Category: Published Articles

Master the Art and Science of the Brand Stretch

August 26, 2015

Build brand awareness, enhance brand credentials, drive incremental usage among loyalists, and attract new users by stretching your brand into new and different areas.

Marketers have always used line extensions to build business and grow consumer loyalty. Oreo is a classic example. You start with Oreo sandwich cookies and then extend in subtle ways. You add more filling (“Double Stuf”) and make the cookies bigger or smaller. Then you vary the base product a bit further by, say, covering the cookies with chocolate or changing their flavors and filling. This classic approach to line extensions worked decades ago and still works today.

But today there are reasons for brands to stretch further—to go beyond the simple and obvious. Today’s buzz-hungry, relevancy-oriented, social media-rich marketplace is fertile ground for brands to connect with consumers by innovating even more. By leveraging existing brand equities and stretching them into new and different areas, companies can build brand awareness, enhance brand credentials, drive incremental usage among loyalists, and even attract new users to the fold. Successful “stretching” leverages key packaging equities as a bridge to maintain a strong connection between the existing brand and the new innovation.

Brand stretches that make sense A prime […]

Continue Reading

With Elevated Offerings, Drug Chains Can Own Beauty

August 26, 2015

National drug chains are working hard to drive more sales in the beauty care category.

The merged Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., for starters, is revamping its stores with a swankier cosmetics offering centered on the Boots No7 skin care line, which already drives traffic across Europe. For its part, Rite Aid Corp. is rolling out its Receutics Active Skin Repair, a new line of over-the-counter, dermatologically tested skin care products. And of course, CVS/pharmacy continues to reap the benefits of its popular Nuance Salma Hayek line.

This emphasis on beauty is no accident. Clearly, drug stores need to leverage their proximity to consumers and drive more traffic to the store. Instead of emphasizing food offerings, like many drug stores are doing, there’s an opportunity to focus on a higher-margin offering, such as cosmetics.

So, how can retailers elevate their game in the high-margin beauty aisle and make it a destination? One approach would be to truly own the category.

A few years ago, for example, when consumers needed pet food, most of them just went to the grocery store. Today, national pet retailers own the pet food category. These chains smartly created strong narratives that positioned themselves as the real […]

Continue Reading

‘Avoiding #PRdebacles’: Integrity is the Key to Brand Campaigns That Never Backfire

August 22, 2015

When you visit, the “Responsibility” tab is front and center. Click on it, and you’ll find nearly 30 different links under headings such as “Community,” “Environment” and “Ethical Sourcing,” along with a 19-page Global Responsibility Report for those who would take an even deeper dive into the company’s practices. Starbucks, in other words, makes a real effort to walk the talk of responsibility. And yet, when the company launched its #RaceTogether campaign back in March, the mockery was swift and merciless. The plan, as we all remember, was for baristas to write “Race Together” on customers’ cups in an effort to spark dialog about race in America.

Unfortunately for Starbucks, #RaceTogether is now synonymous with #PRdebacles.

So what happened? How could Starbucks have gotten it so wrong? In the age of the self-aware consumer, brands have no choice but to engage with their customers on the issues of our time, right?

The risk lies in losing track of the all-important difference between integrity, an objective state of being, and the far-more-subjective sphere of morality/ethics. When brands focus on achieving the integrity of their purpose (making whole on their promise), these campaigns tend to get results. When brands stray into […]

Continue Reading

What Neiman Marcus Gets About Retail Technology

August 4, 2015

Do you ever get the sense that retail technology is overhyped?

Personally, I love it. In my career, I have overseen technology roll-outs at thousands of high-touch retail stores nationwide. I have also consulted with major retailers and automakers on a raft of tech-related projects.

But let’s take a moment to get real about the role of technology in retail.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks I often see is the tendency to apply new technology to old techniques. We all feel comfortable sticking with known commodities — the approaches that have generally worked for years or even decades. All too often, the Web and ad agencies with which retailers have existing RFPs and retainers find it easier to rely on status-quo methods. This leads to shortcuts along the lines of, “We already paid $XX,XXX to create that message for the end cap, so let’s just make that show up on someone’s phone, too.” Or, “Make sure to tweet about that new (brand/product/feature).”

Tweeting might seem advanced, but if you think about it, it’s really a one-way communication — the equivalent of taking out a newspaper ad. Likewise, push text messages are hardly different from those pesky hawkers on the […]

Continue Reading

Reconsider packaging design

July 30, 2015

Get results through a more nuanced approach to cost containment

Day in and day out, managing costs is part and parcel of the retail business. For retail chains, this means always being on the lookout to do things such as ramp up backend efficiencies or trim the bottom 10 percent of underperforming stores in the portfolio. Call it “cost-consciousness.” It’s a strategic imperative that retailers must maintain if they want to survive in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

The same holds true when retailers develop their private label packaging; the question is: Does this need to be core to a private label’s DNA?

Most retailers make a practice of asking manufacturers to keep the component costs of store brand product lines under tight control. Those costs certainly include the package. After all, every component of the package and its design — the box, the ink, the artwork, you name it — comes at a cost, right?

True enough, but being competitive in today’s retail market is also about building and leveraging private brands in ways that differentiate retailers and cement customer loyalty. In that context, building your brand is clearly about much more than containing costs.

