Brands Need to Be Faster to Stay Alive

I don’t think anyone is surprised that the speed of life has consumers demanding instant gratification. In the past, if you wanted to watch a movie you had two choices: go to a movie theatre or sit down in front of your TV. But you were stuck with a small selection of maybe two to five movie choices. The next evolution was video stores – remember Blockbuster? You could select from the 100s of new releases or old favorites as long as you had a video player to view it. Then the next innovation was video-on-demand cable but the big game changer was Netflix who went from rent-by-mail to online – hundreds of movies anytime, anywhere for a low cost monthly fee. The selection process went from hours of planning down to minutes and seconds. It took 25 years for Blockbuster to go from one store to 9,000 locations and $800 million in late fees to bankruptcy. While in less than 15 years YouTube has users watching 6 billion hours of video each month and uploading 100 hours worth of video every minute and along the way has made many people famous.


Brands That Target The Heart

Love at First Sight

Most brands need to earn the customer’s love, over time. To speed up the courtship, a number of brands are trying to become more human-like. People choose their favorite brands with their hearts, not their heads. A real human story evokes emotion and is more powerful than any brand storytelling.

Carolin Dahlman says in her book, Love Branding, if you can learn to master your customers’ emotions and make them feel the love, you will earn more money. She explains that love is a two-way street and most brands fail to love their customer’s back. So what does that mean? It’s all about giving back what you get. I guess you can say it’s not a one-night-stand but a commitment – a long-term commitment.

Emotional Branding

No one knows this better than Procter & Gamble. Over the last 178 years P&G has been at the forefront creating powerful, emotional relationships between consumers and brands. They have been pioneers and leaders in embracing technology to build an emotional brand connection with their customers. Utilizing soap operas on the radio and early television, to award shows, to fast-growing web ventures.

P&G Global Brand Building Officer, Marc Pritchard emphasized the importance of one-to-one relationships in today’s always-connected, always-on digital environment. He said that brands need to be less focused on making money and instead place more emphasis on improving the lives of both existing and potential customers. He too thinks it’s important to give back to the customer.

P&G’s used the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games and the Paralympic Winter Games to thank moms through several highly emotional stories. There aren’t too many mothers who can’t relate to these stories.

P&G Pampers brand is another good example of how P&G is defined a higher purpose for their brand beyond the functional benefit of keeping babies dry. Pampers has leveraged the key consumer insight that moms—especially first time moms—are constantly looking to connect with others who are sharing similar experiences. Pampers created programs such as “Pampers Village” and “A Parent is Born” as forums for moms to connect, learn and discover. If you visit their Canadian Facebook page they have over 14,488,921 likes – pretty good for a dirty diaper discussion.

But is this love? Love is defined as an emotion of a strong attraction and personal attachment – the ultimate goal for any brand.



Love Potion

But it’s hard to argue with success, and no brand is more successful than Heinz Ketchup. A brand that has been around for over 139 years and still the bestselling brand of ketchup in the world with over 650 million bottles sold in 2012. So what is their love potion? Diane Levine, author on the blog Beneath the Brand, says their enduring success comes down to a few simple but brilliant relationship strategies:

  • Maintain a core (or at least an air) of consistency
  • Spice things up once in a while
  • Be considerate of your partner’s needs


At the end, she says it’s the little things that matter most.

In Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, intimate Relationships with Consumers, branding expert Tim Halloran argues that today’s effective marketer must foster a deep, committed, and emotionally connected relationship with their consumer base. They must keep the sparks alive in a long-term relationship rather than focus solely on the short-term, single purchase.


Better Lives

Building off of Diane Levine’s three strategies, Tim Halloran includes ‘Listen to your customers’ and ‘Strive to make your customers’ lives better’.

On the last point, Nike ‘Just do it’ is now more about ‘Help me just do it’. Nike+ has become an enabler to its customers and bringing them together in a virtual community to stay motivated and challenged. Nike’s success has to do with its focused use of athlete relationships and innovative brand experiences to inspire its customers to feel like athletes. Its products and technologies are always linked to values such as aspiration, achievement and status.

Tim Hortons has found its way into the hearts of Canadians not only through their coffee on every corner of every city and town of Canada but also through their social consciousness of understanding Canadians. From their support of the Canadian military to tapping into the Canadian passion for hockey, they have successfully used the Canadian brand to reinforce their own brand love.

