Reinvent your category – Be different

January 17, 2018

differentThis past year my daughter and I were in New York City and saw the play that took Broadway by storm – Hamilton. It was spectacular in every way imaginable, but it was also the antithesis of a Broadway musical in every way imaginable. It was different.

According to Broadway League research, the average theatergoer is a 44+-year-old, Caucasian, female tourist. 78% of these attendees have completed college, and 39% have advanced degrees. The average income of a Broadway attendee is $205,000 so clearly, this is primarily an affluent, white, middle-aged audience.

Which is why the traditional Broadway musical is such a hit. They’re packed with big dance numbers, elaborate sets, over the top musical performances and happy endings.

It’s also why most Broadway hits look a lot like each other. Many of them are based on proven stories like Lion King or use iconic music (Mamma Mia or Beautiful) from a popular entertainer/group. It costs between $5-$10 million dollars to launch a Broadway musical, so the risks are huge. Why would someone ever vary from the successful formula?

I think that’s the same question that we wrestle with all the time. When there’s someone in your category (or everyone in your category) that does something in a certain way, it feels smart and safe to do it the same way. The problem is that it’s pretty tough to stand out when you’re just like everyone else. The only way to compete is to outspend the competitors and for most companies that isn’t an option.

Or you can pull a Hamilton. Take everything I just said about a Broadway musical and turn it on its head.

  • The play’s primary spoken style is rap/hip-hop (hardly the language of the middle-aged white woman).
  • The storyline is based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, who is famous sort of. He was chief staff aide to General Washington during the Revolutionary War and our country’s first Secretary of the Treasury (hardly sexy roles).
  • The main character is not a typical hero – in fact, he was arrogant, and his blunders and ego cost him dearly, both personally and professionally.
  • There’s no happy ending to the story – as you know, Hamilton is killed in a duel.
  • The set is a simple, almost rustic wooden set with a single turntable to create movement.

Despite all the reasons why Hamilton isn’t like all the others and shouldn’t be successful by Broadway’s standards – it has broken every attendance record you can imagine. Tickets are impossible to get. It has sold out for months at a time not just in New York but all around the country, and the secondary market (StubHub and the like) sold the worst seats in the house for $700+. It received a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations and many people referred to the Tony’s in 2016 as the Hamiltonys because they were expected to sweep the awards show.

My point – people are not the lemmings we assume they are. What Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda understood is that being different is marketing gold. Being different means you have less competition, and every dollar you spend telling your story is amplified because it’s not competing with as much noise. He also understood that being different means you get plenty of media attention, which creates curiosity, interest, and momentum.

How can you take your product or service and turn expectations and “the norm” on its ear? How can you authentically (that matters a lot) give a unique twist to what you do so you stand out from the crowd?

I encourage you to identify the 3-4 places where everyone in your industry looks the same and figure out how you could deliver something different and fresh. Hamilton isn’t just a spectacular play; it’s a business lesson we should all pay attention to.



Do you want to take a stand?

May 17, 2017

take a standThe Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage dominated the news, social media and most conversations when it was announced.  Regardless of where you stood on the topic – you couldn’t help but be immersed in it.  And that wasn’t true for just individuals but, interestingly, for businesses as well. Many of them made a point to take a stand on this issue.

There used to be an unwritten rule that businesses stayed out of political and social discussions.  Unless the issue was one that united the entire country, like World War II – businesses kept their heads down and just stayed focused on business.

But times have changed and consumers have made it clear that they want to do business with organizations that share their values.  It’s as though a third element has been added to the buying decision.  Consumers are driven by their emotions when it comes to any purchase.  That emotion is often tempered or inflamed by facts or features. But today, those two buying elements are influenced by the world around us. Consumer’s beliefs and values are having a bigger and bigger impact on how they perceive and interact with brands.

In the past, we’ve seen lots of brands embrace causes that are tied to their product/service like Avon’s fight against breast cancer or Dawn’s support of wildlife affected by oil spills and other disasters.  But all of that seems pretty safe in comparison to taking a stand on a controversial issue.

