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Marketing Book Review; The Marketing Director’s Handbook (CMO’s Handbook)

Sharon Wolf, MD, QualiData Research Inc., USA. Marketing Book Review - The Marketing Director's Handbook

Sharon Wolf reviews The Marketing Director’s Handbook

Arnold and Tomlinson’s book, The Marketing Director’s Handbook, fully delivers on its subtitle’s promise: “The definitive guide to superior marketing for business and boardroom success. Comprehensive, yet written in a lively, jargon-free style, the Handbook offers practical advice on topics ranging from setting objectives, planning for the year ahead, measuring marketing performance, managing teams to building brands and succeeding at new product and service development.

marketing book review, Sharon Wolf, MD, QualiData Research Inc., USA

Sharon Wolf reviews The Marketing Director’s Handbook

Who should own this book?

  • Aspiring and practicing marketing directors and CMOs
  • Account planners
  • Brand, product and marketing managers
  • Marketing research agency executives
  • CEOs and CMOs of tech, biotech, not-for-profits or any industry sector where the marketing discipline is new to your organization


In writing a reader-friendly book, Arnold and Tomlinson practice what they preach. Chapters are amply illustrated with useful charts and tables that succinctly highlight key points made or that explain ideas visually. These tables and charts relieve the reader of wading through lengthy explanatory text. Page graphics help this book truly function as a handbook. Icons appear in front of topics through out the text. For example, an auto key symbolises “Where to start” topics. And a wrench appears when a chapter discusses “tools and techniques,” and a star graphic always accompanies “best practices” or examples.

Experience-based advice

I recall a feeling of total paralysis during my first week on the job as marketing director for an international accountancy firm. The marketing discipline was new to the organisation and I was the firm’s first CMO. There was so much to do and I didn’t know where to start. The authors acknowledge this paralytic feeling in Chapter 1, “Starting Out.” Their experience-driven advice and counsel will help newly appointed CMOs start out on the right foot. This first chapter defines the CMO’s role and offers concrete advice about what to do first. Whom to know in the organisation and how to build the right team to get the job done.

Chapter 10, “Structuring the Function” builds on this advice and further defines key marketing roles and relationships. Another chapter, “Day to Day Management” offers insights based on organisational dynamics and describes best practice processes and protocols. For new marketing directors, these chapters are among the most valuable in the book. They could well justify the book’s purchase price alone.

The authors have both client-side and marketing agency experience in brand planning and services marketing. This know-how is clear when they discuss the essentials and nuances of brand management and positioning. And also well as when they address the marketing and organisational issues related to new product and service development.

Practical brand support

When it comes to corporate branding or repositioning, Arnold and Tomlinson offer a nugget of advice that sounds a bit simplistic and a bit hackneyed. Yet, nevertheless, represents a key challenge for CMOs, “Ensure top-team management and buy-in so that brand strategy weaves into organisational strategy.” Although it is left unsaid, without buy-in, even the most talented CMO will hit his or her head against a brick wall. The authors make sure that readers learn both strategies and tactics for achieving top management buy-in for their plans. These chapters are also useful for both seasoned marketers and researchers who wish to quickly refresh their branding and product innovation knowledge. Overall, the authors provide exhaustive detail on branding and product and service development.

The Marketing Director and market research

The marketing research discussion focuses, as it should, on issues such as selecting and managing marketing research agencies. Also how to prepare proper briefs so that everyone involved in the project understands the study’s objectives and research questions.

As a qualie, I was particularly interested in how the authors address and explain various qualitative methods. I was happy to see a useful chart that provides an overview of the pros and cons of the full range of the qualitative methods for marketing. They include a similar, handy chart for quantitative methods. Ethnography, pre-task diary homework assignments and semiotics are absent from the pro’s and con’s chart and, instead, appear on a different chart called “Qualitative research strategies and methods.”

Dealing with tricky marketing challenges

For better or worse, Chapter 26, “Rationalisation or Downsizing” will be useful to CMOs charged with the unpleasant task of laying employees due to downsizing. This chapter outlines pitfalls to avoid and stresses the importance of being compassionate to both survivors and leavers. This chapter also discusses downsizing strategies in-depth as well as morale-building approaches for employees who survive staff cutbacks. The massive layoffs associated with today’s global economic recession make this chapter required reading for both practicing and aspiring CMOs – and for anyone else in the organization involved in staff lay-off decisions such as HR and operations executives.

The Marketing Director’s Handbook is a “must have” for those who care about best practices. Also those who want to learn how to succeed as managers and change-makers in their organisations.

About the author

Sharon Wolf is Managing Director at QualiData Research Inc., of New York and San Francisco. An expert ethnographer, moderator and workshop  leader, Sharon translates research-based insights into powerful marketing, branding and product innovation strategies for QualiData’s global clients. Her sector specialties include personal care, fragrances, food, cosmetics, electronic media and mobility. Previously she was a Marketing Director in professional services.

Sharon launched and served for three years as voluntary Editor-in-Chief for QRCA Views magazine, an award-winning quarterly publication for the marketing research community.  She also served as Program Co-Chair for ESOMAR’s 2002 Global Qualitative Conference.

Look inside The Marketing Director’s Handbook. Copies are available at Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, and all good local book stores as well as this website.

Best Outdoor Marketing Communication Campaigns?

Great Outdoor marketing communication. Aquasun - UK

I love posters! They epitomise great marketing communications. Like all communications they must clearly impress. However if viewed from a speeding car, the message must be recognised and understood in milliseconds.  From a technical point of view this therefore requires a single-minded (and hopefully matching) marketing communication strategy and execution. Engaging and motivating via this medium also presents a myriad of creative opportunities.

