The CMO as Confusing Mess Organizer

It is well documented that a Chief Marketing Officer has a relatively short shelf life. This is not due to the irrelevance of the job. In fact, the CMO is ever more important today. The problem with the Chief Marketing Officer is the job description.  

The job description has become very complex and confused.  This is not due to the effects of coronavirus alone. The shifts in technology, data amassment, smart devices, channels and personalization have upended the role of the CMO.

Things are so confounding that three different marketing/CMO reports from Deloitte, the global business services enterprise, provide fifteen different responsibilities, trends or must-do’s for CMO’s. 

This is not to say that the Deloitte reports are not insightful. These reports are instructive about our new age of brand-business marketing. It is critical that CMOs manage the myriad channels and technologies that deliver the brand to customers in ways that customers want. But, the more the CMO has to diversify away from building and maintaining great, powerful brands, the weaker marketing and the brand-business become. 

What the reports show are the various activities in which CMOs must participate. The reports reveal the role of the CMO to be a jack-of-all-trades, a conductor and a ringmaster. 

The fragmentation of marketing is forcing the Chief Marketing Officer to be a coordinator of multi-media messages; a manager of mini moguls who have staked out their spheres of influence. This CMO role is to be the uber-manager of “…digital transformation, proving marketing’s value, diversity, equity, inclusion” efforts. CMO’s are supposed to “… oversee marketing analytics, manage customer data, create connected experiences (know-me-know-my history), manage customer-led privacy (give-me-control-of-my data), be agile and make sure the AI is empathetic….” 

CMO’s are supposed to promote the brand’s social, environmental credentials (purpose), be inclusive, hire people with analytical skills, figure out how to manage data collection without cookies, make sure all customer experiences are delivered in a personalized manner, make sure that these experiences cover both physical and digital channels while predicting customer behavior in order to deliver holistic experiences. The CMO is the digital transformation leader, the personalized customer experience leader, the leader of customer-focused data capture and usage, and the customer data privacy captain.  

An exhaustive list.

Perhaps this umbrella-like, far-reaching agenda of necessary must-haves and must-do’s is why the lifespan of a CMO’s tenure is so short. The CMO role is now tasked with organizing the confusing mess of far-ranging, multi-functional responsibilities.

Based on the detailed information from the three Deloitte reports, the CMO should be one of the more valued individuals within the organization. The CMO should be the leading C-Suite influencer encompassing the entire customer experience.

And, yet, as reported by Deloitte, the CMO still has to prove that there is monetary value within brand-business marketing. While attending to all of these important activities, the CMO must prove that brand-business marketing is an investment not a cost.

Meeting the challenges of today’s brand-business environment is exciting. The CMO is now charged with some of the most topical functions for steering brand-businesses within the enterprise. However, at the same time, the role of CMO is becoming the dumpster for an array of activities not focused on being the voice of the customer to the enterprise nor on creating a customer-focused brand-business aimed at profitably satisfying customer needs and problems. 

Let’s be clear: all of these new tasks are important for driving the business. But, an enlightened C-Suite knows that the CMO must not relinquish the responsibility of leading the understanding, articulating and activating of great trustworthy, quality brand promises for enduring profitable growth. Nothing valuable can happen without knowing what the brand-business stands for in the eyes of the customer. Nothing valuable can happen without growing customer-perceived trustworthy brand-business value.

Channel-management and device-management are not the same as brand-business management. Being the chief in charge of organizing marketing’s mess is deleterious to the role of the CMO and to the brand-business.

Enterprises and consultants need to come to their senses. Brand-businesses need more than brand-business management: they need brand leadership. The organization and its brand-businesses need the CMO to be more than the manager of a confusing marketing mess. Brand-businesses need the CMO to drive the strategic customer-focused agenda, leverage the power of scale; increase the effectiveness, efficiency and agility of the brand-business; focus on brand-business priorities and innovation, leading towards enduring profitable growth… and they must do this with passion, persuasion, persistence, conviction, commitment and diplomacy.

The CMO must get back to being the business leader generating, supporting and activating a customer-driven focus within the organization. It is time to put the CMO back in business driving the development of high-quality-revenue customer-driven growth strategies. 

paypal branding

High Tech Brands Are Recognizing the Importance of Brand Preference

It was not too long ago when several business pundits decreed that brand loyalty was dead. Their reasoning hinged on their observations that people tend to go for the latest and greatest gadget rather than stick with their known brand. For those brands that bought into this nonsense, too bad for you. Brand loyalty is not dead. There is ample evidence that people are still loyal. However, people may have switched loyalties during the pandemic for a variety of reasons such as availability, omnichannel shopping approaches and inflationary prices.

Recently several high tech service brands in earnings calls have offered that brand preference is making a huge difference in profitability.

PayPal stated the following in its latest Earnings Call:

“And clearly, there is no other digital wallet close to us in terms of scale, and there’s overwhelming consumer preference for PayPal in those wallets. And our super app is showing extraordinarily promising early results. Now we only rolled that out fully in the middle of October across all of iOS and Android, so we’re 3 or 4 months into it. But what are we seeing? We’re seeing double the average revenue per active account when somebody uses our app versus just checkout. When somebody uses the app their propensity to churn is 25% less.”

Additionally, PayPal said:

“And in fact, in some studies, it would suggest that PayPal is second only to debit in front of credit in terms of preference from consumers. And as I noted earlier, like you’re beginning to see more and more preference for brand ecosystems. And, we think that’s only going to become more relevant as we go forward, which is part and parcel to why we’re emphasizing our digital wallet strategy so much because when someone is using our app, is using our digital wallet, they’re much more likely to be engaged with us in other parts of our ecosystem, including off-line transactions.”

Let’s understand the relationship between brand preference and brand loyalty. Preference and loyalty are not the same. A brand must have brand preference if it wants to grow brand loyalty. Brand preference is the necessary stage for reaching True Brand Loyalty.

Think of a ladder.  The goal of marketers is to move your brand up the brand preference ladder, the pinnacle of which is True Brand Loyalty.

A brand preference ladder is a staircase leading from non-usage to True Brand Loyalty. The context for the brand preference ladder is the audience for the brand. This ladder is a reflection of the strength of the customer’s commitment to the brand relative to competitive offers. Moving the customer up the ladder from commodity consideration to True Brand Loyalty can have a big impact on revenues and profitability.

PayPal stated that their strategy is aimed at building brand preference. And, building preference leads to True Brand Loyalty. True Brand Loyalty leads to quality revenue growth which, in turn, leads to enduring profitable growth.

Every brand desires sales. But, there are two kinds of sales: quantity of sales and quality of sales. Brands must build both. A lot of high tech brands focus on building quantity of sales, in other words gaining subscribers or daily users. Think of the ongoing streaming wars. The headlines are always about the number of subscribers. However, at some point, as Netflix is finding out, there is a limit to the quantity of subscribers. Quality of sales reflects building sales based on brand loyalty. Brand loyalty anchors quality of sales. This is why it is critical to move customers up the brand preference ladder.

Commodity consideration is the first rung on the brand preference ladder. With commodity consideration, customers view a set of brands as being basically the same. The customer is actually indifferent and is willing to consider any of these brands. “Willing to consider” is not the same as “I would put this brand on my short list of preferred brands.” Commodity brands deliver the very basics – the greens’ fees – of the category. In most cases, the only differentiator is convenience and price.

The next rung on the brand preference ladder is Short-list brands. Short-list brands are the small set of brands that are among the customer’s top three choices. There are reams of data indicating that most people tend to have a set of three brands; more than three brands being too many. Being on the customer’s short list is good, but not good enough to be a truly strong brand. It is better to be the preferred alternative within the short list.

The stage of building brand preference is next three rungs of the brand preference ladder: Top Three Preferred Brands, Second Choice and First Choice. Top Three Preferred Brands means each of the brands is a preferred brand. If your brand is one of three, your brand can only be picked 33% of the time. Second Choice and First Choice reflect the customer’s “ranking” of these brands. Obviously, you want your brand to be the First Choice.

