The miraculous transition of China is happening, but it may take the entire century to complete.

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

China is in the midst of rapid growth that will continue to transform the country into an economic powerhouse throughout this century. As a Canadian, I find it fascinating to see elements that are ahead and behind the western world.

Old world versus future world

There are many layers of complexity within China, whether cultures, tiers of cities or the stark differences in generations. The older adults are living the simple lifestyle they learned in the 20th century. It is common to see 50-year-olds riding basic bicycles to work. Or see people eating at small local eateries that do not look or feel safe in western standards.

However, young adults are not only modern; they appear to be living in the future, beyond western standards. Everything is app based, e-commerce driven, global payments and QR codes for purchasing or learning more. While we have the odd retailer specific payment app here in the West, we do not yet have globally accepted pay apps that stretch across all retailers.

Alibaba is a brand we all need to watch

On my two most recent trips to China, I have noticed a considerable decline in retailers, restaurants or even or taxis that take Visa. Everyone is using Alipay, linked closely to the Alibaba e-commerce giant (market capitalization of $350B) who could take on Amazon (market capitalization of $450B) on the world stage. 

alipayAs much as we in the west are fascinated with Amazon, do you think you understand Alibaba enough to learn from them? Alibaba’s market capitalization has gone from $200B up to $356B in the last 12 months. A 78% gain in 12 months. Wow. 

The social media app of choice is WeChat with almost a billion active users. WeChat provides text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast messaging, video conferencing, video games, sharing of photographs and videos, and location sharing. You can even exchange contacts with people nearby via Bluetooth. Like Alipay, WeChat has a payment service that wants to be considered the digital wallet. When will these global payment systems become mainstream in the west? And who will own it?  

Income disparity is vast, but signs of improving

In the last ten years, the average income for China has tripled. The problem is that it is still under USD 10,000, compared with over $45,000 for many of the western nations it competes with. Within any statistics in China, there are layers of complexity. The most significant layer of complexity is around the disparity of income levels. 

While people of the west are trying to figure out solutions of rich versus poor, the evidence is even more overwhelming in China. With a high growth economy, they are starting to see the trickle-down impact of wealth, helping the creation of a real middle class in China.

It is expected that from 2012 to 2022, those in China making more than $34K US will increase from 3% currently up to 9%, and those in the growing middle class ($16K to $34K) will increase from 14% up to 54%.  These are huge jumps that will likely continue for the entire century. Wealth in China

The growing professional workforce will be the most significant force of transformation of the economy. Reminiscent of America in the 1950s, Chinese parents are investing in the education for their children, as they realize their children will be richer 20 years from now than they are today. This was the root of the American dream. 

The rapid growth of cities appears well planned

Shenzhen ChinaI loved my recent trip to Shenzhen, just across the water from Hong Kong. On a daily basis, thousands and thousands of Hong Kong residents stream across the border to work in Shenzhen. It’s not an easy commute going through border patrols and customs, to and from work each day.

Shenzhen is quickly transforming into a beautiful city. One of the most underestimated elements of China are the trees throughout the streets. When a westerner would think about cities of 25-30 million, we would normally think it must be a concrete jungle. Shenzhen in China is lined with gorgeous and rich trees. Similar to Shanghai of the French concession area. Keep in mind, Shenzhen did not even exist 20 years ago, and today, it is home to 20-25 million people. This city is benefiting from smart urban planning.

Luxury brands are everywhere

Within the city, they have created neighborhoods for the rich, with some of the nicest malls you will find. Evidence of the disparity of income is everywhere. Shenzhen MallsI went through an affluent shopping mall in Shenzhen that would rival any high-end mall in America. Hugo Boss, Coach, Sephora, Rolex, Lululemon. You name a brand, and this mall had it.

I browsed for prices and could not find any deals. Imported goods in China are a sign of prestige, yet you will have to pay for it through higher prices.

There are 2,600 Starbucks throughout China. If these high-end items are considered badge brands in the west, imagine what a badge it is to confirm your social status as one who has made it in China.

Further evidence was the cars on the road including Mercedes, BMW’s, Range Rovers, Ferrari’s and Audi’s. While China has recently become the #1 car market in the world, only those in the elite class are driving cars.

Bikes are still a reality

Most western cities have bike rentals, where you slide in your visa and take a gentle ride to see the sights. In Europe and North America, it’s something tourists would use. In China, these bikes offer a much more functional need state, and this is seen as a business that has been a disruption to transportation so that people can get to and from work. The bikes are not locked, and they do not accept Visa. People here use WeChat or Alipay payment apps on their phones, to scan the barcode on the bike and then pay and go where you need to go.

5 Questions for the future

As I look at the next 80+ years for China, here are the questions in my mind

  1. Will China make the shift a product-driven economy to a brand-driven economy? 
  2. Can locally grown brands begin to push back against the influx of the imported brands?
  3. How will China close the gap on Marketing talent, to be strong on strategy, analytics, brand positioning, brand planning and creative marketing execution?
  4. Will China be able to move some of their successful platforms such as WeChat or Alibaba into the western markets? Will we ever see a global battle between Alibaba and Amazon? 
  5. How long can China sustain such a growth mode before they need to make adjustments, and how will they handle the normal ups and downs of growth and recessions?

Here’s a Powerpoint presentation on how to get how to create a beloved brand, something for China to consider as they shift from product-driven economy to a brand-driven.

And, keep an eye out for the launch of our first book. We will be launching beloved brands in April of 2018.

beloved brands book

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

The best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique engagement tools are the backbone of our strategy workshops. These tools will force you to think differently so you can freely generate many new ideas. At Beloved Brands, we bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We help brands find growth

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a big idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand. Finally, the big idea must influence employees to personally deliver an outstanding consumer experience, to help move consumers along the journey to loving your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources. We work with your team to build out project plans, creative briefs and provide advice on marketing execution.

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

We make Brand Leaders smarter

We believe that investing in your marketing people will pay off. With smarter people behind your brands will drive higher revenue growth and profits. With our brand management training program, you will see smarter strategic thinking, more focused brand plans, brand positioning, better creative briefs that steer your agencies, improved decision-making on marketing execution, smarter analytical skills to assess your brand’s performance and a better management of the profitability of the brand.

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

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Do “Blue Ocean” opportunities really exist? Or is it all just “Red Ocean”?

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

fedex-blue-ocean-strategy-1-638People love brainstorming “blue ocean” ideas where they’ll talk about how to create their own uncontested market space and make competition irrelevant. I’ve participated in those sessions and admit they are a blast. It’s a great tool for opening up business minds that might be stuck, get them out of the usual and explore where else you could go.

At Beloved Brands, we always start with the consumer so that we ensure we are meeting the needs of consumers rather than blindly putting things out into the marketplace that no one wants. However, the second check is the competitive nature of your positioning to make sure I’m not blindly putting things out that someone is already doing. Murder and Strategy have one thing in common, they both start with opportunity. Yes, finding those blue ocean strategies, can create opportunities.However, the reality is that most brands play in a highly competitive space where every gain you make, comes at the expense of someone else, who is also constantly trying to win. Netflix has dramatically impacted network television and movie theatres, Uber is experiencing fights across North America with Taxi companies and Municipal governments and Amazon is fighting against brands selling direct. While you might use Blue Ocean to create these type of ideas, you have to use Red Ocean when you start to run these businesses. Be prepared that anytime you take a dollar away from someone, they will fight back.

