5 Actions in the “Age of Re-”

Now is the time to re-imagine parts of your brand. The Age of Re is upon us, where we connect to the core values and ideas that make our connections authentic and purposeful.

The Latin root of the prefix “Re” means “again.”

Even though this year seems more uncertain and brand-new than we can professionally remember, I’m thinking it might actually be the time for “again.”

Brands in 2020 seem to be going back to their core customers with the strongest loyalty. To lean into that loyalty means messages and brand positions have to be more basic and true to what your core group of customers believe about you.

I’ve thought of this as the Age of Re. It’s the Age of Again for brands who want to remember who they are, what their real purpose is, and regain their footing in an uncertain landscape.

So, here are 5 Re’s your brand can embrace in this strange landscape. All of us are reimagining our health, economic, and social cause futures. I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed, and I challenge you to talk with your team about these, and other, Re’s.

  1. Revisit – How many ideas have you filed away? They might have been too goofy, too strange, or lower priority than other ideas that drove shorter-term revenue. For some brands, being on the brink may also mean removing fear.
  2. Remind – Stating your position in the market, your values, and what makes you different than competitors is vital. Customers are – like all of us – scattered in their thinking. We have been at home balancing school, work, and new social norms…all while being bombarded with a relentless news cycle that won’t quit. It’s easy for customers to forget what you stand for.
  3. Reinvent – It might be time to add new products, expand into other markets, or transform a core competency into something different. If you are in retail or clothes-making, adjusting to producing masks makes a lot of sense. In fact, a recent bag company made some modifications to create masks as a new product line.

Slight Detour: Check out the pivots from these companies now offering masks:

  • bluecanoe.com – selling out the first wave of organic, cotton-stretch, amazingly comfortable masks
  • bagmasters.com – pivoted their bag-making business into making masks
  • customink.com – which does custom t-shirts, and is now making customized masks

In addition, businesses used to a physical presence are thinking of how they move forward with remote workers. Companies like Zapier and NinjaCat are all remote. Businesses like Modern Postcard – which has a physical printing and mailing facility – are now hybrid models with some workers on-site, and others remotely working. This change created an opportunity to reinvent your business model and working organization.

  1. Retouch – Beyond what to say, it’s also a time to communicate differently to your customers and leads. With email, mailings, educational webinars, and PDFs, the reason to send messages back to all of your customers is clear. You can remind them of your mission and values by retouching all of them. Setting but limiting your marketing communication schedule for the next 6 months makes sense – it’s going to be an uncertain back-half of the year, especially heading into the tumultuous November Election cycle.
  2. Recover – Focusing the business on clawing back to a steady revenue place is key. The Playbook for 2020 was thrown out the window in March, and now the expectations and goals are completely different. I’ve heard from several brands that breaking down the goal in stages can help. It might seem too daunting to recover all of the business, so focusing on one or two aspects where getting back to baseline is do-able

Bonus Re: Rejuvenate. There are many brands who are engaging the current conversation of racial injustice and some kind of police reform. Shout-out to Everlane, who has a link to resources related to Black Lives Matter that help educate, create awareness, and deepen understanding. Every marketer should know that 76% of Generation Z – who will be the largest consumer group in 2026 – purchases or considers purchasing from a brand to show support for the social issues the brand cares about. Everlane has done this, injecting a more youthful, lively and aware message on their website.

It’s a time to go back again to ideas, values, and customers that made your brand unique in the first place.

As marketers, we all professionally ascribe to the concept that more information and understanding yields better decisions. Why wouldn’t that happen in other areas of our life and community?

As always, I welcome your comments.

What Sports Teams Teach Brands About Lovemarks

Back in 2004, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, put out the idea of Lovemarks: Brands that rise to such a high level of love and respect that they separate from the rest of the pack. There are a lot of brands out there — most of them are ones that we might like, but not really love.

Back in 2004, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, put out the idea of Lovemarks: Brands that rise to such a high level of love and respect that they separate from the rest of the pack. There are a lot of brands out there — most of them are ones that we might like, but not really love.

Think of a graph, with axes going low-to-high with love and respect. On the lower-left quadrant is a commodity. On the highest end is the Lovemark.

The easiest example is thinking of coffee. In the low end of love and respect, the coffee is a commodity. On the high end is, of course, Starbucks. But, there’s a place that’s high on respect, but lower on love … that’s where Folger’s lives.

Folger’s is an iconic, well-established, and long-lasting brand … people like Folger’s. But in today’s crowded space of higher-end tastes, liking a brand oftentimes isn’t enough. Because while people like Folger’s, people love the premium brand Starbucks has created.

One of the concepts of Lovemarks is that people have “loyalty beyond reason” to these kinds of brands. We have relationships with them. After teaching brand strategy for 10 years to hundreds of students, I can confidently think everyone has a Lovemark brand. Each person has a brand they pull into their heart, and show to the world as an expression of who they are. Like a form of self-expression, we choose to show the world glimpses of our inner selves by the brands we choose.

