Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Online Brand Management & Marketing Courses

Do you want to dive deeper into brand management and marketing? I have created seven online courses to help you do so. They include the concepts, tools and techniques that every brand manager should know. 

The courses range from one to two contact hours each. Each course includes many real world examples and links to numerous related online articles and blog posts. They also include tools, templates and quizzes to test your knowledge.

These are the courses. Click on each one to begin your education.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Common Sense Approach to Marketing for Startups

If you are a startup, you are likely more focused on raising money, prioritizing your next steps, prototyping and perfecting your product, figuring out business partners and sourcing, addressing operational issues and getting your idea in front of potential customers than on developing and executing marketing plans. And if you are trying to generate sales, you are likely to be more focused on selling approaches than on marketing. But even if you are thinking about marketing you may be considering what tactics to use including advertising, publicity and social media marketing. But until you have a deep understanding of your most likely customers and their motivations, choosing marketing tactics is premature. 

If I were a startup, here is what I would consider first:

  • Who is going to buy our product or service?
  • Who is our best customer likely to be?
  • What unmet needs are we fulfilling for them?
  • What other products or services might they consider to meet the same needs?
  • How is our product or service different from competitive offerings?
  • Is our product or service different enough to give us a sales advantage over competitive products?
  • What is our unique value proposition?
  • In twelve words or less, what is our key message to potential customers?
  • Where do those customers shop?
  • What media do those customers consume?
  • Where do they get their ideas of what to buy?
Once you have answered these questions, you will be able to create a more strategic, effective and efficient approach to gaining and keeping customers. That then becomes your marketing plan.

I wish you much success in building a successful marketing approach for your startup and its products and services. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

26 of the Most Common Startup Challenges


Following yesterday's blog post, today I list the 26 most common startup challenges. 

  1. Having the right idea – building something someone wants
  2. Understanding your business’ unique value proposition
    • Confirming customer need / marketplace gap
  3. Listening to and acting on customer feedback
  4. Thinking too small
  5. Taking the first leap – knowing where to start
  6. Assuming you need a lot of money right away
  7. Money / fundraising
  8. Cash flow management
  9. Chasing investors over customers
  10. Trying to do it alone
  11. Finding / hiring the right people
  12. The founders
  13. Not researching competitors
  14. Competitors’ actions / competitive responses
  15. Planning & focus
  16. Scaling up
  17. Unrealistic expectations
  18. Remaining within one's comfort zone
  19. Self-doubt and fear of failure
  20. Inability or unwillingness to pivot when necessary
  21. Failing to ask for help
  22. Lack of mentorship
  23. Time management
  24. Customer acquisition / sales
  25. Marketing mistakes
  26. Customer retention

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Start-ups and Unique Value Propositions

I haven't written a blog post in a while because I have been consumed with a new role (in addition to my brand strategy consulting). I am a part-time new venture coach for RIT's Venture Creations Incubator. In this role, I am coaching and consulting with nine start-up companies, mostly in technology spaces.

There has a been a lot written about start-up challenges ranging from insufficient capital and not having the right team in place to inadequate business plans and a lack of focus. But I have discovered an equally big problem, the absence of a unique value proposition. In fact some companies have created products in search of markets. That is, they have products they want to sell, but they have not identified the right markets for those products and in many cases don't even know what problems those products might help solve. 

While unique value propositions start with target market identification and understanding key customer benefits, they also need to address the "unique" part of the proposition. Are they addressing those customer needs in unique and relevant ways? 

Related to this, I find that many companies understand product functions and features, but not experiential, emotional and self-expressive customer benefits. And they seldom think about or communicate the values that they share with their customers. That is, they focus on the functional aspects of their product offering, not the emotional aspects of their brand. In fact, they seldom think about the customer in terms of their anxieties and fears including the perceived risks associated with switching from a known product or vendor to an unknown one. 

And, if the product is entirely new with no known predecessor, the start-up may have an even greater problem of explaining what the product is and how it works. This argues for a carefully thought-through elevator speech.

All of this requires customer targeting and customer insight, the latter being gained through marketing research including qualitative research and eventually beta testing and usability / user interface testing. 

Which ultimately gets back to branding.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Repositioning Through Labels

It is fascinating to me how politicians and political parties use labels to position or reposition bills, ideas, agendas, actions or groups of people. For example, children who arrived in the US illegally at a very young age are called either dreamers or illegal aliens depending on which political party is talking about them. The Affordable Care Act was renamed Obamacare by its rivals. When asked in surveys, some people say they support the Affordable Care Act but not Obamacare. Depending on which political party is talking about it, many states are in the process of either voter suppression or insuring election integrity. New York State passed the SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act, a gun regulation law. I have seen several signs in my neighborhood that say, Repeal the SAFE Act, but who wants to repeal a SAFE Act?

