It’s a Trap! Insights Functions vs. Insights Systems

Primary research is great, but it’s just one tool. It’s how companies use insights that makes the difference.

Too many companies fall into too common of a trap: mistaking the difference between an insights function and an insights system. Far too often, companies invest in an insights or research department, or function, only to have its value limited because they are not connected to the broader business.

And more than ever, companies are investing in primary research but getting mixed results. Don’t get me wrong. Primary research is core to being a more outside-in, customer-centric business. However, that’s just one tool – it’s what happens with those insights and who is using them that make the difference. Far too often, this primary research is conducted, summarized to a select set of stakeholders, and then put on the shelf.

An insights function is critical to bringing expertise, discipline and execution to the gathering of insights. However, what sets high-growth companies apart from their peers is having an insights system. An insights system is not bound by functional areas or business units. It is not project-based. It is not a one-way flow of information. Far too often, insights are left at the customer level, not the market level. Or even worse, they are never shared at all.

It is by definition a system. An insights system has on and off ramps for insights. A wide range of stakeholders access and contribute to the system, well beyond the insights or research function. This includes sales and marketing, innovation and R&D, service, engineering and operations, and even partners and principals. Each of these groups has key insights into customers’ needs and behaviors, competitors and ideas for growth.

So, how do you start to build out the system? Market leaders such as UPS, 3M and Microsoft have built their systems by following these proven strategic steps:

  1. 1. Map it. Start by mapping the current flow (or lack thereof) of insights. Where do they go? Who’s contributing them? Who’s using them, and who’s not using them?
  1. 2. Define it. Define what the ideal insight system looks like for your business to drive that outside-in perspective. Where should they come from (i.e., sales, service and market research)? Where should they go (i.e., innovation, marketing and sales)? How should they be accessed (a central repository and/or several strategic forums for insight sharing)?
  1. 3. Educate. Don’t take for granted that everyone starts with the same definition and value of an insight. Leading companies have invested in upfront education and communication about the definition and value of insights to their business under the impressions that more people will contribute to and use them once properly informed.
  1. 4. Build the toolkit. Based on the future insights map you have created, there should be a core set of tools to leverage and/or build. This can include primary research such as quantitative research and focus groups, customer advisory groups, ethnography and usage studies, analytics of customer buying behavior, win/loss analysis, and even listening to contact center calls or complaints on your website. Remember, more isn’t necessarily better. It’s about a core set of tools that give you fresh, actionable insights into your market, competitors and customers.
  1. 5. Make insights core to the conversation. Make insights a baseline expectation for decision-making. Whether it be go-to-market planning, a business case review, an innovation pipeline review or a strategic customer plan, bring insights to the core of the conversation and make this a consistent expectation throughout the business.
  1. 6. Incent to drive the behavior change. To really accelerate the insight system, people need to be incented to contribute insights. The companies that have been most successful building this competency have built this into individual’s performance and incentive plans. It’s become an expectation of virtually all areas of their business.


The answer to insights isn’t always more headcount and bigger budgets in the research group. The path to truly becoming an outside-in company starts with the insight system. It will allow you to more rapidly and consistently identify and act on market opportunities as they emerge.


Dove: The Most Impressive Brand Builder

This campaign soars on its ability to change the way women are perceived–and how they see themselves.

What are the most impressive brand-building efforts in the last 15 years? In constructing such a list, it would be hard to leave out Dove. A $200 million soap brand in the early 1990s has grown into a brand that has been estimated to be worth nearly $4 billion dollars today. They play in an intensively competitive arena with large, smart and established competitors. And in my view, the Dove brand-building effort played a big role in their success story.

Have you seen the latest from the Dove ongoing “Campaign for Real Beauty” that originated in Brazil and was done by Ogilvy & Mather in 2004? A forensic sketch artist draws several women, first based only on their descriptions of themselves (he does not actually see them) and then based on the descriptions of a stranger who has observed the women. The subject, seeing the resulting sketches side-by-side, realizes that the sketches inspired by strangers are much more flattering than the versions from their own self-descriptions. The tagline? “You are more beautiful than you think.”  The first two versions of these videos each got over 35 million views within two weeks of being posted to YouTube. Thirty-five million!!

Dove’s success is, of course, driven in large part by a business strategy that involved brand extensions, product innovation and geographic expansion. The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty set out to make women aware that they have real beauty that is not based on the common standard of a young, model-thin body with excessive makeup. The goal was to make a fundamental change in the way that women are perceived and in the way they view themselves. The campaign started with advertisements, showing real women that may have been older or heavier than the “ideal” but exhibited beauty. Billboard ads invited passers-by to vote on whether a particular model was, for example, “Fat or Fab” or “Wrinkled or Wonderful”, with the results of the votes dynamically updated.

The Real Beauty campaign involves substantive programs with girls as the prominent target. Since 2002, Dove has been collaborating with Girl Scouts of the USA to promote self-esteem and leadership programming among tween and teenage girls with programs like uniquely ME! and It’s Your Story – Tell It! An annual Dove Self-Esteem Weekend, started in 2010, aims to inspire moms and mentors to talk to girls in their lives about beauty, confidence and self-esteem supported by discussion aids. The goal is to reach 15 million girls global about self-esteem awareness by 2015.

The Real Beauty campaign resonates at several levels. It connects with an issue of deep concern within the customer base, their appearance and self-confidence. Additionally, it addresses the insecurity and self-esteem issues of young women to which customers could empathize. It strikes a chord. It provides a higher purpose to the brand and a shared interest with customers.

The impact for some of Dove’s efforts has been estimated to be 30 times their expenditure. One of its ads, Evolution, showed how much effort goes behind creating the “model look” and won advertising awards as well as created unpaid exposure estimated to be worth over $150 million. There are anecdotes about dramatic sales increases tied to the campaign and surveys showing that those aware of the effort are more likely to use and recommend Dove products. But the creation of a huge business base is the best evidence to its impact.

“The goal was not to avoid being disliked but to connect to the target.”

