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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Brands Aren’t Consumer’s Friends

Facebook introduced the language of friending into our social media vocabulary. 

It continues to confuse brand managers who believe that consumers want to be their friend. Nothing is further from the truth. Brands and consumers engage in commercial relationships and that is always at the root of the connection. I don’t confuse what I expect from a friend with what I expect from a brand.

Yes, I do love the values and ethos of certain companies and the products they offer. 

There are plenty of businesses and brands I deeply admire for how they operate in the world, for the products they create and for their approach to being part of my community.  Whole Foods, Dyson and Charity:Water are three organizations I deeply admire. When I read stories about Tom's Shoes and the great work they are doing with their One for One program, I'm only pulled in closer to brand and their mission. 

But they aren’t my friends. 

They all want something from me. It doesn't change the depth of my emotional attachment to them as well as my loyalty. But, I don’t confuse them with people who would do anything for me without expecting a purchase in return. I don't expect them to help me change a tire or to come and give me a lift to my office without asking for something in return. 

Now it is true that some friends give more and some take more but the relationship isn't built on the expectation of reciprocity and equivalency. It is built on a human connection to that person. 

Businesses aren’t like my friends where the relationship isn’t about a one for one exchange. And as much as we marketers try, a customer relationship will never equal a personal friendship. 

You witness friends unselfishly doing things for you without an expectation of getting something in return. Perhaps you are that type of person too who would do anything to help a friend in need. I witness my daughters in the most unselfish ways helping, loving and supporting their friends without looking for something in return. I see my 87 year old Mom Bea helping her best friend in small ways with no expectation attached. They give from their heart and they give without expectation. 

Brands try to act this way but ultimately there is always s a quid pro quo at the end of the evening. I did all this stuff for you, now will you please buy something for me or help me sells something.  Even the greatest brands require a payback through some commerce to make the business viable. There is nothing wrong with this relationship. But please let’s acknowledge that its different from friendship.

When you recognize this as a marketer, you still strive to build deep-rooted connections with your community. You can still give generously and set up wonderful community based programs to make this a better world. My concern is that brands not be deluded in thinking that consumers and brands are in the same relationships as people have with their friends. It is by nature different.

I'll be there for you. 
I advocate for brands to be true to themselves and behave in a way that is appropriate for the community they choose to serve. Often this mimics the behavior of friends. And of course consumers do become friends with people who work at brands but that isn't the same as becoming a friend with a brand. 

Transactional relationships are what businesses do. So stop thinking of the consumer as your friend. Tell them your story. Engage with them on deeply emotional levels. Be genuine to your own brand vision. 

But don’t kid yourself into thinking we can be friends.

You may see things differently. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Even you Joey. 

Jeffrey Slater

Are you looking for a marketing coach or mentor? You can hire me by the moment - well by the minute through to consult with your company. Check out the details here

I donate 100% of my fee to Charity: Water who helps serve communities that need clean water. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Secrets as a Marketing Tactic

 I was flying home from Europe from a business trip and saw something interesting in a magazine.  There was a small ad for Pimm’s Cup. It was an alcoholic beverage I was vaguely aware of but had never tasted. 

What struck me was the copy:

Pimm’s No. 1 is made to the original recipe which remains a closely-guarded secret, known only to six of Pimm’s top people called ‘the secret six’.

It got me curious. Now I really wanted to taste this product that only six people knew how to make.

When my wife and I had our bakery business, our secret recipe was probably known by about six people who helped bake the brownies. We were constantly asked to share the recipes and I remember saying that I could give you the recipes but without my wife, you'd wouldn't have Rachel's Brownies. Yet the illusive recipe did play a key part of our story. 

 In my Slim Jim days, we had roughly six people in the company who also knew that formula. (not me) We even had suppliers who only had part of the seasoning blend so that no outsider could know the formulation. It was a guarded secret that we used in our marketing to explain that our product was like no other snack. 

A secret can be a powerful marketing message because it helps to reinforce the idea that your product is so unique that it can be duplicated. 

