My hope is that these white papers can help you and your teams improve. They should challenge your thinking or inspire you to keep pushing towards doing great work. I write these to the audience of Brand Leaders, from someone who has led brands at every level, from ABM to VP.
1.0 What makes a Beloved Brand?
The more loved a Brand, then the more powerful and valuable that Brand is. In the consumer’s mind, brands sit on a Brand Love Curve, with brands going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved Brand for Life. At the Beloved stage, demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings. Consumers become outspoken fans. It’s this connection that helps drive power for your brand: power versus competitors, versus customers, versus suppliers and even versus the same consumers you’re connected with. The farther along the curve, the more power for the brand. It’s important that you understand where your brand sits on the Love Curve and begin figuring out how to move it along towards becoming a Beloved Brand.
With each stage of the Brand Love Curve, the consumer will see your brand differently. The worst case is when consumers have “no opinion” of your brand. They just don’t care. It’s like those restaurants you stop at in the middle of no-where that are called “restaurant”. In those cases, there is no other choice so you may as well just name it restaurant. But in highly competitive markets, you survive by being liked, but you thrive by being loved. Be honest with yourself as to what stage you are at, and try to figure out how to be more loved, with a vision of getting to the Beloved Brand stage.
As a rule, everything starts and ends with the consumer in mind. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. And then find a way to match up your brand’s natural strengths to what your consumer is looking for, to develop a competitive advantage that you can satisfy better than anyone else. Talk in terms of benefits, a balance of rational and emotional. If you keep talking features, you’ll never truly capture the consumer. They don’t care about what you do, until they get something from it. You have to intimately know your consumer and build a relationship with consumers. It’s that relationship at that Love It stage that becomes a source of power, which can be leveraged to gain share, drive sales, increase price or extend usage, all of which helps to drive growth and profits which then has an impact on the overall value for their brand. Execution matters as much as strategy. There’s a certain magic in the way a brand strategies can be executed to connect with the consumer. The more you love your work, the more they’ll love your brand.
2.0 How to Think Strategically
Learn about a new way to think strategically or just to challenge your strategic mind. There are four elements to help you:
- FOCUS all your energy to a particular strategic point or purpose. Match up your brand assets to pressure points you can break through, maximizing your limited resources—either financial resources or effort. Make tough choices and opt be loved by the few rather than tolerated by the many.
- You want that EARLY WIN, to kick start of some momentum. Early Wins are about slicing off parts of the business or population where you can build further. Without the early win, you’ll likely seek out some new strategy even a sub-optimal one. Or someone in management will say “it’s not working”. You don’t want either of those–so the early win helps keep people moving towards the big win.
- LEVERAGE everything to gain positional advantage or power that helps exert even greater pressure and gains the tipping point of the business that helps lead to something bigger. This is where strategy provides that return–you get more than the effort you’re doing from it.
- Seeing beyond the early win, there has to be a GATEWAY point, which is the entrance or a means of access to something even bigger. It could be getting to the masses, changing opinions or behaviours. Return on Investment or Effort.
3.0 How to Drive Profits Through Your Brand
How the Love for a Brand Impacts on Profitability
You should be looking at your business through the lens of your brand. Yes, the brand promise sets up how the external community views your brand whether that’s consumers, customers or key influencers. It’s the consistency in delivering the promise that connects consumers with your brand, both emotionally and rationally, letting it become a part of their lives. But equally so, brand becomes an internal beacon to help guide behaviour, decisions, action, structure and the formation of a culture. You should drive your growth and profitability through your brand, with a focus on driving share, enhancing price while managing costs and finding new markets.
Consumer’s love is a source of power, changing the dynamic versus the channel, suppliers, competitors and even the consumers.
- Consumers feel more and think less. It’s a part of them. They are fans, craving the brand and build it into their life. They can’t live without the brand. It becomes easier to charge consumers a premium for your brand. You can drive more sales per consumer creating a routine; you can easily convert them to a broader portfolio of your brands with new product launches.
