What Makes For A Good Coach?

Michael Cymbrowsky / Consultative Sales Enablement

 Virtually every organization today is being evaluated on its ability to generate significant and sustained revenue growth. To create a powerful growth engine, a CEO must identify and cultivate executives who can inspire frontline employees. Effective coaches, therefore, are critical. This begs the question: What are the characteristics of a good coach? Below are my top 8.

1. Every employee is recognized as having potential.
By being patient and empathetic, a good coach can identify an employee’s latent talents. This is the first step to helping associates achieve top performance.

2. Listening is second nature.
A good coach knows that the best way to understand an employee, bond with an employee, and gain the respect of an employee is to hear the employee. With two ears and one mouth, we should listen twice as much as we speak.

3. Expectations are ambitious and conversation is focused.
By setting stretch goals, both weak and strong performers have room to grow. Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” And to ensure efforts are optimized, communication is transparent.

4. Encouragement is fueled by collaboration and empowerment.
Not only do employees want to be heard, but they also want to partake. A good coach recognizes that engagement boosts confidence and self-esteem. Enterprise Rental Car is the #1 rental car company in the USA. It got there by training and empowering associates to do whatever is necessary to make the customer happy.

5. Feedback is provided in a timely, clear, and objective manner.
Goals that reinforce organizational objectives are created, S.M.A.R.T, and frequently reviewed.


6. Individual efforts are appreciated and results are celebrated.
Persistence and stamina increase the probability of success because sometimes just being smart is not enough to cross the finish line. A good coach energizes teams, welcomes tenacity, and acknowledges accomplishments.

7. Bad habits are quickly addressed in a constructive way.
A good coach recognizes the difference between momentary lapses versus behavior that foretells of re-occurring problems. They are on the alert for fear, uncertainty, hubris, chattiness, disrespect, procrastination, tardiness, and indifference, and will move expeditiously to optimize behavior.

8. Sincerity, optimism, commitment, and consistency are expressed and practiced.
A good coach builds rapport with associates by being authentic, positive, engaged, and dependable. And once trust is established, straightforward and meaningful dialogue can occur that will yield positive change.

Effective coaches will greatly improve an organization’s morale and results. Their understanding of human nature is the spark that ignites the potential within an employee. And their actions are respected and inspiring. Find and promote them ASAP so they can build highly productive teams within your organization.

Selling and Fundraising- Are They the Same?

Michael Cymbrowsky / Consultative Sales Enablement

Having personally held positions in for-profit and non-profit organizations, I have experienced first-hand what it takes to close commercial agreements and to secure voluntary donations.

B2B salespeople, once viewed as transactional order takers, must now be consultants who propose comprehensive solutions to complex problems.  And fundraisers, who were viewed as ungrateful beggars, must now embrace polished consultative selling skills so they can cultivate meaningful financial relationships to ensure continued support.

As practices for salespeople and fundraisers have evolved and become refined over time, the two professions have become very similar.

Enhanced Skills for a New Reality

Until the ‘80s, selling into the commercial for-profit world had been primarily transactional.  The customer was the industry expert and the salesperson was often the order taker.  But with the advent of global competition and advances in technology came workforce reductions, less face-to-face meetings, and a time-stressed corporate world.

Today, many buyers no longer have the time or staff to evaluate all the potential supplier/vendor options available to them and must rely more on informed, consultative sales professionals to provide critical information.  Salespeople, therefore, must be credible consultants and trusted advisors able to uncover needs and provide solutions that address market trends and competitive threats.  And to help salespeople make the transformation, Sandler, SPIN, Miller Heiman, Holden, and Challenger sales training methodologies were taught and embraced.

Over the last 10 years, the nonprofit environment has changed as well.  The number of registered nonprofits nationally has increased by approximately 150,000 to 1.5 million.  With more nonprofits knocking on their doors soliciting contributions, prospective donors want to be assured that their funds will materially impact a meaningful cause.  To effectively cultivate and steward beneficial donor relationships, development professionals must recognize each donor’s dream, objectively measure results, and convincingly reconcile donor expectations with realistic outcomes.

Segmenting To Understand and Prioritize Prospects

The first step for a sales consultant or development professional is to determine who is likely to invest in the company’s solution or the charity’s cause.

After prospects are identified they can then be categorized into segment type which could be defined by . . .

  • Channel (e.g. individual donors, corporate sponsors, foundations, events)
  • Demographic (e.g. age, gender, income)
  • Behavior (e.g. usage, decision-making authority)
  • Psychographic (e.g. lifestyle, activities, interests, opinions)
  • Geography

Then, based on expected or estimated revenue potential, and whether a prospect wants, needs, or demands a solution, opportunities can be prioritized.

Tools and Terms to Track Relationships

Within the for-profit world, HubSpot, Microsoft Dynamics, Pardot, Salesforce, are popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software tools. These tools are used to archive important customer and prospect information, and to track interactions between sales stages which are often defined as:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Qualifying
  3. Presenting
  4. Negotiating
  5. Closing

eTapestry, Donor Perfect, Neon, Raiser’s Edge are software tools used by non-profits to track “moves” between fundraising cycles which are typically defined as:

  1. Identifying
  2. Cultivating
  3. Asking
  4. Soliciting
  5. Stewarding

The commonalities within both environments are the need for a CRM software tool to manage communications and to define critical steps throughout the process.

 A Disciplined Process to Ensure “Win-Win” Outcomes

Before asking a prospect probing questions, rapport needs to be built and a relationship needs to be cultivated.

Whether via phone, e-mail, social media, or at a conference, prospects should be engaged or “touched” several times to create a personal “connection”.  Once a connection is made, a candid discussion can occur.  And by asking well-crafted questions and carefully listening to responses, a prospect’s budget, decision-making ability, need, and timeline can all be determined.

For a prospective donor, the decision to make a donation can be for altruistic, social, reciprocal, tax, or egotistical reasons.  By synthesizing this information, a convincing narrative can then be told.  A story that encompasses the prospect’s dream will engage and inspire while facts referencing the desired impact will help to justify their “equity” investment.  Usually, a non-profit that tells the best story will be the one that solicits the most funds.

As with conventional product and service brands, making an “emotional” connection with the prospect is key. Thus, personalizing the appeal on some human or emotional level is critical to achieving positive fundraising outcomes. The pitch must resonate on some level to have impact!


Successful B2B sales consultants and development professionals have many similar qualities.  Both must be strategic in identifying, qualifying, and prioritizing prospects.  Both must be excellent listeners and domain experts to build meaningful relationships.  Both must embrace today’s software tools to effectively manage pipelines and portfolios.  Both must be effective story-tellers to close opportunities and move prospects into giving.   And both must follow-thru to ensure continued support and long term growth.

3 Ways to Ensure A Strong Company Culture

Laura Colton / Content Marketing


“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Ants and bees have a long-standing reputation as some of nature’s hardest little workers. The secret to their success lies in their ability to communicate and work together efficiently in order for their colony to survive and grow.

The same concept is true in business. Much like a colony, a business must rely heavily on its workers to carry out tasks, delegate certain duties, and rally together to create a united front against rival businesses.

If there’s anything that we can learn from nature, it’s that an organization is only as strong as its team. A team that is passionate and enthusiastic to carry out a company’s vision and mission is a force that is to be reckoned with.

The problem is that creating a strong and formidable company culture doesn’t just happen overnight. Like anything worthwhile, it takes time, resilience, and commitment to help form a company culture that is worth fighting for.

Here’s a quick rundown on how you can build your own strong colony:

Let Freedom Ring 


There’s nothing like creating a sense of community and trust for a team than by micromanaging everyone’s every move – said no one ever.

Feeling constantly under the microscope promotes a culture of fear, doubt, and uncertainty.

Not only is continuously pointing out the negatives rather than the positives counterintuitive, it’s also incredibly stifling in terms of creativity and efficiency.

People are less likely to voice their opinions and think outside the box if they feel like their opinions will be shot down from the get-go.

While there’s always a need to keep track of tasks and make sure deadlines are being made, there’s also a fine line between detail-oriented and obsessively nit-picky.

The more freedom people have in navigating their task list, the more likely it is that they will feel like they are a trusted asset and valued member of the team.

Encourage Innovation and Abstract Thinking


“Doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results, is the definition of crazy.” – Unknown 

Some of the best ideas come from the most unexpected places. As many a cocktail napkin can attest, brilliant ideas come and go. There’s no secret formula to innovation, but there are ways to help cultivate a culture that encourages and celebrates out of the box thinking.

Smart leaders provide employees with tools that allow them to harness and channel their ideas into something greater.

Setting aside time each week for a team to meet and bounce ideas off one another is one of the best ways to get in the habit of thinking differently. The more consistently these meetings take place, the better chance there is of creating a steady stream of ideas and thoughts.

Make sure that when these meetings take place, there is time set aside for everyone’s voice to be heard. There’s always the chance that a younger and less experienced employee may approach a problem in a way that hasn’t been explored yet.

Fresh perspectives and different points of views are the catalyst for sparking ideas that go against the grain and challenge the status quo.

There is a real importance and pay-off in bringing creativity and imagination to the workplace. Anything that encourages freethinking and productivity should be seen as a positive step forward for a company’s culture.

Say it Loud and Proud 


A true business leader realizes that a key driver for company culture is communication.

The leader must set the tone, and promote the company’s message and vision clearly, in order to create a united company culture.

In our world of the instantaneous, people often get lost in the fray and overwhelmed by the overload of information that is constantly being thrown at us. This is why clarification and openness is key in reaching people and clearing up prevailing questions.

Consistently carve out time to set up open meetings with your team to explain what’s changing, what’s working, and what’s not working. Look at the big picture and find a way to get the whole team on board as a collaborative force.

Use visual aids like white boards and PowerPoint to break down key information in a way that is concise and easy to understand. There is a direct link between visuals and learning, and combining the two is a smart way to make sure your team can actually see what changes are happening over time and why.

Keeping everyone in the loop is another way to make sure your team is up-to-date and on the same page.

Make sure that your team is aware of the goals that need to be met and how they are being measured. It’s important that a team knows and understands what’s expected of them and what they need to do to produce exceptional results.

While the business world continues to change, the importance of communication remains invaluable.

Employees that feel like their voice is being heard and understand their individual contributions to the company are also more likely to feel connected to the company and its vision.

5 Things You Don’t Know about Your Customers That Can Hurt You Next Year!

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

Laura Colton / Strategic Research Analyst

When it comes to winning and losing new business… companies in highly competitive industries know there is no substitute for listening objectively to the customer’s perspective relative to the sales process.

Understanding what works and what doesn’t work with your current sales process and go-to-market strategy is crucial to driving incremental revenue growth in the new year.  The best way to obtain diagnostic insights into prospect and customer perspectives on your company is to conduct an objective win/loss study combined with statistical analysis that illustrates opportunities for growth.

The following are five reasons you should seriously consider investing in a strategic win/loss program now to help ensure appropriate growth planning for 2017.

1.  Salespeople Rarely Admit Defeat


“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” – Dale Carnegie

Failure is an inevitable part of life. While no one likes to discuss losing, it’s oftentimes one of the best ways to gain insight, re-evaluate what you’re doing wrong, and take more intelligent action.

Anyone who works with consultative sales professionals worth their salt know they take pride in their work…and hate to admit they’ve lost a sale!

Many sales people will avoid closing out a sales opportunity as an official “loss” in the CRM system hoping time will turn the customer around and they will ultimately come on board. However it is crucial to disposition all sale opportunities accurately within a reasonable length of time in line with traditional sales cycles.

Salespeople are usually hardwired to quickly move on after a loss and not dwell too long on why the sale fell through. More times than not, the status of a loss remains “pending” rather than ever filed away as a failure.

2.  We Can Learn From Our Wins and Our Losses

There are always a slew of reasons as to why a deal goes awry. When a salesperson shrugs their shoulders and moves on to the next deal, they are missing out on an opportunity to learn and understand what actually went wrong during the sales process.

In order to survive in today’s customer centric world, the modern salesperson needs to identify and recognize what they’re doing wrong and constantly work to improve upon those weak points.

Was the loss due to a pricing issue or related to some other aspect of our new business strategy? Understanding the answer is crucial.

Strategic win/loss analysis2 helps organizations understand where they need to refine their go-to-market approach.

They help us to spot customer perceived strengths and weaknesses relative to competition quickly, and respond accordingly.

The only way to fully understand the inner-workings of a prospects mind is to ask objective questions and combine answers with statistical analysis to understand empirically how each brand, marketing, sales, and product factor statistically impacts winning and losing new business. With this learning we can conduct follow-up conversations with customers later.

The insights gained from these post-decision interviews opens the door for attracting more customers and helping improve future new business close rates.

At the end of the day, the strongest and most resilient companies out there are the ones that hold their organizations accountable and promote a culture of transparency.

3.  Companies Rarely Tell Sellers the Truth


For the most part, people have a very hard time delivering bad news.

It is human nature for us all to try to avoid hurting others feelings.

This makes the truth very hard to obtain unless provided to an objective third party with the customer reassured feedback will not be individually attributed.

Only through objective, third party win/loss evaluation can a company actually learn what is and is not working in the customer’s mind.

Done right strategic win/loss analysis isolates the specific factors that directly impact the customer decision making process.

This information is obtained by combining quantitatively obtained voice of the customer perspectives through proven best practice research methodologies. The through statistical analysis and predictive modeling techniques that quantify the impact of adopting proven best practice behaviors going forward.

Whatever the reasoning, it is critical that win/loss post-purchase decision interviews be conducted by someone who has no stake in the outcome or ‘skin in the game’. This ensures objectivity and encourages prospects and customers alike to provide honest and direct feedback without worry about reprisal by the company sponsoring the study.

4Most buyers are more willing to open up to an objective and neutral third party when providing feedback as opposed to someone they’ve worked with in the past because they know what they say won’t be used against them.

When a third party conducts interviews, they’re less likely to inject their own bias into the questions or answers, and are the ones best equipped to helping gain objective information.

The win/loss research and interview process not only help lead to a better understanding of what happened and why, but are helpful in capturing the information required to align sales and marketing strategies going forward.

The more clarity gained within the interview process, the more that wealth of insight can be used to improve the behaviors and practices that your team uses to execute a sale.

4.  Insight without Analysis Is a Waste

Once upon a time, marketing was almost fully dependent on intuition and perception. Now, the popularity of empirical precision and data analytics has shaken how we think about the world.

Without strategic data analytics, much of what we do is guesswork. With it, we are granted unprecedented visibility into the diagnostic “truths” of our customer relationships.

In today’s data-saturated world, success relies heavily in the ability to make data and analytics a central part of our business strategy.

You need to know the insight side of the equation (the context), as well as have quantitative data and metrics that support your business decision making process.

Having one without the other leads to the danger of having either 1) an analysis with too much detail and information without content or 2) an analysis with too much content without the facts and figures to back it up.

Qualitative prospect/customer feedback coupled with statistical analytics are necessary to understand what customers/prospects are thinking and saying to provide context and depth to your marketing and sales programs. Numbers alone don’t provide us with the insight of how clients are evaluating our products and service/support.

