Tag Archives: branding

Digital Strategy Do’s and Don’ts

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Christian Music Broadcasters’ Momentum Summit in Charlotte. At the Digital Summit, I presented “Digital Strategy Do’s and Don’ts”, highlighting some of the lessons we’ve learned alongside our clients over the years as they have moved into the digital space. I was thrilled that so many attendees stuck around after the session to ask questions and share some of their experiences and ideas.

Here are some of the best practices we discussed in the session:

The most important rule of digital strategy: Have a digital strategy. We need to meet consumers where they are, and we are constantly reminded that they are spending less and less time with AM/FM and more time with digital offerings. Now is not the time to practice digital avoidance.

Stay on top of any publicly available data about consumption trends. This may seem obvious, but it’s imperative that you know what media your listeners are spending time with when they aren’t with you. It’s also important to know when new trends emerge so you can adjust your digital strategy as needed.

Be an Outside Thinker when it comes to your digital offerings and digital strategy. If you have spent any time around someone from Coleman Insights, you have probably heard us talk about Inside vs. Outside Thinking. Inside Thinkers have a hard time thinking about their brand, images, and content from the perspective of consumers or potential consumers—they let themselves get too mired in the details. Outside Thinkers, on the other hand, make a point of viewing their content and brand through the lens of the consumer.

While Inside Thinkers may believe that listeners care deeply about their entertainment options, pay close attention to them, and can be easily manipulated, Outside Thinkers don’t subscribe to these beliefs. They recognize that consumers have a lot going on in their lives and they don’t care deeply about their radio stations and other entertainment options. Outside Thinkers also consider that they are not just competing with other radio stations and audio offerings. Use Outside Thinking when developing and implementing your digital strategy.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that your radio listeners know about your digital offerings. You may feel like all you do is talk about your app, or which apps listeners can use to listen to your content offerings, or where they can find them on the website. You may even feel that listeners must be sick of hearing about it. But the truth is, they probably don’t know as much as you think they do about your digital offerings. We see this over and over again in our research. It takes a long time for messages to sink in and consumers hear a lot of them on any given day. Practice consistent messaging and put it on repeat—even if you are sick of it.

Eliminate consumer friction. One of the things I do when we first start working with a new client or station is to interact with the brand in all the ways a consumer might. I listen to their FM or AM frequency if I’m in the market, I stream from the website, ask Alexa to play it, and listen via apps. On several occasions, I have hit some friction point that prevents me from listening. Maybe the app interface is too clunky, or I can’t find what I am looking for. Maybe Alexa can’t figure out what it is I want to hear. Or maybe I hear six minutes (six minutes!) of pre-roll and commercials before I hear one song when I start streaming from the station’s website. In today’s highly competitive digital landscape, we can’t afford to let listeners have a poor experience. Not when competitors have slick apps with all the bells and whistles.

Promote your digital offerings where your consumers are. I try to avoid TikTok and Reels and YouTube shorts because my time is valuable, but I get sucked in more than I’d like to admit. And I am exposed to brands because of these platforms. Use them! It just takes a little time and creativity.

Promote your digital offerings the way real people use them, using the language they do. My colleague Jay Nachlis just presented a study called The New Rules of Podcasting on YouTube at Podcast Movement and that study found that 75% of podcast consumers define a podcast as audio or video vs. just 22% who define it as audio-only. He referred to it in last week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog which you can find here.

When you talk about your content, make sure your language matches the consumer’s. And, based on the findings of the study, if your podcasts aren’t on YouTube with some video component… they probably should be.

Don’t be afraid to take an unexpected approach. In my session, I talked about my fascination with the National Park Service’s social channels. Matthew Turner, who manages the National Park Service’s social channels, has gained the 107-year-old government agency a million followers a year for the past four years by pushing out informative and often humorous messages that are each liked and shared by thousands of followers.  The NPS has been around longer than commercial radio, but park visitation is up!

National Park Service blog

Your digital offerings and strategy must be consistent with your brand. As you navigate the digital space, make sure that all the content you create and share is consistent with the big idea of your brand, whatever that is. Consumers should know that they are listening to your content regardless of how they consume it.

Use each of your platforms to promote the others. How do I learn about podcasts? I hear advertisements on other podcasts… and the cycle continues. Not only does this messaging encourage additional usage, but it also builds your brand image as more than just _____. And remember to be consistent and repetitive with the messaging.

