How to Build a Premium Brand

premium brand

Not all consumers are price sensitive.

As disposable income increases, people are willing to pay more for a quality product that will save them money in the long run. Increasingly people value quality over quantity, free time, craftsmanship, social responsibility, and local sustainability.

Premium brands are highly valuable assets for a few reasons.

The premium price usually translates into higher profit margins, as additional costs for product enhancements are more than covered by the price premium.

Premium brands are also often viewed as status symbols. Consumers take pride in owning premium brands and showing them to their friends, which in turn increases brand exposure and sales.

Finally, many premium brands appeal to people at an emotional level, offering consumers a sense of belonging to a certain social group, thus leading to increased brand loyalty.

Premium Versus Luxury: An Important Distinction

The process of building a premium brand starts with an important distinction between premium and luxury branding. Consumers use these attributes interchangeable when labelling a brand, depending on their social status and geographical boundaries.

Is BMW a premium or a luxury brand? What about Coach? The answer depends on who you ask.

However, understanding the difference between a premium and a luxury brand is important for the brand owner.

A premium brand demands a premium price because of superior attributes (design, functionality, service) that one can justify rationally. Premium brands reach the status symbol level after years of delivering on its premium promise.

In order to be profitable, premium brands, just like ordinary brands, are built on the principles of mass production, broad distribution, and immediate delivery.

A luxury brand’s high price cannot be justified rationally. While the foundation of a luxury brand is a quality product, the price tag greatly exceeds its functional value.

Luxury shoppers seek a sense of belonging to a certain social class, or very selective group of individuals.

Luxury brands are built on principles that are diametrically opposed to premium branding: limited production, selective availability, and  non-urgent delivery.

How to Build a Premium Brand

Although price is usually the first indicator of a superior product, charging a higher price than competitors does not automatically make a brand premium.

We’ve seen that investing in a premium brands is (in most cases) a rational decision. The purchase is based on a lot of research and competitive comparisons that bring justification to the price premium.

The starting point in building a premium brand is a realistic segmentation of the category you wish to compete in. The goal is uncover potential benefits consumers are willing to pay a premium for.

These benefits include:

  • lower cost of ownership
  • the easy of use
  • superior materials and ingredients
  • unique, distinctive, attractive, functional design
  • better performance
  • time savings
  • more “must-have” features
  • sustainable, ethically sourced products
  • local businesses and locally sourced products

We tend to think that premium brands exists only in “glamorous” categories such as fashion and apparel, automotive, and travel. While these categories get a lot of exposure and coverage, premium brands can be introduced in almost any category that presents such an opportunity.

AquaVial is a premium product in the rapid water testing category.

Many products in the category deliver on the basic consumer need to identify potential issues with their water supply before they become a serious risk: an easy-to-understand testing procedure, the ability to deliver results in 48 hours (versus up to 2 weeks in the case of laboratory testing), and a low cost per test.

AquaVial is based on an innovative technology that delivers at least two superior benefits: results are delivered is as little as 15 minutes (versus 2 days), and the ability to detect a wider range of harmful bacteria.

These are important benefits consumers value and are willing to pay a premium for.

Is Premium Branding Possible In Case of Commodities?

The short answer is yes; even tap water can become a status symbol.

Products that are very difficult to differentiate functionally can be bundled into a superior “overall package” and positioned as a premium offering.

The components of an overall package can vary from quantifiable benefits such as company responsiveness, better product delivery, superior warranty, and post sales service, to intangibles such as company’s “social” reputation.

All these benefits and the premium associated with each, are only relevant within the context of each category, by reference to the lower-cost brands.

The superior overall brand experience has become an even more achievable strategy in the age of product reviews, instant communication and feedback, and social media.

Price elasticity is very important when it comes to premium branding. Since premium brands are mass produced, the brand appeal has to be broad.

The premium price has to be within the reach of most people in your target audience, even if it requires small sacrifices.

If the additional features demand a price tag that is simply unaffordable, the product will not be able to be profitably mass produced and commercialised. Remember, you are building a premium, not a luxury brand.

Premium Branding: Communication Strategy

The goal of the communications strategy is to highlight the differences that justify the price premium. Some differences (such as superior design) are obvious and require little explanation. Others, especially the intangibles, require more work.

Higher price tags come with higher consumer expectations. Adequate training of staff that deals directly with consumers is a must.

The training should go beyond highlighting the superior technical features of the product, and include a “social” component. Employees’ social skills and knowledge can make the difference between a sale and a lost client.

Endorsements tend to work well for premium brands, especially for reaching the status symbol level. Influencers are typically attracted by the opportunity to associate with a premium brand, which in turn will elevate their image in the eyes of their audience.

(Premium) Branding is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Premium brands have to be built on a sustainable competitive advantage.

An innovative new product that deliver superior benefits versus the existing alternatives should definitely be marketed at a premium price.

However, the market and consumer expectations eventually catch up. What has been perceived as innovative becomes expected.

In order to maintain the premium status a brands has to continually innovate or lower the price and join the pack of “me too” brands.

3 Branding Strategies That Will Add Value to Your Business

Branding Strategies

What do you understand by a ‘brand’? People often use it interchangeably with the company name. A ‘brand’ in real sense is a lot more than that.

A brand reflects what a company is all about and the kind of experience or products the consumer is going to buy.

