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Dear McDonalds: Ads are Band-Aids and Your Injuries Require Open-Heart Surgery

Let’s turn our attention to Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s new CEO. He’s been in the position for less than two months, so we will give him the benefit of the doubt and say he is not a bad guy (or at least not yet). There is still time to change the direction of the company.

It is easy to say sales at McDonald’s are on the decline because consumers have changed tastes. That’s obvious. People are increasingly demanding transparency, healthy options and better labor standards. McDonald’s is struggling to keep up.

But that is far from the whole happy meal. They are in trouble because they cannot define their own brand or what their company stands for, aside from increasingly futile attempts to make a profit as a junk food in a health nut craze.

The past six months has shown a flurry of haphazard contradiction. They have both trimmed many items from their menu to speed up their service and added “Create Your Taste”menus to a host of locations. It may yield a more delicious, guacamole smothered burger, but at the price of waiting 7 minutes in the restaurant and hefting out $8.50 – a far cry from the quick drive-thru and dollar menu that once made them a staple.

Determined not to let the lovin’ die, they’ve recently staged a host of publicity stunts around “I’m lovin’ it”. But advertising will not solve their problems if they cannot define their own brand.

How can we love you if we don’t know who you are?

“When Ray Kroc helped found McDonalds in the 1950s, his business philosophy was that of a three-legged stool. One leg was the franchisees, the second suppliers and the third employees.”

Looking at the company objectively, we can see McDonald’s gives back to local communities. They do this through the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which helps children with medical support. It even offers tuition and education assistance to some of its workers. Their Corporate Responsibility Statement spouts on about how they are aiming for sustainably produced beef, coffee, palm oil and fish as well as fiber-based packaging by 2020.

Yet the associations most Americans equate with McDonalds are employees who are paid wages so low they cannot afford basic living costs and must result to welfare. We also hear tales of employees who are told to use condiments as burn ointment and returned unopened Christmas gifts for extra cash.

Their franchisees are not very pleased with them either, amid forced restaurant upgrades and mandatory advertising fees.

While McDonalds recently conceded to a $1 an hour pay raise, it only affects company-owned restaurant workers, which accounts for just 10% of their employees. Franchisees are arguing this will force them to raise wages as well, but without assistance from the corporation.

When Ray Kroc helped found McDonalds in the 1950s, his business philosophy was that of a three-legged stool. One leg was the franchisees, the second suppliers and the third employees. It seems they have lost their footing.

Companies like McDonald’s don’t know who they want to be or what they stand for. And the American public doesn’t either.

McDonald’s image and sales have slumped so badly they are closing 700 stores around in the world this year. In the US even Wendy’s and Burger King are passing them by. But Mickey D’s is the original – how is it being surpassed by its copycats?

It’s a conundrum we’ve seen too many times a company creates its own category, then sits back in horror as new companies move in and set up shop on their turf, some even making more money at it.

Give us a call, Easterbrook. Let us help you prove you are a good guy by quelling your company’s attempts to hurl money at dated advertising. Ads are Band-Aids and your injuries require open-heart surgery.

Focus that money on realigning and redefining your brand values. Stand the stool up again, and make your ethos value over profit as opposed to your current model of profit over value.

We may refuse to wear your Big Mac thermals, but we know we can help you fix your broken brand.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Ethos: The Value of Values in Brand Building

Brands, just like people, have values –principles they stand for and hold near and dear to their heart.

These principles form the reason brands exist. Brand values influence two important business assets – relationships and reputation. Relationships are built on trust and reputation is built on delivering on your promise.

In our over-crowded, me-too marketplace, points of difference that are function and feature based are no longer sustainable. Consumers today are tuning out marketing and tuning in to those brands that represent shared values.

Clifford Geetz, the Godfather of Cultural Anthropology… put it something like this… Ethos and worldview describe how cultures create a seamless, unified system. The ethos (an understanding of how we should act in the world) is supported by the worldview (a picture of how the world really is), and vice versa. In a sense, ethos and worldview are what differentiate one culture from another. And it is the culture that traditionally gives individuals their definition of self—who they are, what they believe, and how they should act.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Get Leverage: Know Your Brand Archetype

Archetypal branding works because it appeals to all people. We all share a deep need to feel stability, belonging, discovery and achievement. In today’s world, many brands have taken on the role of building blocks we use to fabricate of our sense of self. For most of us, our self-identity is textured with personal and archetypal mythos.