A preferred brand is a favorite brand. Preference is a much stronger concept than satisfaction. For example, customers may be satisfied with a particular brand of printer. However, they may also be satisfied with two or three alternative brands. When shopping for a printer, they may default to price. Satisfaction is necessary but it is not sufficient. You may have a car that needs service. The service you receive is satisfactory. However, you may be unhappy with the car brand because it needed this service.

The ultimate goal is to move a customer from preference to True Brand Loyalty. Loyalty is not the same as frequency. Too many so-called loyalty programs build frequency but do not really build loyalty. Frequency can be bought by bribes. Bribes build deal loyalty not real loyalty. As many streaming brands now find, having a free trial period does not always translate to subscribership. Free-trial users may be going for the deal in order to watch special content.

True Brand Loyalty is based on a customer’s commitment that this brand is the best value, where value reflects the total brand experience (functional, emotional, social benefits) relative to the total costs (money, time, effort).

True Brand Loyalty is the highest rung on the brand preference ladder. True Brand loyalty brands are preferred even though there may be a price premium when purchasing. Imagine that a customer’s second choice brand costs 10% less than the first preferred, favorite brand. Data show that a truly brand loyal customer will still choose the preferred brand even though the second choice brand is 10% less. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of people who feel this way. Again, data show that a brand does need a lot of these true brand loyal customers. Having 10% of your customers as true brand loyalists can be very profitable. There are examples showing that 10% core loyalists can account for 40%-50% of sales. Several years ago, Macy’s noticed that it hard core loyalists in its loyalty program accounted for 49% of sales. 

Reviewing Snap’s latest earnings, The Wall Street Journal wrote that one of the reasons Snap is “faring better than Meta” may be Snap’s user preference. “For years now, Snap has touted its popularity among a younger crowd. That appears to be paying off now more than ever as Meta deals with attrition of some of its younger users. Snapchat daily active users grew 20% year-on-year and 4% sequentially in the fourth quarter.” The Wall Street Journal commented that investors, spooked by Meta’s ‘gloomy” results and outlook, punished Snap with a sell-off. “This time investors were wrong. On Thursday, Snap reported fourth-quarter revenue growth of 42%. This was 12 percentage points above the midpoint of its guidance and more than 10 percentage points above Wall Street’s estimate.” Preference is a big deal.

Additionally, The Wall Street Journal commented on Twitter’s recent unremarkable earnings. Somewhat bewildered by Twitter’s ad engagement strategy, The Wall Street Journal pointed out, “Twitter’s superpower is its highly engaged superusers. The people who love Twitter would probably tell you they can’t live without it.  But their value is in their loyal usage, not their ad engagement. Unlike those of Instagram, YouTube or TikTok, Twitter’s most active users aren’t idling on the network in hopes of relaxation or escape. They are there to work, to learn or to get specific information they need. That kind of use case doesn’t seem like the best place to expect customers to engage with more ads….”

At some point is a brand’s lifespan, there are no more costs to cut, no more ads to run, limited users to reach. The successful brands will be the ones that focus on the quality of sales and the True Brand Loyalty of users. True Brand Loyalty requires that brands build brand preference, moving customers us the brand preference ladder.

In a loyalty program report, Deloitte, the global business service company, wrote that a first priority for loyalty programs is to drive specific behaviors that will help brands reach financial, customer and brand objectives. Knowing which behaviors will move a customer up each rung of the brand preference ladder is a key to success. Or as Deloitte stated, “(Loyalty) is a tangible value creation lever… that is becoming increasingly essential across industries.”

Climbing revenues, brand value and profits require customers climbing the brand preference ladder.

meta brand plan

Meta Needs A Plan To Win ASAP

Reading the transcript from Meta’s February 2, 2022 Earnings Call, one can understand why analysts shivered with negativity and why investors shed the enterprise’s stock. The press describes the Earnings Call as a “gloomy” prediction for the upcoming year. Meta indicated less profit, more, stronger, creative competition, Apple’s privacy changes, a slowdown in Meta’s social media platforms and a lot of costly investment behind metaverse R&D. Plus, as Barron’s, Financial Times and Kara Swisher in The New York Times point out, Meta can no longer buy creativity. The enterprise is already perceived as too big for regulators. As for copying rivals, it turns out that the competition has raised the bar big-time. Kara Swisher noted that creativity for Meta, “…has not always been its strong suit….”

However, a parsing of the transcript reveals something much scarier. This latest Earnings Call was a hazy, undisciplined report on the ways in which Meta will generate enduring profitable growth.

There appears to be to be no clear articulation of what actually is the vision for Meta. All of the “priorities” stated by Mr. Zuckerberg are actions seeking an overarching North Star. Sure, Mr. Zuckerberg has identified an “immersive” Internet as the end goal. But, what exactly Meta’s role in that world is unstated and probably not well understood. Worse yet, according to Mr. Zuckerberg, the pathway to his immersive vision is “undefined”. 

To be successful, it is not enough to say what the world is that you see. You must state 1) what will need to happen in order to make this world happen and 2) what your brand will need to do to win in that world. 

Also, based on the executive comments in the Earnings Call, there are no SMART objectives (specific, measurable, aspirational yet achievable, related to overall business growth with time specifications). The transcript shows that the Meta executives used fuzzy time frames 19 times. These included the phrase “over time” (7 times), phrases such as “in the future”, “over the long term”, “years ahead”, foreseeable future” and “long term” (12 times). Of course, calls like these are meant to reflect forward thinking. However, when no specific times are applied to a list of organizational priorities, it seems as if these priorities are fungible.

So, this leads us to the problem that there is no explanation of how Meta plans to generate high quality revenue growth.

Meta needs a Plan to Win ASAP.

A Plan to Win is a brand’s roadmap. It ensures that all enterprise individuals are aligned around the same goals, actions, schedules and measurements. The transcript for the Earnings Call revealed an executive team where each individual had their own priorities… priorities that did not come together to create an aligned vision for the future. Plus, the frequent use of buzz words blurred any coherent, connected strategy.

A Plan to Win articulates the critical brand components from purpose and promise through five actions areas – People, Product (service), Place, Price, Promotion – to measurement of progress. 

A Plan to Win creates common clarity. A brand cannot be successful if it is unfocused, unclear or inarticulate. In the Earnings Call, Mr. Zuckerberg kept using the word “stuff” (4 times) to describe what Meta plans to create. This is an indeterminate, vague reference to say the least. 

If Meta cannot specifically tell analysts and investors what the short- and long-term brand-business plans are, then there is a problem of magnitude. Meta did not engender confidence with statements such as this regarding Reels, the short-form video aimed at TikTok: “So, as the engagement of the new thing starts to replace some of the engagement and the old thing, it creates a near-term headwind for revenue but it’s not that part. At this point, now is not that big of a concern for us. I mean it makes some of the stuff not as clear in the near term but over the long term, we’re pretty optimistic.” Forget the hesitancy and the grammar: what direction does this give to Meta employees? What does this say to Wall Street?

With a Plan to Win, Meta would have its one-page outline for its complex program for metaverse transformation while fortifying its legacy Facebook brand.

There are three parts to a Plan to Win: 1) Brand Direction; 2) Brand Action; 3) Brand Performance. 

Brand Direction articulates the Brand Purpose and the Brand Promise. Brand Purpose answers the questions Why does this brand exist? What is the overarching intention of the brand? Brand Purpose is the overarching goal for the organization. Brand Promise is the bond the brand has with its users. The Brand Promise expresses the brand’s intent that if you but this brand, you will receive a relevant, differentiated, trustworthy quality brand experience.

Brand Action defines the priority actions for implementing the Brand Direction. These are the aforementioned five action P’s: people, product (service), place, price, promotion. For each of these five action areas, there are defined, time-specific, must-do undertakings.

Brand Performance defines the brand’s measurable milestones. These metrics are used to evaluate progress toward the achievement of the Brand Purpose and Brand Promise through implementation of the activities set out in the five action P’s.

Since the Earnings Call, there have been many articles on why Meta is in its current condition. In the scripted section of the Earnings Call, the problems were clearly stated. Knowing the problems is a great first step. How are we going to manage the brand-business for the short-term and the long-term is something else altogether. In the unscripted, Q & A part of the Earnings Call, the disciplined path forward was vague but expensive.

