Friday, December 30, 2022

Why Customer Touch Points Matter

When people think about brands and brand management, they usually think about one of these things: brand positioning, brand strategy, brand identity and brand marketing. But they should also think about customer touch point design and execution. This is often driven by processes, systems (human and computer), organization design, front line employees (including customer service and tech support), hiring criteria, training, metrics, reward systems and other HR, operations and IT functions.

Consider the impact of each of the following scenarios on how you might perceive the brand:

  • Someone in a branded vehicle cuts you off in traffic and gives you the middle finger.
  • You call a customer service line and are asked to punch an endless set of digits only to find that there is no option for what you are seeking.
  • You call a customer service line and are put on hold for over 20 minutes only to have the call dropped so that you have to start all over again.
  • You interact with a tech support person who knows less than you do about fixing a problem you are encountering.
  • You complain at the front desk of your hotel about a problem in your room but no one ever shows up to fix it or to compensate you for your inconvenience.
  • (This one actually happened to me this year.) You sit on a chair in the hotel. As you get up a small nail sticking out of the seat tears your brand new dress slacks and cuts your leg. You inform the hotel staff but they do nothing about it. You move the chair away so no one else encounters the same problem but they put it back again...repeatedly.
  • You find rodent hairs in your soup.
  • Your online reservation is lost when you arrive at the hotel. They tell you that there are no available rooms except for the presidential suite, which is $600 a night.
  • When you reach a customer service representative, she informs you that she does not have the proper authorization to fix your problem. 
  • You receive a defective product via FedEx or UPS. When you reach the company's customer service person, he doesn't give you a pre-paid return address label to send the defective product back. Instead, he gives you the address to which you need to ship the defective product at your expense.
  • You enter a cafe's restroom only to discover filthy toilets, sinks and floors. You are afraid to touch anything, especially the toilet seat.
  • You are served partially frozen food at a restaurant. The food was supposed to be hot. Your waitress has disappeared. You can't find a waiter or waitress to whom you can complain. 
  • Or, we are in the mist of this, Southwest Airlines has cancelled your flight and the flights of most everyone else because of a systems problem. You can't get back home. You are furious and they can't seem to solve the problem.
While brand marketers can say all they want about the brand through advertising, social media, mobile marketing, etc., this is not going to overcome poor or inconsistent quality or service, which are mostly caused by HR, operations and IT issues. The brand manager needs to work closely with these functions to ensure that the brand is consistently delivering on its promise and creating positive emotional connections with its customers. And this alignment needs to be driven and supported at the highest levels of the organization.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Hiring Marketing Professionals

I recently helped a not-for-profit organization hire a new marketing director. That position's responsibilities span many marketing sub-disciplines. The skill sets we were seeking were extensive - corporate communications, PR, crisis management, blog and newsletter content creation, graphic design, videography, marketing plan development and execution, marketing research, brand management, collateral material development, social media marketing, CRM, marketing automation, guerrilla marketing, etc. That person would become a marketing department of one person, with the ability to craft winning marketing strategies while also executing all of the supporting tactics. He or she would work with outside marketing agencies, influence other staff members, work with volunteers and insure that the sales force was following through with leads. 

A large number of people applied for the job and we interviewed a smaller number of them. As an experienced marketer I was both surprised and not surprised with our selection. There were number of candidates with MBAs. We did not hire any of them. There were candidates with bachelors degrees in marketing, communications, journalism, and graphic design. We did not hire any of them. Most people had worked with the Adobe suite of graphic design software, CRM platforms, marketing automation software, Facebook advertising, Google Analytics, SEO, etc. We also bypassed several people with the most extensive of these skills. 

Who did we hire? We hired a person with an associates degree in business administration who started out as a wine buyer and store manager. Why did we hire him? Well, he did attend Google Analytics Academy. He has used the Adobe suite of software products and created and edited very successful videos. He has conducted marketing research. And he has managed press releases and public announcements. He created a very successful viral marketing campaign. He has also developed and executed comprehensive marketing plans. But this is not why we hired him.

