Maybe Your Marketing Isn’t Working Because Your Strategists Are Too Lazy And Follow The Crowd?

Those who follow me or know about the type of things I do will probably remember that I launched a little Facebook quiz via Playbuzz that helps determine the type of strategist you tend to be. The quiz was taken by almost 7000 strategists.

While most of my writing about this quiz so far has focused on the outcome, this blog entry focuses more on some of the detailed findings, which I find both alarming and enlightening in explaining the current state of strategic marketing thinking:

An unhealthy obsession with “Culture” and qualitative research:

One of the questions in the quiz asked the question about the preferred research tool. “Cultural trend data” (34.6%) and “qualitative projective techniques” (34.2%) appear to be the most preferred research tools and I find this alarming.

The industry has had an obsession with culture and cultural branding for the last few years which while useful is also limiting. Now don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of culture and cultural branding. I’ve always been. But what is culture really? Merriam Webster defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also :the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time”. Hasn’t understanding the cultural context of your audience always been part of good marketing and good communication? The industry has turned sound marketing practices into a buzz word, in the process implying some sort of new and magical solution to business problems. Which it is not.

My own research for positioning-roulette shows that “culture” is only one of 26 potentially successful strategies when positioning a brand (and that is based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of successful marketing). That means that obsessing over culture and cultural branding means leaving out over 96% of the potential solutions you have at your disposal to solve a business problem in a unique and relevant way. Imagine your doctor, or lawyer or even repair shop would use a similar approach.

Further, since everyone obsesses about this new buzzword and focuses on “culture” to identify a solution to your business problem isn’t it obvious that everyone will net-out with the same answers and solutions. Good luck with trying to get your brand and your communication to stand out with that.

A lazy approach to problem solving:

The answers to the 2nd question in the quiz are even more worrisome in my opinion. In fact, 50.4% of respondents (as a reminder almost 7000 people played the quiz) claim that “they usually come to a solution rather quickly, the answer usually comes to me almost immediately”. 49.6% on the other hand “come up with a solution rather slowly, knowing that it just takes time to come with the best solution”.  

Now, unless the 50% who come up with a solution almost immediately are strategic geniuses (the Bell Curve model would disagree with that) this points to a very lazy behavior. I’ve been in this business for over 20 years and, because of the nature of my work, worked on more projects, in more categories and geographies than most strategists out there. And yet, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times when a solution came to me right away. And yes, sometimes the obvious solution is the best one, but we all know that this usually isn’t the case.

The answers to this quiz seem to indicate that half the strategists out there don’t seem to put the necessary effort (or can’t for whatever reason) into trying to identify the best possible solution to the business problems they are trying to solve and that ⅔ of them look for answers where everyone else is looking. Einstein’s quote about insanity comes to mind here.

So maybe it is no wonder that a lot of the brand communication out there feels so expected and generic and that so many new product ideas fail. Laziness, a focus on the obvious and a herd mentality have never been the key to success and to great brand building.

If you want to find a more rigorous and insightful approach to developing genuinely innovative solutions to your business problem and brand positioning platforms, check out Positioning-Roulette, our proprietary methodology to deliver successful business results.


The Value Of Low-Costs/High Returns Experimentation In The Lottery Industry

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to speak at the Lafleur’s 2015 Lottery Conclave & Interactive Summit in Orlando about “Succeeding In Today’s Multi-Channel Environment!”.

During my presentation, I shared the idea to create a little online quiz to help people find out what type of Lotto billionaire they would be. We all know that people want to speak about themselves first and foremost in social media, which also explains the appeal and success of these little personality quizzes. In fact, people love these little “who am I? What city should I live in? What word best describes me?” quizzes and they love to share them on their social media platforms.

When I asked the audience (several hundred lottery reps) if they thought this would be a  good idea, most of them raised their hand. As a joke I told the audience that if I didn’t see this type of quiz being launched within the next 6 months I would create one myself. And so I did. Then life took over and I got distracted for a while.

A few weeks ago though, as the Powerball jackpot was about to hit $700 mio., I decided to bring this idea back to life and test my hypothesis. So I recreated the quiz “What Type Of Lotto Billionaire Would You Be?” using the free App Playbuzz. It took me a total of 10 minutes. Players had to answer three simple questions which would then tell them what type of Billionaire they’d be (choices ranged from the” Heart of Gold”, the “Bon Vivant”, the “Globetrotter”, the “Me Inc.’, the “Uncle Rich” and “the “Next Door Neighbor”). I posted the quiz on Facebook and spent $100 to promote it focusing on lottery players.

The quiz can be played here.

Frankly, the quiz could have been done better:


  1. The quiz wasn’t a piece of brilliant creative frankly. But the point was to test the format more so than the creative execution.
  2. My targeting approach on social media (unlike most lottery agencies, I didn’t have any followers to reach out to) was limited to identify layers based on a few key works (lottery, jackpot, etc.) which is fairly rudimentary, but sufficient to give the quiz a basic lift.
  3. The Playbuzz quiz lacks an essential social sharing button which usually helps organic growth. Further, my original prototype allowed the quiz takers to use their own profile picture in the results description when posting it on their social media (which is known to promote sharing), which was lacking here. Last but not least, my quiz didn’t include any promotional information or call- to-action (which I would have added if I were to actually drive business results).  

Despite all these shortcomings, the results speak for themselves, I think.


  1. The quiz reached 12,005 people, out of which 757 decided to engage (comment, like, share, etc.) with it. That’s an engagement rate of 6.3%. A quick scan of various state lottery agencies’ Facebook post about the $700 million Jackpot shows an average engagement rate of 1%. That is 6 times higher.  
  2. The CTR for the quiz was 1.7%, almost twice the average CTR on Facebook of 0.9%.
  3. And while the average cost per click on Facebook is $1.72, I paid $0.49 per click or less than a third.   

So what can we learn from this little experiment?

  • Most brands, including many lottery agencies, still need to learn how to best engage people in social media. The misleading part in the term “social media” is the word “media. Most social media channels follow their own rules and yet are still all too often used just as a paid media channel. Sure this approach is more predictable and easier to control, but it also doesn’t fully utilize the potential (and effectiveness) of these channels. Why does it matter?  Because “social” is now the #1 source of referral traffic to content on the web (surpassing “search”, i.e. Google) so understanding its rules of engagement becomes crucial.  I’ve recently written a piece entitled “Social Media, You Are Doing It Wrong If…” which sheds some light on the malpractices in social media.
  • Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive or slow, especially in social media. It’s not expensive to create content for social media and it doesn’t take long. Or at least it doesn’t have to, to be effective. Creating the quiz took me a couple of hours and promoting it cost me $100. Sure, you can also spend months creating something similar but that wouldn’t necessarily make it better or more effective.
  • Innovation is a frame of mind. The resistance towards innovation is primarily in people’s attitudes and mindsets, not in the structures or processes. That’s true for most companies. In fact, the barriers to innovation and experimentation are quasi non-existent in social.  
  • Innovation is (almost) risk free in social media. Experimenting with formats and experiences in social media is a low-risk/high-reward undertaking. In the world of investment, this would be the dream scenario for most investors. Worst case, nothing happens, really. Best case, you’ve found an effective and efficient way to grow your business, that can be amplified across product initiatives and media channels. In social media in particular, the opportunities to learn what resonates with consumers are endless, easy to implement, cheap to implement and risk-free.

What can we learn from this? Experimenting is easy, fast and very cost efficient. There is no real risk involved and apathy is the only reason not to do it. So “Just Do It”.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the majority of players who responded to my quiz have a “Heart Of Gold”.

Ulli Appelbaum is Founder & President of brand strategy and innovation firm First-The-Trousers-Then-the-Shoes ( specialized in brand growth, (product) innovation and brand storytelling. He has extensive experience in the Lottery industry having helped lottery agencies re-position their brand for growth, develop new white space opportunities and new product ideas, optimize their internal innovation and go to market processes and develop communication strategies for a variety of new product launches. He’s also a regular contributor to the Public Gaming Magazine ( and speaker at conferences. Feel free to contact me to explore how I can help you grow your lottery and/or gaming business and shed a new and fresh light on your opportunities.


Social Media, You’re Doing It Wrong if…

You’re (still) using social media as a broadcast channel. Sure, we all know that social media is about engagement and tapping into conversation users find interesting (and often it is not about your product or brand) but look at the social communication out there. Broadcast, broadcast, broadcast.

You are not using social media as a research tool into the hot triggers of users and to understand what consumers respond to. Insights that you can then scale through more traditional media.

Your social media department is integrated within your media department (or your social media agency is integrated with the media department of that agency). Old habits die hard and they will plan your social media channels like hey plan traditional media channels (see point one).

Your agency doesn’t have an in-house production department that can churn out content quickly and very cost effectively. As a reminder, the production of the Dollar Shave Club launch video, which propelled the company to be sold for $1 billion, was around $5,0000. Okay, the founder called-in favors but still. A video for Facebook doesn’t have to cost $150K.

Your agency uses “traditional creative teams” to produce the content. They will look at the social media creative assets as “campaigns” for their books and will want to produce over-priced videos and set-up expensive shoots just to create a few social media posts.

Your social media partner doesn’t understand the brand’s character and tone of voice. In social you may have to react quickly and in the right tone of voice. Understanding the brand, what it stands for and more importantly what it doesn’t stand for is crucial.

Your social media agency is too young and doesn’t understand the business side of things. I’ve once had a client who wanted to launch a new brand. His social media agency, a young start-up, had convinced him that the cheapest way to do so was through social media, by building a community of fans and ambassadors for this brand (that no one knew I should add) that would then relay the brand message for him. Sounds appealing right? But what a bunch of BS. A year later and after having spend more than $1 mio. with no impact on the business, the client fired his agency.

If you don’t think mobile first. As Buzzfeed puts it “Social may be how content is distributed today, but mobile is how it is consumed”. If you assign an agency to re-design your website and they do not take a mobile first approach, fire them. Why does it matter? Because many transactions you might want your consumers to engage in, follow a different dynamic in mobile versus desktop. Who for example signs into their Amazon account using their mobile browser?

What Modern Brands Can Learn From A 75 Years Old Russian Motorcycle Brand?

Ural motorcycles have been around since 1942 even though most people in the U.S. have never heard of them. Urals are basically reverse-engineered BMW R71 from WW2. The Russian probably thought, “this Blitzkrieg thingy is not going to work for us, we can build those rigs too”. But just out of precaution they moved of their factory to Irbitz in central Siberia, where the rigs are still being built today.

Army troops on Ural motorcycles

Most people have never heard of them and their current worldwide sales numbers are fairly low I would guess. However, the brand is witnessing some sort of revival and its popularity is growing extremely fast despite the company’s extremely limited marketing budget.

The design has barely changed since 1942 (one of the appeals of the brand). Same with the technology and safety features. They are quirky to ride, heavy and underpowered. But they are extremely robust, easy to work on and fix, and the 2WD version will get you through snow and mud better than a Jeep. They are basically utility motorcycles built for the battlefield, not for comfort riding or highway cruising.

The product should have died a long time ago and yet the brand is witnessing a revival, allowing for a few lessons about modern brand management.

Stand-out or disappear:

It’s almost embarrassing to start with this point but just look at a grocery store aisle, a parking lot, or simply at the advertising you get exposed to day in, day out. All you see is a giant sea of sameness. My favorite is still the shampoo aisle at Target. This observation even applies to newer, fast growing categories like the craft beer category with its 5000+ breweries in the US.

“Standing-out” has always been a key success criteria for brands, and therefore maybe lacks a bit of sex-appeal and novelty in today’s marketing conversation. But it is more relevant than ever. In fact, Microsoft scientists have shown that the average human attention span has apparently decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2014. Goldfish have supposedly an attention span of 9 seconds, but don’t ask me how Microsoft figured that out.

A Ural motorcycle just stands out. The fact that it has a sidecar and because of its unique, old school design that has barely evolved in the last 75 years, it’s impossible not to notice the rig, even in a parking lot full of motorcycles. I’ve noticed that people even give me the right of way more often, simply so that they can check-out the rig or take a picture.  

Start your story with the product:

Urals are so different and the brand’s history is so unique that everyone wants to talk to you about them, ask questions or share their own stories and dreams with you. The product acts as conversation starter (just like Tesla by the way). It’s what is known in the community as UDF, or “Ural Delay Factor”, the extra time a rider need due to all the people that will walk up to him or her to ask about the bike, take pictures, etc.. Ural riders even joke that you shouldn’t get a Ural if you are people-shy.

The importance of the product (the modern buzzword for that is now “experience”) and its story is becoming more relevant for modern brands again, not the least thanks to Amazon and it’s product reviews (55% of all online product searches start on Amazon) and to Youtube and its consumer generated product videos.

Going back to the essence of your product, its look and feel, its origin, its uniqueness, why it was created in the first place, how it works, etc., and then trying to understand which of these elements still hold relevance today or what could be a modern re-interpretation of the original product essence will create new growth opportunities for brands.

The product has always been an important contributor to a brand’s perception and equity (just think Apple). The industry just seems to have forgotten about it for a while. Interestingly, and based on our analysis of over 1200 case studies of successful brand building (, of the 26 universal triggers of successful brand positioning, 40% are rooted in the product.

Or as Jeff Bezos said: In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

Build a community around a lifestyle and a passion:

Another distinctive element of Ural is its community of owners. When I decided to buy a Ural, I placed an ad on Craigslist trying to find other riders here in town to teach me how to ride one. These bikes are quirky and have their own riding dynamic that is very different from a 2 wheel motorcycle. So I wanted to find out if I’d even enjoy riding this motorcycle (the product experience again) or if I even could. A few (non-Ural) riders told me at the time that I won’t be able to find anyone to help me, since bikers don’t like to let other people ride (or even touch) their bikes. Well, three people here in Minneapolis responded to my ad, one of which gave me several riding lessons for free despite my repeated efforts to compensate him for his time. Try that with a Harley Davidson or even a BMW owner.

The online community of Ural owners is one of the most active and supportive I’ve ever witnessed. And most of it is not even managed by the brand itself. People are passionate about their rigs (and probably the fact that they are so rare), exchange tips, tricks and how-tos in discussion forums, but more importantly they like to share their rides and adventures. Ural understands that and primarily uses consumer generated content about rides and adventures to promote its brand and newest models (not unlike GoPro).

Leverage your non-owned (digital) communication channels

Ural operates on a very tight marketing budget and seems to focus the majority of its efforts on social media and direct emails. They also seem to be able to get some good press coverage now and then, which I believe comes back to my first two points about standing out and having a story built into the product.

I am always surprised by how little attention marketers pay to their brand’s communication eco-system that isn’t owned by the brand. I am not talking about monitoring online conversations through social-media listening tools even though that is important too. I am referring to the fact that you can find consumer generated videos, especially on platforms like Youtube, that provide reviews, specs and personal experiences –and therefore help inform your decision- about every single imaginable product out there. I, for example rarely buy anything without checking the consumer generated videos on Youtube. And apparently I am not the only one. To quote Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai “People turn to YouTube and they want to research, buy or fix a product”.

Brands always seem to want to focus on the big influencers and most popular Youtube sensations rather than the dozen of content creators in any given category that in my opinion are way more influential and credible. I understand the “scale” argument and the fact that this require more efforts. One brand that understands this and has leveraged this approach to fuel its growth and success, especially amongst Millennials, is LaCroix sparkling water.

So, what can Ural, this 75 years old Russian motorcycle brand teach brands that want to succeed in today’s increasingly chaotic environment?

  1. Stand-out or disappear
  2. Start your story with the product
  3. Build a community around a lifestyle and a passion
  4. Leverage your non-owned (digital) communication channels

Advertising To Moms: The Average, The Good and The Great (Or Is Cultural Relevance Sufficient To Turn Around A Declining Business Nowadays?)

I recently came across three different advertising campaigns targeting moms that allow for a nice comparison between what I believe is average, good and great advertising to moms.

The framework I use to evaluate the ads is simple yet timeless. It considers two core dimensions to determine the appeal and effectiveness of an ad:

  1. The “what” is said or the strategic relevance of the ad. Is the message meaningful, does it reframe the brand and help consumers think differently about the brand, does it address a relevant need state or benefit? And is it well branded, i.e. recognizable as being specific to the advertised brand?
  2. The “how” it is said, which focuses more on the execution, on how the brand is brought to life in its execution. Is it engaging? Is it insightful and relatable? Is it catching the viewers’ attention and interest and is it worth sharing and or talking about?

The assumption obviously being that great advertising need to be both strategically relevant and engaging, i.e. fall into the top right quadrant. Or as advertising icon Dave Trott puts it -and I paraphrase- to make a great tasting salad you need fairly plain and boring ingredients such as lettuce, tomato and cucumber (the “what”) and mayo to add taste, flavor and excitement (the “how”).

Now let’s look at the three campaigns:

  1.       Target
  2.       Yoplait
  3.       Red baron


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Target’s ad feels the most traditional in its content and its format. It’s all about the branding and the actual products offered, with very little insights to promote engagingness, memorability and cultural relevance. It’s not an ad worth writing home or talking about really. In a sense it just reminds the viewers that all their summer needs can be satisfied at Target. Duh! Because of this, this ad would fall in the lower right quadrant, i.e. strategically sound (I’ll assume that Target knows that the viewers would be interested in these products), well branded but not really capturing the viewers’ attention.   


Yoplait’s ad is interesting and almost the opposite of the Target ad. I would argue that it is culturally extremely relevant, tapping into a lot of relevant mommy insights and issues. In the process Yoplait demonstrates that it understands what it is like to be a mom and in many ways validates the way many moms feel. So executionally the ad is fantastic and is probably going to get moms to notice and talk about it –for a brief moment- especially with all the social media activities planned around the TV spot.

The challenge however is that strategically it doesn’t do much in my opinion. After viewing the ad I am still not quite sure what needstate Yoplait would satisfy or what differentiating benefit it would offer in the highly competitive yogurt category. Further, it doesn’t really make me think differently about the brand or the category. Last but not least, the integration of insights and the brand’s promise is not very strong. The ad could work for a lot of brands targeting moms. I suspect moms will love and talk about the ad but not remember which brand it actually is for. Or worse, attribute the ad to market leader Chobani. In any case, I doubt that “cultural relevance” without “strategic relevance” will help Yoplait turn around its declining business. As a result, I’d put the ad in the upper left quadrant of the model. High engagingness and cultural relevance, little strategic relevance.

Red Baron

The third ad is for Red Baron frozen pizza. Now, I might be a bit biased here as I’ve been closely involved in the development of this campaign created by Minneapolis based agency space150 for Schwan’s. The ad is highly engaging as, just like the Yoplait ad, it taps into relevant mommy insights and truisms. Moms can relate to the ad and can identify with it, the brand clearly demonstrated that it understands moms. It is culturally relevant. But the ad is also very relevant strategically in that it addresses a clear need state and promises a clear benefit to moms, recognizing that “carving out a few minutes in the day to have a second of ‘me’ time (something every mom craves) is something that pizza really can help provide.” Lastly the ad is unmistakably branded making a mis-attribution very unlikely. As such, I’d put the ad in the top right quadrant: strategically relevant and culturally relevant.

A few years back, and according to a survey, 80% of moms thought that advertisers were doing a poor job at connecting with them. That’s 4 in 5 moms. I’d like to believe that things have evolved since then and it is interesting to notice an evolution from a more stereotypical type of advertising to a more engaging and culturally relevant form of advertising that is more reflective of today’s moms’ realities.

The question the Yoplait ad raises however is whether cultural relevance is sufficient in today’s attention economy to turn around a business or has the bar of effective communication been raised even further, requiring both strategic relevance and cultural engagingness?

I’d be curious to hear what you, the readers, think.  

To better understand how to communicate with moms, click here.

I’ve become passionate about how brands connect with moms ever since my twins were born. Since then, I have launched a start-up enabling moms to connect with other moms, advised another start-up in the field, built a social community of over 10,000 moms on a shoe-string budget, written extensively for the HuffPost on the subject (one entry going viral globally by reaching over 5 million moms in 72 hours) and helped brands re-position themselves and grow by better connecting with moms. Feel free to contact me here to explore if and how I could help you better connect with moms and grow your business.


Positioning-Roulette: The Value Of Identifying An Enemy For Your brand

Know thy self,
Know thy enemy.
A thousand battles,
A thousand victories.

Sun Tzu

Most good stories, including brand stories, include an antagonist, a rival, an enemy that the hero (and his followers) has to go up against and sometimes fight. Cain had Abel, Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader, Tom had Jerry, and Apple had IBM.

Identifying and taking a stand against an enemy can be a very effective mechanism to grow and differentiate a brand or to associate it with a broader world view.


An enemy can be a potential threat (real or assumed) consumers might not be aware of (think freezer burn which is made up or all the invisible bad germs threatening your children), another segment or sub-segment in the category (for example Mini positioning itself against the big gas guzzling SUV when it was launched in the US) or a cultural or social belief, convention or behavior that may be relevant to your category and brand (for example the beauty standards used in media versus Dove’s campaign for real beauty).

