Catalyst Branding
Modern Branding: It’s About Relatability

Modern Branding: It’s About Relatability

January 12, 2018

Is Branding Dead?

If you’re a marketer or a business leader and you keep up with the latest perspectives, it’s hard to come away without thinking that branding as we know it is dead.

Many hold that with the maturation of search and the ubiquity of social media, the tools we all learned in graduate school and leveraged in our professional roles are no longer relevant for the demands of our new world.  Engaging communications have been supplanted by fulfilling experiences as the prime marketing focus for today’s business leaders.

I think this is right … mostly.

Engagement & Loyalty Decisions

There’s no question that our clients/consumers/customers have changed the process they move through to make their buying decisions with the enhanced utility delivered by search and social media.  We see this clearly through the customer journey mapping work we do.

What I’m not convinced is whether the factors contributing to their decision have changed dramatically.

Today’s targets still need to reach three key conclusions:

  1. “Is it right for me?”
  2. “Is it best for me relative to alternatives?”
  3. “Does it deliver to my expectations?”

There’s no question that how they go about reaching these conclusions has changed and therein lies our challenge.

Experience or Branding?

“Does it deliver to my expectations?” is certainly answered through experience.  The feel and performance of the product, the helpfulness of the service, the comfort from the feedback they get, both extrinsically and intrinsically all contribute to our targets’ ability to reach this conclusion.  The more expectations are met and exceeded, the more people are willing to share their experiences with others and do it again when the need arises.

“Is it best for me, relative to alternatives?” is answered through a combination of experience and the influence of those trusted by our targets –  friends and other users.  If we’ve done our work well, they’re also interested in what we have to say about our offer.  Testing, evaluating, studying the experience of others all tip the scale in our favor as the target is making the final purchase decision.  Again, experience is the prime catalyst for this decision.  But, if we are trusted, our communications can be influential as well.

This brings us to the first very important decision – “Is it right for me?”   There’s no question that our targets’ experience and the experience of others influence this gating decision.  But, before experience begins its influence, we need to establish a sense of relevance to jump start the active evaluation process.

This is where branding and marketing can still play an important role.

Universal Drivers of Demand

Recent research and an analysis of drivers of demand across high consideration b2b and b2c categories reveals that a sense of relevance is built in a series of steps.

The foundation is perceived competence – does it know how to do what I need to get done? Does it do it well?

The next layer is empathy – do they demonstrate an understanding of me and my needs?  Do they get people like me?

Basic trust is fostered by establishing competence and empathy.  Here our targets begin to give us “the benefit of the doubt” and they are open to what we have to say and do, subject to the test of experience.

The ultimate step – Confidence – is built upon the foundation of competence and empathy, and the validation of trust.

These four factors influence the “right for me” decision and help to establish the foundation for the “better than alternatives” decision.  Each are shaped by direct experience and the experience of others, but they are also influenced significantly by the Modern Branding work we do to establish the foundation of relevance – “relatability.”


Brand “relatability” is a built through a combination of perceived Competence & Character.

Again, competence is simply, “can they do what I need them to do?”  Branding can help establish competence through story telling that helps our targets understand what we do, how we do it and importantly why we do it.

Character builds on competence to define who we are and will be in the context of a budding relationship.  Branding helps to shed light on character by expressing our personality and our style of interaction.  It helps our targets take measure of our fitness for them – trustworthiness, sincerity, empathy and loyalty – and encourages them to suspend their natural skepticism.

Relatability is also enhanced though freshness.  As is the case in any relationship, freshness attracts and refreshing reinvigorates interest.  Branding is uniquely suited to establish and sustain a sense of freshness that keeps our targets willingly engaged.

Modern Branding Drives Attention & Action

Today, it is commonly understood that branding without experience leads to likely failure.  I would hold that the opposite is true as well.  Experience alone can’t carry the burden of establishing relatability.  The two must work in concert to fulfill the process our targets move through in making their engagement, purchase and loyalty decisions.

So, in my mind, branding isn’t dead.  It’s different … and still must be mastered to build the  relatability required to stimulate attention and drive the actions needed to grow and sustain our business.









Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, Marketing Strategy

The Changing Role Of Brand In The Digital Economy

The Changing Role Of Brand In The Digital Economy

January 18, 2017

I spent the holidays pondering how the role of brand is changing in the midst of digital transformation.

As branding grew to prominence, important branding practitioners defined the role of brand as a decision enabler, information source and risk mitigator.  Brand helped guide customers to better purchase decisions.

As we shifted into the experience economy, practitioners evolved their thinking to focus on defining the role of brand as actions that contribute to a more fulfilling experience.  In fact when you look at new brands like Airbnb and Uber, the brand and the experience are one in the same.  The brand simply took shape as the experience gained traction.

Lately, many thinkers postulate that the role of brand is to define the organization’s purpose.  They hold that purpose driven brands are uniquely capable of forging emotional based connections with employees, b2b and b2c customers. This is especially true when building an employer brand strategy,

My sense is that brand plays all of these roles, but no one of these ladders up to the primary role for brand in the digital economy.  A review of practitioner websites yielded no consensus.  In fact, it led to more questions than answers.  It seems that the branding world is at an inflection point with little clarity as to the path forward.

So I spent time during the holiday break speaking with everyday customers – both consumers and professionals.  I wanted to understand their unvarnished views of the role brand plays in their lives.

As I imagined, brand continues to play all of these roles – decision catalyst, experience clarifier and purpose specifier.  However, a new, very important primary role, emerged from these discussions.

Digital transformation gives customers new tools to develop and maintain relationships with the things that are important in their lives.  With these tools, relationships transcend physical limitations of time and proximity.

The biggest shift for brands in the digital economy is the desire by customers of all types to forge real relationships with the brands in their lives.  Whether it be b2b or b2c, customers are increasingly demanding active dialogues with brands throughout the purchase process and beyond.

Within this quest for active relationships, a new, very important role for brand emerges.  The people I interviewed seek to “personify” the products and services they are engaging with.  The most successful brands do a good job in establishing “who” the brand is in the relationship, so that customers and prospects find them more relatable and desirable.

As with human to human relationships, this is accomplished through a combination of physical attractiveness, magnetic personality and the promise of mutual value exchange.

Physical attractiveness piques and retains attention.  Humans are drawn to what they find physically attractive, but attractiveness alone is not sufficient.  It is simply the gateway to establishing the relationship.

Personality enhances attractiveness.  It’s the magnet that draws individuals together.  It establishes the basis for relatability and, holding attractiveness constant, is the prime source for differentiation.  Just think of your group of friends.  It’s personality that distinguishes one from another and is often the reason you’re drawn more closely to one over the others.

The promise of mutual value exchange distinguishes true relationships from simple acquaintances.  People have room in their lives for few real relationships.  The important ones transcend attractiveness.  The “worth my time” question is ultimately answered through a relatable value proposition that speaks to real needs – both rational and emotional.

Together, these three aspects “personify” the brand to encourage the connections needed to forge relationships.

Well developed, they fulfill the central role of brand in the digital economy – to humanize the brand so that prospects and customers are encouraged to build the relationships they seek with the brands that are important to the ways they live, work and play.

Posted under: Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, Marketing Strategy

Relationship Brands: Branding’s Next Chapter

Relationship Brands: Branding’s Next Chapter

October 11, 2016

As millennials become  more influential than boomers,  branders are quickly realizing that current practices need to be rethought to meet the demands of this transformative cohort.

Recent studies reveal that millennials are demanding brands to develop more individualized relationships, but there’s little consensus around what that actually means for the practice of branding.

Stepping back, it’s clear to me that the answer lies in better understanding the notion of relationships.

Millennial relationships are digital based. These relationships seamlessly flow between virtual and physical worlds.  Interaction is as much through text and social media tools as it is through face-to-face experiences.

In this digital world, the distinctions between people and entities blur.  Millennials expect  the entities they interact with to relate to them in the same fashion as the individuals in their lives.

Relationship mores shape expectations regarding behavior in the digital world as they have through history in the physical world.  Examining these mores closely provides the clues needed to build the type of relationships required to fulfill millennial demand.

Trust & empathy are the foundation

As a starting point, it’s been true through time that trust and empathy provide the foundation for sustained relationships.  Answering the “Can I trust you?” and “Do you get me?” questions help to breed the confidence so critical to building meaningful, long-term relationships.

Role defines strength

The difference between meaningful relationships and mere acquaintances is often determined by the role that relationship plays in our lives. The more meaningful the role, the more important the relationship.  Relationship brands must understand the roles that are needed and be very clear as to the role they wish to play in the lives of their millennial customers.

Personality differentiates

Personality is an underleveraged differentiator.  Think of your circle of friends.  What distinguishes one from another?  Often it’s personality that defines the difference.  Relationship brands need to learn to use their distinctive personality as a means for standing apart.

Interaction behavior must change

Relationship mores are very clear when it comes to acceptable and unacceptable ways of interacting.  Dominating conversations, talking too much, talking only about yourself and constantly interrupting are all unacceptable relationship behaviors.  Yet these characterize most brand behavior in advertising, promotion and social media.  Relationship brands need to transform these interaction styles.

Doing beats saying

In a good relationship, doing is more important than saying.  People who promise and fail to deliver are universally derided.  Relationship brands need to make delivery the priority.

