Tag Archive: marketing manager

Case Study: The Starbucks Come Back story: Losing their focus, only to regain it!!!

ray_charles_starbucks.03In 2003, Starbucks was on their first peak of their climb. It’s very likely that the corporate ego was also peaking.  “We can do anything”. But, just as they hit that peak, somehow their corporate arrogance got the best of them and they decided they are bigger than “just coffee”, so they created their own recording company, which successfully won 8 Grammy’s 2 years later. In 2006, Starbucks launched their first movie, then started partnership with William Morris to scout for music, books, films and finally Starbucks opened their own “entertainment” office in LA.  I remember when, a few agency folks marvelling and trying to convince me to follow the Starbucks lead.  The whole idea was that Starbucks had the potential to be the “third place” in people’s lives:  Home, Office and Starbucks.  The music and movies were all part of bringing that to life for Starbucks. Marketing academics were writing about it and gushing over it. That’s ok as an idea in theory, but in terms of managing a culture, Starbucks had a very hard time staying focused on what they did best:  make a great cup of coffee.  

By 2008, the lack of focus caught up with them. The most loyal consumers of Starbucks were seeing cracks in the service and quality and began choosing local establishments, who were solely focused on making a great cup of coffee.  Starbucks cut 18,000 jobs, closed 977 stores and same store sales were down 7%. Stock price falls to $7.83, down from $39.63 in 2008.  Yikes.

sbux_fallenThe Starbucks brand was in complete free fall. I remember doing a speech, right at the height of the Starbucks collapse and very few people considered it a beloved brand.  I was almost in shock.  And, about half the room figured it wouldn’t be around in 10 years. People were seriously starting to wonder “is this the next Benetton?”  (the brand that drank and believed in their own Kool Aid)

In 2009, Starbucks re-focused on what they do best: COFFEE.  They had no choice.  Every turnaround story has to start with “so what do we do best?” and then eliminate everything else. They closed every store for a day of re-training the barista. A brilliant move to tell most loyal consumers: “we know we messed up, but we’re going to get it back”.  But more importantly, it told the culture of Starbucks that the most important thing we do is make a great cup of coffee.  That barista is essential to our brand. It all starts with that. Starbucks began to innovate, but again it was focused going deeper around their COFFEE, with broader line of coffee, pastries, accessories sandwiches. No more movies or music.  All of a sudden, they were focused.  27sbux.600

Following the comeback story, by 2014, Starbucks sales are up 58% versus 2009, five-year 10% CAGR. Gross Margins are back up to healthy 55% range from a low of 28%. The current Starbucks stock price at $75, a $10K investment back in 08 would get you $95,800 today. The crucial lesson for Starbucks is the lack of focus cost them dearly in providing what it was that made them famous:  a great cup of coffee.  Yes, they can be that third place in people’s lives….as long as the coffee is good. 

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Focus is essential to Strategy 

The only way to win in strategy is when your gains exceed your effort—you to get more, than you put in. That starts with focus.  Every Brand has limited resources (financial, time, effort and alliances) against endless opportunistic choices to make (target, message, strategy and activities). Strategy starts with making a choice, where you will apply your limited resources, against the pressure points you know you can win and breakthrough, so that you can gain something bigger than the point itself.

Focus makes you matter most to those who care the most. Don’t blindly target consumers:  target the most motivated.  Focusing your limited resources on those consumers with the highest motivation and  propensity to buy what you are selling will deliver the highest return on investment.  In a competitive category, no one brand can do it all: brands must be better, different or cheaper to survive. Giving the consumer too many messages will confuse them as to what makes your brand unique. Trying to be everything to everyone is the recipe for being nothing. Return on Effort (ROE) is a great tool for focusing your activity.  Doing a laundry list of activity spreads your resources so thin that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”. And in a crowded and fast economy, “ok” never breaks through enough to get the early win and find that tipping point to open up the gateway to even bigger success. 

When you focus, 5 things happen to your Brand.

  1. Better Return on Investment (ROI): With all the resources against one strategy, one target, one message, you’ll be able to move consumers enough to drive sales or push other key performance indicators in the right direction.  
  2. Better Return on Effort (ROE): It’s about getting more back than you put into the effort. Working smart helps make the most out of your people resources.
  3. Stronger Reputation: When you only do one thing, you naturally start to become associated with that one thing—externally and even internally.  Reputation is a power you can push to find deeper wins.
  4. More Competitive: As your reputation grows, you begin to own that one thing and you can better defend that positioning territory. You can expose the weakness of your competitors, attract new consumers as well as push internally (R&D, service, sales) to rally behind the newly created reputation. 
  5. Bigger and Better P&L: As the focused effort drives results, it opens up the P&L with higher sales and profits. People with money invest where they see return. 

Focus starts with knowing what you do best and stick with it 

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

We make Brands better.

We make Brand Leaders better.™

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

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The biggest factor in getting to great advertising….is the client.

If you are a Brand Leader who struggles with advertising, you know how hard it is. I’m asked all the time, what is it that makes one Brand Leader good at advertising and another not so good? 

Simply put, great Brand Leaders are able to consistently get great advertising that drives towards their objective into the market, and equally able to keep bad advertising that does nothing for them off the air.

Some Brand Leaders blame themselves, almost surrendering to the idea of: “I’m more strategic type of marketer, and not that good at advertising”.  But I hope you don’t quit on yourself, because being good at Advertising takes experience, practice, leadership, feedback and a willingness to adjust. You can get better, if you really want to.  Slide1Some Brand Leaders blame their agency, and even fire their agency. But from my view, an OK agency can do great work on a great client. But a great agency can fail miserably with a bad client. Most clients fail to realize that the role of the Brand Leader is the most important factor in getting great ads. 

If you knew that how you showed up as a Client would get you better advertising, do you think you would actually show up differently? 