Defund the police doesn't sound good at all. It is a terrible label, especially when it really refers to reallocating or redirecting funds from the police to other types of first responders that are better equipped to deal with mental health and other issues.

Conservatives have called liberals snowflakes and liberals have called conservatives deplorables. Is a Black Lives Matters gathering a march, a protest or a riot? It depends on the news station to which you listen. Was the event of January 6, 2021 at the US Capital an insurrection or a march? Again, it depends on the news station to which you listen. Republicans stoke fear among their base by using the term socialism, which is now laden with all sorts of negative meanings if you are Republican. And Democrats fear fascism and have referred to former President Trump as a fascist

Democrats coined the phrase The Big Lie to refer to Donald Trump's denial of his defeat to President Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Donald Trump is now hijacking that term, The Big Lie, and twisting it to mean the lie that Joe Biden was legitimately elected as president. 

Related to The Big Lie is Stop the Steal, a catchy phrase used by Donald Trump supporters indicating that they thought the election had been stolen.

When it comes to abortion, it is either about the right to choose or the right to life

And who in their right mind would like a cancel culture? Coastal elites are despised by many people but no wonder because some coastal elites talk about where those people live as flyover country.

And Republicans like to call the Democratic party the Democrat party and some conservative publications shorten Democrat to Dem because it doesn't sound as worthy of respect. But some Democrats refer to neo-conservatives as neo-cons because it has more negative connotations. Republicans have tried to demonize the term liberal, but many liberals are very proud of the term and what it stands for. 

And then there are some military labels. Which is more palatable? 50 troops were lost today, 50 soldiers lost their lives today or 50 people were killed today? And how about peacekeeper missiles? I guess I shouldn't be concerned if I see one heading straight toward me. 

And now there is a newly popular pejorative term (actually coined in 1970), microaggressions. Doesn't sound very good, does it?

The whole point of this blog post is to demonstrate how word choice matters and that labels can turn people on or turn them off. This is a common tactic in politics and now that most news sources are so slanted in one direction or the other, different groups use different terms to refer to the same thing. Usually one term is derogatory while the other one is inspiring, encouraging two different views of reality.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Research Must Precede Strategy

Marketing research must precede brand strategy -- period. The best strategies are based on extensive research. Qualitative research can provide insights regarding beliefs, values, attitudes, hopes, fears, anxieties, dreams and other core motivations. It can also help you understand how the category is perceived and how each of the brands in the category are perceived. Customer segmentation studies can help you dimensionalise your market and discover the most lucrative customer segments for your brand. Brand positioning research can help you understand what your brand stands for and whether and to whom that matters. It can also help you discover competitors' vulnerabilities and brand positioning gaps and opportunities. There is also brand equity research, brand asset mapping, brand extension studies, logo research, advertising effectiveness studies, and more. 

I have successfully crafted strategy for more than 200 well-known brands. From that experience, I can tell you that there is a direct correlation between the quality of a brand's strategy and the amount and quality of research that preceded it. It's that simple. Sometimes clients want me to help them craft the strategy without the research. That is a mistake. So, consider this to be an admonition from a veteran of the process. 

For a complete course on brand research, follow this LINK

Anatomy of a Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is a request for funds in return for a promised level of incremental revenues, unit sales, market share or profits. One can develop marketing plans for products, services, market segments or brands. The critical components of a marketing plan includes the following:

  • Summary
  • Objectives (attract new consumers, create new uses, increase share of requirements, incent trial, encourage repeat purchase, encourage add-on purchase, increase awareness, increase loyalty, change value perception, increase emotional bond, extend into new product and service categories, etc.)
  • Situation Analysis
  • Market analysis
  • Competitive context
  • Customer profile (segments, needs, attitudes, behaviors, insights, etc.)
  • Strategies and tactics (touching upon all key marketing components that will be used: product, packaging, pricing, distribution, advertising, publicity, sales promotion, social media, selling, etc.). Be specific.
  • Operations considerations (impact on plant capacity, need for new assets, etc.)
  • Financial projections
  • Pro forma profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cash flows, etc.
  • Including funds required to execute plan
  • Supporting customer research (qualitative research, concept testing, volumetric modeling, market test results, etc.)
  • Risks and contingency plans

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Brands & Browser Functionality

I normally do not post about something as tactical as this, but it has a huge impact on brand perception. Recently, as I have been approached by companies trying to sell me their services, I have found several of them do not have websites that work on my Safari browser. Logins don't work. Navigation does not work. Text is overlapped. I try my Firefox browser. The same result. DuckDuckGo. The same result. I approach them about this. They tell me their website works best (no, only works) on a Google Chrome browser. But I work from a MacBook Air and an iPhone. I do not want to load yet another browser on both devices. And, just in case you are wondering, I have the latest versions of the browsers that I do use, so it is not that.

