Friday, August 7, 2009

Do your people matter in this economy?

Do your people matter?

You might be thinking, “They are lucky to having a job in this economy!” Think again. Your people matter most. Every day, they show up to work so they can contribute to a greater good-your growth. They seek to deliver a quality product or service; one that should delight your customers with each transaction. They are your chief brand ambassadors. Yes, they matter!

McKinzie and Company outlined some tips for securing great people. The headline that leaders must create a an “extreme” EVP, employee value proposition by delivering a compelling reason why a talented person would want to work for your company.

Clearly, the Gen X and Y work force will make us think differently about how they work.
Deloitte has a point of view on the distinct differences between a Boomer work force and Gen X and Y. Boomers put a heavy focus on work as an “anchor to their lives” while Gen Xers are concerned about “work/life navigation” They are willing to do the work, but not as interested as being seen sitting in their cubicle as a Boomer would.

Price Waterhouse conducted a global study stating “recruiting and integrating younger workers was seen as a challenge by 61% of chief executives globally. Less than a third (30%) believed they had a good understanding of their employees' needs and views.
What are you doing to hire, train and inspire your greatest asset, your people?

Let us know at

Source: Fast Company, McKinzie and Company, Price Waterhouse

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

CEO's Are you Achieving Brand Longevity?

We are a world obsessed with staying forever young and living longer. Can the principles of life-longevity be applied to business? Yes, longevity, the length of one’s life or career, can be applied to business. Here are some things to think about:

In a book, “Seven Principles for Living in Balance”, they articulate driving principles of a well-balanced life that can be applied to business.

  • Attitude-Change is an opportunity, not a threat (Can do)
  • Accountability- Holding an accountable point of view brings our life into control and balance by focusing on where we can get leverage and where we can make a difference.( Results)
  • Commitment-A meaningful role to fulfill and hold a strong inner belief in its importance. (Passion)
  • Supportive Relationships-We are social creatures who thrive on meaningful, caring, and affirming contact with others. (Teamwork)
  • Service-Highly change-resilient people view service as their true mission in life, and hold material wealth and success as secondary to helping others
  • Personal Mastery- Personal energy management is that people are able to maintain optimal energy levels throughout the day without dependence (Well-Being)
  • Faith -See their lives within a larger perspective and gives them a sense of belonging to a greater whole. (Community)

Is there an example of a brand that really does that? Yes!

Let’s look at Danone.

When you create products that you believe in passionately as a force for good — in this case, generating health and well-being — you too can live to 103 and build a global empire! Founder Daniel Carasso did both. In 1929, Carasso, having studied business and bacteriology, established the Danone brand in France.
Along the way, Carasso remained dedicated to yogurt no matter what happened. He ignored the beginning of the Great Depression because he was too busy trying to find dairy stores for his product in France. Yogurt rose from obscurity and niche markets into the mass consumer mainstream when adding fruit jam to the sour product proved a marketing breakthrough. In 2008, the Danone
Groupe had worldwide sales of $20.48 billion.

Carasso lived though a century's worth of turbulence and destructive change, some of it much worse than anything happening today. He persisted when others gave up, reached out to partners to help him implement his vision, remained true to his values, and never lost his passion for yogurt.

Each of the principles of longevity and balance can in fact be applied to business. What principles should you deploy to improve the longevity of your brand? Let us know your thoughts by commenting in our blog.

Source:, Seven Principles for Living in Balanceby Joel Levey and Michelle Levey

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why Buy American?

Buy American? Why?

Do you remember when “Made in Japan” meant low cost, low quality and cheaply made product? I do. Today, Japan brings us world class products like Toyota/Lexus, Sony, Canon, Nintendo, Panasonic and more.

Do you think that the “Made in America” has the same meaning as that Japanese label did in the 50’s? I fear it does.

Americans are so enamored with all things foreign. We aspire to buy foreign cars, luxury fashion brands and technology from Europe and Asia. We are proud to be American, so why aren’t we buying our own products? Did you know employees at major US car manufacturers were known to have purchased
Japanese cars like Toyota and Honda? These were the very people making the American cars for the American people. If we ourselves are not buying our own products who will?

What can we do to have the “Made in America” label stand for leadership, quality and prestige? If are ever to help turn around the brand "America" we all have to do our part and buy the products and services the people of our country make. We need a new brand story.

Send us your comments on how we can instill the quality, pride and value in buying products that are made in America.

Monday, May 18, 2009

CEO's Less is the new More

Every day we hear about down-sizings, lay-offs and reductions but are they really all that bad? In good economic times, an enterprise can get too large, too cumbersome and have too much bureaucracy. Now is good time to ask, “How can we do less and still win?” This economy may force your management team put a tough lens on the productivity of the work we do to improve ROI.

Clearly our auto manufacturers are in the midst of media crisis headlines.
General Motors announced the closing of 1,100 dealer locations and Chrysler is announcing the closing of about 1,900. But is that really a bad thing? Do consumers really need so much choice? The proliferation of choice may sound good but it can confuse the customers.

Here are some times to “skinny-down” in this economy:

1. Define your core competency and do everything you can to protect it. Insure the resources and competencies of your firm are intact so you can grow profitably when the economic downturn turns-around.

2. Review all of your systems and processes. Ensure the ones in place are effective, needed and critical to getting high quality products out the door profitably.

3. Take work out. Do you really need all those reports? Jack Welch created the famous “
GE Work-Out Program” in his pursuit to make GE a better company. The goal of the Work-Out program was to "clean up" GE, to make workers more productive and processes simpler and more clear-cut. "Work-Out" was also designed to reduce, and ultimately eliminate all of the wasted hours and energy that prevented GE from performing day-to-day operations.

4. Offer less choice to your customers. Food companies create value through three business levers: improving unit margins, volume growth, or market share. Too often,
product proliferation doesn't help any of these. The number of new products introduced in 1980 almost doubled the number introduced in 1970 --1,030 intros in 1970, 2,016 in 1980. The number of new products introduced in 1990 (9,192) was more than three and a half times the 1980 total and almost nine times the 1970 total!

There are many benefits to a lighter enterprise. Being less cumbersome can free your employees to think of new ideas, work on teams more productively and be more customer-centric. Less is the new more.

What are you doing to take work out, trim down and streamline so you can be ready for growth? Let us know. Send your comments and thoughts.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

CEO's:Make a plan. Execute a plan. Modify the plan

This economy makes leaders skittish about planning. What does the future hold? How do we prepare for the future in this volatile economy? How do we know what the right strategic investments are? The 2010 planning season is around the corner. Airlift knows it is better to have a plan and modify the plan, than to have no plan at all.

Here some planning principles you can deploy today to help you achieve your goals?

Engage a Cross-Functional thought leadership mantra
The best way to achieve a plan is to have your direct reports all play a key role in the planning process. Have a vision and some key metrics you want to achieve. Then allow the team to come together with their best thinking to develop the plan. After all they need to execute. Remember people help support what they help create.