With consumers exposed to an increasing panoply of media, and over a 1000 messages a day, the task of developing great marketing communications is more challenging than it has ever been.

There are two key elements to great marketing communications. The first is the message, and the second is the medium through which to communicate the message. Here we’ve gathered some of the best outdoor marketing communication campaigns. Why? Simply because they can be easily illustrated, reviewed and used to make a point in a blog!

Some of the Best Outdoor Marketing Communication Campaigns

How great is your marketing communication?

Here’s a checklist to consider when creating your next advertisement (poster or otherwise):

  • Cut-though; does it command attention, and engage or involve?
  • Comprehension; do you understand the message?
  • Benefit driven; does the message suggest a clear and tangible benefit? Does it meet a relevant need?
  • Credible; is the benefit message believable, justified by one or more facts?
  • Provoke a change in perception or behaviour; are you motivated to think about a brand, think differently about a brand or more inclined to try, buy or repeat buy?

Marketing Inspiration

  1. Consider posters or billboards as a way to pressure test your marketing communication strategy or advertising campaign before investing heavily. If your poster or billboard campaign arrests in a second or so, then you could have a winner on your hands. Conversely, if it fails to arrest, consider that a warning for other media.
  2. Remember Vance Packard’s words – ‘the medium is also the message’ (1). Outdoor  lends itself to high impact, creative executions which say something extra about brands. It’s also highly relevant to brands that target an outdoor, travelling or car driving demographic, and those purchased more frequently. In other words where daily ad viewing could quickly boost purchase.
  3. Finally, posters attract media attention. So consider investing in a single poster site to catalyse extra publicity via public relations. To make sure your message goes ‘viral, also try to find an unusual creative idea or ‘angle’. Thus, try to challenge conventional wisdom, surprise, shock, entertain or amuse.


(1) Packard, Vance; The Hidden Persuaders (1957)

TV Programme Development; Creative or Marketing Driven?

TV Programme Development | Roy the Badly Drawn Boy

Should writers and illustrators lead tv programme development? Or researchers and marketers who know what sells best in the crazily competitive world of children’s media? According to Simon Cowell, “Research just kills creativity because people lie or they say things they think the person wants to hear, or they over think it”. But is he right? Here’s a summary of the debate at The Children’s Media Conference (1). Moderated by Guy Tomlinson, Managing Director, The Marketing Directors, the session involved John Rice, CEO at Jam Media, Esra Cafer, Vice President Brand Management and Marketing at Chorion Ltd and researcher, Shari Donnenfeld.

Different views on TV programme development

It’s all about serendipity – John Rice, Jam Media

According to John, the ideas behind Jam Media’s successful children’s programmes emerged in different ways. By serendipity – happy accidents!

PICME started out as a multimedia invitation for John’s daughter Rebecca’s two year birthday party. One friend was so enthusiastic about it that he even offered to pay for it.

Roy, the Badly Drawn Boy was created in the opposite way to PICME. The film originated by John’s partner as a parody of his life; as a bitter 28-year-old who couldn’t find work in animation because he was so badly drawn. A CBBC development executive spotted the idea and thought that the fish out of water theme appealing to the CBBC audience. In the tv series the bitter 28-year-old is turned into fun loving everyday boy.

Tilly and Friends evolved from a series of stories by Polly Dunbar. By bringing in a child psychologist the story world expanded from 16 pages to 26 episodes!

Use research to create and support – Shari Donnenfeld, Researcher

Shari argued that research should support the creative process, as the process is complex. There are also lots of fingers in the creative pie, and it is easy for creatives to be removed from a child’s world.

Many creatives think they know kids, yet they are adults, who use razors and drink alcohol. Some are also parents who care for kids. There are however also some creatives who act like kids, but even if they do, they still don’t necessarily know what kids are about.

Children inhabit a different world, a more digital world than their parents. They are exposed to multi-million pound movies, games, e-books and ipads. It is hard to know what’s in their heads at a point in time. The sons and daughters of creatives inhabit an even more different world to ordinary kids. A world where words like 3D and CGI are regularly passed over the dinner table. As a result these children are neither normal nor representative.

Further, unlike live entertainers, tv programme makers are unable to adapt to live audience responses. A clown, for example, can easily change his or her act if he dies on his feet. However, programme makers can’t. So programme makers need to think like the clown and go and talk to children first.

Doing research with kids is like inviting them to the board-room table. They can help create a programme, while not heading the table. However, even though children are a worthy audience, research should facilitate creativity rather than act as a barrier to creativity or simply to ‘green-light’ programme development. Kids are naturally created and enthusiastic – so involve them as partners in the creative process.

Think about building brands – Esra Cafer, Chorion

Esra argued that there is a value in using brand management in the making of tv programmes. Brand marketing is a process to define the target, the programme and product offer. Also to communicate that offer to audiences and forge an enduring relationship. In other words to create brand love!

Chorion starts with characters, settings, worlds and stories already in place. It aims to understand, create, update, and extend brand properties to make sure that audiences love them. Rather than just translate the written word to the screen, research understands and defines the brand, the brand DNA, i.e. what makes it unique and appealing. Rather than dampen creativity, brand thinking reveals new opportunities and maximises relevance.

Make Way for Noddy has a traditional preschool audience of 3 to 5 year olds. So when developing Noddy in Toyland, research verified the audience, who they are and what they want. Findings revealed an audience that was growing-up and moving on to competitive products, such as Moshi Monsters, sooner than thought. This insight focused programme development on 3-4 year olds.

Research also spotted opportunities to extend the brand. It revealed that Noddy is a safe brand, to use in home, and not to show off to friends. This provided the confidence to focus on developing home products such as bedding and pyjamas, rather than lunchboxes or coats.