For instance, Coca Cola uses the phrase ‘Have a Coke and a smile’, so whenever you think of the soft drink brand you think about happiness.

Similarly, when you think about Nike, you think about power and heroism. Again when you think about iPhone, you think about an amazing digital experience.

Therefore you need to have a strong brand strategy that will help you create a strong brand identity.

Brand identity is the way a company represents itself to the customers; whereas brand strategy is the continuous effort for development of a successful brand that will help the company achieve specific goals.

Why Having a Strong Brand Identity is Important?

Strong brands are not built in one day. A lot of hard work and thoughtfulness is required to build a brand that customers would be willing to engage with. Creating a strong brand identity benefits your company in many ways:

  • It increases the brand’s perceived equity. For example Coca Cola being a well-known brand, the company can sell its products at a higher price compared to other lesser-known soft drink brands. A strong brand translates to high-quality, so customers are willing to pay more.
  • The greatest brands connect with their customers emotionally, therefore the customers are more likely to stay loyal. Nike, for example, uses emotional branding to build customer loyalty.
  • Strong brands motivate employees. Loyal and productive employees are great assets for a company and they become enthusiastic brand advocates to spread the message around.

3 Branding Strategies to Add Value to Your Business

The brand strategy reinforces company’s position in the market. When executed successfully, it will help you create a successful brand that will help you achieve your business goals. Here are 3 branding strategies that will add value to your business:

  1. Define a Brand Promise

Brand promise is a message that speaks to your targeted audience about what to expect by using your products/services.

However, according to Allen Adamson, the chairman of the North American region of brand consulting and design firm Landor Associates, defining a brand promise is not sufficient; defining the purpose is important as well. Defining the purpose differentiates you from your competition.

For instance, IKEA promises to offer its customers with best quality furniture at affordable prices. But what differentiates IKEA from other online furniture sellers is their purpose of helping their customers ‘create a better life everyday’.

Ikea Brand Promise


  1. Brand Consistency

Creating a strong brand identity that keeps you at the forefront of your targeted audience is important but maintaining it is even more important. This means you must never engage in activities that might confuse your customers.

You need to make sure all your messages – whether it is an update on your Facebook Business Page, a photo posted to your Instagram account or a video on YouTube, are consistent with your brand identity.

Target, one of the largest retail stores has been a winner when it comes to brand consistency. It has had the same logo for over 50 years.

The brand consistency stretches across all the marketing platforms that focus on the Target shopping experience – “Expect more. Pay less.” the tagline that they currently use. A consistent color scheme and their continuous effort to promote the store as high-end discount store with better quality products and exceptional customer service have paid off.



Another company that nailed the brand consistency notion is Coca Cola. Every element of the brand’s marketing work harmoniously together and this has helped them become one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

Whether it is about promoting the company on social media or through traditional advertising, the brand has maintained its consistency seamlessly.

Coca Cola


Branding’ adds a personality and attitude to the product/services and this is what people relate to. Make one mistake and all your efforts go down the drains. Hence make sure you maintain the tone of your voice, the color scheme, the logo and everything else that helps people identify your brand.

  1. Emotional Attachment

Have you ever wondered why some ads sell more than the others? It is simply because they tap into the customer’s emotions. According to Unruly, the most-shared ads of 2015 relied heavily on emotional content.

Android’s ‘Friends Furever’ was the most-shared ad of 2015. The ad contains clips of cute animals that are sure to make people emotional. In fact the top three most shared ads all feature dogs as the central characters.

But you must be very careful when using animals to tap into people’s emotions since a small mistake can disrupt feelings severely.

In another instance, MetLife Hong Kong created an ad featuring a father-daughter relationship. The cute little girl describes the things she loves about her dad and how he makes her happy. The twist comes in when she also describes the way he lies to her, just to make her happy.

Emotional Attachment


Brands have tapped into a number of emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, anger and others to build a brand identity. When done correctly you can benefit immensely by tapping into the audience’s emotions, but remember it is a tricky terrain. So you must be very careful.


Building a brand strategy isn’t easy, but if you can do it properly you will never have to look back. Sure there are others who may sell products or offer services similar to yours, but you can make yourself stand out by creating a strong brand.

What is your company doing to build a brand? Share with us.

Author Bio

Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder of E2M, a full service digital marketing agency and PRmention, a digital PR agency. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, Growth Hacking, Entrepreneurship and Digital PR. Pratik has spoken at NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, and other major events across Asia. As a passionate marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge on publications like Search Engine Land, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web and the Huffington Post to name a few. He has been named one of the top content marketing influencers by Onalytica three years in a row.

Three Strategies to Expand Your Brand Online

expand online

In the past two years I have been actively involved in eCommerce, launching new brands exclusively online, or expanding established brands to take advantage of the online channel and grow sales.

I have gained enough hands-on experience managing branded online stores, as well as selling on third party retailers such as Amazon, to put together this article that explores the eCommerce channel from a strategic perspective.

Many brand owners acknowledge the need to expand online, but are unable to take action. The most common reasons are fear of channel conflict, and lack financial and human resources necessary to manage the online channel.

Selling online used to be prohibitive, especially for small businesses, but times have changed. Currently are many accessible options for expanding online, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Below are the most popular strategies, explained.

