Interview With Graham Robertson – President of Beloved Brands Inc.
Graham Robertson is the President of Beloved Brands Inc. He started Beloved Brands Inc. to help companies realize their full potential value by generating more love for their brands. With 20 years in marketing, working on many Beloved Brands such as Coke, Listerine, Band Aid, TD Bank and Cheerios, Graham earned a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can not, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining success. He is a former business leader who takes pride in being equally good in strategy as he is at execution. He likes to challenge the work always asking, “If you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand?” Most of Graham’s experience came at Johnson & Johnson where he spent 11 years rising from Brand Manager up to Head of Marketing. At J&J, Graham led the re-positioning of Listerine Mouthwash, the launch of Listerine PocketPaks (strips) and the turnaround of both Reactine and Nicoderm. He also has experience at General Mills, Coke, TD Bank and GE. Graham is a marketer at heart who loves everything about brands. He has told me that on holidays, he likes to go into grocery stores just to look around. Graham also confessed that he loves new TV ads and admires work that he wishes he had made. Based on his experience, Graham believes when marketers miss the mark, it is often because they don’t truly think about the consumer. To Graham, everything starts and ends with the consumer in mind. He asserts the consumer’s love is a source of power for a brand. And that power becomes a source you can leverage to drive further brand growth and profit.
I first became acquainted with Graham on LinkedIn. As a member of his Beloved Brands Group, I was impressed with his thinking. As a consequence, I reached out to Graham to get his thoughts on the reapplication of product and corporate branding in economic development. I think you will like his feedback for two reasons. First, Graham is Canadian so he has a unique perspective on Brand America. Second, Graham is a branding master and his comments reflect it.
It is my pleasure to publish this interview and hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it.
Thinking about our nation in the context of a global brand, how would you articulate as the core brand promise?
To me, the US brand promise centres around Freedom—which still forms the basis of the American Dream. The freedom extends beyond politics to the business world with free enterprise capitalism and a business structure that has enabled growth. The US needs to stay true to delivering this brand promise.
A model I admire is your Brand Love curve. Can you share your thoughts on where Brand USA is on the curve and what the potential implications/indicated actions might be?
The way the Brand Love Curve works is that it maps out how connected the consumers are to your brand. Consumers move along the curve going from Indifferent to Like It to Love it and finally to the Beloved Brand stage. At the Beloved Brand stage, consumers become fans, they crave the brand and are even outspoken. This depth and heat of the consumer connectivity becomes a source of power for the brand that can be leveraged with channels of distribution, against competitors, with potential suppliers, employees or even key influencers such as doctors or the media. And finally, that power can be leveraged against the very consumers that love the brand—they are willing to pay higher prices will jump at the chance to buy new items and be willing to buy a bigger share of requirements with that brand. The more loved the brand, the more powerful that brand. And in turn the power can drive higher growth and stronger profits.
Using the Brand Love Curve, Brand USA is still a Beloved Brand, even with a struggling US economy. People around the world still see the US as the economic leader and they are waiting for the economic turnaround. The most Beloved Brands attack themselves before others can, identifying and fixing any flaws before they are discovered. There are many former Beloved Brands that stood still—ask Gap, Blackberry or Sony.
The US has a few issues they need to identify and attack to ensure they can still deliver upon their brand promise.
Issue #1: The US is demographically challenged with the Baby Boomers retiring and could be a real potential strain as the Baby Busters who will need to support them for the next 30-40 years. What are the potential solutions to help address this potential strain? I’d like to see people brainstorming solutions on this but I’m not hearing anyone even asking this question.
Issue #2: There is a lot of political debate about the fairness of the tax structure in the US, but no one is asking about what would be a tax structure that would give the US a competitive advantage. Other markets have changed their corporate tax policies to encourage local production and drive their local economies. I’d like to see the US set up a tax policy they can stand behind and win with.
Issue #3: In the 20th century, the US was able to flex their corporate might globally. The US used capitalism to project the promise of the American Dream: “Anyone could make it in America”. Capitalism generated the highest GDP, which translated into the highest standard of living. As economic recovery comes to the US, I’d like to see the US flex their economic muscle again.
We need a strong America and a healthy American economy.
As you think about the reapplication of product and corporate branding principles to the branding of cities or communities, which would you consider to be the top 2 – 3 that economic development professionals should focus on and why?
A Beloved Brand is either better, different or cheaper. Try to identify everything that potential consumers could be looking for and begin mapping those needs against what your community can deliver better than other communities. Be honest with what you have to offer and you’ll find your winning formula. Your offering could be a unique tourism offering to consumers. Or it could be a highly educated workforce, where you take a B2B approach and create a business develop team that targets companies. Or it could be cheaper labour that would make a new plant investment worthwhile. To me, focus is the first basis of any brand strategy—a focused target and a focused positioning message to that target. You will win if you matter to someone that cares.
Authenticity of a brand promise is important to success. I have recently been collaborating with Xavier University to leverage their American Dream Composite Index as a performance measure for the authenticity of Brand America’s promise. What are your thoughts about the ADCI as a way to compare the attractiveness of one geography versus another for capital investment (recognizing the current limitation to regions, but an expectation the index will be available at the state and MSA level in the future)? What kinds of conversations would you expect would be stimulated by a focus on improving the ADCI score?
I love what you’re trying to do with the ADCI. It would be interesting to see a community track it over time and compare again various geographies that they might be competing with. That can help give the economic development organization focus. I’d want to see the ADCI score mapped against a Brand Funnel that measures the Awareness, Consideration, Purchase (capital investment), and Loyalty scores for community brands. Not only will the brand funnel be able to track progress, but also it can help align focus. If you see weakness on parts of the Brand Funnel, you’ll know where you need to put your focus.
I often lecture on the difference between features and benefits. I have a slide that reads, “features tell, benefits sell”. How would you explain the difference between the two and can you share a few examples to illustrate that difference?
I totally agree. People don’t want a ¾ inch drill; they need a ¾ inch hole. Features are what your brand does. But, I have a phrase that I use with my clients: “Consumers are selfish. They don’t care about what you do, until you care about what they need”. This forces a brand leader to get in the shoes of the consumer and ask, “So what do I get” which gets them to think about benefits instead of just features. When you speak in the consumer’s voice, you become more connected. And when you satisfy a real problem or a need, you become more powerful.
If a small community wanted to leverage branding as a strategy to become more competitive for capital investment, what would your general advice be to get them on the right path?
Marketing is not just about activity. It is about strategic focus. As a community, find your competitive advantage and drive that into a unique selling proposition. Focus on key targets who have the highest likelihood to buy and match your assets/features to those target and create real benefits—both rational and emotional. Find something that you do better than anyone else. And make a big deal of it. Make sure you matter to someone that cares. Focus Focus Focus.
If an economic development organization wanted to follow-up with you to explore the potential to contract with your company to help with a community-branding project, what would be the best way to proceed?
Let’s start with a conversation. While I bring 20 years of brand experience and a reputation for finding growth where others couldn’t, I’m a big believer that you likely have the answer but just don’t know it. I love workshops where we bring the collective knowledge in the room and challenge each other to find the best solution. I have some very unique tools that can get your thinking to move in the right direction. You’ll walk away with a unique selling proposition and a plan of attack you can stand behind.