The timing of this article from Bill Lee at HBR Blog Network is perfect – Memo to the CEO: Customers Are the Key to Growth.

I read it following a blog post I wrote last week about Kiehl’s Since 1851 – a great brand backed by an equally brilliant consumer brand marketing effort. Instrumental to the success of this effort (dating back to the early days of the brand) is that the advocacy of their passionate and loyal customers continues to propel and distinguish this brand from its competitors.

Bill’s article (based on research he’s done for his new book) speaks to the fact that key to creating organic, sustainable growth is getting customers to market and sell for you. Out-performing companies (like Kiehl’s) are developing new approaches and competencies that focus on one thing: customers.

Here are three important points from Bill’s article (you’ll need to read it to learn the other two):

1. Get customers advocating for you right now. We know that prospective buyers these days trust one source of information above all others: their peers. Keihl’s has been benefiting from the “pull” of “customer peer” word-of-mouth for years. Creating beautiful interesting stores, wonderful products and living its philosophy of purpose beyond profit compels customers to do their advertising for them as one by one they spread Kiehl’s secret with their friends.

2. Find your customer product developers. In many industries, the source for most of the commercially successful new products is customers, not R&D. Too many efforts, based on Bill’s research, are isolated from customers. His example from 3M’s medical-surgical business is pretty compelling.

3. Get serious, and systematic, about learning what your customers value. Too many companies really don’t know what customers actually value in the products and services they buy. The problem is lack of systematic and meaningful conversations or other engagement that can uncover this. Companies that make the effort can put serious distance between themselves and competitors.

Unleashing the full passion and potential of your customers can spur dramatic growth. But this requires (as the author states) dramatically expanding the value you provide to them — value that goes substantially beyond the value they derive just from your product or service.

Businesses like Kiehl’s understand that their brands can, and should, play a larger role in the lives of their customers. Their brands deliver dramatically more value, and create separation from others, by serving as platforms to help move customers forward to a better place – making them more knowledgeable, more capable, more fulfilled. And when this kind of relationship exists – the value that customers receive adds value back to the brand and the business.

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In a brainstorming session with a client, we ended up talking about consumer brands that have both a long history and have been purchased by an industry giant. We were interested in understanding if they had the same brand and business momentum as they did pre-purchase.

As of this writing, Kiehl’s Since 1851 will soon be 163 years old. That’s a pretty good run in anyone’s book. It’s also been ten years since L’Oreal, the world’s leading beauty company, bought the business that began as a little pharmacy on Manhattan’s lower east side.

So, is Kiehl’s as energized as it was pre-L’Oreal? Beyond Kiehl’s strong and consistent growth (sales were up 42% in 2011), here’s why we think the brand still has its mojo:

Basis. The brand has a great back story which starts with its name – since 1851 – as an apothecary business in NYC’s lower East Side owned and managed over four generations as a family business. But integral to Kiehl’s continued success, it’s a story that continues to evolve, capture the imagination of its passionate advocates and emotionally bind them to the brand.

Many other skin care brands have a celebrated past – Lancome (another L’Oreal brand), Nivea (which I worked on years ago at Beiersdorf), Olay, etc. But none are as intriguing or as unconventional as Kiehl’s.

Credit L’Oreal for understanding the value of Kiehl’s brand essence and how it needs to be nurtured as the story is re-told to the next generation of Kiehl’s customers. This keeps the brand magic alive, which in turn powers business success and shareholder value.

Belief. There aren’t too many people who stand around talking about the ingredients and physical benefits of their skincare products. But they do talk about Kiehl’s greater sense of purpose – brought to life through its approach to products, distinguishing community-based retail experience and socially-driven activities (reminding me of The BodyShop, albeit less so since the passing of Anita Roddick).

Behavior. Everything Kiehl’s does, every experience they create — with employees, customers, and the public in general — supports and enhances their story and is executed with brilliance.

Products. The Kiehl’s philosophy is (true to its heritage) about choosing the very best naturally-derived ingredients – based on herbal and pharmaceutical formulas. The look of their products also reflects the brand’s apothecary roots – as they have a homemade look that feels like they are individually made in the back of the store. Some of Kiehl’s product formulations also date back decades.

