Meaningful Messaging: Using Smart Objectives To Sell Today and Tomorrow

In 1993, newly minted IBM CEO, Lou Gerstner, when asked about his vision for the company, replied that IBM was in a mess and he did not have the time now to indulge in of vague forecasts. The press reacted poorly. Descriptions of Mr. Gerstner’s vision for IBM would be helpful for quarterly guidance. The press was not asking for a futuristic, vaguely mystifying, inspirational message. They were looking for visionary guidance to better understand where IBM wants to go and how it plans to get there.

Analysts and observers want to hear a specific and meaningfully encouraging vision that serves as the corporation’s guiding star. , Short-term goals are essential. But so is the future ambition. Using SMART objectives as the basis for guidance provides a framework for delivering both. SMART Objectives mean objectives that are: Specific, Measurable, Aspirational yet achievable, Related to overall business growth, and Time-specific.

Take Ford Motor Company, for example. Ford was the US car company that did not go bankrupt during the financial crisis; Ford did not take millions of dollars from the government. It weathered the downturn using its own reserves and came out of the recession in really strong shape. The company had record earnings in both 2015 and 2016. Ford’s recent statements to Wall Street have erased this recent history.

In May 2017, Ford hired a new CEO, Jim Hackett. Since then, Mr. Hackett has made several attempts to articulate what he sees as the vision for Ford. Every time, Mr. Hackett has been criticized for making generic, uninspiring, less than positive descriptions. Mr. Hackett has said a lot without saying anything.

According to Automotive News, Wall Street is becoming impatient with the vagueness of the Ford messaging. Wall Street complains that he is not specific in his commitments. On the one hand, Mr. Hackett is honest in his comments, letting analysts know that Ford is not as competitively fit as its competitors, and that the company’s revenue and volume have not grown as hoped for: even though there was revenue growth, costs increased at the same time. On the other hand, he has not communicated Ford way forward in an encouraging, meaningful manner. As one money manager remarked, “When a CEO comes out and says it’s going to be a bad year, that’s not going to instill confidence in investors. There hasn’t been the data or the narrative to instill confidence. It’s created uncertainty around what success at Ford can be.” Mr. Hackett has failed to articulate a specific aspirational ambition.

Commentators and analysts say that General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, has done a much better job of creating a meaningful description of GM’s current goals and future goals 5-10 years down the road. At Tesla, Elon Musk continues to generate rapture with analysts and investors even though each statement he has made has not come true. An exciting vision is a powerful force. An analyst with put it this way in The New York Times, “They (Tesla) haven’t delivered what they’ve promised, but does it matter? It doesn’t seem to matter to its investors and the customers who’ve put down deposits.”

Financial Times’ Lex reporters say that “The Tesla Chief Executive cannot be accused of being distracted by his promises to Wall Street. Nor has he been corrupted by conservatism.” On his analyst call – Financial Times hesitates to call it an earnings call, as Tesla has none – Mr. Musk laid out a future – near and longer-term – of promises and bets. These may seem unachievable but we cannot know. Clearly, Mr. Musk believes these are.

Tesla’s goals are 1) sustained positive quarterly operating income (Tesla has recorded only one of these); 2) 5,000-a-week Model 3’s rolling out (over a year late); 3) to make money (Tesla has recorded only 2 quarters of teeny-tiny profit); 4) to have an autonomous vehicle drive from LA to NYC (promised for 2017); and 5) improved margins for the S and X models (margins for both fell the last two quarters), Mr. Musk offers an exciting, ambitious vision with specifics. He sees a future 4-year’s out where Tesla would produce 100,000 electric trucks a year. He is completely confident this will be achievable. At the end of the call, Mr. Musk enthusiastically proclaimed that if Tesla could send a Roadster into space to orbit the asteroid belt, “I think we can solve Model 3 production.” He is a master of the appeal of SMART objectives.

Mary Barra continues to stonewall on its pledges to compensate families whose loved ones were either injured or killed driving GM cars with flawed ignition switches. Yet, Mary Barra receives positive reviews for GM’s vision of tomorrow

Mr. Hackett’s October 2017 Ford vision generated more grumbles than golly gee’s. He committed Ford to cost cuts, shifting money to the money making vehicles, moving manufacturing to China to save money – including the production of Ford Focus for North America, pivoting from gas to electric, simplifying and modernizing the company, and, making Internet connectivity a priority.

As rapacious and greedy as Wall Street investors and analysts can be, there seems to be a soft spot for the big ideas. As Oliver Wendell Holmes (a Supreme Court Justice) once said, “Every now and then, a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.”

CEOs must optimize the short-term with the long-term. To offer meaningful messaging, CEOs must rely on SMART objectives.

  • Specific: Saying that the brand is doing X but not providing details frustrates listeners.
  • Measurable: Remember, especially today, all claims are checkable.
  • Aspirational and achievable: Ensure that plans are possible dreams.
  • Related to overall business growth
  • Time-specific: for the short-term goals, Wall Street can be very impatient. For long-term goals, make the horizon just close enough so investors and analysts can see the brand there.

East Does It: The Three Dimensions of Ease

Make life easy. Keep it simple. Be convenient. These are benefits that will never go out of date. The proliferation of product and service options, and the diffusion of accelerating technologies have made decision-making more difficult than ever.

Information overload sometimes confuses rather than confirms, making us uncertain. Through the use of technology, we some times make the service experience more difficult, more complex, more frustrating.

According to a recent report in Automotive News, technologies in our vehicles are changing our perceptions about ease in relations to cars and driving. (Most Americans are familiar with J.D. Power’s surveys of customer satisfaction, product quality, and buyer behavior across a wide variety of industries.) The concept of ease is evolving. Ease is a three-dimensional concept.