How can I perceive a company to be professional and worthy of doing business with if its website does not work using common browsers. It gets worse. There are companies whose websites are not set up to work well on mobile devices. Most online platforms and web development tools make it easy to create mobile-friendly versions of websites. It is not rocket science. 

Don't even try to solicit business if your website doesn't work using common browsers or mobile devices. You will waste the potential customer's time and you will create a very negative brand perception. How can companies think this is acceptable in today's world?

If you outsource development and maintenance of your website (which most companies do), make sure the website is compatible with all major browsers and mobile devices. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Do you know how non-customers perceive your brand?

To be efficient in marketing spending, brands usually focus on their best customers first and then on their other customers. Typical objectives are to increase their customers' individual average transactions (IAT), spending and share of wallet. They often also want to increase customer loyalty. Less often, brands allocate marketing resources to communicating with potential customers, especially if one of their top objectives is to increase their base. Sales-driven organizations sometimes error on the side of bringing in new customers at the expense of constantly earning the loyalty of current customers, but this is an expensive proposition and one that is difficult to sustain in the long-run.

But I am increasingly witnessing this problem among brands. They know how to speak to their current customers well but they have not invested enough in understanding how to speak to non-customers. This is especially problematic if the non-customers are potential customers or if their current customer base is shrinking. These organizations become insular, only interacting with current customers and only understanding how current customers perceive them. Often, they only communicate through customer-specific channels and publications, failing to communicate or influence the brand narrative in other forums. Further, they do not invest in marketing research focused on non-customers who could become customers. Because of this, they really don't understand why those people have not become customers. 

I have found that some of the deepest insights come from non-customers and former customers. If you understand how they perceive your brand you can better position your brand to retain current customers and attract new ones. 

Don't make the mistake of understanding and communicating only with those who are closest to your brand. Don't become an organizational echo chamber. Much can be learned from understanding and communicating with those who are not part of your brand's family but who could be if you tried to better understand their concerns, needs and perceptions.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Dick's New Destination Store

A 17,000 square-foot turf field is adjacent to the Dick's new 100,000 square-foot Eastview Mall store. 

I am happy to write about something happening in my neighborhood. Dick's has decided to erect its first destination store concept at my local mall, Eastview Mall in Victor, New York (a suburb of Rochester, NY).

As malls and retailers are struggling with how to pivot as more and more product sales are conducted online, Dick's has decided to explore the path of offering substantially enhanced customer experiences as a part of its retail brand.

This will not be your typical sporting goods store. The concept is to merge product with service, experience and community building. Imagine a place that offers a turf field by summer, an ice-skating rink by winter and a running track and rock climbing wall all year-round. Imagine workshops and training sessions for athletes of every type and all ages. Imagine team practices at the store. Imagine advice on how to create your own home gym. And imagine a juice bar, movie nights and birthday parties as a part of the concept. Every department within the store will have an experience element built in. 

And, as another example of its community-building, this Dick's store will conduct a community contest to name the field. 

This should begin to give you an idea of how brick-and-mortar retailers must evolve to compete with the convenience and cost-savings of online product sales. 

Successful brands have always focused on emotional and experiential customer benefits over functional benefits. And the most successful brands have created a sense of community based on shared values. They have become the home for tribes of like-minded individuals. And retail brands that follow this path have become destinations.

While elements of this have been tried by retailers before, this is a first for a pure sporting goods store. For instance, several sporting goods stores have featured rock climbing walls. Orvis offers classes on fly tying, casting and other fly-fishing skills. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World format has indoor ponds, fish aquariums, restaurants and archery ranges and teaches classes on everything from fly fishing, dutch oven cooking and archery to hunting and GPS navigation. Its largest store, Bass Pro Shops Pyramid in Memphis, TN is housed within a 321 foot (32 story) high pyramid structure. 

And looking further afield, consider the Build-a-Bear Workshop brand, which creates a complete experience around customizing one's own teddy bear. Or the Rochester-based grocery store brand, Wegmans, which grows stronger and stronger every year by constantly creating and innovating new customer experiences within their stores. 

I am looking forward to how this concept evolves, what will work and what will not work as well, what will be added and what will go away. But, rest assured, I think Dick's is on to something. This is the only way brick-and-mortar retail will thrive well into the next decade.

H-E-B Brand the Big Winner in the Texas Energy Outage

People often are fond of their local grocery store chains. H-E-B is no exception. During Texas' recent winter storm and energy outage, H-E-B became even more beloved as it proactively helped the people of Texas in several different ways. When a busy H-E-B store in Leander, TX lost power, the store's staff let shoppers take their goods home with them without paying. H-E-B employees also handed out flowers to customers waiting outside in line. H-E-B donated $1 million of food to 18 food banks throughout the state. And it provided thirteen truckloads of water to the City of San Angelo to distribute to those still under active "do not use" water restrictions.  It also cut power to non-essential parts of its business to help preserve the energy grid in Texas.

