Personal branding is the most overused and most misunderstood of all the branding jargon I come across in my job title (Brand Strategist).
Luckily I have never been asked to work on a personal brand in my professional career.
The whole idea of personal branding caused Google to reconfigure the search engine dynamics of my branding category about four years ago.
Too many of the so called brand companies that specialized in personal branding were practicing what the industry calls black hat SEO.
This means they were using less than respectable practices to score higher in Google searches.
Like the snake-oil salesman of years ago, these personal branding charlatans took peoples hard earned cash for little or no return.
However, the idea of personal branding is not completely stupid
I try to help companies understand their brand equities by using VERY personal examples. I have been known to ask CEOs of fortune 100 companies to “pretend for just a moment that your brand was a person and not a corporation. How would you describe that person?”
It is an important realization exercise because I want business executives to understand the emotional fabric of their brands.
When you bring a person to mind, it is not just a list of attributes that define that image in your mind’s eye. It is mostly a rag-tag conglomeration of feelings that color and form that memory.
Go ahead for just a moment and visualize your grandmother. When her image comes to mind do you FEEL more or THINK more? Proves my point.
Brand is an emotional connection that defies dissection in a rational manner. Personal branding, as it turns out, is the foundation of all branding. It is how we feel about everything in our lives.
The picture of personal branding is an intricate oil painting
The painting is created by a renaissance master. You.
So many corporate and product brands fail to see this that my work docket is always full. Sure, we talk to our clients about stealing market share and how their brand is the permission-switch that persuades the target audience that their brand is important (and therefore takes and grows market share).
But, while we all are able to tap our imagination when thinking about personal branding we remain relatively blind when thinking about product and corporate branding.
Corporations are so sold on the rational benefits of their product or service that they can’t get out of their own way. When asked to talk about their own mother Chief Marketing Officers will freely admit that their moms are angels of love.
They describe them as beautiful (even if they were as ugly as a barn door). They attribute to her emotional ideas like caring, loving, considerate, gentle, self-sacrificing and tender. Even if they jokingly speak about her shortcomings they are emotional attributes like angry or formidable.
They NEVER list rational attributes like height, weight, eye color or dress size.
But, contrast that with their business brands and most times all they can list is product attributes and measurable words.
Words like effective, better, new, revolutionary and the new term of the day— disruptive technology is about all they can think of.
So I remind them that the people, music, ideas, books, thoughts, beliefs and even loves in their life are ALL emotional connections. They are NEVER rational.
You might be willing to switch soap powders (read about packaged goods here), even if you are convinced that your first choice cleans better, for another cheaper brand.
But you would NEVER be willing to switch families no matter how dysfunctional yours might be. Emotional bonds are forever.
Emotional brand bonds last forever and can be stretched and contorted beyond belief but they seem never to break. They are self-healing and eternal because we don’t EVER need to think about them. We just KNOW them.
Personal Experiences Recalls Personal Branding
Personal experiences often give us glimpses into personal branding. When I heard that Leonard Cohen had died at age 82 on November 10th 2016 I was sad. Like all of his fans. Was I sad because I knew I would never have the pleasure of hearing his songs again for the first time?
Nope. I was sad for me because someone and something I loved had passed away (you can read my blog on Leonard Cohen’s death here). He was not a songwriter and singer to me. He was a part of me. He was a part of my personal brand. His death was personal to me.
We are the SUN and everything we hold as important revolves around us. It is the gravity of our nuclear furnace that provides the energy to keep the solar system alive and functioning.
But the SUN as metaphor is greater than the description provided to us through physics.
The Sun, according to science is just a mass of gasses imploding and creating immense power and light through nuclear fusion.
It is, when described in this way, nothing more than a nuclear power plant like the one at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Very inspiring don’t you agree?
But, when you think about the Sun (yourself in my metaphor) How it works is not as important as what it represents. It is the source of life, warmth, and light. It is the promise of a new day and awakening. It IS life.
Rebranding as science
When branding or rebranding a company or product we distill its essence down to those emotional values that are in fact the only immutable values you can ever own.
They form for us the basis of our attachment to things, ideas and people. They defy rational understanding and never ask us to consider the basis for that affection because it is in so many ways unknowable.
We just feel it to be so. That’s plenty enough by the way.
When rebranding is needed. We will remind you that all branding, at the end of the day, is personal branding.
Personal branding forms unbreakable bonds was last modified: November 11th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
Rebranding is an effort that shouldn’t be taken lightly. That’s why, when the decision to rebrand is made, it should be completed with honesty and no holding back.
Many don’t choose that route, however. Most rebranding is actually just a refreshing of a logo, holding on to sacred cows that may not have any meaning in the marketplace anymore. Brands simply update their logos, refurnish their locations, add a category benefit-defining message and call it rebranding.
That’s not rebranding. That’s spitting into the wind.
The reason you rebrand is because your current brand does not resonate with target audiences. It isn’t helping you steal market share from the competition. Revenues have become static (or are in decline) and you understand that the brand’s meaning has lost relevancy.
Most companies who decide to rebrand understand the reasons why. But few know how to accomplish it successfully, especially when the effort must result in increased market share, an uptick on the bottom line and increased importance to target audiences so they cannot choose anyone else.
Rebranding for the right reasons
Every CMO would agree that rebranding without compromise is the only way to go. But getting there can be difficult. It takes a marketer with a strong spine and backing from the company leaders to get it done. There is simply too much at stake.
If you get the rebrand wrong (or, less than optimum) then you are stuck. Rebranding without truly becoming meaningful drops you into conducting the Burger King approach. You just keep adding meaningless menu items in the hope that something will catch on and give some oomph to the brand.
So what are the pitfalls during the rebranding process? Where are the opportunities to get it right?
Let’s start with the pitfalls. To start, throw everything you know about your current brand out the window. While you have knowledge of your industry, that can sometimes be a hindrance to having a truly innovative brand.
