Posts Tagged 'brand positioning'

My Future Was BRITE

It was great fun to be at Columbia’s Center for Global Brand Leadership’s BRITE Conference yesterday and today.

Professor Don Sexton and David Rogers presented some of initial findings and implications from our new CMO Study on ROI in the Era of BIG DATA.  This was a joint study of the Center for Global Brand Leadership and the NYAMA.  The very generous sponsors of the study were the Greenbook and ResearchNow.  There were many other people involved in championing the idea of this study including Edwin Roman of ESPN/NYAMA, Rick Kendall, Debra Berliner and Christine Heye of the NYAMA; Sylvia Chu, Andrew Kyrejko and Michael Dudley of Verse Group; and Matt Quint and the incomparable Bernd Schmitt of Columbia.

If I had one message to give CMOs about the study it is: “You are not alone in your struggles to stuff digital marketing into traditional processes and methods.”

And there’s a good reason.

Big Data is a Big Headache for most marketers, revealing a fundamental Big Problem: The underlying foundation of marketing is rickety, fragile.  Piling more digital innovations on top of it reveals the problems inherent in the traditional positioning model of how marketing works.  In fact, marketing management has become like an elephant riding on a bicycle.

The good news is that there are newer approaches to marketing that are built for the digital world.  Until now, many of those breakthroughs in marketing have been created internally at corporations like Coca-Cola (liquid and linked), McDonald’s (Brand Journalism), P&G and others.  The principles of their approaches are available to anyone to adopt and adapt.  Principles such narrative — e.g. seeing your brand more like a hit Broadway Musical or attraction at Disney World rather than a 2 dimensional billboard.  Principles such as using powerful metaphors, co-creating meaning with customers and, yes, engaging with them on their terms.

In the coming weeks expect to see more of the data from the study so that you can make your own judgements.  The NYAMA will be holding a seminar to share the findings in greater depth than was possible at BRITE.  Stay tuned!

Who is Jack Trout and what’s he done for marketing lately?

Jack Trout has written a new book, that’s what he’s done!  Come and meet Jack in person and find out more next Wednesday, May 25th at the NYAMA’s “Meet The Author” breakfast series.

It starts at the ungodly hour of 8 am with a jolt of caffeine followed by a conversation with Jack Trout.  It will be held at the New York American Marketing Association offices on 116 East 27th Street, 6th floor, 1-212-687-3280.  You can sign up at

Jack Trout is the co-author of Positioning.  And of Re-positioning.  And of many other well-know books on marketing.  If you’ve never heard him speaking about branding, you really should come.

So here’s one of my favorite Jack Trout stories.

In 2004 the CMO of McDonald’s, Larry Light, revealed the new branding strategy behind McDonald’s incredible turn-around story.  How incredible was the turn-around?  In less than a year his approach lifted the company to higher sales, revenues, margins and growth of a brand that many people had written off as just for young families.

Here’s Larry Light in a NYC speech to the heads of ad agencies and clients:

Beware of the so-called “positionistas.” They say that a brand can only stand for one thing in the mind of the market. This may make some sense for small brands. But for big bands – like McDonald’s – it’s nonsense.

Identifying one brand position, communicating it in a repetitive manner is old-fashioned, out-of-date, out-of-touch brand communication. Simplifying a brand to a single position is not simplification, it is simplistic. Simplistic marketing is marketing suicide.

Then Light introduced an entirely new approach to marketing, to advertising, to branding.  It is an approach to marketing with narrative and storytelling at the heart of it.  Here’s how Larry described it:

A brand is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, complex message, not a single-dimensional, single-positioned, simplistic message. Customers will not accept monotonous, repetition of the same simplistic message. They want a dynamic, creative chronicle.

And, big brands like McDonald’s are not uni-dimensional. We are a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, multi-segmented, many-sided brand.  So, we changed from mass marketing a single message to multifaceted, multi-segmented, many-sided marketing.

We think of our new marketing approach as “Brand Journalism.”

In Ad Age Jack Trout responded.  Go back to the August 2004 and you’ll see the headline reads:

McD’s abandoning of positioning is “Lunacy”

Perhaps it was lunacy but it set the company on a path that has put it into the stratosphere.  McDonald’s was 1 of 2 DJIA companies in 2008 to end the year with their stock price higher!  Gold Effies in the US.  Global Gold Effie.  Record breaking sales.  That’s the kind of lunacy that I like!

Agree or disagree with Jack Trout….the point is you need to pay attention to him.  It is absolutely, entirely and certainly worth going and seeing him first hand next Wednesday, May 25, at the NYAMA.

Marketing to the human mind

What if everything you did was based on a premise that you later learned was wrong?

Well, that’s how I’ve been feeling about marketing since I finished reading a book about the human mind.  I thought, “wow, that really changes how I understand the ways our minds work.”