TV Programme Development Inspiration

Each programme development project is different. Some require more creativity and others more research. What’s right depends on the stage of development and whether more or less is known about the intended audience. Thus use creativity, research and marketing together – they are fine bedfellows!

1. Development is the most important part of the creative process

Get this right to establish a foundation for success. Further, for every show in production, have several in development. As innovation is a numbers game, this allows some to fall by the wayside.

Also create the right conditions for creativity to flourish.  While great ideas occur over a pint of Guinness or through sheer hard work, creativity is not limited to writers nor bottled and poured on. So prefer a more inclusive approach involving different disciplines.

2. Apply simple marketing principles

In other words, enable your audience to fuel creativity and be the main arbiter of choice. You’ll find this liberating!

3. Tailor research to circumstances

First, adapt the research process to reflect property origins, differences, challenges, risks and rewards.

Start by involving marketers and researchers at an early stage (via a short low-cost meeting). This will better represent target audiences’ needs, eliminate biases and also generate more saleable ideas.

Next, conduct informal research with family members and friends by showing programme materials before more substantial laboratory-esque research. And then talk to the trade and licensing people, for example, to understand cultural issues and what works in certain territories.

Finally, design audience research to fuel the creative process rather than evaluate or dampen it! Avoid closed questions such as “don’t you love this green dress?” as this invalidates the results.

4. Create a compelling pitch

Also use research to shape the brand strategy or ‘brand book’ and guide writers, illustrators and animators. Help all know the audience, and their needs. This empowers creatives to make the pilot and develop the series while retaining management control.

Create two scripts, a ‘brand book’ and a pilot to justify brand stand-out and appeal and also woo co-funders. While every tv programme development differs, the end game is the same – to secure funds.


(1)  The Childrens Media Conference takes place annually in early July in Sheffield.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research; The Great Debate? The Result is In!

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research | Food Tasting Research

The quantitative vs. qualitative research debate has been going on since the 1970s.  Apparently it’s all about epistemology, a branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. Quantitative research is defined as positivism i.e. scientific and objective.  Conversely, qualitative research is interpretivism i.e. non-scientific and subjective.

Summary of quantitative vs. qualitative research pros and cons

quantitative vs. qualitative research

But there is an academic argument that the two methods cannot and should not work together.

The chief worry is that the capitulation to “what works” ignores the incompatibility of the competing positivistic and interpretivist epistemological paradigms that purportedly undergird quantitative and qualitative methods, respectively”(1).  Blah, blah, blah…


Haven’t quantitative and qualitative research started to overlap already?

The blurring of lines between quantitative and qualitative research has gone on for some time.  How many times have you attended research groups and a done a quick ‘tally’ of responses to gain some quantitative guidance?  Or, within a quantitative omnibus, included a few open-ended questions to give a little more colour? Superficial instances admittedly, but evidence of ‘blurring’ nonetheless.

Perhaps the reason overlap has not been fully acknowledged is because many believe the disciplines still run separately?  Or perhaps it is because as a ‘quali’ or a ‘quanti’ researcher you are defined or compartmentalised at birth?!  So never the twain shall meet? There is some truth in this as many researchers tend to train under a single discipline. In addition, most large research organisations run separate quantitative and qualitative departments.

However, from someone “on the ground”, as a qualitative researcher (and perhaps somewhat fearsome of quantitative research) it is possible to marry these two approaches together and get extra benefits. Thus, there is room for a new model, a better hybrid of qualitative and quantitative research.  Here are some examples:

Qualitative with added quantitative

Qualitative research discussions often include a few ‘wishy-washy’ answers to questions. Thus it can be difficult to discern differences in meaning. For example, in what one person says they ‘like’ versus another, as well as in overall shades of ’like’, ‘love’ etc. Using simple quantitative measures, such as a rating out of 10, provides much more clarity and decision-making substance.

For example, used within a new product development (NPD) process it offers a more useful ‘gate’ enables better short-listing and prioritisation. It also helps make sure you are not wasting thousands of hours and pounds barking up the wrong tree!

Quantitative with added qualitative research

Quantitative data uses open-ended questions to explain the numbers. But in many cases it doesn’t explain anything because respondents failed to fill in the boxes or the responses were insufficiently detailed. The data can also be costly to collect and cumbersome to analyse.

However, combined qualitative-quantitative research can both assess and improve products. From food and drink to media and beyond. In a recent project, respondents tasted and critiqued a number of competitive food products. Research was undertaken in a high traffic places in order to recruit people off the street into a hall. Then after gathering consumers’ responses on a questionnaire, we understood their reasoning as well as revealed brand fit and new product development opportunities.

This work was hugely beneficial in providing clear guidance and recommendations for both brand and product development. It was also very cost-effective.

quantitative vs. qualitative research
Taste testing Cornish Pasties
Quantitative vs. qualitative research

Retail applications

These techniques also apply to other categories, and challenges. For example, to assess packaging, or merchandising. When refining packaging, a clear read on issues such as stand-out, and reasoning is required. By co-opting a minimum of 100 consumers to review a mocked-up retail fixture rotated with current and proposed new packs and complete a short questionnaire. By identifying the appealing packs and critiquing them within the visual noise of a fixture, a numerical assessment of stand-out is obtainable. Subsequent qualitative discussion then allows deconstruction and analysis of the pack elements. Also reconstruction of the ideal pack design.

Marketing Inspiration

Concluding the quantitative vs. qualitative research debate, there will always be a role for ‘pure’ quantitative and qualitative research approaches. However, research doesn’t need pigeon-holing into either quantitative or qualitative methods.