The auto industry, for example, is one that believes so strongly that its market is unique that it rarely looks outside the industry for help. In fact, an agency must have auto experience in order to work on most auto brands.
Sounds reasonable, right? Well, like many other industries, that means that the players within that industry just trade agencies back and forth, believing that it will someday make a difference. Yet few industries spout such similar messages as automobile manufacturers do and market share stagnates.
Truly rebrand against the competition.
Another pitfall. Listening only to your own customers. The art of rebranding is to steal market share, not just keep the customers you already have. If you have preference with a portion of the audience, that means they have already bought into what your brand. It’s the customers of your competition that you are looking to attract. And, right now, they are ignoring you.
That means you must focus on them. Focusing on your current customers often leads to the stale refresh of a brand rather than something designed to steal market share. That’s how you become stagnant.
Where are the opportunities?
Quantitative research uncovers the main strategies of any rebrand. But there is research and there is research. Most do usage and attitude studies that rarely tell you anything groundbreaking that you already didn’t know. While some of that data is useful, it doesn’t help in the rebuilding of a brand.
There are honest values to test, but they should not be the category benefits of what you offer. “Better technology” or “low prices” are not switching triggers to test because they are simply definitions of what the category offers. The switching triggers to test are often the emotional messages that prompt audiences to prefer you in the face of rational reasons to not.
That’s where precepts come in. Few, if any, advertising agencies or brand companies understand how human behavior works. Our actions as humans are driven by our belief systems. Our wants and needs come from a belief. Most marketing and branding stops at needs and wants, without any understanding of why they are important.
Those belief systems are the emotional triggers to preference. These precepts are first uncovered in behavior modeling, then tested in the research.
Rebranding is difficult because it asks its guardians to take a hard look at what the brand is currently doing in the marketplace – and the news is usually not good. It means letting go of past efforts that are actually holding you back from creating true preference.
The root of emerging with a meaningful brand is understanding the emotional drivers of your target audience’s behavior. The brand is not something you own. It’s something the people you are attracting own. Therefore, a successful rebrand comes from those audiences, not yourself.
Rebranding Do’s and Don’ts for marketers was last modified: November 10th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
Malls are empty, traffic is down 5.8% from last year nationwide. Consumers spend their money on experiences (hold that thought), such as dining or travel rather than shopping. And too many retailers count on bountiful holiday sales to save their year.
What the retail industry truly needs is clear: Department store rebranding— a complete rethinking of the model.
It is worse and more desperate for major department stores. They will become extinct. This is especially the case for the legacy department stores. In a nutshell this is the entire argument for department store rebranding. Change now or die.
Amazon in particular and the web in general is the new normal for shoppers, dominating the retail industry. Amazon dominates by being an online portal for items ranging from electronics to toys to apparel. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has not purchased through the online giant.
Department stores. What’s next?
So what are retailers to do? More specifically, what are department stores to do? There are all sorts of tactics they can employ to stem the plunge of market share. But they will fail.
Department store rebranding from the ground-up is a needed strategic decision and not just a tactical one. Without this complete overhaul of department store rebranding initiatives and the total repositioning this means the vaunted old brands are finished. And finished soon.
We’ve dissected many retailers, including a report written for the Retail Customer Experience which encourages retailers to merge their in-store and online personalities.
We’ve also said “stop trying to be everything to everybody”. But tactical changes won’t save department stores. They need strategic change. They must redefine the value proposition for the target shoppers and convince them that their brands are relevant.
Department store rebranding restores relevancy.
One way you recapture relevancy in a market — and even succeed — is rebranding. Department store rebranding pulls them out of the ditch because, done properly, they are meaningful to target audiences. And the store is more important than simply restating product or category benefits.
Without that preference, no tactic or strategy can ensure the brands future success. If you are a department store, rebranding is the only way you can survive.
Rethinking is more than just rebranding department stores and their messages.
Rebranding department stores is more than just a new name, logo and tag line. It is fundamental change— real changes in operations and structure. Changes implemented to magnify and support the new brand strategy.
Even traditional rebranding does not go far enough. Retailers must rethink everything.
The market, especially those large department stores like Macy’s, Belk’s, JC Penney, Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, Sears, Debenhams, Meijer, Von Maur, Boscov’s, The Bon-Ton, and the like, are sliding into irrelevancy and, in many ways, are already irrelevant to the new shopper.
Shoppers vote with their dollars. And the department stores feel like they have passed their own time limit on this earth.
Probably right. Department stores: Be something different than what you are today. That’s how you survive. The ongoing sales promotions and specials that you rely on don’t do the trick. Black Friday won’t save you.
Their stores are overcrowded with product, there are no sight-lines, crowded shelves does not say variety rather it creates a feeling of being hurried. As a result shopping for apparel is boring at best and harried at its worst.
Department store rebranding for experience.
Remember, earlier on when we spoke about consumers spending money on experiences? Shopping in department stores is mundane and it does not get the pulse rising. Part of department store rebranding is to revitalize the experience and make it deeply personal.
It’s especially problematic for women. There is more selection and yet more difficulty in finding clothes that both fit and are appealing.
Men walk into a store, know their inseam, waist, arm and neck sizes and, voila, there is a suit. As a result, men are free to purchase based on the look, style, price and brand. They find what is available in their size and they buy it. Minor alterations are acceptable and easy to accomplish. Many times, off the rack is a real phenomenon.
Women shop on size and department, which varies by store and by brand. Go into a Macy’s, for instance, and find a size 4 that’s a size 2 at another department store. It’s even worse than that. Shoppers shop in that same Macy’s, find a size 2 that fits and another size 2 that doesn’t.
That variation in experience is confusing and…dull. Women look at overcrowded and jammed racks in poorly set up departments. And all this to find a garment that appeals to them aesthetically.
As a result they are forced to search the jammed racks for that design or style in their size – even though they know that label size is no guarantee of proper fitting. This means they try on everything and sort through all sorts of retail disappointment. This is not an experience. It is a nightmare.
