In a Crowded Market, How Do I Create Brand Differentiation?

Nordstrom Macy's Brand Differentiation

“We’re in a crowded market.  We have no meaningful advantage, and if we did, someone would copy it by next Tuesday.  So how do we create brand differentiation?”

This question, or some version of it, is one I’ve been asked most often in my 20 years of brand strategy consulting.

The good news: There’s always an answer, and I’ll point you to several areas of exploration.  The bad news: It won’t be easy. Continue reading “In a Crowded Market, How Do I Create Brand Differentiation?”

Super Bowl 50: 7 Lessons for Challenger Brands

Super Bowl Ads Challenger Brands

About five million dollars. That’s the cost for one of this year’s 30-second Super Bowl ads.

For most of us who lead challenger brands, that kind of outlay simply isn’t in the realm of possibility. As underdogs, we’re used to doing more with less.

The Super Bowl – and, in particular, the hype surrounding its ads – is perhaps the greatest example in business of flawed thinking on a grand scale. Though attention is heightened during the big game, viewers are primarily looking to be entertained. (This is how we get a Bud Light ad with “caucus” jokes. Oof, you are so ribald!)

Of course, ads that entertain don’t necessarily sell. And challenger brands know that it’s all about selling.

So let’s talk about what the rest of us can learn from this year’s Super Bowl ads. Continue reading “Super Bowl 50: 7 Lessons for Challenger Brands”

The Most Important Strategic Question You Can Ask

Most Important Strategic Question

We’ve all seen them: The pipe dreams that are presented as “strategic plans.” Plans that seem to have no tether to reality. Plans that nobody believes in (but that somehow get approved).

There are many reasons such unrealistic plans survive. The organization may encourage activity, not results. Leadership may not be grounded in the planning process, and are thus unable to guide it. Politics may replace objectivity. And so on.

No matter the roots of the issue, I’ve found that one question is particularly useful in making a huge leap toward strategy that truly works.

That question is four short words: Continue reading “The Most Important Strategic Question You Can Ask”

“The Perfect Beer for (Insert Anything Here)”: Bud Light and Empty Claims

to thisWhile visiting Northeastern Ohio over the holidays, I came across cans of Bud Light that were customized in Cleveland Browns colors. The cans featured the following slogan:

“The Perfect Beer for Being Dawg Pound Proud”

Bud Light loves the Browns!
Bud Light loves the Browns!

(For those that may not know, the Dawg Pound is the nickname for the bleacher seats behind the east end zone of FirstEnergy Stadium, where the most fervent Browns fans congregate.)

My first reaction to this slogan was that it couldn’t have been written by anyone familiar with the team. I’ve been a Browns fan all my life, and “proud” is not a word we’re using these days. “Justifiably outraged” is more like it; the Browns have just one winning season in the last 13, and have lost 18 of their last 21 games.

My second reaction was: Continue reading ““The Perfect Beer for (Insert Anything Here)”: Bud Light and Empty Claims”

Selling the C-Suite: The “Four Knows”

In a prior post, Why You Can’t Sell the C-Suite, I shared my experience of being a sales target during my recent tenure as a CMO. The quick summary: I received over twenty-five unsolicited contacts per week – over one thousand in a year. Of these, about 98% didn’t work. Today, I want to discuss the approaches that did work.

Selling the C Suite Winning LosingI need to first make clear, in boldface: I am not a sales expert. My intent here is to offer some perspective from “the other side of the desk,” based on my own experience and that of other executives with whom I’ve discussed this topic. I expect that readers will have additional insights to share, and I invite you to do so in a comment below.

Let’s start by reviewing, as we apparently must, the table-stakes: Continue reading “Selling the C-Suite: The “Four Knows””

Personal Trainers, Walmart and Differentiation

Walmart Target Logos Differentiation

At the gym I frequent, there’s a personal trainer I don’t think very highly of.  Let’s call him Duff.

My issue with Duff is that he doesn’t push his clients to work out very hard.  In fact, I’ve never seen one sweat.  Instead, it’s more like Social Hour. Sometimes, Duff and his client are chatting it up during an exercise, which suggests a pretty low level of exertion.  I wish his clients would stop wasting their time and money, and I want Duff to do better training on their behalf.

On a seemingly unrelated note, yesterday I visited a Walmart in Chicago’s west suburbs.  At this store, merchandising took a back seat to other priorities; “cluttered” is a fair term to use.

Continue reading “Personal Trainers, Walmart and Differentiation”

Are You Herding or Standing Apart?

It’s late June here in Chicago, and that means at least three things:

  • We just stopped playing professional hockey last night.  (Congratulations, Blackhawks!)
  • Bar and restaurant patios are full even in the middle of the afternoon, one of dozens of reasons to love this city.
  • The “vests” are out in full force.
“Can I just get a minute of your time?” Uh, no.

In case this phenomenon is not happening in your burg, the “vests” are workers who occupy street corners and solicit donations for charity. They wear colored vests representing their causes – Children’s International, Greenpeace or whatnot. Sometimes they’re also called “chuggers,” short for “charity muggers.”

Continue reading “Are You Herding or Standing Apart?”

Heavy-Ass Weights & Brand Building Blocks

I recently came across a quote from 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman that made me think about brand building blocks. The guy’s undeniably got a way with words:

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder.  But nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights.”

Heed this man’s lessons or he’ll bench-press you into next week.

When I present to or train brand leaders, I’ll often ask them what they hope to achieve with their branding efforts.  Almost always, I’ll hear some variation of the following:

Continue reading “Heavy-Ass Weights & Brand Building Blocks”