Victoria’s Secret catalog goes online only. Adolescent males in mourning.

OK, now they’ve really done it! It was bad enough when Playboy magazine swore off running NUDE photos in their publication, but now Victoria’s Secret is discontinuing mailing out its iconic catalog, and will only direct market its compelling lingerie merchandise online . Oh sure, even though the company’s sales are good, the maneuver is touted as an expense saving tactic, and one that aligns more closely with today’s shopping behaviors.Elsa-Hosk-Victorias-Secret-Swim-2016-Cover-Catalog

Maybe that’s true for the great majority of their older, sorta “adult” customers who actually buy this stuff, but what about the young pubescent adolescents only beginning to form their own  brand recognition, and appreciation of the female form and lingerie draping of it?

No Cisco, I realize that 350 million hard copy catalogs and postage for 22 mailings a year can get a little pricey, BUT ….aside from what might be a negative impact on the Victoria’s Secret brand among their actual paying/shopping customers (see below):

In a research note entitled, “Every Guy’s Worst Nightmare,” Citi retail analysts estimated the company would save about $100 million by eliminating the catalogs, but worried the move would hurt sales “as the brand may be less top of mind with male and female customers long-term.”

What about the the little teenage and below boys that use the hard copy piece (excuse the unintentional play on words) for relief and practice behind closed doors in their rooms or bathrooms? You all know what I’m referring to.

imagesEveryone learns how to ride a bike somewhere, and sometimes it’s good to have training wheels.

Philip Roth’s 1969 novel, “Portnoy’s Complaint”, pulled the metaphorical shower curtain back on what little boys were doing in the bathroom or elsewhere with mom’s Sears catalog or dad’s stash of True Detective magazines or National Geographic’s latest coverage of topless Borneo natives. I’ll never forget the perfectly descriptive “bent over my flying fist” imagery from the book.

Well, with the arrival on the scene of Victoria’s Secret catalog in the 90’s, the “bent over” operation was ratcheted up several levels. Now, young males had breathtakingly beautiful women attired in stunning and dramatic costumes, posed in alluring (to say the least) poses. What was not to like?

The short answer was/is nothing. Nothing not to like. And something to mentally (and physically) “use.” But that’s all gone now. A mobile phone or tablet device is just not the same, and cannot be comfortably held on one’s lap while other procedures are being performed.

So I’m predicting that very young males love affair with Victoria’s Secret is going to suffer a bit. And, ultimately, along with less active connection to their lingerie offering, brand interest and connection may lessen.

So I hope VS’s management put that into their long term brand allegiance model. Yes, the world is going digital and mobile, but some things for some audiences were perhaps better served by nice glossy printed pages. We’ll see.neuman


Is Colorado’s Brand Becoming the “Stoner State”?


And, if so, is that a bad thing?

Colorado has completely legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults. Although Washington state has  done the same thing, Colorado seems to be getting all the national media attention. Coverage , on balance, looks to be positioning the state as the pathfinder  for what many believe will ultimately be marijuana legalization in almost all 50 states (nationally, 55% of US adults are said to favor legalization).

We’ll  see.

One of the attendant issues, and I believe one of the more interesting ones, is will Colorado’s action significantly alter perceptions of the “state brand” in the near and long term (or at least until a greater number of other states legalize). Said another way, what will be the effect on perceptions  by two distinct groups: 1)current state residents and officials and  2)those outside the state who may at some point relocate into it or interact with it in some way (e.g. governmental, law enforcement, financial, etc.). CONSIDERATION OF LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES GOES HERE.

First off, people who already live in Colorado, let’s call them the “Internals”, probably split relatively evenly between those for and against.Those FOR it probably see legalization as evidence of a favorable and progressive development, while those AGAINST see it as having a number of potential downsides, with some seeing it as just the first step to perdition. My sense of it is that this divide will pretty much wash out over time … so no harm, no foul.

The more perplexing state brand audience are those I’ll call “Externals”. These are people who might have (or can in the future have) varying connections to Colorado for business, recreation, relocation, etc., but they don’t live there. This audience will to a degree rely on their perceptions and what they’ve heard about the state, rather than a large base of empiric learning or research. These folk have recently been bombarded by media newscasts, late night comedian riffs, internet blogs, even advertising promotions for airlinesrestaurants, who knows what. My view is that national awareness of Colorado’s legalization action, while probably not over 30-35%, is surprisingly high (no intentional play on that word; forgive me).