And one of the kinds of brands that many of us use to define who we are is a sports team.

I recently attended The National Sports Forum, an incredible event founded and lead by Ron Seaver, who created an annual gathering for sales and marketing talent in the sports industry. People who work for teams from NFL, NBA, MLB, MiLB, NHL, MLS are there, sharing stories and techniques that work and don’t work, and generally learning and meeting with one another in an environment that’s best described as “The Forum Family.”

What is beautiful about the event — besides the people — is it reminds me what I teach in my class: sports teams are great examples of Lovemarks.

Because I grew up in Pittsburgh, I’m a big-time Steelers and Penguins fan. Even though my entire adult life has been in San Diego, the roots of these teams are so deep in my mind and heart that I’ve held a life-long adoration for these brands. Now, it’s not reasonable for me to expect them to win championships each year, but I still buy in, and believe in the teams. Even when they lose. Even when they break my heart.

I have loyalty beyond reason.

Just ask a green-clad fan going to last year’s Seattle Sounders title game, or the die-harder attending the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl parade. These championship teams seared enduring, unabashed, deep loyalty that goes beyond reason, into memory and emotion, of every single one of those fans. Or, ask fans of the Los Angeles Galaxy or Cleveland Browns, who didn’t enjoy the championship revelry this past season. These teams still generate love and loyalty, even through some disappointment or despair. The loyalty transcends rational thinking, and drives to the heart of a person’s identity.

I teach that you don’t have to be a big brand to be a great brand (one of my favorite brands Vibram’s is great, but not big). The great brands communicate with both love and respect to its “fans,” and the fans bring that love and respect back to them. The brands move to a place where they become part of someone’s expression of their life.

So, how can consumer, business, or nonprofit brands create this kind of loyalty? How can they become a Lovemark?

Creating a brand strategy plan around this is the first step, of course. But a plan starts with the end in mind. Instead of thinking about “gaining mindshare” or “increasing awareness,” go bigger. Think about “We want to become a part of our customers’ lives.”

To do this, every interaction needs to originate with an attitude of love and respect. It seems perhaps over-simple, but think about how you write website copy, respond to emails, answer the phones, etc. Are you acting with the highest Love and Respect for your audience? Is that what they feel when they engage with you?

No matter the size of your business, become a brand that is highest on the axes of love and respect. Become something that instills Loyalty Beyond Reason. Because when you go beyond reason into memory and emotion, you can rise up into that rarefied Lovemark status for your customers.

How Social Causes Can Become Part of Your Brand

Social causes can be aligned with your brand’s mission, positioning, and messaging. Some of the greatest brands have connected with causes that promote positive social change.

Brands have a unique role to play in our lives. From being superficial choices that express our style and sensibility to reflecting deeper preferences and loyalties that go beyond reason, brands occupy a space that can be personal and social. Large swaths of people can rally around a brand, and everyone has a personal origin story about the brands they love and hold dear in their hearts.

Brands are also global, and cross media and language barriers to knit into the daily threads of our life. Moreso than government agencies or public service programs, brands have an opportunity to change attitudes and behavior that can be meaningful and long-lasting.

Of course, brands exist as businesses to earn profits, but we all know that we human beings are emotional and social creatures, and we naturally seek out ways to belong and identify — even with the products we buy.

In the 21st century, we can buy pretty much anything we can afford. We can get great coffee, nice clothes, watches, good food, etc., and we rarely have to worry about the quality and effectiveness of things we buy.

So what is that added ingredient to influence our choices? It’s that magic stuff of brands that help us show and tell others – and ourselves — who we are, who we’re not, and how we want to present.

As brands continue to understand this, and a massive generational wave approaches the planet, I’m seeing more evidence that brands are moving more intentionally than ever to connect with the deepest belief systems we hold.

More than how we look and what we present, brands are opening ways that help each of us show and tell others – and ourselves – what we believe.

Should you align with a social cause? What is the risk? What is the reward? Why would it make sense for your business and your brand? These are questions only you can answer, but here are some examples of brands who have strongly and boldly connected themselves to a cause that aligns with their business and their brand.

Starbucks “All You Need Is Love” — Possibility of Peace in Our Time

This was a very simple concept from 2009. How do you get as many people representing as many countries as possible to sing the same song at one time?

Starbucks had yet to achieve the global reach they have now, but they were able to capture an idea and implement something beautiful. At a single moment, they recorded folks from around the world to sing “All You Need Is Love.” Proceeds of Starbucks drinks went to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa, which is also a major source supplier of their coffee products.

This isn’t really controversial — who doesn’t want more love? But it shows singers from Rwanda, Israel, and other countries where there has been an overcast of violence, shining a light on the idea that there is more that brings us together than pulls us apart.

Dove “Campaign For Real Beauty” and Always “Like a Girl” — Promoting women’s & girls confidence

For over a decade the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty has been promoting a mission to help more women feel beautiful every day, and a message that asks all of us to reflect on “What is Beauty?”

