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Monday, August 25, 2014

What Promise Have You Made?


When you decided to launch your new product, what promise did you make to the people who you want in your community? Did you genuinely mean it? 

Did you develop something so remarkable that they will tell their friends?

Did you improve a feature of the product that people pay little attention to and you made cool and special? 

Did you create an ecosystem that this product plays in that is unique and makes the product more enjoyable to use? 

Have you eliminated something from all your products that your community doesn't want and believes is harmful?  

Marketing is about promises. 

A promise must be meaningful to the person who will open up their wallet to buy from you.  When you say it is all natural, you can’t fulfill your promise by skimping on almost natural ingredients. 

If you tell me the product is Fair Trade, you can’t ever substitute non-Fair-Trade goods and hope to get away with it. 

Don't tell me how much you care about your community in your CSR when you don't treat employees fairly and respect. If you say you care, live up to that promise. 

A promise is an implied commitment forever. It isn't a promise just for today and this purchase but forever. It’s not something to be taken lightly and truly requires a committed leader and culture.

I believe Jeff Bezos from Amazon when he say that everything they do is focused on what is best for their customers. I haven’t seen evidence or experienced disappointment with them living up to that standard. They aggressively fight to deliver incredible value to me as a customer. 

My experience at Whole Foods demonstrates to me, at least twice a week that they live their promise too. Their openness with information reinforces that commitment to me every time I walk in their door when they reinforce their belief system publicly.

The airline industry is no longer keeping their promises. They make travel a burden and make it difficult to enjoy the experience. Even for those of us who travel frequently, airlines has broken so many promises that their brands are weakened and forever tarnished. And no, advertising does not make my disappointment go away. You broke your promise to me even when the problems were within your control. 
The true test of a brand’s promise is when things are difficult not when they are going well.
 When you can’t get the supply of those very special ingredients required to produce your juice, jam or gelato. what do you do and how do you keep your promise to your customers? I  love brands that are faithful to their word. 

How successful are you and your company at keeping promises? 

What are the pain points that make it difficult to do what you said you'd do? Pressure from the board, shareholders getting greedy or are you just stuck with rising costs and no pricing power in the market? Brands have to resist the urge to walk away from the promise because without trust, a brand will crumble. 

Your brand is simply an accumulation of all the promises you keep over time.  

What promises are you keeping within your community? 

If you enjoy these posts, why not sign up to receive them via email or share them with a friend interested in marketing? Or use one of the little social media share buttons below. Thanks. 
Jeffrey Slater

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Great Brands Do – A Book Review

I heard Denise Lee Yohn on Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels ofSeparation podcast last month. She was promoting her new book, What Great Brands Do and it piqued my interest.

Denise's marketing book unravels seven principles that demonstrate what the great brands do…

They start inside
Avoid selling products
Ignore trends
Don’t chase customers
Sweat the small stuff
Commit and stay committed
Never had to “give back”

This  book provides both strategic and tactical ideas on how to build a great brand. 

If it were just theory, it would weaken the concepts. But Denise takes her idea of operationalizing marketing and provides tools to help make it core to the culture of a company.

Operationalizing marketing is a vital and important phrase in the book. It means that a company lives the brand in every part of a company. It is an idea not embraced by many companies where they think brands are solely the function of the marketing department. Nothing could be further from the truth. Marketing may be charged with communicating brand messages, but a company has to live its brand in everything it does. That includes logistics, quality, customer service, sales, operations, finance and on and on. 

What I enjoyed in this book is that it is so counter intuitive. 

It takes the obvious and flips it on its head, not to be provocative but to help make clear how brands can be frameworks and guideposts for companies. Yohn cites specific and clear examples of successes and failures throughout the book to illustrate her ideas. 

Goodbye Kodak Moment 
I love her explanation of what really went wrong at Kodak, a company that mattered a lot to me in my formative years. They were first to get digital. They had the technology. They recognized the threat to their film business. 

They just didn’t fully embrace how digital needed to be operationalized as part of the new Kodak brand culture. They never snapped into it changing the mindset of the company from an analog (film) business to a company based on the new world of digital photography. 

Companies like Amazon exemplify this notion of operationalizing a brand throughout the company. Their anthem is to be the most customer centric company in the world. Every decision, every day by every employee passes through this filter. If it doesn’t provide this benefit to their customers, then it is off brand. This isn’t coming from a marketing department but lives and breathes in every nook and cranny of the Amazon organization.

A brand isn’t a logo or the colors on a package. A brand represent the real benefit derived by a company and is valued by the community they serve. Companies like Lululemon are dissected to help you understand why they behave the way they do – setting high retail prices with very fast turning inventory. They understand a core insight about their consumers that lives within the company’s brand and once again, isn’t a marketing function.

