How to Think Strategically

If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.  Yogi Berra

After 20 years of managing marketing teams, I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of marketers–some classically trained CPG and some with just good instincts.  While 100% of them would proclaim of themselves “I’m a strategic thinker”, in reality only about 15-20% were actually strategic.  Yet, even some of the best implementers I know still want to be strategic.  I don’t get it.  Why?  I want someone to just finally say “I’m a really good tactical thinker and not really that good at strategy”. I have finally started to ask some of my friends who are great implementers:  “Why do you want to be strategic?”  I finally got an answer that made sense.  “Strategic people get paid more”.  

Are you sure you are Strategic?

To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first.  Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planning who can see connections. Non Strategic Thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly, and will get frustrated in the delays of thinking. They think doing something is better  than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They are frustrated by strategic thinkers. Aren’t we all.

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.

OK, then you can’t just one day wake up and be strategic. You need more discipline in the way you think. Here’s some thoughts on how to force yourself to be strategic. Here’s HOW TO THINK MORE STRATEGICALLY.  

Focus, Early Win, Leverage, Gateway

So Let’s see if there is a model that can help people be better at strategy.  When I teach people this model, I tell them it will force them to structure their thinking at first, but then it should just start to flow easily. It’s like driving a car in England, it feels different at first, but then natural very soon after.

A simple way is to break it down into the 4 elements of a good strategy: there is usually a good Focus of resources on what has the biggest potential return, an Early Win that allows you to confidently keep going, a Leverage point you can twist and turn and finally a Gateway to something even bigger.  Here’s how the 4 stages of thinking works:

  1. FOCUS all your energy to a particular strategic point or purpose. Match up your brand assets to pressure points you can break through, maximizing your limited resources—either financial resources or effort. Make tough choices and opt be loved by the few rather than tolerated by the many.
  2. You want that EARLY WIN, to kick-start of some momentum. Early Wins are about slicing off parts of the business or population where you can build further.  Without the early win, you’ll likely seek out some new strategy even a sub-optimal one.   Or someone in management will say “it’s not working”.  You don’t want either of those–so the early win helps keep people moving towards the big win.
  3. LEVERAGE everything to gain positional advantage or power that helps exert even greater pressure and gains the tipping point of the business that helps lead to something bigger.  This is where strategy provides that return–you get more than the effort you’re doing from it.
  4. Seeing beyond the early win, there has to be a GATEWAY point, which is the entrance or a means of access to something even bigger. It could be getting to the masses, changing opinions or behaviours. Return on Investment or Effort.
Looking at using “Focus, Early Win, Leverage, Gateway” in Real Situations

Lots of explanations on strategy use war analogies, so let’s look at D-Day and see how it matches up.  While Germany was fighting a war on two fronts (Russia and Britain), the Allied Forces planned D-Day for 2 years and joined in full force to focus all their attention on one beach, on one day. The surprise attack gave them an early win, and momentum which they could then leverage into a bigger victory then just one beach. Getting on mainland Europe gave the allied forces the gateway they needed to steamroll through on a town by town basis and defeat the Germans. The allied forces had been on the defensive for years, but landing on D-Day gave them one victory and the tipping point to winning the war.  For those who struggle with focus, imagine that if the Allied Forces decided to place one soldier every 15 feet from Denmark all the way around Europe to Greece. Would it have been successful? Not a chance.

If you were to write the brand plan for D-Day, it might look like this:

  • Vision: Win World War II
  • Goals: Re-claim Europe, remove Hitler, minimize losses
  • Key Issue: How do we turn the tide in the war effort in Europe?
  • Strategy: Focused Pin Pointed Attack to gain a positional power on Continental Europe. 
  • Tactic: D-Day, take all our troops and attack the Beaches of Normandy to get back on mainland Europe and battle Germany on an equal footing. 