Embrace the benefits of an unformed brand. Do you suffer from a weak brand? Great! That means you can grow your brand images in the digital space more easily than stronger brands that are firmly rooted in FM in the minds of the audience. Embrace your weak brand and form a digital strategy that capitalizes on that.

Look Before You Leap: Four Brand Evolution Tips

For many brands, a key to longevity is the ability to evolve. What works today may not work tomorrow.

To that end, much of our research at Coleman Insights relates to helping clients appropriately adapt and innovate by staying in touch with consumer tastes, behaviors, and perceptions. We’re studying music trends, talk/personality content, and distribution platforms.

Of course, evolutionary decisions are rarely easy and are often fraught with risk. As The Clash famously asked, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” As you contemplate taking your brand in a different direction, we encourage you to think through the following questions:

  1. Is there a sizable market for “the new thing”? Don’t change for the sake of change. Change because a data-driven analysis of the situation tells you that this change has the potential to be fruitful.
  2. Can you execute “the new thing” exceptionally well? Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean that you’re equipped to do it well (a.k.a., the not-everyone-can-be-a-world-class-athlete rule). Consumers have a lot of options, and they’re typically not looking for mediocrity.
  3. Can your brand become known for “the new thing”? You’ll have a hard time attracting those who may enjoy “the new thing” if they don’t know that your brand does “the new thing.” Consider what kind of competition is in the way, the pre-learned interference of existing perceptions of your brand, how to effectively communicate the new message, and whether you have the marketing resources necessary to cut through.
  4. Are you ok leaving “the old thing” behind? Change often comes with trade-offs, as you emphasize one thing at the expense of another. If you give something up, and a competitor fills the void, you may never get it back.
Facebook evolves brand into Meta

There are many examples of brand evolution, such as Facebook’s rebranding as Meta.

Now, let’s marry these questions with some real-world examples:

  1. If you’re a producer trying to decide among several topics that are not well covered by existing podcasts, do you know how appealing each is to potential listeners?
  2. If you want to launch a podcast about soccer, have you determined what your soccer podcast will do exceptionally well relative to the other soccer podcasts that already exist?
  3. If you are thinking about taking your Classic Hits station’s recipe deeply into the 90s, do you have a good marketing plan for developing the station’s image as a source of 90s music?
  4. If you’ve shifted your Top 40 station’s recipe substantially older in response to a downturn in the popularity of current music, are you comfortable with the possibility that your station’s image and usage as a source of current music is being diminished?

So look for ways in which innovation and evolution can benefit your brand, but do so through a strategic lens that takes into consideration the many factors that will play into the success or failure of your decision.

How Al Ries Influenced Coleman Insights

This past week, we learned legendary marketer Al Ries passed away. Matt Bailey, president of our sister company Integr8 Research, sent an internal email stating simply, “Without his work, we wouldn’t have ours.”

How true that is. You can see the influence of Al Ries all over Coleman Insights, including in Tuesdays With Coleman blogs that reference him, like “What’s Your Word,” “Lack of Focus=Lack of Greatness,” “Need a Slogan? Bring the Sledgehammer”, and “The Line Extension Trap.”

Coleman Insights was not the first radio research company. The earliest research companies certainly illuminated and pointed out what the consumer was thinking about and issues to address. But in the early 80s, as I began to talk to consumers and hear what they were saying, it became clear there was a gap between what people inside the radio station and outside the radio station were thinking. I realized the program directors and general managers way overestimated the levels of interest of the listeners.

At this same time, books by marketers Al Ries and Jack Trout became very popular. These included “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” and “Marketing Warfare” in the 80s and “The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing” and “Focus: The Future Of Your Company Depends On It” (my favorite) in the 90s.

I related to so much of what Ries and Trout were saying because of what I was experiencing as a radio researcher. Unintentionally at first but intentionally later, I made these principles a core focus of our company. The best way I can describe this is:

It’s not the product. It’s what’s in the mind of the consumer.

So, we began to really think about how the consumer thinks, and the communication process between the radio station and its listeners. It was this focus that I believe led to some of the most successful stations which used communication methods as much as or more than they focused on the music or spoken word product.

Take KZZP in Phoenix in 1985. Along with Guy Zapoleon and the team at KZZP, we recommended they start using “The #1 Hit Music Station.” You’re used to hearing that positioner now, but it was not being used back then. At that time, KZZP was in a battle with KOPA, but KOPA wasn’t clear about what it was, the station was shifting the music around and they were constantly tweaking the product, because they thought the product was all that mattered. But by using “The #1 Hit Music Station,” we went for the mind of the consumer. Within about six months, KOPA was destroyed, and it flipped months later. That principle, battling for the mind, was all based on Al Ries’ philosophy.

