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

Graham Robertson bio

How to find the ideal Consumer Benefit for your brand

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

What is the right consumer benefit?

The 4 elements of a winning Brand Positioning statement include who you will serve, where you play, where you will win then why the consumer should they believe us. Simply put, that’s the target, category, main benefit and support points.

Before you just write out a random brand positioning statement, we recommend that you dig deeper on doing the homework that helps uncover options and then focuses you on the best possible space to own. Positioning has a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty, which means randomness is only an intuitive guess on your part. Having a process that grounds your thinking will ensure you are owning the best space. I always think the positioning statement takes everything you know about the brand and narrows the focus to only those things that matter. The homework helps to lay out everything you know, and then your decision making helps to focus on the elements that matter.

  1. Who is in the consumer target? What slice of the population will be the most motivated to buy what you do? The first thing to decide is the consumer target, which should be your first point of focus, so that you can find the slice of the population that will be the most motivated by what you do. The mistake for many Marketers is they think about who you want, and they forget to ask who wants you. Who is the most motivated to buy what you do?
  2. Where do you play? What is the frame of reference that helps to define the space in the marketplace that you compete in? We then frame the positioning by determining the category you play in, defining the competitors you will position yourself against. No one really operates in a blue ocean space, as positioning is always relative to some other choice the consumer can make.
  3. Where do you win? We then need to determine the main promise you will make to the consumer target, in the sense of a benefit for the consumer, both the rational and emotional. Think about what does the customer get, and how does it make them feel?
  4. Why should they believe us? Finally, we will look to understand what support points are needed to back up the main promise you are making. These support points have to support the main benefit, not just random claims or features that you want to jam into your brand message.
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The homework is hard, but the output provides clarity when you begin writing a brand positioning statement that will help focus you on what is unique, own-able, and motivating to consumers. One of the biggest mistakes brands make is speaking at the consumer with features (what you do) and not benefits (what they get). The old saying is, “features tell, but benefits sell”. Stop telling consumers what you do and start telling them what they get and how it will make them feel.

The first thing you want to do is to know up your brand’s core strength.

There are four options for what Core Strength your brand can win on: product, promise, experience or price. Many brand leaders have their marketing strategy wrong, when it comes to aligning everything behind the right strength. Which core strength can really impact your brand positioning. Product and experience brands have to be better, promise brands have to be different, price brands have to be cheaper.

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Here’s a simple little game that we play with executive teams. We provide them with 4 chips against the 4 choices of product, promise, experience or price. They have to put one at the highest competitive importance, two at the mid level and then force one to be at the low level. Try it and you will be surprised that your team struggles to agree. You may also find that you are at one strength now and figure it is time to shift your brand marketing to become focused on something else.

  • Product: your main strategy should focus on being better. You have to invest in Innovation to stay ahead of competitors, remaining the superior choice in the category.
  • Promise: your strategy should focus on being different. To tell that story, you need to invest in emotional brand communication. You want to connect consumers on a deep emotional level with the concept.
  • Experience: your strategy and organization should focus on linking culture very closely to your brand. After all, your people are your product. As you go to market, invest in influencer and social media that can help support and spread the word of your experience.
  • Price: focus on efficiency and drive low-cost into the products you sell and high turns and high volume. You have to be better at the fundamentals around production and sourcing.
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Just like any decision, it’s hard to just pick one. But if you start to think about it more and more, you will see how different each of these four choices really are.

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The next decision is the main benefit you want to focus on. Doing a Consumer Benefits Ladder helps to organize your thinking as a great tool for bringing the benefits to life. The best way to work the Consumer Benefits Ladder is to hold a brainstorming session with everyone who works on the brand so you can:

  • Leverage all the available research to brief the team, helping define the consumer target and get all the consumer insights and need states out.
  • List out all the features that your brand offers, and the brand assets it brings to the table. Make sure that these features are competitive advantages.
  • Find the rational benefit by putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer and seeing the brand features from their eyes: start asking yourself over and over “so if I’m the consumer, what do I get from that?”. Ask up to 5 times and push the answers into a richer zone.
  • Then find the emotional benefit by asking “so how does that make me feel?” As you did above, keep asking, and you’ll begin to see a deeper emotional space you can play in and own.
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Put all the information of the group brainstorm into a Consumer Benefits Ladder Worksheet. You can put more on this list than you can use, either using market research to help narrow your focus or making tough decisions on what you where you want to go.

What are the emotional benefits?

From my experience, Marketers are better at the rational benefits than they are at the emotional benefits. I swear every brand out there thinks their brand should be the trusted, reliable and yet like-able brand. As a brand, you want to own the emotional space in the consumer’s heart as much as you own the rational space in the consumer’s mind. It seems that not only do consumers have a hard time expressing their emotions about a brand, but so do Brand Managers. Companies like Hotspex have mapped out all the emotional zones for consumers. I’m not a researcher, but if you’re interested in this methodology contact Hotspex at We have taken this research method and created an Emotional Cheat Sheet for Brand Leaders. This lists out the 8 major emotional consumer zones, optimism, freedom, being noticed, being liked, comfort, be myself, be in control and knowledge.

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To own a space in the consumer’s heart, you want to own and dominate one of zones, always thinking relation to what your competitor may own. Do not choose a list of emotions from all over the map, or you will just confuse your consumer as much as trying to own a long list of rational benefits. Once you narrow the major emotional zone you can own, you can use the supporting words of the Emotional Cheat Sheet to add flavor.

We always recommend that you speak with consumers in terms of benefits, not features. They don’t care what you do, until you care about what they get. Put yourself in their shoes and start asking “so what do I get?” to help frame the rational benefit and “how does I feel?” to find the emotional benefit. You will become a much more powerfully connected brand.