5What the numbers do provide is the metrics necessary to understand trends and aggregate data and insights across a large pool of past new business wins and losses.

Data is at its most powerful once you’re able to identify what you’re trying to gain from it.

Ideally, win/loss analysis is conducted within 3-6 months of the final sales disposition while the experience is still relatively fresh in the customer’s mind. Beyond 9 – 12 months people tend to forget the details of the sales process and find it difficult to be precise in win/loss evaluations.

The best customers (for wins) or prospects (for losses) to interview are usually the ones that were deeply involved with a sales rep in terms of time, attention and detail.  That way, the amount of information gained can be more readily measured.

Developing effective win/loss research questionnaires requires probing the specific customer-evident aspects of the full sales and decision making process. Well-constructed win/loss questionnaires contain both open and closed-ended questions to help provide context to customer decision making.

5.  Consistent Win/Loss Analysis is Key

6“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn

Strategic win/loss analysis has unprecedented potential to yield valuable insights – but only if measured effectively.

Obtaining maximum impact from strategic win/loss analysis requires that we measure our performance on a regular, recurring basis.

Conducting this type of research/analysis program at least once-a-year provides an adequate benchmarking and tracking mechanism most companies find invaluable to their annual business planning process.

Unfortunately, this is where most companies tend to fall short believing a one-time assessment will provide an adequate and forward looking metric to assist in future planning.

Decide on whether or not a report should be created on a monthly, quarterly, or bi-annual basis. The information gathered from the report should be shared in real-time so as to quickly identify pain points and how they can be improve on.

7Once win/loss measurement time intervals are agreed upon, make sure to regularly implement monitoring, measuring and reporting so as sales data is always accurate, relevant, and consistent.


Actionable Win/Loss Insights – Ascension Revenue Predictor℠

Revenue Predictor℠ is a proprietary Ascension assessment offering that strategically identifies the specific sales behaviors that lead to new business wins and losses. It uses your company’s data from past prospect and customer interactions to identify the best and worst sales practices that directly impact your company’s revenue performance.

We use strategic factor analysis and marginal revenue contribution modeling to:

  • Identify best practice drivers of new business “wins”
  • Isolate the negative factors that cost your company business
  • Determine likelihood of winning/losing relative to a range of business factors
  • Estimate revenue potential if best practices are adopted in the future

By identifying the best and worst business related factors that impact revenue you can influence your top line revenue performance though training, coaching, and process improvement.

Contact Jip Inglis at jinglis@ascensionstrategy.com or 678-361-1014 to learn more about how Revenue Predictor can help your company.

Nine Principles For Success

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

time image“We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.”  –  Vince Lombardi

It’s about time. In today’s business environment, it is the most precious commodity.  As the pace of business increases, for example, they suffer from time poverty – too many things to do and not enough time to do them.  This causes time compression – attempting to shoehorn more activities into a specific window of time.

To cope, business people must result to perusing, scanning and browsing. This is organizational A.D.D. caused by having less time to digest the relentless volume of voice mails, emails, texts, tweets, instant messages, minutes, reports, proposals, and presentations.

This creates a real risk of important things falling through the cracks which can have serious business implications.

Time poverty, time compression, and organizational A.D.D. puts increased pressure on an enterprise to successfully compete in an accelerated marketplace. This means companies need to fundamentally change the way it thinks, plans, and executes –  streamlining its organization and processes to be quicker, smarter, and more agile.

This is Stratactix. Like the no-huddle in football, Stratactix is a fast-paced offense whose focus is reducing the gaps between thinking, doing and results to gain competitive advantage.

We believe Stratactix has 9 basic principles for success. They represent a manifesto of change to prevail in a fast, hyper-competitive marketplace.

1)  Compete like an insurgent.

“You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.”  –  Yogi Berra

Others have a mission; insurgents are on a mission. Others don’t want to fail; insurgents are not afraid to fail.  Others react; insurgents act. Others meet; insurgents conspire. Others ponder; insurgents do.  Others deliberate; insurgents are deliberate.

2)  The best offense is a relentless offense

“Success demands singleness pf purpose.”  –  Vince Lombardi

A relentless offense is one that understands that opportunities are fleeting and must be quickly capitalized on.  It also understands that threats that surface must be quickly challenged. To effectively deal with both opportunities and threats, a disciplined and proactive process is required.

This process includes five stages – vigilance, curiosity, recognition, imagination, and action.  In other words, a company must be vigilant of changing circumstances; curious about the potential impact on the company; recognize the opportunities and threats to the company; imagine potential solutions; and finally, take timely action.

3)  No points are scored in the huddle

“If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?”  –   Vince Lombardi

The primary objective of an offense is to score. The primary objective of a company is to generate revenue. This happens as the result of acquiring and retaining customers.

Asked why he robbed banks, legendary bank robber, Willie Sutton famously replied, “because that’s where the money is”. Stratactical companies understand that sales is generated from customers “because that’s where the revenue is”.  Less time spent deliberating in huddles is more time that can be dedicated to the pursuit of revenue.

4)  Innovate to win

“Winning is not a sometime thing…it’s an all the time thing.”  –  Vince Lombardi

Stratactical companies understand that the currency of today is ideas. They are the seeds of innovation today and the wealth generators of tomorrow. A stratactical company, therefore, is one that continually ideates and innovates.

History has shown that innovative ideas can have the most unlikely of origins. They can come from anyone, anywhere, and at anytime.

The first Apple, for example, came to life in a suburban California garage.  The first airplane took shape in an Ohio bicycle shop.  Facebook and Google were conceived on university campuses. Microsoft was started by two college drop-outs.

Stratactical organizations are those that understand that success is predicated on recognizing and nurturing the next great idea whoever and wherever it comes from.  They understand that innovation is a relentless pursuit that separates the winners from the losers in business.

5)  Compete with yourself

“If you’ll not settle for anything less than your best, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your lives.”  –  Vince Lombardi

For stratactical organizations, success is not a goal, it’s an obsession. It understands that their fiercest competitor is themselves. Circumstances change rapidly and complacency is a weakness that can be exploited by competitors. It is imperative, therefore, that a company relentlessly competes with itself.  The following steps are a self discipline to attain and maintain competitive advantage.

Analyze “What is going on?

Adapt  “What do we plan to do?

Adopt  “How do we plan to do it?

Assess  “How are we doing?”

Adjust  “What do we need to change?”

6)  Avoid unforced errors

“The team that makes the fewest errors in a game usually wins.”  –  Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns

Unforced errors are self-inflicted penalties that stifle business momentum. It’s called “business prevention”.

To avoid them, five key ingredients need to be defined and working in concert. These include a strong and clear vision, a team with strong skill sets,  dedicated resources, and a concise action plan specifying the who, how, when, and what to achieve the desired result.

7)  Plan boldly;  execute quickly

“In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.”  –  Jean-Paul Sartre

Stratactix is an aggressive approach that believes competitive advantage lies in reducing the gap between ambition and achievement.

Ambition has three components – aspiration, challenging the status quo, and a clear and aggressive time line.  A bold plan slowly executed is vulnerable to exploitation by opportunistic competitors.

8)  Scan the playing field for exploitable insights

“The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows”  –  Aristotle Onassis

In simple terms, an exploitable insight is something that you know that your competitors don’t know that results in an exploitable opportunity. Stratactical organizations are those that gather relevant information which is distilled into proprietary intelligence that generate actionable insights.

9)  Field the best team

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  –  Steve Jobs

These are people who have the talent, passion, and determination to succeed against all odds.

Cases in point, Thomas Edison only had three months of formal education.  Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg never finished college. Steve Jobs had a liberal arts degree.  All had little experience in their ultimate field of endeavor.  None had a resume that would have put them in consideration for a senior corporate position in today’s world of business.  Yet they all possessed the three common critical traits of talent, passion and determination. These are the people who create exponential value to the enterprise.  The lesson is to look beyond the resume in fielding the best team.

The Principles of Stratactix are designed to create a company whose core competencies are speed, smarts, precision, and teamwork to reduce the gap between planning, execution and results to create competitive advantage.

Rebranding From The Inside Out

Laura Colton / Social Media & Content Marketing


Back in the early 2000s, Abercrombie & Fitch was at the height of its popularity. Everything from the scantily clad models to the very distinct aroma wafting throughout the store screamed “cool”.

At the time, it was almost impossible to walk through the halls without spotting the stitched moose logo proudly displayed on someone’s chest like a badge of honor.

Just about everyone wanted to show off their latest printed T-shirts and cargo pants with the A&F logo prominently shown off.

Fast-forward to 2016 and long gone are the days when walking around as a glorified billboard is seen as trendy or fashion forward.

These days, the millennial generation gravitates towards brands that pay attention to their specific needs, does social good in the world, provides a unique experience, and offers enticing incentives.

When sales plummeted a few years back, A&F learned the hard way that basing an entire marketing strategy around a fantasy that encourages only cool, attractive clones to buy their clones is a somewhat problematic message to promote in our era of diversity and acceptance.

As of late, Abercrombie & Fitch has struggled to remain relevant in the sea of high street fashion brands out there that offer clothes for a fraction of the cost.

In an effort to win back the hearts of millennial consumers, A&F must first address its mistakes in order to revamp its persona.

A Good Reputation Goes A Long Way


“Character is much easier kept than recovered.” – Thomas Paine

Back in its heyday, A&F wasn’t exactly known for producing super high-scale, sophisticated clothing. It more or less relied on its sexualized ads of beautiful half-naked people and its notable logo to sell clothes.

Sex sells, it’s true. But relying on six packs and size 0 figures to sell clothes today is something of an uphill battle. Over the years, Abercrombie’s heavy reliance on a sexualized marketing strategy has earned the company somewhat of a seedy reputation.

It had always been an unspoken rule that to work at Abercrombie you had to be attractive, young, and in-shape. Abercrombie created a persona where there was no room for XL or XXL sizes for curvier women who didn’t fit a certain mold.

Abercrombie was the equivalent of the ‘cool’ kid who mocked anyone who was different and stood out. The problem with a cool brand is that it is inherently exclusive. It thrives off of leaving people out and making people feel inferior.

The reputation Abercrombie had built for itself was one that was superficial and judgmental. In 2013, a past interview with Salon magazine revealed that Abercrombie’s CEO Mike Jeffries wanted only thin, beautiful people to wear his company’s clothes.

That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that. … In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Unsurprisingly, people were angry and insulted by the comments. The brand’s persona took a negative hit and the CEO later stepped down.

The company’s greatest mistake in marketing itself to a young demographic has largely been its inability to think long-term. Abercrombie lost sight of the customer’s wants and needs, and failed to think of how its reputation could/would negatively impact the company.

Consumers want to buy from brands that stand for something. Up until this point, A&F has lacked any sort of depth outside of its sex appeal. Beyond its logo, the brand has had no differentiators setting itself apart from the range of more affordable clothing brands out there.

At the end of the day, a brand’s reputation is everything… Especially when it comes to selling an image. Brands with a strong reputation enjoy higher returns, a large number of loyal customers, and a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Brands that are consistently in the limelight facing criticism and viral backlash are in danger of losing consumers and as a result, sales.

Every company is vulnerable to the occasional PR debacle, but when it becomes a constant recurrence, people are going to take notice. In other words, not all publicity is good publicity.

These days, offending a segment in the market once may be unavoidable (especially in our digital-age), but insulting too many segments of the market is a quick ticket for people to come together and rally against your brand.

In an effort to rebrand itself, the company has made strides to distance itself from its former objectifying ways. Abercrombie has included a larger array or clothing sizes, gotten rid of the sexually exploitive ad campaigns, and agreed to stop calling their employees “models” in favor of the term “brand representatives.”

The question remains on whether these recent strategic moves are enough to make up for years of promoting unattainable beauty standards and excluding people.

Listen Up Everyone


Contrary to popular opinion, millennials do not make purchasing decisions blindly. This is a generation of consumers that are armed with technology and social media, and they aren’t afraid to use it.

A huge contributing factor to Abercrombie & Fitch’s rise and fall in sales over the years has been a direct result of multiple social media tirades against the company.

While social media can help build a business from the ground up, it can just as quickly tear a company down.

A successful brand not only understands what best attracts their customer and most appeals to their lifestyle, but also has the ability to look ahead and forecast potential trends and behaviors.

Brands do this by listening and actually hearing their customers wants, needs, and complaints.


The first step to reaching out to consumers requires looking deeper at the context of what people are actually saying.

If a company isn’t using social media to understand what people are communicating, then they will never fully understand how to connect with the consumer.

Over the years A&F has failed to ask itself these important questions:

  • What do millennials value?
  • What are consumers actually saying about the company?
  • What else are millennials interested in?
  • What are the larger discussions happening online about certain products and services?
  • What is the public perception of the brand?

Companies that ignore what’s going on around them tend to be the ones most often blindsided by the consumers shift in perception. Playing an active role in listening is the only way a brand can ever understand the consumer’s wants and needs.

One of the most obvious ways to do this is through social media. Social media is one of the biggest opportunities to directly communicate with consumers in order to develop deep, long lasting relationships.

In order to make a reinvent itself, Abercrombie & Fitch first needs to take note of what it’s done wrong in the past, in order to move forward and rectify those mistakes.

Only through a massive reinvention will A & F successfully thrive in today’s fast moving market place. Cutting expenses, improving the company’s culture and website, updating the mission statement and values, and embracing customer insight – these are all essential to A&F’s long-term success.

Merging Strategy and Tactics in Today’s Fast Pace World

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

googleSaying that the speed of business has accelerated is a gross understatement. Companies and brands that were not even in existence less than twenty-five years ago, today are dominant players including Amazon (1994), Google  (1998), the iPod (2001), and iTunes (2001).

twitterSome were not in existence just 15 years ago – Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006) and still some were introduced less than five years ago – iPhone (2007), Android (2007), and the iPad (2010)

pinterestPinterest, a social photo-sharing site launched in 2010, now has over 25 million monthly users. Instagram, a photo-sharing app, also launched in 2010, was acquired by Facebook in just two years for $1 billion.

amazon Today, Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer.  iTunes is the the most popular music vendor in world. There have been over 240 million iPhones sold to date.

Google’s Android platform accounts for over 50% of the smartphone market. Facebook has a reported 1 billion users. Twitter reports over 500 million active users.  Within 90 days of release, the iPad had penetrated over 50% of Fortune 100 companies.

These aggressive insurgents have displaced former incumbents who were slow to adapt to a faster and more competitive environment.

Two current examples are Nokia and Blackberry.


Nokia was the world’s largest vendor of mobile phones from 1998 to 2012. In 2007, it accounted for 40% of all global mobile phone sales. Over the past five years, however, its market share declined dropping to 27% by 2011. This was the direct result of the growing use of smartphones from competitors, primarily the iPhone and devices running Google’s Android platform.

