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Barnes & Noble Brand Books

The Revitalization Of Barnes & Noble

Recently, The New York Times ran a lengthy story about the revitalization of Barnes & Noble, the last book megastore on the American retail landscape. Although some still question the future of the brand, there is no question that Barnes & Noble has come back from the brink. 

In August of 2019, activist hedge fund Elliot Management Corporation purchased Barnes & Noble for $683 million (including debt), taking the bookstore brand private. At the time, responses from the trade and business presses were interesting. Financial Times called the deal “contrarian” while The New York Times hailed the purchase as “a sigh of relief” for book retailing. Elliot Management already owned a UK bookseller, Waterstones and had been successful achieving a turnaround of that UK brand. The turnaround was led by Waterstones’ CEO James Daunt.

Still, for Elliot Management, Barnes & Noble presented a challenge.  The brand had survived close calls many times over since its inception in 1886. (The name Barnes & Noble did not appear until 1917.) The environment for large mega-bookstores was not particularly favorable in the mid-2000’s. Barnes & Noble’s competitor Borders went belly-up in 2011. To counter the onslaught and inroads of electronic books and Amazon’s online sales, Barnes & Noble added non-book items such as music, children’s educational toys, events, and Starbucks’ cafés. Barnes & Noble created its own ereader, Nook, to compete with Amazon’s Kindle, but gave Nook very little attention. Barnes & Noble found itself in the unfortunate middle between Amazon and small, independent stores catering to specific subjects mirroring either the tastes of their owners or satisfying local predilections. Barnes & Noble’s stores became a jumble of books and merchandise unrelated to books. 

The business press and many readers questioned whether Elliot Management could reignite Barnes & Noble for a future of enduring profitable growth. There were many who thought the Waterstones experience was not transferable to the US.

Elliot Management believed that the strategy used by James Daunt at Waterstones – allowing local bookstores to cater to local tastes providing an in-person experience – would work in the US. After all, localization was, and still is, an important driver of sales. So, Elliot Management asked Mr. Daunt to take the CEO position at Barnes & Noble.

As described in The New York Times, “His (Mr. Daunt’s) theory was that chain stores should act less like chain stores and more like independent shops, with similar freedom to tailor their offerings to local tastes.”

When asked about his plan for Barnes & Noble, Mr. Daunt stated that he was not interested in “remaking” Barnes & Noble as Waterstones: he just wanted to make Barnes & Noble a better bookshop. Along with the localization strategy, Mr. Daunt put power back in the hands of the general managers. Mr. Daunt indicated that he would not dictate to the local store managers and staff. Let the general managers select books of interest to that particular store’s customers. Barnes & Noble’s chain strategy had been to fill stores with the same books regardless of geography and neighborhood. 

Mr. Daunt’s strategy for Barnes & Noble’ rejuvenation rested on three critical factors.  Two of these factors are essential for any retail revitalization (1) “Nothing happens until it happens at retail;” (2) “The General Manager is the Brand Manager.” The third factor is essential for all great brands: 3) “Leveraging A Stellar Reputation.”

  1. Nothing Happens Until It Happens at Retail

Revitalizing Barnes & Noble required revitalizing the brand’s in-store, retail experience. This meant articulating the Barnes & Noble brand promise so clearly that every employee understood what the brand stands for in the customer’s mind.  Everything that happens must be focused on bringing this promise of a relevant, differentiated, trustworthy brand experience to life for every customer, every day, in every store.  

According to its website, the mission of Barnes & Noble “… is to operate the best omni-channel specialty retail business in America, helping both our customers and booksellers reach their aspirations, while being a credit to the communities we serve.” Mr. Daunt counted on the desire for personal, human contact when buying books, in contrast to Amazon, which uses technology to personalize online promotions and servicing its brick-and-mortar bookstores.

As The New York Times pointed out, “Buying a book you’re looking for online is easy. You search. You click. You buy. What’s lost in that process are the accidental finds, the book you pick up in a store because of its cover, a paperback you see on a stroll through the thriller section.

“No one has quite figured out how to replicate that kind of incidental discovery online. It makes bookstores hugely important not only for readers but also for all but the biggest-name writers, as well as for agents and publishers of all sizes.”

The concept of discovery is one key reason stores such as TJ Maxx and Home Goods are so popular.

  1. The General Manager is the Brand Manager

No one knows a marketplace locale and its customers better than the store’s general manager. It is the role of the general manager, along with staff, to deliver the brand’s great experience to customers. The general manager brings the brand to life making sure that each and every customer contact meets expectations. It is the responsibility of the general manager to assure the brand lives up to its promises. 