That’s not shopping, either. It does not translate into purchases. That’s solving the Pythagorean theorem.
An example of rethinking everything at department stores.
Large department stores must rethink everything, from their brand to their operations to really rebrand effectively. Rethink the in-store experience. Attract more women shoppers. REAL preference is job number one.
Ladies apparel is a $225 billion business; so preference, not just dropping in, is immensely profitable and increases relevancy in a dying industry. It is optimal to make the department store the destination. And not just for Christmas.
Is the solution transitioning to on-line?
That still raises important business facts. Department stores own large amounts of real estate. They have expensive long-term leases. What does it do to profitability if the great department store chains are forced to retreat and rely on web sales only?
Can they survive that sort of apocalypse? There is another answer. There has to be.
If the Amazon model IS the future then bankruptcy and chapter 11 is the interim step to treading water and waiting for the merciful euthanasia. Any numbskull can suggest the move to on-line sales.
The problem is it won’t work with the current structures. Department stores desperately need an answer that lets them protect the brick and mortar investments that revitalizes shoppers today and in the future.
Success leaves clues. Shoe department retailing.
So back to the problem of finding the right fit. That is not a problem when shoppers shop for shoes or handbags. Consumers easily see what’s offered without the clutter, find the style they like in the right size and are off with it.
Shoe sizes are universal. The shopping experience is positive. Shoes are displayed on roomy racks and displays and the shopper scans all the shoes (including style, color and form) and then the shoe salesperson bring the shopper the shoes in their size.
Funny how simple it is. How civilized the experience, despite being in the morass of other crowded and jammed departments of clothing.
Why can’t women’s apparel be like that? Department stores rebranding is possible building on that successful model.
Rebranding requires retailers to rethink their stores operations and how technology is utilized. Sadly, the highest level of technology in retail today is a copy of Amazon’s model. Order online and pick up.
But apparel is a different animal, especially in women’s apparel. The sizing of women’s garments is useless. A standard that unifies sizing everywhere sounds like the big answer. Is it?
Yes, absolutely. The sheer amount of returns because clothing does not fit is an issue for Amazon too. There is no regulatory agency to govern sizing so that changes takes real effort from the industry.
Use digital tailoring software. Make the experience personal.
Instead, we recommend retailers of women’s apparel adopt the sizing structure that works in the shoe department model. That is, just use measurements. Display style samples and have sizes in the back warehouse.
Even that is unmanageable because women, unlike men, don’t share a basic shape.
However, the playing field changes as shoppers provide a profile of their exact measurements. Can high-end apparel stores digitally measure the consumer and privately store those measurements in a private file? Of course they can.
Is it then possible to alter custom fit clothes to their specifications? Yes, but that is not the best model. Executing that on a mass scale so a Macy’s or Dillard’s use it is a challenge.
Department stores can afford to automate it. Do it digitally.
As a customer visits your store for the first time, direct them to a private dressing room and digitally scan their measurements. Their exact measurements are stored in their personal and branded app.
As customers shop in the newly designed departments with newly redefined department titles based upon lifestyle rather than the traditional Juniors, Petite etc., departments. Shoppers can look at every offering, all displayed in a size 4. They now shop by cut, fabric, color, brand and style. Not size because only one size needs to be on display (just like the shoe department model we discussed earlier).
The convenience of their smart phone is utilized, They scan the code of the item of interest and the app stores the choice. The store is no longer jammed with every offering in every size. The result? The branded experience of shopping is civilized.
The racks are not crowded and the styles themselves are highlighted. The retailers use their merchandising skills to highlight offering. Suddenly, there are sight lines in the department store and an opportunity for the retailer to practice their skill at displaying wares and merchandising.
How it benefits you.
Here’s how this complete department store rebranding works. Simplify the offerings on the store floor much like high-end retailers. Customers actually see the garments in lengthy and leisurely glance. Consumers develop a digital profile on their measurements that is part of the retailers database. Because you know them and they now know you, a relationship is established.
When they return to the department store, consumers open the app to say they are in the store and what, in general, they are looking for.
If the garments are bar coded by actual measurements, then a warehouse employee gathers those garments in real time from the back warehouse (remember the shoe model) that actually fit that customer.
When shopping is done, the shopper tells the app and are assigned a dressing room. The promise is that, in 10 minutes, everything they scanned will be in their dressing room and in their size.
Better yet, customers could use the app to say they are coming to the store and to get their personal rack ready and pre-placed in a dressing room.
Think about this. If implemented, it creates a preference for the department store brand (which reflects the change in the retail experience) and a database is established to enable more effective buys from designers and better PERSONALIZED service (read how affinity programs fail here). The customer chooses if they want the clothing in the dressing room or if they require human assistance.
The newly branded department store experience.
The new experience reconfigures the department store experience and decreases the display space and increases the warehousing. It requires an investment in logistics and warehouse systems.
But the new department store is now an adventure in experience and we know that customers covet that. The department store rebranding process combined with new thinking provides new preference.
Think it’s not possible? Amazon can do it, and Amazon is the retailer that terrifies the rest of the industry. The online retail giant, who just announced plans to open brick and mortar stores, is threatening to take over the entire industry while its players stand still and watch.
Amazon transports product anywhere in the world overnight. Is a tight logistics system that creates in-store logistics providing results in 15 minutes impossible? Believe that and you are doomed.
The future in department store rebranding is in personalized automation.
All it takes is an automated, software system that makes it easy to find the right clothes at the right time from your warehouse space. It, therefore, allows the shopper to buy and shop based on taste, style and color, just like they do with shoes and handbags. It means sales improve because shoppers see the entire inventory.
Plus, in the spirit of discovery, the store adds a few surprises— a few alternatives for that shopper based upon the customer profile and design preference. All of this accomplished by an algorithm.
Department stores, don’t get caught up in — “That can’t be done.”
