Friday, January 17, 2020

The Eight Skills of a Marketing Rock Star

To be a "can do it all" marketer, one who is extremely valuable to an organization as an individual contributor but who can also rise through the ranks quickly to become a marketing "rock star," the person should possess these eight skills:

  1. Graphic design skills with Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign fluencies and a strong sense of aesthetics
  2. Strong copywriting skills, erring on the side of pithiness and impact
  3. Storytelling skills
  4. A working knowledge of Google Ads and Facebook Ads
  5. WordPress fluency
  6. A strong intuition about customer beliefs, values, attitudes, motivations and behaviors
  7. An understanding of how to design and interpret research to achieve deep customer insight
  8. "Out of the box" thinking ability
All other skills can be acquired over time.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Marketing Training & Marketer Competency

I had the good fortune to learn about most aspects of marketing through a fifteen year stint at Hallmark Cards. While there, I learned product development, new product development, advertising, promotion, marketing research, brand management, brand licensing, trade marketing, merchandising, category management, pricing strategy, distribution strategy, corporate communications, crisis management and global marketing. This hands-on learning far exceeded anything I learned in undergrad and grad school marketing courses.

P&G, Unilever, General Mills and other "houses of brands" teach classical marketing to their marketing professionals. Many marketing agencies are good training grounds for marketing techniques and there are a multitude of conferences and seminars that share marketing case studies and best practices. CRM and marketing automation software companies and social media websites have their own training videos and webinars. You can even find marketing training videos on YouTube. My company, BrandForward, Inc., has been hired by many Fortune 500 companies and marketing agencies to train their marketing staffs on different aspects of brand management and marketing.

Despite all of this, most marketers are thrown into smaller companies and startups, in which they are supposed to be the marketing experts without any hands-on marketing training. They are expected to be experts on everything from copywriting, graphic design, website design and marketing automation to brand identity creation, brand management, social media marketing and trade show booth design. This is just not realistic. It frustrates the hiring company and creates a negative perception of marketers and marketing. This could partially account for the high turnover in the marketing profession.

Looking back on my career, there are many more aspects to marketing than one might imagine. And each aspect has its own tools, techniques, rules of thumb and body of knowledge. Everything is becoming increasingly specialized. There are SEO experts, WordPress experts, CRM experts, data analytics experts, marketing automation experts, media buying experts, event planning experts, and the list could go on and on. In fact, each software platform requires its own expertise.

Given this, companies either need to have extensive marketing budgets to hire experts in each area or they need to support their marketing employees with as much marketing training as possible as often as possible. Unfortunately, the marketing field is changing rapidly and the knowledge and expertise to stay current is formidable. And business schools sometimes have professors who have never actually worked in the field of marketing and may be drawing on syllabi that were developed years and even decades earlier.

In summary, post university marketing training is essential to ensure that marketing professionals remain current and effective in their roles. And no matter how much training a marketer receives, it is not realistic that he or she is an expert in every aspect of marketing. So startups and smaller companies that are hiring one marketer to "do it all," especially on limited budgets, are likely to be disappointed.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Business Strategy Workshops

Over the years, my brand positioning workshops have evolved to something much broader. First, I added brand mission, vision and values workshops to the mix based on client requests. After that, I added pricing strategy workshops to the mix, again based on client requests. Eventually, these workshops evolved into full-blown business strategy workshops tailored for each organization and its strategic issues. The types of issues we address in the workshops include:

  • Determining the organization's highly motivating purpose
  • Identifying "category of one" branding opportunities
  • Developing a pricing strategy the produces increased revenues and profits
  • Developing a distribution strategy that best aligns with the brand while still maximizing revenues
  • Rethinking the brand's unique value proposition and the organization's culture after a merger or acquisition
  • Identifying additional revenue streams
  • Identifying passive revenue sources
  • Increasing the value of the organization to potential investors
  • Identifying strategic partnerships that can strengthen the brand's position and increase its revenues
  • Identifying business model options that will create barriers to entry for potential competitors
  • Identifying the fastest paths to reach scale and to achieve network effects
  • Identifying the optimal sequencing of activities for sustained business growth
  • Identifying add-on sales and other upselling opportunities
All of this is accomplished by using the appropriate tools and templates and through skilled group facilitation, insuring that everyone's ideas and concerns are thoughtfully considered. Most of these workshops involve the CEO and his or her staff. They sometimes also include key board members, depending on the type of organization.