Packaging. Simple, efficient, and made of recyclable materials. And true to its pharmacy origins, detailed descriptions about ingredients, benefits and directions for use.

Retail Experience. Even though the brand now has 500-plus stores around the world, the Kiehl’s brand team recreates the look and feel of the original New York boutique wherever you find the brand.

Why would Kiehl’s have a vintage motorcycle in their store? Because it’s core to the story and the brand’s visual expression. The trademark vintage Ducati motorcycle found in every Kiehl’s store is there because the founder liked them. Just another detail that differentiates Kiehl’s from the (literally) hundreds of other skin care businesses.

The brand also maintains its close ties with the medical community from which it was born. As such, Mr. Bones (the skeleton you see in every store) serves to pay homage to the industry.

Word-of-Mouth. L’Oreal has faithfully adhered to the founding family approach of not advertising the Kiehl’s brand. For Kiehl’s, it’s all about the ‘pull’ of word-of-mouth. Creating beautiful interesting stores, wonderful products and living its philosophy of purpose beyond profit compels customers to do their advertising for them as one by one they spread Kiehl’s secret with their friends.

Sampling. Kiehl’s diehards know one of the most fun things about going to Kiehl’s is snapping up all the samples. Each year they distribute over 40 million samples from their range of 300+ products. When you leave with your purchase, you’ll also be going home with at least three trial size samples to introduce you to another element of their range (knowing you’ll also spread the word to your friends).

Before you know it, you (and the friends you shared with) are heading back to buy the full size, full priced item and leaving with another new sample to try at home.

Benevolence. Kiehl’s just doesn’t give to multiple causes, it participates. And there’s a difference (for today’s more discerning customers) between just writing the check and demonstrating your commitment.

Community service is in the DNA of the brand. It dates back to WWI when John Kiehl’s donated cream to soldiers for their dry, chapped hands. Kiehl’s Gives is the name of their global CSI initiatives worldwide, and their focus is threefold:

• Children’s causes
• Environmental issues

Kiehl’s is also active in the communities where they have established their shops. One example of this is that their stores can be used by local associations to conduct business.

Bonding. Beyond customers interacting with Keihl’s, the brand is a platform for its advocates to share with one another – through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Bold. The brand continues to surprise and delight, by adding new collections and addressing new concerns, and delivering on its mission “to improve in some way the quality of the community…making for better citizens, better firms, and better communities.”

In summary, if you’re a brand marketer and want to create a more passionate and loyal fan base, visit and learn from Keihl’s.

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I started to write this post last week about Help Remedies, a pharmaceuticals company that doesn’t think, feel and act like a pharmaceuticals company.

But then I read the New York Times Magazine cover story about Barney’s, and I’m glad I waited. Because this story about Barney’s new management team and its makeover – Don’t Give Customers What They Want – dovetails with what I was going to write about Help Remedies.

Referring to its makeover, former CEO Gene Pressman states that “Barney’s has never been about giving customers what they want. It has been about educating, expanding horizons, presenting the unexpected. If you give customers what they want, then you die. The fact is they don’t know what they want.”

Which leads me back to Help Remedies, and three things that I really appreciate about this very unpharma-like pharmaceuticals company.

First. It’s very apparent that they are led by a strong belief – challenging expectation of what people believe about a pharmaceuticals company – beyond what they do.

Second. The fact that this belief is powerfully expressed through their behaviors – from name, logo, tagline (take less™), messaging, web, products, experiences, through to online purchasing.

Third. The sense of belonging they promote by living their promise of “we’re not just another pharmaceuticals company.” Case in point, the pop-up Help Shop in Washington DC for relief for any kind of pain. The store offered small remedies for those in need of help, from low dose drugs to life suggestions, from headache to heartache. The goal was to show people that most problems in life can be remedied with something small, rather than high dose pharmaceuticals.

