Farnaz on Featured, New World Strategies, New World Trends, New Realities

How To Build Trust

Trust is a universal need in all relationships, isn’t it? The degree of importance may vary from one person to the next, but we all need trust in all aspects of our relationships. It is the most cherished need, and it is the bond that holds all other values together. It is the belief that someone or something is reliable, dependable, good, honest, etc. It is our natural state….how we expect things to be.

It is true that some people are more trustworthy than others—and some are regarded as having trust issues based on past experiences–regardless, it is an earned process that can only be achieved when we’ve had a chance to feel it with all our senses, test it, and experience it. And over time, once trust is build, we can endure the other tests of the ages.

The irony about trust is that it takes a long time to build, but only a few minutes to destroy.

How do you build it? Simple. Meaning what you do and say….and saying and doing what you mean. I believe we can build on this by three qualities: honesty, integrity and consistency. Trust is the strongest ground to stand upon.

I always say that at the end of each business line, there is a person who is motivated through beliefs and values–and so it is a relationship, no different than all our other relationships. Building business strategies and branding messages around trust and communicating it is no different than building trust in any personal relationships.

Here’s a short excerpt from my book: “Our beliefs grow from what we see, hear, experience and think about. Beliefs manifest themselves in what we say and do, our actions being the actual, physical expression of these abstract ideas. They are the basis for decision making, and they drive consumption behavior for businesses. They are how we communicate and relate with others. Our values stem from our beliefs, and are widely shared and rarely questioned. Values are about how we think things or people should be in terms of qualities and guiding principles that are important to us.”

The values that build trust are honesty, integrity and consistency. Other important values such as, empathy, compassion, faithfulness, acceptance, etc, are also important and may contribute to trust, but I don’t believe they are the foundation. If I can be honest that I’m not accepting of someone or something, you can trust that I mean what I say. If you are honest and consistent that you are not empathic, I may not like you, but I will trust that you mean what you say and will do as you mean. When you are honest, speak the truth—or admitting even when you lie—and you do that consistently, you can become trustworthy. People will start believing “trust” in you, even if they don’t like what they hear. Trust has nothing to do with being liked or even loved.

The same is true in your business relationships–internally with each other and with your consumer. If you are honest with your employees and customers, speak the truth even when it’s difficult, practice integrity and moral principles, and you do that consistently, you will build trust.

And once you have trust, you will have loyalty. Smart business leaders know that you can’t pay enough to buy loyalty from a customer or a valued employee. Trust breeds loyalty, and loyalty creates brand ambassadors. Let’s face it….your new world customers, specially millennials and women, are less trusting and more skeptical of advertising. They will trust something if someone else has approved or testified for it. In The New World Marketplace, when companies are thinking about building trust, they need to consider the group dynamics that impact individual beliefs and decisions.

Trust is not the only value that leads to relationship success. But building trust is the foundation, and should be the starting point. In all relationships. It builds character and brand ID.  The New World Marketplace is about embracing human relationships and their values.


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The New World Marketplace Dividends – diversity yields higher financial returns

I’ve always geared away from using the terms “diversity” or “feminism” for they are loaded with polarized reactions….viewed mainly as social issues to overcome, HR initiatives so to speak. I coined the phrase The New World Marketplace to address these major cultural macro trends as economic and business imperatives. My background in C-suite and P&L management afforded me credibility in the areas of branding strategies and marketing. But in terms of business leadership, analysis and sample sizes were too small to make a difference. Until now…

McKinsey has been examining diversity in the workplace for several years. Their latest report, Diversity Matters, examined proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin American, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In this research, they looked at metrics such as financial results and the composition of top management and boards. In short, the companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.  More specifically, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.  And companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.  That’s big…!!!

Soon, diversity probably won’t be a competitive differentiator for companies. Just look at the talent pipeline….take a look at your new world marketplace customers….women, youth and multicultural. But the time to shift market share towards more diverse companies is NOW. I’d like to encourage all of you to share this data with your senior team. The case is becoming more and more compelling.

Other findings from the report were:

  • Companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set (that is, bottom-quartile companies are lagging rather than merely not leading).
  • In the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity has a stronger impact on financial performance in the United States than gender diversity, perhaps because earlier efforts to increase women’s representation in the top levels of business have already yielded positive results.
  • In the United Kingdom, greater gender diversity on the senior-executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in our data set: for every 10 percent increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5 percent.
  • While certain industries perform better on gender diversity and other industries on ethnic and racial diversity, no industry or company is in the top quartile on both dimensions.
  • The unequal performance of companies in the same industry and the same country implies that diversity is a competitive differentiator shifting market share toward more diverse companies.