At creative meetings, do you stay big picture, avoid getting into details? When giving direction, do you avoid giving your own solutions?  When you gave your agency a brief, you put them in a box.  Now you should use your feedback as a way to put them in a new box ,a modified version of the box you created with the brief you gave them. Agencies don’t want your solutions, they just want your problems. The best agencies are problem solvers who are in the box thinkers.  As a great Brand Leader, your role is always to give them a box they can solve.

The best advertising comes from a very tight Brand strategy.  How tight is your brief?  

Do you stay focused on ONE target, ONE strategy, ONE benefit behind ONE big idea? Avoid the “just in case list” where you sneak “one more thing” onto the brief.  Narrow the Target market and tell their story with engaging insights.  Start with the desired consumer response before deciding what your brand should say.  Develop a testable Brand Concept before the brief so you know the strategy works with consumers, isolating the creative as the only thing you need to figure out.  Slide1

Are you one of the FAVORITE clients of your agency? 

As a Brand Leader, your role is inspire everyone to WANT to work on your brand, never treat them like they HAVE to work on your business. I know you pay the agency, so you might think that motivates them right away.  Not quite.  Do you meet the creative team before the first creative meeting to connect, align them with your vision and inspire them to push for great work? My guess is you don’t. You wait till that first creative meeting, and get introduced to the people who have been secretly working on your brand for the past few weeks. Are you the type of client to take creative risks, and be willing to be different to stand out?  Great advertising is a balance of control and freedom.  You should control the strategy and give freedom on the creative, but somehow the reverse happens.  Uncertain Brand Leaders give freedom on the strategy, yet they come into the advertising process with a pre-determined look and feel.   

If you meet resistance to GREAT advertising, even from your boss, are you the Brand Leader that is willing to fight anyone in the way? 

Every great ad I’ve worked on, there was almost a breaking point.  Whenever I fondly think of my old ads, I always smile when I think of that “near breaking point” that we got past.  As the Brand Leader you have to be the one to fight for great work and maneuver through that near breaking point. Your agency will take notice that you are that type of leader and they’ll want to work on your brand, willing to give you their best work. Do you resist approving Advertising that is “just OK” and “safe”?   What signal do you think it sends everyone involved? I believe that you have to LOVE your advertising, and never settle for OK.  Somewhere along the line, if you don’t love it, you’ll likely just give in. And then everything fails.  And you start again.  

If you knew that how you showed up as a Client was the biggest factor in getting better advertising, do you think you would actually show up differently?

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

We make Brands better.

We make Brand Leaders better.™

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

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Is it time we admit that the Apple BRAND is better than the Apple PRODUCT?

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Apple is clearly the brand of our generation. In our house, we have an iMac desktop, 2 iPads, 3 iPhones, and two MacBooks.  I love Apple. But this past spring, as my phone contract expired, I started to wonder if I get the iPhone 5S or wait for the iPhone 6.  I was a free agent, and started to look around. I looked at the Android, but like many “Apple fans”, I viewed them as the competition, like a NY Yankee fan might view the Boston Red Sox. The more I dug in, the more I realized the Android phone was quite better than the iPhone: bigger screen, faster processor, better camera.  So I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Whaaaat? That’s right. A Samsung. I felt like a cult member who snuck out of the compound one night and drooled when I saw the Samsung phone. I could see the Galaxy was light years ahead of my iPhone.  Now that I see the iPhone 6, I’m glad I bought the Samsung instead of waiting.  

Yes, the Apple iPhone 6 news kinda fizzled, but does that matter anymore?

I’m no tech expert, but the iPhone 6 feels a very incremental technology. I’m sure it does a few things I’m not aware of or could appreciate. Financial analysts were so bored by the launch, many downgraded the stock. Yes, the Apple stock price is extremely high, but maybe it’s time for the stock to stop living and dying based on the next great launch.  And maybe, it’s time for us to realize that Apple has shifted from a product driven brand to an idea driven brand.  The real reason people buy Apple is the BIG IDEA that “We make technology so SIMPLE, everyone can be part of the future”. With Apple, it has become less about how we think about the product and more how we feel about the brand. While Samsung has a better product than they do a brand, Apple now has a better brand than they do a product.  Samsung can’t get past talking features instead of benefits, offering almost zero emotional connection beyond the product.  Apple has created such an intensely tight bond with their consumers, they are more powerful than your average monopoly. Apple uses that power with the very consumers who love them, against competitors who try to imitate them and through every type of media or potential key influencer in the market. Below we have mapped out the Brand Strategy Road Map for the the Apple brand.  

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Apple isn’t really a technology leader, and likely never was. Yes, Apple had an amazing decade of new products from 2001-2011 that gave us the iPod, iTunes, Macbook Air, iPhone and iPad, but Apple is 
a quick follower who figure out the mistakes the technology leaders make and then cleans them up for the mass market. Apple exploits the fact that the first to market technologies are so badly launched (mp3 players, on-line music and tablets) the average consumer never really sees them, leaving the perception that Apple is the innovator. Apple’s product strategy is: “We bring technology that is simple and consumer friendly across a broad array of electronics products. Products have simple stylish designs, user-friendly functionality, convenience and speed.”  Apple’s brand story, told through great advertising like “Mac vs PC” is: “Technology shouldn’t be intimidating or frustrating. We make it simple enough so you can be engaged right away, do more and get more, with every Apple product you are use.”   As an example below, the  beautiful ads over the past year are less about the product features and more about how the brand makes you feel.  

 

The most Beautiful Apple Product Apple is now their P&L statement

Maybe we just need to relax on these Apple launches and admire Apple’s Profit and Loss statements.  Apple is going to sell about 80 million iPhone 6’s and I bet the iPhone 6 will be under many Christmas trees this year. Stores continue to be packed–it’s tough to even get an appointment.  The Apple retail stores have the highest sales per square foot, almost twice the #2 store, which is Tiffany’s selling diamond rings.  

