[Burger King, please read this!]
This week’s news from Burger King perfectly highlights why the brand has been struggling for so long – Burger King engages ad agencies in a shoot-out to look for a new brand positioning strategy. This is an egregious mistake on the part of the Burger King management team. It’s brand suicide.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. The brand is way bigger than just advertising.  A true brand is holistic – it impacts everything: shopper marketing, product design and innovation, social media, promotions, associate behaviors, mobile, digital, the retail experience, package design, e-commerce, channel strategy, sales, PR, loyalty, advertising – and the list goes on.
  2. “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Ad agencies have a limited focus and purpose.  Agency folks are paid for developing creative executions (i.e. television commercials) NOT holistic brand strategies. Even the agency brand/account planners are charged with the responsibility of helping produce better creative work, not defining the brand.
  3. Many companies use multiple agencies. If you have an advertising, digital, direct, social, promotions, media, PR, mobile, and shopper marketing agency, which one is in charge of the brand?  Is anyone even taking into consideration the needs of the brand?
  4. When an ad agency creates the brand position, the internal corporate brand team doesn’t own the brand. That’s why many sophisticated companies such as Kraft have taken brand strategy and planning in-house. Internal brand teams have access to information, goals, objectives and discussions that no agency can have. And, it allows companies to become agency-independent so they can work with whatever outside partners they want.
  5. Often, agencies are selected in a pitch process. This is the fastest way to guarantee that your brand will be a hit or miss proposition. In most cases, the agencies are left to their own devices to find the golden nugget that will resonate with consumers. This means whichever agency has the best creative wins, and creativity is subjective, not based on a sound and tested strategic platform – or even what consumers actuall want and need.
  6. As Deep Throat advised Bob Woodward,“Follow the money. Always follow the money.” What do you pay your agencies for? Not a holistic brand strategy, that’s for sure.

So how should Burger King and other companies manage their brand positioning? First, they should engage an independent brand strategy firm (call Doug McIntyre at Cult Marketing) to conduct a deep strategic dive, develop key insights, and define the brand strategy.  Then that brand platform can be provided to all the agencies they want to work with to develop creative executions across the various media channels. It will help the brand, the agencies, will produce better and more effective work, and help eliminate the abusive process of agency shoot-outs.

The departure of JCP President Michael Francis after just eight months on the job is the latest fallout from the retailer’s questionable new marketing strategy and ad campaign. Factor in other indicators – including JCP’s well-publicized 20 percent sales decline in the first quarter and the onslaught of negative customer feedback on its social media accounts – and it’s clear the consumers have spoken.

But why the reaction? After all, the ads are fun and memorable and they certainly had plenty of media weight.

In a word – strategy.

Let’s say you had a creative brief for the campaign, and it contained the old standby “What are we trying to convince consumers of?” In this case, JCP believed that eliminating sales, discounts and price promotions in exchange for an everyday low price structure would convince customers that they needn’t wait for a coupon in the mail to get the best deal.

Here’s the rub – CEO Ron Johnson publicly admitted that they didn’t perform any concept testing with consumers. Had they done so, I think they would have discovered that:

JCP customers like sales, discounts, and price promotions. The new strategy was disincentive to them.
Non-JCP customers don’t embrace the new pricing philosophy as a reason to shop there.

Using myself as an example, I have not been in a JCP for years, which means I should be a target consumer for this new campaign. But there are two big problems. One, an ELP strategy doesn’t resonate with me, largely because as a non customer, I didn’t know they didn’t have an ELP philosophy in the first place. Two, the reasons I don’t go there – my perception of old ugly stores, a boring selection of goods, and a brand I do not want to associate with – were not initially adequately addressed (although JCP recently announced plans to better explain its “merchandise initiatives,” including new and transformed brands and a reinvented in-store experience).