Meta can certainly reinvent itself and do so successfully. But with the formidable “headwinds” – to use Meta’s language – this reinvention will need cohesiveness, discipline and strategy. The best and easiest way to begin a reinvention is to map the brand’s Plan to Win.

High quality revenue growth means having more users who visit more often and who are more loyal. This leads to increased market share and lower price sensitivity. And in turn, this leads to revenues, profits and increased shareholder/stakeholder values. High quality revenue growth leading to enduring profitable growth takes direction and order as well as creativity. 

Meta must generate a Plan to Win ASAP to meet its short-term challenges and its long-term conceptualization.

Welcome to the Age of Me’s: Me and Meta-Me

Horizon Media, the media services agency, just issued a report outlining the latest trends to which brands must respond. Two of these trends, Restivism and Untact, create the platform for one of branding’s biggest challenges. Brands need to market to my physical and virtual shared experiences. Brands must address my simultaneous experiences in the real and in the ideal worlds. Both are me: one is the corporeal me while the other is the essence of me but not physically me. One is me and one is meta-me.

Untact is all about contactlessness. It is about QR codes, virtual reality, artificial reality and avatars. It is about simulated reality but a reality nevertheless. Restivism is all about putting my mental and physical health first, moving away from the demands of “work hard, play hard.” Restivism promotes napping, walking and exploring. Restivism happens in current society.

What we learn from the Horizon Media report is that brands should understand 1) the drive for self and communal meaningfulness while at the same time, 2) address the drive to escape to an alternate self in a different plane where life can be meaningful as well. 

There once was an Age of Me. The Age of Me was the flowering of the Boomer culture. It was self-focused and self-indulgent. The individual ruled. Now, there is substantive me and simulated me. “I am he as you are he as you are me, And we are all together” … this finally makes sense.

A primary piece of understanding market segmentation is that people have different needs based on different occasions. In other words, what brand you want is due to who you are, why you want this brand and in what context (how, when, where) you want this brand.

This idea still holds. The difference is that the who is now me or meta-me; the why is what I need for me or meta-me; the context is reality or metaverse.

In the real world, I may need to find brands that advance my physical self. In my alternative reality, I may need brands that enhance my virtual self. In my real world, I attend to myself so I stay sane in the game. In my alternate world, I am the game and can game the system.

Horizon Media highlights six other trends. Privacy, civic integrity, our focus on the mystical, our embrace of NFTs and the role of tech in saving the environment.  But, the idea that we can now be real and virtually real, with needs and occasions on both sides, is unique and challenging. This is more than meaningful moments and virtual test drives. As Horizon Media stated, these trends are designed to wake up brands to a new world where people are “…acting with agency in order to do better, be better and build better.”

Yes, but, these trends also point to the idea that we have two options: apparent and alternate realities. One option is current, real society; the other is simulation of reality. This theory owes a lot to French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who wrote Simulacra and Simulation in 1981. As Monsieur Baudrillard described the simulated environment, it is “the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.”

Some brands are already focusing on satisfying our me’s and our meta-me’s. Let’s look at the world of restaurants. For the substantial me, Chipotle makes Food with Integrity easier to obtain. Chipotle’s brand experience is heightened by its use of technology. Ordering is made hassle-free via its Chipotlanes drive-ups and its Digital Kitchen which only takes online orders. For the meta-me, Chipotle now has creative content for Twitch, Tik-Tok and Roblox, the online game and game creation platform, with its own currency Robux.

A restauranteur, Stratis Morfogen, is resurrecting the Automat concept for the digital world. It is a modern contactless experience. The old Automat required customers to buy food from vending machines using coins in slots. Mr. Morfogen has today’s technology in mind. Customers can order via kiosks or phones. Selections are placed in compartments waiting for pick-up. It is the epitome of Untact.

Then, there is the explosion of virtual brands. Virtual brands exist and do not exist at the same time. Virtual brands exist in ghost kitchens. In one case, a restauranteur has created “virtual turnkey brands” that restaurants can use to expand their offerings. Per Restaurant News, a lunch only virtual brand can now provide breakfast or dinner by using one of the turnkey virtual brands.

The meta-me environment goes well beyond eating. According to the Horizon Media report, we seek personal well-being in reality. We wish to enhance our physical self. At the same time, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, we can engage in metaverse exercise. “With a Meta Quest 2 headset and virtual-reality workout apps like Supernatural, FitXR and Holofit, you can burn a lot of calories in the metaverse. Just mind the motion sickness, and wear a sweatband.”

Where do you want to live? While we seek an easier home life in reality while learning to cope with the complexities of endemic coronavirus, we can also be owners of palatial real estate in the metaverse. Financial Times just wrote a long article about the millions of dollars that are being spent on buying virtual property. “For many homeowners, the Covid-19 pandemic forced a change in perspective on where they wanted to live. Why stay in a cramped apartment in the smoggy city when you can Zoom into your meetings from a country farmhouse or Edwardian manor or Martello tower?”

Where do you want to shop? Many brands from the “real world” are buying space in a virtual mall where they sell goods. As shoe brand Adidas stated, use the platform “… as a way of expressing our excitement around the possibilities it holds.”

What kind of sports fan are you? We can follow the NFL teams vying for the Super Bowl win in reality and we can experience soccer in the Etihad, the Premier League champions’ home stadium. Again, according to Financial Times, Sony and Manchester City FC are creating an “… accurate metaverse version” of the Etihad. Your avatar could visit for free, for now. Sony and Manchester City FC describe this effort “as an exercise in the elusive fan engagement that clubs so desperately want to get right….” In other words, expanding the fan base.

Farhad Manjoo, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times wrote that we are living in a world where the physical and virtual mingle. He wondered if our physical world “… can even function in a society where everyone has one or several virtual alter egos?” 

Who knows?

In the meantime, brands now face the challenge of marketing to multiple me’s in two separate existences. 

There is ego and alter ego. There is me and meta-me. 

Welcome to the Age of Me’s.

Brands Need Creativity and Cross-Functional Teams

In a recent marketing report, Deloitte, the multinational professional services network, shared information from its Global Marketing Trends Executive Survey. At the core of the discussion – Building the Intelligent Creative Engine – How unconventional talent strategies connect marketing to the customer – is how to generate and integrate creativity while needing the analytic skills massive data require.  The upshot was CMO’s should build collaborative teams of people with different skill sets. With the inundation of data, it is important to find those thinkers that can sift through and pluck out what is going to be useful.

Deloitte explained that with the availability of “big data and artificial intelligence … marketers aim to uncover the most nuanced insights about their customers….” To do this successfully, brands must have the expertise of people who think differently. Analysts are in great demand. But, so are lateral thinkers. And, unlike analysis, it is difficult to teach people how to think laterally and synthesize. Furthermore, creativity is still essential. But, again, you cannot go up to someone and ask if they are creative expecting to hear a good answer.

This is good advice. Yet, it is not new advice. The report supports the ideas that successful brands need both lateral and linear thinkers working together. The report adds even more credence to the previous insights of Dr. Howard Gardner and the use of cross-functional teams for the first Nissan turnaround – the NRP, Nissan Revival Plan – in 1999.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote a book titled Five Minds for the Future. Dr. Gardner looked at how businesses organized and identified the five types of lateral-thinking minds necessary for the successful management. He proposed that business look beyond analysis and analysts for management teams.

Dr. Gardner stated that non-linear thinking was in its ascendancy. He said this is important because non-linear thinking cannot (yet) be automated. He believes that one of the aspects of non-linear thinkers is the ability to look across disciplines and draw conclusions from evidence… sometimes fragmentary evidence.

The five types of thinking Dr. Gardner identified are 1) the Disciplinary Mind (“mastery of major schools of thought including science, mathematics and history and of at least one professional craft”); 2) the Synthesizing Mind (“ability to integrate ideas from different disciplines or spheres into a coherent whole and to communicate that integration to others”); 3) the Creating Mind (“capacity to uncover and clarify new problems, questions and phenomena”); 4) the Respectful Mind (“awareness of and appreciation for differences among human beings and human groups”); and 5) the Ethical Mind (“fulfillment of one’s responsibilities as a worker and a citizen”).