- The Channel needs the brand, caters to them, cannot stand up to them. With a beloved brand, it becomes well known that consumers would switch customers before switching brands. This leaves the channel less powerful in negotiations and will give the beloved brand preferential treatment. Price increases, lower trade percentages, trade support and success of new launches all impact the P&L positively.
- Suppliers are at the mercy of the brand. In pure economics, the higher volumes give you efficiencies to drive down costs and increase your margins. But even more, suppliers build their business completely around the brand and can’t get out. Pushing the suppliers to cut costs has a big impact on COGs.
- Agencies will want to be part of the brand. Program costs should be more efficient not just on the volume but on agencies reducing their own margins/pricing in order to have your brand on their client roster. At the agency, the best creative people will want to work on the beloved brand. This can positively impact program costs—including lower fees, production costs or access to better talent.
- It becomes hard for New Brands to break through. New brand starts in the rational position making it difficult to break the emotional bond the Beloved Brand has created. It has to be significantly better to even gain consideration because the consumer isn’t as rational as they are emotional in their decision making. The Beloved Brand can maintain their share by holding on to the very loyal base of consumers.
- No real Competitive Substitutes can match. It becomes less about product and more about connection and how consumer feels though the brand. The Beloved Brand has a Monopoly on feelings. Takes away ability to substitute to compete. It’s less about rational points of difference, even going beyond the emotional differences that can be expressed. It becomes about the experience and the perceptions. The Beloved Brand can easily steal share, drive users to use more and even create new uses that directly impact the competitors within the scope of the Beloved Brand.
- Special Treatment from Earned and influenced Media. Traditional Media is more likely to give lower rates based on volume. But they’ll look for alternative sponsorship or special arrangements for a brand that is loved. They see the benefits of association and will push to have that brand part of their brand. With the news media, the moves of Beloved Brand become newsworthy and will have an easier time gaining a return on a PR push. Within the social media area, Beloved Brands are more likely to be liked, shared or searched. This gives the Beloved Brand a much more efficient spending to sales ratios.
Most marketers will tell you that branding is about positioning. I think positioning is a means to driving growth and making money.
4.0 Having a Successful Career in Marketing
At every level you have to adjust to the new role. Brand Managers fail when they keep acting like ABMs and Directors fail when they keep acting like Brand Managers and VPs fail when they don’t know what to do. In a classic marketing team, the four key roles are Assistant Brand Manager up to Brand Manager then up to Marketing Director and on to the VP Marketing role.
In simple terms of the roles:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- VP Marketing: 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.
One thing to keep in mind is the Idiot Curve which shows up at every level. The basic rule of the Idiot Curve is: You get dumber before you get smarter. When you first land the ABM job, there’s just so much to learn, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I find it takes 3 months to get back to being just as smart as you were on the first day. It’s over-whelming at first, and yet you see all these other ABMs doing it so that’s even more intimidating. But the idiot curve is inevitable. It just shows up differently for each person. No matter how hard you fight it, you have to ride the curve. (But, please fight through the curve; you have to for your survival) The Idiot Curve normally lasts up to 3 months, and then things just start to click. And you’ll experience it in a new and exciting way you can’t even predict.
But the Idiot Curve shows up again in the first few months of each level. In the first few months as a Brand Manager, they keep doing the ABM role because that’s what they know. They frustrate the hell out of their ABM. They keep recommending and acting small rather than start deciding and stepping up to the leadership role. At the Director role, they continue to be the Brand Manager. They get nervous where they shouldn’t, whether it’s with senior people in other functions or even within marketing. They prefer to keep doing, and in those moment there is nothing “to do”, they walk around and start doing other people’s jobs. At the VP level,the first few months are lonely as you no longer have peers you can bounce ideas off. Your peers assume you can do the job, and they don`t want to hear your problems. At each level, you secretly feel like an Idiot. You don’t want it to show, but in a way, you should use it to your advantage.
