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EIGHT Crucial Questions Aspiring Entrepreneurs Should Be Asking Prior to Launching

By James D. Roumeliotis

Image result for male and female entrepreneur

Potential entrepreneurs and inventors are individuals motivated primarily by the desire to create something new, the desire for autonomy, and financial independence who are equally convinced that their product or service idea possesses tremendous potential. However, without a structure in place and vital concerns to honestly deliberate, as well as confront, the prospective entrepreneur may be diving into an unfamiliar commitment prematurely.

Asking the right questions to prepare the road map ahead, along with predicting the worst-case scenarios, will place the aspiring businessperson in a superior proactive rather than in a totally capricious and reactive position.

As a serial entrepreneur stretching over 35 years and in three countries, I have developed a series of questions to asses prior to engaging in a new enterprise. The self-evaluation questions which should be addressed are as follows:

1)      Will my product or service idea be viable, and does it solve a problem?

  • Do an adequate/in-depth research of your target market(s) and your competition (if any).
  • Know your potential size of your target market(s).
  • Be familiar with your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Can you articulate
  • Establish a business model to identify the products or services the business will sell (whether B2C, B2B or both), and among other elements to ponder such as the target market it has identified, and the expenses it anticipates.
  • If what you are planning to offer is considered disruptive and will make people’s lives easier, than your chances of acceptance and sales will be significantly higher than the average existing competition.

2)      Do I have adequate funding to launch it and keep the business going?

  • There should be sufficient start-up funds, as well as funding available to keep the business active for cash-flow purposes, as well as to grow the company. Every type of business has different funding requirements.
  • Sources of funding are bootstrapping/own funds, debt (line of credit, credit cards, traditional and alternative bank loans) and/or equity (friends, family, potential investors, etc.)

3)      Do I possess the characteristics required to deal with entrepreneurial            hardships?

  • An effective businessperson has an inquiring mind and should never stop learning. Familiarize himself or herself with the barriers and challenges an entrepreneur is often confronted with.
  • Possess tenacity and able to think clearly. Intense emotions from pressure should be restrained. Cool heads prevail and easier to undertake problems.
  • Organizational skills are critical along with an open mind and fiscal discipline.
  • Should not feel uneasy delegating tedious tasks (whether in-house or outsourced) and focusing on the core business operations.

4)      How much do I know about the industry I’m seeking to embark in?

A clear understanding of the business is imperative. The entrepreneur should be a perpetual student of the business and constantly seeking ways to innovate and improve oneself and the operations.

5)      Can I succinctly address all 4P’s of marketing (a.k.a “the marketing mix”) for the product(s) or service(s) I desire launching?

Every entrepreneur should be familiar with the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place & Promotion) and how each one applies to his or her product(s) or service(s).

6)      What are my financial projections (3 to 5 years)?

  • Achievable? Adequate? What about profit and cash flow?
  • Number of employees planning to hire (payroll costs), amount needed to spend on R&D, equipment, etc.

7)      What is my exit strategy?     

a) If things go awry.

An entrepreneur should know when to walk away if his or her business is floundering with little chance of turning it around. Perhaps sell it if someone else can salvage it. It is not a good idea to keep injecting good money after bad.

b) If the business is thriving in 5-7 years?

It may be a good time to pass on the reins to a capable family member, sell the shares to the partner(s), go public, or negotiate a buy-out from an established brand or competitor. If seeking funds from an Angel Investor or Venture Capital firm, this will need to be addressed.

8)   Do I have a circle of outside support such as a mentor/coach, attorney, accountant etc.?

A savvy businessperson surrounds himself or herself with mentors and knowledgeable advisors, who will nurture the executive to become a better and successful entrepreneur.

Ultimately

The aspiring businessperson should be honest with himself or herself of the challenges that lurk in launching and operating an enterprise — it is not all rosy and glory. Start-ups do not occur in theory. These questions, when answered wisely and truthfully, ensure the would-be entrepreneur does not get caught in a sensual dream that turns into a living nightmare.

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Preparing a Business Plan for its Applicable Audience: Bank, Investor or Other

By James D. Roumeliotis

Business Plan Image 2

Often, the initial task expected from an aspiring entrepreneur is to prepare a business plan. A comprehensive business plan, when concisely written, is a tool that conveys in detail the short and mid-term (1 to 5 years) goals and objectives comprising the projected sales strategies, the marketing, operational and financial plans. This document should include in-depth research conducted regarding the industry and the competition. Moreover, it describes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats/risks (known as a SWOT assessment) along with a financial analysis, and assumptions on growth. The average 25-50 page document also lays out a map of where your company will be and how it will get there – also known as the “vision.”

Pitch Deck vs Business Model vs Business Plan

A typical question normally asked is: which one comes first? It depends on which of the three is being requested. However, the pitch deck is generally sent early in the discussion. The business model is created for internal purposes and can be comprised within the business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) refers to the business model as “a company’s foundation and the business plan as its structure. The foundation, or business model, is the original idea for your business and a general description of how it functions. The structure, or business plan, elaborates on the details of your business idea.”

Artizan Fine Foods Pitch Deck Cover

A pitch deck is a presentation − a deck of between 10 to 20 pages slides that is shared to potential investors and/or used as a visual during a live presentation to either investors or other audiences. The pitch deck is an effective summary of the key items in the business plan and includes information about the business, who it serves and why, the size of the market, the unique selling proposition (USP) and how the business will win in that space. It also lays-out the details about what the entrepreneur intends on doing with the funds sought from an investor.

The pitch deck is created in a Microsoft Powerpoint format and converted to PDF prior to being sent-out via email.

Business Model Canvas Explanation

The business model, more specifically, a Business Model Canvas is a company’s plan for making a profit − a design for the successful operation of a business. It’s how you create value/make money while delivering products or services to your customers.  It’s in a form of a visual chart with nine building blocks describing, among other elements, a business’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers and finances. It can be used to understand your own business model or that of a competitor. The business model canvas was created by Alexander Osterwalder, of Strategyzer.

Business Plan Content - Sections - Image

The business plan is a non-static document (usually in MS WORD and sent in a PDF format) which describes in detail, what the business does, and how it’s going to achieve its goals and objectives. It also incorporates the business model, the financial projections, and all other details about customer interaction/engagement, customer service, operations including management capabilities.

The business plan is first and foremost used by a business as a reference guide and shared when requested by the bank for a possible loan and/or funding considered by the potential investor.

What a banker or private lender seeks

For debt financing, which is either provided by a bank or an alternative loan source, the business plan should contain a convincing reason why the money is needed and how it is going to be used in the business. Being the least risk adverse, as compared to an equity investor, a money lender’s main concern is the possibility of a business failure/bankruptcy. Its main focus is on the ability to make the loan payments and eventually repay the entire loan. As such, much emphasis is on the cash-flow analysis. Likewise, bankers are interested in the business background of the management team. The marketing plan provides information on how the business plans to cope with competition.

A lender’s additional information sought is other sources of finance the business presently has in its books along with a list of potential collateral which the bank can have readily access to (business and personal assets), in case the business is unable to repay the loan. Likewise, the borrower’s financial track record is carefully evaluated.

What an investor seeks

When writing a business plan specifically to raise capital to fund a new business or take an existing company to the next growth stage, an Investor — whether an angel investor, private equity or venture capital, seeks certain vital information and requirements. The business plan should include a detailed use of funds, a descriptive growth strategy, a list and profile of the competent management team, and credible, reasonable yet ambitious financial projections. An Investor will also look for a unique competitive advantage that enables the business to be more effective than its competitors, as well as whether the business will be making a profit and how long it may take to do so.  The business plan should also state an exit strategy since the investor needs to know how quickly he or she will achieve any gains on his or her investment.

Other specific uses of a business plan

Immigration officials (referring to U.S. & Canada) require those applying for an Entrepreneur or Investor visa to submit a business plan which states that the proposed business has the potential to create the required number of jobs (economic benefits for the country) to qualify him or her for business related immigration visa. Furthermore, the business is being invested meets the monetary requirements and is irrevocably committed (wire transfers, cancelled money orders etc.), an itemized list of goods and materials purchased for the start-up, as well as the lease agreement. The source of funds must be stated, as well as convincing information on the ability to develop and operate the business.

A Government agency may request the business plan to issue a grant. One of the components that simply must be present in the plan is to show that, as the business owner, you are investing your own money. The bureaucrat wants to know that there will be skin in the game. Additionally, what needs to be in the business plan to increase the chances of receiving a grant is how much money is sought, how the funds will be used  and how soon required (perhaps include a timeline). The plan must be written in a form which takes into account the economic benefits for a legitimate and viable business.

A Strategic Business Plan differs from other business plans as it exclusively centers around on the company’s vision and places emphasis on a particular objective. For example, to focus on a particular niche in the marketplace. What would follow is to makes sales, marketing and customer strategy more effective.

What follows is an ideal description and comparison, from the BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada), between the Business Plan and Strategic Plan.

Business Plan. Strategic plan. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, but there are also some crucial differences you should understand.

A business plan answers “what do I want to do?” questions. It includes your company’s organizational structure, marketing plan and financial projections. Its purpose is to define where you want to take your business. It’s often the founding document of a new business.

A strategic plan, on the other hand, answers “how will I do it?” questions. It includes a detailed action plan for the next few years to achieve your company’s goals.

Both should include a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and be reviewed regularly so that they’re up to date.

In the final analysis

In essence, the business plan is a document not solely for the entrepreneur to spell out strategy and to implement it. Its purpose is also to make a pitch to a banker, potential investor, and prospective partner, or for other (rare) purposes such as immigration. As such, the information should be tailored to what is sought by the specific reader. It ought to provide clarity of thought and purpose, by clarifying strategy, introduce the Business Model, the company, its “raison d’être”, as well as the management team.  It attempts to persuade investors in raising funds, as well as honestly highlighting risks and challenges. The business plan serves as an entry point for further discussions. Besides the management team and its competencies, banks are concerned that their loan gets repaid at a defined point in time so they place emphasis on the projected cash flow statement. An equity investor prefers a business plan which is realistic yet ambitious, their focus being on growth, a return which will yield at least a 10x return on their investment along with an exit strategy in approximately five to seven years.

Key Elements of a Business Plan:

  • Explain the business model in simple terms;
  • Fit the plan to the company;
  • Be credible and informative;
  • Demonstration of knowledge of the market and competitors;
  • Stressing the risks and steps to overcome the risks;
  • Using clear and concise language.

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I deliver comprehensive Strategic Business Plans, Market & Industry Analysis, Marketing Strategies, and Business Models that get your business going and growing. Quick turnaround time and assistance with executing plan (optional). Contact me here.