While war analogies put some heightened sense of intelligence into marketing, let’s look at an example using Avril Lavigne and see if it still works. If it does, then maybe it’s still a good model. In 2005, Avril’s career was flat, a normal path for young musicians. To kick off her album, she did a series of free mall concerts—and was criticized as desperate. She was desperate and no one really understood the logic. But think about it:  mall’s are exactly where her target (11-17 female) hangs out, allowing her to focus all her energy on her core target.  She attracted 5k screaming 13 year olds per mall—creating an early win among her most loyal of fans: those who loved and adored her. She was able to leverage the good will and energy to get these loyal fans to go buy her album in the mall record stores which helped her album debut at #1 on the charts. And everyone knows the charts are the gateway to the bigger mass audience–more radio play, more itunes downloads and more talk value. The comeback complete. Madonna has done the same strategy, except she seeded her songs into dance clubs for the last 20 years.

If you were to write the Avril Brand Plan, here’s how it might look;

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

Avril Lavigne Wows Thousands At Free Indy Concert

INDIANAPOLIS  — Pop singer Avril Lavigne serenaded more than  2,000 fans during a free concert at a shopping mall.   “You guys are awesome,” the 19-year-old Lavigne told the  enthusiastic crowd Thursday at Glendale Mall.  Some people waited several hours to see the singer perform songs  from her upcoming CD and 2002 hits “Complicated” and “Sk8er  Boi.”   The half-hour acoustic concert was part of a 21-date “Live and  By Surprise Tour” promoting her new CD, “Under My Skin.”   People started lining up at the mall early in the afternoon for a chance to see Avril Lavigne up close and personal.

Starbucks experienced tremendous growth through the 80s and 90s, mainly because of the their coffee. Starbucks quickly become a life ritual in the morning to wake you up. The focus shifted to build a broader portfolio of products around these two time slots.   The early win were a series of new products that made Starbucks seem big on innovation. Sandwiches, Wraps, pastries, cookies. All high quality. The leverage point was turning a coffee routine into a breakfast/lunch routine. The gateway is expanding the life ritual of Starbucks so that it’s now a broad-based place for breakfast and a light lunch, but still connected with coffee.  No longer are they just for coffee. Recently, Starbucks has been giving incentives through their “treat receipt” program to get people to come into the store after 2pm. 

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

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

Most Marketers Struggle with Strategic Thinking

However, even though all these marketers are saying they are strategic, strategy actually runs counter intuitive to many marketers. You mean by focusing on something so small, I can get something big.  That makes no sense.  I better keep trying to do everything to everyone.  But that’s exactly how a fulcrum works to give you leverage. Next time you’re taking off your tire on your car, try getting 6 really strong guys to lift your car or just get a tiny little car jack. This is the same model for brand strategy. Focus on your strengths, focus on those consumers who will most love you and focus on the one potential action point you can actually get them to do.

Many marketers always struggle with the idea of focus and always try to do it all.  And for everyone. They worry they’ll pick a potential target too tight and alienate others, focus on one message and forget to tell all they know and miss a crucial fact or focus too tight on one part of the business and forget the others.  I saw a brief describe their target was “18-65, current customers, potential customers and employees”.  I said “all you’ve eliminated is prisoners and tourists.”  I get it that it can feel scary to focus.  But it should feel even more scary not focusing, just in case you’re wrong. You always operate with limited resources no matter how big of a brand:  financial, people, partnering, time. Trying to do everything spreads your limited resources and your message  so that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”. In a crowded and fast economy, “ok” never breaks through so you’ll never get the early win to gain that tipping point that opens up the gateway.  When you focus, three things happen: 1) you actually become very good at what you do 2) people perceive you to be very good at what you do since that is the only thing you do 3) you can defend the positioning territory

Many times, marketers fall in love with the best ideas—not always the best strategies. This is where they tactical and they end up chasing down a path with a hollow gateway.  It’s crucial you always start with the best strategies and then find the best ideas that fit with those strategies, not the other way around. What you need to do, is try to map out all the potential wins, try to understand what’s behind that win, and if there is something bigger then go for it, but if there isn’t, then you should reject this path. There has to be a large gateway behind those cool ideas, so you love what the idea does more so than just loving the idea.


