Beautiful “Like a Girl” ad by P&G that re-defines stereotypes, will definitely move you

d7291c2d01784756_Always_Run_Like_a_Girl.xxxlargeMost days I can safely say “we are just marketers” but every once in a while, I see that we can actually have a cultural impact. We can use our platform to stand up for consumers, in this case teenage girls, and in fact, all women will be moved by this video. A new 3 minute video by the ALWAYS team at P&G is making its way around the internet this weekend with millions of views already.  My hope is that it gives you goosebumps, tears or gets you think differently.  

The insight that P&G’s team found was that somewhere in the adolescence stage, girls self-confidence plummets.  In the video, they ask both men and women over the age of 15 to depict what “like a girl” looks like, and both sexes show a stereotype and a negative association with WEAK.  And then, they ask 8-10 year old girls to “run like a girl” and they just show how they would NORMALLY run.  The insight is that somewhere between 10 and 15, girls start to see “like a girl” as an insult.  The Always brand challenges us to re-define “like a girl”.  Here’s a look:  


It’s one more example of where Procter and Gamble is moving, to emotionally connect with consumers.  Click on this article to see how P&G is making this change:  P&G has become really good at Emotional Advertising

I’m a dad of a 16-year-old girl, and I can see this insight.  I remember playing football in the backyard when my daughter was around 10 and she picked up the football and threw a perfect spiral about 20 yards.dove1 I just stood in awe. She’s an amazing athlete, a Dennis Rodman type basketball player who leaves nothing on the court. In 6th and 7th grade she was the regional shot put champion. And then in 8th grade, she didn’t even go out for her school team.  She was fighting those stereotypes at a very hard age to “be a girl”.  The Dove Outdoor campaign from last year really hit home with girls quitting sports in their teens because of confidence.  In today’s world of Instagram and Twitter, from what I see everyday, it’s harder than ever to get to 20 feeling good about yourself. 

Getting on the side of your consumer makes your consumer say “this brand is for me” and “this brand gets me”.  Unilever was the first CPG brands to get on the side of consumers with the Dove “real beauty” campaign–still a gold standard that many of us aspire to.


But in reality, CPG brands should still look beyond CPG to push themselves.  Watching Nike’s “if you let me play” ad from 1995, you can see the inspiration of this work.   This is for all the women who kick ass in sports, including my daughter.


Doing this type of advertising takes guts. At this point, the video is viral and gaining momentum.  This type of work comes straight out of insights gathered by the team. 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”.  This Always ad strikes that chord of women and connects with women.  

Many of us wish we could do this type of work. But how does it happen?  I don’t work at P&G but here are my guesses.  They spent more money on GATHERING insights than they did on TESTING the work.  Put it this way:  while testing your Ads might make you sleep better at night, gathering insights will make you dream more.  The brief did not say “I want a 30 and 15 second ad, plus give me a print ad I can use in-store”.  There were no claims or demo requests, and they didn’t jam in a claim at 2 minutes and 23 seconds into the video. There was no debate over pack shots, of which sku to use.  My guess is that not everyone at P&G bought into this and the work had to be sold in, to various levels by someone that believed in it.  Every great ad I was ever part of met major resistance, even doubt and rejection. That doesn’t mean you give up.  You should be more afraid of the ads where EVERYONE in your company likes the ad you want to make.    


If you watch this video and as a Brand Leader you say I wish I could do that, ask yourself what’s getting in your way?   The answer might be YOU!!!  






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You’ll gain more share by Fighting your consumers enemy than fighting your brand’s enemy

Slide1It is normal when a Brand Leader is in a category with intense competitive pressures to become obsessed and fixated on what their competitor is up to now.  They launch a bigger size so you launch a bigger size.  They claim fast and you claim faster.  They launch Lemon and you launch more Lemon.  You both do side-by-side demonstrations in your TV ad against each other. Pretty soon, you have both forgotten about the consumer and what they want. And as the two brands fight it out, the shares pretty much look the same as they did last year.  

We believe that a Brand is an idea that is worth loving. 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.” Most brands started as products or services that handled some functional problem in the market, but as they matured and became more closely connected to their consumers, they evolved into a Big Idea, that fulfills consumers’ emotional needs.


Another way to say it, most great PRODUCTS were invented to solve a rational PROBLEM in your consumers’ daily life. Most great BRANDS solve an emotional ENEMY in your ongoing consumers’ life. The question you likely never ask is:  who is the Enemy of your consumer? 

Who is the Enemy of your consumer?