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At Beloved Brands, we lead workshops to help teams build their Brand Positioning Statement, helping the team find the target, main benefits, reason to believe.  Click on the Powerpoint file below to view:

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.

GR bio Jun 2016.001


Who is your consumer’s enemies that you will fight on their behalf?

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands Explained

While regular products solve regular problems, the most beloved brands beat down the enemies that torment consumers every day. Positioning-2016.027What are your consumer’s frustration point that they feel no one is even noticing or addressing? For instance, the Disney brand fights off the consumer enemy of “growing up”, while Volvo fights off the consumer enemy of “other drivers” or Starbucks fights off the consumer enemy of a “hectic life”. Shifting from solving a rational consumer problem to beating down a consumer enemy is the starting point to reaching into the emotional state of your consumer.

Starbucks fights off the enemy of the hectic life

Put yourself in the shoes of your Starbucks consumer, who is a 38-year-old mom with two kids. She wakes up at 6:15 am, not only to get ready for work, but to get everyone in the house ready for their day. She drops off one kid at daycare, the other at public school and then rushes into the office for 8:30 am. She drives a van, not because she wants to but because it is a great transportation choice for carrying all the equipment needed for after-school activities, including soccer, dance, tutoring and ice hockey. It never stops. No one is really old enough to thank her, the only appreciations are random moments of celebration or a hug at the end of a long day. Just after getting both to bed, she slinks into her bed exhausted. What is her enemy? a03e0da8-fac7-11e3-acc6-12313b090d61-medium-1Her enemy is the hectic life that she leads. If only she had a 15-minute moment to escape from it all. She doesn’t want to run from it, because she does love her life. She just needs a nice little break. A place where there is no play land, but rather nice leather seats. There are no loud screams, just nice acoustic music. There are no happy meals, just nice pastries have a European touch. Not only does she feel appreciated, but the cool 21-year-old college student not only knows her name but knows her favorite drink. Starbucks does an amazing job in understanding and fighting off the consumer’s enemy, giving her a nice 15-minute moment of escape in the middle of her day.

Yes, the Starbucks product is coffee, but the Starbucks brand is about moments. Starbucks provides a personal moment of escape from a hectic life, between work and home. They fight off the consumer enemy of the hectic life.

Apple fights off the enemy of frustration

Unless you work in IT, you likely find computers extremely frustrating. We have all sat at our computer wanting to pull our hair out. computer-frustrationExamples of computer frustration includes spending 38 minutes to figure out how print, getting error message 6303 that says “close all files open and reboot” or if you have ever bought a new computer and you need to load up 13 disks and 3 manuals to read before you can even email your friend to tell them how amazing your computer is. Apple has recognized the frustration that consumers go through and capitalized on the enemy of frustration with PCs with the famous TV campaign of “Hi I’m a Mac,….and I’m a PC”, helping to demonstrate the many issues around computer set up, viruses and trying to make the most of your computer.  As soon as you open the box you can use the new computer, Macs are intuitive, aligned to how consumers think, not how IT people think. You can even take classes to learn.

Yes, the Apple product is about computers tablets and phones, but the Apple brand makes technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future. They fight off the consumer enemy of frustration with technology.

If you want to show that you better understand your consumers, how would you project the enemy that you are fighting on their behalf.


Understanding the consumer is the first step in writing a winning brand positioning statement. To read more on brand positioning, here’s our workshop we run for brand teams:

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands. 

GR bio Jun 2016.001

Would you ever pay more for a bottle of water than you would for beer?

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

This past week, I was in Shanghai, China and found the price of a bottle of Evian and Fiji water about ten times the prices of local bottled water (Nestle). And when I went into the Beer section, the water was still twice the price of a Budweiser beer (produced locally). You can also buy Coke or Gatorade much cheaper.

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The prices above  are in Chinese Yuan (1 CYN = 0.15 USD), with the US Dollar equivalent being just under $2.00 US for the Evian or Fuji water, and then only 21 cents US for the Nestle water. The Budweiser is only $1 USD and the Coke is about 50 cents US. Given any worries about “don’t drink the water”, you might easily be willing to pay for the Evian. Or just grab a few Budweiser’s and not worry so much about the water.

China is in a state of dramatic change

The economy of China has been going through vast changes and you see it live on the streets of Shanghai. The contrast of the modern sky scrappers of downtown Shanghai, with the small street neighborhoods with laundry hung out on the phone lines. The increasing number of Mercedes driving past old school three wheel bikes carrying layer upon layer of boxes for delivery. High end restaurants contrasting against live chickens being killed and bagged for dinner that night. The small boutique 100 square foot stores and the 80,000 square foot Carrefour Super Markets.

While China has benefited from global trade, making Apple computers and Nike shoes to be sold around the world, the government uses protectionist practices to ensure high transfer pricing to ensure local goods benefit.

A brand like Evian, with water from the French Alps can not maintain that positioning if they begin producing in a factory just outside Shanghai. In the Carrefour, they have three specific aisles for “Imported” goods, all recognizable Western brands, but all with dramatic price premiums to the local products. This aisle might appeal to the high number of expats living in China as well as the growing Chinese upper middle class. The rest of the grocery store has 10-20% global brands interwoven among the shelves of local goods. This sets up two specific strategies, produce locally (for instance Nestle) and compete directly with the local goods, or stay in the “Imported” and use the super-premium pricing as a strategy to set yourself apart.

I remember being in France in the early 1990s, where I found myself walking all over Paris for about 4-5 hours on a 35 Celsius day. I finally came across a store selling Diet Coke and it was the equivalent of $6. I was in shock, but my thirst overcame my Scottish blood and I guzzled down the most expensive Diet Coke of my life. Later on, my wife ordered a glass of wine for $3. One more reminder that if you eat and drink like the locals, you will be much better off.