Through numerous, thoughtful, and compelling ads, they have struck right at the heart of beauty standards, how we see ourselves, and what we want to show our young girls. They’ve been consistently, brilliantly, fighting for a cause that’s worthwhile and global in nature.

Here’s one from this year that’s amazing. There are tons more. Visit the Dove YouTube Channel and bring your tissues.


And, I’d argue that Always followed in the wake of Dove’s approach with their newer ads promoting “Always Like a Girl’ campaign to lift girls’ confidence. These ads ring true to the product, business, and brand, and push a social change that’s positive and uncontroversial. Who doesn’t want girls to be more confident and grow to be more confident women?

Lush — Organically-made self-care products with no animal testing

When you walk into a Lush store, it looks like a farmer’s market. The soaps and bombs look and smell yummy enough to eat…and they are! You can eat them! Because they’re made with natural and organic ingredients, the business is able to authentically promote a movement of pro-eco friendly.

And, since they never test on animals, they also promote animal welfare causes, too. The alignment of the business model and the cause is perfect, and reflected in the branding, typography, and in-store experience. The employees absolutely walk the talk, and believe in the company and the social causes they promote.

See some employees talk about their fresh handmade cosmetics:

I would argue that any business can find a cause that makes sense for their model and brand. The question is if the leadership in your brand is compelled to make a stand for that cause, and how the cause knits into the culture and overall position and messaging.

What about you and your business? Is there a cause you believe in? Does the cause make sense? Can it become something that makes your brand stronger?

I’d argue that Starbucks, Dove, Always, and Lush are extremely strong brands, and are made even stronger with their alignment of social causes. Of course, I’d enjoy your feedback.

2 Steps to Making Brand Transformations Stick

Brand transformations are like our own transformations — we shine a light on our salient qualities and then amplify that for everyone to see. Brands can make sure that as they transform, their strengths and most positive qualities are continually revealed.

My wife and I are big fans of the new “Queer Eye” on Netflix. We’re into the second season, and the guests have been a splendid variety of people from Atlanta and Kansas City. From an older, single, heavily-whiskered straight gentleman to a young, single gay woman redefining her space, all the people featured fit into the paradigm of a great story.

Like I wrote about in “5 Aspects of Storytelling,” the essential element of a story is a hero who faces a villain, meets a mentor, and then transforms. In each of the Queer Eye episodes, the Hero (the guest), has an internal villain. There’s a block or a weight that prevents the guest from moving on to the best version of themselves. Then through discovery, love, compassion, and talent, the Mentor (“Fab Five”) help to pull the person out of his/her funk through a Journey, and arrive at a visibly better transformation. It sure seems authentic to me, and the follow-up articles online seem to reinforce that the transformations seem to stick.

It’s a remarkable show about a fundamental, and beautiful, part of our human nature: an innate ability to transform.

We — all of us, at our core — want to transform to a better version of ourselves. Every healthy person I’ve ever known wants to get better. We often don’t know the path forward, are perhaps too scared to make a first step, or are possibly afraid of failing to transform. We frequently get in our own way.

Yet the keys to personal transformation — as evidenced in Queer Eye — is calling upon the best part of our nature. Each person’s backstory — and their struggle point — is revealed through the discussions s/he has with the mentors of Queer Eye.

And what is also revealed is his or her salient positive quality. Whether it’s kindness, tenacity, devotion, it’s there. Everyone has one. What the Fab Five do is artfully amplify that positive quality to push the transformation powerfully forward. At the end of the show, the person’s transformation — driven from their salient positive quality — is visible to their cohort, family, and friends.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe brands are like people. They have the same traits — personality, trust, a purpose — and are subject to analogous journeys. And one necessary journey that a brand will go through is transformation.

Since an Immutable Law of The Universe is that everything changes, brands need to adapt. Yet just like people, they need to adapt while remaining true to their core traits. So when a brand goes through a transformation, look at two simple steps that Queer Eye teaches us about personal transformation: Shine a light on Your Salient Trait … then Amplify.

Step 1: Shine a Light on Your Salient Trait

Brands like Coca-Cola have the challenging job of remaining relevant in a world that recognizes that Coke isn’t healthy. We all know it’s not physiologically good for you to drink it. It has syrup, carbonation, and a degree of unnatural chemistry. There isn’t a single medical professional today who would recommend that you exclusively drink Coca-Cola instead of water.

Coca-Cola has had to continually transform its brand to stay relevant. It does this by continually revealing its salient quality: people feel happier when they drink it. It’s fun. It tastes yummy and bubbly. It’s a pleasure and a treat. Coca-Cola’s purpose is not to make you healthier … it’s to make you happier.

If you search “Coca Cola Happiness” on YouTube, you’ll find dozens of consistent, focused ads that speak to what they’re about. This is an older one, but one of my favorites, and it’s all about Coca-Cola’s salient trait:

Step 2: Amplify

Every brand has something they do well. And if you’re transforming your brand, you need to make sure that everyone knows the transformation is real and authentic. Everyone you know who has made a real, deep, lasting positive change in his or her life proudly communicates that change one way or another.