Back then, I heard one station using “Lite” for the first time and thought it was genius. There were stations all over the United States in the Soft Adult Contemporary format, but they weren’t differentiated from other AC stations. Al Ries talks about creating your own category, and at the time there was no Soft AC category. But when you called the station “Lite” or “Lite Rock,” you created a new ladder, and the station could become the leader in the category that every other station in the format was compared to. On so many occasions, Al Ries’s books gave me confidence that what I was seeing wasn’t just a radio thing but were universal marketing principles.

More recently, I feel some have veered away from Ries’ principles, thinking digital tools will simply track consumer behavior and we won’t need marketing “gimmicks.” Over time, it’s been made clear the branding piece is so necessary. You need to communicate how your product fits in the marketplace and how it’s different. Fortunately, it feels like there is more of a swing happening back towards the image development side.

One thing I know Al Ries would agree with is the importance of external marketing. For audio brands, external marketing is perceived differently than marketing on the brand itself. It’s perceived as an editorial message about the product. You can define what the product is, in a way through external messaging, that you can’t internally. So, in other words, all the liners in the world won’t matter that much without external marketing that gives credibility to what the radio station, podcast, streaming service, and so on is doing.

Al Ries and Jack Trout taught me the need to talk to consumers in plain, real language. We get so caught up in the hype that we forget to talk to people. And they taught me that it’s too easy to try to be “cute,” creating messages that don’t mean anything to the consumer. You need to tell them what you’re doing as clearly as possible.

When you see Coleman Insights talking about core philosophies such as Outside Thinking, the Image Pyramid, or the Brand-Content Matrix, there is an abundance of Al Ries influence to thank for it. I’ll always be grateful for his work.

Why the Best Content Doesn’t Always Win

Radio is full of recycled ideas.

As a former program director of mine liked to joke, “If you’ve stolen from me, you’ve stolen twice.”

You might hear “Battle Of The Sexes” in Minneapolis or Memphis. “The Phrase That Pays” could tempt you in Richmond or Reno. Listeners may laugh along to a version of Elvis Duran’s iconic “Phone Taps” just about anywhere.

The million-dollar question is…why do some features and contesting work on some stations and not on others?

In one respect, it’s a nearly impossible question to answer.

How was it executed? How many promos were run? Was it marketed outside of the station? And so on. And if you attempt to equate the effectiveness of a feature or contest based on ratings in the short-term, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

But in another respect, it’s a simple question to answer, and I’ll do it in two words.

The brand.

Take “Phone Taps,” a successful long running prank call segment for Elvis Duran And The Morning Show, based at Z100 in New York. What would happen if a poorly performing morning show in another city ran the exact same segment featuring the exact same calls each day with their voices replacing those of the Elvis Duran cast? Would it be just as popular with that audience?

Elvis Duran Phone Taps

If you believe the best content always wins, you might think so.

But “Phone Taps” doesn’t succeed for Duran just because the bit itself is great. It succeeds because the “Phone Taps” brand has been carefully crafted over time. The “Phone Taps” brand was carefully crafted within the construct of the “Elvis Duran And The Morning Show” brand. And the “Elvis Duran And The Morning Show” brand was carefully crafted within the construct of the Z100 brand. A rising tide lifts all boats, and a weak branding link can affect the performance of even the best content.

Stations with similar music libraries succeed in one market and not another. The same exact contest played on multiple stations will do wonders for one station and not another. The reason why will, in part, come down to execution. But it will also be because of the equity of the brand playing the music or the contest.

One of my favorite examples of brand vs. content is bottled water. Let’s say your content is bottled water. It’s solid, reliable content. Most everyone consumes and enjoys it. And if we’re talking about non-flavored straight up water, it pretty much tastes the same. Why are we only willing to pay 25 cents for a bottle of water at Costco but $2.50 for Fiji?

Branding convinces enough people that one version is more valuable than the other.

It can be hard to swallow, but the best content does not always win. If you’re regularly generating great content, don’t forget to ensure that the brand behind the content is solid and clearly understood.

Otherwise, your great content may be just a waste of time.

The Pine Knob Branding Lesson

On January 25, 2001, Palace Sports & Entertainment announced that Pine Knob Music Theatre would change its name to DTE Energy Music Theatre. Although I had only been programming radio in Detroit for only a year at that point, it didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t a simple sponsorship name change.