Staying fresh is key

Finally, great relationships evolve through time to stay relevant in the lives of the participants.  Relationship brands need to anticipate how customer needs will transform as the relationship progresses in order to stay fresh and relevant through time.

I find it amazing how often a return to fundamentals can provide the insight needed to navigate major inflection points.  When it comes to my world of branding, a re-examination of the fundamentals of relationship behavior provides real insight as to what brands need to stop doing and what they need to begin doing once again in order to be right for the expectations of a significant new cohort.

Millennials demand relationship brands.  This simple lens can help us discover just how to be the type of brand that will be right for them, both now and into the future.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy

How Millennials Are Transforming Branding

How Millennials Are Transforming Branding

September 21, 2016

Traditional Branding On The Cusp of Disruption

Several studies reveal that traditional marketing and branding disciplines are losing their impact when it comes to serving millennials.  Credibility and differentiation are no longer earned simply through what we say.  Instead, they’re established by what we do and what others say about us.

How Millennials Decide

Millennials make purchase decisions in a manner uniquely theirs:

They learn as much as they can

They share with their trusted network to gather a consensus of opinion

They strive to forge a two way relationship

They demand discussion and responsiveness

They’re drawn to the authentic – those who do what they say and are true to what they promise

They’re motivated by customized “deals”

“Value” is the prime driver


The Role of Brand is Different for Millennials

The role of brand is about shaping a narrative that defines who you are in a potential relationship:

What you believe

Why you exist

What you do to deliver on this reason for being

How you do it

Personality is more critical than ever:

Personifies the brand

Humanizes the relationship

Shapes communication style – verbal and visual

Guides behavior – relating, teaching, solving, delivering


Selling is bad.  Sharing and teaching are good.

Millennials seek to be better equipped to make the decision themselves.  They don’t want others making the decision for them and telling them what to do.


Branding is necessary, but no longer sufficient

Millennials need to be engaged as they live. Interrupting them and forcing them to listen to you turns them off.  This is one of the major reasons so many are turning away from cable to streaming content. Advertising as we know it is no longer the most effective engagement mechanism.

The new challenge is capturing their attention in the context of how they live.  Giving them the information they need to teach themselves and allowing them the freedom to engage with you as they prefer through the channels they choose to use.

If you’re successful in engaging them, they will demand an active dialogue.  They will expect you to shape your offer for them based upon what you’re learning in that process.

They will share intensely.  If they see you as right for them, all of their friends will know about you and will be encouraged to give you a try.  If, however, you turn them off, then rest assured that all in their network will know about it.

Relevance continues to be an important driver.  But the definition of relevance is expanded to include both what you offer and who you are in the context of a potential relationship.

Authenticity makes or breaks a relationship.  “Are you true to who you say you are?” Is the core question millennials constantly ask.  This is the foundation of the new trust.

Responsiveness is also key.  Do you hear me and are you willing to show me how much you’re prepared to shape your offer for me based upon what you know about me?


In Conclusion

Branding, engagement and delivery are all one in the same for millennials.  They want to form a relationship with an authentic source of value who will commit to being true to their word in promise and deed, engage with them in an active dialogue, shape their offer to meet their desires, deliver in all the ways promised and reward them for their loyalty to you.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, Marketing Strategy, Success Driving Briefs

Need to Work On Your Brand? Coaching May Be The Best Way to Go.

Need to Work On Your Brand? Coaching May Be The Best Way to Go.

September 13, 2016

Enhancing Brand Consulting Effectiveness

Since founding Catalyst five years ago, we’ve been working to hone the effectiveness of traditional brand consulting engagements.   Our clients told us that the big firms take too long and cost too much.  They’re seeking a faster and more cost effective alternative.

We were able to fulfill their requests by delivering a new model that actually increased outcome quality through a streamlined process that was both faster and less expensive.  By giving clients complete access to the best minds in the firm – those capable of working both smarter and faster – we’ve been able to create business enhancing solutions in less than half the time, for a third of the fees the big firms are charging.

Coaching as an Alternative

Along the way, a select number of clients have started to ask for a new type of engagement.  These clients have a strong staff with significant internal capabilities. They’re confronting a new reality where brand alone, while necessary, is no longer sufficient to build attention and engagement needed to spur demand. And they’re being asked increasingly to serve a C-Suite role that integrates marketing and culture to grow revenue and deliver a compelling customer experience.

These clients don’t need an outside firm to come in, do their work and deliver an externally produced branding solution.  Instead, they seek external expertise to coach, guide and teach their internal staff to create their own integrated branding, marketing and customer experience solutions.

The Benefits of Coaching

This approach has many benefits.  Most of all, because the internal team created the solution, they tend to be more committed to doing all it takes to make it successful.  The process of taking ownership breeds the collaboration required to create truly integrated solutions across marketing and customer experience.  Furthermore, the solutions tend to be more organic in that they are actively managed and easily honed  to respond to internal & external catalysts.

Finding the Right Coach

The challenge lies in finding the right coaching partner.  As with all other forms of coaching,  a branding coach that follows a rote process for each and every challenge is the wrong way to go.  Instead, it is important to find a coach who has the expertise to work within models and frameworks that are right for the individual firm.  Most clients already have institutionalized frameworks.  If that isn’t the case, most talented teams have experience with particular frameworks that will ease the developmental process.  If neither is the case, the coach needs to be able to tailor the right framework  to the firm’s needs given the nature of how decisions are made.

The Coach’s Role

First, the coach must guide the team through the process of defining the real business challenge and/or opportunity to be addressed in order to spur demand, ignite growth or neutralize competition.

Second, the coach helps the team to understand market psychology, identify inflection points, map strengths and weaknesses and determine territories for viable long-term positioning based upon relevance and differentiation.

Third, the coach guides the team to chart the customer experience by mapping the path to purchase and the journey to loyalty.  Each touchpoint needs to be identified and evaluated.  From this, the team determines the fit and strengths of the current brand identity system and frames a plan to retain, refine or transform the brand to fulfill the opportunity.

Fourth, the coach helps the leader shape the resourcing plan – coordinating internal resources and identifying best in class external resources to manage the process of creative exploration, refinement and finalization.  The coach also plays a very important role with the C-Suite, reinforcing the leader’s recommendations and providing the context key decision makers need to evaluate proposed solutions.

Fifth, the coach guides the various teams through the process of creating execution plans for marketing and customer experience to optimize the paths to purchase and loyalty.  In the process, the coach identifies key training requirements and works with the leader to develop internal team skills.

Finally, the coach works with the leader to institutionalize a program for success measurement, on-going evaluation, strategy refinement and new opportunity identification.  This ensures a constant state of readiness and enables an organic go to market solution.

The Brand Coach – My Favorite Way to Engage

For me, this is a welcome new development.  My most enjoyable and successful programs resulted from, or evolved into, this type of coaching relationship.  The clients I’ve worked with would testify that this approach yields team buy-in and executional effectiveness more successfully than traditional models.  It’s an approach best suited for the dynamic demands faced by today’s marketing organizations.

Reach out if you’d like to know more –

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Marketing Strategy

How to Convert Fresh Attention to Action

How to Convert Fresh Attention to Action

April 12, 2016

Now That I Have Your Attention …

Every once in a while, good fortune shines on your brand when an important event generates wide spread attention. Such was the case for Callaway this week when Danny Willett emerged as an unexpected winner of the Masters.

When this happens to you, what do you need to be ready to convert this attention into the action needed to expand sales?

Start by understanding your customer’s decision process

A quick review of the consumer decision-making process in your category will tell you exactly where to focus. For most prospects, new attention compels people to want to learn more about the brand. Some will go directly to your website. Others will need to be nudged to act on their new intentions.

Nudge with non-intrusive media

To nudge, you need to be where they are looking. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and relevant information sites are all places your targets will be using to learn more about the event that helped to raise your brand’s visibility.

By participating in these important media outlets you’ll be in the right place to naturally influence your targets to take the actions needed to learn more about your brand. You won’t be interrupting them. You won’t be alienating them. Instead you’ll be working in the natural flow they use to learn more about what happened and participate in the debate.

Email can also an effective tool, but a bit more intrusive than social media. The good news is that email gives the consumer the option of clicking in only if they are interested.

Content to inform and answer important questions

Once they’ve been nudged, your targets will do what they normally do to determine whether what you have to offer fits their lives. They’ll want to learn what they need to learn to make a smart decision.

This is where powerful content comes in. You’ll want to help these targets understand why you exist, what you have to offer and how it is right for their lives. You’ll want to help them assess your value relative to what they’re already using and decide whether or not to give you a try.

Short information rich video content, how to lessons, and third party assessments should always be top of your list. Channel partner and influencer content are also extremely valuable. Consumer endorsement never hurts as long as it is credible. What we stand for videos are icing on the cake.

Determine the actions you need your customers to take

Your primary objective is to give your targets the information they need to decide to take action. That action could take a variety of forms ranging from making an on the spot purchase to beginning a more protracted purchasing process.

In the case of Callaway, this could take a variety of forms. Golfers could decide in the moment to buy Callaway branded gear or balls directly, from an online partner, at a big box golf store or from their club’s pro shop.

Or, they could decide to start the process of buying Callaway branded clubs either in the moment or following a thoughtful fitting process. Again, this could be through a variety of channel options including direct, an online partner, a big box golf store or their club’s pro shop.