I like to push my clients to think of their consumer’s enemy.  It is a starting point to put them in the shoes of their consumer and then they start to use the voice of the consumer.  The enemy is a great way to start a connection because if done right, it shows that you understand them.  It’s not just about features that you do, but pushes you into finding the rich emotional zones that you can own.  Picking the enemy gives your brand focus and another way of bringing insight into your brand positioning.  

Starbucks fights off the enemy of a HECTIC LIFE:  Put yourself in the shoes of your Starbucks consumer, who is a 38 year old mom with two kids, wakes up at 615am, not only to get ready for work, but to get everyone in the house ready for their day.  a03e0da8-fac7-11e3-acc6-12313b090d61-medium-1She drops off one kid at daycare, the other at public school and then rushes into the office for 830am.  She drives a van, not because she wants to but because it’s a great choice for carrying all the equipment needed for after-school activities, which are soccer, dance, tutoring and ice hockey.  No one is really old enough to thank her–the only appreciations are random moments of celebration or at the end of a long day.  Just after getting both to bed, she slinks into her bed exhausted. What is her enemy?  It’s a HECTIC LIFE.  If only she had a 15 minute moment to escape it all.  She doesn’t want to run from it, because she does love her life.  She just needs a break.  A place where there is no play land, but rather nice leather seats.  There are no loud screams, just nice acoustic music.  There are no happy meals here, the drinks and pastries are not average, but have a European touch.  Not only is she appreciated, the 21 year old college student knows her name and what her favorite drink is.  Starbucks fights off her HECTIC LIFE and gives her a nice 15 minute escaping moment in the middle of her day.  Yes, the Starbucks product is coffee, but the Starbucks brand is about MOMENTS.  

Apple fights off the enemy of FRUSTRATION: Unless you work in IT, you likely find computers extremely frustrating.  We have all sat at our computer wanting to pull our hair out. Spending 38 minutes to figure out how print, getting computer frustrationError 6303 message that says close all files open and reboot or buying a new computer and you need to load up 13 disks and 3 manuals to read before you can even email your friend to tell them how amazing your computer is. Apple has recognized the FRUSTRATION consumers go through and realized it was in the way of many consumers experiencing the potential of communications through computers.  They capitalized on the frustration of PCs with the famous TV campaign of “Hi I’m a Mac,….and I’m a PC” to demonstrate issues around setting up computers, viruses, and cool applications you can use. Everything Apple does has SIMPLICITY at it’s core.  As soon as you open the box you can use it, they have compatibility with other software or external devices and eve the store set up makes it easy to check out or questions of experts. You can even take classes to learn. Yes the Apple product is about computers tablets and phones, but the Apple brand is about fighting off FRUSTRATION by making everything SIMPLE enough so that everyone can be part of the future. Here’s how Apple drives simplicity into everything they do: 


Special K fights off the enemy of THOSE FEW EXTRA POUNDS:  As we hit our 30s and 40s, the metabolism slows down, yet we still want to look and feel our best.  The proactive preventer does everything they can to maintain a healthy life but they can still have problems with a few extra pounds.  Yes, there are so many diet programs promising to lose 50 or even 80 pounds.  You can take pills, join a gym, get needles in your butt. Everywhere you look.  It’s almost over-whelming to consumers.  But what if you just want to lose 5 or 10 pounds, for that cruise you have coming up, or just to get ready for the summer season?  What if you just want to fit into your favorite pair of jeans again?  You can’t show up to Weight Watchers and say “Hi I want to lose 5 pounds”.  `  Special K has recognized a potential niche in the market to take on those “few extra pounds” with the Special K challenge promising that if you use Special K for two meals a day, you will lose six pounds, or one jean size.  This is obviously not the miracle cure being offered by everyone, but rather it targets women doing as much as they can already, and want to TAKE CONTROL of their weight.  Here’s how Special K takes the idea of empowering women to take control into everything they do:Slide1

Use the talk of your consumers’ enemy to be more insight driven on your brand. 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”.  Stop asking who is your brand’s enemy.  At your next team meeting, start off by asking “who is our consumers enemy?” and see if it enables you to connect more with your consumer and see if it takes you into a highly creative zone?  If your team has a problem answering that question, maybe you have a problem in how you run your brand.  

So, who is the enemy of your consumer? 


