Build your entire brand strategy behind your core strength

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

What is the core strength that your brand can win on?

To be loved, a brand must know who they are and then stand with pride, conviction and confidence. The problem for many brands is they try to have a few core strengths, so they end up having no real perceived strength that stands out.

This model has four possible options for what core strength your brand should choose to win with: product, brand story, experience or price. For many Marketers, their first response is to want to pick two or three core strengths, but the model forces you to pick just one. Here’s the game I have created to help make the choice. You have 4 chips, you must place one chip where you believe you have the highest competitive advantage to win with, then two chips at the mid level that back up and support the core strength. Finally, the game forces one chip to be at the low, almost a throw-away weakness that will not be part of the strategy.

Build your entire brand strategy behind your brand’s core strength

For Apple, their core strength is their brand story around ‘simplicity’. They support that core strength with a great product and consumer experience. However, they never win on price, charging a price premium and never discount.

Product led Brands

When Product Innovation is your key strength, your main strategy should focus on being better. The brand must invest in continuous innovation to stay ahead of competitors, being the leader in technology, claims and new formats. The brand must defend against any challengers. The promise and experience should be built around the product. The brand should leverage product-focused mass communication, directly calling attention to the superiority and benefit differences in the product versus the competitors. Bring the “how it is built” into the brand story, to highlight and re-enforce the point of difference. Use rational selling to move consumers through the buying stages. Use product reviews and key influencers to support the brand. One watch out for product led brands is the struggle to build and drive an emotional connection with consumers. As the brand matures, it must layer a big idea on top of the product, to enable the consumer to connect on a deeper level. There are some amazing product brands, such as Samsung, Tide, Five Guys or Ruth’s Chris who create consumer loyalty, but still lack that emotional connection.

Rolex has done an amazing job in building emotion into their product led brand. The language choices they use such as ‘crafted from the finest raw materials’ or ‘assembled with scrupulous attention to detail’ helps convey their commitment to the design and production of the Rolex. Rolex epitomizes prestige and success. On marketing program that has helped Rolex create an emotional bond is one they first resisted—the official clock for Wimbledon. Both Rolex and Wimbledon place an enormous emphasis on the values of tradition and excellence. The fact that Rolex is one of the few companies with a presence on the courts is further testament to the strength of the partnership.

Product led brands core strength

Story led Brands

When the Brand Story is your brand’s key strength, the strategy should focus on finding a way to be different. To tell that story, invest in emotional brand communication that connects motivated consumers with the big idea on a deeper emotional level. Then line up everything (story, product, experience) under the big idea. Story led brands should leverage a community of core “brand lovers” who can then talk about the brand story and influence others within their network. These brands should use a soft sell approach to influence the potential consumer. Do not bring price to the forefront, as it can take away from the idea. Some of the store-led brands includes Dove, Nike, W Hotels and Virgin, the greatest story-led brand has been Apple.

Most recently, the Tesla brand appears to have borrowed a lot of Apple’s principles, building around the story of “saving the planet with innovation”. Tesla uses many innovative approaches, including the visionary charm of their founder, Elon Musk, to create a movement beyond a brand. He has become a spokesperson for a generation of consumers who want to save the planet. Even the most ardent Tesla brand lovers see the brand as a movement. The 400,000 consumers who put down $1,000 for a car that does not yet exist are pretty much investing in the movement, more than the car.

Idea led brand core strength

Consumer experience led Brands

When the Consumer Experience is your brand’s lead strength, the strategy and organization should focus on linking culture very closely to your brand. Your people are your product. As you go to market, be patient in a slower build as the quick mass media approach might not be as fast or efficient. Invest in influencer and social media that can help support and spread the word of your experience. Effective tools include word of mouth, earned media, social media, on-line reviews, use of key influencers and testimonials. Use the brand purpose (“Why you do what you do”) and brand values to inspire and guide the team leadership. Align the operations team with service behaviors that deliver the brand’s big idea. Focus on building a culture and organization with the right people, who can deliver incredible experiences. Invest in training the face of the brand. Too much marketing emphasis on price can diminish the perceived consumer experience. Some of the best experience brands includes Ritz-Carlton, Emirates airline, Airbnb, Amazon, Netflix and Starbucks.