Ease of choice. Make a brand decision easy to choose. We are living in an over-choiced world. It is difficult to select the best toothbrush for my needs. Hard, medium, soft bristles? Battery powered, electric powered, no power? Crest, Colgate, Braun, Store brand? In other words, we do not want manual? Oscillating, fixed, vibrating? Is it worth the time and mental effort? We do not want increases in the difficulty of decision-making. It is the role of the marketer to take the complexity out of choice. Reduce choice complexity. How many brands of olive oil do we really need?

Ease of. Make the product or service easy to use. Make it easy to learn how to use a product or service. Overly complicated products and services cause us to feel inept or inadequate, and, sometimes, cause us to feel stupid. One of the genius insights of the design of Apple products was to make them easy and intuitive to use. J.D. Power data indicate that ease of the user interface affects whether a driver chooses to actually use a specific feature. Lane-keeping systems and lane-changing warnings fall into this category. People do not want to feel stupid. If a product is too complicated to use, people will avoid it.

Again, J.D. Power survey data show that problems with DTU (difficult to use) are much more frequently occurring than quality problems. When J.D. Power started the car surveys 50 years ago, the studies were replete with mechanical malfunction issues. This is not the case today. Now, the surveys are rich with DTU problems. “Even if a feature works as designed, if it is not intuitive, consumers will ding the vehicle’s feature as having poor quality,” says retiring J.D. Power CEO, Finbarr O’Neill.

Ease of Mind. People want to feel comfortable with their decisions. Feeling satisfied not only reflects a good choice and ease of use, it also means that I can relax and feel better about my decisions.
Ease of mind raises all kinds of questions: Did I make the right choice? Am I comfortable with the decision? Am I doing the right thing for me? Am I doing the right thing for my family? Am I doing the right thing for the community? Am I doing the right thing for future generations? The rise of autonomous vehicles is altering perceptions of uneasiness when it comes to driving. Automation and artificial intelligence will make our lives easier. Will they also put our minds at ease? Does occupying an autonomous vehicle require more confidence in the vehicle or a different sort of confidence? What will it take to deliver ease of mind to a passenger who is in the driver’s seat but not actually driving?

The Three Dimensions of Ease are not some warm-and-fuzzy thoughts about convenience. Making our lives easy is a powerful product and service benefit. Amazon is a brand built on making our lives easy. They make it easy to choose and buy. They make their site easy to use. The provide ease of mind with superior service and guarantees. As our world becomes more technical, digital, and complex, brands should aim to win across the three dimensions of ease: ease of choice, ease of use, and ease of mind across the entire brand experience.

Clearly Define Your Brand Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace: The Future of Automotive

On January 15, 2018, three of the four top stories in Google News’ Technology section were about cars. Coincidently, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA), Sergio Marchionne, said, in an interview with Bloomberg, that automotive companies have to come to terms with the fact that pretty soon automotive news will no longer be about combustion engines: “Developing technologies like electrification, self-driving software, and ride-sharing will alter consumers’ car-buying decisions within six or seven years. The industry will divide into segments, with premium brands managing to hold onto their cachet while mere people-transporters struggle to cope with the onslaught from disruptors like Tesla Inc. and Google’s Waymo.” Mr. Marchionne added, “Auto companies need to quickly separate the stuff that will be swallowed by commodity from the brand stuff.”

When asked about the automotive makers that will survive, he continued, “If a portion of the industry is going to be commoditized, then the attrition rate is going to be tremendous for those that cannot distinguish by brand.” But, at FCA, it will be different. “We took a completely different strategy when we came to brand differentiation from our competitors. If you look at Jeep, RAM, and the premium brands, those are brands that will survive. But if you provide basic transportation, it is like buying a generic phone.”

This is a rather remarkable prediction as Ford unveiled the Steve McQueen Mustang BULLITT, from the iconic 1968 movie with the incredible, pre-special effects, car chase. Mr. Marchionne’s words have dramatic consequences for automotive marketing.

First, if the future of automotive is technological advancements, self-driving vehicles and ride-sharing, then handling, cornering, the turn radius, and the feel of the driving experience are moot communication points. Brands are going to have to figure out something new to say if people are going to buy or be driven in a car.

Second, articulating clear brand differentiation will need to be revisited in ways that will carry into the future. This requires a thorough review, and contemporizing of automotive brand promises. Waiting around to address this is the wrong approach. Get ahead of the parade. Brands like Tesla, Lyft, and Uber have already overturned the norms of the automotive world. All seem to be promising electric vehicles well within the coming decade. Ford is investing $11 billion in electric vehicles, and stated that the company intends to have 40 electrified vehicles by 2022. Ford CEO, Mr. Jim Hackett is planning to cut $14 billion in costs over the next five years, moving monies away from sedans and internal combustion engines to develop more trucks and electric and hybrid cars.

Third, automotive brands must also be better differentiated from sibling brands within the corporate family. The days when cars consider a unique grille and tail lights enough to distinguish a brand name are over. Aside from the aggressive grille, is a Lexus ES really that different from a Toyota Avalon?

Fourth, as Mr. Marchionne stated, technology will become commoditized. All vehicles will have electric batteries, GPS, self-parking, back up and side cameras, and all the other electronics that are currently seeping into the driving experience. Basing a brand’s promise on excellent, groundbreaking technology will not be a winning strategy. Mere technologies will not be the basis for a sustainable, differentiated brand promise. Differentiation will require real creativity to make the total experience distinctive. Nissan’s concept car, the Nissan Xmotion (pronounced as cross motion) has 7 touch screens: The Verge emag said, to enter the vehicle is like “entering a dense forest of technology.” To understand how far Nissan took the technology, The Verge writer, Andrew J. Hawkins, highlighted his favorite paragraph from the Nissan press release: “Fingerprint authentication is used to start the operation of the Xmotion concept. When the driver touches the fingerprint authentication area on the top of the console, the opening sequence starts, awakening the virtual personal assistant – which takes the shape of a Japanese koi fish.” Need we say more?

All brands are facing a challenging but creative future as technology invades all aspects of our lives from home life to browsing the Internet, to shopping, to entertainment, to driving experiences. Just as retail brands are reimagining themselves, automotive brands must revisit and reinvent themselves.