Apple is now a huge mass market corporate brand, with a market capitalization of $600 billion, 3 times the value of companies like Coke, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer and IBM.  Apple has moved from the challenger type brand to the “king of the castle” brand. Back in the 1980s, IBM was the “drive the BMW, wear a blue suit with polished shoes” type brand, while Apple was “comfortable in your VW Bug, tee-shirt and sandals” brand. Apple was the alternative, anti-corporate, artist. But that’s changed. As much as Apple fought off and won against the corporate arrogant brands like IBM, Microsoft and Sony, they’ve now become that very type of corporate brand.

At Beloved Brands, we believe the more loved a brand is by it’s consumers, the more powerful and profitable that brand can be.  The best example of this model is the Apple brand. 

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In researching the Apple brand, and as a true brand geek like me, when I opened up their P&L statement I almost gushed:  I drooled over the compound annual growth rate, stared at the margin % and was in awe of how their fixed marketing spend stayed constant as the sales went through the roof.  It’s the P&L that every Brand Leader wants to leave for the next guy.  

Apple Brand > Apple Product

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

We make Brands better. We make Brand Leaders better.™

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

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The best advertising comes when Brand Leaders control the strategy and give freedom on the execution.

Control the Strategy with a Tight Brief

Brand Leaders take pride in being strategic thinkers. Yet, why when it comes to Advertising, do they throw strategic thinking out the window and become masters of execution? To get great advertising, Brand Leaders should control the strategy and give freedom on the execution. Yet I see them giving up control over the strategy all the time. A good tight brief has one problem, one objective, one target and one main message.  As soon as you write a broad brief that goes beyond that, you’ve just given up control over the strategy.

  • If your brief has a broad target market, some ads will naturally fit younger and some will fit older. But it’s unlikely one ad will fit both targets. A good brief should have no more than a 5 year age gap on the target. 
  • If your brief has two benefits, the agency will come back with one ad for the first benefit and another ad for the second benefit. I hope that’s not what you wanted when you picked two benefits. Or worse yet, you’ll get the “marriage of both benefits” type ads and those are usually very lame. A good brief should have only one benefit!!!!
  • If your brief has two objectives, it will fail at both. So many briefs I see advertising objective say: “get new users and get current users to use more” (penetration and frequency).  That’s impossible in one ad. Getting new users is getting competitive users to THINK differently about your brand so they cast aside their current brand to try you just once. Yet, driving usage frequency is a message to those familiar with your brand and trying to get them to FEEL differently enough to change their behavior. I would argue it’s impossible to achieve these two things with one ad. If I’m wrong, send me an ad that does both. If you can’t find that ad, then go to your brief now, and if you have both objectives, strike out one and your brief will get better. 

Your broad brief, which might help you sleep at night, just squandered your control over the strategy. And soon you’ll be having nightmares. The role of the brief is to create a nice tight “box” that defines the problem, objective, target and main message. Since the best agency talent are “in the box” thinkers who solve problems, the best brief gives them a “box” to solve. Briefs with multiple objectives or many main benefits send the signal to agencies that you aren’t quite sure and want the agency to pick the strategy. Briefs with a long list of mandatories sends the signal that even though we don’t know the strategy, we do think we know what we want the execution should look like. A great brief is tight enough that it doesn’t even need mandatories.  

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Give freedom on execution to your Agency

Being a Brand Leader is a very odd job: you don’t do anything and you don’t really know anything. You don’t make the product, don’t sell the product and don’t make the ads. You just make decisions. However, marketing seems to attract know-it-all types that love to tell everyone what to do. I was once one of those know-it-all Brand Managers so I know that type well. And yet, only when I figured out that not knowing anything, and not doing anything put me in a more powerful position to make better decisions did I master the art of Brand Management. If the agency is a problem solver, then you are a problem giver. Think of it like great therapy. You just spill your problems and others come up with solutions and you decide on which solution works best. The only thing you have to do well, is make decisions. What a great job.  

At every stage of advertising, Brand Leaders really have 3 options: 1) approve the work 2) reject the work or 3) change the work.Slide1

From what I see, Brand Leaders rarely approve the work outright. Even though the agency would love it, it is almost unrealistic to think they could perfect the ad without any challenge from the marketer. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few ads in my career that required very little feedback. It likely means we nailed the brief. The reality is that great work is usually made collaboratively with both agency and client.  

On the flip side, Brand Leaders are sometimes too uncertain to reject the work completely. They tend to keep things alive too long. I remember on my first ad, I kept being so passive on this one idea that I hated. I never rejected it fully and the agency kept coming up with new ways to fix that ad. Here’s my advice: if you don’t love the ad, you’re not doing anyone a favor by keeping it alive. Great advertising takes a fight internally, and many times if you don’t love the work, then you won’t fight for it. Explain why you hate it and if that creates a new problem for the agency, you might be surprised at a new solution they come up with.  

It seems that most times, Brand Leaders choose the option to change the work. Do you think that’s your role in the process?  I see too many Brand Leader showing up ready to pounce on the work with a list of changes, rather than digesting it and making decisions on how to make the work better.  They’ll say: “make the lead a woman instead of a man, move the pack shot earlier, get rid of that line and change this line.” What I don’t understand is that If you didn’t feel talented enough to come up with an ad in the first place, why are you now talented enough to do something even harder: to change the work.  I’d challenge brand leaders to stop coming up with solutions and rather start finding ways to frame their problems, so they keep the agency engaged and challenged.

Being the Brand Leader on the hot seat is not easy.  

Until you gain experience in the hot seat, it is highly stressful, scary and uncertain. It can feel like your brain is spinning,so many thoughts are going around in your head and you feel pressure to say the right thing. 