In a blind taste test, Starbucks coffee finishes middle of the pack. Starbucks view themselves as in the ‘moments’ business. They build everything around the consumer experience. The brand stresses the importance of the culture with their staff and use service values to deliver incredible guest experiences. Starbucks offers the perfect moment of escape between home and work, supported by a unique combination of Italian coffee names, European pastries, cool friendly staff, nice leather seats and indie music that creates an amazing atmosphere that cannot be beat.

Price led Brands

When Price is your brand’s lead strength, focus on driving efficiency to drive the lowest possible cost structure. These brands should use ‘call to action’ Marketing to keep high turns and high volume. It is all about cash flow with fast moving items that delivers high turns and high volume to cover off the lower prices. Invest in the fundamentals around production and sourcing to maintain the low cost competitive advantage. Use the brand’s power to win negotiations. Price brands need to own the low price positioning and fiercely attack any potential challengers. The brand usually needs good solid products, however consumers are willing to accept a lower consumer experience. Many price brands struggle to drive any emotional connection with consumers brand. It can be hard to maintain ‘low price’ while fighting off the perception that the brand is ‘cheap’. It is hard for consumers to love the price brands, even though they rely on them when needed. Walmart is one of the best price brands. No one is more efficient at retail. While their competitors sell through their inventory in 100-125 days, Walmart sells through theirs in 29 days, 1 day before they even have to pay for it. Their outward sales pitch is price, but their internal organization and culture is clearly driven by driving efficiency with fast-moving items. They use their power to bully their suppliers, who give in just to be part of Walmart’s high sales volumes. Walmart has made failed attempts to create any emotional connection. The battle in the future for Walmart will be Amazon, who does extraordinary customer service and smart pricing. It will be a tough battle for Walmart as Amazon is one of the most beloved brands on the planet.

Build your entire brand strategy behind your core strength

As you take this model a step further, this should guide your overall brand positioning angle on whether you should strive to be better, different or cheaper. The product led brands should be building a story around how they make it better than everyone else, while the story led brands can tell the story, idea or purpose behind the brand. As you move to the experience, the focus should be on how the people make the brand different and finally, while you can just yell price, you might be much more effective if you tell the story behind how you can offer the same as others at a much lower cost.

Build your entire brand strategy behind your core strength

Brands that cannot decide which of the four to build around will find themselves in trouble. Trying to be everything to anyone is the recipe for being nothing to everyone. A great case study example is Uber. You could argue for all 4 possibilities. And while you might think that is game-changing, I think it is dumb. Uber has squeezed the prices on taxis so low that they are squeezing their own margins so low. Plus, they believe the way to win is saturating the market to dominate it before anyone else can enter. Let’s play that out a bit. If you have been using Uber quite a while, you will notice that the quality of drivers is going way down. I have had friends say their driver showed up in a cut off tank top, got lost 2-3 times and definitely did not have a shower this morning. That is risk of trying to be a price brand because that is the quality driver that Uber can afford. Then along comes Lyft, who focuses primarily on the consumer experience. Same app, higher price level, and a driver who is fully trained with higher standards. They emphasis quality experience to their drivers and their consumers, thereby boxing Uber into being a price brand longer term. By not focusing on the experience position, Uber left it open for someone else to grab. The profit squeeze then hits, even cheaper drivers and then Uber could end up the Walmart of taxi cabs.

Pick one strength. Build everything you do behind it.

To read more on how to create a beloved brand, click on this powerpoint presentation that forms one of our workshops. My hope is that it challenges you to think differently about your own brand situation:


Beloved Brands: We make brands stronger and brand leaders smarter.

We will unleash the full potential of your brand. We will lead a 360-degree assessment of your business, help you define your Brand Positioning, create a Big Idea that will transform your brand’s soul into a winning brand reputation and help you build a strategic Brand Plan everyone who works on the brand can follow.

