~Marketing Insights to Help You Grow Your Business~

Marketing and the Competition

Marketing and the Competition

Marketing professionals look in the mirror and have reflections filled with angst over their competition.

They watch with great anticipation to see what they will do next, how they respond to market changes and they get obsessed about how they price their products.

Of course, a deep understanding of competition matters, but it rarely solves the most critical challenge marketers face.

How can we be true to who we are?

Worrying about competition means that you are always in comparison mode with others. They add a new SKU, so you add one.

They sell through a new channel, so you feel compelled to do the same.

And while you are copying and pasting what they do, brands that are followers often lose their way.

Family Vacation as Metaphor

A simple metaphor is the family vacation. You would never look at the holidays your neighbors take and say, I want to do what they are doing. Your kids may hate Disney World and prefer to go camping. Just because a family down the block took their kids to Europe, it may not be the adventure you want for your children.

As a family, you want to give your children an experience that you and your spouse feel will give them a chance to get away and to open their eyes to a new experience. You want the vacation to resonate with everyone and be authentic to your family, not the neighbors. 

If you are copying your neighbors, you aren’t in tune with what matters to you and your family.

The same is true for brands and businesses. 

Competition and Marketing

When I work with clients on creating marketing strategies to help them grow, we do review the competition, so we have a baseline understanding of their customer’s choices.

But we quickly move on to find things we can do that reflect who we are, what we believe in and actions that serve our customers in our special way.

These “only we” moments are critical because they give you distance from the competition. They allow your company and brand to have a unique approach to the marketplace.

Finding gaps or areas that competitors don’t serve are helpful and directional.

But until you do things that only your brand does, you’ll remain a blur and won’t break through. The best situation is finding a new dimension of value that your competition doesn’t address.

A new aspect of value is a blue ocean approach to the marketplace, where you aren’t selling based on the same considerations as the competition.

  • Cirque du Soleil eliminates the animals from the circus but keeps the exhilaration.
  • Daybreaker focuses on dance parties, but they take away the nightclub, late night and alcohol. 
  • Louboutin focuses on the red soul on each shoe, not just the elegant woman’s shoes.
  • Nomacorc, my former employer is a wine closure brand that markets Plantcorc® that is made from sugarcane, creating a new category that no one else sells.
  • Nomaco, a client, sells Herculean foam, that is unlike any other foam because of it is both lightweight and strong, replacing wood.

The trick is to focus on a need that your customers have and that your competitor doesn’t sell.  Being a copycat does nothing for your customers. You can’t stand out from the crowd, following the competition. 

Doing something original that only your brand can deliver can shifts markets.

How does your brand serve customers in a way that your competitors ignore?

Could you use help evaluating your competition and finding your brand’s “only we” position?  Call me at 919 720 0995 or email me at – or book some time to talk on my calendar.

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash




Owner’s Care

Owner’s Care

For more than twenty years, I have been getting my haircut at the same place not far from my home. Lindsay, who cuts my hair today is both talented and a pleasure to connect with every six weeks. She knows how I like my haircut and we always talk about food, cooking, and family.

As I was leaving to pay, I asked the receptionist if I could schedule my appointments online. It would be so convenient to do, and I can avoid the typical 5-minute wait that happens every time I call.

She, along with her co-worker told me that you can schedule online, but you have to pay upfront, and sometimes it doesn’t work right, and you can’t schedule an appointment for a men’s haircut versus a women’s cut.

Wait, what?

So I went online and found a confusing, complicated form that didn’t work. Ridiculous. In today’s world, this should be simple and second nature.

I emailed the owner through his online form, and 10 minutes later he reached out to apologize. Wow, we screwed up, I’ll get this fixed. Thanks for letting me know it didn’t work.

Owners Care

As an owner, you always care more than your staff. It is your business. You will always care more than most employees.  The receptionist who I spoke to probably figured — NMJ. (not my job). She didn’t say, let me get your phone number or email and I’ll speak to the owner, we will figure it out and I’ll let you know when it is fixed. The two receptionist acted like – gee, it is kind of screwed up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.


For the owner of a business, everything is your job.

You better care about each of the friction points that get in the way of making a customer’s happy and a transaction easy. Technology makes it so easy that any hurdles are just unacceptable.

In corporations, where you have shareholders and employees, you often find people caring about their work if they are well treated. They’ll go the extra mile but not if they feel an unreasonable work environment.

That’s why the best employees are those people who care as if it was their own business. They are hard to find and worth more than you are probably paying them.

In the end, the owner has to make things work. She has no choice, or slowly the business will get clipped.

