When CEO’s look in the mirror, they should see their company’s brand

August 26, 2013

I was asked recently why it was so important that the C-Suite be involved in the brand development process. My answer was – and always is: brand development is not a marketing assignment; it is a corporate initiative and must originate at the very top echelon of the company or organization. You see – CEO’s, presidents or the executive leadership of any enterprise are the brand ambassadors: the evangelists and chief advocates. The employees, suppliers, strategic partners and even distributors will more quickly buy in to the brand promise if they see it coming from the top rung.

In their book, Building The Brand-Driven Business, the authors, Scott Davis and Michael Dunn say that employees must move from hearing about the brand to believing there is a brand to becoming the brand. And, once that brand is created through internal discovery, not outside research, and endorsed by the head guy/girl, it will more easily permeate the rest of the org. chart. Now that doesn’t mean added work for the leadership, rather, the job of brand adoption must become the critical responsibility of a hand picked (by the higher ups) group called The Momentum Group (MG), typically made up of representatives from HR, marketing, production, admin. and other business heads who have a the ear of the rank and file, suppliers and other influencers.

The tasks of the MG are many-fold, but should be primarily focused on education, inspiration and making sure the brand leads by example.  By education, I mean creating ways to inform all as to who the company now is, based on the new brand, what it does differently from all competitors, and why the company does what it does. It must also create incentive and reward programs that will inspire all to believe in and deliver the brand as promised – consistently.

And finally, lead by example. By that, make sure the company is living the brand as well. Many examples of this leadership are found in programs where the employees, and sometimes suppliers and outside contractors all engage in charitable or community giving such as food drives, putting shoes on needy children, helping out at shelters, rebuilding a neighborhood park and so on. In other words, demonstrating their brand’s purpose, cause and belief.

According to Andy Primack, President of Vista Metals: “Our brand promise of excellence would be a pretty empty promise were it not for the good work of our momentum group.”

As for marketing, it still has a significant role in bringing the brand to life.  Not only is marketing involved in the operationalizing of the brand (Internalizing), but also, the external execution of it through applications to all marketing, advertising, public relations, social and traditional media and promotions.

So if you think about a brand in this more holistic way: discovered at the top, then percolated throughout the organization via programs developed by a Momentum Group and then presented to customers in a very deliverable and now more persuasive way, it’s easy to see why it is absolutely mandatory that a good, deliverable brand promise must start at the C-Suite.

Jim Hughes

Founding Partner, The Brand Establishment

What Ad Agency Principals should learn from the RNC and the DNC Conventions?

September 24, 2012

I thought it was six days of how to make a great pitch.

I’m not really that political but I’m sure a fan of watching a good pitch.  And, both the Republicans and the Democrats really put on clinics at their respective conventions.  And to me, I couldn’t help but think of them as two shops standing up and pitching their wares to the same prospect.

First of all, they both knew their audiences very well, and I’m not talking about the groups in attendance. No, they were both after the same undecided voters.

Most of the speakers were incredibly well rehearsed and the best of them had fresh opening points, good cadence, plus memorable and motivating closings that had the crowds on their feet hysterically yelling and applauding. And each did a great job of illustrating the differences between them and their opponents.  Now I’ve made some good presentations but never ending in yelling and applause.  So, I do think we could learn from those speakers.

My first observation was their focus – most knew how to open, cover their unique selling points and close by asking for the order.  How many of us approach a pitch with this level of conviction?  Too many that I see are a lot more about what we’ve done for others and less about what we will do for the prospect before us.

I also noted how the really good speakers “gamed” their crowds.  You could see them make one point with sincere resolve, than break into the next with humor.  They pointed with crooked index fingers and pounded the podium with their fists. Then they would gesture with arms spread wide for acceptance and end by clutching their chests for empathy.

Most of us don’t have that level of showmanship to pull this off.  But why not?  I attended a presentation (not a pitch) by Ernie Perich from Perich Advertising, Ann Arbor, Michigan some years ago.  He told the story of writing on a white board in a pitch and he purposely spelled a word incorrectly.  As rehearsed, another agency person with him pointed it out.  Ernie looked back at the prospect and fell to the ground saying he was so embarrassed he couldn’t stand before the future client.  Of course, it brought the house down and Ernie did go on to win the business – showmanship or “gaming” the crowd?