2) Grow from your core strengths
Grow because you know who you are in the market and how you are going to compete to win. It might feel a bit scary to focus. Fear a competitor is gaining share is normal. But if you keep your team focused on the reason you are in business, new ideas can come from this thought.

3) Hold leaders accountable for their function and cross functional role in making the plan come alive – metrics
While success has many inventors and failure has none, the success of your plan will be the leadership team’s ability to make it happen. Establish quarterly reviews to check progress. Reward a job well, done, new ideas and even failures. It is the failures that will take the firm to the next level because we learn from our mistakes.

4) Keep your eyes wide open. Listen to new voices. Get outsiders in to help.
Once the plan is underway, it is possible a competitor comes out with a shiny new penny that can be distractive. Stay the course. If you assessed the market right going in, you can still achieve the plan despite a competitive entry in the market. However, when we get complacent and think we have all the answers, we may miss a new insight or idea. Stay open minded but keep the team focused to win. Brands like
Daily Candy help leaders see first hand what consumers look for in new ideas.

5) Be ready to change the plan on a dime
A year ago, none of us would have predicted
GM would be in this financial situation or a brand like Pontiac would seek to exist. We must be ready to change if the market presents dramatic new market conditions.

Finally, make time to celebrate even the small wins. Executing a plan is a marathon and even your senior people need to know you notice their contributions.

What are some best practices you have deployed for planning?
What works? What does not work?

Give us a shout so we can share your great planning tips. Comment in our blog, e mail at or give us a call.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

CEO’s: New brands can pop up over night

Be positive. New brands can be born overnight even in this economy. In this down economy, optimism is still a brand people want to buy.

Amidst crisis after crisis in the world news, we got a dose of optimism last week with the fastest growing brand in the world “Susan Boyle.” Who is she and where did she come from? Susan Boyle is a Scottish spinster who surprised the delighted
Simon Cowell at last weeks Britain’s Got Talent. She walks out on stage to sneers from the youthful audience and eye-rolling from the famous judges. Then, after a meek introduction she belts out in perfect pitch one of the most difficult songs to sing, “I’ve Dreamed a Dream.”

If you haven't, then take a minute and look
at the clip to understand the pure power of what a never give-up on your dreams spirit looks like. How do we know Susan Boyle brand story is worth watching?

1. Overnight, out of nowhere, people are searching the virtual world to be part of this optimistic sensation called Susan Boyle. The search has warranted over 12.5 million Google hits in one week. Instant brand power.

2. The brand, Susan Boyle has a quality product- perfect pitch

3. She has a loyal fan base of people that want her to win. They want her to win so much so, they created a website for her.

4. Susan is authentic--her look, values and humble beginnings make Susan a brand worth loving. Susan is the real deal.

5. She had a cause. Upon her mother’s death bed and recent passing, Susan told her mom she would try to sing in front of others. It was her dream. Dreams really do come true.

Stop letting negative economic news get in the way of developing inspiring new brands. Growth is right in front of you. Let’s talk about the brand story of Susan Boyle. Send us a note in our blog. Call us to chat or jot us a note. 312.492.7772

Sunday, April 12, 2009

CEO's: The Importance of Social Networks

Take a few seconds to reflect on the communication tools used to accomplish your daily routines. Phone and email are most likely included as the primary outlets for communicating with clients and employees. This provides a comforting sense of “privacy” – information will only reach the intended parties. However, social communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook promote easy sharing - making information less likely to remain confined to the original email or phone silo.

Looking at a longitudinal study conducted by the
University of Massachusetts between 2007 and 2008 demonstrates the communication shift from “privacy” to “sharing” even at the executive level. The study examines social media involvement among executives at companies listed in Inc. Magazine’s popular “500” list. Companies included in the “Inc. 500” – the fastest growing private enterprises – experienced tremendous increase in social media adoption, boasting the following numbers:

· Social networking adoption increased from 27% in 2007 to 49% in 2008
· Blogging use reached 39% from a 19% level in 2007
· Corporate online video use grew to 45% from 24% in 2007

The increasing importance of adoption is evident but a number of questions still remain for executives before the sharing frenzy commences. For example, questions such as “What does an effective social media campaign look like for executive?” or “How much time will “sharing” consume and what types of information are appropriate?” need to be answered upfront. Examining the Twitter accounts of investor and Amazon co-founder
Steve Case or Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh – there is an obvious emphasis on distributing news and resending tweets from other users. This practice demonstrates executive “listening” while avoiding the inevitable confrontation occurring from direct conversation.

Below are some considerations for effectively incorporating social media into daily communication practices.

How Can Social Media help C-Level Executives?

1. Decisions require data. All Executives are deciosn makers. Aggregating customer and employee feedback into
a single location makes analysis and monitoring more efficient.
2. Reach everyone. Your “State of the Union” should reach the entire union. Corporate wide updates should not die a slow death on intranets or email. Duplicate the message via video, audio, or a blog post if for no other reason than because President Obama
does the same.
3. Crowdsource decisions. Nothing establishes corporate and customer loyalty more than allowing all levels to participate in the
decision making process as you are developing ideas.
4. Capture and distributing knowledge. Building a corporate blog is not feasible for every CEO but some form of participation increases humanity. Check out
ExecTweets to see what other executives share with customers and employees.
5. Business expansion. Participating in an online community allows your network to grow. Common sense but overlooked as valuable tool for expanding your business.

Airlift Ideas relationship partner in social media; Get Talked about. Contributors Andy Angelos and Marty Hitzeman are co-founders of Get Talked About – a Chicago based firm dedicated helping companies create, execute, and manage creative online conversations.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

CEO’s: How fast can you change?

Last week, NATO World Leaders met in London to discuss the global economy. Expectations were high as the world waits for the secret answers to the economic turn-around.

Some skeptics say, “But what did they do there?” The Leaders knew they accomplished a lot. When was the last time you led a meeting with 20 people from 20 countries whom you had never met and by the way, all speak different languages?

Reports say that after three days together, these world leaders only spent 8 hours in total in meetings. So what did they achieve in the eight hours?

~~Agreed to change the rules of regulation and compliance on capitalism

~~Agreed to develop an organization to serve as a watch-dog (not a regulator) against reckless investments
~~Agreed to regulation on Executive Pay that is deemed reckless and out of sync with average company pay. For example, CEO’s who earn 500 times their employee should only earn this if they created huge new markets and great wealth for an enterprise. This level of pay should not be earned just because of a job title. For example, the case of AIG where some Executives received high bonuses even though they were leading a failing organization – we’re glad most of them returned the dough.
~~Agreed to monitor tax haven products and level the playing field for tax shelters.
~~Agreed to give One Trillion Dollars to stimulate the global economy by selling gold reserves. Did you know One Trillion is 10 to the twelfth power - That is how big one trillion dollars is!!!

President Obama called for “unprecedented coordination” to make the changes occur. From all accounts, it looks like the success of the meetings did in fact achieve this.

Fareed Zakaria of CNN had a QA to address many of these questions and more.