That’s who cares.

Do you need help uncovering the friction points your customers have to buy more from you? As a marketing professional, I may be able to shave some of the complexity away. Call me at 919 720 0995 or email me at – or book some time to talk on my calendar. (don’t worry, it is easy to use).

Photo by Adam Sherez on Unsplash




Marketing Genius

Marketing Genius

Marketing requires a thoughtful approach that is rooted in clear thinking. The exceptional marketers recognize a fantastic opportunity that is filled with wit and whimsy. The brilliant marketing genius is open to wild and crazy ideas because they are so difficult to do, and their competition would quickly reject them.

Elon Musk didn’t need to put his cherry red Tesla into space to orbit the globe. He could have focused on the publicity that his Space-X rocket would receive from a successful launch.

But someone, probably Musk had a “what if” moment.

What if, while the world is watching, we could do a little stunt that connects emotionally to all of the hopes and aspirations of exploration into the universe.

Either Musk or his team allowed themselves to imagine something absurdly crazy that could break the Internet and harness the emotional connection of the blast off and reentry of their space rocket.

Stunts, Gimmicks and Strategic Imagination

Every marketer needs a little P.T.Barnum. They need to see beyond the practical and look for ways to capture the imagination of those they want to reach. Putting Musk’s personal Tesla in space with Starman, a dummy dressed in a space suit, with a sign saying “don’t panic” is genius. He even put a copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in the glovebox. And the cherry on the top is blasting Bowie’s “Space Oddity” song.

Creating Brand Equity

Promotional activities can feed a brand’s equity with consumers. Brand equity is the sum of awareness, quality, loyalty, and association. By leveraging a media event like the launching of his rocket ship from his other company SpaceX, Musk could build on the publicity that the launch was already generating.

Companies like Red Bull have figured out how to do this too, but Musk’s inspirational marketing genius was fully exposed last week. The positive associations with a car flying through space can only rub off on the Tesla brand.

Lessons for Marketing Professionals

It is hard to find genius ideas like this, not to mention to have the funds to pull them off. But you can still find ways to separate your brand and product from the crowd through publicity stunts, mainly if the right audience is already paying attention and you are on strategy with the brand’s ethos.

  • Think magically. Don’t start with constraints that something is impossible, impractical or unrealistic. Maybe you can’t make your idea happen, but perhaps there is something that is doable.
  • Bring something fun to a place where your target is hanging out. If thousands of your target audience are gathering, like at a convention – think UNCONVENTIONALLY. Maybe you can create a publicity stunt at a trade show that grabs the imagination of the crowd in a way that shines a bright light on your product but unexpectedly.
  • Do what the competition would never do. Can you imagine GM or Ford personnel sitting around talking about putting a car in space? Tesla is a different type of transportation company so, in keeping with their brand, they have to act differently.

Somewhere, Steve Jobs is looking down on outer space, seeing that flying Tesla and smiling.

Could you use some magical thinking for your brand? Let’s talk. Call me at 919 720 0995 or email me at – you can set up a call on my calendar too.

Photo courtesy of Tesla and SpaceX



The Power of a Trailer for Brands

The Power of a Trailer for Brands

Marketing requires energy, excitement, and teasing.

The movie industry understands this better than most and has used trailers to help gain awareness and anticipation. Marketers don’t often think like Hollywood, and they are missing an important tactic. Almost a third of all consumers who see a trailer say they are likely to watch a movie. Imagine brands getting that much interest.

Trailers can easily be shared and are an apt format for putting fuel into the tank of many marketing campaigns. They can evoke and provoke intense emotion and can bring heightened engagement and awareness. Trailers turn brands into experiences.

Two Branded Trailers

Web of Fries

Taco Bell recently launched a trailer campaign that felt like a movie but was all about Taco Bell’s nacho fries and cheese dipping sauce. With Josh Duhamel starring in the trailer, he investigates why there haven’t been French fries at Taco Bell. His “trailer” daughter asks why they are no fries and it leads him to examine coverups, clowns, and food-based espionage. The ads will run on TV but also in theatres and on social media channels. Watch the trailer here.


Robert Graham and the Fake Car Movie Trailer

In March 2016, a four-minute trailer was created for fashion brand Robert Graham to help raise awareness and to develop the brands. Using real actors like Juliette Lewis and Vincent Kartheiser, the fake trailer promoted the idea of breaking the second sound barrier which is a speed beyond the limits of the sound barrier. Grahams brand wanted an association with an exhilarating and exciting lifestyle and pure happiness and whimsy. Watch this trailer here.