The campaign has had its critics, though. In part, this scrutiny has been stimulated by and is a testament to its success and visibility. But during a panel discussion at the WEF at Davos once, Phil Knight dismissed critics to some controversial Nike ads by saying that the goal was not to avoid being disliked but to connect to the target. Exactly.

Dove’s success is, of course, driven in large part by a business strategy that involved brand extensions, product innovation and geographic expansion. The energized brand with its higher purpose and clear value propositions supported by branded innovations simply amplified a remarkable business strategy.

The extension strategy was to leverage the moisturizer heritage of the brand into new categories supported by meaningful innovation. The first extension success was the Dove Moisturizing Body Wash with the innovative Dove Nutrium technology that deposits lipids, Vitamin E and other nutrients onto the skin. This was followed by entries into deodorants, disposable face cloths, shampoos with Weightless Moisturizer, Nutrium soap, and lotions with Shea Butter. Dove also entered the male market with Dove Men+Care. Each extension’s success was based in part on compelling value propositions.

Additionally, an aggressive global expansion resulted in the brand, once a factor in only a few countries, now having a presence in some 80 countries. However, the business strategy would not have had its remarkable success without the brand-building effort to support the offerings and to drive the higher Real Beauty purpose.


The Dove brand success didn’t just happen. It was research-based and employed a host of methods to understand the issues women face with respect to Dove products and perceived beauty. Customer research was supplemented with expert guidance. The Dove Self-Esteem Program, for example, has an 11 person Global Advisory Board. The brand has the ability and the willingness to stimulate, access creative thinking from around the world and then push the best ideas into the marketplace.

Letting ideas emerge and then flourish is not a natural part of most organizations. Dove’s efforts are remarkable.


How to Identify Your Brand Personality

Sincere or sophisticate? Rugged or sweet? The right personality communicates benefits and drives engagement.

My last blog post, “Three Models of How a Brand Personality Impacts,” discussed three ways in which a brand personality can impact customers and the marketplace. And its reception, measured by views and comments, indicated that brand personality is a highly sought after and intriguing concept. Many recognized brand personality as a key brand vision lever for brands that are facing dynamic markets and a fragmented media presence. A brand personality can be a crucially important driver of self-expressive benefits, brand-customer relationships and the communication of functional benefits.

If a brand strategist wants to explore the potential of creating or enhancing a brand personality, then they have to address one basic question.

What should my brand personality be?

One place to start is by deciding which personality elements should be on the table. My advice? To start with an established brand personality scale designed to span products, much like the scale developed by my daughter, Jennifer Aaker. It contains 15 traits organized into five factors as follows:

  • Sincerity—down-to-earth, hones, wholesome, cheerful
  • Excitement—daring, spirited, imaginative, up-to-date
  • Competence—reliable, intelligent, successful
  • Sophistication—upper class, charming
  • Ruggedness—outdoorsy, tough

This can provide one checklist. Which of these 15 traits or variants would work?

A second source of ideas comes from looking at other brands inside or even outside of your category that are admired or relevant and ask some basic questions. What is their personality? How strong is it? How was it created and maintained? In what way does it enhance the brand or the marketing program? An airline like Emirates, for example, could look at hotels, financial services firms or online retailers for brand personalities that stand out and are advancing a business strategy or brand.

“A brand personality can be a crucially important driver of self-expressive benefits, brand-customer relationships and the communication of functional benefits.”

A third vehicle is to look at the “three models…” concept from my last post and examine whether any of these three could be relevant in your business context. They can be the source of ideas for brand personality elements as well as serve as criteria to select from.

Finally, the brands and their offering could be appraised to see what personality elements, if any, are already prevalent. What elements could be compatible with existing image and relationships? It is much easier and less contrived to build on an existing or embryonic brand personality than to try to create one from scratch.


In selecting your brand personality, several criteria should be employed. First, the personality should have a role in advancing the business strategy and the brand. You don’t want to have a personality just to have one. Second, the personality should appear authentic and not contrived. It should be backed up with substance in the form of value propositions and customer experience. And finally, there should be programs in place that will bring the personality to life so that it will not be an empty aspiration.


Three Models of How a Brand Personality Impacts

Whether it’s warm or witty, outdoorsy or urbane, your brand’s personality is a valuable communication tool.

What is the worst thing you can say about a person? That they have no personality. Who wants to spend time with someone who is so boring that they are described as having no personality? It’s better to be a jerk; at least you will be interesting. Having a personality is equally helpful to brands.

Not all brands have a personality, or at least don’t have a strong, distinctive personality. Those that do have a significant advantage in terms of standing out from the crowd, having a message and supporting a relationship with customers. Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring. Once established it will provide benefits (or harm) over a long time horizon. Creating or supporting a personality should be part of the brand vision discussion.

The power of brand personality can be seen by conceptualizing three models of how personality impacts:

The Self-Expression Model

People express their own or idealized selves in part by the brands that they buy and use. Using Apple’s MacBook expresses for some a non-corporate, creative self-based in part on the perception that Apple-as-a-person is an unpretentious, irreverent and somewhat off-the-wall person. The use of Betty Crocker expresses the homey, maternal, nurturing side of some of its users because Betty Crocker-as-a-person is a mother figure who is traditional, small-town, and all-American, a person that cares about cooking and about her family. Wearing the Nike brand is a personal representation of an active lifestyle personality for many. Nike-as-a-person is exciting, provocative, spirited, cool, innovative, aggressive, and into health and fitness. A brand can serve as a person’s personal statement even if that person were stranded on a desert island.

“Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring.”

The self-expressive power of the brand can depend on the context. One study suggested that a brand personality can transform the use experience by creating feelings during use. Respondents were asked to project themselves into one of two scenarios. One involved a break after a daytime hike on a mountain, while the other was during a small evening barbecue with close friends. During the scene, the beer served was either Coors or Löwenbräu. Coors, with its outdoorsy, active, healthy personality, created feelings of “warmth,” “friendliness,” and “wholesomeness” in the mountain setting, but not in the barbecue setting. In contrast, Lowenbrau, with a warm, social personality, the reverse was true.

