Category Archives: Book Insights

5 Branding Pointers Every Marketer Should Embrace

 “Power branding is not an intention, nor is it merely an action. It’s a commitment.”

There’s a guy in New Mexico who really understands brand marketing.

Steve McKee is founder and president of McKee Wallwork + Company.  He’s also the author of When Growth Stalls and Power Branding.

Credit: McKee Wallwork + Company.

Credit: McKee Wallwork + Company.

In Power Branding (2014), McKee provides concise, 2-3 page chapters that each deliver a key thought with examples.  It’s an easy read that will challenge your thinking and/or reinforce any brand marketing discipline that may have gotten a bit out-of-shape.

Here are 5 Power Branding Pointers to whet your appetite:

1. Branding is everything a company does, from the logo on its letterhead, to the way it handles customer complaints, to whether its uniformed personnel keep their shirts tucked in.

2. Branding is like baseball: You may throw a bad pitch, but it’s a long season.  If you execute steadily and consistently, the statistics will work in your favor. Continue reading

Joe Pulizzi Knows Content Marketing. You Can Too.

Do you want to get smarter about using content marketing to grow your business?

Then read Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi. Recognized as a content marketing evangelist, Pulizzi is the author of three books and the founder of the Content Marketing Institute.

His third book is full of practical tips that are integrated with solid marketing discipline.  It’s easy-to-read, has lots of examples, and contains “how to” implementation steps.

Whether you’re an up-and-comer marketer or a skilled practitioner, there’s something to strengthen your marketing tool kit in this book.


1.  Content Marketing Definition.  “Your customers don’t care about you, your products, or your services.  They care about themselves. their wants, and their needs.  Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you.Continue reading

Mr. Selfridge’s Philosophy is Timeless – And Still Valuable



Thanks to the PBS Masterpiece series Mr. Selfridge, viewers on both sides of the pond have been introduced to the world of retail marketing and merchandising innovator Harry Selfridge.

In 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge launched his eponymous London department store Selfridges, which today is an iconic landmark.  The store revolutionized the shopping experience for British consumers, and observers credit it for helping to propel major societal changes in pre-World War II Britain.

The current Selfridges store pays homage to its namesake founder:

“Harry Selfridge was the first in the UK to allow customers to touch and interact directly with the store’s products and the first to sell a broad mix of inexpensive and extremely luxurious items under one roof.  Effectively, he wanted for every customer to feel welcome at his store.  He was also the only one to relentlessly use his store as a theatre, an exhibition space and a playground to delight customers with unexpected experiences.  Retail theatre was born.”

While the TV series is outstanding, I’ve especially enjoyed learning about the business philosophy that underpinned how Selfridge operated the store.  More than 100 years later, his breakthrough thinking remains spot-on and valuable to today’s marketing and business practitioners.

In 1918, Selfridge published The Romance of Commerce, in which he articulated his philosophy and explained his business ideas.

Photo: Adams Media

Photo: Adams Media

Last year, Adams Media released an abridged and updated version, from which I’ve selected and organized some of his timeless marketing and business ideas.

Take a few mid-summer reading minutes and soak-in the timeless wisdom of Harry Selfridge.



  • This ability, therefore, to organize, to breathe into others that fire of enthusiasm, that quality of judgment, that spirit of progress, has long been considered by thinking men of commerce as the final and greatest of all qualities, the test of supreme commercial genius.


Continue reading

Nuclear Sub Commander Transforms Leadership, Gets Winning Performance

TurnTheShipAround Book CoverA nuclear submarine commander has written a must-read book about how to achieve great performance at every level of your organization.

David Marquet’s  Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders is terrific for all team players in your company.  It’s especially powerful for those entrusted with leading direct reports.  

I loved the book.  Marquet has distilled his philosophy into a concise, attention-keeping,  easy read filled with examples of how he and his crew turned the worst performing nuclear sub into the best.

You, too, can apply this philosophy, but first you’ll have to adopt a new mindset that will lead to different actions.  Marquet’s thesis is that we need to transform leadership from a “leader-follower” mode to one of “leader-leader.”  That’s how he transformed the USS Santa Fe from a dysfunctional “one captain and 134 crewmen” into a high-octane operation of “135 thinkers.” Continue reading

HBS Professor: Time to Rebrand & Reimagine Strategy

When it comes to strategy, the force should be with you, says a Harvard b-school professor:

“Talk about strategy as the animating force of a company, the energy that directs everything that a company does.”