What they did not accomplish in this three-day meeting? Was a single answer to the global economic downturn problem or a clear architecture address? No...but they are well on their way through team work, open dialogue and a will to solve it together. Sound familiar?

Since metrics are paramount to any change management effort, we can analyze consumer confidence level scores and the “market” to understand the impact of decisions coming from this meeting. The market responded favorably last week and rallied up each day the leaders met. Obama’s approval rating is high as well. Clearly, people seek confident, optimistic leaders in these times.

So how does this apply to you?
A new brand story drives strategic change. In this example, Leaders from the top 20 nations are gathered to work together to improve lives, economic stability and revitalize the world, together. This IS THE strategic shift --20 nations coming together on global issues, fast.

Similarly, as markets shift and your organization finds a need to be nimbler to compete in this economy, what are you doing to collaborate on crafting a new and more relevant brand story for your firm.

1. When was the last time you accomplished all that in eight hours?

2. What three things should a leader do to collaborate and make critical change happen, fast?

3. What are the barriers to achieving real lasting beneficial change in your organization?

Any ideas?

Let us at Airlift know. Comment on our blog.
Or you can reach us at or call us at 312.492.7772.

Source: CNN International News

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

CEO's: Be Accountable or be Ousted

Leadership is a privilege. It is earned by the strategic decisions and actions you make every day and even by the ones you don't make. All the business school training in the world could not have prepared us for this economic environment with one exception; Accountability.

Have you ever met someone that promises to do something and does not follow through on his promise? Magnify this by 1,000x when leaders of an enterprise do not fulfill the promise of their plan to their people, their customers, and their stakeholders.

Accountability is "an obligation to account for one's actions". A person in a leadership role either accepts the highest level of accountability or does not. Barriers to leading an accountable culture range from; politics, blurred ethics, time, cost or…the fact that is really hard for some to hold themselves accountable.

This week's news reported General Motors CEO, Richard Wagoner was ousted by the Obama Administrations Auto Bailout Task Force. It is a signal Americans are serious about changing corporate cultures from their current lack of accountability to a corporate culture that thrives on accountability.

As a highly compensated leader, he is THE most accountable for the success of the GM enterprise. During his tenure, Wagoner made changes in cost reductions. He reduced the US workforce from 177,000 to about 92,000 today. He closed factories, stopped making the Oldsmobile brand, globalized engineering and made some progress with the rigid United Auto Workers on hourly wages. Making cost reductions for a multi-billion brand is easy.

Did Mr. Wagoner feel accountable to innovate at the core of GM's business-- to be a better company and compete in a sustainable way? Creating an accountable culture of innovation is the only way to compete in this category. GM needs a new brand story that inspires employees to design and manufacture cars that consumers want to buy.

Should he have been ousted? What three things would you do to turn GM Around?

Comment on our blog. Tell us your story about accountability.

Source: WSJ March30,2009, Websters Dictionary

Monday, March 23, 2009

CEO’s: When the market zigs, are you zagging?

Building brand trust can be easy if you listen to the market and your customers. Being responsive says you are listening. Acting upon listening is the gateway to building brand trust. Be relevant. Remain Authentic. Move Quickly.

Your 2009 business plan has probably changed several times this year. No one could have predicted this economic downturn. The difference between thriving and surviving in this market is how your firm responds to the market conditions. While cost reduction is one way to insure you meet your plan, you also need ideas that signal you understand your customer’s needs today....and you are willing to show it with meaningful value.

So who is doing a good job of listening and responding in this market with real value?

Hyundai’s Assurance Program
The idea behind the Hyundai
Assurance program is that if a customer can’t afford the car payments, financed by Hyundai and within the first year of financial servitude, just drop it off and walk away. No charge, no debt and no impact to the customer’s credit rating. Of course there are requirements to receive the offer, but the essence is Hyundai, a car for the value conscious customer, offers you a real “break”. Provided the customer has made at least two scheduled payments on your loan or lease, they pay for the amount above the Hyundai Assurance benefit and any car payments that were due prior to you filing for the benefit.” This outrageous offer broke through the car industry and world news clutter in a meaningful way.

JetBlue introduced the "JetBlue Promise Program," aimed at boosting customers' confidence to book travel by honoring a full refund to anyone who experiences involuntary full-time job loss prior to their trip. Customers who book flights between Feb. 1 and June 1, 2009 and loose their job on or after Feb. 17 may be eligible for The JetBlue Promise Program. Customers must notify JetBlue and request a full refund at least 14 days prior to the first date of travel.

Dominick’s Grocery: During the gasoline crisis, they offered customers $6 of free BP Gasoline for every $100 spent on groceries.

Remember the long term success of your firm is made up of a series of short term moments. If you are seeking to build a more loyal customer base, think about a short term move that builds the trust bank. A short term hit on your margin may bring more to your bottom line long term. Offer your customers something meaningful if you want to keep them in your brand franchise forever.

Who else is doing a good job of offering great value in these economic times? Share your thougths in our comment section.

Call Airlift to talk about how to build brand equity and trust. Shelley Rosen 312.492.7772 or send us a note at

Source: Hyundai website. Jet Blue website.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What is brand equity and why are CEO’s in charge of it?

The value of a brand is established in the C-Suite of an enterprise. Every day, the decisions leadership makes either build or detract from a brand’s value. The only way to achieve brand dominance in the marketplace is to constantly drive the value of your brand by building Brand Equity.

There is some confusion in the market over the terminology:

· Brand Equity is “a set of brand assets and liabilities linked to a brand; its name and symbol that add or subtract from the value proved by a product/service to a firm and their customers.” (1) This is the true value of your brand (business).

· Marketing is business activity involved in moving goods from the producer to the customer through advertising, sales, packaging and promotion.

· Branding is a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods or services of one seller to differentiate them from those of the competition. Think about it. A logo or symbol is like an empty vessel. The only way to make it meaningful is to fill it with value in a compelling way.

Until you clearly define the meaning behind your mark, you have not differentiated your organization. And once you do, spend time increasing the value of that brand name over time with every action you take. We call it brand value.

The secret to building Brand Equity is to admit the long term is made up of a series of short term moments and activities. Every decision you make builds towards improving the Brand Equity of your firm. The components of Brand Equity include; pricing strategy, naming, assets, awareness, loyalty drivers and associations in a relevant, sustaining way.

Building Brand Equity successfully is linked to a clear strategy for your enterprise:

1) Define the drivers of brand equity--attributes that matter most to the satisfaction of your customers

2) Agree upon the role marketing leadership plays to build Brand Equity

3) Understand and communicate your core competency and Brand Equity with a unified voice

4) Deploy metrics for evaluating growth and improvements in Brand Equity through market share

So who is doing a good job in today’s economy of building and maintaining Brand Equity and why?

Airlift can help you build a clear roadmap to long term Brand Equity. Define your long term competitive advantage in a highly charged economic time with the right brand story.