A brand can serve as a person’s personal statement even if that person were stranded on a desert island. However, there are socially visible or “badge” brands, particularly for statement products like cars and clothes, that have substantial social impact and thus enhance to a self-expressive brand role. Driving a Prius or Mercedes provides a self-expressive benefit that is extenuated by an awareness that others will observe.

The Relationship Basis Model

A trustworthy, dependable, conservative personality might be boring but might nonetheless reflect characteristics valued in a financial advisor, a lawn service, or an auto brand such as Volvo. The concept of a relationship between a brand and a person, analogous to that between two people, provides a different perspective on how brand personality might work. For example, consider the following relationship metaphors:

  • A weekend fun companion: Pepsi might be better than Coke if perceived as a fun, energetic, social person.
  • An old-fashioned mother: A down-to-earth, honest, genuine, reliable, always there for you personality brand like Campbell’s Soup or Pepto Bismol might fit.
  • A well-liked and respected family member: Warm, sentimental, family oriented, and traditional personality linked to growing up. Think of brands such as Hallmark, Kodak and even Coke.
  • A person who you respect as a teacher, minister or business leader: An accomplished, talented and competent person as represented by IBM or the Wall Street Journal.
  • A boss who exercises power or a rich relative: A pretentious, wealthy, condescending personality perhaps reflecting the personality of BMW, Mercedes or Lexus (with gold trim).
  • A companion for an outdoor adventure: An athletic, rugged, and outdoorsy personality such as Nike or Wells Fargo.

Think of a brand relationship that involves two-way communication. What might a brand say to you? One customer segment who perceived a credit card brand as sophisticated, educated, a world traveler and confident believed that the card would make comments like:

-“My job is to help you get accepted,” and

-You have good taste.”

A second, “intimidated” segment who considered the same credit card brand to be sophisticated and classy but snobbish, aloof and condescending believed the card-as-a-person would make comments such as:

-“I’m so well known and established that I can do what I want.” and

-“If I were going to dinner, I would not include you in the party.”

The user segments had remarkably similar perceptions of the brand, but the attitude of the brand toward the customer was a big discriminator and the relationship metaphor helped provide that insight.

The Functional Benefit Representation Model

A brand personality can also be a vehicle for representing and cueing functional benefits and brand attributes. It can be easier to create a personality that implies a functional benefit than to communicate convincingly that a functional benefit exists directly. Further, it is harder to attack a personality than a functional benefit. Consider:

  • The Harley Davidson-as-a-person rugged, macho, America-loving, freedom-seeking individual who is willing to break out from confining society norms of dress and behavior suggests that the product is powerful and is a bike with substance.
  • The Hallmark-as-person is sincere, sentimental, warm, genuine, wholesome and ageless as well as being competent and imaginative. This says a lot about the Hallmark offerings.
  • The Benetton-as-a-person is daring, trendy, exciting, provocative, spirited and imaginative, and this affects people’s perceptions of Benetton and its stores.
  • Michelin as reflected by the Michelin Man has a strong, enthusiastic, energetic personality that suggests a tire with strength and energy.
  • Wells Fargo, as represented by the stagecoach, reflects an independent, cowboy type that delivers reliably. Although competitors may actually deliver superior reliability and safety of assets, because of the stagecoach, Wells wins the battle for perceptions.
  • The Energizer rabbit is an energetic, upbeat, indefatigable personality who never runs out of energy–just as the battery runs longer than others.


A brand personality can be a vehicle to express a person’s self, represent relationships, and even communicate attributes. In doing so, it can provide a point of differentiation and energy that is sustainable, because it’s very difficult and usually ineffective to copy a personality.


Points of Parity and Consumer’s Brand Preference

On some elements, brands need to be the same. But they also need noticeable differences to get attention.

Most brand strategists focus on developing points of difference that will give consumers good reasons to prefer their brand. The key to winning is assumed to be differentiation.

Points of Parity vs Points of Differentiation: What’s the Difference?

Points of differentiation is a phrase used to describe the areas where brands differentiate themselves from others. Many strategists believe that this is the way to come out on top in terms of brand preference.

On the other hand, we also have points of parity. Points of parity are elements that a brand needs in order to be considered in the eyes of the consumer. This is where a brand may have similarities to others—leading consumers to believe that brand is “good enough” to be included in the conversation.

If there is a must-have dimension on which your brand is perceived to inadequately deliver, your brand will not be considered. You will not be a player, which means you have no chance of winning—no matter how compelling your point of differentiation is. It will not compensate for a fatal liability.

The solution? Change that liability into a point of parity (POP). In other words, change that liability so that on that dimension the brand is good enough to no longer exclude it from the conversation. The point of parity concept provides another perspective on how to make or keep a brand relevant. In this post, I’ll discuss two different points of parity you should consider experimenting with.

Category Points of Parity

A category point of parity means that the brand offers necessary category features. A bank will not be suitable, for example, unless it offers adequate ATM service. At first, some German car manufacturers resisted adding cup holders, believing that car purists would not want such distractions in their cars. But this became a “must-have” for many and they eventually had to add them.

Jaguar executives saw their brand as being irrelevant to those that wanted four-wheel drive. When that group hit 50 percent of purchases in their top geographic markets, Jaguar introduced an all-wheel-drive model. These vehicles were intended not to be superior to others but rather good enough to eliminate, for most buyers, the reason to exclude Jaguar from consideration.

“Change that liability so that on that dimension the brand is good enough to no longer exclude it from the conversation.”

Competitive Points of Parity

A competitive point of parity is designed to negate a competitor’s point of difference. A common brand problem is when the quality of the offering is not adequate in comparison to the competition. In the 90s, Hyundai made inferior quality cars. But even in 2000, after fixing their quality problem, people still shunned the brand because of the bad quality perception. It took years, but through a variety of programs and communication channels, Hyundai found ways to communicate their increased quality levels and gained quality parity. Their quality was perceived to be good enough that attention could turn to points of difference such as price, styling, gas mileage and warranty.

