the lead, make things happen and make the right decisions
  2. Strategic Thinking: a great leader stays the steward of the Brand Vision, holds everyone true to the strategy and pushes for new ideas within the strategy.  
  3. Broad Influence: as you move up, this becomes more crucial but we want to see it in the more junior folks so that we know you’re worth investing in. This means you actively listen, seek out other solutions, increase your sphere of influence across various functions and come across like the owner of the Brand. 
  4. People Leadership: to be great with people, it’s less about your own personality and how much you care about your people’s careers. You need to give regular and balanced feedback for growth.  And your own leadership will be on greatest display during times of pressure–as one boss said to me during a crisis: “this is when they really need us”.  
  5. Authentic Style: It’s not how charismatic you are, how inspiring you are, but rather how well you know yourself and how truthful you show up. Great leaders show a curiosity to be a constant learner and is always trying to improve at every stage of their careers.  

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Experiences

The following experience areas are crucial for a marketer, but do take some experience before you can become proficient: 

  • Writing the Brand Plan: As you gain this experience, make sure you go deep, that the ideas are yours and not overly influenced by your boss and that you’re proud of the plan you present.  
  • Managing a Team: By the time you get to the point of leading an entire team, you’ll realize that it can be a very lonely, once you figure out you can’t be friends with your employees do you get really good at getting the most from your team. 
  • Launching a New Brand: Launching an entirely new brand is an amazing test for how broad you can think, how broad you can influence across and organization and lining up all the moving parts.  As you dig in, you might be shocked at what you didn’t know yet.
  • Leading a Brand Turnaround: To me, what separates a good marketer from a great one is their ability to turn around a business.  Most Brand Leaders who take on a turn around don’t focus on what’s really holding the brand back. Try to avoid trying to do too much and risking that nothing gets done.   What I have found in turn arounds is to layer in three separate stages so that you aren’t trying to do everything at once.  
  • Leading New Advertising: Usually when you have to lead new advertising, it means your brand has struggled in this area for a certain time.  When you have a blank slate, the ambiguity can really destroy a marketer. 
  • Leading through a Merger: I’ve been through 4 of these and I hate them. I keep hoping mergers are done, because I don’t think the Brands are winning.  But we’ll all go through them and the only advice I have is be extra careful of how you show up, be patient on the decision-making and avoid saying anything about anyone that you might one day regret. 
  • Leading Cross Functionally: I was at a senior level when I first got the chance to manage a cross functional team. Once you get outside of marketing, you’ll realize how the different functions behave–not the A-types, overly enthusiastic, decisive, action oriented leaders that we marketers are used to working with.    
  • Firing an Under-performing fellow Marketer: I know this might sound a bit morbid, but letting people go is a reality.  Marketing is a tough career, and to get better as a team you have to push as hard as you can and the reality is that not everyone can keep up.  How you go about firing someone and ensuring the company is protected and the person maintains their dignity is a tough balance to get right.  

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If you can make people better, you will be an even better Brand Leader

 

With your best people, make sure you identify the experience gaps they have and be fair to them with the next assignment. It’s far too easy to keep relying on a person’s strengths but it’s more important that you round out that person’s experience. If they advance too far without covering off those gaps, they may find themselves struggling later in the job. I’ve known newly promoted directors who had very little advertising experience coming up that all of a sudden found themselves on a desk with lots of advertising. Their team even had more experience than they did. Regular people reviews can really help identify the experience gaps that people might have.

To read about managing the careers of your Marketing Team, read the following document:

 

How loved is your brand?

We believe a brand’s source of power is the emotional feelings it generates. With that power comes added profitability.

In the consumer’s mind, brands sit on a Brand Love Curve, with brands going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved Brand for Life. At the Beloved stage, demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings. Consumers become outspoken fans. It’s this connection that helps drive power for your brand: power versus competitors, versus customers, versus suppliers and even versus the same consumers you’re connected with. The farther along the curve, the more power for the brand. It’s important that you understand where your brand sits on the Love Curve and begin figuring out how to move it along towards becoming a Beloved Brand. With the power of connection, the brand can leverage that power into increased growth and profits. To read more, follow this presentation.

 

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8 Interview Questions I used to ask potential Marketing Hires

facebook adOn average, you’ll need 4-5 interviews to land the job–likely one with HR, a couple at the manager level and a couple at the director level.  If it’s part of the formal recruiting process, then you need to realize you are being judged at every moment, from the on-campus event to the potential dinner/lunch during the interviews and even how you act between interviews.  If they give you a mentor to help you, that person will also have influence.  In our debrief about candidates, there were just as many comments about things beyond the interviews as there was the interviews themselves.

Many interviews are moving to behavioural style where they might say: “tell me a time when you had a conflict…”  This means you need to translate all your strengths and weaknesses into stories that show you have experience in the given area.  Write down your answers in the form of Situation Action and Result. Learn how to tell the stories so that it answers the question and showcases your strengths.  Even if people don’t ask you the “tell me a time…” questions, it can be powerful for you to answer in that method.

You will still get asked “what’s your weakness?”.  It’s such a cliche question now, but it still gets asked.  I once had a candidate tell me they hated ambiguity, which was pretty much the death-nail.  Avoid the BS style “I’m too hard on myself” or “I work too hard”.  You just sound annoying.  The safest option I would recommend is “I’m not very good at negotiating” which is a skill that’s not really that important for marketing.

Here are the Interview Questions that I used to Ask:

  1. Tell me a time you used numbers to sell an idea? Most marketers suck at finance and it will eventually limit your career. At some level in marketing, you have to be good at running the P&L, so I’d rather find out now. You better have your story tight because your answer will be questioned one or two more levels to see if you really know your stuff.  Great Marketers can tell stories with analysis.  I’m going to challenge every aspect of your story.  
  2. What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done?  It really doesn’t matter what it was, but how far did you push yourself out of your comfort zone to find the creative solution.Your passion for your idea should come through.    
  3. What’s the thing you’re most proud of?  When I read a resume, I want to see big accomplishments beyond your work experience or school.  Football, chess, travelling the world or charity work etc.  I want to hear your story and your pride come through. Great Marketers accomplish things, and I want to know that you have a history of accomplishments.  Don’t tell just what you did, tell me what you ACCOMPLISHED!  
  4. Tell me a time when you’ve convinced your boss of something they thought wouldn’t work. I want to see if you can make it happen.  This will show your leadership, selling skills, and willingness to push.  A great Marketer can get what they want.. 
  5. If you were the agent of Miley Cyrus, how would you maximize her value over the next 10 years?  I always took something in the pop culture news and asked how you would handle it. I was looking to see how curious you are and how you could take something with very little subject matter expertise and put together a plan. A great Marketer has a curiosity and can form opinions quickly. This lets me see your thinking.  Pop culture is a great area that goes beyond books.   
  6. If you were on a team that solved a serious healthcare problem for Society, what factors would you use to price it on the global level?   This is a very thick question with many issues, especially adding in the global issue. I want to see you think through those issues and layer those issues into your answer. How do you handle the differences between North America and the Third World? How important is profitability vs R&D vs compassion?   How would you leverage government, key influencers and where would that fit into your answer. Great marketers can handle ambiguity and there is a lot within this case.  
  7. From your previous Interview with our company, what’s the biggest mistake you made and how would you now change that? Great marketers are constantly pushing themselves to improve.  That starts with your own personal assessment. I want to see that you have thought about it and now see a better solution. It also puts you under a bit of unexpected pressure to see how you handle that.  
  8. What questions do you have for me? To me this is one of the most important sections. It demonstrates how engaged you are in the process. The quality of your questions will help to separate you. Have five great questions done ahead of time, ask about 2-3 each interview. Ask deep questions, not surface questions.Turn each answer into a conversation starter. 