Call Airlift today at 312.492.7772 or write us at

Source: (1) Managing Brand Equity by David Akers. Webster’s Dictionary

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

CEO’s should protect their brand’s authenticity during challenging times

The highest wisdom is to know yourself,” ~~ Erasmus~~

Given the challenges of today’s economy, you are under siege to protect your business by cutting back your operating costs. Or you want to cut back so you can afford an innovation effort. All this might be true. However, be prepared to defend and protect the core competency of your company by remaining true to who your company really is. Protect and defend the soul of your business so the attributes that differentiate you remain intact when the storm is over and your business sky rockets again.

Authenticity is a much talked about word in business. Some believe it means to be an environmentally friendly company. Others believe you have to sell organic products. Webster defines authentic as, “that which can be believed or accepted, trustworthy or reliable.”

David Boyle, a noted British author, defines authenticity in a compelling way. “It's a new attitude that's discernable behind all this demand for authenticity - a new way of approaching business or culture or politics that's rooted in one that is tolerant of human failings. There is an emergence of people who are seeking real food, real culture, real politics, real schools, real community, real medicine, real culture and real stories. Are you keeping it real?

The best way to remain authentic to who you are, is to define and protect your organization’s core competency.

Core Competency is a deep proficiency that enables a company to deliver unique value to customers in a sustainable manner. Put your company under the litmus test of a Core Competency; a set of skills and assets that are hard for competitors to copy or procure. Understanding Core Competencies allows companies to invest in the strengths that differentiate them and set strategies that unify their entire organization.

Core Competency is something that a firm can do well: Here are three conditions:

  • Provides customer benefit
  • Not Easy for competitors to imitate
  • Can be leveraged enterprise-wide

When sales decline, you face job losses, key accounts evaporate and your profit margins are under siege, take time to find out who your company really is and what you are best at. Remain authentic to your heritage. It will become your guiding compass to weather this economic storm.

Airlift can help you find your authentic self. Call 312.492.7772 today or contact us via Sign up to receive this weekly at

Sources: David Boyle. Authenticity, Brands, Fakes Spin and the lust for real Life, Gary Hamel, Strategos on Core Competency

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

CEO's to build a Culture of Creativity and Innovation. The Lifeblood of your Firm

Unleash growth through creativity. Creative people are everywhere in your firm, not just in the marketing department. Sheer genius comes from brilliant, non-linear thinking, the ability to communicate a vision for a great idea and the courage to see big ideas to fruition. How many creative thinkers are working on your business today?

Inventing new ideas is a far greater challenge than replicating and improving on your current ideas and businesses. It is the difference between incrementalism and major business growth. Today’s economy demands that you deploy a creative process to your business to achieve growth. Doing so will reduce the likelihood that BIG ideas are a rare occurrence in your firm. Deploy a creative innovation process today and make growth a sure bet.

“Creativity” is a mental and social process involving the generation of new
ideas or concepts. It is simply the act of making something new. Alternatively, the term “innovation” is the process by which an organization generates creative new ideas and converts them into profitable products and services. “Creative innovation” combines both: generating breakthrough business-building ideas and applying a process to vet them. Does your firm have a creative innovation process?

Richard Florida, author of “The Rise in the Creative Classes” stated that in the early 1900’s, creative jobs only accounted for 10% of the American workforce. In 1980, this rose to 20% and today, we see over 30% of jobs (or more than 40 million) with a “creative lens” in the USA.. However, this increase in “creative lens” jobs does not necessarily mean that companies which have increased focus in this area experience exponential growth. Richard believes there are three drivers of creativity that business leaders should embrace to create a pipeline of strong growth: Technology, Talent and Tolerance.

· Technology drives our ever changing landscape to improve efficiency.

· Talent is a mandate in this economy – the good news for you is that there are a lot of really talented people unemployed today and therefore available to fill key roles in achieving your company’s growth strategy. Hiring the right people can execute your business goals.

· Tolerance is needed most. It takes a long time to get the right creative process, and to foster an environment of innovation patience and open-mindedness. Without tolerance, exponential growth innovation can be undermined and stifled.

Why do some companies “get it” and others do not?
PIXAR is one of the most innovative new studios of our time. Steven Jobs invented PIXAR as a way to bring the most innovative ideas to the screen- where technology and story come together. PIXAR knows its viewers have come to expect something new and fresh each time they see a PIXAR movie. They set the bar and it is higher every time. The leaders of Pixar believe in three key operating principles to inspire creativity:

1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone - Managers do not always need to be the first to know what is going on. Have confidence that you chose the right people to deliver your plans. Believe that everyone’s opinion at every level matters.

2. It must be safe for everyone to offer their ideas - Have a non-judgmental environment to share ideas. Give positive feedback about ideas or the germ of the idea so people see how easy and safe it is to express in front of your group.

3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community - The transparency in sharing its ideals helps PIXAR recruit great talents. Some of the best thinkers are in universities and colleges across the globe. Their research and insights can help us see into the future. It reinforces that PIXAR values the power of smart people more than it values big ideas.

Don’t be fooled. You do not need to be in a creative business to drive creativity. Geico invented a better way to sell insurance in a highly regulated, risk averse industry. Home Shopping Network sells more jewelry profitably than mall jewelry retailers paying heavy monthly leases. Enterprise Car Rental is the number one car rental with its door-to door service model. These companies are winning because they had a better way of doing something and were willing to break paradigms and think differently.

Here are five steps to help you get started:
1. Identify a creative thinker who has respect in your organization - This person may be in the field, or in a managerial position. They need to have the skill sets and the confidence to try new ideas with a small team and run a process that is a bit messy. Make this a full time job.

2. Allocate a budget with gating - Just as a venture capital firm does, develop a budget with goals and hurdles for success. The team can earn more funds if goals are achieved. Creative innovation should not be a free-for-all.

3. Listen to new voices through a new lens - Force the Executive Management team to see new things and to be open to TRYING a new idea. This is the hardest thing to do. Most executive teams say, “we cannot take the risk”, “trying this may impact our core business” etc. Show your leadership team you are willing to take the risk – that’s often where the biggest business growth opportunities are.

4. Grow from your strength - Find out what your firm is really good at doing and then build and grow from there. If your firm excels in real estate development, then explore ideas that leverage that skill.

5. Mitigate your risks - Think about big ideas but pilot small tests. Reward the failures but find the nuggets that worked.

The most strategic thing you can do in this economy is start a creative innovation process. Keep an open mind to new ideas from new people so you can achieve your growth goals.

At Airlift, we believe creativity can be applied every day with or without a costly innovation process. A new brand story can help. Call today to find out how to bake creativity into your business model. Shelley Rosen 312.492.7772 or

Source: Harvard Business Review, “How Pixar Fosters Creativity” Sept, 2008. Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

CEO's: Brand Trust is Job #1 in this economy

An organizational mandate for CEO’s in this economy is building and protecting brand trust. Your logo is a promise to your people, your customers and your investors. Every move you make either builds upon the trust of your brand or detracts from it. Is your trust bank where it needs to be to weather the economic storm? Your corporate reputation depends on it.

