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