Case in Point: McDonalds

McDonald’s had a competitive parity problem when it began losing customers concerned with healthy eating. They were vetoing the brand altogether. So, they began to offer grilled chicken sandwiches, a variety of salads, fruit smoothies, a choice of apples in the kids’ Happy Meals and started making their signature fries with dramatically reduced “bad” fat. The goal was not to make McDonald’s a destination for the healthy-eating segment but to create enough parity to reduce the number of customers who wouldn’t even consider the brand.

They then ran into another competitive parity problem. The success of Starbucks was a serious threat to their breakfast and other off-hours business. But it was also an opportunity. The advent of McCafé in 2007, with a line that included cappuccinos and lattés, changed the competitive landscape. McDonald’s was not aspiring to be better than Starbucks; the goal was to be close enough to the Starbucks experience to create a point of parity with respect to quality. The result was that a segment of the Starbucks base started to include McDonald’s in their consideration set.


Consider whether your brand lacks a point of parity on key dimensions. Unless parity is achieved, the most compelling point of difference will not win.

Like Woody Allen famously said, “80 percent of success is just showing up.” Without points of parity, your brand will not be showing up. It will not be seen as a relevant, preferred brand—and it will not be considered.

A special thanks to Kevin Keller, who pushed the point of parity concept to the brand world.

Learn more about what brands are doing to stay relevant in today’s highly competitive world.


Six Reasons Why Incumbent Firms Fail to Innovate

It takes courage and a supportive culture to encourage risk-taking and let big ideas flourish.

One of the empirical facts of business strategy is that “big” innovations that create new categories or subcategories do not come from the leading incumbents – they come from outsiders.

Successful incumbents have the resources to lead but, in fact, success breeds complacency, lethargy or arrogance. What is also disturbingly true is that incumbents not only fail to innovate, but also fail to be relevant to major innovations of others and sometimes lose not only their momentum but their very existence as a player.

“Success breeds complacency, lethargy or arrogance.”

In a brilliant new book, Unrelenting Innovation: How to Build a Culture for Market Dominance, Gerry Tellis explains why this is. His answer, based on nearly a dozen major clinical studies conducted by he and his colleagues, is that it is the culture of the incumbent firm that is inhibiting the firm from innovating or even responding to innovation.

He identifies three cultural traits and three practices that inhibit incumbents from “big” innovation, which is the only route to real growth as I argue in my book, Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant. Understanding these traits and practices is the key to creating a culture where “big” innovations can be nourished.

6 Reasons Incumbent Firms Do Not Innovate

1. Refusal to Cannibalize Previously Successful Products

Firms want to protect their golden goose and certainly not kill it. Kodak had many of the patents that were the basis for digital photography, but they were protective of its film business. Microsoft had a model for paid search before Google but was afraid it will kill the banner ad business of MSN. Sony came out with an MP3 player two years before Apple, but Sony Music was petrified that a successful MP3 player might foster music piracy. Compare these examples with Gillette’s willingness to, again and again, obsolete successful products.

2. Reluctance to Take Risks

Failure is endemic to innovation, with rates ranging from 50% to 90% at various stages of development and commercialization. And executives rarely get blamed for missing a major innovation, but having one fail is often a career buster. The safe course is to avoid risky initiatives and stick to incremental innovations on the existing businesses. But big payoffs require big risks. Toyota gambled with the Prius with respect to undeveloped technology and uncertain demand. Both Amazon and Federal Express took a big risk in sacrificing profits with a big bet that scale would pay off.

3. Inability to Focus on the Future

In has been shown in one of Tellis’ studies that, for incumbent firms, major innovations go through two main stages:

  • A Flat Stage: During which the innovation is being improved and gaining market traction. This stage can be lengthy. Firms tend to accept this first stage data as predictive and fail to analyze the potential technology or distribution developments that may ensue.
  • Take Off Phase: As a result, they fail to invest or even stop an innovation that is in the marketplace. For example, Blackberry had a smartphone prior to the iPhone and HP had an e-reader before the Kindle or the iPad, but the potential of each, based on the existing market, seemed too weak to merit investment. Apple and Kindle, of course, proved them wrong.

In addition to these traits, incumbent firms also lack three practices that promote the traits that engender innovation: providing incentives for “big” innovation, fostering innovation competition and empowering innovation champions.

4. Using Outdated Incentive Methods

In successful, dominant firms, incentives are often set to current sales or satisfaction of current customers and are even biased toward employee seniority or loyalty. Innovation, when it is evaluated, has a heavier weight on failure than success, which can take years to determine. Google is the model for getting innovation incentives right. Employees are expected to spend 20% of their time on innovation, a “license to pursue dreams.” The Founder’s Awards, which run into millions, recognize employee innovations. There are innovation reviews whereby employees can present new product ideas to Google’s top management, including the CEO. And there’s more.

5. Lacking Internal Competition for Innovative Ideas

As a result, innovation is stifled. Silicon Valley is successful in part because of the frenzy of competition for ideas and people. The firms that keep coming up with “big” innovations have found ways to create such energy inside a firm. For over a decade, HP supported inkjet and laser technologies with competing printing divisions within the company. Each division worked hard to outdo the other, and innovation was the beneficiary. Some firms have idea fairs, research contests, competitions for internal startup funding or autonomous innovation units. The idea is to find and nourish embryonic business ideas that can be a growth platform for the future.

6. Not Championing Innovators

Firms like Apple that have been serially successful at innovation empower innovation champions, or individuals within the firm that are charged to develop major innovations and are provided with a team and resources. Successful innovation champions have a vision for the future mass market, tend to be mavericks and dissenters, have the conviction to persist against heavy odds and are willing to take risks. Such people are rare and need to be attracted, cultivated, supported and rewarded. Not easy for most organizations.