Act like you want the job. Show a bit of spunk and energy through the interviews. Marketing jobs are a bit different.  Take a Red Bull before the interview.  Be leaning forward, make eye contact, be comfortable and dynamic in your personality. Marketing jobs require a bit of charm, a big push, and a willingness to get things done no matter what. I want to see all those things in the interview. 

If you bomb a few interviews, keep going for it.  There are more people who want to be an Assistant Brand Manager than there are jobs. And that’s continuing to tighten in the tough economy as many places are going without. So how bad do you really want this job?   Do you want it more than everyone else? And will you do what it takes to get that job.  I remember interviewing so many times and not getting the job–I must have gone through 100 interviews before I finally landed the right job.  I remember one time, after 3 minutes the hiring manager looked at my resume and said “you have zero marketing experience, this won’t work”.  That one still stings after twenty years, but made me want it even more.  Persistence has to be the key. If you are only half trying, then I have very little sympathy. If you are completely immersed in the effort, trust me, you will eventually break through.

Best of luck to you, and go for it.  

 

Here’s a presentation on Successful Marketing Careers:  

 

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Do you think FAST or think SLOW? Here’s why Brand Leaders need do both.

facebook adWhen I ask a room of Brand Leaders “do you think fast or think slow?” what do you think the prevailing answer would be. Like them, your immediate answer would be they think fast.  There’s a bias in marketing that we are supposed to think fast, so it’s only natural to say “yes, I’m a fast thinker”.  We even have a cultural bias to believe that fast thinkers get ahead in life, and slow ones fall behind.  From the 2011 book by Daniel Kahneman “Thinking, Fast and Slow” he talks about the two different ways that the brain forms thoughts:  

  • Fast Thinkers:  instinctual, automatic, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
  • Slow Thinkers:  logical, deeper thinking, effortful, logical, calculating, conscious

We all do a bit of both fast and slow, but we each have a natural disposition for one lead style. I’ve seen enough Myers Briggs results to realize that ENTJ (Extraversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judgment)  is the prevailing result for Brand Leaders.  ENTJ_meme3.357224143_stdAnd if you are ENTJ, it likely means you’re a slow logical thinker, but a quick decision maker. Even though you are willing to voice your opinion quickly, you should really be taking the time to think things through.  When you try to go too fast, you’re not at your best. As a Brand Leader, you’re also likely surrounded by fast thinkers (from your ad agency, sales colleagues, R&D people and even your boss looking for a decision) and that puts you into a choice:  do you speed up for them or do you slow them down?  

Are you a Strategic Thinker?

Of course you’ll say yes, but are you really?  Everyone has it on their LinkedIn profile.  But not everyone in marketing is strategic.  From what I’ve seen, most are tactical executors, not deep conceptual thinkers.  

Strategic Thinkers see questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of “what if” decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planners who can see connections. They use knowledge and judgment about the long-term health and wealth of the brand.  I’m a strategic person, and pathetic at trivia questions but can stay up all night debating concepts of politics, religion and of course Marketing.

Non-Strategic Thinker see answers before they see questionsThey get to answers quickly, and will get frustrated in delays. They opt for action over thinking, believing that doing something is better than doing nothing. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They can be frustrated by strategic thinkers. They use instincts and driven about the short-term health and sales of the brand.

The Best Brand Leaders balance strategy and execution

If you think too much, you’re dead.  You might miss an opportunity.  Or worse yet, you might over think it.  So the simple advice is  don’t go too fast, but don’t go too slowly. You are running a live business, not some a Socrates major laying on the grass of a University.  

There are three main areas of conflict for strategic thinkers:  Action, Sales Team and your Agencies.  

  1. Your brand in is in a live market so there is a propensity for Action.  We are faced with a problem and so everyone immediately turns to you and asks “what is your solution?” Never be that Ready, Fire Aim type of leader.But your action must have the proper focus, so that you are not just spreading your resources (investment, people and time) randomly, but rather well thought against what will provide the biggest return. As the Brand Leader, you can’t just react to everything, take your time and think things through. 
  2. Strategic thinkers can have a conflict with Sales people.  Sales people are no less strategic, but they place ahigher value in relationship than many marketers.  In fact, they may be strategizing about their relationship with Wal-Mart instead of your individual brand. They have to work within the needs and opinions of their buyers and balance the shorter term risk with the longer term strategic gains. Many Sales Leaders focus on the next six months, while Brand Leaders focus on six months and beyond.  Sitting down with sales people and finding the middle ground will find a mutual benefit to both. Most marketers believe that everything is relatively negotiable, while most sales people see everything as negotiated.  
  3. Brand Leaders have a conflict with agencies.  Agencies tend to be more emotional than Brand Leaders and value pride in their work, more than the brand leader—Agency people want to make work they can be show off.  Not only do they show it off for pride, they show it off for more business. Also, agencies are filled with fast thinkers, who value instincts and feelings ahead of pure logic.  When I ask Brand Leaders “how liked are you by your agency” they find it an odd question because you feel you are paying them so you should get good service and they should be courting you. Here’s a secret I learned mid way through my career:  the more emotionally engaged you are with your agency, the better the work will be.  Yes, you can replace your current agency, but you’ll just run into it again with your next agency.  You should want to be one of your agency’s favorite brands to work on.  

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The best athletes in team sports have an ability to slow the game down. Larry Bird in basketball, Joe Montana in Football or Wayne Gretzky in hockey were never the most gifted athletes in their sport, but were given extra time and space by those defending them because they slowed the game down and then made quick decisions.  They were playing Chess while everyone was playing Checkers.  You need to find a way to slow the game down, so that you can make quick decisions.  