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

To contact me, call me at 416 885 3911 or email me at

Beloved Brands Graham Robertson



When your Brand is liked but not loved

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Beloved Brands Explained

Don’t feel bad about being at the Like It stage, because that’s where most brands are.

You have been able to successfully carve out a niche and be a chosen brand against a proliferation of brands in the category.And you have good share results, moderate profits and most brand indicators are reasonably healthy.  It’s just that no one loves you.

Does it really matter? Brands move from Indifferent to Like It to Love It to Beloved Brand for Life. But isn’t being Liked Enough? If you could move to a Loved brand, you would have a very tight connection with consumers.  That connection becomes a source of power that you can harness, and then use to drive higher growth and profits. How can you harness the power Love in the market?  If you are loved, you’ll have power over retailers generating preferential treatment, because they know their consumers will switch stores before they switch brands. You can push suppliers for lower costs because they’ll want to tell others they supply you. You can generate free press, because your brand is now all of a sudden newsworthy. You’ll have cheaper real estate because malls will want your brand to anchor the new mall. Employees will sacrifice wages just to have your brand on their resume. And loved brands can even use that power on the very consumers that love you already: new products will generate early awareness and trial.   All this power, derived from the connectivity to consumers, can be harnessed to generate higher growth rates and added profits. Ask Apple, who is the most loved and the most profitable. They understand the formula: Beloved = Power = Growth = Profit.

Many times I find it hard to convince logical brand managers that being more loved matters. They stick to the safe logic of claims over benefits, stick to the rational of side-by-side demonstrations and they settle for likeable execution instead of pushing for loveable work.  They worry going emotional feels risky. Unsafe.   I’m a logical profit driven marketer. I believe in proof. Emotional is silly agency talk. You might be right because the only advantages a Loved Brand offers is higher growth rates, higher margins, lower costs to serve and overall higher profitability. So stick to being liked and your modest results.

How the consumer sees your Brand at the Liked Stage:  

Consumers see your brand as a functional and rational choice they make. They tried it and it makes sense so they buy it, use it and they do enjoy it.  It meets a basic need they have. They likely prefer it versus another brand, but they think it is better, cheaper or easier to use.  Or your mom told you to use it.  But, consumers don’t have much of an emotional connection or feeling about the brand. Where Indifferent is really bad, you’re ordinary, which is just a little bit better.  Overall, consumers see you brand in the “it will do” space.

Why is your brand stuck at the Like It stage?

There are seven possible reasons why you are at the Like It Stage:

  1. 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.
  2. We are rational thinking Marketers: Those marketers that believe they are strictly rational 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.
  3. New Brand with Momentum: Stage 2 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. The only consumers remaining are those who like their burgers, not the brand.
  6. Positional Power–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 Wal-Mart 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.
  7. 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.
There are lots of reasons your brand is stuck at Like It, mainly because so many of brands are at the Like It stage. There’s nothing shameful in it, but just know you could get more from your brand.

Indicators that your Brand is stuck at the Like It stage

  • 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 set, 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.
  • Stagnant Shares: Your brand team is happy when they hold onto 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 past the Like It stage and move towards the Love It stage

  • Focus on action and drive Consideration and Purchase: stake out certain spaces in the market creating a brand story that separates your brand from the clutter. 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.
  • Begin to Leverage those that already Love: 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 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.

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


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. 

Positioning 2016.112

How to differentiate your brand through product innovation

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in How to Guide for Marketers

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Patent Office,  1899

The quote above may have missed out on the airplane, radio, TV, microwave, car, computer, internet, nearly every cpg product and of course my beloved iPhone. Maybe the sentiment of the quote was just about 100 years too early. In the last decade, most of the great innovation has been relegated to social media and electronics. I hope this century brings us much more than just Facebook, BBM and Twitter. In the consumer goods area, we must be on the 197th version of “new” cherry flavoured bubble gum since 1955, we’ve now seen hundreds of “new” peach yoghurt and I hope I never see another “new” laundry soap telling us that their little blue beads get their clothes really clean.  