These five types of minds reflect different understandings of what creativity is in the modern world. And, although, CMO’s and other C-suite executives think creativity is something that can be conjured up at a moment’s notice, in essence, creativity happens over time. Dr. Gardner has said that “People who are creative are those who come up with new things which eventually get accepted. The only way that creativity can be judged is, if over the long run, the creator’s works change how other people think and behave. That is the only criterion for creativity.”  Or, as the British advertising executive Trevor Beattie once said, “Creativity is the wheel on your suitcase.”

Second, the use of cross-functional teams has been on the business radar for some time. However, cross-functional teams are not always desired, especially in heavily siloed businesses.  As the Deloitte paper states the idea of teams is about “… convening data scientists, strategists, programmers and creative together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts – which isn’t always the easiest or most straightforward endeavor.”

The Deloitte Study included the necessity for collaboration. Effective collaboration necessitates cross-functional teams. Cross-functional teams are an important way to achieve shared responsibility. Cross-functional teams break down silos and stimulate productive discussions and actions. Carlos Ghosn initiated cross-functional teams as a critical ingredient in the 1999 Nissan turnaround. Mr. Ghosn determined during his first year at Nissan that cross-functional teams provided a reservoir of creative ideas while serving to break down structural and hierarchical barriers.

Unfortunately for marketing, the Deloitte survey indicated that CMO’s were less likely than all of the other C-suite functions to identify collaboration as a necessary priority. The rating of collaboration was 17 percentage points higher for the Chief Financial Officer and 14 percentage points higher for the Chief Information Officer.

In today’s environment, creativity has many different generators. But, the definition of creativity remains the same.

Creativity is not a product; it is a continuing, never-ending flow of imaginative ideas.  Creativity brings into being something that was not there before.  It offers a new perception by integrating, rearranging and reordering familiar elements in unfamiliar ways.  

Creativity involves risk-taking and courage.  

Creativity involves tension.  The creative process lives off what Jerry Hirschberg, the founding director of Nissan Design International, called creative abrasion.  It is like comfort and uncomfortable at the same time.  It is having pairs of divergent thinkers arguing and agreeing all at the same time. It is allowing dissenting viewpoints to be discussed while harnessing that friction. 

Creativity needs time, energy and routine while at the same time it needs unbridled desire and liberty. In other words, creativity needs discipline and freedom. 

With all of the new information available to marketers, brands need people who think differently working together to uncover the insights that will power connections to customers and prospective customers. This is why it is essential to create teams of people who think both laterally and linearly. 

Bed Bath & Beyond Marketing Branding

Falling Beyond: Turning Around Bed, Bath & Beyond

Even the best of strategies can take a hit when something unpredictable happens. This is why business leaders must be able to create and implement prearranged, deliberate strategies while being open to and able to evolve when disruptions happen or when crises alter the brand’s landscape. Having strategic dexterity is an imperative.

In April of 2019, Bed, Bath & Beyond hired a new CEO, Mark Tritton. Mr. Tritton inherited a troubled brand. Not only was store traffic down but there were serious concerns about the current CEO who Mr. Tritton was replacing. Mr. Tritton focused on generating and implementing a brand turnaround plan. His turnaround strategy followed the basics of what to do when faced with a troubled-brand challenge: 1) Stop the bleeding, 2) Focus on the Core and 3) Generate SMART objectives. 

 A turnaround strategy – as opposed to a growth strategy – is a business approach for a brand that is going in the wrong direction at an accelerating pace.  It is a plan of thinking and action that immediately moves to stop a deteriorating situation. It is short-term. It focuses on reinforcing brand strengths. What is working? Why?  How can it be improved? What is not working? Why? What do we need to do differently? 

The goal of a turnaround plan is to focus on the immediate requirements of the business. For a troubled brand business, an aggressive turnaround plan is not an option. It is an imperative. It is not a long-term plan. It is a short-term plan for business revival. It has specific short-term objectives. It has specific actions designed to achieve those specific objectives. It has a specific timeline.

Stop the Bleeding

All turnaround experts agree that the most immediate “must-do” action in a turnaround is to “Stop the bleeding.” Stop the financial bleeding and stop the bleeding of the customer base. The immediate goals are business survival and brand revival. Stopping the bleeding requires a set of quick, decisive decisions. One of those decisions is to determine the brand’s purpose and promise.

Stopping the bleeding requires the reallocation of precious resources and the reduction of allocations on expenditures that are not consistent with the redefined brand purpose and promise. Refocus resources behind those programs that pay. Restore positive cash flow.

With the development of an aligning relevant differentiating brand purpose and promise, all employees and stakeholders are aimed in the same direction. Alignment is a critical factor. Developing a purpose and promise requires a deep, clear understanding of who is the customer and what are the customer’s needs and problems.

Focus on the Core

The main core business must be protected and cultivated. Keep the brand heart alive and restore it to health. When the brand heart stops, the business dies.  The main core business is attracting and maintaining loyal customers. Not every customer is a valuable customer. Not every store is a viable store.

SMART Objectives

A brand turnaround plan must have a clear, measurable time-dependent objective. Vague visions, vague goals, vague hopes and vague promises will not accomplish what is needed to do to turn around the brand. Vague promises of vague objectives lead to vague strategies with vague commitment to vague outcomes. 

Be SMART. Identify:

  • Specific purpose and promise
  • Measurable objectives
  • Ambitious and achievable 
  • Relevant, clearly defined action plan 
  • Time-dependent 

The Bed, Bath & Beyond turnaround plan had SMART objectives focused on stopping the bleeding and saving the core.  Mr. Tritton unveiled a three-year $250 million turnaround plan with four critical steps: 1) focus on fewer deals, 2) focus on Bed, Bath & Beyond “own” brands, 3) upgrade technology to provide real-time financial, supply chain, merchandising solutions, and 4) focus on remodeling those stores generating 60% of revenues, selling the non-revenue-generating stores. Additionally, Mr. Tritton instituted a share-buyback program. The brand bought back $225 million shares through February 2021. The plan was to repurchase $675 million shares over the course of the three-year turnaround. 

Based on a review of reporting, the one missing link in Mr. Tritton’s turnaround plan was articulating the relevant, differentiating brand purpose and promise of the brand. This is part of stopping the bleeding. A purpose and a promise generate alignment so everyone is rowing in the same direction. Galvanizing employees and all stakeholders is critical for success especially in a crisis. A purpose and promise also differentiates in the brand a relevant manner from its competitors.

The Bed, Bath & Beyond turnaround plan was in motion and on track until Covid-19 changed everything. Bed, Bath & Beyond fell behind.

Fewer Deals

One way to stop the bleeding is to rein in costs. In 2021, Bed, Bath & Beyond decided to stop a lot of the print circulars that generated store traffic. Similar to the switch to everyday low prices instituted at J. C Penney during the tumultuous tenure of ex-Apple store maven, Ron Johnson, Bed, Bath & Beyond stopped coupon-generated and flyer-generated deals. The idea was to become less dependent on dollars-off shopping.  Mr. Tritton also wanted price parity with its competitors. 

Retracting circulars was a minor disaster. Knowing the customer base could have avoided this kind of crisis. Print circulars and mailers have been mainstays of the brand for decades. Customers missed the circulars; store traffic dropped. When Mr. Tritton’s team recognized that circulars needed to be reinstated, Covid-19 paper supply issues along with labor constraints meant the brand could not print the circulars fast enough.

Own Brands

Although an initial expense, private label brands are money-makers if handled properly. The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out that private label brands, “… are no longer the cheap knock-offs you keep hidden in the back of the cupboard, but quite possibly the tastiest deals on the shelf.” Referring to Whole Foods’ reincarnation of the 365 brand and Target’s innovative private label creations, The Wall Street Journal stated private label brands are “… casting off their bland reputation and transforming themselves from dull to desirable.”

Mr. Tritton comes from Target where own brands are an essential, profitable revenue source. Adding more private label brands became a priority for the Bath & Beyond brand. In addition, Bed, Bath & Beyond created a partnership with Kroger Co. whereby Kroger will sell some of the Bed, Bath & Beyond private label offerings.