Change or die. That’s the simple truth. This is just one idea. The point is that department store retailers, whether they are in apparel or not— let go of age-old habits. Dead brands are full of leaders who once said, “That can’t be done.”
Department store retailers must do two things. 1) Consider a total rebrand because few retailers position the brands against the competition and as a result are not meaningful enough to target audiences. (Here’s how we rebrand for our clients.)
2) Rethink everything. Ask the right questions in brand research that goes beyond simple usage and attitudes. The current model is a rapidly dying one. And given the current trajectory, there will only be room for one of the major department stores.
There is a third strategy retailers can adopt (and many are). Do nothing and watch Amazon destroy your business. But, as in most things, victory belongs to the first mover.
Read more about the retail market and department stores here:
An in-depth market study on the supermarket breakfast cereal and category
By Tom Dougherty
A brief history of Breakfast Cereal
Breakfast cereal, especially those loaded with sugar, are losing market share to a whole host of competitors: Yogurt, breakfast bars and even fast food.
What happened? And what can those brands do to take back market share? More importantly, what should the competitors (yogurt, bars, etc.) fear going forward? Things have gotten worse and the stakes are even higher. (Read a market study of consumer packaged goods here)
To truly understand this market, let’s begin by looking at the ready-to-eat breakfast market by looking back.
For decades, the traditional breakfast food for the masses was oat-based porridge (a breakfast cereal). In early history, the meat-based breakfast was often considered the privy of the rich. In the US, as the market became increasingly affluent, porridges and other cereals were replaced by an upwardly mobile aspirational meat and egg-based breakfasts and the old cooked cereals were looked upon as plebeian.
In the late 1800s, health movements blossomed in the US and these reformers encouraged health conscious Americans to cut back on meat consumption at breakfast. The biggest change to the morning diet can be directly traced to one of the world’s greatest brands — Kellogg’s and its Seventh Day Adventists beginnings.
John Harvey Kellogg was a health and fitness force in his time and his sanitarium in Michigan was a recovery destination for well-to-do Americans for many decades. Health retreats at his sanatorium were more immersive of an experience than ranch-spas and adventure-spas of today. They were where the important and wealthy retreated for a rest cure.
Kellogg’s religious belief emphasized exercise and vegetarianism, and led him to invent ready-to-eat breakfast foods made of grains for his visitors. Eventually, Kellogg’s of Battle Creek was born. Today, the Kellogg’s brand is synonymous with Corn Flakes and many other breakfast cereals.
Charles W. Post, a salesman who was admitted to Kellogg’s sanitarium, was impressed with the all-grain diet. As a result, he began experimenting with grain products. In 1898, he introduced Grape Nuts. The war was on over breakfast products and continues to this day.
Cooked breakfast cereal had a path of their own and coincided with the ready to eat cereals of Kellogg’s and Post. The American Cereal Company (Quaker Oats) created an oatmeal cereal in 1877. It invented the brand, using the Quaker Oats’ “Man in Quaker Garb” as a symbol of plain honesty and reliability. It gave Quaker Oats annual sales of $10 million.
Alexander Anderson’s creation of a steam-pressure method of shooting rice from guns produced puffed rice and puffed wheat. The brands started using associations with celebrities such as Babe Ruth and Shirley Temple. By 1964, the Quaker Oats Company sold over 200 products, grossed over $500 million, and claimed that eight million people ate Quaker Oats each day. In 2001, the much larger PepsiCo bought out Quaker Oats.
Kellogg reasoned that packaged, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal was more convenient than a product that had to be cooked. At the time, Battle Creek, Michigan, was a center both of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and of the ready-to-eat breakfast cereal industry.
Because both Kellogg and Post were located in Battle Creek, Michigan, the city became nicknamed the “Breakfast Cereal Capital of the World.”
As the category matured, marketing took on a greater and greater role. It did not take long to realize that, once breakfast cereals were considered the healthier choice over meats, the choice of what breakfast cereal to eat was made by children. So, breakfast cereals were marketed to children, such as Froot Loops and Sugar Crisps, Cap’n Crunch and Fruity Pebbles.
In the United Kingdom, Force Wheat Flakes became the first ready-to-eat breakfast cereal at the turn of the last century. The cereal was at its peak consumption in Britain in 1930, selling 12.5 million packages in one year.
Back in the US, the 30’s saw the rise and interest in puffed breakfast cereal. The first puffed cereal was Kix, the result of marketing needs for new and exciting products to build the “puffed” category.
General Mills entered the market in 1924 with Wheaties and almost immediately started to market to children. Sugar was added to improve choice for children. Think about this: Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks had 56% sugar by weight. Spokespersons and mascots helped position the brands as important for children. Some are still familiar today such as the Rice Krispy’s elves, Tony the Tiger, Trix Rabbit and the trending sports figures on Wheaties (the breakfast of champions).
Canada has many, if not all, of the US based breakfast cereal in its market but cooked breakfast cereals, oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and Red River remains most typical.
China is famous for rice congee, (a type of porridge) eaten for breakfast.
Ireland is still famous for its oatmeal. The most famous variety of these is steel-cut oatmeal (like McCann’s). Oatmeal is very popular in Ireland and is a common breakfast there. However, the full Irish breakfast is one of eggs, sausages, broiled tomato and puddings.
Breakfast cereal really took off in the 50’s with the birth of baby boomers. Milk, orange juice and breakfast cereal (mostly Kellogg’s, Post and General Mills) represented the breakfast of Americans. In the mid-60’s, however, the market began the change.
More and more mothers began to work outside the home and families eating together for breakfast became more and more unusual. The focus turned to even quicker solutions for breakfast. Carnation launched its Instant Breakfast, which was in both taste and nutrition not much different than chocolate milk. Pop-Tarts hit the market and the sweetened toaster pastry began to be an accepted way to start your child’s day.
