It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

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It’s at the very core of building a brand…

It doesn’t matter what you think. The only opinion that matters is your customer’s opinion.

What your customers think you are is what you are. And once made up, minds are seldom changed no matter how much marketing money you spend.

Marketers work hard to own “positions” in the mind of the customer, but it is really the customer who decides what position you own.

For example, when a well-entrenched brand like McDonald’s tries to change their position in the mind of the customer, it fails.

McDonald’s isn’t a pizza place, as they discovered after investing millions upon millions into the McPizza disaster of the 1990s.

No matter how much it tries to be, McDonald’s isn’t a coffee shop.  No matter how good people rate it’s coffee, it isn’t a coffee shop.

And McDonald’s isn’t Panera Bread or Chipotle. No matter how hard it goes after the emerging fast-casual dining category, it simply isn’t ever going to be that.

McDonalds is perceived by customers to be a kid-focused fast food restaurant that specializes in burgers. How much McMoney will they have to pour into marketing to change that perception? I don’t think there is a number large enough.

Remember when Garth Brooks tried to reposition himself as a pop artist? It failed miserably and nearly cost him his career. The list of country singers who have repositioned as pop artists is slim, as is the list of pop artists going the other way.

Once you’ve achieved a position in the mind of your customer, you are unlikely to ever change it.

The smart money is on embracing, celebrating, and protecting your position.

The marketing book Brand Like a Rock Star will change the way you look at branding, marketing, and positioning. By using examples from rock ‘n’ roll, you’ll see how legends like AC/DC, U2, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Buffett created powerful brands. You’ll learn how to put their core strategies to use in your business right away. Order it now with one click here, in paperback or digital download.

Chipotle, Garth Brooks, McDonalds 1,152 Comments

Never Apologize For Your Brand Values


Today I heard a commercial on the radio for a “guy’s show”… a sort-of trade show centered around everything male. Picture a convention center filled with cars, boats, beer, sporting goods, scantily clad girls, and rock ‘n’ roll, and you get the idea.

Then came a part of the commercial that made me laugh – and not in a good way. It went something like “… and ladies, don’t think you’ll be bored! We’ve added a Christmas craft market just for you.”

Imagine the Rolling Stones playing a show, and announcing “Hey jazz fans, don’t think you’ll be bored. We’re gonna stop rockin’ and play a few Miles Davis numbers just for you.”

If you hope to someday establish brand clarity, never ever back down from the values you represent.

Don’t apologize for them.

Don’t compromise them.

Celebrate them!

Remember what happened when McDonald’s compromised their values and added pizza to the menu?

How about that time that Coke compromised their values and replaced the Coke formula with a new, sweeter version?

If you’re putting together a “guy show”, go the distance. Add more testosterone, and subtract everything else. Burn the Christmas craft fair to the ground, and stomp on the ashes.

Don’t waste any more time and money trying to attract people who are marginal to your brand. They aren’t likely to try you… and if they do, they aren’t likely to stay.

Focus all of your time and energy on doing what you do well.

Celebrate the values that you represent.

Stop apologizing and compromising. It’s annoying as hell and it is doing you no favors.

As Roy H. Williams wrote in The Wizard of Ads, “the risk of insult is the price of clarity”.

Insult means someone won’t like you. Clarity means that everyone will understands who you are and what you’re about.

You can’t have universal love and acceptance.  And if you try to, you’ll never establish brand clarity.

Click here to order your copy of Brand Like A Rock Star now and start building a stronger brand, one that will attract more fans and more profits.

Have you signed up for the webinar “The Marketing Genius of KISS” yet? It is coming up on Monday, December 3 and I will be joined by former KISS on-line marketing leader Michael Brandvold. You can sign up right now at this link.

Coke, McDonalds, Rolling Stones, Roy Williams 199 Comments

Five Branding Lessons From Lemmy

You can order Brand Like A Rock Star in time for Christmas delivery right here. It makes a great gift for the person on your list who works in any type of business and loves music.

The temptation is always there to extend a successful brand.

McDonald’s unwisely made pizza for a few years. Coors wasted millions trying to launch bottled water. Recently the boys in the band Hanson (remember “MmmBop” from the late 90s?) announced a new beer with their name on it. Really?

When can a brand be successfully extended? When is to profitable and smart to put your brand’s name on a new product?