It is possible to design quantitative-qualitative research to offer the benefits of both. In so doing you gain face-to-face consumer contact and understanding as well as meaningful numbers. Within this it is possible to set quotas for consumer types while also realising time and cost savings. Marketers just need to decide what they really need. So do you need understanding or numbers, or both? A creative research agency should guide and inspire you, even if it goes against what’s specified in the brief.

Get in touch for a bespoke qualitative-quantitative research proposal to meet your needs.


(1)   Against the quantitative–qualitative incompatibility thesis (or dogmas die-hard) by Kenneth R. Howe, Ph.D – Professor of Philosophy at University of Colorado, Boulder Published in the Educational Researcher 17(8) 10-16 1988

Seven Enemies of Innovation; How to Spot and Slay Them

Enemies of Product Innovation | new product development | Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Product innovation is the lifeblood of many businesses.   The proportion of sales due to new products from businesses competing in fast moving markets is often over 50%. Yet higher still in technology companies. So why is it that so many products fail, and what can you do to ensure success? So here are seven enemies of innovation. Spot them and slay them whenever you can!

Enemies of Product Innovation | new product development | Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – will or won’t she help slay enemies of innovation?

1. Failure to find or better meet a consumer need

Seventy five percent of products or services fail for this reason (1). This is particularly the case in technology markets where new innovations are often just new features trying to find a consumer need.

Even the famous Sony Walkman originally failed for this reason. The initial consumer response to the ‘Walkman’ was ‘why do I need a portable tape player when I have one at home?’ Only when Sony identified its ability to change consumers’ mood and invested in making the product ‘cool’ did sales start to take-off.

In markets where there are many competitors, new products or services must also better meet consumers’ needs,  find and create new consumer needs and turn needs into wants.

2. Cultural myopia

The more successful the business the louder is the mantra ‘we’ve always done it this way’.  Thus the more entrenched mindsets and processes become, and the greater the risk of quenching the creative flame. So remember the low-cost airlines effect on national airlines such as British Airways, Amazon’s effect on retail book-stores and Apple itunes’ effect on the music producers. This is where driven people, independent innovation teams and external agents can help cut through the malaise.

3. Lack of creativity

For new products to stand-out requires creativity.  While great ideas or discoveries can occur in a Eureka moment (think Newton and apple trees) it is a myth that creativity is the preserve of the few. Everyone can be creative. It just helps to understand what it is and how to do it. Creativity is an ability to make new connections and generate ideas. It is a thinking skill – an ability to think laterally ie from side to side, in a divergent fashion – not just in a linear, logical, convergent fashion.

There are many techniques to generate ideas and solve problems. These including reframing or looking at a problem from a different view-point, understanding and changing the rules in a market, through sensory stimulation and visioning or dreaming. For example, if Ernest Hemingway the writer ever felt bereft of ideas for his stories, he was known to sit in his rocking chair, relax and drift off to sleep. You can try this too. In the absence of a colleague, do as Hemingway did – hold marbles in your hand and work in a room with a wooden floor!

4. Lack of time, determination, or due process

Creativity also requires thinking time – time to create more, and iterate and build ideas.

As well as time, hard work and due process is important.  Creative sessions are useful to kick-start an innovation process, though it is easy to kill ideas and hard to develop them in a few short hours.  Like plants, ideas need to be nourished and given time to thrive otherwise they will die. While 3M discovered their ‘weak’ glue by accident the successful commercialisation of their famous post-it notes took twelve years.  This was in part due to the persistence of its inventor, Spence Silver. He believed passionately that his idea had potential. He eventually connected with another colleague Art Fry, who suggested how his glue could be applied.

Successful product innovation is also a numbers game. If you create and assess many ideas the chance of success is greater than if you create and assess just one.  The US Product Development and Management Association (PDMA)(2) found that ten serious ideas or concepts are needed to bring one product to market successfully. Products nurtured through a rigorous product development process have a greater chance of success, with around three quarters being launched compared with just under sixty percent overall.  Considering innovation as a process also helps institutionalise or embed it in the corporate culture. At 3M, for example, innovation is defined as ‘a process that creates products that create a new basis of competition’.

5. Lack of team work

While many notable inventions are attributed to lone inventors, success is more often due to teamwork – combining several brains to reach a common goal.

Even great brand owners, such as Marks and Spencer experience failure; most notably when the decision to stock a pudding or shirt largely depended on the pleasure that it gave the Chairman of the company. One of the greatest film makers ever, Stephen Spielberg has also flopped; consider the allegedly self-indulgent comedy ‘1941’.

Assembling a team and creating the conditions for innovation to flourish has inspired many notable successes during the last century. These include the creation of the first jet fighter, and the first animated movie. Also brands such as Virgin Atlantic and the Friends tv series.

6. Lack of brand understanding or vision

Brands exist in the eyes of customers not just the management team. Understanding what customers consider existing, latent or potential strengths can catalyse innovation as much as widely held management views. Understanding perceived brand strengths and weaknesses can reveal new facets of a brand and provide new springboards or foundations for innovation.  Caterpillar has been a leading manufacturer of heavy duty construction vehicles since 1925. Recognising the rugged strength of the brand amongst construction workers and the fact that industrial chic is a recurring theme in the fashion business spurred successful expansion into footwear. Within the company, footwear is considered a ‘walking machine’ – from professional steel toe capped work boots, to stylish slip-on comfort shoes; and now clothing and toys.

Having a clear idea where you want your business to go focuses team energy and activity. In the 1950s, Sony had a vision to ‘transform the poor worldwide perceptions of Japanese goods’. Today few Western homes fail to have at least one of their products on display. In the US, Mr. Clean (Flash in the UK, Monsieur Propre in France) has led household cleaning since the late 1950s. In the US the vision is now to extend the brand into car washing.

