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Justin Foster

The Power of Brand: Dollar Shave Club vs Gillette

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I really wanted to love Dollar Shave Club.   Edgy, non-traditional, irreverant, stick-it-to-the-man, funny, real.  What’s not to love?  Dollar Shave Club appealed to every part of my thinking.   They created immediate differentation with their advertising.  They triggered my sense of injustice for the price I was paying for my name-brand blades.  It was convenient.  They made me laugh.  They made me feel like part of a club – and not just because of their name.  Dollar Shave Club was like discovering an indie band before they hit the big time.

However …

Their blades don’t work for me.  I tried.  Oh, how I tried.  I went through a whole month of blades wishing and pleading that they would work.  Several other friends that were in The Club said they loved the blades.  After a month of cuts and neck rashes, I was done.

So I went back to Gillette.  Not out of love or attraction.  I don’t like Gillette’s over-done, splashy endorsement-style advertising.  They are as about as institutional and establisment a brand you can find.  They have naming rights on a stadium, for crying out loud!  I went back simply because their blades work.

The Power of Brand is based on attraction, emotion, etc.  This is what advertising has traditionally tapped in to but is very rare to find today.  With Dollar Shave Club, I tolerated an inferior product for a month in trade for all of the other feelings that Dollar Shave Club generated.  But in the end, the Power of Product Superiority overcame the Power of Brand.   Product Superiority is based on just that: great products that remind you that you get what you pay for.

Most brands have neither the Power of Brand nor the Power of Product Superiority.  These are the Oatmeal brands that still dominate the marketplace.  In rare instance, you find the Power of Brand combined with the Power of Product Superiority – Apple, Carhart, Audi, UnderArmour, etc.   These brands are committed to getting both sides of the brain to fall in love.   They generate emotion, but back it with logic – often in the perfect blend of function and beauty.

Oh Dollar Shave Club what might have been … if not for the Power of Product Superiority.

“Pawn Stars” and Fool’s Gold (HT @kenholsinger)

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In a world before fragmented media, 24/7 content cycles and social media, this was probably a good idea: Find a very popular TV show and pay the stars to promote your product in a way that makes it look like part of the TV show.   However, we are not in the good ol’ days of advertising.  At a minimum, this kind of advertising is manipulative to less informed/aware viewers.   While Microsoft continues to bottom-feed the low end of the market, this kind of advertising further alienates the potential buyer who researches, listens, uses social media, etc.  The bottom-line: completely normal behavior for the perpetual annual winner of the Most Tone-Deaf Brand award.

6 Branding Lessons from Geno’s Steaks

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Despite a heavy travel schedule over the past 15 years, last week was my first trip to Philadelphia.  While there, I asked some of the locals I met the best place to experience an authentic Philly Cheese Steak.  Of course, I received plenty of opinions but went with the most common suggestion – Geno’s Steaks. So on a Saturday afternoon, I found my way to Geno’s.  Not only did I have an awesome experience, I learned six more lessons about branding from Geno’s.

  1. Keep it simple – Cash only.  Simple menu.  No inside seating.  Brands tend to way over-complicate things.  To paraphrase Steve Jobs: sometimes the consumer just needs to be told what to buy.
  2. Stand out visually – There is zero doubt when you find Geno’s.  Bright signs.  Name on all street-facing sides of the building.  Everything painted Geno’s “orange”.  All employees in Geno’s gear.
  3. Create a line – The massive line out front also told you that you’d find Geno’s – and that it was worth the wait.  Ordering from a single window wasn’t the most efficient for Geno’s or the customers – but it created a massive line of people publicly stating their willingess to wait for something different.
  4. Have secret codes –  In addition to the recommendation for Geno’s, I was instructed in great detail about how to order.  My friend Kevin had taken me step by step through the process of how to order and what to say.  As I approached the window (20 minutes after I got in line), I simply said “Provolone with” and handed the lady a $10 bill.  I then watched the guy after me ask a bunch of questions and generally look like a tourist.
  5. Don’t afraid to be polarizing – At the order window is a sign that says “You are in America.  Order in English”. Being different (and controversial) forces polarization.  Polarization gives you a clear audience to attract.
  6. Stay true to your roots –  As this was my first Philly Cheese Steak experience, I don’t know if it was better than other cheese steaks in the area.  But I believed that Geno’s believes it is.  You can feel the pride and conviction for their brand.