Global Pricing Management Systems

Global pricing models get very complicated. With a desire to do well in every local market, you must consider regional and global pricing to ensure you avoid any grey-market activity. Most of the big global brands are using pricing corridors by region to ensure local pricing stays local. Here are five things when considering your pricing as you enter new markets.

  1. Define your Pricing Strategy in alignment with your business strategy and business objectives and based on a deep understanding of your own competitive position, customer insight and cost-to-serve. When starting to look at your pricing, here is what you should be considering.
    • Market Price: If you are confused, pricing studies that look at various options to identify the price elasticity. In general, the more loved a brand, a combination of interesting or important are more price inelastic. One water scare and Evian could charge $5 per bottle, without seeing a change in the volume would make it an inelastic price.
    • Value Price: A brand has good value if the price is deemed “fair”. For a marketer, the mid point hits when the perceived price and perceived value match up. If the price is too high, there is a risk of losing customers/volume. If the price is too low, there is a risk of not realizing the full profitability on the brand.
    • Strategic Price: the pricing strategy can actually impact the positioning as much as it just reflects the positioning. A super premium brand like Evian can make the consumer believe it must be a super premium if it really can command that value.
    • Short vs. Long-term Revenue Pricing: Marketers can get caught up in the addiction to pricing promotions. Once you get up to 30-50% sold on deal, the actual price begins to have little meaning for the consumer.
    • Portfolio Pricing (Price Points): One option for a brand entering a local market who wants to maintain the price of their global brand would be to create a specific local brand with a local price. This would allow you to own both the super-premium and the value priced brands, with the consumer never knowing you own them both.
  2. Operationalize Pricing Strategy in marketing activities and generate all required input for Price Execution.  Here are the factors you should be considering when you operationalize your pricing into the new markets.
    • Competitor Responses
    • Not-in-Kind (NIK) Replacements
    • Reduce/Increase attractiveness of business
    • Keep out competition
    • Setting Visible Market prices
    • Customer Reaction Product Pricing Cannibalization
  3. Implement Pricing Strategy and Price Determination framework into daily sales activities and transactional processing. As you evaluate the impact of your pricing in the market, here are the factors you should be looking at.
    • Buying Power
    • Supplier Power
    • Place in the Value Chain
    • Price Elasticity
    • Global vs. Local Supply and Demand
    • Capacity
    • Substitute products
  4. Define pricing capabilities and skill sets, establish pricing organization and assure consideration of legal requirements
  5. Enable pricing capability by monitoring and provision of tools, systems and processes related to pricing in an integrated manner

Pricing Waterfall

It is good discipline for brands to map out and manage their pricing waterfall. This provides a good control tool as you can track the waterfall over time and identify problems you are encountering. Here’s an example of the dimension involved in a pricing waterfall, helping move you from a desired price to a profitable price.

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So would you pay a 90% price premium for the Evian? I did. 

Here’s a presentation we use for the deep dive analytical thinking that can help you determine your pricing.

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911.You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands. 

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Barbie is inspiring girls to believe that “you can be anything”

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

Barbie has faced major declines. Barbie has been heavily criticized over the last few decades for projecting an unrealistic image for girls. Launched in 1959, Barbie was the blonde all-American dream, but a complete fiction that many believe to be doing more damage to the self-confidence of girls. The modern Moms didn’t want their daughters to play with Barbie anymore. All of a sudden, Barbie sales declined 20% from 2012 to 2014. The brand needed to make a dramatic change.



Barbie took a dramatic step forward–even if just to catch up to where they should be–by launching new possibilities with realistic options for body type (curvy, tall and petite) and various ethnicities (seven skin tones) They needed to create a Barbie that Moms would think acceptable for their girls to play with. These moms wanted a good symbol for their daughters, not something unrealistic and unattainable. The new Barbie is a good first step.

Next, the supporting Advertising for Barbie has gone viral with over 20 Million views. The ad starts by showing a young girls in situation as a College Professor, a Museum curator, a Veterinarian or a Soccer coach. The supporting copy: “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become.” with a bold tag-line: YOU CAN BE ANYTHING. This is a great ad with a new message that should fit with the modern moms.



Barbie sales are up 8% this past holiday period, a good start to the turnaround. 


Five lessons for brand turnarounds

  1. Ensure the right people in place: Before even creating the plan, you need to get the right leadership talent in place. Talent, motivation, alignment. Mattel brought in new CEO last spring who reshuffled a lot of the executives in an effort to turn the business around.
  2. Look to close leaks on the brand: Use brand funnel to assess, using leaky bucket tool to close leaks. Find out where the specific problems are coming from. Barbie has done a nice job in listening to their consumers, the moms who were rejecting the brand due to stereotypes.
  3. Cut the fat, re-invest: go through every investment decision, invest only in programs that give you an early break through win. Even faced with Sales declines, Mattel made a smart move to cut costs by 10% to drive profits back into the business. It is hard to do a turnaround while the profit keeps falling.
  4. 3-stage plan: In stage 1, find early/obvious win, halts slide, helps motivation. In stage 2, invest behind new positioning/new plan, focused decisions, take risks. In stage 3, make adjustments to plan, build innovation behind new ideas that fit plan. Barbie started talking about the plan a year ago, listening to consumers and preparing for the big launch. So far, they’ve stemmed the decline, but now they need to build a plan for the next 3-5 years that grows this business.
  5. Motivating a demotivated team: Losing can be contagious to a culture/team. Recognize wins to fuel performance driven culture. People on the team needed new leadership and needed room to take chances with this iconic brand.