The real change in breakfast habits can be seen in the last 25 years. In recent years, we’ve seen a decline in diary consumption with fewer and fewer households buying milk and a turn from carbohydrates back to protein consumption. The trend nearly destroyed the orange juice market and has taken its toll on breakfast foods as well.
So, in many ways, the market has come full circle. Back to the very protein heavy diet that caused Mr. Kellogg to revolt and express a different view.
From our perspective, the industry is at a crossroads. The advent of Greek yogurt and protein bars are an indication of a market in flux. Where will we end up? Diet cereal brands like Special K have extended their brands to breakfast bars. Quaker markets breakfast bars, rolled oats and steel-cut oats that require 30 minutes to cook. Meanwhile, Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Raisin Bran and Sugar Frosted Flakes still fight for an ever-decreasing shelf space. What’s needed? Where will the market go?
The segment of cereals is the only one that is shrinking in the breakfast market. Volume dropped 7% from the four years between 2009-2013, and consumption has been dropping at least one percent each year for the last decade.
There are many reasons for this, all of which point to the same things: Cold cereal, especially the ones marketed to children, is not as important to us as it once was and the individual brands find themselves battling over the same ground (namely, taste and a funny character kids might like).
And they’ve been doing it for years.
The cold breakfast cereals category is still number one among ready-to-eat breakfast, holding at a $10 billion industry in the US. But that share is being eaten into by the competition, especially by yogurt, which has become a $7 billion industry.
So what has happened to cereal, especially if we consider the sugary cereals that have long dominated the category? And what can the cereals do about it?
Why the slip?
The slip in overall market share can be seen in hard market share numbers, as well as within the primary companies themselves. Kellogg’s, the second largest provider of cold cereal behind General Mills, laid off 2,000 workers last November, while General Mills reported a 2% drop in sales last year.
There are numerous reasons and we’ll start with the most obvious. Cold breakfast cereal just isn’t your only choice any more. Yogurt, as mentioned above, is growing rapidly, having taken a 40% share of the US ready-to-eat breakfast market.
Then there are the energy and cereal bars, not to mention the rise of breakfast among fast food restaurants. In a category that has seemingly maxed out on its potential, fast food restaurants have found that their greatest opportunity is in breakfast. That’s the reason why you see Taco Bell introducing breakfast and the number of fast food breakfast items jumping 17% in the last two years.
Even for the individual breakfast cereal brands themselves, there’s increased competition within their category. If you combine all the store brands together, they would represent the market leader ahead of General Mills and Kellogg’s.
But the increased competition is only one of the factors involved, including the perceived unhealthiness of cereal, especially those in the sugar category.
While some cereals have attempted to be healthier, the perception still exists. There are still cereals that, studies show, have one spoonful of sugar for every three spoonsful of breakfast cereal. Kellogg’s Honey Snacks and Post’s Golden Crisps have as much sugar as a Twinkie in each serving size. In addition, the consumption of milk has declined. You can’t have cereal without milk, unless you’re eating it straight of the box as a snack.
Breakfast behavior has also changed, especially among those in the younger demographic. They are the ones most likely to eat cereal, but they are looking for food that is convenient, such has breakfast bars or even fast food. They snack. They don’t sit down to eat.
In the US, anyway, there are fewer younger people. The birth rate has been in a five-year decline, with children below the age of 17 becoming the smallest segment of the US population.
Cold breakfast cereal is primarily a kid’s breakfast. With less of them around, the size of the cold cereal market is sure to shrink.
What’s a cold sugary cereal to do, short of encouraging couples to have more babies?
Before we get to that, let’s look at what the current breakfast cereal market is doing today.
You could see the healthier breakfast cereal trend upward as Special K saw sales rise more than 21%, while Cinnamon Toast Crunch dropped 8.04%
What is happening here?
Honey Nut Cheerios, as you might imagine, is focused on the honey. Its brand is “Must be the Honey,” using a bee named Buzz as its mascot/equity marker. It is obviously targeted toward children and its ads are very upbeat, often ending with Buzz tapping the cereal with his honey dipper.
Honey Nut Cheerios positions itself on the honey taste, which is a slightly different taste profile than other breakfast cereals. But it’s still sugar. It does borrow the whole grain of Cheerios to claim that it is good for your cholesterol. But the approach is not all that different from the Trix Rabbit, who is told directly by children, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”
But Trix has declined in market share as it has become one of the many cereals that faced the wrath of marketing sugar to children. It did it so directly that parents stopped buying it. (It could have said: “Silly rabbit, sugar cereal is for kids!”)
Basically, Trix didn’t have the cover of the overall Cheerios brand, which has long marketed itself as “made with 100% whole grain.” Its yellow box is instantly recognizable (and even nostalgic for some). It is currently being marketed under the “Love” tagline, but promotes itself has being good for a healthy heart.
It even has introduced a new campaign – of which the Love campaigns play a part – called the Family Breakfast Project, stating that, when families eat breakfast together, amazing things happen. This campaign directly takes on the changing trends of breakfast (needing fast meals, snacks, etc.) by encouraging viewers to return to the breakfast table. Its point is that being back at the table is better for families.
That approach comes close to what breakfast cereals should do to hold their top ranking. It addresses the category as a whole but it’s a bit sappy and, in this world of texts and cell phones, is not emotionally important.
However, Cheerios, an American staple, provides the “healthy” cover for Honey Nut Cheerios that is believable. It has the Cheerio whole grain in it and honey, while still sugar, doesn’t carry the same negativity of fruity flavors that a Trix has.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch is still among the market leaders, holding the fifth spot in most surveys. But its more than 8% drop in 2013 speaks to a falling brand.
Like most of the sugary breakfast cereals, Cinnamon Toast Crunch uses a character or two: the individual cereal squares that live in the bowl. The position is “Crave Those Crazy Squares,” while marketing on taste by saying it’s that cinnamon and sugar that makes the difference.