Slow it Down so you can move faster

When we are in a heated debate with our teenage kids, it’s natural to say something inflammatory to make a point. And I find myself saying “did that comment make this go faster or take longer?”  Considering now that my kids are debating my inflammatory comment, I know it took longer.  If only in that moment, I could think things through slower, then it would go faster.  But my only solution to teenagers is wait for them to turn 22.  

Here’s my advice on how to slow things down a bit, so that you can move things faster.

  • Find your own thinking time: About 90% of my best ideas were thought of in a car, not at a desk. I’d try to block off time in my busy calendar just to think. Sounds crazy but you need it. I’d go for walks at lunch or a drive to get away from it all. The more I did, the more I realized that my first thoughts weren’t always my best thoughts. Steve Jobs was notorious for going for a walk with someone. Instincts are not always at the tip of your tongue. You need to find a way to reach your subconscious mind, where your best thoughts might be. 
  • Proactively, do the deep thinking BEFORE the decision time comes: During the quiet periods, I would dig deep into the analytics, no matter what my level. I keep telling everyone that at every level, I wrote a monthly summary report on my brands, forcing me to stay on top of the brand. Every six months, I’d answer six simple questions: 1) where are we? 2) why are we here? 3) where could we be? 4) how do we get there? and 5) what are we doing to get there? Usually it was 2 or 3 bullets per question but it allowed me to stay planful yet flexible, knowing yet ready and on top of my game. You know it’s going slow motion because of how much thinking you do beyond the meeting, but everyone else thinks you’re moving fast. 
  • Next time you’re in a meeting, spend your time and energy asking great questions, not giving great answers: As the Brand Leader you are the thinker and decision maker on the team, surrounded by subject matter experts who know everything. The big secret about Brand Leaders we don’t always want to share is we don’t really know anything about anything. And that puts you in a very powerful position. I used to go into every meeting believing I’m the least knowledgeable person in the room, which is an advantage because I’m the one asking questions, not giving answers. Not only is it respectful to your experts, when you shift to this type of model, you’ll see that it’s a powerful way to move the group of experts. As a consultant, I’m paid for answers, and while my answers are good, my questions are even better.
  • Connect with your the “people” at your agency:  I bet you wait till your first creative meeting to have your first conversation with the creative people. What I found more useful was to have lunch with the creative team the day after the brief was released, mainly to give them a chance to ask any questions, but really just to get to know them. Keep it informal and relaxed.  At every stage of the production, talk to the experts, not with directives, but just to get to know them.  They’ll work harder for someone who talks to them?   Do you talk to the editor?  No one ever does. I did. And then when I needed to try something that my agency didn’t think could be done, I’d hear “let me give it a shot” by the editor. When you are your agencies favorite client, things go so easily and by slowing things down, it goes faster. Send thank you notes at each major stage, pride notes at each major win, and encouragement notes at each major bump. They show you’re human and emotional. 
  • Use THREE different types of Feedback for agencies: When giving feedback to your agencies, map out three levels of thinking time for the feedback and tell them ahead of time what you plan on doing:
      1. feedback during the presentation which is just pure gut reaction–it doesn’t mean much at all
      2. feedback following the presentation which is just your big picture instinct
      3. feedback 24 hours later which is well-thought through and detail oriented.
  • I’m not sure why the agency gets 3 weeks to come up with ideas but they want your instant feedback right away. Remember, agencies are fast thinkers and brand Leaders are slow thinkers.  Use the 3 levels of feedback to your advantage. Don’t mix the three levels of feedback up and be clear with everyone as to the expected process. Build it into the time line.  If agencies are smart, they’d present work creative ideas on a Thursday and allow their client the Friday to talk it through with the team and the weekend to think it over before getting final feedback on the Monday. You’ll get better ads if you let your clients think things through.    
  • Proactively Meet your sales people regularly, not just when there’s a problem or conflict.  Get to know their needs and come to them proactively with solutions that are a win for them, their customer and your brand.   I used to have quarterly lunches with each major account lead and just listen to their issues they were having.  It put me in a position of preparedness for when I needed to take action. 

By the way, I’m a quick-thinking creative INTP, so I needed to train myself to slow things down and do the thinking to go beyond just using my instincts, especially in a corporate setting where risk is avoided.  As Abe Lincoln said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

 

You will move faster if you take your time, slow it down and think.

 

Here’s a presentation on Strategic Thinking:

To read more about the Brand Leadership Center, click on this link: Brand Leadership Center  At Beloved Brands we offer a unique learning session on Strategic Thinking. Everyone in marketing thinks they are strategic. But what is it that makes someone strategic and how can you use that thinking in the role of a Brand Leader. With our Strategic Thinking program, Brand Leaders will learn how the elements of strategic thinking–focus, early win, leverage and gateway. They’ll look at this from a consumer/customer view, competitive strategy as well as visionary strategy. Through workshop breakouts, we’ll be able to try it out on their own business with hands-on coaching to help them improve their own strategies.  Here’s the outline:

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The 10 Reasons Brand Managers get fired


facebook adThere’s been a lot of great Assistant Brand Managers who get promoted and then are fired at the Brand Manager level. So that would beg the question: why were they mistakenly promoted? Just like in sports where they are fooled by size, we sometimes get fooled by Charisma. They seem impressive to us–whether it’s how they speak in the hallways or answer questions in a plans meeting. We think Charisma is a great starting ground for a leader, so hopefully they can learn to be analytical, strategic, creative and organized. Hopefully that Charismatic leader can get stuff done, stay on track, hand in their budgets on time, know how to turn a brand around, can write great brand plans, work with agencies and motivate the sales team etc…etc… But then we find out that they can’t do all that stuff. And after 18 months as a Brand Manager, we see they really are “just charismatic” and we remind ourselves of what we already knew: Being a Brand Manager really is hard.

Brand Managers don’t really get fired because they can’t deliver the results. That might happen at Director or VP level. But at the Brand Manager level, we’d look for other Blind Spots that might be leading to the poor results.

I don’t want to see anyone get fired, so use this list to avoid it. I’ve provided advice for each reason, hopefully helping you to discuss it pro-actively.