The options are limitless and will be best defined by your brand unique situation, its competitive and cultural context as well as the values of the people you are trying to appeal to.

Identifying and taking a stand against an enemy can help create relevance for your brand, provide your customers with a sense of coherence and belonging, provide validation in the brand choice and create a sense of urgency to act. It can also help re-frame and increase relevance of an argument as demonstrated by the anti-smoking organization American Legacy Foundation (Truth) which successfully focused on vilifying the executives of the large Tobacco companies as a way to prevent young adults from smoking.


Identifying and taking a stand against an enemy to create more energy and traction for your brand is just one of the 26 universal approaches to successful brand positioning development and storytelling. The other 25 can be found here.


5 Untapped Opportunities to Connect with Moms

rosie_the_riveterThe evolution of the internet has given moms the tools (blogs, micro-blogs, fan pages and social media in general, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) to express their individual and collective voices and to find, bond and connect with like-minded moms. In the process, they have created their own massive sub-culture expressed by the stories and experiences they share, the values around motherhood they communicate and their behaviors.

This sub-culture is not that new though to be honest (at least not in internet years). But this culture still remains largely untapped by marketers. It often seems as if brands mainly look at this cultural eco-system as a media or distribution channel rather than a source of learning and insights on how to engage and communicate with moms. It is therefore not surprising that, according to (LINK), 73% of moms feel that advertisers don’t really understand what it’s like to be a mom and that 80% of moms feel that brands are doing a poor job at connecting with them.

So what are some of the elements that define this (mommy) culture and how can brands leverage those insights to better connect with and engage moms?

1. Don’t be so serious, Laugh with them (not at them).
“I shall maintain a sense of humor about all things motherhood, for without it, I recognize that I may end up institutionalized. Or, at the very least, completely miserable”. It is no coincidence that the need for humor is the first point captured in the popular “Mommy Manifesto” written by Jill Smoker, the mom behind the very successful “Scary Mommy” franchise. In fact, humor is a great “mechanism” most moms use to gain some distance from their everyday reality, bond and connect with others moms or just maintain their sanity. Insightful humor is also one of the most powerful ways to create engagement on a social media platform like Facebook. And yet most marketers seem to insist on portraying the serious, caring, multi-tasking aspect of motherhood.

2. Take a stand, represent a point of view, but avoid being patronizing:
Marketers know how important it is for their brands to have a clear point of view. That’s even more important for brands targeting moms. In fact, new moms have so many, often confusing, decisions and choices to make about everything that they will naturally gravitate towards brands that embrace a clear and relevant point of view and purpose and thus provide a welcomed short cut in this decision making process. The danger however, like with any point of view, is for the brand to unintentionally come across as patronizing. Polarizing is good. Patronizing is not. The line between the two is extremely thin, especially with moms. That’s the difference between Toys R Us (toys are more exciting than a field trip), a company you’d expect to know moms, and Goldieblox (empowering girls to become engineers).

3. Emphasize “personal stories and experiences”:
Ask the editors of the HuffingtonPost or simply look at what type of stories resonate most in the HuffPost Parenting section and you’ll learn that personal stories resulting from personal experiences are the new social currency. Personal stories and shared experiences are also the primary form of content on most mommy blogs. They are the means moms use to share, express themselves and bond with others without being patronizing or judgmental. They provide the content other moms can identify with (or not) and help create a sense of community most moms crave.

4. Celebrate the anti-hero and stop using idealized stereo-types:
Every mom will tell you that parenting is really hard and far removed from the ideal vision she had before getting pregnant. But most moms will also take a certain pride in the daily struggles of motherhood. A simple look at the stories moms share online makes this obvious. They celebrate the imperfections, struggles, embarrassments and mistakes they experience daily and find comfort in knowing that the others moms struggle too. The new ad from Coke Green from Argentina demonstrates this point brilliantly.

In that context, continuing to use idealized stereotypes of the perfect mom is the best way for a brand to distance itself from the reality of motherhood, act tone-deaf and fall in that category of brands “that don’t understand moms”.

5. Focus on the woman, not the mom.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many moms who blog out there? I believe the short answer is that after focusing for 6 months of 24/7 feeding and changing diapers moms crave a creative outlet for personal self-expression. That’s also why so many mommy bloggers actually dislike the term mommy-bloggers (and prefer “bloggers”). Subtle but significant difference. Moms are one of the most targeted audiences and brands are willing to pay serious premiums for a share of their attention. Yet some of the strongest, and unfulfilled, need states a mom has are personal and relate to her as an individual, not in the context of her role as a mom: the needs for “me-time”, for escapism, for validation and comfort and for self-expression to name only a few. “Moms Who Need Wine”, a wine distributor built a very successful business around this simple understanding. So instead of trying to communicate your brand as a means to perfect motherhood, it might be worth trying to establish it as the solution to an individual need most moms have (while still helping her fulfills her role as a mother). So instead of looking at a meal your kids will love as the expression of good motherhood, look at it as a way for a mom to get a 15 minute break and me-time (which she will if the kids eat and love what they eat). She’ll reward you for this understanding with her business.

Understanding Moms & How To Connect With Them (The 5 MN Version)


As we all know, moms are big business. The 85+ million moms in the US represent a spending power of $2.1 trillion ( and there isn’t really a category that isn’t directly or indirectly influenced by the way a mom feels about it.

The challenge is that most advertisers do not understand moms. In fact, that’s what moms themselves will tell you if you ask them. According to M2Moms (

  • 73% of moms feel that advertisers don’t really understand what it’s like to be a mom
    • 60% of moms feel like marketers are ignoring their needs
    • 80% of moms think advertisers are doing a poor job at connecting with them.

The speed with which the current environment has evolved makes this problem even more pronounced. Who would have guessed two years ago that mobile and social platforms such as Pinterest would play such a dominant role with moms today? Who knows what they will gravitate towards in two years. In that environment it is crucial to have a finger on the pulse on what is going on in moms’ lives.

Prior to launching First-The-Trousers, I co-founded, an online community catering to the emotional needs of moms. I created an online community of 10.000 moms on a $0 budget, purely through developing engaging content and by connecting emotionally with moms in social media. Through doing so, I gained an intimate and in-depth knowledge of this highly valuable and influential consumer segment.

I applied this understanding to a blog entry I wrote for the HuffPost titled “24 Clear Signs You’re a Mom” which within 72 hours was viewed by over 4 million readers and generated over 300K “likes” and 100K “shares”, a clear sign that it resonated with the readers, most of them moms. So, while we shy a little away from self-proclaimed expert status at FTT, we’ve learned a little about creating content that can reach millions of moms and can apply this knowledge and expertise by helping brands better connect with moms.

If you’re interested in getting a quick immersion in today’s mommy culture and want to understand what resonates with moms:

1. Read this blog entry entitled “5 untapped opportunities to connect with moms” which shares some of our experience building a community of 10.000 moms.

2. Read through this Slideshare presentation

3. Or, watch these “9 Most Popular Advertising Campaigns for Moms in 2013″, a list we compiled for and published on the Huffington Post (click on the picture).


Is your core audience moms? First-The-Trousers can help you position your brand is a way that will resonate with moms, develop new product ideas they’ll find valuable and useful and develop communication strategies across channels they’ll find engaging and share-worthy. To find out how we can help you, please contact us here.

Positioning Strategies for A Post-Craft-Beer World


Craft Beers: a compelling sub-segment brand story

The last decade has been host to a quick rise of craft breweries in the U.S. According to the Brewers Association, there are now 4269 breweries (2015) in the country, 99% of which are classified a small and independent breweries. In 2015 alone, there were 625 new breweries that opened their doors, while only 68 closed. The craft segment now represents 21% of the category in terms of retail dollar value. And during the last ten years, the category has been growing double digits for eight years out of those ten. Considering an overall declining beer category, this is pretty impressive.

DCB_LogoBehind these impressive numbers are even bigger social and cultural changes. In fact, craft breweries have helped change consumers’ expectation of what a beer is or should be, just like Starbucks changed consumers expectations of what coffee could be. This has put a tremendous amount of pressure on the large national brands as well as the broader liquor category.

The business reality is that eventually the whole segment will stabilize. Many breweries will be content with a local or regional market position. Some will disappear. Others again will be acquired by the large breweries and be turned into national brands. The last group of craft beers will try to expand their businesses with an eye toward national growth.

The unavoidable need to evolve the craft beer brand stories

Compelling stories sell brands, period, and this holds true in the beer category.

And while the craft beer stories (place of origin, their obsessive founders, the styles/flavors they brew or their creative packaging) have captured the imagination of a whole generation of beer drinkers better than the national mainstream brands have, their story is generic for the craft beer sub-segment as a whole. The inherent associations with craft breweries will become generic over time and slowly lose their motivational appeal. If fifty different craft brands brew an IPA with the same hops inspired by their respective founders’ shared belief that beer should have big flavor, and the vast majority of that fifty package the end result in an aluminum can that makes heavy use of oranges, reds, and yellows, at some point it’s hard not to become background noise.

Strategically, this means that these craft beer brands will have to evolve their positioning platform beyond the craft beer territory and explore new brand stories that would appeal to a broader consumer segment while helping the brand differentiate itself from the hundreds of other brands fighting for national attention and market share.

A natural starting point: the brand and the right consumer segment

On the international level, this is what Fosters did with its “Australian for Beer” campaign a few years back. In fact, it shaped and reinforced peoples’ perceptions of what Australia was (through the defining attributes of its people) and turned it into something people all over the world could aspire to.

718e588d4206bc72cedba64cceb610d4Another decision these brands aspiring to a national presence will have to make is what consumer segments to focus on. PBR became the brand of choice of hipsters, Modelo, one of the fastest growing brands in the US, first grew its presence within the Hispanic community before trying to broaden its appeal to all beer drinkers in 2015. And so forth.



Exploring alternative brand narratives

If the current brand story provides a compelling platform for national growth, great. If not, the brand will have to explore new positioning territories. The good news is that for an informed and experienced strategist, the options and choices are plentiful. Below, we’ll list a few positioning thought-starters and brand narratives that have all proven successful and that all could become the seed of a compelling national positioning platform and brand story:

  1. Identify a compelling role for the brand to play in peoples’ lives: this could include claiming and occupying the ideal/typical emotional territory for consumers (think Corona), owning a typical consumption occasion, validating consumers self-image, acting as a cultural or social symbol for its consumers (think Molson Canadian) or re-defining the category standard in terms of perceived quality (think Stella Artois for example).
  2. Create a more compelling and differentiated product story, this can include the brand’s defining attributes, its ingredients, its brewing process (think Bud Ice), the sensory attributes of the brand and the meaning associated with those attributes (taste, color, smell, etc.).
  3. Reflect the aspirations and reality of their core audiences and thus create identification and bonding. This can be done by reflecting consumers’ values, relevant needs and lifestyle or by addressing specific concerns the target audience might have.
  4. Re-position competition (both within the beer category and beyond). This could be done by exploiting a competitive weakness, by occupying underserved but relevant category needs and emotions, by resolving a category paradox, by further educating the consumers and by helping them evaluate the qualities of a brand (beyond name and taste) and by introducing new types of benefits.

For a strategically educated eye, there are a lot of potential options to tell a compelling brand story that would have national appeal and that would enable a regional craft beer to expand nationally.


The narrative examples mentioned above aren’t random. Instead, they have been generated using First The Trousers’ proprietary positioning development tool (Positioning Roulette) which identifies the 26 universal approaches to brand positioning and brand story telling (you won’t find a 27ths) based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of effective brand building.

26 areas

Using Positioning Roulette for a systematic and informed exploration of those 26 universal brand positioning approaches will enable the right brand team (in the context of a workshop, for example) to identify all positioning options available to tell a compelling story for a specific brand. Further, it allows you to quickly validate the most promising one, something no other positioning methodology provides with this level or rigor and speed. This methodology also provides a strong framework to help differentiate various brands within the same brand portfolio. Positioning Roulette works for both new and established brands and can even help identify new product and positioning territories for further exploration.


It will be interesting to see how the craft beer sub-segment and the larger beer brands in general will evolve their brand story over the next few years. It will also be interesting to see what brands achieve national stardom and what brands will disappear.success1

One thing is for sure though: only those brands who proactively think about the future and how to evolve their brand positioning and brand stories in order to adapt and help shape the market will survive.

Competition and pressure is getting tougher in the beer industry. Compelling and differentiated brand stories and smart and efficient communication strategies will increasingly determine who wins and who loses. First The Trousers is a small brand strategy and innovation firm specialized in providing fresh perspectives into brands, categories and consumers to help unleash business growth. Please feel free to contact us to explore and find out how First The Trousers can help your brand and company thrive and grow.



7 Potential Growth Strategies to Revitalize Harley Davidson


Harley Davidson, A struggling icon

Harley Davidson is a brand that has always fascinated me. Its history is rich, its equity and heritage are amazing and it has established itself as part of American culture, just like baseball and apple pie. It is one of the very rare brands people have been willing to tattoo on their skin and has an iconic, almost religious status most other brands envy and lust after.

And yet: the brand is struggling badly. According to analysts’ reports, people seem to prefer buying used bikes or the recently relaunched Victory and Indian brands (owned by Polaris) rather than a new Harley. As a result, overall market share and sales are down versus a year ago, and so is the brand’s stock value.

But declining market share isn’t the brand biggest problem. Its biggest problem is its positioning and eroding brand equity. Historically, a brand’s sales erode first and faster than its brand equity. But after a few years of declining sales, the brand equity start to erode as well and that’s when the brand’s death spiral starts and it becomes very difficult to recover.

And I think Harley may be approaching the point of no return.

Now, it does look like the brand is feeling the pressure and has a sense of urgency to change things. In fact, the company intends to increase its product development budget by 35% in 2016 (versus 2015) and it marketing budget by 65%. And that’s great. However, I believe that this increase in resources and spending will only throw gas on the fire if it isn’t also accompanied by an evolution of its brand positioning platform, the only way to secure the brand’s long term success.

A category of one

Harley, over the decades has established and created for itself a “category of one”. Nothing out there really compared to a Harley Davidson. That is until the recent revival and relaunch of the Victory and Indian brands that have started to successfully nibble at Harley’s market share. However, the Victory and Indian brands aren’t the real medium term and long term threat Harley is facing.  Sure, they may be (and are) winning short term, growing quarterly sales and eating some of Harley’s cheese (good for them) but in the midterm they are running the risk to fall into the same trap as Harley.

In fact, the real problem Harley needs to solve is that this category of one it has created is slowly but surely losing relevance and eroding value. What has made Harley successful for so long is now working against the brand and I believe is acting as a major barrier to purchase.

So what can Harley Davidson to get out of this precarious situation? Well, for one it can learn from our best practice research on how to succeed with young adults and apply the “Ten Habits of Successful Millennial Marketers” to its own marketing. The second thing it can do is to seriously reexamine its positioning platform, identify the core values it wants to preserve to stay true to its history but also understand what values need to change and evolve in order to thrive again. Harley’s brand equity needs to evolve if it wants to survive.

An agile strategic thinking framework: Positioning-Roulette

First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc. uses a unique methodology to analyze brands and create compelling brand stories called Positioning-Roulette (PR). PR is based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of effective brand building which helped us identify the 26 universal approaches to successful brand positioning, which represent the core of our methodology. We can apply these 26 universal approaches to analyze a brand’s current situation and to help identify potential strategic solutions that will help the brand evolve and move forward once validated.


For fun, we’ve spent an hour or so doing just that, i.e. look at the Harley brand through the lens of Positioning Roulette. Here are some of the opportunities we’ve uncovered.

  1. Value-Proposition based on intangibles: People don’t buy Harley for rational reasons. They buy Harley because of the brand mystique, not because it provides a better value proposition (what consumers actually get for your money) than Japanese or German motorcycles. It doesn’t.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


Also, Harley bikes are expensive (even though it introduced the Dark Custom line of bikes a few years as a point-of-entry line starting at $11,000 to appeal to younger buyers) and therefore out of reach for most riders under 35 years old. This is particularly important since Harleys are usually bought as a weekend toy rather than as the primary mode of transportation. Outside the US, the situation is even heightened, since the majority of bikes bought outside the US have a utilitarian purpose, for which a Harley is not suited (try to ride the dirt roads of India with your wife and two kinds in the back on a Harley).

While Harley may have to address this value proposition issue over time mainly through product innovation (and it looks like it will), the immediate implication is simply that Harley needs to continue to maintain its edge through emotions and intangible assets. It is in that space that Harley will find its salvation. A Harley, in other words, may not always do more, but they can endeavor to make owning a Harley mean more.

2. A fertile cultural context:


Culturally, Harley Davidson couldn’t be in a sweeter spot. The US is at a crossroads. People are tired of the establishment and are nostalgic for a past ‘greatness’ again. Americans want to be able to feel proud of their country again and long for better times, which helps explain the rise of presidential candidates like Trump for the GOP and Sanders for the Democrats, both seen as outsiders to the system and therefore an appealing alternative to the establishment candidates. This cultural sentiment is at a tipping point and might be worth further investigation as a way to help reposition the brand. In fact, Harley Davidson represents the epitome of Americana- a muscular, pure, powerful brand that cues everything that’s good and aspirational about this country. Therefore, Harley may have the opportunity to take a leading role in this movement and capitalize on this collective sentiment.

The brand has therefore the opportunity to tap into this cultural tension and become an instigator of cultural change (while staying away from politics) and thus regain relevance by helping people feel personal pride and pride in their country again. Dodge has done it with Detroit, Harley can do it with the USA. 

Defining brand attributes:

From our perspective, two brand attributes stand out for Harley. One could help the brand, but the other is hurting it.

3. An unappealing user imagery: 

People nowadays define themselves more by their behaviors rather than by their appearance. The stereotype of the Harley rider is (culturally) still this bad ass and slightly intimidating rider at best (thank you Easy Rider), but also (based on people’s every day experience on the road) the OWGs, the old white guys trying to reclaim their lost vitality or youth. And frankly, this second stereotype doesn’t represent someone most people aspire to become (sorry OWGs, don’t skin me yet, just read on).


However, what is interesting and aspirational about Harley riders is not their looks (or the way they are stereotyped) but their characters and their actual behaviors. When you start to interact with bikers you quickly realize that they are actually really successful, nice, every day people who love their country and their families. Those are people with a very strong sense of community and a sense of duty, all highly relevant values nowadays, all values most people can identify with. Also, when you dig a little deeper one also realizes that a lot of biker clubs do a lot of good, community focused, deeds. Who hasn’t heard of the bikers against the Westboro Baptist Church or the BACA group (Bikers Against Child Abuse) who are dedicated to helping, protecting and providing a safe haven and a “family” to abused children. In that context, the intimidation factor actual helps to help the kids feel safe and protected. Besides these two highly visible efforts, most bikers clubs also do regular fund raiser rides, something most people will support, identify with and aspire to.

Harley should change its brand user imagery by emphasizing that Harley riders do rather than what they look like or are stereotyped. These Harley riders’ behaviors are highly relevant and appealing to many young adults nowadays and might be worth further exploring as a way to help re-position the brand (i.e the brand for people that DO…rather than for people that LOOK like…). This approach would also help the brand become more “inclusive” rather than “exclusive”.

4. A unique product experience and brand experience:

People increasingly define themselves by the experiences they make and the stories they collect rather than by their material possessions. Harley has several distinctive brand attributes but one that really stands out is that it is the epitome of an “experience brand”, something more and more people crave. The design of the bikes, the unique sound and rumble of the engine, the feeling experienced when riding the bike are all highly relevant sensory benefits when expressed and brought to life properly and in the right context.

Another opportunity for Harley Davidson would be to embrace the fact that it is an experiential brand and extend this unique attribute beyond its product experience to encompass the whole brand experience. In other words, maintain one of its core attributes and equities but translate it into a broader brand promise around experience seeking, something most consumers out there crave. 

5. Category drivers in need of evolution:

From a communication point of view, Harley seems to be stuck in a pattern. Historically, the brand seems to have built its communication on the insight that many people dream of one day owning and riding a Harley but tend to delay their purchase –the emphasis being on “one day” and “delay their purchase”. In other words, the brand has tried to activate “dreamers”. Recently, they’ve focused on a slight variation of this insight, the fact that most people buy a Harley to ride with their significant other, a family member or a friend. People often become riders themselves because of a family member. I am not sure how well these approaches work but I suspect that it may have helped to get some of the lower hanging fruit. However, I don’t think that it will help the brand long term as both approaches just help reinforce the brand’s current platform. This approach merely reinforces Harley’s equity rather than help evolve it. It doesn’t tell consumers anything new about the brand, anything that would get them to reconsider the brand.

Harley needs to tap into a different set of consumer motivations and category drivers if it wants to evolve and appeal to a broader audience. The ones it has used in the past may have helped short term sales, but they haven’t helped shed a more relevant light –and therefore consideration- on the brand.  