Brands need to do the same thing when they transform. The best ones continually remind the market — and their audience — of who they are, what they do well, and why they should be remembered. They simply don’t let up.

Southwest Airlines does a brilliant job of amplification. While they had a run marketing low fares — which is helpful to most travelers — Southwest’s salient trait is that they treat everyone just like folks.

Their positioning and messaging reinforces that their brand is not about a luxurious, special, stylish airline travel experience. It’s about folks getting other folks to places to meet folks. Just us and everyone.

Check out their ads. New digital ads show their employees in travel destinations. The walkways to the plane show photos of real, happy Southwest employees, with their names, who welcome you on the plane.

YouTube commercials that are focused on the trips we all take, and why we take them, are consistent with this. They continue to transform — some might say evolve or refine — their brand and continue to amplify their salient trait.

If your brand is going through a transformation — and I’d argue that it should be continuously transforming — remind yourselves what your brand’s salient trait is, and make sure you’re amplifying it. If you do, you’ll make your audience believers. As always, I welcome your comments.

Politicians Reveal 3 Important Branding Lessons

Marketers and brand managers can learn useful branding lessons as politicians embark on their political campaigns ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a politically-minded post (however, we should expect that all of you will exercise your voting privileges). All examples used here are from the June Democratic debate for the purpose of timeliness, and ahead of the second debates that will occur at the end of the month.

The recent Democratic Presidential debates that kicked off in June fielded 20 candidates over two nights, and sparked a lot of questions about the people on the stage:

  • Who stands for what?
  • How are these folks really different than one another?
  • Are those major differences major, or just minor?
  • Who spoke to your heart?
  • Who impressed your mind?

With only several minutes for each candidate to speak, did any individual communicate so well that you got clear answers to any of these questions? Did you get a clear sense of who each person really is?

Which candidate would you choose … and more importantly … why?

So, I got curious when I saw those Democratic candidates. What did they do to make themselves different from each other, and relevant to voters?

In politics, the candidate is her/his own brand. It’s clear what the playbook looks like for the most successful candidates, and those plays should sound familiar to consumer brands, too.

There are three important branding lessons that apply well to politicians (and your own brand, too).

1. Have a Clear Plan

The cliche of “the confused mind says no” is absolutely true. If you don’t understand your brand’s plan for transforming your customer, then the customer won’t either. And they won’t engage. Remember that you are the mentor, and that you as mentor need to have both empathy and a plan.

Many politicians state their plans for the economy, social justice, climate policy, immigration, etc. Those plans need to show they understand the issues, care for the people affected by the conditions, and clearly can map a good path forward to a better tomorrow.

Like her or not, Elizabeth Warren has positioned herself as someone who has a plan for everything, including Ashley Nicole Black’s love life.

The plan for Dove Soap is very clear: it offers pro-age formulas that enhance your real beauty. Dove doesn’t promise that their products will make you look younger and sexier. Dove’s plan for you is that — whatever your age and however you look — they will help you love and reveal your own real beauty.

2. Stay on Message

Brands — and candidates — need to do the important job of staying on message. Stay consistent. Maintain the position.

Like him or not, Bernie Sanders stays on message. He has never wavered from his position of Universal Health Care and taxing the wealthiest Americans. Disagree or agree, we all know exactly what he stands for, and what his message is.

When a brand like Coca-Cola stays on the message of “Choose Happy,” then all of their marketing over time can reiterate that message and concept. Look, everyone knows Coke isn’t healthy for you. Coke knows that. But Coke can bring a small spark of joy and delight. So Coke stays on the happiness message in all of their ads.

If you don’t believe me, just go to YouTube and search “Coca-Cola Happiness.”

3. Keep Working and Trust in the Process

The political season is a long slog for these folks! So many events, road trips, questions, prying cameras, the works … and it goes on seemingly forever. Think about it: one of these folks is in the heat of it until election day in November of 2020. That’s almost 500 days of being ON. But honestly, you would think that some part of each person must love this experience. Otherwise, they couldn’t do it.

Joe Biden, like him or not, seems like he has been working political processes since The Dawn of Time. Clearly he must love the engagement, feeds off the energy of his public appearances, and enjoys pursuing the hard negotiations needed to move legislation.

Of course, your team has been working hard, too. It’s a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly process of constantly refining and reinforcing your brand message. The best reward for the constant, consistent effort is that if your team loves it. They must love the process of having a brand message they stick with, or else they’ll get tired and fatigued.

I’m going to be following every step of the political unveiling and see what lessons can be gleaned from these folks. Because in Politics…the Person is the Brand.

As always, I welcome your comments.

How 5 Aspects of Storytelling Influence Your Brand

Stories work because throughout history, in every culture and place, human beings have had one thing in common: We love great storytelling with compelling characters.

Stories work because throughout history, in every culture and place, human beings have had one thing in common: We love great storytelling with compelling characters.