All’s Fair: Brands Must Be The Forefront Of Fairness

Institutional trust is in serious decline. Sadly, as the surveys show, people around the world no longer trust government, healthcare systems, political systems, educational entities, leaders, experts, social systems, financial communities, news media, religious institutions, and so forth. Increasingly, we trust peers of unknown expertise on rating sites and their reviews. We trust online communities, and online influencers – many of whom we never meet in person.

However, there is good news on the horizon. While we are experiencing a trust deficit, at the same time we are observing a desire for fairness. While we wring our hands over the decline in trust, there are indications that as people we are seeking fairness on a global basis.

Financial Times tells us that corporate brands are facing revolts against only having their AGMs (Annual General Meetings of shareholders) as online meetings. The original rationale for online only AGMs was to make the meeting more global as many shareholders could not always participate due to geography. Many corporations love the idea of online only meetings. Shareholders are face-to-face with the powers that be, asking questions, pressing for answers, and putting CEOs’, CFOs’, with all the other Cs’ feet to the fire in an extremely public manner. However, there is also pushback to online only meetings: many, including some large shareholders, see the lack of in-person annual meetings as unfair. Without the ability to stand up and look a CEO in the eyes, corporations can avoid public embarrassment.

The New York Times writes that Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, an investment firm that manages $6 trillion, is telling fund managers, private equity companies, and corporate leaders that it is not enough to make profits; it is imperative to serve a social purpose. There is too much talk and not enough action when it comes to social responsibility; enterprises must be fair and just in what they implement for the common good.

Additionally. The New York Times points out that Jana Partners (the activists that Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey called “greedy bastards”) is now urging Apple to take a long, deep look at how its products are affecting children. We can overlook the irony of Jana Partners urging Apple to look at the long-term effects of its products on children, as any focus on health, wellness, and fairness to children is desirable.

Finally, a recent American Express Company study indicates that as Millennials age and rise in their companies, their commitments to social justice and fairness will reshape C-Suites around the world. In the US alone, currently 40% of Millennials leaders and managers see fairness as essential for a corporate leader.
They expect to be treated fairly. They expect prices to be fair for the benefits received. Is this brand a fair value? Marketers do not determine fair value: customers determine fair value. What is fair value? Every brand should know what customers perceive as fair value.

Today’s conversations about fairness are no longer merely about the fair relationship between benefits and price. The conversation is about whether or not you are behaving in a fair manner. Of course, pricing is important. People were outraged with Uber’s extreme use of dynamic pricing fluctuations. The fare was not fair.

Brands must be transparent in their behaviors toward employees, communities, customers, countries, stakeholders, and planet. Brands must deal with personal customer data in fair ways, not leveraging the information in ways that violate an individual’s privacy for the sake of brand profits. Brands must not only create the doors of career opportunities, but also open wide those doors so employees can walk through and take advantage of those opportunities. Brand must stand up for what they stand for. Commitment to social responsibility increases the perception of earning fair profits. Be fair to employees, customers, the community, the planet.

Fairness is highly personal. From our playground cries of “that’s not fair” to our current focus on fair-based behaviors towards people and planet, brands have an opportunity to build trust by focusing on fairness.

Be Relevant. Be Different, Or, Be Nothing

The retail world just provided another example of the importance of relevant differentiation. Sam’s Club is closing 10% of its 660 stores, as reported by Sarah Nassauer in The Wall Street Journal. Sam’s Club is the Walmart version of a bulk-item membership shopping experience. It is Walmart’s version of Costco.

Sam’s Club CEO, John Furner, states that the stores’ locations are the problem. The Sam’s Club locations were chosen in anticipation of larger affluent populations leading to increased store traffic. However, there is a deeper issue to consider, an issue that came to the forefront in 2015.

In August 2015, Ms. Nassauer, who reports on retail for The Wall Street Journal, revealed that Sam’s Club’s was concerned about its close association with Walmart reinforced with nearby locations. The 2015 CEO, Rosalind Brewer, said in an interview, “We want to be less of a Walmart.” The belief was that the close association with Walmart was an impediment to attracting more affluent membership club shoppers who are able to pay for a membership, and have the money and space to bulk up on products ranging from paper towels to plasma screen TVs. The Walmart shopper and the Costco shopper are different segments. But, Sam’s Club was unable to shake off the image of Walmart.

According to Ms. Nassauer, Sam Walton developed Sam’s Club (1983) as “a place for small business to stock up on discounted bulk items, not a Walmart clone that offers everyday deals.” However, as time passed, wherever Walmart placed a store, Sam’s Club was next door. In 2015, 200 Sam’s Club stores shared parking lots with Walmart.

Location matters. Costco places its stores in urban areas and along the nation’s coasts. Its Brookfield, CT location draws customers from wealthy northern Fairfield County, CT, as well as from parts of eastern Connecticut. It also has a store in Norwalk, CT that reaches towns such as Greenwich, CT. Costco was an early seller of organic foods, and by 2015 had over 200 organic items available.

Leadership stability has been an issue at Sam’s Club as well. Nine executives have run Sam’s Club over the past 22 years: that is one CEO every 2 – 2 1/2 years. It seems that many executives see the Sam’s Club job as a stepping-stone to a higher level in the Walmart organization.

But, it is the power of the Walmart brand essence that has affected the ability of Sam’s Club to establish itself as a brand for affluent shoppers. Even the Sam’s Club stores located in affluent areas are not attracting enough of those customers to make the store viable. Walmart’s brand essence is all about selling more for less, as its website states. By selling more for less, Walmart is able to make a difference in people’s lives. Sam’s Club lives in the Walmart brand embrace and has not been able to sufficiently differentiate its brand in a relevant manner from Walmart.

Tests of high-end Sam’s club stores have delivered mixed results. Test stores offer “individual prepared meals, pricey furniture, apparel and food, next to bulk Coca Cola. The aim is to try to attract shoppers who might also shop at Whole Foods Market.” In order to succeed, Sam’s Club is seeking new suppliers, as its current vendor roster is not able to supply these types of products.

