Tag Archives: Outside Thinking

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starting to use plus-size models, while Victoria’s Secret stuck to its size zero models; the fashion show being seen as outdated; and the brand being seen as tone-deaf to changing attitudes.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.”










Everything is a Marketing Decision

When you’ve been at the forefront of media research for as long as our company’s founder Jon Coleman has, you’re bound to have lots of “quotables.”

Of course, not everyone at Coleman Insights today can spout off every one of Jon’s nuggets of wisdom. But there’s one most of us have burned into our memory: “Every song you play is a marketing decision.”

Why is this one so sticky?

“Every song you play is a marketing decision” is a simple way of explaining how important your brand is to the success of a music-based radio station. The answer to the question to “Why did you play that song?” should never be “Because it tests.” The answer should be “Because it tests” and “Because it fits.” As Warren Kurtzman wrote when Coleman Insights introduced the FACT360 Strategic Music Test almost exactly six years ago, “to be right for your station, a song should absolutely be popular among and familiar to your target audience. It should also, however, reinforce the brand essence of your station or at least the essence of the brand you’re trying to build.”

Warren explained that it’s not just every song that makes a statement about your brand; it’s the positioning and imaging efforts you employ as well.

But that’s not all. Everything on a radio station is a marketing decision, and that very fact is what makes programming one so daunting and complex. It starts with a song, and expands to the positioning, the imaging, the personalities and how they present the brand. But it further spreads to elements like specialty hours and weekends. It includes the look of external marketing. The content of the website. The tone of the social media pages. The appearance at remote broadcasts. Even the spots played on the station, and certainly the sound of a station on its stream.

There’s no question that the demand on a programmer’s time makes it incredibly difficult to put every piece of content under the brand microscope, and it is realistically impossible to ensure that everything on a radio station meets the brand standards of the PD.

Just don’t ever say these three words: “It’s just one.”

It’s just one song. It’s just one specialty hour of music that’s completely different from what the station is known for, rather than an hour that expands and deepens a positive image. It’s just one­­ – ahem – “enhancement” commercial on an AC station. It’s just one remote with terrible audio. It’s just one talk break. It’s just one social media post. It’s just our stream (In a future Tuesdays With Coleman, we’ll address one way streaming content can adversely affect a station’s brand.)

The attitude of “It’s just one” leads to a piling up of “ones.” And that can end up creating a cumulative issue over time.

Every moment counts. Everything is a marketing decision.



Brand Subtraction: Less May Be More

Let’s say you’re responsible for overseeing a brand. If something is not working, you add something to make it more appealing. Right?

If something is working, you add more things to make it even better. Right?

We’ve addressed this instinct of addition a number of times in our Tuesdays With Coleman blogs. In “Too Many Messages,” Warren Kurtzman illustrated how adding messages to advertisements lowers the likelihood of remembering any single message from the ad. Jay Nachlis alluded to the explosion in entertainment options while quoting Jerry Seinfeld in “Lack of Focus=Lack of Greatness.” HBO’s ascent to juggernaut status happened by focusing on one great show at a time on Sunday nights, which Jon Coleman points out in “Can HBO and Radio Have it All?”

Now, there’s new science to back up addition by subtraction. Inc.’s Jeff Haden refers to a new University of Virginia study that revealed when people attempt to improve something, they default to “additive transformations,” while ignoring “subtractive transformations.”

It’s why a bar owner may think adding Taco Tuesday to his already loaded list of promotions will be just the thing to boost profit margins.

It’s why software developers think adding more features will make their applications easier to use.

And it’s why a radio program director may think adding more music or special features for the sake of quantity will result in more listening and higher ratings.

So, if we know that we’re inclined to add to solve problems, what happens when we’re prompted to subtract to solve the same problems?

When reminded they could remove items or elements, participants in the University of Virginia study were twice as likely to make subtractive changes than additive changes. And the changes were more effective.

Instead of considering what you can add to solve a problem, consider what you can subtract.

