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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