In recent history, we saw both Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby take a strong stance on social issues and that decision both cost them and earned them customers who were either aligned or repelled by their position.  In some ways, it’s the essence of branding – show your heart and attract your sweet spot customers who believe as you believe and will value you even more because of that connection.

Many brands spoke out when the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage came out. They quickly reacted to the decision and came out to show their support of the ruling within hours of the announcement being made.

There are a myriad of marketing lessons to be taken from that decision and the responses to that huge societal event.

Your company has a heart: Only you/your leadership team can decide if you want to take a stand and on what issue.  But recognize that whether you speak out or not – there are issues that matter to you and your organization. You’ll have to decide if that should be a part of your company’s public persona or not. The risks are real but so are the rewards of attracting and connecting with people who share your values.

It can’t just be for show: If you’re going to step out of the shadows and express an opinion on a social or societal issue – you need to truly own it.  These are vital topics to your audience and any sign of you being in the fight just for appearances or financial gain will bite you in a big way.

A mile wide versus an inch deep: You can’t fight every fight. And odds are, you don’t have a strong conviction for every fight. You also don’t want to be perceived as a brand that just runs from cause to cause, trying to capitalize on them all.  These kinds of issues are typically very complicated and take a long time to resolve.  If you truly want to affect change (otherwise, don’t get into the fight), know you’re in it for the long haul.

Bottom line – it’s your call. But if you’re going to take a stand, remember that you need to be smart about which issues should earn your resources and your reputation.



Feminism as a Marketing Trend

January 4, 2017


This time of year is ripe for trend reports and because it’s important to our work with clients, I’ve been digging through many of them to identify recurring themes. There’s one theme that has really caught my eye and seems to be something that should be on every businessperson’s radar screen. I believe we’re at the beginning of a groundswell (perhaps because of the recent election) that is going to only get louder and more powerful. The trend I’m referring to, believe it or not, is feminism.

I imagine you just glanced at the paper to see if you’d suddenly been transformed back to 1840. Perhaps I should call this a re-trend but that doesn’t negate its importance. In the 1840s it was about the right to vote and in the 1960s it was largely about the right to have more options professionally because at that time only 38% of American women worked outside the home and they had very limited choices in terms of careers.

But today’s feminism seems to have a very different slant. First, it’s global, rather than just US based. Second, it appears to be much broader in scope and influence. There’s not as much focus on one specific problem but instead, it’s about the whole of a person and the core concept of equality. Third, women and men are not combatants in this go around. In fact, men are increasingly being invited to the party, as true members of the cause. Emma Watson’s speech at the U.N. (Google it and watch it – she’s brilliant) put the international spotlight on the solidarity movement for gender equality. It’s worth noting that the program Watson introduced in 2015, HeForShe, is being sponsored by JP Morgan Chase.

The fight feels less antagonistic and more about the simple logic that equality makes sense and seems reasonable to expect in this day and age. Obviously, I’m simplifying the issues greatly and I know that women across the globe still face some horrific situations, but overall, the spirit of the fight feels more collaborative and open to all supporters.

Whether you are aligned with this new edition of feminism or not, it’s quickly weaving itself into our world in some interesting ways that as marketers, we need to watch.

Empowerment: I think empowerment is a word that is overused and probably often misused. But in this case, it’s about celebrating and selling the idea that women can do and be anything they choose. Toy manufacturers like GoldieBox are championing girl engineers and coders with their STEM-based toys and movies like Disney’s Frozen celebrate women helping each other, rather than being rescued by a prince. Both examples were out of the box megahits – meaning that their themes resonated with consumers in a significant way.

Gender neutral: We’re moving into an era where we consciously stop defining something as being made for a boy or a girl. President Obama created quite a discussion in December 2014 when he went out of his way to put toys that would have traditionally been earmarked for boys into the girls’ toy pile during a Toys for Tots appearance. Clothing manufacturers, especially those aiming at young adult consumers, have been purposefully developing clothing styles without defining who should or should not wear them.