Think about your business. Are you giving customers what they want? Or, similar to Barneys and Help Remedies, are you educating, expanding horizons, presenting the unexpected?

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I topped off my Thanksgiving vacation break by doing a series of healthcare branding and marketing guest lectures at Emory Goizueta Business School.

Through highly interactive sessions with Goizueta Marketing classes, each comprised of between 50-60 students, I stepped through a Trajectory case study featuring Reading Health System. We just rebranded and executed the system-wide healthcare marketing relaunch for this PA-based organization, so the timing was perfect. Emory also has a significant healthcare campus, so all students could easily relate to the Reading Health System case study.

Here are my key takeaways from this experience:

• I think I learned just as much from the students as they did from me, based on the great interaction and large number, and high level, of questions. These kids are really smart!

• Kudos to professor Ashish Sood, as these students crave real-world experiences, and he’s constantly satisfying their appetites by bringing in guest lecturers.

• Students are highly interested in the more recent realities, and challenges, of managing organizational transparency, integrating social media into brand-building and managing change based on what even they realize is a fluid and not necessarily favorable business environment.

• There’s a wonderful eagerness to challenge traditional concepts, e.g. the more we limit our view to, and attempt to compete with, traditional competitors, the more we can actually end up sounding and acting the same; consumers don’t care at all about a client’s business definition, but rather about how a brand can fit into their world.

• It’s very apparent that our future is in good hands, indicative of the energy and intelligence of these next-generation branding, marketing and finance professionals.

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Can one mustache on a dare lead to raising $126 million in 14 countries for prostate cancer research? Yes it can.

Watch Adam Garone’s inspiring video: Healthier men, one moustache at a time.

Adam is co-founder of Movember, an initiative to raise awareness for men’s health, by having men grow out their mustaches every November. It’s a great testament to the power of passion and persistence, as Movember has now grown to become a worldwide healthcare marketing movement.

Proof that game-changing ideas are only limited by our imagination!

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It’s an exciting, fulfilling and proud day here at Trajectory, and for one of our clients – as The Reading Hospital is now Reading Health System.

We rebranded and relaunched them today, after more than a year’s worth of branding and marketing discussion, debate, planning and creating.

By unveiling a new system name, logo and tagline, a simplified brand hierarchy and naming structure, and a more compelling set of promises and market positioning that better reflect the organization’s collective vision, they’re building on their strengths to more effectively advance in the changing world of healthcare.

The new tagline – Advancing Health. Transforming Lives. – conveys the essence of the Reading Health System brand. It’s genuine to their desire to advance the health of their communities beyond “sick” care, and conveys their desire to transform lives by being a source of energy, optimism, knowledge and support.

Congratulations to our client, Reading Health System – and to its wonderful physicians, nurses and staff. Not only for the previous 144 years of service to your communities and your region, but for the many years of Advancing Health and Transforming Lives to come.

You can see our internal brand vision video, along with some of the new external marketing campaign television, on our YouTube channel.

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It’s day seven and our neighborhood is still without power. And frankly, I don’t expect the situation to change anytime soon, as there’s another storm headed our way on Wednesday. Layer the gas shortages on top of the situation, and it’s been a tense week.

In these situations, I think we look for things that, though maybe just for a fleeting moment, put a smile on our face. In this case, at least for me, they are little acts of “marketing that matters.” Marketing whose focus is beyond selling more products and generating more profits, to making a real difference in people’s lives. Marketing that results in growing affinity towards that brand, and people then sharing that affection with others. Marketing that will actually, in the long run, sell more products and generate more profits.

Over the course of the past week, here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

– one of the local health clubs (the local “Y”), letting people work out for free and take a hot shower until their power is back on
– the local coffee shop handing out free mini-donuts
– the local chain grocer letting shoppers have a free cup of coffee
– the local gas station that let me exceed my $60 dollar limit by $1.75 so I could fill my gas container

In the big scheme of things, they’re all little acts of marketing kindness. But they’ll all pay big long-term rewards.

Do you have any examples from this past week that you can share?

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I’m happy to share this recent presentation: 7 traits of high energy brands. You can view it here on Slideshare.