Over time, the ways we tell stories may have changed, but the reason why we tell stories remains the same. We all want to hear and feel something meaningful and emotionally true.

The good news for brands is that we’re all hard-wired to respond to storytelling devices.

MRI studies show that the human brain literally lights up when confronted with information told in story form.

Most of us have seen reports and studies about the number of marketing messages we receive each day — some peg it between 4,000 and 10,000. If that range is accurate, then directly connecting with your audience is harder than ever. And if it’s harder to reach your audience, then using a technique that’s faster, more effective and more powerful seems like the easy choice. That’s where storytelling comes in.

Storytelling for Marketing

The technology to make an accessible video — a very compelling way to quickly tell emotional stories — has enabled brands to touch the heartstrings of their customers. Beyond video, however, is a host of marketing communications techniques that brands need to access so they can best resonate with their audiences.

When building a messaging framework to write the copy for a web page, landing page, mailer, email, etc., businesses have numerous options and resources. Just Google “Messaging Frameworks,” and you’ll see what I mean.

Marketing firms and agencies have done a good job sharing their approaches to garner more web traffic and authority, so the secret sauce of how to build a good framework is not-so-secret anymore. It’s just how your marketing team best fits its skills and talents into an approach that works for your business.

For a storytelling approach to messaging, there are tons of resources to help with this, ranging from Donald Miller’s business StoryBrand, to Jonah Sachs’ “Winning the Story Wars,” to all of the on-line videos about how to tell a good marketing story. What I’ve outlined below isn’t new. But what I hope it does is challenge your team to better understand how to meaningfully engage with your audience.

The 5 Universal Aspects of a Story

  1. The Hero: From Gilgamesh, to Elizabeth Bennett, to Luke Skywalker, to Carol Danvers, the hero is to whom we attach ourselves. We follow heroes through their struggles, hopes, and their desires to somehow transform their lives. Your hero is your customer. What does s/he struggle with? What is s/he motivated by? What kind of transformation is your customer looking for?
  2. The Villain: The best villains represent something bigger than themselves. In “The Grapes of Wrath,” the villains were shown as police, farmland holders …and most importantly, the system. It was The System that uprooted the Midwestern grasslands. The System planted nutrient-draining cotton, which depleted the soil, and helped cause the great Dust Bowl. The System ended up forcing the share-cropping farmers to migrate. The villain is what your customer/hero has to overcome. Is it high prices for poor service? Is it lack of confidence? Inconvenience? The gap between the increase of the cost of education vs. the increase in wages? This is your team’s hard work. You need to deeply dig into who or what the villain is.
  3. The Mentor: All stories have a guide or mentor, some kind of facilitator who steps in to help the hero. The guide helps lay out the path. The hero has to do the actual work. It’s the independent work of the hero that makes the journey worthwhile. As every parent knows, children learn and grow and gain confidence when they do it themselves. You and your business are the mentor. You help show the customer-hero how to overcome obstacles and get to a place they want to go.
  4. The Journey: This is how the hero actually transforms. In fiction, the journey could be physical, psychological, emotional or all of the above. It’s the path the hero takes that results in a transformed state of living … happier, healthier, stronger, wiser … all of the things we want to be. Every human wants to become more than they are. We have an innate desire to improve and grow. Your customer-journey is the plan, the path, that you lay out for them. You, as both mentor and business, show the customer what the journey looks like, and so facilitate his or her growth.
  5. The Transformation: This is the golden reward, the place the customer wants to go. Like I explained in “3 Types of Brand Stories,” this can be a functional, emotional or moral transformation. It is a clear and hopeful resolution, when confronting and besting the villain. As a business, you need to make the transformation extremely clear for the customer, so s/he can see how life will be better because of trusting you as a mentor and following your suggested path.

I recommend you Google “Storytelling for Marketing” and explore two or three pages deep into the rich set of helpful resources and firms that have outstanding advice. You become their hero, they become your mentor, and these resources help you best the villain of audience attrition on your journey to transform into a stronger storyteller and brand professional.

I hope this helps, and as always, I welcome your feedback.

storytelling secondary art

3 Types of Brand Stories: Functional, Emotional, Moral

There are three types of storytelling for brands: Functional, Emotional and Moral. Every brand should have a functional story, but the best ones find an emotional and moral story that rings true to their own culture and mission, as well as to their audience.

What an interesting Academy Awards season. So many different kinds of stories that were told! From Roma to Black Panther to The Favourite, the scale, story arcs, and scopes of the stories were remarkably different.

And that same variety applies to brands — there’s a unique kind of brand storytelling for each.

When you think about the kind of story your brand wants to tell, not only should it definitely be different than other competitors in your space, it should also be a different kind of story. I’m not talking about stories being funny or dramatic, I’m thinking about something much broader.

In my class I ask each student to give a “Tour of Brand.” This is a 20+ minute presentation about a brand they love, and talk about the history, the aspects of the competition, and most importantly why that brand speaks to them. Now that I’ve been teaching for about 10 years, I’ve probably seen about 400 of these “Tours of Brands.” So many brand presentations!