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

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

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

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

You can find Beloved Brands and B2B Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

New Axe ad campaign trying to be the “Dove” brand for young men

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

71hRmSv1NvL._SL1500_The Axe consumer has grown up and now Axe wants to grow up with that consumer. When my son was 13, he started using the Axe brand. One day, I was walking past him and he asked if I wanted a spray.  I said “No, I don’t want to smell like a 13-year-old”. My son is now in University now and uses “The One” by Dolce and Gabana. Even he doesn’t want to smell like a 13-year-old. And now, Axe is showing they no longer want to be the brand for 13-year-olds. They want to grow up.

Axe has released an Ad campaign that feels a bit like Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign. (Axe and Dove are both owned by Unilever) Unilever does a fantastic job in bringing consumer insights into their work. “Masculinity today is going through seismic changes. More than ever, guys are rejecting rigid male stereotypes,” says Matthew McCarthy, senior director of Axe and men’s grooming at Unilever. “We’ve been part of guys’ lives for decades, and Axe champions real guys and the unique traits that make them attractive to the world around them. In recent years, Internet searches by men on hair tips eclipsed female in volume. Men are curious about experimenting and trying different things and are spending more time in front of the mirror. It’s much more acceptable.”

The new Axe message is “you don’t have to be perfect, just be your best self”. The ad shows various iterations of the new modern man from brainiacs to one with a big nose, from protestors to dancing in heels or dancing in a wheel chair. Whoever you are, Axe wants you to feel good about yourself and “Find your magic”. 

The challenge for Axe is that it will take time to transform. They will have to stand by their convictions should sales slip. The Axe brand did such a great job in creating that edgy, hilarious, egomaniac, sexy teenage male positioning, the reputation of Axe is deeply engrained in our minds. Here’s the type of Ad we are normally used to seeing from Axe.

This is a good start for Axe brand. It will take time to transform the brand. My hope is they they don’t give up quickly. 

At Beloved Brands, we lead workshops on Marketing Execution that can help your brand team explore their role as a leader in the process, how to write a strategic brief, how to judge and make decisions on marketing execution and then how to give feedback to the agencies. Here’s the powerpoint file:

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at or call us at416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrandsPositioning 2016.081

Coke’s new Ad campaign has more fizzle than sizzle

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

coke-taste-the-feeling-1I have been impressed with Coke’s Marketing execution the past couple of years. I love the Coke Freestyle machines where you can customize your own drink from up to 100 options. And I have to admit loving the names on the bottle, even though I had my doubts in the beginning. All that great stuff, and yet the sales have been sluggish for the past 15 months. It’s not the activity that is at fault. It’s just that people want healthier options and Coke is now fighting against that major consumer movement away from Sugary or Aspartame drinks. Sugary cereals are going through the same crisis. But since Coke can’t “fix” the health trend, they may as well try to fix the activities–even if it’s not broken. 

With the earnings report showing that Coke’s revenue has fallen for the past 3 straight quarters, I can only imagine the CEO walking down the hall to find the CMO and say “we need your Advertising to sell more product”. 

At Beloved Brands, we believe that Advertising can only move one body part at a time: the head, the feet, the heart or the soul.Creative Brief 2016 Extract.001

Here’s a great example of a Coke ad idea called “Remove labels this Ramadan” that really touches the consumer’s soul. Even with 19 Million views, it likely didn’t sell a lot of Coke.

To me, an Advertising idea is like a magnet. When it gets too far away from the brand, it no longer moves the brand. The “share happiness” campaign was a huge umbrella idea, but likely so huge, the one thing it didn’t do is move product. 

Today, Coke announced two moves in rolling out their new “Taste the Feeling” advertising campaign. First, you will see in the work that they are clearly linking life moments with drinking Coke. Meaning the creative team was told: “we have to SELL MORE PRODUCT”. Or as I would say, the ads have to move feet.  Second, they announced they would have ONE Master Brand creative idea for all 3 Coke products, red Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero.

Here is the main spot Coke launched today, appropriately called Anthem.

I would say it’s an OK spot, not a great spot. For a 90 second spot called “Anthem” it lacks the emotional appeal you would expect, and it won’t really generate any viral share-ability. It has a lot of product shots, but not really the connectivity needed to move product. And I barely even noticed any Diet Coke or Coke Zero. 

To evaluate advertising, we use something we call the ABC’S, which stands for Attention, Branding, Communication and Stickiness. I’d say these score low on attention, moderate on branding, modest on communication and pretty low on stickiness. These type of spots that show a lot of consumer moments to a song usually end up as wallpaper that falls into the background of our multi-tasking lifestyle. There’s no real compelling story here.Marketing Execution 2016.055

Here’s another TV ad called “What is Coke for?”

Again, a bit generic. No emotional pull. Lots of Coke fizzle. And hard to find the Diet Coke or Coke Zero. 

The print does a better job in capturing emotion than the TV, showing how Coke fits in to various moments of your life. 




Here’s a challenge to Coke, if you are going to name your new spot “Anthem”. make sure it is as epic as this 1971 TV ad: 

Do you think this new campaign will increase Coke’s revenue?

Here’s a workshop we run on how to get better Marketing Execution. In this workshop, we go through how to come up with an Executional brief, based on both positioning and strategy, we take you through how to judge the work and how to provide motivating feedback to your agencies.

We make Brands stronger.

We make Brand Leaders smarter.™

BBI ads for 2015.011We 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 3911Positioning 2016.081

The consumer has changed dramatically. Have you changed enough?

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

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Marketing has changed dramatically and if you are not changing with it, then you will not be able to unleash the full potential of your brand nor will you be able to unleash your own full potential as a Brand Leader. When I say that Marketing has changed, people think I am about to talk about the change in media options over the last 15 year, with the opening up of digital, social and search. Sure, that has changed the way we do things, but is really at the surface level. Starting at the turn of this century, we began witnessing a deeper underlying change happening with consumers, who have begun rewarding those brands who exceed their expectations, who have gravitated towards brands that treat them as though they are special, and who have become loyal to brands that open up and establish a higher purpose worthy of connecting with.

