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.  



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 day Apple’s Arrogance cost themselves a very loyal customer

applelogoI love Apple.  I own a MacBook Air, an iMac, iPad mini and an iPhone 4S. My kids both have iPhones and MacBook Pros.  But yesterday, I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 3.  Whaaaat?   Yes, that’s right.  A Samsung.  

I still feel weird about it.  But I’ll recover. I know this article will bring out the Apple lovers.  Don’t worry, I’m one of you.  But with my new phone, I feel like a cult member who snuck out of the compound one night and drooled when I saw the Samsung phone.  I could see it was light years ahead of my phone. I feel the same way I felt back in 2010 when I escaped my Blackberry cult and bought my iPhone.  

Two hard realities for most people in the Apple army to realize.

  1. Apple is a big mass corporate brand. It’s no longer an artistic challenger brand.  That will be some tough medicine for the most loyal of Apple users who first bought into the brand in the 1980s.  
  2. Apple’s post Steve Jobs innovation has been incremental and not leap frog.  The reality is that R&D pipelines are long lead cycle times, so this is really still Jobs’ pipeline.  But it’s relatively dry compared to the previous decade of riches.  

Apple has changed:  They’ve moved from the challenger brand to the “king of the castle” brand.   Apple used to be the alternative, anti-corporate, artistic, “we try harder” type brand.  IBM was the BMW, blue suit and polished shoes brand, while Apple was VW Bug, tee shirt and sandals brand.  But as much as Apple fought off the arrogant brands like IBM, Microsoft and Sony, they’ve now become that brand. And with that shift, we now see an attitude change–we are seeing a certain Apple arrogance that almost says “come on, where else are you going to go?”  That’s human nature to feel that way as most who now work at Apple are now cult members who joined Apple because they loved the brand.  But that arrogance has a danger to it of thinking you can do no wrong and feel no real competition. Confidence is healthy, arrogance is not. 

Apple has slowed down:  Sales are still strong but thats as the laggard type mass market now enjoys the lead generation products of a few years ago. Next time you’re in an Apple store, look at the table where they are teaching classes and you’ll see a few Senior Citizens. Sales and margins are seeing record highs the past year, but since the middle of 2012, the stock price has floated up and down around $600. If you held stock for the past 24 months, you’re at a break even position.  The high sales are how of how Apple is  doing now, but the stock price is an indication the market is still confused by Apple’s future. If the big play for Apple is China, there’s a good likelihood North America won’t see any leap frog advances for a few years.

I write about Brands all the time.  Samsung has a better product than they do a brand. The reality is the Samsung phone is a better product. It is faster, bigger, and has so many more features than the iPhone. 

Yesterday, I went into my Apple store to upgrade my Iphone 4S to a 5S.  And I asked the strange question:  “so, I’m a current iPhone user and Apple lover, and wondering what price discount that gets me”.  I guess I was using my opening line from when I last bought a car.  It seems like buying a car, so why not. Plus my Scottish blood makes me always eager to save a few bucks.  The guy in the blue shirt looked at me strangely and said “the price of the new iPhone 5S would be $299 with a two year plan.”  So I said, “so there’s no real benefit for me, being an owner of so many Apple products to staying with the Apple brand?”  And he got a bit huffy and said “other than owning a beautiful phone…no”. The guy got up and walked away on me, almost mad that I would even ask.  I felt snubbed.  I wasn’t really expecting a big discount or anything.  But nothing. Here I am in club. And I would get the same deal as a customer walking in off the street. I’m loyal to Apple, but is Apple loyal back to me?  Nope. 

And I smiled like that cult member who could now see a bit of freedom.

So, I went and bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

The most Beloved Brands have to attack themselves before being attacked by competitors.  There’s a reason why Starbucks closed every store for one day to retrain their baristas.  They attacked themselves before competitors could.  And there’s a reason why Sony has lost market leadership in every category they play in.  Arrogance.  I’m afraid Apple’s arrogance has them blindly marching forward, feeling invincible knowing the passion of their cult will follow.  I’m only one customer.  No big deal. But once you’re done fulfilling all the orders of the laggards, then what?  The biggest point of being a beloved brand is to love the consumer.  

I guess like many relationships, I hit my breaking point.  And the guy in the blue shirt basically said “it’s not you, it’s me”.   Now, let me figure out how to send an email on my new phone.  


As Oscar Wilde said: “Never love anyone who treats you like you are ordinary”

To go deeper on the Apple, here’s an article  I wrote 18 months ago, outlining how Apple is not delivering on their brand promise:   Apple: What Goes Up, Might Come Down  Not much has changed since.  


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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How to match up the internal and external connections of your brand.