The reaction among my staff was defiant, like someone had told them they’d never get to eat ice cream again. One of my jocks refused to call it by its new name. ”It’s Pine Knob. Period.” That made for some fun conversations. Why would anyone care so deeply about the name change? After all, venues add or change sponsor names all the time, such as loanDepot Park (formerly Marlins Park) in Miami, Crypto.com Arena (formerly Staples Center) in Los Angeles, or Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) in Toronto.

The answer of course (as it so often does) comes down to the brand.

By the time Pine Knob changed its name, it already had 29 years of brand equity. Pine Knob was where Bob Seger would play runs of multiple shows for the hometown. Where J. Geils Band recorded their third live album, Showtime! during a week-long run. Eddie Money opened the Pine Knob concert season every single year from 1992 until his final show before his passing in 2019. These uniquely Detroit milestones didn’t take place at some theatre named after a company you have to begrudgingly pay your utility bill to every month. They happened at the one and only Pine Knob.

Eddie Money opened every season at Pine Knob Music Theatre/DTE Energy Music Theatre from 1992 to 2019

My staff weren’t the only defiant ones. Throughout 20 years of sponsorship under the DTE name, artist after artist made a point of telling the crowd what they thought of the change. Peter Frampton, who recorded his 1999 Live In Detroit album at the venue, said “It’s always been Pine Knob to me. I always call it that from the stage.”

And so, it was welcome news to many last month when it was announced that DTE Energy Music Theatre would return to its roots, becoming Pine Knob Music Theatre once again as the venue celebrates its 50th year. Research helped guide the decision and ultimately the strategic direction. In speaking with Billboard, Howard Handler of 313 Presents, producer of shows at the venue, said “We wondered, ‘OK, with people between the ages of 18-24, is (Pine Knob) something that means anything to them at all?’” “And when we did the research, the answer to that was yes, it did. People knew what it was — maybe from their older siblings or their parents, or from sitting in the audience and Dave Matthews comes on stage and says, ‘Hello Pine Knob!’”

The new classic-inspired Pine Knob logo

You can probably think of other venues that would inspire revolts if the name was changed. Can you imagine if Madison Square Garden became Olive Garden Arena? What if Dodger Stadium was renamed “Microsoft Stadium”? I’d love to see the reaction in Green Bay if anyone dared to rename Lambeau Field. The only reason TD Garden replacing Boston Garden worked was because it was a new and different building. The memories tied to the original made it impossible to change.

This is why having a deep understanding of how your audience and the overall market perceives your brand is so important. When decisions are made with only money or similar factors in mind, the brand can suffer. But when research is utilized to ensure the monetary and strategic goals are aligned with the brand, everyone wins.




Differentiating Your Brand in a Crowded Segment

In South Carolina, Virginia, and my home state of North Carolina, there is a grocery chain called Lowes Foods (started by the son of the founder of Lowe’s Home Improvement).

You think your business segment is crowded?

Here in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), the grocery segment has gotten extremely competitive over the past decade. We have Aldi, and we now have a similar German-based competitor, Lidl. There’s Food Lion on the low end and Harris Teeter on the high end. We have Whole Foods, and we now have the similar competitor Sprouts. There’s Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Publix opened its first store in the area in 2014, and Wegmans invaded five years later.

One possible move when faced with a massive influx of competition is to wave the white flag. Kroger took this tactic, deciding to peace out altogether­­ – it announced it would close all 14 of its area stores in 2018.

Another tactic is to attempt to improve the existing product, and this is what most stores did. Food Lion and Aldi renovated their stores, with things like wider aisles and brighter displays. A Harris Teeter location added a bar in 2017.

But it could be argued that no grocery store in the area went as far as Lowes Foods. Rather than simple cosmetic changes to imply an improvement, Lowes went full-on thematic in its adjustment. The chain embraced a hyper local-centric theme, designing the entrance to look like a barn and arranging displays with a farm-fresh aesthetic. And truth be told, I really like the store.

My favorite of all the Lowes additions is The Beer Den, a bar in the center of the store that allows you to sit down for a beer or take it with you while you shop. The local theme is regularly on display in The Beer Den, which features almost all local or regional beers from around the state.  A few days ago, I was talking about local beer with the bartender when he asked me if I’ve heard of something they do called “The Beer Run.” When I said I hadn’t, he explained it to me this way:

“Over there in the beer section is something called The Beer Run. It’s filled with beer from smaller breweries all over the state that, for whatever reason, can’t logistically distribute outside their market. So, we’ll bring our trucks to the brewery, and get the product so we can give them exposure in markets they wouldn’t otherwise reach.”