Mr. Clean Car Wash | Product innovation | New product development
Mr Clean Car Wash – the successful household cleaner is now expanding in to car washes

7. Lack of customer involvement

‘Research only dumbs down great ideas’. If we had a pound for every time we’ve heard this message we’d be a very rich. This view is most evident in the creative industries. An industry where the gulf between the best and worst performers seems to widen every year.

Most assume that research means ’focus groups’. And perceptions are poor and thus lacking in credibility. Perhaps through experience or a belief that the sole purpose of research is ‘evaluation’.  While evaluation research is useful this misses the point. Most consumers, even those as young as three or four, have an innate creativity and marketing ‘savvy’. Further, all are different; have different backgrounds, beliefs, skills and ways of thinking. Most are also naturally social rather than solitary and like creating and working with others. It means that there is a vast pool of creative talent available to address your challenge. This is a boon to product development.

Marketing Inspiration

Here’s how to address the seven enemies of innovation:

1. First, establish a product development process but tailor or flex it to different challenges and circumstances.

2. Create lots of ideas, give them time and conditions to grow. It’s easy to kill ideas but hard to develop them.

3. Consult and involve diverse colleagues in your product innovation process. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas.

4. Use the tools and techniques to engage, inspire and bring out the best in your team.

5. Involve consumers in the product innovation process. They can both create and build great ideas.


(1)    Cooper , Robert. G  Winning at New Products, 1993

(2)    Product Development and Management Association,, 1991

Read some of The Marketing Directors marketing success stories. Our successes include new to world innovations, new brands and a myriad of brand extensions.

Nation Branding; From Cows to Countries and Beyond

Branding cattle - one of the first forms of branding
Branding cattle
Branding cattle

Over the years, we’ve devised brand strategies for companies, products, services, media and people. Many have a provenance. And now cities, regions and countries are in on the act. The reason is usually to  increase market competitiveness, recognition and demand.  This often goes hand in hand with stakeholders requiring a more advanced approach to manage their operations. This thought process inspired early Egyptians around 2000 BC to brand their cattle and inspired retailers to promote their names on their goods at the end of the 19th Century. With the growth of  ’emerging’ markets, such as, China, India, Eastern European, South American and African countries, there are new and genuine threats to both developed and other emerging nations. Thus, it’s no wonder that so many are now embracing the concept of ‘nation branding’.

Why bother with nation branding?

This is the first question nations must ask. According to Hy Mariampolski, “the goal of nation branding is to make positive elements more manifest and place the negative elements into latency” (1). Potential benefits include attracting more tourists, boosting inward investment and exports, attracting talent, enhancing currency stability, international credibility, influence and self-esteem (confidence, pride, ambition, resolve). While easily said, imagine the problems in motivating a few thousand people in a company to deliver a common and appealing audience take-out.  Then with countries, magnify that challenge by millions. Thus, the reasons to bother with nation branding are more easily understood.

What does nation branding mean?

Even when applying brand thinking to packaged goods, there is a misconception that branding is just a logo or advertisement. Of course that is the tip of the iceberg. With organisations and countries there is much more beneath the surface. Thinking about countries as a culture is useful. Richard L Daft defines culture as “a series of values, standard interpretations, insights and ways of thinking that is shared by members and passed on to new members” (2).  We prefer “as ‘glue’ that provides a common understanding to focus and motivate people to a common end.”  The term ‘cultural branding’ also applies to the concept of nation branding as it better conveys the range of variables to manage:

  • There are symbols or visible aspects of culture such as the flags of nations, anthems, the landscape, buildings, iconography and dress code.
  • There are the institutions, structures and processes to manage the nation. Such as The Queen, Parliaments, local councils, laws, the media landscape, tourist boards, retailers, trade organisations, etc.
  • Also accepted behavioural norms – the rules and means by which we live and communicate.  “How are you today?”, “G’Day mate”, “Top of the morning to you” etc.  There are also beliefs, accepted truths or opinions about what is or isn’t important. “Eat 5 (pieces of fruit or veg) a day”, “… drink (any) water”, …drink water with added fluorides “… play sport” etc.

All intertwine, influence and communicate to other nations, the media, including businesses and tourists.

How to change a nation brand?

The notion or image of a brand is defined by its audiences – what they think and feel about a nation. However, entrenched national stereotypes are difficult to change. So the start-point is to first understand their provenance – what’s good and strong and what’s weak and poor? Then to define what the brand should be in the future. To be credible and believable it must be truthful. It should also combine or re-express the good and design-out the poor. To change and embed a new, stronger and more vibrant image in audiences’ minds takes time. Ensuring consistent and appealing communication through media and people requires the consistent communication and behaviour by organisations and people alike. Like organisation culture change programmes, aligning national hearts and minds to a common goal, requires a multi-year effort.

Scotland the brand

Scotland was one of the first nations to embrace the concept of branding (3). However, direction and momentum behind the initiative has changed with changes of Government. Since devolution of power to the Scottish Government in 2004 the concept of nation branding gained in significance. Nevertheless much remains to embed understanding and align the various national stakeholders.

Marketing Inspiration

A nation brand is the sum of all of its parts; symbols, institutions, behaviours and beliefs. The terminology is relatively new but the underlying brand concepts are familiar.

Lessons that apply to successful brands in all walks of life apply to nation brands. They thrive through clear and distinctive communications and offerings that engage and exceed the expectations of their customers or audiences.