There are too many Brands where what gets said inside the corporate office is completely different than what gets said in the marketplace.  Moreover, there are brands who only view “messaging” as something Brand does in TV ads or through logos.  At its most simple state, if you say “simple” on TV ads, then consumers should experience simplicity right away, your R&D people better be looking into new simple technologies, your technical service department should speak in simple common language, your payment check out better be simple and everyone in your entire company should be working towards simple.  This is why Apple is such a great brand.  

It starts with the Big Idea of your Brand

I’ve always heard how Brand is the hub of the organization and everything should revolve around the Brand. While it makes sense, it’s just talk unless you are managing your business based on your brand’s Big Idea throughout every inch of your organization. Everyone connected to the brand, should fully understand the brand’s Big Idea. And when I say “everyone”, I’m talking about everyone in the entire organization, including Sales, Finance, Production, R&D, HR and Marketing, as well as everyone outside the organization that’s agencies or employees at your retailers.

The Brand’s Big Idea (some call it the Brand Essence) is the most concise and inspiring definition of the Brand. For Volvo, it’s “Safety”, while BMW might be “Performance” and Mercedes is “Luxury”. Volvo has stood for safety for almost 60 years, long before safety even registered with consumers. Here is the Tool I use to figure out a Brand’s Big Idea.  The model revolves around four quadrants that surround and yet help to define the Brand:

  1. Brand’s personality: human descriptors that express the brand’s style, tone and attitude.
  2. Products and Services: features, attributes, and functional characteristics that are embedded in what we sell.
  3. Internal Beacons: the internal views or purpose of the brand, why people believe their brand can win, what inspires, motivates and challenges.
  4. Consumer Views: honest assessment of how the consumer sees the brand, the good and bad.  

big ideaHow this tool works best with a team is that we normally brainstorm 3-4 words in each of the four quadrants and then try to form those words into a sentence for each quadrant. After all 4 quadrants are filled, we then looking collectively, we begin to frame the brand’s Big Idea with a phrase that embodies the entirety of the brand. As I facilitate sessions using this tool, it’s almost magical as we see the brand really come to life.

The Five Brand Connectors

Once you have your Big Idea, you should then use it to frame the 5 different connectors needed to set up a very strong bond between your brand and your consumers.

  1. The brand’s promise sets up the positioning, as you focus on a key target with one main benefit you offer.  Brands need to be better, different or cheaper. Or else not around for very long. ”Me-too” brands have a short window before being squeezed out. How relevant, simple and compelling the brand positioning is impacts the potential love for the brand.
  2. The most beloved brands create an experience that over-delivers the promise. How your culture and organization sets up can make or break that experience. Hiring the best people, creating service values that employees can deliver against and having processes that end service leakage. The culture attacks the brand’s weaknesses and fixes them before the competition can attack.  With a Beloved Brand, the culture and brand become one.
  3. Brands also make focused strategic choices that start with identifying where the brand is on the Brand Love Curve going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and all the way to Beloved status. Marketing is not just activity, but rather focused activity–based on strategy with an ROI mindset. Where you are on the curve might help you make strategic and tactical choices such as media, innovation and service levels.
  4. The most beloved brands have a freshness of innovation, staying one-step ahead of the consumers.  The idea of the brand helps acting as an internal beacon to help frame the R&D.  Every new product has to back that idea.  At Apple, every new product must deliver simplicity and at Volvo, it must focus on safety.  
  5. Beloved brands can tell the brand story through great advertising in paid media, through earned media either in the mainstream press or through social media.  Beloved Brands use each of these media choices to connect with consumers and have a bit of magic to their work.


Using the Brand’s Big Idea to Create a Brand Strategic Road Map

Having the brand road map on one page can help align everyone that works on a brand.   This is especially useful when managing a Branded House or Master Brand where there are various people in your organization that each run a small part of the brand.  The road map helps guide everyone and keep everyone aligned. Here’s the one I use that has all the key elements that help define the brand, at the center-point is the Big Idea and the 5 key connectors we talked about—promise, strategy, story, freshness and experience.