Consumers ended the last century tired of the crap that brands kept promising, jaded by the tricks brands used to get them to buy, leaving them feeling burned by over-promise and under-delivery. Consumers now want and expect more. Consumers want to be appreciated and they are willing to love the brand that will treat them like they are the only person that matters. Everything a brand does, should start and end with the consumer in mind. Brands are shifting from fighting for a space in the mind of the consumer to fighting for a place in the consumers heart. It is about becoming one of the favorite parts of the consumers’ day, not just pure product performance. The change in media is merely an enabler to the underlying change, but not a driver. The best brands of today are loved.The media options have had a dramatic influence on the consumers lifestyle–the number of messages, multi-tasking and being tired of being burned. The change in the consumer should drive your Media Planning more than the change in media

  1. Consumers see more brand messages than their brains can handle. 
    • In the year 2015, consumers see up to 7,000 brand messages every day. The fastest thing our brains now do is reject advertising messages. The digital ads on every website you visit, at the top, on the side, on the bottom, drop down boxes. Whenever you turn on Facebook, every google search you make. Take the subway and see hundreds or drive to work and see the same. We now surf messages quickly and only engage in a few each day. Life was much simpler in the last century when consumers saw a few billboards on the way home from work, had dinner and watched Seinfeld on TV seeing a few ads each night. But, in the current world, your consumer is being bombarded by brands. Are you doing anything to change the way you approach consumers to ensure you are gaining their attention?
  2. Consumers are constantly multi-tasking—driving, walking, talking.
    • Even with 7,000 messages a day, consumers are barely watching. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) means people are constantly multi-tasking. I rarely watch a TV show without my laptop or phone nearby. Most people sleep beside their phone and read updates as soon as they awake. Even with laws against texting and driving, I see it every day. And walk downtown in a straight line and you are bound to walk into someone “walking and texting”. Once you gain the consumers attention, you have to find a way to engage them to stay with your brand. What are you doing to hold the attention of your consumer to avoid them being distracted away?
  3. Consumers are tired of being burned by faulty brand promises.
    • Consumer marketing is a little over 100 years now and hopefully consumers have become much more sophisticated in their decision-making. Last century, we saw too many brands over-promise and under-deliver. But brand reputations are now being made and equally dying based on the consumers ability to do their homework. They do their own research, they can ask friends or read on-line reviews. If they are burned by a brand, they quickly spread the message. Have you figured out a brand promise that you can deliver beyond the purchase moment? Have you created an experience that will get purchasers to become brand fans?
  4. Consumers now take control and action over the buying process.
    • Consumers now control what they buy. They are not sold to. Last century it was all about selling. In the current world, it’s all about buying. They are taking full control over the buying process–gaining awareness about brands from friends, only considering after doing their own research to validate what they are hearing and then they figure out the ideal pathway to the purchase moment. They read labels, read reviews and make up their own minds. They pose questions to friends for advice. Putting 100% of your budget on a 30 second TV no longer works. Have you figured out how to co-manage the path to the purchase moment along side the consumer to help them consider, search, purchase and experience your brand?
  5. Consumers connect with brands they believe in.
    • Consumers now want and expect more. They line up to brands that line up to their values and expectations. Consumers want to be appreciated and they are willing to love the brand that will treat them like they are the only person that matters. Ethics and behavior now matter. We are seeing the ethics of brands like Volkswagen and GM destroying the brand reputation. We are seeing Chipotle facing small regional safety crisis points, with the news spreading like wild-fire and the brand is dying before our eyes. Consumers have full access to information and they are not just buying what you do, but why you do it. The most loved brands are based on a big idea that consumers connect with, yet that idea has to reflect the brand’s soul. Have you figured out your brand purpose and then figured out how to build your stated brand purpose into your brand story, your product innovation and the brand experience? Have you figured out how to make the brand purpose be part of the purchase moment as a deal closer to a tie between two brands?
  6. Consumers reward amazing experiences over products alone.
    • Last century, consumers just bought products like Tide, Kodak and Pampers. Most of them we learned about on quick 30 second TV ads that followed a similar formula screaming “we are the best”, shown every half hour trying to drive awareness. But consumers are connecting at a deeper level with brands that offer an experience that over-delivers the promise. With Starbucks, it’s more about the “moments” than it is about the “coffee”. Everyone keeps pointing to the fact Starbucks coffee finishes middle of the pack in blind taste tests. But you cannot replicate the experience of nice leather chairs, cool music, great conversations, amazing culture of people. We are starting to see that the new product is becoming the experience, and while claims supported the product, it is the organization’s culture that supports the experience. Have you figured out to create an experience around your brand that brings it life beyond the product itself? 
  7. Consumers explore rationally, but stay emotionally.
    • In this 21st century economy, the winning brands are those who can create strong emotional bonds with their consumers. While brands might gain entry into the consumers mind in the first 7 seconds, consumers are now emotionally engaging with brands. Research companies like Hotspex show that over 50% of brand decisions are emotionally based. To achieve Brand Love,  brand needs a Big Idea that expresses your brand’s soul and serves to connect with consumers while shaping the internal culture of the brand. Brands need Focus in the choices a brand makes in terms of vision, strategy, positioning and execution. And brands need to show Passion in everything to drive creativity that connects with consumers and precision that helps create brand experiences that exceed expectations. The best brands build every touchpoint around the Big Idea including the promise, brand story, innovative products, ubiquitous purchase moments and brand experiences. How will you use Big Ideas, focus and passion to really create a bond with your consumers to turn them into brand fans that love your brand?