Your Own Branded Online Store

Today’s eCommerce platforms eliminate most of the barriers to selling online with easy-to-customize templates, bulk product uploads, integrated payment gateways, enhanced security and customer support.

The two eCommerce platforms I use and highly recommend are Shopify and WooCommerce. For those interested in a direct comparison and analysis of different platforms, the eCommerce Platforms blog is an excellent resource.


  • You have complete control of user experience, including branding, messaging, marketing activities and customer support.
  • You know who your customers are, which gives you the opportunity to develop long-term relationships and grow your brands on all channels.
  • Your margins are typically higher, as there are no intermediaries, fees and commissions to pay to third party retailers.
  • You can quickly add, remove and change products based on your strategic objectives.
  • You can build a community around your brand, with positive effects across all channels.
  • A successful eCommerce store is an important business asset.


  • While setup costs have drastically decreased, launching an eCommerce store still require a financial and human investment.
  • Building quality traffic and trust online takes considerable resources and skills.
  • You may need additional resources for shipping orders and providing customer support, in addition to marketing.

Third Party e-Retailers (excluding Amazon)

Many established retailers, such as Walmart, Sears, Best Buy, Home Depot, Staples are actively looking to expand their online assortment.

Let’s take Best Buy for example: their in-store assortment consists mainly of electronics, while their eCommerce store carries many un-related categories including furniture, baby, maternity and beauty products, sports and recreation.

Getting in-store shelf space with big retailers is often difficult. However these retailers are much more receptive to carrying your brand online, given the virtually unlimited “shelf space” available.


  • Your brand will benefit from the high traffic these stores already enjoy.
  • You bring credibility to your brand by associating it with an established retailer.
  • The investment in additional resources is not as high as launching and managing your own store.
  • Depending on the distribution model, the retailer can manage your order shipping and customer support.


  • Your brand will be one of many available on the online store, which makes it challenging to stand out.
  • You have limited knowledge of your buyer, as most retailers will not allow direct contact with customers.
  • Marketing tools available to influence purchase decision are usually limited, costly or both.
  • The fees paid to the retailer might put pressure on your margin.
  • The decision to keep or drop lines belongs to retailer, which increases your brand vulnerability.


Selling on Amazon requires a multi-layered strategy and probably a dedicated article.

At the time of writing this article (April 2017) there are three ways to have your products available on the Amazon platform:

Sell TO Amazon (Amazon acting as a distributor of your products): Amazon buys your products upfront at wholesale prices, stocks them in its warehouses and sells them to customers. Amazon is in full control of retail prices, and will re-order from you based on inventory and sales algorithms, just like any other independent distributor.

In order to take advantage of this model you will have to receive an invitation and acceptance from Amazon.

The main advantage of this model is that you will receive money upfront for your products, and don’t have to wait for the sale to be made. On the negative side, Amazon does little marketing effort to push your product, at least in the case of smaller brands. You will also have no knowledge of who is actually buying your product.

Sell ON Amazon using Fulfill-by-Merchant (FBM) model: This model gives you access to the Amazon Marketplace, where you can list, market, sell and provide customer support for your products. The products are stored and shipped from your location.

This model gives you full control of the retail price for your products. Once you made a sale, you are responsible for shipping the product to the end-use customer, and cover freight costs.

Amazon will charge a Marketing and Referral fee for giving you access to the platform.

Sell ON Amazon using Fulfill-by-Amazon (FBA) model: This is the most hands-off approach to selling on Amazon using the self-managed Amazon Marketplace platform. Just like in the FBM model, you are in full control of the retail price and any price reductions.

The difference is that with FBA Amazon is responsible for warehousing your product, and order fulfillment. In other words, you ship the products you decide to sell online to the Amazon warehouse(s), and they fulfill the orders. The biggest advantage is that your order will qualify for Amazon Prime service that has at least 66 million subscribers.

All this convenience comes at a cost. Amazon charges an FBA fee based on the type of product your are selling and its retail price. This fee is naturally higher than the FBM fee, as it includes storage, order picking, packing and shipping.

I personally use all 3 models to sell on Amazon. Each model has advantages and disadvantages; here are my personal observations:

-The Sell TO Amazon model gives you the least control of your brand. While the upfront payment for stock is nice, the fact that Amazon is free to set retail prices at its discretion can drastically impact your overall pricing strategy and create channel conflict. The is also very little involvement from Amazon to push smaller, less known brands.

-The FBM model works well for businesses that have excellent fulfillment capabilities, including good shipping rates. The other benefit is that you have your customers’ contact information, which could give you an idea of who your customer is (however, trying to persuade the customer away from amazon is strictly monitored by amazon and leads to account suspension).

-The FBA model is very popular, as it requires relatively little involvement once your products are shipped to the Amazon warehouse. This model is also great for accessing international markets. As a downside the FBA can eat your margins quickly, especially if your product is retail-priced under $10 USD.

Ecommerce is a channel most brands can and should take advantage of upon careful research and planning. Brand owners must decide on what method(s) work best given their specific product, target audience and internal expertise.

If you have any concrete questions about selling your brand online, feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment below.

Photo Credit: Robbert Noordzij on Flickr

Managing Channel Conflict: How to Make Your Products More Accessible with Multi-Channel Distribution

brand distributorMarketers are among the first to witness what I call the “fragmentation” of everything: media, consumer preferences, shopping habits and distribution channels.