H-E-B has focused on community support in other ways as well.  It created a donation campaign in its stores and online to help support "Feed Texas." And it delivered more than 80,000 "Meal Simple" meals to hospitals throughout the state. Some of this was an extension of what H-E-B was already doing to support Texans throughout the pandemic and even before then. 

Stephen Harrigan, and novelist and journalist from Austin was quoted as saying, "It's like H-E-B is the moral center of Texas." The business editor of the San Antonio Express-News wrote, "We'd all be better off if H-E-B took over the Texas power grid." And it is very telling that Texans have worn t-shirts that say, "H-E-B for President."

Admittedly, much of H-E-B's disaster responsiveness has to do with its logistical prowess. In fact, H-E-B's effectiveness in this area reinforces the Texan notion of no nonsense, get-it-done competence and hard work. In that way, H-E-B's values align well with Texans' values, creating even more emotional connection between the brand and its customers. 

H-E-B's community contributions over time, throughout the pandemic and during the most recent winter storm and energy outage crisis have reinforced its reputation as a local business that cares about the people of Texas and that can be relied on to look out for Texans' needs and their well-being, especially during crises. 

All of this has led not only to increased goodwill and brand loyalty, but also to a huge amount of free publicity and word of mouth "buzz" throughout the state of Texas and the USA. Other brands would do well to take notes on what H-E-B has done and continues to do for people in the communities that it serves. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Global Competition & The Increased Importance of Carefully Crafted Messaging

Mobility and communication have increased substantially since the dawn of inexpensive air travel and the Internet. Historically, competition was mostly local or regional, but with every breakthrough in transportation and communication technology, every business is increasingly competing with every other similar business across the globe. 

Companies that used to pay hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for a well thought through brand identity system, are now seeking out smaller agencies from smaller local markets that can do the same work for a fraction of the cost. And if a logo is all that one wants for one's business, many price-sensitive organizations are turning to graphic designers in countries where wages are so low that they can get a new logo for $200 or less. 

In the twenty-two years that I have successfully positioned brands for my clients, more and more product and service categories have become mature and overcrowded with too many brands saying (and doing) exactly the same things. Unless an organization pursues leading-edge innovation, disruptive technologies, "category killer" business models or other radical out-of-the-box approaches to competition, even though they may have distinctive brand identities, they have for all intents and purposes, become commodities that are beholden completely to price and convenience for their survival. 

This is why carefully crafted - no perfectly crafted - brand messaging is so important. Almost all brands are now competing in a sea of choices that can hardly be differentiated from one another in the minds of potential customers. Your brand needs to stop potential customers in their tracks. The messaging needs to be so "spot on" that it derails their continued product search.

Radical innovation is still a competitive advantage. And there are a myriad of ways to increase convenience (location, 24/7 operations, individual targeting, responsiveness, etc.), however competing on price is a slippery downward slope that ultimately leads to disaster. But if you don't get your messaging right, not much else matters. 

Does your messaging...

  • Immediately address the potential customer's pain point or need?
  • Meet the potential customer where he or she is now?
  • Make your brand sound substantially different from every other brand?
  • Engage the potential customer emotionally?
  • Help the potential customer to feel completely understood?
  • Convey a brand personalty that is highly compelling?
  • Use just the right amount of words (no more or no less) than the medium requires?
And are the word choices highly relatable by the target customer? And is your messaging memorable? 

As the global competition gets stiffer, don't forget to substantially improve your messaging. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Brand Spokespeople and Characters

Not every brand uses a spokesperson or character as a part of its identity system or advertising campaign but many have over the years. The spokesperson or character can give the brand a distinctive voice and personality. 

This blog post is a celebration of some of the more memorable brand spokespeople and characters. 

Some of the earlier characters were used by food brands, especially children's cereals.

Some have changed gradually over the years.

While others have been put to rest.

Some brands feature a legion of characters.

Many insurance companies have used them over the past decade or two. It all began with this guy.

But then others followed.


Some were very cool and effective, but perhaps too effective in socially unacceptable categories. 

Some sell drug discounts.

While others sell CPAP cleaning devices.

Some eat too much.

And some are afraid of being eaten.

Some seem to be cousins, perhaps creating links between product categories where none should exist.

Some were rather short lived.

While others had a particularly long run.

And some just keep going and going and going...

Some are intended to be friendly and fun, but for people suffering from coulrophobia, they evoke other emotions.

Some brands were embarrassed by their spokesperson choices.

While others stuck with their spokespeople even after times got tough. 