The power of identifying a brand with one of these timeless stories is that the story already exists deep within our subconscious — it does not need to be created. The task for the brand is to simply tell the story through the lens of archetypes.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung identified seven of key archetypes, but said there were many more to be discovered. In their book, The Hero and the Outlaw, Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson expanded this thinking to identify twelve specific archetypes and showed how these could be used to guide brand strategy.

The athlete, the liberator, the rescuer, the warrior.

These are the universal retellings of what Jung called the Hero. The secret to the Hero archetype is that all heroes have something in common: vulnerability. Think of The Man of Steel and kryptonite, or the biblical tale of Sampson and Delilah, his lust and his hair.

The reason archetypal storytelling works so well is that throughout history all cultures have told the tale of the hero. Heroes are typically orphans called to a quest. Hero myths closely follow a recognizable story arc, regardless of the culture telling the story. In his Book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell described this as “the phenomenon of the universal hero masked in local details”.

Hero stories have existed through the ages because they deliver on very important emotional needs we all share. The hero story helps us understand our mortality and speaks to our desire to achieve great things. Such timeless stories bring understanding and meaning to our lives.

Archetypal brand-building starts with why.

All strong brands share a set of common elements: A Foundation story, Brand Pillars, a Defined Brand Personality and, most importantly, a Brand Promise.

Addressing these elements through the lens of your brand’s archetype helps everyone deepen our answers to why our brand exists and why our employees and fans should care.

Look for ways your archetypal story might show up to the world:

How would your business change if your products and services were considered vehicles the company creates in order to keep its brand promise? The strongest organizations know how to weave a strong story into their delivery.

Think of it as symbolic shorthand for your brand beyond your logo. Iconography might include: smell, sounds taste, feel or any other indirect signal that tells a subtle and suggestive story. Iconography can be almost anything, think of the sounds your computer makes when its boots up. Author Martin Lindstrom calls this philosophy “Smash Your Brand.

Reality exists in language. Movements grow, ideas take form and empires are overthrown all because of language. Whenever we can get a group of people to agree on an idea and share it, we have the power to change the world. This could be a tagline like “Talk to Chuck”, or a communication hook like the Absolut ads campaign that hasn’t changed in 25 years.

Think about how you order coffee at your local Starbucks. First you cue up, peruse the pastry case, enjoy the artwork and then when it’s finally your turn you blurt out something like, “Quad Venti Skinny with Whip Iced Caramel Macchiato”. Look for ways to make the purchase, consumption, sharing and re-use of your offerings more intimate, more interactive, more human.

Archetypes give shape to your brand’s intangibles.

People struggle to measure the intangibles of the brand. I think this list, while not exhaustive, puts structure to the conversation and helps us see of where and how archetypal storytelling both internally and externally become powertools.

Create a vision so crystal clear of your future that everyone in your organization sees it so compellingly that your employees can scat with it.

Attract and retain the brightest, passionate peeps in your planet. Today we know that people are looking for more than just a paycheck from their career. They want to belong to something bigger. Give it to them and let them help you tell the story.

Know what business you are in, what business you should be in and which business you should get out of to ensure long term brand viability. This self-awareness becomes even more valuable when success comes in like the tide. It helps us to avoid convoluted brand architecture that can get downright unruly when mergers and acquisitions are involved.

Using archetypes to tell a brand centered story works because consumers often cannot explain their rational decisions for the emotional choices they make with purchases and the brands they favor.

Stop competing on price. Brands that consistently tell one archetypal story perform better financially. Show your customers what makes your brand different and better. Hint it’s not the features and benefits. It’s whom your loyalists get to be when they are with you.

Archetypes help brands climb out from the shadow of powerful and well-funded competitors.

It’s always challenging for a brand with less advertising dollars, fewer products and less social clout to win at the me-too game. I have seen many brands struggle for years with this.