For the answer, we turn to underground rock legend Lemmy.

Lemmy is a notorious drinker, claiming to have downed a bottle of Jack Daniels every day since he turned 30. He is rumored to have slept with nearly 2,000 women. His drug use is well-documented. He has a controversial hobby collecting Nazi memorabilia. And despite a lack of actual hit songs, Lemmy and his band Motorhead have established themselves as heavy metal icons over the course of nearly 40 years together.

Lemmy knows exactly what his brand stands for. When a Swedish reporter asked him how his band might sound in ten years, he answered “the same, but louder.” He totally gets it.

This week Motorhead revealed a new line of vodka, a move that clearly shows how Lemmy understands the power of branding and the secret sauce of successful brand extension.

What can your business learn from Lemmy?

1. If you’re going to put your name on another product, make sure it matches the brand values of your existing product. Alcohol and Lemmy go together brilliantly.

2. Make sure everything you do reinforces your brand values.  Branding is a 360 degree process.

3. You don’t have to please everyone in order to be rich and famous. Lots of people hate Lemmy and Motorhead.

4. Be different. Don’t stress yourself about being better. If you don’t believe me, ask KISS.

5.  Even ugly guys can get action from the girls if they carry a guitar. See also: Ric Ocasek.

And thanks to Fernando at Brands Like Bands for sharing the news about Lemmy’s vodka with me!


Coors Light, McDonalds 1,418 Comments

The Brand Goes Back To Their Roots


It is a phrase you hear variations of all the time from bands.

“We’re going back to our roots.”

Even mega-stars U2, after their strange musical wanderings of the 1990s, publicly proclaimed their mission to “reapply for the job as the best band in the world.”

When a band’s creative instincts take them away from their fans’ expectations, quite often they wise up and “go back” to find future succes.

The same thing happens in business. For example, Wendy’s is about to nationally roll-out their new Dave’s Hot ’N Juicy Cheeseburger after a few months in test markets. The burger is an attempt to reach back into the past, reviving the memory of founder Dave Thomas and taking customers back to the days when expecting a hot and juicy hamburger (instead of a dry and thin patty) wasn’t all that unreasonable.

Having not tried the new burger, I can’t say if they’ve accomplished that mission.  But I do like the direction.

Faced with upstarts like Five Guys, the award winning Virginia-based burger chain that is growing rapidly across North America, restaurants like Wendy’s are under pressure to provide a higher level of quality in their fast food.

What impresses me about Wendy’s new initiative is that they are recognizing what customers expect from them and attempting to deliver exactly that. Instead of trying to sell pizzas (like  McDonalds in the 80s) or spending their marketing money on salads (as KFC did a decade ago), Wendy’s is investing nearly $25,000 per store to accommodate a new burger that embodies all that is great about a fast food burger. It will be thick, juicy, messy, and probably immeasurably unhealthy. That’s okay, because it lives up to customer expectations.

There are certain branding truths, and one of them is the futility of trying to change minds. Customers have expectations. Those expectations are pieces of valuable mental real estate. Trying to change those expectations is nearly impossible. When you own some of that real estate, your best option is to embrace the expectations of your customers and turn them into your own expectations as well. Resistance is generally futile.

The case of U2 and the concept of living up to the expectations of your fans is covered in depth in chapter two of Brand Like A Rock Star, available now online in paperback and digital ebook. It arrives at retail on October 1, 2011.

Don’t forget to grab a copy of the Musical Companion as well, a chapter-by-chapter playlist guide to getting to know the bands discussed in the book.

The World Release Event featuring an all-star branding panel is at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Friday, October 7 at 4pm. Tickets just $28 and on sale now at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino box office.



Calgary, AB – Tuesday, September 27

Red Deer, AB – Wednesday, September 28 (am)

Drumheller, AB – Wednesday, September 28 (pm)

Edmonton, AB – Thursday, September 29


Five Guys, KFC, McDonalds, U2, Wendy's 1,529 Comments

Michael Jackson, McRibs, and the Value of Discontinued Brands


Michael Jackson is worth more dead than he was alive. Nearly bankrupt in his final days, he (well, his estate) earned nearly a billion dollars in the year after his death.

Even the comeback tour that never happened managed to make $6.5 million US in ticket sales simply because many fans wanted to keep their tickets as souvenirs.

Why is a brand like Michael Jackson able to make more dead than alive?

