How you think and how you decide will define how you lead

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

There are many models to help you figure out who you are. For brand management, I will simplify it with two questions: 

  1. How do you think; fast or slow
  2. How do you make decisions; rational or emotional 

This model leads to four marketing leadership styles: the strategic thinker, the instinctual thinker, the consensus socializer, and the taskmaster who gets stuff done. The best Brand Leaders can maneuver with each of these styles. The trick for success is to use the right style at the right leadership moment. We will use these models at various points in this book to challenge you to be more flexible in how you show up. 

 

When facing a challenging strategic situation, use slow thinking with difficult and interruptive questions that force you to dig deeper and uncover the issues hidden beneath the surface. When deciding on the creative marketing execution, use faster thinking with your common sense, gut instincts that reside at the surface level.

Bring a rational and emotional approach to your decisions. When it comes to the business side of a brand, whether it is analytics, forecasting, strategy or financial, use logic to compare choices so you can make a rational decision. When working through the creativity of marketing, use your emotions. Do you love it? Will you be proud of the work? Do you want this work to be your legacy?

How you think and how you make decisions

We each have a natural style, and it can inform how we show up in a marketing role. Use your natural style to your advantage. Equally, we likely have a gap or blindspot with one of these styles. Unless you address your gap, it can become glaring as you face pressure points or when you try to move up to a more senior level. 

My natural style was the instinctual thinker, who went with quick, emotional gut instincts, who also had task-master abilities to get things done. With experience, I learned to slow down and add the strategic thinking style at the more senior levels. I will admit to a blind spot on the consensus socializer. I was a driver-type leader, but with a lower EQ, unable to observe or hear the personal objections of others, especially coming from the other functional areas. 

Where is your natural style, and where is your gap? How can you maneuver from one style to the next? 

Use the right style at the right time

In my Beloved Brands book, I introduced my ThinkBox concept, which I have borrowed from sports. For instance, in golf, using the ThinkBox forces you to assess the overall situation you face as you consider everything you are facing before taking the shot. Look at any lakes or bunkers in the way, the distance, wind condition, or how well you are playing that day. Then, decide on your shot strategy. 

As you move to a PlayBox, visualize the ideal shot, think and feel your way through the mechanics of your swing, and trust you are making the right shot. Do not over-think the strategy during your execution. In golf, thinking while swinging is a sure-fire way to end up in the lake you are trying to avoid.  

Start with a strategic thinking style, with interruptive questions to dig in and assess your brand’s core strength, the brand’s relationship with consumers, competitive activity in the marketplace, and the business situation you face. Turn your thinking into the best strategic questions that will lead to smarter, creative marketing solutions. 

 

Once you see the creative solutions, you move to the Execution PlayBox, using your instincts and gut-feel to think and feel your way to a decision. Once you have the decision, you now shift to a consensus socializer style, as you need to sell your ideas throughout the organization. Finally, after gaining approval, you become the taskmaster who gets it done by staying organized, hits key milestones, and pushes people to deliver. As in the golf analogy, avoid revisiting your strategy while you moving through the Execution PlayBox stage.

Strategic Thinkers see questions before they look for answers

Ever hear someone say, “That’s a good question?”  It usually means someone has just asked an interruptive question, designed to slow everyone’s thinking, so they reflect and plan before they act. 

The strategic thinking side of marketing is logical and has to map out a range of decision trees that intersect, by imagining how events will play out in the future. Use logic to separate through the options, never getting too emotionally attached to an answer. 

The trick to being strategic is to think slowly with strategy. If you move too quickly on brand strategy, you will be unable to see the insights beneath the surface, and you risk solving the wrong problem. 

On the other hand, the risk of being only strategic is that, if you think too long, you may spiral around, unable to decide. Moreover, you may miss an opportunity window. Don’t be the smart guy who never gets anything done.

Five ways to slow your brain down to think more strategically

  1. Find your own thinking time. My best thinking never happens when I am at my desk or stuck in a meeting. Change your pace by going for a walk at lunch or a drive to get away from it all. There is proof that performing routine tasks like gardening or working out will free up the thinking part of your brain.  
  2. Organize your week to fit your thinking pace. Start the week with quick updates on Monday to clear your mind for the rest of the week. Our jobs get in the way of thinking time. You can block off a few hour-long “thinking meetings” with yourself, and focus the hour on one problem at a time.
  3. Do the deep thinking before it gets to a decision point. Always be digging deep into the analytics to stay aware, prepare yourself, no matter your level. Summarize every data point into a key issue question. 
  4. Be the one who asks the best questions. Too many marketers try to impress with the best answers. Next time, stump the room with the best questions to slow your team down and force them to think.
  5. Proactively meet your cross-functional teams. Listen to their problems as they bubble up, rather than wait for a pressure point where emotions can escalate into conflict. Emotions can get in the way of logic. Once you hear the issues, you can go back with logical solutions, so you both win.

Instinctual Thinkers inspire executional greatness

I believe the best brands win because of the passionate and lasting love they have established with their most cherished consumers. It is the smart, creative marketing execution that consumers see and touch, whether it is an innovative product, engaging advertising, exceptional service, or the overall experience with the brand. 

As the brand leader, when you see new ideas coming from your team, the first thing you should ask is, “Do you love it?” as the first filter for what makes great work. Great brand leaders can never settle for O.K. Each time you reject O.K., the work naturally gets better. It will make your expectations higher. When you love your work, you will fight for it, with your agency, your boss, or anyone in the way. On the other hand, if you do not love the work, how can you ever expect your consumers to love your brand? Your experts will see your passion shining through. The best instinctual leaders use their gut-instincts to inspire creativity and judge which ideas will work. They move fast, using their impulsive and intuitive gut feel. They choose emotion over logic.

While you should go slowly on strategy, you should think quickly with execution. When you first see an idea, use your fast-twitch brain muscles to pick the winner and reject the bad ideas. Think and feel your way to a decision, then follow through by trusting your gut feeling. Do not overthink and second-guess yourself, or you risk destroying the creativity.

Brand management jobs are challenging and can suck the creativity out of us. You run from meeting to meeting, one minute it’s a forecasting meeting, then talking with a scientist about a new ingredient, or working on a presentation for management. All of a sudden, you jump into a creative meeting and can’t find your instincts. I see many brand leaders show up in a confused state, unable to lead the process and incapable of making a creative decision.

I created a gut instincts checklist to help get you back to where you should be. Relax. Smile. Have fun. The gut instincts checklist forces you to explore your passion for the idea, because “do you love it?  is the ultimate bar for an idea to pass. Then, make sure it delivers the strategy you have been working on for months. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes, and think whether the work will motivate them to act whether you want them to see, think, do, or feel differently than before they saw the work. Use your common sense, to make sure the idea breaks through the clutter of the market, is a fit with the brand, communicates the main message, and will it stick in the minds and hearts of consumers? Finally, will you be proud of this work? Pride goes beyond passion because the best marketers I have seen want to leave a legacy of outstanding work. 

Five ways to speed up your brain to use your instincts to their fullest

  1. Focus on your first impressions. Do you love what the marketing execution work has the potential to do? Does it match the creative brief? Will you be proud of this work as your legacy? Do not take notes at a creative meeting. When you focus on details early on, you miss out on how big the idea will be.
  2. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer. Your job is not to represent the brand to the consumer, but to represent your consumer to the brand. Learn who they are, observe how they talk, respond, and act. Try to react and think as they might. Make sure the marketing execution work speaks directly to the consumer target by leveraging consumer insights to connect, deepen our bond with our consumers and builds memories and rituals. 
  3. Make sure the marketing execution fits with the brand and distinguishes it in the marketplace. Make sure it delivers the brand idea, leverages your creative assets, and fits with the tone of the brand. Know the functional or emotional benefits that will motivate consumers and be ownable for the brand.
  4. Find the magic within the smart, creative marketing execution. Make sure it will be different enough to capture attention within the clutter, engage consumers with the brand, and the brand a significant part of the work. Focus on communicating the main benefit in a way that is easy for consumers to understand and motivating enough to move consumers to think, feel, or act. 
  5. Stay in the moment. Relax, smile, have fun, stay positive. If you get too tense, stiff, serious, you will negatively impact the team. Do not come up with concerns that are not there. While you need to be smart, don’t cast every possible doubt that can destroy the creativity of the idea.

Consensus Socializers align everyone who works on the brand

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 to our brand. Brand management has been built on a hub-and-spoke system, with a team of experts surrounding the generalist brand leader.

Consensus socializers are able to move ideas and projects through an organization. Consensus socializers move slowly, use their emotional instincts, staying aware of what others think. You need a high EQ, to listen, maneuver and gain alignment across a complex organization. Regardless of strategy or execution, without alignment, you could run into road blocks that halt any progress on the brand. 

As the brand leader, you must work with those experts in every function in the organization, as well as the partners outside your company that support the brand. There is nothing worse than the no-it-all brand manager who overrides their functional experts on the team. Early in my marketing career, I realized I can learn more from the functional experts than what I could ever learn from my boss. As I moved up, before I entered a meeting with these experts, I would remind myself I was the least knowledgeable person in the room. I also learned every expert wanted me to make the decision. It takes a unique skill to be able to inspire, challenge, question, direct and decide, without any expertise at all.

In terms of socializing the work, you must sell in your ideas to gain alignment and approval. As you push for marketing work that is smart and different, the best ideas will meet the most resistance from those in your organization, who find comfort in doing the “same old thing” that worked before. In my experience, any idea that easily sails through the approval stages normally bombs in the marketplace. Yet, every great idea I was ever part of needed the biggest fights to gain approval. 