Mr. Tritton indicated that the own brand portfolios would consist of products in home décor, laundry, bathroom and kitchen, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. 

Own brands require manufacturing and supply. Manufacturing and supply have been hard hit by coronavirus.

Upgraded Technology

From the standpoint of both staunching the hemorrhaging of cash and making life easier for customers, new technologies is a winning issue. 

According to, Bed, Bath & Beyond’s technology upgrade program is designed to “… support improvements in merchandising and inventory management, product lifecycle management, retail space planning and optimization, the launch of additional private-label brands and real-time tracking of merchandise fulfillment with the supply chain.” The technology changes are also designed to make shopping easier for customers.

One of the lessons of Covid-19’s supply chain problems is that real-time inventory practices create empty shelves and deficits in other critical items necessary for manufacturing. In its most recent earnings call, Bed, Bath & Beyond admitted that its poor quarterly performance was due to a “… compromised customer experience” when customers could not find what they wanted on its shelves. As Mr. Tritton said, there was demand but limited availability.

Bed, Bath & Beyond stated that the supply chain issues cost the brand $100 million at the November 2021 end of quarter. The December results were equally bad.

Focus on the Core

Keeping core customers happy and loyal is essential in a turnaround. But, not all stores are magnets for customers. Bed, Bath & Beyond had a lot of stores. It turns out, however, that not all of these stores were profitable. The brand has shut, and continues to shut, stores. Bed, Bath & Beyond stated that it would focus on remodeling the stores that generate about 60% of revenue. 

In May 2020, according to USA Today, Bed, Bath and Beyond had 955 namesake stores in the US. Closing 200 stores is expected to save the brand anywhere from $250 and $350 million annually.

Upgraded technology has focused on pandemic-fueled customer needs such as e-commerce, curbside services, in-store pick-up and same-day shipping. Of course, if there is limited product availability, these services become moot.


As for the share buyback program, Mr. Tritton said it would end by March 2022, two years ahead of schedule. The brand’s share price has been turbulent. Bed, Bath & Beyond was one of the brands caught up in the Reddit-meme frenzy in 2021. This coincided with a significant round of share buybacks: Bed, Bath & Beyond said that it paid double for its shares during this period. With the buyback program ending, The Wall Street Journal opined that with shares “back to Earth,” the brand can now focus on store shuttering, store remodeling and marketing.

Bed, Bath & Beyond is not the only brand to be hit by supply chain issues. It is just that Bed, Bath & Beyond was fairly frail for several years. And, the executive team may not have been as flexible as necessary for the ravages of the pandemic. Mr. Tritton has said that the turnaround plan changes have been “difficult” to implement with coronavirus still rampant. Some analysts point out that the turnaround troubles at Bed, Bath & Beyond are of its own making.

Bed, Bath & Beyond has a challenging set of competitors. Target, Walmart, Amazon, HomeGoods and its parent T.J. Maxx. This is why Bed Bath & Beyond needs to figure out what will be the relevant differentiating brand promise. Having a relevant differentiating purpose and promise are drivers of any coherent turnaround strategy. 

The Bed, Bath & Beyond turnaround plan had most of the elements necessary for success. Being able to alter pieces of the plan to demonstrate dexterity in times of crisis might help. Let’s hope we do not lose another retail icon.

Niche to Normal: Quick Service Chains Address Meatless Meals

Buckets of the Colonel’s chicken-less chicken? Signature Chipotle Bowls with pork-less pork? Yes, these two behemoth quick service restaurant brands are leading the way to meatless.

It has been 50 years since the publication of Frances Moore Lappé’s seminal food bible, Diet For a Small Planet. Ms. Lappé’s book was a consciously and conscientiously coherent treatise about the negative environmental, health and social implications of meat-based diets. Filled with facts and data, the myth-busting Diet for a Small Planet was a revolutionary book in terms of refocusing the minds of a generation of young people. 

Diet for a Small Planet did not espouse the punishing minimalist rules of macrobiotic diets. Nor did it function as an advertisement for the dreariness of local health food stores with barrels of grains, thick, greasy peanut butter and ugly carrots. The book did not propose cutting out all meat. It did propose plant-based meals as viable substitutes. Diet for a Small Planet introduced the idea that plant proteins were better for you and better for the world.

Although none of the accompanying recipes contained meat, Ms. Lappé focused on the benefits of eating plant proteins relative to the sustainability issues around industrial husbandry and agriculture.

Ms. Lappé proposed meatless eating not as a strict regimen to shed pounds or avoid a stroke. Instead, she viewed diet as “a way of life” – the actual meaning of the word “diet” from the ancient Greek diaita – to keep our planet and ourselves alive and living. 

The plant protein diet has taken its time, but we are now at a tipping point. Surprisingly, some of the leaders of promoting meatless meals are the some of the biggest meat-focused quick-service chain brands.  

Sensitive to changing customer needs, values, attitudes and behaviors, quick service restaurant brands are taking a stand on the forefront of a food revolution. These brands see the impact of plant protein as a necessary direction in order to be competitive. In fact, a consumer foods analyst told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that quick-service food restaurants “… must have at least one plant-based product on their menus” to be competitive in the marketplace. Burger King has been (quietly) offering a plant-based burger for some time. So has Starbuck’s with a breakfast entry. Some of the more upscale burger joints have also had plant-based burgers on their menus as have some fine dining establishments.

Beef and methane-producing cattle were Ms. Lappé’s target in 1971. But, Ms. Lappé also pointed out fifty years ago that chicken and pork were culprits in negative ecological impact. Fifty years later, two purveyors of chicken and pork have stepped up to the plate, as it were. KFC and Chipotle are selling plant-based versions of chicken and pork.

These new entries from KFC and Chipotle address head-on customers’ changing needs, behaviors and values. It is no longer enough to have a plant-based alternative on the menu as an outlier offering. These new meatless entries are an admission that the desire for non-meat products is increasingly a driver of visits.

You can now buy a bucket of The Colonel’s chicken that is not chicken. Working with Beyond Meat, KFC has a plant-based chicken nugget tasty enough to carry The Colonel’s imprimatur. According to KFC’s US president, the new chicken-alternative nugget satisfies a growing customer need: wanting to eat less animal protein while not giving up comfort (i.e., fried) food. At the same time, the new product caters to current customer behaviors: people who have not become vegetarian or vegan but sometimes want to eat that way. The plant-based nugget also focuses on changing customer values when it comes to food: eating for health and eating for sustainability. Many data sets show that younger generations are especially concerned about the environment and animal welfare. Eating fewer meats is way of demonstrating commitment to these two important principles.

Chipotle is also addressing the sustainability issues that are part of the brand’s core essence, Food With Integrity. Chipotle decided to create its own plant-based alternative chorizo because the sausages from the meat-alternative brands had too many “unhealthy” ingredients. The new offering is made from ingredients “grown on a farm… not in a lab” according to Chipotle’s vp of culinary. He added, “… the plant-based chorizo recipe “… is uniquely Chipotle and aligns with the brand’s industry-leading Food with Integrity standards.” The Chipotle plant-based chorizo has no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no preservatives, no grains, no gluten and no soy. Its protein is pea protein. 

Chipotle’s CMO said in a statement that the new plant-based chorizo is their best-ever chorizo “… and proves that you don’t have to sacrifice flavor to enjoy a vegan or vegetarian protein.”

At the 20th anniversary of Diet for a Small Planet, in 1991, Ms. Lappé wrote that in 1971 the idea of going meatless was “heretical”. But things had changed in 20 years. Ms. Lappé pointed out at that after 20 years, there was consensus that “eating low on the food chain” is actually healthy. Additionally, she acknowledged that in 1971 it was wrong to question the cattle industry and its rules. Now, in 1991, there is recognition that the cattle industry is a large contributor to methane in the atmosphere. Further, she wrote that saying negative things about “industrial agriculture” defined you as some commune-loving, “back-to-the lander” hippy. Twenty years later, even the National Academy of Sciences was concerned about the chemicals in soil and the demise of small farms.