Love Me

If you read this article out of context you would think that we were talking about the secrets for a successful marriage. In truth, what we are talking about here is a deep and emotional relationship between a customer and a brand. The interesting thing is that the historical brands figured this out a long time ago and just keep re-engineer how they engage and support their customers. The internet gives every brand the opportunity to engage with their customers on a one-to-one level but without the insights and relationship strategies to connect on an emotional level, there will never be any love.

If you want customers to love your brand make sure you give more than you take. Follow through on the little things, keep your promises, learn to apologize when you make a mistake or disappoint and spend time learning about what is important to them. But most importantly, your brand must be authentic and real to be loved.



Are You Good Enough to Be a Personal Brand?

Do human brands exist? If you are a celebrity or famous are you a brand by default? Not necessarily, I am talking about humans having the same effect on customers as product and service brands. David Ogilvy was one of the first to describe a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” A brand is really the perception that is held in the mind of customers about your product’s quality and attributes based on factual (design, colour, experience, consistency) and emotional (values, promise, leader, passion) characteristics. Sometimes defining a product brand is like describing a person.


name-tag my brand


Is this a person or a brand? Clean-cut but trendy, easy-going and likes to have fun, loves music and photography, comes across as friendly, bright, cool and very simple to get to know. Did I describe you or Apple?


Brands have personalities, they possess character and they can stand for something.


Celebrity Brands


The difference when you’re famous or a celebrity is about reach and frequency – having a widespread reputation and awareness. Being a human brand is about making a connection with your customer that they own. Their connection isn’t about you, its more about what you give them. Some celebrities turn into brands by using their fame and uniqueness by consciously packaging their image into a brand. Good examples are Oprah Winfrey and Paris Hilton.




In 1976, Oprah worked in Baltimore as co-anchor of the six o’clock news (WJZ-TV). By 2000, Oprah Winfrey had built a multimillionaire empire as the producer and host of ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ Through that show, she built and refined her distinctive personal brand. A brand that now includes a book club, magazine, charitable foundation, and multimedia businesses, which also includes the Oprah Winfrey Network.


Well you might think that Paris Hilton may not look very smart. She took her humble beginning as a hotel heiress and socialite at the age of 22 started to build a brand as a media personality, a model, a recording artist, a book author, and an actress. Today, Paris Hilton has a billion dollar business with her own line of clothing and perfumes.


Human Brands


Don’t confuse celebrities who endorse product brands or act as a spokesperson for brands as human brands, most are just famous people sharing their awareness and winning trait. A number of these people are very successful athletes like Tiger Woods (Nike), David Beckham (H&M underwear) and Serena Williams (Wilson & Gatorade). Be careful when you saddle-up your brand to a celebrity. Remember Lance Armstrong and Nike or O.J. Simpson and Hertz. Even Tiger Woods was problematic, with his personal antics off the golf course.




Another easy way to become a human brand is by being the founder of a very strong corporate brand, such as Donald Trump with the Trump Organization, Richard Branson with the Virgin Group and Hugh Hefner with Playboy Enterprises. All three have very distinct and memorable personalities. Each is a living image of their company brand and brand values. Each of them has carefully crafted their unique brand image. Donald Trump, the successful hard-nosed businessman and leading Republican nominee, with his controversial viewpoint and long batch of hair. The fun and risk-taking Richard Branson with his long blond locks of hair, casual attire (never with a tie), and headline making stories of his latest attempt to break a world-record. But the most iconic of the three has to be Hugh Hefner who lived the Playboy brand in the Playboy mansion – always in his signature silk pajamas, robe and pipe, and his messy bedroom hair.


Can you be a human brand without being a celebrity or an owner of a successful business? History would tell us, yes – such as: Jesus Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, William Shakespeare, Mozart and Beethoven. They changed history and took civilization to a new depth. For some of us this might be too aspirational to try to build a similar brand.


Sustained Presence


Powerful human brands generally have sustained a presence over time. The underlining commonality in all the human brand examples shared is their power to influence. As Tom Peters explains, “one of the things that attracts us to certain brands is the power they project. As a consumer, you want to associate with brands whose powerful presence creates a halo effect that rubs off on you.”


