Case Study: How Special K moved from indifferent to beloved

Special K is a great case study of a brand who has gone from a one-dimensional boring cereal into something beyond what the brand could imagine. Cereal is one of those categories filled with a touch of magic, many of the beloved brands coming out of the “Mad Men” days of TV advertising. 

Brands like Corn Flakes, Cheerios, Rick Krispies and Froot Loops have a certain wholesome charm. These brands are in a bit of a time warp, a throwback to simpler times when cartoons were only on Saturday mornings.

To illustrate, click on the Special K brand idea map to zoom in.

The fundamentals of marketing matter

The marketing fundamentals that we show in this article are part of what we use in our marketing training programs. Marketers will learn strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, writing creative briefs, advertising decision-making, marketing analytics, and marketing finance

Special K

Special K was an indifferent brand.

I worked in the cereal business back in the 1990’s and we never thought anything about Special K. It just sat there with a very small share. Basically, it was just the one-flavor of cereal. Zero innovation. Just Rice Krispies crushed differently. Trust me, I was on the General Mills side and no one was worried about Special K.

Special K had been connected with weight loss since the mid 80s. Their ads were focused on 110 calories–which is just a feature, not a benefit for the consumer.  

Brand managers need to remember that no one cares what you do until you care what they want. 

No one at Special K was putting themselves in the shoes of the consumer and asking “so what do I get?” or “how does this make me feel?” It was implied, but it was buried in the woman looking at herself in the mirror.

Brand love curve

In the consumer’s mind, brands sit on a Brand Love Curve, with brands going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved Brand. At the beloved stage, demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings. Consumers become outspoken fans.

To illustrate, click on the Brand Love Curve to zoom in.

Before 2000, Special K was clearly an Indifferent Brand. There was very little consumer opinion, and for those who did buy Special K, they weren’t exactly the most ardent fans of the brand. Not only was the original flavor fairly bland, but everything about the brand was bland. Special K needed to stand for something. 

The brand needed an idea. They were dancing around the idea of weight loss but not really bringing the benefit to life. They were stuck on low calorie, not weight loss. 

Beloved Brands playbook

Our Beloved Brands playbook goes in depth on everything you need to build a brand consumers will love. Learn to about strategic thinking, brand positioning, writing brand plans, advertising decisions, media planning, marketing analytics, and financials.

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Our readers tell us they keep our Beloved Brands playbook close by for whenever they need to take on a new project. Clearly, we are thrilled that 89% of Amazon reviewers have given Beloved Brands a 5-star rating. Also, we wrote a B2B Brands playbook and a Healthcare Brands playbook

Special K brand positioning

A brand starts with an idea.

The most beloved brands are based on an idea that is worth loving. It is the idea that connects the brand with consumers. Under the brand idea are 5 consumer touchpoints, including:

  • Brand promise.
  • Brand Story.
  • Innovation.
  • Purchase moment.
  • Consumer experience.

Everyone wants to debate what makes a great brand–whether it’s the product, the advertising, the experience or through consumers. It is not just one or the other–it is the collective connection of all these things that make a brand become loved.

To illustrate, click on the Special K brand idea map to zoom in.

Special K became about consumers

Around 2000, Special K made a dramatic turn in the market. With all the diet-crazed consumers looking for new solutions, Special K had a stroke of brilliance when someone figured out that if you ate Special K twice a day for just two weeks, you could lose up to 6 pounds in two weeks. While all the other diet options felt daunting, this felt pretty easy to do.

While Special K had spent decades dancing around the weight loss idea, now they had a Brand Promise that was benefit focused and empowering: With Special K, just twice a day for 2 weeks, you can lose 6 pounds or better yet, drop a jean size. They stopped talking about the product and starting talking in the voice of the consumer.

The brilliant strategy is around the usage occasion of the second meal each day. Cereal had been a category that grew +3% for years, steady only with population growth and some demographics around boomers and echo generations. But now, there was finally a reason to eat cereal twice in one day.

Special K: Empowering Women

The communication of the Brand Story become about empowering women to take control using the “Two-week challenge.” Here’s a very empowering ad around the “Drop a Jean Size” idea.

With a Brand Idea bigger than just a cereal, Special K’s innovation rivalled that of Apple. It started with the launch of Berry Special K that thrust the brand into a good tasting cereal, and has since added bars, shakes and water. Most recently, they’ve now launched potato chips (only 80 calories for 20 chips) and a Breakfast Sandwich option. it just goes to show you that it’s not about ‘out of the box’ ideas, but rather how you define the box. 

All these product launches are aligned to the idea of empowering women to maintain their weight. The diversified line up beyond cereal helps off-set any sales softness on cereal. This year, they’ve just announced they are re-looking Special K’s original recipe to keep the cereal share strong.

Rounding out the consumer experience is to take the challenge on-line, gives women a community of encouragement to help achieve their personal weight loss goals. Special K has also launched App for smart phones to help monitor weight goals. They have also tapped into time of year occasions around New Years and spring to re-enforce the brand messages.

To illustrate, click on the arrow to view the Special K ad.

Marketing Skills

Build your marketing skills with our post on how to write a Brand Concept

One of the most important skills marketers need to know is the fundamentals of writing a brand concept. Read our step-by-step process for how to create a brand concept that brings your brand to life. Learn how to lay out the brand concept with the brand idea, consumer insights, main message, support points and call-to-action. 

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Marketing Careers

On a classic marketing team, there are four key levels:

  • Assistant Brand Manager.
  • Brand Manager.
  • Marketing Director or Group Marketing Director.
  • VP Marketing or CMO.

