Monday, May 11, 2020

Brands, Ethics and Authenticity

I have written a lot about how brands can tap into deep attitudes, values, hopes, fears and other emotions to sell their products and services. Compared to selling attributes, features or functional benefits, this works extraordinarily well. Having said that, far too many brands have as their foundations these deep emotional promises, promises that are hollow because the brands' products and services don't actually deliver what is promised except in the mind. I have come to realize how unethical this is. Yes, it is very powerful to sell dreams, but what if the dreams are false dreams?

I will use one example to drive this point home - Marlboro. Marlboro has a 40% share of the tobacco market, far more than twice the share of the next brand, Newport. It has been an extraordinarily successful brand. What does Marlboro sell? Rugged freedom. Independence. Self-sufficiency. Adventure. The Wild West. The simpler times of a black and white world where right is right and wrong is wrong. What does it deliver? Addiction to a substance that causes cancer and death. Does this aid in real freedom? Yes, one is free to be as self destructive as he or she wants to be in a free society, but is this the type of freedom the brand purchaser is really seeking?

As marketers, if we have consciences, we must check our urges to create "knock it out of the park" marketing campaigns if those campaigns deliver on powerful but hollow claims, especially if our brands' products are harmful to one's health or society as a whole. We must be better than that. It may be more difficult to develop equally compelling campaigns that are ethical and authentic, but ultimately, we will have not harmed anyone. That will help us sleep better at night. And it will help make the world a better, not worse, place.

Here are some related blog posts:

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Discover Your Truth, Live Your Truth - Personal Branding

You are invited to a comprehensive series of workshops on personal assessment and life management including: 
* Discovering personal patterns of motivation and enervation
* Thinking deeply about what you believe
* Better understanding your personal style and your strengths and weaknesses
* Creating a personal credo
* Crafting a personal elevator speech
* Drafting a life plan
* Creating an authentic brand for yourself

The first introductory session was held on Thursday, May 14 from 12 noon until 1 PM Eastern Time.

Here is a link to that session on SlideShare: Discover Your Truth, Live Your Truth

Here is the registration link for the next six webinar sessions: Full Workshop Registration

Monday, April 13, 2020

Virtual Brand Positioning Workshop

You may know that BrandForward has conducted more than 150 successful brand positioning workshops for some of the top brands in the world. These workshops were designed to achieve leadership team consensus around emotionally compelling unique value propositions for those brands. Today, in the COVID-19 environment, it is more important than ever to craft a brand that is unique and that has strong emotional appeal. That is why we have modified our process to conduct virtual brand positioning workshops.

We can begin with the same brand audits, customer research and brand equity measurement. We will also inform the workshop by stakeholder input gathered by a simple pre-workshop survey. The only difference is that the workshop itself will be conducted virtually via online conferencing technology.

In the workshop, we will define the primary, secondary and tertiary target markets with great precision. After that, we will define the brand's essence and craft its promise. We will also identify the brand's archetype and its personality. This will lead to a brand positioning statement that includes the brand's unique value proposition. And the workshop participants will have a chance to review research findings, argue assumptions, debate approaches and tweak the exact wording.

All of this will lead to a brand position that is unique and highly compelling to its target customers.

The best part is that this can be accomplished not in months but in days or a few weeks at most.

For more information, contact Brad VanAuken at

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Brand Building During COVID-19

What can brands do when people are stuck in their houses and not able to eat out, shop at local shopping centers, go to concerts or do anything else that is not connected to "sheltering in place" and home delivery? And what can brands do when people are laid off, have lost some or all of their income and are watching their retirement nest eggs diminish rapidly as the stock market crashes?

Some industries are more likely to thrive in this environment. Consider Zoom, Purell, Clorox and But most will struggle, especially as people try to cut back on nonessential household expenses.

Here is what brands can do. Innovate. Restaurants are offering take-out services, sometimes with items that were never featured on their menus. Universities, of necessity, are delivering their courses online. Medical doctors are delivering some of their services via telemedicine. Orchestras are delivering online concerts. Public art galleries are posting virtual galleries online. A friend of mine who loves to cook has started a soup brand and delivery service.

Arts organizations and other not-for-profit organizations are doing what I would recommend that all brands do - offering free content, advice and interactive online experiences to maintain ongoing relationships and to create goodwill with their members and patrons. As a member of Writers & Books board, I have been asked to read and record some of my favorite poems and passages from literature to be delivered to our members for their edification and pleasure. Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has created, a website for sharing at-home family activities. The website is open to all families whether they are involved in BSA or not.