And then it struck me: If marketing is “the battle for your mind” then we better have the right model of the how the mind works. But all of the marketing books, from “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” onward are based on an out-of-date model of our minds.

In other words, marketing has been waging a battle with a wrong map of the battlefield!

Here’s something to think about.  In the “Mind’s Eye”, the neurologist Oliver Sacks shares many stories that demonstrate the plasticity of the human brain.  By this he means that we use many different areas of our brains for even the most simple task.  This is the new model for our minds.

In the old model each part of the brain was hard-wired to specific tasks such as memory, taste, sight and so on.  That’s the battle plan of Positioning.

Oliver Sacks shares many examples of how in the last 20 years there has been a gigantic leap in our understanding of how our minds work.  New technologies such as the fMRI (functional MRI) make it possible to watch the insides of our minds as we react to pictures, words, movies, ads, sounds, scents.  This technology suddenly made it possible to follow what happens inside of our heads over time.   There is a tremendous amount of activity when we hear music we love, a photograph of close family members, or even go into the supermarket to buy food.   Much of this activity in our minds happens below the level of conscious perception for most people — and profoundly influences our behaviors.  Our memories change.  Our  “knowledge” changes.  Perception in our minds is like an explosion of fireworks filling the sky.

Sacks shows how old model no longer fits the actual evidence of how the brain works in the real world.  This new evidence is leading neurologists and cognitive neuroscientists to reinvent their understanding of how our mind works.  From a hard-wired model to a plasticity model.

Damn!  Marketing is using the wrong map of the battlefield (assuming we are still waging war for people’s minds).

If we reinvent our understanding of our minds, then we need to reinvent marketing.

Wow, Oliver Sacks really opened up my eyes.  Metaphorically speaking.


Welcome to the Decade of Narrative Marketing

Marketing is undergoing a transformation.

Marketing is being re-invented.

The so-called “22 immutable laws of marketing” have mutated.  They’ve been broken.  Now they are being repealed.

Bold moves by companies such as Samsung, Apple, Google, Hyundai, Adidas, JetBlue and McDonald’s — to name some of the most visible ones — are re-writing the marketing playbook.

The innovation is coming from the corporate side and from bold thinkers .  To name just a few — Douglas Holt, Marc Gobé, Gerald Zaltman, Larry Light, Joan Kiddon, Joseph Plummer, Jae Hang Park.  There are many others.   We can all learn from the example of Philip Kotler, the father of modern marketing, who is continually seeking a better framework for marketing as the world evolves (Marketing 3.0 is his newest explanation of this third wave in reinventing marketing).

The future of marketing is built on a better understanding of how the human mind works.  The future of marketing is based on new learning into the sheer power of metaphors and story telling to shape the very way we understand the world.  It is based on the breakthroughs being made by neurologists who are able to study our brains in ways unimaginable 15 years ago.  fMRI and other technology are opening new windows into our brain, giving us a better view of what happens inside.   This is not a tale from a Avatar or some other 3-D science fiction film.  It is well-known from the work of Steven Pinker, Oliver Sacks and others.

The future of marketing is based on the simple principle of co-creation.  That means the consumer is central to the process. It recognizes the essential role consumers have in co-creating meaning and value.

The future of marketing includes that essential 4th dimension — time.   It will no longer look at the world in a 2 x 2 grid.  It is flexible, dynamic.   New marketing will replace old marketing the way that steel replaced iron; the way that LCD flat screen TVs replaced vacuum tube TVs

The future of marketing embraces technology as a strategy, not just an execution.  The new new thing –QR codes, social media, hyperlocal marketing — the technologies of the moment will continuously change.  Marketing will break down the internal silos that agencies & corporations erect around the digital world of online and mobile to separate them from the analog world of TV and Radio.  The future of marketing looks at the ways a story jumps from one medium to another, the way a book becomes a movie becomes a Broadway musical becomes a video game becomes a theme park attraction becomes an app, becomes an iPad iBook, becomes….

The past of marketing is static (position), focused on the competitor (different) and not the consumer, reductive, minimalist, simplistic to the point of trying to summarize everything into a single word.

The future of marketing is narrative.  It will:

A) Tap the power of metaphor and story telling

B) Co-create

C) Be alive, living in time

E) Embrace new technology to tell stories in new ways

1/1/11 is the start of the Decade of Narrative Marketing.  The future is an open book.  Go ahead, write the next chapter.

Client and Agency relationships

The ANA teamed up with the Advertising Week group to put on a great panel discussion about client and agency relationships.

One thing that struck me right away was how many times agency people kept using the word “partner” to describe the relationship.  It was almost never used by the CMOs on the panel. “Clients more and more are buying projects, not relationships” said one agency executive.  In response, one CMO said, “We are looking for relationships but we do date on the side.”