Why does it always take a “bad” incident for a company to develop a trusted brand? It took the demise of Enron to give us the Sarbanes-Oxley practices that all corporations are deploying today. Let’s face it. American icons, celebrities, athletes and corporations are letting us down. Americans want to be loyal to brands they trust and that meet their needs.

Here are some things you can do today to build your trust bank:

Be Transparent in all you do
Dan Amos, CEO of Aflac, inherited a company that was founded on ethical principles. “This company was founded with the premise that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the company. One of the aspects that helps the company continue to thrive is Amos’ transparent leadership. “As a public company there is a responsibility to tell people what is happening regardless of whether the news is particularly good or bad,”

Have a meaningful Corporate Responsibility platform your people can be proud of
Giving back must be part of your business model today. The most relevant brands give back with every transaction. They share their story to their people and customers with pride and assurance that the dollars raised are going to the stated cause. Starbucks retail merchandising does a great job communicating their social platforms in every part of the facility. From the take one counter display to their Ethos Water bins, we know they give back and to whom. It makes us feel good and makes them a brand we can trust.

Lead by Example
The best way for your organization to build trust is for you and your leadership team to hold yourself accountable to an ethical leadership style at all times. The law is the law. However, within your organization there are rules that should not be broken. Make your rules and guidelines public and then insure compliance through rewards and when ethics are compromised.

Fad brands need to lead with ethics and trust in order to endure
Facebook inventor and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is one of the youngest billionaires in the USA at 23 years of age. He built a social networking brand called Facebook that is enjoyed by over 150 million users. People join the site to share ideas, stories, build friendships and business. Recently Zuckerberg revealed his philosophy on his data base. “In reality we would not share information in a way you would not want.” Perhaps Mr. Zuckerberg is too young to understand that brand trust is the number one thing he must protect. Building a base of 150 million loyal users is hard to do. Building a trust bank to keep those users coming back, safe and protected is easy to do when you realize your job is to build brand trust.

Regulatory Compliance
This seems like a given. Assign leaders in the firm that not only comply to national regulations but help blaze new trails so your brand can grow. This year Forbes named Noblis as the world’s most ethical company, Noblis is a dynamic nonprofit science, technology and strategy organization dedicated to science and technology to serve the public’s interest. “Our relationships are based on earned trust and our ability to provide scientific, technical, and strategy solutions to complex problems in an objective and conflict free manner. This recognition is a reflection of the teamwork and effort that everyone here put into building our culture, values and processes,” said Amr ElSawy, President and CEO of Noblis.

Select and Ethical Board of Directors
Your board plays a key role to help you achieve your business aspiration with the ethics and integrity you seek. Their advice and counsel helps weather the tough times. Each hand-selected board member should add to the trust bank by who they are and what they bring to the strategy table. Create a rock star board that extends your trust values.

Even in today’s economy, there are brands that have risen to the top in the financial sector because of their ability to understand, communicate and deliver a trusted brand. The Luxury Institute reports that high net-worth consumers rated Fidelity Brokerage Services the most trusted retail broker in the new 2008 Luxury Brand Trust Index (LBTI) survey. Respondents say they trust the firm that provided "excellent service and ideas for making money," "holds the investor's concerns as a priority," and has "your best interests at heart." Charles Schwab and Wachovia Securities rank second and third, respectively. Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute states, "Wealthy consumers agree it is not enough to outperform your competition; you have to out-behave them too.” That is brand trust.

Building your trust bank is done action by action, day-by-day. Over time, when done right it can put a shine on your brand to weather the roughest economy we have seen in forty years.

Contact us; at 312.492.7772. Do you think your firm is in need of a brand story. Please contact us at the information below to see if you qualify.

Source: Luxury Institute, Forbes, Ethisphere

One Hour of Free Brand-Story Consulting

Do you think your firm is in need of a brand story? You could be eligible for a free hour of consulting. Please contact us at the information listed below to see if you qualify.
(312) 492-7772

Monday, February 9, 2009

CEO’s who care about their people, out-perform their competition;

Why do some leaders enjoy more growth than others? They believe a “people-first” culture can drive the economic growth they seek. Think about it, your people are your brand ambassadors. Each night when they leave your office, they go home to their families and talk about work. They share stories with their friends about their jobs, their boss and your company. But are they telling positive stories about the brand you lead and the products and services you sell?

Here are the top five things you can do to lead a “people-first” culture:

Have a clear vision of your firm and communicate it to all people at all levels
It starts with articulating a clear vision for your growth. Communication is more critical than ever in these economic times. A clear story about who you are and how your company will grow is the first step to engaging your people.
Assign a People Czar. It may not be the senior officer in your HR department.
Many times Human Resource departments are in the business of protecting labor with guidelines, rules and policy. As the CEO you are in the business of inspiring labor to perform and outperform so you can beat the market. A people Czar can help make the connection to your employees.
Take a baseline employee satisfaction survey
There is no way to know how you stack up as a boss and a company without knowing how your employees feel about working at your firm. Let them take a confidential survey on how they feel about the work-place, their boss and the environment. Take action on their compliments and their complaints to show you care, are listening and making the needed changes.
Offer Relevant Perks for your brand, the philosophies of your firm and geography.
Nike Management offers outdoor tracks and benefits to further promote an active lifestyle. Genentech says “forget the morning drive!!” Come to work by bicycle, on foot, via public transportation, or in a carpool and you get a subsidy of $4 a day. Camden Property Trust offers employees who live in one of the firm's 180 apartment complexes in such cities as San Diego, Denver and Houston a 20% discount on rent. And they can stay in one of Camden's fully furnished apartments in vacation spots like Orlando and L.A. for $20 a night.
Lead an accountable culture.
People want to know how to achieve the rewards for performance. Is it clear how training and leadership can enhance a career path? Acknowledge great performers in front of their peers. Recognition is the highest form of leadership. It is free. So do it!! At Devon Energy, employee growth hasn't diluted the pay. Devon loves to give big bonuses. The average bonus in 2006 was $21,332. The company also awards a holiday bonus of $600 for every employee, regardless of position. Everything counts.

Every year, Fortune Magazine and The Great Places to Work Institute conduct the Best Places to Work Survey. Google led Fortune Magazine’s number one place to work in 2008. The leadership at Google believes and acts upon the philosophy that their people matter.

Some Facts:
Google has 8,100 jobs and last year they received over 761,000 job applicants. (1) How many resumes did you receive last year? Do people want to work at your firm?

With on-site day-care, a gym membership on premise and over 120 hours of training, people want to stay. The most impressive statistic is that Google has 0% of voluntary job turn-over, or people leaving the company. Google’s benefits generate talk value and are key to driving a people first culture.

Some examples of their offering are below:

Google offers a first-class dining facility. Custom-made milkshakes and on-site farmers' market? Googlers are a well-fed bunch: The company even has a rule -- workers can never be more than 100 feet away from food. Hence the elaborate free snack stations and restaurants scattered throughout the Googleplex.

How do you get more than 6,000 Googlers to see a first-run film? You rent an entire theater for the day. That's exactly what Google's done for movies like "Lord of the Rings," "Transformers" and other blockbusters. As an extra benefit, employees get to bring a guest.

