Is Southwest Airlines Still a Great Brand?

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 Engine
(Reading Time: 5 minutes)

The last few weeks have been bad for Southwest Airlines.

So bad, in fact, that it’s fair to ask: Is Southwest still a great brand?  Let’s discuss the cases for and against.

The Case For: Southwest IS a Great Brand

There was a time, not so long ago, when I would use Southwest in my keynotes and seminars as a clear example of a great brand.

I would start by asking the audience to join me as I painted a picture of Major Airline Advertising.  This was easy to do, since Major Airline Advertising is both familiar and largely interchangeable.  It might go something like this: Continue reading “Is Southwest Airlines Still a Great Brand?”

J.K. Rowling Is a Hack

(Reading Time: < 1 minute)

J.K. Rowling is a hack.

I don’t believe that, but some people do.  Devotees of Hemingway think she uses too many adverbs, probably.  And some call her stories “derivative.”

J.K. Rowling Is a Hack
Hero to many, hack to a few. (Credit: JKRowling.com)

Many, many others love Rowling’s vividly imaginative worlds and the lessons of her stories.  More than a few people even have Harry Potter tattoos.  And, as Roy Peter Clark notes, Rowling’s gift for naming characters is virtually unparalleled. Continue reading “J.K. Rowling Is a Hack”

The Best Brands Use Feedback Loops Both Ways

Feedback Loops Matthew Fenton Chicago Brand Strategy
(Reading Time: 2 minutes)

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m an advocate of feedback loops.

There are dozens of ways that you can (and should) use feedback loops to better understand your consumers.  These include advisory panels, ethnography, surveys and so on.

But too often, we brand leaders forget that we’re an active part of these feedback loops.  We need to send signals as well as receive them.  And we can build stronger bonds by signaling the right things to the people we serve. Continue reading “The Best Brands Use Feedback Loops Both Ways”

Six Important Questions for This Year’s Super Bowl Advertisers

M&Ms Super Bowl Advertisers
(Reading Time: 7 minutes)

Quick show of hands: Do you have a marketing budget of five million dollars?

And if you did, how would you feel about spending it in 30 seconds?  Because that’s exactly what last night’s Super Bowl advertisers did.  Repeatedly.

That’s nearly $167,000 per second – more than most Americans earn in an entire year.

So I trust you’ll forgive me if I approach the Super Bowl ads, and the surrounding fanfare, with a healthy degree of scrutiny.  I’m a brand guy – always have been – but I also know this:  If it doesn’t sell, it’s bad branding.

And, based on history, most of last night’s ads did not sell. Continue reading “Six Important Questions for This Year’s Super Bowl Advertisers”

Here’s How One Business Quadrupled Its Sales in a Flat Market

Matthew Fenton Chicago Brand Strategy
(Reading Time: 6 minutes)

For many leaders of smaller businesses, sustainable growth can be difficult to conjure up.  If that sounds like you, I’d like to introduce you to a company that should give you hope.

Consider these results:

  • This company has averaged 19% compounded annual growth over the last 8 years, with annual growth never less than 6% during this period.
  • This company doubled sales in one five-year period, and nearly quadrupled sales in eight years.
  • Notably, this growth was earned in a mature market that can be challenging to sell to.

And they did it without relying on any “secrets,” gimmicks or silver bullets.

Intrigued?  Let’s get to know them a little better.

Continue reading “Here’s How One Business Quadrupled Its Sales in a Flat Market”

“This Is a Skyscraper,” and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves


(Reading Time: 2 minutes)There’s a terrific scene in the movie “Big,” in which Paul, the rival of Tom Hanks’ Josh, shares his silver-bullet idea for the upcoming year.

In the spirit of toys that transform, it’s a robot that turns into a… building.

Matthew Fenton Chicago Brand Strategy
“This is a skyscraper!” – the incomparable John Heard

“I don’t get it,” Josh famously says.  “There’s a million robots that turn into something.  This is a building that turns into a robot.  What’s fun about playing with a building?  That’s not any fun!”

“This is a skyscraper!” Paul insists. Continue reading ““This Is a Skyscraper,” and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves”

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

Nordstrom Macy's Brand Differentiation
(Reading Time: 5 minutes)

“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?”

The 16 Best Books I Read in 2017

Matthew Fenton Best Books I Read in 2017


(Reading Time: 6 minutes)2017 was a good year for reading things.  I completed 49 books, a personal best, and I may be able to squeak one more in before year-end.

For this, I must thank the Kindle, and the in-laws who gifted me with it last Xmas.  For years, I had resisted this modern convenience on sketchy grounds: I like to highlight my books!  And write in their margins!  And dog-ear their pages!  But the Kindle allows me to do an electronic version of all those things.  And what it lacks in tactile satisfaction, it more than makes up for in storage and portability.  It’s a well-traveled Kindle.

Here’s how I compiled this list for you: Continue reading “The 16 Best Books I Read in 2017”

Why Is Brand Awareness Such a Weak Objective?

Brand Awareness Martin Shkreli
(Reading Time: 4 minutes)

At some point in the history of marketing and sales, the “purchase funnel” was created.

At the top of every funnel is the first step – awareness.  We then proceed down the funnel to consideration, evaluation and purchase (though the exact steps vary from model to model).

Brand Awareness Purchase Funnel
One of several versions of the “purchase funnel.”

And so some marketers began to believe that brand awareness was a reasonable objective of their efforts.  How can we stuff consumers into our imaginary funnel if we don’t start with awareness?

Continue reading “Why Is Brand Awareness Such a Weak Objective?”

Be Selective (To Do More With Less)

Be selective to do more with less


(Reading Time: 2 minutes)Be selective.

This is not a suggestion or an empty mantra.  It’s one of the very few brand-building imperatives I’ll propose to you.

As a leader of a challenger brand, you’re starting from behind, and with fewer resources than your competitors.  And limited resources must be focused if they are to have maximum impact.

Here are five important ways you can be selective: Continue reading “Be Selective (To Do More With Less)”