E upscale

Aside from not being able to successfully differentiate the Sam’s Club brand from its parent in a relevant manner, it is far easier to extend an upscale brand downward, than it is to take a lower scale brand and move the image upscale. Giorgio Armani created Armani X as its less expensive, less couture brand. It would have been difficult to take an Armani X brand and make it couture. When Toyota brought Lexus into the US, it kept the relationship with Toyota distant. An entire new dealership network was created.

A current example of an effort to make an affordable brand go upscale is Hyundai. The South Korean brand has decided to take its new Genesis luxury vehicle out of general Hyundai dealerships, and create a separate dealer network. Hyundai executives believe that early Genesis sales were hurt by the highly affordable image of the Hyundai brand, and its early low quality perceptions. The plan is for Genesis vehicles to be completely phased out of Hyundai dealerships.

Brands can be repositioned and reimaged and upgraded to attract a more affluent customer. But, this takes substantial resources that few can afford. For example, P&G turned Oil of Olay, a drugstore staple competing with Pond’s Cold Cream and Nivea, into a more expensive beauty and skin care brand. It differentiated the brand on the basis of science and ingredients.

On its website, the Sam’s Club mission is articulated as “At Sam’s Club, we’re committed to saving our members money on the items they buy most and surprising members with the unexpected find.” The store says it is dedicated to offering exceptional wholesale club values. The website also states: “Sam’s Club is on a mission for Savings Made Simple. Since 1983, we’ve worked to provide our members quality products at incredible values.” This is not enough to differentiate from Walmart. Walmart can make a very similar claim. And, in visiting the Sam’s Club website there is more than remarkable similarity to the Walmart website: the only difference appears to be the brand name and some of the items.

For all the talk about location, product selection, ever-changing leadership, and the economy, the truth seems to be that Sam’s Club never really differentiated its brand from Walmart. Sam’s Club never had a chance to build its brand into a Costco challenger.

I Cant Sleep at Night, But Just The Same


Special thanks to The Mamas & Papa’s for the lyric: it leads us t o a prominent, pervasive element of marketing. Brand naming is big business. Brand name creators specialize in finding just the right moniker for your brand. They always provide all sorts of rationalizations as to why the selected brand name is so crucially important. Some people say that the brand name is the most important, decision for effective brand management. When both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times report on brand naming on the same day, it is either a slow news day or brand naming is suddenly top-of-mind.

Brand names are important. But what the brand stands for is most important. For decades, Americans celebrated occasions special or not, by taking pictures using Kodak film. Kodak moments were emotional glue, captured on celluloid. Kodak’s prize color film became the title to a Simon and Garfunkle song, Kodachrome. Kodak became an iconic American brand: but that brand was a made-up name. Nobody discussed the hidden or special meaning of Kodak. There were no fancy name developers sourcing documents for the perfect name. It was a simple, easy to pronounce, 5-letter, made-up word that could fit on a small box.

Some brand names happen by accident, like Google, which was apparently a spelling error. Some brand names happen because it is a name of the child of the boss, like Mercedes, or a pet (Snickers, named after a horse). Some brand names happen because it is the nickname of a child, like Tootsie Roll. And, there are the family names, these work too: Mars (Mars Bar), Ford Motor Company, W.L. Gore (Gore-Tex), Hearst (newspapers), Wrigley (gum), Dyson (vacuums, hairdryers, etc.), Kellogg’s (cereals), Chanel (fashion, fragrance).

We know, and, hopefully, love these brands. We know and, hopefully, love them because of the relevant, differentiated and trustworthy experience they each deliver. The brand’s promise and essence make the name meaningful, not the other way around. How we communicate the name creates interest in the brand. Delivering what we promise builds brand credibility and loyalty.
Brand naming is serious, and seriously expensive, business. It requires resources and creativity. A name affects the logo and the slogan. But, don’t get carried away. According to many in the naming business, a perfect brand name that conveys everything about the brand and the user is a necessity. Reducing a brand message to a single word is simplistic.

One brand namer interviewed in The New York Times said, “You try to create a language and a name that taps into the psychology and sells the product.” Another said about automotive naming, “ It’s thinking how the brand should be positioned in the marketplace, identify the car’s essence.” And yet another name consultant indicated that when his company develops names, it seeks “sound symbolism and letter structure”. He added, “The brand name is a vessel that carries ideas into the marketplace.”

Mercedes. Google. Amazon. Disney. Apple. L’Oreal. McDonald’s. These are among the top most powerful brands. They became strong because they were made strong. These names were not born out of trying to capture the key brand message in one word. Nor were they created for considerations of sound symbolism or as a vessel structure to carry a brand idea.

Brand names are sometimes changed. Kentucky Fried Chicken moved to KFC to put distance from the word “Fried”. Minnesota Mining and Minerals shortened its name to 3M. Most people do not know what ESPN originally stood for. Nor do viewers care. Sometimes a brand will need to change a name after a disaster, such as ValueJet, which became AirTran after a crash.

Something different is happening in retail. The Wall Street Journal tells us that real estate developers have decided that one way to survive the changes wrought by online shopping is to ditch the word “mall” on their properties. Mall is now a malignancy on the retail landscape. Just in case you are not tuned in to this, “mall” is so 1970. A property re-brander stated, “The mall needed to de-mall.”

Sometimes names do need to change to adapt to changes in the marketplace. So, instead of “mall”, multiple venues retailers are switching to names like The Shoppes, The Promenade, Crossing, or Quarter. Mall is now a negative, retail apocalypse word, as are its cousins, Galleria and Pavilion, which are also being banished from the shopping lexicon. Brand names now need to convey “upscale, multi-purpose, leisure-time consumer destination”.