In addition, I offer alternative working capital (minimum $5000 and six months in business)  based on your cash flow and receivables…not your personal credit score. Upon approval, funds deposited within 48 hours. You may fill-out this online form: https://armanikhoury.typeform.com/to/OBrv5r

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Superior Customer Service: An Investment with Ample Return

By James D. Roumeliotis

Screaming child image

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Much is touted by companies about customer satisfaction but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. Prominent brands are not immune either. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy and strategy. Inadequate staff training and stifling policies, amongst other factors, further aggravate the problem.  The frontline customer service, staff entrusted with and consented to solving various customer irks and issues, lack the empowerment to use critical thinking and initiative to offer satisfactory results – rather, the results are disappointing.

Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. Moreover, people love to hate the phone tree where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. This is totally unacceptable!

The executives who are in charge of finance and operations respectively (consider the CFO, COO including the leader of the pack, the CEO) consider customer service as an expensive, time-consuming obligation. Those leaders – most notably in public companies are under pressure to cut costs with the intention of delivering quarterly results for their shareholders.

Consequently, they will measure the calls answered per minute – regardless of the outcome. In contrast, a customer focused executive will reward those who take their time to listen, engage and solve customer issues.

The customer centric organization: solving issues before they occur

“Customer Service” is the set of behaviours which an organization undertakes during its interaction with its customers and how customers perceive the behaviours.

Going above and beyond customer expectations is focusing on customer centricity. This entails being proactive rather than reactive. It begins by developing, implementing and continuously delivering a total positive customer experience at every touch point and beyond. The costs and benefits of this practice are equally beneficial for the customers and the business. A University of Michigan study revealed that companies which received high scores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) consistently outperform the S&P 500. Those companies include Walt Disney and Amazon, amongst others. Those are most certainly organizations that focus on quality over quantity and measure what truly make them remarkable.

The after sales service department should be designed with an efficient infrastructure in place so as to make the entire experience an effortless task for both the customers and employees who are assigned with the responsibility. It should be easy for the client to reach a customer service agent and/or online agent to chat with. Moreover, the client should not have to be placed on hold for more than 5 minutes. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, there should be an option to offer a simple way to be called back. The organization’s mindset should be to constantly think of ways to release tensions and give solutions to the client promptly.

Since many of the inbound calls normally concern frequently asked questions, why not have them prominently displayed on the website and/or printed on the product insert. Having them recorded as an option on your phone line, in a clear English voice (and second or even third most popular language relevant to the region’s business demographics), can eliminate unnecessary calls and waiting times with a live person.

Staff tasked with customer service should:

  • Possess a positive attitude under duress;
  • Be initially trained and occasionally re-trained,
  • Treated with respect, and
  • Be empowered to make timely customer satisfaction decisions on their own.

There is no better example to illustrate this than online shoe retailer Zappos.  What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
– 24/7 1-800 number on every page
– Free shipping
– Free return shipping
– 365-day return policy

What customers will experience:
– Fast, accurate fulfillment
– Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
– Creating a “WOW” factor
– Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
– Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites

What’s done behind the scenes?
– No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
– The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
– Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
– Five weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
– A Culture Book
– Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

Empathy, strategy, training and empowerment

Any business, regardless of industry, should be concerned about keeping customers content. It is their fundamental responsibility to retain them. Rather than treat them as a cost, the customers should be treated as an asset as it costs more to attract a new customer than to keep them loyal.  Think about it! A customer who feels snubbed and disrespected, may take his or her business elsewhere, receive a better experience and never return. What would be the ultimate cost of this outcome?

Four nouns applied can make a difference.

Empathy: This takes into account a focal job in making a palatable client experience by exercising genuine sympathy to the needs and concerns of the client, front and center.

Strategy: A plan is a start in defining the standards of service and customer care that is offered to customers and sets the requirements for meeting those standards.

Training: It is the act of educating employees what “customer service” means, the standards it comprises and how to offer a confrontational-free customer support and satisfaction. It is a process which comprises of teaching the competencies, necessary skills, and tools required to better serve customers so they derive more value from products and services which create the positive customer experience.

Empowerment: This means giving your front-line staff the proper training, tools and encouragement to use their instinct and critical thinking skills to do the right thing for customers without much delay. This entails not waiting for management to give approval. For example, the the Ritz-Carlton Hotel group, the gold standard in hospitality service empowers its employees to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems without asking for a manager.

Customer centricity should be everyone’s job in an organization. It’s to be embedded in the internal culture. It begins with the top leadership and permeates through the entire organization. Implementation of new and refined strategies and tactics equate to daily and long-term success in building profitable customer relationships. Been helpful with your customers, even if there’s no immediate profit in it, is simply a good business practice with pragmatic thinking for the long-haul.

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Starting a Business is a Relentless Mission: The Pitfalls of an Entrepreneur

By James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman Taking the Plunge

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Starting a business, most notably for first timers, whether as a sole proprietor/solo-preneur, in a partnership or purchasing a system called a “franchise”, appears to be something many aspire to do. You can’t blame them since they equate this undertaking to creative freedom and profit with no ceiling together with a lifestyle unmatched compared to working for someone else. However, the same number of prospective entrepreneurs may be blindsided by the undertakings required launching a business, let alone operating it successfully.

Drawbacks of launching an enterprise

Contrary to all the hype you read about the dream of starting a business which supposedly guarantees success, reality is quite the contrary. The odds are stacked against the average new entrepreneur (and seasoned ones with a reduced chance of failure due to prior experience). Ahead of embarking on the entrepreneurial path, factors to seriously consider are as follows:

  • Risk exposure especially financial: Even with proper planning to reduce the level of risk, you can’t control the outcome especially if the circumstances are unforeseen. The capital injection which any type of business requires, may not be adequate but also totally at risk. Beyond this, entrepreneurs need to consider the risk from employee disagreements, product liability, and regulatory requirements among other issues. Obtaining financing is also a challenge as banks require some revenue history and guarantees from the owner(s). Personal credit cards, savings, investments, as well as from family and friends are usually the only means of securing funding for a start-up. Borrowing against personal assets, such as a home creates risking the equity in one’s home. This is a financial commitment not all entrepreneurs are willing to make.
  • Uncertainty: Although the business may be successful at the start, external factors such as competition, downturns in the economy, or shifts in consumer demand may impede businesses growth. No amount of pre-planning can anticipate or control such external factors. Profits are not a guarantee during the initial two years either.
  • Time commitment and patience. When launching a business, chances are most, if not all tasks will be performed by the entrepreneur. Responsibilities include everything from purchasing to expenses, marketing activities, customer issues, equipment breakdowns and banking. This would entail working more than the typical 40 hours normally performed when working as an employee for someone else.  This time commitment can place a burden on family and friends and add to the stress of launching a new business venture. Moreover, the business may not be able to support a salary during the initial few months or longer.

Image result for disadvantages of starting a business

In addition, if you decide to take on a partner or two, be prepared to live with the consequences. It is a “business” marriage. In fact, you will be spending more time with this person than with your significant other. Do a thorough due diligence and make certain of the three most important factors.

  • Is he or she should be financially sound? No exceptions, otherwise, it may create issues moving forward including you having to foot the bill for the business’s financial obligations and possibly any future capital injections required.
  • That he or she is not carrying baggage: Make sure they have a good reputation. Not bringing along any legal or financial obligations (such as a bankruptcy or owe a significant amount of money to any parties).
  • Bring value-add such as a talent, strength that will make a vital contribution and compliment the work you do. You can’t possibly be good at doing everything. Ideally, each partner should contribute on an equal footing.
  • When you feel comfortable bringing the chosen partner onboard, do not waste any precious time drafting a legal partnership agreement/ (a shareholder’s agreement in a corporate structure). That is your partnership insurance policy – your business prenuptial agreement of sorts.

Why businesses fail?

New businesses, regardless of industry, have the odds stacked against when it comes to survival rates. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), “About half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more. As one would expect, the probability of survival increases with a firm’s age.Those survival rates have remained constant over time. That’s why it’s so important to understand how and where things go wrong—such information offers valuable lessons on what to avoid. There are many reasons, perhaps a combination of two or more. The following charts depict the main causes of small business start-up failure. Both, under-funded or well funded business have their reasons for failure – neither is immuned.

Business_Model_Fail_1

Business_Model_Fail_4

In the end

The advantages of staring a business are freedom, personal satisfaction and financial rewards. However, the downside is risking your funds and money obtained from other sources, the possibility that the business can fail, handling many roles with full responsibility, dealing with challenges head-on, and less quality time to spend with family and friends. With limited resources at your disposal, all these factors create stress not necessarily dealt with as an employee.

From the moment you have made the decision to go all in and plant for your start-up launch and throughout your daily operations, your full-time committed is crucial if you seek the desired results. If you fail because of internal factors alone, you have no one else to blame but yourself. At worst you will have given yourself the opportunity to test yourself as an entrepreneur and learned from that experience. Better yet, learn from other entrepreneurs’ mistakes. At the end of the day, “Failure is knowledge, knowledge is success.” – Tim Gibson

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Business Vitality presentation: Preventing adversities before they occur

Business Vitality Presentation

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Unconscious Corporate Leadership: Short-term results-oriented mindset and strategy with negative consequences

By James D. Roumeliotis

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When you are the top executive of a corporation, you are supposedly quite conscious of your business activities. You are also the chief strategic planner and implementer. The path you take the company through can be one the consumer and public in large will either admire and respect or despise and hold in contempt. Good news! A business can do good for the consumer and the ecological footprint while growing the business and increasing profits methodically. A savvy businessperson and executive know how to do this. A disgraceful and incompetent one either has no clue, does not care, or both.

Small to medium sized businesses owned by a person or a family, often since decades, keep seriously in consideration their business and its reputation as their personal honor. They think long term. Unfortunately, at many big companies, such as publicly traded automobile manufacturers, emphasis is mainly on satisfying shareholders through quarterly share prices…whether organically or artificially. Most of the time it’s the latter growth. That’s tremendous pressure on everyone at the helm.

Despicable companies: Prime examples that make you cringe

  • The Boeing brand reputation bruise following its sprint to launch the 737 Max 8 & 9 commercial passenger jets despite its safety and design flaws.

Following two air fatalities in a short period of time along with constant denials and lack of responsibility by Boeing,  the aircraft manufacturer with pedigree finally admitted its shortcomings of its newest passenger jet.  The company should have known better. They rushed to launch the 737 Max due to competitive pressures. Armchair public people think it was a software problem. It was beyond that. It is a structural problem that affects flight dynamics. Both the center of gravity and the mass moment of inertia (in engineering lingo) are too far forward. This causes the nose to dive. The MCAS is just a make-shift for the problem. A single reliable measurement and display of Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor rather than typically two was an additional negligence on the part of the design. Last but not least, the lack of training and written Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) instructions, along with an unproven useless hazardous algorithm, compounded the risks.

This pragmatic author’s take on this one is; Boycott this jet indefinitely. First and foremost for your safety and second, to make a bold statement that the way the whole matter was handled is despicable for the brand whose paramount responsibility is passenger and crew safety.

Unfortunately, many organizations fall victim to ineptness that Boeing did.

