Brian Creath

Posts Tagged ‘Business’

Beyond Survival: Brand As Competitive Edge In Today’s Business Environment

In Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Corporate Marketing, Internal communications, Marketing, marketing strategy, Positioning on February 26, 2013 at 11:45 am

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Investing in a strong brand is one of the single most important efforts that an enterprise can undertake to ensure continued relevance and growth in a rapidly changing market. Unfortunately, many companies have become so concentrated on developing efforts that promote ‘the next sale,’ that they have neglected investing in the foundation of their brand direction.

Without a brand umbrella to help rationalize margins, instill customer loyalty, bolster employee morale and drive awareness, every sale becomes a little more difficult and disproportionately more expensive.

To download the entire whitepaper, simply click here.


That Fortune-Filled Moment When Strong Strategy Meets Great Creative.

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Creative, Marketing, marketing strategy, Positioning, Sales, Strategy on February 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm

treasure chest

It’s the one reason the business of marketing and advertising still holds my interest after nearly 30 years and (especially if you’re a purchaser of marketing and advertising services) the reason it should hold yours: When you marry the perfect marketing strategy with the perfect creative expression people will, more often than not, buy more of what you’re selling.

That’s really what clients pay me to do: Find and articulate that one, singular idea that can drive a marketing effort for years. Oh sure, that simplicity can get a bit lost in processes, research, positioning, strategy and a whole lot more, but in the end, this unique strategy+creative marriage is what businesses really want — and desperately need. Because it’s almost impossible to find this inside a company. And sadly, it’s becoming just as difficult on the outside. Today, most marketing firms make their living as ‘specialists,’ working in the vacuums of their vertical world(s).

It takes a generalist to hold the worldview needed to develop ‘grand’ strategy. And a unique combination of skill and experience to express that strategy in a succinct and interesting way: an expression that, if crafted properly, is both poignant and true.

Over the years, I’ve found that most clients believe the development of strong strategy and the expression of great creative are mutually exclusive. That the process to develop strategy must be boring, exhaustive and tedious. That the ability to develop great creative can only come from bizarre, ungrounded minds. My experience has shown this to be the most superficial understanding of both. If you follow a boring, exhaustive and tedious process for strategy, that’s probably the kind of strategy you will develop. Accordingly, an untethered mind will tend to develop, well, bizarre, ungrounded creative.

I’ve had the good fortune to successfully position more than 100 businesses, brands, products and services. I’ve also had the good fortune of being the creative director and writer on dozens of award-winning creative campaigns. It’s where these paths meet that riches are found. Where marketing inertia is created that can last for years.

Where hardened sales, operations and financial disbelievers in marketing turn to you and say, “I had no idea this is what marketing could do.”

Could your business use a better marriage of marketing strategy and creative expression? If so, I know just where you can find it.



It’s 2013: What’s Your Marketing Strategy?

In Brand, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Strategy on October 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm

As the year begins, Cohesion (our nationally recognized brand and marketing consultancy) has been engaged by several organizations to develop Strategic Brand, Marketing and Communications Planning Guides. These efforts include a short strategic assessment of existing issues, audiences, strategies and tools, and a detailed list of recommended strategic efforts that management and the marketing and/or communications function should consider.

These short plans work for organizations both small and large, and can be developed in about a one-week time-frame. For a fixed price that every company can afford, Cohesion can quickly and efficiently give you a strategic tool that will help start and guide your strategic marketing efforts for 2013. We’ll frame the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ around roughly 10 key strategies, so that you can drive new success in the coming year.

Cohesion is also being engaged by a number of clients to ‘package and explain’ new businesses, new services, new products and more. And of course, if you need more traditional brand, marketing, advertising or communications development, we can help.

Our services put an expert ‘third party’ on the business of your business, without the hassle of a long-term engagement or a cost you can’t afford. Start the year on the right note. Contact Brian Creath at, or at 314-276-5383, to learn more, today.

Quick, What’s Your Message?

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business Development, Business strategy, Communications, Marketing, Messaging, Positioning on March 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm


“We’re hoping the economy turns around sometime this year so we can work on crafting our message,” an anonymous VP of marketing said to me last week. That’s funny. The reason I contacted this company in the first place was because the lead salesperson (a good friend) told me what he — and the rest of the sales staff — need right now is, “the right story; the right message to tell clients and prospects.”

Marketing has been quick to respond to trimming fat from budgets. But in many cases, these same cuts are now beginning to tear into the meat and bone of an organization’s core message — of its brand and reputation. My salesperson friend says that in lieu of a defined message, he and his staff have been left to create their own. “I think it will be hard to unwind some of the ‘survival mode’ sales tactics we’ve developed by the seat of our pants during the past few months,” he says. “We really need to find and stick with a core message we can all live with — right now.”