Building nation brands requires consistent, coordinated and concerted effort over time. This requires audience and stakeholder engagement to create a clear brand vision and strategy.  Further by inspiring and uniting national organisations and individuals to create and implement plans to deliver the brand. This is where the difficulty lies.

Establish guidelines to make sure that the sum of the parts reinforces the whole. For example, a brand architecture that defines the role and message of the Tourist Board, Board of Trade and others. Also create a ‘brand book’ (or website) to define the symbols and images used online, in literature and exhibitions.

So what’s the next branding challenge: Perhaps Planet Earth? The Kryptonians had better look out!


(1) Hy Mariampolski, QualiData Research Inc. New York, ‘Selling Brand Brazil’, Coppead School of Business, University of Rio De Janiero, Rio De Janeiro, April 2010

(2) Richard L. Daft, ‘Essentials of Organization Theory and Design’, South Western College Pub, 2000

(3) Reproduced by courtesy of the Scottish Government

Briefing, Selecting, and Managing Marketing Agencies

Briefing marketing agencies

Marketing agencies can transform the performance of your brand, your business and yourself. They will be the bane and boon of your life. However, whether you are selecting a new agency, or have a good agency on-board, the process is similar. It all starts with a clear brief. Yet there are a number of other things you can do to create great work and drive business results.

Be frank about your marketing and brand objectives and challenges

When briefing marketing agencies be as open as you can. The more an agency understands your needs and issues the more they should be able to help you. Start by preparing a written marketing agency brief; the process of doing so will help you clarify issues and opportunities and engage and gain agreement and support from your colleagues. A common problem is to write fuzzy objectives. So pay attention to both your marketing and brand objectives. Consider, for example, whether you wish to attract more customers, increase sales per customer.  Consider also whether you wish to raise awareness, change perceptions, or …. It often helps to reflect on your current situation, weaknesses or problems that you wish to address, and then redefine these as future goals.

Understand the agency landscape

The agency landscape is constantly changing. At one end of the spectrum, there are the agency groups owned by the likes of WPP and Omnicom. At the other, there is an ever-changing mix of independent and up and coming agencies. Some firms or firm groups comprise a mix of disciplines, or technology skills, some don’t. Keep abreast of the changes. And ask around.

Monitor the people moves especially if it is happening in one of your agencies. Check out the odd new agency that catches your eye.  The nature of the profession means that there are good people to be found in many places and those that are most vigilant stand to benefit the most.

In terms of cost, understand how remuneration works. The more intellectual or consulting agencies work on a mainly time cost basis. Database marketing and campaign communication agencies tend to be time and/or cost-plus. Marketing implementation services are more price list driven, for example, pay-per-click plus fixed fee. Overall, expect to pay more for those with London offices and less in the suburbs or rural areas. Expect to pay more for a heavy duty management team, those with an overseas management structure and those that belong to a quoted group. Fewer layers and complexity means less cost.

Selecting marketing agencies

Selecting marketing agencies starts with your brief. So as well as your marketing aims and needs, include your selection criteria in the brief. This helps agencies put their best resources on your case both to meet your needs and also demonstrate they can meet your needs.  Then seek multiple and diverse responses to your brief, and make sure you meet the team. When you do meet the team, ask who does the work, and be wary of agencies who just use front-men for the pitch and who you may never see again. Finally give clear, comprehensive and timely feedback to all. To do otherwise is disrespectful and lessens your good name.

Great campaigns are underpinned by a great strategy

Campaigns fail for either strategic or executional reasons, and sometimes a lack understanding between the relationship between both, or a failure to manage the relationship between them both. Great communications stem from a clear and compelling brand strategy underpinned by robust insights. So you need to provide a strong foundation of insights to inspire good work. You’ll also need to be clear, firm and vigilant to manage the process and give sensible feedback. A consequence of the creative process is that it can be an accidental or deliberate attempt to reinvent your strategy. Which may be fine if your strategy is ‘built on sand’, but not if it is built on hard-won facts!

Further, while all agencies say they have planners to create the strategy – creating great brands requires specialist positioning skills which are uncommon in creative agencies. And this is not something to be considered lightly or dealt with in a ‘black-box’.  So seek specialist brand strategy help if and when needed. Further, if you are working across multiple media, use your management skills to set the tone and define, manage demarcation lines, and get the most from your team.

Build good agency relationships

However, having seen the world from both sides of the fence, if you are paying an agency to help you, never be in doubt that they are on your side. But also remember that people are human  – they’ll work harder for you if they like you. So build good relationships; let your agency know that you are on their side – and if the work is deserving, say proper ‘thank-yous’. Building good relationships will benefit you in many ways: for example, in terms of a more enjoyable and less stressful life, and potentially profile, and career advancement!

Briefing marketing agencies

So net whether you have a good agency on board or need a new agency, it all starts with a clear brief. So use our handy one-page marketing brief for both selecting marketing agencies, or your in-house team. and managing them. Then make yourself available to answer questions verbally, help them understand, and stay on-strategy. If you’d like advice on selecting folk to help you, just give us a call.

Brand Development; The Fishy Idea that Turned into a Brand – Bubba Gump

It is a downer returning home from your holidays. You know all good things come to an end. You also expect a tedious wait at the airport and a tiring journey home.

So it was with squeals of delight that we discovered the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company at our departure airport. “That’s the company founded by Forrest Gump” shouted the little one. It is a fabulous brand development story.

The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

The neon sign first caught the eye. It shouts all American and come and look at me.