Five ways to be better with a consensus socializer leadership style

  1. Use probing questions to help you understand. Use a helicopter style to ask your experts to explain the what, why, and how to help you dig deeper into the details until you feel you have enough information, then move back up to the surface level with a summary conclusion that allows you to make a decision. 
  2. Tap into the motivations of your experts. While you are trying to grow your brand, your sales leaders need to manage their relationship with their channel customer, your supply chain manufacturing partners wants low forecasting errors and efficient production, and your ad agency needs to keep their creative team motivated.  Instead of running into a conflict of objectives, try to find an alignment where you both win.  
  3. Ask everyone to give their best. When you elevate the importance of an expert’s work on the overall outcome of your brand, you will tap into their personal pride in delivering greatness on your behalf. To me, tapping into pride is one of the greatest motivators you can use. Everyone wants to do a great job. Your role as the brand leader is to enable greatness. 
  4. Sell in your work. My gap with the consensus socializer style was the belief that the best answers were obvious to everyone. That’s not true. As the brand leader, you must always be selling to convince everyone in the organization to follow you. You must sell ideas into your boss, who many times will gravitate to the safe, and trusted direction. Where possible, use facts. Where not, use conviction. It will work.  
  5. You make the decisions. The best experts advise, but will never decide on your behalf. They want you to be the one to make the decision.  

Task Masters use project management to make things happen

At the heart of being a successful task master is the realization there is a business to run. Without staying focused on the end goal, your strategic thinking and creative instincts can end up wasted, resulting in missed opportunities. Task masters stay in control to get things done, keep projects on time and on budget. To stay in control, you must be organized and understand how each milestone impacts the other. You can never lose sight of the end goal, efficiently knocking down roadblocks, to keep everyone else on track with time and budgets.

When you overly rely on the task master style, you can destroy the deeper thinking and creativity in the name of hitting the deadline. You can end up with hollow thinking,  with OK creativity and OK business results.

For every chosen marketing activity, your project plan should list the specifics around the project owner, support team, project budget, goals, milestones, and hurdles. When you have a team running your brand, these project plans are a very efficient way to manage your people and ensure the specific projects remain on track. This format sets up regular check-in meetings with your staff to keep every project moving towards completion.

Five ways to be a use a task master style to make it happen

  1. Set high standards for you and the team. Lead by example in how you hold yourself to the highest standers, and hold your team to consistently high standards of work in analytics, strategic thinking, planning and the execution of your brand’s advertising, innovation, sales and delivering the consumer experience.
  2. Be the process leader. Organize, challenge and manage the processes so your team can focus on thinking, planning and executing. Guide the team to get things done on time. on budget and on forecast.
  3. Team leadership. Provide your team with a vision to focus everyone, inspire each team member in a highly personal way, and stay actively engaged to help each team member achieve what they need to do.
  4. Hit every deadline. Never look out of control or sloppy. Marketers have enough to do; missing deadlines means things just stockpile up on each other. In brand management, there are never any extensions; just missed opportunities.
  5. Know the leadership style of each team member. When you are in a team situation, try to recognize the natural styles of each of your team members. Make sure the team is well balanced, to ensure someone is the thinker, someone has intuition, someone can socialize the ideas throughout the organization, and someone is the task master.

As a brand leader, you need to maneuver to the right leadership style for the right moment.

This type of thinking can be found in our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

Top 10 reasons why Brand Managers fail

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Most new Brand Managers mistakenly think this role is about managing others, but more importantly, you must transition from do-er to owner. 

The five success factors for Brand Managers include 

1. Take ownership of the brand

2. Able to give strategic direction

3. Know how to work the system

4. Achieve success while dealing with pressure

5. Managing others

Yes, you will get your first chance to manage someone, but many times that effort can be a distraction from your opportunity to continue to learn and grow. 

 

Here are the top 10 reasons why Brand Managers fail  

1. Struggle to make decisions

Some Assistant Brand Managers (ABMs) shine because they are the “super do-er’s,” who made things happen, on time and under budget. All the subject matter experts (forecasting, production, promotions) love them. However, once promoted to the Brand Manager, they freeze. They can do, but they can’t decide. They can execute someone else’s project list with flare, but they can’t come up with their project list. Instead of providing direction, they keep asking for help, over and over.

 

Advice: To overcome this problem, work on your decision-making process with tools that force the choice. If you are scared, map out your thinking, use pros, and cons or a decision tree. When faced with an A or B decision, never talk yourself into doing both A and B. A choice should focus your resources to make sure the plan works. If you do both, it divides your resources, and both options fail. 

 

2. Not analytical enough

 

Many marketers struggle with math, and it eventually catches up with them. They might have great instincts, but they only scratch the surface on the analytics, and can’t explain what is happening on their brand. If you can’t understand the analytics, you risk using your creativity to solve the wrong problem.

 

Advice: 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. Even when I was running a team of 30 marketers, I used to do my own monthly share report to ensure I was digging in and getting my hands mucky with the data. I could tell which of my Brand Managers had dug in as well and who hadn’t even read their ABM’s monthly report yet. Your lack of analytics scares your boss. Take the time to understand the details of your business. Dig into the data and make decisions based on the depth of analysis you do. If you try to skim your analysis, it will catch up to you. 

 

3. Can’t get along with others

 

The Brand Managers that struggle with sales colleagues or the subject matter experts (SME’s) are at risk of failure. They are the type who speaks first, listens second, and go head-to-head to get their way instead of looking for compromise. Yes, they might be so smart they think faster than everyone, but they forget to bring everyone along with their thinking. They start to leave a trail of those they burned, and when the path gets too big, they get labeled as “tough to deal with.”

 

Advice: Listen more and make sure to hear your experts 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. Moreover, 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. Also, 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 seeing people following you.  

 

4. Not good with ambiguity

 

Some Brand Managers opt for the safety of easy and well-known answers. They struggle with the unknown and get scared of ambiguity. Brand Managers that become too predictable for 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 have much wrong, but they don’t have much right.

 

Advice: You can put them on safe, comfortable 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, especially when they see uncertainty and time pressure work 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. It would be best if you reveled 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 creative 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 hold your breath sometimes and see if the work gets better.

 

5. Bad people Manager

 

Most first-time people managers screw up a few of their first five direct reports. It is only natural. One of the most significant 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 management realizes that these Brand Managers aren’t teaching their ABM anything. They became the Manager that none of the ABMs want to work for because they never learn anything. But as management keeps watching great ABMs crashing and burning while under these Brand Managers, we start to wonder, “while you might be smart, but can you manage people?”

 

Advice: 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.

 

6. Poor communicators, with management or partners

 

You fail to warn your boss when there is a potential problem adequately. Moreover, when you leave your manager in the dark, it will upset your boss, the information comes to your manager from someone else. If you don’t keep your partners aware of what’s going on, you will leave them feeling confused.

 

Advice: You have to become a better communicator. Make it a habit that as soon as you know something, you make sure that your boss knows as well–especially with negative news. Share the problem with your boss, discuss what you are going to do, and then make it happen.  

 

7. Never follow your instincts

 

You 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.”

 

Advice: 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.’ However, 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 touchpoint, keep reaching for your intuition and bring them out into the discussion.

 

8. Can’t think strategically or write strategically

 

You are expected to be able to think strategically and be able to communicate strategy through your writing– whether the annual Brand Plan, creative brief to agency, monthly share report, or just an email sent up to senior management.

 

Advice: Be organized in your thinking and map it out. I do believe that every good strategy has five essential elements: 1) set a vision of what you want, 2) Invest resources in a strategic program, 3) Focus on an identified opportunity, 4) Leverage a breakthrough market impact, and 5) Performance result that pays back. If you learn to think, speak, and write using these five elements, you will show up smarter to everyone who works on your brand.

 

9. You don’t run the brand; you let the brand run you.

 

Some Brand Managers end up in the spin zone where they are disorganized, frantic, and not in touch with their business. Some even take pride in how long they work or how many things they are getting done on their to-do list. They miss deadlines, look out of control, and let things stockpile on one another. The brand is killing them.

 

Advice: 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. Use 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 pennies or decimals–so you can continue to drive the strategy of your brand.  

 

10. Sloppy with budgets and timelines

Having someone on the team who is sloppy with budgets and timelines is like living with a messy roommate or the friend who always shows up late. Not only will you look out of control, but you will also put added stress on everyone around you. And, like that messy roommate, you won’t know people are talking about you until someone finally loses it on you. 

When you miss budgets, you mess up the finance team. The more significant the variance to expectation, the bigger the frustration. The worst thing you want is a reputation for someone who is sloppy. That means you can’t be trusted. When you miss a deadline, you likely mess up someone else’s deadline.

Advice: Get your business in order. You are running a live business. You have to be a good project manager, as it only gets more complicated as you move up and take on more prominent brands or more brands.

Read our story on how to achieve success at the Brand Manager level

Or to keep pushing yourself to the next level, here's what it takes at the Marketing Director level

This type of thinking can be found in our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

Use our Strategic ThinkBox to help your brand win

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Strategic thinkers see questions before they see solutions. Ever hear someone say, “That’s a good question.” It usually means someone has just asked an interruptive question, designed to slow everyone’s thinking, so they reflect and plan before they act. The strategic thinking side of marketing is logical and has to map out a range of decision trees that intersect, by imagining how events will play out in the future. The risk of being only strategic is that, if you think too long, you may spiral around, unable to decide. Moreover, you may miss an opportunity window.

Opposite to a strategic thinker is the instinctual thinker who jumps in quickly to find answers before they even know the right question. Their brains move fast; they use emotional impulse and intuitive gut feel. They want action now and get easily frustrated by delays. They believe it is better to do something than sit and wait around. They see strategic people as stuck running around in circles, as they try to figure out the right question. Instead, these instinctual leaders choose emotion over logic. While a “make it happen” attitude gets things done, if they go too fast, their actions may solve the wrong problem. 

strategy

Brand leaders must be both strategic and intuitive. Learn to change brain speeds. Slow down the thinking when faced with challenging issue and move quickly with your best instincts on execution. 