Mall brand name changes are happening because “Retail, especially in the context of mixed-use projects, is as much about place, experience, entertainment, wellness, and community as it is about shopping, and the word ‘mall’ doesn’t embody those qualities.” However, the Mall of America, which is a place, an experience, has entertainment and shopping is not buying into the fall of the mall mentality. Others are also not making the switch, as it would “undo years of brand recognition and brand value for little return.” And, as one customer said, “When I call my friend Christine, I say let’s go to the mall” regardless of what it is now called.

The promise and delivery of relevant and differentiated expectations is critical. This is the number one priority.

Permissible Pleasure

Established food brands, set in their ways, are having suffering sales difficulties. Food is an area where paradoxical turbulence is having extraordinary impact. We want healthful food and indulgent food; we want diet and delight. This is a massive opportunity for a permissible pleasure.

According to, “We want to eat healthier but are also drawn to indulgence.” Check the frozen desserts category. Upstart brands offer fewer calories that are also indulgent. These paradoxical brands are wiping out the profits of the familiar, established, freezer case standards. When Ben & Jerry’s, the stalwart, do-good, creator of Cherry Garcia and other Baby Boomer classics is being “creamed” by Halo Top and Yasso, you know the world has changed.

According to The Wall Street Journal, January is the season for eating salads. We want to stick to our New Year’s weight loss/healthy eating resolutions. On the other hand, as “greens” restaurants (Chopt, fresh&co, Sweetgreen, Just Salad) sprout all over our cities, places that sell indulgent cupcakes and other desserts (Magnolia Bakery) are holding their own. However, The Wall Street Journal found a customer who admitted that Magnolia Bakery’s Key Lime Pie could fit into a week’s eating by having it as a lunch meal. Dairy Foods magazine, a magazine asked, “How does a dairy processor address the public’s enlightened attitude about nutrition while still appealing to its inclination toward indulgence?”

In addressing the paradox promise of a permissible pleasure the absence of “bad ingredients” is often more motivating than the inclusion of “good for you” ingredients. Absence of “bad ingredients” is what many of the new frozen dairy dessert brands are pursuing. Dairy Foods calls it “the premium paradox” of frozen desserts, when someone might select the high fat, high sugar, and high caloric option rather than the low calorie, no sugar, and low fat option, which has an ingredient list of “bad” unpronounceable additives. Take the bad out. Remove the bad ingredients. I will eat the delicious, high fat, high sugar and high calorie dessert as long as it is all natural.

Leverage the paradoxical desires for luscious and lite. Consumers want food brands to optimize both indulgence and wellness. Consumers want the joy of indulgence while being allowable. This is happening right now: Halo Top offers delicious, low calorie ice cream. In 2017, its sales were US $300 million. Halo Top’s promises a healthy ice cream that tastes like ice cream. Because of its low calorie count and delicious flavors – a serving has between 70 and 90 calories – Halo Top took away “the shame spiral” of eating an entire pint in one sitting. A whole pint of Halo Top is between 240 calories to 360 calories. Halo Top offers some non-dairy, vegan flavors made with coconut milk.

Lasso, which makes frozen Greek yogurt bars is now in the low calorie frozen Greek yogurt pints business with selections such as Caramel Pretzel Mania, Rolling in the Dough, Coffee Brownie Break, and Party Animal: all have anywhere from 100 to 150 calories per single serving. A serving of Ben & Jerry’s starts at 270 calories.
Brands such as Dreyer’s, Edy’s, Breyer’s and Ben & Jerry’s, are struggling. Activist investors are urging the big brands to be more digital. These activist investors are pushing these brands to reallocate financial resources. These activists miss the point. The struggles social media communications, and technology. The social is not financial engineering. The problems stem from not recognizing and successfully addressing changing customer desires.

Paradox promise opportunities are growth opportunities. Optimizing the contradictory sides of the paradox into a relevant, differentiated, trustworthy solution is more than just an opportunity for food brands: it is an imperative.

Source Branded Portfolios Bring Brands Together

From Marriott to Amazon to Nestlé to Google to Apple to Unilever to LG to Neutrogena to Source-Branded Portfolios are increasing in importance. With a shared common, source of credibility, individual brands can focus on developing and strengthening their specialness. In a highly competitive, highly fractionated, fast-paced environment, resources are better often better spent behind Source-Branded Portfolios than behind a disparate portfolio of unaffiliated brands.

A Source-Brand invests each individual brand with its authority. This allows the individual brands to focus on their relevant differentiation, appealing to particular customer needs for particular situations. A Source-Branded Portfolio enhances the reputation of individual brands. Source-Branding increases marketing productivity encouraging cross-selling and enhancing the efficiency of the individual brand communications.

Disney has a strong Corporate Brand that imbues each of its brands with its heritage of being a magical place for creating happiness. Disney Cruises, Disney Hotels and Resorts, Disney stores are all embraced by the Disney Corporate Brand’s purpose.

Brands do not exist in a vacuum: A Source-Brand represents an authentic heritage of expertise and credibility, contributing common character, values, purpose, and principles to the brands in the portfolio. The Source-Brand also provides a source of trust and confidence across the portfolio. A strong Source-Brand reduces customer-perceived risk.

A Corporate Branded Portfolio increases the opportunities for cross-purchase among the brands within the portfolio. As cross-purchasing within a portfolio increases, so does profitability. Recent research (Kumar and Reinartz, 2016) indicates increased profitability from cross-purchases from a common Source-Brand, in this case a Corporate Brand. People using more brands within a Corporate Branded Portfolio are more loyal than those who limit purchases to just one brand. For example, someone purchasing six (individual) brands one time each is more loyal to the portfolio than someone using a single (individual) brand six times. Using more than one brand in the Corporate Branded Portfolio: 1) increases revenue contribution for the corporation; 2) increases the duration of the relationship with the branded portfolio; and, 3) increases engagement with the Corporate Brand. This multiple-brand behavior increases the importance of the Corporate Brand’s loyalty program, as the program provides trustworthy access to the entire Corporate Branded Portfolio, encouraging easier, more confident, personalized, less risky decision-making.