Brands are almost forced to diversify their presence across multiple distribution channels to avoid becoming irrelevant.

Emerging brands have usually adapted well to the new reality: they offer no exclusivity to a particular distribution channel.

For established brands that were built and have been loyal to a single distribution channel, where most of their customers (used to) shop, deciding on a multi-channel distribution strategy is increasingly a challenge.

Faced with increased consumer expectations that products be available instantly, anywhere they shop, these brands face a big dilemma: how to expand the brand distribution for more exposure and sales, without loosing the support of the existing distributors?

In short, how to avoid channel conflict?

I have some good news for those of you facing this dilemma: the channel conflict challenge is difficult, but not impossible to navigate.

What is Channel Conflict?

The potential for channel conflict exists when a brand is available through multiple distribution channels that are in direct competition for the same market and customer, with an identical product offering.

Once you make the decision to expand, it is important to have arguments in place to address these concerns during discussions which will inevitably occur. Your existing distributors will most likely complain every time your brand is available through a new channel, regardless in the new channel is a direct competitor or not.

The Accelerating Factor

The rapid growth of eCommerce has only exacerbated the need to expand brand distribution. Selling online used to be prohibitive, especially for most small business, but not any more.

A-la-carte platform such as Shopify and WooCommerce makes online expansion fast and cost effective, with all the benefits that come with it: 24/7 availability, price transparency, rapid international expansion, and so on.

Faced with the constant pressure to grow sales, it’s hard for executives to resist exploring the ecommerce channel.

Traditional bring and mortar distributors, in particular those less sophisticated, see eCommerce as a threat, and rightfully so. Expect a lot of push back if you manage a brand that was traditionally sold through independent brick and mortar stores when you decide to adopt eCommerce.

The Dangers of Channel Conflict

Strong, established brands that are demanded by consumers tend mitigate the conflict easily. However, for most up-and-coming brands hungry to expand the dangers are real. Potential negative consequences include:

  • Existing distributors will stop pushing or drop your brand. Brand owners have to assess the impact each channel has on the overall business and the probability that distributors switch brands, before making a decision.
  • Difficulty in maintaining price consistency across channels, resulting in price wars. Since your products will be available through multiple channels consumers might delay the purchase indefinitely in search for the deal.
  • Declining sales. The new channel should have the potential to offset any lost sales within the existing channel, which inevitably occur when customers are given new purchasing alternatives. Expanded distribution should only be pursued if it generates incremental sales. Otherwise the risk of sales canalization is real.
  • Bad PR. Having your own distributors bad-mouthing your brand is even worse than dropping it. Bad PR affects the brand image as a whole, regardless of the distribution channel.
  • Unhappy customers. Distributors might retaliate by refusing to offer support for your brand, even to customers who purchased your product through them.

Reasons for Expanding Your Brand Distribution

  • Flat or decreasing sales. Lack of sales growth is typically the main reason behind the decision to expand distribution, assuming existing distributors are partially to blame for it. In theory a new channel will expose the brand to new customers and  markets, thus generating sales growth.
  • Changes in purchasing habits. The way we shopped has changed dramatically, from local mom and pop shops, to big box stores, online, and everything in between. Moreover, consumers have little or no loyalty to a particular channel; we all make shopping decisions based on personal circumstances that change daily. Brands are almost forced to explore all distribution options in order to grow.
  • Increased competition. New brands are launched on the premise of non-exclusive distribution, which makes it harder for brands loyal to a particular channel to compete in exposure and reach.
  • Decrease of distributor support. Many brands are stuck with distribution channels that are becoming non-relevant to the new generation of consumers, who simply don’t shop there.

How to Avoid Channel Conflict

All of the above makes the decision to expand the brand distribution both tempting and risky. For some brands it is a question of survival, which gives them little options but to expand.For others it’s an opportunity to grow sales and expand.

Regardless of the situation, here are some tips on how to mitigate potential channel conflict:

  • Have a realistic assessment of risks and opportunities associated with your decision. Will the new channel cannibalize existing sales, or augment them? How real are the risks of loosing business with existing distributors? Will current distributors even be around in 5 years? Are existing distributors the cause for the decline in sales?
  • Be upfront with your existing distribution. Once the decision has been made, do not keep it a secret and hope the existing distributors will not notice. Present your vision and goals clearly and explain how a stronger brand will benefit all parties.
  • Be ready to accept criticism. As I mentioned earlier, distributors will probably complain, regardless if the channel conflict is real or only perceived. Have a script in place to tackle common objections, and ease their concerns.
  • Price your products fairly across all channels. Give every party involved the chance to compete while being profitable.
  • Do not favor one channel over another. Present your customers with all the options to purchase your product, and let them make the final decision.
  • Assign geographical exclusivity for your brand. Having well defined territorial boundaries for brand representation will certainly eliminate channel conflict among brick and mortar distribution. This strategy is less effective in the case of eCommerce.
  • Implement a lead attribution system that will allow the entity who obtained the lead to get the sale. If feasible, this strategy will go a long way to eliminate confusion and conflict.
  • Explore private labeling. While certainly more costly and difficult to implement, creating a private label brand for a particular channel is a safe way to grow sales without the negative effects of channel conflict. Private labels are growing in popularity among distributors and retailers so your strategy is likely to be welcome with open arms.