In a world where…

• technology leaves nothing to the imagination
• consumers are connected conversationalists
• organizations can no longer hide behind the curtain
• and brands are expected to do more…

A new playbook is in order. It includes thinking more deeply about the place your brand can own in people’s lives and what it must deliver to get there.

The benefit is a brand that uniquely plants itself in the hearts and minds of employees, prospects and customers; which allows your organization to use your brand to create new value and drive new growth.

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So you don’t have the marketing budget to compete with the top dogs in your category. Nor do you have the breadth of “marketing” talent. What to do?

Re-think the traditional view that marketing is concentrated in the “marketing” department, and that only those with a “marketing” title do marketing.

What if, instead, everyone in the organization were in the marketing department? Which they are. Because marketing really IS boundary-less.

Consider that everyone’s communicating all day long…

• when they answer the phone and talk to a customer, partner, vendor, prospective one of those
• when they send an email and communicate with a customer, partner, vendor, prospective one of those
• when they leave their (your company’s) voice-mail message
• when they write that blog post or send that tweet
• when they’re at the bar after work and someone asks them what they do for a living
• when they’re attending an industry event or a lunch with fellow local chamber members
• when the customer receives your invoice or calls the customer service hotline
• when the customer walks into your office, takes in the environment and is greeted by your receptionist (or whoever is sitting in that first impression seat)

You get the point. We’re all marketers. And marketing is the sum total of all that emanates from the inside out.

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More than a year’s worth of work is about to come to fruition.

We’ll very shortly be relaunching, and revealing the true nature of, one of our clients’ organizations.

It’s an exciting and exhausting time. With all board, leadership and core team discussions and debates about research, strategy and design now concluded, it’s crunch time. Producing internal campaign components, coordinating many moving parts and readying for organization-wide internal launch events. Ensuring we’re doing all we can to unite the organization around common purpose and enabling all colleagues to work together to drive brand and business from the inside out. At the same time, readying our external launch campaign – from tv, to web, social media and mobile components.

We always do our own lessons learned following a client assignment. Here are five starters which you might benefit from:

1. Profile the key players. It’s important to understand the different perspectives and potential biases of all the decision-makers and influencers who can impact the fate of your initiative. Profile these players early on in the process. Understanding their rules of the road will save you time and effort later on.

2. Buy-In Early & Often. There are the obvious check points like research findings and implications, and major strategy and design recommendations. But every organization and every management team has its own way of (formally and informally) moving major initiatives forward. And sometimes, one-on-ones and small group meetings in the cafeteria can prove to be just as important to maintaining momentum.

3. We and Me. “We” refers to the organization. The promise for everyone to believe in and be stimulated by. “Me” refers to what I (as an employee) am going to be tasked with given the new state of things. “We” is exciting and filled with future promise. “Me” is more of a question mark, as it’s the personal drive which must be tapped if the organization’s to achieve its goals. It’s critical that people understand the actions, attitudes, changes and tools that turn ideas into a working style and plan for them. In effect, this is an updated job description, and you need to know what’s expected of you, and be equipped with the knowledge and tools that you need to be successful. Both need to be in alignment for real change to happen.

4. It’s a journey. As Thomas Kleinhanzi, President and CEO, Frederick Regional Health System recently wrote about the rebranding of his organization – remember that rebranding can’t be a quick fix, and that it should never be reduced to simply slapping a new name or a new logo on the organization and then moving on. Rather, it should capture the essence of all that the organization is and aims to be in the future. Attacking every facet of an organization takes time. Realistically, between 9-12 months for the mindset and practices that make the organization competitive around its new ideas to eventually become part of the way people naturally think and work.

5. Patience. Think about what it takes to truly re-calibrate every facet of an organization. One filled with thousands of people. It’s no easy task. So drive hard, but cut your client some slack. Not everything is going to be in the bag on day one. Like everything else, it’s a process. A good rule of thumb that will make it easier for you to get through your day (told to me by a wonderful consultant I know) is “their doing the best they can.”

Any additional thoughts you’d like to share?

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