Top 10 Reasons why Brand Managers get fired:

  1. Struggle to Make Decisions: When these Brand Managers were ABMs they shined because they are the “super doer’s”, who can work the system, get things done on time and under budget. All the subject matter experts (forecasting, production, promotions) love them. But then get them into the Brand Manager seat and they freeze. They can do, but they can’t decide. They can easily execute someone else’s project list with flare, but they can’t come up with a project list of their own. For you to succeed, you have to work better on your decision-making process. You have to find methods for narrowing down the decisions. When you’re new to decisions, take the time to map out your thinking whether it’s pros and cons or a decision tree. It will eventually get faster for you and train your mind to make decisions.
  2. Not Analytical Enough: Those that can’t do the deep dive analytical thinking. They might have great instincts, but they only scratch the surface on the analytics, and it eventually catches them when they make a poor decision and they can’t explain why they went against the obvious data points. The real reason is they never saw those data points. When a senior leader questions you, they can usually tell if they have struggled enough with a problem to get to the rich solution or whether they just did the adequate thinking to get to an “ok” solution. Just because you are now a Brand Manager doesn’t mean you stop digging into the data. The analytical skills you learned as an ABM should be used at every level in your career right up to VP. As I moved up, I felt out of touch with the data so at every level up to VP, I used to do my own monthly share report just to ensure I was digging in and getting my hands mucky with the data. Because I had dug around in the data, I knew which of my Brand Managers had dug in as well and which Brand Managers hadn’t even read their ABM’s monthly report yet. Take the time to know the details of your business. Dig into the data and make decisions based on the depth of analysis you do. 
  3. Can’t Get Along: Conflicts, teamwork issues, communication. These Brand Managers struggle with sales colleagues or the subject matter experts (SME’s). They might be the type who speaks first, listens second. They go head-to-head to get their own way instead of looking for compromise. Yes, they might be so smart they think faster than everyone, but they forget to bring people along with their thinking. They start to leave a trail of those they burned and when the trail gets too big they get labelled as “tough to deal with”. Listen more–hear them out. The collection of SME’s will likely teach you more about marketing than your boss will. If you don’t use these people to enhance your skill, you’ll eventually crash and burn. And if they can’t work with you, they’ll also be the first to destroy your career. You aren’t the first superstar they’ve seen. And likely not the last. My recommendation to you is to remember that Leadership is not just about you being out front, but about you turning around and actually seeing people following you. In fact, it should be called “Follower-ship”.
  4. Not good with Ambiguity: Some Brand Managers opt for the safety of the easy and well-known answers. They struggle with the unknown and get scared of ambiguity. Brand Managers that become too predictable to their team create work in the market that also becomes predictable and fails to drive the brand. These Brand Managers are OK–they don’t really have a lot of wrong, but they don’t have a lot of right. You can put them on safe easy businesses, but you wouldn’t put them on the turn around or new products. Ambiguity is a type of pressure that not all of us are capable of handling easily, especially when they see Ambiguity and Time Pressure working against each other. Don’t ever settle for “ok” just because of a deadline. Always push for great. You have to learn to handle ambiguity. In fact revel in ambiguity. Have fun with it. Be Patient with Ideas. Never be afraid of an idea and never kill it quickly. As a leader, find ways to ask great questions instead of giving quick answers. Watch the signals you send that may suck the creativity energy out of your team. When you find a way to stay comfortable in the “ambiguity zone”, the ideas get better whether it’s the time pressure that forces the thinking to be simpler or whether it’s the performance pressure forces us to push for the best idea. So my recommendation to you is to just hold your breath sometimes and see if the work gets better.
  5. Too slow and stiff: The type of Brand Manager that is methodical to the extreme and they think everything through to the point of “Analysis Paralysis”.
    They never use instincts–and have the counter analytical answer to every “gut feel” solution that gets recommended. They have every reason why something won’t work but no answers for what will work. I have to admit that this type frustrates me to no end, because nothing ever gets done. They struggle to make it happen: they are indecisive, not productive, disorganized or can’t work through others. They are frustratingly slow for others to deal with. They keep missing opportunities or small milestones that causes the team to look slow and miss the deadlines. You have to start to show more flexibility in your approach. Borrow some of the thinking from dealing with ambiguity and making decisions. Realize there are options for every solution, no one perfect answer. 
  6. Bad people Manager: Most first time people managers screw up a few of their first 5 direct reports. It’s only natural. One of the biggest flaws for new Managers is to think “Hey it will take me longer to explain it to you, so why don’t I just do it myself this one time and you can do it next time”. They repeat this every month until we realized they aren’t teaching their ABM anything. And they became the Manager that none of the ABMs wanted to work for because you never learn anything. But as we keep watching great ABMs crashing and burning while under them, we start to wonder “you are really smart, but can you actually manage people?”. To be a great Brand Manager, you have to work on being a better people leader. We expect you to develop talent. Be more patient with your ABM. Become a teacher. Be more selfless in your approach to coaching. Take time to give them feedback that helps them, not feedback that helps you. If you don’t become a better people manager, you’ve just hit your peak in your career.
  7. Poor communicators, with manager, senior management or partners. They fail to adequately warn when there are potential problems. They leave their manager in the dark and the information comes their manager from someone else. They confuse partners because they don’t keep them aware of what’s going on. You have to become a better communicator. Make it a habit that as soon as you know something, your boss does as well–especially with negative news. It’s normal that we get fixated on solving the problem at hand that we forget to tell people. But that opens you up to risk–so cover your bases. 
  8. Never Follow Their Instincts: They forget that marketing also has a “Gut Feel” to it, taking all the data, making decisions and then getting to the execution and believing it by taking a risk. Too many times people fail because “they went along with it even though they didn’t like it”. You have to find ways to use your instincts. The problem is that sometimes your instincts are hidden away. You get confused, you feel the pressure to get things done and you’ve got everyone telling you to go for it. You get scared because you’re worried about your career and you want to do the ‘right thing’. But your gut is telling you it’s just not right. My rule is simple: if you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand. The worst type of marketer is someone who says “I never liked the brief” or “I never liked the ad”. At every touch point, keep reaching for those instincts and bring them out on the table.
  9. Can’t Think Strategically or Write Strategically: As you move up to Brand Manager, we expect you to be able to think conceptually, strategically and in an organized fashion. We also expect that to come through in your writing–whether that’s your Annual Brand Plan, monthly share report or just an email that you send. Be organized in your thinking–map it out. I do believe that every good strategy has four key elements: 1) Focus in either target or messaging 2) an Early win where you can see results 3) a Leverage point where you can take that early win and achieve a position power for your brand and finally 4) a Gateway to something even bigger for the brand. Every six months, I would find a quiet time to answer five key questions that would help me stay aware: 1) Where are we? 2) Why are we here? 3) Where could we be? 4) How can we get there? and 5) What do we have to do to get started? In an odd way, the more planning you do, the more agile you’ll be, because you’ll know when it’s ok to “go off plan” 
  10. They Don’t Run the Brand, they Let The Brand Run Them. Some Brand Managers end up in the spin zone where they are disorganized, frantic and not in touch with their business. They miss deadlines, look out of control and things just stockpile on one another. They may take pride in how long they work or how many things they are getting done on their to-do list. But they are out of control and the business is absolutely killing them. They just don’t know it yet. My advice to you is to stay in Control so you hit the deadlines and stay on budget. Dig in and know your business so you don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge. Instil processes that organize and enable you and your team, so that it frees you up your time to push projects through and for doing the needed strategic thinking. Stay conceptual–avoid getting stuck in the pennies or decimals–so you can continue to drive the strategy of your brand.