I read a lot of marketing and general business management books to challenge my thinking and to give me insights into why companies behave the way they do. Yohn’s book offers a clear framework for thinking about brands today and I’d highly recommend.

Perhaps my favorite quote from the book comes toward the end. She makes the succinct point that it doesn’t really matter what you say your brand is all about – ultimately it is what you do that matters.

This book delivers on its promise and I'd urge those interested in business and marketing management to buy and read this well-written book. 

Reading is what great brand leaders do. 

Jeffrey Slater

Monday, August 18, 2014

The New USP

Paul Simister, a UK business strategy coach suggested that the Unique Selling Proposition for brands is all but dead. It should be replaced by the USP (Unique Story Proposition). I completely agree. Paul suggests thinking about a new USP that...
  • Makes a short statement to differentiate your business based on what you stand against.
  • Recognizes that USPs don’t exist in markets where the businesses are more interested in copying each other than in being different.
  • Creates a Unique Story Proposition that focuses on what matters to the customer and what matters to you

 Stories, background and context are what distinguish brands today, not some sales-related point of differentiation. Differentiation is like an arms race with never ending challenges to add more features. Just think of the toothpaste category

“Our toothpaste will whiten your teeth, refresh your breath, heals your gums, relax your wavy hair and increase your Twitter following”

Markets aren’t what they once were when Rosser Reeve conceived the USP in the 1940’s. Channels are fragmented. Brands proliferate. Selling has changed in dramatic ways and consumers learn about products through new platforms and from their own communities not solely from advertising. 

The power has shifted and my friend's recommendation to try a new wine or running shoe carries far more influence than an ad. Brands must align and can’t just hit me over the head over and over and over again with messages that interrupt me without my permission.

In the 1990’s P&G developed a USP for Pampers that they were the driest diaper of all the choices. Over time, consumers became emotionally connected to Huggies and challenged Pampers. As Bernadette Jiwa, an Australian marketing thought leader describes, the consumer doesn’t want different, they want difference. 

The distinction is important. 

The consumer falls in love with products that make a difference in their lives not because of a product’s features.

A unique story is vital to a brand’s health. It helps to embed the benefits of building a relationship with a consumer in ways that advertising just can’t match. Sharing within your community turns GRP’s (Gross Rating Points) on its head. 

Can you imagine the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as an advertisement working versus what happened on social media as friends challenged friends? It was the shareable story that motivated millions to donate and dunk themselves - not a paid advertisement. 

What is your Unique Story Proposition?

How is it different from your competitors?

Is it authentic to your company’s values?

Is everyone in your organization telling the same story in their own voice?

Where does the storytelling happen? 

What time of day is best for sharing your story? 

Does it align with the needs of the community you serve?

Who is telling your story – your customers or your ad agency?


Jeffrey Slater

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It Does What?

You know you are onto a great idea when you describe your new product concept to someone and they say, It does what?

That means that your idea isn't conventional and doesn't follow the rules of the category. I thought I’d provide a list of 23 products that can cause this reaction? 

This exercise is a great way to stretch your brand teams mind before starting to think about new products for your business. Get out of your category, expand your thought process and get weird. 

By the way several of these ideas are already products that exist. I put in bold the ones I know. 

24 Product Ideas That Make You Go What

Ice cream that isn’t cold.

Salad that you drink.

Wine that is a fragrance.

Cheese that you can wear on your wrist.

Books that you can eat.

Candles that can be turned on with an IPhone.

Girls clothes that can change colors and patterns.

Mobile trucks that bring quiet rooms for mediation to a neighborhood.

Cat slippers that clean the floor when they walk.

Windows that grow vegetation to keep heat from coming inside.

Fans that don’t have blades.

Beds that have essential oil sprays to enhance rest

Pipe insulation that regrows when it wears out.

Leaf blowers that are powerful but have silencers on them. 

Ladders that fold into your wallet.

Carpet that is two-sided so you can flip it after the top is worn out.

Pants that charge your smart phone when you carry it in your pocket.

Whistles that emit a silent signal that can be detected by a smart phone 10 miles away.

Toasters that play songs depending on the type of bread you toast.

Ovens that don’t bring heat into the kitchen.

Paint that can change hues with different musical frequencies.

Cars that drive themselves.

Containers that hold water that you eat after you drink the liquid.

Appliances that charge wirelessly.

 The Challenge

Ask 10 people who work in your company to think about your product and category and have them create a list of extraordinary things that you wish your product could do that no one else can. Bring them together and let each person present their list. 

The really great ideas will be incredibly difficult and that is a great place to start developing products that are difficult to copy and have a built-in story to tell. The top concepts will make you go, huh? Huh means you hadn't thought of your product in this way. 