Now Ernie didn’t win because of his pranks.  Perich won because he knew the prospect and its business, (he pasted butcher paper notes, stats and insights all over the client’s walls) he also knew what the prospect wanted – what’s in it for me?  Then he made sure the client could clearly see Perich’s unique distinction, that they had the credentials, knowhow and passion to help the client grow his business and he won the day by breaking down the barriers with a humanizing antic like falling down on the floor – just like a good politician.

Jim Hughes, Founding Partner, The Brand Establishment

5 Questions to Ask Before You Spend a Dime on Brand Development

June 1, 2012

-BRANT KELSEY, Certified Brand Strategist – Kelsey Ads – Atlanta, Ga.

Brand development is a process that, when properly executed, can produce results that drive both top and bottom line expectations inside the c-suite, AND better position your company in the minds of your customers.

However, conditions must be right (notice I didn’t say perfect) in order for your new brand building venture to be successful. Before you begin, you need to get real and ask yourself these five important questions.


If the CEO, CMO, and CFO don’t believe in the branding process and the tangible financial outcomes, you’ll never get it off the ground. Brand development is something that needs to start from the top. It’s a culture change. Everyone in the company needs to know how important the process is, and only the CEO can make that crystal clear.


You should know why you’re in business in the first place. Is it just to make a profit? Probably not. Behind every great brand is a story of why they are in business. Find yours. It’s worth its weight in gold.


Many companies are in a price-driven commodity type businesses. Why drive to Walmart when I can go to Target? Why go to Burger King when I can go to McDonald’s? Every brand has something that makes them different than the competition. (hint: don’t say “best service” or “lowest prices”) Your differentiation is your brand essence. Protect it and be true to it.


If you can prove those points of how and why you are different, you’ll be better positioned in the eyes of your customers. Perhaps you say you have the best selection of auto parts in the industry, yet customers consistently can’t get the parts they need from you, there’s a disconnect. If you make a claim of distinction around your brand, you better be able to follow through on it.


Big deal, you proved it. Can you keep proving it? If you claim to have the best-trained group of plumbers in Atlanta, then you better keep training them, over and over. If not, your competition will overtake you before you know it and your claim of distinction will become antiquated – and your customers will notice. Make it a point to continue to prove your claim(s) of distinction and stay true to your brand essence.

So, did you pass? Are you ready to embark on the brand development process? Branding your business is a difficult job, but if you’ve asked the right questions, you’ll be well on your way to building a company that is successful in both your P&L and your customers’ eyes.

via 5 Questions to Ask Before You Spend a Dime on Brand Development – Kelsey.

What “The Pitch” Really Says About Our Industry.

May 16, 2012

Like many of us in the world of marketing, I am sure you were at least interested to view AMC’s newest offering. Called The Pitch, it is a weekly TV series created to follow two advertising agencies (I resisted calling them marketing firms, more on that later.) that have been “invited” to pitch for new assignments from volunteer prospective clients (to date: a Subway breakfast roll-out, a Waste Management corporate positioning platform a tri-brand assignment from Clockwork Home Services…Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating and Mister Sparky and a San Francisco-based snack company PopChips.)

It begins with the two agencies receiving the assignment from the client, in the same room together…so that we can see the close-ups of darting, suspicious eye-rolling and questioning credibility from one agency to the other, checking each other out across the conference room table. Exciting. Oh? I could hardly contain myself.

Each agency is given a week to respond. Imagine? A whole week? Which just goes to show you how much the client appreciates well-thought out, well-researched, well planned marketing partners. A whole week…wow…there’ll be some great ideas – given that every one has a whole seven days (counting travel to and from the long distance clients, btw) to solve the marketing mystery. Edge of my seat.

The producers must have thought this was cool to put the pressure on the shops. Good TV, maybe? Well, we’ll see. Bad marketing and advertising, for sure.