Key Elements of the Brand Strategy Road Map

  • Brand Vision:   End in Mind Achievement.  What do you want the brand to become?  Think 10 years out: if you became this one thing, you would know that you are successful.  Ideally it is Qualitative (yet grounded in something) and quantitative (measurable) it should be motivating and enticing to get people focused.  
  • Purpose: Start with what’s in you:  Why do you exist?  Why do you wake up in the morning?   What’s your purpose or cause behind your brand?   Very personal and connects to your own story.  In the spirit of Simon Sinek:  “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.
  • Brand Values How do you want your people to show up?   What type of service do you want?  How much emphasis on innovation?   What type of people do you want to hire?  What behavior should be rewarded and what behavior is offside.  Having the right Brand Values will help you answer these questions.   The Brand Values become an extension of what the Brand Leader wants the brand to stand for.
  • Goals: While the vision serves as a 10-year big goal, it’s also important to have annual goals to push and challenge everyone in the organization.  It’s a great way to ensure milestones on the pathway to the vision are being hit. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive)
  • Strategies: These are potential choices you must make in HOW to get to the vision. Good strategy has focus, early win, leverage and a gateway to something even bigger. There are four main types of strategy: 1) consumer oriented 2) competitive oriented 3) operational and 4) financial. My recommendation is that Master Brands have 3-5 key strategies, but never more.  This forces you to focus.  
  • Tactics: Activities and executions that fit under the strategies. This could be advertising, media, sales, events, social media and professional influence.   I recommend focusing on 3 key tactical areas per strategy, continuing to make sure that you focus.  

The Big Idea helps Guide the Brand’s Management

 The Big Idea should help frame 

  • Brand Plan that drives the business for the upcoming year or the next 5 years 
  • Brand Positioning that connects to the consumer through marketing communications Slide1
  • Customer Value Proposition that links the consumer needs to the benefits of the brand 
  • Go-To-Market strategy that frames the distribution and the selling process 
  • Cultural Beacons that help define the brand internally through values, inspiration and challenge and finally 
  • Business Results, with each brand offering a unique way that it makes money.  

So if the brand’s Big Idea really works well to drive the organization, then if you are in finance at Volvo, you should be thinking about how to make safe cars cheaper, if you are in HR at Starbucks, you should be hiring people that deliver moments and if you are working at the Genius Bar at Apple, you have to make sure your language choices are simple and easy for every type of consumer to understand. Taking this even beyond the organization, if you are working at Dick’s sporting goods, you should know what makes Taylor Made such a great golf club. Everything should float down and throughout every inch of the organization from the brand’s Big Idea.

When you begin to blow this out one step further, you can start to see where everyone in your organization should align and understand how they can deliver the brand’s Big Idea.  Slide1

Telling the Brand’s Story Internally:


Use the Big Idea to set up the Culture through Brand Values

In managing your Brand’s Big Idea you must manage the Brand Story internally which helps creates the experience through the culture, innovation pathway, and service levels, and then manage the Brand Story externally establishing the brand’s positioning through advertising, logo/packaging and in-store.Slide1

Great Brand Leaders should be looking at the culture as an opportunity to win in the market place.  No matter how good your promise is, if your company is not set up to deliver that promise, everything comes crashing down.  The brand story told within the company is even more important than what you might tell the market through your advertising.

Managing organizational culture is very challenging.  The Big Idea should provide an internal beacon for all the People in the organization to follow and deliver the brand promise.  As you move along the Brand Love Curve from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and on to Beloved status, you need to make sure the culture keeps pace with where the brand is.

While the Big Idea can provide the internal beacon, it might not be enough to capture all the behaviors.  Brand Values should come from the Big Idea, and act as guideposts to ensure that the behavior of everyone in the organization is set to deliver upon the Brand’s promise.  How do you want your people to show up?   What type of service do you want?  How much emphasis on innovation?   What type of people do you want to hire?  What behavior should be rewarded and what behaviors are offside.  Having the right Brand Values will help you answer these questions. The Brand Values become an extension of what the Brand Leader wants the brand to stand for.

A great example of Brand Values is the Virgin Group of Companies defines what each value is, but also what it shouldn’t be.  I love that Fun means enjoyment but not incompetent and Value means simple but not cheap.

Having values is one thing, but the other component of Culture is the right people leadership.  Use the values to help people deliver upon the right behaviors, skills and experiences.  Leaders must embody the Brand’s DNA and live by the values.  Employees will be watching the Leaders to ensure they are living up to the words on the wall. Leaders need to believe that by investing in their people, the business results will come.  Better people produce better work and that drives better results. Talent management means hiring the right people and providing the right training.   Too many companies are skimping on training and development, which is equivalent to cutting back on your Research and Development department.  

Every communication to employees, whether in a speech or memo, should touch upon the Brand Values, by highlighting great examples of when employees have delivered upon a Brand Value.  Leverage values, with inspirational touch points and processes to inspire and challenge them on achieving greatness.  The culture will only change when everyone makes the decision to make the change.  

Aligning brand with culture is essential for the long-term success of the brand. Brand Leaders should look to the overall Culture as an Asset to make your Brand Experience more powerful.  