So, here we are at the 50-year mark. Meatless eating is not heretical. It is not wrong to question industrial husbandry and farming practices. And, going vegan or vegetarian is no longer a marker of counter-culture. Consider the 4-page color short treatise in The New York Times promoting plant-based chicken from Daring Foods. You might as well be reading Diet For a Small Planet. Under the headline, chicken is broken, “We’re not knocking how chicken tastes. In fact, we absolutely love how chicken tastes. We’re talking about unsustainable carbon footprint problems. Toxic runoff and groundwater pollution problems. And unethical factory farming problems.”

It is a tipping point when KFC offers plant-based chicken from Colonel Sanders whose chicken cooking pressure-cooker is ensconced in his museum in Louisville. It is a tipping point when Chipotle, the brand that put meats from Neiman Ranch on the map, offers plant-based pork sausage under the aegis of Food With Integrity.

This tipping point appears to be the convergence of sustainability and healthfulness as a significant driver for younger generations. Sure, there is a profit motive: these brands are not completely altruistic. However, what we are seeing is nothing short of a food revolution. And, it is being led not by small, niche trendsetting brands, but by the big brands in quick-service chain establishments. All food brands need to take note. Meatless is not the same as other food diets because meatless today is a reflection of  ecological eating.

Brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods created the openings with their offerings. But, KFC, Chipotle and the other quick service brands with meatless entries are making foods considered niche normal. 

2021 Has Ended: It Is 2022. Wouldn’t It Be Great If…?

Rather than make a list of 2022 predictions, here are five brand opportunities for brand leaders. Think of this as a list of “Wouldn’t it be great if…” scenarios.

  1. Wouldn’t It Be Great if There Were A Brand Offering Accessible Luxury Jewelry Again?

According to The Wall Street Journal, Tiffany’s French owner, LVMH, wants to steer the Tiffany brand up-market abandoning its position as an American affordable luxury experience. LVMH wants Tiffany to compete with Chanel and Hermes. Although Tiffany’s has always sold expensive jewelry, its line of silver jewelry made the brand accessible too many.

The American jewelry marketplace is particularly bifurcated with high end foreign brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Swarovski on one end and mass market alternatives such as Zales, Kay’s and Jared’s on the other end.  Tiffany’s, with its iconic blue boxes, gave many people an opportunity to share in the luxe of high end brands while not blowing their life-savings. 

There is a concern that a brand cannot be both luxury while being accessible. Being a luxury brand means that the brand must be exclusive and rare.  In fact, a professor holding the LVMH-ESSEC Chair at ESSEC Business School wrote about the fine line between maximizing accessibility and rarity. Tiffany had, in certain ways, become democratized while still claiming a luxury image. This position of accessible luxury does not appear to be LVMH’s vision for Tiffany. The new focus of the brand, according to the press, is going to be more towards the classic definition of luxury, “an inessential, desirable item that is expensive and difficult to obtain.”

Now, there is marketing hole – opportunity – where Tiffany’s stood. 

Wouldn’t it be great if there were another brand that could step into Tiffany’s space? Wouldn’t it be great if there were another brand that could capture and promote accessible luxury?

  1. Wouldn’t it Be Great If Charging Stations Were As Ubiquitous As Gas Stations?

Car companies are focused on manufacturing electric vehicles. This is great. But, why is it that the only charging station near me is at the Whole Foods Market five miles away?  Yet, on every intersections’ corners, there are at least two gas stations. If I wanted an EV, I would not be able to charge it for my commute. Bummer.

What if the big oil companies – all of which have made commitments to become “greener” – decided to turn half of their gas stations into charging stations? If these behemoths want to be perceived as credible eco-conscious entities, focusing on helping us be EV drivers would be fabulous.

This would require a huge re-alignment of resources. But, with all of their resources and R&D, imagine what could happen. What if these brands re-directed some of their innovation to electric vehicles? Instead of seeing themselves as purveyors of gas and oil, what if they reimagined themselves as purveyors of energy?

Online news brand Newstex information indicates that the legacy oil companies are investing in charging stations, but it is not a priority. Why? The fear of cannibalizing the core business. A charging station manufacturer executive said that even if an oil company were to massively invest in charging stations, “… the cost of lost revenue and shareholder value” would overwhelm any monetary benefits from electrifying. 

There are some bright spots outside of the legacy oil companies. In Colorado, three oil and gas companies merged to create an entity that focused on solar and renewable energies. This entity is thinking about local charging stations as well.

The bigger news is that European oil companies such as BP, Shell and Total are already investing in charging stations. These moves are not altruistic, though: European governments are determined to eliminate gas- and diesel fueled-vehicles. 

Shell acquired an American charging station company, installing its first US charging station at Boston’s Logan Airport. Chevron installed charging stations at five gas stations in California. But, according to reporting in The Arizona Sun, ExxonMobil, the biggest US oil and gas company, is not particularly interested in charging stations. Its CEO stated publicly that he just does not “get it” as charging stations use coal-generated electricity.

Wouldn’t it be great if half of our gas stations became charging stations?

  1. Wouldn’t It Be Great if Automotive Brands Recognized That It May Not Be The Dealership Showroom That Is The Problem?

The New York Times reports automotive luxury brands are creating “experience centers”. The hope is that changing the space where you buy a car will change your mind about buying a car in person. Online car buying from brands such as Carvana are eating away at dealership sales. As The New York Times cites from Kelley Blue Book, “…consumer satisfaction with car shopping has reached an all-time high in recent years, as the pandemic shifted more of the experience away from dealerships, digitally or elsewhere”.

Turning the luxury brand into a positive place to hang out is not a new idea. Many automotive companies took the Pine and Gilmore 1988 article to heart. Mr. Pine and Mr. Gilmore wrote a seminal Harvard Business Review article called “Welcome to the Experience Economy”. Its basic premise was that customers want to be immersed in the total brand experience through both sensory and functional benefits.

Changing the atmosphere in which customers buy cars is needed. Dealership experiences can be dreary even for luxury brands. Automotive brands hope customers will immerse themselves in the brand’s total brand experience. (Apparently, these experience centers are ways in which the brand can control the brand experience from afar rather than leaving the brand experience up to the dealership.)

If you are in the market for a non-luxury vehicle you will still be taking your chances at the dealership. At the dealership, the comparison with online auto shopping is stark. Buying and selling a vehicle on Carvana is painless. Financing is painless. Charges that dealership customers pay are not an issue. Everything is taken care of including registration and license plate, even if you are keeping your previous plate.

Will experience centers work? Cadillac tried one in 2016. This was when Cadillac moved to New York City, abandoning Detroit. It took just three years for the Cadillac experience center to close down with a lot of embarrassing Monday morning quarterbacking. General Motors moved Cadillac back to Detroit.

Whether you are lolling at the Lamborghini Lounge or participating in a Korean tea ceremony at Genesis House (Hyundai’s luxury brand), it is all still about buying a car, albeit a luxury vehicle. Perhaps luxury car purchasers are a different breed of car buyer. 

Experiences are magnetic. The question is whether a lack of the car’s experiential essence is the reason people have problems with buying a car in person rather than online. Buying a car on Carvana is painless. 

Wouldn’t it be great if the automotive companies recognized that it may not be the place in which the car is sold that is the driving problem with dealership sales? Wouldn’t it be great if the automotive companies understood that, rather than place, it is the process, the pressures and the practices that are the problems?

  1. Wouldn’t It Be Great If Brands Recognized The CMO As The Voice of The Customer?

The CMO is an endangered species. You can see this in the way enterprises shunned the title CMO. Many organizations changed the name CMO to new titles such as CSO (Chief Synthesis Officer) or CCO (Chief Customer Officer) or CBO (Chief Brands Officer). 

CMOs have themselves to blame for the declining reputation and respect for their CMO role. The CMO role devolved into focusing on marketing communication tactics instead of focusing on developing marketing-driven business strategies. It is no surprise then that some wonder if the CCO is simply the CMO in disguise.  Did changing the title fix the inherent problems that stem from fascination with managing the fractionalization of media channels? Changing the job title was never the correct answer. 

