The irony is at once incredible and sad, really. With more data, big data, analytics, and data scientists at their beck and call, more brands simply do not understand their place in the world anymore. And while in many ways they are proverbial ships that are faster and more efficient than ever, they remain lost at sea.

The map tells them that there’s fiercer competition than ever before. In-category competition. Big Box. Ecommerce players. Other infringers from private labels to cases where their very own suppliers are taking their products directly to consumers. On top of those, there’s always the next category Uber waiting in the wings, the “why didn’t we think of that?” competitor that once again sends category stalwarts reeling.

There’s no shortage of solution dogma: Consultants and agencies push for brand purpose, north stars, mission statements, architectures, vision statements, essences, and the like. Or data analysts who know how to crunch and regurgitate but haven’t a clue about how to convert insights into actionable go-to-market strategies. And so brands try to execute too much, lean too heavily on brand or retail, drown in data, and end up trying to be too many things to too many people, or focusing solely on the race for the bottom, i.e. cheaper than the field. 

But think about the outliers who continue to crush it. Brands whose market attack has evolved to embrace every inch of the funnel, but who remain built on a brand foundation that’s diamond bright and durable.

Think about BMW pruning away everything but this promise: The Ultimate Driving Machine. When you think about the complexity of the category, the multitude of models and the endless RTBs that BMW could tout, mull over the discipline needed to hold to one bold idea that everyone from an accounts payable clerk in Munich can recite as effortlessly as a dealer in Oshkosh. It’s a vision that doesn’t preclude new news or special deals or sales.

Or Five Guys, for whom a simple chicken patty represents brand heresy. It’s all burgers, fries, and shakes. Full stop. Or Southwest, whose data tells them that 50% of their customers would prefer reserved seats, but who know that the 50% of those who love them for who they are mean so much more. Or Ritz Carlton as defined by evergreen benefit of ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Like it or not, they live by it. And, not for nothing, enough people like it to make it the number one luxury hotel chain the world.

To the brands that struggle with their value propositions, and who in spite of having more tools, more lower funnel opportunities, and more data than ever before still battle themselves to leverage information and find a winning lane, fear not: This is not about building construct castles in the sky. It’s about elegant simplicity, data informed but deconstruction based, focusing on numerators (what the consumer gets), not just denominators (at what cost). Bring in fresh right brains to debate. Fight conventional wisdom and summon the courage of a lion. And if you remember these six little words… To Thy Own Brand Be True, the sea will be yours.


Published by Cliff Courtney

Cultural Anthropologist, Writer, Planner, Mad Scientist, Brand Strategist, Rider, Musician, Futurist, Professor, Teacher, Designer, Documentarian, Lecturer, Behavioral Scientist, Parent, Blogger, Weapon of Mass Construction...

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