Now let’s be honest: You likely won’t be fired for just one of these. You likely will see 3 or 4 of these come together and begin to showcase that you’re just not up for being a Brand Manager. But even 1 or 2 will keep you stuck at the Brand Manager level and you’ll notice your bosses are hesitant to put you on the tough assignments.

But the big question is what do you do about it. My hope is that you can use the list as a way to course correct on something you might already be doing. We each have a few of these de-railers, some that you can easily over-come but others that will take a few years to really fix. Those who seek out feedback, welcome it and act on it will be the successful ones. I hope that your company has a process of giving feedback or that you get lucky to have a manager that cares about your career and is willing to give you the tough feedback. But if not, seek it. Be honest with yourself and try to fix one of these per quarter.

I hope you can figure out the blind spots before your manager does.

To read a presentation on careers:

 

Articles on the Four Levels of Marketing

  • Assistant Brand Manager: It’s about doing; analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future. It’s not an easy job and only 50% get promoted to Brand Manager. To read a story on how to be successful as an ABM, click on the following hyper link: How to be a successful ABM
  • Brand Manager: It becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan. Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report. The good ones let the ABM do their job; the bad ones jump in too much, frustrated and impatient rather than acting as a teacher. To read about being a successful Brand Manager, read: How to be a successful Brand Manager
  • Marketing Director: It’s more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing. Your role is to set the standard and then hold everyone to that standard. To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best. Let your best people shine, grow and push you. Follow this hyper link to read more: How to be a successful Marketing Director
  • VP Marketing or CMO: It’s about leadership, vision and getting the most from people. If you are good at it, you won’t need to do any marketing, other than challenging and guiding your people to do their best work. You have to deliver the results, and very few figure out the equation that the better the people means the better the work and in the end the better the results. Invest in training as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged. Use teaching moments to share your wisdom. Read the following article for how to be a success: How to be a Successful VP of Marketing

 

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The 10 most abused words in Marketing

 

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On a daily basis I hear Marketing buzz words bantered about and it becomes obvious people say them and don’t really even know what they mean. I think people use the sacred marketing words like relevant, equity or insights, because they figure no one will challenge them. And of course, everyone puts “strategic thinker” on their Linked In profile. The problem I see is that a generation of Brand Leaders have not been properly trained and it’s starting to show. For the past 20 years, companies have said “on the job” training is good enough. But now the lack of training is starting to show up. The mis-use of these words can be linked to the lack of understanding of the fundamentals of marketing.

Here are the 10 words mis-used and even abused by Marketers.

Relevant

When I was running the marketing department at J&J, I jokingly banned this word because it was so abused.  I found that when a marketer would say “we need to make sure it’s relevant”, the room would go silent.  Then there’s a pause and someone would add their own brilliance “yeah, we have to be relevant”.  The room went silent again.  So then I would usually ask a simple question “so what do you mean relevant?” and it seemed to stump most of my marketers. Relevant has become the marketing equivalent of the word “nice”, because people say it so much now, they have no clue what they mean by it.  My mom, Megan Fox and my new iPhone speakers are all “nice”.  Yes, of course, marketing should be relevant. But what exactly do YOU mean when YOU say the word relevant?  Write that answer down and use that instead of just saying “we need to be relevant”.

Consumer Insights

Most briefs that I see don’t really have a consumer insight.  I see facts about the consumer (consumers brush their teeth 1.6 times per day), wishful thinking (half of those who try our product love it and say they’ll buy it again) or even behaviors (consumers like to work out and watch what they eat).  None of these are really insights at all.  Insight My definition of Insight is Quite Different.  Insight is not something that consumers never knew before.  That would be knowledge or news, but not insight.  It’s not data or fact about your brand that you want to tell.  Real insight goes a layer or two deeper to help with the cause and effect.  Oddly enough, Insight is something that everyone already knows.  Here is my definition:  Insight comes to life when it’s told in such a captivating way that makes consumers stop and say “hmm, I thought I was the only who felt like that”.  The dictionary definition of the word Insight is  “seeing below the surface”.  To get deeper, keep asking yourself “so what does that mean for the consumer” until you have an “AHA moment”.  What are the beliefs, attitudes or behaviors that help explain how they think, feel or act in relationship to your brand or category. And how do you serve up the insight in a way that captivates consumers. If you’re working on helping consumers Quit Smoking, it’s not an insight to say “people try to quit 7 times on their own before asking for help.”  You need to go a layer deeper.  Get in the shoes of that consumer and use their voice and you’ll find an insight like:  “I know I should quit.  I’ve tried to quit so many times, it’s ridiculous., I’m not myself, I’m grouchy, irritable and I feel out of control. Quitting Smoking Sucks and I can’t do it on my own anymore.”

Brand equity

The term was first coined in the 1980s, as part of the RJR Nabisco take-over when they couldn’t explain why they were willing to pay a higher price than the pure book value of the assets. The word has strayed since in two different directions–those like Brand Finance and Interbrand who still use it to correctly attribute it to the VALUE of the brand and those who mis-use the word when they attribute to the HEALTH of the brand. Where it gets abused is when it has become  a catch-all statement for the “unexplainable”.  They’ll say “the final scene of the TV is really emotional and should really drive the equity of this brand”.  We look at Brand Health and Brand Wealth separately and then use the model to predict future success of the brand. As Brand Leaders, it’s actually important to keep them separate so that the actions you take hit the right spot on keeping your brand healthy and wealthy.  But Brand Equity is about the wealth side, linked to Value.  There are 8 ways to drive Brand Value: Pricing, Trading the consumer up or down, Product Costs, Marketing Costs, Stealing other users, Getting current users to use more, Enter new categories and Create new Uses for your brand.  Those are not ambiguous at all.   To read more, click on 8 Simple Ways that Brand Leaders can impact Profits

Target market

I’m in shock at how Marketers list out their target market on the creative brief.  I once read a brief with a target that said “18-65, new customers, current customers and even employees”.  That pretty much covers everyone but prisoners and tourists.  A well-defined target should be a combination of demographics (age, income level, male/female) and psychographics (attitude, beliefs and behaviors).  I actually try to put an age demographic on every brief.  Call me old-fashioned or just realistic.  The media you buy, the talent you put in the ad, the stores you choose to sell to, or even the claims you make are likely going to have an age component, so you’re just kiddng yourself by saying “we are more about psychographics than demographics”.  When it comes to age, I try to push for a maximum of a 5 year gap.  This doesn’t mean you won’t sell to people outside of this target, but it does help give focus to you. 