Use our Strategic ThinkBox and Marketing PlayBox

I want to introduce you to my ThinkBox concept, which I have borrowed from sports. For instance, in golf, using a ThinkBox forces you to consider everything you are facing before taking the shot. Look at any lakes or bunkers in the way, the wind condition, or how well you are playing that day. Then, decide on your shot strategy. As you move to a PlayBox, visualize the ideal shot, think and feel your way through the mechanics of your swing, and trust you are making the right shot. Do not over-think the strategy during the execution. 

With your brand, you should use a Strategic ThinkBox, to get a 360-degree view of the situation, before taking action. Consider your brand’s core strength, the bond you have with your consumers, your brand’s competitive position, and your brand’s business situation. Once you have completed your thinking, use the Execution PlayBox to see the ideal execution, think and feel your way, then trust your instincts.  

The four questions in our Strategic ThinkBox

As I created the Strategic ThinkBox, I made it so that each of the four questions uses a forced choice to make decisions, where you must focus on only one possible answer for each question. 

  1. What is the core strength that will help your brand win?
  2. How tightly connected is your consumer to your brand?
  3. What is your current competitive position?
  4. What is the current business situation your brand faces?
  1. Start with your brand’s core strength. Decide which of four choices you will lead with: product, brand story, consumer experience or price. Your core strength will change your entire strategy, including the brand messages and the focus of your investment. In my Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks, I show a unique process for how to choose your brand’s core strength and then show you how to write smart, strategic objective statements around your core strength.
  2. Next, you have to look at your consumer strategy. Start by determining where your brand currently sits on the brand love curve, whether your brand is unknown, indifferent, like it, love it, or at the beloved stage. The goal is to tighten the bond with your consumer and move them from one stage to the next. In my Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks, I will show you how to use brand funnel data, the voice of the consumer, and market dynamics to determine where your brand sits on the brand love curve. I will outline clear game plans for each stage.
  3. Regarding the competitive strategy, you must choose from one of four different types of competitive situations you find your brand operating within. The power players are the dominant leader in the category and take a competitive defensive stance. The challenger brands have gained enough power to battle head-to-head with the market leader. The disruptor brands have found a space so different they can pull consumers away from the significant category players. Craft brands aggressively go against the category with a niche target market and a niche consumer benefit. They are small and stay far away from the market leaders. Each competitive situation leads to different strategy choices.
  4. A brand must look at the situational strategy, which starts with understanding your brand health, looking at both internal and external factors. Choose one of four potential situations: whether you keep the momentum going, face a business turnaround situation, realign everyone behind a strategy, or your brand is a start-up. Each situation leads to distinct strategies and leadership styles to deploy. 

As you put each of the four answers together, it starts to map out the overall strategic direction where you should focus. When writing the brand plan, I recommend you should map out a specific key issue question for each of the four strategic questions in your ThinkBox. 

Examples of how our Strategic ThinkBox works

Coke

Coke’s core strength has been its brand story, as told over the past hundred years. It links the Coke brand to the virtues of enjoying life, using brand stories around refreshing, happiness, and the real thing. Coke even invented our current visualization of the modern day Santa. The brand has a long-standing and tight connection with consumers. Even with recent sales declines, Coke remains a beloved brand with a loyal following of brand fans. Concerning the cola market, Coke remains the power player brand over Pepsi. 

However, Coke faces a complicated situation because the cola market is facing rapid declines as consumers shift to healthier beverage alternatives. Most recently, bottled water has now passed the cola category in dollar sales. Coke needs to realign and make some tough choices. The brand appears confused, as it has not seen any growth in the past few years. Coke needs a turnaround strategy to determine a sustaining pathway to grow over the next ten years. The brand should face the reality of the category declines and the path to success would involve reducing Pepsi’s market presence, and even eliminating some of the smaller brands in the category.  

The National Football League (NFL)

The NFL is one of the best experience-led brands on the planet. It is a beloved brand with passionate fans who have turned the NFL into a power player that dwarfs the other north sports leagues. The NFL generates significantly higher ticket sales, merchandise sales, and TV viewership than the combined efforts of the next three most significant sports—baseball, basketball, and hockey. 

While the brand remains compelling, many recent high-profile scandals and a dramatic change in viewing habits among youth have triggered a need for a realignment for the NFL. 

The NFL needs to step back and refuel the brand love to ensure the consumer bond remains strong. The NFL also needs to work hard to maintain their status, especially as the brand hits a potential plateau.   

Facebook

Although Facebook is primarily a consumer-facing brand, all of its revenues come from B2B media sales. Facebook is an idea-led brand, and the dominant power player, willing to bully any competitor who threatens it. 

In terms of its bond with customers, five years ago, Facebook was on the verge of becoming a beloved brand. Yet Facebook’s arrogance and hunger for even more power have eroded its trust with users, and that puts its future B2B media revenues at risk. There remains doubt about how Facebook will handle privacy, political interference, and concerns over the accuracy of its audience numbers – uncertainty that continues to cloud Facebook’s trust. Mark Zuckerberg must be more forthcoming and honest in how he portrays his brand. The question Facebook should focus on is how to tighten its bond with users. 

Looking at its business situation, Facebook still sees significant momentum with revenue increases of 20-30%. Facebook needs to regain its trust because the most significant risk to its arrogance is the threat of government regulations that would severely cut into future revenues.  

Boeing

Boeing is a product-led brand, now facing issues with their product due to recent crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX. For decades, Boeing has been one of the most respected and admired companies in the world. However, Boeing has completely mishandled its 737 MAX situation. It’s a classic case of the PR misjudgment of hoping the story goes away rather than address the root causes head-on. As a result, Boeing’s reputation, sales results, and financial outlook have all suffered. As reporters look deeper, they question Boeing on its commitment to safety, suggesting the company is more focused on profits and cost efficiency than safety.

From a customer view, Ed Sims, the WestJet Airlines CEO, was quoted for his evaluation of Boeing saying, “I would grade it no higher than a B. I expect A-plus service from every supplier to WestJet, just as we expect our customers to evaluate us in the same way. I think Boeing has missed a beat, frankly, in the way that they have responded to this crisis.” That is never a comment a brand wants to hear from their customer. 

Boeing competes head-to-head with Airbus, similar to how Coke and Pepsi battle each other. Every loss by one brand is the other brand’s gain. In the months following the 737 MAX crisis, Boeing’s market capitalization fell by $30 billion, while Airbus quickly climbed $20 billion. Moreover, Airbus has used the crisis to race ahead of Boeing with new orders and deliveries. The challenge for Boeing is how to put the crisis behind it and refocus on innovation to get back into a competitive position with customers.  

This type of thinking can be found in our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

Stop convincing yourself that you are not very good at advertising

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

To be great at advertising you need to learn to use your fast thinking, to engage the instinctual side of your brain, to make quick-twitch intuitive decisions to find the smart, creative marketing execution ideas that will help your brand grow. While you must inspire the experts you engage in delivering greatness on your brand’s behalf, I will show you how to use our creative processes to make better marketing execution decisions. 

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 to our brand. Brand management has been built on a hub-and-spoke system, with a team of experts surrounding the generalist brand leader.

I always say that it 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 as 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 be 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 your sleeves to work alongside the experts and pushing the experts out of the way.

It takes a unique skill to be able to inspire, challenge, question, direct and decide on your brand's advertising, without any expertise at all.

The brand leaders who are the best at advertising do two things well. They keep bad advertising from moving forward, and they can get great advertising into the marketplace.

Your bad attitude can become self-fulfilling. The more you tell yourself you are not good at advertising, the worse you get at advertising. David Ogilvy once said, “clients get the work they deserve.” He was speaking in frustration with an agency lens. Even from a brand management lens, the statement is true. You have to earn great work by showing up comfortable with the process, energized by ideas, and inspiring to get creative people to deliver their greatest work on our brand. 

You don’t need to be able to make an ad to be good at making decisions about what advertising will work the best on your brand. For instance, the manager of The Beatles couldn’t sing or play an instrument, yet he certainly knew what his audience wanted more than John, Paul, George, and Ringo ever knew. After the Beatles, John Lennon had to even be convinced that “Imagine” was even worth releasing as a song. As the brand leader, your role in the process is to be the decision-maker, by knowing what advertising your consumers will respond to, and then giving it to them. 

Too many marketers never find their comfort zone. They are so uncertain they show up skeptical, uptight, too tough, or too easy, and they seem easily annoyed by everything. Their discomfort sucks the energy and creativity right out of the project. Every creative person can sense when the marketer hates everything connected to advertising, and none of the creatives will want to work for them. The best marketers know that how they show up matters the most. Show up right.    

I see many marketers who don’t feel if it is their place to say something. They figure the agency is the expert and will even say, “That’s why we pay them.” They are too fearful of giving direction. Or worse, they give them enough of a chance to mess up so they can blame them later. Think of hiring an ad agency like hiring a designer for your kitchen. Yes, your agency is an expert, but you have to live in the damn kitchen after they are gone. Your agency might make 25, 50, or even 100 ads this year. You will make one. You better make sure your ad is one of their best ads.  

Never let the time pressure rule the project. The agency says if we don’t go for it now, they will miss the air date. So the marketer caves to the pressure and goes with work they hate. You better be great at project management, because the complexities and vagueness of an advertising project will kill the weak project managers. The best marketers I have seen have figured out how to use time pressure to their advantage. A lot of the best ideas I have worked on come right up against the clock. You have to be the one who works the time pressure, not let your agency. 