With the introduction of digital mass and social media tools we all have the ability to influence via the internet. All you have to do is build a brand following based on the same principals of building a product brand. What will define success will be your ability to give your audience something of value that they will want to own – not just once but over time.


Managing Your Identity and Perception


Branding is the process of managing identity and perception. If you want to build a personal brand you must form a memorable presence through your physical persona combined with your digital manifestation (a book would also help to define who you are or how you think or writing a blog or an article on LinkedIn isn’t a bad idea).


To help you get started, here are some questions you need to answer:

  • What does your brand stand for?
  • What is your unique promise?
  • What qualities do you want linked to your brand?
  • What value do you bring to your audience?
  • Are you always consistent?
  • Can you tie your brand to a product or service brand?
  • What does your brand look like?
  • A strong personal brand is dependent on a strong narrative. In other words, what’s your story?


Walk The Talk


Remember, a personal brand is all about who you are and what you want to be known for. You can engineer any brand image you want through time and resources but to connect to your audience you must live it. You must walk your talk every day. I know this sounds daunting but controlling your professional reputation makes good sense for all of us. Our online image is our digital biography.


So who are you? Are you good enough to be a brand?



Using Sex to Build a Brand (and this article)

It’s a known fact that sex sells. But does it build lasting brands? If you ask Calvin Klein, he would say yes. Over a 2.5 billion dollar Calvin Klein business was built on provocative and sexual images over the last 40 years isn’t a bad example.(1)

For years, cars, beer, perfume and recently, deodorant and fast food have been sold to males through images of scantily-clad, perfectly sculptured woman. Tapping into the basic instincts of man – sex is a universal interest. Sexy images drive eye balls especially men’s who think about sex every 7 seconds! (2)

Sexual Content Get Noticed

“Advertisers use sex because it can be very effective,” said researcher Tom Reichert who conducted a study at University of Georgia on sexual advertising. (3) “Sex sells because it attracts attention. People are hard wired to notice sexually relevant information so ads with sexual content get noticed.”

“Some young men actually think Axe body spray will drive women crazy,” he said. “But, brand impressions are shaped by images in advertising, too. Arguable, Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret are not much different than Hanes, Jockey or Playtex, but perception studies show those brands are perceived as ‘sexy,’ and some customers want that.”

Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch markets its sexual brand image to college-age adults but ends-up attracting many younger teens (including my kids). Not only do they show beautiful youth in their advertising, but they hire the best-looking, young people to model their clothes in the stores. They made sure the brand lives not only in the advertising but in the stores. I wish beer stores respected their brands the same way.

Scientists claim they have discovered exactly why sex sells – and it isn’t just because consumers think that if they buy the car they can get the girl. Researchers found seeing an attractive man or woman in provocative clothing and positions in advertising excites the areas of the brain that make us buy on impulse, bypassing the sections which control rational thought. Their study found that advertising using logical persuasion – simple, convincing facts – are less effective in making us buy than advertising using non-rational influence – feel good, stimulating images.(4) Did we really need research to tell us this?

The fact that using sex to sell in advertising has almost doubled in 30 years isn’t a big surprise. (3) But what was deemed sexy 30 years ago has changed drastically today where pornography is main stream in our culture.



Risky Business

Sex comes with many risks (including rashes and bumps in areas that we don’t want to talk about). Klein doesn’t apologize for pushing the envelope in what is deemed decent and what isn’t. “Sometimes people look at the advertising and resent it or feel threatened by what they see — but in the end, if the sales are good, the images must be OK,” Klein said. The fact is CK’s men’s underwear owns the underwear market ever since Mark Wahlberg wore nothing but.

Both Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch continue to walk the fine line between sexy and soft core porn. Consumer groups have launched boycott campaigns against both companies over the years and have successfully had campaigns removed from public viewing. To the point that the Virginia Beach police seized photos from an Abercrombie store that were deemed indecent.

The fact is beautiful airbrushed, naked people can help sell products and build a sexually compelling brand. Dove soap took a different approach by showcasing their products on naked, everyday, wholesome women, so maybe we’re not as superficial after all. They did get bad press when it was leaked that they digitally enhanced some of the women’s images to make them better looking. OK maybe we are superficial.


Eat It Up or Spit It Out?

It makes sense to use provocative sexy brand images that is closely associated to the product brands such as underwear, perfume and maybe alcohol but selling a hamburger is a stretch.