Although myriad things can go into a state’s brand perception, Colorado’s has probably historically had one including, fresh air, mountains, ski resorts, and western independence.  Now, a new plank has been added to the platform upon which the Colorado brand rests….and that is something we could label the “the Liberal/Progressive choom gang”.

Once again, advocates for legalization may see this development as being what they think is representative of the state getting even better and leading the way in social progressivism.  On the other side will be those that see legalization as a huge step downward and one that makes the it less attractive to their company, its employees, their families and children.

Where the balance point comes out will not be known for a number of years, but it will be interesting, that’s for sure. Would love to do some baseline Awareness & Attitude research on this and then follow up three to four years later; but I’m not so we’ll just have to wait and ultimately … deduce…

What the hell is a “Brand Essence” and why do I need one?

NOTE: This is the second in a series of four posts, outlining my view as to what is involved in developing powerful, branded marketing communications. Post #1(October 17) below provided an overview. This Post #2 will explain the “what” and the “why” of the Brand Essence. It will be followed by two subsequent posts, presenting the Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P.) and Individual Sales Messages.

Sometimes when I talk to SME marketers and mention “Brand Essence,” they get a strange look on their faces. I can tell they don’t know what I’m talking about, but usually, out of politeness or, not wanting to seem ill-informed, they play along.

Oh, they may have heard of or know (think they do) something about a “U.S.P.” Other marketing communication terms that many times comes flying in from left field are “Positioning,” “Mindmap” and “Brandscape.” And recently in a meeting, an SME marketer sprung “U.B.A.” on me. I had never heard of it, nor had Google or Bing. Seems it’s an acronym for “Unique Buyer Acquisition,” or something along those lines. Of course, as we talked about it, it came out that it really is pretty close to “U.S.P.”, but in this person’s mind it was very different and “U.S.P.” was “old school.” I’ll explain a bit more about “U.S.P.” in a subsequent post, but right now let’s leave it that there is a lot of free-floating terminology out there in Branding World. No wonder some SME marketers are confused.

That’s why I’m going to explain “Brand Essence,” perhaps for the 10,000th time … that’s part of my expertise and my knowledge equity. I like to doing it and it should help some SME marketers reading this blog.


A “Brand Essence,” many times overlooked, is the required foundation for consistent, long term marketing communications with a competitive advantage. It must fully recognize the target audiences’ emotional underpinnings and how those emotional chords are tied to and interact with their more rational perspectives. Too many SME’s neglect doing this required emotional homework and go right to “making ads,”  focusing on their rational offers and rushing right behind that to visuals and type size.


But even before starting actual development a “Brand Essence,”  there needs be rigorous defining of the target audience. Who are these people? What drives their potential connection to our brand? How is it different from that connection to our competitors’ brands?

Once you’ve done your Target Audience work, it’s time for the “Brand Essence.” Remember, it is the foundation of all that will follow an amalgam of the brand’s rational and emotional components. From it will be drawn via the required “U.S.P.”, the selling messages and communication tactics ranging from TV commercials to Facebook pages to customer sales presentation and other materials.


I think the process for generating the “Brand Essence,” is relatively simple, but not easy. Some significant mind-work should be involved, combined with a decent measure of creativity and open minded willingness.

.And this is the point where I and my consultancy, SME Brand Leverage, come in. The process we use draws on my more than 40 years of building brands. We conduct a session that is both collaborative (the clients and I TOGETHER, no sitting on the sidelines, please) and dynamic (we share and interact for anywhere from a half to a full day …yes, there are bathroom breaks). Remember that after all, it is your brand…you have to help build it.

In this session we interrogate the brand, disassembling all its pieces from its rational  features (“28 flavors”, “guaranteed 24 hour delivery”) through how that benefits a customer (“wide variety of choices”, “last minute timing”)  to how that makes them feel (puts me in control,” “less worries about last minute order”). Then we re-assemble them all up into one “Brand Essence”, balancing them as appropriate. It is here that you can either decide ON JUDGMENT which one works best OR should market research be used to evaluate alternatives.

Of course, you still need a U.S.P. and sales messages. Preparing those will be covered in future posts, and will have to wait till next week.

Next week’s post: “The U.S.P. A most powerful business-building tool.”

New survey confirms power of “emotional” in brand loyalty … SME’s, YOU BETTER BE PAYING ATTENTION!