Great brand experiences. The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co Logo
The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (Logo) in Cancun, Mexico

Bubba Gump Brand Development

So what could a company that originated in shrimp fishing possibly have to offer? Lots more than we imagined. Firstly, merchandise. The little one tried on a snug- fitting t-shirt emblazoned with the company logo. In a trice she became a cool able seaman on Bubba’s boat. Then we found some shrimp plush toys. And lots of sporting goods including football jerseys, water bottles and also table tennis bats. All stuff connected to the Forrest Gump film. And also based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom. As a result, the miscellany of stuff and colourful displays were irresistible.

Some Forrest Gump Sayings

So we had to discover more. The diner itself was like a shack. Wooden beams held up a corrugated iron roof. In addition, three different ‘rooms’ decorated with US car number plates and signs also outlined simple morals or beliefs:

“When all else fails, try doing what the captain suggested”

“A promise is a promise”

“If the customer wants vanilla, give him vanilla”

Great brand experiences. Bubba Gump Market
Some of Forrest Gump’s sayings

The Bubba Gump Brand Experience

To get the waiters’ attention, we waved a “Stop Forrest Stop” sign. And when we were happy, we then displayed the sign “Run Forrest Run”. We ordered “Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Heaven”. The choice was essentially shrimp or shrimp. Either boiled, broiled, fried, baked, sauteed, steamed or barbecued. But hey that’s the difference. The coconut shrimp were divine as were the shrimp balls.

With the family engaged, we enjoyed a happy hour reliving and conversing about the film. As the little one remarked; “this would be a great place to go with a first date.”

Great brand experiences. Staff and customers at The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cancun Mexico
Staff and customers at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cancun, Mexico

Marketing Inspiration

Turn ideas in a winning brand by evolving a compelling brand story, and delivering a great experience

Every great business or brand starts with a great brand strategy or idea. The idea behind the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company are the characters and also the content of the film and novel. From the Forrest Gump story thus emerges a heart-warming and distinctive business and brand proposition.

Use clever brand presentation to reinforce the core brand idea and attract and engage

Experiencing the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is like peeling back the layers of an onion to reveal the magic of the brand within. Through attention-getting signage, to the fun physical environment and displays, to products and then the people.

Build ‘a must talk-about’ brand experience by including magical moments

Combining lots of little things adds up to a memorable experience – one that you want to tell your friends about. The staff were part of the fun – hence the reason they appear in our photographs!

Prove the business model and then drive rapid global brand development

Founded in 1996, The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co was proven in the US before expanding to Mexico, Asia and now the UK. At the time of writing there are 33 sites with sales per location of c. $5.5m per annum. Merchandise sales add value beyond expectations of a pure-play restaurant. As the company’s website says, the idea was inspired by Paramount Pictures, and turned into a concept by Rusty Pelican Restaurants. This then led to a ‘licensing agreement’ based on the motion picture property.

To create and deliver a compelling and distinctive brand experience, check out our brand strategy services and also  brand masterclasses.

And as Forrest would say, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

All photographs © Guy Tomlinson 2010

Content Marketing; Why Every Brand should think like a Media Brand

Guinness Book of World Records | Content marketing

With around 90% of UK homes (ONS: 2018) connected to the Internet, the Internet is now an everyday part of our lives both at home and work. After search engines, and social media sites, media brands are among the most visited sites on the web. Globally the BBC, IMDB and CNN rank highly and in the UK, the Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, and Times online newspapers as well as Sky also lead the pack.

So what can we learn from media brands and what are ways to ape them?

Content drives traffic

In the world of the Internet content is king. Thus, content, or more precisely, search terms should be at the heart of your strategy in order to attract customers to your website. The act of simply embedding keyword friendly code and text into your website drives traffic.

Establishing a blog has a similar effect. Using both keywords and links to websites increases website visitors by 55%, inbound links by 97% and indexed pages by 434% (Source: Chris Garrett)

Content marketing (1) adds value to brands

Broadband and web 2.0 enables rich multi-media offerings including You Tube and the BBC iplayer. Thus the ‘lean forward’ mode of Internet usage no longer dominates, and merges with the more ‘laid back’ mode of watching tv.

Pampers Content Branding
Pampers Village Baby Portal

This array of multi-media fuels more compelling brand experiences. Experiences that not only inform, but also entertain, and engage. For example, Pampers, the disposable nappy brand, now runs a portal covering almost everything mums need to know about pregnancy and babies. It is a thought-leader in the group and created new ways to interact and build relationships with child-bearing mums through the early years of their child’s life.

By including embedded video, even the most banal of business-to-business offerings now engage more emotionally.

New channel or route to market

In the world of the Internet, websites are also new routes to market or sales channels. But the difference is that they are sales channels that you can control. We’re all familiar with Amazon. Launched in 1994 Amazon is now a top performing (in terms of traffic) website in most countries of the world. It dominates the book market. Not only is this driven by the wide list of books stocked but also user-generated content such as book reviews and searchable book content.

New promotion opportunities

Of course, media are also means or channels to communicate messages to customers. They also influence, or actually are, the message itself.

As long ago as 1937, P&G produced what became known as the first ‘soap opera’. So called due to the soap powder advertisement that followed the show. Called ‘Guiding Light’ – the first soap opera was a US daytime radio series. It transferred to tv in 1952 and aired until 2009.

Guinness World Records content branding
Guinness World Records

The Guinness Book of Records started in 1955 as a marketing give-away for the Guinness brand. It still regularly tops the book best-seller lists. It also spawned franchised museums. The book and museum franchise are now owned by the Jim Pattison Group (Ripley’s Entertainment) being sold by Diageo in 2001. With foresight of the multi-media possibilities, perhaps the book would still be Guinness owned.

Creating ‘genre’ or subject driven websites conveys authority as well as cross promotes brands. In the baby care arena, Pampers is a good example.  There are unbranded examples too. For example, Diageo runs unbranded whisky websites to indirectly promote its brands.