While this McKinsey report still shows concerns for current leadership gap underlining the work that remains to be done, as I wrote in my last blog, I think this issue will resolve itself as the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. (Also read Gen Y women will break the glass ceiling ) Timing is everything. Lead not follow. Time to take full advantage of the new world opportunity that diverse leadership teams represent, given the higher returns that diversity is expected to bring. This is, and continues to be, a strong strategic differentiation.  Your leadership needs to represent the customers you serve.  Do you know how your customers are changing?



Do you have the right strategy for 2014?

A good, solid, differentiating Strategy isn’t easy to understand, let alone implement and go to market.  Many great, large consulting firms have used powerful frameworks with analytical rigor with companies, but I believe they are missing an important evolution of strategy which is about the psychology, thinking and feeling of the essence of strategy.  The shifts in cultural values, causes and beliefs among new world customers which have direct impact on a successful winning strategy.  This isn’t so much about what has shifted in the budgets—it’s more about what has shifted in consumers and therefore, market forces.

This essence of strategy needs to be understood and embraced by the leaders of the company.  Sure, we can use fancy words and tools to diagnose, search and forecast.  They are all necessary.  But bottom line is an understanding of why you have or have not been making money, and what needs to shift to create a differentiating value in The New World Marketplace versus the competing alternatives.

More often than not, it starts with senior leaders facing the brutal facts about their own biases and past orthodoxies that hold them back from tapping into a profitable new world market.  And that’s where commitment and conviction to strategy falls short. Transferring frameworks into actionable specifics and guidelines are important to strategy… so are the reallocations of resources along with commitment to analytical rigor and constant re-evaluations.  But truth is, leaders of companies have escaped the middle class in their daily lives, and often fail to understand that they can’t escape the rapid changes in the middle class with their strategy—unless they do something very unique and special with luxury brands riding on industry trends for a very short period of time.  Even Neiman Marcus, BMW, Mercedes and many other luxury brands are trying to tap into the middle class market and the 3 major macro trends of women, youth and multicultural.

The magic of strategy happens where there is more focus on positional improvements, not just performance improvement.  Positioning the company against the right, growing macro trends–where and how to compete by right target market selection.

It behooves me on how leaders and companies view this critical part of strategy as marketing.  Of course, I believe a good Chief Marketing Officer should be the brand guard and completely capable of delivering the right positioning against the right trends and insights.  But this may explain why so many companies these days are starting to hire Chief Strategy Officers as well as Chief Marketing Officers.  Whether that’s a CMO talent issue, or both positions will combine into one again soon after, it certainly keeps large strategic consulting firms like McKinsey in business for a long period of time.  The future you need to plan for is not just about overcoming the profit-depleting effects of the market forces.  It is about the psychology of becoming your own future rival, and willingness to embrace the New World Marketplace customers.

Flatter me please… click here  for a quick grasp on why the positioning improvement is the essence of strategy and why it will help you succeed in 2014 and beyond.  And then ask yourself, do you have the right strategy for 2014?




Do you know the underlying needs and values to address women effectively? 10 questions to ask your strategy team

Since the Wave 5 of the Ipsos MediaCT Audience Measurement Group came out earlier this month about Women, Power & Money, I read myriad of articles on the web.  There was one in particular by MediaPost which intrigued me, examining American women’s lives, lifestyles and marketplace choices across three generations—Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers.  I thought the findings identified cultural shifts in women’s priorities and how women are shaping the leadership and financial course of The New World Marketplace.  Of course, as an X-CMO, I thought they were all missing what companies and brands should do differently with their strategic positioning and branding messages with these new findings.  But that is why you are here, reading my blog.

There is no doubt that, despite gender lags in pay and salary negotiations, American women are feeling increasingly empowered, independent, knowledgeable and successful. According to Allianz women money and power research, women made up half of all stock-market investors and controlled 48% of estates worth more than $5 million in 2006-2007. By 2011 women controlled over 50% of the United States’ wealth, and 60% of women with business degrees out-earn their husbands and describe themselves as primary breadwinner.  And according to the latest U.S. Census, regardless of educational attainments, women out-earn their male partners in 22% of households….while this is not a big number worth bragging, it is a far cry from Cinderella archetype.

However, there are radically differing perceptions of financial responsibilities between women and men, says the report.  Women perceive controlling day-to-day spending, with ¾ or more feeling responsible for household purchases, while big-ticket purchases are considered joint responsibility.  Men perceive differently, seeing day-to-day decisions jointly, and big-ticket purchases as largely theirs.  Regardless of this differing perception, it makes sense, in any healthy relationship, to discuss and agree on big-ticket and joint-household purchases…while day-to-day spending may not warrant negotiations.  The same is true in any Corporate structure of financial responsibilities and sign-offs, isn’t it?  This speaks greatly to who should be targeted for what product/service purchases, singularly or jointly, varying by age/generation, culture, income and lifestyle.