Once you love an idea and make the decision, you have to own it, sell it, and even fight for it. Marketers who are not sure if it is the right thing to do will show up hesitant and unable to sell their idea into their boss.

Stop convincing yourself that it is your agency’s fault

I have seen so-so agencies do great work for a fantastic client. I have also seen the best agencies fail dramatically for a bad client. I have to conclude that the client matters more than anyone else, as they hold power in either enabling or restricting impactful advertising. There is a reason why there are so many agency reviews: clients can’t fire themselves. When you fire your current agency, and then you don’t show up any better to the new agency, they will be doomed to fail from the start. And the cycle will continue.

One of your primary roles is to keep your agency motivated, challenged, and engaged. Try to be your agency’s favorite client — the one they want to make great work on, rather than have to work on. Stop thinking your agency should work hard for you, just because you are paying them. You might be paying the agency, but you are not really paying the people to sit at the table. 

I hate when I hear the agency wrote a brief you don’t like, or you boxed the agency into a strategy they don’t like. If either of you forces a brief on each other, then you are off to a bad start. Be collaborative with your agency.

There is nothing worse than when the agency’s creative team over sells you, and you feel you get hood-winked. When you are not sure what you want, it is easy to settle for an OK ad in front of you—the best of what you saw. Tell your agency you have to love the work — the best bar you can set for achieving greatness. Then if you don’t love it, you have to reject it. You can never settle for OK. 

It is easy to lose traction through the production and edit. You have many decisions to make regarding talent, lighting, directors, and edits. If the tone changes from the board to edit, so does your ad. This is where experience pays off. The advertising process is likely more complex than anything else you will work on. You have to keep your head in the game at every moment of the process. 

Stop convincing yourself that your brand is too boring

You think cool brands like Nike or Apple would be so much easier to work on. Guess what, Nike and Apple are in such a great position, they don’t need you. Your so-called boring brand has far more room for creativity.  

Too many marketers think their brand is so boring; they use borrowed equity of a song, celebrity, or analogy in their advertising to make their brand seem more appealing. The problem is that the borrowed equity is remembered more than the brand itself, which ends up lost in the cluttered mess. Instead of hiding your brand, your role is to bring your brand to life. 

Be careful of advertising roulette where the advertising spins around and around. When brand leaders have not done the depth of thinking or testing, the briefing becomes a game of chance. I see brands try to figure out their advertising strategy by looking at potential advertising ideas. They figure they don’t have a great strategy, so maybe a good ad can help. I am a believer that you have to do the homework to know your strategy is right, which will make it easier for your agency to nail

The thinking behind great creative execution

Use creativity in every type of marketing execution as you work through the experts on your brand. This type of thinking works on any type of marketing execution, including creative advertising, discovering innovative new product concepts to launch, social media campaigns, packaging and signage, or creating a customer experience.  

As the brand leader, your role is the decision-maker, not the creator. As work comes to you, use your creative instincts to find the best marketing execution that balances being creatively different and strategically smart. 

It is easy to fall for marketing execution work that is smart but not different, but it gets lost in the clutter. It is natural for brand leaders to tense up when the creative work ends up being “too different.” In all parts of the business, brand leaders are trained to look for past proof as a sign something will work. However, when it comes to marketing execution, if the work looks too similar to what other brands have already done, then it will be at risk of boring your customers, so you never stand out enough to capture their attention. You have to push your comfort with creativity and take a chance to ensure your ad breaks through. 

Be careful, because marketing execution work that is different but not smart will entertain customers, but do nothing for your brand. Your marketing execution must be smart enough to trigger the desired customer response to match your brand strategy.

Challenge yourself to be better at creative advertising

  1. If you realized that how you show up as a client is the most significant factor in getting better marketing communications, would you show up differently? If so, then show up right.  
  2. Be one of your agency’s favorite clients. Never treat anyone like they have to work on your business. Inspire everyone to want to work on your brand. 
  3. Stay focused on one target, one strategy, one customer benefit, and one brand idea. Avoid the just in case list or adding one more thing.  
  4. When writing a creative brief or providing feedback, resist controlling the creative outcome. Give your creative person your problems, not your solutions.
  5. Be willing to fight anyone in the way of great work, even with your boss. You will start to see everyone on the team fight for you.  
  6. LOVE your marketing, and never settle for OK. Never approve OK marketing work that feels safe. What signal do you think it sends everyone involved?

This type of thinking can be found in my Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

The eight principles of analytical thinking for brand leaders

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The analytical brand leader wins through insight. I want to show you the principles of smart analytical thinking, so you can dig deep and draw out conclusions to help set up your brand’s key issues, to steer the strategic brand plan. 

Your analysis should start with a hypothesis, then gather data to use facts to solidify or refute your opinion. Make sure you use multiple data sources, to draw out comparisons over absolutes to find data breaks that help bring an analytical story to life. Use summary tools to consolidate and organize your thinking to build-out recommendations that can convince management and steer the team. You owe your brand a deep-dive business review at least once a year. Otherwise, you are negligent about your brand. You owe your brand a deep-dive business review at least once a year. Otherwise, you are being negligent to your brand.  

analysis

When you operate only at the surface level, you miss out on what’s going on beneath your instinctual observations. To go deep, you need to look at everything, including the category you play in, the consumers you serve, the distribution channels you sell through, your main competitors, and the underlying health of your brand. The deep-dive business review should kick-off your brand planning process, ensuring your plans are addressing the right issues and that you have the knowledge to make informed decisions on your brand. 

Moreover, you owe your brand a monthly report to track how the business is doing throughout the year. While these reports may feel tedious to write, the 3-4 hours it takes to dig in is a great discipline to help you maintain the touch-feel of managing the business results of the brand. As you go through the process every month, it is a great way to improve your analytical skills. 

The eight principles of analytical thinking

Start with a hypothesis

You don’t start with the facts; you start with a conclusion based on your instincts of knowing your business. Then, gather the facts to solidify, change, or refute your conclusion. 

Try to get your head out of the day-to-day grind and think about the significant issues getting in your way. Start any analytic process with five questions that answer where do you want to be, where you are now, why are you here, how can we get there, and what do we need to do. These questions provide a summary of any strategic plan with a vision, analysis, key issues, strategies, and tactics. Your analytics should start with a hypothesis that zeroes in on two of these questions to answer where your brand is today, and why it is there. 

Use our four questions of our Strategic ThinkBox and assess how your brand’s core strength is showing up in the marketplace, signs of how tight your relationship is with consumers, how well you are battling competitors and what is your brand’s situation. To assess the situation, you can think about the factors currently driving and inhibiting your brand’s growth, and then lay out the future threats and untapped opportunities.

Take it all in and narrow down to a hypothesis of what you think are the three significant issues that explain your brand’s situation. 

Gather relevant data

An in-depth analysis requires slower thinking time, so you don’t misjudge the situation. The best 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 you go too slow, you will miss the opportunity window. An excellent tool to get you thinking in terms of questions: 

  1. What do you know? Forces you to be fact-based, and you know it for sure.
  2. What can you assume? Use your knowledge to draw conclusions that bridge between fact and speculation.
  3. What do you think? Based on facts and assumptions, you should be able to say what we think will happen.
  4. What do you need to find out? There could be unknowns still.
  5. What are you going to do? It is the action that comes out of this thinking.

This type of thinking will set you up for what data you should be looking to fill the gaps in your argument.

Sources of brand data to dig into

As the brand leader, you should always be tracking your market share trends over the last five years, last 12 months, last 12 weeks, and then broken out by segment, size, flavors. Create brand development scores that index your brand’s performance that is broken out by the business, customer type, markets, or regions. 

You should track your brand funnel data regularly, looking at awareness, consideration, search, trial, purchase, usage, repeat, loyal, comparing the funnel scores to prior periods and competitors. You should know your consumer purchase behavior, looking at penetration, usage frequency, and share of requirements. When it comes to program tracking, look at aided, unaided awareness, brand link, message recall, and purchase intention scores. The gaps you find with this type of data set up issues to use in your brand plans.

You also have to know the profitability of your brand, identifying the 5-year compound annual growth rates (CAGR) gross margins, cost of goods, consumer and trade spend, and your net margin.

Our Beloved Brands playbook and B2B Brands playbook go into depth on how to use these types of analytical tools to lead your deep-dive review on your business.

Build your argument with multiple sources

Avoid taking one piece of data and making it the basis of your entire brand strategy. Make sure you see a real trend that continues over time. Dig around until you can find a convergence of data that leads to an answer. Multiple sources and multiple data points should back every analytical story. 

Ten probing questions to assess your brand’s performance:

  1. What consumer benefit can you win with, which is ownable, unique, and motivating for consumers?
  2. What is your biggest gain versus prior periods? What is your biggest gap?
  3. What is your market share? Regionally? By channel? Where is your strength? Where is your gap?   
  4. How are you performing on key brand tracking data? Penetration? Frequency? Sales per buyer or per trip?  
  5. What are your brand’s scores on the brand funnel?    
  6. How is your program tracking data doing? Where could you improve? 
  7. How far can you “stretch” your brand into other opportunities?  
  8. What is your current operating model?    
  9. What is your culture? Do you have alignment with the brand story and your employees?
  10. What is the innovation process and capability of the organization?