Hannah Ferguson’s and Paris Hilton’s hypersexual ad to sell Carl’s Jr. Texas BBQ Thickburger is an easy way to accomplish edginess and draw attention, but does it fulfill Carl’s Jr. brand promise and is it sustainable? I don’t think so.

Make sure you use this power wisely and don’t flaunt it unnecessarily or it could do more damage than good to your brand. Remember; over-promising can only lead to disappointment and negative feelings which aren’t brand builder. Using sex to sell a product that is unrelated to sex can be seen as a gimmick that cheapens both the image of the company and the product brand.

Your audience will always have the final say and they’ll tell you at the cash register. So provoke, shock and engage, because as long as your audience has given you permission, they’ll eat it up like a CoolWhip® bikini.


The title image was taken from a Body Shop ad to sell soap on a rope. For real.

(1) 1996 was the only sales figure I could find as the company was private until sold to Phillips Van Heusen Corp. in 2002.
(2) Kinsey Institute’s disputes this claim; they state that 54% of men think about sex every day or several times a day and 43% a few times per month or a few times per week.
(3) Magazine trends study finds increase in advertisements using sex, UGA Today online news, June 5, 2012, http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/magazine-trends-study-finds-increase-in-advertisements-using-sex/
(4) Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, UCLA and George Washington University, research lead by Dr. Ian Cook, September, 2011 http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/buyer-beware-advertising-may-seduce-215473

Never Underestimate Who Owns Your Brand

Brands are owned by its customers. It’s their experience with the brand that matters. It’s their relationship and perception. As a marketer, we must protect the brand and understand the brand’s promise so we don’t screw-up the relationship between the customer and the brand. We must understand the psychological connection between the customers and the brand, so we can continue to emulate what keeps them coming and hopefully attract new customers along the way. Your loyal customers are your brand advocate especially if something goes wrong with the product or service.

Which came first the product/service or the brand?

Without a product/service there is no brand experience. Can you control the experience from the beginning? You can try but many brands are built by loyal and faithful customers. The strongest marketing tool is still word-of-mouth or better phrased word-of-social. You can create the brand environment but in many cases you cannot control how customers interact with the product over time.

Case in point, Calvin Klein started in the 1970’s as a youthful women’s wear and by the 1980’s it changed the face of men’s underwear, sparked by the semi-nude body of Marky Mark Wahlberg modelling the CK briefs. Today, global sales for men’s and women’s CK underwear account for more than 1 billion dollars annually.

Betty Crocker (not a real person but a brand), the revered expert on cake making going back to 1921, stumbled when they changed their cake mix recipe in the 1950’s. Producing a “just add water” product had their loyal following reject it outright. It seemed the brand managers of Betty Crocker didn’t understand the brand experience; by creating the mindless cake mix, the baker’s role in the process was reduced to nothing. The brand insight was that to bake a cake was to show appreciation to one’s family. Making it a mindless effort eliminated the appreciation towards the baker.

Another famous marketing blunder was the Coca Cola Company’s attempt to change Coke’s recipe in 1985. While the new formulation was intensively researched for tastability, no one had asked the customer how they would feel if they took away their original coke, a recipe that had been started in 1886. The backlash and PR nightmare forced Coca Cola Company to reintroduce the classic Coke and rename the new Coke to Coke II.

Today, customers’ backlash is almost instant and the impact on the brand can be global and drastic. As a connected society, any brand crisis will quickly become an online reputation crisis thanks to the real-time nature of social media. If a brand faces a problem of image, product failure, or mistreatment, it will quickly become the latest news on Facebook, YouTube, Blogs, Twitter, and finally front-page news on mainstream media. Many brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Lululemon, Facebook, Instagram, Tim Hortons, Maple Leaf Foods, and even Apple have felt the wrath of unhappy customers due to product issues, policy changes and inappropriate behaviour of management and staff.

The digital communications revolution has completely transformed this balance of control. The consumer’s voice has become louder and much more public. Consumers can publish their brand experience and compare it with their experience of other brands. How a brand responds under pressure can have a profound effect on its future and relationship with its customers.

Never forget that brands are owned by their consumers. They can be the best ambassadors and brand advocates or the brand’s worst enemy.They are the voice of the brand.