Let’s face it.  Since the recession, messages of price value and affordability resonate across genders, cultures and generations.  But throughout the Ipsos study, women show greater tendencies toward price and value (despite income), more inclination to spend on “experiences”, and more openness to new brands….which make them less brand loyal (only 29% express brand loyalty).  Men are more likely to spend on products, less price focused (except for financial services) and show preference for familiar brands.  For women, the security and freedom money brings is 15-20 times more important than the status and respect it affords.

This report also highlights key generational differences:

  • Boomer women perceive more differences between men and women.  However, in my opinion, this is the generation that taught Gen Y about gender equality and “girls can do anything boys can do.”  The study shows that they are more swayed by messages related to “values” and corporate social responsibility, but I believe they are also leading the way with embracing the major cultural shifts for the younger generation…for their sons and daughters.
  • Gen X women are solidly in the lifestage of family formation and its associated trade-offs.  They seem more financially constrained and price-conscious—so price/value messages resonate best with this generation of women, and considered necessity.
  • Gen Y women, aka millenials, feel empowered and equal to men, and are more likely to describe themselves as smart (70% vs. 54% men).  But they also feel more stressed and exhausted in an uphill climb in achieving equal results with men.  Gen Y is also a global generation of women with perspectives and marketplace preferences that transcend gender and cultural borders, and are inspired by shared experiences of technology, innovation, social media, and new creative brands.

I believe it is the Gen Y women that will finally close the gender inequality in corridors of power in the future.  This new generation of women not only feel more ambitious, independent, smart and educated, but they are also less likely than men to be living with their parents—32% versus 40% of men–continuing a long-term gender gap in the share of young adults living at home, according to Pew research.

In my book, I cited the Levi Strauss Millennial study that showed  values such as independence (96%) and being able to shape their own future (87%) trump everything… including becoming a mom (68%) and marriage (only 50%).  This generation of women who grew up with executive mothers see the hard-working, hard-charging work life as “extreme” and costs too great.  This is the most educated cohort of all times with a zest for entrepreneurship, if for nothing else, so they can shape their own future.  So clearly they have the greatest influence on cultural evolution for women.  (Also read, Evolving Archetypes & Rise of Women)

If you think about it, these underlying “values” and “needs” have major implications in building emotional connections through your branding and communication strategies and messages.  More importantly, they help define need-based targeting for brand products and services.  For example, price/value is increasingly becoming a greater and greater “need” for women in providing quality life for families, and brands have greater and greater “need” to differentiate amidst the clutter with lower brand loyalties among women consumers.  Generational life phase clearly bring forth different set of needs, but the aspirational values for women cross over generationally and demographically.

Targeting women, in general, is an economic imperative and strategic necessity for profitable growth.  Targeting women effectively can also serve as a key strategic differentiation for companies.  Women not only control majority of buying decisions, but they also demand change and expect it to be meaningful.

If I was consulting for your company, I’d start with asking your strategy and marketing teams these 10 key questions.  Here they are…go ahead and ask your team….this is good starting point for your strategic discussions around your Value Propositions and branding/communication strategies:

  • Have we re-evaluated our core target to primarily include women ?
  • Have we defined which women, which needs and at what relative price?
  • Does our Value Proposition(s) identify and align with evolving needs and values?
  • How do we differentiate from competition?  Is this clearly being communicated?
  • Do we know which one of our products/services is “her decision” alone, and which ones are joint with her partner?  Are we communicating accordingly?
  • Are we enhancing “her experience”?  If so, how are we communicating this?
  • Does she consider us “affordable” relative to competition?  (Note:  affordable is not the same as cheap)
  • Are we avoiding gender biases and stereotypes in our communication strategies?
  • Have we identified the sweet spot of commonalities cross-generationally?
  • Are we recognizing and acknowledging The New World Modern Woman?

Can you and your team answer these questions effectively?  Are you ready to shift?

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New World Trend & Cultural Shift: Is Dad the New Mom?

We are used to generations of women doing the lioness’ share of child care and housework, even if they have jobs outside the home.  Now we are seeing rise of co-parenting and cultural shifts phasing out “husband and wife” and “father and mother” and replacing them with functional roles of “spouse and parent.”  Work-family balance is no longer a women’s issue—it is now truly a “family” issue as the word intended.