I imagine the Google algorithms have only a limited number of Googlers who know how their secret formula works. Those algorithms are probably some of the world's most valuable secrets today. 

In the age of transparency in marketing, secrets are a powerful tool to allow you get some distance between your product offerings and others in your category. Handled properly, you can find creative ways to talk about this ‘black box’ filled with wonder and amazement. In some respects, a secret formula can be like a placebo where there is a belief that is amplified beyond the rationale.

Marketers use secrets to help create some mystery about a brand and a wonderful story to perpetuate its importance. 

If the KFC fried chicken recipe or a the Big Mac sauce recipe was revealed, most people would be shocked at its ordinariness. In fact, I’d wager that it is probably remarkably similar to other similar products available. Yet in the consumers mind, the secret sauce is one of a kind.

Coke loves to talk about how it recipe is the most guarded secret in the world. 

This plays into the notion that a secret that special must make the product better than all of its competitors.  The mystery is magnetic in attracting the attention and imagination of the public although it isn't enough to overcome the slumping carbonated soft drink category. The coke recipe was put on paper over 100 years ago and they allege that only two senior executives know its content. It is kept behind a Fort Knox-like vault.

CEO Muhtar Kent wtih the Coca-Cola Secret Recipe 
Do you use a secret process or ingredient or material in what you sell? Have you used the power of the secret to separate what you sell from the competition? If not, maybe you are missing a valuable way to market your brand that could help you expand your base of business.

Four Secret Thought Starters

  1. Can you talk about a secret element of your product that reinforces your brand story? 
  2. Do you have a proprietary way you do business that qualifies as a trade secret and can be communicated as a part of what makes your company different? 
  3. Is there a manufacturing approach that only your business follows within your industry that can be positioned as somewhat mysterious? 
  4. Are you using any special procedure to protect the business secrets that can also be used in your marketing communications? 

As Paul and John famously teased, "Listen, do you want to know a secret?" 

Jeffrey Slater

Are you looking for a marketing coach or mentor? You can hire me by the moment - well by the minute through to consult with your company. Check out the details here

I donate 100% of my fee to Charity: Water who helps serve communities that need clean water. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Death of Coke Life

Coca-cola is launching a new product called Coca-Cola Life. I'm here to say it is DOA. 

From Wikipedia:
Coca-Cola Life is a product of Coca Cola launched in Argentina in June 2013, and in Chile in November of that year. It was created in Argentina after five years of research in the country.[1] It is the first version of the soft drink to be produced with stevia and sugar as sweeteners. Coca-Cola Life is due to be launched in the USA and Sweden, in September 2014; and is undergoing trials in the UK as of August 2014.[2][3] It is a lower calorie version of Coca-Cola, having 27kcal/100mL, containing 60% of the calories of classic Coke.[4] Coca-Cola Life will co-exist with Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero[5] in the Argentine and Chile market. It can be compared with Pepsi Next, which also uses Stevia as a sweetener.

Coke Light is trying to find a happy medium between full-calorie Coke and artificial sweetener Diet Coke and Coke Zero. Sitting on the fence is always a dangerous place for a product to be since it isn’t fish or fowl.  When consumers are trying to lower sugar in their diet, one can of Coke Light blows the recommended daily allowance of sugar for an entire day. And phosphoric acid listed on the ingredients doesn’t sound all that natural to me.

Pepsi went down this path once before with Pepsi Raw that used more natural sugars like Kola nuts and less sugar. It failed as will Coke Life.

Changing the River
Coke is searching for a way to change the flow of the river. Consumers are drinking less soft drinks and the obesity message is coming toward them like a tidal wave. To shift perceptions, they are trying this new approach that changes how you view Coke that is different on two fronts – stevia versus sugar and plastic that is made from sugar cane. This bottle has been successful for their Dasani brand  (the plant bottle).

Why Launch This Product?
My view is that this new product is part of shifting perceptions among consumers. Coke can point to how they are addressing weight and calorie issues in a new and innovative method. And I think the product will fail but it will have some success shifting perception.