Some organizations' free YouTube videos have gone viral. Have you seen or listened to any of these in your Facebook feed? South African Roedean School's rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah?" Berklee College of Music Students' rendition of "Love Sweet Love?" Or virtual tours of these art galleries - National Gallery in London, Guggenheim Museum in New York, National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, Musée d' Orsay in Paris or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam?

Now is the time to edify, entertain and engage your customers and potential customers online in the comfort of their homes. They are bored. They are anxious. They are scared. They are feeling claustrophobic. They have cabin fever. Help them out. Stay in frequent contact. Keep your brand top of mind.  Build a greater emotional connection with your customers. Show them what you can do. Show them the best that you offer. Be real. Be empathetic. Give them a reason to feel tremendous gratitude toward your brand.

Now is not the time to go dark. Now is the time to engage with social media, email, webinars, YouTube videos and the like.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Marketing's Revolving Door

You may have experienced marketing's revolving door as a marketer, as an HR professional or as a business manager. The median tenure of a chief marketing officer is 27.5 months but some organizations are replacing marketing people at all levels as frequently as annually. Obviously, this is not ideal.

One could surmise that one or more of the following might be the problem:

  • The quality of candidates in the marketing pool
  • Flawed candidate screening and selection, including hiring for the wrong skill sets
  • The increasing complexity of the marketing role, especially the CMO role
  • The rapidly changing nature of the marketing role, especially with the emergence of big data, marketing automation and digital marketing
  • The increasing dominance of small businesses in the job market. They are less able to pay top dollar for top marketing talent. They are also less able to pay for ongoing training. And some marketing departments are so lean that there is only one person in the department, leaving no room for on-the-job learning from more experienced marketers. 
  • The continued inability to measure the ROI of many marketing activities
  • Inadequate marketing budgets
  • The organization's culture is sales, operations or finance-driven and does not value marketing as a function
  • The wrong organization design or structure
There may be other problems too. If the company has inferior products, services, business model or value proposition, skilled marketing can only go so far in driving increased revenues. 

If you are a staffing professional, hiring manager or company executive and if you have been unhappy with your marketing hires, I would encourage you to assess and rectify root causes for this problem before you hire your next marketing professional. 

Revolving doors are costly to organizations and their employees. Please try to understand why your marketing personnel choices are not working out before you hire your next marketer.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Need-Based Marketing

When you stop to think about it, isn't all marketing need-based marketing, especially if you include desires under the umbrella of needs? After all, desires are psychological needs, whether what a person desires is ultimately good for him or her or not. So what do people need?

  • More time
  • More money
  • More respect
  • More self-respect
  • More attention
  • More social status
  • More intellectual stimulation
  • More laughs
  • More affection
  • More intimacy
  • More comfort
  • More passion
  • More pleasant surprises
  • More pampering
  • More sex
  • More beauty
  • More safety
  • Less anxiety
  • Less fear
  • Less chaos
  • Less uncertainty
  • Sometimes less drama
  • Sometimes more drama
  • Sometimes more excitement
  • Sometimes less excitement
  • More cravings
  • Fewer cravings
  • More peace of mind
  • Better health
  • Better fitness
  • Better body image
  • Richer sensory experience

And the list could go on and on. Here are some other blog posts that I have written regarding marketing and human needs:

When you are designing products and product features, when you are positioning a brand, when you are communicating a brand's unique value proposition and when you are crafting marketing messaging you must keep in mind what needs and desires your products and brands are primarily addressing. If you do not understand this and can not communicate this, you are less than a fully competent marketer. 

For further reading on this topic, purchase Brand Aid here.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Cost-Effective Marketing

Marketing departments are seldom given enough money to accomplish what they feel they should accomplish on behalf of their brands. And marketing budgets are some of the first to be cut when organizational belt-tightening is required. So what is a marketing professional to do?