As of May of 2012, Apple’s iPhone controlled 30% of the smartphone market while Google’s Android platform grabbed a 51% piece of the pie. As a result, Nokia’s share price has fallen from a high of $40 in 2007 to under $3 in 2012.  By 2013, it would have reduced its global workforce by 24,500.

In June of 2012, Moody’s downgraded Nokia’s rating to junk status at which time Nokia’s CEO admitted that the company’s inability to foresee rapid changes in the mobile phone industry was one of the major reasons for the company’s problems.


Then there’s Blackberry.  Just three years ago, before the introduction of the iPhone and Android,  it controlled 50% of the smartphone market.  Today, it is trying to cling to the 5% it has left.   In June of 2012, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion posted a $518 million quarterly loss and said it would lay off 5,000 workers in a cost-saving measure.  It also announced that the release of its much-needed, long-awaited BlackBerry 10 platform and its new smartphones would be delayed again until early 2013. This has resulted in loyal Blackberry users abandoning the brand in record numbers.

Both Nokia and Blackberry, as others, have learned the hard way that today’s hyper-competitive playing field shows no mercy to those who hesitate or procrastinate. The marketplace is a tyranny of the urgent where choices proliferate, customer preference is perishable and opportunities are fleeting.  It’s an environment where aggressive competitors are relentlessly on the offense putting their competitors hopelessly on the defense.

The lesson is clear. Today, a company must be smarter and faster to successfully compete which requires precision and teamwork.

It’s called Stratactix – the no-huddle offense for business.

Stratactix is the morphing of strategy and tactics. It is designed to compress the time between planning, execution, and results. Reducing the gap between ambition and achievement creates competitive advantage over slower and less agile competitors.

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Like the no-huddle in football, Stratactix is not about just doing things faster.  It’s a disciplined formula:  speed + smarts + precision + teamwork. Speed is a blend of acceleration, agility and athleticism – the ability to do things quickly; the flexibility to make course corrections and the stamina to persevere.

Smarts is gathering the right information that can be distilled into actionable intelligence that generates exploitable insights.

Precision is efficient, effective, and timely execution.  It’s doing the right things in the right way for the right results.

Teamwork is the collaboration of ideas, the cooperation of disciplines, and the conviction of the participants towards a common objective.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but  those who can best manage change.”   ― Charles Darwin

Stratactix is not about “survival of the fastest”.  It’s  about “survival of the quickest”.  There is an important distinction. Quickness is a critical competency; while hurrying is a sign of desperation that can lead to poor outcomes such as false starts, mistakes, and miscommunication. Quickness is an asset; hurrying is a liability. In other words, it matters less that a company is the biggest, the strongest, the newest or the oldest if it’s not the quickest to either exploit an opportunity or thwart a threat.

“Be quick, but don’t hurry”   – John Wooden

Stratactix makes a business quicker by making it better prepared, better organized, and more agile to succeed in an accelerated business environment.  As the speed of business increases, many organizations suffer from an increasingly lower propensity to adapt.  This is known as organizational inertia and is a threat to growth.

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chart-1 wide

chart-3 wide

As the speed of business increases, on the other hand, stratactical companies relentlessly improve their propensity to act. This is organizational adaptation.

The difference between the two scenarios is where competitive advantage lies. This is the primary objective of Stratactix.  As competitors struggle to cope with a faster business environment, a stratactical company adapts quickly with the purpose of achieving and relentlessly improving its advantage.

This is the no-huddle offense for business. While others slowly deliberate, stratactical companies are quickly deliberate.

To do this, it first determines the end goal and then works in reverse to determine the most expeditious path to follow. It distinguishes the pertinent from the arbitrary; purges the redundant from the necessary and challenges the accepted status quo.

Stratactix must pervade the entire culture of how a business operates – from the front line to the boardroom.

Stratactix is a philosophy that believes that the best offense is a quick, smart, and relentless offense with an obsession for timely results.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Laura Colton / Social Media & Content Marketing

“No one ever excused his way to success.” – Dave Del Dotto


Mistakes are an inevitable part of life. No one enjoys messing up – but sooner or later, it’s bound to happen. It’s how we choose to respond or react to a slight hiccup or monumental error that defines who we are and ultimately shapes our character.

Thanks to social media, our voice is heard louder than ever and information travels at warp speed on a platform that never sleeps. Big companies and small companies alike are not immune to the occasional social media faux pas and blunder.

While perfection is not necessarily expected from a brand, honesty and accountability is. Developing a reputation built on trust and integrity is the only way an organization can survive long-term in today’s market, as public perception and shared experience largely dictate a company’s success.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how brands and companies can create an honest and transparent company culture.

The No Blame Game


Over the years we’ve become accustomed to companies shifting blame, finger pointing, and making up a slew of justifications to explain a PR catastrophe. It’s become the new normal for brands to omit any wrongdoing or to shrug and say they ‘didn’t know’. Insert the fake apology and hope for the next scandal seems to be the strategy these days.

So when a company owns up to their mistakes and admits to its faults, not only is it surprisingly refreshing, but it opens the door for greater forgiveness from the consumer.

While creating loyal customers is at the forefront of every brand’s mind, it’s not something that just happens overnight. It takes time and patience to forge a lasting, honest relationship.

When a brand attempts to cover up a transgression, lies and denial often do more damage than just coming clean. A willingness to take responsibility for a mistake versus using adopting evasive tactics is the first step in moving forward and becoming accountable.


Take Volkswagen for instance. You may or may not remember the hot water Volkswagen got into after admitting they had violated the Clean Air Act back in 2015.

In the past, Volkswagen has claimed that its cars are environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient. So when news broke that Volkswagen had rigged the emissions test, people were shocked and felt cheated from the blatant false advertising.

Volkswagen’s deliberate lie to the public not only resulted in a loss of trust, but also led to a loss of market capitalization – which took a hit of $18 billion in one single day. Apparently people don’t tend to root for brands that try to pull the wool over their eyes.

In a press conference announcing his resignation, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn made a feeble attempt to downplay his role in the events.

“I am shocked by the events of the past few days. Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group. As CEO I accept responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines and have therefore requested the Supervisory Board to agree on terminating my function as CEO of the Volkswagen Group. I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrong doing on my part.”

Honesty starts at the top of a company and sets the precedent for how others should act. Volkswagen’s leadership is a reflection of the company, of the brand, and of the people who work there.  The bottom line is, actions have repercussions.

In the long run, feigning ignorance about what was going on in the company will do little to help the Volkswagen’s brand image. It will be interesting to see how the company decides to move forward and how it will prevent further offenses in the future.

Communication is a Two-Way Street

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – Georgia Bernard Shaw, Leadership Skills for Managers 


At the end of the day, we all have different personalities and we all have different ways of communicating our wants, thoughts, and ideas to one another. In the business world, a company that cannot clearly get its point across and identify its core values is a company that is in for a rude awakening.

The difference between success and failure, growth and remaining stagnant, are largely influenced by an organization’s willingness to communicate and clearly outline what it expects to accomplish.

The best companies out there are transparent in their dealings, and are open about when they are wrong. The only way to thrive and move forward is to admit mistakes and accept responsibility. The alternative route is to cover up an error and drag out a problem that has the potential to blow up on an even grander scale in the future.

Truth Be Told


Smart companies realize that promoting a culture of truth is one of the most powerful marketing strategies out there. At the heart of it, consumers want to feel good about where they’re buying their products.

Consumers want a brand that has a conscious. It’s no longer enough for a brand to just sell a product. Products must have a purpose, and a brand must have values and integrity in order to differentiate itself from everyone else.

Over the years, brands will continue to release newer and shinier products to please the masses. What will remain the same are the values and beliefs of a company.

Social media in particular is a way for companies to give consumers an inside look at how their company runs and what code of ethics they follow.

If a company can show that they are presenting the facts and are remaining open and honest, consumers will take note.

What Was Old Is New Again

 Laura Colton / Social Media and Content Marketing


A company’s logo is the equivalent of a first impression. It only takes a quick glance to form an opinion and make a swift evaluation based off of appearance. An effective logo must convey a certain attitude that reflects a company’s persona in a way that is memorable and translates to the customer immediately. Which is one reason The Co-operative Group, one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives, decided it was time to reclaim its roots by bringing back its signature ‘60s ‘clover leaf’ logo.  In an effort to channel the company’s original and authentic message, The Co-op devised a plan to slightly revamp its older logo in order to shift consumer perception and restore the company’s identity.

It all comes full circle, as this marketing move reminds us that change doesn’t always come in the form of something new and shiny. Recycling the old is cool again, and in this day in age, the past is making a comeback. The question we must ask ourselves is: how will the Co-Op’s old logo fit into the modern branding space?

Here’s a quick rundown on why I think this works.

Emotional Nostalgia


Vintage looks and old-school style is trending today. People have a soft spot for the past, which is why old logos and typography are beginning to become popular again. Any brand that has lost its way and strayed from its original principles should take a look at what made the company unique in the first place.

By embracing the older logo, the Co-op is resolutely shedding its cookie-cutter corporate image that the 2007 logo introduced, and striving for a more community driven design.

The Power of Subconscious Design


On a subconscious level, our minds’ respond to shapes in different ways. Sharp shapes with jagged edges tend to stand for strong, or durable products. While circular shapes and curves tend to signify soft or flexible products. The soft, rounded letters of the new/old Co-op logo have a very simple yet timeless quality that fits into the overall ‘clover’ shape. The ever-popular ‘squircle’ – both a squared circle and rounded square – suggests an air of stability, community, and balance. While the new robin-egg blue color feels clean and tranquil and promotes a feeling of trust and reliability.

It’s important to understand how shape, color, and typeface all play a role in creating a memorable and long-lasting logo. The end result of a great logo should somehow connect a company’s values with the overall design aesthetic.

Brand Evolution


Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to get it just right. The Co-op logo started with a strong and clean design with a light blue and white color palette that felt approachable.  Years later the company decided to opt for a darker navy blue typeface and extended the name. The inconsistency of the brand name created confusion for consumers and felt overly corporate and inauthentic. The logo change was the turning point for the company’s persona that led many consumers to believe the company had lost its way.

A company once praised for its ethical lines and strong moral compass as a pioneer for Fairtrade, quickly became seen as a money hungry corporate business. By stepping back and embracing the old branding strategy, the Co-op is making moves to once again be viewed as an organization that is interested in benefiting the community and creating positive incentives for its members. 

Look Good No Matter What


Once upon a time, the only requirement for a logo was to look good in print. These days, logos must be flexible across all digital platforms. The shortened name is a huge improvement in helping the logo look clearer and more recognizable in a number of different layouts and backgrounds.

As the wise Albert Einstein once said, “Out of clutter, find simplicity”. The test of a great logo is whether the design is strong enough to hold up on its own. In other words, a logo should be memorable based on its shape and lines. It shouldn’t have to rely on its color scheme in order to be recognized. As stated earlier, a first impression is everything, and making the right one off the bat goes a long way in the marketing world.

6 Questions Top Business Leaders Ask

Michael Cymbrowsky / Consultative Sales Enablement

A company culture where curiosity is embraced and norms are challenged will help a business succeed.   To build and sustain such a culture, a leader with an inquisitive mind is essential.  A person who inquires about weaknesses and disruptive forces.  An individual who validates instincts and re-examines accepted practices.  A professional who digs deeper and always wants to learn more.  And most importantly, someone who has the confidence to ask questions.  These types of characteristics will allow a leader to stay ahead of the competition.

To enable a healthy dose of curiosity, there are six critical questions a business leader can ask.

1)  Is The Plan Fully-Baked?

bus plan

A plan usually involves five activities:  One, setting goals; two, developing strategies; three, aligning resources; four, assigning responsibilities; and five, executing tactics.

Sustained growth is probably the biggest challenge for a business leader, and at some point he or she will need to create a plan to transform a company for it to remain viable.  Whether moving from manufacturing to consulting services, provisioned to cloud based software, or brick and mortar stores to e-commerce sites, a metamorphosis will be required.

How a transformation is executed can be the Achilles heel of a plan.  This was the case when a toy company, in its strategy to expand from traditional playthings to interactive games, overpaid for an acquisition due to poor due-diligence.  It also happened when a wireless carrier merged with a competitor before it fully understood the ramifications associated to network and cultural differences.

A curious leader will ask how a plan is supported and then listen very carefully to decide where there are weak links.

2)  Is There An 800 Pound Gorilla Nearby?

Why failure is such a powerful force in business  EliteBusinessMagazine.co.uk_84cb401f251dc4f4e40193ca7be1bc5b

It could be a competitor with an iconic brand, an account with a loyal and energized customer base, or a new technology that shifts power from one distribution channel to another.  Whatever it may be, there is usually some type of significant force, which, if not addressed, could threaten the existence of an organization.  This is why it’s important that leaders not let their pride, loyalty, or optimism obscure the business landscape.

An unwillingness to recognize changing market dynamics is a recipe for disaster.  So keep your eyes open and be prepared because it is not a matter of if, but when an 800 pound gorilla will enter the room.

3)  Can My Intuition Be Validated?


Leaders have strong beliefs and tend to drive quicker decisions based on instinct.  While gut decisions can be a necessary impetus for a company, they must be validated.

When a recently hired CEO made a gut decision to transform a low-end department store to a stylish retailer, research and analysis should have been conducted before he acted on his gut.  Because, if tests were conducted and trends analyzed, it would have shown that his decision was terribly wrong.  Unfortunately, the CEO proceeded and as a result thousands of loyal customers stopped buying, a precipitous decline in sales ensued, and hundreds of employees were laid-off.  As one investor said, “One of the big mistakes was perhaps too much change too quickly without adequate testing on what the impact would be”.

Overall, it is imperative to use analytics and customer insights to validate intuition and guard against personal biases that could be very costly.

4)  Is It Strategy Or Justification?


There have been many times when business leaders have inherited strategies that were not supported by data.  And compounding the problem is when an unsound strategy has been repeated so often it becomes a de-facto corporate mantra making it difficult to refute.  Or perhaps a strategy morphed to justify a prior mistake.

This occurred when an industrial conglomerate that manufactured telecommunications switching equipment decided to enter the consumer wireless handset business.  The mantra to justify the investment, “an integrated solution”, however, provided no meaningful benefits for wireless carriers.  After years of losing billions of dollars, the handset business was eventually liquidated at a significant loss.

By asking precise questions to colleagues, supervisors, and direct reports, a leader can begin the process of dismantling a poor strategy.  It may take time and effort, but eventually logic and facts prevail.

5)  Is The Policy Obsolete?


Frequently, sales policies tend to outlast their intended purpose.  Commission and territory policies that were once designed to accommodate a launch can stay in place years after a roll-out.  Such as when commissions that should be based on revenue and profit continue to be paid on contract signings.  Or territories that should be designed around products, industries or geographies remain open.

On a periodic basis, leaders need to question whether a policy remains relevant and is accomplishing a desired outcome.

6)  Is Distribution Being Underestimated?


Advertising to end-users, whether digital or traditional, tends to be sexier than channel promotions.  And with many marketers believing their raison d’etre is to build strong brand awareness among consumers, there tends to be a bias for “pull” marketing campaigns.