From the client side the word that stuck out was “team”.  The CMOs spoke of their agencies as vital members of the marketing team, with enormously valuable contributions.

Clients need agencies.  They need them for many reasons.  But the role that agencies need to play is changing faster than the mindset of many traditional agencies and holding companies.   The irony is that agencies are valued by clients as agents of change.  But the most difficult change for agencies is often internal.

Another thing that struck me were the very different perspectives.  At times I got the impression that the agencies were having one conversation and the clients were having another conversation altogether.  Yes, the agency executives pointed to the rapid turnover in CMOs as a core problem.  On the other side, Roger Adams observed that agencies don’t see enough of the whole marketing picture.  It is up to the CMO to watch the priorities and know who to bring to the table at the right time because marketing has become so complex.

Even so, most marketers still don’t have it figured out.

Many of the panelists held up P&G  as a model for how to successfully bring together everyone at one table as part of one team.  The difficulty of the challenge was evident when at least 2 people mentioned that P&G “forced” their agencies to work together.  And it also required P&G to reinvent marketing within their own company.  Susan Giannino said, “It wouldn’t have worked if P&G didn’t make organizational, process and methodological changes.”  Which really does get to the heart of the matter.  Marketing needs to be reinvented.

The traditional brand positioning approaches have broken down.  The advertiser/agency model has broken down.  The textbooks are out of date.  What people learned 10 years ago is about 11 years out of date.  The agencies don’t have the resources to solve the complexity of the problem.   Most Business Schools are overlooking the extent of the problem and not developing new models or theories (Professor Gerry Wind of Wharton raised the alarm about this a year ago in an editorial he co-authored).

As one panelist said, this is perhaps the greatest, the most exciting time to be in marketing!

My perspective — the companies who are doing it successfully are essentially reinventing marketing by themselves.  In addition to P&G, I would add McDonald’s, Samsung, Coca-Cola and BMW.

Selling a million books! – or – creating the new Touchstone Books colophon

It’s been a lot of fun working with the folks at Touchstone/Fireside books on their rebranding, including the publisher Stacy Creamer and associate publisher David Falk.

During the process I learned a bit about printing and publishing that I had never heard before.  In publishing a logo is called a colophon.  It’s history traces back to the times of private printers in 15th century Europe.  Not surprisingly, it is also known as a printer’s mark.

There is something talismanic about a book colophon.  A symbol, a calling.  Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time looking at those talismans on the spines of books.  A by-product of a life surrounded by books — everything from working at a used book depot to working for J.D. Salinger’s literary agent, to my graduate degree in creative writing and my own fiction writing.  Right or wrong, I  judge a book not by its cover but by the colophon on the cover.  The 3 fish of FSG.  The borzoi dog of Alfred A. Knopf.  And the Penguin.

Farrar Straus & Giroux colophon

W.A. Dwiggins created many versions of the Knopf borzoi colophon.

Borzoi colophon by W.A. Dwiggins

Paul Rand did a borzoi colophon, too:

Borzoi colophon by Paul Rand

And a more recent one by Triboro Design.

Borzoi colophon by Triboro Design

It is wonderful to trace how the colophons of Knopf have gone in so many directions and yet maintained their integrity and coherence.

There’s something here at branding people can discover.  Many of us in corporate identity and brand are sticklers about consistency, consistency, consistency in applying logos and designs.  When a design like the London 2012 Olympics comes out, with multiple variations, it violates this sense of consistency.  But Knopf beat everyone to this game years ago!

You can read more about the history of the borzoi here.  Did you know that Khalil Gibran created one of the borzoi colophons?

In the early 1990s I was at a dinner in honor of Peter Smith.  During his thanking the University for the honor, he explain that as a child he wanted to be a Penguin when he grew up.  That desire to be a Penguin led him to became a writer and involved with the arts — he is Director Emeritus of Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center of the Arts and former Dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts.  Ah, what a wonderful statement!  When I grow up I want to be a Penguin!  (Actually I am partially a Penguin, since they’ve included my writing in The Bruce Springsteen Reader).

Penguin colophon by E. P. Young

Here’s the anthology of writings about Springsteen which included my short fiction piece, “Asbury Park”:

Penguin anthology including my short fiction

A couple of days ago Stacy Creamer, the publisher of Touchstone, unofficially introduced the new Touchstone colophon on Facebook.  I’ll post it here when there’s a more official launch, along with some comments from Michael Thibodeau about where he drew his inspiration for the colophon.  We’ll also put up something more official on our company website.

I am expecting that the new colophon will be on millions and millions of book spines come this fall!  No pressure, Stacy and David!

Holes in a branding theory – or – block that positioning, metaphorically speaking

I have a problem with certain marketing metaphors that have been thrown around recently. For one, I don’t have a hole in my head…My mind isn’t like a filing cabinet…My memory is not analogous to a book stuffed into one of the many bookcases in my home (which need dusting every now and then)…

My closets are for hangers and skeletons…

And when it comes to my mind, metaphors about refrigerators and car garages conjure up the wrong mental pictures.  I need those analogies like a I need a hole in my head….