We’ve run into this situation numerous time since the start of the recession: Well-intentioned companies that needed to cut marketing budgets, cut them across the board, rather than prioritizing. Strategic planning and core messaging needs vital to the existence of the company were often cut to save a few short-term tactics that management hoped would produce short-term sales. The result: Brands have been driven backwards, and short-term sales haven’t been all that great.

By the way, what’s your message? Has it been left to wither during the past few months? Is it consistent and cohesive at every management, marketing and sales level of your organization? Does it need to be re-crafted to fit a new and changing direction? Regardless of the money you intend to spend on marketing — now and into the future — you will still need the right message. In fact, the fewer dollars you spend, the better and more consistent your message needs to be.

Coincidentally, if you’re looking for a firm that can help you craft and platform that message, I do know a good one.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

How to Never Get Ahead in Marketing. (Or) Always Let Tactics Drive Your Strategy.

In Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Business strategy, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Strategy on February 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm

“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.”
-Sun Tzu

[Please Note: This post is not intended as a strategy vs. tactics treatise, but rather, as a discussion starter to point out the real lack of (and real need for) strategic thinking in today’s marketing efforts.]

For some, marketing has always been viewed through a tactical lens. You know the type: the person who mistakes a logo for a brand, or a website for a marketing program. And make no mistake, tactics are critical and necessary to every marketing effort. But because they are tangible, many have confused their necessity with being the ONLY focus of marketing. Sadly, strategy — the thinking that directs a tactic — is increasingly being overlooked, or completely neglected.

Imagine if buildings were built without blueprints — if wars were fought without plans. Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Social media (and the bold, consumer voice that has arisen from its power) have many marketers now convinced that they cannot guide a brand, or their marketing efforts, but instead, must simply monitor the experiences of customers. And to successfully monitor and react to these experiences, these marketers have focused their resources on the tactics that will enable these efforts. Many times, regardless of what carefully planned core missions, or operations models say they can, or should do.

Should a company listen to its customers and steer accordingly? Of course. Should it simply become what a customer desires, with no strategic input regarding what it can, or should be? Of course, not. This one-sided view is as bad (and wrong) as the one-sided ‘company push’ advertising strategies that customers are rebelling against in the first place.

Strategy is (or should be) the thing that links the internal wants and desires of a company (brand) to the wants and needs of external audiences (partners, suppliers and customers). Developed properly, it’s a flexible bridge that anchors a few core principles and then allows that business and people change — sometimes quickly, sometimes over time. Tactics, are the tools developed from this strategic platform and guided by its direction. Important and critical, but tools, nontheless.

If you don’t have this strategy in place, you run the risk of never differentiating, never knowing what to do next, and yes, never truly getting ahead.

(By the way, if your organization is looking for stronger business, brand and marketing strategy, I know a firm that can help.)

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations, here.

Business is Changing. (How relevant is yours?)

In Brand, Communications, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Messaging, Positioning, Strategy on February 1, 2012 at 3:21 am

It’s the question on the minds of nearly every C-suite executive we talk with: Is our business (brand) as relevant as it should be?

It’s been our experience that most organizations are actually quite good at making and/or sourcing marketing materials. It’s when the challenge is developing and articulating comprehensive strategy that many companies struggle. The reality is that far too many companies lack a consistent and successful method for designing and maintaining positions for their brands, products and services.

Companies that have developed successful positions, tend to have one thing in common: Before the first tactical thought begins, these companies concentrate their marketing focus on structure, strategy and messaging. Not coincidentally, these three (3) critical elements are the focus of our business, as well.

If you’d like to help your organization broaden the practices of brand strategy, positioning and messaging beyond marketing — and into comprehensive, organization-wide internal and external efforts, I know a firm that can help.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations develop more relevant and differentiated positions, here.

Brands Are Dead. (Really?)

In Brand, Brand Strategy, Marketing, Positioning, Strategy on December 18, 2011 at 4:17 pm


[Originally posted on May 18, 2009]

Brands Are Dead,” according to Jonathan Salem Baskin, who wrote, “Branding Only Works On Cattle.”

In a post from the blog, ‘Business Pundit,’ Mr. Baskin says, among other things, “Nobody carries brands around in their heads. Nobody has a relationship with a brand. Or lives a brand lifestyle. Brands aren’t conversations, and they’re not bought, possessed, or coveted. Companies don’t own them. Neither do consumers or shareholders.”