There’s a deep problem here by basing marketing on taste (i.e., sugar). That’s because all of the sugary cereals market on that. Unless you have decided to not buy the sugary breakfast cereal for your kids and have left the market (as many have done), you are generally not switching to another cereal if it’s about taste. Your kids (or yourself) already like the taste of the cereal you prefer.
This is a problem in many sectors, not just breakfast cereal. The messaging, tone and look are all the same so they are often seen together, as one bunch. The main message for these cereals? Sugar!
But what about the healthy cereals?
Healthy Breakfast Cereal
While the steady demise of breakfast cereal is afoot, the separation between “healthy” and “sugary” cereals has remained intact. For every box of Cap’n Crunch on the supermarket shelves, you can easily find a box of Grape Nuts or Kashi.
In 2013, the Department of Agriculture released a report headlined, “Recent trends in ready-to-eat cereals in the U.S.” In the introduction of this document, it was noted that manufacturers indicated that, “changes in the formation of breakfast cereal … may be due to several reasons, including response to public health concerns and consumer demand for healthier cereals.”
Seemingly, the public’s desire to live a healthy lifestyle has become a more important mainstream idea than it was a handful of years ago. This all means that, in order for breakfast cereals to be healthy, it has to really be healthy to meet the needs of the masses and not simply a fringe group of shoppers.
Let’s look at Kashi, for instance. Recently, the healthy cereal brand took a tremendous hit for using GMO ingredients — a huge no-no for a healthy breakfast cereal. For the health conscious consumer, the once coveted Kashi brand broke its brand promise of being healthy. As such, the company has paid dearly for this mistake with a steady decline in market share.
One of the success stories in the healthy breakfastcereal category, however, is Special K. What makes Special K’s brand stand out from the rest? It’s simple really, it owns the position of being the healthiest cereal because it promises a certain lifestyle – and challenges its users to meet it.
Special K has mustered up a challenge for consumers that it calls, “The Special K Challenge,” which consists of the following. “For meal number one, you may have a serving of any Special K Breakfast Cereal with 2/3-cup skim milk and fruit. For meal number two, you may have a Special K Protein Meal Bar, a Special K Protein Shake, or another serving of Special K cereal with 2/3 cup skim milk and fruit. Meal number three can be eaten normally. Throughout the day, one may consume two Special K snacks, choosing from Special K Protein Snack Bars, Special K2O Protein Water Mixes, Special K Cereal Bars, Special K Crackers, or Special K Fruit Crisps. For additional snacks, one may consume fruits and vegetables. Drinks may be consumed normally.”
The key here is consuming Special K products all day long — not a bad way to keep people coming back. But it also comes with a promise that you will lose weight, an important position that Special K is owning through its advertising.
Outside of Special K, we have a host of breakfast cereal brands that must meet the necessary health standards in order compete. Consumers are asking:
Is this cereal filled with fiber?
How much whole grain is present?
What are the grams of sugar per serving?
Are the health claims bogus or legit?
What’s the calorie count?
Is it low in saturated fats?
Will this taste good?
A list like this is probably headache enough for shoppers, and most likely why they would rather have a protein shake and be done with it.
The Entire Breakfast Category of Packaged Goods.
Cereal bars and toaster pastries
Cereal bars and toaster pastries are among the bright spots in the breakfast food category. Nutritionally, the pair seems to be at odds with one another. Yet, taken together, they (along with yogurt) are the only reason the “eat at home” breakfast segment continues to grow.
Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts and General Mills Toaster Strudels dominate the toaster pastries segment. Pop-Tarts has owned the segment, contributing strongly to Kellogg’s bottom line. Toaster Strudels have lagged Pop-Tarts but have also etched out its own place in the market.
The category continues to grow, mostly at the expense of cereals, although not at the pace of cereal bars.
Pop-Tarts began around the same time as iconic cereal brands Apple Jacks, Fruit Loops, and Frosted Mini-Wheats. But it was positioned against those cereals – despite the intentions of Kellogg’s – because Pop Tarts doesn’t require a bath of milk to enjoy. Rather, all one needed was a toaster. When it launched in the 60’s, Kellogg’s was so protective of its cereal business that it created a set of detailed instructions for store operators telling them that Pop-Tarts could not be placed near the cereal and that they were in no way a substitute for cereal.
Times sure have changed. Pop-Tarts do just that now.
Pop-Tarts have been marketed traditionally towards the youth market while trying to remain appealing to moms. It has utilized taglines like “made for fun” and the current, “crazy good,” while featuring a Pop-Tart swimming in peanut butter to promote the new “Gone Nutty” offerings.
While meaningless, Pop-Tarts’ advertising has been relentless. Kellogg’s has invested heavily in the Pop-Tarts brand and, although it misses the boat on meaning, it more than makes up for in frequency.
Kellogg’s has said that one of the reasons Pop-Tarts have remained a success for so long is through innovation such as the “Gone Nutty” offerings in the form of peanut butter and frosted chocolate peanut butter and college-branded Pop-Tarts. Kellogg’s has also “innovated” through cobranding with SpongeBob SquarePants, Hello Kitty, Barbie, and even Hardees with their Pop-Tart ice cream sandwich. You can even order a box of Pop Tarts with your name on it.
“Innovation” and advertising frequency, however, are not what has made the Pop-Tarts brand a success. The Pop-Tarts brand has been successful because it has naturally adapted to changing consumer tastes and behaviors. The form of the Pop-Tart allows it to be eaten cold, on the go, toasted, or as a snack.
Pop-Tarts Stix was created as an after-school or on-the-go snack. When you look at the reasons Pop-Tarts Stix failed, consumers clearly did not want Kellogg’s telling them how they should eat their Pop-Tarts. It is the versatility of the product that has made it successful, not to mention they taste pretty good.
General Mills/Pillsbury introduced the world to the Toaster Strudel in 1985 claiming it to be part of the “hot, flaky breakfast revolution.” It does about a third of the revenue Pop-Tarts does and its sales have been soft as of late, falling 1% over the last full year. Unlike Pop-Tarts, Toaster Strudels are frozen and, therefore, must be heated.