How to win in a Red Ocean world

Brands have four choices:  better, different, cheaper of not around for long

The key is to find a unique selling proposition for your brand.  You don’t always need to find a rational point of difference as long as there is room to be emotionally unique.Slide04

Map out everything your consumer wants–all the possible need states. Then map out all the benefits that you and your competitors can do better than anyone else–both functional and emotional zones.  You want to find that intersecting zone where what you can do best matches up to a need state of the consumer. Then find a way to serve that need state to the best of your ability and transform it into an even bigger deal than first meets the eye. Avoid the intersecting zone where your competitor is better than you and please avoid that zone where you and your competition foolishly battle in an area that “no one cares” about. The battle ground zone is where both you and your competition can satisfy the consumer need at an equal rate. To win in this situation, you need to get creative and find ways to out-execute or find some emotional connection that changes the game and makes you the clear winner.

Competitive Warfare

At the start of any strategy definition, you should ask “where are we?” Here are four questions to be asking that force you to choose four possible solutions to each.

  1. What is your current share position in the market?
  2. What is the core strength that your brand can win on?
  3. How tightly connected is your consumer to your brand?
  4. What is the current business situation that your brand faces?

This article focuses on question one which speaks to where you rank in the market, which a great indicator of how much power you can command in the market.  You have four choices, using Marketing Warfare (Trout and Ries) you are either the Leader, Challenger, Niche or a Guerilla.

  • Leader (defensive): Leader of category or sub-category defending their territory by attacking itself or even attacking back at an aggressive competitor.
  • Challenger (offensive): Challenger’s attack on the leader to exploit a weakness or build on your own strength.
  • Flanking: An attack in an open area where the Leader is not that well established.
  • Guerrilla (Niche): Go to an area where it’s too small for the Leaders to take notice or are unable to attack back.

The leader uses defensive strategies

Defensive strategies should be pursued by the leader. Not only the market share leader, but the perceived leader in the consumers’ mind. Attacking yourself is the best defense. Identify and close leaks in service, experience or products. Introduce new products superior to your current. Challenge the culture to step it up to continually get better and stay ahead of the competitors. Can’t be complacent or you’ll die. The Leader blocks all offensive moves. Keep an eye on your competitors moves—and adjust your own brand to ensure you defend against their attacks. Attack back with an even greater force than the one attacking you. Demonstrate your brand power. Leverage all the brand power you’ve mustered to maintain your positional power.Slide1

The challenger brand uses offensive strategies

The best offensive attack is to actually find weakness within the Leader’s strengths. Turn a perceived strength around is very powerful. Attack a weakness might be insufficient. Be careful of the Leader’s Defensive moves. Anticipate a response with full force—possibly even greater than yours. Avoid wars that drain resources and hold same share after the war. Attack on as narrow of a front as possible to ensure your resources are put to that area—which might be more force than the leader puts to that one area. Narrow attacks are effective when the leader tries to be all things to all people—enabling you to slice off a part of their business before they can defend it. Leapfrog Strategy, technology and business models are game-changers in the category.Slide2

The flanker brand stays clear of any battles

The flanker strategies go to uncontested areas, in the safety where the leader is not competing. Make sure you are the first in this area. Speed and surprise can help win the uncontested area before the Leaders take notice. Make your move quickly and stealthfully. Follow through matters, to defend the area you’ve won. Others may follow—whether it’s the leader trying to use their might or copy cats looking for an early win. You can win with new targets, price points (premium or value), distribution channels, format or positioning. Flanking, while lower risk of attack from the leader, is a higher risk with consumers because innovation is always riskier because consumers might not like the concept.

Guerrilla warfare wins where no one notices or cares

Pick a segment small enough that it won’t be noticed and you’ll be able to defend it. Be aggressive. Put all your resources against this small area, so that you’ll have the relative force of a major player. Be flexible and nimble. You’ll need to enter quickly to seize an opportunity that others aren’t noticing, but also be ready to exit if need be—whether the consumers change their minds or competitors see an opportunity to enter. Explore non-traditional marketing techniques to get your brand message out and your brand into the market quickly. Because you’re playing in a non-traditional market, you’ll be given leeway on the tools you use. For Guerrilla brands, it is better to be loved by the few, than liked or tolerated by many.Slide1

Marketing Warfare Rules for Success

  1. Speed of attack matters. Surprise attacks, but sustained speed in the market is a competitive advantage.
  2. Be organized and efficient in your management. To operate at a higher degree of speed, ensure that surprise attacks work without flaw, be mobile enough.
  3. Focus all your resources to appear bigger and stronger than you are. Focus on the target most likely to quickly act, focus on the messaging most likely to motivate and focus on areas you can win.   Drawn out dog fights slows down brand growth. Never fight two wars at once.
  4. Use early wins to keep momentum going and gain quick positional power you can maintain and defend counter-attacks.
  5. Execution matters. Quick breakthrough requires creativity in your approach and quality in execution.
  6. Expect the unexpected. Think it through thoroughly. Map out potential responses by competitors.

In a red ocean world, you need to efficiently own your territory and ruthlessly beat your competitors.

Do you want to be an amazing Brand Leader?  We can help you.

Read more on how to utilize our Brand Leadership Learning Center where you will receive training in all aspects of marketing whether that’s strategic thinking, brand plans, creative briefs, brand positioning, analytical skills or how to judge advertising.  We can customize a program that is right for you or your team.  We can work in person, over the phone or through Skype.  Ask us how we can help you. 

We make Brands better.

We make Brand Leaders better.™

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

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What you should do when your brand is stuck at the Like It stage

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands Explained

Figure out how tightly connected your brand is with your consumer

At Beloved Brands, we have created a hypothetical curve called the Brand Love Curve. The more tightly connected consumers are to the brand, the farther along the curve the brand sits, with brands sitting anywhere from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally to the Beloved stage, where demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings. Consumers become outspoken fans.



While marketers dream of becoming a Nike, Coke, Disney or Apple, the reality is that most brands are closer to the “Like It” stage. That means you are doing a pretty good job, you’ve been able to carve out a bit of a niche and be a consistently chosen brand against proliferation of brands in your category. And you likely have good steady market shares, moderate profits and most brand indicators are reasonably healthy. It’s just that no one loves you. You’re likely not really doing enough to create a tight bond with consumers. It also means you might not be maximizing the full potential of your brand, you may be leaving your brand vulnerable to future attacks and you are leaving money on the table. 


where you are on love curve.001


How do consumers see brands at the “Like It” stage

Consumers see your brand as a functional and rational choice. Your brand does a good job in meeting a basic need they have. They tried it and it makes sense so they buy it, use it and enjoy it. They likely prefer it versus another brand. The might not give it much more though. Consumers lack an emotional connection or have any real feeling for the brand. They see it as ordinary, which is just a little bit better than indifferent. Overall, consumers see you brand in the “it will do” space. 