I believe this book will make an important contribution to the strategy literature. With a logical framework and a fact-based, research-based foundation, it addresses one of the most important challenges of the day: How do you foster “big” innovation within the context of a firm that has successful business units? Executives of established firms should read it and consider applying the ideas immediately.

Every firm should have some “big” innovation ideas within a balanced portfolio of innovation initiatives, and this book will help get you there.

Learn how to encourage innovation among your team members to drive business growth.


“Thank You, Mom” is a Model Campaign in a Global World

It’s not just an effective tear-jerker. This campaign is a powerful lesson in cross-silo collaboration.

P&G’s “Thank You Mom” Olympic marketing program was a brilliant effort to draw on a universal human value to create a program with energy, relevance and emotion that spanned brands and countries. Plus, it’s ongoing with life beyond one Olympic Games.

In my book, Spanning Silos, I noted that brand and country silos have advantages. They are close to market and product technologies, they promote accountability, and they encourage decisive decisions. But they simply don’t work in today’s environment. One reason is that brand messaging, especially as it is spread through global digital communities, is hard to confine to local markets. As a result, a brand that has different local positions can become confused. A second reason is that the necessary scale of advertising, promotions, and big idea brand building are virtually unavailable when local brand building dominates.

So how might firms deal with the silo issue? The organizational answer is to overlay coordination and communication between silos. The brand-building answer is to find driving ideas in the form of human values that are universal, that everyone can relate to. That answer could be found in education, health issues, water conservation or others, but it needs to apply to all silos and be capable of maintaining relevance over time.

P&G’s “Thank you Mom” campaign uses both answers to conduct a successful cross-silo global marketing campaign. Applied at the Vancouver games of 2010 and the Special Olympics of 2011, it made its major push during the 2012 Olympic Games in London. It’s all about celebrating what moms do and thanking them for their efforts, their care and their achievements.

The campaign came to life with the short film, “Best Job” which touches the heart and celebrates the role that moms play in raising Olympians and great kids. There were also videos of the moms of some of the 150 athletes sponsored by P&G brands. A mom was shown watching their child excel through an exceptional performance or by medaling an event. The campaign was promoted through a host of media channels. A companion in-store worldwide retailer program was enacted five months before the London games and involved four million retailers. It was tied to an effort to raise over 25 million dollars to support youth sports programs that would aid both the Olympics and moms everywhere. The promotions involved some 34 P&G brands including Tide/Ariel, Pantene, Pampers, and Gillette. There was a “Thank You Mom” app that allowed people to thank their own moms with personalized content in the form of a video.

“It provided the prestige and energy of being involved in the Olympics, plus the “feel-good” aspect of supporting youth sports.”

The marketing program was a winner for several reasons, besides the fact that it scaled over dozens of brand silos and many countries and was estimated to have generated $500 million in sales. It provided the prestige and energy of being involved in the Olympics, plus the “feel-good” aspect of supporting youth sports. Further, the connection with real moms provided a hearty dollop of authenticity and emotion. It’s easy to empathize with moms that have fed babies, provided lunches, supported at swim meets, bandaged skinned knees, attended recitals and shared in the joy of winning gold at the Olympics. Everyone has a mother, and everyone can relate to the best aspects of a mom’s role.


If your firm has the all-too-common problem of attempting to achieve synergy when there are multiple brands, most of which also span products and countries, you might look at the P&G “Thank You, Mom” program for inspiration.


Five Steps to Getting Brand Touchpoints Right

Insights are critical. Ask customers to use their own words to describe touchpoints and experiences.

The brand experience, the essence of a relationship, is created by brand touchpoints. A brand touchpoint occurs any time a person in the marketplace interacts with the brand. To improve the brand experience, a firm needs to identify priority touchpoints and implement a program to improve those that are not on-brand.

Five Steps to Enhancing Your Brand Experience

  1. Identify all existing touchpoints, as well as those that should exist. Touchpoints can be under the control of the firm such through the communication programs, the public relations efforts, the customer contact points such as service and accounting staffs, sponsorships, or customer-focused programs such as the Tide Stain Detective. Touchpoints can also be external and controlled by retailers, run by third parties like the Consumers Report, or operated by a leading recipe website.
  2. Provide an internal evaluation of all the touchpoints to determine which are managed well and which are deficient. What organizational unit owns each touchpoint, how is it managed, and what person is responsible?  Ask how well the touchpoint experience is being delivered with respect to internal expectations, external expectations, or the competition. What will it take in terms of resources and program change to improve the performance?
  3. Look to past, current, and future customers to determine which touchpoints have the greatest impact on their decision and experiences. What are their needs and expectations from the touchpoint experience, and is the organization delivering? Get the customers to use their own words to describe the touchpoints and their appraisal of the experiences – don’t put words and ideas into their minds. Ask them to describe the ideal touchpoint experience. Accepting the status quo as something you have to live with may prevent customers from identifying areas that should be improved.
  4. Prioritize and balance three dimensions. A high priority touchpoint program would have a high rating on the importance of the touchpoint experience in enhancing the brand, the value proposition, and customer loyalty, the degree to which the experience is deficient, and the extent to which the cost and feasibility of improving the experience is reasonable.
  5. Develop a touchpoint action plan. For the priority touchpoints, the goals of the touchpoint and who is responsible should be clearly identified. There will need to be accountability. Further, a development and execution plan to improve the touchpoint experience that includes performance metrics will be needed. The plans may have to involve multiple functional areas and coordinate with other touchpoint experiences.

The effort to improve the customer experience should strive to achieve simplicity and trustworthiness.

Customers want a touchpoint experience to be simple, easy to use, navigate and understand. They do not want complexity, information overload and frustration. The power of simplicity is shown by its effect on customer decisions. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that those brands that scored in the top quarter on delivering simple, relevant information were 86 percent more likely to be purchased and 115 percent more like to be recommended to others.

“Customers want a touchpoint experience to be simple, easy to use, navigate and understand.”