Strategic Thinking: Focus, Early Win and Leverage should lead to a gateway to Something even Bigger

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Consumers are selfish and deservedly so, because they have money

Consumers are the “Most Selfish animals on the Planet” and deservedly so, because they have money and a willingness to buy. As marketers, we need to  satisfy those selfish needs better than anyone else can. We need to make them love our brand more than they love any competitors’ brand. With that tight and deep emotional connection, it will make our brand more powerful and drive value for that brand.

“By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand

People have always ask me “why do we need to bother making sure that the consumer loves the work we do?  Isn’t it more realistic that we just get them to like it?” My answer is that “if you don’t love the work you do, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand?” Consumers are incredibly selfish and deservedly so, they are stuck on their current favorites and can’t imagine anything better, they have no time in their lives to hear your sales pitch, yet in contrast they are bored out of their minds, desperately wanting something new in their life. As marketers, selfishness is a good thing, because it just makes it more obvious the need we are trying to satisfy. So give them something they’ll love, not just something that they’ll “kinda like”.

When a consumer walks into a mall, the selfishness hits its peak. They have money and motivation and so many needs they don’t even know where to start, constrained only by how much room they have on their credit card. They are forced to make choices between needs and between brands that might satisfy those needs. They put themselves and their needs as their #1 priority. Until they find exactly what they want, they are blinded by desire, willing to be fussy and demanding. Satisfying the Consumer Selfishness starts with understanding the needs of your consumers and then matching those needs up to what your brand does best (see below for the zone marked with the green check mark). Once you find this winning zone, you need to make it seem even bigger. Most purchase decisions are 50% rational and 50% emotional, yet marketers get stuck by putting only the most boring undisputable facts into their sales pitch. That won’t be enough to satisfy the most selfish. Instead, winning brands find a way to dial it up by driving into the deeper emotional need states, so the immediate connection starts off in a deeper zone.

Losing brands try to go head to head where your competitor can satisfy that need better than you can.  (see the zone marked by the red X)  The zone where both your brand and the competitor can satisfy that consumer in an equal zone, you need to find something where you do it better–execution, attention to detail or going the extra mile to satify that selfish consumer. Here, execution matters more than anything–so you better love the work you do.

Consumers have a love of their favourite things. Whether it’s their favorite coffee they get on the way to work every day, their favourite running shoes that let them run faster or their favorite restaurant where the waiter knows what they want.  Consumers move along a Love Curve, going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally Brand for Life, where it becomes fully embedded in the heart of the consumer—demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings.  Consumers become outspoken fans of the brand, ready to speak on the virtues or defend it from attack. All marketers should push their brands along the love curve, leveraging that deeper connection with consumers to become a more powerful brand.

Consumers are busier than ever, making it harder than ever to break through. Whether it’s working late, trying to balance everything or doing too much, they have so little time. People are multi-tasking, texting while driving or on the TV while watching TV—which is up 35% this year. Traditional ways with a 30 second ad and a billboard aren’t having the same effect in today’s world. The average consumer is exposed to over 6,000 advertising message per day. The consumers’ brain sorts through the clutter until finds something that might fill their needs. Imagine your boring logical message, well thought and all, breaking through to that consumer. Even with the fast paced life, most consumers are bored with life and just want something to entice them. The simplest way to challenge boredom is to like everything you do unconditionally, but if this bored consumer meets up with a boring brand, it will be rejected very quickly.

Marketers Play It Far Too Safe to Find True Love. Brand Leaders choose the safety of logic and facts instead of getting too deep or going all emotional with their consumer. And, most brands end up liked but never end loved. My Mom Wanted Me to Be an Actuary. Apparently, an Actuary has one of the longest life expectancies, can make quite a bit of money and they live the ideal work-life balance.  Sounds like the perfect job, but I just couldn’t do it. What’s lacking in the life of an actuary is the ability to have fun at work or drive all your passion into your work to create something big. You can make a real difference. So if you’re not going to be an Actuary…then stop acting like one when you’re the Brand Leader. We can’t afford to keep doing just the usual, we can’t get stuck in logic and we can’t just satisfy needs. We need to push to go beyond greatness at every touch point with our selfish and bored consumers. We need to cultivate a deep emotional relationship with our consumer and we need to entice craving and desire.

Here’s my simple challenge for you:  If you don’t love the work you do, how do you expect the consumer to love your Brand.