Here are some of the approaches I recommend to market brands on the cheap:

  • Strong media relations, especially with the most trusted industry publications
  • Generating publicity
  • Including well thought-through publicity stunts
  • Doing something outrageous or unexpected, something that will create a buzz
  • Holding contests
  • Creating a board of advisors
  • Creating new product preview events for your best customers and top prospects
  • Offering webinars on topics related to your brand's expertise
  • Authoring a blog
  • Writing a book
  • White papers to establish thought leadership
  • Speaking at meetings, conferences and trade shows
  • Establishing a customer referral program
  • Interacting with customers and potential customers on social media sites
  • Conducting surveys to identify prospects and build awareness for your brand
  • Creating customer clubs and meetups
  • Email newsletters with viral components
  • Automated, personalized email campaigns
  • Podcasts
  • YouTube channel
  • Influencer marketing
  • Supporting industry analysts
  • Building strong relationships with the industry's most trusted consultants
  • Business partner referrals
  • Strategic partnerships
  • Co-marketing with other non-competing brands
  • Using other people's money
  • Using LinkedIn to identify leads
  • Always suggesting that people share your content with others and providing them an easy way to do so
  • Including providing ways for people to share your content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and other popular websites
  • Always including strong branding, links and contact information on email signatures

Answers to the Luxury Brand's blog post quiz on Wednesday, February 12: 

1 - 3 (Opus)
2 - 4 (Phineas Auden)
3 - 2 (Briggs & Stratton M550)
4 - 3 (Janus CRX 507)
5 - 3 (Oliver Silas)
6 - 4 (Jasper Dashiells)
7 - 4 (Errazuriz Chardonnay Max Reserva Aconcagua Costa)
8 - 1 (Seraphina)
9 - 1 (Samuel Hutchins)
10 - 2 (Ascona)
11 - 1 (McPearson Z500)
12 - 2 (Spellman)
13 - 3 (Xanadu)
14 - 1 (Yacht Club de Cuomo)
15 - 3 (Basel International)
16 - 1 (The Crypt)
17 - 3 (Delatour)
18 - 3 (Lake Bord)

Brand Aid: A Quick Reference Guide to Solving Your Branding Problems and Strengthening Your Market Position sold here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Most Popular Posts by Year

These are the 77 most popular Branding Strategy Source blog posts by year:


Luxury Brands Quiz

Just for fun, I have created a luxury brands quiz to test your knowledge of luxury brands.

1. Which of these is not a superyacht builder?
  1. Lürssen
  2. Vard
  3. Opus
  4. Cantiere della Marche
2. Which of these is not a tailored clothing brand?
  1. Gieves & Hawkes
  2. Huntsman
  3. Richard James
  4. Phineas Auden
3. Which of these is not a jet brand?
  1. Dassault Falcon 7x
  2. Briggs & Stratton M550
  3. Embraer EMB190 BJ Lineage 1000
  4. Bomardier Global 7500
4. Which of these is not a helicopter brand?
  1. Leonardo AW169
  2. Bell 505 Jet Ranger
  3. Janus CRX 507
  4. Airbus ACH145
5. Which of these is not a luxury watch brand?
  1. Patek Philippe
  2. Richard Mille
  3. Oliver Silas
  4. Chopard
6. Which of these is not a luxury furniture manufacture?
  1. Giorgetti
  2. Boca do Lobo
  3. Fendi Casa
  4. Jasper Dashiells
7. Which of these is not a fine wine?
  1. Château Pichon Longueville Lalande Pauillac
  2. Rotem & Mounir Saouma Châteauneuf-du-Pape Omnia
  3. Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien
  4. Errazuriz Chardonnay Max Reserva Aconcagua Costa
8. Which of these is not a luxury hotel brand?
  1. Seraphina
  2. Soneva
  3. Aman
  4. Rosewood
9. Which of these is not a famous glass artist?
  1. Samuel Hutchins
  2. Winnie Teschmacher
  3. Pavel Novak
  4. Robert Dane
10. Which of these is not a world class ski resort?
  1. Courchevel
  2. Ascona
  3. Zermatt
  4. Aspen Snowmass
11. Which of these is not a luxury automobile?
  1. McPearson Z500
  2. Lamborghini Sesto Elemento
  3. Pagani Huayra BC
  4. Bugatti Divo 
12. Which of these is not a high-end loudspeaker brand?
  1. Klipsch
  2. Spellman
  3. KEF
  4. Moon Audio
13. Which of these is not an exclusive enclave for the rich and famous?
  1. Hvar
  2. Ibiza
  3. Xanadu
  4. The Maldives
14. Which of these is not an exclusive yacht club?
  1. Yacht Club de Cuomo
  2. Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club
  3. Yacht Club Costa Smeralda
  4. Yacht Club de Monaco
15 .Which of these is not an elite equestrian event?
  1. Palm Beach Masters Series
  2. Vejer de la Frontera
  3. Basel International
  4. Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event
16. Which of these is not an exclusive college club?
  1. The Crypt
  2. Porcellian
  3. The Fly
  4. Skull & Bones
17. Which of these is not a jewelry brand?
  1. Chopard
  2. Graff
  3. Delatour
  4. Van Cleef & Arpels
18. Which of these is not a destination travel lake?
  1. Lake Titicaca
  2. Plitvice Lakes
  3. Lake Bord
  4. Lake Como
I will provide the answers to this quiz in my next bog post.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Retain Customers by Building Community