In either case, regardless of the chosen path, success is enabled from a well coordinated, well orchestrated experience that is seamless both within and across channels.

Plan in advance for success

Which means of course, that all of this should be well planned and managed in advance. Like most everything else, prior preparation enables you to benefit from a momentary event that brings your brand significant new attention.

In the end, success is all about the effective orchestration of touchpoints along the customer journey to nurture the decision making process. Media and content are critical for both building and leveraging attention and converting this attention into an intention to act. Managing experiences across the channels then insures that consumers follow though on their intention and take the action needed to ensure your success. If the process is especially well run, these customers will tell others all about it so that your success will be compounded across their relationships.

So when good fortune shines on your brand, be sure you’re ready to make the most of its fleeting benefits. Hopefully, for Callaway, this week marks the beginning of a very lucrative year.

Let me know what you think.


Posted under: Branding Strategy, Customer journey mapping, Marketing Strategy, Social Media Strategy

7 Lessons For Marketers From The 2016 Campaign

7 Lessons For Marketers From The 2016 Campaign

March 30, 2016

While for many the 2016 presidential campaign has been painful to watch, there’s key learning – both good and bad – for marketers to apply in crafting and executing our marketing plans.

If you want to establish a powerful and unassailable position, connect with core needs.

The reason why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have drawn disproportionately large crowds to their events is that they’ve both tapped into the politically disenfranchised in a powerful way. While going about it with differing messages, these two polarizing candidates have drawn important support by connecting with these target’s core concerns. In the process, they’ve fostered strong convictions that defy logic.

While it’s important to have a strategy, success often depends on tactical opportunism.

The successful candidates in this race are masters at counterpunching. They rule the news cycle by taking advantage of events as they unfold. They thrive by listening carefully and responding quickly to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.

Differentiation and neutralization are equally important.

We all know it’s important to differentiate our offer from competition, but success in this race has been as much about neutralizing competitive advantages as it has been about differentiation. This one is tricky for there’s a fine line between success and alienation. But, it’s becoming increasingly clear that marketers need to bring neutralization messages into our narrative to help distinguish our offer, particularly if we’re challenging the status quo.

Authenticity remains critically important.

It’s important to remain true to who you are if you want to build meaningful connections. One of the most promising candidates going into the campaign is no longer a factor in the race because he morphed his persona three times in the course of the campaign. Targets sniff that out fast and quickly turn away if you fail the genuine test.

Mechanical repetition of key talking points can alienate targets.

Marketing today is about building a dialogue. That same candidate’s waterloo moment came in the midst of a national debate where he mechanically repeated his key talking points over and over in the face of critical onslaught. It turned many interested voters off and cost him valuable ground, which he never recovered. Targets want to be talked with, not at.

Influencers can be effective if they are credible.

We’ve seen a marked dilution of the impact of endorsement in this campaign. Does that mean influencers are no longer valuable? Research tells us that third party endorsement remains one of the most powerful catalysts in the buying decision for both consumer and b2b targets. But, targets must believe the endorser’s message. They just can’t say it. It must be credible.

The impact of traditional marketing media is on the wane.

Fascinatingly, attack ads are not working in this election as they have in prior contests. The most polarizing, yet successful candidate has leveraged free media and relied primarily on Twitter and Instagram as his social media of choice. This has worked gloriously for him. Targets are consuming media as they live today. New channels are reaching people more effectively than traditional channels. It’s time marketers take notice.

These are some of the key lessons I’ve taken away. I’m sure there are many more insights that each of you have gleaned from this process. I’d love to know what they are. Please share.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding

Curing Brand Schizophrenia

Curing Brand Schizophrenia

January 28, 2016

Removing a Growth Inhibitor: Curing Brand Schizophrenia


For years, big players in financial services and enterprise technology have rolled up organically built and acquired businesses under a single, overarching corporate brand.

This plan made sense when originally conceived. Of the alternative models, this approach generated the greatest efficiencies, provided the most consistency, was the easiest to manage and sustain.

The advantage to this approach lies in its economics. By leveraging a single overarching brand, firms are able to concentrate their media spends and generate significant economies of scale. It’s easy to understand why it has been so widely embraced.

Unfortunately, this approach has its downside.

With limited exceptions, these roll-ups suffer from muddled market perceptions. Just look at the biggest banking and enterprise IT firm brands today. Distinctiveness is sacrificed by basing the collective positioning on a common denominator across the business. This compromises the ability of individual business units to compete effectively with more focused, relevant and agile competitors.

The resulting “brand schizophrenia” inhibits growth.

By trying to be multiple things for multiple people, these brands make it extremely difficult for customers and prospects to appreciate the relevance, credibility and value of individual competencies.

Even worse, in some cases unforeseen channel conflicts have created insurmountable barriers to growth.

In response, some forward thinking organizations have embarked on strategies to replace these “roll-up” structures with far more focused pure play models that separate unrelated competencies into distinctly branded, stand alone entities. This refined strategy fuels growth by focusing resources, clarifying market positioning and eliminating channel conflict.

Doing It Right: The IO example


IO is an innovative enterprise IT organization that faced head-on the challenges of “roll-up” structural constraints. The company built world class competencies in IT infrastructure services and IT infrastructure technology, but was increasingly frustrated by results that did not live up to forecasted market potential.

A thorough review of the challenge revealed that these two seemingly synergistic competencies were actually inhibiting growth under a single brand. Customers for the service company failed to appreciate the added value of the technology competency and because the most lucrative market for the technology was other service providers, the structure created an inherent channel conflict that completely impeded growth.

Management took the bold step of splitting the company into two distinct entities to eliminate constraints and fuel growth.



Doing it Wrong: The HP example


Confronting similar challenges, HP embarked on new strategy to distinguish its consumer technology business from its Enterprise IT organization.

Unfortunately, this well considered strategy is compromised by poor execution. The resulting new brands are too closely aligned. They share the same name and the same original visual style.



How to do it right?


If you’re going to do it, then really do it.

The key learning from reviewing HP’s mistake is that success in such an endeavor requires pushing the businesses and brands apart to create two distinct entities.

This means examining the strengths and weaknesses of each entity and building the respective brands on the basis of the strengths that are unique to each. Shared strengths will help with operational success, but for brand building purposes we need to focus on the strengths that each business owns uniquely.


Building the Brand BluePrint


If you going to do this, the key to success lies in how you frame the strategy. The goal is to define the focused brands as distinctly as possible to avoid confusion in the marketplace.

The easier this is to do, the more comfortable you can be that the separation decision is right for the business. Conversely, if you’re finding it difficult to distinguish the brands then the separation strategy is probably not the best solution for the challenge you are attempting to solve.

To build such a strategy, we employ a simple, yet effective model to shape the foundation for the brand. Our “Brand BluePrint” model starts with the business challenge and focuses the brand strategy to solve this challenge and enable opportunity.

The key components of this model include:


It’s all about crispness


In the end, the key to eliminating the constraining impact of brand schizophrenia lies in defining the individual brands a crisply as possible. This new clarity will free the businesses to compete more effectively with pure play competitors and will eliminate the hurdles of channel conflict.

Success starts with an effective strategy. If you’re going to do it, drive the brands apart as far as possible. The crispness will make it easy for targets to embrace the value.

Posted under: Branding Architecture, Branding Strategy, Demand Driving Strategy

The Power of a Refresh

The Power of a Refresh

October 6, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.07.33 PM

I use Asana – a wonderful productivity enhancing, program management app. Asana is entrenched as part of my everyday ritual. I can’t imagine living without it.

Yet, like most other habits, my relationship with Asana is largely back of mind. The app is an important tool, but I rarely consciously think about it.

This week, Asana launched a very well done refresh, including a fresh new logo redesign. Interestingly, the net effect brought the brand front of mind for me again.

I was reminded how central Asana is to my everyday work life. I went to the blog and the website and discovered new features that are even more helpful. I learned and appreciated more than I have in the past year. The brand refresh helped renew my relationship.

My experience with Asana is very similar to that I have with Apple and other important brands. A software or hardware refresh often has the same impact. I learn more. I’m reminded of how important the brand is to my everyday life and I recommit to the brand again.

Given my ADHD, that all lasts just a few days. But, the impact is extremely powerful.

All of which leads me to believe that brands should think differently about how regularly to refresh.

Conventional wisdom suggests a five-year refresh cycle, at the minimum. I think that dated advice is no longer helpful.

Instead, I’d be looking to refresh some element of the customer experience twice yearly to keep customers actively engaged with your brand.

This doesn’t mean taking steps as dramatic as those taken by Asana. But, it does mean being much smarter and more aggressive in keeping your brand front of mind with your core marketplace.

I’d start today to craft a regular refresh plan and roadmap. Begin with an assessment of user experience needs and opportunities. Then craft a plan with logical stages – from regular clean-up to transformative regeneration. The return will more than offset the effort.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Customer journey mapping, Demand Driving Strategy

How Branding Strategy Goes Wrong

How Branding Strategy Goes Wrong

June 2, 2014

I spent yesterday in an all day session kicking off a new partnership between two premier firms. Our mission was to begin the process of positioning and marketing a new product offering that will be the basis for the partnership.

Lots of branding strategy and design work had been accomplished in the past year by one of the partners as a prelude to finding the right strategic partner. We spent the morning reviewing that work to determine our go forward plan.