  • Why do you think a company which hires and contracts missionaries changed its name from Blackwater to XE, and then Academi? According to source Wikipedia, “Academi is an American private military company founded in 1997 by former Navy SEAL officer Erik Prince as Blackwater, renamed as Xe Services in 2009 and now known as Academi since 2011 after the company was acquired by a group of private investors. The company received widespread notoriety in 2007, when a group of its employees were convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad for which four guards were convicted in a U.S. court.” Quite the business to aspire to operating. Imagine the amount of exposure to liabilities. How well does Erik Prince, its founder and strategist sleep at night? Not caring a whit as long as he is increasing his wealth, that’s what matters to a sociopath.
  • Monsanto, the company everyone loves to hate (except for its enablers). For some decades, the crop chemical company produced and profited from the chemicals that caused destruction, wiping out millions of species by spreading poisonous agrichemicals, destroying our fragile ecosystems, poisoning our soils and entire web of life, undermining every aspect of our lives for financial profit. It also made users vulnerable to the lethal cancerous ingredients. Monsanto is better known as the company which introduced the GMO on your plate, as well as for the popular weed killer herbicide The Monsanto Bayer merger is a great brand strategy for Monsanto. Destructive conglomerates marry each other. However, “Bayer [does] significantly better public-relations work than Monsanto, but that’s it,” contends Antonius Michelmann, CEO of the Coalition against BAYER-Dangers. “Both, Monsanto and Bayer are poisoning and immediately endangering animals, plants and human life. Both care just about profits and nothing else.” Much said!
  • Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the drug giant, known for its baby products, was accused of deceptive marketing conspiracy, by the State of Oklahoma, to drive up sales of its powerful opioid Duragesic painkillers. The state is claiming that J&J worked to aggressively promote opioids to people who did not need the drugs so as to compete with Purdue Pharma. J&J deliberately ignored warnings about addiction and death.

According to Anti-Media, a non-partisan, anti-establishment news publisher and crowd-curated media aggregator, compiled a list with the 10 worst food companies, with genetically modified faux food. The top five (quoted from the source) are:

#1 ConAgra: Their family of brands include Hunt’s, Marie Callender’s, Orville Redenbacher and many others. The compony was found guilty of “health code violations and bacterial contaminations at its food processing facilities, which have endangered consumers and in some cases been linked to deaths.” They’ve also concealed the use of GMOs in their products and practice unethical factory-farm sourcing.

#2 General Mills: Trisodium Phosphate (also known as TSP) is an additive and flavor enhancer found in thousands of frozen and processed foods, including kids’ cereals. It also happens to be an ingredient that was used in industrial cleaners

#3 Kraft Foods: Their Mac N’ Cheese has a golden looking tone to it thanks to  the artificial coloring agent Yellow No. 6 which it uses. However, it has been linked to hyperactivity, asthma, skin conditions and unsurprisingly even cancer. In 2013, following intense pressure, the toxic food company finally removed the artificial coloring. Kraft also hides the presence of GMOs in their foods

#4 Heinz: It merged with Kraft Foods in 2013 (bought by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and the private equity firm 3G Capital). Both brands instantly became partners in food crime for the sake of cost cutting and higher profits yet at the health detriment of their customers at the kitchen table. What Brazilian 3G Capital has purchased (past and present), it turned into disasters with its aggressive at-any-cost cutting. Speaks volumes of the people pulling the reins at the very top. It doesn’t take a psychotropic individual or anyone with an MBA to simply cost cut to increase profit. Anyone can do that. However, it take a contriver with humility and with a long-term view to increase sales and profit more cleverly.

#5 Campbell’s Soup Company: The brand has been sued for hiding the presence of GMOs and for labeling foods as low-sodium when they contain as much salt as regular products. The average cup of Campbell’s soup contains a staggering 850mg of sodium. Unless that’s your only major meal of the day, consuming it means you’re risking heart attacks, diabetes and high blood pressure. Just as importantly, if not more so, is the fact that for many decades, Campbell’s has lined its epoxy-resin cans with the toxic chemical, bisphenol A (BPA). “BPA has been linked in lab studies to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” according to Breastcancerfund.org. Only recently did the company finally bow to pressure and phase BPA out of its production.

Other repulsive processed food and beverage culprits on the list (in chronological order), which shouldn’t be raising any eyebrows, include Coca Cola, Nestlé, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo and Hershey’s.

The only method the above brands are responding to their sliding market share, revenues and much more is by utilizing their available cash to purchase health food and functional beverage young companies. These ships are too big to change course despite their plethora of resources.

Seems it is a prerequisite for success that an established food company ought to actively lie to their customers to retain and perhaps grow their business. That worked in the short term.

Here is something off the beaten path compared to the above businesses but with a huge eye sore in terms of their business practices. True story. An American tourist from NY, during his stay on a popular seaside oyster bar on the Greek island of Mykonos in May 2019, paid 836 Euros (about 938 USD) for Calamari (fried squid), a bottled waters, and a couple of beers. Following this outcome, the tourist trap had a slew of complaints and dreadful reviews on Tripadvisor.
Read at this link: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g659660-d129913…

However, the unmoved owner justified his reasons with audacity. The business will surely not remain open for much longer, thanks to short-sightedness. At this day and age…most notably due to the powerful influence of social media, this business practice will not survive for too long.

How to focus on conscious leadership

Typically, private and family remodeling business in various industries put their name on and behind the business. With privately held companies, they are in no pressure to dumb down the products to calm down investor impatience. Instead, companies such as British company Dyson with its dynamic team of engineers do what companies, private or public, should always be doing: innovating with practical new products and refining existing ones.

It is very common in popular culture to see business owners as greedy, selfish, revenues and profit at any cost with no regard for employees or customers. However, this usually applies to public companies who simply bow to their shareholder expectations. A business should be viewed as a sacred obligation to employees, customers, suppliers and everyone who is directly or indirectly impacted the business and its executives. The internal culture is one which ensures the customers are given superb value and great customer service, and by going to great lengths to ensure employees are well taken care of. In addition, treating all vendors, suppliers, service companies, etc. with respect. While our business directly impacts the lives of several hundred people it indirectly impacts the livelihood of several thousand. Therefore, it is critical that  high standards are maintained as the cost of negligence or failure is too high. Money can be earned doing things with conscience…it may take longer but the impact will remain positive and sustainable.

Sadly, the fabric of today’s corporate world is dominated by considerations on shareholder returns at the detriment to innovation, goodwill, reputation, customer service and quality products. The conscious captains of industries are the heroes. Few and far between.

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Brands and Social Media: Avoiding the Usual Blunders

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Branding should be the set of expectations and relationships, that as a sum, are on a consumer’s top of mind, which in turn choose one product or service over another. Therefore, to be clear, contrary to misleading beliefs, a brand is not merely the recognition of a logo, design or packaging.

Social media is, on the other hand, defined as “web-based communication tools that enable people to interact with each other by both sharing and consuming information.” In this digital age and with a plethora of wireless devices, businesses ought to be present online and interacting with its intended audience — if it is to build its brand, as well as grow its crowd of loyalists.

When the brand utilizes social media strategically and wisely, the results will yield a tremendous amount of sharing and community involvement. This requires a coordinated marketing effort on behalf of the brand which is intended to bolster information and sentiments about the product or service through at least one social media platform such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Most importantly, social media postings and campaigns should be well focused, have measurable outcomes and are directed at influencing their targeted audience to act and/or feel in a specific way.

Legacy brands vs Newcomer brands

Legacy brands such as in Mercedes, Gillette, Pepsi, Marriot have their disruptive “Newcomer” brands which compete in the same category such Tesla, Harry’s, Red Bull and Airbnb (among others) respectively.

Brand equity erosion is hitting the traditional as today’s consumers, especially the younger demographic such as the Millennials, are seeking practicality and functionality along with companies which share their values, offer some form of advocacy and interact genuinely with them.

Legacy brands communicate with consumers through traditional media, whereas the Newcomer and agile brands are more often discovered via social media and direct word of mouth. That is where most of their target audience spend their time and interact these days. This will most certainly remain that way for some time.

Purchase brands and digital brands

According to branding expert, Mark Bonchek, with some exceptions, the “Traditional brands are ‘Purchase’ brands and Digita’ brands are ‘usage’ brands.”  In his B2C study and article in “Branding Strategy Insider”, Mark states that “Purchase brands focus on the “moments of truth” that happen before the transaction, such as researching, shopping, and buying the product. By contrast, usage brands focus on the moments of truth that happen after the transaction, whether in delivery, service, education, or sharing.” He further states, “The benefits of shifting from purchase to usage are reinforced by our research. Survey respondents show more loyalty to usage brands. They had stronger advocacy in the form of spontaneous recommendations to others. And they showed a higher preference for usage brands over competitors, not just in making the purchase but in a willingness to pay a premium in price. On average, the usage brands were willing to pay a 7% premium, were 8% less likely to switch, and were more than twice as likely to make a spontaneous recommendation of the brand.”

Brands do not mean much unless the company serves a larger, holistic purpose for the environment, health, and other societal issues important to consumers. Thus, as a behemoth food processor in the age of healthier consumer offerings, Kraft-Heinz and many other such food giants will remain in strife, unless they change their ways in a timely manner.

The takeaway

Contemporary marketers are effective due to their evolving tactics which keep pace with societal and consumer changing demands. Newcomer brands and established ones, which are agile and savvy to progress, do not offer fluff in order to create value. They have the foresight and insight to know what to offer in terms of a product or service with value-add and how to best communicate it. This includes an effective narrative and a lifestyle around their offerings. In other words, more than just an appliance and/or a facility. Digital marketing is where all the marketing action lies at this day and age. Legacy brands, please take note. Either you focus on traditional marketing and branding tactics, whose effectiveness is dissipating, or evolve into a digital brand by switching your positioning on the lives of your customers.

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Sex and Sensuality in Advertising: Why it is effective and how to refine it

by James D. Roumeliotis

Gucci Guilty Sexy Ad

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Does sex really sell? It seems to sell but commercially, not morally. Sex in the media has been around as long as media itself ‒ though these days at more extreme levels (from subtle to overt).

They’re not quite selling a product but rather an expression of desire – a lifestyle that can be envisioned with the product or service. It attracts the male audience much more than the female as women are objects of sensual desire for men. It’s no wonder that most sultry ads portray bodacious females.

Marketing and branding via sultry imagery and insinuation

Sex is a primitive instinct which qualifies it as an attention-grabbing technique in the media domain. It’s no wonder a weapon of choice for marketers. Sex also transcends product categories ‒ whether it’s a consumer product such as Axe antiperspirant, a recreational pharmaceutical drug like Viagra or an exotic sports car.

Sexually explicit ads can be controversial and some offensive. They are also subject to socio-cultural climate. As long as they don’t get carried away to borderline pornography, but rather refined, preferably subliminal and certainly not violent or masochistic, the sultry ads can be considered playful and memorable. Their original intent is to create an emotional effect on the viewer. This way, the viewer develops a closer bond with the brand and consequently, stronger recognition. Some ads intentionally incorporate a humorous element which generates further interest for its intended audience.