New products that truly solve a consumer problem in a unique way are rare. This is the generation of marketing incrementalism. On most brand plans I see “launch innovative new products”  sits comfortably in the #3, 4 or 5 slot on the plan, while #1 is fix the advertising and #2 is get more distribution.  

There are four key stages to innovation:  1) Invention 2) Differentiation 3) Experience and 4) Perception.  And the marketing is different at each phase.

Stage 1: Invention of the Core Product: The challenge of a truly new product is to finding something that is truly different: a new technology, delivery, format or process.   Rarely, do we get to work on a game changing “invention”.  
Stage 1 of a new product usually focuses all of their efforts on launching and explaining why it is needed.  The product at this stage is usually just the core product, not yet perfected, higher costs and limited sales with no profits. The advertising is about awareness and the message is simple:  you have this problem, we solve that problem.   There’s an effort to the distribution, because many customers are risk averse and afraid of new products.   Consumers are willing to pay a little more to solve the problem, they overlook all the flaws and limitations, and they think “why didn’t I think of this”. While some consumers love the new product already, most consumers still sit at the skeptical and indifferent stage.  

Stage 2: Product Proliferation means Differentiation: With a little bit of success in the market comes copy cats. With more consumers buying, there becomes room for some differentiation, but mostly limited to product still: new features and added services on top of the core product.  They might have found a way to make things cheaper, easier to use or better tasting. Prices come down and brands offer more variety.  Distribution becomes a battle ground and getting full distribution becomes the goal. Customers try to line up behind certain brands–looking for preferential treatment. The advertising is about consideration and purchase, trying to stake out certain spaces, shifting from product to brand and separating your brand from others. Brands now sell the solution, not just the product.  And consumers start to choose, one brand over another.  While some consumers prefer one brand over another, most consumers are at the like it stage.

Stage 3: It’s all about the Experience: In order to establish leadership or challenge for leadership, brands begin to talk about the experience consumers will have with their product. It becomes no longer about the brand or product but about the consumer and how your brand fits into their life. Brands look to use positioning strategies to separate themselves, focusing on key targets, with unique benefits–a balance of emotional and rational benefits. Advertising brings the consumer front and centre, trying to establish a routine with your brand in it. Brands try to move to the love it stage, some do, but most will be stuck still at the like it stage. Those that get stuck are forced into value and focusing on price, promotions or value. The brands that reach the love it stage can command a premium, drive share  and establish leadership in the category.

Stage 4:  Managing the Perception:  As the market matures, any share point movements become difficult gain any traction on real quality so the shift moves to perceived quality.  Strategy shifts to brand personality where tone and manner in the execution are paramount so that Consumers connect with the brand and begin to see themselves in the brand. Brands push to become a Beloved Brand, where demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings and Consumers become outspoken fans.  The brand becomes powerful, with power over distribution because consumers would switch stores before they switch brands and power over competitors who are stuck trying to establish their own point of difference. Profits are at their highest–revenue, margins are both strong and spending is focused and efficient on maintaining the relationship.  While at the top of the mountain, with firm leadership in the category, the brand is always at risk of losing that leadership. Challenge yourself continuously the stay at the top. Avoid becoming complacent.

Ask Gap Clothing, Cadillac, IBM computers, Levis, Sony or Kodak who have each reached the Beloved Stage only to be replaced by new products and brands and moved back down the love curve towards Indifferent. Most recently, Blackberry.  Only 18 months ago, people jokingly used the term “crackberry” to describe their addictions.  No longer.

The four stages can easily be matched up to the Brand Love Curve and help establish strategic focus for the brand.  At the Invention stage, consumers remain indifferent until you build awareness and explain how your product solves a problem in my life. At the Differentiation stage, some like it, but you are now facing proliferation and attack forcing your brand to stake out a claim. At the experience stage, you need to become part of your consumers life and balance the emotional and rational benefits that can move you to the love it stage. And finally, you have to tightly manage the Perceptions to become that Beloved Brand for Life stage, it’s about connecting with consumers so they see themselves through your brand.  You need to establish your personality and begin to wield the power of being a Beloved Brand.

But be careful: very few brands remain at the top for very long.


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

Positioning 2016.112