Slide1Try to stop spinning by asking yourself four key questions:

  1. Do I love it? How passionate are you? If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it? If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end. But if you love it, you’ll go the extra mile and make it amazing. Would you be proud of this as your legacy?
  2. What is my gut reaction? What’s your immediate reaction when you reach for your instincts? Relax, slow yourself down enough to soak it in, right in the meeting. It’s easier to quickly reject out of fear than find what your gut really says. Many times, instincts get hidden away because of the job.
  3. Is it on strategy? Is the Ad an expression of what you wrote in your strategy documents? Use a process to help frame things in your mind, so you can evaluate it past how you feel. The tool I recommend is the ABC’s (attention, branding, communication, stickiness) which helps to give you something to ground yourself. Take your time with this thinking.
  4. Does the ad have long-term potential? Is it BIG IDEA, you can see lasting for 5-10 years, going across various mediums (mass, on-line, in store), capable of speaking of the entire product line up, Think about leaving a legacy beyond your time in the role, which forces you to think of campaign-ability.

When you slow it down, you’ll start to see ideas and not executions.You’ll be able to sort through what’s working and not working for your brand. Next time, instead of providing solutions to your agency with a “list of changes we want” I’d challenge you to give the agency a problem with a “list of challenges to the work”. In essence, if the original brief created a “box” for the creative team to figure out “in the box” solutions, then use  your feedback to create a “modified box” for the agency to solve, not a check list of changes you want on the ad. Never be afraid to slow it down, think it through, see where it is going or where it could go. Sometimes when we slow down our thinking, then the actions actually go faster. Great Brand Leaders think with strategy, and act with instincts.

The role of the client might be the most important factor in getting great ads. An OK agency can do great work on a great client. But a great agency will fail with a bad client. So be the best client you can be.

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

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

We make Brands better. We make Brand Leaders better.™

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

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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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How to best Execute your Brand Execution Plan

Brand LeadershipIf you are getting tired of me saying “FOCUS” then you might want to stop reading.  I’m not quite getting tired of saying it just yet.  I’ve talked about focusing on a target, a single benefit when we went through brand positioning and creative briefs. I’ve talked about ONE big idea that the brand can stand for. I’ve talked about focused strategies when it comes time to annual brand plans and brand strategy road maps.  I’ve even talked about focused media when it comes time to communication plans.  

FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS!!!

So now as we move on to the execution plan, should we still focus?   Of course.  As you execute, you are constrained by 3 things, time: people and money.  

My challenge to all brand leaders looking at an Annual Brand Plan is to pick 3 strategies and 3 tactics per strategy.   That means 9 things to do really well.  Sounds kind of crazy right?  It gets crazier when I tell you to put 50 to 75% of your resources to the 3 most important tactics overall.  If you have 7 strategies and 7 tactics per strategy, then you’re now doing 49 things compared to my 9 things.  If I asked you to pick your most important 9, and we compared how good of a job we both did on executing, then I believe my 9 would kick your 9’s ass.  In fact, there’s a good chance your team hasn’t gotten to 1 or 2 of your most important 9. When it comes time to execution, focus means I can do a better job, bring some passion and magic to each tactic.  Focus means impact, because I am able to put enough resources against it to be noticed and that impact might be the start of me driving a return on investment.

I once had a Director working for me that kept generating so many ideas that none of them ever got executed.  Every day, 5 new ideas for his team to look into.  The team was in chaos and ready for revolt.  So I asked to see his quarterly project list and he came in proudly showing me 81 projects they had to do in the next 12 weeks.  I was dumbfounded and said “narrow it down to the top 5 most important projects”.  He said “they are all important”.  About an hour later I had his finance director in my office telling me that he was overspent by 20%.  While I couldn’t convince him to focus, he didn’t survive the quarter.

Every day I must tell at least 5 people they need to focus more.

Beloved Brands Start with a Big Idea

The most beloved brands are based on an idea that is worth loving. It is the idea that connects the Brand with consumers.  And under the Brand Idea are 5 Sources of Connectivity that help connect the brand with consumers and drive Brand Love, including 1) the brand promise 2) the strategic choices you make 3) the brand’s ability to tell their story 4) the freshness of the product or service and 5) the overall experience and impressions it leaves with you.  Everyone wants to debate what makes a great brand–whether it’s the product, the advertising, the experience or through consumers.  It is not just one or the other–it’s the collective connection of all these things that make a brand beloved Look at a brand like Special K who for years was offering a low fat low calorie cereal with modest success.  Only when they came up the Big Idea of “empowering women to take control and maintain their healthy weight” were they able to align their brand to connect with consumers and drive success. Slide1 Special K created the powerful Brand Promise that with Special K, just twice a day for 2 weeks, you can lose 6 pounds or better yet, drop a jean size.  The brilliant strategy is around the usage occasion of the second meal each day.  Cereal had been a category that grew +3% for years, steady only with population growth and some demographics around boomers and echo generations.  But now, there was finally a reason to eat cereal twice in one day.  The communication of the Brand Story become about empowering women to take control using the Two Week Challenge.  With a Brand Idea bigger than just a cereal, Special K’s innovation rivalled that of Apple.  It started with the launch of Berry Special K that thrust the brand into a good tasting cereal, and has since added bars, shakes and water.  Most recently, they’ve now launched potato chips (only 80 calories for 20 chips) and a Breakfast Sandwich option.

What is your big idea?  And how will you align your promise, strategy, story, innovation and culture around that big idea?

The 3 Step Process

When I was at the Brand Manager stage of my career I remember being frustrated when I had to take my plan to the agencies.  We spent so much effort trying to get everyone on the same page, aligning the tactics behind the plan, doling out the money and then waiting to see the execution ideas coming back from the ad agency, the in-store agency, our professional agency, PR agency etc etc.  We’d see each idea and we’d try to piece them all together into a cohesive plan.  Then I came to the point where I had finally had it with playing traffic cop.   And came up with a simple “3 Step”:  

  • Step 1: Briefing
  • Step 2:  Ideas
  • Step 3: Tactical Plan.

Slide1

Once you get your Brand Plan approved, you now start in on the execution Here’s the trick of how this works best.