Telling the Brand’s Story Externally:


Use the Big Idea connect with consumers of the Brand

Once you have your Brand’s Big Idea, it should inspire you to seek out a Creative Idea, from which everything should come from.  The best brands use a Master Brand anthemic spot to help tell the overall story of the Brand.  But even more so, the Creative Idea should help with any specific product spots around the Innovation you’re bringing to the market.

Taking that a step further, you can use it to begin crafting your media plan, by launching with the Anthemic Spot, and layering in your specific product messages.  As you look to continue to stay connected with your consumer, you should keep coming back to regular intervals of the Anthem spot.  Too many brands, who are failing, try to do both at the same time. They try to create a lofty “Brand Spot” with their agency and just as they start to like it, they ask “can we jam in some news about our new faster widget” message in the middle, or maybe even do a 5 second tag with it.   Slide1

As you look at the Creative Advertising you want to ensure you take the Big Idea into how the Advertising delivers the rand messaging. The best ads attract ATTENTION, tell the BRAND story, COMMUNICATE the main benefit of the brand and STICK over time.  Leveraging the BIG IDEA and matching up a CREATIVE IDEA, you should make sure it’s the CREATIVE IDEA that does the hard work to a) Earn the consumers’ ATTENTION  b) Draw and hold attention on the BRAND c) tells the brand story in a way that COMMUNICATES the benefit and s)  STICKS with the consumer and builds consistency of  brand experience over time.  It’s the ABC’s of Good Advertising.

Slide1Once you align everything to the Brand’s BIG IDEA, you’ll create a strong bond with your consumers.  That bond becomes a source of power for your brand, whether that power is with the very consumers who love your brand, versus retailers, suppliers, competitors, influencers, employees or even versus the media.  

Once you’re able to generate power for your brand, you can then turn that into profit, whether driving price, cost control, market share or increasing the market size.

 Use your Brand’s Big Idea to Align internal and external dimensions of your Brand



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.


*first exposed to the Big Idea and DNA concept at Level5 

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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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P&G has become really good at Emotional Advertising

6mkd49.pngIn my generation, it was usually pretty easy to spot a P&G marketer. They are the type that has “the” answer. The “P&G way” used to be: find something (almost anything) that you’re better at than your competitor and then make the most of it, by showing a side-by-side demonstration, naming the “next leading brand” and quite possibly add some blue liquid to the TV ad.  P&G managed to exploit this execution through most of the 1970s and 1980s.  Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always respected P&G for what it is. They did a good job for decades using that same trusted formula.  They just stuck to the same formula a bit too long, and it caught up to them by the mid-to-late 1990s.


Here’s a great example of the classic 1970s P&G advertising looked like, including the famous blue liquid.


But by 2000, the P&G formula seemed worn out they suddenly appeared to hit a brick wall. Growth dried up, several key brands lost their leadership of the market to rivals, and new product launches proved disappointing or even to be downright failures. Competitor products had caught up, and in some cases surpassed them. Colgate was beating Crest, Listerine was beating Scope, Finish was beating Cascade, Dove was beating Ivory and others were catching up or passing the trusted P&G brands., the stock price fell dramatically from $120 to $85 almost over night. A consumer driven brand mainly has 3 weapons: 1) new products 2) communication and 3) go-to-market execution through retailers. P&G stepped up on innovation and even acquisition to bolster the product roster.  And they have made a dramatic change in how they communicate with their consumers,. They also found that the same Advertising formula wasn’t working anymore.

Strategically, brands really have four choices:  

  • Better
  • Different
  • Cheaper
  • Not around for very long

But in the current crowded Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) world, “Better” has become increasingly difficult. Every category is so cluttered, everyone has copied every non-patented product feature, claims are getting even harder to gain separation from competitors.  We are into the world of incremental-ization of fast acting tabs, quick dissolving strips or ultra powders.  Yawn. More and more, what is winning is different.  The brand that taught all of the CPG marketers a vital lesson is Dove, with “real beauty” demonstrating that different is a powerful way to connect.  

At the base of P&G’s communication is the strategic shift from always being “better” to now being “different”. Instead of looking at unique feature differences to build the benefits around, P&G is now looking at unique consumer insights that will help them connect with consumers. The ads have shifted from pure product demos to finding moments within the consumer’s life. Also, P&G has a new respect for the power of Advertising–even sending people to the Cannes awards.  Yes, Unilever has been doing this type of work across their brands for decades now, with the most inspiring CPG brand being the work on Dove.  


Here’s a few P&G spots that have really captured the emotional marketing.

I thought P&G did a very nice job at the 2012 Olympics, the one sponsor that seemed to jump out. “Thank You Moms” showed everything that moms did for their athletes, and just as Mom is an enabler, so is P&G to the Moms. I’m sure quite a few moms were shedding a few tears over this one.