After years of getting around their sprawling Mountain View headquarters on two-wheeled Segways (which kept breaking down) and electric scooters (which employees kept falling off), Googlers now use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation at corporate.

Other Great Companies offer simple ideas that help increase moral, ideation and even well-being.

Microsoft : The MS Dance e-mail list counts 400 members; every week a new step - Latin ballroom, two-step - is taught on campus. "You meet people from all over the company," says Melitta Andersen, a project manager and aficionado of the samba who joined the group last summer. "We have some pretty good dancers here."

Herman Miller: Sleek furniture is a given at Herman Miller. The company has long used its offices to showcase its own designs. A 2007 eco-makeover brought skylights with solar panels and C2, a hyper-efficient personal climate-control gadget.

Quicken Loans: This brand is ranked number 2. Amidst the worst mortgage crisis in US history, Quicken Loans led they way with an ethical, transparent lending process for their customers.. "Ethically driven" is what one employee calls the online mortgage lender. It avoided the sub-prime crisis by sticking with plain-vanilla loans.

While outrageous benefits generate great public relations and talk value among employees, the secret to people loyalty and employee satisfaction goes well beyond perks. Genuine caring for your people is your best strategy.

Having a “people first” culture gives leaders a leg up on their competition. Results show that satisfied employees drive higher levels of customer satisfaction which in turn drives economic return to your bottom line.

Contact us with your stories on how you lead your people-first culture.
Shelley Rosen
Airlift Ideas

Source: (1) Fortune Magazine, 2008 Best Places to Work, Great Places to Work Institute

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Guest Blog at "Unconventional Marketing" Blog

There are some kind people in the world and one of them is Josh Whitford, found of "Uncovnetional Marketing" Blog. Josh has created a blog for marketers to contribute ideas on marketing. This week, the content of our blog is linked to his network. Enjoy!!

Please visit his blog at

Shelley Rosen

Monday, January 26, 2009

A CEO's Guide: How to Get True Business-Driving Insights From Your Research Investments

A CEO’s Guide: How To Get True Business-Driving Insight From Your Research Investment

Are you maximizing your research investments to achieve your business goals? In today’s economy, this is a question worth exploring.

Your market research department and suppliers likely are experts in methodology, project management and findings analysis. The findings they provide help you make appropriate investments, launch new products, enter new markets, and address under-performing areas. However, many companies struggle to uncover insights that generate clear, innovative and differentiated leadership paths. But it can be done, and now is the perfect time to refine your approach so your company can capitalize on powerful strategic insight from existing research.

First, let’s start with a clear understanding of the difference between an insight and a finding:

Finding: A finding is “the result of a judicial examination or inquiry, the results of an investigation (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). It usually is an observation or interpretation, much like one would find in a lab report, and provides answers to specific predetermined questions. Findings can describe consumer behavior/preference, and usually answer which business hypotheses are proved or disproved –in other words, the learnings tend to be highly rational, tactical and focused on history.

Insight: According to Webster’s, insight is “the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things, or seeing intuitively.” Various industry definitions also cite fresh perspective, penetrating understanding, unexpected discoveries that unlock opportunities. All of these strongly suggest out-of-the-box thinking that challenges the status quo. Insights tend to focus on the emotional, psychological underpinnings of consumer behavior that are more forward thinking and predictive.

The reality is most business research is packed with findings that can provide great tactical guidance, but contains very few true insights. This is because implications are rarely put into a broader strategic context by looking for surprising patterns/disconnects compared to other data points, including historical research and trends. Changing the name of a department from Market Research to Consumer/Business Insights (a hot trend across the business community these past 5 years) and reconstituting the group’s mission to include insight generation, while a great start, isn’t sufficient to generate the change most CEO’s are seeking.

To ensure your research leadership is arming you with valuable, business driving insights on your customer and marketplace, critical barriers need to be addressed:

Strategy or Tactics? - Most research focuses on answering very specific tactical questions, not on strategic learning. In other words, we are not directing our research organizations to answer the “right” questions. By design or circumstance, most research departments focus on questions of a repetitive and tactical nature: which promotion works best, which ad resonates most, what do consumers think about program A vs. program B. So where is the insight going to come from that identifies your next golden opportunity? Most likely from out-of-the-box efforts based on broad strategic questions that use penetrating qualitative techniques (ethnography, consumer immersion, Delphi), combined with comprehensive historical research reviews that look for unidentified patterns and disconnects.

Square Peg In A Round Hole: Department heads hire skill sets to staff the questions they are expected to answer. Because we’re not asking the right questions, research departments tend to hire good research tacticians, but rarely great creative, strategic analysts. Strong insightful leadership may exist in your research department. But the right personnel are often not easily identifiable because they rarely get to work on projects that showcase the different skill sets needed to deliver insights vs. findings. So how do you find them? When you see a report you find particularly valuable and provocative, ask who wrote it and meet with them directly. Look for people who are particularly adept at: organizing large amounts of information into succinct frameworks, synthesizing many different types of data into a coherent, cohesive story or questioning commonly held beliefs and their implications.

The Politics of Politics: Even in research departments structured to be the “independent” voice of the consumer, truly insightful researchers often become too afraid to speak up, fearing reprisal for championing compelling thoughts that may contradict some powerful person’s “pet” project or idea. So companies quickly can become insular in their thinking, leaving potentially highly lucrative opportunities untapped. Allow the best thinkers to get to you directly. Nurture them with projects, reporting structures and managers that champion challenges to the status quo.

Dig In Your Own Backyard: Most people think it is easier and faster to contract for new research rather than digging through mounds of disparate data that already exists. Unfortunately, new research is usually narrowly focused, and cannot by its very nature uncover patterns. Some of the most insightful research comes from applying a new lens to old data: look for trends, insight and patterns that may reveal over time. The best was to predict the future is to look at the past. Assign a person that has the patience to plow through piles of information, strong general analytical skills covering many types of information, a willingness to challenge current thinking, and the ability to craft a story that can tell you something informative.

Make Or Buy?: Outsourcing can provide a fresh point of view and state-of-the-art techniques when barriers such as entrenched status quo thinking or mismatched skill sets are present in large organizations. Companies that mine their historical research investment to uncover true insights and turn them into a meaningful brand story with strategic innovation plans will succeed despite the current challenging economic environment - because insights are the secret ingredient to big ideas, new markets and new wealth. The key is to put the right resources with the right skill sets and an open-minded approach on the effort.

Driving your business and improving shareholder value are job one. Change and growth will follow by acknowledging what you know vs. what you don’t, listening for insightful nuggets of truth, and utilizing your historical research in new ways that may not have been originally intended or envisioned.

“Opportunities are often things you haven’t noticed the first time around,” Catherine Deneuve.

Call us to find out more tips for mining meaningful insights to craft a brand story that can drive your business.