According to the most recent Census report, the number of stay-at-home fathers in the United States has more than doubled in the past 10 years to 176,000.  And according to a report released by the Family and Work Institute last year, men are also experiencing work-family conflict, with 60% saying it was an issue in 2008 (up from 35% in 1977.)  That figure remained relatively flat for women (47% in 2008, 41% in 1977.)  Today’s Gen Y dads, aka millennials, spend 4+ hours per day with kids under 13, versus only 2 hours in 1977.

A similar WSJ article reported from Census that 32% of fathers with working wives routinely care for their children under age 15, up from 26% in 2002. Pew studies report that dads have tripled the amount of time they spend with their children since 1965.  Myriad of research showing increased share of household chores by men…not surprising given the increased presence of women in the workplace, right?  But the world outside of homes and inside marketing/branding meeting rooms haven’t caught up yet.

New World fathers are no longer seen as just financial providers or occasional babysitters.  They are actively engaged in their children’s daily lives and routine care and view fatherhood as a big part of their personal identities and a pride attribute of who they are as individuals.   Factors vary from job market and increasing cost of child care, to rise of women at work, blurring gender roles in the youth culture, and to a degree,  today’s men raised amid the women’s movement and perhaps absent fathers… But, no one can argue that the new world of more involved dads as full time partners in parenting has arrived and it’s here to stay.

What’s even more interesting is what Pew Research calls “breadwinner moms.”   A record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.  The share was just 11% in 1960.  One of my continuous sound bites about The New World Marketplace is that 1/3 of Gen Y were into unwed mothers.

These “breadwinner moms” are made up of two very different groups:

1) 5.1 million (37%) are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and are slightly older, disproportionally white and college educated…grown from 4% in 1960 to 15% in 2011.

2) 8.6 million (63%) are single mothers, who are younger, more likely to be black or Hispanic, less likely to have a college degree, grown from 7% to 25% during the same period.  And they are more likely to be never married than divorced/separated.

No surprises here, education has always had direct correlation to income, and unfortunately to date, correlation to race/ethnicity (but this is changing.)  Interestingly, both groups of breadwinner moms have grown in size in the past as seen by increasing work population of women.  What may be surprising to most is that the total family income is higher when the mother, not the father, is the primary breadwinner.  And married mothers are increasingly better educated than their husbands.  This is a trend most likely to escalate as we see for every 2 men graduating from college, 3 women are and with better GPAs.

What do all these cultural shifts mean to you and your businesses?

It’s simple.  Think about it.  Should diaper bags and child care materials all have pink bows and flowers on them?  Diaper Dude now sells dozens of styles of bags designed to appeal to men…grey, black, camouflage prints, even bags with baseball team logos.  Are you in the restaurant business?  Have you thought about changing tables in your men’s restrooms?  Are you in technology business?  Think of the AT&T ad showing a dad changing diapers while talking sports on his smartphone with his friend.

The new generations of parents use technology to feel connected and involved with their children.  It’s no longer just about reading the popular books on parenting, but also weekly customized e-mails from BabyCenter, apps like Contraction Timer, iPads at daycares logging activity throughout the day, watching your kids on your smartphones from your office.  Even doggie day cares allow that.  But why aren’t we seeing enough of these new world life scenarios in advertising campaigns for technology brands, specially using dads?  Working moms, hands-on dads and more involved young fathers are the new normal.  Think about that next time you are developing an ad campaign for a household product.

This type of cultural trend has significant impact on traditional paradigms and how marketers should view targeting families for products and services.

Yes… Women control 85% of consumer buying decisions.  Moms will remain a key target market for many business categories.  But what do you think appeals to women and moms?  Certainly not the old gender stereotypes.

Here are 3 simple tips to get you started:

1.  Don’t speak to mom at the exclusion of dad, unless you are targeting single mothers only …he is a trusted parenting partner.

2.  Avoid all gender stereotypes in your branding messages and strategies.  Market to shared values and needs, not gender.  Market to the inside of your customers, not outside.

2.  Don’t project your own traditional cultural paradigm in your branding strategies.  You are not your customers.  And it is The New World Marketplace, afterall.

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Developing The Next Generation Of Leaders – 3 missing components

Spring is almost here, my favorite season.  Nature starts to rejuvenate and we all start thinking Spring cleaning inside the house, and planting new colors outside.  I wonder why we don’t take this mindset to our workplace.

Recently I was asked to moderate a panel in Atlanta titled “Developing the Next Generation of Leaders” which is a great fit with my expertise and vision.  As I started to think how I would frame this important dialogue, I realized that it starts with a Spring Cleaning mindset of our workplace and business policies.