A brand is a meaningful, relevant presence in the marketplace.  100% for Geno’s

Branding is the authentic amplification of what makes you awesome.  100% for Geno’s.

It’s not a brand if it doesn’t create stories, emotion and memories.  100% for Geno’s.

Even Indie Brands Need Promotion

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We’ve all found a coffee shop, a band, a clothing store etc and thought “Why aren’t these guys famous??”  The answer: we have an over-saturation of talent.    While we remain a culture and economy driven by mass production, the rise of “indie” brands has also led to an explosion of talent.  It is happening in business too.  There are a lot of talented designers, accountants, consultants et al.

So if you are an indie brand, how do you differentiate yourself?  It won’t just be on talent.  While talent will differentiate you from your inferior and/or mass-produced competion, it doesn’t differentiate you from other indie brands.  A lot of it will be your ability to promote yourself – but not in a way that dilutes your brand.  Here are some tips:

  • Hire a mini-CMO.  Even if you are a solo brand, you need someone that will develop and execute a marketing plan.
  • Use great design.  A strong visual brand is a still a great short-cut to standing out.  This includes your logo, website, social media presence, etc – as well as your personal visual brand if you are a solo brand.
  • Be consistent.  Regardless of the tactic being used, be consistent with the timing, message, visuals, etc.
  • Go Blended.  Create experiences that draw people to your brand in unexpected ways.  For example, if you are a business-to-business brand, host a garage sale for your clients and donate the money to charity.
  • Capture Everthing.  “Tell your story” has become a bit of a cliche, but it is still true.  Capture videos, photos, testimonials, etc to tell your story.  This also allows your customers and influencers to promote you.  Your brand is a reality show – just turn the cameras on.

Final thoughts …

Occassionally, well-promoted mediocrity beats talent.  But well-promoted talent ALWAYS beats under-promoted talent.

Free Price Associates Webinar – 4/25 – “Fishbowl: Building a Brand in the Era of Social Business”

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My friends at Price Associates are hosting a free webinar on April 25 featuring yours truly.  This is fresh new content – and I will be using SlideKlowd as a “second screen” tool during the presentation.

Please feel free to send, share or otherwise socialize.  More info below …

Fishbowl: Building a Brand in the Era of Social Business

Thanks to smart phones, social media and the 24/7 news cycle, we are now in the era of Social Business.  Every human contact with a brand is amplified.  Some brands have embraced Social Business (UnderArmour, SalesForce), while others have learned a lesson the hard way (Rutgers University, Target).  SlideKlowd co-founder and Brand Strategist Justin Foster shares his insights on building a brand in the “fishbowl”.  Justin covers a wide range of topics including:

·       How a positive internal culture can be your #1 brand differentiator

·       The first 10 seconds and last 10 seconds of first impressions

·       Adjusting your business and marketing strategy to harness transparency

·       3 emerging business tech trends – and what to do about them.

·       The role in personal branding for professionals and executives
DATE: April 25, Thursday

TIME: 9:00 AM – 10:00 am MDT 

Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

To use SlideKlowd during the webinar, simply download the free SlideKlowd audience app from the Apple or Android store and create an account/log-in.  An Event Key will be provided at the start of the session.

10 Undeniable Branding Truths

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Regardless of product, audience, market conditions or valuation, here are 10 Undeniable Branding Truths:
  1. Awesomeness is the ultimate benchmark.  “Are we awesome?” covers people, systems, marketing, product dev … everything. 
  2. Your internal culture is always manifested in your brand – especially in customer experience and product quality. 
  3. If your brand appeals to both Hipsters and Republicans, you will be just fine. 
  4. Institutional thinking produces sameness in your branding and marketing.  Sameness is also what you do when you have no differentiators. 
  5. If you have no differentiators, you are not a brand – you are an entity. 
  6. “Best kept secret” just means you suck at marketing. 
  7. If you want mass market appeal, you will eventually have to sell to dumb people. 
  8. A true message isn’t a slogan.  It’s an invitation. 
  9. The relationship between a brand and an audience is just like a personal relationship.  It needs intimacy, validation and appreciation. 
  10. If you can’t be awesome, can’t build something awesome, can’t treat other people awesomely, no amount of marketing can fix your brand.
Add your truths in the comments.