The second P&G ad spoke to the idea that “they’ll always be kids” and it showed the athletes depicted as little children.



With Old Spice, it was a dead brand.  It was so old that P&G had liberty to completely re-invent the brand.  And this campaign just jumped off the screen a few years ago.  (it’s a bit worn out now)


To me the symbolic P&G unemotional brands that P&G has is Tide and if you watch this Ad for “stay at home dads” you would never know it’s a cold brand.

Some good lessons for other brands to learn.

  • Focus on different where you can’t win on better.
  • Instead of product features, move to consumer insights
  • Story telling and Moments connect more with your consumers than claims and demos.  

You’re doing a Great job P&G connecting with consumers. Now it’s time for your competitors to catch up.  

Here’s an article that goes a little deeper on the ABC’S: How to Judge Advertising Copy: Approve the Good. Reject the Bad.

To see a training presentation on Get Better Advertising:



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The 10 most abused words in Marketing



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.


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. 


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.


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


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


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.  


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. 



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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8 Simple Ways that Brand Leaders can impact Profits

The ugly truth is that too many marketers chose marketing as a career in business school because they hated accounting and finance. They were drawn to the strategy or creativity of marketing, hoping that someone else would do the accounting.  But in reality, from the CEO’s point of view, the only reason marketers exist is to drive growth and profit for an organization, with a focus on ROI (return on investment) for all those creative marketing programs.  

The more love you can create for your brand, the more power and profits you can generate. At Beloved Brands, it is our belief that marketers need to create more love for their brand, but not just for loves sake, but for the sake of profit.  Love = Connection + Power + Profit. That bond between your brand and your consumer becomes a source of power for your brand, whether that power is with the very consumers who love your brand, versus retailers, suppliers, competitors, influencers, employees or even versus the media. Once you’re able to generate power for your brand, you can then turn that into profit, whether driving price, cost control, market share or increasing the market size. 



Driving Profit

While good marketers can run brands and marketing programs.  Great marketers can drive their brands P&L and deliver growth and profit for their brands.  Here are  eight ways the Brand Leader can drive profits:

  1. Pricing
  2. Trading the consumer up or down
  3. Product Costs
  4. Marketing Costs
  5. Stealing other users
  6. Getting current users to use more
  7. Enter new categories
  8. Create new Uses for your brand 


1.  Pricing

While many marketers think of price as a defensive reaction, most times to counter inflation or something happening in the trade channels, marketers should refocus and start using price as a weapon to drive Brand Value. Beloved Brands seem more capable at driving profits through pricing, but they also are careful to ensure the premium does not become excessive to create backlash.

  • Price Increase: You can do a price increase if the market or brand allows you. It likely has to be based on passing along cost increases. Factors that help are whether you are a healthy brand or it’s a healthy market as well as the power of your brand vs. competition and channel.
  • Price Decrease: Used when fighting off competitor, if you need to react to a sluggish economy or channel pressure. Another reason to decrease price is if you have a competitive advantage around cost, whether that’s manufacturing, materials or distribution.

There are watch outs for price changes. It’s difficult to execute especially if it has to go through retailers. You need to understand power relationships–how powerful are the retailers. Many times, price changes are scrutinized so badly by retailers that you must have proof of why you are doing it. It’s likely your Competitors will over-react. So your assumptions you used to go with the price increase will change right after. And finally, it’s not easy to change back.

2.  Trading the Consumer Up or Down

Aside from price increases, another strategy would to create a range of products that allows you to reach up or down to a new set of consumers.  You need to ensure that you are doing this for the right reason or it could backfire on you.  

  • Trading Up: If you have a range of products, sometimes it can be beneficial to get consumers to trade up. Can you carve out a meaningful difference to create a second tier that goes beyond your current brand? Do your brand image/ratings allow it?
  • Trading DownRisky, but you see un-served market, with minimal damage to image/reputation of the brand. In a tough economy, it might be better to create a value set of products rather than lower the price on your main products.

There are a few watch outs around trying to trade up or down: Premium skus can feel orphaned at retail world—on the shelf or missing ads or displays. Managing multiple price levels can be difficult—what to support, price differences etc. For all the effort you go to, make sure your margins stay consistently strong through the trading up or down. Be careful that you don’t lose focus on your core business. You can’t be all things to everyone. The final concern is what it does your Brand’s image, especially risky when trading downward.

3.  Product Costs

Managing cost as a weapon to enhance the Brand’s Value. It can be either your cost of goods or the marketing costs.  As marketers, we sometimes think cost is someone else’s job.  But it’s an effective weapon that marketers should be utilizing.  