There are overwhelming amount of materials available on this topic, essentially focusing on the same issues….do we have a vision, do we have a winning strategy, do we have the right team for the right positions, are we getting the best results from our team, are we maximizing their output and leveraging team strengths, are we achieving business & financial objectives, do we have the right training/development initiatives, etc.  But I believe there are 3 missing components—or even if they exist, they are lost in the tactical piles instead of being starting points.

1.  Create a modern day workplace – think work/life balance and flexibility in business policies

How long has it been since any of you worked a traditional eight-hour workday from 9-5?  This notion is rapidly fading from the traditional business world.  It is not just a gender issue, Gen Y issue, or a small HR initiative—it is now a business imperative.

I wrote a blog last year, An Honest Discussion About Gender Gap in Leadership, which outlined inflexible schedules, unrelenting travel, insistence that work be done in the office, lack of descent maternity leave and better affordable child-care as key issues to resolve in our business/social policies to achieve healthier gender parity and ultimately better financial results.   I remember my own struggles with my conventional C-suite years ago, fighting to keep the jobs for women who needed flex hours to conduct great work.  Protecting traditional orthodoxies, command and control, lack of trust, fear of reduced productivity without structure.  This is ironic, given that the modern day workplace allowing flexibility and work-life balance breeds trust, productivity, motivation and engagement.  Besides technology keeps people connected to their jobs way after they punch out of offices.

Now a recent Vodafone U.K. survey indicates that 90% of employers offer flex hours.  Perhaps because this is no longer a gender issue, it is also a generational issue.  According to a Time Magazine article, more than one third of Gen Y workers would take a pay cut if it meant more flexibility on the job, and more than half prioritize social media freedom over a higher salary.  And guess what?  By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be Gen Y.  As early as next year, Gen Y will comprise 60% of the employees at many companies like Ernst & Young, Aflac and MITRE.

Businesses must re-evaluate the false notion of how, where and when the work gets done and re-define their policies in order to succeed and able to recruit and retain great diverse talent that can drive higher, profitable, sustainable growth.

2.  Add Purpose and Values to strategic frameworks and business models – think emotional

Customers don’t buy what and how you sell products, but why you do it.   A purpose-driven company outperforms rivals by establishing a difference it can sustain.  Similarly, people want to join companies with a purpose and shared values aligned with theirs.  Who is not passionate about making the world a better place?  Certainly not our next generations of leaders.

An MTV survey revealed that 80% of Gen Y think it’s important to do “something meaningful with my life,” and 66% said it was important to help “those who are less fortunate in your community.”  For them, there’s no question of whether to recycle or mind one’s carbon footprint…they don’t think about it, they just do it…it’s ingrained.

What is the “purpose” of your company beyond increasing shareholder value?  What are the “shared values” you adhere to, believe in, and execute at every level of your organization?  Trust, respect, honesty and integrity are shared values in The New World Marketplace.  There are many more.  Are you aligned with and breathing daily any of these values in your business practices?  I’m not referring to the words you put on your web site, packaging or promotional videos…or, simply selecting a narrow ‘cause marketing’ initiative that you may allocate a small budget for.  This is a brand promise to your customers and employees and must be a big part of your strategic frameworks and business models.

Success in The New World Marketplace demands that all businesses not only learn to channel the rapid cultural and social shifts, but also align themselves with the shifting values of our next generation of leaders.

3.  Place more emphasis on people than numbers – think engagement, caring, relating and profit sharing

Numbers are manifested through people’s action.  A simple phenomenon often forgotten by businesses.  All great leaders want to make a difference.  Why not offer that early on to emerging leaders by engaging them in decision makings and empowering them to make a difference versus assigning generic, repetitive tasks a machine can do.  I often refer to Gen Y as Harry Potter Generation….standing up for your beliefs and rights, distrust of those in power, fighting injustice, equality for all races and genders, and feeling responsible to make a difference in the world.  These are the values of our next generation of leaders.

This goes beyond fancy charts on development/training materials.  It means being and acting personal, responding to needs, concerns and aspirations, which drive engagement and performance.  The business leaders who care the most have the greatest impact on their people, who will, in turn, feel valued and become successful leaders in the future.

This does not, and should not, minimize financial responsibilities.  Winning in The New World Marketplace is ultimately about performance and financial results.  But if you’re spending more time on products, processes and IT than caring, relating, partnership and profit sharing, you’re not investing in the long-term success of your people, companies and financial outcomes.  Think profit sharing to drive loyalty, engagement, and performance.  Relate emotionally on how your business decisions will impact people’s lives–your employees as well as your customers–and ultimately your profits long term.  Do the work that inspires your people.  And remember, only way to do great work is to love what you do.

