Monthly Archives: April 2016

America, Trump, Branding and SMstudy


Today has been all about brands and branding.

The day hadn’t even started when I saw that a friend had posted a LinkedIn Pulse article that included what he learned about branding from Warren Buffet. The next article that caught my eye was a brand comparison between Donald Trump and America, as in America, the Beautiful—the ideal, the brand.

Together, the articles made a strong argument that brands matter; they seriously matter. Gerald Sanchez wrote in his Pulsepiece, “Brand Matters: Think about some of the companies that are in his [Warren Buffet’s] portfolio that are well known: Coca-Cola, Geico, Heinz, Proctor and Gamble and Johnson and Johnson.  Their brands provide a ‘hard-to-replicate advantage over their competitors.’”[1]

A concise definition of branding says that it “is the process of creating a distinct image of a product or range of products in the customer’s mind. This image communicates the promise of value the customer will receive from the product or products,” according to the SMstudy® Guide: Marketing Strategy.[2] Together, a powerful image and an accurately defined value deliver that “hard-to-replicate advantage.”

Interestingly, as Merry Carole Powers alludes to in her Huffington Post article[3] analyzing Donald Trump’s presidential-candidate brand, powerful images and appealing to the wrong—though accurately defined—value can give an advantage that lacks health and perhaps staying power.

The idea of looking at a political campaign from a marketing point of view and dismissing a candidate’s statements as just saying whatever sells at the moment is fairly common. But Powers’ analysis is not, “I have been so horrified by this man from my personal point of view as a woman and a human being, it hadn’t dawned on me to assess him from a professional place.” This seems to be how most of us look at politicians. Perhaps we, too, should be more professional, “And when I did, I was surprised at what I found.” (Spoiler alert: she still isn’t a Trump supporter.)

Powers’ analysis of Trump as Trump the Brand used “a few core branding blocks that must be a part of any strong brand.” Such a brand includes “unique positioning, clearly defined purpose, truly held values, an authentic personality and a compelling message.”

Using these blocks, Powers does an item by item analysis of Trump as a brand and then compares the Trump brand with that of America as represented in the Declaration of Independence—arguably the best single statement of America the brand ever written.

Does Trump have a strong brand? How does it compare to America’s brand? Does it belong in America’s highest office? We’ll let you read Powers’ excellent article to learn that.

For this blog, let’s take away the realization that communicating our promise of value is crucial when we take an important stand and we want others to join us in it. Brand matters.

Look for SMstudy’s soon-to-be-released book Branding and Advertising, part of the SMstudy® Guide series.

For more interesting and informational articles on sales and marketing, visit


[1] Gerald Sanchez. (4/3/16) “Gleaning from the Gurus: What I Learned from Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger about Small Business.” Pulse. Retrieved on 4/4/16 from

[2] A Guide to the Sales and Marketing Body of Knowledge, also referred to as the “SMstudy® Guide,” is a series of books that provide guidelines for the Sales and Marketing of products and services. It is available at SMstudy.

[3] Powers, Merry Carole. (4/1/16) “Donald Trump vs America: Side-by-Side Brand Analysis.” The World Post. Retrieved on 4/4/16 from


Selecting Points of Parity and Differentiation


Points of parity for a product are those characteristics of a company’s product that are not unique but are rather on par with competing products. Points of differentiation are those areas on which a company’s product outperforms competing products. The company needs to decide which product features and benefits it wants to match with competing products, and those it wants to differentiate from competing products. It is simply not feasible or advisable for a company to differentiate its product on all aspects.

Though points of differentiation provide a company with its competitive edge over the competition, choosing points of parity carefully is also important. Customers should be able to relate the company’s product with a certain product category, so they can understand at a broad level the type of need that the product satisfies. Therefore, some basic characteristics of the product must be similar to other products in its category. If the product fails to meet the basic characteristics that customers expect from all products in the product category, then customers may not consider it for purchase, irrespective of how well the product is differentiated on other characteristics.