For Stage 1, you get every agency in the room and you give them a 2 hour briefing so that everyone hears the same message.  At this stage, I like to give agencies a high, medium and low-budget level, which gives me the control and flexibility to move dollars around to the best ideas.  Yes, it creates some competition but that just makes my plan better.

At stage 2, we do an entire day where the agencies present their best ideas with everyone in the room at the same time.  Everyone hears the best ideas and hears why I’m excited about those ideas.  They might also hear what I don’t like or what I think might be missing.  The agencies present big ideas hoping to get to the higher dollar figure.  And we start moving money right in the room.  The feedback is direct, tough and yet challenging.  I love ideas that are aligned to the strategy and big idea and reject those that aren’t. Between stage 2 and 3 is usually where the magic happens. The agencies actually decide to meet and start acting like one agency.  They get the feedback and start aligning their ideas together.  They come up with new tactics to re-earn any lost dollars.  

And by the time they come back to Stage 3, I’m now seeing a fully aligned and enhanced Tactical Plan  The process did the work for me.  All that frustration of me being traffic cop was replaced by the process. In year 2, this works even better.  And when you put it across all your brands like we did at Johnson and Johnson, it works even better.

Filtering the Best Ideas with THE BIG EASY

For Tactics to an annual plan, you can use a very simple grid of Big vs Small and Easy vs Difficult.  You can decide on criteria for Big and Easy, or you can use judgement.  Create the grid and put the ideas on post it notes you can then plot.  You’ll see the best of ideas rise to the BIG-EASY zone. The reason you want BIG is impact, to drive share and revenue growth.  The reason you want easy is to efficiently ensure it has a good return on effort, believing effort and investment have a direct link. Slide1

If you don’t love the work, how do you expect your consumer to love your brand?

 

Follow me on Twitter @grayrobertson1

To read more about creating Beloved Brands:

Other Stories You Might Like
  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
  2. How to Write a Brand Plan:  The positioning statement helps frame what the brand is all about.  However, the brand plan starts to make choices on how you’re going to make the most of that promise.  Follow this hyperlink to read more on writing a Brand Plan:  How to Write a Brand Plan
  3. Consumer Insights:  To get richer depth on the consumer, read the following story by clicking on the hyper link:  Everything Starts and Ends with the Consumer in Mind

 

Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

Pick your Social Media vehicle and follow us by clicking on the icon below:

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To reach out directly, email me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com

About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

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How to give Feedback to an Agency so the work gets Better

As our Ad Agency friends are partying it up in Cannes, I figured its perfect timing to talk about How to give Feedback to an Agency so the work gets better.   It’s funny how bad clients under-estimate the impact they have on the advertising work and yet good clients get it.  There’s this weird contradictory circle:  a) clients hire agencies based on work they do for other clients–many times better clients b) great agencies still make bad work–which highlights that good clients help make good work and c) the client is ALWAYS right, which means if you tell an agency to do something, they will.  If we put all three of those together.  

How they show up does more to make or break an ad than even how the agency shows up.   After all, the Brand Leader gets the “final say” on every aspect of the ad–brief, script, director, casting, music, budget and final edit.  The agency can only recommend.  What the Brand Leader does with that “final say” can make or break the ad.  

If you knew that how you show up to your agency got better work for you, do you think you would show up differently?

In terms of giving feedback at that first creative meeting, a Brand Leader can really only do three things.

    1. Approve an ad
    2. Reject an Ad
    3. Give direction on how to make the Ad better 

 If you’re sitting in the hot seat, how will you know?  It’s not easy to sit in the hot seat as the decision maker.  I’ve seen some Brand Leaders use all instinct, and no fundamentals.  They miss the most basic of things.  While other Brand Leaders strictly use fundamentals and forget to use their instincts.  They miss the magic or are the first to put together a Frankenstein from various things on the brief.

Before You Get Started:  How will you Judge the Ad?  Here are the ABC’S of Advertising 

Here’s a potential tool you can take into the room that is very easy to follow along.  You want to make sure that your ad delivers on the ABC’S which means it attracts  Attention, it’s about the Brand, it Communicates the brand story and Sticks in the consumers mind.  

  • Attention:  You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising.  Consumers see 6000 ads per day, and will likely only engage in a few.  If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding:  Ads that tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best.  Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand.  It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad.
  • Communication:  Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand. Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it—because that says just as much.
  • Stickiness:  Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time.   In the end, brands are really about “consistency” of the promise you want to own.  Brands have exist in the minds of the consumer. Slide1
How to use Feedback to make the Work Better

I’ve seen guys go in with pure instincts and spin around in circles.   My suggestion would be to use your instincts but be guided by a process that can help you judge the work.  Look at sports as a metaphor, there’s instinct used in every sport, but the superstars of any sport (Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps) are disciplined in their approach and then let instincts go on top of the fundamentals.   So use the ABC’S above, and then let your instincts take over.

The Creative Meeting is not Easy.  You’ve got to balance, the head, the heart and the gut against the good of the brand.  Take your time and sort it through asking the following questions:

  1. Do you love what it can do for your brand?  If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it?  A great ad has to have everyone’s heart and soul put into it.  If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end.  If you love it, you will fight for it.  (The Heart) 
  2. Is it on strategy?  Is the Advertisement an expression of what you have been writing in your strategy documents?   Is it doing what we hoped it would do?  I love the ABCS technique (outlined below) because it helps me to frame things in my mind, so I can evaluate it past how I feel.  I think you need something to ground yourself.  (The Head)  If  there is something in your gut says it’s off, it likely is.  (The Gut)
  3. Is it long-term Idea?  Is a big enough idea that fits with the brand, does the hard work you want to do for the brand and can last 5 years.  Think about leaving a legacy—which forces you to think of campaign-ability.  (The Brand)  Look at the Creative Brief and if the ad is not on strategy, then it has to be rejected   Advertising is an expression of strategy.  If it’s not on strategy, it has no value.  