Whether hotels, restaurants or other retail establishments, the importance of the general manager needs to be recognized. The general manager knows the customer’s needs and problems and how to solve these problems. The general manager knows the neighborhood, community and local business relationships. To localize and personalize the Barnes & Noble brand experience, the chain allowed each store’s general manager to be the real brand manager. Each store manager was, and is, in charge of localizing books for locals’ preferences. 

  1. Leveraging A Stellar Reputation

Just because Barnes & Noble was in crisis at the time of the Elliot Management purchase, did not mean Barnes & Noble had lost its positive reputation. The Reputation Institute’s 2018 US Retail RepTrak® Rankings, cited Barnes & Noble as the: “#1 most reputable retailer in America.” 

Data show that brand reputation can alter customers’ preferences for products and/or services they might consider buying. Brands known for being extraordinary in their market gain customers’ confidence. Exceptional reputation distinguishes a brand from brands in its competitive set. A great reputation allows a brand to potentially secure a premium price, generate positive word-of-mouth support and be a barrier to copy-cat brands.

Reputation is based on perceptions that the brand is able to consistently meet the expectations of its stakeholders. The brand must consistently perform its activity over time in a quality manner.

In a dynamic and uncertain world, people seek familiar touchstones of expertise, authenticity and trust. Trust is an increasingly important factor in customer decisions. A strong, trustworthy business reputation contributes to high quality revenue growth. 

Reputation is a source of confidence. Reputation provides customers with authoritative information and credibility. Reputation provides continuity and consistency across all platforms.

Reputation is the overarching evaluation of past performance. A brand can learn from the past and build on that past. For Elliot Management and its Barnes & Noble’s CEO, James Daunt, the key issue was not what Barnes & Noble had accomplished. The key issue was how these past accomplishments were going to drive the brand’s future. What Barnes & Noble did to move forward was not live off of its reputation, but leverage that reputation as a pathway to a profitable, enduring future. 

By focusing on the individual store to deliver the Barnes & Noble brand experience to its local geography and/or neighborhood, the brand succeeded. Barnes & Noble merged its glowing, solid reputation with two other fundamental principles that drive retail, nothing happens until it happens at retail and the general manager is the brand manager. 

Brands and Warnings Labels: Europe’s Nutri-Score and Lessons From The US

Beginning in 2017, Nutri-Score, the European food labeling system, went into effect.  Nutri-Score is a color-coded, front-of-pack labeling system created to alert consumers to the nutritional content of food. Nutri-Score is a red light-green light approach that the EU hopes will help consumers make better food decisions.

According to FoodNavigator.com, Nutri-Score ranks food stuffs from -15 for the healthiest product to +50 for the least healthy. Using an algorithm, Nutri-Score assigns a “grade” with a corresponding color from dark green (A) to dark red (F). 

The algorithm merges data on fat, sugar and salt content per 100g/ml of a given product, comparing against fruit and vegetable content, fiber and protein. So, for example, cheeses, European cultural icons, are 80% of the time “penalized” with a D or an F… the dark red doom designator. According to online NewsTex Blogs, the protected-origin producers of Italian cheeses Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano and Asiago are furious. Parmigiano Reggiano is allowed to use only three ingredients – cow’s milk, sea salt, rennet – and not allowed any additives or preservatives. Yet, these national treasures will be graded as dangerous.

Spain’s meat industry is up in arms, believing that Nutri-Score focuses on “negative ingredients” sorting foods into “good foods” and “bad foods”. Italy believes that Nutri-Score is a cultural tsunami designed to wipe out its cuisine. The Mediterranean Diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world according to UNESCO, as well. However, Nutri-Score rates Italian food stuffs such as cheese, cured ham and olive oil as less healthy. Spain has decided not to use Nutri-Score on its olive oil.

The stated reason for Nutri-Score is Europe’s high level of obesity. One in two Europeans are considered overweight or obese. The European Consumer Organization believes this is a public health crisis exacerbated by COVID-19, since weight is considered one of the pandemic’s biggest risk factors. Reporting on Unilever, Financial Times pointed out that The World Health Organization (WHO) states obesity has tripled globally since 1975. And, although governments are looking to combat obesity, there are “contentious” issues as with confectionary and “treats”. Financial Times quotes a financial advisor who indicated obesity is now considered an ESG issue (environment, social, governance). But, he said, to think that labeling and other initiatives will stop Lindt from selling chocolates or Diageo from selling alcohol will just not fly in Board rooms. Shareholders will not shoot themselves in the foot by eliminating the dividends.

Nutri-Score aims to change consumers’ behaviors. The hope is that consumers will see the colors and the letter grades and make healthier food choices because of the foods’ nutritional composition. With this transparent “health” information on the front of the package, consumers will compare items not just on price but on being a better overall nutritional choice.

Although dished up as a nutritional classification system, Nutri-Score is essentially a warning label. After all, if your brand is marked with a dark red F, the implication is “eat this and you are one bite away from a coronary.” This dark red F is today’s scarlet letter.