This is SO. FREAKING. COOL. Except for one thing.

When I walked over to The Beer Run, there were stickers under the beer with a Beer Run logo, but nothing anywhere that explained what it meant. I shared the story with multiple people because I was so taken by it, and no one else had heard about it either. As timing would have it, as I shared the story with my wife, we passed a Lowes Foods billboard. In large letters, it said BROBAMENOJU! And although you can read here what that apparently stands for, I assure you that one cannot read it when passing at 50 miles per hour.

We’re expected to read a non-sensical word and the definition and understand the marketing message. While you may get that they’re trying to tell you that their products in brown bags are good for you, that may not be the easiest message for a consumer to pick up.

There are a couple of takeaways from this blog I’d like to focus on.

One, Lowes is doing some pretty incredible and innovative things to differentiate itself from the competition. But if it does not tell the consumer what it’s doing, loudly and clearly, it cannot expect it will be understood.

Two, Lowes needs to ensure it is marketing the right things. Is healthier food an image it expects to win? Should it concede that Whole Foods owns that space? Are they different consumers? (great questions for research to answer).

If local is the differentiator, The Beer Run story would be a great one to tell. But it’s not even being told in the store (except by a very enthusiastic bartender).

When you make strategic changes to your brand, don’t expect the consumer to notice. Communicate the changes aggressively and clearly. Use research to determine which images are available to win, then focus intensely on messaging to win the image.

I’ll bet you have a brand story to tell. What’s your Beer Run?


The Urgency of Brand Building: A Conversation with Pierre Bouvard

Pierre Bouvard, Chief Insights Officer at Cumulus Media and Westwood One, worked with Coleman Insights in the 90s and was instrumental in the growth of our company. Recently, Pierre and I have had discussions about long-term brand building strategy versus short-term activation tactics. We’ve talked about how favoring short-term strategies over brand building has become something of an epidemic in most advertising. What’s striking is just how similarly many radio stations are following the exact same short-term playbook, often to their peril. I spent an hour with Pierre to dig into the reasons why brand building is not just a good idea, it’s urgently required. While it applies to nearly every brand, he specifically covers why and how radio should pay attention.

Cumulus Media/Westwood One Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard

“The job of brand building advertising is to be known before you’re needed.”

This was the line that began our conversation. Creating awareness and good feelings about your brand is, by far, the most important thing you can do–whether it’s a radio station or a furniture store. We talked about two common marketing tactics: sales activation and brand building.


For a retailer, a sales activation strategy manifests itself as a sale/event. It may include price drops, promotions, and giveaways. The goal is to get the consumer to do something quickly. Radio stations deploy this strategy all the time in the form of contesting. Calls to action. Listen and win. Text for concert tickets. What is the effect of the sales activation strategy?

Generally speaking, it works…which is why marketers keep doing it. But how it works, and the net effect is important.

Pierre outlines the work of Les Binet and Peter Field, who he calls the “godfathers of marketing effectiveness.” Binet and Field showed that when the sales activation strategy is used, though it can show great ROI, brand perceptions are unchanged. Additionally, there is actually no long-term increase in sales.

You can see a parallel to the way many in radio see the world through “this quarter” or “the next book.” An attempt to justify ratings in the most recent period based on generally inconsequential effects such as some bad weather or a jock being on vacation is pure folly. The reality is your current performance is reflecting things that happened in the past year or a year ago. Focus on the short-term and you get intoxicated with doing promotions or finding a meter. That does nothing to build who you are and what you do long-term.

This is validated by research from marketing consultancy Gain Theory, demonstrating that only 18% of the impact of marketing communication is immediate. 58% of the impact is realized six months or later.


Just as brand building builds sales over time, at a higher level than the sales activation strategy, radio stations with strong brands build stronger ratings over time.

And, it starts with something that affects how consumers choose your brand and is perhaps more important than anything else…”mental availability.”

Pierre shared a quote from Les Binet and Sarah Carter that he feels is immensely important for radio stations:

“The single most important factor driving brand preference is mental availability. How well known a brand is, how easily it comes to mind. Brands with low mental availability tend to struggle in favor of more familiar rivals or are not considered in the first place.”

If you really think about it, this is contrary to how many programmers think about their radio stations. Are you thinking about extending the amount of time someone listens every day or week? The reality is their lifestyle and habits very well may not permit them to give your station more listening. That’s why the answer is to expand the pie and bring more people into the station. The way to do that is building awareness. That’s done through brand building.