Turn your brand into a fun, shareable level experience rich with excitement, intensity, and fun to your marketing efforts? Think of the possibilities to showcase the trailer and to have raving fans share it online? Maybe you rent out some movie theatres to showcase it to an unexpected audience.

Borrowing a tactic from another category can turbo charge your marketing.

Need to bring some imagination to your approach to marketing? Call me at 919 720 0995 or email me at – or set up a call on my calendar.

Photo credit: Taco Bell


What is your Word?

What is your Word?

Over coffee, a colleague was sharing a story of a recent marketing experience. A recent campaign failed, and everyone was licking their wounds wondering what went wrong.

I asked for their word.

Jonathan didn’t know what I meant.

What word is the center of the core of your brand essence?

Authentic. We are an authentic company, with a passion for being real, not something we aren’t.

As we looked at his marketing campaign that consisted of a series of ads, he realized that his ads were almost the opposite of his word. In fact, when he considered his “word,” the problem became clear. Their new campaign was fashionable and on trend with what others were doing in their industry. The problem, however, it wasn’t who they aspire to become. 

Brand Essence

Most brands have one word that defines the core of what you stand for, who you are and what you promise. It is a word that should be used to filter every activity.

A relaxed brand acts a very specific way and every touchpoint with customers should be chill, easy going and flexible in action. The brand is jeans not a suit. It is an untucked shirt, not a formal look. Every touch needs the look, feel and smell of relaxed.

If you are a rebellious brand filled with irreverence, you better live that in everything you do from your t-shirts to your website to your events. Every touch is imbued with an anti-establishment tone. Your word is the playing field where you can take your brand out to exercise her muscles. In my corporate days working on Slim Jim, our motto was all about rebellious teenagers. Everything you do must marinate in both fat and rebellious attitudes.

If everyone in the company doesn’t know your word, your messaging will be all over the place. If your attitude changes and shifts, your customers will be confused.

Aren’t you the reliable guys I can depend on? Suddenly you are telling me you are the adventurous guys —I’m confused?

Communications about brands are effective when you repeat your message over and over again. Every tactic is filtered by your word.

Haagen Dazs is about artisan ice cream where Ben & Jerry’s is about social responsibility.

Coke is about happy, and Harley is about freedom.

What is your brand’s word?

My word is all about listening. Call me and I’ll listen why you talk. 919 720 0995 or email me at – set up a call on my calendar.

Photo by Krista McPhee on Unsplash



How Do You Know?

How Do You Know?

I don’t like repeating myself, but sometimes it is necessary.

Consultants from all disciplines need to conduct discovery sessions to help them understand the challenges a company faces. Through open-ended questions, insights can emerge the will help define the problem to be solved.

On a recent assignment, I found that I repeated the same question over and over again.

How do you know this?

What emerged from various interview sessions was my client repeating the phrase,

I just know. It always works this way.

Discovery Tells Us About Tomorrow 

When you are doing a marketing, financial or operational discovery session, you want to understand the context of the past, but more importantly is how to anticipate what is coming tomorrow.

  • How do you know that the customer’s you have been selling to aren’t buying less because their world has experienced disruption?
  • How do you know if the choices and options your customer has had for the last ten years have changed so much that you are no longer top of mind?
  • How do you know that the people you view as competitors aren’t the only people going after your customer’s dollar?

Business teams need to challenge themselves and find ways to understand a buyer’s motivation. And, you can’t rely on history as predictive of any future behavior.

Just because the old locomotive train arrived in your small town for 20 years at 10:32 am, doesn’t mean the new high-speed rail will follow the same rules.

Could your business use a discovery session to help define the essence of the challenges you face? Are you too close to your business to be objective? Let’s talk. 919 720 0995 or email me at – use my calendar to schedule a call for a quick chat.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash



Chewing on a Clever Tactic

Chewing on a Clever Tactic

As the winery executive walked down the Unified tradeshow aisle, she stopped, looked at a banner sign with a headline and declared, “that’s my problem.”


My client, Business Impact from Chapel Hill, NC consists of a team of data artisans who reimagine how companies can access data. Instead of Excel® spreadsheets everywhere, they eliminate Excel by replacing data with warehouses filled with information and then making the data available at client’s fingertips.

When a comptroller from a larger winery passed by their booth at The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, our message resonated with her because my client and I have been listening carefully to understand a pain point.

Over the last six months, we have worked together on a variety of marketing projects, but getting the right message was critical. After listening to hours of client interviews and testimonials, I kept hearing, in different words, that this customer had been overly reliant on Excel before Business Impact appeared.