Did I tell you about the wine cork made from sugarcane that was developed by Nomacorc? (where I work). 

Cheers to, it does what?


If you enjoy these posts, sign up in the upper right hand corner of the blog to get them delivered absolutely free of charge to your inbox. The next 100 subscribers will get a free copy of my eBook, Unraveling The Mysteries of Marketing. Cheers. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Filthy Soap

Wandering through the Whole Foods while on vacation in Oahu, I stumbled upon a shelf of hilariously packaged soaps. There was Filthy Policeman Soap, Filthy Mustache Soap, Filthy Pirate Soap and on and on. Someone is cleaning up with a brilliant product idea and with some exceptional package design. 

Leveraging the word filthy with soap is clever and memorable but it is the amazing package design work that draws you in. Their online store has so many double entendre and over-the-top messages that it is as far from Ivory Soap and their wholesome image.

The products come from Filthy Farmgirl Soaps Company based in Hilo on the big island. They do a great job of living their brand on Facebook and on other social media platforms too. 

Their products have absolutely no detergents, surfactants, sulfates, artificial scents, colorizers or petroleum products of any kind. Labels are printed on 100% recycled paper. Soap is not just about getting clean, it’s about loving your body & the earth. Live Nakedly!

Three Clean Marketing Lesson From Filthy Soap
Own a point of view: Either your brand is cheaper, better or different. Pick one. Do it better than anyone else and make your customers want to share with their friends. 

Go beyond comfortable: If you are too white bread, too careful and too cautious, no one will notice. Be weird. Be odd. Be big. But just get off the damn fence of indifference.

Have a power personality: Remember that friend that everyone talked about in high school? Larger than life, heroic sensibility, always taking a risk, adventurous to a fault? Brands need to embody a strong persona. Those that don’t stand out get lost in the crowd. Getting noticed is a core mission for a marketer. 

Think about how to be different in a meaningful way to a niche within your market, sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty.

If you enjoy these posts, sign up in the upper right hand corner of the blog to get them delivered absolutely free of charge to your inbox. The next 100 subscribers will get a free copy of my eBook, Unraveling The Mysteries of Marketing. Cheers. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Every Hot Sauce Tells a Story

THE LA hot sauce

My daughter Fanny told me that the hot sauce in the Hawaii house we are staying in has THE LA Hot Sauce. It is called Tapatio.  I didn't know cities had their own hot sauce like states have their own birds. Its roots are clearly Mexican and it was very fresh California/Mexican flavors and foods. 

My hot sauce brand life has revolved around 3 stories. When I worked on the Slim Jim business, we licensed the McIlhenny brand (Tabasco) for a hot and spicy Slim Jim. Their family story is awesome.

Tabasco (from Wikipedia)
Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, a Maryland-born former banker who moved to Louisiana around 1840. McIlhenny initially used discarded cologne bottles to distribute his sauce to family and friends. In 1868 when he started to sell to the public he ordered thousands of new cologne bottles from a New Orleans glass works. On his death in 1890, 

McIlhenny was succeeded by his eldest son, John Avery McIlhenny, who expanded and modernized the business, but resigned after a few years to join Theodore Roosevelt's volunteer cavalry regiment known as the Rough Riders.[1]

I got to talk to Paul McIlhenny during our bi-annual licensing negotiations and I am sorry I never got to visit them in Louisiana. I remember hearing how they cared for their peppers like a winemaker would coddle her grapes. It was a reverence and almost spiritual experience for the growers and their plant that made the sauce. They filtered the vinegar like a winery would treat water. I noticed and they helped me care even more about the brand and its special flavor. 

My second hot sauce love affair was Texas Pete

It started during the same time period when I would eat at Boondini’s in Raleigh and could enjoy this beauty of a hot sauce in their homemade vegetable soup. Eventually I bought a jar and had to try it with eggs and in my own concoctions. It was never hot like Tabasco but always gave me a great flavor hit of sweet and tangy pepper and tomato. Pete, as Fanny and I referred to it, was made in North Carolina by Garner Foods but had an awesome presence in our house. We revered it.

Their story can be found here on their web site. But why would a North Carolina company create a brand with Texas in the name? 


”So. how is it that a tasty red pepper sauce made in North Carolina happens to be named ‘Texas Pete’ anyway?” Legend has it that, when Sam Garner and his three sons, Thad, Ralph and Harold, were trying to come up with a brand name for this spicy new sauce they had created, a marketing advisor suggested the name ”Mexican Joe” to connote the piquant flavor reminiscent of the favorite foods of our neighbors to the south. 