While there is always a time for “pull” and “push” marketing efforts, the effectiveness of the former tends to be overstated while the latter is understated.  Therefore, a leader must ask whether marketing funds expended on distribution will yield a better return-on-investment than advertising to the end-user.

By asking relevant questions, a leader will steer an organization in the right direction.  Transformations will succeed, potential disruptions will be addressed, intuitive decisions will be validated, strategies will be effective, policies will drive desired behavior, and resources will be efficiently allocated.  So leaders, stay curious as it will help you to achieve your goals.















Toying with Disruption

Laura Colton / Social Media and Content Marketing

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Barbie dolls have long sat on store shelves with an array of trendy outfits, fashionista accessories, and feet ready to slip into heels at any given moment. They’ve taught girls that being forever stylish and beautiful are something to aspire to, and that going shopping and finding the right outfit triumph over having hobbies, or for that matter, a career.


Although women have made incredible strides over the last decade, there is still a significant lack of women in jobs like engineering and building.  Which is how Debbie Sterling, an engineer out of Stanford, came to the conclusion that there needed to be more toys on the market that encouraged young girls to value creation and brains, over beauty and materialism.  It was this realization that helped lay the foundation for Sterling’s company GoldieBlox, which was created as a way to ‘disrupt the pink aisle’ and potentially inspire a new generation of girls to have larger aspirations. Here’s how Sterling decided to revamp the toy industry and grow her company from a startup idea into a successful and empowering message.

Promote A Clear Message


As of late, female empowerment and girl-power messages are sweeping the nation as more women are uniting together to proudly promote self-confidence and independence. Thanks to outspoken women such as Sheryl Sandberg and Gloria Steinem, it has become increasingly apparent that there is a significant lack of women in leadership roles. This rings particularly true in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which have historically lacked women and have always been something of a ‘boys club’.

This begs the question as to why there is such a blatant gender divide in these careers. One underlining problem may partially lie in the fact that young girls are seldom encouraged to pursue jobs in these arenas. At a young age, girls play with toys that rarely deviate from the spoon-fed pink and glittery assortment that marketers push out: Pink cooking sets, sparkly hairstyling tools, and bedazzled fashion wardrobe. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to play with toys like Lincoln logs, racecars, police trucks, army men, and superheroes. The gendered toy divide is in full effect. While toys may seem minor in the great scheme of things, it has actually been proven that they have a long lasting impact on the way kids interact and learn to view the world.


Which is why the demand for a company like GoldieBlox, which works to dismantle the current structure, has been so widely accepted and applauded by parents and children alike. What began as a simple idea to change the way girls play and learn, has now become an extremely lucrative business that has produced a number of viral videos, a successful Super Bowl ad, and a presence in more than 6,000 retail stores worldwide. The company’s message has opened a dialogue about the long-term effects of gender marketing and addressed that there is as greater desire for neutral products that appeal to a wider market.

Think Outside of the Box


The origin story of GoldieBlox is a great case study of a startup with a simple message, disrupting a whole industry through savvy marketing and a forward-thinking business plan.

GoldieBlox began as a series of educational books starring an inquisitive young girl named Goldie who has a strong passion for engineering. Goldie embarks on adventures with her friends, and along the way must solve problems by building various machines.

Since the industry never believed GoldieBlox could go mainstream, Sterling self-funded her company for the first 9 months with her own life savings. In an effort to raise more money to help fund the cost of tools, Sterling decided to create a Kickstarter campaign that reached a goal of $150,000 in only four days.


Following the immediate overwhelming interest in GoldieBlox was a Kickstarter video that got picked up by Upworthy and quickly went viral. The video was hugely successful and resulted in tens of thousands of people fighting to pre-order their very own GoldieBlox set for their children.


One of the most amazing elements to the success of GoldieBlox, especially from a marketing standpoint, is how the company’s campaign took off in such a huge and viral way. The Internet buzz around the video, “Princess Machine”, works on so many different levels. For one, the video begins with a group of three unimpressed girls watching three girls dressed up in pink, singing and dancing on TV. Clearly bored and fed up, the trio decides to take matter into their own hands. With a toolbox in hand and goggles in place, the three turn on a record player and begin setting off a series of events by knocking over various toys throughout the house and across the front yard.

The domino effect leaves viewers with the last image of a switch turning the channel on TV to feature the GoldieBlox ad. Ok, but why did this work? First and foremost, the ad felt original and unapologetic. Although the video lasts a little over two minutes, there’s a sense of satisfaction in sitting through the entire video to find out the end result. The idea and message behind the ad feel simple, yet the video itself is clearly complex and has many revolving components.  The ad clearly pokes fun at ads that use similar marketing tactics to girls, and decidedly tries to move away from that thought process. And lastly, the video is largely in line with the cultural shift and movement that is presently changing the landscape of gender marketing. The key to marketing to kids shouldn’t be so hung up in segmenting gender, but should instead show that girls too can build and create, and have fun while doing it.

Reassess the New Demographic


If there’s one thing most people can agree on, it’s that GoldieBlox has shed light on the pink/blue aisle segregation and gender coding that is very much alive in the toy industry and in stores.

The reality is that a lot of brands need to re-evaluate their core principles and re-asses the way in which they connect with consumers. Long gone are the days that it is enough to simply put women in campaigns and expect for them to automatically align with the company.

Brands need to realize that this is a new generation of women who are fed up with being cast on the sidelines and not given the chance to play on even footing with their male counterparts. Times are rapidly changing, and archaic marketing techniques that still pander to an old-school way of thinking are quickly going out the window.

Sterling pinpointed a huge, unspoken problem in the toy industry and took action to build a brand that encouraged girls to try new things and break away from outdated gendered stereotypes. What is refreshing is that we live in a time where we will continue to see more companies emerge in an effort to disrupt industries… the question remains on how this will continue to transform the landscape of marketing as a whole.

Who is the Chief Growth Officer? The Chief Marketing and Chief Brand Officer rolled into one. 

Susan Avarde / Marketing Strategy & Customer Experience



Who is the Chief Growth Officer, the CMO or the CBO?

This question is hovering in the professional ecosystem because there is frequently confusion regarding the expertise that the various skills of Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Brand Officer bring to the table. The combined talent of marketing and brand on a management team, or at the holding company level in any corporation is vital, because companies need both the long-term strategic outcomes based on vision and the short-term revenue growth that results from marketing. Various companies take differing approaches to who holds the key leadership role and what it is named, but moving forward we will see more corporations embrace the combined skills of a CMO and CBO in one individual who is responsible for an integrated marketing and brand strategy. This combined role, which I’m calling a Chief Growth Officer, is necessary at the highest management level because only when sitting in the most senior role can an Executive lead a holistic strategy. To develop a growth orientated strategy one must have a line of sight into a far-reaching megatrend that is redefining the market. From this vantage point a future orientated platform can be developed which positively impacts all aspects of any business and its growth.

What activities differentiate a CMO from a CBO when it comes to growth?

The answer regarding “What’s the difference?” is often muddled because even those in the function are unclear on the difference because titles are misused or responsibilities assigned arbitrarily. Many companies do not have CBOs, or a marketing role is split between corporate and a line of business, and the result is often conflict and lack of alignment. One way to think about the separation in responsibilities is that CMOs mostly act as the voice of the customer driving product engagement. They have a wide set of responsibilities running the gamut from customer experience, segmentation, product pricing, analytics, sales promotion & communication. By contrast a CBO is usually responsible for forging ahead breaking new ground and providing Brand leadership. Their leadership drives innovation, research, sponsorships, advertising, design, social media and employee culture. A CBO works making the connections between business strategy, internal cultural values and the external expression. Their vision will sum up what’s unique about the corporation and set it apart from the competition, delivering medium and long-term value. However, for the strongest growth to result activities led by the CMO and CBO need to be combined into one role, ensuring absolute alignment and maximum effectiveness. Once combined there is a single voice to forge ahead and partner with other key functions leaders also reporting to the CEO.


What’s the difference between brand, marketing and communication?

Simply put, brand is who you are, marketing is what you do and communications is what you say. A brand strategy will identify a relevant idea that aligns with the macro business strategy, propelling the business, ensuring the company is “future fit” in the changing marketplace. Brand plays offense and is focused on longer-term value. In parallel marketing governs the acts of promoting and selling products and services on tighter iterative timelines, delivering immediate topline revenue. It too plays offense; it’s just a shorter-term game. Corporate communications meanwhile often provides defense, dealing with daily, weekly and quarterly issues. As a function it has a strong strategic role but generally is responsible for troubleshooting and distribution of responsive messages at scale, rather than setting the goal posts on a broader approach.

A message multiplied will drive growth.

To drive growth the overarching message and customer experience needs to be singular, thereby enjoying a multiplier effect. While the singular approach is positive when it comes to effectively managing media budgets and mindsets, unfortunately it still proves elusive. The hyper-speed economy will leave large companies behind if they do not adapt more quickly and efficiently. Waste is not easily forgiven. Often messages are diluted because they are not linked to one overarching theme due to the marketing team sending different messages to customers from the brand team. Confusion and waste ensues. Audiences do not “connect the dots” to a broader picture when the theme is not singular. This weakens the internal culture and the external customer experience. Additionally, message fragmentation plays havoc with the ability to lay down robust metrics and measure impact on sales. The CBO and CMO must work together to create ideas that gel and resonate with all audiences. Constant reinforcement of the same story is imperative to grow reputation and loyalty. If there is an authentic brand idea which works for all, customer experiences and product innovations can be aligned across multiple channels and expediential growth results.

Does Human Resources work in partnership with the CMO and CBO?

Alignment between a CMO and CBO is not the only challenge. Other functions on the management team need to collaborate. Positive cultural outcomes require a strong partnership with human resources. H.R. is undergoing a revolution and employee bloggers will soon have substantial voices in corporations because technology is making this change possible. Many employees are active on social media as individuals and soon they will become internal influencers because their voices resonate and are credible. H.R. will have an exciting collaboration role with the Chief Growth Officer, co-creating a brand platform to motivate the workforce and revitalize the culture. Marketers used to track “NPS” with a passion and H.R. measured employee sentiment, but a better predictor of sales growth is “eNPS” (employee net promoter score), if employees have a propensity to recommend their company to others then there is a strong line which can be drawn to potential sales.

network-marketing-training-personal-growth-and-development-300x300How can a Chief Growth Officer work better with the Chief Financial Officer?

Moving forward there will be a better way to size the potential of a business. Chief Growth Officers will generate dialogues about the useful role brand valuation (also know as goodwill) can play when it comes to forecasting growth and evaluating strength. Brand as an intangible asset does not currently sit on U.S. balance sheets, but this will change. In the future the Chief Growth Officer is the best partner to work with the CFO and the finance team structuring the analytics around ongoing brand tracking and valuation. This work cannot be undertaken by a CMO or a CBO in isolation because value must be mapped and measured at the highest level across all units. Currently the world’s largest brands are valued and ranked annually by external firms using publically available data. While generally useful to identify category trends, such league tables create vulnerability each year for those ranked, sometimes requiring investor relations to publically defend a Brand’s performance. Much of the data used by ranking firms is too broad to be truly useful to measure success or steer growth internally. Moving forward it will be better to garner your own trusted company data to inform robust course correction and revenue forecasting. Boards will also begin to request a stronger framework to evaluate value especially during times of divestiture and acquisition. When the call comes from the boardroom to the CFO he or she will turn to the marketing and brand leader for a framework which will deliver the requisite year-on-year report to better inform the price of a divestiture or the return on investments.

A new century leader: The Chief Growth Officer

The world is transforming, millennials and the digerati have led change worldwide. Transparency is a way of doing business and corporations are under pressure to ensure they have a purposeful place in the world. Businesses long-ago embraced the shift from a sales promotion “push” to the imperative of delivering the “holistic pull” of a world-class customer experience, but understanding the vital role brand building plays in that mix is still gathering speed. Companies have stalled often lacking the required talent for a role such as a Chief Growth Officer. A CGO can add real value if they are part of shaping business strategy at inception, because not only do they have the collaborative skills to work with their Executive peers they also have the influencing skills to spearhead the execution across multiple business divisions. A CGO will bring the broadest suite of marketing skills and an innovative voice to the debate but most importantly they will have a powerful forward focus ensuring their organization can truly deliver growth…and shape the market.

Spotify Reaching The Millennial Market

Laura Colton / Social Media and Content Marketing


As most people know, millennials and social media tend to go hand in hand. And as a proud member of Generation Y, I can attest that I tend to gravitate toward brands that encourage social interaction and work toward cultivating a community. I like feeling like I’m apart of something, even if it’s only from a distance. Spotify is one company that seems to truly understand its marketing strategy toward millennials and has done so in a way that stands apart from its competition. Here is the recipe for success that Spotify is using to target the millennial demographic:

Millennials Crave Community

spotify community

It’s not exactly ground-breaking news that the majority of millennials are extremely social creatures who thrive off of social interactions and experiences. They value their friends, and even more importantly for this case, they value their friends’ opinions and feedback. So what better way to play off of the millennial need for camaraderie than by integrating a widely used social platform like Facebook with Spotify. By synching your existing Facebook account you are then able to see what others are listening to, or even access your friends’ playlists. What was once a deeply personal and private experience, has quickly transformed into a collective experience that brings people together and opens the door for sharing.

Use Social Media to Cultivate a Relationship


Just as it takes a certain amount of time for newfound friends to gain trust and loyalty, companies too must find a way to engage with millennials in a way that feels direct and authentic. Often times, companies tend to talk to people without actually taking feedback into consideration. Through the twitter handle @SpotifyCares, Spotify listens to customer’s experiences and concerns, as well as various technical problems, in order to keep the lines of communication open. Another way in which Spotify has used social media to its advantage is its recent team up with Snapchat. Spotify’s Snapchat channel engages fans with short messages that range from a quick holiday message from an artist, to a short music video clip. Spotify is wise to align itself with Snapchat, a platform many millenials are using throughout the day, to push out its exclusive content. This generation is in a hurry and desires the instantaneous. Anything that allows them to swipe through something quickly and browse through information fast is a winning strategy. 

Connect with Current Culture Trends

game of thrones

As a promotional event celebrating ‘Game of Thrones’ return to HBO, Spotify has teamed up to create a sub-site that takes your music selection and matches it with one of 15 of the GOT characters to spit out a customized playlist. As a loyal GOT fan, maybe I’m biased in saying this, but the idea is genius. When a company is able to mix popular TV shows, celebrities, or even just embrace a funny viral phenomenon (left shark, gold/blue dress), the likelihood of millennial interest and engagement goes up.

Celebrities = Popular


The social media landscape has really allowed some of us to go overboard with our need to stay up-to-date with our celebrity idols and favorite stars. We live in a world where our celebrity fascination is at an all time high thanks to the technology at everyone’s fingertips. So when Spotify introduced the capability to listen to celebrity playlists it was no wonder that users were grateful for a chance to see what their favorite stars were listening too. Michelle Obama, as in the First Lady, released a list of her favorite female artist playlist to promote her “Let Girls Learn” campaign back in 2015. Her song selection included Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, and Diana Ross, just to name a few. This innovative strategy of content marketing in music will continue to evolve and will allow brands, companies, and even celebrities to continue to find new way to connect with an audience.