Brooks, Tully’s, and Eddie Bauer all come to mind because they live in my backyard.

Brooks used The Jester archetype to differentiate themselves from all the big brands at specialty running, where due to size and budget, they had no choice but to behave like a cult brand. This worked really well for a long time, but as Warren buffet said in June 2013, the secret to the stellar rise of Brooks came by focusing deeply and narrowly on the needs of runners. Now do you think they would have gotten the same traction trying to out-hero Nike, Reebok and Adidas?

Tully’s enjoyed success when they realized that they could only claim territory abandoned by Starbucks: Hand crafted Coffee from the Pacific Northwest. Tully’s as The Citizen. Tully’s got clarity and power to change their reason for being from a series of lofty and un-actionable goals (which were already being met by the likes of Starbucks and Pete’s) and boiled to down to “helping people have a better day”.

And then there is Eddie Bauer. I was quite excited to see that First Ascent jackets are private label of Eddie Bauer. It warms my heart to see Eddie Bauer getting attention and breaking the bonds of what can only be described as the dark years of Spiegel. My question for Eddie Bauer is this:  what makes you different from North FacePatagoniaMountain HardwareMarmot and the plethora of premium extreme mountain top focused Explorer archetype brands currently enjoying preference?

Perhaps Eddie Bauer could benefit from carefully linking their original explorer mentality with another archetype, just not one that would make them feel like a housewares brand. I have said before, if your brand sees itself as The Explorer and the competitive landscape is such that you are getting beaten regularly by other Explorers, you may need to look for another story to tell.

Our brains create brand shorthand from archetypes.

Archetypal brands rely on the brain’s preference for organizing things to remember in boxes. It helps that these archetype (boxes) have been around for centuries, that they are found throughout the world, and that they reflect some fundamental human emotional needs. Simply said, archetypes are very strong placeholders. The story of the hero, the role of the mentor and caregiver are so engrained in our culture and the stories we hear that they create a familiar pattern.
Brands that tap into archetypes’ powerful combination of being strong placeholders organized in a familiar pattern relieve consumers of the need to remember lots of information about their products.

Strong iconic brands evoke a timeless archetypal story. This story connects them emotionally with their fans. Brands keep the story relevant by retelling it over and over again in fresh, contemporary ways. And they pay attention to the little details because the little things a brand does often comes under greater scrutiny than the big things a brand says. Strong brands are fanatical about the consistency with which they tell the story because they know that it is easy for the spell of the brand story to be broken if the details do not resonate with what a loyal customer believes to be true about the brand and has come to know and trust.

When using archetypes, the role of the brand marketer is to evoke the story through cultural cues and the emotions that consumers seek to derive from the brand. The task of an established brand is to discover and clarify its core archetypal story. The task of new or undefined brands is to identify an archetypal story and stick with it.

Do you know your Brand’s archetype?

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Elevate Your Brand Through the Strong Use of Symbolism

What do lululemon, Starbucks Coffee, and Harley Davidson have in common with the Catholic church?

Watch this short excerpt from our webcast, The Cult Brand Value Equation, to discover how these iconic brands have all leveraged the power of symbolism to create a venue where we are not only aware of their mission but invite them into our daily lives.

If you would like to watch the entire presentation, sign up here to view it now.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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The Brand Credibility Paradox

Is over emphasis on your hard-core credibility limiting your brand’s influence and growth?

I’ve seen it a lot. Brands achieving the level of success they desire by focusing on one thing for a hard-core, loyal following. They excel at specialty-store and are beloved by extreme activity junkies whether they climb, hike, run, swim, tri, skate or board. Then they get stuck by the following question:

How do we grow our brand and not destroy our industry cred?

Our friends at Sugoi are a great example. They create technically advanced gear, enjoy a great cycling heritage, and are proudly worn by hard-core cyclists. So what is the problem?

Research shows time and time again that there are people who spend upwards of $5,000 on a bicycle and another $1,500 on apparel and gear to compete at a near Olympic level. But only a few. And a few more commute on bikes. Most people are what Sugoi calls Starbucks Riders. Someone who spends a ton of money to dress the part, then simply rides down to the local Starbucks to look extreme while enjoying their carmel Frappucino.