6. A shift from the brand (exclusive) to the consumers (inclusive):

One of the key problems Harley faces is that the territory it occupies is very well defined and very strong. But it is also a little too dominant and overbearing. Harley was put, purposefully or not, on a pedestal. From a branding perspective buying a Harley is like joining, embracing and submitting to an exclusive church. When buying a Harley, riders buy into a cult, something people start to get increasingly reluctant to do.

MensRidingJacketsThumbTo illustrate this point, just look at Harley’s line of apparel, symptomatic to a bigger brand problem. Harley’s merchandise looks actually pretty cool and is of high quality but expensive. However, the problem is that all this merchandise is very heavily Harley branded. When you buy a Harley jacket, or pants, or shirt or gloves, you basically accept to become a walking (or riding) Harley billboard. This is probably something that attracts the OWGs. The problem is that this was a very popular in the 80s (wearing heavily branded merchandise and fashion), but not any longer. Nowadays people instead prefer to mix and match various style and brands (new and classic) to create and express their own individual personality. And that’s kind of difficult with Harley.

Another opportunity for Harley might be to come down from its pedestal, become more inclusive rather than exclusive and allow its consumers to use the brand as fuel to express their own individuality rather than just amplify the Harley brand. People today want to have the option to “participate” or even “lead” but with Harley they are merely given the option to follow. People also still want to “belong” to a group or community, but Harley’s version of “community” doesn’t seem to have the traction it used to have any longer. Shifting its focal point from itself to its consumers will provide the brand with a broader appeal.

7. An evolution of the brand’s archetype:

Another way to look at Harley is through the lenses of its archetype. Harley’s brand archetype has always been the “Outlaw”, the rule breaker, the brand that helps you (or rather the 55 year old white guy) feel like a misfit and a bit of a “bad-ass”.

easyrider_3078291bThe problem however is that this archetype (or at least its current expression) seems to have lost relevance in its current form. Society has evolved towards a more accepting and inclusive structure. The people we look-up to and admire aren’t necessarily reflecting the outlaw archetype any longer. The 1%er has a totally different meaning nowadays. So as a result Harley could either re-examine what it means to be an “outlaw” today and find a more contemporary and relevant interpretation of it. Alternatively, it could explore the opportunity to evolve the archetype into either a Hero archetype (a brand that helps you be a better self) or even better into an Explorer archetype (the brand that helps you experience new things & ultimately independence), both of which better fit today’s consumers core values and aspirations better than the “outlaw”. Evolving or changing a brand’s archetype is not an easy feat or something that should be done lightly. But in Harley’s case it might be worth exploring carefully (a shift from the Jester archetype to an Explorer archetype for example helped Taco Bell turn around its business and gain a renewed relevance with consumers).

This evolution of the brand’s archetype would have a deep impact on everything the brand does and therefore how it is being perceived by consumers.

To conclude

So what is the right answer for Harley?  Based on the little information we have, it would be presumptuous to make an actual recommendation. The point of this article wasn’t to solve Harley’s positioning problem but to illustrate how Positioning Roulette can help uncover new opportunities and ways forward by providing the strategic agility to look at the brand from various, very different perspectives, something most positioning development methodologies aren’t able to. In the hour or so we’ve spent thinking about the brand we’ve been able to identify 7 very different perspectives on how to approach Harley’s branding problem. Imagine what a more informed, rigorous and collaborative process that would explore all 26 universal approaches of Positioning-Roulette would yield.

I believe Harley can turn around its business situation if it manages to evolve its unique position, maintain its core equities while adding new, more relevant and more contemporary equities that help better align it with today’s consumer base. Our model illustrates that there are many opportunities to do so. Further, the brand still has a tremendous amount of goodwill. Harley Davidson belongs to this exclusive club of brands that people really want to see succeed. Not many brands can claim that.

The big questions therefore are “will the brand be able to overcome its own internal culture and evolve?” and “will it be able to strike the fine balance between the stability and consistency that the brand’s current OWGs want and what new consumer segments and society at large aspires to?” The opportunities are there. They just need to be explored and validated.

P.S.: A Word On Indian & Victory

In the introduction we mentioned the brands Victory and Indian and the fact that they seemed successful in stealing share from Harley Davidson recently. In the short term, and after having been absent for a while, both brands needed to re-establish their credentials and their brand heritage. Attacking Harley, and positioning themselves as an alternative in the same iconic sub-segment may have been the right way to do so in the short term. It gives this core consumer segment a choice. However, both brands will soon start to suffer from the same problems Harley does, because those problems are symptomatic of the subcategory in which all three brands are operating.

Both brands would be smart to change and evolve their positioning platforms and marketing approach soon if they don’t want to face the same issues Harley is now facing. The advantage both have is that they are new still fairly new, i.e their equity doesn’t weigh as much on them as it does for Harley Davidson.

What do you think? What could Harley do to get out of the situation it is in? And feel free to contact me to find out what Positioning Roulette and First The Trousers can do for you.

The Drunkard’s Search Effect In Positioning Development And How To Avoid It!


Most people suffer from an observation bias called The Streetlight Effect (also sometimes referred to as the drunkard’s search) where they only look for the solution in the easiest places, rather than the ones that are the most likely to yield results.

The name of this principle is inspired by a joke about a drunkard searching for his keys (or sometimes wallet) under a streetlight rather than where he actually lost them, because that’s where he has more light.

This principle also applies to strategists and corporations. In fact, we tend to look for the solution to a positioning or strategic problem by looking in the easiest places. This can be the strategist’s own experience (this approach or model has always worked for me, so I’ll stick to it), an over-reliance on rigid brand frameworks or research methodologies or by focusing exclusively on the available and existing data (instead of asking the right questions first and then trying to find the right data to answer them).

For example , who hasn’t witnessed a social media strategist deriving an entire brand strategy (including new product ideas and marketing tactics) solely based on one social media listening exercise. This drives me crazy.

Your agency tells you, you first need a brand purpose (without knowing what your brand problem is)? Drunkard’s Search effect. You are a proponent of cultural branding? Drunkard’s Search effect. You believe in the need for hardcore functional benefits or purely emotional benefits only (I’ve had clients in both camps)? Drunkard’s Search effect. You believe that big data is the cure to all a marketing problems? Drunkard’s Search effect. You answer all your research questions through focus groups? Drunkard’s Search effect. You use news headlines to come up with a brand strategy for a pitch (don’t laugh, I’ve seen this happen)? Drunkard’s Search effect. You’re a fan of design thinking? Or neuro-science? Or behavioral economics? Drunkard’s Search effect.

Now here is the thing. None of these assumptions, beliefs or methodologies on how brands can succeed are necessarily wrong. In some cases, they are actually the perfect solution to solve your brand problem. But these beliefs, assumptions and schools of thought are like streetlights. They shine a light around them, making everything very clear and easy to spot within their parameter. However, this doesn’t mean that they’ll be the right solution to addresses your brand’s specific problem. If you lost your keys two blocks away, those streetlights won’t help you, no matter how bright they shine.

The best way to avoid falling victim to the streetlight and the drunkard’s search effect is, in my opinion, to use a model that enables you to focus on what is right, relevant and proven successful rather than on what is easy, convenient or readily available. A model that “forces” you to explore options that aren’t necessarily the most obvious ones, or the easiest one to follow, a model that basically turns every single streetlight in the city on. If the whole city is illuminated, all you have to do is remember the corner where you’ve lost your keys and go there. The lights will be on. Or wander around the illuminated city until you recognize the right street corner, knowing that it will be lit.


Positioning-Roulette, our unique methodology for positioning development and storytelling is that model. It identifies and captures the 26 universal approaches to successful brand storytelling and positioning development and is based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of effective brand building. Each of these 26 approaches represents a streetlight. All 26 approaches together illuminate the whole city, i.e. represent the whole spectrum of potential solutions.  This enables you to wander around the illuminated city until you come across the right corner, i.e. the most promising perspective on how to solve your business problem or brand challenge.

Street corner brand heritage? Check

Street corner consumer rituals? Check

Street corner brand purpose? Check

Street corner brand archetypes? Check

Street corner category conventions? Check

Street corner usage context? Check

Street corner category paradox? Check

Street corner brand weakness? Check

Street corner cultural trends? Check

And so forth, until you’ve worked your way through all 26 “corners”.


Once you’ve identified the right corner and are confident that it is the one where you’ve lost your keys, you can get on your knees and start looking for them.

If you want to avoid the Drunkard’s Search effect next time you are positioning a product or brand or are crafting or re-crafting your brand story, reach out and let us tell you more about how Positioning Roulette can help you illuminate the whole city and find the right solution. Our clients who have used this methodology loved it, leading to a 100% referral rate.



What Every Brand Can Learn From Dos Equis & The Lake Wobegon Effect!


As human beings, we tend to over-estimate our abilities and achievements, particularly in comparison with other people. In other words, we tend to view ourselves as being better than others (smarter, better drivers, more responsible gun owners, better lovers, better marketers, better strategists, etc.) and above average. According to ChangingMinds, “this happens largely because we derive our sense of self-worth in contrast with other people. Thus, rather than considering ourselves ‘good’, we actually seek to be ‘better’.

Ironically the Bell curve challenges this perception, but that’s not the point here.

This phenomenon is (also) called the Lake Wobegon Effect, based on Garrison Keillor fictional Minnesotan town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

One brand that in my opinion perfectly exemplifies the application of the Lake Wogebon Effect to brand management is Dos Equis with its famous, and now retired, campaign “The Most Interesting Man In The World”.

According to the 2009 Effie Gold case study ( two important truths of the brand’s core audience, 20-something males who reportedly drank as many as 12 brands in a month, lead to the creative idea: “First, what these guys wanted more than anything, more than hot girls and designer toys, was to be seen as interesting. And conversely, that they were terrified of being seen as boring”.

In other words this campaign idea tapped into the audience’s belief and self-perception of being “more interesting” than average (other beer drinkers) and its desire to be perceived as such. Welcome to the Lake Wobegon Effect.

The campaign ran for almost ten years and is credited for growing Dos Equis business year after year during this period of time (tripling the size of the business in Canada actually). And it became part of (pop) culture.  Its strength, I believe, is that it did it with a slightly sarcastic sense of humor (and exaggeration) making it easier for the audience to digest and accept the message. A more serious approach would have backfired with today’s more cynical consumer.  For sure.

Heineken, who owns Dos Equis, has decided to retire the campaign this year after a successful run of almost 10 years. So it is going to be interesting what new campaign idea they will come up with and what insights this campaign will be built on.

Another brand that taps into the Lake Wobegon Effect is Advanced Auto Parts in my opinion. Its latest campaign tries to appeal to “car tinkerers”, people who see themselves as more fanatic and better “car tinkerers” than the average car owner.

What brands can learn from Dos Equis & the Lake Wobegon Effect:

We all know that many brands in many categories are purchased mainly because of their social badging value, rather than the functional or emotional benefit they promise. Often, a consumer will associate him/herself with a brand as a way to communicate something about him/herself, usually a better version of oneself, that is also a reflection of how they perceive themselves. This is true for most consumer segments, except maybe for women in general and moms in particular, who generally tend to not view themselves as “better” (as a marketer, you quickly learn to be very careful with generalizations about women and moms).

The question therefore worth asking for most brands is then “how can my brand tap into the Lake Wobegon Effect as a way to differentiate itself from competition and help its consumers feed their self-worth and reflect their self-image? And how can it do so in a way that will not come across as patronizing? ”

Feel free to share your thoughts in the “comments” section below.

3 Myths About Millennials Marketing You Need To Stop Perpetuating (HuffPost Business)

This article was originally posted on The HuffPost Business.


If you buy into the myths circulating around the advertising and marketing industry, you’d think marketing to Millennials was just the easiest thing ever- or if not easy, a matter of just following simple steps. In fact, all the “typical” Millennial brand needs to do to succeed is to be authentic (whatever that means), use a mobile first (and social media second) approach, align its values with the values of its consumers (behind a powerful purpose), and promise to make the world a better place.

And then, strategy in hand, you’re ready to create! All you need is a group of early Twentysomethings, preferably from various ethnic backgrounds with a few hipsters mixed in (after all they are one of the most ethnically diverse and tolerant groups) having fun on a road trip, jumping off a cliff into the ocean fully dressed (they love nature but they value style as well), doing some cool artwork with some recycled material (after all they are all about creativity and self-expression but also care about the environment) or enjoying a rooftop party in Brooklyn with the Manhattan skyline in the background. As long as you’ve done that, your creative will turn indifferent Millennials into eager brand fans that will willingly torment their friends into buying your brand as well.

Yeah, right!

To address this issue and turn the stereotypes, half-truths and generalizations about Millennials into specific and actionable insights, First-The-Trousers decided to analyze 76 North American case studies of effective marketing to Millennials. We wanted to focus on brands and campaigns that successfully engaged Millennials in ways that led to business results, rather than on what experts claim or the research learning that usually tries to identify a (lowest) common denominator among the 80 million consumers. For the data, we relied on WARC and its case studies database which includes Effies, Creative Effectiveness Lions, MMA Smarties awards, etc. and covers the last ten years. A summary of the learning can be found at

As part of this analysis we identified three myths about Millennials that were not supported by our data. They are:

  1. Millennials are one homogeneous consumer segment. One of the major appeals of Millennials as a target audience is that there are 80+ million of them out there. That’s a lot of wallets and future consumers. The only problem is that there are many different types of Millennials with very different needs, aspirations and life circumstances: the college kids, the 20 year old blue collar worker, the video game player, the young graduate looking for her first job, the young couple about to get married, buy a house and expecting their first child, the single working mom with 2 children, the freshly divorced 34 year old man re-entering the dating market, and so on. The only way to appeal to all those different segments as one is in our opinion to identify the lowest common denominator across these sub-segments, an approach that never really leads to success or to a truly differentiated idea. Interestingly, 79% of the case studies of effective marketing to Millennials we looked at went beyond the generic criteria used to “capture” Millennials and instead identified sub-segments better suited for their marketing efforts. These included everything from specific category-relevant behaviors (“beer transitionals”), life stage (new home owners) and big life events (young parents delaying potty training), social-demographics (men in their early 30s with higher HH income), gender, ethnicity, geography, passion points (Zombie fans) and interests, etc. In other words, successful Millennial marketers do not target Millennials as one homogeneous segment or as a generation, but instead focus on sub-segments defined by more useful and actionable criteria and variables.
  2. Millennials are digital natives. While this statement is technically correct, in that they don’t know a world without internet and smartphones, the implication and conclusions drawn from this fact usually are not. In fact, talking about Millennials as digital natives usually implies that they need to be targeted online (using their phones as access point) first if not exclusively. However, this implication is not consistent with our learnings either. In fact, out of the 76 cases we looked at, 80% used a combination of online and offline channels to reach millennials with their brand message. Further, two thirds of the campaigns we looked at also interacted with their audience through live events that were built into their marketing plan. It appears that the analog world is still the best place, even for digital natives, to experience the world and create stories that are then worth sharing with social media via smartphones.
  3. Millennials are all about Do-Good marketing. A third myth about Millennials is that they are all about do-good marketing, that all they need is to be aligned with a brand’s higher purpose and values to be turned into avid brand ambassadors. And while I have no doubt that they are socially responsible (maybe even more so than the generation before them), it doesn’t mean that they’ll buy anything and everything at a premium simply because the brand promises to save the world. Do-Good campaigns were actually the exception in our sample of 76 effective case study of Millennial marketing, rather than the rule, with maybe the most prominent exception we looked at being the Pepsi Refresh campaign from 2011. On the other hand, 80% of the cases we looked at included some sort of give-away to incentivize participation. Our conclusion therefore is that a brand is more likely to engage a Millennial by giving them free stuff than by promising them a better world.

Millennials are often thought of as a generation for which the conventional principles of effective marketing and communication do not apply. And the large amount of Millennials research out there, as well as all the Millennial experts out there, seem to perpetuate this myth. Our research and experience shows that instead, they are a group of very pragmatic consumers that demand value and substance from the brands they chose to interact with and that responds to sound, insightful and creative marketing programs just like any other consumer segment. Millennials just happen to have grown up in a digital world and therefore are way more familiar with the digital and social space than most marketers trying to appeal to them.

On a different note, if you are looking for a better, faster, more insightful and more effective way to develop brand positioning platforms and brand stories, please check-out, our proprietary approach to positioning development. Some call it the Creative Whack Pack of positioning, others describe it as the “ludicrous mode” of positioning development methodologies. Our clients love it and recommend it.

Insights: The 10 Habits Of Highly Effective Millennial Marketers

Millennials are probably the most researched generation in marketing history. In fact, a simple Google search for “Marketing to Millennials” yields over 17 million search results, more than twice the results for “Marketing to Baby Boomers” (8 mio. search results) and nearly 9 times more than the same search for “marketing to moms”(2 mio. results).

And yet despite this abundance of information and research data, or more likely because of it, most marketers still struggle to successfully market to Millennials. In fact, while all this research may be informative and interesting (everyone knows something about Millennials) most of it is also full of stereotypes and generalizations and therefore not helpful or actionable when trying to develop effective Millennial-focused positioning platforms and communication programs.

To address this issue once and for all and turn the stereotypes, half-truths and generalizations about Millennials into specific and actionable insights, First-The-Trousers decided to analyze 76 North American case studies of effective marketing to Millennials, where brands and campaigns engaged Millennials in ways that led to business results.  For the data, we relied on WARC and its case studies database which includes Effies, Creative Effectiveness Lions, MMA smarties awards, etc. and covers the last ten years.

So what did we learn about effectively marketing to Millennials? (for more information about this research and a presentation of the more detailed results and relevant case studies please contact the author at Ulli@first-the-trousers.comor visit

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  1. They target sub-segments rather than the Millennial generation as a whole. It’s easy to identify shared values and behaviors for this generation. In fact, most of the research out there does just that. However, remember that the Millennial generation numbers tens of millions of people- and this approach can lead to information too broad to be useful and too obvious to be interesting. Instead, the vast majority of the cases we analyzed (79%) went beyond these general descriptors and shared values and instead identified Millennial sub-segments that were defined by a range of more actionable marketing variables. These included specific category-relevant behaviors (“beer transitionals”), life stage (new home owners) and big life events (young parents delaying potty training), social-demographics (men in their early 30s with higher HH income), gender, ethnicity, geography, passion points (Zombie fans) and interests, etc. In other words, they used targeting criteria to define their core audiences that went beyond the general criteria used to define Millennials as a generation.
  2. They understand the role their category plays (or doesn’t play) in the lives of Millennials: Most successful brands started with a deeply contextual understanding of the role their brand and category played (or didn’t play) in the target’s lives, and used that understanding to arrive at what problem the communication needed to solve. Interestingly, awareness was rarely as much of a problem as lack of relevance or low reach. For example, in 2015 Coke Zero realized that 80% of Millennials has never tried its product. Research also showed that 60% of those who did try Coke Zero, liked it so much that they would re-purchase it. The solution? Get as many Millennials as possible to actually sample Coke Zero at various events by engaging them via innovative sampling tactics and by rewarding them for their engagement with a coupon. In other words, successful Millennial marketing here didn’t just focus on understanding Millennials, but went one step further to understand the relationship Millennials had with their specific category and brand, and used that relationship as a starting point.
  3. They design their marketing programs around real-life events. Interestingly, the majority of campaigns we looked at (66%) involved a tie-in to a real live event, either an existing one (sports event, national holiday, ComicCon, etc.) or one specifically created for the campaign (a concert organized by Lifebeat featuring Millennials’ favorite stars to promote AIDS awareness and testing in NYC for example). So yes, while this cohort is often described as “digital natives”, the key to their hearts and wallets seems to be through real-live events that they can experience firsthand (and then often share that experience digitally with their social circle!).
  4. They amplify and add value to existing experiences. When designing their campaigns around an event those brands however went out of their way to amplify the experience as opposed to just show presence through passive sponsorship. The same holds true for their online experiences. As one case study pointed out, they didn’t just provide for a “status update”, they enabled a “status upgrade”.
  5. They use celebrities to introduce their brand to Millennials (often as part of a broader marketing program). Borrowing interest by using celebrities to endorse a brand message is generally not a very popular practice in the creative community. However, our data suggested that involving celebrities in the campaign, whether rock stars, comedians, actors, celebrity chefs or YouTube and Instagram celebrities is a key success factor in breaking through to Millennials and winning their attention and interest. In fact, 66% of the campaigns we analyzed used this tactic as part of their campaign. Not only did the celebrities act as a short-cut to Millennials’ limited attention span, they also enabled those brands to extend their reach to the celebrities’ fans and followers.
  6. They cooperate with entertainment and media properties already appealing to Millennials (again often as part of a broader marketing program). Another short cut most brands we looked at (79%) used to gain the favors of Millennials was to team up with media platforms popular with Millennials such as BuzzFeed, College Humor, Vice, etc. or with entertainment platforms such as Call Of Duty, The Walking Dead, Pretty Little Liars, The X Factor, etc. The key to success however seems to be to develop content together with those media platforms or to cooperate with the entertainment property to create more engaging and involving experiences. The “brought to you by band X” approach isn’t enough any longer.
  7. They reward Millennials for their participation with free giveaways. The big “myth” in marketing to Millennials is that this audience will gladly act as brand ambassadors for brands that share their values or brands that do good. However, our analysis shows that most successful Millennial brands (82%), even those creating very involving and share-worthy experiences, still usually lured and rewarded their consumers for their engagement with free incentives (or free products) that usually helped drive sale (coupons, free samples, etc.)
  8. They seed their brand message across a multitude of on- and offline touch-points. Another generalization about Millennials is that because they are “digital natives”, the only or primary way to reach them is in the digital space. Our findings do not support this conclusion, as 80% of the brands we looked at used a multitude of channels both online and off, and usually including point-of-sale when relevant, to reach their audience. The objective became how to reinvent and reinvigorate the in-store experience for an omnichannel world, not somehow to eliminate it. In fact, the few cases we analyzed that indeed used an online-only approach usually did so due to a lack of budget.
  9. They use social media to amplify their message rather than as a media channel. Unsurprisingly, most of the brands we looked at used social media in one form or another. The learning however is that most of these brands tapped into the power of social media by giving Millennials a reason to share their brand message (and by making this sharing easy) and by sponsoring content they knew was already share-worthy rather than by exclusively buying advertising space on social media (even though some of the brand we looked at did). In other words they understand that social media is not a media channel but rather a sharing platform.
  10. They use digital innovation to add social currency and a WOW factor to a message, not to replace it. Another myth about marketing to Millennials is that they only respond to cool and innovative digital or social gimmicks. And yes, many of the case we analyzed provided some really cutting edge and innovative digital solutions. But I hope by now the reader will have realized that while these innovative ways to communicate play an important role in helping spread the word and create buzz for the brand, they were usually designed as a clever answer to a communication challenge rather than as an end, or as a creative indulgence, in itself.  For example, Lowe’s “Fix In Six” campaign is based on an insightful understanding of the new ways Millennials seek and consume information which led to a series of 6 seconds DIY Vine videos. In the same vein, the TV show “Moonshiners” understood that in order to get a younger audience to watch the show it need to make it more involving and participatory. The solution? Teaming up with a distillery and enabling consumers to influence the distillation process of bourbon through Twitter (and potentially win one of those barrels).