Some spokespeople are always trying to be in control.

And finally, a salute to one of the first characters - a giant of a guy.

Here is to all of the characters and spokespeople that have given voice and personalities to their brands!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Customer Brand Insistence Revisited

I have been preaching about the five drivers of customer brand insistence since we first developed and tested this brand equity measurement system in the late 1990s. Since then, we have tested this system with hundreds of brands across almost as many product and service categories. It indicates that five things drive customers from being aware of a brand to insisting upon the brand and then ultimately being loyal to and even being advocates of the brand.

Again, these are the five drivers:


The first driver is awareness. If you offer the best product in its category backed by the best service offered at the lowest price delivering the best value, and no one has heard of it, you will not achieve any sales. Awareness is the cornerstone of any marketing campaign. Awareness not only puts a brand in a purchase consideration set, it also increases customer preference, quality perceptions and purchase intent. Strong marketing campaigns with both reach and frequency increase awareness as does broader distribution. And PR and proactive publicity, including publicity stunts, can significantly increase brand awareness.


The difference between a commodity and a brand is not a name or a logo - it is relevant differentiation, or put another way, a unique value proposition. Give customers a reason to choose your brand over other brands in its product category. The best differentiators are shared values, self-expressive benefits ("brand as a badge"), extraordinary product purchase or usage experiences, superior customer insight that leads to anticipating and addressing latent needs, easy one-stop shopping and offering a superior value based on the perceived benefits received for the amount of time and money required to receive those benefits. Once the relevant differentiation is created, then the marketer needs to make the relevant differentiation very clear at each and every point of customer contact. Focusing on just one differentiating benefit increases a customer's ability to recall that benefit so choose the brand's differentiating benefit wisely. Here is a post on how to position your brand in overcrowded markets. And here is a post on branding in highly competitive categories.


I already touched on this. For most people, the two scarce resources are time and money. Give them more time and more money while solving their problems or meeting their needs and you have delivered a good or perhaps even excellent value.


All things being equal, the more accessible brand will get the sale every time. Wider distribution not only increases brand awareness, it also increases brand accessibility. 24/7 brand access is better than more limited access. Accepting multiple payment methods and one-click shopping also increases accessibility. There is also a psychological aspect to accessibility. Do people believe your brand to be accessible, or for one reason or another, do they feel that your brand is less accessible to them?


Brand personality, brand voice, brand visual style, brand trustworthiness (which includes brand consistency and reliability), brand responsiveness, outstanding customer service and technical support (with includes front-line employee training and empowerment), loyalty programs and purchase and usage frequency can all lead to increased emotional connection. Well thought-out marketing campaigns with highly emotional elements can also add to this. Here are two posts on the related concept of brand tribalism - Tribal Branding, Brands & Tribalism.

I am going to add one other thing to this list. Powerful brand MEMORY TRIGGERS that are consistently used over time and across campaigns will increase the ability of customers to remember the brand and associate it with its most powerful benefits to them. These triggers may include distinctive colors, shapes, icons, sounds, scents and other mnemonic devices. And they might be incorporated into the product itself, its packaging, its merchandising, its signing, its marketing campaigns, its insignia merchandise or other communication vehicles. Often, key elements of a brand's identity system are its primary memory triggers. Here is a related post on brands and memory structures

So, to create a winning brand, focus on awareness, relevant differentiation, value, accessibility, emotional connection and memory triggers. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Brand Identity & Architecture

I have just created a new e-learning course, "Brand Identity & Architecture." 

This is a comprehensive course on brand identity and architecture. In it, you will learn about common brand identity problems, brand identity system components including names, taglines and non-visual components, types of branded entities and their relationships, types of brand architecture, how to rationalize brand architecture following mergers and acquisitions, brand naming conventions and decision criteria, brand identity systems, how to build flexibility into brand identity systems, brand standards, brand style guides and their key elements and ways to insure consistent brand identity execution.

To learn more about the course or to take the course, click HERE.

This is a companion course to my "Importance of Color to Brand Identity" course, available HERE.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Pivoting Your Business During COVID

Some businesses have been the beneficiaries of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were either in the right place at the right time or they seized an opportunity created by the pandemic. Disinfectant product sales were up 230% in March and April of 2020. Clorox has enjoyed great success in 2020. Zoom has become a household word and those of us who regularly attend business meetings likely now use the Zoom platform on a regular basis. Amazon's Jeff Bezos' net worth exploded by $72 billion in 2020. Other online stores and marketplaces such as Wayfair and Etsy have also seen their revenues and profits soar. Pandemic-fueled online shopping has also been very kind to PayPal and other online payment systems. Due to at-home boredom, Facebook and other social media platforms have seen huge increases in usage and associated advertising revenues. Netflix added 26 million new subscribers in the first half of 2020. Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash are all benefiting from the pandemic. UPS and FedEx have experienced record revenues. As people are spending more time in their homes, they are investing in home amenities. Three of my four neighbors added elaborate decks with fire pits and outdoor kitchens to their homes in 2020. Boats and travel trailers have also seen a spike in demand. Vacation rental homes have seen rental nights soar in 2020. And businesses considered to be essential, such as Walmart, have seen their revenues increase significantly.