Before making a decision to open a new distribution channel brand owners have to assess how the decision impact your existing distribution.

The goal of opening a new distribution channel is to penetrate new markets and attract a new category of customers the brand is currently not servicing. In other words, the goal is to gain brand exposure and sales, not cannibalize the exiting ones.

Photo credit: Joel Kramer on Flickr

Are Marketing Certifications Worth It?

A very common question I receive from my readers is about my Professional Certified Marketer designation. More specifically, what kind of impact did it have on my professional career?

I think it’s time, many years since I received the certification, to answer this question publicly in more detail.

For those of you who don’t want to read the entire article, here is the short answer: personally, I haven’t had any professional benefit from becoming a PCM.

If anything, adding the designation to my signature generated more questions than recognition, which makes me question its popularity within the business community.

For those of you interested in getting a Marketing certification, I will try to answer the broader question: are marketing certifications worth it?

Marketing Certifications: Options Abound

There are plenty of options to obtain a Marketing certification, depending on your specific interest. It seems like every marketing organization, private company, blog and even apps are now issuing their own certification.

Here is a very short list:

Almost every certification requires an investment from you: your time, money, or both. Before you decide on what certification to pursue, ask yourself if going through the process is worth your effort.

Why Do Marketers Want to Get Certified?

In fields such as Accounting and Engineering certification is the entry ticket into management positions. Marketing does not employ such high standards: no certification is required to qualify for a specific Marketing job.

So why become certified?

Based on the feedback from my readers, the number one reason for wanting to pursue a marketing certification is building credibility with employers. In a field with no well-defined career path, a certification is hoped to be perceived as an independent endorsement of one’s Marketing knowledge and skills-but is this the case?

The answer is not easy and depends on personal circumstances. Regardless, some basic research is needed.

What Makes a Good Certification?

This is the first question a potential candidate should answer. Here are some questions that should guide your decision:

How selective is the process of getting certified? What kind of per-requirements does the certification have? Is registration open to everybody, regardless of the level of experience and education?  What is the level of commitment required in order to pass the final exam?

Generally speaking, reputable certifications tend to be very selective and have strict admission criteria and a considerable workload.

Is the business community aware of its existence? Awareness is the first step in building credibility. In order for any certification to be a difference maker it must be acknowledged by people in charge with recruiting in a particular field.

Every employer who want to hire for a senior accounting position requires a candidate with a Certified Professional Accountant (CPA) designation.

Based on my personal experience, employers and even marketing professionals are not even aware the PCM designation even exists. I believe there is more work to be done by the American Marketing Association in this regard.

What is its level of reputation? This is really what matters. Assuming decision makers are aware of its existing, does the certification add value to a resume? Reputation is built in time, through many generations of graduates who made a difference in their field.

If you decided to pursue a particular certification. there are a few things you can do to assess its merits.

Start with the institution issuing the certification. Usually it plays a huge role in establishing its credibility. A certification offered by Harvard University comes with a level of credibility already built in, versus a certification from an institution nobody’s heard of.

If the reason for getting certified is breaking into the marketing field, or getting a better job, study the  job postings for the position(s) you are targeting: is the certification listed as a must have, nice to have, or not listed at all ?

Also, take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of people already working in the same position your are targeting: how many of them are certified?

Finally, don’t be afraid to talk to recruiters about the value of the certification you are want to pursue. They can provide valuable and honest feedback on what employers are looking for.

What Really Matters to Employers

I would like to conclude with what I think really matters to employers looking to hire a marketing person.

The number one criteria that will get you closer to your dream job is work experience in the field- ideally, experience in the same industry your potential employers operates in. I know this causes a lot of frustration among candidates-but it’s a fact.

Secondly, I received many emails from my readers asking if they should pursue an MBA or the Professional Certified Marketer designation.

There is no doubt that post-secondary education still maters. A university degree will bring much more credibility to your resume than any Marketing certification.

And finally, the sad and ugly truth: who you know is more important than what you know. Your ability to network will help you get your dream job faster than getting certified and sending hundreds of applications. Many Ivy league school graduates admit that the value of attending a top university is not the quality of its courses, but the connections you make.

I don’t want to discourage you from pursuing a marketing certification. I am sure there are many marketing professionals who benefited greatly from being certified. Just do your due-diligence and make sure the certification you decide on is worth your effort.

How to Think Strategically

The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Strategy” is one of the most used and abused corporate buzzwords. People who use it often feel it adds an extra level of importance to their projects and actions.

While managers of all companies, big or small, are expected to show strategic leadership, many don’t really understand what that really means.

In fact, many businesses fail to capitalize on market opportunities for this exact reason: management’s lack of strategic thinking skills.

Strategy and Strategic Thinking

There should be nothing complicated and intimidating about strategy.

Strategy means having a goal, a plan and timeline to reach it, and the determination to stick to it.

Strategy means looking before immediate needs, towards how today’s actions will affect the “big picture”. It’s about saying no to today’s temptations that are not in line with “the plan”.

The benefits of strategic thinking go beyond the business world. In fact, it is a skill we can apply to almost all aspects of our daily lives.

You are actually using your strategic thinking skills more than you realize.

Let’s take those of us who have kids. We all want our kids to live a physically, mentally, and financially fulfilling life.