As you can imagine, Nutri-Score has engendered a lot of push back. Six global brands – Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Modelez, Unilever and Mars launched their own system, an initiative that quickly failed. The common agreement among the big global food companies is 1) that there are no bad foods only bad diets; 2) that all foods have nutrients; and 3) a balanced diet has room for a Snickers bar or a soft drink. Just remember to eat in moderation.

Even with all of the push back and national indignity, most of the large food firms have signed on to Nutri-Score. Several supermarkets, such as Carrefour and Lidl have also signed on. 

The European powers that be and the signatories to the labeling are quite vocal that based on research Nutri-Score is the best “labeling scheme” currently available. This caveat should be kept in mind: Nutri-Score is not perfect, but it is the best we could do. Several different warning labels were tested; Nutri-Score was the winner… perhaps the best of the worst?

The CEO of Danone said “… no system is perfect, yet the company sees Nutri-Score as the best label currently available for people to compare products’ nutritional quality at a glance. We support the call to make it mandatory in the EU.”

The CEO of Euroconsumers, an umbrella organization designed to “promote and defend consumer interests” across a wide range of topics such as freedom of choice and right to health issues, agreed. He said research from several European countries “… shows that Nutri-Score is the easiest label to understand and the best-performing scheme in aiding consumers to compare the nutritional value of foods and range of products.” Again, based on the different options tested, Nutri-Score was the easiest to comprehend at a glance: green good/red bad.

In the US, we are familiar with warning labels. 

It is difficult to find a product that does not have a warning label on its package. From baby wipes (the plastic package can cause suffocation, do not flush the wipes) to vehicles (keep the visor closed so the air bag can deploy, SUVs have a high risk rollover) to Whole Foods rice pilaf products (contains wheat ingredients, may contain milk, eggs, shellfish fish and soy).  

When it comes to warning labels, California leads the way. if you want to have your pants scared off, go into any common laundry room in an apartment building. You will see warning signs that washers and dryers are dangerous to your health. This warning comes from California’s Prop 65. California’s Prop 65 states that appliances may contain harmful chemicals that can cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm. Prop 65, introduced in 1987, has a list of over 800 potentially dangerous chemicals. For example, if you were thinking of a new couch from Wayfair just remember that California Prop 65 can put a warning label on your desired product. The warning will alert you that the sofa can expose you to levels of a listed chemical or chemicals that pose greater health risks than another piece of furniture with lower levels of listed chemicals. Do I want to binge TV on a bad-for-my-health couch? 

California is an extreme example. However, the issue is, do warning labels work? People still buy and use washers and dryers. People still buy furniture. Do warning labels actually change behaviors? Are warning labels good or bad for brands? 

Clearly, warning labels protect the manufacturer from liability issues and PR nightmares. Peloton had a crisis this past year when a child was killed by its Tread product. Peloton fought a warning label but eventually conceded. Did the warning label stop consumers from purchasing the product? Or was it the cost? Or was it the decision to return to the gym? Or the decision to return to the outdoors?

The warning labels on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages provide some important information on behavior change.

In 1969, the US passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act. This act prohibited cigarette advertising on TV and radio. It also required each cigarette pack, carton and print ad to carry a warning label: SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health. The warning label was – and still is – a white rectangular box with black letters. A recent print advertisement for Lucky Strike brand, used this version of the warning: SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature birth, And Low Birth Weight.

Kodiak Moist Snuff (chewing tobacco) runs a black box (twice the size of the cigarette warning box) with white letters stating, WARNING:  This product can cause mouth cancer.

Do these warning labels work? Here is what we know. First, seeing a warning label is not the same as reading a warning label. Reading a warning label is not the same as heeding the warning label. Second, people who saw the white box knew it was the warning label. They did not need to read it; they knew it was a warning. Why bother, I know what it will tell me. Third, graphic labels of cancerous mouths, etc., such as some countries use, had negative impact on the image of cigarettes and cigarette brands but did little to affect cessation of smoking.

When the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was passed in 1969 cigarettes cost 25 cents a pack. Today, a pack of cigarettes costs, on average, $6.98, or about 35 cents a cigarette. In the state of Florida, smokers pay around $63 dollars for a carton of cigarettes.  In 1970, the highest price for a cartoon of cigarettes might have been $3.50. Many believe that cigarette smokers’ behaviors changed due to the rapid increase in prices rather than the warning labels. There are still, 53 years later, multiple PSA TV ads advising us not to smoke. Even at almost $7 a pack, people are still smoking. 