Why is your brand at the Like It stage?
There are seven reasons why you are at the Like It stage of the brand love curve:

  • Protective Brand Leaders means caution: While many of these brands at the Like It are very successful brands, they get stuck because of overly conservative and fearful Brand Managers, who pick middle of the road strategies and execute “ok” ideas. On top of this, Brand Managers who convince themselves that “we stay conservative because it’s a low interest category” should be removed. Low interest category means you need even more to captivate the consumer. Nearly every category has some consumers that have the potential to love the brand–it’s just a matter of finding them and a willingness to drive more emotion into your marketing.
  • We are rational thinking Marketers: Those marketers that believe consumers are strictly rational when it comes to the brand are inhibiting their brands. The brand managers get all jazzed on claims, comparatives, product demonstration and doctor recommended that they forget about the emotional side of the purchase decision. Claims need to be twisted into benefits—both rational and emotional benefits. Consumers don’t care about you do until you care about what they need. Great marketers find that balance of the science and art of the brand. Ordinary marketers get stuck with the rational only. Don’t get stuck with just features and claims–match them up to consumer needs and create rational benefits and then dial them up to emotional benefits. We recommend using a customer value proposition brand ladder below to help turn your features into benefits.


  • New Brand with Momentum: The second stage of a new brand innovation is ready to expand from the early adopters to the masses. The new brand begins to differentiate itself in a logical way to separate themselves from the proliferation of copycat competitors. Consumers start to go separate ways as well. Retailers might even back one brand over another. Throughout the battle, the brand carves out a base of consumers.
  • There’s a Major Leak: If you look at the brand buying system, you’ll start to see a major leak at some point where you keep losing customers. Most brands have some natural flaw—whether it’s the concept, the product, taste profile ease of use or customer service. Without analyzing and addressing the leak, the brand gets stuck. People like it, but refuse to love it.
  • Brand changes their mind every year: Brands really exist because of the consistency of the promise. When the promise and the delivery of the promise changes every year it’s hard to really connect with what the brand is all about. A brand like Wendy’s has changed their advertising message every year over the past 10 years. Looking at the various ads for Wendy’s, do you see a big idea? The only consumers remaining are those who like their burgers, not the brand.


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  • Your brand has positional power–so you figure who needs Love: There are brands that have captured a strong positional power, whether it`s a unique technology or distribution channel or even value pricing advantage. Brands like Microsoft or Walmart or even many of the pharmaceuticals products don`t see value in the idea of being loved. The problem is when you lose the positional power, you lose your customer base completely. Case in point is the Microsoft brand which has struggled to go beyond their Windows monopoly. 
  • Brands who capture Love, but no Life Ritual: There are brands that quickly capture the imagination but somehow fail to capture a routine embedded in the consumers’ life, usually due to some flaw. Whether it’s Krispy Kreme, Pringles or even Cold Stone, there’s something inherent in the brand’s format or weakness that holds it back and it stays stuck at Loved but just not often enough. So, you forget you love them.

Indicators that your brand is at the Like It stage

From a business point of view, you likely see the brand has a lower conversion from awareness to sales, there is a high % bought on deal, low loyalty and you’re likely faced battling a  strong private label share. 

  • Low Conversion to Sales. While the brand looks healthy in terms of awareness and equity scores, the brand is successful in becoming part of the consumer’s consideration stage, but it keeps losing out to the competition as the consumer goes to the purchase stage. It usually requires a higher trade spend to close that sale which cuts price and margins.
  • Brand Doesn’t Feel Different: A great advertising tracking score to watch is “made the brand seem different” which helps to separate itself from the pack, many times speaking to the emotional part of the messaging.Slide04
  • Stagnant Shares: Your brand team is happy when they hold on to their share, content to grow with the category.
  • High Private Label Sales: If you only focus on the ingredients and the rational features of the product, the consumer will start to figure out they get the same thing with the private label and the share starts to creep up to 20% and higher.

How to get to the Love It stage

  • Separate your brand from the pack: stake out certain spaces in the market creating a brand story that separates your brand from the clutter. The best brands have 3 choices:  better, different or cheaper. When you struggle to be better, you need to find a way to be different so that your brand matches the winning zone below–where your brand’s clear point of difference matches up to what the consumer wants. Begin to sell the solution, not just the product.
  • Build a bigger following: Invest in building a brand story that helps to drive for increased popularity and get new consumers to use the brand.

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  • Leverage those that already love the brand: Focus on the most loyal consumers and drive a deeper connection by driving the routine which should increase usage frequency. On top of that, begin cross selling to capture a broader type of usage.



  • Love the Work: It is time to dial-up the passion that goes into the marketing execution. Beloved Brands have a certain magic to them. But “Like It’ brands tend to settle for ok, rather than push for great. With better work, you’ll be able to better captivate and delight the consumers. If you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand.
  • Fix the Leak: Brands that are stuck have something embedded in the brand or the experience that is holding back the brand. It frustrates consumers and restricts them from fully committing to making the brand a favourite. Be proactive and get the company focused on fixing this leak.
  • Build everything a Big Idea: Consumers want consistency from the brand—constant changes to the advertising, packaging or delivery can be frustrating. Leverage a Brand Story and a Big Idea that balances rational and emotional benefits helps to establish a consistency for the brand and help build a much tighter relationship. Once you establish your big idea, line up everything under that big idea including your brand positioning, communication, innovation, in-store and the overall experience you create.


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Brands at the Like It stage tend to get complacent. You need to drive the Love into the work, and find the balance between rational and emotional benefits.


Does being loved matter?

The big idea behind RETURN ON LOVE (R.O.L.) is that the work you do on the brand is first and foremost focused on creating a strong bond between your consumer and your brand. Once you have that bond, you can use it as a source of power versus all the stake holders of the brand: power over customers, suppliers, competitors and even the very consumers you have the bond with. The brand would also generate added power with the media, key opinion leaders and employees. Once you have power, you can drive growth and profit, using that power to drive up price, drive down costs, gain market share and enter new categories. If your finance person asks “so what is the ROI on this”, I’m not recommending you say “we are focused on ROL buddy, not ROI” but what you should say is “we are investing in building a bond with our consumer that will give us more power that we can then wield much greater profit for our brand”

But seriously, having more love adds to the profits. Here are the 8 ways to turn brand love into more PROFITS for your brand.

love power profit.005


With all the love and power the Beloved Brand has generated for itself, now is the time to translate that into growth, profit and value. The Beloved Brand has an Inelastic Price. The loyal brand fans pay a 20-30% price premium and the weakened channels cave to give deeper margins. We will see how inelastic Apple’s price points are with the new iPad Mini. Consumers are willing to trade up to the best model. The more engaged employees begin to generate an even better brand experience.  For instance at Starbucks, employees know the names of their most loyal of customers. Blind taste tests show consumers prefer the cheaper McDonald’s coffee but still pay 4x as much for a Starbucks.  So is it still coffee you’re buying?