Strategy First – but Tactics can be Sticky

The image that came to my mind was that we needed to create a nicotine patch to help break their addiction.

Through discussions with my client and my partners at The Marketing Machine, we came up with a simple message but put it on a pack of chewing gum (think Nicotine gum instead of a Nicotine patch).

Our various communications activities were well written, designed and did a great job of delivering our message. But the little pack of gum that we handed out helped to reinforce our message in a fun, playful way. This pack of gum will also be part of a direct mail piece too.

When you can humanize a strategy with a tactic that makes your point, BOOM, the message is reinforced and easily remembered. And everytime that comptroller takes a piece of gum, she will remember our message and be actively chewing on how my client can help.

The best ideas tend to be simple but on strategy.

Chew on that for a moment.

Do you have enough creative juices to get your brand popping? I can help. 919 720 0995 or email me at – set up an appointment to talk on my calendar.

Photo courtesy of The Marketing Sage

Excel® is a registered trademark of Microsoft




Daybreaker Takes Something Away

Daybreaker Takes Something Away

Brands that soar tend to be eliminators.

They get rid of one big thing in the category. Great brands remove something everyone expects from an experience.

Ikea is the furniture store that doesn’t sell you assembled furniture. You do that work yourself. Carroll’s Kitchen is the non-profit that doesn’t behave like a non-profit. Instead, they have a restaurant that gives jobs to the community they want to serve, mostly woman in transition. Shapa, the scale without numbers eliminates something every scale in the world uses to measure success.

Clever Marketers Take Things Away

Daybreaker eliminates what most people hate about clubs (drinking, late nights, no dancing) and makes a morning celebration of wellness, dance, and community. When the founders of this thriving lifestyle brand decided that they had enough of boozy, late night club scenes, they wondered how they could reinvent the experience.

Over late-night falafels in Williamsburg Radha Agrawal (36) and Mathew Brimer (28) hatched the initial early morning dance experiment after another frustrating experience at a nightclub with mean bouncers, drunk people, and no one dancing.

They wondered, what if we eliminated from the nightclub scene:

  • The nightclub
  • The booze
  • The bouncers
  • The drunks
  • The drugs
  • Creepy behavior
  • Vomit
  • Nighttime

And replaced it with

  • Dancing
  • Happiness
  • Wellness
  • Community
  • Morning
  • Yoga
  • Healthy drinks and snacks

Daybreaker is sweeping around the world getting people up and dancing early in the morning. Started in 2013 in NY, the event has bartenders serving locally pressed kale, chia seed drinks, and Kind Bars. You can start early with yoga, but each cities event has a slightly different vibe. Some towns like San Francisco dig costumes while NYC was a bit more of the professional class.

Marketing Insights from Daybreakers

  • Let go of something everyone else does. Is there an aspect of the category you engage in that you could leave behind, and replace with a fresh and new dynamic?
  • Put Community First. Can community become more critical with your approach to your marketing efforts, so you are always thinking about your raving fans, not just achieving sales targets?
  • Eliminate something no longer in vogue. Where can you remove something typically toxic or unhealthy, and replace it with something that will reinvigorate the mind, body, and soul?

Daybreaker takes the nightclub and brings a fresh approach at six am. What could you change, eliminate or reimagine from the category you participate in?

Watch a short video about Daybreaker here.


Marketing, when done right, allows your brand to stand out. The job of exceptional marketing is to help differentiate your offering from your category. Eliminating a vital aspect of the category is a great place to start. Need help reinventing your business or brand – let’s connect. 919 720 0995 or – At The Marketing Sage, I sell seasoned advice.

Photo and Video courtesy of Daybreaker.

HT to sharing information on Daybreaker on their blog.




Motivation Matters

Motivation Matters

The meeting with a new client went very well until I asked a difficult question.

Why does your customer buy from you? Why you and not someone else? Do you understand their motivation? 

The team assembled gave me several reasons, but none of them felt authentic. They seemed forced and generic. Most of their responses revolved around price.

When I asked, how do you know this?

They were quiet. Nothing. Silent. Not a word. Mostly shoulder shrugs.

Companies count what stuff gets sold but frequently don’t or can’t track beyond units and price. What if you could go much deeper to understand and monitor why they buy and, how they buy. Imagine studying business you lose as aggressively as the ones you win.

Understanding motive matters.

I like to watch and listen to people shop or talk in public about their buying habits. When I attend trade conferences or business events or wait at airports, I enjoy eavesdropping on a loud phone user to hear her discuss why she wants to go with one vendor over another.