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3 key issues to address in 2013 (yea, just 3)

Happy new year.  I really don’t know of anyone who is sad 2012 is over—are you?  We’ve had another tough economic year filled with so many predictions and prophecies that didn’t come true–and some did.  As we start 2013, pundits with crystal balls start forecasting trends everywhere…top 10, bottom10 …hey, I did my own last year.  But this year, I realized that I’ve been among many reading and analyzing trends all year.  What am I expecting or forecasting to happen as the clock turned at midnight on January 1st?  Are we confusing trends and forecasts with new year’s resolutions, or simply creating a marketing need?

Unlike new year’s resolutions, most meaningful trends are long lasting, creating long term evolutionary changes.  So this year, instead of adding to your long list of bookmarks of what’s hot and new, I’d like to give you 3 simple key issues that have been of critical importance these last few years that were ignored by most….and still remain critically important in 2013 and beyond.  That isn’t to say that you should ignore trends and forecasts, but instead of staying glued to your rear-view mirror, you need to start using your peripheral vision and address these 3 key issues for your company in a meaningful way in 2013. What better way to predict the future than to create it yourself.  Ignore and blow off at your own peril, but at least take a quick look:

Economy trumps other emotional needs:  The world has been in an epic economic crisis since 2008.  Economic forecasts may vary slightly from year to year, but a full recovery is still far away.  More importantly, economy continues to be top of mind issue for people in general—not just business people concerned about taxes and fiscal cliff, but also consumers who want to know what your company can do to pitch in and make their lives a little easier.  Unless you represent a luxury brand, you should get moving.  You don’t have to be the giant Starbucks focusing on driving job creation through small business loans and housing financing…I don’t know how that program is working for them, but it’s highly visible and talked about.  But at the very least, your marketing campaign should tie-in and relate to your consumers’ needs and expectations during tough economic times.  Economy and price are no longer rational decisions, they are very much an emotional need and decision that needs to be addressed in a meaningful way in your marketing campaign.  Simply dropping your price is as just as dangerous as passing all your operational cost increases to your customers.  Price relative to your competition is a strategic decision that should not only accompany a re-evaluation of your delivery systems, but also a marketing communication strategy that tells the story of your brand relationship to your customers.

Step into The New World Marketplace:  If you’ve ignored my top 3 major macro trends so far, you no longer can afford to do so in 2013.  Women, youth and multiculturalism are shaping our future.  If you were following our recent Presidential election closely, you’d know that despite our tough economy, these 3 macro trends led to President Obama’s re-election.  Women are 50% of work force, 51% of population and control 85% of consumer buying decisions…Gen Y is 3x the size of Gen X, soon to be the majority of work force and your consumers, and the most diverse generation in human history….for every 2 men graduating from college, 3 women are and with better GPAs….1 out of 4 kids being born in the US has a parent who is an immigrant…multicultural population accounted for ALL of the US under-18 population growth in the last decade and in just 12 years (2025) more than half of US families will be multicultural (excerpts from The New World Marketplace).  If you haven’t re-evaluated your target yet, do so now. Are you still treating women, youth and multiculturalism as a marketing niche or segmentation add-on?

Differentiate authentically: Growth of digital communications and technologies have changed the marketing game for some time now.  We are continuing along that path, and there will always be something new every hour–and that’s not a new trend in 2013.  Your consumers have so many choices, so many alternatives, and so much control, and they see the world so noisy that they can’t hear or see you.  They are in hot pursuit of truth and authenticity and willing to engage with you if you are.  Differentiation is always a strategic gate keeper for success, but it is no longer enough just to differentiate—because people and companies spin, exaggerate and lie.  So the consumers may not believe you when you say you are better or different.  Proof is only useful if it leads to belief.  You have to gain their trust, attention and engagement by holding true to core values and principles through authenticity and transparency.  Only then, you can change your customers’ beliefs and consumption behaviors…and are ready to chew gum and do social media at the same time.

I know…I know…. I gave you a list too, because I’m a marketer at heart and I want you to open and read my blogs (see I’m being authentic and transparent).  But it’s only 3 things that you should remember….3 key issues that should’ve been addressed by now, and are critical for your success in 2013.


Election Results Mirror The New World Marketplace–lessons companies must learn from GOP mistakes

Last night was one of the most important nights in American history.  Not just because it was another Presidential election night, but because an African American President with the most global multicultural background in one of the toughest economic climate won the second term.  Because now we have record number of women Senators elected.  Because among them were the first disabled woman, first openly gay woman and first Asian woman.