Too little too late? Maybe. This is definitely a case where some consumer investigation using a small sample of loyal, marginal and non consumers would have exposed the problems with the strategy well before the numbers did. Cult just initiated an insights “sample pack” in which we demonstrate our entire process with a limited number of consumers.  After the initial insights and findings are presented, the client can choose to green-light the complete process to validate the findings and insights.

Hey JCP, that would have saved you a few hundred million large.

In every culture throughout the world, people communicate through stories or “narratives.”  Join Cult Marketing’s Internationally recognized brand strategist, Jim Driscoll, PhD,  and learn how Narratology-based research can drive brand and marketing strategies, consumer segmentation, brand positioning, and new product development.

You’ll learn:

  1. How to execute an innovative process for developing breakthrough consumer and market insights
  2. How to define the optimal brand position
  3. How to develop the right messages to your customers


Date: September 20, 2012
Time: 11:30am – 1pm
Dublin Community Hall, Talla 2 Room
Located in the Dublin Community Recreation Center
5600 Post Road
Dublin, OH 43017
Get Directions

Non Members: $20
Enjoy a lunch provided by Mojo Tago – Gourmet made-from-scratch tacos.
This event is open to all professionals and students seeking a forum to network and discuss topics relevant to area marketing professionals.

About the Speaker:

Jim Driscoll is a strategy consultant specializing in marketing, branding and competitive strategy. Jim has worked in a variety of industries including consumer products, construction, high technology, financial services and the automotive after-markets, where he has advised clients on brand and marketing strategy, competitive positioning, new product development, and brand portfolio management.  Jim’s passion lies in combining qualitative and quantitative expertise that helps to inform actionable strategies to grow brands and businesses.
Jim has led a series of major initiatives for many clients including a global brand equity study in Europe, Asia, and the America’s for Honeywell, Grace Ice and Water Shield, Uvex, Sperian Fire, Mobil Motor Oil, Pounce Cat Treats, and Masco among others.  Over the last five years he has served as a major advisor to Sperian Protection, the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial safety equipment.  In 2005, Jim served as a primary advisor to DelMonte foods and was responsible for the strategic recommendation to double the size of the business by purchasing both the Meow Mix and Milkbone biscuit brands.  DelMonte executed the proposed strategy and completed these transactions in 2006 for an estimated $1.3 billion.
Jim received his B.A. from Stanford University, where he graduated valedictorian of his class. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He began his consulting career at Braxton Associates, the strategy consulting division of Deloitte and Touche. At Braxton Jim worked on a number of major brands including Heinz ketchup and Dial soap and on international marketing strategy projects for Citibank and Aetna. In 1990 he was one of five expatriates to launch the Russian practice of Deloitte and Touche.  He is currently one of 30 “Higher Order of Excellence” professors at Northwestern University where he researches the cultural history of market societies.

Too many online choices

On our first usability post in December, we talked about three ways to increase usability on your website. We’re picking up where we left off, and giving you three more ideas to test, and possibly integrate into your site to encourage your customers to take action.

1. Choices: Have you ever stopped by one of the taste testing stands at the grocery store? Well, people are drawn in by options, but they don’t usually Too many online choicespurchase if there are too many options. Cult tip: apply this to your ecommerce store or landing page. Think about how many products you’re showcasing on a given page. General rule of thumb: show 3-4 products for optimal conversion. Make sure to include filters and easy-to-use search options to allow your customer to find exactly what they’re looking for. After all, in order to achieve your conversion goals, you have to give your customer exactly what they’re looking for.


2. Reciprocity & Concession: Reciprocity is considered as a strong determining factor of human behavior.  Lead generation is extremely valuable for most of you, and the forms you use on your website to generate leads directly relate to reciprocity. Cult tip: if you’re trying to get a user to fill out a form, offer them something of value. You show them what they want; they give you what you want.  It’s a win-win. This concept works well if you have free samples to give away, monthly drawings, or engaging, useful content (white papers, ebooks, etc.).