This challenge isn’t limited to cycling. I saw the same problem with REI too. Anytime a group of individuals who are passionate about a specific set of activities infiltrate and then stay inside an organization, their marketing and advertising focuses on the most extreme expression and conditions their gear can endure.

This continual emphasis on the extreme hard-core adventurer not only limits who can belong to and then contribute to your cult brand – it ultimately dulls the senses of everyone in the organization and stifles product development, marketing, and recruitment. According to Outdoor Retailer 2013, most people sporting Patagonia and NorthFace use the gear to drive 5 miles and scale Mount Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer case of their local grocery.

I have seen this in the wellness category too. Brands with street cred for pioneering the natural, wellness and organics movement, who focused every aspect of communication, recruitment and product development on making certain that their original Hippier-than-thou positioning was preached above all else. While they wrestled with their significance, Target and Walmart offered similar, more approachable products for today’s Yoga Mom and her 28 year-old, Chia swilling, tea-guzzling counter-part. Both of these consumer profiles now get their health & wellness needs met without having to give up their love of high heels, designer jeans, enjoying a cocktail or wolfing down the occasional box of mac ’n cheese.

The fundamentals of Cult Branding have the power to make humans respond viscerally, kinetically and socially. However, when practiced diligently, they create a paradox—one that is easy to see in others and nearly impossible to see in ourselves. The very elements that make us great (ritual action, social distinction, status claims and solidarity) work on us, the brand stewards, too. And these powerful forces, if incubated (and not allowed to evolve through outside influence) will stunt our growth, make us grow a beard, get weird and disappear into the mountains.

3 brand credibility sink holes and 3 ways to crawl out.

Over time, I began to see the pattern in organizations that needed brand revitalization. They kept falling into 3 problem areas (sinkholes) that plague many successful passion focused industries like sports, outdoor and wellness. When the pattern is broken, by outside influence, leadership change or the pain of failure, it actually creates a stronger, more meaningful brand that will enjoy preference, marketplace success and even more cult-like stature.

Breakthrough brands are created by people with passion and vision.  People want to follow them. It’s easy for these visionary leaders to enroll others in their quest. The sinkhole doesn’t show up until after success arrives and the followers have key responsibility. Those in the pot, accustomed to the water temperature, tend to shift focus to the financial report and maintaining the status quo by emulating everyone else in the industry rather than innovation. They risk being boiled alive.

How to crawl out.

Forget about features, benefits, and competition. They are table stakes to any category. Forget about your long-storied history and the pain you might have around eroding relevance. Reconnect your brand team with the core purpose and higher ideal the product was created for in the first place, which was likely not just about making money. Then cast a bold new vision.
Think about Apple, between Jobs (ha!). Recall that Apple seemed unstoppable. Then everyone, including themselves, saw Apple as a dying brand. They all just sat in the pot until it began to boil. Remember that they revived their business through visionary leadership, outside influence, and a renewed focus on making human experiences visceral, universally ritualized and forging solidarity. When Apple focused on computing, they tanked. When the focused on revolutionizing something everyone loves (music) they rocked.

Questions to ask.

– Who is your Chief Vision Officer?
– Is their primary job description in conflict with the concept of vision?
– Are they involved in optimizing the business? If so you need an outside influence.

Success sows the seeds of future brand failure. When something works we look for sacred cows to idolize. The brand stalls because, after everyone tires of the Facebook likes and high-fives, they focus their efforts on optimizing what worked, instead of earnestly working to evolve and adapt to our rapidly changing world. They try and win a race by standing still when they should be looking for new ways to take what they know and help more people.

How to crawl out.

Ask yourself some dangerous questions.
– What is your team doing to make cheeseburgers out of these cows?
– What does your product represent to people that is highly valued and difficult for them to replace? (Hint: it isn’t your jacket.)
– How can we flip this on its head to create a new conversation or add something meaningful to someone else’s budding conversation?
Then, once you know that you are in new territory, it’s time to craft a clear and relevant value proposition. The best example of this to me is a piece I wrote about Nike Fuel Band.