While some may think that an annual customer retention rate of 80% is good, that means you loose one out of every five customers each year. Theoretically, this translates to 100% turnover every five years. And, as most business owners know, it is much more cost effective to retain a current customer than to acquire a new customer.

There are many approaches to retaining customers. Frequency programs purport to do so as do other customer loyalty programs. CRM systems are supposed to help with this. Some companies try to lock customers in through multi-year contracts and automatic rebilling. But the best approach to customer retention is community building because community building creates emotional connection and stickiness. People stay with the brand because it has created a community for them.

Think about how powerful coffee klatches, book clubs and bridge groups are. Imagine if you could create that type of community with your brand's customers.

So, what are some community building techniques?

  • Producing user conferences.
  • Creating customer advisory boards and customer steering committees. 
  • Engaging customers through Facebook pages and other social media platforms.
  • Holding customer meet-ups.
  • Creating local brand-focused customer clubs.
  • Creating physical spaces where customers can interact.
  • Holding customer holiday parties and appreciation events.
  • Recruiting panels of customers to beta test your new products.

Hallmark sponsors local Hallmark ornament collectors' clubs. Tesla Owners Clubs hold frequent owner meetups. Many wealth management firms hold holiday parties for their clients. Orvis offers free fly tying and casting clinics for its customers. Robert Graham offers exclusive closed door events for people who achieve Master Collector status within their Collector's Club. Most colleges and universities invite their graduates back to reunions every five years. Large churches create small groups focused on different interests to retain parishioners. Patagonia supports grassroots groups working to find solutions to the environmental crisis. Eastern Mountain Sports encourages people to share their outdoor photographs on Instagram with #goEast. SONY's Playstation has create an online space for gamers to connect. Harley Owner's Group (HOG) has more than one million members and holds HOG Rallies around the world. P&G created "Being Girl" as a resource for teenager girls to connect and find answers to the difficult questions that growing up entails. Lululemon's brand community offers free yoga classes, festivals and events and even an experiential store in Chicago featuring fitness studios and a juice bar.

If you want to retain more customers, identify and implement ways to create community among those customers. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Core Human Needs and Marketing

Psychologists have long hypothesized, studied and tested what they believe to be the core human needs. While most psychologists highlight six basic needs, many also include a seventh need. Here are the seven needs:

  1. Certainty/Safety/Comfort/Control/Security
  2. Love/Affection/Physical and Emotional Connection
  3. Significance/Respect/Uniqueness/Feeling Special
  4. Competence/Mastery
  5. Contribution/Making a Difference
  6. Variety/Experience/Stimulation/Novelty/Satisfying Curiosity
  7. Independence/Freedom/Autonomy
Most people experience deficiencies in meeting one or more of these needs on a regular basis. Knowing this, marketers can target their brands' unique value propositions and marketing messages to address these needs.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. As a marketer, consider your role to be that of delivering Kintsugi to your brand's customers, that is to help them to fill their perceived deficiencies or brokenness with your brand's "gold."

As an exercise, try to identify at least one brand that focuses on each of these core human needs.

As an example, here is my list:

  1. Certainty/Safety/Comfort/Control/Security - National Car Rental
  2. Love/Affection/Physical and Emotional Connection - Hallmark
  3. Significance/Respect/Uniqueness/Feeling Special - MINI Cooper
  4. Competence/Mastery - Footjoy
  5. Contribution/Making a Difference - Patagonia
  6. Variety/Experience/Stimulation/Novelty/Satisfying Curiosity - Dr. Pepper
  7. Independence/Freedom/Autonomy - Marlboro
These needs are fundamental and very powerful. Consider how your brand can promise the fulfillment of one or more of these needs. 

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.