Fragrance ads by some fashion designers are intentionally created to sell a sultry elixir in a bottle. To succeed and spark emotional purchase desire, its creators have raised the stakes by provoking the visual (as well as the olfactory) senses and causing the consumer to believe that he or she will feel erogenous and desirable with those he or she cares to attract. However, there are few controversial ads which have been banned as they seemingly pushed pop-culture buttons a notch too far.

The benefits of sex in advertising

Businesses have found that sexy ads are a great method for “word-of-mouth” and viral publicity. Their attention grabbing messages have the ability to cut through the clutter of ads and command considerably more views. The intended viewers, however, are mesmerized even as they are absorbing the ad’s underlying subliminal messages.

A case in point: In 2000, Heineken launched the “It’s All About the Beer” campaign. One spot, called “The Premature Pour,” shows an attractive and alluring woman pouring Heineken into a glass. As a result, a guy across the bar reacts by pouring his own beer but nervously pours it too quickly and spills foam all over the table, as well as on himself. The sexual content is tacit, yet blunt. The insinuation in this, and other spots in the campaign, yielded a successful outcome causing sales to rise 13% in the first two quarters following their airing.

Popular men’s magazines like Maxim have experimented often with their covers. By placing a spicy, semi-naked woman on the cover, male readership spikes and outstrips an image of any popular male star whom men can readily relate to.

At Montreal’s renowned steakhouse, Queue de Cheval (French for “horse’s tail”), its eccentric owner, Peter Morentzos ‒ who is known for pushing conventional advertising boundaries, came-up with the idea to host a “Food Porn” event for a charity event. The sold-out $250 per person event featured young hard-body waitresses in skimpy outfits along with shrimps hanging on them which resembled human trays. To promote it, he used the photo of a naked woman’s torso deemed too racy for print in the culinary magazine Gourmet.

What sexually overt ads should avoid

For sexually explicit ads to be effective, they should be created in good taste with respect to the following:

  • Provide a meaningful message through the images;
  • Avoid over-reliance on sex due to saturation as it may lose its intended impact;
  • Should not depict violence, aggression and/or masochism;
  • Shouldn’t be doing it with just any product merely to grab attention but with some relevance utilizing sexual ideas only.

If a brand is willing to risk taking a controversial position to gain attention amongst the crowded product landscape, it should not be excessively overt. It ought to target the brand’s specific market along with not offending its fans and best customers.

Marketers at times tend to step out of line ‒ though, today many consumers happen to be savvy and realize when they’re being manipulated by various media messages. The products touted in the ads may contain sensuous interplay but if they don’t stand-up to their promises and hype, those brands will disappoint and won’t be able to hold onto the customers for long. At the end of the day, the truth in advertising signifies the “trust” factor which is inherently crucial in attracting and retaining clients.

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The Cult Brand: Providing an exceptional experience to the point of total customer devotion

by James D. Roumeliotis

harley-brand-tattoo

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There are brands that tout their virtues of their products and/or services with a religious fervor. A “cult” brand is a product or service with a strong loyal customer following, whereby their clients are fanatical about their products or services to the point where their lifestyle revolves around those popular brands. This level of fanaticism also makes those devout followers unsolicited brand ambassadors.

Cult brand examples with customer aficionados include Apple, BMW, Porsche, Fox News, Lulumemon, Zappos, Oprah, Harley Davidson and Starbucks to name a few. As with Starbucks, it offers a superior product and experience that some people would go out of their way, by driving by less expensive alternative coffee shops, to pay for Starbucks’s pricier cup of coffee.

More than just a product or service, it is a lifestyle

Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone.

Call it “hype” or give it any other label, cult brands are a unique breed which create and are given plenty of attention. Their brand value is also much higher than their closest competitors. They have achieved a special connection with consumers through their distinctive appeal.

Unlike religious or similar type cult following, the cult brand is considered “benign” or a “benign cult” since it satisfies a need and desire in a positive and harmless manner. Some brand loyalists have gone as far as having their beloved brand tattooed on their body.

A brand is considered as a “cult” brand if the following aspects are present:

  1. Customers receive more than a product and/or service ─ they experience a lifestyle;
  2. Brand devotees firmly believe there are no substitutes for their beloved brand;
  3. Customers feel a sense of ownership with the brand;
  4. Loyalty is prolonged over time compared to brands which are considered fads and unsustainable in the long-term;
  5. An extraordinary degree of customer loyalty exists.

Ingredients of a cult brand: using psychology, identity and a sense of belonging

It is not enough for brands to spend plenty of money on glorified advertising. Any company with an adequate budget can do that. The essential challenge is to utilize an approach that makes people to want to embrace a product and/or service that people would enjoy making it part of their life, as well as identity and belonging.

Brand cult status is an emotional component of the brand but it is not as simple to achieve. As per The Cult Branding Company, a brand consultancy firm, there are seven rules of cult brands this author stands behind ─ and are as follows:

Rule #1 – Differentiate: To achieve a special connection with consumers, the brand should have a distinctive allure and be unconventional in a good sense.

Rule #2 – Be Courageous: Cult Brands are successful because they are unlike their competitors. They possess their own personality, DNA and rules. They are also passionate about their offerings and their customers for whom they exist in the first place.

Rule #3 – Promote a Lifestyle: The goal of a lifestyle brand is to get people to relate to one another through a “concept brand.” These brands successfully sell identity, image and status rather than merely a “product-service” in the traditional sense of the term.

Rule #4 – Listen to Your Customers: Focus on serving your customers’ desires by being customer-centric. Encourage feedback and utilize it as an opportunity to form ideas, and provide solutions that establish and retain loyalty.

Rule #5 – Support Customer Communities: Cult Brands build effective and sustainable relationships with their customers by developing and supporting a customer community which allows users, partners, and company employees to share information, answer questions, post problems, and discuss ideas about product enhancements and best practices in real time. Cult brands also gather their loyalists by organizing occasional social events to ignite additional enthusiasm for the brand.

Rule #6 – Be Open, Inviting and Inclusive: Cult Brands do not discriminate in terms of age, race or sexual preference. As such, everyone who believes in the brand’s mission is welcome.

Rule #7 – Promote Personal Freedom: For most, the Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs pyramid includes elements of self-esteem and self-actualization. As such, a well-regarded brand will express this as much by promoting freedom which is essential in expressing one’s own unique identity and worldview without fear of consequences.

brand-loyalty-2

In the end: Achieving the highest level of emotional connection via brand advocacy

Cult brands have a fanatical customer base. A culture is created around the brand based on consumers of a niche group. From there, the brand evangelists spread the message and enlist more followers.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless – even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

That said, innovative products, exceptional services, the total customer experience and the lifestyle which comes with being associated with the brand are what truly makes a cult brand exceptional from competing brands. The key objective is to create a relationship of trust. The world’s powerful brands establish trust and friendship with their customers. They develop emotional capital, and gain passion. This is what makes them great, thus “cult” brands.

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The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the wealthiest one percent

by James D. Roumeliotis

Luxury Couple - Private Jet

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Several years ago, I had the privilege of working on-board the 147m/482 ft Saudi Royal family yacht the “Prince Abdul Aziz.” It was a first-hand experience with the wealthy 1% and was quite an eye-opener.  A typical day with its owners consisted of shopping at Gucci, LV, Hermes and Bulgari when we made port regardless of location in the Western Mediterranean region. The 25K euro daily average shopping splurge prompted the support staff to purchase large suitcases or trunks to be used as temporary storage. Not surprisingly, given the situation among visiting VIPs and royalty, this was the norm.

Given my professional métier in luxury brand management, I realized that this target audience belonged to a category distinct from any other which are labelled as the One Percenters.

The frequent conspicuous consumption was considered a normal occurrence for the Royalty and its VIP guests as were the elaborate prepared meals devoured that would make the mainstream cringe.

Who on earth are the one percenters?

Along with Sheikhs and Princes, HNWI (High Net Worth Individuals) are considered, by luxury marketers, as the elite segment of the market. According to the Capgemini Wealth Management World’s Wealth Report 2018, it defines HNWIs as those who possess at least US$1 million in financial assets. On the other hand, there are the ultra-HNWIs or UHNWI as those who hold at least US$30 million in financial assets, with both excluding collectibles, consumables, consumer durables and primary residences. The report states that following a robust growth of 8.3% in 2010, the global population of HNWIs grew marginally by 0.8% to 11.0 million in 2011. Most of the growth can be attributed to HNWIs in the US$1 million to US $5 million wealth band that represent 90% of the global HNWI population. The top three countries, U.S, Japan and Germany, retained 53.3% of the total share of HNWIs

Clearly, One Percenters have different expectations and experiences than the rest of us. Here are just a few of this target audience’s distinguishing traits:

–       They are better educated;

–       Have traveled more (and continue to do so);

–       Own one or more successful business and/or inherited their wealth;

–       Possess investments mainly in real estate, stocks and bonds;

–       Are avid connoisseurs of the fine arts/cultural events and vintage/wines;

–       Own top quality merchandise: elaborate homes, exotic cars, bespoke attire, as well as seek services which cater to their discernment;

–       Have explored plenty more in their lives due to their significant disposable income/wealth.

In a recent American Affluence Research Center report, its founder and researcher, Ron Kurtz recommends that: “Luxury brands and luxury marketers should be focused on the wealthiest one percent because they are the least likely to be cutting back (during tough economic times) and are the most knowledgeable about the price points and brands that are true high-end luxury.”

What do the HNWIs and UHNWIs seek in their lifestyle?

According to the white paper, Strategies for Effectively Marketing to High Net Worth Consumers”, written by Richard Becker (August 2008), High Net Worth Individuals enjoy Golf, tennis and physical fitness ‒ endeavors typically associated with exclusive ‘members only’ clubs.

HNWIs/UHNWIs cherish their time and know what they want. Even time is a luxury and limited resource for them, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them. They can be generally described as:

– Seek a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Often require customized solutions to mirror their lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Take pleasure on getting extra attention from the brands they pursue;

– Prefer the uncommon to the mundane;
– Expect to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which they’re able and willing to pay;
– Aspire an aura of exclusivity;
– Crave an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seek products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance;
– Want to feel in command of their purchase decision without any pressure;

– Expect discretion and confidentiality – most notably from service providers such as private wealth institutions and concierge services amongst others.

Likewise, what they purchase is a visual extension of their individuality and lifestyle. A well-crafted product, for example, reflects an individual call to beauty.

The preeminent luxury brands remain top of mind with the HNWI/UHNWI

When the premium plumbing brand, The Kohler Company, introduced the ultimate toilet fit for the well-heeled, it developed a contemporary industrial design that would make Apple glow with envy. Numi, as the model was baptized, includes technology and engineering that is unconventional with most toilets as we know them. Its features include, amongst others, ambient lighting, a bidet, foot warmers, a seat warmer, music, lighting, and hands-free flushing – which are all controlled through a remote which, with a press of a button, also lifts and lowers the lid. All this can be had for a mere $6500.