Millennials are often thought of as this mysterious cohort that lives in a different (digital) world with different conventions and values and that speaks a different language that needs to be de-coded. A group for which the conventional principles of effective marketing and communication do not apply. And the large amount of Millennials research out there, as well as all the Millennial experts out there, seem to perpetuate this myth.

So if you’re looking for the latest and flashy buzz-word for Millennials, this won’t be the place for you (but thanks for reading all the way through here). In fact, our learning show instead that the best strategies to attract Millennials to your brand are based on sound, basic, no BS and proven strategic principles (not flashy and mystical new marketing or communication concepts) and smart creative executions that are rooted in timeless principles of human persuasion yet take advantage of today’s technological capabilities.

In fact, our research and experience shows that Millennials are a group of very pragmatic consumers that demand value and substance from the brands they chose to interact with and that responds to sound, insightful and creative marketing programs just like any other consumer segment. Millennials just happen to have grown up in a digital world and therefore are way more familiar with the digital and social space than most marketers trying to appeal to them.

For more information about, and insights from this analysis and actual case studies, please contact me directly at

On a different note, if you are looking for a better, faster, more insightful and more effective way to develop brand positioning platforms and brand stories, please check-out, our proprietary approach to positioning development. Some call it the Creative Whack Pack of positioning, others describe it as the “ludicrous mode” of positioning development methodologies. Our clients love it and recommend it.

Infographic: Top 10 Habits Of Highly Effective Millennial Marketers

We recently completed an analysis of 76 cases of effective marketing to Millennials. We wanted to help dispel the myths and stereotypes surrounding marketing to Millennials, probably the most researched, yet least understood consumer segment out there, and see what we can learn from brands that were successful in building their sales targeting Millennials.

For the data, we relied on WARC and its case studies database. The cases we included in our study include Effies, Creative Effectiveness Lions, MMA smarties awards, etc. and cover the last ten years (2006-2016).

A summary of the results can be found here. If you’re interested in a presentation of the results, send me an email. In the meantime, we’re sharing an infographic summarizing some of the key learning.
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How To Engage Millennials Purposefully!


There is a lot of information about Millennials out there- in fact, there’s probably almost too much. This information is often contradictory. It’s rarely actionable, and often misleading or overly broad. Yes, Millennials may believe strongly in social causes, but that doesn’t mean that this belief drives all their purchase decisions. Yes, Millennials are perhaps interested in well-made products with an authentic story- but that’s not to say that Gen X’ers aren’t!

We recently did a project with the smart folks at which had us look at the leisure behaviors of Millennials and the potential implications for brands who want to engage them. We couldn’t find an actionable model, so we decided to create our own based on secondary and primary research. Based on all the data we collected regarding Millennials leisure activities, we framed this “universe” along two core discriminating variables:

  1. Where they were alone or in a very small group vs. a large group activity
  2. Looking to relax (52% of the time) or looking to be more active (48% of the time)

These two dimensions lead to a perceptual map which highlights four distinct Millennial “leisure zones.” Two of these offer especially rich opportunities for brands and advertisers that are looking to engage.

The opportunity for marketers is twofold: to first understand the what- what types of activities are Millennials doing in these leisure zones? What type of media are they interacting with? The second opportunity is to understand the why- what are the contexts, emotions, and motivations that matter in each leisure zone?


  1. The chill zone. This is when Millennials decide to chill. Usually they’re at home, and typically they’re alone or with a friend or two. 52% of Millennials prefer these types of leisure activities according to Mintel’s Millennials Leisure Activities report (2013). Especially because many Millennials are dealing with economic insecurity, it’s likely this type of leisure is popular because it doesn’t cost anything. But, connectivity is still the rule- even if they’re alone. This is a key moment when social connectivity, online video and music streaming, video gaming, content and information consumption happen. This is a key moment when Millennials focus in on screens- tablets and smartphones, and perhaps TV screens (especially if it’s connected to an Xbox). This is also the zone of Youtube Karaoke (ever wondered why so many music video have lyrics attached them?), board games and personal content creation.
  1. The adventure zone. This is the stereotypical Millennial zone that we see portrayed in advertising. Groups of young people jumping off a cliff into the wide blue ocean, driving in a classic convertible down a winding desert road, long hair flowing in the win. Or of course, maybe they’re having an awesome roof top party (usually in Brooklyn, NY) with a multi-million dollar view of the Manhattan skyline. It is interesting how cliché and out-of-reach most Millennial advertising looks, especially when considering that they have this supposed thirst for authenticity. But I am digressing. In the adventure zone, Millennials are on the go with their friends. The destinations are way less exciting that what is shown in advertising. Local sports events, movie theaters, concerts and plays, even the zoo. When Millennials go out they want to maximize the value they get for their below average budget. In this zone, they want to create or participate in share-worthy experiences and turn those (hopefully) into stories they can share.


The “maintenance zone” and the “Bonding zone” are far more challenging areas for brands to meaningfully engage Millennials. In the “maintenance zone” they are usually on a “mission”, either going to the gym or yoga class or at the dog park. The “bonding zone” which usually happens in larger groups (more than 3) and usually at someone’s dining room table or backyard (or at a restaurant) is the zone where relationships are nurtured, stories shared and board games played (Cards against Humanity anyone?).

The lines between the zones are fluid and Millennials move between them seamlessly. However, understanding the context in which you’re trying to reach this demanding audience and their frame of mind within that context provide useful guidance for brand initiatives.

  1. The chill zone. In this zone, Millennials are pursuing their own interests and brands here need to compete for their attention and interest as the Millennials pursue their goals. So, as a brand which would you rather be? The brand that interrupts their quest for fun with annoying pre-rolls and disruptive banners? Or do you want to be the brand that fuels their interests and passion? And let’s face it, while many brands aspire to be like Red Bull or GoPro and wow Millennials with original content, the majority of brands out there will never be able to produce the type of content that captivates Millennials the way these two brands do. And they don’t have to.An analysis of successful Millennial campaigns First-The-Trousers recently did shows that a large number of the brands that successfully engaged Millennials either relied on celebrities (pop stars, online celebrities, familiar radio hosts, etc.) to introduce their brand to those consumers or on existing entertainment or media properties (Walking Dead anyone?). Using the equity of these celebrities or media properties often acts as a short cut to gain Millennials attention.
  1. The adventure zone: Millennials operate on a tight leisure budget. In fact, some studies show that their leisure budget is 40% lower than the American average. It is therefore not surprising that they seek to maximize the leisure value they get for their money, which provide a perfect opportunity for brands. Engage them at these outings by enabling them to get more out of the experience whether through participation, or by providing some sort of additional value.In fact, another interesting learning from our study of successful Millennial campaigns is that many of the brands we looked at associate themselves with a big event (whether a sports event, a national holiday, Comic Con, etc.) and find ways to amplify Millennials’ experiences at these events (often through anticipation and participation) or by providing them with the digital tool to share their experiences.


Understanding the various “leisure zones” in which to reach Millennials can provide some useful tips on the frame of mind your audience is in, what they want and expect in those moments and the role the brand can meaningfully play in those situations in order to add value and engage.

And, even better than providing a clear sense of what brands should do, it can also help them understand what to avoid!

The Four Brains of a Strategist. Which One Do you Use Most?

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I recently created a little Facebook app called “What Type of Strategist are you?” Apparently, this is a question that strategists really do want answered- as they’ve viewed the app seven thousand times in the last five weeks (8000 actually as of 2.28.16)! It was also interesting to notice that most people who took the quiz seemed to really identify with the results, as you never know how these little experiments will work out!

Since many marketers who took the quiz have asked me about the reasoning behind the quiz, I’ve decided to provide some background. I came across this “model” a few years back, when I was at Leo Burnett. It was the brain child of Carol Foley, research guru extraordinaire at the agency. I don’t remember the context of her presentation and all the content she shared that day, but the core elements of this framework stuck with me. They make so much intuitive sense.

In Carol’s model (and I am paraphrasing here based on memory) she differentiated “strategic thinking” based on two core discriminating dimensions:

  1. Rational versus emotional: Are you a rational thinker that rigorously analyzes all the available data? Or perhaps you’re a more emotional thinker, a person that relies on gut instincts when going through the data.
  2. Spontaneous versus Planned: The second dimension differentiates between a more deliberate, thoughtful (and time consuming) style where you consider all aspects of an argument before coming to a conclusion. Alternatively, maybe your style is more spontaneous, fast and inspired.

Segmenting strategic thinking along these two dimensions leads to 4 different “strategic styles or brains” captured in the quiz:


The creative strategist: You’re the creative among the strategists; you use facts and data, preferably cultural data as a starting point for inspiring ideas and big thinking- and you pride yourself on being able to communicate them well. You focus on what could be.

The empathetic strategist: Your approach to strategy is emotional first. You use data to gain a deeper understanding, to get a sense (almost a feel) for what drives people and why people do the things they do. For you empathy is almost more important than reason. You focus on the underlying drivers and emotions.

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The conceptual master: You quickly perceive the inherent relationship between disparate facts and are good at creating “models” that simplify and explain the complex while providing direction on how to solve the problem. You thrive on making abstract ideas feel concrete. You think in concepts.

The rational thinker: You seek factual knowledge, analyze all available data, analyze the pros and cons of each argument and consider all sides of a problem meticulously before coming to a reasoned conclusion and recommendation. You think in data.

All four styles are useful and valuable but I’ve noticed that people generally seem to have preferences. “The creative strategist” in particular seemed particularly aspirational even though the segmentation is not based on the quality of the outcome but rather on the thinking and processing style. In other words any of these styles can lead to cool, innovative solutions and insights.

Experience also shows that most people tend to gravitate towards one of these 4 styles based on their training, experience, successes and affinity. To generalize one could say that the rational thinkers are often found in corporate strategy jobs, the conceptual master in consulting firms, the creative strategists in advertising agencies (thanks Crispin & Porter for starting the trend towards cultural strategy) and the empathetic strategist in qualitative research firms and some advertising agencies.

Personally though, I believe that strategists should have the mental flexibility to move fluidly between those four thinking styles when analyzing a problem and looking for insights or for a solution. At First-The-Trousers, for example, we’ve helped clients identify new growth opportunities and product ideas by using our “conceptual master” skills. We’ve also helped corporations develop global positioning platforms using our “creative strategist” brains. We’ve used our “rational thinker” skills to help a client identify the most compelling message at point if sale and we’ve used our “empathetic strategist” skills to help an agency win new business and help its client turn around its declining sales.

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In my experience, the clients’ problem, their business objectives and their own culture should influence the type of thinking you apply to a problem. Most clients we talk to are often looking for a fresh perspective on their business and new insights on how to drive brand or category growth. Understanding the dominant thinking style within that organization and purposefully applying a different one is a smart way to provide this alternative perspective and uncover new insights.

I also believe that most organizations, especially agencies, should make sure they have each type of thinker within their ranks to ensure growth, fresh insights and to avoid formulaic and expected thinking. Have you noticed that most agencies have a specific style of thinking and work? Now you know why.

But switching between those thinking styles isn’t easy to do. Most companies use frameworks or creative briefs that tend to prescribe the type of desired thinking, ultimately leading to formulaic (or at least predictable) solutions. That’s why I’ve never really been a big fan of creative brief templates. And that’s where a tool like Positioning-Roulette can come in handy. Since it identifies the 26 universal approaches to positioning development and invites a systematic exploration of these 26 solutions, it also enables the person using Positioning-Roulette to apply all 4 strategic brains to a given problem.

What type of strategic thinker are you? And do you stand out within your organization or do you share the same thinking style as your colleagues? And what do you do to switch between these various thinking styles? Let me know in the comments section below.

Three (Un) Conventional Strategies to Stimulate Sales of Lottery Tickets.


This article was first published in the Jan/Feb 2016 edition of the Public Gaming magazine (, one of the leading gaming magazines in the industry. 

Lottery agencies are on a constant quest to balance meaningful sales and profit increases with cost controls, in order to increase their contributions to their states. In my experience, most of them are very skilled in doing so, through savvy product portfolio management, maximizing their marketing ROI and through constant focus on optimizing the POS experience.

We’d like to add to their existing arsenal of ideas by suggesting 3 additional ways to drive incremental revenue. These three solutions are already used successfully by marketers in other categories, and they’re based on important lessons from behavioral science and our own experience. They may even be recognizable to some extent, they’re already used in the lottery industry.

Act like a peacock at POS, stand out

As anyone who’s spent any time in the category at all knows, POS is crucial to driving sale. According to research First-The-Trousers did for the Indiana State Lottery and IGT, around 50% of the decision to play is triggered at point of sale. The problem? There’s a multitude of available games and most frankly look-alike and operate within the same form and visual conventions. This may be okay for core players who are very familiar with the games and for whom the newest game might stand out, but this “visual confusion and overload of choices” will most likely act as a deterrent to “light players”, “non-players” or younger generations of players the industry so desperately needs to attract.

In Behavioral Economics, this phenomenon is called “Choice Overload” or “overchoice”. In fact, research has shown that this phenomenon occurs as a result of too many choices being available to consumers. Overchoice has been associated with unhappiness (Schwartz, 2004), decision fatigue (players not being willing to put the extra effort required to make a decision), as well as choice deferral—avoiding making a decision altogether, such as not buying a product (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000) (source:

Not the best starting point to attract new players into the category.

So what can a lottery agency do about this? After all, the available in-store real estate is very limited and there are only so many pop-ups and stand-alone displays it can set up.

(a) Elevate existing and successful tactics into strategies.

In order to stand out, a game needs to look and feel different from the other 40 (or 100) games it is displayed with. This is such an obvious statement; it is almost embarrassing to write about. And yet this simple principle doesn’t seem to get systematically applied at point of sale.

We can already witness examples of this happening in the industry. Best case in point, were the “super tickets” used in some jurisdictions last year which are basically oversized tickets. The mechanism of the game didn’t really change, but its extra-large size helped it stand out at POS. And sell.

However, this example feels tactical, the exception to the norm rather than part of a strategic POS display management approach. Elevating this approach strategically would imply that the product development and marketing team make the specific effort, as part of the product development and launch process, to ensure that all new products stand out through their physical attributes at POS. A simple framework for that step in the process could be something like this.


(b) Tap into people’s cultural passion points as a way to stand-out:

Another way to help people overcome “Choice Overload” and facilitate trial and decision-making at point of sale is to tap into some of your players’ and potential players’ core cultural passion areas. This point is basically about “borrowed interest”. The best example I’ve seen illustrating this point was the Walking Dead game by Scientific Games launched a couple of years ago.

By tapping into people’s love for the Walking Dead TV show, lotteries were able to attract new players. Walking Dead has become a pop-cultural phenomenon with a strong following and tapping into that equity made it easier for younger players to “enter” the category.

Here too, what appeared to be a one-off game idea could become a more strategic way to manage a product portfolio by simply asking what other passion points and pop-cultural trends could a lottery tap into to attract new users to the category (Facebook analytics can provide a huge insights here). Star Wars, anyone?

Leverage digital channels to simulate experiences, not to sell

While Digital with a capital D is on every marketers mind, most state lotteries are legally constrained from utilizing it as a sales channel. So, the default option for many lottery agencies is to use the digital space (especially mobile and social) for either information purposes (the winning numbers, announcing the winners, etc.), for communication and advertising purposes or as part of their content strategy. And that’s smart given the legal constraints.

However, there is also another way to look at the digital space and its potential to draw players, especially new players, into the category. Allow me to digress for a second.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to have Hallmark, the greeting cards manufacturer and distributor, as a client. Hallmark is generally known for its highly emotional advertising but what many people don’t realize is that Hallmark is actually in the retail business, trying to drive consumers into any of its 2250 Gold Crown stores (1850 of which are privately owned). Hallmark had a problem similar to the lottery category, known as the leaking bucket, in that it struggled in attracting younger people while older customers, well, get older and eventually drop out of the category. The typical Gold Crown store visitor was a lady in her 60s with way too much time on her hands.

To make things worse, free e-card services started to pop-up online at the time (this was 6 or 7 years ago), a trend Hallmark saw as a threat and therefore strongly resisted initially. In fact, the company was 1. Afraid to alienate its retailers (the belief at the time being that “people who send a card online will not go to a store”) and 2. Lose sales and profit to this free digital offering.

However, after a while we started to realize that this trend towards free online greeting cards was actually helping Hallmark’s sales and retail stores visits because it allowed a whole new generation of consumers to enter the category and experience the satisfaction of 1. Sending a greeting card and 2. Getting exposed to the recognition and appreciation of the receiver (a key element in the giving process).

In other words, the internet enabled a whole new generation of potential greeting cards buyers to “experience” the satisfaction of sending a greeting card from the comfort of their desk or couch, which in turn drew them into a more “ritualized social connection behavior” and ultimately into the category.

The same insight might apply to the lottery category. What if we’d use the digital space to help create experiences that would give potential players the opportunity to explore and feel what it would like to play? And win?

To test this hypothesis First-The-Trousers is working on two Facebook apps. One taps into the insight that everyone has at one time or another imagined and even calculated what they would do if they’d win the lottery. Since we at FTT believe that technology enables existing behaviors rather than creating new ones, the idea of this Facebook App is to give people a tool to plan what they’d do with a big win and, obviously share the results with their social networks.

The second Facebook App idea FTT has in the pipeline is a quiz that would help players identify what type of Millionaire they’d be. Based on their answer to a few simple questions, respondents could be assigned to one of 6 or 7 personas (the philanthropist, the traveler, the egoist, etc.), which again could obviously be shared on social media. Online personality test and quizzes are highly popular and viral, so why not use them for the lottery category?


What these digitally enabled experiences do, we believe, is help potential players to get in the “mental frame of mind” of playing the lottery by inviting them to actively imagine (and calculate) what it would be like to win (as opposed to just communicate an advertising message). This personal experience, as we know from other categories, is then very likely to act as a door opener into the category for people who may have never imaged playing before.

Increase the Number of Purchase Occasions

An accepted observation in the category is that increasing the number of retail outlets helps increase overall sales, as was seen last year by the New Jersey State Lottery. Behind this simple observation is a hidden truth: “the more opportunities players have to purchase games, the more they will do so”. From my past experience I know this to be also true for the confectionary category: increased distribution equals increased sales.

Another way to look at this basic truth is not so much in terms of retail touch points but in terms of buying occasions, following the logic that “the more purchase occasions players are given (i.e. reasons to buy games) the more games they will buy”. In the Nov/Dec 2015 edition of the PGRI magazines we illustrated in an article entitled “Embracing The Essence of the Traditional Lottery-Playing Experience” how scratch games that looked like greeting cards or coffee sleeves (rather than traditional scratch-off games) would be equally appealing to survey respondents (in terms of purchase intent) while also tapping into very different need state and therefore purchase occasions: social gifting for greeting cards and “being part of the morning ritual” for the coffee sleeves.