In 1988, The Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act was passed. After November 1989, all alcoholic beverages had to alert consumers to the multiple health issues associated with alcohol including reproductive issues and fetal harm. The current alcohol warning states: GOVERNMENT WARNING: 1) ACCORDING TO THE SURGEON GENERAL WOMEN SHOULD NOT DRINK ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES DURING PREGNANCY BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF BIRTH DEFECTS. 2) CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES IMPAIRS YOUR ABILITY TO DRIVE A CAR OR OPERATE MACHINERY, AND MAY CAUSE HEALTH PROBLEMS. (Yes, the alcohol warning label is in capital letters.)

In one alcohol study, data showed that 64.3% of purchasers saw the warning label; 38.8% of purchasers read the warning label; 25.5% of purchasers said they heeded the warning.

In the US, after decades of food labeling, the results of behavior change are still unclear. A recent study by The American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed labeling “… reduced the intake of calories by 6.6 percent, total fat by 10.6 percent, and other generally unhealthy choices by 13 percent. They also increased vegetable intake by 13.5 percent.” However, these data are not reflective of other data showing that after all the decades of food pyramids and nutritional labeling, there is little agreement and little evidence that food labels affect consumers’ intakes of total carbohydrates, protein, saturated fat or sodium. Nor did labels affect consumption of fruits, whole grains, or other healthy options.

Nutri-Score may be experiencing the same lack of clarity as to effectiveness.

A recent November 2021 Belgian journal article’s data sets showed that Nutri-Score consumer purchases were mixed. There were some positive effects. However, the study concluded that “shelf labeling on its own is unlikely to significantly influence consumer behaviors.”

Other European data indicate that the degree of influence Nutri-Score has on consumer decisions is unclear. An August 2021 study showed consumers were still not clear about the color-coded Nutri-Score. A 2019 Nielsen study showed that only 14% of French consumers “noted the guidance of the Nutri-Score label.” Not surprising when you consider that beloved Brie or Camembert cheeses as well as butter are on the wrong side of the system’s health spectrum. This goes against centuries of French gastronomy.

One of the issues plaguing the Nutri-Score system is credibility. Since its algorithm factors in sugar content, Nutri-Score rated orange juice as unhealthy but rated Coca-Cola Zero healthy. In a Nestlé-generated survey, sixty-percent of consumers thought the Nestlé cereal brands would score well below a C on Nutri-Score. But, Nestlé publicly touted Nutri-Score ratings that its sugared cereals actually earn a C or above on the Nutri-Score spectrum. This is because the system has a positive bias for fiber. 

Hopefully, the Nutri-Score system will evolve its algorithm to better reflect the fact that there is a benefit to the idea of balanced diets and moderation. Nutri-Score should fix the blanket rejection of products such as meat. Putting ecological concerns aside, meat does contain iron, vitamin B12, protein and minerals. Nutri-Score does not currently assess the impact of trans fatty acids, something else that meat does not contain. And, Nutri-Score should take into account that not all obesity can be affected by diet. Further, the risk to national cuisines is real and needs to be calibrated. The algorithm also must include portion sizes, a real problem in the US. 

Also, algorithms do not recognize the fact we first eat with our eyes. Foods have hedonic feelings associated with taste and emotions that no algorithm can take into account … as of yet. People eat for both physical and physiological reasons. There are differences between eating when one is hungry versus eating for indulgence. Taking delight out of diets is dreary.

Warning labels are all around us, stuck on brands across all categories. We have learned over time that the effect of such labels do some good but less than expected. In many cases, the warnings are ignored, or accepted, or accepted and then ignored. Certainly, it is important to point out that some items are dangerous. For example, the plastic bag draped over your dry cleaning can cause suffocation. 

Behavior change is tough. In fact, in most instances, facts, data, experts, or science make people dig in their heels. Social science research on behavior change indicates that asserting science, facts or data to change minds generates a “backfire effect”. When confronted with information that is contrary to set beliefs, some people become even more set in their ways. 

This is not to say that behaviors can never be changed. Wanting consumers to change their behavior is not a losing battle: it just requires a different strategic approach. The best way to change behavior is to provide an alternative, desirable solution to their concerns. This is something that Nutri-Score does not provide.

If history is a factor than the Nutri-Score warning label will have an unclear, if limited, effect on behavior change. 

Peloton’s Three Marketing Must-Do’s

Apparently, Peloton is losing its shine. Press reports indicate that Peloton’s shares are down as are investors’ hopes. Now that cities and towns are open, why workout from home anymore? 

Peloton will need to work harder to generate new customers. And, the brand could risk losing some of its current customers. 

Answers to Peloton’s dilemma are not as simple as home workout versus gym workout. Peloton came on the scene well before Covid-19. Peloton provided a solo at-home workout within an avid online community. With the advent of coronavirus lockdowns, in-home physical activity became critical. All Peloton did was leverage the lockdowns. The schedule of classes grew to include outdoor runs and walks, yoga, meditation, Pilates, barre, stretching, core, weight training, bodyweight training, bike and tread bootcamps and dance cardio. Peloton added pre- and post-natal classes. The brand also segued into apparel and accessories. 