Other companies have taken advantage of the pandemic in a variety of ways. Many companies have slashed their expenses by reducing their real estate footprints as more and more employees work out of their homes. Other companies have moved their businesses to online platforms. Some local businesses have attracted customers from much larger geographies when they went online. Many churches have seen attendance increase as they switched from live to virtual church services. This transition to online commerce has kept many web designers very busy during the pandemic. Some distilleries have added sanitizer products to their product mixes while other companies have added face masks to their product portfolios. Telemedicine is another industry that has grown significantly due to the pandemic. 

Imagine what an at-home workforce might do to migration pattens and choices of residences. Places with scenic beauty, lower taxes, lower overall costs of living, better school systems, less traffic congestion and similar cultural amenities without all of the hassles of larger cities would stand to benefit from this trend. This also has implications for housing supply and demand and housing prices. Also consider what this might do to office space occupancy and repurposing. The pandemic is also accelerating the demise of brick and mortar retail and especially shopping malls, which are in the midst of being reimagined. 

I have taken my focus groups and brand strategy sessions online and have converted many of my educational offerings from live seminars and workshops to e-learning courses. 

But live theaters, live concerts, live sporting events, airlines, casinos, hotels, restaurants, bars, barbershops and beauty parlors, massage therapists and any other businesses that rely on large crowds or close proximities of people who are not from the same households have suffered. Because of the pandemic and its associated travel restrictions, travel companies and places that depend on tourist spending have also suffered. Which means that many service workers have been fired, furloughed or had their hours significantly reduced. 

Colleges and universities have been particularly hard hit as many have had to give up room and board revenue, while students are less satisfied with tuition rates as more courses are taught online without the social interactions and campus experiences that the students were expecting. Similar issues and frustrations have occurred in delivering primary and secondary education. 

While some people might be counting the months and days until "things get back to normal," it is unwise to have this as an expectation. As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, "change is the only constant in life." And the pandemic has changed a lot. Not only has it changed the fortunes of businesses and individuals, it has also changed business models and even the long-term prospects for some industries. But even further, consider the impact of the pandemic on just one other thing - the environment. Due to decreased commuting, the air got cleaner and millions fewer animals died in our roads. On the less positive side, due to significantly increased online shopping and food delivery, packaging materials have increased almost exponentially. And speaking of the environment, the COVID-19 pandemic is not likely to be the last pandemic in our lifetimes given global climate change. Nor will it be the last disruptive biological, extreme weather or migration event in our lifetimes given the same. The one thing we can count on for the foreseeable future is change and lots of it. 

So, what does all of this mean for you and your businesses and brands? It means that change has already occurred, or if not, it will likely need to occur. And when that change does occur, you may need help rethinking your business model and repositioning your brand to better align them with and to take advantage of the new realities. This is where BrandForward can help. We specialize in helping organizations reformulate business strategies and reposition brands. This includes discovering new revenue streams and new ways that brands can serve their customers. If you are interested in learning more about this service, contact me at vanauken@brandforward.com. 

I wish you and your businesses and brands much success in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Evolution of the Trump Brand

I have been following the Trump brand since I encountered Donald Trump at Studio 54 in the early 1980s. Back then, he had a reputation in New York social circles. He was viewed as an outsider to polite society. He was seen as a nouveau riche playboy and real estate developer who was aggressive but struggling. His book, The Art of the Deal, raised his awareness and his reputation nationally, as did his stint on The Apprentice. The Apprentice really brought him to national prominence. His awareness grew almost exponentially as he ran for and then became president of the US. His need for attention has insured that he has been talked about constantly for the past four years. 

Traditionally, the Trump brand stood for luxury and exclusivity. It was posh. Donald Trump rendered his last name in gold and applied it to condominiums, golf clubs, hotels, resorts, casinos, and even wine and a university to connote quality. But when Donald Trump entered politics and became president of the US, his personal brand began to stand for populism, the common man and people who felt disenfranchised. There is clearly a disconnect between the two manifestations of the brand. And now, it stands for something completely different, but I am getting ahead of myself. 

Brand equity is primarily driven by brand awareness. Brand awareness is the cornerstone of any strong brand. And, as the saying goes, "No publicity is bad publicity." Or is it?