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How to be a great Assistant Brand Manager…and of course, get Promoted

In my 20 yeas of my CPG Marketing career, I must have interviewed 1,000 potential Assistant Brand Managers. I was lucky to have hired some of the best, who have gone on to have very strong marketing careers and I became notorious for asking for some of the toughest questions, some even bizarre. I always asked an analytical question to see if they could piece together lots of data and tell a story that made sense. I’d ask a creative question to see if they had a certain flare and pride in the output. I’d ask a problem solving question, some very hard, no real right answer, but I wanted to see how they actually think. And finally, I wanted to know that they had done something at a very high level–it didn’t matter what–but I wanted to know they could make it happen. How to be a great Assistant Brand Manager

Getting that first Assistant Brand Manager job is NOT EASY!  I had many failed interviews over the years that I began to wonder if it would ever happen. I remember one interview ended after about 8 minutes when she found out I didn’t have any experience. Thank god, I stuck with it.

The marketing career is very challenging. At the entry-level role, only about 50% of Assistant Brand Managers will get promoted to Brand Manager. 

There are two main factors that separate the OK from the great Assistant Brand Manager:

  1. They get what they need 
  2. What they need is the right thing to do

Very simply put, great Assistant Brand Managers get both. The rest either fail on #1 or #2.  

You have to nail the obvious

Keep in mind there are some core marketing values you want to adopt over the years as an Assistant Brand Manager that will serve you well in your career.

  • Hit the Deadlines: Don’t Look Out of Control. We have enough to do, that things will just stockpile on each other. Missing deadlines make you look sloppy.
  • 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. Make sure you keep your team informed  and involved. Don’t hide information, present it upwards with an action plan of what to do with it.
  • Control Our Destiny: We run the brands, they do not run us. When we don’t know something, speak in an “asking way”, but when we know, speak in a “telling way”.  While it’s crucial that we seek to understand, it’s equally important that we know our role as leaders is to give direction or push towards the end path.
  • Let’s Celebrate Our Wins: Love what you do. These are tough jobs. It has to be the passion for what we do that keeps us going. Passion that separates great from “ok”.
  • Everything Can use Process: It should enable us, not hinder us. A good process can force your thinking towards a solution. If it restricts your thinking, it’s not a good process. But if it means, you free up your time for strategic thinking, instead of format thinking, we’ll move faster.
  • Continuous Ideas: We Implement 1 in 100 ideas we have. There is a need for more ideas so the ideas we carry out are the best we have. Never be afraid of an idea, but always be willing to say “what a crap idea”.
  • Regular Feedback for Growth: That’s the only way we get better. You should always take feedback, good or bad, as a lesson for you. Not a personal attack or setback. Seek it, embrace it and build on it for your future.

Five factors that separate an “ok” Assistant Brand Manager from the great ones:

  1. A great Assistant Brand Manager is able to tell stories, where others just see data: There are tons of data all over—share results, tracking, test scores, etc. One of the most critical skill an Assistant Brand Manager can work on is developing stories with the data. It’s one thing to have the data point, but another to have thought it through and know what it means, and what action you will take on this data. When you come across data, the best thing you can do is look for patterns or data breaks, try to twist the data in different ways to see if you keep getting the same story, ask questions to find back up, start putting together stories and challenge the stories. Never give a data point without a story or action. You risk letting someone else take your data and run with it. Never fear bad data, as long as you have an action plan. Never twist the data to tell a story, because if it’s challenged, the story crumbles with it. This skill is one that you carry with you as you move upwards in marketing.In fact, the more practice you have, the faster you’ll become.
  2. A great Assistant Brand Manager takes action and moves before being asked: Most of the projects are already set for an Assistant Brand Manager, so many times, it’s comfortable to wait, ask the right questions and proceed. That’s good for learning, but a bit too cautious. Some of the best ideas come with a fresh set of eyes. We need a continual influx of new ideas and even new ways of seeing things. You need to push your ideas into the system. While it’s still key to communicate to the right stakeholders, you should be pushing your ideas into the system, which almost creates new projects. Don’t get into the mode of waiting or figuring that’s not within your job scope.
  3. A great Assistant Brand Manager can get what they want: It’s obvious that project management is a big part of being an Assistant Brand Manager. But, instead of just functionally managing the steps of the project, you need to make it happen, faster, bigger and better. In terms of speed, you need to understand what are the important milestones that need to be hit.  Always think about key bottle necks.  Bottle necks are simply the task that has the longest completion time, which impacts the entire project.  If you let this slip, the entire project slips.  This has to be managed in detail, but also many times with an inflexible fist to getting it done.  Bigger means you want to do more than is required.  Make the work zing, find the wow factor, and make it have a bigger impact than expected.  Better means you have to take the same people and get them to give their best ideas or their best effort or their best work. Guaranteed you will meet many points of resistance. Every project will. Solving these and still getting the most you can, is the separation of good from great.
  4. A great Assistant Brand Manager puts their strategic thoughts forward. All great ideas must flow upwards. Most people tend to think they are “strategic”…and they tell me that all the time. After all these years, I’m still not even sure what that means. But I do know there is a big difference between thinking strategically, and contributing strategically. You need to be in the frame to challenge thinking, whether it comes from your agency, cross functional peers or me.It’s important that you speak up and represent your thinking. Standing up for your thoughts shows that you are in the game, that you are thinking, and that you believe in your strategic thoughts. If you don’t stand up for your thoughts, then it doesn’t really matter does it? Also, it’s so easy to get lost in the daily executions, but you have to be constantly thinking. Keeping things aligned to the strategic is just as important as being strategic.
  5. A great Assistant Brand Manager is accountable in the ownership of their work: Accountability is the stepping stone to ownership. And ownership is what being a Brand Manager is all about. You cannot let things slip or miss. Many times, the devil is in the details. You have to stay on top of the timelines and lead those on your project teams. If you have to step in, and work hand in hand with an expert then jump in. You have to be action oriented, and solution focused. You can never allow your team to get stuck. They will be looking to you for the ingenuity to help solve the problem. Maintain the composure, ask questions and learn to revel in the ambiguity. You have to be the hub of communication to all team members, and to key stakeholders, including upwards.

If you can do those better than your peers, then you’ll get promoted. Conversely, if you’re missing any one of these, you might not get there. I hope your boss gives you a quarterly review because I believe Assistant Brand Managers can grow so fast that you need those regular check-ins. If you just get an annual review, you won’t go as fast. Ask for feedback, cherish it, and use the next 90 days to build on a strength or eliminate a gap.

One thing to keep in mind is the Idiot Curve. The basic rule is: You get dumber before you get smarter.   Marketing Career Idiot Curve

When you first land the Assistant Brand Manager job, 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 it so that’s even more intimidating. 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 idiot curve normally lasts up to 3 months, and then things just start to click. And you’ll experience it in a new and exciting way you can’t even predict

ABM roles are hard, but all the work you do now will pay off the rest of your career.

Here’s a presentation on our Brand Management Training Programs.

At Beloved Brands, we help brands find growth and brand leaders smarter.

We will unleash the full potential of your brand. We will lead a 360-degree assessment of your business, help you define your Brand Positioning, create a Big Idea that will transform your brand’s soul into a winning brand reputation and help you build a strategic Brand Plan everyone who works on the brand can follow.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on strategic thinking, brand analytics, brand planning, brand positioning, creative briefs and marketing execution.

Graham Robertson

Love Affair with Chocolate Bars

It is easy to connect chocolate with Love.  Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical that is released in the brain when we fall in love. Eating chocolate can give some people a natural “high” which is often related to the feeling of being in love.  It’s a similar addiction that coffee uses to create your morning brand rituals.  

Some of the world’s chocolate bar brands are the Most Beloved and Powerful Brands in the world.  Consumers are passionate about their choices, mainly because Chocolate bars usually serve an extremely personal purpose.   It could be a pick-me-up in the afternoon, a celebration for when something good happens or a recovery when something bad happens.  It’s our own personal escape–a guilty pleasure.  Chocolate Bars also helps us connect us back with our youth and give us those childhood feelings of joy.