Can a product fail in the market but succeed as a marketing tool?

Yes and yes. 

And it is my view that this is exactly what the product will do. It is Coke so consumers will pick it up and try it but I doubt it will shift consumption patterns. I’m not going back to drinking soft drinks every day.  I’m out of the category. The difference between 140 and 89 calories isn't the issue. This is like printed newspapers. I'm out of the category and am not going back to getting a daily paper delivered in paper form. 

This shift, however may make me see Coke in a slightly different light because they are attempting to provide alternatives and options. So this product launch is as much about perception as it is about sales. 

Coke Life is trying to smooth the rough edges of the sugar is bad for you, that is part of the brand. But as a consumer, I have hundreds of options for more natural beverages that aren't inextricably linked to high sugar and artificial ingredients. Coke (and Pepsi) own many of these products and its great that they have diversified. 

But this is a classic error that even the big boys make thinking that a brand can be all things to all people. If I were a Senior Marketer in the Coke camp, I'd be trying ideas like this too. But in my heart, I'd know that this is an idea that won't last and will be under water soon. 

What do you think about Coke Life? Any chance to find a place in the declining Coke portfolio? 


Jeffrey Slater

Are you looking for a marketing coach or mentor? You can hire me by the moment - well by the minute through to consult with your company. Check out the details here

I donate 100% of my fee to Charity: Water who helps serve communities that need clean water. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

When Customers are Partners

The most difficult job in marketing is often trying to understand the gap, the problem or the pain point of current and new customers.

What is it that our company could do to serve our customers better and to make a difference in their lives? That is the most challenging question. 

When this investigation is done inside the four walls of your company, you get part of the answer. When you include the customer, you expand the opportunity to get insight in real time and without doing what marketers loves to do - make things too complicated with the community who will actually use the product or service. 

Creating with your customers isn't new. But shifting your business model to include them opens up access to the collaborative economy. 

But how you partner and structure that arrangement is directly linked to your business model. And it can be with a different type of business model that you can build a unique type of engaged community of customers. 

The Food Coop Model
A wonderful model to think about is your local food coop.  The members are engaged and interested in fresh, local and healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. By building a membership platform, you shift the dynamic from selling to your customers to selling WITH your customers. 

According to Shane Hughes, In the US there are more than 8,000 of these businesses in place where risk is shared and collaboration is valued. Hughes who calls himself a REconomist works for Transition Network Reconomy and delivered this powerful and insightful Ted Talk. I'd urge you to watch when you have 18 minutes. 

What marketing lessons can you learn from this model?

  • Can you flip your market segment on its head by focusing on the business model versus the product offering? Don't just consider making something new, better, cheaper or faster. Sell it in a different way.

  • Is it possible that instead of creating products and selling them to customers, that you work jointly with customers and networks to develop a different form of value?

  • What if you didn't sell your product to your customers but they could purchase it close to its cost, but your business earns revenue through membership fees

The Giant Membership Model
If you are wondering if this model can be scaled, I have one word for you. COSTCO.

Costco earns 70% of its profits from membership fees. That means it earns 70% of its next year’s profits up front. Only 30% of its profits come from the sale of merchandise. And it is that merchandise that is marked up about 6-10% that is the value that drives its wild success.

When Life Gives You Lemons
Or, if you are thinking about small scale, imagine a community of people who have two common interest, low-cost transportation and an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuel. Meet The Lemon Bus Company in Brighton, England. Instead of paying fares, customers become members of the company. They align their interest in a cleaner economy with a friendly bus service that uses bio diesel fuel that comes from the waste oil of restaurants in the area. 

 Is this model right for you or a part of your business? Why not think about a new way of partnering with customers and creating a community of interest?

I’d love to get your comments on how this might work in different business segments.


Jeffrey Slater

Are you looking for a marketing coach or mentor? You can hire me by the moment - well by the minute through to consult with your company. Check out the details here

I donate 100% of my fee to Charity: Water who helps serve communities that need clean water. 

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