From those, I’ve learned that there are three types of brand stories that are being told. For your brand, think about which story you’re telling. And, it could be more than one. I’ve included links to videos to illustrate these stories.

The Functional Story: ‘Help My Life Easier’

Functional stories help make things a lot easier in life. There might be some emotion tied to that (I feel better when things are easier), but basically these stories show how they make the customer’s life is just a whole lot easier to manage. Stuff gets cleaner, takes less time, etc. A great example of this kind of storytelling is from Lemonade, an insurance company. Their whole pitch is to make insurance simple, clean, easy, modern and accessible — especially for Generation Z. Does it make me feel better? Sure, it could. But the emotions are borne out of things just being a simpler and more understandable way of getting insurance.

Emotional Story: ‘Help Me Feel Something Real’

These are powerful stories. Emotional marketing is, of course, something we all respond to and remember. The hippocampus and amygdala are two centers in the brain responsible for memory and emotion, and they are physically right next to each other. Emotional reactions link us together across culture and time, and bind us together as humans. The better brands convey their emotional marketing messages with authenticity and a realness that aligns the purpose of the brand with the tactics, images, and words.

And with videos as the primary mover of emotional storytelling, brands have no excuses to not find those good, emotionally real stories. One of my favorite is the P&G Thank You Mom Campaign. Give yourself a treat and spend 2+ minutes watching this.

They have built an entire collection of these kinds of stories, and the first one debuted in the 2012 Olympics:

And if after watching it, you’re not crying, I can’t help you.

Moral Story: ‘Help Me Become More Than Myself’

The Moral Stories are the most powerful ones a brand can tell. They reign supreme by connecting you and the brand to something larger and more meaningful in life. They show you that you — as a consumer — can be a part of a movement and massive social change that has real impact in the world. These brands empower you to be a force of good, and to be the change you want to see in the world.

My favorite recent example is Always. They finally understand that they’re not just selling tampons. A girl’s confidence plummets during puberty, and they realize that they can be a part of this story. They can help girls who are going through a brand new and somewhat scary experience understand that it’s a step towards empowerment and strong life-stage. Always can be a big part of this message, and they fully embraced it with #likeagirl campaign. They rode the wake started by the Dove Evolution Campaign, and have done a strong job of creating awareness that an entire generation of confident girls can make major change across the planet in the next 10-20 years and beyond.

And in this one caption, you can sense the large macro-drama that Always is asking users to be a part of. They asked the same questions to girls who were in their late teens & early twenties and to girls who haven’t yet hit puberty:

Interviewer: “What does it mean to run like a girl?”

Older Girl: [Flailing and prancing weakly] “Uhnnnnn …”

8-year old girl: “It means … run as fast as you can.”

Here are two of their solid Moral Storytelling videos.


When it comes to your brand, I guarantee you each have a functional story to tell. My hunch is that you have an emotional story to tell. And for those brave souls willing to put it out there, think deeply about a moral story. The world needs more of those.

So, go ask yourself and your team: What kind of story are you telling?

As always, I’d enjoy your feedback.

Crafting a Branding Plan in 3 Steps

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

When you were young and slept over your friends’ houses, you noticed the difference of the whole home experience. Each house had its own smell, right? Your friends’ families had different routines, foods, laundry detergent, etc. Every family ends up making their own home style … you could even say they have their own brand. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. In the case of strong brands, all the “touches” of the house seems to make sense. For example, in my house, where we don’t watch much television, we cut cable and tuck our TV flat screen inside an armoire so it doesn’t show. That makes sense for our family and our home. A huge TV on our wall would be “off-brand.”

In thinking about building a branding plan like you would a house, I like to tell my students that they can build it up in 3 steps:

Step 1: Positioning – ‘The Foundation’

Positioning is what the brand is built on. How a brand shows it’s different than other brands is the beginning of being unique and making sure your story is something that is compelling. And if a foundation is made of concrete and soil, Positioning is made of Customer Research + Competition Analysis.

By understanding what customers want and are motivated by, plus knowing your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, you find a position that is both attractive to your buyers and different than your competitors. No single business is best at everything, and if your strengths align with what customers actually want, then leverage that strength to solidify your position.

Helpful Tip: Use this framework to craft an internal Positioning Statement: {BRAND NAME} is the brand of {FRAME OF REFERENCE} that {POINT OF DIFFERENCE} because {REASON TO BELIEVE}.

It worked for Snickers. Snickers laid a beautiful, simple, and extremely strong brand foundation with this Positioning Statement: SNICKERS is the brand of CANDY BAR that SATISFIES YOUR HUNGER because IT’S PACKED WITH PEANUTS.

Step 2: Brand Architecture – ‘The Floorplan’

With the foundation put down, the brand story has a place to start and be built upon. In previous articles I wrote about creating the five words that help describe a brand, and a description if your brand were a person, and those exercises come into play here. By using descriptive words and personality types, you place the shape and boundaries of what your brand is and is not.