Strategic Thinking 2016.064

What is it that creates a bond between the consumer and the brand? You need to be able to describe your brand to CONSUMERS in 7 seconds, 60 seconds, 30 minutes and over the lifetime of the brand, always telling the same story. 

  • In today’s crowded branded marketplace, the modern consumers see 7,000 brand messages a day. The fastest thing our brains do is reject brand messages. Brands need an entry point to gain permission to the consumer’s brain. Can you explain your brand in 7 seconds?
  • After decades of being burned by false promises, modern consumers are naturally cynical and constantly doubting brands. They test the brand by asking detailed questions. Brands need a solid story that closes off any doubts consumers may have. Can you explain your brand in 60 seconds?
  • Modern consumers like to take control over their buying process as they move from consideration to search and finally to a purchase moment. Brands need to move with consumers through to the purchase moment. Can you explain your brand in 30 minutes?
  • As the modern consumer experiences the brand, they either accept or reject the promise. Consumers are more loyal to brands they share a common purpose and shared values. Brands need to create experiences that match the brand story. Can you describe your brand over the lifetime of the brand, always telling the same story?

What are you doing to deal with the changing consumer?  

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Below is our Beloved Brands Workshop we run on Strategic Thinking:

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

BBI Creds Deck 2016.014

Do your own damn performance review!!!

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

This time of year is when you sit down with your boss and have the dreaded annual performance review. 

It’s likely dreaded for a reason. You hate getting feedback and your boss hates giving feedback. These days performance reviews feel like a bit of jockeying. When you do you self-evaluation, you avoid putting anything that can be used against you. And when your boss does your evaluation, they will avoid putting anything that will imply a promotion, raise or even maintaining your employment. Maybe it’s time that we think of the performance review as a necessity of the job, but we should stop thinking this is big defining career moment that will help you. If you have a great boss, use it to your advantage. Some of my bosses took it seriously, many did not. In my 20 years of working, half of my performance reviews were worthwhile, and considering I had one manager for 7 years who did an excellent job for me, that leaves 13 other years where the reviews did very little for me. I recommend you take control of your own career and never be at the mercy of others.

If you are managing your career, then give yourself a Performance Review

We look at Marketing Careers over 4 different levels: Assistant Brand Manager (ABM), Brand Manager (BM), Marketing Director and VP Marketing. Companies may use various titles, but the ABM is generally a do-er or contributor to strategy, while the BM is the owner of the plan and the go-to person on the brand. Usually the Director manages a broader team and the VP oversees the entire marketing team. 

We have mapped out at the 32 essential skills that a Brand Leader needs, at every level. What I have found is that marketing is about learning the fundamentals and then use your experience to continuously improve. As much as your company self-assessment is guarded and careful, when you do your own, you have to be very honest with yourself to identify what you need to work on.

2015 brand careers.018

When it comes to Analytics you should be mastering this as an Assistant Brand Manager and Brand Manager, but you have to continue to use these skills throughout your career. While digging into every aspect of the business helps you learn the basic analytics, what separates great marketers on analytics are those who can transform all those numbers into an analytical story that helps set up a decision point.

Brand Planning is usually owned by the Brand Manager. But honestly it can take a few years to become competent at writing plans. If not done well, planning can get out of control. The goal of a brand plan is to get everyone on the same page, to ensure everyone is moving in the direction that is outlined in the brand plan. There are so many elements of a plan you need to get comfortable with, from creating a brand vision that motivates everyone, to purpose and values and onto strategy and tactics. To ensure action comes out of the plan, the Brand Leader should be creating specific project plans for each element of the plan.

While positioning is one of the core strategic functions of marketing, it is rare for a marketer to be involved in positioning their brand. Most are taking the positioning from the previous marketer. Positioning is really about simplifying everything on the brand, down to something that is focused and digestible for consumers. A good positioning has a focused target market, one main benefit and two reasons to believe. From that positioning, you can create a Brand Concept or even move forward to writing a Creative Brief that can help execution. Too many brand leaders lack the ability to write a brief and it’s impacting marketing execution.

Any type of advertising requires brand leaders to use judgement and make decisions. The decisions should be balanced with strategic thinking and gut feel for the creative choices and media options. While we all have natural instincts even before we get into marketing, being able to articulate those over a complex network of advertising experts and over a long project timeline are very difficult. Practice these skills early in your career on smaller projects and perfect them as you move to more complex and bigger projects. With a large advertising project, the brand leader has to work through the ad agency that would include 3 distinct groups–account team, creative team and strategic planner. Then moving towards production, you need to oversee a series of subject matter experts including producers, directors, sound technicians and actors. You have to stay true to your vision at every stage of the project. I have found that with each new project right up to the VP level, you should be continuously looking to improve. How you make decisions, how you motivate others and how you communicate will either make or break the advertising projects you are leading.

New products can vary in their degree of complexity. The simplest ones are incremental launches using the same brand name, and using the same production and distribution channels. The more complex type new products involve a new brand name, a new technology, new distribution channels, new production, government regulation, determining the projected sales, costs and support needed.

One big growing weakness is the go-to-market execution that involves the marketing and sales teams to work together. Over 20 years ago, it was very common that marketers did a stint or two in the sales department. As the roles have become more senior and specialized, it has become more difficult to move people between the roles. This has created silos between Sales and Marketing, leaving the marketer with a perception that they live in an “ivory tower”. There is a skill in learning how to influence the sales team, ensuring that your marketing and sales are working together to make the brand stronger. At any stage, you should be constantly getting into the stores and meeting with sales people. As you get more senior, you should learn how to present to buyers.