While Kellogg’s was reluctant to position Pop-Tarts against cereals (and it happened anyway), Toaster Strudel embraced being the anti-cereal. It was a wise position because, in truth, any market share would likely come at the expense of cereal, theirs, Kellogg’s or another competitor.
Pillsbury made a decision early that, in order to break into the toaster pastries market, it would have to cannibalize some of its parent brand’s share. However, as sales have begun to decline, the consumer shift to “on the go” has accelerated.
In an effort to curb attrition, Toaster Strudels recently launched an ad campaign featuring a child clad in lederhosen named Hans. The ad features the tagline, “Get zem going.”
Meaningless much like the before mentioned Pop-Tart commercial, sales may pick up for a short period but the campaign does nothing to build brand equity. More importantly, it positions the Toaster Strudel as nothing more than a harder to prepare Pop-Tart.
Much like cereal is married to milk, Toaster Strudels are married to the toaster and the trend is moving toward both healthy and portability. Toaster Strudel has neither.
The category of breakfast bars is made up of a mix of granola bars, energy bars, protein bars and cereal bars. You can place them in two markets – health and for lack of a better term, “not-health.”
For example, most people would not look at a Rice-Krispy’s bar and think health. It is, in fact, Rice-Krispy’s cereal congealed with marshmallows. The same can be said about Golden Graham bars and the like. However, Clif Bars have a reputation of being a healthier choice. Where the line is blurred is in a bar like Nutrigrain bars where they are still high in sugars and high-fructose corn syrup but do not reside on the same unhealthy level as the ilk in the Rice Krispy bar category.
From a positioning perspective, there are only a couple of basic positions bars occupy: snack/side item or meal replacement.
On the snack side, you have the unhealthy Rice Krispy bar, Lucky Charms Treats and the like to the healthier granola bars, Nutrigrain bars, and Nature Valley.
Many of the bars are positioning themselves against cereal and breakfast in general. Bars like the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Milk and other cereal bars (Cocoa Puffs and Honey Nut Cheerios also have a version), by their very nature, go against traditional cereal. In effect, they are saying, “When you don’t have time for a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, take it on the go with you.” Even Quaker’s cereal bars are similarly positioned.
On the meal replacement side, there are a whole host of protein, energy, and fiber bars. This is the area with the most potential of the growth. As healthy and on the go continue to converge, Clif Bar is even promoting its new Mojo bar to “Energize your day,” which clearly is an allusion to “Eat me for breakfast.”
In general, the meal replacement bars seem to be healthier and, as such, they tend to be more serious in imagery and tone in advertising, web and point of purchase. The more “snacky” you get, the less serious it becomes.
The reality is that even the cereal producers have noticed the trend of “on the go” and are capitalizing on that. But what does that mean for the future of regular, ole cereal on the breakfast table?
While the popularity of breakfast cereals has been on a steady decline, according to the NPD’s National Eating Trends, the consumption of yogurt in the United States has “more than doubled over the past ten years, and now nearly one in three people in every country eats yogurt.”
The steady increase in yogurt consumption is rather remarkable, and can be attributed to several key reasons: it appeals to both a younger and older audience, it can serve as a replacement meal for any breakfast item (or lunch for that matter) and can also be viewed as a dessert, and it is chalk-full of healthy benefits. These are three big reasons why yogurt is becoming an ideal replacement meal over cereal.
Let’s examine each of these reasons.
Yogurt appeals to specific demographics
In its extensive study on the yogurt industry, the NDP Group pinpointed the key demographic of yogurt eaters being between the ages of 18-34. What makes this group such fervent yogurt lovers? One key reason is they have grown up with it. Parents of this generation were introduced to yogurt as a healthy breakfast alternative in the early 60’s. For the kids of these parents (who are now in that 18-34 demographic), it is natural to have a yogurt for breakfast, rather than a bowl of cereal. The numbers don’t lie. The NPD group reported that, “These trends alone have led to 200 million extra servings of yogurt being sold a year.”
The other demographic that yogurt has appealed to strongly is the 60 and older age range. This group of consumers tends to find yogurt a safe bet in living a healthy and a less calorie-riddled lifestyle.
It’s an easy breakfast item
Let’s face it, traditional breakfast cereals take time to eat and can’t be brought with you in the way a container of yogurt can. It’s small, quick and all you need is a spoon. More than that, however, is yogurt’s ability to work as a meal (or snack) for breakfast, lunch or even dinner. It’s a simple yet nutritious meal. In Consumer Corner’s October, 13th retail study on the yogurt industry, it was noted that, “Refrigerated yogurts are the eighth largest selling subcategory in food, drug and mass market” and has become a growing option as well within the food service industry as a menu item.
Specifically, 45% of yogurt eaters consume it for breakfast, while 32% consume at lunch, or in the late afternoon (32%), late morning (25%) or late night (25%). With such widespread appeal, yogurt has clearly become the safe bet for breakfast eaters.
Yogurt is healthy
Here’s where Greek Yogurt comes into play. Package Facts noted that, “The U.S. market for yogurt sold at retail to be $7.3 billion in 2012… this group is attributed to sub category: Greek Yogurt.” Greek Yogurt stands out from other styles of yogurt as it’s considered to be rich and creamy in its texture. What’s more, the health benefits are abundant: there is more protein because the yogurt is thicker. Plus, when the lactose is strained, the yogurt loses some of its sugar and carbohydrates.
Let’s consider a few of the Greek yogurts
Perhaps the most well known name of Greek yogurt (or strained yogurt) is Chobani. An Americanized version of a universally European term that means, “shepherd,” Chobani boasts the largest processing plant in all of the United States, located in Boise, Idaho. In fact, Chobani is pulling in close to $1.3 billion a year and have even started the Yogurt Bar concept in Soho, NY.