Achieving this very powerful goal is only possible without thinking strategically and having a plan.

If you let your kids watch TV or play video games all day long, the chances of them developing any interest in learning and being physically active are pretty slim.

To succeed, you need to plan and allocate time for reading and writing, playing outdoors, and meeting family and friends.

Furthermore, you also have to think of saving money for their university, starting when they are little. You also need to take them traveling so they discover the world and get a different perspective on life.

This is strategic thinking in action.

Tips On Improving Your Strategic Thinking Skills

In business, those who think strategically are able to anticipate market trends, predict new needs, and be first to develop products to satisfy them. They are able to be one step ahead of the competition, anticipate their moves and respond accordingly.

Here are some tips on how to improve your strategic thinking:

Have a Purpose

It sounds cliché, but there’s no way around it: the motivator behind thinking strategically is a powerful goal. In order words you need to know where you want to go, and be determined to get there.

In a famous speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs said: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Start With The End in Mind

At the beginning of each project ask yourself: what do I want to achieve? What is the desired result of my actions? Think of the ultimate goal, not the steps in between.

Let’s say you’ve been assigned to manage a website design project. Listing “mobile friendly and modern looking website” as project goal displays a lack of strategic thinking. From a strategic perspective, your end goal for this project should be to help you sell more products, or generate more leads.

Seek Expertise From Outside Your Industry

One of the requirements that frustrate job seekers who are looking for a career change is “must have industry experience”. Meaning, the employer is only interested in candidates who currently work for the competition.

The strategy of stealing people from competition is partly responsible for the lack of innovation and differentiation within most categories. People who move from company to company within the same industry want to do things the same way they’ve always done it.

Strategic thinkers seek and embrace perspectives that “don’t fit the mould”. In most cases these unique ideas come from people who are not directly involved in the industry.

Avoid Daily Distractions

One of the biggest challenges we face today is finding time to think. Technology made us more connected, but also more distracted. We are able to multitask, but for no meaningful purpose.

Strategy requires focus for long periods.

Our computer and digital devices are the principal source of distractions, and, in order to think strategically, we need to reduce them to a minimum. If you are looking for inspiration on how to focus more by avoiding distractions, this excellent post by Nir Eyal will certainly help.

Pursue an Interest in Liberal Arts Education

One way to get better at what we do is to learn as much as we can about our particular field. While this strategy will make you a specialist in your field, it will not necessarily improve your strategic thinking skills.

Liberal arts teach us the fundamental skills applicable to any profession: how to write effectively, how to get our points across, and how to nurture your creativity. All these are fundamental skills that will make you better regardless of your profession, and improve your strategic thinking.

Find Time to Think

“Busy” is the number one excuse for not getting important things done, one that is often hide the inability to manage one’s professional and personal lives. Being constantly “busy” is the number one enemy of strategic thinking.

How many times have you left the office at the end of a busy day feeling you haven’t accomplished anything meaningful?

We often focus on things and situations that are urgent, concrete, and need our immediate attention, and rarely find time to work on this that make the biggest impact on our long-term plans.

Strategic thinking requires a conscious effort to detach yourself from the daily routine and stop responding to every stimulus.

Embrace Tradeoffs

A great strategic mind understands that in order to get something, you need to give up something else. You can’t get fit and healthy without giving up on junk food. You can’t launch your small business without giving up on your personal time.

Every sound strategy requires a tradeoff, and unfortunately not many business leaders are willing to accept them.

Examples abound: Blackberry chasing the consumer market. Dell abandoning its simple business model: one product (computers), one distribution channel (online, directly to consumer). And so on.

Surround Yourself With People Smarter Than You

You’re probably familiar with the saying “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the room.”

Narcissists usually make for terrible strategists, as they have a hard time accepting suggestions that make them feel weak, and love making every decision and following up on every action item.

And yet, the path to personal and professional growth is to listen and learn from others, and embrace their view even if it differs from yours.

Strategic thinking is a very powerful and sought-after skill acquired through training and experience.

Mastering it will have a huge impact on your personal and professional success. You will be able to respond to changes happening around you, improve your confidence and posses a valuable skill set you can apply in most professions.

The Single Word That Should Define Your Branding Strategy

Simple Brands-Netflix

There is plenty of advice on how build a brand. And yet, brand building is more complicated than ever, in part due to the competitive environment, but also the strategic decisions brand owners make.

A look back at some of the most successful brands shows a commonality that can be summarized in a single word: simplicity. Successful brands are simple brands.

Simple brands have most chances of being noticed, remembered and preferred.

Netflix allows you to access thousands of titles with a click of the mouse. Google uncluttered the screen of all the unnecessary information and presented us with a single obvious option: to search for the information we need.

Keeping it simple works.

Simple Brands Demystified

It’s not uncommon for Brand Managers to demand simplicity when developing a brand’s identity: clean and simple logo, modern and uncluttered website. Many brands stand out through visual simplicity.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as most companies are willing to go in building a simple brand. And it’s not enough.

A simple brand makes it easy for its customers to understand its purpose and interact with it.

A simple brand minimizes the decision making process.

A simple brand offers a great customer service experience.

A simple brand is honest.

How to Build a Simple Brand

Building a simple brand requires vision and strategic trade-offs. It requires saying “no” when saying “yes” means better short term sales and profits.