Good vs. Bad Counter-Intuitive Business Strategy

Craig Apaptov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

Strategic growth ideas are all around us. We see them in our daily lives though sometimes we don’t take the time to notice or consider them. Many arise from a deliberate attempt by business founders and executives to take chances.

Taking  chances is part of business. The mandate to differentiate your brand or company is essential in today’s complex, intensely competitive markets. For only through meaningful differentiation can a company create consideration…which drives trial….which creates preference.



“Strategy is about making choices…about deliberately choosing to be different” –   Michael Porter, Professor/Author – The Harvard Business School




Counter-intuitive Thinking and Modern Strategy

Some of today’s biggest business success stories are companies that chose to be different from their competition in very meaningful and apparent ways. These are the courageous few who dared to challenge the status quo…with uncertain return on their investments. We will consider a few of these later in this post.

Effective counter-intuitive thinking starts with a fundamental understanding of the attitudes and perceptions of your target market/audience. We strongly advocate to our clients that they use proven market research techniques to take the temperature of their prospects and customers on a regular, recurring basis.

It is through this “insight mining” activity that unmet needs emerge. These become the foundations for counter-intuitive ideas and strategies capable of capturing the imagination of your target audience and forming the foundations for effective growth strategy.

Questionable Counter-Intuitive Strategies Today

While the desire to differentiate is important it must be done in a prudent manner. It must be supported with a deep and complete understanding the mindset of your market…their interests, likes, dislikes, and sensitivities. It must also recognize the business realities at play in the marketplace.

Consider the following three questionable counter-intuitive strategies evident in the market today:

Brooks Brothers Extra Slim Shirts – Despite the much publicized obesity problem in American some fashion manufacturers and retailers seem to be attempting a counter-intuitive merchandising strategy. American waistlines are increasing at an alarming rate.

Despite this fact you can visit any mid to higher end men’s fashion retailer today and you no doubt will see tables of “Slim” and “Extra Slim” dress and casual shirts. One retailer embracing this strategy is Brooks Brothers  who shirts are sold under their millennial targeted Golden Fleece brand.

Though I have not investigated the rationale behind this strategy it is no doubt aimed at the millennial market who tend not to be the waistline challenged in our society. Whether or not this market will consider the staid Brooks Brother brand for their clothing line is still in question thus making this counter-intuitive attempt at differentiation very much in question.


US Postal Service Forever Stamps – It seems almost every year we hear the same sobering statistics regarding the US Postal Service. Consumer and business use of conventional postage is rapidly declining. This has exacerbated the dire financial situation for the USPS with significant budget deficits and requests to increase the price of first class stamps almost every year.

Despite the challenging financial crisis faced by the postal service not long ago they introduced the “Forever” stamps. These stamps allow us to lock in the price of postage without regard to continuing base postage rate increases. Again, counter-intuitive thinking that seems at odds with the financial needs of the parent USPS organization?


Dollar Shave Club – A fundamental aspect of consumer product strategic development is the idea of “use-up rate”. That is the speed at which consumers use up a product and require replenishment.

Most men use a razor blade for several weeks dare I say a month or more. I for one find the conventional Gillette and Schick blades more than suitable in pack out assortments which range from 3 blades to 12 blades. With a 2-4 week use up rate conventional national brand blades will more than suffice for most men.

Additionally there is a strong and growing trend among men of all ages to shave less often. The five o’clock shadow or stubble look is very much in today.

However companies like Dollar Shave Club are attempting to challenge the status quo and practice differentiation with a low price point and a home-delivered new razor + blade monthly. This counter-intuitive strategy appears to be taking a page out of the Birchbox playbook, a company that home-delivers a personalized set of sample products to your home monthly. The jury for Dollar Shave Club is still out in my mind….no matter how positive initial market response appears to be.


Great Examples of Counter-Intuitive Differentiation

While the above executions of counter-intuitive strategy appear questionable we’ve seen some in the marketplace that have proven very successful. Most of the successful companies have been driven by insightful founders that refused to be constrained by conventional wisdom:


Jeff Bezos – Founder/CEO of Amazon.com — the world’s largest online retailer that was started with a focus on aggregating a loyal online customer base with value pricing, great customer service, and Big Data mining to continually enhance the online customer experience.


Sir Richard Branson – Founder/CEO of Virgin Group — a conglomeration of several companies challenging the status quo with a focus on value. Noteworthy companies include Virgin Records, Virgin Music, and Virgin Airways.

Howard Schultz – Founder/CEO Starbucks — a company that has transformed coffee consumption into an experience. A man who recognized the need people had for an escape from the day to day challenges of life. Enjoying a cup of coffee at a Starbucks is as much about the environment as it is the beverage.

Choose Your Strategy Thoughtfully

As shown in this post there are good and questionable executions of counter-intuitive strategy in the marketplace today. Avoid the urge to be different just to be novel. Do your homework. Study your customers carefully and learn their every nuance so as to enable you to craft a meaningful differentiation strategy for your business.

If all else fails and you still struggle internally to master differentiation engage a capable and objective management consultant to help. They can provide the analysis, research, and ideation necessary to develop and vet new ideas while augmenting your own internal management resources to fast track innovation for your firm.

A Visionary Marketing Approach

Laura Colton / Social Media & Content Marketing

There’s something to be said about that victorious feeling of picking out the perfect pair of glasses after searching for hours on end. Finding that glorious balance between affordable and stylish – without breaking the bank.

Many people are in agreement that the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Which is why a company like Warby Parker has managed to swoop in out of seemingly nowhere, and quickly become the go-to place to buy eyewear over the last few years.

A modern spin on the classic David and Goliath tale, Warby Parker has become a beacon of light among the large corporations that make up the LensCrafters and Luxotticas of the world. Warby is that classic underdog that everyone roots for because it has not only disrupted an industry, but it has also flipped the traditional business model on its head.

So how has a relatively unheard of online startup company managed to sell more than a million frames, you might ask? The formula is simple.

Create a brand that people can actually get excited about. While vision, positioning, differentiation, and value are the fundamental blueprints needed to start a company or brand, it is building a strong brand identity that is truly crucial in the competitive marketplace.

Using these simple guidelines here is a list of how to build the power of your brand and create a loyal customer following.

1.  Find Inspiration From Problems

 “The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” – John Sculley

 For those unfamiliar with the company, Warby Parker started back in 2010 with a simple premise: Cut out the middleman and sell cheap designer glasses directly to the consumer.

This business model was inspired by future Warby Parker co-founder Dave Gilboa, who lost his glasses one fateful day and was subsequently blown away by the price it would take to replace them. Like any savvy entrepreneur, Giboa connected the dots and came to the realization that other people must be experiencing similar frustrations.

warby 7

The serendipitous events that led to the creation of Warby Parker are simple, yet undeniably brilliant.

The bottom line is, real innovation starts by identifying problems. Once you have pinpointed a problem that may be invisible to most people, there is a greater chance of creating something that has real value. These are the products or services that we come across that make us wonder why no one else has thought of it earlier.

2.  Have A Greater Social Purpose Beyond Revenue

“The companies that survive longest are the one’s that work out what they uniquely can give to the world – not just growth or money but their excellence, their respect for others, or their ability to make people happy. Some call those things a soul.” – Charles Handy

Customer loyalty isn’t built over night. It takes time for customers to learn to trust a brand and eventually grow to choose that brand over all others. The catalyst for customer loyalty usually stems from a set of values, a message, and a clear differentiation that sets a brand apart from the rest.

warby 10

More than ever, consumers care about buying from socially conscious brands that take a stand in changing the world. A company’s position that aligns with a social mission appeals largely to activists, especially millinials, looking to buy from companies with a conscious.

Warby Parker’s “buy one, give one” model falls into this spectrum and has become a major selling point and core part of the business. The nonprofit organization Vision Spring and Warby work closely to provide more affordable glasses, as well as training for locals looking to learn how to conduct basic eye exams.

More than ever, consumers are gravitating toward companies that are looking to make the world a better place. They enjoy being part of something that gives back – even if it’s from a distance.

Warby’s social mission feeds into today’s growing socially conscious lifestyle and forces other companies to reject the current status quo and join like-minded companies looking to make a difference.

3.  Be Original And Relevant – Don’t Be Another Clone

warby 11

Warby Parker has set itself apart from other companies largely due to its signature style and design. The Warby team knew from the get-go that the company needed a name to fit the persona of a high-class fashion and lifestyle brand. So following in the footsteps of other online eyewear companies was simply out of the question. Instead of replicating a generic name that had been done so many times before, the founders turned to one of their literary idols for inspiration.

The company’s name stems from two of Jack Kerouac’s early characters, Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker.

The infusion of the two names creates an interesting and original concoction that is unlike any of the generic names already out there. And this plays into the persona that the company is trying to portray: that they are different, unique, ‘rebellious’, and an alternative to the norm.

4.  Build On Your Brand’s Personality

warby 5

As you now know, Warby Parker’s name erupted into existence thanks to a certain literary legend. A telltale sign that the company must appreciate books and have a strong proclivity to reading. Warby does an incredible job of channeling people’s inner bookworm by creating an atmosphere that is both intellectual and idiosyncratic. It has embraced its vintage look and feel with open arms. So when flagship stores began to pop up in major cities (such as Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco to name a few) that resembled the feel of an old library, it seemed like a natural extension of the persona they had already created. And it works for them.

They have managed to cultivate their brand by emphasizing their literary archetype and quirky image. Their stores are filled wall-to-wall with old, leather-bound books, library style ladders, and vintage eye exam equipment – All of which adds to the memorable one-of-a-kind experience that customers crave. Their tailor-made content also shows that they understand their target audience.

Their website’s tone is very tongue-in-cheek with its quirkiness and humor. It feels real. And it is this authenticity that leaves a lasting impression that resonates with customers.

5.  Create Fun & Shareable Experiences

As mentioned earlier, the shopping process for eyewear can be a long and tedious process. Because let’s face it – glasses say a lot about our personality, and we want that message to translate to those around us.

Today people are busier than ever, and time is a luxury that many people don’t have.

Through Warby’s ‘Home Try-On’ feature, the glasses hunt is made easier than ever.

Through the help of online technology and social media, people can upload their picture and choose their desired frames. What makes this process unique is that people can virtually try on different styles, and then share with others via different social media platforms. Not only is this convenient, but it wildly appeals to millinials who highly value the feedback and opinions of their peers.

The company also emphasizes its “try-on at home” feature, which allows customers to choose up to five pairs of glasses to have shipped to their home (for free) to try on for up to five days.

Both of these options have given Warby’s a significant leg up in the glasses world, and have even contributed to a much harder feat – making it easy and fun for people to buy things.

warby 8















Even Unicorns Sometimes Lose Their Way In The Forest

Susan Avarde / Branding, Corporate Identity, Customer Experience 

I love Uber, it is a wunderkind. But the other day I was sad to see their first significant marketing miss-step. Uber has a new logo and as a consequence has lost its distinctive identity. Google did a good job revamping its brand, Uber has not.

Logos can be refined and campaigns crafted to support a new positioning, but its not good to eradicate distinction along the way.  According to Wired magazine Uber wants to express a broader purpose but its a waste to do that by changing an identity to make it unrecognizable. Better to build on established equity, not to demolish what has value and the capital “U” symbol stood out in the most vital customer touch point – the smart phone screen.

uber old logo“Uber” is a great word. The “U” had connection to the name but now the identity looks like a backwards “C” and feels similar to various bank logos plus many other unmemorable 1970s corporate marks. Few global companies have had success with making a symbol connote a name without some sort of strong visual or verbal connection. IBM, SONY, and GOOGLE all feature their name in their identities and work well. Plenty of initial letters have been commandeered to evoke the brand they represent, “F” belongs to Facebook, two letters back to back belong to Chanel and “J&J” works verbally as shorthand. There are outliers like Nike who use a stand-alone symbol most of the time, but they invested in telling us how to refer to their logo. What do we call the Uber symbol now, does it have a name?

Uber cites “bits & atoms” as their inspiration for their purpose but lots of companies are underpinned by “tech + people” in one way or another (…for centuries), the concept is too generic. Uber’s original idea of personal service i.e. “Everyone’s private driver” is a stellar idea. If this felt too limiting it could be expanded to a bigger concept, for example “Driving the world” but why change what is not broken?

Part of the identity change is also intended to reaffirm their “glocal” presence, but making color palettes different for every place feels akin to an “Uberlord” branding its various territories and as such imperialistic, the opposite of what they are trying to achieve. Uber will run out of colors as they expand around the world and can you really express what’s distinct about Paris versus Berlin and Mumbai through colors alone? I posit that people who travel around the world love the security of the same safe reliable service connoted by a trusted identity.

uber new logoWill we forgive this miss-step? I know I will, but the genius we have enjoyed to date, such as when the black cars on the interactive map became pumpkins and bats on Halloween is missing from this recent move, the human element has drained away. Logos are useful but marketing magic lies in how you deliver service and express your Brand. Come back Uber “U” all is forgiven.

The No-Huddle Offense in Business

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

no huddle 5The NFL never has seen anything like it, and the game may never be the same.” –The Boston Globe, Oct. 12, 2012

Not since the introduction of the forward pass has the game of football witnessed a more daunting offensive innovation – the no-huddle offense. Today, the top scoring teams in the NFL deploy the no-huddle with deft precision.

This offense is executed by the league’s marquee quarterbacks including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. It has been a game changer – faster tempo, more offensive plays, more opportunities to score.

Preparation, Speed, and Precision Drive Results

Football, over the years, has become a faster, more specialized and more competitive game as teams relentlessly seek a competitive edge.  This is primarily due to continuous innovation.

Today, for example, there are offensive and defensive coordinators who have specialized coaches for each player position – quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linemen, linebackers, defensive backs.  There are special teams for kickoffs, punts, and field goals.

“The huddle isn’t an endangered species yet, but it seems inevitable that we are moving toward an NFL that will someday run predominately no-huddle or hurry-up offenses. This is a logical progression in the evolution of the strategy and tactics of the game, and it’s already starting to change football in profound ways.” – Brian Billick, Sep. 19, 2012

Teams pour over opponents’ game film looking for exploitable weaknesses. They analyze team and player performance statistics to determine the best match ups.  It all results in a sophisticated game plan designed uniquely for each opponent.

Challenging the Status Quo

The game may be won or lost on the field, but successful teams are generally the best coached and best prepared.  They play by the rules, but understand that pushing the envelope is critical in achieving competitive advantage.

For example, since the game’s inception, calling plays from a huddle has been the accepted status quo. The offense encircles the quarterback to hear the play call and then comes to the line of scrimmage to execute on a predetermined snap count.  While the offense huddles, the defense uses the time to freely substitute and confer with coaches to set up their defensive scheme.