Surprise: companies are ditching the CCO title. Apparently, the CCO title affected short-term issues but did not address the long-term issues that are critical to brand survival. One of these is being the Voice of the Customer. 

The CMO’s role is to be the Voice of the Customer. It always has been. The CMO represents an objective, unbiased view of the customer to the organization. The CMO provides a single, corporate-wide center to collect, disseminate, and synthesize customer knowledge and requirements, while facilitating corporate-wide learning. The CMO is responsible for influencing the development and implementation of customer-driven brand-business strategies. The CMO’s responsibility is to be the leading C-Suite influencer addressing the entire customer experience, not just communications to the customer.

The CMO must be the business leader responsible for generating, supporting and activating a customer-driven focus within the organization.  Brands must revitalize the CMO role so the function:

  • Helps define the strategy for high quality growth
  • Demonstrates contribution to the bottom line
  • Focuses on achieving organizational alignment behind a common brand- business purpose and direction
  • Helps define the Brand-Business priorities
  • Is responsible for building and managing the Brand-Business plan 
  • Knows more about the customer than anyone else in the organization… and is the customer’s advocate
  • Drives true customer-insight-focused growth strategies and innovation
  • Develops and implements a Balanced Brand-Business Scorecard
  • Leads customer-driven innovation through providing insights into customer needs, and problems 
  • Develops the price-value strategy
  • And, takes responsibility for brand communications, internal and external

Brands must re-form and transform the CMO from a marketing communications role to a brand-business leadership role.  Shame on brands when often the first questions for a new CMO are, “What will the new advertising be? Will there be a new slogan? Will there be a new advertising agency? What is our new digital strategy?”

Changing the CMO title was not the solution. Changing the role is the challenge. It is not enough to be “at the C-suite table.” It is important to revitalize the role when at the table. 

Wouldn’t it be great if 2022 were the year brands revitalized the CMO role, reasserting the CMO as the Voice of the Customer? 

  1. Wouldn’t It Be Great If Brands Doubled Down on Building Brand Loyalty?

Coronavirus upended customer shopping behaviors and attitudes. Key to these changes are supply chain issues. Shortages of favorite brands directed customers to alternative brands. A survey from Bazaarvoice indicates that 39% of those interviewed said they were forced to switch to an available brand. Eighty-three percent (83%) of these customers said they intended to stick with the new brand.

This does not mean that brand loyalty is dead. What this means is that brands need to be more flexible and focused on satisfying their customers.  Many cite Chipotle’s ability to immediately leverage its digital platforms for ordering and marketing as a terrific example of adaptation in action that enhanced customers attachment to the brand.

Coronavirus made brand loyalty more vulnerable while at the same time more secure. Brands that were out-of-stock or unresponsive to customer problems and needs became vulnerable brands. Brands investing in knowing their customers brands and going out their way to be pandemic lifelines for customers became favorites. Brands providing data-driven personalization and interactions were able to generate and/or maintain brand loyalty. 

In an interview, one of Groupon’s co-founders said brands must continue to both acquire customers and “… engage them… building brand loyalty.” He added: “I think businesses are going to be able to weather the storm because of the support they’re getting (referring to stimulus packages). But, the ones that are not thinking about the long-term relationships are just going to burn through any financial support they can get and they’re going to burn out as a brand regardless.”

Brand loyalty takes time. It is easy to lose. But, it is difficult to rebuild. Building brand loyalty is not an “in-the-year, for-the-year” action. Brand loyalty is not like Amazon Prime. Brand loyalty does not happen overnight. Building brand loyalty is long term. It takes time. This means brands must continue to invest in building brand loyalty even during these difficult times.

Brand loyalty is alive and well. Over the past two years, people switched brands but have become attached to the new brand. Wouldn’t it be great if brands invested heavily in building and maintaining brand loyalty?

Happy New Year!

Real Change Requires a Challenger Mindset

It is the end of year 2021. 

Time Magazine and Financial Times both selected Elon Musk as person of the year. There is a lot to be said for Mr. Musk’s selection. After all, he changed the automotive category. His vision and impressive focus created a future in which he wins and all other entries are currently playing by his rules. With the brand he created, Tesla, he has shown that it is possible to break established barriers and trash the entrenched mythology around car-making.

For all of his tweets, texts and hype, one thing is very clear: Elon Musk has a challenger mindset. 

As the paeans in Time and Financial Times describe, Elon Musk has challenged conventional wisdom, challenged accepted definitions, challenged what has worked in the past, challenged the entire, global automotive culture. He has challenged and changed the status quo.

Elon Musk has proved that it is possible to start a successful, new car company from scratch. He has proved that what was does not have to define what will be. And, he has proved that electric vehicles are the future of automotive. Mr. Musk has changed the perspectives of “automotive people” around the world. Now, everyone has electric vehicles in their minds, their line-ups and they have Tesla in their sights.

And, so, this makes Tesla is an extraordinary example of a challenger brand. 

A challenger brand is a brand that dares to makes changes that other brands cannot or will not make. A challenger brand takes on seemingly impossible obstacles.  A challenger brand is provocative in its purpose and promise. A challenger brand disputes current beliefs. A challenger brand opposes the existing states of affairs, the marketplace, landscape or business category in which a brand operates. A challenger brand is competitive, aggressive, confident and exciting.

Founded in 2003, Tesla was, and still is, focused on sustainability, innovation, engineering and a belief that there is a huge segment of drivers who really want electric vehicles that are affordable, stylish and globally good for us. 

The three original US automotive manufacturers, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, all had their start at the turn of the 20th Century. This makes these enterprises over 100 years old or nearing 100 years old.

If any businesses in the US were entrenched in their ways, it was the US automotive giants. When you think about what Elon Musk has wrought in the almost 19 years of Tesla’s existence, it is a remarkable feat. He has actually altered the operations of these established automotive companies by sheer persistence, insistence and future-driven engineering skill.

Of course, it helped that Tesla’s competition was near-sighted and cumbersome. 

2003, when Tesla began, was when the ground beneath the big three US car companies began to shift ever so imperceptibly. Just a year later, General Motors “retired” Oldsmobile, a storied yet stodgy brand named after its founder Ransom Olds. Oldsmobile was pilloried on an unfortunate tagline. Smashed between Buick and Cadillac, Oldsmobile had lost its way. The brand was no longer seen as “the first step to luxury” but perceived as cars for older people. The ad campaign, which would be a meme today, tried to dispel this aged perspective by announcing that Oldsmobile was not your grandfather’s car. This was tantamount to telling people to ignore the elephant in the room.

When Tesla was a mere seven years old, all three US automotive companies would be troubled brands with trashed visions of greatness. The world was changing and these lumbering giants were losing touch with their drivers and potential drivers. 

One of the major reasons for their troubles in 2010 was the burden of juggling too many brands profitably. Sometime around 1989, the big three US automotive giants had bought into the mantra that being bigger was synonymous for being better. The three big US automotive groups decided to become bigger via acquisitions or by being acquired. They were now struggling.

General Motors (at the time owner of Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac) purchased Saab and, then, US brand Hummer. General Motors had already founded an additional brand, Saturn, in 1985. GMC existed as General Motors’ truck division, which was merged into Pontiac in 1996.

Ford (Ford, Lincoln Mercury) purchased Jaguar and Land Rover and eventually Volvo. 

Chrysler (Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge) was ill-fatefully merged with Daimler (Mercedes Benz). 

After the financial crisis of 2008, the several automotive bankruptcies and the TARP process, the US automotive giants were shells of their former selves.

While Tesla celebrated its seventh year, consistently progressing to its EV vision, the three US car companies were downsizing, streamlining and morphing into new corporate versions of themselves. 

At General Motors, brands were disappeared. Oldsmobile was long gone. Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn were discontinued in 2010. Saab was sold in 2010.