This review was quite enlightening. The new brand has the potential to be quite distinctive in the market – in spite of the strategy it was designed to fulfill. Fortunately, the business users leveraged the inspirational quality of the new brand identity to forge delivery strategies that have the potential to ladder up to a compelling overall brand strategy. But, the strategic platform that led to the actual creation of the brand revealed what can happen when so called branding experts build strategies that are disconnected from the reality of business.

Yesterday’s session highlighted three common flaws I regularly see in branding strategies that are not fit for purpose.

1. Designed for a moment in time

All too often, branding strategies are developed against a state of the moment understanding of the business. Positioning plans are developed relative to a real time assessment of competitor strengths and weaknesses and market psychology. Decisions are made. Stakes set in the ground. And then … everything changes, and the strategy is no longer relevant.

True experts in branding must understand the flow of the business, psychology and market dynamics. Strategies must be designed to anticipate transformation through new entrants, new technologies or competitor turnarounds.   That’s hard.

Scenario planning makes it easier. By charting possible scenarios and building a strategy that embraces the broadest range you can make sure your brand strategy is future proof. Re-assessing on an annual basis and morphing as needed adds additional protection.

Alternatively, you can forgo “strategy” in favor of what my friend Jim Little and I have coined, “tactical opportunism.” In this case, you build your branding platform to capitalize on in the moment advantages and then constantly morph the platform to maintain advantage as customer psychology and market dynamics continue to evolve. This form of “branding chess” requires true market understanding and nimble response, but it is often the best tactic to stay ahead in fast changing, quickly transforming markets.

2. Misguided pursuit of emotion

We’ve all read the articles and listened to the gurus – effective brands must forge emotional connections in order to thrive.

While this is surely true, our problem lies in how so brand practitioners believe that emotional connections are forged. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom defaults to a fallacy where emotional connections are the Holy Grail and rational connections are simply category antes.

This widely held fallacy ignores customer psychology and disregards the new engagement process that shapes consumer, b2b and b2b2c markets today.

Powerful relationships are built on the emotional connections that are forged through the process of fulfilling rational needs.

Today’s engagement process has become highly rational. No matter whether we’re purchasing a car or a cloud computing solution, we do our homework, listen to the experts, evaluate, test and hone our understanding as we move closer to a solution. As our rational thresholds are satisfied, emotional attractions begin to form. In the process, we finalize our decisions based upon what we believe the offer will do for us, fit into our life and make us feel. Rational and emotional drivers are inextricably linked with rational drivers serving as the gateway.

You can’t build sustained emotional connections without satisfying rational thresholds. No matter how good the product makes me feel, I’ll never love it if it doesn’t work for me.

3. Disconnected from business and marketing

Again, all too often, what is passed off as brand strategy ignores the obligation that effective strategies have to fuel marketing and CRM. The brand is presented in isolation with the expectation that others will pick-up the baton and develop the required marketing and customer experience plans.

Sometimes this works out, as was the case yesterday. Unfortunately, more often than not, it results in diluted effectiveness and lost opportunity.

My experience since founding Catalyst has taught me that branding, marketing and customer experience must be inextricably linked in order to drive business success.

Branding strategy must fuel engagement and define the imperatives to be delivered throughout the customer experience. It must highlight touch points and content to be leveraged in the process of managing to purchase and it must define standards for behavior and interaction that help manage from purchase to advocacy.

True experts understand that branding, marketing and customer experience are all linked. When they are, effective strategy can actually drive demand and influence success.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Demand Driving Strategy, Success Driving Briefs

Managing Demand: Branding is Necessary, But Not Sufficient

Managing Demand: Branding is Necessary, But Not Sufficient

March 3, 2014

During my long career at Interbrand, my colleagues and competitors operated under the misconception that branding was the center of the universe. All we needed was to build a strong brand for a client and their business would grow dramatically. Unfortunately, reality proved us wrong.

I spent the last two months working intensely with four great companies to catalyze growth and in not one of the cases were we focusing on making the brand stronger. We’d done that already, quite successfully in each case. Instead, we were focusing on building plans and programs to build stronger engagement with, and more effective fulfillment of, the core brand promises we put in place earlier.

Since we launched Catalyst three short years ago, it is compellingly clear that branding is necessary but insufficient in and of itself for managing demand. Instead, we must simultaneously master three integrated challenges – branding, engaging and fulfilling.

Branding: Establishing the Foundation

Effective branding establishes the foundational promise. We provide a solid platform for growth by articulating “who” the brand is, “what” it does and “why” it does it. This process matches the brand’s distinctive skills with the needs of its target audiences to articulate a promise that is relevant, credible and distinct. We use all of our finely honed skills to define the brand’s personality and reflect it through a unique communication style using both verbal and visual cues, managed consistently across the wide array of touch points the brand uses to communicate with its targets.

Engagement: Managing to Purchase

Engagement is the process of managing the customer’s journey from the initial need or desire that triggers the demand, through the search and evaluation process to the point where the purchase decision is made. Here, success is predicated on understanding the steps of the journey, the key milestones in the process and the touch points consulted to make decisions along the way.

This process has transformed dramatically with the rise of the internet and social media. Gone are the days when a brand could assume success by shouting through advertising and then selling hard with face-to-face interaction. Today b2b and b2c customers move through a thoughtful process of learning, evaluating and deciding that is best fueled by well placed information and well-timed problem solving.

Opinions of key influencers, from friends to experts; company owned, influencer sponsored or retailer provided web sites; social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +, Pintrest, Tumblr, Instagram and Yelp; PR; and events are all critical touch points that need to be evaluated and used effectively to engage and guide targets through the process of making the decisions important to your brand.

This fresh understanding of the engagement challenge has influenced the creation of a new discipline – inbound marketing, elevated the importance of strong informational content and given rise to wide array of marketing tools and skills, including marketing automation and lead management, search engine optimization, and influencer relations. Used well, these tools provide us with the skills to better manage the engagement process and the insight to understand quickly what is working and what is not working in the mix. We can now optimize for effectiveness and make the brand work harder than ever before to build rich and rewarding relationships.

Fulfillment: Securing the Relationship

Branders and marketers are only now appreciating the need to closely manage the process of fulfilling the promise once the target is actually engaged. Delivery is more important than ever today because targets are constantly testing and revisiting their purchase decisions as they bring the new product or service into their lives.

Fulfillment involves understanding and managing the process that customers move through once they’ve made the decision to purchase, from initial integration, installation and testing through ongoing usage and the decision to commit to the product, service and brand. Again, rich informational content and effective problem solving drive success in this process.

The key touch points are very similar to those used in the engagement process, but they are used differently once the purchase decision is made. Here the emphasis is on enablement as customers seek ways to get more out of what they’ve purchased by themselves. It is also important to establish a safety net with opportunities for interaction should the challenge be more difficult than individuals are capable of managing on their own.

Effective enablement and support helps to validate the purchase decision and in the process helps to forge a more fulfilling relationship with the customer. Fulfilled customers buy more from a brand. They also tell others how fulfilled they are, which in turn influences engagement with new targets and helps make the brand stronger.  It’s a self-renewing cycle.

The beauty lies in the fact that all through the process we can gather feedback, learn and refine to ensure that we’re making it better and better all along – improving the value of brand, engagement and fulfillment as integrated demand management tools.

With these three important tools, we can manage and grow demand. Handled separately, these tools are only limited in their ability to assure the desired result, but managed together as an integrated whole we can assure that we’re doing what’s necessary to spur growth.

There’s no question that to be effective, you need to start with a strong brand, but that’s not enough for managing demand. Don’t let any consultant advise you that it is. Work on all three together and you’ll make the impact you desire.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, Internal Brand Engagement, Uncategorized

Measuring Marketing’s Effectiveness At Driving Demand

Measuring Marketing’s Effectiveness At Driving Demand

November 18, 2013

Recently one of my favorite clients asked me a very simple question. Did I have an example of a good brand dashboard?

The answer was no. After all the years and all the work, I had yet to come across any brand dashboard that I thought was worthy of sharing with her. So I went to work to answer her question.

I’ve long been interested in the notion of measuring marketing effectiveness. But, most measurement approaches seemed quite theoretical and disconnected from the normal flow of marketing activity. Then I had the chance to work with good friends at Adobe to integrate their recently acquired Omniture analytics business with their leading marketing and creative suites and for the first time I could see a clear pathway to practical value.

The needs we uncovered then very much apply today. Marketers are looking for tools to help measure the effectiveness of the plans they’ve put in place and importantly, give them insight as to how they can make those plans more effective.

In my quest to identify best practices, I uncovered a plethora of approaches used to varying degrees of satisfaction. What I thought would be relatively easy to identify – the best way in the eyes of most – was not easy at all. I learned much, but found little clear consensus

The most pervasive measurement approach in use is Net Promoter Score.  NPS was developed by Bain and Satmetrix to measure customer loyalty and the likelihood of recommending a company or product. Tom Buiel from WindForce captures the reason why NPS is so attractive. “I chose NPS because it has all the elements of what marketing is all about – a methodology for finding new customers (through referrals) retaining customers (through closed loop feedback systems) and growing value by listening to what they are saying.”