In terms of Leadership and Managing you need to hold your team to a consistently high standard of work in strategic thinking and planning. Then you need to hold your team to a consistently high standard of work in execution in the market. In terms of people management, you need to be seen as actively interested in helping your team to manage their careers. Teach, guide and direct your team members for higher performance. Training and development provides on-going skills development to make the team better.

2015 brand careers.019

We have also mapped out 15 leader behaviors for you to also use as a self-evaluation, looking at the behaviors that separate great Brand Leaders from the pack. A great Brand Leader is accountable to results, strong on people leadership, a solid strategic thinker, carries broad influence and brings an authentic style. Leadership behaviors are harder for us to self-evaluate. I would recommend you have casual conversations with those you can trust to give you feedback. There is a term called “blind spots”, where people who you work with know that you have a weak, but you don’t know.

Identify your own gaps

We recommend that you go through each of the dimensions and give yourself a score in relation to your peers. A score of 5 means you are one of the best in your department in a given area, a 4 is above average, 3 means you are average and the scores of 1’s and 2’s would mean you have a gap. Force the scores so that you can clearly identify 3 skills and 3 leader behaviors as being a relative gap to your peers. Based on where you are with your career, I recommend you end up using the year to close Then as you build your own personal plan for the year, map out a plan of attack for the coming year. 

2015 brand careers.019Don’t worry, we all have gaps. At every level of my own career, I had some major gaps. Many I wasn’t even aware of and some I was even in denial. Only as I moved up to Director and VP level was I able to close some of the gaps. For example, I struggled throughout my career when dealing with the sales team, was never a great negotiator and always weak when it came to managing up. Maybe if I had one more self-evaluations along the way, I could have closed the gaps sooner.

We all have gaps. What are going to do about closing your gaps?

Below is a Powerpoint presentation of a workshop we run on Managing your Brand Career. I hope that it challenges you to think differently and identify some areas you can improve for next year.

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

BBI Creds Deck 2016.014

How to win the Marketing War Games

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

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You have to find a unique selling proposition for your brand, that distinguishes you from others. Looking above at the Venn diagram, we first start by listing out everything your consumers want, then list what your brand does best and what your competitors do best. The winning zone for your brand to play in is the match up where consumers want what you do best. The losing zone is to play where consumers want it, but your competitor does it better than you. Competitive Positioning Options.001As we are maturing in the marketing, it is harder and harder to come up with a definitive win, so that is where you can win the risky zone by being different, being faster to market, winning with meaningful innovation or building a deep emotional connection. The key to be seen as unique, not just for the sake of it, but to match up what you do best with what the consumer is looking for. Sadly, I do have to always mention the dumb zone. This is where two competitors “battle it out” in the zone the consumer does not care about. I say sadly, because I keep seeing this in the market. One competitor starts saying “we are faster” and you see them so you think “well we are just as fast”. No one bothers to ask the consumer if they care about speed. Too often, Brand Leaders start with the claim, and then try to make the most of it in everything they do. The problem with that strategy is your claim might not be a benefit,  and even if it ladders up, it might not be something that is own-able for you or motivating to the consumer.

When you position your brand you want to focus on the area where you are better than your competitor and then use communication, innovation and experience to extrapolate that benefit’s importance, while then diminishing what your competitor does best.

Competitive Brands

Where you rank and what role you play within your category is a great indicator of how much power you can command in the market. In terms of Marketing War Games, we have mapped out 4 types of competitive brands: the Power Player, the Challenger, the Island brand, the Rebel Brand. If you do not fit into one of those four, by default you become the Battler Brand where you are in a constant dog-fight in, stuck in the middle of the pack, unable to command any point of difference.

The Power Player leads the way: This is reserved for the leader of the category. These brands have a power over the category and over competitors. They can defend their territory by attacking itself or even attacking back at an aggressive competitor. The Power Player is usually the market share leader but it can also be the perceived leader in the consumers’ mind. For instance, Apple is the perceived leader of the cell-phone market, even though Samsung has a significantly higher market share. The best strategy is actually to ‘attack yourself’ by identifying and close leaks in service, experience or products before others can take advantage of those leaks. Challenge the culture to step it up to  continually get better and stay ahead of the competitors. Competitive Positioning Options.002Always be launching innovation that is better than your current product. Never become complacent or you will die. Keep an eye on your competitor’s moves—and adjust your own brand to ensure you defend against their attacks. Power Players always block all offensive moves and attacks back with an even greater force than the one attacking you. You always need to demonstrate your brand power—whether that is with competitors, retailers, media or even the very consumers who love you.

Power Players own what they are best at, and manage to achieve perceived parity with competitors on their weakness to avoid opening up a new competitive advantage for anyone in the market to attack them. Where there is a tie winners of these brands win on innovation, emotional, speed or taking the product and turning it into an experience.

A great case study of a Power Brand leader facing the attack from a challenger brand, McDonald’s was able to hold their own under attack by Subway’s weight loss claims and the movie “Super Size Me”. They launched a full array of salads & sandwiches, changed their happy meal to appeal to healthy moms, and voluntarily put calorie counts on their menu. For the next 5 years after “Super Size Me” McDonalds saw double-digit growth when everyone thought it was in trouble. On the other hand, Blackberry is a great case study of a brand that forgot to defend their Castle. In 2009, Blackberry dominated the B2B executive market. But they wanted to be more like Apple than like themselves. They launched a bad touch screen phone, an undifferentiated tablet, sponsored rock concerts and launched BBI for teenie-boppers. They never attacked themselves by improving the flaws of their current product or defended their strength with corporations. Pretty soon, executives were switching to the iPhone and Blackberry was headed for a quick fall to near obscurity.   