At Ford, Mercury, a brand that could never seem to find its brand promise, was discontinued in December of 2010; a last Mercury rolled off the assembly line the first week of January 2011. Mercury’s positioning as an “entry level luxury brand” left it in a muddled middle between Ford and Lincoln. It also did not help that Mercury cars were simply more expensive re-badged Fords. Mercury’s grilles were the only differentiation. The Mercury Sable was a Ford Taurus. The Mercury Mountaineer was a Ford Explorer. The Mercury Marquis was a Ford LTD. The Mercury Grand Marquis was a Ford Crown Victoria (known for its popularity as police cars) as well as a Lincoln Town Car. Ford made Jaguar suffer this ignominy, too. Subjecting Jaguar to Ford’s aggressive shared platform poisoning, the death knell was a Jaguar model that was a Taurus. The beautiful Jaguar shape was turned into a jelly bean. Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo were all sold in 2010. 

At Chrysler, after some really good years under Lee Iacocca, including the development of the minivan, the DaimlerChrysler marriage ended ugly in 2007. The culture shock of the German leadership in Detroit was an ongoing experience that made the newspapers on a regular basis. Struggling with its bankruptcy between 2007 and 2009, Chrysler became partly owned by Fiat in 2009. Fiat’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, bought Chrysler’s remaining shares in 2014.

While Elon Musk was focused on bringing his dream alive, the big three automotive companies were consumed with staying alive. The idea of an electric vehicle would be a distraction while attempting to stop the bleeding and curb expenditures. General Motors did not have an electric entry until The Chevrolet Bolt in 2016. 

So, sure, it helps when your competition is self-immolating. However, the problems with the established US automotive companies must not diminish the extraordinary accomplishments of Tesla and Mr. Musk. In fact, Mr. Musk with Tesla should be credited for showing the US automotive groups what it is like to be entrepreneurial again. 

Let’s remember that each one of these three US automotive organizations were started by visionaries who saw a future that did not include horse-drawn wagons. Each one of these organizations were started by visionaries who saw the mass potential for engine-driven mobility. They saw the social implications. They understood what these vehicles meant for human potential. These turn of the century founders were, in fact, challengers.

And, at one point in time, the US automotive companies were challenger brands founded by people with challenger mindsets. Along the way, those mindsets became buried in bureaucracy, budgeting, bigness and too many brands. 

Now, the automotive brands are focused on producing electric vehicles but not in visionary ways. These companies work within the frameworks of their established operational capabilities and mindsets. This is why GM’s big announcement was not an affordable, planet-conscious car, but the introduction of an electric Hummer with a price tag of $110,295 and weighing 9000 pounds. Hummer’s affordable tiny sibling, the Bolt, is under massive recalls for spontaneous, apparently life-threatening fires.

Ford, Stellantis (Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat) and General Motors are going to have to become challengers. Otherwise, they will continue to play on Elon Musk’s playing field governed by his rules, his bats and his gloves. It is just fine that all three automotive incumbents, Ford, Stellantis and GM are making commitments to EV lineups. However, saying that you will have 30 EV models by such-and-such a year, is not challenging the status quo. It is saying that we will do what he does but bigger.

The recent issue of Harvard Business Review includes an article on the strategic advantages of incumbents. The authors show that big companies that have been around for a while do necessarily have to be disrupted out of existence. The authors debunk the mythology that big old beasts cannot be nimble and innovative. One upshot of their research is that incumbent brands that become bold with offensive strategies can be winners. In other words, big brands should employ some challenger brand mindsets and actions in order to win. Incumbents can be challenger brands by challenging their status quo and disputing some of their current beliefs. Big brands can change things for the better by being competitive, aggressive, confident and exciting, instead of being defensive and protective of the old ways of doing business.

Let’s hope that in 2022, Ford, Stellantis and General Motors, as well as the European and Japanese automotive brands move from copying Mr. Musk and Tesla to creating change.

Happy New Year!

Dollar Tree: A Brand Is What You Make It, Not What You Call It

Brands are dynamic. Great brand leadership evolves brands in order for brands to stay relevant and differentiated in the customer’s mind. Just because a brand evolves to deliver its promise in a more relevant, differentiated manner does not mean the brand must change its name. 

Pizza Hut sells more than pizza. UPS (United Parcel Service) offers more than package delivery. Shake Shack sells more than milk shakes. IBM (International Business Machines) sells more than business machines. Dairy Queen’s menu features more than frozen treats. You can buy burgers, fries, chicken and more. While at Burger King, you can purchase chicken, sides, coffee and sweets. The 7-Eleven near me is open 24/7 rather than 7 AM to 11 PM. None of these brands need to change their names.

At one point in the early 2000’s, KFC management wanted to change the brand’s name to KGC for Kentucky Grilled Chicken, its new non-fried offering. Management desired a new image for KFC that did not rely on “fried”, which they considered to be a dietary negative. Consumers and franchisees did not react positively to changing the beloved brand’s name. People just loved fried chicken more than grilled. Thankfully, the name change did not happen.

Your brand name is not your brand’s destiny. Your brand is what you make it. 

Of course, there are always those who believe the name must match the offerings. For example, some analysts and pundits believe that Dollar Tree, a chain of discount stores where items cost $1, has “shot their brand” and “diluted the brand” by changing the brand’s fixed-$1-pricing. Dollar Tree raised its price from $1 to $1.25 because inflation, supply issues, the pandemic, difficulties integrating Family Dollar stores and other acquisitions have challenged Dollar Tree’s ability to meet its 35% margins at a $1 price-point. 

These observers think the Dollar Tree brand is only about the price point. They think that the name Dollar Tree means the brand must continue to sell at the $1 price point. This is a mistaken marketing mandate. 

The Dollar Tree brand promise is much more than “everything for $1”. Dollar Tree believes in its promise. Dollar Tree believes that even with the $1.25 price the brand will continue to deliver extremely affordable, extraordinarily convenient shopping in a quality manner.

Here is how Dollar Tree describes itself:

Dollar Tree’s mission is to be:

“… a customer-oriented, value-driven variety store. We will operate profitably, empower our associates to share in its opportunities, rewards and successes; and deal with others in an honest and considerate way. The company’s mission will be consistent with measured and profitable growth.”

Dollar Tree’s core values reflect and respect the values of its employees and its customers. 

  • “Whether we are serving customers or working with fellow associates, we are courteous, act responsibly, and carry ourselves with integrity.”
  • “What is best for our customers and what is best for our company and associates are guiding principles in every business decision we make.”
  • “From customer to coworker, Dollar Tree associates treat everyone with whom we interact with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”

Dollar Tree is still Dollar Tree even if its dollar is now $1.25. Dollar Tree’s intent is to provide shoppers with an experience of awesome affordability wrapped up in respectful customer-focused service and convenience. Focusing on its total brand experience is the smart move for Dollar Tree. Focusing on its total brand experience will provide the brand leeway if prices need to change again.

Identifying your brand with a fixed-price position may work for a while. And, clearly can be very profitable and successful, for a while. But, the world changes. Think about Woolworth’s, America’s five and dime. Woolworth’s was founded in 1859 and lasted with five-and-ten-cents-offerings-only until 1932 when a 20 cents line was introduced. By 1935, Woolworth’s had abandoned the fixed-price approach completely. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Woolworth lost focus on its core offer of abundant affordability. Woolworth’s could not figure out how to deliver its promise without the 5 cents and 10 cents framework. The five and dime idea vanished into the dust bins of branding. Walmart, Costco and Target claimed the discount store mantles.

Price is a feature of a brand. As a feature of a brand, price supports the brand’s promised experience. A brand promise needs to focus on brand benefits rather than focusing solely on a feature.

Dollar Tree does not need to change its name regardless of the booing from the business press sidelines.  This is because of Dollar Tree’s provenance. 

Dollar Tree’s mission and accompanying values do not need a fixed-price promise to be successful. Those who believe that Dollar Tree has maimed or destroyed its brand have not done their homework. Dollar Tree has not maligned its brand by ending its $1 fixed-price approach. Dollar Tree can still excel in its chosen market of customer-oriented, value-driven variety store. Dollar Tree will still provide extremely affordable, extraordinarily convenient shopping in a quality manner.

Customers will be the final arbiters, of course. But, if Dollar Tree delivers the experience that its mission and values describe, the brand will be just fine.

A brand is what you make it. 

When you believe that the brand name makes the brand you are committing marketing malpractice. If Dollar Tree sticks with delivering its brand promise consistently, it will still deliver the convenient affordability that its customers prefer.