Reality Check

I spend a lot of time working with my clients and assistants – helping them understand the art and science of marketing. With some clients it’s loads of fun. With others, it’s like having a root canal done. EVERYTHING is SO very serious and painfully important. Like a misplaced ‘pixel’ on a website is going to cause a global decline in sales or something. ‘Social’ is going the same way. Suddenly ‘conversations’ need to be framed in communication briefs, strategies and tactics. What happened to flow and genuine sharing – not B.S. ‘friending’.

This is a reality check from my niece. I love it because it made me laugh and reminded me not to take myself – or others so seriously! After all – it’s just a (digital) dog and pony show. No one gets hurt and no one really dies.

On Thursday, Jan 13, 2011 Heidi wrote:

Had a few moments between loads of laundry and went on your website. I discovered your blog.

What a treat! Just wanted to let you know I’ll be going back for more next time I do laundry! :)”

I have a dream

This entry is dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



H. Schultz on the Future of Starbucks

Funny – while I never acquired a taste for Starbucks coffee, but I have a great deal of admiration for Howard Schultz.

He personifies my marketing philosophy incredibly well: Clear Vision. Smart Strategies. Practical Tactics. Howard Schultz has taught the world of marketing a lot about brand building and his Autobiography  (Pour Your Heart into it: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time) is a must read for anyone who takes the art and science of brand management seriously. Happy Anniversary!


Will your brand flourish or wither in 2011?


As an Advertising Director I assume a moral brand management obligation with my clients that I take very seriously.

Promote their brand ethically & aesthetically, and defend it from stupid people.

Over the years I’ve learned that the greatest danger to brand integrity does NOT come from the out-side, it comes from stupid, myopic brand management aspirants who will do almost anything to make their quarterly numbers. Short-sighted MBO tactics can suck the lifeblood out of a vibrant brand and hobble its full market potential.

Consider this perspective on brand management by Mr. Warren Buffett:

What creates a high Gross Profit Margin is the company’s durable competitive advantage. It allows companies the freedom to price products and services well in excess of their Cost of Goods Sold. Without a competitive advantage, companies have to compete by lowering the price of the product or service they are selling, which of course lowers their profit margins and therefore their profitability. It also lowers their ability to raise salaries and give big bonuses, and it diminishes the companies’ capacity to expend capital on new businesses and to survive a recession.”

—     Warren Buffett’s Management Secrets, Mary Buffett & David Clark

Now consider the impact the following behavior on the long term health of your brand:

  • Discounting. Think Boxing Day sales.
  • Discontinued product lines. Think TV shows.
  • Having your customer service people tell prospective customers to wait for the new one because the previous model isn’t worth having. Think Windows 7.
  • Waiting endlessly for (live) customer service. Think Bell Canada.
  • Receiving service up-sell calls at home while you’re having dinner. Think Banks.

When brand managers discount, discontinue, misrepresent, over promise, mishandle transition periods, under-staff and under-value customer service, they reduce the net (intangible) accrued brand value or brand trust that has been developed for years. Usually at a rate that the current year’s ‘constructive good-will building activities’ are not able to offset.

Strong brands have the same moral fibre that we respect in great leaders. 

But not all products and services are brands - even if they look nice.

Brands have what Warren Buffett and I refer to as a durable competitive advantage.

They are the times, the places, the things that we hold dear and that change little over time. Like good friends they grow with us, share with us – and importantly respond to us.

Products compete on price and availability. A nice package does not make it a brand.

While any careless Brand Manager can turn a great brand into commodity product (think Eaton’s or The Bay), in less than 10 years, only a really insightful product manager who has the luck, experience, raw product potential and the correct timing, can turn a commodity product into a solid brand.  Think of your own example here. Put it on your wall and emulate it.

For 2011 my free advice to you is this:

1.      Choose your path wisely

2.      Plan your work and work your plan

3.      Get rid of brand liabilities: those who are not a brand steward \ or don’t get it.

The victims of your good intentions

This is an article that hits incredibly close to home because Charlie, my creative muse was found on the street – lost or abandoned – on a cold January night here in Toronto eight years ago.


Rover and Kitty might have seemed like the perfect presents during the mad rush leading up to Christmas, but each year, animal shelters across the country prepare for a mass return of unwanted pets in the post-holiday season.

Photograph by: David Paul Morris, Getty Images

TORONTO — Rover and Kitty might have seemed like the perfect presents during the mad rush leading up to Christmas, but each year, animal shelters across the country prepare for a mass return of unwanted pets in the post-holiday season.

“It’s a common problem unfortunately at Christmas time,” said Michael O’Sullivan, the executive director of the Humane Society of Canada. “It’s a real example of the best intentions gone wrong.”

The society hears about an influx of animals at shelters, rescue organizations and humane societies across the country every January. Fortunately, the increase isn’t as great as it used to be thanks to a number of public awareness campaigns that discourage gifting pets during the holidays. Some shelters even have strict policies prohibiting gift adoptions. O’Sullivan said people don’t always realize that all pets — whether it’s a dog, cat, turtle, rabbit, guinea pig or bird — require not only affection, but time and money. “I often liken it to a stranger showing up at your doorstep with suitcases. He’s going to live with you for 15 or 16 years and he’s saying: ‘Where’s my room?’” he said.

“It’s kind of heartbreak all around if you don’t talk to the people you’re giving the pet to first.” Animals also aren’t a “one-size-fits-all” gift; some pets require more exercise, food and medical care than others. Some dogs live as long as 18 years, while cats have an average life span of 20 years. Instead, O’Sullivan suggests those wanting to give a pet should instead give a preview gift of a leash, food and water bowl for a potential dog owner or a litter box for a cat owner and then head into a shelter in the new year. Alison Cross, a spokeswoman with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said it’s hard on the animals when they’re returned or abandoned by new owners who suddenly find they have less time to care for them when work schedules gear up again in January. “The reality is that pets end up suffering because they have to transition from one home to another, which is quite stressful for an animal,” she said.

Many times people fall in love with an animal in a pet store and rush to purchase, unaware that the animal might not be up-to-date with vaccinations or spayed or neutered — leading to a heavy cost for the new owners.

Cross said those unable to care for their new pets should first try to reach out to their social networks and see if any of other friends or family are seriously looking for an animal companion.

At the Edmonton Humane Society, the number of animals that arrived at the shelter doubled in 2010.

“It’s terrible for the animals to move around so much like that,” said spokeswoman Shawna Randolph. “An animal needs to be in a loving home, no matter what its age.”

Randolph said the increase in animals at the shelter isn’t limited to the holiday season, largely due to a public campaign the society runs promoting half-price adoptions of cats and rabbits starting the week after Christmas.

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