Now cut to each agency, meeting with mostly hundreds of agency people, all jammed into one room while some ego-driven, posturing creative director (or two) and a swell-talking president or chief operating officer tells everyone (everyone!) of the assignment. Everyone’s involved. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute. Come on guys, let’s win this one. We want ideas, we want them fast, we want you to stretch yourself, be risky and get creative. Because apparently last week, we weren’t creative…so this week we are going to be creative.

And everyone better work real hard and stay late and look like you give a crap. Or else!

In fact, one agency actually confiscated everyone’s cell phones and made everyone stay for a 24-hour period, a “no breaks” jam session. Yes, they really did that. Took their cell phones. Of course, I am sure that the office phones, the laptops, I-pads and notebooks were just forgotten or ignored.

Hey. We’re making a point here! We are committed.

And then the “produced” hilarity and angst begins: Arguments, challenges, stupid ideas, brainless suggestions, dumb-founded expressions, lots of paper on the walls, slogans out the wazoo, comped-up ideas, thousands of logos, stolen thoughts from You Tube, crazy ‘off-the-wall’ concepts, smoking, nerves, confusion, coffee, cat fights, underhanded criticisms and competition between employees.

Gee. What a wonderful industry. I am so proud.

Interesting to note, so far no one mentioned brand development or honoring the client’s brand promise. That isn’t what this is all about. And strategy is just a word to toss out to sound smarter.

You see…what The Pitch is really all about is to cement in the TV viewer’s mind that his or her perception about our industry was correct all along.

Just a bunch of loud mouthed egomaniacs, sitting in a room coming up with ideas until someone (usually whoever is in charge) finally wears everybody else down or time runs out and they have to do something, anything.

Then they all jump on a plane, and go “pitch” the ideas to the client, mostly unrehearsed and unprofessionally. Reading off of sheets of paper with no emotion, rambling to just hear themselves talk, talking too much and not listening enough, showing videos without checking too see if they work, if the Internet connection works or the volume is on, sniping at each other during the meeting, in front of the client. Stuff like that.

See America? It is just as you expected. Anybody can do this, ain’t no big thing.

All the while the client sits there, sometimes looking like they would rather be at an execution of a loved one and eventually they have to stand up, say good job and we’ll get back to you.

(I bet what they are really saying is ‘why did we agree to do this to our brands. Now we have to use some of this drivel’.)

Then the reveal. Two agencies waiting, only one can “win”. Who is it going to be? Tension. Questioning. Second thoughts. Should’a. Could’a.

Cut to the winner. Yeah. Smiles.

Cut to the loser. Boo. Frowns.

The end.

Of a lot more that this TV show.



How To Kill A Brand In Less Than An Hour

April 24, 2012

Brand Assassins are Capable of Destroying Quickly What You’ve Taken Years To Build.

You have all seen it happen and probably been a part of the slaughter. Maybe…even experienced it yourself. In fact, I bet you have and probably recently.

Imagine for a moment that you are having technology issues and your technology provider is a nationally known, heavily promoted competitor in the marketplace.

You chose them (over their competitors) for whatever features and benefits they seemed to offer at the time and the “promises” they made to you as a prospect. Promises such as ‘you, as our customer, are important to us’. ‘Whatever we do and offer is for you’. ‘We never take you for granted’. Blah, blah, blah.

Let’s start with the definition of a brand. The Brand Establishment sums it up best:

  “A brand is a claim of distinction, supported by the evidence of performance.”

And the deal is if you are a brand, don’t make promises your brand can’t keep or live up to. Don’t say one thing and do another, or nothing. Don’t put the authority and impact of your brand promise in the hands of your employees unless they are hired smartly, empowered, well trained, engaged and enthused.

And for goodness sake, do not put them in contact with your customers, unless they can represent all of these things. If they are not…

…guess what happens? They become brand assassins; capable of ruining – within an hour everything you have done (or not done) to build and develop your brand – by the way -your most important asset!

In Building The Brand-Driven Business by Scott Davis and Michael Dunn they quote a Visa EVP of brand marketing: “Our employees are our brand. Every single employee has a customer contact.”