Touchpoints around brand search are particularly prone to complexity and inconvenience and are not oriented to brand comparison. Several automobile brands, recognizing that reality, do offer the ability to compare their brand to a set of comparison brands of choice. Anything that can reduce the complexity of a decision will be welcome. DeBeers’s uses the 4 Cs (cut, color, clarity and carat) to frame a complex decision. Herbal Essences provides a decision guide based on identifying hair type and color treatment needs that simplifies the decision. Information that is screened for relevance will be valued., for example, provides shoe suggestions based on personality information such as favorite fashion icons and heel preference.

The customer also wants trustworthy, relevant information about brands and guidance on to how to compare them. Often, customer input is seen as the most trustworthy because it is based on actual experience without commercial bias. Walt Disney World’s Moms Panel, for example, answers questions about the Disney vacation. JC Penney posts videos of teens talking about their purchases (termed “hauls”) and provide insights into what and why purchases were made. TurboTax provides over 100,000 of unfiltered reviews of their product and helps customers find the most relevant reviews for their needs. Saks Fifth Avenue relies on expert commentary and has fashion writer Dana Riggs give fashion advice to its customers. Betty Crocker has an “Ask Betty” forum that provides the specter of the heritage expert.


Improving the brand experience at every touchpoint is one way to build and solidify brand relationships. Any failure of a touchpoint to deliver an on-brand experience can put customer loyalty at risk and provide an opening for competitors. Conversely, excelling at the touchpoint level will make customer loyalty an ongoing source of brand and business strength. For more, see the book Building the Brand Driven Business, written by Prophet CEO Michael Dunn and Chief Growth Officer Scott Davis.


The Value of an External Brand Energizer

Partnerships should enhance brand personality, like Home Depot and Habitat for Humanity or Valvoline and NASCAR.

Almost all brands need energy in order to gain visibility and support key associations. And one way to gain energy is with an ownable, internal branded energizer.

However, creating and owning an internal branded energizer that resonates with the target segments and energizes and enhances the target brand is difficult and expensive. It can take years to get traction at a time where action is needed in months. Indeed, it may not be feasible at all in a marketplace in which competitors have strong brands and active energizers of their own.

Enter the External Branded Energizer

An alternative is the “external branded energizer, a brand that is owned by another organization. In essence, you find a brand already established with energy and attach the target brand to it. By energy, I mean some combination of exciting/interesting, involving/engaging, innovative/dynamic and/or purpose-driven/passionate.

There is an infinite supply of brands outside your organization that have the potential to energize and enhance that also have enormous strength, are not tied to competitors, and can be linked to the target brand. With discipline and creativity, candidates can be located. The challenge is to create and manage the resulting co-brand alliance.

An external branded energizer will have a variety of sources, but among the most important are sponsorships and endorsements.

Using Sponsorships to Energize Brands

The right sponsorship, handled well, can energize and even transform a brand, adding a meaningful higher purpose. Home Depot, for example, sponsors Habitat for Humanity. Home Depot supplies volunteers, some of the material needed to build and support in raising money and awareness. It is easy for a Home Depot shopper to know of the connection because of the signage, the programs and the continuity over time. FedEx has received energy by sponsoring the FedEx cup, the world series of professional golf. It culminates in four tournaments, the last of which contains 30 top golfers vying for a 10 million dollar top prize. The venerable motor oil brand Valvoline gains involvement and a visible shared interest through its NASCAR sponsorship, supported by a creative website.

“The challenge is to create and manage the resulting co-brand alliance.”

Prestige events like the Olympics can add energy and give a leadership halo to a want-to-be leader brand. Samsung broke through from being just another Korean technology brand to becoming a real player in the US market as a result of its sponsorship of the Olympics. Prestige events can also add energy to established brands, such as VISA. Brands such as these that are successful at creating links with the sponsorship surround the sponsorship with a host of brand-driven activities including promotions, publicity events, website content, newsletters and advertising over an extended time period, usually measured in decades.

Using Endorsers to Energize Brands

Another route is using an endorser, a personality that is contemporary, visible, on-brand, energetic, authentic and in the news. Think of what LeBron James brings to not only Nike but Coca-Cola, State Farm, and McDonald’s. And Roger Federer to Gillette, Mercedes, Rolex, Credit Swiss, and Wilson. An endorser can also be a symbol, such as the Peanuts characters adapted by Metlife in 1985 or the Pink Panther used by Owens Corning, the insulation company even earlier. These symbols can provide energy and visibility to a brand stuck in a boring product class.

Guidelines for Sponsorships and Endorsements as Brand Energizers

  • Make sure that the external branded energizer does in fact deliver energy, and that the energy remains a primary objective during the management of the brand alliance. Be also sure that the branded energizer fits its role.
  • Understand and manage the role of the branded energizer. How exactly is it going to be used to deliver on its objective?
  • The brand alliance relationship should be entered into and managed as a long-term marriage, not as a fling. It is a marriage. There needs to be a two-way reason to partner that will endure the future strategies and people changes. There should be compelling fit.
  • Find ways to associate the target brand with the energizer (it is not important to do the reverse —associate the energizer with the target brand). The key is the long term relationship and a set of surrounding programs so that the link goes beyond simply repetition.
  • Consider the external branded energizer as part of the brand portfolio, and manage its links to the other brands in the portfolio. Again, it is not another sponsorship or promotion, it is a brand that is a member of the firm’s brand portfolio.

For more, see my book Brand Portfolio Strategy


Even leading brands can appear tired, especially when newer entrants generate more attention. Brand managers can’t let that happen, and need to commit to new ways to add interest, including events, sponsorships and celebrity endorsers.


Create an Ownable Branded Energizer

Events not only build buzz. They underscore key attributes of your brand.

Most brands need more energy in order to provide the visibility needed to be considered and to support perceptions and attitudes. But how do you energize a brand, especially when the brand has no newsworthy innovations on hand or there is little interest in the brand or product category? It can be a tough assignment.

The solution might be to create an ownable, internal branded energizer which is not part of the offering per se but has energy and then to use that “branded energizer” to energize the target brand or sub-brand.