Brand Keys, a New York company that specializes in brand and customer-loyalty consulting, just released its 2012 edition of its top 100 “Loyalty Leaders” list.  The composition and rankings of this year’s list leaders reflects the continuous effects of the rapid pace of technological change and customer response to it.

“There are 21 brands in the top 100 for 2012 that did not appear in 2011,” said Robert Passikoff, Founder and President of Brand Keys, “including four of the brands in the top 10.” A copy of the report, which is the 16th from Brand Keys that ranks brands on customer loyalty, can be downloaded here.

Now, on a list of highest brand loyalty leaders, the composition and rankings can change, based on a variety of internal and external factors. However, one thing that remains constant is just what got them here (that is, on the list), and that is (drum roll please) the EMOTIONAL component of their brands. Or as Passikoff puts it, “Brand loyalty has always been primarily driven by emotional engagement … that connection is everything.”

 Now, Robert is a guy who ought to know, since he’s been conducting this particular brand loyalty measure for over 16 years, and of course doing a lot more a lot longer than just that. In fact, I was an associate of his at a major New York agency, more years ago than I’m sure either one of us would like to admit. I’m familiar with his work. As they say about a famous NBA basketball player, “He’s the real deal.”

Which brings me to what this means for all you SME’s out there. You have GOT to leverage the emotional sides of your brands to drive loyalty among your customers/audience. The EMOTIONAL component of your brands is critical, whether they are B2B or B2C, high or low tech, services or products, anything. It is what will get you brand loyalty, and that will get you:

  1. Repeat business.
  2. Pricing leverage.
  3. Favorable word of mouth.
  4. Forgiveness for your screw ups (sometimes).

OK, so what’s the plan for developing effective BRANDED MARKETING communications?

NOTE: This is the first in a series of four posts, outlining my view as to what is involved in developing powerful, branded marketing communications. Post #1 below provides an overview. It will be followed by three subsequent posts presenting the separate components: Brand Essence, Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P.) and Individual Sales Messages.

POST # 1 … Notice in the above headline it is BRANDED MARKETING communications; not “branded communications”, not “marketing communications”. The logic for that is that just a “branded” effort may well communicate a sense of the brand, but without the critical underpinnings of “marketing,” whatever it is you’re selling….you probably won’t. The other side of the same coin, just “marketing communications,” ties back to what this whole blog is all about and what I believe is missing in most SME communications efforts today…the branding connection (especially to some of the emotional components). I guess, arguably, a price list is a marketing communication, BUT … you get the picture.

So let’s explore what a SME needs to do to develop its effective branded marketing communications campaign.


Define your brand, its essence or soul if you will. This is a statement, reflecting an amalgam of rational and emotional aspects that will attract customers, make them comfortable with the brand and support their continued closeness to it. It is NOT a tagline, advertising claim, whatever. It is a statement that attempts to capture exactly what the brand is “all about.” It will be used as almost a template to insure that future derived communications are consonant (that’s the same as “in tune,” for those that had a problem with 9th grade English) with what the brand stands for. This statement or template is called the “Brand Essence”.


The U.S.P. is the most borrowed, incorrectly used and just plain abused advertising term ever developed. It was posited by Ted Bates agency Chairman Rosser Reeves in 1961. I’ll explain much more about it in forthcoming Post #3. Suffice it to say it is an encapsulation of the optimum selling idea; one that can differentiate the brand and attract people to it. It can be used as an advertising tagline or claim, but usually not. Its better use is to serve as a standard or if you will, a benchmark, against which all advertising executions, copy and even individual selling messages are reviewed to insure they are working as hard as possible and having maximum impact.

Distill Individual SALES MESSAGES

Now we’re down to the fun part and one where everyone from Marketing to Sales to Government Affairs can play. Depending on the objectives that branded marketing communications are meant to achieve (or, let’s admit it, even just influence), potentially hundreds of valid individual sales messages can be generated and used, when and where appropriate in the course of business. Most of these should be pretty much in line with the U.S.P. and Brand Essence, but there can be outliers that serve short term tactical needs. Look for more on this … how to generate them, how to prioritize them and more in coming Post #4.

Ok, so there you have it, just how you can generate powerful BRANDED MARKETING communications (remember now, that’s both “Branded” and “Marketing”). Stay tuned and I’ll explain more in detail for each of the three key areas. Who knows? Maybe someday I can help you in person. Just let me know…