Alienate

This word drives me bonkers and it seems to be growing or at least I keep hearing it. The best brands have focus, the worst don’t.  The best marketing programs also have focus, and the worst don’t.  If you want to be a great marketer, you must have focus–defined target, positioning, strategies and  execution. Stop being so worried and cautious that you alienate older consumers or your current consumers so much that you water down your marketing programs so much we have no clue who you’re talking to  or what you’re even saying.  As long as you are staying consistent and true to the brand, no one should be alienated by what you have to say and who you say it to.

Benefits

There’s an old selling expression:  “features tell and benefits sell”.  But I’m seeing that Marketers have become so obsessed with shouting their message as loud as they can, most brand communication is wall-to-wall claims about how great you are.  Brand Leaders should be organizing their Customer Value Proposition into rational and emotional benefits.   What I recommend you do is list out the brand features and put yourself in the shoes of your consumer and ask “what do I get?” (for rational benefits) and “how does that make me feel?” (for the emotional benefits).  Your brand’s communication should be a combination of the two. Here’s an article on how to write a benefit driven Positioning statement: How to write a winning Brand Positioning Statement

Brief

It’s called a brief, because it’s…BRIEF.  mini briefI saw a creative brief last year that was 8 pages long. And even that length, I couldn’t find one benefit or one consumer insight.  Every brief should be one page maximum. I’ve done a 1000 briefs at this point, and it’s relatively easy to nail the one page brief.  Here’s how to write a creative brief:  How to write an Effective Creative Brief

Brand

Too many companies have now separate Brand from Product marketing, especially on the Master Brand type companies.  The “Brand” department handles PR, brand advertising, websites and events.  The “product” department handles new products, pricing, distribution, and product-oriented or promotion-oriented advertising.  Brand and Product should NEVER be separated.  It’s crazy.  Our definition of a brand: “A Brand is a unique idea, perceived in the minds and hearts of the consumer, consistently delivered by the experience, creating a bond, power and profit, beyond what the product itself could achieve.”    To have a successful brand, you need to connect with consumers based on a BIG IDEA for your brand and then line up the 5 connectors behind that big Idea.   You need to make sure the Brand Promise connects the brand’s main Benefit matches up to the needs of consumers. Once knowing that promise, everything else feeds off that Promise. For Volvo the promise is Safety, for Apple it is Simplicity and FedEx it might be Reliability. It’s important to align your Strategy and Brand Story pick the best ways to communicate the promise, and then aligning your Innovation and the Experience so that you deliver to the promise. 

New Media

New Media is around 15-20 years old now. I’m not sure I hear the term “new media” on Mad Men when they talk TV ads, but that’s how crazy it sounds at this point.  A better way to look at today’s Media is to manage all 5 types: Paid, Earned, Search, Social and Home media.  Paid is what we think of the traditional media (TV, Print, OOH, Radio and Digital options). With EARNED media, you need to create and manage the news cycle with mainstream news, expert reviews and blogs.  SEARCH Engine Optimization balances earned, key words and paid search.  SOCIAL is about engaging users where they are expressing themselves through sharing and influencing. HOME media is where you host your website where you can use as a source of information, influence or even closing the sale.  

Strategic

To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first. Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. d-dayThey are thinkers and planning who can see connections. Non Strategic Thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly, and will get frustrated in the delays of thinking. They think doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They are frustrated by strategic thinkers.  But to be a great marketer, you must be a bit of a chameleon. While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand. They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action. And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff we need done. I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and non-strategic, almost equally so. You must be able to talk with both types, at one minute debating investment choices and then be at a voice recording deciding on option A or B. You need to make tough choices but you also have to inspire all those non-strategic thinkers to be great on your brand instead of being great on someone else’s brand.

 

It’s OK to use these 10 words, as long as you use them right.  

 

 

How loved is your brand?

We believe a brand’s source of power is the emotional feelings it generates. With that power comes added profitability.

In the consumer’s mind, brands sit on a Brand Love Curve, with brands going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved Brand for Life. At the Beloved stage, demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings. Consumers become outspoken fans. It’s this connection that helps drive power for your brand: power versus competitors, versus customers, versus suppliers and even versus the same consumers you’re connected with. The farther along the curve, the more power for the brand. It’s important that you understand where your brand sits on the Love Curve and begin figuring out how to move it along towards becoming a Beloved Brand. With the power of connection, the brand can leverage that power into increased growth and profits. To read more, follow this presentation.

 

 

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This is the Idiot Curve!!!

In every job I’ve ever been in, no matter what level, or what company, I rode the IDIOT CURVE.  The idiot curve lasts about 90 days, coincidental to what most companies call probation period.  The basic rule of the Idiot Curve is: You get dumber before you get smarter. 

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During the idiot curve, the first thing to go is your instincts. Your brain is only so big, that all the new facts you learn, that when pressed, you reach for one of these new facts instead of using your instincts.  The second thing to go is your ability to make decisions.  New jobs are always stressful–trying to impress your boss, trying to maintain composure with ambiguity, and trying to deliver when you aren’t sure how to do that yet.  Most of us think that stress impacts execution first.  But really it impacts decision-making–you might find yourself frozen like a dear in the headlights or you might make choices you think you are supposed to make instead of  taking the time to think things through.  The third thing to go is your natural strengths. Everyone has natural strengths and natural weaknesses. But in these early days, you spend too much time, covering up the weaknesses, that you don’t allow your strengths to fully show.  

The Idiot Curve keeps showing up whether you’re a new ABM, Brand Manager, Director or a VP.  The challenge for your is to learn as much as you can, and ensure your curve only lasts 90 days.  

New Assistant Brand Manager:

When you first land an Assistant Brand Manager (ABM) job in marketing, there’s just so much to learn, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I find it takes 3 months to get back to being just as smart as you were on the first day.  It’s over-whelming at first, and yet you see all these other Assistant Brand Managers doing the things you are struggling with, it’s even more intimidating.  But the idiot curve is inevitable. No matter how smart you are, how much you try to fight the idiot curve, it’s there.  It shows up differently for each person.  So my advice is instead of trying to fight it, I recommend you just ride the curve.  In the end, the ABM job is a stepping stone to Brand Manager. Many painful days, with constant bumps and bruises as you learn and as you strive for getting promoted.  So what separates the ok ABM from the great ABM that gets promoted?  There are two factors that I have seen in a consistent manner:  #1: They get what they need and #2:  What they need is the right thing to do.   Very simply put, great ABMs get both.   The rest either fail on #1 or #2.    A great ABM is able to tell stories, where others just see data.  The great ones take action and moves before being asked. Even in a busy job as a do-er, the best ABMs find a way to put their strategic thoughts forward.  A great ABM is accountable in the ownership of their work–they have to be, because the Brand Manager has to be an owner and if we can’t see you own your work, how can we see you own your brand.  