There are core marketing values you should instill and use throughout your career:
- Be Consumer Focused: Everything Starts and Ends With the Consumer in Mind. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and think like them. Steve Jobs said he never needed research, but he must have been amazing at listening, observing and anticipating how the consumer would react. I’d still recommend you do research, but go beyond the statistics of the research and learn how your consumer thinks. Whenever I go to focus groups, I watch their faces. And when the research results come back you always have to ask “so now what do we do”. The research helps you, but never gives you the exact answer. Match up the needs of the consumer to your brand assets to figure out your ideal brand positioning. The best marketers represent the consumer to the brand, NOT the brand to the consumer. I always believe that consumers are selfish and deservedly so because they have money to spend. As a consumer, I don’t care what you do until you care about what I need. Focus on them, not on you.
- Follow Your Instincts: Gut Feel of Marketing: Listen to your inner thoughts, they are in there. Too many times people fail because “they went along with it even though they didn’t like it”. The problem is that sometimes your instincts are hidden away. You get confused, you feel the pressure to get things done and you’ve got everyone telling you to go for it. You get scared because you’re worried about getting promoted and want to do the ‘right thing’. But your gut is telling you it’s just not right. My rule is simple: if you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand. The worst type of marketer is someone who says “I never liked the brief” or “I never liked the ad”. If you blame your agency or team after the fact, I have a word for people like you: “useless”.
- Revel in Ambiguity: Be Patient with Ideas. Never be afraid of an idea and never kill it quickly. Watch the signals you send that make suck the creativity out of your team. If you become too predictable to your team, then your work in the market will also become predictable. Ambiguity and time pressure usually work against each other. Don’t ever settle for “ok” just because of a deadline. Always push for great. What I have found is the longer I can stay comfortable in the “ambiguity zone” the better the ideas get whether it’s the time pressure that forces our thinking to be simpler or whether it’s the performance pressure forces us to push for our best idea, I always say, the longer I can hold my breath, the better the work gets.
- You Run the Brand, Don’t Let the Brand Run You: Be thoroughly organized, well planned and know the pulse of your business. 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” Stay in Control: Hit the Deadlines, don’t give the appearance that you’re not in control. We have enough to do, that things will just stockpile on each other. Know Your Business and don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge. Enjoy doing the monthly report because it makes you the most knowledgeable about the brand. Stay conceptual; avoid getting stuck in the pennies or decimals.Process should enable us, not hinder us: A good process can force your thinking towards a solution. If it restricts your thinking, it’s not a good process. But if it means, you free up your time for strategic thinking, instead of format thinking, we’ll move much faster.
- Be the Brand Leader not the Follower: The more you keep your boss informed the more rope they may give you. If they don’t know what you’re doing, they may clamp down and micro-manage you. . Ensure a policy of open communication with no surprises: Make sure you keep your team informed and involved. Keep senior management informed. You must be the champion of the brand. The best ideas are those that erupt out from the brand team–not from a top down perspective. You have to be a self-starter that pushes your idea through the system, in the face of resistance or doubt. And you will meet resistance from so many people in the system. All the best work I ever did met a large degree of resistance. You have to anticipate this and work through it. One subtlety to ownership is your tone. When you don’t know something, speak in an “asking way” and openly seek out the wisdom and advice of your agency, your manager or your peers. Put your ego aside and listen. But equally, when you do know the answer, speak in a “telling way” that gets others to follow you, including senior management.
- Speed, Simplicity and Self Confidence: a) Speed: We don’t do things fast for the sake of it; we do things fast so we can take advantage of opportunities that have a window. If you recognize an opportunity, realize that others are also recognizing the same opportunity. So speed to market can enable you to win before they get there. Also, doing things fast does not mean sloppy. b) Simplicity: I’ve always said, “If you have a complex answer to something, odds are you are wrong”. Keep it simple enough to explain, and so that the people who need to execute our ideas can really execute them. c) Self Confidence: As the brand leader, speak your mind. After all, we are all just walking opinions. Find a way within your leadership style to engage your team, agency or your boss in a debate to get to better answers.
5.0 Doing Your Own Self Evaluation
Other Stories You Might Like
- 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
- 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
- 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