How would that focus your radio station’s music message? Or your podcast’s topic? Or one of your streaming service’s channels?

The takeaway is the take away.



How Quantum Leap Can Accelerate Your Show

A couple of weeks ago, a nasty stomach bug floored me. I pretty much didn’t get out of bed for a few days.  My time in quarantine was spent in the room that has the TV without any bells and whistles. No cable, no satellite, not even streaming. I know, the horror. It does, however, kick it old school with an over-the-air antenna that allows me access to forgotten shows that have sat in a vault somewhere for decades until unearthed and repurposed by networks most people have never heard of like Comet. That is how I rediscovered one of my favorite shows, Quantum Leap.

Quantum Leap was a time-travel series that aired from 1989 through 1993. It starred Scott Bakula as a scientist who leaps through time into other people’s bodies to fix problems. Not having seen the show in decades, the detail of the show’s introduction caught my attention.

This voiceover begins each episode:

“Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator – and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so, Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap… will be the leap home.”

That 50-second narration precedes the show theme and credits that follow for a total of two minutes.


While it has become common practice for shows to provide a “Previously on…” clip package to get viewers caught up, it is also common that shows get right into the content quickly. If you’re a new viewer, the onus is on you to figure out the intricacies of the characters and plot lines. Maybe that’s what struck me about the intro to Quantum Leap. It felt like an example of Outside Thinking; adopting the mindset of your consumer. The producers of Quantum Leap assumed that you didn’t know what the show was about when you tuned in. But each week, in less than a minute, you were clear on the premise of the show, the role of the two main characters, and the goal of each episode.

Consider the quarter-hour rule in television. Watch how, in a one-hour episode of a show, the three main story lines are reset every quarter hour or so (usually out of a commercial break). The idea is that new viewers are coming in all the time, and by quick resets through conversations and visuals, they won’t feel lost.


I’ve heard some personality-based shows in the radio, streaming, or podcast space use tag lines or slogans, which can be an effective way to quickly and simply define what a show is about. Some shows will play pieces of character-based imaging, that say the name of the personality followed by a piece of audio that helps establish their role on the show. Is he/she the funny one? The clever one? The silly one? The smart one?

These kind of tactics can feel unnecessary. Will listeners figure out the depths of someone’s role themselves, just by listening? Sure, maybe. But providing clear definitions to the audience can accelerate the process, which can positively impact the personality’s familiarity and evaluation.

As in the Quantum Leap and quarter-hour examples, there is high value when shows decide to set up and reset. Be deliberate about reminding listeners what the show is about. Clearly define roles and plot lines. Remember, if it feels like you’re doing it too often, you just might be getting close to doing it the right amount. Listeners and viewers don’t think like programmers. When programmers think like listeners and viewers, great things happen.


Outside Thinking Gives the XFL a Better Chance to Succeed

Tuesdays With Coleman

The North American sports landscape is littered with failed launches of major leagues to compete with the established players. In basketball, the ABA collapsed, and four remaining viable franchises joined the NBA in 1976. A similar thing happened in hockey three years later when the WHA failed in its effort to take on the NHL.

No sport, however, has seen as many failed professional major leagues as football, as the NFL has fended off competition from many upstarts, including the WFL in the 70s, the USFL (featuring Donald Trump as a franchise owner) in the 80s, the UFL roughly a decade ago and the very recent AAF, which was shut down after eight weeks of play in 2019.

When Vince McMahon, best known for his leadership of World Wrestling Entertainment, announced his intention to launch the XFL, many rolled their eyes in anticipation of the next major football league failure. (Full disclosure: My wife, pictured here with wrestling legend Hulk Hogan, worked in sales marketing for what was then known as the WWF 30 years ago.) Increasing the skepticism of many was the fact that McMahon launched and failed with a previous incarnation of the XFL in 2001.