The Strategist - Cynthia MontgomerySo says Cynthia A. Montgomery (video interview below), the Timken Professor of Business Administration and author of The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs.

Montgomery has formed new thoughts about strategy based on years of teaching and coaching global business executives.  She writes:

“I came to see that we cannot afford to think of strategy as something fixed, a problem that is solved and settled.  Strategy – the system of value creation that underlies a company’s competitive position and uniqueness – has to be embraced as something open, not something closed.  It is a system that evolves, moves, and changes.”

The professor advises executives to consider four basic questions when it comes to strategy:

  1. What does my organization bring to the world?
  2. Does that difference matter?
  3. Is something about it scarce and difficult to imitate?
  4. Are we doing today what we need to do in order to matter tomorrow?

Watch Montgomery discuss why strategy needs to be reimagined. Continue reading

What the Marines Can Teach Business Leaders

“I wish there was a book I could read that would tell me what to do.” (former brand management colleague)

As soon as I heard these words, I knew her days at our company were numbered.

They were, and it was a shame.  She was a new, junior marketer with an MBA from one of the best universities, and clearly a bright person.  At the same time, though, she was not cut out for the rough and tumble world of brand management, at least not in that company at that time.

One of the most prized business capabilities is being able to think on your feet, to take basic knowledge and principles and to be able to apply them in new and challenging situations.  As my former colleague learned, magic instructions rarely exist.  Notwithstanding training and coaching, you’ve got to figure it out!

The challenge is how to develop these capabilities.

Corps BusinessThere’s much good learning from the book Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines (David H. Freedman).  It’s an easy read and contains excellent lessons and/or reminders for marketers and business leaders.

Consider this.  If you were given an inside opportunity to learn from this company, wouldn’t you want to?

[They] “have specialized in operating under chaotic, fast changing, high-intensity conditions that provide not only little way of knowing what the opposition is going to throw at you but perhaps no way of knowing exactly who the opposition is going to be.”

Hell yes!

I’ve previously written about Principle 1, Aim for the 70-Percent Solution:  “It’s better to decide quickly on an imperfect plan than to roll out a perfect plan when it’s too late.”

You can learn all 30 principles and more in the book.

In the meantime, I’ve organized 8 Key Nuggets and highlighted 3 More Principles that particularly resonated for me.

1.  Keep Getting Better

“No matter how good the Marines get at any aspect of their mission, they never consider themselves to have reached a pinnacle.  They always suspect that somehow there’s a better way to do things.”

2.  Foster a Climate of Action

“But it does want its people to be bold – that is, to take initiative and, when in doubt, to act rather than mull things over while critical events are unfolding.” Continue reading

How to Get Rid of Innovation-itis

Do you have innovation-itis?

If so, you’re probably not alone.

Let’s talk about how you can instill a pragmatic, achievement-based innovation mindset within your team and across your company.  First of all, innovation doesn’t mean you have to invent the next light bulb!

David Aaker, in his book Brand Relevance, organizes innovation into a three- type continuum, which he describes as follows:

Incremental Innovation:  noticeable impact on brand preference (modest improvement that will affect brand preference)

Substantial Innovation:  New category or sub-category (an offering enhancement that is so noteworthy that a group of customers will not consider a brand that is not comparable. (Heavenly Bed at Westin)

Transformational Innovation:  Game changer (the basic offering has changed qualitatively to the extent that existing offerings and ways of doing business are obsolete for a target segment or application, and existing competitors are simply not relevant.  (Tide (Ariel outside the United States) introduced a synthetic detergent technology that made soap powders obsolete.)

I would argue that business teams and senior executives struggle and even become disillusioned with innovation because of the wrong expectations.  They strive for the transformational innovation at the expense of achieving and implementing the incremental or substantial innovation.

One remedy:  if you pay attention to how people and customers actually use products and/or solve problems, you may find opportunities.  The fancy word for this is ethnographic research.  But, you can get important learning even if you don’t have a big research budget.  There are cost-effective ways to cultivate and maintain a fact-based, outside:in perspective.  Find them and use them.

With these thoughts in mind, let’s take a look at two recent marketplace examples: water fountains and baseball bats.

Elkay EZH2O Bottle Filling Station (

Elkay EZH2O Bottle Filling Station (

I bet you’d think that water fountain manufacturers would be stymied when it comes to innovation.  Not the folks at Elkay.  By studying usage, they discovered something important:  it’s pretty hard to fill a water bottle at a standard fountain!

So they made a bottle filling water fountain, which caters to “green” consumers and waste-management conscious facilities: Continue reading