“A brand makes it so much easier to achieve the energizing objectives.”

An ownable branded energizer is a branded product, promotion, sponsorship, symbol, program or other entity that by association significantly enhances and energizes the target brand and is developed and owned by the organization.

Examples of Brand Energizers

The Avon Walk for breast cancer provides energy to the cosmetics firm that could not be obtained through the offering. The Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, the hot dog-shaped vehicle that travels the country and supports the Oscar Meyer jingle context. The Adidas Streetball Challenge is a branded weekend event centered around local three-person basketball tournaments and featuring free-throw competitions, street dance, graffiti events, and extreme sports demonstrations all accompanied by live music from bands from the hip hop and rap scenes. Symbols like the AFLAC duck, Betty Crocker and the Michelin man provide enormous visibility while highlighting relevant attributes. Virgin’s founder and CEO, Richard Branson with his outlandish stunts (some involving hot-air balloons) have become a large part of the energy and personality of the Virgin brand.

An effective homegrown brand energizer should:

  • Have energy and vitality. That means it should be described as exciting/interesting, involving/engaging, innovative/dynamic, and/or purpose-driven/passionate. In most cases, the branded energizers will benefit the brand and the business in several ways including generating short-term sales. But the energy should be one of the primary goals and the brand and its entity should be managed accordingly.
  • Be connected to the master brand. One route is to use a sub-brand such as Ronald McDonald’s House, which means that the target brand has a connection in the name. A second route is to select a program or activity that is so on brand that it makes the link easier to establish. A baby-care program, like that of the Pamper’s Village would require little effort to connect to Pampers because of its close connection with babies. A third is to simply forge the link by consistently building it over time with significant link building resources.
  • Be regarded as a long-term asset and be managed accordingly. We are not talking about a seasonal promotion, energizing though it might be. It should be a program, product, symbol or other entity that merits a long-term investment and ongoing active management. It should have an active life of its own and not just be something on the shelf. Consider the Avon Walk, the Oscar Meyer Weinermoble, the AFLAC duck, and Branson’s activities. These energizers all have had decades of life and themselves been continuously refreshed.


Most of these energizing programs could be accomplished without brands, but a brand makes it so much easier to achieve the energizing objectives and to own it. A brand serves to make it easier for the firm to communicate what might be a complex concept and link that concept to the parent brand. It also makes it easier for the customer to remember the thrust of the energizer.

But having a brand will not make an effective brand energizer. Rather, a worthwhile energizer that involves the investment of resources will be more effective and capable of being leveraged if it is branded.


Your Brand Needs Energy!

To stand out from the crowd, brands need to have life. Find new ways to make them interesting, engaging and dynamic.

Unless your brand is one of the exceptions, it needs energy!

A brand that has insufficient energy has two potential liabilities. First, it will lack visibility and it will no longer be amongst those that come to mind when considering a purchase. It will be lost in the noise of the environment and no longer be relevant. Second, and perhaps worse, it will see declines in key image items such as perceived quality and trust and, in addition, have its ability to drive differentiation and loyalty degraded. There is disturbing evidence to back up these assertions.

The Y&R Brand Asset Valuator (BAV) database includes more than 38,000 brands measured on over 75 metrics for over more than 40 countries, from 1993 to the present. The Brand Bubble by John Gerzema and Ed Lebar reports findings from the BAV database that show brand equities (measured by trustworthiness, esteem, perceived quality and awareness) have been falling sharply over the years. For example, over the span of 12 years, trustworthiness dropped nearly 50 percent, esteem fell by 12 percent, brand quality perceptions fell by 24 percent, and remarkably, even awareness fell by 24 percent. This fall continued, even accelerated, after the financial shock of 2008.

Brands with energy have proved the exception to 2008 decline.

They have, in general, not only resisted an image decline but have retained their ability to drive financial performance. A BAV modeling effort by Bob Jacobson of Washington and Natalie Mizik of Columbia shows that for high-energy brands, increases in energy and attitude drive stock return (based on an analysis of those brands like GE or IBM that represent a significant part of the sales of a firm). In fact, the BAV team has redefined differentiation, now calling it “energized differentiation,” because, without energy differentiation, the impact is compromised.

So what is brand energy?

  • Interesting/exciting: There is a reason to talk about the brand. (Disney, AXE, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, Pixar, FedEx Cup)
  • Involving/engaging: People are engaged; the brand can be part of a valued activity or lifestyle. (Lego, Disney. Starbucks, Google, Amazon)
  • Innovative/dynamic: The brand is like to be continually innovative or capable of creating “must have” innovations that create new subcategories. (Apple, Virgin, Dove, GE, 3M).
  • Passionate/purpose-driven: There is a higher purpose that propels passion. (Whole Foods Market, Patagonia, Muji, Nike).

One way to energize the brand is to energize the business, and the best way is through offering innovation. Apple, Dove, Virgin, 3M, Subway, and many other brands have a continuous flow of innovations that create interest and visibility. However, that route is not always open. In many cases, successful innovation is elusive even with motivated efforts, talented people, creative processes and healthy budgets. And innovations that really make a difference, that rise above those that simply maintain a market position, are even rarer. Further, some businesses compete in product categories that are either mature or boring — or both. Whether you make hot dogs or market insurance, it is hard to conceive new offerings that are going to energize the marketplace. So the need then is to look beyond the offering for ways to make the brand interesting, involving, dynamic, enthusiastic, and a topic of conversation.

“Innovations that really make a difference, that rise above those that simply maintain a market position, are even rarer.”