Here is why we hired him. He has great interpersonal skills. He is very good at building rapport fast. He has a lot of common sense. He is an out-of-the-box thinker. He isn't afraid to try something new. He has an intuitive sense of customer needs and behaviors. He is curious and a lifelong learner. He is self-taught in all the of the marketing skills he has acquired. He watches YouTube "how to" videos and listens to marketing skills development podcasts. His first inclination is to create inexpensive media attracting events and other low- or no-cost marketing tactics. He is curious and wants to continuously grow professionally. He is honest. He tells you when he doesn't know something. He has a strong work ethic. And he was very concerned about not letting his current employer down during his job transition. The bottom line? He is a natural marketer. He has a great emotional intelligence. He is humble. And he is constantly growing professionally. I am convinced that he will pick up what he needs to know as time goes on.

So, why have I written this piece? I have learned over time that it is better to hire for personality and character than for specific skill sets. We can teach skills. We can't as easily change personality, character and the capacity for thinking and continuous learning. And some people are out-of-the-box thinkers, while many are not.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Positioning Product Brands

When entrepreneurs or organizations start out with a product seeking a market versus the other way around, they need to think carefully about which market or markets their product (and brand) would be most wise to serve. 


This involves target market identification, product category selection and unique value proposition determination.


I will use a real-life example with which one of my client companies is now wrestling. This company has created a very tasty parmesan cheese substitute that has no dairy component. It is in a ground up form that can be added to food from a shaker. The product includes many healthy ingredients and no artificial or harmful ingredients. It is a very good product. But the question is, "What are the most advantageous markets for the product?"


To determine this, we must consider the customer segments, potential product uses, market sizes, market growth rates, market profit margins, and the competition by market. Once these are used to identify the most advantageous market segments, then the appropriate product category or categories must be selected and the unique value proposition must be crafted to fit the chosen category or categories. 


Going back to the parmesan cheese substitute, it could be added to pasta, used to flavor popcorn, shaken on top of grilled steaks or seafood, added to soups, stews or salads, added to quiche, added to fondue or eaten with a spoon as a snack. Which are the most likely uses for each potential market segment? Which uses provide the largest markets? For which uses are the largest quantities consumed? Which uses have less competition? Which uses would make the most intuitive sense to people? Which uses would be the most compelling?


What do the targeted markets and the intended uses imply about the product category? Is the product a healthy parmesan cheese substitute, a non-dairy parmesan substitute, a cheese-flavored seasoning, a condiment, a healthy food additive, a flavor enhancer or something else?


Each of these product category descriptions might appeal to different target markets. For instance, a non-dairy parmesan substitute would primarily appeal to vegans and people who are lactose intolerant. How big are these two markets?


One must also consider who cooks, what types of meals they prepare, how often they prepare different types of meals, how much the snack, what types of snacks they consume and what flavors their palates prefer. 


In the case of this product, one must also consider whether it is to be positioned as a variation on a traditional ingredient in classical cuisine or as an ingredient associated with nouvelle cuisine.


Once the target markets, product categories and product uses are determined, one must also consider the competition in arriving at a highly compelling unique value proposition (UVP). What will make this product and brand stand out within its intended product category?


Also, one might think through whether the product or brand might best be associated with comfort, nostalgia, family, friends, experimentation, excitement or something else.


I hope this helps you to see that product uses, product category definitions, target markets and market segments and unique value propositions need to work together to create more focused, integrated and effective brand and marketing strategies. These are all components of a brand's positioning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

New Product Development - Corporations versus Startups

It is interesting to compare and contrast how we approached new product development within Hallmark's Product Discovery & Development division versus how startups that I coach through RIT's Venture Creations business incubator do it.

Hallmark is a large corporate entity that is marketing-driven, but also risk adverse. While the startups that I coach are created by entrepreneurs who are willing to risk much to see their startups succeed. Most of these entrepreneurs have technical backgrounds, but little to no understanding of marketing including marketing research.

Given Hallmark's high profitability hurdles, risk aversion, and large marketing research department, we often succumbed to analysis paralysis. 