As such, it might be worth to also think about increasing the number of purchase occasions as a way to stimulate sales. Exclusive partnership with specific retailers might be a quick, natural progression in the category. Though, redesigning completely new product experiences (such a coffee sleeve) might take the industry players a little longer to develop and implement.


First The Trousers teams up with many different experts. One of them is Nicole Abramson, a senior shopper marketing expert whose experience includes strategic program development for SC Johnson at major retailers including Target, Whole Foods, CVS and Walgreens. Her recommendation to promote lottery sales is to think in terms of brand partnerships, in particular during new product launches, where brands may also be able to help invest in additional in-store and digital advertising (for example, a Coca Cola game that features a new flavor). “Product Bundles” or baskets where scratch games could be offered as a bundle with other popular items found at convenience stores and gas stations around specific “themes” may create new purchase occasions and appeal to a different shopper than just the end-user. So, for example, a husband may be more inclined to purchase a Valentines themed gift basket for his wife that potentially includes scratch games, chocolate and a card that speaks to how rich life is because of her. Other ideas could include a Road Trip Kit with mini travel board games, a gas card and scratch off tickets or a “pot of gold” gift basket for St. Patrick’s Day that includes scratch offs and gold chocolate coins. The list of potential themes goes on and on. This tactic works very well for packaged good brands and large retailers, so why not for the lottery category? And I am sure many retailers and brands would love to partner with the state lottery.

Nicole’s recommendation and experience is also supported by research done by two Yale University professors that shows that “bundling products works well as a sales strategy especially to increase overall revenue and sales”. Give people another compelling opportunity to purchase games, and they will!

To conclude:

When planning the next generation of products to fill your innovation pipeline and product calendar you may want to consider following learning to help your product stand out, boost sales and attract new users to the category:

  • Can you make the games physically stand out at point of sale (make them bigger, smaller, rounder, etc.)
  • Can the game(s) leverage relevant trends in pop culture such as popular TV shows and thus tap into people passion points?
  • Can you leverage the digital space to create experiences that would enable potential players to experience and share the thrill of playing and winning?
  • Lastly, in addition to trying to increase the number of retail outlets, can you think of ideas that would increase the number of purchase occasions like creating memorable product bundles?

Ulli Appelbaum is Founder & President of brand strategy and innovation firm First-The-Trousers-Then-the-Shoes ( specialized in brand growth, (product) innovation and brand storytelling. He has extensive experience in the Lottery industry having helped lottery agencies re-position their brand for growth, develop new white space opportunities and new product ideas, optimize their internal innovation and go to market processes and develop communication strategies for a variety of new product launches. He’s also a regular contributor to the Public Gaming Magazine ( and speaker at conferences. Feel free to contact me to explore how I can help you grow your lottery and/or gaming business. 

The Brand Persuasion Wheel: A simple Framework to Develop Better Strategies


I wrote this paper 7 or 8 years ago. In a sense it was a first step towards I’m re-posting it because I believe that the principles described here are timeless and provide a very simple framework that will make any strategy development process better.   Let me know what you think in the comments section below. 

The Brand Persuasion Wheel

Six principles to enhance the persuasiveness of your brand

Reaching, engaging, and bonding with consumers is becoming increasingly challenging for marketers.

On one hand, consumers have become more savvy and critical towards brands, have higher expectations towards marketers, are more empowered and increasingly rely on their peers for their brand decisions.

On the other hand, the evolution and increasing complexity of today’s media environment represents new challenges that force brand builders to venture outside of their creative and media comfort zone and in the process reassess their key success metrics. Traditional media outlets are losing their impact while the brand building principles of newer media outlets still need to be discovered and mastered.

The big challenge many brands therefore face is how to weather the storm and navigate through this ever-evolving and ever-changing environment while keeping a clear sense of direction and while meeting their bottom line goal.

The business of human persuasion

The model described in this paper suggest one way to do just that. It is based on the premise that brand builders and marketers are first and foremost in the business of human persuasion.

That is, we build brands by shaping people’s attitudes, beliefs, and feelings towards the products, services, and/or causes we market, with the objective to have them act in our favor by purchasing our brands or joining our cause.

Everything persuades

The possibly biggest shift in marketing today is the realization that everything communicates. The old packaged good principle of identifying one functional benefit and “hammering” it into consumers mind with as much media power as possible is not sufficient anymore to really bond and connect with consumers.

The marketing community is finally moving towards a more consumer appropriate form of brand management. The industry is realizing that every aspect of a brand can –and should- be used to create compelling brand experiences and create meaningful and long lasting relationships.

Because the principles of human persuasion focus on people, they can be leveraged by every single aspect of brand communication, from its retail strategy to the way it communicates.

6 principles of human persuasions

The model described below captures the 6 most common principles of human persuasion that can be leveraged by marketers:

  • Reward
  • Threat
  • Expertise
  • Liking
  • Scarcity
  • Social Proof

These principles have been extensively researched in the field of psychology and have often times been successfully demonstrated in the field of marketing. They are universal and transcend time and geographies.

While these principles transcend time and geographies, their expression can evolve over time and across geographies.

For example, the source and nature of “Expertise” today is very different than it was 20 years ago. Also, the nature of the threats that might have motivated our ancestors, the cavemen, to take action is very different from the threat a middle class family living in suburbia today faces. The principle however stays the same.

The 6 Principles

  1. Reward

The single most important principle is the principle of reward. We are more likely to change our attitudes, beliefs, and behavior if doing so is associated with a reward.

The marketing world usually applies the word “benefit” here, but the notion of “reward” is more useful as it puts the emphasis on the consumer as opposed to the product or service the company is selling.

Benefits all too often get boiled down to the actual product attribute and performance. Thinking in terms of rewards instead forces one to think harder about the added value you want your brand to provide to its consumers, beyond its purely rational benefit.

It also provides brand builders with the opportunity to look at the total brand experience as a way to reward its consumers, i.e. not only “what” it says but also “how” it says it at all the points of consumer interaction, and thus enhance the brand’s opportunity to meaningfully connect with consumers.


A good question to ask with regard to the reward principle is ”does the brand, and its various expressions, provide a rewarding experience for the people it wants to engage?” While the question may sound simple, answering it often isn’t.

The reward can obviously be physical, functional, emotional, psychological, experiential, social or a combination thereof.

Each aspect of a brand can leverage the reward principle, including its communication as demonstrated by Office Max’s Holidays “Elf Yourself” campaign. In fact, enabling visitors of to upload their face onto dancing elves and send the little movie to friends and relatives for the Holidays appears to provide enough of a rewarding experience, as demonstrated by the 26 million plus visitors of the site.

  1. Threat

The evil twin of the reward principle is the threat principle. We are more likely to change our beliefs, attitudes, and behavior, if not doing so poses a threat to ourselves or those around us.

Overt or implicit threats are a powerful way to motivate someone to do something.

Threats can often be useful to create relevance for your brand in raising awareness for a problem –real or fictional- your consumers may not have been aware of. For example, thanks to all the soap manufacturers’ efforts to raise our awareness for the subject, we now can’t buy enough anti-bacterial soap to protect ourselves and the ones we love from the millions of bacteria and germs surrounding and threatening us.

Threat can sometimes be a more powerful motivator than reward.

Take Global Warming for example. Global Warming as a catch phrase has actually a pretty nice and positive ring to it. The term itself actually requires an effort to re-construct the argument on why Global Warming is a threat to us, an effort many are not willing to make.


The sense of urgency to do something to preserve our environment in this country would be heightened, in my opinion, if instead of referring to the issue as “Global Warming” we would refer to it as “Global Flooding”.

“Global Flooding” implies a threat, a sense of urgency, like we should do something about it pretty soon if we don’t want our feet to get wet. “Global Warming” instead sounds more like an invitation to get your flip flops and your sun tan lotion out, especially when you live in the Midwest.

Another ecological buzz word leverages the principle of threat: Acid Rain. The concept that shaped a large part of Europe’s environmental policies in the 80s is more persuasive in my opinion, as it implies an imminent threat and sounds like we should do something about it fast.

  1. Expertise

Expertise is another powerful principle that can be leveraged to enhance the persuasiveness of your brand’s communication.

According to Wikipedia “an expert can be, by virtue of training, education, profession, publication or experience, believed to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially (and legally) rely upon the individual’s opinion”. The recommendation and endorsement of someone we recognize as an expert is more likely going to change our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

Expert persuasion can take many forms and shapes: Italians are the experts in pasta and wine, Germans are experts in car engineering, technological innovation is often an expression and demonstration of expertise, people who use the brand or category under extreme conditions (or more often than the average consumer) are often seen as experts, and so forth.

While the principles of human persuasion are universal and transcend time and geographies, their expressions can change over time. This is the case with the expertise principle as consumers are now increasingly turning towards their peers, their friends, and their neighbors for expert advice.


What digital camera or computer should I buy? What sprinkler system is best for my yard? How do I know which baby seat is safest for my car? What wine should I serve for dinner? For many –if not most of- our brand decisions we rely on and trust the opinion of family, friends, neighbors or colleagues especially if we believe that they are more knowledgeable than we are in a specific field.

While the number of principles is limited, their expressions are limited only by the imagination and creativity of those applying them. In fact, there is a huge opportunity for marketers to identify the freshest and most compelling expression of the various principles and thus provide the originality and relevance to their brands required to engage consumers today.

For example, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about experts in the field of pet nutrition are veterinarians (followed by breeders).  Obviously not all available brands out there can benefit from a vet’s (or a breeder’s) recommendation.

So what do you do when another brand already “owns” the vets’ endorsement?

You dig deeper and try to come up with a fresh solution. This is what the Purina One marketing team did. In fact, they discovered that dog owning Radio DJs, an apparently unlikely source of influence, were actually extremely persuasive in getting their regular listeners to switch to Purina ONE (by sharing their own experience with the brand) and thus fuel the growth of the brand.

  1. Liking

We tend to change our beliefs, attitudes, and actions more easily if we like the person or brand trying to influence us. In fact, I am more likely to do what you ask me to do if I like you than if I don’t like you.

It might therefore be useful to ask the question “do my consumers like my brand and brand experience more than my competitor’s brand?” and/or “what can I do to increase the likeability of my brand and brand experience?” This area is particularly relevant in the service industry.

Liking is not always a prerequisite for a brand’s success, but everything being equal, the brand with the most friends wins. Think about the brands you personally respect or admire out there. Chances are high that you also like them better than their competitors.

There has been a lot of debate in the account planning and market research community on whether “likeability” is a reliable predictor for communication effectiveness. While the debate has still not been fully resolved, social psychology has collected enough evidence to prove the point.

But creating likeability doesn’t just mean being funny or doing funny advertising. Instead, specific elements have been shown to promote likeability. They are:

  1. Familiarity. Familiarity breeds liking. One of the tremendous advantages Coke has around the world is the feeling of familiarity its ubiquity triggers. Go to any remote place of this world and you’ll most likely be really excited to be able to order and drink a coke, especially if it is cold.
  2. Positive regards. We like those who like us. When United Airlines launched its low cost carrier TED in Denver, it had to overcome the negative sentiments consumers usually have towards airlines in their hub markets. The answer was a grass root campaign in which a certain TED (the identity of the airline was not revealed at this stage) did a variety of random acts of kindness for the population of Denver: free coffee at the morning hot spots, flowers delivered to the receptionists in the downtown offices, etc., etc., all with compliments from Ted. The result, besides local media picking up the story and creating additional buzz around the brand launch, was a tremendous goodwill towards TED translating into outstanding business results once the brand was revealed.
  3. Similarities: We tend to like those who are similar to us. While in the 60’s and 70’s similarities may have been more of a socio-demographic nature, a shift appears to have taken place amongst consumers. Shared experiences and common interests might be a stronger driver nowadays than socio-demographics. Think Nike and “Just do it”.
  4. Positive associations. The word in the account planning hallways has it that the battery manufacturer Energizer approached its agency TBWA/CD with the task to find a motivating consumer benefit other than “longevity”, which at the time was already owned by competitor Duracell. The agency, after doing its due diligence, recommended to stick with a long lasting claim as no other benefit really mattered more to consumers in this category. The proposed solution instead, whether consciously or not, was to create a positive association between the brand and the benefit. The Energizer Bunny, arguably one of the most likeable icons out there, was born. Put differently, the agency decided that the solution was not so much to claim a different benefit for the brand, but rather it was to out-execute Duracell by creating a positive association for the brand, the bunny (that happened to be strategically spot on) and in the process reclaim the generic category benefit of long lastingness in a likeable way.
  5. Aesthetic appeal. Everything being equal (and some times everything not being equal as in the case of Ipod) your brand will be preferred if it looks aesthetically more pleasing than your competitor’s, even more so when the brand’s aesthetics visually reinforce the core proposition and benefit of the brand, as in the case of Dyson or Apple.
  6. Scarcity

We have been “trained” to believe that if something is scarce, it’s valuable. And that if it becomes scarcer, it becomes even more valuable. Think gold, gas, caviar, and even the Burger King Whopper.

Just like the other principles of human persuasion, scarcity can be expressed by a variety of elements of your brand’s communication. Red Bull used to purposefully limit its distribution and availability upon entering a new market to make itself more desirable. A manufacturer might highlight the exclusive ingredients contained in its products, provide special limited editions, or tie its offering to a time limit (offer valid today only, or until stock lasts).

The scarcity principle is so powerful that some companies even use it as their business model. One company thriving on the principle is Woot ( the epitome of the one-day-sale business model. Every day at midnight, Woot, a Dallas based internet-retailer selling electronics offers one (yes one) product for sale on its site. When the product runs out of stock, well the product is gone. If it doesn’t run out of stock within 24 hours, it gets discontinued and replaced by a new one, every 24 hours.

Embedded in the principle of scarcity is another powerful principle of persuasion, what psychologist call “psychological reactance”.

Robert B. Cialdini, probably the most popular scientist in the field of human persuasion describes “psychological reactance” as “whenever free choice is limited or threatened, the need to retain our freedoms makes us want them (as well as the goods and service associated with them) significantly more than before”. Applied to brands this means that when our ability to choose a specific brand is threatened to be severely limited we want this brand even more than before.  Burger King perfectly exemplifies this principle with its “Whopper Freakout” campaign. The idea of the campaign was to film, with hidden cameras, actual consumers’ reaction to the (fake) news that the Whopper has been discontinued (the video can be seen at or on Youtube). Advertising Age reports that 1.5 million viewers have seen the video two months into the launch of the campaign, leading Burger King to announce double digits sales growth for the Whopper.

  1. Social Proof

The principle of social proof states that we determine what is correct, whether a behavior or a belief, by finding out what other people think is correct. This principle applies especially when we not sure about what defines correct behavior.

This is why we choose the long line at the cash register even though another cash register might have no line at all (others must know why everyone is standing in this line; otherwise they wouldn’t, would they?).

The principle works best when we are unsure about what behavior is correct and when those we observe are similar or share similar interests to us.

Most popular, best selling, preferred by 80% of consumers, etc. are all claims that try to trigger our innate tendency to emulate the behavior of those around us.

Reward, Threat, Expertise, Liking, Scarcity, and Social Proof are the foundation of persuasive brand communication.

The Brand Persuasion Wheel

The 6 principles can be organized within a very simple strategic framework, that I call the Brand Persuasion Wheel. It enables brand builders to keep the course (staying consumer relevant and persuasive) while navigating through today’s tumultuous consumer and media environment.

The Brand Persuasion Wheel

Brand Persuasion Wheel

At the heart of the model, we find the principle of reward, the most important principle. It does not necessarily need another principle to be persuasive. At the periphery, we find the 5 other principles.

The wheel provides direction and easily complements, rather than replaces, existing strategic models and frameworks.

Working with the model

Because the Brand Persuasion Wheel is based on principles of human persuasion, I have found it to be extremely versatile in its application to brand management. It can, when used properly, be applied to every stage of the added value process of a brand’s development.

Situation analysis

The Brand Persuasion Wheel can be used as an extra layer of analysis when assessing the current situation of a brand.

Which principles are at work in the category? Which principles would your defined audience (or a segment thereof) be most receptive to? Which principles are used by your competitors and which ones represent white space?

If your competitor already leverages one principle that is relevant to a large consumer segment one can, for example, try to identify another principle as foundation for the brand proposition. Looking again at the battery category we can see that Duracell has effectively leveraged the “expert” principle (trusted everywhere) while Energizer leverages the “liking” principle.

Alternatively one could try to find a better expression and interpretation of an existing principle as in the case of Purina One and its radio DJs’ endorsement.

Formulation of strategic hypothesis

The model can also be used to identify, fine tune, and enhance the persuasive appeal of strategic concepts and hypothesis, whether a brand architecture, a positioning, or a piece of communication messaging.

It can stir the individual marketer’s thinking when developing hypothesis. It is also a great tool for ideation and hypothesis formulation in the context of brainstorming sessions.

Going systematically, with the right group of people, through each principle and stretching the imagination on how to bring to life the various principles is an effective way to create a broad list of persuasive options and hypothesis which can then be fine tuned and validated.

Optimization of executions

The model can be used when assessing and selling creative and executional ideas.

In fact, when exposed to a creative idea, the reader could ask two questions:

  1. Which principle does the execution leverage?
  1. How can we amplify, in the execution, the impact of this specific principle?

For example, if you see a creative idea that tries to generate liking through similarities (the very nature of testimonials) one might want to think about ways to enhance a sense of similarities between the characters portrayed in the ad and the viewers through the various executional elements (whether looks, type of language used, type of humor used, context in which they are presented, and so forth).

Assessing new media opportunities

When faced with a new media opportunity, one might want to ask, as part of the due diligence process, what principles could be leveraged and meaningfully brought to life by the media, and how? The richness of the answer (or lack thereof) will point to the potential of a specific media outlet.

Some limitations

Just like any tool, the Brand Persuasion Wheel has its limitations. Its value and benefits depend very much on the way it is being used and on the experience and skills of its user.

The model provides orientation by pointing into the right direction. It does not however highlight the potential hurdles and barriers that may come up in following that specific direction. This is where the experience and the skills of those using the wheel come into play. This is also where the processes and other methodologies used by marketers come into play.

The model was designed and has proven itself in my daily management of brands. However, it is based on the assumption that the main objective of brand communication is to shape and influence consumers’ attitudes and feelings towards a brand, hence their behavior. But this is only one theory amongst many on how communication works.

There are obviously more than 6 principles of human persuasion. However, the 6 principles described here are, based on my experience with dozens of brands around the world, the most potent and operational for marketers trying to engage consumers on a large scale.

Also, the awareness of these principles might lead inexperienced marketers to the temptation to try to leverage too many of them at the same time for the same point of consumer interaction. However, focus, clarity, and simplicity still remain the key success criteria of powerful brands. The risk of diluting a brand’s core by leveraging too many principles prevails. As such, it might be wiser to try to understand which primary principle would have the most traction for a specific brand within a specific competitive context and in light of a specific target group. Once this principle has been identified, it might then be worth asking which other principles could be leveraged secondarily in other elements of the brand expression and the brand’s contact points.

Last, but not least, many of these principles are not suited to be researched through direct consumer feedback, because consumers might not be able or willing to respond to those principles in the context of a focus group for example. Few, if any, consumers would admit that the behavior of others has an influence on how they feel about a brand. Also, most consumers will reject “fear tactics” in the context of a focus group. This doesn’t mean that the principles are not valid. There is plenty of evidence that they are. Rather, it reminds us to be cautious when researching ideas and assessing direct consumer feedback.

Concluding thoughts

The model described in this paper is simple. If applied properly, it can provide a great deal of guidance and focus in all aspects of brand management.

It reminds brand builders what business they are in and provides a sense of direction, making it easier to weather the challenges represented by today’s tumultuous media and consumer environment.

If used creatively, it can also provide a competitive advantage in that it can lead to new and fresh opportunities to engage consumers in a relevant brand experience and brand interaction without losing its persuasiveness.

Illustrations by Helmut Kruse


“Influence: Science & Practice”, Robert B. Cialdini, Allyn & Bacon.

More about the TED case can be found in “Juicing the Orange”, Fallon & Senn, HBS press.

“They’re the little elves that could”,, 01.21.2008

“BK says “Freak-out” drove spike in sandwich sales”,, 01.31.2008

Two Innovation Lessons “Baby Carrots” Can Teach Brands. Yes “Baby Carrots”!


This article was published in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of the Public Gaming magazine one of the leading publications in the lottery and gaming category. Obviously it is skewed towards the lottery category, but I believe the lessons apply to any category. 

