Six ways to challenger brand leaders to go from good to GREAT

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

GREAT Brand Leaders focus, represent the consumer, match fundamentals with instinct, inspire others, create other great leaders and leave a legacy.

1. GREAT Brand Leaders push to make focused choices.

Everyone says they are good decision makers, but very few are. If you present an either-or situation to many brand leaders, they struggle with the decision. So they try to find a way to say, “Let’s do a little of both”. A great brand leader knows decision-making starts with the choices where you have to pick one, not both. Brands only exist to drive more profit than if we just sold the product without a name on it.

Marketing has to be all about ROI (Return on Investment). For the best Brand Leaders, ROI should come naturally. It simply means you get more back, than what you put into it. Marketers always have limited resources (financial, time, people, partnerships). They apply those resources against an unlimited number of possible choices (target, positioning, strategies or tactics). The only way the equation works is when you limit the number of possible choices to match the limited resources. You can’t do everything so you have to do the most important things.Success in Marketing

Don’t tell yourself that you are good at making decisions if you come to a decision point and you always choose BOTH. Strategic thinkers never DIVIDE and conquer. They make choices to FOCUS and conquer


Focus on a tight consumer target, to find those already highly motivated to buy what you have to sell. Get them to love you, rather than targeting everyone and get them to like you. The leading brands within each category are more loved than the pack of brands struggling to figure themselves out. It is better to be loved by a few than tolerated by everyone.

I once talked to a bank whose target was 18-65, current customers, new customers and employees. That’s not a target. How can you have an adequate ROI if you are spreading your limited resources against EVERYONE? As a brand, we always try to matter. Well, if you matter to anyone, then you have to matter to those who care the most.

To be GREAT, focus on creating a tightly defined reputation that sets your brand up to own an area.

A brand has four choices: better, different, cheaper or not around for very long. Giving the consumer too many messages about your brand will confuse them as to what makes your brand unique. Trying to be everything to everyone is the recipe for being nothing to anyone. Today, consumers receive 5,000 brand messages a day. Wow. As a consumer, how many of those 5,000 do you engage with and digest each day? Maybe a few? Then why as a Marketer, are you trying to shout 3 or 4 messages? It is really odd for you to think that the way to enter an overwhelmed crowded brain is to give more messages and not less. Slow down and keep it simple. Great Brand Leaders find a way focus on one message.

When I ask a room full of Marketers, tell me one word that defines Volvo, half the room yells “SAFETY”. Volvo has been singularly focused on the safety since the 1950s. Not just externally, but internally.  The safety positioning guides every decision. That is focus.

If I asked your team for one word that describes your brand, would I get the same word?  Why not?

Penetration versus usage frequency

I see too many brand plans have both penetration (getting new users to use) and frequency (getting current users to use more) in their plan. Do you want to get more people to eat your brand or those that already do to eat more? A Penetration Strategy gets someone with very little experience with your brand to likely consider dropping their current brand to try you once and see if they like it.

A Usage Frequency Strategy gets someone who knows and uses your brand in the way they choose, to change their current behavior in relationship to your brand, either changing their current life routine or substituting your brand into a higher share of the occasions. These are very different strategies. And it is a choice you must make. I see so many Brand Plans and Creative Briefs with both penetration and usage frequency strategies. Go look at your plan and see if you are really making choices. Because if you’re not, then you are not making decisions, you’re just making a very long to-do list that will exhaust your resources.

When you focus, four things happen for your brand:

  1. Better return on investment (ROI)
  2. Better return on effort (ROE)
  3. Stronger reputation
  4. More competitive
  5. More investment behind the brand

Next time you are faced with a decision, make the choice. Don’t pick both, just in case you are wrong. All you are doing is dividing your limited resources by spreading them across both choices—which turns limited resources into sparse resources. Without the right support, you won’t see the expected movement on your brand and instead of putting more resources behind the right ideas you then put even less. I always say that a strategic person would never get the “steak and eggs” but rather would choose twice the steak. When faced with choices, a GREAT brand leader picks one, never both.

2. GREAT Brand Leaders represent the consumer to the Brand.

Everything starts and ends with the consumer in mind. I always ask Brand Leaders: “Do you represent your brand to your consumer or do you represent your consumer to the brand?” It is an important question as to your mindset of how you do your job. Start thinking like your consumer and be their representative to your brand. There is only one source of revenue on your financial statements. It is not the products you sell, but it is the consumer who buys your brand.