Fewer sign-ups with purchases of its hardware cannot be blamed completely on the waning pandemic. Peloton’s marketing could use an improvement. 

Here are three marketing must-do’s that Peloton should implement to get its mojo back with customers and potential customers:

1. Stop The Excessive Price Marketing

Peloton communications have been price-focused, not brand-focused. Peloton has been luring customers with incentives. This has serious implications for brand loyalty. Brand loyalty cannot be bought with bribes. True, the communications show lots of different people on Peloton cycles and treads or people taking off-equipment, mat classes. But, the main message point is that the cycles and treads are now cheaper. Making the brand’s experience cheaper does not build brand strength. Reminding people that a brand is affordable is important. But, emphasizing price alone damages brands. Peloton’s communications should say “Great brand at a great price” instead of this is a great deal. Unfortunately, Peloton’s recent messaging has not emphasized the “great brand”.  The message has been “We are on sale. This is a great deal.”

2. Connect With The Brand’s Purpose

Peloton’s communications have not connected with Peloton’s core mission. A brand must be in sync with its desired spirit. Mission statements express the brand’s intent, its purpose. Peloton’s prospectus offered the following: “Peloton uses technology and design to connect the world through fitness, empowering people to be the best version of themselves anywhere, anytime.” Clearly the instructors are aligned. You understand this if you actually take classes. But, for a prospective customer, the brand’s purposeful message is unstated. There are probably a lot of people who would appreciate the opportunity to participate in Peloton’s world view. Peloton’s uplifting, positive, you-can-do-it message is not communicated to the uninitiated. It is a best-kept secret.

Describing Peloton’s business model in a recent Harvard Business Review article, the authors conclude that even though participants are in different locations, participants exercise “…with a virtual community of peers and instructors” and “… the brand’s meaning extends beyond what they would experience with the bike alone.” 

This is true. But in order to increase owners/subscribers, Peloton must share its meaning with prime prospects. Peloton’s meaning has to be meaningful to both users and like-minded others. 

3. Maximize The Paradox of Inclusive Individuality 

People want to be seen and respected as individuals. At the same time, people want to belong so something bigger than themselves. People want both independence and interdependence at the same time. People savor their uniqueness while wanting to share that uniqueness with like-minded others. People cherish their particular characters and their commonalities with others. They want to respond as individuals and they want to share as members of a community of common interests. “I am an individual with unique wants and needs. But I am not alone. I belong to communities of people who want the same things as I do.”

This is what Peloton does really well. This is what Peloton is: the epitome of Inclusive Individuality. And, yet, you would not know this unless you were actually part of the Peloton family. There is no relevant distinctive messaging around this critical connective social force. Peloton must manage its brand messaging differently, articulating that its brand experience promises to respect, encourage and strengthen individuality while belonging to a supportive family. Peloton is the ideal place where people are praised for who they uniquely are and what they can uniquely do while belonging to a group that shares their distinctiveness. Peloton’s messaging lacks this compelling, powerful promise of inclusive individuality. Going to a gym pales in comparison.

No one really knows the extent to which people’s attitudes and behaviors changed during the past 20 months. Peloton needs to determine what the actual causes are for fewer signups. But, there is no question that needs to be marketing improvement. 

Peloton has a lot to give. Implementing the three must-do’s will allow Peloton to demonstrate that it has more to give than exercise equipment, physical fitness, music and leggings. By connecting to its stated purpose and emphasizing its inclusive individuality, Peloton will be on its way to becoming a great brand that is a great value.

The Future of Marketing

Marketing needs a new business purpose. Without a new business purpose, marketing will have no purpose. Instead of a profession, marketing has become a trade: the trade of managing and executing marketing and media tactics. Marketing has fallen in love with the increasing number of communication channel opportunities, social media, entertainment, events, online and so on.  In fact, the most recent 2021 Deloitte CMO survey indicates that digital marketing is the CMOs primary responsibility. Digital is a communication channel. Communication channel management is not marketing management. 

Marketers have been complicit in degrading marketing. In 2018, three years ago, in Deloitte’s previous CMO survey, the data indicated that CMOs are not fulfilling responsibilities that go beyond brand recognition, brand value and specific tactics. In the study, 34% of the 200 responding CMOs said their role in their organization was ‘storyteller’ while only 20% said their role was identifying and mapping new routes to client revenue. In other words, the CMOs focus first on what they do day-to-day rather than focusing on the client’s business results as the first priority.  

The latest survey reports the same unfortunate situation. CMOs say their focus is on short-term value. CMOs still have no solid idea if what they do has any long-term value. Brand building and trustworthiness take time. Short-term is important but for enduring profitable growth of the enterprise, there needs to be a long-term as well.