Given the number of Corporate Brand stakeholders – customers, franchisees, employees, shareholders, the financial community, media, local community, opinion leaders, suppliers, online influencers, bloggers, vloggers, and celebrity personalities – it is more important than ever before to build a consistent, powerful Corporate Brand.

A brand is a promise of a relevant, differentiated experience. However, today there is increased skepticism in society. In more and more situations around the world, credibility is under attack. Trust in institutions… education, medicine, business, religion, politics, marketing… is in decline. Building trust for individual brands is expensive and takes time. Inheriting a strong, authentic, authoritative source with a trustworthy reputation is a competitive advantage.

In many cases the Corporate brand is the Source Brand. This is especially true in Business-to-Business relationships, the trusted authority of a Corporate Brand influences customer preference. The Corporate Brand is a value creation advantage, generating customer value by facilitating productive, profitable relationships, locally and around the globe. The interdependent relationships of a Corporate Brands and its individual products, services and brands are value creating. In Business-to-Business situations, a strong Corporate Brand is a hedge against uncertainty. Even if one of the brands in the Corporate Branded Portfolio is new or less known, the Corporate Brand can deliver the standards and integrity that help customers feel confident.

Marriott shares its corporate source credibility with many of its hotels providing the Marriott imprimatur to Springfield suites, Protea, Courtyard, AC Hotels, Towneplace Suites, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn, Marriott Vacation Club, JW Marriott, and Delta hotels. Each of these brands focuses on building its own individual relevance and differentiation while each hotel also derives expertise and authority from Marriott. Virgin provides the energy, excitement, dependability, and irreverent humor to Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Earth, and other brands. Unilever’s “U” on all its brands reminds customers of its mission to make sustainable living commonplace. Every purchase is a way to participate in this corporate mission.

As never before, people care about the corporation behind the product or service promise. They care about the source of the promise. Why should a customer trust the claim? On what authority is this claim based? Moving from an assemblage of individual, disconnected brands to a coherent collection of brands sharing a common source of credibility increases the strength of the individual brand promises. A portfolio of relevant and differentiated individual brands supported by a strong source-brand leads to increased customer loyalty and sustainable profitable growth.

Data Do Not Think; People Do

Database management is a hot topic today. Numbers can generate numbness. Marketing executives often expect data analytics to reveal the answers. The role of data, evidence, research, is to inform, not to decide. Research provides direction, and raises questions. Data does not decide; people do. Data do not take into consideration mission, context, policies, priorities; people do. Data do not think; people do.

Research can be seen as an evil villain stifling creativity, dominating our ability to make creative judgments. On the other hand, data can inform decision-making in an uncertain, volatile world. Data have a role to play in marketing: in brand design, in package design, in store design, in industrial design, in product design, in service design, in experience design, in communications design.

Unfortunately, as business has become more demanding, business has become more defensive. In a world where budgets are being squeezed by limited resources, managers and marketers lean towards an over-reliance on the mystical muscle of measurement to take over the role of marketing expertise and experience. While there is much that we can measure, there is also much that is not measurable.

There are hundreds of research firms and data management firms that provide tools and metrics and processes for data collection and for data analysis. There are hundreds of quantitative tools and techniques that claim to provide creative ways to figure out what people really think and feel about everything and anything. There are a whole host of qualitative approaches such as anthropology, ethnography, group interviews, individual interviews, projective techniques, eye movements, brain wave tracking, facial expression, hypnosis, shadowing, at the disposal of market researchers. In addition, every time you hit a buy button, or check out an ad, you create your own unique data stream that is collected, analyzed, and augmented.

There is a graveyard of large-scale, multiple country research projects using qualitative and quantitative techniques only to find that unveiled a recitation of results and a huge report without drawing a single, insightful, newsworthy actionable recommendation. When the report just reports, without providing truly creative, insightful interpretation business action is stymied.

Data should be a learning tool, not a rationalization tool. We cannot allow ourselves to be mystified by the math of metrics. The surface beauty of the nature of analytics and of attractive wondrous new qualitative approaches is enticing. The more mystical the methodology, the more hopeful we are. We don’t have to think. The research will do the thinking for us and tell us what to do. Of course, no one intentionally commits valuable resources to something that is likely to fail. If the decision turns out to be wrong, it is the fault of the research. “I made the wrong decision… the research made me do it!” This is not the reason. It is just an excuse. Worse yet, when we discover that we are unable to measure what is important, we make important what we can measure.

Data can provide direction for decision-making. Data informs decisions. Data does not think. People do. We should not let the data become the decision-maker. We should not allow mystical measurement processes and metrics mesmerize management. Secret, proprietary techniques should not rule the decision-making world. We should not defer decisions to black lock-boxes full of mystery. We should not make clear decisions based on unclear tools and techniques. We must not allow process to dictate over passion. We must not sacrifice accountability on the altar of measurement.

Disciplined research is an important contributor to effective business management. However, there are too many marketers who believe that superior analytics will make superior decisions. Analytics provide helpful input into decision-making. They do not make the decisions. People do.

MBA has come to mean, “Manage by analytics.” Marketing leaders must be more than reporters of the results of data analysis. We are evolving into a generation of marketers who live in an antiseptic, analytic world. Superior analysis provides understanding of where we are and how we got there. It provides helpful information about how to defend the status quo. As long as the world stays the same, it can provide predictions based on current trends. But, the world is not likely to stay the same. Research alone does not provide insight into what kind of future we can and should create for our brands.

In this increasingly competitive, sometimes frustrating marketing world, there is a pervasive fear of taking the leap of faith based on informed judgment. Informed judgment is not guesswork.

Marketers must use their expertise and their judgment and their creativity to make reasoned, informed, and insightful decisions.

In other words, measurement should be an input into a marketing learning system… always looking for insight-based opportunities to improve our ideas.

Linear thinking analysis is ineffective because customer behavior is not linear. Analysis is defined as the detailed examination of the elements or structure of something, typically as a basis for discussion or interpretation. It is the separation of a substance into its constituent elements.