Or they have the capacity to kill it. Dead. Done. Finito. Tainted.

I am not making this up. Just happened to me yesterday and I know it happens to you.

I spent over an hour on the phone, transferred to wrong department – after wrong department – handled by less than professional ‘customer service people’, spent endless minutes listening to on-hold messages and time with people who didn’t know how to help me or were in the ‘wrong’ department. Fed the wrong information, then corrected by the next knucklehead, then re-transferred again to another equally unqualified knucklehead.

I don’t care how big your company is or how small your marketing budget. Don’t waste another dollar on jingles, ads, tweets, posts, commercials, PR or anything else until you get it together internally. You don’t build a brand with marketing but not delivering the promise sure can kill it.

You build a brand from the inside out and your most important ambassadors are your employees. Make sure they can deliver the promises you make.

10 Lessons From A “Creative” In The CEO’s Office

April 13, 2012

KEVIN OHANNESSIAN, a freelance editor and writer covering the game industry, for Gamasutra, Co.Create, and Fast Company, talked to Eric Hirschberg about how his background on the creative side of marketing affected his approach to his role as CEO and culled 10 lessons for the creative leader of any provenance.

Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg came to the job through his role as an advertising creative director. Here, he discusses how his background informed his approach to the job and lays out some lessons for creative leaders.

Eric Hirshberg is a CEO. But he didn’t arrive at that role via a typical route. “I went to art school, not business school. I came up through my career and through the business world as a creative, managing other creative people and creative deadlines,” said Hirshberg.

He launched the L.A. branch of ad agency Deutsch and was with the company for 13 years, serving as chief creative officer and co-CEO. His credits include the “Kevin Butler” campaign, one of the factors in the revitalization of PlayStation 3. And then he met Bobby Kotick, the CEO of holding company Activision Blizzard, at a friend’s dinner party. Two years later in September of 2010, Kotick hired him as CEO of Activision Publishing, managing all of the developers, marketing, and distribution of its games.

As Hirshberg tells it, Kotick said that Activision needed a new perspective for the changing times in the game industry. “When Bobby Kotick hired me he said something that really stuck with me, ‘What you don’t know you can learn and we can surround you with; and what you do know will be differentiating for us.'”


Hirshberg’s years in advertising, working with other marketers, had exposed him to many strategies, including those he is now avoiding. “In the entertainment business the instinct is generally to spread the chips around the table and hope one of them is Lady Gaga or hope one of them is Avatar,” says Hirshberg. But that creates a lot of the generic work he sees from other companies. “I think people take a false security in a wide slate. That doesn’t mean that you have something special in every category,” says Hirshberg. “Our strategy has been to wait until we have something that we feel is differentiating, where we can bring our special contribution to it. And when we go, we go big.”


As a former creative, Hirshberg says the lines sometimes get blurred in meetings. “Part of the creative process is making sure it’s an environment where people are free to throw out all kinds of ideas, even if they’re not great. Freedom to fail and that there are no bad ideas are an essential part of the creative process,” says Hirshberg. “When the CEO is in the room, a lot of people lose that very quickly. And so I’ve really had to go out of my way to let people know when I am acting as just a member of the creative team in a brain storm, versus when I am doing my job as the CEO.”

That balancing act stretches beyond meetings to the actual work, as his time at an ad agency taught him. He says, “In the ad business it seems like there is a false choice that clients often have to make, between creative excellence and stuff that has real pop cultural value versus disciplined, strategic, market-moving work. We always strove to strike the perfect balance of those two.”


The dreaded online leak hit Activision last May when details about Modern Warfare 3, the latest game in its hit series Call of Duty, were released online ahead of launch. “It was massive,” says Hirshberg. “There were plotlines revealed, destinies of characters revealed, level designs revealed.” When Activision’s team was assembled to discuss how to react, Hirshberg told them, “Our launch just started. We didn’t deal this hand, we didn’t control the timing of this, but there are a whole bunch of people out there on the Internet thinking about and talking about our game today–and they weren’t yesterday. On any other day we would be high-fiving if that was happening.”