A well-run Beloved Brand can use their efficiency to lower their cost structure. Not only can they use their growth to drive economies of scale, but suppliers will cut their cost just to be on the roster of a Beloved Brand. They will benefit from the free media through earned, social and search media.  They may even find government offer subsidies to be in the community or partners willing to lower their costs to be part of the brand.  For instance, a real estate owner would likely give lower costs and better locations to McDonald’s than an indifferent brand.  Apple get a billion dollars worth of free media, with launches covered on CNN for 2 weeks prior the launch and carried live like it’s a news event.

Beloved Brands have momentum they can turn into share gains. Crowds draw crowds which spreads the base of the loyal consumers. Putting the Disney name on a movie generates a crowd at the door on day 1. Competitors can’t compete–lower margins means less investment back into the brand.  It’s hard for them to fight the Beloved Brand on the emotional basis leaving them to a niche that’s currently unfulfilled.  Walk past an Apple store 15 minutes before it’s open and you’ll see a crowd waiting to get in–even when there are no new products.

Beloved Brands can enter into new categories knowing their loyal consumers will follow  because they buy into the Idea of the Brand.  The idea is no longer tied to the product or service but rather how it makes you feel about yourself.  Nike is all about winning, whether that’s in running shoes, athletic gear or even golf equipment. When Starbucks went for pastries and sandwiches their loyal consumers quickly followed.

The more loved a brand is by consumers, the more powerful and profitable that brand will be.


To read more on how to create a beloved brand, here’s a training workshop we lead with marketing teams around the world:

Also, if you’re interesting in Beloved Brands Training Programs for brand management, feel free to contact us to learn about our one day or three day boot camps for brand leaders. We believe that better leaders make better work which produces better results. Here’s more information.

We make Brands stronger.

We make Brand Leaders smarter.™

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

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What is “Blowfish” marketing?

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

blowfishWhen I talk with Brand Leaders about their problems, one of the first things they say is they don’t have enough Marketing Budget to do things they need to do. But when I observe what they are doing, I see that they are trying to do too much with the little money that they have. No matter how much marketing spend you have, you should challenge yourself to think and act like a BLOWFISH.

Simply put, a BLOWFISH strategy is trying to seem bigger than you are. In the world of highly competitive marketing, whether you are a start-up or a smaller niche player, you need to look like a real player to be noticed and purchased. To be successful, take all of your marketing budget and put it against one target market who you know you can move. Talk about one simple message that you know will be the most motivating. Put all of your money behind one activity that you know will drive your strategy.Slide1

You need to hyper-focus all of your resources against a very tightly defined target so that you will be able to reach everyone in the target with your message and move them to take action. That might mean narrowing the age to no more than a range of 3-5 years. It also might mean narrowing other demographics such as occupation or income level. And you may choose to only focus on key influencers and let them take your brand to the bigger mass audience. The big thing for a BLOWFISH strategy is you need to know that everyone in the target is already highly motivated so that all your effort will be in providing your brand as the solution. In the first time home buyers market, (mortgages, new homes) the idea target is 28-33, when most consumers decide to buy a new home. If you can win with that target, you’ll be able to establish your brand in the market.

You need to compress your activities over a focused time period so that you seem bigger than you are. Pick a 12-week period when you think your audience might be the most motivated to buy and take all your resources you have so you can completely dominate that period. In the spirit that crowds follow crowds, the target will start to believe that you are a major brand and look like a potential leader in the market. In terms of Return on Investment, (ROI) yes it’s a higher risk, but on the other hand after 12 weeks you’ll know if you have something–either your promise or your execution–that can move your target to action. So while the ROI might look riskier it’s actually less risky because you can find out quickly if you pass or fail. When I was in the allergy business, we took all of our money and focused it on 8 weeks of pollen season and 4 weeks of rag weed season, believing if we won these 12 weeks, we’d win the year. We saw tremendous growth going from a distant #2 to the clear #1 brand.

Take all your resources and focus them on the activities you know will have the most impact in moving your target to buy your brand. Where as most brands seem to spread their resources across 50 activities, I usually recommend only 9 activities. I believe that 3 strategies with 3 tactics per strategy gives you 9 activities that you can do an amazing job against. I’d put my 9 up against your 50 any day. For a BLOWFISH strategy, I’d recommend you only do 3 activities and do them well. If you know your concept is better than the product, focus on advertising, if you know your product is better than the concept then focus on trial. If it’s a consumer driven brand, put all your money on the consumer and let them search and demand the product. But if it’s about being on shelf, then focus on the retailers. When I was in the confectionary business, we had such a unique format on Listerine strips that we spent all our money on sampling before we even got to shelf. The product was so unique, people wanted to share their secret. We were able to track that consumers were sharing a pack of 24 strips with up to 13 people, so that the consumers were doing the work for us. In our first share period, we were the #1 brand.

Where Your Focus Shows Up

  • Pick a focused Target Market
  • Pick a focused Brand Positioning
  • Pick a Focused Strategy
  • Focused Activities

Why should you focus?

  • Every brand is constrained by resources—dollars, people and time. Focus makes you matter most to those who actually might care. Focusing your limited resources on those consumers with the highest propensity to buy what you are selling will deliver the greatest movement towards sales and the highest return on investment for those resources. I was leading a session on a Tourism Region and asked who the key targets were. The first answer was pretty good–it was some of the regions that were within close proximity. Then people around the room kept saying “well, what about…” and “we can’t forget…” and “we don’t want to alienate…” And the President says in serious tone: “we target everyone, because it could be anyone really”.
  • In a competitive category, no one brand can do it all. Focus makes you decide whether to be better, different or cheaper. Giving the consumer too many messages about your brand will confuse them as to what makes your brand unique. Trying to be everything is the recipe for being nothing. I was lucky that my first marketing job at General Mills was managing child cereals, where each quarter, I had to do a promotion on 5 different cereals. So, twenty times per year, I had to work with the 2 x 2 inch corner of the cereal box and put a message that would make a 5-year-old scream at their Moms to buy the cereal. That taught me a lot about focusing my messaging.
  • Trying to do everything spreads your resources and your message too thin, so that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”. With a long to-do list, you’ll never do great at anything. And in a crowded and fast economy, “ok” never breaks through so you’ll never get the early win to gain that tipping point that opens up the gateway to even bigger success. I once had a director working for me, who kept spinning around never getting anything done. His team was complaining that every time they started a new project, he’d come up with new ideas. I sat down with him and asked him to bring his project list for the up-coming quarter. He came in with 83 projects!!! I said “how do we narrow this list down to five”. He looked at me like I was insane.

When You Focus, Four Things Happen

  • Better ROI: With all the resources against one strategy, one target, one message, you’ll be find out if the strategy that you have chosen is able to actually moves consumers, drives sales or enhances other key performance indicators. Did you actually get done what you wanted to get done? If you spread those resources, you may never see any movement and then figure your strategy is wrong.
  • Strong Reputation: When you only do one thing, you naturally start to become associated with that one thing. With consumers, you get the reputation as the “fast one” or the “great tasting”. And internally, as people in the company start to align to your one thing, eventually you become very good at that one thing. Look at Volvo with “safety”. Every consumer message for 30 years is about safety. And internally, everyone at Volvo is fixated on safety, coming out with new safety innovations ahead of everyone else. Yes, Volvo’s have leather seats, go pretty fast, have a CD player and even come in multiple colours. But they don’t feel the need to have to say it.
  • More Competitive: As your reputation grows, you begin to own that one thing and your are able to better defend the positioning territory. As categories mature, brands start to stake claims and if you’ve got something that’s unique, relevant and motivating, you’ll be able to own it.
  • Bigger and Better P&L: As the focused effort drives results, it opens up the P&L with higher sales and profits. With a better ROI, you get to go back to management and say “it worked” and they’ll say “ok, let’s increase the investment”. And that means more resources will be put to the effort to drive even higher growth. As you efficiently drive the top-line, the P&L opens up a bit and becomes easier for a brand leader to work with.