Lisa Wolfe
Airlift Ideas Inc.
Chief Insight Officer

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Brand Obama: Lessons in Leadership from a CEO

Brand Obama: Lessons in Leadership for CEO’s
What lessons can a corporate CEO learn from the fastest growing brand in the world- Brand Obama? Brand Marketers like Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola fight for market share every day on grocery shelves. Avis tries harder than Hertz. Miller-Coors seeks to dominate Budweiser on any given day. Google came out of nowhere to be a $10B enterprise with literally no competitors. So how did a community organizer with a hard-to-pronounce name rise to power in record time? He had a great brand story.

As Airlift wrote in our blog post entitled; “What World Class Brands Do”, let’s take a look at the six drivers of World Class Brands and see how President Barack Obama achieved his dominant global brand position; The President of the United States.

Delight Customers (Voters)
The strategic leadership team for Obama got it right from the start. They had a clear strategy. Think about it, Brand Obama was an unknown name competing against one of the most prolific and successful names in government; The Clinton’s. Hilary Clinton had all the money, lived in the White House amidst global leaders and had been a career politician. The prize was hers to win. Yet, Team Obama had the winning campaign. They crafted a strategy that would delight American voters from all walks of life, all socio-economic levels, all races and all religions. The greatest weapon Obama had leading into the race was a clear vision; a vision for where he wanted to take America and how he wanted to do it. His ability to tell that optimistic story better than anyone else in the race was the secret to how he delighted voters. Combine this with his innovative approach to reaching new voters with new messages in new mediums made for a winning brand platform. He was the first President to use the Internet to generate excitement, share the right message and win over voters- via word of mouth fund raising. He won America’s heart with his ideas and passion for connecting with people, one voter at a time.

True Story:

An Independent voter who had never made an online campaign contribution went online and donated $50 to the Obama campaign. Within two minutes she received a thank-you for the contribution and an acknowledgement that someone in Ohio had matched her contribution as a way of also saying thank you. Two minutes after that, she received another e-mail from the campaign asking if she, too, would be willing to match the $50 contribution of a new donor, and whether her e-mail address could be shared so that the new donor could thank her for her match.(1)

Are you connecting with your customers by delighting them with your brand? You get the picture.

Flawless Execution
The Obama team was surgical about his race to the White House. They never lost sight of the end goal… to win the Presidency. He never rested. The team left no stone unturned. They used all mediums with targeted messages. He remained calm and diplomatic every day. Among the chaos of our nation Barack Obama was the calm in the storm. The team collectively did not miss a beat. When the chips seemed like they were down, the team re-charted their course with speed and grace to stay on point. There is a lesson in relentless focus here.

Remains Authentic
They say that leaders are born leaders. Obama is a great leader and a great orator. But when a brand tries to be something they are not, customers see right through it. Obama’s leadership is genuine. He truly believes in the people, cares about real stories; the struggles and triumphs. He seeks for America to get back on track with real change. You can not fake it. President Obama operates with the highest form of humility every day and that is who he really is. Do the people in your organization know who you are and how you think? Remaining authentic to who you and your company are is a sure- fire way for customers to find you in a highly competitive market.

Hires Great People
President Obama ran the campaign like he would run a global corporation. He put the “right people on the bus” for the job. (2) His resolve and confidence was the secret to finding the recruiting the best people. He knows what he knows and knows what he does not. He selected the best people for each job and will empower them to success. These jobs were not awarded because they did Obama a favor or were friends of a friend, but because they had a proven track record of leadership in the given area; policy, finance, security, operations, leadership and even in a social setting as exemplified by his selection of Desiree Rogers, a leading Chicago business woman, as his new Social Secretary. Hire great people and let them fly. It will be the secret to your success.

Gives Back
The very essence of a world-class brand is to give back with every transaction, every day. Obama does this as his political origins are rooted in the community. The day before President Obama was inaugurated, he was out in the DC community making surprise visits to schools, painting with children and talking to the American “People”. One might think he had other things to do to prepare for his historic day but even that he made time to give back. When a leader really believes in giving back, he does so every day. Are you?

Drives Economic Growth
Metrics are everything to a CEO. They matter for Obama as well. The metrics prove his brand story was a success. Just look at the numbers.

  • Record voter turn out among traditional and new voters

  • Record dollars were raised by the public

  • Record approval ratings were achieved

  • Record turn out in Washington for Inauguration.

President Barack Obama declared his vision and laid a foundation for his brand story during the Democratic Race in July of 2004. His riveting speech and well articulated story about the power of our great country set the tone for his administration; an administration that will be about about “we” and “us”.
“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin- masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of "anything goes." Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.”

His determination to get all of America focused on rebuilding our country will rally us in a way we have never seen. These ideals make up the most powerful brand story we could ever know. Jim Collins defines the highest form of leadership as Level 5. His idea research defines this as “someone who blends genuine personal humility with intense professional will.” The sheer will to help our nation, combined with his extreme humility will makes President Obama the perfect man for the job with the perfect brand story.

Today is an historic, remarkable day! Be exuberant when you think about running your company and building your brand. It is contagious.

Barack Obama’s story is the best brand story I have ever heard or seen, ever!

Contact Shelley Rosen at Airlift Ideas at or by calling 312.492.7772 Feel free add comments
(1) Ad Age: 2.27.08
(2) Jim Collins Good to Great

Monday, January 12, 2009

Delivering Value through Quality Expereinces

Delivering Value through Quality Experiences
Leaders of an organization drive value. Positive experiences their employees have working at their firm and a long-term, positive relationship customers have when buying their brand are the desired output of value.

At Airlift, we believe there is an equation to delivering value.

We believe the QE/P=V ™ . This is defined as “The Quality of an Experience for the Price paid in time and money is Value.” Think about quality experiences you have had with your favorite brands. What works best for you?

The QE/P=V equation works across all categories, brands and all economic ranges. But can the quality of an experience differ that much within the same category. The answer is “yes” and that is why one brand may outperform over another.

Let’s take a look at three retail brands targeted to three differing consumer economic levels with their product offering; Costco Wholesale, Target, and Nordstrom. How does each of their value equations stack up?

Costco Wholesale™ is a member-based warehouse club designed to offer small businesses and families “substantially lower process than found at conventional stores. A shopper may wonder how an experience whereby consumers must show a card to get in, shop among aisles with little merchandising on concrete floors might be positive. At Costco Wholesale the Quality Experience plays out in many factors.

QE at Costco: The choice, the quality brand names, the fresh food and the volume make shoppers feel empowered that it is all under one roof. Price is the driver of value in two ways. Shopping at Costco is a relatively fast shopping experience. They know time matters to the customer so their products and services are easy to find.

P at Costco: Their great prices are delivered because of their packaging strategy. Products are offer in volume packages so customers enjoy low unit prices and get the bulk quantities they need.

V at Costco: Overall value in the experience is delivered because all the drivers of the QE/P=V are in play on every transaction; not just low prices.