When you think like your consumer, you will notice the work gets better, you will see clearer paths to growth and you will start to create a brand that the consumer loves rather than just likes. Marketing is about creating a tight connection with your consumer. The more love you generate for your brand, the more powerful position it occupies in the marketplace and the more profit it can generate from that source of power.

You have to get in the consumer’s shoes, observe, listen and understand their favorite parts of the day. You have to know their fears, motivations, frustrations and desires. Learn their secrets, that only they know, even if they can’t explain. Learn to use their voice. Build that little secret into your message, using their language, so they’ll know you are talking to them. We call this little secret the consumer insight. When portrayed with the brand’s message, whether on packaging, an advertisement or at the purchase moment, the consumer insight is the first thing that consumers connect with.

When consumers see the insight portrayed, we make them think: “That’s exactly how I feel. I thought I was the only one who felt like that.” This is what engages consumers and triggers their motivation and desire to purchase. The consumers think we must be talking to them, even if it looks like we are talking to millions.

Consumer Insights are secrets that we discover and use to our brand’s advantage.

It is not easy to explain a secret to a person who doesn’t even know how to explain their own secret. Try it with a friend and you will fail miserably. Imagine how hard it is to find that secret and portray it back to an entire group of consumers. Safe to say, consumer insights are hard to find. The dictionary definition of the word Insight is “seeing below the surface”. To get deeper, when you come across a data point, you have to keep looking, listening asking yourself “so what does that mean for the consumer” until you have an “AHA moment”.

You can start with the observations, trends, market facts and research data, but only when you start asking the right questions do you get closer to where you can summarize the insight. Look and listen for the consumer’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that help explain how they think, feel or act in relationship to your brand or category. Because the facts are merely on the surface, you have to dig, or you will miss out on the depth of the explanation of the underlying feelings within the consumers that caused the data. Think beyond the specific category insights and think about life insights or even societal trends that could impact changing behavior.

Good insights get in the SHOES of your consumer and use their VOICE. We force every insight to be written starting with the word “I” to get the Marketer into the shoes of the consumer and force them to put the insight in quotes to use their voice.

3. GREAT Brand Leaders are fundamentally sound, even when using their instincts.

I am a huge believer that marketing fundamentals matter. In fact, we train Brand Leaders on all the fundamentals of marketing including strategic thinking to writing brand plans and creative briefs. But that’s a starting point to which you grow from. If you don’t use fundamentals in how you do your job, you will and should be fired.

Great Brand Leaders know when to be a strategic thinker and when to be an action thinker. Strategic thinkers see “what if” questions before seeing solutions, mapping out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They take time to reflect and plan before acting, helping you move in a focused efficient fashion. They think slowly, logically, always needing options, but if go too slow, you will miss the opportunity window.

Action thinkers see answers before even knowing the right questions, using instincts and impulse. Any delays will frustrate them, believing that doing something is better than nothing at all. This “make it happen” mode gets things done, but if you go too fast, your great actions will be solving the wrong problem. Always find the right balance by thinking slowly with strategy and thinking quickly with your instincts.

A good Brand Leader does a good job of bringing fundamentals into how they do their job. They know how to back up the fundamentals by gathering the right facts to support their arguments. GREAT Brand Leaders are able to take it to the next level and bring those same fundamentals and match them against their instincts. They have a gut feel for decisions they can reach into and bring out at the boardroom table based on the core fundamentals, the experience they bring from past successes and failures as well as this instinctual judgement.

It’s not that great marketers have better instincts. It is that great marketers are able to believe in their instincts and bring instincts into their decision making. They use their head, their gut and their heart to decide the pathway on finding greatness in Marketing.

4. GREAT Brand Leaders find their greatness in the greatness of others.

I think what made me really good at my job is that I did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Over my 20 years of Brand Management, whenever I walked into a meeting, I used to whisper to myself: “You are the least knowledgeable person in the room. Use that to your advantage.” The power was in the ability to ask clarification questions.

When I was in with the scientists, following my C+ in 10th grade Chemistry, I was about as smart as my consumer that I represent. I needed to make sure all the science was easy to explain. With my ad agencies, I finally figured out that I never had to solve problems. I just gave them my problems to solve. It became like therapy. Plus, with six years of business school without one art class, what do I know about art. I was smart enough to know that I needed to make the most out of the experts I was paying.