The offense has always had two major advantages over the defense – they know the upcoming play and they know the snap count, in other words, they know the what and the when. The defense, on the other hand, has to guess the what and anticipate the when.

no huddle 3

In 1976, the NFL introduced the play clock to speed up the game.  The new rule allowed an offense 40 seconds to execute a play or be subject to a delay of game penalty. The play clock sped up the game.  Offenses and defenses had to adapt.  The rule resulted in more innovation.


The Impact of the No-Huddle Offense

Enter the no-huddle which takes offensive advantage to a whole new level. Although it was originally introduced in the NFL in the late 1980’s, it has evolved over the years into today’s potent offensive juggernaut.

By calling plays at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback has more time to assess the defense and call the play that best exploits its vulnerabilities, and no sooner is one play completed and the offense is setting up for the next.

This puts considerable pressure on the defense which has little time to prepare and no time to substitute. The no-huddle causes the defense to become confused, frustrated, and exhausted.

no huddle 2

The no-huddle has fundamentally changed the game of football. It has impacted who teams recruit; how they practice; how they develop their game plan; how they call plays, and how they execute.  The no-huddle is a relentless offensive philosophy.

It has a bias for scoring.  It exploits time to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of competitors. Teams that employ the no-huddle are those that understand that speed, smarts, precision and teamwork are the critical elements of success. Simply put, the no-huddle offense has been a game changer.

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Football Analogies to the Business World

Like today’s game of football, business is faster, more specialized and more competitive. Operations, marketing, sales, IT, HR, and finance must be more integrated and in sync than ever before.  Simply put, organizations must act less vertically and more horizontally.

If not, a company will find itself ill-prepared to compete in an accelerated dynamic environment. Furthermore, it will  find itself at a significant disadvantage to faster, smarter, better prepared and more agile competitors.

Successful businesses compress the time between thinking, planning, and doing.  This is enable by a confluence of powerful innovations readily available and employable by market participants– the internet, mobile, cloud computing, social networking, and “Big Data” analytics, to name a few.

To succeed today, therefore, a company must change the fundamental way it competes. It must understand that speed, smarts, precision, and teamwork are the basic characteristics of today’s competitive enterprise.

Lessons of the No-Huddle Offense for Business

Businesses can learn three basic lessons from football’s no-huddle offense:

  1. The best offense is a relentless offense. Time spent looking backward is wasted as successful companies have a fixed eye on the future….always looking at ways to drive top line growth metrics – revenue, market share, and unit volume.
  2. Competitive advantage lies in reducing the time between planning, execution and results. Growth oriented companies move with deft precision, empowering front line associates, and rewarding innovative thinking and action.
  3. No points are scored in the huddle. Today’s most successful organizations minimize time spent in meetings. They utilize technology to help speed data and insights to drive real time decision-making.

The game changer in business today is merging strategy with tactics to win in the marketplace!

Asking Tough Questions About Your Business

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

Most companies are immersed in planning next year’s areas of strategic focus and supporting operational budgets. While mid-level management is often charged with tactical budgetary planning it is the job of senior management to ask the tough strategic questions not being asked elsewhere in the organization.

The responsibility for asking tough organizational questions falls on C suite level executives because these individuals charged with growing and evolving their companies well into the future. Senior executives must think outside the bounds of current organizational issues and growth challenges. They must make the difficult decisions regardless of the politics associated with them.

The Courage to Challenge the Status Quo

Top executives must challenge the internal status quo or risk failure in the most important job they have….keeping their organizations relevant, well positioned in the marketplace, and on the road to consistent profitable growth.

Senior leaders are well compensated for a reason. They are the ones charged with insuring their companies can remain competitive, evolve over time, and achieve consistent year-on-year profitable growth.

Successful enterprises realize the future is not a given. Markets can change on a dime. Competitors appear and disappear in a blink of an eye.

Complacency Leads to Disaster

Complacency is often at the root of failure for many companies. In today’s hyper competitive business environment senior leaders must be objective, nimble, and courageous.

Consider the following companies who took their eyes off the ball and disappeared forever:

  • Kodachrome Film – Failure to react to the growth in digital photography resulted in the end of a 74 year old iconic product line
  • Max Factor – Despite being purchased in 1991 by Procter & Gamble the once venerable cosmetics brand disappeared in the US while retaining a rapidly declining foothold overseas.
  • Newsweek Magazine – Inability to react to the growth in digital content delivery amid falling ad revenue and mounting operating losses resulted in the brand being sold for a mere $1.00.
  • Circuit City – Caught in a three horse race without a meaningful differentiation strategy Circuit City became the victim of traditional retailer Best Buy and online giant Amazon.com.



When approaching organizational planning for the new fiscal year it is the responsibility of top management to ask the tough questions. These questions that are not easy to answer and often cause discomfort at various levels of the organization.

Where to Focus

Regardless of industry most companies face similar competitive and growth issues. While the specifics will vary from company to company the major areas of focus are often stunningly similar.

In our work with companies across a broad spectrum of industries globally we have observed top performing organizations ask themselves the following questions in order to insure they are well positioned to achieve future growth targets:

1)  Structure

  • Is the organization properly structured to achieve its growth targets?
  • Have we segmented our market and key channels properly?
  • Are we properly positioned in our retention + growth markets?
  • Do we have the right talent in the right places?

2)  Budget

  • Have we allotted growth funds to align with areas of greatest opportunity?
  • Am I personally close enough to daily processes to influence dollars in key strategic areas?
  • How are we funding critical R&D to drive consistent growth?
  • Do we have a process to appropriate incremental funds if strategic opportunities arise?
  • Are we willing to re-allocate monies to critical areas even if politically unpopular internally?

3)  Leadership

  • Am I a confident leader or a consensus manager preferring leadership team buy in?
  • Are my key functional leaders empowered to make mid-course corrections if indicated?
  • Do we have a program in place to fill key management gaps quickly?
  • Do we have a succession plan in place to insure our future success?

4)  Accountability

  • Have we optimized our available compensation funds to incentivize leaders properly?
  • Do we have an equitable “performance based” compensation system to drive growth?
  • Am I personally close enough to organizational performance issues to influence them?
  • Do we have a regular, recurring performance review/coaching/mentoring process in place?
  • How do we measure success?

5)   Planning

  • Are we using a consistent sales planning template customized to our business?
  • Are our front line sales managers challenged to analyze their territories/accounts?
  • Do we take an “objective” look at our market, competition, and growth plans annually?
  • Can we improve our planning/review by involving cross functional leaders in the process?

Now is the Time to Act

The most successful leaders know that the time to act on next year is now. The planning cycle should be a time of objectivity, reflection, and definitive action by informed managers. Success in today’s marketplace does not come easy. It requires a constant level of research, questioning, and course correction.

Effective senior managers…

…take the initiative to ask themselves and their organizations the tough questions.

….are not afraid to throw plans out the window and start over with a fresh informed perspective

…regularly survey their customers and prospects to identify delivery gaps and unmet needs

…reallocate funds and restructure management to address competitive and marketplace changes

…remain personally close to monthly results and issues to enable them to make changes when needed

Most of all successful leaders force themselves to be “objective”. They know they must deal with reality if they are to compete effectively in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive world!

3 Essential Leadership Traits

Michael Cymbrowsky / Consultative Sales Enablement

There many ideas regarding leadership.

Some say leadership characteristics are innate while others contend traits can be learned over time.

Machiavelli believed it was better for a leader to be feared than loved if the leader could not be both.

Situational leadership theory says there is no single best style of leadership as leaders adapt to the task or the group they are trying to influence.

These are interesting thoughts that can be endlessly discussed.   But what are the essential traits, regardless if they are intrinsic or acquired, that distinguish genuine leaders?  What makes some individuals highly effective and enduring leaders while others ineffectual and short-lived in their roles?

By possessing the three personal traits listed below, an individual has a solid foundation to become a potentially strong leader.  One who can genuinely inspire, influence, and guide people.


True leaders have beliefs they translate into a precise vision which is communicated persuasively using logic and emotion.  Their beliefs are not superficial, baseless, or contrived.  They are meaningful, insightful, and sincere.  Most importantly, their beliefs are the motivational fuel enabling them to persist with passion and a laser focus.


To achieve a vision, leaders must have the courage to act.  Courageous leaders possess the strength of mind to confront uncertainty and the ability to persevere through all emotions and challenges.  Whether described as fortitude, tenacity, bravery or simply guts … leaders think and then do.


Truthfulness builds trust which in turn encourages people to follow a shared vision.  Trust is the critical link between staff and their leaders.  The stronger the connection, the greater the believability and respect a leader can garner from his/her troops.

Undoubtedly, leadership is an important skill in today’s fast-paced business world.   Great leaders inspire people to achieve the simple as well as the seemingly insurmountable goals.  Beliefs that can be translated into a vision, the courage to act, and honesty that instills trust are the essential traits that genuine leaders possess.   Identify and cultivate employees with these traits, and an organization will gain a significant competitive advantage.

A Winning Formula – Learning to Compete With Yourself

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

“We compete, not so much against an opponent, but against ourselves.”  –  Bud Wilkinson

The fiercest competitor for any organization should be itself.

Many companies become delusional as market leaders, believing competitors pose little threat to their incumbency. This complacency and arrogance makes a company vulnerable to be replaced or displaced by aggressive adversaries.

Case in point, Myspace.

compete_0Myspace was founded in 2003 and was acquired by News Corporation in July 2005 for $580 million.  From 2005 until early 2008, Myspace was the most visited social networking site in the world, and in June 2006, surpassed Google as the most visited website in the United States.

In April 2008, however, Myspace was overtaken by Facebook in the number of unique worldwide visitors.  In June 2009, Myspace employed approximately 1,600 workers, and two years later had reduced its staff to 200.

MySpace  was sold in 2011 to Specific Media Group for approximately $35 million. As of June 2012, – it  ranked 161st by total web traffic.

MySpace failed to compete with itself.

Competing with yourself is not an arbitrary or ad hoc activity.  Quite the contrary, it is a highly disciplined process.


Let’s look at each step in an effective process of learning to compete with yourself….

#1 – Analyze – “What is going on?

“Sometimes paranoia’s just having all the fact.”  –  William S. Burroughs

The first step is a situation analysis of what is happening in the marketplace and the industry.

What forces are at work? The trends? What are the implications, i.e. opportunities and threats to the enterprise moving forward?  Immediate? Near term?  Long term?  What are the key insights?

Progressive companies are  quick to jump to conclusions if the conclusion is an imminent opportunity or threat to the business.

For example, the printed book business has been declining over the years.  Just looking at this trend, one could conclude that people are reading fewer books.  Of course, we know that this is incorrect.  People are actually reading more, but have switched to e-books.

Bookstores were aware of the threat, but wrongly concluded it was not life threatening.  Quite the contrary, bookstores were put on the endangered species list and some have become extinct.  They failed to jump to conclusions.

The lesson is clear. The best intelligence can still result in poor assumptions which can lead to the wrong conclusions. Analysis means getting the facts straight, making insightful assumptions to ensure the right conclusions which lead to the best decisions.

#2 – Adapt – “What do we plan to do?

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”  –  Dr. Seuss

Adaptation is about modifying behavior based on new or changing conditions.

Based on its analysis, an enterprise must develop and implement a – strategic plan – one that allows it to quickly exploit opportunities and thwart competitive threats.  This plan should be zero-based, i.e. not using the past as a template for the future because past success is no indicator of future success.

The following are brands/companies – that failed to adapt – Oldsmobile, Kodak, Polaroid, Rand-McNally, and Blockbuster name a few.  They failed to see the writing on the wall and adapt accordingly.

#3 – Adopt – “How do we plan to do it?

“Apparently ther is nothing that cannot happen today.”  –  Mark Twain

Adoption is commitment to change.

This is the most challenging for an organization because the tendency is to be risk-averse and gravitate back to the status quo. Adoption means that the entire organization must walk the new walk.  Great plans are for naught if the organization cannot rally the troops and get buy-in.

This is not about playing musical chairs, rearranging boxes on an org chart or putting on the equivalent of a fresh coat of paint.  Change has to be real change.  Commitment to the change must be embraced in a timely manner and pervasive throughout the organization.  Anything less could be fatal.

Newspapers and print publications, for example, have been losing readership for years.  It has been abundantly clear for some time that consumers were moving to digital sources for their news.

Despite the inevitable, news and print publications did not buy into the need to transition to digital until their readership has deteriorated to historically low levels.

Take Newsweek, for example.

compete_2In 2008, citing difficulties in competing with online news sources to provide unique news in a weekly publication – the magazine was given a design makeover.

The publications subscriber rate base shrank from 3.1 million to 2.6 million in early 2008, to 1.9 million in July 2009 and then to 1.5 million in January 2010—a decline of 50% in one year.

Despite these moves, the negative trend worsened until, finally, after 80 years of publication, Newsweek announced it was ending its print edition at the end of 2012.

This is clear case of the magazine knowing what it needed to do; knowing when it needed to do it, but being in denial of the inevitable – move to digital or die.

Newsweek was – more committed to the past than the future. The future prevailed.

#4 – Assess – “How are we doing?”

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.  –  Peter Drucker

In a dynamic business environment, constant vigilance is imperative. Self-assessment is crucial because circumstances can change rapidly. It is not enough to be on plan or on budget.

Patience is a virtue, but impatience is a stimulus for action.  This occurs when patience is substituted for tough decisions.

Let’s assume, for example, that an advertising campaign is not producing the desired results. The ad agency defends itself by saying “you just need to be more patient and give it a little more time because the campaign tested well in focus groups and besides you have a lot invested in this to date.”

This is a self-serving assessment by the agency that created the campaign. If something is not working, tough decisions are required.  Wait and see is not an option and, more often than not, has expensive and costly implications.

An – insurgent, progressive company, on the other hand, makes honest assessments of its performance and decisively acts. It is impatient for positive outcomes.

#5 – Adjust – “What and how do we need to change?”

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”  –   George Bernard Shaw

In any dynamic situation, changes to the original game plan will, no doubt, be required.  It is critical that these changes be implemented assertively without delay.


A quarterback, for example, calls an audible at the line of scrimmage to exploit the vulnerabilities of the defense he observes.  Before each play, he scans the defense and continues to make adjustments to keep the defense on the defensive.  It is a relentless process.In summary, these steps are a continuum – analyze, adapt, adopt, assess, adjust.  We like to call this our “stratactical method” to self-competition and objective assessment.

Insurgent Companies Realize No Points Are Scored In The Huddle

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

rev-centric-4“If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?”  –  Vince Lombardi

While others invest significant time and resources huddling in internal meetings, insurgents invest their time chasing revenue. While others deliberate, insurgents are deliberate. They understand no points are scored in the huddle.

It may be obvious, but it needs to be said – there is no revenue until somebody buys something. This can only happen today or tomorrow, but never yesterday. This should create urgency in any company because opportunities are perishable.

In football, an offense is only concerned with the score and the game clock.  They are focused on scoring more points than the other team before the clock runs out.