New Brand Manager:

In the first few months as a Brand Manager, they keep doing the ABM role because that’s what they know and what they are comfortable doing. They keep recommending and acting small rather than start deciding and stepping up to the leadership role.  If they have a direct report, they will frustrate the hell out of their ABM by doing the stuff the ABM should do. Don’t tell your ABM this dirty secret, but most managers suck at their first five direct reports.  Now don’t use this as excuse, but the only way you’ll be good at #6 is if you learn from the first five.  I remember a new Brand Manager telling me this his role was to get his ABM promoted, and he would do everything to make sure that happens.  I said “what if your ABM can’t do the job, and we have to let them go?”  Yes, it’s honorable to do that, but not always realistic.  Once you start to show ownership, you’ll be able to get out of the idiot curve. You Run the Brand, Don’t Let the Brand Run You: Be thoroughly organized, well planned and know the pulse of your business.  In an odd way, the more planning you do, the more agile you’ll be, because you’ll know when it’s ok to “go off plan”Stay in Control:  Hit the Deadlines, don’t give the appearance that you’re not in control. Know Your Business and don’t get caught off-guard.  Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge.  What separates many Brand Managers is the inability and even refusal of some Brand Managers to actually rely on their instincts, instead of just the textbook answer.   It’s not easy to sit there without the answer, but sometimes if you just wait a bit longer and keep pushing for an even better answer, it will come to you.  My challenge to you: Revel in ambiguity. Enjoy the uncertainty and find the answers to the unknown.  A great BM takes ownership of the brand.  The best ones provide the vision and the strategies to match up to that vision. The great BMs learn how to be a people manager and they spend the effort to make their ABM as good as can be.  The best Brand Managers learn to show composure in the face of pressure–the pressure to deliver results, hit deadlines, face ambiguity and build relationships.    

New Director

At the Director role, just like they had a hard time they continue to be the Brand Manager. They get nervous where they shouldn’t, whether it’s with senior people in other functions or even within marketing. They prefer to keep doing, and in those moment there is nothing “to do”, they walk around and start doing other people’s jobs.  But this is the first role where being a leader is more important than being a do-er.  Ensure a policy of open communication with no surprises:  Make sure you keep your team informed and involved.  Keep senior management informed. You are the champion of the team.  The best ideas are those that erupt out from the brand team–not from a top down perspective.  All the best work I was part of, met a large degree of resistance.  You have to expect this and work through it. It will now be your role to make sure the great ideas happen, and that no one beyond you sees the bad ideas. Once you get past the first 90 days, you have to begin focusing on creating a consistency for your team.  You are the leader and they have to understand you. You have to hold them to a consistent hight standard of work. You need to be consistent in how you think.  You need to be consistent and even predictable in how you show up to your people.  No mood swings.  No changing your mind constantly, which just creates spin.  You need to be the decision maker on stuff, or nothing gets done.  At this level, you need to show up consistently to the sales team so they can rely on you as a partner.

New VP

First time at the executive level is difficult. At the VP level,the first few months are lonely as you no longer have peers you can bounce ideas off. Your former peers will treat you differently, almost at arms lengths.  Some may even be mad you got the job.  But most, now assume their career rests in your hands, and they will treat you as the boss. They aren’t your friends anymore.  Sorry.  Your new peers assume you can do the job, and they don`t want to hear your problems.  I remember being a new VP, and having a “people issue” on my team, and I was sitting with my sales peer.  I thought this was a great bonding opportunity to ask for help and advice from my new peer.  He said “we all have problems, good luck on that one”.   While your people run the brands and the execution, you should run the P&L and essentially run all the marketing processes.  I do have a believe that if you focus on the People and the Results will come.  You should be spending 50% of your time on people.  The counter to this believe is bad people will hold you back.  You can’t do their job, nor compensate for their weaknesses.  You either make them better or move them out.  You don’t do anything anymore. At all.  Let your people do it, let them own it and let them shine.  Not only do you not do anything, you also don’t really know anything.  You should be the dumbest person in every meeting–well, the least knowledgeable.  Not knowing the details is actually a power–because you can use your instincts more.  And instead of having your head filled with great ANSWERS, it should be filled with great QUESTIONS,  If you think you are a powerful leader because you dictate every move on the team, just wait till you shift towards the power that comes from asking questions.  

Tips to make the Idiot curve a little easier  

  1. Say “I’m new” A LOT!!!!   And let your guard down and say “I have never done this before, so if you could help me out that would be great” to as many people as you can.  It’s my experience that people are willing to help those who let their guard down a little.  Just not the same person every day, or that one person will think you are the biggest idiot ever.  In other words, spread out your stupidity with a little for everyone around you.  
  2. Respect subject matter experts.  The oddest thing about marketing is you have to get people with way more knowledge and experience to follow you.  Not an easy balance.  But realize, they see so many marketers come and go.  Marketers don’t really do anything, but they do get to make decisions on almost everything.  When a marketer tells a subject matter expert what to do, they weaken themselves.  Be realistic:  you don’t know any thing and yet you just ignored the one person that does.  Ask them what you should do.  It doesn’t take away your decision-making power.  They’ll be more motivated to help you.  
  3. Keep reaching for your instincts.  Take your time.  Even take a breath.  Think back to what you would say if you were thinking clearly, free from all that new information that is cluttering your brain. Listen to your inner thoughts, they are in there.   Too many times people fail because “they went along with it even though they didn’t like it”.  The problem is that sometimes your instincts are hidden away.  You get confused, you feel the pressure to get things done and you’ve got everyone telling you to go for it.  You get scared because you’re worried about getting promoted and want to do the ‘right thing’.  But your gut is telling you it’s just not right.  My rule is simple:  if you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand.  The worst type of marketer is someone who says “I never liked the brief” or “I never liked the ad”.  If you blame your agency or team after the fact, I have a word for people like you:  “useless”.
  4. Questions are a source of power.  When you’re new to marketing, ask “how do i do this?”.  When you’re a Leader, ask your experts “what do you think we should do?”   And at the executive level, steer the team by being the one that challenges with well thought strategic questions that make your team think, push for their instincts and make good decisions.  
  5. Make sure your idiot curve ONLY lasts 90 days.  The more you push yourself to learn as much as you can in that short 90 day window, allows you to be able to do the job at the end of the 90 days.  As you look at the curve again, you have to be as smart at day 90 as you were at day 1. If you are three years into a job and saying “how do i do this?”, it won’t be pretty.  Trust me, I’ve managed some, worked along side others and even worked for a few whose idiot curve seemed to last for years. Eventually, it caught up to them.  