I was tweeting during election coverage last night about how women, youth and multiculturalism are shaping our future.  Not just because this is the subhead title of my book, but because literally, these 3 major macro trends brought President Obama the re-election victory.  Folks, it is The New World Marketplace and there are rapid cultural shifts redefining our mainstream culture.  Let’s peek at a few key demographics:

  • Romney found strong support among seniors, whites and men–no surprises
  • Obama built an 11 ppt advantage among women with 55% support (down from 56 four years ago)
  • Obama won 93% of African Americans (down from 95)
  • Obama won 73% of Hispanics (up from 69)– with 44 ppt advantage over Romney (who secured 27%, down from 31%)
  • Obama won only 39% of whites, down from 43% (this is the lowest white support for Democrats since 1992)

Surprises anyone?  Not for me.  The GOP’s gain of The New World Marketplace is shamefully low.  Although national polling suggests that Romney is trailing Obama by mid-to-high single digits among women—a margin that would rank among the smallest gender gaps in modern presidential history—the GOP has failed to recognize where this nation is going, demographically and culturally.

We all know that the #1 issue in this election was economy, so you might be scratching your head wondering what happened.  The pundits vary in opinions, ranging from effective negative campaigning, 47% video, even  hurricane Sandy.  A few may be mentioning the need to redefine conservatism and reinvention of the Republican party.  But I don’t think anyone is clearly defining that these social and cultural issues are economic issues as well.

Let’s face it—the global economy is changing at a lightening speed.  The revolutions we have been seeing around the world are not just about economic issues, but also cultural shifts specially in leadership.  President Obama’s re-election was clearly not about economic issues, but about social and cultural issues.  But it is time to face that these social and cultural shifts drive consumer motivation and behavior, and therefore, business performance.  It is time to realize that embracing cultural shifts and TNWMP is an economic imperative.

Facing the fiscal cliff, business leaders must learn about the GOP mistakes and embrace the 3 major macro trends in TNWMP.  Businesses must re-invent themselves.  Focus on raising revenue and topline instead of tactical cost cutting with short term benefits and long terms risks.  The more you cut expenses, the more you jeopardize your top line.  Being frustrated doesn’t do it.  Study your macro economics, your industry landscape and your own business models.  With only 34 more working days left this year, you must start re-evaluating your core target and your strategic plans and priorities for 2013.

You can rise above the fiscal cliff, succeed and prosper in the coming years–or stay frustrated and behind.  Your choice.  Change is mandatory.  Make it meaningful.


Can we blame the economy for company performance? 6 lessons brands should learn from political campaigns

I came back from my summer vacation a week ago hearing all the media noise about negative political ads, fluctuating stock markets, consumers cutting back on spending, businesses investing less, well, you know the rest.  It is an election year, afterall.

As a strategic branding consultant, I couldn’t help but to research the effectiveness of the political attack ads that are designed to diminish positive effect for the opposing candidate’s target.  I wondered if it is working.  So many opposing views in articles and blogs.

I reviewed a meta-analytic assessment of the effects of negative political campaigns.  This Research concludes that negative campaigning is no more effective than positive campaigning, but seems to be more memorable, generating greater campaign-relevant knowledge.  It also suggests that negative campaigning has the potential to do damage to the political system itself, as it tends to reduce feelings of political efficacy, trust in government, and perhaps even satisfaction with government itself.  However, contrary to the popular belief, it provides no support that it reduces or depresses voter turnarount.  Interestingly, while the overall findings for intended turnout are negative, the overall findings for actual turnout is positive.

Net, net, I think the negative political attack ads are designed to energize the base and increase campaign interest–and contrary to current articles and blog posts, backlash effect is minimum.  The country is already divided and strategic differentiations are clearly defined.  There is not much any of our candidates can do or say to change the opposing views.  With that said, I think the Democratic party has much more to gain by energizing and uniting their base, versus the Republican base who have been united and energized the entire time these past four years.

As for the undecided voters (are there any out there), this strategy may increase campaign interest, only if campaign-related knowledge is shared.  More importantly, trust must be build on the information shared, which is hardly the case with intensely different fact sharing on each side.  What is true is that you are neither wrong or right if the crowd disagrees with you—you are right only if your data and reasoning are right.

You would think that political parties can continue disagreeing on how to tax the top 2%, but at least agree on how to tax the 98% consumers to revive middle class, which will in turn improve the economy and business performances.  What surprises me even more is the extend of discussion on taxes versus cultural values that are true behavioral motivators—in voting or consumption.  If business leaders were more concerned about leveraging the cultural macro trends and driving sales and profit from the front end, versus cost cutting and bitter tax debates, they will actually end up making more money for all the shareholders.