But used widely as it is, NPS is not the Holy Grail. Many are employing other measurement tools.  Some firms have looked to the specialists in Brand Valuation – Interbrand, Brand Z, Brand Finance and Brand Asset Valuator to develop dashboards based upon so called drivers of brand strength. Of these, the most common measurements include:

  • Authenticity – degree to which the organization remains true to its values and reason for being
  • Credibility – behaves in a trustworthy fashion and demonstrates appropriate expertise
  • Relevance – products and services right for needs
  • Differentiation – degree the brand stands apart from competitors
  • Presence – availability of touchpoints to provide information and support needed to answer questions, solve problems and make better decisions

A few marketers have sought to unpack NPS to understand the factors contributing to their score. A previous client determined that NPS for them is driven by three factors – brand relevance, authenticity and understanding. They measure these and provide quarterly data for each dimension in addition to their overall NPS score.

Some of the more progressive firms are starting to build their brand dashboards around the drivers of demand in their business. Obviously, each business has a unique set of specific drivers, but interestingly some work that I’ve done recently determined that most drivers fall into four broad categories:

  • Trust – I can count on you to behave in a manner that is consistent and reflects the best interests of our relationship
  • Expertise – you demonstrate skill in the competences important for our relationship
  • Understanding – you demonstrate that you get me and my needs
  • Empowerment – I believe that through our relationship my needs will be satisfied and I can achieve my objectives

Lastly, many are still measuring traditional brand dimensions, such as:

  • Awareness – I know you exist
  • Recall – I’ve seen your ads and I remember them
  • Engagement – what you offer is attractive to me
  • Fulfillment  – you deliver what you promise
  • Loyalty – I’m sticking with you
  • Advocacy – I’m telling all my friends and neighbors about you

These approaches in their own right are leading to some modicum of success. But, with the exception of a few dedicated NPS loyalists, most of the people I spoke with are still looking for a better way.

There is no question that tools for measuring marketing effectiveness are needed, for in the words of many, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, there’s no way you can be confident that it is being well managed. Without confidence, you’re better off not even touching it.”

From my conversations, that better way should:

Connect marketing with the drivers of the business to be sure that marketing is in fact driving demand and influencing sales. This means understanding drivers of demand and measuring the degree to which marketing is influencing them. Toward that end, some have suggested that the most important measurement should be the amount of sales directly attributable to marketing.

Measure both process and outcome. Process measurement has become quite sophisticated with new cloud tools like Google Analytics and specialized resources such as Marketo. But as important as it is to measure process effectiveness, without a clear sense of the outcome being produced, you have no clue as to whether you are moving the business forward or not.

The better way also needs to heed two important cautions I heard often in my conversations.

In the process of measuring don’t lose contact with the customer. The power of the new tools for capturing and analyzing data does not mitigate the need for listening to the actual voice of the customer.

Be careful not to overvalue what you can measure and undervalue what you can’t. This wise thought came from John Hayes who has served as CMO for American Express for 18 years.  Quite a tenure, especially when you think of the fact that the average life of a CMO today is 18 to 24 months. Even though it is becoming more scientific everyday, marketing remains an art form. There is still room for intuition in creating and executing strategies.

That being said, I believe that the better way is to construct a dashboard that uses a combination of measurement data points to capture a true sense of how marketing is driving demand by attracting, engaging, converting and securing customers for the business. Pulling all my learning together, my ideal dashboard would include:

1. Our share of mind

  • Awareness
  • Relevance
  • Differentiation

2. The strength of our customer relationships

  • Engagement
  • Preference
  • Churn
  • Loyalty
  • Advocacy

3. The effectiveness of our Touchpoints

  • Visibility and impact of each touchpoint
  • Ease of access and helpfulness of each touchpoint
  • Effectiveness of integrated touchpoints, measured by campaign

4. The business and financial impact of our marketing

  • Market share
  • Margin
  • Customer profitability by segment
  • Cost of acquisition
  • Cost of retention relative to the cost of churn
  • Sales attributable to marketing

So there you have my thoughts.  Please share yours.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Demand Driving Strategy, Success Driving Briefs

The power of design: Integration to Drive Demand

The power of design: Integration to Drive Demand

September 28, 2013

For years, design in my professional life has been all about graphic design. Collaborating with great creative talents over the years, we built powerful design systems that distinguished important brands. These design “systems” fulfilled their briefs, but in retrospect, they were hardly systems. Instead, we built well-conceived graphic design solutions that helped convey a consistent look for brands across their many touch-points.

Today, design is once again top of mind in the worlds of marketing, communications and importantly, business. Fast Company just published their 10th “Innovation in Design” issue, Google is lauded for their design innovation across their portfolio of new products and Apple has just launched iOS 7 – a design driven transformation of its mobile operating system.

The difference between this design and the design I’ve worked with over the years is that today’s great design is a real system – composed of well integrated graphic, physical and interactive design – all working together to define the essence of the products we hold most dear in our lives.

These great design systems define the user experience. No longer is superb design just about shaping the “look” of a brand. Design today defines the look, the feel and the behavior of the brand. The difference between good and great is mostly about how well graphic, physical and interactive design are brought together to make the whole experience wonderful.

Think about it. Before the launch of iOS 7, Apple had two personalities. The look and feel of its products has always been distinctly Apple. But until iOS 7, the interactive experience was not. iOS versions 1 – 6 felt separate from the brand. The interactive experience was never fully formed as Apple. Something was always a bit off.

Last weekend, as I experimented with iOS 7, I experienced a more complete Apple. For the first time, the interactive aspect of the brand is one with the look and the feel conveyed through graphic and physical design. The user experience is more natural, which is imperative for a brand that prides itself as the most natural and intuitive in its space

American Airlines is another example. Fast Company just cited American for excellence in graphic design for its recent brand identity transformation. The newness comes across distinctively in both the new look and through the enhanced interactive design on the web and in both airport and mobile apps. But, when you get into an American plane, the transformation abruptly ends.

American has yet to launch the redesign of its physical space across its fleet. Thus, there’s a glaring disconnect in the user experience, which undercuts the impact of the work American’s done to this point to transform their brand. They will close this gap soon with a hopefully well-integrated cabin experience, but until they do, the new design system falls strikingly short of great.

As I grew up in the branding business, I was always amazed at how great graphic design brought to life a brand strategy I labored to develop. I loved seeing the power of design turn strategy from promise to reality. Now, as I work with superb designers who are creating well-conceived graphic, physical and interactive design, I am amazed at how much more powerful integrated design systems can be in defining the essence of a brand.

I always thought of graphic design as a tool best suited to engage target audiences. I now realize that the value of integrated graphic, physical and interactive design moves far beyond mere engagement. Today’s design systems are the most powerful tool we have to both engage and fulfill with each interaction across every important touch-point.

Design continues to expand its influence, for today’s integrated design systems are our most effective means for building, nurturing and securing demand. The brand experience delivered through a well-conceived design system is often the difference between simply good and truly great. When graphic, physical and interactive design come together as one, the result is both awe inspiring and business enhancing.

Posted under: Uncategorized

Progressive Innovation:  The Key to Retention, Advocacy & Growth

Progressive Innovation: The Key to Retention, Advocacy & Growth

September 10, 2013

My Nike FuelBand stopped working last week. It’s kaput. After wearing it most all of my waking hours since I brought it home on St. Patrick’s Day last year, my right wrist is naked. I miss it. There’s quite a void.

Normally when it comes to the technology in my life, such a loss would be cause for a minor celebration. When the old one breaks, there’s nothing stopping me from immediately running out and getting the newest model. The excitement of fresh new utility immediately replaces any sense of loss.

Those who know me know that I rarely even wait for what I have to break. The draw of the new is so powerful that I often shelve technology that is working perfectly just to experience the latest and greatest.

So why am I still sad?

Well, the problem is there is no latest and greatest Nike FuelBand. The model I bought almost 2 years ago is the same model I’m forced to buy today. Sure, I have the choice of more colors, but the core utility I was so excited about on my first day is still the utility I would be buying today. In my world, that’s a reason not to buy.

When Nike launched the FuelBand, I immediately jumped on the bandwagon. The device played an important role in my life. It helped me realize just how much of a slug I could be when I was working and it motivated me to get up on my feet and keep moving everyday. The daily pursuit of my “goal” helped reinforce my active behaviors and keep me healthier than I would otherwise be without it.

From the beginning, I wore the band proudly and sang its praises to all who wondered why I was suddenly wearing a bracelet. I imagine over the past two years, I’ve contributed to the sale of two-dozen or more devices. I was madly in love and all who knew me, knew about my new favorite thing.

That is, until my first anniversary last March.  You see, I’ve been trained by Apple to enjoy a regular cadence of fresh new capabilities. I expected that Nike would refresh the FuelBand through regular software upgrades so that I could do what I was doing even better and importantly, could do even more to be healthier. I also expected Nike to realize the need to refresh the hardware on an annual basis to open the door to ever expanding utility, which in turn, would fuel my desire to rave even more loudly to anyone who would listen about how important the device was in my life.

Unfortunately, the anticipated software and hardware upgrades never came.  There are rumors of an impending new release, but so far there’s nothing tangible enough to confident in.

So… today Nike is likely losing one of its most loyal customers.  With the need to rethink the relationship, I’ve found alternatives that offer greater utility than Nike and there are several new devices coming to market that offer the potential to transform the value these devices deliver to us all.