In product categories where there are many differentiation options (such as in the software industry), it makes sense to focus on creating sustainable differentiators rather than on blunting the competition’s points of differentiation. Thus, efforts could be better utilized in creating profound points of differentiation. Additionally, differentiation is not always accomplished through product characteristics. It can be created by offering better services or unique packaging, or by implementing more efficient processes that provide a cost advantage.

Let’s try to understand this better with a few examples..

In the past, the ability of major retailers to provide options for customers to purchase products online would have been a point of differentiation. However, as online shopping grows in popularity and more companies develop their e-commerce capabilities to match consumer demand, the ability to facilitate online shopping has become a point of parity among major retailers.

Similarly, Until recent years, free internet connectivity through Wi-Fi was a point of differentiation for some coffee shops; however, as increasingly more consumers have come to expect this service, the ability to be freely connected is quickly becoming a point of parity in the industry.

A company may choose to match a competing product on a point of differentiation, effectively softening that product’s edge. Thus, if the company achieves parity on all the basic characteristics and blunts the competition’s competitive advantage by targeting its point of differentiation, then even a relatively minor point of differentiation can provide the company with a competitive advantage.

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Back Talk Can Be Good for You; Customer-Centric Differentiation and SMstudy

“I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you…”

– Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California”

When potential customers “wander in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans,” what sets your product apart from all of the others on the shelf? What makes buyers begin following you?

Is it the need that you meet? Or the value proposition you offer? Is it your product’s packaging? Or placement on the shelf? Is it the reputation of your company that shines a special spotlight on your offering?  If your answer is, “Yes,” then you’re ready for a trip into the sometimes puzzling world of creating a product’s differentiated positioning. Grab your cape, Alice; you never know what you’ll run into down the rabbit hole.

A well-planned and executed differentiated positioning of a product sets it apart and attracts buyers. The process of creating a differentiated positioning “involves creating a positioning statement that clearly articulates, in a succinct sentence, how the company wants the customers in its selected target markets to perceive its products,” says Marketing Strategy, book one in theSMstudyGuide series.[1]

In our previous article, “What Turns a Ford into a Lincoln,” we looked at the use of features to set one product apart from another, to make it attractive to targeted market segments. This same list of features is used when writing the positioning statement. In this blog we consider the influence of the target segment itself and customer feedback on preparing that “succinct sentence.”

Once your company has completed the process of selecting a target segment, it will have “detailed information…, such as specific wants and needs, customer personas, segment size, and so forth,” according to Marketing Strategy. The company then can “analyze the target segment information to determine areas where it has, or can, create a competitive advantage when positioning its products.”

Where does a company get a clear statement of the “specific wants and needs” of their potential customers? From customer feedback, of course. “But, they’re potential customers!” someone is saying, “How can we get feedback from customers that aren’t customers, yet?” There are ways down this rabbit hole.

One way is to use industry benchmarks and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). “Comparing the company’s performance against industry benchmarks and KPIs helps prevent a company from focusing its positioning efforts on creating differentiators that are of little importance to customers in the industry,” the SMstudyGuide says. Your potential customers will have significant similarities with others in the targeted segment for similar products.

Closely related to benchmarks and KPIs, are existing marketing research reports. Your company or an industry group may have already conducted research that is relevant. “This research can help identify the best possible product features and associated product positioning based on how purchase intentions vary with changes to particular product characteristics. Furthermore, analyzing customers’ attitudes toward competitors’ products provides additional insights into how well the positioning strategies of competitors are working, and whether there are some gaps in their positioning that the company can exploit,” says theSMstudyGuide.

Another way is to talk to your company’s present customers. “No one can articulate your strengths better than your clients,” writes Cidnee Stephen in her article “How to Differentiate Your Business from the Competition.”[2]

As the SMstudyGuide puts it, “Understanding the customer experience and obtaining customer feedback about a company’s existing products (a concept referred to as the “Voice of the Customer”) helps a company to determine the positioning of its products. Such customer feedback includes improvement suggestions, compliments, and complaints.” Your company has probably been collecting feedback of this nature through post-purchase surveys, product registration processes, and the “Contact Us” tab on its website. This data is usually reviewed through a product or service improvement filter. Now is the time to look at that data with a filter emphasizing positioning.