 

Ten financial questions to assess your brand’s worth:

  1. What is your brand’s compound annual growth rate (CAGR)? Explain the ups and downs over the past five years.
  2. What are your gross margins and contribution margins over the last five years? Can you break it out by product line? Is there more pressure from the price or the cost of goods? 
  3. What is your brand’s marketing budget breakout? Variable direct costs versus indirect fixed dollars? What is the break between media and creative production? Consumer spend versus trade spend?   
  4. Have you completed any pricing elasticity studies? What did you learn about your brand? If you did increase your price, what did you see in the marketplace?
  5. How is your brand’s overall strategy impacting your brand’s profits? How do your decisions on your brand’s core strength, consumer connection, competitive pressures, and situation impact your financials?
  6. How are your current brand/business performance metrics, brand’s market goals, and financials linked?
  7. Over the past five years, what are the programs that drive the highest and lowest ROI?
  8. How does your business model impact your overall profit? What are you focusing on right now?
  9. What are your forecasting error rates? Is there a seasonality impact? How do economic factors impact your brand’s financials? How reasonable are your inventory levels?   
  10. What financial pressures do you face on an annual or quarterly basis?   

How to conduct a deep-dive business review to uncover brand issues

Too many marketers are not taking the time to dig in on the analytics. There is no value in having access to data if you are not using it. The best brand leaders can tell strategic stories through analytics.  

    

Conduct a deep-dive business review at least once a year on your brand. Otherwise, you are negligent of the brand, where you are investing all your resources. Dig in on the five specific sections—marketplace, consumers, channels, competitors, and the brand—to draw out conclusions to help set up your brand’s key issues, which you answer in the brand plan.      

 

  • Marketplace: Start by looking at the overall category performance to gain a macro view of all significant issues. Dig in on the factors impacting category growth, including economic indicators, consumer behavior, technology changes, shopper trends, and political regulations. Also, look at what is happening in related categories, which could impact your category or replicate what you may see next.
  • Consumers: Analyze your consumer target to better understand the consumer’s underlying beliefs, buying habits, growth trends, and critical insights. Use the brand funnel analysis and leaky bucket analysis to uncover how they shop and how they make purchase decisions. Try to understand what they think when they buy or reject your brand at every stage of the consumer’s purchase journey. Uncover consumer perceptions through tracking data, the voice of the consumer, and market research.
  • Channels: Assess the performance of all potential distribution channels and the performance of every major retail customer. Understand their strategies and how well your brand is using their available tools and programs. Your brand must align with your retail customer strategies.
  • Competitors: Dissect your closest competitors by looking at their performance indicators, brand positioning, innovation pipeline, pricing strategies, distribution, and the consumer’s perceptions of these brands. To go even deeper, you can map out a strategic brand plan for significant competitors to predict what they might do next. Use that knowledge within your brand plan.
  • Brand: Analyze your brand through the lens of consumers, customers, competitors, and employees. Use brand funnel data, market research, marketing program tracking results, pricing analysis, distribution gaps, and financial analysis. Focus on managing your brand’s health and wealth.

Comparisons always beat absolutes

Absolute numbers by themselves are useless. Always find comparisons. Only when given a relative nature to something important do you find the data break that tells a story. Is 50 degrees Fahrenheit warm or cold? If it’s Ottawa Canada and it’s December 24th, it is HOT and front-page news. If it is in Los Angeles on June 5th, it is COLD and front-page news.

Only when given a relative nature to something important do you find the data break that tells a story. You have to ground the data with a comparison, whether that’s versus prior periods, competitors, norms, or the category. 

Every time you talk about data, try to speak in relative terms, comparing it to something that is grounded, whether that is last year, last month, compared to another brand, or versus the norm. Is it up, down or flat? Never give a number without a comparison, or your listener will not have a clue if it is a good number

Look for data breaks that bring the story to life

Comparative indexes and cross tabulations can bring out the data breaks and gaps that can tell a story. Use the “so what” technique to dig around and twist the data in unique ways until you find the point in which the data breaks and clear, meaningful differences start to show. Expose the trend and draw out the conclusion.

Match up facts to your conclusions, to solidify your opinions:

Summarize your analysis

One tool looks at what’s currently driving and inhibiting growth, and what opportunities and threats you see in the future. 

  • What’s driving growth? The top factors of strength, positional power, or market inertia, which have a proven link to driving your brand’s growth. Your plan should continue to fuel these growth drivers.
  • What’s inhibiting growth? The most significant factors of weakness, unaddressed gaps, or market friction you can prove to be holding back your brand’s growth. Your plan should focus on reducing or reversing these inhibitors to growth. 
  • Opportunities for growth: Look at specific untapped areas in the market, which could fuel your brand’s future growth, based on unfulfilled consumer needs, new technologies on the horizon, potential regulation changes, new distribution channels, or the removal of trade barriers. Your plan should take advantage of these opportunities in the future.  
  • Threats to future growth: Changing circumstances, including consumer needs, new technologies, competitive activity, distribution changes, or potential barriers, which create potential risks to your brand’s growth. Build your plan to minimize the impact of these risks.

Turn the analysis into a recommendation

Organize your story into an elevator pitch

Organize your data to tell a story to your CEO that answers, “What’s going on with our brand?” I want you to dig in the opposite of how you tell the story.

To start with, assume you are on a 76-floor elevator ride with your CEO, and you have the chance to tell them ten things; what would you say? 

Now narrow your focus, by assuming you are a seven-floor elevator ride; what three things will you tell your CEO?

Finally, you get out of the elevator, and the CEO says, “so what does this all mean?” You now have your conclusion statement.  

Once you have your story, actually start with the conclusion first, followed by your three best analytical points. 

  • Keep an eye on the other seven other points for next year or if things change dramatically.
  • Never tell your CEO anything obvious they already know. Don’t bore or frustrate your CEO.
  • Try to surprise your CEO with a data secret you found out that you need to make sure the CEO knows. 
  • Find a significant change or data break, that has movement.
  • Narrow down to the points that matter to your story. You only get one elevator ride with the CEO. Make the most of it.

How to build the ideal analytical slide

When telling your analytical story through a presentation, start every slide with an analytical conclusion statement as your headline, then have 2-3 key analytical support points for your conclusion. Provide a supporting visual or graph to show the thinking underneath the analysis. Finally, you must include an impact recommendation on every slide. Never tell your management a data point without attaching your conclusion of what to do with that data.

This type of analytical thinking can be found in our playbooks

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

    • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
    • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
    • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
    • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
    • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

 

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

The career limiting moves that marketers need to avoid

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

To succeed in your Marketing career, you must hit deadlines, know your business, be open with communication, take control of your brand, be able to use feedback, and then listen to the experts around you, before you decide. If you do not nail these behaviors, you will eventually annoy someone enough to get rid of you. You’ve likely heard of CLM’s, also known as “career-limiting-moves.” These six behaviors are non-negotiable CLM’s, and if you miss them continuously, you will be gone. Fix these.

For many Marketers, these could be a blind spot. You could be amazing in all other aspects of your job. And when one of these brings you down, you will be left wondering what happened.  

CLM

1. Miss deadlines

Never look out of control or sloppy. Marketers have enough to do, so if you begin to miss deadlines, things will stockpile on each other. Do not be the one who tries to negotiate extensions continually. That might work with a University essay. But in the real world of Marketing, there are no real extensions;  just missed opportunities. If you miss one, two, or three, your behavior will be viewed as a pattern. I went to school with someone who always asked the prof for a deadline on everything. The professor always said yes. And she thrived in school. Yet, never made it in marketing. In my 20 years in Marketing. I have never asked for an extension. 

2. Don’t know your business

Avoid getting caught off-guard with questions that you cannot answer, such as profit (sales, growth, margins, spend) market share and your sales forecasts. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge. I was lucky in that I grew up a baseball stat geek, so I could easily remember every number on my business. I was never the type of manager who openly tested people for the sake of it. But, when I have 15 brands, and you only have one brand: how do you think if I felt when I knew your numbers better than you did? It is your job to know your business and your numbers.

3. Not open with your communication

There should be no surprises, especially with your boss. Keep everyone aware of what’s going on. If something could go wrong, make sure everyone knows. When you communicate upwards, always have the situation, implications, options, and then quickly followed by an action plan of what to do with it. And when something does go wrong, have a plan ready in place, action items laid out, before your boss says, “We need a plan.”

4. Fail to take control of your destiny

Act like the owner. The best Marketers run the brands; they never let the brands run us. Always be slightly ahead of the game, not constantly chasing your work to completion. Once you are chasing, you can never catch up. You show up begging for help. When you are in charge of a brand, and know the answer, teach yourself to speak in a “telling way.” Once you are given the reigns of a brand, it is expected that you tell everyone what to do. As your boss, I would rather that I have to step in and push back on something, rather than to have to encourage you to voice your thoughts. 

5. Ignore feedback for growth

Always seek out and accept feedback, good or bad, as a lesson for you. Do not think of it as a personal attack or setback. Identify gaps you can close, never think of them as weaknesses that hold you back. It would be best if you always were striving to get better. It is true; the best marketers are ambitious. They want to get better. It is perfectly acceptable not to enjoy getting negative feedback. I would never judge someone’s reaction at that moment.

I have worked with many amazing marketers, who looked devastated and ready to quit, in the heat of the feedback. I have seen that look 100 times. That is perfectly fine. However, I also know, those same great people came in the next morning, ready to make a change and ready to demonstrate it to everyone who was watching. Marketing is an iterative career. Honestly, we repeat the same 20 key skills over and over again, at junior, mid and senior levels. The best gets better each time. The worst don’t. 

6. Make decisions without listening to your experts

There is a somewhat bizarre relationship Marketers have with subject matter experts. We don’t really do anything. We don’t make the product, sell the product, make the ads, buy the media or make the event happen. But as the ultimate generalist, we do decide everything. 

Very early in your career, you must figure out the magic in using your subject matter experts to teach you everything you need to know about your job, while still leading them, even if they are 10 or 20 years older than you. These subject matter experts have seen hundreds of marketers come through the door, and if you do it right, they will quietly teach you more than your boss ever will.