At Hallmark, we would explore trends through our resident environmental scanning manager, who would report a new societal trend in depth each month. We would also hold new product ideation sessions for each market or trend that we identified as "high potential." We conducted more than one hundred focus groups a year to explore different potential markets. When one of our new business strategists came up with an idea, we would have that person develop a concept statement and later an "ad-form" concept statement (including a visual), which we tested against a normative database (ConScreen was one of them) to determine market need and gap and to project potential sales volume. Each concept needed to explain the product concept including its primary benefit or benefits simply and without any modifying superlatives. 

After the concept testing, we would often refine the concept, and if it seemed that it had enough potential, we might conduct a few more focus groups to refine it even further and then test its marketplace need and gap again against a normative database.

The Hallmark new product development process is based on the concept of a screening funnel with most new product concepts dropping out at some phase of the evaluation process. We often developed product prototypes. We sometimes performed attitude and usage (A&U) studies to size a new market and determine its sales potential for a specific category of products. We used conjoint analysis to refine product functions and features. Sometimes we would conduct market segmentation analysis. And sometimes we would test product package designs.

The final step in the funnel process for the successful product concepts that had made it that far was a full-blown market test in which the product was developed and tested in a test market. A component of those tests was testing different marketing approaches for the product to determine which might work best for the full product launch.

Now I want to contrast Hallmark's approach to new product development to that of our mostly younger entrepreneurs. We have to work hard to get those entrepreneurs to develop unique value propositions for their products. And we push them to conduct "customer discovery." Sometimes, that consists of only ten interviews with potential customers, although it should consist of far more interviews than that to increase the likelihood of success. 

One of the flaws, but also one of the advantages, of entrepreneurs is that they often (but not always) jump into their startups without much knowledge of what they are getting into regarding industry, product category and business functions outside of their general knowledge or academic training. This makes me think about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which recognizes that the people who are the most ignorant about something are often also the most confident about it. This can lead to many stumbling blocks and mishaps, but it can also lead to novel solutions for problems that industry experts and others with more knowledge assumed had no solutions. This, in turn, can lead to true breakthroughs as there are no preconceived notions that align with those of industry insiders.

Entrepreneurs often start with what is called minimum viable products (MVPs) and incrementally add functions and features to the products as dictated by early adopter feedback and as their resources allow. 

I hope this illustrates the two ends of a continuum regarding how new products can be developed. One end is based on exhaustive, methodical research. The other end is based on learning as you go, nimbleness and rapid pivoting. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Essence of Marketing in One Paragraph


Recently, a Venture Capital intern asked me to explain marketing to him at the end of our two-hour interview. While I have spent more than 40 years working on hundreds of successful marketing campaigns for almost as many brands, and while I could spend days talking about the nuances of marketing research, brand strategy, brand architecture, PR, pricing strategy, distribution strategy, digital marketing, marketing automation, package design, retail merchandising, etc. - I believe in simplicity. So, I explained the essence of marketing to him in less than one minute, which can be articulated in one paragraph. This is what I said...

The first step in marketing is being able to completely put yourself in the customer's shoes. What are her hopes, fears, beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors? What are her pain points? What does she need and what does she desire? What problems is she trying to solve? Then you must craft a product/service solution that uniquely meets those needs and then articulate that unique value proposition as simply and powerfully as possible. Your brand's unique value proposition must be presented to her in as many ways as possible as often as possible to build her awareness of and emotional connection to your brand. And finally, you need to possess common sense to say and do the right things at the right times to move her from brand awareness to brand purchase and then ultimately brand loyalty and even brand advocacy. 

It's as simple as that. All of the rest of marketing is just tactics, which can be taught.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Customer Discovery

Customer discovery must run deep. You need to talk with a lot of people and you need to probe deeply with each of them. That means understanding their hopes, fears, aspirations, anxieties, beliefs, attitudes, values and more. While a highly trained marketing research moderator may use a variety of qualitative research techniques (including projection, ideation, guided imagery, sorting exercises, etc.) to discover these motivations and behavioral drivers, you can do much of this yourself by asking open-ended response questions and spending more time listening than talking. 