Luckily, the company had assets prepped for the official reveal a few weeks later–everyone moved quickly to get those up and the PR machine rolling. The result? He says, “48 hours later we had 3 million YouTube views; a week later we had 10 million YouTube views. The assets we released in an accelerated fashion because of the leak, performed 10 times that of the equivalent assets that we released for Black Ops a year earlier.”


Even before Hirshberg officially started as CEO, he was brought in to look at the marketing materials for Call of Duty: Black Ops. And he wasn’t seeing anything that would capture the gaming public’s imagination. Hirshberg says, “I remember a moment in that meeting when someone said, ‘Well, if we don’t come up with anything, we’ll just launch it with a game trailer.'” How did he respond? “I actually said as my first act as CEO, ‘No. We’ve got to be better than that. We’ve got to think better than that.'” The problem as he saw it? “People don’t think of video games as brands. They think of them as products. And that’s why they advertise them like products, where you just focus on the product features,” says Hirshberg. “The product is the thing you buy, the brand is the thing you buy into.”


Hirshberg’s time at an agency shaped other perspectives on product. He says, “The best thing that I learned in advertising, and at Deutsch specifically, is really looking at things from the consumer perspective first.” Companies can’t go for the easy win and the easy gain for themselves, he says. “You have to always ask the question, ‘What’s in it for the consumer? What’s in it for our gamer? What’s in it for our fans?’ Because if there’s not something in it for them, it doesn’t matter that it would be good for us,” says Hirshberg. “Having that consumer-first point of view I think is the best thing you can have as a CEO.”


When Hirshberg arrived at Activision in 2010, the company already had the idea for Skylanders–action figures that come to life inside a video game. Hirshberg says, “We thought we had this nuclear idea of toys coming to life–that’s like DNA-level stuff to me: That’s what toys are in a way, things you imagine coming to life.” And he halted the coming release of the concept. “The game was originally slated to release in holiday 2010, not 2011. We decided to push it by a year, to give it time to get to great,” he says. “At the time, neither the game nor the characters were as great as that core idea. The characters were more generic: There was a Wizard, there was a Troll. They were more like archetypes,” Hirshberg says. “One of the things that we did, during the year we took to push it further, was making sure we had characters that had immediate emotional appeal.”


Skylanders’ unique combination of toys, the “portal” that scans the toys, and the video games the toy characters run around in, would need hands-on demos to catch on with kids. Hirshberg says, “You can’t scale that up to the level of a television commercial or a movie trailer, except for one place–which is at retail.” To make a big splash in stores, they would need to give as much care to retail creativity as they would to trailers. “The toys actually sat at the bottom of the package. And the footprint of the packaging fit neatly on the portal. And these interactive kiosks with LCD screens and the portals were integrated into our shelf space. Any kid could take any toy off the peg, place it on the portal, and see it come to life.”

Seeing the magic moment when the plastic toy they held begin running around the game grabbed children in a way nothing else could. Hirshberg says, “If I had to pick one thing, letting kids experience it and not just read about it at the back of the box or letting a sales person explain it led to the game’s success.” According to sales-tracking company NPD Group, theSkylanders game, with the sales of the accompanying toys, was the #4 game of December 2011, #8 of the fourth quarter of 2011, and #10 best-selling game of 2011–the only non-sequel or kids game in the top 10.


So what about marketing the hit franchise Call of Duty? Hirshberg thought the hugely successful series of military shooters needed a fresh approach for its TV commercials. He says, “That first ad we did for Black Ops had the line, ‘There’s a soldier in all of us.’ In hindsight, it probably seems like a no-brainer, but it was very controversial because we were showing all different walks of life playing our game; we were showing bald guys and old guys and women.” Why make such a choice, neglecting the tried-and-true approach of actually showing gameplay? “By the time we were launching this on television, we had something like 60 million collective YouTube views on various game trailers,” Hirshberg said. “There were lots of other venues by which people who would be motivated by the gameplay alone could see that material. I felt like the job to do on television was not that, but to actually deliver the emotional promise of the game.”