As you hit the director or VP level, you must figure out how to use these same subject matter experts as an advisor or sounding board to the toughest of issues or what you think are great ideas. Subject matter experts don’t want to make decisions. They want you to do that. Subject matter experts don’t want to be a leader. They want you to lead them. 

At these senior levels, you have to learn to listen to them and make sure you really hear them out. You can question and challenge them. And, then it is expected that you will give the direction that pushes them towards the end goal. While you make every decision, if you don’t manage this unique relationship well, they will influence the decision to get rid of you.

The leader behaviors of the best brand leaders

The leader behaviors of the best marketers include how to be accountable for results, use people leadership to build bench strength of your team, exhibit broad influence across the organization, bring an authentic style, so your decisions are clear, and run the business like an owner with decisions that drive the success of the business.

  1. You must be accountable for results, holding everyone accountable, getting things done, while staying on strategy and learning to work the system with every functional group throughout the organization. 
  2. Take on the people leadership, managing your core team, and being genuinely interested in your people’s development. You must coach, teach, and guide the team with honest assessment and feedback.  
  3. Exert broad influence across the organization, being the one to make decisions and control the strategy when executing through others, casting your influence into other functions by think of what others need. 
  4. Bring a consistent and predictable style, aware of your impact beyond your team, exhibit leadership under pressure. Be flexible and accommodating to others.  
  5. Run the business like an owner, accountable to both the long-term outlook and show-term profit of the brand, not you personally. Make decisions that benefit the brand, consumers, customers, marketplace, and society. Live and breathe the culture of those who work behind the scenes of the brand.  

I have broken each of these five leader behavior areas into 20 overall brand leader behaviors you need to be a successful brand leader. As you move up in marketing roles, these leader behaviors become equal in importance to the skills you collect along the way. 

I wrote my Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks to help marketers reach their full potential

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

 

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

The marketing skills you need for success

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

There are marketing skills, behaviors and experiences you must collect throughout your marketing career. While many will show up naturally in your career, it is possible for you to end up with specific gaps due to specific jobs you have along the way. This is a great opportunity to assess where you stand and which gaps you need to address. 

To achieve your full potential in your marketing career, brand leaders must know the skills it takes to think strategically, define your brand positioning, build a brand plan that everyone can follow, inspire creative marketing execution to drive brand growth, and analyze the performance of your branded business. 

 
marketing skills
  1. Concerning strategic thinking, you need to use challenging and interruptive questions, take a holistic view of your brand, lead strategic debates on the issues, and make smart strategic decisions.
  2. To define your brand, you need to know how to find your consumer target, understand the potential functional and emotional benefits, create an ownable and motivating brand positioning statement, then build out your brand idea to guide every consumer touchpoint on your brand. 
  3. To write a brand plan, the skills you need are to lead all elements of the plan, turn your strategic thinking into strategic objective statements, present to senior management, and develop smart execution plans. 
  4. For marketing execution, are you able to write a brief, lead the project management aspect of all execution, inspire your experts, and make smart decisions? 
  5. When it comes to analytics, you need to be able to know the sources of data, dig into the data, lead a deep-dive business review, and write analytical performance reviews.

Marketing Skills you need

I have broken each of these five marketing skill areas into 20 overall marketing skills you need to be a successful brand leader. In our Beloved Brands playbook and B2B Brands playbook, we provide every tool you will ever need to know so you can run your brand and achieve your full potential.

As a brand leader, you must have these 20 skills to think, define, plan, inspire and analyze

1. Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is a skill you need to go beyond the manager level. Too many marketers are so busy that they do not even have time to think. The best brand leaders do the necessary critical strategic thinking to find ways to win in the market. Strategic thinking is an essential foundation, forcing marketers to ask big questions that challenge and focus brand decisions.

There are four ways to enhance your strategic thinking, using the brand’s core strength finder, consumer strategy, competitive strategy, and situational strategy. 

As you frame your strategies, learn to think and then talk in a way that lays out the vision for your brand, focuses your limited resources on breakthrough points, takes advantage of opportunities you see in the market, finds early wins to leverage to give your brand a positional power to drive growth and profits for your brand.

 

The four strategic thinking skills you need:

  1. Ask the right interrupting and challenging questions to help slow your brain down to a reflection speed. Make sure you understand the issues surrounding the brand before you reach for solutions
  2. Take a 360-degree strategic view by looking at your brand’s core strength, how consumers engage, the stance your competitors are taking, and the current business situation you face
  3. Able to lead a well-thought strategic debate across the organization. Ensure sales, operations, product development, and senior leaders have their say.
  4. Make smart strategic decisions that map out a vision, focuses the brand’s limited resources, takes advantage of an opportunity, gains an early win that can be leveraged to drive added power or profits.

 

Our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands books will enhance your strategic thinking

Use our playbooks to engage our ThinkBox 360-degree strategic thinking model with specific chapters that help you engage your brand’s core strength, consumer strategy, competitive strategy, and situation you face. We show you how to build everything around your brand’s core strength with examples of brands that focus on their product, story, experience, or price. We explain how our brand love curve helps you think about ways to tighten your brand’s bond with your consumers, with specific game plans for brands at each stage of the brand love curve, whether your brand is at the unknown, indifferent, like it, love it or beloved stage. We show you how to think strategically about the competitive battles you face, whether your brand is a power player, challenger, disruptor, or craft brand. Finally, you should always think strategically within your brand’s current situation to show how each requires a different strategy and leadership style. 

2. Brand Positioning

Too many marketers are trying to be everything to anyone. This strategy is the usual recipe for becoming nothing to everyone. The best brand leaders know how to define their brand. They start by targeting a specific motivated consumer audience and then define their brand around a brand idea that is interesting, simple, unique, motivating, and ownable. 

You have to know the fundamental ways for how to write a winning brand positioning statement with four essential elements: target market, competitive set, main benefit, and reason to believe (RTB). Learn how to build a brand idea that leads every touchpoint of your brand, including the brand promise, brand story, innovation, purchase moment, and experience. And finally, you have to know the tools for how to write a winning brand concept and brand story. 

 

The four brand positioning skills you need:

  1. Define your ideal consumer target. Build out consumer profiles framed with need states, consumer insights, enemies, and the desired response.
  2. Take a consumer-centric mindset to turn brand features (what you do) into functional benefits (what consumers get) and emotional benefits (how it makes them feel)
  3. Find a winning brand positioning statement that is own-able for your brand and motivates consumers to build a tighter bond with the brand.
  4. Develop a brand idea that is interesting, simple, unique, inspiring, motivating, and ownable. You must be able to stretch that brand idea across every consumer touchpoint, including the brand promise, story, innovation, purchase moment, and consumer experience.
 

Use our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks will help improve your brand positioning skills

We believe brand positioning statements starts with defining your target market. You will learn how to define your consumer insights, enemies, and need states. You will have access to our consumer benefits ladder tool to help you build your brand around consumer benefits. You can use our functional benefit cheat sheet and emotional benefit cheat sheet to help you narrow down your choices to focus on those benefits that are motivating to consumers and ownable for your brand. You will learn to complete the brand positioning statement with brand support points and claims. 

Once you have your brand positioning statement, we take you through step-by-step processes to build out your brand idea, brand concept statement, and brand story.

3. Brand Plans

Too many marketers focus on a short-term to-do list, not a long-term plan. The best brand leaders write brand plans that everyone in the organization can follow with ease, including senior management, sales, R&D, agencies, and operational teams. You have to know how to write each element of the brand plan, including the brand vision, purpose, values, goals, key Issues, strategies, and tactics. You must be able to build execution plans, including a brand communications plan, an innovation plan, and an in-store plan.

 

The four brand planning skills you need:

  1. Lead the development of all elements of a smart brand plan; creating a plan a vision, purpose, goals, issues, strategies, and tactics.
  2. Know how to turn strategic thinking into smart strategic objective statements that can stand as the foundation of the brand plan
  3. Able to use the brand plan presentation to convince senior management to follow the issues and strategies you lay out and garner the necessary support across the organization.
  4. Develop smart execution plans that deliver against the brand strategies and steer each execution team to stay on strategy.
 

Our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks outline how to write brand plans 

Our planning chapters start with our five strategic questions tool that acts as an outline for your entire plan. We believe every plan should start with an inspirational brand vision statement that frames your entire brand plan. You will be challenged with some tools and examples to write your vision, purpose, and values. From your analytics chapter, you can use our summary tools of your brand’s situation analysis. I will show you how to map out the key issues your brand faces and then write smart brand objective strategy statements. To set up the marketing execution, you will learn to write specific execution plans for brand communications, innovation, and in-store. You can use our ideal one-page brand formats for the annual brand plan and long-range strategic roadmap.

4. Marketing execution

Too many marketers are becoming task-masters and stepping over the line into execution. The best brand leaders need to inspire experts to produce smart and creative execution. You need tools and techniques for judging and making decisions on creative advertising from your agency.  For judging execution, I use the ABC’s tool, believing the best executions must drive Attention (A), Brand link (B), Communication (C), and Stickiness (S). I also have a checklist for you to use when judging executions. One crucial skill is being able to give direction to your agency to inspire and challenge great execution.

 

The four marketing execution skills you need:

  1. Write strategic, focused, and thorough creative briefs that will inspire great work from those experts who will execute on your brand’s behalf.
  2. Capable of leading all marketing projects, whether they are on brand communication, innovation, selling, or experience.
  3. Able to inspire greatness from experts at agencies or throughout the organization to offer their greatest work on your brand.
  4. Makes smart marketing execution decisions that will help tighten the bond with consumers, but the brand into a more powerful position and drive long-term success that matches up tot he strategy.