When focusing on brand building, Pierre points to the use of “fluent devices,” and he wishes more radio stations would use them. Exhibit A is a new segment that has become a significant radio advertiser–online sports betting. Almost all advertising for these companies is sales activation: “Download our app, get a $50 bonus”; “Get a free play for signing up,” and so on. But one company has chosen the brand building route.

Featuring comedian JB Smoove as Caesar, commercials for Caesars Sportsbook have featured everyone from Halle Berry as Cleopatra to football’s Manning family. They are unique, funny, and fun. The offer isn’t the star. Caesar is the fluent device.

A fluent device can be a memorable slogan, like Snickers unleashed for years with “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” It’s the lonely Maytag repairman. It’s memorable and fun, and it builds the brand.

Brands shouldn’t employ only a brand building strategy, just as they shouldn’t only employ a sales activation strategy. In fact, Binet and Field themselves say the typical brand should do about 60% brand building and 40% sales activation. The problem is that most are way too heavy into the short-term camp.

Pierre suggests radio stations perform a promo inventory analysis. Determine how much time is being spent screaming about concert tickets and how much time is truly being spent explaining what the station does in a fun way. It’s not about losing the contesting, which serves an important role. It’s about finding the right balance and recognizing the patience required to build a brand is well worth it.

“Imagine I have a lawn that needs work. I watered and fertilized it this week and nothing happened. It didn’t work! That’s the danger of short-term thinking. If we treat building brands the way we treat growing our lawn, you’ll love the end result.”

The Subway Branding Challenge

As a brand matures, it builds perceptual images. Some of these images are of great benefit to the brand; strong and powerful positive word associations. Inevitably, every brand has at least some negative images as well. In last week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog, I wrote about Victoria’s Secret. After years of success, the women’s clothing store had to deal with declining sales brought on by negative images that included outdated campaigns and models. Their answer was to introduce a far more diverse lineup of models and clothes, targeting women that would have never previously shopped at Victoria’s Secret. That strategy requires a major change in consumer perceptions. One option to accomplish that perceptual shift is a name change. But that would have required starting from scratch and a massive investment to educate the consumer as to what the new name stands for. Or the brand can keep the name, but dramatically change direction and be loud about it so distracted consumers will notice. As I alluded to last week, Victoria’s Secret opted for the latter strategy—keeping the name while aggressively changing direction.

There’s another brand going through tough times and declining sales, and this week we’ll examine what happens when a brand attempts a major strategic directional change the wrong way. As recently as 2013, Subway had 41% of the market share for “limited-service sandwich chains”. Today, it’s down to 28% and slipping. Competition is one big reason why. Sales at Jersey Mike’s, Firehouse Subs, and Jimmy John’s doubled and tripled over the same time frame. Other reasons include overexpansion, a breakfast failure, and internal issues. Recently it was sued, claiming the tuna wasn’t actually tuna. From a branding standpoint, the impact of spokesperson Jared Fogle going to jail in 2015 on child sex charges can’t be overstated. From 2000 to 2015, Jared was the face of Subway and the marketing wasn’t so much about the product as it was about how Subway is healthy and can help you lose weight.

When they dropped Jared, instead of continuing to focus on health and diet, Subway started focusing on the product. And it turned out the product, as competitors offered fresher, healthier, more innovative alternatives, just wasn’t that exciting.

If this part sounds familiar, perhaps the Domino’s Pizza 2009 “Oh Yes We Did” campaign comes to mind.

Domino’s didn’t tiptoe around the fact that research showed many consumers perceived Domino’s to have an inferior product. They made an incredible video admitting it, and millions of views later, it’s still worth a watch.

Themes of this video were sliced into smaller, snackable pieces of audio and visual marketing including social media posts.

Like Victoria’s Secret, Domino’s dramatically changed its strategic direction by reinventing its pizza from the ground up. And when it was time to tell people about it, the message was very clear and it was everywhere.

Did the campaign work for Domino’s? I bet its shareholders think so. The day that video was published to YouTube, Domino’s stock traded at around eight dollars a share.

Today, it’s just under $500 per share. Wish I’d bought that stock.

Back to Subway, which announced “massive menu changes” in July of this year. 20 new menu updates and new and improved ingredients. They apparently gave away one million free subs to celebrate the launch. Did you know about that? I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t realize Subway made any changes until a colleague told me about it. And I had just had lunch AT SUBWAY.