Intrigued by the Trump brand, I fielded a Trump brand survey nationally in 2016 and again in 2019. I just repeated it beginning on January 8, two days after the Capitol Hill insurrection. 

This is how the Trump brand was perceived in 2016 versus today. 

In 2016, here are the words that Americans thought best described Donald Trump (in decreasing order):

  1. Outspoken 
  2. Ambitious 
  3. Confident
  4. Businessman
  5. Rich
  6. Entrepreneurial
  7. Successful
  8. Billionaire 
  9. Energetic
  10. Hard working
  11. Passionate
In 2021, here are the words that Americans think best describe Donald Trump (in decreasing order):
  1. Egotistical
  2. Narcissist
  3. Bully
  4. Selfish
  5. Rude
  6. Outspoken
  7. Crass
  8. Fraud
  9. Dangerous
  10. Authoritarian
  11. Greedy
  12. Corrupt
  13. Ill-mannered
  14. Loud
  15. Superficial
  16. Sexist
  17. Bigoted
  18. Impulsive
  19. Boorish
  20. Pretentious
  21. Narrow-minded
  22. Intolerant
  23. Angry
  24. Huckster
  25. Charlatan
These personality traits were selected from a list of 115 mostly positive personality traits. I have only included those traits that were perceived to "perfectly" or "to a large degree" describe Donald Trump.

It is interesting that the second list (2021) had much higher scores of "perfectly" describes than the first list indicating that people are much more sure of their responses in 2021 than they were in 2016. That is likely due to people feeling much more familiar with Donald Trump now than they did in 2016. This is also why the 2021 list is longer than the 2016 one.

You will notice that only one trait is on both lists - Outspoken.

But people in Donald Trump's political party describe him differently than the average US citizen. Republicans' and conservatives' top responses in 2021 include:
  1. Outspoken
  2. Ambitious
  3. Egotistical
  4. Cunning
  5. Energetic
  6. Entrepreneurial
  7. Hard working
  8. Impulsive
  9. Rich
  10. Shrewd
  11. Crass
Top responses to the open-ended response question, "When you think of the Trump brand, what comes to your mind?" are as follows for 2021
  1. Fake/fraud (16%)
  2. Gaudy/ostentatious/gold toilets (12%)
  3. Fake elegance (10%)
  4. Greed (9%)
  5. Lies (9%)
  6. Overpriced (7%)
  7. Garbage/trash (6%)
  8. Hotels (6%)
  9. No substance (6%)
  10. Over the top (5%)
  11. Bankruptcy (4%)
  12. Corruption (4%)
  13. Criminal (4%)
  14. Racism (4%)
  15. Real estate (4%)
  16. Sickening (4%)
Others highly mentioned: casinos, con artist, gross, egotistical, evil, excess, failed businesses, obnoxious, pretentious, privileged, scam, snobbish, The Apprentice, thief, Trump Tower, vulgar, wealth

Top responses to the open-ended response question, "When you think of Donald Trump, what comes to your mind?" are as follows for 2021: 
  1. Liar (24%)
  2. Narcissist (22%)
  3. Con artist (18%)
  4. Criminal (9%)
  5. Bully (8%)
  6. Cruel (6%)
  7. Dumb/stupid/idiot (6%)
  8. Traitor/treason (6%)
  9. Deplorable (5%)
  10. Evil (5%)
  11. Revolting (5%)
  12. Vulgar (5%)
  13. Biggest loser (4%)
  14. Dictator (4%)
  15. Disgusting (4%)
  16. Fake (4%)
  17. Fraud (4%)
  18. Incompetent (4%)
  19. Mentally ill (4%)
  20. Racist (4%)
Others highly mentioned: asshole, braggart, businessman, cult leader, dangerous, greedy, no moral compass, patriot, self-promotion, smart, trash, worst president

Republicans' and conservatives' top responses regarding the Trump brand are as follows:
  • America
  • Bankruptcy
  • Casinos
  • Cheater
  • Excess
  • Golf courses
  • Hotels
  • Landmark properties
  • Lies
  • Prestige 
  • Real estate
  • Strength
  • Success
  • The Apprentice
  • Trump Tower
  • Wealth

Republicans' and conservatives' top responses regarding Donald Trump are as follows:
  • America First
  • Braggart
  • Bully
  • Challenges status quo
  • Criminal 
  • Crude
  • Disciplined
  • Doesn't get full credit
  • Entrepreneur
  • Liar
  • Loves Americans
  • Misunderstood
  • Narcissist
  • Own worst enemy
  • Patriot
  • Populist
  • Risk taking
  • The Apprentice
  • Vulgar
  • Wasted potential

Clearly, while Trump brand awareness has soared between 2016 and 2021, Trump brand associations have gone from mostly positive to very negative. Having said that, there is still a segment of the US population that views Donald Trump differently. They view him as successful, shrewd and a patriot. They associate him with America First and believe that he has been dependable in delivering upon his promises. 