The types of questions that can elicit deeper responses include the following:

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What is your most pressing need right now?
  • If this product or brand were a movie/book/car/party/musical genre/food/etc., what type of movie/book/car/party/musical genre/food/etc. would it be and why?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • What is missing?
  • Do you think the product says anything about you, about who you are?
  • Would you recommend this to a friend or colleague? Why or why not?
  • What about this appeals to you?
  • What is the most important need this would fulfill?
I will give you an example of superficial customer insight versus deep customer insight.

Superficial Insight

Q: Why did you purchase a Tesla?
A1: Because gasoline prices are soaring, electric vehicles (EVs) make increasing sense financially.
A2: Because I care about the environment.

Deeper Insight from Deeper Probing
Q: Why did you purchase a Tesla?
A1: I have always admired Elon Musk and wanted to buy one of his cars.
A2: Teslas are the coolest, newest cars on the road.
A3: Tesla acceleration makes it fun to drive.
A4: Tesla stereo systems are "to die for." I enjoy tooling around listening to some of my favorite music.
A5: I like their clean lines inside and out. They are aesthetically pleasing. 
A6: I love showing my car off to others.  
A7: I want to support society's transition from fossil fuel powered vehicles to EVs.
A8: I want to help slow down climate change. 
A9: When I drive a Tesla, people view me as successful, progressive, an early adopter and environmentally conscious.
A10: Teslas are really fun to drive. They perform very well on the road.
A11: I can always beat other cars across an intersection after a full stop at a stoplight or stop sign.
A12: Teslas have fun "toys" - whoopee cushion noises under seats, light show, caraoke, Netflix movies, etc.
A13: I am just really happy when I am driving my Tesla. It is a joy to drive.

Looking at this list that was compiled from deeper probing, we now have to determine which of these are the primary drivers of the purchase decision. And then we have to distill that to a unique value proposition and brand messaging.

A possible unique value proposition for Teslas given this list of purchase motivations might be:

  • Teslas are the coolest cars on the road. They are really fun to drive and they are good for the environment.
Asking your family, friends and colleagues if they like your new product or service idea is not customer discovery. Try for a minimum of 60 interviews. If this seems like an overwhelming task, set aside two hours each week to conduct a few customer interviews. Breaking the task up into smaller chunks will make it seem easier and ongoing customer discovery is better that one-time customer discovery anyway.

The only way to arrive at a truly compelling unique value proposition for your startup is to base it on thoughtful and rigorous customer discovery. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Branding & the Customer Experience

Mostly, when people talk about brands and branding they are thinking about the brand's name, identity system, positioning, and marketing messaging. They are not thinking about its underlying order fulfillment, customer service, technical support, crisis management and other systems and policies that create the overall customer experience. And yet, a brand's reputation can be enhanced or tarnished by these systems and policies. 

Think of a surly customer service representative that you have interacted with. Or, alternatively, think about a particularly empathetic and helpful customer service representative.

Think about someone who hung up on you when you were seeking help versus one who stayed on the phone with you for hours until your problem was completely solved. 

Think about an order that took dozens of screens and multiple inputs to complete versus one that was completed with one click. 

Think about a hotel employee who personally saw to it that your request was fulfilled versus one who passed it on to someone else, or worse yet, one who never followed through on your request. 

Think about input screens that were very confusing or that timed out versus those that were simple and intuitive. 

Think about brands that create a huge series of walls so that you can never reach a live person versus those in which a real person answers the phone. 

Think about systems that anticipate your needs versus those that can't seem to to help you find what you are looking for. 

Think about the FAQs that never seem to address the question you have versus those that are thorough and help you solve your problem.

Think about an order that arrived overnight versus one that took weeks and weeks to arrive.

Think about brands that surprise you by including unexpected product enhancements after your purchase versus those that surprise you by including unexpected hidden costs and surcharges.

Think about assembly instructions that were incomplete and impossible to follow versus assemblies that were so intuitively obvious that you didn't even need instructions.

Think about retail establishments in which you were immediately greeted in a friendly but unobtrusive way versus those that didn't even acknowledge you. 

And think about warm and welcoming brand environments versus sterile or off-putting environments.