Sharon Kurtzman and Hulk Hogan of the WWF

Yet, here we are four weeks into the inaugural season of this new incarnation of the XFL and—while it is far from a runaway success—there are numerous signs that the league is off to a good start. Television ratings, which provide a quick, early read, reveal that the games are attracting roughly two million viewers each on the major broadcast networks and about half that on cable networks. These audiences are comparable in size to college and NBA basketball games that have aired nationally in recent weeks. Not surprisingly, ratings—as well as game attendance—have declined since the opening week, but they remain decent. Furthermore, the XFL is generally receiving coverage from the sports media as a credible entity and even the often toxic world of social media is not rife with posts and tweets criticizing the league.

Before I outline the positive moves the league has made, let me take you back to 2001 and the first version of the XFL. It featured tons of WWE-style “attitude” and cast itself as a macho, hardnosed alternative to the NFL (which XFL executives derided as “the No Fun League”) and its recently-initiated rule changes designed to enhance player safety and promote greater sportsmanship. The XFL celebrated the violent, in-your-face side of football and threw in sexy cheerleaders as a bonus. It was created by people reacting to anecdotal negative comments they were hearing from football fans, and as a result, these people vastly underestimated the strength of the NFL and miscalculated what fans wanted out of football. In other words, the first incarnation of the XFL was a classic case of Inside Thinking, with its backers rolling out a strategy based on what they believed the public thought of the NFL and they craved as an alternative.

Today, however, McMahon and company seem to have learned from their previous failure. They are acting like Outside Thinkers, viewing the potential opportunity for another professional league from the perspective of the fans.

What has the XFL gotten right?

  1. They conducted research. XFL executives have been open about the fact that they took the time to ask football fans what they were seeking in another football league and they learned that the quality of the play was more important than the attitude, violence or sexy cheerleaders the first version of the XFL delivered.
  2. They invested in the product. Based on what it learned in the research and knowing it would be working with a lower caliber of players than the NFL, the XFL had more than 1,000 players converge in Houston for 18 days of intensive training camps before the season began. Having the camps for all eight XFL franchises in the same city allowed for greater quality control, improving the chances that each team would put its best foot forward when the season began.
  3. They took care of distribution. All XFL games are airing on major television networks, with weekly games on ABC and FOX and remaining games on their ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2 cable networks. The league is also offering a streaming video option via fuboTV.
  4. They didn’t directly challenge the dominant player. The XFL season started immediately after the NFL season and, perhaps more importantly, the league did not repeat its earlier mistake and waste energy on bashing the NFL. Instead, the league is trying to ride the coattails of the dominant player and get the most passionate football fans to keep following the sport after the NFL season ends.
  5. They innovated appropriately. Part of what is capturing fans’ interest are the differences between the XFL and the NFL. This includes subtle things like the broadcasting of play-calling by the coaches, in-game sideline interviews with players and embracing gambling. It also includes bigger rules changes, such as the XFL’s attempt to bring back excitement to kickoffs without risking player safety and the options for one-, two- and three-point conversions after touchdowns.

One can argue that the first incarnation of the XFL only did one of the five items above, as it was a joint venture with NBC, which aired its games during primetime.

Will the XFL survive? I honestly do not know, but its embrace of Outside Thinking makes me believe its chances of being around five years from now are infinitely better than any of its predecessors.


Start With the Customer and Work Backwards

Tuesdays With Coleman

“Start with the customer experience and work backwards.”

That’s what Steve Jobs says 1:55 into this video from 1997 in response to an audience member who was questioning Jobs’ strategic direction.

It’s an example of Outside Thinking–seeing your product from the viewpoint of your customers.

In the video, Jobs goes on to give an example of how things should not be done at Apple. “We could sit down with the engineers, figure out what technology we have and say, ‘how will we market that?”

That’s Inside Thinking.

Contrast this with, “What incredible benefits can we give to the customer?”

That’s Outside Thinking.

If someone in your industry were to take Jobs’ advice, starting with the customer experience and working backwards, what would it look like?

Picture a whiteboard filled with all the experiences consumers have with your brand including how, where, when and why they use it.

We would consider all points of possible friction, and then determine if there are more effective ways to deliver the experience.