Luxury purveyors who aspire to cater to the top tier of spenders should have a mission, vision and a sound implementation strategy to reach this elite demographic target ‒ short of simultaneously pursuing the aspirational consumers who are prone to cutting back when the economy takes a dive. This latter group of consumers dilutes the cachet of the brand and can turn out less profitable in the long run. Moreover, the HNWI/UHNWI frown upon offerings which are accessible to the mainstream as they desire status and exclusivity.

Products and services should be unique, well designed and packaged, finely crafted ‒ and executed with refinement for the elite. Those are ways to entice the interest of, and ultimately retain, the ultra-wealthy. Products and services should never appear as ordinary yet absolutely personal.

In the luxury sector, traditionally there hasn’t been any shortage of customization for the very well heeled. Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions, whereas, the ultra-luxury and exotic automobile sectors such as Rolls Royce and Ferrari respectively offer a wide array of customization options. Each vehicle coming out of the studio will be completely unique and guided by a personal designer at the manufacturers. This is how ‘the total customer experience’ materializes.

Some of the most prominent companies that cater to the 1% include:

LVMH Moët Hennessy ‒ Louis Vuitton S.A (French conglomerate that owns a legion of luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, TAG Heuer, and Dior cosmetics among many others and in various categories), Chanel, Hermes, PPR/Kering (owns controlling shares of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, among others), Richemont (owns the prestigious Alfred Dunhill, Cartier and Montblanc brands along with many others), Rolls Royce Motors, Bentley Motors, Bugatti Motors, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Goldman Sachs, Gulfstream, Sotheby’s, Bulgari, Tiffany & Co., and Harry Winston to name a few.

Luxury service brands follow a similar pattern. Consider American Express − most notably for its “by invitation only” Black/Centurion card. For hotels, worthwhile mentions are the Hotel Plaza Athenée, the Four Seasons (including its private jet tours), the Ritz Carlton, and boutique hotels Hotel du Cap and Hotel de Crillon to name a few prominent ones. They splurge and provide the perfect luxury experience with outstanding service, exclusivity, and pedigree.

How the luxury purveyors reach, cater and retain the 1%

Studies over the years have shown that the HNWIs/UHNWIs travel frequently and usually do so on a private jet. It’s also a fact that emerging markets from commodity rich countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, have a tremendous amount of new ultra wealthy citizens that can’t be ignored.

Reaching them is not easy. However, following are several approaches the prestigious luxury brands are utilizing.

–       Target them in their gathering places in major cities where most UHNWIs reside – London is such a prominent location;

–       Sponsor and/or advertise where the HNWI/UHNWI meet and play such as prestigious golf clubs, polo events etc. Rolex supports prestigious sporting and cultural events all over the world including tennis, the arts, golf tournaments and yachting.

–       Advertise in private jet terminals worldwide called Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) ‒ facilities that handle non-scheduled flights. One such opportunity is in Davos (Switzerland), towards the end of January, where the World Economic Forum is held. There are also magazines, such as “Privat Air” which are published specifically for private jet travelers. In 2012, there were over six million private jet flights. It is, undoubtedly, a targeted audience where one reaches the ultra-wealthy family together – which may be discussing a product or service you may be offering. Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet had several helipads with their logo located on Manhattan’s 34th Street.  The helipads included paintings of their watches which functioned as landing markers.

–       Meet and woo its discerning target customers at high profile industry shows and events. Burgess Yachts, for example, participates at the annual Super Yacht Show in Monaco which draws the well-heeled shopping for a multi-million dollar yacht.

–       Hone in cities where the ultra-wealthy normally visit for the finest luxury shopping experiences – mainly Milan, Paris and London with their shops on prestigious avenues;

–       Are promoters of good taste and the arts which is what the super-rich equally enjoy;

–       Make an effort to approach/communicate with influential members of entourages such as drivers, personal assistants, pilots and bodyguards;

–       Advertise and contribute content in prestigious lifestyle magazines which cater to the ultra-affluent including Amex’s ‘Departures’ magazine, ‘Worth’, ‘Elite Traveler’, ‘Monocle’ and ‘Burgess’ amongst others.

–       It goes without saying that successful brands have an online presence/visibility including a clean looking and engaging website, along with a carefully targeted social media existence to build long term online awareness, loyalty and value for the brand.

Along with what the prestigious brands are doing to attract the top spenders, consider creating an exclusive/”members only” online club/site. Moreover, if you’re offering products, boasting about artistic development by engaging with them and encouraging a visit to your atelier to witness your product being crafted. Videos should also be considered for viewing online.

Research where the wealthy neighborhoods are worldwide by using demographic data.  This information reveals everything from median income and age, educational levels and consumption statistics.  Demographic data also helps improve target marketing and advertising.

Sell a distinct lifestyle which is what discerning clients look for. Be in the forefront of creativity and have all your staff, regardless of department/responsibility, as your brand ambassadors.

Occasionally, organize exclusive “by invitation” events as a patron appreciation gesture. Being invited to an exclusive event makes one feel notable. For example, Italian sports automaker Maserati invited a select number of brand loyalists to a new experience in Europe that gave them the opportunity to sail on-board the 70 ft./21,3 m Maserati sailboat. In addition, they drove models in its current range including the new Maserati Gran Turismo Sport model.

Create/publish an upscale lifestyle magazine, every other month or quarter, which should include noteworthy information on the brand and the arts, as well as the causes it supports – in an environmentally friendly print format, along with a digital version. The Bentley motors magazine is a good case in point. The layout, choice of articles/stories and advertisers reflect the tastes of its existing and potential customers.

Helipad Ads - Luxury watches

Removing some of the guilt of ostentatiousness

Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR, along with sustainability issues, is a trend increasingly practiced in the luxury domain to send a message to their audience that they it cares. This is communicated through sponsorships, advertising, public relations, their websites and other media sources. The message conveyed is to enjoy guilt-free ostentatious purchases where part of the purchase price is donated to a worthwhile cause. Louis Vuitton uses celebrities in its advertising campaigns whose fee goes to charity.

Any business which is willing to get involved in social causes to impress its target market should make a genuine effort genuine, as sophisticated consumers can tell when it doesn’t come across as a genuine effort

Putting it all into perspective

In the United States, the top 1% possess 40% of the wealth; it owns half of all the stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

Fickle and discriminating, these customers’ purchasing attitudes are based on personal beliefs and taste for finer things in life along with discretion. They are quite selective, know what they want and aspire to be catered to effortlessly. They seek the total customer experience along with pampering, personalized service which can include fashion consultations and exotic journeys. Best of all, they are willing to pay top money for the products and services they want.

An offline strategy requires an equal online presence. This is accomplished by placing stunning imagery, video, engaging content and constant refinements along with savvy Internet marketing to connect the brand with luxury social channels. It’s connecting with its like-minded audience.

Think brand positioning and focus on, as well as cater solely to, your core market rather than be all things to all people. Stay out of the bottom end and aspirational markets and instead, aim at the top end markets.

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This Blog’s Top 10 Most Read Articles of 2018

The ten most read/popular articles in this blog have been rounded-up — this time for 2018.

Thank you for your readership and much success to you this year.

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1] The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

2] Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

3] Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

4] Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

5] The Luxury Brand Ranking and Consumer Accessibility Pyramid: What It Takes to Move Up

6] Sex and Sensuality in Advertising: Why it is effective and how to refine it

7] Genuine Luxury vs Accessible Luxury: Two Distinct Yet Opposing Categories

8] Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

9] Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

10] Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

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Exploiting The Benefits Of Niche Marketing: Strategic Marketing

By James D. Roumeliotis

Niche Marketing Image

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In strategic marketing “speak”, who earns more money: a general practitioner or a specialist physician such as an ophthalmologist? The latter has spent additional years studying with emphasis in one particular area of practice which makes him or her both scarce and sought after in his or her profession. The same goes for an organization that has spent years studying the market with emphasis on doing one thing, but one thing extremely well. This automatically justifies higher fees translating to improved earnings. How does a saddle maker to the horse and carriage trade reposition itself to maximize its know-how in leather goods to now command $4,500 for a simple briefcase? Or even hawk silk scarves at $400? Think Hermes.

The answer lies in specialization, craftsmanship, and branding. As with all other specialized professions, a business that, chooses to concentrate on a particular market segment should simply be generating higher revenues. Alternatively, if you join the herd of the mainstream, there is always a vast consumer audience to tap. Profit is driven by volumes. It is harder to compete on price to the point of being perceived as offering
a commodity with little or no differentiation — otherwise known as a “unique selling proposition” (USP). The only exception to that rule is when an enterprise keeps churning out innovative, “must have” items ahead of its competition. Yet that requires constant creativity, refinements, and a considerable amount of R&D. Apple is an example of a
firm that has managed to hit both objectives. Not bad for an enterprise, that started life in a garage.

Defining the term “Niche”
Strategically, niche marketing is the way to go forward. However, you ought to be on top of game. Recently, the firm Kusmi Tea has managed to put all the right elements together in an unbeatable combination. It personifies mass marketing and branding. If you have a specific group of people interested in “organic tea”, you have your proverbial niche.
Whether promoting niche products, in focused markets, such as those for vegans, cruises exclusively for “cougars and cubs” or geared for the ultra high net worth individuals, the activities applied to attract those refined target undoubtedly call for creative strategic thinking.

Targeted Audiences
The best way to start is to define your target audience. An 18-yearold girl who wants to lose weight to fit into her dress is interested in weight loss diets. Hit her at her waist line, and the target is captured with simplicity.

The family who just purchased a puppy wants it trained and therefore requires the appropriate service. Show you can make a dog shake, rattle, and roll and still act well-behaved in the company of others and you will no longer need to flog dog whistles.
Every notice how a 50-year-old lady wants to hide her wrinkles and is always searching for a miracle formula to make her wrinkles disappear in minutes? Open Vogue and see how this “class act” can be achieved. These cited groups above represent finely honed targeted audiences. Marketing to such audiences and building an emotional bridge from the intention to purchase decision always attracts higher conversions. You don’t need to recreate the wheel. All you need to do is to find a suitable product that your target audience is looking for and present it on a silver platter. All target audiences liked to be addressed with intimacy and personal contact.

Driving the Niche
Common sense tells you that driving a selected audience is efficient and lucrative.
The following key index shows how niche marketing should be your chosen business strategy:
1. When entering new niche market, generally you will not have much competition to deal with. This is justification alone for choosing a specific market in the first place. It also makes your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Internet marketing strategy
focused and cost effective.

2. Niche markets appeal to target customers, and they are generally much more willing to spend money when their specific needs are met. This means that by catering to a specific target market, you can generally earn a better profit margin.

3. Some niche markets contain sub-groups of the main niche. For example, acai berry weight loss pills or natural weight loss diets are sub niches from the weight loss niche. Despite their relatively small size, they are actually quite sought after. Identifying
this need spares you from having to compete for similar business. People who fit this profile will seriously consider your product — especially if it offers them a genuine solution.