Superior analysis can tell us what is happening. Synthesis is different. Synthesis is defined as the combination of components or elements to form a connected whole. Creative synthesis is about putting together familiar elements in unfamiliar ways. Creative synthesis is the road to true, actionable creative insight. Synthesizers draw together information from multiple fields and use that to create an understanding of why people do what they do and why people feel what they feel. They see creative patterns where others see disconnected fragments of information. They see a future that others fail to see.

Effective marketing requires marketing discipline. The problem is we often seem to believe truths will appear out of process over passion, a magical result of research techniques. Some marketers believe that if we follow a disciplined step-wise process supported by special tools and analytics, a decision will be revealed. . This is nonsense. Hiding behind process and metrics is a safe way to manage. It is way to avoid responsibility. People make decisions; processes do not. Managers make choices; metrics do not.

It’s All About Value… A new Perspective

Marketing is all about creating value for customers. If there is no value for customers, there can be no value for other stakeholders. Our understanding of how customers evaluate value must evolve. Today, an important factor affecting perceived value is the trustworthiness of the brand promise. Being the most trusted brand in a competitive set is a big competitive advantage. Building Trustworthy Brand Value™ is associated with lower price sensitivity. Marketing needs to change its mindset and its metrics.
It is all about value

Marketing is about creating value. Marketing creates value for customers, for employees, for shareholders, and for the community. At its core, marketing begins with creating value for customers. If there is no value for customers, there can be no value for other stakeholders. Customer-perceived value is marketing’s connective tissue crossing geography and time.

There is an underlying enduring definition of customer-perceived value: value is what you get and do get for what you pay. This has always been the customer’s mental model when evaluating the worth of a good or service. However, our understanding of the customer’s mental model of perceived value needs to evolve.

In the early years of mass marketing, marketers focused on features for the money. Marketers promoted products by celebrating features. So, for example, a new refrigerator was sold featuring its special compartment for vegetables, or a chocolate bar was promoted as having 20% more nuts. Brand value was represented as features for the price paid.

Over time, we learned that customers sought products services that had the right features, but they asked, “Which brand is best for my individual needs?” Needs-based marketing became a marketing standard.

Customers look for brands that not only delivered the desired functional benefits but also made them feel good about the choices they made. The value equation became functions and emotional benefits for the price paid. Money is not the only cost that people consider when evaluating value. Time is also important. Over the years, customers increasingly view time as precious as money. Is it worth the money and is it worth the time?
Total brand experience vs. total brand cost
Consumers view brands as comprehensive, integrated, multidimensional experiences. The total brand experience is the combination of functional, emotional and social benefits. Social benefits are not just about sharing and belonging but what sort of image the brand conveys about me. Personal, visible social status can be a significant driver of purchase.
Customers say they want more choice. Market segmentation and increased fractionation have led to an over-complicated world of choices. With multiple choices, decision-making becomes a tremendous effort. Using a product or service should be easy. You could have all the time in the world, and yet it may take too much effort to figure out how to choose the right offer for your needs. Choosing how to get service, how to use online ordering, or how to interpret a product label should not take excessive effort. Make it easy to choose and easy to use.
This led to customers assessing a brand’s value based on their perception of the total brand experience – TBE (functional, emotional and social benefits) relative to the total brand costs – TBC (money, time and effort).
Trust is a value multiplier
There is a very important factor that is influencing the brand value equation. That factor is trust. Trust – in institutions such as governments, education, religions, media, businesses, and brands – is in decline. Trust is under attack. We live in an uncertain world. Yet as humans, we seek touchstones of trust. Trusted relationships are at the heart of how we live, how we grow a society, and how we grow a business. For businesses, loss of trust affects market share, brand perception, and profitability. For enduring brand value to exist, trust is a must.
Trust is an increasingly important factor affecting customer-perceived value. The new equation of customer-perceived value is total brand experience (TBE) relative to total experience costs (TBC) all multiplied by trust. We call this the new Trustworthy Brand Value™ equation.
If trust in the brand is high, the perceived brand value is increased. If trust in the brand is low, the perceived brand value is decreased. If there is no trust in the brand, then it does not matter what the brand experience is relative to the costs: anything multiplied by zero is zero.


What is trust?
Trust is an Old Norse word traust meaning confidence. Trust is the confidence customers have that a brand will live up to its promises. Trust is the confidence suppliers have in doing business with you. It is the confidence employees have in your leadership. It is the confidence investors have in your business future.
Trust has been at the basis of business since the beginning of business. A trademark, hallmark, maker’s mark was a trusted sign of quality: a sign giving you confidence that the silver was truly sterling; the pewter was the correct mixture of alloys; the cloak was from the expert tailor you preferred; the silks were from China; the dinnerware from Delft; the beer from your favorite brewery.
The trusted mark not only identified and protected the reputation of the maker but protected the purchaser as well. A creator could trust that others would not get a free ride on his or her hard-earned reputation. A buyer could trust the origin and quality of the work. Now, centuries later, this is still the big challenge of brand management: make your brand a mark you can trust.
How do we build Trustworthy Brand ValueTM?
Marketing is about creating value for customers. Yet, marketers are often misguided in how to define value. Marketers tend to assess brand worth by asking customers whether a brand is a “good value for money.” As a brand evaluator, this generic metric is killing perceived brand value understanding.
Our recent research posits a new approach: it shows that asking whether a brand is “good value” does not correlate with price sensitivity. It is too general. It is too vague.

On the other hand, Trustworthy Brand Value is more discriminating. It correlates with price sensitivity. As Trustworthy Brand Value increases, customers are less price sensitive and are willing to pay more.

In our most recent book, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization: Second Edition (Light and Kiddon, March 2016), Rule #5 is Rebuild Trust. How can brands create and build Trustworthy Brand Value?