When your company has done all the right things to build your brand –from having visionary leadership that has invented good products focused around an ideology, recruited employees that want to be indoctrinated with your philosophy –there is a natural tendency to believe that you are your best customers. This creates a closed ecosystem that chokes the company vision, stifles product development and creates marketing messages that are self-focused and trite. Need evidence? Every outdoor brand has a set of athletes or enthusiasts who flood their brand’s social media channels and website with their extreme adventures. Not everyone can be a NorthFace, ProBar, or Adidas. You have to find your own authenticity. Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign is a great example of a well known brand using its values to move away from everyone else in the outerwear category.

How to crawl out.

Talk to your customers. All of them, and their friends who cannot relate to your brand message because “it’s just a little to hard-core” (and strangely, lacking authenticity for them).

The hard questions.

– What are the hopes and dreams of these people?
– How can you help those who want to belong to your cult, but will never go on an extreme trek, live a better daily life?
– How is your team reframing what you can do to be involved in this evolution?
– Who should you be inviting to tea?

We live in an information age and knowledge is power, but information and knowledge alone will not get you to where you want to go. It takes discipline. The process of successfully navigating a landmark brand shift requires open-mindedness, a rare mixture of confidence and humility and the ability to press on with a beginners mind while seeing a future that nobody else can see yet.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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The Cult Brand Value Equation

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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All Beauty, No Brains: When Graphic Designers Fail to Understand Packaging Hierarchy

We here at Retail Voodoo are big fans of ProBar. Do you know it? We’ve been buying them for sometime now. You can find them in your local Health Food store, Whole Foods, or REI. They are very wholesome, filling and just plain yummy. That said, I’m confused…like shopper confused. A couple of months ago, I went to buy my favorite, the Superberry & Greens, but what happened next is a tale of packaging tragedy, a story of beauty over brains. I saw new packaging, quite lovely new packaging, but all of a sudden, greeted by a wall of orange, everything looked the same. I had to squint and spend time discerning if I was buying the correct bar.

The whole label hierarchy broke down, and while I meant to leave the car double parked and grab my fav, I ended up getting a big fat ticket instead (*LIE*). Don’t let beautiful packaging override brains. Make sure you manage the information hierarchy correctly, and for goodness sake, change colors, or include high contrast visual cues to make it easy for those of us too addled to read on the fly to buy our favorites.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Retailers: Customers Don’t Want a Relationship with You, They Want Relevance

No amount of discounting, promotional activity, sweetening incentives in loyalty programs and streamlining the purchasing experience will cajole the customer into a relationship with a retail brand that isn’t relevant to them. Aren’t retailers working these angles with varying degrees of success these days? It’s obvious that customers are wary—and weary—of all the hype out there.

No retailer can buy friendship (please “like” my brand on Facebook and open a credit card account with me for advance notice of special sales, blah-blah-blah) or goodwill. Relationships are a two-way street. They’re built on core values and fundamentals that lead to trust. If a retailer’s core values don’t have meaning or heaven forbid!–ring hollow because they don’t deliver on their promises; or if those values don’t align with the customer’s, that retailer is not going to succeed. So let’s forget trying to cultivate relationships and instead focus on what needs to be done so that relationships will naturally happen.

Core values lived up to by every employee every day and in every customer, interaction delivers on the brand promise. Now that’s relevant. Demonstrating respect for the customer and doing business ethically matters as much as it ever did. Actually: scratch that. It matters more than it ever did since there’s a routine breach of trust these days. Honesty, authenticity, transparency coupled with great service and empathy make customers sit up and take notice: these things, unlike a sea of merchandise, are in short supply. Add to this a constant effort to make the shopping experience responsive to trends and relevant to the way they want to shop and the customer will be positively giddy.

That is the Power of Relevance

The beauty of achieving it is that it renders every competitor and comer irrelevant. Think about that for a moment. When customers are given a reason to believe—to enjoy shopping experiences with a specific retailer based on shared values and trust, there is no need or desire to shop elsewhere. Relevance leads to brand adoption: this retailer is an integral part of the customer’s life, what it offers is important and it occupies a space in the heart and mind that no other brand can dislodge and occupy. This retailer has been chosen due to compatibility and isn’t that the basis of all beautiful relationships?