Embracing the Essence of Lottery:  Inspired by the True Story about the Birth of “Baby Carrots”

Ever see a product and wonder how the product development sessions unfolded?  Like, back in the 80’s, when the creatives were sitting around a conference table trying to figure out what to do about the declining sales of carrots.  Someone might have said something like “I know, let’s cut them up into little bite-size pieces and put them into plastic bags and sell ‘em in gas stations”.  And her colleague responded “that’s the stupidest idea I ever heard.  We’ve done countless focus groups and nobody ever complained about the length or size of the carrot.  I mean, what’s so hard about holding the carrot and just eating it down?  Not only that, the earned media of Bugs Bunny’s endorsement would go down the drain.  And who wants to buy carrots when they’re pumping gas?  Besides, how much would it cost to do all this?  Next you’ll say we’re supposed to wash the carrots ahead of time.  This could get ridiculous.”

Thankfully, this little drama does have a happy ending.  “Baby Carrots” were born, were a big hit, and reignited growth in the stagnating carrot category.   Thank you, Baby Carrots.  For reminding us that inspiration to innovate can come from the strangest places.

Why “baby carrots”?

Baby carrots changed the way people think about carrots and expanded the reach of the category to new consumer segments and usage occasions.  This one innovation helped double the per capita consumption of carrots in the US in 15 years from 6 pounds per person per year in 1986 to 11 pounds per person per year by 2002. That’s an increase of over 180%.  In the process, baby carrots completely upended the existing market dynamics, now representing 80% of all carrots consumed in the US.

The entire modern consumer economy is facing a challenge to extend the life-cycle of mature product categories.  It’s true for Lottery just as it is true for most everyone in the consumer products industry, and in the random-number-generated games-of-chance category too (i.e. slots as well as Lottery).  The good news is that true innovation has nothing to do with inventing the Next Big Thing, or becoming something we’re not.  It’s about re-imagining who we are and what we can do with the assets we have.  Baby carrots transformed the entire category with what, in hindsight, is a relatively minor change to an existing product.  It’s true that the one change to the product reshaped the way the product was perceived by the consumer, and how it could be promoted and distributed.  That’s the brilliance of it – one minor change opened the door to reinventing the entire category.  It changed carrots from being a vegetable to being a healthy alternative to snack food like candy.  You can’t transform carrots any more than you can transform the fundamental game logic of random-number generation.  We can, though, embrace who we are, appreciate the beauty of our products in fresh new ways, reinforce the connection that Lottery has with its huge customer base, and inspire in our customers the love they’ve always had for Lottery.

Lesson Number One: A New Product Experience Can Drive Category Growth

In 1986, the average consumption of carrots per person in the US was 6 pounds. Carrots were mainly distributed through grocery stores. The stores would require them to have a certain size and look, which lead to farmers facing tremendous waste, and having carrots they couldn’t sell. And even once your carrots made it to the store, convincing people to eat them was another matter entirely- they had to be washed, peeled, and then cut or grated.

Because of these restrictions, some farmers, like Mike Yorusek from Bakersfield California, had to discard up to 400 tons of carrots every day. Not surprisingly, Mike wasn’t happy. The legend has it that he was feeding so many of the rejected carrots to his pigs that his bacon turned orange. So, he decided to do something about it.  He started experimenting.

He didn’t get it right the first time, though. His first attempt, which he called “bunny balls”, didn’t lead to the hoped-for success. His second attempt, though? That second attempt led to the “baby carrots” we now all know and love. The local grocery stores which Mike used to test his ideas went crazy over this new way to sell carrots.

So what happened? Why did this “simple” change in shape and form lead to this radical category growth? We believe there are several reasons that explain this success.

Convenience as a benefit: Obviously, baby carrots provide a clear convenience benefit over regular carrots. There is no need to wash, peel and cut the carrots any longer. They can be consumed as is without any extra effort. But convenience alone can’t explain the whole story.

From vegetable to snack: Instead, we believe that the real power of baby carrots was in their ability to reframe the whole category in consumers’ minds. All of the sudden, baby carrots weren’t seen as a vegetable primarily served as a side dish. It wasn’t just “produce.” Instead, they were being perceived as a healthy and convenient snack!

New usage occasions: Reframing baby carrots as a snack opened up completely new usage and consumption occasions and market opportunities and invited a whole new range of consumers into the category, something the lottery is trying to do as well. Moms could put them in their kids’ lunch boxes, they could be served as party snack (I suspect they also contributed to the growth of ranch dressing consumption), they could be kept in a handbag and eaten on the go (or at work) as a fun snacking alternative. Suddenly, people had many more reasons to buy- and they took advantage of these increased opportunities!

New distribution opportunities: This new product format also led to new distribution opportunities – suddenly, convenience stores and gas stations were interested- places that never had a “produce” section, and still don’t! This simple product change increased the reach and buying touch-points of the whole category. And the lottery category knows all too well that an increase in distribution will impact sales.

Would that work in the lottery industry?

Right around now, you might hear yourself saying “this is entertaining and interesting Ulli, but would these learnings also apply to the lottery industry? Would changing the product experience of the lottery products lead to renewed consumer interest and create new growth opportunities?“ We at First-The-Trousers asked ourselves the same questions. So, we decided to test this hypothesis in the scratch-off segment. We had a designer mock up 5 different product ideas (all containing a scratch-off element) and tested them quantitatively.

Previous research had shown us that consumers play the various lottery products for a variety of reasons as they try to satisfy a variety a need states. We had also hypothesized that because of their mechanisms of play and appearance consumers tended to lump all the existing scratch-off games into the same “mental bucket”. And, our prior research showed that the current products were only good at satisfying and delivering against half the relevant players needs in the category. In other words, the current products offered in the category did not manage to deliver against many of relevant reasons people played the lottery. Suddenly, when you realize that only 50% of player need-states are being met, 180% growth doesn’t seem that unrealistic. The learnings we found held true for scratch-off games and draw games and across jurisdictions.

 Five new product ideas tapping into 5 different relevant consumer need states

The 5 new product ideas we came up with and tested were:

  • Special occasions greeting cards containing a scratch-off elements (social sharing need state)
  • Every day occasions sentiment cards (need state of making memories)
  • Scratch-off tickets that could also act as coffee sleeves (part of players’ morning ritualized behaviors)
  • Scratch-off tickets that could be folded into an Origami figure after the play
  • Scratch-off tickets that included a brain teaser element, satisfying players’ needs to get challenged intellectually.

5 products

Test Results:

We tested these 5 new product ideas for “purchase intent” and for their ability to “satisfy relevant player need states and playing occasions” amongst 840 respondents. We also benchmarked those 5 new product ideas against a typical scratch-off game format.  Here is the summary of what we learned (feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to see the whole research with all the findings):

Purchase intent:

results 1

  • Three out of the five new product ideas tested equally well or higher than regular scratch-off games in terms of purchase interest: “Greeting cards for special occasions”, “Greeting cards for life events” and “coffee sleeves”. Our respondents found these three product ideas equally or more motivating than regular scratch-off games.
  • The overall result (25.2% top two boxes) for the “coffee sleeve” idea is misleading because it includes the responses from people who do not stop on their way to work in the morning for coffee. When focusing only on people who stop for coffee in the morning (47% of total population and 57% of Millennials) the purchase intent for this product increases to around 50% (twice as high as the purchase intent for scratch-off games). In other words, half the people who stop for coffee in the morning would be interested in purchasing a coffee sleeve scratch-off game as part of their morning ritual.

Ability of the product ideas to deliver against category specific relevant need states:

results 2

We also asked respondents about the product ideas ability’ to deliver against the category relevant need states. Results show that all the product ideas we tested were perceived as delivering better against a specific and relevant need state than current games. This data also shows us that these new product ideas would be able to satisfy new purchase and playing occasions and thus potentially help expand the market.

So, what does this tell us?

The original question was ”could differently “packaged” scratch-off tickets be more appealing, better deliver against category needs, and therefore help expand the category by increasing playing and purchase occasions?” Our quantitative data seems to suggest that the answer is a resounding “yes.”

In fact, there’s likely the opportunity for significant new lottery revenue by following these guidelines. Experimenting with new products that reframe the way consumers (both players and non-players) think about the category and better meet their true needs would be the first step. From there, the lottery can open up a variety of new buying occasions and distribution channels.

Lesson Number Two: Product form is one thing, Positioning is another  

Now, changing the product form is not that simple. It requires experimentation, the allocation of resources, testing and time. And even though it may be essential for the future growth of the category, it is still more of a mid-term solution.

But interestingly, “baby carrots” can also teach the lottery industry another lesson about how to grow its business faster. This lesson is not about product experiences, but about the way the products are positioned and communicated. It’s a lesson about brand storytelling.

Let’s take another look at the carrot category but fast forward to the year 2010. Baby carrots, as a new product format, had radically changed the way the category is perceived while leading to significant growth and Mike Yorusek became a wealthy man by selling his business to Bolthouse Farms, one of the country’s leading carrot producers (Mike passed away in 2005).

But, after ten years of consecutive growth, baby carrots and the category overall started to stagnate. Just like so many other categories, it suffered from the recession. People were buying and eating less carrots to save money. Jeff Dunn, the CEO of Bolthouse Farms (and an ex Coca-Cola marketer) was not satisfied with this development wanted to reinvigorate sales. Various consumer research efforts (and talking to more than twenty advertising agencies) finally lead them to completely fresh way to position its baby carrots: “as junk food” (captured by the line “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food”).

Common wisdom would have suggested to highlight the product attributes and benefits of carrots. They’re healthy. But everyone knew that already and it did not seem to have helped consumption. Common wisdom might also have suggested to position baby carrots as a healthier option to junk food. But while junk food and vegetables tap into very different consumer need states with very different associations and expectation, this type of comparison would have always made choosing baby carrots look like a compromise. And who wants to compromise, especially when indulging?

The breakthrough came when the team decided to position baby carrots not “against” junk food but “as part of the junk food world” allowing the it to tap into the same (indulging) conventions as real junk food. This positioning wasn’t taken out of the blue. Rather it was based on a product truth, In fact, baby carrots already possess many of the defining characteristics of our favorite junk foods. They’re neon orange, they’re crunchy, they’re dippable, they’re kind of addictive.

A multichannel advertising campaign around this new positioning lead to a lift in sales of over 10% versus the prior year in the markets where it was tested.


Framing, or the context in which you present a product, brand or idea, plays a huge role in psychology and in communication. In fact, First-the-Trousers did an analysis of over 1200 case studies of effective marketing and identified 26 universal approaches to tell a brand story (

These 26 universal approaches can be classified into three broad groups. 10 of these 26 approaches (around 40% of them) fall into what we call the “frame of reference” category which highlights the importance of contextualizing your product when positioning and communicating it. The other two areas deal with the product (how to tell the product story) and with the consumers (how and at what level to connect with the consumers).

26 angles

The lesson to be learned here is about the type of story you tell about your products and how you frame their story to engage consumers.

Our experience shows that the lottery category generally focuses its advertising on communicating the playing mechanism and benefits of its new products. This type of communication then often also includes an emotional benefit, a reward for the player. There is nothing wrong with this type of communication and it often worked. But it also has become expected for the category (just like you’d expect carrots to be advertised around a health benefit). And the core players are used to it. Worse, it doesn’t help draw in light or lapsed players or younger generations of players and it doesn’t invite new types of playing occasions.

What the “baby carrot” re-positioning example shows us is that exploring and identifying a fresh context through which to tell you product story can lead to surprising sales growth. And it can be done way faster and more cost efficiently than through a product redesign.


I hope that by now you’ll agree with my introductory observation that the lottery industry can learn a lot from baby carrots:

  1. In the short term, the whole industry can tell more compelling stories about its products by positioning and communicating them within a context and frame of reference that is relevant to consumers rather than by simply focusing on the game mechanisms.
  2. Midterm, there’s the opportunity for significant growth by rethinking the product experience and format, creating new buying occasions and conquering new distribution channels.

Ulli Appelbaum is Founder & President of brand strategy and innovation firm First-The-Trousers-Then-the-Shoes ( specialized in brand growth, (product) innovation and brand storytelling. He has extensive experience in the Lottery industry having helped lottery agencies re-position their brand for growth, develop new white space opportunities and new product ideas, optimize their internal innovation and go to market processes and develop communication strategies for a variety of new product launches. He’s also a regular contributor to the Public Gaming Magazine ( and speaker at conferences. Feel free to contact me to explore how I can help you grow your lottery and/or gaming business. 


Succeeding In Today’s Multi-Channel Environment!

I recently had the honor and privilege to present at the Lafleur’s 2015 Lottery Conclave & & Interactive Summit in Orlando (Dec 1/Dec 4). Here is a slightly edited version of this presentation.

Ulli Appelbaum is Founder & President of brand strategy and innovation firm First-The-Trousers-Then-the-Shoes ( specialized in brand growth, (product) innovation and brand storytelling. He has extensive experience in the Lottery industry having helped lottery agencies re-position their brand for growth, develop new white space opportunities and new product ideas, optimize their internal innovation and go to market processes and develop communication strategies for a variety of new product launches. He’s also a regular contributor to the Public Gaming Magazine ( and speaker at conferences. Feel free to contact me to explore how I can help you grow your lottery and/or gaming business. 

Who buys the Positioning Roulette flashcards?

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Ever since I put the Positioning Roulette flashcards for sale online, it’s been interesting to see who buys them. Data is fun. So I thought I break down the type of people who’ve bought a set (or several). My own little Positioning Roulette flashcards customer segmentation study so to say.

Since launch, I’ve sold several hundred copies of the flashcards. Approximately 60% to people living in the US and Canada and 40% to people from around the globe. And a far as I can tell, my buyers can be classified in following 4 groups (I’m sure some of the motivations overlap):

  1. Friends who mean well – 30% of all orders, who want to see what I am up to and/or who want to help me promote the flashcards.
  2. Acquaintances I technically compete with in a friendly manner – 20% of all orders. Those are people, often strategists, I used to work with and who are now also consulting or freelancing. I suspect this group is curious about the cards and want to see what competition is up to. I do that too, that’s part of the business and keeping up.
  3. People who don’t know me but seem interested in a new strategy tool, around 40% of all orders. Those are often strategists or creatives working at advertising agencies around the globe or consulting firms that seem interested in and curious about a new strategic tool and maybe expand their way of working.
  4. Thought leaders that are quick at checking the latest tools out there – 10% of all orders. Those are usually strategists working at really cool companies (companies like Google, Facebook, etc.) or very progressive consulting firms (I’ll withhold their names out of professional courtesy). I suspect those are the type of people who want to keep up with the latest, probably one of the reasons they are the thought leaders in their fields. One defining characteristic of this group is that they buy 3 or more sets right away, probably to share around their organization and get their team mates feedback.

The feedback so far has been great even though I suspect that those who didn’t like the cards or didn’t know how to use them probably didn’t want to or bother letting me know. One marketing professor who ordered one set to work on with his students was disappointed because the cards didn’t help him meet his course objectives even though several of his students bought the cards after the class (however I’m thrilled he let me know his disappointment). However he also acknowledged that his expectations might have been unrealistic.

And finally the best feedback (or I should say most rewarding feedback) was from a strategist working at a really cool consulting and research firm that falls into the “thought leader” category and that shall remain anonymous (and who ordered 3 sets right away) who wrote:

I recently used these with my colleagues at XXX and we were astonished how well they worked and how quickly we were able to hone in on a territory for the brand we were working on. A team that had already worked on a positioning for weeks got some folks in the office together, told us nothing about where they’d arrived and we broke into teams and used the cards and in 20 minutes built pretty much what the team that had been working on it for weeks had come up with. Very cool tool to scrape the corners of your brain. We’re planning on using them whenever we’ve got a positioning assignment!”

This type of feedback obviously makes my day, especially coming from this firm.

Have you bought a set? If yes, in what customer segment do you fall in? Did I miss one? And what were your thoughts and feedback? I’ve started to work on Positioning-Roulette 2.0 so any and every feedback, good or bad, is very welcome and very much appreciated.

Behavioral economics In The Lottery Industry.

I was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Lottery Expo 2015 in Miami Beach about the potential role of Behavioral Economics in the lottery category. It was also an opportunity to share some of the research FTT recently did about new product concepts for the category. Here a recording of this panel discussion.

Alternatively, the video can be found here.

Ulli Appelbaum is Founder & President of brand strategy and innovation firm First-The-Trousers-Then-the-Shoes ( specialized in brand growth, (product) innovation and brand storytelling. He has extensive experience in the Lottery industry having helped lottery agencies re-position their brand for growth, develop new white space opportunities and new product ideas, optimize their internal innovation and go to market processes and develop communication strategies for a variety of new product launches. He’s also a regular contributor to the Public Gaming Magazine ( and speaker at conferences. Feel free to contact me to explore how I can help you grow your lottery and/or gaming business. 

What’s up with Creative Directors and Children Books?

Not sure this is a “trend” or just a coincidence, but three of my friends who are agency creative directors and dads have decided to write children books, often inspired by their own kids.  They are:

Helmut Kruse who wrote several books including Do Polar Bears Sleep On Their Bellies (available in English, German and Polish) playfully covers fun facts about various animals (you can literally hear his daughter asking all these questions). Helmut also the creator of all the Positioning Roulette illustrations.



Dean Hacohen, author of the already very successful “Tuck Me In” who recently released Who’s Hungry, a playful way to teach kids about the type of food various animals eat.


And last but not least James Allen who together with his wife Lisa Allen who just released Brubbies, The Big One, the first of a book series about two brothers that are discovering the world around them, realizing along the way that it’s great having someone to share it with.


Click on the links, check them out, and buy them, the books are great.




Positioning Strategy in a Box – Positioning-Roulette Flash Cards are now Available Online

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I am thrilled to announce that the Positioning-Roulette flash cards are now available for purchase online.

The Positioning-Roulette flash cards are the portable version of Positioning-Roulette and a must-have for every strategist, marketer and brand storyteller. Some call it “The Creative Whack Pack” of brand positioning.

Each approach is captured on a card and summarized by a set of questions that will inspire your thinking and idea generation process. Just grab a random card and let the questions direct your thinking. Repeat until you’ve gone through the whole set or until you’ve identified a territory that really energizes you.

Roulette cards web size-004

Here are some of the comments Positioning-Roulette has received so far:

Love them. Great thought starters to get the brain going. Would recommend to any strategist
A fun way to work out your brand story
Superb tool of intriguing #positioning tactics and strategies.
This is a very cool tool
Great tool help planners re-frame problems & explore fresh strategic approaches to a brief
I love this and practice it with every strategy assignment we tackle. Thank you for sharing
Lots of great brain fodder for anyone working on brand positioning challenges –
A great tool for planners
Wondering how to position your brand for success? Learn how to create your brand story
Really useful set of 26 questions/ideas to use for positioning your brand
Helpful for content strategists also

The Flash Cards can be ordered here

7 Ways to Improve Your Creative Problem-Solving Skills

We all have the potential to be creative, but what most people do not realize is that our ability to solve problems creatively, whether applied to product development, business models, brand strategy, positioning platforms or creative executions, is significantly limited by a series of natural mental biases. The way we think and the mental patterns we use to select, process and analyze information can act as barriers and hold back our creative potential.

Some of the most common biases are:

1. The confirmation bias: The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. In addition, individuals may discredit information that does not support their views.

2. The self-serving bias: The tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.

3. The belief bias: When one’s evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by their belief in the truth or falsity of the conclusion.

4. Framing: Using a too-narrow approach and description of the situation or issue.

So what can we do to overcome those biases and boost our creative problem skills?

1. The first step is self-awareness. Simply being aware of and acknowledging the fact that our creative problem skills are limited by the way we think and process information is the first step to breaking some of those patterns. Doing so will then encourage you to find tools, techniques and tricks to overcome those biases and increase your problem solving skills, some are listed below.

2. Detach yourself from the problem. The way we look at a problem is limited by the way we frame it, which in turn is influenced by our past experience, our beliefs and our mental processes. Framing matters, so it is not a surprise to us that 10 out of the 26 Positioning-Roulette approaches to brand positioning focus on the frame of reference and re-framing the brand (that’s almost 40% of all potential approaches). Re-framing the problem or looking for solutions from various perspective (or adjacent fields) is a great way to overcome some of the mental biases that plague us. In our experience the most effective “creativity techniques” use a two-step approach. The first step usually consists in moving away from the problem to facilitate new ideas, the second step then consists in translating those ideas back into solutions that could solve the original problem.


3. Use a framework, a system, to guide your thinking. Most people still don’t seem to realize that there is a method to creativity. Creativity doesn’t just happen. One significant benefit of a more methodic approach is that it helps drive and guide the idea finding process and thus helps overcome the biases and limitations mentioned above. This is where tools like Positioning-Roulette come into play. They help guide your thinking and by doing so act as a distraction from many of your limiting biases. Obviously, I believe that Positioning Roulette is the best and most rigorous framework for the development of positioning platforms and brand stories but the truth is any framework (for example the Maslow hierarchy of needs is another effective framework) will lead to better results than not using any.