Stratactical companies are revenue-centric but smart in the approach.  They share several basic characteristics.

1)  They know the score during the game.

Imagine you were bowling and someone hung a sheet between you and the pins.  You bowl; see the ball disappear under the sheet; and hear the sound of pins falling.  You are told afterwards that you knocked down three pins.  Chances are you would have had a better result if someone had removed the sheet.

The same applies to business.  A company analyzes performance at the end of a fiscal period – by week, by month, by quarter.  This is too late to affect the outcome.  In a stratactical company, people know the score while there is still time to influence the end result.

2)   They understand that numbers don’t lie, but they may mislead.

“There are three kinds of lies.  Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  –  Mark Twain

Sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story. They lack context and lose sight of the bigger picture which can lead to fateful decisions.  Stratactical companies are contextual and seek to view numbers from more unique perspectives than their competitors.

Sales, for example, sometimes don’t tell the whole story.  For example, let’s say a fast food chain is analyzing performance at its units. It notices sales are declining at several restaurants on what should be peak business days.  It decides to implement a promotional menu to increase demand. The promotion, they learn, actually has the opposite effect – sales decline even further.  They eventually discover that the problem was never demand.  The problem was that the restaurant was historically short-staffed during peak periods and frustrated customers went elsewhere. The promotion exacerbated the short-staffing problem turning away and frustrating even more customers.  The result was a more precipitous decline in business.

3)  They first sell to the base and then market to the potential.

Lessons can be learned from the politics. In an election, a political party understands that its base will strongly support its candidate.  It also understands that there are people in the party that are vulnerable to switching – soft support that they need to shore up.  Then there are the independents.  These have no affinity to any party and, generally, are the segment that sways elections.

Campaign resources should be expended less towards their base, but more towards shoring up the soft support, wooing independents, and poaching soft supporters of the other party. The same approach is relevant for business.

Stratactical companies understand that, like the political example, those with a strong preference for your brand are the least likely to defect to competitors and the most likely to buy your products and services.  Those with a soft preference for your brand, on the other hand, are vulnerable to competitive offerings. The neutrals are the equivalent of the political independents. They are the classic comparison shoppers and switch brands frequently.







The revenue mix, therefore, is a direct result of the strength of brand preference, e.g. the  stronger the brand preference, the more revenue is generated from those customers and vice versa.  Thefollowing chart illustrates revenue mix by brand preference.

It logically follows, therefore, that the stronger the brand preference, the lower the marketing costs to produce revenue.  Conversely, the stronger the brand preference for your competitors, the higher the marketing costs to generate revenue from these customers.  The chart illustrates the marketing expense per customer for these segments.

It is also clear that stratactical companies understand the Law of Diminishing Returns referring to the fact that the stronger the brand preference, the higher the acquisition costs to the point that the return on investment will eventually become negative as the following chart demonstrates.

A stratactical company, therefore, is one that first, sells to its base; second, markets to convert soft preference to strong; third, markets to woo the neutrals; and finally, selectively markets to poach those with soft preference or strong preference for competitors.

4)   Pricing is a dynamic discipline.

Not all revenue is created equal. This is due to many factors. First, the technology has shifted power from the seller to the buyer.  Consumers have many online and mobile tools to comparison shop whether it be cars, travel, consumer electronics, clothing, etc.  Second, social networking has allowed consumers to refer and share information on products and services. Third, there has been a proliferation of e-couponing and mobile couponing to create trial. Finally, there are countless loyalty programs to reward repeat patronage.

The shift of power to the buyer has had a dramatic impact on pricing.  Few customers today pay the suggested retail price for anything.  The retail price is something that is discounted from rather than what a customer pays.  Of course, there are exceptions.  WalMart has “everyday low prices”.  Southwest is considered the country’s low cost carrier. Some companies will guarantee to “meet anyone’s lowest price”.  These, however, are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Pricing, today, is a dynamic and complex discipline. As a result, many companies and industries have employed sophisticated pricing strategies to optimize revenue.  It’s called yield management.

A good example is the airline industry.  Based on projected supply and demand, airlines create a dynamic fare structure to optimize revenue.  They allocate these fares, per flight, in “fare buckets”.  Once a bucket is sold out, the airline can either add seats at that fare, close out the fare or steer demand to incrementally higher buckets.  Fare changes are made countless of thousands times a day to optimize the revenue per flight.

Stratactical companies are those with dynamic pricing disciplines.  They understand that that their pricing must not be ad hoc based on competitors’ offerings, but rather a more sophisticated approach based on dynamic market conditions.

5) They understand that promotions are a tactic, not a strategy.

Promotions are discounted or incentivized offers for a specific period of time. Many companies, however, do not use promotions intelligently. They need to understand it is rented business and, therefore, a poor method of building repeat patronage.  Promotion, therefore, should be used to generate incremental business only in periods of soft demand since promotions can result in either the dilution or displacement of revenue.

Dilution – This occurs when a company provides discounts to regular customers who were already prepared to purchase at the going rate.  These are generally those who have a strong or soft preference.  The risk is unnecessarily diluting its revenue during the promotional period.  This means a company will have to sell to more customers at a lower price to attain the equivalent level of revenue.

Displacement – This is substituting highly discounted and one-time-only promotional customers such as the neutrals for those with a strong or soft preference. The risk is that these displaced customers will be forced to take their premium business elsewhere.

Revisiting the airline example, let’s assume that an airline creates a promotional fare from destination A to destination B because of anticipated weak demand and it sells out the flight.  Demand for the promotional fare is high and higher-priced demand is displaced to a competitor. The airline who offered the promotional fare has, in fact, displaced higher revenue to a competitor while diluting its own.  This results in upsetting its displaced loyal customers.

Promotions, therefore, should be used wisely and judiciously. When they are used liberally, consumers become conditioned to promotional pricing levels which results in the loss of pricing integrity.

6)  They lead, not follow.

Perceived first-mover advantage is critical to a stratactical enterprise.  It’s called market leadership which creates competitive advantage.

Is Social Media Replacing Traditional Media?

Nancy Gunter / Ascension Media Strategy, Planning & Buying 

With the New Year upon us, we continue to observe constant change in the marketing arena.

As the media spectrum continues to expand, strategic well-thought-out integrated marketing strategies become more critical to the overall success of each campaign.

Is inbound marketing (SEO, Search and Social) taking over traditional platforms? Yes, No and It Depends…(Perhaps I should have gone into politics). The overall consensus is that social marketing budget allocations are growing rapidly but in most cases are not taking over traditional media all together… at least for now.

The Role of Social Media in Today’s Marketing Plans

Social media builds and strengthens consumer and business customer relationships while influencing new audiences (friends).  Social marketing should complement every traditional marketing/media campaign by providing supportive content to further strengthen the initial point of contact.

Mobile Increasingly Entering the Media Plan

At the same time mobile traffic is undergoing exponential growth. The proliferation of smart phones and tablets means advertisers can now reach consumers almost anywhere. Many anticipate the smart phone will soon replace the wallet with the onset of digital payment apps and stored value products such as Passbook.

Mobile (SMS) permits advertisers to reach consumers as they approach your store. By leveraging new digital technologies and consumer mobile devices advertisers can then send tailored messages/coupon offers to lure them in.

One of the greatest challenges and biggest priorities for marketers this year will be compiling and reporting data for cross-channel marketing campaigns. Using a common reliable source to measure specified campaign metrics will allow us to better understand what customer actions each platform triggers.

Digital Media on the Rise

More and more CMO’s are looking to integrate digital media into their marketing and media plans. As pressure to reduce marketing expense and increase measurable ROI increases more and more companies are looking to add digital to their media programs.

The latest estimate by Zenith OptiMedia shows digital media accounted for almost 18% of total media spending in 2012 with this figure expected to top 21% in the next couple of years.


What it all Means

As social media grows, mobile becomes the norm and content marketing plays an ever important role, traditional media can also become more effective with inbound marketing support. With the onslaught of new reporting data across the media spectrum, we will continue to measure, analyze and optimize to further improve overall results.

Whatever you do make sure you have trusted and well-connected media advise on your marketing team. They should be fluent in the latest digital and traditional media trends and services. Finding and incorporating targeted media channels will help increase your brand’s impact and lower your overall expense.

The First Step toward New Media and Multi-Channel Integration

Ad Agencies and media buying firms all have a vested interest in selling your company something. To leverage today’s exploding new media marketplace you need an ally on your team.

The Ascension media strategy and executional team has an extensive traditional and new media expertise gained from hands-on experience planning, negotiating, and buying complex media programs around the world. If you’d like to get some objective media expertise on your team, contact us at info@ascensionstrategy.com.

We help our clients leverage new media opportunities to drive targeted, more efficient media programs.

We can help your organization too!

Innovate or Perish!

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

“Ideas shape the course of history.”  –  John Maynard Keynes

Ideas, and not money, are the currency of today’s marketplace. Unlike money, they appreciate exponentially.

The new R.O.I. is no longer Return on Investment but rather “Return on Innovation”.

Frustration Breeds Innovation

spanxTake Spanx for example. Spanx was founded by Sara Blakely who began her career selling fax machines door-to-door. While working in the hot and humid climate of Florida, she was frustrated by her inability to find pantyhose that didn’t have seamed toes, and that didn’t roll up the leg when she cut them. Frustration spawned ingenuity and her entrepreneurial spirit. The idea for Spanx was born.

Blakely moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and secured textile production arrangements with local manufacturers. She designed her own logo on a friend’s computer, and then to save on legal fees for filing a trademark on the Spanx name, used a textbook from Barnes & Noble and learned how to do it herself.

In 2000, she launched the Spanx brand from her home using her life savings of $5,000, doing all marketing and sales calls herself.  Today, she owns 100% of the company and recently had her net worth estimated to be over $1 billion.

Seeking a Way to Connect Like Minded Individuals

twitterAnd how about Twitter.

Twitter was created in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, an undergraduate student at NYU.

Its origins lie in a daylong brainstorming session held by board members of the pod casting company Odeo. Dorsey introduced the idea of an individual using an SMS service to communicate with a small group of users.  Today, Twitter has a reported 500 million active users.  A private company, the business is estimated book value ranges daily from $17 – $30 billion.

A Digital Alternative to the Physical Photo Album

instagramThen there’s Instagram.

Instagram was the idea of Kevin Systrom and Michel Krieger. It is a free mobile photo and video-sharing program and social network platform that was launched in October 2010. The service enables users to take a photo, apply a digital filter to it, and then share it with other Instagram users within their social networks.

Instagram currently has 200 million registered users and was purchased by Facebook in 2012 for a reported $1 billion is cash and stock.

These are just a few examples where ideas have created exponential value for their creators and investors.

The Pace of Change Demands Imagination

The petri dish for ideas is imagination.  Imagination leads to ideas which leads to concepts which ultimately leads to innovation.

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.“ – Albert Einstein

Today’s faster and more competitive pace of business demands relentless innovation.  Companies can no longer rest on their laurels. Competitors lurk around every corner. While imitation can be said to be the sincerest form of flattery….it the basis for competitive duplication and mass commercialization of great ideas.

Innovation vs. Renovation

Caution must be taken to understand the difference between innovation and renovation.  Too often companies make the mistake of confusing the two.

Renovation is incremental change while innovation is disruptive change. It is about improving existing products and services while innovation is the process of creating new ones.

Faster horses did not save the Pony Express.  Adding features to a stage coach, for example, did not save it from the railroad.  Adding sleeping and dining cars to trains, did not save railroads from the superior advantages of airplane and automobile transportation.

Innovating to win has several important tenets.

Understanding What Business You Are Actually In

The first thing is understanding the real business you are in. Too often, companies do not understand the real business they are actually in.

History has many examples of this:

  • The railroad barons, for example, failed to realize they were in the transportation business, not just the railroad business
  • Movie moguls failed to realize they were in the entertainment content business regardless of how audiences consumed that content
  • Professional sports leagues only recently began to realize their were in the entertainment business
  • The print industry failed to realize they were in the information content business not the printing business.

Misunderstanding what real business you are in can be a terminal mistake. At a minimum it can cause a business to severely under-perform its true financial potential.

Keep in mind that what you do or don’t do today can determine your businesses ultimate fate!

Four Sales Management Tips To Increase Revenue

Michael Cymbrowsky / Consultative Sales Enablement

In today’s hyper-competitive economy, inside and outside sales teams must be actively managed and coached if they are going to perform at their highest level possible. The role of sales leaders is multi-faceted and includes:

  • Setting territory and account level financial goals
  • Insuring proper alignment and structure in the organization
  • Establishing a regular, recurring review process
  • Providing ongoing coaching and mentoring
  • Making “mid-course corrections” as needed in quotas and account assignments

Sometimes the real secrets to unlocking sales team potential are less obvious. The following are four tips progressive sales leaders might consider in the coming new fiscal year.

1.  Analyze Sales Structure

Because structure influences behavior, it is imperative that sales territories, quotas, and compensation are frequently analyzed.  Specifically, markets need to be sized by both geography and industry to ensure territories are fairly assigned.  Market and territory trends need to be identified and validated to confirm quotas are set at optimal levels.  And sales compensation and variable incentives need to be reviewed to determine if compensation plans are competitive and easily understood.

By reviewing the sales structure first, management can then assess individual performances with additional insight and respond appropriately.  In doing so, the best sales people will be retained, a carousel of hiring will be avoided, and the focus will be on value driving revenue generation versus time draining candidate interviewing.

2.  Measure What Matters

With the abundant amount of granular sales data that can be input into modern CRM software tools there are dozens of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that can be quickly calculated and measured.  But with so much information it can sometimes become difficult to see the forest for the trees.  However, by just taking a few steps back, valuable management perspective can be gained.

KPIs tend to fall into two categories; lagging and leading.  Lagging indicators, although good to know, are by definition based on history. They have little impact on a salesperson’s performance.  However, more strategically important leading indicators can help drive positive results into the future.

Three measurable leading indicator activities that directly drive revenue are the following:

  • The frequency a sales rep. and sales manager interact
  • The level of collaboration between the sales rep. and internal stakeholders
  • The number of face-to-face meetings with prospective customers.

Measuring these not only determines whether a sales person is genuinely engaged it will also drive preparation, product knowledge, and business relationships; three activities correlated to exceeding sales targets.

3.  Encourage Team Selling

“Just Do It”….the legendary Nike tag line that motivated a generation of average consumers to embrace physical sports and exercise.

We have all heard it.  Whether from a CEO or sales manager it is often a rallying cry for action.  And in many cases, it needs to be said.  However, when it comes to meeting with prospective customers, sometimes the phrase, “Let’s Do It” yields better results. This speaks to the important practice of “Team Selling”.

Team selling has several advantages.  Complex issues are addressed quicker, discussions are broader and deeper, forecasts are more accurate, and rapport within and across internal departments are strengthened.  As a result, sales cycles are shortened and incremental revenue is generated.

4.  Ask For Help

There are situations when only a CEO can close a deal.