So Much for Euphoria

Now down to work. Research uncovers a great deal about the customer, their perceptions and what they find relevant. Finding out what matters most to customers, helps retailers to reposition if necessary or to reconfirm the core values that lead to trust. Then, they can tweak assortments and merchandise in a more meaningful way and streamline policies and procedures to improve shopping efficiencies. By catering to the way in which customers shop, by delighting them and surprising them with the unexpected, by curating assortments for a more local flavor, by appealing to the senses in a delicious way (ooh—let me count the ways): the retail experience can be elevated into a real treat rather than a same-old, like-every-other-retailer approach.

Too many retailers are developing strategies and tactics that have nothing to do with customer expectations. Corporate dictates and accounting-driven rather than customer-driven trends and merchant-based initiatives based directly on customer responses are the prevalent way of doing business and retailers wonder why they’re losing relevance? So, please, let the accountants and finance people do what they do best and let the C-suite involve buyers, visual merchandisers and employees from the sales floor to the back office focus on instilling and representing clear values consumers are aching for.

Don’ts and Then Dos

Caveat: please don’t imitate another retail operation. Rather than emulating the most successful retailer in the space (remember: there is only one Starbucks and no other coffee shop can steal the mindshare they own) it’s important to carve out a unique niche. Too many retailers are copying rather than being themselves. What clear value do they offer to consumers? Hmmmm, we can’t answer that question, either.

Too many retailers worry about the competition rather than addressing their own shortcomings and stumbling blocks to becoming relevant. Why not “do it right” and make competitors worry instead?

Too many worry about the loss of business to ecommerce.

According to the Wall Street Journal, while significant and growing, online sales account for 8% of total retail sales in this country. While customers love the ease of shopping online, brick and mortar retailers are the ones keeping customers away—not the Internet.

That’s a shame. Customers would want to shop in retail stores more often and spend more of their money on purchases in physical environments if they were able to feel confident that the brand promise is consistently delivered on. That their values are mutually shared. That their trust will not be violated, for any reason, ever. That their needs and wants as customers will always be anticipated and catered to.

Dynamic environments filled with wonderfully curated and merchandised selections surprise and delight customers and literally fill all five of their senses making them eager for more. Retail can and should be a theater-like experience. Customers like to look at, touch and feel, try on and enjoy the atmosphere. They like to share it with friends. Enjoying the shopping experience: now that’s relevant!

In the end, the relevant retailer fulfills a yearning customers have. It gives them a sense of belonging as they share their favorite brand with other devotees. No other retailer matters. Impossible dream? No. Every retailer has the potential to achieve the ultimate relevance for its customers, from start-ups to emerging and mature operations.

All it takes is commitment, determination, and a little hard work. Retailers need to ask themselves if they want to muddle along in the middle of the pack, irrelevant and in a slow decline or rise to superstardom? Question is: will they rise to this challenge?

I’ve thrown the gauntlet. Who will pick it up?

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Identity Crisis: The Seven Deadly Sins of Branding

Economic limbo cannot erase the fact that we live in a world where cars start the first time, phones are addictive and the gourmet coffee, is well, gourmet. Only the Unaware offer products or services they deem good enough to a world where everyone can get anything they want almost anywhere.

Today’s consumer is looking for you, the brand steward, to provide them with a self-actualizing experience. And while this needs to be orchestrated carefully, take heart, ending up in branding purgatory doesn’t happen overnight. It comes after a lifetime of refusing to be saved. Sadly, for every good thing we can do, there are many more actions we take either purposefully or by happenstance, that simply don’t contribute anything worthwhile to the brand’s presence, personality and strength.

So what can the faithful do to avoid such a fate? Keep a watchful eye over the Seven Deadly Sins of Brand.