  • Cost of Goods Decreases: You are able to use the power of your brand to drive power over your suppliers; you find cheaper potential raw materials, process improvement or find off-shore manufacturing.
  • Cost of Goods Increases: Make sure that you manage the COGs as they increase. Watch out for suppliers trying to pass along costs. But realize that with new technology, investing in brand’s improved image, going after premium markets, offering new benefit or a format change, that cost of good increases could be a reality.

The watch outs with managing costs: with cuts, make sure the product change is not significantly noticeable. You should understand any potential impact in the eyes of your consumer on your brand’s performance and image. Can the P&L cover these costs, either increased sales or efficiency elsewhere? Managing your margin % is crucial to the long-term success of your brand.

4. Marketing Costs

As marketers sometimes we get protective of the amount, hoping to have as much money as we can to carry out the activities on our priority lists.  But we should be looking at marketing costs from the view point of the CEO, with a focus on making sure every program drives profit.  

  • Marketing Cost Decrease: To counter changes in the P&L (price, volume or cost), it’s very tempting to look to short-term P&L management or look at changes in go-to-market model. Where a brand stands on the product life cycle or how loved the brand is can really impact the selling costs. Even though we think that Beloved Brands have endless spending, they actually likely have a lower investment to sales ratio.
  • Marketing Cost Increase: When you’re in Investment mode, defensive position trying to hold share against an aggressive competitor or when you see a proven payback in higher sales–with corresponding margins.

Always be in an ROI mindset: Manage your marketing costs as though every DOLLAR has to efficiently drive sales. Realize that short-term cuts can carry longer term impact. Competitive reaction can influence the impact of investment stance–like a price change, your competitor might over-react to your increases in spending.

5. Stealing other Users

Externally, the Share and Volume game are traditional tools for brand. Either stealing other users or getting current users to use more.

  • Offensive Share Gains: Use it when you have a significant Competitive Advantage or you see untapped needs in the market. Or opportunistic, use first mover advantage on new technology.
  • Defensive Share Stance: Hold the fort until you can catch up on technology, maintain profitability, loyal base of followers needs protecting.

Be careful when trying to gain share. A Beloved Brand has a drawing power where it does gain share without having to use attack modes. Attacking competitors can be difficult. It could just become a spend escalation with both brands just going at it. After a share war that’s not based on a substantive reasoning (eg. technology change), there might end up with no winners, just losers. Many times, the channel will try to play one competitor against another for their own gain. Watch out what consumers you target in a competitive battle: some may just come in because of the lower price and go back to their usual brand.

6. Getting Users to Use More

Going after frequency is a different strategy.  

  • Share of Requirements:  In many categories, even loyal consumers will work within a competitive set of favourite brands. A good strategy is to provide a reason (claim, experience, emotion) for loyal consumers to stay with your brand.  
  • Get Current Users to Use More: When there is an opportunity to turn loyal users into creating a potential routine. Changing behaviours is more difficult than enticing trial. It’s a good strategy to use, when your there’s real benefit to your consumer using more. It’s hard to just get them to use more without a real reason.

There has to be a real benefit connected to using more or it might look hollow/shallow. Driving routines is a challenge. Even with “lifesaving” medicines, the biggest issue is compliance. Find something in their current life to help either ground it or latch onto. When I worked on Listerine, people only used mouthwash 20-30 times a year compared to 700+ brushing occasions. So we focused on connecting rinsing with Listerine to the twice daily brushing routine.

7. Enter New Categories  

When there is an untapped or under-served need. There could be a significant changing demographic that impacts your base. Or you are able to translate/transfer your reputation to a new user group. There should be something within your product/brand that helps fuel the brand post trial. Trial without repeat, means you’ll get the spike but then bust. Substantial investment required. Don’t let it distract from protecting the base loyal users.

8. Create New Uses

Format Line Extensions that take your experience or name elsewhere. Able to leverage same benefit in convenient “on the go” offering. Make sure current brand is in order before you divert attention, funding and focus on expansion area. Investment needed, could divert from spend on base business. Be careful because the legendary stories (Arm and Hammer) don’t come along as much as we hope.

Beloved Brands drive strong sales growth, which helps the P&L work harder and more efficiently.

With all the love and power the Beloved Brand has generated for itself, now is the time to translate that into growth, profit and value. The Beloved Brand has an Inelastic Price. The loyal brand fans pay a 20-30% price premium and the weakened channels cave to give deeper margins. We will see how inelastic Apple’s price points are with the new iPad Mini. Consumers are willing to trade up to the best model. The more engaged employees begin to generate an even better brand experience. For instance at Starbucks, employees know the names of their most loyal of customers. Blind taste tests show consumers prefer the cheaper McDonald’s coffee but still pay 4x as much for a Starbucks. So is it still coffee you’re buying?