Think of it as creating the rooms, angles, steps, roofing, landscaping and more when planning how a home will be built. What will the “house” will be? Will it be a cute and funky urban 1-bedroom, a fabricated suburban McMansion, or a minimalist Haus in grey and black?

For example, Warby Parker made an intentional decision to begin with an online experience (in 2010), and then expand into retail locations. They now have 100 locations, and the question would be, what would those retail experiences be like? The Brand Expression (Step 3) follows from that. Since personalization is the position of the Warby Parker online and instore experience, they made the logical decision to have unique stores in each city. Every store — San Diego to Pittsburgh — looks different. It’s really cool and personal. That’s a natural Brand Architecture to sit on top of their Brand Position.

Step 3: Marketing Expression – ‘The Paint, Furniture and Fixtures’

The “Marketing Expression” is finally what the customer sees. It’s the messaging, the actual words and images, the YouTube videos, etc. Continuing the analogy, the Expression is the choice of furniture, the armoire, the wall color, the decorative touches, etc., in a house.

With the Position (Foundation) and the Brand Architecture (Floorplan), the Marketing Expression should actually be a fairly easy set of decisions to where you can see if something fits or doesn’t fit. In my house, for example, a huge TV or a strobe-light “Miller Beer” sign would be a terrible and awkward fit … as would an antique suit of armor in the corner. Instead, a painted armoire, decorative fabric on the chairs, small cardboard Chinese dragons placed keenly around the house, are perfect fits.

For Warby Parker, the natural extension of the position of offering personal eyewear and the brand architecture of personalizing the online and retail experience is: The San Diego store has an image of two readers lounging on a big book that looks like a floatie in a pool. It’s the final touch of personalization for San Diego, which is different than the personalization for Pittsburgh. It’s a touch that gives their brand consistency, memorability, and uniqueness.

Just like the homes we visited as children give us a smell, sound, texture and memory, so do the great brands. They feel like homes we visit, giving us a wonderful and memorable experience.

3 Questions to Better Understand Your Customers

Here’s a method that can help you understand your customers with more clarity and empathy, because every person on Planet Earth has a personal and unique response to these three questions:

Emotient's image of a young woman making sixteen different facial expressions.In my class, we discuss many kinds of research that help brands reveal aspects about their customers. And the data that is available for marketers is more robust than ever before. Big Data has empowered us to cross-stitch online behavior, demographics, buying patterns, predictive website searches and more. And, artificial intelligence will make the patterns reveal themselves with more precision. While the data and customer research about what people are doing can inform us about what they are likely to do in the future, there is also a more human approach — that goes deeper than the data — to understand your customers.

Here’s a method that can help you understand your customers with more clarity and empathy. While it takes thought, delving into these questions will invariably help with how you craft your brand’s relationships with your customers because every person on Planet Earth has a personal and unique response to the next three questions:

1. What Do My Customers Struggle With?

Everyone – including you, reading this – has struggles. It’s a human condition. We question, doubt, have concerns, worry, and are insecure or befuddled by something. Figuring out how your customers’ struggles interweave with your brand’s promise could unlock new ways to help them.

Example: Starbucks learned early on that their consumers struggled with having a place outside of work and home, where we could meet folks or be alone in a safe and comfortable environment. The traditional Italian “Bar” and the role it served in communities was missing here in the states. So instead of just a place to get grab-and-go coffee, they solved for a “3rd Place,” making a destination that went beyond the purchasing of coffee or treats. Starbucks knew that there were holes in communities they could fill, that there was a common struggle we didn’t even know we had.

2. What Are My Customers Motivated By?

Every person aspires to be more than they are. The desire to grow is innate, and we all want our lives to get better in some way. We each are looking for ways to improve and we gravitate towards brands that help us do that. The best brands understand that a simple transaction doesn’t have to be in, and that they can engage users into self-improvement of any kind.

Example: Sur La Table knows that offering terrific cookware products wasn’t quite enough. Their customers are motivated to learn how to be better home cooks, and make home life more enjoyable and rewarding. By offering the in-store cooking classes, and posting a regular calendar of new ideas, the individual stores deepen their relationship with their customers, and fulfill on their aspirations to make their home lives better with making higher-quality meals.

3. Is There a Memory-Emotion Link That’s Important to My Customers?

Deep in the core of our brains is the Hippocampus and Amygdala, two connected centers in our brain biology that stores both memory and emotion. Memory-Emotion is extraordinarily powerful in our lives, and these two magnificent aspects of the brain work in tandem to preserve the most deeply-embedded feelings and decision-making drivers in our lives.

As a brand, it’s awfully hard to construct something that is a powerful connector to memory. But if you’re in a consumer brand, there’s most likely some kind of hook or common experience you can tap into. You’ll have to dig into when your service might be a part of a memory in a life. Or you can see what kinds of experiences your customers might share, and tap into those shared memories.