In context, companies and institutions are shunning President Trump as a pariah after the Capitol Hill insurrection. Twitter and other social media platforms have blocked him from participating. Shopify terminated online stores associated with Trump merchandise. P.G.A. America is walking away from an agreement for his New Jersey golf club to host the P.G.A. Championship tournament in 2022. Trump hotels are experiencing cancelled bookings from individuals and organizations. Corporations are suspending contributions to his campaign and to the GOP. Deutsch Bank and other financial partners are cutting ties with President Trump. New York City has cancelled all contracts with Trump. Several properties are taking the Trump name down from their buildings. Many of his businesses are increasingly unprofitable and a huge amount of his loans are coming due soon.

Breaking with tradition, the Pentagon will not engage in an armed forces farewell or honor Donald Trump’s request for a military-style parade upon his departure from the White House. Scotland does not want Donald Trump to spend time at his golf course there after his departure from Washington, DC. Residents of Palm Beach, Florida have warned Donald Trump that he should not reside at his Mar-a-Lago Club in their community. He is the only US president that has been impeached twice. And he is likely to face multiple criminal charges and legal battles with individuals, states and potentially the federal government upon his departure from Washington, DC.

So, what does all of this mean for the Trump brand? Despite soaring brand awareness, I believe the Trump luxury brand will be all but dead very soon in every place but perhaps a few outposts where Donald Trump is stilled viewed as a hero. However, I think there is still a franchise with ardent Trump supporters, but I believe it will be a different type of brand with a different clientele. Rather than being a luxury brand, it will be a brand for a certain type of self-described patriot. The audience will be similar to Rush Limbaugh's or Breitbart News Network's audience and it will be delivered through various media and supported with insignia merchandise. It will essentially become a fan club of a demagogue. In some small way, this reminds me of how the Abercrombie & Fitch brand pivoted from an upscale brand for mostly older outdoor enthusiasts, especially hunters and fishermen to a hip clothing brand for youth. While the brand kept its name, it changed its audience, product and personality. This is what the Trump brand will need to do to survive. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Trump Brand

I need your help. I am conducting a survey on the Donald Trump brand. I first conducted this survey in June of 2016. I repeated it in January of 2019. I want to compare earlier perceptions to today's perceptions of the Trump brand. I am looking for diverse responses so please share this link with as many people as possible. I will present the results in this blog when I have received enough responses to do so. Thanks in advance for your help with this. Here is the LINK.  

Monday, January 4, 2021

Pretend Your Brand Has Died...


People periodically go through the exercise of revising their brand's essence, promise, personality, unique value proposition and other brand positioning elements. 

A fun approach to this is to pretend that your brand has died. Now you need to write its obituary, its epitaph, and its eulogy. It's obituary is akin to its elevator speech, while its epitaph is akin to its tagline or slogan. While its eulogy is a more thoughtful, in-depth review of the brand. If you want to go even more in-depth, think about writing a documentary about the life and times of your brand. What was your brand best known for? What was its legacy? At its peak, how did people perceive it? What would you want the brand to be known for? Generally, obituaries, epitaphs and eulogies are all positive. 

This could be an exercise for the senior leadership team, the marketing team or all employees. 

To get you started (and just for fun), here are some real epitaphs taken from real gravestones:

  • Joe DiMaggio: “Grace, dignity and elegance personified”
  • Gracie Allen and George Burns: “Together again” 
  • Robert Frost: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
  • Rodney Dangerfield: “There goes the neighborhood.”
  • Mel Blanc: "That's all folks"
  • Joannes Keppler: “I used to measure the skies, now I measure the shadows of Earth. Although my mind was sky-bound, the shadow of my body lies here.”
  • Victor William Braddick (an English farmer): “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land”
  • George Washington Carver: “He found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world”
  • Robert Clay Allison (a gunslinger): "He never killed a man that did not need killing"
  • Helen Herczberg Gawara: "She bore witness to the holocaust. She is now set free."
  • Russell Larsen: "Two things I love most, good horses and beautiful women. And when I die I hope they tan this old hide of mine and make it into a lady's riding saddle, so I can rest in peace between the two things I love most."
  • Bill Kugle (a member of the Texas House of Representatives): "He never voted for Republicans and had little to do with them"
  • Herman Harband: "My wife Eleanore Arthur of Queens, N.Y. lived like a princess for 20 years traveling the world with the best of everything. When I went blind, she tried to poison me, took all my money, all my medication and left me in the dark, alone and sick. It's a miracle I escaped. I won't see her in heaven because she's surely going to hell!"
This exercise can help people rediscover the brand's purpose, realign with its mission and vision and re-craft its unique value proposition.