Ennui is essentially boredom brought about by prosperity: an unwillingness to investigate, evolve and challenge or do much of anything. It has killed many great brands while their executives scatter to new, unsuspecting organizations, secretly scratching their head in wonder that their former co-workers were unable to learn new ways to gain market share. It begins something like this, “No one can touch us. We are superior in every way!” Then subtly evolves to something more like this, “We are number one and always will be. Now we are bored. Enough about me, why don’t you tell me what you think of me!” And finally it ends with, “Ugh, why bother?” The opposite of this sin is a firm belief in one’s offering, a willingness to deliver what’s promised and strength of conviction.

“That’s not my department” echoes in the halls of an organization that is has succumbed to this sin. These Sullen Pagans do not understand that functional silos are barriers to innovation, not just in brand marketing. In Driving Growth Through Innovation, Robert Tucker says that one of the reasons innovation has not become embedded as a key driver of growth and profitability in many organizations is because it has been limited by functional and divisional silos within companies. The responsibility for innovation has been limited to R&D or senior level Strategic Planning Pagans who do not feel it necessary to speak to, let alone share ideas with others. I find it fascinating that functional silos are a bi-product of the Quality Movement. Today, thanks to ISO9000 and the like, quality is everyone’s responsibility. This needs to be the goal for innovation and brand stewardship as well.

Advertising can be summed up in one word: impotence. No amount of advertising is going to have the psychological impact today that it did on previous generations. It doesn’t have the same function it used to and yet is still purchased by brand owners in exchange for the false hope of cultural relevance. If advertising worked like it used to, two well-known Bankrupt Pagans would still be recovering from the pulled muscle they got when high-fiving their agency partner for successfully copying a competitors “celebutant” television campaign (because they would have raked in cash). Mervyn’s and Linens ‘N Things long enjoyed high top-of-mind awareness, but apparently never got the memo: awareness no longer creates preference. Preference lives in the human heart, where brand matters most. If advertising worked like it used to, two well-known Bankrupt Pagans would still be recovering from the pulled muscle they got when high-fiving their agency partner for successfully copying a competitors “celebutant” television campaign (because they would have raked in cash). Mervyn’s and Linens ‘N Things long enjoyed high top-of-mind awareness, but apparently never got the memo: awareness no longer creates preference. Preference lives in the human heart, where brand matters most.

Girls Gone Wild Apparel, Humane Society Dog Lovers Wine Club, Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, and my favorite as listed on Brandweek, Hooters Energy Drink. There is a special place in Hell for the avarice and the fraudulent, regardless of whether they are malicious or just confused. Egad!

This sin belongs to the Short-term Gluttons who are quick to reduce prices in order make the sales number look good on their watch, so they get their bonus. They already have their eyes on the door, not long-term brand success. The mistakes that kill brands are the mistakes you sometimes never realize you’ve made. And when you do realize them, sometimes it’s too late. Unless you are the low-cost producer, you cannot sustain your brand on price cuts and discounts. In fact, companies frequently cause irreparable damage to their brands by discounting. Consumers will pay more if they feel they receive an added benefit or value with the higher price—even in a recession.

Decision by committee is often an exercise in mediocrity. Not standing up for a single, ownable position is pretty common business practice today. Trying to please everyone will result in creating a brand nobody will hate (vs. a brand people will love). If you work in a culture where you may get your head chewed off by your management team for not using a traditional laddering model or the appropriate shade of navy blue on your PowerPoint deck, then standing up for a radical new idea isn’t likely to be considered an asset. Bad news: unless you want to just put in your time on the mediocrity train, then you may wish to consider your options (while you still have them).

We all use them and hide behind them. Afterall, nobody ever lost his or her job for mentioning David Aaker’s Brand Personality Scale to help demonstrate the case for change. And where would we be without the Brand Pyramid? In Strategic Brand Management, Kevin Lane Keller’s pyramid reminds me of Dante’s gates of Hell– while I am captivated (and a bit frightened) by the inscription, I know that true understanding of it lies in the netherworld below. And you guessed it, a guru called Brand Architect has tackled Below The Pyramid. It’s really a great example of virtuous marketing pagan adding to the buzzword stew.

Bottom Line

Marketing guru-ism without an actual business objective (where your job is on the line) is really only theory. I am tired of theory. I want visceral creative, human communication. And this, thank Goodness, is why you, Dear Reader, hire people like me.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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