Why should this be on your radar screen? I believe every marketer should be checking their own gender bias as they roll out new marketing initiatives. Our audiences, both men and women, will have far less tolerance for stereotypes that minimize either gender. Not only that, but I suspect consumers will reward those companies who go out of their way to recognize and celebrate equality in all it’s shapes and forms to a growing degree.

Marketer beware – the landscape is changing and you don’t want to be out of touch.


How are your multicultural marketing strategies?

September 23, 2015

multicultural marketing strategiesCMOs acknowledge that they need to have strong multicultural marketing strategies but despite rapid population growth and strong support for initiatives within marketing circles, CEO and board support falls far short, failing to assist marketer’s ability to prioritize and fully fund their efforts.

According to Geoscape, the leader in business intelligence across the multicultural market, groups including Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics will grow to nearly 130 million by the year 2020. Furthermore, the non-Hispanic white population will become the minority, dropping below 50% of the population by 2042.

A new poll from the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and Geoscape—entitled “Activating the New American Mainstream”—reveals that half of the 150 North America-based senior marketing executives surveyed feel there is some level of support for multicultural engagement strategies from the senior levels of the organization.

Here’s what I thought was one of the most telling factoids in the report — While 67% admit that the CMO has a high level of buy-in and support for multicultural efforts, 55% admit that the CEO does not share that opinion, failing to fully support initiatives.

This lack of top-level support translates into a de-prioritization of multicultural engagement programs as more than half (51%) of marketers admit that there are simply too many competing priorities. In fact, when asked to rate commitment levels, only 20% of marketers felt that multicultural strategies were mandatory and unanimously embraced across the organization, and just over one in four believed that the multicultural market was mission critical for the organization.

Specific to investments into multicultural programs, marketers indicate that:

  • 20% invest in excess of 15% of overall marketing budgets to engaging with multicultural markets; 28 percent spend less than 5%.
  • 53% of marketers believe their investment into the multicultural market will increase going forward; 15% believe this increase will be significant; only 2% anticipate a decrease in investment.

For those marketers who have deployed multicultural marketing strategies, the operational approach is one that fails to separate initiatives into significant segments. Only 16% of marketers are separating marketing initiatives for specific ethnic groups, a practice which would allow for a deeper level of engagement thanks to relevant communications based on cultural behavioral patterns and insights.

Multicultural marketing strategies must move away from the niche campaign mindset and become an engrained part of any personalized customer experience strategy,” noted Liz Miller, Senior Vice President of Marketing with the CMO Council. “This is no longer a scenario of replacing images or localizing content into a different language. This is about truly understanding the nuances of the customer, including any culturally distinct behaviors and buying patterns that can and must alter the way our brands reach and engage.”

Without doubt, the multicultural market in the United States is an increasingly powerful consumer. According to Geoscape research, Hispanics currently represent 18 percent of American households but were responsible for nearly half of the growth in consumer spending from 2013 to 2014. Between Asian-American and Hispanic markets, the groups accounted for two-thirds of the total economic spending growth.

“By understanding cultural nuances and marketing in a proactive and data-driven manner, marketers are positioned to grow ROI…however, none of this happens overnight,” added César M. Melgoza, Founder and CEO of Geoscape. “Targeting consumers without understanding their unique cultural behaviors and preferences risks growth optimization among the consumer groups that quarterly and annual budgets and success can hinge.”

Key findings from the 10-question online poll of 150 senior marketing executives are included in a 12-page complimentary white paper, now available for download from the CMO Council. Some 36% of respondents hail from B2B organizations, 29% are from strictly B2C organization, and 36% are from hybrid organizations. 43% hail from organizations with revenues in excess of $1 billion USD.



Trends that will influence 2010 and beyond

December 15, 2009

94021801 Ad giant JWT has done a year-end forecast for the past several years and has just released their thoughts on what 2010 will bring.

Here's a glance at the 10 trends they believe will shape this next year.