While many start-ups or smaller brands use this strategy, the ideals behind the BLOWFISH strategy are relevant to everyone. Look and act bigger than you are. Take all of your resources and put them to one target, one message, one time period with fewer bigger bets that you know will pay off. Wait a second, that’s starting to sound like Marketing, not just this crazy BLOWFISH strategy.

Like a BLOWFISH, brands need to look and act bigger than they are

To read more on brand strategy, here’s a training workshop we lead on brand strategy:

Also, if you’re interesting in Beloved Brands Training Programs for brand management, feel free to contact us to learn about our one day or three day boot camps for brand leaders. We believe that better leaders make better work which produces better results. Here’s more information.

We make Brands better.

We make Brand Leaders better.™

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

2015x gmr bio.001

The 32 skills that will unleash your full potential as a Brand Leader

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

[sg_popup id=”9″ event=”onload”][/sg_popup]In my 20 years of consumer marketing, I have seen the best and the worst of brand leaders. When looking at predicting the success of a brand leader or promoting someone to the next level, we look at what that person brings to the table in three areas: skills, behaviors and experiences. Using those 3 areas makes it easier to see what the best brand leaders do to reach their full potential, while seeing what happens to those who can’t reach their potential, eventually getting stuck at a certain level or self-destruction. In this story, we’ll talk about the 32 core skills a brand leader needs to master, but in other articles we have also mapped out the behaviors and experiences you need.

Warning: this is one of our longer articles: Not for the faint of heart and it’s time to skim or bail if you’re pressed for time or not trying to reach your full potential as a Brand Leader.

The 32 core Brand Leader skills

At Beloved Brands, we have mapped out a list of 32 core skills that are essential to your success as a brand leader. It might sound crazy that the list is 32, but marketers are expected to be generalists who know a bit about everything and that means being good in every skill. We have grouped them into 8 key skill areas:

  1. Analytics
  2. Brand Planning
  3. Positioning and Briefing
  4. Advertising
  5. New Products and Claims
  6. Go-to-Market
  7. Leadership
  8. Managing


As you move up through various levels, we recommend that you keep honing each skill area to get better. On each new assignment, you’ll see these skills from new angles or new situations. You can always find room to get better.


It seems marketing attracts many brand leaders because of the creative side of the business. However, before you get creative, you need to know where you are why are you are there. That requires you go to deep. We coach brand leaders on the principles of good analysis, how to assess health and wealth of the brand and turning your analytical thinking into strategic stories, projections and reports. Here’s a link to our workshop on Analytics.

  1. Analytical thinking: Doing a solid analysis on your business requires thinking time to help isolate the problems and opportunities you face on your brand. Opinions without fact to back them up are just opinions and can leave a room divided. Absolute numbers by themselves are useless. Use analytical tools to help organize and force deep dive thinking in key areas. 
  2. Deep-dive analysis: There is nothing worse than making decisions based on “surface” analytics because you’re too lazy to look beneath the surface and figure out the causes that you really need to address. When going deep, you are expected to look into everything on the brand. Start with the category looking at the factors impacting growth, trends, economic, changes happening in demographics, behaviors, consumption and related categories. Then look deep into the consumer and define segments, buying habits, growth trends, key insights for each segment, buying system analysis, leaky bucket, consumer perceptions through tracking data and research.  Then explore the channels, looking at each channel’s performance, major customers, sales performance, tools for winning used in each channel. Be aware of your competitors constantly looking at positioning, pipeline, pricing, distribution differences, consumer perception, strategies. Know your brand inside and out, looking at internal and external health and wealth of brand. Use financial analysis, brand funnel data, market research perceptions. Look at advertising results, pricing strategies, distribution gaps and do a complete leaky bucket analysis. 
  3. Analytical story telling: It’s one thing to be good at analytics, but another to be able to use the data and build a story that everyone can follow. A good story uses headlines to draw conclusions, then use every data break to bring out an implication and ensure you’re using the analytics to highlight problems to solve or opportunities to chase after. Keep the story logical, easy to follow, challenge yourself by looking at it through the eyes of those trying to follow.
  4. Report writing: Brand leaders must be able to write monthly reports, analytical reports, summary reports whether that is through email, word or Powerpoint. Use the reports to keep everyone on the team informed, engaged and aware of the strategic thinking. No matter the report’s purpose use it as a chance to talk about how the brand is doing, what’s the competition doing, what are the top 3 drivers and 3 inhibitors of the brand and always tell the readers how you’re going move forward. Report writing is about control of your brand’s direction and maintaining the leadership position on the brand.

Brand Planning:

Brand Planning is one of the most essential elements to leading the brand. We use a workshop style process to lay out a long-range strategic road map and brand plan that everyone in your organization can follow. Then you need to work to create actionable project plans for each tactic with goals, milestones and budget. Here’s a link to our workshop:

  1. Strategic thinking: Strategic thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planners who can see connections. Non strategic thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly, and get frustrated in delays. They believe doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They get frustrated by strategic thinkers.
  2. Strategic story telling: We use five simple questions to ask before getting started on your Brand Plan: 1) Where are we? 2) Why are we here? 3) Where could we be? 4) How can we get there? 5) What do we need to do? The best way to use these 5 questions is putting 3 bullet points to each and starting to see the big picture story come to life. As a good discipline, we recommend that you do this every six months, taking a few hours at your desk, using some forced thinking time to map out answers to each question to ensure you are moving your brand forward.
  3. Brand Plan writing:  Use the answers to the 5 questions to transition the answers into the components of the brand plan: situation analysis, key Issues, vision and purpose, strategic choices, executional tactics, goals, budgets and measures. Slide3There is a well-known phrase “get everyone on the same page” but then we see 117 slide brand plan presentations. We have created a plan-on-a-page that forces brand leaders to consolidate their answers down onto one page, which can then be laminated and put up at the desk of everyone who works on the brand–whether in sales, R&D, HR or outside agencies.Slide4
  4. Plans presentation: This is your big chance to show senior management that you are a brand leader that can bring together strong analytics, leadership in the planning process and good solid strategic thinking. This is also your chance to lead across various parts of the organization, especially for the sales and R&D teams. Here’s an example of a best in class brand plan template that can be used for presenting brand plans. 