A well-run Beloved Brand can use their efficiency to lower their cost structure. Not only can they use their growth to drive economies of scale, but suppliers will cut their cost just to be on the roster of a Beloved Brand. They will benefit from the free media through earned, social and search media. They may even find government offer subsidies to be in the community or partners willing to lower their costs to be part of the brand. For instance, a real estate owner would likely give lower costs and better locations to McDonald’s than an indifferent brand. Apple get a billion dollars worth of free media, with launches covered on CNN for 2 weeks prior the launch and carried live like it’s a news event.

Beloved Brands have momentum they can turn into share gains. Crowds draw crowds which spreads the base of the loyal consumers. Putting the Disney name on a movie generates a crowd at the door on day 1. Competitors can’t compete–lower margins means less investment back into the brand. It’s hard for them to fight the Beloved Brand on the emotional basis leaving them to a niche that’s currently unfulfilled. Walk past an Apple store 15 minutes before it’s open and you’ll see a crowd waiting to get in–even when there are no new products.

Beloved Brands can enter into new categories knowing their loyal consumers will follow because they buy into the Idea of the Brand. The idea is no longer tied to the product or service but rather how it makes you feel about yourself. Nike is all about winning, whether that’s in running shoes, athletic gear or even golf equipment

profit chart

Here are lessons learned for driving more profits for your brand.

  1. Higher volume helps you exert pressure on costs. That could be supply costs, operations costs, and distribution over even media costs.
  2. Get More for Less From the Trade. You can begin exerting power over the sales channels to your advantage–trimming variable trade costs with retailers while demanding more display, prime real estate, coop advertising and more control over pricing. ROI on trade programs.
  3. Smarter More Efficient Management: manage your inventories, meet customer expectations, control pricing and drive cheaper costs.
  4. Growth means you start outgrowing any fixed costs. This includes start-up costs, sales force, product plants or R&D costs.
  5. Lower Cost of Capital: More certainty means lower risk and you can re-invest, knowing the ROI will be quicker and stronger.


 Love = Power + Profit



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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How to deal with the STRESS of being a Brand Leader

1602788784_1393529605When I was in University trying to figure out my career, my mom said “what about an actuary?”   What a great career:  you make a good living and you have the longest life expectancy of any career.  The life expectancy is directly related to the lack of stress.  Instead I chose Marketing, where the jobs are highly stressful.  Plain and simple.  I spent 20 years in marketing, and no matter what the level, whether as a new Assistant Brand Manager or a VP with 20 years of experience, I found it highly stressful job.  As an ABM, I felt constantly reminded that “not everyone gets promoted” so I worked my ass off just to get that Brand Manager job.  As you move up, through each promotion, that insecurity never goes away, but rather it pushes you extra hard.  At the VP level, you are still reminded that “most CMOs only last 36 months”. The stress never ends.  But I loved every day of my marketing career.   Even with the stress.

Here are the 6 degrees of stress that Brand Leaders face:

  • Ambiguity is one of the hardest pressures you will face. There really is no exact answer. As my Economics prof once said “economics proves what happens in real life can actually happen in theory as well”.  I love that answer because marketers drive those supply and demand curves. And similarly, we have to use a combination of fundamentals and instinct to make the right choices. As a leader, patience and composure help you sort through the issues. The consequences of not remaining composed are a scared team and choosing quick decisions with bad results. The consequence of stress is usually decision-making first.  So take your time, slow down your thinking, map out decision trees, use tools to help you support your instincts. And make a decision. Most marketers faced with A or B, try to find a way to choose both, but that just depletes your resources by spreading them against two options. 
  • If the Results don’t come in, it can be frustrating. The key to making sure you can hit your results is to make good projections. You should always be doing regular deep dive analysis to ensure you know what’s going on, and can summarize the key issues. When faced with struggling results, reach for your logic as you re-group. Force yourself to course correct, rather than continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat. Challenge team to “this is when we are needed as a motivation to dig deep and fix the business in front of you.  As the leader, if you can put a time frame on how long it might take to turn things around, it can help manage your teams stress and work load level.  (eg.  For the next 3 months, we’ll need all hands on deck as we turn around the extra strength business)  The focus helps cut the ambiguity
  • At various times in your career, relationships can cause you a lot of stress. Organizations have natural conflict points with conflicting priorities.  For most marketers, the sales team can be a stress point, as they try to close any short-term gaps while you try to drive longer term equity.  Be pro-active in making the first move to build a relationship. Try to figure out what motivates and what annoys the other person. Understand and reach for common ground, which most times is not that far away. Have regular touch points, to hear them out.  I used to have regular lunches with the key account sales directors, mainly to hear them out. I would get nothing during the lunch but a ton between the lunches. I only figured out this late in my career, after years of butting heads with sales at all stages of my career. The other conflict is with your ad agency.  They value pride in work more than they do results. If you can find that happy medium where they are motivated to do great work that drives your results, then you’ll have great advertising. Don’t treat them like a supplier you pay.  That won’t work.  You have to inspire, motivate and energize your agency.  Always tap into their pride.
  • Time Pressure is almost the opposite of ambiguity. Many marketers think being creative means you can have some weakness on being organized.  Not true.  You have to be organized, disciplined and work the system so it doesn’t get in your way.   Be calm, so you continue to make the right decisions. And you can actually use time to your advantage, if you can stay cool in the face of deadlines, you can use those time constraints to get everyone focused on the simple answers.  Time can focus your team, as long as you stay cool.  If you get stressed, everyone just freezes.
  • Managing your career:  The best marketers are ambitious and want to get ahead. CPG marketing is still an “up or out” mentality, which puts added pressure to keep moving up.  But your career changes at every stage of the marketing career, so there is a constant change on the pressure.  When you’re a junior marketer, it is all about doing–and making it happen through subject matter experts. Here’s where you also to manage your boss, to make sure they are aware of what you want. I recommend you think of your career as three different aspects:  skills, behaviours and experiences. And as you move up, you need to make sure you are well rounded in each of those.  Identify the gaps, and look to close those through your career choices.   
  • Your personal life:  During your career, there will be tons of things happen in your personal life that can trickle into your work life. Your personal life during your career will be full:  you could be getting married, buying a house and having kids. But you have to be able to compartmentalize and almost separate the personal from the professional life. But just like not taking your personal life to work, you can’t take your work life home.  It’s even harder today to compartmentalize with smart phones that never turn off. But, a career is a marathon, not a series of sprints. 

One thing to keep in mind is the Idiot Curve. slide123At every new job, I find it takes 3 months to get back to being just as smart as you were on the first day. The basic rule is: You get dumber before you get smarter. We’ve promoted some great ABMs and watch them struggle and wonder if we made a mistake. But the idiot curve is inevitable. It just shows up differently for each person. No matter how hard you fight it, you have to ride the curve. (But, please fight through the curve, you have to for your survival) The biggest gap is that you forget to use your instincts. You spend so much of your time trying to absorb all that is coming at you, that you reach for the basic process instead of your brains. You might be working on a project for weeks before you think to even look at the budget. You work on a promotion for Wal-Mart and then think “oh ya, I should talk to the Wal-Mart sales manager and see what he thinks”. Or you say something in a meeting you think you’re supposed to say, but it doesn’t even resemble anything that you think, feel or believe in. That’s the idiot curve. And it will last 3 months. And you’ll experience it in a new and exciting way you can’t even predict. Feel free to let me know which way so I can add it to the list. (I won’t show names)

I also found at each new level, it got lonely during the first few months.  You don’t know your new peers and it takes them a while to accept you.  Your friends, who might have been former peers treat you differently now.   

Stress will happen, but be ready for it.  The best way to deal with uncertainty is to make sure you  organized and ready to handle it.  Here are some ways to get organized and manage what is controllable:  

  • Hit the Deadlines: Don’t look out of control or sloppy. We have enough to do, that things will just stockpile on each other.
  • Know Your Business: Don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge.
  • Open Communication: No surprises. Keep everyone aware of what’s going on. Present upwards with an action plan of what to do with it.  
  • Listen and Decide: While it’s crucial that we seek to understand, it’s equally important that we give direction or push towards the end path.
  • We must get better: When we don’t know something, speak in an “asking way”, but when we know, speak in a “telling way”.
  • We control Our Destiny: We run the brands, they do not run us. Be slightly ahead of the game, not chasing your work to completion.
  • Regular Feedback for Growth:You should always take feedback, good or bad, as a lesson for you. Not a personal attack or setback.

It’s crucial that you learn to deal with stress you move up, because the stress increases with each level.  Being unable to handle stress will eat you alive and likely limit your career.  To me, one of the best stress relievers has been the work itself.  I pushed myself to love the work.  Being satisfied helped my stress level.  Whenever I settled for OK, it ate away at me for months, regretting I settled.  

Love what you do.  Live why you do it.  


To read more on managing your marketing carer, read the following presentation:

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What should you do when your PRODUCT is better than your BRAND


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. 


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  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




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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