Unfortunately, many Sales Managers, Directors and Vice Presidents either fail to realize this or are unwilling to ask a CEO to help with the sales process.  The consequence can be weeks, months, quarters or years of foregone revenue.

Progressive organizations encourage open and ongoing dialog between the most senior management of the firm with a focus on key sales and revenue issues. A best practice is to hold bi-monthly or quarterly “check in” sales reviews. These are not a time to represent the annual territory sales plans, but rather a time for sales managers to update management on key issues, challenges, and competitive activities that can impact top line revenue production in their sales territories.

By engaging senior management in the process there is a natural opportunity to “ask for help”. This help can come in many forms including management customer visits, incremental sales funds being channeled to address a customer/prospect issue, or top-to-top customer sessions with participation from senior managers to add measure of importance to the dialog.

Progressive sales managers today understand these four tips. They work to keep their fingers on the pulse of activities in their territories. They act as general managers and accept full responsibility for the financial performance of their business.

Successful sales managers think beyond the quota. You should too!

10 Characteristics of Insurgent Companies

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

Insurgent companies differ from incumbent companies in some very important ways.

Insurgent organizations often take a market by surprise. They think and act differently than incumbent companies who are often the long time players in any given product/service category who play by traditional rules.

More than anything incumbent companies work to preserve the status quo and retain their current market share. Insurgent companies look for innovative ways to disrupt a category and make quantum leaps ahead of incumbent players….often before they even realize what has occurred!

The following are 10 characteristics of insurgent companies worthy of consideration by any company in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace:

1) Insurgent companies think the impossible and do the improbable.

“The common question that gets asked in business is, ‘why?’ That’s a good question, but an equally valid question is, ‘why not?’ ”- Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder

Others see the future in “whys”,  insurgents, see it as a series of “why not’s?

The world did not know, for example, it needed the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, the internet, the cell phone, or any of the innovations which are now considered today’s necessities.  Each of these innovations changed the status quo of daily life – creating today’s new normal.  These innovations were the products of insurgents – those that said “there is a new and better way”.

2)   Insurgents believe winning is a culture.

“The other teams could make trouble for us if they win.” – Yogi Berra

To win, insurgents relentlessly seek new ways to exploit opportunities in the marketplace, as well as, the vulnerabilities of their competitors.

blog_7Take Southwest Airlines –  This insurgent launched as a discount airline alternative to the incumbent legacy airlines touting low fares and great service. It created what is called “the Southwest effect” in markets it entered which forced incumbents in those markets to lower fares and reduce their profitability to compete.

Incumbent competitors attempted to copy the Southwest model. Legacy airlines attempted to create their own version of Southwest United created “Ted” and Delta created “Song”.  Both were developed and launched with considerable fanfare and at considerable expense. Both failed miserably.

Today, Southwest is the largest low cost airline in the U.S. and recognized as one of the most admired companies in the country.

Its success can be attributed to its insurgent business culture which continues today. Its “no-bag” and “no-change” fee programs, for example, are a direct challenge to incumbent airlines as are its low fares, point-to-point route system, and its legendary friendly service.  Southwest is clearly an insurgent culture of winning.

3)  Insurgents seek the right questions before they seek the right answers.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire

Many companies too often suffer from the “Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome”, i.e. there is a reluctance to ask the tough questions because of the fear of “rocking the boat”.  This results in the risk of corporate self-delusion.  Insurgents, on the other hand, ask the tough questions that challenge the accepted status quo. They seek to be objective in their internal and external market evaluations without regard for protecting the status quo or fear of rocking the internal political boat!

Let’s assume a manufacturing company is experiencing an increasing trend of troublesome product returns.  The right question is not “do we need to hire more quality assurance inspectors? The right question is “why aren’t we making better quality products?” The solution lies in improving the manufacturing process, not adding more inspectors after the fact.

4)  Insurgents empower people to make decisions.

“Most discussions around decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior executives’ decisions matter.  This is a dangerous mistake.” – Peter Drucker

Insurgents believe that the shortest distance between thinking and doing is a decision.  Many companies, on the other hand, prevent their people from making tough decisions by deferring critical business decisions to either “higher-ups” or committees.

This has institutionalized terms like “I’ll have to get back to you”,  “I’ll have to take this to committee”,  “I’ll run this by the boss” or “this is above my pay grade”. This puts decisions in suspended animation as they are punted from inbox to inbox and meeting to meeting.

Since strategic business opportunities are perishable, most will die on the vine. Since threats are not, they are likely to fester if not challenged.

While others deliberate….insurgents are deliberate!

5)  Insurgents feed success and starve failure.

“Insanity ; doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

Like a football game, if the game plan isn’t working – change the game plan.  It’s too late after the game is over.

Insurgents support and embrace the things that work… and quickly and decisively pull the plug on things that don’t!

6) Insurgents have a streamlined, agile organization designed to learn and act quickly.

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into rapid action, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch

Insurgent companies have fewer layers in their organizational charts in order to be closer to the customer… where the revenue comes from.  There are fewer departments which promotes better communication. Their departments work symbiotically to achieve objectives.

There are no bureaucratic firewalls to impede cooperation, collaboration, and communication.  When an opportunity or threat surfaces, they quickly bring the necessary disciplines together to seek the best solution.

Insurgent companies know how to move with alacrity and decisiveness in order to win in the marketplace!

7)  Insurgents have few committees and  fewer internal meetings.

“A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.” –  Milton Berle

Committees are the waiting rooms of progress. Internal meetings are the speed bumps.  For each, the fewer the better.

Committees and meetings should expedite and not delay the company’s mission.  They consume valuable time and resources and, therefore, should be used wisely.

8)  Insurgent organizations have an entrepreneurial spirit.

“The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” – Peter Drucker                                                      

Insurgents view the world as a place of endless opportunities waiting to be exploited. They demonstrate confidence without being arrogant and show enthusiasm without being altruistic. They are the believers before there is consensus.

9)  Insurgents learn from success, but learn more from not succeeding.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas A. Edison

They view discouragement as a flaw of the weak and determination as a strength of the successful. Failure is when you lose and quit.

Insurgent companies understand that not succeeding, however, is when you have setbacks and continue to persevere despite adversity!

10)   Insurgents change before they are forced to change.

More often than not, many companies do not change until they are forced to do so by finally accepting the inevitable.  It’s called survival mode.

Survival mode, however, is not sustainable.  It is not a substitute for real change.

blog_6The U.S. auto industry learned this the hard way.  In the 1970’s, foreign imports, particularly from Japan, were gradually gaining market share from the Big Three automakers, GM, Ford, and Chrysler. This was due primarily to the Japanese building superior quality cars.

The Japanese automobile industry, since the 1950’s, had adopted the philosophy of quality espoused by W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and consultant. Deming is widely regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. Japan’s prestigious Deming Prize was created in his honor.

Beginning in the 1970’s, the American auto industry suffered from a reputation of poor quality particularly when compared to Japanese brands.  The industry chose to put “band-aids” on the problem rather than tackle the real problem, i.e. their manufacturing process was inferior.  The Japanese were making better cars at the same or lower prices to their American competitors.  Finally, they got the message but only after suffering billions of dollars in losses.

In 1981, the Ford Motor Company hired  Mr. Deming to turn around its fortunes.  Between 1979 and 1982, Ford had incurred $3 billion in losses.

By 1986, employing Deming’s philosophy,  Ford had become the most profitable American auto company. For the first time since the 1920’s, its earnings had exceeded those of arch rival General Motors. Unfortunately, Ford made changes only after it was forced to do so as the result of massive losses directly attributable to the success of insurgent competitors.

The lesson is this – it is better to compete as an insurgent than compete against them.

Consider these 10 characteristics of insurgent companies and examine your own organization. The more you can find ways to act like and insurgent the more competitive you will be in the future!

Football and Business – Avoiding Unforced Errors to Drive Success

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

“He who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely the one who dropped it.”  –  Lou Holtz 

In football, unforced errors are penalties, turnovers, botched plays and missed assignments . Regardless of what you call them…they all result in missed opportunities and lost momentum that allows the opposition to gain competitive advantage.

Football can be a powerful metaphor for the world of work…particularly in highly competitive product/service categories.

Here are a few football metaphors commonly used in today’s business vernacular:

  • Blind-Sided – When a company is victimized by an unexpected competitive attack due to a “blind spot” in its strategic game plan.
  • Fumble – Occurs when a company literally “drops the ball” allowing the opposition to capitalize on the misfortune.
  • Delay of Game – When a company sees an opportunity or a threat but does not act in a timely manner and is penalized by ceding advantage to the opposition.
  • False Start – Happens when a company’s strategic marketplace execution is out of sync – where not all disciplines are on the same “snap count”.

The Peril of Unforced Errors…In Business

Unforced errors must be avoided or minimized to win in the business and sports worlds.

This requires a disciplined game plan consisting of four basic components – vision, skills, resources, and an action plan.  All four elements must be aligned and working in concert for success… or unforced errors are inevitable.


The Four Keys to Avoiding Unforced Errors in Business

1. The Value of Clear Vision 

First, companies need vision.

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”  –  Jack Welch

Vision is the big picture of the playing field that is clearly defined for all stakeholders. Without it, there is the risk of being blind-sided by competitive assaults or changing circumstances.

Vision has three components – hindsight, insight and foresight.  Hindsight provides context; insight provides focus, and foresight provides perspective.It should be aspirational yet achievable with effort and determination.  It must be articulated…and not just communicated to the troops!

2. Critical Skills to Win at Business/Sports

Next, companies need skills.

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combines effort of each individual.”  –  Vince Lombardi

Without people with the right skill sets, there is risk of “fumbling the ball”.This is caused by not  having the right people with the right competencies in the right positions.

Organizations, of course, employ people with specific skill sets. Organizations expend significant dollars to identify and recruit square pegs to fit square holes. The challenge, however, is to match these skill sets with the mission at hand.

A football team has many specialized positions – receivers, kickers, punters, linemen, quarterbacks, special teams, etc. To be successful, the team must match the right skill sets with the right position.

An effective running game, for example, requires good blocking and a fast, agile, and powerful running back.  An effective passing game requires good pass protection, sure-handed and elusive receivers, and an accurate quarterback. Too often in business, companies do not have the right players with the right skill sets on the field.

The Legendary Apple Management Bungle

A famous example occurred at Apple.  In 1983, Apple lured John Sculley, the president of PepsiCo, to be its CEO.  Apple wanted Sculley to apply his marketing skills gained at Pepsi to the personal computer market. The Apple board believed that Sculley, with his more conventional business background and considerable success at Pepsi, would give Apple an image of greater reliability and stability.

Once at Apple, however,  the management styles of Sculley and co-founder Steve Jobs clashed. Jobs was ousted by the Apple board in favor of Sculley in 1985. Sculley was ultimately forced out of Apple in 1993 as the company’s margins eroded, sales diminished, and the company’s stock price declined.

Two CEO’s, record low stock prices and crippling financial losses later,  Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997.

Simply put, Apple failed to see the right skill sets required for its CEO. They fumbled the ball.  It had disastrous consequences, until the person with the right skills returned.  It turned out that marketing carbonated beverages was not the right skill set to lead Apple.

3. Aligning Talent – Resource Allocation

Next, companies need the resources.

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.”  –  Mark Twain

Without the sufficient resources, a company suffers a “delay of game”.  The biggest threat to companies is under-resourcing a great opportunity rather than over-resourcing a lesser one.

The former is fatal while the latter is survivable.  With a lack of resources, momentum stops. Great ideas die on the vine and competitors move in to claim the strategic high ground or exploit new ideas/innovations to achieve “first mover” status.

4. The Planning Imperative

Lastly, companies need a well-thought-out and battlefield vetted action plan.

“Without committment, there are only promises and hopes… but no plans.”  – Peter Drucker

Without a clear action plan, there is the threat of false starts. The action plan is the culmination of vision, skills, and resources.  It must be concise and have defined benchmarks for success. It must be flexible and fluid empowering people to make decisions as circumstances warrant.

There are many other unforced errors in business. We call this  phenomena “business prevention” and it includes:

  • Procrastination – This refers to those who put off till tomorrow, things that needed to be done yesterday. Action is too little, too late with opportunities lost as the competitive “barbarians at the gate” threaten existing and future business.
  • Lethargy – Game plans sluggishly executed cause frustration and the eventual attrition of clients, customers, and key talent.
  • Arrogance – The offspring of the marriage of ego and power. Arrogant individuals are those that believe they have all the right answers and discount opposing views.
  • Superstition – The notion that there is a direct cause and effect between past performance and subsequent results despite evidence to the contrary.
  • Leadership Myopia – This is short-sightedness, where leaders lack “strategic corrective lenses” to see the bigger picture.

Legendary Predictions from Noteworthy Luminaries

The following are some infamous predictions of the future from leaders of the past:

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” – Thomas J. Watson, Chairman & CEO, IBM, 1943

“TV won’t last…people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” – Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home” – Ken Olson, founder of DEC, 1977

“There will never be a bigger plane built.” – A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of a  twin engine plane that held ten people

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” – Charles H. Duell, U.S. Office of Patents & Trademarks,  1899

Antipathy – By definition is a feeling of intense dislike. This is the case when companies have an aversion to those people and ideas who are change agents. It causes internal animosity and stifles innovation. Interestingly “ignorance means you don’t know; stupidity means you’ll never know”. Ignorant companies can learn; stupid ones cannot.

In summary, unforced errors must be avoided at all costs.  They are self-inflicted penalties to progress which cause frustration, anxiety, confusion, and an erosion of confidence in leadership.

How the Best Companies Use Ongoing Consumer Research to Drive Growth

Mike Howatt / Strategic Market Research

Companies that expand their business intelligence environments beyond their enterprise walls – and in particular, to their customers – achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction and retention, and ultimately, greater levels of revenue.

Consumer insights information answers many questions for marketing, but none are more important than to identify the right growth opportunities, and to deliver a deep understanding of what matters most to your target consumers. Only 20% of marketers say they truly know their consumers and 81% of marketing decision makers are concerned about reaching the right consumer.

The following are some issues that can be explored through regular, ongoing consumer insights:

  • Create “touch points” with surveys, targeted studies, observational studies
  • Isolate unmet needs exist regarding your products and services
  • Identify “Gaps” between your markets needs and your product ratings
  • Understand potential danger areas associated with the risk of losing business
  • Validate whether your company/products are meeting expectations

Companies that apply customer-centric data to their sales and marketing efforts realize a +73 percent higher lift than those that don’t. Successful companies such as Cisco, Zurich and Gillette, are more likely to mine for and act on prospect/customer insights.

When competing new technologies are difficult to choose among, these companies defer their choice until key customers have registered their reactions, resulting in over a 90% retention rate. Retaining loyal customers also means stronger sales and higher profits over the long term.

Voice of the Customer research should be an integral tool in your go-to market strategy. Checking in with your audience frequently increases the chances of developing a new product or a clear message that will drive sales the way you need it to.

Ascension is a full service marketing research company offering a full range of qualitative and quantitative research techniques. Let us help you stay on top of your market with a regular annual strategic research program.