The premise of the Brand Love Curve Love Curve Detailedis that consumers usually start off at the Indifferent stage, move to Like It then Love It and then consumers will make it their Brand for Life.  But do you remember when you tried a Snickers or Reese Peanut Butter Cups for the first time?   You likely just kept picking one out from the check-out counter until one became a favorite brand.  There’s no logic in your chocolate bar choice–strictly an emotional decision or as Hotspex says an E-rational decision.  You likely fell in love with your brand before you could even think. Hearing “NO” from your parents made you want it even more.   I know my weakness was that Orange Aero bar….or was it the Big Turk…..or the Caramilk bar.  There aren’t really any bad options in my mind.

An odd fact about chocolate bars is that consumers have been making the same choices for about 50 years now.   The top 10 chocolate bars today in your market are the same top 10 chocolate bars in the 1950s, just the order is different.   If you look at the top brands (see below) you’ll see that almost all of them were launched in the 1920s and 1930s.   The only “new” chocolate bar to breakthrough is Twix, which was launched 45 years ago, and still yet to really crack the big time.  

There have been many attempts to crack the top 10 but all massive failures.  The factors inhibiting new brands from succeeding:

  1. Distribution is so tightly controlled by the powerful companies like Nestle, Hershey and Cadbury that  it’s almost impossible to break through and displace the older brands
  2. The amount of advertising dollars spent on key brands is prohibitive of other brands being able to afford it.
  3. You make your first brand choices at such a young age that you choose one of the big brands near the check out stand.

There have been many great ads over the year.  The most consistent brand has to be Kit Kat, which started using the tag line of “Have a Break…have a Kit Kat” back in 1957.  Now, that’s a big idea!   It’s been used ever since across all geographies–here’s one from the UK. 


The last few Super Bowls have produced two of the Best Chocolate Bar ads.  The Betty White Snickers bar was a huge hit, not only during the Super Bowl, but such viral support it spun her into the Saturday Night Live host later that spring.

This year, the M&M’s Naked Guy, not really a big idea but a cute execution.

Maintaining Beloved Brand Status

  1. Keep the brand’s promise front and center on who you are.  You need to be either better, different or cheaper.   Challenge yourself to stay relevant, simple and compelling.
  2. Keep challenging the status quo to maintain an experience that over-delivers the promise.  Create a culture that attacks the brand’s weaknesses and fixes them before the competition can attack.  With a Beloved Brand, the culture and brand become one.
  3. Make focused strategic choices that starts with being honest with yourself.  Find a way to listen to your consumers and stay ahead of the trends.  Watch for dramatic shifts because they can really open a door for a competitor.  It’s easier said than done, but don’t be afraid to attack yourself even if it means cannibalizing your current business.  A good defense starts with a good offense.
  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. .
  5. Keep the brand story clear and simple through great advertising in paid media, but also through earned media either in the mainstream press or through social media.



Here’s a presentation on what makes a Beloved Brand:


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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:

Ask Beloved Brands how we can help train your team to be better brand leaders.

The 5 factors to being a great Brand Manager

After 20 years of CPG marketing, I have hired so many potentially great marketers–who were eager for success, brilliant, hard-working and dedicated. But in reality, about 50% of Assistant Brand Managers get promoted to Brand Manager and less than 20% of Brand Managers make it to the Director level. I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years and here is my view on what makes great Brand Managers, great enough for them to get promoted to the next level.

What separates good from great?  

There are two factors that I have seen in a consistent manner: #1: They get what they need. #2: What they need is the right thing to do. Very simply put, great marketers get both. The rest either fail on #1 or #2. To get what you want, keep things simple and move fast to take the positional advantage. What separates many Brand Managers is the inability to actually rely on their instincts, instead of just the textbook answer. You get so busy, so deadline focused, so scared to make a mistake that you forget to think in a confused state of ambiguity. 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. Revel in ambiguity.   

The Idiot Curve

One thing to keep in mind is the Idiot Curve. At every new job, including Brand Manager, 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.  Marketing Career Idiot Curve

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.

And then, 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 reveal names)

The 5 factors to being a great Brand Manager:

From what I have experienced over the years, the five factors for success includes takes ownership, brings strategic thinking, managing others very well, works the system and can handle the pressure of the job.