4. Niche marketing makes it possible to focus on becoming a true expert within a particular realm while building a reputable brand name. Strategically, it is also more focused and easier to segment and attack.

The “Ideal” Niche Player
A niche market player is very effective at working closely with customers to build and maintain long term relationships by innovating and challenging the existing norms in the industry, thus adding value to the project, program, and organizational level. If one is considered an expert in what one does by focusing in one area, then great success will
follow. The value proposition must be relevant to the target market.

This means a target market must be clearly defined. Focusing on a specific market requires knowing it inside and out. This includes conducting a market analysis, stating a precise target market description and goal, as well as being clear about the type of relationship one would like to achieve with his/her market.

By definition, then, a business which focuses on a niche market is supplying a need for a product or service that is not being met by mainstream providers. As such, one can think of a niche market as a narrowly defined group of potential clients offering them the best of what you have. In return, their vendors will profit from higher margins and customer loyalty. As for targeting smaller “sub” niches, you will find them much easier to dominate.

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Brand Refresh: Re-branding Through a Meaningful Transformation

By James D. Roumeliotis

Rebrand Image

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When a brand reaches a stalemate, management is to blame for neglecting constant evolving market trends, competitive pressures and ignoring customer feedback. If sales turnout to be lackluster for several quarters, it may be time to consider a re-branding strategy and implementation. Investing and continuously reinvesting in a brand’s nuance will earn and retain consumer loyalty. However, it is not adequate to merely change the look of the logo through an image makeover. The promise it conveys must be delivered each and every time – irrespective if selling a product or service. The advice offered herein concerns a fatigued brand and its product(s). As for a damaged brand, due to a company crisis, it is a subject on its own not reviewed in this article.

Complacency breeds mediocrity

In business, as with any other endeavor, progress is an ongoing process. Nothing should be taken for granted. Undoubtedly, the most profitable and enduring companies achieve their longevity and lengthy track record of success by constantly reinventing themselves. Once a brand is launched, it requires constant nurturing if it is to remain relevant, as well as customer engaged. This includes seeing opportunities and acting upon them in a timely and focused manner. Moreover, being aware of making adjustments according to ever changing trends in the marketplace, as well as through customer feedback, is paramount. The tools in a company’s chest is marketing research which uncovers needed information for a thorough understanding of its target market including perceptions its customers have for the brand. As a result, its knowledge will be updated with regards to consumer preferences and expectations. Following this, a short-term and mid-term approach should be implemented.

Customer centric vs product centric

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished via “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

Building and sustaining a brand necessitates continuous enhancements by means of innovation and customer centricity. The marketplace is also evolving and the consumer is more savvy, thanks to the internet. Add to that competitive and price pressures. In addition, there is a massive shift in purchasing behavior of the younger target groups most notably the Millennials, who unlike their parents, are very particular in their tastes and purchasing habits. This is due in part to an expanding world of choices and options for just about everything they ever need or want. Thus, new market realities should be contemplated when re-establishing a brand.

Branding in essence is the heart and soul of the business. It sets a business’s products and/or services apart from the competition. This is particularly true in certain sectors where price is the only differentiator, though competing merely on price is a dead end game as your product falls into a commoditized category. The only firms which can win at this game are those in high volumes and low margins. Needless to say, it is much better to target a niche market, especially in the premium category, where there is less competition and margins are higher.

Examples of brands which overhauled their brand to a higher level, reflect on the following:

Hyundai: From dull automobiles and inferior quality they transformed to developing striking designs, improved quality and sold at attractive prices. Taking their brand one step further, they added a halo effect by creating a premium category, in Genesis to rival the well-established and pricier German competitors such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi models.

Apple: This strong brand began as a premium personal computer company with its first product, the Lisa, in the early 1980s. Much later, it introduced new and sought after categories in consumer electronics including the renowned iPhone. Fast forward to today, by hiring two former luxury domain senior executives and with the introduction of the Apple Watch, including an 18-Karat gold version (named Edition), the brand appears to be implementing a luxury strategy. Since perception and brand image is important in luxury distribution, Apple is considering opening separate stand-alone watch boutiques.

IBM: This brand went from computer manufacturing to IT consulting services. The company had to make a painful choice: innovate or die. It made the bold decision to abandon the core of its business model – selling low-margin personal computers, supercomputers and other computer hardware to a completely new focus – providing IT expertise and computing services to businesses. The business model revamp paid off. A few years in and IBM had acquired a significant number of companies in the IT services sector to dominate it with high margins.

To revamp a brand, consider carrying-out the following enhancements with purpose:

  • Add an element of sensuality and desire: Read article
  • Enhanced, appealing and easily recognizable identity: The logo, communication style, color scheme and any other visual elements of the company. Perception by its target market is key. Brand identity (company created and how it wants to be perceived) and brand image (what the consumers actually perceive) should be in sync.
  • Improved product and service: It is not simply adequate to reinvigorate a brand without refining the company’s products and services which should also make a positive difference. Read article
  • Compelling USP: The unique selling proposition should be meaningful and convincing if it is to be convey differentiation for the brand along with its products and services.
  • Storytelling: Brands build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. For example, luxury brands boast their pedigree.
  • Lifestyle brand: Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone. Read article
  • Prestige or premium category: Move away from a commoditized product to a prestige and premium category if you want to differentiate as well as charge a premium price which in turn improve margins. Doing so should justify the “prestige” and “premium” labels through high-quality workmanship and materials along with benefits which trump its competitors. Adding a story behind it increases justifies the price increase. The brand may also be considered “mass luxury” or “masstige” (“prestige for the masses” and defined as “premium but attainable” by the masses.). Lacoste apparel is a fitting example.
  • Social media and PR savvy: Engaging with your target audience – this is conducted through social media and requesting Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.
  • Make it fun and effortless to do business with you: Make each touch point a pleasant and graceful experience. Hire for attitude and train for high standard of customer services including thorough product knowledge and a no pressure consultative selling approach. Read article

To add to the above, it is imperative to include a management team and subordinates who buy into, as well as apply the above-mentioned elements.

Rebranding Image 2

Image is perception – repositioning time

A brand should be sensitive to its image and equally mindful about what its perceived strengths and weaknesses are as compared to its competition. A SWOT analysis helps uncover these.

There are a good number of factors to recognize in regards to what can erode a brand. According to The Blake Project’s Brand Strategy Insider newsletter, an article entitled “60 Signs Your Brand is Dying”, it describes: “What kills a brand, more often than not, is what it lacks rather than what it does: conviction; energy; value; humility; cash; discipline; imagination; focus…” along with a list of 60 reasons a brand is dying. We witness this with the downfall of the Blackberry brand of smartphones. The executives at the company were so arrogant, that they did not initially see yet later ignored the disruption Apple and the now ubiquitous Android platform would bring to the smartphone market. As a result of Blackberry’s lack of a long-term strategy to outmanoeuvre its competitors, it hastily introduced new products which still left the brand two steps behind Apple and Google with its licensed Android.

The takeaway

The brand is the personality, as well as an (intangible) asset of the business since it possesses equity which in turn is its value and goodwill from a consumer perspective. The more valuable it is, the more can be charged for the product and/or service. The foundation of the brand is/are its product(s) and/or service(s), followed by the total customer experience ‒ which includes customer service. Thus, building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings.

A brand ought to undergo rejuvenation and in some cases, a fundamental change if it is to be relevant with its intended audience. To do so requires a systematic understanding of its typical customer profile, its wants, desires and the changing marketplace. This is done through a market analysis – the results of which will be taken in consideration for a new/updated and creative strategy with efficient implementation. If the brand has become stale, which is usually revealed through a steady decline in sales and discouraging customer feedback, it is a strong indication that its products and/or sales ought to be improved and re-launched.

In the end, can you frankly answer the following?

– What do you aspire your brand to stand and be relevant in the mind of your target market?

– What is your unique selling proposition?

– What is your raison d’etre? (Watch this immensely popular TED video by Simon Sinek)

– Are you admired?

– What are you doing to align your goals, objectives and to remain a compelling brand in your market?

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The Authentic Brand: A Precious Asset Developed Through Transparency, Customer Experience and Ultimately, Loyalty

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Honest by ad. A pioneering company launched in January 2012. The company is unique in communicating about the supply chain of its products and pricing.

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Trust is a hard thing to come by these days whether between people or between people and brands. When the founders of a start-up build a brand from the ground-up or the executives of an established one are in modus operandi mode, taking a cautious approach to their brand image, in both scenarios, ought to be part of growing and preserving the business with a constant eye on the future.

Sadly, nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is advertising, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. With some brands, it is the tiny print in disclosure statements which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. The majority of consumers do not read small footnotes. Think of the worst offenders of this practice: the cellular phone/telecommunication providers, insurance companies, credit card providers, as well as the automobile manufacturer promotional offers and pharmaceutical advertisements – to name a few.

Deception concealed as sincerity: How to chip away at your brand

The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster.

In the 2018 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient®, published the reputations of the 100 most visible companies among the U.S. general public. What appears on the top five, among other notable brands as consumers perceive them, are Wegmans Food Markets, Amazon, Samsung, Costco and Johnson & Johnson respectively.

Consumers have high and explicit expectations from brands, thus anticipate what the brand promises via its marketing material and/or what is stated on the product packaging. What a brand actually delivers and how it behaves in the process is what consumers get to feel.

A brand which utilizes short-term sales and marketing tactics for quick short-term gain fails financially in the long-term by acting in an ethical way. As marketing maven Seth Godin rightfully proclaims, “In virtually every industry, the most trusted brand is the most profitable.” As with our personal lives, trust with branding is based on what one does, not what one says.

Boosting sales and market share via misleading and deceptive tactics

According to a 2018 Harris Poll, regarding the most and least trusted industries, Banks represented 4 of the top 8 companies by trust rating this year, with Supermarkets adding in another two of the top 8. The remaining companies in the top 8 were in the Credit Cards and Insurance industry, such that Supermarkets and Financial Services companies took all of the top 8 spots.

By contrast, TV and Internet Service Providers occupied each of the bottom 4 positions in the rankings, and 7 of the bottom 11 overall.

The food processing domain is no more honest with labels that claim to be healthy but without support with any concrete scientific facts. Food companies tout their devious label claims of organic, nutritious etc. – although an absurd amount of sugar and/or sodium is present in the ingredients along with unnatural artificial ingredients). Kelloggs even went as far as having to be ordered, by the courts, to discontinue all Rice Krispies dubious advertising which claimed to boost a child’s immunity system.

Then there is the “premium” orange juice from popular brands such as Tropicana, Simply Orange and others which are highly processed, and usually stored for several months before reaching consumers at the supermarket fridge aisles. This processing method is used to retain the juice from spoiling. However, during that process, it also strips the flavour which is injected back into the product, once it finally gets packaged, to give the juice its original orange flavour. Not surprisingly, the orange juice producers do not make any reference to this anywhere.