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5 Blind Spots that Get Entreprenuers

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You don’t really learn until you’ve studied both success and failure. I’ve had the privilege of being around a lot of winners in my career.  But I might have learned more from the failures – including a few of my own.

Being part of a start-up that is doing things right has inspired me to reflect on the blind spots that nail entrepreneurs.  Here are 5:
  1. Capitalism 101.  This is rampant with the over-educated entrepreneur with a corporate background.  Unless they receive other influences, they are taught that capitalism is just an economic model.  Then they get a corporate job and the paychecks magically appear every two weeks.  If/when they take the plunge in to the start-up pool, they  often are surprised to find that capitalism is economic REALITY; that capitalism is the math used by markets, investors, etc.    In short,  there has to be a transaction.  No transaction, no business model.  So to prevent “Solyndra Syndrome”, you need a sustainable revenue model fueled by a market that wants to buy your product.
  2. Failing to Prepare for Failure.  Mike Tyson once said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.  Those “punches” usually come from a funding source not coming through – or the market not responding the way you thought they would.  Mature entrepreneurs prepare for failure by hiring people that can take a punch, building flexibility in to the business / revenue plan and by building scalable products that can quickly adjust to the market’s response.
  3. No Shared Risk.  You’d be surprised how many so-called entrepreneurs don’t invest in their own ventures.  Unless you have a few successful start-ups under your belt, being an entrepreneur is a game of all-in.  When it’s your money (or house or 401k) at risk, you will behave differently.  You will watch expenses, you will have a budget and you will be extra choosy about who you hire.
  4. Lack of Conviction.  Do you believe?  I don’t mean “are you delusional?”.  I mean do you absolutely believe that the idea you are taking to market is viable?  This conviction is what will keep you warm at night (hat tip to the movie “Red Dawn”).  It prepares you to handle #2.  It prepares you to hear “no”.  It’s hard to do that if you have to keep re-reading your own business plan to remind yourself why you are doing this.
  5. Working Too Hard.  Consider blocking sleds in football practice.  Hitting the blocking sled is already hard work, but they are designed to be even harder if you use sloppy technique.  Small business ownership, start-ups, etc are like hitting the blocking sleds  – a lot of simply just grinding away and doing the dirty work necessary to make it all work.  Don’t make it harder by getting lazy or sloppy – or by over-working yourself.  If it seems extra hard, stop, take a break and check your technique.

A final thought …

Being physically and mentally fit will give you a competitive advantage as an entreprenuer.  Eating right, working out, resting the mind, etc give you endurance and clarity.  You will also look better in your suit when you are pitching to VCs.
Add any blind spots you’ve seen or experienced in the comments section.

5 Marketing Trends for 2012

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‘Tis the season for blog posts and articles on the “Best/Worst of 2011” and trend-watching for 2012.  I don’t know how many marriages Kim Kardashian will have or if Justin and Selena will tie the knot.  But I do believe these are the top 5 marketing trends that decision-makers should be watching in 2012:

  1. The Buy Local movement will grow.  American Express’s very well-executed “Small Business Saturday” campaign is just the tip of the iceberg for this trend.  Thanks to awareness campaigns, word-of-mouth, and the continued flat economy, buying local will be even hotter in 2012.  The lesson for locally-owned businesses is to not suck at branding.  This starts by actively participating in the Buy Local movement.  It also means investing in first impressions: logo, signage, web, etc.  People want to buy local, but they don’t want to buy local crap.
  2. “Indie” brands will stay hot.  Similar to the Buy Local movement, Indie brands are hot right now.  Indie brands are more about un-establishment rather than anti-establishment.  This means they are edgy and different, but still have some mass appeal.  These are small record labels, regional chains (i.e. Dutch Brothers), small clothing lines, etc.  The #1 goal for Indie brands (besides having great products) is to have a findable and usable web site – and making sure it is integrated with your social media efforts.
  3. Mobile web will (almost) reach small businesses.  Since the web is people-driven, it will evolve as people change their habits, new technologies emerge, etc.  One example is the rise of mobile web that has been fueled by smart phones, 4G, and greater access to wifi.  For smaller businesses, this means making sure your web site is mobile-enabled – and making sure that you have a good presence on Google Maps.  By mid to late 2012, I also think you will see more small business related mobile apps.  As the cost of app development drops, savvy small businesses will start do use apps to promote their brands and sell products.
  4. Integration is in.  This trend has emerged in larger brands the last few years.  In short, it means integrating your visual identity, message, offerings, etc through all mediums.  This is not a new concept. However, the fragmentation of old media and the emergence of all the new media platforms, it is certainly more difficult.  For small business owners, this means making sure that all of your marketing vendors are talking to each other.  This traditionally hasn’t happened, so be prepared for drama and push-back from each of them.  Or get them all in a room and post the video on YouTube!   The bottom-line: by not integrating your brand across all mediums, you will dilute your brand, confuse your audience, and look like an amateur.
  5. Interaction will be a requirement. Other than small pockets within certain demographics, the idea of “passive” branding is pretty much dead.  Passive branding is part of the old thinking about saturation – that enough people see your billboard or see/hear your ad, then it creates brand awareness.  And brand awareness leads to sells. In the words of Keyshawn Johnson, “C’mon Man!” The business owner in you wishes it works this way, but the consumer in you knows it doesn’t.  If you are going to do outbound marketing (radio, TV, billboard, print, direct mail, PPC, etc), you have to give something for people to DO!  This is why QR codes are hot right now.  I’m not sure this trend will continue, because 90% of where the scan takes you is boring or poorly executed.  However, the idea of getting your audience to do something is on the right track.  The same rule applies to e-mail marketing, text marketing, social media advertising, etc. – using these tools is not enough.  There has to be interaction – or at a minimum, a call to action or offer.
An over-arching trend that effects all brands is that the consumer is in charge.  Almost without exception, you need them far more than they need you.  So whatever medium or method you use, keep this in mind.  Treat your audience with respect.  Be clear in your offer.  Tell them what makes you different/better.  Then love ’em up when they buy from you.


Is your brand Oatmeal or Bacon?  Find out here.

How to Write a Bad Marketing Plan

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A typical task this time of year for small business owners or marketing decision-makers is to write a marketing plan.  There are plenty of articles and posts on how to write an effective marketing plan.  So here is one on how to NOT write an effective plan.


  1. Focus on how much money you will spend.  At some point, marketing became equated with spending money.  Of course, you need a budget – but focus on investing in results, not just spending a budget.  I recommend a “zero sum” approach.  Start with desired outcomes, then establish how much you need to spend to reach those goals.  Keep in mind that word-of-mouth is always free. 
  2. Create a punch list of tactics.  Of course, you need a plan for what you are going to do.  However, a “check box” mentality distracts from the true task at hand – producing results.  This will prevent you from measuring progress by what you’ve done instead of what you produced. 
  3. Establish a target demographic.  Demographic-based target audiences are a relic of media placement.  Unless you are selling to shut-ins and geriatrics, demographic models have mostly been fragmented.  Instead, focus on the psychographic profile of your ideal audience.  How do they think?  What do they believe?  What are their drivers? 
  4. Don’t worry about a message.   Marketing is all about saturation, right?  It doesn’t matter what your message is.  Just get a slogan, a jingle and get your brand in front of enough people and it will produce sales results.  Unfortunately, this happens enough times to perpetuate this myth.  For those of you that don’t believe that “luck” should be part of a marketing plan, your message is the single most important part of your plan.  Simply put, your message is what you would say to your ideal audience that establishes an emotional connection and creates the desired behavior.  Simple, right? 
  5. Don’t worry about quality. This bad marketing plan mistake is partially related to #2 and #4.  The focus on punch lists and saturation often leave a lack of funding on producing quality marketing materials and advertising.  A poorly shot TV ad, a poorly written radio ad, a poorly designed print piece, a poorly designed web site, etc are evidence of a poorly thought-out marketing plan. 
  6. Write your plan for the entire year.  Frankly, we shouldn’t have annual marketing plan.  It locks you in to a plan that has minimal flexibility.  One year in a brand is a long time.  New opportunities will arise, new threats will emerge, and markets/trends will shift.  And you will be stuck in Q3 of your plan using old data and old ideas.  Instead, focus on a strategic plan for the year with 4 – 5 measurable outcomes (i.e. revenue per customer) – then use quarterly marketing plans for the execution side of the plan. 
  7. Don’t establish benchmarks or outcomes.  I’ve used the term outcomes, benchmarks, measurables, and results enough times to sound like a real consultant.  Without them, you don’t have a plan.
So put down the egg nog, quit rooting through that gift basket of goodies your radio rep brought you, and get to work!