To be fair, Subway did run TV commercials touting the new items. The spot starred four of the most recognizable athletes on Earth—Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe, Stephen Curry, and Tom Brady (who basically says at the end that he wouldn’t personally eat it).

It’s no different than the classic Radio mistake—a radio station that is trying to build a Base Music Position uses a big personality to promote the station. You remember the personality, not the kind of music the station plays. Just like Subway. You remember Tom Brady, not the new menu.

I vividly remember when this spot first ran. I had lunch with my colleagues John Boyne, Warren Kurtzman and Jay Nachlis (not at Subway), when one of us mentioned the new Subway ad with all the athletes. None of us knew what the ad was about. What could Subway have done differently?

  • Celebrities likely got in the way of the messaging. Subway could have made sure the message was more direct.
  • The sandwiches in the advertising looked identical to the previous sandwiches. If selling a major change, they needed to look significantly different.
  • The Tom Brady nod to the advertising-skeptic generation probably went over people’s heads.
  • The in-store experience should have also been dramatically different, with clear, new presentations of the new sandwiches and ingredients and even a refurbishing of the stores for people to notice.
  • The logo needed to change to communicate a major shift. Subway has multiple major head-on competitors.
  • Subway probably didn’t run enough marketing for a campaign of this magnitude.

So remember the lesson of last week’s blog: If a brand changes its strategy dramatically without changing its name, it requires a dramatic plan. A name change alone is not enough. But without a name change the product change needs to be HUGE.

For the best chance at success, use the Victoria’s Secret/Domino’s method, not the Subway method. Aggressively market, but most importantly be very clear about the new position you’re trying to sell without letting other noise get in the way.




The Victoria’s Secret Branding Challenge



Earlier this summer, Victoria’s Secret revealed an upcoming change in its strategic direction. As the New York Times put it, “the most extreme brand turnaround in recent memory.” In many respects, what Victoria’s Secret is trying to do flies in the face of what we’ve learned and practiced regarding branding and marketing over the years. Consider a radio station that has been in the same format for 30 years, with perceptual images deeply ingrained. For 30 years, the name hasn’t changed, the logo hasn’t notably changed, and it’s been playing the same styles of music and targeting the same demographic. Then one day, the station decides it’s going to target a different consumer, change its product, and overhaul its messaging. But it’s keeping the name.

That’s what Victoria’s Secret is attempting, but with lingerie instead of songs.

Me, doing blog research

The perceptual images Victoria’s Secret carries today were developed in the 90s, thanks in large part to its annual fashion shows. The shows featured tall, skinny models like Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum, and Tyra Banks. This was followed in 1997 by the introduction of the Victoria’s Secret “Angel”, and advertising regularly featured skinny models in skimpy outfits.

In recent years, a variety of factors contributed to sales declines. These included other brands starting to use plus-size models, while Victoria’s Secret stuck to its size zero models; the fashion show being seen as outdated; and the brand being seen as tone-deaf to changing attitudes.

To try and turn things around, Victoria’s Secret employed an “all-in,” “go big or go home” strategy.

The biggest and most obvious move was ditching the Angels for the VS Collective for a more diverse group of brand representatives. This includes soccer star Megan Rapinoe, plus-sized model Paloma Elsesser, transgender model and actress Valentina Sampaio, actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, 17-year-old skier Eileen Gu, and former child refugee Amanda de Cadenet.

This received a great deal of press at the announcement, but the company’s moves appear to be continually aggressive towards changing perceptions of what Victoria’s Secret stands for.

The company’s new direct marketing catalog looks decidedly different–more diverse in ethnicity and body size. Its new YouTube videos do not have the look of a brand stuck in the past. It is making drastic changes to its product line as well, adding larger sizes and items like maternity bras.

Of course, the big question is, will this all work?

Victoria’s Secret faces headwinds in two areas related to its rebrand. One: images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, even slower to erode. Can it shed its deeply held image as an outdated company that is only for skinny women? Two: are there enough women that want the new direction from Victoria’s Secret?


In the comments underneath the new YouTube video, you’ll find some very positive, affirming comments. But you’ll also find “Bring the fashion show back,” “Bring back the angels,” and “This is H&M, not Victoria’s Secret. Bring your classic style back.”