 

 Don’t fight the Idiot Curve. We all face it. Ride it. Learn from it. And go beyond It.  

To read a presentation on careers:

Articles on the Four Levels of Marketing
  • Assistant Brand Manager:  It’s about doing; analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future.  It’s not an easy job and only 50% get promoted to Brand Manager.  To read a story on how to be successful as an ABM, click on the following hyper link:  How to be a Successful ABM and get Promoted
  • Brand Manager:  It becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan.  Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report.  The good ones let the ABM do their job; the bad ones jump in too much, frustrated and impatient rather than acting as a teacher.  To read about being a successful Brand Manager, read:  How to be a Successful Brand Manager
  • Marketing Director:  It’s more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing.  Your role is to set the standard and then hold everyone to that standard.  To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best.  Let your best people shine, grow and push you.  Follow this hyper link to read more:   How to be a Successful Marketing Director
  • VP Marketing or CMO:  It’s about leadership, vision and getting the most from people.  If you are good at it, you won’t need to do any marketing, other than challenging and guiding your people to do their best work. You have to deliver the results, and very few figure out the equation that the better the people means the better the work and in the end the better the results. Invest in training as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged.  Use teaching moments to share your wisdom. Read the following article for how to be a success:  How to be a Successful VP of Marketing
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What should you do when your PRODUCT is better than your BRAND

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This article is not about we could go on about how product and brand coincide.  Yes, they should be one in the same. They should work together and play off one another. All that makes perfect sense to every marketer.  But running a brand, connected to a P&L and delivering results forces marketers to go beyond theory.  As a marketer, many times you have ask a very important question:  

What is better, the pure performance delivered by the product or the how well the idea of the brand connects with consumers?  

Here’s a few examples where there are differences.  I worked in the allergy category on Zyrtec (Reactine) and the product is better than the brand, competing against Claritin where the brand is better than the product.  In electronics, Samsung’s product is better than the brand, while Apple’s brand is better than the product. I’ve owned a Toyota for 10 years which is an amazing product:  high resale value, low maintenance, quality experience.  But can you define the Toyota brand easily?   On the other hand, I bought ONE and only ONE Volkswagen Beetle.  I connected to the Beetle brand’s non-conformist spirit, the expressed creativity and nostalgic style. But, that product was a pain. Constant breakdowns and repairs.  And we have all seen how Pepsi used their great tasting products to make gains through the Pepsi challenge in the 1970s and 80s.    

When you have a product that beats the brand, you need to figure out how to create a brand that matches up to the product, because when the Brand is better, you’d better push that R&D to start to fill in any gaps. 

Here’s the Game Plan:

Here’s a 5 point plan that will help make the most of your great product, while at the same time building a following and creating a brand. 

1. Drive Trial by emphasizing Substance over Style

Early on, you have to create a bigger sales base by standing behind your greatest asset:  that amazing performing product.  It makes common sense, right.  But then why aren’t you doing it?  When I first got on Zyrtec (Reactine) they had some fluffy advertising that tried to replicate the “freedom” positioning that Claritin owned.  Our advertising drove more brand link for Claritin than us.  Yet, in blind tests, over 83% of consumers noticed a positive impact, compared to only 38% for Claritin.  We narrowed our entire plan down to one strategy, by driving trial.  Everything, from the advertising to sampling to doctor recommendations came down to trial and we were able to make significant share gains on Claritin. 

2. Establish a unique brand position

You can’t rely on trial alone, because it could be a very slow and expensive pathway to success.   USP 2.0Don’t think of a brand position as just something you will advertise, but rather something that gives your brand focus. You must pick a focused target market, by putting your resources against those consumers who are most motivated by what you have to offer.  A focused target impacts all your executional choices of where you advertise, distribution choices, future product innovation and pricing.  Shift your focus from product features (what you do) to benefits (what they get) which immediately increases your power with consumers.  Layer in two reasons to believe, that re-enforces the benefit and enables you to tell a consistent and quick “elevator speech” about your brand.  The focused brand story makes sure that everyone in your entire organization follows the same story at every touch point of your brand. 

3. Use key influencers to highlight your product strengths

If your category leverages key influencers whether it’s product reviewers (food critics), experts (doctors) or on-line user-generated review sites (Yelp or Trip Advisor) then you need to take full advantage of each of these tools to your full advantage.  But there needs to be a constant and consistent effort to ensure your product is best represented.   Imagine getting the review below on your hotel. 

TripAdvisor-review-by-Laurant-Hotel-Quebec

4.  Get your followers to talk about how good you are

With social media,it’s a great opportunity to leverage those who already the product and have them influence their followers.  Slide1Most marketers have been trained to try to INTERRUPT the consumer in a busy part of their day and then YELL at them over and over.  It was all about AWARENESS-PURCHASE-LOYALTY where Awareness leads to conversion to Purchase which then the brand experience leads to Loyalty.  The new school of marketing is all about LOYALTY-AWARENESS-PURCHASE where the most loyal users will be the ones driving Awareness and the influence of the conversion to purchase.  It’s no longer about yelling at strangers on TV.  Instead, you have to engage your most loyal consumers, and they become the medium for reaching new users as they WHISPER advice to their friends.  These new tools are a great opportunity for you to get the most satisfied consumers to sell the product on your behalf.  Brands have also leveraged their own social media sites to act as listening forums for feedback on how to get better.

5. Layer in emotional benefits

Most product oriented brands avoid the emotional elements of their brand. I would recommend you walk before you run, and use the emotional benefits as a way to back up what you’re doing on the product side.  It seems that not only do consumers have a hard time expressing their emotions about a brand, but so do Brand Managers.   Companies like Hotspex have mapped out all the emotional zones for consumers.   I’m not a researcher, but if you’re interested in this methodology contact Hotspex at http://www.hotspex.biz  Leverage this type of research and build your story around the emotions that best fit your consumer needs.  Leveraging Hotspex, I’ve mapped out 8 zones in a simplistic way below:

Within each of the zones, you can find emotional words that closely align to the need state of the consumer and begin building the emotional benefits within your Customer Value Proposition.  It almost becomes a cheat sheet for Brand Managers to work with.  But you want to just own one emotional zone, not them all.  

It is time to get your Brand in line with the quality of your Product

 

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Do you want to be an amazing Brand Leader?  We can help you.  

Read more on how to utilize our Brand Leadership Learning Center where you will receive training in all aspects of marketing whether that’s strategic thinking, brand plans, creative briefs, brand positioning, analytical skills or how to judge advertising.  We can customize a program that is right for you or your team.  We can work in person, over the phone or through Skype.  Ask us how we can help you. 

At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential.  Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles:

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