In fact, going to […]

Continue Reading

3 Tactics for Provocative Packaging Promotions

July 29, 2015

7Up, U by Kotex and Barbasol use promotional packaging this summer to help make consumers feel like they are getting something special and unique—because they are.

People are willing to go to great lengths to attract our attention—just look at presidential candidate Donald Trump and his latest shock-worthy remarks. Brands, like people, often do the same to regain market share, increase sales and/or grow their consumer base. They come out with new product innovations. They redesign their packaging. They create new formulas—gluten-free/sugar-free/fat-free—you name it. And they employ one of the best ways for a brand to get consumers’ attention: They launch a promotional packaging campaign.

Promotional packaging often features unique graphics, compelling messaging and a call-to-action that creates intrigue, promotes trial and provokes purchase. In this age where it seems like everything is readily available (and via two-day shipping nonetheless), consumers need to feel like they are getting something unique to make a purchase.

Brands like Coca-Cola and M&M’s understand this, and have responded accordingly with inspiring campaigns. Coke has been personalizing its cans with people’s names to delight and encourage selfie-centric consumers to buy its products. M&M’s not only finds innovative ways to surprise its consumers with new products, […]

Continue Reading

Who Moved My Seaweed?

July 15, 2015

The challenges of merchandising in the ethnic foods aisle

The other day I was in the “ethnic” aisle at our local grocery store picking up some items I needed for a few home-cooked meals. As I strolled past the likes of Mission brand tortillas, Ortega salsa, Kikkoman soy sauce and Goya black beans, the experience at the shelf was unremarkable — that is, until I noticed the Taco Bell-branded taco shells. I had seen them before, butthis time, for some reason, I paused. I was in the ethnic aisle. And there was Taco Bell. In the ethnic aisle. Taco Bell. Ethnic? I found myself contemplating the whole Venn diagram of ethnicity and branding in U.S. retail today — and the way our thinking around these issues can create unnecessary redundancy and confusion.

For starters, this is America. Aren’t we all ethnic? The globalization of cuisine doesn’t just affect major metro areas. This is a national trend. After all, you’re just as likely to find Chipotle in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. Meanwhile, Chinese and Japanese restaurants are in small-town strip malls across the country. In the U.S., believe it or not, salsa outsells ketchup, and […]

Continue Reading

Get Ahead With C.A.R.E.

June 24, 2015

Throw out the PIE to build your career with CARE

Career advancement and self-promotion go hand-in-hand, but how do you avoid undesirable side effects like appearing narcissistic or looking like an obnoxious over-sharer on social media when trying to get ahead?

Some swear by the so-called PIE self-branding model, which focuses on Performance, Image and Exposure. But alas, PIE is flawed. For starters, performance is overrated. Reasons You Were Not Promoted that are Totally Unrelated to Gender, a sardonic piece published on the daily humor website McSweeney’s, deftly describes the quandary:

“You’re abrasive, for example that time when you asked for a raise. It was awkward and you made the men on the senior leadership team uncomfortable.”

But equally likely, the author notes, is a criticism like:

“You don’t speak up. We’d really like to see you take on more of a leadership role before we pay you for being a leader.”

Did you notice how performance wasn’t exactly an issue in either case? So how are women supposed to navigate such ‘lose-lose’ scenarios?

The key is to base your career-building efforts on confident and well-orchestrated (as opposed to calculated or manipulative) self-promotion. Unfortunately, lack of confidence continues to hold […]

Continue Reading

Packaging Gets Real

May 22, 2015

As consumers demand greater transparency from CPG brands, brand owners are blazing new trails with refreshingly honest and real on-pack messaging—even for ‘delicate’ products.

Have you noticed that brands have been “getting real” lately? I’m talking about refreshingly honest, no-BS messaging in ad campaigns and on packaging that tells it exactly like it is. This trend is not surprising. In today’s challenging market, honesty is a surefire way to establish reliability and connect with consumers. In fact, according to an October 2014 study on authentic brandsby global public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe, the number-one quality or behavior that people demand of big brands is that they communicate honestly about their products and services. With information about a brand in real time readily available, consumers are now investigative reporters, and companies can’t risk having the public discover that something about their brand is dishonest.

We’re seeing this trend transcend categories. Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign, in which Misty Copeland proves that not all prima ballerinas are stick figures, and Sir Richard’s condoms’ ads, with copy lines like, “Let’s Change Positions, Not Diapers,” are blazing new trails with their honesty and humor. Forget about “beating around the bush,” […]

Continue Reading

How A Hotel Burglar Stole My iPad – And My Brand Loyalty

April 30, 2015

By Joseph Bona

Let’s say a burglar breaks into your hotel room and steals your laptop, iPad, car keys, briefcase, passport and more. What does it say about you if you can’t stop thinking about how the whole nightmarish event was such an epic fail on the branding front?

I guess it means I’ve been at this branding business for a long time. Let me explain. On a business trip to San Antonio a few weeks ago, I was staying at a seemingly nice, albeit lower-end, hotel bearing the name of one of the top three chains. When I returned from dinner one evening, I noticed my laptop was not on the desk where I had left it. My heart leaped out of my chest when I saw that my briefcase was gone, too. Had I put anything in the safe? Impossible; there was no safe in the room.

I went downstairs and told the staff. They called the police, who showed me how the door had been jimmied, and pointed out the lack of a standard-issue security plate . As a result, it had been easy for the burglar to compromise the lock by cramming something in between the […]

Continue Reading