Get comfortable with the idea that you don’t do anything

While we don’t make the product, we don’t sell the product or create the Ads, we do touch everything that goes into the marketplace and we make every decision. All of our work is done through other people. Our greatness as a Brand Leader has to come from the experts we engage, so they will be inspired to reach for their own greatness and apply it on our brand. Brand Management has been built on a hub-and-spoke system, with a team of experts surrounding the generalist Brand Leader. When I see Brand Managers of today doing stuff, I feel sorry for them. They are lost. Brand Leaders are not designed to be experts in marketing communications, experts in product innovation and experts in selling the product. You are trained to be a generalist, knowing enough to make decisions, but not enough to actually do the work.

Fifteen years ago, Ad Agencies broke apart the creative and the media departments into separate agencies. This forced Brand Leaders to step in and be the referee on key decisions. Right after that, the explosion of new digital media options that mainstream agencies were not ready to handle forced the Brand Leader to take another step in. With the increasing speed of social media, Brand Leaders have taken one more step in. Three steps in and Brand Leaders can’t find a way to step back again. Some Brand Leaders love stepping in too far so they can control the outcome of the creative process. However, if you are now doing all the work, then who is critiquing the work to make sure it fits the strategy? Pretty hard to think and do at the same time.

Brand Leaders need to take a step back and let the creativity of execution to unfold. I always say that is okay to know exactly what you want, but you should never know until the moment you see it. As the client, I like to think of marketing execution like the perfect gift that you never thought to buy yourself. How we engage our experts can either inspire greatness or crush the spirit of creativity. From my experience, experts would prefer to be pushed than held back. The last thing experts want is to be asked for their expertise and then told exactly what to do. There is a fine line between rolling up the sleeves to work alongside the experts and pushing the experts out of the way.

It is time to step back and assume your true role as the Brand Leader. Trust me, it is a unique skill to be able to inspire, challenge, question, direct and decide, without any expertise at all. After all, I am an expert in doing nothing.

5. GREAT Brand Leaders create other GREAT Brand Leaders on their team.

Great Brand Leaders focus on their people first, believing that is the best way to drive results. The formula is simple: the smarter the people, the better the work they will produce and in turn the stronger the results will be. Invest in training and development. Marketing Training is not just on the job, but also in the classroom to find ways to challenge their thinking and give them added skills to be better in their jobs.

Great Brand Leaders know that marketing fundamentals still matter. There is a lot of evidence in the market that the classic fundamentals are falling, whether it is strategic thinking, writing a brand plan, writing a creative brief or judging great advertising. As things move faster, Marketers seem more willing to let go of the fundamentals.

However, as the speed increases that should be even more of a reason o reach for your fundamentals. People are NOT getting the same learning and development they did in prior generations of Marketing. Investing in training, not only makes your people smarter, but it is motivating for them to know that you are investing in them.

Great Brand Leaders find ways put the spotlight on their people. It is time to let them own it and let them Shine. Make it about them, not you. Great Brand Leaders find ways to challenge your team and yet recognize when the work.

6. GREAT Brand Leaders have a desire to leave a legacy.

I am always asked so what does it take to be great at marketing, and I’ll always jokingly say, “Well, they aren’t all good qualities”. The best marketers I have seen have an ego that fuels them. The best Marketers are like thorough-bred race horse. Use your ego in the right way, so that it shows up as confidence and a belief in yourself. I can tell you that out of the ten great projects I worked on throughout my career, each met major resistance at some point. It was my confidence that helped me over-come roadblocks whether they cam from peers or bosses.

I always challenge Brand Leaders to think of the next person who will be in their chair, and what you want to leave them. When you create a Brand Vision, you should think 10 years from now, advertising campaigns should last at least 5 years and the strategic choices you make should gain share and drive the brand to a new level. Yet, the reality is you will be in the job for 2-4 years. When you write a Brand Plan, you should think of the many audiences like senior leaders, ad agencies and those that work on your brand, but you also should think about the next Brand Leader.

What will you do, to leave the brand in a better position than when you took it on?

What will be your legacy on your brand?

Great Brand Leaders always push for greatness and never settle for OK

Here’s a free copy of our e-book on “How to achieve success in Marketing”.



You will find this type of thinking in my book, Beloved Brands.

Beloved Brands Book

I wrote my book, Beloved Brands, as the playbook for how to build a brand your consumers will love.

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At Beloved Brands, we help build brands that consumers love and we make brand leaders smarter.

🎈Help create a brand positioning statement that motivates consumers to buy, and gives your brand an ownable competitive advantage.

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To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

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