4. Show empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes without judging. This “someone else” can be a consumer you are trying to convert or another team member during an ideation session. This is a very difficult thing to do but is also a very powerful way to unleash new solutions to a problem. Empathy doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with the other person’s point of view, it just means that you can see things from their point of view for long enough to consider new solutions that may emerge from this perspective. A simple way to start is to practice empathy with your significant other. You’ll find this improves not only your ability to be creative but also your relationship!


5. Promote diversity of point of views- avoid groupthink. I believe better solutions are generated when developed by a diverse group of people. If you are an intuitive thinker add a more rationally minded person to your ideation session, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. If you’re a team of business people add a creative minded person or artist to your ideation team. The trick here however is not just to add people that have a different working style than you, but also to listen to them and allow their perspective to influence the thinking and ideation process (see point 4). As someone told me once, the best leaders are “integrators”, they are able to listen to various points of view and incorporate those into the final solution. The tremendous side benefit: everyone involved in the process feels heard and takes ownership in the solution.

6. Focus on the right input and stimuli. Using thought starters and inputs from other fields or categories also helps short-circuit your own thinking patterns and boost your creative problem skills (see point three). However, not all thought-starters are created equal. Some will be more relevant to the type of problem you’re trying to solve than others. Looking at the world of ants and how they are organized and trying to draw conclusions on how to position a brand of yogurt might sound like a fun exercise (and it is) but it’s in my opinion a complete waste of time.


7. Expand your own knowledge and experience. The more diverse marketing problems you have worked on, the more cases in different categories you’ve been exposed to, the more flexible and agile your thought processes will become. You’ll be able to pull from a broader pool of know-how and experiences and make more meaningful connections, ultimately leading to new types of solutions. This is where case studies come in handy as a short cut to “experience” (Positioning-Roulette for example is based on over 1200 case studies of effective marketing problem solving from around the world, across many different categories and spanning a time period of 125 years). Knowing how a beer brand solved a trial generation problem in Australia might trigger an innovative solution on how to generate trial for a brand of mouth wash in the US.

Creative problem solving is at the core of what we do at First-The-Trousers. Over time, we’ve learned how to sharpen those skills and hope that these techniques will help you. What technique(s) do you use to boost your creative problem skills? Let us know in the comment section below.


Think Before Jumping On The Brand Purpose Bandwagon



Most marketing experts I know would immediately agree that the One-Size-Fits-All approach is poor marketing practice. Further, they would argue that each brand has a unique angle, a unique story to tell, and a unique way to connect with consumers. Or should have, in order to succeed.

And yet, this is exactly what the marketing world is perpetuating by blindly jumping on the “brand purpose” bandwagon, the latest shiny object and “miracle solution” in the industry. Apparently, a brand now needs a brand purpose to succeed, so the narrative goes. There is even selective data to support that.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with a brand having a purpose. Some brands actually thrive because of their purpose. In some instances it can be an extremely powerful strategic starting point to guide the brand’s activities and to mobilize its employees and stakeholders. And I would argue that a stronger industry focus on purposeful brands that want to create a bigger impact on the world will ultimately help our culture evolve and benefit everyone. So, it can be a very powerful tool if used appropriately.

The problem is that this concept is now offered as the one size fits all solution to every brand in every category out there (there are now 272,000,000 search results on Google for “brand purpose” already). And the concept itself is often misunderstood. Sometimes it’s used as the new word for “values” or “higher emotional benefits”(which it is not), sometimes it just refers to cause marketing (which it is not). Facebook recommends using it for brands that want to advertise on its platform and every communication agency has become a “purpose expert” overnight (just like a few years ago, everyone became a social media expert overnight). I recently had someone pitch me an idea to launch a new brand of (toilet) paper that would be “purpose based” and in the process finally answer the universal question of “why do people need toilet paper?” Seriously?


At FTT, we like to think about it a little differently. Instead, we think about every brand as having a “center of gravity” of sorts- an edge that makes it unique based on its situation, history, the equity is has built over time, the type of benefit or experience it provides and its ability to connect with consumers. Sometimes this “center of gravity” can be a powerful brand purpose. More often than not it is not. In fact, our own research shows that a brand purpose is only one of 26 proven effective ways to position a brand. In other words, by zeroing in on a brand purpose from the get-go without doing your due diligence, you’re leaving out 96% of available options at your disposal to position your brand in a relevant and differentiating way. Not a smart way to make decisions and run a business, is it?

This purpose-only approach would be the equivalent to having a doctor always recommend to all his patients a “surgical appendix removal” without even bothering to examine them first. Or having a mechanic always suggest new tires to all his customers when the engine light is on and without bothering first checking the cars. Absurd, isn’t it? Yet that is exactly what many in the industry are currently doing.

And of course, choosing purpose to guide your brand’s activities doesn’t give you a license to not do your due diligence. Now, none of you readers would ever do something like this, but many communication agencies believe it does. In fact, a brand purpose can easily become the “lazy marketer’s tool”. All you have to do is to ladder up your brand’s benefit by asking “why” a couple of times, and voila, you have a higher brand purpose everyone will agree to, will feel fuzzy about and feel inspired by (with that approach even a brand of toilet paper becomes a source of happiness and a  way to better the world). I’ve seen this happen many times. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that it is going to help you build your brand and business.

By reading this article you might come to the conclusion that we at First The Trousers are not big fans of “brand purposes and “purpose driven brands”. This couldn’t be further from the truth and we’ve successfully repositioned several of our clients’ brands around the purpose of their founders. However, we are also contrarian and become suspicious of this herding behavior that characterizes the communication and consulting industry.  In fact, in our experience, staying away from the crowd and groupthink is the best way to successfully position a brand and build a business, which is ultimately what we are here for.

What are your beliefs and experiences around “brand purposes”. Let us know in the comment section. 

This post is the first of a series of articles that will challenge wide spread accepted beliefs in the industry including “the consumers, not the corporations, own a brand”, “people want conversation with brands”, “positioning is dead”,etc..


Leveraging Players’ Emotions (To Re-frame A Category & Unleash Category Growth)

First- The-Trousers had the opportunity to carry out a project for the Hoosier Lottery (Indiana State Lottery) last year with the objective to help them identify new growth opportunities in the draw game category and fuel their new product pipeline. The outcome were a new way to look at the category, the identification of several new white space opportunities centered around consumer emotions and playing occasions, around 60 new product ideas (of which a dozen are currently tested) and an opportunity to re-position several of the existing brands within the portfolio.

A summary of this project was just published in Lafleur’s Magazine, the leading global magazine in the gaming industry, and can be found below.

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The Hoosier Lottery, similar to other state lotteries, is subject to the volatility of the national jackpot games, which makes it more challenging to deliver revenue growth. To help counter this effect, GTECH Indiana, working on behalf of the Hoosier Lottery, is using innovative techniques to refine and promote its in-state, non-jackpot game portfolio.

The product development and marketing teams partnered with brand consulting firm First-The-Trousers- Then-The Shoes to identify new growth opportunities and better align its current draw game portfolio with Hoosiers. The project focused on identifying, organizing, and quantifying the emotions and needs consumers tried to fulfill when playing various lottery games.

“We knew consumers played the lottery for many different reasons, but we had never validated or quantified our hypothesis on emotions players tried to satisfy, depending on when and where they played lottery games, how they felt while playing, and who they were with during the play experience,” said Jessica Powell, VP, Product & Marketing Innovation, GTECH Indiana.

“The multi-faceted project included internal workshops (to capture our own hypothesis), focus groups with various player segments (to ensure we did not miss any key insights from the consumer’s perspective), and a quantitative study to substantiate the findings,” she added.

The outcome was a “map” that highlighted 14 core motivation clusters. Each cluster included several emotions and “need states,” representing the emotional universe on why people play lottery draw games.

“These findings suggested to the Hoosier Lottery’s product development and marketing teams that it was no longer solely in the business of selling draw game tickets, but rather, should incorporate mood management into its strategy,” said Ulli Appelbaum, Founder and President, First-The-Trousers-Then-The Shoes. “We found adult Hoosiers play games to manage, enhance, or change their momentary moods.”

People are complex, so the lottery’s findings suggested they often buy a product or a brand for more than one reason. Building from those 14 emotional clusters, the study also revealed and quantified 11 “ideal playing occasions” and the relevant emotions associated with each occasion.

Consumers were also asked how well the current draw game products fulfilled their different needs, enabling the lottery to both understand which needs were not yet satisfied by the existing products, representing new product opportunities, as well as how well individual lottery products were aligned with the relevant playing occasions and associated emotions.


One of the products reviewed in the draw game differentiation study was Bingo To Go. The game was launched in August 2014 and was not performing to projections. The initial launch campaign focused on generating awareness and was rational in its messaging of matching numbers to win the top prize of $100,000.

The study revealed that Bingo To Go was not clearly aligned with a relevant playing occasion and the corresponding needs and emotions. Rather, the game was situated between two different occasions: the Dream/Risk and the Dream/Believe clusters, respectively. Further, the data indicated that, from a consumer perspective, Bingo To Go overlapped with Poker Lotto, another draw game offered by the Hoosier Lottery. Therefore, consumers viewed two draw games as delivering the same needs.

Based on these findings, the Hoosier Lottery marketing team decided to reposition Bingo To Go through a full-scale marketing campaign. The campaign focused on how the game and mobile app could transport players with a more engaging, interactive experience. The call to action was download the app.

The repositioning of Bingo To Go was supported by a fully-integrated campaign, including mass media, online marketing, and point-of-sale messaging.

Bingo To Go is a completely new draw game product to the Hosier market, so the player base was in the beginning stages, but sales responded immediately to the re-positioning campaign. In the first four weeks after re-launch cumulative sales were up 17.6%. Further, the new campaign impacted the adoption of the Hoosier Lottery mobile convenience app, with downloads increasing approximately 18%, helping the Hoosier Lottery to strengthen relationships with players and provide an engaging consumer experience.

“Reviewing the draw game product category from a human perspective and focusing on why people play the lottery helped us identify several unfulfilled need states that were not satisfied by the current games, giving us further opportunity for portfolio growth. The study also helped us realign existing products before considering new or different games in future fiscal years,” said Powell.

Overall, this new, innovative approach will guide the Hoosier Lottery’s portfolio strategy for years to come as it strives to reduce dependence on national jackpot games in Indiana.

Originally published in the Lafleur’s Magazine, March/April 2015 issue.

Ulli Appelbaum is Founder & President of brand strategy and innovation firm First-The-Trousers-Then-the-Shoes ( specialized in brand growth, (product) innovation and brand storytelling. He has extensive experience in the Lottery industry having helped lottery agencies re-position their brand for growth, develop new white space opportunities and new product ideas, optimize their internal innovation and go to market processes and develop communication strategies for a variety of new product launches. He’s also a regular contributor to the Public Gaming Magazine ( and speaker at conferences. Feel free to contact me to explore how I can help you grow your lottery and/or gaming business. 

Positioning-Roulette Versus Other Positioning Development Approaches.

Over the last 6 months we’ve applied the Positioning-Roulette methodology to an increased number of brands, both large and small, across a variety of categories. We capture here the reasons why, in our opinion, Positioning-Roulette  is a smarter approach to brand positioning development. These reasons are primarily based on the feedback we received from our clients.

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Leveraging Consumer Rituals to Grow Your Brand.

Our lives are filled with rituals that all represent a potential opportunity to position a brand. These rituals can be big or small, performed daily or specific to life stages, individual or collective. Preparing oneself in the morning to get ready for the day, or grooming yourself before going out at night, preparing a regularly occurring meal or an annual get together, shutting down the house before going to bed or getting married are all important rituals in peoples’ lives.


Rituals are a universal feature of human social existence and can be defined as an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time. They usually involve artifacts and symbolism and usually include a transformation or evolution from one mental or emotional state to another (from wound up to relaxed, from lonely to connected, from single to married, etc.).

Rituals can be a great starting point and provide a rich territory for positioning a brand. It might be presumptuous for a brand to assume that it will get consumers to start a new ritual but understanding the rituals consumers already perform will enable a brand to explore and identify new ways to position itself. For example, in a Positioning-Roulette workshop we recently held for a large packaged good company, one of the key insights that came up as we were exploring consumer rituals was the ideas of “using the smallest spoon one can find to eat this product” as an artifact for indulgence and as a symbol for the consumer’s desire to prolong the eating experience.


So ask yourself:


  • What rituals do your consumers perform in their everyday lives or at key life stages?
  • Which one would be the most relevant for your brand?
  • What specific steps or acts does a consumer go through when performing this specific ritual and in what sequence?
  • What mental or emotional transformation is the consumer going through by performing this ritual (from to)?
  • What benefit can your brand help deliver or claim in that context?
  • What meaning and values does your brand need to be associated with to be able to play this role in an authentic way?


What do you think? Have you used consumer rituals to position a brand? What was your experience?

Tapping into consumer rituals is only one of 26 approaches to brand story telling and positioning development. The other 25 can be found at

Iconic Jaegermeister Brand Tells A Refreshing “Ingredients Story”


Jaegermeister, the iconic German bitter brand that in the US is more of a party-drink (not to say drinking game drink) is launching an interesting new campaign that focuses on its 56 ingredients and the complex way it is manufactured rather than its sub-cultural appeal.


The execution is really fresh and original, reinforcing the craftsmanship and heritage of the brand. In fact, according to an article on BevNet, they’ve contracted “three talented illustrators with the same level of passion for craft, Artists Olivia Knapp, Yeahhh! Studios and DKNG, (who) were tasked to create three unique illustrations that stem from the brand’s pillars – heritage, ingredients and process. The illustrations were then built into massive wooden works-of-art measuring over 6 feet in length, inspired by the large oak barrels in which each batch of Jagermeister is aged for one year. Each art piece is meticulously constructed from 56 separate, intricately cut, carved, etched, sanded, lacquered, varnished and hand-painted wooden parts — fashioned together like a puzzle, just as the complex ingredients of Jagermeister come together to create a perfectly balanced taste and one of the top selling premium spirits brands in the world.”


It’s refreshing to see and beautifully executed. And it’s interesting to see how they’re trying to stand out in the category by emphasizing two of Positioning-Roulette’s principles, i.e. an “Ingredients Story” and a “Creation Story” but then tying them back to their audience’s lifestyle with the line “Far-fetched ingredients lead to father-fetched nights”. Knowing that Millenials (the core audience for Jaegermeister) crave authentic brands with heritage, this is a very smart move as illustrated by all the positive comments they are getting on Facebook.

What do you think? Is this a smart move? Let us know your thoughts.

Brand Archetypes & How They Can Help You Position Your Brand.


Looking at a brand and category through the lenses of archetypes can help unleash powerful brand positionings and brand growth opportunities.

Archetypes are models of people, behaviors and personalities that tap into specific core desires, drives, fears and motivations all humans have (for example the Hero versus the Outlaw archetype). These narrative structures are so powerful because they are believed to represent humanity’s collective dreams, instinctive yearnings &amp; patterns of thinking and because they help us organize how we experience life. Archetypes are omnipresent in our culture and in the stories we tell. One of the most cited example (also to illustrate the commercial power of archetypes) is George Lucas’s use of archetypes in creating his Star Wars characters.


Understanding which archetype is aligned with your category (the generic category archetype) and your brand (based on the core desires people try to satisfy by using your category in general and your brand in particular) will enable you to define more clearly the idea positioning territory for your brand, the role you want you brand to play into peoples’ life and the story (or stories) you want to tell about your brand (based on the attributes and characteristics of the archetype). It will also provide inspiration and guidance in aligning your marketing activities. An “explorer” brand for example will fuel peoples’ desire for self-exploration and discovery while a brand based on the “Rebel” (or Outlaw) archetype will  fuel people’s desire to break the rules.

Harley Davidson telling its Outlaw story:


The actual archetype classification will slightly vary depending on the source that is being used, but there are generally 12 basic archetypes, each associated with their specific set of motivations, value and drivers and a specific set of characteristics and attributes.

I am posting 2 of these overviews below. One, a very simplified one pager for orientation. The other one is a Slideshare presentation that provides a good overview of the various archetypes and their characteristics.

So ask yourself:

  • What core motivations and desires do your consumers try to satisfy by using your category (generic category archetype)?
  • What are the core drivers and motivations for choosing your brand specifically?
  • How about your competitors?
  • Do the generic category motivators apply to your brand?
  • Which archetype best corresponds to this set of desires (see list below)?
  • What characteristics are associated with those archetypes?
  • What implications does this archetype have for your brand positioning and your brand story?


Simplified Archetypes Overview


A short presentation adding a lot of texture to the various archetypes:

Brand Archetypes are only one of 26 approaches to brand story telling and positioning development. The other 25 can be found at

Turning a Product Weakness Into a Source of Cultural & National Pride.

Vegemite is a salty yeast extract paste that Australians have grown to love. For the last 50 years they’ve been told that Vegemite is part of every kid’s healthy nutrition and that Vegemite keeps Australians strong.

And the band Men-At-Work helped firmly establish Vegemite as part of Australian’s pop culture and one could argue even helped spread the worldwide awareness of Vegemite.

The thing with Vegemite though is that it seems to be an acquired taste that you learn to love as a child. Some people (and that seems to include all of Australia and parts of Britain) love it, most people (that would be the rest of the world) hate it. As such, the taste is one of those very polarizing product attributes that could also be described as the product’s major weakness.

So it is interesting to watch Pizza Hut Australian launching a Vegemite pizza. To promote it, they brilliantly turned the product’s weakness (and its most distinctive attribute) into a source of cultural pride.

This is a great example of applying two of Positioning-Roulette’s principles: “Be part of culture” and “Give meaning to a brand’s weakness”.  An article about this campaign can be found on Adweek.


A brand “benefit” eats “culture” for breakfast.


In the last few years, the marketing world has zeroed in on a new shiny object: “culture.”  Culture is said to trump absolutely anything and everything else. Internal corporate cultures are said to drive sales (e.g. Zappos). The belief is that any brand wishing to succeed in the marketplace needs to take into account its consumers’ culture, be part of culture or, even better, actually create its own cultural movement.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of all things “culture”. I’m just not a fan of absolutism, black and white statements, or so-called “truths”.

Consider Uber. Uber is a company as successful as it is controversial. The success comes from the amazing, frictionless service it provides and the way it disrupts an old and established category that had been characterized by a very poor user experience. The controversy comes from its culture, or more specifically the attitude and behaviors of its senior officers (which drive the internal culture).

I am not talking about Uber’s business practices, although the list of questionable practices is long: aggressively recruiting drivers from other services, playing hardball with competitors, jacking up prices in peak periods or during “exceptional events” (Boston bombing anyone?), or purposefully ignoring local regulations and then facing legal action. I may not agree with many of these practices but I can understand the need for them.  Uber is, after all, a new, fast-growing business that needs revenue to finance its growth in the face of stiff resistance from a long- established (and in my opinion outdated) industry


I am talking about Uber’s culture as exemplified by its senior officers. These concerns came to a head in November 2014 with Uber SVP Emil Michael speaking at a “private dinner” of his desire to spend $1 million to dig up information on “your personal lives, your families,” referring to journalists who write critically about the company.  (Uber’s defense? That it was meant to be a private and off-record dinner…as if that would then make the statement okay). Or the fact that Uber thinks it is okay to analyze the travel records of specific individuals that are critical towards the company using a feature internally (and arrogantly) referred to as “God View.” Of course, organizational behavior norms start at the top- and the Uber CEO has a reputation, depending on who you ask, as a take-no-prisoners leader (the positive take) or for being an a..hole (the negative take).


This brings me to the point of this article. When the latest controversy erupted last November, I wondered what the outcome for Uber would be. Would people stop using Uber because they despise Uber’s corporate culture and cannot identify with the company’s values (which you might expect, if culture really matters the most) or will they continue to use this service because of the great benefits it provides? What would win, the benefits, or the culture?

Yesterday I came across an article in Business Insider that seems to answer this question. Uber just secured a new round of financing valuing the company at $40 billion. It is growing revenues at 300% a year (estimated to hit $10 billion by the end of 2015). In certain cities it operates in, it is already bigger than the taxi industry- and the rides per user continue to increase beyond expectations.

As of now, it doesn’t look like all this controversy around Uber’s culture has hurt its business or business prospects. And it seems to me that, at least in this case, Uber’s benefit and the value it offers its customers is eating Uber’s culture for lunch.

This leads to a couple of lessons:

  1. A powerful “benefit” eats “culture” for breakfast. Culture is not the holy grail of marketing and can be trumped by a benefit that adds real value to people’s lives.

Personally, that doesn’t mean that I would want to work for a company like Uber. But I would continue to use its services.