Marketing Call of Duty games presents a unique challenge, says Hirshberg, “We need to make work that delights the core audience, while also inviting in people from outside the core audience.” The success of the Black OpsTV commercial was a good indicator of how the series was reaching beyond it fanatical fanbase. “The franchise had gained the pop culture critical mass,” Hirshberg said. “That’s what the Black Ops campaign was and that’s what the “Vet and Noob” campaign for Modern Warfare 3 was as well, expressions of the thrill of being an expert and also the fun of sucking at it and gaining mastery over it.”

The Call of Duty franchise has reached beyond its genre, like other fiction. Hirshberg says, “A lot of non-sci-fi fans saw Avatar; it managed to reach that stature where no matter what you’re a fan of, you had to see it to be a part of it.” Black Ops was the largest entertainment launch of all time when it was released in November 2010, earning $360 million in revenue in 24 hours. That record held until Modern Warfare 3‘s launch day in November 2011, with $400 million.


When Hirshberg came to Activision, he had to do more than bring creative thinking to products–he had to bring it to the company’s culture. He says, “If you are a company built around creative excellence, then creative people want to be a part of that. Activision definitely had a bunch of guiding principles and you would get a consistent picture from people about how Activision does things, but they weren’t codified.” So he put together a book of values, half of them the unwritten values he inherited, and the other half being what he wanted to inject into the company.

Did he think the little book was successful? “It’s amazing at how at a global company, how such a simple little idea, approaching it creatively and involving a lot of people, has been very galvanizing to the way we do business,” Hirshberg says. It was very important to him to get culture right, “We’re always putting a fine point on exactly what a product stands for, exactly what a brand stands for, exactly what our ethos is. We do that outwardly to consumers, but your internal audience is almost the most important audience, because if they live it every day, it will start expressing itself in the product organically.”

Smart agency principals look beyond technology for innovation.

April 5, 2012

Who are really the most innovative companies? Here’s my list.

I’m really happy that my favorite brand made the #1 position on Fast Company’s “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” list (November 2012) the top four are: Apple for their Siri voice assistant, Facebook’s Timeline interface, Google for the reinvention of YouTube as a niche-programming powerhouse and Amazon because of its new Kindle Fire tablet.  Pretty hard to argue with the idea generation that has produced the outcomes of these guys, wouldn’t you agree?

But, I thought they said “most innovative companies”. Is innovation status reserved just for those who produce innovative products?  What about those with other innovations?  There are fifty innovative companies on the list but it is a tech-dominated review.  Some of the less recognized, to me, are the brilliantly built and innovative brands:  Starbucks, Patagonia, Chipotle, and Siemens.  For me, #1 stands out, not just for innovative products, but also for its brand.

In my opinion, Apple, way more than any of the others, can be innovative because of its brand.  According to Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, determined from the start that Apple would challenge the status quo and empower the individual – always.  And that is the pattern that is repeated in every product they develop.  Apple’s brand dictated that when entering the cellular phone category that they not enter with just another cell phone with new features – no, they entered with a totally innovative mobile computing device that just happened to place calls as well.  And don’t forget that the mp3 player had been around for a while (Creative Technology Ltd. introduced their mp3 player twenty-two months earlier) when Apple introduced the iPod.  But the iPod didn’t just provide music in your pocket, like so many others, it revolutionized the music industry.  Again, the industry altering, “Challenge the status quo” (Think Different) brand positioning of Apple dictated the iPod do this.  

So, I can identify a lot of Apple-like companies that didn’t make the list.  How about Tom’s Shoes?  Their products are very different and refreshing.  And because of their positioning:  “One for One” they give a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair someone buys – pretty innovative and brand driven.  What about Southwest Airlines – very innovative and all brand driven.  The list goes on and on. 

All this leads me to conclude that you do not have to be a tech giant to be among the most innovative companies.  I’ll bet Ajax Ball Bearings of Sioux Falls could be a pretty innovative company with the discovery of their “Why” as Sinek puts it, and some good brand development help. 


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