According to Jim Sinegal, the Company's President and Chief Executive Officer, "Costco is able to offer lower prices and better values by eliminating virtually all the frills and costs historically associated with conventional wholesalers and retailers, including salespeople, fancy buildings, delivery, billing and accounts receivable. We run a tight operation with extremely low overhead which enables us to pass on dramatic savings to our members." 1

Target’s value proposition is all about delivering affordable design. Their well-lit, bright stores are organized and designed to help customers shop and find products with ease. Target was ranked as number 11 in Fortune Magazine’s 2008 Most Admired Companies; an honorable achievement for a retailer. Their highly recognizable bulls-eye is a sign of great value as they seek to make each shopping experience happy.

QE at Target: Affordable design is the brand differentiator. There is something for everyone at Target with a range of merchandise fully stocked each night. Target’s merchandising and merchandise changes so well with the change of seasons and holidays. From Valentine’s to summer, to back-to- school and Christmas, shoppers feel they have through all of their needs when it comes to making the home relevant. Shoppers rarely need sales assistance but when they do, the staff is friendly and knowledgeable.

P at Target: Target saves us time and money. They believe the customer deserves low prices and great design; a rare combination for a retailer. Delivering on this is differentiating.

Target Brand Promise: Target is the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and an exceptional guest experience by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less.® brand promise.

V at Target: Offering low prices does not mean the retailer has to be cheap. They over deliver on V in the value equation as they surprise and delight the customer on every aisle.

Nordstrom is a shopper’s delight. Founded by a Swedish man named John Nordstrom, opened his first Nordstrom as a shoe store. This later became the largest independent chain shoe store in the US. The company's philosophy has remained unchanged for more than 100 years. Their mantra is to “offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality and value.” While the cost is goods are higher, the overall QE/P=V equation at Nordstrom is delivered on every visit.

QE at Nordstrom: Their high-end merchandise supported by happy, empowered sales associates drive a great QE. Today their stores are merchandise by lifestyle and are supported by well-trained, inspired, happy sales associates. They are notorious for hiring the right people because they empower their people to “do the best job they can” for each customer. We all know the hassle of returns. Not at Nordstrom. Nordstrom believes the customer is always right and willingly accepts an exchange or return without question or hassle. This makes the quality experience even better.

P at Nordstrom: While lowest total cost in not their mantra, Nordstrom value is delivered by offering prices for varying pocketbooks, choice in size and colors. Their shoe department is proof that choice is king for women. The stores are designed simply so shopping can be a fast or slow, enjoyable experience for all.
V at Nordstrom: The Nordstrom experience comes together because the store delivers on all attributes that are important to discriminating customers. The friendly, knowledgeable sales force always seems to know if a fashion item fits properly and are eager to show the customer how to look great.

Three retailers appealing to three varied consumer segments can all achieve value through quality experiences. No matter what business you operate, your QE/P=V must be clearly defined to help differentiate and remain competitive. It is a dynamic equation that also must change with the times so you can stay in business. Clearly articulate your current experience and then define a newly desired quality experience. Revisit your pricing strategy in this economy and the time it takes for consumers to buy your brand. This will keep your value equation in check at all times. Seek to make each experience a quality one so your brand gets the credit for delivering the great value it deserves.

For more information on how to achieve a quality experience and value for your brand, contact Airlift Ideas at

1. Costco Wholesale website
2. Target website
3. Nordstrom at

Monday, January 5, 2009

What World Class Brands do: Thoughts for leading CEO's.

What is Your Brand Story?
What World Class Brands Do.

“Often, leaders believe the role of branding is something that the marketing
department must manage. The blind reality is that the senior management of an organization leads the reputation of the organization’s brand. In fact, C-suite
executives are chief brand officers in disguise.” - Shelley Rosen

Brand story telling, when done right, is a powerful tool to drive the economic performance of your organization. John P. Mackey recognized this when he founded Whole Foods. He created the Whole Foods “Declaration of Interdependence” outlining his purpose, vision and values for all to see. These founding principles drive the retail experience we see in the marketplace today. This brand remains authentic to selling the highest quality organic and natural products. It started with a powerful brand story.

The best brand stories work from the inside out. We all recognize that a highly motivated work force delivers better customer satisfaction, which in turn drives enhanced financial performance. Brand story telling can aid leaders in communicating long-term growth strategies and corporate direction in fun, inspiring ways. Inspiring language is key to igniting action.

It is a myth that the role of creating brand stories belongs to the marketing department or an outside agency. With or without any advertising or public relations, the brand story is the job of top management. Once clearly defined, it is critical to communicate the brand story from the boardroom to the front counter. It can differentiate your firm in a commodity driven category, unify the leadership team and motivate a work force that frankly, can get a job elsewhere. Crafting a brand story works for established businesses as well as a start-up business. The leadership team needs time to define a brand story to unify the corporate direction. This is something you cannot holistically outsource, since the brand is made up of senior leadership.

It’s often common to hire an advertising or marketing agency to help promote
the brand, but senior leaders are the real brand creators and protectors. There are six components of world-class brands, no matter what the size of your organization. Use these to craft your compelling brand story.

1. Delights Customers
These organizations that have great passion for exceeding and delighting customers have superior performance long-term. Apple Corporation delights their customers with products, services, retail experiences and even their detailed packaging with every product they design.

2. Hires and motivates great people
People are your greatest asset. Find the right people and do everything you can to keep them. Creating a desirable place to work drives a motivated work force. Last year, Google earned top honors for being a great place to work. With only 6,500 jobs, they received over one million resumes from people seeking employment. How many resumes did you receive last year? GENX and GENY work force need and want different things than their Boomer bosses. Are you in touch with what your work force needs to stay inspired and motivated?

3. Flawlessly Executes
Strategies are only as good as their ability to be executed in the marketplace. A well crafted strategy with poor execution is not a good strategy. UPS is a leader in flawless execution. Route drivers are trained at their state-of-the-art facility to learn the UPS way, which creates a highly motivated work force to deliver on the UPS promise.

4. Remains Authentic
Leadership must understand the core competency of the enterprise and do everything to protect this asset. Being true to the history and heritage of the brand is a key driver of growth. World-class brands never forget who they are or where they came from. Walt Disney wanted to create The Happiest Place on Earth through magic. He gave us the Magic Kingdom and experiences beyond our wildest imagination. That is why The Walt Disney Company will always stand for magical story telling. No one does it better.

5. Gives back to the community
Consumers and employees join brands today, the do not just buy them. The Gen X and Gen Y consumers support brands that help the community, in a way that is rooted to the brand essence. Identify your mission and align your organization to commit to the community transparently. Consumers will see right through your strategy if it is an after thought. The Body Shop invented this notion, and other brands strive to seek responsible giving in their business models. This idea is bigger than one golf outing or event. It is linked to your buisness and is ideally part of every transaction you make.

6. Delivers economic return profitably
Shareholder return is the output of a great brand story. Your board of directors would agree that delivering return to your shareholders through sustainable growth is the goal.

These six drivers make up the DNA of a world-class brand. As we know, every great brand story ultimately has a happy ending. Now is the time to get started on your crafting your brand story.

Shelley Rosen
Airlift Ideas
For a chat on your brand, call us at 312.492-7772