Informative and authentic eye-opener documentaries such as Food Inc. and Tapped have upped the ante in terms of the exposure shared with the public to what is wrong with the food processing/food chain and water bottling sectors respectively. Moreover, the GMO debate with the exceptionally well-connected and deep pocketed Monsanto (the St. Louis-based biotech giant and world’s biggest seed seller) will not be going away any time soon.

Other industries notorious for deceit are banks and cellphone/telecommunication companies with their hidden fees. These blatant revenue generators are sales at any cost – short-term gains, of course. These companies guilty of gouging seem to be testing the limits with consumers – as if the latter are ignorant. Those absurd fees evidently enrage the culprits’ customers.

Employees reflect the brand

First and foremost, trust begins with company employees. If they are well trained and treated with respect and transparency, the employees will trust their employer and radiate their enthusiasm, as well as loyalty to their customers by going the extra mile.

Along with a brand being a valuable asset for any business, people also fit into the equation as an important asset. This is where hiring the right people, on-boarding them, training them adequately and empowering them all create a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Many brands are myopic to the point that they unintentionally and unknowingly allow their dissatisfied customers to go away without a thought. Front-line staff is either not trained properly and/or lacks the proper attitude to handle clientele appropriately.

During the industrial era, consumers would simply purchase what was produced, shopping where that product was available and paying the price the retailer demanded. In essence, the manufacturer and the store were in position of strength. As products and consumers have changed over the years, the concept of ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘consumer insight’ came about. As we progressed into the new millennium, the transparency and unrestricted information available on the internet has changed all of that. Today consumers are not only better informed but they are also in control. They can make or break a brand through their actions. So what does this say about listening – and acting?

Consumers will no longer refrain from informing companies on what may have gone wrong ─ whether it’s a particular brand or a competitor’s. With the numerous platforms for consumers to make their voices heard online, brands have to be very reactive and not allow anything to chance. In an age when the consumer’s outcries and influences spread quickly, the results can signify lost sales and a deterioration of brand loyalty.

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When all is said and done

Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

A “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

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Filed under 1, brand equity, Branding, branding not products, Business, customer engagement, customer experience, customer service, total customer experience

How to Blemish Your Brand and Lose Market Share Due to Short-foresightedness: The Trouble with Major Food Brands

By James D. Roumeliotis

Nestle

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Yours truly, who took the audacious dive into the functional food and beverage business as a start-up and has presently taken it into the early stage phase, is having a field day reading about the challenges and frequent plethora of lawsuits brought about by consumers who have had enough of the deceit of the major food and beverage brands.

Once upon a time, during previous generations, renowned household brands such as Kraft, Kellogg’s, Pepsi Co. and General Mills, among many others, who once dominated the supermarket shelves along with loyalty.  Today, through their complacency and/or (as public companies) continuous pressure for quarterly sales and profit results mount, as well as through their cunning practices, we notice a backlash from food shoppers – most notably the more health conscious and finicky Millennials.

What Gives in the New Normal?

Today, consumers are more health conscious. This justifies the constant and extensive growth and popularity of the organic, non-GMO, clean label, plant based, farm-to-table and gluten-free product offerings. A large percentage of food producers of products in those categories are the small and nimble new kids on the block. They have hit hard on the established brands who are scrambling to adjust to this new reality.

Despite their vast resources and capital at their disposal, as large ships, they are not able to swiftly make the necessary reformulations or to introduce a healthier fare. As a result, the pressure from the unceasing decline of their revenues and market share are leaving them with no choice but to react, rather than be proactive.  Their path to least resistance is to acquire small health food and functional beverage brands in large numbers to compensate for their short-foresightedness.

The Permanent Health Craze

Hasty and reactive decisions, conniving strategy and foolish leadership have come back to bite them – serves them right. Use of inexpensive and toxic ingredients to engineer taste profiles and in some cases, make the products addictive, some of which include refined grains, MSG, artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, Carrageenan and the other artificial and unfavorable which most of us have a difficult time pronouncing. Add to this GMO corn, soy and…well you get it.  More expensive and healthier options can be used but their fiscal paranoia signifies to them this will hurt their bottom line. The big brands avoid raising prices to compensate for more expensive natural ingredients despite research showing that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier choices.

Lawsuits Galore

The cause of distrust among consumers can be rationalized due to corporations misleading the public as a whole, since most of those public food producers are, first and foremost, accountable to heir shareholders. Deliberate misleading information by food producers in regard to nutritional benefits is akin to the nickel-and-diming by airlines, hotels and banks. But unlike the latter list, when it pertains to food, it is considered more critical as our health is at stake.

As a result, in the last few years, there have been frequent class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies. Everything from Non-GMO claims and the use of a better-for-you sounding ingredient such as “evaporated cane juice” rather than using the simple term “sugar” (one and the same). Such negligence and deceptive practices have made the established food brands vulnerable.

According to a Forbes August 2017 article by John O’Brien, titled “Food Companies Beware: Class Action Attorneys Aren’t Slowing Down”, it describes that  “Plaintiffs attorneys who target food and beverage companies with class action lawsuits are showing no signs of slowing down, according to analysis from international law firm Perkins Coie that also shows California’s lawyers are the most active.” Some of those lawsuits include consumers claiming they were misled into buying the product due to mislabeling.

Here is a small sample list of the shameful established food and beverage brands (click for the link to lawsuit article) with seemingly dysfunctional and old school strategies. They have become a favorite punch bag from the likes of this author along with numerous consumer groups and their hired attorneys.

Why Brand Image and Loyalty Matter

A “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

Brand reputation quote from Benjamin Franklin

Customers first, employees second — investors/shareholders third

In the ivory towers of public corporations, the CEO and board of directors have been programmed to put their stakeholders best interests above all else. Their mission is to do what it reasonably takes to deliver quarterly results ─ in other words, to focus on the short term rather than sow the seeds and do what is most beneficial for the future direction of the company ─ despite any short-term pains. Savvy and considerate top management know better that customers and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  The main principle is that if employees have a positive attitude, are passionate, well trained and competent, results will be reflected through positive customer experiences resulting in brand loyalty. Ultimately, the shareholders will reap the benefits through stock performance and generous dividend distributions.

Large well-established companies have several advantages over smaller ones mainly due to their imposing size, their brand recognition as well as for their plethora of cash and human capital. However, despite their deep pockets and plethora of resources, they are risk adverse, bureaucratic in their decision-making process and to some extent, disengaged from their customers. Moreover, if they are a public company, their initial allegiance is to their shareholders.

Start-ups and smaller businesses, on the other hand, have less money and resources at their disposal to grow or even compete in the unapologetic and competitive landscape. Yet, the small business is agile, nimble and creative and possess several advantages such as a clean slate, rather than the baggage many large corporations have been carrying over the years, as well as perceived as more trusting by consumers, further engaged with their customers, and a refreshing alternative to the established brands – provided the products offer unique and attractive characteristics.

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The Formidable Company: How to make your business highly competitive

by James D. Roumeliotis

Going against your competition — especially a large and established one is not a wise approach. Being nimble, positioning your product to a new and uncontested target market, and offering a delightful experience (rather than focusing on price alone) are the tactics to apply in avoiding competition.

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Small Brands vs Big Brands in the CPG Space: How to Cleverly Outdo the Complacent Mammoth

By James D. Roumeliotis

Sumo wrestler being pushed.

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Using the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands as the main topic for reference in this editorial, we dig into the dilemmas of the leading consumer brands such as Kellogg’s, Nestle and General Mills to name a few in the food sector.

Small, nimble and niche brands, most notably start-ups, are beginning to chip away at the market share of many leading consumer goods firms. As a result, these small companies are growing rapidly to the detriment of the big brands but to the benefit of the consumers. This has to do with big brand complacency, bullying and arrogance along with the desperate need for short-term results to satisfy the insatiable expectation their shareholders’ have for quick profit and stock price increases – but with little regard for today’s consumer. As such, it is no surprise that shoppers have become more savvy, see through much of the nonsense and have helped turn this tide whereby. Consumers trust and are more confident with the small brands over the traditional ones their parents were accustomed to.

Welcome to the new generation of CPG choices and mentality.

Big ship vs Fast Craft

Large well-established companies have several advantages over smaller ones mainly due to their imposing size, their brand recognition as well as for their plethora of cash and human capital. However, despite their deep pockets and plethora of resources, they are risk adverse, bureaucratic in their decision-making process and to some extent, disengaged from their customers. Moreover, if they are a public company, their initial allegiance is to their shareholders.

Start-ups and smaller businesses, on the other hand, have less money and resources at their disposal to grow or even compete in the unapologetic and competitive landscape. Yet, the small business is agile, nimble and creative and possess several advantages such as a clean slate, rather than the baggage many large corporations have been carrying over the years, as well as perceived as more trusting by consumers, further engaged with their customers, and a refreshing alternative to the established brands – provided the products offer unique and attractive characteristics.

Be First, Different & Daring

It takes methodical strategic maneuvers and innovation to outdo the established ones. The good news is that many small companies seem to be doing a good job at both. As a result, they are becoming quite appealing by both consumers and the large brands respectively. At some point and under certain criteria, the latter are keen to purchase the small niche companies.

A case in point is the state of the exploding snack bars health food category. According to Euromonitor International, a market research and analysis firm, renowned food companies such as Kellogg’s and General Mills are experiencing declining market share as compared to previous years. Meantime, privately held Clif Bar, gained a one percentage point during the same period, while another small competitor, Kind LLC, increased its share by 2.1 points. Not idly standing by, last year, Kellogg’s purchased seven-year-old RXBar for a whopping $600 Million, while Mondelez International, the food conglomerate, which owns the Oreo brand of cookies and Cadbury chocolate, purchased Enjoy Life, a consumer packaged goods upstart which performed three years of 40 percent consistent annual growth. A 2015 report from Fortune magazine found that in 2014, in a single year alone, major CPG brands lost $4 billion in market share.

Reputation seems to be the culprit for this significant market share loss. Consumers perceive products from large brands as unsustainable, as well as less healthy with inferior and artificial ingredients along with a high content of sugar and salt. Younger generations of consumers are also suspicious of major corporations. For example, a 2015 study, conducted by the research firm Mintel, indicates that 43 percent of millennials do not trust traditional food companies.

The single most important advice here is that newly established brands should focus on their unique strengths to win over their large and deep pocketed competition rather than trying to go head-to-head with them. Newcomers to the CPG market are in a better position than large brands in catering to emerging consumer trends such as “clean label”, “free from” and organic/non-GMO foods.

  • Agility

Being a small company give you the benefit of being nimble and efficient in areas large ship like companies are not able to do so. This makes them slower to respond. In fact, there are times that they don’t even return calls or email inquiries. Strat-ups can implement a business model which provides value to customers while simultaneously building a lean operation which will yield a consistent profit. This can be accomplished with a limited financial capacity.