Funny. As I drove from Walmart through McDonald’s to the Apple Store the other day, I could have sworn he was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a guy playing devil’s advocate to sell a few books; but c’mon, dead?

No, brands aren’t dead. Placing a unique label on something to: a) claim ownership over it, and b) differentiate it from similar items won’t die any time soon. But with any luck, the term branding will.

For the past 15 years or so, I have watched as marketing directors, CFOs, CEOs, ad agencies, design firms and others shifted from talking about brands in the abstract to branding in the specific. Branding was put into the hands of those who only saw (or perhaps understood) its tactical manifestations: colors, logos, taglines, ads, websites, etc. The more this happened, the more these surface items became a proxy for the brand itself. The terms ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ came to be used interchangeably. As this deterioration took place, ‘branding’ became synonymous with fluff. And rightly so. Problem is, this artificial concept of branding never had anything to do with what a true brand is in the first place.

As the economy grew, non-marketing people saw a quick buck in what they understood branding to be. “Gimme a logo and a tagline and a few cool ads and we’ll go sell some stuff.” With no hope of a differentiated position. With no intention of investing in one. That’s not a brand. That’s a house of cards.

You can’t brand a brand. You can position it. You can advertise it. You can publicize it. You can even promote it. But ‘brand’ is a noun, not a verb. It is the essence of a company, a product, a service — a shortcut path to all of the emotional and logical benefits a thing possesses.

Says Mr. Baskin, “…brands are simply irrelevant in a world wherein people know that one airplane seat looks like another, different clothes and PCs are made in the same factories overseas, and that most companies expect customers to help themselves. Or when price and availability matter.” True brands carry an emotional appeal — something that Mr. Baskin’s argument does not. (He does know that human beings are involved here, doesn’t he?)

Interestingly, true brands — those built for the right reasons that stand for the right things — are on the verge of a major renaissance (but that’s a post to come).

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

(Re)Discovering Relevant Value. (Part 2 in a series.)

In Advertising, Brand, Brand Relevance, Brand Strategy, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Positioning, Strategy on September 30, 2009 at 9:42 am


Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer products company, has just announced a stunning new business strategy to jump-start growth. It begins in a startling, almost counterintuitive way — with company values and sense of purpose. Invoke the heart and care about human needs, the strategy seems to say, and the money will follow.” –, Sept. 2009

As the world economy emerges from recession, the corporate community is seeking new strategies to compete more effectively. Among them is a groundswell to (re)consider corporate values as a vital business tool that – when identified, articulated and communicated properly – can enhance economic value. To be sure, organizations aren’t examining their values solely out of a sense of altruism, community stewardship or to ‘feel good’ about themselves. Rather, this trend is emerging as a critical business strategy focused on boosting the bottom line.

In the second part of Cohesion‘s white paper series titled, ‘The Fall of Incrementalism,’ we discuss the resurgence of corporate values as a catalyst for simulating relevant value – the reason why customers buy. We examine how the practice of incrementalism can be a barrier to such forward thinking, unless harnessed properly. When executed in the framework of a broader strategy, incremental moves can be a positive force for change. When they are not, the results can range from disappointing to disastrous.

To read the full white paper: The Fall of Incrementalism (Rediscovering Relevant Value), please click here. To read the first part in this series, please click here.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

With Apologies To George Carlin (and the Earth).

In Advertising, Brand, Marketing, Positioning, Strategy on April 22, 2009 at 2:29 pm


Well, now I’ve really done it. According to one reader of The Idea, my point-of-view is both against the principles of George Carlin and the sustainability of the Earth.

Commenting on my post “Brands Are Dead. (Really?),” Ruth Ann Barrett has written what she labels, “a Call to Arms about why branding may be considered just another word for covering up.” The same comment, she says, is also, “an ode to advocacy, to Earth, and Earth Day.” Yes, to Earth. Ms. Barrett also writes at a blog called Digital Savvy and you can find the above comment republished in a post entitled, “The Tainted Language of Branding.”

In her post, Ms. Barrett says, “What I think is that brand and branding were used in the service of so many unsustainable products and services with too many disreputable companies across a wide range of unsustainable industries that it may be viewed as a cover-up as a noun and covering up as a verb.” She also says, “The language of brands is rife with what the late George Carlin called a soft language and said, “I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality.”

Where is this language of brands that so masks reality? And which word is hiding the truth? In my work and in the work of my firm, truth and reality are the critical components of a brand’s foundation. The essential pieces that make a brand ring true. Anything less is not a brand, but simply a hollow promise.