 

 

Our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks will challenge new thinking and skills

I want you to understand the crucial role of the brand leader in getting great creative execution. Be the brand leader who can successfully manage the stages of the advertising process. 

You can learn to transform your brand communications plan into a creative brief, with a chapter that goes through each line of the creative brief with examples of the smartest and worst. 

You will learn how to make decisions at the creative meeting, using our instincts checklist with our ABC’s advertising decision-making tool at the core. Challenge yourself to give inspiring feedback on advertising that pushes for great work. Build your media planning with six media questions and line up media choices to where consumers are most willing to engage with your brand.

5. Analyze performance

Too few marketers take the time to dig into the analytics. There is no value in having access to data if you are not using it to discover meaningful insights. The best brand leaders can tell strategic stories through analytics. You need to know how to create a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumers, competitors, channels, and brand. And, you need to be able to turn your analysis into a written report or a presentation for management. You need to know brand finance, to know every financial formula you need to run your brand.

 

The four analytical skills you need:

  1. Understand all the potential sources of brand data you can use to evaluate the situation. These include market share, consumption, shipment data, brand funnel, advertising tracking, market research studies, and financial statements.
  2. Know how to dig deep into data, using draws comparisons and development indexes to find the data breaks. Draw out insights and conclusions that you can turn into a story to help your team debate and make decisions.
  3. Able to lead a best-in-class 360-degree deep-dive business review for the brand that looks at the marketplace, consumers, channels, competitors, and the brand results to give a holistic view of the brand’s performance.
  4. Once you have all your findings, you need to be able to write analytical stories that include performance reports and key issues presentations. Then, you need to be able to outline the strategic implications of the brand’s current situation.
 

For more detail on the analytical skills you need to know, you can use our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

We have specific chapters on marketing analytics and marketing finance 101. We go into detail on how to analyze the marketplace your brand plays in. We show you how to assess your consumers, the retail channels you sell through, the competitors, and the health of your brand. You can walk away with 60 of the best analytical questions to ask about your brand. Bring the analysis together into the drivers, inhibitors, threats, and opportunities.
In terms of marketing finance 101, you will learn all the financial formulas you need to know so you can figure out your compound annual growth rates, price increases, cost of goods (COGs), and return on investment (ROI). I will also show you how to assess your P&L statement quickly.

Everything brand leaders must know how to do

Brand management was built on a hub-and-spoke system, with the brand manager expected to sit right in the middle of the organization, helping drive everything and everyone around the brand. You must know a little of everything that surrounds the brand, the balance of marketing and business.

Our Beloved Brands skills assessment tool

Taking this a step further, use our assessment tool to highlight your own marketing skill gaps. When assessing yourself or a colleague on your team, rate the individual on a 5-point scale for each marketing skill. Use this tool to identify these skill gaps you need to close, whether using our Beloved Brands book or brand training programs to close those gaps. 

Beloved Brands Marketing Training programs

We believe smarter brand leaders will make better decisions and produce exceptional work that leads to higher brand growth. Watch our video to see how our Beloved Brands marketing training program can help your team

To read more about our training program:

https://beloved-brands.com/marketing-training/

This type of thinking can be found in my Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.


You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

How to define your B2B brand positioning statement

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

As you create your brand positioning statement, look for the ideal space to play and space your brand can win. 

The first step is always to find where to play, which matches up what your customers want with what your brand does best. Next, you layer in what your competition does best, to narrow the space where your brand can win. Your brand might be fast, but if your competitor is even faster, then you will lose out if you try to play in that space. 

Four elements make up a brand positioning statement, including who you serve, where you play, where will you win and why customers should believe you. These are the customer target, marketplace definition, the customer benefit, and support points. 

b2b brand positioning

Where you win

To find the competitive space in which your brand can win. Below, I introduce a Venn diagram of competitive situations that we will use throughout this article. You will see three circles. The first circle comprises everything your customer wants or needs. The second circle includes everything your brand does best, including customer benefits, product features, or proven claims. Finally, the third circle lists what your competitor does best.


 

Your brand’s winning zone (in green), is the space that matches up “What customers want” with “What your brand does best.” This space provides you a distinct positioning you can own and defend from attack. Your brand must be able to satisfy the customer needs better than any other competitor can.

Your brand will not survive by trying to compete in the losing zone (in red), which is the space that matches the customer needs with “What your competitor does best.” When you play in this space, your competitor will beat you every time.

 

As markets mature, competitors copy each other. It has become harder to be better with a definitive product win. Many brands have to play in the risky zone (in grey), which is the space where you and your competitor both meet the customer’s needs in a relative tie. 

There are four ways you can win the risky zone:

  • Dominate: Use your brand’s power in the market to squeeze out smaller, weaker brands.
  • Gain first-mover advantage: Be the first to capture that space to earn a reputation you can defend.
  • Innovate: Win with innovation and creativity to make your brand seem unique.
  • Captivate: Build a deeper emotional connection to make your brand seem different.

Sadly, I always have to mention the dumb zone (in blue) where two competitors “battle it out” in the space customers do not care. One competitor says, “We are faster,” and the other brand says, “We are just as fast.” No one bothered to ask the customer if they care about speed. Both brands are dumb.

Brand positioning statement elements

Four elements make up a brand positioning statement, including who you serve, where you play, where will you win and why customers should believe you. These are the customer target, marketplace definition, the customer benefit, and support points. 

  1. Who is your customer target? What slice of the marketplace is the most motivated by what your brand offers? Do not just think about who you want but rather who wants your brand.
  2. Where will you play? What is the competitive set that defines the space in the market where your brand competes? Positioning is always relative to the other companies your brand competes against.   
  3. Where will you win? What is the main customer benefit promise you will make to the customer target to make your brand stand out as interesting, simple, unique, motivating, and ownable? Do not talk about what you do (features); instead, talk about what the customer gets (functional benefits) and how the customer feels (emotional benefits).
  4. Why should they believe us? Understand what support points and features you need to back up your main promise. These support points should close any possible doubts, questions, or concerns the customer has after hearing your main promise.

Before you randomly write out a brand positioning statement based on your intuition, I will force you to think deeper to help focus your decisions on the best possible space for your brand to win and own.  

The customer benefits ladder

The customer benefits ladder helps turn your brand’s features into customer benefits. Stop talking about what your brand does and start talking about what your customer gets. The four steps to building a customer benefits ladder: 

Leverage all available research to define your ideal customer target profile with need states, customer insights, and the customer enemy.  

Brainstorm all possible brand features. Focus on those features you believe give your brand a competitive advantage.

Move up to the functional benefits by putting yourself in the shoes of the customer. For each feature on your list, ask, “So, what do I get from that?” Challenge yourself to come up with better benefits by asking the question until you move into a richer zone.

Then move up to the emotional benefits. Look at each functional benefit and in the voice of the customer you should ask, “So, how does that make me feel?” As you did in step 3, keep asking the question until you see a more in-depth emotional space you can win with and own.

Functional benefits

To help brand leaders, I have taken nine functional need state zones and expanded the list to over 50 potential functional benefits your brand can build around. As you look through the list, gravitate to the functional benefits you think will fit the needs of your customers and where your brand can do it better than competitors. Start with the words on the cheat sheet below, then layer in your creative language based on specific category words or specific customer words and phrases they use.

Emotional benefits

Below you will find a list of 40 potential emotional benefits. From my experience, marketers are better at finding the ideal rational benefits compared with how they work at finding the ideal emotional benefits for their brands. As a brand, you want to own one emotional space in the customer’s heart as much as you own a rational space in the customer’s mind. When I push brand managers to get emotional, they struggle and opt for what they view as obvious emotions, even if they do not fit with their brand. I swear every brand manager thinks their brand should be the trusted, reliable, and likable. Use our cheat sheet to dig deeper on emotions. 

I have used Hotspex research methodology to create an emotional cheat sheet with eight emotional customer benefits zones, which include optimism, freedom, get noticed, feel satisfied, comfort, fit with company, stay in control, and curious for knowledge. Use the words within each zone to provide added context. 

Build around benefit clusters

Start by looking at the two cheat sheets and narrow down to potential clusters of the functional and emotional benefits. Match what customers want and what your brand does best. I recommend that you take three of the zones from each of the two cheat sheets, and then add 2-3 support words per zone to create a cluster.

For each cluster, use the words to inspire a brainstorm of specific benefit statements that fit your brand, using the specific brand, customer or category words. For Gray’s Lighting, a fictional stage lighting brand that provides such a high quality lighting that it brings out every detail on the face of actors. Concerning functional benefits, I have chosen to build around functional clusters, such as works better for you, sensory appeal, and experiences, and the emotional clusters, such as optimism, feeling free, and getting noticed. Once I made those choices, I began brainstorming 10-15 key benefit phrases that start with “I get…” for the functional benefits and “I feel” for the emotional benefits.  

How to write the final brand positioning statement

Taking all the homework, here are some thoughts on bringing the brand positioning statement together: 

  1. Who is your customer target? Keep your target definition focused. Bring the target to life with need states, customer insights, and a customer enemy. You can have groups of customers, or specific customers.   
  2. Where will you play? Define the space you play in, measuring it against those brands you compete with. 
  3. Where will you win? Narrow your benefit down to one thing. Never try to stand for too many things at once—whether too many functional benefits or too many emotional benefits. You cannot be all things to all people. Make sure you talk benefits, not features. The ideal space must be unique and motivating to the customers while being ownable for your brand. 
  4. Why should they believe us? The role of support points is to resolve any potential doubts the customers might have when they see your main benefit. Ensure these support points are not just random claims or features that you want to jam into your brand message. They should support and fit with the main benefit.