Searching for Stability
While many indicators point to the beginnings of an economic recovery, consumers will continue to exercise restraint until they see more clear, dependable and closer-to-home signs of stability. Unemployment lifting will be a key barometer for consumers. (Example: People are still delaying big-ticket purchases.)
Reading the Fine Print
Consumers will be working harder than ever, putting more time and energy into finding good values, reading the fine print and learning the ins and outs of nutrition, environmental impact and ethical business practices. (Example: As banks, airlines and other ailing service industries impose a complex raft of fees and conditions on customers, failure to pay close attention will be costly.)
Maximum Disclosure
While manufacturers and retailers have become increasingly transparent in recent years, legal requirements and competitive pressures will force fuller disclosure about everything from ingredients and calorie counts to carbon footprints and sourcing. (Example: Walmart is working with its suppliers to develop a sustainability index for all its products.)
The Devil Wears Packaging
As the eco spotlight focuses on the environmental costs of packaging, brands will increasingly switch to bottles, boxes and other solutions that reduce, reuse, recycle, remove and renew. (Example: Kenco Coffee in the U.K. recently launched Eco Refills, which it says use 97 percent less packaging than its glass jars.)
It's BIC, and It’s Bigger Than Ever
The vaunted BRIC emerging markets are now down to BIC—and while developed nations remain hobbled by the financial crisis, Brazil, India and China are emerging stronger than ever, both economically and politically. (Example: As the appetite for luxury in the developed world wanes, it’s on the rise in China; in October, dozens of French luxury labels, including Christian Dior and Chanel, launched a Web site <>  to promote their brands in the region.)
Trickle-Up Innovation
Products designed for emerging markets are increasingly filtering into the developed world, where consumers are welcoming them as cheaper and simpler alternatives to existing choices. (Example: India’s Mahindra & Mahindra is gaining market share against John Deere, offering suburban lawn-owners in the U.S. a lower-horsepower tractor at lower prices.)
Retooling for an Aging World
As the world’s population grows older than it’s ever been, watch for a proliferation of products and services that cater to this demographic as they strive to live independently for as long as they can. (Example: Thermador has designed a glass cooktop that automatically shuts off when cooking is completed.)
Life in Real Time
The Web is evolving into a constantly updating stream of real-time information, conversation, memes and images. This is creating an increasingly mass culture and shifting perceptions of “current,” moving modern life into the “now.” (Example: During the World Series, the Huffington Post created a real-time hub that collected the Twitter feeds of baseball writers, Yankees mavens and Phillies commenters.)
Location-Based Everything
With more location-based services and advanced mobile and mapping technologies hitting the market, the conversation will become as much about “where I am” as it is about “what I’m doing” and “what’s on my mind.” (Example: Foursquare, a gaming app, uses geo-tagging technology to help users find and share bars, restaurants and other venues with friends.)
Visual Fluency
The ongoing shift from words to images will accelerate, and we’ll see increasingly innovative ways to explain and illuminate complex topics. (Example: The animated online short “The Crisis of Credit Visualized <> ” blends storytelling, journalism and analysis to make a complex topic easier to grasp.)

If you'd like to read about each trend in detail, you can purchase the full report by clicking here.

Here's what I am wondering…which of these trends do you think will have the most impact on your business in 2010?  And…what are you doing to maximize the opportunity?

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To find your nerve, find your core

October 20, 2009

Shutterstock_33666787 A few months ago, I received an intriguing e-mail from a guy named Steve McKee.  He had an idea. 

He wanted to build "a website dedicated to supporting the community of corporate professionals who want to move beyond the economic morass and return their companies to the growth path. This grass roots effort is intended to help jump start corporations and, therefore, the economy."

Each day of the 4th quarter, they would have a different guest author address the issue of how do you get back your nerve and get back to some semblance of business as usual.  As you know, I've been rallying against the paralysis caused by the recession (here, here and here) for quite some time so I jumped at the opportunity.

My contribution went live today and I'd like to:

  • Share it with you
  • Get your feedback
  • Ask you to share it with others

Here's how I started….

When the recession hit, many companies lost their nerve. They began to second-guess their own decisions. They compromised on what they believed was right because right was too expensive. They chased after business that wasn't really a good fit — because any business was better than the potential of no business.

And they lost their way. A side effect of being lost is being scared. Sometimes being scared leads to being paralyzed. In my opinion, that's why this recession got so bad.