These systems, processes, policies and constructs all contribute to the brand experience. It doesn't matter how cool the brand's identity or marketing messages are. If your interaction with the brand frustrates you or makes you angry versus putting a smile on your face, your perception of and loyalty to the brand will suffer. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

FREE Marketing for Startups Webinar


FREE Marketing for Startups Webinar on Wednesday, May 18 from 11:30 am to 1 pm ET. Sponsored by RIT's Venture Creations Incubator and Nextcorps. 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

100 Trends Shaping Our World

Sometimes it’s useful for marketers to understand trends that may affect their businesses. Here are some of the current trends that I am monitoring:

  1. 5G technology
  2. The Internet of Things
  3. Mobile Internet
  4. Cloud technology and distributed infrastructure 
  5. Democratization of technology
  6. The world becomes hyperconnected
  7. Move toward all media consumed through the Internet
  8. Seamless language translation, making the world even smaller
  9. Exploration of more direct human-computer interfaces (HCI)
  10. Electrification
  11. Electric vehicles (EVs)
  12. Autonomous vehicles
  13. Drones
  14. Battery technology, including sodium-sulfur molten salt batteries
  15. Microgrids
  16. Grid-connected renewable energy systems
  17. All forms of clean tech
  18. Atmospheric (electromagnetic) energy
  19. Software defined vehicles (SDVs)
  20. AI & machine learning
  21. Deep structured learning
  22. Autonomic systems
  23. Generative AI
  24. Big data analytics
  25. Edge computing & tinyML
  26. Quantum computing
  27. Nanoparticles
  28. Next generation materials including honeycomb lattice
  29. Photonics
  30. Quantum teleportation
  31. Virtual and augmented reality
  32. 3-D multisensor transmitters
  33. Advanced robotics
  34. 3-D printing 
  35. Process automation and hyper-automation
  36. Explosion of smart devices
  37. Genomics/genetic engineering
  38. Psychobiotics and microbiome therapeutics
  39. Health care data analytics
  40. Personal medical devices
  41. Telehealth and mobile medicine
  42. Hyper-personalized medicines
  43. Social determinants of health (SDOH) receive greater attention
  44. Mental health becomes a larger priority
  45. Unbundling of health care
  46. Living building material
  47. Web 3.0
  48. Homomorphic encryption
  49. Blockchain (distributed ledger) technology and decentralized identifiers
  50. Cryptocurrency
  51. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)
  52. A cashless society
  53. Privacy and cybersecurity
  54. Open-source intelligence (OSINT)
  55. Biometric technology (face, voice, eye, hand and signature security)
  56. Deglobalization
  57. Redesign of supply chains
  58. Increased self-service
  59. Recurring revenue streams
  60. Distributed enterprises and remote employees
  61. Increased flexible work 
  62. Continued growth in the gig economy
  63. Huge need for retraining for new economy jobs
  64. Minimum living wages as an alternative to job loss
  65. Increased time sharing of all things
  66. Fractional CXOs
  67. Extreme personal profiling
  68. Hyper-targeting and hyper-geofencing 
  69. OTT (Over-the-top) media service platforms
  70. On-demand personalized customer experiences
  71. Move from retail stores to Internet distribution centers and home delivery
  72. Move toward unique and boutique in retail
  73. Increasing use of personal digital assistants
  74. Cameras, cameras everywhere
  75. Struggle for personal privacy
  76. Increasing popularity of veganism and vegetarianism
  77. Increased focus on personal health
  78. Decrease in romantic relationships
  79. Increasing acceptance of sexual freedom 
  80. Decrease in organized religion, increase in personal spirituality
  81. Continued decreasing trust in traditional institutions, especially government
  82. Shift from a patriarchal society to a matriarchal society
  83. More focus on the home
  84. Increasing self-care and compassion toward others
  85. Increasing importance of pets as family
  86. Increased frequency and severity of natural disasters due to climate change
  87. More eco-friendly lifestyles
  88. The private sector steps up its support of social and environmental issues
  89. Distributed localized agriculture through hydroponics and aeroponics
  90. Increased “fake news” and disinformation
  91. Increased sophistication of deep fakes
  92. Increased botnet activity
  93. More censorship, less free speech
  94. Increased public awareness of and pressure to address economic inequality
  95. Less capitalism, more socialism
  96. Continued urbanization
  97. Continued population shifts to less expensive states
  98. Less abundance thinking, more scarcity thinking
  99. The blurring of war and crime with the emergence of terrorism
  100. Rethinking of the criminal justice system