Time will tell if Victoria’s Secret’s rebrand is successful, but I like the way they are going about it. If a brand changes its strategy dramatically without changing its name, it requires a dramatic plan. Simply put, a brand cannot overcome deep perceptions without aggressive, in-your-face marketing that clearly states the new strategy. One could argue that Victoria’s Secret isn’t going far enough in their marketing – the outside of their stores look the same. The logo is the same. The company isn’t going as far as they could in verbally communicating the new direction.

On the other hand, there’s another big company that is also currently going through a rebrand to modernize and connect with younger consumers, and it also kept its name. But unlike Victoria’s Secret, nobody is noticing because this other company is being decidedly undramatic about its changes. As we’ve pointed out countless times when discussing Outside Thinking, consumers aren’t paying close attention. It’s not that this brand isn’t spending money on marketing. It’s just all wrong.

I’ll cover that in next week’s blog.




Why You Should Plan For Focus Groups In 2022

Regular readers of Tuesdays with Coleman may recall when we made a big deal about our introduction of CampfireSM Online Discussion earlier this year. This service, which allows us to deliver qualitative insights to the audio brands we work with, utilizes an innovative online platform through which we deeply engage with a group of carefully screened consumers over the course of a week. We have delivered numerous Campfires already this year and have been gratified by the positive reactions we have received from the clients who have used our newest service.

While Campfire represents an exciting innovation in the world of qualitative research, this blog is going to focus on one of the oldest tools in the researcher toolkit—focus groups. The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from doing any of our 20/20 Focus Group studies for clients over the last 18 months, and even with a great new tool like Campfire available to us, I still think there are insights that only focus groups can deliver. My hope—obviously for many reasons besides this—is that it will be safe soon to gather consumers together to talk about the audio brands they consume and delve into the emotions that are the drivers of their behaviors. Focus groups have been derided by many for being “old school,” prone to the biases of those who moderate them, and far too often being driven by one or two participants who dominate the conversation and influence the softer-spoken attendees. Yes, they have been around a long time, but when they are moderated by someone who has been trained properly, they can unearth things that no other form of research I have seen in my nearly 35 years in this business can find.

One of my favorite focus group stories is truly old school; more than a half-century ago, General Mills learned via focus groups that their new line of Betty Crocker cake mixes was not selling well because homemakers felt guilty about how easy they were to use. When, based on that qualitative insight, the product was changed so that instead of just requiring the addition of water, the mix required that consumers also had to add eggs, the sales took off and the product became a staple of American kitchens.

A few years ago, I attended focus groups moderated by a colleague of mine for a Hip Hop station that was curious about a new sound that seemed to be testing well in their new music research. The clients and I sat with our mouths wide open behind the glass when we heard every Hip Hop fan in the group use a term to describe this genre that was clearly widespread “on the streets” but had not been heard by any radio programmers yet. By the next morning, there was imaging on the station using the term the focus group respondents taught us!

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story, “Why Companies Shouldn’t Give Up on Focus Groups”[subscription required], that echoed many of the themes I am sharing here. It spoke of how in the rush to embrace big data—which, in many cases, can be very valuable—many large companies ended up looking the same and offering similar products and services because they were relying on the same input, behavioral data. The parallels in the audio business are looking at metrics such as Nielsen ratings, podcast downloads, and streaming channel user counts and trying to strategize based on the same data that everyone else has. In the WSJ article, a branding consultant named Martin Lindstrom, who has worked for firms ranging from Lego to Burger King to Swissair remarked, “The few companies that decide to go the opposite way of looking at the qualitative data, the small data, time after time discover insights which lead them to something profound, and that’s where you have true innovation take place.”

While the term “in these unprecedented times” is drastically overused these days, I can not imagine a time when the kinds of qualitative insights focus groups provide could be more useful. Another compelling quote in the WSJ article concerns the impact of the pandemic on consumers and how “It cannot be understated what a big shift has occurred. Companies should understand and study that because we’ve been altered in a way that is pretty profound.” The article goes on to state that “adapting to that new reality will require understanding the relative depth of people’s fear and fatigue. And that can’t be found on a spreadsheet.” The way people consume audio—which was already undergoing changes that were accelerated by the pandemic—is changing so dramatically that we need all the qualitative tools at our disposal to grasp the implications of these changes.

Focus groups are hard; they are also time consuming and expensive. Our Campfire Online Focus Groups provide an easier and somewhat less expensive way to gather qualitative insights, and while I applaud the clients who have invested in such studies with us this year, I hope that many of them—and clients who have not done much qualitative work in recent years—recognize that focus group research should be in their plans as soon as it is safe for us to conduct such studies.

As one of my heroes, Ferris Bueller, memorably said,  Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”