We got scared and we got stuck.

It's time for us to find our nerve and get ourselves out of this recession. I highly doubt there's going to be a bailout for any of us.

So how do we break loose from our fear and get some nerve? We get back to our core.

Please check out the site to read the rest.

While you're there, check out the rest of the site.  There are polls, plenty of blog posts from some very smart folks, and some eye opening facts about the recession and advertising/marketing.

Also note that this is a very savvy effort on Steve's part to promote and sell his new book, When Growth Stalls. Rally the troops around something they're passionate about and they'll do whatever it takes to get the word out.  And sell some books along the way.

The site is well done, Steve's intentions are honorable and I encourage you to check out the guest posts.

Photo courtesy of

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Too many choices paralyze buyers

July 8, 2009

Shutterstock_32991415 When television was first introduced, there were 3 black and white channels.  Today, 500+.  Many in my baby boomer (I would like to point out that I am on the very tail end of that demographic!) demo grew up reveling in the idea of many choices because it was new territory.

But fast forward to today and you see those same baby boomers being overwhelmed at the array of decisions (based on choices) they have to make every day.

Walk into any mobile phone store and just count the number of phones available.  It's staggering.  Then, you have to figure out what each one does…and why it matters to you.

No wonder it is often easier for us to check out, than to check all the options.

Consumer research shows that the American consumer is suffering from choice fatigue. A study (by Sheena S. Iyengar from Columbia University and Mark R. Lepper from Stanford called "When Choice is Demotivating") found too many choices actually frustrated shoppers. People were offered either 30 choices or 6 choices of jam and then given coupons to purchase what they sampled.

Of those that had the opportunity to sample 30 only 3% made a purchase, while of those given 6 choices ten times as many or 30% made a purchase. That's a huge difference.

To better understand how we all react when faced with too many choices watch this brilliant TED talk by Barry Schwartz -  author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. In this talk, he explains how and why the too many choices are paralyzing us.

So what does that mean for you and me?

It means that there is power in simple.  Our customers are time-starved and information-saturated.  Make it easy.  If you have to give your customers a lot of choices — group or organize them in a way that allows their brain to sift through the options more logically and quicker.

It also means that we need to recognize that having more choices doesn't necessarily give us an edge over the competition.

If you are going to offer lots of variety — be sure you have a good reason for doing so, and be sure you help your consumers navigate through those choices.

Or they might not choose you at all.

Photo courtesy of

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Shame on you advertisers!

March 31, 2009

37034701 We've talked before about how the media hype is actually making the recession worse.  How our fear is paralyzing us from spending a buck or making a business decision that involves any sort of an investment.

As you'll recall, I said I thought it was up to the businesses of this country to ignore the doomsday talk and get out there and behave our way out of the recession.  We need to be smart but we need to grow our businesses just like we've always done.  By investing in good people, good products and good services.

So that's why I find some of the recent ads I've seen so alarming. 

An All State Insurance ad I just saw the other night started out like this (my paraphrasing):  "Today, the longest walk of the day is the walk to the mailbox…where all those bills are just waiting for you."

A local ad here from a company that sells pool tables and accessories has the owner on camera, talking about he's taken a beating during the recession…so he is being forced to sell his wares practically at cost, just to pay the wholesaler's note.

Come on! 

For a very small group of people, that's a true statement.  But when the media…and now the advertising constantly tells all of us that we should be dismal and dread our mail — we are just adding to the malaise of this country.  We're making it worse.

Does that mean you shouldn't talk about how your product or service is a good value?  Of course not.  But stop wrapping it up in the recession flag.  You should always be a good value, right?  Did your potential customers not care about that when the economy was booming?

If you don't care so much about how your marketing is impacting the economy…ponder this.  How many ads have you seen/heard/read in the last 30 days that referenced the recession or these tough economic times?  Just about all of them!  It's become the theme du jour, which means that your efforts sound a whole lot like everyone else's.

So whether you want to stand out or you want to be a part of the solution — for the love of Pete, stop or if you're one of the few who hasn't jumped on the bandwagon yet — don't start.