If you aren’t familiar with some of these, I would recommend that you search on and read about those that most interest you. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Brands and the Digital World


Here are some of the effects of the digital world on brands:


  • A brand’s online presence can improve brand awareness.
  • A brand’s website is critical to the perception of that brand because most people investigate a brand by going to its website.
  • Blogs can create thought leadership and emotional connection for a brand. But consistent new content over time is required to activate these effects.
  • If a picture is worth a thousand words, then videos are worth ten thousand words. Consider creating a YouTube channel for your brand.
  • For thought leadership, consider podcasts too.
  • SEO is still important.
  • A third (older) to a half (younger) of people investigate brands through social media before they purchase. 
  • Advertising in social media makes it easier for people to become aware of and try new brands, including brands that could not break though in the analog world because of lack of marketing funds. This, to some degree, levels the playing field for smaller brands.
  • More and more product offerings are delivered through social media feeds.
  • Low follows, likes, views and shares can reflect negatively on a brand.
  • If you are just starting with your brand’s online presence, use Facebook and Instagram first. 
  • Consumer targeting is significantly improved through Facebook and Google ads. Data analytics can result in highly targeted or even tailored product offerings to individuals.
  • Brands would do well to set up pages on Facebook and Instagram as a way to interact with customers.
  • The Internet provides many forums for people to provide feedback on brands, including negative feedback. It would behoove brand advocates to monitor as many of those forums as possible and respond as appropriate. It is important to respond as quickly as possible.
  • Online forums can increase consumer engagement with brands.
  • The Internet leads to greater brand transparency, but skilled marketing can also make a brand seem bigger or more popular than it actually is.
  • Marketing automation can generate quality leads.
  • Marketing automation makes it easier for people to respond to offers without prior awareness of the brands behind the offers.
  • One needs to be extremely careful about how the marketing automation is set up or it can backfire on the brand. This is very similar to how automated telephonic customer service can backfire on the brand. 
  • Geofencing can encourage immediate purchase when a consumer is near a retail outlet. 
  • Geofence in the places that your target customers are at the times when they are there. Think this through carefully 
  • Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Venmo, PayPal and Amazon’s 1-Click Ordering make it easier for people to purchase things online with fewer clicks.
  • The online presence of brands makes price comparison much easier, which can drive down prices or at least direct the consumer to the cheapest source of the brand.
  • Online clothing brand sales are still tricky. Several approaches have been implemented to help with sizing and visualizing the clothes when worn but there still are issues with tactile qualities of the fabric, quality of the construction and fit. This may lead to more returns for online purchased clothing brands than store purchased clothing brands.
  • The younger the consumer, the more everything is transacted on the smart phone. All brand interactions must be optimized for mobile. 
  • To some degree, the digital world has made people more savvy and cynical about brands, mostly due to increased transparency.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

21 Stories for Scouting


I have always been a fan of proactive publicity. In 2011, my local Boy Scout council decided to enlist the services of Over the Edge Global ( to create a fundraising event in which people donated $1,000 each to rappel down the side of a 21-story building. I was on the committee that helped pull this together. It was a novel idea at the time and no one had tried it before, especially as a big well-publicized event, in downtown Rochester.


We created a PR plan that enlisted the support of local news anchors and talk show hosts on television and radio. We invited those people to rappel down the building the day before the actual public event. And we set it up as a competition in which those local celebrities competed against each other for who could raise the most money. 


Not only did we get people to pay $1,000 apiece to rappel down the side of the building. We had people raising far more than that from friends, family and co-workers to sponsor their rappelling. One guy, “Little Joe” Aiello, who was in his eighties, alone raised tens of thousands of dollars of sponsorships each year for his rappel down the side of buildings, which he did several years in a row until he was 93. But there were also event sponsors. The event itself was covered by almost every local media outlet. And even better – the media people couldn’t stop talking about the event days before it occurred and weeks after it occurred. Our local Boy Scout council received over a half a million dollars in free publicity the first year alone. 