Here’s what I mean — an article by Al Reis in the April 1st edition of Ad Age.

To file something in the mind is conceptually no different than filing something in your home or apartment.

Clothes in the closet. Books in the bookcase. Food in the refrigerator. The car in the garage.

“A place for everything and everything in its place,” goes the old saying.

Today, we have many well-known brands with no places in the mind to put them.

Holes in Brand Positioning

I sometimes think of this as the “call and response” theory of branding. The advertiser says one word, “Direct” and you play back the name of the brand “Dell”.  “Printer” and “HP”.  Like Cab Calloway singing Minnie the Moocher.

How about this —  instead of a file cabinet, the mind is like a pinball machine.  The more things that the silver ball hits, the more lights that blink, the more noise that it makes, the higher the score, the more likely we are to remember.  A strong brand triggers associations across the brain, lighting up the neural networks the way the Pinball Wizard keeps those lights a-flashing with his crazy flipper fingers.

Strong metaphors, many associations, stories and anecdotes and mental images, narratives — those are what effective branding is based on.  Instead of standing for one word, brands should be understood as wonderfully woven tapestries of memories, images that we can wrap ourselves in.

Branding tools people use vs. branding tools that are useful

I thought this was rather fascinating.  We did a simple cross-tab of marketers who use a variety of branding tools on one axis and how useful they thought the tool was on the other.

Rather revealing.

Seems that many marketers are using tools that they don’t find to be particularly useful.  At least that is the read from Frank and from my team members.  It aligns with all of the other signals that we are getting from marketers — they want breakthrough branding methods that are designed for today’s world.

I just keep going back to the book Chaotics by Kotler and Caslione — where they make a very clear point that we can’t go back to marketing-as-usual because that world doesn’t exist anymore.  I’d actually quote the book but I’m in Frankfurt at the moment with a very limited library of  Wallace Shawn essays.  He’s a marvelous playwright and a very funny actor.  His more serious work is the play “Aunt Dan and Lemon” and his acting has included everything from Woody Allen movies to being Jon Stewart’s therapist on The Daily show.

But I digress.  Back to the business of branding.

The chart below is from our study of 130 CMOs and marketing decision makers that was fielded in January.  You can get a more detailed copy of the study in earlier posts.  And we are putting this together with the 2009 data for a more in-depth look at the state of marketing as we move into this brave new decade.

So how do you think branding should be reinvented?

CMOs on branding tools: Use vs. Useful

CMOs need to rebuild their brands in 2010

Here it is, the trends reports on CMO attitudes about branding, advertising and marketing!


Did brand positioning contribute to the decline of Bud Light?

There’s a fascinating article in last week’s Ad Age about the decline of Bud Light and Bud.

In a nutshell, the article says that A-B brought in Cambridge Group to help shape the marketing and advertising for Bud Light.  As a result, they adopted an attribute driven model which is directly connected to declining sales for the brand.  The article then goes on to point the finger at Cambridge Group — which I believe is unfair as I will discuss in a moment.  But first some quotes from the article.

But Cambridge’s exhaustive findings led directly to dramatic shifts in how Budweiser and Bud Light were marketed. Each brand largely abandoned the emotional appeals that had helped them become the two largest beer brands in the U.S. for straightforward pitches about process and product attributes that coincided with worsening sales for both labels.

Emphasis added.

“Drinkability” had been in fine print on Budweiser’s label since the 1960s and often raised in creative briefings to communicate Bud Light’s appeal: You could drink a lot of it, and it was less watery than Coors Light and less bitter than Miller Lite. Cambridge’s process strongly endorsed it as the ideal rational benefit.

So what went wrong and why do I believe that the Cambridge Group is not the fundamental problem?

My analysis — both Cambridge and A-B were using an out-dated model for marketing.  They were using the traditional brand positioning model.  It is a “Think-Feel-Do” model that says you need to have a point of differentiation — drinkability in this case — and that is the one thing you stand for.

What Cambridge Group did, brand positioning, is still the dominant practice in marketing.  So they are not to be faulted for doing what everyone else does.

The problem is really that the methodology has lost effectiveness in today’s world.  It was built for a world of 30 second tv spots and 3 networks.

The irony is that all of this could have been easily avoided.   The ARF published a study called “On the Road to Advertising Effectiveness” in 2007 that specifically examined beer advertising.  The study and 3 year taskforce demonstrated that attribute-driven advertising is less effective than story-driven advertising.  They advocate a new model of engagement, recognizing the importance of co-creation, metaphor and narrative.

Full disclosure, I worked on the taskforce and contributed to the report’s implications.

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