Positioning and Briefs:

The work you do in positioning can take everything  you know about the brand and start to map out how you want to establish and manage your brand’s reputation. While you can think of it as to how you want to project your brand, it is really about what consumers think of your brand.  And as you move towards executing your positioning into the market, the role of the brief helps to focus your agency on what you want to say in the market.   Here’s our workshop on writing a Creating Brief:

  1. Market Research: While brand leaders rely on experts in market research, they need to know the market research basics to ensure they make the right choices of which research you want to pick, whether it’s exploratory, tracking, or testing.  Understanding various techniques will allow you to understand the findings, draw better conclusions and make better decisions. that come from the research.
  2. Consumer Insights: Brand leaders should use consumer insights as one of the first connection points with consumers–to show that you understand what they are going through and what pain points they might be facing. At Beloved Brands, we say that Consumer Insight comes to life when told in such a captivating way that makes consumers stop and say “hmmm, I thought I was the only one who felt like that”. You have to see below the surface of what the consumer might say in a focus group and gain an understanding of them. Good insights get in the SHOES of your consumer and use their VOICE. Insights should start with “I” to get in the consumer’s shoes and use quotes to use their voice.
  3. Big Idea for brand: Every brand leader should know and manage what is your brand’s shout from the mountain. If you can’t define your brand in 7 seconds, you have a problem when going to the marketplace to establish your brand’s reputation. We use a Brand Ladders tool to help look at the customer value proposition that looks at four elements to help set up the Positioning:  1) Target and insights (What do consumers want?) 2) Brand features (What does your brand do?)  3) Rational benefits (What do consumers get?) and 4) Emotional benefits (How does that make them feel?) Slide09
  4. Creative Brief writing: Before going to the brief, you should answer these six questions: 1) Who is in the consumer target? (Who is the most motivated to buy what you do?) 2) What is the benefit we are selling? (What is your main benefit?) 3) Why should they believe us? (Support points to back up what you say)  4) What’s the long-range feeling the brand evokes? (What is the Big Idea for the brand?) 5) What do we want the brand communications to do for the brand?  (Strategic Choices) 6) What do you want people to think, feel or do?  (Desired Response) We run a Positioning Workshop for brand leaders to help them write a creative brief that comes from the brand positioning, big idea and brand strategy.Slide3


The role of Advertising is to create a bond with consumers, establish your brand’s positioning and drive a change in your consumers behavior that leads to higher sales, share and profit. We run workshops for brand leaders to help them get better advertising. 

  1. Media Planning: For brands, media is an investment at touch points where consumers are most willing to engage in the story. Media should be used to create a bond with consumers, to establish your brand’s positioning, to learn about your consumers and to influence a change in your consumers behavior (think, act or feel) that leads to higher sales, share and profit. There are five types of media that brand leaders need to get better at: 1) Paid:  Using both traditional (TV, Print, OOH, Radio) and Digital. 2) Earned: You need to create and manage the news cycle with mainstream news, expert reviews and blogs. 3) Social: The best brand leaders have advocates that follow, put their views forward and share news on the brand that creates positive interactions that helps to influence others. 4) Search: Search Engine Optimization balances earned, key words and paid search and 5) Home Media: Your website where you can use as a source of information, influence or even closing the sale. We use a buying system to match up to where the consumer sits in relation to your brand, ensuring you are using the right media options to the right situation.buying system.001
  2. Advertising Development: The best clients inspire, challenge, enable, rarely settle and fight for great advertising. Here are some of the key principles we recommend to be better with your agency:
    • Start and end everything you do, with the consumer in mind.
    • Start with the desired consumer behavior, and then figure out what to say.
    • Your brief is focused with one tight objective, one target, one big idea, one benefit.
    • You control the strategy, yet give the agency freedom on creative.
    • You inspire greatness from creative team, yet are unafraid to challenge for better.
    • You take creative risks to stand out, not to fit in.
    • You see big ideas that leave a legacy, not just make an ad to make the year.
    • You are willing to fight for great work, even with your boss, never settle for OK.Slide05
  3. Managing Agency: If you knew that being a better client got you better advertising, would you actually be able to show up better? When it comes to advertising, the role of the Brand Leader is to consistently get good advertising on the air, and equally consistently keep bad advertising off the air. Agencies want to be challenged, but you have to do so in a very respectful way. Let them bring their expertise to your business problems. Never tell them what to do. 
  4. Creative Feedback and Decisions: If the creative brief is a “box” for the Creative Team to figure out the solution to, then use your feedback to create a new “box” for them figure out a new solution.The style in which an ad better, or destroy it before it’s ever is made.  We recommend a tool for brand leaders to help judge creative advertising ideas which we call the ABCS of Advertising: Attention Branding Communication and Stickiness. 

New Products and Claims

  1. Leading innovation process: Brainstorming should be a regular part of running your Brand. Every brand team should be having some type of brainstorm (big or small) once a month to build a constant influx of ideas–promotions, advertising, social media, naming, new products, events, PR, saving money and of course as part of your brand planning, They can be a quick 30 minutes as part of a weekly meeting just to get some quick ideas or a whole afternoon to solve a problem that’s been nagging at the group. Or a team building offsite meeting that goes all day. Learn how to lead and use them to your advantage.
  2. Concept writing:  It’s important to test potential concepts to see if they are winners. Here’s the format we recommend:  1) Main headline should capture the big idea of your brand. Obviously the headline is the first thing they see, so it should contain the big idea that you want your brand to stand behind. 2) Use the opening to connect quickly with your target consumers by starting with their enemy or insight. I love using the enemy because it can be a very arresting way to really make the consumer say “That’s me”. 3) Bring the main benefit to life in a compelling promise statement. I prefer it to have an emotional/rational balance in the promise. At the very least, the emotion modifies the rational. The promise statement then forces us to bring in the two reasons to believe to help back that up. 4) I like to add a motivating call to action at the end to help prompt purchase intent. The concept test will hang on how well the purchase intent score is, so a strong concept almost has to ask for it.  Slide11
  3. New product development:  Marketing has a role in leading product development, working in partnership with your R&D team. While there is a degree of serendipity to product development, we recommend that the big idea for your brand drive every part of the brand, to ensure it stays on strategy. We believe the internal story is equally important to the external story of the brand. The internal story acts as a beacon for the culture, operations and R&D teams to follow.b2b marcom.001
  4. Launching new products:  Once you have a new product that has shown great potential in the market, over-seeing the launch will be the time when you have to touch every part of the organization in the most hyper sense of brand management. Facing a guaranteed long list of problems, and potential pockets of doubters in the organization, you must know about every part of your organization to knock them down, working from the plant to the warehouse to regulator to the sales leaders to customer service and working with every executional agencies. Every deadline matters as it impacts other deadlines, you need leadership that rallies the best of everyone around the opportunity.  


Brand leaders need to manage the purchase moment of truth for consumers, making decisions on channel strategies, working through specific customer issues and executing the in-store experience that closes the deal on the sale of your brand.