The Challenger Brand tries to change the playing field: Challenger’s attack on the leader to exploit a weakness or build on your own strength. The best offensive attack is to actually find weakness within the leader’s strengths. Competitive Positioning Options.003One very powerful strategy is to turn a perceived strength of the leader around by making it a weakness. Attacking a weakness might be insufficient, because consumers already know it is a weakness. Be careful of the leader’s defensive moves, by anticipating a response with full force—possibly even greater than yours.  Avoid wars that drain your limited resources and end up with the same share after the war. Following Napoleonic rules, you need to attack on as narrow of a front as possible to ensure your resources are put to that area—which might be more of a force than the leader puts to that one area. When a leader is trying to be everything, those narrow attacks are effective—enabling you to slice off a part of their business before they can defend it. Where there can be product differences, invest in R&D to achieve a leapfrog strategy where technology and business models become game-changers in the category.

The best example of a Challenger Brand attacking the leader came from the Pepsi Challenge which was a direct offensive attack on Coke.  Without the strength of the Coke brand name and all that went with it, people picked Pepsi in blind taste tests, preferring the sweeter taste. Supported by “the taste of a new generation” Pepsi was able to change the playing field away from Coke’s strength of tradition and heritage over to Pepsi’s taste and youth.   

The Island Brand goes into the unknown areas: An attack in an open area where the Leader is not that well established. Island Brands 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 stealth fully. Follow through matters, to defend the area you’ve won. Be careful that your success on this island may invite others to follow whether it is the leader trying to use their might or copycats looking for an early win. Then you become the Power Player of your island  and must defend your territory with full power you have. Island Brands normally win with new targets, price points (premium or value), distribution channels, format or positioning. In the modern world, we are seeing many brands using completely new technologies such as Netflix or Uber to completely change the playing field. The biggest issue for Island Brands is the increased risk that your concept might not work. These are different concepts in a different space, and that brings a higher risk.

Special K Challenge is an amazing example of an Island Brand. As most cereal was targeting families, facing complaints of high sugar and calories, Special K established itself as a lower calorie and weight loss option. 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 2 weeks. While all the other diet options felt daunting, this felt pretty easy to do. At that time, the big idea for Special K was “Empowering Women to take control of their weight”. Special K’s innovation rivaled 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.

The Rebel Brand goes against the category: Going into an area where it’s too small for the Leaders to take notice or are unable to attack back. Pick a segment small enough that it won’t be noticed and you’ll be able to defend it. Competitive Positioning Options.005Be 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 will 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 Rebel brands, it is better to be loved by the few, than liked or tolerated by the many. They are at their best when no one even notices or cares.

The Rebel Brands that comes to mind is 5 Guys Burgers. They have avoided taking on the big fast food chains directly, preferring to go into the high quality, fresh ingredients at a super premium price ($8-10 for a burger). They do not worry about calories or salads or even chicken. They are sticking to what they are good at: highest quality burgers. 5 Guys is taking their niche into a high growth situation, with 1000+ locations. The consumers are passionate about the high quality burger. They are stealing the top end of share from McDonald’s but are doing so by owning their niche. While they face other high quality burger joints like In-N-Out or Shake Shack, they are clearly following the McDonald’s real estate strategy by trying to be everywhere.

Dollar Shave has also done a great job as a rebel brand. Dollar Shave Club is a subscription based razor company, founded in 2011 by Mark Levine and Michael Dubin based on the idea that consumers are highly frustrated with the growing cost of razor blades. This is a classic case of finding a major un-addressed problem that consumers are facing in the market, and use a creative brand solution that helps to turn that problem into a consumer enemy that upsets them emotionally. We are seeing many brands use new technology options to set up the old guard as the enemy ready for attack. And this is the strategy for Dollar Shave on Gillette. With the cost of a pack of razors going for $20 at your average drug store or even $40 at Costco, there was a huge opportunity in the marketplace. Yes, we’ve seen huge technology gains in the last 20 years with way more blades than we ever though possible, flex balls and blue lines telling us when to throw it out. But for a great many of us, price still matters. At first Dollar Shave was so small ($25 Million in sales) that Gillette could not be bothered to defend. You can imagine that as Dollar Shave started out, they were up going against one of the biggest consumer goliath brands in the world. Gillette’s global sales are in the billions. For Dollar Shave, first year sales were about $30-50 million, while they likely generated a lot of noise at P&G, that sales level should not even be enough to make Gillette lose an ounce of sleep.

Competitive Positioning Options.006If you are stuck as a Cluttered Brand: Most brands are stuck in a dog-fight in a crowded category where they struggle to find any competitive points of differences they  can take advantage of. These brands battle it out using traditional tools such as distribution, price and promotion to try to win, only to discover that without a Big Idea it is just a constant drain on their resources. These Cluttered Brands act like a commodity, trying to out-effort or out-last their competitors. However, if the brand is a commodity, there will be no loyalty, no price premium and no growth. That means no funds coming back to invest back into the brand. These brands need to find an idea that is unique, own-able and motivating to consumers. The only way to get out of this vicious spiral is to become a Rebel Brand and build around a smaller motivated target by something you can build around or find a game-changing option to become an Island Brand.

Lessons for Marketing War Games

When engaged in marketing war games, here are things you need to do to win:

  • You have to realize that speed of attack matters. Surprise attacks, but sustained speed in the market is a competitive advantage.
  • 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.
  • 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 dogfights slow down brand growth. Never fight two wars at once.
  • Use early wins to keep momentum going and gain quick positional power you can maintain and defend counter-attacks.
  • Execution matters. Quick breakthrough requires creativity in your approach and quality in execution. Expect the unexpected.
  • Think it through thoroughly. Map out potential responses by competitors. 

What is your competitive position for your brand and are your strategies lined up to your role?

At Beloved Brands, we run a brand strategy workshop to help brand leaders at  your company think differently, looking at consumer strategy, competitive strategy and situational strategy.

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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