According to its owner, Hamdi Ulukaya, what’s made Chobani such a success is the company’s manufacturing process. For example, the company opted to never outsource any of the Chobani product line. Moreover, Ulukaya set the price point of the yogurt a little higher than the competition to meet future price projections.
That has been a wise move because there is a general belief among consumers that you always get what you paid for. We, at Stealing Share, have tested that belief with target audiences and it always comes back emotionally intensive no matter the category. Being priced slightly higher than the competition tells the audience you are a little bit better.
It’s working for Chobani. Business Insider recently shared that “[Chobani] now produces 2.2 million cases of yogurt a week, Ulukaya said, and has passed $1 billion in sales. When they started, Greek yogurt made up 0.2% of the yogurt market in the U.S. Now it makes up 50%, and Chobani has at least half of that market share.”
Outside of the Greek Yogurt movement, kid’s yogurt brands are also on the rise. From brands available for infants (YoBaby) to drinkable yogurt smoothies (Danimals) to squeezable bags (Plum Organics, Yogurt Mashups), and craziest of all — cereal flavored yogurts (YoPlait Trix), yogurt is being branded as the healthiest and quickest breakfast alternative for children.
Kid’s yogurt is filled with nutritional benefits. It can provide a quick serving of calcium, protein, and a litany of the necessary vitamins and minerals necessary for a growing body. With such benefits, it isn’t surprising that children ate “yogurt on 23 more occasions in 2012 than in 1998” according to a study by USA Today. With so many options to choose from, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that trend increase in the years to come.
The fact of the matter is that breakfast cereal may never recapture the prominence it once held. They will still hold the top spot, but the time has passed when they see their market share rise again.
That’s because we have changed as people. We are on the go, and have learned from technology (think your smart phone) that everything can be taken on the run and we don’t need the sit-down meal while we’re getting ready for work and getting the kids off to school.
And it’s not just adults who have changed. Children have too. They have also been taught by technology that’s it is an eat-in-your-car era and cereal, especially for pre-teens and teens, can seem childish or old-fashioned.
We are also a healthier bunch, living longer by watching what we eat. Fewer parents are willing to give their children sugary cereal that makes them obese. And, even those who are willing may opt for fast food in today’s fast-paced world.
In the face of that, what are traditional breakfast cereals to do? For one thing, they need to get better about branding. The model they have followed, especially for the sugary cereals, is basically the same as it was decades ago: Feature a cartoon character, emphasize the fun, and promote the taste. The strategy being that kids will clamor for it.
The problem is that there is little differentiation. They are all sugar. The characters are interchangeable from each other. And the cereal manufacturers are struggling to understand their consumers and, more importantly, the consumers who do not choose them.
There is a process to understanding those consumers, based on belief systems and switching triggers, that Stealing Share has developed that can get into what drives those consumers of cereal that goes beyond taste and even health.
In this way, a breakfast cereal can better define its brand so that it is coveted by adults and children alike. Right now, many of the cereals – even the most successful ones – look out of touch. If they don’t update their brands, many of them could go the way of Life, Rice Krispy’s and Corn Flakes as brands that are falling at a rapid rate.
This also goes for the market as a whole. Using those powerful triggers, the manufacturers can sell the category of cereal as being relevant in today’s world. That would raise the waters for all, although it may never regain its peak. But it can stop the bleeding.
But there is a more important factor for the food providers to consider. Trends are just that. They are trends. Meaning, that if the yogurts and bars don’t learn the lesson of the cereals, they’ll see their own market share dwindle. Yogurts are riding the crests of a new wave, but the individual brands also look and sound and taste alike. If they don’t differentiate themselves – especially in using the emotional triggers of the consumer – they will become just trendy.
So be warned, yogurts and breakfast bars. While you’re riding high now, you have also neglected to build meaningful brands – which means you are just as vulnerable as the cereals were when you took their market share.
The US brand is under siege. Is anyone else worried about the future of the US?
I don’t mean in terms of which candidate you support in the upcoming election. There are sane people on both sides of that debate. I’m talking about the very fabric of what it means to be a citizen of the US brand. An American.
At our root, we claim to be a nation bound by a Constitution that dictates our civil behavior. Since the election of Washington until Lincoln, every election has been followed by a peaceful transition of power. It is what it means to be an American.
The one time that process failed was in 1860 and it resulted in a bloody war that ended in the complete defeat of those that opposed union. The debate for peaceful transition had been decided once and for all with an anything but peaceful five years of blood soaked division. I believe, despite all of the posturing today, that this election will also be a peaceful transition of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leadership.
The US brand has been under siege in the past
I don’t think I am alone in looking back upon the last decade with a bit of distain. Our national genius for compromise has been replaced by vitriol and obstruction. When FDR was first elected, humorist Will Rogers said, “Well, if he gets to the White House and it catches fire and burns to the ground, we will say at least he got something started.” Just like Will, I have become weary of partisan posturing and I want to get SOMETHING done.
My worry is not over the election itself, although the personal attacks are hard to hear. After all, one of these two candidates will be our next President. In many ways, I would love to hear what each candidate will do to help our country if they lose. My sincere hope is that either candidate will try their best when elected. That is the minimum I think we can expect. The rest is just politics.
What REALLY worries me about the US brand? A fear that, as a nation, we might be ungovernable in the future. A large percentage of those that are voting say they do not trust the information published from our government. They do not trust what they read in the news and they do not trust our elective process. I then wonder how they plan on making America Great Again or becoming Stronger Together?
If you don’t read the news, where are you getting your information? If you don’t believe anything the government says or publishes and don’t believe in the right of the majority to rule— well you don’t believe in our Constitution.
I can’t wait to read comments on this post. In the past, my worst fears have been realized in those comments. Aggressive and hateful bloggers post comments that prove my point. They did not read what I had to say.
Until we address the basic problem, which is IGNORANCE, we have a broken system with broken constituents. Just remember that the root of the word ignorant means to IGNORE.
The US brand. What is the United States of America? was last modified: October 25th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
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