Brands, like all of our relationships, need to find ways to stay fresh and interesting in our lives.  When they do, we remain very loyal, often in the face of significant competition.  When they don’t, we’re open to consider alternatives that, in the light of more objective consideration, often prove to be superior to the brands we’ve been loyal to all along.

In today’s world of consumer technology, software driven progressive innovation is the key to customer retention, relationship longevity and advocacy. Without it, even the strongest of relationships are destined to end. And when they do, it’s likely not just for a single product. Often it means unraveling a relationship across multiple products and categories. All of which dramatically reduces share of wallet and stifles growth.

For Nike, that’s the case with me.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy

The Wisdom of Engaging by Intruding

The Wisdom of Engaging by Intruding

July 22, 2013

Have you been watching traditional TV lately?  Does showing me the same ad for ED in every show I watch through the day really engage me?  Does watching an ad twice in a single commercial break make me pay more attention?  In today’s world, does the notion of a “commercial break” continue to be relevant for how we really live?

I feel like I’m watching the very end of an era.  The world of advertising and advertisers are struggling to hold onto the last vestige of the Mad Men era, when the consuming public has moved to a whole new way of engaging with brands and making purchase decisions.

Think about it.  Traditional advertising works by intruding into the experience that audiences are enjoying.  It forces targets to stop doing what they want to do and listen to what the advertiser has to say.  And this is supposed to be engaging.

How much sense does that make?  Let’s build engagement by bugging people, interrupting them, forcing them to listen to what we have to say and keeping them from what they really want to do.

Today, we’re much smarter about how our targets prefer to be engaged.  Study upon study shows that targets – both b2c and b2b – move through a learning process where they talk with people they trust, do their homework on brand websites and review sites, consider expert opinions and then make their choices.

It’s all on their terms.  They control the decision process and determine how and when they consume information.  Engagement is built through learning and experiencing.  The preferred media is the web and the preferred communication style is informational.  If you can make the information a little entertaining, all the better.

This is buttressed through recent studies that show us that company websites and the opinions of category experts are the only two media people trust more than they distrust.  All other media – advertising, email, collateral, etc. – are more distrusted than trusted.

Research does tell us that traditional advertising still has a role.  It is a particularly strong validating tool, especially for people who have made big purchase decisions and for the employees of companies that advertise.  However, traditional advertising’s role as a catalyst for shaping decisions is on the wane.  Fewer and fewer customers cite advertising as one of the touch-points that shaped their decisions as they moved through the selection process.

Given this, it’s time for marketers, business leaders, consultants and agencies to be much smarter and more creative in building successful engagement programs.  We need to disrupt the status quo and leverage the touch-points that customers actually prefer to use in navigating through their purchasing process.

We’ll be far better served by teaching rather than interrupting.  We need to be there when customers want us rather than force them to pay attention to us when they would rather be doing something else.  When you think about it, it’s fairly obvious – isn’t it?

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Customer journey mapping, Demand Driving Strategy, General

The Power of a Challenger Mentality

The Power of a Challenger Mentality

May 6, 2013

I’ve been working for the past few months with some good friends who epitomize the spirit of a challenger mentality. These folks have examined every facet of their current industry and intimately understand where and how it must be transformed to serve clients better. They’re innovating new products and evangelizing the better way. In the process, they’re building momentum every day.

It’s exciting to be around them. They’re magnetic. Their zeal is infectious and their example is universal.

Earlier in my career, I had the chance to work in a truly challenger organization. We were much the same. We saw ourselves as liberators who could unleash clients through a better way. We transformed our industry through a combination of innovation and evangelism. Our purpose united us internally and our clients could feel it as they worked with us. The work we did then has met the test of time.

It is clear that approaching the market with a challenger mentality yields dramatic returns. Whether it be challenging the status quo in a product category, disrupting a market or transforming an entire industry, the firms that leveraged this perspective to drive innovation and liberate customers have been my most successful clients.

Challengers do important things better.

Challengers understand their markets from the inside out. They learn by working within the current paradigm. They delve deeply into how the current paradigm works. They understand the needs of customers and assess how well those needs are being served by the tools of the day.

They take the time to appreciate the points of pain. Challengers become the customer’s champion. They understand the flaws in the current paradigm and quantify the opportunities lost by imposing this pain on customers and prospects.

They use this understanding as a catalyst for innovation. What makes challengers special is their capacity to use this insight as the foundation for transformative innovation that liberates customers from the flaws of the existing paradigm.

They evangelize – inside and out. Unfortunately, customers often don’t realize that they’re being underserved. Inertia is a very powerful impediment to progress. Challengers seize the bully pulpit – first internally to turn their people into believers and then externally to help those underserved to appreciate that there is a better way.

They encourage early adopters. Challengers understand the process of influence within their marketplace. They seek out and convert the influencers, analysts and early adopters and then leverage these thought leaders to build credibility with the masses.

They progressively innovate. Challengers don’t stop there. They hone as they learn. There is no one and done. They use their disruption skills to disrupt the new paradigm they’ve created to better serve the evolving needs of their customers.

They challenge themselves. The most successful challengers remain challengers. Challengers never let themselves believe that they’ve achieved their ultimate goal. It’s never truly finished. It can be made better and will likely need to be transformed again and again to keep pace with the ever evolving needs of the marketplace.

Sadly, once a challenger begins to think of itself as a leader, the things that made it successful begin to fade away.

Where a challenger is always open to a new and better ways, leaders often comfort themselves with the notion that they’ve found the answer.

Where a challenger is always listening for those attempting to disrupt the new paradigm they’ve shaped, leaders often become insular and haughty, dismissing any potential threat as meaningless.

Where challengers attract the most agile and talented the market has to offer, leaders begin to draw those who are comforted by the safety of the successful status quo.

In the end, the challenger shapes and reshapes the industry while the leader basks in the momentary and fleeting glow of success.

I’m just on my way home from spending a week with the firm that embodies the power of the challenger. What a wonderful way to make a living.

Posted under: General

Knowing when and how to use Twitter in times of national crisis

Knowing when and how to use Twitter in times of national crisis

April 21, 2013

Last week was a very bad week. It started on Monday with one of those “I’ll always remember what I was doing when … ” days, with the bombings in Boston.  Along the way, we had the disaster in West, Texas, another example of the cowardice of congress in Washington, Maggie Thatcher’s funeral and a major earthquake in China. It ended with the citizens of Watertown cheering the police after they successfully captured the 2nd bombing suspect alive. What a week.

As the week unfolded, I watched how the people I follow on Twitter managed the way they communicated. I found myself reacting quite intensely to the range of messages, sometimes very positively and often quite negatively. The whole process was quite educational for me. I also had the chance to talk through my impressions with a few of my clients over the course of the week. Here’s what I learned.

The beauty of Twitter is that it allows us to share our views real time with an audience that we’re building a relationship with. Sometimes a dialogue ensues. Sometimes our views are simply shared.

People who use Twitter well, understand that the same rules that govern communications in real world communities also apply to the virtual communities of followers and the followed. The people I follow who communicated effectively during the past week demonstrated an intuitive understanding of how and when to share their tweets during a period of national mourning. On that first day, these folks used Twitter to share news, clear up mis-communications and to express their feelings of horror and sorrow for the victims. As we moved into the second day, they tweeted encouragements and shared hope to help to get us all refocused on how important it is to remain fixed on what makes us special as a nation while we mourned for those who lost loved ones.

As the week unfolded and we turned back to business, those I follow did the same.  Slowly at first, demonstrating an appropriate respect. The most successful re-engaging messages were those that shared observations or called attention to interesting learning. They were not directly commercial.

Then as the FBI identified the suspects and the manhunt ensued, those who were most successful went quiet. Once again, tweets sharing information and clarifying misinformation were most welcomed and helpful.

Unfortunately, not all of the people I follow evidenced a smart and successful use of Twitter this week. The intensity of my reaction to their communications behavior surprised me. Many of my friends and colleagues shared the same negative reactions. The whole thing taught me much.

There is a time and a place for the sharing of certain types of information. Groups have largely unspoken rules about when these communications are appropriate and when they are not. When members violate these standards, the reaction is usually quite negative.

Such was the case for me when it came to two types of tweets this week. First, I reacted quite negatively to those who chose to blindly continue to convey their standard commercial messages on Monday & Tuesday after the bombings.

This tragedy helped to distinguish between communicators and shouters. It is my sense that those who continued their commercial message aren’t communicators. They’re just shouters. They use this valuable communications medium just like traditional broadcast advertising. They continued to advance a message without intending to start a dialogue and without a thoughtful regard for how their message would be received.

I imagine my reaction to their messages was the exact opposite of what they hoped it would be. They made me angry and I shared that reaction with my friends and colleagues. We all felt the same. These people stepped over the line. It will likely be a while before I respond positively to their subsequent communications.

I found a second type of tweet even more infuriating than the first. These were from the communicators who tried to use the events of the week to enhance their commercial standing. The offending tweets would acknowledge the horror of the event and than ask followers to re-tweet their views or direct them to a website to market an offer.

I was surprised at the intensity of the negative reaction from my friends and colleagues toward those who attempted to use misfortune to advance their commercial cause on the Tuesday following the tragedy.  Clearly, this practice violated an important rule of communications etiquette.