Control costs

According to the IAB, the Internet overtook television to become the largest advertising sector in the UK in 2009. That’s a record spend of £1.75bn on search. This made the UK the first major economy, and the second after Denmark, to achieve this landmark. With the auction model driving pay-per-click price inflation there will inevitably become a point where brand owners scream ‘too much is too much’. So amass your own content to drive a high natural search ranking. And also a safety valve to contain costs.

Marketing Inspiration

In the world of the Internet, content is king. So use content to build and promote your brand. Also to add value, build stronger relationships with your customer, and tell your brand story. Create and use content to create more inventive and lower cost promotion vehicles and routes to market. As everyone is jumping in on the act from entrepreneurial bloggers and instagrammers to businesses, don’t be left behind!

Content marketing (1) references

(1) Since first writing this article, the term ‘content marketing’ is now common parlance. It is simply a form of marketing communication. Content marketing even has its own page on Wikipedia.

Marketing Technology; 3D TV At Home – Honey, You Cannot Be Serious?

Marketing new technology | 3D television - how it works

Marketing technology requires imagination

The Polar Express (2004) Click to view 2D trailer
The Polar Express (2004) Click to view the 2D trailer

So imagine riding a roller coaster.  That’s how viewing The Polar Express on a 3D cinema screen felt as the train sped through gorges and swayed over mountains en route to the North Pole.  And hear the screams and feel the fear as several hundred rats surge over the edge of a stage and towards you in Disney theme park’s showing of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.

Will 3D TV be a heart-pounding experience like 3D cinema?

3D tv trials have already taken place in the UK, Japan, and Brazil (among others). And you may have your own views….

Marketing technology is difficult. Much fails. So how do you mitigate the risk of failure? It is important to think from the audience pint of view, and consider their needs, and try and fast forward into the future.

Potential barriers and drivers to 3D TV?

1. Wearing nerdy glasses :

Stereoscopy is the most widely accepted method for recording and delivering 3D video. This requires capturing stereo images in the right place to show convincing scene depth. The images are then coded for broadcast and viewing. In the UK, Sky used alternate lines of pixels for transmission. However, at the low-cost end of the spectrum, viewing with polarised glasses provides a work-around. Wearing glasses is a bit of a hassle and a tad nerdy. Viewing ideally requires purpose-built 3D televisions.

3D television - the technical bit simplified
3D television – the technical bit simplified

2. Access and Cost :

In the UK, Sky initially used their existing HD infrastructure to access some 1.6m+ homes (Oct 2009) with compatible set-top boxes though the compromise remained, to wear glasses. However, creating new 3D compatible tvs obviate the need for glasses. Thus far, several manufacturers have started producing sets with autostereoscopic displays. However, these are higher cost, and high cost is a barrier to demand.

3. Risk of technology redundancy :

The first tv sets require users to wear glasses before autostereoscopic screens become available. Further, 3D blu-ray and 3D tv broadcasts are likely to use different technologies. This means that standardisation or multiple technologies will needed within tv receivers to allow viewing of both blu-ray dvds and tv broadcasts on the same tv. Thus there is a high probability of technology redundancy. While this may not be an issue for early adopters it is a barrier to attract the masses.

4. Safety :

Watching 3D movies risks stomach churn. Audience trials are important to understand potential issues. Beyond this, clear guidance and reassurance is important to allay potential fears.

5. Ease of use :

The more complicated a system is to use, the greater the barrier to view. Therefore, easy-to-use and fool-proof equipment, or easy-to-plug-in add-ons to current equipment, will maximise viewing.

6. Experiential benefits :

So will the quality of the experience outweight the disadvantages? In the UK, the chief broadcast engineer at BSkyB, Chris Johns suggests that 3D could herald a step change in the same way that colour did versus black and white.

However, offering features rather than tangible benefits is a common error in technology marketing. Further, the demise of Betamax and the original BSB digital broadcasting company suggest that ‘quality’ is subjective, and does not necessarily ‘sell’.

The programme and film makers are key to delivering quality too. But what is quality? Watching a newsreader in 3D is unlikely to be as compelling as ducking out-of-the-way when a football  hurtles towards you.

The challenge is also to find which genres and experiences work in 3D, and both draw, and retain audiences. The movie makers already plan a series of 3D films.  Sometimes audiences will wish to ride a roller coaster!

Technology Marketing Inspiration

1. The difficulty and trap with marketing technology is often that technology is often a collection of features trying to meet a need. Thus the most common reason new technology fails is because it fails to meet a need. Most probably because the need simply doesn’t exist.  Thus if the need doesn’t exist, you need to figure how to create a need. So use marketing research to understand audience needs, and anticipate drivers and barriers to buy. Also how to turn the need to a ‘want’. Some audiences no doubt want to ride a roller coaster! But perhaps not every day.

2. There will always be some who fear new technology. So to kick-start demand, first, identify potential early adopters, and focus your marketing on them.

3. Understand drivers and barriers to purchasing and usage. And then communicate the benefits of the new technology while also addressing potential fears. Don’t underestimate the fears, they are often entrenched in past usage behaviour. And then work hard to over-come the barriers and solicit trial. For example, by providing free trial experiences. Use the trial experiences to overcome barriers too : such as affordability, access issues and thus better help potential customers weigh-up the benefits for themselves.

4. Plan for the long-term. The trouble with marketing technology is potential product redundancy, and failure to consider where demand comes from, a competitor or …? So fast forward into the future. Consider how technology might or might not evolve, and consider segments, and develop marketing scenarios, beyond an initial product launch. By imagining the future and planning for the future today will help you grow and lead the market. Also to maximise both short and long-term market share.