  1. Each brand’s source of competitive advantage is different and unique. For some (like Zappos) it might be the culture. For others, like Uber, it might be a really compelling benefit (that helps overcome a negative culture). For others again, it might be the type of self-expressive experiences it enables (Go-Pro). Seeing the world of marketing and brand building through a black-or-white lens (or through just one framework) just limits a brand steward’s ability to effectively grow his or her brand. Or put differently, focusing on culture alone (or any other source of differentiation) means that you’d leave 95% of your brand positioning options unexplored (
  1. Culture can be a very powerful differentiator and competitive advantage but it is not the only one. Beware of experts that only sell you one type of “solution”, unless you’re really convinced that this solution is the right one or your business.

Why Monkeys Are Smarter Shoppers Than Humans


Guest article by John Carvalho, a fellow Trousers.

Humans: Price Conveys Value

Neuromarketing readers no doubt remember a key truth of consumer behavior: our perception of goods is profoundly affected by the goods’ prices, even when those prices are completely arbitrary. Generally speaking, pricing functions as an indicator of product’ quality and efficacy.

For example, if you pay more for painkillers, you’ll perceive them as working better. If I pour you three glasses of the same $5 per bottle wine, but I tell you that one of the wines cost $45, you’ll report that you preferred it.

Further, this effect has two key features: price cues affect both our subjective, reported opinions and our brain chemistry. Brain areas associated with liking and desire are activated differentially with the “more expensive” wine too. It’s not just our expressed opinions, we actually experience a better product!

Why Are High-Priced Items Better?

Is this behavior rational, in the strictest sense of the word? Of course not. But, it is an innately human quirk, albeit one that we don’t quite completely understand. One hypothesis suggests that consumers have internalized some sort of innate “market intelligence” about value, supply and demand, and how these rules tend to work in human markets.

The second hypothesis? It’s nothing so specific. Researchers from Yale set out to learn more, and have published their results in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

A Word about Monkeys

Animal research, especially with certain monkey species, serves as an efficient way to undertake a comparative analysis. Why? Because capuchin monkeys actually have many of the same decision biases and heuristics that humans do! They show evidence of endowment effects, loss aversion, and choice-induced preference reversals.

But of course, they’re not humans. So for research like this, where the hypothesis hinges on lessons learned in “human” markets, using monkeys trained to exchange tokens for food in a mock “economy” provided an interesting opportunity… Would monkeys, like humans, place a higher value more “expensive” food?

Monkeys Are Predictably Rational

The researchers found that, unlike humans, the monkeys did not prefer the expensive food. Once the monkeys were trained that certain treats cost more tokens and others less, they still showed no preference for the “expensive” food when given free access to both. Further experiments ensured that the monkeys had no innate taste preferences for each food, and also that the monkeys understood and encoded the pricing information.

Unlike humans, monkeys show no association between price and value.

But We Sell to Humans!

Apart from the amusing headline that this research ultimately led to, what gives? The experiments seem to show that pricing effects are, at some level, learned behavior, internalized by our experience interacting in the marketplace.

In other words, the human tendency to find more costly items more desirable and effective likely has its roots in some combination of actual experience and influence from parents, friends, etc.

Can these associations be un-trained? If I’m selling discount products, I need to communicate value in other ways – reviews, social proof, authority endorsements, and so on. You may not be able to change the overall price bias for your customers, but you can likely train them that your product is an exception.

And, of course, remember that overcoming this bias isn’t always necessary. Indeed, with the right pricing strategy versus your competition, you may be able to take advantage of it and earn higher margins at the same time.

This post was originally published on the great neuro-science blog,

“I never said you were beautiful”

IMG_4581 (2)

Or why you should never use email to resolve a conflict

I recently had lunch with Marc Grossfield, the founder and CEO of Aviv 613, a new premium Vodka brand that is being launched, and a client of First The Trousers client. We were talking about email communication and the fact that an email can so easily be misunderstood, something we all know and yet all so often forget. Marc shared with me this story which really resonated with me and which I think will resonate with you too. So I want to share it here.

The story goes as follow: Imagine sending an email to someone that reads “I never said you were beautiful”.  Six simple words that seem harmless, but six words that can give the sentence six very different meanings, some positive some neutral and some negative, depending on which word the reader emphasizes:

  1. I never said you were beautiful. But someone else might have said it.
  2. I never said you were beautiful. Not even once.
  3. I never said you were beautiful. I may have thought it. I may have written it in an email. But I never said it.
  4. I never said you were beautiful. I may have said someone else or your friend is but not that you
  5. I never said you were I may have said you are beautiful. And in fact, I think you still are.
  6. I never said you were beautiful. I may have said many other things (positive or negative) but I never called you beautiful.

The point is that, especially in case of conflict or tension between two people, each party can easily default to the most negative meaning and read the worst into a message, especially if it comes via email.

This story acts as good reminder that in order to resolve a tension or conflict we’re better off trying to resolve it face to face or over the phone, rather than over email.

Have you ever been in a situation where either you or the recipient of your email completely misinterpreted the meaning of the email? I know I have. Often. If so, tell us about it.

Case Study: Understanding your Purchase Triggers and Organizing Your Brand Story


The challenge:

A client recently approached First The Trousers with a simple question: “which part of my brand story is most likely to prompt trial at point of sale?” The brand is new in the market and has extremely low levels of awareness. Its main business imperative: to stand out and get noticed in a crowded space and to generate trial in a category where people typically already have their set-in-place favorites and habitual purchases.

The solution:

Since the brand is fairly new with low level of awareness and since the objective was to generate trial at point of sale our recommended approach was simple: to intercept people in-store right after they had purchased the brand and ask them about their impressions, motivations and identify the impulses that triggered them to buy. Simple, face-to-face, and traditional. We also suggested intercepting a number of people who hadn’t bought the brand in order to understand if there were red flags and specific barriers to purchase the client needed to address.

The results:

This approach lead to the clear identification of the purchase triggers (which included both design and messaging elements). It also provided the reassurance that we didn’t have any major red flags in the way the brand was presenting itself at point of sale and that the reasons people didn’t buy were out of our control (not category shoppers, etc.).

This approach also allowed us to define and provide a clear messaging hierarchy and “organize” the brand story in a coherent way, a structure that will now inform all point of sale and merchandizing material as well as some of the above the line communication.

Last but not least, and since consumers live in a multi-channel world, understanding who, why, how and when people buy this category enabled us to inform the social medial strategy both in terms of content (what to say) and timing (when to post).

This project is a good reminder that even in this digital age, a simple, traditional approach is sometimes the best suited to provide clarity, uncover insights and inform brand and marketing decisions. It takes more time and requires more “leg work”, but it can be worth it.

So- put your phone down, step away from your desk and your desire to google the issue and just go and talk to people. You’d be surprised by own much you can learn.

Case Study: Unleashing Growth Potential by Re-framing the Business

Recently, a client approached us with a great challenge.

The challenge:

In order to achieve its ambitious revenue objectives, this client had to grow three times faster than the category average and realized that it needed to reimagine its product development processes in a way that attracted new consumers and further engaged current ones.

Their brief to us was clear: Help them look at their business differently, unleash new growth potential and identify new growth opportunities.

The solution:

To solve their problem, we turned to Positioning-Roulette. One of the Positioning-Roulette principles focuses on “re-defining the business”. This principle states that “re-framing your brand’s category around the broader consumer needs, motivations and conventions often produces a new set of opportunities and more inspiring competitors against which to position your brand(s)”.

So, through a series of qualitative workshops (with consumers and employees) and additional quantitative research we were able to identify, organize and quantify a new “space” (or frame of category reference) around the relevant consumer needs consumers were trying to satisfy in that category.

The results (for obvious reasons the actual results are kept confidential):


Chart for WP3

Re-defining the business around consumer needs and emotions enabled us to identify and highlight a major weakness in the current product portfolio. Because of this client’s strong focus on products and attributes (which in itself is not a bad thing as it had lead them to build a billion dollar business) the whole product portfolio was only satisfying a small number of the relevant emotions and need states within the category (the top left side of the map).

We were also able to show them that their actual market and growth potential was twice as big as their current market size by identifying and quantifying at least half a dozen relevant white space opportunities begging for new products to satisfy relevant untapped consumer needs (in this case, the untapped needs situated on the right side of the map).

And in addition to identifying these growth opportunities, taking a fresh look at the category also enabled us provide a recommendation on how to re-position some of the current products within the portfolio to better align them with relevant consumer needs and emotions.

In the words of the VP Marketing leading this initiative, “First The Trousers brought research and product planning methodologies that changed the paradigm. By looking at our products from the consumer perspective, we were able to harness the power of human emotions and need states to make our business more relevant and more profitable. With FTT’s assistance we will be making dynamic changes to the current portfolio while launching new innovations in FY16.”


Positioning Roulette: Brand Archetypes


Looking at a brand and category through the lenses of archetypes can help unleash powerful brand positionings and brand growth opportunities.

Archetypes are models of people, behaviors and personalities that tap into specific core desires, drives, fears and motivations all humans have (for example the Hero versus the Outlaw archetype). These narrative structures are so powerful because they are believed to represent humanity’s collective dreams, instinctive yearnings & patterns of thinking and because they help us organize how we experience life. Archetypes are omnipresent in our culture and in the stories we tell. One of the most cited example (also to illustrate the commercial power of archetypes) is George Lucas’s use of archetypes in creating his Star Wars characters.


Understanding which archetype is aligned with your category (the generic category archetype) and your brand (based on the core desires people try to satisfy by using your category in general and your brand in particular) will enable you to define more clearly the idea positioning territory for your brand, the role you want you brand to play into peoples’ life and the story (or stories) you want to tell about your brand (based on the attributes and characteristics of the archetype). It will also provide inspiration and guidance in aligning your marketing activities. An “explorer” brand for example will fuel peoples’ desire for self-exploration and discovery while a brand based on the “Rebel” (or Outlaw) archetype will fuel people’s desire to break the rules.

Harley Davidson telling its Outlaw story:

The actual archetype classification will slightly vary depending on the source that is being used, but there are generally 12 basic archetypes, each associated with their specific set of motivations, value and drivers and a specific set of characteristics and attributes.

I am posting 2 of these overviews below. One, a very simplified one pager for orientation. The other one is a Slideshare presentation that provides a good overview of the various archetypes and their characteristics.

So ask yourself:

– What core motivations and desires do your consumers try to satisfy be using your category? Your brand? Your core competitors?

– Which archetype best corresponds to this set of desires?

– What characteristics are associated with this archetype?

– What implications does this archetype have for your brand positioning? Your brand story? Your marketing activities?

Simplified Archetypes Overview

Archetypes one pager

A short presentation adding a lot of texture to the various archetypes:

Brand Archetypes are only one of 26 approaches to brand story telling and positioning development. The other 25 can be found at

Positioning Roulette: Leveraging Consumer Rituals to Position Your Brand.


This entry was originally posted on 12/23/2013 on

Our lives are filled with rituals that all represent a potential opportunity to position a brand. These rituals can be big or small, performed daily or specific to life stages, individual or collective. Preparing oneself in the morning to get ready for the day, or grooming yourself before going out at night, preparing a regularly occurring meal or an annual get together, shutting down the house before going to bed or getting married are all important rituals in peoples’ lives.

Rituals are a universal feature of human social existence and can be defined as an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time. They usually involve artifacts and symbolism and usually include a transformation or evolution from one mental or emotional state to another (from wound up to relaxed, from lonely to connected, from single to married, etc.).

Rituals can be a great starting point and provide a rich territory for positioning a brand. It might be presumptuous for a brand to assume that it will get consumers to start a new ritual but understanding the rituals consumers already perform will enable a brand to explore and identify new ways to position itself.

So ask yourself:

– What rituals does the consumer perform and which one would be the most relevant for your brand?

– What transformation is the consumer going through by performing this ritual (the consumer’s emotional state is transforming from state A to state B) and what benefit can your brand help deliver in that context?

– What specific steps or acts does a consumer go through when performing this specific ritual and in what sequence? What meaning is associated with the various objects used during those various acts? What is the most relevant and meaningful role your brand can play based on that understanding?

– What meaning and values does your brand need to be associated with to be able to play this role?

What do you think? Have you used consumer rituals to position a brand? What was your experience?

Your Corporate Culture: The Last Untapped Strategic Asset Of Your Organization

This is the latest article I’ve written for the Public Gaming Magazine, published in the August/September 2016 edition.

Lottery agencies face a unique set of business challenges which we’re all familiar with and trying to tackle on a daily basis. They include:

  • Player fatigue with big jackpots,
  • Difficulty identifying and reaching the next generation of players.
  • Rising operating expenses mean that each dollar of incremental growth comes at a higher cost
  • Cracking the code on successful digital engagement
  • Better utilizing digital throughout the POS experience

However, there is an even more important challenge most lottery agencies face and that directly influences the performance of their business. I am referring to an agency’s corporate culture, and the fundamental role it plays in driving innovation, growth, profits and employee satisfaction.

In fact, a lottery’s ability to tackle its business challenges is directly related to the strength of its corporate culture.

So, what exactly is a corporate culture?

When in doubt, we can start with Wikipedia:

Corporate Culture (or organizational culture as it is often referred to) represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of organizational members and is a product of such factors as history, product, market, technology, and strategy, type of employees, management style, and national culture. Culture includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits… Thus, organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders. In addition, organizational culture may affect how much employees identify with an organization (Source: Wikipedia)

So: the corporate culture represents the unique style and policies of an organization as expressed by the beliefs and values of its employees. As well, and perhaps most important- the corporate culture is also seen in the official and unofficial behaviors deemed as acceptable or desired inside the company.

The peculiar and sometimes dangerous aspect of corporate cultures is that they don’t have to be consciously created in order to exist and seriously affect a business, for better or for worse-they can just as easily be a remnant of a past management legacy.

Or perhaps, the corporate culture is not clearly defined at the top of the organization or changes too frequently because of constant management changes. Then, subcultures will take over that are usually more driven by the preservation of a department rather than the thriving of the organization. And that makes sense! In absence of a clear vision and a clear set of values and accepted behaviors, it is human nature for employees to default to behaviors that create a subculture that will help them preserve their own domain and jobs.

Jeremy Gershfeld, founder of Corporate Culture & Communication firm Quartet Approach ( believes that it is not easy to get a concrete grasp of a company’s corporate culture. A analogy Jeremy likes to use to describe corporate culture is the unique way one’s own family might do things and interact with each other. For example, think about visits with your family over the holidays. At a large family gathering, you might notice how family group habits can distort your own behavior. You might observe, over, say, Thanksgiving dinner, how different members of the family do things very differently, and how this affects the group’s behavior as a whole, especially when the full group is brought together.

Of course, the stakes are different in a professional environment, where individual and group goals are different than getting along with your relatives for a few days. However, the culture still exists, and the group is often bound by its social dynamics.

The lasting value of a strong corporate culture

Harvard Business School Professors Jim Heskett and Earl Sasser and coauthor Joe Wheeler assert in their new book, The Ownership Quotient, that strong, adaptive cultures can foster innovation, productivity, and a sense of ownership among employees and customers. They also outlast any individual charismatic leader.

While all these benefits are highly relevant for lottery agencies the last one is particularly salient, as lottery Executive Directors will change every few years and each new ED will bring their own sets of priorities, values and styles of doing business.

As Catherine McIntyre-Velky, a project management and process consultant who has worked with First-The-Trousers on a process optimization project for the Arizona State Lottery says: “One cannot under estimate the power of culture and its influence on productivity, especially in an environment that deals with regulations. A good strong corporate culture is as much a part of the process as the process itself. In order to successfully navigate deadlines and approvals, you must be able to speak the currency and understand the communication exchange.” 

“Your culture is your brand.” (Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos)

The idea that corporate culture is a strategic asset has become increasingly popular over the last few years. The most shining example, of course, is Zappos: the world’s largest online shoe store, known amongst other things for its “Wow” customer service and its philosophy of delivering happiness to both employees and customers.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh captures his beliefs in this quote: Our belief is that if you get the culture right most of the other stuff like great customer service or building a great long-term brand or empowering passionate employees and customers will happen on its own. He should know: his company was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

This quote is from Peter Drucker, management consultant and business thought leader whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations modern companies perhaps more than anyone else. He argues that having a strong corporate culture is actually more important for a company’s success that a well thought through strategic plan. In the same vein, Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus James L. Heskett (and author of “The Culture Cycle”) finds that as much as half of the difference in operating profit between organizations can be attributed to effective cultures.

As such, improving ones corporate culture should be seen as an opportunity for an industry, like the lottery, that struggles with operating costs growing faster than sales and the resulting pressure on profits and revenue contribution.


But, lottery Agencies face unique cultural challenges

Lottery agencies face two unique challenges with regard to their corporate culture:

  1. Lottery agencies are government agencies and therefore cannot incentivize their employees based on their performance like a private organization would. This in turn has a direct impact on employee morale.
  2. Every few years a new Executive Director is appointed to head the lottery agency directly impacting the agency’s culture in ways that may be surprising. Many of the lottery employees we’ve talked to across the country over the years describe their tenure with the agency not in numbers of years (“I’ve worked here for 15 years”) but by the number of Executive Directors they’ve worked under (“I’ve had 9 Executive Directors”). This point matters because of the crucial role the corporate leaders have in defining and implementing the organizations culture.

These challenges can leads to “dysfunctions” within a lottery agency that directly impact performance, employee motivation and profits. Some of the symptoms of a weak lottery agency culture are:

  1. Lack of clarity within the agency with regard to the agency’s objectives and how to achieve them. While the core objective of a lottery agency is clear, or should be (increase the revenue contribution to the state) Executive Directors tend to provide their own interpretation of the agency’s objectives and how to achieve them. This interpretation, of course, has an immediate impact on the culture and the priorities set by the broader organization.
  1. Intra- and inter-departmental silos and lack of alignment: A lack of unified culture that everyone can live by often leaves each department or even each individual to pursue their individual objectives. This leads to subcultures that may not necessarily be aligned with the organization or with other departments (but that are aligned with their understandably natural need for job security). This often leads to a lack of coordination and collaboration between and within departments which again directly impacts the overall business performance.
  1. Lack of communication & accountability. A weak culture is also often defined by a lack of transparency or accountability in the decision-making process. Employees in one department don’t know for sure what people in other departments do. Critical information is often poorly documented and not easily accessible. The default behavior becomes to only share information if needed or if actively requested.
  1. Lack of appreciation for subject matter expertise. Another symptom of weak corporate cultures is often a general lack of understanding or appreciation for how others do–or could–contribute to the mission. On a personal level this often means that individuals do not feel appreciated or valued for their roles and contributions.

Improving ones corporate culture.

The first task for any organization looking to improve its culture is to actually try to define its current culture and assess its strength by asking a few basic questions:

  1. Is the agency’s vision and core values clearly defined and consistently understood by everyone within the organization (can everyone within the organization tell you in a few words what the vision and core values are)?
  2. How motivated are the agency’s employees? How valued and appreciated do they (really) feel?
  3. Is there transparency and cooperation within and across departments or is the cooperation hampered by formal or informal silos?
  4. Does information flow freely within the organization or it is “hoarded” by specific departments or individuals?
  5. Is the decision making process (RACI framework) within the organization transparent and it is clear who is accountable for what decisions?

These questions are basic yet fundamental. And while you’d think or hope that he answers to those questions are obvious, the reality is that they often are not. However, I am always surprised, and I’ve talked to many people working in the lottery industry over the last 5 years, by how open and willing employees generally are to share this information candidly when asked (though maybe they are more willing to open up to an outsider).

Imagine your organization is a music group

Undertaking an objective self-assessment of ones’ corporate culture can be difficult. Because of that, understanding how to evolve your corporate culture isn’t easy either.

For example, imagine your organization is an orchestra playing a symphony. How would it actually sound? Does your group sound like a harmonious masterpiece that transports you into a different world or does it sound like the cacophony of uncoordinated and un-synchronized noise (think first-grader annual Christmas concert)? Be honest with yourself.

The illustration of how a quartet can either produce beautiful music or just noise based on how well coordinated and in-synch the quartet members are is at the core of Quartet Approach’s consulting philosophy. Based on an upfront audit which identifies the strengths and weaknesses of your organization’s culture, Jeremy Gershfeld and his team let you actually experience what your organizational culture ’sounds’ like now and what it could sound like in the future. In Jeremy’s own words “The Quartet Approach personifies what happens when the rehearsing and performing group of four musicians plays a substantially better group performance when the elements of their culture are healthy (as well as hearing/observing what happens when culture is not). It becomes very clear what happens when, for example, a lack of clarity in the group’s roles create a psychologically unsafe setting”.

Translating the strength and weaknesses of an organizational culture into music often creates an “aha!” moment and the discussions that result from these insights of one’s organizational culture can help determine alignment, communication, and expectations.

To conclude

Corporate culture has become an increasingly relevant subject in the business world over the last 10 years as companies have come to realize the role it plays in sustaining a competitive advantage and building a business. It is especially relevant in the lottery industry which faces its own specific challenges that could be overcome with decisive movement toward a stronger corporate culture. This type of corporate culture exploration and refinement might therefore be worth exploring as an opportunity to improve the performance and revenue contribution of lottery agencies.