I concentrated on business and marketing strategy while at Harvard Business School and throughout my career. My approach is informed by Michael Porter's competitive strategy model, W. Chan Kim's and Renee Mauborgne's Blue Ocean Strategy approach to creating uncontested market space, Peter Thiel's approach to creating successful startups, Adam Brandenburger's and Barry Nalebuff's concept of co-opetition, Thomas Nagle's and Reed Holden's approach to pricing strategy and tactics and Alexander Osterwalder's and Yves Pigneur's Business Model Generation approach to designing business models. 

To learn more about this business strategy facilitation process, email me at

To purchase Brand Aid, click here.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Thinking Like A Customer

In assessing marketing talent, there is one thing that sets hyper-successful marketers apart from everyone else - they can put themselves in their consumers' shoes and they do so all of the time. 

Designing a website? Who will use it? What are their needs? What will they be looking for? What will they notice first? What information do you want to convey to them? What do you want them to do? What language will they understand best? What is the optimal navigation path for them?

Writing copy for an email campaign? Who are you writing for? Where are they in the process of interacting with your brand? How do they feel about your brand? What do they need to know now? What will hold their attention? What do you want them to do? What next step do you want them to take?

Creating a television ad? To whom should this ad appeal? What state of mind will they be in when they are watching the ad? How familiar are they with your brand? How will you appeal to their values and their emotions? Do you know what their values are? How do you want them to respond to the ad? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do next?

Top marketers naturally think like this - not just once in awhile but all of the time. 

If you encounter a "marketer" who seldom considers the customer's perspective, don't hire him or her. If that person is a close friend, suggest that he or she might consider pursuing another career. This insight has to come naturally and it has to be active 24/7. 

I have encountered marketers who are good at graphic design or copywriting or social media but do not think in this way. At best they will be good tacticians if given enough direction. But they will never be great marketers. 

Do you want to be a great marketer? Think like your customers. Put yourself in their shoes.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Why Brands Can Seem More Scattered and Conflicted Than Humans

Humans can at times seem quite scattered or conflicted. Some can exhibit substantial mood swings. While others might seem to have multiple personalities. However, most of us are quite predictable day-to-day and over our lifetimes. 

While brands should strive for a similar level of consistency and predictability so as to seem trustworthy, often brands will have significant swings in values, behaviors and personalities. A radical example of this is Abercrombie & Fitch.

Abercrombie & Fitch was founded in 1892 as an upscale sporting goods store. In 1928 Fitch retired and sold the company to his brother-in-law James Cobb. Under Cobb, sporting guns, fishing tackle and polo, golf and tennis equipment were added to the mix. During the Great Depression, sales dropped precipitously. After that, the products were mostly sold in seasonal shops at resorts. The brand continued to struggle for years until it filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1976. Oshman's, a sporting goods retailer, purchased the brand for $1.5 million in 1978 and continued to operate it as a sporting goods store, trying different product mixes, but without success. The biggest change came in the years 1988 through 1999 when Limited Brands purchased the brand for $47 million and turned it into a trendy brand focused on teens, sex and pop culture. This was as big a pivot as ever has occurred for a brand. More changes have been made between 2000 and today and the brand has had its struggles. In 2006 CEO Mike Jeffries made a comment disparaging customers with body types not like those of Abercrombie & Fitch models. That comment came back to haunt the brand in 2013, when detractors launched the "Fitch the Homeless" Internet campaign. The campaign highlighted giving used Abercrombie & Fitch clothes to the homeless. With the advent of celebrating differences, including different body types, Abercrombie & Fitch continues to struggle with its product mix and brand positioning.

A second example of a highly schizophrenic brand personality is Volvo. In the late 1990s to mid-2000s, Volvo Car executives believed the brand position of the “ultimate safe car” for families was too limiting and began to extend the brand into the performance car segment
targeted at men. Results were disappointing. When Ford bought Volvo in 1999, it pushed the brand into the crowded luxury brand market. Ten years later, sales were down 20 percent from where they were when Ford first purchased the brand. Volvo Car Corporation was then acquired by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Under this new ownership, in August 2011, Volvo Car announced a new global brand strategy—”Designed Around You,” focusing on a position of human-centric luxury cars that are safe and dependable. In November 2013, Volvo Car Corporation announced a new brand strategy designed to revive the brand in the United States after a decade of declining demand. According to Automotive News, “The new focus is on ‘Scandinavian’ design, safety, environmental leadership, and ‘clever functionality’ reflected in state of the art—yet simple— infotainment systems.” 