Telling brand stories is fine. Producing quality revenue growth is better. Increasing penetration and building brand loyalty makes money. Being great storytellers is nice if it contributes to the client’s enduring profitable growth. Telling isn’t selling.

Even with the pandemic, it appears as if little substantive has changed over the past 3 years. 

In September 2021, ADWEEK ran an opinion piece on the “trust gap” between the CEO and CMO. In order to bridge the “trust gap,” the author asked us to rethink the CMO role. Part of this “rethinking” is that marketers tend to use marketing language rather than business language (value creation, growth, revenue and share price, for example). Of course, driving enduring profitable growth rather than defining value creation, growth, revenue and share price would be better. 

The recent 2021 Deloitte survey agrees. It indicates that CMOs must defend and “justify” the value of marketing to the CEO and the CFO. CMOs must “explain” the value of marketing. It is not enough to “show how marketing spending is aligned with business priorities and strategies.” Marketing leaders must show the marketing impact on generating quality revenue growth. This is bigger than sales.

Additionally, the ADWEEK author stated that marketers must stop believing that marketing alone can change the enterprise. This is a particularly bad habit. It makes a mockery out of marketing.

We need to look no further than the recent announcement from Nielsen, the giant media measurement company, that the Nielsen logo and brand purpose have been “updated” in order to transform the company. For some time, Nielsen has been criticized for services that do not accurately count audiences in the new world of streaming, cable cord cutting and multiple devices. Nielsen lost its third-party accreditation for its national and local TV panels… the foundational lifeblood of Nielsen. Nielsen is struggling to gain back this accreditation. The updated logo and brand purpose create a new Nielsen. Forget about our past issues. A new brand identity can fix all previous problems.

Somehow, a new logo and brand purpose have magically transformed Nielsen into an enterprise that is “Powering a Better Media Future for All People.” Marketing is not about magic. Being chief magician is not the job description.

Facebook is also considering a name change. The Verge stating that Facebook wants to create a holding company of which Facebook would be just one product. Facebook wants to be known now as a metaverse company. The assumption is that analysts and investors, as well as other stakeholders, will focus on the profitability of the holding company and forget the management and marketing miseries and missteps of Facebook. This thinking assumes that marketing the company as an alternative world will defray the difficulties of the real world. Financial Times wrote, “A rebrand won’t fix Facebook.” And added, “The metaverse promises extraordinary parallel realities, perhaps even including one in which Facebook is well run. … what the company needs is not a new name and a new mission, it (needs) a new culture.”

Marketing can make things sound rosy. Unfortunately, marketing cannot make systems and culture right.

Finally, the ADWEEK piece stated that marketers must rethink the reliance on the “old” definition of brand management which the author believes is “outdated.” It all depends on how you define marketing. The purpose of marketing is the profitable satisfaction of customer needs. There is nothing out of date about this. What is outwardly wrong is the belief that marketing is all about advertising, channels and media.

Marketing is about managing the business. Managing the business is bigger than managing messages and media. Peter Drucker, the most respected management guru ever, once said, “The purpose of business is to create a customer.”  Effective marketing is not merely about message and media management: it is about business management. Effective marketing is fundamentally about attracting and retaining customers. The CMO – the marketing leader – must be the business leader responsible for generating, supporting, and activating a customer-driven focus within the organization.

Marketing leaders must bring a distinctive brand-business perspective to C-suite table by being responsible for:

  • Helping to define the quality revenue growth strategy: attracting and maintaining customers who frequent the brand becoming brand loyalty to generate enduring profitable growth
  • Achieving organizational alignment behind a common brand-business purpose and direction
  • Helping to define the Brand-Business priorities such as 
  • Being the voice of the customer, whether B-B or B-C
  • Knowing more about the customer than anyone else in the organization: being the customer’s advocate
  • Leading the effort to drive true customer-insight focused growth strategies and innovation
  • Leading the effort to break down organizational silo
  • Developing and implementing a Balanced Brand-Business Scorecard
  • Leading customer-driven innovation, through providing insights into customer needs and problems, defining the focus for the development of innovative insight-driven products and services
  • Contributing to the development and implementation of a Brand-Business Plan
  • Developing the price-value strategy (Deloitte states that a collaboration between the CFO and the CMO on pricing is essential for driving organizational growth in a world of inflation and shortages.)
  • As well as responsibility for brand communications, internal and external

Marketing is all about profitably managing customer-driven, top-line growth. 

Respect for marketing will continue to decline unless CMOs re-form and transform marketing’s role from a communication channel role to a brand-business leadership role. (It is interesting that the recent Deloitte CMO survey excerpt from The Wall Street Journal does not mention the word brand at all.) 