Here is what simple brands do:

  • simple brands communicate clearly in a language that its customers understand. Often times we refer to an offer as being “too good to be true”. Upon reading the fine print, we discover that indeed it is. That complicate our relationship with the brand, and we rank it low on our simplicity scale.
  • simple brands present information that is complete and easy to find. In case of eCommerce, the buying process has to be fast, simple and without unexpected surprises. Amazon built is otherwise complex business on a simple idea: allowing users to shop online fast, with a few clicks of the mouse (one-click ordering).
  • simple brands offer a product assortment that minimizes consumer choices, and makes products that are easy to use. Apple excels at both. Their huge success in the phone market was achieved with a single product: the iPhone. Steve Jobs was also keen on designing an interface that is so intuitive that even small kids can use.
  • simple brands welcome and makes communication with its customers easy. We all hate calling big telecom companies because we know how bad the experience is: waiting on hold, than being transferred from agent to agent until you find the right person who is competent enough to assist you.
  • simple brands offer a great experience. I used to think great customer service has become a point of parity, and not a differentiation strategy. However my real-life experiences tell me that in most categories there is still room to differentiate on making it easy for customers to deal with your brand.

All these elements on which a simple brand is built are interconnected. A narrow product line allows staff to be more knowledgeable, and answer questions quickly. A seamless online shopping experience generates more orders and less cart abandonment.

Staying Simple is Complicated

Unfortunately most brands start simple, but in time tend to complicate things. Growth and complexity seem to go hand in hand.

Brand and line extensions are the two most commonly used strategies to grow sales. Any new addition to the existing assortment is a step away from simplicity.

Even Apple, a brand that was revived by a return to simplicity, fell into the line extension trap after Steve Job’s disappearance.

A smaller and a bigger iPad, a bigger and a cheaper iPhone, an Apple TV that can be used to play games-all options that complicate the Apple brand, and don’t necessarily make it more successful (for the first time in a decade Apple predicted a decline in sales in the second quarter of 2016).

Stealing competitors’ positioning is another strategy that leads to confusion.

The Volvo brand has always been associated with safety. That’s the reason my wife and I decided to buy a Volvo-so our kids will be safe.

However, in recent years, Volvo’s communication strategy has shifted to promoting engine performance, including direct comparisons against BMW and Audi. At the same time, the German brands are highlighting the safety features of their vehicles. Confusing, isn’t it?

Simplicity Gets Noticed

The biggest advantage of a simple brand is its ability to compete against category giants.

Dollar Shave Club has managed to build a successful business competing against category giants such as Gillette by delivering simple (and funny) brand experience. The brand has been named the biggest disruptor in the US market by Siegel+Gale’s 2015 Global Brand Simplicity Index.

We all love simple brands that make our lives less complicated. Therefore, no matter what strategy you go for, your goal as a brand owner should always be to build a simple brand.

Cheers to simplicity!

A Guide to Understanding Your Brand’s Target Audiences

Brand's Target AudiencesImage credit: Joe the Goat Farmer on Flickr

Most Brand Managers understand the importance of having an accurate image of the brand’s target audiences. What’s often missed is how our marketing actions impact the quality of that audience.

We often judge the strength of a brand by the number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers and email subscribers. What we don’t know is if these fans are actually buying its products, and referring it to their friends, or are there to for freebees or discount coupons.

There are various ways to define audiences. One way is to segment potential customers based on hard data such as demographics, media usage, and purchase frequency. This is important, but we need to take the audience segmentation one step further.

Strategically, brand managers have to think of how consumers relate to brands and the categories they belong to. We all have brands we love, brands we hate, and brands that leave us indifferent.

We use our relationship with brands as a selection tool that help us decide among the multitude of competitive offerings.

Category First, Brand Second

Whenever a new brand enters our radar, we automatically link it to a category. That’s how we structure things in our minds, and cope with the multitude of choices available. For the Brand Manager, this is important for two reasons.

First, linking a brand to a less-crowded category (if the option exists) when establishing its  frame of reference gives the brand a chance to stand out.

Second, in the case of a new brand, it is important to create the category-brand link as early and clearly as possible to eliminate confusion and avoid building the wrong brand perceptions.

Once the category-brand relationship has been established, a brand’s audience consists of these four types of consumers:

Category Connoisseurs

These are people passionate about the category in general, with no loyalty to a particular brand. They enjoy trying, comparing and talking about products and are familiar with the vast majority of brands in the category.

Take wine connoisseurs for example: they are able to list distinct differences between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and lecture you for hours on why a bottle of wine is worth $1000, while another only $10.

These consumers are a great go-to resource for any brand in the category. A discussion with category connoisseurs will allow you to understand the category in much greater detail than any focus group will.

Your goal is to make this group aware of your brand, but not through advertising. No amount of advertising will convince these people your brand is worth considering.

The discovery has to happen as a result of their own research. All you can do is be ready to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself. Category connoisseurs are the greatest endorsement your brand can hope for.


If your marketing strategy focuses on offering freebees and steep price discounts your brand audience is probably dominated by opportunists.  Also known as “bargain hunters” and “professional contest enterers”, these consumers’ only reason for buying is a “good deal”, regardless of the brand.