  1. Influencing Sales team: Become the marketing person for the sales team is comfortable to approach. Great sales people challenge marketers to make sure their account wins.  I’ve seen many sales teams destroy brands leaders who don’t listen, and they stubbornly put forward their plan without sales input. Be the marketer that consistently reaches out and listens. They’ll be in shock, and stand behind your business. If sales people feel they’ve been heard, they are more apt to follow the directors vision and direction.
  2. Customer knowledge: A great brand leader should informally meet with all key senior sales leaders on a quarterly basis, to get to know them, know their customers and listen to the problems they face. This informal forum allows day to day problems to bubble up and be heard, before they become a bigger problem.
  3. Consumer promotion: Brand leaders need to be good at executing all types of promotion, whether that is on-pack promotions, pricing, displays, sampling or event marketing. Usually working with outside agencies, you have to stay tight on promotional costs and deadlines to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand. Without knowledge in these areas, you can easily get ripped off or miss a detail that can destroy the promotion.
  4. Sales calls/presentations: As you move up in your marketing career, you’ll get the opportunity to present to customers along with your sales leader. From what I have seen, most marketers are not that great at sales. They over-sell and under-listen. They talk more about what they want from the customer rather than what they’ll do for the customer. Leverage the expertise of the sales leader to guide you on how to do your presentation, being aware of the specific needs of the customer you are presenting. At Beloved Brands, we urge brand leaders to think about the “triple win”, which is the intersection where the consumer, the customer and the brand all win. 


Brand leaders are expecting to lead from the center of the organization, leading their teams as well as leading across the organization.

  1. Managing Direct Reports: A great brand leader spends the effort to make their people as good as can be. Most brand leaders struggle with their first five direct reports. The key is to keep self evaluating and looking for ways to improve with each report. Most brand leaders struggle to shift from “do-er” to “coach.They think they can do it faster, so they may as well do it.They just become the “super ABM”. Many brand leaders fail to share the spot light, so it becomes hard to showcase their people. Great brand leaders take the time to teach up front, give their people some room to try it out and then give hands-on feedback in real time. Brand leaders should do informal QUARTERLY sit down performance reviews with their people, as people have the capacity to learn faster than annual reviews allows for.
  2. Coaching teams: Focus on the People and the Results will come:The formula is simple:  the better the people, the better the work and in turn the better the results.  You should have a regular review of the talent with your directors.  I’d urge you to ensure there’s a systemic way to get feedback to everyone on the team, preferably on a quarterly basis. Invest in training and development.  Marketing Training is not just on the job, but also in the classroom to challenge their thinking and give them added skills to be better in their jobs.  Marketing fundamentals matter.And the classic fundamentals are falling, whether it is strategic thinking, writing a brand plan, writing a creative brief or judging great advertising.  People are NOT getting the same development they did in prior generations.  Investing in training, not only makes them better, but it is also motivating for them to know that you are investing in them. 
  3. Influencing across the company: A great brand leader gets what they needs by working the system and the organization. In most companies, there are complexities of groups, layers, external agencies, with everyone carrying a different set of goals and motivations. Brand leaders need to see how the organization works and appreciating what are the motivations of various key stakeholders. Then use that knowledge to begin to work the system. Start to see key subject matter experts giving you their best. Understand their personal motivations and find a way to tap into those motivations as a way to ask people for their best. 
  4. Managing upwards: I’m a big believer that the brand leader owns the brand. They have the finger on the pulse of the brand, knowing the current issues the brand is facing. They have new creative solutions and bring the inspiration to execute great ideas. I always wanted my brand managers TELLING me what they wanted to do, not ASKING for my permission. We encourage brand leaders to take this stance: when you know what you want, speak in a telling and convincing voice with your senior leaders.  When you are aren’t sure, it’s OK to speak with an asking voice, seeking out their advice. 


Brand leaders need to run the brand, before you let the brand run you. Without tight management over every process or project, things can easily back up and get out of control. Some leaders think process gets in the way of creativity–but from my experience these leaders are the ones that eventually get buried by their brand.

  1. Managing Brand processes: While your people run the brands and the execution, you should run the P&L and essentially run all the marketing processes. In terms of process, it’s always been my belief that great processes in place—brand planning, advertising, creative briefs—is not restrictive but rather provides the right freedom to your people. Get your people to drive all their creative energy into great work that gets in the marketplace, not trying to figure out what slide looks really cool in the brand plan presentation.
  2. Legal & Regulatory: Depending on the degree of regulation on your brand plays within, this can be an essential element to running your brand. Leverage your experts but push them to push the boundaries of regulations.
  3. Forecasting: Having your finger on the pulse of the business means being able to constantly be able to turn your analytical thinking into projections by extrapolating the data you’re seeing and turning it into trends that will move into the future.
  4. P&L management: You have to run the P&L and make investment choices.  Bring an ROI and ROE (Return on Investment and Effort) mind-set to those decisions.  These choices will be one of the essentials to making the numbers and gaining more freedom in how you do the job.

Yes, it’s a ton of skills that brand leaders need to know, but it’s a reality of the role. Marketers never do anything–they  never make the product, sell to retailers and they never make the packaging, signage or advertising. They get experts around them to do everything. But the art of doing nothing takes full knowledge to ensure that everything is done properly. As the brand is at the hub of the organization, brand leaders need to be good-to-great at all 32 of these skills.  

Go from good to great by challenging yourself to get improve at all 32 core skills

BBI ad brand definition.001Also, if you’re interesting in training programs for brand management, feel free to contact us to learn about our one day or three day boot camps for brand leaders. Here’s more information.

We make Brands better.

We make Brand Leaders better.™

We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at or phone me at 416 885 39112015x gmr bio.001

Managing Others: Advice for Brand Leaders on managing and developing Marketing Talent

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Most new Brand Managers are bad bosses. I was.

I don’t mean to sound too cynical but that statement is a reality. I used to tell my newly promoted managers that “you’ll really struggle managing others till your 5th direct report”. Becoming a good Brand Leader takes time, self assessment and maturing. New Managers get very little people manager training or coaching, and are just thrown into the fire.  A few weeks into the new Manager role, just as they are about to finally delegate, they just say “oh, I can do this faster than it will even take to explain it, so I’ll just do it myself”.  Instead, new Managers hoard all the good activities and just give the lousy easy to accomplish work to their direct reports.  

They see themselves as managing a series of tasks, and miss out on the idea they are managing someone’s career. A recent Harvard study has narrowed down what the modern leader is looking for from a boss:  they want career advice and coaching.  It’s not whether the boss is nice, funny, inspiring or challenging–not whether they are too involved or not involved enough. What really separates an OK boss from a great boss is “do you give a damn about my career?”

Think about your people in terms of skills, behaviors and experiences

Most Managers focus on strengths and weaknesses, because that’s the old school method for managing people. We even ask it during interviews and use it on year-end performance reviews. Most new Managers figure their role is to fix the weakness so their direct report doesn’t look bad, or even worse, make them look bad as a Manager. One shift I’d love to see Managers make is to work with their direct reports on closing Gaps, instead of fixing Weaknesses. The difference between a Gap and Weakness might seem like semantics, but I see it as a management philosophy.