Both of these examples demonstrate why brands can change quite a bit. The change is usually the result of poor positioning in the midst of changing market forces leading to new ownership (or at least new leadership) that then pursues a radically new brand position. Though sometimes brand change can occur associated with a leadership or ownership change without the pressure of a poor brand positioning. 

For your information, the image at the top of this post is of a vintage Abercrombie & Fitch Leather Rhino, circa 1970s. This item is not appropriate today and has no fit with the current brand. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Marketing Automation and the Human Factor

Today, much of a marketer's work is related to digital marketing and marketing automation. Considerations include choosing the right CRM, setting up automated sales funnels and drip email campaigns, linking online databases, making sure autoresponders are working properly, creating Google ad campaigns, feeding Facebook pages with the appropriate content, making sure the website is mobile optimized, setting up meta tags and other SEO, using Google analytics and setting up other data analytics. Much of this requires the evaluation of different software solutions and the linking of different software components and plug-ins.

All of this can be quite time consuming and distracting. But where is the human element in all of this? Does the customer get to develop a relationship with your company or brand? Is there an emotional connection? Is there a human being they can call upon? Do they really feel heard?

This is why television advertising still makes sense for many brands. And this is why front line customer service is so important. People want to interact with other humans, maybe not all people and maybe not all of the time, but certainly most people and at least some of the time. Admittedly, some people prefer the convenience of using ATMs over interacting with bank tellers. But others still prefer to interact with a person even if it means waiting in line in the bank's lobby.

Yes, we want everything to be scalable and we are enticed to replace people with automation. And organizations usually want to pay the customer facing service employees as little as possible because there are so many of them and the organizations want to maximize their profits.

But where does that leave our brands and us when emotional connection is largely removed from the process and the few points of human contact are overworked and underpaid (and often undertrained)?

The sole point of this post is to encourage marketers to not undervalue television advertising, videos, personal selling, technical support, customer service and other sources of personal interaction. While Walmart no longer does this, why do you think they employed store greeters for so many years? And guess what they replaced the greeters with? Higher paid "customer hosts" with more stringent hiring criteria and expanded responsibilities.

Again, do what you need to do with marketing automation but never forget about the human touch.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

After 35 Years in the Business, My Thoughts About Marketing

Following are my stream of consciousness thoughts about marketing.

  • People have beliefs, attitudes, values, hopes, anxieties and fears. Marketers must understand these to be successful.
  • In marketing, less is almost always more. This is true of copy and visuals. 
  • The actual customer experience is the most important driver of brand perceptions.
  • Building awareness is the most important marketing activity. Communicating relevant differentiation is the most important branding activity. 
  • People make purchase decisions based on emotions, not logic. Every marketer should understand this.
  • Brands should focus on their most compelling assets, especially if they are unique.
  • Humor and entertainment can be very powerful components of marketing communication. 
  • Shared values and "brand as a badge" (self-expressive vehicle) are the two most powerful sources of brand differentiation. 
  • Related to this, many brands succeed as status symbols.
  • Customer service is a very important part of a brand's success.
  • Know customers' primary sources of information and where they are most likely to shop.
  • To a very large degree, marketing is a combination of consumer psychology and common sense.
  • The sales function is critical to successful brands. Personal relationship-building matters.
  • Sales and marketing must work together seamlessly. 
  • Build a robust but flexible brand identity system. Colors matter. So do symbols and icons. 
  • Brands can often connect with people at a sub-conscious level. 
  • Where a brand is distributed (and where it is not distributed) says a lot about the brand. Make sure your brand's distribution is consistent with its positioning. 
  • Price can be an indicator of quality. Use reference prices to create desired price perceptions. 
  • Inconsistent execution can kill a brand in the long-run. Brands must be trustworthy. 
  • It has been my observation that successful marketers tend to be entrepreneurial, opportunistic and good at ideating. They are always looking for new approaches to marketing.
  • Never forget that marketing is about relating to people and their needs and desires.