In the net, what I learned was that during times like these, there’s very little room for advancing our commercial causes. First of all, no one is really listening. Their attention is focused elsewhere on more immediate matters.  Secondly, those few who are actually listening could possibly be offended by our behavior and react negatively to our message in a way that actually works against us.

My lesson – if you want to share your feelings about what has transpired then go ahead. But, if your desire is to advance a commercial cause, wait a few days until your targets are ready to receive your communications again. In the end, it’s simple. If the communications behavior is appropriate for your relationships with family and friends, it is appropriate for your community on Twitter. If it isn’t, then it isn’t.  Don’t waste valuable opportunities to communicate with people important to your cause when it might actually work against you.

Posted under: General

Understanding your trigger

Understanding your trigger

February 27, 2013

The year is off to a vigorous start and I’ve already had the chance to dig into some very meaty challenges and opportunities. In the course of two recent workshops, I was reminded of the importance of truly understanding what triggers your customers to start an active search for your brand.

In one workshop, the client team had little clue as to the triggering event for their category and as a result were considering a major promotional effort that would yield very little in return. In the other, the team was well versed in their trigger events and was actively engaged in crafting strategies and tactics to catalyze demand for their brand.

Over the years it has intrigued me that so few of the clients I’ve worked with had actually taken the time to identify the trigger events in their category. In my view, this is one of the most important aspects to consider in shaping any marketing or brand engagement program.

Understanding the trigger helps you be there with answers as a potential customer’s questions are being framed. This gives you a distinct advantage in winning brand new customers, capturing competitors’ customers, or very importantly, securing your wavering customers.

To identify your triggers, you must carefully analyze the journey your customers move through in building and sustaining a relationship with your brand. Triggers come in many forms and reflect varied psychological states. Some are quite rational and some very emotional. They generally fall into three categories:

  1. Something I must do to comply with an external mandate
  2. Something I need to do because it’s time to do it
  3. Something I want to do because I really desire it

“Must” and “need” triggers are largely rational and have easily traceable catalysts. “Want” triggers are powerfully emotional and are a bit more difficult to trace.

Once you’ve identified your triggers, it is important to understand the decision making process your customers move through following the activation of the trigger. Examine the touch points they consult, the type of information they seek and the steps they move through in determining a solution for their needs and desires.

This analysis will help you understand where and how you can influence their process to position your brand distinctively as they make their decisions, both through the touch points that are regularly consulted and importantly, through the creation of new touch points you can invent to enhance their decision process.

With this understanding, you have the insight needed to craft your engagement plan. It is important to segment the plan to distinguish between stimulating a new purchase, capturing a competitor’s customer or securing one of your own. It is also important to acknowledge the customer’s mindset and speak to the trigger’s motivating psychological state.

With the very limited exception of offering a current client a motivating counter offer to prevent churn, the purpose of the engagement communications effort should be to inform and solve, not sell. The beauty of this approach is that it allows you to build rich, confidence based relationships with customers where, by virtue of the content you deliver, they sell themselves on the merits of your brand relative to competitors who’ve invested far less in understanding their needs and helping them make their critical decisions.

It’s as simple as that. Once again, by being thoughtful and zeroing in on an important, yet basic aspect of the customer journey, we can yield significant benefits.

The better you understand the trigger, the easier it is to be there with answers when the customer’s decision process begins.

The better you understand the trigger, the more you can leverage that understanding to proactively motivate your competitors’ customers to rethink the value of their existing relationships.

The better you understand the trigger, the more you can be a catalyst in shaping and managing demand for your business going forward.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Customer journey mapping, Demand Driving Strategy

Branding sure has changed

Branding sure has changed

January 14, 2013

Today, branding matters more than ever. But, the nature of branding has changed dramatically in recent years.

In the course of helping my good friend Jim Little create a “Ted” style presentation, we explored the ways that brand has changed over the years we’d been working together. These are the seven most significant ways that branding today has evolved to better drive demand.

1.  It’s about relevance, not just awareness

We know that today people are crazy busy and besieged with messages wherever they turn. To pierce this clutter and get people to notice what we have to say we must speak directly to their needs. If people see our relevance, they’ll be actively aware of our existence. Without relevance, the best we can hope for is passive awareness, which can make us feel good, but won’t generate any meaningful economic value for our firms.

2.  It’s about performance, not just positioning

It’s important for us to engage our targets with a meaningful promise. But, people today have no time for empty promises. We need to deliver exactly what we promise or they will turn to an alternative faster than we can say “good bye.”

3.  It’s about dialogue, not monologue

Gone are the days when we could stand at the top of the mountain and shout at everyone we could afford to reach. Credibility is no longer simply a function of visibility. People today want to interact with our brands the way they would communicate in the course of any relationship. We need to relate to our targets in a meaningful way, interacting and responding to their needs, as the relationship requires.

4.  It’s more about earned media than traditional advertising

Advertising still has its place, but we need to rebuild people’s trust in the medium.  People trust what others say about us more than what we have to say. We need to be able to tap all of the new media sources available to give people the opportunity and the venue to open a dialogue with and about our brand.  This will build their confidence in their learning and help them to make better decisions about forming a relationship with our brand.

5.  It’s about retention, not just acquisition

It’s very important that we not only win business, but that we win our customer’s love and keep it.  They’ll be loyal to us and will share their good feelings with those that they influence. We’ll grow our business and our brand on the basis of the security of these relationships and the new demand they help to generate.

6.  It’s about advocacy, not just intention to purchase

This means there’s a big change in what we need to measure to ensure we’re being successful.  When I started, the magic number was intent to purchase.  Today, that’s just the beginning.  Now, the most important variable is the degree to which people are willing to be an advocate for our brand to others.

7.  It’s about informing and teaching, not selling

The most profound shift I’ve seen over the years is in how we communicate.  People today are actively involved in decision making about brands.  They seek the information they need to make better decisions and are turned off by “selling.”  The brands that recognize this fundamental shift are going to be way more successful than those who don’t.  In the sell, inform, solve continuum, inform is now the most important function.  If we inform well, our clients will sell and solve for themselves.

So there you have it.  As you can see branding has changed quite dramatically, but for the better.  A brand today is all about the relationship.  Managing a brand today comes down to understanding the fundamental rules around how people want you to behave within that relationship.  Following these rules enables us to build strong, rich relationships that build mutual value and the spur the growth needed for our businesses to thrive.

Who knew that I would have been better off with a degree in psychology than marketing.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, General

Celebrating our first birthday

Celebrating our first birthday

January 3, 2013

When we formed Catalyst Branding a year ago our dream was to help good friends better leverage their brands to manage demand and drive growth. As we celebrate our first birthday, we’re excited by how quickly this dream has become reality.

We got our first year off to a quick start by working with our good friend Charles de Jonghe and his colleagues at the Aremi Group to create a new brand for an innovative new top-level domain name – .art.

We then jumped into our most comprehensive work of the year, partnering with our good friend John Gardner and his team to help customers, consumers and society overall to appreciate the material advantage delivered by a very special, yet relatively unknown company – Novelis.

Early in the year, we worked with one of our longest standing friends, Jim Little and his team at RBC to develop an integrated social branding strategy and to build a more effective brand measurement system.

In the summer, after Jim moved to a great company in Calgary, we jumped at the chance to join his all-star team of internal talent and external experts to help position Shaw Communications for new growth throughout Canada.

Throughout the year, we enjoyed the chance to work with our new friend, Dave Metta and his colleagues at VCE to help them better architect, position and name their innovative portfolio of converged infrastructure systems, services and solutions.

We had the most fun working with our good friends Sandy Jones, Rob Maxfield and Kyle Phillpots and their colleagues at the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland to prepare their venerable organization to influence the sport of golf in Europe and beyond over the next 20 years. This great collaboration involved very important meetings at The Masters, Kiawah Island, The Ryder Cup and best of all St. Andrews. Talk about dreams come true.

Along the way, I continued to collaborate with my good friends at Interbrand to serve important clients. I also worked closely with my good friend Kevin Clark at Content Evolution on some important initiatives.

All in all, our first year was superb in so many ways – good friends, great creative partnerships, challenging assignments and discernible impact. It was all very rewarding.

As for our second year, we look forward to more of the same.  It doesn’t get any better than this. My only regret is that it’s taken so long to get our website up and running.  Look for us to finally get this done by the end of this month.

We want to thank all of our good friends for their continued friendship and their faith in our ability to help them make a difference in their respective companies. I especially wish to thank my friend and creative partner Van Rais for his help in making this, our first year, so special.

Happy Birthday Catalyst Branding. It was a very good year.

Posted under: General

Demand driving brands are built from the inside out

Demand driving brands are built from the inside out

November 25, 2012

I’m just flying back from a 10-day trip to the UK and Portugal where I was working with a very special client helping them to engage their organization to drive demand across their markets.  During this second annual planning session, we worked through the process of reassessing, validating and refining strategy, reviewed progress against key initiatives and forged plans for the coming year.

Once again, I have come away totally reinvigorated by what can happen when an organization is engaged and focused on achieving something special.  The power of building and sustaining this united force is inspiring and reminds me on this long flight home exactly why I’ve been doing this work for 30 years.

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to work on some very important initiatives.  In each case, I’ve been part of a team that built a solid strategy, an engaging communications system and a powerful action plan.  Some of this work has been amongst the best I’ve produced over the span of my career.  Yet in spite of the quality of our work, a few of these programs never achieved the results we believed they were capable of producing.