  • USP with a Niche Focus

Unlike the big companies, smaller ones can develop products which meet an unmet need. A niche market can demand a premium price which can yield respect along with a handsome profit. For large companies to offer niche product may risk cannibalizing their own existing products.

Increasingly, mass-market retailers are seeking niche brands that their clients consider as healthier. This will keep their customers from purchasing products in this category elsewhere as these large mainstream food retailers face rising competition from natural food and specialty chains such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s.

  • Trust and Transparency

Regrettably, established food companies do not practice what they state over their PR megaphones. A recent Forbes article contends, those large brands mislead consumers by giving an impression of a healthy product through their misleading labels. Consumers today are well informed and can recognize inauthentic brands, but it seems that short-cuts and short-term thinking, in the name of profit margins and increasing share prices, take precedence. According to AdAge, consumers are increasingly switching to smaller CPG companies as they are perceived as healthier and more authentic.

  • Media Spend on a Budget: Creative vs. Outspending

With a limited marketing budget, the most effective methods of reaching your target audience and to out-create your large corporate competitors is through social media, including reaching out to influential bloggers with a large audience, coupled with a select number of sponsorships and the use exposure of marketing posters, brochures etc. for maximum exposure.  The key to compelling content is to make it about your niche and  your story. If you sell good quality products and have managed to build a good online network of brand supporters, you can leverage your goodwill to bring in sizeable sales.

In a Nutshell

As change is and should be constant, the small brands should not only learn from all the mistakes made by the big brands but also offer what the consumer demands…clean ingredients, transparency and personality along with a story and an emotional connection. These elements exude confidence and trust. Moreover, smaller companies should remain nimble, use plenty of experiential marketing and continuously offer timely improvements including environmental sustainability.

Established brands please take note as you are on notice.

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Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

By James D. Roumeliotis

What is in it for me - features vs benefits

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There was a time when brands and their sales staff would tout the features of their products. This was most notable with consumer products and automobiles amongst other goods. “Our product has this and that” and “Our product will do this and that for you.” sound alike, but are distinctly different. In this day and age, the second one wins over customers by a long-shot.

Take the case of buying a watch. The function of a watch is to tell time. All watches do this. To differentiate, a watchmaker must bring something else to the table. For example, the Rolex Submariner has many outstanding features. Watch fanatics can recite the details like kids cite stats of baseball players. However, most clients want to feel elegant. They already know that a Swiss watch means high quality. The benefit of wearing a Rolex is to make the wearer feel like James Bond or Gianni Agnelli. The benefits are is style, class, and self-esteem.

People Buy Benefits Rather Than Features

Features of a product are considered a ‘good to know’, whereas its benefits are deemed more relevant to its users as “what I can relate to and need to contributes positively to my sense of self” sell not only the product, but the “idea” of the product. Since there is competition with virtually every product, brands should create interest to more than practical needs of potential customers. The brand’s product(s) must persuade customers to think that it/they perform better and offer a much better value than the competition. For example, Hyundai’s Genesis, through its advertising and sales consultants, stress ‘intelligent value’ when compared to the established premium auto brands like Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Lexus. The emotional benefits are what a brand/product ought to be targeting and appealing to. This would make the driver feel as if he/she has made financially and emotionally a wise decision.

As marketers are quite familiar with the term “sell the sizzle, not the steak”, in layman terms, it signifies that you’re not only selling the product, but the idea of the product.

What is Your Brand USP? Benefits Must Be Tangible

To begin with, a “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. A brand promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. A major part of this is what’s called the “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP.

Prior to launching or invigorating an existing product, the questions which should be asked are:

  • What is our purpose?” and as a result: How is our target market going to benefit from our product?
  • What will the brand and product stand for? How are they going to be positioned?
  • What is the product’s intrinsic value? Perceived value?
  • Is it going to be a lifestyle product?

Simon Sinek takes the aforementioned a step further with thought provoking questions. An accomplished author and adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world, in his popular talks worldwide, including TED, compellingly emphasizes the following:

Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?  Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.”

Alternatively – Sell a Lifestyle and an Experience

Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone. Brands also build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands boast their pedigree and craftsmanship, amongst others.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or any new product launch such as the imminent iWatch. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Features vs Benefits

The Final Take

If your product stands-out on its own because it functions splendidly and enhances its intended purpose, then it can’t help but be embraced by consumers without the artificial hype. It’s what they will talk about to others which is the most candid endorsement the product can earn. It’s equally important to sell the idea of a product as it’s to sell the actual product.

The key to success is to market your brand, not your product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with your customers. Branding positively adds value to your company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value.

A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote a more than a product with key benefits and attributes. Note however that lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life.” It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the brand.

One way to overcome the ‘price only’ differentiation, which erodes profits and does not generate loyalty, is for a company to consider building a lifelong relationship with each customer. To do so, requires that each customer enjoys a positive and hassle-free transaction with each touch point consistently every time.

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Ambiance Marketing: A multi-sensory approach to attracting and retaining clientele

by James D. Roumeliotis

Sensorial marketing

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The dictionary conveys to us that “ambiance” is “the character and feeling of a place.“ A place which wants to attract the most discerning souls, should be unique and embody a complete lifestyle concept which combines a relaxed, spiritual ambiance amongst an elegant setting and decor with attention to detail. Staging an impressive, well executed upscale event, such as a product launch or promotion takes creativity, organizational skills, as well as savoir faire.

Pleasing hors d’oeuvres and drinks prepared and presented with pizzazz are complemented by soothing music which is also an integral part of the ambiance and ranges from classic music to smooth jazz or chill-out rhythms. The attractive, smiling and well mannered staff is dressed stylishly.

All of these elements combined will, undoubtedly, seduce the senses and generate good vibes along with positive memories created. This principle applies equally well to business establishments and brands and includes boutique hotels, restaurants & bars, fashion boutiques and other upscale business establishments. In marketing, a multi-sensory approach is proven to increase sales.

To be effective, the use of an integrated approach is essential across various touch points with the purpose of engaging customers.

Today, consumer purchase decisions are increasingly driven by consumers’ hearts. With ambiance marketing, a custom designed attractive setting – yet alluring with captivating style, invites customers to truly feel the brand experience by adding character. This is accomplished by connecting the emotions to a product or service, and infusing it with a tangible and intangible essence that remain in the customers’ minds.

The ambiance you create is one of your best marketing tools. The aesthetic appeal to human senses, the feel of your business and the brand you create is your image. Along with great service, it is one of the most important reasons customers will choose you over the competition.

What should you consider when developing ambiance?

In keeping with the spirit of our five senses, you can exploit them entirely to create a favorable experience in synergy, for guests and clients alike. Below are some of the most important factors:

SIGHT – choice of lighting, décor, colors and an ergonomic layout. You can get a real sense of movement using these elements. Lighting is also very helpful when it comes to the overall event and low intensity lighting such as dimmed soft halogen or LED lights along with the presence of lit candles create a stress free atmosphere. In addition to your building materials and lighting, the art you choose to put on your walls will make a huge impact on overall ambiance. Local art, modern art, renaissance art or a hodgepodge of all of them will help convey the ambiance you are trying to define.

LISTEN – music, effects, volume and vibrations. The tone and the energy of the room can be set with the right music selections. Think about using a “signature” sound effect to draw attention to different happenings throughout establishment or event. Upbeat music that would be appropriate in the evening may not appeal to your morning customers who have just gotten out of bed. If you have an Italian-themed bar, you may want to interject some Italian music from artists like Zuccero or Eros Ramazotti. If your theme/branding and ambiance is geared to a very hip, young audience, it will likely suit your customers to include songs with a driving beat from cutting-edge alternative and electronic artists.

TOUCH – textures and comfort. This is all about how your guests and/or clients interact with the environment. Plenty of emphasis should be placed on this when designing the layout. It should be ergonomic. The more comfortable the space, the longer guests/clients will linger in any given area. The materials you use to build out your operation will be a major component of the ambiance of your business and the choices are many. Countertops can be granite, frosted glass, laminate or of exotic wood. Floors can range from acid-etched concrete to terrazzo to granite. The use of wood can evoke a feeling of warmth. Exposed pipes and air ducts can give your business an industrial feel. Draperies can dampen sound and add texture.

TASTE – finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections with the intention of pleasing most taste buds. Presentation is equally important which has an impact on the overall image of the setting.

SMELL – it is all about fragrance which aids in creating emotion. This sense is usually neglected yet of all our senses, the sense of smell is closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the icing on the cake, sort of speak, in complementing the overall mood. If it is a French bakery café style of operation, the smell of roasted coffee and baked items sold will induce clients to make and increase their purchases.

A case in point in terms of a successful establishment, which implemented the above principles spot on, is a popular upscale “member’s only” bar in Dallas, Texas called “Candleroom”. It did not become renowned simply by accident. This has been accomplished by developing and executing the perfect atmosphere for young professionals seeking to socialize in a dramatic and spacious setting – a progressive urban lounge modern in design and decorated with bold, sensuous colors. The ultra swanky décor with its velvet, leather and fine furniture are lit by candles and dimmed chandeliers. DJs spin house, rock, hip-hop and dance for those that are interested in a little more of a dance club setting, while the attractive staff working behind the bars mix exotic drinks for the patrons. As a result, it is considered by many discerning clubbers to be one of the most handsome drinking destinations in Dallas.

Focus groups: Uncovering your customers’ specific desires for your success

As companies grow larger, they commonly hire a market research firm to determine what their customers like, dislike and what additional products or services they desire. This is often uncovered through the use of focus groups.

There is no reason you cannot poll customers in your area in the same way large multinational companies do with great success. Focus groups can be helpful if you are already open or just beginning to plan your business. Rather than simply assuming, it is in your best interest to know if you are giving your customers the products, services and ambiance they desire. Feedback is important, hence you need to find out what your customer’s needs are and fulfill as many of them as possible. After you analyze the information you have received from your focus group, try to incorporate the best and most workable ideas into a motif that will define your business and create the ideal ambiance to attract and keep your customers.

On a side note: Branded CD compilation

Designing and implementing custom music and visual strategies that emotionally anchor a brand to its clients, should be considered. The goal of branded CDs is to turn your listeners into disciples of your brand. Every aspect of your custom CD says something about your brand, therefore, custom CD’s place equal importance on print, media, and visual elements in addition to the music. Specialty music compilation companies such as Sonodea and Custom CD Corporation oversee all logistics related to custom branded CD music compilation and development. They work closely with clients on everything from the music themes to the packaging to the visual content. This ensures that the music, look and feel of the CD resonate with their customers’ clientele and target demographic.

In some fashion, all business is show business and storytelling. Brand image is all about the experience, perception and differentiation you create in the customers’ mind. Ambiance marketing takes all this into meaningful consideration by applying its multi-sensory approach to attracting and retaining clientele to your brand and business establishment.

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Food Distribution Guy interviews James Roumeliotis from Artizan Fine Foods

Sharing an interview podcast I recently had, conducted by a food marketing expert on how I launched Artizan Fine Foods with my partner and what differentiates our products.

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