  • With a “weakness”, you can’t really fix it, and it may even be dangerous to fix it because you risk changing the person too much. I’ve had managers who tried to get me act more like them and when I tried, I found that I wasn’t being true to my authentic self.  I believe that a weakness and a strength are usually directly linked. So as you work to minimize the weakness, you might be dulling the related strength at the same time. For instance, “challenge too much” came up in many of my reviews as a weakness, and it has gotten me in trouble on day 1 and year 20. Not until I had a boss coach me through my style did I learn to manage “how I challenge” and how to turn it into a strength instead of a weakness. Even as a consultant, I say my role is to challenge.
  • With a “gap”, it is something you can close through learning, coaching, application and feedback. For instance, early on in my career, I had a gap in with advertising because I wasn’t on a brand that did much advertising. Because I lacked the experience, I lacked the right skills and behaviors. I didn’t really know how to give feedback, I didn’t really know the role of a brief and had very little knowledge of the advertising testing methods. I had good instincts, but unsure how to deliver them. Once I got significant experience, observed the right behaviours and added in various skills linked to writing a good brief, giving effective feedback or judging on what would work in the marketplace, I was able to close the gap in the advertising area. Advertising to me, was never a weakness–just a gap that needed closing. And 15 years later, I’m now training Brand Leaders on Advertising.   

When you start to think about Gaps, you can observe if your direct report is meeting the standard of their peers or the expectations for the current role. You can also make decisions on their readiness for promotion, and possibly use the Gap analysis as a way to close on a few specific areas before the promotion. And finally, you can provide an assessment to help focus the colleague to work on to continous ways to improve.

In terms of coaching, think about three layers of coaching:    

  • The obvious Year End Review is the most formal document you’ll write on behalf of the company. Nothing in the year-end should surprise your direct report, and every point should have been discussed many times throughout the year. There’s nothing worse than sitting down and having no idea what your boss would say. When I was doing reviews, I even emailed out the written review document 48 hours ahead of time, giving people the chance to digest all the thoughts and to come prepared ready to discuss each point.  (when I did “anonymous” feedback at year end, I made sure I signed my name to it)
  • The next layer down are Quarterly Reviews, which I think are essential to helping someone grow. It’s my belief that marketers can grow faster than we think–but they can only grow with timely feedback. Use these meetings to review accomplishments during the quarter, and to focus on ONE THING they are working on, get them thinking of one skill and one behaviour they were currently working on. With great marketers, I found with good feedback they could quickly close the gap within one-quarter.
  • Use day-to-day feedback, providing consistent and regular On the Spot Feedback. With agreement on the ONE THING, it’s important that you highlight when you see examples of them closing or not closing the gap. 

Below, I break out the essential skills that every Brand Leader needs, the leadership behaviors that Great Brand Leaders exhibit and the experiences you need to gain. 

Marketing Skills

I have mapped out 32 core skills a Brand Leader needs to be successful.  I have broken down the skills under one of 8 core areas:  

  1. Seeks to understand: skills that help use data from all sources, reports and methods.
  2. Analytical: skills for asking the right questions and getting beneath the surface.
  3. Strategic Thinking: skills to enable you to focus, staying on strategy and guiding strategically
  4. Stays organized: skills around projects, meetings, budgets and various functional needs
  5. Innovation: skills for brainstorming, developing and testing concepts and taking ideas to market
  6. Advertising: skills related to briefing, giving feedback and making decisions on media and creative ideas.
  7. Go to Market: skills related to working through customers, merchandising
  8. Leadership: skills related to managing others to maximize the talent pool, working the system and managing up and sideways.


10530900_10154328451135332_274029533138390707_nEach of these skills can be learned with a balance of classroom training, coaching, feedback and learning by doing. The big myth in marketing is “you will learn all this on the job”. No you won’t. If you don’t learn how to do it right, you’ll learn to do it wrong. By the time you move up to Director, you want to make sure you can close most of the skill gaps.  As a junior marketer, there is nothing worse than reporting to someone who lacks any of the essential skills on this list. 


Leader Behaviors

I’ve also mapped out the 15 leader behaviors that you need to be a succesful Brand Leader.  I have broken down the behaviors under one of 5 core areas:

  1. Accountable to Results: need to see you take the lead, make things happen and make the right decisions
  2. Strategic Thinking: a great leader stays the steward of the Brand Vision, holds everyone true to the strategy and pushes for new ideas within the strategy.  
  3. Broad Influence: as you move up, this becomes more crucial but we want to see it in the more junior folks so that we know you’re worth investing in. This means you actively listen, seek out other solutions, increase your sphere of influence across various functions and come across like the owner of the Brand. 
  4. People Leadership: to be great with people, it’s less about your own personality and how much you care about your people’s careers. You need to give regular and balanced feedback for growth.  And your own leadership will be on greatest display during times of pressure–as one boss said to me during a crisis: “this is when they really need us”.  
  5. Authentic Style: It’s not how charismatic you are, how inspiring you are, but rather how well you know yourself and how truthful you show up. Great leaders show a curiosity to be a constant learner and is always trying to improve at every stage of their careers.  

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The following experience areas are crucial for a marketer, but do take some experience before you can become proficient: 

  • Writing the Brand Plan: As you gain this experience, make sure you go deep, that the ideas are yours and not overly influenced by your boss and that you’re proud of the plan you present.  
  • Managing a Team: By the time you get to the point of leading an entire team, you’ll realize that it can be a very lonely, once you figure out you can’t be friends with your employees do you get really good at getting the most from your team. 
  • Launching a New Brand: Launching an entirely new brand is an amazing test for how broad you can think, how broad you can influence across and organization and lining up all the moving parts.  As you dig in, you might be shocked at what you didn’t know yet.
  • Leading a Brand Turnaround: To me, what separates a good marketer from a great one is their ability to turn around a business.  Most Brand Leaders who take on a turn around don’t focus on what’s really holding the brand back. Try to avoid trying to do too much and risking that nothing gets done.   What I have found in turn arounds is to layer in three separate stages so that you aren’t trying to do everything at once.  
  • Leading New Advertising: Usually when you have to lead new advertising, it means your brand has struggled in this area for a certain time.  When you have a blank slate, the ambiguity can really destroy a marketer. 
  • Leading through a Merger: I’ve been through 4 of these and I hate them. I keep hoping mergers are done, because I don’t think the Brands are winning.  But we’ll all go through them and the only advice I have is be extra careful of how you show up, be patient on the decision-making and avoid saying anything about anyone that you might one day regret. 
  • Leading cross functionally: I was at a senior level when I first got the chance to manage a cross functional team. Once you get outside of marketing, you’ll realize how the different functions behave–not the A-types, overly enthusiastic, decisive, action oriented leaders that we marketers are used to working with.    
  • Firing an Under-performing fellow Marketer: I know this might sound a bit morbid, but letting people go is a reality.  Marketing is a tough career, and to get better as a team you have to push as hard as you can and the reality is that not everyone can keep up.  How you go about firing someone and ensuring the company is protected and the person maintains their dignity is a tough balance to get right.  


If you can make people better, you will be an even better Brand Leader


With your best people, make sure you identify the experience gaps they have and be fair to them with the next assignment. It’s far too easy to keep relying on a person’s strengths but it’s more important that you round out that person’s experience. If they advance too far without covering off those gaps, they may find themselves struggling later in the job. I’ve known newly promoted directors who had very little advertising experience coming up that all of a sudden found themselves on a desk with lots of advertising. Their team even had more experience than they did. Regular people reviews can really help identify the experience gaps that people might have.

To read about managing the careers of your Marketing Team, read the following document:




Graham Robertson Bio Brand Training Coach Consultant