In B2B settings, people buy because:

  • They want to feel safe and minimize risk. (No one was ever fired hiring IBM)
  • They want to appear smart. (Look what solution I found)
  • They want to seem fiscally savvy. (Everyone buys from them)
  • They want to be considered clever in uncovering a hidden resource. (No one knows these guys)
  • They want a good fit for use. (Just the right amount of help – no bells & whistles)

The Buyers Journey

The buyer’s journey has also changed in that most buyers, according to Forrester, have 75% of the information they need before they speak to someone in sales. That changes the role of sales and how they need to learn to listen, not just sell. Customers have so much information before they talk to sales that it elevates the critical importance that a crystal clear marketing message has in your efforts.

Prospects review websites, webinars, videos, and ratings. Most people use approximately nine independent sources when making a purchase.

A recent study from Harvard indicated that when a company responds to an online lead within sixty minutes, they were seven times more likely to get business from that company. The study also cited that only 37% of leads are responded to that promptly.

If you had a deeper understanding of motivation, is it possible your marketing would be more effective? Maybe your message is telling the wrong story. And perhaps, you aren’t in rhythm with your customer’s cadence. If you aren’t responding to their immediate needs, they quickly move to the next vendor in their Google search.

Marketing is about understanding motivation at the deepest level. It involves hearing and understanding the customer’s story they tell themselves.

And, it involves being on their schedule.

Do you understand what motivates your customer’s to buy from you?

Does your team track losses as well as wins? Do you genuinely understand what prompted a purchase? Call me at 919 720 0995 or email me at – Book time to talk and review your situation on my calendar.

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash



Phone Calls – Breakthrough Technology from 1876

Phone Calls – Breakthrough Technology from 1876

Wait, what?

Yes, the good old fashion telephone is the most consequential tool for most marketers. It is ignored and left out of most marketing plans. Why aren’t outbound phone calls by you or your team part of your plans? (I’m not talking about telemarketing).

When you can speak to a customer, a client or someone in your network, you get immediate and direct, unfiltered feedback.

  • How is that product you bought from me?
  • Did you have another related problems that need fixing?
  • Was my product/service successful for the job? If not, why?
  • Would you recommend it to a friend or someone with similar needs?

Coach and Advisor

When Susana contacted me about business and marketing coaching, I wasn’t sure I could help her. She was brilliant and understood her market better than most people I worked with to support them. She understood lead generation, brand awareness and all the typical tactics in a marketer’s bag of tricks.

But she never spoke by phone with prospects or leads. She hid behind texts, emails and physical mailers. She didn’t pick up the phone and call people to get to know them.  With digital technology, she hid behind the 1’s and 0’s.

Testing 1,2,3

We tried an experiment to see if she could improve her ability to close more business. She tracked business leads she spoke with and clients she only emailed over six months. She had good tracking systems (CRM) and could easily document the stats.

What Susana found over several months, was that when she was on the phone, she picked up on signals and pain points that weren’t as clear or apparent in her email communication. She could feel the problem on the phone but couldn’t feel anything through email marketing.

LinkedIn, Leads and More

Susana had a big network on LinkedIn of people she connected with over many years. But she rarely spoke to them to reconnect and to remind them of her work and her expertise. By putting energy into outbound phone calls, she found that her close rate was significantly higher whenever she spoke to someone who could help.

The Power of the Human Voice

Here is a marketing challenge for you to consider.

Call ten people who you want to either do business with or who could be helpful networking partners.

Don’t call them to sell. Call them to listen to what they are doing and to see if you could be helpful to them. By understanding their pain points, maybe you can recommend someone who could help them solve a problem. Keep in touch with them over several months and follow up by phone.

I understand that not everyone answers their phone but we all listen to voicemail messages. Try calling at a few minutes after an hour when people are escaping boring meetings. Don’t give up. Keep calling until you get through.

I’ll bet that at least a few of those ten people will bring you some value and opportunity. It works almost every time and costs nothing but a little time and commitment to follow through.

The empathic marketing and sales person always win.

Over time, by listening, being helpful and supporting others, good things come back to them. Call it karma or the universe or whatever you like, but a caring voice beats an impersonal technology every time.

Give your brand a voice.

Pick up the phone and call me if you need marketing advice. 919 720 0995. I can help you grow your business, gain brand awareness and build a smarter marketing effort. Email me at – If you’d like to schedule a free consultation, click the link on my calendar and pick a time so we can talk with each other. A phone is a magical machine with amazing technology.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash










Subscribe to my blog