3. Similarity, Attractiveness, Association: Let’s face it; we all enjoy being around like-minded people.  Our social & professional groups, gyms, office (for the most part) all resemble people like YOU.  Our associations with people who we can relate to help us feel comfortable, and lead to taking action.  Cult tip: define exactly who your customer is that you want to take action.  Where do they live, what do they do for fun and what might they look like?  Use images that resemble your target customer, and tell stories they can relate to.  If your product or service solved a problem for someone they can relate to, likelihood is that they will want that same solution.

Starbucks has a Cult Following

Starbucks has a Cult FollowingWe have been espousing the many benefits of developing a Cult following for brands. These include increased customer loyalty, premium pricing, and brand evangelism. Now, as Michael Brush has pointed out in his MSN Money article, the benefits of cult marketing can extend to the stock market as well. He cites Apple, Harley Davidson, Starbucks, Under Armour, Sirius XM, and Lululemon as examples of cult brands that have been extremely successful in the stock market. Here is the link to his article: http://goo.gl/R7A6H

Mayo Clinic logo

The Mayo Clinic is arguably the most successful medical organization in the world. How do they do it? What is their model, why is it successful, and is it possible to apply key features of their model to the delivery of marketing services?

The Mayo Clinic has a formal and proven 135-year old Model of Care. At its core, it is completely patient-centric and integrated. In spite of the ever-increasing number of medical specialties, the Mayo model demands collaboration to benefit the patient’s well-being. To avoid physician self-interest, turf issues and financial conflict, all doctors are required to work in patient teams and all are on salary.

Much like the medical profession, the marketing world has seen a proliferation of specialists. But unlike the Mayo Model and its integrated, collaborative approach, many corporations have moved to a fragmented agency model. How many companies work with a large number of speciality agencies like advertising, digital, PR, product design, packaging, in-store, media buying, social, direct, loyalty, brand strategy, research, and others?

It raises the question, who is looking out for the health of the “marketing” patient? Who is responsible for the overall brand strategy? Are all of these fragmented service providers serving in the best interest of the brand and working to achieve the company goals? Or, are they trying to get a larger piece of the fee pie?

How do you get your customer to take action on your website? What is the most important action a customer can take, and how do you measure that? That, my Cult friends, is called usability.  The way you design the creative, and develop the functional aspects of your website, can either make or break your marketing efforts, and should be considered among the top priorities when building site infrastructure.

When designing client websites at Cult, the driving force behind them is what the public sees, and how they interact. Here are a few concepts to keep in mind when brainstorming usability tactics, taken from Susan Weinschenk’s principles of applying psychology to understand ‘what makes them click.’

    1. Social validation on your websiteSocial validation: People are very affected by what their friends are doing, which is why user reviews and ‘Jane liked this, so you should too’ types of Facebook promotions are so important. People want to be part of the ‘in-crowd’ and will jump on your bandwagon if friends are, so use this to your advantage. Cult tip: incorporate social validation through feeds, badges, testimonials and reviews. User reviews should incorporate as much info. about the reviewer and item being reviewed as possible for even more validation. A good example of reviews can be found on the Modcloth website. Overall, this aspect is a large part of what we practice, ‘cult marketing’, and is a crucial piece in your branding and marketing efforts.


    1. Fear of loss usability exampleScarcity & fear of loss: We can all relate to this one. If you think something is available for only a short amount of time, your ‘fear of loss’ instinct kicks in and makes you want it even more. Fear lives in the ‘old brain’ as Susan explains, and is the driving force behind a lot of action that a user will take. Here’s a great example from a retail store; imagine if you applied it to your online cart as Seth mentions. Cult tip: use a call to action involving numbers, setting deadlines, or limits, and add parameters to download options, events, and signups. Cult has integrated ‘fear of loss’ with white papers, webinars, and contest signups to name a few.