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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Bad decision by Target Inc to take an INTERNAL motivation video and release it EXTERNALLY

I’ve been a fan of the Target brand for years, which has done a great job in adding emotion into the Mass Merchandising world, where WalMart is an emotionless discounter.  Last year, Target entered the Canadian market with my hype.  So much hype, it was foolishly nominated for Marketer of the Year before the doors even opened.  Canadians had been to Target as visitors and there was a lot of pent up demand.   image

But once the stores opened up, the hype fizzled very quickly.  Consumers didn’t see much different about Target. They were missing US items Canadians wanted, store shelves were only half full and consumers quickly realized the prices weren’t that great.  As a rule for Beloved Brands, there are only four choices a brand can make: you have to be better, different or cheaper, or you won’t be around for very long.  “Maybe we didn’t put our best foot forward when we entered into Canada. We had some disappointments when we opened. Certainly we think we disappointed our guests,” said Damien Liddle, Target Canada’s senior corporate counsel, in the clip. “But here at headquarters and at our store teams we’re working really hard to give everybody that unique Target experience.”


And so this month, they did one of those “go get them” videos to the troops, which we all see at sales meetings ALL the time.  There was nothing unique.  But in either an act of desperation or some type of group think, they released the video publicly.  Here it is:


Now there is nothing really wrong with the video, but there’s also nothing really right about the video. It won’t do any harm, but honestly, it won’t do any good.  To me, here’s 3 things not in the video: 

Where are the consumer views? Everything has to start and end with your consumer in mind.  This video is very Target focused, and as it goes externally it just feels like a “we messed up” apology.  But it’s ALL ABOUT TARGET, and not about the consumer.  As a rule for Beloved Brands, no one cares about what you do, until you really care about what your consumer wants. Find a way to listen, give them a voice, understand them by being in their shoes. Put your consumers’ needs first and you’ll find yourself speaking in terms of benefits they get, not just features that you do.  Consumers have to get something and you can the one that is lucky enough to give them that something they want. Target: stop talking about yourself, and let them talk about themselves.  

Why are the Employees taking the blame?  As Harry Truman said “the buck stops here”  That’s a sign of true leadership.  In this video, there are about 10 mid-level employees who sort of take the blame for all this and there is talk about what they will do differently going forward to win back consumers.  I don’t see the President of Target Canada, nor anyone from Minnesota.  These are the people who oversaw the merger, who made decisions before many of the people on this video were even hired.  A beloved brand, especially a service brand, has to have an organization where Brand and Culture are one.  The promise you say you’ll do, is executed flawlessly by the culture.  I do feel that putting the mid level employees up and having them take it on the chin is not a culture of leadership, but it feels like a blame game.  The only role that the Canadian President had in this video is he retweeted it on his twitter account.  Btw, he has 758 followers. For Target, it’s time for the leadership to step up. 

What is happening to Target? Yes, they were a little slow to launch into a second market beyond the US.  But going into Canada shouldn’t cause this much stress. Wow. Maybe there is more to it, as we look at the stock price has fallen 20% in the past 18 months as Target has begun missing forecasts overall and management is now being shuffled around. Certainly you can’t blame Canada on this, but maybe Canada can blame what’s happening at Target overall. 

Target needs to reconnect with Consumers to re-kindle the love that appears slipping away


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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In honour of D-Day, a “Thank You” TV ad that will give you shivers

d-dayOn June 6, 1944, the Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Neptune. saw the largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, which led to the restoration of France, the re-capture of Paris and contributed to an Allied victory in the war.

In honour of the 70th anniversary of the landing on D-Day, I wanted to share a TV ad of a young man thanking his grandfather for his time served in Dieppe during WWII. The Dieppe raids took place 2 years before D-Day, and saw extremely heavy casualties. A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured.   The events at Dieppe influenced preparations for the Normandy landings. tumblr_lszlv3VDZI1qaqn8to1_1280As a Canadian, Dieppe is a source of pride for us, as 5,000 of the 6,000 soldiers involved were Canadian.  Canadians were also heavy participants in the D-Day invasion, with 14,000 soldiers landing on the beaches of Normandy on the 6th of June in 1944. 

This TV ad for Bell in Canada is a bit dated now, but back in the mid 90s we were still excited we could call from anywhere. I’ve been to that beach in Dieppe and it does command such intense feelings.  While this is just a TV ad, and we might find that silly, it’s one more example of how, when we think of our consumers first, our industry can connect on the things that matter.

We see many tributes to the soldiers, but this one unique thanks one who served long ago.  Every time I watch this ad, it sends a chill through me.  


 On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, a special thank you to all who have served.



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8 Interview Questions I used to ask potential Marketing Hires

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

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

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

Here are the Interview Questions that I used to Ask:

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

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

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

Best of luck to you, and go for it.  


Here’s a presentation on Successful Marketing Careers:  




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

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

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

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

Are you a Strategic Thinker?

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

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

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

The Best Brand Leaders balance strategy and execution

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

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

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



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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