Here are seven common sense marketing actions for building Trustworthy Brand Value. These principles focus on guiding brands to profitability.
Seven Actions for Building Trustworthy Brand Value

1: To be a leader, act like a leader
Be a trustworthy leader. Trust leadership is not about how big you are; it is about how big you act. Leadership is not about the size of the business. It is about the size of the business ideas. The market impact of brand leaders outweighs their market share.
Market leaders have an opportunity and a responsibility to lead. When people attack, they attack the leader. Some call this the penalty of leadership. We call it the prize of leadership. When a leader speaks, the world listens. In today’s climate of uncertainty, the imperative is to stand up for what you stand for.

Leaders innovate, they do not just renovate. Dyson built an amazing brand on a series of consistent, relevant innovations. He began by addressing a common problem in an industry that had not innovated for years. He designed a delivered a superior performing and bagless vacuum cleaner. He followed this by inventing a powerful fan that had no fan blades. He re-invented the hair dryer to make it safer and better. Dyson is a leadership brand.
2: Deliver what you promise
Trust means that a brand will consistently live up to expectations. Promise what you can deliver; deliver what you promise. Be specific. If you promise everything, you promise nothing. Make a trustworthy promise that if you buy this brand you will get this specific experience. A brand is a contract with a customer. Live up to the brand contract.
Starbucks promises a place away from the home or office, a convenient café experience where you could relax alone or sit with friends, work on your laptop or read a newspaper, and you get a choice of personalized great coffees made by trained baristas. When Starbucks lost touch with its promise, sales declined. Howard Schultz, the founder returned to the helm restoring the brand to its original premise. Promise what you intend to deliver, and deliver what you promise.
3: Be a trusted informational and educational resource
Information reduces uncertainty. In a world drowning in data, the challenge is to transform that available data into accessible, valuable, trustworthy customer information.
Amazon enhances its online mall store by offering information personalized for you, suggesting products you might like based on what you have purchased. And, these recommendations are accompanied by customer reviews. People often trust the information from peers more than the advice of experts.
Information not only informs but it educates. Information helps people feel competent through knowledge of how to use the information. Competency breeds comfort. IKEA has an online responsive helper named Anna. Go online and “Ask Anna” for help if you need a new kitchen item or if you need a new kitchen.
An Apple computer is certainly intuitive and easy to use. But, if you are computer challenged, Apple provides 100 hours of free lessons to help make you competent and comfortable. P&G wants to educate consumers on the ecological benefits of washing your clothes in cold water to save energy used when heating water. The #TurnToCold program provides a wealth of information on the virtues of cold water washing.
4: Simplify choice
People want more choices and more personalization. To satisfy this clamor for choice, brands now have many varieties, selections, sizes, flavors, ranges, alternatives and options. Increased choice breeds increased complexity and uncertainty. People want choice but they want choosing to be simple. Marketers and brands must figure out how to provide choice without complexity. keeps “Your List” available so shopping for your vitamins, shampoos and analgesics does not mean scrolling through 15 different menus. Just go to Your List and order again. Google remembers the sites that you visited, bringing these to your screen before you finish typing.

Keeping it simple is good. Over-simplification of a brand promise is death wish marketing. Yet, there are still those who strive to reduce a brand to a single word. A brand is a complex, multidimensional idea. Over-simplification is simplistic marketing. Brands are multifaceted experiences.
5: Be open
Being open is very important if we are to be trustworthy brand messengers. If you are seen to be hiding something, the suspicion is that you have something important to hide. And, in today’s world, it is difficult to hide, while easy and shameful to be found out.
People trust their eyes more than their ears: seeing is believing. Subway restaurants prepare your food in front of you. You can see how it is being prepared. You can customize the sandwich to satisfy your desires. Many restaurants now have open kitchens.
So, to be worthy of a consumer’s trust, people need to see the truth, not just hear you claim it. Remember, truth and trust are not the same thing. Truth is a fact. Trust is a feeling. What you communicate must be right and feel right.

6: Act responsibly
Responsible trust means doing the right is the right thing to do. It means being conscientious internally and externally.
Building responsible trust means integrating commitment to causes on a sustainable ongoing basis, as well. Consumers want assurances that your motivation is authentic. Commit to a cause closely tied to your brand; a cause that you will sustain for more than an occasional, opportunistic moment.
Unilever takes a leadership stand on sustainability in all of the countries in which it does business. Unilever’s sustainability promise states, “The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is our blueprint for achieving our vision to grow our business, whilst decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact… Our purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace.” (At
7: Collaborate
Collaboration is better than confrontation. Collaborate internally. Collaborate externally.
Nissan used collaborative cross-functional teams as a critical factor in implementing its very successful turnaround plan in 2000.
Collaboration is critical for brands. In our book, New Brand Leadership (Light and Kiddon, June 2015), we discuss The Collaborative Three-Box Model, our recommended approach for managing global brands. The premise is that with the forces of globalization, localization and personalization, collaboration across geography and functions is the only way for brands to succeed.
Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and Unilever are partners in The Global Public-Private Partnership for Hand Washing focusing on hygiene as a sanitation key to increasing international health. It educates people around the world on the benefits of washing your hands with soap. The partnership members include organizations such as UNICEF, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, USAID, and The Water and Sanitation Program at The World Bank. Ronald McDonald House Charities is an excellent example of sustaining a commitment to a worthy cause.
Trust is the foundation on which strong, sustainable brands are built.
Trust takes time to earn. But, trust can evaporate in an instant. This is a current challenge for Volkswagen and J&J, for example.
In the 1990s, Perrier lost trust when the quality of their water sources was questioned. It took years to rebuild trust; in the meantime others like Evian, Fiji and AquaFina entered the market.

Marketing is about generating value. It is a significant factor in all economies as it allows consumers access to valued, quality goods and services. In the midst of a trust deficit syndrome, being the most trusted brand in your competitive set is a big competitive advantage. Trustworthy Brand Value is a business management mindset. If you want to be perceived externally as a trusted enterprise, you must create a Trustworthy Brand Value culture internally.