What can we learn about from all this as it relates to branding and marketing strategies?  Can we just sit back and blame the economy for the company performance?  Here are 6 important lessons to learn and follow:

  1. People have a simple wish for a better life.  Communicate how your brand can improve their current conditions.
  2. Energize your base through powerful, emotionally charged marketing campaigns.
  3. Great brands are built on beliefs and values.  Decide which beliefs and values to include in your Value Propositions.
  4. In today’s economy, all consumers are seeking price value.  Don’t lower your price at the expense of your quality and service.  Lower it only to gain market share through a meaningful campaign.
  5. Gain trust by showing you truly care for your base target…share relevant trustworthy reasoning why the consumers should choose your brand…more importantly, deliver on your brand promise.
  6. Leverage the 3 major cultural macro trends, and step in to The New World Marketplace which is a far cry from the one taught in business textbooks.

Bring Strategy & Vision to Life – 6 steps to get started

Why do so many companies and entrepreneurs with great products and services fail to deliver success?  Is it lack of strategy and vision—or lack of knowing how to “execute” a strategic vision in the marketplace?  Hint:  maybe both.

Fast Food companies offer the same products with incremental differences in price and ingredients.  Ethnic restaurants offer mainstream brand names and menu items that have nothing to do with their unique positioning.  (I’m sure Dallas residents have seen quite a few Persian restaurants with Italian brand name, signage and décor.)  Social media agencies and entrepreneurs all call themselves social media experts.  Which one should we believe or prefer?  Media companies chase after the same story and sensationalism, so flipping through new channels feels like watching reruns.  Even airline companies, such as Delta, promote trust and integrity as their brand values, with no concept on how to execute these values.

We’ve been numbed to brand promises never kept or delivered.   Many companies claim and promise universal values such as, trust, honesty and integrity …. But which one is delivering and how?  Challenge is lack of decisiveness and know-how on the execution of these values in branding messages.  Values stem from our beliefs, and our beliefs grow from what we see, hear and experience.  It’s all about execution and delivery.

No doubt, future growth and profitability will come from a different way of doing business in the New World Marketplace.  Here are 6 easy steps to get you started:

1.  Define your strategic differentiation

Strategy is not about being the best, whether it’s operations excellence or best practices.  Strategy is about being different.  Strategy is just as much about what not to do as it is about what to do. It’s a combination of benefits and trade-offs that your brand offers, differentiating you from the competing alternatives in the marketplace.  Trade-offs are essential to strategy.  They create the need for choice and purposefully limit what your company offers in order to have a clear differentiation and competitive advantage.

2.  Determine your strategic priorities

Trying to be all to everyone is like being nothing to no one.  Are you trying to promise and deliver efficiency, high quality, low price, innovation, superb customer service, high profile/image and fastest to market—all at the same time?  Can you?  Focus and prioritize your strategic execution.  High-performance companies tend to focus on one or two primary strategic priorities, and they align their culture to support them.

3.  Align company culture with strategy

Your company culture must be aligned and fully focused on your strategic priorities.  Achieving and sustaining this alignment long term is the biggest challenge most organizations face in achieving business success.  When culture and strategy align, both people and functions work toward a common goal and purpose.  Definition:  Company culture is a set of shared values, beliefs, causes, assumptions and behaviors that reflect how a business strategy is executed.  The key to effective execution is having everyone in your organization internalize strategy in their daily thinking, actions and behaviors.

4.  Choose your customers

Many companies need to re-evaluate their existing target customers, based on the 3 major macro trends in The New World Marketplace.  More importantly, remember that strategy is about which customers and which needs.  You can not effectively communicate to your changing customers, unless you carefully choose which customers you can deliver and execute specific needs to.

5.  Align your company values with your chosen target customers

Businesses must appeal to the values that their target customers hold dear, and they must also know how to express those values in branding messages.  This means aligning your values with those of your chosen customers, believe in what they believe in.  I call this marketing to the inside not outside of the customers.  Customers don’t just buy what you do, but why you do it. Most companies know what and how to sell…but they don’t know why.  Like it or not, customers decisions are emotional, and you must engage them on an emotional level to change their minds and behaviors.  This is a different way to interpret reality than rational levers of facts and features.   Pick and choose the emotional values that you can and know how to truly deliver on, and then communicate it.

6.  Communicate

This is, and should be, the last phase of strategic execution.  More often than not, companies of all sizes jump to the communication phase without completing the prerequisite steps.  Nothing hurts the company performance more than communicating a branding message that is not consistent with your strategic differentiation and priorities.   Bringing your strategic vision to life in your communication tactics is not easy.  If you don’t know how, you should consult with an expert and make the best use of your marketing dollars.  Otherwise, you’re confusing your customers while your competitors are getting it right.



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