It drove me crazy then as to why.  In retrospect, it is clear to me now that the difference between great success and modest results comes down to a single common denominator.  The most successful demand driving programs resulted when the organization united behind a powerful strategic idea and worked through thin and thick to deliver that value to their marketplace.

There’s no question that success requires a solid demand driving strategy – one that uncovers opportunities to be relevant and distinctive in a marketplace offering significant potential for growth.  But the difference lies in the ability to inspire the organization to do all it takes to seize that opportunity.

It’s much more than getting people to nod their heads in intellectual agreement.  You obviously must be sure that the opportunity marries well with the organization’s capabilities and that the leadership team believes that the organization can truly deliver what will be required to achieve success.  This assures you of at least modest success.

The difference lies in getting the organization excited by the opportunity and inspired by the chance to do something quite special.  We’ve all seen the power of a team that believes it is destined to achieve something special.  Whether it be sports, politics or business, the team that rallies around a distinct purpose achieves superior results.

The magic challenge then is to find that allusive ingredient that will be the catalyst for such inspired performance.

In my work, this ingredient often comes down to a focus on what the team does that makes them the most proud of their role in the organization and the value they deliver to their world.

My friend Gordon Johnson introduced me to a process that has been foolproof in uncovering such a basis for building inspiring strategies.  This process is elegant both in its simplicity and its ability to get people to focus on what they’re doing when they’re at their very best.

Within this framework, we forge team engagement by getting members to think through and discuss three simple questions:

  • On your very best day serving your customer, client, consumer or colleague, what were you doing that made you the most proud of the value you were delivering?
  • What do you need to do more of to ensure you can realize that feeling more often?
  • What do you need to do less of that keeps you from doing what makes you the proudest?

This is exactly the process we used in our sessions over the past several days in the UK and Portugal.

The content that grows out of these discussions provides the foundation for building internal communications and customer experience programs that drive inspired performance.  It unleashes people to think about what could be and it builds consensus around an inspiring sense of purpose.  I’m amazed at the level of engagement that results from this process.

As always, we’ll keep testing and honing this approach to achieve our desired results.  As we move thorough this journey, I may come across something even better.  But, for now, this process will be core to every demand driving strategy my clients and I build together.

Posted under: Demand Driving Strategy, Internal Brand Engagement

Rethinking Branding Architecture to Better Drive Demand

Rethinking Branding Architecture to Better Drive Demand

November 15, 2012

I have a good friend and colleague who never met a branding architecture challenge that wasn’t best solved through a masterbrand.  Unfortunately, his view is not unique in the world of branding.

The branding profession has long held that a masterbrand approach is the superior solution for the majority of branding architecture challenges.  Why not?  This approach is the most efficient, most economical, most consistent, easiest to manage and sustain.

All very good reasons, but if the mission is to drive growth by managing demand, these are not the most important factors to consider when selecting the branding architecture right for the future.

There is no question that in some very specific cases, a pure masterbranded system is best.  Masterbrands are perfect for mono-line service offerings that can easily convey distinctive value under a single powerful brand.  In these cases, a masterbrand can be powerful demand driving catalyst.

However, as soon as the organization needs to feature individual aspects within an umbrella offer to drive new demand, a masterbrand becomes an impediment to establishing a differentiated presence in the marketplace.

Look at the big banks today.  For years the branding profession advised these organizations to roll-up acquired entities into a single overarching positioning and brand.  The rationale – consistency, efficiency and brand spend leverage.  The result – homogenized units, struggling to make the best of lowest common denominator positionings while steadily losing ground to more focused, relevant and agile competitors.

Can you name a single, distinctive, demand driving banking brand today?  It’s hard. These once great brands have become mere commodities under all inclusive, diluted masterbrands.

As organizations shift perspective from branding for consistency to branding to drive demand, conventional branding architecture theory must be rethought. 

The most successful organizations realize that to drive demand today, they must effectively orchestrate at least three levels of branding – the brand of their representative in the customer relationship, the brand of the product or line of business and the corporate brand.

Each of these levels plays a very important role in fulfilling the drivers of demand in today’s markets.  The corporate brand helps establish the foundation of trust so critical to the formation of any customer relationship.   The product or business unit brand helps build the competency credibility necessary for relationship development.  The representative brand establishes the sense of empathy or understanding that customers need as they are solidifying their choice.  Ultimately, all three levels of brand combine to convey the sense that the brand can truly help customers in achieving their ultimate objective for the relationship.

Today’s branding architectures must allow each of these levels of branding to fulfill their roles, both individually and collectively.  Conventional, one-dimensional masterbrand thinking won’t satisfy this need.  There’s room for a significant rethink and much new innovation around types of architecture relationships and better orchestration throughout the critical stages of the customer decision-making process.

As we transform our frame of reference to catalyzing demand, the things we’ve done all along often come up quite short.  There’s so much more the branding profession can do to help clients be more successful.  This is just when it gets fun.  Stay tuned.

Posted under: Branding Architecture, Demand Driving Strategy

Toward a better brief

Toward a better brief

October 25, 2012

Over the years, I’ve worked with many different types of briefs.  Some long and complex, some short and simple and one considered so proprietary that we had to sign an NDA just to see it.

Along the way, I’ve never found one that really did the trick.  Most led constructively to good communications, but few led to any real business driving impact.

I’ve been on the hunt for a framework that could help me to simply and effectively capture the essence of a demand driving strategy so that both my client and their agency partners could come away with the clarity needed to produce and implement great work.  Last week, while collaborating with one of my favorite clients and their very talented agency, we lit on a brief that may actually be up to the challenge.

Together, we were wrestling with how to help one of our client’s lagging business units build the awareness and engagement needed to fuel new growth.  Discussions with unit leaders had bogged down in functional attributes and frustration stemming from a lack of any meaningful momentum.  To shift the discussion and get us back on track, we built a simple one pager that captured our views as to the real opportunities for distinction and demand management.  We asked and answered the following key questions:

What is the best way to drive new growth in our business?  We started with a question that most briefs fail to ask – where will growth come from?  We looked hard at whether our challenge was stimulating demand by securitizing and growing existing relationships, generating new interests with new prospects or markets, justifying and sustaining a premium price or some combination of the three.

What is the psychology of our target market?  Once we zeroed in on the demand management task at hand, we examined the needs and wants of the targets for our growth strategy.   We were careful to understand the wants, or cravings, that could spike immediate term engagement.  We also examined the needs that establish the underlying expectations in the market and could, if satisfied, provide the basis for sustained engagement.

What is the fit between market psychology and our skills?  We then carefully assessed our client’s skills relative to the market psychology in order to highlight areas where they were capable of delivering highly relevant, distinctive value.  We were also careful to assess the areas where we were relatively weak and therefore vulnerable to competitive positioning.

What is our value proposition for these targets?  Our assessment of fit provided the basis for framing our initial value proposition and contributed to building a messaging matrix where we defined an array of benefits and support intended to drive engagement with those targets who will best fulfill our growth agenda.

What must we do to ensure the delivery of this value?  This last critical step involved examining the current customer experience delivered to our priority targets to determine the frustration points that must be minimized in order to eliminate friction, as well as the hero moments we could leverage to further reinforce and distinguish our unique value.

This one pager got everyone unstuck and helped to focus the team collectively on charting a path toward marketplace distinction.  It also helped to engage the business unit leaders who held that brand was not critical to the fulfillment of their business objectives.  In short, it did the trick for the moment and helped get everyone focused on future potential.

I think this model has some promise for my work in the near future.  I’ll hone it with new learning and work with it until I find something even better.  But for now, I think it’s promising enough to share.  Let me know what you think.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Demand Driving Strategy, Success Driving Briefs

Introducing Catalyst Branding

Introducing Catalyst Branding

October 19, 2012

I believe that expertise must be regularly refreshed.  True experts must expand their POV based upon what they learn from their work.  Assumptions need to be challenged, the impact of prior strategies must be weighed and data sets should be updated.

This is especially true in the field of branding.  There’s so much new to learn and so much we can do better to help our clients be more successful.

I learn most everyday from the work I do with clients, the research I do and the material I watch and read.  Learning is what keeps me from being old.  While my body betrays this fact, my mind is still as young as it was in graduate school, when everyday was full of new insight.

This year I celebrated my 30th year in the business by launching a new company with my wife and some good friends.  After 20+ years serving as one of the leaders of Interbrand, I formed Catalyst Branding to do what I love the most – to create and hone new and better ways to serve the needs of clients, who in-turn become good friends.

I’ve been having a ball working with a handful of great clients who enjoy the benefit of our pragmatic approach.  Along the way, we’ve learned a lot together, explored new ideas and implemented some very interesting solutions.

In the process, I keep learning and in several cases this learning has challenged some of the conventions I’ve grown up holding fundamental in much of the work I’ve done.

For the last several years my good friends have encouraged me to start this blog to share my observations.  After months and months of resisting their advice, I’ve finally screwed up the courage to start.  My intention is in the weeks to come, to share what I’ve learned in the course of each week.  It will be there on record for you to use or ignore, validate or refute.

I’ll have fun.  I hope you enjoy.  Let me know what you want more of and what you want less of.  I’ll try to accommodate your requests. In the meantime, thanks for paying attention.


Posted under: Branding Strategy, Demand Driving Strategy, General