But, also, shame on CEOs, CFOs, COO’s and other C-Suite executives when often the first questions they ask a new marketing leader 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?”

Marketing leadership must revitalize the marketing function now. It is not enough to be “at the C-suite table.” Deloitte 2021 states that 53.5% of CMOs interviewed participate in Board meetings. Whatever this participation entails, apparently it has not helped increase perceptions that marketing has value.

Marketing must reassert its role as the leader in guiding the development of customer-driven growth strategies that lead to brand value creation and enduring profitable growth. Digital transformation is necessary. But, what you are communicating and why and its impact on enduring profitable growth are critical.

The future of marketing will depend on leaders who understand marketing’s role as driving a brand-based, customer-focused business that attracts and retains customers resulting in sustainable, profitable growth. Marketing is more than a multi-channeled, multi-device communications role; it is a business management role. 

Larry Light in Forbes CMO Network

Larry Light shares insights to help be a beacon of light for brands struggling in a ever changing world dominated by a global pandemic.

Read some of his latest pieces now by clicking on the titles below!

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2021: The Year Of Living Actually And Artificially

Two conflicting trends are shaping the new normal. One trend is our desire for actual products that provide comfort, coziness, conviviality, and contentment. The other trend is our desire for products and services using artificial intelligence and/or virtual reality. 

Demography Is Destiny: The Marketing Challenges Of Pandemic Demography

Covid-19 is changing the demographics of our nation. Coronavirus has decreased the U.S. birth rate while increasing the U.S. death rate. Brands must address this new future of who will be the customers for products and services. 


Looking for a gift for your marketing peers?

Check out our collection of books by Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They make a perfect unexpected gift for the marketing leader in your life.

See the collection here.


Cover Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

Larry Light: Brand Insights on Pandemic Impacts & More

Take These Actions Now Or Lose Your New Customers Post-Pandemic

Packaged goods food companies are performing beyond expectations. Will this sales lift last into the future? For enduring profitable growth, brands must not only build their quantity of sales but the quality of their sales. Here are four actions to help the fortunate sales lift endure post-pandemic.

Personalization Will Change Your Car Dealership Experience Forever

Hyper-personalizing the car purchase experience will be a path to auto dealer success. Personalization is about making the customer feel special. Hyper-personalization is focusing on an audience of one for each and every customer, each and every day.

Harley-Davidson: Adore Your Core

A turnaround strategy is different from a growth strategy. When a brand is in trouble, the priority is to stop the hemorrhaging of the customer base. CEO, Jochen Zeitz is making a radical strategic shift to put Harley-Davidson back on the road to enduring profitable growth.

Coronavirus Spurs Brand Innovation

As a result of the Covid crisis, there are a lot of innovative ideas being tested in the restaurant industry to keep businesses alive. For example, many restaurant brands now provide meal boxes that offer more than just meals – they are cooking lessons.

Guitar, Pet, Bicycle: Our Need For Therapeutic Experiences

Home-based therapy experiences that help us feel better are the new normal. Loving a pet overcomes loneliness, which has been exacerbated by being stuck at home, away from friends and sometimes away from family. Financial Times calls this feeling “lockdown loneliness.”

Environmental Decency Makes Money

Sustainable leadership and business practices influence customers’ brand decisions. In today’s environment, data show that environmental decency “significantly impacts” brand preference and purchase.

The Coronavirus Is Forcing Brands To Change

Arcature CEO Larry Light has recognized some serious implications resulting from the global pandemic and its impact on consumers, from how they work, eat, live and think. Brands, some of which are too big to react effectively, are struggling to keep up with these societal changes.

Read some of Larry’s latest pieces in Forbes on the epic impact Covid19 is having on the marketing world:

The New Age Of I: Isolation And Inclusivity

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The Great Brand Reset: Coronavirus Leads To Fewer Brand Choices

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The Four Rules Of FACE: The Future For Hotels

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Delivery, Drive-thru And Distance: Welcome To The New Disconnect

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Old Is New, Denied Distinctiveness & More: The Latest from Larry Light’s Forbes.com Column

Larry Light sheds light on interesting marketing and branding news in his Forbes column on a weekly basis. Below is a roundup of some of his latest insights. Read them now!

https://www.forbes.com/sites/larrylight/2020/08/31/old-is-new-erewhon-the-whole-earth-catalog-loop-and-blueland/#1a13769571e9″ target=”_blank”>Old Is New: Erewhon, The Whole Earth Catalog, Loop And Blueland

In 1966, a year before the Summer of Love and two years before the original Woodstock, two gurus of the macrobiotic lifestyle, followers of the great George Ohsawa, opened a health food store called Erewhon. Erewhon is meant the title to be understood as the word “nowhere” backward even though the letters “h” and “w” are transposed. It came from the Samuel Butler book about a utopia. One of the fictional Erewhon’s tenets was that everyone was responsible for their own health and wellbeing.