How would this look at your company?

Business teams are far more likely to take stock of how they deliver the customer experience and adjust it based on their experience with the product. When approached in this manner, there’s always the danger of “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome.

By taking the Outside Thinking approach–starting with the customer experience and working backwards–that’s where you’ll discover the new approaches and innovations that truly create passion and loyalty.

Coleman Insights to Present “Outside Thinking” to Christian Music Broadcasters

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC, August 23, 2018 – Christian Music Broadcasters (CMB) has announced Coleman Insights Executive Vice President Sam Milkman has been added as a featured speaker at Momentum 2018, the organization’s annual conference that attracts more than 700 radio and record industry professionals in Christian music formats.

In this rapid-fire session, Milkman will demonstrate how Christian music programmers can better understand the habits, needs and perceptions of their listeners to build powerful, clearly defined brands that motivate listeners to tune in time and time again.

CMB Executive Director Michelle Younkman says, “We are looking forward to having Sam join us at Momentum 2018, Christian Music Broadcasters’ premier event. His expertise and insights will help CMB accomplish our mission to encourage, engage and equip our attendees to reach more people.”

Milkman will present “Outside Thinking: Flip the Script on How You Think About Your Radio Station” Thursday, September 6 at 10:15am at Momentum 2018 at Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.

Find details of Coleman Insights’ presentation here. For information on Momentum 2018, click here.

Introducing Coleman Insights

Tuesdays With Coleman

Back in May, we delivered a presentation at Worldwide Radio Summit called “Outside Thinking: Flip The Script On How You Think About Your Radio Station.”

Inside Thinking is what happens when you think like an employee of your company. Outside Thinking is what happens when you think like a consumer or prospective consumer of your company.

It was the principles of Outside Thinking, one of our core philosophies at Coleman Insights, that led us to a few debuts in the digital space a few days ago.

First and foremost is our new video, “This Is Coleman Insights.”

Why would we produce a video explaining what Coleman Insights is all about? After all, our company has been around since 1978. We work with hundreds of radio stations and media brands. Shouldn’t people already know what they need to know about Coleman Insights?

That’s Inside Thinking.

Outside Thinking dictates that there will always be prospective customers with no previous knowledge of our brand.

Inside Thinking tells us prospective and even current clients understand what goes into our projects.

Outside Thinking calls for introducing the people behind the projects. As Jon Coleman notes at the start of the video, “Research can be kind of intimidating, sterile, and have a lot of grey in terms of interpretation.”

A Coleman Insights study features a group of media research experts working collaboratively behind the scenes to ensure the insights we deliver are crystal clear and actionable, and anything but sterile. We wanted to introduce those people and the process to you.

We’ve also made some improvements to our website.

You’ll notice that video is front and center, and you’ll find some FAQs answered by our senior consultants.

Outside Thinking is thinking like your customer, so we’re offering answers to some of the questions we often hear.

I hope you’ll watch the video of our Outside Thinking presentation, which you’ll also find on our site.

We’ll continue to look for ways to practice Outside Thinking here at Coleman Insights and look forward to sharing the journey with you.

Outside Thinking Video Released From Worldwide Radio Summit

 RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC, May 31, 2018 – Coleman Insights has released the video of its keynote presentation delivered at Worldwide Radio Summit in Hollywood earlier this month.

In “Outside Thinking: Flip The Script On How You Think About Your Radio Station,” Warren Kurtzman, Sam Milkman and John Boyne explain the tenets of Outside Thinking, which involves approaching radio station programming from the listener’s point of view.

The video covers session highlights, including how listeners choose radio stations based on habit, needs, perceptions, language and lifestyle. “Listeners don’t go through a formal process of deciding which stations to listen to,” explains President Warren Kurtzman. “By understanding the reasons and ways listeners select and use stations, programmers can utilize the principles of Outside Thinking as part of their strategic decisions.”

The video of “Outside Thinking: Flip The Script On How You Think About Your Radio Station” is now available here.