Some suggestions to energize your brand:

  • Create an involving promotion. Coke Zero, for example, asked basketball fans to upload their most fanatical videos and photos supporting their favorite teams, and winners were shown in a special show before the championship game.
  • Create a promotion to attract new customers. Denny’s gave away more than two million Grand Slam Breakfasts in one day with the help of a Super Bowl commercial and online buzz. Free breakfasts broke through.
  • Attach a social network to the brand. The General Mills “Live Gluten Freely” site provides a social network for those interested in gluten free eating. On the Harley-Davidson website, bikers can post pictures of their most recent ride.
  • Go retail. The Apple store is a good part of the success of its products and brand because it presents Apple in a way that is completely on-brand. Nike and Sony have statement stores that serve to present the brand and offering story in a compelling and integrative way.
  • Bring the brand to the customer. TaylorMade golf equipment representatives travel to golf clubs to demonstrate and sell equipment, giving customers a more vivid and on-brand way to experience them than they would get in a sporting goods store. Target created the 30-day Bullseye Bazaar in Chicago to introduce the Tracy Feith Clothing collection, the private-label food line from Archer Farms, and Target furniture.
  • Hold publicity events. Consider the balloon adventures of Virgin’s Richard Branson, the BMW short films created by top directors, or the incredible Red Bull sponsorship of a person jumping out of a balloon 24 miles above the New Mexico desert.
  • Support the higher order purpose. Whole Foods Market provides information and support to those interested in organic and natural foods.


There is another option. Find something with energy, a branded energizer, and attach your brand to that. We save that to a future blog post.


10 Steps to Build a Successful Brand Portfolio Strategy

The goal is to have as few brands as possible, infusing them all with a lot more energy.

Creating an effective brand portfolio strategy is one of the most difficult and critical challenges facing today’s executives. Too often, the family of brands generates customer confusion, inefficiencies, mixed opportunities, and misallocation of resources rather than supporting each other and the brand’s underlying strategy.

10 Steps for a Successful Brand Portfolio Strategy

Gathered from my book, Brand Portfolio Strategy, here are 10 guidelines that point toward the creation of a cohesive, effective, well-defined brand portfolio strategy.

1. Make sure that each brand has a well-defined role or set of roles to play in each product-market context that it is expected to contribute.

It is important to make sure that each brand has a well-defined role or set of roles to play in each product-market context that it is expected to contribute. Each brand needs to be actively managed in order to be successful within that role. In particular, brand-building resources should be allocated on the basis of these roles and not based on the sales and profits they are currently generating. For example, future master brands, emerging brand platforms, endorser brands, and lynchpin brands (brands like GM’s “On-Star” that provide differentiation to other brands), for example, should receive adequate funding so that they can fulfill their role.

2. Identify the strategic brands that will play a driver role in supporting major businesses or product platforms in the future.

As a brand strategist, you should identify the strategic brands that will play a driver role in supporting major businesses or product platforms in the future. A brand is said to have “a driver role” when it drives the purchase decision and defines the user experience. A brand with a driver role will represent the offering and summarize its value proposition and lead the charge against competitors into the product market. A strategic brand is the present or future star player, a brand that the future success of the business will hinge on.

3. Understand the roles of sub-brands and endorsed brands when deciding how to brand a new offering.

When deciding how to brand a new offering, you will need to understand the role of sub-brands and endorsed brands. A sub-brand will allow some distance from a master brand, an endorsed brand more, and a new brand the most. How much distance is needed? Three questions are involved in branding new offerings and deciding whether a new brand is needed. Will existing brands enhance the new offering? Will the new offering enhance an existing brand? Is there a compelling reason to generate a new brand?

4. Brand portfolio strategy is intimately connected to the business strategy, which specifies the product-market growth directions and the associated value propositions.

Your brand portfolio strategy is intimately connected to the business strategy, which specifies the product-market growth directions and the associated value propositions. So, you need to articulate the business strategy. A brand needs to be in place to support those growth directions. In particular, brands are needed to provide visibility and credibility to new offerings in priority product markets.

5. Find or create branded differentiators.

Actively managed branded features, ingredients, technologies, services or programs create a meaningful impactful point of differentiation for a branded offering over an extended time period. The Heavenly Bed, for example, is a branded differentiator for Westin Hotels.

6. Almost all brands could use more energy.

Some brands, especially established brands, may be noticeably bland and tired. A solution is to create or exploit branded energizers, a branded product, promotion, sponsorship, symbol, program, or other entity that by association significantly enhances and energizes a target brand. The branded energizer can be controlled by the firm (e.g., the Walk for Breast Cancer) or by another firm (Home Depot’s connection to Habitat for Humanity).

“It is important to make sure that each brand has a well-defined role or set of roles to play in each product-market context that it is expected to contribute.”

7. Leverage strong brands through brand extensions.

Extension opportunities that will fit and add value to a brand through its associations and customer base should be sought out. The extension should also enhance the brand by providing visibility, associations, energy, access to growth arenas, and communication efficiencies. Rather than conducting ad hoc brand extensions, it’s strategically better to develop brand platforms with a vision for the ultimate future of the brand.

8. Vertical extensions are risky, but sometimes necessary when creating a new brand is simply not feasible.

Vertical extensions are risky, but sometimes necessary when creating a new brand is simply not feasible. However, when moving into a value market sometimes a sub-brand or endorsed brand strategy will reduce the risks of extending a brand. The same is true when it is necessary to enter a super-premium market. In any case, implementation needs to address delicate issues.

9. A corporate brand can be a powerful master brand or endorser because it is uniquely suited to capture the organization’s heritage, assets and skills, people, values, citizenship and performance.

A corporate brand can be a powerful master brand or endorser because it is uniquely suited to capture the organization’s heritage, assets and skills, people, values, citizenship and performance. While competitive products may be similar, organizations rarely are. A corporate brand is thus a potential source of differentiation as long as it stands for something meaningful and positive.

10. Reduce the size of the portfolio when possible.

Resist adding brands that are not needed. Eliminate brands that have no role and relegate a brand to descriptor status if it is not getting traction or failing to play a driver role.


A brand portfolio strategy is about a family of brands, their roles and their relationship with each other. It should deliver synergy, leverage, clarity, relevance, differentiation and energy. To achieve this goal, an ongoing effort to review and refine is usually needed.

Is your brand strategy built for success? Learn how Prophet can help.

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