  1. Paint the picture with peoplePhotos & stories: “Let me tell you a story” is a great way to capture an audience and get their attention. You can do this through photos that start to tell your story. Paint users a picture that will activate the pain sensors in the brain, helps them relate to your story, and ultimately buy-in to your message. Cult tip: use faces to tell a story which has been the most effective for us, and combine photos with short messages that lead into your longer text.

Read more from Susan here: What Makes Them Click

It’s the time of the year to reflect and give thanks for all the good things that happened during the year. We decided not to do that. Rather, we thought it would be way more fun to commemorate history and hold our first annual Cult Turkey Shoot.

Someone got the bright idea to dress up like pilgrims to get in the spirit of shooting turkeys. Some people wear camouflage when hunting turkeys, but we have a soft spot for the garb preferred by our forefathers.

We also wanted a way to shoot turkeys to make it challenging and visually interesting, as we were going to capture this important day on film. So, our in-house engineer and artisan Kyle built a giant sling shot to launch turkeys into the air after capture. This would both look cool and give us the opportunity to demonstrate our shooting skills – or lack thereof.

No turkey shoot would be complete without guns, so we had our friends at AimHi Shooting Range bring their favorite shot guns and 3 inch magnum shells. During the warm-up, CEO Doug McIntyre was overheard saying, “There is nothing like the smell of gunpowder in the afternoon…it smells like victory.”

As the day progressed, the Cult team fearlessly challenged the vicious Orient, Ohio wild turkeys. The turkey call was played beautifully to lure the beasts into range, much like the sirens luring ships onto the rocks. We mastered the various turkey calls: gobbles, clucks, putts, purrs, yelps, cutts, cackles and kee-kees.

While the calls may not have produced a plethora of turkeys, we made due with a species native to the area. We stalked the available turkeys and blasted them as they attempted to run away.

A high powered sniper rifle was brought in to deal with the turkeys playing hard to get and instantly regretted trying to be coy. As you can see from the images, the turkeys were no match for the fierce Cult Pilgrims. The Cult team took it to the turkeys and carried the day.

Social media evolution

Social media is now part of our world, and not just for personal communication and sharing. The evolution of how social media has blurred the lines between work and personal life is the most fascinating to me. I can admit that our team was somewhat alarmed when clients started friending us on Facebook in 2010; and how did mom and grandma become so active this year?! Well, this is our reality now, and platforms and social efforts will continue to merge in 2012.

Social media for business will continue to be an integral part of marketing initiatives as a majority of businesses increase social and mobile marketing budgets while scaling back on print and display advertising. Whether they work in B2B or B2C marketing, marketers are very well aware that consumers are driving the shift in sales and conversions, and marketers are following suit.

So how else will social media in 2012 evolve? Here’s the opinion of Cult’s expert, Andria Trivisonno, and other expert opinions, on where we’re headed: goo.gl/HSMkP

Follow Us @followcult
Follow Andria @andriatriv

To demonstrate the teeth whitening effectiveness of the new Prime Time Smile product in conjunction with its national release, Cult Marketing created the ultimate product demonstration challenge – to whiten the tusk of a pre-historic mastodon.

Cult Marketing organized a Prime Time Smile whitening team to visit a Museum of Natural History to apply both the Pre-Treatment and Whitening Gel formulations to the 11,000+ year old mastodon tusk over a period of five days.

As the time lapse photographs clearly demonstrate, the Dual-Action Teeth Whitening System works wonders on even “ancient” and hard-to-remove stains.

In the future, we plan to send the Prime Time Smile whitening team to scour the country in search of other interesting artifacts, displays, or iconic monuments that could benefit from a good whitening.

Washington's Teeth

The world needs to see how well Prime Time Smile actually works. Up next – George Washington’s False Teeth. If you have a great idea of what needs to be whitened, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re also working on a print ad that will feature the mastodon story, and will add the story and photographs to the Prime Time Smile website and Facebook page to round out the social media coverage.

Prime Time Smile is available exclusively at Walmart stores and Walmart.com. Check it out: walmart.com