Strangely, Ms. Barrett also twists sustainability into her argument against brands. (I believe she’s confusing product packaging with brand.) Ms. Barrett, if you’re advocating fewer disposables and more durability, I’m on your side. But please, don’t use the term ‘brand’ to make your case. It doesn’t deserve it.

Ms. Barrett closes with a plug for Jonathan Salem Baskin (see my posts regarding his points of view, here, here and here) and a call to not use the ‘tainted language of branding’ to save the Earth. “I think Mr. Baskin is being provocative and challenging the status quo. He’s getting attention and challenging us to meet the historic opportunity (to shape and encourage consumer demand for sustainable products and lifestyles) and steer the conversation towards how we are going to do that and not use the tainted language of branding. Let’s jump on it. Our scientists are telling us we are running out of time.”

Ms. Barrett, I am sure you are a passionate person, driven toward your cause. But c’mon: Brands don’t create problems. People create problems. Like the people that simply use brands to make a quick buck. Or hide behind them to abuse power. Or in this case, try to abolish their very being because they don’t acknowledge how good and valuable they can still be. Ms. Barrett, don’t you see? The very things you fight for can be accomplished with smart brand thinking — not in spite of it. Why would you throw away the learning of a hundred years, instead of working to harness its strength?

Here’s another George Carlin quote: “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”

Rest in peace, George. And to my friend the Earth, on your special day, may your reign be a long and prosperous one.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

Brands Are Not Dead. (The readers speak.)

In Brand, Marketing, Positioning, Strategy on April 21, 2009 at 1:43 pm


We’ve had quite a spirited debate here during the past few days. If you are just joining this discussion, you may want to first read the two posts that sparked this dialog, “Brands Are Dead, (Really?)” and “Brands Are Dead. (Really?) Part 2.” While discussion on this topic is far from over, I did want to post an update on a few of the many comments I’ve received. (As reference, much of this conversation stems from the opposing view I have taken to Jonathan Salem Baskin, who wrote, “Branding Only Works On Cattle,” and argues in a recent post that “Brands Are Dead.”)

As your comments to my two earlier posts confirm, rumors of the demise of the brand have been greatly exaggerated.

“Brands are, of course, not dead,” comments John Bottom of the blog, Beyond. “They are useful labels to attach to otherwise apparently indistinguishable products and services. Most of us agree with Brian’s meaning; not many, I would suggest, side with Jonathan (Jonathan Salem Baskin). But then he is selling a book, whereas Brian is offering his excellent commentary for free. Perhaps that’s all you need to know.”

Writes Bret Kinsella, COO, “Brian has some great comments debunking the shock-literature of ‘Brands are Dead.’ The notion that branding is logos or tag lines or something that is unexplainable was discredited long ago. It is still about owning real estate in someone’s mind. Whether that real estate is well located or not is a question of the quality of branding efforts. It is important to influence that location and make the brand associations positive. Mr. Baskin needs to work on his real estate. He is on the wrong side of the tracks.”

And says Michael Kuhn, Communications Director, “I could have sworn that the new brand we created when we moved from an airline division (Air Canada Technical Services) to Aveos created a stir in the whole industry. Cattle you say? Not in the areospace industry I can assure you. Brand will continue to become the reason companies either succeed moderately or succeed phenomenally.”

In all, there have been 47 comments to these two posts–people have responded directly to The Idea, to its posting on several LinkedIn groups and to its inclusion on a number of other blogs and comment forums. All but three (3) have supported the point of view that brands are very much alive and well. As you may have expected, Mr. Baskin was a noted detractor.

But these ‘Brand Detractors’ exist for a reason. Brands have increasingly been the victim of undifferentiated positioning and shoddy advertising. They’ve been abused by senior managers who want their power, but refuse to invest in their future. They’ve been put at risk by those too inexperienced to leverage their real strengths, and worse, to manage their real weaknesses.

Brands have also suffered at the hands of charlatans. Yes, for every true brand expert, there are many more who aren’t. This doesn’t mean that brands aren’t important, or should be dismissed; it simply means that there are quite a few non-experts out there. You know: Ad agencies and design firms that slap ‘branding’ on their business cards to ride the wave. Authors and consultants that use ‘brand’ to their benefit, simply to make a buck.

No. It’s not time to call for the death of brands; but rather, to re-establish their true power. To look beyond the superficial era of ‘branding’ and into the intrinsic good that brands can provide: Where the experience of real value delivered creates a lasting pre-disposition based on the anticipated replication of that same positive experience. True brands help companies deliver consistent and sustainable value to grow their business. They also generate two-way trust that further bonds customers and producers. Consumers like true brands. So do smart companies.

The Idea welcomes additional comments from both supporters and detractors.

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.