”Nope!” said the patriarch of the Garner family. ”It’s got to have an American name!” Sam suggested they move across the border to Texas, which also had a reputation for spicy cuisine. Then he glanced at son Harold, whose nickname was ”Pete” and the Texas Pete cowboy was born. 

Movie cowboys were very popular in the 1930′s, men like Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy, representing a sort of universal image of rugged independence and self-reliance, the perfect ideal for a family business trying to survive tough times. Actually, Texas Pete Hot Sauce was not the first product the Garner family made and sold. That distinction belonged to Garners’ Barbecue Sauce.
Then, when I was in Sacramento and having breakfast at the annual Wine
Trade Show called Unified, I experienced Cholula. It had a magnificent closure (A wooden stopper) that was distinctive and elegant. Their hot sauce was more tomato-y with just enough spice and kick to make it interesting. It had a very different flavor profile. I love to cook with it in sauces that need a background note instead of a strong beat.

The Chohula Story
The hot sauce is named after the 2,500-year-old city of Cholula, Puebla, the oldest still-inhabited city in Mexico. The name "Cholula" is derived from the Nahuatl toponym Chollollan, meaning "the place of the retreat." The sauce is sometimes referred to as the flavorful fire. More here

So when I learned that Tapico is what those in LA think is cool – at least they did a few years ago, I had to test it out. It did not disappoint.

Why am I sharing this?  

Hot sauce isn’t just hot sauce. Like any crowded category, the brands need to occupy a special place and somewhere that isn’t expected. Trendy, spicy, tomatoe-y --- it all counts. But it needs to tell some type of story that connects with a community. Like wine, I keep all three hot sauces in my pantry so I can use them like special seasonings in things I cook. There isn't one that solves all of my cooking needs. But I do being part of each of their communities online and feeling some of their spicy, tomato love. 

"Tapatío" is the name given to people from Guadalajara, Jalisco: the company's founders come from Guadalajara. It is exported to MexicoCanadaCentral AmericaAustralia and a few countries in Europe. It is marketed as a very saucy sauce. I guess it can be my vacation hot sauce, pinch hitting while I'm away. 

What hot sauce are you drizzling on your foods these days? 

Oh, and what love stories are consumers sharing about your brand? 


If you'd like to pick my marketing brain about your hot and spicy story, you can do it through Clarity at this link

I donate 100% of your fee to a non-profit called Charity Water

Monday, August 4, 2014

Brand Masks

Could a marketing audit reveal where you are masking over your brand? 

Are there times when your marketing isn't as authentic as it should be? Do you show one face in the public that isn't what you promised to your customers? 

A brand audit by an outsider can help detect when you aren't being true to the brand’s genuine personality. An auditor can look for places where you aren't living up to the brand vision or promise.  Why is this important?  

When you are too close to your own brand, you can’t see or you ignore the little short-cuts you or your team makes that may signal that you are off-brand to your loyal fans.

Like a financial audit, a brand audit gives you the chance to have someone independently certify that you are sticking to the face you want your community to see. Just like a financial auditor, the outside auditor has the authority to call you out – and help you see where actions are inconsistent before your loyal fans catch you in a marketing misstep. 

If you haven’t been through a marketing audit, it is like an annual physical to ensure health. 

You explain to the auditor what the brand stands for, its mission, who it serves, how it fulfills its promise. Then they look at your website, social media presence, collateral, promotions, advertising and all the mix of marketing activity. They use several tools to test for misalignment, not unlike the Doctor who checks your vitals.

But the greatest benefit of an outside auditor is the difficult questions they ask to probe and understand how you know something, why you believe and to review the source of that information. It can feel uncomfortable but it is a proactive way to make sure you’re true to who you say you are in the world.

One place you find masks is in advertising. A brand tells a story in print or broadcast about the qualities of the brand, and then you go to their store or online and your experience is significantly different from what they communicated. They put on a happy face showing how friendly they are only to have forgotten to properly train the people at the front lines.

I worked with a marketing auditor about 15 years ago who challenged what I said we did, with some of our activities in the marketplace. 

He pointed out to me several inconsistencies that I missed because I fell in the love with the tactic and I didn't want to offend my team members. The independence of mind was invaluable. He helped me to get a little distance from my beliefs and to challenge me in ways about how our brand fit in the ecosystem within the category. The audit opened my eyes and over the next few years, helped us make some important adjustments that became a catalyst to faster growth.

Is it time for your brand to stop hiding behind a mask and to get an annual physical? 


Need a marketing coach? You can hire me through Clarity to provide advice about marketing for your new product, business or service. I donate 100% of your fee to charity. So far I have donated almost $525 to Charity: Water working in my spare time. 

Just follow the link for some Clarity