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Tips on Giving Feedback
  •  Remember to Relax and Smile:  I always find that the room gets so tense, stiff and serious: we forget to laugh, smile and be real. Imagine trying to present something funny to a room of deadly serious brand managers.  It helps motivate a nervous creative team. 
  • Give  the feedback in three ways:  a) First Impressions: during the presentation, it’s great to be engaged enough to say “I like that” or ask a question. b) Giving Direction: focus on what‘s working and how to make it better. Focus more on the board you like first, and then move to the ones you don’t like with less detailed feedback.   c) Leave the Detailed Direction on how to make it better for the day after.  Moving the details (copy points, placement, colours) to the next day, helps focus the immediate comments on big picture items.  Take 24 hours to digest all the little details
  • Focus on Direction, not feedback:  Feedback is static, direction has action and decision-making.  Speak on behalf of your consumer & your brand. 

You should agree upon a Feedback process with the Agency ahead of time and then use that consistently.  There are two main ways you could do it. Either give the feedback live where everyone talks or take a break and consolidate your thinking first..  I’ve done both, trained on giving feedback live, but have changed my opinion over the years and now I’m a fan of taking the break.   

Here’s the old tired Archaic 1950s style processes:
  1. Account Team re-reads the brief then they do a set up of each board, explaining the technique/process (e.g. this is funny)  Set ups can taint the client’s view of a spot. 
  2. Agency presents 3 scripts, and says which one is their favourite.  Potentially de-motivator if you ask for their favourite and then dismiss it.  A better question is “which spot did you find you kept coming back to, as you worked the process”.
  3. Client Feedback is given with the most junior person goes first, all the way up to the senior person in the room.  This feels very 1950s humiliation and de-motivating to the junior people on the team. 
I’d suggest you Take A 30-Minute client huddle helps because:
  1. Agency gets one piece of feedback.  Time allows client to get the story straight. The break helps to slow down process so the client can think things through.  
  2. Gives Ownership to the Brand Manager, who should do all the speaking on behalf of the team, not the most senior person in the room that over-rules them.
  3. Client Team has a very open discussion, freely hearing out everyone’s thoughts, giving the junior people easier input the final opinion.  Brand Manager hears everyone then consolidates it to one message.
Tips to help Clients provide Clear Decision Making Process in place
  • Decision Making: Team leader in the creative meeting room gives direction to make the work as good as it can be before selling it in.   This gives them ownership over the project. maximum to get it right.  When the VP or President attend the early creative meetings, the work doesn’t get better, it gets more complicated. 
  • Pre Testing Does Help:  Narrow the creative concepts down to 1-3, put into animatic format and test to determine success potential in the market.  Instincts are great, but having them confirmed by consumer feedback is even better.   
  • Selling the work in to the Organization.   The team leader accompanied by the senior account person (plus Creative Director if needed) should jointly sell it in the organization. 
  • Make sure you leave Enough Time:  While everything is a rush these days, a well run project, with adequate breathing space for creative ideas, 2-3 rounds of creative, potential testing and adequate time for development
  • Communication Goes Both Ways:  Exhibit the leadership style that welcomes feedback, and gives it.  Each side brings an expertise, the agency has advertising and communication expertise and the client brings consumer/brand expertise.
  • Seek Advice Beyond Advertising:   Good account people know what it takes to be a good marketer.   They can help you on the side.  And many times, their superior people skills can help a client that might be lacking in that area.   They also likely know how to sell to your boss, which can help you when you need to sell to your boss. 
  • Build a relationship with the Creative Team:  The creative teams want to engage with the client and will respect your attempts to get closer to them.   Like anyone, they will do a better job for those they know, respect and even admire.  Being the best client, will attract the best creative people on a given team.  They’ll want to work on your brand. 
  • Performance Improvements: Annual agency performance review, quarterly senior leadership discussion on what’s working/what’s not.  Ask “how can we get better?”, “how are my people doing?” and “how is the work?”. You can talk about the gaps you or your team might have, and ask for advice how to close those.
  • Let the Agency Make a Profit:  You can’t “nickel and dime” your agency.   Be open about your budget, but once set, let the agency work to that budget. 
If how you show up to the agency will produce better advertising work.  Then show up right. 

Follow me on Twitter @grayrobertson1

To see a training presentation on Get Better Advertising: 

 

If you are in the mood to see stories on great advertising, here’s a few other stories:

Other Stories You Might Like
  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
  2. Good Advertising:  Here’s a list of 10 things that good advertising should do, whether that’s separating your brand, telling a story or being focused.  To read more click on:   10 Things Good Advertising Should Do
  3. Turning Brand Love into Power and Profits:  The positioning statement sets up the promise that kick starts the connection between the brand and consumer.  There are four other factors that connect:  brand strategy, communication, innovation and experience.   The connectivity is a source of power that can be leveraged into deeper profitability.  To read more click on the hyper link:  Love = Power = Profits

 

Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

 

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To reach out directly, email me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com

About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

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How to Get Fired as a Brand Manager

BBI Learning LogoThere’s been a lot of great Assistant Brand Managers to be 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 address 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. Slide1They 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. ambiguity_road_signBrand 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. Slide1They 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.  

Use this list to ensure that you will be a successful Brand Manager career.
Ask Beloved Brands how we can help train you to be a better brand leader.
Read more about marketing careers in the following presentation:
 
 

email-Logo copyABOUT BELOVED BRANDS INC.:  At Beloved Brands, we are only focused on making brands better and making brand leaders better.Our motivation is that we love knowing we were part of helping someone to unleash their full potential.  We promise to challenge you to Think Different.  We believe the thinking that got you here, will not get you where you want to go.  grOur President and Chief Marketing Officer, Graham Robertson is a brand leader at heart, who loves everything about brands.  He comes with 20 years of experience at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke, where he was always able to find and drive growth.  Graham has won numerous new product and advertising awards. Graham brings his experience to your table, strong on leadership and facilitation at very high levels and training of Brand Leaders around the world.  To reach out directly, email me at graham.robertson@beloved-brands.com or follow on Twitter @grayrobertson1

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

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Ads with Strong Brand Link

It’s always easier to judge everyone else’s advertising than when you are on the hot seat and judging the ads on your own brand.  I’ve been there 100s of times, and I still find it very difficult. You try to balance having it be a good ad, jamming in all the messaging you want and still maintaining enough branding so that it pays off for the brand.