If you need to get a last minute Christmas gift for someone you really love, get them this.

5 Books that will Re-Wire Your Thinking

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I’m frequently asked what books I read – and what books I would recommend others read.  There are plenty of very helpful books on how to do something.  And plenty of books that will make you think.  But what if you wanted to fundamentally change your thinking? To re-wire your brain so that your thinking (and behavior) become a competitive advantage?
Here are my Top 5 for doing just that (in no particular order) …

Core concept:  “This fun little book will help you figure out if you’re in a Dip that’s worthy of your time, effort, and talents. If you are, The Dip will inspire you to hang tough. If not, it will help you find the courage to quit-so you can be number one at something else.”

Godin will always make you think – probably more than any modern business author.  His books always inspire “I’ve never thought about that before”.  However, a lot Godin’s stuff is not all that actionable – more theory and concepts than changing behavior.  The exception is “The Dip”.  My good friend and relevance filter Tac Anderson gave me a copy several years ago when I was in a transitionary phase in my career as a consultant.  Like many of the books on this list, it was a quick read.  However, it fundamentally changed my thinking on excellence and career fulfillment.  I use the principles in the book as part of any strategy-related discussion for my clients as well as my brand.


Core concept:  “Why do some ideas thrive while others die?  The brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the “human scale principle,” using the “Velcro Theory of Memory,” and creating “curiosity gaps.”

This is the best business book I’ve ever read.  I actually listened to it first – then bought the actual book.  It’s the only business book I’ve read more than twice.  This book caused me to shift my entire consulting methodology away from promoting products for my clients to promoting (and discovering) ideas.  This is because great brands are ultimately ideas.  As such, I use (with proper credit) their 7 elements of an idea in my consulting sessions.  A brilliant, yet simple read.


Core Concept:  In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way — and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. And it all starts with “why.”  

As friends and clients can attest to, this book is probably the one I quote the most.  Simon’s book is a profound blend of inspiration, communication, and behavior – all critical elements of effective branding.  Simon’s “Why?” principle gets at the heart of what creates a great brand.  Like bacon goes with eggs, it blends perfectly with “Made to Stick” – providing a robust set of concepts for discovering and promoting ideas.  


Core Concept:   The Go Giver tells the story of an ambitious young man named Joe who yearns for success.  Joe learns that changing his focus from getting to giving—putting others’ interests first and continually adding value to their lives—ultimately leads to unexpected returns.

Told in story format, “The Go Giver” risks being mis-positioned as being trite or cheesy because of it’s title.  It is most certainly neither.  Instead, “The Go Giver” uses a simple narrative to uncover what it truly takes to be successful.  Because of it’s story format, I enjoyed the audio version more than reading the book.  Joe’s story is similar to a situation we’ve all been in – the pressure to increase sales RIGHT NOW.  Through the narrative, the authors reveal 5 critical elements that Joe was missing in his search for success.  I use the concepts in this book every day.


Core Concept:   Bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman guides couples in identifying, understanding, and speaking their spouse’s primary love language—quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.

Although obviously written as a relationship/marriage book, this is also a business book.  More specifically, it is a book on how to create an internal culture that becomes a differentiator for your brand.  I’m sure that Dr Chapman didn’t write it with this intent, but the principles apply to branding, culture, customer experience, employee recruiting, etc.  Why?  Because all of these areas involve people – and how they relate to each other.  Each of the “Love Languages” are manifested in business settings as well – and when you understand this, it will fundamentally change how you interact with your employees, customers, and influencers.


I will also use this post to shamelessly and gladly promote two new books from two of my favorite people:
Corey Smith’s book “Do it Right: A CEO’s Guide to Web Strategy”.   This is the book that every CEO, small business owner, and lead executive must read.  Using humor, story-telling and practical advice, Corey has produced the first web book written specifically to help a CEO.
Ron Price’s book “Treasure Inside:  23 Unexpected Principles that Activate Greatness”.  Simply put, Ron has unlocked the secret to human potential.  This book is so profound that it needs to be absorbed a bit at a time.  It will help you understand your own “awesomeness” – and make you go digging through your own heart and mind to find these hidden treasures.

Of course, after you’ve read all of these books, don’t forget to read “Oatmeal v Bacon”.