1. When you’re dead, you can’t screw up your brand any more. Let’s face it… Michael Jackson had managed to mangle a once-brilliant brand. Through bizarre behavior, child abuse allegations, and endless plastic surgery, Michael Jackson’s brand had faded far from his Thriller days. Once he died, there was no way he could possibly do himself any more damage.

2. When you’re dead, we realize what we lost. Despite all the oddities, Michael Jackson was a once-in-a-generation musician. He created magic. Now it is gone, and it isn’t coming back. It took losing his genius for most of us to be able to recognize it.

3. When you’re dead, supply and demand work in your favor. With nothing more to offer, everything Michael Jackson did becomes more valuable. Merchadise and souvenirs become currency.  Unreleased music from before he died becomes infinitely more valuable than it otherwise would have been.

4. When you’re dead, we get to remember you the way we want to. Michael Jackson is remembered as a quirky musical genius, not a surgically-manipulated circus sideshow. Elvis Presley is remembered as young and energetic, not bloated and pathetic. Kurt Cobain is a troubled genius, not a drug-addled wife beater. We can write our own history, thank you very much.

Think about the various products that your company makes, especially the ones that have passionate customers but limited appeal. Would these fringe products be more valuable if they were completely discontinued or released in limited or time-sensitive quantities?

If this strategy sounds crazy to you, just ask McDonald’s how they are doing with their McRib sandwich. The product was a mediocre seller from 1981 to 1985. Since 1994 McDonald’s has periodically brought McRib back for limited periods. Last November, the McRib helped boost McDonald’s monthly sales by 4.8%.

Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, McDonalds, McRib, Michael Jackson 1,591 Comments

Better To Burn Out, Than To Fade Away

That first product launch is exciting, energizing, and spectacular.  Your enthusiasm is contagious.  You’ve spent your whole life, or at the very least a large part of it, getting ready to launch.

And after a few months, you start to wonder “what next”?

Brands that successfully endure for years and decades think beyond the next six or twelve months.  Change is a part of their corporate culture. They thrive on the uncomfortable feeling that change brings. They always ask “what’s next?”

MySpace started losing groud to Facebook.  What’s next?  Myspace evolved into one of the world’s leading sites for musicians and artists.

Apple spent decades with just 10% of the personal computer market.  What’s next?  Apply grew into the world’s biggest music retailer.

Sure some attempts at evolution fail. McPizza, New Coke, and Star Trek “Nemesis” are three examples.  But those are spectacular failures from brands that today remain incredibly strong in large part because they were willing to risk failure in order to evolve.

The McDonald’s pizza experiment failed miserably.  But their recent growth into healthier foods with a wider variety of menu items has rebounded the company in the past few years.  And their adventure into breakfast food gave them the wildly successful Egg McMuffin.

New Coke was a legendary disaster, yet the Coke brand – despite almost ludicrious line extension – remains the #1 cola brand on the planet.

Star Trek “Nemesis” in 2002 was the lowest-grossing and most poorly reviewed movie in the series.  Yet the Star Trek movie from last spring was a massive hit.  It has already made three times more money than any previous Star Trek movie.  But this one wasn’t like the other Trek movies.  William Shatner wasn’t invited.  Niether was Captain Picard.  And director JJ Abrams took a fresh approach to the story.  That’s a risk that paid off.

Winning brands are willing to fail, because failure means you are doing something, and doing something means you are growing.  If you’re smart and calculated, you’ll make more wise moves than mistakes.  And if you’re really wise, you’ll know when to pull the plug on mistakes and cut your losses.

It is the unwise who become stale because they were afraid of change. Change and evolution is too frightening and uncomfortable for some brands.  They don’t understand the warning from Neil Young in 1979, when his career was fading.  He felt his music was becoming irrelevant, and he wrote song about the dangers of recording the same type of music too much.

“My My, Hey Hey… It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

Neil was willing to go down in flames.  He took a risk and recorded a song that took his career into punk and grunge music, and recorded a song that influenced the careers of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and a subsequent generation of musicians.  It turned his sagging career around.

So if you think it is the right thing to do, and you can do it in the name of evolution and greater success, then go ahead… risk burning out. It sure beats fading into obscurity.

Apple, Coke, Facebook, McDonalds, MySpace, Neil Young, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Star Trek 463 Comments