Example: Subaru knows that their customers are active. They’re climbers, surfers, skiers, outdoors-folks. And they made the hunch that their customers owned pets. “Subaru owners are actually twice as likely to have a pet as other car owners and 7 out of 10 Subaru drivers share their heart, home, and – of course, their backseat – with a four-legged family member!” Source: http://www.dogingtonpost.com (no joke). Subaru launched an entire campaign with Golden Retrievers, and it was all about dogs doing the things we do in life (driving cars, going to pick up kids, etc.). Just videos of dogs. And, in their showrooms, they had dog bowls and dog treats. They knew a broad majority of customers have a shared emotional connection with love of animals…specifically their dogs.

And it paid off. My neighbor purchased a Subaru after her elderly dog passed away – even though the Ford Escape had a better warranty and lower price. She bought from the emotion-memory place of her brain, not the cerebral cortex where “better warranty and lower price” lived. When I asked why she bought the Subaru over the Ford, she said, simply, “Subaru loves dogs, and I miss Carson.” Emotion-Memory wins every time.

Look, these are not easy questions to answer. But they’re worth discussing with your team as to what really drives your customers to connect with your brand. This is really purposeful branding work.

As always, I’d enjoy hearing your feedback and comments.

4 Questions That Reveal Your Brand Persona

Asking some simple questions about your brand persona can help you see how your brand engages and interacts with customers. Just like a person meeting someone new for the first time, your brand has a look, sense of language, and attire that all describes what kind of person, or brand, you are.

One of the ways I help my class describe a brand is to think of it as a person. As a seasoned marketer, you’re aware of the power of personas to help you speak and market to a specific person that represents an audience.

But what about your own brand? What is your brand’s Persona?

One way to get the conversation going with your team and executives is to ask some simple questions that help you think more about the “person” that your brand becomes. Since the best brands are like people, how would you really describe the person that is your brand?

Here are 4 common-sense questions that help you define your brand persona:

1. If your brand walked into the room, what would s/he look like?

Knock, Knock. “C’mon in, Brand!”

When we do this exercise, we’ve imagine Red Bull walking into our classroom room…he’s European, lean, sporty, clean-shaven, rich, somewhat worldly, kind, energetic, and named Raoul. Then Monster Energy Drink comes in the room…he’s got a grungy black t-shirt, tatted up, black baseball cap, attitude, black jeans, names himself Jones (not his actual, real name). Afterwards, Rock Star Energy Drink comes in the room…he’s playful, wearing 80’s style bright colors, a bit goofy, spiky blonde hair, and named Chad.

Each one is an energy drink, but their personalities are so very different. Just look at their websites in sequence and you’ll see how these descriptions are pretty close to describing that Brand Persona.

Now, do it for your own brand. What does s/he look like? Male? Female? Androgynous? Mature? Young? What’s her/his name? What are the clothes? What watch is s/he wearing, if any? Be as detailed as you can. When you really think of your brand waling into a room, what is that complete description?

2. If one of your customers had a chance to meet your Brand Persona, how would they greet each other?

This is interesting. The story of your Brand Persona meeting a customer…do they shake hands? A warm double-over-hand grasp? A hug? Fist-bump? Hand-clasp-bro-hug? A stiff wave and nod?

This tells you how you greet and engage with your customers. What kind of reception do you think your customers expect? What do they want?

My hunch is that Southwest would give their customers a hug, while American Airlines might give customers an arm’s length hand-shake (be nice…I know some of you would say a slap). Subaru? Hug. Kia Soul? Fist-bump.

How would your Brand Persona physically greet your customer?

3. What would the conversation be like? Where would it take place?

Does this tete-a-tete happen in a coffee shop? Over a beer? During a walk in the woods? My hunch is that if REI met a customer, it would be on a trail, and they’d have a hug, take a big long hike together, and enjoy a great conversation about life and the natural escapes we all need.

Would you disclose information? Listen? Talk? Interrupt? Would it be a long conversation that lingers, or something that gets to the point and is brief and moves along to the next conversation? We’ve all heard about the Zappos 15-hour conversation that was rewarded, so what does yours look like?

How this conversation would go helps you think about the tone, language, and style of your communications.

4. When saying goodbye, what kind of expectations are there for future conversation?

When we all say goodbye to a friend, there’s something like “Let’s do this soon.” or “That was awesome. When do we chat again?” or “Great. Let’s keep in touch.”

How would your Brand Persona finish the conversation? Would there be an expectation of future engagements? If so, what would they look like? Would you leave with some things to do to help that customer solve a problem? Would you give them homework and let them solve their own problems? Would you promise to follow-up with them?

In closing, equating brands to people and personalities helps you become more human in your messaging and more intentional in the real problems you’re trying to solve for your customers. And just like people, think about their descriptions and interactions in the world.

As a note, I heard back from some folks about my last post: Words That Describe a Brand. The handbag brand that was described as Well-Dressed. Girly. Elegant. Successful. Special…was Kate Spade.

So, please let me know: if your brand was a person, what would s/he look like? I’d love to hear the descriptions, and the brand.