The tool I use for judging ads is the ABC’S.  The best ads attract Attention (A) are about the Brand (B)Communicate the brand’s story (C) and they Stick in people’s minds (S)

  • Attention:  You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising.  If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding:  Ads that are about the brand will link.  The balance is to have it be about the consumers view of the brand.  It’s not the amount of branding, but the climax to where the brand fits in.
  • Communication:  Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story.  Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it—because that says just as much.
  • Stickiness:  In the end, brands are really about “consistency”.  They exist in the minds of the consumer.  Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time

So let’s focus on the BRANDING part.  How do we ensure high brand link scores?  The 4 simple ways to brand your spot are:

  1. Be Part of the Story: In the spirit of big ideas, how do you tell a story, using your brand. It’s not how much branding you use, or how early you bring the brand name in, but rather how closely connected the brand to the climax of your ad.
  2. Is it the Truth: It sounds funny, but if there is a disconnect between what you say, and what you are….then the brand link won’t be there. People will discard the ad.   But ads that are hitting that truth zone really nail the brand link.  This starts with your creative brief to make sure it connects with what people think about the brand.
  3. Own the Idea Area: Be a bit different—make sure that what you do sets you apart from anyone else.  Not only does the difference help you stand out, it helps you to own it over time.  Within your category or your market, make sure that it doesn’t feel like a copy-cat ad.   “Me Too” = “Me” diocre.
  4. Repeat: Don’t be afraid of building your campaign—and the simplest way to get branding is to repeat and repeat and repeat.  So many great campaigns have built them over 5-10 yeas.  As you’re in the creative room, sit there and say “can I see this lasting for 5 years?  Is the idea big enough?”

Here are some brands that do a good job in driving Brand Link:

Google “Parisian Love”

Google’s first and only TV was a pure beauty.  Google is part of the story, in fact it’s the facilitator of every part of the story.  And for creative people that hate demos, this is just a demo!   All this ad does is showcase how using this product can make your life better, showing how often we now reach for Google as a support to everything we now do.  The beauty of this ad is they were able take the searches into such an emotional space.  Whenever you do an interesting demonstration of how your brand really works, the brand link will be very high.  The new great idea is to create an Ad that will be passed on.  Aired once during the Super Bowl, it’s been passed around emails and viewed on youtube millions of time.  In fact, there are hundreds of parody ads as well which shows the power of the idea.  

Listerine “Bottle Guy”

I’m sneaking another one of mine in here.  Listerine ads are hard to make interesting–it’s a very serious brand in a low interest category, it’s clinical with information to deliver and how can you make gingivitis interesting.  This campaign idea lasted 10 years, and had brand link scores of 85-97%.  People would dress up as Listerine at Halloween and when we brought the Bottle Guy to events, we had people lined up to get their photo taken with him.  These ads were kind of crazy–but so different that they stood out.  With such a high brand link and stickiness already embedded in the idea, we could dedicate all our attention to driving the message–a new message about healthier gums.  Truth be told, I wasn’t sure whether it would work or whether I’d be quickly fired.  But it was sure fun finding out–and Listerine grew over 10% for the next 10 years.   

Wheat Thins “Wheat Thins”

Imagine a creative idea that just says the brand name over and over again.  For those with a quirky sense of humour, this one works.   For an impulse driven brand, Wheat Thins aired these spots 5 minutes into football games last year.  Just how popcorn does ads at the beginning of a Movie, this media buy likely made a few people think about Wheat Thins for the next hour before they finally got up, went to their kitchens and grabbed the box.  It worked on me.  I kept saying “wheat thins” the rest of the day.  

Apple:  “Mac vs PC”

Mac took such a simple concept of the side-by-side demonstration and made it compelling and ownable.  In terms of repeating, Mac must have made hundreds of these, all great and all consistent to the same tone and message.  Part of the brilliance is they never shifted too far from the big idea and yet found room to continuously surprise and delight their loyal following.  So many creative teams presented the “apple” style ads after those ads, but in reality, Apple owned any two guys standing side-by-side.  

For more reading on the ABC’s, view the following presentation:

Or read an article on being An Advertising Leader.


About Graham Robertson: 
I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do. I have walked a mile in your shoes. My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. I’m now a marketing consultant helping brands find their love and find growth for their brands. I do executive training and coaching of executives and brand managers, helping on strategy, brand planning, advertising and profitability. I’m the President of Beloved Brands Inc. and can help you find the love for your brand. To read more about Beloved Brands Inc, visit http://beloved-brands.com/inc/

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How to Win by Linking into the Consumers’ Need for A Life Change

While the news is filled with change, change and more change.  While we talk at the lunch table about the changes we are going to make in our lives next year and while we walk around constantly thinking of ways to improve ourselves, most people hate change.  We think about change more than we take action for change. In fact, 95% of the thoughts we’ll have today, are the exact same thoughts we had yesterday.  How’s that for progress.

Ever notice when someone is going to quit smoking they might say “on February 1st, I’m going to quit” or “I’m going on my diet on Monday”.  It might sound silly but what they are doing is following the Preparation Stage of a Change Model as they put a stake in the ground so they can spend some time to mentally get ready for the change.  Change can happen in many categories but it happens a lot in the healthcare and wellness space, which is why January is filled with people go on diets, quit smoking, join a gym, start following a new routine.   The new year has triggered and facilitated the change.  It’s also why marketers in these categories want to own New Years eve or even Sunday night to capture consumers when they are ready for change.  I know when I worked at Johnson and Johnson, we specifically targeted Sunday nights, as people were in a mode for change as well as in the mood for digesting information.