The final brand positioning statement for Gray’s Lighting

The brand positioning statement works with Technology brands

This type of thinking can be found in my B2B Brands book

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a customer profile and a customer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around marketing communications and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your B2B brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find B2B Brands on Amazon, Apple books or Rakuten/Kobo books

How your B2B brand can win with the four-headed B2B customers

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

B2B follows a different type of targeting. First, while a B2B brand may start off thinking about selling to the entire market, then begin narrowing down based on the kind of customer or the subsegments of the category. As B2B marketers approach their customers, they must understand there are four types of people at the customer, including:  

  • End-user who has the immediate need
  • Decision-maker who ultimately approves the purchase
  • Buyer who performs the final sale 
  • Influencing voice somewhere in the organization

Depending on the size, power, and formality of the purchasing process of your customer, these four roles could be four distinct people who rarely engage each other, or for a simple purchase, it could be one or two people. 

b2b customers

B2B customers act like a four-headed monster with different roles of the people within your customers’ companies

As you look at those four roles within your B2B customer audience, you have to understand how each role can impact your sale. I recommend you understand: a) each person’s motivation behind a potential purchase, b) what it will take for them to see, think, do, feel, or whisper, c) what could go wrong that you need to watch out for, and d) where your sales team needs to focus.

The end-user

The motivation of the B2B end user is most similar to how a consumer would act with a brand. The end user focuses on how their personal experience will help them improve their performance in their role. Like a typical consumer, you want them to think about how the purchase will boost their performance, so they feel motivated to influence stakeholders to close the deal internally. It would help if you got them to use their motivation to fight for the purchase. One major caution to watch out for is when the user is forced into a decision by the decision maker (their boss) or the buyer (due to savings), which they might naturally resist. It would be best if you had a personal connection with the end user to gain their trust. Focus your sales team on providing demonstrations or trials to show the end user the functional and emotional benefits related to their performance.

Decision maker

Usually, the decision makers’ motivation will focus on understanding how your brand will add to their in-market performance impact and related business results. If they are a former user, they may bring their own bias to the decision, believing they know what is best for the end user. You will need a logical and quantifiable case for change to help them to think the impact and results will justify their decision. When your entrance is through the end user, be careful they are not brought in too late to a potential decision, as it may frustrate them. A deal can fall apart if the user cannot build the case for change. Your sales team should involve decision makers early so you can understand their specific needs and requirements to build a case for change.

The buyer

Within an organization, the buyer’s role is to focus on measures and control so they can find cost savings for the company. They focus on comparative price points and terms. What you want them to see are the savings to justify the purchase. As they are generalists covering so many different areas of procurement, you need to educate them on the technical aspects of products and services, so they feel in control of the decision. The big caution is when the end user does not consult the buyer, it will frustrate them, and you may need to go back to the beginning and explain everything again. The buyer will need firm forecasted numbers to compare with other options. They may compare the metrics to the current status quo or other competitive brands. Your sales team should highlight comparative performance results and focus on the overall cost. When possible, avoid the line-by-line comparison as the buyer may force you to deliver the lowest price on each line. That risks cutting into your overall profitability.

Influencing voice

The influencing voice is the hardest to manage, as it can come from anywhere in the organization. It could be a peer or mentor providing advice to your end user. Those individuals are the hardest for you to manage. 

The influencing voices you should focus on are those peripheral leaders in other departments to your end user who will want to influence the purchase, so it can positively impact their vision and goals. For instance, when you are selling travel expense software, the sales leader might be an influential voice. If you are selling new ingredient materials, then the marketing leader would want an influential voice for that decision. When they are highly motivated, they become an active voice, whispering to decision maker and user, almost selling internally on impact and performance. You want them selling for your brand, not against. The most significant risk you need to manage is, when they see no personal benefit to their role, they turn into an absent voice, which is a passive non-supporter. You need to understand the influencer’s motivation, so you can engage them when they are highly motivated, and yet manage them when they do not care.

Build your brand around benefit clusters

Start by looking at the two cheat sheets and narrow down to potential clusters of the functional and emotional benefits. Match what customers want and what your brand does best. I recommend that you take three of the zones from each of the two cheat sheets, and then add 2-3 support words per zone to create a cluster.

For each cluster, use the words to inspire a brainstorm of specific benefit statements that fit your brand, using the specific brand, customer or category words. For Gray’s Lighting, a fictional stage lighting brand that provides such a high quality lighting that it brings out every detail on the face of actors. Concerning functional benefits, I have chosen to build around functional clusters, such as works better for you, sensory appeal, and experiences, and the emotional clusters, such as optimism, feeling free, and getting noticed. Once I made those choices, I began brainstorming 10-15 key benefit phrases that start with “I get…” for the functional benefits and “I feel” for the emotional benefits.  

Using your benefit clusters to manage the four-headed monster of the B2B customer

Using the clusters from Gray’s Stage Lighting, below shows how each of the four people within a customer are motivated by the different benefits within your cluster. While you may narrow down your focus for your main communication, as you work directly with the specific people at your customer, the clusters give you a bit more flexibility in how you sell your brand. 

This type of thinking is in my B2B Brands book

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a customer profile and a customer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around marketing communications and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your B2B brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find B2B Brands on Amazon, Apple books or Rakuten/Kobo books

How brand leaders can manage the creative spirit needed for brand growth

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The best brand leader plays the most crucial role in the creative advertising process. While they are not designed to be experts, they need to know enough to make advertising decisions, but never enough to do the work.

With the increasing speed of advertising, brand leaders have taken one step in and often find themselves embedded in the creative development. If you are now doing the work, then who is critiquing and who is deciding if the work is good enough and if it fits your strategy? Even using “internal agencies” creates a blind spot. Brand leaders need to step back and let the creativity unfold. 

creativity

You don't have to be creative, but you do have to enable creativity

It takes a unique leadership skill to be able to inspire, challenge, question, direct, and decide, without any expertise at all. As we engage experts, the respect we show can either inspire greatness or crush their creative spirit. From my experience, the best advertising people I have worked with would prefer to be pushed rather than held back. The last thing they want is for you to ask for their expertise, and then tell them what to do.

If you knew that being a better advertising client would result in better work, would you do it? Being good at advertising is something you can learn. I will show you how to judge and how to make decisions to choose the best advertising for your brand. Your advertising needs enough branded breakthrough to stand out from the market clutter, so your brand connects with consumers. It must have a motivating message to move consumers along their purchase journey, whether you want them to see, think, feel, do, or influence.

The thinking behind the creativity needed on your brand

The best marketing execution must balance being creatively different and strategically smart. 

When your marketing execution is smart but not different, they get lost in the clutter. It is natural for marketers to tense up when the creative work ends up being “too different.”  I have noticed in all parts of the business, marketers are trained to look for past proof as a sign something will work. However, when it comes to advertising or any other type of marketing execution, if the work starts too similar to what other brands have already done, then the advertising will be at risk of boring your consumers, so you never stand out enough to capture their attention. Push your comfort with creativity and take a chance to ensure your ad breaks through. 

When ads are different but not smart, they will entertain consumers, but do nothing for your brand. Your advertising must be smart enough to trigger the desired consumer response to match your brand strategy.

How to handle yourself at the creative meeting

In your next creative advertising meeting, you should think fast with your instincts, while trying to represent your consumer. View the advertising through the eyes of your consumer. Try to see the work how they would see it. I would not even let my agency do a setup to the ads. I said, “Just show me the work as though I see it on TV.” I felt any setup or explanation clouded my judgment and impacted my instincts. As you are sitting in that decision-making hot seat at a creative meeting, here are challenging questions to ask yourself. 

What does your gut instinct say? You might be coming from a 3-hour meeting and it is not easy to change speeds as you head into a creative meeting. Relax, find your creative energy, let it soak in, and use your quick-twitch instincts. Do you love what the ad has the potential to do? Will you be proud of this ad as your legacy?

Does the ad deliver the strategy? Slow down with some thinking time after the meeting. In a quiet place alone, make sure it delivers your strategy. Does the ad match up to the objective in the creative brief? Does it achieve the desired consumer response? Will it have an expected market impact and brand performance? Don’t over-think and talk yourself out of a good ad that works.

Will the ad build a bond with consumers? Will it speak directly to the consumer target, leverage consumer insights to connect, deepen our bond with our consumers, or build memories and rituals?

Does the ad fit with the brand  and distinguish it in the market? Will it deliver the brand idea, leverage your creative assets, and fit with the tone of the brand? Does it use the functional or emotional benefits to own a competitive space that is motivating to consumers and ownable for the brand? Is the ad different enough to capture attention within the clutter? Does the creative naturally set up the main message and move consumers to think, feel, or act? 

Making decisions on the creativity of your brand

You have three choices: Approve, reject, or change the work. From my experience, brand leaders rarely approve creative ideas outright. There also seems a reluctance or fear to reject outright. So marketers mistakenly assume their role is to change the ads. I see too many marketers come to the creative meeting with a pen and paper and start to write feverishly all the recommended changes they have for each ad. The problem is if we marketers are not talented enough to come up with the ad in the first place, why do we think we are talented enough to change the ad? You are a generalist, surrounded by experts. Use your experts. 

Next time you go into a creative meeting, use the checklist, and score each point high, medium, or low. Look at the most significant gaps. Then, take those gaps, and create directional feedback, to move the creative team. Stop giving the creative team your solutions, and give them new problems. Think of your feedbacks a game, where you want to move the creative work into a better space, without giving them the exact answer.  If the creative brief is a “box” that creates a problem for the creative team to figure out, then use your feedback to create a new “box” for them to solve. Use your feedback to challenge and create a new problem for your agency to figure out the solution.

The best creative people I know would rather be pushed to do better work, then held back to settle for OK work. 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 to our brand.

This type of thinking can be found in my Beloved Brands book

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books