How can you (or are you already) marketing your product without using the recession as a crutch?

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Are you making the recession worse?

February 2, 2009

34996025 Let me first acknowledge that I know the recession is real.  I know people are losing their jobs, homes and life savings.    I get that.

But the truth is….we’re making it worse.  We’re letting fear make it worse.

Just like the kid who works himself up into a frenzy because he imagines what might be under his bed — we're allowing fear and all the hype freeze us with fear. 

That paralysis is the biggest threat your business has ever faced.

Look around you.  Ask other business owners.  They will sheepishly admit that business is good.   Some, under the promise of anonymity, will confess that it’s great.  For the vast majority of businesses, especially B-to-B and the service sectors – things are fine.

And yet, they behave as though they’re down to their last dime.

I was talking to a friend of mine who owns a small business last week.  He admitted they’re having a fantastic start to the year and everything looks good moving forward. 

He went on to tell me that he needs a new company car.  He has the money to pay cash for it.  Car prices have never been lower.  But he’s holding off.

Just in case.

Simpson College here in Iowa has a brilliant outreach program, thanks to the Associate Director of the department.  She’s like a Pied Piper, getting to know theatre kids when they’re younger and encouraging them to visit campus, attend their very profitable summer program, etc.

Simpson just announced that despite great enrollment numbers and the construction of a new theatre space (capital campaign) – they’re eliminating the position.

Just in case enrollment goes down.

People, we have to stop this.  A stimulus package alone isn’t going to cut it.  Do you think any of those stimulus dollars are coming your way?  Check the list – you’re not on it!

Small business owners are the backbone of this country and we will determine how long we’re in this recession.  I’m not asking you to spend with reckless abandon.  But I am suggesting that we don’t get our business advice from the local or national news.

Look around.  See how your business is actually doing.  And behave accordingly.  We can be paralyzed with fear of what might be coming, or we can behave ourselves out of this recession.

But…it is up to us.

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10 words to avoid in 2009

December 22, 2008

36726310 Good friend to the Marketing Minute, Susan Gunelius (author of Harry Potter, the story of a global business phenomenon) has a great article on Entrepreneuer's website.  In the article, Susan reminds us that the normally jaded and wary consumer is even more so after the economic struggles of 2008.

I think her list will surprise you.  It includes works that traditionally have been touted as buying trigger words.  It also includes some copywriting 101 tips that have been passed down for ages.  Let's see what you think.

Here are 5 of Susan's 10 words to avoid in your 2009 marketing efforts.  These are the ones that intrigued me the most and I wondered what you thought.


Ads that include messages about a free product or service promotions can work well during an economic downturn, but consumers need to see the products perform well. E-mail spam filters are tough on messages that include "free" in the subject line. While it might be tempting to use a subject line that says, "Open now to get your free widget," that's an e-mail spam filter red flag that will send your message to most recipients' spam boxes. When the economy is tough, you can't risk having your e-mails not make it to the intended recipients. Replace "free" with "complimentary" or "gratis" to sneak by spam filters without compromising the effectiveness of your message.


Few people believe in guarantees these days. Unless you can prove your guarantee is real, use the valuable real estate space in your ad for a more effective message that consumers are likely to believe and act on.


If you want to waste space in your ads, include "really" in your copy. This word does nothing to help your messages. Instead, it slows consumers down, and they are not likely to wait around for the complete message. Don't risk losing them by loading your copy with useless filler words. Make sure every word in your copy is there for a reason.


Does  a message sound more compelling with "very" in it? Is "When you need very fresh flowers, call ABC Florist," more effective than "When you need fresh flowers, call ABC Florist"? If you answered, yes, reread the last paragraph.


You're not helping anyone when you offer "opportunities" in your copy. Consumers don't want opportunities. They want to feel confident handing over their hard-earned money. They want to know they'll get the results they want and need, not the opportunity to perhaps get those results. Don't let them wonder what they'll get when they pull out their wallets. Tell them.

To see the other five words and read Susan's thoughts on them, check out the article.  But before you go…what do you think?  Is free now a tainted word?  Should we stop offering guarantees?

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