These people a very price sensitive, and respond well to comparative pricing strategies that show how much they will save. They collect coupons and points, buy off promo flyers and use apps that show the lowest price for a particular product.

Advertising works well when targeting these consumers, but only when a “deal” is being offered. The long term effect of servicing the opportunists is shrinking margins and no brand loyalty.


This is the third category that is not brand loyal, and only interact with the category when it’s absolutely necessary.

They are also not as price sensitive as the opportunists. Pragmatics make their buying decisions based on a combination of price, product characteristics, brand image, and convenience that is very difficult to per-determine.

The foundation of their buying decision is the need, not the deal. They are not early adapters and rarely choose brands based on the image they reflect.

Car buyers who are looking for a vehicle that will take them from point A to B fall into the pragmatics category. Those buyers don’t care that much about a brand that reflects their personality and status-what they value is the car’s reliability, gas mileage and warranty.

Another category that attracts a large number of pragmatics is air travel. We often choose our tickets based on a combination of objective factors such as price, flight time, number of stops and airline reviews.

Brand Loyalists

Brand loyalists are the most sought-after audience.

What brand doesn’t want to have customers who will not switch brands regardless of constant temptations from its competitors, and refer the brand to friends and family?

Study after study show that brand loyalty is on the decline, which is understandable. The main reason is increased competition, which makes differences between products indistinguishable.

Secondly, the brands themselves are responsible for the decrease in consumer loyalty, by not living up to their original promise.

Blackberry promised to be an innovator in mobile communication. The brand had developed a passionate and loyal following their keyboard phones, until competitors offered superior alternatives Blackberry was not able to match.

Every brand’s target audience consists of a mix of all four categories.

In an ideal world, the percentage of brand loyalists and category connoisseurs will greatly exceed the number of pragmatics, and opportunists. This is something we can control through our marketing strategy and actions:

  • If you are constantly communicating “limited time deals” and “price discounts” you will invariably attract a large number of opportunists.
  • If your strategy focuses on providing quality, informative, factually comparative information you will get on the radar of category connoisseurs and pragmatics.
  • An aspirational brand that has move beyond product features and benefits, and constantly deliver on its promise, has the best changes of building a loyal following.

Each of us belong to all four segments depending on how we relate to each category. I am a connoisseur when it comes to cars, pragmatic when it comes to cell phone plans, opportunist when it comes to cable TV, and brand loyalist when it comes to bikes.

So next time you review your marketing plan, ask yourself: what type of audience is a particular initiative most likely to attract: connoisseurs, opportunists, pragmatics or brand loyalists?

5 Favorite Things

5 things

If you had to name the 5 things you love most, what would your list look like?

This is the essence of the 5 Things project started by Belfast-based designer Paul McNally.

His goal is to “grow a global community of individuals encompassing all ages, locations and occupations; discovering, and documenting, the stories behind the things they choose as their five favorites. Hopefully, growing into an archive of interesting stories about humans and the things we love.”

I really liked his idea and decided to share with you my favorite 5 things:

My Family

My wife and two kids are the center of my universe. The decision to settle in a new country meant having no close family or friends around, which strengthened our relationship. We supported each other when times were bad and celebrated every small victory. We’re very proud of what we accomplished, but still don’t take anything for granted.

The Beach

The beach is my favorite relaxation spot. I know many associate Canada with cold and hockey, not sunny days and sandy beaches. While it’s true that Canadian winters can be cold, there are plenty of places to go and enjoy the summer.

Consider this: Canada has 60% of the world’s lakes (about 2 million) and 10% of the world’s forest. Plenty of options to spend quality time by the water.


I’ve always loved reading. In high school I used to spend any money I had on books, rather than going to clubs or movies. To this day, I’ll choose a good book over any 5-star rated movie (I am so behind on movies). And although printed books are still my favorite (I love the smell of a new book), I do most of my reading these days on the iPad.

“Smart” Company

I believe the key to living a meaningful life is being surrounded by people smarter than you. Smart people challenge your perspective, and allow you to discover things you wouldn’t have known existed.

“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room” is one of my guiding principle.

A Successful Project

Professionally, it’s very rewarding when things turn the way you predicted. Marketers face a lot of unknowns and uncertainty with every project they undertake. The reward comes when the brand you helped launched, or the campaign you designed from scratch delivered the expected results.

What are the 5 things you love most? Let me know in the Comments section below.

Do You Need 1-On-1 Marketing Advice? I am Here To Help


If you have a marketing question you think I can help you with, join me for a 10-minute free online meeting on Officehours.

Officehours is a service that allows people looking for advice to connect with specialists in various fields. November 6 will be my first time using the service, but from what I read it works great.

How to Book a Free Session With Me:

Create your profile on Officehours.

Click on my advisor profile.

If the session show as “Available” request it.

Next Available Session

I only have one session scheduled for now: November 6, at 12.15 PM Eastern Time (Toronto).

If the time of this session doesn’t work for you shoot me an email with a time that’s convenient for you. I will do my best to accommodate your request.

Using the service looks straightforward. All you need is a computer, speakers, microphone and a quiet place to talk.

More importantly, you need to plan your questions in advance so we can be as effective as possible. The call ends automatically after 10 minutes!

Some of you have been my readers for a long time. This is a chance to break the ice and have a 1-on-1 chat.

I look forward to “meeting” you.