Product piloting and conducting focus groups are two additional ways to collect feedback on a product or service that is not yet in wide distribution.

Our trip seems to use product and company differentiation interchangeably. Does that make sense? Down this rabbit hole, it does. The two are membrane on membrane close. The differentiated positioning of the company as a whole should guide all positioning of the company’s products and services.

Does this article say it all about creating differentiated positioning? Absolutely not! In fact, the part of our treatment of this topic will discuss using SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).

As good as back talk can be, so can a good SWOT across the backside … or at least, across the corporate office!canned-food-prducts

For more interesting and informative articles on sales and marketing, visit SMstudy

[1] The SMstudyGuide is available at

[2] Cidnee Stephen. “How to differentiate Your Business from the Competition.” Bplans; Starting a Business Made Easy. Retrieved on 4/5/16 from

OOH, Electronic Billboards

More than six thousand digital billboards light up America’s roadways, yet, we’re still in the dark![1]

We thought that—with the explosion of social media, the long (waning?) reign of broadcast advertising, Internet advertising, and more—billboards, like sandwich boards, were becoming a thing of the past. Yet, according to the association, there are more than 158,000 standard billboards (also known as “bulletins” in the trade) and 165,500 posters (the slightly smaller sized billboard common in urban settings). Then there’s “billboards” on the sides of trucks, 2,700, and wrapped around buses, 205,000. That’s a lot of OOH (Out of Home) advertising!

This exemplifies something that Marketing Strategy, book one in the SMstudy® Guide series, says: “Rather than viewing the changes as completely replacing the earlier practices, Sales and Marketing approaches should be viewed as a continuum where recent innovations can co-exist with earlier practices.”

If you have been following our posts at SMstudy, you may remember that we have addressed the idea that old ways stay and can continue to be profitable even in the midst of great innovation.[2] OOH advertising offers two examples of not only how older approaches can remain relevant but also co-exist in symbiotic relationships.

As the numbers quoted above show, billboard advertising is alive and kicking in today’s innovative age. One cause of this is that “the brevity of OOH’s copy is ideal for driving traffic to a website,” according to OAAA. In cities with the fifty worst commutes, Americans spend from 32 minutes (with 8 percent of this city’s commuters spending more than an hour) to 42.6 minutes (and 25 percent spending more than one hour) one way.[3] That’s a lot of time spent slowly moving with the traffic flow. The vast majority of Americans spend from 30 minutes to an hour driving to and from work. Include the time they spend traveling for other purposes and that’s like having an arena’s worth of people idling past every billboard.

Co-existing can be more than just parallel existence at a distance. For example, “OOH reinforces television messages when viewers are away from their homes during the course of daily activities,” says to OAAA adding, “Television is expensive. OOH improves the efficiency of a television campaign buy by driving down CPM costs. OOH reaches light TV viewers who are younger, mobile, and more affluent than heavy TV viewers.”

OAAA points out that “younger, mobile, and more affluent than heavy TV viewers” also describes Internet users. This becomes an important insight when the marketing team considers its product’s marketing mix. “In a differentiated targeting strategy, a company directs its marketing efforts towards two or more segments by creating a different marketing mix for each segment. Each marketing mix for this strategy typically varies depending on product features, distribution methods, promotion methods, and pricing,” according to Marketing Strategy. As each market segment is targeted, the team develops a mix of “promotion methods.” These methods can include conventional mass media marketing and fragmented new-age marketing (aimed at channels such as Internet, social media, and mobile devices).

The old and the new not only can exist side-by-side but they can flourish. And that’s something to OOH and ah about!

For more interesting and informative articles on sales and marketing, visit

[1] This datum is according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) in their OOH (Out of Home) Formats on the OAAA site at

[2] As in our recent blog, “Pushing the Envelope: The Case for Paper,”

[3] “The 50 Worst Commutes in America.” (1/28/16) MSN; News. Retrieved on 4/12/16 from