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Land Rover And The Case Of Defender’s Denied Distinctiveness

In January of 2016, after 67 years, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), owned by Indian company Tata, ended production of the iconic and beloved Land Rover Defender four-wheel drive vehicle. The first Defender, aka Land Rover Series, began sales in 1949 post-war Britain. The intended use was for agricultural purposes. The design was similar to the WWII Willy’s Jeep (manufactured by Willys-Overland Motors). Over the course of its 67-year history, Land Rover Series and Defender vehicles reportedly sold just over two million vehicles. As a point of interest, at its 1949 debut, the Land Rover Series was the first four-wheel drive, mass-produced civilian car with doors.

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Home Depot, Alexa And The Paradox Of Do-It-Yourself

In a world of meal-kits, parking assist vehicles, wearable heart monitors, voice-recognition devices, connected homes, networked transportation services, farmers’ markets, delivery of practically everything, Bluetooth, and Task Rabbit employees who assemble your IKEA purchases, what does “do-it-yourself” mean?

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Nextdoor, Brands And The Need For Neighborhood

Neighborhood is more than a geographic descriptor. Neighborhood is a mindset… an amalgam of attitudes and behaviors. Whether it is Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, or the Cheers bar neighborhood is a powerful force. Financial Times once described a New York City, Upper Westside neighborhood toy store that had lasted beyond the demise of KB toys, FAO Schwartz, and Toys R’ Us. The store lasted because their neighbors owned the store and their neighbors worked in the store.

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SpaceX, The Pursuit Of Quality And The Law Of The Diagonal

Elon Musk’s SpaceX company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space transportation, with the ultimate goal of “making humanity multi-planetary.” SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft.

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Marketing Industry Insights From Larry Light

We’ve rounded up some of Larry Light’s recent contributions to his Forbes column. Read a short blurb below and continue on the the articles to read more.

Ford CEO Retires: Unable To Articulate A Clear And Consistent Vision

It just took three years. Ford’s CEO Jim Hackett is retiring. In May 2017, Ford hired Jim Hackett to be CEO. Mr. Hackett had been CEO of Steelcase, the office furniture company. While at Steelcase, Mr. Hackett joined Ford’s Board of Directors. Mr. Hackett oversaw Ford’s Smart Mobility unit.

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Levi Strauss And Its Good-Better-Best Strategy

Levi Strauss, the 167-year-old blue jeans company, is fast-tracking its brand-business strategy to address our changing retail habits. The venerable brand has a great deal of incentive to do so, as many retail establishments are struggling or are facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Levi Strauss has several plans that focus on how we will be shopping from now on into the future. 

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Coca-Cola’s Brand-Business Rationalization

An unfortunate business outcome of coronavirus is the disappearance of some of our favorite big brands due to bankruptcy. Another outcome is the deliberate, disciplined disappearing of small or local/regional brands or single country brands.

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Keep Nespresso’s Vision Alive

There is a very interesting story from The Guardian about Nespresso, Nestlé’s espresso machine with its colorful, elegant foil coffee capsules. The detailed article tracks Nespresso’s history from its innovative origin to its current situation that is described as “trundling on” without the sophisticated swagger of its early days.

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Larry Light’s Forbes.com Column Roundup

Larry Light’s latest pieces in Forbes have collectively been read by over 54,780 readers. They cover an array of marketing topics including the impacts of Covid-19, Ease of Choice, and more.

See his latest headlines below.

Macy’s And The 100th Anniversary Of The 19th Amendment

At this 100-year anniversary for women’s right to vote, we should be respecting brands that stood up for women, especially working women Macy’s is one of those brands.

Six Rules To Plan Now For The Post-Coronavirus World

When the economy starts up post-coronavirus, many brands will need to be reenergized. How to plan now for post-coronavirus revitalization?

What’s Next For The Whole Foods Market Brand?

Amazon is focused on building Whole Foods Market into a trusted source for organic, healthful, eco-conscious, ethically-sourced offerings with a reputation for quality, leadership, and trust. The singular desire is to build loyalty to Whole Foods Market rather than sharing it with the “365” brand.

In This Complicated Uncertain World Ease Of Choice Wins

Right now, why add more uncertainty to our lives by selecting an unknown or new brand? This is not a time for new brands. It is a good time to build on the strength of brand familiarity and trust.

After The Quarantines, We May All Sell And Buy Used Cars The Carvana Way

Carvana is turning the used car business on its head and in doing so has the potential to utterly change the way car dealers do business. As with Uber, Tesla, Airbnb, Amazon that forced established brands to change, Carvana is causing a sea change in one of the most ubiquitous industries in the US.