To illustrate, click to zoom in on the brand management career pathway. 

In simple terms, the Assistant Brand Manager role is about doing, analyzing and sending signals you have leadership skills for the future.

At the Brand Manager level, it becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan. Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report.

When you get to the Marketing Director role, it becomes more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing. To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best.

And finally, at the CMO level, you must create your own vision, focus on your people to make them better and shine, drive the business results, and run the processes.

Our Beloved Brands Marketing Training program will make your team smarter.

If you are running a marketing team, you will always benefit from having a smarter team. When you invest in our marketing training program, you will help your team gain the marketing skills they need to succeed. As a result, you will see them make smarter decisions and produce exceptional work that drives business growth.

We’ll work with your team to help them learn more about the five core marketing skills: Strategic Thinking, Brand Positioning, Marketing Planning, Marketing Execution, and Brand Analytics. Most importantly, your marketers will learn new tools, concepts, and ideas to trigger new thinking. To help their skills, we get participants to take each tool on a test run. Then, we give feedback for them to keep improving. 

To illustrate, click to zoom in on the brand management career pathway. 

Strategic Thinking:

Our marketing training teaches brand leaders how to ask tough strategic questions to slow everyone down and engage in debate of options to move forward. To start, you will be given various tools to approach strategy in a thoughtful, analytical way. Importantly, marketers need learn how to change brain speeds to move from a strategic thinker style to uncover what is holding back a brand, and onto an instinctual thinker style on marketing execution. 

We introduce our Strategic ThinkBox that allows marketers to interrogate their brand. Importantly, our ThinkBox pushes you to take a holistic look at the brand’s core strength, competitive landscape, tightness of the consumer bond, and business situation.

Brand Positioning:

Our brand positioning process teaches how to decide on the target market, consumer benefits, and reasons to believe. To start, you will learn to define the ideal consumer and frame the definition with their biggest needs, consumer insights and their enemy. Then, we provide our benefit cheatsheets to help learn how to discover the functional benefits and emotional benefits that a brand can deliver. Importantly, marketers need to make a decision on trying to stake out a unique space that is motivating to consumers, and ownable for the brand. 

Learn to use our brand idea tool and see how it helps to communicate the brand idea to everyone across the organization. Finally, marketers will learn how to take the brand positioning work and translate it into a brand concept, brand story, and a brand credo.

Marketing Plans:

We see the marketing plan is a decision-making tool on how a brand will spend their limited resources. Moreover, the marketing plan communicates the expectations to everyone who works on the brand. Importantly, we teach marketers how to put together the vision, purpose, goals, key issues, strategies and marketing execution plans

Learn how to write key issue questions and strategic statements that forms the foundation of the marketing plan. In addition, our marketing training provides various marketing planning templates including our one-page brand plan and ideal Marketing Plan presentation deck

Marketing Execution:

Our marketing execution training starts with the concept of our Marketing PlayBox that matches up to the Strategic ThinkBox. To keep marketers on strategy throughout the execution stages, our Marketing PlayBox helps find in-the-box ideas that meet four dimensions: they are focused on our target, fit with the brand, deliver the message, and execute the strategy. 

To start, we show how the creative brief sets up the PlayBox, serving as the bridge between the plan and execution. We go through the creative brief line-by line  and give you examples of the best and worst. Importantly, you will learn to use our Creative Checklist to help make smarter decisions on creative communications. We workshop how to give feedback to your agency based on gaps you see with the checklist. 

Learn to make media decisions that match up to your consumer’s purchase journey. In addition, we provide a similar Innovation Checklist to compare innovation ideas. 

Brand Analytics:

Our comprehensive brand analytics training teach brand leaders how to lead a deep-dive business review. We outline the best analytical thinking so you can become a well-rounded marketer. 

Learn to look at the marketplace, consumer analytics, channels of distribution, competitors or other brands in their industry. And, learn assess the brand itself. Importantly, you will learn how marketing funnels can help assess the brand’s performance. We provide 64 analytical questions that marketers can ask of their brand. Finally, we show how to understand the financial performance indicators of the brand.

Our training looks at three specific streams; Consumer Marketing Training, B2B Marketing Training, and Healthcare Marketing Training. With each program, all the of the examples are tailored to the type of marketer. Undoubtedly, we believe marketers will be at their best when the can see the concepts or tools working on their type of brand.

Take a look at our Marketing Skills assessment tool to see how you or your marketing team measure up.

For more information on our Beloved Brands Marketing Training programs, click below or email Graham Robertson at Graham@beloved-brands.com

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Graham Robertson

Email: graham@beloved-brands.com

Phone: 416–885–3911

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Marketing Book

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the playbook for how to create a brand your consumers will love

With our Beloved Brands playbook, you will learn how to think strategically, define your brand positioning, write a marketing plan, make execution decisions, and analyze your brand. Our readers tell us they reach for Beloved Brands as a reference tool to help them with the day-to-day management of their brand. We are proud that 89% of online reviewers have given Beloved Brands a 5-star rating. As a result, Beloved Brands has been a #1 bestseller in brand management. We also have the B2B Brands playbook and our Healthcare Brands playbook

Marketing Training

The smarter your team, the better the results you will see!

If you are running a marketing team, your will always benefit from having a smarter team. When you invest in our marketing training program, you will help your team gain the marketing skills they need to succeed. As a result, you will see them make smarter decisions and produce exceptional work that drives business growth. 

We have designed our marketing training program to build the fundamental skills that will help your team reach their full potential. We will work with your team to help them learn take on Strategic Thinking, Brand Positioning, Marketing Planning, Marketing Execution, and Brand Analytics. 

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