#1 Ownership: A great Brand Manager takes ownership of the brand.

Many Brand Managers struggle with the transition from being the helper to being the owner. As you move into the job, you have to get away the idea of having someone hand you a project list. Not only do you have to make the project list, you have to come up with the strategies from which the projects fall out of.

A great Brand Manager talks in ideas in a telling sense, rather than an asking sense. It’s great to be asking questions as feelers, but realize that most people are going to be looking to you for decisions. They’ll be recommending you’ll be deciding.

When managing upwards be careful of asking questions—try to stick to solutions. You just gave up your ownership. Your director wants you to tell them what to do, and debate from there.

#2 Strategic Thinking: A great Brand Manager provides the vision & strategies to match up to. 

Bring a vision to the brand. Push yourself to a well-articulated 5-10 year brand vision great. But a vision can be as simple as a rallying cry for the team. But you have to let everyone know where you want to go.

The strategy that matches up to the vision becomes the roadmap for how to get there. As the brand owner, you become the steward of the vision and strategy. Everything that is off strategy has to be rejected.

Communication of strategy is a key skill. Learn to think in terms of strategic pillars, with 3 different areas to help achieve your overall strategy. Having pillars constantly grounds you strategically, and is an easy way for communicating with the various functions. Each function may only have 1 strategic pillar but seeing how it all fits in is motivating.

#3 Managing Others: A great Brand Manager spends the effort to make their ABM as good as can be.

Most Brand Managers struggle with their first five direct reports. The key is to keep self-evaluating and looking for ways to improve with each report. Most Brand Managers struggle to shift from “do-er” to “coach. They think they can do it faster, so they may as well do it. They just become the “super ABM”.

Many Brand Managers fail to share the spotlight, so it becomes hard to showcase the ABM. But the work of your ABM reflects 100% of how good of a manager you are. ABMs need feedback to get better—both the good and bad. I see too many Brand Managers not giving enough feedback. And so many afraid of “going negative” so the ABM is left in the dark or left thinking they are doing a good job.

Great Brand Managers take the time to teach up front, give the ABM some room to try it out and then give hands-on feedback in real time. Use weekly meetings to give both positive feedback and address gaps. Brand Managers should do QUARTERLY sit down performance reviews with their ABMs, who have the capacity to learn faster than annual reviews allows for.

#4 Working the system: A great Brand Manager gets what they need.

The organization is filled with groups, layers, external agencies, with everyone carrying a different set of goals and motivations. You can see how the organization works and appreciating what are the motivations of various key stakeholders. You then use that knowledge to begin to work the system.

Start to see key subject matter experts giving you their best. You understand their personal motivations and find a way to tap into those motivations as a way to ask people for their best. It might be an odd step but from my experience a really motivating step. Very few people ask for “your best”.

#5: Pressure: A Great Brand Manager Can Handle Pressure.

In general, there are four types of pressure. Usually, a leader has 1-2 blind spot pressure areas they need to work on. For me, I was great with ambiguity and time. At that point in my career, I was very weak on the relationship side. Which of these 4 do you struggle on?

  • Ambiguity is one of the hardest pressures. 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.
  • If the results don’t come in, it can be frustrating. 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”
  • Relationships. Be pro-active in making the first move to build a relationship. Try to figure out what motivates and what annoys the person. Understand and reach for common ground, which most times is not that far away.
  • Time Pressure. It’s similar to the ambiguity. 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. Use the time to your advantage.

Love the magic of Marketing. 

Don’t just do the job, do it with all your passion. Love it please so we can love the work that comes from your passion. Or else just become an actuary and let someone else take your spot.


I am excited to announce the release of my new book, Beloved Brands.

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Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

The best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique engagement tools are the backbone of our strategy workshops. These tools will force you to think differently so you can freely generate many new ideas. At Beloved Brands, we bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We help brands find growth

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a big idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand. Finally, the big idea must influence employees to personally deliver an outstanding consumer experience, to help move consumers along the journey to loving your brand.

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We make Brand Leaders smarter

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If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911