And the best part is the event tied into a real Scouting activity that reinforced “fun” and “adventure,” two key components of the Scout program.


This is just one example of the power of proactive publicity. These blog posts list some others:


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Branding & Pitch Decks


I have found that my experience in crafting brand strategy and positioning has helped me immensely in coaching startups in their pitch deck creation. Startups use pitch decks to raise funds and other support for their nascent businesses. Just like brands, pitch decks need to tell a story. By definition, stories have plots and characters. The characters are the target customers and the plot is how the nascent business will uniquely solve a significant problem that those customers have. The story needs to outline the company’s unique value proposition and the business model that will enable it to deliver on that unique value proposition. The value needs to be defined in terms of customer benefits rather than product functions or features.


The business must demonstrate that it has done due diligence in understanding who its target customers are demographically and psychographically and what their functional and emotional needs are. It needs to show how it will deliver a unique and superior solution in meeting its customer’s needs. This requires a thorough understanding of the competition. Further, the business will want to illustrate what its product is and how it will be used, including how the customer will experience using it. Ultimately, the business will want to share its long-term vision, which is very similar to the vision that would be a part of a mission | vision | values statement. 


Sure, there are some other elements in a pitch deck that are not typically a part of brand strategy or messaging, including an overview of the market, the startup team and its advisors, the potential risks, the finances and why they are pitching to a particular investor. But, whether one is creating a new product concept statement, a brand positioning statement, a brand ‘elevator speech,’ a startup pitch deck or even a grant application, the following components are essential:

·      Detailed customer description,

·      Customer insight including an understanding of their unmet needs or pain points,

·      Unique value proposition,

·      Which includes an articulation of the unique benefits that will be delivered to the customer,

·      And an understanding of the competition,

·      And finally, proof points and “reasons to believe” that you can deliver on your unique value proposition; put another way an indication of how the organization’s business model supports delivery of its unique value proposition.

And, if there is additional space for description, the messaging would benefit from being told in the form of a story with a happy ending.

My experience in new product development, brand positioning and strategy, not-for-profit grant writing and now new venture coaching has allowed me to identify the similarities between these activities. It all boils down to understanding an unmet customer need and developing a solution that uniquely meets that need. Further, it requires proof points that one is capable of uniquely delivering against that need. Finally, this message can be delivered in a more compelling way through storytelling. It’s that simple and it is also that complicated. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Essentials of Marketing

I have crafted successful marketing plans, strategies and campaigns for more than 250 brands over the past thirty-eight years. Over those years, I have witnessed enormous changes in how marketing is executed. However, most marketing fundamentals have not changed in decades. Here is my summary of those fundamentals:

  • People are primarily driven by emotions
  • Images are more powerful than words and videos can be more powerful than images
  • But it is also important to paint vivid pictures with your words
  • In copy, generally less is more
  • Product / service quality and consistency matter
  • Outstanding customer service can overcome other flaws
  • Having a unique value proposition is essential 
  • Continuous innovation is a must for extending a brand's lifecycle
  • Maintaining high brand awareness is critical to customer brand insistence
  • Brands that share important values with their customers create the highest loyalty
  • Brands are often used as self-expression badges
  • Price segmentation yields increased revenues and profits
  • One of the most important aspects of marketing is successfully recovering from errors or crises
  • Guerrilla marketing, proactive publicity and publicity stunts can yield the highest ROI
  • PR and media relations are important elements of the marketing mix
  • Identifying and using influencers can be very productive
  • Word-of-mouth and viral marketing can be very powerful
  • "Unexpected" and "outrageous" almost always work in marketing
  • Humor and entertainment are key elements of advertising campaigns 
  • Brands can tap into the human propensity for tribalism
  • Unfortunately, fear still sells
  • Gaining deep customer insight through marketing research is a key marketer's tool
  • Market segmentation is as important as ever
  • For larger organizations, creating the optimal brand architecture is one of the trickier marketing tasks
  • Carefully crafted (and tested) headlines and subject lines can make a huge difference
  • It is possible and hugely advantageous to design and implement the optimal customer experience
  • Most automated customer service systems are disastrous 
  • In the end, it is all about the customer and what motivates him or her