In healthcare, the way I’ve always modelled change is to map out whether consumers are either proactive or reactive mindset and whether they are trying to prevent or repair a problem.  Proactives are driven by knowledge whereas Reactives are driven by an event.  Preventers are those who connect lifestyle to the health issue and are willing to change the lifestyle.  Whereas,  Repair types are those who directly address the issue at hand, but may not change their overall lifestyle.  Mapping this out, we see four potential types of consumers:

  • Proactive Preventers do what it takes to maintain their overall health.  They watch what they eat, workout, do things in moderation and maintain overall good health.   Their change is usually triggered by information about new learnings in the healthcare field.  They’d be early adopters to new trends.  What lies in their motivation could be a combination of overall health values or something in their family history that might motivate them to maintain such a healthy lifestyle.
  • Reactive Preventers change their ways and shift their life completely based on a trigger in their life.   It could be an event that happened directly to them or someone close to them.   The change is an awakening that makes them re-look everything in their life and then they realize they are no longer invincible.   They might start connecting the lifestyle to the event and then want to make the change overall.
  • Proactive Fix have the need for change triggered by knowledge.  It could be a news story or a key influencers provide them with new information that makes them undertake the change before things happen.  Many times people get so busy they didn’t realize what happened and then the trigger makes them re-look and fix it before things happen.  The trigger could be having a baby or turning 40 or just a realization that things got out of control.
  • Reactive Fix are usually those who experience something bad and then they feel forced to make a change.  It could be the first major health scare. The change is isolated to the cause of the event.

The most common change model has 5 stages:

  1. Pre-Contemplation where they are not ready or willing to change.  They likely know the health risks, but they remain at the denial or invincible stage.
  2. Contemplation usually triggered by something they might consider and even start to get ready.  This is where they may dig in and find out information about what a potential change would entail and judge whether they are capable of such a change.
  3. Preparation where they declare to themselves that they are ready for the change.  Here’s where they set a date, decide on what steps they may need for the change and look into tools that can help them.
  4. Action which is the early stages of the change.  Most people need to see some early results as motivation to keep going.   People are continuously quitting smoking or going on diets–whether that’s every year or even monthly.
  5. Maintenance where they try to keep going with the change.  One of the biggest issues in the healthcare world is compliance.  People relapse back to their old ways, starting to smoke again or re-gain the lost weight.   They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, but with the degree of change it could take even a year.   And relapses have been known to happen years later.

How the Marketing can Match up to the Change Model

At the early stages, you need to find some way to trigger them into the consideration of the need for change.  For the Pro-Active Consumers, you can take advantage of their mindset by trying to trigger a need for change by connecting your product to a risk or a known solution need state.  You would want to drive problem awareness & outline risks, dangers, issues of non action.  For the Reactive Consumers, you likely need to be there at the trigger point, using key influencers such as healthcare professionals to help dial-up the seriousness of the need for change.

As consumers are in the contemplation stage, they start to prepare and get themselves ready.  You want to show positive easy solutions and make change feel do-able.  You can use your product to help them visualize that the change would be easier and help set up the idea that they are capable.  You can change their minds about their confidence level with something new.

As they move to the preparation stage, they’ll look for information that can help their journey and re-enforce their capability for achieving success.  You want to Own Search.  In the modern world, consumers turn to the internet before they turn to healthcare professionals.  By helping the consumer early, you may be able to hold onto them throughout the change journey.  The problem is that every brand knows this and will drive the costs of search and everyone is doing great websites that are  providing information, advice and tips as they ready themselves.  You may wish to use the entry point as the time to introduce the idea of a coach or self-help group.  As consumers feel reluctant to take action, they worry they may fail.  The coach or group can help add confidence they are not in this alone. Professional, peer, counsellor or on-line support.  With the internet, a virtual coach can be highly effective with daily motivational tips to keep going.

Just before the Action stage, it’s important to help them set realistic goals.   Baby steps might be necessary early on, so the consumer can experience a degree of success and feel motivated to keep going.  Early failure could send them into the relapse before the change kicks in.   They say it’s 21 days to change a habit, but it’s usually a lot longer with all the temptations around.

The change doesn’t end until you get through the maintenance stage. It becomes all about compliance and building the change into your life.   Even a year later, you could find an event that triggers you into a relapse.  A lot of vices are connected with stress.   For many, comfort food or a coffee and a cigarette just feel great when things get highly stressful.  So a new level of life stress can see the consumer reaching for old habits.  Compliance is never an easy thing–even the most serious of heart medications can struggle with compliance.

Keep Awareness Strong at all stages.  Depending on the potential size of the business, you may wish to cover all parts of the Change Model with a constant level of brand awareness.  You want to be visible so that when the consumer turns to looking at solutions, you’re well known and the first point of consideration.  For smaller and more specific categories, the first point of awareness would come into play after the consumer has been diagnosed giving power to that doctor recommendation.  Doctors love to write scripts, because their patients expect answers.  But they can also be conservative and slow to adopt new items, preferring to stay with their trust and usual choice.

Having worked in the quit smoking business for years, here’s a TV ad that shows just how hard change really is.   People quit 6-8 times on their own before reaching for the help of a quit smoking product such as Nicoderm or Nicorrette.  We capitalized on that fact to show a side-by-side demonstration of the difference when using Nicoderm.

About Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do. I have walked a mile in your shoes. My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. I’m now a marketing consultant helping brands find their love and find growth for their brands. I do executive training and coaching of executives and brand managers, helping on strategy, brand planning, advertising and profitability. I’m the President of Beloved Brands Inc. and can help you find the love for your brand. To read more about Beloved Brands Inc, visit http://beloved-brands.com/inc/

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